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(71.25, Som Do Darma & Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Next Revelation 4:41 2. Dreamer 5:22 3. Ocean Soul 7:15 4. Last Paradise 7:26 5. The Dance of Down 7:19 6. Meet Me 4:53 7. Wake Up Call 3:43 8. To Madeleine 5:14 9. Escape 5:38 10. Welcome Outside 5:01 11. Meeting Mr. Earthcrubbs 4:21 12. Follow the Bridge 6:45 13. Not Like You 3:47 LINEUP: Eloy Fritsch – keyboards; backing vocals Ruy Fritsch – guitars; backing vocals Gustavo Demarchi – lead vocals; flute Magoo Wise – bass; backing vocals Chico Fasoli – drums, percussion With: Hique Gomez – el. violin (4, 7, 11, 13)
Prolusion. Formed in 1983 by keyboardist Eloy Fritsch when he was still at school, APOCALYPSE are veterans of the Brazilian progressive rock scene. “The Bridge of Light”, recorded live in November 2006 with brand-new material, is the first of their releases to have English lyrics. The album is also the first outing of the latest version of the band, with new members Gustavo Demarchi and Magoo Wise. Apocalypse have also released three live albums, the first of which, 2000’s “Live in USA”, was recorded during their appearance at the 1999 edition of the ProgDay festival in North Carolina.
Analysis. “The Bridge of Light” is a very unusual album in at least two respects. Not only does it feature completely new material recorded in a live situation, but it is also a half-concept album, in the way of Rush’s celebrated “2112”. The concept part itself relates Apocalypse’s personal take on the story of Jesus, though avoiding the annoyingly preachy overtones typical of so much ‘Christian’ rock. It also shows the band at its best, something that cannot always be said of the first six tracks. Though Apocalypse undoubtedly belong to the vast number of so-called ‘retro-prog’ bands, they manage to avoid sounding overtly derivative, and their various sources of inspiration are used with commendable discretion. Moreover, the live setting chosen by the band for the recording of this album enhances the material and lends it a welcome freshness and vibrancy. The fact that they are also very skilled musicians and performers does not hurt either. Because of the live situation, the sound quality is not as good as it would have been had the album been recorded in a studio. However, the enthusiastic reaction of the audience and the impassioned performance of the band itself more than make up for any shortcomings in this sense. While “The Bridge of Light” may not present an incredibly original brand of progressive rock, it is a more than pleasant listen, with some really excellent moments. Like many bands of the same kind, Apocalypse’s sound has a strong, though not overwhelming keyboard bias, and guitarist Ruy Fritsch gets to enjoy his share of the limelight. The rhythm section is solid throughout, though the bass lines are often scarcely audible (a common problem these days). Interestingly, this is very much a song-oriented album, not one focused on lengthy epics: most of the tracks average between 3 and 5 minutes in length, with the longest barely over 7 minutes. Singer Gustavo Demarchi’s vocal skills are duly emphasised by the often catchy, yet grandiose nature of the songs. His powerful tenor soars above the instrumental flights of his band mates, though there are times in which it sounds somewhat strained, and a bit too close for comfort to the excesses of the ever-controversial James LaBrie (his performance on Dreamer being a particularly sore point, not helped by the annoying synth whistles). “The Bridge of Light” opens with Next Revelation, a slice of vintage heavy prog in the Uriah Heep/Deep Purple mould, down to the exhilarating duels between guitar and Hammond organ, and the echoes of David Byron or Ian Gillan in Demarchi’s vocal delivery. While Ocean Soul offers some nice guitar/flute interaction, reminiscent not only of the ubiquitous Jethro Tull or Focus, but also of some Italian prog bands such as Osanna, The Dance of Down (sic), probably the most epic track of the first half, shows a very strong Kansas influence, both in Demarchi’s vocal performance, the lush keyboard textures, and the overall uplifting mood of the piece. More echoes of Kansas, especially in the violin parts, are to be found in the AOR-flavoured, somewhat lacklustre Last Paradise. The second half of the album opens with the lively violin jig of Wake-Up Call, which then turns into a decidedly Pink Floyd-ian guitar-over-spacey-keyboards section, complete with ticking alarm-clock noises at the end. Demarchi’s vocals sound commanding, occasionally gritty, but never cheesy – at times he reminded me of the various Deep Purple vocalists from Rod Evans to David Coverdale, especially on the dramatic Meeting Mr Earthcrubbs. Follow the Bridge, a rather unique-sounding effort with some unexpected jazzy moments, noteworthy bass and piano playing, and more soaring, impassioned vocals, also deserves a special mention. To be perfectly honest, though, I would have done without some of the synth passages that feel somewhat out of place – the shrill, whistling sounds on the Dream Theater-influenced Welcome Outside being the worst offenders. In spite of any shortcomings, “The Bridge of Light” is a well-rounded production from an experienced band. However, I have to point out that, if non-English-speaking acts wish to start using English in order to make their music more accessible on the international market, they should make sure they use the language correctly – otherwise, better stick to their native idiom. Bloopers like “The Dance of Down”, or the grammar mistakes liberally sprinkled through the liner notes, can damage the band’s attempts at international credibility.
Conclusion. “The Bridge of Light” will definitely appeal to fans of symphonic and neo prog, as well as to those with a penchant for a somewhat harder-edged approach. The vocals, however, can be a bit over the top at times – even if the band’s vocalist is undeniably gifted – and the sound of the synths can prove equally irritating. On the whole, though, a solid effort, blending classic symphonic prog stylings with a more modern sound.
RB=Raffaella Berry: Agst 15, 2009
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