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(76:44, Progressive Promotion Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Starlit Sands 8:20 2. Black Confetti 6:12 3. Roots 6:49 4. The Lights 3:24 5. November Sky 6:00 6. Black Chapter Red 8:16 7. Kissing Dynamite 4:04 8. Deep Down 6:13 9. End of Life 6:41 LINEUP: Holger Weckbach – vocals Frank Nowack – guitars, bass Wolfgang Taffner – keyboards Eric Trauzettel – drums With: Joshy Tenner – bass Rainer Weckbach – guitars
Prolusion. The German band CROMWELL was formed back in 1992, and released their debut album "Burning Banners" in 1997 through the German label Angular Records. Line-up alterations and other issues then saw to it that the band activities stopped up for quite some time, but a second album has been in the works for many years now. Their sophomore creation "Black Chapter Red" eventually appeared in the summer of 2016, issued through Progressive Promotion Records.
Analysis. When Cromwell first appeared, they were generally regarded as a good quality band, exploring a brand of neo-progressive rock fairly typical of that period of time, incorporating a harder edged general sound in the manner of bands such as Sylvan did when they started out, and comparisons has been made also towards the likes of Jadis and IQ. Almost twenty years later not all that much has changed it would seem, and one might suspect that at least a few of the compositions here may indeed date back to the ‘90s as well. The central premise for the greater majority of the songs here is to use the natural contrast between guitars and keyboards to create and maintain nerve and tension, where the keyboard by and large provides textures of a lighter tone and timbre, while the guitar is given a darker tone and a firmer, harder and tight sound to contrast the looser sounds of the keyboards as much as possible – a combination that does indeed work very well, easily creating compelling and strongly appealing themes and arrangements. The band has an able vocalist in Weckbach, whose voice is generally placed on top of the instrumentation, his tone and timbre very well suiting to a leading role on top of the contrasting elements as described. Minor variations occur on each of the compositions, and the songs tend to alternate between two to three main arrangements or themes with a small array of interludes in between, where both keyboards and guitars are given variations in terms of intensity, tone and delivery, yet retaining the key features of being light and dark instruments in a natural contrast. A slight deviation to this comes in form of the instrumental mood piece The Lights, and another minor deviation with the more hard rock-oriented, shorter cut Kissing Dynamite. Apart from that this is a fairly purebred example of harder edged, dark neo-progressive rock as it was explored in the mid to late ‘90s. Title track Black Chapter Red is the most intriguing of the lot, as far as I'm concerned, despite containing a few sequences that may well be a bit too close for comfort in terms of resembling IQ.
Conclusion. Those who are fond of the harder-edged variety of neo-progressive rock that some bands started to explore in the ‘90s should feel right at home with this sophomore production by Cromwell. Tight, firm and dark toned guitars paired off with light toned keyboard arrangements are the key combination that creates an appealing sound, with effective vocals and clever use of minor alterations, as the details that ensure nerve and tension, are maintained quite nicely. Fans of a band like IQ (circa 1985-’87) and Galahad might want to give this one a spin.
OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: June 1, 2016
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