Martin Gonzalez - Suspiro

Artist: Martin Gonzalez

Album Title: Suspiro

Label: Independent Release

Date of Release: 22 March 2024

My interest in anime of any kind is at about the same level as my interest in knitting, housework, and the history of the saxophone. I am not a fan, so the fact that I know nothing of the American anime, ‘RWBY’, is hardly surprising. And that means that, until now, I have been blissfully unaware of the soundtrack, for which Martin Gonzalez worked as a composer for volumes 8 and 9 of the animation. Neither am I familiar with Gonzalez’s work within the band Atomic Guava, so you might say that I’m a complete novice where this Columbian-born gentleman and his music is concerned.

‘Suspiro’ is the title of this, his debut solo album and, like so many other musical discoveries, it happened by accident. Scrolling through social media, I heard a snippet of the music and that was that – I had to explore the entire album some more.

Having now spent some time with it, I must admit to being somewhat smitten with the bulk of the music that I hear on ‘Suspiro’. It isn’t a lengthy album, coming in at a smidge under half an hour, but brevity aside, there’s a great deal within the seven tracks to enjoy. Predominantly an instrumental record, guitarist Martin Gonzalez invites a few guests to assist along the way. These include Haken guitarist Richard Henshall on one track, pianist Cenk Esen on another, electric flautist and saxophonist Zac Zinger on one song, and American vocalist Elizabeth Hull featuring on two compositions.

I suspect that those more familiar with Gonzalez’s previous work will instantly recognise much of what’s going on here within ‘Suspiro’, but to a newbie, it’s a challenge to describe. And that’s because there’s just so much going on. The lazy description would probably be progressive metal with a djent leaning, but this doesn’t tell the whole story. For such a short album, it is crammed to the rafters with a plethora of influences and approaches, including jazz, R&B, anime, and more besides.

Let’s get the negative out of the way first which, for me, is unsurprisingly ‘Reality Check’, the penultimate song that features Zac Zinger. The guy is accomplished and talented, but the minute I hear the alto sax, I recoil in horror and switch off. Admittedly, there are some interesting parts to the track, most notably the Eastern-sounding melody atop some djent-like riffs, but I can’t get on board with the sax I’m afraid. Clearly, it’s my issue and others will disagree, but it’s not for me, sorry.

Martin Gonzalez - Suspiro

I’m going to be a little controversial as well, maybe, by saying that I actually prefer the purely instrumental tracks over those with the vocals. Again, this isn’t a criticism of Elizabeth Hull or her abilities behind the mic, because she has an incredibly powerful voice, able to sing clean and growl with the best of them. I just feel that the compositions themselves are not as interesting or experimental as others, where the instruments are always front and centre from beginning to end. ‘Ouroboros’ is my favourite of the two, where the growls are harsh and work well with a soaring, clean sung chorus atop what is arguably the heaviest sounding track on the album, certainly the spikiest and most in-your-face.

Where I firmly believe this record shines is when the instrumental skills of Gonzalez and his guests are the focus of the compositions. Opener ‘Clueless’ is a dazzling treat, with an initial electronic beat, pop embellishments, before delivering some sparkling melodies with the guitar and synths, whilst retaining a progressive, experimental vibe that ebbs and flows really nicely. The guitar riffs in the background are satisfyingly crunchy, too, with the rhythm section making an impact. But it’s the effervescent, feel-good melodies and sprinkling of anime that make me fall for the charms of this track.

‘Finding Home’ is another incredible composition that starts delicately with electronics used to great effect. What intrigues me about this song is the way that it manages to fuse some utterly delicious and immediate melodies with Cenk Esen’s piano playing delivering some jazz tinkling that occasionally joins the central composition, but which spends most of its time going off on its own tangent, creating a jarring juxtaposition, slightly at odds with the soaring melodic djent around it, but still working. I shouldn’t like the song, but I certainly do and it’s a personal favourite in fact.

Naturally, any song that features the talents of Haken’s Richard Henshall is going to find favour with me and so ‘Purpose’ is another hit. As with many of the tracks on this album, it is technical and complex with lots of different technique and guitar wizardry going on. But, at the same time, the music just feels uplifting and enriching. Plus, the final minute with its pulsing R&B beat and anime melodies is insanely catchy and memorable.

The final composition, the title track, is quite possibly my very favourite, however. It begins with an out-and-out electronic dance beat (I’m hopeless with whether it’s pop, dance, R&B, trip-hop, or whatever) that I shouldn’t like. But it’s incredibly infectious. Then we descend into minimalist, almost silent territory, before the song roars back with a blend of the electronics and djent heaviness that gets me every time. Of course, there is space for Martin Gonzalez to deliver a solo lead or two, and some room for possibly the most pronounced Eastern sounding anime segment, before the song then goes all cinematic on us. The synths are stunning, especially when joined with the central melody of the track for its final throes.

I have absolutely loved listening to this record over the past week or so because it makes me feel happy. The joie-de-vivre that is inherent in the music is completely infectious and it does, absolutely, make me feel positive. The fact that, along the way, Martin Gonzalez manages to open my mind a little more to other styles of music is just the icing on the cake. Were it to have been much longer, maybe I might have struggled a little more but, as it is, I cannot do anything other than commend Martin Gonzalez and ‘Suspiro’ very highly indeed.

The Score of Much Metal: 88%



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