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Jaugernaut (a.d.) - Contra-Mantra  CD (album) cover

CONTRA-MANTRA

Jaugernaut (a.d.)

 

Crossover Prog

3.01 | 6 ratings

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4 stars I always find it frustrating when I come across a band today who were making the kind of music that I wanted to listen to when I was first going out and buying albums, but whose name totally passed me by at the time. Jaugernaut prove to be just such a band!

Their origins are in the Pacific Northwest and Western states of the USA, where they evolved from an earlier band named Joint Effort. In a career that lasted from 1978 to 1985 they toured quite extensively and recorded two albums.

Their debut release, "Jaugernaut" came in 1981, and this was followed in 1983 by "Take 'em There", recorded after substantial line-up changes which saw the band through to their eventual demise, brought about largely due to the lack of interest in the progressive genre that was prevalent at the time.

Now however there is a chance to redress the balance for Jim Johnston, bass player/vocalist with the 1982-86 line up is back with Jaugernaut (A.D.). Although it was originally intended to make this album with other former band members, it proved problematic to get people committed to the project, so in the end it became pretty mush a solo affair. Even so the end result is true to the spirit of the original Jaugernaut and this brand new album turns out to be a perfect fusion of the AOR and Progressive genres with a fresh and modern sounding edge.

In Jim's own words "'Contra Mantra' tells an interpretive and speculative story of the origins of evil". Sadly the album is issued without a lyric sheet so I am not sure how well it succeeds in this respect, but what I am certain of is that it sounds superb from start to finish.

The album begins with the aptly named 'Anthem' which gets underway with an eerie fairground music sound. This is followed by a hard edge beat that cuts in over the top before the pace really picks up as keyboards and guitar pick things up revealing a definite prog mood. The music is very upbeat and full of flourishes which are particularly in evidence from the keyboards, and which add a nice sense of depth. The transition into the mid section of the song is perhaps a little on the abrupt side as we move from the upbeat opening to a more subdued and dreamy passage. However any criticsm here is more than made up for by the smooth vocals which and are perfectly contrasted by some great backing harmonies which add a 'Yes' feel to the proceedings. Also of note are some triumphant sweeping lead guitar runs which adds a nice pomp rock edge that works really well. The final section of the track is heralded by a short keyboard run as we return to a the more upbeat mood that sees the track out where once more the lead guitar work is very much in evidence.

'The Damage Is Done' has a deceptive opening, quiet and subdued, but then without warning the rhythm section cuts in and cranks up the pace. The vocals here are fairly reminiscent of Rush, but musically the track seems to lean more in the direction of Styx, and it is this fusion of styles which makes for an extremely effective track. The use of the keyboards and the additional backing harmonies provide an additional feel good factor making this track a firm favourite of mine.

'Better Living Thru Anarchy' carries things on in very much the same vein, with rock guitar runs, keyboard sweeps and some uplifting vocal harmonies that would not be out of place on a Heart album. This is AOR as it should be played - really awesome.

At just under 15 minutes 'The Hard Way' is easily the longest track on the album, and sadly is the track that provides the only real bone of contention I have with the whole album. The first three minutes of the track are a mix of rock rhythms and ambient sounds followed by a superb acoustic guitar passage that runs for around two minutes and is a little like Rush or Triumph in their quieter moments. This in turn is followed by a short section with the full band before a nice little keyboard interlude. And so it goes on. Lots if nice touches, lots of great ideas, nice singing, nice playing - in fact there's nothing actually bad here, it's just a little overwhelming and ultimately I felt that what we have here is a mammoth track that is perhaps just a little too disjointed for my personal taste.

The next two tracks 'Vanity' and 'A Different World' both have a very upbeat rocky edge to them, and again band's like Styx come very much to mind. The former piece is perhaps a little quirky at times, while the latter track is a full blown pomp rock stomp along number that never fails to please.

'All I See Is Grey' brings the album to a suitable close. The track is full of contrasts and makes good use of acoustic guitar work, intermingled with soft vocal sections and some nice piano touches. As the track progresses the sound becomes more layered and the repeat to fade at the end, which had me thinking of IQ's 'Last Human Gateway', is particularly evocative.

Despite the odd criticism in the final reckoning I have to say that this album really struck me as a breath of fresh air with its positive moods and upbeat music. Not only have I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it while writing this review, but I am confident that it is an album that I will continue to come back to in the future.

Anyone who enjoys rocking AOR with a progressive edge should find a lot to enjoy with this album - highly recommended!!

(If you decide to take the plunge you can obtain a copy of Contra-Mantra by visiting www.cdbaby.com/jaugernautad)

Simon 26th September 2005

| 4/5 |

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