Lanfear - Zero Poems


Year of Release: 1999
Label: Famous Kitchen
Catalog Number: n/a
Format: CD
Total Time: 51:49:00

Let me first start this review off by stating a couple of facts before I get to confusing us both as I write about this disc. This is, without a doubt, one of the most difficult discs I've ever had to write about and describe - and I now realize that after having played this for weeks on end, I still won't be able to fully describe what this disc is all about. I mean that in all aspects, from the music, to the lyrics, to the emotional impact, to the production, everything. It's also just about the ?weirdest? disc I've ever listened to in a good sense - meaning that the disc is quirky in a lot of places, and I will mention the band Faith No More a few times in this review because for some reason, when I think of quirky, I think of that band for it's blend of serious / humorous approach to music.

I've sat with the disc for countless hours, trying to pull out influences, messages, lyrical meanings, similarities with other bands, and still I feel I've lost the battle within myself to accurately describe this, so I will not try to be accurate, but I will just attempt to give some description of what this disc is all about. That said, the words "unique," "strange," "weird," and many others of this nature will pop up frequently during this review, which I might add was written over a period of 2 days because as I write reviews, I always have the disc playing over and over but with this one, I could not keep up with the many changes that evolve over the 51:00 time frame. To the many people out there looking for that something "different," "unique," or those who just want to hear a progressive band who doesn't sound like anyone else, look no further, but this is not to say you should jump in before testing the waters; it can be freezing cold or pleasantly warm, but with this band you'll never know from song to song. I've just complimented this band, take my word for it. You will not sit down with this disc and say that you love it, hate it, or at least understand it; you will scratch your head and wonder how the hell someone could come up with such intricate and strange song structures and put them to some of the most difficult lyrics I've ever read, and make it all work. Bear with me on this review please - I'll not only be trying to convey a description to you, but also I'll be once again trying to describe this to myself after having this disc in my player for weeks. I doubt I will ever "figure this out" or "get it" like I did with the Pain of Salvation music, but if anyone ever does "know" what this Lanfear disc is all about from top to bottom, I'm all ears.

I'd like to make a comment about the CD artwork of this disc before I get to the music. The artwork is a beautiful, black & gray color throughout, in a gorgeous digi-pak style, and compliments the dark, atmospheric mood of what is inside the music perfectly. This disc was incredibly thought out from top to bottom, and nothing was left untouched. This band had set out to create a concept disc that captured a certain mood, and they started with the CD artwork, and worked their way through to the lyrics and into the music. Simply a marvel of mood capturing from beginning to end.

THE STYLE

Well, I don't know where to begin. Let me first begin this part by saying that there are 11 songs on this 51:00 concept disc, and not one single song sounds like the previous song, and incredibly their moods and styles change with each song. I've tried to capture some of the musical influences throughout the disc, but there are too many to try to grab onto at once, so I thought I'd give some thoughts as to what I'm hearing.

When the disc begins, I'm reminded of a Pain of Salvation type of music, with double bass, huge electric guitars, and then searing synthesizers all teaming up together and creating a ?WOW? feeling right off the bat. You can't help but say to yourself that this disc is going to be awesome if it stays like this throughout, but that's the key - you'll be delighted that it doesn't stay the same, or you'll be disappointed that it doesn't. The fact is, it doesn't. Each and every song plays on a different mood, and changes drastically along the way, and I doubt that anyone could actually put their finger on the various moods and stages that this disc goes through.

I hear "emotions" when I hear this disc - I hear disgust, hope, futility, playfulness, sadness, wonder, anger, aggression, and many more played through a variety of musical styles, which I figure include Pain of Salvation, King Diamond, Faith No More, The Beatles, The Who, and many, many more I can't begin to think of. Now, don't rub your eyes in amazement and think you're getting the sounds of these bands, you're actually getting the emotions of these various bands, and if you're amazed that I included some bands from the 50s and 60s in that list with Pain of Salvation & King Diamond, then this will give you a small idea of what kind of variations this band creates.

The music itself varies from song to song as I said, but it does have it's metal moments right at the start of the disc, and then can suddenly disappear into a heavy, quiet, symphonic moment or two, and then into some humorous Faith No More type music all at once. I give the King Diamond moods from the singer, who likes to get very aggressive at times like the King in his lower tone, to the dark tones of the disc which I liken to maybe "THEM." Then, I liken the strange song styles and variations to Pain of Salvation's Entropia, a disc I still don't "get," but you know it's incredibly structured. The Faith No More distinctions again come from the singer, who suddenly does sound like an aggressive Mike Patton, and the music sounds like an epic version of that band at times as well. It also has it's Beatle-esque type vocals in one song, and also sounds like they've taken a song right out of The Who's music from the late 60's. Again, there is so much more going on, these are just some of the things I'm hearing. There is also a cover song on the disc I believe which was written by the Electric Light Orchestra if I read the credits correctly. At any rate, a song was written by Jeff Lynne and it does sound like a song right out of the ELO catalogue, another interesting musical influence.

