Probably most of the readers recognize the phenomena when you listen to an album for the first time, and get the feeling “what the heck is this”. Occasionally and by coincidence you discover an album which is out-of-category and that grabs you. When I listened to Perfect Storm's No Air for the first time, I immediately felt that this was a very special album.
When I later discovered that Perfect Storm was a band from our own Dutch soil and that this album was their debut album, at first I almost couldn't believe it. But these are all facts.
Perfect Storm is located in the Groningen area; the northern part of the Netherlands. Cynics would probably say: this is the flat and stone cold part of the Netherlands. The part in which perfect storms have the change to develop. The line-up of Perfect Storm is as follows: Gert-Jan Schurer (guitars) is the creative brain of the band. The band is completed with Adel Saflou (vocals), Hiske Oosterwijk (vocals), Ard Offers (keyboards, vocals), Jesse Bosman (drums) and David Klompmakers (bass guitar).
There is one detail that has to be told: the singer of the band Adel Saflou has an interesting story. Adel fled a couple of years ago from Aleppo (Syria). In Aleppo he participated in the metal scene and he was beside being a good singer also a known songwriter. And that he is a great singer becomes quite obvious when you start listening to the album.
The album opens with the track Strength. A dark synthesizer sequencer and a nice layer of a thick- and little distorted electric guitar riffs form the intro of this opening track. These components immediately bring huge tension in the track. After a while the band comes in and Strength is from the shore. After a while our first acquaintance with the vocals of Adel Saflou is a fact. In this track his voice is crystal clear, powerful and above all unique. There is no voice that comes into my mind to compare his with. In some parts the lead vocals are backed up by the female vocals of Hiske Oosterwijk. The two voices fit well together. Female vocals or combined male and female vocals are partly taking over progressive rock. A lot of new bands have a similar line-up. The character of this track is very melodic and it has a great groove. My first though was that this track reminds me a little of the solo work of Trevor Rabin. Especially the guitar scales, the chord progressions and also the sound gave me this intuition. Perfect Storm is a band which is progressive for sure. But it also contains some elements of AOR and fusion.
The groove of the band continues on the second track of the album, The Search. It is clear that in a technical point of view this band is very mature. Further on I become in love with the vocals of Adel Saflou and Hiske Oosterwijk and the guitar parts of Gert-Jan Schurer. They both are exceptionally good. The Search has a lot of atmospheres. These make the song structure complex, but certainly not complex in a negative way. I can handle all the changes without getting lost in the track. After two tracks the feeling came over me that this band is a special one.
Sun For Life is an 8 minute track and starts in a quiet way. Keyboards and guitar open, developing into a mid-tempo track. The lyrics tell of warzones, prisoners and soldiers fighting for freedom and I think it's obvious that Adel Saflou is “inspired” by his own, probably terrible, experience in Syria. As an outsider it is hard to imagine what a warzone is really like, where people are getting killed, houses are destroyed and in which you have nothing left from one day to the next. Halfway in the track there is a keyboard solo which is followed by an incredibly emotional guitar solo. The outro part of the track is mainly instrumental and has once more a lot of dark atmospheres. But with regard to the lyrics that is obvious.
The album continuous with the track Hope. The tempo is rather low and the track lingers on. The double vocals are clearly audible in these rather quiet tracks. You hear that they are perfectly layered and that they complement each other. These vocals are really pleasing to the ears.
The outro of this track also contains a lot of tensions, built up by a lingering, thick guitar. At the end of the track the vocals are more aggressive. In this part it is clear that Adel Saflou once was active in the metal scene. The guitar solo at the end of this track is from out of space. It sounds fusion like and really is high end.
The title track No Air starts with a melancholy piano soundscape. This intro gets even more dramatic when the vocals come in. These are timid and incredible high. Personal I think that Adel does this part, but it's so high that it also could be Hiske. This is a mystery which maybe can be solved by an interview. After 5 minutes the atmosphere of the track changes. This is the part where the band joins and the atmosphere can be the best described as cinematic or melodramatic. The lyrics are about escaping dark circumstances and fit perfectly to the atmosphere of this track.
Mind's Eye is a mid-tempo track which is very melodic but also contains more sharp and heavy bridges. In tracks like these, you can hear the open production of the album. The production of this album is something I like. It's very clean and therefor all instruments and all vocal parts are well defined. I prefer to listen to the album with headphones. Although even with the bombast in this track it's easy to distinguish all the performances.
The album ends with How It Ends. The track opens quietly and develops into a very melodic track. Especially the acoustic intermezzos give me goosebumps. The vocals are floating between timid, clean and powerful. It's typically a track which shows the technical capacity of the instrumentalists and the capacity of both vocalist. These are all phenomenal. This combined with the variety in the songs, make me love this album so much. There is never a dull moment and all parts and all atmospheres are well thought out.
For me personally Perfect Storm is one of the greatest progressive rock debuts of this year. I can easily speak of a revelation, a Dutch revelation. When you are able to deliver such an incredible debut album, I ask myself the question: how this band will develop itself? I really hope that this band will stay together and especially I really hope that Gert-Jan Schurer and Adel Saflou can keep each other inspired. With all respect for the other band members, these two are the heart of this band.
No Air is an album that I return to on a regular basis. And when I do that, it says all of the quality of this album. Yes, I am euphoric. What they do is rather unique. There aren't many bands to compare Perfect Storm with. It's a little Trevor Rabin, a little Yes (80's area), a little AOR and much neo progressive rock.
The artwork of the album is also very fine. To my it looks like some Japanese style painting. But I could easily be wrong. The only point of critic I have is the lack of printed lyrics. It would have been nice to have a booklet in the cd which contains the lyrics and some more band information. But we can't have all today.
For this album there is only one rating possible and that is 5 out of 5. If it was possible I would give it a 5+, because for a debut album it is exceptional. I hope this band will stay together for a while and I am curious what the future will bring them and us.
***** Aad Bannink (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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