Album review: KOMPENDIUM – Beneath The Waves

 

 

 

7 Stones Records (Release Date 11.2.13)

Every so often, and it’s becoming ever more rare, an album comes along that is so fine it assumes iconic status.

Sergeant Pepper, Pet Sounds, Led Zeppelin 4, Tubular Bells, Dark Side Of The Moon and Jeff Wayne’s ‘War Of The Worlds’ are all examples of this phenomenon and, such is the brilliance of this magnum opus, ‘Beneath The Waves’ is surely destined to acquire the mantle.

Kompendium is the brainchild of progressive rock luminary Rob Reed (Magenta, Chimpan-A) who has called in all his favours at once to assemble a collection of musicians that reads like a Who’s Who of progressive rock.

The likes of Steve Hackett, Francis Dunnery, John Mitchell, Nick Barrett and Gavin Harrison all add their redoubtable skills and Reed has pushed the envelope still further to acquire the services of vocal ensemble Synergy, the London Session Orchestra and the English Chamber Choir.

But the real genius was the selection of Steve Balsamo, most noted for his performance in Jesus Christ Superstar in the mid-1990s, as vocalist for the project – he surely crystallized everything Reed was hoping to achieve.

And what an achievement it is.

Essentially the story of Connor MacGregor, a man from the south of Ireland in the 1900s who went missing following the death of his child and the suicide of his wife, ‘Beneath The Waves’ is, despite its somewhat morbid subject matter, one of the most uplifting pieces of music you are likely to hear.

And I use the word ‘piece’ advisedly for that’s what it is. This is not a body of work you can dip into, it demands to be heard in its entirety from the spoken intro of  ‘Exordium’ to the spoken outro of ‘Reunion’.

The music itself is an interesting fusion of Celtic, folk, classic and progressive rock with side orders of opera, oratorio and even Latin and African chanting.

That the whole thing comes together is testament to the dedication and downright musical skill of its composer Rob Reed, who, looking at the visual material on the bonus DVD, must have been totally wrung-out when the whole project was finished.

It’s almost fatuous to pick a highlight among all this magnificence but the duet of Steve Hackett on nylon guitar and debut female vocalist Angharad Brinn on ‘Lilly’ is simply jaw-dropping.

To put the tin hat on things, the album comes in sumptuous packaging designed by Geoff Taylor (the artist responsible for Jeff Wayne’s ‘War Of The Worlds’ cover) and includes a twenty-page booklet with the newspaper story that inspired the project, the libretto (written by Rob’s brother, Steve) and short histories of the musicians involved.

In an era of diposable music and transient ‘talent’ show wannabes, ‘Beneath The Waves’ will live long in the memory as not only an iconic album but also one of those precious moments when you realise just why you love music in the first place.

*****

Review by Alan Jones

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