In it's shortened form musically, this band is a vocal / keyboard / guitar driven band that plays anything from a metal style, to an epic, symphonic style, to a synth driven modern day style of Faith No More, with vocal styles ranging from modern day aggression to the poppy days of the The Beatles and The Who. Go figure - and that's only portions of the disc. The rest of the disc is trying to bring this strange story to light, one which I still can't figure out, but definitely has something to do with the future at least based on the song titles. Oh, did I mention progressive? All the while these variations are taking place, you didn't think you'd be tapping your feet all this time trying to keep up with the music did you? You can - but for brief moments. The music will be carrying along at a nice pace with you tapping your foot and then all of a sudden the music will stop dead in the water and leave you with your foot tapping to air. Then the music will plunge into a soft, quiet vocal passage leading into some other variation of progression. Forget trying to figure this out - if you can, please let me know what you come up with.

The music is not without it's faults - at least opinionated ones. Like in some parts, where the vocal melodies are out of tune with the music, intentionally or not, some of the harmonies really can irritate the senses, and at other times, the singer ( who will get his own spotlight below ) will take you to places your senses might not have ever been yet, and this could get scary. The production is strange as well and this will all come out in the review. Overall, just be prepared for something VERY strange and different.

THE BAND:

Stefan Zoerner / Vocal, keyboards
Jurgen Schrank / Drums
Markus Ullrich / Guitars
Kai Schindelar / Bass

I'm not going to go into the talent level of this band, as I've got too much to say about the music to spotlight their individual feats like I normally do, but it does appear that we do have another musical visionary here in Stefan Zoerner, the vocalist and keyboard player. He is credited with writing the lyrics on the entire disc, and his incredible performance on the disc coupled with his keyboard additions and lyrical imagery makes him nothing short of an amazing artist.

This is not to take away from the talent level of the other players - indeed, they are all super talented musicians, not bent on doing any showing off whatsoever, and you will notice a lack of traditional guitar solos in favor of a more combined effort, and the song structures really don't allow room for the showboating material normally found on prog discs. I know now that the main goal of this disc is to bring this strange story to light, and to do it with the most musical impact possible, and in this case, it seems to be the vocals and keyboards arrangements that stand out immediately and constantly. The rest of the band is on the same roller coaster ride that we are on, and to write something of this quality, and then have to keep up with themselves is probably an amazing feat in itself, and it does feel like the listener and the band are on the same disadvantageous wavelength together. They have to bring this strangeness to light and play it - we have to listen to it and try to absorb and understand it. Good luck to both, but it's a wondrous ride for all even if you don't "get it."

THE VOCALS:

Easily the strangest, yet most interesting part of this disc. If you didn't like Daniel Gildenl?w's voice in Pain of Salvation, but admire the hell out of the wonderful vocal performance, then you have the exact same situation here with Stefan Zoerner. He seems to be the lyrical mastermind behind this story, and he needed to try to bring this story to the listener with some degree of credibility, so in Keith Sudano (Eternity X) fashion, he set out to use as many voices as possible to do this. The problem is, he doesn't have the forceful voice of Gildenlow, or the melodic voice of Sudano, and his variations are wonderful but could wreak havoc on the senses depending on your tolerance. His "normal" voice, is one that I can't again readily describe to you, but he sounds like he should be singing in Nirvana, Green Day, or some band of that nature. This is NOT an insult to his ability, it's just that his tone is very "alternative" sounding if that makes sense. Judging from his thank-you comments in the insert, he'll probably threaten my life for saying that, but I'll take my chances on trying to describe his voice. Try to take Kurt Cobain, Alice Cooper, Mike Patton, and throw them in a pot and mix them up, and then add some aggression to the tone and a thick German accent and you MIGHT have an idea of what he sounds like, at certain times. If you thought that the music I described here was chaotic sounding and off the wall, the vocal melodies and approach change with every song as well, making for one hell of a variation both musically and vocally. Stefan can sing, and he does this well. He can also growl, become VERY aggressive reminding me of King Diamond at times, and then he can sound like Roger Daltry in his younger days or a pleasant mid-range singer with a thick German accent. This entire performance by itself is a tour de force of styles, and one that can only be respected even if you don't like the voice itself. It takes quite a vision to create a vocal approach to this type of music, and the clash between the music and vocal styles is an incredible mesh of strangeness and atmosphere, and wonder at the very least. If you do figure out the story line, then you'll know why he brings the story to us in this vocal fashion. From sad to angry, hope to futility, this guy can do it all, and with such conviction that you feel he IS part of this story. You noticed that I have not mentioned the word beauty when I mention his voice. You will not hear beauty in his voice, but you will hear an incredible vocal performance despite what you think of his voice.

