Monday, March 7, 2011

Nathan Mahl - Exodus (2008, Unicorn Digital)

This is a review I wrote in 2009 for Nathan Mahl's concept album about the Exodus of Bnei-Israel from Egypt, led by Moses.

Not having heard a single note from this band, despite knowing of them and reading about them and reviews of their previous albums, I come to this 2008 release of theirs without the burden or bliss of expectation or knowing what to expect of this release.

This album left me with somewhat mixed feelings but also satisfaction from wonderful music that is played here.

There are some memorable moments, some great musicianship and beautiful sections when the musicians show their abilities and the music prevails. There are also weaker aspects: the vocals, which at times seem to detract from the overall effect, rather than contributing to it; songs in which there seem to be a bland, dull sound, that has no depth and manages to ruin the effect of an otherwise good song ('The Parting'); and finally songs or parts of them, which just don’t “do it” for me and leave me “cold” after listening to them (for example 'The Last Climb', the opening part of the songs 'Let My People Go' and 'The Plagues')

But when I look at the album as a whole, it is a satisfying listening experience; a well accomplished song like 'Burning Bush', which is mostly instrumental, does a very good job of getting me into the mood of the album, and then continues as a “stage” for the musicians to play some wonderful intricate music. The same is heard on 'The Plagues'. There you hear an attractive form of symphonic-prog, jazzy at times, which simply captivates me as I listen to it and make all the downsides of the album go away. This side has a grandiose sound and shows their virtuosity ('Burning Bush', 'The Parting', 'The Plagues') and changes to a jazzier and heavier/retro style ('Down From The Mountain', which also has, opposite from the other songs here, good and fitting vocals).

The album is varied in style and mood, from the faster and upbeat bits of the starting songs to slower and emotional points as in '40 Years' and 'The Last Climb'. 'Canaan' is a good example of a mix of these, as it goes from “slowly pacing while pondering” to “happily jumping around grinning” with its tempo and atmosphere.

As the lyrics will tell you (along with the title) this album is a concept piece based on the Bible book of Exodus where Bnei-Israel are slaves in Egypt, doing the biding of the Pharaoh and yearning for freedom. You all most probably know the story (as a child in Israel, I had to learn it in School) and its outcome so I won’t go into it. I usually don’t pay attention to lyrics too much, unless they are exceptionally good or moving or when they are so stupid or cheesy that it just gets in the way of my enjoyment of the music. Here, though I am not interested at the lyrical content, it doesn’t get in the way for me. For the most part, the lyrics are well integrated as part of the melody and the flow of the music ('Let My People Go').

I can’t tell now if this is recommended for fans of the band, but for people looking for well made music with hooks and catchy melodies and good musicianship (though the overall sound is somewhat lacking to my ears), then it’s worth a listen, despite what I see as some weaker points.

Prog Archives
Unicorn Digital Records
Guy LeBlanc

You can watch these videos about the making of the album:

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