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5 stars SYLVAN is releasing its 10th album 'One to Zero' on a lifelong concept of artificial intelligence in an attempt to save the world from humans. Sylvan is the Teutonic metal prog with a voice, melodies, rhythms, epic, sensitivity and a birth since 1998, neo prog between Arena and RPWL, further a little from Pink Floyd, Marillion or Eloy. A variation of keyboards, a melodic guitar, Marco in the voice and surges of adrenaline to give in sophisticated rock art far enough from instrumental flights. Sylvan is a flagship group, so let's read below to shed some light on our lantern.

"Bit By Bit" with rhythmic intro, atmospheric progressive rock, nebulous on the sounds of computers; melody, a Marco voice at the height of his art, energetic breaks and the eternal PORCUPINE TREE or ... SYLVAN in the background; synthesizer and Moog behind due to an angry guitar, in short it follows with "Encoded At Heart" a long romantic ballad on the grand piano, text to save the world; bass which provides the musical framework and it continues to rise mid-tempo, backing vocals, SAGA guitar to the Floydian guitar solo, robotic air hovering for a sensual slap; it continues with "Start Of Your Life" and its synthetic hypnotic rhythm, groove, pop when I say that the decade of 2020 will be! Guitars come to offer a reshaped 80's tune, innovative between SOEN, PARADISE LOST and SIMPLE MINDS; edgy, simple but concise and perfect. "Unleashed Power" for a frank cut with crystalline piano, intrusive keyboards and the sensitive, emotional, sprinkled voice of Marco; melancholy melody, the one that makes you cry for joy, that sends you into the ether; Intimate then atmospheric heavy piano bringing in fact a soothing electric solo. What guides on calm and catchy "Trust In Yourself", based on musical breaks; Marco again at the center of the title; gentle break with strings and cello by Katia Flintchs; pleasurable, orgasmic solo, crazy on the central base and synthetic metronomic final.

"On My Odyssey" with violin and bass dub, extreme sounds; memorizable chorus for traveling, progressive variation with abundance of instruments, folk violin and percussion, the guitar à la AL DI MEOLA sending very far, Spain, South America I don't know, but the final rise puts Marco's voice in full phase with the instruments; title of frightening sensitivity; "Part Of Me" with this melancholy piano again for one of the emotional centerpieces, plaintive violin, depressive voice filled with hope, hypnotizing latent air; 1/3 break on a symphonic climb à la MARILLION, it rises, it climbs, it cascades down just on the voice and the piano and it sets off again without firing a blow with emotion. "Worlds Apart" first piano and title to give free rein to the voice, I who adore the instruments and the voice like yet another instrument I am out of the game; but pleasantly offside because you have the most beautiful melody sung, bewitching; fairy or mermaid voice games at the end. "Go Viral" for the electro-acoustic intro at MUSE, it takes off suddenly, AI finally takes control; a tune with lockers based on keyboards making the voice leap, making a headbanger, it's been a while; break at the SUPERTRAMP for a few moments to give yourself an end of the world riff; heavy drums, nervous then airy guitar, crystalline for a time before returning to the end of the pandemic, of our life ?. "Not A Goodbye" yes it's not over! Its heavy synthetic metronomic, hypnotic guitar, MOTORS tune suddenly (remember "Airport"), memory atmosphere with one of the most beautiful voices undoubtedly for a dantesque symphonic finale; nothing extraordinary just associations of notes, climbs, flights; a limited hard prog solo shows that Jonathan is very good; the riff is somewhat reminiscent of AYREON for the mix of genres, the end in two parts for the 80's oldies sequence; title of reset with buzz, after a digital suicide where the man takes the reins.

Okay, I'm not hiding, I love SYLVAN; but if the album had been flat I would have said so; here simplicity and emotion, destruction and hope, intensity and diversity, prog rock, neo prog, hard rock touches, symphonic, this group touches everything is wonderful. On CD, Vinyl gatefold and digital, produced by Kalle Wallner and Yogi Lang who also threw a few notes on it, album potentially in the top, keep it for said.

