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BIRDS OF PASSAGE

Karfagen

Symphonic Prog


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TCat
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Eclectic / Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team
4 stars After releasing the acclaimed album 'Echoes from Within Dragon Island' last year, Karfagen was quick to release their 11th full length studio album in January of 2020 called 'Birds of Passage'. Their 'Dragon Island' album was well-loved by many reviewers here in the Archives, and many are excited to hear this new album. So the question is, does it live up to the previous album?

Karfagen was conceived by Antony Kalugin in 1997 and even now he continues to head this project performing most of the instruments on the album. However, he has continued to recruit many regulars who have become part of the band line-up over the years. On this album, Antony performs on keyboards, vocals, percussion, penny flute, and does arranging and programming of the tracks. Joining him are Mathieu Spaeter on electric guitars, Konstantin Ionenko on bass, Viktor Syrotin on drums, Tim Soloblev on vocals, Olha Rostovska on vocals, Aleksandr Pavlov on nylon guitar, Alexandr Pastuchov on bassoon, Maria Baranovska on violin, and Elena Kushiy on flute.

The album consists on a single suite called 'Birds of Passage' in 2 parts. Each part is in turn divided up into several sub- sections, in the same way that their previous master work was organized. The sound of this suite is much the same style as 'Dragon Island' suite from last year; complex, symphonic prog with a lot of nice textures among the instrumental and vocal sections. There does seem to be a bit more dissonance on this particular suite, but that also goes hand in hand with the sections that show more intensity. Also, as in the previous album, there is a nice mix of folk sounds and instrumentation and everything flows together wonderfully.

Each part of the suite is over 20 minutes in length, and, as expected from Karfagen, the themes and sections are all well developed. The music flows well and there is a nice balance between the instruments and the dynamics of the music is superb. The overall vibe is quite bright and positive even though the overall thematic element deals with the natural world and using symbolism from that to portray a very neo-prog element of the fight between good and evil. That neo-prog element lies mostly in the theme as the music itself is much more similar to the dynamic of symphonic prog. Each instrument is clear and polished with many keyboard and guitar interaction with nice vocals that utilize both male and female singing and harmonization.

The poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (in part 1) and William Blake (in part 2) is used in the suite. The poetry makes up most of the lyrical content of these parts of the suite, and the additional lyric is composed by Antony. All of the lyrics are sung, and the placement of the words into song has been done quite well, and is probably one of the most impressive things about Karfagen's music. One would almost expect the sound to be a bit choppy between the extended instrumental sections and the lyrical sections, but everything flows seamlessly. This is the main thing that makes me come back to the band's music, the fact that the poetry can be so beautifully integrated into a suite. Everything else just flows along with this, and the more complex compositional parts of the suites start to become more apparent with continued listening. This makes this music more likeable, even from the first listen. The first part of the suite is much more lyric heavy, while the 2nd part concentrates more on longer instrumental sections.

Also similar to the previous album, there are other tracks that are 'supplemental' to the main suite, but in this case they are considered all bonus tracks, and there are only 3 of them. 'Spring (Birds Delight)' is a shorter work also based on a Blake poem 'Spring'. This one has a catchy sound and also has some scat going on that almost sounds tribal, and this sound mixes well with the other influences that are usually at work in the band's music. 'Sunrise' is a nice, pastoral and peaceful instrumental mostly featuring some lovely flute backed by atmospheric synths and percussion. 'Birds (short introduction)' is not available on the CD release. It is another short instrumental that does sound like an introduction to something, but this closes the album.

Overall, the suite is the best thing about the album and the other tracks are just okay, but they only make up a small part of the overall picture. The band continues to work off its strengths, most of which are in Kalugin's compositional skills. The album seems almost like a continuation of last year's 'Dragon Island' and not really a progression of it, per se. However, it is still quite excellent. If I was to choose, I would definitely place 'Dragon Island' the better of the two, but that's not saying that this album is not worthwhile. The only thing I would have hoped for in this album was something that made it stand out more on its own from the previous album. However, it is still a great sound and lovers of 2019's album will probably enjoy it just as much. 4 stars.

