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Melanie Mau & Martin Schnella: The Oblivion Tales

Are they Melanie Mau & Martin Schnella, or are they Grey Matters? It seems to matter not, this acoustic and voice duo augmented by many others releasing albums under both names. The Oblivion Tales is released under the former moniker, a collection of acoustic folk rock with hints of a progressive nature found within its realms. Often reliant on covers to get their message across in the live arena, this studio outing presents nearly seventy minutes worth of bespoke material, the voice of Mau and guitar playing of Schnella shining brightly as some cannily arranged soundscapes are revealed. At times this endeavour can incorporate pipes and whistles, on occasion it is booming guitar and drums that take up the fight and yet often it is the intricate and passionate vocals and acoustic guitar that operate alone and reveal a duo of no little skill.

Mau is a stunning vocal performer and with due respect to all the other aspects wrapped up on The Oblivion Tales, she is the real difference maker here. So much so that the vocal offerings from Schnella, while added to show contrast, often feel dowdy and unexciting in comparison. Where he shines is through dextrous, if sympathetic guitar incursions, his playing of the highest order. And yet even with these countless plus points on their side, where things suffer here is through the sheer weight and length of what's on show, the hour-plus running length just too unwieldy, while the songs themselves often run to six, seven or eight minutes, when a tighter three, four or five may well have served them better.

To be fair, as alluded to earlier on, there is a strong effort to keep things varied, but that can sometimes lead to proceedings feeling ever so slightly disjointed. "The Spire And The Old Bridge" is a wonderful example of the intricate nature of the vocal arrangements, layers of voice augmenting some singular sung forays while guitar often punctuates the soundscapes. Pipes also add colour and breadth, as they do on the much more acoustic guitar based "Treasured Moments", where the percussion being tapped out on the guitar reminds of the likes of Andy McKee. Causing the funky bass lines and much more rock/pop approach of "Words Become A Song" (which details the compositional process) to be something of a shock, as a commercialism that certainly hasn't been apparent to this point informs the structure and vocal melodies. Yet with the out and out prog and suddenly electric approach of "Die Zwerge Vom Iberg" being the most immediately engaging track in evidence (even if it struggles to merit its eight minute length), the contradiction is that the least representative piece on this album is arguably its most effective.

I can't pretend that the approach taken on The Oblivion Tales is one that has particularly clicked with me. The mix of traditional, progressive, commercial, pop and mainly acoustic themes often feeling like they pull in opposite directions. However, the standard of musicianship on display is so impressive that in the end I can't hand on heart not recommend this album to those who might find the approach to be closer to their mindset.

The band were also kind enough to send SoT their live album, Grey Matters, as a 'present' (thank you!) and if the idea of a more stripped back version of this approach featuring a wide, varied selection of prog, rock and pop covers (everything from Peter Gabriel to The Jackson 5!) sounds like an interesting experience, then this is an album you should seek out. In truth, it's by far my favourite of the two...

Track Listing
1. The Spire And The Old Bridge
2. Treasured Memories (Album Version)
3. Words Become A Song
4. Close To The Heart
5. The Horseshoe
6. Wild West
7. My Dear Children
8. Die Zwerge Vom Iberg
9. The Dwarfs King
10. Erinnerungen
11. Melanie's Theme

Added: March 24th 2018
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Mau & Schnella on bandcamp
Hits: 1509
Language: english

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