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(57 min, 'Visual Cliff' // MALS)
TRACK LIST: 1. Sacred 4:29 2. Electric Soul 4:31 3. Future Impact 4:38 4. Let It Ring 4:33 5. Beneath The Sand 5:06 6. Radiant Departure 4:07 7. Torn From Expression 4:00 8. Spirit Rain 3:13 9. Daybreak 13:23 10. Destination Critical 4:30 11. Eye Of The Dove 4:35 LINEUP: Rob Perez - guitars Rob Klan - keyboards Eric Fuller - bass, Stick Rick Mals - drums With: Shane Lankford - vocals
Prolusion. Formed in 2001, American band VISUAL CLIFF have since had time to release three full-length albums, namely "Lyrics for the Living" (2003), "Key to Eternity" (2004) and "Freedom Within". Instead of reviewing the original "Freedom Within" CD, which contains eight relatively short tracks running about 34 minutes, I'd prefer to talk about its Russian edition. With the group's permission, Moscow's progressive label MALS has reissued the album with the addition of three bonus tracks, which form the content of Visual Cliff's eponymous limited edition EP. What's curious is that all those pieces were originally intended to be part of "Freedom Within". The band's explanation of why they weren't included can be read on their website, but it's very brief and is not too convincing in general.
Analysis. "Freedom Within", which is my first encounter with Visual Cliff, represents something rather different from what I'd been led to expect from their music (to whit, instrumental progressive Fusion). Three out of the eight tracks from the original "Freedom Within" CD, Sacred, Let It Ring and Beneath The Sand, feature former Orphan Project singer Shane Lankford. Orphan Project are members of the Christian Prog movement, so it is no surprise that the lyrics are based on Christian values. Shane has a powerful voice with a strong hard-rock feeling. As if the better to accommodate his style of singing, most of the recording's instrumental canvases lean towards Hard Rock as well, at times even finding the edginess of Heavy Metal. The catchy melodiousness of each of the said songs might delight any aficionados of that genre. Of the five instrumentals, Electric Soul, Future Impact, Radiant Departure, Torn From Expression and Spirit Rain, each is increasingly sophisticated, from time to time displaying a really solid progressive potential. The music is a mixture of Hard Rock and Fusion with lots of metal overtones, in places approaching Prog Metal in its intensity. On the instrumental pieces, it instantly becomes obvious who is the main driving force in this ensemble. It's Rob Perez, the guitar in his hands appearing to be a sort of chameleon instrument - a source of many different voices: from delicate-sounding solos evoking those by Steve Hackett, through fast impromptus reminiscent of the style of Darryl Stuermer, to crunchy riffs whose structure suggest the name of Tony Iommi, and beyond. The rhythm section is also worth praising, Rick Mals' drumming being superb throughout the album. The keyboards add variety to the sound, but I'd prefer it if they'd been featured much more extensively, especially from the point of view of soloing. Although it only runs to just over 4 minutes, Radiant Departure is undoubtedly best among the eight first tracks, though I wouldn't say there was anything really groundbreaking about it either. Only the 'bonus' tracks, Destination Critical, Eye Of The Dove, but especially the 13+-minute Daybreak, are truly intriguing in their development, revealing a genuinely progressive diversity in most of their arrangements. In all, these three give the impression of being one monolithic suite, rich in different musical storylines and variations on them as well, equally lavish in mood swings and rhythm changes. Being a fan of Jazz Rock with an experience of many years, I can assert these are some of the strongest things made within that genre in recent years.
Conclusion. In its 'Russian' manifestation, i.e. being crowned (in all senses) with the three compositions from the "Visual Cliff" EP, "Freedom Within" appears to hold much more attraction for progressive music lovers than the original CD. Unfortunately though, this version is inaccessible to the international audience, as is the EP itself. It was briefly available from Visual Cliff's website, but its edition was limited to a few hundred copies, for some reason, and is already sold out. The band have no wish to reissue it, which I see as a sign of their intention to continue simplifying their music.
VM: December 17, 2006
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