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Adventure - 2009 - "Beacon of Light"

(72:43, Progress Records)


*****+

Prolusion. ADVENTURE was formed in 1990 in the Norwegian city of Trondheim by experienced multi-instrumentalist Odd-Roar Bakken and guitarist Terje Flessen. After ten years spent perfecting their sound, as well as looking for a suitable lead vocalist, they released their self-titled debut album back in 2000, which was met with critical acclaim. "Beacon of Light", initially also self-released, is the band's sophomore effort. Adventure has now been picked up by Progress Records, with May 2009 as the album’s official release month.

TRACK LIST:
           
1.  Something to Believe In-1 1:09
2.  Something to Believe In-2 12:48
3.  Something to Believe In-3 4:29
4.  The Swan 8:50
5.  A Crack in the Ice-1 3:51
6.  A Crack in the Ice-2 6:58
7.  Emilie's Piece 1:26
8.  Fragile Frame 7:10
9.  Joybringer 2:15
10. Beacon of Light-1 1:18
11. Beacon of Light-2 16:36
12. Beacon of Light-3 3:33
13. Beacon of Light-4 2:20

LINEUP:

Terje Flessen – guitars, bass
Odd-Roar Bakken – keyboards; guitar
With:
Vebj?rn Moen – vocals (1-3 & 7)
Henning Mj?en – vocals (2, 5 & 7)
Magnus Forsberg – drums (1, 2 & 7)
Kristian Resell – drums (3, 5 & 7)
Mari Haug Lund – flute (1 & 7)
Eva Cecilie Bjerkhoel - backing vocals (1 & 7)
Cathrine Larsen - backing vocals (7)
Bente Fossnes - backing vocals (7)

Analysis. Progressive rock is a description that covers a vast array of different musical directions - from ones replicating what was innovative music 40 years ago, to those who are actively breaking new musical ground today. There is a plethora of different expressions to be found, from gentle pastoral explorations to free-form improvisational performances, with most of the stylistic elements one can think of to be found within those parameters. In this case we have a band that has decided to look back in time for inspiration, and opted for a musical expression that doesn't have many elements of innovation in it, if at all. Although divided into thirteen different tracks, this disc is actually made up of seven compositions only, two of which are short mood pieces added for variation. The remaining 5 tracks all belong to the retro category of musical endeavors, with more than a few nods in the direction of Uriah Heep. As far as namedropping goes, the earlier productions by Kansas seem to have been influential as well; and a few select mellow passages venture into territories that have a strong Camel tinge to them. But, first and foremost, this is a release that takes its cues from Uriah Heep. However, Adventure doesn't come across as a clone act. True enough, there's a fair use of heavy organ throughout this production, but swirling synth escapades of a more symphonic progressive nature are utilized quite often as well. Heavy, drawn-out guitar riffs and slow riff patterns set up the foundation for a majority of the themes, even with some chugging patterns typical of a certain act already mentioned. In this case, though, the guitar sound is heavier, and the acoustic guitar only sparingly used - predominantly in the mellower passages. As regards vocals, both lead vocalists have powerful, melodic delivery, though without trying to mimic any vocalist in particular. The end result is one of heavy songs with rich textures and a certain majestic atmosphere – large and, to some extent, grandiose musical tapestries containing a heavier and somewhat modernized version of the sound Uriah Heep explored in their heyday. One feature of this act’s output that doesn't bear much likeness to their main influence is the length of their compositions. Adventure is a band fond of epic-length tracks; except for the mood pieces, all tracks are longer than 5 minutes in length, of which three cross the 10-minute mark, and the lengthiest of these just a few seconds short of 24 minutes in total. The longest of these ventures are divided into several parts, with the introduction acting as a common denominator. The structure of the compositions, however, seems to be pretty similar – personally, I would have preferred the three true epic explorations on this venture not to have been divided.

Conclusion. Although this isn't an album that takes on any true innovative excursions, the individual creations, as well as the overall album, are a charming acquaintance. The compositions evolve nicely, changes and variations to themes are utilized to good effect, and the songs are compelling, even if a bit predictable. Fans of the heavier side of ‘70s art rock should find this to be an interesting disc to check out, in particular those fond of Uriah Heep as they were in their heyday.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: November 2, 2009
The Rating Room


Adventure - 2009 - "Beacon of Light"

****+

Analysis. It is not easy for me to be objective when confronted with an album such as “Beacon of Light” by Adventure. While I have to praise its outstanding sound quality, the clarity and epic sweep of the music, and even the painstakingly detailed liner notes, I cannot help feeling that it is productions such as this one that give prog a bad name – as harsh as this statement can sound. Though the music flows nicely, and is undoubtedly well-crafted and played with passion, it is also undeniably cliched and somewhat overwrought, therefore appealing to a restricted circle of fans. Then, throw into the mix a logo and cover that look more suitable for a late Eighties power-metal band, and the slightly cheesy, though well-meaning concept behind it (touching upon such concerns as racism, religious wars, the environment, and the healing power of music), and you have a recipe for ridicule, if not for disaster. On the other hand, devotees of the lush textures of vintage symphonic prog, blended with the harder-edged, yet melodic sounds of Uriah Heep and a few, choice touches of something even heavier (think Dream Theater’s or Symphony X’s proggiest moments) will positively revel in “Beacon of Light”. Being actually a sort of rock opera, the album will also appeal to fans of the likes of Ayreon or Roswell Six. True to form, “Beacon of Light” features all the necessary ingredients of the rock-opera style: lashing of keyboards of every description, angelic female backing vocals, clean, melodic guitar parts, soaring lead vocals, powerful riffs. The presence of occasional flute parts, often interacting with piano and acoustic guitar, lends a gentle, wistfully folksy quality to the proceedings (as in the short interlude Emilie’s Piece). In time-honoured fashion, three out of the seven tracks featured on the album come in multi-part suite form, though on the whole each of those parts can stand on its own. Something to Believe In opens with a solemn church organ section, then develops in a full-tilt epic drenched in splendid Hammond organ and canny synth sweeps, with an intriguing Eastern vibe to some of the melodies. Keyboards, the undisputed protagonists of this composition, provide a solid backing to the forays of excellent vocalist Vebjorn Moen (a very gifted set of pipes, somewhat in the Russell Allen or Jorn Lande mould) and his complement of ethereal female voices. Terje Flessen’s lead guitar has a clear, sharp yet melodic sound most of the time, even if capable of churning out heavy riffs and occasionally aggressive solos. The song ends with a typical rock ballad, a bit of an anticlimax after the pyrotechnics of the almost 13-minute Part 2. The other two suites follow an equally grandiose pattern. The first part of A Crack in the Ice sees duelling keyboards and an atmospheric, vaguely Pink-Floydian bridge, while the second part is a rousing, vocal-driven anthem. The title-track, on the other hand, is nothing short of a tour-de-force, alternating powerful, operatic male vocals with gentler, lyrical female ones, sweeping keyboard passages with heavy riffing somewhat reminiscent of Dream Theater, and remarkable lead guitar work. The use of recorded voices at the beginning and end of the 16-minute-plus Part 2 reinforces the dramatic feel of the whole piece. The other two main tracks, keyboard-fest “Fragile Frame” and mellow, Camel-influenced “The Swan”, share the suites’ epic feel, lush instrumentation, and lavish vocal display. Even though echoes of other, influential bands can sometimes be heard throughout “Beacon of Light”, Adventure is not as overtly derivative as other modern symphonic prog bands. However, as in the case of most acts of this kind, it is impossible not to think that the only really progressive thing about their music is the tag attached to it.

Conclusion. As already hinted in the main body of my review, “Beacon of Light” will delight fans of grandiose, bombastic prog with a penchant towards the ‘rock opera’ style. Lovers of the more minimalistic or experimental branches of the genre, however, will be definitely unimpressed (if not outright repulsed) by this album. Those in between, even when not having a particularly high opinion of ‘retro-prog’, might find it a pleasant listen on occasion (though perhaps in small doses).

RB=Raffaella Berry: November 2, 2009
The Rating Room


Related Links:

Adventure
Progress Records


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