(All Album Reviews by Britdude)
Xang are a young band from Northern France, whose debut CD was also the initial offering from Swiss-based Galileo Records. This is a strong, but flawed release: one that I am very glad that I took the time and effort to ďopen upĒ to me, since it becomes better as it goes along, and finally improves with subsequent listens.
Destiny of a Dream is a concept album about...well, dreams, and is accompanied by a lyric booklet in French and English. But in reality the band is totally instrumental. Being French instrumentalists, one might have expected something somewhat quirky or jazzy perhaps along the lines of a Nebelnest. Xang however favor a more conventional and accessible sound, and are certainly very much grounded in the rock idiom, taking much of their inspiration from the likes of Rush in their use of power chords and intricate time changes. As such, they are fairly close to the commercial side of progressive rock, but never in a way that is pretentious in the sense of some neo-progressive bands.
Nevertheless, this rockist approach is both their strength and their weakness. There is no doubting the quality of the musicianship from this band from the opening track, which employs all the classic hallmarks of grandiosity that one sees in a Rush-like band. My first exposure certainly made me realize that these guys knew how to play powerfully, intricately and quickly, with both keyboards and guitar taking turns in a piece that employs many time changes played sometimes at a breakneck speed. That initial listen, however, left me a feeling a little cold as Rush so often do (this of course is a personal opinion). Xang seemingly wanted to establish their prog credentials on this opener. It feels like a display of great musicianship and strings many excellent ideas together, but ultimately doesnít hold together as well as it might in a compositional sense.
Things carry on in very much the same vein on the second and third tracks, "Misgivings" and "My Own Truth", which are a little less heavy on the time-signature changes but end up being more like exercises in alternating guitar and keyboard solos than actual compositions. By this time, the somewhat Moog-heavy keyboard sound that had also been used on the opening track was beginning to grate a little on my nerves, and when accompanied by the similarly high pitched guitar, I was not looking forward to another forty minutes of the same (maybe Iím just getting old).
Thankfully, Xang then seem to relax a bit, thus allowing their music to breathe. Music is as much about space and pacing as about the playing. Not that track four ("Prediction") is any slouch in the shredding department. But something about this track made me finally sit up and take notice. The keyboard instrumentation here becomes more diverse with a piano introduction and a build in tension to another guitar-shredding climax half way through the song when everything changes once again. Really, this feels more like two different songs as the second half sees the keyboards exploring variations on a theme that fairly gallops along in classic style that I might most liken to a Wakeman or Emerson (and more than a dash of Pete Bardens) in both style and technical ability, and with fine support from the rhythm section and heavily riffing guitar. Finally, Xang seem to come together as a group making music that is spontaneous and memorable in its themes. With repeated listenings, those themes really make an impact.
The listener next gets a needed breather with a short and beautiful piano piece that evokes the albumís theme of dreams quite beautifully, and acts as a wonderful lead in to what may be the best track of the set: "Bitterness".
The keyboard instrumentation is more varied here, with a nice electric piano and mellotron-like sound acting as a counterpoint to the guitar and a moog that fairly skips along. The Pete Bardens reference becomes stronger here, and somehow the Camel comparison now translates to the guitar and finally the whole structure of the song, which has a truly epic feel in the best tradition of classic progressive. Xang prove on this track that they can play more quietly and with pace, which acts as an effective counterpoint to their heavier passages. The band employs a full palate of melody, mood and texture here, and one is finally left with the feeling of having heard a classic Moonmadness-era Camel track. Not quite, but pretty damn close, and played with a technical ability and attention to melody that rivals those legends.
The final two offerings ("The Choice" and "The Light") build upon the confidence displayed on "Bitterness", with some very nice guitar themes that make full use of the fretboard and which once again conjure images of Camel guitarist Andrew Latimerís contorted facial expressions. The keyboards continue to diversify for the final track which features a classic cathedral organ sound reminiscent of Wakemanís best efforts, and power chord-driven guitar, all making for a shiver up the spine inducing climax.
And then.....silence..... Much in the vein of Devil Dollís The Girl Who Was Death, the final song employs a (thankfully much shorter, but nevertheless extended) space before the music returns for a meditative acoustic coda.
Repeated listening gives a greater appreciation for the earlier tracks in the album, but never do they exceed the strength of the albumís second half when Xang finally find their confidence and perhaps their soul. Xang may not offer something that you havenít heard before, but what they have accomplished on their debut is generally nicely done and recommended nonetheless.