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Epignosis - Refulgence CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.90 | 31 ratings

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Ambient Hurricanes
5 stars "Is it seven years bad luck / To break me down to the shards I am?"

However great the early albums of symphonic prog may have been, it must be admitted that many of them, though classically inspired, were put together somewhat haphazardly, only loosely applying the classical principles of form, theme, and variation. The same cannot be said about Epignosis' excellent piece of modern symphonic prog, Refulgence. Surpassing even the classic albums of progressive rock in some areas, it is a masterpiece of songwriting, melodic themes, and harmonic variations, incorporating all the maturity of a seasoned composer and songwriter mixed with the adventurousness and rock spirit of a progressive rock musician recording his sophomore album.

For those who don't know, Epignosis is the recording name for Robert W. Brown Jr., who also happens to be an active member of this site. He plays all the instruments on the recording, and shares vocal duties with his wife, Tasha. Rob's instrumental performance is excellent; he especially shines on the guitar, where he proves himself a master of phrasing, melody, texture, and tone most clearly in his solos, but also in his dexterous riffs and chord progressions. His keyboard playing is also excellent, and provides the driving harmonic force behind many of the songs. Vocally, Rob has made great improvement over his debut; his voice sounds warm and organic, while Tasha's is clear and fragile; both do an excellent job of carrying the vocal melodies.

The song development techniques used in the album are reminiscent of the classical techniques of theme and variation, while the actual sound of the album is symphonic prog influenced by Kansas, Echolyn and Genesis among others; Rob's influences can clearly be heard in his compositions but not in a way that makes them seem derivative. Indeed, the way in which Rob treats the symphonic prog sound in this album is quite unique and interesting. Though most of the songs have fairly standard structures, it is the variation between repetitions that makes them interesting; in most of the songs, the first, second, and third verses are quite different, mainly because of new instruments and harmonies introduced in each verse that change the quality of the music. In the development of these songs, Rob utilizes a multitude of techniques: call and response, polyphony, and ornamentation to name a few. In this way, the album goes above and beyond the typical progressive rock fare, offering mature, song-based compositions that will appeal to any lover of symphonic prog but especially to those interested in classical music or in the theory of musical composition.

And now, my friends, on to the song-by-song...

Effulgence: The album begins with a short, ambient piece opening with synth melodies layered over a drone note (reminiscent of bagpipes). A three-note synthesizer ostinato emerges, over which a piano plays a high-pitched, sparse, faraway-sounding melody. As the piano exits, the track segues seamlessly into the next.

Refulgence: Clocking in at over seventeen minutes, this piece is so well constructed and beautiful that it seems much shorter. This song, like the rest of the album, is characterized by skillful use of melodic and harmonic themes and variations, as well as by ample guitar solo time for Rob, in which he showcases his talents in ways that add to the song and never seem like "showing off." "Refulgence" is basically structured as a four-part piece, with four vocal sections surrounded by instrumentals. The theme of the song is the way in which the world tries to find fulfillment in transient things that ultimately bring no happiness, and the way in which we find ultimate satisfaction in Jesus Christ, as "mirrors" reflecting his glory in the world. Beginning with gentle acoustics and vocal melodies and progressing through sections of up-tempo rock, intense soloing, spacey bass noodling, and ecstatic exclamations of joy, Refulgence is an uplifting music journey that matches up to some of the great epics of classic prog.

The majestic Bold Eternal Day opens with a crashing herald of triumphant guitar and synthesizer in 7/8 time before the entrance of a vocal melody flowing with a peak-and-valley counter. The interlude is particularly enjoyable as the regal chords of its beginning soon give way to an incendiary section composed of a high-energy guitar riff reminiscent of Kansas and some blazing solos overtop the riff, before closing with a reprise of the 7/8 intro.

Hope Maketh Not Ashamed is a masterpiece of melody, theme, and variation. A myriad of melodies dominate this song, seamlessly brought in and out of the spotlight and exchanged between instruments. From the uplifting piano melody which opens the song to the superb vocals by Rob and Tasha to the dramatic string-synth melodies of the interlude, the song flawlessly builds on its melodic themes, revealing itself as one of the most cohesive, well composed progressive rock songs I have ever heard.

If The World is a gentle acoustic praise song, providing a thoughtful reflection on the transience of the world and the steadfastness of God's love. The song follows a standard structure, with a simple, common chord progression, and though it does not seem very special on its own, it fits into the album perfectly as a soft interlude to provide a break from the complexity of the rest of the album, similarly to the way in which the lyrics describe running to God as a shelter from the turmoil in the world. The interlude, which features a harmonized guitar melody over simple chords, is particularly tasteful.

Vestibule of Smoke has a particular meaning for me personally; though I do not know what Rob intended for the theme of the song, it reminds me of the compositions of my guitar teacher, Matt Kovis, who died in a car accident in 2011, and to me the song has a very nostalgic and intimate feel, with old-fashioned, faraway melodies and instrumentation. The piece is somewhat of a "theme and variation," but instead of variations on a single melody, it features two different sections, each which, when repeated, has a new and interesting variation in the harmony or instrumentation, whether that may be the entrance of tremolo banjo picking, mellotron chords, or soaring electric guitar. The piece closes with a bluegrass feel, only adding to its diversity and uniqueness.

Easily the heaviest song on the album, Riddles in the Dark much more somber and ominous than the uplifting tracks which had previously graced the album. The lyrics describe a mysterious figure who "spurned the feast of a loving father" and lives "where only shadows dwell;" they could be a description of Satan, or possibly Gollum from Lord of the Rings, but the precise meaning is left ambiguous, adding to the mystery of the song. A heavy, chromatic, descending guitar riff opens the song, soon joined by stormy synthesizer chords. The heavily distorted arpeggios during the verses are especially creative and interesting, and Tasha's vocals are excellent. The closing instrumental section begins with a transition to solo piano in a major key before showcasing Rob's guitar talents with some dexterous melodies.

Handful of Humanity, though musically similar to the rest of the album, differs with regard to its libertarian lyrics which contrast the Christian lyrics which make up the remainder of the album. Rob's Kansas influence can be clearly heard in the opening instrumental section, which reminds the listener of said influence without being a mere copy. The main portion of the song is primarily piano-led, but each verse increases in intensity, with the introduction of new instruments and harmonies. For the interlude, the string-synths from "Hope Maketh Not Ashamed" make another appearance, providing somewhat of a film music feel.

Fade leaves me speechless. After an hour full of complex and progressive structures and developments, it is a simple piano-vocal piece that provides the single most beautiful moment on the album. Tasha gets her biggest moment in the spotlight, and boy, does she shine. Her fragile voice is perfect for the humble but rapturous melody and lyric, telling of the joy of giving oneself up for Christ.

"Jesus is the light,

Jesus is the light,

And He can make you a mirror

By His perfect grace."

Ambient Hurricanes | 5/5 |


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