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Stefan Petanovski – Eros (2020)

We’ve had the great pleasure of having early access to Macedonian composer Stefan Petanovski’s second solo album Eros. The album will be out on the 10th of March, but the good news is that you can currently listen to the title track on YouTube! According to Petanovski, “The idea behind the record is to emphasize everything that makes us feel a true emotion, something that is considered “taboo” in modern-day society but at the same time, something that the world desperately needs in these crazy times.” While the idea is easy to put into words, the music is harder to describe. In the prog world, it is closest to prog metal. Sometimes songs go full-on metal, sometimes a few djenty riffs are sprinkled in the background, and sometimes the metal is completely dialed back. When you listen to the whole record, though, you might find yourself confused about what the hell just happened.

You started with “Tanaka”, a heavily atmospheric song that resembles African tribal music. Eros took you to Plini-land and gave you a taste of djentful RnB. Finally, a careless headbang appeared in “Restless Mind”, only to be taken away by Ana Petanovska’s glorious voice. “Ocean Wave” brought you a sax solo played by John Waugh of Plini and The 1975. You thought you were listening to your favorite jazz album when “Cafune” entered, only to be reminded by the outlandish bass that this is all Petanovski. Then arrived the 12-minute beast, and once more, you lived through all the different sounds that the album had to offer. After this experience, you must have formed a completely different understanding of music, one that doesn’t differentiate progression into a separate genre like we prog fans like to do.

1. Tanaka (3:00)

As it can be felt from the feeling behind the word “Tanaka”, the majestic album opener gathers African tribal and electronic music together in such an atmospheric and tone-setting way. The different influences of this song how forward-thinking and versatile Stefan Petanovski is. As the duty of an opening track, Tanaka just shows a teaser of what you should expect from the rest of them and just makes you more curious and excited for the other songs on the album. While it is impossible no to get goosebumps from the choir and African vocals, the whole layerings on this one just amaze the listener with its uplifting nature and high production quality. It certainly represents the spiritual idea of “true emotion”, which is the core of the record.

2. New Moon (7:15)

Reminding the African music and background droning of the first song, the second track opens up with atmospheric layerings and rarely used percussion instruments. The way Petanovski incorporated the xylophone-like rhythmic instruments with the orchestral 7/4 & 9/4 section. As he combines the heaviness of djent music with the heavenly feel of different instruments such as harp and some orchestral instruments, we face some chord progression that you wouldn’t normally hear in popular music — well, not even in the progressive scene. The ethereal and mythological feel of the song is carried by key modulations and composed effectively. Petanovski layers the song with a high level of complexity and authentic genre & instrument variation that instantly reminded of Mike Oldfield’s legendary epics. The song bounces back and forth between metal, jazz, and classical throughout — however, in some sections, specific genres become the leading elements of the song. As a fundamental compositional element of this song, He doesn’t just combine genres and offer you a blended mixture. Rather he embeds specific feels to specific sections, where he lets some instruments play the lead melody while others wait for their parts to come. The whole song is a prog madness including unexpected instrumental runs, abrupt transitions, complex harmonies of lead melodies. One can’t stand to question whether there are more notes in the guitar solo or more instruments used throughout “New Moon”.

3. Eros (5:11)

The title track is certainly a highlight of the album. The opening guitar riff is amplified by the digital sound effects and backing guitars. The sparse snare sound not only brings the oddly divided riff back into a familiar 4/4 rhythm, but also highlights the production quality that Petanovski strives to. One of the most overlooked aspects of instrumental progressive music is actually writing pleasant and catchy melodies. Before we get lost in all the instrumental madness, the musician should always keep a good melody in his toolbelt to reintroduce it as a smooth transition. “Eros” is a perfect example of this principle as the same couple of melodies repeat throughout (each being a variation that keeps the song engrossing). The uniqueness of Petanovski is also apparent during the guitar solo where two guitars panned extremely right and left take turns to create one complete solo. The song features the best of him: musically, rhythmically, and creatively. You can listen to the song from here!

4. Restless Mind (4:17)

A complex riff directly plunges us into the song, which from the beginning, carries a djent influence. Although it is baffling that the drums were programmed (by Petanovski himself), the over-excitement is sometimes felt in the quick fills. After some killer instrumentals, it felt strange to hear Ana Petanovska’s lead vocals take a prominent role in the song. It is as if a way for Petanovski to prove his versatility in different styles of composing. The chorus especially has a certain catchiness but the track overall can feel a little bland apart from the addition of vocals after the title track. There are still some specialties of the song though, like the short sound effects (hard to identify the source) before a new section begins or the interlude where Petanovski goes full djent, a short surprise that certainly attracted our attention.

