14 Aug 2010Album Review by Gatot Widayanto for ProgArchives
Written by Gatot Widayanto
Two things that impressed me right away when I got the limited edition of the debut album of the newly born Indonesian prog rock band, MonteCristo. First, the CD package (handmade one!) was presented professionally in a digipack booklet style with gold color nuances, hand painted line-up profiles complete with handwritten lyrics. Second, and this is the most important one, is the music. Maannn … I have never imagined that these folks have beautifully crafted musical compositions that are “really me!” Yeah .. I could feel it the first time I spun the CD, as I felt like the entire album was totally dedicated to me, personally. Hey, music is subjective, isn’t it? How can I compare my taste with others? Yes, there might be similarities but there must be major differences when it comes to musical subtleties. Some segments, typically the transition pieces and/or musical background, be it piano fills , short guitar solo and riffs, or orchestration have killed me gently. I am not exaggerating it because of I have known most members of the band for years already. I am not here to defend my friends. I am just a prog reviewer who wants to share my views about prog music. That’s it. I dare to challenge you to have the CD and enjoy it yourself. I am pretty damn sure you would like it. If you are just a normal music buffs, you would definitely enjoy the ballads and might not like the interludes as it might sound too complex to your ears. But for progheads, I can assure you would, at least, appreciate the album’s compositions as all of them are excellent by any standard.
As music is subjective I have successfully refrained myself for getting involved with the band during the making of ‘Celebration of Birth’ and in fact until I am writing this review. Why? I don’t want to get influenced by their opinions and I want to clear my mind from their opinions. Yes, here I am... This is Gatot Widayanto (to Ground Control... Oops! It sounds like “Space Oddity”!) tells his story about the journey of musical enjoyment he experienced having listened to the CD in its entirety for fifteen (15) times already by now! Surprisingly I have never got bored with the music. It’s probably I was born with the heart of prog. It’s similar experience when I got the ‘Script for a Jester’s Tear’ the first time in 1983.
It was midnight… hmm it sounds familiar to my ears!
Whenever I listened to prog album for the first time and I got hooked with it the first 1 minute of the music, I would get myself acquainted with it and then remember the music pieces or lyrics, it will get through my mind for a long time, eternally. The opening part of ‘Ancestral Land’ starts with something orchestral in nature, through the wonderful keyboard work, followed nicely with musical break that brings the lyrical verse ‘It was midnight ….’ followed with soft piano touch. It clicked me rightaway with Marillion’s Script for A Jester’s Tear ‘So here I am once more …’. Nope, I am not saying that Montecristo plagiarizing Marillion, not at all. The music is different and the melody is totally different. It’s just my mind that reacted wildly and brought me to Marillion’s atmosphere. In fact, MonteCristo music is different from Marillion. It’s clear that the opening track ‘Ancestral Land’ sets the overall tone of the album; a blend of neo-progressive rock with string arrangements and orchestration combined with some progmet riffs resulted from guitar work. Montecristo pushes the envelope further with its combination of nice melody through the voice of Eric, stunning orchestration, touchy piano fills and soft guitar riffs that accentuate the music. The tune moves slowly like a ballad and it then changes, with beautiful transition piece through piano fills, its style at approx. minute 3:30 which brings me to another nuance. It’s an excellent opening track!
The second track ‘About Us’ moves faster and much more dynamic than the opening one. All instruments: guitar, keyboards, bass and drums demonstrate its part excellently. In fact, the bass guitar work by Posan sounds really nice here at this track. What I also notice is the piano fills that work nicely throughout the song while the voice is still appearing, not just during transition pieces. The most interesting part of this track is the interlude piece – wow! It’s really nice and I do enjoy it very much. Unfortunately it does not stay long – especially the guitar solo it actually can be extended because it’s really nice.
