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TRACK LIST: 1. The Duke of Sadness 9:16 2. Last Few Grains of Hope 7:03 3. Peace United 5:46 4. Journey 7:40 5. Gratitude 6:23 6. Meet Johnnie Walker 5:28 7. Cinnamon Tree 3:15 8. The Ballad of Mary Chilton 4:31 9. Roger the Tailor 4:36 10. Conspiracy 4:05 11. We Have Been Freed 8:37 12. Time 5:00 LINEUP: Roine Stolt – guitars; keyboards; vocals Nad Sylvan – vocals; keyboards Jonas Reingold – bass Lalle Larsson – synthesizers Walle Wahlgren – drums, percussion
Prolusion. The Swedish outfit AGENTS OF MERCY initially started out as a creative side vehicle of Roine Stolt from The Flower Kings, which evolved into a collaborative effort with fellow Swede Nad Sylvan, and, following their initial release in 2009, the final transformation for this endeavor was to blossom into a full-fledged band effort. Something of a supergroup in terms of the local Swedish art rock universe, "Dramarama" is the sophomore album issued under the Agents of Mercy moniker, and their first production as a bona fide band project. Click here to read the interview with Roine.
Analysis. Roine Stolt and the expression ‘retro prog’ seem to go hand in hand among many aficionados of progressive rock. And Agents of Mercy won't do anything to diminish such a connection, with the band itself describing the general concept of this CD as "to find the roots of our inspiration and the sounds we love" and acknowledging that this did indeed bring along many sounds from the 60's and 70's. One band name that will be heavily referenced in most descriptions of this CD will undeniably be Genesis. Lead vocalist Sylvan has a vocal delivery not light years away from Peter Gabriel for starters, and the emphasis on symphonic art rock in general with heavy use of organ, digital strings and vintage keyboards in general will emphasize such a comparison. Majestic keyboard-driven arrangements, where the guitar tightly interacts and provides the subtler details, are another trait that won't exactly alienate those with a love and passion for Gabriel-era Genesis productions. And as the opening track, The Duke of Sadness, is arguably the best example of this part of the band's repertoire this time around, I'd wager a bet that for some this impression will stick for the album as a whole. As I'm not well versed in vintage art rock, I can't really pinpoint many other traits myself, apart from a notable Beatles influence as an additional facet. The CD as a whole does have a very British atmosphere to it, but with whimsical details and more pastoral expressions that both appear to come from other territories than the ones already mentioned. I wouldn't be at all surprised if there are a few nods in the direction of the late Woolly Wolstenholme and his Barclay James Harvest for instance, as the limited exposure I've had to this artist and his former band are ones I found myself thinking of on a few occasions. Apart from that, we're dealing with an album set in the heartland of the symphonic art rock universe, and those with a taste for the 70's traditions of this genre will find plenty of material to enjoy. While the songs may be a bit on the short side for some, they are very well made and performed, each instrumentalist adding a nice array of subtle details to the proceedings, sticking mostly to a multilayered harmonic approach. A splendid job in the mix and production department brings out the best of these creations, and for a personal selection as the most enthralling affair there's Journey. The eastern tinges of the vocals on select occasions and the keyboards throughout make this a standout track for me personally, and the slightly more prominent placement of the bass guitar on this one really catered for my own personal taste.
Conclusion. If you like vintage symphonic art rock, don't mind some obvious influences and enjoy the ones harder to place, "Dramarama" is a production you'll be pleased with. Splendid musicianship and well-crafted compositions come with the territory for a band with such a line-up, and Stolt is a classy producer who manages to bring out the best of the material at hand. Perhaps not a contender for originality awards for 2010, but a high quality production within its field nonetheless.
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