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(55:32, Progressive Promotion Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. The Art of Mind 19:54 2. Inside the Wheel 8:56 3. The Games You Play 9:31 4. The Price to Pay 8:06 5. Sea of Dreams 9:05 LINEUP: Arne Schafer – vocals; guitars, bass; keyboards Eberhard Graef – drums, percussion
Prolusion. The German project APOGEE is the creative vehicle of composer and musician Arne Schafer, otherwise known as a member of the German band Versus X. He has been releasing music using the Apogee moniker ever since 1989, and so far this is an eight album strong project. "The Art of Mind" is the title of the project’s brand new album, which was released in 2015 by the German label Progressive Promotion Records.
Analysis. Apogee is a project that explores progressive rock with a comparable approach to what was done back in the ‘70s, and what has been a consistent feature in the albums I have listened to from this venture is a certain affection for the symphonic varieties of progressive rock. This is a trait that continues on this latest CD as well, at least partially so. The different compositions appear to focus on subtly different expressions this time around, so not all the material here can be placed inside a purebred symphonic progressive rock context, at least as I understand it. The five-part epic-length title track that opens this production fits quite nicely into the symphonic corner of the progressive rock universe. At times giving me associations to Eloy, this is a magnificent journey through landscapes of layered keyboard arrangements, classic guitar and organ combinations, sporting recurring themes and motif variations aplenty and also with room for interludes with a careful character. The piano and acoustic guitar are central for the latter aspect, and there's also a sequence or two that come closer to the more atmospheric neo-progressive territories on this stunning opening epic. Inside the Wheel has a somewhat stronger focus on arrangements with the organ as the central instrument, still inside a symphonic and classic progressive rock context, but with a subtle shift of focus, to my ears, while The Games You Play has a stronger emphasis on harder edged guitar motifs where the keyboards have more of a supplemental role. The Price to Pay moves the emphasis over to a recurring acoustic guitar-driven theme with room for sequences of a pastoral nature, but also with a beefier guitar riff and organ movement tucked into this otherwise more gentle affair. And then the concluding creation Sea of Dreams returns to more of an organ and guitars-driven focus again, with some nice atmospheric sequences that gave me associations to the neo-progressive realms just as much as to the classic era progressive rock. The strengths of the material here lies in the instrumental sections, where Schafer conjures up alluring arrangements and tantalizing solo passages with ease, and he has a good ear for compelling melody lines in general. Layered keyboard arrangements, powerful guitar and organ movements and delicate piano or acoustic guitar-driven preludes or interludes are all explored with the same relative ease, even if the sound can get just a tad clinical at times, at least for those who have a strong affection and a sensitive ear for vintage instrument sounds. Still, that is a minor detail, and not one, I suspect, too many people will care all that much about. A detail rather more important is the lead vocals, however. Schafer isn't a strong lead vocalist, and at times his limitations as a singer are a noticeable and detrimental trait. Those with a sensitive ear for vocals should have that in mind, and then first and foremost those who require the lead vocals to be harmonic and in perfect tune and pitch on all occasions. I'll stress that this isn't an ongoing aspect, but a detail that surfaces on occasion, in particular in the more demanding vocal parts of the compositions and in a few of the more delicate passages.
Conclusion. "The Art of Mind" comes across as a well planned and executed production of progressive rock, made with a similar approach and touching base with the classic-era bands, yet also including the odd detail here and there with more of an atmospheric character, adding a touch of what many would call neo-progressive rock to a production that has symphonic progressive rock as a firm foundation. The instrumental sections, themes, arrangements and motifs leave little to be desired, as far as I'm concerned, but the vocals are a rather weak point, and on a few occasions a detrimental one at that. Still, if you have an affection for classic progressive rock of the symphonic variety, this is a disc that merits an inspection.
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