Considering that they began as a Pink Floyd cover band, it’s truly impressive how consistent and distinctive German quartet RPWL have remained over the last 25 years. Indeed, everything they’ve done—from 2000’s “God Has Failed” to 2019’s “Tales from Outer Space”—radiates idiosyncratic charm and a refined compromise between top-notch songwriting and sophisticated (but not overly showy) musicianship. Their latest LP, “Crime Scene,” measures up to that legacy quite well. While it’s not as instantly fetching or enduringly unforgettable as its immediate predecessor, it’s nonetheless a superb extension of RPWL’s pleasantly ambitious and invigorating vibe.
Whereas “Takes from Outer Space” featured numerous guest musicians, “Crime Scene” was composed and performed entirely by the core band. On that note, the record is their first with bassist Markus Grützner, as well as their first without ex-keyboardist Markus Jehle since 2005’s “World Through My Eyes.” Of course, RPWL have never let significant line-up changes (of which there’ve been many) diminish the quality of their work, and “Crime Scene” is no exception. From start to finish, the highly skilled Grützner demonstrates terrific chemistry with his new bandmates.
“Crime Scene” also continues the group’s penchant for conceptual themes. As stated in the official press release, the album “directs its attention to the morbid, the perverse, the evil in good, [and]the abysses of the human behavior spectrum in all its unpredictable diversity, which sometimes comes across as bizarrely disturbing and conclusive, if one tries to fathom it.” Specifically, there are references to people such as Dresden necrophiliac Carl Tanzler and Münsterberg serial killer Karl Denke, plus normalized domestic violence. Undoubtedly, those are some of the darkest topics RPWL have ever tackled, yet they never prevent “Crime Scene” from being enjoyably colorful, adventurous, and tuneful.
Case in point: opener “Victim of Desire.” Although it begins ominously (with dissonant strings and other timbres colliding over the sounds of someone breathlessly running away), it soon erupts into a characteristically bright and dense rocker. True, frontman Yogi Lang’s typically warm deliveries are sometimes made colder through computerized effects, but his melodies and interlocking vocals are still mostly soothing. Likewise, the arrangement cleverly balances gruff guitar riffs and forceful percussion (during the verses) with wistful respites (during the chorus). There’s a lot of eccentric instrumental diversions, too, including some cosmic counterpoints between thick bass notes and divine guitar harmonics. It’s simultaneously a great way to begin and a great representation of RPWL in general.
Although a few subsequent tracks harness similar juxtapositions, each does more than enough to feel sufficiently individualistic. For instance, “Life in a Cage” emphasizes dreamy but chilling synth coatings and ambiance in ways that evoke pre-“Stupid Dream” era Porcupine Tree. As its name suggests, “King of the World” is very regal and full-bodied, with strong hooks and a sustained temperament. Then, closer “Another Life Beyond Control” is robust and reflective thanks to its stacked vocal layers, thoughtful chorus, and ever-changing textures.
In-between, the record highlights the quartet’s acoustic side via “Red Rose” and “A Cold Spring Day in ’22.” The former is especially sunny and pastoral, with gentle guitar strums, harmonies, and rhythms decorating heartfelt sentiments such as “The world outside is acting strange / When you come to sing your song / This melody will guide my way / To bring you back where you belong.” In contrast, the latter tune is a bit livelier and quirkier due to some playful backing timbres and irregular pacing. It’s a particularly wonderful addition to the sequence.
Even though it’s slightly less captivating and memorable than “Tales from Outer Space,” “Crime Scene” is far from disappointing or negligible. On the contrary, it’s a gorgeously conceived and realized journey that encompasses everything that makes modern RPWL so remarkable. The songwriting is thoroughly lovely, the instrumentation is ceaselessly exploratory yet welcoming, and the singing is as poetically rich as ever. Far too few of RPWL’s contemporaries have sustained their peak quality this much—especially those who’ve been around as long—and “Crime Scene” is unquestionably an essential addition to their catalog.
Release Date: March 17th, 2023
Record Label: Gentle Art of Music
Genre: Progressive Rock / Neo-Prog
Markus Grützner / Bass
Kalle Wallner / Guitars
Yogi Lang / Vocals, keyboards
Marc Turiaux / Drums
“Crime Scene” Track-list:
1. Victim of Desire
2. Red Rose
3. A Cold Spring Day in ‘22
4. Life in a Cage
5. King of the World
6. Another Life Beyond Control
Order “Crime Scene” HERE
Even though it’s slightly less captivating and memorable than “Tales from Outer Space,” “Crime Scene” is far from disappointing or negligible. On the contrary, it’s a gorgeously conceived and realized journey that encompasses everything that makes modern RPWL so remarkable. Thus, it’s unquestionably an essential addition to their catalog