Arkana is the third offering from the Italian neo-progressive band Asgard. Their sound is full of power and grandeur, very symphonic, with affected vocals, shifting moods and almost schizophrenic dynamic changes. Overall, their material is full of feeling and emotion, oft-times ethereal, yet very directed and always dark (although I haven't really sat down and given the lyrics close scrutiny). Lyrics are in English. The vocalist is nothing short of exceptional, and the rest of the band supports him well, rather than burying him. The extended instrumental passages show a band capable of producing raw power, melodic cohesion, and subtle restraint when needed. Their sound hints of gothic, but to be fair, these guys are pretty unique. Anyway, for those who may be familiar with Asgard's two previous releases Gotterdamerung (1991) and Esoteric Poem (1992), this release shows the band expanding out into some new musical territory, breaking new ground at every twist and turn in the album's 74 minutes. I believe this to be their best effort.
(Originally published in Exposť #1, p. 9, Edited for Gnosis 1/19/01)
|Mike McLatchey||28-April-2001||Esoteric Poem / Arkana / Imago Mundi|
Asgard are an interesting phenomenon for a neo-progressive. They are influenced by Marillion, IQ and Pendragon, yet they seem to (for the most part) avoid most of the insipid commercialism that affects some of the music of those bands and many of their adherents. On their debut, Gotterdammerung (WMMS 007), Asgard come off as a darker variant on the best of early Marillion with an interesting gothic vocal introduction. Most of their music is very laid back and softly symphonic, and while their singer does have many allusions to Gabriel and Fish, he does it much better than most. Nothing amazing (they don't pick up the pace or vary the dynamics enough) but nice nonetheless. Esoteric Poem (WMMS 009) is the first of their two albums released in 1992 and is a continuation of the style on their debut with a more confident and streamlined approach. Again, not a masterpiece but at least they stay away from the bounciness that hurts most bands of this type. Much of it is good mellow symphonic with a brooding gothic feel to it. Arkana (WMMS 018) was the peak of Asgard's achievements to this point as there are more interesting dynamics with some up beat moments that do much to move the music. Unfortunately, there's only a couple of these during the duration of the 70 plus minutes and a lot of it drags. Overall, quite good and recommended to fans of neo-progressive.
(originally reviewed as part of The New Italian Progressive Rock
Scene - Part 2, Exposť #4, p. 9, Edited for Gnosis 4/28/01)
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