Rock improv fans will love Heads Full of Poison, album #7 from the forward-thinking Ahleuchatistas. While down to a duo, the band uses studio work to emit a sense of fullness. (It’s hard for one man to play many guitars at once!) And yet, due to its freeform nature, the album possesses a live feel. Perhaps this should come as no surprise, given the fact that the tracks were road-tested for years before being recorded; the band is famous for its live gigs, whose spirit is honored well.
Multiple influences are apparent here, from Asian and Indian rhythms to prog structures and surf guitar. If the spice works, Ahleuchatistas uses it; no ingredient is beyond incorporation. This freedom leads to unusual juxtapositions both within and between tracks; while Tortoise is often mentioned in comparison, System of a Down is another distant relative. The three short tracks – “Vanished”, “Lighted Stairs”, “A Way Out” – hinge on memorable riffs and could be dream contenders on an alternative rock radio chart. And yet these tracks, as appealing as they might be, are not all that the band is about. More typical of the band’s sound is the title track, which at 16 minutes in length is long enough to include a two-minute intro and a two-minute outro. Even this track contains multiple hooks; it just takes a while to get to them. Like the best improv artists, Ahleuchatistas wanders from its central riffs to elucidate and jam, then returns with a wink and a tip of the hat.
While the early part of the album is extremely caffeinated, the latter tracks offer a slower seduction. The wind-down begins with the second half of “Wisps” and continues, with only one break, until the end. Quieter percussion and subdued basslines inhabit the post-rock “Requiem for the Sea”, whose thoughtful breakdown includes cymbals that sound like waves. “A Trap Has Been Set” reminds one of Björk’s “There’s More to Life Than This”, with in-and-out-of-the-room sounds, including broken glass. The subsequent stop-and-starts tease the listener – the song is over, no it’s not, please keep going, and finally, what do you mean it’s over? “Starved March” brings the set to a placid conclusion, gentle enough to make one wonder how the duo was able to dial it back to such an extent. Then one remembers, they’ve practiced this, and the pieces all fall into place. (Richard Allen)