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(71:11, Unicorn Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Sparks & Benign Magic / Self-made Men 9:11 2. Anatomy of a Dream 6:33 3. Amora Demonis 7:37 4. Watercourse Hymn 9:44 5. Nameless 5:16 6. Omnipresent Umbra 9:48 7. One Voice 3:32 8. Polaroid Vendetta 6:45 9. Alien Spheres 6:00 10. Still They Laugh I / II 3:40 11. Action 9:03 LINEUP: Jean-Francois Desilets – bass; lead vocals Sebastien Cloutier – keyboards, piano; b/v Denis Jalbert – el. & ac. guitars; b/v Yves Jalbert – drums
Prolusion. Most of you, dear readers, are keenly aware of HAMADRYAD, a band from the Canadian (progressively most fruitful) province of Quebec. Given the fact that they frequently do mini tours, having additionally participated in a few prog-rock festivals during the last four years, it was only a matter of time before they issued a live album. This material, entitled simply and unpretentiously “Live in France”, was recorded in that country at the Crescendo festival-2006, Hamadryad having performed either before or after their countrymen Spaced Out. I weren’t there among the festival’s spectators, hence my ignorance of the details.
Analysis. Of course, all the songs present are drawn from both of the band’s studio recordings: seven from “Safe in Conformity” (Sparks & Benign Magic / Self-made Men, Anatomy of a Dream, Omnipresent Umbra, One Voice, Polaroid Vendetta and Alien Spheres) and six from their debut “Conservation of Masses” (Amora Demonis, Watercourse Hymn, Nameless, Still They Laugh I / II and Action). Shortly after the first disc was released front-man Jocelyn Beaulleu left the band, so the remaining members have been working as a quartet since then, with Jean-Francois Desilets acting as both bassist and lead vocalist. Being intimately familiar with the style of each of the singers, I was curious to learn how the new versions of the tracks from “Conservation of Masses” sound compared to the originals. The result is that the Genesis influence dominates almost everywhere on the recording’s vocal angle, and even the three-voice choirs (so much characteristic of the group’s debut), while still seeming to be delivered in the manner of Yes, remind me more of ‘early’ Collins, as if accompanied by two different background singers instead of Steve Hackett and Tony Banks. No, there is no criticism in what’s been said; it's all just merely remarked on, since the influence well coexists with Hamadryad’s own, already instantly recognizable style. Besides, it’s clear that these musicians give a new direction to their mentors’ classic work, making it exist in a different dimension and therefore finding a new life as well (which would’ve been an incorrect observation if Genesis hadn’t turned to pop Art back in the mid-‘80s). The majority of the compositions, including the sole instrumental, Nameless, represent a kind of explosive blend of symphonic Art-Rock and Prog-Metal, with intense, turbulent, often avalanche-like and completely unpredictable arrangements. In other words, quite a few of the studio tracks (above all those from the first disc) sound now like they’ve gotten a healthy dose of extra hardness as well as density, which is wonderful bearing in mind that this is a live recording, regardless of whether it was edited in the studio before being released. In terms of both structure and complexity, the mostly rapid and heavy Amora Demonis reminds me of classic Dream Theater, though the sound of the piece is vintage rather than modern. One Voice is another song dominated by hard arrangements, but is closer to progressive Hard Rock in style. Only Alien Spheres and Still They Laugh I / II (following each other just before the concluding number, Action) offer the listener some rest, being relatively mellow sympho-prog pieces with excellent singing and lyrics by Jean-Francois, somewhere in the vein of Ripples from Genesis’s “A Trick by the Tail”. That being said, the band plays in a way that none of the musicians need room to shine. While often pushing their solos into completely different directions, they always skillfully navigate their joint course, so all in all each of them, the drummer included for sure, appears to be equally crucial to their overall sound. Ensemble is the word.
Conclusion. “Live at France” depicts Hamadryad as a superb live band, though I slightly regret that their ‘Crescendo’ show is only preserved on a CD or, to put it more precisely, isn’t complemented with a DVD, as is in the case of their aforesaid countrymen and label mates.
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: March 18, 2008
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