Thursday, 12 September 2013

Sasha - Arkham Asylum/Ohmna EP Review (1996)

Time to break my hiatus with a look at one of venerable old hand Sasha's EPs from his glory days in the 90s, when he was at the forefront of the "progressive" movement in Britain. This EP is fairly rare and hasn't been released digitally yet. In fact, this is the EP that spurred on my vinyl collecting habit because I assumed it hadn't even been released on CD, only to find out after delivery of a nice big 12" that actually, yes it had, I just didn't check properly. Nevertheless, it's a fine analogue recording on vinyl even with added crackles, and a pretty classic EP, released on the Deconstruction label in 1996.

First up, yes, the name of the first track IS a Batman reference. Not to the well-known game, because that's thirteen years newer than this EP, so perhaps Sasha was a big comics fan at the time. There doesn't seem to be too much reflection of the Dark Knight's favourite lockup for the criminally insane in this piece, however.

"Arkham Asylum" is probably one of, if not my favourite, tunes by Sasha. If progressive house and the Brit-prog niche that Sasha popularised are known for anything it's the gently building tracks made from layers of basslines, pads, percussion and leads brought in subtly to produce a hypnotic but very danceable groove, and "Arkham Asylum" is a great exemplar for this approach. A completely gimmick free song, it starts with minimal percussion and atmospherics and doesn't reach its peak until more than halfway through its 13-minute runtime, so this is not for modern EDM fans with short attention spans. The pads and arpeggios are my favourite sonic element of "Arkham Asylum" - coupled with the arrangement, they really make this a song you could lose yourself in, either at home with headphones on, or on the dancefloor.

"Ohmna", which has a title I'm unable to find the definiton of, follows in much the same vein. I'd say the big difference between this and the other track is that "Arkham" begins without a specific mood in mind and builds into a slightly intense and menacing (subtly, I should add) feel, whereas "Ohmna" establishes more tension right from the start but once it gets going, it's actually fairly uplifting.

It's highly unlikely that you'll like one and not the other - both share the classic 90s electronic feel without seeming too dated by an overabundance of highly recognisable 303 acid lines or even the 808/909 drum samples. Those elements are there, but not exactly calling out for attention - everything in these two tunes is here for a purpose and fits into its place perfectly, leaving little to no holes in the mix or in the arrangement.

One interesting bit of information about this EP is that as far as I'm aware, it's Sasha's only published material made without a collaborating engineer. This is all pure Alex Coe here, and I wonder if that is the reason for the indulgence of the runtime of both songs, as well as the subtle way both songs build up, without a more bold and accomplished musician pushing the production forward? Regardless, it's a pretty great pair of tunes for those into 90s progressive house/trance, especially the British flavour, and all newcomers to Sasha (by which I include anyone who only heard of him after 1999's Xpander EP, like myself) should check it out.

Discogs Entry for "Arkham Asylum/Ohmna"

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