In today’s mainstream hard rock landscape, you’d be hard-pressed to find music absent a strong lead vocal driving the track. RIAAN NIEUWENHUIS takes the normally arduous task of creating instrumental hard rock and puts on a songwriting clinic with ‘Collaborator’. This 2016 offering is a departure by Nieuwenhuis from his previous record ‘Instigator’. Where ‘Instigator’ is experimental and probes the boundaries of creativity, ‘Collaborator’ is raw and provides direct and unabated access to the simple but powerful musical landscape of what Nieuwenhuis dubs, ‘desert rock’.
‘Coordinates’ is the sandstorm grand opening this album would have otherwise needed and surely delivers. The track opens the album with a menacingly smooth steady drive draped in a liquid cool organ melody. What makes this track a work of pure art is the interaction between the instruments as they exchange places as the featured solos. The guitars hold back but hold strong as the organ dances through its lead sections. Similarly, as the rhythm guitars syncopate a call-and-respond exchange, the organ moves to the background and provides the glue that holds the track steady.
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The pace picks up with ‘Deep Dust’ and ‘Burnside’. The former is accompanied a sense of urgency held in place by heavy guitars and a very direct groove worthy of a Mad-Max desert car chase. ‘Burnside’ plateaus the urgency while ushering in a lighter aesthetic with a flying harmonica lead that often sings in chorus with the guitars behind it.
NIEUWENHUIS showcases an ability to change altitude with the aptly named ‘Reflection’. The track provides a rest with a soft opening before returning effortlessly to the full throttle hard-rock drive that opened the album.
The trend continues from there with the 11-minute mammoth, ‘Discourse’ and the petite ‘Prelude’. This is a Yin-Yang moment for ‘Collaborator’ in that the tracks constantly shifts terrains going from vast and open to upfront and thunderously chaotic to quiet and secluded. It is as if the listener travels through the album itself over the course of two tracks.
‘Fate’ and ‘Slipstream’ bring the album back to its core. It is a reintroduction of sorts that begins the final act of the album. The energy holds from there until the album closer ‘Solitude’. NIEUWENHUIS puts a perfect bow on ‘Collaborator’ by offering a musical summation of the entire album.
‘Collaborator’ is clear in its direction, steady with its pacing, and hits its marks accurately. NIEUWENHUIS juggles sonic and melodic focus across the album but it rarely feels chaotic and exudes purpose. A lack of vocals is an obstacle not easily overcome over the course of a full-length album. The exchange between each instrument provides the emotion needed to propel the story from track to track and is a key to an enjoyable listen throughout.