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Fractal Mirror - Garden of Ghosts CD (album) cover


Fractal Mirror


Crossover Prog

3.89 | 44 ratings

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4 stars Fractal Mirror's first album was not well received by other reviewers even though I certainly rated it highly, convinced after multiple spins and understand the lurid story behind the lyrics (about a mass murdering psychopath) that beyond the candy there was some serious other flavors. Perhaps my enthusiasm laid with the abundance of mellotron (mostly its choir selection), an instrument I will never tire of! Yes, there was a poppy sound but way more developed than your usual commercial pap. My colleague Progshine made a great comment the other day on progarchives calling a band's style 'Tears For Fears prog', I couldn't help smiling. He was referring to Steve Cochrane's album 'La La La, Variations on a Happy Song", a style that was obviously upbeat, positive and, well, happy! WTF is wrong with being happy? I know I have forged my life into a big bowl of happiness after a dreary 30 year marriage which has been thankfully over for 7 years now! Fresh air, sunlight and great music.....Aaaah! HAPPY IS A GOOD THING!

Imagine K-Scope era Manzanera (A criminally underrated masterpiece, BTW!) that had an illicit affair with Split Enz, tossing in some loose mellotron contraception and fathering this slithering modern prog-pop album! Should you have any doubts, the Fractal Mirror lads (Urbaniak, Koperdraat and Van Haagen) have allied themselves with illustrious prog names such as Brett Kull of Echolyn, as well as the legendary sound bender himself Larry Fast (Gabriel, Nektar, Tony Levin Group, Synergy and countless others). Fast needs no introduction, a respected option to Brian Eno, Vangelis, Schulze and a myriad of other synthesists, he certainly orchestrates in a more upfront manner than ever before, a shimmeringly organic electronic sound , dominated by the monumental mellotron.

It's not my fault if I view myself as a perpetual romantic, so let it be, I just love brilliant melodies, a trait way harder in any event to create than sonic noise. The quality of the melodies is simply mind-blowing, starting off with the opener "House of Wishes". There is a soothing effect throughout the melancholic piece, as exemplified by the perennial 'uuuh' background highlights, the mellotron howl and the wide drum support. Great introduction.

The 7 minute "The Phoenix" provides a little more edge, the forlorn lyrics depicting some past loss that is in need of some kind of salvation. Been there and done that, as 'the phoenix rises from the ashes, its eyes brighter than before' sings Leo, in his peculiar Richard Butler (Psychedelic Furs) nasal twang. The arrangement is dynamic, effervescent and intense, thus eschewing any hint of crass commercialism, preferring a more symphonic attitude that does wonders to both the ears and the mind. Amid the guitar riffs and the majestic choir mellotron, there is a slight Celtic tinge that keeps things interesting.

The charming "Lost in Clouds" sounds like some lost Frazier Chorus track, or a more symphonic the Lightning Seeds, a time in the late 80s when jovial psychedelia was the norm. Insistent e-piano, sweeping slide guitar and a little flower-power hippie feel make this a more accessible song, derailed into proginess by that damn mellotron.

"The Hive" is sandwiched between 2 "Solar Flare" slices, the first of which surprises with a rollicking organ riff, supported by a snarling guitar and that big white machine as Leo reaches for the skies. This mini-suite remains the core of the album and as such, assigns the direction they will choose from now on, a niche prog sub-genre that is neither neo or symphonic, falling into that ever-wide style known as crossover.

Dreamy melancholia surfaces again on the brooding "The Garden", a slow-burning candle of wispy emotions, nothing too sweet or complacent, as if something immeasurable affects the soul. Plaintive and utterly painful, 'the faces of dreams and voices that call me' inflict unwittingly a profound introspection, as if every answer gives birth to a new series of questions. Spectral, frozen, depressive and infectiously painful, all is there to pick, harvest and ponder.

The album's definite highlight is the very Fast-like "Orbital View", an 8 minute celestial romp loaded to the gills with layers of colorful keys, synths and choir 'tron, creating a bleak, almost spectral atmosphere. Though the premise may be pretty, there is a hint of doom and despair in the music which probably accounts for most if not all of the proggier elements, also found in the droning guitars, the slippery violin samples, lyrical snippets of deep introspection that occasionally shine through the misty fog.

Both "Even Horizon" and its logical companion "Legacy" continue on the same regretful premise, where a memory of some past love keeps hurting and in need of some kind of sorrowful resolution. 'Predator and prey, each cannot see the other', this is an astute observation to say the least, using humble words to define intricate matters. Floating on a slashing crest of turbulence, it's hard to see 'the point of no return', moving slowly towards some kind of epiphany.

As with their debut, Fractal Mirror keeps the best for last, as the majestic finale "Stars" curves lovingly and oh so gently into the soul, as the mood grows in intensity and clarity, a 'respite from the storm' shoved later along by blistering mellotronic howls. Lots of precious details are inserted here, a flute fluttering one moment and a masterful synth line the next, while the vocals bathe in some soporific pool of reflective compassion. Not surprisingly the last word uttered is 'shine'.

The restless lyrics, just like the music in fact, seem outwardly simple but in fact deal with a great variety of human concerns, everything from regret to compassion, nostalgia to hope, courage to despair. It's this balance between light and dark, simple and complex that configure the Fractal Mirror style, accentuated by Frank Urbaniak's wide drumming style acting like some equilibrium arbiter. If taken as such, the material suddenly emerges as brilliant commentary and a delightful listen. Fractal Mirror has arrived and will 'continue to shine on you' undeterred and still soul searching, something we humans should do more often, in order to understand, not who but what we really are!

I enjoyed their debut even though it got poor ratings, this one may change quite a few minds, as the dynamics are simply tremendous. Yes, it floats on the crests of more the more poppy side of the prog spectrum but certainly is as worthy of adulation than say Blackfield, Synaesthesia, Vienna Circle and Cosmograf.

4.5 Spectral orchards

tszirmay | 4/5 |


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