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Fractal Mirror - Garden of Ghosts CD (album) cover


Fractal Mirror

Crossover Prog

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5 stars Garden of Ghosts is Fractal Mirror's second album. It is not really a concept album but most songs contain three themes that keep coming back; connections/relationships in the 21st century, how the technology of nowadays affect those relationships and how memories/perspectives changes over time.

There aren't many albums that keep my full attention through the whole music experience, but this album does. This album keeps me fascinated from the first to the last track. There are no tracks in between that you want to skip because it's not interesting enough or break up the musical flow of the album, it could almost be one long interesting track with different musical twists and themes. It is not just bite-sized chunks of music (like most pop music nowadays) but real progressive rock. This is an album you can listen on the background while doing something else or just sit on the couch and give it your full attention. The album carries a certain musical atmosphere, mostly because there is a lot of happening musically on the background as well. I love the use of the mellotron patterns for example. I hear some influences of Porcupine Tree/Blackfield and Earth & Fire, but there's no plagiarism to be found. I had to get used to the voice, but after a couple of listening sessions it started to grow on me.

The album sounds amazing, which is not unimportant. Many artists can record an album but that doesn't mean it will sound great. You can hear that this album is made by musicians with experience and mixed/produced by someone who has a pair of good ears.

"House of Wishes" is a beautiful introduction, it immediately grabs your attention."Lost in Clouds" is my favourite track for sure. The last track "Stars" is a wonderful 8 minute piece, it's like watching the denouement of a long and fascinating movie.

Report this review (#1318476)
Posted Monday, December 1, 2014 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Fractal Mirror's first album was not well received by other reviewers even though I certainly rated it highly, convinced after multiple spins and understand the lurid story behind the lyrics (about a mass murdering psychopath) that beyond the candy there was some serious other flavors. Perhaps my enthusiasm laid with the abundance of mellotron (mostly its choir selection), an instrument I will never tire of! Yes, there was a poppy sound but way more developed than your usual commercial pap. My colleague Progshine made a great comment the other day on progarchives calling a band's style 'Tears For Fears prog', I couldn't help smiling. He was referring to Steve Cochrane's album 'La La La, Variations on a Happy Song", a style that was obviously upbeat, positive and, well, happy! WTF is wrong with being happy? I know I have forged my life into a big bowl of happiness after a dreary 30 year marriage which has been thankfully over for 7 years now! Fresh air, sunlight and great music.....Aaaah! HAPPY IS A GOOD THING!

Imagine K-Scope era Manzanera (A criminally underrated masterpiece, BTW!) that had an illicit affair with Split Enz, tossing in some loose mellotron contraception and fathering this slithering modern prog-pop album! Should you have any doubts, the Fractal Mirror lads (Urbaniak, Koperdraat and Van Haagen) have allied themselves with illustrious prog names such as Brett Kull of Echolyn, as well as the legendary sound bender himself Larry Fast (Gabriel, Nektar, Tony Levin Group, Synergy and countless others). Fast needs no introduction, a respected option to Brian Eno, Vangelis, Schulze and a myriad of other synthesists, he certainly orchestrates in a more upfront manner than ever before, a shimmeringly organic electronic sound , dominated by the monumental mellotron.

It's not my fault if I view myself as a perpetual romantic, so let it be, I just love brilliant melodies, a trait way harder in any event to create than sonic noise. The quality of the melodies is simply mind-blowing, starting off with the opener "House of Wishes". There is a soothing effect throughout the melancholic piece, as exemplified by the perennial 'uuuh' background highlights, the mellotron howl and the wide drum support. Great introduction.

The 7 minute "The Phoenix" provides a little more edge, the forlorn lyrics depicting some past loss that is in need of some kind of salvation. Been there and done that, as 'the phoenix rises from the ashes, its eyes brighter than before' sings Leo, in his peculiar Richard Butler (Psychedelic Furs) nasal twang. The arrangement is dynamic, effervescent and intense, thus eschewing any hint of crass commercialism, preferring a more symphonic attitude that does wonders to both the ears and the mind. Amid the guitar riffs and the majestic choir mellotron, there is a slight Celtic tinge that keeps things interesting.

