It wasn’t until Muse and to some extent Porcupine Tree and Dream Theater, that Prog ceased to be the black sheep of the rock family. Often seen as overlong, overwrought and too self-important by fans of a more immediate rock fix, it has taken the likes of Muse and even Tool to embrace established prog icons like King Crimson to give the sub-genre a new boost of life. Entering the fray is Morpheus Project, the brainchild of composer Mustafa Khetty, they are a coming together from artists around the globe but homing in on the perhaps unlikely setting of Turkey. So is it a return to the 70s or a breaking of new frontiers?
It certainly looks old skool from a visual point of view – the tricky to read text and image (it could be a volcano…or maybe a stalagmite…or maybe something a donkey left behind) give an immediately otherworldly tone and certainly once you dig into the music, there’s definitely a sense of extensive travel and discovery. Opener “Rage Before the Storm” perfectly sets the scene – some expressive but restrained guitar work and waves of synth issue a nod to, of all things, Jeff Wayne’s “War of the Worlds”, which is no bad thing. Easing into “Shrill!”, there is again some really strong guitar work and the track is stuffed to the gills with intricate textured layers. Alas, when the vocals arrive, it’s both jarring and, sad to say, disappointing. We’re in the realm of rock histrionics, some chest-beating booming which though perfectly in tune, feels blundering against the delicacy of the music.
If prog is anything, it’s a track called “Dancing with Elves” and lo’, this is what we get. There’s some truly thrilling guitar soloing here and it feels rather more like warring elves than dancing but this is no issue. It’s not clear why the track is named such, nor is it obvious how any of the tracks on the album relate to each other which, again, is a little disappointing for an album which musically is so cultured. The title track is a real treat for those with a decent pair of headphones and is an album stand-out with a slew of instruments from around the world, all of which when linked with some gorgeous choral work really zing. Hugely impressive.
Percussion lovers will really enjoy “Tomorrow Never Comes”, again a mix of cultural sounds from the Middle East and even Africa drawn together with some ethereal and sometimes really ‘out there’ keyboard work which really harks back to some of the greats. If anything, the vocals get in the way of a truly imaginative, exciting piece. If “Waiting is the album’s filler (it is), “Istanbul Swing” is its beating heart. A track which is globally cosmopolitan, spacey and surging, it showcases some outstanding musicianship and truly lives and breathes. A track with a very genuine, uncontrived feel, it bodes well for future excursions down this route. “Nights to Remember” and “Cry for Freedom” feel a let-down in its wake. The former has a great riff but feels like a retread of what we’ve heard before but less so; the album’s closer, though beautifully performed, is filled with the self-indulgence of prog at it’s most fattened – classical where it needn’t be and overly saccharine, though it makes sense as a final track in terms of dynamics, it has nothing to make you want to revisit it.
Overall, a worthy album and one rammed with great musical skill. A purely instrumental version please!