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Persephone's Dream - Pan - An Urban Pastoral CD (album) cover


Persephone's Dream


Heavy Prog

3.89 | 95 ratings

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Symphonic Team
5 stars Persephone's Dream have made an offering of melody and dense music, poured out onto a labyrinthine canvas of artistic beauty.

Persephone's Dream have provided an astounding triumph of symphonic heavenly headphone bliss. "Pan: an Urban Pastoral" is an astonishing achievement in progressive excellence. The album is a tour de force of passion and power. There are many variations in style but undisputed prog time sigs and structures throughout. Some tracks sound very accessible and at other times are totally dissonant or off kilter. The musicianship is virtuoso with many instruments played to perfection.

The concept is heavy and deeply grounded in solid mythological roots. The story of Pan, the labyrinth, the divinations of goddesses, Daphnis, Icarus, Selene and Erato are all encompassed in the sprawling storyline by Kelly Fletcher, given a modern twist. The CD booklet delves into the storyline in detail following the traditional tale of the protagonist youth who encounters nature in all its splendour, from the initial discovery of the leaf, meadows, the sky, and birdsong, the perpetual soundtrack of nature's lifeforce. This is dismissed as an hallucination, and then the concrete and mortar returns reminding him of the reality that nature had been stamped out by the hand of man. The pollution and squalor of the modern crowded city is deplorable to the youth, and he questions why this has happened; why has the violation of nature occurred. His questions lead him to his ultimate destiny. The disenchanted youth wanders in thought and kicks over a pot plant only to see a glowing leaf pulsing with an inner light, to the musical rhythmic patterns and he seems to merge to another time when the meadows were green and everpresent. He encounters the clawed Maenads, who sing to him of his destined lover waiting in the forest. He is to meet the Lord Pan, a horned faun of immeasurable influence on nature. The youth is transported into another forest where he meets mythical creatures, and Pan is there and sings to the youth, causing him to believe in the dream that his heart's desire will come to fruition. With a snap of the fingers Pan transports the youth back to the city. The nature god is surrounded by the massive buildings and crowds, and he instructs the maenads to tell the tale of his past youth, and each ones takes their turn to recount a piece of Pan's story.

To reimagine the storyline, the tracks on the album merge together, at times seamlessly, and the whole is actually greater than the sum of its parts. This album is best heard as one entire listen rather than fragments and pieces separated. The singing is excellent from the aggressive vocals of Jim Wauguman, the Urban Youth, to the soft tones of Ashley Peere, the voice of the Maenads, it never ceases to make this reviewer spellbound by its entrancing magic. There is a real sense of timelessness and the music tends to generate images of grand meadows, beautiful goddesses and darkened forests. The drumming of Scot Harvey is amazing, very solid percussion that focusses at times on triplets and fills and yet keeps a steady metrical pattern so that the songs hang together. Rowen Poole is a terrific guitarist and there are goosebump moments where the guitar chimes in with the violining technique or Gilmour-esque flourishes. Roman Prokopenko is an accomplished bassist and he keeps the rhythms pulsating in each track, at times with very complex basslines. John (J T) Tallent is brimming over with talent (he probably gets that all the time!) and he is great on tom toms, enhancing the tribalistic mystical soundscape. Jim Waugaman is a revelation on keyboards, with some innovative keyboard motifs, repetitive pulses mixed with intricate whirls and dervishes on moog, mellotron and organ. The synths are powerful and drive the album along with an uplifting majestic symphonic atmosphere.

There is also a modern injection of effects, notably the busy traffic of cars on an anonymous highway. There are enchanting sounds of birds whistling signifying happiness, there are a myriad of spoken voices that seem to represent the urgency of a new beginning, and there are rather ethereal effects that may represent tribal and jungle environments. The main drawcard is the music and overall structure, and there are moments where the musicians have a chance to shine in many instrumentals, all of which are well executed. The lengths of tracks varies dramatically, there are interludes, preludes, reprises, transitions and spoken pieces; 8 tracks all of which are less than 2 minutes long. There are some moderate length songs, and these are juxtaposed with lengthy tracks, 4 that clock from 7 to 11 minutes in length. After listening to the album a few times there are certain moments that simply shine like blazing fire and become familiar and joyous to the listener. When Ashley begins to sing the chorus of The Tears of Selene, it is one of the most uplifting moments in prog for this reviewer; a truly spine tingling track, and the quintessential highlight on the album. The whole thing should be heard in its entirety as one long album. However, a track by track analysis of the music may help to clarify why I believe this to be a prog masterpiece.

Prelude begins the concept and in effect follows on from the last song on the album, like a musical cycle, with a vintage scratchy effect; sounding like the stylus on vinyl crackling in the groove. The music is a solo flute sound, like a classical dirge.

