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Majestic - V.O.Z. CD (album) cover





3.90 | 72 ratings

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5 stars This is a complete masterpiece, a rare event for one-man projects in general as the solitary display can often be a tad sterile but multi-instrumentalist Jeff Hamel delivers a 2 CD album of intense, colorful and cinematographic prog of the very highest order. I chanced on this again via the progstreaming site and immediately purchased the work. A glowing review from Progarchives colleague J-Man convinced me only further. Not quite as folk-proficient as a Michael Oldfield, Hamel prefers a headier set of progressive guidelines to channel his musical vision. There are numerous references to more established acts such as Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree, Riverside, Hawkwind and Pink Floyd but also some sections that honor ambient, soundtrack, neo, symphonic and psychedelic styles to great effect. But what are really striking are the pristine sounds and the spacious and uncluttered deliveries, highlighting fresh soloing ideas within standard prog structures. Hamel handles all instruments with clever technique and inspired performance, obvious proficiency never taking over the desired mood and atmosphere. He is also brave in being unafraid to forge into more bombastic heavy areas, a tad like Arje Lucassen of Ayreon fame. The vocals are equally commendable, his voice has a mellifluous tone that is most appealing, occasionally handing the mike to a series of guest vocalists. The drumming stool is manned by Mike Kosacek.

CD1 has the entire colossal "V.O.Z." suite, broken down in 11 sections that seamlessly flow into another with mature insistence, contrasting serenity and rage and a pure joy to listen to, especially if you enjoy vivid, bright and exhilarating compositions that make your imagination run rampant. The overture "In Memory of?" is a hair-raising affair as massive blasts of symphonic mellotron-like cascades usher in a serene tingling melody and properly prepares the listener for a mind-blowing musical adventure. Section 1 "New World" is initially piano driven with sublime dexterity, a dreamy concoction full of emotion and deep melancholia where a tangled guitar expresses the aspirations of some new frontier. Much to Hamel's credit, he is unafraid to ratchet up the power level and shove the arrangement into more muscular territory, a formula which defines his style and keeps the suite alive and kicking. Looping bass is a highlight, as it carves nicely along. Very cool, indeed! "Crossing Meridian" is more power ballad inclined, jangling guitar phrasings and spirited vocals guiding the piece nicely, a scorching bass leading the charge once again. It has a slight sense of doom in the instrumental section, recalling some of rock heavyweights (Beatles, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Riverside and Dream Theater) and tossing in a few remarkable twists and turns. "Approaching Storm" is where things get hot and heavy, rasping axe scratches and bruising bass both act like depth charges, exposing the harder riff to the swirling torment. Contrary to popular belief, I deeply enjoy the harder stuff but only when it goes beyond the predictable. This is hot, molten lava drenched heavy prog, screeching wildly, scratching mightily and just plain old nasty! Hamel even dares to descend into dissonant pools of atmosphere within a mid-section that exemplifies a foreboding sense of tortured paranoia. Stunning material! "Milestone" meanders even deeper into the troubled psyche, crashing riffs suddenly blooming into a liquid axe solo, showcasing different tones and textures (at times almost jazzy) that defy categorization. This segue bleeds directly into "Whispers" where female vocals rule the roost from the get go, providing a whole new spectrum of listening adventure. Breezy and fresh like some sunny morning in the mountains, the unexpected bliss is highly welcome, especially when the electric guitar shimmers like some silver stream. The flute rivulets only accent the image further. "Freefall" dives head first into more psychedelic realms, keeping the flute dissonance alive, a kaleidoscope of sound effects that evoke a sense of floating helplessness, when imperceptibly a doom laden riff appears from within the marshmallow symphonics, drums splashing wildly and the intensity constantly burning until the final explosion of landing on terra firma. Damn bloody brilliant! The Floydian "Darkened Worlds" has a more acoustic feel featuring a sensational vocal from Jeff, a hefty set of lungs aiding and abetting a lucid guitar rant that is pure Gilmour, massive floating organ waves and slippery synthesizer lines that recall the sadly departed Rick Wright, a simply beautiful piece of music that is glorified by a colossal electric guitar push. Definitely a future classic! "Rise to the Surface" wrestles with a percussive intro, creating a profound sense of upward urgency, a slow burning vortex of sonic splendor featuring a one-two drum beat that would make Mason blush with envy, crisscrossing fretboard shafts that could mimic some hypothetical James Bond chase scene, incandescent guitar and aggressive organ burps shoving the Aston Martin along. A licensed to kill track! "Skies Clear" as the title implies offers some ambient respite, as the howling wind sonics dissipate gently to reveal some imaginary promised land, extremely musical and cinematographic. The "Voyage Ends" with blistering appeal, back to the sweaty monster beat (Ayreon, Rocket Scientists and Riverside fans will love this!) and the mammoth vocal with Lou Gramm (Foreigner) like urgency , a tight and impassioned ending to a delightful suite of tremendous musical expression. The crisp axe shrieks on and on??.I am stunned into utter submission!

