It's interesting how quite a few of the major electronic rock pioneers (first and second tier) never exactly crashed and burned, but are content to just coast along on the coattails of their own accomplishments. Perhaps they've earned that right, but even the occasional backward glance that could yield another spectacular album is rarely, if ever, cast — as of this writing, such a thing is happening in the case of Tangerine Dream. Well, seven years has passed, and Erik Norlander's sequel to Threshold is upon us; much has transpired between then and now, and although a good number of tracks along these lines did surface on Erik's conceptual opus, the excellent Music Machine, Seas Of Orion is the full-blown roundabout back to purely electro-symph terrain.
Erik again enlisted multipercussion virtuoso Greg Ellis, who assists in negotiating those blurring corridors between synthetic and organic. For the gearhounds, the arsenal on hand is tremendous, the likes of which Tangerine Dream used to brandish, including a major modular system fans have dubbed "The Wall Of Doom" — basically, what was employed on Threshold, along with some newer pieces of gear (like the Andromeda A6 and Ion, both by Alesis). Famed British SF painter Jim Burns has again supplied the topically-aligned cover art.
Not a dirge, but an uplifting, positively-charged homage, "Fanfare For Absent Friends" was written in memory of those who perished in the events of September 11, 2001 (the album was officially released on September 11 of this year). The tone is set for "City Of Living Machines" and "New Gotham Prime," both of which recall what Mark Shreeve ably put forth on his landmark mid-1980's albums, Legion and Crash Head. Thus, it's nice to hear such bases covered again: solid rock rhythms, surging bass sequences, densely bright string pads, spiralling sawtooth leads, and grandiose melodies tailor-made for starcraft and spacemen. "Oasis In Stasis" promotes the semblance of an invisible force encircling a counterpoised field of energy; Greg Ellis' deftly-controlled percussives spring up like coils to punctuate the overall mood.
This time out, Erik goes for the jugular with the twenty-two minute suite, "Adrift On The Fire Seas Of Orion's Shield." In true Harlan Ellison fashion, the snappy title was conceived before a single note was put forth. Despite its length, there isn't a boring interval to be found in the duration, and the process by which Erik arrived at the final product was about as unpredictable as the various stages of the composition itself. Excerpted from the liner notes:
"…I began to set up some self-oscillating filter drones on various synths that would sweep through musical sounding harmonics and create an almost "sequence-like" series of perceived notes…I even ended up multitracking the [Moog] Rogue in different tunings and octaves for this effect since it worked so well. I then made three pad passes on the Roland JX8P while manually sweeping the filter and bending the tuning."
Seas Of Orion concludes with a cover of Vangelis' famous "Hymne" from Opera Sauvage — dare I say this is a tad anticlimactic? Indeed, it's a fine rendition, but the overall effect is disarming when it should be elevating. After the stately goings-on of the five previous tracks, a subdued monody-like piece doesn't seem to hit the spot. Naturally, this won't apply to everyone who listens, and it certainly won't dissuade electronic music fans. For those who do require more goading, take a gander at the liner notes which are reproduced on Erik's site. Make no bones about it, this is one of 2004's best releases!
1. Fanfare For Absent Friends (5:52)
2. City Of Living Machines (7:28)
3. New Gotham Prime (7:40)
4. Adrift On The Fire Seas Of Orion's Shield (22:33)
5. Oasis In Stasis (6:08)
6. Opera Sauvage – Hymne (V. Papathanassiou) (2:42)
Total time – 52:23