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TRACK LIST: 1. The Source 4:04 2. Glory Of Night 7:53 3. In My Humble Opinion 5:26 4. Travels 10:54 5. Outside the Gloom 8:50 6. Destination Sky 5:32 7. The Pendulum 14:56 LINEUP: Bart Schram – vocals; acoustic 12-string guitar Rudy Vander Veken – lead and acoustic guitars Tom Truyers - piano, organ, synthesizers Maximilian von Wullerstorff – bass Benny Petak – drums
Prolusion. MINDGAMES are one of the foremost Belgian bands in the field of symphonic progressive rock. Since their inception in 1997, they have released three albums: “International Daylight” (2003), “Actors in a Play” (2006), and this “MMX”, whose title spells the year 2010 in Roman numerals. In the past decade they have performed at several prog festivals in their native country.
Analysis. To many a progressive rock devotee, Belgium will bring to mind the darkly compelling antics of chamber rock masters Univers Zero and their disciples like Present or Aranis, rather than the safer territories of Symphonic/Neo Prog. However, instead of taking the experimental route, Mindgames distinctly lean towards the more tradition-oriented branch of our favourite genre, and they do so with considerable class and style. Though not exactly a prolific band, with three albums released in almost 13 years since their inception, their output can be successfully compared with that of higher-profile bands like Sylvan or Believe – at least, judging from this “MMX”. Being a self-confessed non-fan of Neo-Prog, this album was a positive surprise for me. Offering seven nicely balanced tracks, a couple of more or less ‘epic’ size and the others shorter, “MMX” is a tight, song-oriented effort that avoids the pitfalls that often mar similar productions - namely, the temptation to indulge in sprawling, often unbalanced epic-length tracks. Granted, it is nothing that anyone in their right mind would call innovative - but neither does it pretend to be. Mindgames’s music is about presenting compositions that are solid and well-rounded, blending melody and energy in satisfactory amounts, and enhanced by the excellent vocals of singer/guitarist Bart Schram. As I have frequently pointed out, vocals can be a make-or-break factor in any album that features singing – so much that I have often wondered why many bands or solo artists do not opt for all-instrumental albums instead. Neo-Prog is indeed one of those subgenres in which inadequate vocals can cause an album’s impact to be severely diminished. This is definitely not the case with “MMX”, since Schram’s singing is probably the single most important factor for the disc’s success. Very much at the forefront of each of the compositions, his voice complements the rich, easy flow of the music remarkably well. While high-pitched voices can often wear on a listener’s nerves, and therefore outstay their welcome, Schram is a master of the art of modulating his delivery in such a way as to avoid slipping into a whiny monotone, let alone screeching. As is the case with the majority of recordings that fall under the Neo-Prog umbrella, the main influences to be identified on “MMX” are post-Gabriel Genesis and Pink Floyd, as well as Neo high priests Marillion, IQ and Arena. Though the mood is generally melodic, there are some harder-edged touches that may bring to mind the softer instances of early Dream Theater – especially in tracks like opener The Source and its follow-up, Glory of Night. In both these songs, as in the other ones on the album, Mindgames seem to achieve a good balance between guitar and keyboard parts, with the rhythm section playing an unobtrusive but essential role. The influence of Collins-era Genesis comes across very evidently in Outside the Gloom (with an upbeat section that brings to mind Robbery, Assault and Battery from “A Trick of the Tail”) and Destination Sky, while the spacey sound effects in Travels hark back to “Dark Side of the Moon”. The latter song is, in my view, the more successful of the two epics, since The Pendulum is a rather standard symphonic prog effort relying a bit too heavily on spoken-word narrative – somewhat of a clich? in the genre. On the whole, with “MMX” Mindgames have crafted a fine, well-rounded album that may well propel them to the forefront of the modern symph/Neo prog scene, kudos to the band for keeping things under control, instead of giving in to the overt self-indulgence that can bring down more ambitious productions.
Conclusion. “MMX” is sure to delight fans of the more traditional strains of progressive rock, though it can be enjoyed (at least as a refreshing change of pace from more challenging stuff) by almost everyone who is into music performed with skill and flair – as long as you do not expect anything more demanding than this. The fact that Mindgames have an excellent vocalist (something that has become increasingly rare in the world of prog) does not hurt either.
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