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(47:00, ‘Persona Grata’)
TRACK LIST: 1. Ace 7:03 2. Edge of Insanity 12:18 3. Istanbul 2:54 4. Orient Express 9:31 5. Venice 1:04 6. I Am You 14:10 LINEUP: Martin Stavrovsky – vocals; guitars Adam Kuruc – keyboards Martin Huba – guitars Timo Stries – bass Jan Steno – drums
Prolusion. The Slovakian band PERSONA GRATA can trace their history back to 1999, and has been around for a good number of years without releasing any material officially. "Reaching Places High Above" is their first official full length production, and was self released in 2013.
Analysis. While this long lasting band took their good time to release their first album, the contents on this disc have been around for a good few years. Apart from two short atmospheric creations this is, in fact, the very same songs that appeared on a demo the band released back in 2006, which was also called "Reaching Places High Above". I do suspect that the material has been developed in the years that have gone by since then though, so that this is a new album also for the band as such. Be that as it may be, these are still songs that have been in development for some time. Persona Grata cites bands such as Dream Theater, Yes and Muse as some of their major sources of inspiration. An odd mix perhaps, but so is the music of this band. I'll also reveal straight away that fans of the stated bands will most likely be disappointed if they want to track down material here with a distinct likeness to these sources of inspiration, apart from those who enjoy Muse that is. And while I can't readily think of other bands to point the finger towards, there aren't that many parts of this production that bring Yes or Dream Theater to mind. This is a band that knows how to write and perform structurally challenging music, compositions that contain multiple shifts in pace, intensity and style, featuring quirky arrangements and unexpected developments aplenty. Mainly alternating between mellow and more intense modes of delivery, pastoral oriented passages paired up with dramatic, compact and harder edged progressive rock are a recurring feature here. As are a number of parts meeting somewhere along the way between those two extremes. The piano has a fairly central role in the proceedings too, no matter how intense or not the composition is, and the band does seek out some progressive metal oriented pastures along the way too. I'd select Jethro Tull over Yes as far as vintage progressive rock goes on the influence scale personally, and then on a detail level as far as musical impact goes. Contemporary progressive rock of the Muse variety are easier tracked throughout, although usually mixed with one or the other of the aforementioned styles and not always in a halfway point mix either. This is a clever and technically skilled band, and at their most intricate bands like Gentle Giant and King Crimson came to mind due to this level of sophistication and the numerous quirky details. A track like Orient Express, as well as the atmospheric lead in Istanbul, has been flavored with Middle Eastern inspired scales and notes, resulting in an intriguing exotic atmosphere on these two compositions, and as far as final tune I Am You goes, this epic length excursion opens up in a manner that should please quite a few Muse fans straight away I suspect, but later on also with room for some dramatic symphonic oriented moments and more intense metal-oriented escapades. There's a lot going on here from the get go, and an initial phase of getting accustomed to this album is probably needed. The high degree of changes and developments throughout does make this production an intriguing one once you get it under your skin, and there's plenty to enjoy even after the initial novelty interest in all the changes and developments that are so much of a characteristic detail of this production wears off.
Conclusion. Fairly intricate and quirky music, at least from a structural point of view, defines Persona Grata's debut album "Reaching Places High Above". In terms of style the band tends to navigate between vintage inspired progressive rock and progressive metal, exploring both of these expressions as well as combining them, but with a stylistic identity arguably closest to the UK band Muse and their brand of alternative rock-oriented progressive rock. And I suspect those with a soft spot for this latter band are a likely key audience for this production.
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