Char-El is the pseudonym of Charles Thaxton, a veteran keyboard player with more than 30 years of experience, and that had already released with that name a successful first album (Worlds without end). In this double album, Char-El offers to the public two totally different alternatives: CD nº 1 ("Heaven") is based on ambient music, or as he says: "a collection of celestial soundscapes for deep space journeys, and nº 2 ("Earth") is progressive music or "Symphonic and rhythmic progressive compositions for terrestrial explorers". Had this double work been presented as two independent works (a la Ayreon or Djam Karet), I would have just criticized "Earth", but in this case -and since that who wants to acquire "Earth" must purchase also "Heaven", I am forced to criticize them together and to give a global valuation of the complete work.
Maybe Char-El doesn't know the confrontation between the lovers of new age and the lovers of progressive rock (at least in Europe), but "Heaven" is not bad at all. Let us say that it is closer to what we may call symphonic new age as played by illustrious names like Tangerine Dream, Kitaro, Tomita or Vangelis than to the soporific new age practiced by musical terrorists of the kind of Yanni. "Heaven" is 65 minutes of very pleasant ambient music, ideal to liven up a study night or a waiting room (in fact Worlds without end served as experimental therapy for a clinic). Also, I believe that Jon Anderson would like a lot this CD for his astral voyages. Pleasant and amusing (if new age can be amusing).
Lets turn to our field, the progressive "Earth". To start with, Char-El has had the help of human musicians instead of him being the center of the work with his mountain of synths. The companions are Larry Clark (very good guitars), Gary White (synths) and Doug Bonnell - Chris Stoll (drums). In "Earth" the music of Char-El acquires deeper and more complex shades, in spite of having in melody the best weapon. His inspiration of classic music is clear as well as his love for the most classic bands in the genre (Moody Blues and Yes) and he electrifies those mentioned influences of "Heaven" contributing more power to the music and more substance for the listener. There are so many songs (17) that I find impossible to detail them one by one, but make the test with a sample in www.char-el.com and you will make yourselves an idea of his proposal.
Progressive rock is something alive, complex and changing (as mortgages and the price of gasoline) and in its many shapes and frontiers is the one that unites progressive rock with new age. Although "Heaven" shows the other side of that frontier, "Earth" is located comfortably in a middle playground sharing space with other big musicians like Lito Vitale or Kotebel. Particularly I believe that Char-El should emphasize his progressive side in future works and give it a little more power.
Those that enjoy the most symphonic progressive rock full of synthesizers have many reasons to buy this CD. The riskiest progheads, keep at a wise distance.