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(54:07; Soniq Theater)
TRACK LIST: 1. Antarctica 7:46 2. Springtime in Siberia 5:12 3. Brandenburg 6:54 4. London Town 5:15 5. The Cyclades 1:42 6. Weekend in Monaco 5:16 7. Tasmania 0:45 8. Daytona Beach 2:47 9. Brimstone Cave 2:53 10. NYC 4:53 11. Mariana Rift (Guitar Version) 10:44 LINEUP: Alfred Mueller - all instruments with Ralph Brandenburger - guitars
Prolusion. German project SONIQ THEATER has been the creative vehicle of composer and musician Alfred Mueller for the past couple of decades, and he has held a fairly steady pace in releasing one new album just about each year. "Brandenburg" is the 19th of these, and was self released at the start of the year.
Analysis. One of the key elements of all the Soniq Theater albums is that they are DIY production, where Mueller does everything himself, and most commonly by way of keyboards. Hence emulated instrument sounds are commonplace, and not all of them will sound all that good. He does make up for some of those weaknesses with a good ear for compelling melodies and effective arrangements, but this isn't material to investigate if you expect a Steven Wilson type quality to the music you listen to. Soniq Theater have kind of established itself as a venture that blends idioms of progressive rock and ambient music, often creating cinematic oriented soundscapes alternating between the gentle and mellow and the tighter and more dramatic. This is very much the case this time around as well, and where I personally find that the more delicate passages sporting layers of floating synthesizer and keyboard textures are most striking. That Mueller chose to invite guitarist Brandenburger to contribute on a few of the tracks is a bonus feature that does elevate the total experience somewhat as well, as this is something that really does add positive elements into all of the compositions where his instrument is used. As an album experience this is a production that ebb and flow a bit, with Mueller playing out quite a few different variations of his core elements. Not everything strikes me as having the same quality though, as is common on these albums some of the songs does have a bit too much of a synthetic tinge to them in a too detrimental manner. The greater majority are compelling affairs however, and on a few Mueller does up his game a bit as well. Opening number 'Antarctica' is a striking effort, complete with the blend of ambient and tighter progressive rock oriented elements he is a master of. The guitar soloing really adds to this song, although a few impact guitar riffs used here and there isn't of the same quality. The rhythms are used to good effects here as well, and this is arguably one of the most organic and least synthetic sounding compositions Mueller have executed. I was even more impressed with the shorter 'Daytona Beach', with regular drum patterns that came across as well made and well sounding, and sporting a groove-laden bass-line that had a nice, warm and organic sound to it. For me this song is the clear highlight of this album, closely followed by aforementioned 'Antarctica as well as title track 'Brandenburg' and the reworked version of 'Mariana Rift' that concludes this album.
Conclusion. Soniq Theater have crafted some of the finest moments in the 20 or so year long history of this project on this latest album, with contributions from guest musician adding depth and increasing the experience for the listener as well as, possibly, inspiring Mueller to be at his very best on those compositions. As a total experience this is on par with just about all previous albums, blending progressive rock and ambient music into compelling and enjoyable soundscapes, but with glimmers of brighter magic in the very best moments. For those unaware of this project, I'd recommend that those that tend to enjoy early 80's Tangerine Dream and music of a similar nature to lend and ear to Soniq Theater, and this album is as good a place to start as any other.
Progmessor: July 11th 2019
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