For some years, the Finn Kimmo Pörsti (drums, percussion), the American Steve Unruh (vocals, guitars, flute, violin) and the Italian Marco Bernard (Rickenbacker and Dingwall basses ) have dedicated themselves to demanding Progressive Rock. In addition to their main involvement with The Samurai Of Prog, they have also left their mark on many other projects. Their list is long and the ever-involved, well-known guest musicians even more extensive.
The box set Omnibus, The Early Years contains already released albums Undercover (2011, see review), Secrets Of Disguise (2013, see review), Imperial Hotel (2014, see review) as well as the nine bonus tracks. I could refer to the reviews that can already be found elsewhere on this website. But that would not do justice to the extensive box set in any way. This omnibus is packed with a variety of musical whipped cream. Nevertheless, with the abundance of material a bit of restraint is announced, so as not to lose the total overview of the amount of titles.
The journey begins with the album Undercover, which consists almost entirely of cover versions. In my review I wrote at the time that anyone who's familiar with this album will agree that all these covers are worthwhile listening to, because they're very well and creatively performed. Especially the way they played the versions of these classic prog tunes made me realize that a number of skilled musicians participated who can improvise as well. However, the bonus tracks all had a lower level. This made me decide to rate this album lower than I intended in the first place, but then I had only heard the covers. Sadly, because otherwise this release would have got more stars. But at the time I wasn't aware of the fact that the same musicians and their guest would give me even much more pleasure with their future releases. Even creating true masterpieces!
Apart from the many beautiful covers on Secrets Of Disguise, the album also contains some original compositions. This time these originals have a higher quality level than on Undercover mainly due to the musical variety and the many stunning solos performed on the violin, the electric guitar and the synthesizer. Thanks to these stronger originals my rating for the second album by The Samurai Of Prog is higher than for the first one. No weak tracks at all this time and therefore I would like to compliment those who were responsible for collecting the good stuff. At the time I also wrote for the final words in my review that the band's third album was already in the making and would only consist of original material. One of the participating musicians would be Robert Webb (England), who wrote a thirty-minute long suite, and Linus Kåse (Anglagård) who will come up with a quirky, long track. This is certainly something to look out for.
Well did I know that Imperial Hotel would be the first album to get the five stars. No I didn't! Here, the band shows that it goes largely without major templates and independence is a particular strength of the three regular musicians. Prog at its finest. This album not only contains five strong compositions, but it comes in a great package with Ed Unitsky's fantastic artwork in full glory! Many of his great art work was to follow on the next releases and giving the band a face of their own without doubt! At the time I wrote in my review that it's hard to say whether The Samurai Of Prog has reached their artistic peak on The Imperial Hotel or not. Only time would tell! In any case was it was their best album to date, a superb CD that could only get the highest possible score of five stars. Well those who follow the bands career do know that this release wasn't their finest moment. Much more was to follow and five stars were give later on to Lost And Found (2016, see review) and On We Sail (2017, see review) as well.
For those who already own all the albums of the band, the purchase of the box should still be worth considering. The price is attractive and there are plenty of awesome bonus material. Speaking of bonus titles, these alone call for a tour, but they offer the best complement to the original albums. Matching the boxing concept is the typically colourful and comic-like artwork, Once again the creative graphic artist Ed Unitsky is responsible.
The Samurai of Prog emphasize that they are an accomplished band with professional musicians and a lot of development potential. With their vintage and retro sounds they succeed taking fans on their colourful journey. This box is a good introduction to the band.
**** Henri Strik (edited by Dave Smith)
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