Relocator – Relocator

Based in Nuremberg (Germany), Relocator was first formed in 2004 by guitarist Stefan Artwin and bassist Michael Pruchnicki (now Schetter), but never managed to keep a stable line-up – which led to their disbanding in 2008. In early 2009 Artwin and Pruchnicki decided to revive the project for their first studio recording (eventually released in January 2010), enlisting the collaboration of Polish violinist Bartek Strycharski and Dutch drummer Frank Tinge – as well as former Dream Theater keyboardist Derek Sherinian (now a member of Black Country Communion). At the time of writing, the band have put together a line-up for live performances, which, besides the original four members, includes  Sergej Schamber on keyboards and Meinte Boersma on guitar and percussion.

When looking at Relocator’s eponymous debut, , you would be hard put to believe that this is an independent release, as the lovingly crafted packaging of the album is on a par with much more expensive productions. Its simple yet stunning cover is also proudly emblazoned with the names of the four band members, as well as that of special guest Derek Sherinian – who will probably act as the main draw for many listeners. However, those who bought the album mainly on the strength of Sherinian’s name might be doing Relocator a severe disservice, because the four musicians that form the core of the band deserve most of the credit for this impressive release.

Taken as a whole, Relocator’s sound often hints at progressive metal, yet I feel the band have a clearly broader scope. Though the distinctive use of the double bass drum coupled with the heavy riffage featured in most of the tracks point to such genre-defining outfits as Planet X and Liquid Tension Experiment, Relocator – unlike many prog metal bands, instrumental or otherwise – do not bludgeon the listener with a barrage of power chords, ultra-fast drumming and shredding of every kind. There is a genuine sense of melody running through the album, tempering the heaviness of some of the sections. In spite of the constraints posed by their different geographical locations, the band sound remarkably tight, the various instruments blending seamlessly together, and as a whole the recording projects a sense of cohesion that transcends any individual display of chops.

From a compositional point of view, the eight tracks possess a high level of complexity, yet they hardly ever sound patchy or unnecessarily convoluted. While the keyboards tend to take the lead role, on the whole Sherinian manages to keep his more outrageous antics admirably under control, leaving a lot of scope for Stefan Artwin’s remarkably restrained guitar excursions, which convey enough emotion to confer a sense of warmth and well-roundedness to the album. Relocator seem to be aware of the importance of a good album opener, and “Red Vibes” does not disappoint in this respect, setting the scene for what is to come. With an almost hummable keyboard riff and ethereal violin, the number is subtly but relentlessly driven along by Michael Pruchnicki’s nimble bass lines, emerging at times from the instrumental fray. As one of the core members of the band, and the main songwriter along with Artwin, Pruchnicki’s contribution to Relocator’s sound is essential, though never showy. He is definitely a very accomplished bassist, his love of jazz evident in his agile, melodic approach, which also gets to shine in the title-track and the atmospheric, uptempo “13 Reasons”.

On the other hand, with “Biosphere” and “Proxima” Artwin steps into the limelight, delivering a particularly beautiful, lyrical guitar solo at the end of the latter number; and “Urban Blue”, alternately driven by guitar and keyboards, is also an uncannily catchy, melodic piece. However, it is the two ‘epics’ that offer the most interest for hardcore prog fans. Intricate and full of twists and turns, “Aavishkar” blends prog metal, violin-infused symphonic prog reminiscent of UK, and Middle Eastern influences; while “The Alchemist”, as the title suggests, strikes a dark, mysterious note, with tension-filled passages bookending the compositions, and plenty of instrumental mayhem in between – perhaps not as melodic as the previous numbers, but quite striking with its heavy riffing, pneumatic bass and bursts of machine-gun drumming.

While Relocator is indeed a remarkable debut, there are a few rough edges that the band might want to smooth for their next release – such as going for a more organic drum sound to complement Pruchnicki’s flawless bass lines. I also found the violin to be somewhat underused, and would definitely like to hear more of it. However, in spite of these minor flaws, this is undoubtedly one of the standout releases of 2010 – whose appeal is not limited to fans of the harder-edged side of prog, instrumental or otherwise – and a very promising statement of intent from a group of talented musicians.

TRACKLIST:
1.  Red Vibes 6:13
2.  Biosphere 8:00
3.  Relocator 5:24
4.  Proxima 6:16
5.  Aavishkar 10:30
6.  13 Reasons 6:31
7.  Urban Blue 6:33
8.  The Alchemist 11:32
LINEUP:
Stefan Artwin – guitars; programming
Bartek Strycharski – electric violin
Michael Pruchnicki – basses
Frank Tinge – drums
With:
Derek Sherinian – keyboards
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