It's been four years since Casual Silence released their previous album Lost In Life. The successor Acoustic Fields (2009) contained acoustic cover versions of their favourite songs and had only three members playing on it. One of the reasons it took that long was drummer Igor Koopman. He suffered from a double-fractured leg, but now Casual Silence are finally back with Vertical Horizon, a stunning new album. That's the good news, but almost simultaneously the sad news arrived: the new album is going to be their final one. They already performed their farewell gig on the third of July (see review) and a few days later the band opened for Threshold (see review) because of earlier booked contracts. I was so lucky to attend both shows, so I could witness a number of songs from Vertical Horizon played live. I was really impressed by their performance, but let's return to the studio album.
My first impression of the new album: the music is more keyboards oriented. The lovely sound of the Hammond-organ can be heard on many occasions. Secondly, in the past both guitarists had their own distinctive sound in the heavier riffing parts; now the guitars sound much more alike. Ernst Le Cocq d'Armandville's guitar even has a harder-edged sound than Mark van Dijk's, who normally provides for the more metal-like sounds. My Fifth Season, The Other Side and the title track are all very impressive songs they played live as well. For me, Vertical Horizon is the best song Casual Silence ever wrote. All three songs are perfectly built up and have many changes in tempo and mood. While listening to these songs I felt a bit sad for they won't play them live anymore. As far as Rob Laarhoven's vocals are concerned I can only say that I fancy vocalists with recognizable voices. His vocals, sometimes in combination with those of Le Cocq d'Armandville's and bass player Eric Smits, has just that extra that make him stand out to other vocalists. Listen for example to Stand Of Tears, a nice piano-keyboard based slow ballad with a fine solo underneath the harmony vocals. Another fine piece is The Chance, a slow starting song that gradually grows to an epic-like track wherein the heavy guitars exchange riffs and a wonderful guitar solo is played by Le Cocq d'Armandville. The Curtain Falls is another piece that needs attention, but unfortunately the band took the title too literally... This song could have been the musical direction Casual Silence was heading for. It has a great percussive part, almost a Brazilian sound, steady riffs and amazing fretwork, while the keyboards provide for some pleasant sounding synths. Drummer Igor Koopman is at his best in this piece.
If you want to buy a true and honest progressive rock album, listen to the last record of this Dutch band. Some people say that you have to quit when you have reached your apogee. According to this excellent album Casual Silence did so. Despite the fact that the band don't exist any longer, I'm glad they gave their fans a perfect farewell gift with this impressive album. Thank you for eighteen years of great music.
**** Pedro Bekkers (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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