Distilling order from a crushing whirlwind of chaos has been the stock in trade for Red Kite since the Norwegian jazz-rock supergroup joined forces in 2014. Apophenian Bliss, the much-anticipated follow-up to the quartet’s powerhouse 2019 self-titled debut references the tendency in the human brain to find patterns and connections even when none actually exist. While it may be a stretch to call Red Kite’s blistering alchemy of surging psychedelia, steamroller rock and fringe-dwelling jazz “benign,” it’s at least a far less harmful application of the term than the conspiracy theories warping minds across the globe.
Still, corralling the heady pandemonium of heavy prog, free jazz, combustible fusion and avant-metal into a cohesive sound is one thing; bringing that music to life in the face of the real-world chaos of a global pandemic is something else entirely.
“I guess the story for us, as for everybody, is the pandemic,” explains drummer Torstein Lofthus. “We left to go on our first proper tour on the 11th of March, 2020. We only managed to play the show that night, and then the country shut down the very next day. So: change of plan!”
Once the quartet – Lofthus, guitarist Even Helte Hermansen, bassist Trond Frønes and keyboardist Bernt André Moen – managed to regroup from the unexpected disruption heard round the world, they decided to regroup in a recording studio in Halden, Norway and vent their frustrations the best way they knew how: by generating a throttling, visceral collection of new sounds. Hermansen set to writing a collection of new material fit to spark the combustible alchemy that the band had achieved on their acclaimed RareNoise debut.
Covid conditions meant that the band couldn’t workshop material live as they had in the past. But given their combined experience – Red Kite brings together members of some of Norway’s best-known prog outfits, including Elephant9, Shining, Bushman’s Revenge and Grand General – and the chemistry they’ve forged together over the last seven years, they were able to conjure their adrenalized collective energy even under these less than ideal conditions.
“I started writing, trying to come up with stuff the others wouldn’t think sucked too much,” describes Hermansen of the process. “We managed to rehearse briefly, when it was possible, and got rid of some of the stuff that did. It was just one or two get-togethers in early autumn, share a few war stories, a few laughs, settle on a couple of grooves, and that was that. It was still touch and go whether we all would be able to go into the studio until the last moment, corona-wise, but we made it to Halden for two days, just.”
“Luckily we have a strong chemistry both on a personal and musical level,” adds Lofthus. “Red Kite’s music leans heavily on improvisation and the band fuses our individual voices into a larger whole.”
While the band is quick to disavow any over-arching theme to their music (“Naming any kind of music without lyrics is kind of absurd in itself,” insists Hermansen), the title of Apophenian Bliss at least reflects the worrying prevalence of conspiracies and misinformation in modern social and political discourse. Hermansen merely drew the phrase from a list of words and phrases he steadily compiles for just such purposes, but the addition of “bliss” certainly suggests that other woefully blissful state of humanity: ignorance.
“People seem to see patterns everywhere,” the guitarist says. “Some might see the patterns they want to see. In a hostile world, who can blame them? Two people might even see the same thing as evidence of the exact opposite. Now, I don’t subscribe to many conspiracies myself, but I’m kind of envious of those who do. It must be nice to feel confident that you know how the world really works, and make sense of it all.”
The album explodes into existence with Lofthus’ pummeling intro to “Astrology (The One True Science),” which proceeds with reckless abandon and an angular groove propelled by Hermansen’s paint-peeling guitar pyrotechnics. Frønes’ muscular bass slithers at a determined, menacing pace on “This Immortal Coil,” a seductive blend of doom metal and electric Miles cool cloaked in Moen’s soulful Rhodes. The bliss is implied on “Apophenia,” a mesmerizing, free-floating piece of psych atmospherics.
Lofthus again seizes the reins to hurl the listener into the vertiginous “Red Kite Flight,” followed by the album’s sole non-original, “Morrasol” (which translates to “Morning Sun”). This absorbing rush of psych-jazz, marinated in the third-eye spiritualism of Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane, was borrowed from saxophonist/composer Gisle Johansen, a friend of Hermansen’s who the guitarist says, “loves death metal and Coltrane at the same time, just like us.” The album draws to an ethereal close with the spacious “Sleep Tight,” with Hermansen and Frønes weaving unison lines over Moen’s coronal drones and Lofthus’ pointillist interjections.
Red Kite’s music bristles with the collision of disparate extreme musics, making it tempting to find a kind of mission statement in the title of Apophenian Bliss. Music, after all, is an abstraction – could it be the most sublime example of our search for pattern and meaning in the background noise of existence?
“I’m not sure that it does,” Hermansen shrugs, “but I think it’s interesting none the less. Apophenia means seeing patterns that aren’t really there – a kind of delusion. Our brains are programmed to look for patterns, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there always are any. Whereas music is all about patterns, maths, and laws of nature – things that can be measured. At the same time music is also human emotions. We all have our individual musical experiences, but all are equally valid and true. That’s the beauty of music: it can be observed objectively, and at the same time it can’t.”