In 2008 the Cuban prog rock band Anima Mundi really surprised me with their strong second album Jagannath Orbit (see review). At the time I wasn't familiar with Septentrión (2002/2012, see review) the band's debut, so it was my first acquaintance with this excellent band that include so many influences in their music from bands like Yes, Genesis and Pink Floyd. Two years later they released their masterpiece The Way (see review) and the entire prog world was at their feet. This resulted in touring through Europe in 2011 (see review) and 2012 (see review) and the release of a live album and DVD called Live In Europe (2012, see review).
During their second tour in Europe they started to record their fourth studio album The Lamplighter in the Netherlands. Unfortunately their excellent lead singer Carlos Sosa decided to quit before the album was completed. Health problems and daytime jobs appeared to be difficult to combine with Anima Mundi. So the line-up of the band's latest album slightly changed and now consists of Virginia Peraza (keyboards, vocals), Roberto Díaz (lead guitar, vocals), Yaroski Corredera (bass), Manuel Govin (drums) and Emmanuel Pirko-Farrath (lead and backing vocals). Former member Anaisy Gómez contributed on the clarinet.
The story of this album already started in 1998 when the suite Tales From Endless Star was composed. In those days they dreamed about making an album with a symphony orchestra, but that was too expensive, so until now they couldn't make their dream come true. Moreover, at the time they didn't have the necessary instruments, technology and experience at their disposal. Since technology improved a lot things looked differently a few years later, and they were able to record the already written songs and make them sound like an orchestra. Accordingly the music on The Lamplighter sounds very orchestral from time to time, mainly due to the use of many keyboards which provide beautiful flute samples and violin parts.
Just as the previous two albums The Lamplighter is a concept album. It's a kind of spiritual story about a lamplighter who not only lights the darkest places in the universe, but also those in the hearts of men. In a way the lamplighter is a metaphor for the sun or even God who lights the hearts of people. It's a journey into a world of magic on a planet called Earth, a mother star called Sun and about the meaning of our existence. Once the heart has been illuminated by the lamplighter the seemingly simplest things that surround us in daily life obtain the magic that only enlightened hearts are able to see. Well, this sounds rather pretentious and high-flown, but it's obvious that such a concept needs a special art work. Therefore they asked the famous Belarusian artist Ed Unitsky to create something special for this album and as always he came up with some stunning artwork (see enlarged picture) that shows a strange and old light up lamp guarded by a frog, a lizard, a peacock, a butterfly and two grasshoppers in a magic forest.
Obviously expectations ran high for this album since the two predecessors contained an unbelievable high quality level of compositional talents and musicianship. One way or another I had expected a kind of The Way, part 2, but The Lamplighter simply can't be compared to the band's previous effort. Maybe that was the reason why I initially had some problems to get into this album. This happened before while writing a review for Songs From The Liar's Lair (2009, see review) by the Finnish band Ageness. That album either needed a completely different approach compared to the previous albums, but eventually it turned out to be a masterpiece. I guess this also applies to The Lamplighter.
After a few spins I got used to the new singer's voice and the compositions started to grow on me. The beauty of the music was revealed after a couple of listening sessions and again I could enjoy the superb guitar and keyboard parts throughout the album. Many times the music carried me away to the seventh heaven! Some parts on the album already sounded rather familiar. Excerpts from songs as The Return, Endless Star and His Majesty Love were already performed during the Dutch gigs. The influences mentioned earlier can be heard on The Lamplighter as well, but I don't mind at all since Yes, Genesis and Pink Floyd recorded excellent music. It's difficult to mention any highlights because the entire album can be regarded to be one great highlight.
If you've read this review carefully you already might have noticed that this album deserves the highest rating of five stars just like The Way got on this website. Sometimes it's very strange that an album needs a couple of spins to flourish. After a while I just got addicted to The Lamplighter and I played it over and over again! You probably will feel the same once you've heard the beautiful music on this album. Eventually The Lamplighter appeared to be a true masterpiece as well!
***** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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