In my review of Secrets Of Disguise (2013, see review), the second album by The Samurai Of Prog, I already explained who are behind this project. For those who didn't read that review: this project consists of the Finland based Italian composer-bassist Marco Bernard, the American musician Steve Unruh (Willowglass, vocals, guitars, flute, violin) and the Finnish drummer Kimmo Pörsti ( Paidarion, Mist Season). In the same review you could read that their debut album Undercover appeared in 2011 (see review). It only contains covers of well-known prog rock pieces. At the time I rated this fine album with three out of five stars. Two years later Secrets Of Disguise got a score of four stars because I enjoyed both the covers and the original compositions a lot. At the end of this review I already revealed more or less what could be expected on the third CD: only original material. Moreover, I stated that two of the participating musicians would be keyboard player Robert Webb (England) and Linus Kåse (Brighteye Brison, Änglagård). Well, only a year later the new album called The Imperial Hotel appeared.
The nine-minute opening track After The Echoes could have been recorded by Yes since all the characteristics of this band are present, like the high-pitched vocals in the vein of Jon Anderson and the Chris Squire-like bass parts. This excellent piece of music was written by keyboardist Octavio Stampalia (Jinetes Negros). Next is Limoncello, a composition written by Robert Webb that reaches the same high quality level. Together with his fellow-musicians he goes back to 1977 when he recorded Garden Shed with England, in my opinion one of the best prog rock albums ever made. Personally I would say that this album containing elements from the music of Yes and Genesis, is the best album ever made! Therefore it provided me a lot of pleasure to hear the same kind of music on Limoncello. In a way this song is a kind of introduction to the next piece co-written by Webb. But before this track you first get Victoria's Summer Home, an amazing piece written and played by David Myers (The Musical Box) on the piano. On this strong instrumental you can hear what a gifted musician Myers is!
A car stops and somebody rings at the doorbell before the title track and the second England-related track can be enjoyed. It's an almost thirty-minute long epic which sounds to me as a lost track from the seventies when the band England was still alive and kicking. Almost all the elements I enjoyed in their music can be noticed throughout: the same kind of tempo changes, the high-pitched vocals and the strong guitar and synthesizer passages. However, unfortunately it lacks the beautiful Mellotron and drum parts in the vein of Bill Bruford (ex-Yes, ex-UK), but it's still an amazing piece of music to listen to! Apart from the well-known elements of England I also heard elements that reminded me of Jethro Tull mainly due to the flute play by Steve Unruh, who also shines on the violin on this track.
The final track is Into The Lake. Linus Kåse wrote this strong piece which is a mixture of the music recorded by Yes and the underrated band Gentle Giant. From time to time the music of England emerges as well. This album not only contains five strong compositions, but it comes in a great package with Ed Unitsky's fantastic artwork in full glory! He gives his views of Great Britain's epoch of Queen Victoria in a forty-page booklet. It's hard to say whether The Samurai Of Prog has reached their artistic peak on The Imperial Hotel or not. Only time will tell! In any case it's their best album to date, a superb CD that can only get the highest possible score of five stars.
***** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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