The much-vaunted German group Sylvan decide to go on a mini-sabbatical, subsequent to releasing their latest album, “One to Zero” in 2021, a masterful album of the highest order. Longtime keyboardist Volker Soehl and guitarist Johnny Beck decided to launch a new project, involving their storied colleague Marco Glühmann (whose solo album should be coming out this year), as well as including the rather impeccable vocal partner in Caro von Brücken, drummer Jens Lueck from Single Celled Organism and Katja Flintsch on backing vocals complete the line-up.

Any book or recording that deals with the subject of control certainly gets my attention, as it has been a force to be reckoned with since the dawn of time and has formatted my critical thinking and writing ever since. It is a force that goes against the free will of nature that is becoming increasingly impossible to resist successfully in our modern society.  How better to kick off the mechanism with the title track, a rueful piano intro brutally bullied by a sudden massive attack of bass, drums, and guitars, interspersed with Caro’s intuitive vocals, challenged by the unmistakable plea from Glühmann’s lips before the sonic typhoon returns to take over the situation and reapply the …control.

The crushing “Breathe” has a dreamy child-like innocence intro, before the inhaling voice and the exhaling beat brings life to the proceedings. Caro has a velvety voice that modulates between the solemn piano notes and then explodes into a fiery tantrum, full of assertive audacity. This feeling of swimming in and out of breath is quite intoxicating.  The final section veers into a somewhat different realm, as if returning to the surface is a return to normality. “Promise“acts a seamless segue, the atmospheric mood expertly kept with trippy electronics , yet infusing dense symphonics to better highlight the vocal duet between the two vocalists. The piano takes on the role of moderator, preparing the valley in order to admire the peak, where Marco sure can hit the elevated notes perfectly.  A cinematic showcase on the more esoteric “Masquerade”, a stage for some wonderful hushed vocal fragility from Caro and an outright unexpected electric guitar rant from Johnny that divulges the faces behind the masks. The orchestrations barely conceal the sorrowful charade, as the voice just dies in exhausted agony.  “Hail thee Mockery” extends the theme and lyrical message, blending perfectly with the previous masked ball feel. The chorus soars above the raucous mob of voice effects, as the focused piano maintains its emotional dominance here end throughout the album, for that matter.

The next three tracks raise the roof on this superb album. “Dark Flow” is drenched in sombre reflections, where hesitant vocals recreate a sense of turbulent bewilderment, a gradually spiralling violin raising the level of emotions to an apotheosis of despair. A Tremendous tune.  The subsequent level is reached on the very Sylvan-esque “Stay”, a colossal duet between Marco and Caro, piano twinkling sprightly and a soaring melody that cuts through emotional butter like a sizzling knife. A melancholic guitar solo shimmers along, keeping everything strikingly gorgeous. And finally, just to assert the needed control to astound with the unexpected, the titanic “Desire” slithers along in apparent sonic claustrophobia before bursting into metallic insanity, the omnipotent piano resistant to silence, the voice distraught, confused, perhaps even lost in some nightmare. The harsh guitars are mercilessly pounding at any hint of resistance, the thumping drums accepting no surrender. Caro screams straight into the wall. As fine a trio of songs that one could possibly hope for, definitely the core of this surprising album.

Back to a certain sense of reality with the jazzier piano taking the spotlight on “Frontiers”, a sublime display of Volker’s talent, as his determined ivory playing is beyond remarkable throughout. Johnny shoots off a radiant guitar screech, worthy of applause as the sun sets over the horizon. A reprise of “Control” is necessary in order to hermetically seal the package into one whole entity, which this album certainly is. The piano once again sets the tone for the final goodbye, amid dense orchestrations. A famous Alan Parsons tune once stated “You just can’t escape the voice, its gonna get you”.   Caro rules.

This was an unexpected surprise, perhaps a project to be continued the next time Sylvan pauses for a control check, at some border point beyond Schengen.

4.5 intense regulators