With the similarity in the name, Japan's Baraka must be getting a few more album sales since the election of the current US president, although it's pretty certain that any punters expecting any of the glory to rub off onto the band on that account will be confused and perhaps disappointed by the totally instrumental, and somewhat dispirited, progressive rock on offer on Shade of Evolution. To counteract that, there must be many fans who are perfectly happy with this fare, this being the band's eighth album in eleven years - you don't do that without some sort of following.
I've not heard the previous seven but on the strength of Shade of Evolution won't be following up on the others. The publicity accompanying the album comes replete with influence calls to some weighty names in rock, such as Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Zappa and Rush. It omits Focus, whose "Sylvia" riffs adorn a couple of sections of this album's giant opus, "Five Rings". Sad to say, Baraka do not live up to any of the aforementioned, remaining rooted in rock's lower leagues.
Baraka are a trio comprising Issel Takami (guitar and guitar synthesizer - ? - why does it matter that you trigger the synthesized sounds from a guitar? - the sound's the same as if you play it on a keyboard, I've yet to hear any musical advantage - so let's just call it "synthesizer" shall we?), Shin Ichikawa (bass) and Max Hiraishi (drums). The band's instrumental music covers a number of genres: for instance, jazz-rock and Caribbean steel-drums both appear on "Five Rings" along with more conventional guitar-led instrumental rock. "Five Rings" is very much, of course, Shade of Evolution's centre of gravity and it gives the album a very skewed feel. Not only is the composition over half the duration of the whole but three other compositions - "Drag the Nation", "Ladder of the Cloud" and "Nu-809" are nothing more than electronica (there's that "guitar-synthesizer" again!) linking pieces. Even as linking pieces they do need to hold interest however and "Nu-809" is the only one that does so - musically it's the most satisfying piece on the album.
After listening to "Five Rings" a number of times it still fails to register any emotion in me, other than the desire to press the "skip" button. In addition to the styles I've mentioned it also covers electronica. It's not the musicianship that is principally at fault; for me the difficulty is more compositional in that neither the rhythms nor the melodies are strong enough to stir the soul. As such the piece feels monotonously long, its structure without meaning, quite the opposite to a similar length piece such as Neal Morse's purposeful and gripping "The Door" from Sola Scriptura.
The remaining four pieces feature guitar-rock as their strongest element, "Tenku" going on to develop some more ethereal synthesizer passages. Only "Prominence" registered a flicker of interest on my consciousness virtue of its pace but it's not enouigh to raise the album above average.
There is excellent instrumental progressive rock out there - in fact the only album I've allocated 5 stars to on Sea of Tranquility has been an album of instrumental progressive rock that mixes styles in similar fashion to what Baraka have attempted but with far more verve, imagination and proficiency - so my suggestion is that, unless you're flush with cash or are a fan of this particular band, you look elsewhere.
1) Five Rings (29:00)
2) Drag The Nation (2:10)
3) Edge of Sphere (5:32)
4) Prominence (3:15)
5) Ladder of the Cloud (2:05)
6) Raiden (3:27)
7) Nu-809 (2:52)
8) Tenku (7:25)