Year of Release: 2010
Label: ProgRock Records
Catalog Number: PRR401
Total Time: 68:46:00
Pennsylvania's Persephone's Dream are one of those bands that snuck up on me a few years ago and have just continued to impress me with each release. With their most recent release, 2010's Pan - An Urban Pastoral, they have gone in a slightly different direction. Persephone's Dream have lessened the prog metal aspect of their sound. But, just like past releases, it's excellent. Let me say that again. It's EXCELLENT! It is filled with stunning vocals, dynamic arrangements, and great attention to sonic detail. It's still rock, but it's infused with classical and operatic atmospheres. It's lyrical and gothic, dark and light, warm and cool...
At varying times, the music recalled for me early Genesis, Jethro Tull, Renaissance, The Red Masque, and White Willow... and at times the synth music of say Steve Roach, James Reynolds, and a myriad of artists who have composed synth music, including for computer animation. And even if there are moments that recall late 60s/70s psychedelic folk, at no times does this seem dated. There's an energy and vibrancy to the music that make at once fresh and immediate. You might even say there's a bit of disco with album closer "Silhouette." Don't let that put you off... I'd call it progressive disco, really. It's really just that there's the shimmery elements and a certain danceable rhythm that suggests a disco element. The vibe of this track recalls the Persephone's Dream of past albums. That isn't to say that you will find yourself longing for the sound of old or that you have to wait here to get it. There are, naturally, elements heard throughout the album in here, whether it's percussion, bass, guitar or vocals. This particular track has a bit of a Middle Eastern element to it. No, you will love where the band are now.
But, let's not start at the end.
I'm having a hard time picking out favourite tracks, though not elements: Ashley Peet has a terrific voice ... one that is comparable and consistent with Persephone's Dream vocalists of the past. It's a lilting yet earthy voice, warm and engaging. Instrumentally speaking, what stands out most is the drums and percussion (Scot Harvey)... they're rhythmic and, like Peet's voice, earthy. There always a warm element, a pulse that brings the music alive. Add in the percussive instruments that Jim (JT) Tallent brings in including chimes, bells, as well as drums. These often ties in with the bass of Roman Prokopenko, which also throbs, pulses. Jim Waugaman provides all the keyboards - organs, Mellotron, synths - that give shape or form to many of the tracks, as well as gives voice to the Urban Youth character of the story. And there's the leader of the Dream, Rowen Poole, who not only engineered and mixed the album (writing credits are the full band's), but plays 6-, 7- and 12-string guitars, doing fabulous things with them, and atmospheric synths.
The music flows well together and literally flows from track to track ... or really, it's one track with several chapters. Pan... is concept album, partly told in the text preceding the lyrics, part told by the songs themselves. There are three named characters - the Maenads (Peet), Urban Youth (Waugaman) and Pan (Dale Mossburg). But, having said that about not having a favorite, "The Tears Of Selene" is one that sticks with me (mostly owing to that voice of Peet's). But the trio of "Youth's Denial," "Temptation Of Icarus," and "Selene Rising" - which all lead into "The Tears Of Selene" -- are others that stand out, perhaps because they are the heavier, rockier pieces, with their thrilling, trilling keyboards, and crashing percussion; perhaps because of their vague reminders of Genesis. Perhaps because of the richly sonorous way Mossburg sings, It is at once classic prog rock and striking fresh prog rock.
A quick survey of the album... is in many ways impossible. Every track deserves mention, and I don't think I can do any of them justice. But... after a spoken word track ("Invocation") - with Pan's name recited in varying languages - we get the first musical track "Pan's Labyrinth." It's a track filled with lots of organ, cheerfully trilling synths, and darkly searing guitar all over the solid foundation of throbbing bass, and crisp, at times martial, drums. Here is where I thought of Italian prog - in the abstract - as well as, because of the organ, of Glass Hammer. At other times, during a keyboard solo, it is of Genesis (and by extension, Marillion) that comes to mind. In short, it is richly symphonic progressive rock that has, at times, a grand overture aspect to it.
