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(73:05, Musea Records)
Prolusion. VERSUS X has been my favorite modern German prog rock act since 2000 when I got their first three outings, “Versus X”, “Disturbance” and “The Turbulent Zone”. A successor to their fourth release, “Live at The Spirit” from 2002, “Primordial Ocean” is their first studio recording in eight years, issued a few months ago. Just as they have been from the outset of the quartet’s activity, all the vocals here are handled by guitarist Arne Schafer, who also penned all the lyrics and co-wrote the music with keyboardist Ekkehard Nahm. The man behind the drum kit, Uwe Vollmar, has been commanding the band’s battery since 1999, while bassist Thomas Keller is a relative newcomer. Arne also works with Apogee, which is his solo project, though, additionally having two albums released under his own name. I may be not too original in this writing, because at least at the moment I’m more inclined to argue in favor of Versus X’s originality of work (which I already did before: when examining one of the group’s earlier releases) than to do, well, what I usually do.
TRACK LIST: 1. The Pulse of Earth 15:45 2. From a Distance 1:50 3. Essentially Human 16:16 4. Fingerprints 15:22 5. Into the Vast Unknown 23:41 LINEUP: Arne Schafer – all vocals; el. & ac. guitars Ekkehard Nahm – keyboards; bass pedals Uwe V?llmar – drums, percussion Thomas Keller – bass
Analysis. As you can see above, four of the five tracks on “Primordial Ocean” would certainly have been regarded as sidelong epics if the CD had been issued as a double LP and, surprisingly, only their antipode-in-length, From a Distance, needs a separate description-definition. Here it is: Despite its brevity, this is a full-fledged composition and is a classically-inspired piece for piano (which personally I would have located right in the core of the disc – as a break between the longer ones so as to balance those or at least for the sake of symmetry). Otherwise the band brings us riffs after riffs of marvelous, classic Symphonic Progressive, a dish of a pronouncedly vintage taste. The epic tracks, The Pulse of Earth, Essentially Human, Fingerprints and Into the Vast Unknown, while being suites of multiple sections, all together create a stylistically monolithic palette with such a warm and, what’s most significant, inspired and honest sound that seems as if they could only have been produced in the first half of the ‘70s. The music is highly original indeed, still bearing no other influences but those that are, properly, components of the genre itself. Versus X follows the canons of the art-rock brand of bands like Genesis, Yes, Camel, Van Der Graaf Generator, King Crimson and Gentle Giant, retaining its own identity just like any of its conjectural prototypes does. To continue the thought laid out in the previous sentence, I’d note that if I compare, say, “Foxtrot” to “Close to the Edge” by Genesis and Yes, respectively, I will surely find that, while having quite a good deal in common between them, each of the albums is a unique creation. The guitar parts on “Primordial Ocean” are just one-of-the-kind, regardless of whether Arne plays riffs or weaves solo patterns (which he does much more frequently and which are as intricate as Steve Howe’s, for instance, but don’t arouse associations with anyone else’s) or switches over to his acoustic axe :-). That being said, Ekkehard Nahm’s innovative approach is detectable with the naked ear also. Managing an array of keyboards, namely organ, pianos, Mellotron, Moog and other analog synthesizers, he has more than enough means at hand to saturate the music with vintage colors as well as add complexity to it. The drummer and the bassist are both remarkable players too, more often soloing than providing the so-called bottom end for the leaders’ parts. Unlike most of other contemporary prog rock outfits, Versus X creates music that comes across as a sheaf of different leads, as they spin their web of intricate patterns by using fan-shaped soloing. What make this band somewhat atypical compared to its English brothers in style are the vocals. Arne’s singing gives his German origin away in places, and then it reminds me a bit of Frank Bornemann’s of Eloy. Anyhow, in terms of delivery / style his vocals are very original also, perfectly suiting the music, though only one of the songs is, say, merely largely instrumental. Comprehend?
Conclusion. I hope I’ve made it clear already that “Primordial Ocean” is the quartet’s best effort to date and is an absolute masterpiece. I think it’s in many ways the same for Versus X as “Tales from Topographic Oceans” (Yes’s deepest creation IMHO) is for its makers, the titles and four long tracks being similarities worth pointing out also. Hey, fans of vintage symphonic Art-Rock! One of the style’s very best incarnations is knocking at your door – let it in and enjoy.
VM: October 2, 2008