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Estradasphere Palace Of Mirrors album cover
4.23 | 109 ratings | 8 reviews | 37% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 2006

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Title (0:33)
2. Palace of Mirrors (3:40)
3. A Corporate Merger (8:14)
4. The Terrible Beautypower of Meow (4:01)
5. Colossal Risk (4:36)
6. The Unfolding Pause On The Thresholdm (4:16)
7. Smuggled Mutation (4:43)
8. Six Hands (1:08)
9. The Debutante (2:40)
10. Flower Garden of An Evil Man (6:12)
11. Those Who Know... (5:16)
12. Palace of Mirrors Reprise (6:16)
13. The Return (6:19)

Total Time: 57:54

Line-up / Musicians

- Jason Schimmel / guitars (acoustic, electric, lap steel), fuzz bass, organ, keyboards
- Kevin Kmetz / shamisen, guitar
- Adam Stacey / piano, Rhodes, clavinet, tack piano, organ, synth, melodica, accordion
- Timb Harris / violin (2,4,5,11,13), trumpet (4,5,7,11), electric & slide guitars, mandolin, percussion
- Tim Smolens / electric & acoustic basses, surf guitar, keyboards, harmonica
- Lee Smith / drums

- Shelley Phillips / English horn (2)
- Sarah Hart / violin (2,4,13)
- Kaethe Hostetter / viola (2,4,13)
- Aria DiSalvio / cello (2,4,13)
- Dan Robbins / double bass (2,9)
- Mike Shannon / drums (2,5,9)
- Issac Anderson / orchestral percussion (2)
- Shashona Brooks / vocals (4,5)
- Jennifer Cass / harp (4,5,12)
- Charlie Gurke / baritone sax (4,5,7,11)
- Luke Kirley / trombone (4,5,7,11)
- Scott Harris / bass trombone (4,5,7,11)
- Robin Anderson / trumpet (4,5,7,11)
- John Thomas / tuba (4,5,7,11)
- William Winant / glockenspiel (4,5), timpani (4,5,11)
- Ben Blechman / violin (5,11)
- Elena Doroftei / viola (5,11)
- Renata Bratt / cello (5,11)
- Fabrice Martinez / violin solo (7)
- Aaron Seeman / accordion (7)
- Relu Merisan / cimbalom (7)
- Eric Lesch / French horn (9)
- Joel Ford / sax (9)
- Mark Sowlakis / clarinets (12)

Releases information

Artwork: Mike Bennewitz

CD The End Records ‎- TE077 (2006, US)

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and to Quinino for the last updates
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ESTRADASPHERE Palace Of Mirrors ratings distribution

(109 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(37%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(33%)
Good, but non-essential (20%)
Collectors/fans only (7%)
Poor. Only for completionists (3%)

ESTRADASPHERE Palace Of Mirrors reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by VanVanVan
5 stars This album is a journey. That's a phrase that gets used a lot, but I struggle to think of an occasion it's been a more appropriate descriptor than for this masterpiece. Estradasphere manages to combine orchestral music, metal, jazz, electronica, folk, noise, and even surf rock (as well as pretty much anything else you can think of) into one cohesive trip. You won't know where you're going on the voyage that this album takes you on, but I can almost guarantee you'll enjoy your travels.

"Title," at only about a half a minute, is really just an introduction. Some interesting electronics set the scene very nicely though, and when the strings and piano of "Palace of Mirrors" come in there's already a very nice contrast established. This title track is really a stellar piece of music, with compelling melodies and orchestration that remind one of a classical overture. I must confess that the first time I heard this song I was very surprised; I think that the label of "avant-garde" often carries a certain connotation for people, but despite the label "Palace of Mirrors" is an incredibly gorgeous song that has more in common with folk and classical music than with the occasionally hard to digest "typical" avant sound (oxymoronic as that phrase may be).

"A Corporate Merger" begins on a decidedly jazzier note, though there's a decidedly European folk vibe as well. In fact, though my experience with the music of Ennio Morricone is very limited, I can hear resemblances to his music here. Violin is a dominant presence for much of the track, with frenetic, virtuosic playing and, like "Palace of Mirrors" a strong sense of melody throughout. The structure is very jazzy, with various instruments soloing over a more or less consistent drum and bass line throughout the course of the track, and I have to say the playing on these solos is some of the most compelling I've ever heard. The sound is incredibly tight as well, with all the musicians sounding completely in sync. This is especially true towards the end, as the tempo quickly increases to a light-speed fever pitch, and yet, the listener never gets the feeling that the musicians are sweating. An incredibly well-performed piece of music, "A Corporate Merger" really shows that the members of Estradasphere are nothing if not extremely competent musicians.

