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Nathan Mahl - The Clever Use of Shadows  CD (album) cover


Nathan Mahl

Jazz Rock/Fusion

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5 stars A totally amazing album from a band I've never heard of before, that is surprising, especially since this band was formed back in the end of 1980. My first thought was that this was a release by someone whose name was NATHAN MAHL, but it's actually a band. They are playing mostly instrumental melodic symphonic progressive rock with some avant-garde, Canterbury, fusion and jazz elements. The vocals as well as the musical skills and arrangements are irreproachable. This album has it all: complex mood and tempo changes, intricate instrumental passages and much more. The prominent use of keyboards, especially Fender Rhodes and Hammond is very good, and sometimes it's reminiscent to Keith EMERSON (EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER) and Rick WAKEMAN (YES). Their music is 70's oriented with reminiscences to EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER, HAPPY THE MAN, IQ, GENTLE GIANT, KANSAS, SPOCK'S BEARD, UK, YES and FRANK ZAPPA, not entirely but bits and pieces from each band. The vocals are reminiscent to Eric Woolfson (The ALAN PARSONS PROJECT) and the guitar playing sometimes reminds of Robert FRIPP and Steve HACKETT. The highlights are the opening "Without Words", the title track "Clever Use of Shadows", "Orgasmik Outburst II", "Machiavélique", "The Rubber Cage" that makes you think of FRANK ZAPPA and the final track "Call To Arms". Maybe I shouldn't point out any highlights, as all of them are masterpieces in their own right. If you think that this wasn't enough I can add that the cover is absolutely fabulous although it's only 4 pages long. The front cover is very beautiful. The production is also faultless so actually there isn't anything to complain about. This album is definitely recommended to all fans of melodic progressive rock. This is one of the best releases of 1999, and it has found its way to my list of unforgettable albums from the 90's. What can I say more than go out and get it!
Report this review (#5017)
Posted Friday, January 30, 2004 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars Although I have heard the Heretik Vol 1 , this is far superior to that . (I can only be impressed by the shear size of that Heretik project but cannot help myself to wonder about the need and the relevance of a trilogy (as Gong or Magma did theirs but this was another era )and the sheer mass of music needed to develop and support such a concept).

Enough said about that and let's concentrate on the Clever Use of Shadow. This is a Canterbury sounding album with good moments and good musical passages . But as with many newer bands they seem to do their music as "à la manière de ...." and do not develop real original ideas . Still worth checking out if you are not a grumpy , never-satisfied music buff as I am

