By his own count, Marek Arnold has contributed to more than 60 albums, either as a member or hired hand, providing indelible sax and keyboard work to groups like Southern Empire, Flaming Row, Damanek, etc. And while he’s been a key part of many of those releases, he had yet to deliver something that he could stamp as his.
Until now. Five years in the making, Marek Arnold’s Artrock Project is his chance to stand front and center. Yes, it’s prog-rock. It’s art-rock. Or in a word, it is excellent.
The mainstay of the album, the real anchor, is “Stay”. It may be the second cut, but it takes a backseat to none of the other songs. First composed and recorded five years ago for the ArtRock Festival Reichenbach, it was the seed for the idea of a solo record. And what a seed! Melodic, Prog, some Rock, and all of it featuring the inimitable voice of Melanie Mau. Her partner Martin Schnella provides some of the guitars and helped with the arrangement. There are four different guitar soloists! And violinist Steve Unruh adds some of his trademark work. It’s not an epic, per se – it’s only nine minutes long – but it has an epic feel to it. Oh, and the video for “Stay” is a must, as people and places and things morph from one image to another. It’s warm and lovely and a great interpretation of the song. Check it out below.
The actual lead piece is “A Story of Separation and Loss”, a three-part, 16-minute effort that has its roots in the 2000 Toxic Smile’s song “Arirang” (another Marek production). This is prog, with interesting rhythms, intricate keyboards and a blast of guitars throughout. To these ears, the last section, “Review”, might have been trimmed a little bit. Still, it’s an impressive start to a great album.
“A Time of Mystery“ is up next, and it’s a showcase for Arnold’s many and varied talents. Utilizing his reed and keyboard work, this is a gentle, almost chamber music effort (featuring some fine vocals by Manuel Schmid).
“Papillon” (What is it with butterflies? – Southern Empire has a song with that title on its new album) starts as a peaceful collaboration between Arnold’s keyboards and the always-impressive voice of Arno Menses (Subsignal). It begins to build a couple of minutes in with the addition of electric guitars and percussion. The fragile butterfly bursts forth from the cocoon, roaring along with new intensity and dynamics. Towards the end, Arnold blisters things with a great sax solo (followed by his work on keyboards). It closes with a return to the beginning theme.
Croatian progger Zeynah sings “Come Away With Me”, a ballad that is lovely and compelling. The invite is easily accepted, with a warm melody and impressive musicianship.
Arnold’s Toxic Smile days are remembered again on “Cold Run”, which was first produced in 2006. It sounds timeless, with a series of guitar riffs that keep the energy up. One could say that “Cold Run” is a palate cleanser, something that prepares us for the tour de force.
“Berlin 2049” is a dystopian tale of a world where technology has moved ahead faster than the human ability to harness it. Most of the world’s great cities are closed to artificial intelligence beings – except for Berlin, which is doing what it can to stay open. The story and lyrics come from the mind of George Andrade, a science fiction writer who also provides the dialogue on the first part, “Berlin”. Now this is an epic—six parts, 26-minutes long.
There’s a sense of mystery in the first two sections (the second is “Rain Will Fall 1”). Yakiv Tsvietinsky provides a jazzy trumpet solo. And the great Peter Jones of Tiger Moth Tales takes on the lead vocals, showing the wide range that has brought him to the forefront of prog-rock.
“Leave Well Enough Alone” picks things up with Martin Fankhanel (of Arnold’s band Seven Steps to the Green Door) providing blazing guitar. Derek Sherinian offers an impressive synthesizer solo, and Kiri Marie Geile, the original lead singer of Martin Schnella’s Flaming Row, sings a wide range of emotions.
“Rain Will Fall 2”, which alludes back to “Rain Will Follow 1”, allows Arnold more space to toss in a cool jazz sax solo. And Seven Steps to the Green Door singer Anne Trautman provides some gentle vocals. This isn’t a rainstorm—perhaps a drizzle.
“Riding the Line” is a quick instrumental featuring the various members of Seven Steps to the Green Door. Arnold’s synth provides the bottom line, one of intensity and urgency, while guitarist Martin Fankhanel lets loose with a blast of guitar before all suddenly drops out and into “Reason to Lie.” It’s a spacey yet melodic piece. The protagonist – an AI being? – is tired and burnt out and allows technicians to download his thoughts and memories. And then it is finished.
But, hopefully, Marek Arnold is just getting started. No, I’m not suggesting that he give up the many bands in which he’s a member. I’m certainly not saying that he should give up all those “gun for hire” gigs. But with the Artrock Project, Arnold has shown that he can run the show, and do so very well. This album took five years to complete. Hopefully, the next one will come out a bit sooner. This one, however, was worth the wait.
Released By: Tempus Fugit
Release Date: July 13th, 2023
Genre: Progressive Rock
“Marek Arnold’s Artrock Project” Track-list:
1. A Story of Separation and Loss
3. A Time of Mystery
5. Come Away with Me
6. Cold Run
7. Berlin 2049 – Berlin
8. Berlin 2049 – Rain Will Fall 1
9. Berlin 2049 – Leave Well Enough Alone
10. Berlin 2049 – Rain Will Fall 2
11. Berlin 2049 – Riding the Line
12. Berlin 2049 – Reason to Lie
Order your copy HERE
Marek Arnold’s first solo outing is chock full of musical delights, taking advantage of a raft of extremely talented collaborators in various contemporary and futuristic stories. If we’re lucky, this project will be the first of many to come