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(58:22 / MALS Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. A Touch-Me-Not-City 3:15 2. Fearless 3:51 3. A Piece of Yesterday’s Sky 8:19 4. One More Witch 3:46 5. Death Is Not the End 4:14 6. The Son 6:36 7. Dreams 6:23 8. Procession 3:20 9. Art of Telling Lies 5:22 10. The Lamplighter 7:47 11. Another Celestial City 5:18 LINEUP: Fred Adra – vocals; el. & ac. guitars; keyboards Roman Bershadsky – drums, percussion Benjamin Harel – bass; violin Michael Rusin – keyboards With: Natalie Belenkaya – vocals (2, 6) Irina Tsyrlina – vocals (1) Elijah Teplitsky – oboe
Prolusion. EVIL DOLLS is an Israeli outfit consisting of emigrants from the former USSR republics. While browsing the Internet I’ve learned they have five recordings to date, though it remains unclear to me whether “Alien Celestial City” is their latest offering, as well as which of the other four are available for a general audience. Released by Moscow’s label MALS about two months ago, this album seems to be destined first of all for Russian-language listeners, since all information in the CD booklet (its tray included), is exclusively in Russian. Of course, much as yours truly manages English I can never write it as perfectly as an Englishman, but you may believe me all the titles in the track list above are translated correctly, having kept all their original meanings intact.
Analysis. From the outset I was almost certain that it was no accident this band got the name it did, because it’s highly suggestive, and I believe many of you would have instantly, automatically turned it into Devil Doll in your mind when you heard of it. Most of the music here brings together symphonic, chamber, gothic, folk and theatric styles, creating a fairly original blend where, though, the influence of that unique Italian outfit is indeed present (but: only think their first release, “The Girl Who Was Dead”, where there are no metalloids unlike their later recordings). This is not all, however, as Peter Hammill’s “Chameleon in the Shadow of the Night”, can serve as let's say a secondary reference point. Just as is the case with both cited examples, the lion’s share of performance activity here is also taken up by the bandleader and mastermind, namely Fred Adra, or to be more precise, his vocals and acoustic guitar with accompaniment of violin, bass, drums and keyboards, plus sounds of some brass and folk instruments, accordion included, and - occasionally - electric guitar and oboe. The music is somewhat less edgy and hysterical than Devil Doll though, Fred’s vocals bearing a less idiosyncratic character than Mr. Doctor’s or Peter Hammill’s either. To be frank, I’d been happier if Fred had wider deployed his ‘chameleonic’ potentialities, as only one of the eleven tracks present, Dreams, more or less clearly reveals his ability to manipulate with ease his (naturally flexible) voice and where he at times delivers something halfway between screaming and growling. With the exception of The Son, a merely dramatic acoustic guitar and female singing-based Russian Romance, the first eight tracks are all dominated by a somber gothic aura, though the songs are more striking in this respect than the instrumentals (there are only two such tracks here, One More Witch and Procession). Although Fred’s vocals are usually clean, they’re emotionally disturbing and often dark, so despite the seeming fragility of the songs’ structures, the overall atmosphere is quite dense and oppressive. What distinguishes the first two songs, A Touch-Me-Not City and Fearless, from any of the others is that both find Fred sharing the place behind the microphone with guest female vocalists, both of whom possess an operatic voice, adding the corresponding element to the overall style (another cause for regret - over their absence on any of the subsequent songs). A Piece of Yesterday’s Sky, Death Is Not the End and Dreams each contain some relatively expanded instrumental interludes within the symphonic Art-Rock idiom, distantly reminiscent of those of Peter Hammill’s mid-70s solo creations that feature all his primary Van Der Graaf Generator partners, such as “Nadir’s Big Chance” for instance. In terms of both composition and style the concluding three songs, Art of Telling Lies, The Lamplighter and Another Celestial City, all have a lot in common with the three described last, but in mood these are much less dark and are even more pastoral than dramatic in places. By following romantic poets-conceptualists in his writings, Fred supposes the light at the end of the tunnel. Metaphorical storytelling is a significant part of this creation. As a Russian I can appreciate the lyrics, which are usually deep and sophisticated, filled with drama, trying to find the sense of life and touch the beyond as well (yet rarely nightmarish), so moving here and there that it sends shivers down my spine. Alas, it’s beyond my powers to present you with any kind of English versions: too bad I wasn’t offered the job of translating them when the CD was still in the process of preparation for release :-).
Conclusion. Something much greater than just another excursion into musical melancholia, “Alien Celestial City” is an excellent album by a very talented band, whose leader comes across as being as charismatic a persona as both his presumed prototypes. All those who feel comfortable listening to foreign-language music should appreciate this outfit’s ability to imbue their creation with a sense of mystery, while many will simply be charmed by it. A touch of pathos as the curtain falls: Russia lost some of its most poetic prog-rockers in the lineup of Evil Dolls.
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: February 16, 2008
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