Album Reviews

Issue 2015-020

Sylvan - Home - Round Table Review

Sylvan - Home
Country of Origin: Germany
Format: CD
Record Label: Gentle Art Of Music
Catalogue #: GAOM 026
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 76:59
Info: Sylvan
Samples: Sylvan on Grooveshark
Track List:
Not Far From the Sky (6:30), Shaped out of Clouds (6:02), In Between (10:50), With the Eyes of a Child (4:19), Black and White (7:14), The Sound of Her World (9:23), Sleep Tight (5:31), Off Her Hands (3:42), Shine (6:18), Point of No Return (5:25), All These Years (5:40), Home (6:05)
Peter Swanson's Review
When Sylvan announced the release of their ninth studio-album entitled Home would be in February 2015, I was very anxious about what the album would sound like as it was to be another concept album. The album Posthumous Silence (2006) is one of my "Desert Island Discs" so expectations were quite high. It's obvious that Home doesn't reach the highly set standard of that masterpiece but this certainly isn't an album to be ashamed of! Home is the follow-up to the double album Sceneries (2012). That album contained five "epics" and maybe that was a bit overambitious in the eyes of some prog followers. However it is still among my favourite Sylvan albums mainly because of the great guitar work by Jan Petersen in Steve Rothery style. He also is someone who is sorely missed on this new album. In fact Sylvan is now a band without a guitarist in the current line-up: Marco Glühmann (vocals), Matthias Harder (drums), Sebastian Harnack (bass) and Volker Söhl (keyboards). The guitarist present on the album is guest musician Jonathan Beck who has also performed live on stage with this band from Hamburg.

One of the main attractions of this new album are the beautiful string arrangements accompanied by oboe sounds which can be heard on several tracks throughout the album. The first tones of the opening track Not Far From the Sky are a fine example of one of those great sounds made by violin, cello and oboe. The story of the album handles about childhood memories from the main character and are all concerning the theme home. Musically the album the album is a mixture of the albums Sceneries and Force of Gravity (2009). Mainly very melodic (sometimes almost like a movie soundtrack!) but with heavy rock elements leaning towards metal.

I'm a big fan of the vocals of Marco Glühmann who always sings with such passion and emotion and really manages to bring the story of the lyrics to life. You can almost here a sob in his voice when he cries out! His vocals have been subject to discussions on the net. Some like his passionate and expressive approach, others seem to have some trouble with his somewhat limited technique. I belong to the first category as I mentioned earlier.

Sebastian Harnack and Matthias Harder prove to be great musicians again so the only thing missing is a new guitar player in the line-up. Jonathan Beck does have some moments on the album to showcase his talent as a guitarist but it all seems a bit studied like a dog that has learned a trick. I've seen him play live on stage so I know he can play. The solo's however are well balanced and contribute to some great compositions on the album. In Between shows some agression, Shine (the single) has a catchy tune and With the Eyes of a Child is a nice ballad.

Sylvan is a band that shows lots of variety from Dream Theater to Coldplay and thats why they probably have so many people always looking forward to hearing their new music. This album is no exception!
Guillermo Palladino's Review
During the last years Sylvan became one of the most important Progressive Rock acts from Germany, they developed a particular musical style which is the result of a mixture of heavy sounding arrangements and guitar riffs contrasting with a lighter and sometimes too simplist musical structure. They also added a lot of melancholy to their compositions with the piano and keyboards taking the main role and sometimes adding some soundscapes and synth effects to their songs and a beautiful mix between classical music and progressive rock.

After being released wonderful albums such Artificial Paradise (2002), Posthumous Silence (2006) and Presets (2007) Sylvan is coming back with their second conceptual effort called Home which tells us about "the never ending quest of the human condition for 'Home' – that very special place that can provide a feeling of complete safety." The protagonist of this story is in the middle of a struggle between the return of their lost childhood memories and the reality she has to deal with in the present. I feel it like the nostalgia that sometimes invades us in certain moments of our lives, where you place everything in a balance and you evaluate if you've lived so far has been worth it or if, instead, you wanted to go back and start again the search for the ideal and special place to feel safe, the home you've always wanted.

The band came back with a major change in their line-up, this time Jonathan Beck has to continue and improve the job done by Kay Söhl and Jan Petersen on the guitars, and what he did in this album is impeccable, beautiful and fully demonstrated a sensitive style of playing of his own. Furthermore the band has maintained its classic lineup: Marco Glühmann (vocals), Matthias Harder (drums), Sebastian Harnack (bass) and Volker Söhl (keyboards). In this album all of them demonstrated their musical maturity and skills. Glühmann's particular singing style has become less tiresome and monotonous which I consider is one of the main causes to make Sylvan too hard to listen from time to time. Another remarkable fact is the switching between acoustic, heavy and classical arrangements that the band provided for this album.

