Burnt Belief is an energetic and varied prog-based excursion from Porcupine Tree bassist Colin Edwin and guitarist Jon Durant. The eight pieces here mix the complex with the cool, churning them into a thought-provoking, must-listen mass. The hook comes straight away, as “Altitude” describes the sighing, ambient sound of Durant’s signature “cloud guitar,” the thick, round tones of Edwin’s bass, and the way in which they’re going to get along just fine. Durant begins, assisted by small tangles of electronic burble that will manifest itself into a light sequencer beat. Edwin’s bass steps in one patient note at a time before getting comfy and deciding it’s okay to ramp things up. Durant’s guitar takes the cue later in the track with the first of many blistering solos. Here is also where you’ll catch wind of the Middle Eastern tinge that glides through much of the music. It’s a musical masala made up of Durant’s elegantly carved guitar lines, touches of snappy tabla, dumbek and more on some tracks from Jerry Leake, and the serpentine potency of Edwin’s bass. I’m a huge bass fan, so this disc offers me a lot of love. “Impossible Senses,” for example, where Edwin’s rich lines slick their way over sharp raps on the tabla from Leake, laying down a bed for Durant to shred across. Just to note: While Durant’s delay-based cloud guitar style is his signature, let’s just lay it out here that the boy can absolutely rip it up in a blaze of pure rock attitude, and does so often, much to the listener’s delight. In fact, you get the best of both of Durant’s worlds in the dark, slow-at-first track “The Weight of Gravity.” In the early parts of the piece, the cloud guitar trades phrases with the bass. Midway, Durant flicks the switch and unleashes a snarling, rapid-fire array. I like the mix here, keeping the sharper edged guitar tucked just under the gurgling bass. It’s a great, well-thought-out balance. But getting back to that Middle Eastern taste: the flavor is also strong in “Uncoiled,” with a cool pace and stretched notes that remind me of Shadowfax’s “New Electric India,” and the sultry “Semazen.” Geoff Leigh, formerly of avant-rock legends Henry Cow and Edwin’s bandmate in the Ex-Wise Heads, sits in on “Balthasar’s Key.” It opens on growling, king-sized chords roughened up with distortion, and then in comes Leigh to counterpoint it with the high, fluttering flute. Leake again lays down the cadence. Durant not only flails away on the axe here, but also anchors the rhythm section with smooth electric piano tones. This is just a big, meaty jam that requires you to turn it up. Edwin and Durant bring the ride to a close with the quiet song, “Arcing Towards Morning.” Durant takes up his acoustic guitar here, along with piano, and the duo lay out a sort of late-Windham Hill feel. It’s small and intimate by comparison to the rest of the disc, a perfect choice on which to end.
I have quite gladly spent a lot of time listening to Burnt Belief. It’s packed with musical adrenaline and wears it rock ‘n’ roll heritage proudly, yet it certainly doesn’t shy from its own intelligence. Crank it up and let it roar, or settle in to listen closely to the collective years of art-rock understanding at work. Either way, it’s a pure pleasure.
Available at Alchemy Records.