After his highly regarded album Back To Balance (2015, see review) four years ago, Koen Herfst returns with a true concept album, called Leo. This album honours and tells the story about Koen's father Leo, who passed away when Koen was only ten months old. Koen Herfst has worked with Armin van Buuren, Epica, The Gentle Storm, I-Chaos and Dew Scented among others. Where his solo debut saw many different musical styles and even more guesting musicians, this time, Koen himself, except for the bass parts, which are courtesy of Epica's Rob van der Loo, plays most of the instruments. Several guitar solos were played by former Saxon guitarist Paul Quinn, Within Temptation and For All We Know guitarist Ruud Jolie, Vuur and My Propane's Jord Otto and ex Aborted shredder Mendel Bij de Leij. Jordan Rudess contributes during the opening track and Ayreon's Ben Mathot added a violin solo. Anneke van Giersbergen as “Mother”, Navarone's Merijn van Haren as “Father” bring the characters present on the album to life. Koen himself, takes care of the role “Death” with a distorted voice and “Son” with his normal voice. Background vocals were provided by Marcela Bovio and during the track Leo, the outro was taken from a recording of Leo Herfst himself.
It really takes something to write such an intimate rock opera with your father as leading character, but I think this is the best homage Koen could pay to his father. Musically the album has a bit of a feel like Devin Townsend albums. The music is tight and very multi layered. I think the fact the volume of the several characters almost equals the volume of the instruments make the vocal parts feel very integrated into the songs. Jordan Rudess fans can eat their heart out during the intense opener July 20, 1984. As usual, Anneke remains a very solid vocalist, perfectly giving life to the “Mother” role. Listen to Bereaved or the aforementioned opener. Very impressive is the “Father” part by Merijn. His parts differ from the music of his regular band Navarone, but he brilliantly converts the pain during Dream Away and Realization Of The Inevitable. Saying Your Name Out Loud almost has a trashy rhythm and a wonderful solo by Ruud Jolie, both displaying anger and desperation at the same time. Intimacy and brutality go hand in hand during D(E)ad, guesting both Jord Otto and Ben Mathot. The Devin Townsend reference certainly applies for I See Myself, where choir vocals and double bass drum are the upper layer of this track, underneath there is are so many elements enjoyable, bombastic and heavy symphonic. Perhaps the most intense compositions on the album are Are You Out There Somewhere ? where parts of doubt and the asking for recognition are the main elements and the piano ballad Simple Life. The album's title track Leo turns out to be a very intriguing progressive rock song. A bit more open and perhaps the most accessible track of the album. Strong instrumental parts and a dense groove take you to Leo's piano part. After great soloing of both Mendel and Paul, the choir points out you need to live and enjoy every minute, because All We Have Is Now.
Not much to say here, Koen surprises me with this very intimate and personal album. I guess this is something he wanted to do for a very long time. Thank you Koen, for sharing this with us.
****+ Pedro Bekkers (edited by Dave Smith)
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