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(51 min, Musea)
TRACK LIST: 1. Mystery 9:46 2. Des Cartes 5:39 3. Another Life 3:17 4. In the Air 9:11 5. Weatherman 10:17 6. Unfading Divine 9:02 7. January Sixth 3:38 LINEUP: Mike Tenenbaum - guitars; keyboards; vocals Eric Naylor - vocals Steve Stortz - basses Trish Lee - keyboards Doug Meadows - drums
Prolusion. One of the most noticeable appearances on the contemporary Symphonic Prog scene, Canada's AKACIA are back with their third studio outing, "The Fading Time". The reviews of their previous two albums-masterpieces, "The Brass Serpent" (2005) and "An Other Life" (2003), can be read here and here respectively.
Analysis. I adore Akacia, but most of all I enjoy the group's epic suites, namely Journal (22:41, from their first disc) and the title track (36:15) of "The Brass Serpent". Unfortunately, no epics on this new CD by them, the longest of the seven tracks present being just over 10 minutes. Generally, while the overall sound of "The Fading Time" still has a distinctively vintage feeling, musically this album differs from both its predecessors on many levels. Having remembered that Akacia never turned to short-format songs until now, let's begin with Another Life (3:17) and January Sixth (3:38). These are kind of benefit performances for Mike Tenenbaum, since both are focused on two slow guitar solos (one being overdubbed for sure) and vocals. The former is a ballad and is satisfactory, unlike the latter, all the content of which seems to be just far-fetched, Mike's singing being somewhat blurry and generally inexpressive. In any event, I don't find January Sixth to be an appropriate conclusion for the album, and I'd been happier had this piece remained 'overboard'. Des Cartes, which runs five-and-a-half minutes, is the last track that I feel some discomfort about (meaning when listening to it, of course). The music is relatively simple compared to any of the longer compositions here, not to mention those from the band's first two recordings. That being said, everything is all right within the instrumental sections, but this song isn't blessed with many such. There are soft Art-Rock-like episodes which 'are' undoubtedly Akacia, but most of Des Cartes is progressive Hard Rock, which is genuinely progressive indeed, but isn't something we normally expect from this ensemble. One of the guitar solos is simply moulded on the one Steve Howe plays on Round About (Yes, "Fragile"). Nevertheless Des Cartes possesses some zest, as well as do any of the as-yet-unnamed songs, although this matter is to a great extent explained by these men's ability to very naturalistically reproduce the aura of vintage Rock music. On the longer tracks a balance between purely instrumental arrangements and mixed ones is preserved. With the exception of Unfading Divine, the CD doesn't succeed in avoiding unnecessary repetitions (particularly during the vocal sessions), though they are never obtrusive. In the Air turns out be the most unexpected, at least as applied to Akacia's large-scaled creations. This is a curious mix of early Doom Metal forms that instantly evoke the genre's Godfathers, Black Sabbath, and eclectically-atmospheric Art-Rock constructions typical of "Tormato", Side B. By the way, Mike Tenenbaum masterfully imitates both Tony Iommi and Steve Howe when soloing here. I have no idea who plays a flute on this piece, but the style is immediately recognizable - as belonging to the Sabbath commander. Those who were lucky enough to watch that band's early concert performances will agree with me, I am sure. All three of the remaining compositions are influenced by Yes (Mike widely applying Howe's technique), except for the vocals, which have nothing to do with those of Jon Anderson. Overall, Mystery, Weatherman and Unfading Divine each represents vintage Art-Rock with elements of Hard Rock, though the term Symphonic Progressive is applicable only to the latter two, Unfading Divine being the single composition on the CD where newcomer Trish Lee receives a real opportunity to show her solid possibilities as a keyboardist (her teacher in absentia being definitely Rick Wakeman). In all other cases Mike's guitar playing always tends to overshadow his principal partner in the 'soloing' department, which is yet another weak spot of this creation, at least in comparison with the band's first two releases, both of which, but especially "The Brass Serpent", are so rich in varied keyboard patterns. More allusions? Mystery is similar in construction to the closing track of "Relayer" or "Close to the Edge" alike. The more atmospheric Weatherman has something in common with Awaken from "Going to the One", but is devoid of that magic which lends that epic so much attraction for any Prog head - already for so many years. Well, the only truly symphonic piece, in addition enriched with excellent string arrangements, Unfading Divine is just the best track / the only masterwork here, at least to my way of thinking.
Conclusion. Unlike any of Akacia's previous two recordings, "The Fading Light" isn't notable for its highly sophisticated arrangements, let alone those, say, positively crazy. I don't know whether it's due to that ubiquitously-inescapable:-) creative crisis or the group's personal desire to make their music accessible for many people, but while this is in any event a very good album overall, it is decidedly inferior to "An Other Life", and especially to "The Brass Serpent". If your attitude toward Yes' change of course in the mid-'70s is positive and you like "Going for the One" and "Tormato", you should not miss with "The Fading Light" as well.
VM: November 12, 2006
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