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Amarok

Sol de Medianoche

Review by Gary Hill

I don't think there are a lot of people who would say that this doesn't qualify as progressive rock. On the other hand, I doubt you've ever heard prog like this before. Certainly there are segments that call to mind ELP, Happy The Man and other standard prog acts, but the thing is, that's only the beginning for this group. They bring traditional world music to the mix in a big way – certainly those textures represent a bigger slice of the CD than do the more standard progressive rock elements. The mix is unique and a bit odd, but also captivating. It might take a while to warm up to this disc, but it's worth the effort.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Sephiroth
Percussion begins this and wind instruments join, weaving a tale of mystery and Eastern mysticism. This has little rock in the mix, instead leaning heavily on acoustic world textures. Eventually female vocals enter to carry on these themes with their telling of the lyrics. A little past the two minute mark the first real rock instrumentation enters. It's very subtle at first, though, keyboards showing in the mix followed by bass guitar. After a time, though, they launch out into something akin to RIO. This is interspersed with a more rock interpretation of the song's Eastern themes. At just past the three minute mark it turns to something along the line of RIO meets gypsy music. The cut carries on by reworking these themes until finally ending.
Hermits
This cut is divided into five sections, but I can't tell you precisely where one ends and another begins. Acoustic gypsy type stylings mix with Crimsonian musical structures, and all delivered with more world instrumentation, on this unusual composition. At about a minute in this shifts to more rock like treatments, but with a motif that combines the flute of Jethro Tull with fusion changes and instrumental segments and more of that same traditional folk music backing. This jam (an epic track at nearly eleven minutes in length) is a powerhouse of swirling changes, exotic melodies and stellar musicianship. They drop it back to mostly percussion at around the three minute mark and then the vocals, delivered in a similar manner to those on “Sephiroth,” enter. The cut builds gradually up from there. At around the five minute mark it drops to acoustic guitar and then works its way back up from there – still firmly based in traditional world music thematic territory. After a few more alterations of these motifs they finally break out into a real rocking segment that still manages to contain some of those same musical styles. After a vocal section like this it launches out into a keyboard dominated instrumental segment that feels a lot like Emerson Lake and Palmer. Then it moves through a quick reprise of the elements that came before, switching afterwards to a Celtic inspired jam that reminds me a lot of Tempest. This finally takes the track out in fine fashion – and what a ride it's been!
Xiongmao I
Acoustic tones make up this brief, but pretty cut. As the title might suggest it has definite Asian leanings.
Wendigo
While this seems long compared to the track before it (that one was less than a minute and a half) at a little over seven minutes, this is actually the fourth longest cut here. Starting with throat singing a keyboard line enters after a while and creates a mode that might make one expect Yes type music to follow. Instead, atmospheric, dreamy textures with a dark and foreboding element emerge. Eventually this moves out into a fast paced jazz linked jam that works quite well. They only stay there for a short time, though, creating an odd stripped down motif for the vocals. Then the cut alternates between these two modes with the vocals feeling more like typical rocking Latin ones. This includes some more killer flute work and another ELP-like section. They drop way back around the three minute mark and then move out into a slow moving jazz motif As they move out into fast paced fusion jamming it reminds me a bit of Happy The Man or maybe Birdsongs of the Mesozoic. This turns into an almost funky groove over which the vocals soar. It's accented by more ELP-inspired jamming at times, but still reverts to more jazzy textures. This is another killer dynamic track.
Duet For Hang and Bass
This is an intriguing instrumental that begins on percussion and then is reborn with melodic accompaniment. It's pretty and an interesting change of pace.
Mama Todorka
Acoustic strumming leads off the festivities here. As the vocals enter over this they are in an energized Latin mode. This cut feels a bit like some of the more world music inspired stuff from Jon Anderson, but even more traditional in nature. This is a joyful noise and another interesting change up. They bring in keyboards which confer a more standard prog texture, but still this is quite Latin in its approach.
Ishak the Fisherman
Another track that has five segments to it, again it's not so obvious where one ends and another begins. At just over twelve minutes, this is still not the longest track on the disc. Starting in mellow, rather traditional world ballad modes, this shifts out fairly quickly into klesmer / gypsy sounds. It builds for a couple minutes before dropping to what feels like harp and then restarting from the beginning motif. At around the four minute mark the number is reworked into a rather Celtic journey with more rock modes appearing amidst this backdrop. They build upwards on these themes as they carry on. It moves out later into a jazz inspired prog rock groove that's quite intriguing. They twist this around towards chaos and dissonance from time to time.The RIO leanings return at points. Then it turns into another mellow balladic approach around the seven minute mark. This becomes lush and evocative in its delivery. This ends and more world music sounds take it. These eventually move the track out to the final segment, a soaring new jam that works quite well. One more reprise of vocals appear before they finally close this out with a rother Tull-like jam.
Eight Tout
Starting with nature elements this eventually morphs into a playful Celtic jam that is a lot of fun. Still it includes some overlayers – basically varying instrumental solos – that pull it firmly into the progressive rock vein. This instrumental is fun and playful.
Midnight Sun
The English translation of the album's title, this is therefore the title cut. It is also another epic – the longest on show – and another that has five separate (but not extremely distinct) sections to it. It starts quite gently with pretty ballad stylings serving for the first vocals. It works gradually through on this theme before shifting out – at around a minute and a half, to a killer fusion-like groove. The vocals here are simply amazing. In fact on some of the more inspired sections I got chills down my spine. Once again they rework this and eventually turn the corner into a smoking instrumental segment that is amongst the most purely prog rock sounds of the CD. This doesn't last long, though. Instead they drop it way back and begin a new building process from there. At about four and a half minutes it drops back for a new transformation and they again climb ever so slowly upwards. Some soaring guitar emerges in the mix as do some killer keyboard sounds. This instrumental journey encompasses traditional progressive rock and fusion very well. Just before the six minute mark they turn it into a more bouncing prog rock sound. Horns and vocals play over the top of this display and the group simply smokes on this groove. Once again they don't stay there long, though. Instead it drops way back again and builds in balladic ways gradually back upwards. At about the eight minute mark it is reborn once more into a lush Latin arrangement built around flamenco guitar. This is abruptly replaced by an energized hard rocking jam that then gives way to another killer progressive rock instrumental movement – with the sound of barking dogs repeating across this soundscape. More segments emerge from there, moving into RIO territory again as it carries onward. Klesmer sounds are merged in this mix. They shift it out to sedate keys later, but then rebuild it as another pretty prog ballad approach. This finally ends the piece, with one powered up incarnation of these motifs taking over before the final bow.
Xiongmao II
At less than a minute in length, this is definitely the shortest piece on display. It is another Asian tinged number, and I think I like it better than part I.
Abbaddon's Bolero
Percussion leads this off and they build very gradually from there. In fact, it's over a minute and a half in before anything close to substantial melody emerges. Even then it's still quite far down in the mix and doesn't remain long. In fact it's not until around the three minute mark that they create the real “music” of the track. This is an off-kilter jam that certainly leads one to think of Birdsongs of the Mesozoic. They throw in a very jazz inspired segment later, complete with some scat singing. A combination of the weird jamming with the more powered up jazz elements takes it finally to its conclusion. Some ELP like sounds emerge on this segment. It makes for a rather satisfying ending to an incredibly diverse album.
 
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