Greg Northrup    15-September-2002 In Spe - s/t

In Spe's debut is widely known as one of the best albums to come out from behind the Iron Curtain in the 1980s, and like many other bands with similar geopolitical limitations (Solaris, Horizont, Kaseke), they have just recently come to the attention of a wider Western audience thanks to recent CD reissues. In Spe is certainly an impressive release, though one that takes some time to sink in. The group plays a fairly unique style of symphonic progressive, generally slow and morose, with a heavily composed, classical feel. The instrumentation is interesting, making heavy use of recorder as a primary melodic device. Though that may sound strange, and it does at first, it's tastefully applied and well played. When juxtaposed against the fantastic array of flute, Moog, guitars and organs, it aids in creating an overwhelmingly rich melodic tapestry and distinctly idiosyncratic feel.

The album opens with the "Symphony for Seven Perfomers," in three movements, and its structure alone should indicate the heavy classical emphasis with which the band composes their material. The piece is packed with gorgeous themes and interlocking parts, though heavily refined and often subtle in its appeal. "Antidolorosum" is the only vocal track on the album, and it too is fantastic, indicating an under-utilized vocal presence. "The Sunboat" features an album highlight, in that guitarist Riho Sibul finally lets 'er rip, unleashing a scorching guitar solo over a cascading keyboard melody, one of the few real "rock" peaks to be found. "Fight of the Spheres" is a sublime closer, befitting its title, and takes on a marching, spaced-out and keyboard-heavy attack, sending the album out on one of its more intense emotional moments.

In Spe is not an album that impressed me early on. The band takes a generally restrained approach, focusing deeply on composition, melody and subtle theme development, rather than visceral appeal ("Fight of the Spheres" being a possible exception). Still, the care and meticulousness put into the arrangements allow the sheer strength of the compositions to shine through eventually. This is a solid album and worthy of any symphonic progressive rock fan's attention.

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