"The Terrible Beautypower of Meow" starts off on a much more melancholic note, no less gorgeously melodic but certainly more subdued than "A Corporate Merger." However, this all changes around the 1 minute mark as the track switches into a brilliant pastiche of beach rock and vintage, 50s sounding pop. It's an incredibly evocative combination that suggests images of old-fashioned convertibles cruising along a coastal road, and it really just evokes a kind of longing for a simpler time.

"Colossal Risk" takes another abrupt left turn, starting off with a slinky melody that wouldn't sound out of place on the soundtrack to The Godfather. However, the track again drastically switches its sound after about a minute, changing into what sounds like a combination of Dick Dale and a bombastic Modest Mussorgsky piece. There's a softer section towards the middle of the track as well that features lush, gorgeous strings and some wordless, almost operatic female vocals. Horns feature prominently for much of the track as well, and "Colossal Risk" ends up being incredibly varied track even by the high standards already set by the album.

"The Unfolding Pause On The Threshold" begins on a much more explicitly experimental note, with a variety of electronic effects creating a very unsettling atmosphere. Percussion takes on a very prominent role, pounding through the sound effects while still working with them to create a very heavy, insistent pseudo-melody. The combination of percussion and electronics creates an almost industrial feel, and the track as a whole is a drastic but still totally appropriate break from the strong melodic themes of most of the previous tracks. It really is impressive how many different genres Estradasphere is able to incorporate seamlessly into the album, and I think that's really a testament to the strength of their compositional abilities.

"Smuggled Mutation" has a rather idiosyncratic beginning, with a violin part that sounds raw and wavering in contrast to the lush strings that permeate most of the other tracks. However, the track quickly launches into an insanely frenetic motif, with lightning-fast violin playing and heavy guitar parts that almost have thrash metal overtones. The violin and guitar play off of each other brilliantly, and some minimally but brilliantly used horns give the track a kind of insane carnival feel. In addition, the technical proficiency here is very impressive as well, and while that's not (by itself) what makes the track so good it is a nice little bonus.

Speaking of carnival music, "Six Hands" also makes excellent use of that sort of motif, with a playful toy piano sound and some excellent folky melodies as well. However, at just over a minute it's more of an interlude than anything, though a very good one.

Next up is "The Debutante," which, despite any labels you want to put on Estradasphere's music, is nothing less than beautiful. With gorgeous, bittersweet melodies and numerous heart-wrenchingly emotive horn solos, this track has probably brought me closer to tears more times than any other piece of music I can think of. Something about it is just so incredibly evocative that I can't help but be blown away every time I hear it.

"Flower Garden Of An Evil Man," on the other hand, is the complete opposite. With rumbling, ominous drones taking up most of the first two minutes, the track is just as sinister as "The Debutante" was moving. Even when a more standard melody does come in, it sounds incredibly dark and knotty compared to the wide-open previous track. Despite that, it's still a very evocative track in its own right, with a climatic, cinematic feel that wouldn't sound out of place over the finale of an action movie. A brief, distorted section in the final third of the track breaks up this motif a bit, but the track finishes grandly before fading to a distorted electronic drone.

"Those Who Know" turns to a totally different source for melodic inspiration, with a decidedly eastern feel. Violin is again at the forefront, and the track on the whole sounds much more carefree and lighthearted than either of the previous two, with multiple breakdowns that almost have a bluegrass feel to them. Another awesome horn part makes an appearance as well, as does an amazingly orchestrated section towards the end. As a result, the end of the track feels incredibly climactic, as horns, strings, and even some wordless chants coalesce into one grand sound.

"Palace of Mirrors Reprise" is exactly what it sounds like, and it's everything a reprise should be. Drastically switching up the instrumentation while keeping the same melodic line really gives the album a sense of holistic power, as it really makes the listener feel as if upon returning to the same place they began they can see it totally differently for having taken the journey. Not content to ever let the listener feel completely in control of the situation, however, the end track spirals into a veritable wall of sound, with pulsing drones and distorted sound clips both disorienting the listener and preparing them for the final track.

?And what a finale it is. After completing the journey that is this album, "The Return" is a crashing conclusion that reminds the listener of everything great about the album. Heavy guitars interlace with insane violins, melodies clash with pounding riffs and beauty combines with pure, unadulterated aggression to create an absolute monster of a track. A stunner of a finale for what is certainly a stunner of an album.

