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Heavy Water Experiment : Philosopher Queen

Vocal-wise, Heavy Water Experiment's 4th album will be a love-it-or-hate-it affair.

Multi-instrumentalist David Melbye has already released 3 albums under the name of the youngest of his projects: Heavy Water Experiment. 'Philosopher Queen' is the 4th one and it initiates a new, heavier, more psychedelic approach. This renewal proves to be particularly radical as to the trialled vocal technique: it is a more aggressive style which turns Melbye's voice into a mechanical instrument with deliberately restrained possibilities. It sounds more like a whole vocal system than one natural voice which could express all possible shades.
I emphasise his vocal work on purpose: the voice is a quasi-everpresent feature and seems like the pivot of the album: an element which determines from the start, from the first second, whether the listener will support it or step down - it's a make-or-break-it feature.

It is a nasal male voice, sustained by a female voice which also obeys the same draconian rules - limiting itself to monotonous, ethereal chants, and as if diluted by an enigmatic distance. These warm waves of unarticulated vocalizations are used as a clever contrasted - and therefore intriguing - counterpoint to the very down-to-earth technique of the singer, who never tries to deliver a "performance": surely for the best as his voice is so… unusual.
He sings his lyrics like a weary troubadour, carried into a round of shows which never seem to get to an end. This kind of disillusioned atmosphere covers all the album with a fine layer of dust, of the kind which flutters about in an ancient, sealed-off church, or hides in the dark velvet corners of a shabby cabaret.

Heavy Water Experiment's influences come from the progressive Rock scene: you think of Van der Graaf Generator, King Crimson and Circle too. The band sounds like one of these entities entirely controlled by the sprawling psyche of its leader, eclipsing his playmates. However, Heavy Water Experiment don't reach the complexity and the darkness of the three above-mentioned bands (partly because of the more limited panel of instruments): it is, in my opinion, a flaw in the long run that it lacks diversity and creativity in the arrangements. You have to wait for the second part of the album to see some new twists: the 8th track 'Corbis and Cordelia' shows new harmonic ideas, a tad vesper, so to speak, more psychedelic, built up on acoustic chords and an undulating riff (an 8-string bass, if I'm not mistaken); it's a welcome change!
The following track, 'I Almost Exist', is very well crafted too, with a piano as backing support and an almost funk-jazz-sounding drumming (on a side note, the drummer gives the rhythm section a nice groove from the very beginning of the album to its end).

The band is a curiosity, cultivating a rather spellbinding oneiric mystery. You'd have to stand the very unusual nature of the singer's voice to enjoy the music: it's a love-it-or-hate-it affair and I can see a lot of the potential audience being cooled down because of it.
Music-wise, it is very under control, very square, there is very little variation between the tracks and the outfit flies straight on the road it has chosen without ever changing direction. All in all, you get the impression of a strong identity, but one which is lacking all the subtleties which would let you foresee other beautiful things to come. I hope that the band will be able to renew itself and to explore other ways, other rhythms, other playing techniques to produce an album that would be the start of a fifth chapter and not a repetition of this one. That being said, it seems the band hasn't stopped reassessing itself up till now, so, there's hope!

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Reviewer's rating: Unrated


Tracklist :
1. Prelude
2. Philosopher Queen
3. Downward Spiral Stairways
4. Black Glass Chateaux
5. Wan Concubine
6. Afterlives
7. Course Of Empire
8. Corbis And Cordelia
9. I Almost Exist
10. Requiem For Sunlight

Duration : Approx. ?? minutes

Visit the Heavy Water Experiment bandpage.

Reviewed on 2013-01-14 by Bertrand Marchal
Aesthetic Death
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