Year of Release: 1996
Label: HPM Records
Catalog Number: MOT 96-001-2
Total Time: 45:07:00
Matter of Taste are an Austrian band begun by guitarist / keyboardist / vocalist Franz Wetzelberger in 1996. Chateau Obscure is their first release. Perhaps what is unique or rare in the neo-prog/prog metal realm is that their are four vocalists credited on this release, Kurt Strohmeier (2 tracks), Joe Vötter (3), Takis Dallas and Franz Wetzelberger (1 each); of the vocalists, I think Vötter has the better set of pipes, but none of them have the cringe factor - and you know, for me, vocals can be the make or break factor.
I almost always find some affinity with an album that for one reason or another takes me back to my literary roots - that is, back to what I spent my four years in college doing - studying literature. Chateau Obscure is such an album. Now, since not everyone studied British Literature before 1800 as I did, and may not care about such associations, I'll start with a review of the music itself, though this can hardly be separated from literary conventions.
Of course, I don't want to assign a higher status to the album than it deserves. As a recorded piece of music, it is better than average, though it takes some very familiar colours out of some well used palettes. Which is the 10 cent way of saying: If you were to take any Clive Nolan led project (Shadowland, Arena), mix in a bit of Marillion, a bit of Camel, a bit of Fish-like wordsmithy and you will a pretty general idea of where Matter of Taste are coming from. Keyboards, not surprisingly, take the lead on the first, title track, with Kurt Strohmeier on vocals, who sounds at turns like Clive Nolan, Paul Wrightson, and James LaBrie (in whisper-like mode). Violin is interspersed throughout, and there is a servicable, if not entirely original guitar solo. But the song is rather pleasant, though a bit sinister. Which is entirely keeping with the theme of the track itself - no one leaves Chateau Obsure.
There is a strong sense of poeticism throughout, though not entirely successful. In a way, lyricists Takis Dallas and Andreas Mariasevic are more strongly influenced the poets of the 18th and 19th century. The press kit itself says "lyric text settings encompassing elements of Classic, Rock, and Impressionism." That's very true, though the first and last are more present than the second. Unfortunately, in seeking to be very poetic, using a varied vocabulary, there are phrases here and there that are as obscure as the chateau being sung about. There are two movements at work here in the lyrics, in a general scan - that of the the 18th Century Metaphysical poets (John Donne, Andrew Marvell, etc.) and the 19th Century Romantic poets (John Keats, Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, etc.). I'll talk about the former in a moment.
The Romantic poets wrote pastorals, odes, and the like, in a very ... dramatic manner ("Ode To A Nightingale" is one of Keats' best known - where you might say, "You wrote an ode to what? A bird?" ... Well, yes). Progressive rock has often been accused of the same thing - overblown, pompous, wordy, what have you. Think a line like "The mountains came out of the sky and they stood there" wouldn't qualify?
"What does this have to do with Matter of Taste?" you ask. Well, the second track in, "Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard" takes a poem by 18th century English poet, Thomas Gray (1716-1771), and sets it to music (giving it a Journey-like intro). Gray's elegy is perhaps the best known work by the reclusive poet, and sections of it may have been written in thought of his recently deceased (at the time) friend Richard West. Familiar with the poem or not, I find that the music is too up for the lyrics - I imagine elegies to be more somber and reverent affairs. It isn't a bad track by any means, and probably works better for those unfamiliar with Gray. I mean, how ominous is a line like "The curfew tolls the knell of parting day?" Of course, we probably associate that with Hemingway (For Whom The Bell Tolls) more than Gray - or, I suppose, Rush.
"Soon" takes on a more progressive metal ballad slant, as Joe Vötter takes the vocal lead on this track - those occassional vocal flights into the upper registers. This is, despite its familiar moves, is a really good song.
"Nightkiller" differs from the rest of this disk as it comes across as a more 70-80s metal rocker with quasi-disco vocal harmonies (and guitar) crossed with growly Metallica at the chorus end. I envision some of the more flashy 70s rock bands in their tight satin pants - long tresses shaking in time, almost "cock-rock" I guess, given the chorus of "Nightkiller, nightkiller/rise to fill her full of love/Nightkiller, nightkiller/rise to fill her full of love - then let her die." I bet you can see the implications here. A convention of the metaphysical poets of the 17th century was to couch romantic/erotic notions in a sly and humourous fashion - Andrew Marvell's best known work is "To His Coy Mistress" from which many now familiar turn of phrases have been taken; this work is an entreaty from the speaker to his "Coy Mistress" for ... sex before it's too late basically (and how many of guys have used that thought, hmm?) - "Time's winged chariot hurrying near." Granted, MOT's take is more direct.
"The Meadows Of Fauns" also bears mention. It begins with an impressive piano intro by Gerhard Wambrechtshamer, and slowly building into a rockier and rockier piece - the best comparison I can make is Rick Wakeman. This is epic, dramatic, big. And ends abruptly.
The closer of the album is in some ways rather "cool." Taking a familiar Beethoven piece (familiar, but I can't name it at the moment) as it's basis, Mariasevic has added lyrics and called it "Resurrection Song." From there, we get a sultry rock piece with chugging piano, which becomes a gospel at the end - rather fitting given the rising nature of the composition.
Okay, at the end of the day, when all is said an done and my lit books are put away, what do I think? Despite it's flaws, I really like this album. It's a good debut, I see where they can grow. They have influences but aren't shackled by them. I recommmend it. Whether this holds true for their second album ... well, I've reviewed that one, too, entitled Jack Of Spades.
By the way, for a taste of the Metaphysical and Romantic poets there are two books published by Penquin Classics, one entitled The Metaphysical Poets (ISBN 0-14-042038-X), the other English Romantic Verse (ISBN 0-14-042102-5).
Chateau Obscure (8:32) / Elegy (5:24) / Seek for Birth (9:41) / Soon (5:55) / Nightkiller (4:57) / Meadows of Fauns (6:11) / Resurrection Song (4:00)
Kurt Strohmeier, Joe V?tter, and Takis Dallas - vocals
Franz Wetzelberger - keyboards, guitars, vocals
Gerhard Wambrechtshamer - piano
Kurt Schachner - bass
Michael Kirschbaum - drums
Peter Wageneder - organ
Robert Schmidt - keyboard solo (3)
Alois Kleewein - accoustic guitar
Sabine Schenk - violin
Ingrid Bacher - cello
Chateau Obscure (1996)
Jack Of Spades (1998)
Genre: Progressive Rock