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Virtuel - 2013 - "Conception of Perception"

(70:38, Orphictone Records)


*****+
                 
TRACK LIST:

1.  The Beginning Intro 2:14
2.  Arguing with Shadows 9:18
3.  All Night 3:09
4.  Farewell to a Golden Heart 6:19
5.  Rearranged 3:12
6.  I'm Back 4:39
7.  Indecision 5:30
8.  The River of Destiny 5:51
9.  Off They Go 5:04
10. My Portal to Heaven 7:05
11. Faraway 5:42
12. What an Old Man 6:27
13. Conception of Perception 4:34
14. Delight Outro 1:34

LINEUP:

Nick Markov – keyboards; guitars
Rosen Angelov – vocals; guitars, bass
Konstantin Jambazov – guitars, bass; keyboards, programming; vocals

Prolusion. The Bulgarian band VIRTUEL is a trio that, depending on context, can also be described as a multinational band. I choose to describe them as Bulgarian as the CD booklet states that the band originated in Bulgaria back in 1992, and that all members, at least to my knowledge, are of Bulgarian origin. At the same time the different members live in different nations today, hence the possible multinational description. As this is an album made by the exchange of files and ideas over the internet, they may also be described as a virtual band, hence the band name, presumably. "Conception of Perception" is their second full length production, and was released through the fledgling Japanese label Orphictone in 2013.

Analysis. Virtuel describes itself as a Neo-Medieval progressive rock band, a description probably related to how they utilize elements inspired by and oriented towards both folk music and classical music in their compositions, I guess. Personally I do find that description rather misleading however. Their compositions may have elements in them that merit a description of that kind to be mentioned at some point or other, but personally I find Virtuel to be more of an eclectic band, stepping just as safely outside as inside the progressive rock universe. The first two compositions on this disc kind of build up to an expectation of dealing with a purebred progressive rock band, with touches of bands such as ELP and Genesis in this initial phase. There are the flamboyant, often bombastic keyboard arrangements of a kind and variety that should please fans of ELP in particular. It soon becomes clear that this is a band that knows its way around material of a more mainstream oriented nature too however, as the next few items kind of come across as a meeting of minds between ELP and Queen, with some occasional guitar details that may have been inspired by Steve Hackett. Moving on from there we're suddenly treated to a couple of shorter tunes that in structure and expression are much closer to 80's AOR, melodic hard rock but with more elaborate keyboard arrangements on top adding a progressive rock inspired flavor to these pieces that takes the closer to the pomp rock territory. As this album continues to change the Queen references are maintained as a recurring element, but now mixed with more metal oriented escapades that bring the earlier Rising Force albums of Yngwie Malmsteen to mind, and at some point Virtuel shifts to a more defined progressive metal expression as well, now with possible Dream Theater references. The Malmsteen tendencies then continue on for a bit, but as the album moves towards the concluding compositions now with something of a Deep Purple vibe added to the proceedings as well. There's also a nice, mellow piece here that comes closer to the likes of The Allman Brothers band, and the trace elements of the aforementioned Queen and ELP does appear now and then later on too, giving this album as a whole a certain aspect of unpredictability. The melodic hard rock tendencies don't stray too far away either mind you, so there's a mix of quite a lot of different styles going on here. With neo-classical oriented guitar soloing and layered, symphonic rock oriented and classical symphony inspired keyboard arrangements aplenty too, the latter as supplemental features as well as standalone excursions and inserts with or without lead vocals on top. In summary there's a fairly great stylistic variety on hand on this production, where symphonic inspired and oriented arrangements mainly provided by the keyboards as a core feature, utilized in compositions ranging from melodic hard rock to progressive metal in scope, with plenty of excursions into symphonic progressive rock territories to boot. The 90's sounding tight and somewhat compressed production gives the album a smooth yet impact heavy sound, of a kind that should make it rather broadly appealing. An additional detail are occasional folk music tinged subtle instrumental details that also help to create a distinct flavor to the material explored by this band. If I should point out a slight negative at the end here, it is that some of the vocals do sound slightly processed at times, but apart from that this is a spirited, intense and easy to like album.

Conclusion. The Bulgarian threesome Virtuel is a band that knows its way around symphonic progressive rock, melodic hard rock and progressive metal, and mostly explores within the confines of these three styles on their latest album "Conception of Perception" in an intelligent and compelling manner. Symphonic inspired keyboard arrangement and neo-classical guitar soloing represent two of the most common aspects of their compositions, which otherwise range from the flamboyant and bombastic to the compelling and easygoing in expression. As far as a key audience is concerned, I suspect most of those who have Queen, ELP and early Malmsteen on high rotation should enjoy this disc, and of Deep Purple and Dream Theater are other bands to your liking I'd say that this CD should be a fairly safe buy.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: June 20, 2014
The Rating Room


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