Year of Release: 2003
Catalog Number: Kay17
Total Time: 69:35:00
Several years ago I was invited by Ton Scherpenzeel to his home in Hilversum, Holland. In the back of his garden, Ton has his very own studio and it was there and then that he told me he was putting a new Kayak back together again. To make things even more interesting, he let me hear some new material, sung at the time by ex-For Absent Friends singer Alex Toonen. In the end, none of that material was ever released, but it nevertheless sparked the beginning of Kayak mach II. During the interesting interview, Scherpenzeel also confided that he was most proud of the "Merlin Suite" on the album Merlin. When initially released way back in 1981, the "Merlin Suite" took up an entire vinyl side (those were the days!). "I think that one side of the Merlin album is the best I have ever done," Ton said at the time, also adding: "maybe one day I'll write an entire new album based on that one side."
To everyone's delight that day has now finally come, as we hold in our hands Merlin - Bard Of The Unseen, a brand new studio album loosely based on some of the "older" tracks of the Merlin album, but re-invented, re-arranged, plus a selection of brand new songs penned not only by Scherpenzeel but also by drummer Pim Koopman. With an extensive touring sdhedule to promote the new album, all of the concerts so far are based in Holland, so Scherpenzeel's "fear of flying" doesn't come into the picture at all. Yet wouldn't it be nice for all our overseas friends to have Kayak attend either NEARfest or Baja Prog one day?
As in true Ayreon fashion, the Merlin saga this time is based on no fewer than five main characters. Merlin and Lancelot are taken care of by singer Bert Heerink. Morgan Lefay and Guinevere are the task for Cindy Oudshoorn, whilst Rob Vunderink takes care of Mordred. Recorded with the New Philharmonic Orchestra, needless to say Scherpenzeel's fantastic arrangements are finally exploited to the fullest, resulting in a breathtaking album. In the person of Bert Heerink, the band has found the ideal singer that is able to capture the beauty of the arrangement within his style of singing. The barbershop part during the "Merlin" title track simply sounds stunning, as well as the wonderful strings. Scherpenzeel has been known to write catchy melodies filled with interesting hooks and details. The song "Tintagel" proves just that, sung once again in a very convincing way by Heerink. You can have the best samples around yet nothing beats the quality of a real orchestra, which certainly lifts this album to higher ground! Especially the brass section gives some of the songs extra power. During "When The Seer Looks Away," we hear the female voice of Cindy Oudshoorn for the very first time and boy what a voice she has! For sure this is a great contribution to the total sound of the Kayak material, giving it kind of a musical feel. For sure this entire Merlin saga would be ideal for being performed as a musical because the subject ideally suited to being given the full treatment including costumes, backdrops, props, lighting --the works!
When I listen to "At Arthur's Court," to me the atmosphere comes close to that of Magnum, especially during the vocal part. The deep voice of Pim Koopman goes on to introduce "The Otherworld," which begins with nice orchestral sounds lead by a subtle oboe. During "The Purest Of Knights," Ton's synthesizers sound like bagpipes, emphasizing the Celtic feel. "Friendship And Love" would be a perfect song for ... Barry Manilow, as I could clearly see our American friend making this song part of his repertoire. Instead it's a duet between Lancelot and Guinevere, or between Heerink and Oudshoorn, giving it kind of a Les Misérables feel. Another stunning piece, based on probably the most powerful melody of them all, is "Niniane (Lady Of The Lake)." It features some superb piano playing by Ton, and it's interesting to note that all of the grand piano parts were recorded in no fewer than four different venues. A bluesy guitar accompanies the duet "Avalon," which closes this album in an ever so powerful way.
With Merlin - Bard Of The Unseen, Ton Scherpenzeel has finally realised his all-time dream. By using a real orchestra and some outstanding vocalists he has turned his Merlin into something of outstanding quality and emotion, an album that sadly won't sell as many copies as it's vinyl predecessor, yet which is so much more mature. Hopefully distribution will be strong enough to ship this little gem to every corner of the world, as everyone should be able to get his/her hands on this album. If my information is correct then a live DVD should be heading our way soon, too.
Merlin (7:50) / Tintagel (2:49) / The Future Knig (2:58) / The Sword In The Stone (3:43) / When The Seer Looks Away (4:18) / Branded (3:51) / At Arthur's Court (3:15) / The Otherworld (7:59) / The Purest Of Knights (5:48) / Friendship And Love (5:13) / The King's Enchanter (2:31) / Niniane (Lady Of The Lake) (7:08) / The Last Battle (8:11) / Avalon (3:44)
Ton Scherpenzeel - piano, synthesizers, backing vocals, percussion
Pim Koopman - drums, backing vocals
Bert Heerink - vocals
Rob Vunderink - vocals, guitars
Bert Veldkamp bass
Joost Vergoossen - guitars
Cindy Oudshoorn - vocals
New Philharmonic Orchestra
See See The Sun (1973)
Royal Bed Bouncer (1975)
The Last Encore (1976)
Starlight Dance (1977, US version)
Phantom Of The Night (1978)
Periscope Life (1980)
Close To The Fire (2000)
Merlin - The Bard Of The Unseen (2003)
Excerpts From Nostradamus - The Fate Of Man (2005)
Nostradamus - The Fate Of Man (2005)
KAYAKoustic Live (2007)
Coming Up For Air (2008)
Letters From Utopia (2009)
Genre: Progressive Rock