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Sylvan - 2007 - "Presets"

(62:30 / Progrock Records)



1.  One Step Beyond 7:16 
2.  Signed Away 4:29 
3.  For One Day 3:49 
4.  Former Life 7:13 
5.  On the Verge of Tears 3:28 
6.  When the Leaves Fall Down 4:57 
7.  Words From Another Day 2:26 
8.  Cold Suns 4:27 
9.  Hypnotized 4:01 
10. Heal 3:25 
11. Transitory Times 4:09 
12. Presets 12:42 


Kay Sohl - guitars
Volker Sohl - keyboards
Marco Gluhmann - vocals
Matthias Harder - drums
Sebastian Harnack - bass
Stefanie Richter - cello (3)
Lena Euler - clarinet (12)
Miriam Schell - b/vocals (12)

Prolusion. "Presets" by SYLVAN, from Germany, is a follow-up to the band's critically acclaimed fifth album "Posthumous Silence" from 2006, which was welcomed enthusiastically on the part of its listeners too. The other releases that form their discography include "X-Rayed" (2004), "Artificial Paradise" (2002), "Encounters" (2000) and "Deliverance" (1998), all being studio albums as well. I could not find "Encounters" (the only Sylvan album I've listened to until now - two or three times, but not since the new millennium) to refresh my remembrances of it and, so, compare it to "Presets". It's lost somewhere in the block of CDs that I've been lucky enough to receive for review since 1999, but there is still a glimpse somewhere in the back of my memory that the music there is strongly influenced by Marillion.

Analysis. Just as I do in most cases, I wrote the previous paragraph before I listened to the recording under review. It seems my memory still hasn't let me down, besides which I now find the CD's title to be rather meaningful. What I came away with after ingesting "Presets" is that the disc's makers have probably always been emulating Marillion - no, certainly not surpassing that band creatively or competing with them in popularity either, all of which is just beyond their power. Life itself proved that any attempt to excel those, whose creative work is nowadays regarded as being overall perfect, always leads into a dead-end. Marillion is just one of such bands. It is impossible to develop their work, but it is within reach to imitate it. Some bands try their Fish-era stuff, others their later classic albums, except for "Brave" (I believe it's clear why). Sylvan aren't the first who have chosen "Afraid of Sunlight" and "This Strange Engine", but I can't remember anyone before them who could have so carefully absorbed the essence of these recordings and done something weightier than even a true clone, as they have. No, I am not going to sing the praises of this outfit, besides which I think they'd have done better to make a 100% Marillion clone (as they've introduced a strong AOR feeling to half of the recording's 12 tracks, having additionally been occasionally influenced by some other groups, such as Coldplay or Radiohead), but their "Presets" at least fits the only kind of imitations which I accept. Singer Marco Gluhmann and guitarist Kay Sohl are the main bearers of influences here, their mentors being certainly the two Stevens, Hogarth and Rothery respectively, and since it's only Kay and Marco who are crucial to the disc's sound, both dominating almost everywhere (Volker Sohl is only allowed to demonstrate his true possibilities as a keyboardist on Presets), it is only the title track, lasting for more than twelve-and-a-half minutes, which doesn't completely blend, well, with the disc's prevalent picture or, rather, the rest of the material, revealing for the most part a very original sound, on its vocal angle included. This is a majestic, genuinely progressive tune, the only one with a really diverse instrumental background and plenty of purely instrumental arrangements in general, most of which are equally diverse and compelling, especially those in the Prog-Metal style (which though are part of some vocals sections too). Although short and simple, the ballad Words From Another Day, featuring only vocals and piano, is fine in its own way. The other two longer tracks, One Step Beyond and Former Life, are both as vocal-heavy as any of those yet to be named, though these are richer in different vocal themes. For One Day begins and ends with brief cello passages, while overall, this is the only tune in the set that rocks nearly throughout, resembling the title track of "Holidays in Eden". Never heavy, yet still energetically rather saturated, Cold Suns, When the Leaves Fall Down and Hypnotized, all somewhat remind me of simplified versions of the King of Sunset Town. Signed Away, On the Verge of Tears, Cold Suns, Heal and Transitory Times all can as much resemble the title track of "Afraid of Sunlight" as probably any other ballad from that album, as well as many of those from "This Strange Engine" (which is in fact almost entirely woven of such).

Conclusion. Like a fire alarm in a way, the last track seems to be emphatically signalling that Sylvan is a true progressive rock band whose skill in composing and playing truly magnificent Prog is beyond question. The rest of the material, as I think, shows they are just following the notorious demands of the time, hence reflecting their expectations of joining the major league of contemporary music, of which I can't be sure though, as I haven't heard most of the band's creations. In any event, apart from their fans this, their latest CD will probably please just those who accept Neo in any of its forms, its latest 'modern' modifications (those allowing the style to flirt with mainstream music) included.

VM: July 17, 2007

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