P.A.W.N. is a new progressive rock/metal project that’s been created by two Hamburg, Germany musicians, Sebastian Rudolph (keys, guitar, bass and vocals) and Dennis Matzat (drums, percussion) and is one of those albums that harkens back to expansive time of the highly polished mid-70’s prog rock era with dramatic classical themes, powerful orchestral arrangements with enough heavy elements to qualify as progressive metal. P.A.W.N.‘s The Gift Of Awareness is a perfect album for people who like to get lost in long dramatic, cinematic-esque music that develops themes slowly and purposefully – a style that many people seem to have lost their taste for, instead preferring shorter songs that develop and end very quickly. Mostly long gone are the days when bands like Yes can put out double albums with only four songs and still sell millions! But perhaps there are still those rare fans that like to sink their teeth in long-form music and you’ll certainly get that on P.A.W.N.’s debut with three of the six songs in the 12-13 minute range and capped by the amazing and powerfully beautiful 26-minute album title finale. In addition to the two musical leaders, most of the vocals are handled by Lisa-Marie Rothe (who is also a very talented artists who did the band logo and cover art.) The packaging on this labor-of-love album is just stunning – from the beautiful and mysterious forest on the cover to the digipack album packaging. The fact that the album was self-produced by the Matzsat and Rudolph is yet another testament to how, in this modern era, great artists can put out tremendous works of art without really needing much, if any help to do it.
P.A.W.N., being a collaborative project between two very talented and passionate artists is not a full working band although they did start as one over 10 years ago. They went through some big changes (including the sadly recent passing of former guitarist Daniel Müller-Ramien – who did contribute some work on one song on the album) and have produced this very well polished debut that I know will thrill our prog rock lovin’ readers to no end! There are only six songs on the album but it clocks in at around 77 minutes. The first song, Sailors Of The Sky (video for the song is at the end of the review) begins the album with a strong overture that begins with an evocative piano intro before going into a great orchestral melody and then the song mostly revolves around a dramatic, slightly melancholy vocal that ends in a lush orchestration punctuated by Matzat’s powerful drumming and at 12 minutes never feels overly long. After the shorter ballad, The Princess Is Out Tonight, a really beautiful power ballad that is mostly a feature for vocal interplay between the male and female voices but ends with a highly dramatic outro that these guys really know how to do well. Getting back to the long-form song, A Voyage Of Uncertainty (at over 12 minutes) slows it down with a more pensive melody and real sense of majesty as befits the song’s lyrical themes. This song also has an excellent, long-form instrumental midsection complete with classical themes done in a very energetic prog rock style. After the eight minute, also highly dramatic Vessels, the album only has two more songs but we’ve still got almost 40 minutes to go! Fatal Wounds (13 minutes) has a real pastoral quality to it with more great interplay between male and female vocals and has a stunning, hard driving mid-section with heavy powerful guitars under some wonderfully shifting prog rock keyboard themes and strings (which I’m assuming are keyboards since there are no violins or other strings listed in the album credits.) The song ends with a long and dramatically building finale that derives its power from the constant building of tension. Deceptively simple and never gets old despite the song’s length. The finale is the aforementioned The Gift Of Awareness – at 26 minutes it’s definitely the highlight and centerpiece of the album and really reminds me of a lot of great progressive rock suites that we used to hear all the time in the 70’s. It begins with a short, almost New-Agey intro that I found a bit cheezy but it quickly morphed into a heavy. intricate and incredibly exciting prog rock/metal interlude. The vocals come in quickly and the song (almost an album unto itself) goes through many changes from dramatic ballad, classical intricacies and of course full-on melodic prog metal! The multitude of changes in the song’s dynamics are held together extremely well and flow together seamlessly and are where the two leaders shine with Matzat’s gift for percussive rhythms and textures and Rudolph’s wide keyboard arsenal (his short Baroque harpsichord interlude is really something.) The ending kind of loses a bit of focus and drags on a bit too long for my taste but it’s a minor complaint on an album that has so much going for it for fans of passionate melodic rock and metal.
I’ve gotta say that the music on The Gift Of Awareness is not for people who need their prog to be full-on headbanging metal – or to have the latest in djent-ish rhythmic insanity. As much as I love that stuff (bands like Periphery and Animals As Leaders being among my favorites these days), it’s very refreshing to hear some very talented musicians who really understand the power and beauty of the best that was produced during the heyday of the 70’s prog rock era but don’t hesitate to incorporate heaviness into that sound and modernize it. This debut from P.A.W.N. is definitely a highly polished, heartfelt and quite charming album that will really appeal to people who like a great sense of drama, passion, dynamics and beauty in their music. Even though being a two-piece group they can’t really play live, this music has such a strong cinematic, storytelling aspect to it, that I think The Gift Of Awareness would make a phenomenal stage show and I hope these two excellent musicians will be able to produce that one day. You can check out a full stream of the album via the BandCamp widget below and can also pick up a copy of it via the same link and help support this great new musical project.
review by Jeff Stevens
If you want to keep up with our reviews, interviews and other news in the world of progressive metal, please subscribe to our email list and don’t forget to “Like” us on Facebook (via the sidebar link) or follow us on Twitter (@Progmetalzone).