Apogee started as a one-man project of multi-instrumentalist Arne Schäfer (also of Versus X) about two decades ago. If I'm counting right this is Apogee's seventh or eighth album and here Arne is joined by drummer and percussionist Eberhard Graef. I think that it's always a good idea to have your rhythms done by someone made out of flesh and blood instead of taking them out of a tin can (unless you program them very carefully), which incidentally is an idea that Arne had on previous albums too. Speaking of which, having listened to about half of their back catalogue during the past two decades somehow I've never been a major fan of neither Versus X nor Apogee. While technically impressive with mostly long pieces and all the typical progressive moves in place their work usually left me cold. Well, let's see if the new record finally manages to change that!
We find five long pieces on the new CD, the shortest of which is 8:05 minutes and the longest is the almost 20 minutes long title track that opens the album with majestic organ and soaring keyboards in best symphonic prog tradition. The lead vocals are a bit flat, but certainly acceptable and I notice that they grow on me with repeated listening. And while there are definite vocal limitations, he tries to put emotion and variation in it and manages fairly well.
The instrumental work and the music is top notch. If you like symphonic prog with roots in the 1970s you should love this. Threatening organ, soaring keys and fiery guitar solos: it's all here. Worth special mentioning is the Mellotron and flute (like) part at 17 minutes into The Art Of Mind and the wonderful Latimer-like guitar in the finale.
Very fine music, but the title track also reveals some of the main weakness of Apogee (or Versus X for that matter), namely that there are too many lyrics and too little focus on delivering a song or epic that sticks. In an earlier review of Schäfer's work I wrote that: "Whenever Arne deems it necessary to sing however, it seems that he puts as many words in as he does musical notes. This means that the vocal parts get fairly pompous and overblown and are rather a turn-off..." This was 2000 (Versus X's The Turbulent Zone) and apparently the wordiness is here to stay.
After dreamy melancholic opening Inside The Wheel develops into a dramatic, pounding second piece that reminds me of Änglagård with its Mellotron, organ and menacing guitars. Interestingly the lead vocals on this piece remind me a bit of Pendragon's Nick Barrett which isn't necessarily a flattering thing to say, but all in all I like this track which contains a lot of power but closes as introspective as it opened.
The Games You Play is a pretty rock oriented song based on guitar backed with swooshing keys and Schäfer trying to emulate one of his heroes: Peter Hammill. There's a nice classically influenced instrumental middle-section with flute (synthesized, I presume), keys and soaring guitar before we're back to a lot of words. Interestingly I appreciate Hammill being vocally overbearing, but I don't like it when it's done here.
The album's shortest piece The Price You Pay at firsttakes things much more light hearted than the tracks that came before, but here especially I find that the too dominant presence of lyrics spoils some of the fun. Just imagine how this piece might have sounded with a female guest singer (e.g. Tirill formerly of White Willow would have been awesome here). Pretty cool is the contrasting instrumental section with threatening keys and a bluesy guitar solo.
The final Sea Of Dreams starts with sounds and chords that could have been directly drawn from Pallas' Atlantis Suite. It's a varied piece with quite some dynamics from forward rocking to Genesis-like acoustic guitars.
Summarizing: Apogee has a lot of potential, talent and ambition. I hope they (he) at one point will try to channel this with a 'less is more' philosophy in the vocal department, but it's probably too late to teach this old fox some new tricks. Within their limitations they do what they do very well and provided you can live with the vocals you're in for some really, really fine symphonic prog and I would say this is a good place to start listening to Apogee since it's one of the better efforts.
***+ Carsten Busch (edited by Astrid de Ronde)
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