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Coda - What A Symphony CD (album) cover

WHAT A SYMPHONY

Coda

 

Symphonic Prog

3.89 | 29 ratings

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Moogtron III
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Clive Nolan once said in an interview with a Dutch progressive rock magazine, that two things are missing in most prog rock: sex and humour.

Maybe he's right, but whatever the case, you won't find it on this cd. On the contrary! But when I was listening to this album over and over again, and when I found out that I was really being touched by it, I realised that something else was missing in progrock as well: albums that deal with the harsh reality of this world, albums that make you think about life, society, humankind. And your place in it.

Ed Macan said in his book Rocking The Classics that the classic progressive rock bands didn't address political themes in a straightforward way, but he thought that Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon was nevertheless more effective than The Wall by the same band.

When I was thinking about Coda's second album, What A Symphony , I realised that there is a third way. Coda is, obvious for everyone who listens to the album, dealing with direct political themes, but on the other hand, after a while, the album takes you on a journey, and takes you, so to say, from a ground perspective to a much higher perspective. Yes, the music gives you that sensation : the album begins with sounds of threat and war, and shows you a lot of human tragedy, but at the end the music takes you on a journey which sounds like the classic Somnium Scipionis, the dream of Scipio, where you hear the sounds of the spheres, the sounds of the planets going round and round. In other words: What A Symphony is both realistic and poetic. It is both direct and contemplative.

What would have happened if Erik De Vroomen, the visionary man behind this cd, wouldn't have started this project in the nineties, but in the early seventies instead? We know how the critical reception of the ambitious albums of bands like Yes and ELP were. The critics thought that their music was pretentious to the max. Well, What A Symphony would have been viewed as even far more pretentious than those albums, and I'm not exaggerating! But: a worse fate has come on the album: little people know about it, and really, this is a masterpiece of prog, a monument, that has almost been forgotten.

I'll tell you about the content of the album. The themes are racism, pollution and war, on a more direct level. On a more abstract, but still emotional, level Erik is taking all those threads together, and at a certain moment singers are singing about the tragedy of man, always loving the lie instead of the truth, always destroying the animals, the earth... and himself. In the closing section there's a choir singing: Oh, what a symphony, what a tragedy, what a world and what a history.

This is a masterpiece, but it's not an easy album. It took me seven times (!) to listen to the cd before I liked it. It is not a feelgood album either: the atmosphere is often somber and melancholic. A lot of the best prog cd's are Entertainment with a capital E. This is, for once, Art with a capital A. The music is beautiful in a touching way, but also unsettling from time to time. I myself was shocked when a story was told about a father and his kid playing together, experiencing a feeling of bliss, and suddenly tragedy hit them. The nature of the tragedy isn't clear: war, or a environmental catastrophe, but for the moment that's not important. That moment came really close, because I myself am father of a small kid, and I know the feelings of bliss.

The album has three epics (!) and twenty-one tracks in total. Well, in theory... because, when you listen to it, the album sounds more like one 76 minute epic, which gives you a sense of timelessness. Listen to the whole album at once, not in parts, and you will get the most out of it. And then you will find the subtleties also: like themes that keep recurring during the album. I'm not familiar with Wagner's music (can't get into him, yet), but I guess that's what they call Leitmotivs: instruments with recurring voices, themes, stated in different times, and in different ways, but giving the music a wonderful coherence. Yes, Erik even hints to Coda's first album, Sounds Of Passion, through a section that was also on his first album.

The band is basically the same as on the first album, but now with a very talented drummer / engineer called Wolram Dettki Bladeau. Perfectionist Erik de Vroomen found in him a good musical sparring partner.

The music is so full of layers and different elements that it takes a skyscraper review to describe it. I'll tell you some stuff. About spoken parts of of Dostoyevsky on the one hand, Hitler and Goebbels on the other hand (about the tragedy of war); sound bites of Bach and Mahler; about a threatening, blood curdling musical start, a jazzy mid theme, a clarinet piece to make you feel calm again, pieces of progressive symphonic rock alternating with classical themes; about the story of an elephant being shot, where the story is completely being told in music, and you understand what is happening nevertheless; about a bell that is being rung several times throughout the album and every time it gives you a shiver down the spine! Symphonic progressive rock is at the basis of this record, but there are numerous other places where the music takes you.

Except for Coda, the band, there are classical musicians playing, with instruments like violin, cello, saxes, bassoon, accordion, cymbals, marimba's, military drums... There are rock singers and classical singers...

Erik has a better sounding synth equipment than on the first album, and his Kurzweil sounds great. The production is fabulous.

There are some stories connected to the album: there is a very famous World War II picture, where there is a Jewish boy in shorts and with a cap, holding his hands up while his mother is doing the same, and looking at him from aside, because nazis are pointing there guns at them. For this album project, Erik tracked down the boy (who was now of course a grown up man) to see if he's alive and how he's doing. It turned out that the man's name was Tsvi Nussbaum, and he was still alive, being a doctor and surgeon in the USA. According to Erik, Tsvi is a symbol of hope, because of his survival of the holocaust.

There were also incidents while recording the album in Germany: neo - nazi's acting acting violent, breaking the windows of the studio.

The cd booklet is also rich: it tells you about all the epics and other tracks, the story behind the music. There are photographs and themes and poems to think about...

A word of warning: yes, this is a masterpiece, but this is not a record that everyone will appreciate, not even prog fans. But if you want to listen to an album that is progressive rock to the max, without fear of being too pretentious, and if you're interested in a prog rock album with many different styles, and you're not afraid of heavy subject matter, than maybe this album is for you. It's not as enjoyable as the major works of, let's say, Genesis, Yes and ELP, but it is an album that is musical sublime nevertheless, and offers you a lot of depth, and it can change your perspective, not only from a musical point of view.

Moogtron III | 5/5 |

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