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Epignosis - Refulgence CD (album) cover



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4 stars The second album by Epignosis, Mr. Brown has really made great strides forward all around, (from what was an already impressive debut).

For those unfamiliar, Epignosis plays a melodic, textured and symphonic style of progressive rock. This is the path followed taken again on "Refulgence" and while not unprecedented, it does not need to be. Instead of sprawling, dense epics that test your patience and tolerance of self indulgence, "Refulgence" is a very mellow album, dominated by piano and synth, ripe with acoustic and clean guitar, with some crunchy guitar tones thrown in, harmonious bass and punctuated with soothing vocals. Brown's wife, Tasha, has an increased role on this album and her vocals can be described best as angelic. Wish their natural voices could shine throughout and not occasionally dive into effects, which happens a few times, but that is just the personal preference of this reviewer.

The songs on "Refulgence" have been trimmed down, (or maybe simply broken up) and instead of the 8 minute + songs heard on "Still the Waters" there are more here, all under 6 minutes in length with one exception: the 17 minute self titled track. After an ambient intro piece, said title track begins and is really a microcosm of the album. Everything is here in one song, drifting gently from section to section and has quite a variety within its frame. Also here one will notice the greatly improved drumming, which, (while not a buzz kill on "Still the Waters") was a bit rough at times and lackluster. The physical sound is much improved with this album, as is the actual drumming. On a related note, while not really an issue before, the overall production is also better...and kudos to Brown for developing as a complete musician.

After the very good title track, we have my personal favorite on the album, the progressive and electric guitar focused "Bold Eternal Day". An awesome song put together here. A very strong start to the album, which includes some other standouts such as "Riddles in the Dark", "A Handful of Humanity" and the acoustic "If the World". The album ends with a piano ballad, sung entirely by Tasha and is really the best way to end such a peaceful album.

A tranquil album, intricate and melodic, Brown has a great sense of harmony, and has created quite a textured work. Though its light nature keeps it serene, and not dense. Every song is not the same of course, and some have a different feel to keep things mixed up. Another very solid and beautiful album by Epignosis.

Four Stars

Report this review (#472734)
Posted Thursday, June 30, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars Re·ful·gence (\ri-ˈfu̇l-jən(t)s, -ˈfəl-\), noun : a radiant or resplendent quality or state

Refulgence is the second album by Epignosis, a solo musical project by Rob Brown with support vocals from his wife, Tasha. A large portion of this album is focussed on the idea of Refulgence, which is not only referenced in the album name and the cover art, but is also the name of the only track surpassing 6 minutes (the 17 minute title track). There is a bit of a "Duke Suite" feel going on here as well, with Effulgence leading naturally into Refulgence, and Fade reprising the theme from Refulgence.

"I am not the light, I'm just a cracked little mirror covered with filth and dust", Robert sings in the chorus of the title track. It's a Christian reference, but very humble and reverential, and cleverly used in various other parts of the song ("Is it seven years bad luck to shatter me to the shards I am?")

Completing the "Duke Suite" effect this album sort of has is, as I mentioned, the closing track Fade, sung by Tasha. This one says, "Jesus is the light, and he can make you a mirror by his perfect grace" - so instead of being about a Christian, it's about Jesus himself. This song has a more peaceful feel to it, focussing more on piano than guitars. I prefer Tasha's singing to Robs in most cases, and combined with the different mood, I think it provides a great contrast between the mirror and the light. Very well done.

A lot of solo albums suffer from focussing too much on one instrument, the instruments not played by the lead member supporting the lead instead of working together. In this case, Rob shows a good command of multiple instruments. The focus is mostly on the electric and acoustic guitars, but they keys are tastefully done and when the piano comes in, it's always pretty and well played. And although Rob is not a drummer, and the drums on this album are programmed, they actually sound rather good (and even have a pretty good tone!). One thing that has been done quite well is working the drums and guitars together, so that each is stronger in the presence of the other than they would be apart. Very complementary. Although this album doesn't quite have a full band sound all the time, for the most part it does, and it never sounds like it is just one guy on his own.

