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The Healing Road - Birdbrain's Travels CD (album) cover

BIRDBRAIN'S TRAVELS

The Healing Road

 

Neo-Prog

3.86 | 23 ratings

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tszirmay
Special Collaborator
Crossover Team
4 stars German band The Healing Road has been around for a while but 2014's "Birdbrain's Travels" is my first experience, having reconnoitered it on www.progstreaming and being impressed enough to purchase it. This is multi-instrumentalist and composer Hans-Peter Hess' fifth vehicle for expressing his symphonic tendencies, manning Roland V-drums as well as an arsenal of various keyboards, ably assisted by a tight crew of gifted guitarists, a bass and drums support group , as well as extra soloists on ivories. Two longish tracks, basically part 1 and 2 and both beyond the 20 minute mark, give Hans-Peter the opportunity to create sweeping , multi-faceted suites that stretch the progressive boundaries, ebbing and flowing like a river seeking oceanic freedom. Strangely perhaps, there is some resemblance to the British band the Inner Road, in that both espouse instrumental landscapes that rely on some serious axe shredding, closer to the Vai/Satriani school then say, Steve Hackett, fully dependant on lavish symphonic backdrops and tight rhythmic drive. Another possible distant relative would be US band Majestic but without the vocals.

"Birdbrain's Travels Part 1" immediately kicks off in a marimba-like sequence, pushed along by a shifting drum beat and an elephant blare guitar. Evolving into a quick Genesis- like symphonic expanse that harkens back to Golden Era classics, the tide quickly turns to more explosive modernisms that threaten to rumble along unbridled and just as suddenly fades into a bass-led groove that careens like some crazed rally car going out of control, screeching guitars leaving the densest rubber marks. A serene synth flurry cavorts alongside the brooding bass in a temporary lull, until it just explodes into a flowery frenzy, then reverting to a mechanical clock feel, always twisting and turning until that marimba/calypso vibe returns to roost. Almost like a movie soundtrack, the orchestrations seem to continually follow some unknown script, giving the guitarists ample room to display their shimmering techniques. Of course, Hans Peter wouldn't really be a true German if he did not throw in some electronic ambient parts, though it must be said, they are few and far between, preferring to accentuate the instrumental prowess of the soloists. There is also a fair amount of judicious Pierre Moerlen's Gong influence as the vibraphone enjoys grabbing the attention. This is spirited music with all the prog ingredients deeply involved, so it never gets trite or blasť, Hans Peter is a skilled drummer and the crew is absolutely solid, creating material that is often bold and even aggressive. The placid moments are nearer to classic period Oldfield with dense overlapping, dreamy sequences that have nevertheless a flurry of notes, counterpoint and harmony. The dual guitarists Thommy Frank and Axel Zabel know how to shred, rip, twist and squeeze, elevating the sonic pressure with restrained power and obvious glee.

Birdbrain's Travels Part 2 yearns to kick it up a notch or two, as it starts off with some clever little memories of times gone by, first a slight wink at Deep Purple's "Sweet Child in Time" before the thundering piano decides to revisit a nod to "Firth of Fifth", which then morphs into a bass synth-led mood piece still featuring the amazing piano work (Is it Hans Peter or guest Chris Grundmann?) but slashed by some synth squalls that seem to be inspired by Cape Horn, tempestuous to say the least. Misty vocal effects then lead to a colossal guitar sortie, very panoramic and nearly psychedelic in that it seems to scour every corner of the zone in between the two speakers. The electronic Roland V-drums do wonders here, a mix of Ultravox-styled robotics a la "Mr.X" and Floydian swoon, giving the entire work a sleek and modern sheen. What some experimental moods? Ok but soon after comes, a Spanish guitar from out of nowhere, picking up a moody wisp of dust clouds and an unmistakable feeling of forlorn doom. I am such a sucker for this kind of design, phew, until I realize to my utter horror that the music is about the news broadcasts of that mass murder in a school in 2009 in Winnenden, Germany. The pain, the fear and the revolting disgust is aptly expressed by the rampaging guitar, the speeding bullet bass and drumming. The Hammond L-122 organ solo played by Markus Roth defines the sheer pain of it all. This was the story of a 17 year-old mass murderer who killed 15 people for 'fun' and then himself. The mournful piano cannot soothe the agony and the symphonic arrangement only highlights the absurdity of such insanity. The music ends on tearful notes of tragedy.

A thrilling album cover that resembles Can's rather impressive "Soon Over Babaluma", this is first-rate instrumental music, vivid soundscapes that induce a palpable sense of voyage and trip, even though the context is extraordinarily sad.

4.5 Insane voyages

tszirmay | 4/5 |

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