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(73:54, ‘Stewart Bell’)
TRACK LIST: 1. Decoherence 13:22 2. A World without Limits 8:30 3. Projections 10:31 4. The Breach 5:20 5. The Antechamber of Being 16:11 6. Convergence 9:02 7. Full Circle 10:58 LINEUP: Stewart Bell – keyboards; drums; vocals Phil Allen – guitars; vocals David Watters – bass With: Arjen Lucassen – vocals Simone Rossetti – vocals Bekah Mhairi Comrie – vocals
Prolusion. Scottish composer and musician Stewart BELL is first and foremost known as a key member of progressive rock band Citizen Cain (also known as Xitizen Cain), initially handling the keyboard duties but over the years also catering for the drums for their albums. "The Antechamber of Being Part 1" is his first solo album, self-released in 2014.
Analysis. When launching a career as a solo artist, it's kind of difficult to make a more ambitious statement than what Bell does here. He records a theme album, proclaims straight away that this is the first in a series, that the themes explored are of a personal and, at least partially, autobiographical nature, and he brings in some rather notes guest musicians to participate as well, with Arjen Lucassen (of Ayreon fame) perhaps the most heralded of them. As the icing on the cake, this almost 75-minutes long production is a single composition, divided into seven main parts, each again divided into smaller parts. There's a certain grandiosity over the totality of it all, you just have to admire. Being ambitious is of course a double-edged sword, and unless you can deliver the goods as well one might be regarding this as the actions of someone that may have somewhat of an inflated hubris. Thankfully Bell isn't an artist that can be described in this manner, as the end result in this case is just about as compelling as the scope of the ambition behind it. In terms of style I'd probably place this album inside a neo-progressive context of sorts. Not because this is an album honing in on this genre as such, to be honest, but among the diversity explored I do find that style to be the most frequently recurring one. Careful or sparse sequences with plucked guitars or carefully hovering keyboards present, but in the minority, while lush keyboard textures and atmospheric guitar solo runs are rather more frequent visitors here. The latter often segues smoothly into more vibrant constructions with stronger ties to the classic symphonic art-rock of the ’70s by way of quirkier keyboard motifs with a more distinct classical music influence as a likely source of influence, and there's also some rather tasteful and majestic sequences where the good, old Mellotron is given a few minutes of airing as well. As with many constellations of that nature one could probably argue back and forth quite a bit about where to place them in terms of progressive rock subdivisions, but the important aspect of this is that the end result is both striking and compelling. At last there is a liberal amount of passages that have more of a harder edged tinge to them, where the guitar riffs are more prominent and even dominant, to the extent that this creation does touch base with progressive metal now and then as well. It's also worth mentioning that the general mood and atmosphere of the album is a fairly dark one. This is the stuff of haunting and menacing dreams rather than the ones you'll awake from with a smile on your face, and the mix and production appear to focus in on that aspect of the album as well. The sound has a slightly closed in, claustrophobic feel to it, and, whether this is by accident or design, it is an effect that strengthens the somewhat oppressive, tension-filled and dramatic nature of this massive, epic creation.
Conclusion. If you are the kind of person that enjoys an ambitious, epic conceptual album and have a general fondness for both neo-progressive and classic symphonic art-rock, Stewart Bell's first solo album is one that is worth giving a closer inspection. Especially if you have a soft spot for creations of this kind that hone in on darker moods and atmospheres, and incorporate some metal-oriented details here and there to further strengthen and emphasize that aspect of the material explored.
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