This album by Algerian-born Mehdi Alouane is a fascinating mix of the eclectically exotic and the hauntingly beautiful – fusing various styles into something truly special.

Originally hailing from Algeria (but now residing in Rennes, France), drummer Mehdi has the advantage of being able to dig deep into his native musical heritage and conjure up new and magical sounds. It is impossible to categorize his style, as so many influences run through each of the thirteen tracks of his new album, titled The Sound Of The Incurable Disease.

Although a distinct synthesizer sound prevails throughout, the listener can detect North African and modern drums, various traditional instruments, guitars (even Flamenco style), all held together by a dreamy, almost otherworldly quality where ambient collides with progressive, and psychedelic with native beats. Mehdi’s arrangements are steeped in tradition yet often border on the futuristic, spawning a melting pot of cultures across the sonic universe.

Opening track ‘Into The Disease’ evokes images of Middle Eastern prayers, Berber string instruments, Moroccan ginbri and wave-like electronic – before fading out on gentle drums.
It glides almost seamlessly into ‘From The Past Reborn The Storm’, a composition rather dark and gothic in tone, prophetic almost. Midway, the rhythm changes into more tribal fare, and Mehdi’s singing in English can be heard on and off in the background.

‘Self-fulfilling Prophecy’ has a beautiful Flamenco guitar intro, gradually layering synth and percussion sounds, then once again broken up into segments comprised of traditional and progressive, with a female voice singing what appears to be Algerian, before harder prog-rock takes over temporarily.

The mesmerising voice of Mina Chaou, a member of the Andalusian School of Algiers, seduces on ‘Affected Memory’, a number which transports you back to ancient rhythms, and the scent of sandalwood and cinnamon. Sparse instrumentation allow Mina to take forefront here, while your imagination glides through colourful landscapes.

In contrast, ‘Keep The World In Balance’ – although drawing on various sources and changing from slow to mid-temp and back, has a dominant jazz-rock vibe to it.

The next title in in Algerian alphabet so I cannot type it here, but it is a mix between experimental and poetry, performed by Mina and Mehdi, lamenting being far away from the native country and missing the loved ones.

‘We See Clearer In The Dark’ opens with chords reminiscent of a traditional Japanese Koto, before descending into the experimental fields of bands like Tangerine Dream, occasionally interspersed with gentle drumbeats and a-capella singing.

‘What Is Dead May Never Die – Part 1’ feels like an overture to a vampire film, like The Hunger, with it’s melancholic piano keys and classical arrangement, whereas Part 2 of the track is completely avant-garde in contrast, with Mehdi offering various thoughts and philosophies in the background – although the track ends just as Part 1 had started. The balance isn’t quite right here, the styles are too manifold and change to quick in order to keep up and allow the listener to fully enter.

Mina Chaou once more unleashes her vocal magic on ‘Nostalgia’, a slow-burning track very much in the traditional Algerian vein and accompanied by gently plucked guitar strings, and also on ‘Cryptic Values’ – a more upbeat composition which makes use of electronic sounds to complement native drum beats and horns. Absolutely stunning!

Finally, ‘The Last Page’ (“If God Wouldn’t Forgive Us, His Paradise Wouldn’t Be Empty, When He Closes A Door, He Opens A Thousand More”) is a reflective meditation with strong prog-rock and jazzrock influences, while closing track ‘Wilhelm’s Dream’ seems to be dedicated to Mehdi’s son Wilhelm, as the voice of a child can be heard talking/singing.

The Sound Of The Incurable Disease is a unique work full of wonders and discoveries, and proof that old and new can go hand in hand in perfect harmony.