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Vernian Process: Behold the Machine

The Vernian Process began in 2003, as a solo instrumental project which celebrated the "theme of Victorian scientific romance and the works of Jules Verne". This solo project turned into a group effort as Janus Zarate, bass, Brian Figueroa, keys, Joshua Pfeiffer, vocals, Kyle Thomas, keys, and Martin Irigoyen, guitar, came together to form the band. Their music fits into the genre of 'steampunk', which also has a progressive rock sound to it. The themed tracks and concept of the project fit well into either the steampunk or progressive rock genres.

The band describes the theme of Behold the Machine as "an anthology rooted in the shadows of a fictional Victorian Age". This is one of my favorite albums of the year already, even if it came out in October of last year. Very original and completely different, despite the many comparisons which I include in this review. I found this at a perfect time when few bands were releasing new music.

Four years in the making and more stories and music than some bands give you in three albums. There is nothing missing. They are working on a Jules Verne themed story and concept album. Can't wait to hear that one. This would have been my favorite album of 2010, if I had known about it then.

A chained gate, sinister keys, drums, pounding steel, and steam sound effects create an eerie opening for the title track "Behold the Machine". Twenty first century fears of technology taking over the world sung from a fiction Victorian perspective. Joshua Pfeiffer, conjuring the spirit of Pink Floyd's Welcome to the Machine and ELP's Brain Salad Surgery, to the big top ringmaster's call "Welcome to the machine, welcome one and all. To the greatest show on Earth". "Behold the machine, tremble at its power. What is its purpose? What is its place?" You even get the feeling of Pink Floyd's The Wall from the simulated cheering crowd. The lyrics even bring back memories of the Wizard of Oz, especially when Joshua Pfeiffer vocalizes, "Pay no heed to those behind the curtain!". The piano near the end provides a respite from the dark keys, pounding steel and drum thud. This is a massive soundscape with which to open an epic album.

Big bass and drum sounds with water bubbling in the lab take us to the "The Alchemist's Vision". Joshua Pfeiffer's vocals sound like Midge Ure. The rest of the instrumentation, with dancing synths and keyboards mixed well with drums, brings back memories of Ultravox during their heyday. The sticks and drums are excellent, and play well with the harpsichord like keys that cut in and out as the melody builds. Another excellent track helping to build an epic.

"Unhallowed Metropolis" will bring back memories of the classic film with a similar name. The sound effects in this song and throughout the album demonstrate that this band not only knows how to create great music and themes, but also how to create a brilliant soundscape to envelop its listeners. The drums, synths, keys and guitars support Pfeiffer's vocals perfectly, "We're not alone. We'll fight for our lives". It's as if you the listener have been drawn into Fritz Lang's world. You can feel the running in the fast paced drums and cymbals as those synths and keys chase on. The harpsichord - like strings that take us to the end of the song are perfect.

One of my favorite Bach masterpieces, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, is part of one of my favorite instrumental tracks, "Into the Depths". The song opens with cool synthesizers that create the effect of diving '20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea', before that wonderful pipe organ like Bach Toccata takes over. The 'bubbling' sound of the synthesizer in the background provides the perfect soundscape for a very deep ocean plunge.

Slow piano and synthesizers take over as the undersea bubbling continues on "The Exile". Heavy bass and piano continue to build the melody. Then the drums pound through as slow guitar and eerie vocals surround the song. "I lurk in dark waters. In silence I wait". The keys and deep bass bring back memories of Pink Floyd's buildup on Echoes and in parts like some of the keyboard sounds on Sheep and Dogs. But this is original music inspired by a more Victorian time. The surging guitars and drums are fantastic and take over the rest of the song, driving the rhythm and emotion well. The synths and sound effects that take us through this adventure are wonderful. Almost as good as a movie soundtrack.

Bells, wind, harpsichord and ghostly far off train whistle sounds, as the "The Last Express" prepares to take off. The power of the drums, bass, bells and keys create another amazing soundscape. This one reminds me of Steve Hackett's Darktown or even better yet Transylvanian Express. In fact, Pfeiffer's vocals even remind me of Steve's on this track. This song however, is original in sound and brings more power from the guitars and drums. That beautiful harpsichord like sound and those chimed synthesizers are so perfectly placed. The piano melody, bass and drum rhythm makes this one of the best and heaviest rocking songs on the album.

