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(65 min, Art Performance Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. The Signs 6:17 2. Rescue Me 5:59 3. The Needle of Ended Days 5:07 3. A Dream within a Dream 5:05 4. Stranded Illusions 4:04 5. Redemption 7:05 6. Power of Man 8:41 7. Seven 7:48 8. At the Gates of War 8:07 9. Like Dust 7:29 LINEUP: Jonas Nitz – piano, string synth; b/vox Niklas Birgersson – lead vocals Mikael Larsson – el. guitars Johnny Rosengren – bass Jari Katila – drums
Prolusion. 25 years after its formation the Swedish quintet TUCANA presents its self-titled debut album (an exceptionally rare case in the world of music), the musicians describing themselves as ‘a baroque progressive band’.
Analysis. Stylistically, this release is a near-totally uniform creation, which is also by no means an everyday event. Evoking the term bombastic Neo-meets-classic-Prog-Metal with elements of both NWBHM and classical on the one hand and that of epic one-singer Rock/Metal Opera on the other, this is a rather unique musical entity. This is not everything, however. Another comparatively unique touch the band adds is symphonic orchestrations, using pianos along with a string ensemble which features virtual (yet very natural sounding) violins, cellos and other instruments. Eight of the nine tracks here are creations of practically the same compositional, etc., approach, so I don’t see any reason to list all of them, and will only name ones that have some distinctions from the others, even though all the differences are minor in the end. With their delicate pianos and orchestrations that flirt with a more muscular guitar-driven sound almost throughout the album, the Swedes sound pretty much like Rhapsody, Threshold, Helloween and Royal Hunt* (*due to the almost ever-present piano and the prevalence of vocals as well) are jamming together or, rather, the latter three acts accompanied by a virtual orchestra. Why? As a ‘baroque’ band, Tucana avoids highly massive orchestrations, using them in a more limited way than Rhapsody does, though on the other hand, those include (the sounds of) more instruments than a real baroque ensemble does. Well, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and late Savatage might come to mind from time to time too. On each of the implied tracks the music is for the most part symphonic and heavy at once, but there are also some purely sympho-prog moves, and also a few classical-like preludes and interludes – mainly courtesy of bandleader Jonas Nitz, a man-orchestra in a way, whose piano and orchestral work saturates near-every piece, rich and resourceful and candy for the ears. Only the introductory themes of both The Needle of Ended Days and Power of Man, represent something different, namely a duet of acoustic guitar and piano. The overall result is 4-to-9 minutes of contiguous Progressive, complete with chunky riffs and melodic orchestral passages, revolving around a thoughtful storyline. Only the last three tracks on the disc: Seven, At the Gates of War and Like Dust (all of which are more often than not slow-paced), each contain a couple of sections that are somewhat prolonged. There is also a black sheep in this herd, though, titled Redemption. Most of it is conventional NWBHM, with one of the main riffs ripped off from Judas Priest. Along with Jonas, the most significant role in this show plays Niklas Birgersson. An exquisite vocalist, he has a very powerful, yet flexible voice. Most often, he reveals original, non-accented singing with a distinct dramatic feel to it, albeit from time to time he might remind Rob Halford from the last-named band or Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson. But whoever he reminds you of, whether he sings in a rock, a quasi operatic or a theatric manner, you simply must be impressed by the man’s range and tonal quality. And best of all, unlike many prog-metal frontmen, he never feels the need to show off: no ridiculous displays of vibrato, no heroic/anthemic choruses, no catchy hooks.
Conclusion. While somewhat pompous, featuring too many vocal sections to suit the concept of profound Progressive, this album is still adventurous enough to please fans of both neo and – to a lesser degree – classic Prog-Metal. Those who like music with a big, lush and bombastic sound will also love it.
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