1. 4378th Day (15:41)
2. No (5:59)
3. War, Act 2 (21:06)
Rodrigo San Martín – electric and acoustic guitars, bass, mellotron, hammond organ, Moog synthesizer, piano, keyboards, orchestra arragements, synthesized glockenspiel, drum programming
Jelena Perisic – vocals
Craig Kerley – vocals
South America has been a hotbed for progressive rock ever since the beginning of the movement, and Argentina – with its richly diverse musical heritage – is no exception. Even though Argentine prog bands are rarely household names, keen followers of the genre are well aware of the generally excellent level of those outfits. While many of those bands and artists follow in the footsteps of the classic symphonic prog tradition (with some of them displaying Italian prog influences – not surprising in a country where about half of the population is of Italian origin), many of the newer acts have embraced other styles, like progressive metal, and are not afraid of incorporating them into a traditional symphonic fabric.
Rodrigo San Martín is a gifted multi-instrumentalist with a lot of experience on the Argentine music scene as a musician, composer, producer and event organizer, in spite of his young age (he was born in 1988). He is the lead guitarist of prog band De Rien, as well as the mastermind of the project Souls Ignite. His debut album as a solo artist, simply called 1, was released in April 2010, and featured a 40-minute composition performed solely by San Martín. Conversely, on his sophomore effort, There’s No Way Out (released in November of the same year), San Martín avails himself of the contribution of two guest singers, Jelena Perisic from Serbia and Craig Kerley from the US.
Clocking in at a mere 42 minutes (a very short running time for today’s standards), There’s No Way Out has a distinctive structure, with two epic-length tracks bookending a more conventional song. The three numbers are different enough from each other to sustain the listener’s interest, and even the two epics are rather nicely balanced, projecting an impression of cohesiveness which is not always the case with long compositions. San Martín handles all the instruments with admirable expertise, though the unmistakably artificial sound of programmed drums is hard to miss, and sometimes clashes with the overall warmth of the music. On the other hand, the vocal performances are consistently good, both singers handling the material authoritatively and stamping their own individual mark on the songs.
Opener “4387th Day” is the closest the album gets to traditional symphonic prog, especially in the first half, dominated by atmospheric keyboards, mellotron and orchestral arrangements with flute and strings, as well as Jelena Parisic’s melodious, yet not sickly sweet voice. Then pace and intensity increase with the introduction of heavy guitar riffs and whistling synth, while towards the end things calm down again. “No”, running slightly over 5 minutes, functions as a sort of interlude between the two ‘main events’, and brings a classic rock note (with touches of AOR) to the ambitious prog context of the album. Distorted guitar, with a distinct Seventies flavour, features prominently here, and Craig Kerley’s gutsy vocal performance is a perfect fit for the overall tone of th song – though the juxtaposition of a more sentimental mood, enhanced by strings and harmony vocals, with harder-edged suggestions occasionally teeters on the brink of cheesiness.
The third and final track, “War, Act2”, is the undisputed highlight of the album, and – at least in my view –quite superior to both the previous numbers. In spite of its 21-minute running time, it never outstays its welcome, and manages to paint a near-perfect sonic rendition of its title. Here, the contrast between furiously riff-driven sections bordering on extreme metal and dreamy, rarefied passages which, nonetheless, suggest a slow but relentless build up of tension works very well. Jelena Parisic’s voice, while still soothing and well-modulated, reaches for a lower register in order to convey a subtle feeling of menace, and the beautiful guitar solo in the middle brings to mind David Gilmour’s signature style, melodic yet faintly brooding. The frequently occurring changes o mood and pace, unlike what happens in other compositions of comparable scope and length, do not project an impression of patchiness, but rather create an impressively organic whole.
Though not without flaws (mainly lying in the use of programmed drums, whose all too recognizable sound often detracts from the listening experience), There’s No Way Out is a very promising album from an extremely talented young artist, featuring a healthy dose of eclecticism. While the more conservative set of prog fans may be turned off by the strong metal component, particularly evident in the final track, those with a more open-minded disposition are likely to appreciate Rodrigo San Martín’s skill as a composer and multi-instrumentalist. I will be definitely looking forward to hearing the forthcoming De Rien album, to see what he is capable of in a band context.