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(66 min, Luna Negra)
TRACK LIST: 1. Mare Tenebris 8:21 2. Utopia 5:09 3. Madre Natura 5:08 4-6.Puentes Destruidos 18:11 7. Luces y Colores 4:27 8. Conversaciones 7:24 LINEUP: Robert Santamaria - keyboards; percussion Juan Carlos Ballesta - drums Alan Chehab - fretless bass Pere Viardell - electric guitar Marta Segura - vocals With: Kerstin Kokocinsky - oboe, English horn Victor Estrada - Theremin
Prolusion. PARTHENON, hailing from the South American country of Venezuela, was formed in 1979 by the first two musicians mentioned in the lineup above, being at the time on the heels of their much more well-known countrymen Tempano. However, their first journey to the cruel world of Rock music of the end of the '70s wasn't long. Parthenon split in 1981 after a couple of live performances and several studio sessions. 23 years later Santamaria and Ballesta reincarnated the band, having asked a few young musicians to join them in this adventure, which the next year resulted in Parthenon's first official release "Mare Tenebris", via the notable Mexican Prog label Luna Negra.
Analysis. The eight basic tracks on this 66-minute CD run 48 minutes. Three of them: Utopia, Madre Natura and Conversaciones were written in 1980, but were re-arranged, re-played and re-recorded especially for this release. The other five are new compositions. The longer tracks: Mare Tenebris, the 3-part suite Puentes Destruidos and Conversaciones are instrumentals, the title track being the only openly derivative number on the album. Much of the music here is a kind of showcase of Robert Santamaria's achievements in the field of imitating Keith Emerson. The piece begins with anthemic passages of Moog, strongly resembling one of the central themes from the title track of "Tarkus", later on developing still in the vein of ELP. Besides, throughout the first half of the composition the quintet sounds like a classic keyboard trio, Santamaria switching over from Hammond to Moog to Wurlitzer, but rarely making way for guitarist Pere Viardell's solos. Thankfully, after the beautiful classical-like piano interlude the balance between the principal soloing forces, namely keyboards, guitar, bass and drums (yes, all of them!), is established once and forever. The rest of the material depicts Parthenon much more favorably, in particular as a group of highly skilful and, what's more important, quite independently thinking musicians. Well, the ELP influence will continue to reveal itself, but only episodically, and not on every one of the succeeding tracks. The picture of '70s classic symphonic Art-Rock with the strong prevalence of distinctively vintage colors in the keyboard palette is quite typical for the entire album, but is especially vivid on each of the three songs: Utopia, Madre Natura and Luces y Colores, perhaps due to the fact that the style appears in its pure form here, i.e. in the absence of elements of the other genres. Marta Segura possesses an original expressive voice, but much of the stuff remains purely instrumental. The remaining four compositions: Conversaciones and the 18-minute epic Puentes Destruidos, conditionally divided into three tracks, are the highlights of the album. The former is mostly notable for intense, full of undercurrents arrangements in the vein of the primary style, but the middle section unexpectedly finds the band venturing into Space Rock territories. The monstrously long Puentes Destruidos is a real feast for the adventurous, each of the suite's three parts being a suite already in itself, with ever-changing music and elegant transitions from Art-Rock to Classical music and Jazz-Fusion, and not even a hint of ELP or anyone else! There also are the initial versions of Utopia, Madre Natura and Conversaciones, recorded in 1981 and coming as bonus tracks at the end of the CD. I don't think it's necessary to describe them (again), especially since I am pretty confident that each of the compositions sounds much more convincing in its renovated appearance.
Conclusion. While not groundbreaking, Parthenon's "Mare Tenenbres" is nevertheless an excellent release. If you're into '70s vintage symphonic Progressive and can overlook their tendency to ape ELP on the first track, I am sure you will be impressed.
VM: February 17, 2006
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