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(68:51, Musea Records)
Prolusion. Whether I say Arne Schafer is an oceanologist by profession and is a musician/songwriter by vocation, or vice versa, the result won’t change, though of course the man is widely known thanks to his efforts in the field of music. Arne’s creative work is inseparably linked with two outfits, Versus X and APOGEE, both of which are to my mind the best art-rock acts to hail from Germany in the first half of the ‘90s. “Mystery Remains” is Apogee’s fifth official release, and – quite traditionally – it only features two performers: Herr Schafer himself as a singer and multi-instrumentalist and Thomas Reiner as a drummer.
TRACK LIST: 1. Mystery Remains 12:58 2. Get Your Reward 8:58 3. The Claws of Insanity 14:13 4. Point of Ignition 12:33 5. Tracing Experience 20:07 LINEUP: Arne Schafer – vocals; bass, el. & ac. guitars; keyboards, piano Thomas Reiner – drums, percussion
Analysis. Arne has always been an adherent of orthodox (as opposed to neo), vintage-style Symphonic Progressive. Naturally, all the Apogee albums have quite a lot in common between themselves – and not only in genre terms, too. The project’s latest effort is as interesting as all the preceding ones, and it even surpasses those in a way, as the orchestrations became richer in natural-like colorations. Involving the sounds of string, woodwind and brass instruments, the implied arrangements have always been part of the outfit’s work, appearing mainly as the bearers of elements of Classical music. This time, the virtual orchestra is present on each of the five tracks available, as also are all the real instruments credited (save the acoustic guitar, which is absent on both Mystery Remains and Point of Ignition). The compositions are either of a semi-epic or ‘side-long’ duration, the instrumental sections in all cases exceeding in quantity the vocal ones. All in all, the tracks don’t differ much between themselves, albeit structurally, the two that the disc begins with, the title piece and Get Your Reward, stand apart from the others. Mystery Remains consists predominantly of dense arrangements and is also notable for its bright synthesizer leads, of which the fastest, technically most complex are patterned after Rick Wakeman’s. (Here I must note that there are no distinct traces of anyone else’s influences on the album besides the previously mentioned ones.) This track also contains a kind of central theme, which, while it returns a few times, in all cases appears to be at least slightly modified. Get Your Reward is a multi-sectional composition as well, but might at first come across as a two-part suite. Up to its imaginary equator, it is performed without drums, only featuring an acoustic guitar and a string ensemble, while later on the music is always sonically saturated and is at times even distinctly hard, bringing to mind a concept of Prog-Metal. On the other tracks, there aren’t as many sudden stop-to-start moves, but the texturally denser and more transparent arrangements are spread much more evenly (often alternating back and forth), no matter that one of the songs, Point of Ignition, seems to be about a classic keyboard trio symphonic art-rock throughout. In fact, it contains quite a few sections, to whose overall sound the parts of piano and virtual chamber instruments are much more crucial than those of bass and drums, which, moreover, are at times barely heard there. The longest two compositions, The Claws of Insanity and Tracing Experience, rely equally on keyboards and – both electric and acoustic – guitars, and when the latter is featured prominently (which it is quite frequently), the music appears as being more impressionist than classically symphonic, reminding me to a certain degree of Peter Hammill’s, circa “The Silent Corner and the Empty Stage”. The organ provides the pieces with some Van Der Graaf Generator aura, as also does Arne’s vocals, albeit, of course, his singing bears a much less idiosyncratic and hysterical character than Peter’s (and is maybe something different at all). By the way, I often unite the discographies of the outfits, where Hammill and Schafer are the key personages – under the monikers of Van Der Hammill and Versus A, respectively.
Conclusion. As a musical monotheist in a way, Arne never set himself a task to create anything else outside his creed. On the other hand, such concepts as “demands of the time” or “fashion” are just beyond him, and the quality of his creative output remains stably high all over the years of the project’s – or rather projects’ – existence. Anyhow, whether you hate his work or love it, once you get acquainted with it you’ll have to admit that he puts his heart and soul into it. (The neo-headed, take good note of what’s been said.) As for Herr Schafer’s latest effort in particular, it’s a welcome addition to my personal chart of last year’s releases.