CD Review – Schwertmann – Theater Of Grief

It must be a little bit of a quandary for an artist, when making a solo album, whether to stick with a style that his home band fans would recognise and appreciate, or to spread their musical wings a little bit, taking more risks and straying into other areas. Most people will have examples of the former in their collections. Bart Schwertmann, currently the lead singer with veteran Dutch progressive alumni Kayak, has quite sensibly decided to follow the second option and released this colourfully diverse album that, while keeping one toe in the prog water with the Kayak approach, flies out into areas of interest to himself and his musical vision. In doing so he has created a manifold album of melodic rock music that takes in prog, balladeering, pop, AOR, and no little heavy rock in an artful and quite classy way.

In any case, it is also true to say that Bart is not the main song-writer with Kayak, that falls to founder member and prog stalwart Ton Scherpenzeel. Bart has been a member of the group for four years or so, making two studio albums (Seventeen and Out Of This World) with the band, and for the release of the live album Kayak Live 2019. He has undertaken much live work with them too. As with many musicians it seems, Bart took advantage of the pandemic lockdowns to continue with the development of the solo concept album that he had already been working on for a while. Several years before he joined Kayak Bart suffered a hernia that required surgery. He was suffering from burn out at the same time. For these reasons he found himself requiring rehabilitation and passed through a grieving process. This album takes up on the feelings and emotions around this misfortune, and allows the grieving to become a guideline for the concept.  

The diversity of the emotions involved and their disparate effect inevitably leads musically to an eclectic sound. There are moments when subtlety and introspection are needed. There are others where there is a need for drive and more energy or agitation. It is the lyrics that ultimately hold the various and often colourful parts together, Bart’s voice displaying its full range and charging the emotions. He is quite an accomplished musician too, playing both bass and rhythm guitar on the album. He has also invited some of his good musician friends to contribute as well. Niels Lingbeek co-produced the release as well as playing some keyboards, bass and rhythm guitar, along with keyboard players Ton Scherpenzeel and Ard Offers, drummers Peter Ten Wolde, Hans Eijkenaar, and Dirk Bruinenberg, guitarists Robbert Hanenberg and Marcel Singor, with bassist Kristoffer Gildenlow. Collectively, they sound like a band that has been playing together for years but they do not outshine the music itself. It is the strength of the album how strong the song-writing is, it remains melodic even in the heavier aggressive moments.

There are occasions that remind you of something else. The opening track, Panic Mode, wouldn’t seem out of place on a Rainbow album for example, but others would fall into the mid-tempo rocker mode, or thoughtful balladeering.  There is a healthy pattern of the style fitting the intent of the song, which isn’t always the case on albums. The production of the album is also excellent. It could have been a mistake to make the album’s sound too dense, but the songs are thankfully allowed room to breathe and not develop the claustrophobia that heavy music can sometimes stray into. The album is also presented in quite a suiting way, with excellent art work.

This is a very appealing release from Schwertmann. It could have been a very difficult album for him, exposing his inner feelings and reliving his deepest emotions. That this album is a success is down to the expression he uses in the song-writing. It could have easily become a maudlin and rather depressing affair, bit it decidedly is not. In the same way that the Blues can be uplifting this album manages to tap into that. It is serious and artful, not overemotional or tearful. The blending of the music highlights this, making for a thoughtful, deep album. The outstanding feature of the release though has to be Bart’s vocal dexterity. From jaunty rocker, to tender songster, through story teller to almost operatic power his voice shines. A great achievement for him.

1 Panic Mode

2 Antelope

3 So Tired

4 Burning Down

5 There’s A Place

6 Supernatural Forces

7 Rainbow

8 Can You Serve Me?

9 No One Else Can

Keyboards – Ton Scherpenzeel, Ard Offers, Niels Lingbeek

Drum – Peter Ten Wolde, Hans Eijkenaar, Dirk Bruinenberg

Bass – Kristoffer Gildenlow, Niels Lingbeek, Bart Schwertzmann

Guitars – Robbert Hanenberg, Marcel Singor, Bart Schwertzmann, Niels Lingbeek

Co-producers – Bart Schwertzmann, Niels Lingbeek

Release date: 5th November 2021

Label: GlassVille Records

You can watch the video for Supernatural Forces here:

There’s an album teaser here:

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