CD2 is just as superlative as the first , another side to the majestic story that is certainly insightful but also highly adventurous , like the harpsichord-like intro "Zosimos Sleeps" that then segues into the pile-driving Satriani-ish epic "Becoming", a 10 minute sheer guitar fest with a strong bass partnership in tow, smooth lady vocalizings and some warp speed drumming. A tremendous track to be sure proof that Mister Hamel can sure play guitar! Ayreon fans, sit up and listen! A piano-led midsection adds fantasy to the whole shebang, inserting unending variations and excitement to the mix, eschewing predictability and pedantry. This is music, baby! "Spirits Dwell" unleashes another 8 minute piece of prog bravura, glossy and moody at the same time, with exemplary playing of appropriate notes with no tendencies to show off senseless noodling. The spirit of Floyd is here again but in a harder tone with lots of bluesy nuance, slight hints of 'Us and Them' as well as a lighter allusion to Black Sabbath's 'Iron Man'. There are Mellotron blasts and swirling symphonics to boot. "Around the Sun" introduces some flavorful vocals into the flowing melting pot of psychedelic sound, here vividly recalling early Porcupine Tree with Kosacek doing a masterful job on the kit. "Hyperbole" shows off the louder PT style: firm, strident, coarse, grimy and just plain mean with some fiery soloing (wah-wah pedal to the metal!) and even some steamroller Frippisms. Howling stuff indeed and a definite highlight piece! The previous "Becoming" is reprised on the ivories, a rather stunningly bold move as it slowly raises the pressure and then chooses to release it with some fine axe technique! The gleaming female vocals sing with the lovely guitar in tow, harmonious and expressive to the hilt. The jazzy bass-led piano rumble is bewildering in overt talent, hinting at the hard-jazz improv of classic King Crimson. I mean, c'mon! How delicious is this? Well, shutting down this behemoth with a huge 17 minute colossus is quite courageous but when you have so much ability, why not expose all of it, then? "Red Skies" is a fanciful finale, showcasing bright vocals, pulsating themes, electronic blips and burps, shuffling rhythms, very hard and very soft contrasts at every turn, veering almost into shred/metalloid territory when prompted (Fates Warning?) and finished off by a crystalline voice that keep it all grounded in 'dreamboatland' (imagine a proggy version of Heart) . The dreamy parts are highly glossy and trance-like, with creative orchestrations that exude confidence and purpose. The lightning fast rock parts are spellbinding and utterly complex, demanding attention and respect.

This is an awe-inspiring, kick-my-ass discovery, once again thanks to the progstreaming site and J-Man in particular who directed me with his expressive words to this matchless marvel. I have rarely witnessed a 2CD release with nothing but first-rate material, no spam, no filler, just unadulterated artistic revelation!

5 Spanish voices

tszirmay | 5/5 |


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