The charming "Lost in Clouds" sounds like some lost Frazier Chorus track, or a more symphonic the Lightning Seeds, a time in the late 80s when jovial psychedelia was the norm. Insistent e-piano, sweeping slide guitar and a little flower-power hippie feel make this a more accessible song, derailed into proginess by that damn mellotron.

"The Hive" is sandwiched between 2 "Solar Flare" slices, the first of which surprises with a rollicking organ riff, supported by a snarling guitar and that big white machine as Leo reaches for the skies. This mini-suite remains the core of the album and as such, assigns the direction they will choose from now on, a niche prog sub-genre that is neither neo or symphonic, falling into that ever-wide style known as crossover.

Dreamy melancholia surfaces again on the brooding "The Garden", a slow-burning candle of wispy emotions, nothing too sweet or complacent, as if something immeasurable affects the soul. Plaintive and utterly painful, 'the faces of dreams and voices that call me' inflict unwittingly a profound introspection, as if every answer gives birth to a new series of questions. Spectral, frozen, depressive and infectiously painful, all is there to pick, harvest and ponder.

The album's definite highlight is the very Fast-like "Orbital View", an 8 minute celestial romp loaded to the gills with layers of colorful keys, synths and choir 'tron, creating a bleak, almost spectral atmosphere. Though the premise may be pretty, there is a hint of doom and despair in the music which probably accounts for most if not all of the proggier elements, also found in the droning guitars, the slippery violin samples, lyrical snippets of deep introspection that occasionally shine through the misty fog.

Both "Even Horizon" and its logical companion "Legacy" continue on the same regretful premise, where a memory of some past love keeps hurting and in need of some kind of sorrowful resolution. 'Predator and prey, each cannot see the other', this is an astute observation to say the least, using humble words to define intricate matters. Floating on a slashing crest of turbulence, it's hard to see 'the point of no return', moving slowly towards some kind of epiphany.

As with their debut, Fractal Mirror keeps the best for last, as the majestic finale "Stars" curves lovingly and oh so gently into the soul, as the mood grows in intensity and clarity, a 'respite from the storm' shoved later along by blistering mellotronic howls. Lots of precious details are inserted here, a flute fluttering one moment and a masterful synth line the next, while the vocals bathe in some soporific pool of reflective compassion. Not surprisingly the last word uttered is 'shine'.

The restless lyrics, just like the music in fact, seem outwardly simple but in fact deal with a great variety of human concerns, everything from regret to compassion, nostalgia to hope, courage to despair. It's this balance between light and dark, simple and complex that configure the Fractal Mirror style, accentuated by Frank Urbaniak's wide drumming style acting like some equilibrium arbiter. If taken as such, the material suddenly emerges as brilliant commentary and a delightful listen. Fractal Mirror has arrived and will 'continue to shine on you' undeterred and still soul searching, something we humans should do more often, in order to understand, not who but what we really are!

I enjoyed their debut even though it got poor ratings, this one may change quite a few minds, as the dynamics are simply tremendous. Yes, it floats on the crests of more the more poppy side of the prog spectrum but certainly is as worthy of adulation than say Blackfield, Synaesthesia, Vienna Circle and Cosmograf.

4.5 Spectral orchards

Report this review (#1321182)
Posted Sunday, December 7, 2014 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars It's months ago that I promised Leo Koperdraat (keyboard, guitar, vocals) to review the album Garden of Ghosts, which he released together with Ed van Haagen (bass and keyboards) and Frank Urbaniak (drums and lyrics). The second album of this trio, and I must admit that up to this day I have not had the chance (or, to be more honest, time) to listen to their debut, Strange Attractions. Maybe I should, given what I found on this one...

Fractal Mirror consider their music (as written on their web site) to be contemporary pop/rock with progressive rock influences. This shows in the way the songs are structured, there's a bit more of chorus and verse structuring then on the albums I usually review, but a bit of variation in the musical diet usually doesn't hurt. Certainly not in this case, when the progressive rock influences are coming from the corner that was once monikered symphonic rock. Or, in short, there's a lot of keyboard work on this album. Not really a surprise, given that both Dutchmen, Koperdraat and Van Haagen play keyboards, next to the other instruments they handle.

