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Sylvan - "Leaving Backstage"

(148:54 2CD, Progrock / SPV Records)


Prolusion. The German band SYLVAN has been a popular feature as a studio band and a live act for many years now, and although the roots of the band go all the way back to 1991, they didn't officially start out until 1998. This year Sylvan celebrates the fact that it is 10 years since they officially formed, and they have done so by releasing their first ever live recordings, the DVD "Posthumous Silence The Show" and this double live CD "Leaving Backstage", both of them recorded at the same concert in Hamburg unless I'm much mistaken.

Disc 1 (73:03)


1.  Eternity Ends 2:53
2.  Bequest of Tears 3:05
3.  In Chains 8:55
4.  Bitter Symphony 1:25
5.  Pane of Truth 9:14
6.  No Earthly Reason 1:54
7.  Forgotten Virtue 7:06
8.  The Colors Changed 6:48
9.  A Sad Sympathy 1:42
10. Questions 6:58
11. Answer to Life 6:09
12. Message From the Past 2:59
13. The Last Embrace 3:29
14. A Kind of Eden 4:48
15. Posthumous Silence 5:38


Jan Petersen – guitars
Volker Sohl – keyboards
Marco Gluhmann – vocals
Sebastian Harnack – bass
Matthias Harder – drums
Guido Bungenstock – guitar
Stefanie Richter – cello
Petra Schechter – vocals
Miriam Schnell – vocals
Stephanie Hundtermark – vocals
Analysis. The first CD in this double CD set consists of tunes from one album, the critically acclaimed and highly popular concept creation "Posthumous Silence". Popularity as well as artistic integrity makes it natural for this release to dominate when Sylvan decided to issue a live CD, and many fans will probably appreciate that the band decided to perform the whole album live. For the uninitiated, “Posthumous Silence” was released in 2005, and is a concept album with a newly deceased girl, her diary and her father reading this diary after the girl's death as the main ingredients. With a fair bit of symbolism thrown in for good measure, as father, girl and diary easily can be seen as symbols of something entirely different, musically we're in the land of symphonic rock, with a foundation in the style developed by bands like Marillion in the ‘80s. Thus keyboards and synth layers are found everywhere in the compositions, often dominating the musical expression but also with more of a supportive role on some occasions. In the few instances when a synth isn't present a piano will take its place, and the piano is used extensively with synths too, underscoring the melody line, enriching the melody or simply to help conjure a certain atmosphere or mood. The guitar is less of a dominant instrument on these tunes than what one might expect from a progressive rock band, most times serving up melodic guitar licks or atmospheric solos. Some riff patterns and drawn out chords are delivered when needed; there are even a few segments with metal-influenced dark riff patterns, but quite often the sound of the guitar is relatively hidden in or beneath the sonic textures explored. Indeed, the bass guitar seems to be just as important as the regular guitar in these tunes, underscoring with dark, catchy melody lines and generally being a more important part of the melody structure than what is common. Still, the main feature of all the tracks, the element that adds nerve and tension to the performance and lift up the songs from being mainly atmospheric explorations and transforming them to something much more interesting, are the vocals. Marco Gluhman has a very likable, melodic voice, and conveys emotions like sadness and despair in a way that only can be described as haunting. There's not much added to the live version of these tunes, though. The performances are excellent, the songs aren't very different from their studio versions, and even the slight grit a live performance normally adds to a tune is noticeable more as a nuance than as a key feature. In this case that doesn't really matter though, as it's an excellent performance recorded here, and it is a release that will appeal to fans of Sylvan as well as fans of symphonic rock in general and so-called neo prog in particular.

Disc 2 (75:51)

1.  Lost 7:32
2.  That's Why It Hurts 7:10
3.  So Easy 8:20
4.  Encounters 4:13
5.  One Step Beyond 7:46
6.  This World Is Not For Me 7:31
7.  Deep Inside 9:18
8.  When the Leaves Fall Down 5:10
9.  Artificial Paradise 18:51

LINEUP: same
Analysis. The second disc of this live recording basically seems to be a summary of Sylvan's past studio albums, sans "Posthumous Silence and the debut album "Deliverance", with an emphasis on the releases "Artificial Paradise" and "X-Rayed". There's a notable difference in style compared to Disc I of this set due to the fact that there's not much left of the haunting atmosphere and instead one might say that this part of the release is haunted by the spirit of Marillion. The influence of bands like Marillion was a feature on the first disc as well, but on these tunes there's no doubt about the specific style explored, with the classic line-up of the aforementioned outfit as a dominant and easily detectable source of the music performed. The songs are more mainstream oriented, the mood and atmospheres explored less challenging and the raw emotion vocalist Marco Gluhman is capable of conveying are dampened. Guitars have a prevalent role in the soundscape, while synthesizers and piano are slightly less dominant than o the tunes from "Posthumous Silence". In addition there's a larger emphasis on atmospheric soloing, in particular by the guitar, and many of these solos are done in a manner fans of Marillion will find instantly pleasing and recognizable, to put it that way. Personally, I was less than impressed by some of these tracks, with Encounters being a prime example of a song I think fails to achieve much. This particular tune sounds too like a certain other band in style for its own good, and in addition the composition seems to lack cohesion, making it problematic for me to really enjoy this song, as well as some others of the same ilk. Still, excellent performances by the individual band members see to it that these tunes are pleasant, without being convincing in any manner. When that is said, there are a few really enjoyable songs on this album as well. The tunes from the 2007 release "Presets" seems to be more distant in style from the obvious main source of influence, and thus sounds remarkable fresh in this setting, and the final song, Artificial Paradise, is a stroke of genius throughout; 18 minutes of pure bliss for fans of modern symphonic rock.

Conclusion. Although this 2 disc set isn't perfect, it still comes across as a release that can be recommended to many listeners. Fans of Sylvan will of course already have noted down the existence of this release, and fans of symphonic rock should take the time to check out this album too, in particular the live edition of "Posthumous Silence" covered on Disc I of this set. For people not aware of Sylvan, this release is a pretty good introduction to the band as well, as tunes from most of their studio albums are present.

OMB: September 20 & 21, 2008

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