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(50:15, Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Amethyst 1:32 2. A Szavakon Innen 8:29 3. Tel 4:30 4. Egyszeru Jatek 5:00 5. Naplemente 5:16 6. My Electric Cat 2:14 7. Az Atutazo 5:21 8. Almok Fenye 3:34 9. Lehetnel 6:20 10. A Szavakon Tul 8:00 LINEUP: Bogati-Bokor Akos – vocals; ac., el. and bass guitars; vintage keyboards Kriv?nik Daniel – analog keyboards Zsigo Laszlo – drums, percussion With: Antal Karola – lead & backing vocals (5) Makkai Istvan – saxophone (8) Turi Tamas – bass (6)
Prolusion. TABULA SMARAGDINA (Latin for “Emerald Tablet”, a cryptic text regarded by European alchemists as the foundation of their art) had its beginnings in 1998, when Krivanik Daniel and Bogati-Bokor Akos met at university. After a few years they decided to form a band, whose lineup was completed in 2002 with the addition of Zsigo Laszlo and Turi Tamas. Though they started their concert activity mainly as a cover band, playing songs by classic prog bands, they soon began to write their own material. After several years’ hiatus, in which the band members devoted themselves to other projects (Bogati-Bokor is also a member of Yesterdays and You And I, and Krivanik and Zsigo of Mortem), Bogati-Bokor and Krivanik decided to record the first Tabula Smaragdina album, “A Szavakon Tul” (Beyond Words), which was completed in 2008 and released in 2009.
Analysis. The intriguingly-named Tabula Smaragdina follow in the footsteps of Hungarian progressive rock bands like Solaris, After Crying and East, presenting the prog community with an album that may appeal to both fans of vintage symphonic prog and the more accessible stylings of Neo. Now a trio, in which founder members Bogati-Bokor Akos and Krivanik Daniel handle most of the instrumentation, they have put together an album where melody reigns almost without constraints, rife with lush keyboard excursions, gentle harmony vocals and soaring guitar solos. Many listeners will have encountered both Tabula Smaragdina and Bogati-Bokor’s other main band, Yesterdays, in the Musea/Colossus project based on Dante’s “Divine Comedy”. However, Tabula Smaragdina lack the distinct folk component of Yesterdays’ music, and lean more towards a vintage symphonic sound – at least in the two longer numbers that bookend the album, A Szavakon Innen (introduced by the low-key acoustic piece Amethyst) and the title-track. Most of the songs in between are definitely more straightforward affairs, with plenty of catchy choruses and beautiful harmonies, though not always particularly memorable. Bogati-Bokor’s vocals, while largely adequate, sometimes show a few signs of wear and tear, and the presence of a female backing vocalist, Antal Karola, is a definite bonus. The other instrumental track (besides Amethyst) on the album, the quirky My Electric Cat – a humorous two-minute piece with a choppy, bass-led pace that is intentionally cartoonish (cue the recordings at beginning and end) – shows the band’s potential for exploring different territories than the rather safe ones displayed on this album. Sundown, while not strictly speaking an instrumental, is a gentle, haunting number featuring barely perceptible, whispered vocals by Antal Karola. On the other hand, the almost prog-metal orientation of Lehetnel is, in my view, a bit of a misfire, and sounds more like the band sacrificing to a momentary fad than something really heartfelt. Az Azutazo, spiced by much the same hard-edged riffs, even references Dream Theater’s Take the Time, though I am not sure whether this is an intentional homage or just a coincidence. The two longer songs are instead what every self-respecting symphonic prog devotee might expect: though not overlong (the album itself is quite restrained in this sense), they offer plenty of variation, the obligatory time signature shifts, keyboard and guitar solos, and melodic vocal parts. A Szavakon Innen is strongly influenced by Genesis, while in the title-track some more prog-metal touches emerge, especially in the shreddy nature of the central guitar solo. Though certainly not innovative in any sense of the word, “A Szavakon Tul” will certainly please a fair contingent of fans of the genre – those who maintain that ‘prog’ and ‘progressive’ are two separate concepts, and anything not attempting to revive the glories of the Seventies is just not deserving of the label. While undeniably a well-executed album by a group of talented musicians, this may not make a long-lasting impression on a market already flooded with records sharing much the same characteristics.
Conclusion. Lovers of melodic, symphonic/neo prog rich with harmonies, keyboards and subtle tempo changes are sure to enjoy “A Szavakon Tul” – and hopefully will not be put off by the Hungarian vocals, which, in my view, are infinitely better than the heavily accented English sported by many bands from outside the English-speaking area. Not particularly inventive, though certainly a pleasing listen, this is a worthy debut from a talented new band.
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