[Condensed version: progressive alternative rock band byron have recently released their second studio album, A Kind of Alchemy. For a more in-depth overview and introduction to the band, check out my review of their debut. Clocking in at a bit over an hour, the new release features a much more developed sound, as the band improved both their songwriting abilities and their studio skills. The fourteen tracks are more focused and to the point, they sport a much wider diversity of influences (especially blues, funk and progressive) and, last but not least, they're all freely available for full streaming here on last.fm :) As a matter of fact, two of them are even free downloads, so go check them out ASAP.
Extended version follows.]
I really, really, really really have to get myself to writing around here more often. I mean hell, I've started this whole review series back in 2008 with high hopes and big expectations and everything, and now I'm only writing my second
review in two years? And not only that, but to an album by the same
band as well?!
Dammit man, talk about credibility goin' down the drain.
In any case, just so you know, I've really listened to a whole lot of great music recently (as you can see in my charts as well), some new stuff, some old stuff, some freely available stuff, mostly metal recently but well. I'm just saying that so you won't hold the whole "same band, wtf" thing against me :D Two years is, after all, a pretty big length of time.
So, we were talking about byron
. Well, the Romanian prog-inspired rock outfit strikes again.
Actually, to be honest, they stroke about five months ago, last October, when their second studio record was officially released. They held a pretty big release party in one of the coolest clubs
in Bucharest, bringing on an estimate of 1500 fans to the show. Subsequently, to show just how badass they are, they released a promotional video for a song off their PREVIOUS record, Watercolor
, all the while their current single Diggin' a Hole
getting airplay on various national radio stations. This new song introduced the audience to a whole new side of byron
- the experimental, eccentric, funky one. It's the most "rock out" song of the band so far, and it's FUN! The guys also made use of some rather unusual objects as musical instruments, including a mortar and pestle, a metal tape measure and a key ratchet. (...and a cat and some dogs, by the sound of it). Also, the traditional flute solo has been dumped and instead we get a trumpet
blasting out midway through the song. And it sounds bloody terrific, fresh and funky like never before. But does this single define the band's sound? Does it "sum up" all that A Kind of Alchemy
First of all, A Kind of Alchemy
has a real mood to it. While Forbidden Drama
was structured more like a theater play, this one's more like a confession. The record starts quietly, with sparse noises of nocturnal car traffic. Then the first song, The Night
, picks up - 6fingers
' soft keyboards carrying a chilly guitar melody with strong blues overtones, all over some laid back percussion and a lazy bass. Totally delightful - the perfect soundtrack to a late-night car drive. You almost don't notice when Dan Byron
's vocals kick in, just 'cause they don't actually "kick"; everything flows together softly and peacefully.
Right until the chorus, that is, which really blasts out with some heavy riffing and proggy harmonies - this isn't just driving around anymore, this is flying above the city at the speed of a free fall. Just as the lyrics say: "Close your eyes, it's time to disappear!"
...and immerse yourself into the sonic universe this album encapsulates. I must confess, I hold A Kind of Alchemy
as an absolute favorite over their debut (which I still appreciate a great deal). But it's like the band found its missing edge - they're more polished and more focused. Forbidden Drama
sometimes had this "grainy", pretentious feel to it, like an old sepia photograph. Delightful, yes, but a bit tiresome in its whole. A Kind of Alchemy
, on the other hand, sounds modern and driven, as the band happily leaves aside some of their songwriting antics in order to take a plunge into uncharted territory.
The catchy gibberish sections are almost gone (save for the aforementioned Diggin' a Hole
, which jokingly features the "Red Russia Movie Choir"), but vocal experiments go to a whole new level when we hear Dan performing a short rapping section in the funk-infused I Don't Want to Entertain You
. In addition, electronic percussion pops up every here and there and the flute, which ennobled many songs off the debut, is almost nowhere to be heard. In fact, the only track to feature a flute solo is A Little Bit Deranged
- yet another song with a highly nocturnal mood, in which Dan Byron
's vocals are backed up by a mysterious female voice.
It's nearly impossible to summarize the album in a few words, because every track stands out on its own as something different and attention-worthy. The band appears to have tapped into some new-found aggressiveness, with tracks such as Zeitgeist
and The Alchemist
really pumping up some adrenaline. While The Alchemist
resolves into a major key, anthem-like chorus, Zeitgeist
keeps its menacing atmosphere throughout. After all, it's a song about control, social standards and conspiracies - to the point you don't really know anymore where does the fucked up reality end and the paranoia begin.
Did I mention before that all the lyrics are totally worth a closer look?
Of course, the band also delivers its share of "quieter" songs. War
is a quasi-ballad with a really tasteful approach, gaining and gaining momentum until finally erupting into a guitar solo at the hands of Costin
before abruptly giving way to the next track. The song is also notable for its guest vocal, the British singer Lu Cozma
, who offers it a special identity, a tiny spark of "something" that works wonders in the context. Sirens
is another noteworthy track, even if only for hearing 6fingers
ditch his keyboards in exchange for an accordion - you can almost hear the song waltzing its way in the rhythm of the waves, up until its intense bridge and optimistic resolve. On the other hand, King of Clowns
and The Song That Never Was
essentially deal with madness - the former from an outside perspective, focusing on its effects in an up-tempo, enjoyable rocker, the latter taking us into the madman's mind through a short progressive gem with some rhythm twists and bizarre chord progressions.
A stand-out track is A Poem Without an End
. Cleverly placed at the middle of the album, it's the longest track in the band's repertoire, clocking in at almost 8 minutes. It builds masterfully around a melancholic keyboard melody, and the chorus features I daresay the most ravaging vocal performance Dan Byron
has to offer on the disc - save for maybe the uplifting anthem Vitruvian Man
. The song is also home for a wonderfully executed Rhodes solo, reminding us yet again of the band's progressive influences.
In the end, A Peaceful Mind
announces the break of dawn. We've made it through the night, and now it's time to breathe deep with this upbeat, strings-heavy piece as all the sounds begin to curl up in our minds - a little music for a sleepy head.
Loosely weaved around the concept of creation, from an artist's perspective, A Kind of Alchemy
is one of the most masterfully created albums I've heard lately, capable of successfully withstanding comparisons with the latest from the likes of Porcupine Tree
. Through it, byron
manages to become an act of international relevance, and hopefully it's only a matter of time until it will become internationally recognized as such. I've got a soft spot for them, I admit, but the quality is there regardless. Not to mention the extraordinary graphic package - the album comes in a 7 inch-wide square book with meaningful illustrations, a labor of love and passion more than anything else.
A Kind of Alchemy is fully streamable here on last.fm
- Diggin' a Hole
and Vitruvian Man
are also available as downloads.
The album can be bought in mp3 format from Amazon
should appeal to fans of (but not limited to) Porcupine Tree
, Dream Theater
, Pink Floyd
, King Crimson
, Noir Désir
, My Brightest Diamond
, David Bowie
, Peter Gabriel
, Jeff Buckley
, The Dear Hunter
, Pineapple Thief
, The Tea Party