Life wasn’t good under the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Among the many things that were banned were jokes, conducting an orchestra and Beatles moptops.
Western music was derided as imperialist and decadent, and a threat to the Soviet way of life. Donna Summer, Julio Iglesias and The Clash were among the many mainstream acts whose material could only be obtained expensively on the black market or as poor-quality flexi discs made out of discarded hospital X-rays.
Imagine then trying to find Genesis, Yes or King Crimson. But this only made Soviet music lovers more determined to track down their albums – and they were treated as precious artefacts, a musical glimpse into an exciting, forbidden world.
The result of this deprivation is that modern-day Russian prog lovers have a reverence for the music that may even exceed our own here on The Progressive Aspect. And those who have the talent to compose and play progressive rock inevitably draw heavily from the bands they worship.
Such is the case with RTFACT, whose debut album makes no secret of its classic ’70s influences. From the opening strains of what could be a Rick Wakeman medieval rock opera to the Gentle Giant-inspired vocals to the cod classical keyboards of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Life Is Good is a blatant throwback.
Luckily, it’s also chock-full of great tunes, superb playing and a generally upbeat, joyful attitude that should bring a smile to the face of all but the most hard-bitten, cynical listeners and Roger Trenwith.
The title track is a bold, optimistic statement of intent that rocks nimbly along while packing in plenty of Yes and Jethro Tull-ish moments. Artifact is a mostly keyboard-driven instrumental that jumps between being frenetic and stately before ending on a triumphant clash of percussion.
I Got Money In My Pocket could be something Trevor Rabin might have tried out with Yes during their “let’s have a hit single” period, while Gotika only needs a knife driven through the keys of a Hammond organ to complete its tribute to ELP.
Sometimes there’s a dollop of cheese, such as the 1980s power-ballad opening of Hail To The Winner, but it is done with such a lack of pretension and an obvious love for the music they are creating that you just have to go along with it.
Everything is held together by the keyboards of Edward Tsiselsky and Dmitry Ilugdin, while drummer Joel Taylor is nimble and inventive enough to make tempo and time changes sound effortless.
And there’s a host of special guests here, including Steve Hackett’s vocalist Nad Sylvan, guitar virtuoso Oz Noy and saxophonist Gary Meek, but none of them hog the limelight. Instead they blend in nicely to give the entire album a cohesive feel.
RTFACT are not breaking any musical boundaries. But they are celebrating the music that helped them break the political boundaries that imprisoned them in their own country.
Some people credit The Beatles in helping to bring down the old Soviet Union. Perhaps prog played a part too, by inspiring young people to break their own boundaries through creativity and exploration. Life may not be good in Vladimir Putin’s Russia but it might be a little better than it was.
01. Life Is Good (6:04)
02. Artifact (6:24)
03. I Got Money In My Pocket (6:13)
04. Gotika (5:03)
05. Hail To The Winner (Part I) (3:35)
06. Hail To The Winner (Part II – Tarantella) (3:28)
07. The King, The Master, And The Timekeeper (4:30)
08. Hollywood Walk Of Fame (6:02)
09. Life Is Good (Remix) (1:16)
Total Time – 42:35
Edward Tsiselsky – Keyboards
Dmitry Ilugdin – Synthesizers
Eugene Sharikov – Bass
Joel Taylor – Drums
Jeff Scott Soto – Vocals
Nad Sylan – Vocals
Will Champlin – Vocals
Oz Noy – Guitar
Jeff Kollman – Guitar
Rafael Moreira – Guitar
Josh Smith – Guitar
Gary Meek – Flute, Sax
Record label: AFL Music
Country of origin: Russia/USA
Date of Release: 18th August 2017