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Huis - Despite Guardian Angels CD (album) cover





3.88 | 183 ratings

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4 stars Neo-prog done superbly? Yes, it does exist and there are many that illuminate the prog universe. Here is another fine example of getting the oft-formulaic style down to an art form. Quebecers Huis do a wonderful play on their craft, naming their band after the Dutch word for house as well as the old French word for door or room.. Bass maestro Michel Joncas and keyboardist Pascal Lapierre founded the group after an epiphanic trip to Holland that provided the spark to craft their own music. Bringing on gifted young drummer Will Regnier as well as the slick and accent-less vocalist Sylvain Descoteaux, the band started gelling quite nicely indeed. One more tile was missing and what a find that was! That revelation was the majestic presence of Neo super group Mystery's frontman, guitarist and leader Michel St-Pere, a sensational guitar slinger of the very finest pedigree. The end result is a magnificently arranged neo-prog masterpiece, a team effort nevertheless manned by incredibly talented individualists, who have combined their talents to make some scintillating progressive nuggets.

The set list begins with that initial Dutch visit spark, 'Beyond the Amstel', a glorified 8 minute+ mood piece which defines that rather special relationship between Canada and the Netherlands, the latter enjoying a strong historical bond of love and friendship for anything with a maple leaf on it, due to the Canadian liberation from Nazi starvation which the Dutch of all ages have never chosen to forget. Church bells, canal waters clapping against the loaded barges, forlorn piano pooling deep melancholia while St-Pere crystalline guitar fills the air with resonating sensations. Delicious temperament, strong rhythms and hefty beats all conspire to get the listener in the mood, otherworldly synth spirals clashing with the imperial axe and Sylvain's voice entering the fray. Oh yeah, the musical goods are quite impeccable! A fantastic introduction to a new prog kid on the block.

The really fascinating concept here is how there is a fine mix of instrumental fragments intermittent with lyrical pieces, giving the music a wide girth and profound sonic depth. 'Haunted Nights' recall some spooky event in visiting a ghostly mansion somewhere in the Dutch mountains (LOL), while the 2 part 11 minute mellotron-infested 'Oude Kerk I & II ' (The 800-year-old Oude Kerk is Amsterdam's oldest building and oldest parish church, founded ca. 1213) instrumentals are perhaps the most enthralling segments on this recording, bass prominently carving the arrangement, Regnier pounding like a true drum beast and St-Pere garnishing the whole with an effect-laden guitar tour de force, a perfect set-up for some glorious pieces like the stunning 'The Last Journey' , a 6 minute extravaganza of mood and sensation, fortified with a deeply emotional chorus that will adhere to your brain way after the last second has passed. Yes, this is melodic, accessible and immediately attractive neo-prog that features colossal waves of mellotron to accentuate its symphonic leanings, memorable singing and ingratiating pleasure.

'Lights & Bridges' focuses (oh, the nasty pun!) on more musical picture postcards, a sonic journey with twirling synths, bashing riffs and a hard core drum and bass onslaught. Prog- rock with a honed edge, dreamy sequences courting bruising parameters, never boring or worse, that horrible ' prog by numbers' attitude of expected formula that is simply non- existent here and as such, very similar to Mystery's catalog of bright and explosive neo-prog. What is also admirable is the willingness and the ability to stretch out the arrangements to include all kinds of fractal imagery in the textures and tones used by all members.

The nearly 10 minute long 'Little Anne' suggest the rather obvious, when one thinks of Anne in Holland , one can only be 'frank' and accept the inevitable, a shining example of the human spirit surviving the worst holocaust and living on for eternity! Typical prog in elevating some literary monument and then express it in musical form, 'the die is cast' indeed! Shadows in the darkness, light in the tunnel of forgiveness and remembrance of an evil chapter in history, sounds like proper premise to me! The Dutch were arguably the very first and have always been a tolerant, open 'minded society, a feat rather sadly unparalleled among its powerful neighbors. The tribute song has therefore more than merit, it also has a worldly appeal that should not be diminished.

'If By Morning' has an immediate attractiveness, an arch-typical neo-prog anthem that grabs one's attention from the get-go. It features a mid-section with a massive and churning organ furrow, evoking memories of the sadly departed Rick Van der Linden of Ekseption and Trace fame, as the remaining crew blast away with utter disdain for formulaic design. The beauty of the music is elegantly highlighted by a sense of natural expression that is hard to describe, restraint and eloquence ushered to the forefront with obvious passion. St-Pere lets one fly, simple and yet gorgeous.

The impressive 'Write Your Name' boom-boom tchaks nicely forward, a moody slice of cinematographic splendor, sparkling synth bells, square rhythms and Sylvain now emulating classic Fish vocal eruptions. This is probably the most classic sounding neo here, harking back at the Pendragon, Arena, Credo, Comedy of Errors, Knight Area, Leap Day and Silhouette style, we all know and some of us love.

'Salvation' has an angrier tinge, loaded with some sense of despair and founded rage, 'It's never too late to accomplish' Sylvain yelps with conviction, prepping a softer segment of intense reflection. The piano carves out a familiar refrain, sounding a bit like Roxy Music's classic 'Song for Europe', but shrouded with a whopping guitar solo that scales, screams and scratches as if the Devil was on its tail.

Finishing off this amazing debut album, we are blessed with another atmospheric piece, 'Garden of Dust', a sonic mesh of colliding tones, vivid hues and fragrant aromas that hide a rather arid story of solitude and introspection, and as such a fitting finale.

Mystery has a local little cousin that has all the ingredients to provide the prog fans more delightful sounds from that perennial hot bed of prog devotion, the province of Quebec.

4.5 Caretaker Spirits

tszirmay | 4/5 |


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