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Kayak - Merlin - Bard Of The Unseen CD (album) cover

MERLIN - BARD OF THE UNSEEN

Kayak

Crossover Prog


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5 stars This is the REALLY comeback album of Kayak! A few old songs from the 1981 album 'Merlin' are joined with a couple of new songs. The result is a real strong Rockopera with Cindy Oudshoorn as the best female voice I've heard since Tracy Hitchings! My favourite tracks are of course the well-known 'Merlin', the wonderful 'Friendship and Love' and the great final 'The Last Battle / Avalon'
Report this review (#17236)
Posted Friday, November 14, 2003 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is an absolutely incredible work!! The use of a symphony orchestra only enhances the top-notch compositions. Enthralling from beginning to end! Kayak have finally created their masterpiece!!!... Highly Recommended!!!
Report this review (#17241)
Posted Thursday, January 1, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is an amazing work, period!!!!! Wonderful Symphonic Music, full of time changes, a mix of different styles,use of a Symphony Orchestra, and overall musical virtuosity. I have to admit that the music is very melodic and accesible but in my humble opinion, this is the best Kayak record I´ve heard. A symphonic masterpiece!!
Report this review (#17247)
Posted Friday, May 14, 2004 | Review Permalink
gabiflorenzan
5 stars What can I say? Perfect! You will adore if you are prog rock fan and loved "The Mists Of Avalon" book. Full of stiles mix, this album is a shot of mythology and melody. There's no doubt that's the best Kayak's album!
Report this review (#17248)
Posted Tuesday, May 18, 2004 | Review Permalink
1 stars Well... it is kinda original: some progressive elements mixed with Eurovision song contest typical lines. But I don't like this kind of "originality". From a band that features a keyboardist who was in Camel one should expect much better. I really can't see how someone can rate this cheesy music as masterpiece but... Well, if you like AOR music instead of progressive rock than you're into the right CD.
Report this review (#17249)
Posted Wednesday, May 19, 2004 | Review Permalink
richardh
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Kayak revisit the Merlin concept first explored on their 1981 album of the same name.This is actually taken from a live performance ( also available on DVD-highly recommended) but from the recording quality you wouldn't realise it.The band make excellent use of orchestration and I love the 'meaty' drumming.If you like your prog on the symhonic side with plenty of melody than look no further.
Report this review (#17250)
Posted Thursday, May 20, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars My first review is reserved for the best CD I have ever heard - hence five stars, which I will dish out sparingly. The eighties album Merlin of this undervalued Dutch band included a suite of five songs based on the Arthur legend. They were fantastic songs, including the powerful Merlin and the melancholy ballad Niniane. Shortly after the album, Kayak quit without having achieved a real international career.

They reunited in the late nineties, and with their third studio album since then they realised their dream of almost 20 years: extend the five song 20 minute Merlin suite to a full 70 minutes CD. A new lead singer was employed (Heerink), a female lead singer was recruited (Oudshoorn), and nine new songs were writen to complement the original five and fill in the gaps in the story line. And a symphony orchestra backing was thrown in for good measure. The result is unbelievable.

In the new versions, the old songs sparkle just as bright as they did before, and the nine new songs blend in marvelously. The highlights are the already mentioned Merlin and Niniane, but also the fantastic duet When the seer looks away (incredible performance by Cindy Oudshoorn), and the moving The other side, with a quiet instrumental part for symphony orchestra that is simply breathtaking. But all 14 songs are great.

Too many superlatives? Perhaps. But I have listened to this masterpiece over 20 times now and I consider it the best CD in our vast collection.

