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The Red Masque (USA) - 2004 - "Feathers for Flesh"
TRACK LIST: 1. House of Ash 12:07 2. Passage 14:13 3. Yellow Are His Opening Eyes 14:48 4. Beggars & Thieves 9:38 5. Scarlet Experiment 3:46 All music: by The Red Masque. All lyrics: Shelley, except 5: E. Dickinson. Produced & engineered by Vonorn. LINE-UP: Lynnette Shelley - lead vocals; percussion Vonorn - drums, percussion; keyboards; guitars; vocals Kiarash Emami - guitars, mandolin; keyboards; vocals Brandon Ross - bass, guitars; keyboards; vocals With: Damian Boucher - violin (1)
Prolusion. "Feathers for Flesh" is the third official output by the US band THE RED MASQUE (the name evokes more than distinct associations with Edgar Allan Poe) and is their first release with the Washington State-based independent progressive label Big Balloon Music. Their previous albums are the EP "Death of the Red Masque" and the full-length CD "Victoria and the Haruspex".
Synopsis. I read several reviews of the band, in most of which their music is described as a mixture of delicate structures and freeform cacophony, melodic lines and random noises, etc. I can't call in question these definitions, as I haven't heard any previous outings by The Red Masque, but what I've heard on "Feathers for Flesh" has nothing to do with randomness nor any other free forms of music, not to mention cacophony, at least in my understanding. Well, the first fourth of the House of Ash (1) and the whole last track Scarlet Experiment (5) consist almost exclusively of 'flying' effects and ghost-like voices and whisperings, but all of them are done purposefully, creating an accurate and vivid tensely dark atmosphere in the intro to the album and the outro. There are plenty of highly eclectic and even eccentric arrangements on the album, yet, all of them, including those with a slight jazzy sense at the end of the third track, were thoroughly composed, without any frivolities typical for real improvisational music. Do you regard the most intricate compositions King Crimson played in 1973 and 1974 as Jazz-Fusion? I do not. I see this music as one of the very first manifestations of structural RIO, such a counterpart to the jazzier forms of the genre (have in mind Henry Cow), let alone Zeuhl. The other bands that may come to mind while listening to the first two compositions, House of Ash and Passage, are Present, >Presence, >Antonius Rex, >Anekdoten and Anglagard. So, the stuff is stylistically similar with that of King Crimson of said period and is a triple union of Symphonic Art-Rock, Cathedral Metal, and RIO plus a genuine musical magic as another clearly perceptible ingredient. Naturally, it couldn't go without the Mellotron sounds, though there also are those of Church organ, Hammond, piano, flute, violin and acoustic guitar, apart from traditional Rock instruments. Lynnette Shelley is a fantastically impressive chameleon singer, taking equally easy high and low notes, soft and sinister tones. The third epic: Yellow Are His Opening Eyes can be described-defined nearly the same way. The differences are as follows. There are only some wordless vocals, sung by Lynette alone and along with a male choir, and the bass solos are less pronouncedly heavy than those on the preceding tracks. (Please note this remark.) Finally, this composition doesn't evoke any associations, as well as its follow-up. The song Beggars & Thieves is another diamond in the crown of this compelling album, although it is almost free of 'infernal' features and is vastly different from the other contents in general. This is an acoustic Progressive filled with the spirit of medieval minstrel music. All the basic arrangements represent both complex and beautiful interplay between solos and passages of classical guitar and those of mandolin. There also are the Mellotron, bass, and mallet percussion, but they appear only episodically.
Conclusion. "Feathers for Flesh" is a masterpiece in form, content, and delivering together and is of no less significance for today's progressive scene than the best works of King Crimson were at the time of the genre's heyday and those by Anglagard in the '90s. Don't miss it. (>Top-20)
VM: August 21, 2004
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