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TRACK LIST: 1. Fateful Days 7:37 2. Grounded 5:25 3. Kites 3:17 4. Flight 6:37 5. Current Events 5:23 6. History 1:22 7. Heritage 4:38 8. Experiments 3:11 9. Floating 1:32 10. Annabelle 5:02 11. The Center 4:40 12. Fateful Days II 1:17 13. Hannah 4:00 14. The Great Salt Pond 5:52 15. Grounded II 5:11 16. Kites II 2:14 17. Flight II 5:00 18. Owen 1:39 SOLO PILOT: Steve Brockmann – guitars, bass; keyboards With: Dave Meros - bass Jochen Ohl - drums Alan Morse - guitars Gordon Tittsworth - vocals &: Many more musicians
Prolusion. "Airs: A Rock Opera" is a collaborative effort planned and composed by German composer and instrumentalist Steve BROCKMANN and US lyricist George ANDRADE. Utilizing their networks they enlisted the aid of musical friends worldwide to record the album, a true to life internet enabled collaboration. The final result was self-released at the start of 2012.
Analysis. The rock opera is a concept that hasn't been in fashion for a while. It hasn't ceased to exist, but will usually be described as a concept album these days. And there are a few artists out there who have a fair degree of blending a theatrical play involving different persons and voices with rock music of various kinds, in progressive rock circles Ayreon will probably be the most widely recognized name. Brockmann and Andrade's project is of a rather different character however. The story explored is one set in a real life environment, real people struggling with real problems. On that level, this production does separate itself from many similar productions of a contemporary nature. And in terms of style they mostly shy away from progressive metal too, which will be a welcome change for those with a specific interest in contemporary productions labeled as rock operas I suspect. The music on this disc generally wanders back and forth between rock and metal in expression. Softer atmospheric pieces, ballads and power ballads are utilized throughout, as story effects just as much as musical ones, but the compositions that set the stylistic standard for this production reside somewhere in between hard rock and metal in expression. With quite a few of the latter variety in a manner that makes me recall the more bombastic heavy metal albums of the mid to late 80's, productions generally regarded as either true metal or power metal today. Savatage was a name I found myself thinking of quite a lot throughout this CD, although to a greater degree in terms of general approach than stylistic expression as such. But the use of dramatic musical and vocal effects, symphonic backdrops liberally utilized throughout as well as the incorporation of darker toned, pace-filled pieces with driving guitar and bass passages are all traits that avid Savatage fans will appreciate, as are the aforementioned gentler, ballad-oriented numbers and transitional atmospheric based numbers. Musically this is an interesting production too, with many fine efforts throughout. Annabelle is probably my favorite track on this disc due to a compelling bass and guitar theme that is a recurring element of this piece, and later on Hannah is another item I enjoyed quite a lot, a smooth but harder edged and dark toned affair that sticks despite what I found to be a generally weak spot on many tracks here, namely the vocals. As this is a story told by different persons, it must have been important to track down vocalists with rather different vocals both in term of timbre and delivery, and that part of the requirements has been executed quite well. But I did find many of the vocal parts to be poorly placed in the mix, some of them almost drowning in the backing instruments, while others soar and dominate. And in the songs that feature more than one voice, the end pieces in particular, they don't appear either as a whole or at the same level. A minor point, perhaps, and one I guess many won't pick up, but as I'm rather sensitive to such issues the variation doesn't have to be all that drastic for me to take notice. Personally I also found many of the voices and vocalists to be either dampened and weak or overly theatrical, the ones utilizing dramatic impact deliveries and extensive use of vibrato in particular. This is obviously a matter of taste; personally I'm a sucker for harmonic delivery with careful use of effects to emphasize certain lyrical points. On this production the emphasis appears to hone in on the emotional aspect with a delivery to match, theatrical as one might expect from a rock opera. Floor Kraaijvanger is a find however, and I really enjoyed her contributions throughout this CD. In sum this makes for a somewhat uneven ride. Generally good songs, quite a few memorable and really well made pieces too, and a promising excursion into the realms of the old fashioned rock opera, as long as you enjoy the vocal approach at hand.
Conclusion. "Airs: A Rock Opera" is an old fashioned rock opera exploring a story involving real people in a real environment, where much care has been used to find different voices for each character in the play. Mostly emphasizing a theatrical, melodramatic delivery focusing on emotion over harmonies, and set to a musical backdrop that to some extent is comparable with the old US metal act Savatage as far as general approach is concerned. I would estimate that followers of that band to be something of a key audience for this ambitious production.
OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: March 16, 2012
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