Report this review (#17251)
Posted Wednesday, September 29, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars Like the first review said, there are no cd's that I've heard, that are better than this. Every song on this cd is like the best song. I listen to this cd almost every day, and always have these songs in my head. The story about Arthur and Merlin make it very interesting. The best progressive rock band ever. The dvd of the concert is also the best. I would definately recomend everyone to buy this cd.
Report this review (#17252)
Posted Sunday, November 21, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars What a surprising comeback by Kayak! I think this band is one of the most underrated in prog history. They made very melodic album that should appeal to all fans who love Camel-like music. Compositions are really great, the construction of this concept album is also amazing, and I'm eager to hear their forthcoming album "Nostradamus". For me it's one of the best albums of 2003. Amazing!
Report this review (#17254)
Posted Monday, May 9, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Kayak have created simply one of the most wonderful music I've loved since the first release of Merlin. It's not possible to give less than five stars to this album! The light and shadows dance in the dreaming atmosphere in delicate way or epic situations supported by orchestral great movement. The voices are beautiful, even if sometimes I'm tied to the original version of this album, but it's very amusing to see the new lines in arrangement developed by Ton Scherpneze, the great!
Report this review (#42214)
Posted Tuesday, August 9, 2005 | Review Permalink
Trotsky
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars They say that life doesn't offer you second chances, but in one of the most surprising moves ever pulled by a progressive rock band, Kayak make good on some unfulfilled promises. A full 22 years after botching their first attempt at Merlin (in 1981, Kayak released an album called Merlin that was a good half concept album, half-unrelated pop songs), original members Tom Scherpenzeel (keyboards) and Pip Koopman (drums), as well as long time bassist Bert Veldkamp got together to right the wrongs of history. They're actually done a pretty good job of it, too.

This album builds on the five earlier tracks (Merlin, Tintagel, The Sword In The Stone, The King's Enchanter and Niniane (Lady Of The Lake) with eight newly composed tracks that fit in seamlessly to create a good neo-prog rock opera. Just as Kayak's Close To The Fire album (which came out in 2000)demonstrated a shift to a sound that should thrill afficionados of Glass Hammer and IQ, so this one continues in the same vein. I suppose it's a rather logical move from the progressive pop of the early 70s to a more contemporary neo-prog sound ... and the good news is that it is better than almost every neo-prog album recorded since Fish left Marillion (IQ's Dark Matter being an exception).

This album has some nice vocal harmonies, orchestral additions, great solos by Scherpenzeel (his synth work towards the tail end of the opening track is excellent.), good guitar leads, pleasing Celtic themes and enough changes of pace to ensure excitement throughout. I must admit though, that my favourite tunes are still the "original" compositions from 1981 ... the title track, the eerie, delicate Tintagel and The King's Enchanter are all awesome! Of the newer pieces, the exuberant At Arthur's Court, The Purest Of Knights and The Last Battle (both of which have a great cinematic epic feel) are the standouts. At times though (Friendship And Love is a distinct example, and even Niniane reminds me at times of Air Supply!), Kayak's music can get a little too lightweight for my tastes.

One notable change for this album is the presence of lead vocalist Bert Heerink (who joined for 2001's Night Vision album), while female singer Cindy Oudshoorn and guitarist Rob Vunderlink also handle lead vocals at various points on the album. The 1981 album had Edward Reekers singing, while the vocalist for the early 70s albums was Max Werner, who had returned for Close To The Fire, but isn't anywhere to be seen here. Maybe this confusing array of vocalists is one reason Kayak hasn't gotten the recognition it deserves. Still, if I were a hard-core fan of the neo-progressive style (and I most certainly am not), I'd rush out to get this one. ... 53% on the MPV scale

Report this review (#54077)
Posted Monday, October 31, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars I am marvelled by this Kayak's masterpiece. This band isn't much known in my country but it should be. They should be more heard on radios, more broadcasted. This album undobtedly is excellent highlighting the power of the voices and the atmosphere created by keyboards to intensify the history or legend of King Arthur and Wizard Merlin. I had translated the lyrics and the poetry is very exquisite... I became totally astonished.
Report this review (#64762)
Posted Saturday, January 14, 2006 | Review Permalink
corlenbelspar
5 stars Alright, I've been a big fan of the Arthurian legends that dealt with the epic tale of the Matter of Britian ever since I was a child and I'm a big fan of instrumental music, and this album mixed both together perfectly resulting in very well composed songs that retell the life of King Arthur and Merlin through the use of song lyrics. I actually stumbled on to this album by accident when searching for a transcript of The Sword in the Stone on Google, since Kayak began way before my time I had never heard of them until up to that point. Songs such as The Sword in the Stone and The Future King have a perfect mix of rock band instruments and orchestra and the string ensemble is so brilliantly written in The Purest of Knights. Simply put: This album blends orchestra and rock together seamlessly which is something several bands have failed to do when they attempted it.
Report this review (#68503)
Posted Monday, February 6, 2006 | Review Permalink
Tristan Mulders
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Kayak - Merlin: Bard of the Unseen

This 2003 release was the first Kayak album I heard since I first discovered symphonic rock a couple of years ago. I heard the title track on Dutch radio station Arrow Rock and I liked it a lot. I always thought that Kayak was this type of Hippy band, but this sounded a lot better than I could ever imagine.

