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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Mangrove

Coming Back To LIVE

Review by Julie Knispel

Mangrove is a 4-piece progressive band hailing from the Netherlands. Active in the scene since the mid-1990’s, the band released their debut (the mini-album Massive Hollowness) in 2001. Coming Back to LIVE is the group’s fourth release overall, a double live album recorded 4 November 2006 in Apeldorn Netherlands. The album is divided into two distinct sets. Disc one compiles 7 shorter tracks from the band’s first two releases (Massive Hollowness and Touch Wood), performed more or less chronologically. Disc 2 presents performances of 3 tracks from Mangrove’s 2005 concept release Facing the Sunset. These tracks are generally longer, with performance closer “Hidden Dream” clocking in at over 20 minutes. Chris Jonker uses a varied sound palate on keyboards, often recreating mellotron choirs and warm organ tones through his digital synths. Pieter Drost’s bass cuts nicely through the mix without relying on a biting trebly sound, as many bassists in the field seem to gravitate to. Joost Hagemeijer’s drumming may seem unspectacular to listeners more acquainted with virtuoso performers; however, his playing seems tailored for the songs, playing in the pocket and adding flourishes in lieu of dramatic overplaying. Band co-founder Roland van der Horst doubles on vocals and guitar, and while his vocals seem to fit into the well-worn neo box, his guitar playing is tasteful and restrained, wringing as much emotion from every note as possible. As a whole, Coming Back to LIVE offers up a concise snapshot of everything the band has to offer; the songs are synth heavy, dripping with emotive guitar solos a la Steven Rothery or Andrew Latimer, with serviceable if somewhat stereotypic neo-styled vocals.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
1
Zone 1
Layered synth strings and a vintage synth lead open the first song on this 2 disc concert release. The track offers an interesting mix of occasionally syncopated rhythms and layers of faux-‘tron choirs, creating a lush orchestrated base for van der Horst’s crunchy rhythm guitar and soaring leads. Vocals are somewhat stereotypically neo-progressive in delivery, but the song is addictively melodic and stands well alongside efforts by any of the better-known neo bands from the New Wave of British Progressive Rock.
Cold World
While the opening moments of this track seem to imply the mood and tone will remain quiet, “Cold World” quickly builds into an upbeat, albeit mid-tempo, rocker with loads of trademark keyboard layers and some excellent bass playing from Pieter Drost. Some of the vocal sections feature very minimalist arrangements, often with only vocals and keyboards present.
Wizard of Tunes
Song 4 opens with some wonderful harmony vocals, quickly making way for sustained lyrical lead guitar and Camel-like arrangements. While the song is occasionally a bit more cliched than the rest of the set, it does present some of the most emotional guitar work on the album, as well as keyboard playing quite reminiscent of later period IQ.
Back Again
This track is slower and elegiac, with introspective lyrics and some nice vocal arrangements. Drost’s bass playing is again a highlight, warm and round without fading in the mix or muddying the soundstage.
Fatal Sign
Fatal Sign” is the longest composition on CD 1, at just over ten minutes. It opens simply, guitar and vocals playing against each other in a quietly mid-paced arrangement. Keyboards are slowly added into the mix as the song gradually builds, layer by layer, in a wholly natural and organic manner. This piece was the opening song on Mangrove’s 2004 album Touch Wood, and would perhaps have been an interesting, although perhaps not perfect, concert opener as well, owing to its interesting layered arrangement.
City of Darkness
The final track on Disc One brings things down a notch during vocal sections. Meanwhile the extended instrumental middle presents Jonker an opportunity to show off some fluid synth leads, giving way to some nicely sustained guitar lines from van der Horst before evolving into a wonderfully harmonized section.
2
Facing The Sunset
The second half of Coming Back to LIVE is dedicated to tracks from Mangrove’s 2005 concept album Facing the Sunset. “Facing the Sunset” opens this second disc much as it opens the studio album it hails from. Stylistically it is a heavier mid-tempo rocker, with crunchy guitar and slightly dirty lead synth playing over a much heavier rock beat.
I Fear The Day
The longer compositions on Disc Two show the band stretching out nicely within the song structures, with a more symphonic sound evident in tracks like “I Fear the Day.” Keyboard parts are more lushly orchestrated, with an incredibly nostalgic 1970’s synth lead tone meshing nicely overtop warm string sounds.
Hidden Dreams
“Hidden Dreams” opens with a bright guitar fanfare, leading into swelled pedal tones not unlike those in Genesis’ “Hairless Heart.” Typical of the songs on this second disc, “Hidden Dreams” has a more traditional classic progressive sound, compared to the somewhat more modern neo-styled tracks on the first disc. Worth noting is van der Horst’s vocals, which sounds smoother and more relaxed.
 
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