The last thing you’d probably expect from a something touted as an “experimental prog release” is an intro featuring an easy jazz piano melody, but that’s exactly how experimentalists Asymmetric Universe kick off their 2023 EP ‘The Sun Would Disappear As I Imagined All The Stars’. Fact is, this release isn’t so much an “experimental prog” release, as a weird concoction of jazz fusion and metal riffs that often centre around some very busy melodies. It’s jazz fusion at its most aggressive; a world where the funkier elements of The Brecker Brothers meet the flowing grooves of Weather Report, only to be roughed up by the heavy mechanics of Cynic and Animals As Leaders.
The intro on that opening track (‘Extrospection’) is brilliant. The way its wonky wine bar sounds lead the listener towards more interesting things is underplayed in such a way that, when hard edged prog metal riffs briefly rise from within, it’s a genuine shock. Then, once you’ve been sort of resigned to the idea that the next twenty minutes will be an instrumental prog metal free for all with djent tones (instantly making it a lot more interesting than your average Dream Theater knock-off…and like Dream Theater, most of those bands are average), they change tack again, bringing out a whole world of fretless bass. Settling into a very 70s sound, it’s easy to hear a great love for both Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Clarke coming through Nicolo Vese’s flawless playing, and a very sharp electric guitar shows off influences from Mike Stern. By the time this finds its feet, and Asymmetric Universe show how well they can do actual melody, their brand of jazz metal becomes really absorbing. Bringing in some light, bell-like percussion and eventually wandering back into a world of very clean, yet disjointed jazz, the track finally loses itself in a world of rhythmic stops underscored by some great drumming, but if you’ve made it this far, there’s plenty more entertainment going forward.
Bigger on melody, ‘So Within, So Without’ opens with a fine fusion based sound where the best jazz rock of the 70s sounds as if it’s fallen into the hands of both Roine Stolt and Devin Townsend. The backdrop is constructed from the best lop-sided funk, which is ideal for the wealth of slap bass noise cutting through, but there are moments within the main melody where the lead guitars latch onto a smoother, floaty sound. As before, this is offset by some really jarring pneumatic rhythms, which helps to create a very distinctive, aggressive wall of riffs. Federico Vese’s lead guitar work is stellar, but in terms of handling tight arrangements, he’s equally matched by Nicolo’s bass, and some absolutely top drawer drumming from Gabriele Bulita. Much like the opening track, this first presents a solid fusion of jazz and metal played in a way that’s hard to beat, but it’s the second half of the number that really impresses. Here, it’s interesting to hear tones comparable to Steve Lukather’s Los Lobotomys within a few of the solos, before some mellow piano returns to lead everything further into a world where bits of Mike Stern’s work collides with a frantic fusion, allowing slap bass and soaring guitar to do battle. For fusion lovers, this will be a genuine treat.
Opening with some clanky guitar sounds and very stylised piano, ‘Kaleidoscope’ can be much more difficult to appreciate, but it isn’t without some great moments. The arrival of brass quickly lends a Brecker Brothers feel, before the band disappears further into a world of typically jagged riffs, and a section where smooth piano dominates shows an interest in a more timeless sound. More than before, though, some of the atonal guitar work is harder to enjoy, and the track is perhaps a little too much of a melting pot where great melodies try their best to escape. Eventually, though, this becomes worth hearing for a musical dual between slap bass and trumpet, before a strange twist into vaguely disco-like grooves hit – yes, really – but it’s for the more hardened fusion-head only.
Last up, the band really stretches out on the near twelve minute epic ‘(re)emerge’. With more time at their disposal, this flowing number feels no need to rush, with ambient sounds and guitar harmonics filling a couple of minutes during an extended intro, whilst muted trumpet brings a jazzier flavour. Around the two minute mark, tribal drums lead into a jazz-reggae hybrid where more Luke-ish guitar work dances above the rhythm, and then, in true Asymmetric style, it’s all change again, this time to tease with a section of flamenco influenced guitar work, and eventually, a heavy as hell slab of djent metal. That’s at least four musical styles wedged into the first five minutes, but it gives a great insight into these musicians’ broad tastes. By the time everything settles down, ‘(re)emerge’ starts to blend djent and jazz fusion in a more natural manner, but the arrival of solo guitar and upright bass upends everything once again in a way that it’s hard to believe these are the same musicians who were crunching the hell out of metal riffs just a moment ago. This is a proper roller coaster of jazz infused madness; once you’re on it, it’s hard to tear your ears away, no matter how challenging Asymmetric Universe insist on making their musical ride.
In terms of extreme jazz fusion, this is terrific: a chaotic, sharp edged riff-fest colliding with a whole universe of busy, groove laden sounds that are as tight as hell. The four numbers on this release showcase some pin-sharp musicians at almost every turn, and the music is indulgent, but never without strong roots within a complex melody. It’s a release that shows how, even with a retro heart that comes through during its best and most melodic moments, that jazz fusion is still very exciting to the more adventurous ear. The potential problem here, of course, is that everything will be too metal-oriented for the average jazz fusion fan, but far too schooled in jazz for the prog metal buff. This leaves Asymmetric Universe locked within a small universe of fusion bands with little chance of escape, but the three dozen people who truly get what they’re doing will absolutely adore this.