As I mentioned, I do prefer Tasha's vocals over Robs. This is partially because I tend to enjoy female vocals more than males in a lot of cases, but also because her voice feels a bit more full. There are a few points on this album where Rob really shines (A Handful of Humanity is the best part), but at some points his voice doesn't sound full enough to match the emotion of the music. He does do great support vocals though; when he and Tasha sing together, it works incredibly well.

Oh yeah, and although this album is mostly reverential, make no mistake; Epignosis can rock out, as is done on the track "Bold Eternal Day", one of the best song on the album!

Report this review (#473046)
Posted Thursday, June 30, 2011 | Review Permalink
Andy Webb
Retired Admin
4 stars This mirror may be cracked, but it is refulgent just the same

Epignosis is the solo project of ProgArchives very own... Epignosis (who'd have guessed). Robert Brown is his real name, a humble North Carolinian multi-instrumentalist who plays all the instruments (and programs some too) on his two solo records. His latest, a labor of love (and occasionally frustration) is titled Refulgence, and is certainly an album with a worthy name. Refulgence is a noun meaning 'radiance' - which is appropriate to the Christian theme that runs all throughout the album, with pious lyrics and subtle Christian themes. However, this theme is not present on every track of the album, as Rob sprinkles in his second ideological love - Libertarianism. Although I may only agree with one of the topics, the album still presents itself as a slightly flawed but overall very engaging and attracting piece of symphonic rock.

Unlike Epignosis' first effort, Still the Waters, which came off as an overall amateurish studio effort, Refulgence emerges as a large improvement, with much more professional and clean production, inviting atmospheres, and a better mix than the last album. The instrumentation is stronger than much of his last effort, with some really fantastic moments that remind of Spock's Beard. Although the drums are programmed, they are for the most part quite realistic, although they do at times grate against this drummer's skin. Away from percussion, however, Rob's masterful use of acoustic 6- and 12-string guitar is fantastic, and his subtle use of mellotron and other keyboards adds a fantastic texture to the music. His guitar tone in the title track is very reminiscent of Mike Oldfield, which a great folky dynamic to that epic track. This peaceful feeling really holds itself throughout much of the album, with the exception of truly rocking tracks such as Bold Eternal Day and Riddles in the Dark.

However, the one major flaw that truly sticks out to me is much of the vocals. To me, they don't really match the emotion of the music, and seem flat and unanimated at times. Although occasionally they really shine through and compliment the music, overall I feel like they don't match the power of the music. Although Tasha's vocals, oftentimes simply adding harmony to Rob's, can really add that 'umph' needed to make them appropriate for the music.

The lyrics, too, don't click with me either. Of course I will not have this mark against the rating because my viewpoints on religion can be different than others, and I can (usually) tune out religious allusions in music. But references to the bible, such as Romans 5:5 'Hope Maketh Not Ashamed' don't really fit with much of the music atmosphere in my opinion. Luckily these lyrics don't come off as preachy, but more as a humble tribute. Although I completely respect Rob's beliefs, I don't completely agree. Of course lyrically I do quite enjoy Handful of Humanity, which is a tip of his hat to his Libertarian friends.

As a lover of literature (and the owner of a Bachelor's degree in English if I recall correctly), the man can truly compose some great lyrics, and whether I agree with them or not, poetically they can truly hold well.

In the end, this album is truly a wonderful, if not a bit flawed, piece of music. Bestowed with beautifully peaceful atmospheres and superb dynamics, ranging from a near metal song to peaceful folky acoustic tracks, the album is easily worth the time and energy put into composing and producing it. The album has some truly wonderful moments, from the mellow pastures of his acoustic work to the rocking power of his electric work. Overall, the album is a truly wonderful display of one man's passion for the music he loves, and I highly recommend it to all! 4- stars.

Report this review (#473646)
Posted Friday, July 1, 2011 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
4 stars Epignosis continues to create positive music of hope that is uplifting to the spirit.

Epignosis' new album "Refulgence" has a stunning orange tinged cover featuring a woman hidden by a glistening eyeball searing mirror reflecting the sun near a striking red car. The music reflects an equally bright atmosphere, always uplifting and positive with some provocative lyrics. All instruments are played with passion by Robert W Brown Jr, the main preferences being lead guitar and powerful keyboard motifs.

