Apogee is a solo project of Arne Schäfer, of the German progressive rock band Versus X, along with drummer Eberhard Graef. The Blessing And The Curse is their latest offering. According to Schäfer “The Blessing And The Curse has become a rather non-compromising Prog Album...stylistically close to the classic Progressive Rock of the early seventies. One could say that this is an album of epics as the shortest of the collections five songs is twelve and half minutes long - there is a lot of music to digest here....On my first listen I was unsure of what to make of the album, but was intrigued enough to want to give it a more intensive listen and I am very glad I did - there is a lot going on here and much of it is very subtle and requires some concentration. Schäfer's vocals take a little getting used to but do grow on you (reminding me of the first time I listened to Peter Hammill)
The album opens with Out Of Control which initially is structured around a riff very reminiscent of Canada's April Wine, but quickly move along to something far closer resembling Galahad. The mid-section break-down features an incredible guitar solo which leads into a vocal section weaving over a recurring theme of electric piano, string section, and guitar which almost brings to mind classic Pink Floyd.
The opening section of Hard To See structurally reminds me of some of the classic Gentle Giant but with a more accessible approach. The orchestral mid-section is absolutely beautiful and moves into an excellent guitar-driven section which almost sounds like Mike Oldfield.
Congealing Ground is actually quite a good track although I am not a big fan of some of the backing vocals which don't quite seem to fit the style of the song. Some great piano and guitar work on this track though as it moves through several moods and tempos. There is a great mid-section which brings to mind some of the counter-point of Spock's Beard and vocals which remind me of Klaatu!
The Blessing And The Curse features some of the heaviest moments of the album and some top notch drumming from Eberhard Graef. Hammond organ and distorted guitar form a great bed track over which synthesizer solos and string synthesizer environments weave an intriguing web over which some of the best vocals of the album are layered. This is the best track of the disc!
The Inspiring Tune is the longest track on the disc and moves through some great progressions (including some more great Hammond organ sections) and acts as a very good conclusion to the album pulling together many of the musical and lyrical themes/styles.
If I have one complaint with the album it would be that there is a “sameness” to the sound of most of the tracks as there are very few points where Schäfer moves away from his basic instrumentation but those sections where he does, stand out as brilliant. I would recommend multiple listens to the album as each listen seems to bring more appreciation.
*** David Carswell
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