Stations is the exciting and intriguing debut album by German progressive rock quintet Cydonia. Hailing from Freiburg im Breisgau, the band date back to 2007. Originally known as Hills of Cydonia, they played instrumental music until 2019, when singer Michael Bernauer joined and added another dimension to their sound.
Named after a region of Mars, the musicians use the name as a metaphor for the unknown and mystical ground they want to explore with their music. Taking inspiration from their musical youth, each musician brings a range of styles to the band, which coalesce into a progressive style that is both modern and yet also echoes their past influences. The album’s title is suggestive of the musical journey they have embarked upon in recent years and the album represents their first stop-off to showcase their music to the wider public before moving on again.
As a debut offering, the album is an impressive one. Rainer Dück’s lyrical guitar and Daniel Perrey’s atmospheric keyboards shape the musical landscape beautifully, but Oliver Gerike’s dominant bass and Dirk Fenchel’s lively drumming create a well-rounded synergy within the music. Michael’s vocals (with their slightly Germanic lilt) are expressive and emotional, and they integrate well with the musical ensemble work.
Way to Cydonia opens up the album with stabs of rippling retro prog keyboard with some nice guitar lines. However, a deep, bass-led rhythm sees a switch to a slower tempo and a more melancholic feel, as Michael delivers some wistful and yearning vocals. Rainer’s guitar soloing is well-judged and soars impressively, whilst Daniel’s keyboards provide more of an atmospheric wash, before gentle piano and layered vocals create a delicate but haunting interlude: “Is it near, or is it far? Show me the way to Cydonia.” However, the intensity and rhythm pick up quickly once again, leading to a powerful guitar-led conclusion and a reprise of the opening keyboard motif.
Where is the Silence is, by contrast, a thoughtful and plaintive, piano-led ballad, with a delicate and brooding quality heightened by a subtle wash of keyboards. The resonant guitar lines complement the piano very well later on, and the vocal harmonies give a lightness of touch before a gentle, hanging fade-out.
The centrepiece of the album is the multi-faceted, five-part epic Union of Souls. Acoustic guitar and delicate keyboards may start the track gently, but keyboards, guitar and vocals soon bring an unsettling feel to proceedings in the opening Demons section: “This is my home, safe and warm. Sheltered from harm. Stay away. Please stay away.” The piece develops further with a lonely acoustic guitar followed by pulsing bass – moving into a memorable Pink Floyd/psychedelic passage, with Doors-like keyboards and then some rousing guitar soloing. There are definitely elements of neo-prog and even symphonic elements as the various themes ebb and flow – driven by well-honed drums. This dark and contemplative brooding on mortality and the afterlife develops further and more expressive and soaring guitar and synthesiser sounds take the music to a satisfying conclusion.
Interestingly, the final two tracks are older live recordings from a gig at the Slow Club, next to the adjacent Liquid Studio where the earlier three studio recordings were made. However, both tracks work surprisingly well within the album context and show some different musical aspects to the band. Caravan of Souls is a highly enjoyable, extended live jam, showcasing the individual musicians’ talents. A military drum beat from Dirk kicks off the song, but it is the swirling Eastern-style musical theme, typified by Rainer’s dominant guitar playing (reminiscent of Ritchie Blackmore from the early days of Rainbow) that is most memorable. Oliver’s driving bass and some fine Deep Purple/Focus-style organ playing from Daniel are also highlights as the music dances and sways, conjuring up images of a sultry Arabian bazaar. Less prog and more classic, old-school, hard rock in style – but great fun all the same.
Already There has a dreamy, sci-fi/psychedelic feel – with Michael’s spoken lyrics flowing into some shifting musical soundscapes, before he delivers some of his most impressive vocals of the album. The track slows rhythmically with some rich bass, before taking off powerfully with more fine guitar work and then a vibrant finale with a keyboard-led crescendo.
Stations is a bold and impressive statement of intent from the German progressive quintet. Their melodic musical palette is diverse and varied, with elements from the classic prog era, but with touches of neo- and modern prog, with hard rock, psychedelic and art-rock influences also to the fore. Yet, it is clear that they are forging something fresh and new out of this musical amalgam that is worthy of further exploration beyond their Freiburg home. They seem to have the confidence and ambition to take their music into new directions, whilst acknowledging the past. I, for one, will be very interested to see what they deliver the next time they pull into a station on their musical journey to Cydonia.
01. Way to Cydonia (7:42)
02. Where is the Silence? (5:13)
03. Union of Souls (14:27)
(ii) Looking Through the Gateway
(iii) The Journey
04. Caravan of Slaves (live) (8:49)
05. Already There (live) (8:12)
Total Time – 44:23
Michael Bernauer – Vocals
Rainer Dück – Guitars
Dirk Fenchel – Drums
Oliver Gerike – Bass, Acoustic Guitar, Bass-Pedals, Backing Vocals
Daniel Perrey – Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Record Label: Independent
Format: CD, Digital
Country of Origin: Germany
Date of Release: 16th December 2022