It didn't take a lot of time before I purchased the, then newest, Kayak album and I was playing it quite a few times over the first few weeks. But you know how it goes when it comes to new music, you tend to perform overkill on your latest jewel, resulting in a dislike of the album for a random period of several days/weeks/months. 'Merlin' was this type of situation. I didn't listen to it that much after a few weeks and it got played in my CD-player only on rare occasions. That was until Kayak released its successor: Nostradamus.

The vague thing came to mind that Merlin was actually a pretty damn good album and why don't I listen to it anymore? I thought the very same thing today. And here I am, writing a review about the album.

Do you know what's so nice when you haven't listened to the album for months? You tend to hear things that you didn't hear the last time, or you rediscover those little things all over again. The same thing happens to me right now. First of all I noticed actually how good the artwork for this CD is... throughout the CD-booklet you see wonderful drawings based upon the legend of King Arthur.

Of course with an album title as 'Merlin: Bard of the Unseen' and song titles alike 'The Sword in the Stone', 'The Purest of Knights' and 'The last Battle' the link with the middle ages is soon made. The music itself sounds rather medieval like from time to time as well and the use of a lot of orchestral sections gives the music something extra I think. But between the layers of medieval sounds and bombastic string sections there's still a lot of ROCK included. If you want to have something heavy, you shouldn't listen to this though. This is more based upon the subtle side of rock with its harmonic guitar solos and fragile piano parts.

Too bad that the follow-up Nostradamus album wasn't as coherent as this one is. Not only because some of the songs share musical themes, because that's featured on Nostradamus as well, but because the whole album really feels like one big journey through that specific time period when the legend of King Arthur was supposed to take place. It's too bad that I didn't see Kayak perform this one live, because I've seen Nostradamus performed live in a local theatre and it was absolutely amazing!

This Bard of the Unseen should be seen by as many prog collectors as possible, it's really an excellent addition to any prog lover's collection!

Report this review (#97078)
Posted Saturday, November 4, 2006 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars I purchased this a few years ago and didn't like it at all. I thought maybe I would feel differently about it now so I gave it a spin today and it was all I could do to listen to the whole record.This was painful for me, and here's why. First of all I really dislike musicals, always have, and for me this was like listening to a musical instead of watching it. The orchestral parts I don't like at all either, and the vocals although not bad, to me they are below average.

The highlight for me was in the first song "Merlin" when we hear a long guitar solo late in the song. And the second song "Tintagel" is a mellow song with acoustic guitar and reserved vocals that was ok.

Now seeing how highly rated this album is I have to conclude that it's just me. I will also say that I will never listen to this ever again. Okay that was a little harsh i'll admit but I just can't get into KAYAK.

Report this review (#112934)
Posted Tuesday, February 20, 2007 | Review Permalink
friso
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars The Dutch progressive rock scene saw a lot of comebacks at the start of the century. With a modern symphonic rock / prog / pop sound Kayak returned with 'Close to the Fire' in 2000 with original vocalist Max Werner. After the transitional album 'Night Vision' (which I quite like!) keyboardist and composer Ton Scherpenzeel set out to finish his Merlin concept album, of which they had already recorded five songs in 1981 (which was a return to the progressive rock roots of the band at that time). Max Werner was quick to leave the newly formed Kayak and was replaced by Bert Heerink, who is most famous as the frontman of the eighties (neo classical) stadion metal band VanderBerg (do give a shot at their 'Alibi' album). The talented Cindy Oudshoorn contributed her vocals to the band as well and quickly became a full member after much fan appraisal of her performances live.

