"Emergent" (Sensory Records; 2003)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

One of the more pleasant surprises I've been fortunate to experience over the last few years was Gordian Knot's self-titled debut and I've waited patiently for nearly four years to hear the follow-up. The wait for "Emergent" was totally worth it.

Although not really hard rock or heavy metal, Gordian Knot's debut and its complex progressive tendencies appealed to my intellect rather than my primal needs to rock out. In comparison, "Emergent" is louder, more rock'n'roll, slightly more organic, perhaps more complex, obviously still progressive, and definitely more aggressive effort than the self-titled debut. Perhaps this is where the title "Emergent" came from - Gordian Knot is emerging from their collective, pensive, and understated musical ruminations.

However, don't be fooled by my comparative description of "Emergent" to the self-titled debut. "Emergent" is not the return of Sean Malone's ground-breaking band Cynic under a new moniker. The inclusion of Cynic alumnus Jason Gobel might lead one to believe that "Emergent" is a shred-fest, but that isn't the case. Many of the elements that made the self-titled debut a reflective and thoughtful piece of art are still here on "Emergent." In fact, King Crimson veteran Bill Bruford and Genesis alumnus Steve Hackett bring a more studied '70s prog-rock flavor to the proceedings. You'd be hard pressed to find me listening to '70s prog-rock, but I know musical history and I know that Bruford and Hackett are acclaimed players. From what I hear, Bruford and Hackett are phenomenal inclusions to the collaborative nature of Gordian Knot's second effort "Emergent."

All seven original tracks on "Emergent" are strong and prominent examples of what music sounds like when it is played by virtuosos with enough sense to play the right way at the right moment. An eighth track, a live version of "Grace" which appears in studio form on the self-titled debut, is literally stuck in the middle of the album - it's a weird inclusion (however, it's not an intrusion), but somehow it all works. One of the particularly vibrant tracks on the disc is "Singing Deep Mountain" - a truly remarkable piece of work.

In my opinion, "Fischer's Gambit" is the best song on the disc. Fates Warning's Jim Matheos plays a prominent role on this track as his unique signature tone and style truly take the song and Gordian Knot with it to new heights without sounding out of place. "Fischer's Gambit" is going to be a long-time favorite of mine.

Sean Malone's bass work, as always, is stellar. However, on "Emergent" his keyboard sound gets a good deal of attention from me. I don't think it is any more prominent than his work on the debut, but on "Emergent" it seems more appropriate. Drummer Sean Reinert performs admirably again - sometimes it's nice to not notice the drummer during casual listening, but when focused listening reveals great percussion work you know you're hearing something special. Guitarist Jason Gobel is a great addition to Gordian Knot - although he doesn't burn the frets like his days in Cynic, you get the feeling he hasn't lost one bit of conviction and genius in the intervening decade (has it really been 10 years since "Focus" came out?). 

"Emergent" is a wonderfully crafted piece of 'art.' At times "Emergent" supercedes being just music and becomes something more. 

"Emergent" was produced by Sean Malone, Mark Prator, and Scott Burns.

Gordian Knot is Sean Malone on bass, stick, and various other instruments, Jason Gobel on guitars, Steve Hackett on guitar, Sean Reinert on drums, Bill Bruford on drums, Paul Masvidal on guitar, and Jim Matheos on guitar. Vocals by Sean Malone and Sonia Lynn on "Singing Deep Mountain" add depth and texture.

For more information visit http://www.seanmalone.net

"Gordian Knot" (Sensory Records; 1999)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

Gordian Knot's progressive instrumentals bridge rock and jazz with a flair for subtlety. The focus here is primarily on mood-setting pieces that belie the complexity of the songs. There is very little "progressive metal" to be heard as the disc's marketing materials might suggest. The appetites of heavy metal fans are not likely to be satisfied by this disc, yet if you like smartly played, dynamic music in a progressive rock vein then Gordian Knot are worthy of your attention.

The melodies are hard to come by, but that doesn't mean the melodies are non-existent. The musical light created by the players abolishes shadows as though each note illuminated every corner of the world. The music almost suggests a contemplative state of mind where the eyes can see farther beyond its normal range of vision and that the mind can understand the unspoken word. That's what makes something truly progressive - when it breaks the patterns of your brain's synapses. 

"Singularity" rocks the hardest of the ten songs here; the propulsive bass playing provides a perfect setup for very interesting solo sections. "Rivers Dancing" is another track that features a heavy bass rhythm with speedy guitar lines that evoke a Middle Eastern groove.  There aren't any crunch rhythm guitars here - that's what's makes this disc seem so odd to my ears. 

Other fascinating tracks include "Srikara Tal" and the hidden track "Grace." The hypnotic and panoramic zigzag of "Srikara Tal" creates its own gravitational pull while the hidden track "Grace" has a lucid, soothing manner like a lullaby drawing the disc to a close with a calm drowsiness. 

However, I did notice that playing the disc at an extremely loud volume yielded some interesting results. Extreme volume through decent audio speakers revealed the band's heavier tones that seem to have gotten lost when I played it through the PC's audio setup. 

Gordian Knot is truly an ensemble effort, but noting the individual players' performances is worthwhile. Sean Malone bears the biggest burden with bass, Chapman Stick, and keyboards on nearly all tracks. Sean Reinert's drumming is understated most of the time, but is complex and it kicks into a higher gear when necessary. Jarzombek and Snelwar's guitar work gives flight to Malone's arrangements. Trey Gunn plays the Warr guitar (also known as a touch guitar) which allows for slippery, warped sounds of color. John Myung plays the Chapman stick as a guest on two tracks. 

Gordian Knot is Sean Malone (Cynic), Trey Gunn (King Crimson), Sean Reinert (Death, Cynic), Ron Jarzombek (Watchtower, Spastic Ink), John Myung (Dream Theater, Platypus). The disc features the recording debut of Glenn Snelwar. Sean Malone was the primary composer, but there are many addition writing credits as the collaborative effort of the band gave Malone creative support. 

For more information visit http://www.seanmalone.net

Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.


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Copyright 2003 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 10 Jul 2022 15:03:28 -0400 .