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Pictorial Wand - 2006 - "A Sleeper's Awakening"

(112 min 2CD, Unicorn)


*****+

Prolusion. PICTORIAL WAND is a studio project from Norway headed by multi-instrumentalist and composer Mattis Sorum, who wrote all the music and lyrics for their debut album "A Sleeper's Awakening".

Disc 1 (58 min)
*****+

TRACK LIST:

1.  Prolog 3:16
2.  The King & His Land 6:41
3.  The Gate of Lost Souls 4:43
4.  The Path of Thorns 5:28
5.  In Shadow 11:06
6.  Broken Glass 7:23
7.  A Wandering in the Dark 3:41
8.  The Beast Within 10:06
9.  Corrosion of Flesh 7:21

LINEUP:

Mattis Sorum - guitars, el. sitar; organs, keyboards
Tomas Di Sansimone - drums
Idar Eidsaune - bass
Per Christian Jorstad - cello
Synne Teiseth Norbeck - flute
Petter Selliseth - lead vocals
With:
Paal Selsjord Bjrseth - piano, harpsichord
Gry Tronslien - vocals
Ingrid Strid - vocals
Lise Granden Berg - vocals
Eva Marianne Olsson - vocals

Analysis. This is a concept album, the lyrics telling of a king who came to the realization of the seven deadly sins in his sleep. The music is quite uniform as well, both compositionally and stylistically, and is mainly quasi-classic Symphonic Progressive with a wide application of chamber and metal textures, the strongest emphasis being made on tunefulness. The most widespread mood is also of a mixed - semi-dramatic / semi-heroic - character. I would never blame Pictorial Wand for being derivative, and yet, their brainchild doesn't sound like something unfamiliar to me (such a strange contradictory feeling!), reminding me in a way of a cross between "The Final Experiment" by Ayreon, Rick Wakeman's "King Arthur" and "The Tales of Mystery & Imagination" by The Alan Parsons Project. The album begins with the instrumental piece Prolog, which is a beautiful, moving interplay between acoustic guitar, flute and violoncello, though it didn't do without a brief narration as well. Running a few steps forward, I'd like to note that the second (and last) instrumental, A Wandering in the Dark, is the same story, and only these two don't blend with the said associative row. Just consequently, the movements strongly involving chamber instruments sound both fresh and independent everywhere they are, but while such are present on eight of the nine tracks that form the content of Disc 1, they cover only about one fourth of the space of each, on average. The rest of the picture includes seminal arrangements in the key of symphonic Art-Rock (still with many strings and wind - just synthetic) and those related to heavy music, which, due to the repetitive nature of guitar riffs, the abundance of even meters and the relative straightforwardness of such constructions themselves, have in most cases little to do with Prog-Metal: such a strange conflicting combination. The weak spots of this creation, the latter most often reveal themselves in the refrains and bridges of central vocal themes. The first three songs, The King & His Land, The Gate of Lost Souls and The Path of Thorns, are the richest in chamber textures, but on the other hand, most of the vocal lines here are heavily repetitive. Two or three invitee women diversify the picture, which though turns out to be really effective only when they're alone behind the microphone (which happens not too often), otherwise following the traditions of background vocals. Nonetheless, the number of different instrumental sections on the said songs is large enough to draw the listener's attention away from some poverty of ideas in the vocal ones. In Shadow, The Beast Within and Corrosion of Flesh are the strongest tracks here, being much more variegated than the others, especially the largely instrumental In Shadow. Despite small contributions from a cellist and a flautist to the latter two, both retain a quite distinct chamber sense as well, due to the wide use of acoustic guitar and piano, often in the context of the group's joint maneuvers, which are predominant here. The concluding piece features an episode with an exotic storyline developing around distinctive solos from electric sitar. Broken Glass is interesting as well, combining all three of the album's primary stylistic components with spacey landscapes. Generally, the last five tracks on Disc 1 are a quite essential listen, and by the way, their total playing time approaches 40 minutes. Oh, almost forgot: Prolog is also good.

Disc 2 (52 min)
*****+

TRACK LIST: 

1.  Retrospective Visions 4:24
2.  Red Sunset & a Drowning Fly 9:14
3.  The Golden Path 7:46
4.  Warning Not Heard 11:12
5.  The Temptress of Unchastity 7:03
6.  A Sleeper's Awakening 9:50
7.  Pensiveness 2:55

Analysis. Well, second disc: seven tracks. While the alternation of soft-and-slow, acoustically pronounced arrangements and those massive with a full-band sound is quite a common occurrence here too, the number of violin- and flute-laden movements has somewhat decreased. Only The Golden Path and the title track are really rich in such, the latter featuring a harpsichord in addition, while on Retrospective Visions, the music is always centered round passages of acoustic guitar, even at its most intense (though it's never utterly intense, to put it mildly). Red Sunset & a Drowning Fly, The Temptress of Unchastity and the title track are done in the album's primary style, combining all its genre components, with all its virtues as well as flaws. Meaning the many guitar riff-laden themes are still annoyingly monotonous, in contrast with the others. Thankfully there are not too many of these here. Warning Not Heard begins with an interplay between electric sitar and flute having a strong oriental flavor; otherwise everything develops in a familiar way: dynamic instrumental Art-Rock gives way to modified Nu Metal (the domain of central vocal themes as usual), which is followed by a Classical-like interlude and so on. My favorite tracks on Disc 2 include the genuinely largely instrumental The Golden Path and two shorter songs, Retrospective Visions and Pensiveness. There is nothing supernatural in this fact as all three are free of flashy-and-fashionable riffing and any heavy movements in general, although The Golden Path is brilliant already compositionally and is excellent in all senses. Red Sunset & a Drowning Fly and the title track are for the most part also outstanding, although not throughout.

Conclusion. "A Sleeper's Awakening" by Pictorial Wand is a solid debut effort overall, but isn't something you normally expect from Unicorn Records (there is nothing negative in this sentence, just merely remarked on). I think I can foretell strong commercial success for this CD - as applied to the scene's situation today of course.

VM: July 7 & 8, 2006


Related Links:

Unicorn Records
Pictorial Wand


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