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(71:58, Progrock Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Ishalem 10:59 2. The Call of the Sea 6:25 3. I Am the Point 5:40 4. Letters in a Bottle 5:02 5. Halfway 4:05 6. Anchored 4:39 7. Here Be Monsters 5:28 8. The Sinking of the Luminara 5:40 9. The Winds of War 4:48 10. Swept Away 4:18 11. Beyond the Horizon 5:07 12. Merciful Tides 5:07 13. The Edge of the World 4:40 LINEUP: Erik Norlander – keyboards Lana Lane – vocals Kurt Barabas – bass With: Chris Quirarte – drums Gary Wehrkamp – guitars Chris Brown – guitars David Ragsdale – violin Mike Alvarez – cello Martin Orford – flute John Payne – vocals James LaBrie – vocals Michael Sadler – vocals
Prolusion. ROSWELL SIX is a project instigated by Shawn Gordon, head of US label Progrock Records. Erik Norlander is the main composer, while acclaimed writer Kevin J. Anderson and his wife Rebecca Moesta have created the concept and written the lyrical contents. Norlander's wife Lana Lane and musician Kurt Barabas are the last of the six members at the core of this project; with a minor army of guest musicians brought in to handle various instrumental and vocal parts in this novel approach to a concept album - one of the first; if not the first; instance of a professional writer actually being an active participating contributor to the creation of a themed album based on his own work - and with a tie-in to a professionally released novel to boot.
Analysis. The musicians and writers involved in this project is a highly talented bunch. Norlander and Lane will arguably be the best know among the core members of this outfit, while guest stars such as James LaBrie and Martin Orford are two of several that are or are close to household names for many people with an interest in progressive rock. The good thing about using well established musicians and writers for a new project, besides the fact that they are well known that is, is that they usually will provide very good performances. And that is the case for this venture as well. Guest vocalists and instrumentalists alike provide quality input throughout; and in particular those fond of good vocal performances will get much joy out of this production. The songs themselves are more of a mixed bag though. Opening number Ishalem starts out in a good manner, an epic excursion with eastern tinges, complete with massive keyboard and vocal segments and a general sound that gives a nod or two in the direction of Led Zeppelin and their classic track Kashmir. LaBrie's excellent toned down vocals on top of the synth-dominated foundation in I Am The Point is another highlight, and the slow-paced chugging Here Be Monsters returns to a sound close to Zeppelin, spiced with neat and majestic synth layers, strong vocal performances and a compelling overall atmosphere. Most of the other songs are rather to predictable though. Musically we're treated to compositions blending the symphonic side of art rock with progressive metal. The compositions come across as structurally simplistic; often predictable in development and rarely include unexpected musical or compositional elements. Slightly toned down guitar riffs and riff patterns provide the musical foundation, some neat and at times flamboyant keyboards adding swirling layers and rich textures to the excursions. But the stars of the show, so to speak, are the vocals; provided by Lana Lane, Michael Sadler, James LaBrie and John Payne. There is a story being told here, and the voices of the story are highlighted; this production seems to concentrate more on the tale being told than the musical elements providing the foundation for the vocals. Overall this album tends to be too slick and predictable for my taste; and the number of innovative features of the complex variety are few and too far between. It's not a bad album as such though, and I can certainly see that many will find this venture to be enjoyable. For my sake I've probably heard too many albums with similarities to this one in general sound though, and in this case too few compositions manage to fascinate or intrigue; even after several careful and concentrated listens to this production.
Conclusion. "Terra Incognita: Beyond The Horizon" is a concept album, with an elaborated backdrop story created by professional writers. The careful mix of symphonic prog with a toned down prog metal sound should see to it that this production finds an audience amongst purveyors of melodic hard rock as well as melodic heavy metal; and art rock aficionados not normally fond of metal might just find the symphonic elements so well developed in this case that they'll appreciate it too. The main negatives about this creation are predictability though; and those who are fond of truly innovative musical features may find this venture lacking in that respect.
OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: May 21, 2009
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