Album Review: Toska – Ode to the Author

It’ s really rare to come across music that sounds relatively different and unique in the overall music sphere, let alone the specific niche of progressive rock/metal. I personally have only ever had a couple of moments where I listened to something and went, “Wow I have never heard anything like this before.” And that’ s exactly what Toska’ s first EP Ode to the Author did to me.

Toska are a recently formed instrumental progressive rock/metal band hailing from Brighton. The members: Rabea Massaad (guitars), Dave Hollingworth (bass) and Ben Minal (drums) are more popularly known for their work in the British progressive rock Youtube sensation Dorje, whose controlled progressive rock/hard rock sound recently hit No.1 in the UK iTunes Charts for their EP  Catalyst. Contrastingly, the most appropriate words I can use to describe Toska’ s sonic vision is systematic chaos.

The first thing I’ d like to mention is that the track listing is very intelligently thought out, causing the 35-minute EP to flow like one collective piece of music. It’ s difficult to guess or predict what would come next, but that doesn’t mean that the songs are a conundrum of parts that don’t sit well with each other.

Usually, I would be focussing more (maybe solely) on guitars in a record, but I always notice that the music that grabs my attention right off the bat is where all the instruments transcend their traditional roles and create something new. Here, all the members are expressing their absolutely monstrous technical prowess all whilst pushing the boundaries of this genre.

I absolutely love what Massaad does with his fuzz effects and how Hollingworth uses his bass to replicate a synth, especially in the song ‘Chasm’. To tie it all up, Minal definitely provides the external nuances with many memorable cymbal fills, polyrhythms and even unexpected blast beats.

You wouldn’ t expect a three-piece band to sound this heavy and huge, but Toska are an exception to that. The idea of the guitar going through a stereo rig with two amplifiers fills up the sonic space vastly for Hollingworth and Minal to provide an extremely tight and focused backbeat. What is even more applaudable is the focus on dynamics in the songwriting, with melodies that make you cry from inside with happiness and keep changing and developing throughout the EP, creating a journey which does not require any words.

Tracks like ‘Chalk Teeth’ lean more towards the hardcore/punk side of the musical sphere whereas the song ‘Illumo’ showcases the perfect amalgamation of melody and soundscapes that are synonymous with the all time great progressive rock records. Choosing ‘Infantile’  as the last song works brilliantly as this long 10 minute prog epic completely encompasses what Toska is trying to accomplish with their sound – they’ re taking the classic route of taking two different perceptions of music and moulding them together to form something absolutely fresh and evolutionary.

The biggest positive of this record is the fact that this EP was done with a total DIY approach. The band members recorded their instruments at their respective homes and at a jam pad with whatever gear they personally owned. Massaad and Hollingworth took on the mixing and mastering duties and boy did they deliver the goods. The production of the record is an absolute testament to the DIY attitude. The mix is really clean, punchy and is spread across the stereo spectrum, along with being wonderfully dynamic. The relation of the bass to the guitars and drums is engineered to near perfection. Not only can you hear the bass, you can clearly distinguish what it’ s doing. If that isn’t a sign of good product, I don’ t know what is.

Need any more reasons to listen to them? There’ s two one/one and a half minute interludes that are just psychedelic passages maxed to 11. We’ re talking drone sounds along with huge amounts of delay and reverb. Filtered monologues anyone? Am I right? Toska has taken the classic, rather clichéd elements of progressive music and although that’ s overused, they’ve done it well. The mixture with the aggressive styles of modern metal and a pinch of hardcore gives it that fresh quality that I haven’t heard in quite a while. It would be really interesting to see where the band goes from here, but Ode to the Author is certainly an assertion that they’ re going to be around for quite a while.

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