(All Album Reviews by Ivan_Melgar_M)
Last April I received a CD from Anton Roolaart, a USA/Netherlands artist who was about to release his debut album Dreamer. As always, I checked it and must say I was really impressed with his music and skills.
Anton Roolaart has carefully worked in the composition performance and production. Dreamer which as it’s name clearly implies is an oneiricalbum full of atmospheres and reminiscences of the 70’s but with a very unique approach that combines not only different influences but also the best sound modern technology can provide.
Usually when I check new artists I care a lot about influences to discover if the artist is original or simply derivative, in the case of Dreamer, the influences are present, you can listen echoes of Pink Floyd blended with the haunting atmospheres of Steve Hackett and the Flemish style of Ian Akkerman, but you can’t call him derivative because he takes these influences and creates his own musical universe adding some unusual elements (Isn’t that what Prog is about?)
The first of this shocking elements is in the vocals, Anton reminds me a lot of Axl Rose and in some moments of Bruce Dickinson. In others, it’s like a very controlled metal singer performing symphonic prog, not common but easy to get used to after the first impression, again another important feature of prog is the collision of styles and he achieves this with his singing.
His band is formed by very talented musicians: Rave Tesar from Renaissance (Keyboards), Rich Berends (Mastermind) and Charles Descarfino, both on drums and Vincent Puryear on bass. All of which prove along with the guests to be in the same level, so the professionalism is assured.
The album starts with the pompous opening of “Near or Far” that solely fades to allow a sweet guitar, piano and mellotron introduce the aggressive vocals that are a bit shocking in the context, but soon the ear gets used to the contrast and with the lead of a heavy and distorted guitar give the wrong impression that we will soon be before a mainstream song, but the constant changes plus excellent arrangements makes us notice we’re before a pure prog track with reminiscences of Yes, excellent keyboard work to complement a very solid starter.
“On to the Afterglow” starts soft and dreamy with a beautiful flute and acoustic guitar that lead to a mysterious sounding vocals that remind of the spirit from Voyage of the Acolyte. The interplay between guitar and keyboard in the purest style of Steve Hackett is simply delightful and the piano completes the scene. Moments of calm are interrupted by guitar and Moog semi solos with some controlled explosions and female backing vocals that create more mystery, beautiful blend of almost everything prog has to offer.
The title song “Dreamer” starts reminiscent of Pink Floyd during the A Momentary Lapse of Reason era. The guitar solos have passed as magic from being inspired by Hackett to sound absolutely influenced by Dave Gilmour and again the keyboards complete the effect adding some psych touches. To be honest I find the vocals too loud and plain for a song like this one, maybe Anton could search for a second vocalist to complements him in some tracks. Except for a couple of guitar flashes disperse along the song, “Dreamer” carries the spirit of Pink Floyd. Not bad at all and again the band shows enormous versatility.
“Scary Monsters” starts as a power ballad with some prog moments. The vocal work is nice but it’s only until the middle of the track where it gets really interesting. Again, Anton proves his versatility playing in a Flemish style (well, he was born in The Netherlands) which clearly reminds of the delicate Jan Akkerman trademark. It’s hard to find a guitar player so efficient in so many different styles. Another good but not superb song.
“Color of your World” is a weird track, the vocals have the lead but are very dissonant with the rest of the instruments that enter in a controlled cacophony. This is the only song in which Anton really lets his voice explode without restraining himself…It was about time to try it! Hard to describe because it’s very experimental, interesting music. The guitar and keyboard instrumental are amazing, at the end reminds a bit of early Wakeman hard sections when he left the band go beyond his soloing, great material.
“Mid Summer’s Day” presents a very unusual blend of styles, as if Focus arrangements met Gentle Giant structures and a touch of Uriah Heep. The guy is hitting us with all he has. The song keeps changing almost chord by chord jumping from one style to the other. Didn’t expected to find something so complex in a mainly atmospheric album. For God’s sake, he even uses a heavy metal distorted guitar and progressions reminiscent of ron Maiden. The greatest achievement is that he never loses the sense of melody and coherence, excellent stuff, IMHO the peak of the album.
“Manon” starts very jazzy with the bass and drums marking the time perfectly. Again, if something sounds slightly out of place it’s the vocals but then you notice they are working as a bridge between the fusion oriented intro and the clearly symphonic (in the vein of Relayer) change around the third minute of the song. At that point you can expect almost any thing, sound effects, telephone conversations and soft flute passages plus aggressive guitar. That’s what prog is about - experimenting. The song ends brilliantly after a long instrumental passage lead by Anton’s guitar.
The album ends with “The Spider” a simpler track, but very strong in melody and instrumentation, tends to be repetitive, but that’s the main point of the song, make something basic and leaves the performance and the instruments chosen (which includes a nice cello section) be the central theme. Probably not the best choice to close the album because lacks of great energy but there’s a special beauty in the naïve approach.
I won’t stop to talk in detail about the lyrics because most are based in daily life instead of fantastic narrations as we are used in prog. Despite this fact, they are coherent and simple but without falling in cheesiness. I believe this aspect may be better developed but the main interest is in the excellent music and unless the lyrics are especially bad (which is not remotely the case) their role is fulfilled.
Even though I wouldn’t qualify Dreamer as a masterpiece, it’s a very solid album that any proghead will enjoy, but I’m sure that if he follows in this same path, I’ll be soon reviewing a masterpiece because Anton Roolaart has the desire and the skills.
Iván Melgar Morey - Perú