February 21, 2021

Having released a promising self-titled EP in 2016, Hamburg-based progressive post-rock trio Vandemonian have now (20 Feb) finally released their debut album Xenophilia. Vandemonian create progressive, sometimes political, post-rock with distinct cinematic flourishes. The trio are actually something of a global entity, hailing from three corners of the earth (Germany, Australia and the US). As a result, they try to blend different and sometimes quite unusual musical genres together to create something new. Hours spent jamming have resulted in a creative process that is DIY-led but is a surprisingly “clean-cut”, uncluttered sound-mix and production.

The name of the band is actually the term used to describe a native or inhabitant of the former Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) . Recorded and produced by Australian guitarist and vocalist Nick Braren between late 2018 and early 2020, Xenophilia developed gradually over those two years with the trio constantly experimenting and maturing their ideas between studio sessions. The end result is an elegant and compelling album that sees Vandemonian fusing the very best elements of prog rock and post-rock.  Atmospheric elements of post rock are met with dissonant guitar tones, driving bass and unconventional drumming. In several ways, it reminds me of the UK band Wire, notably the albums Chairs Missing and 154, although there’s no “wall of sound” here, this is gentle and quite pastoral at times – a successful blend of post-rock and prog-rock.

You can now buy the album here.

Nick says this about the album: “Xenophilia is a turbulent album for these turbulent times, where the people in this world are being divided, displaced, misguided and misled. War, greed and social injustice are driving people from their homes, causing fear and distress, spurring them into the unknown. The future looks bleak. The media paints this picture, spraying us with horror, shock and awe. Every day we are confronted with problems of the world of a magnitude we cannot handle. The world is moving too fast and many cannot keep up. The rise of the right, nationalist movements with followers hell bent on keeping strangers without, all the while ignoring the simple truth: we are one. We are all the same.”

All of which might sound pretty heavy and earnest, well-meaning but off-putting…so let me reassure you! – this album is not a soap-box, but rather an elegantly phrased and varied set of tracks that are crisp, melodic, organically created, using a nicely “clean” sound that does genuinely cut across musical boundaries. Dynamic song structures and a well thought out rhythm create an entertaining varied song-set so that whilst there’s some serious messages in here, you’re not beaten up by them, more a case of being left to ponder…

The solid guitar base of the eight tracks is due to Nick Braren’s skilled handiwork. The Australian clearly knows how to use his instrument, while drummer Alexander Benthin provides a sometimes hypnotic sometimes unconventional percussion. The band’s “permanent” bassist is Ben Feddersen, although bass on Xenophilia is played by Alexander Steininger.

The first track is Robotor, a pacey intro feeding a mesmeric, quite metallic chord structure that builds and revolves around two wonderful, very simple, gentle, bridge sections. The track lives up to its title, it feels clinical, digital, antiseptic. The second track, Spherical Development feels darker, with a tribal percussion underpinning a mesmerically weaving riff. We’re introduced to vocals, feeding into a softer, slower passage before the guitar work hardens up again, working and developing the riff whilst a cello hovvers effectively in the background.

Next up is Razumikhin, another classy number with thoughtful changes of pace and rhythm – almost jazzy at times, with clean guitar breaks and a throbbing bass-line punctuating the melody. And as with all these tracks, despite being mostly instrumental there is much melody, lots of tunefulness. For a three-some, its a full sound that has definitely benefitted from the extended development period.

The following track is Jack Ketch, with influences of Mancunians The Doves and Ride, and perhaps Muse? A hint of shoe-gazer, delicate changes in percussion and almost orchestral building of guitar layers, still within a nice clean sound. If this has been laid down “at home” I’m seriously impressed! Another fascinating bridge section works then builds back into the chord progression – these guys are talented composers as well as performers, this is sometimes much harder when there’s only two or three of you but they carry it off effortlessly. As a song, the track steals you away within its composition, I involuntarily let out a deep breath when it ends. Great stuff!

National Insecurity is a cracking title, again it’s almost got a sort of jazz-club feel to the start, before becoming altogether spikier, threatening, it aims to capture that sense of uncertainty, insecurity and downright paranoia that besets the US in particular but so many others as well. Another showcase of different guitar styles within the progress of the composition. The vocals are extracts from Edward Snowden, American whistle-blower and ex-CIA agent, spoken in a style similar to the band Public Service Broadcasting.

Excommunication starts with a gentle intro, then a hypnotic post-rock riff, followed by percussion that again has a tribal feel. I reviewed an Aussie band recently, Kimono Drag Queens, that have that same sense of almost introverted, shoe gazer, tribal sound-mix. More unconventional changes of tempo and timbre keep you on your toes, not to mention the almost South African touch to the guitar work in the bridge section before more stop-start rhythms grab you! It builds to a climax which ends with an unusual slicing chord. So much is crammed into the six minutes of this track, this is classy music!

Man Is Invertebrate starts with a sparse mix of singer and strummed background. Gentle guitar gives way to a nice reverberating riff. The vocals are not completely successful in their phrasing and syncopation, if I’m being picky, but I think that’s part of the “musical device”. Still, perfection on your debut album would be boring! The song has hints of a mediaeval minstrel part-singing his story to a strummed backing, there’s again some very clever percussion.

The album’s closer is Souls, again an almost semi-spoken “preachey” style singing, that fits the composition well. More clever use of cello and piano add to the sense of this being a conclusion to the overall theme. It is soulful, almost bluesy and downbeat, but a very tasty mix of musical styles, I love the final echoing low piano note left hanging in the air….

The cello that can be heard here and there on the record belongs to Fabian Josten. Nick & Co. made the initial live recordings for the album in Hamburg’s Soundhafen. The record was mastered by Fabian Tormin at Plätlin Mastering Hamburg. acTVism Munich made the Snowden sound snippets available for “National Insecurity”. 

A fascinating debut album! It’s an elegant and aurally very varied song-set that sees Vandemonian fusing the very best elements of prog rock and post-rock but with added jazz, soul, smoke and mirrors! There’s a great sense of composition and atmosphere built over the 40-odd minutes of this album, I think we’re going to hear a lot more of Vandemonian!

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