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Versus X - Primordial Ocean CD (album) cover


Versus X

Crossover Prog

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erik neuteboom
3 stars


This German band is rooted in 1984 when prime mover Arne Schäfer plays in the trio Vague Venture and one year later starts to sing. Their sound is a blend of New Wave and New Romantic. While the music turns into more and more progressive many changes in the line-up follow and eventually the name of the band becomes Versus X, derived from the chemistry. They began to play gigs, the reactions are very positive and in 1994 Versus X releases their eponymous debut album, followed by Disturbance (1997), The Turbulent Zone (2000), Live At The Spirit (2002) and recently (again after some changes in the line- up) the new studio album entitled Primordial Ocean (2008), the fans had to wait eight years for a successor of The Turbulent Zone, their previous studio effort.

The running time of this new CD is more than 70 minutes and it contains five compositions, four between 15 and 25 minutes along the short track From A Distance (a dreamy piece with solo Grand piano). The four long and alternating songs sound as warm and very melodic 24-carat symphonic rock, deeply rooted into the Classic Prog tradition. We can enjoy lots of howling guitar, supported by the distinctive Moog Taurus bass pedals and lush vintage keyboards (in my opinion samples) like the Mellotron, Hammond organ and Minimoog synthesizer. To me the music evoked many 'goose bump moments' like the intro of The Pulse Of Earth (intense violin-Mellotron and bass pedals) and the compelling bombastic sound featuring heavy Mellotron, fat Minimoog and sensitive electric guitar runs in Essentially Human, Fingerprints and the final piece Into The Vast Unknown (long and moving guitar solo with wonderful support of the unsurpassed Mellotron).

Listening to this CD often Skandinavian prog like White Willow, Anekdoten, Wobbler and especially Anglagard (loaded with Mellotron and frequent interplay between powerful guitar and Hammond) comes to my mind, I enjoyed it very much. But I have to admit that in my opinion the vocals don't succeed to generate the same excitment as the music, I miss power and the accent is very obvious. But it didn't disturb me, also because Versus X their music on this new CD contains a lot of instrumental parts, on those moments this promising band showcases their compositorial skills and appreciation for Classic Prog like Seventies King Crimson (violin-Mellotron) Genesis (choir-Mellotron, Moog Taurus bass pedals and volume pedal guitar) and Yes (Hammond and Minimoog runs), I have been in Prog Heaven! My rating: 3,5 stars.

Report this review (#172138)
Posted Sunday, May 25, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars German outfit Versus X have made a really strong album with their 2008 release Primordial Ocean.

4 long epic tunes, all of them complicated and quirky affairs, with a multitude of segments constantly evolving and moving; but with an emphasis on symphonic elements and strong melodies. Long instrumental passages is a key feature here, with sweeping and at times grandiose segments dominated by multi-layered synths just as dominant as more mellow passages with piano only and more driving parts with guitar riffs and organ taking the lead.

The only weakness I came across were the vocals, which seems to have a hard time following the slightly quirky melody lines in some passages.

Apart from that, this is a killer release for most people fond of bands like Genesis and Yes, and the level of complexity might make this one of interest to fans of Gentle Giant as well.

