The Other Life – Argos
I stumbled across this album by a post that Mark Wajdeman had shared in the Prog On Group on Facebook. He actually posted a link to the whole of the album that somebody had uploaded to Youtube. From the very instant I heard the opening song on the album I was immediately drawn into it and it was like listening to some of the GREAT! music that came out of the Canterbury scene here in the UK all those years ago. By the time I got to the albums third track, I popped over to Bandcamp and ordered the CD and it was most certainly an album that was ticking all the right boxes with every track and spoke to me very well.
Argos are a German progrock band well that is how I would describe them rather than the Neo-Prog tag that is commonly associated with their genre of music. To be perfectly honest having already been quite blown away by The Reflection Club’s album Still Thick As A Brick I not so long reviewed. It appears that Germany is the IN! thing right now for progrock and both of these bands are producing some of the finest progrock since I heard the Norwegian band Wobbler. Many moons ago it was my own country here in the UK that produced some of the finest progrock ever, and now in this day and age it appears other European countries have got more of an idea of how to do it right than us Brits 😊😊😊.
However, there is a niggly bit of a gripe and downside I soon discovered about this band to which I will go into at the end of my review. But for now, let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.
Packaging & Artwork…
The CD comes in a well made cardboard Gatefold Digipak with a Glossy finish and the booklet is stored on the left-handed side of the sleeve. The 16-page booklet contains lyrics, pictures and all the usual linear production credit notes and does not come with any additional informative information. Overall, it’s a neat presentation and my prefered choice of packaging in comparison to the standard plastic jewel case.
The artwork was done by Bernd Webler and I have to say that is a very odd-looking contraption or piece of machinery that is on the albums front cover. According to Webler, it’s a Schöpfwerk centrifugal pump and it was most likely used many moons ago for the drainage of water.
These days it’s perhaps used more as an ornament or attraction and this one (as far as I can make out) was situated at Trebur, Groß-Gerau District, Darmstadt District, Hesse, Germany and was the inspiration for Webler‘s artwork.
Having done a bit of further research these strange contraptions were most likely used for drainage and water regulation in the Ried which is in the district of Aichach-Friedberg in Bavaria in Germany. Another place they may have been used is Schwarzbach which is a village situated in the Ore Mountains in Saxony, Germany.
The name ‘Schwarzbach’ means ‘Black Stream’. One assumption is that there was a peat-cutting site in the village that dyed the water of the stream black. Schwarzbach is also situated in a valley of the eponymous stream, that flowed through the village from north to south. Whatever the strange-looking contraption was used for I am sure it did the job and served its purpose and it not only makes an interesting album cover but a good one and I quite like it.
As you can see they have also released a couple of coloured Vinyl Editions though these are Limited Editions and only 100 copies of the Clear and Light Blue & Grey Melt have been pressed and are priced at
Argos In Brief History…
The band Argos is originally the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist and composer Thomas Klarmann who back in 2005 was working on his own solo project. A year earlier he had joined Superdrama a band put together by the keyboardist and composer Robert Gozon and as far as I know is still an ongoing band. Although very little output of that band has really surfaced and it was not until a decade later that they finally put out an album entitled The Promise in 2014.
Gozon took an interest in Klarmann’s solo project and soon got involved and the pair of them put a few songs together and set up a MySpace page and put them on there to see what other people thought of their material. Drummer and composer Ulf Jacobs a passionate lover of progressive music happened to drop by on their page and took enough interest in the music that he offered his services to the pair. It was this trio of musicians that put together the bands self-titled debut album in 2008 and it was released on Musea Records in January 2009.
By 2010 the band had expanded to a four-piece adding guitarist Enrico Florczak to the equation and it was with this line-up that went on to produce another four albums Circles (2010), Cruel Symmetry (2012), A Seasonal Affair (2015) and Unidentified Flying Objects in 2018. He also played as a session player on the bands debut album.
Having spent a decade with the band on the 19th of January 2020 Florczak announced on the bands Facebook page that he had left for personal reasons. Later on the same page on the 6th of April 2020, the band announced their new guitarist Bogáti-Bokor Ákos and the rest is pretty much history.
The Album In Review…
The Other Life by Argos was released on the 20th of August 2021 and is the bands 6th studio album to date. The album contains 9 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 49 minutes, 38 seconds. The band have been described as the most British-sounding progressive rock band to come out of Germany. I certainly would not argue about that either and considering the orginal 4 members of the band are German I find it hard to believe just how English they do sound. They even sound like they came out of the Canterbury Scene here in the UK back in the early 70’s.
