Fractal Mirror, Beyond Borders, Bad Elephant Music, October 15, 2021
Tracks: Beyond (4:28), Ashes (17:12), Slip Away (4:18), Shadow Man (5:46), Kingdom of the Lost (4:18), Borders (12:46)
Ok, so I’m almost 8 months late to the party on this one, but better late than never. We’ve been covering Fractal Mirror for a long time here at Progarchy, and I didn’t want that to stop. The international (The Netherlands, UK, USA) group has an eclectic blend of styles that can easily be called progressive and melodic, yet they’ve always had a bit of a pop influence.
For those not in the know, Fractal Mirror is signed to Bad Elephant Music and features Leo Koperdraat on vocals, keyboards, and mellotron; Frank Urbaniak on drums; Ed Van Haagen on bass, and Gareth Cole on guitars and backing vocals. Like many of their records, Brett Kull (who I had the great pleasure of interviewing a few years ago) mixed Beyond Borders, and he also provides some backing vocals. Marking a change, Frank Urbaniak created the artwork this time around after Brian Watson had done their album art in the past. Urbaniak’s skill as a photographer is remarkable, as some of his work on the band’s facebook page will attest to.
Their latest record, Beyond Borders, marks a bit of a directional change, not so much in sound, but in the long-form nature of two of the tracks. In past albums most of the songs were on the shorter side, with 8 minutes being a long song for them and the albums having 10 or 11 tracks. Beyond Borders has a stronger instrumental side, allowing the 17-minute “Ashes” and nearly 13-minute “Borders” to grow and breath. The other songs are shorter, but with only six tracks, its the longer ones that really stand out. The opening song, “Beyond” acts as a nice little instrumental prologue or overture.
The mellotron creates a moody soundscape throughout the record, as it has on their past albums. The keyboards in general create walls of sound. Cole’s guitars really stand out to me on this album. They steal the show, as he does in the other bands with which he’s involved. Urbaniak’s drums and Haagen’s bass create a groovy rhythm section. I love Urbaniak’s playful cymbal work, which makes a pleasant foil to the more melancholic mellotron and keyboards, as well as the deeper tone to Koperdraat’s haunting vocals. Said vocals have always been a hallmark of Fractal Mirror’s sound, for me anyways, with its unique tone and mournful quality. The resulting sound on the record is beautifully balanced.
Another element I love about this record is the vocal harmonies and layering of the backing vocals. The melodies often have pop hooks that work quite well, but then again that’s always been one of Fractal Mirror’s strong points.
Lyrically there’s a lot to digest. I wish I had a printed or digital version of the CD booklet to dive into, but from what I’ve absorbed, the lyrics have a contemplative feel. What are they contemplating? Seems to be the ills of today, but they’re digging deep below the surface. They aren’t commenting on politics or events. They’re using images to paint pictures that are colored in by the instrumentation.
Beyond Borders may very well be Fractal Mirror’s best album to date. Their melodic prog sound has grown and matured with each passing record. I appreciate the longer songs on this album, which really allow their musical and lyrical ideas to develop. Definitely not an album to be overlooked.