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2011-10-04 (Review)

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There is something about a Roger Dean CD cover that shouts Progressive Rock. At least it does to me. And so I was excited to receive the new release from multi-instrumentalist Ben Craven entitled Great & Terrible Potions. Based in Australia, this is Craven’s second CD and once again it is a true solo project as not only did he write and perform everything you hear, but he also produced, engineered and mastered the disc as well. As you might well expect given the dramatic cover images, this is classic symphonic prog with strong melodies and complex arrangements.

Great & Terrible Potions was actually five-years in the making and is made up of nine main tracks with three bonus tracks of edited versions of the CD proper; a total of fifty-five minutes of music. This is classic, cinematic symphonic prog wrapped around some great melodies. I’m reminded of the work of artists like Alan Parsons or Steve Thorne, only Craven’s music tends to be a lot more complex, especially as far as the arrangements go. There are sound effects that filter in and out between tracks making some songs sound longer that they are as listed and that goes to making this a very “wide-screen” kind of album. At the same time, the music here sounds very contemporary in terms of sounds and instruments used. Four of the nine-tracks are instrumentals that in some cases provide a lead-in to the next track. The CD starts off with “Diabolique” [2:27] with its door opening, footsteps and then music-box sounds that lead into a dramatic piano intro that twists and turns before guitar, drum and keyboard accents and arpeggios take over. The buildup is wonderful, with its minor chord expectations and major chord resolutions rolling over one another. This goes right into “Nobody Dies Forever Part 1” [2:37] a shorter melodic tune that would fit very well on a James Bond soundtrack with its twangy guitar line and familiar chord progressions. I’m thinking this is a very intentional move as in the liner notes it clearly says Ben Craven Will Return, and Bond fans will know it says that at the end of every Bond Movie. In any case this then goes directly into the next instrumental entitled “Aquamarine” [5:07], a kind of soft soothing piece of music with layers of keyboards creating a warm enveloping space. At the 2:00 mark the guitars come in giving off a very Dave Gilmour, Pink Floyd feel.

Great & Terrible Potions is a great disc full of wonderful big-sound prog. Modern, melodic symphonic prog fans will truly enjoy Ben Craven’s music. And for that reason I’m giving it my highest recommendation. Brilliant stuff.