“Do you have any idea what it’s like to take a man’s life?”
These words run like ice down one’s spine, their cold indifference instantly captivating as an unseen narrator continues to speak. “I mean, really take his life.” The voice digs in with an almost seductive edge, a touch of breathiness creating the sensation that the speaker is standing beside the listener, leaning in with unwelcome intimacy. After being ensnared by a cinematic spoken word opening, it’s impossible to tear oneself away from the captivating tale of crime and drama crafted by German progressive metal band Crayon Phase. Infused with elements of neo-prog and modern rock, the story behind “Two Hundred Pages” is part thriller and part mystery, presented on the backdrop of an instrumental epic that seems to have torn itself directly from the cinema.
The dueling creative dimensions of “Two Hundred Pages” twist in a frenzied dance until they become one inseparable masterpiece, an engaging work of art springing from stellar musicians that are adept as both instrumentalists and charismatic storytellers. In both words and in sonic revelry, “Two Hundred Pages” impresses with the dynamic atmospherics of a film while retaining the layered complexities of progressive music. The lyrical concept behind the album is that of a man suffering amnesia as he is forced by a crime syndicate to do their bidding, and the tale follows his attempt to find escape or salvation. Told in a non-linear sequence of tracks that follow the main character from the present day through five years in his past, the atmosphere that Crayon Phase has designed is a miracle of five artists working in perfect sync to devise for their listeners a world that is as dark as it is gripping.
Opening track “Prologue” begins with the aforementioned narration, accented by a passage of static-splintered news clips that crackle just out of clarity. The transition which welcomes the guitar is flawlessly fluid, the first taste of more nuanced emotional inflection as the music transitions away from the purely cinematic to more modern refinement. Led by guitarist and Crayon Phase mastermind Wolfgang Bahr, the album proves to be a space not just for conceptual exploration, but a demonstration of dexterity and versatility in songwriting as “Two Hundred Pages” springs effortlessly across time signatures and tempos. Second track “Two Hundred Pages” offers an atmosphere of deceivingly blissful peace, a far cry from the murderous rasps that began “Prologue.” No matter how sharp the transitions across emotional patterns, the album moves between passages with rare grace and forward direction, never jarring the listener from their increasingly personal experience.
One of the most prominent guiding forces within the record rests in the hands of bassist Peter Damm, the steady heartbeat at the core of the album’s focused intonation. Where Bahr and keyboard player Frank Wendel strive for nuance, Damm commands near omniscient attention that pulls listeners smoothly from brilliant jubilee to shadowed noir. As the bass paints the rich colors of the sky, a number of more subtle effects build out the concept and increase the listener’s immersion, including the deep heartbeats interspersed throughout the album and the warm waters of “Retrospective.” Deep into the album’s story-line, “Retrospective” gives the listener a firsthand taste of the character’s near brush with death, a reflection on peace and desperation as he proceeds from the brink of an answer to a watery grave. Swallowed whole by the crushing weight of water and cloaked in a pondering progression of keys, this song is entirely engulfed in the allure of mystery.
Preceding track “The Music Box” is also proof that Crayon Phrase is more than capable of creating a story within a song as well as across an entire album. From the opening guitar passages in Bahr’s capable hands through the seamless dance between drums and keys, this song truly flexes the capabilities of the four instrumentalists whose composition captures their strengths. Drummer Arne Groschel is incredibly spirited in this track, often playing in close partnership with Damm and Wendel for the strongest percussive impact. While Gazal’s voice sometimes strays towards the monotonous in an otherwise magnanimous track, “The Music Box” is an engrossing chapter that adds invaluable depth and character to “Two Hundred Pages.”
Sticking with Crayon Phase through the drama and the tumult is worth every minute of investment – more than seventy-five of them, given the album’s run time. They have truly embodied all of the best dimensions of progressive music, tackling an ambitious and thriller-worthy concept with more spirit and attention to detail than a number of bestselling authors. Most noteworthy of all is the pure instrumental cohesion achieved throughout the album each layer perfectly balanced against one another, working together rather than dueling for dominance. Distinguished riffs from Bahr’s guitar gives way to bass solos which turn over command to duets between drums and keys. Despite changes in tempo and the introduction of external textures for the purpose of contextual storytelling, the ebb and flow of energy never breaks the album’s immersion. This blissful near-perfect sync achieves melodious harmony that spans the entire album, a demonstration of beautifully orchestrated composition.
From its achievements tackling the conceptual through demonstrating the passion of its musicians, “Two Hundred Pages” is a dazzling execution of modern progressive music. Grand in its scope and atmospheric capabilities, this album is an impressive sophomore offering from Crayon Phase, who tackled this project with maturity and foresight in production. By the time it has run its course, listeners can’t help but find themselves inseparable from the enticing depths of both the story told and the musicians who created it. The sheer personality the artists have imbued into their performance gives this collection of songs considerable charisma, and somehow manages to reflect that joyous celebration of art directly into the listener’s soul. It’s impossible to walk away from “Two Hundred Pages” without taking a bit of it with oneself, but this is a work of art many would be better for carrying with them.
Released By: Progressive Promotion Records
Release Date: October 10th, 2019
Genre: Progressive Rock
- Raphael Gazal / Vocals
- Wolfgang Bahr / Guitars
- Arne Groschel / Drums
- Frank Wendel / Keyboards
- Peter Damm / Bass
“Two Hundred Pages” Track-listing:
- Two Hundred Pages
- Turn of Fortune
- Procession | Empty Grave
- The Music Box
Crafted by brilliant storytellers and talented musicians, “Two Hundred Pages” tells an engrossing tale of drama, crime, and mystery. Loaded with immersive atmospherics and a rare cohesion amongst musicians, Crayon Phase deliver an album that thrives on excellent instrumental personality and undeniable charisma.