Report this review (#2304457)
Posted Saturday, January 4, 2020 | Review Permalink
5 stars It is the album that deserve to be heard for sure! Antony told me that it`ll be special but I didn`t even realize how much! From the very beginning it`s like a bit of fresh air. Of course the artwork is fabulous , like always and i`ll agree, this time it`s even "warmer" , you may think about "Alice in Wonderland" looking on it and it`s true - it`s really magical album, that has powerful, melodic main theme... "This Time, This Place"... So catchy! I don`t think you should compare this album to the "Echoes from within Dragon Island" - they are two different stories. With "Birds of Passage" Antony and his team did an album worth of being released on Vinyl - No "long" passages and fillers... Two Parts of Suite , like a 2 sides of a Vinyl.. How I wish they can bring it on a Vinyl one day... This Time , Antonys good friend Mathieu Speater has recorded guitars and they are awsome. Don`t get me wrong, I`m a huge fan of Max Velychko guitars ,but Mat did his job as good as he did on " Magicians Theater" in 2014. What a gorgeous Nylon guitar by Alex Pavlov in the beginning of the second part - breath taking - fantastic sound without any doubts! I like the format of LP where there`s no place for some sound filler that just ruins the conception of the "Message". What an emotional ending of both parts.. Wow.. "Camel", "Manfred Mann" in it`s best and I`ll agree with Matti, soon there`ll be the time when no comparison will needed, as Karfagen with it`s 11th! album stands bright in Symphonic Prog liague. As for bonus tracks - Lovely flute in "Sunrise" and almost Peter Gabriel - Weather Report "Birds Delight" - both tracks are pleasent to the ear and just compliment the album. 5 stars for sure!
Report this review (#2306130)
Posted Sunday, January 12, 2020 | Review Permalink
Matti
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars It was only last autumn I truly found the bands of composer, keyboardist and vocalist Antony Kalugin from Ukraine. Of the several KARFAGEN albums I've listened to this far, my favourite has become the latest, Echoes Within Dragon Island (2019) which also happened to be my introduction to this band. Now we have the brand new album at hand, and I'm very glad to declare that Birds of Passage is a prog masterpiece that goes right up there at the level, or the heels to say the least, of its predecessor. I tend to regard these two albums as a harmonic pair, basically sharing the similar melodic, easily enjoyed symphonic nature, plus both drawing the lyrics from classic English or American poetry. Last year it was Robert Louis Stevenson, now Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and William Blake. Both albums are wonderfully portioning the vocal sections into the very dynamic, instrumentally oriented symphonic prog. The obvious classic prog influences (Yes, Genesis, Camel, ELP and so on) are all absorbed and melted into the tradition-friendly and yet distinctive style of Karfagen. Maybe in time, we might as well start using Karfagen as a reference of this kind of contemporary grandiose symphonic prog, like we have used the big names such as The Flower Kings.

One thing that makes it a bit tricky to decide which album is more unquestionably perfect to me, is that Echoes -- consisting of eight tracks, when speaking of the 1-CD edition -- contains music for a double vinyl's measure, whereas Birds of Passage would make a single vinyl LP with side-filling parts of the title suite, both of approx. 21-22 minutes long and with seamlessly running subtitled sections. (Yes, there are two more tracks of roughly 5 minutes long, but it's plain to see that they are meant to be taken as "bonus tracks", just as they are marked.) This gives the Dragon Island album a headstart which is very challenging to beat. Anyway, by now I have been listening to this album round and round for multiple times -- actually more than I listened to Dragon Island at the time of reviewing -- and I'm already pretty convinced that in a year's time this album will be VERY high, probably Number One, on my 2020 prog list!

