Pandora Snail - War And Peace

11 songs
62:29 minutes
***** ***


Shortly after writing a review for Roz Vitalis, I am once again confronted with instrumental progressive rock from Saint Petersburg in Russia. Pandora Snail may not have such a long history to look back to, but the quintet was already founded in 2008. According to their Bandcamp page, the debut album was recorded already back in 2010, but has only now been released by Moscow based label ArtBeat.

Pandora Snail has been founded by classical trained pianist Ulyana Gor, the band’s sound is of course heavily based on her piano and keyboard skills, although the other musicians also leave a deep impact on the music, especially the groovy bass parts of Kirill Klyushin and the lyrical violin played by Artem Gareev. It’s the latter whose impact allows for parallels to other prog violinists like David Cross (King Crimson), Eddie Jobson (UK), Jean-Luc Ponty (Mahavishnu Orchestra) and Graham Smith (Van Der Graaf). The lack of vocals is made up for the ubiquitous violin that kind of narrates the story. So is this a concept album? Not familiar myself with Leo Tolstoy’s doorstopper novel War And Peace, I can assume that this classic of 19th century Russian literature must have left its traces in the compositions.

The music itself takes some getting used to, this being instrumental and progressive stuff at the same time. The violin gives it all a certain folk affinity, but only occasionally. Most of the time the interaction between the melodic instruments and the rhythm section make for a very jazzy fusion feeling. The six minute opener Dilemma gives right away a good impression of what Pandora Snail is all about. There are the sweet melancholic folk parts, the more festive and soaring keyboard melodies and even some rocking guitars. The shorter To Catch The Wind shows the band from a livelier side where once again it feels as if keyboard and violin are duelling each other. Submarine combines Russian melancholy with an ironic take of groove based jazz rock. The quintet is pulling all the stops on James Pont, a nearly seventeen minute epic prog instrumental to be found in the middle of the album.

There are still some points of criticism that can be mentioned. The production feels a little thin at times, especially whenever the guitar tries to sound heavier. Also the manifold use of keyboard sounds, while normally quite successful, occasionally transgresses good taste, as on the concluding Satori where the overly mellow opening chords make for an awkward Eighties feeling, reminding of Alphaville’s Forever Young, and the heavy chorus effect on the bass guitar doesn’t help either. Fortunately this eight minute track also has its good moments.

I know instrumental music is not for everyone, just like some people have a hard time with progressive rock. In the case of Pandora Snail, the combination works astonishingly well. Ulyana Gor is quite the spirited songwriter who finds usually the right balance between nostalgic reverie and optimistic upbeat parts. War And Peace is an hour long debut album that manages to entertain quite thoroughly. If the recordings are truly already five years old, one can be quite curious about how the band has developed since then. Until then you can get yourself a good time with the band’s moving first album.

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