Album Reviews

Flaud Logic – Flaud Logic

Though I had never heard of Michael Kaplan or his Flaud Logic project before receiving a copy of this debut in the mail, it was exciting to learn that Symphony X guitarist Michael Romeo- a personal favourite of mine- was present in the album as a guest musician. More exciting still is the fact that Kaplan has been working on this album for a number of years. By all accounts, this ambition is evident on Flaud Logic’s self-titled debut. A wide cast of musicians, variety of styles and twenty minute epic are all found here, and with some great musicianship to boot, fans of the melodic end of progressive rock will have a field day here. For all of its ambitious intent however, Flaud Logic’s burst onto the progressive scene feels like it should have been stronger than it is. The promise and potential is here, but Kaplan’s first major opus is not without some glaring flaws.

Flaud Logic have been labelled a progressive metal band, and there’s no denying that Michael Kaplan’s creation should appeal to fans of the style. However, I find the music to be often too mellow or mid-paced to warrant the label. Flaud Logic find themselves in that strange fusion between the drive of rock and bombast of metal music. Although that may have not been enough to pique my interest, Kaplan gets friendly with some other styles as well, particularly ones that you wouldn’t tend to hear within a rock or metal context. The use of jazz chords and saxophone are a pleasant, but familiar touch. Where Flaud Logic really surprise is a heavy presence of what might be called Adult Contemporary music; the sort of radio-friendly, romantic and mellow sound that you would never expect to see in the same playlist as prog, let alone the same piece of music. For such a relaxed, accessible sound, it’s been a big risk for Flaud Logic to incorporate these sounds into their work, considering the general vitriol proggers have for the so-called ‘mainstream’.

Although it’s an interesting idea to combine elements from polar sides of the musical spectrum, Flaud Logic are at their finest when they’re playing true-to-form prog rock. The instrumental opener Secret Engine introduces the band on their best note. Acting as a sort of overture and hint of the twenty minute epic to follow, the composition is frantic and full of groove. Although the guitar stays at the center of the action, “Secret Engine” is remarkably balanced as instrumentals go; there’s the impression that all musicians involved get a fair balance in the mix and composition. “Secret Engine” conjures motifs that echo events later on the album, but it stands alone as a fine piece. The tone and tricks of classic progressive rock are filtered through a crisp modern production, and there’s no shortage of jazz fusion to be found. Fans of everything from Dream Theater to the Pat Metheny Group should find themselves impressed with the way “Flaud Logic” opens.

Although Say Goodbye carries the fusion tone of the first track for the ride, the change of pace is pretty significant. Unwinding from an epic overture, “Say Goodbye” is the sort of slower paced tune that seems written specifically for late night relaxation. The drums are jazzy, the guitars laid-back and the vocals brooding and soft. Although it eventually picks up the speed (albeit slightly), “Say Goodbye” is the album’s most melancholic piece. Flaud Logic’s vocal component is not necessarily bad or weak, but I do get the impression that, had the music stuck to the instrumental prog, the album would have almost certainly had a more powerful impression on me. “Say Goodbye” features the same sort of strong musicianship featured on the first tune, but the instrumental aspect seems to get pushed to the background whenever vocals are involved. Michael Kaplan’s voice never grates on the ears or gives the impression of being too inept for the vocal role, but it’s nowhere near as impressive as his arrangements with the instrumental composition. Much like Steven Wilson, however, Kaplan’s vocals stand out in terms of harmonies.

Although “Say Goodbye” may not have been as impressive as “Secret Engine”, it held the music’s quality at an admirable par. Locked between two impressive progressive tracks and a twenty minute epic, the four minute Shanna seems to stick out like a sore thumb. Although love-themed attempts at ‘hits’ can and have worked in the prog style before (see “Kayleigh” from Marillion’s “Misplaced Childhood”), “Shanna” is the one instance on “Flaud Logic” where I’m left feeling severely disappointed. “Say Goodbye” was no stranger to the mellow and melodic, but it retained the scope and ambition to keep it interesting. It may have been Kaplan’s attempt at a way to break out onto the mainstream (one can hope), but there is little to enjoy about “Shanna”. From the trite, ‘generic love song’ lyrics to the late-career Santana-esque soft rock dawdle, there’s enough saccharine cheese here to have me wondering how the song managed to get onto an otherwise solid album in the first place. It’s certainly not that Kaplan doesn’t have the potential to write a good pop-song, as his skill with composition on the other three tracks certainly indicates he has the talent for it. Sadly though, “Shanna” is a pretty dismal mark on this debut. On to the epic, now.

Although One Year doesn’t have the start-to-finish scope and structure I usually attribute to the best progressive rock epics, it’s clear that Kaplan has saved many of his best tricks for last. Compared to the cheese factor of “Shanna”, “One Year” has a pretty moving concept behind it: a couple do not see each other for a year, and reunite only to find that the feeling is gone. Really, it’s rather refreshing to hear a prog suite directed towards such intimate and personal subject matter. Compared to the total middle-of-the-road adult pop of the third track, hearing an anthemic slab of symphonic metal erupt should make for a shock on first listen. Although no part of “One Year” shares the same impressive value as “Secret Engine”, there are plenty of highlights to dive into. Barring the suite’s excellent overture, Arrival is a great, brief moment where the band’s vocals finally feel up to par with the rest of the music. Accompanying Michael on the vocal end throughout the epic is Amy Ward, who brings a soulful performance to the table, not unlike something you might hear in American gospel music. Like the rest of the album, there’s an uncanny mix of mellow ‘adult contemporary’ music and the heavier tones of metal and symphonic rock. The finale lives up fully to the expectations of what symphonic rock should be all about: bombast, depth and feeling aplenty. Although “One Year” enjoys an impressive amount of great moments, it feels like exactly that; a collection of cool ideas that flow into one another. There isn’t the feeling that the suite would have been much better or worse if the passages (save for the intro and finale) had been listened to out of order. Even so, it’s always impressive whenever an artist can make a twenty minute epic work in their favour, particularly on their debut.

I’ll conclude my review of Flaud Logic’s debut by commenting on something that seems to have been the album’s greatest selling point; that being the amount of musicians represented here. Although Flaud Logic’s music could have been easily arranged for a quartet or even quintet to play without losing any of the musical depth, there’s close to twenty people present in the music. Most of them are limited to solos or a ‘backup’ context, but there’s the impression that Flaud Logic’s debut isn’t as bombastic as the cast of performers would imply. Even when the guests are used, they aren’t used to their full potential. The presence of Symphony X guitarist Michael Romeo was what excited me to hear this album in the first place, but you wouldn’t have guessed it if you didn’t have prior knowledge of it. Michael Kaplan is certainly onto something here, but “Flaud Logic” feels like a step in the right direction, rather than a destination. Stuck at a crossroads between mellow pop, prog and symphonic metal, Flaud Logic’s sound feels very middle-of-the-road. The compositions are promising, and even excellent at times, but the variety of uncomplimentary styles and the all-over-the-place take on melodic rock ultimately feels like the album could have used a tad more direction.

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