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(73:40, Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Public Domain 9:52 2. Values of my Past 11:20 3. On a Wave of Time 9:54 4. Mutual for Real 13:43 5. The Hidden Path 5:23 6. At Last 8:38 7. Waiting for the Challenge 14:50 LINEUP: Arne Schafer – vocals; guitars, bass; keyboards With: Eberhard Graef – drums Thomas Reiner – drums
Prolusion. The German project APOGEE is the creative vehicle of composer and instrumentalist Arne Schafer, a side project from his main band Versus X. The first Apogee album "The Border of Awareness" was released back in 1995, and a grand total of seven studio productions have been released under this moniker so far. "Waiting for the Challenge" is the most recent of these, released through the French label Musea Records in December 2012.
Analysis. Symphonic progressive rock is basically what this album is all about. In the form explored here it is a variety of it that doesn't really reference any specific bands all that closely, but just about anyone who has lent an ear to the giants of the genre will recognize certain elements here and there. There's a curious feeling of vintage sounding material given a more contemporary shining that is left in my mind after listening through this production, one I guess would merit multiple listens for me to be able to pinpoint it more closely. That certain arrangements are closer to the likes of IQ than Genesis is perhaps part of the answer, that there's a slight feeling of later day neo progressive rock amidst the layered symphonic style keyboard driven themes and motifs. The main part of this production is dominated by epic length or close to epic length compositions that appear to be made with vintage-era symphonic progressive rock in mind as far as overall style is concerned. The compositions all feature multiple alterations in style and intensity throughout, with room for frail piano driven passages, pastoral sequences with Mellotron or flute, more classic progressive rock oriented escapades with guitar and organ combinations, and more majestic excursions with layered keyboards topped off with the soft, nervous timbres of the Mellotron. Guitars range from delicate acoustic to dark, ominous riffs, with some subtly twisted details at times. While perhaps somewhat uniform in general style and components used, none of the compositions outstay their welcome, the songs assembled and executed with a fine balance between contrasting elements and sequences that maintains tension and interest in an elegant throughout. Highly enjoyable pretty much sums it all up. There are some minute details that separate the individual songs too, but the core ingredients are recurring. There are two main exceptions at hand, and both of those come across as somewhat more interesting than the other songs. Perhaps due to context, as they are distinctly different from the rest of the material at hand, but they are strong creations also outside of this specific context. The first of these is On a Wave of My Time, a more keyboards dominated affair with what sounds like a deliberate choice to create a composition that draws a more direct inspiration from classical symphonic music. A creation that ebbs and flows more like a classical symphonic creation too, and does it in an amazingly intriguing manner. The second exception is The Hidden Path, a shorter piece much closer to a ballad in overall style, and a creation that stays intriguing despite of and not because of that. Clever use of contrast and intensity are the factors that have most of an impact on this one, an impressive instance of a symphonic ballad. One weak point shared in the productions of Apogee and Versus X I have encountered so far is the lead vocals. As far as I can tell this aspect of the whole has improved on this occasion. While Arne Schafer doesn't have the capability to carry a song with his voice at this point, his vocals suit the material much better on this album than what I can recall from past ones. A few imperfections still appear, but not to the extent that they will be noticed by someone without a specific interest in lead vocals as such. Still, this aspect has improved and markedly too, unless my ears and memory deceive me, which should make this project appealing to a wider audience than previously.
Conclusion. "Waiting for the Challenge" comes across as a well planned, well executed and cohesive production through and through. Variations in pace and intensity are used to good effect; the compositions smoothly move through multiple themes and arrangements; contrasting elements and sequences are applied to good effect throughout. If you tend to enjoy progressive rock of the symphonic variety that comes across as vintage oriented then this is a production that merits an inspection, it's as simple as that really.
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