Opening with an orchestral, almost cinematic overture, Life Squared (2007) traverses most points of the ambient trance and ethno-ambient compass with emotion, invention and kind of tension-and-release dynamics that can make you feel giddy if you happen to be standing up. My advice: sit down and stay there.

artist:
Asura

country of origin:
France

style(s):
Ambient trance, psytrance, psyambient, acid trance, ethno-techno

decades active:
00's - 10's

essential releases:

  • Life Squared (2007, Ultimae Records)
  • 360 (2010, Ultimae Records)
  • Radio Universe (2014, Ultimae Records)

Reviewed by Mike G

Originally a group, Asura today is the solo project of Charles Farewell. This French act's debut Code Eternity (2000) holds the honor as the first single artist album released by iconic ambient trance/techno label Ultimae Records. The album has some good ideas, while the almost too-diverse Lost Eden (2003) certainly has plenty of production polish.

But it's on Asura's third allbum Life Squared (2007) that the production and arrangements coalesce with the writing in a way that's really special. Perhaps the departure of the other members was meant to be, because Life Squared captures Farewell solo for the first time and it's spellbinding stuff..

Opening with an orchestral, almost cinematic overture the album then traverses most points of the ambient trance and ethno-ambient compass with emotion, invention and kind of tension-and-release dynamics that can make you feel giddy if you happen to be standing up (my advice: sit down and stay there). “Galaxies part 1” is a rich, cosmic drone so deep and wide you may get lost and not return for several days. The beatless “Prophecy” is an ecstatic meeting of lush strings and several different vocal chants. Storming 4/4 grooves drive several tracks - the title track is a stunner - but given that these chug along at a modest 120bpm they work as well for listening as they do for dancing. Play it loud, play it often. This is everything ambient psytrance and ethno-ambient can be, and "chill" music of any variety doesn't come any more moving.

The follow-up album 360 (2010) is similarly epic and multi-cultural, although sometimes with a more stripped back, less layered sound than Life Squared. There's an intriguing simplicity in the stark, thundering beats of "Atlantis Child" which during its middle section cleverly segues into frantic drum 'n' bass before returning to its slow 4/4 thump. "Getsmaini" is lush and windswept with a deep, brooding cinematic beauty, while the awe-inspiring "Halley's Road" returns to the cosmic widescreen spaces of "Galaxies". Exotic female vocals also whisper, croon and cry to good effect across several tracks. The only problem with 360 - at least for some fans - is expectations: it sits in the shadow of an utterly brilliant predecessor. Once you accept that you're won't be hearing Life Squared Part 2, the album stands up as a fine, powerful collection in its own right.

Asura's long-awaited 5th album Radio Universe (2014) clearly nods in the direction of 70's comic synth music on occasion, such as the beatless but propulsive "Interlude Sky" with cleverly adopts the sounds of both Jean-Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream without sounding like a pastiche. The album's second half presents Asura's more familiar downtempo fusion of lush ambient, synthpop and psytrance. Radio Universe is another epic adventure, to be played at volume so as fully revel in its sonic detail and dynamic production.

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