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Sylvan

 

Neo-Prog

3.80 | 178 ratings

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tszirmay
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars German band Sylvan has finally stamped its name on the prog scene, having defined a particular sound that is instantaneously recognizable, in a style that finds comfort in an emotional urgency that is perhaps closer to mid-period Marillion, though lead vocalist Marco Gluhmann has a resonance and mostly a delivery that is even more unique than that of Steve Hoggarth or Queensryche's Geoff Tate. Marco wails with incredible sustain and energy, hitting all the high notes in typical German precision, though I am quite sure he has a few detractors. Sylvan also is the possessor of a classic album in the person of 2006's 'Posthumous Behavior' which has installed itself into the pantheon of prog jewels. Since that colossal release, the band has replaced its guitarist on two occasions which seems not to have affected the otherwise stable line-up. The amazing double album 'Sceneries' went somewhat unnoticed which is a sad state of affairs as it was another masterpiece in my eyes. The refined style on 'Home' is perhaps a lot mellower than Posthumous, perhaps encouraged by that controversial 'Presets' recording which I still consider to represent their ultimate opus (raked in the mud by some because it followed the big opus). With newcomer Jonathan Beck wielding his marvelous guitar in a way that doesn't challenge predecessors Jan Petersen and Kay Sohl, building endless axe fortifications that give the already emotionally charged music even more depth and volume. They have opted for a heady mix of these assets, sweeping melodies and tight delivery, as well owners of a seasoned and professional rhythm duo, both Mathias Harder and Sebastian Harnack provide great musculature to the arrangements. The spotlight does remain on the exquisite Marco Gluhmann, surely one of prog's rare quality microphone wielders. Keyboardist Volker Sohl is more of an orchestral sound sculptor, relying on walls of synthesized squalls and massive doses of elegant piano, as best exemplified by the self-titled finale.

The album starts off with some sweeping strings, almost outright classical in scope and feel, which perhaps leave a sour note in the mouths of the heavier prog aficionados who are pining for another heavy release, even though it's quite evident that the group has moved on. I prefer this more cinematic approach anyway, even if it seems to conjure images of 'plasticene porters and marmalade skies' and a more psychedelic style. Some have claimed an affiliation with Coldplay which I do not see, hear or get (lots of piano now means an infatuation with Coldplay? Really? I would have opted for Mozart, Liszt or Chopin, or even Juergen Fritz, but whatever). In fact, the devout lads have never deviated from the path taken on 'Presets' and that seems to still chagrin a few out there. It's all good, the artists are in charge of their own destiny and not the fans, come hell or high water.

Sure, mini-epics like the serene 'Shaped out of Clouds', with its uber-melancholia will grate on the metal maulers but its undeniably passionate music. Ja, grandiose, magniloquent, affected music, loaded up with 'sturm und drang' that is closer to the romantics than to the head bangers altar of worship. The ending has this odd mix of James Bond-You only Live Twice and sweeping Mike Oldfield orchestration that I happen to really enjoy. The epic 10 minute 'In Between' is straight out of the Presets catalog, closely using modernisms found on a tune like the whopping 'When the Leaves Fall Down', combining monotone verse and tiki-taki drum fills that are perhaps closer to urban rap but sandwiched between harder edges than veer closely to heavy metal, showing Marco's incredible lungs and concentration at Mach One speed. The Ronald Reagan 'Open this gate' sample is followed by some crazed rifferama which clearly goes against all the marshmallow criticism levied by the inattentive. Neither plodding nor facile, this track rocks! Ja, it has its softer moments, including some brilliant bass underpinnings, slick guitar curls and delicate piano rivulets but the angst is skin deep and ardently charged. Beck shuttles along, spitting out hot little solos that spit fire, swirling synth acrobatics in tow, escorting that devilish piano. My fascination for the grand piano has matured to the nth degree, as I really 'feel' the passion exuded by the ornate ivories.

Clearly influenced by Hoggarth-led Marillion, a series of sweet and fragile songs like 'With the Eyes of a Child', 'Black & White', 'The Sound of Her World' and 'Sleep Tight' will again repulse the hard core fans of edgier prog and I cannot blame them, as it's not exactly steamroller material. All packaged together as if some kind of mini-suite, the music is lush, luxuriant and dense, the orchestrations are undeniably huge, but I like them immensely. This is resonating music, irrefutably feminine and will enchant the fairer sexed fans (of which we need desperately more of). The scorching 'Black and White' ballad in particular is gut wrenching, explosive and I daresay, armed with a rather orgasmic guitar rant. The following track has some choir crescendos and a swift pastoral turn that is effortlessly bold and charming, featuring Marco's divine wail. My new lady friend looked at me with melancholy eyes that almost made me blush, I was almost at a loss to admit such overt sentimentality, instantly erased by a celestial osculation (kiss, for you simpletons) that made me tremble with inner delight. 'The Sound of Her World' will please her and then she will please you. The cavernous and volatile 'Sleep Tight' seeks to ratchet up the tension to boiling point and get the body tremors going, Beck's guitar raunchily pushing forward like some panzer spearhead smashing through paltry defenses. The ending is pure 'mashed potato schmaltz' as early Bryan Ferry would state for the record.

Things get highly romantic with a two-pronged assault on febrile feelings with first the brief and volcanic 'Off her Hands' showing a crushing tendency to delicacy, a near lullaby, something a gentler IQ could come up with to woo the softer hearts, a delightful little rant that sets the table for a breathtaking segue. A colossal song like the melodramatic 'Shine' is quite illustrative of this collision of emotionally charged bellowing with cracking rock foundations and it finds itself cherried by an awesome axe solo to instill a coup de grace of whopping proportions. An easy progressive rock mega-hit, on par with the immense 'Chains' or even early urgent U2 when Bono was actually and credibly stunning , this is a thoroughly enjoyable high point to a rich and exalting album of really, really good songs.

This burgeoning heavier side is followed up by two harder-tinged rants that sort of bleed into each other, the quixotic and mercilessly tough 'Point of No Return' is first in line, a nasty undercurrent straight from the very onset leads to a binary guitar thrash, pummeled by some bulldozer drumming and howling vocals, all ensconced in a glorious melody and a thrilling variety of cinematographic sceneries that add power and punch, recalling the great epic moments of their huge classic album. 'All These Years' shows quirky tendencies, profound insanity and aggressive despondency, as the shrieking chainsaw guitar screeches in the foreground, Marco wailing like some bunkered madman, delirious and suicidal. The massed orchestrations are almost Wagnerian in intensity, as the singer now showcasing a high pitched lament, violin sweetness/bitterness crawling alongside, forlorn piano stating a sad 'auf wiedersehen'.

The title track serves to encompass all the previous emotions, closing the parenthesis that began with the first two tracks, infusing a return of the entrancing 'Shine' chorus and that 'You Only Live Twice' 'like melody that enhances the entire audition to unreachable heights of enjoyment.

Sensual, sexy and sensory are traits not necessarily associated with Teutonic efficiency but let me tell you, this is HOT music, almost carnal and utterly exhausting. I may choose to agree that nearly 80 minutes is perhaps too long but what woman would not want an hour and 20 minutes of good, dedicated and unselfish love making? Hmm, you may have a point, Don Juan Romeo Casanova! If you want to enjoy the manly, macho and angry Sylvan, 'Posthumous Silence' is always going to be there for you to relish and 'boys will be boys will be boy-oy-oys'. But when the lovely ladies enter the playground to see what all the fuss is about, all stitched up and hungry for love, this will get their passionate juices flowing (figure of speech of course!).

5 Love nests

tszirmay | 5/5 |

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