After a short instrumental, the music delves into the lengthy masterwork 'Refulgence'. The lyrics are reflective of the album cover content again; "The air and the sand are met by lightning's hand, and I am glass, the sun whispers down upon the darkening ground, and I am glass" The lyrical content continues to be as thought provoking as the last Epignosis album, with some spiritual awakenings filtering through; "I am not the light, I am not the light, I'm just a cracked little mirror covered with filth and dust" The themes of holding on to our fragile life, of searching for love, changing the atmosphere by positive thinking, and turning our eyes to God are subtle but hold the songs together. The music builds gradually with emphasis on acoustics and keyboards. There are lengthy passages of instrumentation and in particular some dynamic lead guitar work from Rob. Some of the music is sparse with room to breathe and then at other times the music is multi tracked and layered with many instruments like an ebb and flow of waves crashing in and out. The tension and release of the symphonic music are balanced by lyrical intersections. The Christian thematic content is evident but never overbearing. The lyrics could be interpreted in a myriad of ways, such as; "The light of God will be crowned our shouts of joy will resound, All knees, All tongues, All here, All now, All know Him". Those in the know would realise that this lyric is based on the Biblical passage 'every eye will see, every heart will know, every tongue will confess that He is Lord', but of course the Christian lifestyle inspires the music and it is the reason it is created, to glorify God. I am all for that, and it is refreshing to hear some Christian principles injected into prog, without sacrificing it in the name of good music; a similar approach to Neal Morse in this respect.

The next track is 'Bold Eternal Day' (opposite of Dream Theater's 'Dark Eternal Night') beginning with triumphant synth keyboards heralding the verses, and a distinctive distorted guitar generates a heavier feel. The mixture of metal guitar and clean retro synth is so effective. The time sig is off sync and throughout all are interwoven pure lyrics and Rob's distinctive voice. The real surprise here is the addition of crystalline female vocals of Rob's wife Tasha Nichole. I was reminded of Phideaux at times on this track. The lead break is excellent with a very progressive percussive meter and killer keyboard flourishes. This is one of the best tracks yet from Epignosis.

Piano begins 'Hope Maketh Not Ashamed' with cathedral organ sounds and electric guitar riffs. The lyrics are filtered with echoes; "How can we live by these broken rules, We may be weak and we may be fools, To still believe what is proclaimed, Hope maketh not ashamed" I like the way the track builds with an ethereal synth and Tasha joins Rob in the chorus sections. The synth is sustained notes over beautiful piano, and this is enhanced by clean guitar tones continuing the infectious melodies. It really is a work of peace and beauty, and even is reminiscent of Neal Morse in style.

'If The World' is a song of hope that is timely given the current state of the world. The lyrics speak of how to overcome in the midst of the turmoil; "If the world comes crashing down around me, I will not stand still, I would run to the highest place, Where I will never drown" The acoustic guitars dominate and Rob's voice is tinged with sadness yet the ray of hope shines through in the lyrics. There are no drums, keys or bass on this track. It is a simple acoustic piece that says what is wants to say without complex arrangement.

Next track 'Vestibule of Smoke' is more complex with instruments playing off each other, a Spanish guitar feel and a Mike Oldfield style guitar sound. The acoustics are used as a rhythmic foundation under the musicscape.

After this brief interlude, heavier lead guitars pound out a riff for 'Riddles in the Dark'. The heavier style is welcome after all the peaceful moments. Even more welcome are Tasha's gorgeous vocals as she sings enigmatic lyrics such as; "You live where only shadows dwell, Darkness is your only friend, It shrouds your face and hides your evil hands, The puzzles of your misplaced youth, Multiplied throughout the years, Leaving you an enigmatic soul" Rob chimes in on the chorus sections. The feel is a bit darker than previous songs, and one thing that can be said about this album is that the songs are well placed and tell a powerful story as a whole. The music cuts out to allow a minimalist piano to whisper beauty, and then the guitars, drums and keys crash in, with a choral voice augmenting the atmospherics. A great emotional vibe is generated as a result, though it could have continued a bit longer as this could easily have built into deeper themes and a longer instrumental section with more verses.

