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(41:41, 10t Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Belief 5:58 2. All for You 1:22 3. Optical Delusion 3:32 4. Circumstances Divide 2:50 5. The Search 10:32 6. May Daze 3:27 7. Intruder 5:21 8. Tune In 2:44 9. An Illusory Ploy 5:55 LINEUP: Michael Matier – bass, guitars; keyboards Scott Jones – vocals Jerry Beller – drums
Prolusion. The US band BOX OF SHAMANS is, from what I understand, the creative vehicle of multi-instrumentalist Michael Matier and vocalist Scott Jones. This venture started out in 2012 and can in many ways be regarded as a side project of the US band Heliopolis, where all three are members. "Belief and Illusion" is their debut album, released by 10t Records in 2015.
Analysis. "Belief and Illusion" comes across as a rather apt title for the album, as you hear a lot of details here that will install a specific belief in you as to just where these guys can be placed in the progressive rock landscape, and there's a number of details here that rather successfully create some illusions as well. In saying that I don't state that this is a production without substance though; this is not a smoke and mirrors affair in that respect, but there's a lot going on here that will only be revealed over time and numerous inspections. The vocals of lead singer Scott Jones can be taken on straight away. His tone, pitch and style of delivery make associations towards the still great Jon Anderson, an inevitable detail that must be mentioned. And with an atmospheric piece like All for You, a song that has the spirit of aforementioned Anderson written all over it, this emphasizes that impression. When many of the other compositions do, indeed, also feature quirky arrangements with melodic, harmonic constructions not all that far removed from the type of material Yes has built a career or two out of, comparisons towards this band is just as inevitable as the associations brought to the table in the vocals department. Opening track Belief, once it settles after its chaotic opening sequence, is as good as an example as any of that. Even the epic The Search, a curiously fragmented yet well assembled creation that is, in fact, in search of something, features multiple sequences, including a delicate vocals and keyboard motif recurring in multiple instances in rather different contexts, emphasizing the Yes associations here rather firmly. This without the band ever coming close to being in danger of copying the still ongoing progressive rock giants. This due to numerous other details at play here too. Certain dramatic twists and turns do have something of the calling card of ELP about them, some of the more elaborate vocal arrangements bring Gentle Giant to mind, while other more melancholic, dark and mournful passages are probably closer to later dayPink Floyd. Some of the darker, harder edged passages, especially on opening track Belief, actually have stronger similarities with the Trevor Rabin era Yes than the classic era version of the band, and then there's a myriad of quirky, dark and light sounds that have much more of as contemporary sheen to them as additional facets of this music, details that sound like more aggressive, dominant and quirky versions of rather similar effects brought in to play by the label-mates Man On Fire, and whose origins possibly can be traced back to a band like Porcupine Tree or some avant-garde band or other. It all depends in what light you choose to see these details, I suspect, and that the band does feature a select few rather challenging escapades on concluding track An Illusory Ply might indicate that these musicians aren't unfamiliar with the more daring and challenging ventures inside the progressive rock universe.
Conclusion. Box Of Shamans does bring quite a lot to the table on their debut album, but when stripping away all effects, all illusions, and cutting down to the bare bones of the material what we have here is founded on vintage era progressive rock. A rather quirky and challenging version of it at times, but still within that context, and arguably inside a symphonic-oriented variety of the style at that. This is fare more challenging than outright and straightforward compelling however, and taking that into consideration I'd suggest that rather liberal minded fans of Yes, unsurprisingly I guess, come across as something of a key audience for me. I will add though, that a certain affection for material with a slight avant-garde attitude probably won't be a disadvantage when getting to know this album.
OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: Jan 2, 2016
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