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5 stars The Bell is another excellent release from the Russian modern prog group. Iamthemorning's "~" is one of my favorite modern prog albums, and with this release they do not disappoint. The album is filled with their usual folk-infused moments, along with a few of the more electric moments off of Lighthouse. The bulk of the album is filled with tracks of a shorter length, more typical to their debut album than either of their more recent albums. This does not, however, detract from their strength. The lyrics are much darker than much of their previous work, which works wonderfully in contrast with the light quality of the music.

"Freak Show" is a great, emotionally charged piece that starts of mellow but quickly builds in intensity. Right off the bat with this track, we can tell that Semkina's vocals are stronger than ever on this album. There's some great interplay between the piano, the string ensemble, and the guitars (both electric and acoustic) on this song. Probably the strongest track on the album, I love the contrast of the mellow moments with the real intensity of the electric guitars.

"Sleeping Beauty" is a much shorter track than "Freak Show", but is still very enjoyable. It's a fairly through-composed track, with some beautiful moments and a great complex piano outro.

"Blue Sea" is the shortest track on the album, clocking in at 3:08. It is an acoustic-centered track with some great embellishments from Kolyadin on piano. There's a great choral background in this piece as well, showcasing Semkina's voice even when she isn't singing the lyrics.

"Black and Blue" starts off with a sparse electric piano part under Semkina's vocals. There's some really wonderful production on this album in general; the vocals in particular on this song have some beautiful reverb on them. It's a fairly simple track which riffs on the same idea throughout but continues to build in intensity.

"Six Feet" starts off with a jazzy piano part, a bit of a contrast to Kolyadin's usual piano work, though he quickly brings the classical influence into it. There are some really wild harmonic choices that he makes on this track, which I think really add a lot to it. At a point where I was getting a little tired of the mellow style of the past few songs, it grabs my attention again, but not in the way I exactly expected.

"Ghost of a Story" starts off the same way many of these songs do, with piano, vocals, and some strings, but quickly builds into something else. About a minute into the song, it turns into a fairly composed folk-prog piece, almost like Jethro Tull in style if not for the focus on the piano. It really is something different from the past few songs, and is a nice change of pace.

"Song of Psyche" brings back the focus on the acoustic guitar from "Blue Sea", before turning back to piano for the chorus. Like "Blue Sea", it's a fairly simple track compared to what's around it, but it's a nice break from the complexity of the previous songs.

"Lilies" opens with a rapid-fire piano part, setting us up for a more intense climax than the bulk of what's come before it. This tension is held throughout the whole song, however, with the piano certainly building in intensity but never releasing into a full band moment, so we don't get the payoff of it until the following track.

"Salute" also begins with a fairly intense piano part, picking up where the tension of the previous track left off. However, the track soon introduces acoustic guitar alongside it, setting us up for a climax that we didn't get in the previous track, and indeed the track quickly adds more instruments. There's a bizarre circus-like feeling that the song gives us in several sections; in fact, the whole song is a bit of a whirlwind of a ride before we finally get the release of tension about five minutes into the piece with a lead guitar part.

"The Bell" closes out the album with its title track. A fairly calm introduction sets us up for more mellow ending than many prog albums choose to take. It's a very lovely track to close with, as Semkina has some massive and lush vocal harmonies over Kolyadin's beautiful piano playing. After the extensive instrumentation of "Salute", it's a nice touch to end the album with just the two primary members of the band.

All in all, The Bell takes the band's experimentation with electric sound on Lighthouse and combines it with the more acoustic, folk-based formula of their debut album, making for what might be their strongest album yet. It feels like an album that requires more than one listen to fully appreciate it, but I already enjoyed it quite a bit after just one listen. 9/10, but I'll give it five stars because I think it'll grow on me even more.

Report this review (#2241987)
Posted Monday, August 5, 2019 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars "Iamthemorning" is a classically-trained, yet crossover prog band from Russia that was formed in 2010. The core of the group is made up of a duo, however, in their live shows and on their albums, they often recruit several musicians, ensembles and orchestras to help them create their vision. Live shows can sometimes feature up to 8 individual players, not including ensembles and such. They have released four full length albums since 2012, including the album "The Bell" released in August of 2019. This album is inspired by song cycles in the style used by Schubert, and center around the topic of human cruelty and the pain caused from it, and the ways we deal with it. According to Bandcamp, the album is based on themes from the art and culture of Victorian England, yet strives to show that we haven't really made any changes in our emotional maturity since then. The album is made up of 10 tracks with a total run time of 46 minutes.

