RPWL: Beyond Man And Time
Not only have RPWL, from Freising in Germany, often refuted that they are a "Progressive Rock" act, but a few years back they actually went as far as to record the wonderfully tongue in cheek track "This Is Not A Prog Song" to emphasise the point, albeit in a none to serious manner. However with their fifth studio effort, Beyond Man And Time, RPWL have finally taken the plunge and recorded a concept album, with lengthy musical meanderings, beautiful soundscapes and songs of epic length. So let's get one thing straight right from the off. This is Prog. Admittedly Prog with a strong fixation on melody and more readily accessible than much caught under this genre umbrella, but it is Prog and no doubt about it. Even if the album's press release does call it all "Art Rock"!
More importantly than any genre tagging triviality, RPWL have slowly built a reputation as an act capable of writing beguiling, slightly melancholic songs that contain the unmistakable, understated vocals of Yogi Lang, the singing guitar work of Kalle Wallner, punchy drumming from Marc Turiaux and sumptuous keyboard swathes courtesy of Markus Jehle. Since the band's last album bassist Chris Postl has departed, with recent recruit to the RPWL ranks Werner Taus making his four-string debut on this album.
The concept behind Beyond Man And Time is one loosely based on Nietzsche's "opus magnum" Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which includes the line "6,000 feet beyond man and time". The main protagonist of that book takes a lengthy journey which allows him to meet numerous characters who give an insight into ways of thinking. In fact I'll let singer Yogi Lang give his description of the album when he said...
"The basic idea in this [album] is a so-called "revaluation of values" in terms of a new way of thinking. In this world [of the album] "beyond man and time" there already are creatures of higher knowledge that the protagonist meets allegorically along his way: the keeper of the cave, the willingly blind, the scientist, the ugliest human, the creator, the shadow, the wise man in the desert and the fisherman..."
Now I'm not sure if that really helps to explain the story (I'm still more than a bit confused to be honest), however there is actually a limited version of this album that will come with a spoken word CD which delves deeper into the story of Beyond Man And Time.
Musically the album finds RPWL expanding upon the themes and ideas which have served them so well throughout their releases, with dense atmospheric passages fighting for supremacy with more focused and song based sections that allow easy accessibility to the songs, without ever leaving a danger of them being throwaway. Almost always compared to Pink Floyd, BM&T still finds those latter day Gilmour era trademarks strongly in effect (mainly through the guitar tone and the way the notes are held for lengthy periods of time), as are references towards Peter Gabriel's more recent solo work and Hogarth era Marillion. However in truth after four ever improving albums, RPWL have created a sound identifiable as their own and with Beyond Man And Time, they have also hit their stride in quite remarkable fashion. Even with an impressive catalogue behind them, album number five sees the quintet really stepping up to the mark, recording a collection of songs that raises RPWL from the "promising" category and into the elite league.
As intended, the album works best as one continuous listening experience, but that's not to say that there aren't stand out moments, with the strongly Gabriel inflected opening duo of "Transformed" and "We Are What We Are" illustrating perfectly what makes this band so irresistible. The slow, atmospherically sparse arrangement builds into a synth, vocal and clicking percussion motif, before a jagged guitar and bass line kick in. However the burst of melodic light that cascades from the speakers for what forms a loose chorus is a simply glorious and masterfully handled release of pressure. "Unchain The Mind" begins life in a similar manner, but with more of leaning towards latter day Marillion. Subtle keyboard layers soothe as a steely guitar line adds an air of foreboding. However while Marillion might carry that on for another fortnight or so before getting to the point, RPWL draw you in for a minute or so before romping over you with a Gilmouresque piece of majesty that is one part Floyd and oddly (but effectively) another part Simple Minds. Strangely it works wonderfully well. Add to that the introspective chugalong of "The Shadow", the Rush and Genesis-isms of "The Ugliest Man In The World" and the sprawling and fittingly epic sixteen minutes of "The Fisherman" and RPWL really have created an album of a depth that I thought was possibly beyond them.
In truth I could highlight any one of the eleven tracks on display here as a reason why any lover of melodic Prog will want to have this excellent album in their collection and hopefully Beyond Man And Time will finally see RPWL gain the recognition that their music undoubtedly deserves.
2. We Are What We Are
3. Beyond Man and Time
4. Unchain the Earth
5. The Ugliest Man in the World
6. The Road of Creation
7. Somewhere in Between
8. The Shadow
9. The Wise in the Desert
10. The Fisherman
11. The Noon
Added: March 4th 2012
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: The Official RPWL Web Site
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|RPWL: Beyond Man And Time
Posted by Jeff B, SoT Staff Writer on 2012-03-04 10:30:21
Since their inception in 1997 as a Pink Floyd cover band, German progressive rock outfit RPWL has established themselves as one of their country's finest musical exports. While I'm only mildly acquainted with their earlier releases, Beyond Man and Time alone is enough to consider them one of the most gifted modern prog bands around. With a sound that takes plenty of hints from Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree, IQ, and Hogarth-era Marillion, RPWL manages to create a sound that is distinctly their own while still containing plenty of familiar and easily accessible elements. Beyond Man and Time is a very 'modern' sounding album in nearly every sense of the word, and those who wonder what a more melodic version of Porcupine Tree would sound like will definitely want to check this out. This is without a doubt one of 2012's early highlights.
Beyond Man and Time was a bit of a 'grower' for me, and it wasn't until I heard it five or six times that I was truly mesmerized. While part of this is undoubtedly due to the album's lengthy playing time (clocking in at just over 75 minutes), I think a lot has to do with RPWL's ability to disguise their strong melodic sensibilities under a cloak of spacey and melancholic atmospheres. Every song contains a melodic chorus or catchy hook, but the band manages to add an additional layer of 'depth' that many other melodic prog outfits severely lack. So although Beyond Man and Time may not be love at first sight for all listeners, it has a much higher probability of sticking with the listener than many other modern progressive rock albums.
RPWL's sound finds a nice mix between neo-prog, alternative rock, and space rock, with no aspect of the sound overshadowing the other. A strong Pink Floyd influence, especially in the guitar work, gives Beyond Man and Time a bit of a spacey atmosphere, but there's enough modern tendencies in RPWL's style to differentiate them from anything ever recorded by Pink Floyd. Porcupine Tree takes a similar musical approach, but both bands manage to sound distinctly different. I'm also reminded of Hogarth-era Marillion, especially on albums like Brave and Happiness is the Road, during the softer sections. As you can probably imagine, the music here is typically on the more melancholic and reflective side, but without ever sounding 'depressing' and such. Songs like "We Are What We Are", "Beyond Man and Time", "Somewhere in Between", and "The Noon" are absolutely beautiful; even when the band is at their most progressive in songs like "The Fisherman" and "The Ugliest Man in the Universe", a sense of beauty is always achieved in the form of unforgettable choruses. All of the songs here are exceptionally strong, and even though Beyond Man and Time is 75 minutes long, there aren't any weak spots to be found.
I have a tough time finding faults in Beyond Man and Time; the amount of sheer brilliance contained within these compositions is breathtaking, and RPWL's deep understanding of atmospheric songwriting makes this one of 2012's early highlights. This has sparked my interest in re-discovering their earlier albums, and I'd definitely recommend this as a starting point in RPWL's discography. As far as RPWL fans are concerned, I can't imagine them being anything less than blown away by what they've conjured this time around. Although I'm not quite confident in pushing the five-star button, 4.5 stars is definitely the least I can give to Beyond Man and Time. This is one of the best progressive rock albums in recent memory.
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