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byron - A Kind of Alchemy CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.64 | 26 ratings

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4 stars The 2009 follow-up to an excellent debut album, A Kind Of Alchemy is an album that has been described as a "grower" - in other words, an album you really don't like on first listen, but "get it" after a while. Well, not to these ears. I loved it first time around, and the feeling has only really grown since.

As with the debut, there is a huge range of styles and influences present here. Opener The Night has at its heart a bluesy, melodic feel, until the chorus comes along and blows both the speakers and your mind.

I will, though, here single out three tracks which transcend that boundary, a large one, between extremely good and utter genius.

War has to be about the finest and most honest paeon to the utter futility of conflict I have had the pleasure of hearing in many years, probably since Waters' halcyon days. Musically, it is a treat from start to finish, with some luscious harmonies between Dan Byron's sensitive and moving lead vocals and some exceptional female backing from Lu Cozma. The whole band, and especially a man who is fast becoming one of my favourite keyboardists, the marvellously named 6Fingers, create a loving and moving pastiche. At the denouement, just when you think it can't become any better, Costin Oprea creates an incredible electric guitar burst.

The longest track on the album, A Poem Without An End, clocks in at 7:40 minutes, and is simply superlative. The keyboards on this piece of music tell enough of a story in themselves, but when you add to the equation the thoughtful and, I believe, deliberately underplayed lyrics and vocals by Dan Byron, you have here one of the finest pieces of rock music produced in the new decade, it is that good. The explosions of sound add to what is, at its heart, a pure melodic joy. The utter simplicity, and technical virtuosity, of 6Fingers' work makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up on this track. Thoughtful crossover prog at its very best, with a massive wall of sound to delight purists at the closing passages to boot.

Lastly, Vitruvian Man, which, again, features such incredible piano and keys work that make you want to weep at the beauty of it all. The vocal performance by Byron is also superlative, and it is in this area that, I feel, the most profound improvement has come about from the debut. When he sings to you "Feel alive, back home", all you can do is really gawp at the music player. This is a track which has, at its heart, a melancholic story, but produces such an uplifting feel as to make you really be grateful to be alive. Utterly superb, and the only petty criticism I have is that the track deserves longer than the less than four minutes given.

So, three works of such genius, if they were an EP, I would have no hesitation in awarding the ultimate masterpiece status. Does that mean the rest of it is bad? Not a bit of it. The problem is, for rating purposes, the remainder is merely excellent.

Diggin' A hole is just about the most fun I have had in listening to a track in years. Utterly manic, purely eclectic in a bonkers manner, it is out of keeping with much of the rest of the album, but in a great way. The vocals are a hoot (it strikes me as being just a fun time out), there are some great brass moments and neo world music thrown in for good measure.

A Little Bit Deranged continues the eclectic and slightly mad theme, certainly lyrically, but it is the musicianship that really holds it all together. Very bluesy in parts, and featuring some of the beautiful flute playing that so impressed me on the first album (more on the next one please!).

I Don't Want To Entertain You is perhaps the closest the album comes to throwaway, being just a little bit too knowingly self deprecating for its own good.

King Of Clowns is a fantastic rock track, with very clear post modern sensibilities, and if it wasn't a hit single in Romania, I would like to know why not. The jazzy rhythm section is fantastic, and the track closes with more sensitive piano work.

The Song That Never Was provides us with emotion and great rock in the jazz tradition that marks most of the finest bands we love.

Sirens provides us with perhaps the nicest sea faring track since Procol Harum's A Salty Dog, this one is a great track which provides the Eastern European folk feel that so delighted me on the first album. 6Fingers' accordion is great.

The Alchemist is an old fashioned rocker, held together by more exceptionally tight rhythm section work, and another candidate for a hit single, if only radio these days in the commercial world would play such tracks. The mood veers from shades of Purple, to Van Der Graaf, to the best of modern heavy prog.

Blinded By Sunshine highlights the band's strong jazz tendencies, with keys again very strongly to the fore, whilst the album closer, A Peaceful Mind provides us with a fitting emotional and grand sounding finale. The string quartet at the fore is a delight, and this track has commercial folk/symphonic classic written all over it. A great way to finish a superb album.

There is one hell of a lot going on on this album, in much the same way as Forbidden Drama. It is absolutely impossible to accurately classify, but one thing is for sure, this is a superb album, and I will again register my gratitude to Alex for introducing me to a band whose work will be playing on my system for many years to come.

Four stars, but 4.5 in reality. Just a whisker close to the masterpiece, I predict that the next one will blow our wigs off in delight.

I cannot recommend this band to you all highly enough.

lazland | 4/5 |


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