Album Review: Pontus Gunve – IV

Progressive rock is a genre synonymous with bands bringing in different genres and styles of playing in their music. Despite being known for long-winded improvisational sections, up until now instrumental rock as a sub-genre has often struggled to find its own space within prog. Enter Pontus H.W. Gunve, a composer and sound engineer from Sweden, currently based in New York. His newest release, an EP titled IV came out last month.

Featuring Pontus (guitars), Bryan Percivall (bass), Eric Allen (cello) and Tripp Dudley (drums & tabla), the 25-minute EP brings in a collaboration of instrumental and orchestral arrangements moulded into an interesting instrumental progressive rock experience. Each of its four tracks demonstrate the band’s knowledge of music theory through the strong and detailed structures of the song. The first track ‘Ten’ is a 10-minute masterpiece best described as the bastard child of progressive rock acts such as Tool and instrumental rock artist Guthrie Govan. The dynamics of the song among others on the EP are supported interestingly by the role of the cello, used with subtlety to coexist with the bass lines and the guitar melodies.

Gunve’s guitar playing is a real highlight of the record. His relaxed and melodic instrumental prowess gives the songs an immense amount of power. Double tracked guitars during the lead sections add a wall of sound, with the heavy riffs and grooves in the background making various moments in tracks such as ‘Ten’ and ‘Red Silver’ memorable and exciting. Another standout aspect of the record is the on-point inclusion of the tabla in the music. That accompanied by the Indian themed guitar melodies makes the songs distinctive and transcendent of genre boundaries. Many bands attempt to infuse Indian and Arabic elements into their music and this fusion between the Western and Eastern/Asian style of music can have pretty mixed results. However, Pontus moulds these influences to support his compositions rather than just using them as an orientalist quirk.

One of the few downsides of the EP is that as you move through the 4 tracks, this prog-fusion style loses some of its charm through repetition. Another criticism is the unnecessary inclusion of the cover song ‘Misirlou’, recorded originally by Dick Dale and the Deltones and made famous more recently through Black Eyed Peas sampling it in their 2006 single ‘Pump It’. Although Gunve’s reinterpretation is certainly different to the original, it’s two and a half minutes of music that could easily have been avoided or replaced with another original song.

The production of the EP is nice and clean. The huge wall of guitar sound blends well with the low end of the bass and the cello, giving room for the drums to be produced naturally. The artwork is minimalistic but sets you in the right mood for a complete listen. Another point to be made is that the record sounds more complete when listened to as a whole, rather than by listening to the tracks individually. Now that Gunve is four albums in, it would be interesting to see where he takes his instrumental style of progressive rock.

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