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(70:16 / Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Orogus 4:03 2. Al Bello 3:15 3. Fantasmas Y Demonios 6:09 4. Elfonia 11:16 5. Sensacion Arabe 7:46 6. Damajuana-II 4:48 7. Donde se Visten las Serpientes 7:28 8. El Cojin Verde 5:40 9. Cosas Simples 5:48 10. Hogar Dulce Hogar 3:55 11. Lobos 4:27 12. Io 5:27 LINEUP: Alfonso Vidales - organ, piano, keyboards Pepe Torres - saxophones, clarinet Lupita Acuna - vocals; percussion Dino Brassea - vocals; flute Flavio Miranda - bass Antonio Bringas - drums Claudio Cordero - guitars With: Jose Monje - trumpet, horn
Prolusion. Veterans of Mexico's progressive scene, CAST will next year celebrate their 30th anniversary. Meantime this very fruitful band continues to enlarge their discography, "Com.Union" being their nineteenth release to date. It would take too long to list here even the fourteen studio albums Cast have to their credit, but those curious to know my rating on each of them and, maybe, read some reviews as well, can easily do that by clicking here.
Analysis. Not unlike a bottomless well, Don Vidales' compositional source seems to be inexhaustible, as he continues writing new songs for Cast from year to year, all the music on "Com.Union" also coming from Alfonso's 'exclusive' pen. Unlike any of the band's previous three albums however (all of which are very long too), this 70-minute recording contains a few pieces whose sound is quite distant from the one we normally expect from this group. "Com.Union" includes seven instrumentals and five songs which in most cases alternate with each other, the latter usually featuring both male and female vocals, from Dino Brassea and Lupita Acuna respectively. Personally I find the first five tracks, Orogus, Al Bello, Fantasmas Y Demonios, Elfonia and Sensacion Arabe, to be the most enjoyable, although I had to revisit the CD to make certain of that, since most of the subsequent compositions are also impressive. One way or another, the said five pieces run for 33 minutes, thus forming nearly half of the album's content. One of two tracks revealing the influence of Cast's early passion, Genesis, the opening number Orogus is 70's-inspired / classic symphonic Art-Rock at times bordering on Prog-Metal, though aurally it is probably as dark as Van Der Graaf Generator or King Crimson (which is typical also of the next two pieces). Orogus turns into its follow-up without pause, so Al Bello first continues in the same style, but soon takes the shape of quasi Jazz Fusion whose hardness may though bring to mind the concept of Jazz Metal. These two are followed by Fantasmas Y Demonios, the first song in the set, which however can hardly be described as a song as such, since the vocals are in minority here. While bringing together all the three styles present on its predecessors, this is probably the band's heaviest composition ever and has a strong gothic feeling throughout. At the same time however, the music is very eclectic, a sort of maelstrom where impetuous improvisations adjoin swirling symphonic patterns and chugging guitar riffs as well, all of which much more often merge into one unique whole than alternate with each other. Nonetheless it is the fourth track, Elfonia, on which Cast reach a culmination in term of profoundness, the long instrumental where the thematic development and chord progressions are almost completely unpredictable and therefore very interesting. Stylistically Elfonia represents a complex cocktail of Art-Rock, Classical music, Folk Rock (Flamenco included) and Prog-Metal, with plenty of mixed electro-acoustic fabrics. There also are several classical interludes, most of which have a distinct baroque sense, some bearing a strong resemblance to the work of J. S. Bach. This is completely unique stuff, but it wouldn't be a crime if I suggested you imagine The Enid, Jethro Tull and Threshold jamming together to have a general idea of that epic. Sensacion Arabe concludes the line of so to speak pronounced highlights of the CD, suggesting a cross between Symphonic Progressive and Rock Opera in the presence of numerous oriental tunes. Yes, this composition is quite rich in singing, but since the players weave their soloing patterns both ceaselessly and inventively, the music remains eventful in all cases and never loses its attractiveness. This remark is relevant regarding each of the yet to be named songs as well, and most of those are inferior to the said one just because that 'Arab' is indeed sensational, meaning sensationally original. Cosas Simples, for instance, is also striking for its stylistic diversity, combining jazz-fusion, art-rock and classically inspired arrangements with colorations of the music of Mexican Indians. Lobos ranges from progressive Hard Rock to orthodox Art-Rock, reminiscent of both classic ELP and Jethro Tull circa "Benefit". A ballad with a recurring refrain (something about homo sapiens), Donde se Visten las Serpientes is relatively vocal-heavy in general, but nevertheless it doesn't sound annoying - still thanks to the efforts on the part of instrumentalists who, as mentioned above, are tireless in providing their solos, alongside concurrent vocals in particular. Of the remaining four tracks, all of which are instrumentals, El Cojin Verde and Io are both interesting. The first is an art-rock piece approaching Genesis's Firth of Fifth in style and beauty alike, while the latter steers somewhere halfway between Art-Rock and Jazz-Fusion without arousing associations. So it is certainly the remaining two cuts, Damajuana-II and Hogar Dulce Hogar, to which I've secretly shown the black mark:-) in the beginning of this paragraph, each combining standard pop-jazz approach with Bossa Nova and Rock-&-Roll respectively.
Conclusion. Overall, this new release by Cast once again proves Alfonso Vidales is not one to slavishly copy his past and still continues to change his songwriting style. However not everything has gone off swimmingly this time around, and what is really beyond me is his decision to include those two standard cuts in the CD. Anyway, Cast remains one of the strongest bands on the contemporary prog scene, and it would be a wrong move for anyone liking them to miss "Com.Union" which, despite all its flaws, is still more than merely a good album.
VM: September 3, 2007