Sunchild – Exotic Creatures and a Stolen Dream (2023)
Many, many times, I have tried to fathom the various projects of the likeable Ukrainian Antony Kalugin and I often came to the conclusion that I liked it but always just missed that last spark for total appreciation. Well, I've found it now.
Attracted by the (again) fantastic cover by Igor Sokolskiy, I once again made an attempt and bought and extensively listened to the new Sunchild album, one of the many Kalugin projects mentioned above, of which Karfagen is of course the best known. I have no regrets because this is great music played by great musicians.
So why do I not own cd's of Antony's other projects?
I don't really like the often jazzy style. Anthony's voice takes some time to get used to but it's getting better and better. The compositions could not always captivate me. The albums were not consistent, and contained very nice songs but also much lesser ones. None of this is meant to whine but I just couldn't find what I'm looking for in music.
As already said, I have that now because guys, this is so beautiful.
There are actually only two songs on Exotic Creatures and a stolen Dream, the long Life Lines and the slightly shorter Northern Skies, also a little less than fifteen minutes. In addition, there are some short outtakes and edits of the songs, but this was not necessary for me.
Kalugin has made a clear choice here for pure prog rock and Exotic Creatures and a stolen Dream contains everything I'm looking for, beautiful melodies, variety, full keys and great guitar solos that really touch me. And there is not much to complain about the vocals either. Anthony sings very acceptable but has also been smart enough to use Maria Panasenko as second vocalist and she is really good. Of course the keyboard work is well taken care of because Kalugin is a masterful musician and he just plays everything from quiet piano passages to swirling synthesizer solos and everything in between. Partly thanks to three very good guitarists, you can enjoy everything that makes this instrument so beautiful. Regular guitarist Max Velychko is joined by Alexandr Pavlov and Dmytro Ignatov and the latter in particular plays those nice floating, melodic solos, such as at the end of Life Lines.
Long songs often have a somewhat fragmentary character and on this album they are also divided into separate pieces and thus form a kind of suite. This trick is not uncommon. Neil Morse is also a master at this. Yet the parts flow into each other almost imperceptibly so that it feels like a whole.
After a wonderful intro, Life Lines immediately continues in neoprog style with an uptempo piece that could have come straight from the eighties, but it never gets boring because as soon as you think you've heard it, the atmosphere changes and Kalugin adds a nice subdued piece piano with calm vocals. Despite my allergy to wind instruments, I have to admit that the saxophone, which only very rarely participates, is very enjoyable, does not disturb and certainly does not play jazzy patterns. And I can be brief about the unparalleled ending, heavenly guitar solo on a thick layer of keys.
Northern Skies is generally a bit more introverted but also contains those fine melodies. Yet you also hear those symphonic eruptions with Velychko's guitar playing a leading role, but his style is audibly different from the two guitarists in the first song. Great, but I still have a slight preference for Ignatov and also for Life Lines. The vocals are a bit more present and again fit the song perfectly.
The album could have stopped here because the extras mentioned above don't interest me that much, although the single Edit of Life Lines is a nice song in itself.
I have to dedicate part of this review to the brilliant artwork. The cover is simply stunning. In addition, two posters in LP format are included and the art of Sokolskiy can also be admired on these. I consciously say admire and despite the fact that there can be differences in taste, I can hardly imagine that anyone would not like this.
In these dark days for the homeland of these top musicians, they are able to present a very, very good album. A well deserved deep bow and fingers crossed for a peaceful resolution.
Stop invading this beautiful country and support the brave people that have to suffer.