Formed in 2009 as a one–off project to enter a song contest, X–Panda has stayed together as a band ever since; though winning the contest certainly helped make that decision.
X–Panda calls Estonia home and consists of members Kaarel Tamra (Keys), Tamar Nugis (Bass and Vocals), Risto Virkhausen (Guitars), and Karl–Juhan Laanesaar (Drums). They are fundamentally a progressive/fusion band with metallic influences such as Dream Theater, Planet X, Porcupine Tree, Liquid Tension Experiment, and the like. Much like their influences, X–Panda’s songs tend to be lengthy and largely instrumental, with Nugis’s voice occasionally appearing. This album isn’t an exercise in technical mastery they way an LTE album would be, but it’s nonetheless entertaining and at times impressive.
Flight Of Fancy opens with a short intro and moves into “Black,” which employs choir sounds at the start. It’s a rather ethereal sound, coupled with guitar, bass, and drums. It doesn’t sound like a Nightwish rip-off, but I think that’s not a bad thing; this band does list Nightwish as an influence, but they don’t copy them there. The title track is a long build to the end, with some slower parts coming in randomly but tastefully. “Siren” is when the vocals come back, and I wonder why they didn’t put more vocals in–Nugis has a great voice for this band. This song, however, does sound very close to something Dream Theater would do, which is Prog music’s Achilles heel; emulating your influences ad nauseum. “Journey Of A Dream” is a long (11 minute) instrumental that shifts from full on rock to very subdued, tranquil piano, before slowly working its way back up in intensity. It’s exactly what prog lovers want most. But the best track by far is “Rhythm Department.” It’s got as much contrast as a prog metal song can have. Here we see the band showing they can be just as heavy as anyone, but control the chaos well.
This album isn’t a technical prowess showcase. It’s whatever the band members want it to be. What it lacks in million–note–per–second solos and impossible time signatures it makes up in more musical ideas and riffs, and contrast between softness and harsh progressive metal. It excels at simply being musical.
I don’t think it’s fair to compare this album (and band, for that matter) too closely to Dream Theater or Liquid Tension Experiment, because those groups are some of the most virtuosic musicians in the world today. As far as raw talent is concerned, X–Panda is certainly competent, but not in the same league as their influences. But very few people are anywhere near that caliber of talent, and that’s okay; this album is still very good. The songwriting is great, the band’s musicianship is no slouch, and it’s produced very well. Any die–hard prog fan will appreciate it. I’d also go as far to say this would be a good album for someone who’s just getting started listening to prog music; it’s a much easier album to listen to than immersing a newbie into King Crimson. All in all, I like this one.
Key Tracks: Black, Flight Of Fancy, Rhythm Department
February 27, 2012