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(65:23 / Unicorn Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Entering the Gates 1:54 2. The Great Circus 5:30 3. Temple of Light 4:57 4. The Other Side 5:09 5. Sky of Couple Colors 4:08 6. Masks & Illusions 6:41 7. The Dream Master 6:40 8. Labyrinth 4:43 9. Let Go 3:34 10. Wonder Valley 4:21 11. Kingfisher & Dragonlflies 1:48 12. Retrofall 5:21 13. Mind Games 1:21 14. The Space Between Us 4:17 15. When the Night Falls 2:13 16. Big Outro 2:41 LINEUP: Antony Kalugin - vocals; keyboards; guitars; flute Sergey Kovalev - harmonica, accordion; vocals Kostya Shepelenko - drums Oleg Polyanskiy - bass With: Georgiy Katunin - lyre; flutes Oleg Booklov - guitar Denis Moroz - guitar Roman Cucherenco - bass Tim Sobolev - vocals Lina Moscalec - vocals
Prolusion. Only ten months have passed since the release of their debut CD "Continium", but Ukrainian ensemble KARFAGEN have already enlarged their discography with another studio album, "The Space Between Us". Originally a sextet, the group appears as a quartet this time around, while the total number of the musicians involved has been considerably increased - hopefully to the benefit of the band's sound and therefore us listeners as well.
Analysis. Although four of the musicians are credited as vocalists, there isn't too much singing on this album, and no vocals as such. The first two musicians, mentioned in the lineup above, from time to time provide their joint vocalizations (too jovial to my taste) on five tunes. On three more cuts a guest female singer does the same all alone, but in a more effective way, particularly shining on the wonderful Masks & Illusions. All the other 'vocals' are either narratives or trivial whistles (had I really to say artistic?) - thankfully there are few of those here, precisely half of the 16 tracks present being, I'd say, crystal-clear instrumentals. The opening number, Entering the Gates, most of which is only woven of keyboard patterns, is a beautiful pastoral symphonic spacey rock tune, reminding me somewhat of Carried by Cosmic Winds from Eloy's "Planets". Its track list counterpart, Big Outro, isn't very different, although it's for the most part both powerful and solemn in sound, involving more instruments. The Dream Master and Kingfisher & Dragonlflies are two more cuts that don't completely blend with the album's predominant sound - perhaps because both are performed by the bandleader Antony Kalugin himself. The former is a killer in its own way. This is a piano piece and is overall perceived as Classical music, though its maker, demonstrating his compositional open-mindedness, episodically inserts clearly jazz improvisations into the basic harmonic texture. The latter, although embracing a few keyboards, using orchestral and string arrangements and being generally fine as well, is too short to be regarded as anything weightier than a classically inspired sketch, approaching a complete composition. In any event, all the said pieces without exception are good, let alone the one praised previously. I'll now touch on the least impressive tracks, after which, well, we'll not forget the winners. The remaining cut that doesn't have a full-band sound, When the Night Falls, stands out for 'presenting' harmonica as the lead instrument, but is okayish compared to Mind Games - the one where the music is really primitive, only serving as a background for a narrated pseudo-philosophical truism, in Russian. While featuring most of the instruments heralded, Wonder Valley never exceeds the bounds of Ambient, as also does The Great Circus, since there also are neither pace changes nor even a distinct thematic evolution - no matter that this opus is rich in features belonging to different genres - symphonic, folk, fusion and even some metal elements are all like restless souls here, being gathered together with no rhyme or reason. Sky of Couple Colors would've been listed in one of the previous sentences if it hadn't been notable for its single, yet relatively long episode, filled with everything necessary to gratify a progressive ear. Now comes the turn of the best compositions. Temple of Light and The Other Side are both stylistically similar to The Great Circus, but each reveal many more essential ingredients that we appreciate Prog Rock for. Retrofall and The Space Between Us both first follow in the same direction, but then extend its (already wide) framework by adding a few organ-driven progressive hard rock moves to the bag. Unlike those, neither Let Go nor Labyrinth contains a fusion element, but they are hardly less rich in exciting events, combining pastoral symphonic Art-Rock with the genre's much darker and, at the same time, heavier manifestations. A container of all the styles available on the recording, additionally revealing a lot of oriental tunes, and also having some ethnic sense in places, Masks & Illusions (the longest track, by the way), is definitely one of the band's highest creative achievements.
Conclusion. Taking into consideration the difference between the length of "The Space Between Us" and "Continium" (each run for 68 and 41 minutes respectively), in terms of composition this new CD by Karfagen is on a par with its predecessor. From the album's performance perspective, it is a step backwards, because the band less often ventures on those joint movements where they shine technically as well. This matter however is well compensated for by the fact that they've gotten rid of any influences and sound now unlike anyone else, which IMHO is a really huge achievement, the best that any contemporary prog band can boast about. So despite some obvious shortcomings, this CD comes overall recommended to all but those who can't listen to anything but highly intricate music.
VM: July 19, 2007
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