"Ah hello-I know it's been so long, And now, my soul contrives in song, To express my joy and my surprise, at finding you're still there."
The long awaited sophomore release from New Jersey's Advent is finally here. Cantus Firmus starts practically where their 1997 self-titled debut left off, here with some wild Gentle Giant styled vocal interplay (quoted above) on the magical opener "GK Contramundum". From there it's one prog rock gem after another, signaling the return of a band that had they been a little more prolific with releasing product would probably be one of the more popular progressive rock bands of today. With Cantus Firmus, that just might now happen.
Although this band excels at tackling the GG style of quirky, medieval influenced and complex rock, they also can do the symphonic style quite well. Take the instrumental "Awaiting the Call...", a soaring number complete with loads of keyboards from the Ptak brothers Mark and Henry, ripping guitar work courtesy of Alan Benjamin, and the nimble drum chops of Drew Siciliano. It's back to medieval journeys on "Parenting Parents", a song with a touching message that all families can understand, complete with poignant vocals that recall the Shulman brothers in their prime. "Utter Once Her Name" combines lush acoustic guitars and atmospheric keyboards at the intro, then the band kicks in for some majestic and soaring sounds highlighted by some clever vocal interplay and Benjamin's Steve Hackett-inspired fret work. The guitarist lays down some impeccable acoustic & electric work on the instrumental "Remembering When", again reminiscent of Hackett, especially his solo work.
The band gets upbeat on the complex epic "Ramblin' Sailor", a huge 18-minute piece that could easily be the side-long track that Gentle Giant never recorded, but were always capable of had they ever had the notion to do so. Advent really do a great job on this one, adding layers of complex vocal harmonies over dense and intricate instrumental passages. Keyboards, recorders, guitars, bass, and drums all add to the immense sound created here, and the band brought in for this track guest bassist Shunji Saegusa, who many of you will know from Japanese fusion legends Kenso. Hints of Yes and Genesis also appear here and there on this one, but overall this is a fine example of how a modern progressive rock band should put together an epic piece. Benjamin's guitar work again needs to be commended here, as there are many fine moments of searing electric guitar, lush acoustic, and majestic classical. Combined with the array of keyboard textures and vocals from the Ptak brothers, this one's a complete winner.
"Your Healing Hand" is a somber piece, reminding me a little of "His Last Voyage" meets "Think of Me With Kindness" by Gentle Giant, and "Firmus Finale" is a grand instrumental outro to the main part of the CD, led by the orchestral keyboards of Henry and Mark Ptak, as well as an acrobatic guitar solo from Benkamin. The album also contains two previously unavailable 24 track recordings of "Rear View Mirror" and "Alison Waits (A Ghost Story)" from the bands debut album. On that album these songs were recorded on four-track, so you can imagine the sound here is much improved, especialy notable on the latter, which now takes on a much richer tone with all the nuances crystal clear.
Whether you are a fan of Gentle Giant's music or not, there's no denying the fact that Advent not only have that classic GG style down pat, but also they simply create damn good progressive rock. This is majestic, well thought out, enjoyable music that works on all levels, paying tribute to one of the legends in prog history and at the same time sounding fresh and relevant in 2006. Bravo guys, and next time don't take so long between CD's, OK?
1) GK Contramundrum (2:00)
2) Awaiting the Call... (5:10)
3) Parenting Parents (6:45)
4) Utter Once Her Name (5:30)
5) Remembering When (4:00)
6) Ramblin' Sailor (18:14)
7) Your Healing Hand (8:18)
8) Firmus Finale (4:40)
9) Rear View Mirror -bonus track (3:34)
10) Alison Waits (A Ghost Story) -bonus track (10:40)