4 out of 5 Stars
Okay, I’ll admit, this was a rather strange review for me to write. Not when it comes to the music, mind you, but when it comes to the execution of the review itself. You see, in the past few years, my review-writing experience has been limited to providing overviews of only full albums, actual albums, and not (as in the case of these tunes by Whitecave) collections of individual songs released and available separately. In other words, I’m used to hearing songs in the order in which the album has been sequenced, with songs intended to be heard in a specific order and not in a random fashion. Now granted, the songs the band delivered to me did have not only a name, Impressions, listed in the “TITLE” field of the MP3 files, along with track numbers, so, in essence, could be deemed as an actual album, yet on the other hand, there is no specific album cover for Impressions, but separate cover art for each individual track.
Therefore, for the sake of “normal,” I decided to pretend this was an actual album and not a bevy of individual random songs, and the cover art I selected to accompany the review on my website is not representative of the “album” as a whole, but of one individual composition. Got it? Okay, now with that explained, let’s get to the content of the musical tracks.
As a whole, these eight songs—more than forty-six minutes of total music—offer up an enjoyable and lush soundscape of Symphonic Prog and Neo-Prog Rock in a style that typically brings to mind artists such as Pink Floyd, Airbag, Riverside, and Eloy, with (for the most part) relaxing atmospheres, mid-tempo rhythms, and somewhat spacey background accompaniments. In other words, the band doesn’t veer too far from this signature sound, offers no in-your-face power blasts or jarring tempo shifts or eclectic bits of strangeness to yank the listener into uncharted musical territory, staying rather neatly within a strict transonic avenue.
This is not to say that the tracks are merely duplicates of each other. Certainly not. The various melodies and chord progressions, as well as the sundry song arrangements and scoring, are quite distinct for each composition, yet each of the tunes laid out side by side (or back to back, as the case may be) are also uniform in their presentation when it comes to overall sound, style, and substance.
“Demented” kicks off the collection in fine fashion, and features Whitecave’s “signature” sound—grand and lavish keyboard washes (thanks to Cor Steijn), solid and steady rhythms (courtesy of Dick Wit), and biting and tasty guitar leads (deftly supplied by Hans Holema). Additionally, melodic bass runs also seem the norm (although the band is currently without a permanent bassist, it turns out that Holema supplied the majority of those tracks as well). Regardless, the full and lavish instrumentation displayed on this song seems straight out of the Pink Floyd playbook, while Holema’s vocal tone, range, and delivery style had me instantly imagining Eloy’s Frank Bornemann wielding the microphone.
“Tunnel of Life” is not only the lengthiest tune on offer, but certainly one of the most complex as well. Here, Steijn offers a wide variety of synth and keyboard sounds, including a magnificent “cathedral” organ, so when a guitar solo bursts forth in the tune’s mid-section atop the organ backdrop and a stoic rhythm pattern, it soars through the sonic heavens like a melodious and piercing comet. The same can be said for the song’s ending section, where Holema’s six-string riffs once again engage and captivate. One note, however: I’ll admit that some rather odd “phasing” effect happens in various sections of the song and does become a distraction, but after several listens, I eventually concluded this was unintentional, and instead was the result of a defective MP3 file and not some stylistic design on the group’s part.
Next up comes “Fresh,” the shortest composition included, and the only instrumental. Granted, not being a huge fan of non-vocal tracks, part of me looks upon “Fresh” as the weakest offering, while the other part of me can’t help but appreciate the searing guitar tones during the introduction and ending passages, as well as the spacey synths weaving in and around the laid-back guitar leads that dominate the main body of the piece. Nevertheless, were the track not included in this collection, I likely wouldn’t have missed it, but again, this is only since I prefer vocal tracks as opposed to instrumental pieces and nothing to do with the talent on display.
“Destruction in Paris,” however, is where the band once again regained my undivided attention. A beautifully tranquil and elegant grand piano introduction added another dimension to the group’s arsenal of sounds and atmospheres, and when the lazy rhythm kicked in, it provided a sedate yet steadfast foundation on which Holema’s emotionally melodious guitar leads could fully capture center stage. After an almost plaintive verse and chorus, the band abruptly interjects rat-a-tat rhythm breaks and blasts of sonic drama into the mix before a more uptempo mid-section ushers in another vocal segment, with the lyrics laden with invocations for survival. Then, the most chilling moment of the track arrives when an announcer’s voice interjects a brief “news report” about November 13th, 2015, the date when coordinated terrorist attacks upon Paris took the lives of so many innocent souls, atop a series of haunting chord patterns and sampled choir voices, along with another of Holema’s fierce and emotionally charged solos. My only complaint about this tune is that it doesn’t stretch out a bit longer, since the ending section is quite riveting.
The tune “Betrayal” is another highly dramatic piece revolving around human survival and man-made destruction—and once again, amid almost mournful synth chord sequences, the band appropriately elected to add sparse yet icy synth accents, forlorn guitar fills, and snare drum rolls that conjured up images of soldiers marching toward battle. The song slowly builds at a steady pace, the instrumentation growing in both volume and grit until the final brief sequence includes sounds of war.
After those two strikingly dark compositions, “Lonely Traveller” offers up a lighter ambience, a delightful respite from the emotional intensity of the former tracks. Here, a series of uplifting chord patterns, melodic and sprightly guitar and bass riffs, along with shifts in tempo and numerous rhythmic fills, plus widely varied instrumentation in the song’s different sections, makes for some solid progressive moments. Periodically, I’m reminded of old-time Eloy or Camel material, or perhaps modern-day Airbag, Mystery, and IQ styles, and this tune ultimately came to be my favorite track among the lot, one I find myself replaying quite often.
Similarly, the next track, “Tall (Lonely Traveller, Part 2),” summons up parallel feelings, the mood highly “proggy” and somewhat ethereal, but this time in a more Floydian manner with the overall arrangement a bit less complex. Played back to back, however, with the previous “Lonely Traveller,” these tunes make for a seemingly perfect introduction for listeners new to Whitecave, a flawless “sampler” by which to recruit more fans.
Finally, “Afterburner” is a track the band supplied to me only recently, yet I decided to nevertheless include it in this review since I found it highly enjoyable. With its punchy introduction, the inclusion of Hammond organ and a spirited and driving tempo, “Afterburner” comes as a surprise, yet a pleasant one. Indeed, after living with the previous seven songs for many weeks now, I found this tune’s meatier introduction and some sections in the middle a commendable change of pace, which adds yet another dimension to the group’s general style. Now I can’t help but wonder whether the band members may have also been influenced through the years by artists such as Deep Purple, Rainbow, Uriah Heep, or Presto Ballet. Regardless, with a wonderfully beefy guitar riff in the middle section, the lighter verses, some varying instrumentation and shifts in moods throughout, “Afterburner” provides another fine example of modern-day Prog-Rock with a “retro” flair, a style I have grown to appreciate more and more in recent years.
Therefore, after savoring Whitecave’s material far longer than normal before typing this review (thanks to real-life intrusions, and sincere apologies to the very patient band), I’ve concluded that with its seemingly wide range of inspirations, its obvious deftness when it comes to scoring, dramatics, and song arrangements, and each musician’s raw and undeniable talent, Whitecave is a highly promising band, with a lengthy and (hopefully) lucrative future in the stars. Indeed, with numerous memorable tracks available in this collection, I couldn’t help myself but to add one of them to an upcoming Prog-Scure Radio episode, and it’s an inclusion I look forward to providing for my listeners. Those music fans who are forever on the prowl for “fresh Prog-Rock blood” will most certainly find much here to enjoy, and I for one look forward to seeing what these creative gents will concoct in the future.