The Foundation – Mask (2023)
A special review for me. This especially considering that Ron Lammers, the big man behind the project The Foundation, was an inhabitant of my town of birth and current hometown Almelooooo and I still know him (not really very well) from the time of Radio Xymphonia and the occasional festivals in the prog capital of beautiful Twente. This can of course work out to the advantage, but there is also the danger of underestimation. Can he do this or is it a well-intentioned hobby project?
There is plenty to be found about the origins and history of this project in interviews and on various sites on the internet, so I will not elaborate too much on that. The short version is that Ron, and a few others, have been working on the concept of Mask for years and by investing more and more in good keyboards managed to make an ever better sounding musical story. By approaching the right people at the right time, we can safely say that there are a number of very good musicians working on this fairy tale about real life as Mask's subtitle reads. I will come back to this later.
Mask is actually the life story of Ron in a number of concise lyrics and especially rooted in the music. A number of lyrics are by Ron himself and some by singer Mark Smit who also wrote a few at Ron's suggestion.
What is an extra point of attention for me concerns the deeper meaning behind Ron's story. After an ambitious life in which he wanted to prove himself without looking too much at his social environment and with the necessary selfishness, he converted to Christianity and from this he found the strength to be different in life. Now I am a convinced atheist myself and feel nothing at all for any religion. In fact, I find almost all forms of religion restrictive and stigmatizing. Is this a problem? No, not really because I have experienced myself that after my stroke my view on life is quite different and I have also come to new insights, but just not the same as Ron.
This means that I can still give a personal twist to the lyrics so that they also have meaning for me. Moreover, they are not so direct that they follow a kind of Neil Morse doctrine and are therefore easy for non-believers to digest. Well, I just had to get rid of that.
And now to what really matters, the album.
First of all, I have to mention the really beautiful execution of the media book with beautiful artwork by Douwe Fledderus. A feast for the eyes. But now on to the sense of hearing.
The first two songs are instrumental and if you look at the titles, Before the Dawn and Birth, it's clear that we're at the beginning of Ron's chronological life story. Floating keys and very nice guitar work by Jens van der Valk and Rinie Huigen, do you remember him from Cliffhanger and later Knight Area? I already mentioned singer Mark Smit and that was the singer of Knight Area in their most symphonic phase so that's two. And when I say that Gijs Koopman, bassist and Taurus basspedal specialist from the golden age of the aforementioned band also plays, you already know that class is guaranteed because in my opinion he is one of the best bassists in the Netherlands. Been off the radar for a while and now also converted, as evidenced by the heavy words of thanks in the booklet. A bit too much for me, but everyone has their own thing. He's playing as usual and that's really good.
For the people who know that I have a love for guitars and nice solos, I can report that the music has a lot to offer in this area. In addition to Huigen, Jens van der Valk is also active on the six-string and he does this very professionally. His fellow band members from the band Autumn, Jan Grijpstra on drums and Jan Munnik on additional keys are also part of the line-up. Aad Bannink is also active on guitar but mainly supportive.
We continue the life path with the songs Climbing Mountains and Blind to Reality and now for the first time the rock in progrock emerges. As can be deduced from the titles, we are now in the phase where Ron is mainly working on his career and thinking mainly about his own success and well-being. Very recognizable and a pitfall for everyone. Also striking are the fragile violin playing of Sjoerd Bearda and Judith van der Valk, who adds some flute. At first Smit is a bit harder to hear, but that changes into Blind to Reality, a nice lingering song that really goes towards the old Knight Area and that certainly is a compliment. A fine guitar solo is not lacking here either and at the end even two soloing guitars mixed together, nice.
Despair is an instrumental song and it is the most heavy and intense part of the album but with a wonderful groove. A touch of Pendragon but a bit spicier. It represents the struggle when the realization descended that Ron had to choose a different path and you can really feel that in the music, again well done. Screeching guitars are here again and that really suits me.
The clear starting point of this journey and the absolute centrepiece of this album is the song Mask and this is a prog rock gem of more than twelve minutes with everything you wish for. Beautiful melodies, deep layers and a variety of solos and of course the clear voice of Mark Smit. Wonderful singer that is. This is really of a high level and tastes like more.
Renewal begins with rarefied piano sounds and a violin playing along in the distance. It's a somewhat simpler and shorter song with lyrics that do go along the edge for me. Frivolous flute playing almost makes it an ecclesiastical hymn but just in time the guitars fall in, playing a kind of Wishbone Ash-like double solo.
Unconditional Ron wrote for and dedicated to his wife and is also a somewhat simpler song but with very sweet lyrics but just try do that differently when you sing for the love of your life. (Good thing my wife never reads my writings, so she can’t get jealous.) Fortunately, the keys and guitars are howling in the background and again a nice guitar solo.
And then a small problem, how do you end such a beautiful album? That requires a lot from a closing track. Future gets to take care of the final and I really expected some fireworks because Mask deserves that. After a quiet start, you can already hear where it is going. Koopman's bass guitar buzzes wonderfully and the full keys form a perfect backdrop for what's to come. And even though it sounds trite, I still hope for a banging guitar solo, it does come but is somewhat restrained. But still a wonderful final chord.
Differences in our view on life aside, this is a really good album and a great achievement by Ron and his men. Apparently we don't differ in our taste of music and that's fine. I may be a bit biased, but there are positive reactions from all corners of the world and that is very deserved as far as I am concerned.
Can this project lead to more or will it stay with Mask?
That depends on Ron's hunger to outdo himself. This album was of course quite a birth and to repeat that, not easy. Nevertheless, I hope that there will be a sequel and that the religious aspect will not prevail. But for now, big thumbs up to Ron and The Foundation!