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V.O.Z.

Majestic

Neo-Prog


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J-Man
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars V.O.Z. is the sixth album from American progressive rock act Majestic, as well as its first double CD release. As with Majestic's other albums, V.O.Z. is primarily the work of guitarist and keyboard player Jeff Hamel (who composes all of the music), but he has also recruited Mike Kosacek on drums and a handful of guest vocalists to complete the experience. As with many double albums, V.O.Z. is a highly ambitious work that will require some attention out of its listener, but its moody atmospheres and precise attention to detail make for a highly recommendable listen.

Although Majestic are often labeled as a neo-prog act, the music on V.O.Z. is much more eclectic than one may expect from the genre. I've yet to familiarize myself with Majestic's earlier offerings, so I can't comment on how this one compares stylistically, but the music here borrows from symphonic and neo prog, seventies' hard rock, progressive metal, and even touches of ambient. The more aggressive side of V.O.Z. typically reminds me of an album like Fates Warning's 1997 masterpiece A Pleasant Shade of Gray - while the riffs can get pretty heavy and intricate, the atmosphere always remains dark and subtle. This is still first and foremost a progressive rock album, though, so fans of acts like IQ, Pink Floyd, and Porcupine Tree should feel right at home here. I was actually quite impressed with how original Majestic's music sounds; I can't think of any other band to compare this to, so kudos to Jeff Hamel for managing to create something new and unique in the progressive rock world!

Fortunately, the songwriting is also excellent across both discs of V.O.Z., and there is enough variation for the album to remain interesting from start to finish. The first disc is dominated by the hour long title track suite, and half of the songs on disc two exceed eight minutes - this can make V.O.Z. seem a bit daunting at first, but the music is solid enough to keep you coming back for more. Tracks like "Voyage Ends", "Hyperbole", and especially the mammoth "Red Skies" should be right up the alley of any progressive rock enthusiast. The album is also quite well-produced, and while it's maybe not the best sounding album out there, all of the instruments are clear and the mix sounds highly professional.

V.O.Z. is one of those rare double CD's that manages to be both free of filler and eclectic throughout its entire duration, so I can only applaud Majestic for putting together such a great release. I would say that V.O.Z. perhaps doesn't reach into the 'masterpiece' range as frequently as other progressive rock gems, but Jeff Hamel has clearly crafted a magnificent observation here. Fans of progressive rock with an atmospheric and heavy edge should find a lot to enjoy from this adventurous release.

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Send comments to J-Man (BETA) | Report this review (#899733)
Posted Saturday, January 26, 2013 | Review Permalink
tszirmay
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Crossover Team
5 stars This is a complete masterpiece, a rare event for one-man projects in general as the solitary display can often be a tad sterile but multi-instrumentalist Jeff Hamel delivers a 2 CD album of intense, colorful and cinematographic prog of the very highest order. I chanced on this again via the progstreaming site and immediately purchased the work. A glowing review from Progarchives colleague J-Man convinced me only further. Not quite as folk-proficient as a Michael Oldfield, Hamel prefers a headier set of progressive guidelines to channel his musical vision. There are numerous references to more established acts such as Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree, Riverside, Hawkwind and Pink Floyd but also some sections that honor ambient, soundtrack, neo, symphonic and psychedelic styles to great effect. But what are really striking are the pristine sounds and the spacious and uncluttered deliveries, highlighting fresh soloing ideas within standard prog structures. Hamel handles all instruments with clever technique and inspired performance, obvious proficiency never taking over the desired mood and atmosphere. He is also brave in being unafraid to forge into more bombastic heavy areas, a tad like Arje Lucassen of Ayreon fame. The vocals are equally commendable, his voice has a mellifluous tone that is most appealing, occasionally handing the mike to a series of guest vocalists. The drumming stool is manned by Mike Kosacek.

