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(71:11 / Unicorn Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Moon 7 10:11 2. Endless Drama 7:45 3. Queer Forest 6:30 4. Taste a Cake 1:47 5. The Inexpressive Chagrin 6:54 6. Syx 11:08 7. End 8:40 8. Marvelous Choice 18:16 PERSONNEL: Nomy Agranson - guitars; backing vocals Doran Usher - keyboards Cat Heady - drums Vlad Wihner - lead vocals With: Vladimir Rastorguev - violin, viola Dmitry Ulyashev - sax, flute Alla Izverskaya - vocals
Prolusion. THE GOURISHANKAR, a young progressive rock quartet from Russia, presents their first official CD, "2.nd Hands". It took four years for the musicians to make this recording: while being in their early twenties, all of them have a full-time job. The guys are still continuing to look for a label through which they could release their real debut album, "Close Grip", completed in 2003.
Analysis. The sole short cut on this 8-track album, Taste a Cake, features only piano and violin, but the beauty and the originality of this piece will be appreciated by anyone with a taste for chamber music. There are two more vocal-free tracks here, and since one of those is in a way the black sheep in this flock, I'll begin with it. Not counting a quasi-improvisational interplay between saxophone and piano somewhere in its middle, the 11-minute Syx is woven exclusively of symphonic fabrics, the music being energetically saturated without any 'big guns' used. In the tune's introductory section the violin provides a melodic line that nearly note-for-note repeats one of the substantial themes of one of the songs located below the imaginary equator of Kansas's "Leftoverture" (sorry I've just clean forgotten its title). Since the group could not resist the temptation to repeat the quote, the name of the American legend pursues me when I listen to all the other violin-driven moves there too, even though at the same time, I clearly realize those are free of any obvious influences. In any event, Syx is a progressive rock killer, a polymorphous composition whose almost constantly evolving arrangements, featuring plenty of unexpected turns and twists, always keep the listener's attention. Except for the said one, there are no borrowed themes to be found on the recording, and even though most of the other tracks reveal in places obvious marks of Dream Theater's influence, the band is nearly in every respect on a par with their mentors, meaning their compositional ambitions and technical skill alike. The remaining instrumental, Moon 7, has quite a few of its musical relatives here, and since it opens the CD, comes across as being in many ways determinative concerning the recording's overall sound. "Pushing the boundaries of classic Prog-Metal" could've been an appropriate epigraph to that track, since it's polychromatic on all levels, stylistically too. Apart from jazz-fusion-related ones, it features movements with Flamenco or Indian music in their basis, and those, while being definitely progressive in themselves, lie almost completely outside the prog-rock idiom. Besides, the quantity of purely symphonic arrangements here exceeds that of hard ones, and it is only when the band goes heavy that the music is reminiscent of Dream Theater, otherwise having no references. One way or another, the opening tune less frequently brings to mind the flagship of contemporary Prog-Metal than any of its two follow-ups, Endless Drama and Queer Forest, which is partly because these much more accurately follow the genre's canons, being additionally free of any exotic components, and partly due to Vlad Wihner's singing which instantly evokes the name of James LaBrie. Female singer Alla Izverskaya diversifies the vocal picture, but not too much, above all because she is very rarely allowed to sing alone. Nevertheless most of the instrumental arrangements are in both cases labyrinthine, regardless of whether or not there is singing concurrent. The extremely long concluding number, Marvelous Choice, first finds the group developing various types of atmospherically-transparent Symphonic Prog, which they do in a highly original way, at times imparting a light jazz flavor to the substance (via Vlad and Alla's joint vocalizations in particular), somewhat slowly yet unswervingly moving towards a climax, having reached it shortly after crossing the song's imaginary equator. During the next three minutes, the music is extremely intriguing, in the style of classic Dream Theater, but unfortunately, the epic's last quarter turns out to be overextended, drawing out quite conventional space music-like stuff throughout it. Unhurried from beginning to end, The Inexpressive Chagrin (whose mid-section stands out for its sax solo) and End are both the richest in vocals, and yet these aren't 'your typical' ballads, both being complicated in the truest meaning of the term. The former has certain common ground with Another Day from Dream Theater's "Images & Words" and is equally expressive, whilst the latter doesn't resemble anything else. The band's best achievement in the field of originality, this is generally an enjoyable tune, no matter that it deploys a drum machine and has a mixed, electronically symphonic sound.
Conclusion. These youngsters have created an album whose compositional refinement is as striking as the artfulness of its performers, all participants, the band members and guest musicians alike, appearing to be such virtuosi players that many of their more mature contemporaries would envy their technical filigree. While not a masterpiece, this is an excellent release which will be welcomed by a wide audience, though it is fans of Dream Theater-style music who should be the first to check it out.
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: July 18, 2007
Prolusion. THE GOURISHANKAR is a quartet from the small provincial city of Syktyvkar, near the Ural Mountains in Russia. They have been making music since 2002 and have released one EP, "Integral Symphony" (with additional musicians Igor Rayhel on vocals and Paul Gen on bass guitar) and two full length CDs, "Close Grip" (originally entitled "Hands", which explains the title of their next release) and "2nd Hands", the subject of this review.
Analysis. The first few seconds of Moon 7 seem shrouded in mystery with an ambience, which could be from a Sci-Fi or Fantasy score, with Mid Eastern harmonics and what could be an Islamic prayer chant in the background and a brief voice-over in an unknown language. It could easily be part of a soundtrack from something like "Night Watch". But then the music takes off lickety-split and there is nothing like it for the rest of the seventy-one minutes of playing time. Kaleidoscopic is a word I sometimes use to describe a rapidly changing musical landscape. Nowhere could it be applied more aptly than to The Gourishankar's "2nd Hands", because from the beginning, the music twists and turns endlessly through the course of the album. I'm finding that many of the post-Soviet bands have little mooring to the roots of prog, as the iron curtain seems to have been a powerful shield from such influences. As such, many of the progressive bands coming from that part of the world today are making new musical connections and explorations. The music of The Gourishankar is very melodic, despite the nearly frantic pace at which the music shifts at times. There are many neo and symphonic prog elements, but also part of the mix are reggae, jazz-fusion, metal and even techno-pop elements that might have been heard in songs playing from a radio in a Minsk taxi. For some, these little bits of dance beat keyboards might be off-putting to the closed minded, but then how can a lover of progressive music have a closed mind?! The musicianship is strong and well balanced between Doran, Nomy and Cat. Taste a Cake is a tasty little desert served in the middle of the album, a piano solo with cello accompaniment, very pretty. The weakest link for The Gourishankar would be the vocals. Vlad Whiner (an unfortunate family name for a vocalist) frequently mispronounces the words he's singing, sometimes to a comical effect for the native English speaker. (I would encourage any band that does not know the language they are recording in to either find a vocalist fluent in the desired language, sing in your own language, or make instrumental music.) The instrumental passages are plentiful. Solos are scattered throughout the tracks, but never self-indulgent.
Conclusion. The Gourishankar's "2nd Hands" is one of the strongest CDs I've heard from 2007 and finds its way into my player often. Recommended for lovers of Neo Prog along the lines of Neal Morse, Flower Kings (though more intense and less meandering than FK) and Spock's Beard. You've read my thoughts on the vocals, but the instrumental passages more than make up for this shortcoming. The music is fresh and full of life. Highly recommended.
KW=Ken Westphal: February 1, 2008
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