If we’re lucky, we are all born with five senses, sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch and, if you believe the stories, some of us are born with, or can develop, a sixth. There are many definitions of the so called ‘sixth sense’ but, the one I perceive as being closest to what I ascertain it to be is, ‘A power of perception seemingly independent of the five senses; keen intuition’.
Now, I make no claim that I have other manifestations of the phenomena like telepathy, clairvoyance or premonition but, I do feel I have some semblance of it, a power of perception perhaps, when it comes to music, especially music sung in a language that is not native to me. I can sense the power and meaning of the music, making language no barrier to understanding and enjoyment, to coin a simple phrase, I just ‘get it’.
I have had the pleasure of reviewing many Turkish language records over the last few months and, I feel I can connect with the artists’ intents and purposes in regard to their music. The latest album to land on my reviewing pile is from one of Turkey’s seminal musicians and, the former vocalist with one of Turkey’s most renowned and earliest heavy metal bands, Pentagram. Murat İlkan formed his first group, the progressive metal band Sawdust, after moving to Istanbul. He became the lead singer with Pentagram in 1995 and enjoyed a stellar career with the band until leaving in 2010 after being diagnosed with sclerosis. Murat is well on the way to recovery and, at the end of last year, released his first solo album Fanus (meaning lantern in Turkish). Attracted as I am to interesting album covers, the cover of Murat’s album shows a tree inside a glass lantern and, according to the man himself, represents him, portrayed as a tree that isolated itself from the world outside.
Consisting of seven progressive metal themed tracks, Fanus was written as Murat recovered from his illness and the songs represent the dark and difficult times he went through on the road to recovery. He made the deliberate decision to try and use more amateur, but talented musicians on the album, drums were provided by his brother, Ayhan Ilkan, Erdem Karaman plays guitar, Erdem Ulubaş – bass and Mesut Uçar plays keyboards on the record.
With the weight and experience of fifteen years in Turkey’s most revered heavy metal band and, the experience of his traumatic illness, has Murat İlkan produced a solo album that will add to his legacy? It’s time to press play and find out my friends.
First track Merhaba is a clarion call to your aural receptors, a fantastically uplifting beginning to the album with swirling keyboards and a rapid fire riff that immediately catches you in its hook ridden web. Murat’s vocal is powerful and full of passion, the musicians he has chosen do themselves complete justice with technically excellent bass and drumming, a guitar that growls and grips with equal ferocity and keyboards that add an additional layer of sophistication, lifting this from accomplished Prog metal to something else entirely. I just love the duelling solos of the keys and guitar as they play off against each other and, with the smoothly performed, catchy chorus it is, all in all, a really good opening to the album.
The next song, Yaramaz Cocuk begins with a sublime intro of guitar and keyboards that has power and vitality writ large upon it. The vocals are intoned with soulful intent, more melodic than before and the track then opens up and delivers impressively on the urgent and focused chorus. To me, this song has meaning and intelligence, the music is tight and delivered exceedingly impressively, including a soaring guitar solo that flames all too briefly, a quintessential melodic delight.
Mirror, Mirror is the only song on the album sung in English, although this does not make it any more accessible to this listener than the other six tracks on the record, the intro is all heavy, hard metal and you instantly feel a darker edge to this song. The vocal is delivered in a snarling, sneering fashion, the drums are thunderous and the licks are fire bright. Maybe Murat is delivering some of the frustration he felt through his illness and moments of despair, the chorus is a beacon of light in the darkness of someone’s soul and is a clever contrast with the overriding feel of menace, add in a coruscating guitar solo that is pin sharp and, you are left quite satisfied.
Title track Fanus is a heartbreaking yet achingly delicious song, a biographical journey into Murat’s psyche and the highs and lows of his life. The solemn piano and deeply intoned vocal give an initial moribund feel to the track, melancholy and morose but, as it slowly unfurls with a crunching riff and potent drums, you sense an all pervading hopefulness. The vocals are forceful and persuasive and delivered with a grave intensity, superb.
After the power, the glory and, the intense fragility of Fanus, the refreshing simplicity of Dil is a breath of fresh air, an uncomplicated and straightforward rock track that ticks all the relevant boxes. Driven along by a dynamic rhythm section and energetic guitar, there is a welcome lack of adornment to this song, the vocals do what they need to do with no embellishment and you are rewarded with a tight and modest track.
There is a dynamic edge to Yalan, another candid track that even has a tiny hint of 80’s AOR to it with the smooth keyboard and basic riff. The chorus is direct and melodic, you get a real sense of Murat letting himself go and thoroughly enjoying himself on this track and I’m sure it would be a live favourite, full of verve and sagacity. The 80’s feel carries through into the seriously funky guitar solo that had me grinning like a Cheshire Cat, a nice slice of easy going rock music if ever I’ve heard it.
This short and sweet collection of heartfelt songs from Murat İlkan comes to a close with the acoustic ballad, San Ve Ben, the fragile guitar and delicate, ethereal strings combine to produce a beauty and gentle splendour, a definitive love song that stays long in the heart and memory, as the closing track on the album, it shuts the door on the story so far and opens up a whole new world of possibilities for this talented musician.
Fanus is my first initiation into any musical work involving Murat İlkan and, I must admit, I have been thoroughly impressed with what I’ve heard. His inspiring amalgam of progressive metal that is heavily influenced by his cultural background is produced and delivered with skill and vivacity and breaks through any language barriers to be an edifying and fulfilling listen, I await the next instalment with my curiosity definitely piqued.