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(55:46, Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Five Rings 29.00 2. Drag The Notion 2.10 3. Edge of Sphere 5.32 4. Prominence 3.15 5. Ladder of the Cloud 2.05 6. Raiden 3.27 7. Nu-809 2.52 8. Tenku 7.25 LINEUP: Issei Takami – guitar, gtr-synth Shin Ichikawa – bass Max Hiraishi – drums
Prolusion. Hailing from Tokyo (Japan), BARAKA (‘God’s blessing’ in Arabic) was formed in 1997 by bassist Shin Ichikawa, guitarist Issei Takami and drummer Max Hiraishi. Since their inception, the band have released nine albums, all recorded with the same line-up. Their seventh album, “Baraka VII”, was their first instrumental-only release, followed by “Shade of Evolution”, and, in March 2010, “Inner Resonance”. The trio has a strong following in its native Japan, and have also toured extensively around the world.
Analysis. A rare example of a band who has been together for over ten years without changing any of its members, Baraka have adopted one of the oldest formats in the rock world - the power trio. Nowadays not as fashionable as it used to be in rock’s golden days, its stripped-down nature has never been a favourite on the progressive scene, as it does not feel completely suitable to the often keyboard-dominated nature of prog. On the other hand, Rush, one of the most popular bands in the genre (even if a somewhat divisive one), adopted the power trio format right from the start of their long career, and have never deviated from it. Indeed, Rush are probably the closest term of comparison for this obviously talented Japanese outfit, and the influence of the Canadian trio is often clearly detectable in the band’s sound. However, the leading instrument here is Issei Takami’s guitar rather than the rhythm section, which instead often sounds a tad overwhelmed by Takami’s acrobatics. He also brings in a synth guitar – which is the main ingredient of some of the shorter tracks on the album – in order to add interest and variety to the basic fabric of Baraka’s music. Though not a long album for today’s standards, “Shade of Evolution” is dominated – or rather nearly overwhelmed – by the massive endeavour that is opening track Five Rings. This seems to be somewhat of a trend for the band, since their previous album, “VII”, also featured another similarly ‘epic’ track as an introduction. Unfortunately, the almost 30-minute Five Rings is little more than an overlong pastiche of different styles and influences strung together without apparent rhyme or reason, though containing some rather tasty guitar passages. The band’s alleged influences of Rush and Led Zeppelin come into play more than once, though I doubt that either band would have ever indulged in something so sprawling (at least on a studio recording). If La Villa Strangiato was tagged as an ‘exercise in self-indulgence’, one has to wonder how something like Five Rings might be defined. Though impossible to describe accurately, the track is made up of a myriad different sections ranging from jazz/fusion to reggae by way of guitar-based hard rock with metal tinges, and even some ambient-like textures (thanks to the contribution of the synth guitar, which actually sounds like nothing more than an ordinary synth). In comparison to such a tour-de-force (even a flawed one such as this), the other tracks end up sounding a tad bland – and this is particularly true of the three new-agey, synth-based interludes, Drag the Notion, Ladder of the Cloud and Nu-809, which, while pleasant, feel somewhat misplaced in the context of the album. Shades of Rush rear their head in most of the other compositions, while King Crimson lurk in the angular, insistent riffing of Edge of Sphere (which also includes some upbeat funky tones) and Prominence. Album closer Tenku, at over 7 minutes the second longest number, is probably the strongest offering in compositional terms, going from the nice funky-jazzy pace of the opening section to the slow, atmospheric strains of the middle (with guitar reminiscent of Steve Hackett’s style), and throwing in some more reggae influences towards the end. While my rating may seem overly harsh, it cannot be denied that the album comes across as much less than the sum of its parts. On account of its structural flaws, it can be considered as a rather anticlimactic point in Baraka’s career – something that will hopefully be redressed in the band’s future releases.
Conclusion. Fans of guitar-based, instrumental prog will probably find a lot to appreciate in “Shade of Evolution”, though the unbalanced structure of the album and obvious compositional shortcomings are bound to influence most listeners’ opinions in a negative sense. Even if the album is anything but an unpleasant listen, I would have expected more focus and cohesion on the part of such an experienced band – though, of course, it is never too late to learn from past mistakes.
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