Album Reviews

Issue 2024-028

In the ongoing saga of band reunions, today we find Texas-based Pangaea. During their (first) lifetime they released three albums between 1996 and 2002, before going into a lengthy hibernation in 2008. From this, they suddenly awake, when during a photo shoot in 2021, conversations towards the possibility of moving forward again take place.

The result? Rehearsals, new songs, a phone-call to their producing collaborator Robert Berry, a new website, a single in form of Tomorrow Will Come, and the announcement of a forthcoming album to be titled Beowulf, which Pangaea will support with a two-hour concert at the Oklahoma Music Hall in Muskogeer, Oklahoma on the day of its release, May 23.

With the reunion, the band reissues their first three albums in remastered form and slightly changed track listing and artwork.

When the logo of the band changed between the second and third album, it basically changed the spelling from Pangaea to Pangæa. The artwork on these reissues has been changed to reflect that latest logo.

Pangaea — The Rite Of Passage

USA
1996 / 2024
75:58
Pangaea - The Rite Of Passage
Time Syndrome (3:59), The Ship (That Must Come In) (6:04), Trilogy, I: Father (He Shall Add (4:11), Trilogy, II: Hollow Dweller (From The Valley) (3:45), Trilogy, III: A Gift (5:29), The Winds (Behind The Door) (4:08), September Park (4:29), Navigator (4:53), Lonely Is A Place (3:58), Beggar's Hand (5:32)
CD bonus tracks: The Ship (Nashville Mix) (8:09), September Park (Rain Mix) (5:27), Navigator (Broken Arrow Mix) (7:39), Lonely Is A Place (3:42), Father (Sessions Mix)
7
Jan Buddenberg

Pangaea's history begins when several fresh new demos and their 1995 EP Liquid Placidity, released when the band was still called Artica, falls into the hands of one Robert Berry (3, Hush, Six By Six, etc.). Taking an instant liking to their music he shortly after offers his services as producer, after which the band set out to compose a multitude of new songs. Changing their name to Pangaea somewhere in the process, the four band members — Andi Schenck (drums, percussion), Corey Schenck (keyboards, guitars, backing vocals), Darrell Masingale (lead vocals, lead guitar) and Ron Poulsen (bass guitar, backing vocals) — finally select ten songs that would make up their debut album The Rite Of Passage.

Time Syndrome, a reworked EP composition, instantly indicates towards the band's potential with a showcase of delectable neo-prog influences that slightly remind me of Winter. Featuring great guitar work, adventurous synth movements and shifting dynamics from which melodic AOR, prog-rock and pomp-rock arise, it's a perfectly strong opener in spirit of bands like GTR and Yes superbly sets up the album.

Other excellent song examples are The Winds (Behind The Door) which brings distinct prime Asia attraction before it shifts into melodies that ignites precognitive memories of Different Light and early Mystery. The brilliantly construed September Park which glides sophisticatedly onwards with passionate deliveries and a wonderful emotive guitar solo. Lonely Is A Place, which groovily flows on with foot tapping provoking dynamics and energy of Rush, complemented by grand guitar soloing. Album closer Beggar's Hand which, once jump-started by enticing guitar riffs, turns into a delightful melodic rocker that shows closeness to 70s Rush, Relayer and Higher Circles.

Berry's fine hand in production brings a nicely polished and transparent sound to this, which makes every instrument clearly stand out in the mix. Although it could have done with a touch more warmth and power. A quality which the album in remastered form still sometimes lacks. I also reckon Berry did have a few tweaking fingers involved in arrangements. Because songs like the Asia and Styx-influenced The Ship (That Must Come In) and A Gift resonate firmly with Berry's own achievements during that era.

The one song most certainly not reflecting this is the bewildering Navigator. It is the second rework of one of the tracks from the EP. This psychedelic, freakish and curiously experimental space tripping oddity leans towards complex King Crimson and French TV and makes one think Pangaea, apart from familiar recurring chorus support and formidable instrumental control, have completely lost the plot. This song definitely has appealing uniqueness, but its galaxies away from anything else presented on the album. The original album that is, because with added elements of worldly earthiness and slightly different lyrics that hint at it Artica origins, it now makes another re-appearance as "Broken Arrow Mix" (whatever that means).

Favoured over the now fully excluded original hidden track Nobody At The Helm, a third song from their first EP, these bonus mixes extend play with twenty-five minutes of alternate takes and far developed demos. All in all a nice insightful gesture which, together with the beautiful upgraded digipak and the enjoyable promising music, makes this a very welcomed reissue worth investigating for those who enjoy the AOR/melodic rock side of the prog spectrum.

Pangaea — Welcome To The Theatre

USA
1998 / 2024
58:47
Pangaea - Welcome To The Theatre
Autumn Monsoon (4:57), Crimson (7:33), Dark Room (4:10), Ride It Easy (3:25), The White Shaman (2:41), The Fall Of Rome (5:53), Altar Of The Dragon (4:27), The Hobo, The Dog, And The Moon (5:27), Cry For You (3:45), Fanfare For One World (4:14), The Nightmare (6:14)
CD bonus track: The Hobo, The Dog, And The Moon (Broken Bottle Mix) (6:01)
7
Jerry van Kooten

While being a step forward for the band from their first album in terms of compositions, the sound on the second album is very recognisable and very Pangaea, with all their influences. That has not changed. You could see this as a fresh mix of everything. While the references are all true, this is more progressive in structure and more symphonic than Asia, more AOR than ELP, more neo-prog than probably any band from the USA.

