We don't review an album from a progressive rock band from Estonia that often, but once in a while a great band emerges with an outstanding album from a rather unknown country as far as prog rock is concerned. This time X-Panda, formed in 2009, attracted my attention with their debut album Flight Of Fancy. The original line-up consisted of Risto Virkhausen (guitars), Kaarel Tamra (keyboards), Karl-Juhan Laanesaar (drums) and Liis Ring (bass), but the latter has been recently replaced by Tamar Nugis, who's also the singer of the band. With this line-up they recorded their first musical effort in 2011. Flight Of Fancy contains a collection of songs written at the time they started to play together as a band.
When you listen to the short intro and the first notes of Black, you get the impression that you're dealing with a metal band. However, the aggressive guitar riffs in combination with the vocals of the Tartu Youth Choir only reveal a small part of the many styles that influenced X-Panda. As soon as the music continues the musicians show to be capable of producing impressive progressive rock. They professionally and beautifully change this aggressive sound into a more melodic style. The guitar parts sometimes tend in a direction that reminded me of guitarists like Andy Latimer (Camel) and David Gilmour (Pink Floyd). The male lead vocals sound very strong especially in combination with guest female singer Teele Viira. The keyboards sometimes have an orchestral sound which might indicate that the keyboard player has been classically trained. Also the rhythm section sounds tight and consistent in the fast and aggressive pieces, but in the rather mellow ones as well. Throughout the album I discovered that X-Panda only consist of skilful musicians who master their instruments. They also know how to write strong compositions blending progressive rock, fusion, metal, jazz-rock and even classical music. The bands and artists that crossed my mind were Dream Theater, Liquid Tension Experiment, Planet X, Camel, Pink Floyd and Steve Vai.
Most of the compositions are instrumental being fine vehicles for the guitarist to show his talents, but occasionally the keyboard player gets a solo spot as well on the title track Crystal Gazing, Rhythm Department and on a piece called Keyboard Solo. The latter contains mellow electronic soundscapes, but also up-tempo parts accompanied by the drummer and the bass player who provide for strong rhythms. Unfortunately the lead singer can only be heard on Black, Siren and Revelation, for he sings very energetic bringing in a lot of variety. He prevents the songs from getting too much alike. The participation of the Tartu Youth Choir works perfectly giving the songs a more gothic sound as you can hear on Black and the ending piece Revelation.
The minor critical remarks in this review didn't have any impact on my final judgment, because this strong debut album recorded by X-Panda deserves a high rating. The musicians can be proud of what they achieved on Flight Of Fancy. So my compliments go to all of them and for putting Estonia on the map of progressive rock.
**** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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