Tuesday 21 November 2023

Vladimir Mikhaylov - Amor Caecus (2023)

Country: Russia
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 26 Aug 2023

While many of the musicians involved in this album tend to play in a variety of Russian progressive rock bands, this is more of a prog adjacent album and I'm not sure how to label it. Not that that's a bad thing, of course; I love genre ambiguity. This is prog rock, post-punk, eighties alternative rock, new wave and folk music, which is quite the range, and vocalist Dmitriy Rumyancev has an unusual voice to lead these songs. It took me a while to get used to what he does but I got there and would describe him as a strange cross between Bryan Ferry and Andrew Eldritch. He usually sings for the Latvian prog/new wave group TLM.

The openers are where the most overt pop influences show up. A Twist of Flame is prog rock with a heavy side of post-punk and eighties alternative rock. There's U2 here in the guitars and Marillion in the keyboards. Runaway is even more versatile, as a pop rock song. There's more U2 here, but a heavy touch of AOR too and arena rock in the power chords and lively guitar solo, along with some new wave in the phrasing. It's Toto meeting Duran Duran with involvement from Pat Benatar, not only through the guest female vocalist, Yulia Savelyeva, either because it's in the songwriting.

The title track is an odd one, because it starts out almost like Leonard Cohen, a dark folk song that Rumyancev delivers in Latin so we don't catch the presumably biting lyrics. However, it soon turns into a proggy new wave piece, as the instrumental midsection extends into a lively guitar solo. It's Mikhaylov who provides the guitars here, as well as the bass and many other instruments, not just the drum programming but all the way to a drill and an ebow. There is an actual drummer, Evgeny Trefilov, and a few guests, whose contributions are mostly on keyboards, but much of the music is the work of Mikhailov himself.

After the title track shifts for a while into prog, the album seems more comfortable to do more of that, to varying degrees of success. Interdum is a prog instrumental, with inventive guitar against dreamy keyboards, and it's that interplay that I like the most here. It returns on Fortis Affectus, a piece that's only a minute long, so far less substantial. It's Mikhailov duetting with himself on the latter but our old friend Ivan Rozmainzsky of Roz Vitalis and Compassionizer fame guesting on the former. The two perform as RMP, the Rozmainsky & Mikhaylov Project. What's surprising here is a perky beat laid over Interdum as it's pure electronic pop over an otherwise prog instrumental and it gives a neatly contrasting feel to the piece.

Talking of Fortis Affectus being only a minute long, Megapolis is even shorter, which means that it ends as quickly as it begins. It's more Vangelis than any of the other keyboard work here, which is appreciated, but it's sadly only a glimpse at what this piece could be. It feels like it ought to exist to set a mood but oddly not for the next song, Gemini and Libra, which is quite happy to introduce itself. So maybe it's an interlude, but it doesn't seem to work that way. It works as a brief teaser to persuade us into buying the entire song, which, as far as I'm aware, doesn't exist. I wanted more of these pieces, both in length and in numbers.

While I prefer the proggier instrumentals here, which also include the closer, Exitus, the album is happier to attempt songs in its variety of ways. Gemini and Libra is very much a post-punk/alt rock hybrid in the vein of A Twist of Flame; Shadowplay is a mournful pop song that perks up a little in a folky way; and War with Your Own Shadow is another post-punk song. It's the latter that works the best for me, because it enters very consciously from the wings with ominous intent and feels much more deliberately controlled. Runaway is far more obviously commercial if Mikhaylov was looking for a single, but War with Your Own Shadow is the one with the substance.

All in all, I enjoyed this, but it's a patchwork quilt of an album. It doesn't really want to be only one thing, so it enjoys being multiple. Rumyancev's highly recognisable voice lends it some consistency, but he's not on the various instrumental pieces so he can only do so much. Of course, as the latter ended up being my favourite tracks, I must be firmly on board with the genre-hopping. However, it will fall to any potential listener to ask themselves that question and the more on board they are, the more they're likely to enjoy this. Maybe think of it as a four decade retrospective of a band on their first album.

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