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(77:52, Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Before the Lamia 2:08 2. The Lamia 7:22 3. Starship Trooper 10:27 4. World of Adventures 9:47 5. Assassin 7:06 6. Gravita 9.81 2:25 7. Jerusalem 2:44 8. Dogs 11:49 9. The Promise 8:09 10. Zap 0:10 11. Stranger 3:52 12. Blood Sacrifice 4:52 13. Asylum 4:06 14. Prisoner of the World 2:55 LINEUP: Steve Unruh vocals; guitars; flute; violin Marco Bernard bass Kimmo P?rsti drums With: David Myers piano Guy Le Blanc keyboards Michael Manring bass Roine Stolt guitars Risto Salmi sax Elina Sipila cello Anita Aronen harp Jon Davison vocals &: Several more musicians ADDITIONAL PERFORMERS: 1. David Myers Band 11. Resistor 12. Costa & Mariotti 13. Roz Vitalis 14. Contrarian
Prolusion. THE SAMURAI OF PROG is a multinational band based around the core trio of Marco Bernard, Kimmo Porsti and Steve Unruh. Following a few years of contributions to various CDs in the Colossus series of theme albums, they released their full-length debut "Undercover" in 2011 through Musea Records.
Analysis. "Undercover" is, arguably, one of the most peculiar debut albums I have encountered by a band. For starters, there are only two original compositions on this disc, of which only one is performed by the band itself. The main part of this production consists of cover versions of various well-known tracks from some of the best-known progressive rock artists, and with a bonus section consisting of five additional covers, of which four are handled by outside artists. Further separating this production from just about any other debut album I have encountered the sheer number of guest musicians involved, one of the most extensive lists of musicians I have seen credited for some time. What this all adds up to, however, is a CD that most likely will interest many listeners and perhaps even some of those who normally wouldn't be interested in buying the debut album of relatively unknown origin. The two original compositions aren't the major selling point at all really, although they are pleasant enough creations in themselves; the latter of these, The Promise, a folk-tinged instrumental piece sporting plenty of strings, flute and sax soloing with a nice and pleasant symphonic backdrop being the most impressive. The brief piano effort opening this disc, Before the Lamia, is slightly more anonymous as a stand-alone feature. But as seen in the larger context, as a prologue and actual extension of the following track The Lamia, it is a much more impressive creation. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if a far few Genesis cover bands chose to add this track to their repertoire, as it is a wonderful build-up to this rather well-known Genesis number. Which is given a good quality run through by The Samurai of Prog too, arguably the most interesting of the cover tracks on this disc in sum. The remaining cover versions range from the pleasant to the intriguing in scope, relatively close to the originals in most aspects, but with a few minor details added to the arrangements that make them more than mere replications of well-known tracks. The subtle jazz-tinged instrumental details added to Marillion's Assassin are perhaps the most striking of these. Apart from that, my main impression of this act as a cover band is that they attempt to make these songs appear as creations of a timeless nature, subtly altering the aspects of these compositions that were archetypal at the time when they were recorded, replacing them with features and sounds harder to place in an exact time period, to some extent recoding these classics for new generations, at least as I perceive them. How successful this is will depend on personal taste and familiarity with the originals I guess. Personally I found these subtly altered versions to lose some of the magic. But as a reviewer and music nerd I'm prone to enjoy time-typical creations to a much greater extent than many listeners. The bonus material is of a nature that is pleasant in general but with some intriguing details. Consisting of material from Bernard's late 70's band Electroshock, the four tracks covered, disregarding the brief sound effect Zap, will likely be most interesting for those familiar with that band. Personally I found the first of these, Stranger, the most interesting. Steve Unruh's main band Resistor has taken this one on, and the end result sounds like a Talking Heads creation incorporating punk and reggae: pleasant stuff, with some intriguing details here and there. Much the same can be said for the end result of Roz Vitalis take on Asylum, although the style here is vastly different: fragile electronic textures and bombastic, brooding organ-driven passages side by side, with semi-operatic female lead vocals on top. While the magic of these songs in the arrangements will be a matter of individual taste more than anything else, the performance, mix and production of this CD are of a quality I think few artists can match, at least on this side of any major record label deal. Sheer high-quality through and through, and sound aficionados should take note of this production as one they should explore for that very reason.
Conclusion. The aptly named "Undercover" is a debut disc that doesn't tell us much about the quality of The Samurai of Prog as a musical unit. The sheer number of cover tracks at hand and the plethora of guest musicians result in a disc that feels like a project to a much greater extent than a band effort as such. As far as recommendations go, those with an interest in good quality cover versions featuring excellent instrumental performances within a high quality mix and production framework would appear to be the main audience: In particular if you enjoy the majority of the originals covered or have an interest in the musicians performing them.
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