Boston’s exotic prog-rock band Esthema are on a roll. Their fourth CD, simply titled IV, has just dropped, and it dives even deeper into the tones, colors, and texture of songs than the band ever has before. Rubbing their melodic lines more briskly together, this quintet bring into their music into newer, darker and sometimes more celebratory shades. Their instrumentation is as edgy and complex as ever, and it’s impossible, as ever, to second guess where they might be taking a piece as they follow their own individualized melodies and grooves.
The band titled this album IV for reasons other than it is their four full length release. It is also representative of the four main compositions that make up the album. The concept of four started taking shape after the band had finished writing and arranging, track five, “Successive Waves.” The composition has four very distinct sections that are tied by a very thin but common thread. At that point, the members of Esthema started contemplating their whole concept of four at that point and the interconnectedness of the various sections of the album.
Aside from their concepts, it s what Esthema does with their compositions and instruments that bring their musical vision to life. It’s the Esthema way of blending notes and melodies from their instruments to arrive at something new that marks their sound. Esthema is the line up of guitarist Andy Milas, Violinist Onur Dilisen, oud and bouzouki player Mac Ritchey, bassist Tom Martin, and drummer George Lernis.
Opening track “Be” combines rippling acoustic guitar notes with a violin line that haunts the mind with its surrealistic underpinnings. A bouzouki chimes in, making it all sound foreign and exotic over an assertive, beat driven groove. Acoustic instrument notes nudge this piece forward with a spiraling momentum. Instead of merely traveling in a straight line, the notes do their own dance, circular motion, within the direction of the piece. One focuses on the rhythm section beneath the upper register instrument lines and realize that drummer and bass player are peppering this with their own nuances. When the five piece shift tempos, their interplay becomes even more complex as it takes on sharper edges.
“interlude i’ shifts tones to a more otherworldly vibe as an introduction to the third track “Part Of Me, Part Of you.” This one moves like a snake, sometimes coiled tight with hefty bass notes and dark violin moods, sometimes slowly sprawling around the groove. Esthema take dark tones, exotic expression, and shifting tempos to create a sense of madness that could be taking place inside an artist’s mind. They also slow it down to let more of the rippling acoustic notes pour out like raindrops as a violin line hints at intrigue. Contrast is another strength of this prog rock outfit. Their use of a hollow drum sound beneath bits of bass notes and snaking violin conjures images of a crowd of people who each of their own moves to make in around a market place.
“interlude ii” ushers in a dark wave of slow moving sound, a harrowing introduction to “Successive Waves.” Beginning with descending acoustic guitar notes, a melancholy violin melody, and a silent back drop, this one gives an eerie, dire feeling up and down the back of one’s neck. What sudden roller coaster shift will they take next one might wonder. Yet, they keep it mellow but change the tone and approach. Adept, light touches on the drums and cymbals as well as delicate finger picking on a bass guitar give the sense of a trench coated man slipping in and out of dark ally ways to avoid notice. After the Esthema boys set up this drama, they adeptly switch gears once more, pulling one into an adventurous and hurried tempo. The person once walking in stealth might now be running for his life. Rock and roll never sounded this exotic and interesting. With the quickened tempo comes a tighter interplay between instruments. That bouzouki gets picked for all the Mediterranean melody its worth.
“interlude iii” offers a nugget of acoustic guitar expression, a line of brittle little notes that are packed with tender emotion. It’s also a fitting introduction to the close out track “Winter Solace.” Here, a down tempo violin ride widens the scope of the introduction by sprawling over the sonic landscape. Nuggets of acoustic guitar notes serve as the chords of the violin before whistling as pretty a melody. It eventually assumes a climbing structure, reaching upward in tempo, dynamics, and edge while remaining fairly low key, changing the mood and feel without leaping into a whole new presentation.
Esthema, with IV, have proven once again that they are masters of originality. Although this album can be labeled prog-rock, it can also be labeled acoustic rock, and it could also be called international music. Taking some of the most interesting instruments and tones in the world and injecting them into a complex prog-rock format proves a winning idea for Esthema.