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Iris - Crossing The Desert  CD (album) cover

CROSSING THE DESERT

Iris

 

Neo-Prog

3.22 | 26 ratings

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tszirmay
Special Collaborator
Crossover Team
4 stars There are times when I feel so misunderstood , scratching my cranium wondering if I am some kind of wack-job and when I read previous unflattering reviews about an album that I really like , I get even more agitated. Mind you, it took me years to really appreciate Iris' album because I sort took it for granted also and paid scant attention to it, which in turn explains the tepid reviews. I revisited it recently, listening to it very loud as rightly suggested by the liner notes and it blew me away, completely miffed at why I missed this 10 year-old addition to my collection. I guess that I was also guilty of offering only low volume appreciation and I did get it right. Sean Trane and I have opposite views on many prog recordings, with only a few concurring sentiments, so I guess I must be one of those "loonies" he describes so flippantly. Love ya anyway, mate! First off, this is no neo recording as it contains no vocals, no commercially accessible structure and it is not simple fodder either. Just because Ian Mosley and Peter Trewavas play on it, does not mean it's Marillion "sans" Hoggarth. The rhythm tandem has never sounded as tight and as complex as on this recording, both displaying flashes of technical brilliance and unsuspected flair. Sylvain Gouvernaire (formerly of Arrakeen) is in no way a Rothery clone, his style winks at Latimer but mostly nods at Steve Vai or Satriani, while occasionally gently musing like Steve when the tempo becomes atmospheric. That this is a pure technique /noodling fest is correct but the context is phenomenally invigorating.

"Indian Dream" is a subtle, dreamy opening salvo with quirky atmospherics, whispering synths, tic-toc percussion and then, the suddenly shrieking guitar enters the fray. Gouvernaire immediately astonishes with some curvy flourishes, all restraint and infatuation, effectively transmitting the sullen impressions his axe wishes to express. Isn't this what music is all about? Far beyond background music, this piece has juices brimming from every note, with loads of keyboards handled by the guitarist. The final searing solo is truly absurd, desperately seeking out both power and passion. "Train de Vie" gives the bass an opportunity to feverishly develop some dizzying notes, with Mosley bashing firmly in unison, I sort of forgot how good Trewavas can handle (or finger?) the 4 string instrument, while Sylvain roams all over his Tom Anderson electric guitar with energized delirium. This piece veers closely to funk-fusion and would be close to Gongzilla more than anything! The seductive acoustic guitar finale is a clever and timely contrast that impresses . Very nice! "Memory of Eagle" starts off leisurely with some surprising piano work, more robust fretless bass (I am a sucker!), slowly ratcheting up the elegant mood (great orchestral synth backdrops) and waiting for the fretboard to exude some magic. Potent rhythm blasts illuminate the electric path taken by the reserved solo, punctuated by Mosley's sleek and authoritarian drumming, choir effects brilliantly adorning the arrangement. Trewavas weaves (not a bad word association) in and out of the scrimmage with expertise, bowing to the stylish homecoming of the piano. "Top on Top" is a colossal lead guitar showcase, seeking out new supersonic trajectories like a laser guided missile, flirting with stratospheric horizons, nervous yet controlled, this is where the Vai/Satriani hints come to the fore. This is placid, yawn-inducing and boring? The next piece is the acknowledged gem, as "War" is a masterpiece of eloquence and bravura, avidly expressing the gloom, doom and the mortal injustice of conflict, using dark barricades of sad orchestrations, funeral drum beats and out of nowhere an upsurge of melancholic devastation, giving Mosley another opportunity to confirm his mastery, while Gouvernaire flies over the neck of his instrument, ripping, raging, routing, revolting and resounding with impassioned ability. His torpid style is way more aggressive than Rothery or Latimer, sweepingly despondent and urgently irate, conveying instrumentally the horrors of human stupidity. The grandiose piano -led outro clearly brings to mind the quiet after the storm and ultimately the senselessness of it all. The graceful solo is simply heavenly, Wow again! The short "Obsession" serves a welcome respite after all the desolation and despair of the previous conflict. Extremely effect- laden, massively orchestral, the guitar-synth paints abstractions chock full of impressionist contrasts and experimental rebounds, very nice indeed. The 10 minute "Crossing the Desert" is probably the crowning achievement here, a masterfully memorable piano intro that explodes into a resounding vortex of sound right from the get-go, the trio delving deeply into the most effusive soundscapes, howling guitars urging the beleaguered bass and drums, egging them along forcefully. Gouvernaire proves his mettle here again, surely more manic than all his influences combined, meshing grace and fury with ostensible cheek. When the glorious main theme rises from the sands, the bombastic solo is like a feathery mirage full of desperation and thirst. The piano knows when to provide oasis-like comfort and shade, balancing out the contrasts, much like the subject matter (there is nothing on earth as complex and extreme as the desert). In this, the artist demonstrates a vivid understanding of his own inspiration and the ability to formalize it with harmonics and musical architecture. 8 minutes in, the brutal sonic sandstorm is unleashed once again, sudden and overpowering, leaving the cowering listener in thrilled numbness. Exhilarating! How could I have missed this for so long? The precious finale is "Ocean Song", a diminutive farewell full of tender elegance, translucent synth barrages reminiscent of Patrick O'Hearn's work, sumptuous cascades of sound and silence, incredible pacing and quasi-deferential reverence.

What a great instrumental album this is, much maligned, misunderstood, mislabeled and sadly, mis- reviewed. Well the loonie crossed the desert and I have seen the distant light.

4.5 blooming flowers.

tszirmay | 4/5 |

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