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(69:12, 10T Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Stone Salad 15:17 2. Other Side of the Water 14:09 3. Crashmind 10:51 4. 13th August 11:53 5. Return to W.I.T. 17:00 LINEUP: Albert Khalmurzayev – keyboards Vitaly Popeloff – guitars Andrew Mara-Novik – bass Vladimir Badirov – drums, percussion
Prolusion. “Overlook” is the second album from Uzbekistan quartet FROMUZ, active since 2004. It is also their first real studio release, since their 2007 debut, “Audio Diplomacy”, was a live recording, though of outstanding sound quality. Incidentally, the band’s distinctive name, a shortening of “From Uzbekistan”, spells out their geographical origin.
Analysis. As unlikely as it may seem to those who still think progressive rock begins and ends with the English-speaking countries, Fromuz are undoubtedly one of the most exciting, accomplished new bands on the modern prog scene – an act whose music, though rooted in jazz-rock/fusion, effortlessly spans other subgenres. Like its predecessor, “Overlook” is entirely instrumental (with the sole exception of some chanting here and there), something that is almost the norm in the world of jazz-rock/fusion, but nevertheless requires some substantial chops to sustain adequately. Listening to “Overlook” feels nothing short of a rollercoaster ride, with sudden, unexpected shifts in mood and style, wildly veering from spacey to crushingly heavy, from almost romantic to broodingly atmospheric within the same track. On account of this, it would be extremely difficult to give an accurate description of any of the five tracks on the album (all over 10 minutes, the longest clocking in at nearly 17). It is indeed a very long album, even for today’s standards, but the amount of music within is so cleverly, skillfully balanced that it never feels it overstays its welcome, as many modern prog albums tend to do. It should be quite obvious by now that “Overlook” is a demanding listen, due not only to the epic length of the tracks, but to the nature of the music itself. Though mainly guitar-based, it is not guitar-dominated: the instruments work seamlessly together to build layers upon layers of rich, intense textures, with surprises always lurking around the corner. Those who prefer some melody with their prog will not be disappointed, as will not be those who are into the harder-edged side of things. Lovers of highly complex compositions will find themselves completely at ease, and dazzled by the band members’ technical proficiency. The opener, Stone Salad, immediately sets the tone of the album, clearly stating that this is no background music, and a real delight for guitar fans. A deceptively delicate piano intro leads the way for a whirlwind of metal-like riffs, followed by a snippet of Spanish-style acoustic guitar, a positively Floydian middle section, with splendid guitar-keyboard interaction, and a lengthy, drum-and-guitar jam, probably the jazziest episode on the album; the music imposed over the sound of troops marching with cadence being called, faintly echoing in the background: riveting stuff indeed. On the other hand, Other Side of the Water comes across as more laid-back and rich in atmosphere. Introduced by eerie, surf-like electronic sounds, it shows some definite Pink Floyd influences in the second half of the track, where a filtered, disembodied voice (like a computer from a sci-fi film) and pulsating keyboards sharply remind the listener of the middle section of Dogs. However, since Fromuz’s sound has a much harder-edged side, the airy, spacey sections of this track are interspersed with sudden, slashing riffs and high-powered drumming. The band’s heavier side is particularly evident in the third track, the appropriately-titled Crashmind – ten exhilarating minutes of steel-sharp riffing, scintillating guitar solos, sparse, atmospheric synths, and jagged drum patterns. This track would not be out of place on an album by the likes of Liquid Tension Experiment or Planet X, though Fromuz’s approach is distinctly more restrained than that of either band. 13th August has its share of hard and heavy moments (veering at times towards speed/thrash-metal stylings), but it also features one of the mainstays of traditional jazz-rock/fusion – a trumpet solo over restaurant sounds (people talking in the background), blending with the solemnity of the keyboards to suggest some Morricone soundtrack. Incidentally, this is the track where ‘vocals’ (i.e. chanting) are most present, enhancing its almost cinematic feel. Though some reviewers have used the word ‘symphonic’ in reference to “Overlook”, I think the only track that exudes a positively symphonic feel is the final one, Return to W.I.T., which (as the title suggests) reprises the main theme of a track on Fromuz’s previous album, called Wax Inhabitants Town. Synthesizers imitating strings and woodwind instruments give the track a lush, orchestral feel, as does the majestic sweep of the keyboards in the first half, sedate and mid-paced in comparison to the wildness of the following section, where the band shift again into jazz-metal mode. About five minutes before its end, the track slows down again, turning into an almost psychedelic feast of synths underpinned by an almost military drum pattern, before fading away with faint, water-like electronic sounds.
Conclusion. “Overlook” is modern prog at its best: flawlessly executed, though far from stilted and soulless, firmly grounded in the past, but at the same time innovative – definitely one of the landmark albums of 2008. I highly recommend it to fans of complex, multilayered instrumental music, and to anyone interested in exploring the new facets of progressive rock. Hopefully, in their next release, Fromuz will keep up with the promise shown in this superb album.
RB=Raffaella Berry: July 3, 2009
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