The new member of the band Bogáti-Bokor Ákos is from Romania and played in the band Yesterdays who are a Hungarian progrock band. Besides being a guitarist he is also a multi-instrumentalist, producer and mixing engineer which is most likely why the band decided to go with a self-release instead of a record label. You could say that the band now have a Romanian connection though he’s a very useful guy to have and a fine addition to the band.
Their latest album The Other Life was produced and mixed by Ákos and the new material was recorded in Germany & Romania between 2019 and 2020. The album was mastered at Tom-Tom Studios in Budapest, Hungry by Nyiri Sandor.
Tom-Tom Studios established itself as the most prestigious choice in Hungary with many major international clients. It has 4 studios built inside its complex and they even have a mobile recording unit to record live concerts. It specialises in multiple aspects of studio work including orchestral recordings and audio post-production.
One of the things I did notice whilst gazing through the bands back catalogue of music is that they always use session players and this album is no exception and comes with three of them. They are a good thing to have onboard especially for adding other instrumentation to the music and I’ve noticed that this is not the first album Marek Arnold has contributed Saxophone to their music or Thilo Brauss additional keyboards for that matter. I’ve even noticed Andy Tillison of The Tangent contributed some keyboards on their past couple of albums.
Argos strike me has a band that focuses more on studio work rather than a band that plays live on a regular basis to try and attract further attention to themselves. From what I can gather during my research the band has hardly played live at all and may have played no more times than the fingers I could count on one hand since they started in 2005.
I could be completely wrong but judging by the sales of their albums on Bandcamp it also supports my research and I would even go as far as to say that the members of the band have not quite given up their day jobs so to speak. However, they have been picking up more fans and gathering more interest over the last couple of years since the release of their previous album Unidentified Dying Objects. and with this latest album, I personally think they should do better.
Musicians & Credits…
Produced & Mixed by Bogáti-Bokor Ákos. All Lyrics by Thomas Klarmann & Robert Gozon. Music Written by Thomas Klarmann, Robert Gozon, Ákos Bogáti-Bokor & Enrico Florczak. Recorded in Germany & Romania between 2019 and 2020. Mastered by Nyiri Sandor at Tom-Tom Studios in Budapest, Hungry. Artwork & Layout by Bernd Webler. Band Photography by Bodo Kubatzki.
Thomas Klarmann: Bass/Flute/Keyboards/Lead & Backing Vocals (Track 4).
Robert Gozon: Lead & Backing Vocals/Keyboards.
Ákos Bogáti-Bokor: Electric & Acoustic Guitars/Backing Vocals/Keyboards & Bass (Tracks 3,6).
Ulf Jacobs: Drums & Percussion.
Thilo Brauss: Keyboards & Organ (Tracks 1,4,5).
Marek Arnold: Clarinet & Saxophone (Tracks 4,8).
Stephanie Semeniuc: Backing Vocals (Tracks 2,5,9).
The Album Tracks In Review…
Listening to the bands music it’s easy to see that this is a band that draws from many influences from both the Canterbury Scene and English Progressive Rock from the late 60’s early 70’s. A few of the bands that instantly come to mind on this album are Caravan, Genesis, Stackridge, Gentle Giant, Gryphon, and so on. I have also noted from various other reviews that Peter Hammill of Van der Graaf Generator tends to pop up regarding the vocals. However, personally, I don’t hear that and if I did I can assure you I would never have brought this album in the first place simply because I don’t even rate him as a singer and his voice at times annoys me.
If anything Argos has applied a sweeter edge and perhaps more of a modern twist and approach to their music that tends to fit in with more of the melancholic side of things. The word “Lacksey Daisy” also springs to mind and Robert Gozon’s voice has more of a refined speaking mannerism to it all. Looking at the few bands I mentioned I am perhaps more driven towards Caravan and Stackridge with a modern twist. Whatever it is, it’s about as pleasant as you can get so let’s now take a closer look as I delve through all 9 tracks.
Track 1. Chameleon Sky.
I think the word “Lacksey Daisy” springs instantly to mind on the albums opening track and this could easily be my personal favourite track on the album. Although with this album I really do find it hard to pick a favourite track simply because they are all so darn good. Both Klarmann & Gozon wrote the musical side of things and Gozon was at the helm of the lyrics that pertain to quite a whimsical way of looking at a daydream sort of thing. They really are GREAT! playful lyrics and Gozon expresses them very well.
