Spellbound - Spellbound - 1999
The simplest face of progressive rock (?) is what this German group called Spellbound has to present. It is often surprising to see the number of styles that could be framed in this genre, and it seems that everything that goes away from the commercial barriers will be incorporated to it. Sometimes, the desires of pleasing a wider number of fans and the fear of losing musicians wanting to be under the progressive label, can make us doubt if what we are listening to is really what we call art-rock. Spellbound plays with that thin and imperceptible line and it makes us wonder if we are in or out of the genre. What is evident, is that with this type of works, we can still get back this rock style with ingredients that are not strictly commercial, but that are not involved in other complex patterns and are not looking for experimentation or long compositions.... AOR is maybe the field in which we could review Spellbound. Dynamic overwhelming songs, with good voices and melodies, without falling into any pompous excess. Comparable to Journey, Boston, Styx, or in some moments even to the most melodic Jadis.
The band includes Axel Refftlen (bass, vocals), Andreas Weinmann (guitar, vocals), Steffen Puscher (keyboards, vocals), Uli Eitel (vocals), Albert Kepp (drums). As you might see, this is a group that uses quite a lot of vocals, and I don't talk about vocalizations like Yes, and even to a lesser extent Gentle Giant, but musically powerful voices that get together in the chorus in order to achieve a wall of sound effect.
The themes are short and straight, never more than 6:30 minutes. Thats why we find there a nice collection of 12 songs. And as I have already said, they are based on a nice main voice, helped in moments by three more vocalists. The music developments don't follow anything away from the structure of the set melody and its basis of chorus and intermediate parts that give somehow musical variations. This introduces some nice moments in which keyboards and guitars go a bit further. "Lonely Moon" (5:31) is maybe, along with "Undertow" (6:21), the track on which they incorporate a small improvisational element that has the music leave this rigid line that seems to support the CD. The guitar is the instrument that leads the record most of the time. A sober, overwhelming guitar, with no excesses. "I'm waiting" (4:48) or "Dancin' to sunrise" (5:17) are clearly impregnated of this AOR Styx touch (80's period). All the other tracks stay in the same vein, alternating effective and dynamic songs like "The Gambler" (4:15) with more relaxing ones, like "Face to face" (5:31) or "Coloured Dreams" (5:03), one of the best compositions with a powerful mid part and the indicated arrangements.
A collection of works that doesn't seem to have that much to do with what really interests the classic progressive listener. Anyway, this is a group that gives the impression of moving to a more elaborated field. At the moment, the band can feel satisfied with this CD, that can also please all those listeners of what was labeled Arena Rock in the United States during the 70's.