on 9 October 2009
'Force of Gravity' is the 7th and possibly most widely anticipated studio release from the excellent Hamburg-based band Sylvan. Coming off the back of their previous critically acclaimed albums 'Posthumous Silence' (2006) and 'Presets' (2007) - written together but released a year apart - and following on from their outstanding 2008 tour and live album 'Leaving Backstage' and DVD 'Posthumous Silence - The Show', this new album achieves what some feared would not be possible: a driving energy which keeps the Sylvan 'sound' alive but develops their unmistakable creativity in new directions.
'Force of Gravity' is remarkable both for consolidating what has come before it as well as bringing in new and novel aspects to their musicianship. Listening to the first 2 tracks you are effortlessly transported back to the sounds and brooding atmosphere of the last two releases - ephemeral keyboards, Marco Gluhmann's solitary haunting voice rising above the echoing spaces where the ever excellent drums of Matthias Harder keep the heart and soul of the band driving forward. But then tracks 3, 4 and beyond take us somewhere new: Jan Petersen's guitar work still weaves assured mesmeric riffs in support of the vocals - but now the entire sound is much, much heavier and brings an aspect of menace to both the lyrics and the drum work. Volker Sohl also brings a stronger emphasis to the keyboard, strengthens the foundations laid out in each song, and lets the others do what needs to be done. This is capped by the excellence of Sebastian Harnack's bass work; solid, relentless yet uplifting when needed.
The combination takes a little getting used to - hence the 4 star rating: this is both the Sylvan we are all used to from previous releases - and yet, something new is emerging as well. The atmosphere, the sound stage and the lyrics are darker, the tight integration of the band creating an enhanced mood to deliver their message; and yet, this is also a lot more melodic than before. Gluhmann really crosses the vocal ranges: and 'Midnight Sun'- a duet with Miriam Schell - is absolutely beautiful in the harmonies it creates. This album needs repeated listening in order to appreciate what Sylvan have unleashed here - but it is time well spent and the final reward is well worth waiting for. Truly an album which grows on you - and then will never be far from the cd player afterwards.
on 14 November 2009
Sylvan is a German rock band from Hamburg which has been around since 1998 under their present name. Three of their founding members, the guitar player Kay Sohl, keyboardist Volker Sohl, and drummer Matthias Harder have been playing together since 1990. I should have said had played together since 1990 till 2007 because shortly after the release of their previous album Presets (2007) Kay Sohl had left the band. It is very likely that the departure from their 1998 - 2006 style of much harder sounding progressive rock to the recent direction was the cause for Kay's departure. Force Of Gravity correlates more to Presets than to any other album. Its sound is much more diverse than its predecessor's and there are many songs with a harder feel to them, but the album really feels to me more like a collection of various songs than a mood created and sustained over the length of our experience, as was the case with their first 4 albums.
The title song, Force Of Gravity alone is worth getting familiar with this music. This is one of these songs created to showcase Marco's way of singing which is full of passion and very inspiring. Follow Me is a very hard heavy almost metal sounding song which addresses the greed of our financial markets which if forgotten is going to come back to haunt us again before we know it. Most likely we are not going to be walking down the street singing a song about credit derivatives but I do agree with the premise that we have to discuss the issues which cause our destruction. I give Sylvan credit and I salute their conscience. Isle In Me is one of those ballad songs with much harder overtures we are so familiar by now. I feel like it could be dedicated to Celine Dion and it is not one of my favorite songs here, but its later part is being lead very nicely by Jan Petersen's guitar. Jan replaced Kay Sohl although he had been with the band for a while touring the Posthumous Silence concerts alongside Kay. Embedded again is a nice song which just does not happen to grab me personally. However, the following song, Turn Of Tide is one of the best songs of this album. Unlike 3 previous songs structure of which did not impress me nor pulled me in, here we have Sylvan playing progressive rock again. The complexity of this song progresses from a piano initiated melody, a nicely developed string section, thorn apart by Sebastain Harnack's bass and Matthias Harder's drums with Marco's voice traveling in between, on again and off again flowing beautifully from place to place. By the way, the craftsmanship of these guys is spectacular. I really feel like Sebastian is one of the most interesting bass players, Matthias is an amazing drummer, Volker's keyboards and effects can be very special at times and Jan guitar work is right on target as well. Marco Gluhmann could be one of the greatest vocalists around, and probably the most amazing live performer out there. Still, after listening to the entire album a few times, something is missing for me to be able to call this a great album. I really hope that Jan can stay and Kay can join back the band he initiated. Not only that, I hope that these guys could reach out to somebody like Rick Wakeman or Patrick Moraz or Patrick O'Hearn or Vangelis... Obviously I don't mean that literary, someone their own age who happens to be a classical trained creator of moods which could add some texture to some of their songs, and could bind them all together because such cohesiveness is what I am missing here. I really want them to explode to stardom but I am...concerned. The following song From The Silence does not strike me as great but I like it much more than the following Midnight Sun where although I appreciate the idea and effect of a common vocal of Marco and Miriam Schell's voice, I feel like the structure of the song itself is too weak to sustain any interest in the effect. King Porn addresses the simplicity and bad taste our mass media entertainment surrounds us with. Again, I appreciate the topic and I agree with it, but unfortunately this harder sounding song does not grab me in any way musically. Episode 609 is a better song but again some glue is missing there for me. God Of Rubbish is interesting sounding sort of Sylvan/Creed/Nirvana like. Quite different than things we have heard so far. The following song Vapour Trail is 14:30 long and it is my favorite song of this album. This song is extremely complex musically and if you were looking for progressive rock, you can truly find it here. Vapour Trail contains so much variety and enough continuity to be considered one of great progressive songs of 2009. Its structure puts it in some early Yes- early Marillion- Emerson Lake & Palmer territory with some jazzy Jean-Luc Ponty's Open Mind areas. This song progresses at times lead by the string section, then by vocal, by Sebastian's bass, then by piano, by drums, by guitar. Jan is really proving here that his playing does not fall behind. Marco's parts are gorgeous and so diverse. It is hard to imagine a more progressive vocal path. The samples are very slight and perfect. My previous comments about help needed on the creative level do not stand any ground in Vapour Trail. This song alone is worth the price of the album and the 5 stars I am giving it.
I am giving this album 5 stars but I am a little disappointed by it. I am giving it 5 stars for 25 minutes of great music but I am afraid that we are finding ourselves further and further away from the cohesiveness of Posthumous Silence. Not that I necessarily expect Sylvan to shower us with such greatness all over again or even with another concept album project, but after such jewel and given that Presets has already covered other territory with questionable success, a collection of better songs would be appropriate. Sylvan happens to be one of the most amazing live shows around due mostly to the total conviction of their vocalist's expression. That absolute emotional vocal involvement could be part of their dilemma, but I have no insight into any details. Overall, Force Of Gravity feels to me like a collection of various songs without any web binding them together in terms of mood, or style. You should definitely find some music you are going to like on this album. Hopefully you will end up loving more songs than I do.