Musically it’s a very well constructed song that goes through some wonderful transitions that all tie in perfectly. The combination of guitar and keyboards works exceptionally well and they really have found a GREAT! guitarist to replace Enrico Florczak. The guitar tones Ákos gets out of his guitar are like a cross between Andy Latimer and Steve Hackett and he plays some very tasteful lead lines. I would also say the song is like a cross between Caravan, Stackridge, Genesis and Camel and it really all works WONDERS!
Track 2. Broken Mirror.
Another Klarmann & Gozon very well-penned song to which Gozon only contributes to part of the lyrics. It’s very much a dark song that pertains to death and musically and vocally is put across sweetly. Stephanie Semeniuc lends a hand with some harmonies on the chorus and accompanies Gozon’s voice and the words are put across very well and clear. The song itself is not so much PROGMATIC! and very much runs along like a conventional pop or folk song with its verse and chorus structure. However, the colours and textures from the guitars and synths do lean towards the PROG! side of things and it even incorporates a Genesis stroke Phil Collins drum machine pattern in the fine lead break.
Track 3. The Twilight Mind.
The pace moves up a bit here and being as this song was written by Klarmann, Gozon and Florczak (to which the latter is no longer in the band) and I can only presume that this song may have been written for their previous album Unidentified Flying Objects and left off the album. The title and subject matter of the lyrics also suggest that it was written back then too.
Judging by the GREAT! guitar on this album I certainly don’t think they are missing Florczak and Ákos is a very well accomplished player of the instrument and does some STELLAR! work on this track and even incorporate’s a very TASTY! wah, lead solo in the break. There is also some GREAT! keyboard work and Klarmann’s flute is very well utilised and in the section that it is utilised it reminds me of Wobbler. Though there are quite a few influences popping out of the woodwork here and it’s another GREAT! song to which they are all doing a TOP JOB!
Track 4. Johnny Head-in-Air.
This next song is quite a GEM! and the music and words were written by Klarmann. The lyrics are inspired by the children’s stories of Johnny Head-in Air which were written by the German psychiatrist Heinrich Hoffmann. Also known as Dr Heinrich Hoffmann. Klarmann also sings this song and I personally think he has more of a sweeter singing voice than Gozon, though both are really good and very much sound English and not remotely German at all. At times it’s pretty hard to distinguish a difference between the both of them because they both tend to sing in speaking mannerisms.
Putting music to stories is something this band do with BRILLIANCE! and the way they have worked around this song with the GORGEOUS! instrumentation and arrangement are as smooth as silk. Besides the fine work Klarmann, Gozon and Ákos are doing I quite like how Jacobs keeps everything ticking on the drums on this song and it’s far from straightforward and involves some intricate pattern playing. It also features Marek Arnold on clarinet and sax adding some wonderful JAZZY! flavours to it all.
Track 5. I Carry Light.
Another uptempo track and I quite like Klarmann’s dominating bass line on this one. The song also has quite a long intro and Ákos is doing another TASTEFUL! job on the guitar. He even gets involved in the writing and co-wrote the music with Klarmann and Gozon for the remaining tracks on the album as well as this one. Unlike the picture, I chose the source of light Gozon is pertaining to appears to be about a flower. There is some very TASTY! synth work on this one too and once again Semeniuc lends a hand with the harmonies and this is the second track on the album Thilo Brauss contributes some keyboards too.
Track 6. The Trial of the Pyx.
Next up we have the longest track on the album and this is quite a PROGMATIC! song and it kicks off in fine style and sounds a bit like King Crimson’s “Red“. The subject matter of the song dates back to medieval times around the thirteenth century when coins made by The Royal Mint here in England were first put to the test to check they contained the right amount of precious metals. The ceremony gets its name from the chests that were used to carry the coins to the Trial, and the Pyx Chamber in Westminster Abbey where they were originally kept. From 1870 onwards the Trial of the Pyx has taken place each year at the Goldsmiths’ Hall, the home of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, in the City of London.
History books reveal that if the coins fail the test, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is the ceremonial Master of The Royal Mint, risks losing a hand as punishment. Gozon tends to play on the merciless side of things with his lyrics injecting a bit more evil into the proceedings even with how he expresses the words. It’s perhaps a bit like what Genesis did with “The Return of the Giant Hogweed” with how he goes about the story here and he makes it that more exciting in doing so.
This is the only song on the album in which Gozon’s German accent does show a bit and it breaks out in the way he expresses the words between the 2:20 – 3:22 minute mark of the song. “The Trial of the Pyx” is a song that goes through some fine transitional changes and not only allows space for guitar and keyboard solos but it also allows the space for the drummer to be more creative and they all do a GRAND! job here.