Don't be afraid of the avant-garde label. As I've hopefully been able to convey, this is an incredibly melodic album in spite of its rampant experimentalism. This is really an album that deserves to be on any list of modern masterpieces, and with its genre bending and strict avoidance of predictability, it's the very definition of progressive music.


Review by Sinusoid
3 stars The RIO/Avant-Prog genre has a vast canvas of artists from a broad range of influences. Therefore, it can be difficult for a band to really step out as a unique entity within this very music- driven genre. Estradasphere doesn't quite hit the mark that I have come to expect from this sub- genre.

My basic understanding of this band is if French TV replaced their Cantebury sound with that of metal and Eastern European classical music. Kind of a strange brew of styles considering that when the metal, surf, gypsy and classical do merge, the sound is excellent and ''Colossal Risk'', ''The Return'' and ''Corporate Merger'' pull the style bending technique quite well. The song lengths are also kept at a premium meaning that many have time to develop and few overstay their welcome (the longest song is just past eight minutes). The muscle of PALACE OF MIRRORS comes from violinist Timb Harris as he weaves from beautiful classic (title track) to foot-stomping ballroom music (''Smuggled Mutation'') all with a technical flair that's to be expected from a violin prominent in prog music.

Sadly, I cannot grasp PALACE OF MIRRORS as a whole album mainly in that there isn't one cohesive style. ''Smuggled Mutation'' is a fine country-influenced number, but the sudden shifting of styles ends up serving the album like ''Anyone's Daughter'' from Deep Purple's FIREBALL album; a more country-influenced tune just comes out of nowhere. Keeping the overall cohesion in mind, you sometimes get a classic song, then a surf-jazz, then a surf-metal song, all within an Estradasphere sound (I CAN tell that the band is aiming for a particular sound) but enough of a shift to knock the equilibrium of PALACE OF MIRRORS out of line. And the Big-Lipped Alligator Award has to go to ''The Unfolding Pause on the Threshold'', a four-minute-long segue that ploys with Nintendo sounding keyboards.

Estradasphere never quite show me how much different they are compared to other RIO bands, so PALACE OF MIRRORS really doesn't stick out in terms of overall achievement. I give them credit for bringing in the shamisen prominently on ''Those Who Know?'', the album's best track. Definitely for the hardcore avant-prog fans, and I can almost get feeling behind the music, but not quite.

Review by Wicket
5 stars All good things must come to pass.

A band like Estradasphere that only exists and succeeds when the stars and planets are aligned is destined to have a short life. The fact that "Palace of Mirrors" exists at all is an astonishing fact considering one of the masterminds behind it all, John Whooley, sax extraordinaire, is nowhere to be found on the credits list.

That's right, nowhere on this album will you find that iconic saxophone of his. In fact, you're not going to hear any saxophone at all. (Ok, I lied, there is actually some baritone sax providing bass on some of the louder tracks, but it's barely noticeable half the time)

I was initially worried when I discovered that fact. I'm such a sucker for saxophone that I thought this album would be ruined without its glorious tone, but I'm glad to say it hasn't, because the rest of the band has stepped their game up in a big way by, as per usual with Estradasphere, going in directions and places no one else would dare go. In fact, the album proves to be the most polish and controlled yet, with absolutely NO vocals either.

After a meaningless title sequence, the title track opens up with a dramatic fast waltz scene with some elements of creepy carnival music to set the scene before "A Corporate Merger" returns that the classic eastern influenced jazz style Estradasphere is known for, but instead of hearing sax here, other instruments pick up the slack such as accordion and shamisen, adding extra wrinkles. Jason Schimmel gets more active and funkier here with some jazz and surf rock playing, while some funky rock organ provides some extra oomf, and the shamisen solo is top notch notch. Since the sax is generally a loud instrument, its absence here keeps the entire track relatively mild, at least until the heavy distorted chords kick in with a few minutes left (because obviously it wouldn't be an Estradasphere track with out death metal middle eastern jazz music).

So in terms of the longer songs, the more things change the more they stay the same, but the shorter tracks garner just as much attention. Much like the title song, "The Terrible Beautypower of Meow" is very soundtrack influenced (definitely some Ennio Morricone [&*!#] going on here) as it travels through different hints of movie sountracks and elements all while underpinned by a surf rock beat, a cool tune that feels like you're traveling from movie scene to movie scene in a Hollywood backlot or something. "Colossal Risk" opens similarly, with an air of mystique and curiosity before the string section barrels in onto a fast jazz drum beat and Schimmel's and Smolen's surf guitar roaring away behind Adam Stacy's rock organ. Eventually this dissolves the coolest elevator music I've ever heard before transitioning into some "Incredibles" style action jazz (the best kind of jazz FYI) before fading away like some creepy Addams Family home recording.

