Gate of Kluna by Kuunatic
5 Nov 2021
You might want to be lying down before we get started on this one! We're about to take a journey through space and time to a distant planet called Kuurandia. That's the premise behind Japanese progressive tribal band Kuunatic's debut record Gate of Kluna. This is more than simply a concept album, however, this is a band built around the fantasy that they are musicians on another planet creating music within an alien culture.
We begin our journey to understanding Kuurandia with the albums opening track Dewbow. Keys that are reminiscent of a solitary Koto string play out a lonely riff that immediately transports you to the dusty outcrop depicted in the albums cover art. The drums enter with a dazy trance inducing beat backed up by a fuzzy bass line. The chanting vocals bring with them a temporary increase in tempo but, unexpectedly, no further depth to the music. Dewbow is undeniably successful at setting the scene and painting a picture of the world this record exists in but it does ocassionally lack variety in its composition. I would love to hear higher peaks and lower troughs and unfortunately I think this is a criticism that could apply across most of the album and may keep certain listeners away.
The two part Desert Empress introduces a subtle psychadelic angle and ramps up the 'alien world' flavour with the choice of keyboard effects. The vocals in the first half suggest a punk influence whereas the quieter second half is cleaner and rides a clear melody in the delivery as well as the backing music. This is probably as close as we come to Earth on the whole record but don't worry, we are still a long way from home.
There is a strong undercurrent of traditional Japanese music on Gate of Kluna. Titian is described by the band as a harvest celebration and although that may carry, the celebration is far easier to imagine in the square of an ancient Japanese village than a distant planet. Here as much as anywhere, multi instrumentalist and vocalist, Fumie Kikuchi is an ever changing keyboard chameleon with an orchestra beneath her fingers.
Elsewhere on the record Kikuchi even pulls out a Kagura flute to further cement that Japanese traditional influence that Kuurandia is unable to shake.
Para Bennya, the closing track of the album, is a haunting tribal chant backed by an inspired array of percussion. This builds slowly from a starting point of handclaps to an audial feast of djembe, cymbals and bells that could be the soundtrack to a dark ceremony from a forgotten culture. Four minutes in the entire mood changes and after a confusing and disorienting second half of off beat chanting, repetitive flute riffs and a steadily increasing tempo, Para Bennya ends it all suddenly leaving us a little bewildered.
Gate of Kluna, if you hadn't yet gathered, is not an album for everyone. Kuunatic are primarily going to speak to those musical adventurers who are always looking for something different or have an ear for World music. I do think however that their mix of Eastern and Western sounds is at a ratio that may help ease newcomers into more diverse genres and particularly into Japanese traditional music of which there are buckets full of influence here. I, for one, think this is a phenomenonal debut from a truly unique group who seem to be laying their own path and walking it proudly. I'm excited to see what else they put out in the coming years and hope they can one day find their way back to their home planet.