THE SOUNDING BOARD
BY R J LANNAN
NOVEMBER 29, 2004

When Two Worlds Collide In 1916 from February to December one of the fiercest battles on the European continent took place in Verdun, France in which almost three quarters of a million lives were lost. As in many wars, it was a Pyrrhic victory.

The music of Verdun is a collision of two musical macrocosms; progressive rock and Eastern Fusion. Luckily no one gets hurt by the impact and in the end the whole planet gains. In fact the mixture is a sort of homeopathic treatment for the more common types of music. Moreover, there is nothing pedestrian about hard driving rock with the blending of ethereal vocals sung in several languages.

Verdun is a dynamic and creative band led by guitarist, keyboardist, and song writer Neal Barnard. Mike Stetina is the ace percussionist and the gifted vocalists are Martha Roebuck and Ngoc Hoang. Their first eponymous titled album is profoundly creative joining Progressive rock with Asian instrumentation and Eastern principles.

Based on a Vietnamese legend, the first track, Dream of the Black Horse is an intensive exercise is fusion rock. The opening features the eerie instrument the dan tranh, a Vietnamese zither related to the Japanese koto. Suddenly the tempo explodes with guitar and drums and the dream or possibly, the nightmare unfolds. Roebuck and Hoang blend an excruciated sweet vocal track over Barnard's energetic guitar.

Taking the listener completely by surprise is the group's cover of Jimi Hendrix's classic Purple Haze. It has a little bit of down tempo and a turnabout change in vocal, a sweet female voice instead of Hendrix's gravelly pronouncements. Verdun's rendition is familiar enough to make you remember the times and different enough to appreciate them.

April is a remarkable song containing several diverse elements. First, Stetina lays down a stinging counterpoint drum track. This is covered by a strong ambient keyboard layer. On top of that are the evocative voices of the two angelic vocalists singing in different languages. The lyrics are like Haiku, only bolder.

Once more, rains fall
Once more, spring calls
Stones lie waiting
When black swans fly
Love's last hope dies

Vietnamese vocalist Ngoc Hoang wears quite the "Poetical Leaf" as she sings in her native language in Nightfall while Martha Roebuck, like a musical chameleon, changes her speed and pitch in the haunting ballad, Song For A Sparrow. In the song, Carter Melin is responsible for the doleful cello addition and Barnard's poetry is simple as well as beautiful. However, it is Martha's empyreal voice, sounding like an innocent, which infuses an astounding amount of emotion into the song.

Forty Seven is a very notable instrumental track that has industrial-like overtones. Once again we are awed by Stetina's explosive percussion that punctuates Barnard's guitar playing like musical dynamite.

On the last cut and one of the best, Fate, evokes something like the beatnik poetry of the 60's. Sounding a bit avant-garde and slipping in a bit of French, Barnard manages to write about life, love and death.

There it is. So many words, so many lies.
There it is. Is everyone blind?
Lighthearted madmen. Smiling, bury their dead.
Les jeux, jeux sont faits, jeux sont faits
(The games are played).

There is a kind of edgy ambivalence to most of the album. Its unique tempos and evocative vocals give it a World/Rock/fusion music texture. However, there is volatility cloaked to the music. It sort of like a container of very hot wax. You don't know if you should stick a wick in it and create light or throw a match into the container and initiate an odd sort of pyrexia. We can learn from this music.

Be sure to check out Jamie's Bonk's Conversations with Jamie: Artist-To-Artist Series: Verdun

Rating: Very Good (4/5)