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Shamall - Turn Off CD (album) cover





3.91 | 208 ratings

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5 stars Shamall, the desert's hot wind. Never heard of the group, even though there have been a continuous flow of albums for over 25 years! Humbled me big time, not that I have to suffer with an inflated ego anyway (I leave that lofty claim to my nerdy friends) but just another warning that prog remains an endless barrel of discoveries and to paraphrase Bryan Ferry, 'the search for perfection is one's own predilection'. This band is led by a highly successful DJ Norbert Krueler whose personal tastes are square in the prog camp, specifically in the genre of Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, Tangerine Dream and Eloy.

With progstreaming dialed in, I chanced on this November 2013 release because the metallic blue cover looked really appealing and I was instantaneously floored by the incredible music within. Dense, muscular and highly spacy, it did not take long for me to go through the shop page and get this whippersnapper in the mail. Ably assisted by gifted guitarist Matthias Mehrtens and tectonic drummer Mike Bach, multi-instrumentalist Norbert sets the controls to the outer reaches of the cosmic experience by putting together a whopping 2CD extravaganza of impeccable sounds and brilliant playing. His mastery over various synthesizers, organ and mostly piano is impressive but it's the placement of the reptilian bass front and center that really is the main attraction, keeping things solidly propulsive and inspiring (''The Devil Never Sleeps'').

As befits a behemoth recording, doing a track-by track review is a non-issue for the space rock genre, as the music composed is an endless adventure anyway, each piece a natural segue into deeper realms of the sonic universe. But there are many highlights to pick from, a sensational collection of tunes. From the opening shimmer of ''Shine a Light', the journey begins with intense colorations, colossal melodies and bombastic appeal. The two discs are well constructed due to the mixture of a few mini-suites, one massive epic track and a slew of shorter tracks that each have a distinctive appeal. The overall sound is a clever mixture of krautrock groove music, sequenced synthesized crescendos a la Tangerine Dream, slight trance/dance garnishes and slivers of fiery electric guitar pulses that hanker to Ayreon style bombast. . Judiciously placed male and female (Anke Ullrich) vocals only add to the effervescent voyage.

Instead of a swarm of filler tracks, Krueler composes tunes that have instantaneous appeal, such as the raucous 'Shout it Out', a steamroller anti-war space tune that has the balls to blurt out 'a nuclear killing machine' and provide an arsenal of booming riffs in logistical support. It even includes some Gregorian chanting in the finale. The 16 minute+ epic ''Never Before' sends the listener into the deepest space, unconcerned about ceremony or pomp, just plain rocket propulsion exploration. Surprisingly, a somber piano motif kicks this arrangement forward, twirling synths and whispering effects galore, the kind of mind music you can only find in your dreams! Ayreon fans, you have been warned! Lush, boisterous, echoic, grandiloquent and sublime, the symphonics are simply beyond spectacular, Norbert also enjoys taking his synths on some perilous soloing and hinting at Manfred Mann's congenial tortured squeals.

This extravaganza is followed up by the stately ''Playing for the Ashes'', perhaps one of the finest tracks among so many, a melancholic glimmer of genius where solemn piano rules , only to be elevated by some deadly soloing again , crisp production and incredible sonic depth that ultimately leads to celestial escape. Then, with incredible audacity, Shamall presents a couple of two part mini-suites, the mammoth ''Voices I & II'' and the equally mesmerizing ''Too Many People I & II''. Both are exclamation points of the highest grade, cleverly constructed and finely laced with intrigue and delectation. The onus is on solid sounds mixed in with fleecy colorations, intrepid rhythms and screaming solos, both from the guitars and the keys. The main melody on ''Voices'' is heavenly , whilst the various arrangements always search out new tones and sound textures that stretch the envelope way beyond formulaic tendencies that often hinder the space prog genre (such as the insane female voice scat). The luxuriant second part has even more pleasure node details, particularly the ruthless bass carving a deep furrow into your mind, the female voice crying out in anguish. This is a space rock classic for all time!

A more cinematographic style is unleashed on the ''Too Many People'' suite, here led by a Roxy Music -like saxophone that has hints of ''Song for Europe'', flush with romantic sensations and wailing vocals. Its second part infuses complex shifting rhythms (as if a train rolling on twisted tracks), mountains of electric piano and echoing choirs, all profoundly mesmerizing and always deeply appreciated. Axeman Mehrtens uncorks a spiraling solo, almost on par with the slippery synth one, both homed in on the reward. The obsessive vocalizing add a powerful sense of delirium as the sax wails on. Disc 1 bows to the velvet curtain with a soothing finale, the cleverly titled ''So Much is on the Line'', a clear affirmation of the sheer quality of the music played. The Pink Floyd influence is quite evident here and I for one, find nothing wrong with that! When people actually have the nerve to claim that something is 'too influenced by', it makes me realize how little they know about music. Every single musician I know (and I have met a huge number) have stated that every single rock note combination has been done before , even all the jazz licks and Arabic half tones (semitones) have found an audience. So what is truly original, eh? For me, it's all about the holy union of entertainment and instrumental ability.

The second CD keeps the cosmic eye on the universal prize, slightly more atmospheric in ''the Creeping Dead'' (there is a you tube vid available) and it features Ullrich's corporeal voice to full effect. This is definitely a highlight selection, as it possesses all the ingredients that make Shamall a special addition to the prog community, a clear sonic backdrop for intense soloing and thrilling escapism. A couple of mood pieces are presented , the bass heavy ''Reflective' throws the Franke-Froese-Baumann light onto the stage, except for the Satriani/Vai axe assault fueled by Herr Mehrtens, while ''Clouds Obscure the Sun'' is more weighty than the majority of tracks , more like a harder-edged and graphic Enigma.

Four tracks ensue, all in the 8 minute range with each having a story to tell. The serene, harpsichord-like flavored intro to ''Horrible Nightmare' evolves into a brooding track that sounds like the forges of Vulcan clanging in the background, another absolute winning track. ''At the End of Time'' is spookier, initially lean and mean lyrically and musically, then erupting into a guitar heavy rant (Ayreon feel again) with panting rhythms and urgent vocals. Both ''The Hidden Enemy'' and the excellent bass-driven ''Companion of Fortune' are bold, upfront compositions that just confirm the talent at hand. The heavy metal drumming actually adds the needed power to make this kind of vaporous music grounded in delight. Finally, the 2 part title track closes out this dense, exhausting and utterly pleasing masterpiece of space prog. The Floydian aroma is obvious, the environmental message comes across clearly, a cause deemed important enough not to casually dismiss with meaningless words. The saxophone does great justice to this music, as it keeps things utterly grounded and organic, amid the electronic swirls, the synthesized bleeps and metallic bangs. Totaling 12 minutes, this is another highlight track that deserves repeated plays and a wider audience.

Needless to state that the production is outer worldly over the entire 150 minute or so running time , the brilliant metallic azure artwork and gate-fold packaging are intensely attractive and a great addition to any collection. Fans of challenging space rock will flock to this like Roger Dean's birds of fire.

5 spectral switches

tszirmay | 5/5 |


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