Report this review (#2543652)
Posted Monday, May 17, 2021 | Review Permalink
4 stars An enigma for me

I really struggled with this one. Honestly, if it wasn't sitting atop the 2021 board since its release, I probably wouldn't have given it as many listens to let it grow. Why didn't it click initially? Because there are too many little parts (see second track) that turned me off and kept me from really enjoying the REALLY good parts.

I am new to Sylvan. I gave Home a few spins a while back, but I couldn't get past the theme of the concept album. It's too disturbing for me to enjoy, having a teen daughter and a friend who is having challenges with his.

One to Zero starts off with a 5* track with Bit by Bit. What a great opener! It has so much of what I enjoy in my preferred prog bands of the past 30 years.

My aversion and attraction to this album rears its head in the second track, Encoded at Heart. Marco's voice is beautiful, and that is my problem: It can be too pretty. Too adult rock or new country sounding. At times. These times make me want to move on to something else, it's just not my thing. On this track, I am loosing interest, and then the chorus with Porcupine Tress sounding harmony kicks in. Bang, got my attention again and the ending is very nice.

Unleashed Power is also a roller coaster, rotating between very brief 3 star moments and great, longer, 5 star segments, like around 4:40

Trust in Yourself also has that adult pop rock sound intermixed quickly with great stuff and fantastic atmospherics with keys and guitar and violin at 3:20 or so, with faint, Porcupine Tree vibe. Very good tune in the end.

On my Odyssee starts with nice orchestration and interesting folk-like vocals, then, darn, more adult pop for a moment, but then coolness with harmonies and mellotron just before the 1 minute mark, then more cheesiness (to me). Get me off this roller coaster. Then at 1:45 the quite cool chorus kicks in, more orchestration and a cool interlude with guitars and keys and violins'ok, I'll stay on the ride a little longer. Very nice finishing jam

Part of Me starts with very beautiful, melancholic piano. Very nice. Nice, fitting vocals here. Guitars with Chorus and Delay and keys take over and more Porcupine Tree like awesomeness follows, from the harmonies to the atmospherics. The magic start at 3:23. Wow! Repetitive, pedal tone guitar riff with gentle ride symbol and a mirage of other instruments create a progressive and wonderful soundscape. This is worth the price of admission. It kicks into a cool, heavier section with delay laden vocals before fading and moving back to earlier themes and a nice closing guitar solo.

Worlds Apart opens with a nice, melancholic chord progression and layers of coolness before breaking into a chorus that once again flirts with something a little too pretty for my taste before returning to a darker vibe again. Creative and nice sounding vocal layers at the end.

Go Viral starts with a very cool, retro, video game sounding, synth section that is dark and brooding. You just feel that it could explode at any point, and it does, into a lovely guitar and key driven riff before switching into the first verse. The cool riff that following the into returns to be a nice backdrop to the pre-chorus. There's a nice, short piano and atmospheric interlude at 2:53 and then'..WHAM! A heavy metal jam launches, reminiscent of Tool, with a synth drone tone in the background, once again like a Steven Wilson recording, following by a guitar and keys solo and then just guitar. Very tasteful. Back to the heavy jam and then a seamless shift back to a verse, pre-chorus and chorus. Well done. Bravo!

Not a Goodbye begins with an interesting beat and building up of keys and guitars right into wonderful chorus guitar arpeggio section and the first verse. The repetitive guitar arpeggios through parts of this track are reminiscent of something from KC's Red or Steven Wilson's Ancestral. Wonderful jams ensue. Album ends with similar sounds as it begins. Full circle.

So there we have it. I think the very positive parts are enough to make me think very highly of this album. My aversion to some parts is my own problem and one that may fade with more listens. Nevertheless, I can't give this a 5- star rating until I get past that. But that's just me. It really is a good album, almost great.

Report this review (#2570655)
Posted Sunday, June 13, 2021 | Review Permalink
3 stars Firstly I'd not listened to Sylvan before trying this album. I'd not even heard a song. I had just seen the name mentioned across the usually prog rock forums and websites and thought I should give it a go.

I have to admit I often struggle with modern progressive rock and tend to lean more towards the classic prog of the 70s so I am making a concerted effort to give these current acts a chance and have them change my mind. This album being the first of a few I am going to review. I am pretty useless at reviewing but I needed to find something to do and I'm always critiquing/discussing music with family and friends and thought I'd give it a go. I must add that I will listen to an album a minimum of 5 times to give a fair review (A must for progressive music in my view).

