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Karfagen - Birds Of Passage CD (album) cover

BIRDS OF PASSAGE

Karfagen

 

Symphonic Prog

3.98 | 171 ratings

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Matti
Prog Reviewer
5 stars It was only last autumn I truly found the bands of composer, keyboardist and vocalist Antony Kalugin from Ukraine. Of the several KARFAGEN albums I've listened to this far, my favourite has become the latest, Echoes Within Dragon Island (2019) which also happened to be my introduction to this band. Now we have the brand new album at hand, and I'm very glad to declare that Birds of Passage is a prog masterpiece that goes right up there at the level, or the heels to say the least, of its predecessor. I tend to regard these two albums as a harmonic pair, basically sharing the similar melodic, easily enjoyed symphonic nature, plus both drawing the lyrics from classic English or American poetry. Last year it was Robert Louis Stevenson, now Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and William Blake. Both albums are wonderfully portioning the vocal sections into the very dynamic, instrumentally oriented symphonic prog. The obvious classic prog influences (Yes, Genesis, Camel, ELP and so on) are all absorbed and melted into the tradition-friendly and yet distinctive style of Karfagen. Maybe in time, we might as well start using Karfagen as a reference of this kind of contemporary grandiose symphonic prog, like we have used the big names such as The Flower Kings.

One thing that makes it a bit tricky to decide which album is more unquestionably perfect to me, is that Echoes -- consisting of eight tracks, when speaking of the 1-CD edition -- contains music for a double vinyl's measure, whereas Birds of Passage would make a single vinyl LP with side-filling parts of the title suite, both of approx. 21-22 minutes long and with seamlessly running subtitled sections. (Yes, there are two more tracks of roughly 5 minutes long, but it's plain to see that they are meant to be taken as "bonus tracks", just as they are marked.) This gives the Dragon Island album a headstart which is very challenging to beat. Anyway, by now I have been listening to this album round and round for multiple times -- actually more than I listened to Dragon Island at the time of reviewing -- and I'm already pretty convinced that in a year's time this album will be VERY high, probably Number One, on my 2020 prog list!

The two parts are quite equal in the rich and uplifting listening experience. The occurring main theme with Kalugin's own lyrics ("This time, this place...") appears three times (in the beginning, in the middle and in the end) in Part 1, and only once in Part Two. I'm not saying I wouldn't like it, or that any of the appearances would be totally unnecessary, but it is one of the factors I'd probably choose Part 2 as my favourite. Its first section starts instrumentally, starring at first just an acoustic guitar in the vein of Steve Hackett or Steve Howe, joined by other instruments, and the vocals enter no sooner than around the fifth minute. As I have said in my other Karfagen reviews, I sincerely like Kalugin's voice. It can be tender like Kerry Minnear's in Gentle Giant or intimate like Roger Waters at his softest, but it's not wimpy. When the music rocks harder, so does Antony's voice if necessary. But indeed it's the perfect balance between sung and instrumental moments which makes Karfagen so enjoyable. The mostly serene instrumental final sections of Part 2 are very beautiful.

Now the bonus tracks. 'Spring', based on Blake's lyrics like Part 2, pales a little after the glorious title epic, as it proceeds in a relatively restricted manner. The vocals are shared by Kalugin, Olha Rostovska and Tim Sobolev. The rhythm slightly reminds me of 'State of Mind' on the FISH debut. A nice, unspectacular track with a happy feeling. 'Sunrise' is a delicate and sensitive instrumental, comparable to peaceful IONA or CAMEL instrumentals. I like it very much for its introspective emotion. The cover painting of Igor Sokolskiy really fits the music: lovely, adventurous but mostly gentle symphonic prog to caress your ears like a favourite fairy tale from your childhood. Five stars, definitely.

Matti | 5/5 |

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