In 2009 the American prog rock band Syzygy recorded the amazing album Realms Of Eternity (see review). The music on this album came close to perfection although I didn't name it a masterpiece. It certainly opened doors for the band and gave them the opportunity to film and record live gigs for future releases on CD and DVD. Two of those recorded gigs can now be found on their latest release A Glorious Disturbance. It contains two DVDs and a CD with a total playing time of nearly five hours! What you get is absolutely gorgeous! I played these stunning discs again and again and I just couldn't get enough of it. As far as I'm concerned you can't get it any better, so let me explain why this set is a must have to all devotees of prog rock.
On the first DVD you'll enjoy two different Syzygy gigs starting with footage filmed at the Three Rivers Progressive Rock Festival in 2009, which lasts about 45 minutes. Next is the footage shot at A Day Of Prog Festival in 2010. Syzygy were the headliners during this two-hour show. Unfortunately they didn't release the whole show but only one hour. During these two gigs they played material from the three studio albums Cosmos & Chaos (1993, as Witsend), The Allegory Of Light (2003) and Realms Of Eternity. Some pieces differ from the studio versions because they rearranged them. Mount Ethereal, Strange Loop 2 and The Coronation were initially instrumental pieces, but the live renditions got lyrics and strong vocal parts by their great lead singer Mark Boals. He sometimes sounds like Ronny James Dio, but that's not so strange since he used to sing with different hard rock bands. The vocal versions on A Glorious Disturbance, sound fabulous just like all the other songs.
When listening to these pieces it's quite easy to say who inspired the musicians. Founding member and guitarist-singer Carl Baldassarre is undoubtedly influenced by the likes of Allan Holdsworth (ex-UK, ex-Soft Machine) and Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings). However, his strong lead vocals reminded me of Jon Anderson (ex- Yes) and Roger Hodgson (ex- Supertramp). The other founding member and keyboardist Sam Giunta − who looks like David Paich (Toto) − must have listened a lot to Keith Emerson (ELP). The style of playing of bassist and backing vocalist Al Rolik tends towards the style of Dave Meros (Spock's Beard) and Chris Squire (Yes). Finally drummer Paul Mihacevich could be compared to drummers as Carl Palmer (Asia, ELP) or Neal Peart (Rush). It's obvious that all these influences can be heard throughout the performances. Furthermore I heard music in the vein of bands like Glass Hammer, Gentle Giant and Jethro Tull. Both concerts have a perfect 5.1 surround sound; it's just as if they play in your living room.
The second concert from A Day Of Prog Festival was filmed even better than the first one showing fine close-ups of all the musicians on stage. They probably used more cameras and moreover the band used a large projection screen showing images and footage to support the music. Therefore the images look more professional. The two encores at the end of this concert might look strange, but if you look at the acts that were influential you won't be surprised to see them perform In The Dead Of Night (UK) and Burn (Deep Purple). I guess it's needless to say that they managed to play fabulous versions of these well-known pieces.
The second DVD contains more than ninety minutes of special features. It's certainly also worth watching because it provides some inside information about the band. I never felt the urge to stop this disc because it's all very well done. Take for instance the in-depth interview with Carl Baldassarre by Michael Heaton, the Minister of Culture for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He asked Carl several interesting questions about the history of the band and why they changed their name from Abraxas to Syzygy. The unique photo material gives you an idea of how they looked in the early days. Another fine feature to watch is The Writing Of Realms including a track-by-track breakdown in the studio done by Giunta and Baldasarre. It almost looks like an episode of Classic Albums. Unfortunately the interview with Mark Boals, chatting about his collaboration with the band, lasts way too short. The final item is the Band Roundtable feature. The whole band, except for Boals, came together at some sunny location to talk about their working relationship, the future and other issues.
The final disc is a live-CD. It contains over 72 minutes of music taken from the two concerts that are featured on the first DVD. Obviously the above-mentioned rearranged songs have been included. This time I wasn't distracted by all the images on the TV screen. Without these images I realized even more how perfect Syzygy perform their studio material. However, I would have preferred other songs from the concerts to be included as well. The Sea, one of my favourites, was left out due to its epical length, but if they had used the audio of both concerts for CD they should have released a double album. However, I can't complain at all since Syzygy have delivered a great release.
Even the package looks amazing. While unpacking the discs I got the idea to stand in the hall of a church thanks to the wonderful images that looks like stained-glass windows. Inside the package you'll find the three discs of course, but also a poster containing the lyrics and a photo editing of the band in action. While checking out this superb release I had to think of the incredible releases of the American keyboardist Erik Norlander with The Galactic Collective (see review), which was more or less presented similarly. In my review of that CD/DVD set I wrote that all live albums should be released this way. Get it out on DVD and CD together with a detailed booklet, I wrote! Well, I guess Syzygy didn't read that review but the fact remains that they just did what I was asking for!
Erik Norlander got the highest rating for The Galactive Collective. Syzygy's A Glorious Disturbance is of the same high level and therefore the ultimate score of five stars is certainly in place for this spectacular release. I think these albums will elevate Syzygy to America's leading progressive rock band. A Glorious Disturbance is highly recommended to all progressive rock devotees. You certainly won't regret it!
***** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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All Rights Reserved Background Magazine 2013