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Isildurs Bane - 2005 - "MIND Vol 5: The Observatory"

(180 min DVD, 'Ataraxia')


Prolusion. "MIND Vol. 5: The Observatory" is the twelfth official outing by Sweden's ISILDURS BANE and is the fifth album in the conceptual series they started back in 1997, MIND, which is Music Investigating New Dimensions. Since their previous release, "MIND Vol. 4: Pass", the band's basic lineup didn't undergo personal changes, but has increased from six to eight members. The newcomers are two female musicians: guitarist Mariette Hansson and cellist Linnea Ollson, both filling roles as singers additionally. The reviews of the previous four volumes of MIND are here, here, here and here.

"The Observatory" (130 min)


1.  Under the Wind
2.  Heal Intro
3.  Good
4.  Open
5.  Dark
6.  Ends
7.  Cage
8.  Eyes
9.  Idea
10. Heal 
11. People Are Afraid
12. The Adventure of the Whirling Delirium 
13. A Telescope & a Hot Air Balloon
14. Loss
15. Rage
16. Wild As a Toad
17. Magnificent Giant Battles
18. Without Grace

All music: by M Johansson, except 1 & 11: Hansson. 
All lyrics: Jeppsson, except 1, 11: Hansson & 15: F Johansson.
Arranged: by Isildurs Bane. Produced by M. Persson.


Mats Johansson - keyboards, theremin
Jonas Christophs - lead electric guitar
Mariette Hansson - electric guitar; vocals
Christof Jeppsson - vocals; acoustic guitar
Linnea Ollson - violoncello; vocals
Klas Assarsson - congas, vibes
Kjell Severinsson - drums
Fredrik Johansson - bass 
A violin quartet (1, 11, 18)
Christian Saggese - classical guitar (11)

Analysis. This DVD was documented during the two live performances Isildurs Bane did in one of the music halls in their hometown, Halmstad, in the fall of 2004. The action was shot with the use of ten stationary and two moving cameras, and the music was recorded via two Roland modules of the modern VS-2400's series. These eloquent facts set me free from detailed descriptions of the sound and the picture, whose quality is simply first-rate. (One of the Bonus Material items was crafted in a different place, so I'll get back to that detail in due time.) The basic material, totaling eighteen titles, three of which: Under the Wind, People Are Afraid and Without Grace are new songs, four: The Adventure of the Whirling Delirium, A Telescope & a Hot Air Balloon, Wild As a Toad and Magnificent Giant Battles are live versions of some parts of The Voyage suite from the double CD album of the same name (1992), which preceded the MIND concept series, and the other eleven are renderings and variations of / on the eponymous tracks from "MIND Vol. 4: Pass". All the versions of the stuff from "The Voyage" represent instrumental Classical Music performed by dints of a Progressive Rock quintet and are Isildurs Bane at their most intricate and adventurous. Brilliant stuff, but inasmuch as they aren't as strikingly different from the originals as renderings of those from the band's latest studio effort, I will emphasize the latter ones (as well as the new compositions, of course). Who would doubt that Isildurs Bane, the ensemble of hundreds of musical images, would refuse their natural disposition to endlessly transform their style on this album too? Not me, and I didn't miss in my presupposition, which was, though, an easy task, especially since the band's previous album of renderings, "MIND Vol. 2: Live", received much time in my player. Naturally, the compositions from the band's previous effort are presented here being changed nearly beyond recognition. The quantity of textures of light Classical music, which was a primary direction on "Pass", was greatly reduced; gone are elements of traditional symphonic Art-Rock; the vocals vanished from some of the originally vocal-based sections without leaving a trace, as if they had never been there at all, while others popped up in new places. Vocally, all the renderings of the songs from "Pass" are romantic in character, although one of the three voices in the show, Christof's, is rather husky and, that being said, is more than pronouncedly male. The instrumental arrangements are either both delicate and reflective, such as on Eyes, Heal, Loss and on each of the three new tracks (sung mainly by Mariette alone), or as on Good, Idea, Cage and Rage, are intense and eclectic, often moving far beyond their original framework to enter those Fifth Elementary realms that only Isildurs Bane knows the way to, though they never go the same road twice. The largely instrumental Cage Mk. II turned out to be the most unusual of the songs, striking for its dark and heavy, almost Doom Metal-like sound and the fantastic diversity of musical events. It's a real festival for my ears, as well as the instrumentals: Open, Ends, Heal Intro and Dark, the latter two being much in the same vein as Cage. My personal favorites among the recent renderings are Cage and Dark, the group's most intricate and compelling compositions since "MIND Vol. 2". What's more important about The Observatory, is that all the music, regardless of whether it's complex or accessible, marvelously appears to be simultaneously materially minded and surrealistic. This is undoubtedly due, in some degree, to the eclectic, unusually directed and edited documentary footage, from time to time alternating with the band's onstage performance. Give it an attentive watch, with open eyes and open ears. The footage features an apt musical background and excellently complements the Bane's new concept in general. Most of it appears as an elitist film, reminding me of Andrei Tarkovsky's last movie "The Offering", which, by the way, was shot in Sweden, of all places.

Bonus Material / Audio Tracks* (25+25 min)


1.  The Asylum
2.  Idea II
3.  Celestial Vessel
4.  Without Grace*
5.  People Are Afraid*
6.  Under the Wind*
7.  Thoughts Stand Still*

All music: by M Johansson, except 1: Viking Dahl, 4 & 5: Hansson. 
All lyrics: Hansson. Arranged: by Isildurs Bane. Produced by M. Persson.


Fredrik Davidsson - trumpet (3)

Analysis. The Bonus Material contains three more live numbers and four audio tracks, all being new compositions, though the first three of them (see track list above) have been already mentioned. Thoughts Stand Still is 13 minutes in length and, like the other new pieces, is something average between a Classical music-tinged soundtrack and a romantic ballad. I believe they were initially created not to serve as the background for the documentary footage, but turned out to be in place there too. The band's original variations on the themes by Viking Dahl, The Asylum is one shot and recorded outside Sweden, during the band's appearance at the Gouveia Art Rock Festival in Portugal last year. The music is an avalanche of ever-changing arrangements, close to The Voyage's classically inspired stuff, but with a large quantity of elements of authentic Jazz-Fusion in addition. This would be the first masterwork in the Bonus Material, and the other would be Celestial Vessel. Featuring the wonderful guest performance of trumpet player Fredrik Davidsson, this composition is filled with fantastic improvisations, presenting another creative side of this unique ensemble. It seems Idea II was performed before Mariette and Linnea joined the band, as here Christof sings in the company of three unfamiliar women. Once again, nothing unexpected here, or rather just vice versa :-) The song is vastly different from both of the other versions and is more to my taste, due to the more complicated arrangements and the brave inculcation of Jazz-Fusion related textures. Viewing the DVD as a whole, I'd like to put some more notes here. Mats Johansson is a brilliant composer, and most of the tracks present are his brainchildren, as usual. Nevertheless, the renderings display his great arranging talent, but also (and perhaps to a greater degree) the band's other main soloists (men), particularly Jonas Christophs, whose thorough knowledge of canons of all the principal music genres, from classical to jazz, is raised to the power of his incredible mastery as a guitar player.

Conclusion. The band in a state of the eternal quest for new creative explorations, continuously transforming their style - that is Isildurs Bane. To me, it's the best European act of the third Progressive Rock generation. A double, audio-visual pleasure, this DVD is highly recommended to all the experienced and novice music lovers alike. For those who have already made the music of Isildurs Bane an integral part of their leisure they'll need no additional recommendations for sure.

VM: May 12 & 13, 2005

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