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TRACK LIST: 1. Changing Legacy 7.00 2. Lost Inside 8.21 3. Sad Silhouette 7.22 4. SCITS 14.25 LINEUP: Raoul Potters – guitars; vocals Arjan Visser – bass Rene Visser – keyboards Fred Den Hartog – drums
Prolusion. Hailing from The Netherlands, the four members of PROFUNA OCEAN got together in 2008. Their first demo, though recorded in far from ideal conditions, impressed the likes of Threshold’s vocalist Damian Wilson and legendary keyboardist Rick Wakeman. “Watching the Closing Sky”, released in May 2009 by Farr Records, aroused a lot of interest, and earned the band an international distribution deal with Musea Records. At the time of writing, Profuna Ocean are about to embark on a Dutch tour as supporting act for veteran band Alquin.
Analysis. For the second time in two months, I find myself writing a review for the debut album of a band in which the name Porcupine Tree is a recurring feature. This goes once again to show how, for many new prog acts, the obvious influences from the leading lights of the golden era have been joined by other, more recent ones. Now, while being influenced by another band or artist is nothing out of the ordinary – in the arts, very few people if any have actually invented anything, and everyone has been influenced by someone else to at least some degree – resemblances that sound a bit too close for comfort are likely to make listeners wonder. This is, indeed, the main problem with Profuna Ocean’s debut album – high on listenability, melody, and even technical skill, but somewhat short on originality. Going against the grain of the current trend for very long albums, “Watching the Closing Sky” features only four songs, and its running time is more or less that of a vinyl LP. True, one of the tracks is a 14-minute ‘epic’, and the other three are all over 7 minutes – however, in these times of almost 80-minute albums (concept or otherwise) riddled with all kinds of filler, this cannot but impress as a bold choice. The band clearly understand that ambition does have its limits, and that it is better to produce a cohesive, well-structured effort of under 40 minutes, rather than a sprawling mess which can become unlistenable after a while. That said, the album – in spite of the undeniable proficiency of its members – disappoints in terms of actual musical content. While the four tracks on “Watching the Closing Sky” are all very pleasing and well-executed, they are also a tad too derivative, sounding most of the time like Porcupine Tree circa “Deadwing”. Like the English band, Profuna Ocean skilfully balances hard-edged, riff-heavy sections with more laid-back, at times even poppy ones. The Porcupine Tree vibe is stronger in the heavier sections, which make up a sizable part of the first two tracks. Changing Legacy, with its somewhat harsh, guttural riffage alternating with chiming, clean-sounding guitar work, sounds uncannily like Deadwing (the song) – down to the melancholy, Steven Wilson-like tone of the vocals; while the spacey keyboards and steady drum beat of Lost Inside bring to mind the English band’s more psychedelic output. Sad Silhouette leads the listener into mellower, Pink Floyd-influenced territory, with plenty of atmospheric keyboard washes and clear, melodic guitar licks, while the riffing is kept to a minimum. The Pink Floyd references surface again in the album’s longest track, SCITS (an acronym for “sadness crawling inside the summer”) – the solemn, spacey keyboard intro is sharply reminiscent of Shine on You Crazy Diamond (incidentally, an oddly similar title). In spite of its length, this is by far the most accessible song on the album, bordering on neo-prog territory especially as regards the vocal parts and the rather catchy chorus, though the occasionally abrasive riffing and whistling synths bring back the Porcupine Tree comparisons (especially in the second half of the song). “Watching the Closing Sky” is undoubtedly a pleasant listen, and Profuna Ocean should be commended for keeping things short and sweet, so to speak. Too many bands, new or otherwise, have yet to learn the meaning of restraint, and that more does not necessarily mean better. However, this is not enough to turn an album that relies a bit too heavily upon certain sources of inspiration into more than just another interesting debut.
Conclusion. Though not an entirely original proposition, “Watching the Closing Sky” shows enough potential for Profuna Ocean to be considered promising. Nevertheless, in the future the band should concentrate on developing their own musical identity, if they want to avoid the tag of ‘yet another Porcupine Tree wannabe’. In any case, the album is likely to appeal to fans of Porcupine Tree and Pink Floyd, as well as those ‘traditional’ progressive rock fans who do not mind a touch of heaviness in their music.
RB=Raffaella Berry: November 20, 2009
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