I have to admit that in my prosaic way, I was expecting the next release from keyboard wizard, multi-instrumentalist and prolific composer Antony Kalugin to be the third part of the Karfagen/Sunchild Messages From Afar masterwork. Instead Kalugin has departed from the script with this stupendous epic offering based upon the poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson. Which I suppose is why he is an incredible artist and I am a mere scribbler.
This is the tenth release from him under the Karfagen moniker and if the others tested my big book of superlatives, then this one renders it obsolete. Where to start? Well, coming from a pretty ambitious composer, this is ambitious symphonic prog at its finest. Kalugin leads an 18-strong band of electronic and acoustic musicians and vocalists, perfectly synthesising the electronic tones with the greater tonal range of the orchestral instruments. It is to his credit that this piece works as an entirety, rather than using the orchestra as a side aspect to showcase an individual's virtuosity as happens too often in works of this type. While long time collaborator Max Velychko's lyrical guitar work is always worth a credit, this is not to the detriment of any of the other fine musicians appearing on this recording. It is possible to buy this offering in 1 or 2 CD format, the 1 CD version containing the major Dragon Island Suite, with the 2CD version offering bonus tracks including Incantation another, shorter 2-part suite; but why go half a hog? If you enjoy well-composed, magical symphonic rock music then you will be wondering why you didn't shell out for the extra 40 minutes.
In the past, I have criticised certain artists for filling out CD space just because they can and for not knowing what to leave on the cutting room floor. But this does not apply to the 93 minutes worth of music on offer here. I found it utterly transporting from the outset. Beautiful folk-inspired passages sit easily alongside the pomp and splendour of the band in full flight. Frantic soaring keyboards and heart-melting guitar twine with intricate sensitive flights of fancy. To describe the whole piece would probably test the reader's patience too far, so mighty a conception is produced. Suffice to say that by the time the ensemble reach Dragon Island Suite 3 , a peak of joyous music-making is reached, a real feat to establish a high-point ending to a piece which is full of high points. It is a privilege to listen to these musicians not only creating such an astounding climax, but clearly having the best time while doing it. Truly uplifting.
Even the cover is brilliant. So take a bow, again Mr Kalugin. You get better and better and this is one of the best things I have heard in this genre for a long time. There are some big hitters releasing music in the course of this year, and this stands toe-to-toe with the best of them.
***** Andrew Cottrell
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