For me this album is awesome, with too many highlights on it. The Sound of Her World is my favorite by far, a very contrasting song, its last 3 minutes are wonderful, and shows us the very essence of Sylvan. The classical prelude on Not Far from the Sky or the simplicity and strong feeling of songs like Shape Out of Clouds or With The Eyes of a Child. All these years, instead of being a reprise of The Sound of Her World remind me of Former Life and Home is the perfect finale for this album.

Without any doubt this is one of the most emotional, stronger and elaborated album from Sylvan and I recommend it to all our kindly readers. And finally a personal quote from me: "Our authentic Home is inside all of us".
Karel Witte's Review
Some seven or eight years ago, the local record store's clerk (a prog head) recommended an album to me: Sylvan's Posthumous Silence. If that one would be too overwhelming or long-winded for me, he suggested I'd try Presets instead. So I checked out both records and... I just didn't like it. Now, I know that - especially when it comes to progressive or 'out there' music - records often need more spins in order to fully appreciate them. But here's the thing: sometimes you can be quite sure you're not going to like it, regardless of how hard you try. But since I'm reviewing this album, I of course gave Home a couple of full spins to let it sink in.

This record, more so than Sylvan's last record, opts for a more straightforward approach. I think that's not a bad idea at all, because I feel the 'prog' was never Sylvan's strong suit. The band simply don't boast that kind of virtuosity or imaginative power, even though they're accomplished musicians. Influenced by Hogarth-era Marillion, Sylvan deliver fans pretty much exactly what's expected. Lush, delicate piano-driven ballads, over-emotional vocals, semi-heavy, semi-progressive interludes: it's all there on this album. Contrary to previous outing Sceneries, this album is mostly about cohesive song writing. And quite often Sylvan succeed in that department.

Album opener Not Far from the Sky utilises a real strings section, and it's a beautifully arranged piece of music. Matters proceed in familiar Sylvan fashion, building to a climax of sorts that fans will surely appreciate. This occurs multiple times throughout the record, in a way that Anathema usually goes for, albeit slightly less explosive. In Between dabbles in semi-heavy territory, something which I feel is always a bit out-of-character for the band, but as a whole the song offers a pleasant and diverse listening journey: an electronic beat here, a Karnivool-ish bass part there, and an energetic chorus. The spoken word part and subsequent odd-timed heavy riff add a nice twist, and the guitar solo is a joy to listen to. Definitely the most enjoyable track on this album, for me at least.

Even though I'm not too crazy about the band, I feel they've delivered a pretty decent album with quite a lot to enjoy, for neo-prog fans in particular. The orchestration adds a nice cinematic feel, and there are some beautiful guitar solos. The use of recurring themes throughout is convincing enough, giving this album its own identity. That said, I feel the balance is very much off. You have to enjoy the over-emotional and drawn out ballads that this band just loves to do, as there are (perhaps too) many of them here. The few heavier songs or parts mostly feel forced to my ears, partly because of the production which emphasises the symphonic elements of their sound. I'm missing so much balls there!

Also, the vocals rarely stray from the familiar path, and I don't feel that this type of singing is that enjoyable. It feels like Marco Gluhmann, whilst being a capable vocalist, is constantly straining to reach the notes he wants to sing. Maybe that's a style, but to my ears it often sounds unpleasant. However, I cannot accuse him of not putting in the effort. There's more than enough emotion in there.

So in the end, this album leaves me a bit cold. But if you're a fan, or if you enjoy similar bands in this genre, definitely check it out. The ideas on display here are never bad, but never shockingly great either. Again, not a bad effort, but I think Sylvan can make an even better album if they fix a couple of problems I addressed earlier. Still, the approach they've taken on Home is a wise one, and this results in their best album in a while.
Raimond Fischbach's Review
Once a fan, I've found Sylvan was going down the road of decline since guitarist Kay Söhl left the band. Marco's epic melodies more and more failed to catch me and the arrangements got reduced to a level where the instrumental part of the band was nothing more than a supportive attachment for the vocals. It appeared to me that the overall music became simply to innocuous to transport these vocal lines throughout an entire song. It's just too many long, epic notes without a melodic concept. The band's last effort Sceneries, full of 20-minute epics, got things even worse.

