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Verdun (USA) - 2004 - "Verdun"
TRACK LIST: 1. Dream of the Black Horse 5:55 2. Page of Swords 3:27 3. Purple Haze 4:54 4. Stand by Your Man 4:15 5. Song to a Sparrow 2:53 6. April 3:20 7. Nightfall 3:18 8. Forty-Seven 2:57 9. Fate 6:34 All tracks: by Barnard, except 1: Barnard / traditional, 3: J. Hendrix, & 4: B. Sherrill / T. Wynette. LINE-UP: Neal Barnard - guitars; keyboards Martha Roebuck - vocals Ngoc Hoang - vocals Mike Stetina - drums With: John Best - bass Bob Stay - saxophone Viet Bau - Vietnamese national instruments Carter Melin - violoncello Sam Dorsey - classical guitar Produced by Barnard. Engineered by Best.
Prolusion. The eponymous VERDUN album is the debut of this American band.
Synopsis. There are many factors that cause the impressiveness of music and a creative success in general. The unconventional compositional thinking, free of any cliches and trivialities, is probably the most significant among them, and originality, which is always inseparable from a veritable inspiration, is what this album is strikingly notable for. Another key feature is contrast or, to be more precise, the effective application of the different types of contrast, starting with those between softness and aggressiveness, in the context of delivering music. The main mastermind behind the band, Neal Barnard, just gets at the root of all the things concerned composition and arrangement. The two female singers possess delicate angelic voices, and their talent was used properly here. Their heavenly vocalizations and vocals, excellently harmonized with light philosophically romantic lyrics, are deliberately opposed to the 'current' central musical events: harsh guitar riffs, eclectic interplay between passages of electric piano and synthesizer, et al. However, most often and most strikingly they contrast with the drumming, which is pronouncedly, nearly maniacally powerful everywhere it is. I find this a really felicitous discovery. The two instrumental pieces: Stand by Your Man (which features some male narration, though) and Forty-Seven are more accessible than the songs and are a bit less impressive than them, which, in my view, is just due to the absence of the vocals. Well, Forty-Seven is probably better, but it has another minor flaw. This is the only track where there is a drum machine throughout, instead of acoustic drums, while their role here, as mentioned, is more than merely significant. Nevertheless, the music is both mesmeric and mesmerizing, as well as everywhere on the album. Stylistically, this would probably be Ambient with elements of Space Fusion, which is certainly not the same as the so-called space music and any kinds of electronic music in general. An electro acoustic Space Rock-Fusion, developing side by side with a truly progressive Ambient and employing an abundance of dynamic contrasts, is Page of Swords, Song to a Sparrow, April and Nightfall. However, some of the music, especially on the latter two, is so unique that it defies a certain definition. Even in a higher degree this remark is applicable to both the outermost positions in the track list: Dream of the Black Horse and Fate. Unlike most of the others, these compositions don't include any Western, with your permission, acoustic instruments, but in return, there are plenty of Vietnamese national 'catguts'. The music is simply wonderful and is an exceptionally effectual combination of Space Metal and kind of the Indo-Chinese Folk Rock, plus something completely unique! The first is heavier and is the only track on the album with lead vocals in two different languages, English and Vietnamese. (The only other track that also features lyrics in Vietnamese is Nightfall, but they've been only narrated there.) Finally, the third song is Jimi Hendrix's Purple Haze just brilliantly transformed into the rough Cathedral Metal number, yet, going with exceptionally delicate, nearly impossible in this case, vocals.
Conclusion. Definitely, Verdun is one of the best new outfits to appear this year, and their debut, in its turn, is one of the most original albums that I've heard in recent months. My recommendations are wholehearted, and while I can suppose that some purists of an extremely complicated sound may remain indifferent to this music, I must note that it's not as accessible as it may seem upon the first spin.
VM: October 8, 2004
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