This means that on just about all tracks, from the opening House of Wishes all the way to Stars, we are treated to layers of keyboard, synthesizer and mellotron melodies. Sometimes they simply form the main structure of the song, sometimes they are the accompaniment of the guitar. A guitar that is not always played by Leo Koperdraat by the way, on some tracks, for example Lost in the Clouds, producer and musician Brett Kull plays (slide) guitar.

So what does that mean in detail? Well, the album opens with House of Wishes, which has a an eighties synth pop feel to it, but with more intricate keyboard work. The singing of Leo Koperdraat reminds me slightly of Steve Kilby, singer of eighties Australian pop band The Church.

This is followed by the slightly more complex The Phoenix. A heavier opening is followed by more keyboard work, like on the opening track, but this track goes through different moods and tempos. Just in time for me, it becomes a bit more powerful near the end: despite the beautiful keyboard structures, the album lacks a bit of power for me.

On Lost in the Cloud, which starts in the same tempo as the first two tracks, the additional slide guitar adds a more rocky edge. This track is also the opening of the Powerless Suite, which covers four tracks from the album - dealing with social media, human communications and what would happen if we became 'really powerless'. An interesting theme, laid down very well in the music here.

Solar Flare the second part of the suite, is largely instrumental, with the band's friend and video artist Andre de Boer on triangle. The combination of organ (a Hammond?) and guitar work out really well here, mimicking the power of a solar flare for sure.

The Hive portrays what happens when the power goes down, taking us through the emotions of the now disconnected people. The keyboards and a quite sharp guitar part mimic the despair of the narrator having to communicate in the natural way again. That same guitar takes a lead role in the short instrumental Solar Flare Reprise.

After the suite, it is time for a short change in atmosphere and instrumentation. The Garden is build around piano and acoustic guitar, giving it a completely different feel than the rest of the album. A rather melancholic track about aging.

Orbital View builds layers of keyboard melodies again, which lead to a somewhat gloomy sound when combined with drums and guitars. Here Leo Koperdraat also sings in a slightly different way (higher pitched) than on the rest of the album.

Event Horizon is another good keyboard based track, about forgetting about the future when loosing someone. This nicely complements Legacy, which is about the feeling of parents when their children leave 'the nest'.

Closing off the album is Stars, which is dedicated by the band to all those they have lost. A beautiful track, opening with acoustic guitar and a real choir (no mellotron this time) followed by a bass hook that keeps you wondering how to explain it. The song builds up an becomes less dependent on that bass hook later on - and provides some great instrumentals.

Based on reviews of the debut, the band has improved quite a bit - and although this album is good, I hope the announced two volume album for 2016 shows more improvement. For that I see two ways, after listening to this album. First, I hope to find slightly more emotion in the vocals (Leo is a bit lacking there, which doesn't do justice to the nice timbre he has). Second, maybe a few more instrumental parts - the melodies and compositions are so good that sometimes the vocals could be omitted without loosing the story. A story which is otherwise well covered by the lyrics of drummer and lyricist Frank Urbaniak.

So, it took me a while get around to reviewing this album, but now it's done. Playing it is more than worth the time of anyone who likes symphonic rock and related music. Curious to things to come, with a promise of two volumes of music next year the band suddenly have raised the bar for themselves.

(also published on my blog

Report this review (#1418627)
Posted Friday, May 22, 2015 | Review Permalink
4 stars I bought Fractal Mirror's 2016 album, "Slow Burn 1", after hearing a selection of tracks on internet radio and, finding it thoroughly absorbing, decided to delve into their back catalogue. Their 2014 effort, "Garden of Ghosts", went to the top of my shopping list.

With striking "abstract-figurative" artwork in rich, filtered, hues and extensively illustrated liner notes, it appears Leo, Ed and Frank are determined to cover every base in offering a quality album package. A running time of 64 minutes with eleven tracks described as : "...a loosely connected set of songs focusing on three themes : connections and relationships in the 21st Century, how pervasive technology affects our relationships and how our memory and perspective changes over time." Thought provoking topics from the real world, with concerns of the here-and-now and something we can all relate to.

