Austrian band Second Relation released two albums I still highly regard; Lynette and Albiona in 2009 and 2011 respectively (see review 2011). The latter has a number of accessible compositions in the progressive vein of Riverside and the gruntless Opeth that made me eager to hear new material of the band. Now in 2016 the third release of Second Relation has found its way to the shelves. Let's find out if the years we had to wait has paid off in new inspiring tracks.
Eno is the title of what I have to call a new start for our Austrian friends, for it is really hard to compare the new album to the previous ones. Musically Second Relation has made a huge switch; the progressive rock aspect is still very present, but the addition of other styles drastically changed the outcome of the compositions on Eno. Where bass player and lead vocalist Bastian Berchtold found himself in the Mariusz Duda regions, style wise, on Eno he takes a step away and takes inspiration from the old soul and funk to determine his new found style. The compositions also underwent a number of changes; the keyboards, played by Daniel Fleps have a leading role on Eno. Not creating a modern clinical cold sound, but the sound goes back to the organic Hammond organ and cool Fender Rhodes piano, which adds a nice and warm feeling to songs. The guitars of Julian Nachbauer and Simon Gstöhl have taken a step back from the front, but still have a major role. Listen to the perfect transition between the previous albums and the new style, during Rebirth, I guess even the title of this track gives away the transformation of Second Relation. The opener Eno still has the happy progressiveness, known from the previous albums, but the wonderful keyboards add jazz and completes the fusion of progressive music and jazz. Bastian shows he is capable to embed his voice into the new style of music, making it work perfectly. Sometimes he reminds me of the funky style Richie Kotzen displays on some of his solo albums. Labyrinth also combines a modern guitar sound with the organic keyboards and the perfect rhythms of drummer Michael Simic. The outcome is a very accessible composition that even could appeal to fans that normally would listen to smooth jazz, but are not afraid of a little experiment. The jazzy and funky elements rules on White Mirror, a song that embeds pop into the jazzy foundation, just the occasional powerful guitar riff reminds you of the band's heritage in progressive music. Seventies soul is added to the previous influences on The Essence Of The City, hints of Living Colour can also be heard, but I guess that band found their roots in the seventies soul as well.
The longer I listen to the album, the more impressed I get. I listen to various jazz styles as well as to progressive rock and metal. But in a way the blend these young Austrians have created is very, very appealing to me. Combining the best of both worlds to create an almost unique sound. What is special, listen to Canvas, Color, Comfort, is the way the band finds a way to compose a soulful, jazzy song, with the distinguished sound of ageless keyboard, but on the other hand it always succeeds to keep true to the progressive rock element. The acapella opening of Countless Damages leads to a fine accessible song; rhythmic jumpy percussion and a funky bass form the base for this song. The vocals of Bastian reveal a slight nasal sound, Les Claypool (Primus) style. Familiar Surroundings must appeal to the aficionados of traditional Hammond organ, here the instrument is tortured to create its unique sound. A sound that perfectly suits to this track, which adds a nice progressive rock guitar solo to the organic jazz/soul base. The instrumental parts of Any Direction take me back to the feeling I got, when I was listening to old Jeff Beck albums; the ones before he dedicated his music to instrumental fusion in the early seventies. The vocal parts however fuse old with modern rock parts, creating a kind of beautiful retro with a modern twist. The final song; Second Hand Life show the return of power in the guitars, together with the soaring keyboards, a special heavy feel is created, a sort of Muse Plus, definitely one of the highlights on the album.
When a band takes a musical turn, sometimes the album needs a number of spins to make you get used to an (sometimes) unexpected style. With Second Relation the first spin told me the shift was an excellent choice, the jazz elements really work and the highlighted keyboards are just brilliant. After numerous plays, the compositions also grow in their intensity and beauty. I realize some of the diehard, stubborn progressive rock fans will have their doubts, but I would like to challenge those music lovers to listen to this amazing album. I bet you will like it as much as I do.
****+ Pedro Bekkers (edited by Astrid de Ronde)
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