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(73 min, Quixote)
TRACK LIST: 1. The Ballad of Billy The Brain 14:51 2. Moonstone Sky 5:08 3. The Living Element 6:56 4. Try to Wake Up 8:36 5. Steps Ahead 2:16 6. Prolog 2:17 7. Challenge Your Fate 6:46 8. Where It All Starts 4:24 9. Power From Within 7:59 10. Me King You King 5:46 11. Epilog 3:43 12. Moonstone Sky MSP Remix 5:06 LINEUP: Frank Hoyer - vocals Alexander Fischer - guitars Steffen Rohr - keyboards Lars Girke - drums Uwe Haas - bass
Prolusion. ZENOBIA is a German band whose website is under construction, only the index page being available at the moment. Here is what I could understand from the press kit which is in their native language. The group was formed in Berlin in 1994, but their discography comprises so far only two albums - "October" from 1999 and (the aptly titled) "Delayed" which was released this last November.
Analysis. While bearing the influences of numerous art-, hard-, blues-, pomp-rock, metal and AOR bands of the '70s and the '80s, Zenobia surprisingly have a sound which is in most cases much their own. Only three of the eleven tracks present can be subjected to direct comparison, and I will not forget to name these; otherwise all the references I am going to resort to in this review should be taken as very relative. Most of this 73-minute recording displays that its makers are quite gifted songwriters and are also well-prepared musicians mastering their respective instruments with confidence and tastefulness alike. One thing only is lacking here, namely a sense of proportion, which directly concerns some of the tunes, though above all the album as such. The 15-minute opening track, The Ballad of Billy The Brain, embraces all the said directions, but is compositionally constructed in a way that the content of its first half leaves the impression of being Neo - due to the relatively large quantity of repetitions of the primary vocal storyline there. Contrastingly, later on the music is constantly changing, on all levels, comprising probably everything that classic Symphonic Progressive is famed for. All in all, while not too coherent, this is the most original and, at the same time, most diverse composition on the disc, none of the subsequent ones surpassing it, the Meet Your Maker quasi-suite (tracks 5 to 11) included - meaning exactly in the event it is viewed in its entirety. The next two tunes, Moonstone Sky and The Living Element, are more vocal-oriented; however, thanks to an increased energy level in the playing, the instrumental background on each is more saturated than in the first half of the epic. Kansas circa "Audio-Visions", classic Styx and Saga may come to mind when listening to these, but only until the group starts on an instrumental flight which would've made each an essentially progressive thing had it been properly concluded or at least been twice as long as it is. A similar, stunningly impressive instrumental interlude (still in the vein of Symphonic Progressive) is present on Try to Wake Up too, though unlike any of its predecessors, this guitar- and piano-laden song never really rocks, rather strongly resembling those Queen numbers that are rich in three-voice chorals and have additionally a piquant sense of old-fashioned music. There are no pauses between the seven tracks that are presented as parts of the Meet Your Maker suite, but only the first three of these sound like a logical continuation of each other. The sole instrumental, Steps Ahead, is a refined acoustic guitar piece. Prolog and Challenge Your Fate follow, both being largely instrumental in their turn. Prolog begins as groovy Pomp Rock, then reminding me slightly of Rhapsody in style, but anyway, it sounds much like a jumping-off point for its successor on which Zenobia move back and forth between symphonic Prog-Metal and, well, the same but with distinct folk-rock intonations. Although I would never assert that Challenge Your Fate is a hard nut to crack, this is easily the second best track here, anyhow. Well, Where It All Starts is a nice complicated ballad with a sense of light Classical music. Standing in the middle of the 'suite', it would've been right on its place there if the band had returned to diverse music on the remaining tunes. Unfortunately the last four tracks, Me King You King, Power From Within, Epilog and Moonstone Sky MSP Remix (an absolutely unnecessary makeweight to the already very long recording), all sound like one extremely protracted happy ending since all are highly affirmative in mood, besides which the latter three are still ballad-like in character and are generally quite similar to each other. Oh almost forgot: Me King You King and Power From Within, both are strongly reminiscent of Manfred Mann's Earth Band in the '80s - think "Somewhere in Africa" and "Criminal Tango".
Conclusion. As it is, "Delayed" is 'your' typical CD whose space is filled beyond all measure. If I exclude the last four tracks when programming my CD player, I get a 50-minute album which is one step away from being excellent - at least considering the general state of affairs on the contemporary progressive scene.
VM: February 12, 2006
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