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Al-Bandaluz is where the fully re-hauled Cast picks up where they had left off. With only keyboardist Alfonso Vidales, and guitarist Francisco Hermández (now back in his role as lead singer) left of the original version of the band, Cast remains true to its signature sound while featuring a tighter, harder-sounding, and younger-looking rhythm section. Al-Bandaluz is a double album in the pure '70s tradition: 90 minutes long. With previous singer Dino Brassea out of the picture, the music leaves more room for instrumental developments, while relying less on neo-prog theatrics. This translates to fewer ballads, and sightly more complex pieces. That said, two things haven't changed. One is the Latin feel which, although not being played out "world" style, still gives the melodies their power of seduction, and makes the rhythm section rock differently than a European unit. The other is Vidales' tendency to fall back on disappointing preset keyboard patches. Luckily, his chops at the piano and organ compensate largely. The music is pleasing throughout, and reaches exciting levels at times, but nothing here stands out as being particularly imaginative or essential to Cast's catalog. And paradoxically, the 22-minute epic, "El Puente," provides the best and worst moments of the album. The first 14 minutes are first-rate Cast: thrilling and moving. But a wordless vocal section introduces a light jazz-rock feel that really disturbs the force, and sends the piece crashing. Other highlights include the opening instrumental "Viajero Inmóvil" and "Encrucijada." Al-Bandaluz may be easier to digest served in two 45-minute dishes, but one can't help but think that it could have been scaled down to a single disc without harm.

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