DUO REVIEW from DPRP
Majestic – V.O.Z.
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||CD 1 – 58:10
CD 2 – 58:51
- In Memory of … (4:56), V.O.Z. – I. New World (4:23), II. Crossing Meridian (7:49), III. Approaching Storm (6:28), IV. Milestone (2:54), V. Whispers (4:10), VI. Freefall (4:56), VII. Darkened Worlds (5:12), VIII. Rise to the Surface (5:58), IX. Skies Clear (3:01), X. Voyage Ends (8:19)
- Zosimos Sleeps (1:05), Becoming (10:13), Spirits Dwell (8:19), Around the Sun (6:40), Hyperbole (8:43), Becoming (Reprise) (6:37), Red Skies (17:11)
Mark Hughes’ Review
DPRP has reviewed four of the six previous releases by American multi-instrumentalist Jeff Hamel under theMajestic name, only missing out on String Theory and the 2009 EP Clover Suite. Interestingly, the first two albums, the aforementioned String Theory and 2008′s Descension, are not mentioned on the Majestic website. All four albums received high ratings from the reviewers, an average of over 7.6, although only 2009′s Arrivalattained a recommended rating which I personally think is a travesty as to my mind the 2011 release,Labyrinth is much more worthy of a recommended tag being my favourite of the band’s releases and yet only polling 7/10! Still, you can make up your own mind, as the latter album is available for free download from theband’s website. As with previous albums, Hamel handles all of the music, with the exception of drums, played by Mike Kosacek, but enhances the songs with the voices of several guest singers, in this case the vocalists include David Cagle, Tara Morgan, Chris Hodges and Celine Derval.
V.O.Z., and I have no idea what the acronym stands for, is Hamel’s first double CD with the title track taking up the first CD in its entirety. Yes, it is a concept, which, according to a recent interview, is about “the complexity of human kind and sometimes people don’t understand how dark they can be. Life is constant change. I tried to set it up with a simple backdrop of sailing from the old world to the new one with a lot of up and downs in-between”. So nothing trivial then… One of the many strengths of V.O.Z. is how it flows; the use of different vocalists – all but Derval contribute to sections of V.O.Z. – is important in this process, adding variety and enhancing the narrative elements of the piece. The vocalists are used sparingly throughout, as the introductory In Memory Of… as well as sections III, IV, VI, VIII and IX are instrumentals and many of the actual songs, particularly Crossing Meridian (part II) and Voyage Ends (part X) have lengthy instrumental sections. The music itself, whether with or without vocals, is uniformly excellent with a great breadth – from the heavy Approaching Storm (part III) with its almost metallic guitars, to the more languid Whispers (part V) with the wonderful vocals of Tara Morgan (sadly her only appearance) and lovely synth flutes and the acoustic dominated Darkened Worlds (part VII) - the scope is quite breathtaking. Of course, as with many concept numbers, some elements don’t work so well in isolation, but make perfect sense in the context of the whole piece. Main example of this is Freefall (part VI) where the dissonant nature owes a lot to Genesis‘ The Waiting Room, while the percussion heavy introduction to Rise To The Surface (part VIII) is a necessary interlude providing a build to the main instrumental theme. On the whole this first disc is a wonderful achievement and alone would justify a recommended tag from this reviewer. However, we are less than half way through the release….
Initially, I had a harder time getting into the second disc of the set. There could be many reasons for this: the high quality of the first CD; listening to almost two hours of music in one sitting; switching from listening to a single concept piece to a more disparate collection of songs; etc. However, over time one comes to realise that the quality of the music on the second CD is in no way diminished. The brief and tranquil Zosimos Sleeps paves the way for the fast and furious intro to Becoming, an excellent piece of rock music that, with the driving guitars and Hammond fills, invokes the spirit of none other than Deep Purple in full flight. Of course, such intensity cannot be maintained at such levels for 10 minutes and there are less relentless passages, notably the ‘breathe’ section which is reprised in a musically rearranged and less heavy form towards the end of the disc. Derval has a powerful voice and it is put to most effective use when placed amongst her own harmonies. An interesting closing section to this song leads very neatly into the lengthy instrumental Spirits Dwell which over repeated listenings has become one of my favourite pieces of music on the whole album. Using a variety of guitar sounds and effects in conjunction with different styles of playing has created a diverse piece of music that is completely gripping. Chris Hodges provides the only male vocals on this disc creating a more mellow vibe on Around The Sun which didn’t particularly grab me much as other pieces and did become the occasional victim of the skip button on the CD player. One reason could be my eagerness to get to Hyperbole, another outstanding piece of instrumental prog which contains some excellent guitar work from Hamel. I have already briefly mentioned Breathing (reprise) but it is worth emphasising that the rearrangement features a lot of piano and displays a lot of the textures and nuance of the song to great effect. Every progger loves a long song so what better way to finish off the album than with a 17 minute number! Ultimately, given what has gone before, it wouldn’t really matter if Red Skies was some third rate honky tonk gibberish! Suffice to say it is not and although I don’t think it is the best piece on the album it certainly has its moments. The juxtaposition of Derval’s sweet and pure voice works well against the more aggressive guitar sounds and the structure of the song is such that one is held attentive throughout. And the guitar at the end is to die for.