The catchy choruses are more melodic and symphonic than stadium rock. Every song has enough breaks and changes to keep your attention. And the weirdness of The White Shaman is different but still close to the heart.

There is some great playing here. Excellent sections with keyboards and guitar at the same time, tasteful guitar solos. The vocals sometimes remind me of Cameron Hawkins of Canadian band FM. Not a powerful rock voice, but warm, pleasant to listen to, fitting the melodic music.

Now something like Ride It Easy is a little too much Toto for me. But although The Fall Of Rome appeared to be on the poppy side for a bit, it then changes several times. A catchy chorus played in different ways (from restrained with mainly piano to quite heavy and powerful) is being clever without overdoing the technical bit that would take the heart out of the music in the process. Most songs are going to places far between without going technically mental.

While some might think the influences are too strong, the dancing between those styles applied to the songwriting makes it a fun record to listen to.

A note about the remastering. I was able to compare the original version with the new one. The mix was already good with good separation of the instruments. The remaster brings a lot more clarity to the final sound, but also includes quite a bit of audio compression (make everything louder and then limit the loudest parts) after which it was then normalised to decent levels. Without getting too loud, it is rather in your face (ears...) this way. Normalisation was not applied to the bonus track, though, a different mix (or different recording) of The Hobo, The Dog, And The Moon. This "Broken Bottle Mix" (is that a reference to the sound?) has a lot of clipping. It's all a matter of taste of course, but although the 1998 CD version has a little bit of clipping here and there, I actually prefer the slightly darker sound but with better balance and larger contrast between softer and louder sections.

Pangaea — A Time And A Place

USA
2002 / 2024
48:57
Pangaea - A Time And A Place
Something Happened Yesterday (7:56), The Journey - I. Oasis (Tranquillity) (2:23), The Journey - II. Oasis Of Seclusion (3:20), The Journey - III. Tierra Del Fuego (4:31), Hollow Life (5:28), The Panther (4:13), Beyond The Prism (3:39), November Sky (3:28), Myth (5:07), The Human Condition - I. One Man (3:52), II- One World (2:22)
CD Bonus track: Oasis In You (Mingo Mix)
8
Jan Buddenberg

Achieving moderate to bigger global success with the 1998 release of Welcome To The Theatre, Pangaea welcome back original Artic member Steven Osborn (lead vocals, guitar) in May 1999. As a quintet they start out to compose music for their third album A Time And A Place. Prior to recordings it is however Ron Poulson who decides to take a leave of absence, which leads to Robert Berry, once again firmly in the producers seat, to step in on bass and backing vocals.

One of the first recorded songs to end up on A Time And A Place, Pink Floyd cover Time initially issued on the 2001 tribute Signs Of Life, is now no longer included on this freshly remastered and nicely packaged new version, for reasons unknown. A decision which as a result works out rather nicely because it perfectly enhances the album's overall energetic flow. Another fine improvement is the album's overall sound which, six years after The Rite Of Passage's somewhat lacklustre production values, exhibits a major upgrade in depth, dynamics, power and warmth.

The most important upgrade of A Time And A Place is however Pangaea's outstanding growth and evolution in songsmithery. Thanks to vocal harmonies and Berry's (bass) presence, this still generates a multitude of Yes and Asia impressions in tracks like Hollow Life, Beyond The Prism, and the beautiful sadness in November Sky. But there's no denying the band steadily progressed towards a very interesting style and sound of their own. Something the excellent Something Happened Yesterday shows with dynamic driven melodies, catchy choruses, and strength of interplay highlighted by great guitar work in style of contemporary bands like Mystery and Relayer. Followed by a grand atmospheric coda of melancholic bluesy guitar that emits delightful rays of Pink Floyd.

After a tranquil entrance, the superb trilogy The Journey, now a tetralogy thanks to the added bonus of Oasis In You (Mingo Mix), follows this with dynamically performed melodic prog embraced by strength of harmonies and beautiful transporting guitar which culminates in the magnificent energetic part III, which gallops straight ahead into more complex and passionately sung "heavier" prog with exceptional interplay and great guitar work that to me spotlights images of Tiles.

As surprising part of Pangaea's identity The Panther, in full accordance with its equatorial expectancy, livens up the album with a rhythmic jungle of Toto or Blue Man Group percussion that perfectly captures the animal's African habitat. But I much rather hear them excel like they do in Myth, a brilliantly construed composition that, in a way that reminds of Under The Sun, offers various transitions in dynamics and mood elevated by a spectacular guitar solo, and the full-on Rush-sounding and highly enjoyable The Human Condition. Admittedly it's not the strongest ending possible after Myths' brilliance, but it's only fair to say I don't fully agree with my former colleague tasteful findings on this fine unifying album closer.

Pangaea would go on to record a fourth album entitled The Reckoning in 2005, which for reasons unknown remains unreleased to this day, and would go on a long hiatus come 2008. I can only hope their upcoming album Beowulf picks up right where they left off here. Because this re-acquaintance has been a most pleasant one, for which I gladly reserved my time. Overall a highly recommendable album worth a place in your collection if you fancy the lion's share of names mentioned above.

Album Reviews