This is followed by the urban sounds - that is, the sound of traffic and city life - of "Those Who Remember," which melds into a bucolic pastoral - light percussion, guitar, and the high, lilting vocals of Peet (in harmony at times with multiple Peets). Within you will hear also harp-like keyboard runs, too. Lovely piece. It leads directly into the lyrical "Chaosong" which is anything but chaotic.
The classic Genesis element returns in "Sidewalk Soliloquy," where the Urban Youth reflects on his urban life - cold and lifeless as winter sets in and wonders if the spring will be better -- of course, this is a motif in the album - the urban crossed with the pastoral... in fact, "Urban Pastoral" is itself contradictory, since there is nothing pastoral about the urban landscape. And the pastoral landscape doesn't have the hustle, bustle and coldness of the urban landscape. Anyway, here the Genesis element is more in the drama and presentation -- the arrangement -- than that Waugaman sounds like Gabriel. However, the cadence is there, a bit of Gabriel's tone. Though I have to say here, and on the next vocal track, "The Denouement Of God" that follows, in fact, Davey Dodds of Red Jasper came to mind more so or a throatier Ian Anderson.)
"Le DÃ©filÃ© Satyrique" is a short drum solo ... a rhythmic tattoo that marches along, the same rhythm repeated (with some variance) underlying the track that follows, "Maenads, Melody And Meter" Peet's darkly gothic vocals here are a lot like The Red Masque's Lynnette Shelley's. In fact, with the strident bursts of piano and commanding vocals of Mossburg all add to a gothic atmosphere, somewhat seductive, that The Red Masque's music gets. This gothic aspect continues in the heavier "The Seduction Of Daphnis."
What else? Oh there's the playful, drunken sing-song of "Nectar Of The Gods," which later becomes a bit more atmospheric, with occasional keyboard phrases that replay in the energetic "Youth's Denial." There are some Asian elements in "Erato's Pulse" - in the use of flute, various bits of percussion, chimes, vibes, and more. It's an evolving rhythmic journey, warner and more natural than the synth earlier in the album... again the pastoral versus the urban. There is, it must be said, truly a pulse that runs through this track, a pulse that moves about like an intricate dance.
The more I play this CD, the more I come to love it. The more subtle details I notice, the more I notice this review is woefully inadequate. What a stunning album this is. And that I let it sit for more than a year (it's been in the rotation since just about the time the band was announced for OhioProg... which has recently been cancelled) is a crime you should not repeat. Late though it is, put this on my top releases for 2010 list...
Prelude (0:39) / Invocation (1:18) / Pan's Labyrinth (Instrumental) (7:28) / Those Who Remember (3:42) / Chaosong (Instrumental) (1:25) / Sidewalk Soliloquy (2:50) / Chaosong (Reprise) (1:31) / Denouement Of A God (1:02) / Le Défilé Satyrique (Instrumental) (1:32) / Maenads, Melody And Meter (3:01) / Ubi Sunt (1:12) / The Seduction Of Daphnis (4:59) / Nectar Of The Gods (3:12) / Youth's Denial (1:16) / The Temptation Of Icarus (2:14) / Selene Rising (2:03) / The Tears Of Selene (9:31) / Erato’s Pulse (11:06) / Silhouette (8:45)
Scot Harvey - acoustic & electronic drums, vibes, percussion, vocals
Ashley Peer - vocals
Rowen Poole - 6-, 7-, & 12- string guitars, atmospheric synths
Roman Prokopenko - bass
John (JT) Tallent - percussion, drums, bells, chimes, whistles, odd instruments. odd sounds, oddities
Jim Waugaman - piano, organ, Moog, Mellotron, synths, vocals
Evening Mirage (1997)
Pyre Of Dreams (2007)
Pan: An Urban Pastoral (2010)
Genre: Progressive Rock