With 'Merlin - Bard of the Unseen' Kayak delivers its first full concept album, which of course tells about the Arthurian legend. The adult symphonic prog sound has changed quite a bit, using much of the medieval and classical sounds first introduced in 1981. The album features additional strings of the New Philharmonic Orchestra. With this crossover of medieval music and symphonic rock the band creates a fresh pallet, though some have pointed out it may come across as the sound of a musical. The songwriting is great throughout this record and the new arrangements of the songs from the original Merlin record are beautifully done. Kayak is easily the most melodic band ever to come from the Netherlands and this album really is a celebration of the composition talent of Scherpenzeel en Koopman. The story-line is well established and the music fits in perfectly. My only complaint would be that the string of songs before the finale 'The Last Battle' looses a bit too much steam. Songs like 'Merlin', 'The Future King', 'The Sword in the Stone', 'Branded' and 'The Last Battle' are easily among the best recordings of the band. The vocal performances of Heerink, Oudshoorn and guitarist (and secret weapon) Vunderink are all very lively and well recorded.

This album is considered one of the strongest progressive rock albums of the Netherlands and I think fans of symphonic prog, prog folk, crossover and concept albums should most definitely check it out!

Report this review (#146741)
Posted Wednesday, October 24, 2007 | Review Permalink
SouthSideoftheSky
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Symphonic Team
2 stars Merlin - the musical

Merlin - Bard Of The Unseen is the third album by the reunited Kayak after a long absence from the music industry. After having been very impressed by the excellent come back album Close To The Fire from 2000 and liked the much less interesting but still good Night Vision from 2001, this remake of Merlin was a big disappointment. I have now rewritten this review after having heard the original version of Kayak's Merlin from 1981. My rating, however, remains the same.

Comparing the two versions of Merlin side by side I must say that the original version is by far the one that I like best. I agree that this remake is an improvement in some respects, but in other respects it is the opposite of an improvement. I feel that they have turned the very good Merlin songs from that 1981 album into some kind of "Rock musical" or Rock Opera, that I don't much like at all. Those original songs released in 1981 were Merlin, Tintagel, The Sword In The Stone, The King's Enchanter and Niniane (Lady Of The Lake). The rest of the songs here are brand new. There is no doubt that these original five songs are all great songs and have a strong classic feel. Merlin and Niniane, in particular, are very beautiful songs. But while the sonic quality of this recording is indeed higher than on the original, the original recording have something special that I feel is not entirely recreated here.

The original version of the album was by no means perfect and doing a remake was indeed a very good idea. However, I don't much appreciate the treatment these songs are given here. The result is too bombastic, too theatrical and too orchestral. It comes across as a bit overblown and too "big" for my taste. Some of the new songs are duets with both male and female vocals sharing the spotlight and portraying different characters in the story. This gives the whole thing a feeling of a musical which makes it very hard for me to get into despite some nice instrumental passages. If you like that kind of stuff, you should check this out. But if you share my scepticism about this formula, you should proceed with considerable caution.

Needless to say, this "Rock musical" is about the King Arthur legend. This is, of course, hardly original because several Prog and Prog related bands and artists had already done this. Rick Wakeman's The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table from 1975 is just one example. There is no doubt about the band still being highly competent musicians and writers and that they have invested a lot of effort into this project. This is by no means a poor product. But to my ears this is more of a Rock musical than a Prog Rock album. The arrangements are not very elaborated and the focus lies mostly on the vocals and not much space is devoted for instrumental expression. The occasional guitar solos and the few, short keyboard solos are good, but not enough to lift the album.

Doing a remake of the original Merlin had so much potential, but this "musical" version is not my cup of tea. Merlin, Niniane and Tintagel are great songs that should be heard, but I would prefer the original versions. If you want to explore Kayak's come-back in the new millennium, I strongly recommend you to start with the excellent Close To The Fire.

Report this review (#221160)
Posted Sunday, June 14, 2009 | Review Permalink
ZowieZiggy
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars This "Merlin, Bard Of The Unseen" revisited is a full length concept album which takes its inspiration from their previous "Merlin" which was released in 81. At the time, only one side of the album was related to the Merlin story which we all know quite well.

As some reviewers have said, this version sounds much more as a musical than the original work. The addition of some orchestrations only adds to the flavour. I have a mixed feeling about this release: while the original was generally considered as being too short, this one might well be somewhat longish and sometimes pompous ("The Sword In The Stone" for example) or too much West End's musical oriented ("When The Seer Looks Away" or "Branded").

