Sometimes after one listen you know that an album will have an effect on you that will leave you singing it's chorus', humming it's melodies and raiding your wallet to see if you have the funds to immediately snap up every available piece of the band in questions back catalogue. Mangrove's fourth studio release Beyond Reality is one of those albums.
Awesome melodies, emotion drenched vocals, stupendous musical dexterity - both in terms of skill and content, razor sharp hooks and catchy lyrical themes, and that's only open epic "Daydreamer's Nightmare"!! Ranging from stark melancholic keyboards, to full on bombastic crescendos this is an uncompromising statement with which to open an album. Roland van der Horst on guitars and Chris Jonker on keys, put in quite stunning performances throughout, demanding the listeners attention with bold instrumental passages that are reminiscent of the prog greats. Genesis, Yes and Floyd all gets nods early on with Horst's guitar solo and Jonker's layers of atmosphere. Drummer and bassist, Joost Hagemeijer and Pieter Drost respectively are not merely content with keeping things tight in the background; their sharp, focused contributions are integral to the massive, uplifting instrumental sections. As the track progresses, we are treated to a neo-prog feast, with sounds and atmospheres created that Galahad, Arena or IQ would be proud to call their own.
It's a brave move to segue from one epic to another, however after that stunning opening, Mangrove only go on to impress by upping things a notch. "Time Will Tell" is not a song, it's a voyage into progressive heaven, initially you hear what sounds like Jean Michel Jarre jamming with Jon Lord and Keith Emerson, before a lone sad whistling keyboard that Kip Winger has used to great effect on his solo material, reels things back in. Not happy to let Jonker dominate, Horst changes the mood completely with a jaunty, Steve Howe like riff that initially shocks and then seduces you into its charm. Vocally Horst and Hagemeijer are immense. Between them they manage to quiet bizarrely mix the theatrics of say Dennis DeYoung with the intimacy and down to earthness of John Lennon. Over its eighteen and a half minutes "Time Will Tell" covers everything from windswept keyboards that would fit on Marillion's Brave, to a gently stretched, faded in guitar solo from the school of Gilmour and everything in between, with even a jazzy lounge room interlude. Impressively it remains a cohesive, compelling piece of music that completely envelopes you as it progresses and grows with every listen.
After everything that has gone before it the gentle piano and vocal based "Love And Beyond" is a welcome change of focus, Horst's vocals gently persuade you to hang on his every word however when the rest of the band come in the track is driven along without ever being compromised. As with the rest of the album the lyrics are deep and heartfelt. The sense of loss and betrayal in "Love And Beyond" is portrayed beautifully.
Instrumental "Reality Fades" could easily be Marillion jamming with Muse as wonderful keyboard and guitar passages are brought together with stunningly angular drum patterns and bass playing that not only allow their counterparts to shine, but also demand your attention and it's to Hagemeijer and Drost's credit that they pull this off.
If opening the album with two epics wasn't bold enough a statement, then choosing to close Beyond Reality with another two lengthy, twisting, challenging tracks leaves you in no doubt that Mangrove are a band completely at ease with their craft.
The nine minute title track brings a new feel to the album with a more aggressive Uriah Heep like attack. Stomping organ mixed with a Ken Hensley like scream, show a far more rock style than anything that has gone before, however it is still wrapped up in masses of atmosphere and fanfare. It's a brilliantly paced track that has you almost welling up with tears during the slower sections and then seconds later banging your head to the driving beat. Add to that the most memorable chorus that's on the album and it's nigh on perfection.
"Voyager" closes the album out with Supertramp quirk blended with an almost King Crimson crossed with The Pineapple Thief thump. Although it's not quite up to the standard of its predecessor, there is still an amazing amount to be impressed by. Wailing vocals, superb keyboards, precise understated bass playing and drumming of the highest standard. It's safe to suggest that any prog rock album that has a track as good as "Voyager" on it, and it's not the best thing on offer, must be doing something seriously right.
As stated there are an amazing amount of influences and styles covered during Beyond Reality, however at no point is this an album full of copy cat tunes. On the contrary what Mangrove have succeeded in doing where many have failed before them, is marrying the styles of classic prog with the refined sounds of neo-prog while still adding enough modern styling to make everything feel welcome and familiar whilst keeping it vibrant and fresh.
If the words progressive and rock are of any interest, then you need to step Beyond Reality.
1. Daydreamer's Nightmare
2. Time Will Tell
3. Love And Beyond
4. Reality Fades
5. Beyond Reality