Soulful Terrain boldly describe Astoria as 'a multi-stylistic musical journey into what is possible when the barriers of what is expected are diffused', when referring to their blending of Progressive Rock, Jazz and Celtic Music - a bold statement, albeit a slightly clunky one.
This description sometimes seems a bit of an oversell, at the core of Astoria there is a rock album. In truth, parts of this core are disappointingly unremarkable. Vaguely uplifting and well performed (especially the drumming) they certainly are, but they lack the spark of originality that would lift them into the realms of great music.
These mediocre parts of the album are mostly the sections with vocals. Elic Gurganus isn't a bad singer, in fact, he has a refreshingly unpretentious voice (although he is burdened with some earnestly anodyne lyrical content on occasion). But when writing music to go with lyrics the band often seem to shackle themselves to some fairly plodding musical protocol. Tracks like 'Ocean Road' and 'Shadows on the Sun' sound like gentle browses through the library of prog-ballad clichés.
So is this album a complete failure to live up to the band's own description of it? Actually, no, not at all. When the band does break loose of the standard formula their claims about the album suddenly seem quite modest. Strains of Arabic, Chinese and (Old) Romantic music can be heard to add to their already bulging influence list. At their best, Soulful Terrain elegantly weave these styles together into an effortlessly rich musical tapestry.
The introduction to 'The Great Unknown' is spellbinding, the shimmering oriental beauty of the bridging piece 'Drifting' makes it an album highlight, and 'Narrow Path' and 'Into the Eastern Wind' are both very well put together pieces.
Astoria is consequently a tricky proposition; at times brilliant, at other times not so. When Soulful Terrain are at their most experimental the music is sparkling, but the album suffers because they band aren't always willing enough to throw caution to the wind and go for it, instead focusing on weaker message-based pieces. Overall, this a slightly missed opportunity, but still a solid album with some genuinely great ideas, and a band worth keeping an eye on.
- The Great Unknown
- The Narrow Path
- Shadows on the Sun
- Into the Eastern Wind
- Ocean Road
- Lost For You
- Secrets in the Valley