5. Ocean Wave (4:04)

The title “Ocean Wave” is very well-fitted for the song’s intro, which is made up of a 4/4 beat accompanied by the electric guitar. This serene melody continues as the drum beats get more and more audible, and at the 1:40 mark the saxophone is added. Guest star John Waugh adds to the atmosphere of the song with his instrument in a very unique way—if you sense a resemblance to the brilliant Plini, it’s because of the combined skills of the artist Stefan Petanovski and the guest stars in the tracks. The instruments all contribute to the build up and at 2:37, the whole mood of the song suddenly shifts with an unbelievably smooth transition. The prog metal component of Stefan Petanovski’s music can definitely be heard in this segment. As the song slowly returns to its serenity, the listener is reminded of the changing moods of the ocean, and the song is successful in carrying this impression.

6. Heartsease (4:28)

As the name suggests, “Heartsease” is about tranquility, or what it translates to in an album with djent riffs and complex rhythmical structures. It starts with a calm riff with prolonged notes to reflect it. But as with any other track, Petanovski’s note choices along with the eery chord progression make it an interesting listen anyway. A very subtle yet effective piano is also present, reinforcing the idea of calmness through befitting ornaments. The song could’ve benefitted more from a piano to take some of the short solos from the guitar. However, the constant hi-hat sound (a sign of drum programming) can feel overused in some sections and as a disturbance to the tranquility. The song picks up the pace near the end as the instruments are more involved; however, it is clear that this was an intentional dynamic range since the song returns to the calm guitar riff that it opened with. And it ends with a full tonic chord that fills your ears with a sense of satisfaction and completeness. Overall, to add some variety, Petanovski can experiment with more orchestral chord progressions and the small details (like the jazzy licks that pop up here and there) gives the song its character and sincerity.

7. Cafune (2:46)

The song starts of with the sound of the strings coming from and acoustic guitar, and as it progresses, a great variety of instrumentation is incorporated in order to reflect upon the feeling of “cafune,” which means “running your hand through someone’s hair.” The song carries influences from jazz as the keyboard implies, and with what sounds like the repeating sound of the rattle in the background, the song has an overall egzotic and cheerful sound to it. This song really stands apart from the others in terms of its tone, as it omits the heavy sound of the electric guitar and compensates with more light sounds instead. It definitely sounds soothing, just as the meaning of the title implies.

8. Shemomedjamo (6:50)

Just like the song prior to it, “Shemomedjamo” also carries a meaning. It translates to “I ate the whole thing,” referring to total satisfaction with what you’re consuming. That’s quite relatable when it comes to the song “Shemomedjamo” as the consolidation of the electric guitar, synthesizer, drums and bass causes a feeling of “Shemomedjamo” in the musical sense. The song consists of several repeating phrases between the first and second minutes, creative and experimental segments in the melody that follows, vocals accompanying the acoustic guitar in the middle section, and of course progressive metal elements near the end of the piece. The electric guitar is the instrument that is in the spotlight throughout most of the song, and the timing of the power chords layered on a 4/4 beat catches attention. It’s interesting to see how Petanovski combines these different sounds and techniques without sudden transitions in all of his songs.

9. The Path: Life’s Light and Suffering (12:13)

“The Path” is an entire journey in itself. Throughout the 12 minutes, the song goes through several different “movements” without ever making an abrupt and unconnected transition. First, we hear a strong metal intro which morphs into a mellow verse. The transition is made through a 3-part drum progression. The verse and chorus are reminiscent of Iamthemorning’s progressive chamber music. However, we can still hear the distorted guitar, bass, and the characteristic kick pattern of metal music in the background. Thus, the song’s return to metal is easily predicted. This time, a keyboard riff takes us by a surprise. Honestly, this doesn’t really fit the rest of the music as well as some other elements do, such as the guitar solo later on. The most notable aspect of “The Path” is the vocals. How much effortless power both Stefan Petanovski and Ana Petanovska put into their lines is incredible to listen to.

10. Waning Crescent (2:53)

The whole prog magic of Stefan closes with the way the journey has started: with a choir. He never disappoints to create unconventional chord progressions even with an unambitious track like this. The romantic ¾ is combined with gongs and synth that enhances closing track experiences. It feels as if the listener experiences a transition to someplace peaceful — just the way we would expect Stefan to end this spiritual album. The fact that he uses choir adds to the whole power and the idea of “togetherness of emotions” that he was pursuing throughout the record. “Waning Crescent” resembles the perfect way to simplify and re-state the philosophy behind the album, along with showing his main and most fundamental influences.

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