So when I've heard that the new album consists of 12 rather short songs and that there's a new guitarist on board, I got curious, hoping the band got back on track. And so it is, the new album marks a turn into a new direction, at least partly. The truth is that I have two differing opinions about the album at the same time.

With its opening four tracks the album starts off incredibly strong. Telling the story of a girl that decides to face its disturbing ghosts of the past, we are instantly confronted with a wonderfully orchestrated song full of emotions, and three more songs, also very well written. While listening to these four songs, one might wonder if this is an effort to step in the musical footsteps of Vanden Plas in a non-metal way. The songs are very well constructed of great instrumental ideas, riffs and soloing and they also contain a fine balance of groovy melodies, emotional weeps and roars and epic outbursts. Jonathan Beck's guitar consist of a rough but fragile Stratocaster tone, a beauty of its own. He adds two very wonderfully crafted solos in the mix, one of a scale that might be of his own invention. In In Between he suddenly comes around with a jaw-dropping heavy riff in Opeth style, and that he manages to do even without breaking the Sylvan world apart. At this point we've already experienced an extra-ordinary emotional roller coaster and With the Eyes of a Child this storm is brought down to a peaceful moment, and a wonderful arc of musical story-telling is already finished.

And that is the fatal point of the album. The band suddenly snaps back to auto-pilot, guitarist Jonathan Beck is sent into the background, filling in parts he's asked to play. From here the album continues just like any other Sylvan album in the way I've described it in the above. There are a few nice moments, but overall it's back to too many long-note melodies that fail to catch me, without any distinctive instrumental work. Concept-wise the music still plays with a couple of emotional twists, but stringed together with hard breaks only, without any form of transition, breaking the most important rule in story telling. Musically, track eleven, All These Years, marks the ending of the album, the closing of the second arc. But there is still the title track left, Home. It might be necessary to complete the story lyric-wise, but concerning the musical arc it is an unnecessary second ending and in that way the 'tad too much'. It's that rare moment where I wished the title track would have been left out.

It is too obvious that Beck assisted the band in writing the songs in the first third of the album, which turned out really magically. The other part of the album obviously came straight out of the feather of the band, where Beck, being only a guest, fulfills a job as a studio musician. I sincerely hope that this writing collaboration with Beck will be continued and mark a new milestone in Sylvan's career.
Marcel Hartenberg's Review
"Home is where the heart lies, but if the heart lies, where is home?", a certain Derek William Dick once asked himself out loud in singing Charting the Single. The question never really got answered and so, years later, Sylvan sing us their tales and impressions of home and everything the feeling home consists of.

Their Home is a fine place to be, it has welcoming orchestration and you slip, slide in, feeling the comfort of a chaise longue, talking about everything that happened to all those familiar and befriended. Yes, there is this Spinal Tap like story about guitarists. This album shows that Jonathan Beck, who appears to be the new kid on the block, really gels within the band. Of course, stories of old may have some wishing for the return of Kay Söhl, brother of keyboardplayer Volker Söhl, but the emotion that Jonathan adds to the music, leaves little to be desired in the guitar department.

As we walk down the main hall of this home, we see eye to eye with said Volker. In fact, he seems to be around in every corner. You might as well call it his home, as the keyboards sound as if they have been the key element in writing the music. It's Marco Glühmann's vocals that have the other main role on this album. His voice, an instrument alike sometimes, adds colour, mood and emotion to the songs, some of which are fairly long. It is in the way the songs develop that Sylvan show their mastery in this, their home. The songs don't start off one way and continue down that path all the way, no, there are quite of lot of breaks somewhere in all the songs.

The rhythm section on this album proves to be as steady as they come. The drums may not all be about flashing out, Matthias Harder still shows his skills. And does that the right way, rightfully so. And the bass is just the ideal counterpart for the solid drumming. All in all, this album shows that Sylvan has been around with reason. They still have tales to tell and do so with flair and, even after all these years, with quite the enthousiasm.

Nearly 80 minutes of music, a production that is top notch and players that master their instruments and a singer that just breathes emotion. No matter where the heart lies, this feels just great. To me, from start to finish, this album, with all it's variety between rich textures and sometimes heavy riffing, even just when you don't expect it, made me feel like home.
Peter Swanson: 8.5 out of 10
Guillermo Palladino: 8.5 out of 10
Karel Witte: 6.5 out of 10
Raimond Fischbach: 5.5 out of 10
Marcel Hartenberg: 8 out of 10
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