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(118:37 2CD, Metal Mind Productions)
Prolusion. UK composer and musician Clive NOLAN should be a familiar name for just about anyone who has ever had an interest in progressive rock, and in particular amongst those with an interest in the neo-progressive part of the genre. With more than 25 years as a member of Pendragon and tenures in a myriad of other bands and projects over the years, he has been a highly visible and productive contributor to the genre. As a solo artist his output has been more rare and under the radar however, Alchemy is his third ever solo production. This double CD was released by Metal Mind Records in March 2013.
CD 1 (61:35)
TRACK LIST: 1. Prologue 3:20 2. Deception 5:35 3. One for the Noose 5:42 4. The Warning 4:05 5. Amelia 4:09 6. King Explains 5:35 7. Desperate Days 2:43 8. Planning a Break In 1:20 9. Quaternary Plan 5:18 10. The Unwelcome Guest 4:55 11. Waiting for News 4:31 12. The Girl I Was 6:05 13. Highgate 8:17 LINEUP: Clive Nolan vocals; keyboards Agnieszka Swita vocals Victoria Bolley vocals David Clifford vocals Andy Sears vocals Claudio Mombero piano Mark Westwood guitars Scott Higham drums Kylan Amos bass Penny Gee violin Ian Stott horn &: Many more singers
Analysis. To get one fact straight right from the start: this isn't a production that will appeal all across the spectrum in the progressive rock universe, and I find it more than likely that just as many outside of the progressive rock universe will find this production appealing. Rock opera is a description that should give a good indication about what this is all about, and those who have tracked Nolan's career in later years will probably find that rather unsurprising following the release of Caamora's "She" a few years back and how much effort was put into developing this production in various arenas. "Alchemy" is in fact a creation planned for what is now dubbed The Caamora Theatre Company, and this latest venture of their appears to be planned followed up in very much the same manner as "She" was. The main difference this time around is that the initial album is released in Clive Nolan's name, and that on this occasion he has also written the concept and story played out. A slight difference is that "Alchemy" to an even greater extent is a musical more than a rock opera as such. True enough, we're still dealing with layered symphonic backdrops nicely contrasted by darker toned guitars, driving bass guitar and energetic rhythms, with softer edged interludes and mellow sequences coming and going as the dramatics of the story itself ebb and flow. A few pieces have more of a folk music orientation to them, but never staying too long nor too far away from the symphonic oriented expression expected from a production described as a musical. And full credit should go to Nolan for having a strong taste for just how to create compelling moods, atmospheres and themes. The individual tracks are fairly straightforward affairs, with the main share of complexities residing in the arrangements rather than structure or individual instrument performances. And one can't really describe any of those details as challenging either, even the multiple themes-constructions are fairly predictable in nature, at least to those who have listened to a lot of music over the years. But compelling material it is, no doubt about that. What elevates this experience to something more worthwhile are the vocal performances. Nolan has assembled a high quality cast of vocalists, and knows how to utilize their voices very well indeed and to produce a strong musical foundation for each of the singers that enables them to perform to their strengths. With some instances of fairly intricate vocal performances and a strong sense of how to create a distinct and compelling ebb and flow to material that easily merits a description as melodramatic, this hour long first of two acts is a joy to listen to, especially and perhaps first and foremost if you're truly fond of strong vocal performances.
CD 2 (57:02)
TRACK LIST: 1. The Labyrinth 4:42 2. Ambush 3:08 3. The Tide of Wealth 5:57 4. Jagman Arrives 1:46 5. The End Justifies the Means 3:33 6. Sanctuary 5:43 7. Street Fight 3:26 8. Amelia Dies 3:20 9. Burial at Sea 6:21 10. Share this Dream 3:36 11. Treachery 4:21 12. The Ritual 2:12 13. Anzeray Speaks 5:04 14. Aftermath 3:53
Analysis. The second act of this musical pretty much continues in a similar manner as the first act, but with some obvious alterations to the manner in which the story is told. The leading roles are given more room in the pieces now, so that roles can be fleshed out further, plot threads revealed and explained and the loose threads of the story itself collected into a whole. And it is when these issues are explored that some of the intensity of this production fades. The vocal deliveries aren't as intense and dominating, which leaves more room for the musical background to shine through. As with most well made musicals these also mean recurring themes from the previous act reappearing, a needed trait to strengthen the identity of this musical as a sheer performance but one that for the more ardent listening music fans also reveals a somewhat uniform and singular expression shared throughout this production. While this second act does have its fair share of highlights, plot climax Anzeray Speaks in particular, the sheer nerve of the vocal performances that elevated the first act of this musical isn't given just as much leeway to carry this creation as we're brought towards the conclusion of the story. Of course, a central aspect in how much you're enthralled by this second act is how much or not you feel the story itself is compelling and the emotional impact of what befalls the various players a central element for the songs about them to have an impact. As with many other musicals I find the persons here to be rather superficial, and some of the actions and emotions thrown in your face in such a vocals driven affair don't come across as realistic for me. Not that this particular musical is any worse than others in that respect I might add, at least to my experience the musical utilizes the roles in an easy to grasp and superficial nature by default. But unless you're a truly romantic person or a true aficionado of high adventures of the Victorian kind, the story and the characters presented won't have a lasting impact. Being of a highly romantic nature probably the most important character trait needed to really become enthralled by this story, despite the numerous use of words like quest, artifact and mission.
Conclusion. While I'm not an expert on either rock operas nor musicals, my impression is that Clive Nolan has made himself a good quality product of the genre with "Alchemy". High adventure with a solid dash of tragic romance is a mix that tends to go down well, and with compelling moods, symphonic oriented motifs aplenty and strong, distinct high quality lead and backing vocals throughout this is a compelling and easy to like creation. If you enjoy musicals in general this production is well worth getting familiar with, and if you loved Nolan's previous rock opera "She" I can't see any reason for you not to become just as fond of this one.
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