Tuesday 28 March 2023

Karfagen - Passage to the Forest of Mysterious (2023)

Country: Ukraine
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 24 Mar 2023
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Anthony Kalugin is a rather prolific musician. This is my third review of a Karfagen album in a short four year span, though I'm only tackling the new studio half of the release; there's a bonus disc of what they're calling a Director's Cut instrumental version of 2020's Birds of Passage album. Back in January, however, he also put out a Sunchild album with many of the same musicians, called Exotic Creatures and a Stolen Dream. If that wasn't enough, he put out a Sunchild box set in February of four earlier albums but with eighty minutes of bonus material. He's a gift that keeps on giving.

Back to the job at hand, though, and this is another delightful pastoral prog rock album that often hearkens back to the genre's heyday in the UK in the seventies but with a variety of new elements. As always, the track lengths are wildly different and often misleading, because of how Kalugin has his music collated into suites or broken up into parts, especially when those parts continue across a multitude of albums.

Case in point: this album kicks off with Kingfisher & Dragonflies, Pt. 4, only three minutes long but a return to a piece that started in 2007, continued in 2010 and then kicked off the previous album, 2022's Land of Green and Gold. It's very pastoral, bringing to mind the names that you may expect: Genesis and Yes primary among them. It's unsurprising that parts of this piece, if it has a coherent sense of being, begin albums because they're great mood setters, none of them long but all with a presence to bring us into this delightful setting. Once done, we can imagine ourselves sitting on a green field by a sweetly flowing river with nothing but blue sky above us.

And then Kalugin can get his teeth into an album with another piece, here Mysterious Forest in an off balance pairing of parts. The first continues in this pastoral vein, complete with the chirping of creatures, but there's an ominous tone from the outset that leaves often but never stays gone and gradually leads the piece into a more classical and experimental vein. That means plenty of depth if you're a prog fan who wants to dig into a piece of music, even if it often feels slickly commercial in outlook. Sure, we can let it flow over us but we can also immerse ourselves in it and find more.

I say pairing of parts, because Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 follow in quick succession, leaving Pt. 3 to wrap up the album after a few other pieces of music. Pt. 1 is the most progressive of the pieces, the second an amalgam of prog with jazz and the third far more celebratory in nature. The latter two play out in shorter fashion too, only amounting to two thirds of the first if put together. They're all good but the first part is the one with the most fascinating depths.

And that's not unusual for Karfagen. To Those Who Dwell in Realms of Day is a fascinating blend of old school Ummagumma Pink Floyd and more new school commercial. Through the Whispers of the Wind has its moments, even though it's a mere minute and a half long, a conversation between an acoustic guitar, keyboards and flute. However, neither can remotely compare to the piece that sits in between them, the nineteen minute suite called Birds of Passage and the Enchanted Forest, the magnum opus of the album, an expanded version of a previously much shorter piece.

It's a more neoprog piece to my ears, especially early on. There's some Marillion, both old school and new, the vocals far more Hogarth than Fish but the music occasionally looking way back at the early days, some of it drifts further back still, to the golden era of Yes. There are other touches of note, like the percussion that sounds like woodblocks over deeper drums, that make this pleasant on the surface but fascinating beneath it. It shifts into a new movement six and a half minutes in that changes things completely. Part two gets seriously playful. Part three, if I'm even counting on an appropriate scale, gets more experimental again with some angry saxophone and some wilder orchestrations.

There's a heck of a lot to explore in that track and in the album as a whole. I don't feel that there's anything groundbreaking here, so I'm going to give this my third 7/10 in a row for Karfagen, but it remains recommended. This consistency also suggests that Antony Kalugin is a musician to follow wherever he takes his talent. He's prolific as Karfagen and slightly less so as Sunchild and he isn't done there, because he also performs as Hoggwash and Akko. I don't know how these differ, but I feel increasingly driven to find out.

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