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Fatal Fusion - Total Absence CD (album) cover

TOTAL ABSENCE

Fatal Fusion

Crossover Prog


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tszirmay
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Finally it has happened, happened again actually! True prog fans are 'look out' people, constantly scouring the globe for something exciting or even mind blowing to surface, out of the blue. True devotees research, cross reference or analyze the credits for a familiar musician or just go with their gut feeling. This knowledge has served us well, I can acknowledge that music has given my life purpose, enjoyment, escape and panacea. We all know life is not easy, getting even more dangerous than ever before (and I am from 'the Cold War generation', I am proud to say), so you cannot fathom the sheer salvation that music was, is and always will be. Its medication, vision, courage and unending faith, all combined as a musical vehicle to dream and emote without fear or judgement. Prog certainly covers the entire spectrum of human emotions and proud to do so. While the golden years of the 70s were remarkable and highly inspired, I must say , having lived it then and today, the quality of 21st Century prog has been the best period ever, so many talented and adventurous bands out there, who make music they enjoy, not for groupies, not for fortune or not for fame. That is the true measure of how prog is evolving, spewing out jewels one after the other.

This is another one, the brand spanking new Fatal Fusion album, a Norwegian group I only recently hooked up with, after a lot of glances but no bite. Well, their sophomore album "The Ancient Tale" really blew me away, though it did take some concentration and effort, as there were many familiar things mixed in with some unexpected ones to keep one on the edge. What threw me off was trying to compare the band to anyone else out there, which was a huge mistake on my part, as I tried to take the easy road. But once I took on that album for what it was, it started hitting hard. The first three tracks certainly do smash rigid, then the set list suddenly evolves into much mellower realms that will catch any listener unaware.

On the surly opener instrumental opener "The Gates of Ishtar", Fatal Fusion are slanted more towards the masculine, testosterone-laced prog bravado, the sonic palette pumping audacious yet heavily symphonic, very obviously led by Erlend Engebretsen who shines on a wide variety of keyboards. Guitars are honed and masterly wielded, gritty when rhyming and soaring when leading. Stig Selnes is quite the craftsman, both rash and fluid at a moment's notice, pushing the murky theme to glorious heights, with just a hint of Middle Eastern aroma. It serves as the ideal introduction for "the Shadow of the King", energized by a husky-voice singer that takes some getting used to, allied to a brooding scimitar of heavy riffs that hammer home, unrelenting. There is an undeniable Zeppelin shuffle that recalls "Kashmir" for a while until Selnes shoots off a dizzying axe solo that bounces off sand dunes, whirls beyond the oasis and spirals into the broiling sky. "Forgotten One" possesses a well-balanced arrangement that stings one moment with metallic fury , organ ablaze and drums pumping wildly only to veer into a gentler lullaby where the piano leads the march. The gargling lead vocals from Knut Grontvedt certainly are different, to say the least. And then quite unexpectedly, the material just gets flung into another dimension altogether.

On the stunning "Astral Flight", the spirit and the dexterity combine for some savagely brilliant instrumental episodes, but when the extended e-piano solo enters, I am slain! As if the early Santana guitar cavalcade was not enough, the entire mood is memorable, bright, smoothly jazzy and impassioned. The rocket-fueled rhythm section is propulsive, serpentine and utterly focused on the appointed flight path, no auto-pilot programming on this one! This is a killer track of the highest order and a harbinger of things to come.

The next three pieces are all epic in scope and running time, heavily dominated by massive mellotron winds that will take you back to the Court of the Crimson King, beginning with the reverential "the Emperor's Letter" , a colossal symphonic ballad that groans and moans with bittersweet content. The overall feel is stately and imperial, the beastly legendary keyboard doing its celebrated magic, the ideal stage for Knut to howl to the moon, the electric guitars snarling and the keys impetuous. Stig emotes on acoustic before unleashing a gorgeous electric solo, flush with pressing despair. Totally beautiful, morose and forbidding, this is primo prog that make you kneel at the shrine.

Yet the biggest surprise is without any doubt, "Endless Ocean Blue" with its disarming pastoral intro of clanging bucolic strings and weaving synths, becoming a melancholic 11 minute voyage on a sea of serenity, a sense of floating that owes more to classic Pink Floyd than anything else. The plaintive vocals in particular are hushed, elbowed by Lasse Lie's low bass rumble and concussed by a resilient binary beat. Within the mid-section, the expectant storm intensifies into gale wind organ flurries, Erlend rifling along his board with dedicated precision and urgent mania. Stig's turn to show his restraint and command of the e-guitar, carving a superlative arch of slow- burning notes, a kaleidoscope of emotions painting the air. Knut roars out his pain, in that raspy shriek that is both manly and desperate.

The title track finishes off this monster, a quarter of an hour of musical bliss that kicks off with urban sound effects, cars honking and a forlorn piano tinkling morosely. Voice, acoustic guitar and an orchestral background sets the stage for the pleasures to come, searching the road to some salvation. The buildup gradually goes tornado (as Bill Bruford once stated), as the sonic heat is ratcheted up considerably, the rhythms concussive and the guitars persuasive. The mighty Mellotron returns again to prove the point, shoving the steam roller of sound forward and beyond. Stig agrees to fiddle with his axe once again, with tremendous efficiency and taste.