The two parts are quite equal in the rich and uplifting listening experience. The occurring main theme with Kalugin's own lyrics ("This time, this place...") appears three times (in the beginning, in the middle and in the end) in Part 1, and only once in Part Two. I'm not saying I wouldn't like it, or that any of the appearances would be totally unnecessary, but it is one of the factors I'd probably choose Part 2 as my favourite. Its first section starts instrumentally, starring at first just an acoustic guitar in the vein of Steve Hackett or Steve Howe, joined by other instruments, and the vocals enter no sooner than around the fifth minute. As I have said in my other Karfagen reviews, I sincerely like Kalugin's voice. It can be tender like Kerry Minnear's in Gentle Giant or intimate like Roger Waters at his softest, but it's not wimpy. When the music rocks harder, so does Antony's voice if necessary. But indeed it's the perfect balance between sung and instrumental moments which makes Karfagen so enjoyable. The mostly serene instrumental final sections of Part 2 are very beautiful.

Now the bonus tracks. 'Spring', based on Blake's lyrics like Part 2, pales a little after the glorious title epic, as it proceeds in a relatively restricted manner. The vocals are shared by Kalugin, Olha Rostovska and Tim Sobolev. The rhythm slightly reminds me of 'State of Mind' on the FISH debut. A nice, unspectacular track with a happy feeling. 'Sunrise' is a delicate and sensitive instrumental, comparable to peaceful IONA or CAMEL instrumentals. I like it very much for its introspective emotion. The cover painting of Igor Sokolskiy really fits the music: lovely, adventurous but mostly gentle symphonic prog to caress your ears like a favourite fairy tale from your childhood. Five stars, definitely.

Report this review (#2306435)
Posted Monday, January 13, 2020 | Review Permalink
5 stars In nowadays progressive rock music there's not so much positive "warmth" and vibes of the art rock we know so well from the 70's. Main part of it is too "heavy" and "angry". In this scene Karfagen is a like a "lamp lighter" in a stormy weather. Like an island a raging sea. So happy to be there and enjoy the atmosphere of so balanced and well crafted music. It's interesting fact that each year numbers of the bands that produce prog rock music are growing. Composition and sound are not so good as should be. The sound of the latest Karfagen album is balanced and well produced. This I can to all latest Antony's releases, as there was a period in 2006-2010 when it was too "experimental" in places.
Report this review (#2306498)
Posted Tuesday, January 14, 2020 | Review Permalink
5 stars What a way to start the New Year - a brand new album by Karfagen! This is fantastic news and an amazing new album!

First, lets get any negative stuff out the way - I looked at the credits and saw that Max Velychko was not on guitars, as I've grown very fond of his guitar playing, but instead 2 other players are here and they do an outstanding job blending in with all the other instruments going on around them! And there is a grand assortment going on here; some very nice bassoon work, some violin, and sweet sounds from the flute. Just like an orchestra has plenty of instruments playing together, each shining in its own light but never dominating the rest, that is exactly what is happening here. Just lovely pure Prog that washes the soul with such fine melodies. Some very intricate vocal arrangements too, everyone sounding happy to be part of creating this masterpiece. And once again, we have Antony Kalugin proving once more why he's the best keyboard player that Yes never had!

Love the cover as well! Reminds me of the sort of cover so popular with Yes, Genesis (70's style), Jethro Tull, early Marillion. I love the artwork on this and I'm going to say that I think this is the best cover yet for Karfagen. But its the music that counts, and on here it truly is what real classy Prog is all about. Well done Karfagen!

Report this review (#2307057)
Posted Wednesday, January 15, 2020 | Review Permalink
4 stars When you deal with a new album by Antony Kalugin and his bands you never know what to expect. His music is often multiform and rich of many facets.

But this time there are no big surprise, as he chose to follow a linear path and continue what he began with "Echoes from within dragon island" only one year ago. And his choice pays very well, as "Birds of passage" is really great music. Like for the previous album, the core is consisting of long suites, two of them in this case. They are named with the title of the album itself. Each one is more than 20 minute long, but they flow fluently thanks to their complexity, variety and catchiness: I would say that one of the main qualities of Antony is the capability of writing melodies you can sing in a shower even in the most complex song, and it makes of him a great prog composer.