So Sylvan are a German progressive rock band that supposedly show influences of Pink Floyd, Marillion and Genesis according to Wikipedia. Sounded right up my street from the outset.

The bands German roots come across strong with the accent on the vocals. A nice voice, although I have to say personally I struggle with most of these European bands and the accents. But that is just me and I can appreciate this will not be an issue for most.

The album has a running time of around 65 minutes and is a concept album. Apparently not their first concept album. I shall have to explore. I have read that this album is "an autobiography of an artificial intelligence born into the problems facing contemporary society." I can't say I picked that up from listening but I'm am definitely a sucker more for the music than the lyrics, so no surprises there.

The first track "Bit by bit" is great. I'm hearing a touch of early Riverside here and each member of the band is given a chance to show what they can do. About 5mins in there is a cool, dark metal riff which I love. I nice tune and sets the tone for the album nicely.

A beautiful slow piano part starts the second track with the track building all the way to the end. The highlight of the track being when the guitar guitar solo kicks in around the 5min mark. The vocal choirlike chants are very catchy here, especially after a couple of listens.

On to track 3, "Start of Your Life". I can't say I love this track. It has a more pop like vibe. The intro guitar riff doesn't quite do it for me although the riff itself is ok, I think the production may be the problem here in that its taken the raw guitar driven sound away from the riff and I have to say I'm not as big a fan of this particular track.

So onto track 4 "Unleashed Power". The start of the track certainly doesn't appear to match the title of the track from the outset. The title gives the impression of a more heavy technical number, but here we have a very mellow piano driven song and it remains that way throughout the whole 7 and a half minutes. Nothing wrong with it though. Some lovely clean guitar soloing tones and licks in there. A solid track.

Trust in Yourself. More of a heavy edge to parts of this track. This track has a beautiful break down later in the song with a lovely violin part. There's great wacky and interesting sounding guitar solo towards the end of the track which is probably the first time I found anything different/unique about Sylvan's sound. I just wish they had made the solo a little longer and maybe had seen the track out with it.

On My Odyssee. Some super cool guitar playing on this track. Probably my favourite on the album. I love the way the guitar soloing sees out this track. Again, very early Riverside. Its a shame this style of guitar playing isn't used more throughout the album, although I must say it probably makes you enjoy it more when it actually comes in.

Part Of Me. Another slow starter. Very nice orchestration here and probably the best guitar solo on the album. Great guitar tone and the atmosphere is spot on.

'Go Viral' is a much appreciated change from the usual piano intro. About 3mins in we get to a nice heavy metal-like guitar riff/instrumental section which I enjoy very much every time I listen to the album. Here you get a cool synth solo again, similar to that in the opening track. I like this track very much.

'Not a Goodbye', another slow starter, this time not piano, but some delicate guitar picking. Pleasant enough. But the highlight of this track again has got to be the guitar soloing toward the end of the track. The album ending as it begins with an unearthly like space sound.

All in all this album is a good album. Not one that has changed my mind on modern prog though. Its an album I will for sure listen to again but I cannot rate higher than a 3 stars. This album cannot be put in with the classic albums such as "Selling England by the Pound" or "Thick as a Brick", so not a masterpiece at all. And for me I wouldn't quite put it in the 'excellent additions' either. So 'Good' but not essential seems a fitting place for this album. Possibly a down side to the album is the way most of the songs can be very similar in how they are constructed. Slow piano intros, mostly mellow with a build up the end. I also find modern progressive rock, can often sound like it wouldn't be out of place on the Eurovision song contest. Now, that could just be down the the European accents maybe. And in parts this album has that sound for me.

I have to say I hear nothing that really resembles Pink Floyd or Genesis here. But I can may be hear a bit of Marillion in there, particularly in the guitar soloing. The highlight of this album is clearly the guitar work for me. Like I said earlier, I really am a music over vocals kind of guy and I appreciate I haven't mentioned vocals on this album very much. I want to add, the vocals do their job without ever standing out. This meaning they also don't stand out in a bad way either which is a positive as prog vocalists can often fall short for me.

