Syzygy: Realms of Eternity
The trio of Carl Baldassarre on guitars and vocals, Sam Giunta on keyboards and Paul Mihacevich on drums released their debut album Cosmos and Chaos as Witsend way back in 1993, following that up ten years later with The Allegory Of Light. That second album saw the band change their name to Syzygy and it is under that moniker that third album Realms Of Eternity, which also sees the introduction of Al Rolik on bass, is released. The more surprising addition to the band and credited as "special guest vocalist" is Mark Boals who is most commonly associated with his time with Yngwie J Malmsteen, Erik Norlander or Royal Hunt. Whilst they are by no means space rock it's Boals' recent spell with Uli Jon Roth that most likely gave an out and out classic style prog rock band like Syzygy the inclination that Boals could be a perfect fit for them.
A melancholic violin starts the journey before Baldassarre gives a first taste of his sublime guitar skills, it's a simple little motif, however with the strings it's backed by it is remarkably effective and by the time Boals sings the first lines of "Darkfields" you are already listening intently to see where this epic will lead you. There are touches of David Gilmour, Yes and especially in the keyboards, Genesis and quite simply it's a stunning, mesmerising introduction to Realms Of Eternity.
The jolly keyboard that greets you for track two "Vanitas" is a stark contrast to what has gone before, however after a few seconds a more majestic sweep of wizardry from Giunta whisks you into an angular beat and we are right back on track with what is an excellent instrumental that mixes an up tempo prog workout where Mihacevich gets to show off his chops behind the kit, with a gentler more fragile refrain that adds colour and depth to the stunning musicianship on show.
Boals is back on duty for "Dreams" and he is surrounded by some beautifully arranged backing vocals from Baldassarre, Rolik and Mihacevich that add a faint Kansas vibe to proceedings. However once more we are gently swept along with an almost pleading guitar line that seduces you gently into a relaxed state and although the pace is quite sedate, it's compelling stuff. As the track draws towards it's close there's a short moment where all that is there to hear is the mass vocals and I have to say it's a moment I look forward to every time I listen to the disc.
Lyrically the album is religiously themed; however even for someone like myself who follows no distinct religious path I found their content and especially their delivery to be extremely positive and uplifting. At no time is this the gentle but blatant preaching of say, a John Elefante album; however the themes of man's frailties and our journey towards and during an afterlife are what the majority of the words are based on.
Baldassarre, who handled all the lead vocals on Syzygy's first two albums, takes the mic for "Echoes Remain" and his simple, understated style sits perfectly well with the acoustic guitar, strings and flute of the song. It's the simplest track on the album, and its starkness helps break up the longer songs really well. As eluded to next track "Dialect" takes us back over the ten minute mark and at 16:35 it's the albums longest stand alone number. There's a Steve Hackett like guitar lick which splits up slightly jazzy phases, before a Jethro Tull inspired riff heads us off into some sci-fi sounding keyboards and some sharp time changes under great piano and bass work. In fact Rolik is often the rock that all the different styles are based round and he does a sterling job of keeping everything grounded. It's a heady mix, however it comes together seamlessly and at no point does it sound self indulgent or lose focus and the pay off with the uplifting guitars in the final section of the track is worth the journey!
After the long, short, long, short, long lengths of the first five tracks, the final eight are one movement under the title of "The Sea". The tracks don't all run as one piece of music, however they run together as acts in a play do, making more sense when you view it all together. Two short instrumentals get us under way, ""Arranmore Isle" is a haunting gentle keyboard and acoustic guitar piece whereas "Overture" is faster paced allowing Baldassarre to stretch out again. "The Sea" has a flavour of Dream Theater to it, especially in Mihacevich's drum breaks and the gently galloping keyboards. Boals' vocals have a slight LaBrie like phrasing; however his impressive range sees him feel more natural in these surroundings. His impressive performance continues on "Morning Song" which in places has the feel of Elton John's "Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding", however in a more restrained, less frantic way and is quite spell binding. Bizarrely enough it wouldn't be hugely out of place on a Blackmore's Night album, it's nowhere near as kitsch as The Man in Black's outfit, but it has the feel of music from a distant age.
"Variations Part 1" rumbles into life like "Assassing" by Marillion before Giunta's keyboards and Mihacevich's drums battle for supremacy although both are usurped by Baldassarre's guitar in the end!! As with everything on the album, there's light and shade, calm follows ferocity and "Variations Part 2" continues in this fashion, however it's a more pointed keyboard that drags everything through this time, before another excellent guitar solo. "Reflection" is just that, it's a short slow piano and string track with gentle strumming and keys that give you a chance to take stock of all that has gone before, then "Finale" segues in with a brooding riff and some rich flurries up and down the fret board. Fittingly the album ends with a huge crescendo and as it peaks you wait just as you do at the end of a great gig for that one last burst which Syzygy delight in performing.
This is, put quite simply, one of the most accomplished traditional progressive rock releases I have heard for some time. Great songs, wonderful arrangements, a stunning sound, super musicians and a quite inspired choice of vocalist makes for a stunning album and one I strongly recommend you to invest in.
4. Echoes Remain
6. The Sea:
The Morning Song
Variations Part 1
Variations Part 2
Added: August 9th 2009
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Band Website
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