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1. Xtra 1:05 (D. & J.Mares)* 2. The Quick and the Death 12:04 (J. & D.Mares) 3. The Harvest 6:44 (J. & D.Mares) 4. Hope 3:43 (J.Mares) /instrumental/ 5. Urban Names 15:05 (D. & J.Mares)** 6. November 4:08 (J.Mares) /instrumental/ 7. Rupture 16:53 (J. & D.Mares) 8. Tres Hermanos 5:22 (J. & D.Mares) 9. Wherever 8:10 (D. & J.Mares) All lyrics by J.Mares, except: ** by J. & D.Mares and * by D.Mares. Line-up: Juan Mares - keyboards, flutes, percussion, programming, backing vocals, tape effects Daniel Mares - bass, guitars, percussion, programming, lead vocals, tape effects
Prologue. Mascarada is one of just a few new Progressive Rock bands to come out from Spain for several last years, and their debut album broadens intangible influences of this country, which still lacks more or less strong units of the genre (first of all, IMO, these are Rivendel and Galadriel). Despite the fact that officially the "Urban Names" album was released only in 1999 by "Mellow" (San-Remo, Italy), two talented brothers Juan and Daniel Mares had all the album recording sessions completed already by 1998 - after two years of work. So, "Urban Names" is really a long-awaited debut.
The Album. "Urban Names" contains 9 tracks, ranging from 1 to 17 minutes. As this work is based on the conception, there are actually no pauses between tracks, or the latters are full of various "live effects" - quite a prevailing method in long conceptual albums. Two of the nine tracks are short (3-4 minutes) instrumentals, both played mainly by Juan Mares, and the penultimate track's lyrics are in Juan's native language, but all the other songs in English relate to the social problems that can take place in any big city - these are the problems of Madness in all its straight and figurative meanings. Diverse manifestations of Madness in various aspects of earthly existance are clearly expressed in lyrics of main songwriter Juan Mares.
On the whole, "Urban Names" contains quite a number of original musical ideas, but stylistically it almost obviously reminds me "Brave", the only Marillion album I consider a pure Classic Art Rock masterpiece. So, the spirit of the British Legend resides in the stylistics of Mascarada, especially in the "atmosphere" of the album, whereas in playing of the musicians you won't find any analogies with Mark Kelly or Steve Rothery of Marillion. And what is more, Juan Mares plays like a real virtuoso, and his keyboards passages are very tasteful. Unfortunately, I can't say the same words regarding Daniel Mares, though his simple guitar and bass playing doesn't have any influences either, and that's (IMHO) much better than some virtuostic imitation, anyway.
Having based their debut on a musical atmosphere that is quite similar to some of the aforenamed Heroes works, in more than 2/3 of "Urban Names" Mascarada brothers demonstrate quite serious arrangements, and on the whole their debut album is quite far from what most reviewers, including me personally, call a traditional Neo. All three long songs The Quick and the Death, Urban Names and Rupture are especially wonderful, full of original, rich and diverse arrangements.
Probably, the only weak point of "Urban Names" is the presence of programmed drums instead of a real drummer. Even though the brothers work hard with keyboards, and their manual drumming sounds okay without using a drum machine, they still fail to do it as skilfully as such famous multiinstrumentalists like Chris Fournier (Fonya, USA), Trent Gardner (Magellan, USA), or even Laurent Simonnel (Chance, France).
Summary. Summarizing my personal attitude towards different aspects of Mascarada debut, I can just state that out of 6-7 Spanish bands I ever heard, heroes of this review can take the honorary third place in the ranks of their country - behind the same aforesaid Rivendel and Galadriel. Before I finish I just want to say that Mascarada currently look forward to have a complete line-up for concert activities.
VM. June 5, 2000
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