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http://www.allmusic.com/album/made-in-belgium-mw0002475865

Over the course of five albums since Aranis' 2005 eponymous debut album, composer/bassist Joris Vanvinckenroye and company have continued to reinvent themselves, even as their avant-prog acoustic instrumental chamber music template has remained a solid foundation. With Vanvinckenroye's driving post-minimalist contrapuntal composing style and inherent melodicism, along with the ensemble's warm acoustic timbres, Aranis and Aranis II were most explicitly cut from the same cloth, but the band delivered a surprise with its third album, 2009's Songs from Mirage, which strongly emphasized the beautiful and ethereal contributions from three female guest vocalists. The following year's RoqueForte was their most avant rockish outing, featuring noted avant-prog drummer Dave Kerman in the lineup. With 2012's Made in Belgium, Aranis remain unpredictable, dropping the drums and featuring the core sextet of Vanvinckenroye, violinist Liesbeth Lambrecht, accordionist Marjolein Cools, flutist Jana Arns, acoustic guitarist Stijn Denys, and newcomer pianist Ward De Vleeschhouwer, and -- most significantly -- drawing their repertoire from a host of Belgian composers, rather than featuring Vanvinckenroye's pieces exclusively. For fans of minimalist and post-minimalist modern composition, Made in Belgium could be the best place to start listening to Aranis. They certainly prove to be skillful interpreters of Wim Mertens, whose two pieces here are rendered with stunning precision, as one would anticipate from expertly played music of the Glass and Reich school. Lengthy melodic lines spin out beautifully against a foundation of expansive, rippling arpeggiated chords, as Aranis explicitly draw their own stylistic connection to the composer, whose influence on the band was probably always present, if not this overt.

However, Aranis are not above some rockish pyrotechnics, as alien washes of sound -- perhaps produced by the array of pedals Vanvinckenroye employs in his looping solo bass project BASta! -- emerge beneath the band's hyper-energetic angular attack on the opening "Nonchalance," composed in 1989 by cellist Jan Kuijken and originally featured (with similar sonic derangement) on 1993's Let's Take One More by Kuijken's band Louise Avenue, another clear Aranis antecedent. With its array of modern composers (including Vanvinckenroye on his own pulsing, variegated "L1," fitting seamlessly in with the other 11 compositions here) and the drummerless ensemble's arrangements serving as a unifying force, Made in Belgium is perhaps Aranis' most "classical"-sounding album thus far. But to satisfy those who view the group as part of the Once Upon a Time in Belgium avant-prog lineage encompassing Univers Zero and Present, the album includes Daniel Denis' "Bulgarian Flying Spirit Dances 2," an album standout for its combination of vibrant folk dance energy and dark medieval-sounding harmonics (ideally suited to Aranis' instrumentation), and Roger Trigaux's "Ersatz" from the 1985 Present album Le Poison Que Rend Fou. "Ersatz" was a fine, almost jazzy outlier in Present's head-pounding ouvre, and here Aranis manage to imbue the composition with a relentless power and drive that arguably capture the true spirit of Present more effectively than the original, despite the entirely acoustic instrumentation here.

Made in Belgium, Review by BrufordFreak

I love Aranis. To me they represent the bravest of artists--being all acoustic, they have no space for mistakes, no means to cover up or hide behind effects or treatments; they represent the possibilities of intelligent, virtuosic music without electricity. Mega kudos!

I love this album--getting to know and re-know composers of modern chamber music (Belgian, all). Where this album suffers is the same place that all Aranis albums thus far have suffered: the songs, musics are lacking melodic "hooks" to lure the listener in and make them feel welcome, secure, at home. The pieces composed by WIM MERTENS ("Gentlemen of Leisure" and "Salernes") are the most melodic, mostly due to the smooth, minimalist style that Mertens wrote, so the Avant/RIO-shy listener might want to start there, but eventually all the songs grow on you. Aside from the two Mertens pieces, my favorites have become the gentle and folksy #5. "Where's Grommit?" (10/10) by Arne Van Dongen, the high-spirited "Bulgarian Flying Spirit Dances 2" (9/10) by UNIVERS ZERO/PRESENT/ART ZOYD's Daniel Denis, the circular and percussive #6. "Le Mar t'Eau" (9/10) by Geert Waegerman, the intricately layered yet smooth #7. "L1" (9/10) by Joris Vanvinckenroye, the Gothic KARDA ESTRA-like #2. "Le Feu" (8/10) by Wouter Vandenabeele, and the Bond movie soundtrack-like #3. "Inara" (8/10) by Ward De Vleeschhouwer.

As much as I believe in Aranis and their magical mission, I'll not rate this a five star masterpiece, but instead hold out for their next album of original songs. These serious virtuosos are so close to breaking through!  


Made in Belgium
Aranis RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by BrufordFreak

4 stars I love Aranis. To me they represent the bravest of artists--being all acoustic, they have no space for mistakes, no means to cover up or hide behind effects or treatments; they represent the possibilities of intelligent, virtuosic music without electricity. Mega kudos!

I love this album--getting to know and re-know composers of modern chamber music (Belgian, all). Where this album suffers is the same place that all Aranis albums thus far have suffered: the songs, musics are lacking melodic "hooks" to lure the listener in and make them feel welcome, secure, at home. The pieces composed by WIM MERTENS ("Gentlemen of Leisure" and "Salernes") are the most melodic, mostly due to the smooth, minimalist style that Mertens wrote, so the Avant/RIO-shy listener might want to start there, but eventually all the songs grow on you. Aside from the two Mertens pieces, my favorites have become the gentle and folksy #5. "Where's Grommit?" (10/10) by Arne Van Dongen, the high-spirited "Bulgarian Flying Spirit Dances 2" (9/10) by UNIVERS ZERO/PRESENT/ART ZOYD's Daniel Denis, the circular and percussive #6. "Le Mar t'Eau" (9/10) by Geert Waegerman, the intricately layered yet smooth #7. "L1" (9/10) by Joris Vanvinckenroye, the Gothic KARDA ESTRA-like #2. "Le Feu" (8/10) by Wouter Vandenabeele, and the Bond movie soundtrack-like #3. "Inara" (8/10) by Ward De Vleeschhouwer.

As much as I believe in Aranis and their magical mission, I'll not rate this a five star masterpiece, but instead hold out for their next album of original songs. These serious virtuosos are so close to breaking through!  

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