Как же нелегко оценивать такие релизы. И ведь, казалось бы, вот она -
совершенная по форме и красоте музыка. Казалось бы, чего тут думать -
заливайся соловьем, пой дифирамбы, расписывай, облизывай. Однако, как во
всякой бочке меда есть своя ложка дегтя, так и все совершенное не обходится
без своего "но". Думаю, многие согласятся со мной, что "прог" - во всех своих
земных и космических проявлениях - музыка всегда и в первую очередь под
настроение. А настроение - вот ведь привередливая вещь. То оно одно, то другое.
Все же не легко оценивать такие релизы... Отбросив всякий объективизм, забыв
о том, что за имена делают эту группу, X RELIGION, скажу просто - их музыка нечеловечески прекрасна! Возможно, кому-то она покажется холодной и жесткой, кому-то - теплой и нежной, кому-то - натужной, кому-то - дикой. Это все проблемы восприятия. "Dances On Gobelins" - самоценное произведение, но не вещь в себе. Чтобы зайти и пересечь эту реку воспоминаний, не нужно никаких специальных навыков, никакого гипноза и самовнушения, никакого обмана. Можно зайти - а потом выйти. Выйти - и мигом продрогнуть. Что тогда? Появилось желание обхватить себя покрепче? Или пойти назад? Выкрикнуть проклятие? Или молитву? Или умереть - прямо сейчас и здесь? Или начать любить себя сильнее?.. Все одно - извечные проблемы воспитания. Река смотрит. Смотрит и молчит. И ведь что ей, на самом-то деле? Она будет ждать. Ждать, как ждала до этого. Ждать, в открытую смеясь над нашей непробиваемой тупостью. Ведь есть у рек - у всех рек, без исключения, больших и маленьких - обидное свойство - ни в одну из них нельзя войти дважды.
Uzbekistan may not be one of the countries that first springs to mind when talking of progressive music, but this release from X Religion must surely place it firmly on the map. The notion also, that all the best prog emanates from either the UK or USA, most surely undergo even more rigorous scrutiny, if for no other reason than the album in front of me. Admittedly and prior to listening to Dances On Gobelins I had some misgivings (albeit unfounded) about this release. The band's name suggested a different type of music to me and accompanied by the instruction to listen to it LOUD also put doubts in the mind.
Perhaps some research into the bands history and origins might shed a better light on the proceedings. X Religion is the amalgamation of two of Tashkent's (the capital of Uzbekistan) only Progressive Rock bands from the early 1990's, Rare Bird and Edgar Poe. The two bands first met up at Tashkent's annual Rock Festival in 1990 and later that year arranged a joint live show on the scene of Uzbekistan's Puppet Show. Quoting from the band's biography - "Unfortunately, progressive music was never a popular genre in our republic", (as with most of the World, I think) "so both Edgar Poe & Rare Bird quit in the middle of the decade". Towards the end of 1996 bassist Vitaly Menshikov (ex-Edgar Poe) along with keyboardist, guitarist, and vocalist Albert Khalmurzayev and drummer Valery Vorobiov (both ex-Rare Bird) decided to form a new band. Thus X Religion was created, combining the writing skills from both bands to form this unique and skilled band.
The album opens with the atmospheric Agnostic Eparchy, cold, chilling and foreboding. The tempo is uncomfortably slow but so well captures the mood of the piece. Our first glimpse of the "orchestral" nature of the album with the sparse but effective woodwind and string sounds setting the scene. The early melody is taken by the bass guitar as Vitaly's fretless work, set well back in the mix, nicely meanders through these early bars. As we move deeper into the piece the music takes on more of a band orientated sound, with the principal instrumentation used being keyboards, bass and drums - perhaps drawing some early conclusions as to the bands sound. Be wary, as this album came with a cautionary note suggesting that many listenings may be necessary to fully appreciate the music - it does. As Agnostic Eparchy unfolds it becomes more obvious why this warning has been enclosed as the music encompasses more twists and turns in the following few minutes than many might use in an entire album.
Waiting for the Sign of Eternity again sees us continuing in familiar prog territory, a shorter piece this time with anthemic keyboards interspersed with flowing synth lines and punctuated by the tight rhythm section. The themes are compelling and the variation within the music holds the attention throughout conjuring those similar past masters within the progressive field. A much less foreboding track, providing an up-lifting and more immediate appeal to the album. Transformation of Mentality was probably my least favourite track from the album, but it did have much to live up to. The drumming of Valery 'Petro' Vorobjov is fundamental to the album as a whole, but is brought more to the front in this track. If I was to have some criticism in this department it would be that the drums are slightly high in the overall mix and at times to the detriment of some of the other instrumentation. This is not the case here as the drums serve as the main instrument punctuating and embellishing the music.
So to a truly stunning piece from the album, as Yesterday's Tomorrow, drifts gently in with its symphonic textures and classical leanings towards the Great Russian composers (Mussorgsky and Prokofiev) being the most immediate and featuring prominently in this opening theme. However the music that follows defies description (certainly in the few paragraphs allowable here) and you will just have to take my word for that this is a wonderful track. Complex and compelling whilst always retaining its musicality. There are also those moments of subtle humour that offer light relief from the diversity of this ever changing piece. The opening theme is revisited, in many guises and always strengthening the symphonic notion. It is not often that I "rewind" a track before completing my first listening, but on this occasion I felt compelled to do so.
Note perhaps here on the albums production, which has retained a distinctly live feel (now that would be interesting to see) and is not overly cluttered with studio values. Most of the keyboard sounds work really well, the orchestral timbres well suiting the music and in particular the more symphonic arrangements. Dances On Gobelins best captures this as the instrumentation here beautifully depicts the "dancing" as the more traditional sounds flirt with the bass and drums. The delicate guitar and harpsichord sounds from A.L.I.V.E. - Epitaph again work well, offering a good contrast and formed one of the gentler moments from the album.
Religion of the Dead returns us to the more anthemic structure of track two and again offers some respite from the complexities of Yesterday's Tomorrow. Well initially, as the track soon returns to those more complex arrangements that prevail throughout Dances On Gobelins. In fact it would be easy to continue extolling the virtues of this album, however if you are not suitably curious by now, there is, I feel, little else I can say that might entice you to check out this album further. Perhaps mention of the sixteen page booklet containing seven captivating pieces of artwork from Vladimir Finkilstein and depicting one assumes, the subject matter of the individual tracks, may help. Or finally the finishing touches that come from both Vitaly 'Progressor' Menshikov and Albert 'Al' Khalmurzayev who have added their written, thoughtful and poetic words to each of the pictures and tracks.
I have chosen not to offer any direct comparisons to X Religion's music as it would be as misleading as it would be a guide. The three piece line-up and the instrumentation will certainly steer you into the right areas, but the complexity of music might suggest other, less obvious, exponents. X Religion's music is always challenging and offers very little time dwell on any one passage. This is a totally absorbing and crafted album and as mentioned earlier, bears many hallmarks of a symphonic piece and testament to these three musicians that they have sculpted this atmosphere purely on their own merits. By the nature of their three piece keyboard orientated sound, comparisons to other such similar bands are likely. However X-Religion have a unique sound and tread those areas their predecessors rarely ventured into. Interaction is the key word here. Heartily recommended!