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Blank Manuskript - 2009 - "Tales from an Island"

(45.46, , ‘BM')


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TRACK LIST:                   

1.  Breath of the Island 2:10 
2.  Voyage 4:24 
3.  Society 7:26 
4.  The Great War 5:00 
5.  After the War-I 2:18 
6.  After the War-II 5:40 
7.  The Cult of Birdman 12:26 
8.  The Waiting 4:22

LINEUP:

Dominik Wallner – grand piano, synthesizer, organ; vocals
Alfons Wohlmuth – bass; vocals
Christian Breckner – el. & classical guitar
Elias Papaioannou – drums 
With: 
Victor de la Rosa – percussion 
Jakob Aistleitner – vocals (2, 4, 7), saxophone (3)
Manuel Schonegger – saxophone (2), flute (3, 7)
Gabi Lidicky – classical flute (5)
Veronika Obermeier – vocals (8)
Martin Flatz – narration (1, 7)

Prolusion. BLANK MANUSCRIPT hail from Salzburg, Austria, the birthplace of W.A. Mozart. The band was formed towards the end of 2007 by keyboardist Dominik Wallner and guitarist Christian Breckner (both classically-trained), and self-taught bassist/vocalist Alfons Wohlmuth. Their debut, “Tales from an Island”, a concept album based on the history of Rapa Nui (also known as Easter Island), was released in early 2009. Blank Manuskript have also participated in a number of Colossus Project albums. They are currently working on their second album, which should be released in the summer of 2010.

Analysis. In spite of Austria’s reputation as one of the most musical countries in the world, its contingent of rock bands is definitely very limited, especially if compared to other countries without a similarly venerable heritage. The list of bands that play progressive rock is even shorter, with none of them rising above obscurity. Blank Manuskript, however, stand a good chance of breaking this negative stereotype, combining as they do the weight of centuries of musical tradition with a modern, enlightened take on classic prog. Broadly speaking, Blank Manuscript might be placed under the ‘symphonic prog’ banner, though the music showcased on “Tales from an Island” is very far removed from the grandiose, somewhat overblown efforts of bands like Little Tragedies, or the textbook-perfect imitation of Seventies modes of many ‘retro’ bands. In fact, their sound is remarkably restrained, rich in melodic quotient, with occasional, judiciously placed jazzy touches, and increasing in intensity when it is required by the story. If they were to be compared to any of the classic outfits of the golden age of prog, a band like Camel – always a byword for subtlety and elegance rather than all-out flamboyance – would probably be the best fit. As the title suggests, “Tales from an Island” was inspired by the history of one of the most intriguing (and isolated) places on our planet – the Pacific island of Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island. In particular, the tale (told from the point of view of one of the original settlers) deals with the passage from the cult of ancestors (which produced the massive statues, or moai, for which the island is famous) to the so-called ‘birdman cult’, and the conflict and misery that ensued. The lyrics, while occasionally a tad on the na?ve side, are also deeply moving, and the maritime-themed cover artwork (somewhat reminiscent of classic Japanese art) looks both original and stylish. On “Tales from an Island”, the basic line-up of Blank Manuscript is augmented by a number of guest musicians that help to produce a fuller, more ‘orchestral’ sound. The saxophone inserts add a jazzy flavour, especially in the instrumental Society, the second-longest track on the album; while the gentle, mournful sounds of the flute seems to emphasize the sense of sadness and loss implicit in the story. The vocals, though perfectly adequate, may not always be the album’s strongest point, but the instrumental passages reveal the band’s compositional flair, and their ability to produce a cogent whole out of the musicians’ individual strengths. Birdsong and ethnic-tinged chanting and drumming introduce album opener Breath of the Island, followed by a brief narration on an organ background. The Camel references come especially into play in the next two tracks, reinforced by clean-sounding, melodic guitar and rippling piano. On the other hand, The Great War fittingly brings some harsher, dissonant sounds into the equation – in the second half, crashing piano chords and guitar noises evoke the titular conflict with great effectiveness, with the vocals following suit. The two-part After the War opens with a suitably melancholy flute solo over sparse guitar chords, then develops into slow-paced, Pink Floyd-influenced number with a beautiful guitar solo (not surprisingly, very reminiscent of Gilmour’s style). The 12-minute-plus The Cult of Birdman takes on the role of the obligatory epic with grace and style, and enough complexity to satisfy the average prog fan without descending into excess. A more relaxed first half, with sterling keyboard work and subtle Latin influences in the drumming patterns, is followed by an intense, majestic second half, featuring sweeping organ and some space-tinged passages. The Waiting brings the album to a close on a note of heart-wrenching sadness, enhanced by the gorgeous vocals of Veronika Obermaier – a clear, delightfully subdued soprano with none of the over-the-top grandiosity that seems to be so fashionable nowadays – and some equally beautiful, lyrical piano work. An album rooted in the classic symphonic prog tradition, but with enough freshness in its approach to please those who are tired of overly derivative products, “Tales from an Island” is an excellent debut from a very talented band. Hopefully their forthcoming sophomore effort will confirm the positive impressions generated by this one. The band should also be commended for having avoided giving in to the temptation of cramming too much material into the album. At barely over 45 minutes, “Tales from an Island” leaves the listener a lot of breathing space, and can therefore be fully savoured without any weariness setting in.

Conclusion. “Tales from an Island” is a very solid debut album, based on an interesting concept. Though not exactly innovators, Blank Manuscript propose a refreshingly classy take on the old symphonic prog warhorse, accompanied by an impressive level of technical skill – thankfully put at the service of the music rather than used as an end in itself. Definitely a new band to watch.

RB=Raffaella Berry: February 7, 2010
The Rating Room


Related Links:

Blank Manuskript


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