Nemo are a French neoprog band formed in 1999 and since their 2002 debut “Les nouveaux mondes” they have already released a whole number of six full length studio albums and one live album. While touring through Europe and the U.S. they have made them a name as quite an awesome live band, and believe me, they are indeed a band I’d love to see live. But before you get too zealous, let’s start with the bad news right ahead: Nemo do not invent anything new, neither do they reinvent something. Everything they do has been done a hundred times before, and to be honest it has already been done better as well. However, the good news is that they’re still great enough at what they do that you don’t care how often you’ve heard it before.
As already mentioned, “Barbares” is Nemo’s sixth studio album. References are not hard to find, as they are pretty directly rooted in both heavier neo-prog bands like Marillion or Porcupine Tree and their 70s counterparts: Nektar, Pink Floyd, Rush, Genesis, a trace of pretty much everything that comes to your mind when thinking about traditional prog rock can be found here. With almost 70 minutes running length it should be quite a beast of an album, but actually it is pretty easy to digest - the enthusiasm of the members and the fact that none of their songs stay constant for longer than they have to makes it a very entertaining listen. So all this results in a technically masterful and hugely enjoyable album with the one downer being that everything they do has constantly been done for the last 35 years by hundreds of other bands as well.
But if you enjoy that kind of music that shouldn’t disturb you too much anyway. Band leader JP Louveton is responsible for both the guitar work and the lead vocals, but to be honest he would be better off focusing only on his guitar. His playing is highly technical most of the time and he more than once goes into full metal mode coming up with riffs that woul’ve fitted into a Dream Theater song, yet his playing can also adopt the kind of emotionality usually reserved for the likes of David Gilmour. His voice on the other hand is unable to transport that kind of emotion: the problem is not that the lyrics are French, but that Louveton’s voice seems to be way too thin most of the time to compete against the instruments. That’s not true all of the time though, as Le film ma vie
contains for example a truly wonderful a cappella passage making full use not only of Louveton’s voice but also of the background vocals provided by the rest of the band. Nonetheless it are usually the instrumental parts where the talent of the band shines the brightest. Guillaume Fontaine handles the keyboards not less masterfully than Louveton his guitars and he remains cool both in the foreground and in the background and every now and then he abandons his place to contribute some beautiful melody lines on the flute. The rhythm section existing of drummer JB Itier and bassist Lionel B. Guichard navigate quickly, yet smoothly through the hundreds of time signature changes and chase the music forward.
Staying true to their origins, “Barbares” is yet another album revolving around a concept - at least I heard so, my French is restricted to a few words and sentences. Unlike the previous double album “Si partie I” and “Si partie II: l’homme idéal” it reportedly isn’t a full blown concept album, but still circling around one theme: the (non-)evolution of mankind, and the fact that in the times of spacetravel and Unisex Striped Fleece Hoodies men have been able to maintain their barbaric character and still keep bashing each other’s heads in. But then, as long as you don’t speak French you won’t be able to follow the storyline anyway.
Every one of the songs is filled with plenty of ideas, details and lots of enthusiasm, and there are many moments that I consider being favorites, like the already mentioned a cappella part and the way it’s carried into the final prog section of the song, the first minutes of L.I.D.
and too many more to give account of all of them here. But it is the final title track that leaves the biggest impression. Tackling a twenty-five minute song must be a great challenge even for the most talented band, and Nemo handle it quite well. It’s not perfect, as there’s not that kind of tension throughout the whole piece that marks the best long tracks, but it is nevertheless a great song. The wonderfully catchy main theme that opens the track reoccurs throughout it and gives some kind of cohesive feeling. Not all of the seven parts Barbares
is divided into are essential to the song working and some of them wouldn’t really be missing, but all of that cannot distract from that fact that there is a bunch of highly talented musicians operating and that they obviously have a lot of fun doing so. And in that it is reminiscent of the album as a whole: in no way a milestone of its genre, but definitely great enough to be unhesitatingly recommended to everyone who likes prog rock.