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Opus Est - 2007 - "Opus II"

(74:34 / Musea Records)

TRACK LIST:                   
1.  The Seeing Eye 11:05
2.  The Blind Eye 7:41
3.  The Nose 12:07
4.  The Mouth 12:47
5.  Springtime 9:34
6.  Winter 6:39
7.  Marie-Claire 7:04
8.  Square the Circle 7:20


Hakan Nilsson - vocals; flute
Kent Olofsson - guitars, bass 
Leif Olofsson - keyboards
Andres Olofsson - drums
Tobjorn Syren - bass

Prolusion. OPUS EST, from Sweden, were until now known as a one-shot outfit whose only album, "Opus I", was reissued on CD in 2003 - precisely twenty years after its original LP edition. However here is another release from this band: titled simply and unpretentiously as "Opus II", this is a collection of their archival recordings. The first four of the eight songs present (no instrumentals here) were created in 1979-'80, and the others in 1983-'84, though two of the earlier ones - those taking the first and the third position - were re-recorded in 2004. The press kit says Opus Est have recently reunited and began working on their new studio album.

Analysis. Although their titles all have a somewhat anatomical tinge, the first four songs, The Seeing Eye, The Blind Eye, The Nose and The Mouth, all stand out for their quasi philosophical lyrics and are generally strong compositions, all falling squarely into the classic art-rock idiom and, therefore, very well supplementing each other. Since these run for 44+ minutes, there was no necessity to fill up the CD with the group's later creations, especially since some of those are just makeweights in the end. But well, I'd better move step by step. Whilst "Opus I" depicts the band as followers of Genesis, their earliest recordings declassify the other passion they had at that time. I think any of the semi-epics from the Side B of Yes's "Close to the Edge" or "Relayer" can serve as a rather apt reference point regarding The Seeing Eye and The Nose, and although the other two, The Blind Eye and The Mouth, are both musically much closer to classic Genesis, some traces of Yes's influence are present on these too - above all due to Hakan Nilsson's vocals, as the man sings clearly in the manner of Jon Anderson throughout the album's first imaginary half. Anyway, the longest three compositions are all effective, well-made examples of long-form Art-Rock with interesting thematic development, good instrumental performances and enough dynamic transitions to keep the listener engaged. The Blind Eye is somewhat less successful in this respect, but it's not because this song is noticeably shorter than any of its neighbors. The group plays for the most part in a more relaxed way here, often with no drums involved, preferring to ornament the music rather than drive it. Nevertheless, this is not a boring tune, by any means, possessing some zest that makes it sound rather compelling even after repeated listens. All the words from the previous two sentences are also relevant concerning Marie-Claire, which is the only song among the remaining four that I like. This is a relatively complex art-rock ballad, reminiscent of Entangled from "A Trick of the Tail", with a lot of beautiful interactions between piano and acoustic guitar. Overall, the five described tunes are all enjoyable, each being somewhat weightier than a tribute, let alone a derivative - unlike the remaining three tracks. Square the Circle is clearly moulded upon the title track of "Abacab", no matter that some of the guitar solos here evoke Steve Hackett rather than Mike Rutherford. Springtime begins as a light variation on the introductory theme of Assassin from Marillion's "Fugazi", later on sounding for the most part like Lady Nina (one of the most simplistic songs by that band, available only on "B-sides Themselves"). Winter is, to say the least, a complete black sheep in this herd - a really dull straightforward pop-rocker, compared to which any of the previously two described cuts would be a gem.

Conclusion. A professional producer would have certainly omitted the three weak tracks, without which the material would still have exceeded 50 minutes in length, and been a fully coherent album, good from its first note to the last. On the best tracks, Opus Est almost perfectly recaptures the spirit of vintage Symphonic Progressive - at least compositionally (as they are certainly inferior to their benefactors in terms of both arrangement and technique). Anyhow, this is a very decent release overall, much better than most, if not all, of the reissues of archival recordings I've heard since 2005, and can be recommended to all not-too-fastidious art-rock fans.

VM: May 11, 2007

Related Links:

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