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(56:25, Seacrest Oy Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. After the Echoes 8:43 2. Limoncello 7:57 3. Victoria's Summer Home 2:53 4. The Imperial Hotel 28:09 5. Into the Lake 8:43 LINEUP: Steve Unruh – vocals; guitars; violin; flute Kimmo Parsti – drums, percussion Marco Bernard – bass With: Linus Kaase – keyboards; saxophone; vocals Octavio Stampalia – keyboards; vocals Robert Webb – keyboards; vocals Kamran Alan Shikoh – guitars Yoshihisa Shimuzu – guitars David Myers – piano Maria Kvist – vocals &: Several more musicians
Prolusion. Based in Finland, the multinational project THE SAMURAI OF PROG is a band that was started by Marco Bernard and Kimmo Parsti back in 2009, and from 2010 and onwards also featuring the talents of Steve Unruh. Following two initial productions that mainly consisted of cover material they have now focused on exploring original material. "The Imperial Hotel" is their third studio recording, released by the Finnish label Seacrest Oy in 2014.
Analysis. The Samurai Of Prog, both the creative trio at the heart of the proceedings as well as the encore of guests that contributes both on the creative process or as "mere" instrumentalists, all appear top have a deep love and fascination with progressive rock as it was explored in its heyday. Vintage symphonic progressive rock pretty much sums up this album as a whole, and you can add descriptions such as elaborate, well mixed and produced, elegant and sophisticated to this basic summary. A lot of thoughts and a careful attention to details have gone into all aspects of this production. If I should point my finger to one detail it would be choice and size of the font used for the lyrics in the booklet, which can be somewhat hard to read in places. Still, that is a minute detail and certainly not one that should deter anyone from checking out this production. There are only five songs at hand here, the greater majority of them fairly long just as in the classic progressive rock albums of yesteryear. And while only one of them is long enough to warrant a description as epic in length, that one track clocks it at just a couple of minutes short of the half hour mark. A massive, multi-part epic length excursion, exploring a rather intriguing story. Backtracking a bit, this CD opens with After the Echoes, an elegant nine-minute affair that appears to orient itself towards the likes of Yes in terms of specific expression. The light toned, melodic lead vocals and the lead and backing vocal arrangements combined with a beefy bass guitar kind of emphasize this direction, but without replicating all the details a clone band would go for. It's more of a general tendency, with a few specific details that are fairly close in nature. The following Limoncello is closer in expression to Camel initially, but ends up with a darker undercurrent and beefier arrangements that transport it out of this realm. Unlike the version of the song that appears on Robert Webb's solo album "Liquorish Allsorts", which to a greater extent maintains a mood and atmosphere comparable to Camel in just about all the instrumental sequences. Next up on this CD is Victoria's Summer Home, an elegant wandering standalone piano creation that serves as a prolog to the main track on this album. Title track The Imperial Hotel is a composition that was written with the UK band England in mind, but composer Robert Webb thought this song had more potential. And in the version explored on this CD, it would appear that this composition has been developed to perfection. Almost 30 minutes of tantalizing themes and motifs, with multiple parts, a good story at the core, and an overall sound and style that initially reminds ever so slightly of Genesis and then incorporates some Kansas vibes as it unfolds as well. The vocals and vocal style are the main ingredient for the former association, the manner in which the violin is used the core detail for the latter. A superbly crafted and executed composition, one of the few times where a half-hour track flies by in no time. Concluding piece Into the Lake isn't quite as alluring I'll have to admit. A cosmic flavored opening that eventually leads to a quirky song that in places sounds like a marriage between Gentle Giant and Kansas, with an initial visit from King Crimson in the opening phase, this creation is another kettle of fish entirely. It's also quirkier and more demanding than the other songs at hand here, but in sum it doesn't reach the same alluring heights as the most impressive title track.
Conclusion. Those fond of vintage era progressive rock in general and the symphonic varieties of it in particular should find "The Imperial Hotel" to be a real treat. There are a few select pointers towards many of the bands from the classic era that give the material a sense of familiarity, enough going on at all times to keep matters interesting, and the different instrumentalists involved all add elements and details to the proceedings that give the individual songs a distinct presence and individual character. Highly recommended to fans of progressive rock, and to those with an affection for vintage era symphonic progressive rock in particular.
OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: November 19, 2014
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