THE PRODUCTION:

Mr. Andy Horn, who mixed, produced, recorded and contributed some programmed instruments and voices on some songs, was the one who sent this disc to me in the first place. In the same way that the vocal melodies and musical melodies clash and then come together to make up the musical portion of this disc, the production is a bit strange and beautiful as well. This band left nothing to normality, and it's this sense of strangeness that might be appealing to you after many, many listens.

Overall, the production is very bright. Meaning - it has a very high ( treble ) sound. It's a clean, precise, crisp sound - but it's bright.

The vocals and keyboards, as you might guess, are way up in the mix, and every word from Stefan's mouth can be heard, despite his vocal variations and accent, and that tells about the cleanliness of the sound. The keyboards are full and thick.

The guitar has a strange tone to it. While heavy at times, the sound seems to be put back in the mix somewhat to make room for the vox / keyboards which is fine except if you're looking for some guitar metal here. The tone of the guitar has a "tinny" sound to it, almost "too" electric, sort of like the guitar tone on Carisma's 1825 if you can hear that sound in your head. It does not sound like it's supposed to be up front; rather, it sounds like it should be complementing the sometimes epic nature of the music and it serves it's purpose well.

The bass is separate and apart from the other instruments, and can be heard, but it doesn't produce any room shaking effects from my subwoofer either; something I would love to happen here with this music. Just a bit more bottom end on this would have been desired personally, but that is a matter of preference and there is plenty of bass to be heard.

The drums are again a bit back in the mix I think, but also, are programmed I believe. If you do not like this sound, then forget about even checking this disc out because these drums are definitely triggered or created some way - I'd be surprised if Andy told me they were genuine. They sound fine however, as I've never had a problem with programmed drums, but I know that some try to avoid this sound.

THE VERDICT

If I've confused you, don't worry, I've confused myself as well. That's the beauty of this disc though. You never know where it's going to take you, either to metal land, alternative land, 60s land, symphonic land, and to many other places as well. Now, so far I haven't said you HAVE to buy this disc. It is not for everyone. It will take many nights of just listening to the music and trying to absorb that part before you even pick up the lyric sheet and try to figure out what this story is all about. Fun for some, death for others. Notice I still haven't said progressive metal, progressive rock, or anything else. All I can say is that it's progressive - after that, it's a mix of tons of styles that you'll sit through. There is no denying that there are many aspects of this disc that could turn you off, from the strange music, to the strange vocal approach, to the strange lyrics, but one thing is for sure; it was all put together with some serious use of the imagination and brilliantly crafted together. These guys didn't decide to sit down one day and write this thing overnight, it's just too imaginative and varied. At the very least, you should try to hear this somehow, just to hear that somewhere out there, some band is trying NOT to sound like everyone else and is doing their own thing. This should please those of you looking for something ?different? and ?unique?, although I do say dip your toes in the water before you plunge as it may freeze you or boil you depending on your tolerance level for difference. Do I like it ? And am I recommending this ? I know that this is easily the most difficult disc I've had to describe and I still haven't hit on most of it, and I personally like to stick to styles that make me shiver and shake with delight. Just for the experience alone, this disc is worth owning - I guess for me it's the fact that I do keep going back to the disc because I want to experience the innards of the music, and I'll admit that the vocals are not my kind of listening preference, but to hear some guy sing in so many different styles and variations and tones and try to compel the listener into hearing this story really intrigues me, and for that alone I keep going back. Interesting that I would have so much to say about a disc that I still haven't figured out, or is within my normal listening style, so that says quite a bit about this strange but interesting musical piece.


Tracklisting:
Zero Poems (5:26) / Turn The Tide (5:35) / Eight Silent Chambers (7:39) / Epilogue:June, 2054 A.D. (1:10) / How Come ? (9:35) / My Karma Told Me (4:01) / To Sear The Flood (2:08) / Enlil/Genesis (3:41) / Naked (4:02) / Twilight (3:53) / Electric Storm, 2053 A.D. (4:31)

Musicians:
Stefan Zoerner - vocal and keyboards
Jurgen Schrank - drums
Markus Ullrich - guitars
Kai Schindelar - bass

Discography:
Towers (1996) (released as Towers of February (1997))
Zero Poems (1999)
The Art Effect (2003)
Another Golden Age (2005)

Genre: Progressive-Power Metal

Origin DE

Added: October 1st 1999
Reviewer: Larry "LarryD" Daglieri

Artist website: www.lanfear.eu
Hits: 927
Language: english

  

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