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culture

Sound Advice: Plato’s Dark Horse by Ayahuasca

The debut release from these aggressive Toronto newcomers fuses progressive, sludge, and blackened grunge with startling results.

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With a name like Ayahuasca (the name of a hallucinogenic compound brewed by the people of Amazonian Peru for healing, divination, and spirit quests), one might expect this Toronto band to be interested in the psychedelic reaches of stoner sludge. But the aggressive local four-piece is fashioning something far more complex and unexpected.

The group’s sound is at some moments meltingly tender and at others buzz-saw harsh. Ayahuasca’s members have described themselves as “violent circus grunge,” and, more simply, as “an ugly, weird, angry band,” but neither phrase manages to capture their sheer weirdness, their too-bright flashes of epiphany that give way to an eerie ethereal ghostliness. All of this makes their debut release, Plato’s Dark Horse, exceptionally promising.

Ayahuasca is the conceptual creation of guitarist Luke Roberts, who composed and recorded all of the music, and who also serves as axeman for the group. Roberts is also a part of the local experimental black-metal project Thantifaxath, and here and there the bleak, vicious blizzard of his playing evokes that band’s work. Black metal is far from the focus of the record, however. The influences are diverse—from fat, glistening sludge tones to crystalline, precise progressive exploration.

Intricate without being pretentious, and soulful without being messy, Plato’s Dark Horse showcases the work of exceptional talents. The guitar work on this album is tremendous. The solo on “The Silent Machine” is so perfect that it aches. The throb and clang of the unusual percussion is also extremely well done and always interesting, and the bass serves as a consistently grimy anchor. There’s no question that this is a brilliant guitar-driven record.

All four members of the band also sing on Plato’s Dark Horse, and the layered, sometimes competing vocals add to a sense of groundlessness and discombobulation. The vocal techniques are varied, from the acidic shrieks of “A Dark Horse Dragging” to the almost-sweet choral opening of “Tortured by Ghosts in the Static.” The band’s voices sometimes come together in rich harmonies and at others fracture—sometimes serve as a golden thread through the more difficult instrumental passages, and at others seem to suddenly turn on the listener and attack. (You can listen to “A Dark Horse Dragging” by clicking the sample, above.)

Plato’s Dark Horse is a strange and absorbing record, worth the repeated listens it takes to fully appreciate its nuance and complexity. With this startling debut, Ayahuasca has defined itself as a band to watch.

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