The opener, "House of Wishes", has something of an 80s Genesis feel with chiming guitars, midtempo groove and clever breakdown and rebuilding phases, as well as a wonderful transition to the outro.

"The Phoenix" is altogether different and cries "epic" from the first few bars. Lost hopes and dashed optimism are portrayed by distant overdriven guitar chords, subtle synth sequences and Mellotron strings. The music takes us down before executing an optimistic rise from the ashes with a fantastic and mysterious turn of events before giving way to a mood of upbeat defiance from Leo and his backing vocalists : " I won't bend, I won't conform". Not giving in to tragedy or loss, but coming back stronger over the course of seven and a half minutes of inspirational progressive rock.

The next four tracks and sixteeen minutes make up "The Powerless Suite" , which concerns itself with the impact of technology on human relationships. Smooth electric piano, Mellotron and tasteful lead guitar, including a country tinged slide feature from Brett Kull, make "Lost in Clouds" a beautifully melancholic excursion before the heavier, overdriven organ and guitar textures of "Solar Flare" take over. There's another 80s Genesis vibe on "The Hive" with its musings on the all-encompassing nature of social media in general and a certain "book of faces" in particular. A playfully bouncy and innocent Tron flute contrasts with an increasingly ominous lyric : "we know where you eat, we know when you sleep, we know what you're thinking". A reminder that the modern telescreen, like its Orwellian ancestor, lacks an off-switch. The suite closes with "Solar Flare Reprise", featuring a wonderful Mellotron cello amongst piano and guitar layers and an atmosphere that I can only describe as elegaic.

The title track, "The Garden", is concerned with the pernicious, stealthy, advance of the ageing process and the sudden realisation of having "gotten older, when is not clear". A descending Beatles-baroque style progression using a straight-four pulse and a novel chordal turnaround keeps the listener on their toes. Listen to the great clean-toned lead guitar from Brett Kull, another highlight in an already outstanding album.

"Orbital View", is an eight minute progressive road-trip with a lazy, hazy Eastern influence, resembling, in places, a lighter "Kashmir". Brian Watson, responsible for the artwork on this album and Slow Burn 1, provides the lyrics with a phrasing style reminding me of 90s Neal Peart. Wonderful backing vocals, percussive extras and clever arranging complete the package.

The Autumnal, nostalgic, atmosphere extends to the next pair of songs, "Event Horizon" and "Legacy" where Leo sings "I wish I could go back, No chance for rehearsals, I didn't always get it right". By this stage the album is inducing a mood similar to that which I experience listening to "And Then There Were Three". A sense of warmth and slightly blurry nostalgia, accepting past events, acknowledging mistakes and imperfections, but coming to terms with them and drawing strength for the future.

The closing track, "Stars", is eight and a half minutes of jaw-droppingly "big music". Musically, lyrically and emotionally, it provides the perfect conclusion to an enthralling collection of songs. Credited guest-personnel includes Larry and Don Fast, Brett Kull and the Stephanus Choir. A moody and atmospheric introduction of rich Mellotron chords with distant guitars, in a Moody Blues or BJH vein, this is classic prog in every sense. Moving through a typically Banksian change-up with chimes, choral groups and soaring lead guitar, Fractal Mirror have a bona fide epic on their hands. "Someday we will all shine, Together again".Once more, we are coming to terms with the loss of loved ones and realising their legacy lives on through the generations. "Stars" is a fine addition to the prog-rock hymnal.

Simply put, "Garden of Ghosts" is a thought provoking, mood-shaping, listening experience with a perfect blend of melodic immediacy and repeated-listening discoveries.

With everything from toe-tapping, singalong optimism to songs that will you stop you in your tracks before reaching for the repeat button, "Garden of Ghosts" is a must-listen for anyone interested in modern progressive rock.

It's difficult to assign a score to any work of art, but for me it has to sit in the 85 to 90% range. Four and a half stars in Progarchives currency.

Report this review (#1684825)
Posted Wednesday, January 25, 2017 | Review Permalink

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