International politics and ideology is a wedge that divides nations, cultures, and generations, demonizing 'the other side' as an enemy of the state to be feared and vanquished. On January 29, 2002, during his State Of The Union speech George W. Bush proclaimed Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as part of an 'Axis Of Evil'. And we in turn have been referred to as 'The Great Satan' by many middle eastern leaders. And beyond the derogatory 'tit for tat' epithets hurled by both governments of the east and west the political climate between the US and Russia has been in a state of flux since the end of the cold war. But as wisdom has taught us ... the ambition and agenda of 'the powers that be' is not always in line with the opinion held by the individual citizens living within those borders. As human beings we have more in common with one another than the rhetoric might lead us to believe.
And music has the unique ability to tear down the barriers that divide us, revealing the common interest and the toe-tapping rhythm of our humanity. As well as mankind's inalienable right to boogie. And Mavara is doing their part to tear down the barriers between us and help dispel middle-eastern stereotypes once and for all.
Mavara is an impressive progressive rock band hailing from the Islamic Republic of Iran. Not a location you might expect to find a prog rock group. But then again, as I've learned these many decades in my pursuit of amassing a collection of international progressive rock artists, that although prog/rock is not the most popular of music genres, it has far reaching international appeal with artists circling the globe.
Mavara was formed in 2001 by composer/keyboardist Farhood Ghadiri, and throughout the years there has been a revolving door of personnel changes. But at the time of their most recent recording "Season Of Salvation" the members included: Ashkan Hamedi (vocals), Arash Radan (electric guitar), Farhood Ghadiri (keyboard, synthesizers), Anis Oveisi (piano, keyboards), Sina Khodaeifar (bass guitar), Khashayar Ravangar (drums).
The name Mavara translates as "beyond everything you think" - which aptly describes any preconceived notions one might have of a band hailing from Iran. This is not the type of middle eastern new age World Music played on exotic stringed instruments like the oud, woodwinds like the rhaita Moroccan oboe, goatskin drums or assorted percussion instruments, finger cymbals and clappers - Mavara play some smoking cross-over, neo, and modern prog in the vein of Hogarth era Marillion, Porcupine Tree, RPWL, Dream Theater, and Pink Floyd.
Upon releasing their Persian language debut album "Ultimate Sound" in 2005 - and having established themselves as the premier progressive rock band of Iran, where they performed extensively in Tehran and Karaj gaining notoriety and accolades from the Tehran Industry And Science University as "The Best Rock Band at a Live Performance" - the band expanded their horizons beyond the borders of Iran.
In 2009 Mavara released their follow-up album "Forgotten Inside" in English, appealing to a wider market. Soon thereafter the band performed at the "Crescendo Music Festival" in France.
Since the 2013 release of "Season Of Salvation" the band - now based in the United States in New Hampshire - has gone through another series of personnel changes, adding a pair of US musicians to the fold - guitarist Scott Abene and drummer Jim Welch. A US tour followed which included an appearance at ProgDay Festival 2013 and NJProghouse Music Festival.
Since arriving in the US the band has been the subject of much interest appearing on local New Hampshire TV programs and College radio, as well as a variety of magazine articles.
The 2009 release "Forgotten Inside" is a collection of 10 medium length tunes with running times from 5 to 7 minutes.
Vocalist Ashkan Hamedi has the type of deep gruff vocal range more associated with alternative rock bands than neo prog. A passionate yet powerful resonance to his voice, leaning more towards Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam than someone like Peter Nichols of IQ.
Tracks like "Old Pain", "Forgotten Inside", "Become Faithless", and "Awake" are the type of melodic ballads that should appeal to fans of Hogarth-era Marilion. While the stand-out tracks "Try To Understand", "Heaven And Hell", and "What Will Be Happened" have a strong post-Roger Waters Pink Floyd vibe to them - like something off "A Momentary Lapse Of Reason" or "The Division Bell". Complete with Gilmore inspired guitar work.
The 2013 release "Season Of Salvation" comes across as a much stronger over-all album. The compositions and arrangements are more polished and the playing spirited and more energetic. The vocals, which were weak in spots on "Forgotten Inside" are strong throughout. And whereas "Forgotten Inside" straddled the fence between alternative rock and cross-over progressive ... "Season Of Salvation" has made a head-long transition into progressive rock with some great keyboard/guitar interplay, challenging tempo changes, vocal harmonies, and great layered arrangements. The compositions display a higher level of sophistication, musical variety, and experimentation.
Elements of neo-progressive bands like Abel Ganz, Grey Lady Down, Jadis, Comedy Of Errors, Landmarq, and For Absent Friends can be heard on tracks like "Leaden Sky", "You Can't Hide", and "Atomic Unity".
Carry-over elements from "Forgotten Inside", which include Pink Floyd and RPWL influences, is prominently displayed on the tracks "Better Dream", "Mystery Of the Universe", and "Way Without Destination".
"Season Of Salvation" is a melancholy melodic ballad with bite which should appeal to fans of Marillion, Arena, and IQ. And "Endless Illusion" is a kick-ass prog/metal rocker in the vein of Dream Theater, Fates Warning, or Symphony X. While "Forgotten Inside" is definitely worth a listen, I 'highly recommend' "Season Of Salvation" - a superb album which I fully expect to be part of my regular rotation, and a CD that get many more spins on my player long after this review is written.
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on October 15th, 2014