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(67 min, 'Mindgames')
TRACK LIST: 1. The Benefit of Anxiety 9:03 2. Dramatis Persona 10:05 3. The Statue 16:30 4. Sagittarius 6:47 5. Royalty & Jeopardy 11:53 6. Both Sides of the Show 12:36 PERSONNEL: Tom Truyers - keyboards Rudy Vander Veken - electric guitar Bart Schram - vocals; acoustic guitar Eric Vandormuel - bass Benny Petak - drums
Prolusion. MINDGAMES from Belgium present "Actors in a Play", a follow-up to their first full-length album "International Delight" from 2003.
Analysis. The lineup didn't undergo any changes; the guys haven't made any truly significant alterations to their primordial style, and yet it is not too easy to recognize Mindgames on their new album. With "Actors in a Play" they've made a really huge step forward - as composers, arrangers and performers alike. But what's especially striking is that they've gotten rid of all their open and hidden passions, normally known as influences, and presented music which is exclusively their own (although they aren't one of new music's innovators of course). Mindgames were always well disposed towards massive constructions, but it's for the first time here that they turn to the genuinely epic forms - those implying large-scaled instrumental palettes - thus keeping their lengthy compositions fresh and exciting. The oddly numbered tracks: The Benefit of Anxiety, The Statue and Royalty & Jeopardy are especially eloquent in this respect. The former has at times a guitar-driven heavy rock edge; The Statue is notable for a majestic Classical-like prelude based on the sounds of pipe organ; the latter begins and ends with delicate violin-like pizzicatos. On the overall plane however, the songs have much common ground between themselves, wonderfully combining the fragile beauty of theatric Neo with the full bombastic grandeur of the best symphonic Art-Rock. Each features a huge amount of purely instrumental maneuvers, as well as different thematic sections as such, the band migrating from one section to another both convincingly and elegantly. There are some repeats of a previously performed theme, but the songs never stay in one spot too long, besides which the shifts of destination are frequent and often unpredictable. The music on the other longer tracks, Dramatis Persona and Both Sides of the Show, is more often centered round Bart Schram's vocals. In their overall appearance however, these two are nearly as impressive as the others, partly due to the presence of Classical-like passages on each, the musicianship and interplay being consistently outstanding throughout. Bart's English is still as good as ever (well, it would've been really strange had it been otherwise), while the flight of his fantasy on this album is just breathtaking, depicting him as one of the most inventive contemporary dramatic singers. The minstrel-like vocals in combination with passages of acoustic guitar (also courtesy of Bart) and those of piano and synthesizer form the content of the remaining piece, Sagittarius, which is by far not 'your typical Art-Rock ballad'.
Conclusion. "Actors in a Play" is one of the strongest and most original Neo-related albums I've heard in recent years, though it's definitely something much more diverse and greater than a traditional Neo and should probably endear itself to anyone into the Art-Rock genre in general.
VM: April 9, 2006
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