Amarok - Sol De Medianoche

Year of Release: 2007
Label: ProgRock Records
Catalog Number: PRR 265
Format: CD
Total Time: 65:12:00

I saw this band live at BajaProg in 2006 and I was very, very impressed with them. Hell, truth be told, I fell in love with them. Where most prog outfits just stand there and play their instruments, Amarok puts on a show. As far as live performance goes, they are the most entertaining, most romantic (Guys? If your wife or girlfriend doesn't appreciate prog, let her hear Amarok. She'll change her tune. Amarok first, then Lark's Tongues In Aspic later. Trust me on this), most fun band I've seen in a good long time. Why I put off getting any of their discs, I don't really know, but I finally got one and am I ever glad that I did.

Sol De Medianoche is the latest offering from the Spanish folk-prog band. I'll use that moniker because to string together a name that actually fits the music of Amarok (symphonic-world-ethnic-jazz-rock-Mediterranean folk-prog) would just be too unwieldy. It is one of those discs that I can just play over and over again, listening to its beautiful music all day long. Most of the time I concentrate on a band's music and sometimes I overlook the vocals, but in this case that would be impossible. Amarok vocalist Marta Segura is way too good to ignore, even for me. That is not to say that band leader Robert Santamaria hasn't come through again with a fine new batch of tunes, but ??.. wow, Marta sounds good to me. This disc has been in the works for a long, long time. Recording started in April 2004 and was finished in February 2006 in a studio powered solely by solar panels. We all know that most prog recordings are self-financed and, as such, we sometimes have to wait a long time between albums, but I hope we don't have to wait three years before the next Amarok disc. This new stuff is great and I already want more of the same.

Ok, with that all settled now we can talk a bit about the music on this disc. As in most of the music that I've heard by Amarok, a lot of these songs feature themes that are composed using the Arabic scale. Now, that is just a variant of the Phrygian dominant scale (called by some the Flamenco scale) and it is the scale Led Zep used to great effect in "Kashmir" and it is the scale you hear snake charmers playing on the flute to mesmerize their cobras, got it? As the band is from Spain, this fondness for the more exotic sounding scales makes perfect sense. They could have gotten that same sense of mystery by using the harmonic minor mode, but we're glad that they didn't take that route, right? Let the metal heads have the harmonic minor mode, we can do without it!

Luckily for us, Amarok blends the sounds of jazz and symphonic prog with their ethnic folk influences and produces one of the most spell binding releases of 2007 in the effort. With the flute work of Manel Mayol and the increased use of traditional progressive keyboard voices like Hammond organ and Mellotron by Santamaria, the band often reminds me of the style of classic Italian prog, sometimes very similar to Cantina Sociale or Maxaphone. As in previous releases, Amarok uses a plethora of ethnic and acoustic instruments on this disc. There are too many to mention here, but Robert Santamaria alone plays accordion, Turkish saz, the Iranian santur, kanun, dulcimer, autoharp and glockenspiel and a bevy of guest musicians provide a number of stringed and brass instruments to boot.

I hope this won't put anyone off, but my wife loves one of the current hotties, Shakira, and I can't help noticing that some of Amarok's music sounds a bit like this pop diva. This is mainly because the pop princess and Marta Segura have very similar voices and of course the music of Shakira doesn't hold a candle to the stuff that Amarok does, but I surely can't be the only one to notice this similarity.

As I said earlier, I enjoy every moment of this disc but I particularly like two or three cuts above the rest. This release has a couple of very lengthy epic numbers including "Midnight Sun", a suite in six sections that is remarkable for its fascinating themes and amazing vocals. A shorter track, "Wendigo," is the closest thing on this disc to classic Italian prog and it showcases Santamaria's ever improving keyboard prowess. The first track, "Sephiroth," is a testament to the wonderful voice of Marta Segura with enticing vocals complete with yelping gritos. Another notable track is the disc's finale, a cover of ELP's "Abaddon's Bolero." This old gem is given an arrangement that only Amarok could pull off.

The music of Sol De Medianoche requires far more talent to accurately describe than I possess so I would strongly urge you to pick up a copy of this hypnotically beautiful disc and decide for yourself about the music of Amarok.

As for me, I feel that prog just doesn't get a lot better than this. I'm very glad I got this disc and I'll definitely be going back and getting the rest of Amarok's discs.

Sephiroth / Hermits / Xiongmao / Wendigo / Duet For Hang And Bass / Mama Todorka / Ishak The Fisherman / Eight Touts / Midnight Sun / Xiongmao II / Abaddon's Bolero

Robert Santamaria - keyboards, accordion, Turkish saz, 12 string guitar, Iranian santur, kanun, dulcimer, autoharp, xilophon, glockensoiel, hang, percussion
Manel Mayol - all flutes, didgeridoo, backing vocals
Mireia Sisquella - alto and soprano saxophones
Marta Segura - lead vocals
Alan Chehab - electric bass
Renato Prinzio - drums

Guest Musicians

Pablo Tato - electric guitar (8, 9)
Andres Oleagui - electric guitar (3)
Victor Estrada - Spanish guitar (9), theremin effects (4)
Branislav Grbic - violin (3, 6, 7, 8, 11)
Pepe Andreu - trumpet (4, 7, 8, 9), flugelhorn (7, 9, 11), piccolo (11)
Marta Riba - backing vocals - (1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 11)
Nuri Sabate - backing vocals - (6)
Moi Perez - Tibetan chant (4), harmonics (1, 7)
Luis Blanco - vibraslap (7)

Els Nostres Petits Amics ()
Canciones De Los Mundos Perdidos (1995)
Gibra'ara (1998)
Tierra De Especias (2000)
Mujer Luna (2002)
Quentadhark?n (2004)
Sol de Medianoche (2007)

Genre: Progressive Folk

Origin ES

Added: January 15th 2008
Reviewer: Tom Karr
Artist website:
Hits: 1980
Language: english


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