Japanese avant-prog quartet Zletovsko give themselves -- and their listeners -- quite a workout on their eponymous debut disc, released in 2013 over a decade after the group was first formed in 2002. Bassist Shigekazu Kuwahara and keyboardist Isao Horikoshi were in the initial version of the band, an Emerson, Lake & Palmer-style prog trio, and a decision to re-form Zletovsko in 2009 brought guitarist Kei Fushimi on board along with the group's most famous member, whirlwind drummer Tatsuya Yoshida (Ruins). Of the ten tracks here, five were penned by Kuwahara, three by Horikoshi, and two are improvisations. Opener "Thrush" blasts out of the gate at full throttle, influenced by the keyboard-driven groups of the classic prog era but with Ground Zero-ish avant touches in the mix; Yoshida drives the music with Bill Bruford-like snare thwocks until all the bandmembers drop out except Horikoshi, who runs through synth arpeggios at impossible speed. "Rat & Dragon" leaps back and forth between its jagged theme -- attacked by the group with something way beyond gusto -- and flat-out jamming interludes: Fushimi takes blues-rock licks into the cosmos while a comping Horikoshi rips the guts out of his keys; Horikoshi then launches into his own solo on a retro-sounding synth, pitch-bending with abandon. Zletovsko was recorded live at the Silver Elephant in Tokyo, with Horikoshi and Yoshida overdubbing, editing, and mixing the tracks over the course of nearly a year, blending the energy and wildness of the band as it reduced the club to rubble with studio enhancements in just the right places. The result on "Rat & Dragon" is a wall of space-noise-prog sometimes suggesting Babaluma/Landed-era Can fired up on steroids and amphetamines.
Cookie Monster growls go zeuhl on "Gepek," as Zletovsko give the Magma-esque repetitive chanting style of Koenji Hyakkei a death metal spin. Horikoshi gets a bit of breathing room at the beginning of "Improv: Prelude," choosing to fill in much of the space in his solo keyboard feature with florid ornamentation before Yoshida jumps in and overwhelms him; Horikoshi evens the score by shifting his keyboard voicings from piano to screaming synth, and the improv ends with symphonic strings and mock operatic falsetto vocals that dispense with any lingering notions of seriousness. Sandwiched between the two parts of Horikoshi's "The Golden Apples of the Sun" (reminiscent of Bruford's '70s band with keyboardist Dave Stewart) is the album's second improvisational piece, "Improv: Interlude." The track juggles interplanetary synth warfare, tortured and histrionic vocalizations, a barking dog, seagull sounds, wailing lead guitar, and rambunctious drums, keys, and bass -- with abstraction verging on incoherence at times, it nonetheless grabs the listener's attention and never lets go. After the ramshackle "Zelot" and shouted/crooned heaviosity of "Bikuni," the frenetic yet melodious "Camel Clutch" is a fine closer; echoing Samlas Mammas Manna, it would bring a smile to the late Lars Hollmer, with whom three of Zletovsko's four monster musicians had previously performed in several different contexts.