Formed in 2003 by Manos Paterakis (vocals/guitar/santur) and Nikos Retsos (drums, synths), Greek sextet Gravitysays_i has built a steady following with its fascinating socially conscious concept albums. Be it 2007’s The Roughest Sea (which was “inspired by the egoism, the vanity and isolation of modern people”) or 2011’s The Figures of Enormous Grey and The Patterns of Fraud (an album that examined “social values, institutions and ethics as an extension of both individual and collective consciousness”), the band has proven itself highly skilled at fusing eloquent lyricism, worldly instrumentation, and ardent singing to yield rich, engrossing journeys. Thankfully, their third outing, Quantum Unknown, is no different. Focused on “elevat[ing] above the individual understanding of things . . . . to escape from the human gaze itself,” the six-track sequence feels remarkably fresh, invigorating, and endearing; in fact, it’s one of the most surprising and distinguishing musical discoveries I’ve had in several years.
“More than a Matter of Instinct” begins ominously, with a blend of dissonant synths, rhythmic bass notes, and eerie effects evoking the atmospheric opening of Pink Floyd’s “One of These Days.” Paterakis starts sings shortly thereafter, his thick lower register offering a fervent focal point as the score continues to grow warmly around him. Although he mumbles at times (which, to be fair, adds character to his presence), his words are often wonderfully poetic: “A dot / A line / The tip of a mountain in poor light / Deliberate collision course / A tragedy yet ethical / My cherished debris.” Eventually the composition explodes into a delightful mixture of tribal percussion and emotional timbres, with the santur and trumpet adding an especially regal flavor. There’s also a tinge of Gentle Giant-esque counterpoints, but with more approachability and affection. Overall, it’s a marvelous opener that showcases how Gravitysays_i offers something relatively unique within the genre.
In general, the next track, “Of Woe / Migratory Birds,” adds more electronic and standard rock elements while maintaining the aforementioned foundation. At just under ten minutes in length, it goes through a few movements, too, with some truly enthralling and creative shifts that still manage to prioritize feeling over selfish intricacy. On the other hand, “Dowser” is slower, shorter, and more ethereal, with lively interplay between the horns, guitars, and percussion that comes off like a less frenzied variation on The Mars Volta’s Frances the Mute. (The phasing on Paterakis’ voice is interesting as well.)
Without a doubt, “An Ivory Heart” is the standout piece of Quantum Unknown. From its opening motif (courtesy of the trumpet) and rhythmic allure, to its catchy chorus and consistently dramatic and luscious arrangement, the piece is utterly gripping and gorgeous. There’s even an expressive guitar solo halfway through, which bleeds into a sublime blend of synths, syncopation, and acoustic guitars before resolving back to its majestic chemistry. Every moment builds upon the last expertly, taking you on a beautiful, dense, and impassioned sonic adventure. Honestly, it’s the kind of musical magic that’s impossible to convey in words; you need to hear it to accurately appreciate it.
The record’s final two entries, “Every Man” and “Quantum Unknown (Riveted Eye),” are fittingly moving and opaque. The former is highlighted by arpeggios, harmonies, and strings, as well as a male/female duet and lovely piano chords. It breathes classical influence and dedicated artistry. As for the title track, it concludes the sequence with just about every specialty that the band has offered thus far, including electronic beats, layered vocals, orchestral groundwork, Middle Eastern and Asian timbres, modern rock touches (such as soaring electric guitar accompaniment), and plenty of dynamic variation. In several ways, it recalls organic emotion and instrumentation of Riverside bassist/vocalist Mariusz Duda’s brilliant solo project, Lunatic Soul, prior to finishing with an outburst of tragic dissonance. It’s an awe-inspiring last observation.
Quantum Unknown is an exceptional effort in every way. It flows seamlessly and ornately from beginning to end, ensuring that each section is filled with thematic heart, tasteful and appealing textures, and complex musicianship. The way it interweaves its many worldly ideas into breathtaking passages is nothing short of miraculous; likewise, the sheer originality of the album, in comparison to the current state of progressive rock as a whole, is very commendable. Beyond being just an astounding collection of material, Quantum Unknown is a work of art, and its creators deserve as much acclaim as possible for it.