I've been caught like this before: listening to an album for the first time and dismissing it as poor before it's even half way through. "Hey! This is progressive music, buddy! You have to listen to it a few times and let it absorb into your psyche before reaching conclusions." Ok, ok, I've done it now, I've now heard it more often than for your "normal" SoT review and I can report that my conclusion has indeed changed! - Force of Gravity is an excellent album!
Part of the reason for being caught out on the first time listen is that, whilst I am not a Sylvan completist, I thoroughly enjoy both albums of theirs that I own: Artificial Paradise and Posthumous Silence. I must have been expecting Force of Gravity to sound like those and, certainly during its beginning, it does not, and I went on the defensive.
For those familiar with German band Sylvan's music, then Force of Gravity's soundscape has been "beefed up". The melodic inventiveness within their "neo-prog" style, a hallmark of the band, is still there for sure but there is heavier guitar than I've heard from them, courtesy of new guitarist Jan Petersen, who joined two years ago after the last couple of albums were recorded. Also, the keyboard/synth layering is occasionally heavier than before, so you are getting a heavier sound overall and a couple of songs are really quite "rocky". Notwithstanding, there are moments, indeed long passages – such as in the album closer "Vapour Trails, which is a contender for "song of the year" – of great lyrical and melodic beauty.
Just a brief aside here: the phrase that I used above "...Jan Petersen, who joined two years ago after the last couple of albums were recorded" is not a typo. Both the band's last two albums - Posthumous Silence and Presets - were recorded at the same time, but released a year apart. Sylvan's intention was to try to reach a wider audience by making Presets a more "song-based" album, rather than the conceptual neo-prog of Posthumous Silence. As it turned out both albums sold very well! Probably the reason for this is that at the heart of Sylvan's music they have a couple of attributes that are a major attraction to music fans: first, sumptuous melodic skill; and second, in Marco Glühmann, a really classy singer with a wide vocal range.
These attributes are, in fact, the hook that brings you back to listen to Force of Gravity again and again, even if at first the shift in soundscape takes you by surprise. Once assimilated though, you soon begin to see Force of Gravity for the wonderful rock album that it is. Again, I use the word "rock" intentionally, for it is a rock album. True, "Vapour Trails" might be termed "neo-prog" by some, but by no stretch of the imagination could you term "God of Rubbish", which precedes it, anything other than a straight rock song. And a damn good one at that! Pace, good guitar, great vocal – excellent stuff!
Another little aside: I don't frequent many music forums; three infrequently; but in one of those there has been a discussion about Force of Gravity in which "God of Rubbish" is being hailed as "the worst song that Sylvan ever did". Isn't it strange how some progressive fans have a very closed mind to their music?
Force of Gravity is the band's seventh album in its 11 years of existence. It should appeal to a wide range of fans, including those from the neo-prog and straighter rock or art-rock camps. Elements of these genres are cleverly mixed throughout the album (excepting for the two songs on the album, which I've already touched upon above), making it an enjoyable listen for most people – well, anyone really apart from die-hard metal-heads.
The album opens with the title track: the pretty melody and piano leading into what becomes an intense and heavy-keyboard-layered composition. It's a good start. "Follow Me" is the first of the guitar-heavy numbers, its slightly syncopated thumping rhythm taking a few listens to sink in, but it works well in the playing order after that. "Isle of Me" and "Embedded" come closer to Sylvan's previous sound: the former is strong on melody and piano (another strong feature of Force of Gravity is the prominence in the soundscape keyboardist Volker Söhl's classical piano – it's a real treat!) and the latter has probably the most infectious hook of the album, skilfully delivered by Glühmann's vocal. "Turn of the Tide" leads into "From the Silence", the first of the tracks on which the invited string quartet makes its mark, adding to the lushness of the soundscape within a heavily layered arrangement. "From the Silence" is overshadowed by the brilliant "Midnight Sun", on which Glühmann duets with Miriam Schell. The song describes the atmosphere of a painting called "The Sea Ice" and its strings, piano and beautiful melody evoke perfectly the tranquillity and melancholy of the polar regions. It too is a contender for "song of the year"! "King of Porn" then contrasts markedly, benefitting as it does from some more of that mean electric guitar. The focus of "Episode 609" is back to melody before the album closes on the rocker "God of Rubbish" and "Vapour Trail".
Force of Gravity is, in essence, a rock album from a band that has significant progressive leanings towards what has been called a "neo-prog" style. It features Sylvan's hallmark penchant for strong melody and adds a bit of steely guitar. It's a strong album that I'm sure will expand their fan base. Rightly so. Recommended!
1) Force of Gravity (5:12)
2) Follow Me (4:39)
3) Isle in Me (6:00)
4) Embedded (3:29)
5) Turn of the Tide (6:52)
6) From the Silence (5:42)
7) Midnight Sun (5:10)
8) King Porn (7:31)
9) Episode 609 (6:00)
10) God of Rubbish (4:01)
11) Vapour Trail (14:30)