I can remember a moment, not so long ago, when the music world collectively sighed at the prospect of the Internet and what effect it would have on “the biz.” CD sales dropping, people buying songs instead of full albums, the inundation of thousands — if not millions — of bedroom musicians and bands being thrust onto the same playing field as the big boys. It was a time of worry for many.
But what most everyone seemed to miss was perhaps the single greatest advantage of the Internet: the power of bringing people together. Such was the case for Germany’s Steve Brockman and American George Andrade, who met online, became friends, and collaborated on the 2012 release of a concept CD: AIRS – A Rock Opera.
Brockmann/Andrade is the collaborative writing team of multi-instrumental recording artist and composer Steve Brockmann (Bredstedt, Germany) and freelance writer/editor George Andrade (Fall River, MA, USA). They met on the discussion forum for prog rock band Spock’s Beard.
In 2008 (or thereabouts), George approached Steve with the idea of writing an album from a subplot to a novel that he had planned to write based loosely on the “punishment” of the Manisses Indians on Block Island, Rhode Island, for the “accidental” murder of the captain of a trading vessel by a chieftain’s son and the subsequent “claim by right of conquest” and resettlement thereafter.
On a small circular island in the Atlantic, Owen Doane has rolled through a stop sign and driven a car carrying two tourists – a mother and her 9 year old daughter — from the road to strike a stone wall. The accident caused the girl to suffer injuries that paralyzed her from the waist down, confining her life to a chair and thereby forcing Owen’s father, Derrick Doane, to suffer the collapse of his company that had been built upon the Doane family heritage of pulling stone from fields before harvest and building walls after milling grain since they had first settled Manisses Island in 1664. Owen returns home from prison to mend the walls and fences that he has destroyed and soon learns to speak of wind and air – not stone and mortar – and through the help of those he’s injured understands that our hearts are on strings.
It’s always a pleasant surprise when a CD has one of your favorite singers on it. In my case, that singer is Paul Adrian Villarreal (Sun Caged, Wooden Badger). Reminiscent of Kansas with hints of Eric Martin thrown in, Villarreal has an incredible voice that just blows me away every time I get a chance to listen to him. “Fateful Days” sets up the CD rather nicely, with some nice piano work and PAV’s great singing. There are several vocalists on AIRS, not just to single PAV out, with each playing a different character of the story. Two of the singers didn’t really do it for me, but your mileage may vary.
What surprised me the most (pleasantly) about the CD is the wide variety of styles and influences Brockman draws from to write. I can hear hints of everything from Kansas, Iron Maiden, Opeth, Pain of Salvation, and lots of European metal. At first you would think Kansas and Opeth wouldn’t necessarily gel together, but let me tell you… it works, and in Brockman’s case it works very well!
There are plenty of twists and turns to keep you on your feet, with excellent guest contributions from Spock’s Beard’s Dave Meros (bass) and Alan Morse (guitar), Jochen Ohl (drums), and others. I often found myself wondering where the music would go next, because I knew it wouldn’t be what I expected and yet I knew it was going to be good.
The Sweet Spot
When you right a CD’s worth of music, you can consider it a big success if you are able to piece together a few songs in order that really knock it out of the park one right after the other; the “sweet spot,” if you will. On AIRS, that sweet spot is actually three songs: Hannah, The Great Salt Pond, and Grounded II.
Hannah’s quirky opening chord progression, Salt Pond’s massively awesome gospel chorus (and another amazing vocal contribution from PAV), and the 80s-era thrash metal of Grounded II make for the highlight of the CD’s 70+ minutes. There is something about how these three very different songs work off each other that puts a smile on my face.
If you’re looking for something different to listen to, AIRS might be what you need. If you’re looking for a good dose of metal, rock, gospel, and thrash, AIRS can very well give you that fix.