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(52:07 / Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Cosmic Velocity 4:33 2. Consensus 6:33 3. Lullaby 4:36 4. Algo Rhythm C 5:25 5. Violin Solo 1:30 6. Spiral Motion 6:04 7. Tangea 5:06 8. Pipe Organ Solo 3:29 9. Constellation 9:52 10. Lunatic Game 4:56 LINEUP: Shusei Tsukamoto - keyboards, Mellotron, pipe organ; b/v Sugimoto Tadashi - vocals; bass, Stick, contrabass, cello Takashi Aramaki - el. & ac. guitars; backing vocals Takashi Kawaguchi - violin, viola Nobuyuki Sakurai - drums
Prolusion. OUTER LIMITS is a remarkable, still quite hugely popular Japanese outfit, although their peak of activity falls in the eighties when they issued three studio recordings, "Misty Moon" (1985), "The Scene of Pale Blue" (1987) and "A Boy Playing the Magical Bugle Horn" (1989) and one live album, "Silver Apples On The Moon" (1988), of which the latter is the only one I haven't heard. "Stromatolite" is their fifth official release, declaring the group's return to the scene after a 17-year hiatus.
Analysis. With "Stromatolite", Outer Limits in their almost original lineup (bassist / cellist / singer Sugimoto Tadashi being the sole novice member) bring us yet another quite remarkable album, and I must tell you it is overall very much in their classic style. Six of the ten tracks on this CD are instrumentals, almost all the songs being in English, all of which serves as more proof that Outer Limits remain faithful to the traditions they themselves established back in the '80s. Gone is only the King Crimson influence, while those of the band's other older preferences still can be traced, at least by someone burning with the desire to give the neophytes an idea of what they can expect from this music, i.e. just by yours truly in this particular case. The titles of the two shortest tracks, Violin Solo and Pipe Organ Solo, are in themselves eloquent enough to describe those, but nevertheless I'd like to note that both turn out to be complete, well conceived compositions, and not makeweights, as I supposed prior to listening to the disc. Featuring only vocals, passages of real stringed instruments (namely violin, cello and acoustic guitar) and those of a string synthesizer, Lullaby is another classical-like piece, sounding much in conformity with what its title suggests as well. The newcomer Tadashi sings in English with confidence, and although his vocals remind me of both John Wetton and Greg Lake, I don't withdraw my assertion regarding the absence of the King Crimson influence. Cosmic Velocity, Spiral Motion, Algo Rhythm C and Consensus, of which only the latter contains singing, are all genuine pieces of art with a distinct '70s vibe, a pleasingly eclectic combination of classic symphonic Art-Rock and Prog-Metal (I can't bring myself to say it's progressive Hard Rock) that can be strongly reminiscent now of UK, now of Kansas, but more often of anyone else other than their makers themselves. Each is thrilling, energetic, highly progressive music with an emphasis on violin, pipe organ and electric guitar solos, though there also are some truly intricate thematic storylines that showcase the instrumental virtuosity of the entire quintet. The music usually tends to be both violent and powerful rather than alternate between pastoral and aggressive passages, only the latter two of those four compositions revealing some really quiet arrangements, most often in the form of classical interludes. Takashi Kawaguchi's violin work still at times bears resemblance to UK's Eddie Jobson and Kansas's Robbie Steinhard as well, besides which there is some connection between his approach and that of David Cross (within the David Cross Band, but not King Crimson!). Of the remaining three tracks, Constellation, Lunatic Game and Tangea, the third is an instrumental piece, and the other two, well, conclude the recording, Lunatic Game being the only song blending English lyrics with those in Japanese. Musically however, these have much in common between them, since all abound in lush orchestral arrangements that imitate various string and brass instruments and are almost exclusively solemn in character. When listening to Constellation I was reminded of Rick Wakeman's "The Journey to the Centre of the Earth", while the other two are both to a certain degree associated with The Alan Parsons Project.
Conclusion. Welcome back to the ranks, Outer Limits, congrats on the excellent album! It is only because the band, figuratively speaking, somewhat throttle back closer to the end of "Stromatolite" that I can't rate their comeback release as a complete masterwork.
VM: September 4, 2007
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