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Ola Kvernberg: Steamdome

Chris May By

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Steamdome is one of those albums that defies categorisation. It is part future-jazz, part avant-rock, part deep-house, part electronica, part contemporary-classical. It is the follow-up to Norwegian violinist and film composer Ola Kvernberg's whirlwind The Mechanical Fair (Olsen, 2016). That album was memorably pitched as heralding a "mutton western" genre, and the description also fits Steamdome, which winningly references some of Ennio Morricone's compositional tropes.

There are a couple of substantial differences between the two albums. The first is that the string section that was the core feature of the earlier album has been replaced by a visceral, groove-centric, three-man drum section. The second is that Morricone appears to have ingested an industrial quantity of 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine. The music is high-energy, ecstatic and relentlessly intense and, after 50 minutes, borderline exhausting. But it makes for such an exciting ride that any overload is worth enduring.

A little more light and shade might even have been detrimental—and, with seven movie scores under his belt, Kvernberg is a sonic alchemist who knows plenty about creating atmosphere. He has collaborated with an impressively diverse range of musicians, including Joshua Redman, Todd Terje, Pat Metheny and Jimmy Carl Black. Not to mention crime writer Jo Nesbo. You have to assume the sustained high-intensity level is deliberate—and in the press bumph that accompanied the album, Kvernberg describes the music as "brazen" and "to a much greater degree [than The Mechanical Fair] a physical experience."

The band Kvernberg has assembled is outstanding. Guitarist Øyvind Blomstrøm channels his inner Morricone and rocks out to thrilling effect. Hammond B3 player Daniel Buner Formo pushes, prods and adds some fat to Blomstrøm's twangtastic lines. Electric bassist Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen and the drum section led by Erik Nylander (who co-produced with Kvernberg) drives all before it.

So turn the stamina dial up to 11 and get ready to harness the G Force.

Track Listing: Prologue; And Now; Caterpillar; Black Lemon; Go Up; Interlude/Above The Dance Part 1; Above The Dance Part 2; Through The Mantle; Credits.

Personnel: Ola Kvernberg: violin, viola, Hammond B3, Vox Continental, harmonium, guitar, theremin, Taurus, drums, percussion; Øyvind Blomstrøm: electric guitar, baritone guitar, pedal steel guitar; Nikolai Hængsle: electric bass; Daniel Buner Formo: Hammond B3; Erik Nylander: drums, pandeiro, tambourine, quirky percussion; Hans Hulbækmo: djembe, bongos, tambourine, drums; Børge Fjordheim: drums, prepared autoharp; Gabriel Øien: percussion (9).

Title: Steamdome | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Grappa

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