'A Handful of Humanity' is one of the best tracks with a lengthy intro, very cool guitar riffs and outstanding keyboards. Rob sings of how we have created "a beast of riches and of health" and how we "cower as we watch this creature, granting power to itself." Hope breaks through despite this truth as Tasha sings, "A world is built from other worlds, divided unity" and then the question is posed "What will you do with your hands full of humanity" As the song continues, references are made to the prodigal son, eagles trampled underfoot and "all is vanity". The way that Tasha and Rob trade off vocals is very effective. Once again I would like to have heard an extended version of this track as it holds such beauty but is rather short. Perhaps an extended version of the album would be worthwhile.

Last track features Tasha singing beautifully 'Fade' to Rob's piano. This track is a worship song that could comfortably suit any church service. It is the most blatant in terms of it's Christian message; "Jesus is the light, Jesus is the light, And he has made me a mirror, Reflecting his good face, Jesus is the light, Jesus is the light, And he can make you a mirror by his perfect grace" This is a short piece and should not turn off the unbelievers out there as it simply ends the album with a two and a half minute worship song to Jesus, the reason and inspiration for the album.

My initial reaction is this album is a more polished and better production than the first Epignosis album. The music is stronger and well arranged. The message is dynamic and powerful throughout, Tasha enhances the album beautifully, and there are some inspired tracks. Favourite moments are undoubtedly the epic 17 minute 'Refulgence', the gorgeous 'Hope Maketh Not Ashamed', the outstanding powerful rocker 'Bold Eternal Day', and 'A Handful of Humanity' and 'Riddles in the Dark' that are short but effective pieces. Thanks, Rob, for continuing to create such inspiring, powerful and uplifting music!

Report this review (#502786)
Posted Sunday, August 14, 2011 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Uplifting and engaging

"Refulgence" is the latest release from North Carolina's Robert Brown, whose progressive rock project goes by the name Epignosis. Robert is a talented multi-instrumentalist and composer who has released two prog rock albums to date. This one includes even more involvement from his wife and vocal partner, Tasha. I've always resisted reviewing the work of fellow Collaborators/friends at the site wondering how objective I could be, but I simply had to break my own rule in order to register my feelings on this wonderful music. So consider that your full disclosure if you give a rip about such things. I'll be as objective as I can be as my friend Robert would desire that. I need to begin on a personal note. The lyrical themes of Refulgence celebrate Christ as well as personal struggle. In the past I have viewed Christian lyrics with some derision, and I've shared some of this with Robert at one point. Whether he knew it or not he is one of the people who helped turn my heart to be more accepting and even welcoming of such lyrics in music. I consider the lyrics to be something inviting and comforting here despite being a person fairly lost in the spiritual sense. And I'm amazed how well they work here in marriage with the music.

Refulgence mixes symphonic prog rock with occasional Southern rock sensibilities for a unique sound. The keyboard rich album features airy atmospheres in the background, peaceful, tranquil, over which he dives head over heels with my favorite instrument, piano. There are many nice piano moments throughout and despite being grabbed by that I acknowledge it is the guitar where Robert truly excels. Lush acoustic guitars join the keyboards to create this fertile atmosphere for the frequent and passionate electric leads. Brown has tremendous "instinct" for what sounds good during his solos, bypassing theatrics for the kind of sound and melodies that are simply pleasurable to take in. It's not a complicated equation; he plays for his listener rather than trying to impress anyone. It is without question what drew me in initially. Robert is not as masterful a drummer as he is a guitarist and that is my biggest complaint here, that the music is sold a bit short by drumming that feels "stiff" or perhaps just not as convincing as they could be. Certainly it is passable and did not ruin anything for me but I would have preferred a solid drummer to the programmed and live drumming here.

