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(61 min, Musea)
TRACK LIST: 1. Strange Light 7:18 2. Farewell 2:55 3. The Trail 6:08 4. Why Me 4:51 5. Shining 7:01 6. Setback 7:10 7. Not Only Love 5:17 8. The River 7:13 9. No Choice 4:10 10. This Battle 8:50 LINEUP: Hein Van Der Brook - lead vocals; guitar Chris Van Hoogdalem - guitars; b/vocals Hennie Van Mourik - bass; b/vocals Ardie Westdijk - keyboards Rob Boshuijzen - drums With: Bert Van Meeuwen - saxophone (7, 10) Ensemble Intermezzo - choir (2, 10)
Prolusion. Don't be surprised, Prog community! ICE salute you not from Antarctica and not even from Iceland. They're from the Land of Tulips, Holland. The CD press kit says "The Saga" is their debut offering and that most of the band members were previously part of that other Dutch outfit, Maryson.
Analysis. These young men perform a high-quality neo, at times bordering on classic symphonic progressive, filled with well thought-out arrangements and memorable melodies. On the other hand however, much of their music is far from being original, revealing numerous influences, the most obvious of which are Marillion, Genesis, Rush, Yes, Eloy and Asia or, to be more precise, the creations that these bands brought out in the early- and mid-'80s. The album's opener, Strange Light, starts off with dramatic vocals to the accompaniment of piano, the intro lasting for two minutes and arousing instant associations with that of Marillion's Script For a Jester's Tear. Later on, the music moves back and forth between fast-and-heavy arrangements and those both slow and serene, none sounding heavily derivative, except for the vocal lines, which are typical of anybody following the theatric traditions in singing initiated by Peter Gabriel. The short Farewell hardly pretends to be anything weightier than a nice pop-Art ballad, somewhat in the style of Guide Vocal from Genesis's "Duke". Then follows the instrumental The Trail, one of the most fresh-sounding tracks, plus probably the best Neo Prog-Metal work I've heard this year. Why Me will force its listeners to mentally go back to the time they were listening to late Genesis (well, if they ever were). This is something halfway between Man on the Corner and Fading Lights, Mr. Van Der Brook very convincingly imitating Mr. Collins. Shining is a good thing, with gloomy atmosphere, anxious-sounding keyboards and depressive vocals, though close to the end Hein's singing transforms into a cry, the entire picture strongly resembling the finale of Mama from Genesis '83. Setback is another strong track. It first continues the line drawn on its predecessor (except for the vocals, which are vigorous throughout), but soon takes the shape of symphonic Prog-Metal. Not Only Love is an acoustic guitar- and saxophone-laden Heavy Metal ballad, a cross between Arena and Queensryche in a way. The overall sound of The River has certain common ground with that of Eloy's "Colours", but the guitar solo in the finale brings to my mind the name of Andy Latimer. No Choice is a sort of heavy Pomp Rock, which was widespread in the early-'80s and whose brightest representatives at the time were Kansas, Saga and Ian Gillan Band, amongst others. This Battle concludes the recording in the style of atmospheric Space Fusion and is a stunning piece, the only track here that shines with originality throughout.
Conclusion. Ice are hot guys (the pun was intended, the rhyme not). Their specific use of digital keyboards and electric guitars (via Distortion and Overdrive processors) make them sound very much in the vein of mainstream Prog of the first half of the '80s. I think the band could have broken the bank had their "Saga" been released at the time. Back to reality: They might gather a rich crop, although this is a very relative concept nowadays, considering the current state of affairs in music business. Anyhow, Ice have a solid potential and should continue in the same direction in my view, just with more identity to their creation.
VZ: May 30, 2006
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