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Vienna Circle - White Clouds CD (album) cover

WHITE CLOUDS

Vienna Circle

 

Neo-Prog

3.98 | 82 ratings

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tszirmay
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars There has been a raging rumour going around lately that Neo-prog is making smashing inroads in 2013, boldly torching a new pathway for musical enjoyment, with an abundance of brilliant releases that just keep coming one after another. I must admit that despite my title as a Symphonic Prog Specialist, I have been noticing a massive influx of unknown talents that have been taking my heart and my ears with surprising gusto. Led by double recent releases from both Big Big Train and Galahad, the recent list is long= stunning discs from Final Conflict, Primitive Instinct, Deeexpus, Silhouette, Comedy of Errors, Anubis, Airbag, Edison's Children, Introitus, Legend, Cosmograf, Elephants of Scotland, Gandalf's Fist, Lifesigns, Mystery, Nine Stones Close, RPWL and Silver Key, with a few others that presently escape me. So when I took the plunge to discover Vienna Circle, I knew I was going to be in comfortable territory. I bought both their releases, this sparkling debut and their brand new "Silhouette Moon" (to be reviewed soon) . Aided by a few samples and the obligatory reviews, I am happy to report that this is another new player that deserves your undivided attention. There is something effortless and grandiose in their song craft, the playing is simple yet highly evocative, wonderful bass work, sizzling guitar runs, both rhythm and lead as well as acoustic, atmospheric ivories and solid drumming. The vocals by Paul Davis are indeed higher pitched, certainly in a loftier octave than say BJH's John Lees, James Warren of the Korgis or Steve Wilson. Another close vocal companion would be Xavier Phideaux, especially if the music is also taken into account. The Vienna Circle draws its name from an early 20th century association of philosophers based in the Austrian capital.

The debut album is a savvy affair, a highly mature piece of musical expression that has all the ingredients necessary to carve a long and storied career in Progland. Jack and Paul Davis are two brothers who handle all the instruments, the first mostly on bass and piano while the second handles the guitars, keyboards and the vocals, with guests Russell Wilson on drums and female vocalist Gemma Burch. The foremost strength that immediately leaps out at the listener is the impeccable song writing on display, as well as a musical delivery platform of the highest order. The material is about the First World War, a mournful storyline but with a delicate, romantic, dreamy and memorably hooked manner with some devastating choruses that stick to your ears like glue. Think Porcupine Tree tracks like "Sentimental" or "My Ashes" off the Fear album or some of the classic Blackfield tracks. The playing is quite stunning with a constant sense of creative arrangement = extended mellotron cascades, some fancy slide guitar and quirky melodies. Paul Davis is a tremendous guitarist who is unafraid to let her rip in the fine tradition of Latimer/Gilmour, long bluesy solos that electrify the soul. His vocals are, once you get used to the higher pitch, extremely addictive. Drummer Wilson actually muscles the kit pretty good, keeping things nice and tight.

Like the French band Xang on their farewell "The Last of Lasts", we are offered a graphic story, a concept album that relates the devastating effects of gory trench warfare, expertly relayed in terse lyrics coated in melancholic reverie, from the opener "White Clouds" suavely segued into "First Night in Berlin", a perfect introduction to Vienna Circle's classy neo-prog style. A sad piano amid a train track rumble, ringing bass guitar and the gorgeous voice introduces the upcoming battle, "Deutschland will conquer all"! Funny how gung-ho many seem to be on the onset of bloodletting! So foolishly they forget the carnage! This short song conveys perfectly the innocence of such idiocy. "Stars of May" has the bass upfront and bold, acoustic guitar raging nicely in the backdrop, a few delicate electric licks that garnish the orchestrated sound rather radiantly, the vocals get revved up quite a bit, hitting heftier heights with super backing vocal work. The overall mood follows, stirring up a cauldron of fiery leads and then dies slowly, mercifully vanquished.

The epic 11 minute 25 second centerpiece track "The Morning Fields of Amber Grey" is a classic progressive track ("I'll Find You") that has an immediate radiance to its credit, a perfect synopsis of what this talented crew can offer, clanging guitars and deep philharmonic swaths in a musical style closer to recent Phideaux, a prominent bass and rock solid drumming. The slide guitar work is particularly impressive as its no Howe/Gilmour clone, preferring to fit into the overall symphonic mood. Flabbergasting! This is so worthy, it's positively scary! The brief spoken sample of a shaken veteran soldier "Argonne Wood" is a memory of a brutal battle there between Imperial Germany and France but where many US and British soldiers died needlessly. "It was a curse, really"! Perhaps but the finality of death becomes obvious on "Falling" , a ramshackle crater that will entomb so many, the realization that despondency and not courage is what prevails in the end. Another meaningless life in a meaningless war that ultimately changes nothing. The raging speed guitar barrage evokes the infernal desperation brilliantly as the Big Bertha bass and cannonading drums bash along brutally. "A Break in the Clouds" is a piano-fueled moment of 'all quiet on the western front', a brief respite from the savagery to ponder what every soldier's death leaves behind, a family of loved ones who now have no future left. The sizzling axe solo is a sad and mourning adieu, a farewell to arms that never seems to bring any hope. A church bells resonates profoundly.

"Conquered Air" is another lengthy piece, clocking in over 9 minutes and with military precision evokes the senseless frontal assaults, mowed down by machine gunners with no lack of visible targets. "Prayers for the conquered air" think the troops as they crash to the ground, their bodies shredded beyond recognition. The music reflects the gore, pounding flesh on flesh with muscular drumming, colossal salvos of brooding orchestrations mixed in with slippery synth buckshot. Cute pop this is not! The ebb and flow of battle initiates a piano as it shakes in obvious pain, Davis screeches in agony, deeply possessed by the material at hand, heartbeat evident for now.

"Her Green Eyes Blew Goodbye" is a love song and what a song it is, full of overt romanticism in a chorus to expunge over willingly. Davis lets his axe carve some unfathomable sentimental pain, bass bopping around in a frenzy, "trying to find my way home to you" repeated over and over, I mean just utterly beautiful. The explosive ending is stunning, poignant and tear-inducing. Classic playlist track this is! "White Clouds, Finale " signs the truce to end the confrontation, a track that somehow resonates with foolish hope that 'peace in our time' is at hand , a sad mistake that allowed an even worse scourge to be unleashed on mankind 20 years later. The crows are cawing??

This is a masterpiece in my eyes, just my kind of intelligent, well executed, provocative and well-sung progressive rock, with fabulous lyrics and a seductive voice.

5 milky gases

tszirmay | 5/5 |

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