"Vagues de Vapeur" or 'waves of steam', opens with launching lead guitar followed by that harpsichord sound, cool bass and drums. "Steam is billowing across the sky". Completely lost in a whirlwind of steam as the guitar drives a path through the surrounding drums and that cool organ and strings. Incredible attention to detail in every minute of this track and throughout the album. Each song a small symphony. You can feel the gallop in the guitars and drums as Pfeiffer's vocals; implore us to "ride on the waves of stream". The song closes perfectly with that Bach pipe organ creating an interlude.

Sound effects and piano, then the sound of ancient clocks ticking out their rhythm, as "Into the Shadows", another short instrumental interlude plays. The song ends with a very cool bell chime…

…which takes us to the eerie opening of the story of Jack the Ripper, encased in the song, "The Curse of Whitechapel". The Danny Elfman sound of this one will hold your attention completely. Can those drums get any more powerful without sounding too loud? Pfeiffer's vocals take on that eerie Boris Karloff sound. You can almost feel the fog as the drums mimic the strikes of the protagonist and the band creates the dark atmosphere.

"The Maple Leaf Rag" is one of my favorite rag time songs of all time. I have always enjoyed listening to ELP's version off their Works II album, but VP may just have outdone them on this version. This song always makes me want to pull out The Great Gatsby or The Sting, but VP have created their own supporting video for this song, complete with highlights of movies of the Silent Era of Hollywood. The piano is excellent and the drums perfect. It opens slowly, complete with record scratches, a mono sound, which almost sounds like what you'd hear from an old ice cream street vendor, and progresses to a full orchestrated dance number. All I can say is thank you!

Then this epic album proceeds deep into the Bayou with "Queen of the Delta". Deep, swampy sound effects of insects and crickets augmented by the best tribal and rhythm drums on the album. Again, you feel like you're there. The soundscape and story is complete and full of mystery. "She's a Delta Queen, and she knows what you need. She walks through your dreams. She knows your desires…"

From the depths of the sea and the Bayou to the lofty heights "Into the Aether", of Greek upper sky mythology. Beautiful soaring keys, tinkling piano and synths lift you up to that towering cloud space. Incredible…in a word.

My favorite song on the album, "The Maiden Flight", takes off into 12 minutes of piano, synth and sound effect bliss. The song is a four part piano concerto including, "Dawn to Dusk", "Vol Nocturne", "Maelstrom", and "Into the Unknown".

"Dawn to Dusk" opens with beautiful piano and wind chimes that free you from the boundaries of gravity. There is a video to support this song as well and it is full of beautiful mountain and terrain scenes which really capture the feeling in this song. "Vol Nocturne", follows more of a determined and repeating piano rhythm, with a quiet rain and distant thunder in the background. "Maelstrom" opens with heavier thunder and rain, and what sounds like the engines of a blimp riding through the sky. This section of the song is dominated by dark, Tron or Blade Runner - like synths and rhythms. The sound of the rain and thunder is heavier, louder and darker to fit the changing atmosphere. "Into the Unknown", brings us back into the light after the storm, following that final thunder crash we all remember when the rain slowly stops and the clouds begin to clear. This piano section is accompanied by sound effects and Vangelis like synths, as the airship moves further into the distant sky. Deep bass and cool 60s psychedelic organ helps create that 'unknown' effect well. A short guitar solo plays through the sounds and we get one more Bach pipe organ before this epic closes.

Track Listing

  1. Behold the Machine (4:17)
  2. The Alchemist's Vision (5:04)
  3. Unhallowed Metropolis (4:52)
  4. Interlude I: Into The Depths (1:45)
  5. The Exile (5:42)
  6. The Last Express (5:32)
  7. Vagues de Vapeur (4:50)
  8. Interlude II: Into The Shadows (1:52)
  9. The Curse of Whitechapel (4:21)
  10. The Maple Leaf Rag (2:57)
  11. Queen of the Delta (4:14)
  12. Interlude III: Into The Aether (1:43)
  13. Her Clockwork Heart (4:49)
  14. The Maiden Flight (4:25)

Added: March 5th 2011
Reviewer: Mark Johnson
Related Link: Band Website
Hits: 5170
Language: english

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