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Versus X (Germany) - 2000 - "The Turbulent Zone"
1. Cutting the Veil 21:50 (Nahm, Schafer) 2. Between the Phases of the Night 6:36 (Schafer, Nahm) 3. Strange Attractor 13:28 (Nahm, Schafer) 4. The Hostile Sea 15:26 (Nahm, Schafer)
Line-up: Arne Schafer - vocals, electric and acoustic guitars; Ekkehard Nahm - all keyboards; Jorg Fischer - bass; Uwe Vollmar - drums; With: Andreas Tofahrn - recording, mixing and equipment ideas
Additional musical material by Uwe Vollmar and Jorg Fischer. All lyrics by Arne Schafer. All tracks arranged and performed by Versus X and recorded between November 1999 and May 2000 in Frankfurt/Main.
Prologue. I feel I'm presently not able to write a profound review, though the music and lyrics of the third album by Versus X really incline to such meditations. Anyhow, I'll try to reflect on characters of this very interesting album from one of just a few really strong bands of the contemporary German Rock music scene. I didn't write Progressive Rock scene (for the first time, by the way) just because, IMO, Prog is undoubtedly the leading genre among all the other Rock genres (I'm very sorry if you think I should have said Rock & Pop). Also I know ProgressoR is just one of a few 'general' Prog sites on the Web that holds that progressive music is made up of three genres: Art Rock, Prog Metal and Jazz Fusion, whereas the majority ignore the latter for some reason. And "Eclectic Earwig Reviews", an excellent, on the whole, creation of John Patterson (USA), has the following 'formula' of Prog Rock: this is nothing but Jazz Fusion with some additions from the Art Rock genre.
The album. As you see above, "The Turbulent Zone" is a long album, consisting of four long pieces. Even at the first sight - before listening to this work, but being familiar with the both previous by Versus X - it reminds me of the years of the golden age of our favourite genre in the first half of the 70's. I think the long and especially 'side-long' suites (I see here no less than two 'side-long' compositions - the first and the last - already a full LP at least from the standpoint of the same golden years) are the most suitable to show, briefly, all the possible colours of the palette of the Progressive Rock, but especially of such its genre as Classic Art Rock. Some people call this genre Symphonic Rock, but as I see it, the term Art most properly and extensively reflects the essence of this genre, whereas the term Symphonic would rather suit the music of ELP for example, than the music of Versus X. Really, despite the fact that there is a lot of, generally, keyboard (especially piano) structures in the composing 'scheme' of this album, I can't say in the first place an original (and very diverse - almost everywhere on the album) style of playing of Ekkehard Nahm has obvious symphonic principles - just roots! Secondly, there's also a lot of guitar as well as keyboard structures involved in the music of Versus X in general* and on "The Turbulence zone" album in particular**, and Arne Schafer, as a true Ekkerhard's co-author of the entire composition, uses his skills of a lead guitar (either electric or acoustic) player almost throughout, too. (*&** On the whole, this is nothing else but an indicator of stability of the band, or in other words, of its originality: at least partly). So, the presence (in any music) of extensive guitar structures that usually don't have only symphonic roots (with possibly one exception: I mean the acoustic / classical guitar) is totally justified in Art regarding the music of Versus X, ie now it's obvious that they perform Art Rock rather than Symphonic Rock. Musically "The Turbulent Zone" sounds as a work of a united stylistic conception from the beginning to the end. Arrangements as a whole, but especially in the long instrumental parts, are incredible. Some episodes sound simply fantastic, striking a fragile balance between beauty and complexity. This kind of balance should be an obvious aim for those musicians who seem potentially poised to create a real Masterpiece like the new album of Versus X. To put it differently, such musicians should be able not only to compose an opus grande, but also to perform it in full accordance with their ambitions. For it's obvious that it would not be very easy to reproduce some instrumental parts composed for the first, third and fourth Pieces of the true Musical Art called "The Turbulent Zone". Just listen to it attentively and you'll be entranced by these parts soon. Also, if you are familiar with the two previous albums by this band really well you'll understand that the musical technique of each Versus X musician has become truly filigree - in full accordance with their current compositional ambitions. As for the Arne's vocal palette, it's very tasteful, diverse and (mostly) appropriately dramatic to the lyrics by Arne himself with its true philosophic concept, full of the eternal questions (of course). Sometimes Schafer sings as if obliquely to the basic musical theme: such exact moments on the album I find really innovative.
Summary. I do not need to listen to some speedy chops by "kings" like Satriani or Vai to "learn"about "real virtuosity", since there is a whole lot of this that I can find within our progressive genre. Virtuosity abounds, apart from such important things as excellent composing and some truly fantastic arrangements, in the music of "The Turbulent Zone" by Versus X. In terms of quality, their latest work stands easily the comparison at least with the best Art Rock albums of the second half of the 'golden decade', the '70s - from Genesis, Yes, Van Der Graaf… All the basic 'parameters' of "The Turbulent Zone" album such as composing in general and arrangements particularly, musicianship and performance, overall sounding and the sound as such, at last, entirely correspond with my perception of this album as of a Classic Art Rock masterpiece.
VM. October 31, 2000
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