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Gargamel - 2005 - "Watch for the Umbles"

(58 min, Record Heaven)

TRACK LIST:                    
1.  Ties 8:47 
2.  Strayed Again 12:54 
3.  Below The Water 6:44 
4.  Into The Cold 11:54 
5.  Agitated Mind 17:42


Tom Uglebakken - vocals; guitars; flute 
Bjorn Viggo Andersen - keyboards 
Leif Erlend Hjelmen - cello 
Geir Tornes - bass
Jon Edmund Hansen - guitars 
Morten Tornes - drums; vocals 

Prolusion. "Watch for the Umbles" is the debut full-length release by Norwegian band GARGAMEL. Two out of the five tracks presented on the album were previously issued as a mini-CD.

Analysis. The music of Gargamel is rooted in the early '70s, arousing certain associations with classic Van Der Graaf Generator, although on the instrumental level the influence exists only in latent form. In that way, the only non-vocal piece, Ties, is at the same time the one with the freshest sound and is one of the progressively strongest tracks in general, only slightly surpassed by the two winners, which will certainly be named below. As almost everywhere on the album, vintage keyboards and cello are the primary soloing instruments, the overall picture fitting well the classic symphonic Prog Rock idiom, which suggests multi-layered structural constructions and the predomination of intricate arrangements. The same observation concerns the emotional atmosphere, which is usually dramatically anxious, at times even distinctly dark - particularly when the aggressive Doom Metal-like guitar riffs interfere in the stuff's soloing affairs:-), which, however, is typical only for Ties and its follow-up Strayed Again. Each of these contains also a rather long episode with atmospheric, yet pleasantly eclectic cello- and flute-laden arrangements, plus - in the case of the latter - with certain avant-garde tendencies. Together with Into The Cold, which is classic symphonic Art-Rock with occasional quasi improvisations, Strayed Again is one of the highlights of the album. Both would've been complete masterworks had Tom Uglebakken (the main bearer of obvious influences) not been trying to imitate Peter Hammill's singing down to the smallest nuances. Thankfully, both are largely instrumental unlike Agitated Mind, which, while being a very good epic overall, loses a solid dose of its attractiveness as a result of the derivatively sounding vocals. Rightfully placed at the core of the recording, Below The Water finds Tom surprisingly-rarely appealing to his all-absorbing passion, perhaps just because he shares the lead vocal duties with Morten Tornes here. While the basic arrangements are slow throughout and aren't overly complex, this song will compel the listener to revisit it, fully to taste all its charm.

Conclusion. Directly from a progressive standpoint, I find Gargamel's new three compositions to be stronger than those 'borrowed' from the EP, so I think the band is on the right way in their development. All in all, "Watch for the Umbles" is a highly enjoyable effort, and the only significant problem I have with it... Well, this has been expressed already. Recommended.

VM: March 15, 2006

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