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(63 min, Inside Out)
TRACK LIST: 1. Navigating By The Stars 0:29 2. The Weight 10:13 3. The Lonely Views Of Condors 6:14 4. Unbreakable 8:59 5. Stigmata 8:22 6. Blue Wide Open 5:13 7. To The Ones Who Have Failed 7:26 8. Lighthouse 7:41 9. Styx 8:55 LINEUP: Oliver Holzwarth - bass Alex Holzwarth - drums Markus Steffen - guitars Arno Menses - vocals All tracks: by Sieges Even. Produced by O Holzwarth.
Prolusion. SIEGES EVEN began making music in the mid 80s, producing five albums before "retiring" from music. "The Art of Navigating by the Stars" is a comeback after 8 years absence. I was not familiar with their earlier work, so although to many this is a comeback, to me it's an introduction. From what I've read, Sieges Even was a prog-metal band in their original lineup. Gone are most of the vestiges of metal, though not entirely. The metal edge asserts itself from occasionally, but has definitely receded from prominence. Vitaly has the review of the band's second album, "Steps", and the rating on each of their albums: here.
Analysis. What joy there is in a toddler's laugh! Navigating by the Stars, the shortest track, opens with swirling chords (reminiscent of the opening of "I, Robot" by The Alan Parson Project), setting a tone of mystery for the first few seconds before the mood is broken with the infectious laughter of a very small child. The Weight juxtaposes the sweetness of Menses' vocals and guitar work of an almost jazz-like sensibility with moments of machine-gunned metal at the beginning. The mood is pensive and somewhat melancholy throughout much of this song and others, though never delving so deep as anything like despair. Actually, The Weight can be quite light in places. Arno Menses is the newcomer to the band's lineup and is a valuable addition, as it is hard to imagine what they would have sounded like without him, his vocals playing such a prominent role in this album. "Hi, babe, I'm glad you called. I've been wanting to talk to you, too. I miss you. Call me. Bye", says a woman's voice from an answering machine to end The Weight. It's a curious element, which seems to have no relationship to either song. Sequence II begins with The Lonely Views of Condors. The ensemble has an amazingly full sound, considering they have no keyboards, which will draw sound comparisons to Rush, though with Menses providing vocals, Sieges Even has a much more pleasant sound, an overall mellower sound, though there the clarity of the guitar tone is also reminiscent of Rush at times, but also at times a bit like The Police, if you can imagine that combination. Unbreakable begins with surf sounds and a quiet, almost contemplative electric guitar intro. One of the most distinctive elements in "The Art of Navigating by the Stars" is Menses and the "group" vocals he produces for some of the passages, begging the question of how they will reproduce this sound live? Midway through Unbreakable, it sounds as if Steve Howe and Chris Squire stepped in to play a passage. Acoustic guitar and lone vocal take center stage at about the 3/4 mark, making the mood intimate for a few short measures, before heavy chording with a guitar solo soaring over head brings the track to a climax along with the lead vocal and "group" backing vocals. Alex Holzwarth's drumming is excellent and particularly shines on Stigmata. The whole band is very tight. Rather than detail every song, which tend to sound very much alike, I will just deal with a couple of variations or highlights now, as the sound is pretty much the same from beginning of the album to the end, with only minor adaptations along the way. Blue Wide Open starts with a bold a cappella group vocal and two acoustic guitars, which bridge to the vocals. So, do Oliver Holzwarth and Markus Steffen share guitar duties or is the dual guitar work the product of overdubbing? The promotional material doesn't say. I would be remiss if I did not mention that Steffen's playing is excellent, whether acoustic or electric. There is a very nice Spanish style acoustic duet in the center of the Blue Wide Open. Truly, this is the most tranquil track on the album. As if acoustic guitar and Menses' vocals were not serene enough, the song closes with faint whale calls, segueing into Lighthouse, the other track, which makes extensive use of acoustic and Spanish style guitar. Styx closes out the album, returning to the combinations of sound with which the
Conclusion. Sieges Even is without a doubt, a talented band. Their sound is very much their own, with tinges of a few predecessors, without being derivative. The songs are good, but extremely similar throughout, with some exceptions listed above. The production is top notch, beautifully clear. Their use of harmonies is excellent. I cannot imagine what the band sounded like before or would sound like in the future without Arno Menses, as the songs are so reliant on his extremely capable voice and the group harmonies he's created. For my taste, though, there is so much sameness in instrumentation from track to track that the album suffers. This is a shortcoming with bands lacking keyboardists, though Sieges Even uses vocals and layered vocal harmonies to fill out the sound. (Have I mentioned that I like the vocals?)
KW: October 8, 2005
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