This leads seamlessly to a quirky and unnerving montage of voices speaking in many languages, repeating phrases about Pan. Invocation is supposed to be voices of earth with the dramatis personae of Babel-esque tongues including French, Hindi, Cantonese and Indonesian.

This intros the wonderful 7 and a half minute instrumental, Pan's Labyrinth where the album really takes off. It begins with high pitched pan pipe sounds using a moog synthesizer. The keyboards are a dominant force, complimented by guitars and steady drums. There are some odd metrical figures and symphonic pastoral shades that are blended with furious triggerfinger keyboard shapes, Wakeman style. Hammond and mellotron attacks are augmented by sporadic drumming and a fusion of heavy prog riffs. It is a simply wonderful piece of music.

Those Who Remember begins with heavy traffic sounds, perhaps showing how nature has been overwhelmed by the concrete jungle of modernity. The track takes on a beauty of its own with Ashley's vocals that are high soprano and emotionally charged. The sweet presence of the keyboards is a dynamic sound. The song sounds like Mostly Autumn's style, nature, peace, the environment and the praise of creation at the forefront of the concept.

Chaossong chimes along with waterfalls flowing and birds twittering their peace song. The instrumental sounds like nature has found a voice and is crying out for freedom. The music surges along with peaceful bell tones and birdsong, an intro to the excellent following track.

"The world is dying, leaving me awake, aware, regretful for my life"; the vocals are given a powerful plea to awaken the sleeping ignorant humanity that destroyed the lush green forests for human greed and modernisation. Mid way through Sidewalk Soliloquy the time sig changes to a quicker tempo with some mystical female choral voices, beautifully harmonised representing the tale of the Maenads, the impending doom of natural creative forces fighting against the cemented sidewalks and massive manmade constructions suffocating the environment.

The next few tracks merge into another to create one long piece seamlessly fused together and it is difficult to tell where one ends and another begins. Denouement of a God is a song with a powerful beat and Jim's strong vocals as the Youth comes to grips with how nature has been destroyed. Le Defile Satyrique launches with an effect of rain cascading down with a drum pounding instrumental that works as a nice transition into Maenads, Melody and Meter. This song has a few time sigs that shift and change and the dynamic vocal of Jim; "make an offering of melody and sacrifice meter, don't pray to me, only come dance with me." Ubi Sunt has a wonderful melody and aggressive pleading vocals; "where are the woods, where are the herds, and the shepherd boys", as the protagonist surveys the carnage of modern life that has replaced the forests and green foliage with brick and mortar.

One of the best tracks is The Seduction of Daphnis that reprises parts of previous songs, and trades off between beauty and darkness, of tension and release, switching time signatures at will and using a variance of instruments to provide cadence and cascade. Ashley's vocals are more improvised and discordant to the music. Jim has some of his best vocals here; "make an offering of soul and body" and "run with me down to the willows, and lie down by my side." Ashley continues the feel of a magical dreamscape, and there is a heavenly harp sound. I love that lyric; "Come I'll sing to you the chaos song" by Jim and Ashley. The track has a surge of foreboding atmospherics with an emphasis on atonal music, minimalist piano at times, and blasts of Hammond and percussion.

The quirky weird and humoresque Nectar of the Gods is a playful carnival sound with some truly unique keyboards. The strange theatrical vocals of Ashley and bird whistles provide an early Genesis Gabriel like style. The drunken lyrics are as weird as it gets; "quick tipped, her glass to be, the first to drink, to drink insanity." Then after this vaudeville approach, it gets serious with a change in style. The low drone makes the atmosphere darken along with Ashley's ghostly Celtic vocals, which may remind one of Enya; the effect is ethereal and haunting; "sobriety cannot be saved, for madness is divine".

This merges into Youth's Denial where the drone widens into broader brushstrokes of spacey nuances. Then a prog riff on Hammond resounds with a very Roger Waters-like vocal from Jim; "only a vision of folly and flight, I've dreamed late in the night, of the city." The melody on this song is highly infectious and began to haunt me long after the album was over. A definitive highlight on this album.

The Temptation of Icarus is a much heavier song with a driving keyboard and guitar riff that ascends and descends constantly. Jim is forceful on vocals; "you don't know the night has fallen, you tempt my soul to fly, too high." The time sig changes into a brilliant instrumental with spacey effects and a grand guitar riff. The bassline is mesmerising on this, but the way those keyboards interact with the guitars is incredible.

Selene Rising returns to familiar melodies heard before, and then slows into a majestic climax with intricate keyboard and guitar. I am totally hypnotised by that wondrous sound the band generates. The time sigs change dramatically to the next motif that gets faster and faster till we move into the ingenious next track.