The core of the band is made up of Marjana Semkina on vocals and Gleb Kolyadin on grand piano and other keyboards. As guests, Vlad Avy plays acoustic and electric guitars, Zoltan Renaldi on bass, Svetlana Shumkova and Evan Carson on drums and percussion, Andres Izmaylov on harp, Grigory Osipov on marimba, Dmitry Tsepilov on sax, Ilya Leontyev on trumpet and Mr. Konin on bells, accordion and clapping. Also featured is the St. Petersburg Orchestra string ensemble.

"Freak Show" (7:09) starts off with the classical, pastoral feel, immediately beginning with Marjana's vocals, piano, synths, harp and strings. The melody is easy enough to follow even though it doesn't follow any real standard structure. At 2 minutes, the drums and bass all kick in and the music starts to move forward, still heavily and well-orchestrated. As it continues, it moves from pastoral to a more rock style, taking turns, but with plenty of flourishes among the instruments. Just before 4 minutes, it all gets surprisingly heavy when the piano and electric guitar join forces, but the track is not one to rest on any one style for too long. The music calms, but then the piano brings in the heavy chord progression again, this time accompanied by the sax and the drums again. It all softens to an atmospheric section where wordless vocals persist, intensity builds a bit, then it all stops leaving an acoustic guitar all by itself. This opening track should impress any prog lover or anyone with a love for classically-inspired rock. Excellent show stopper of a track.

After this, the tracks shorten for a while with times lasting between 3 and 4 minutes, and the music is mostly in the same song style as Schubert, simple, yet classically inspired, in other words, easy to listen to, but more complex than any standard pop music. "Sleeping Beauty" is a nice, laid-back song mostly led by acoustic and soft electric guitars, vocals and piano. "Blue Sea" uses tender piano flourishes and strummed acoustic guitar (played on this track by Marjana herself) to back the lovely vocals. Marjana gets to show off her range a bit more here, and it is quite impressive. But so is Gleb's piano work. "Black and Blue" continues with the soft sound as the vocals are more subdued, yet harmonized, and soft, minimal synths and acoustic guitar play around her vocals. The string ensemble joins in and the music swells with the piano taking the spotlight with some beautiful soloing.

"Six Feet" has a more careless attitude, but starts like the previous tracks, soft and gentle, but with a bit of a lilt to the vocals. The piano plays more dissonantly in this case also, but never to the point of being overbearing. Vocals strengthen as the track continues. Drums suddenly come in after minutes for the first time in a while, and then the music crescendo's to an emotional climax, then back off again. "Ghost of a Story" retains the piano, acoustic guitar and vocals, but also includes a harp and bass with a bit of percussion. This leads up to a nice, folkish style dance beat as it continues to an instrumental break as the keys take up the melody and then bring the song to a close. "Song of Psyche" is more pensive with acoustic guitar accompaniment and harmonized vocals. The piano comes in later adding a more dramatic effect to the song. "Lilies" (4:28) brings back a bit more length to the tracks, and a fast piano arpeggio accompanies the vocals this time, bringing in more intensity for this track. The last half of the song belongs to an amazing piano interlude.

"Salute" (7:27) again begins with fast piano and vocals. Soon, the acoustic guitar plays along with the pianos fast notes, a crash of a cymbal brings in percussion and drums, chimes, bass and other instruments. The music swells, then a nice regal trumpet comes in and just a hint of electric guitar. After some more vocals, the piano leads the other instruments into a nice instrumental break. Vocals come back at 4 minutes, everything is a bit more forceful now as tension builds. A squealing guitar comes in at 5 minutes and plays a solo above the other instruments, mostly egged on by the piano. This continues until the end. The last track, "The Bell" (5:04) begins with a thoughtful piano and hesitant vocals. This track features the original duo in a lovely and pensive track, simple, yet elegant and, just like the rest of the album, romantically and classically inspired.

This is quite an enjoyable album, mostly featuring the talents of the duo, but bringing in others to help give personality to the individual songs. The music is mostly simple, yet in a classical way, its music that probably won't offend the neighbors or anyone else for that matter, but, yet, it is complex enough to not be your standard fodder. The best tracks are the longer ones, but that doesn't mean that the other tracks should go unnoticed because there is still a lot of beauty and ingenuity and excellent performances among those also. It is quite a nice album, but would have been even a bit better with a little more usage of the other guests here, especially the string ensemble. However, the classical influence is very evident throughout and that makes this album shine. The vocals are lovely and the piano work is excellent. The songwriting is also great and that becomes more evident as you listen to it more. Great album for those who love their prog on the softer side, but still don't mind if things occasionally get dynamic from time to time.

