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Foreign – The Symphony Of The Wandering Jew – Part II

Foreign
The Symphony Of The Wandering Jew – Part II
by Santiago Puyol at 05 December 2020, 7:48 AM

Commanded by singer/keyboardist Ivan Jacquin, FOREIGN is a French Progressive Rock project, currently build around an intended trilogy of Rock Operas. "The Symphony Of The Wandering Jew" is based around the concept of immortality and an imagined retelling of history through the lenses of Ahasverus, the man cursed to life forever for refusing to provide water to a crucified Jesus. "Part II" has just been released, following 2014’s "Part I", with more than 30 musicians involved in the process.

As with the first part of the story, the album mixes elements of Progressive Rock with strong Middle Eastern Folk flourishes, musical theatre cues, Symphonic and Choral sounds, as well as slight Electronica and Metal influences bleeding here and there, all nicely wrapped up into a Rock Opera feel complete with multiple vocalists playing different characters.

Following an enigmatic intro that evokes images of deserted landscapes, opener "Yerushalaïm" gets all belligerent and epic, inciting war. Filled with melodrama and theatrics, it ebbs and flows, at times settling into a nice power ballad mood, and going heavy on Hard Rock and Power Metal mannerisms at others. Meanwhile, "Rise 1187" provides a heavier sound and gorgeous guest vocals by Zak Stevens from SAVATAGE. There is a playfulness of the rhythm section that makes it a really fun track and pairs up nicely with the strong mix of Iranian and Celtic folk influences. Flute and fiddle sit nicely together with thundering drums and synth.

The album shifts in mood several times, with some folky ballads like the lovely duet between Ivan Jacquin and Amanda Lehmann that is "Mariner Of All Seas" (complete with delightful guitar arpeggio and plucked harp) and full-blown Prog epic as the previously mentioned "Rise 1187" or the Tim Burton-esque "Running Time" and its evil cello lines.

Jacquin has an affinity for some Classic Prog sounds like harpsichord and moog sounds, sprinkled through several tracks across the record. "Holy Lands" is the most medieval-sounding among them, very Classic Prog inspired, sounding like a slower version of an early EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER track at times. "Secrets Of Art" manages to incorporate the harpsichord sound to a heavier atmosphere (and Jean-Philippe Ciman lays down some nasty grooves there). Meanwhile, Jacquin shows off his chops with gorgeous soloing on the high-energy "Mysteries To Come", a jammy mishmash of influences (YES and EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER come to mind as well as DREAM THEATRE and QUEENSRŸCHE). It also features the catchiest chorus of the album.

Continuing the tradition of the first part of the Rock Opera, there are two brief interludes representing the passage of time, "Eternity Parts III and IV", properly placed in the fifth and eleventh spot of the record, same place as "Parts I and II" respectively. There’s also a longer, mid-album instrumental interlude, "The Fountain"; some beautiful yet menacing duet of guitar and violin and creepy children laughing samples. It is a weird one for sure, the mood being ambivalent and tension-filled as it strides a line between beautiful passages and ominous ones.

The second half of the record features some of the heaviest tunes, but single "Symphonic Caress" takes the cake as the heaviest track of all. It is very poppy and groove-led. The use of the choir adds a lot of depth to the more symphonic sections. Despite being a dynamic track, all transitions work perfectly, something that do not always happens throughout the record. Possibly my favourite song. It gets heavy but also has beautiful, intimate moments.

The album closes on a potent note with the emotional one-two punch of "Revolutions" and "Witness Of Changes", both drenched in sorrow and powerful vulnerability. The former, after an utterly menacing intro, sets into a bittersweet tone, with strong operatic female vocals and choir, almost like a classical piece arranged as a rock track. Meanwhile, "Witness Of Changes", takes a mournful and Gothic path, equal parts 80’s power ballad and proggy rocker. It evokes the feel of "Part I’s" final track "Medeïvel" but in a more upbeat way, closing on passionate soloing.

