Neuschwanstein - Alice in Wonderland
"A few years before Neuschwanstein conceived their masterpiece "Battlement" (to many, including myself, one of the best symphonic prog albums ever from Germany), the band had already written an album-worthy set of tracks that, together, made the concept of a progressive opus inspired by Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland". I suspect that this was done when the band was still a 5-piece (before the arrival of Frederic Joos), but you can tell that by then the fivesome had found out their own voice within the realms of symphonic prog rock. There aren't too many lyrics in "Alice in Wonderland", and most of them are narrated. The opener is literally an intro that comprises brief atmospheres based on floating piano washes and eerie cymbals, until the instrumentation settles in for 'The Gate to Wonderland', lyrically structured across a prominent presence of bucolic ambiences provided by the playful flute lines and the elegant interventions on synth (orchestration and solo). All in all, it is mostly a second intro, and a "third intro" arrives with the slightly more mysterious 'Pond of Tears', which is where the synth layers become more relevant, and also there is a more noticeable presence of the guitar phrases alongside the ever haunting flute lines. The melodic display is definitely more ambitious than on the preceding track, but it still feels like a sequence of amalgamated snippets than a track with a power of its own. Track 4 is the first piece in this concept that benefits from a proper development - it starts very lyrical, like a symphonic journey with heavily pastoral accents, but soon the piece reveals a colorful imagery of sound that alternates density and lightheartedness in an ultimately symphonic fashion. Influences from Camel, Novalis, Eloy and Focus' introspective side are (or seem to be) very transparent here, with some touches of early 70s Jethro Tull. Regarding the sense of magic delivered through the global instrumentation, you can also tell that there are also coincidences with what Happy the Man were doing at the time on the other side of the Atlantic for their "Death's Crown" project - it is no wonder, since this album's tracklist and that HTM project were both conceived as musical bases for visuals and theatrical deliveries. 'Five O'Clock-Tea' is segued to the last notes of the preceding track's enthusiastic closing portion, bringing back a ceremonious note that works really well due to the clever architecture that ordains the various moods and motifs. This is the sort of grandeur that I wished earlier for tracks 2 and 3 - at this point, the musical ideas are becoming gradually more robust. After a brief sung section, the track shifts toward a sense of sheer, dramatic intensity without losing its melodic drive. The last section is a joyful imitation of cabaret-oriented jazz, which makes an efficient contrast against the solemn note that signals the start of the following track 'The Marching of the Queen - Palace of Wonderland'. The band's ability to create beautifully crafted melodic developments of motifs and the easily flowing transitions comes to its full fruition on this one - even though you won't find as many dramatic shifts than on previous tracks, this one never gets boring or monotonous. The portions where the band gets to Celtic and Renaissance territories, the sonic beauty becomes irresistibly sublime. 'The Court of the Animals' starts with the mandatory narration over a piano sequence (electric and grand, simultaneously): some more amazingly beautiful melodies and textures get in, and then some exciting interludes bring warm Tullian airs. The closer 'Alice's Return' wraps up the concept with a reprised motif. All in all, "Alice in Wonderland" is not as gloriously genius as "Battlement", but it is not a disposable progressive album at all; no, it is an excellent addition (albeit with a not too great sound production) to any good prog rock collection."