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2 stars Well,...I think they still don`t find their music settlement. I find here confusion. Not a define style in prog music. Sometimes hard prog rock,sometimes jazz fusion ,sometimes symphonic. Don`t misunderstand me ,I love groups that are variated,but here they don`t seem to be convinced of the variations they offer They seem to be good musicians(instrumentalists),but the compositions and the instrumental arrengements are so so...

2 stars

Report this review (#118730)
Posted Tuesday, April 17, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars Well, I won't be so rough here. It has started very well - a polygenred stuff in fellow frenchmen's TAAL vein (and think of Russian THE GOURISHANKAR!). Each track has few genres in itself sometimes contradicting one another ("Sacrifice" - oriental stuff, Mark Kelly-ish kybds solos, prog-metal; "On Leave" - easy listening jazz+ANEKDOTEN riffing; "Verdun" - soft parts with Kelly-ish kybds again), and I like these first tracks, though they lack direction and their own face - I mean, you hear different genres in one song but not the band's own style (like in TAAL or THE GOURISHANKAR case). "Sons Of The Empire" is purely industrial noise, and following "Mud" shows band's true face - they're metalheadz! Same goes both to "Roommates" and "Trenches" - despite these minimoog solos again, these tracks are built around 2-3 heavy riffs. Closing "Gas" has not much to add - it's a late PINK FLOYD-like ballad filler.

Did I say that the whole thing is all instrumental?

Anyway, a nice but a bit mislead album. Let's see what can they do further.

Report this review (#120653)
Posted Thursday, May 3, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars I have been waiting for so long for something new from this great French quartet. Xang debut prog foray was well received (even Sean Trane liked it! I guess there is hope after all), a purely instrumental musical adventure that had the audacity to deliver a concept with lyrics and storyline but NO VOCALS !!! Very audacious to say the least. After a long wait, Xang finally released "the Last of Lasts", a loose translation from a World War I French soldier epithet "Le Der' des Ders'. The band chose a remarkable historical subject (that today's world sadly has little time for): the sheer brutality and inhumanity of war and in particular the bitter carnage of Verdun where hundreds of thousands of French and Germans soldiers were butchered by their idiotic generals, with complete disinterest and disregard. Obviously, this is no prog joyride but we should be used to stretching the emotional envelope! To illustrate the depth of their commitment, the artwork ( an integral facet of the prog phenomena) is first rate, each historical excerpt is adroitly combined with a color war painting, a black and white cemetery photograph and casualty statistics. Gruesome perhaps but very effective. The Xang crew have evolved nicely in the intervening years, with guitarist Antoine Duhem in particular, elevating his axe mastery to lofty heights, dipping his feet on dizzying acoustic guitar on the opening track, the solemn and yet monstrous " Sacrifice". He can also shred, growl, grind, scream and hurl with the best of them, with slight nods to Frederic L'Epee of Shylock fame, a little DiMeola (both on the acoustic and electric) , a smidgen of Ant Phillips (when he ripped through "the Knife").A fantastic six- string gunslinger that requires a little more notice. "On Leave" is a change of pace relief from the madness and panic of conflict. Keyboardist Vincent Hooge distinguishes himself on synths, also delivering a few blisteringly effective jazzy solos on electric piano and Hammond . The track "Verdun" is a real stunner, a wonderfully constructed and deeply evocative number that manages only to hint at the sheer futility of that senseless battle. "Sons of the Empire" is a collage of various noises that have a military connotation (no industrial "bruitage" here), commemorating the courage of the foreign brother in arms who died on French soil. I generally do not like this type of filler but here, it has a "raison d'etre" that cannot be denied. It's also short. "Mud" continues in a harder edged vein, subtly suggesting the bitter stench of metallic machines of war, slugging through the morass of foul-smelling trenches and decaying corpses. Bassist Matt Hooge and drummer extraordinaire Manu Delestre excavate some sizzling rhythm tracks in this brutal landscape, within pieces like "Roommates" and "Trenches", that address the hopelessness of friend and foe alike , as if creating a soundtrack for a modern version of the classic "All Quiet on the Western Front" , Erich-Maria Remarque's famous anti-war novel . To state that they are metal heads is absurd, as if King Crimson (Larks , Starless and Red era) , Rush, Nebelnest , Taal , Maldoror or Nemo would be tagged with such a false label. Intense, sad, hopelessly despondent, desperate, contrasting angry & gentle, subtle and creative is a better definition than "hodge-podge" of styles. If you listen to this intently a dozen times, the sheer genius of this epic album will forcefully come to the fore. On the final track, "Gas" is presented as a slow moving, delicate wisp of greenish cloud, looking quite innocuous but delivering lethal and gruesome death. The "Floydian" effect here is padded by a Hillage -influenced guitar tone, a slow funeral metronome and small gasps of panicked breathing through the futile gas masks that start and end this powerful 6 minute "coup de grace" . This is intelligent, advanced instrumental prog that combines all the great attributes of prog history and adds a modern, shimmering veneer to a military lesson we can be condemned to repeat if we do not pay more attention. Sadly, we are not even interested. I consider this record to be a perfect testament to the prog creative process and worthy of the loftiest recommendation . 5 buried bayonets
Report this review (#121752)
Posted Friday, May 11, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars This is certainly a very ambitious album, an instrumental concept album that deals with one of the most destructive conflicts man has ever seen, World War I. This is probably enough to give all but the most avid Prog fans pause, as concept albums dealing with such titanic events inevitably have a high chance of failure, not to mention the fact that this French group has choosen to musically render such events without lyrics, albeit with sparse use of sound effects and a short spoken word passage.

