Picking an album from 1997 to only review
it in 2011 may seem a bit odd and dislocated, but truth be told, some albums
really deserve to be picked for review only after a hiatus of some years. These
are normally the albums that have really made an impact and that, so many years
passed, one considers that have stand the test of time and become real references
of a certain style, career or, in an even broader way, a landmark. You may
think that this review is close to an hyperbole or, in other words, you may
strongly disagree on what I am about to write in my next sentence, but at least
give me the benefit of the doubt and listen (read) my arguments…
The year was 1997 and Afterlifecycle marked a transition on the career of an (still) underrated
band called Parallel or 90 degrees (PO90 for friends). After two releases
where the influences of Van Der Graaf
Generator were not only more than obvious but perfectly assumed by the
band, this British collective fronted by Andy
Tillison released an album that, in my ears, sound some years ahead of its
time and (this is something that only now I can fully interpret, for obvious
reasons) works like a window in time to what the modern eclectic symphonic prog
would sound in the late 00’s.
Well, back in 1997, progressive rock was
starting its real revival, primarily due to the advent of the internet and the
spreading possibilities that it brought. After a long underground period where
a few bands were able to keep the prog-dream alive, like a desert crossing, the
late 90’s and early 00’s suddenly became the niche for an increasing number of
bands getting back to the essentials of the progressive ideals, some recreating
and others evolving it. In this context Parallel
or 90 Degrees made their early appearances, many times emulating the
vintage classics, but as time passed by, they really created their own style
and kept evolving into newer and newer grounds. In a way, the current Tangent success was born and bred in
the womb of PO90 (though I still
like more the mother than its child).
Getting back to Afterlifecycle, I think it’s easy to agree that its sound is
noticeable contemporary and worked out in a modern way. The reminiscences and
respect for the classics is there, but the band clearly intended to make a
statement on evolution: the rhythm section and the harmonies are inbreeded and
created in a sometimes inorganic fashion, which somehow gain life by the layers
of guitar, vocals and other instruments that are then conglomerated on top.
Everything works in a groundbreaking way, completely re-phormuling the symphonic
prog rock standards. This morphing does not, strangely, ever scratches the pure
symphonic sense of the compositions, though they seem (sometimes) a bit heavier,
bellyful, or harder. The trick is in the way the band incorporates touchy
melodies in the mix, slowing down the pace or making harmonies emerge from
nothing. Also, the uncountable number of details that are present in the real
walls of sound that the band was able to create, not only enrich and enlighten
each track, but provide the listener with the need to try and dive into the
core of the music so it can swim in the whole ocean of sounds that are constant
in the music. The 7 tracks of the album (which are 15 because some tracks are
subdivided in smaller sections) flow in a continuous stream that allows the
listener to feel the continuity and to gladly follow the path that the music
suggests. The music changes and shifts signatures, approaches, rhythms and
architectures while keeping a line of procedures, a road to somewhere.
All this in a more philosophical analysis.
In terms of the music itself, while some influences from VDGG and Peter Hammill,
as well as other 70’s bands, are still recognizable, the way the instruments
interact is something completely different. Each instrument makes its
appearance and then fades in order to better serve the music, independently if
it is a harder part or a mellower, acoustic one. The dynamics are at its peak
because the band tried, and did a hell of a job in that, to present an album
that continuously flow from start to end and that travels through very
different emotions and musical perspectives.
So it is very clear for me that, almost 14
years after its release, Afterlifecycle
is one of those albums that have defined an aesthetic and approach for modern
symphonic prog and therefore, is indispensable for any symphonic prog lover
that eager to learn about the evolution of his preferred style.
This is an album I haven't (very unfortunately) yet been able to put my hands on an original copy...but I'll get there for sure, for any album I really like must end, sooner or later, in my private Cd collection. This is such a case!