Spanish band Toundra has been around for a little while now, creating half a dozen or so albums since 2008. Hex, the group’s eighth studio release, is both a recapitulation of those albums and a progression from them. It was forged in the febrile atmosphere of a world-wide lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic, as so many bands have been with many acts stymied in their ability to play live dates for much of the last two years.
This album has turned out to be something of a statement from Toundra. The crux of the release is the twenty-two-minute track El Odio. It actually translates as Hatred, and reflects the band member’s thoughts and feelings of the illiberal hatred and violence aimed at sections of society. Guitarist Esteban Girón explains; “Hate is not in the nature of any animal, not even in the nature of a human being. Life in this world of screens, numbers, and false justifications of mathematics, theories even more perverse than social Darwinism, denature the human being and lead them to hate whoever is next to them. I have never seen an animal hate and I have grown up among them. There are much better alternatives to hatred; I understand that now. And I can progress and grow more through love than by hating. Many of my best friends are having children, and when I see those kids, I always think, ‘I hope you’ll live happily in a better world than the one I believe we’re leaving for you.’ If we allow the fury of hatred, racism, intolerance to grow; if we tolerate it, then what we love most, our children, will be the ones suffering a life of slavery, intolerance, and fear. Because, just like that poster during the Spanish Civil War said in the face of intolerance, ‘if we tolerate this, our children will be next.’”
The difficulty the band has faced in achieving this is obvious. How does an instrumental group maintain a narrative across such a long track without the use of lyrics? The track is split into three parts and each one is full of light and shade, great tones and timbres, momentum and clever pacing, but above all maintain a melodicism that is powerful and intense as needed. It isn’t catchy as much as accessible. The music comes in energetic waves, swelling to vigorous highs before ebbing. It really doesn’t feel that you’re listening to that long a track. It is a compelling listen.
El Odio is the obvious dominating track on the album. Perhaps by necessity, the other four are considerably shorter. Ruinas, which in English means Ruins, is the most typically traditional Toundra-styled and is aggressively powerful yet never looses its melodic trajectory, while La Larga Marcha (The Long March) introduces the influence of electronic music on the band, cleverly playing with the notion of a tape loop. Watt is the nearest Toundra come to a classic progressive rock sound, where the use of saxophone takes its inspiration from King Crimson, as does the use of world music scales alongside Western music ones, then the album closes with FIN (Close), where the band are hinting at more than the conclusion of the album, but that they consider it to be the end of an era too.
This is an adventurous and monumental release from Toundra. The band’s post-rock style maintains an essential ear for melody that would otherwise make the outfit’s music run of the mill. That the music is purely instrumental will be off putting for some, but they would be missing out on something impressively appealing. The band sound comfortable with one another and trusting of what a colleague is doing. None of the players is extravagant or noodling. Having such a massively potent track at its core it could easily have produced an unbalanced album. It does not. It is a well-produced and played statement, full of variety and colour. Rather than becoming era defining, the band should take from these strengths and build on that in its next, highly promising phase.
1. El Odio. Parte I
2. El Odio. Parte II
3. El Odio. Parte III
5. La Larga Marcha
Alberto Tocados – bass, synths
Álex Pérez – drums, piano
David López “Macón” – guitars, synths
Esteban Girón – guitars
Release date: 14th January, 2022
Label: InsideOut Music
Formats: Ltd. Edition CD / 180g Gatefold LP (incl. the album on CD) /