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TRACK LIST: 1. Inquisition 4:44 2. Song From a Nearby Star 1:48 3. Deus Vult 5:20 4. Stella Maris 6:17 5. Death in Eden 8:07 6. Challallah Khaeri 11:48 7. Garden Building 1:52 8. Sick for What the Heart Wants 2:56 9. Stranded 8:22 10. Flower Harvest 1:50 11. We are Many & They are Few 2:55 12. Mother Night 4:49 13. God will Break Your Heart 6:42 14. Afterture 3:16 LINEUP: Marc Spooner – keyboards Malcolm Smith – guitars John Marby – vocals Greg Miller – drums Jim Anderson – bass
Prolusion. Based on Mary Doria Russell’s sci-fi novel of the same name, “The Sparrow” is the third release by METAPHOR, from the States. The reviews of the quintet’s previous two efforts, “Starfooted” (2000) and “Entertaining Thanatos” (2004), can be read here and here, respectively.
Analysis. The cover artwork of “The Sparrow” is not too dissimilar to Genesis’s “Wind & Wuthering”, which made me almost certain that Metaphor is currently as faithful to the creative legacy of the most influential sympho-prog band as ever already prior to playing the disc. Still true to their seemingly everlasting passion indeed, this time, however, the musicians approach the matter from a somewhat different angle, and what they play here comes across for the most part as their vision of what their mentors could have made between their first two finest hours so to speak, namely “Trespass” and “Nursery Crime”. Furthermore (regardless of whether it’s done advisedly or not), the sound of “The Sparrow” is overall of the same quality as the said albums, revealing that characteristic sense of rawness which typifies probably the majority of the recordings from 1970 and 1971. To a greater or lesser degree, the implied connection manifests itself on eleven of the fourteen tracks here, most often on all levels, running all through the following ones: Inquisition, Deus Vult, Death in Eden, Sick for What the Heart Wants and Mother Night, of which the first two are at once somewhat harder and more diverse than the others. Vocally heavier than any of Genesis’s classic art-rock creations, meaning save for the balladic ones, all these songs nevertheless suit the said idiom, displaying fairly intense instrumental buildups throughout, not only within their corresponding sectors. Marc Spooner’s very vintage-sounding keyboard (a lot of organ, some piano and occasional Mellotron) riffs and solos, along with Malcolm Smith’s at times quirky guitar work, provide a solid backdrop for John Marby’s dramatic singing. Two of the pieces with no lyrical contents or any voices either, Flower Harvest and Garden Building, each could have easily been used on any of those five songs – as a soft semi-acoustic and full-bodied instrumental interlude, respectively. The names of several additional musicians are listed in the booklet without any specifications regarding their roles in the recording, but I believe most of them are behind the mixed operatic choir that replaces John during the first half of God will Break Your Heart, while otherwise this song is very similar to the previously described ones. One of the least challenging compositions, Deus Vult, is pretty much in the same vein as the title track of “Abacab”. Though not without electronic catches – still those that instantly recall early-to-mid ‘80s Genesis – Stella Mari is a more varied piece, at least stylistically, containing also a few French chanson-inspired moves, some balladic art-rock arrangements with occasional jazz-tinged piano leads, as well as a number of sections exemplifying the disc’s primary style. With the exception of its introductory theme, where John down to the smallest details repeats Martin Walkyier (an amazingly innovative singer, formerly of Skyclad, which in turn is the best progressive folk-metal band ever in my honest opinion), Stranded not only incorporates Metaphor’s primary influence, but also finds the group defining their own style. The same words are relevant to the instrumental We are Many & They are Few, but even more so to the longest track, Challallah Khaeri, lasting for almost 12 minutes. This is in many ways a remarkable composition, the one with really enough purely instrumental maneuvers to fully meet the requirements of classic Symphonic Progressive, and so to satisfy the most demanding advocate of the genre as well. There are also a few acoustically-driven interludes, the longest of which, featuring piano, violin, acoustic guitar and harpsichord, is clearly of a chamber nature. Something very much of the same quality (only using sort of synthetic analogs of chamber instruments) is offered on the closing track Afterture – quite an impressive piece, despite its pseudo acoustic sound. In all, it’s only Song from a Nearby Star, which, with its synthesizer drones and “ooh” pads imitating female vocalizations, appears to be a foreign body in this musical material, if not a complete makeweight.
Conclusion. In my view, “The Sparrow” is a fairly solid step forward, compared to “Entertaining Thanatos”. Gone are the mainstream-like leanings of the previous recording, while the number of the band’s own discoveries has definitely grown. Nevertheless, what forms the most massive part of this musical pie, well, isn’t the best restoration of the classic Genesis style, and is noticeably less convincing than the one Citizen Cain offered on their “Somewhere But Yesterday” CD for instance. Anyway, if you appreciate concept creations and like the idea that runs all through the review, you shouldn’t hesitate whether to check out this latest release by Metaphor.
VM: Agst 12, 2008
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