After an album I highly recommended: Elinoire (2011, see review), German progressive rock/ metal band Flaming Row returned to the scene with a new baby called Mirage - A Portrayal Of Figures. This is such an album that gives me the creeps at first. Why? Let me explain...
Regarding the very high quality of the previous album and the fact I really want to like the new one, secretly I 'm afraid it will not match Elinoire. The album is therefor kept apart, and other band's albums will be reviewed before this one. But then...I played the album; heart at full speed and absorbing the story of soldier John, and finally peace finds me, as I realise Elinoire was just the beginning of a high quality recording of which I hope many will follow. Flaming Row's core still are mastermind Martin Schnella, who plays guitars, bass and keyboards, besides taking part in the team of vocalists. Kiri Geile remains their female voice, while Marek Arnold, super musician and part of a million bands and projects, plays keyboards, and Niklas Kahl plays the drums, but this is just the top of the iceberg. Like the previous album, Mirage sees numerous guest musicians, such as Spock's Beard's Jimmy Keegan and Dave Meros on drums and bass. Shadow Gallery's Brendt Allman, Gary Wehrkamp respectively play guitar and guitar and keyboards. Mister Ayreon, Arjen Lucassen, plays a guitar solo and Pain Of Salvation's Leo Margarit plays some drums, while their former bass player, now solo artist, Kristoffer Gildenl÷w adds bass parts. Haken's Diego Tejeida adds nice keyboard parts as well. For additional vocals, the aforementioned Shadow Gallery members lend a helping hand, together with, just to name a few, their lead vocalist Brian Ashland. Johan Hallgren, also having Pain Of Salvation fame, can be heard as a vocalist, as well as Cryptex' Simon Moskon and Ted Leonard of numerous bands like Spock's Beard, Thought Chamber and Enchant. Female vocalists that participated, besides Kiri, are Magali Luyten, who also sang for Ayreon, and Seven Steps To The Green Door's singer Anne Trautmann.
The album starts with a sixteen minute cracker: Mirage- A Portrayal Of Figures - Part I. Opening acoustically, introducing the first vocalists, which sound perfect together. When the electric guitars take over, the song speeds up and the vocals gain in intensity, even grunt-like parts appear. During the live sounding midsection, a ragtime piano competes for attention with Marek Arnold's sax. The composition continues with multiple layers of vocals and some interesting guitar solos, and really rocks to the end. The following Aim L45, has a kind of medieval touch, mixing parts of Blackmore's Night with emotional male vocals and In Extremo's musical heritage, giving the song similarities with some Ayreon compositions. Heavy guitars dominate the first part of Burning Sky, which inhabits melodic rock referring vocals as well as roaring keyboard parts alongside metal riffs. When the tide turns, the music returns to just one voice and one guitar, creating an intimate atmosphere, consequently returning to gain power and end on a high. Something completely different is Journey To The Afterlife. A song strongly influenced by blues and country music, with female vocals that strongly remind me of Sass Jordan at some points. Towards the end, the progressive elements take over and close this weird, but pleasant form of embedding different styles into one single song. As a kind of counterpart we continue with Alcatraz, that can be seen as a regular rock song; melodic rock in the best way, including the wonderful guitar solos. Memento Mori is a composition that is the ultimate progressive song on the album, mixing the vocals Shadow Gallery style, - what did you expect when three members of that band appear on this song! - with metal riffs and a strong outburst of keyboards. The result is as if Shadow Gallery had added some metal and an attractive female voice to their music. Well done!
Pictures sees their progressive rock being mixed with a folky edge, Mostly Autumn sometimes comes to mind, but the way this composition is built makes it more interesting for me than the aforementioned band's music. Absolute highlight is the final composition, In Appearance - A Portrayal Of figures - Part II. Just listen to the immense guitar sound on this song. This song builds like a true epic; a smooth, perfect vocal part is followed by powerful guitars, that are played over a nice layer of keyboards. Madman guitar solos of Martin Schnella, Arjan Lucassen and Brendt Allman lift the song to a level that's beyond belief. After this composition, the quiet atmosphere from the beginning of the album returns as a kind of calm before the storm; a storm that comes out as a little outburst of energy, but the song ends just as nice and relaxed as it began.
Yeah, what more can you say about this album? Compared to the previous one, the musical quality has been equalled, but due to the fact I under-rated Elinoire with just four and a half stars, this one has to get the maximum score.
Although, if I had to mention one negative point of the album, it would be the running time. Where it's predecessor was good for seventy nine minutes and fifty three seconds, Mirage leaves us at seventy nine minutes and fifty one seconds. That's a whole two seconds less! Like I wrote, a maximum score for one of the finest albums I heard so far this year!
***** Pedro Bekkers (edited by Esther Ladiges)
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