There are two more songs to complete the album: "Spring" is a shorter piece based on a William Blake poem; "Sunrise" is an instrumental that I am fond of, with its elegiac, peaceful atmosphere, backed by a lovely flute.

In the end, I would say this new work is a shining piece of symphonic prog, characterised by an extraordinary intensity and positive vibes. As always Antony is sorrounded by skilled musicians, that are able to make the most of his compositions. A mention to the production as well: the sound is clear in each single part and the intricate interactions by instrumentation and voice are perfectly audible throughout the whole work. And again as always, the package and the cover art are very nice in every detail.

Report this review (#2308656)
Posted Thursday, January 23, 2020 | Review Permalink
5 stars Symphonic Art Rock Pioneers Karfagen has released their 11th offering, "Birds of Passage" 01/2020... This album is phenomenal, a true genuine masterpiece by front man Antony Kalugin Keyboard wizard and composer! Here within "Birds of Passage" are 10 truly gifted musicians including Antony Kalugin, who has the ability to select the right musicians to capture the true essence of this extraordinary album. I have every album this musical entity has released and this very album is beyond anything else they have released. There are only four tracks on this album based on the poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and William Blake... The musical journey this album takes you on is beyond any horizon or galaxy you could ever imagine... The first track, Birds of Passage (part 1) 22:40 is the perfect beginning of this incredible journey which starts off low and slow and emerges with a yearning anticipation that something great is about to happen, and it does! The vocal harmonies brings with it a subtle gentle giant texture that is truly unique to the sound of KARFAGEN, and then all of the sudden you are transported into a YES like atmosphere... The brilliance of the guitar and keyboards are carried through out the tune with an astounding rhythm section, with violins and flutes and nylon stringed guitar... This whole album is tantalized with the full richness of a gorgeous electric guitar a nylon stringed guitar, violins and bassoon, a rich bass and drums.... The second tune, Birds of Passage (part 2) at 21:11... Starts off with a solo nylon string guitar with the keyboards softly emerging in ever so unsuspecting and then the violin and electric guitar greets the pounding of the drums... This is an absolutely beautiful album, with so much richness that it seems almost impossible to imagine it could even exist. There are many twists and turns all along the way with captivating vocals and harmonies, with the atmosphere so inviting... Then track 3, ( 4:34) the first of 2 bonus tunes. " Spring" (Birds delight)... Well this is a delight, Antony's incredible keyboards and vocals with his wonderful backup vocals are just truly beautiful, with this upbeat tune with singing guitar and wonderful texture with that familiar Karfagen touch.. the vocals are truly amazing on this track... And the final track, #4 (5:33) "Sunrise", this may be Karfagen's most beautiful song to date, a beautiful nylon stringed guitar intro with a beautiful flute with some native american flute blended within, creates an unbelievable atmospheric mood that is enhanced by a wonderful chorus... I am covered with goosebumps just typing this as I listen... Antony's incredible keyboards are simply amazing as the song ends... You've got to get this incredible album! Thank you Anthony, you have really done it this time my friend, Thank you so very much for this incredible music! BRAVO!
Report this review (#2308891)
Posted Friday, January 24, 2020 | Review Permalink
5 stars Well, I'm happy to write that the inspiration keeps chasing Antony Kalugin on his way further and further. I used to consider "Tales from within Dragon Island" as a real masterpiece. Eleven month after KARFAGEN released the next album and it definitely deserves to be listened! Though I like it less then the 2019 album, it is still a great piece of music that is mandatory to be familiar with to everybody interested in nowadays symphonic prog.

Similarly to the previous one, "Birds of Passage" based on the poetry written by English Romanticists. For his 11th album Antony choose Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and William Blake. The idea to combine the romantic poetry and KARFAGEN's music is obviously marvelous as they fits one another very well. The lyrics mood perfectly corresponds to the album tune. Comparing to early KARFAGEN's music the title suite (44 minutes long) includes a lot of vocal parts; however, it seems rather advantage as these parts are balanced quite well. Unlike the Birds of Passage pt.1, the second part of the suite is much more instrumental. Though the structure of suite is more or less typical (linear structure, reprise, classical harmony transitions), every theme is masterfully developed and includes bridges and references to the other one's. This makes a great deal in terms of the suite general cohesion. The same can be stated concerning the album coherence in general ? all transitions are so natural and well-integrated that it is almost impossible to catch the bridge between song parts. The later are quite different and self-sufficient.

