It's hard to believe that psychedelic space rockers the Ozric Tentacles are now thirty years and twenty studio discs (if you count those first six cassette releases) into their career! By the time of their terrific 1999 Album `Waterfall Cities', the band had begun evolving further than ever before in an electronic-driven direction, and it was a move that would affect their sound to this very day. But although the last few albums have hardly been poor (there seems to be some opinion that `The Hidden Step' from 2000 was their last truly great moment), there was a sense of repetition sinking into their music, perhaps even signs of a band just going through the motions a little, even though each album still had plenty of stand-out tracks throughout. But it's a welcome surprise to find that `Technicians of the Sacred' is their best release in many years, and this bold, confident and creatively inspired two disc musical statement has all the acoustic, electric, ethnic, world, ambient and psychedelic flavours expected of the band, as well as wholly embracing modern styles such as Goa and psy-trance to concoct a fascinating mix as always!
The title suggests that these two discs reflect the coming together of the technological modern and future age with the ancient, spiritual and meditative ways of old. Much of the first disc moves these cyber hippies the closest they've come to more purely electronic journeys, and there's definitely less histrionic guitar wailing than any other Ozrics album. Unsurprisingly, their soundworlds are constantly upbeat, spiritually blissful and still just a little schizophrenic!
As most Ozrics pieces end in a completely different place from where they begin, it's best to simply look at some standout moments instead of entire tracks. `The High Pass' is a pretty reliable Ozric opener that sounds exactly like you'd expect them to, all synth trickles and bubbling effects, pulsing beats and delirious electric guitar meltdowns. Tribal chants float around ripples of synths, a joyous trilling loop and slow-burning guitar in `Butterfly Garden', and `For Memory' holds blissful chiming guitar ruminations and gurgling beats. `Changala Masala' is a deep electronic psychedelic trance and world music race with slinking programmed bass and frantic guitar bursts (dig the manic throwback to their earlier track `Kick Muck' ever so briefly too!), after an almost oriental themed intro `Zingbong' morphs into one of those loopy reggae diversions that the band do so well, and `Switchback' delivers cascading and joyful synth melodies that could also get you dancing in between subtle moments of long ambient low-key stretches, and they even almost flirt with a kitschy J-Pop style in the opening!
Guitar is more prominent throughout the second disc, and in some ways represents the earlier era of the band more frequently. `Epiphiloy' harkens back to the dusty mystery and eastern bazaars of `Saucers' off `Strangeitude' where hypnotic acoustic guitar intertwines with gnarling synths, gongs, hand percussion, chimes and some biting heavier electric guitars to emerge as something of a modern classic from the Ozrics, and if the band can play it in a concert setting, it's sure to become a live favourite for many fans! Dream-like synth ambience glides through `The Unusual Village' with cutting little electric guitar spikes, and your mind grinds to halt with the lethargic and distorted groaning synths dropping mud-thick grooves on `Smiling Potion'. `Rubbing Shoulders with the Absolute' (now there's a title that electronic ambient musician Steve Roach likely wished he'd got to first!) has some lovely sedate and reflective moments due to glistening electric piano fingertips and washing Alpha Wave Movement-like synth caresses, and album closer `Zenlike Creatures' combines ethereal synth waves full of wonder and equally soaring and chilled guitars.
Even in the few less interesting moments, the album still sounds like addictive sonic ear candy all the way, and while it may not always hold their strongest or most memorable tunes, it's been a while since Ed Wynne and company have sounded not only so focused and determined to impress, but wanting to prove that they still have plenty of worthwhile music to offer and are more inspired than ever. `Technicians of the Sacred' is the Ozrics at their most vibrant, colourful and downright cool for some time, and it's great to have them back and finding their tentacled muse again!
Four stars - and bombard your senses by playing it louder for the best results! Who knows, it might even have you thinking it's one of the best and most addictive albums of the prog year!
(This review first appeared on the Prog Archives site on 23rd November 2015)