It's months ago that I promised Leo Koperdraat (keyboard, guitar, vocals) to review the album Garden of Ghosts, which he released together with Ed van Haagen (bass and keyboards) and Frank Urbaniak (drums and lyrics). The second album of this trio, and I must admit that up to this day I have not had the chance (or, to be more honest, time) to listen to their debut, Strange Attractions. Maybe I should, given what I found on this one...
Fractal Mirror consider their music (as written on their web site) to be contemporary pop/rock with progressive rock influences. This shows in the way the songs are structured, there's a bit more of chorus and verse structuring then on the albums I usually review, but a bit of variation in the musical diet usually doesn't hurt. Certainly not in this case, when the progressive rock influences are coming from the corner that was once monikered symphonic rock. Or, in short, there's a lot of keyboard work on this album. Not really a surprise, given that both Dutchmen, Koperdraat and Van Haagen play keyboards, next to the other instruments they handle.
This means that on just about all tracks, from the opening House of Wishes all the way to Stars, we are treated to layers of keyboard, synthesizer and mellotron melodies. Sometimes they simply form the main structure of the song, sometimes they are the accompaniment of the guitar. A guitar that is not always played by Leo Koperdraat by the way, on some tracks, for example Lost in the Clouds, producer and musician Brett Kull plays (slide) guitar.
So what does that mean in detail? Well, the album opens with House of Wishes, which has a an eighties synth pop feel to it, but with more intricate keyboard work. The singing of Leo Koperdraat reminds me slightly of Steve Kilby, singer of eighties Australian pop band The Church.
This is followed by the slightly more complex The Phoenix. A heavier opening is followed by more keyboard work, like on the opening track, but this track goes through different moods and tempos. Just in time for me, it becomes a bit more powerful near the end: despite the beautiful keyboard structures, the album lacks a bit of power for me.
On Lost in the Cloud, which starts in the same tempo as the first two tracks, the additional slide guitar adds a more rocky edge. This track is also the opening of the Powerless Suite, which covers four tracks from the album - dealing with social media, human communications and what would happen if we became 'really powerless'. An interesting theme, laid down very well in the music here.
Solar Flare the second part of the suite, is largely instrumental, with the band's friend and video artist Andre de Boer on triangle. The combination of organ (a Hammond?) and guitar work out really well here, mimicking the power of a solar flare for sure.
The Hive portrays what happens when the power goes down, taking us through the emotions of the now disconnected people. The keyboards and a quite sharp guitar part mimic the despair of the narrator having to communicate in the natural way again. That same guitar takes a lead role in the short instrumental Solar Flare Reprise.
After the suite, it is time for a short change in atmosphere and instrumentation. The Garden is build around piano and acoustic guitar, giving it a completely different feel than the rest of the album. A rather melancholic track about aging.
Orbital View builds layers of keyboard melodies again, which lead to a somewhat gloomy sound when combined with drums and guitars. Here Leo Koperdraat also sings in a slightly different way (higher pitched) than on the rest of the album.
Event Horizon is another good keyboard based track, about forgetting about the future when loosing someone. This nicely complements Legacy, which is about the feeling of parents when their children leave 'the nest'.
Closing off the album is Stars, which is dedicated by the band to all those they have lost. A beautiful track, opening with acoustic guitar and a real choir (no mellotron this time) followed by a bass hook that keeps you wondering how to explain it. The song builds up an becomes less dependent on that bass hook later on - and provides some great instrumentals.
Based on reviews of the debut, the band has improved quite a bit - and although this album is good, I hope the announced two volume album for 2016 shows more improvement. For that I see two ways, after listening to this album. First, I hope to find slightly more emotion in the vocals (Leo is a bit lacking there, which doesn't do justice to the nice timbre he has). Second, maybe a few more instrumental parts - the melodies and compositions are so good that sometimes the vocals could be omitted without loosing the story. A story which is otherwise well covered by the lyrics of drummer and lyricist Frank Urbaniak.
So, it took me a while get around to reviewing this album, but now it's done. Playing it is more than worth the time of anyone who likes symphonic rock and related music. Curious to things to come, with a promise of two volumes of music next year the band suddenly have raised the bar for themselves.