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(138:29 2CD, MALS Records)
Prolusion. The German project APOGEE is the creative vehicle of composer and multi-instrumentalist Arne Schafer, a solo vehicle for material that doesn't fit in his main band Versus X. Since the first Apogee disc appeared in 1995 a total of six full length productions have been released under this moniker, of which "Waiting for the Challenge" from 2012 is the most recent. The double feature "Die Glaserne Wand & Schleifen", also released in 2012, isn't truly a part of the Apogee project. But as this is solo material by Schafer as well, the Russian label MALS Records opted to issue these archival recording under this already established moniker.
CD 1 (73:16)
TRACK LIST: Die Glaserne Wand: 1. First Movement 18:02 2. Second Movement 15:39 3. Third Movement 19:21 4. Fourth Movement 20:14 LINEUP: Arne Schafer – all instruments; vocals Gerald Heimann – vocals
Analysis. The material on this double CD was recorded back in 1988, almost a quarter of a century ago. And there's a fair few details which reveal that this material is rather long in the tooth. The drums are sharp, the bass does sound like it's synthesized on occasion, and most of all some of the keyboard textures used sound rather dated, a few of them even when compared to other recordings made back then. The overall recording quality isn't of the same standard as we're used to in 2012 either; I'd guess that we're dealing with a mostly non-digital excursion captured on tape in this case. In short: to enjoy the music explored on this production you'll need to be able to listen beyond certain technical weaknesses to be able to enjoy the music itself. As Schafer has opted to name the different sections of the suite explored on this first CD as movements, a suite that has its conclusive part on the second disc of this double feature, one might expect that the different parts come across as sections of a unified piece. A quality that, at least to my ears, was rather difficult to uncover. The red thread appears to be mostly of a lyrical nature, while any musical details at least are less than obvious. The First Movement opens in a less than convincing manner, with fairly simplistic arrangements utilizing the contrasts between dark and light toned instrument motifs with the mostly spoken word vocals adding a subtle non-harmonic element to the proceedings. The composition does develop quite nicely though, and concludes in a fine manner with a fairly sophisticated and majestic multi-layered arrangements with Mellotron and guitars interacting quite nicely. The Second Movement takes on a different approach entirely, moving away from the more symphonic oriented territories of the initial phase to explore a style that basically comes across as a more organic version of Kraftwerk: dark, somber and subtly alien, a bleak musical landscape with few traces of optimism and quite a lot of downplayed despair to my ears. As this part develops we're back to the symphonic art rock territories some minutes in, however, but extensive soloing and a finely constructed guitar and organ theme aren't really able to produce an atmosphere as intriguing and captivating as those initial sequences of bleak futuristic underwhelmed dread. The Third Movement is one that should find favor among avid fans of symphonic art rock, with a fine array of keyboard textures in nice and at times fairly elegant interaction with guitars, bass and drums, although it's a sequence that appears halfway in with a dual set of guitars in tightly interwoven movements that is the most intriguing feature to this particular set of ears. The Fourth Movement marks a return to the electronic inspired sound, again with Kraftwerk or perhaps even Tangerine Dream as a likely culprit as far as inspiration is concerned, but performed with a warmer and more organic quality to the individual textures and motifs, with a neat and elegant shift towards a symphonic expression at the halfway point with organ and guitars taking the lead for a nifty and engaging concluding half sporting a fine and captivating array of recurring themes and motifs. While perhaps not quite of the outstanding quality those in the know expect from an Apogee production, there are a number of fine moments to enjoy on the opening part of this double feature. The fourth and last movement are arguably the most interesting overall, but fans of symphonic art rock with a taste for adventurous escapades should find this disc to be a pleasant experience I'd guess. As long as one is able to overlook certain issues that arise due to the age of this material obviously.
CD 2 (65:13)
TRACK LIST: Die Glaserne Wand: 1. Fifth Movement 21:02 Schleifen: 2. First Part 24:17 3. Second Part 19:54
Analysis. The second disc of this double feature continues where the first one ended. Rather literally in this case, as the opening track, the Fifth Movement, concludes the five part suite whose first four movements were covered on the first CD. This concluding piece of ‘Die Glaserne Wand’ is also the most intriguing one to my ears, a clear highlight of this suite as well as the entire album. Mournful, melancholic keyboards and vocal arrangements are paired with a dark, brooding set of theme variations with saxophone and keyboards supplementing a more dominant guitar, and especially the latter set of sequences, which is energetic, intriguing and highly captivating. The spoken words vocals fit both sets of arrangements very well indeed, and apart from an end sequence that didn't quite manage to round up this experience for me this was a splendid manner in which to conclude this massive 90 minutes long suite. Two-part suite ‘Schleifen’ concludes this album in a somewhat more convincing manner. 45 minutes of highly ambitious music, each part divided into five subparts, this is a highly ambitious undertaking with themes and theme variations thrown at you in quick succession. From the initial phase of the first part, with its classical electronic construction, reminding me of Isao Tomita more than anything else, with excursions into darker toned symphonic territories as well as Kraftwerk-tinged excursions somewhat more minimalistic of nature and even a few cosmic-tinged sequences towards the end of the second part, it's a structurally challenging piece of work we're dealing with. As with the initial phases of the longer suite some parts intrigue and inspire, others feel dated and less inspired. The ravages of time obviously an element here, the sharp and synthetic sounding drums at times a distracting detail for instance, but with this suite as well as the opening one there's another aspect to consider. With material of this length and with a fairly demanding structure, it will take time to find out just how enjoyable this music really is. And getting to intimately know a 45 minute long suite takes its good time, and even more so for the 90 minutes long one. More time than a relatively hard working reviewer has at his or her disposition. As such, the impressions stated in this review should be read and understood within that context.
Conclusion. These archival recordings courtesy of Arne Schäfer, released under his Apogee moniker, document an ambitious musician with a need to cover and explore a lot of ground in terms of structures, arrangements and style. Some technical and instrument details do come across as fairly dated, and a certain taste for 80's style sounds will be needed to enjoy this double CD. But if you don't regard that as a major drawback and tend to enjoy a fairly eclectic and demanding take on the symphonic art rock universe, then you might want to inspect this production, alongside existing fans of Arne Schafer and his musical escapades.
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