Review by Jason Spencer – 8th May 2020
10 STAR REVIEW (9,5/10)
In a progressive community that often favors technical achievement over melodic inspiration, it takes guts to focus on the latter. That is exactly what Infinite Ocean Earth (IO Earth) has done on their latest album, “Aura”. This album released exclusively through the band’s website on April 14th, where you can buy it on disc and download.
IO Earth have been around since 2007, with their self-titled debut releasing in 2009. I am happy to say I have been there the entire way with this band, and have loved to see how they have evolved and what they have achieved. The current lineup is Dave Cureton on guitars and vocals, Adam Gough on keyboards and vocals, Luke Shingler on soprano sax and flute, Jez King on violin, Christian Nokes on bass, Tim Wilson on drums and percussion, and Rosanna Lefevre on lead vocals.
Let me tell you about my experience with this band. I still remember the first time I heard their self-titled debut and how it made me feel. It was something totally unique, seamlessly joining genres hand in hand with a united, eclectic, and soulful style of music. Everything from prog rock to pop to world music to cinematic to classical was represented, and it felt whole and earnest. That is what Dave set out to accomplish, and he has managed to continue evolving that formula ever since with three more amazing releases.
“Aura” is their fifth studio album; and, after 2018’s “Solitude”, I wondered how the band could keep pushing the envelope. I wondered how this project, which had admitted started experimenting more and more with progressive rock and even metal more exclusively, could possibly do something different again. “Aura” is exactly what I wanted to hear. This album revisits the formula (not necessarily the sounds) of the original two albums. It focuses more on illustrious, striking melodies and on an eclectic array of sounds, tones, and visages. Though electric guitar is very much present, the album focuses more on acoustic guitar, piano, and more organic fare. I have to admit that my heart melted when I heard the sheer beauty.
This album revels in slow-burning, cinematic flairs. It features at least three vocalists, though I would still call Rosanna the lead vocalist. It delves deeply into social commentary, operatic touches, and ambient emotions. It is simultaneously haunting and classy, Euro-metro and organic, harmonious and rhythmic. It makes you feel beauty, despair, hope, and edification. It isn’t afraid to linger upon attractive atmospheres that are simply good for your soul. In fact, this entire album is like a palette cleanser for your spirit. The band released three singles ahead of the album, being “Waterfall”, “Circles”, and “Shadows”. All three of these tracks are truly outstanding.
“Waterfall” is a slow burn, zeroing in on atmosphere and luscious vocal harmonies at first. Slowly, it builds into a grand cascade of sounds, guitar solos, and glorious keys, leaving you feeling triumphant in its wake. “Circles” is a haunting, dewy track that floats in a hazy mist. It feels evocative and omnipresent. Lastly, “Shadows” is pure cinema, exploring human decay and devastation. It is a vivid track, though, one that will stay with you.
“Aura” has plenty of ambient, textured tracks, too. The title track opener is something like this, feeling Floydian and watchful. “Breathe”, one of my favorites, is deep, throbbing in its heart of hearts. It’s honestly the first track that really stood out for me because it lacks almost any rock elements, choosing to remain ambient, introspective, and transcendent. The band also includes a couple interludes, a two part track called “Resonance”. I seriously love these tracks because they are utter texture, allowing Rosanna to emote and harmonize with otherworldly presence up against orchestral splendor.
The final track is my favorite song, and definitely one of the best this year. “The Rain”, at 18 minutes in length, is such a beautiful, powerful song on multiple levels. Firstly, the music, rhythms, and especially acoustic guitars are all perfect, and the mix really brings them out, making them feel larger than life. But there is more to this song. Near the end, we hear various voices expressing what makes them happy and what makes them sad. The song leans heavily into hope and the human dream; and, as these voices fade, Rosanna’s vocals come back to us one last time. She sounds emotional and pensive, and I think this portion is her best performance on the record. Finally, the song ends with two minutes of pouring rain that eventually become sunshine, singing birds, and rebirth. Strapping on my headphones, this song is a desperately sensitive experience.
“Aura” is perhaps the band’s best album since their debut. It captures the global mindedness that I loved so well about that album, filtered through a distinct European flavor. On top of that, it is daring in its focus on melody, drama, atmosphere, and touch, while still offering the progressive rock trappings you might expect. Each track here is solid gold. I hope you will take the plunge and purchase this album directly from the band.