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(57:31 / Galileo Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Sacrifice 12:14 2. On Leave 6:41 3. Verdun 11:11 4. Songs of the Empire 3:44 5. Mud 3:38 6. Roommates 5:14 7. Trenches 6:32 8. Gas 8:13 LINEUP: Vincent Hooge - keyboards Matthieu Hooge - basses Antoine Duhem - guitars Manu Delestre - drums With: Sonia Rekis - accordion (6) Simon Godly - narration (4)
Prolusion. Celebrating their tenth anniversary this year, French quartet XANG offers their brand new album "The Last of the Lasts", which is a follow-up to their debut effort "Destiny of a Dream", from 2000 (and by the way, their lineup hasn't undergone any changes since then). During the years that separate their two releases the group played a lot of concerts, and also participated in various prog-rock festivals, such as ProgFarm, ProgSol and Rio Art Rock amongst others.
Analysis. This is a concept album about World War I, the subject being well mirrored in the booklet, which is notable for its photographs and texts designed to complement the music on each of the eight instrumentals present, though the fourth track, Songs of the Empire, is more than merely picturesque already in itself. Judge for yourselves, readers. Not counting a few fragmentary, extremely brief prog-metal-like sketches (fully identical with each other, these find their so to say fully-fledged continuation on the next track) and some declamations, this cut represents a kind of collage of the sounds of war, which include explosions, banshees, marching soldiers, etc and so on. If I were in the band's shoes, I would have used it in no other way than as an opener, especially since the concluding number, Gas, is right on its place there in the end of the recording and is another and, at the same time, the last track that differs from the rest of the material, even though not as strongly as Songs of the Empire. Despite its title, Gas sounds much like an embodiment of the end of the war, bringing to mind something like a peaceful atmosphere hovering over the devastated areas. On the other hand however, this is the only heavily derivative track: think slowly evolving ballad-like music very much in the style of Us & Them from Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon". Some outside factors (to be mentioned in due time) can be found on most of the other pieces as well, but there the influences are never striking and are in most cases just fleeting. In any event, all those yet-to-be-named tracks are outstanding and are a truly exciting listen. While not completely uniform in style, Sacrifice, Verdun and Roommates are all basically symphonic compositions and have generally much common ground between them, all passing through multiple movements without a return to any previously plowed furrows, combining the full bombastic grandeur of dynamic electric arrangements with the fragile beauty of softer ones - those woven of either purely acoustic or mixed textures. Wonderful! As for the pieces' peculiarities, Sacrifice stands out for its truly brilliant acoustic guitar patterns in the Flamenco style, the corresponding, Spanish, folk component being particularly strong in the epic's first two thematic sections, and also in the next-to-last one. Otherwise the music is classic symphonic Art-Rock with elements of Prog-Metal and occasional classical-like interludes, which in turn is what the sixth track, Roommates, is about in its entirety - well, save its finale, which is a dark keyboard canvas beyond precise classification. Back to Sacrifice: there is genuine Waltz, though performed by means of Prog-Metal, referring directly to Garden Wall, who pioneered that trick: just listen to La Chateau Fou from their third release "The Seduction of Madness". There is also a moment in which I feel as if I'm hearing the title track of Deep Purple's "Perfect Strangers", just with Rick Wakeman instead of Jon Lord on keyboards. The only really significant difference between Sacrifice and its brother in length (by your permission) Verdun lies in the fact that it's symphonic Space Rock which dominates in the latter suite, some of the Moog-driven moves bearing a certain resemblance with those by Eloy's Detlev Schmidtchen, whilst the piano passages are usually associated with the name of Tony Banks of Genesis. Contrary to the three tunes that are described previously, Mud and Trenches both should be defined as Prog-Metal with elements of Art-Rock, though there also are moments where the group just obliterates the frontiers between those genres, besides which, when listening to the latter, I was once or twice reminded of "Pictures at an Exhibition" by Modest Mussorgsky. The wonderfully contrasting On Leave begins and unfolds clearly in the classic jazz-fusion mode. The guitar-laden Allan Holdsworth-stylized introductory theme soon gives way to the section that may evoke Return To Forever, with the piano brought to the fore, which in turn is followed by an organ-driven movement in the style of ELP, but this is not all. A bright example of really versatile polystylistic Progressive, On Leave additionally touches various space-rock manifestations, Space Metal included, the band with astonishing ease, both convincingly and elegantly migrating from one style to another. Although almost twice as short as any of its neighbors, this composition is not in the least inferior to those, though I can't say I find it to be the winner. Save the two described first, all the tracks on this disc are amazing and are equally impressive overall.
Conclusion. This CD features no less than 45 minutes of high-quality Progressive Rock, which is full of inspiration, expression and dynamism, the band demonstrating consistently outstanding musicianship and interplay. Xang's sophomore release, "The Last of the Lasts", is in every respect on a par with their debut outing and is nearly a masterwork in my understanding. Very highly recommended.
VM: May 28, 2007
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