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Eclectic Prog

3.94 | 97 ratings

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RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team
4 stars In spite of those who still think progressive rock begins and ends in the English-speaking countries, Uzbekistan-based quartet Fromuz are undoubtedly one of the most exciting new acts on the modern prog scene, producing music that, though rooted in jazz-rock/fusion, effortlessly spans other subgenres. Like its predecessor, 2007's "Audio Diplomacy", "Overlook" is an entirely instrumental effort, something that can fall squarely flat on its face if not sustained by adequate musicianship - which is definitely not the case here.

Listening to "Overlook" is not for the faint-hearted. Sudden, unexpected shifts in mood and style lurk at every corner, each of the five tracks wildly veering from spacey to crushingly heavy, from almost romantic to broodingly atmospheric. Therefore, giving an accurate description of what happens on those tracks (all over 10 minutes, the longest clocking in at nearly 17) is nearly an impossible task. At almost 70 minutes, the album is indeed very long, even for today's standards - a factor that, in my view, seldom turns out to be to a disc's advantage. However, the amount of music featured on "Overlook" is so cleverly, skilfully balanced that, though undeniably demanding, never overstays its welcome. Though mainly guitar-based, the album is not guitar-dominated, the instruments working together to build layers upon layers of rich, intense textures. Those who like some melody with their prog will not be disappointed, and neither will those who are into the harder-edged side of things.

Opener "Stone Salad", a real delight for guitar fans, and a sort of statement of intent, is introduced by some deceptively delicate piano which leads the way for a whirlwind of metal-like riffs. Then follows a snippet of Spanish-style acoustic guitar, a strongly Pink Floyd-influenced middle section, and a lengthy, very jazzy drum-and-guitar jam, with martial chanting faintly echoing in the background. "Other Side of the Water" comes instead across as a more laid-back, richly atmospheric offering. Introduced by eerie, surf-like electronic sounds, it shows some more Pink Floyd influences in the second half of the track, where a filtered, disembodied voice and pulsating keyboards sharply recall the central section of "Dogs". The harder-edged side of Fromuz's sound shows up in the sudden riffs and high-powered drumming that slash through the airier, spacier sections of the track. The appropriately-titled "Crashmind" - ten exhilarating minutes of steel-sharp riffage, scintillating guitar solos, spacey synths, and jagged drum patterns - borders on progressive metal, and as such would not be misplaced on an album by Liquid Tension Experiment or Planet X. "13th August" has its share of heavier moments (veering at times towards speed/thrash-metal stylings), though it also features a sparse sax solo in typical jazz-rock/fusion tradition, and a trumpet blending with keyboards towards the end, suggesting the wistful solemnity of a Morricone soundtrack.

Though I have seen the word 'symphonic' used to refer to "Overlook"'s musical content, in my opinion the only track that would fully qualify as such is album closer, "Return to W.I.T." Electronic strings and woodwind instruments give the track a lush, orchestral feel, as does the majestic sweep of the keyboards in the first half, sedate and restrained in comparison to the wildness of the following section, where the band shift again into jazz-metal mode. Then, towards the end, the track slows down again, turning into an almost psychedelic feast of synths underpinned by an almost military drum pattern, before it slowly fades away with faint, water-like electronic sounds.

One of the real surprises of 2008, "Overlook" is modern prog at its best: flawlessly executed without being a mere exercise in technical proficiency; firmly grounded in the past, but at the same time forward-looking. Highly recommended to fans of complex, multilayered instrumental music, and to anyone looking for exciting new acts - and yet another album for whose rating an extra half-star would come in very handy.

Raff | 4/5 |


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