Eyesberg are a German/British neo-prog band, and for this, their third album, they have taken their inspiration from the life of Vincent van Gogh. Yes, that’s right, it’s a concept album, but don’t be put off too easily, because this ambitious effort is actually rather good. Musically, the nucleus of Georg Alfter (guitar), Norbert Podien (keyboards) and Malcolm Shuttleworth (vocals) take early ’70s influences, mainly Genesis, and update it with a very neo-prog slant (early Marillion, IQ). This musical palette is never going to deliver startling originality, but they do manage to create something with their own personality and depth.
Basing the storyline on the life of such a character as van Gogh is an interesting idea. He was enigmatic and mysterious to many, and deeply troubled throughout his short life, and yet produced art which has proven (posthumously) to be massively influential and valuable. So a fascinating subject, but do they do it justice? Yes and no. Within the limitations of a 50-minute rock album, they have a good go at covering the key strands in his life, but such a complex person is difficult to distil into a few connected songs. The main thrust of the narrative looks at the things which may have influenced his slide into desperate depression and ultimately madness, and the contrasting periods of creative genius.
A fair chunk of the album quite rightly looks at Vincent’s childhood, and the lengthy opening title track is about the influence of his mother. By all accounts she was rigid and religious, creating a sense of overwhelming claustrophobia to those around her, hence the title. Eyesberg explore this upbringing and the likely effects on the seemingly unloved boy, who was sent away to boarding school where he was deeply unhappy. The music glides in on a keyboard drone recalling Pink Floyd, but we are soon deep in early Genesis territory with very Banks inspired keys intertwined with Hackett stylings on guitar. It’s not remotely anything we haven’t heard before, but it really is enjoyable nonetheless. Malcolm Shuttleworth’s vocals are enigmatic and theatrical, less Gabriel inspired, and more Nad Sylvan perhaps? Whatever, it totally fits, especially emphasising the angst building in the young van Gogh psyche.
Strange Boy continues the story of his alienation in his youth. Pattern Seeking Animals and ex-Spock’s Beard drummer Jimmy Keegan, who plays drums throughout, is particularly effective here with some exuberant fills whilst Georg Alfter plays some lovely sustained guitar tones. Emma Edingloh provides some valuable understated backing vocals, and the vocal harmonies work beautifully. A dark undercurrent is conjured with some tasteful bass pedal work, leading us to another lengthy piece, Walking in Storms. Vincent apparently took solace in nature, and would reputedly go for long walks in the countryside during storms. This love of the natural landscape would later inspire his art of course.
Alienated – rejected, Into the fields beyond,
Nature beckons, irresistible pull”
The atmosphere of this track reminds me a little of Big Big Train for some reason, and there are some beautiful instrumental passages, Alfter excelling with some lovely melodic guitar playing. The pretty Salamander Tree ponders what triggered Vincent’s explosions of colour in his later art, before Sacrifice returns the sense of angst in a busy flurry of keys and guitars underpinned by Keegan’s expressive drumming. The song climaxes with the legendary ear severing incident.
We Want You Out! recreates the idea of an angry mob convincingly, referring to the residents of Arles who reacted to the incident by petitioning for Vincent to leave the town. Clearly his mental health was in crisis and he was admitted several times to the asylum, where the standard treatment for mental health issues at that time was alternate hot and cold baths. Into The Asylum recounts these times more effectively than I suspect the treatment was, and with some of the most memorable musical passages on the album, making for a thrilling climax, before the Final Ride, and van Gogh’s suicide.
Eyesberg have managed to pull off something of a victory with this album. They have tackled a huge topic, an incredibly moving and sad tale, and managed to interpret it in a way which is eminently listenable. If you are into the neo-prog genre, there is much to enjoy on Claustrophobia. Eyesberg’s influences are obvious, but they somehow manage to carve a niche for themselves in a crowded sub-genre. Whilst not laden with snappy hooks, the ride is accessible and rewarding, and certainly worth a listen.
01. Claustrophobia (11:01)
02. Strange Boy (5:00)
03. Walking in Storms (9:35)
04. Salamander Tree (3:10)
05. Sacrifice (6:31)
06. We Want You Out! (3:43)
07. Into The Asylum (6:27)
08. Final Ride (3:21)
Total Time – 48:48
Georg Alfter – Guitars, Bass
Norbert Podien – Keyboards
Malcolm Shuttleworth – Vocals
Jimmy Keegan – Drums
Emma Edingloh – Backing Vocals
Record Label: Progressive Promotion Records
Country of Origin: Germany/U.K.
Date of Release: 5th February 2021
Eyesberg – Facebook