Thank goodness for labels like Progressive Promotions Records. Some of my favorite albums of the year are the ones that show up randomly in my mailbox. The good people over at PPR have been rather busy in the second half of the year, and their latest release is from the always amazing Toxic Smile. This German band is well known for bending the subgenres of progressive music, giving us a little bit of everything. Their new album “Farewell” is a great example of this, as well as other ambitions.
You see, “Farewell” is an album that needs a little explanation. First of all, it is only one track. Clocking in at 42:09, the album is plenty long. It’s no EP and it’s not short on ideas, either. Normally, I’m wary of this sort of single track album, mainly because it tends to feature filler and ego, rather than great songwriting. Toxic Smile has avoided both of those things, crafting an album that simply makes sense.
Secondly, this album has a very specific concept. Basically, the protagonist has become increasingly disillusioned with our world of technology and screens, screens on everything. Everywhere you go, people are staring at little colorful screens. So, in his depression, he decides that he will resign himself to experiencing the world exclusively through sound. Yes, he will come to know the world by hearing it. Obviously, this is a great concept that has some deep ramifications.
The band responsible for this creative album is made up of Marek Arnold on keys and sax (a personal favorite musician of mine), Larry B. on vocals (also of Cyril), Uwe Reinholz (recently left the band) and Stephan Pankow (does not play on this album, but recently joined the band) on guitars, Robert Brenner on bass, and Robert Eisfeldt on drums. These players are extremely dynamic in their abilities, yet you won’t find them dueling or competing on solos. No, Toxic Smile is a focused machine playing intense compositions that range from something close to progressive metal all the way down (or is it up?) to retro progressive rock. You’ll hear jazzy portions, bongos, psychedelic nods, and hefty riffing, as well as piercing synth and rich orchestration. In fact, the Concerto Bellotto Dresden have lent their gorgeous sounds here, providing violins, violas, and cellos.
You can imagine, then, the richness and fullness of sound that all of these instruments and styles would create. And you would be correct. Marek simply dazzles with his signature sax and keys, sometimes create instrumental harmonies that just can’t be beat. Uwe lays down some heavy riffs, but also fingerwork that would make any technical band happy—his shoes will be tough for Stephan to fill. Robert Brenner and Robert Eisfeldt on bass and drums are something else here, too, with rock solid grooves and incredible drumming that is very intricate and even technical. Last, but not least, Larry’s vocals are always perfect. He can do the prog metal thing, or he can do the calm prog rock thing. He’s very talented, and the primary chorus of the album, though it takes a little time, will certainly end up in your brain for good.
My favorite part of this album, though, has to be the lengthy instrumental that starts around 9:00. Beginning with a calmer section, it slowly brings in Marek’s sax in sublime fashion until it culminates in an incredible mix of riffing, orchestration, and great writing. There are several other portions like this, too, including some that sound at home in a 1930’s club to me. This points to the band’s ability to create writhing technical sections juxtaposed to atmospheric, classy passages. The unsung heroes of “Farewell”, then, are the transitions that connect all of these puzzle pieces together.
“Farewell” is an emotional experience, not only because of the gut wrenching familiarity of the protagonist’s plight, but also because the music is ridiculously good. Toxic Smile is a band that runs under the radar for the most part, and I think it’s time to change that. Go out and get this album.