The highlights begin with a short intro of an oscillating effect that feels dizzying, spacey, and for me represents feeling lost. Soon there is a comforting piano part providing solace before it dramatically bursts into the epic 17 minute centerpiece. The title track introduces recurring themes and features multiple sections quite successfully. The wonderfully proggy (sorry, I know some people hate that word) early moments feature some Howe-esque volume pedal (I think) work that instantly reminded me of classic-era Yes. Knowing Robert loves Topographic Oceans as I do, this made me smile instantly wondering if any of Refulgence was inspired by Howe. From there a mellow acoustic section leads into a rocking section which I found to be somewhat countrified or perhaps that Southern rock feel I mentioned, with relaxed rock vocal lines and nice catchy verses. Things build and around the 12 minute mark there is a return of an early theme which then soars upward into a glorious sounding exaltation of unified synths, guitars, and a wordless choir-like vocal part. It sounds like a "column" of music, not unlike the dramatic section of "Don't Fear the Reaper." This is really impressive. Mellower section returns and there is a nice guitar solo on the track. There are a number of shorter songs which follow and while I'm not going into all of them individually, each is quite consistent and enjoyable. I've not heard the first album in a while so I won't compare the two, but I can say there is a noticeable improvement in overall production value/sound quality. I think its safe to say this set has a more dynamic feel overall, it has a fire in the belly.

Robert's wife Tasha Brown (or Tasha Nichole?? different names on each album PA entry) plays a greater role on this second effort and her lovely voice is most welcome. Whether harmonizing or singing a lead part she adds much to Refulgence. This brings me to my other favorite part of Refulgence which is the heartwarming closer "Fade." It's a gorgeous piano ballad of a central melody with Tasha singing beautifully over Robert's gentle piano. Everything falls away to what matters: a sincere, inviting, and most comforting offering in song: "Jesus is the light, Jesus is the light, and he can make you a mirror by his perfect grace." It connects back to the title track and the album art for a very satisfying conclusion. I'm a conservative rater who would have to go 3 stars for the overall album, although the long and very satisfying title track is a solid 4 stars. Bravo my friend and thanks for an album that makes me feel better.

Report this review (#541092)
Posted Monday, October 3, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars I like all different genres of Gospel music, like traditional Gospel, contemporary, rock, rap, old school, and more. I enjoy a positive Christian message. I enjoyed this album because it is different such as in how the instruments are used. The organ is used in traditional Gospel music and soul, but this album uses it in a way I'm not used to hearing, and I liked it (I love the organ). My favorite track is the second one Refulgence, which has a guitar sound that reminds me of Morningstar. There are also long introductions similar to Rick Pino. The song Fade has beautiful vocals that remind me of opera a little bit, with soft mellow piano- like a meditation song. I liked "Vestibule of Smoke" a lot, with all the different stringed instruments- acoustic guitar, mandolin, and banjo. It's not typical instruments you hear in rock music. I like the effects on the singing in "Hope Maketh Not Ashamed," which sounds like listening to a rock orchestra in the beginning. I recommended this to people who like Gospel rock music.
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Posted Thursday, November 24, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars So I really liked this CD, and to be completely honest, more than the first one! The intruments were used to their full potential. I also like that the CD was not always singing, because I love the guitar and there's a lot more of it. The vocals were good, and the words were even better. The last song Fade was my favorite! I'm glad all the songs were given enough to time to be developed. This is very good self-produced CD. I really liked it! It was put together very well and it touched my heart and left me with a question. Good luck Robert Brown- I'm rooting for you!
Report this review (#596758)
Posted Tuesday, December 27, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars When I joined this forum, Epignosis extended to me a warm welcome and offered to share his recent album with me: Epignosis - Refulgence. I was just starting to build a home theatre/music listening room from scratch and whatever free time I had left, my toddler took,(actually I have that backwards...) This is a progressive music forum, I am assuming that most of us listen to music intently and enough times to form an "educated" opinion. I figured that Epignosis deserved more than a single playing of his work on my PC system and a cursory "Oh that is just lovely" from me. So after several listens on Definite Technology towers and a Denon 125 watts(ZERO distortion) per channel, and then a hand built custom headphone amp & Senheiser HD 328 cans, I can offer the following review:

Epignosis - Refulgence Never judge a book by its cover

Reviewed by Dennis Moore

Refulgence is actually a Latin word(refulgentia) which means to shine brightly. Which explains the glowing Camaro on the cover of the album, I had thought it was actually a "smokey" Camaro due to some groovy people inside enjoying some Pink Floyd on the 8-Track. Just proves: 1. My first thoughts are almost always wrong. 2. Never judge a book by its cover.

