It seems to have been a fair while since I last reviewed a progressive rock album. You know when you have been away on a long holiday and had a really good time but, when you get back home it just feels, well, right and you’ve missed the old place? That’s how I feel like at the moment. I have reviewed some brilliant albums over the last few weeks from power metal and symphonic metal to death metal and avant-garde and have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of my journey out of my, usual, comfort zone. To be honest, I must admit it always does me good to venture along to pastures new and listen to different music. I have discovered some great new music out there that will stay with me forever but, you just can’t beat coming back to your spiritual home and, in the world of music, progressive rock is home for me. It was with much anticipation that, after my trips away (metaphorical and real), I settled down to listen to Sylvium’s The Gift of Anxiety and to venture back into the world of progressive rock, it feels like saying hello to an old friend who I haven’t seen in a while, nostalgia overload and happy days indeed.
Sylvium was founded in 2010 by Ben van Gastel, on each album Ben works with different musicians and music genres. The first album, Purified (with Fred Boks) was recorded independently and released early 2012. ‘Purified’ was an instrumental concept that, to their surprise was received quite well by their new audience. After the successful release of Purified the band was selected to record for the Dutch Exposure album. The 9m14s track True Images was recorded by Ben with the help of pianist Janroel Koppen. The track was mastered by Frank Gingeleit (Living Tunes Mastering) which gave it a distinct krautrock sound and feel. The track was welcomed again by the fans and Sylvium were chosen as a finalist for Dutch Exposure but, as at that time the band wasn’t ready to perform live, they withdrew from the final. During the spring of 2013 Sylvium transformed into a live band after Gijs Koopman (bass guitar) and Greg Geurtsen (drums) joined Van Gastel and Koppen in the band. That settled line-up recorded their first full length album The Gift of Anxiety.
The Gift of Anxiety is a 6 track album set around the theme of anxiety, album opener Disposable is an up-tempo instrumental with an impressive jazz/funk feel epitomised by the striking snatches of piano. Some quality drums offer an infectious beat which is picked up by a catchy bass rhythm. The track combines synth-pop elements, smooth guitar and dreamy keyboards with aplomb, looking like we’re on the right track here.
Surround is characterised by a low key opening, pared back guitar and keyboards and a mournful vocal. There is a strong feel of drama about the song, vocals becoming more urgent and backed by a crunching guitar whilst the drums and bass keep things moving. The hard edged riff and distorted solo that follow add to the disjointed mood of this well constructed song, an industrial feel seeping into the music as the track runs its course.
That darker feeling continues with the intro to instrumental track Falling, a sombre sounding keyboard and pounding drum deepening that sense of misapprehension. Some nice bass works heap up the tension before the guitar breaks loose giving a heavier, grungy edge to the riff. Everything comes to a precise halt as the second half of the track proves to be a mirror image of the opening piece. A hope filled piano takes up the story and is joined by luscious guitar and ethereal keyboards in completely lifting the mood, the solo that follows pulls at the heartstrings as it is delivered with bucket loads of feeling, what a powerful moment.
There is a hint of melodrama at the beginning of Ominous, you can’t feeling that this is leading up to something. Everything is laid back and low key, guitar, keyboards and percussion almost treading water. A metaphorical foot is lifted off the brakes as an ominous (sorry, I had to do it) sounding guitar note chimes in before an epic 70’s keyboard chimes in beautifully. The interlude in the middle of the song is all restrained keyboards and relaxed drums before that feeling of foreboding returns. This is music that needs to be listened to in a darkened room, with headphones on and the door locked, the nervy, overwrought aura continuing with Heaven and the fantastic musicianship shines through. The music drips with feeling and ambience and seeps deep into your bones, haunting piano, strident guitar and the superb bass and drum beat all doing their level best to ensure that you explore every note. A track of highs and lows, it is a privilege to be hearing and feeling every nuance that these remarkable musicians can serve up, I am enthralled by the piano and guitar duet that meanders supremely through the latter half of the song, awe inspiring indeed.
All too soon we are at the end of this glorious album as we hear the dulcet tones of Weathering, all tinkling piano notes and a lightly caressed guitar. The poignant vocal is judged to perfection, really emotive and in fitting with the insouciant mood that pervades this delightful song. The ambient keyboard emphasises the dreamlike essence before a slowly coruscating guitar takes centre stage and builds up into an elegant, slow burning solo. This sublime song then bows out with a dreamlike quality, like a candle flame extinguished.
Oh my friend, how I have missed you. I love all kinds of music and my life is enriched because of this but, above all else, progressive rock gets me out of bed in a morning and makes the blood course through my body. When it is executed with the level of brilliance shown here, there is no better thing in my mind, music to salve the soul, meaningful music that asks questions and makes you think hard about the answers. The fact that this is Sylvium’s debut, full length, album and it is nye on perfect is a minor marvel. The Gift of Anxiety is not only a brilliant progressive rock album, it is a brilliant album full stop.