Watching Abronia live is like spying on some deep-desert ritual: Close your eyes and hallucinate raging bonfires on the flat, cracked earth with tribal dances and chants being pulled from thin air with Morriconeian flair, gorgeously evil and unclassifiable. The eclectic six-piece ensemble expels a spiritual energy throughout their dynamic performances, defying genres with a powerful onslaught that borrows from spaghetti western, psych rock, spiritual jazz and doom metal—an unthinkable hodgepodge of styles that sounds both sinister and cathartic.
On their sophomore album, The Whole of Each Eye, the band finds themselves with three new members, a burgeoning following, and an exploration into deeper sonic real estate compared to their first LP—thanks to the addition of more vocals from saxophonist and singer Keelin Mayer and the deft mixing hand of Billy Anderson (who’s worked with the likes of OM, Sleep and Neurosis).
Abronia started as an experiment in collaboration, and their musical shapeshifting is evidence it continues that way to this day. Marrying desolate, windswept pedal steel flourishes with a giant bass drum to anchor the rhythm, Abronia colors the remainder of their compositions with droney sax, heavy leads and mystical flashes of melodic skewering.
“I kind of started this band when I was going to southeastern Utah every so often and was really connecting with that land down there,” guitarist Eric Crespo explains. “When I thought of this band, I thought of it almost as like a love letter to that land.”
Beginning with the slow-blooming juggernaut “Wound Site,” Abronia’s latest collection weaves hypnotic interplay with an ear toward cinematic profundity, resonating epic-forward, avant-garde art rock that writhes and looms like a dangerous predator.
There is a foreboding nature, too, on songs like “Rope of Fire,” even with some of the veiled melodic accoutrements holding the nebulousness together.
“Lyrically, ‘Rope of Fire’ definitely speaks to our current state of the world, which I feel like people feel is ominous,” Mayer says. “We’re just kind of tapping into what everyone is thinking and feeling right now and reflecting upon that.”
“It’s pretty ephemeral, that kind of idea,” Crespo adds. “I feel too close to that. It’s more of a feeling than a written manifesto about what we are.”
That indefinability, paired with a sense of communal spirituality, lies at the heart of Abronia’s output.
“I think we do connect into this realm that a lot of other bands aren’t even trying to go into,” Crespo offers.
“That’s what music is for me,” Mayer continues. “It’s my vehicle for not going crazy. When I go to the woods, playing the saxophone and singing is a release, and [it’s] part of my unorganized spirituality, no religions attached.”
The Whole of Each Eye, at just six tracks, seems symbolically fitting considering the collaborative partnership between the six members of the band—rounded out by Paul Schaefer (guitar), Rick Pedrosa (pedal steel), Shaun Lyvers (bass) and Shaver (bass drum, melodica). It’s also worth noting that much of the album was recorded at NoPo’s Type Foundry Recording Studio by Nalin Silva, a key member—as is Pedrosa—of Portland’s long-running spaghetti western orchestra Federale.
“I think we’re much more collaborative than most bands are,” Crespo says. “It’s definitely the most collaborative band I’ve ever been in.”
“And that’s why it takes so long [to write new music],” Mayer adds. “What we do well is make it a point to come to consensus in our songwriting or decision-making, even though it takes longer. I think that translates into the music, even though we’re not super consciously aware of it.”
“I think you couldn’t even keep everyone around if it weren’t collaborative,” Crespo continues.
“People gotta love what they do,” Mayer summarizes, “and feel like they’re part of something.”
UPCOMING RELEASE: The Whole of Each Eye out October 25