Report this review (#2242164)
Posted Tuesday, August 6, 2019 | Review Permalink
5 stars Overloaded with eclectic ideas and better-than-ever melodies, iamthemorning's 'The Bell' marks the most substantial leap that acclaimed Russian chamber duo ever did in their career at this point.

Two mini-epics at the start and at the end of this album (namely Freak Show and Salute) make a sort of circular journey out of 'The Bell' while also reaching almost a Secret Chiefs 3 level of eclectic complexity with jazz, IDM, Russian folk and heavy rock bits scattered all around them, and this comes out as really unexpected move. Both epics never meander and 'Freak Show' delivers us arguably the most beautiful example of iamthemorning songwriting (and yes, I am taliking about a band which had released such songwriting masterpeces as 'Reprise of Light/No Light' and 'Gerda'). As Marjana Semkina's voice floats like a spring stream into 'They're not the only ones/There are hundreds of likes of theme around' lines on the opening track, iamthemorning creates their most otherwordly beautiful harmony to date.

Shorter tracks are unsurprisingly good and well-crafted. While 'Blue Sea' might sound a bit like 'Lighthouse' outtake (and it's the only part of this album that slightly bothers me), 'Black And Blue' incorporates some unexpected Tangerine Dream-like synths and 'Lilies' showcases some incredibly bright and nuanced staccato piano from Gleb Kolyadin. On 'Six Feet' iamthemorning once again reach their melodic peak and 'Sleeping Beauty' piano outro is nothing short of majestic.

After this album came out I had to admit that it completely overshadowed band's previous effort, 'Lighthouse'. Being rid of Marcel van Limbeek's absurdly bad production, iamthemorning's studio sound shines again like it never did since '~'.

I hope iamthemorning will overthrow several financial problems they faced in recent years, which had unfortunately restrained this band's touring possibilities. iamthemorning's ability of creating music of the highest quality never fails to impress me, and that's why we need this entity to go on with their creative flux. There's more than a mere possibility for iamthemorning to become one of the grandest bands in the whole progressive rock's immense and uncertain-of-its-borders genre.

Report this review (#2248524)
Posted Wednesday, September 4, 2019 | Review Permalink
5 stars Iamthemorning's previous releases (in particular Lighthouse and the Ocean Sounds Sessions compilation) already made it to my all-time favorites. Their distinct symphonic/folk/prog Renaissance-inspired style with a good dose of poetic atmosphere, piano virtuosity, and that particular Eastern European melancholy is something I came to love; and I receive no less than that on their newest album, 'The Bell'. This one feels darker, perhaps due to the lyrical subject matters, bearing a level of modern dark-cabaretesque energy (or is it just me?). The complexity on 'The Bell' comes and goes like a sinusoid: between the epic, flabbergasting melodic eruptions of 'Freak Show', 'Salute' and (my personal favorite, underappreciated gem) 'Six Feet', and the simpler acoustic ballads such as 'Blue Sea', 'Song of Psyche' and titular 'The Bell'. Marjana Semkina's vocals are capable of impressive dynamics, ethereal one moment and defined the other, while Gleb Kolyadin's piano playing shines in particular on 'Lillies' (both the pace and the composition are insanely impressive and obviously professional). The more complex and energetic tracks (mentioned before) were instant likes for me, with their rich instrumentation, clear build-ups, climaxes, and (at times) unsettling harmonies falling right into my 'good prog' box. The album's ballads don't have as much to offer, slightly disappointing in terms of structure and melody, 'Blue Sea' being perhaps the simplest of them ' but are pleasant nonetheless. As for the tracks in between these two extremities? They definitely lean towards the positives, but are not as captivating ' be it due to more repetitions, untimely (early) endings, or simply needing more time to grow on the listener.

I have debated whether this album deserves strong 4 stars or weaker 5 stars. Nonetheless, for the listening experience, the complexity/energy sinusoid works quite well, leaving time to rest, and (with less attention required) prepare for the next brilliant bomb of the likes of 'Freak Show', 'Six Feet', 'Lillies' and 'Salute'. It is obvious that every part of the album was executed with care, inspiration, and skill of the highest kind. As such, Iamthemorning's 'The Bell' deserves a title of a masterpiece, even if not all of the tracks on this album align exactly with my personal tastes.

Report this review (#2261850)
Posted Monday, September 16, 2019 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars So lovingly crafted, it's almost too pristine and clean. The most classical-based music the duo have done. Thank goodness for Marjana's emotive, all-too-human vocal performances.

