Black Fortress of Opium | s/t (s/r)

blackfortress.jpgYou needn’t be a visitor to a drug den to be carried far, far away by this album’s potent blend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

With a name like that, it better be something exotic and a little freaky, right? Well this record is, despite the fact that Black Fortress of Opium hails from the very un-exotic town of Boston. But that’s offset by the fact that vocalist Ajda the Turkish Queen (yes, that’s the name she uses) is half-Turkish and prone to dark, wildly inventive flights of musical fancy. The eccentric Ajda met Boston guitar whiz Tony Savarino, and hooked him one day with tales of a strange village in Turkey called Afyonkarahisar. What does that translate to? Why, Black Fortress of Opium, of course.

You needn’t be a visitor to a drug den to be carried far, far away by this album’s potent blend. The high will be completely natural if you’ve got an open mind and a taste for passionate, left-of-center female singers. Stylistically, we’re talking an off-brand of atmospheric goth-rock with folk and worldbeat underpinnings. Ajda and Savarino are musically inventive, driven types who let each track here spin its own magic. The remarkable "Ari" starts with Ajda’s powerful, often sultry voice accompanied only by a mandolin, lulling you into a sort of dream state. But then the song proceeds to alternate such quiet passages with electrifying surges of moody guitar rock, creating a building sense of drama that knocks your socks off.

Ajda’s one hell of a singer, deflecting any potential drift toward pretentiousness with her haunting, heartfelt emotionalism. She leaves you awestruck on "Crack and Pool," doing something amazing with her voice at one point that makes it sound like some middle-eastern horn. "Oh my God/ How you self-destruct me/ How I let you tear at my insides/ And still it’s never enough," she wails, reeling you deeper and deeper into her private, sometimes uncomfortable universe.

By now, BFO have already cast a mesmerizing spell, but the best is still to come. "Your Past" is a superb song, beginning right away with one of those powerful, classic dark riffs that gets under your skin and stays there. But again, the band keeps things interesting by alternating quiet passages with rockier ones. And Ajda has this rare ability to make almost everything she’s singing sound important, like she’s spilling the beans on every dark secret she knows. "Model Café" is a thoroughly surprising detour, a beautifully arranged country folk tune that, in this context, is like stumbling into a gorgeous sunny glade after hours spent lost hiking through a dark forest. It’s a gem, soon followed by another, From a Woman to a Man." Some old-fashioned shimmering organ gives Ajda a nice foundation on which to serve up her most peerless double-tracked vocals, with every word hitting home. "This is a tale of my suffering/ This is a tale of my pride," she says, making you reflect on the title’s deeper intent.

If you’re not completely transfixed by this point, then you’re just too jaded to appreciate artsy, exotic music. But BFO don’t sound quite like anyone else, and their sense of dynamics and urgency makes them a truly interesting new band. "I wish I could create a language just for you/ But nothing is strong enough," Ajda sings on the aforementioned "Your Past." On the contrary, my dear—you’re coming through loud and clear on this amazing debut, and if its exotic stylings were any stronger, they might induce hallucinations…or at least permanent rejection of conformity. B+ | Kevin Renick

RIYL: Dead Can Dance, Black Tape for a Blue Girl, Mazzy Star

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