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(57 min, 'Mangrove')
TRACK LIST: 1. Facing the Sunset 13:53 2. I Fear the Day 10:12 3. There Must Be Another Way 12:31 4. Hidden Dreams 20:58 LINEUP: Roland Van Der Horst - guitars; vocals Chris Jonker - keyboards Pieter Drost - bass Joost Hagemeijer - drums; vocals
Prolusion. MANGROVE is one of the most fruitful contemporary progressive collectives from Holland, successfully combining their live performance activity and their studio recording sessions. The band's history counts only five years, but they have three official releases already: "Massive Hollowness" (2003), "Touch Wood" (2004) and "Facing the Sunset" (2005).
Analysis. Three semi-epics, ranging from 10 to 14 minutes, and one 'sidelong' suite, exceeding 20 minutes in duration form the content of "Facing the Sunset", vividly depicting different sides of Mangrove's creation, their open and hidden affections and passions. After listening to the album I came to the conclusion that the band is equally inspired by the '70s heyday-era Prog and the so-called Neo movement of the '80s, using samples of vintage keyboards (piano, organ and Mellotron) side by side with the bright sounds of modern synthesizers and normally alternating complex arrangements with those smooth, reflective and mellow. However, the second track, I Fear the Day, is calm and serene throughout, like a flat river slowly carrying its waters with no rapids on its way, let alone waterfalls. The music is free of any obvious influences and is both graceful and beautiful, but it's so simple and predictable that only novice Prog lovers can dive into these shallow waters with no fear of breaking their heads. I would have perceived the whole album in a much better light had this song not been included or, as a last resort, had been used as an opener. In the latter case, each of the following tracks would've been more diverse than its predecessor. The title track is much more eventful. In the beginning the band reveals their most unorthodox way of arranging and structuring, creating some really unique and intricate maneuvers - by combining symphonic textures with those of Doom/Cathedral Metal. I only regret that they didn't try to develop their discovery properly, subsequently using the theme just thrice, with either no or very few variations. The other part of the song's stylistic picture refers to both classic and neo manifestations of Art-Rock, though there also are three brief episodes with only keyboards and vocals. When Roland Van Der Horst sings alone, I don't have problems with his vocals (though if I were an Englishman I would possibly dispute his pronunciation:-), but each time Joost Hagemeijer joins him the ghost of Gentle Giant affects the music, deflowering it of its relatively maiden originality. Running a few steps forward, I will note that such a vocal extravaganza can be found in places on the last track, too. There Must Be Another Way is an instrumental piece and is my favorite track on the album. Stylistically, there is much common ground between this composition and the title track, but the music as such is definitely more diverse, besides which there is a wonderful contrasting interplay between solos of acoustic guitar and passages of a string ensemble, which can easily be viewed as a Classical-like interlude. Generally, the band has managed to create a mysterious, very picturesque atmosphere here, even though it's full of dark-hued colors and drama. I have no doubts that many will find the monstrously long last track to be the highlight of the album. Hidden Dreams embraces all the directions the band has approached hitherto and is abundant in intricate, highly exciting musical events, surpassing any of the preceding tracks in everything which concerns compositional profundity and performance mastery. Even some dissonant structures can be found here in places. Nevertheless, the epic is slightly overextended, due to the presence of some really unnecessary repetitions, and above all my nature rebels against those based on themes that are ripped off from Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon".
Conclusion. "Facing the Sunset" should please a wide audience, representatives of different progressive camps, considering the ease with which Mangrove manipulates both neo and classic manifestations of symphonic Art-Rock, and also Prog-Metal. While not a masterpiece, this is a good album overall. Not all of the content will satisfy the adherents of highly intricate music, while on the other hand it will certainly serve as a necessary stage for those still on the way to conquer their progressive heights. After all, this band has taste. Recommended.
VM: March 20, 2006
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