CD1 has the entire colossal "V.O.Z." suite, broken down in 11 sections that seamlessly flow into another with mature insistence, contrasting serenity and rage and a pure joy to listen to, especially if you enjoy vivid, bright and exhilarating compositions that make your imagination run rampant. The overture "In Memory of?" is a hair-raising affair as massive blasts of symphonic mellotron-like cascades usher in a serene tingling melody and properly prepares the listener for a mind-blowing musical adventure. Section 1 "New World" is initially piano driven with sublime dexterity, a dreamy concoction full of emotion and deep melancholia where a tangled guitar expresses the aspirations of some new frontier. Much to Hamel's credit, he is unafraid to ratchet up the power level and shove the arrangement into more muscular territory, a formula which defines his style and keeps the suite alive and kicking. Looping bass is a highlight, as it carves nicely along. Very cool, indeed! "Crossing Meridian" is more power ballad inclined, jangling guitar phrasings and spirited vocals guiding the piece nicely, a scorching bass leading the charge once again. It has a slight sense of doom in the instrumental section, recalling some of rock heavyweights (Beatles, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Riverside and Dream Theater) and tossing in a few remarkable twists and turns. "Approaching Storm" is where things get hot and heavy, rasping axe scratches and bruising bass both act like depth charges, exposing the harder riff to the swirling torment. Contrary to popular belief, I deeply enjoy the harder stuff but only when it goes beyond the predictable. This is hot, molten lava drenched heavy prog, screeching wildly, scratching mightily and just plain old nasty! Hamel even dares to descend into dissonant pools of atmosphere within a mid-section that exemplifies a foreboding sense of tortured paranoia. Stunning material! "Milestone" meanders even deeper into the troubled psyche, crashing riffs suddenly blooming into a liquid axe solo, showcasing different tones and textures (at times almost jazzy) that defy categorization. This segue bleeds directly into "Whispers" where female vocals rule the roost from the get go, providing a whole new spectrum of listening adventure. Breezy and fresh like some sunny morning in the mountains, the unexpected bliss is highly welcome, especially when the electric guitar shimmers like some silver stream. The flute rivulets only accent the image further. "Freefall" dives head first into more psychedelic realms, keeping the flute dissonance alive, a kaleidoscope of sound effects that evoke a sense of floating helplessness, when imperceptibly a doom laden riff appears from within the marshmallow symphonics, drums splashing wildly and the intensity constantly burning until the final explosion of landing on terra firma. Damn bloody brilliant! The Floydian "Darkened Worlds" has a more acoustic feel featuring a sensational vocal from Jeff, a hefty set of lungs aiding and abetting a lucid guitar rant that is pure Gilmour, massive floating organ waves and slippery synthesizer lines that recall the sadly departed Rick Wright, a simply beautiful piece of music that is glorified by a colossal electric guitar push. Definitely a future classic! "Rise to the Surface" wrestles with a percussive intro, creating a profound sense of upward urgency, a slow burning vortex of sonic splendor featuring a one-two drum beat that would make Mason blush with envy, crisscrossing fretboard shafts that could mimic some hypothetical James Bond chase scene, incandescent guitar and aggressive organ burps shoving the Aston Martin along. A licensed to kill track! "Skies Clear" as the title implies offers some ambient respite, as the howling wind sonics dissipate gently to reveal some imaginary promised land, extremely musical and cinematographic. The "Voyage Ends" with blistering appeal, back to the sweaty monster beat (Ayreon, Rocket Scientists and Riverside fans will love this!) and the mammoth vocal with Lou Gramm (Foreigner) like urgency , a tight and impassioned ending to a delightful suite of tremendous musical expression. The crisp axe shrieks on and on??.I am stunned into utter submission!

