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Jaugernaut - 2005 - "Contra-Mantra"

(57:01, 'Jaugernaut' / Progrock Records)

TRACK LIST:                             
1.  Anthem 12:32
2.  The Damage is Done 5:00
3.  Better Living 5:19
4.  Thru Anarchy The Hard Way 14:51
5.  Vanity 6:28
6.  A Different World 5:44
7.  All I See Is Gray 5:44


Jim Johnston - vocals; keyboards; guitars; programming
Jim Brammer - electric guitar
Marty Prue - acoustic guitar

Prolusion. The history of JAUGERNAUT (a misspelling of the word Juggernaut) from Texas dates as far back as 1978, and it was a full-fledged band at the time, a quintet. Their eponymous debut LP was released in 1980 and was followed with another LP, "Take Them All", in 1984. Two years later they disbanded, because of the absence of interest from any label. Former member Jim Johnston decided to reform the group at the end of the last millennium, but his band mates didn't want to join him. As a result, Jaugernaut continues as a one-man group:-), presenting 'their' third album, "Contra-Mantra". Thematically, this is the first part of an interpretive story of the origins of Evil, Jim Johnston announcing to complete the tale with "Contra-Mantra II" in the near future.

Analysis. This is a pretty strange album, like a brainchild of a young band, which hasn't found their position on the Rock scene so far, testing various, often totally opposite, stylings. The music is not devoid of originality, but influences are present, the most noticeable being those of Styx and Rick Wakeman, though the latter are obvious only in the synthesizer solos and mainly only on the longer tracks: Anthem and Thru Anarchy The Hard Way. The former is well constructed, the events developing both logically and cohesively, which is not only because the music rarely exceeds the bounds of classic symphonic Art-Rock (at times with a distinct touch of Metal). There are pretty intricate arrangements almost throughout, especially many in the song's second half, featuring lots of blistering guitar and keyboard solos, interlocking in amazingly queer combinations. This is a solid composition, and yet, being taken as a whole it appears to be lacking something essential to be regarded as a full-fledged suite. The point is that there are only four distinctively differentiated sections, two being overtly overextended, due to the numerous repetitions, particularly in the vocal lines. Here, though, I must make a reservation. Jeff possesses a very strong, dynamic and flexible voice, and his vocals are what I like most of all on the album, a true embellishment of it, helping even the most straightforward numbers sound more or less impressive. Generally, the man has worked carefully at the vocal palette. The lead vocal part is often ornamented with those of a massive 'chorus', made with the proper use of overdubs. Back to the epics: both have a fine balance between vocal-based and purely instrumental arrangements and are by far the best tracks here, Thru Anarchy The Hard Way being a winner, though. This epic is genuinely multi-sectional in construction, and the only shortcoming I find here is the very beginning of it. The 'rain' there is really protracted, falling silently in the course of a whole 3 minutes. Thankfully, the further contents fully compensate the flaw. The passages of classical guitar (a true interlude to the song) turn into a vocal-driven Pomp Rock, full of positive energy and hypnotism. Then follows one of the finest moments on the album, with the sounds of clavier, piano and strings worked out in the vein of Baroque Classical music, soon giving place to the very picturesque darkly atmospheric Space Rock landscapes. The finale is bombastic symphonic maneuvers accentuated by heavy guitar riffs. The Damage is Done is a tasty up-tempo Pomp Rock somewhere in the vein of classic Styx, enriched with coloring synth-led Art-Rock arrangements in the middle instrumental section. Better Living and A Different World are basically similar, but are totally straightforward, lying out of interests of the progressive audience. The least interesting song, however, would be Vanity, a primitive Hard Rock opus with a flashy anthem-like singing and a purely electronic stuff in finale. All I See Is Gray closes the album and is a kind of Art-Rock ballad, with acoustic guitar and synthetic strings forming most of the instrumental background. Finally, a word about the sound, which sometimes leaves a sense of homemade recording, particularly in the episodes that feature neither performances of invited musicians, nor vocals (thankfully, there are not many of such). It's because all the parts of the 'rhythm section' were done on the same synthesizer, the programmed drums sounding barely tolerable, at times awful.

