In a way, 7 works sort of like the ending of the Wizard Of Oz, revealing that instead of some oppressive force, the group that has long been shrouded in mystery is in fact seemingly four regular guys who just happen to create insanely mind-bending improvised music together. Although their names have never been printed on the packaging of their respective releases, we know that the quartet consists of trumpeter Arve Henriksen, drummer Jarle Vespestad, electronic knob-twiddler Helge Sten (aka Deathprod), and keyboardist Ståle Storløkken.
Every member of the collective seems to have a hand in something like five other projects at least, yet their sixteen-limbed improvisations are likely what they're known for. Recorded at the Parkteatret theatre in Oslo, Norway, this concert film finds the group pulling six long tracks out of the ether for 109 minutes worth of material. Shot on black and white film with some minimal effects, the presentation is stark (the DVD doesn't even have menus), but effective, allowing the viewer to really focus in on the quartet as they run through their epic adventures in sound.
And epic they are, as tracks range between ten and roughly thirty minutes in length. Opener "1" builds slowly as everyone starts to weave their layers together, eventually culminating in a complete freakout of pummeling drums, sharp horn bursts, looped electronics, spastic keyboards and vocals from Henriksen that sound something like a mixture between scat, tribal chant, and punk rock shrieks. "2" follows a similar modus operandi, with Storløkken's synth playing leading the slow burn before everyone piles on top and closing out with a sort of ballistic meltdown of prog proportions.
The album standout is also the longest track of "3," which opens with some of the most gorgeous work that the group has ever done as Storløkken plays some melancholy mellotron as Sten layers in some subtle swirling tones before Henriksen starts singing in mournful, almost Sigur Ros-style falsetto. The track breaks off about one-third of the way through and turns into an almost alien-world of fractured beats and electronic buzzes and shards, but eventually locks into a heavy, almost dancey beat as Sten drops some crazy sci-fi effects over it all while Storløkken rips off huge keyboard bursts and the whole thing culminates in a soaring finale that is possibly the most powerful thing the group has ever done.
In many ways, this even longer format allows the group to stretch out and do what they're best at. 7 is well over half again as long as their longest individual release to date (minus their 3CD first release, of course), and those who wondered how the heck they could pull of such improvisations (like myself) will no doubt be stunned to see them conjure up their long form pieces that range from pastoral and soothing to cold and creepy to downright explosive. I have to admit that it took me some time to warm to the group in the past, but 7 got me from the start and sucked me right in.
All of the above said, the actual way in which the group constructs their tracks sometimes doesn't stand up quite as well on repeated viewings. Due to their improvisational nature, tracks on the release all tend to start quietly with one element then build slowly until everyone sort of locks into something before having a giant blowout and finally winding down again. There aren't any quick direction changes, and once you've seen the windup a couple times, you start to know what the relative outcome is going to be. That the group can keep things interesting at all (and they do) is a powerful statement to their creativity as musicians. Consider this the next-best thing to actually seeing this rarely-touring group in person, as it's a fine and often stunning representation of their work.