RPWL — Crime Scene
This new RPWL album sees the debut of new bassist Markus Grützner alongside founders and ever-present members Yogi Lang (vocals, keyboards) and Kalle Wallner (guitars). On drums is Marc Turiaux who joined the band in 2008. On their last studio album, 2019's Tales From Outer Space, it was Kalle Wallner who provided the bass. No disrespect to his bass playing, but the new guy seems to have stepped the bass playing up a level; and everyone has responded in kind.
As usual with RPWL, Crime Scene has a theme running through it and this one is rather dark. Examining the depths of human criminal behaviour, from the perspectives of perpetrators and victims in psychologically convincing ways. Taking inspiration from some real-life cases but looking at them through the twin prisms of Yogi Lang's lyrics and RPWL's supremely crafted prog-rock/art-rock hybrid.
The album opens with a spooky fade-in, before running footsteps set an uncomfortable atmosphere that transfers into the lyrics of Victim Of Desire. Here the protagonist's mental state is fracturing, and that is reflected in the overlapping, Gentle Giant-like vocal arrangement of the song's first stanza. This comes after Wallner's introductory guitar solo has established the melody. The song is closed out by another fine and individual guitar solo. But this is the sound of an ensemble on exuberant, edge-of-the-seat form.
The twisted love song, Red Rose is next, and it seems to be addressed to someone who has just been killed. Its dark matter contrasts with its opening acoustic and electric strum, and gentle keys. It finishes with another cracking Wallner solo.
There is a Marillion feel to the opening of A Cold Spring Day In '22, lifted immeasurably by Grützner's lithe and subtle bass playing. It is commercial prog at its best; except that it's about an entire family being found murdered! That probably precludes its chances of a place on radio playlists.
There's a Peter Gabriel-like opening to Life In A Cage. Slow tribal drum patterns from Turiaux are punctuated by expansive guitar chords and keyboard washes. Everything here is restrained and balanced and never quite breaks out in the way you might expect, reflecting the intensive fear that any victim of domestic abuse has to live with.
The longest track, King Of The World, returns to some political themes, but criminalised, found on RPWL's previous studio album Tales From Outer Space. Guitars and bass dominate, supported by Hammond, and it is Lang's keys that take the melody forward. Lang also produces a fabulous synth solo that channels Tony Banks in his 1970s Genesis prime. A super guitar solo follows, underpinned by Hammond and snappy drum fills. A track that evolves and changes really well.
RPWL close Crime Scene with a serial killer, so quiet and unassuming "he wouldn't hurt a fly", on Another Life Beyond Control. It flirts with 70s fuzzed-up blues-rock before heading into prog with the keys and vocals. A gritty close to a great album.
RPWL's Crime Scene is another cracking addition to their catalogue. The quality-control remains on the highest plain. The songs are elegant, detailed, and powerful. It is an album that is immediately familiar, fitting in with the RPWL sound, yet at the same time introducing new elements, so transcending further the Pink Floyd influences of their early career. Crime Scene sets a standard that others are going to have to work hard to match this year.
Within seconds of starting the album I knew one of my favourite bands had grabbed me by the ears and was not going to let go. RPWL is a band I have continually followed since back in the mesolithic period when a review copy of their debut album, God Has Failed, was sent to me on a carefully chiselled stone tablet.
With their 10th studio album to celebrate 23 years in the business, what a great way to herald in such an achievement.
This is a relatively short album by RPWL's standards, clocking in at just over 45 minutes. However, what you might miss out on with quantity, you will certainly be better-served by liberal doses of quality. Just six songs grace this album, with only one epic track at almost 13 minutes. But what a lot of territory the album covers.
Although the name, RPWL, was taken from the surnames of the four members at the time of the band's creation, using such a nomenclature falls down when some originating members leave the band. Yogi Lang (vocals, keyboards) and Kalle Wallner ( guitars) are the two founding members now being joined by long-term drummer, Marc Turiaux and new recruit, Markus Grützner on bass. The departure, for personal reasons, of Markus Jehle, who has been playing keyboards with the band since 2005, was announced recently.
The anthemic opening chords of Victim Of Desire, with its incredibly melodic and captivating lead guitar, brings to mind many of the great songs that bands such as Kayak used to create. I am thinking of that classic song, Frozen Flame, from their Close To The Fire album.
While Kalle's guitar tone does not slowly build up to a climactic finale like it does with Kayak, right from the get-go here, the guitar runs straight up your spine. It is just so damned melodic and has become an instant earworm, easily earning its position as my favourite song of 2023 (so far). Another point of reference could be aimed at that classic neo-prog masterpiece called Prelude, Riff & Fugue from Comedy Of Errors' 2011 album Disobey. It is a stunning piece of songwriting, and despite not being overly complex, I defy listeners not to be impressed with the song. The lead guitar on that Disobey album makes it all worthwhile.
Red Rose is another really pleasant song with an acoustic beginning that slowly builds up momentum when it's time for everyone to chime in.
Starting with acoustic guitar, A Cold Spring Day in '22 is joined by some delicately plucked mandolin, which adds nicely to the piece. Instantly likeable and with a brilliantly catchy chorus, this is another standout track. I defy you not to be singing along with this stunning song after only a few spins.
Life In A Cage was probably the only minor let down compared to the brilliance of the other songs, but when it's all said and done, who's bothered?
King Of The World begins with a punchy bass line and some classic synth runs, until the vocals chime in to herald the start of the longest song on the album. It is another beautifully composed song and really well sung by Yogi, who brings his predictable vocal mastery in the same way he has done on so many previous RPWL songs. Again, the chorus is so melodic, and typifies why the band's albums over many years have been happily snapped up by an eager fan-base who want to discover what new gems await them.
Another Life Beyond Control has a very fuzzy guitar featured throughout. This reminded me of an old 60s song by American psychedelic pop masters, Spirit, although I am damned if I can think of the song title at the moment. Punchy bass, some nice, wailing synth work and some appropriately distorted guitar, help embellish the final song on offer.
When the creative juices can flow freely without being influenced or affected by lock-downs of millions of infected people around you, it can result in a really incredible album. The last two to three years have, for my ears at least, produced some of the best prog music to emerge, despite the drawbacks of Covid. I wonder if the next calamity might enable even more classic music to be created in the future.
Albums of this quality don't come along every day of the week, so it goes without saying that if you have wondered what a modern-day Pink Floyd might sound like, this is a good place to start. The album drips with quality and emotional songwriting of the highest calibre. As such, RPWL can comfortably park itself along classic prog artists such as Blackfield, Opeth, Pink Floyd and Dave Bainbridge, sans the uillean pipes.
Even though I am more than happy with an album occupying around the 40 - 45 minute mark, due to the overwhelmingly infectious nature of the songs on this album, I wish they had squeezed in a few more tracks as I feel the need to be greedy. Needless to say, this is my number one contender for album of the year so far.