Mechanical Poet – Woodland Prattlers – 4.5/5
One of the things I love about my constant exploration of the styles of music available is that as a result, every once in a while something comes by that causes you to do a double take. Unquestionably this is such an album that defies all real attempts at classifying it; kicking off with a hard hitting heavy metal opening but all the while exploring ‘Rock Opera’ territory, with particular emphasis on the ‘Opera.’ In truth this bizarre concept album sways all the way from one side to the other and the only real comparison that feels suited is some sort of bizarre cross between ‘Ayreon’ and A Tim Burton musical. Except performed by Russians. And instead of a dozen or so vocalists, they use the versatility of one man.
Not that this becomes an issue, if anything it’s the albums greatest highlight; how else to better avoid the trap of monotonous and repetitive vocals than to constantly vary their style enough to sound like a new entity, and if the album title didn’t give it away then let put it bluntly: the creature in question isn’t always human. His abilities in this regard feel almost unprecedented; his raw talent may not be up there with the best but he is able to sustain an epic 11 minute track single handed by simply constantly remaining interesting. The centrepiece in question touring the woodland mysteries; delving into the heart of airy and delicate Sylphs before dive-bombing into the baritone of the Gnomes, onwards into the oceans for the secretive undines only to accidentally stumble onto the fiery Salamanders who aren’t best pleased to see you.
I could now discuss the bass and the guitars, and the manner the drums perform, but in truth you won’t notice them performing at all for most of this release unless really looking for it; a gentle acoustic passage here and there, the occasional prominent aggressive track, but if you expect this as a norm be prepared for a shock. This release is all about the keyboards; delicate piano lines, organs, saxophones, violins, xylophones, synths and more glorious layers worked into the composition to create something orchestral. This is not your overt atmospheric synths, playing mundane basic chords, this has a genuine classical feel to it in the manner everything has been interwoven together delicately, never letting one element overpower the others but creating a constantly shifting dynamic. The argument that a keyboard can add a thousand different layers to a composition has rarely had such a strenuous test placed upon it, and yet the result is more than impressive.
Yes this album is based upon fantasy elements, but its not all witches and wizards, dragons and warriors, its far too thematically historical for that. There isn’t an element of cheesiness in sight despite the hefty keyboard use, and neither is it ever progressive for the sake of it. This is a part of that rare breed of music which doesn’t ever feel as though it looks to others for how things should be done, utilising elements so as they see fit to make their mark, and the marvellously simple concept allowing for an incredible diversity that never feels out of place. From the demonic harpies in ‘Stormchild’ to the fun loving Trolls in ‘Swamp-Stamp-Polka,’ this is not one that you can simply put on and fall in love with, there’s too much on offer to take in. If you’ve ever wondered what metal would sound like performed in a Broadway play then these Russians deliver.
Highlights: Stormchild, Old Year’s Merry Funeral, Natural Quaternion, Shades on a Casement, Swamp-Stamp-Polka