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Airs: A Rock Opera
Airs is a collaboration between lyricist/writer George Andrade and Steve Brockmann, a German composer and multi-instrumentalist who has remained active in the German music scene since the early '80s.
I first learned of Andrade's work when listening to the progressive metal band The Anabasis which I really enjoyed. Suffice to say I was looking forward to listening to his latest project.
Brockmann has shared the stage with some big names like Uriah Heep and Hawkwind but I had not been familiar with his work until Airs found its way into my CD player.
As you might have guessed A Rock Opera is a concept album, quite grand in scope and vision. The story is a fairly complex one and at times can be quite difficult to follow. It is one of those albums that really needs your undivided attention. In a nutshell, the protagonist of the story Owen Doane rolls through a stop sign on Manisses Island and causes a mother and her young daughter to veer off the road and hit a stone wall, paralyzing the daughter from the waist down. Owen spends the next six years in prison and after he is released returns home once again. His accident has caused heartache and loss and Owen sets out to right the wrongs he has committed. A story of redemption if you will. It's an intriguing story but now on to the music.
In similar fashion to the Ayreon albums, Airs has no less than ten vocalists to get the story across and I have to say they do a fabulous job of conveying the necessary emotions crucial to the concept. Special mention should be made of vocalists Paul Adrian Villarreal and Gordon Tittsworth as they both excel in their rolls as Owen, each suiting the music perfectly. Likewise, the music is just as rewarding. This is progressive minded AOR/ metal and I was reminded of bands like Kansas, Queensryche, Savatage and Shadow Gallery.
The album opens with the emotional "Fateful Days" complete with stirring piano and vocals planting the seeds of melancholia so often heard throughout the album (it's not a depressing album by any means, just subtle touches of sadness that tugs at the heartstrings). This one recalls mid '70s Kansas at their melodic best.
A heavier metal style pervades the next track "Grounded" with the powerful lead vocals of Gordon Tittsworth shining in the spotlight. In "Kites", beautiful interplay between acoustic guitar and piano sets the tone with poignant vocals provided by Tilman Eckelt. Strings are also used to heighten the mood.
The rockier vibe returns with "Flight" where alternating moods shift from heavy to more mellower sounds. The organ had me thinking Uriah Heep and the vocals have an almost Eddie Vedder quality. Nice synth work completes the picture.
The mellow acoustic intros continue with "Current Events" before the heavier riffs unfold and the vocals begin to soar reminding me of early Blue Oyster Cult. "History" is a short instrumental with a guitar tone reminiscent of Brian May while "Heritage" offers an excellent slice of progressive metal.
In the melodic "Fateful Days II" Gilmour infused intro guitar sets the table for the dreamlike vocals of Antila Thomsen. Her voice has an airy quality and plants one of the album's many earworms.
The story continues leading to the exceptional ballad "The Great Salt Pond", one of the album's best songs. The lead vocals of Floor Kraaijvanger are excellent and the vocal harmonies are spine tingling. Her soulful voice reminds me of Sass Jordan and like all great singers she is able to move the listener to strange and exciting places and in essence bring the concept to life.
I should also note Dave Meros and Alan Morse of Spock's Beard lend a hand to "Flight II", another melodic gem featuring fantastic lead vocals and Queen-like harmonies. The album ends with "Owen", a short ballad in the vein of Shadow Gallery.
The booklet is well put together and includes the story outline and lyrics. Being able to follow along really enhanced the overall experience.
This is a superb album and should please fans of rock operas, hard rock, metal and just about anyone who likes melodic music in general.
Now I Know:
1. Fateful days (7:37)
2. Grounded (5:28)
3. Kites (3:17)
4. Flight (6:37)
5. Current Events
Winds of Change (1:20)
Winds of Change II (1:25)
Book of Airs:
6. History (instrumental) (1:22)
7. Heritage (4:38)
8. Experiments (3:11)
9. Floating (instrumental) (1:32)
10. Annabelle (5:02)
11. The Center (4:40)
12. Fateful Days II (1:17)
13. Hannah (4:00)
14. The Great Salt Pond (5:52)
15. Grounded II (5:11)
16. Kites II (Instrumental) (2:14)
17. Flight II (5:00)
18. Owen (1:39)
Added: April 29th 2012
Reviewer: Jon Neudorf
Related Link: Band's Official Site
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