CD2 is just as superlative as the first , another side to the majestic story that is certainly insightful but also highly adventurous , like the harpsichord-like intro "Zosimos Sleeps" that then segues into the pile-driving Satriani-ish epic "Becoming", a 10 minute sheer guitar fest with a strong bass partnership in tow, smooth lady vocalizings and some warp speed drumming. A tremendous track to be sure proof that Mister Hamel can sure play guitar! Ayreon fans, sit up and listen! A piano-led midsection adds fantasy to the whole shebang, inserting unending variations and excitement to the mix, eschewing predictability and pedantry. This is music, baby! "Spirits Dwell" unleashes another 8 minute piece of prog bravura, glossy and moody at the same time, with exemplary playing of appropriate notes with no tendencies to show off senseless noodling. The spirit of Floyd is here again but in a harder tone with lots of bluesy nuance, slight hints of 'Us and Them' as well as a lighter allusion to Black Sabbath's 'Iron Man'. There are Mellotron blasts and swirling symphonics to boot. "Around the Sun" introduces some flavorful vocals into the flowing melting pot of psychedelic sound, here vividly recalling early Porcupine Tree with Kosacek doing a masterful job on the kit. "Hyperbole" shows off the louder PT style: firm, strident, coarse, grimy and just plain mean with some fiery soloing (wah-wah pedal to the metal!) and even some steamroller Frippisms. Howling stuff indeed and a definite highlight piece! The previous "Becoming" is reprised on the ivories, a rather stunningly bold move as it slowly raises the pressure and then chooses to release it with some fine axe technique! The gleaming female vocals sing with the lovely guitar in tow, harmonious and expressive to the hilt. The jazzy bass-led piano rumble is bewildering in overt talent, hinting at the hard-jazz improv of classic King Crimson. I mean, c'mon! How delicious is this? Well, shutting down this behemoth with a huge 17 minute colossus is quite courageous but when you have so much ability, why not expose all of it, then? "Red Skies" is a fanciful finale, showcasing bright vocals, pulsating themes, electronic blips and burps, shuffling rhythms, very hard and very soft contrasts at every turn, veering almost into shred/metalloid territory when prompted (Fates Warning?) and finished off by a crystalline voice that keep it all grounded in 'dreamboatland' (imagine a proggy version of Heart) . The dreamy parts are highly glossy and trance-like, with creative orchestrations that exude confidence and purpose. The lightning fast rock parts are spellbinding and utterly complex, demanding attention and respect.

This is an awe-inspiring, kick-my-ass discovery, once again thanks to the progstreaming site and J-Man in particular who directed me with his expressive words to this matchless marvel. I have rarely witnessed a 2CD release with nothing but first-rate material, no spam, no filler, just unadulterated artistic revelation!

5 Spanish voices

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Send comments to tszirmay (BETA) | Report this review (#912708)
Posted Monday, February 11, 2013 | Review Permalink
Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars Majestic's V.O.Z. is that most ambitious of all album projects: a 2CD double album offering around two hours of music. Dominated by the hour-long title suite, it's a massive beast which reminds me both in presentation and aesthetic style of some of the Flower Kings' bulkier releases, such as Flower Power - and like Roine Stolt, Majestic's mastermind Jeff Hamel has an ear for a good vocal harmony or two, and co-opts a small quartet of voices to help out with that. With atmospheres ranging from dark to airy and lighthearted, a wide emotional scope is also captured.

When assessing albums such as this, the final score often hinges on whether the reviewer perceives any "filler", a highly subjective point. For my part, I can't give it a very high score because I found some of the sections concentrating on the four-piece choir to outstay their welcome a little and the album doesn't really hold my concentration all the way through; still, if you like the idea of two hours of multi-instrumentalist neo-prog with choral backing, it can't hurt to give this one a spin.

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Send comments to Warthur (BETA) | Report this review (#917580)
Posted Friday, February 22, 2013 | Review Permalink
Rivertree
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Psych/Space Team & Band Submissions
4 stars MAJESTIC is the brainchild of Jeff Hamel, underway with this project for some years. Additionally supported by drummer Mike Kosacek and some reliable male and female vocalists he surely dominates the production with his instruments (guitars, keyboards). I'm not aware of the former recordings - this new double CD 'V.O.Z.' marks a mesmerizing thing in any case - yeah, you bet - the album promises some wonderful experiences .... when you allocate enough time to plunge into the entire thing with care.

The song content is often smooth and melodic, though definitely also heavy at times and provided with a high proportion of psychedelic impressions, thus 'V.O.Z.' represents variety all the way through, entertainment pure. CD1 is reserved for the distinguished title epic, segmented in eleven parts, There might be a concept behind that, mirroring a special journey, apparently even rather dangerous. Yes, some dramaturgy is to smell in between, just take the closing Voyage Ends or Freefall for example, which is comprised of spaced out moments.

The journey arrives the peak with Crossing Meridian -'we are sailing on, on and on ...' - an intriguing refrain is given in between, suitable for singing along. And then - scarcely to be expected - on CD2 Jeff totally comes out of hiding, I surprisingly stumbled upon an awe-inspiring psychedelic triple made of Spirits Dwell, Around The Sun and Hyperbole - wow, this twentyfour minute affair is worthwhile alone, can be perceived as a prog masterpiece per se.

