Azusa are a fascinating beast of a band, with a big part of that being because there’s really no clear indication of how they work as a unit. For one, their members originate from all over the music map, with The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Liam Wilson as the most touted face on bass, coupled with members of Extol in Christer Espevoll and David Husvik, and topped off with vocalist Eleni Zafiriadou of indie-pop band Sea + Air. It’s a combination for which the perceived connective tissue is fragmented to the point of nonexistence, and with musical influences in this project spanning thrash, hardcore, pop and jazz-fusion, the concoction is seemingly looking to be as strong as possible. But then it’s also worth remembering that an almost indentical list of touchstones has been identified by a band like Rolo Tomassi, who’ve easily become one of the most exciting heavy bands to come from anywhere in the last decade or so, and while Azusa didn’t have their break with 2018’s debut Heavy Yoke, there’s an increased profile for progressive metal and mathcore like this now that could potentially work in their favour.
But there’s also the impeding gulf between the weird and avant-garde and the outright impenetrable, something that Rolo Tomassi find themselves on the right side of and Azusa frequently don’t. And to be clear, that does feel like a result of growing pains on Azusa’s part that could easily be shed soon, but there’s also something about Loop Of Yesterdays that doesn’t really click. The vision and raw, technical musicianship is impressive, but in the same way there’s trouble in envisioning Azusa’s individual parts connecting, the reality is pretty much as true for Loop Of Yesterdays. That’s alongside noticing some very real appeal and talent, but not quite enough to push it to where it’s totally formed yet.
And that can effectively be isolated to a part of this sound that Azusa seem to be neglecting, but to bring up the comparisons and contrasts again, it’s something that Rolo Tomassi have fostered to make their sound as excellent as it is. Particularly on their last album, there was space for each element to grow and establish itself within the mix, something which made the greater, more dynamic song lengths justified. On Loop Of Yesterdays though, the runtime is much more enclosed, and it leaves what feel like parts of songs that don’t reach a point where they can fully develop. An instance like the quick, momentary shifts between abrasive noise-rock and more ethereal passages on opener Memories Of An Old Emotion could work if it was opened out more with each piece being able to feel like a whole element in itself, but jamming truncated versions of them together just feels cluttered and difficult to get onboard with. An even more egregious issue is how songs just seem to prematurely cut off at really inopportune moments; Skull Chamber and Kill / Destroy both seem to be building up to something more before they just end, and Support Becomes Resistance feels even more perfunctory as an instrumental interlude when it stops at what feels the middle of a measure.
That might be the intention, to come across as even weirder and more erratic, but it can be jarring to a degree past the intended amount and can really take away the feeling of this being a complete body of work. That point is solidified even further when Azusa’s more ‘standard’ metal material turns out a lot better; the dynamics within the likes of Detach and Golden Words are much more tightly executed, and it’s a more natural fit for lyrical themes of struggle overseen by the concept of faith that fits the more tense style. And even beyond that, there’s a proficiency to every member of this band that’s effectively a constant, and with the opportunity to open up more, could lead to some truly excellent progressive metal. It’s especially true of Zafiriadou at the helm, whose indie-pop roots are still able to mesh in with ghostly, quiet vocals on the likes of the title track that give this album an underlying haunting quality, but breaking out of that mould for her screams unleashes an even stronger and more gripping side of her as a performer. There’s a malleability that’s genuinely impressive, and when exacerbated by the rest of the band, it’s a model that hints at a good number of possibilities for Azusa going forward.
But they are only hints at this stage, and for as tantalising as they are, it’s not enough to give Loop Of Yesterdays the edge to become the great avant-garde music that’s locked inside. It’s certainly not bad and for anyone looking for more on the more unconventional side of metal, this will scratch that itch for a bit, but it’s also won’t scratch it for long given how piecemeal it can feel. Allowing the clear creativity that’s here to freewheel seems to be the clearest solution, and while it does seem counterintuitive to rein that in to the extent that’s been done here, it provides a springboard to improve off that can’t be ignored. This version of Azusa mightn’t be the strongest, but using it to reach their full potential will almost certainly be worth keeping tabs on.
For fans of: Rolo Tomassi, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Car Bomb
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Loop Of Yesterdays’ by Azusa is released on 10th April on Indie Recordings.