Keeping the creepy theme, "The Unfolding Pause on the Threshold" begins with some creepy electronic droning and a sort of Nine Inch Nails-esque heartbeat, a lot of electronic experimentation here before it fades out into an atmospheric soundscape, with the strings following suit thereafter. Not necessarily the most pleasant tune to listen to, but definitely one of the most radical songs the group has ever made (and that's saying a lot when you're familiar with their discography).

"Smuggled Mutation" is one of my favorites off the album. An accordian drone provides the backdrop for some violin and shamisen features before the band breaks out in a cartoonish bluegrass-esque frenzy before the distorted metal chords kick your teeth in. This is, quite simply, sophisticated, grown up cartoon music. It's always fast, always spastic. It never slows down, not even when the band pays homage to Mozart in the middle (at least I think it's Mozart some other classical or romantic composer of the time). It's freakishly good fun and continues to build in cacophony up to the very end like the final movement to a classical symphony, with everyone shredding what they've got. Simply an awesome display of instrumental prowess.

Taking a breather from that mayhem, "Six Hands" is basically a short player piano piece which flows right into "The Debutante", a jazz piece which features the sax! Yes, I said there was no sax on this album, and for the most part there isn't (apart from the backing baritone), but Joel Ford gets the credit for adding some sexy sax on a track that needs it. After all, you just can't have an Estradasphere without having at least one sax featured song on it. It'd be simply criminal.

"Flower Garden Of An Evil Man" is a very brooding track, beginning with haunting atmospheric elements before developing into a sludgy, spastic metal, almost Mars Volta-esque, but darker thanks to the band's signature heavy distorted guitars. "Those Who Know.." is a lighter song, with a crisp violin and shamisen spring in the step. A funky drum groove enters later to keep the party going to finish with a dramatic orchestral and decidedly Japanese-y flourish. The "Palace of Mirrors Reprise" is self explanatory, with the theme being replayed through different genres, elevator music and haunting movie soundscapes. "The Return" ends with a heavy metal base with some polka over top that ends in a furious, spastic finish.

In short, another fantastic album from Estradasphere as always, and an impressive final outing as well. It's diverse and eccentric like a typical Estradasphere album, but with Whooley's departure, the remaining band is forced to delve into more genres and elements to diversify their sound, and yet still sound entirely their own, and not just a sound collage, and they've succeeded with flying colors. An excellent farewell album from a band that will forever be uncontested in the realm of accessible avant-garde prog.

Latest members reviews

5 stars ESTRADASPHERE was an experimental-rock band formed in Santa Cruz, CA in 1998. The band, which in its last incarnation was based in Seattle, WA consisted of six multi-instrumentalists from a variety of musical backgrounds trained in disciplines ranging from Classical music and Jazz to Progressive ... (read more)

Report this review (#1913477) | Posted by raigor | Monday, April 9, 2018 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Estradasphere are a gloriously eclectic and innovative ensemble, and Palace of Mirrors is their masterpiece. In addition to revealing their virtuoso musicianship, compositional prowess, and versatility, Palace of Mirrors displays a cinematic grandeur only found on the best progressive concept al ... (read more)

Report this review (#168854) | Posted by Quantum Tuba | Sunday, April 27, 2008 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Estradasphere has already released a few albums, but Palace of Mirrors is probably their finest effort yet. It manages to mix in a myriad of styles in that seem to flow together nicely. The effect is that the album sounds nice and smooth. I must also comment that "The Terrible Beautypower of Meo ... (read more)

Report this review (#135793) | Posted by cookieacquired | Saturday, September 1, 2007 | Review Permanlink

5 stars "The Transformation will begin!..." Estradasphere came as quite a shock to me, when I had first discovered them. Unfamiliar with most of the bands, styles and underlying quirkiness of the genre, this album sorely confused me upon my first listen. What was it? Metal? Jazz? Folk? I could bar ... (read more)

Report this review (#132077) | Posted by Drakk | Monday, August 6, 2007 | Review Permanlink

5 stars A soundtrack to a possible world I stumbled upon Estradasphere about two years ago, in a time when I thought I had already discovered just about every crazy thing possible in music (now I'm pretty sure I'm far from that). I was reading a review somewhere and it said something along the li ... (read more)

Report this review (#114867) | Posted by Uroboros | Sunday, March 11, 2007 | Review Permanlink

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