Epignosis - Refulgence is Progressive music in the Christian "Praise" vein.

Praise music doesn't appeal to me, but I do revel in most music(that isn't crassly commercial or redundant) & especially Progressive Music. Who cares about what I listen to? Well quite frankly my cat cares, ok? I clarify this to show my objectivity to you the reader. I'm not the guy to rubber stamp this type of record or give a friendly review out of common beliefs or social alignment. I am just a guy who steals brightly colored flowers from people. Some wise-acre might then say: "DennisMoore: Why don't you just stop stealing flowers from people? I would answer: "Because that is what I do, and I rather enjoy it". That same wisenheimer would then say: "Dennismoore: If you don't like this kind of music, then why are you listening/reviewing it?". I would say: "Because the artist was quite kind to share his work and asked me to AND I believe we should dwell on the things that unite us and not that which divides us. This forum is all about Progressive Music and Refulgence is most assuredly that. So I would tell that same young wisenheimer to go back to his Justin Beiber CDs and call me when he has kissed a girl that he hasn't paid $$$ to prior. This is probably the most unequivocal & long winded proof of reviewer objectivity you are likely to come across. Lucky you. On with the show. I won't be doing a song by song, blow by blow review, every listener does that on his/her own. "Nope not gonna do it, wouldn't be prudent"

An important consideration needs to made here as this is an entirely self produced effort. I've had the good fortune to record in the studio(during a college course) with a professional producer and a top notch engineer. Producer & engineer value & contributions can not be understated as most people have no idea how important this is and how it greatly affects the final product in its impact and wow factor. My producer did things with parametric eq and tape tracking and microphone placement technique that were awe inspiring. Things we take for granted when we buy music. For further proof listen to the George Martin produced Abbey Road then listen to the Beatles, Let It Be, naked verison. Nuff said. My review is based on the work being self produced at a home studio and would no doubt be more polished & benefit greatly with a professional producer & engineer.

All instruments were in fact produced, composed & recorded by Epignosis himself on computer with an additional female vocalist.

Ok, opinion time. I like this music a lot. Why? There are so many aspects of it to enjoy. I will throw out a few quotes which I have always believed in:

"You'll never make any money playing music that people can't sing."

"In order for progressive music to excel and have a new generation of listeners, I think the melodic, thematic development of which ever piece is used as the main vehicle has to be distinctive and memorable."

As to the first Quote: Refulgence is right on the mark with solid melodies that people can grab on to, though it is certainly not simplistic.

Second quote: Refulgence's composition are solid & well structured. Theme building is a strong suit here. Refulgence has many dynamic changes, nice soloing, long arrangements, fragile moments & variety.

No comparisons here to other bands. As a composer/player myself, I would cringe after working hard on a piece of music and a friend listens and says "that's great! That sounds like YES!" No matter how flattering it was intended, it is taken as a failure as no artist wants to think his work is an imitation. However I will make one comparison (Isn't it nice to break one's own rules?) The album is filled with the most wonderful sounding electric lead guitar that has a warm & biting Steve Hackett timbre. Good tone indeed. While no further comparisons I offer, I will say that all throughout the record, one can easily pick out many wonderful influences from the bands that Epignosis has said he enjoys. He pulls this off with flying colors, never did I get the sense of imitation, just one of creativity & inspiration, musically speaking. Placing influences in one's playing calls for balance & Epignosis pulls it off nicely. Refulgence has a plethora of song styles, each which the artist pulls off with aplomb. There is the prog epic, a folky fun guitar strumming ditty, a delicate praise inspired piano piece, etc... I love the chord progressions, I love it all. This is a wonderful album. Lots of resolves to the tonic and classical and Mediterranean acoustic stylings. This record will not please metal heads, but if you enjoy the delicate, classical yet bluesy side of prog you will find much to fascinate here.

Immediately delightful are the clarion clear alto female vocals that are harmonized elegantly throughout. Delicate & poignant they provide lead in the song "Fade". A beautiful voice that should be featured more on future records.

