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(46:30, AltRock Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Sleep Is Teasing a Man 4:34 2. Human Life in the Wind 4:14 3. Someone in the Spacious Tail-Coat 2:53 4. Unexpected Feiertag in Chemnitz 1:05 5. A Men Went to Sleep 4:26 6. Chamber Illuminated by the Dark Lamp 1:46 7. Bet on a Marked Card 2:09 8. In the Late Summer 1:49 9. Living the Main Life 5:49 10. Private Secrets of Machine 3:08 11. Weimar Period 1:46 12. The End of the Almshouse 2:24 13. Passacaglia in a Beautiful and Furious World 5:05 14. In Five Steps 5:22 LINEUP: Olga Podgaiskaia – piano, organ; vocals Cyril Christia – violin Vitaly Appow – reeds Maxim Velvetov – guitar Nikolai Semitko – drums Dmitry Maslovsky – bass Anna Ovchinnikova – cello
Prolusion. RATIONAL DIET is a chamber rock septet, hailing from Belarus. Following their self-titled debut outing and “At Work” from 2008, “On Phenomena and Existences” is their third album to date. Like both of its predecessors, it was released by Italy’s AltrOck Records – a young, yet quickly-developing label, constantly looking for open-minded, forward-thinking, etc, prog rock performers from all over the world.
Analysis. Each of the next decades that followed the blessed ‘70s was poorer in new progressive rock talents than the preceding one. In short, Rational Diet is definitely one of the brightest stars to appear on the genre’s horizon in 2000s, and its work is marked or rather stamped with distinct signs of honesty and inspiration. The ensemble has been creatively growing from the outset of its activity, and on its latest release it seems to be tighter than ever, finding all the musicians involved offering equal quantity of resourcefulness to the overall effort – at least as players, bearing in mind that only two of them, pianist/vocalist Olga Podgaiskaia and violinist Cyrill Christia, are behind it as composers. While lasting for 46+ minutes (a perfect time for an album, IMHO), the CD contains 14 tracks. Don’t worry, though! All of those are complete, in all senses full-fledged compositions, besides which the majority of them are masterpieces. Nowadays few bands are able to create albums that would consist of comparatively short tracks which, in turn, would be filled with progressive features. “On Phenomena and Existences” is one of the most impressive examples of the matter I’ve met with in years, and I take it as a setter of gems. Ten of the compositions are purely instrumental, ranging from one to five minutes in duration, but not a second is wasted on any of those, the shortest cuts included. What particularly impresses me is the care and concern the ensemble takes in keeping the arrangements at once intricate and highly cohesive. On eight of the instrumentals, namely Human Life in the Wind, Someone in the Spacious Tail-Coat, Chamber Illuminated by the Dark Lamp, Bet on a Marked Card, In the Late Summer, Living the Main Life, Private Secrets of Machine and The End of the Almshouse, the playing is almost steadily intense, done in the classic-bombastic RIO traditions. The last phrase suggests that I should name some proponents of the genre as points of comparison, right now, but I won’t. Rational Diet has a really unique vision of the style, which doesn’t imply any improvisations, for instance. Everything has been carefully composed, down to the smallest details, and while each of the musicians plays his/her own special part, all of them do so from scores – and no unison leads, by the way. Furthermore, there is also a very strong feeling of Neoclassical music (almost everywhere on the album in fact), no matter that it doesn’t take its pure, acoustically-chamber, appearance on either of these. Anyhow, although quite unified in style, each musical thread develops along its own path, constantly changing, yet never loosing what can probably be labeled as its melodic focus. Of the remaining two vocal-free pieces: Weimar Period, a slow interplay between violin and cello, comes across as something halfway between Celtic folk music and the classical variety, reminding me of the main instrumental theme of It Wasn’t Meant to be Like This from Skyclad’s “Jonah’s Ark” – don’t really know why, but it does. As for Unexpected Feiertag in Chemnitz, the piece contains nothing besides two guitar solos, which, though, interact with each other in an elegant manner. Of the four tracks with vocals (all of which are performed by Olga – in Russian, the lyrics being sorrowful in all cases), the first three, Sleep Is Teasing a Man, A Men Went to Sleep and Passacaglia in a Beautiful & Furious World, are done in the album’s primary style, save the fact that the tension builds and explodes a few times on each, plus there are some moves with only chamber instruments in the arrangement – think Neoclassical music in its pure form. Each also stands out for Olga’s agile piano playing, which, moreover, often appears to be the axis for the other instruments to weave their patterns around. Finally, the album’s concluding track, In Five Steps, is basically slow-paced throughout and doesn’t feature a drum kit. Nevertheless, it strongly varies in theme as well as in structure, coming across as a blend of vintage art-rock opera and neoclassical music. Olga never follows the RIO traditions when singing. Instead, her vocals have now a folksy, now operatic quality to them, now something that seems to be only typical of Rational Diet – yet another addition to the band’s cornucopia of virtues.
Conclusion. “On Phenomena and Existences” by Rational Diet is in all senses a brilliant album. I find it to be one of the most mature as well as palatable fruits that have grown on the progressive rock tree in the 2000s. It’s not for those who browse the tree, let alone ones who have fallen from it :-); it’s just for you – you know who you are. Performed by seven musicians, most of whom play chamber instruments, it appears as a lush exotic musical shrubbery, blossoming with plenty of different flowers-solos. (After listening to releases such as this one, it’s always difficult for me to switch over to those with only two or three primary soloists.) Meanwhile its creators have just led ProgressoR’s prog rock parade of 2010.
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: February 1, 2011
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