If you're in for orchestrations, this might be an interesting work, but I am not really such a freak (there are still very few exceptions to this appreciation like the great "El Dorado" from ELO).

My two favourite songs are "The Otherworld" which contains some fine instrumental parts and beautiful vocals (a trade mark with this band) and the moving "Niniane" which was already my fave from the original work. It is very much a "Camel" like type of song as far as the instrumental parts are concerned. Vocals are of course much better here.

A song as "Friendship & Love" is also a fine achievement full of subtlety (piano, guitar). Extremely melodic and in all perfectly crafted.

The band called this work a "rock opera". I would tend to call this more a "musical" instead, leaving the term "rock opera" to "Tommy" and the likes. Anyway, one spends an enjoyable time while listening to this CD. Three stars.

Report this review (#229056)
Posted Thursday, July 30, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Well, first let me say that I am a "classical" prog fan, meaning symphonic rock in the style of Genesis, IQ and the like but I also have a certain weakness for musicals (like Jesus Christ Superstar).

Therefore I really can not give less than five stars to this album as it mixes those two genres perfectly imho!

For me, it doesnt hurt to have the music orchestrated at all, I even like the new versions of the 5 original "Merlin" songs slightly better than the originals.

And the new songs are by no means fillers!

Six out of the 14 songs (3 of them new) are just perfect in my view and I get never tired listening to them:

The first three: "Merlin" (just one of my all time favorite tracks), "Tintagel", "The future King"

Then "The purest of knights", "The Kings Enchanter" and "Avalon"

All of the other eight have some weak moments in my view when it gets too "poppy" but all of them have some great moments, too! Strangely the song I like the least is "Niniane", which is praised by most others .. for me it is just too mellow..

So, overall it is not perfect, but as it is within my Top five music albums I can not give it less than five stars (lets say 4.,7) :-)

Report this review (#279749)
Posted Wednesday, April 28, 2010 | Review Permalink
Gatot
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Merlin is an excellent album that was released long time ago in 1981 and I like the album very much. More than 20 years after the original Merlin was released Kayak released a new Merlin album, which consists of 5 old songs and 9 new ones; all of them were composed by Ton Scherpenzeel. The album revolves around Merlin or King Arthur's court the characters on this album are as follows: Merlin and Lancelot parts are sung by Bert Heerink, Mordred is Rob Vunderink and Morgaine and Guinevere's "roles" are sung by Cindy Oudshoorn. If you listen to the album for the first time you will be amazed by the beautiful songs and excellent orhestratio - something that Ton Scherpenzeel has been good at.

As original Merlin has been with me as one of my favorite albums where I know exactly how the vocal and the music sound together, it was quite hard for me to accept this new version of Merlin because the vocal is different than the original one mainly sung by Edward Reekers. For me, the vocal quality of Edward Reekers had become an integral part of the Kayak music and it's non replaceable. If I had never heard Merlin original version, I might consider this album as masterpiece. But's it's practically difficult for me to say so now as, again, the vocal quality of Edward Reekers has become an integral part of Merlin music.

I could say that the title track is a real masterpiece with outstanding orchestration, but something is missing on the vocal side. I am not saying that the vocal quality of the new singer is bad - in fact he has much power than Reekers - but ...still ...something is missing. The classic "old" Niniane (Lady Of The Lake) sounds really different on this 2003 version. Even though all the five old songs sound refreshing and more alive but they should be sung by Edward Reekers.

I am sure most people would consider this album as excellent or masterpiece. Well, I have to admit, they are right because musically this 2003 is really excellent especially with its orchestration. But, at personal level, the original Merlin has engrossed deeply into my mind. It's like enjoying the original Genesis' 'Carpet Crawlers' with the new recording even though the singer is the same but the overall nuance of the song has lost. So is the case with this new Merlin. So I consider it as a three star rating album - bearing the fact that the Merlin itself is an excellent album and this new version lacks originality despite the new songs. Keep on proggin' ...!!!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Report this review (#569638)
Posted Thursday, November 17, 2011 | Review Permalink

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