Let it rock! The long runner Red Skies finally gathers pace again and comes with metal riffs as well as nice female vocals. Everything your heart desires - with 'V.O.Z.' Jeff Hamel varies a lot on guitar and keys, comes across many prog genres hereby - well, an ambitious attempt, which definitely works on top of it. This proves him to be a prolific musician and composer. Two suites which should convince many prog fans. A highlight in 2012 for sure - 4.5 stars so far - don't miss the boat!

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Send comments to Rivertree (BETA) | Report this review (#923841)
Posted Monday, March 04, 2013 | Review Permalink
ProgShine
COLLABORATOR
Errors & Omissions and Crossover Team
4 stars In the Rock world there are just a few double albums that are considered classics. Usually double albums of new material are flops or hits, no middle path. In my personal music experience only three double albums stick to my mind as hits: Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadbess (1995), Andrew Lloyd Weber & Tim Rice's Jesus Christ Superstar (1970) and the album that has pretty much changed my life, The Wall (1979) by Pink Floyd.

If Majestic's new album V.O.Z. (2012) is a hit or a flop only time will tell, but one thing is certain, you need guts to release a double Prog Rock album in today's music world. You must give them that! Majestic is a recording project located in Minneapolis (USA) and it was created by Jeff Hamel that is the leader, writer and producer. V.O.Z. (2012) is the sixth album by them.

On V.O.Z. (2012) Jeff Hamel plays the guitars, basses and keyboards on the whole album. Mike Kosacek is responsible for the drums and percussion. The fact that there are only two musicians on it gives V.O.Z. (2012) a certain unity, even when the album has four different vocalists: David Cagle, Tara Morgan, Chris Hodges and Celine Derval. In fact, having different singers was a very clever move. Being written and recorded during 2 years V.O.Z. (2012) has also a weird and mysterious cover made by Vladimir Moldavsky. I have to say that when I received V.O.Z. (2012) important questions about the whole double album thing came to my mind: Is it possible to release a double CD nowadays and really be listened to? What's the meaning of a double album these days?

As I explained in the beginning, it is quite complicated to answer that. And even if Majestic did a great job on V.O.Z. (2012) with strong compositions, high musicianship and originality, it is quite hard to pay attention to the whole. For me an album is an album, if you know what I mean. You cannot listen to CD 1 today and CD 2 tomorrow. I sit and listen to everything. And even if V.O.Z. (2012) it's a pleasure to listen, it is quite complicated to sit down and go through the almost two hours of music. Maybe it is the new times or something, but for me an album should have about 45/50 minutes. That's the amount of time that my mind pays a close and focused attention to, more than that the music starts to vanish, little by little.

CD 1 is mainly based on the VOZ piece and divided into ten different parts. The only exception is the track one 'In Memory Of?' that is highly influenced by Yes, but overall Majestic's music is quite unique and original. The VOZ concept is based on a story about a guy named Zosimos, who sailed across the ocean to a new land. It is pretty much about the discovery of the darkness inside yourself. Both instrumental and vocal songs flow in a fluid way throughout the first CD and because of that it's quite hard to describe the 'best song'. It's a flow of excellent tracks that could be easily fit as a best album of 2012.

Then comes CD 2 and the troubles start for me. The second album is based on 7 tracks and they have no relation with the VOZ piece of the CD 1. And in that resides my problem as a listener. The concept piece is a pleasure to hear and makes you feel comfortable with the music, there's a flow, there's a path. When you change the CD and you notice that the music that's about to come has no relation to the beginning, the pleasure starts to fade away. Not that the music on the second disc is bad, far away from that. When you actually listen to it you can find pleasure in doing so. But in my mind Majestic would be better served if they had released V.O.Z. (2012) as a single album and the second disc could be worked on as their next album. That would make things easier, but who said that Prog is an easy thing anyway!?

But don't be discouraged by the double thing. Majestic has a unique sound. Jeff Hamel doesn't attach himself in any subgenre within Progressive Rock, he plays all of them and with talent. In a moment you're listening Prog Metal in the next it's a Symphonic Prog. That makes the V.O.Z. (2012) listening experience quite unique.

This experience is just augmented when you have a superb production and great songs. And that Majestic has all the way! If you're not afraid of big challenges V.O.Z. (2012) is the perfect album for you!

(Originally posted on progshine.net)

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Send comments to ProgShine (BETA) | Report this review (#976463)
Posted Wednesday, June 12, 2013 | Review Permalink

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