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Kayak - 2003 Merlin: Bard Of The Unseen

ALBUM: Merlin: Bard Of The Unseen
LABEL: Kayak Records
YEAR: 2003


LINEUP: Bert Heerink - vocals * Cindy Oudshoorn - vocals * Rob Vunderink - guitars, vocals * Joost Vergoossen - guitars * Ton Scherpenzeel - keyboards, backing vocals * Bert Velkamp - bass * Pim Koopman - drums

Guests: Monique van der Ster - vocals * New Philharmonic Orchestra

TRACK LISTING: 01 Merlin * 02 Tintagel * 03 The Future King * 04 The Sword In The Stone * 05 When The Seer Looks Away * 06 Branded * 07 At Arthurs Court * 08 The Otherworld * 09 The Purest Of Knights * 10 Friendship And Love * 11 The King's Enchanter * 12 Niniane (Lady Of The Lake) * 13 The Last Battle * 14 Avalon


We've often seen and heard concept albums based around medieval themes. Whether it be based around Camelot, King Arthur, Excalibur, Guinevere, the fascination by many artists to dedicate songs to this era and cause is a fascination in itself. You can now include Dutch symphonic rockers Kayak in this little exclusive club. As Eric mentioned in his earlier review of their 1977 album 'Starlight Dancer', this band have never really released a dud album, despite going through numerous line-up changes. 'Merlin - Bard Of The Unseen' is a continuation of their 1981 album 'Merlin' - but this one is far more satisfying and extensive with a great deal of care and attention paid to the details. Kayak's version of symphonic prog is at the lighter end of the scale, and will appeal to those who have a hankering for the likes of IQ, Camel and Glass Hammer. As a rock opera, this could get caught up as a story with accompanying music. Thankfully not so, as the music gets a full airing. Vocals are shared around, with Bert Heerink handling the role of Merlin and Lancelot, new singer Cindy Oudshoorn handling Guinevere and Morgan Le Fay, while guitarist Rob Vunderink plays the role of Mordred.

The Songs
As a rock opera, 'Merlin..' flows all the way through, as it should. It is not presented to you as a bombastic piece of work, more along the lines of 'War Of The Worlds' and the like, with a commercial lining applied to it. Laying the foundation is the lead-off track 'Merlin', a fantastic 7 minute epic in itself, that mixes a strong guitar presence with pomp like layers from both keyboards and an orchestral backing. The Ton Scherpenzeel solo is straight out of Erik Nordlander's vocabulary. 'Tintangel' is a brief acoustic respite, leading into 'The Future King' - a pomp laden arrangement that earmarks Arthur for greater things. The story of Excalibur is retold on 'The Sword In The Stone', the song is a bouncy piece with parping synths and punchy bass lines. 'When The Seer Looks Away' introduces female vocals into the mix, whereas 'Branded' is straight ahead stuff, sounding like an out-and-out rock song. 'At Arthurs Court' we are taken back to the medieval times, imagine if you will the sounds of the Court with its myriad of activities going on. 'The Otherworld' is one of the best tracks here, it traverses a few differing passages, but is high on melody and features a brief burst of fire with a scorching guitar solo toward the end. AORsters and pomp fans will love one of the new tracks here.. 'The Purest Of Knights'.. complete with a ton of keyboards and proggy sections. Dual male and female vocal lines populate 'Friendship And Love', but on 'The King's Enchanter' Cindy Oudshoorn takes the lead, again through another bouncy/pompous arrangement. Heerink leads the band through the melancholy 'Niniane (Lady Of The Lake)', it is a pre-cursor to the stirring 8 minute opus that is 'The Last Battle'. The final part of this song is a prog/hard rock workout that'll shake up the heavens! The finale of the album is 'Avalon', which sounds as if it is a funeral song.. perhaps fitting if it is the end.

In Summary
You will need to be a dedicated follower of the band to digest this in one sitting. At 70 minutes running time, you would be forgiven if you sat through to half time on this one. Admittedly there are some good passages within, and you'd be just as adventurous as the band for giving it a thorough listen first time through. 'Merlin' also made it to a DVD the following year, but the next major undertaking was the theatre adaptation of their new rock opera 'Nostradamus - The Fate Of Man'. Look for the new studio album 'Coming Up For Air' - one of the first albums to be released in 2008.

Related Articles
Kayak - 1977 Starlight Dancer
Kayak - 2000 Close To The Fire
Kayak - 2003 Merlin: Bard Of The Unseen

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#1 | swazi on January 21 2010 23:26:11
'Merlin' should be reviewed by Eric. Phantastic release as far as I am concerned! Their new one 'Coming up for Air' isn't bad, either.
#2 | gerard on April 11 2012 11:58:19
In September 2012 a book and a mini cd will be released on the occasion of Kayak's 40th anniversary!
#3 | Eric on April 11 2012 12:49:07
A Kayak book?! Cool news, but will it be written in English? It doesn't matter, I'll still buy it! Have a Nits book- great photos, gig info, disc/videography written in Dutch and I'll never give that up!
#4 | Eric on April 15 2012 16:58:52
The Kayak book will be in Dutch. *sigh* Oh well, out in September, I've saved a place for it in my bookcase.
#5 | gerard on April 18 2012 23:56:16
Yeah, sorry Eric, the book will be in Dutch I'm afraid... Speaking of the Nits: Robert Jan Stips features on Hanz Prins' cd Pirates and Parrots (as do Cesar Zuiderwijk and Rinus Gerritsen of the Golden Earring). Haven't heard that album yet, but it's supposed to be pretty bluesy.
#6 | Eric on April 19 2012 00:42:01
I'll buy it, a book on Kayak in no matter what language- I can't resist. Thanks for the tip on the Prins disc, I'll check it out. Love the new Nits album 'Malpensa' but wasn't thrilled with Stips last solo 'Rond'. Nice packaging/ artwork/ booklet though.

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