The majority of Prog to most of us all comes from the UK and Europe, popular names in the genre being; Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Rush, Genesis, Yes, Alan Parsons, Emerson Lake & Palmer etc etc. Then we have the new generation of Prog bands; Ossicles, Projection, Crescent Moon, Porcupine Tree/Steven Wilson, Bay of Bengal, Anglagard, Airbag, Abstrakt, Bauer, you get the idea but for the most part you don’t hear about a lot of Prog bands coming out of other parts of the world as much like, South Africa. There we find the band, Crimson Chrysalis a symphonic Prog Rock band fronted by Rene van den Berg and the band has recently as of last year put out their second Lp, Enraptured but today we’ll look at their debut offering, Crimson Passion Cry.
For me generally when I think of music from South Africa the name Johnny Clegg and Juluka or Savuka comes to mind and sounds of traditional and western music comes in to my head. Great performer and equally great music but perhaps in other parts of the world it’s more prominent but for us in North America the sounds of African music does not ring through in droves of album sales or waves of artists performing our music halls and stadiums aside from Johnny Clegg who is currently on tour and every show is sold out! Couldn’t even get scalper tickets for his show here in Toronto! Anyways… Prog is not a big export that we have heard a lot of from that part of the continent so it’s a pleasure to have the experience of listening to what they bring to the Halls of Prog and bring it forth to all of you.
With the macabre style writing and equally looking album cover one would expect the soundtrack to a Vampiric style of music but we hear much different sounds than expected and our ears are taken by surprise for the good and not so good. A longer than normal track listing which consists of 14 pieces of music where the norm has always been really anything from 3 songs up! The album opens up with “Angels & Demons” that slides in with what you expect to hear in a Conan movie with the monastic Gregorian chanting then the music thunders right in and the sway of eloquent tones join the duet vocals that tackle centre stage with an equal mid range tone of sound that sounds like something grand from a film’s zenith moment. Musically very well orchestrated blending the classical ensemble with the heaviness of a rock band this song definitely opens up the record with a powerhouse packed punch of sound and imagery. It has that BIG sound feel to it and drives it hard and steady like a rider racing a brutal storm behind them. It reminisces on Bonnie Tyler’s 80’s big sound fame but done to a duet here instead. The song captures the moment of the story and fills your head with sights and sounds of fantasy films and books you’ve read from as a child to an adult. “Deo Volente” follows up next with a sweet refrain of a ballad that moves like a ballet on silky ice flowing gracefully as it generates the music to go through the paces of romantic tones. Another beautiful execution of the orchestra here and the presentation of the band as a whole. They pull off that neo-romantic period of music very much in the sense of bands like; Il Volo, Il Divo, The Three Tenors capture. Very operatic but contemporary as well with the flare for the Prog genre and the heaviness of the rock facet all in one. So far neither song has had any solos in but they have gone for that big wall of sound that would make even Phil Spector stand up and say hey that’s THE sound! The vocals soar and split the skies wide open that give you chills running all through your body. The music is epic but not over bearing as to not take away from the vocals and it creates another facet in the Prog genre the epic ballad that can often go on for lengthy periods of time or as in here in just over three and a half minutes.
“Moth Around a Flame” whisks us away to some mystical land where we are drawn to fields, mountains, birds and every colour before your eyes in this short but sweet less than three minute piece that captures all of that in such a short time frame. A snippet of a lullaby theme in a waltz like musical atmosphere that has you flowing around in your head twp people dancing in the fields to the music of the winds. “Blood Diamond” comes next and given the title of the song images of the Sierra Leone civil war of the 90’s comes to mind. A slow starting piece that stays the path throughout and moves like a train through the mud but with determination and strife to get to the other side of it all. It doesn’t have a big wall of sound like its predecessors but is a necessary track that is a binding source for the record, a stabilizer that holds down the foundations of the band. “Epilogue” threw me off at first because of its title as one would expect to see this at the end of the record but here it is, track 5. This one comes complete with another duet but has a lot of the same fillings that earlier songs have already displayed. Musically well put together but it seems to drag here a bit and has a rehash of previous tracks as far as sound goes. I always try to find the good in albums but this one could have been left off as it stems too close to other songs here. “F-off and Die” certainly is not what I had expected for a song title here but that’s what it is. This track picks it up a fair bit more but lyrically disappointing because sure words are subject to interpretation but by the title, really? The music has a much harder edge to it that is appealing as it pulls off the tempo/timbre changes more so here and displays a faster pace like as if someone redid an Alan Parsons Project song with more heavily distorted guitars but the song itself fails to grab me any other way mentally. I almost wanted to stop the album there and say forget it. I’m no prude and have been known to swear like a trucker and a sailor many times over but I’ve always felt that profanity is best left out of music or if its in it do it with some taste. Lots of bands