'Interim'

by The Protagonist [CMI145]

Reviewed by Troy Southgate

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Available from Fin de Siecle Media, Box 388, 114 79 Stockholm, Sweden.

I T seems like an eternity. This new EP from the source that brought us the amazing ‘Au Rebours’ album will have the punters clamouring for their chequebooks and credit cards, particularly in light of the gaping eight-year void between the two releases that has left many people frustrated and hungry for more. With four tracks and just 20 minutes of music, ‘Interim’ is wrapped in creamy-brown calligraphic swirls with the wonderfully morbid verses of Charles Buadelaire’s ‘La Fin de la Journée’ (1857) imprinted within.

Written and produced by Magnus Sundstrom, whom I recently had the pleasure to meet up with in Den Bosch (Holland) and witness first hand, these Swedish slabs of Neoclassical ingenuity slice through the trivia of the contemporary age and appeal directly to the latent sensitivities of the Northern European psyche. The first two tracks were partly recorded at The Royal Dramatic Theatre of Sweden, with drama clearly being the operative word. ‘Strife’ bursts through the speakers with a crashing display that is accompanied by an ominous orchestral backdrop. Immensely busy with a repetitive drumbeat, the track pauses for breath a little before the neo-Prokoviev strings give way to yet more driving percussion and Classical brutality.

I can already sense the indisputable continuity between this release and ‘Au Rebours’, although compared to the debut album this track has an infinitely more infectious beat than its predecessors. ‘Sacrifice’, meanwhile, sets forth a gaggle of sweeping keyboards with the approach of heavy footsteps. This track is slower than the first and there is more space between the drumbeats, but it is no less unrepentant in terms of creating an atmosphere of imperial majesty and drawing out images of a powerful and indomitable army on the march. This is aesthetic music deployed at the service of a noble cause; a passionate spur for the discerning warrior; indispensable soundscapes for the regal iPod.

‘Der Wahnsinn’, relating to insanity, combines a fluttering piano and something resembling a sharp intake of breath with even sharper bursts of keyboard ambience and a fine arrangement of symphonic provocation. Halfway through, the track settles down a little before assuming a louder, slightly Romanesque tone that re-emerges into the comparatively more gentle strains of the piano. This is met with a severe orchestral bombardment and ends, at least for me, far too abruptly. But this is, after all, designed to function as an ‘Interim’.

The final track, ‘La Fin de la Journée (Stripped)’, features sustained keyboard notes and the barely discernable voice of Marjorie Stievenart that almost happens slightly out of earshot like a lecture at a school for the deaf. It’s a pity the vocals weren’t recorded slightly louder, but The Protagonist always was a primarily instrumental project and so nothing must detract from the beautiful and encapsulating music.

This album is certainly a fantastic achievement, but my passion for this material certainly hasn’t been quelled yet and it has already left me hungry for more. So let’s hope, therefore, that ‘Interim’ lives up to its name and acts as a temporary portent of even better things to come.