Rating: 3/5Colin Edwin is most well-known for his moody bass work with the progressive Porcupine Tree, but his side projects have tackled everything from ambient to metal. On Burnt Belief, he partners with guitarist Jon Durant to explore a mix of ethereal space rock and multicultural new age instrumentals. Edwin’s expressive playing forms the foundation, but Durant’s sense of texture colors each song, creating unique settings.
The early tracks on the album call to mind Ozric Tentacles, with sinuous bass, keyboard fills and engaging syncopation. “Altitude” fades in with a pulsating, liquid ripple. Once underway, fluting synths and a steady beat create a sense of movement. The song hints at the quiet opening of Porcupine Tree’s “Arriving Somewhere but Not Here,” but with a more fluid bass line. The guitar soars over the top periodically before dropping back to let the song catch its breath. As the title suggests, the piece clambers ever higher, but with the untethered finish the song overshoots the top and drifts free to unknown destinations.
From here, Burnt Belief slides into the percussion-driven “Impossible Senses.” Hints of tabla and polyrhythm give the song a worldbeat flair. Once again, the smooth guitar meshes with Edwin’s slinky bass, but this time it takes on a greater sense of purpose. The repetition of the melodic theme becomes a mantra. Each return reworks the idea a little further, like an expanding mosaic that eventually reveals a larger pattern.
From these spacey beginnings, the album moves into new age realms, with ambient shimmers and fog. The epic showpiece track “Uncoiled” starts with muted swells. Low bells and taps flicker, like a dark house settling around you at midnight. Lightly jarring drips of piano ripple in the hazy darkness, creating a mix of expectancy and disquiet. Wandering the halls, a previously unnoticed doorway comes into focus. Slowly opening, a glowing desert is revealed, complete with Native American flute and soft percussion. Wandering into this new world, sparse elements add to the unreal sensation: metallic harping, echoing piano and retrained bass. The song eventually coalesces into a hypnotic procession of guitar and bass that continues to support the out-of-body vibe.
Most of the music on Burnt Belief is stellar. Durant and Edwin are natural collaborators. Each voice stands strong without eclipsing the other. There are, however, two weaknesses with the project — one conceptual and the other musical. The duo presents the album as a contrast between faith and reason, inspired in part by Leon Festinger’s When Prophecy Fails, an account of a doomsday UFO cult in the 1950s. But the songs don’t reflect that theme and it proves distracting. Ironically, the one track that might draw on that idea suffers from its sense of discontinuity. “The Weight of Gravity” lacks the coherence of the other songs as it mashes up too many unrelated moods. Its slow, meditative start creates a sweat lodge atmosphere. This arbitrarily transforms into a futuristic, electro-psych groove with a sense of purpose, which clashes with the opening relaxation. The further drift into an organic fusion jam is less jarring, but lacks any clear sense of flow. While the intention might have been to show the conflict between religion and science, the pair miss their mark.
Still, Burnt Belief delivers enough beauty that its flaws can be overlooked. The thoughtful bass line and delicately interleaved guitar and piano on the closing track, “Arcing Towards Morning,” cleanses the palate and lets the album end in moment of clarity.