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TRACK LIST: 1. Red Vibes 6:13 2. Biosphere 8:00 3. Relocator 5:24 4. Proxima 6:16 5. Aavishkar 10:30 6. 13 Reasons 6:31 7. Urban Blue 6:33 8. The Alchemist 11:32 LINEUP: Stefan Artwin – guitars; programming Bartek Strycharski – el. violin Michael Pruchnicki – basses Frank Tinge – drums With: Derek Sherinian – keyboards
Prolusion. More of a recording project than an actual band (though some live dates are in the pipeline at the time of writing), RELOCATOR was first formed in 2004 by two musicians based in Germany, guitarist Stefan Artwin and bassist Michael Pruchnicki (who was born in Poland). Unfortunately, the band never managed to keep a stable line-up, which lead to their disbanding in 2008. In early 2009 Artwin and Pruchnicki decided to revive the project, enlisting the collaboration of Polish violinist Bartek Strycharski and Dutch drummer Frank Tinge – as well as former Dream Theater keyboardist Derek Sherinian (also known for his work as a solo artist and with Planet X). Their self-titled debut album was released in January 2010.
Analysis. When looking at Relocator’s debut CD, you would be hard put to believe that this is an independent production by a band that has never released anything prior to it. Indeed, the lovingly crafted packaging of the album is on a par with much more expensive productions. Its simple yet stunning cover is also proudly emblazoned with the names of the four band members, as well as that of special guest Derek Sherinian – who will probably act as the main draw for many listeners. However, those who bought the album mainly on the strength of Sherinian’s name might be doing Relocator a severe disservice, because the four musicians that form the core of the band deserve most of the credit for this striking release. In spite of the logistical constraints inherent to a multi-national outfit such as this one, Relocator sound like a well-honed machine with far more mileage than they actually have. While their sound might be loosely described as progressive metal, I feel this label to be somewhat restrictive. True, the distinctive sound of the double bass drum coupled with the heavy riffage featured in most of the tracks points to such genre-defining outfits as Planet X and Liquid Tension Experiment – but there is more to Relocator than just that. Unlike many progressive metal bands, instrumental or otherwise, Relocator do not indulge in bludgeoning the listener with a barrage of power chords, ultra-fast drumming and shredding of every kind. On the other hand, there is a genuine sense of melody running through the album, tempering the heaviness of some of the sections. In spite of the constraints posed by their different geographical locations, Relocator sound remarkably tight, the various instruments blending seamlessly together. True, the drum sound sometimes tends to overwhelm the rest (a common issue in progressive metal), but as a whole the recording projects a sense of cohesion that transcends any individual display of chops. Compositionally speaking, the eight tracks possess a high level of complexity, though hardly ever sounding patchy or too intricate for their own sake. While the keyboards tend to take the lead role in most of the tracks, on the whole Sherinian manages to keep his more outrageous antics admirably under control. That leaves a lot of scope for Stefan Artwin’s remarkably restrained guitar excursions, which convey enough emotion to confer a sense of warmth and well-roundedness to the album. Relocator seem to be aware of the importance of a good album opener, and Red Vibes does not disappoint in this respect, setting the scene for what is to come. With an almost hummable keyboard riff and beautiful, airy violin, the number is subtly but relentlessly driven along by Michael Pruchnicki’s nimble bass lines, emerging at times from the instrumental fray. As one of the core members of the band, and the main songwriter along with Artwin, Pruchnicki’s contribution to Relocator’s sound is essential, though never showy. He is definitely a bassist to be reckoned with, his love of jazz evident in his agile, melodic work, which gets to shine also in the title-track and the atmospheric, uptempo 13 Reasons. Biosphere and Proxima see Artwin step into the limelight, delivering a particularly beautiful, lyrical guitar solo at the end of the latter number; and Urban Blue, alternately driven by guitar and keyboards, is also an uncannily catchy, melodic piece. However, it is the two ‘epics’ that offer the most interest for hardcore prog fans. Intricate and full of twists and turns, Aavishkar blends prog metal, symphonic prog a la UK (cue the beautiful violin work) and Middle Eastern influences; while The Alchemist, as the title suggests, is somewhat dark-hued, with atmospheric, almost ominous passages bookending the compositions, and plenty of instrumental mayhem in between – perhaps less melodic than the previous numbers, but very effective with its heavy riffing, pneumatic bass and bursts of machine-gun drumming. While “Relocator” is as impressive a debut album as they come, there are a few rough edges that the band might think about smoothing for their next release (which, hopefully, will see the advent of a stable lineup). For instance, I believe Frank Tinge should go for a more organic drum sound to complement Pruchnicki’s flawless bass lines. I also found Bartek Strycharski’s violin to be somewhat underused. However, in spite of these minor flaws, this is undoubtedly one of the best instrumental prog releases of the year, and a very promising statement of intent from a group of very talented musicians. Personally, I would be curious to see Relocator pursue a jazzier route, because they have the potential to make waves in a jazz-rock context as well as in a more metal-oriented one.
Conclusion. A very accomplished debut, both musically and visually, “Relocator” possesses all the suitable elements to wow fans of instrumental progressive metal – though, I am happy to say, the album’s appeal is not restricted to those who like the harder side of progressive rock. With some magnificent violin playing to add a lyrical note, and sterling performances from everyone involved, this would have been an impressive effort even if Derek Sherinian had not been on board.
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