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(54:39, Progressive Promotion Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Cruel Symmetry 20:43 2. Paper Ship Dreams 4:30 3. Chance Encounters 4:22 4. Possessions 6:05 5. The Story of Flying Robert 4:29 6. Caught Within The Light 6:47 7. Open Book 7:43 LINEUP: Rico Florczak – guitars; effects Ulf Jacobs - drums, percussion; programming Robert Gozon – keyboards; strings; guitars; vocals Thomas Klarmann – bass; flute; keyboards; guitars; vocals With: Dieter Gunterman – saxophone
Prolusion. The German band ARGOS started out as a two person venture back in 2005. Since then they finalized their line-up as a trio first and a quartet later, and released two full length albums through Musea Records, the most recent of these in 2010. Come 2012 and this foursome have now been added to the roster at the German label Progressive Promotion Records, which released their third album "Cruel Symmetry" towards the end of the year.
Analysis. On their first two albums, Argos was a band that chose to perform material with plenty of nods to their main influences. Fans of Genesis, Gentle Giant, The Beatles and the aficionados of the Canterbury tradition in the UK could have a field day in uncovering lyrical and musical nods to specific artists and to some extent even specific songs when listening to those albums. The fun and interesting part of this was that this wasn't done in a derivative manner, but rather in a respectful way. Often with a subtle, tongue in cheek humorous attitude admittedly, but always with a high degree of respect for the traditions of the legacy visited and explored. Which made for two albums easily meriting a description as charming. On their third album Argos appears to have come much closer to establishing a specific sound of their own: not that it's a major break from their first excursions by any means, it's actually pretty close in sound, style and expression, but because this time around it's harder to track down specific origins to the compositions as a whole as well as to the individual themes and sequences. Avid fans of the artists and traditions mentioned previously will probably still have a field day here, but it takes people with a much deeper knowledge to be able to do pinpoint exact origins of the bits and pieces that make up these compositions and the movements within them. One of the most curious aspects of this new CD is how it comes across with such a distinct and purebred British sound, and I might as well add the word vintage to that description. A few details aside this is an album that could have been made back in the 1970's and always with that undefinable British mood and atmosphere. A major part of this is due to the whimsical movements: there's always room for a subtle play on words, a playful instrument detail or a whimsical thematic detour or insert. Then there's the vocals, spoken like and calm in a manner that have seen other throw Peter Hammill references at this band quite often. That the band alternates between gentle piano or acoustic guitar based themes with something of a folk orientation, more sophisticated themes with Mellotron or organ textures applied on top and a fair few variations of both sporting jazz-oriented details and motifs further enhances that British sound presumably. With some gentler sequences of Camel-style symphonic art rock added to the mix alongside harder edged guitar and organ driven excursions in the style of Genesis and the occasional brooding passage closer to the likes of Van der Graaf Generator the British references do keep stacking up quite nicely. Adding a bit of variation and unpredictable details to this landscape is melodic guitar soloing closer in expression to what neo progressive bands tend to utilize, and clever use of grittier toned, hard rock oriented guitar riffs. Especially when the latter is combined with gentler, pastoral themes the combinations can be breathtaking, as documented quite nicely on a piece like Chance Encounter. Still, for the majority of people taken a shot at this band it'll be opening and title track Cruel Symmetry that will make the strongest impression. More than 20 minutes of vintage-oriented and varied progressive rock with a mood and atmosphere so British that you kind of expect to get scones and afternoon tea served with it.
Conclusion. If you have an affection for British progressive rock of the 70's in general or find bands with a distinct sound and atmosphere inspired from artists of the symphonic and Canterbury tradition from that time and place to be of general interest, Argos is a band that merits inspection. Especially if you enjoy a band that sticks to a light toned and fairly whimsical overall sound and expression.
OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: June 16, 2013
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