June 30 was without doubt one of the hottest days last summer in the Netherlands. It was also the day that the very talented German singer and multi-instrumentalist Oliver Rüsing and his band KariBoW climbed the stage at 't Blok in Nieuwerkerk aan de Ijssel. He made it to the Netherlands to give a special kick-off show. A show which was a sort of try-out for the soon to start MOnuMENTO tour. It was a very sweaty and hot show, but the band managed to play an amazing show to everybody present. Later on in September KariBoW visited the UK for seven concerts and those who saw the band were in for a real treat. Those who stayed at home missed a spectacular show of one of the finest bands from Germany. At the time I hoped that a live release of one of the concerts would follow very soon, so we could relive it over and over again! After all the only Dutch show was my favourite live concert of 2019!
Well sometimes wishful thinking becomes reality. Because I have now in my hands a review copy of Essence. A double album that came out earlier in 2020. A release which wouldn't have come out if KariBoW hadn't done the earlier mentioned live concerts. Those shows must have inspired Rüsing to do something with the great live recordings which were made at the time. And also, the short acoustic set played during every performance was the inspiration to give more of his older material the unplugged treatment.
The first disc has the title Essentially Acoustic. Here you can enjoy more than a hour of acoustic versions of earlier recorded compositions. Compositions which were originally recorded with electronic instruments next to some acoustic instruments such as guitars, pianos and drums. I'll have to be honest to tell you that I am not that fond of acoustic releases. But in the past there always have been releases which changed my opinion about them. A good example is what Marillion released on Less Is More (2009, see review). Also, Dutch proggers Mangrove showed on their DVD More Or Less... An Acoustic Evening (2011, see review) that you don't always need lots of synthesizers or Mellotrons to give the die-hard proghead a good time. The same can be said about Essentially Acoustic. At first I thought I would hear some boring mellow acoustic songs performed on guitar or piano. But that's not the case at all. No way! Oliver Rüsing (vocals, acoustic guitars, piano, drums, percussion and body percussion, bass, orchestral arrangements and a whole bunch of other strange instruments) and guest Andy Pendant (saxes and horns) managed to keep you entertained throughout the entire 64 minutes. Mainly because rhythms are used and the tempo is not always slow but also rather fast as on the original versions. Also adding saxophones and horns give those songs a special treat. Also using keyboards makes a real difference. I will not go into details of all the songs done. But a good example that the different version of the original is still rather recognisable is the epic E.G.O. from Holophinium (2016, see review). This ten minutes long piece of music sounds less electronic but still very strong. The acoustic guitar solo fits perfectly. The acoustic piano parts with the orchestral arrangements sound really beautiful to my ears. Hearing the opening tune Passion on the other hand, reminded me of the two acoustic songs played in the Netherlands. The only compositions on both discs is 9/16. Oliver named it a new approach. An acoustic attempt to touch the untouchable, softly. This song was for me one of my favourites from Addicted (2014, see review). This acoustic version is more mellow and the saxophones on it really give it a special flavour. Finally, some words about the closing track Elay. This is almost done A Capella during the intro of the song. Giving it a real special sound.
The second disc has the title Essentially Live. Oliver Rüsing (vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, E-drum pads, percussion), Philipp Dauenhauer (electric and acoustic guitars, backing vocals), Gerald Nahrgang (drums, percussion, acoustic bass), Guido Seifert (keyboards) and Felix Jäger (bass) helped me relive the special moments I had during that earlier mentioned hot day June 2019 with this 72 minutes long live recording . But it is of course not only the recordings made at 't Blok that are featured on this great sounding disc. Because in the Netherlands ex-Karnataka female singer Hayley Griffiths was not present to share the lead vocals on District Of Diginity. She only could be heard from a tape. But during the UK dates she joined Oliver on stage to sing this song together very strongly and above all very passionately. A recording of it is certainly one of the many highlights from the shows recorded during the 2019 tour, extending from June to October, passing through Holland and England without forgetting a date in the US in Chicago.
Listing to all the songs, I realise again why I choose the Dutch show to the best performance I saw in 2019. It's just amazing to hear all those tunes again with a leading role for lead guitarist Dauenhauer. He shines on many songs, especially a great guitar duet with Rüsing on Private Babylon. Those guys really rock together. It certainly doesn't mean the other musicians are less. All gave excellent performances on their instruments. But a guitar player who can play a cool solo on his instrument always gets the spotlight, that's very obvious. I won't mention all of the compositions played. Each of them is just a real treat to hear. You just have to believe me. But I guess I can't avoid writing about Back To The Ashes and Red Feathers. Those two songs were the visual highlights during the concert I witnessed myself. Hearing it once again made me really realise what a perfect combination those two tunes are together. The beautiful orchestral parts combined with the powerful E-drum pads really kicked ass. Moving then into the beautiful mellow parts performed on the keyboards brings tears into your eyes for sure. Of course, I'll have to mention again 9/16. Here you can enjoy the complete full band version played on electronic instruments. The tempo this time is much faster than on the first disc. Also, this version kicks ass again. Wow just awesome to hear the band rocking on this tune.
But not only the music on this double CD is awesome. I'll also have to mention the complete package. It is presented in a magnificent cardboard digipack. Added with a richly illustrated booklet which is full of info about the songs that you can hear on both discs. Furthermore, lots of details of who is participating and a thank you for making it all possible! The booklet is just the icing on the cake.
Oliver really worked his ass off for this stunning release. You can hear on both discs how much effort he has put into this artistically great release. Therefore, I can only give the highest score possible to Essence. He and his band mates deserve it all the way! Congratulations and thanks to everybody involved, who made of Essence a real essential release to be heard by every proghead on the planet. A real must have for any music lover in general. Well done and thanks for bringing back some good memories from a beautiful Summer! All five stars are very well in place!
***** Henri Strik (edited by Dave Smith)
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