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Whitechapel - 2006 - "Le Masque D'Arlequin"

(64 min, Musea Parallele Records)


*****
                 
TRACK LIST:                    
                                   
1.  Au Nom du Pere 7:30 
2.  Le Flutiste 5:30 
3.  Melissandre 6:15 
4.  Whitechapel 6:45
5.  Elixir 4:20 
6.  Pleine Lune 4:30 
7.  Le Masque d'Arlequin 7:35 
8.  Les Enfants de la Nuit 5:15 
9.  Echec et Mat 5:40 
10. Sarajevo 5:00 
11. Ailleurs 5:10

PERSONNEL:

Thierry Thuane - drums
Fabrice Altairac - vocals
Laurent Isola - guitars 
Greg Iung - keyboards
Raphael Rigaud - bass

Prolusion. WHITECHAPEL, from France, present their debut release, "Le Masque D'Arlequin". Not too informative, eh? The fact is that the band so far doesn't have a website, while the press kit, although offering rather preliminary comments on the album (some references included), sheds no light on the outfit's history.

Analysis. Unlike the CD artwork with its tasteless harlequin mask on the booklet's front page, the music on this recording is not without originality, this remark being irrelevant only regarding one of the eleven tracks present. Elixir, lying in wait:-) for the listener in immediate proximity to the middle of the album, is a standard ballad with a rather featureless melody and no tempo changes. Okay, the next-to-last track, Sarajevo, is in the end a ballad too, but is a tastier, more expressive tune, from time to time justly flirting with heaviness. Although it would be wrong to assert that the other nine cuts are all subsumed by a unified compositionally stylistic concept, they still have many more similarities between them than distinctions. What unites them is as follows. First: each begins with a well thought-out vocal-free introductory movement, later on revealing a few more instrumental interludes with interesting, relatively large-scaled maneuvers. Second: despite the prominence afforded to guitar riffs, keyboards play a very important role throughout each. In other words, although the music is much more often heavy than otherwise, it always retains a distinct symphonic quality to it. Third: each features some elaborated interactions between the group members that perfectly fit an archetypal neo-prog mode, particularly such an exemplary one (bordering on classic Symphonic Prog) as was invented by Marillion. Well, I've just named one of the two basic components of the album's primary style. The differences between these yet-unnamed nine tunes only concern their overall progressive saturation and the other constituents of their fundamental style. The hard structures of the first three and the last track, Au Nom du Pere, Le Flutiste, Melissandre and Ailleurs, suggest none other than the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, whilst those of the remaining five, Whitechapel, Pleine Lune, Le Masque d'Arlequin, Les Enfants de la Nuit and Echec et Mat, refer to that sort of contemporary Prog-Metal which has originated out of classic Doom-Metal. Iron Maiden (just deploying lush keyboard patterns) and Threshold can serve as relative points of comparison concerning each of the categories, respectively. From a progressive viewpoint, the best compositions include the title track, Au Nom du Pere, Whitechapel and Pleine Lune, each, but especially the latter three, revealing much diversity on all levels. Well, I must admit this observation sounds somewhat misplaced in regard to Pleine Lune since this piece is free of any verbal content. As opposed to those within their instrumental sections, the arrangements in the vocal ones on the remaining five songs are rather straightforward, not used to highlight multiple voices, but rather to have either one (Le Flutiste, Melissandre and Ailleurs) or two prominent voices (Les Enfants de la Nuit and Echec et Mat), namely the vocals and the guitar riffs, and a few supporting rhythm tracks. Depending on every particular musical situation, singer Fabrice Altairac moves between a theatric vocal style and a more rasping, metal type of delivery, more often evoking former Threshold vocalist Damian Wilson than Mona Lisa's Dominic Le Guennec. All in all, even taking into account that all the lyrics are in the group's native language, when listening to Whitechapel I sometimes can't get rid of the feeling I'm hearing an English band - only with a Frenchman behind the microphone. By the way, the singer has actually a very wide voice range which is brightly evinced on the track named after the band itself. He covers three octaves with ease there, quite often reaching unusually low and, at the same time, surprisingly original intonations. So the program would certainly have achieved greater value if Fabrice had applied his strong 'chameleonic' possibilities to each of the songs.

Conclusion. Overall, "Le Masque D'Arlequin" is a pretty decent debut release, with solid musicianship and no obviously derivative features. If you're a fan of symphonic Prog-Metal somewhere in the vein of Threshold, are not an audiophile (the sound quality leaves much to be desired) and can overlook occasional mainstream rock-like moments, you will most likely be satisfied with this first offering from Whitechapel.

VM: February 27, 2007


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