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(159:50 CD & DVD, Gentle Art of Music Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Intro 1:20 2. Cashflow Prayer Answering Machine 4:33 3. Welcome Tomorrow 8:22 4. Tune in, Zone Out 4:30 5. Revolution by Design 5:52 6. Behind a Veil of Snow 5:01 7. Manager of the Year 7:30 8. Wintersong 6:43 9. A Clear View 6:55 10. Exile 5:33 11. Clouds 3:02 12. Now the Waves of Sound Remain 13:12 13. The Beginning of the End 7:22 LINEUP: Markus Bratusa – vocals; guitars; programming Arthur Darnhofer-Demar – bass Gabe Cresnar – drums
Prolusion. The Austrian trio PHI is a self-described post-progressive rock band that was formed ten years ago, and while its first incarnation broke up, a second version arose a few years after and has been steadily developing their craft ever since the release of their debut album "Ghost" in 2011. At this point they have three studio albums and one official EP out, in addition to this live CD+DVD package that was released by Gentle Art of Music in 2015.
Analysis. I have been one of many admiring the approach this Austrian threesome applies to their material. This is a young band, and while some of the likely influences to their craft do shine through, they appear to be well aware of not allowing their influences to dominate the scope of their material in any big way. The end result is music that comes across as fairly well developed material that fits quite nicely into the contemporary music scene, sporting a sound, mood and atmosphere that clearly belong today rather than in the past. The strongest undercurrent I trace in their music is the one of Porcupine Tree, and – to a slightly lesser extent – Riverside as well. The often driving bass lines and firm drum patterns reference both of these bands for me, but the overall mood and atmosphere of the songs are ones I experience as closer to the former of these on a general and consistent basis. I will add that these are perhaps more subtle similarities, as Phi isn't a band out to replicate anyone from what I can hear. The guitar motifs and sounds used also expand the canvas considerably, with elegant wandering guitars and firm riffs similar to Rush, edgier varieties of the same that are a bit closer to the likes of King's X, as well as darker, majestic, circulating movement closer to stoner rock and grunge as a part of the landscape as well. And on occasion the band will opt for a smoother, more elegant sound too, that, in spirit, is closer to Pink Floyd. Being a three-man strong band, it is impressive to hear how they manage to reproduce all those aspects also in a live setting. The concert captured here is a well recorded one, and the opening tracks in particular represent this band at their very best in a live setting, rich in mood and atmosphere, with a good drive. All of them come across as vital when performed live, and while the following songs never truly manage to reach those impressive heigths from the start of the concert, this concert experience remains an engaging and compelling one, where the more ballad oriented Wintersong is the sole example of a song that didn't manage to hit that nerve needed to engage on a higher plane. But all in all, Phi comes across as a strong live band based on the contents of this album, managing to convey their material in a surprisingly effortless manner as a three-man strong unit also on stage. This live CD also comes with an accompanying live DVD, an addition to make live albums more appealing purchases that has been a slight trend in recent years. Capturing a concert on video is affordable these days, and with editing software available at bargain prices creating such a DVD isn't such a massive cost that it used to be. In this case the band has opted for what, I suspect, is more of a budget approach, although the size of the venue has probably limited their possibilities as well. We get state of the art footage of a cost effective variety, presumably all captured digitally, from two handheld cameras and a few fixed locations. The shots aren't the best, but they give us a good impression of how the concert went down and the live performance without being brilliant in any department. The image quality is OK, the color balance adequate, the editing is effective and maintains a good motion and flow throughout, and some shots have been edited to black and white to add a bit of variation. A few of the compositions come across as less interesting in this setting and a few are arguably slightly elevated as well. The end result is along those lines: adequate. This is a nice addition to the live CD, but not of the quality that would make it a worthwhile standalone release for a band of this stature.
Conclusion. As such this album serves as a good introduction to the band, as it does contain material from all of their studio productions, presented and performed in a (mostly) compelling and likable manner. The live DVD is perhaps more of interest to existing fans, but a worthwhile watch even if not shining in moments of brilliance also for others. I'd estimate that fans of bands such as Porcupine Tree and Riverside might be the key audience for this band, and personally, my impression is that Phi is a band with a high enough quality to merit being mentioned in such a context too.
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