Zak Stevens (Circle II Circle/Savatage), Andy Kuntz (Vanden Plas) and Tom Englund (Evergrey). Just three of the prolific singers not on this release. Nope, none of them…but they’ve all said they’ll be on the next one! Why tell you this? Well, it’s how the band’s biography is kind of pushing this first part, a kind of “Hey, Part II is going to be GREAT…but here’s Part I to be going on with” sort of thing, which highlights the levels that bands/projects feel they need to go to, to get a bit of media response. I don’t blame them, but it’s a shame really, because Part I stands up just fine on its own.
Foreign is the brainchild of French composer/singer/keyboardist Ivan Jacquin with a whole host of talented guests (chosen mostly from his native land, similar to how Arjen Lucassen did with his first Ayreon album). It’s a conceptual Rock Opera, leaning more towards Rock than Metal – it’s a bit more progressive than Avantasia…slightly more symphonic than Ayreon…it kind of reminds me of Beto Vazquez Infinity at times. Lyrically, the concept is based around some ungracious bugger who refused Christ a drink of water on his way to being crucified. I know Jesus isn’t supposed to be vindictive but he might just have had the last laugh – what with the whole rising from the dead malarkey, whilst it sounds like Mr. Sod-off-and-get-your-own-water had a pretty crappy time of it, cursed to trudge through eternity with a face like a smacked arse while all manner of metaphorical dog turds strewn his path. He only needed to spare a cupful too and old JC might have turned the rest into wine! Missed a trick there…
Musically, as I mentioned, it’s largely Progressive Rock, with good touches of Metal and a bit of folk and world music. Ranging in varied similarities from Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Pink Floyd, Dargaard and Blackmore’s Night, through to moments of latter day Savatage (in many of the layered vocals, but musically too, like in flamboyance of ‘The Quest’), the aforementioned Ayreon at times (especially on the heavier ‘Eternal Enemies’) and even 90’s era Queensryche on ‘The Worst Pain Ever Felt’. The multi-part vocals are performed perfectly by all concerned, with plenty of different voices both male and female (10 in total, with Ivan himself taking on another seven with remarkable dexterity), and it seems unfair to pick out anyone in particular for recognition as they all do such a sterling job. There’s choirs used to great effect too, but never overpowering or over dominant.
As you would hope/expect, there’s plenty of great orchestration throughout which enhances the symphonic parts and nicely balances the Heavier Rock/Metal elements. As with the vocalists, the musicians are exemplary, but I would like to give a mention to Mathilde Armansin, whose violin work, especially on ‘The Running’ is fabulous and just lifts that track in particular on to another level. Also Laurence Conort’s flute, low whistle and Piccolo give a wonderful extra dimension to certain tracks too, but again singling contributors out is a little unfair as they all do such a good job on every well-arranged song, helping to capture the different eras and distant lands that each track is based in. It’s a testament to the song-writing that all the additional musicians shine so much, it’s not just about Mr Jacquin, it’s about the song, which must be commended. If you like a conceptual symphonic Rock Opera with lots of vocalists singing emotive lyrics, interesting arrangements and varied instrumentation then this is an album worth checking out. And let’s face it, if they are already banging on about how great Part II is going to be, then you need to get in quick and check this out first!
(7.5/10 Andy Barker)