Report this review (#5021)
Posted Tuesday, February 17, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars Stunning Canadian progressive rock band who play a highly unique and powerful style of music. NATHAN MAHL deliver a true and highly professional sound with an abundance of mood and theme shifts. Their music is both dark and light, complex and symphonic, loud and quiet, yet always stretching way beyond. When these guys get going they are unstoppable and produce some real sweet progressive sounds which will keep you amazed. Original band member Guy LeBlanc plays some grand and deep sounding keyboards in a classic vein (ie. Not neo-prog'ish). The rest of the band members are also highly skilled musicians: Jose Bergeron adds some great acoustic and electric guitar riffs, Calude Prince slaps in his deep 4 & 5 string bass frets and Alain Bergeron effortlessly handles the drums and percussion department. Songs are generally nice and long (10 min range) and are given lots of room to stretch out and explore "prog land". "The Clever Use Of Shadows" was very well recorded and offers some great musical separation on your speakers with some nice deep tones throughout. NATHAN MAHL are simply one of the best bands I have heard in a long time and I would heartily endorse their music to all good lovers of true mind music.
Report this review (#5022)
Posted Wednesday, March 17, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars Who said, Canadian bands were of no use? Let me mention: SAGA / RUSH / Max Webster / NATHAN MAHL... as the four greats!! NATHAN MAHL.... brainchild of Guy Le Blanc (NATHAN MAHL & CAMEL) keyboards!! This is NATHAN MAHL's : "The Clever Use of Shadows". And i really urge you to listen to... this GEM.... as this is carefully/extremely/supremely laid down music... in the prog way!! Guitars galore.... keys a plenty.... bass and drums... working really well!! In all, this a prog record to be counted with!! Somewhere between ELP & Max Webster... is the sound of.... NATHAN MAHL!! Big keys / Big guitars / Big vocals... beautiful!!! Kiss an make up... you just have to LOVE this outfit.... NATHAN MAHL... fabulous/ Progressive music!!! 4 Stars...well why not!!!
Report this review (#5023)
Posted Saturday, April 10, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars The first time I heard this album it blew me away. It proved a revelation from the first note to the last. The music on "The Clever Use of Shadows" is so well performed and the compositions were strong enough to instantly catapult this album from nowhere into the very top section of my personal all-time favourite recordings. The album managed to fuse together, to my liking, the best from the progressive rock genre with the very finest of jazz-rock, making it a masterpiece of the 90's. Much like the Flower Kings, I feel that Nathan Mahl on this album showed an incredible talent for combining various types of music and influences, producing a result few others have managed to better. On this album you can hear traces of prog greats such as Gentle Giant and ELP but also of jazz/jazz-fusion greats such as Allan Holdsworth for example. Even though impressions have faded over the years, this is still an excellent recording and clearly Nathan Mahl's finest moment.
Report this review (#5024)
Posted Wednesday, August 25, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars This excellent Canadian band existing already since more than 20 years really would have deserved to be better known. I just discovered them recently and The Clever Use Of Shadows was the first album I listened of them and it has just blown me away. Not surprising that this was the album they were causing some attention with in the PROG scene for the first time. Keyboarder and band leader Guy LeBlanc is probably a known name for fans of CAMEL since he's regularly touring with them.

Their music is very difficult to classify, mostly instrumental, only now and then there are some unobtrusive and discreet vocals. It's partly rooted in Symphonic Prog but as well with strong influences of Jazz-Fusion. Keyboards (mainly Hammond) are very prog-ish (not neoprog-ish), compositions are often lengthy (but not tedious) with several parts, sometimes classically acoustic ones, sometimes more lush and hymnal ones (as in the title track) and there are as well some excellent solo sections (without any self- indulgent excesses) or jazzy improvisations. Some tracks are really very intricate, like Machiavelique where a classical variation is developing into a stunning and driving Prog piece. The performance of all musicians is first class, rhythm section is very powerful, Jose Bergeron presents a virtuoso and cheerful guitar playing and LeBlanc's Hammond is excellent anyway. Some parts like in Orgasmik Outburst II, The Rubber Cage or Call To Arms are reminiscent of Canterbury-based bands like CARAVAN, GILGAMESH or NATIONAL HEALTH but without ever sounding at any moment derivative. NATHAN MAHL really created their own independent sound and can hardly be compared to any other band.

As a CONCLUSION, I would highly recommend this band and especially this album to anyone who likes real good intricate prog with a considerable portion of Jazz fusion. Fans of FRANK ZAPPA, STEVE VAI, HAPPY THE MAN or any band coming from the Canterbury Scene should be interested in this stuff. 4 stars and HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!

Report this review (#5025)
Posted Monday, February 7, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars In 1984 Nathan Mahl disbanded for the first time due to Guy LeBlanc's personal issues.From that point begins a long period of revival's and demises of the group, always headed by Guy LeBlanc, with an extreme number of line-up changes.During this period Leblanc and Nathan Mahl recorded several tracks, never published, and he even gave birth to the short-lived project Mahl Dynasty.Around this time, mid-90's, he also met drummer Alain Bergeron.In 1997 LeBlanc established his own label Mahl Productions in order to promote Nathan Mahl's first album and discussed another comeback of the group.He was joined by guitarist Jose Bergeron and original bassist Donald Prince, along with Alain Bergeron, eventually putting up the band's sophomore album ''The Clever Use of Shadows'' after some fifteen years of silence and eight hard months of recording.

