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Finland's GROOVECTOR has existed since 1996 and had two official studio albums: "Ultramarine" (2000) and "Enigmatic Elements" (2003), both being part of the Mellow Records catalog. Their first live album "Darklubing at Tavastia" was issued in 2004, but the recording was made more than two years ago, in January 2002.

Ultramarine (Mellow Records MMP399) is symphonic progressive rock in the 1970's style, and it's not often that today's bands manage to make something this good within that genre. They introduce themselves with 64 minutes of slowly evolving, often mellow, almost cinematic instrumental music, where flute and keyboards weave out enchanting melodies over rich keyboard layers and a rock-steady rhythm section. Groovector's sound is shamelessly retro, especially in the keyboard department where you get Hammond B-3 smears, Fender Rhodes comping and buzzing analog synthesizer solo lines (there is especially one drilling Micro Moog patch that is featured heavily). Electric guitar appears on just two songs to provide bluesy, melodic leads and solos.

If comparisons are required, Focus and, to a lesser degree, Camel would do, largely because of the instrumentation and melodic qualities, but Groovector don't really sound like either of them. In the same way, the lyricism during the more delicate moments (especially the short acoustic guitar piece "Berceuse") might remind of the 70's Italian prog sound, but the at times melancholy, at times rhapsodically bittersweet melodies and impressionistic arrangements bear greater family resemblance to Scandinavian folk (in the way of Bo Hansson, for example) than they do to Mediterranean romanticism.

It looks that the band tend to lock themselves too much on to the mid-to-slow tempo range and that some more lead space could have been assigned to guitars and keyboards instead of the flute to give the music more range; as it is now, the music sounds plodding at places. Still Ultramarine is one of the most interesting and successful takes on old-school symphonic rock in years.

None of these qualifiers applies to Enigmatic Elements (Mellow Records MMP442), which departs significantly from the debut in three respects. First of all, the flautist has left, and the unremarkable performances by the guest saxophonist on half the tracks do not entirely fill the void. Second, low-key vocals have been added to four songs, but they neither distract from nor add any significant interest in the musical structures they adorn. Third and most crucial, the band have abandoned the straight retro-symphonic approach by emphasising the cool jazz aspects of their sound and bringing in a few decidedly modern sonic touches.

The symphonic sound is too watered down for retro fanatics, the electronics experimentation still too tentative to make a difference, and the jazz aspect pleasant but unable to bridge the gap between disparate elements. At least Groovector are making progress with this album, even if their direction seems to be unclear.

The live album is made up of nine compositions located on seven tracks. Three of them: Berceuse, Elegie and Selangor are from "Ultramarine" and Enigmatic Elements has later become the title track of the band's second studio album. The other five were never released until now, and by the way, they run about 40 minutes. Five out of the seven tracks contain vocals, though almost all of them are largely instrumental. Overall, this material is nearly on the same level of progressiveness and impressiveness as "Enigmatic Elements". Stylistically, there is much in common between the albums, and the only significant difference between them concerns elements of prog-metal, which are completely absent here.

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