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SOUND PERCEPTIONS - Ep. 1: Shadows Made of Sound

Updated: Jan 19, 2021

Greetings, fellow hominids! A few of you may know me from my weekly Thursday facebook music posts, known as PLAT (Progressive-music Look Ahead Thursday). In this glorious year of 2021 I am now, fearlessly, or foolishly (not sure which yet) going to be diving into the waters of longer form music reviews. I'll still be focusing each review on the incredible new progressive music that is coming out all the time, but now digging much deeper into what makes this amazing music tick. To start things off with a sonic boom, I'm going to take a look at the brand new Sonus Umbra release, A Sky Full of Ghosts.

Sonus Umbra (roughly translated from Latin as sound of shadow, or shadows made of sound) began their story in Mexico, initially known as Radio Silence. After breaking up in the mid 90s, a few of the core members moved to the United States. A reunion of sorts, resulted in three full-length albums in the 00s.

Reforming again in Chicago in the early 2010s, spearheaded by original member, bassist and creative force Luis Nasser, two wonderful albums took flight with 2013's Winter Soulstice and 2016's Beyond the Panopticon.

All of which brings us to the album in question, A Sky Full of Ghosts, released on December 22nd, 2020.

Like many good bands, the sound and style of Sonus Umbra is diverse, and difficult to pin down. At times reminiscent of Jethro Tull with flourishes of acoustic guitar and flute, they can also turn up the crunch and get heavy with a ferocious guitar attack. Then again, with more than one member adept at keyboards, there is a symphonic quality to the music at times. And you want avant/RIO type of flourishes? That is in the mix, too.

Currently operating as a 7-piece, and with several multi-instrumentalists in the band, the collective options for stretching out and filling in multiple musical spaces are immense.

Things get off to a roaring start with opener Antidentity. A blistering instrumental prologue brings many band strengths to the fore. There is some mercurial flute work from Steve Royce and supportive cello playing from newest member David Keller. Then we switch to some heavy riffage, led by Rich Poston on electric guitar. Holding it all together is some solid rhythm interplay with Luis Nasser on bass, and Andy Tillotson on drums. After this sledgehammer start, the table is set by a haunting acoustic guitar line from Tim McCaskey, bringing a dark and folky ambience with it.

Tim's predominately acoustic playing on the album, is one of the things that sets this band apart. Very few acts feature acoustic guitar regularly mixed in with so many electric instruments. It's expertly blended, to become a part of the whole, as opposed to making an occasional appearance, as you would get from the majority of bands.

Just after the 2:40 mark, we get our first taste of vocals. One aspect of this album that I find quite appealing is the unrushed, free to stretch out, organic nature of the music. You won't find wall-to-wall vocals here, but a smooth ebb and flow, of whatever elements the song calls for. This provides a very welcoming sense of immersion, making each song its own flowing, self-contained story, that is part of the album's whole.

Singer Roey Ben-Yoseph's emotive voice is in fine form throughout. Possessing an expressive, yearning quality, it sits nicely in the expansive bed the music creates. A number of subtle studio effects are used to bring out several interesting, enhancing qualities to Roey's voice, while never obscuring the immediacy of it. A good thing too, as the lyrics on the album are of a very evocative and thought-provoking nature. For example: