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(47 min, Black Widow Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Rejected Wasteland 6:06 2. Let US Pray 5:19 3. You Are Blind 5:41 4. Felix 3:04 5. Hard to Find 3:02 6. Difference in Time 2:47 7. Lifeguard@Sharkbay 5:11 8. Ta et Steg til Siden 2:53 9. Vi Motes Sikkert Igjen 6:49 10. Prevail to Fail 3:23 11. Unnamed 3:24 LINEUP: Stig Jorgensen – keyboards; vocals Jostein Smeby – guitars; vocals Erik Paulsen – basses; vocals Eskil Nyhus – drums With: Rune Sundby: vocals
Prolusion. ARABS IN ASPIC is a contemporary band hailing from the country of fiords, Norway. “Pictures of a Dream” is their fifth album to date, released by the Italian label Black Widow a few months ago.
Analysis. The eleven tracks on this outing all have a vivid retro feel to them, occasionally a kind of archaic one. Save Felix, all of them contain vocals (predominantly in English), albeit about one-third of the songs are largely instrumental. Stylistically, the band covers a lot of territory here: from proto-prog numbers and melodic ballads to more sophisticated symphonic and hard-n-art workouts, as well as extended rock jams in places. The tracks in the former category include the said Felix, Prevail to Fail and the Unnamed piece, the latter closing the album, as might be expected from the ‘title’. The first of these, the only instrumental on the disc, is at the same time the sole piece here where the guitars – both the electric and acoustic version – dominate everywhere. The music can be categorized as proto Art-Rock, but since the tune never changes its (slow) pace, it comes across as a ballad as well. The other two compositions are both 100-percent ballads, performed without the rhythm section for the most part and throughout respectively, the latter sounding very much like a variation on the former, which precedes it. On the disc opener, Rejected Wasteland, the band plies predictable territory too, blending fairly straight yet well-executed proto Art-Rock and quasi-symphonic Prog, both of them of the ‘60s variety, with liberal doses of The Beatles and early The Moody Blues. The next two tracks on the disc, Let US Pray and You Are Blind, both may at first seem to be fairly similar to the previously described one, but are, in fact, more sophisticated affairs, belonging to the latter category of compositions (along with all of those yet to be named). The music is a mix of symphonic Art-Rock, which now evokes Atomic Rooster, now The Nice, and classic Black Sabbath-style Doom Metal, the latter piece about the closest the band gets to an all-out metal attack. The Norwegians generally tend to work with a lot more distortion than either of the reference points, sans the latter, often sounding like a crossover between Camel and Deep Purple, such as on each of the remaining five tracks, Hard to Find, Difference in Time, Lifeguard@Sharkbay, Ta et Steg til Siden and Vi Motes Sikkert Igjen. Instrumentally, the compositions incorporate moments of semi-acoustic tranquility, though for the most part they are respectfully bombastic, embracing intense electric Hard-n-Art replete with power guitar riffs, swirling synthesizer leads and grinding organ. Bandleader Stig Jorgensen appears to be an inventive keyboard player, who brings a variety of sounds and textures to the table and has a solid hand in all of the album’s compositions. Jostein Smeby on guitars takes the lion’s share of melodic leads, though those are not as virtuosic as Jorgensen’s ones. The lead vocal duties are shared between three of the band members, one of whom sings in the manner of Ozzy Osbourne. However, they also provide harmony vocals (on most of the tracks), and when they do so they sound much like The Beatles.
Conclusion. Most of the album’s core compositions (tracks 2, 3 and 5 to 9) are interesting throughout. All in all, this is a pretty solid musical affair, very well reproducing the spirit of the epoch of the rise of progressive rock music. Vintage keyboards are favored, consolidating the target demographic.
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