The music itself follows the trend that was declared by Antony during the Messages From Afar: it is bright and non-aggressive. The suite seems to be peaceful and harmonized. Even in the most dynamic parts music stays light. I strongly recommend listening to the album carefully and calm. Hustle will definitely prevent you from catching the beauty of the suite. But once you got it, you will continue to listen it again and again. This mood of harmony reminds the PROG ROCK COLLECTIVE music in some moments, which is also great. Musicians that were invited to create the album are extremely skilled and talented and definitely are on their place. Wonderful transitions from Maria Baranovska (violin) and Elena Kushiy (flute) expands the music enormously transforming the band into a real orchestra; however, each participant of the record deserves highest credits altogether with awesome cover, made by Igor Sokolskiy and great processing, mixing and programming, made by Antony in personal (and he gets better and better with every album).

The other tracks considered as bonus ones. "Spring" is rather entertaining song with nice vocal movements and "Sunrise" is great piece of melodic instrumental composition. Maybe including them in the suite would contribute to the holistic perception of the album, though they are good and well balances separately the same as the suite does. To sum up, the album is great; it develops what was done in the previous one and contributes to KARFAGEN discography quite well. However, next time we are awaited to see something quite different and extraordinary, just like Antony usually composes.

Report this review (#2309614)
Posted Sunday, January 26, 2020 | Review Permalink
5 stars Birds of Passage is Antony Kalugin's follow up to Échoes from within Dragon Island'. With returning musicians from the previous album, Alexandr Pavlov (Bassoon), Maria Baranovska (Violin) and Elena Kushiy (Flute) and the welcome return of guitarist Mathieu Spaeter from Magicians Theater. I believe Viktor Syrotin's drumming is articulate, I think this kind of music must be hard for a drummer. After Dragon Isle, it worried me how could the following album stand up to that great opus. I have now listened to Birds of Passage three times and I find it stands up very well. I think it is up to the listener to determine if it is better or not. Birds of Passage contains two lengthy tracks both surpassing the 20 minute mark along with two bonus shorter tracks. Again Antony has used the poetry of literary greats, this time being Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and William Blake for the basis of the subject for this album. Birds of Passage Part 1 we have the chorus of singers, Antony himself along with his wife Olga and Tim Sobolev. They sing the main theme that echoes throughout both parts. The music itself interweaves all instruments in a bright manner that reflects the subject matter of the poetry. I find Antony has the ability to make the singing as another instrument. Even though there is singing, it still feels as if it is fully instrumental.

Part 2 starts with a very nice calm section of acoustic guitar, soon to be accompanied by piano. This leads up to the punch of the electric guitar. This of course lends itself to the great playing from both Antony and Mathieu. About two thirds into this part is some keyboard which makes me feel I could float on those notes. Then as all great music, it pulls back to a quiet essence hinting to the climax that is coming. When that climax comes, it stirs you, makes your hairs stand up, and with the last notes satisfaction ensues. Then you breathe, let out a sigh and you know you want to listen to it again.

The first of the bonus tracks, 'Spring', has a tropical beat to it. A very happy feeling song with what I can only describe as a relaxing ghostly guitar sound which works really well. The second bonus track 'Sunrise'is perfectly named. The piano hints at the first rays of the sun coming over the horizon. This is a beautiful soothing track. This is a track you listen to when you soak up the scenery. This ends the album in a lovely, reflective mood.

I found this album more subtle and delicate than Dragon Isle. I mean this in a good way. It challenges the listener to listen more carefully. To listen to every instrument and it's journey, to listen to every nuance of every note played. To me this album will be a 'Passage' well worn with many listens.