Heavy prog is perhaps the best way to describe the style here, but it's somehow different from other players within the genre. Loads of paradoxes abound, its heavy and yet isn't, its brooding yet also very inspired. It's typical but also original. A wild and savage mix of entertaining progressive rock music that might not be everyone's cup of tea but highly enjoyable under the right circumstances.

4.5 complete nonattendances

Report this review (#1650424)
Posted Tuesday, November 29, 2016 | Review Permalink
aapatsos
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Metal and Heavy Prog Teams
2 stars Vintage prog with limitations

It is difficult to categorise Fatal Fusion judging from this disc; vintage prog is probably the most accurate description since the sounds clearly rises from the 70's. From hard rock-infused riffs, to organ and hammond-filled passages, the band clearly show their keeness on keeping to their roots.

There is a mutiltude of elements and styles in their, otherwise stuck-to-the-roots, crossover prog. There are bombastic, epic intros (The Gates of Ishtar), heavy rock fantasy-driven tunes (Shadow of the King), fusionesque and uptempo melodies (Astral Flight), nostalgic low tempo tracks in the vein of Blood Ceremony (Forgotten One, The Emperor's Letter) and long epics guided by the giants of the 70's such as Pink Floyd and Genesis (Endless Ocean Blue and Total Absence). Hammond and organ dominate the sound of the album while the guitars and drums generate a more demo-like feeling, and it is unclear if this was intended or is a production limitation. Although it does stand out, it does somehow blend with the atmosphere.

Hints of Deep Purple and (more) of Wishbone Ash, some fantasy Neo-prog sounds in the vein of Marillion and a heavy rock Sabbathy mood are the strongest characteristics of Total Absence, which suffers from a major flaw: the vocals appear distinctly ''in-front'' and harsh - not out of tune but out of shape, they could put you off from enjoying this album. Perhaps this is why I find the instrumental track as the highlight of this album. Not that the rest of the music is overtly impressive: yes, the players are skilled but the tunes lack inspiration and innovation, charting on a well-trodden path. Had it not been for the vocals, I might have given this a few more chances, but as it stands it is very difficult to go back, other than spinning the enjoyable Astral Flight. Fans of vintage prog might find more to like than I did.

2.5

Report this review (#1683555)
Posted Sunday, January 22, 2017 | Review Permalink
PH
5 stars FATAL FUSION have pulled off a stunner with the third studio album 'Total Absence' that checks in at seven compositions and high praise- worthy 56-plus min. What makes this new disk really special is the refreshing blend of diverse influences as well as portrayed emotion, added to challenging songs and great performances. The cohesive material shines through, especially when heard straight from the very first number to the last one. Fittingly enough, the album kicks off with a mysterious overture to showcase what Fatal Fusion are capable of. Played with sheer authority, the instrumental piece 'The Gates Of Ishtar' brings a predominant Arabian feel, providing a somewhat ominous atmosphere. Symphonic set-up is followed by martially sounding track 'Shadow Of The King', to recall the Rainbow's musical blueprint which functions like a mid-tempo rocker. From its outset, there's a solid build up featuring impeccable guitar work (Stig Selnes), huge keyboards (Erlend Engebretsen), intensive power of rhythm section (Audun Engebretsen / Lasse Lie). The structural components are fitted together perfectly, the ensemble accomplishes its mission enabling Knut Erik Grøntvedt to deliver his remarkable vocal style. A bit hoarse voice gives another sort of momentum. Next up, 'Forgotten One' adorned by prominent sound of flute. To a certain extent, it betrays an influence from Jethro Tull. Besides, The Windmill kept coming to my mind while listening to this catchy song. Afterward, sparkling 'Astral Flight', based on the reveries and instrumental grooves. A typical Jadis manner prevails, though the experimental section in vein of TFK is also present. The guitar wiz Stig Selnes and key virtuoso Erlend Engebretsen are in the spotlight, filling the air with depth and colour. Permanently audible, bassist Lasse Lie and drummer Audun Engebretsen supplement a dynamic dimension. The lead singer is kept aside here. Moving on. 'The Emperor's Letter' balances between mellow Spock's Beard and calm Salem Hill, before descending into absolute magic: flawless guitar solo is reminiscent of Steve Hackett. It brings goosebumps to my spine. Yet again, Knut Erik Grøntvedt affords a lyrical meaning to content. The further CD goes, the more intriguing it becomes. Depicting different emotional states, a lengthy composition 'Endless Ocean Blue' is a kind of prog-suite with its three acts ('Meditation', 'Ascension', 'Realization'). If you can mix Iluvatar, Marillion, Deep Purple and Pink Floyd, you will have a good idea for the general sound of this opus. The musicianship is still terrific, while Knut Erik pours his soul into every note he sings. By no coincidence, 'Total Absence' is the longest track on the whole album, clocking in at 15:30 min. Four parts ('Empty Houses, Empty Streets', 'Losing Faith', 'Night Must Fall', 'United We Stand') transfer into each other making the epic vertex. In musical ways, it largely leans on old Genesis and Dream Theater. Flows and ebbs with changes of pace and time- signatures. The front man sings with heart, creating the tangible imagery. It's curious to note, however, Fatal Fusion have decided to place a beautiful guitar solo in the final segment, providing a true Pendragon vibe. And when the music gradually fades away, you are left a fully delighted customer!!! All in all, this release is both very melodic and adventurous; it should deliver tons of enjoyment for progressive rock heads who chose to seek it out. Definitely recommended.
Report this review (#1685472)
Posted Thursday, January 26, 2017 | Review Permalink

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