The albums of The Samurai Of Prog are always a real musical treat for myself. The way they tell the musical stories of many famous works in history made me very happy every time I heard them. They have repeatedly based their albums on popular literary works by authors such as the Brothers Grimm, Daniel Defoe or Jonathan Swift. Also have Marco Bernard (Shuker basses), Kimmo Pörsti (drums and percussion) and Steve Unruh (vocals, violin and flute) worked recently with one main musician and composer to turn such stories in beautiful retro progressive rock sounding albums. This time around they invited Latte E Miele keyboard player Oliviero Lacagnina to help them out to come up with another fantastic musical story. This time they came up with a musical version of The Man In The Iron Mask, which is also the album title. A story which is inspired and influenced by historical texts by Alexandre Dumas and Voltaire. Thematically, the concept album deals with the life and events surrounding the secret twin of the Sun King, Louis XIV.
For this release the guest musicians include Marek Arnold (Toxic Smile, Damanek, Seven Steps To The Green Door, Stern Meissen, Cyril, Flaming Row, United Progressive Fraternity) on alto and soprano saxophones, Lauren Trew on vocals and Rafael Pacha on acoustic and classical guitars, viola da gamba, recorder. But also the electric guitar players Juhani Nisula (Elvis Breznev), Federico Tetti (Mad Crayon), Marcel Singor (Kayak) and Thomas Berglund.
Together they created an album that sounds like a true rock opera. Or even sometimes like a true musical. Music wise it can be compared to the two rock opera's The Dutch band Kayak released with their albums Merlin - Bard Of The Unseen (2003) and Nostradamus - The Fate Of Man (2005). For me it is mainly lead singer Steve Unruh who is to blame for those comparisons. He sings on this album like a real musical star just like guest singer Lauren Trew. However, the sometimes classical music sounding compositions also move it towards this musical genre. They keep everything inside the musical territories of progressive rock thanks to the fantastic keyboard parts performed on the organs, pianos and synthesizers. But also the excellent electric guitar parts are responsible for the true progressive rock sounds you can hear throughout the entire album. Sometimes reminding me of a band such as Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The violin on the other hand moves the music sometimes into the direction of a band such as Kansas. Besides the comparison with rock operas and musicals the album also has a mix of influences taken from classic music, baroque music, folk and progressive rock. A mix which I enjoy a lot because it brings several musical styles to the surface on one entire single album.
With an hour of new music it is for me rather difficult to mention any musical highlights. Therefore it is advised to hear the entire musical concept in one go. Because I certainly believe the album is one musical highlight from start to finish. It is a symphonic suite divided into seventeen parts. Of course it is not always very original and from time to time the great classical composers of the past can be heard on the entire album. Bach, Lully or Purcell are never far away. But I guess it is not so strange that Lacagnina's compositions are inspired by those people. His classical background shows off all the way on this album and he isn't afraid to get inspired by them. Just as he isn't afraid to use his musical influences taken by the late Keith Emerson and bands he played in such as The Nice and the earlier mentioned ELP.
All those influences incorporated on this excellent album will certainly satisfy lovers of classical and symphonic progressive rock. Those who also like a bit more complex music, should find what they are looking for again on this fine album. The Man In The Iron Mask is without any doubt an exciting and ambitious new album from The Samurai Of Prog. Just as their predecessors were and their successors also will be. Highly recommended to those who like their daily progressive rock with some influences taken from rock operas, and musicals. And for those who like a musical mix of influences taken from classic music, baroque music, folk and progressive rock. Well done indeed!
**** Henri Strik (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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