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Presence (Italy) - "The Sleeper Awakes" + "Live"
(2CD, Black Widow)
****** (!)

Prolusion. This double CD output includes the reissue of Presence's third album "The Sleeper Awakes" and a collection of live recordings, including those performed in 2002. The band's discography is presented in the prolusion to the review of their latest studio album, >"Gold". Well, may this review be at least partly as emotional and intricate as the music on this recording.

Presence - 1994/2004 - "The Sleeper Awakes" (51 min)
****** (!)

TRACK LIST:

1.  Enticer 4:06
2.  The Other Weight of Sense 6:55
3.  Stranger Again 5:24
4.  Veer 1:48
5.  The King Could Die Issueless 6:50
6.  The Sleeper Awakes 8:06
7.  Gauntlet 1:28
8.  So Dangerous 6:02
9.  Endless Unceasing Lie 5:42
10. The Scourge of Being 5:18

All music: by Iglio, except 7: Casamassima.  
All lyrics: Baccini. 

LINE-UP:

Sofia Baccini - vocals
Enrico Iglio - keyboards
Sergio Casamassima - guitars
Sergio Quagliarella - drums
Emiliano De Luca - basses 
With:
The Naples Orchestra's string section musicians

Produced and arranged by Presence.
Engineered by G. Ruggiero at "Mega-Ride", Naples.

Synopsis. At the outset, I'd like to mention that there is some confusion in the track list of "The Sleeper Awakes" stated in the CD booklet: Gauntlet is listed as the eighth track, and So Dangerous as the seventh. In reality, everything is vice versa (see above). Two out of the ten tracks on the album, Veer and Gauntlet (4 & 7), are instrumental pieces and both are radically different from the rest of the material. The first is filled with tense atmosphere, created by special synthesizer effects and somewhat dramatically sinister narration, and is actually an intro to the next song (all lyrics are in English). Another is a classical guitar piece and is a gem featuring perhaps the fastest and most virtuosi solos and passages of acoustic guitar I've ever heard. Well, here is an immediate, yet, by no means premature, conclusion. Each of the members of Presence is one of the most skillful musicians in the contemporary Prog scene, and Sofia Baccini is one the best and most impressive, expressive, sensitive, female singers in the history of the genre. She is Queen Diamond, i.e. >King Diamond's sister in vocal talent, and it's a great pity if you can't get a clear idea of what I imply by saying so. The album's predominant stylistics is presented on precisely half of the tracks here: Enticer, Stranger Again, The King Could Die Issueless, The Sleeper Awakes, and The Scourge of Being (1, 3, 5, 6, & 10). This is a blend of Prog-Metal and Symphonic Art-Rock with some elements of classical music, provided mostly by string orchestra, but this is not what you've just thought about. This is really something special, which you can't imagine without listening to it. Don't believe those who call this music a dark Doom Metal, and especially those labeling it Neo! There is no Doom Metal as such at all. (Generally, Presence's music is too rich and colorful to define it with a single term). Furthermore, there is little Prog-Metal, although the genre is one of the two main constituents of the music. Does it sound discrepant? Nevertheless, this is the fact, the principal mystery of the work and, simultaneously, the main virtue of it. Your unbelief in my words will vanish into thin air as soon as you hear the album. We live in a dual world, so we should be accustomed to contradictions, and by the way, it is a stone's throw from contradiction to miracle. The only really significant difference between the aforementioned songs and the remaining ones concerns the overall level of density of the arrangements. In short, The Other Weight of Sense, So Dangerous, and Endless Unceasing Lie (2, 8, & 9) consist of structures that, on the whole, are a bit clearer than the others. Which, however, allows me to define the style as almost a pure Symphonic Art-Rock. Finally, I must admit I feel really happy having discovered for myself (and, hopefully, at least for some of you, too) such a highly unique and interesting music as is presented on this album from the far >1994. Indeed, better late than never!

VM: March 2, 2004


Presence - 2002/2004 - "Live" (42 min)
******

TRACK LIST:

1.  Makumba 4:43
2.  The Shadowing 2:56
3.  Kashmir 8:20
4.  Hellish 6:28
5.  On Travel 7:57
6.  Shining Uneasy 8:02
7.  The Swear 4:48

All music: by Iglio, except 3: Led Zeppelin, 
& 6: Casamassima. All lyrics: Baccini.

LINE-UP:

Same, but without orchestra

Produced by Presence.
Engineered by G. Ruggiero.

Synopsis. It's rather curious, but there are no tracks from Presence's latest studio album ("Gold", 2001) in this collection of live recordings, while some of the songs were performed and recorded in 2002. I haven't heard a couple of the band's albums, so I can't be certain that the CD presents rare and unreleased tracks by them. Nevertheless, Led Zeppelin's Kashmir is the only song here that I was familiar with until now. What is especially amazing, this CD sounds like the logical continuation of "The Sleeper Awakes", following the principal musical directions and the stylistic coherency of that album. In short, the songs Makumba, The Shadowing, and Shining Unease (1, 2, & 6) are about that unique blend of Prog-Metal and Symphonic Art-Rock with some elements of classical music where the first constituent of the style often sound so strange and unusual. Well, not as strange as on the first CD, but these are imperfections of a live recording, and while the sound is rich and more dense, I am almost certain that there are either very little or no overdubs at all. Hellish and On Travel (4 & 5) represent a true symphonic Art (OK, Art-Rock) with lushly orchestrated arrangements and some elements of a distinct Prog-Metal. That said, the orchestral arrangements are present on most of the tracks, and of course, the (wonderful) rendition of Kashmir is especially rich. I still consider Kashmir the very best regarding songs that are influenced by the oriental music, and I still wonder why people continue calling it Hard Rock. The last track: The Swear (7) is an excellent, touching Symphonic Art-Rock ballad performed without the rhythm section. Before listening to this CD, I had no doubts that my favorite female singer Sofia Baccini sings 'live' as outstandingly as she does in the studio, and I wasn't mistaken in my presupposition. The same sincere praise goes to all of the other band members.

Conclusion. Presence, one of the most original and masterful European Prog-Metal-related outfits of all time, was formed more than fifteen years ago. So it can be established now that, unfortunately, the band is still grossly underrated and remains obscure, which is incomprehensible to me. If you still aren't acquainted with the creation of this Italian band, bravely do it, starting with this double CD album. Presence will be a real revelation for you, especially if you are into both Art-Rock and Prog-Metal.

VM: March 3, 2004


Related Links:

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