Two Hundred Pages is Crayon Phase's second album and a follow up to Within My Recollection which was released in 2013. There have been a few changes since that release with Frank Wendel concentrating on being the sole keyboard player, Peter Damm joining as bassist and despite a lengthy search for a dedicated vocalist, Brazilian Raphael Gazal taking over duties for this album only and not as a long term member. Which is a shame as after all that searching, they have certainly found a terrific vocalist, capable of matching the prodigious talent on display while carrying the dramatic variation required to express the twists and turns of the story and its main character.
This is an ambitious concept album, following the story of a man suffering from anterograde amnesia (the inability to form new memories after the event which caused the amnesia, even though the long term memory remains intact) with each song representing a new chapter or aspect of his experience. The story starts at the end, as it were (I'm sure there's a proper literary term for that, which I'm supposed to know but have forgotten) “Do you have any idea what it's like to take a man's life?” As the protagonist vows revenge for what he has suffered at the hands of those who took advantage of his incapacity we are plunged into a scene from CSI, police sirens and a piano speeding up into the first colossal drum break, after which we are away at high speed and volume.
The music is epic in scope, awash with keyboards and guitar solos, heavy riffs and sudden changes of mood and direction. Crayon Phase are an experienced outfit who know their way around music such as this and their class shines through on every track. It would be wrong to throw Crayon Phase into the ranks of the technical you-know-whattery as they show themselves capable of many sensitive changes of style and mood, notably the moving opening sequences of Procession/Empty Grave although it is also fair to say that a double-kick-drum break is never too far away. For genre freaks we are mostly firmly in a Neo-Prog/Prog Metal fusion area, which is great if that's your cup of char, although others might argue that there is a one-dimensionality to it which doesn't do the story much justice. You can sort that out amongst yourselves, but it would be fair to say that if you land on the 'in favour' side of the argument then Crayon Phase are one of the superior exponents of the form.
For me, I found 200 Pages overlong - it seemed to take 200 years to establish the fact of amnesia, which we already knew anyway - and was disappointed that more wasn't made out of a promising concept. I left with a feeling that cutting it down to under an hour would yield a more pleasing and digestible experience. But that would be me being churlish, in the face of what is undeniably excellent all round musicianship and something which I imagine would make a superb live concept. Fans of epic neo-prog will love it.
**** Andrew Cottrell
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