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(74:26,’ Proximal Distance’)
TRACK LIST: 1. Algol 7:52 2. The Shaman 8:02 3. Gypsy 11:22 4. Contemplation 3:17 5. Flashback to Now 4:40 6. Deep Space Intermission 5:35 7. Leaves Fall 3:50 8. Journey of Truth 7:32 9. Coherence 7:54 10. Expanding Universe 14:15 LINEUP: Gregg Johns – bass, guitar, mandolin; keyboards; vocals Jeff Hamel – guitar, bass; keyboards; vocals Jessica Rasche – lead vocals Jeremy Mitchell – drums With: Sarah Hamel – vocals (2) Todd Sears – drums, electronic percussion (3, 9)
Prolusion. PROXIMAL DISTANCE is a collaboration by two American multi-instrumentalists, Gregg Johns of Slychosis and Jeff Hamel of Majestic. Also on board are Majestic vocalist Jessica Rasche and Slychosis drummers Jeremy Mitchell and Todd Sears. The CD comes with a lavishly illustrated booklet, courtesy of Russian-born artist Vladimir Moldavsky, responsible for the artwork of Slychosis’ second album, “Slychedelia”.
Analysis. In the past year or so I have reviewed albums by Majestic and Slychosis, so I was not surprised to find elements of both those projects in Proximal Distance’s debut album. The most noticeable difference, though, is that here the two masterminds, Jeff Hamel and Gregg Johns, have conceived this new venture as more of a real band than an almost-solo project. In particular, the presence of a drummer (actually two, counting Todd Sears’ contribution on two tracks) imparts to the album a natural, organic feel that is often missing from both the above-mentioned discs. Another welcome participation is that of vocalist Jessica Rasche, whose impressive pipes were first displayed on Majestic’s second album, “Arrival”. Her voice definitely adds depth and interest to the album, seen as neither of the two main musicians is the strongest of vocalists – though Rasche is indeed an excellent singer in her own right. Here she tackles wistful, ballad-like numbers and more aggressive ones with power, confidence and melodic flair, confirming the versatility shown on “Arrival”. On the other hand, while there are many interesting moments on “Proximal Distance”, the songwriting is not always up to scratch. At almost 75 minutes, the album is also way too long, so that, rather inevitably, after a while things start to drag a bit – in spite of a really excellent batch of songs in the disc’s first half. The compositions are all quite dense, almost too much so, though not always as cohesive as one might wish. This is not too noticeable in the really successful numbers like instrumental opener Algol, which blends spacey suggestions a la Pink Floyd with lusher, more typically proggy keyboard excursions and melodic guitar soloing, or the 11-minute Gypsy, which starts out as a romantic ballad infused with piano and guitar, then briefly turns into a shred-fest; but becomes more and more evident in the more ambitious offerings like The Shaman, and especially the album’s ‘epic’ closer, Expanding Universe. There are also a couple of more straightforward songs that are closer to classic rock than prog, such as Flashback to Now, with its Blue Oyster Cult overtones, or the melancholy ballad Leaves Fall, where Rasche’s vocals bring to mind Heart’s Ann Wilson (who is admittedly one of the main influences on the singer’s style). The acoustic Contemplation provides yet another opportunity for the vocalist to display her talent, as does the aforementioned Gypsy. However, by the time Journey of Truth begins, the album has already started to show signs of wear and tear. The somewhat ironically-titled Coherence points to Porcupine Tree, as well as Pink Floyd, as sources of inspiration; while the unabashedly ambitious Expanding Universe packs quite a lot in its 14 minutes – symphonic textures, spacey moods, and edgier moments, like a metal-styled passage propelled by double-bass drumming – but ultimately comes across as somewhat directionless. At any rate, though “Proximal Distance” may not be a complete success, it is an overall pleasing listen, which will be especially appreciated by fans of good female vocals. Hopefully, for any future releases, Johns and Hamel will concentrate more on compositional tightness, and try to keep the running time under control.
Conclusion. In spite of its somewhat uneven nature, “Proximal Distance” contains enough worthwhile moments to appeal to fans of symphonic prog and psychedelic/space rock. On the other hand, the overt prog metal component in the second half of the disc might put off some of the more conservative listeners. It is, anyway, a promising debut (though with a tad too much padding), and yet another fine showcase for Jessica Rasche’s considerable talent as a singer.
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