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Protos - 2007 - "The Noble Pauper's Grave"

(51:10 / 'Protos')


TRACK LIST:                                 
1.  Born a Bit Blue 3:10 
2.  Pause For Thought 0:45 
3.  Travels 5:12 
4.  Gathering Dreams 0:20
5.  The Rally 11:44 
6.  Long Dark Night 0:39 
7.  The Final Dawn 2:53 
8.  The Noble Pauper 0:58 
9.  Outcry 10:54 
10. Turmoil 0:44 
11. Aftermath 6:29
12. Last Report 0:41 
13. Departures 6:38


Rory Ridley-Duff - keyboards; drum programming
Stephen Ancombe - guitars
Nigel Rippon - electric cello

Prolusion. PROTOS, from the UK, are one of the oldest and at the same time least prolific bands on the contemporary prog scene. Last year they celebrated their 30th Anniversary, but "The Noble Pauper's Grave" is only their second studio album, precisely 25 years separating it from its predecessor, "One Day a New Horizon". Indeed, it's a hard life for prog nowadays.

Analysis. Originally a trio, Protos appear as a duo on this output, but while keyboardist Rory Ridley-Duff succeeds in filling up the 'battery' niche - with programmed drums, he still avoids using bass pads, only the opening piece, Born a Bit Blue, revealing enough low frequencies to make them physically perceptible. "The Noble Pauper's Grave" is a thirteen-track recording where seven fully-fledged compositions alternate strictly with six pieces of narrative that, although all very brief, aurally call up the intro to Alan Parsons' "Tales of Mystery & Imagination". As for the body of the album, I wouldn't say it's a major creative break-through, compared with the group's first recording, but nonetheless it shows a certain improvement in their work. With an overall sound something of a cross between the pictorial classically-inspired sonic landscapes of The Enid, the pastoral medieval-like madrigals of Gryphon, and the intense art-rock anthems of Rick Wakeman and ELP, with loads of digital synthesizers imitating a number of vintage keyboards as well as chamber instruments and fanfares, this creation proves the time of its makers' former passion, Camel, is up. Of the pieces largely of the Enid / Gryphon school, Travels, The Final Dawn and Departures, the former is the richest in advanced maneuvers and is generally the best track here, but while the last two in the final analysis are mellow ballads, both possess some salt that makes them sound quite compelling even after a few successive listens. Not too complex, but effective, Born a Bit Blue is an elaborated interpretation of what comes across as more-or-less average late-'70s Symphonic Progressive in its pure form - the second best track here IMHO. Each of the four finds Rory and Stephen Ancombe (who often switches over from electric to acoustic guitar there) sharing lead duties in approximately equal measure, unlike the rest of the material where they much more frequently alternate with each other at the fore than play jointly and where one guitar player is at times totally overshadowed by his partner. With hooks not unlike Alan Parsons' early instrumentals and 'heroic' passages that instantly evoke classic Rick Wakeman, Aftermath not surprisingly slots squarely into the space between those two artists. Despite their thematic and stylistic variety, the two semi-epic pieces, The Rally and Turmoil, are my least favorite tracks, partly because I am not into big symphonic passages that are more showy than deep. Both reveal some obvious repetitions and are generally somewhat overextended, thus indicating that Protos are more efficient when working with shorter proportions. Besides, each contains quite a few themes that sound like they are borrowed from each of the duo's primary mentors (ELP, Rick Wakeman, The Enid and Gryphon), the resemblance manifesting itself via the melodies, synthesizer registers used and so on.

Conclusion. There's still nothing either new or groundbreaking in this newest offering from Protos. Nonetheless I'm sure the CD will delight many fans of Symphonic Progressive (particularly those with interest in a keyboard-dominated sound), despite its quasi-derivative and semi-synthetic nature.

VM=Vitaly Menshikov: January 26, 2008

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