Conclusion. "Contra-Mantra" depicts its maker, Jeff Johnston, as an outstanding singer and quite a decent composer, too. Overall however, the album is simply too motley in content to satisfy me. Still, Jeff has a lot of potential to astonish the progressive audience. He only should hire a real drummer and follow the direction he's laid on the longer tracks here.

VM: January 20, 2006

Jaugernaut - 2005/2008 - "Contra-Mantra"


Analysis. Given the history of JAUGERNAUT, the main stylistic foundation for the compositions on this release is hardly surprising: hard rock with strong leanings towards AOR and heavily spiced with progressive leanings. The first formation of this outfit has been compared to Styx; these tendencies aren't overly dominating this time around but certain similarities in style can be found without much effort. Personally I'd add some Kansas in the name-dropping department, and perhaps a pinch of Rush too, with some modern sounding elements thrown in as surprise elements. The opening number, Anthem, may well be the most progressive creation on this production, following an atmospheric intro containing church bells and carnival sounding organ followed by percussion and some contemporary sounding electronic beats. We are treated to an epic pomp rock composition containing multiple breaks, mellow atmospheric segments mixed with majestic sounding parts constructed by guitars and organ, intense emotional lead vocals and harmonic layered ones, and what sounds pretty much like vintage 70s keyboards in flamboyant action. All the bells and whistles you'd want in this style of music and a pretty fascinating composition to boot. The Damage Is Done and Better Living thru Anarchy follow next, both of them less adventurous creations with more of a clear cut AOR approach, the first of these with some Rush-tinged guitar work and the second with an elaborate chorus as the main attractions, and they are both well made, planned and executed: 70s hard rock with nice keyboard touches. The Hard Way is the second, and last, epic composition on this album and although not the most progressive by any means, it's probably the most experimental creation here. The opening 5 minutes explore a partially ambient electronic landscape with the sound of rain falling as a constant feature, upon which several brief melodic segments are added, tribal electronic beats first, a synth bass and percussion based theme next and a 2 minute long acoustic guitar exploration as the last one. Just over two minutes of energetic pomp rock follow and then we're thrown into another ambient sounding segment, gradually evolving from an almost new age sounding contemplative atmosphere to a more folk tinged mellow creation as vocals, rhythms and a string instrument banjo or mandolin gets added to this part of the song. Just about 5 minutes into this part the melody dissolves, and the pomp rock part of this creation gets back in, yet again aired for just over two minutes; this time ending along with the overall composition. Next track Vanity is quite similar in nature, albeit much shorter in total, and for this song the atmospheric segments are at the start and end of the tune, and we're treated to some nice layered vocals in the pomp rock segment of the song as an additional feature. A Different World comes next, with brief atmospheric parts like a red thread leading back to the previous compositions, in this case inserted into a more typical hard rock piece. The quirky guitar patterns, keyboard layers and what sounds pretty similar to a harpsichord are additional elements included that should keep most progressive rock fans interested. The grand finale on this production is the ballad All I See Is Gray, a highly 70s-tinged affair starting out with a mellow, acoustic guitar, theme, upon which elements are gradually inserted to produce a majestic, pompous affair which really makes one think of the music produced in what for many has become the golden age of music. This is a fitting end to an album incorporating modern elements with classic pomp rock of yesteryear, finishing off with a composition with vintage qualities to style, atmosphere and structure.

Conclusion. It's been quite a while since the mix of progressive rock and AOR nicknamed pomp rock was in fashion, and it's not that often you'll find new releases exploring this particular style in that manner these days. In other words, fans of this style of music better add this one to their list of music they should investigate further and in particular those who enjoy artists adding some modern touches to their vintage musical explorations.

OMB: October 21, 2008

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