It is a great delight to see such a talented composer as LeBlanc finally returning with Nathan Mahl, as the group had a ton of talent to just fall into obscurity.The new album is a beautiful Symphonic/Fusion affair along the lines of HAPPY THE MAN with also heavy inspirations from ALLAN HOLDSWORTH, UK and GENTLE GIANT.Virtuosic and highly technical musicianship is combined with striking melodies and smoother solos to result a work of sheer beauty for the most of its part.LeBlanc's talent is evident all the way, from the intelligent use of clavinet to the superb organ moves and the Fusion-inclined use of synths.The rest of the crew is also impressive.Among the tightest rhythm sections you will hear, Alain Bergeron and Don Prince give rise to some powerful grooves, while Jose Bergeron is an absolute monster, torturing his guitar.From swirling solos to captivating melodies, it is a real pitty he did not move on with the band for some further releases.''The Clever Use of Shadows'' is filled with long tracks with both refined and bombastic moments, characterized by skillful performances, powerful time changes and mindblowing breaks of first class.And despite the overall quite modern production, there is still a strong 70's feeling to be found in these very good arrangements.

If you are talking about top-notch Prog/Fusion albums, Nathan Mahl's second offering should be among your main priorities.Adventurous, challenging yet memorable music with lots of different styles blended in a strongly consistent mix.Highly recommended.

Report this review (#202823)
Posted Sunday, February 15, 2009 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars The last review for this album on here was over 6 years ago. This is a tough one to find apparently since it's out of print. I think it's their only album that isn't available but most consider this their best (including the Gnosis site) hence the reaon it's so hard to find. I got my copy many years ago and thought this was the perfect album to review before I head South (Florida). Maybe this will keep me in good standing while i'm gone for 2 1/2 weeks. NATHAN MAHL are from Quebec and the keyboardist (Guy LeBlanc) will be familiar to some since he's played with CAMEL often enough.

"Without Words" opens with what sounds like a war going on then drums, organ and guitar come in and build. Huge bass lines before 1 1/2 minutes. Nice. It settles in after 2 1/2 minutes.The tempo picks up some after 6 minutes but it does shift the rest of the way. "Clever Use Of Shadows" features intricate guitar melodies then it kicks in with bass and guitar after a minute.Vocals after 1 1/2 minutes as it settles back. Great sound 3 1/2 minutes in as it kicks back in with guitar out front. Organ leads 4 minutes in then we get a calm a minute later. It kicks back in at 7 minutes with organ leading as the tempo continues to change. "Orgasmik Outburst" hits the ground running. Great sound ! Guitar, organ, drums and bass kill here. Ripping guitar before 1 1/2 minutes then the organ leads followed by bass then the guitar is back out front. Nasty stuff. "Machiavelique" features gentle guitar early before it kicks in before 1 1/2 minutes. Some nice drum work before 3 minutes.

"Beyond The Rims Of Despair" opens with throbbing bass as drums and keyboards also contribute. Guitar replces the keys. Guest sax after a minute. Some good organ runs before 5 minutes then it settles down. Nice guitar work after 7 minutes then the sax returns before it kicks back in late. "Something Like That" opens with the sounds of frogs then keys, drums and bass kick in.The tempo continues to shift. Great sound after 4 1/2 minutes. "The Rubber Cage" is like a tribute to Frank Zappa. A ticking clock is replaced by piano as vocals and drums join in.The vocal style and tone sounds just like Zappa. Also the obscene lyrics fit that mode as well.This is funny and so well played. Amazing track ! "Call To Arms" has some excellent drumming early on and really it's relentless early on. It does settle into a jazzy vibe but the tempo will continue to shift back and forth.

These guys can play ! The guitarist is fairly unique sounding and i'll admit the music here takes a while to really sink in. A solid 4 stars. By the way their debut was released in 1983. This was their second album and it was released in 1998. I think for that reason there is some fire and passion here while the "Heritik" trio of albums that follows this one lack that energy and freshness.

Report this review (#410625)
Posted Thursday, March 3, 2011 | Review Permalink

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