I can safely say, on an intellectual level at least, they pull it off admirably. On the first few listens one is taken aback by the sheer musical diversity of this album, from the bombastic, more traditional keyboard-driven Symphonic Prog of "Sacrifice" and "Verdun", the crushing Prog-Metal of "Mud" and "Trenches", the unsettling, industrial-sounding "Sons of the Empire" and the strangely cathartic ambience of "Gas". Iit is due to this eclecticism that, early on, one is in doubt as to what much of the music has to do with "The Great War". However, with repeated, more intent listening, it becomes clear that, rather than harming the conceptual nature of the album, the wide musical palette serves to keep things interesting and largely free of the sort of cliche, angst-filled monotony one would expect of an album based on this subject matter, while at the same time emphasising the chaotic nature of war, emotionally as well as physically.

Each track, even the initially heartening Jazz-Fusion of "On Leave" or the gentle melancholy of "Roommates", in addition to more obvious emotional content, is filled with an air of tension and despair, an emotional underpinning which prevents what would otherwise be a rather awkward, directionless collection of music. Take "On Leave", for example, which brilliantly represents the idea of solidiers just returned from the trenches, attempting to relax and have a good time, trying to forget, but at the same time realising that they'll have to go back to the world of mud, misery and industrialised killing which they just left.

For those looking for something in the heavy Symphonic Prog vein, but with a difference, this is an excellent album, so long as you don't mind putting some effort in. Certainly an excellent addition to any prog collection.

Report this review (#137998)
Posted Thursday, September 13, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars Bigger than life!

Now here we have a true masterpiece. The French now how to do it. how to combine talent and creativity, sophistication and power. This is a real treat all the way from start to finnish. Some have mentioned that this is a versatile album, too versatile and that the band has no style of their own. Well this probably is their style. And the issue that the music deals with is also quite chaotic. The music expresses fine the feelings people must have had in those therrible days.

The musicianship on this album is first rate and the compositions are allmost all the time musically interesting and demanding. There is a lot of feeling in the playing. And as a bonus the sound quality is superb. If tehere is a five star album then this is it.

Report this review (#143288)
Posted Wednesday, October 10, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars I usually find very difficult for an all instrumental album to express a concept. I got this feeling es with "Camel" already ("Snow Goose").

Same applies here. This album refers to WWI and the awful episodes of the useless butchery that occurred on the French soil in the Verdun area (amongst others).

Musical genres are plenty in this album : jazz, prog metal, symphonic, neo-prog. The whole being mixed even within a song ("Sacrifice", "On Leave").

The most emotional one is "Verdun". The mother of all battles during these dark times for Europe. Hundreds of thousands of useless deaths for a military status quo. If only men could have learned from this !!!

Some "vocals" will tell us a bit about this massacre of these battles in "Sons Of The Empire" (2,5 million deaths). Battlefield noises (gun shots, sirens etc.). An apocalyptic atmosphere. Poignant but you could hardly listen to this more than five times. Works as a soundtrack actually.

This album is very far from the symphonic mood of their debut. "Mud" is almost heavy-prog-metal. Maybe to illustrate the ugliness felt by the soldiers in the muddy trenches.

I can understand that during the seven years break between their debut album and this one, their musical approach has evolved, but this is a (too) radical one. It has basically nothing to do (or very little) with its predecessor which I liked more.

There is an attempt to simulate Hendrix during "Trenches" (you know the guitar sounds imitating the fall of a bomb and then its explosion). But Hendrix is Hendrix...

Oppresive mood for "Gas". We really have the impression of wearing a mask to avoid these gases when listening to the intro during which we can hear a soldier breathing through such a device. A beautiful and symphonic (at last!) atmosphere. Peaceful theme amongst these warrior sounds. My fave out here. More in the vein of their first album.

This album goes into too many directions and lacks of unity IMO. I believe that a good storyboard with lyrics would have worked much better. It is not bad but there is no highlight either. Five out of ten. I will round it up to three stars for its subject and thanks to "Gas". I wish "Xang" had produced more songs of this caliber.

