Cleopatra VII Philopator, known to history simply as 'Cleopatra' was the last active pharaoh of Ancient Egypt. To this day, Cleopatra remains a popular figure in Western culture. Her legacy survives in numerous works of art and the many dramatizations of her story in literature and other media, including William Shakespeare's tragedy Antony and Cleopatra, George Bernard Shaw's play Caesar and Cleopatra, Jules Massenet's opera Cléopâtre and the 1963 film Cleopatra. But she was also inspiration for the third rock opera made by the Dutch band Kayak, after releasing Merlin - Bard Of The Unseen (2003) and Nostradamus - The Fate Of Man (2005) earlier. In 2012 the band already gave a sign of what they were working on by releasing the EP Cleopatra, The Crown Of Isis (see review). After listening to this piece of music my expectations certainly did run very high. What would they come up with? Would they come up with a release as strong as the aforementioned rock operas?
To come up with an informed judgment about Cleopatra - The Crown Of Isis you have to hear the almost one hundred minutes of music several times. Because that is certainly a lot to consume. The music was written by founding member and keyboard player Ton Scherpenzeel, who also wrote, together with his wife Irene Linders, the concept and the lyrics for this musical concept. The whole story of Cleopatra unfolds on two CD's. During the first fifty minutes, the first CD, you can enjoy the rise of this legendary figure in the history of mankind. The fall of Cleopatra and her empire takes shape on the second CD. This lasts almost one whole hour. To describe what happens on each of the 24 tracks is something that can't be done unfortunately. However I can tell you about the compositions which to me personally were the important ones on this release.
Well let's start with the first disc titled Rise;
The opening piece The Living Isis certainly belongs to them. Scherpenzeel very well brings you in an Oriental musical mood, bringing you back to the days when the story took place. The sound of a female singing voice certainly is responsible for this Egyptian sounding intro. The orchestral parts with the electric guitar parts, probably done by Joost Vergoossen sounds very strongly before the leading lady in the story makes her entrance. For the first time you can hear that Cindy Oudshoorn is perfect to sing the role of Cleopatra. The track also reveals for the very first time the musical theme on the album, which comes back later on several times. I guess I can't forget mentioning the second track. Because on A Family Divided you can hear for the very first time Edward Reekers singing the role of The Sicilian. The first highlight for me is Alexandria, one of the three more epic pieces on this release. It is almost nine minutes long, but it feels as if it lasts much longer. The reason for this is that it is divided into four parts which contain several different moods. Furthermore the song has a rather orchestral sound in which you hear for example beautiful war themes. Even though She Rules My World doesn't belong to the highlights I have to mention the strong opening part of this track. Again it has a strong Egyptian flavour. Goodbye Pharos is certainly one of the strongest ballads featured on this album. The great piano and keyboard parts certainly lift this song to a higher level. Strong are also the Eastern musical influences towards the ending of this composition. You could say Stranger In Rome is a kind of poppy tune. But you can't deny that it has an awesome synthesizer solo and this makes it a track worth mentioning. She Came, She Saw, She Conquered is again such a poppy tune on which this time the electric guitar makes the difference. It's very funny to hear how this instrument produces the sound of a cat and lion. On the same track you can hear for the first time the role of Julius Caesar in Cleopatra's life. His vocal parts are perfectly sung by guest singer Alexander van Breemen. Worth mentioning as well is the intro of Hail. Here you can hear a crowd shout “Hail”. Just like in the days when the Roman Empires ruled the world. The bands third vocalist Rob Vunderink sings the role of the Octavian. He can be heard for the first time on Matters Of The Heart. The track that finishes off the first disc is my personal highlight of the entire album. The Curse Of Isis includes very strong keyboard parts, a strong guitar solo and beautiful Eastern female voices. Moreover very clever the second time the theme of the album can be heard.
Well, let's see what the second disc with the title Fall has to offer;
Again an Egyptian kind of musical theme opens the album with the track Tarsus. It is followed by the second best ballad and has the title Whatever It Takes. Beautiful is the way they made a kind of orchestral version of the EP mentioned earlier. Thank God the Camel-like guitar solo stayed intact on The Crown Of Isis. A strong guitar solo can be enjoyed as well on Philae, again beautiful female Egyptian voices are included as well. That the band can rock like a real hard rock band shows the song The Inimitable Livers (the song features for the first time the vocals of Martin van der Starre who sings the parts of Mark Anthony). I couldn't help to compare it to Smoke On The Water, one of the hit singles made by Deep Purple in the seventies. Other well recorded rock tracks on the second disc are Setting Things Straight and Alexandria Reprise. You could say that the two epic kind of pieces of music on Fall are again the musical highlights. Queen Of Kings is the first one and here Cindy steals the show with her excellent vocal parts. Actium (The Tides Are Turning) is the third and final kind of epic piece on the album. It includes more rocking parts as on the other ones. Furthermore I can tell you that on Larger Than Life the Cleopatra theme can be heard again. Finally I have to mention that the band managed to give a fine ending to this musical concept with the strong ballad That Sacred Kiss.
A few words also have to be said about the package. This looks rather good with all the lyrics included and telling you which parts are sung by the singers involved. Moreover some historical facts are written down next to the lyrics, telling you what happened along the way in the life of Cleopatra.
It's obvious that Cleopatra - The Crown Of Isis will be compared to the two rock operas Merlin - Bard Of The Unseen and Nostradamus- The Fate Of Man. Is this fair? Well, I guess not! Because the compositions on both other releases were at the time written by Ton Scherpenzeel and his musical companion Pim Koopman. The drummer and co-founder of the band died much too early in 2009. Therefore Scherpenzeel had to do it all by himself this time around. Writing 24 compositions for a rock opera is certainly not a thing you do every day. So I can only raise my thumb up and say very well done indeed! I guess you can only be glad that somebody nowadays dares to come up with a rock opera which costs a lot of money to realize. It is certainly true that thanks to the crowdfunding action, this album could be released. As for the music, it is as always just a matter of taste whether you like it or not! As for myself I can only be glad that I had a chance to hear this fine third rock opera made by Kayak, which I certainly loved all the way through! So bravo to everybody involved to release Cleopatra, The Crown Of Isis, it's a fine piece of art!
**** Henri Strik (edited by Astrid de Ronde)
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