Track 7. Weak End.
Following the longest track on the album we now have the shortest and this is quite a synth driven track but also has many other characteristics about it in particular with the vocal harmonies and the way it all flows along. It’s very much a song that’s like a cross between Gryphon and Gentle Giant and I am sure you will hear the similarities in the official Lyric Video that Klarmann posted on his Tube Channel. I should also point out that the Gryphon resemblance is really from some of their mellow songs found on their 5th studio album Treason.
Personally, I think it’s GREAT! and this is a song that is full of vibrance and life. I quite like the disturbing side of the lyrical content too and it is perhaps insanely very good indeed.
Track 8. The Shall See Hotel.
Quite a strange title this one and one that starts off in a dreamy sort of way then slightly builds its way along with a rhythm quite a bit reminiscent of the band The Police before unleashing its full power. This is another GREAT! track that features some blistering guitar work from Ákos some of his attack reminds me a bit of Steve Howe of Yes on this one. It also features Marek Arnold on sax and it plays a part in smoothing things out a bit adding some contrasting jazzy styles reminiscent of the likes of Steely Dan and Weather Report sort of thing.
The lyrics were written by both Gozon & Klarmann and they were most likely inspired by some event or political issues, although like the title I could not tell you what they are pertaining to. They have also written them in a poetic way and I am sure there is a meaningful thing about them. Whatever the song is pertaining to it’s certainly one of the highlights of the album and another excellent job has been done on it.
Track 9. The Library of the Future.
The album is ended off in fine acoustic melancholic style and this is another of my personal highlights on the album. Gozon’s lyrics are well penned and perhaps pertaining to how the past can be part of the future after we have passed on sort of thing. I suppose in a way it could also be pertaining to what little remains of love as time goes on.
Klarmann posted an edited down version of the song on his Tube Channel a few months before the album was released to give people a taste of what to expect. You are also only missing 37 seconds and it is the second shortest song on the album.
It really is a GREAT! song and utilises acoustic guitar, piano, mellotron, synths, flute and even the drums play their role very well. All four members of the band do a super job here and it puts the album to bed very well leaving you wanting more.
Summary & Conclusion…
To sum up The Other Life by Argos. It’s an album that is about as solid as you can get where every track is very well written and constructed. I think the best way I could describe this album is that it’s a pure GEM! Albums like this only come along once in a while and looking at the bands back catalogue they don’t stick around for long either which brings me to my niggly bit of a gripe and downside I soon discovered about them that I mentioned in my introduction.
The downside may very well be down to their first five albums being tied to record labels and my gripe is that you can no longer get your hands on a physical copy of those albums unless you want to shell out silly money on the black market for them. Not only that buying the album second hand is hardly supporting the artist. Although it is something I do from time to time as long as I can get it at a reasonable enough price but I have my limits regarding spending silly money on such a product.
You can of course get them in the form of a Digital Download. Although personally, it’s very rare I would pay any more than £5 or Euro for a download simply because you have nothing to hold in your hand and no digital download is worth any more than that in my book. Giving somebody a download for their Birthday or Christmas is like giving them bugger all 😊😊😊. Buying a physical product is like owning it and you can see where your money has been spent and you have something of value you can look at and cherish.
In Conclusion I rather think that The Other Life is an album you could play in it’s entirity to death and never get tired of it. If this isn’t the Progrock album of year it’s certainly the most enjoyable one that’s for sure and my personal highlights are “Chameleon Sky“. “Johnny Head-in-Air“. “The Shall See Hotel” and “The Library of the Future“.
Personally what this band need to do is get out there more and play live to attract more attention to themselves, simply because what they are doing needs more attention and they deserve to be heard. From what I have heard from their other albums they are pretty much consistent with how they go about their writing and the material is very strong and quite often like this album a very strong body of work.
There is no doubt in my mind that if like myself you are into the progrock and the Canterbury Scene from all those years back this bands music should appeal to your taste and should be in your record collection. You can listen to The Other Life for free or purchase the album from here: https://argos.bandcamp.com/album/the-other-life
A Worthy GEM! That Should Be In You Record Collection…
The CD Tracklisting is as follows:
01. Chameleon Sky. 6:31.
02. Broken Mirror. 4:14.
03. The Twilight Mind. 6:45.
04. Johnny Head-in-Air. 5:25.
05. I Carry Light. 5:46.
06. The Trial of the Pyx. 7:58.
07. Weak End. 3:10.
08. The Shall See Hotel. 6:23.
09. The Library of the Future. 3:26.