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Harvest - Northern Wind CD (album) cover

NORTHERN WIND

Harvest

 

Neo-Prog

3.89 | 85 ratings

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tszirmay
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars As is often the case with my music purchases, I really on a steady stream of reviews or straightforward recommendations from a series of PA regulars, audiophiles whom I trust and who have a rare ability to express the music contained within their suggestions in a clear and concise manner. There are a few whom I rely on assiduously, no one more so than the mad Welsh dweller himself, Lazland. Yes, I follow the advice from those who I trust to have similar musical tastes to mine, and I am never disappointed, as we also share a common love for female fronted prog bands which explains why we salivate over stuff like Panic Room, Mostly Autumn, Frequency Drift, IO Earth, Blackmore's Night, Touchstone, Introitus, Magenta, Karnataka and many more. I had noticed this Spanish band before but it never really leaped out at me with a seductive wink or seduced me enough to pull my PIN. Now, I can add neo-proggers Harvest to the list, the terrific introduction to their third album 'North Winds' has monopolized my attention as well as my latest playlists, returning many times to their enchanting program of bright, romantically-tinged prog songs. Before anyone jumps to conclusions, the playing here is orgasmic and stellar, the lead vocals are perfectly sung in accent-less English by Dutch vocalist Monique van der Kolk, the song artistry always on the edge of dramatic brilliance. No, they are not from Newcastle but are both first named 'Jordi', as guitarist Prats and keyboardist Amela know how to adorn, decorate and excite when needed, never showing off needlessly. Bassist Toni Munne is a monster, very up front and center, which is always a huge attraction to yours truly, being a devoted bass aficionado. Finally drummer Alex Ojea is thunderous when required and delicate if prompted.

A solemn piano wanders through the speakers, followed by a harrowingly attractive voice, generally a portentous omen for a successful adventure, with a radiant opening 'Into the Void', a perfect set-up for the masterful electro-tinged 9 minute + epic' It All Becomes Clearer', where the pulse is heightened into a more controlled frenzy, reminiscent of the classic prog elite led by superlative lady voices. The modern pace is fresh, bold, vivacious and enthralling, easily addictive and totally fascinating. This is not the formulaic prog that had once plagued early neo bands but a vibrant hybrid of symphonic textures, sustained melodies of the highest pedigree and tons of contrasts and colorations. Yes, the romantic tinge is paramount, perhaps even seducing the lady proggers with a sensitivity to tone that can give mighty goose bumps and yet the playing is muscular enough to attract the chintzy male audience. The key to this new neo sound is a deliberate focus on timeless melodies that stick in your head like eternal stamps of sonic beauty.

By the time 'This Day' intones its melancholic reverie, you just know this is going to be a magic ride of the highest order, a heady concoction of crisp technique and heavenly sounds, with quirky synths looping like crazy, clanging guitar phrasings and a confident stride. This is not pop music by any stretch, just intelligent prog rock with a slight folk trendiness mostly due to Monique's blissful voice, the guitars can bite, the bass does grumble and the drums thrust forward with burly determination. As with all the other songs here, the live setting should be quite phenomenal to witness, a visual addendum to the stellar playing.

Munne's playful bass revolutionizes the next piece, the lofty title track 'North Winds' takes literally no prisoners, another alluring take on classic prog balladry. Monique van der Kolk shows far more fragility here, floating over the sonic clouds with an effortless whoosh, while Prats unleashes what is best described as a classic bluesy guitar solo that hints for a few seconds at Lynyrd Skynyrd. There are strong similarities with established British acts mentioned earlier, easily sliding in comfortably into the romantic craftsmanship of UK's Panic Room.

As fabulous as all the preceding tracks were, 'Sending Signals' takes the patient listener into the intoxicating dreamland of human emotions, an intricate pattern of minute details that somehow coalesce to form one solid mass of artful message imagery. The mood is ethereal and impassionate, the voice sweet and serene and the pace utterly relaxed until we reach the half-way point and the determined beat kicks in, diverging the arrangement into a higher gear. Prats does a fine job on lead guitar as an outro fade away.

A James Bond-like hint kicks off the sultry 'Something's Changing', a terrific piece that epitomizes the sheer eminence of music displayed here, graceful and yet addictive. The rhythmic shuffle is valiant and tightly engineered, the singing again first rate and one can only agree to another compelling tune to rave for.

'Under the April Sky' is another classic prog composition, boldly fronting new ideas and methods of delivery. The mood here is spookier, as if some dark cloud is hovering overhead unannounced, somehow announcing an unexplained mystery wrapped around an otherwise simple enigma, reflective of the cover art, in my opinion. Suitable stormy with a sense of impending resolution, the track rages on nicely, heightened by a companion short instrumental track of the very finest caliber, 'Shadows behind the Lilacs', which scours the gentlest ambient horizons, almost minimalist and wholly hypnotic, bluesy lead guitar notwithstanding. The two pieces form a perfect showcase into what makes this band tick, the energy and the skills are there to behold in abundance, here closer to classic Mostly Autumn, which is a fine accolade.

Not a tribute to the famed Canadian band, 'Rush' instead seeks to reconnoiter modern soundscapes, echoed voices that have a slight Portishead moment, only to explode into a more conventional ballad of colossal proportions. The tension becomes celestial and overpowering, the playing thunderous and expansive with sudden pools of introspection and reflection that only add to the pleasure. I cannot help but admire the incredible restraint displayed, the attention to detail as well as that amazing bass leadership. The explosive finale will take your breath away in its simplicity.

Then follows a superb piano that will enchant and mesmerize, an acoustic guitar companion that seeks to underline the effortlessness of it all. 'Tonight' possesses the qualities of here and now, of musical dexterity and light storytelling, armed with little details like a subtle mellotron platform to better elevate the pangs of passion. Monique really sings her heart out, wailing like some desperate siren stuck on some craggy rock surrounded by threatening waves. A fabulous track to say the least.

This amazing album ends with the second longest piece, the suave 'Colours' , an 8 and a half minute extravaganza that just keeps the coals aglow, the art of making simple chords sound so original, adding the power and suspense where needed and basking in the warmth of Monique's tireless voice, which spans the gamut between fragile and expansive. What a talent, indeed! The gentle mid-section is to expire over, unassuming and spine tingling, of heady concoction of choir mellotron, piano, drums and bass that is sheer nirvana. Splashing waves put this masterpiece to bed.

What a delicacy! The playing is clearly first rate and tremendous, a thundering bass that pushes all the right buttons, a clever modern keyboard armada that washes and whooshes with aplomb, that senor Prats on guitar is really no slouch, playing both the fiery card as well as the gallant one. This kind of prog serves as an excellent introduction to newbie music lovers searching to better comprehend the basic progressive style before delving into the more technically demanding stuff we all love so much. Here the focus is all on the right setting and mood, ideally with a romantic partner, a fine bottle of Clos Vougeot, some discreet candles and love on your mind.

To paraphrase lazland's final comment in his glittering review 'I did not get a copy from the band to review (I did not ask for it either!) and I am very grateful to have purchased it' .

5 Reaping polar squalls

tszirmay | 5/5 |

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