Undoubtedly my favourite track on the album, The Tears of Selene has an acoustic rhythm and subtle keyboards that are multi layered. The Heather Findlay style vocals of Ashley are enchanting with a mesmeric beauty. Her high operatic vocals are simply beauty personified. The lyrics themselves are inspired; "rhyme and reason, morning sun, through the blinds, cutting skin, spinning colours inside out, mental treason, onward through, the night it goes into dawn." The song builds gradually and the music rises to a crescendo before the chorus. I get chills when the chorus comes in with "Selene, Selene, midnight dream, eternal lover, Selene, Selene, crashing waves through the walls of time, and distant days." The piano is a virtuoso triumph and the way guitars violin over the surface is dreamy, a genuine moment of transfixing reverie. The track continues to build with the orchestrated symphonic swathes of keyboard. Then there are staccato blasts of sound and the acoustic flourishes begin again. Ashley's sweet voice returns, "long forgotten summer days, we were there side by side, trapped in a rhapsody of sound, on a lonely distant wind, you called me." Once again the song takes on that spine tingling flavour when the chorus pounds out. At the end of the song I know I have heard a masterpiece song. Can it get better, or will the album transcend into mediocrity or run out of steam as so many concept albums are prone to do. I needn't have worried. The album actually continues to provide innovation and heart pounding prog rock.

Erato's Pulse is the longest song clocking 11 minutes, and is driven with very strong prog time sigs and instrumentation. Once again Ashley's vocals are exquisite, and the form of the song takes many detours and surprises with shifts in mood. The keyboard domination is complimented with chimes, huge bass motifs and an astounding hypnotic rhythm. The keyboards and bass drum act as a pulse keeping a rhythmic signature while we hear noises like jungle animals, tribal tom toms, cymbals and retro synth strings. The music locks into this pulse for a time and sounds spacey as Ashley sings; "they hide now in shadow, they whisper now in darkness, they lead with a vision, and mould the dreams from within." The music motorvates along fluidly with organic guitar swells and imaginative basslines. When the band take off in full flight like this they are irresistible. The track turns quite dark towards the end, with dissonant piano stabs, and a chilling finale, finally completed by a loud gong and jungle atmospherics of crickets chirping, the swamp sounds of sticky heat and mosquito infested foliage. The track is a definitive highlight and one to savour for those who like prog to be intricate and replete with variations in style.

Silhouette ends the album on a powerful note, the lyrics spelling out the denouement of all that has come before; "the smoke rises into the pregnant air, across the dark skyline, dense music pours onto the crowded streets across the damp bricks." The retro sound is generated with very solid keyboards motifs, almost the 80s synth sound in effect. The melody is quite accessible and those shimmering Hammond flourishes are excellent. Jim's keyboard solos are a feature as always, especially the spacey synths over the bassline and guitar chord shapes. The spoken words come forth to continue the story; "passion and pleasure chase each other into the night across the humid city," and the song changes again with a strong drum beat and some ancient languages. It finishes with crickets chirping, and then the same effect we will hear in the beginning, the scratchy vinyl sound of an ancient classical piece and then the effect of a record stuck in its groove thus signifying, as the lyrics tell us earlier, that the journey has "come full circle"; an endless cycle in the true mythological tradition.

So at the end of the album, I was completely blown away by the surprising attention to detail in the music and storyline. This is a magnum opus for the band, and takes huge risks in terms of extensive instrumental sections, bombastic lyrics and strong time signature changes. Therefore this could have been a disaster with all the risks it takes; it is bold and daring and dominated by a non-compromised environmentalist storyline. The music draws on many progressive influences from Genesis to Pink Floyd, King Crimson to Porcupine Tree, with touches of Mostly Autumn and Yes, and yet retains a balance and freshness to the approach of the material that is distinctly Persephone's Dream. The album somehow holds together thanks to Kelly Fletcher's storyline and the overall musical soundscape. It may take a few listens to be completely immersed in the sound, but the way the music disseminates across every song, creating a whole conceptual framework, works so well due to the passion put into the project. There is a great deal of love and desire injected into the music, and the imagery conjures up apparitions and spectres of the mythical past. The music beckons one to listen, and weaves its spell around the listener with tranquillity and finesse. On every listen I find myself drawn into the dense layers of light and dark, and I can draw from the concepts a different experience, and can enjoy the moments of familiarity as a specific melody begins. The album takes one on an alluring journey that will resonate uniquely with each listener according to their experience. This masterpiece has the ability to grow on the listener like osmosis, and I never tire of the structures and forms of the sheer inventive prog music created. One of the best albums of 2010!

AtomicCrimsonRush | 5/5 |


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