The third track ‘A Romance of Serendipity’starts wonderfully with a string chamber work that accentuates the piano fills. The vocal enters with tom drum work in a catchy melody. Eric’s voice works really clear especially when it’s combined with string and piano fills by Fadhil. The chorus line that follows is also nice. Again, I do enjoy the interlude part where the piano starts it excellently. There are guitar riffs and short solo by Rustam and Angga that bring the progmet flavor. The following track ‘Garden of Hope’ is by nature a ballad that would favor the listeners. It’s actually not my taste because it’s quite straightforward to my ears. But I enjoy the stunning guitar solo that reminds me to Mike Holmes of IQ fame.
The fifth track ‘Celebration of Birth’ is an excellent rocker. It starts beautifully with simple riffs followed with transparent voice of Eric with his first lyrical verse ‘Welcome my little baby …’ which sounds peacefully to my ears. I love how Eric changes his tone of voice in ‘..see the sky’ lyrical piece. The song runs in relatively fast tempo with more guitar solo. There are nice breaks with great acoustic guitar fills. The interlude is filled with stunning guitar solo. This one is probably not a clear cut prog tune as it’s quite straight forward in structure and style. Never mind, it’s to me a great track. I love it as I love IQ’s “The Wake” (quite straight forward too).
‘In Touch With You” is truly a catchy ballad with an ambient intro followed with soft piano touch enriched with violin work. The vocal enters accompanied with piano touch that serves as rhythm as well as innovative fills. String section of violin work accentuates the song beautifully. Man … I don’t care what kind of music you like, but for sure you would definitely love this tune. It’s really beautiful in two dimensions: melody-wise and arrangement-wise. The interlude part is led by stunning guitar solo in “Sugar Mice” style. The piano fills enter the scene gently in a smart way. But that’s not the end man .. you would find a very wonderful’n’catchy keyboard solo by Fadhil. Even though the interlude is quite long enough – longer than “Sugar Mice” or “Chelsea Monday” but I really don’t mind if the band is willing to extend another five minutes duration! It’s pretty nice folks! Unfortunately the song ends in fade-out fashion which I don’t like .. but it’s OK, I have been compensated brilliantly with beautifully with catchy interlude.
‘Crash’ is another excellent rocker and again .. I love it. How come I always talk about ‘love it’ or ‘like it’ all the time? Because these folks from Montecristo have made me mad man! I texted them that I am totally nggeblak (my mind is temporarily paralyzed) listening to their music including this track. There is musical piece that demonstrates ELP-influenced keyboard work. The melody is catchy, the arrangement is excellent. Well, I like all tracks, really. And this one is close to the kind of Dream Theater music, a progressive metal sub-genre. I think ‘Crash’ is suitable to open the live concert for the band.
‘Forbidden Song’ brings us back to the neo-prog nuance through its mellow style and catchy melody through the voice of Eric accentuated by nice violin work. The interlude demonstrates stunning guitar solo that moves the music in faster tempo until Eric voice returns to the song. There are guitar riffs as well and I don’t blame you if you may consider this as progmet influenced composition.
The album concludes with another rocker ‘Clean’ with relatively fast tempo and energetic style. The short interlude with string arrangement is quite interesting and enjoyable. The structure is quite straightforward.
I have always made a judgment using five components of composition: melody, harmony, complexity, change of style and structural integrity. On melody MC has proven themselves this is their competence in crafting it nicely – almost all of the tracks have catchy melodies. The harmony is really excellent because this is the strength point of MC music: the arrangement is excellent so that all instruments demonstrate good contribution to the music. As far as my personal taste, I want to hear some more guitar solo like Mike Holmes has done it wonderfully with IQ music. I am sure Rustam and Angga can do the job on this. Special attention is on the piano work by Fadhil because the piano fills flow through brilliantly as the music flows from on e segment to another even during the vocal line. Wonderful! There is relatively moderate complexity offered by MC but it is still presented not in a ‘boring’ way. Throughout the album I have seen many changes of style that perpetuates an excellent picture of a progressive music. On a final component, i.e. structural integrity, I can assure that the album has a solid structural integrity in every single song as well as the album in its entirety. To me the album is cohesive so that I always enjoy it in its entirety. This is an excellent ‘plus’ or 9/10 rating to my personal taste.
Get the album! It’s a highly recommended one. Keep on proggin’…!