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(43:33 CD/LP / 'Marvel of Beauty')
TRACK LIST: 1. Tag Attack 8:08 2. Step Aside 6:41 3. Out of Season 6:02 4. Totally Greek 6:51 5. Sandwich 7:24 6. Aspx 8:31 LINEUP: Robin Taylor – el., ac. & bass guitars; keyboards; percussion Karsten Vogel – soprano, alto & tenor saxophones Michael Denner – el. guitars Rasmus Grosel – drums With: Louise Nipper – vocals
Prolusion. TAYLOR’S UNIVERSE is a Danish progressive rock group led by multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Robin Taylor. Their brand new album “Soundwall” features a newcomer whose name, Michael Denner (of King Diamond and Mercyful Fate fame), should be as well known to anyone with interest in various manifestations of the genre as Karsten Vogel’s (Burning Red Ivanhoe, Secret Oyster, Taylor’s Free Universe, solo) or Rasmus Grosel’s (Robin Taylor, Taylor’s Universe). I must confess I feel some frustration about my writing here, but the group’s mastermind, Mr. Taylor, is such a fruitful creator that it’s already difficult for me to refrain from self-repetition as well as escape banalities when introducing their regular output. Oh almost forgot: this release is available on both vinyl and compact disc. Personally I am a possessor of its vinyl version, and I must tell you it’s something greater than merely nostalgic to hold an LP in your hands again, inhaling its unique smell, admiring the artwork (which is much better perceived as a piece of art than in the case of a CD), and so on.
Analysis. The six moderately long tracks here form a recording that seems to embrace all characteristics of the ‘new’ Taylor’s Universe (beginning with “Once Again”), but sounds fresh and innovative. In short, this latest offering from the band once more finds their recipe slightly changed from the previous creations, though I’m not sure whether it’s Michael or Robin who brings a heavier approach to the material. The point is that the press release implies the new member is responsible for melodic guitar solos, while Taylor does the harsh-sounding ones, but doesn’t say which of them is the main provider of riffs, although I do well remember that Michael was primarily a rhythm guitarist while playing with either of the said Kim Bendix Peterson projects. One way or another, there are no either simultaneously or alternately soaring and hovering:-) guitar leads anywhere on the album, though the second track, Step Aside, at first comes across as being the richest in contrasting-sounding guitar solos, due to the specificity of its architecture, which is at once monolithic and multi-layered. It would be a long story to detail the piece, so I won’t go beyond what I see as its most significant quality. A fusion of lush symphonic passages and (slightly muted, kind of sinister) hard riffing that is the core of Step Aside signifies a further departure from the band’s original sound, only some of Karsten Vogel’s saxophone excursions bearing a purely improvisational character. As almost everywhere on the disc, the mood is quite dark and disturbing, wreathed in mystery, not too dissimilar to Van Der Graaf Generator, and although musically Taylor’s Universe are still as beyond comparison as ever, if you imagine Generator’s “Still Life” as an all-instrumental album you won’t be wide of the mark at least regarding the sound of this recording. As on both its predecessors, there are plenty of organ and string ensemble patterns on this album also, but of course the inclusion of Mellotron more than ever intensifies the listener’s sensation of that vintage magic. Tag Attack begins and develops much in the same vein as Step Aside, a balanced blend of Symphonic Art-Rock and Doom Metal with occasional improvisations, but just before the composition reaches its final phase the full group instrumentation (still with quite a few overdubbed keyboards) suddenly transforms into a trio of piano, saxophone and vocalization. Louise Nipper’s airy singing is perfectly suited to the aura of the music, which is pastoral here, in contrast to all the preceding moods. Totally Greek comes across in a way as an inverted mirror of Tag Attack: the proceedings here seem to be fairly similar, but are as if unwound in a reversed sequence, so it’s this piece’s finale where the music is at its heaviest. The slow, yet steady chord progressions in combination with bewitching hypnotic grooves and tight ensemble playing is typical of both Sandwich and Aspx as well, though none of these reveal those shattering dynamics and striking structural contrasts that are peculiar of the previously described three tracks, particularly the first two. The atmosphere, however, still remains dark, despite an absence of metalloids. To have a rough idea of each, I’d suggest to you to imagine a cross between mid-‘70s Van Der Graaf Generator (think probably any instrumental section featuring saxophones from that period) and the title track of “I Robot” by The Alan Parsons Project. Out of Season is a wonderful 3-part mini-suite whose first and last third are performed by Robin alone, while the mid-section depicts eclectic quasi Jazz-Fusion with a relatively intense sound. Always willing to widen the boundaries of his style, here Taylor once again pulls out some unique sonic constructions: Avant-tinged chamber music reminding me slightly of Art Zoyd and something closer to the classical branch of Academic music, in the piece’s intro and outro respectively. Michael Denner is still in excellent form, a true guitar hero; his distinctive playing style is obvious throughout the album, some of his leads sounding simply phenomenal, more sophisticated than ever.
Conclusion. Far more accessible than “Experimental Health” (my personal favorite among all Robin Taylor-related creations) and compositionally comparable to the band’s other most recent releases, “Certain Undiscoveries” and “Terra Nova”, this is nonetheless their second best effort to date. Backed up by true craftsmen, all of whom joined the pantheon of living legends many years ago, Taylor proves again to be one of the most innovative composers and musicians on today’s progressive scene. Feeling happy that I was the first to really get into his work and appreciate it, being in my right mind and memory, I assert that along with French TV, Djam Karet, Isildurs Bane, to name just a few, Taylor’s Universe have been definitely one of the most important prog-rock acts since the second half of the ‘80s. Hats off to the Maestro! I am not ashamed of high-flown words towards those, thanks to whose non-conformist, truly creative activity the flame of the genre still hasn’t died down on Earth.
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: February 27, 2008
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