Is V.O.Z. the pinnacle of Hamel’s releases under the Majestic name? Well, can’t really say anything other than Heck Yes!
John Wenlock-Smith’s Review
V.O.Z. is the sixth release from Jeff Hamel under the Majestic banner and it’s actually the first I’ve had the pleasure of hearing and I’m rather glad I did as it’s a double CD packed full of some really great music. As far as I can deduce it tells the tale of a journey across the sea but as to whether this is an astral sea or a more water based one is not entirely clear but it hardly matters when the music is as good as this is. On reflection it’s invariably an astral sea as the cover shows an alienish type presence.
It is at turns, tender and graceful, subtle and gentle, epic and surreal and then it just rocks and shreds and can be quite brutal and hard at other times, it’s a balance that works well giving extra depth to the proceedings.
Disc one is predominately shorter tracks with the whole of disc two (apart from the brief opener) being longer tracks closing with the magnificent Red Skies. In reality there isn’t a duff track on here anywhere and the album can be listening to in parts without losing or subtracting from the storyline either.
Jeff Hamel has this to say about the concept behind V.O.Z.:
“It’s quite a simple story about a guy named Zosimos, who sailed across the ocean to a new land. At the start of the adventure he has hopes for all the happiness he will find, However during the journey we find out he is actually running from something very bad he did in the old world. V.O.Z. is really about the discovery of the darkness inside himself. The second CD is not really part of the V.O.Z. suite however I sprinkled references to the first CD throughout (song titles, lyrics, similar riffs etc), The final track, Red Skies is the same principle as V.O.Z. but looking at the darkness of mankind as a whole.”
Jeff Hamel is no slouch on either keyboards or guitar and plays some suitably epic keyboard parts along with some very good guitar solos, sounds and textures and overall the sound is expansive and uncluttered with the vocals being very clear too. It does sound good, especially loud where the subtle nuances can be heard in all their glory.
Each of the vocalists brings a different approach and that seems to add rather than subtract from the music on offer, Celine Derval especially shines on her tracks, but all are equally adept.
At just under two hours it’s a lengthy listen but seldom does the attention wander such is the consistently high standard of material here and the versatility with which it is delivered is impressive to say the least. This is at the heavier end of prog even with its lighter moments, not quite Dream Theater territory but certainly not that far away.
The opener, In Memory Of…, and New World set the scene very well opening gently and then getting heavier halfway through New World before Crossing Meridian. It’s a great journey that Majestic are taking the listener on full of twists and turns into unexpected and uncharted waters (to carry on the maritime metaphors) and Voyage Ends, Becoming and Becoming (Reprise) are all epic tracks.
There is also a good blend and balance of Instrumental and vocal tracks which adds to the substance of the album greatly but it is the consistent strength of the material that makes this such a good listen throughout.
Disc two has some of the heavier tracks on too so it’s an album of two parts either of which is fine but together make a great listening experience; nothing outstays it’s welcome either and it does sound good on headphones or with the volume up a little.
The artwork is by famed Russian artist Vlaidimir Moldavsky and is suitably cryptic in its depictions and display again adding to an already interesting and intriguing album.
I have to say I’m impressed by this album and by Jeff Hamel’s efforts on this release enough to want to go backwards and hear more of his material and I have no hesitation in recommending this to all who like their prog a tad heavier but not wildly so, albeit with good keyboards and guitar work plus good songs to boot. You can listen to clips on the Majestic website and make your own mind up but I think you may be impressed. I certainly was.
So for me a very interesting and worthy album whilst not truly essential, I’m glad to have heard it though and I would urge you to do the same.
MARK HUGHES : 9 out of 10
JOHN WENLOCK-SMITH : 8.5 out of 10