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(46:24, ‘Spleen Arcana’)
TRACK LIST: 1. Erin Shores 12:00 2. Fading Away 10:16 3. Memento Mori 24:08 LINEUP: Julien Gaullier – vocals; guitars, bass; keyboards With: David Perron – drums Marie Guillaumet – vocals
Prolusion. SPLEEN ARCANA is the creative vehicle of French composer and musician Julien Gaullier. Over the years this self-taught artist has written and recorded a great deal of material for his own pleasure. Some years ago he decided to make a concentrated effort with a full-length album as the goal, and the end result was released in 2009 as "The Field Where She Died". This process apparently was regarded as a fruitful one, as Gaullier returned using the Spleen Arcana moniker in 2014 with his second album "The Light Beyond the Shades". As with his first production, the album was self-released.
Analysis. While Gaullier cites many names from older years, as well as more contemporary artists, as inspirations to him, his second full-length recording is one that appears to be primarily aimed at the distant past in terms of sound and style. Vintage or classic-era progressive rock, with some distinct symphonic qualities to it, although one might argue that the latter is applied in more of an atmospheric manner than one that can be traced directly back to classical music in terms of structure and arrangement. The three epic-length excursions are all fairly similar in scope, although each of them has its own distinct identity mark that makes them subtly different from one another. This is presumably well planned by the creator, establishing a core sound and identity and adding minor variations to this, so that each composition does get an identity of its own. Opening track Erin Shores revolves around gentle, almost pastoral sequences, with layered keyboards, Mellotron and acoustic guitar as the main instruments, with occasional flute details emphasizing the pastoral orientation and an occasional touch of Celtic music that appears on a few occasions. This fairly gentle journey is broken up by a more fiery guitar solo sequence midways, and explores a harder-edged mood in the second phase of the song, and then concludes on more of a delicate note again. Second track Fading Away is another fairly gentle affair, mournful and with almost a ballad-tinged mood, and then shifts around the halfway stage to a more powerful affair that, due to the use of organ, gains something of a Deep Purple vibe in places, with brief interludes by dramatic, acoustic guitar with a slight touch of flamenco about it, with a booming and powerful bass guitar sound as a distinct identity mark for the second phase. Concluding epic Memento Mori is the high point here though, a creation that ebbs and flows in intensity, and various subtly different variations of symphonic progressive rock are explored along the way, with a haunting, beautiful Mellotron motif as a strong identity mark book-ending this enjoyable, pleasant run through vintage symphonic progressive rock, but with a jazz rock-oriented interlude as an addition strengthening the mark and identity of this composition as an individual feature. Gauller is a talented composer and musician, and a passable hand in the mix and production department too, so while you can hear that this is a self-made album, the difference in quality between this production and a professional label one isn't all that great. If there is one weakness here then it's the vocals, but while Gaullier may not be a strong vocalist, he takes care to use his voice in a manner that suits the material well, and he always stays in tune too. His careful choice of delivery may not be to everyone's taste though, but as far as I'm concerned, he appears to have adapted his material and his delivery to match very well indeed, and then what is left is mainly a matter of personal taste.
Conclusion. "The Light Beyond the Sahdes" is a strong follow-up album by Spleen Arcana, and those who generally find themselves intrigued by vintage-oriented symphonic progressive rock, explored in a careful, dream-laden manner, should find this production to be rather interesting indeed. I'd suspect those who enjoy the mellower material by Camel to be a key audience for this album, and my recommendation will then primarily go towards those who feel they fit within that description. Those with a soft spot for the Mellotron might also want to give this one a spin.
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