Report this review (#2316209)
Posted Friday, February 14, 2020 | Review Permalink
5 stars Antony and his team did it again! This time the new album is less symphonic, except of some moments from the first song that to me sounds similar to The Revealing Science of God from Yes' Topographic Ocean. The rest of the album has strong folk and world music flavor. Some moments reminiscent MIke Oldfield,and some... Pat Metheny: guitar sound, "exotic percussions", wordless vocals. I like them both, so I like the new Karfagen's opus as well. in comparison to previous albums, the mood of the album is on the calmer side. As on most Karfagen albums, there are a number of strong melodies, nice vocal parts, and more emphasis on guitar sound, both electric and acoustic. The keyboards are also there, but they mostly add color than solos. And, us usual, great artwork!
Report this review (#2338161)
Posted Monday, February 24, 2020 | Review Permalink
2 stars I saw that this Ukrainian symphonic band's getting some hype here on the PA website, and have really good reviews on almost every album they've released, so I had to check for myself... And what a disappointment this band is... This review is somewhat of a split one covering both this album and their previous one - Echoes from Within Dragon Islands from 2019. So, the common thing about both these releases is that they are some of the most painful listens I have ever experienced... ever. The band's obviously going for the 'retro' sound and the 70s vibe but the output is some of the most dull, uninspired, and unoriginal prog I've ever heard.

Overlong compositions that include nothing but bragging and poor vocals. There are many successful modern symphonic bands which are successful because they gave the style their own spin, their music has some edge, it has some innovation, if you will, like The Flower Kings, Spock's Beard, The Tangent, Anglagard, Transatlantic, Wobbler, the Neal Morse Band... but Karfagen definitely lacks character. The biggest blow about the band, as they obviously have the skills.

And here are a few superlatives, so that this review does not look like I'm spilling my hate on the band. They've actually got some pretty interesting themes going on in some of the songs, what they do is they completely destroy them with the directions they are taking them. Also, they have some decent vocal harmonies... on a few brief moments.

Of course, their albums are not a complete disaster, they are just downright boring and painful to go through. I guess they are much respected and loved by their fans, but for me they do absolutely nothing, in any way.

Report this review (#2339346)
Posted Saturday, February 29, 2020 | Review Permalink
BrufordFreak
COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings but this album makes Antony sound tired--as if he's running out of fresh ideas, scraping the bottom of his vast and formerly-full barrel--as well as if he's tired of being Mr. Perfectionist in the engineering room and tired of being Mr. Perfectionist with every performance on every track. There are a lot of nice ideas here, a lot of nice performances, but they sound hodge-podged together, spliced together instead of worked out and re-worked out.

1. "Birds of Passage" (Part 1): (22:40) Antony is starting to sound tired. (38/45) - a) Your Grace - b) Against the Southern Sky - c) Sounds That Flow - d) Chanticleer - e) Tears from the Eyelids Start (Part 1) 2. "Birds of Passage" (Part 2): (21:11) (35.33/40) - a) Eternity's Sun Rise - nice little acoustic guitar rant (4.75/5) - b) Echoing Green - an exercise in experimental chord progressions? Nice second half--especially when the contributions of other musicians & vocalists join in. (17.33/20) - c) Showers from the Clouds of Summer - nice feeling set up by piano and treated incidentals. Easily the best, most emotionally evocative section on the album--even the PAUL SPEER-like electric guitar solo. (9.5/10) - d) Tears from the Eyelids Start (Part 2) - ambient outro. (4.25/5) - bonus tracks: 3. "Spring (Birds Delight)" (4:34) a wonderful African-influenced song. (9.25/10) 4. "Sunrise" (5:23) New Age-like flute-led instrumental. Pleasant but nothing exceptional or ground-breaking. (8.67/10)

Total Time: 53:56

B/four stars; a nice addition to any prog addict's music collection that I recommend you try for yourself even though what I hear here is mostly a flimsy prog-by-numbers rehash of old ideas from a tired master.

Report this review (#2411026)
Posted Sunday, June 7, 2020 | Review Permalink

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