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Echolyn (USA) - 2002 - "Mei"
TRACK LIST: 1. Mei 49:35 Music: Echolyn. Orchestral score: Buzby. Lyrics: Kull & Weston. LINE-UP: Brett Kull - guitars; lead vocals Ray Weston - basses; lead vocals Christopher Buzby - keyboards; vocals Paul Ramsey - drums & percussion With: Sarah Green - flute Jian Shen - clarinet Emily Bernard - viola Janosh Armer - violin Jonathan Atkins - violoncello Jordan Perlson - mallet percussion Eric Huber - vibraphone, marimba, timpani Engineered by Kull. Produced by W. Barnes.
Prolusion. Counting "When the Sweet Turns Sour", which is a collection of unreleased tracks, "Mei" is the sixth full-length studio album by ECHOLYN. I didn't have the opportunity to hear it before, but, fortunately, I received the CD along with the band's first DVD >"Stars & Gardens". The creation of this American outfit isn't a closed book to Prog-heads, to say the least, and most of them are certainly well acquainted with "Mei". However (thankfully!), the number of the novice lovers of progressive music is firmly solid from year to year, so I hope my review of the album won't sink to oblivion without leaving a trace. After all, I myself have become a fan of Echolyn when the band already had five albums to their credit.
Synopsis. Here is what is an exceptionally rare phenomenon on today's progressive scene: to my great surprise and pleasure, the nearly 50-minute "Mei" turned out to be a one-track epic, which, of course, is a full-fledged concept work, all the musical and lyrical contents of which are submitted to a unified concept. The wonderful feeling that the album was marvelously delivered from the heart of the '70s to the present time has grasped me right after I started listening to it. The product of genuine inspiration, it possesses everything, which made the past masterworks of Symphonic Progressive an imperishable classic, and is as different from them as they are different among themselves. Originality is not only a virtue in this case; it's a hallmark! (No shades of Gentle Giant in the three-voice choirs anymore.) The suite is a multi-layered composition that brings together all the diverse elements into a delicately balanced whole, far beyond any routinely identifiable influences. All unique, Symphonic Rock and Classical music-related textures plus some elements of Jazz-Fusion and Prog-Metal are all embedded within the fabric of the epic, giving it an exceptionally original face. With diverse vocal movements, juxtaposing with philosophical lyrics excellently reflecting all the movements of the hero's restless soul, and plenty of intricate instrumental interludes, "Mei" is a much more compelling album than its predecessor "Cowboys Poem Free". Everything is done youthfully, easily and ambitiously, with no signs of strain or fatigue, not to mention those of conformism. Being definitely Echolyn's most complex and, simultaneously, most consistent album to date, "Mei" is just perfect and is a challenge to the dullness of many if not most of the contemporary Art-Rockers, and not only. This is the music for those who used to regard the classic masterworks of the '70s as etalons and don't mix Prog's true achievements with quasi-commercial efforts. Those, who have forgotten what is a true progressive music, may go for Neo.
Conclusion. "Mei" is an absolute masterpiece and is to Echolyn like "Thick As a Brick" or "A Passion Play" was for Jethro Tull. However, it is more significant for today's progressive scene than those works were at the time of the genre's heyday, as there were many more strong albums in those years. If "Mei" were released in the '70s it would have certainly received platinum status. In any case, with this album Echolyn entered the new millennium as one of the strongest and most profound bands playing Symphonic Progressive. (>Top-20)
VM: October 1, 2004
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