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JAMBINAI Onda gets 7/10


Jambinai
Onda
Bella Union/Inertia

7/10

Onda, the third full-length release for South Korean post rock group Jambinai, combines post rock with metal and traditional Korean folk to create a rousing, vivid and utterly unique experimental fusion.

Cohesive musical fusion is a notoriously difficult synthesis to get right without coming across as off-puttingly pretentious or even downright cheesy – jazz fusion anyone? – but in Jambinai’s capable hands, the result is a thrilling proposition that interweaves diverse influences – both modern and traditional – to achieve a towering, immense soundscape that simply grabs the listener by the lapels and demands closer inspection.

The band’s first album with former live band members Jaehyuk Choi (drums) and B.K Yu (bass) joining as regular members, Onda finds Jambinai striving – and succeeding – to change the perception of Asian traditional music from the notion that it’s “something smooth for yoga or meditation”, a point raised by guitarist and principal writer Lee Ill-woo in the album’s press release. The band’s three founders met studying traditional music at Korea’s National University of Arts and found that they were united by a desire to present such music in a new way, “to communicate with the ordinary person who doesn’t listen to Korean traditional music,” explained Lee. Augmented by two extra members, Jambinai’s modern take on orthodox Korean folk music is dark, brutal sounding and take-no-prisoners heavy – archaic folk instruments used to create a mind-blowing blend of post rock with metal and experimental sounds that may well mess up one’s chill out time if wrongly used for that purpose. So in that sense, mission accomplished for Jambinai.

But there is so much more to Jambinai’s music than just distortion and bluster just for the sake of it, a point skilfully put across by the band on Onda, which means ‘come’ in Korean. Sounding more like a force of nature than a band at times, Jambinai’s canny use of traditional Korean instruments like Lee’s piri (a Korean flute), the bow-stringed haegum, and the geomungoa distinctive sounding Korean zither – played by the band’s other founder members Kim Bo-mi and Sim Eun-young respectively – alongside the Western rock staples of bass, guitar and drums makes for a beguiling concoction of sound; a very quirky and cool-sounding thing indeed.

Album opener Sawtooth highlights the band’s innovative marriage of new and old instrumentation in stunning fashion, alternating between ambient folk serenity and molten ferocity with the deft moves of seasoned pros. The track features local collaborator Hwiseon Choi on yanggeum, a hammered dulcimer, and is a stunning opening salvo, all atmospheric and intense in equal measures. As if to prove that their opening track was no fluke, subsequent tracks Square Wave – one of several ONDA cuts to feature vocals –  and the towering Event Horizon proceeds to repeat Sawtooth’s neat trick of fusing the full dramatic range of post rock dynamics with traditional Korean folk in show-stealing fashion. As post rock dynamic devices go, it’s as memorable as the classic super loud/super quiet move. But the way the group effortlessly flits between their melodic post-rock and Korean folk and the full-on metal sections within their songs in such organic and unforced manner? That’s really the thing that makes them so interesting to listen to. As complex and experimental as their music is, it sounds natural.

Moving along,  the chunky, pummelling groove and overcast vibe of Sun. Tears. Red recalls early Russian Circles with added traditional wailing while the mournful In The Woods, clocking in at 13 minutes long, is the album’s lengthiest epic, originally recorded for Jambinai’s 2010 EP and now rearranged for the expanded quintet, plus guest traditional singer Bora Kim. Inspired by the damaging effects of environmental pollution,  In The Woods finds the quintet slowly building eight minutes of mournful ambience into a shattering climax. As the album’s centrepiece, it dazzles in slow motion before exploding into tiny fragments.

According to the band, Onda was designed to end on a thematic note of drama and redemption. Small Consolation is one of the album’s more abstract pieces, disjointed and almost freeform to begin with before everything clicks into place with seismic force for a passage of sustained riffing. The closing title track comes in two parts: a calm prelude (featuring Lee on saenghwang, a tall, reed mouth organ) before the exhilarating, euphoric main attraction – adorned by celestial choral voices and made all the grander for it – brings proceedings to a blissful, exhaustive conclusion.

With Onda, Jambinai have succeeded in bringing something new to the somewhat overcrowded post rock table – no easy feat as many a generic sounding post rock band will testify. What you get with Onda is an expertly performed collection of darkly dramatic, mainly instrumental compositions that requires some measure of patience and perseverance in order to truly ‘get it’ – the anti K-Pop if you will. The songs are dense, experimental and hard to penetrate initially, but persevere and you shall be richly rewarded with an album that reveals itself more with each listen.

ZAC YUSOF

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