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(64:28; Melodic Revolution Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Promenade 2. Samuel Goldenberg & Schmuyle (From My Point of View ) 3. Gnomus 4. Il Vecchio Castello (Photophobia) 5. Promenade II (From The Land of Feathers) 6. Tuileries 7. Bydlo (The Bullock Cart) 8. Lucky Man 9. Catoacombae / Cum Mortus In Lingua Mortua 10. Baba Yaga 11. The Great Gates of Kiev (Daedalus Calling) 12. Talk to the Wind LINEUP: Marcus Schinkel - piano, keyboards Johannes Kuchta - vocals, drums Fritz Roppel - bass Wim de Vries - drums
Prolusion. German band VOYAGER IV is a relatively new formation, officially active since 2018 or thereabouts, but consisting of experienced musicians with some fairly impressive resumes. "Pictures at an Exhibition" is their debut albums, and is set to be released at the start of November 2019.
Analysis. As the title of this album may suggest, Voyager IV doesn't start their recording career with completely original material. The main and substantial parts of this production is their rendition of Mussorgsky's classic composition, which is a choice as tantalizing for some as it is alienating for others. Many artists in multiple genres have taken on this work over the years, with varying degrees of success. Personally I find Mekong Delta's metal version of it to be very enjoyable, and Isao Tomita's electronic version is also one I find to be highly entertaining and extremely well made. On the other hand, I really detest Emerson Lake & Palmer's version of this composition, which in my ears strikes me as a blunt, overly dramatic and Wagnerian take on this fine piece of music, where the band opts to drown all subtle and careful effects in oceans of drama and the melodramatic. In general I prefer the original piano version of Mussorgsky's finest moment over any other versions, with the symphony orchestra version a close second. As far as Voyager IV is concerned, they are thankfully doing their very own thing with the material, albeit I suspect that the ELP version has been something of a guiding light for them. The end result is rather different though, and much more enjoyable to my ears. Their takes on the parts of this composition are all well developed and nuanced affairs for starters, maintaining an eye and an ear for smaller details and generally staying away from massive dramatic statements. One exception aside they expand the length of the source material, and my impression is that they expand by way of variations on the core themes and motifs quite a lot, at times going off on tangents with perhaps more of an improvised spirit, and then returning by way of replicating a more direct take on the theme or lead motif from the part explored. Sometimes in an ebb and flow movement throughout the part explored, at other times with a clear opening phase and then a second and more expansive and expressive one. There are also two songs here that exist outside of the Mussorgsky cycle. 'Lucky Man' is a cover of the ELP hit song, and it is performed in a manner that does fit the rest of this album here. Partially due to the vocals I suspect, but I did think I heard a few details referencing Mussorgsky's 'Promenade' in this rendition as well. I might be mistaken here though, but if I am the piano details here ties this song quite nicely into the total album context. Much the same can be said about the cover of King Crimson's 'Talk to the Wind', although in this case I didn't manage to catch any direct references to Mussorgsky. So if present, those details managed to elude me. The lead vocals is something of a red thread on this album, as several of Mussorgsky's original parts have been expanded with lyrics, some of them rather vocal heavy as a matter of fact. The lyrics and vocals tie in nicely with the themes explored though, and does function very well in terms of making the (other) cover songs coming across as a natural part of the totality here as well. In terms of style, the first half of this album is a joyful blend of jazz, classical music and progressive rock, with both smooth and expressive jazz details is given a lot of room and space in just about all songs in this first half. Various eerie and cosmic effects are used cleverly here as well as elsewhere too, giving the songs here something of an otherworldly tinge at times. The second half of this album strikes me as being without too many direct jazz references however, coming across much more as a progressive rock and classical rock oriented affair. Possibly giving a stronger focus on those aspects as both of the progressive rock cover tunes are found on this half of the album. Which may also be the reason for why the band have chosen to place certain parts of Mussorgsky's material out of order when exploring this composition.
Conclusion. Voyager IV have crafted a very fine debut album with their take on Mussorgsky's classic work "Pictures at an Exhibition", transforming and expanding the source material into creations of their own, while also maintaining enough elements of the original to make the compositions recognizable. With a couple of cover songs from notable progressive rock bands to further interest from a progressive rock interested audience, their brand of jazz and classical music flavored progressive rock should be one that has a fairly broad general appeal. Well made, and well executed, and an album that deserves a check by those with a general interest in appealing rock music made with and in a progressive mood, style and spirit.
Progmessor: August 31st 2019
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