"The Symphony Of The Wandering Jew – Part II" is a beautiful record and it actually improves the production values from "Part I", especially corrects the overcompression and uneven mixing it had. It is structured in a similar way to Part I, as illustrated by the Eternity interludes or the similarities between the closing tracks, and that works for the continuity of the concept. Still, some issues that plagued the first part and seem to continue here.

For instance, Classic Prog excesses could have been toned down, like the unnecessary keyboard noodling on "Holy Lands" that makes it a bit dull in spite of being the second shortest track on the album (aside from the "Eternity" interludes). Or some rough transitions on the tracklisting, like the change from "The Fountain" to "Mysteries To Come", that clash mood-wise.

Some of the vocal work do not entirely work, too. Especially the slightly harsher vocals that get very sporadically used and simply do not mash well with the gorgeous music, feeling a bit forced. Also, I’m not entirely convinced with some sections in the lower male registers, especially noticeable on "Running Time".

Aside from those minor issues, "The Symphony Of The Wandering Jew – Part II" takes what worked from the first part and builds over them, being a step in a good direction. It is a delightful listening experience, and I do suggest checking "Part I" too, as Jacquin has stroke gold with this concept and the passion of everyone involved in this project is in plain sight. The story is intriguing enough, but this music can be enjoyed on its own so even if you are not the type to follow the concept as you listen, you will find a lot to enjoy still.

Songwriting: 8
Musicianship: 10
Memorability: 7
Production: 8

4 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. Yerushalaïm
2. Rise 1187
3. Mariner Of All Seas
4. Holy Lands
5. Eternity Part III
6. Running Time
7. The Fountain
8. Mysteries To Come
9. Secrets Of Art
10. Symphonic Caress
11. Eternity Part IV
12. Revolutions
13. Witness Of Changes
Lineup:
Ivan Jacquin – Vocals, Keyboards, Piano, Organ, Duduk, Orchestrations on all songs
Florian Pothiat – Vocals on tracks 1, 6, 9, 10, 12
Thierry Marquez – Vocals on 1, 9, 10, 12
Jeannick “Jena K.” Valleur – Vocals on 9, 12
Marie Desdemone Xolin – Vocals on 1, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13
Stephane Van De Capelle – Vocals on 1, 4, 6, 9, 12
Zak Stevens – Vocals on 1, 2
Tom S. Englund – Vocals on 6, 8
Amanda Lehmann – Vocals on 2, 3, Lead Guitars on 1
Emma Elvaston – Vocals on 6, 7, 8
Emmanuel Levy – Vocals on 6, 8
Andy Kuntz – Vocals on 9, 10
Fanny Deroy – Vocals on 12, 13
The Sirens of Time (Raphaël Favereaux, Patrice Duchêne, Benoit Hadengue, Florian Pot, Estelle Janod, Jeannick Valleur, Alexandra Poinsot, Florence Brusseaux) – Choir on 1, 2, 6, 10, 12, 13
Leo Margarit – Drums on 1, 8, 11, 12
Thierry Charlet – Drums on 6, 10, 13
Henri-Pierre Prudent – Drums on 2, 9
Mike Lepond – Bass on 8, 10
Jean-Philippe Ciman – Bass on 1, 6, 9, 12, 13
Jean-Baptiste Chalmandrier – Bass on 2
Olivier Gaudet – Guitars on 1, 2, 6, 9, lead on 10, 12, 13
David Humbert – Guitars on 8, 10
Patrice Culot – Lead Guitar on 2
Camille Borrelly – Acoustic Guitar on 1, 2, 3
Rachel Ruaux – Oboe on 1, 4, 7, 9, 10, 12
Sonia Duval – Cello on 1, 3, 6, 10, 12
Didier Gris – Violin, Alto on 2, 3, 12
Mathilde Armansin – Violin on 6, 7, 10
Laurence Conort – Flute, Low Whistle, Piccolo on 2, 3, 11, 12, 13
Olivier Goyet – Hammered Dulcimer on 2, 7, 9
Christine Bulle – Harp on 3, 4, 10
Gregory Jolivet – Hurdy-Gurdy on 5
Record Label: Pride and Joy Music
     


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Edited 24 January 2021
 

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