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Kompendium - Beneath The Waves CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.76 | 116 ratings

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5 stars Waiting to the penultimate day of 2012 to discover a glowing masterpiece is just another typical irony of being a dedicated prog hunter. I am generally not a big fan of epic superstar projects, the disparate talents having often difficulty in synergizing into a valid whole. So I approached this Kompendium venture with slight skepticism, only anesthetized by the presence of Robert Reed as mastermind as well as the inclusion of such massive talents as Steve Balsamo (a voice I first discovered on IO Earth's debut album), the legendary Steve Hackett, the incredible stickman Nick Beggs, the incomparable Gavin Harrison (is there a more accomplished drummer in prog today?), the mercurial Mel Collins and the colossal Celtic musicianship of Troy Donockley . Then add to that mix Francis Dunnery (It Bites), John Mitchell (Arena), Nick Barrett (Pendragon), Jakko Jakszyk, BJ Cole, Neil Taylor (Tears for Fears) and Dave Stewart (Egg, Hatfield and National Health) handling the orchestrations. My existential fears were totally unnecessary as this is an unquestionable opus of the highest magnificence.

First of all, a glorious CD packaging just like the old vinyl gatefold LPs of the 70s but smaller (the vinyl option also exists!) with superb artwork and heavily detailed credits, lyrics, bios and photos. The most spectacular is the inclusion of a DVD with 3 kinds of audio variants (24/96 5.1 surround mix, DTS 5.1 surround mix and a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix) and a series of music videos. The paintings by Geoff Taylor shine brightly.

The vocal work is utterly stupendous, the foundation for all the music to be built upon as Balsamo can sing like the wind, though some prog purists may find him a bit too feminine and passionately colorful, whilst the invited ladies also do very well (Angharad Brinn, Christina Booth) and the choir work by the Synergy Vocals group is exemplary but kudos must be leveled at mastermind/composer/multi-instrumentalist Robert Reed, who shines at writing memorable tracks, skillfully introducing brilliant bass, keys, recorders and guitar work to the heady mix. The material fits clearly in the Celtic vein with comparisons to classic Iona, Mike Oldfield and IO Earth, with operatic inclusions (the amazing "Il Tempo E Giunto") and heroic compositions.

Narration always befits an epic prog album and the classic premise sparks this one to delectable heights, melancholic flute and gentle melody combine to enchant the expectant listener and dive deep into the waves ."Exordium" boldly states the grandiose theme that will stamp this material with glorious reverie, full of lush orchestrations (the phenomenal Dave Stewart!). Propelled by Gavin and adorned by Troy's lavish Uilleann pipes, the goose bumps make their entrance from the get-go, especially when the soprano voice of Shan Cothi kicks in, setting the table for the first Balsamo lead vocal , a trembling duet with Angharad Brinn. Hints of Enya, Oldfield and Beautiful World abound, an organic yet pulsating new age feel that rocks and breathes full-lunged, with a slithering Nick Barrett solo. Mastermind Rob Reed does a devilish job on bass, piano and guitar giving this opening salvo a direct hit on the brain. Wow! "Lost" evolves forward nicely with delightful choir vocals, augmenting the powerful Balsamo vocals, laced by an electric guitar duet from Neil Taylor (Tears for Fears, Robbie Williams) and session axeman Hywel Maggs. This is a saccharine ballad that has a poppier feel with a huge wail from the male lead lung. Very enjoyable, indeed!

"Lilly" is a spectacular highlight piece featuring Steve Hackett's celebrated nylon guitar , some stunning cello work and an immaculate vocal from Angharad Brinn (check out the video on the DVD!) . Fragile, spectral, haunting and completely magical, the quasi-medieval arrangement is further adorned by mandolin, electric synth, piano and bass , all handled by Reed.

"Mercy of the Sea" has a distinct Irish/Gaelic atmosphere, Donockley, Reed and Harrison building up the sonic platform for Steve Balsamo to simply kill the vocal (what range, my goodness!) sending shivers of delight as he hits the highest notes possible. Once again, the stylish video does this piece even more justice, in its entire black and white splendor. This time Francis Dunnery (It Bites) reels off a glittering solo that hits the mark before the rhythm section booms forward led by the magic Donockley pipes .

The proggiest track by far is the cinematic "The Storm" an 11 minute + expedition into the swirling symphonic seas, pummeled by a quartet of electric guitarists (Mitchell, Fry, Jakczyk, Maggs) , a double Wishbone Ash attack of stimulating bombast , infused by cascading rhythms, luxuriant choir orchestrations and Troy Uilleann pipes leading the tempestuous way . Reed's bass and Harrison's drums pump hard blood into Balsamo's expressive lower keyed vocals, combined with Brinn's evocative howl, giving this epic piece a lot of meandering room. The symphonic orchestra does wonders with the main melody, elevating the progressive quotient to the highest standards, confirmed by the tremendous Latin chant courtesy of Synergy Vocals group and a swirly violin.

The title track is another Gaelic ditty of the grandest proportions but with plenty of meat thanks to Nick Beggs' stick and Harrison's muscular drumming. The iconic Mel Collins makes his cameo spot worthwhile with a scintillating sax display that only extols the virtues of an incredible Balsamo vocal (he can hold a note, I assure you). Neil Taylor shudders the mood with a stinging guitar solo, biting, nibbling and chomping through the frets with gusto. This is again evidenced on the accompanying video to great effect.

The brief "Sole Survivor" brings the cello to the forefront once again, also featuring Chris Fry's nylon guitar allied with Barrett's electric lead amid the recurring choir theme that permeates the entire recording (it's a prog record after all!), a companion track to the glorious opener.

"Alone" is a firmly melancholic track that suits Balsamo's shuddering expression, sweeping and stately, loaded with sad desperation. The soprano aria (Shan Cothi) adds even more depth and pain, as a foil to the male despondence. This operatic addition does wonders for the flow of the recording as witnessed by the enigmatic segue "Il Tempo E Giunto", a highlight piece straight from the opera world. Welsh tenor Rhys Meirion gives this a Pavarotti workout, amid Reed's piano and massive backing voice work from the English Chamber Choir and Synergy Vocals group.

"Moment of Clarity" is a return to more conventional sympho-prog rock, with a memorable verse and chorus (the exuberant Balsamo again, yeah), with Taylor and Mitchell providing the electric angst, some smart gospel vocals and Collins killing it on the saxophone. Quite cleverly, 'One last chance'is repeated so as to prepare for the next track "One Small Step", a delightful composition led by Jakko Jakczyk's tornado axe and Steve's wanting and fraught vocal, exhorting forever higher and further.

"Reunion" puts this amazing release to rest, a combination of all the preceding elements, reuniting all the delicate male and female voices, the Irish pipes and whistles , the violins, the nylon guitar, some pedal steel from BJ Cole and of course, the main choir theme one more time. Gavin pulses through to the end, orchestra in tow.

Without any doubt, a magnificent opus from magician Robert Reed, the super-classy Kompendium project outshines anything he has done in the past with Magenta, Cyan and the Fyreworks. A mystical package that will delight the incredulous prog fan constantly on the lookout for some miraculous treasure. .

5 deep beckonings

tszirmay | 5/5 |


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