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Karfagen - Messages from Afar - First Contact CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.99 | 176 ratings

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4 stars Ukranian keyboardist Antony Kalugin and his Karfagen project have been delivering superb retro-flavoured progressive rock music for well over a decade now, and through the sheer quality of both his vocal and purely instrumental works, it has seen the band step up to become one of the most consistently strong and notable modern Symphonic-Progressive acts currently going. Their latest, 2017's `Messages from Afar: First Contact', a (mostly) instrumental concept tale, is an interesting one - it's proudly in the symphonic mould, but surprisingly very far removed from Seventies sounds this time around. Instead, it more frequently calls to mind the late Eighties/early Nineties `A Momentary Lapse of Reason/The Division Bell' era of Pink Floyd and `The Masquerade Overture/Not of this Earth' period of British Neo-Proggers Pendragon, even down to the icy cool production. For `Messages...', plentiful prominence is given to longtime Karfagen contributor Max Velychko's majestic and fluid electric guitar soloing that effortlessly invokes those two above-mention groups, as well as other recognisable acts such as Camel, Steve Hackett and the Flower Kings. So if any combination of those bands sounds enticing, read on (or better yet, skip this long-winded ramble and just buy the disc!)...

Oddly for a primarily instrumental disc, things start off with a sole vocal piece, and the laid-back and easy-to-enjoy title track `First Contact' instantly calls to mind Pink Floyd's 1987 song `Learning to Fly' (some of the melodies drift awfully close too), with both Antony's smooth lead voice capturing David Gilmour's dulcet tone with uncanny precision, and his leading lady, keyboardist Olha Rostovska's sighing harmonies also reminding of the female backing singers from that stage of the band. Programmed beats also clip through the track, bubbling washes of Antony's keyboards coat the background, Oleg Prokhorov's bass grumbles sweetly, and Velychko offers the first signs of his tastefully chiming and searing heroic guitar runs.

Then it's onto the instrumental home-run of the rest of the disc. The sophisticated `Foreign Land's slinking synths, sweetly murmuring bass and Michail Sidorenko's hazy polished saxophone float together, and Max's guitars effortlessly glide between mellow strums and fiery histrionic wailing. `Curious Talk's dreamy jangling guitars, sparkling electric piano and wispy Mellotrons are spiced with a light eastern flavoured mystery (and it's a little bit funky too!), `Volcano Rabbit & the Frog' is a brash and delirious up-tempo sprint of reprising heavy blasting guitar, Kostya Shepelenko's bashing drums and whirring keyboard themes, and `Faces in the Clouds' is a blissful dreamy Floydian come-down of ringing guitar shimmers with some restrained soaring bursts.

The almost nine-minute `Vale of Dreams' is especially given flight by lengthy, crisp and joyful guitar heroics and uplifting sax, the piece home to so much momentum and positivity, and it's easy to imagine the band with big smiles on their faces dashing through this one! `Golden Fields of Rye's creaky Mellotron flutes and sparkling piano bring a touch of New Age prettiness, and `Riding on a Rainbow' is a synth n' guitar-heavy reinterpretation of the same musical themes that compares nicely to the music found on those older romantic Pendragon albums. But then it's all down to the sixteen minute closer, and `Constant Flow' achieves a near orchestral grandness through diverse range of sounds and styles, some heavier bursts and a welcome balance of differing tempos. It frequently reminds of the eclecticism of Steve Hackett's solo works, and there's no shortage of a smorgasbord of tasty soloing from all the band.

Some will perhaps find the album too guitar heavy, and admittedly it's happy to invoke comfortable memories of some well-loved prog bands of old as opposed to really standing out like many of the best Karfagen albums such as `Lost Symphony' and perhaps `Spektra', meaning some will instantly dismiss it as mere imitation or simple `hero worship'. But if lavish arrangements, impeccable technical ability (and it's admirable that, despite Karfagen being his baby, Antony refuses to hog the attention and is happy for his fellow band-members to take plenty of the spotlight), skilfully reprising musical motifs and colourful grandiosity that isn't afraid to labelled `Prog' with a giant capital P is your thing, then `Messages from Afar: First Contact' is a cracking modern Symphonic disc and a standout instrumental prog-rock album of 2017.

Four and a half stars - and watch out for a second part/continuation of the concepts of this disc in Antony's song-based crossover prog band Sunchild in the coming months.

PS - Just look at Igor Sokolskiy's sublime fantasy art...nice of the band to include it as a smaller fold out poster in the CD booklet, but how about some full-sized posters Antony?! ;)

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 4/5 |


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