Sitting on a quiet beach bordering Devon and Somerset on the cusp between Summer and Autumn seemed the ideal moment to reflect and report on an album which spans two decades; an album that brings late-’90s prog rock bang up to date with 21st Century recording technology and know-how.
In 1998 Supernatural Foe was the first album recorded under the name of KariBow by German multi-instrumentalist Oliver Rüsing, yet conversely it becomes his latest release here in 2019.
Following on from the very well received and critically acclaimed MOnuMENTO double album, Rüsing decided on a different approach for his next release. In Herr Rüsing’s words, “After producing an album as challenging as MOnuMENTO in 2018, I felt an urge to do something less complex, and so the idea of re-issuing the oldest, most playful of the KariBow offspring looked like an exciting undertaking.”
However, when Rüsing checked over the original recordings, he realised that the old material was not, in his words, “homogenous” enough, and failed to achieve the high standards and expectations of current KariBow productions, therefore the only acceptable option was to completely re-record each track, adding to them, but without taking away the sturdy foundations of the songs written all those years ago.
Moving onto the album itself, of the ten tracks, only one of them is new, The Black Jam. “Why is it included?”, I ask myself, and the next question is “And why not?” It’s a prog jam, light-hearted and fun, and whilst it won’t change the world, it makes me smile, and so it never gets ‘skipped’ when playing the album.
For me, this album rocks along very well on the whole, one of the highlights being Burning Books, the longest track, with powerful lyrics talking of a character in turmoil, a real ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ atmospheric fusion, one moment prog, then classical and jazz, that leaves you wanting to listen again, each time hearing and feeling something different, an indication of a well-written song in my opinion.
The ultimate break-up song is next, and Cynical is my favourite ever KariBow track; anguished lyrics of a ‘love gone wrong’, but with the realisation that moving on has already happened. Sublime words sit alongside a very moving and sensual melody. There is an outstanding guitar solo that for me is up there with the best.
Completing the album in style, The Gardens is another song north of 9 minutes, starting off with gentle birdsong, before tinkling piano leads into the definitive KariBow drumming, with a gutsy guitar driving all before it. The melodic chorus softens for a moment, with pleasing self-harmonies from Rüsing, over the distinctive ‘wall of sound’ that epitomises all KariBow albums, before returning to undulating guitar. The ‘heaviest’ rock track on the album, it marches towards beautiful sections of calm and tranquillity, soaring into heights that for me represent a personal ‘rock heaven’, before the peace of birdsong returns. All-in-all a song that creates a magical and enchanted garden that I will visit again and again.
The album has three songs that I would cal straightforward ‘AOR rock’, the sort of song you play whilst driving to arrive at your destination thinking ‘Wow, I got here quickly!’, namely Run, Is That You? and Brake My Day.
Singling out the latter, you won’t find any prog in this track, but you will discover foot-tapping guitar and drums, simple melody that rocks out with a rousing blues harp, played by the talented ‘bluezman’ himself, Roland Körner, who featured in similar fashion on MOnuMENTO.
To sum up this album for those new to KariBow, it would appear at first to stride the simpler world of AOR, with just moments of ‘progginess’ surfacing. However, as with all KariBow music, there is far more depth and nuance to the sound, and whilst some themes are revisited in different songs, it bears repeated playing to embed itself more firmly in the musical memory, and can, and rightly so, take its place alongside its more well-groomed stablemates of later years.
01. Run (7:16)
02. Supernatural Foe (4:35)
03. Burning Books (10:56)
04. Brake My Day (5:08)
05. Take Me (8:00)
06. Cynical (6:36)
07. Weak (5:53)
08. The Black Jam (7:01)
09. Is That You? (5:29)
10. The Gardens (9:16)
Total Time – 70:12
Oliver Rüsing – Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Keyboards, Piano, Drums, Percussion
Roland Körner – Harmonica (track 4)
Record Label: Nikomi Productions
Date of Release 30th June 2019