Tuesday 2 January 2024

Dice - Chronicles of the Last Self Thinkers (2023)

Country: Germany
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 21 Jul 2023
Sites: Official Website | Prog Archives

Every January, I alternate albums from the previous year that I missed, which is quite a lot in 2023 because I lost a few months to running events and struggled to pick up the ball after them, and an array of new releases from January. Here's the first of the former, because it was a submission I'd let slip past me last July. Dice are a German band who were formed back in 1974 but got prolific in 1997, knocking out an album every year since then, only three of those being live, but I didn't find them until 2019's Yes-2-5-Roger-Roger. After finding them, I apparently promptly lost them again, missing three albums in between that one and this.

Everything I said about that one holds true here. They play smooth prog rock, led by the guitar of Peter Viertel, who I could easily listen to until the cows come home, but with accented vocals from Christian Nóvé adding lyrics here and there, always in English. Nóvé also plays bass and provides a lot of keyboard texture, as well as writing and producing all the music, so it's his band as much as it belongs to anyone but I always come back to that guitarwork, which sits somewhere between Dave Gilmour and Steve Rothery.

It's the Pink Floyd side of that pair that's most obvious, at least in instrumental sections. At their best, as they are for much of the opener, Who Knows the Truth, and all of the closer, Chronicle 57 Blues Play, they remind of Shine On You Crazy Diamond once it gets moving, that tasty guitar on a real journey with a space rock edge overlaid through keyboards. These are smooth tracks that we fall into like a river and just flow along with. They feel utterly effortless and should last forever, as Gilmour's legendary Comfortably Numb solo tended to do on tour with him standing on top of that wall.

And Dice are at their best when they're smooth, to my thinking. It doesn't have to be restricted to instrumental guitar sections, as Nóvé's voice is able to merge with that mood, as indeed it does in Who Knows the Truth, a song that flows whether it's vocal or instrumental. However, whenever a song breaks that smooth approach, like I am the Only One with its jagged rhythms and vocals that demand more attention, the effect is lost somewhat. The song simply doesn't flow as well in that approach, even when Viertel is out there in the spotlight.

I should underline that one reason why these songs get so immersive is that they tend to be long. Both Who Knows the Truth and I am the Only One exceed twelve minutes in length, because Dice don't ever feel the need to wrap songs up quickly. Well, almost never, at least, because Chronicle 57 Blues Play is a five minute instrumental to wrap up proceedings. However, the other four songs range from over nine and a half minutes to just shy of thirteen. Dice prefer their songs to breathe, wisely giving Viertel opportunity to solo frequently and Nóvé occasionally too, on keyboards.

If the bookends are the standout tracks for me, there's much to enjoy on the four in between. The Steve Rothery guitar is most evident on I am the Only One. Some of the keyboards on Just Like the Lemmings approaches new wave, which is an interesting touch, the early parts of The Key echoing that with a delightful vocalisation from Ramona Nóvé and a later narration utilising unusual post-production. There's some piercingly clear guitar to open up Just Like the Lemmings too, for a first minute until Nóvé's vocal takes over and we're into that poppy new wave style, the guitar absent for a while and the keyboards ready to take the spotlight when it's time for a solo.

And that just leaves Freedom for My Soul, which isn't because it's the most noteworthy but for the precise opposite reason. It's the least noteworthy of the bunch, but just because it has nothing to say that's unusual doesn't mean that it isn't a decent song on its own merits. It is and that may be why it ought to be a good point of entry for those who haven't heard Dice before. If you like it, as you ought to if you're intrigued by the concept of smooth prog, then you're really going to like the rest of this album and the rest of what Dice do.

All in all, this isn't particularly inventive prog but it's highly enjoyable prog, especially if you like a guitar solo in the Dave Gilmour style that just runs on and on. I always see the vocals as the weak link in the sound, reminding me of a less urgent Uli Jon Roth, but they're never a problem. They're merely less sophisticated than the instrumentation, but just as honest. If you can cope with them like I can, there's a large and ever-growing catalogue of albums to enjoy.

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