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Cairo: Cairo/Conflict And Dreams "Double Feature"

Formed in the early 90s, San Francisco outfit Cairo released three albums between 1994 and 2001, with the first two brought together, spruced up and re-released as a "2 in 1 Double Feature" by their original label, Magna Carta. Influences abound and while the sound has a certain classic prog meets neo-prog outlook, actually putting your finger on who the 1994 eponymous debut sounds like is still refreshingly difficult. Initially, after a searing guitar intro from Alec Fuhrman sets you up for a prog metal outburst that never arrives, the ten minute "Season Of The Heart" proves to be akin to UK and Asia meeting Union era Yes at an Elefante fronted Kansas convention. And there's nothing wrong with any of that, so as Bret Douglas impresses through a clear, sharp delivery, the ever prominent keyboards from Mark Robertson dance a merry jig of melody and dexterity. In terms of virtuosity, there's maybe a suspicion that Cairo are holding back, allowing the songs to take centre stage over any musical flash. Something the neat little (well eight minutes plus, but it is still the shortest full cut on the album) "Silent Winter" confirms through a catchy, memorable chorus that simply refuses to let go.

However "Between The Lines" veers off in another direction entirely, a pungent aroma of ELP, and especially Keith Emerson's expansive keyboard pyrotechnics, suddenly filling the lungs. Suddenly there's room for Robertson to bring a whole selection of chops to the party, as he and Fuhrman spark off each other's playing with with real intent. The rhythm section of bassist Rob Fordyce and drummer Jeff Brockman also ramp things up considerably, both bringing a real sense of urgency and danger to proceedings. "World Divided" sits somewhere in between, the more daring ethos reined in, although not to the extent that you can't hear it hovering in the background, before the closing epic "Ruins At Avalon's Gate" allows it to rush forth in its most exuberant, full force, ELP style. Again, as on much of the album, it's the keyboards which take the lead role, setting the pace and tone and while the guitars are allowed out to play, it's only really when the captivating keys say they can.

As debuts go, Cairo was impressive, and gained many admirers, hence it was a little surprise that Conflict And Dreams took four years to appear, and without Fordyce on bass, his place taken by Jamie Browne. If that first foray from Cairo was a little schizophrenic, then Conflict… was its hyperactive brother, a far more energetic impact the order of the day as "Angels And Rage" fires the album into life which such vigour it's almost a straight on challenge to the listener to try and keep up. Robertson is again in the ascendancy and his understanding and liking for ELP certainly is far from disguised. And yet there are still snatches of Yes in there, dashes of early Arena and IQ, although throughout, it is the passion injected into the more overtly melodic "Corridors", or shimmering pop on steroids of "Western Desert" which allows Cairo to take these influences onboard, before chewing them up and spitting them out in their own style.

Drummer, Brockman must have been put on an extensive workout programme (maybe the reason for the four year lay off?), for while his playing is impressive on album number one, here it positively bristles with a ferocious intent you'd never had expected. The man's a powerhouse, driving on "Then You Were Gone" and the closing "Valley Of The Shadow" with a real kick you'd not readily expect from this style. Add in that the latter of the two also provides another ELP inspired epic where Robertson again proves how dynamic his contributions are and I'd suggest that while both albums here are classy slices of 70s inspired, but 90s executed prog, the latter just takes the honours.

Three years later and Time Of Legends would prove to be Cairo's (so far…) swansong. Unfortunately it's not included aa triple-whammy here, which would have been nice. However with Magna Carta bringing together these two excellent albums, it's a perfect opportunity to either reassess, or become acquainted with a band who definitely deserve much more recognition.

Track Listing
1. Conception
2. Season of the Heart
3. Silent Winter
4. Between the Lines
5. World Divided
6. Ruins at Avalon's Gate

Conflict and Dreams
1. Angels and Rage
2. Corridors
3. Western Desert
4. Image
5. Then You Were Gone
6. Valley of the Shadow

Added: November 28th 2015
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Cairo at Magna Carta Records
Hits: 2261
Language: english

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