Lyrically, this type of praise music is not for me, but I kept with it because I made a commitment, and after many listens I say that I thoroughly enjoyed it all. Never judge a book by its cover indeed.

Well done to the lad with a terrifying yet disappointedly low rez avatar. Please do keep up the fine musical work. There is much for all to enjoy from Refulgence if not simply to admire the arrangements, writing, playing & soloing. The fidelity could be better with a producer & engineer, but for a self produced effort there is more than enough here to relax & really enjoy the music.

Those who are looking for Christian music with a little more depth & chops than say Amy Grant, should go bonkers over Refulgence.

By the way, about those two quotes: The first was Keith Emerson's father's advice to a young Keith. The second quote was Keith Emerson, himself.

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Posted Wednesday, September 19, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars "Is it seven years bad luck / To break me down to the shards I am?"

However great the early albums of symphonic prog may have been, it must be admitted that many of them, though classically inspired, were put together somewhat haphazardly, only loosely applying the classical principles of form, theme, and variation. The same cannot be said about Epignosis' excellent piece of modern symphonic prog, Refulgence. Surpassing even the classic albums of progressive rock in some areas, it is a masterpiece of songwriting, melodic themes, and harmonic variations, incorporating all the maturity of a seasoned composer and songwriter mixed with the adventurousness and rock spirit of a progressive rock musician recording his sophomore album.

For those who don't know, Epignosis is the recording name for Robert W. Brown Jr., who also happens to be an active member of this site. He plays all the instruments on the recording, and shares vocal duties with his wife, Tasha. Rob's instrumental performance is excellent; he especially shines on the guitar, where he proves himself a master of phrasing, melody, texture, and tone most clearly in his solos, but also in his dexterous riffs and chord progressions. His keyboard playing is also excellent, and provides the driving harmonic force behind many of the songs. Vocally, Rob has made great improvement over his debut; his voice sounds warm and organic, while Tasha's is clear and fragile; both do an excellent job of carrying the vocal melodies.

The song development techniques used in the album are reminiscent of the classical techniques of theme and variation, while the actual sound of the album is symphonic prog influenced by Kansas, Echolyn and Genesis among others; Rob's influences can clearly be heard in his compositions but not in a way that makes them seem derivative. Indeed, the way in which Rob treats the symphonic prog sound in this album is quite unique and interesting. Though most of the songs have fairly standard structures, it is the variation between repetitions that makes them interesting; in most of the songs, the first, second, and third verses are quite different, mainly because of new instruments and harmonies introduced in each verse that change the quality of the music. In the development of these songs, Rob utilizes a multitude of techniques: call and response, polyphony, and ornamentation to name a few. In this way, the album goes above and beyond the typical progressive rock fare, offering mature, song-based compositions that will appeal to any lover of symphonic prog but especially to those interested in classical music or in the theory of musical composition.

And now, my friends, on to the song-by-song...

Effulgence: The album begins with a short, ambient piece opening with synth melodies layered over a drone note (reminiscent of bagpipes). A three-note synthesizer ostinato emerges, over which a piano plays a high-pitched, sparse, faraway-sounding melody. As the piano exits, the track segues seamlessly into the next.

Refulgence: Clocking in at over seventeen minutes, this piece is so well constructed and beautiful that it seems much shorter. This song, like the rest of the album, is characterized by skillful use of melodic and harmonic themes and variations, as well as by ample guitar solo time for Rob, in which he showcases his talents in ways that add to the song and never seem like "showing off." "Refulgence" is basically structured as a four-part piece, with four vocal sections surrounded by instrumentals. The theme of the song is the way in which the world tries to find fulfillment in transient things that ultimately bring no happiness, and the way in which we find ultimate satisfaction in Jesus Christ, as "mirrors" reflecting his glory in the world. Beginning with gentle acoustics and vocal melodies and progressing through sections of up-tempo rock, intense soloing, spacey bass noodling, and ecstatic exclamations of joy, Refulgence is an uplifting music journey that matches up to some of the great epics of classic prog.

