In 2010 the Cuban progressive rock band Anima Mundi released The Way (see review). This was without any doubt their first masterpiece. Although for me personally its predecessor Jagannath Orbit (2008, see review) comes very close to achieving the same designation. After all, it was recorded with almost the same musicians on board. You can also hear Carlos Sosa on lead vocals, Roberto Díaz on guitars and backing vocals, Virginia Peraza on keyboards and backing vocals and Yaroski Corredera on bass guitar. Only drummer José Manuel Govin wasn't in the line-up when they recorded this album. Expectations were certainly high for the follow up to The Way. However the sudden quitting from the band of Carlos Sosa in a way did lead to a slightly different musical direction which eventually lead to the release of The Lamplighter (2013, see review). This time around there was a new vocalist behind the microphone in the person of Emmanuel Pirko Farrath. At first this release had to grow on me but in the end turned out to be another masterpiece for the band. Now three years later, a new album from the only progressive rock band from Cuba can be welcomed. They named it I Me Myself. Is it the real follow up to The Way or did the band move towards another unexpected musical direction?
What is immediately striking on the credit section is that there is again the mentioning of a new singer. According to their press statement Emmanuel Pirko Farrath will not appear on the next Anima Mundi album and the 2016 tour because he will now be living in the USA for a long period of time. The same press statement announces also his replacement Michel Bermudez. It also tells us that he has a voice more into the vain of Carlos Sosa with a clear and quite high vocal reach and melodic tone. Another difference in the personnel list is the absence of José Manuel Govin. It appeared a serious health issue with the muscles in his arms prevents him from drumming for a rather long time. Therefore they looked for a replacement and found Marco Alonso who does not only play the drums but also handles the saxophone very well.
Just like its predecessor I Me Myself has something to tell to the outside world. This concept album offers us a reflection on the relationship of the human face in the changing world of technology and the alienation that may result. Philosophical questions follow: How to manage the existential loneliness, how to transcend the "whole" for a better world? The artwork on the cover and in the booklet in a way already tells a bit about this story that the band wants to tell with this release. Reading the lyrics inside the booklet reveal even more what message comes along with the more than one hour of music the band has come up with.
Listening to the sound effects and the music on the six tracks available shows that we are dealing here with a very special album. Not an album you just play while doing the dishes or cleaning the windows. You just have to take your time while listening and do not let anything distract you. Everything sounds rather complex and needs a couple of spins to discover the details inside the compositions. Musically, it is a work of craftsmanship that has taken two years in the making and results in some of the best things the band has come up with. This time the band dared to cross some musical barriers and to come up with musical styles you have hardly heard before on any of their former releases. Next to the usual influences of the big names in the history of progressive rock you can hear this time around influences coming from jazz and even metal. The big names of the seventies prog can be heared for example on Flowers. Here a certain part performed on the organ reminded me of the organ part which Tony Banks played during Apocalypse In 9/8 taken from Supper's Ready released by Genesis in 1972. Another good example can be heard on The Chimney, The Wheel And The War. During Act III, which has the title Acid Skies, you can hear parts that reminded me of Awaken composed by Yes for their album Going For The One released in 1977. The same composition has in Act IV, which has the title Wolf Affairs, influences taken from Pink Floyd. Here those guitar parts, reminding me of Dave Gilmour, at the same time very cleverly imitate the howling and crying of the wolves. Finally the final track Lone Rider reminded me of Nights In White Satin released by The Moody Blues in 1967 mainly because of the use of the Mellotron flute parts. The parts that go most outside of the progressive rock box and move into the direction of jazz influences are mainly because of the use of a trumpet played by David Blanco and the use of saxophone played by Marco Alonso. They are notable on pieces such as The Chimney, The Wheel And The War and Clockwork Heart. Mentioning a musical style such as metal doesn't mean the band moves into the direction of Metallica or Iron Maiden. It has most of all to do with the use of more aggressive guitar and rhythm parts in the compositions. This can be heard on several of the songs on the album. I guess good examples are Somewhere and Train To Future.
Furthermore the band uses on this album once again the right balance between more epic pieces and the sometimes more song orientated shorter tracks. The epic pieces are The Chimney, The Wheel And The War, Somewhere and Train To Future. Which leaves the other titles to the shorter songs, which are Flowers, Clockwork Heart and Lone Rider. Although it doesn't mean the shorter pieces don't have anything to tell music wise. They have as many strong instrumental parts as the longer compositions with lots of solos that can be enjoyed on the guitars and keyboards. Virginia Peraza and Roberto Diaz appear at the top of their game during these performed solos but also the strong solo parts played on the saxophone by Marco are a feast for your ears to hear and he plays them brilliantly! The same goes for his excellent drum parts and he is at the same time a perfect rhythmic couple with bassist Yaroski Corredera. Corredera is probably one of the most underrated bass players in the progressive rock business. Anybody who has heard him play on the studio albums or seen him play during concerts knows he is one of the best in the scene. And also this time around his playing is of a very high level just like all the other performers on I Me Myself including new vocalist Michel Bermudez. It doesn't matter if he sings his lyrics with an accent because when his vocals come out of his throat you hear that this man really can sing.
Finally, some words about the sound effects that are used on this album. They fit perfectly in with the whole concept. Right from the start you can hear one of those sound effects on the opening piece The Chimney, The Wheel And The War. First you can hear a Morse Code message for help (SOS) which is followed by the falling of the atom bomb. Finishing with the beating of a human heart. When you hear this all it becomes very clear that the messages the band has to tell have got to be taken seriously! Also on Train To Future they use a very clever sound effect which helps them to get the right tempo for the rhythm of the music. The song starts with the sound of a train passing a train station. The pace of this train goes over into the tempo of the rhythm section. Also during the ending of the same track you can again hear a train. More of those kind of sound effects can be heard throughout the entire album. But you have to hear some of them when listening with your headphones on!
Is there an answer to the question if I Me Myself is the real follow up to The Way or did the band move towards another unexpected musical direction? Well if you did read my review above you probably do know the answer. When you listen to the vocals of Michel Bermudez you might decide that this album is the follow up to The Way. Because his voice comes close to the way the band's former singer used to sing his parts. However when you hear the new influences taken from jazz and metal and the use of a trumpet and saxophone you might decide differently. Using all those new musical elements certainly moved the band into another unexpected musical direction-one which I liked a lot, because all was used in a very positive way. It brought new life into the band and most of all gives them new blood to carry on making amazing albums because an amazing album I Me Myself certainly is. And were we really waiting for The Way Part 2? I guess not! A band has to move on and try out new musical things which they did on this album.
Having said this all about I Me Myself, you are now waiting for my verdict on this new Anima Mundi album. Maybe you already did read it between the lines. I can come to one conclusion only that the band has delivered the progressive rock community another true masterpiece. The third one in a row after The Way and The Lamplighter. The five stars are well deserved and certainly in place! So congratulations to the band for coming up with one of the best releases of 2016 in the year they celebrate their 20th anniversary as a band! Well done indeed!
***** Henri Strik (edited by Robert James Pashman)
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