Azusa – ‘Loop of Yesterdays’

By Ash Bebbington

The title track on ‘Loop of Yesterdays’ is a bold creative choice. Built around a finger-picked acoustic guitar part, the vocals contrast spoken word with quiet, considered vocals. It’s the band’s most experimental song to date, so to make it the title track is a real statement of intent. Azusa are back, and they’re radiating confidence this time around.

As a record, ‘Loop of Yesterdays’ builds on the sound that Azusa laid out in 2018’s ‘Heavy Yoke’. On that record, the band set out their stall with  fast and ferocious jazz-infused metal, punctuated with an excellent blend of harsh and clean singing by vocalist Eleni Zafiriadou. Comparisons with The Dillinger Escape Plan are hard to avoid, not least because their former bass player – Liam Wilson – is a member of Azusa. Also, for better or worse, any band that plays music like this is likely to face comparisons with Dillinger – and there are definitely some similarities. On ‘Heavy Yoke’ especially, there were plenty of comparisons to be drawn between the two but there are also plenty of notable differences, not least that Azusa’s instrumentation has a more thrash metal sound, compared with the frenetic, jazzy metalcore of Dillinger. This difference in sound is likele owed much to the the background of guitarist Christer Espevoll and drummer David Husvik as members of extreme metal band Extol.

However, on ‘Loop of Yesterdays’, this comparison feels less relevant still. Azusa have toned down the white-knuckle ferocity they deployed on ‘Heavy Yoke’ to create a slower, more expansive sound. When it’s heavy, it’s heavy, and when it’s fast, it’s fast, but the record is packed full of slower, more melodic moments. These slower sections also allow the quick, heavy parts to pack a heftier punch when they do come back in. All of this makes for a more interesting record that really allows the vocal talents of Zafiriadou space to shine.

Zafiriadou delivers the standout performance of the record, with her clean vocals especially adding an interesting element to the musical canvas. Her vocal range is impressive and she achieves a number of different sounds throughout, from guttural screams to eerie, ghostly cleans and everything in-between. You can also hear the through-line from Zafiriadou’s previous project – Sea + Air, a mediterranean-inspired pop project – to Azusa in the delivery of her clean vocals.

The album comes roaring out of the speakers, with the rapid opening chug of ‘Memories of an Old Emotion’. However, in a sign of things to come, the song’s tempo abruptly drops within the first 30 seconds, and the wall of distorted guitars and screams gives way to slow, dreamlike instrumentation and vocals. Cutting between these two different sounds is a recurrent theme across the record.

‘One Too Many Times’ fades in with a thrash metal stomp, only to once again drop into a slower, more melodic part. Zafiriadou’s vocal delivery is absolutely superb across the entirety of this track, while Espevoll showcases his musical dexterity with the varied guitar playing on offer.

One of the standout songs on the record, ‘Detach’ is also one of the quickest and heaviest of the lot. The guitar work especially stands out on this track, with Espevoll pivoting between thrash riffing and off-kilter jazzy parts. Wilson and Husvik provide a superb, high tempoed rhythm section to support this wonderful chaos. The track also features a guitar solo laid down by Alex Skolnick of Testament, who the band invited to cameo on the record.

After this point the record slows down considerably, starting with the track ‘Seven Demons Mary’. This is followed by a short interlude, and then another standout track ‘Monument’. The chorus on this track is colossal, while the riffing in the verses is heavy and bouncy. It’s easy to picture this song going down well in a live environment, and considering it was one of the album’s lead singles, it will surely make an appearance in the setlist when Azusa next hit the road.

If you’re a riff fiend, you’ll find plenty of guitar lines to enjoy on the tracks ‘Rapture Boy’ and ‘Kill/Destroy’. While both contain some more melodic, slower sections, they have plenty of chunky, low-end riffs to headbang along to. The record then ends with ‘Aching Ritual’ which, uncharacteristically for this record, contains no clean vocals whatsoever. Espevoll’s guitar work is absolutely stellar here, flitting between low end riffs, and clean, major lead parts. The song has a runtime of just two minutes and brings the album to an abrupt end.

On this record Azusa have carved out a much more exciting and unique sound than they did on ‘Heavy Yoke’. By leaning more heavily into the slower, more expansive sounds that they touched on in earlier material, they have crafted a great record that deserves repeated listens. Azusa may contain former members of The Dillinger Escape Plan, Extol, and Sea + Air, but off the back of this new record, it’s time this band gets the acclaim they’re due in their own right.

ASH BEBBINGTON

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