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Tracklist: 1. No Way Out 5:40 2. Essence of Life 8:05 3. Encounters: a) Overture 3:27 b) About to Leave 4:16 c) Your Source 3:19 d) Tremendously Different 2:11 e) Long Ago 2:16 f) All of It 4:27 g) Presentiments 3:20 h) Would You Feel Better 6:09 i) In Vain 7:49 j) Encounters 2:50 All songs written, arranged, & produced by Sylvan. Line-up: Kay Sohl - guitars Volker Sohl - keyboards Marco Gluhmann - vocals Matthias Harder - drums With: Lars Koster - bass Soren Grimme - saxophone Recorded & mixed by Jens Luck at "The Sylvan Manor" & "Art Music" studios, Hamburg, Germany.
Preamble. What is it - Neo Prog? This is one of the bodies of the Progressive Rock movement, the most part of which, being consciously infected by others' sources has kind of a knowing musical influenza.
Prologue. "Encounters" is the second album by Sylvan. I can't for certain compare this one to the band's debut album, because I haven't listened to it. Beforehand, I can say I've heard, on the whole, only positive opinions about "Encounters". Let's see what this album is really about.
The Album. Now, when I have already listened to this band's second album, I am more than sure that originally (and probably on their debut album as well), Sylvan were very strongly influenced by Marillion. Although a few of the songs on "Encounters" are also marked with Marillion's influences, the album as a whole shows that Sylvan are already in search of their own 'stylistic health'. All of the three pieces on the album were created within the framework of a unified stylistics, which, though, on the whole is typical for Neo Progressive. As for the originality, two thirds of the album's contents present a rather refreshing blend of Neo Art (Symphonic) Rock and Prog-Metal. Both of the first separate songs on the album, No Way Out and Essence of Life, are not only the most original and interesting tracks here, -- in my view, they are the best tracks on the album (though, the absolute winner is the latter of them). All of the hallmarks of quality Neo Progressive are present here. Lots of bombast, harmonies, heavy riffs and fluid, melodious solos of guitar, bright passages of synthesizer and piano, and colourful, kind of theatric vocals with mostly dramatic inflexions, changes of tempo and mood, etc. There are no direct influences (let alone the borrowings) on these songs at all. Only their stylistic direction makes them comparable with the works of such Neo heroes as, first of all, Marillion and Pallas. The album's title-track, the 40-minute epic Encounters is divided into ten sections, though there are no real pauses between them. While its lyrical conception, representing a view on love through a prism of fantasy, isn't too profound, the English pronunciation of vocalist Marco Gluhmann is very good, at least for these Russian ears. Structurally, Encounters are rather not uniform. Excellent and on the whole original (healthy!) songs Overture, Long Ago, All of It, & In Vain (a, e, f, & i), and the instrumental Tremendously Different (d) as well, adjoin here with the infected ones. With regard to About to Live, Your Source, Presentiments, Would You Feel Better, and Encounters (parts b, c, g, h, & j), I can't say they're heavily infected-influenced, because all of them contain the foreign bodies in their structures. In particular, About to Leave & Presentiments (parts b & g) are featured with very specific guitar pizzicatos and keyboard solos, borrowed directly from Marillion's Steve Rothery and Mark Kelly. (If I hadn't seen the booklet for this CD, I would've been sure that both of them were guest musicians on this album.) What is more, Presentiments sounds like it's being performed by all of the members of Marillion circa 1985, including Fish. (Fortunately, this is the only track on the album, on which all of the Sylvan musicians pay such an unusual tribute to their idols.) The instrumental borrowings from Marillion's album "Misplaced Childhood" are rather obvious on all three of the remaining parts of the album's title-track: Your Source, Would You Feel Better, and Encounters. While vocalist Marco sings there sometimes not unlike Queensryche's Geoff Tate. The album's last song is similar to both of the last tracks from "Misplaced Childhood" (Marillion-1985) and "Promised Land" (Queensryche-1994) albums.
Summary. Well, I am a big lover to criticize any of the manifestations of plagiarism, which, unfortunately, is kind of trademark of Neo. However, I must admit that on the whole I like Sylvan. It's clear that they're able not only to avoid such a dreadful disease as wannabe-ism. With their compositional and performing potentials, they're able to become one of the best of Neo bands already pretty soon. I wish that on their third album, Sylvan will recover from all of these infectious influences completely and occupy a worthy niche in the camp of Neo Progressive. Which is by no means easy, of course, because the Neo-Prog movement is, like a Gypsy's camp, too large and motley.
VM. February 5, 2002
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