A decent effort. I shall listen through their back catalogue for sure.

Report this review (#2570826)
Posted Monday, June 14, 2021 | Review Permalink
4 stars One To Zero is German outfit Sylvan's 10th studio album, and there has been a gap of six years since the last opus, Home.

On this, we return to the world of concept albums, and the concept in this intelligent work is that of a story dealing with the birth, life, movement to self-realisation, and ultimate demise of an artificial intelligence, although the demise is somewhat open to question, as I shall relate.

A grand concept, then, and Sylvan do here what they do best, that is translating such a concept into a work which is at turns thoughtful, grandiose, theatrical, and never, ever, dull. This album, as with most works by the band, does require a bit of patient listening over a period of time in order to finally "get it" and appreciate it fully, but that is time extremely well spent.

The band have always been magnificent in creating moods, and changing these at the drop of a note in order to push the story across to the listener, and this is no exception. Within the core story of the AI entity there is just as much a commentary on the one species responsible for the potential ruin of our lovely world, namely one Homo Sapiens.

At its heart, a lot of the music and delivery here is very much on the melodic spectrum of progressive rock, but the band do then create numerous crescendos and symphonic roars that simply take your breath away. Following the overture of the opener, Bit By Bit, we have the birth sequence of Encoded At Heart which has a melancholic start, but slowly, but surely, builds into a choral magnificence, and then features an achingly beautiful guitar solo by the marvellous guest Jonathan Beck, who shines throughout.

The infant stage, Start of Your Life is an extremely catchy ditty. Unleashed Power is simply a wonderful melodic tour de force, with some lovely Gluhmann vocals set over guitar and chorus. There are some orchestral strings setting the tone on Trust in Yourself, before similar moods on the exceptional journey of discovery which is On My Odyssey build into a wonderful vocal chorus underpinned by strings, guitar, and piano, one which simply takes one's breath away.

World's Apart is an extremely intelligent and knowing piece of music in which the dream of coexistence is blown away by the realisation that creators and created simply do not share the same worldview. This segues into Go Viral, a far heavier piece of music, although featuring again the most lovely guitar solo, which very aptly provides us with the final break of the AI with its human surrounded world, and the mood is very aptly set for the closer, Not A Goodbye, which is the death scene, self-inflicted, although the final couple of seconds of the track which follow a long silence as the main piece fades suggests that this is, indeed, not a goodbye. This closes the album perfectly, with a cornucopia of moods and instrumentals backing the emotive vocalist.

This album is Sylvan at their very best, an emotional journey which tells an intelligent story in a manner which takes you with them. As ever with this band, once you invest your time and energy with theirs, you are left very much satisfied at the outcome of said investment.

An excellent album, which is very highly recommended for those who simply love being carried away with the mood.

Report this review (#2588039)
Posted Sunday, August 22, 2021 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars These guys are just so professional!

I don't think they've released a single song much less album since peaking with their 2006 masterpiece, Posthumous Silence that has felt underwhelming or "phoned in." Marco and Company always give 100%--to composition, engineering, production, and, of course, to performance. And there is no one in Prog World that I can think of who has performed at a higher, more sincere level for the past 15 years as singer Marco Glühmann. So, why should we expect anything to change with this 2021 release? IT DOESN'T!

1. "Bit by Bit" (6:16) hard driving surprise. Something different! (8.5/10)

2. "Encoded at Heart" (6:42) a more-typical Sylvan tension-filled ballad-like opening over which Marco applies his plaintive tones like no one else can. Very engaging melodies and chorus. (8.75/10)

3. "Start of Your Life" (3:14) sloggy rocker. (Are the boys finally tiring?) (8/10)

4. "Unleashed Power" (7:31) a nice minute piano and picked electric guitar for the intro. Marco joins in, singing in a deep-voiced whisper up front and personal. Really nice/intriguing chord shifts after the first verse. Bass and drums join in for the chorus as piano becomes dominant accompaniment to Marco's singing. Cool thick, deep, fretless bass play over the next section. Then it gets heavy. And dark. Brooding. Until Marco goes angelic for the next "voice in my head" chorus. Beautiful! What a contrast to the bass and drumming beneath! This is what masters of their craft can do! Doesn't quite reach the heights and crescendos as promised (or as previous Sylvan works would have done) but a very satisfying, mature and masterful song--and definitely a top three song. (13.5/15)

