Ah, the concept album, one of progressive rock's most coveted achievements over the years. In 2002 alone we have seen two major releases with the expanded song concept format, the first being Nathan Mahl's Heretik III: The Sentence, and now the latest release from the legendary Echolyn, titled . At just under 50 minutes, Mei is a long, twisting adventure, a story of one man's travels on the road, his lost love, and his struggles with addictions and war.
This is most certainly a piece that takes a few listens to to really appreciate and get into. The early Echolyn sound of quirky, Gentle Giant inspired complex prog is not really in abundance here, but instead the listener is treated to more atmosphere, lots of melodic passages, and many moments of abbreviated aggression. One of Echolyn's strongpoints has always been their vocals, and here is no exception. While the wonderful mulit-part harmonies from albums like Suffocating the Bloom and As the World seem to be missing on Mei, the band instead lets Brett Kull and Ray Weston shine on their own more often than not, with Chris Buzby adding the backing vocals. This formula works, and gives the CD a nice Beatles flavor, although some older fans will no doubt miss the harmonies of old. Instrumentally, Echolyn has never sounded better, but they have scaled back the non-stop complexity a bit in favor of more melody, and longer solo passages. Chris Buzby in particular lays down all sorts of keyboard textures and solos, mainly Hammond, electric piano, and synthesizer, while drummer Paul Ramsey and percussionist Jordan Perlson once again provide a rock solid foundation. It would have been nice to hear some more lead work from guitarist Kull, but he still injects many intriguing little Gary Green inspired passages and a heavier rhythm sound. In fact, I noticed about half-way through the CD, that there is a part where the guitar lick and electric piano is very reminiscant of the Gentle Giant track "Proclamation" from the album The Power and the Glory from 1974. Could be just a coincidence, but it was cool to hear regardless. There is also a nice underpinning of jazz and classical tones on the album, which help highten the sense of drama throughout Mei and give a good variety of sound, which is needed to make a 50 minute track successful.
Chalk up another winner for Echolyn. As I mentioned , don't expect to be blown away by Mei on the first few listens, but give it a chance and you will really begin to appreciate the amount of love and hard work that obviously went into the writing and recording of it. Lyrics for the CD are available on the bands website.