Report this review (#178147)
Posted Friday, July 25, 2008 | Review Permalink
Cesar Inca
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "Primordial Ocean" is an album in which German ensemble Versus X reinforces its retro-symphonic trend. As I remember, the band started on a prog metal-meets-neo vein ("Disturbance" being a clear testimony for this line of work), but by now the band has managed to deliver a development toward the pompous, nostalgic roads of old-fashioned symphonic prog. Keyboardist Ekkehard Nahm operates as the pivotal man for the full band's instrumental schemes and explorations. As points of reference, Versus X has a musical feel very related to 90s Flower Kings, the resucitated Kaipa, High Wheel, and why not, The Tangent - as a matter of fact, guitarist Arne Schäfer's vocal range and style remind of Eloy's Frank Bornemann y The Tangent's Andy Tillison. The band feels at ease when creating and elaborating long compositions: four are the ones comprised in this "Primordial Ocean". 'The Pulse of Earth' gets teh albums started with ceremonious organ and mellotron layers, with a controlled power that gradually gets more patent as the whole band develops the themes. The increase of sonic power is not generated by way of contrast, but with a well-measured build-up. The most magnificent moment of this track take place between minutes 8 and 15, whose melancholic atmospheres are convincingly portrayed by the synth washes, mellotron layers and lead guitar phrases, in this way paying a great tribute to old-school space-oriented symphonic rock. 'From a Distance' is a brief piano solo piece whose meditative tone serves as a proper prelude to the impetuous intro of the next track, 'Essentially Human'. This suite goes for more extrovrted moods than the opener, even getting deeply into the most sophisticated side of progressive things (some specific instrumental passages take hints to Gentle Giant or Van der Graaf Generator). The mellotron sounds are pretty recurrent here, while the guitar harmonies and leads always stay loyal to the moods created by the keyboards (organ chord progression, mellotron layers, piano scales) - in fact, the lead guitar is the crucial item for the track's melodic development, except when the synth assumes the leading spot. The emotional climax literally fills teh air around the attentive listener. 'Fingerprints' begins on a very ethereal mood, alternating spacey synth layers and classicist piano interventions. When the whole band settles in, they elaborate an effective linkage of various motifs, bearing diverse levels of intensity. The track's second half is dominated by a very groovy motif, obviously catchy while ornamented with some sophistication in its rhythmic basis. The last minutes are filled by a languid closure. The longest suite in the album (it last a bit less than 23 ¾ minutes) is the last one: "Into the Vast Unknown" follows the path of musical ambition pursued by the two preceding suites, even giving more room to the instrumental deliveries. Particularly relevant is the fact that bassist Thomas Keller makes his instrument steal the limelight for a few moments. Complexity is an essential rule here, with the band exploiting the compositional paraphernalia enthusiastically between minutes 10 and 13 - simply delicious! Actually, tracks 3-5 can be enjoyed as a contant zeniyh of the album. In conclusion, Versus X has delivered a great retro-prog album with this 2008 effort "Primordial Ocean". Not unlike Thieves' Kitchen, The Tangent or Brighteye Brison, Versus X has shown us that 2008 is yet another year of good health for old-fashioned symphonic prog.
Report this review (#182445)
Posted Sunday, September 14, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars Masterpiece !

This album is a masterpiece. As common, a masterpiece is often difficult to listen at the first. As a "Tales From Topographic Oceans" in 1973, which was misunderstood at the first release, this one may be in the same situation. With a complexity and a subtil writing, Versus X offers to us a fantastic album of VERY VERY good progressive music.

With a lot of differents themes (classical, jazzy, rock and others) and a lot of influences (Yes, Genesis, ELP, King Crimson, Van der Graaf Generator, Gentle Giant, The Tangent), it sounds like the best groups we know on this progressive planet.

But keep in mind, you need to listen to this album several times before understanding how this music is so great ... If you like Yes, The Tangent, The Flower Kings, and others bands mentioned in this review, you'll like this fabulous album. Enjoy.

Report this review (#199327)
Posted Friday, January 16, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Supremely satisfying hardcore prog, deeply symphonic, luscious, even pornographic in its pure pleasure-seeking and masterful handling. I got aroused just hearing the first cut, fifteen minutes of well-developed assets carefully drawn out through peaks and valleys until 'The Pulse of the Earth' transitions to 'Essentially Human', a burner full of counterpoint, crosscut rhythms, varietal modulations dropped with ease, and the delicate shared lines of Ekkehard Nahm's keys and fusiony guitars of Arne Schäfer (who shares his vocal range with one Andy Tillison). Nahm packed the record with 'tron samples from his synth richly filling-in the background and Keller & Völlmar are flawless timekeepers. Weird atonal jazziness of 'Fingerprints' vacillates between highhanded piano work and wall-of-sound symph, and 23 minute monster 'Into the Vast Unknown' is terrificly angled and intricate.

Wobbler does spring to mind as well as the aforementioned Mr. Tillison, but perhaps not as intense and with a touch more maturity, the median age range of this group being about forty-five. A highly commendable issue, Primordial Ocean, and a worthy part of the millennial symphonic revival.

Report this review (#1136129)
Posted Sunday, February 23, 2014 | Review Permalink

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