use “swear” words but in better references than F-Off and Die, listen to a lot of other genres like some heavy metal bands, rap artists etc and you can find some gratuitous uses of profanity but for some reason those bands have incorporated it in a slightly better structure lyrically, and sometimes not but I digress and it wasn’t necessary here. “Letters from the Edge” gracefully enters with a soft piano start and the drums, bass and orchestration follows a couple bars later. A much quieter follow up to the previous track but sticks to the ballad structure of things and the album has yet to still pull off a single solo. Not every album requires one or has to have one, there’s no law that says so. However musically without something of a solo be it; guitar, synth, violin, flute whatever it tends to make the music sound more like a television soundtrack than anything else. Sure it’s nice music but fails to achieve anything substantial here where if the tracks were slightly longer that included a solo it would add more flare to each song. Not every song needs one of course but a few could definitley bolster the overall experience of the tracks. “Crimson Passion Cry“, the title track again has that Neo-romantic over tone to it that brings out that over saturated 80’s ballad feel to it. A beautiful piece of music but coming across more like a pinnacle piece form a stage play like something you hear at Phantom of the Opera than anywhere else. They clearly have the symphonic aspect of the genre down pat but when the entire album keeps a generic set of tones going throughout it tends to wane on the album’s merits to be listened to all the way through at any given time. This track has all the components of the band together and delivers of solid performance of a track that has the passion of what they are all about, a very mellow symphonic sound.
“Virgin Death” has some more meat to it musically as the tempo/timbre changes are well represented and the song ebbs and flows in a traditional sense of the word in the genre’s expectations of a medium based Prog Rock song. The interlude is somewhat a solo finally and gives the song a break from the verse/chorus/verse/chorus cookie cutter motif that the rest of the album had been lagging in. This song could have gone the distance and been an old school Prog piece extending to the 7-10minute mark but comes to an ending at 3:20minutes. “Fatal Lie” brings out the orchestration with a grand scale entrance like the Roman Empire marching in to town then drawing in to the rest of the band coming in to add the spikes and spears for flare. Sounding like something from Metallica’s S&M album this track gives a forceful presentation both musically and lyrically. A Guitar Solo(!) I was shocked and had to play it twice to make sure I heard it correctly! By far the stand out track of the album because all aspects were put in their place on this song. It had guts, passion, tempo/timbre changes, a solo(!) and a powerful vocal that accentuated the music behind it. Sadly there is no longer a video available for this track on the band’s home page on YouTube but certainly a track worthy of finding and having. “Dragon’s Roar” opens up with a eloquent guitar solo and again shocked me to hear as the band seemed to have saved all their best for the ending of the album or something. Surprising how a few extra notes formed in to a solo can add such flare and brightness to a track and bring it out of a monotonous slump sometimes. This track fills in the facets that were missing in the beginning of the album with tempo/timbre changes and even a start/stop which was a joy to hear but they dropped it off to a quick fade out where again this track could have prolonged it’s recorded life by going an extra few minutes but that’s how they chose to end this one off so who are we to say right?
“Soliloque” returns to the ballad theme with a synth intro this time followed quickly by the vocals that sway and grace the track. It picks up midway and adds in a guitar solo that’s short but sweet yet rough giving the song some break ways in the melody. It returns later on to be a split solo with the synths to fill out the song’s latter half and plays out in the background behind the vocals giving it a richer and thicker sound. “Moth Around a Flame (unplugged)” should have been a bonus track here but they added it as an actual track to the album. It certainly is drawn back musically but it takes on a different facet altogether here, the arrangement on this version has more of an epilogue feel to it with it’s sombre de-construction and stripped down version. A quieter rendition of the same song earlier and more appealing in its peeled back version but would have been better as a bonus track or having it appear on their next album. “Lost” the final track on the album comes at no surprise as being similar to many of the other songs on the album in its design and presentation and does bring closure to the record and has some highlight points to it and another guitar solo that helps the song along and again short but sweet leaving you wanting more of it but it trails off to fade away. Vocally mellow and doesn’t stray too far from the level it’s sung at and pulls away from the dynamics being changed in the song making it albeit beautifully and well sung but in the end boring and pasty.
Crimson Chrysalis has two albums under their belt but for me I have yet to listen to anything on their newest album from last year and it may take some time before I do. Symphonic, absolutely and they pull this off very well and they contain snippets of the Symphonic Prog genre here in their debut record but they more heavily rely on the powerful vocals and the music being more of the soundtrack sense to those vocals and the band has some ways to come up before really and truly finding their own here. Perhaps their second album has more to offer and judging by some of the reviews that are out, it does but we can have a listen to that album at a later date. Enjoy