Report this review (#152484)
Posted Saturday, November 24, 2007 | Review Permalink
Cesar Inca
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "The Last of the Lasts" was indeed one of the most amazing prog albums in the year 2007: the French ensemble Xang really went to high places with this opus, which comprises a repertoire so consistent and so eclectic at the same time. The opener 'Sacrifice' kicks off with a heavily Mediterranean vibe, featuring soft acoustic percussion and Flamenco-oriented acoustic guitars. The mood is quite joyful at this point, but then the pulsating bass brings a shift of things toward an ambitious exercise on symphonic rock that benefits enormously from the motif twists that occur along the way (including a circus theme and Arabic fusion). The last portion features an explosive synth solo in which Vincent Hooge combines Wakeman's stylish pyrotechnics and Ordford's dynamics - awesome! 'On Leave' is a whole different nature: 6/8 jazz-rock set on a powerful framework that sounds like a mixture of Niacin and Tribal Tech. At least, until things turn into a slightly creepy ambience: that is where Xang states a heavy prog thread with a subtle spacey touch. For the final section, the track returns to the original 6/8 tempo on a jazzy note, culminating in a exciting 5/4 coda. The 11+ minute long 'Verdun' follows, beginning with a clear melodic path quite related to the standard of neo-prog (Versus X-meets-Twelfth Night), yet with a darker vein that soon erupts during a brief prog-metal escalade. The next section features an eerie Watkins-inspired synth solo, properly installed on a constrained instrumental frame. The remaining part of this section stand somewhere between melodic prog-metal and classic prog (Yes, ELP) with a hard rocking twist. The piano chords rolling up and down like sea waves and the guitar adornment that flows like an autumn breeze is lovely, but mostly, a brief prelude to the patently bombastic section that follows: this one brings the prog-metal/classic prog thing to a more frantic level. 'Sons of the Empire' is an interesting landscape of industrial effects plus a soliloquy, military orders, a warning siren, a crossfire, a radio reporter... The track is segued into the very prog- metal 'Mud', whose rough dynamics mixed with eerie jazz-oriented moods kind of reminds me of experimental metal acts such as Canvas Solaris. A radical change occurs when 'Roommates' settles in with its bohemian moods, pretty much reminiscent of the night club spirit that used to be embraced by the night owls in the early stages of the XX Century. A second section shifts into an exercise on modern symphonic rock, with a coda that displays a somewhat disturbing set of industrial synth layers. 'Trenches' finds the band once again exploring the mixture of prog-metal and classic prog that they had already mastered in some preceding tracks: just like the previous track, the track's end consists of a brief set of industrial synth layers. The album's last 8+ minutes are occupied by 'Gas', a slow sonic travel that is focused on distant atmospheres on an elegiac tone. The minimalistic approach and hypnotic repetition of the main layer-filled motif states a captivating marriage of post-rock and "Kid A"-era Radiohead, with a slight touch of the introspective side of Can. This piece is really beautiful as it is sad, which in my opinion/speculation is like a portrait of the desolation that fills a battlefield after a battle, only surrounded by the remaining gas after the shooting of various war weapons. The fact that this portrait of tension, destruction and sadness is inspired by the WWI enhances the main idea: that no matter how cruel and ultimate a war can seem, human nature eventually won't let it be the last. A terrible contemplation about human beings translated into great prog rock by the guys of Xang.
Report this review (#187875)
Posted Tuesday, November 4, 2008 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
3 stars XANG are a talented French band who play all-instrumental music.This is their second release and it's a concept album. I do prefer the debut because I find it more dynamic and powerful. It's hard for me to get into concept albums like this, I guess i'm too lazy.The subject matter is too depressing anyway.

"Sacrifice" opens with gentle guitar and percussion.The guitar is more passionate before 1 1/2 minutes. Some heaviness in the second half of the song which ends before 9 minutes when it settles back. The synths become prominant after 10 minutes. "On Leave" is kind of jazzy with guitar, drums and bass. Piano replaces the guitar before 2 minutes. It kicks in harder after 2 1/2 minutes briefly with organ outfront. Organ then leads then it kicks in again as contrasts continue. "Verdun" is mellow with synths, a beat and relaxed guitar.The piano replaces the synths before 3 minutes then the synths lead again. It changes completely before 7 minutes as the piano takes over.It then picks up with synths 8 1/2 minutes in. It's heavier late.

"Sons Of The Empire" opens with spoken words but we also get sirens and experimental sounds. "Mud" is heavy early on but it settles right down a minute in with synths and drums.The guitar is back 2 minutes in. Nice. "Roommates" opens in a mellow way with accordion and piano. Drums and synths take over after 1 1/2 minutes.The guitar joins in and the tempo picks up before 3 minutes. A change before 4 1/2 minutes as it turns atmospheric. "Trenches" has some heavy outbursts and the guitar lights it up 5 minutes in. "Gas" opens with gas sounds. No not that. A beat comes in and the guitar cries out in this emotional closer.

It certainly has it's moments but not enough of them for me to give up the fourth star.

Report this review (#422874)
Posted Friday, March 25, 2011 | Review Permalink

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