Maybe its pure coincidence but my last three reviews for Prognaut have been prog/rock albums with religious themes ... Farpoint - "Kindred", Mandalaband IV - "AD Sangreal", and now "The?Book" from the German progressive metal group Seven Steps To The Green Door.
And then again maybe it's a reflection of the times. With all the fire and brimstone fervor coming from religious fundamentalist of the impending apocalypse, end time predictions written in the quatrains of the prophet Nostradamus, and mounting fear that the Mayan calender coming to an end on 12/23/2012 marks the end of life on earth as we know it, has provided inspirational fodder for writers and musicians, be they believers or not.
And each of the three albums broach the subject of religion from different perspectives.
While "The?Book" is an agnostic allegory questioning the belief in divine authority.
- Farpoint has always been a deeply spiritual group with an uplifting Christian message of faith, love, and hope.
- "AD Sangreal" from Mandalaband IV was presented as a purely historic odyssey of the Holy Grail, the most highly regarded religious artifact in Christianity, from the table of The Last Supper to it's final resting place in Valencia.
"What can happen to people who loose their identity in the face of their fanatic belief in a divine authority? People who do not base their decisions on themselves and their conscience but on belief in a god, and who - in doing so - do not take any responsibility for their actions as they think they can delegate this to their god - no matter whether their actions are positive or negative."
This is the dark premise of the Kafkaesque story written by Thoralk Koss upon which this album is based. In which the main character, armed with only his Holy Book as his guide, finds himself imprisoned in a vast chamber confronted by various doors - each door bears markings symbolizing aspects of his faith - and upon opening each door does not find escape or salvation - but only more questions that challenge his initial belief. And its not until he casts aside his book and thinks for himself that he finds freedom.
Now mind you I'm a Catholic, and although I found the story to be an interesting allegory I'm not about to change my Christian beliefs and toss out my Bible, converting to the teaching of Thoralk Koss after taking in "The?Book", no more than I'll start digging up corpses and build a patchwork human being of my own design because I read the book Frankenstein. So thematically I take the tale for what it is and review the album as a conceptual piece of music, whether I agree with the message or not.
The music on "The?Book" is positively brilliant ... the compositions, production, musical performances, and vocals are flawless. Once again I find myself using the phrase "the power and the passion" to describe the musical execution.
"The?Book" is comparable to quality material from polished metal artists like Dream Theater, Symphony X, Ayreon, and Kamelot, as well as Porcupine Tree, Arena, Pink Floyd, and even shades of "Abacab" era Genesis. I was half expecting to hear Collins start singing during the opening number Prologue (A Man And The Book) Ala "The Man On The Corner".
This is the third release for Seven Steps To The Green Door following "The Puzzle" (2006) and "Step In 2 My World" (2008). The group consist of Ulf Reinhardt(drums & percussion), Marek Arnold (keyboards & saxophones), Heiko Rehm (bass), Andreas Gemeinhardt (guitars), Lars Kohler (vocals), and Anne Trautmann (vocals). Guest musician include the vocal ensemble "Sjaella", "Toxic Smile" singer Larry B., and "Flaming Row" front man Martin Schnella who has appeared with the likes of "Yes", "Spock's Beard" and "Shadow Gallery".
My only complaint has nothing to do with the music - but the packaging and cover art. No where on the cover - or disc for that matter - is the name of the band. And even a search of the title "The?Book" doesn't give you much to go on. This is something that should be enjoyed by all fans of progressive rock but this anonymous packaging fiasco won't help. Too late to do anything about it now - but it might be something to consider on the next album.
I suggested in an earlier review that only a fraction of what's reviewed makes it way to my CD player on a regular rotation after the reviewing process is over ... and let me assure you, "The?Book" has been spinning around my CD player since I received it in the mail, and I don't foresee anything changing in the immediate future.
Reviewed by Jospeh Shingler on November 7th, 2011