Back in 2009 the Dutch progressive rock band Mangrove released their masterpiece Beyond Reality (see review). It was an album that was of an international level music wise. Featuring musical elements taken from bands such as Pink Floyd, Genesis, Camel and Greenslade, but also keeping their own identity. The band that always sounded great during live concerts for the first time managed to sound great on a studio recording as well. During the years that followed they always kept playing the songs from this remarkable album. Even though their fans enjoyed them very much they also wanted to hear some newly written compositions. The first new tune that was brought to the stage was A Call To Arms. A song written by the band and featuring lyrics by their new drummer Remco Engels. This rather long epic piece of music was played during performances in 2014 and 2016. In 2018 with Lex Bekkernens now on drums another new tune was welcomed to the setlist. Namely Reflection. The final concert of the band just before the pandemic in 2020 featured three new compositions. Bridge To Fiction, Reflection and Stay. After a concert in 2022 the band told me that probably the new album Bridge To Fiction would be released later that year. Well, that didn't happen and also the next year, no new album could be welcomed. Unfortunately, we had to wait until January 2024 when they presented their latest release during a release party. I guess if you already are waiting that long another year doesn't matter that much anymore. So now finally 15 years after their predecessor was released their fans can enjoy a brand new album. Why did it take so long, was it worth the wait and did the songs played during concerts remain the same as when I heard them the first time? All questions that need to be answered.
Several line up chances and the pandemic might have been the reason for the delay. Two new drummers since the release of Beyond Reality and the departure of keyboard player Chris Jonker in 2021 are of course important events in the history of the band. In 2022 Ebert Zwart replaced Jonker. However, all of the songs were already written and the recording was already done for the album. But it wasn't Chris who did all of the playing on the keyboards. Multi instrumentalist Roland van der Horst took care of those parts and also took the lead vocals and played on several guitars. On the album he was assisted by veteran Mangrove member Pieter Drost on bass guitars and bass pedals. And the earlier mentioned Lex Bekkernens on acoustic and electronic drums also participated.
As for the songs played earlier during concerts, it isn't easy to say if they changed while they recorded them. As for the earlier mentioned concert just before the pandemic in 2020, which featured three new compositions done as one whole piece of music, I remember that they sounded different as on the album. Unfortunately, those new tunes did not stick in my brain and therefore most of the compositions from the new album Bridge To Fiction sounded rather new to me when I heard the album for the first time. Finally, was it worth the wait? I guess so! Well, I will try to go through the album and mention what each of the songs has to offer music wise.
The album and title track Bridge To Fiction starts with a weird roar sound as if somebody is burping. It is followed by strong drum and percussion parts before the rest of the musicians join on their instruments. You can hear strong harmony vocals singing the title of the album. The nice solos on the synthesizer and electric guitar makes it a future classic Mangrove song without a doubt. Also, the violin parts played on the keyboards sound really good. The title track gives the album a very strong beginning that's for sure.
It is followed by Reflection. Hardly a break in between the first two songs can be heard. Therefore, it is very difficult for the listener to hear that a new composition has started. At first, I thought I was still listening to the title track. Here we hear again the violin parts played on the keyboards. The song has some strong sequencer and rhythm parts and is certainly a strong composition one more time.
Next up Stay. A moment to rest and layback on this fantastic rather mellow piece of music. It has a fantastic melodic guitar solo and many Mellotron flutes to enjoy.
After that it is time for the first instrumental. On Chasing Something you can a enjoy a mix of jazz rock, fusion and progressive rock. Allan Holdsworth meets Lee Ritenour so to speak! The Chick Corea kind of electric piano parts fits perfectly to the rest of the instrumentation on the song. A cool song indeed!
Another instrumental named A Touch Of Light is next. A King Crimson inspired song with a nice synthesizer solo and rather heavy Robert Fripp kind of guitar parts. Certainly, a heavier approach of a Mangrove tune without any doubt. I really like it!
It is followed by Raindrops Falling and features for the first-time guest Bart Laan (Chain Reaktor, Skylake and Silhouette) on flute. His playing, the organ and the acoustic guitar parts move the song into an early Genesis style of music. Really beautifully done if I may say so!
The album ends with the epic A Call To Arms. This composition is probably the oldest song on the entire album. Therefore, it has more elements of the sound which you can hear on its predecessor Beyond Reality. Meaning old fashioned retro kind of progressive rock related to the big names of progressive rock in the seventies. Influences from bands such as Camel, Pink Floyd, Yes and Genesis are more prominent on this long piece of music. Meaning even more melodic guitar and synthesizer solos. More breaks and different time signatures. Here you can enjoy for the second time the beautiful flute parts of Bart Laan. It is mixed with beautiful parts performed on the acoustic guitar and piano. After that you can enjoy the fantastic musical climax. Featuring an excellent electric guitar solo which is accompanied by majestic keyboards. The rhythm section is giving all they have one more time before the song and album ends again with the weird roar sound as if somebody is burping.
I'm left speechless after hearing this musical rollercoaster. At first, I was possibly waiting for a Beyond Reality part two. But after hearing this more experimental album on which they broaden their horizon and brought in more musical influences, I am glad they didn't come up with a Beyond Reality part two. The band has progressed music wise and dared to try something different to the sound we are used to for several years on many of their earlier releases. So, bravo for doing this. Maybe some lovers of progressive rock will have to listen a couple of times before they discover the inner beauty of this excellent album. They will after a while realise, just like myself, that the band has created an excellent album. Maybe this time around not another masterpiece. But theyhave come close that's for sure. And at the start of 2024 it is easy to say that Bridge To Fiction belongs to the musical highlights of 2024! Highly recommended. Album favourites Bridge To Fiction and A Call To Arms.
****+ Henri Strik (edited by Dave Smith)
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