1. "Freak Show" (7:09) a finely crafted song whose flaw is the way the music builds in intensity and volume as it buries Marjana's voice. The second half meets the expectations set up by the song's title.(12.5/15)

2. "Sleeping Beauty" (3:42) sounds like IAMTHEMORNING, sounds like Gleb's piano prowess, sounds like Marjana's right in her pocket. Why doesn't it grab me? (Has the band reached the limits to its potential?) (8/10)

3. "Blue Sea" (3:08) more on the delicate, acoustic side, this one really works--it let's Marjana's voice and lyrics carry the song instead of getting buried in the mix. Well done! Powerful! (9.5/10)

4. "Black and Blue" (3:58) No piano? Marjana up front and center with a floating electric background? Wow! I like this! Don't get me wrong: Gleb is a virtuoso genius, but sometimes I just want to hear Marjana do her thing--like this: a JEWEL-like performance to display her own virtuosity. Give Gleb his time in the C section or in the outro, like here; that is perfect! (10/10)

5. "Six Feet" (3:56) again I can hear Marjana! I can make out and understand her lyrics--and what powerful lyrics they are. The eerie silent film blues-jazz piano music is a perfect Edgar Allan Poe-like accompaniment to Marjana's theatric performance. Brilliant! (10/10)

6. "Ghost of a Story" (3:58) this song, unfortunately, relies on too many elements that are already familiar from previous iamthemorning songs and albums. (8/10)

7. "Song of Psyche" (3:20) (8.5/10)

8. "Lilies" (4:28) the trilling of Gleb's right-hand piano arpeggi do not mesh well with Marjana's vocal. Take out the right hand and then you'd have a cool Berthold Brecht/Kurt Weill song. But, then, you'd not have that wonderful C section piano solo. Still, the tension of two songs in one is not easily rectified. (8.5/10)

9. "Salute" (7:27) great song with fresh sounds, structures, melodies, and true progginess. (Great guitar work from iamthemorning stalwart Vlad Avy. (13.25/15)

10. "The Bell" (5:04) Simply gorgeous in every respect: melodies, dynamics, textures, performance subtleties, sound engineering, lyrical content and power. Perhaps the best song Marjana and Gleb have ever recorded. (Maybe the best Song of the Year?) (10/10)

Total Time 46:10

4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of classically-based crossover progressive rock music. An album that suffers, at times, from over-familiarity, yet contains some of the best songs and performances that iamthemorning has ever committed to posterity.

Report this review (#2266424)
Posted Saturday, October 5, 2019 | Review Permalink
4 stars Iamthemorning, like so many modern prog bands today, has strived to become different from what you might call 'normal' prog (if any prog is normal). They, in particular, combine prog with classical music - perhaps not the first band to do so (one that I am fond of is Barock Project), but even then, any other prog band I've heard with classical influences still doesn't sound remotely like it. You have to hear it to know what I mean.

Anyway, the band's latest album opens with 'Freak Show', a song that builds up from a simple guitar melody to a very upbeat, thick textured song - probably my favourite on the album. It's not the only achievement though, 'Ghost of a Story', 'The Bell' and 'Lillies' are another two honourable mentions - the astonishing piano on 'Lilies' so fast it's worthy of Chopin (ok, maybe not that good).

This album is (loosely) about Victorian England - I say loosely as each track is a story on it's own, generally about human cruelty. Musically, it is inspired by Schubert, which you can tell from the lovely piano played throughout. The music and lyrics are beautifully written, and the album is in two parts - something featured sometimes in both prog and classical operas.

What's really good to see is the variety of instruments - instead of just your quintessential classical instruments (violins, trumpets, etc.) you can hear marimbas, bells, and a very nice guitar solo on 'Freak Show'. Nevertheless, it is not less classical than Iamthemorning's previous albums, in fact, it is perhaps more so, there is very little rock in the texture and melodies of The Bell.

To conclude, my requirements for a five star album -

1. The songs must all be excellent.

2. It must work brilliantly as an album.

Number one is fine - as I said earlier, the music and lyrics are beautifully written. As for number two, the songs work perfectly well together, but it is a bit heavy in places. I don't mean that it's like metal, but that it can get what you might call 'a bit much' - listen to too much of it and it'll give you a headache (for me, at least). It's a bit difficult to explain, some might agree, some might disagree, but it knocks off a star for me - I'd want to listen to a five star album all day.

So it's another four star review!

Report this review (#2456588)
Posted Friday, October 16, 2020 | Review Permalink

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