5. "Trust in Yourself" (5:33) one of Marco's multiple personality expressions--delicate and heavy, hopeful and depressing. I just love the confidence with which he sings/performs--as if no one or nothing can disturb his groove, his craft. However, the first half of this song seems merely a setup/display vehicle precisely for Marco's talent. The instrumental C section has a nice viola solo and then an interesting searing guitar solo follows before Marco & b vox close it out. (8.5/10)

6. "On My Odyssee" (6:26) interesting synth strings play opens sounding very much like a chamber ensemble as Marco enters with his vocal. Latin-like rhythm section joins in with acoustic guitar and piano filling between the drums and bass. The classically-imitative "strings" are still present--and embellished by viola and electric guitar soli in the third and fourth minutes. Guitarist Jonny Beck is different from previous Sylvan guitarists--more classic rock instead of Hackett/Rothery-like. I think I like him! The second half of the song really blends well--especially the strummed acoustic guitar and vocal performance--but the multiple layers of soloing guitars is also very cool. (8.5/10)

7. "Part of Me" (9:16) melancholy solo piano opens this one--45 seconds before Marco enters. Another remarkably controlled, mature performance from the first note. Very cool section after the first verse in which multiple voices present harmonized lyrics. Viola joins in for the second verse to nice counter effect. At 4:30 an instrumental passage is suddenly joined by full bank of orchestra strings--this is great--but then pulsing electric guitar power chords enter to try to build tension beneath Marco's treated voice. The problem here is that the volume levels on Marco's voice are way too low--making it sound like he's singing from the next room over. In the seventh minute, we return to more of the form and motifs of the first two verses--though the drums and bass are more insistent, more driving. In the eight minute Marco pleads over the orchestra strings before giving way to an awesome Sylvan- esque electric guitar solo. Despite the remarkably slow pace of this song, it never feels boring or draggy--always remains interesting and engaging. A top three song for me--probably my favorite. (18/20)

8. "Worlds Apart" (3:58) hard hits of electric piano chords with eerie synth and guitar riffs support Marco's sensitive vocal until the one minute mark when Marco's brief chorus breaks into a contrasting abrasive aggression. A second round follows before Marco and female background vocals weave in a kind of rondo chorus. Nice! (8.5/10)

9. "Go Viral" (6:41) computer sequences provide techno-pop instrumental fabric and rhythm tracks until the band jumps heavily into the fold at 0:50. Cool! One of Marco's masterful semi-rap vocals ensues before the heavy chorus section over which he delivers his trademark power vocals. A powerful and inventive heavy metal instrumental passage fills the middle of the song, but the choruses continue to fill me with a slightly disappointing "I've heard this before" feeling. (8.75/10)

10. "Not a Goodbye" (10:14) Great lead guitar work in the fifth minute. Another flawless and emotional vocal performance over some perhaps less-than-sensational music. I mean: take away Marco's vocals from any and all of these songs and you have what amounts to very standard, almost ordinary heavy Neo Prog soundscapes. Add Herr Glühmann's magical instrument and you have the very real possibility of achieving something extraordinary--he's that important--and that good. My other top three song. (17.5/20)

Total Time 65:51

While I cannot say that I am displeased or disappointed with the songs collected on this album--they all follow the formulae that have made Sylvan such a dependable success over the past 20 years--I have to admit that I was hoping for more "new" and adventurous forms, sounds, and structures. What I can't complain about--something I will NEVER complain about--is the experience of being in the presence of the magical gifts of one of the best vocalists progressive rock music has ever seen; Marco Glühmann is on a whole other cloud of mastery and professionalism!

B/four stars; an excellent addition of melodic, masterful and heavy Neo Prog to any prog lover's music collection. As familiar and perhaps formulaic as it is, it's hard to dislike such well-crafted, well-engineered, and well-performed music.

Report this review (#2589350)
Posted Thursday, August 26, 2021 | Review Permalink

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