The majestic Bold Eternal Day opens with a crashing herald of triumphant guitar and synthesizer in 7/8 time before the entrance of a vocal melody flowing with a peak-and-valley counter. The interlude is particularly enjoyable as the regal chords of its beginning soon give way to an incendiary section composed of a high-energy guitar riff reminiscent of Kansas and some blazing solos overtop the riff, before closing with a reprise of the 7/8 intro.

Hope Maketh Not Ashamed is a masterpiece of melody, theme, and variation. A myriad of melodies dominate this song, seamlessly brought in and out of the spotlight and exchanged between instruments. From the uplifting piano melody which opens the song to the superb vocals by Rob and Tasha to the dramatic string-synth melodies of the interlude, the song flawlessly builds on its melodic themes, revealing itself as one of the most cohesive, well composed progressive rock songs I have ever heard.

If The World is a gentle acoustic praise song, providing a thoughtful reflection on the transience of the world and the steadfastness of God's love. The song follows a standard structure, with a simple, common chord progression, and though it does not seem very special on its own, it fits into the album perfectly as a soft interlude to provide a break from the complexity of the rest of the album, similarly to the way in which the lyrics describe running to God as a shelter from the turmoil in the world. The interlude, which features a harmonized guitar melody over simple chords, is particularly tasteful.

Vestibule of Smoke has a particular meaning for me personally; though I do not know what Rob intended for the theme of the song, it reminds me of the compositions of my guitar teacher, Matt Kovis, who died in a car accident in 2011, and to me the song has a very nostalgic and intimate feel, with old-fashioned, faraway melodies and instrumentation. The piece is somewhat of a "theme and variation," but instead of variations on a single melody, it features two different sections, each which, when repeated, has a new and interesting variation in the harmony or instrumentation, whether that may be the entrance of tremolo banjo picking, mellotron chords, or soaring electric guitar. The piece closes with a bluegrass feel, only adding to its diversity and uniqueness.

Easily the heaviest song on the album, Riddles in the Dark much more somber and ominous than the uplifting tracks which had previously graced the album. The lyrics describe a mysterious figure who "spurned the feast of a loving father" and lives "where only shadows dwell;" they could be a description of Satan, or possibly Gollum from Lord of the Rings, but the precise meaning is left ambiguous, adding to the mystery of the song. A heavy, chromatic, descending guitar riff opens the song, soon joined by stormy synthesizer chords. The heavily distorted arpeggios during the verses are especially creative and interesting, and Tasha's vocals are excellent. The closing instrumental section begins with a transition to solo piano in a major key before showcasing Rob's guitar talents with some dexterous melodies.

Handful of Humanity, though musically similar to the rest of the album, differs with regard to its libertarian lyrics which contrast the Christian lyrics which make up the remainder of the album. Rob's Kansas influence can be clearly heard in the opening instrumental section, which reminds the listener of said influence without being a mere copy. The main portion of the song is primarily piano-led, but each verse increases in intensity, with the introduction of new instruments and harmonies. For the interlude, the string-synths from "Hope Maketh Not Ashamed" make another appearance, providing somewhat of a film music feel.

Fade leaves me speechless. After an hour full of complex and progressive structures and developments, it is a simple piano-vocal piece that provides the single most beautiful moment on the album. Tasha gets her biggest moment in the spotlight, and boy, does she shine. Her fragile voice is perfect for the humble but rapturous melody and lyric, telling of the joy of giving oneself up for Christ.

"Jesus is the light,

Jesus is the light,

And He can make you a mirror

By His perfect grace."

Report this review (#825533)
Posted Friday, September 21, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is an improvement to the first album that Epignosis put out, because there is a greater diversity on this album Refulgence compared to Still the Waters. There are heavier tracks, which come across as different from the acoustic and more symphonic songs in terms of lyrics. The guitars are top notch, and Epignosis includes other instruments, like mandolin and banjo into some parts. Most importantly, the Christian themes are more distinct, giving people a clearer message of what the Bible says about Christianity. We are all dirty, broken mirrors who just reflect the light of Christ when we accept him.
Report this review (#971311)
Posted Wednesday, June 5, 2013 | Review Permalink

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