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Barrock — Oxian
(SI Music Simply 53, 1994, CD)
Like their name seems to imply, Barrock's music combines elements of Baroque and rock. The rock, in this case, is a modern Italian symphonic progressive sound with a clear allegiance to the classics of the 70s. Plenty of growth and refinement has taken place since their first album (L'Alchimista, 1990, reviewed in #4) which hinted at what they could do. Oxian delivers on the promise. The band is a six-piece led by Valter Poles and Pino Vendramin, both of whom share keyboard and guitar duties, and fronted by two female vocalists Paola Polese and Graziella Vendramin. The vocals are, for the most part, used very judiciously so as to not overwhelm the ornate and lush arrangements. This gives the musicians plenty of room to work through the many shifts in style and dynamics. The tracks alternate between the louder, more rock oriented pieces, and the quieter baroque, impressionist, and classically inspired pieces, although these flavors are interspersed throughout the album, giving an overall cohesive feel. In contrast with the 70s, though, Barrock's instrumentation is definitely modern: digital synths, gated drums, and the overwhelming presence of the electronic age. One won't find any swirling Hammonds or Mellotrons here, but you will find plenty of inspired compositions embellished with well-thought-out arrangements. By comparison, due to the modern instrumentation, vocal arrangements, and the mix of contemporary and classic expression, Oxian probably bears more in common with some of the current and recent Japanese symphonic bands like Teru's Symphonia and Mugen. Overall, a very good album indeed, and one that I'm sure most would enjoy thoroughly. It also sets a new standard for the SI label... hopefully there will be more like this to come.
by Peter Thelen, Published 1995-07-01
Barrock is a band I want to like very much. Their music is strongly reminiscent of classic early 70s Banco (one of my favorites), both in the fluid contrapuntal writing and creative orchestration, as well as in the predominantly dark and melancholic moods which are evoked. So why the tinge of hesitancy in my affection for this newcomer to the Italian prog scene? To put it bluntly — the drums! Though I tend to prefer actual instruments to imitations, I probably could deal with the sampled piano and organ, with the audible loops in the orchestral samples, and even with the sampled acoustic guitar. But the completely amateurish rhythm tracks really make this a difficult listen. The drums on Oxian, if actually live, have the life gated out of them, or if electronic, are quantized into robotic doldrums. The sounds are what you would expect from a $200 tone module, and the drumbeats are so basic and annoying that the best parts of this disc are universally the parts without drums. I hate to pick so much on one small aspect of this album, but the point is that the music is so rich and varied that the drums just don't even come close to fitting in, and the electronic nature of the entire performance detracts from what could be a superb album. Oxian is musically even stronger than Barrock's 1990 debut L'Alchimista, which featured the same strong classic Italian prog influences and deserves similarly favorable Banco comparisons. Unfortunately both albums suffer noticeably from the same percussive and sonic maladies. If you can ignore the horrible drumming and the lifeless nature of some of the sounds, there really is some fantastic music here.
by Rob Walker, Published 1995-07-01
Two things should immediately give this one away: (1) it's on the SI (Sans Identity) label; and (2) the cover art featuring a mighty sea serpent, a large and fantastic castle, and a wizard king with glittering jewels for eyes. This is clearly neo-prog territory, and it won't take more than a minute of this disc to understand what subtle variations on the already formulaic themes Barrock will use to define their sound. First is the fugue, with its quasi-classical baroque minor themes played proudly by clammy symphonic synths. Most all of the music is composed by Victor Poles, with no less than three apparent kin helping out on drums, bass, and vocals (female). But with music so synth heavy, and with Victor taking on guitar roles as well, it is obvious that he is the whole band really. As is far too typical in this brand of music, the drumming is beyond lifeless, an effect made even more unpalatable by the awful electric drum sounds. Then, miraculously, when the female vocals enter, your ears will perk up. The gorgeous, almost operatic belting out of simple melodies is almost elegant enough to make you forget (for a brief moment only) about what is (or, rather is not) going on in the background. The overall attempt by Barrock to incorporate this approach, this structure, fails in its execution more than anything else. While fundamentally it may not even seem worth the effort, bands like Halloween (Merlin) have proven that it can succeed if professionally done. And that's the essential ingredient that is missing here. But, since the (infrequent) vocals are so well done, Oxian is worthy of the highest honor yet to be bestowed on an SI (Shelflife Infinitesimal) release: two out of five stars.
by Dan Casey, Published 1995-07-01
Related artist(s): Barrock
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