Conflict & Dreams

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On their first album, the members of Cairo sounded like a hard rock/heavy metal band gone proggy -- the progressive rock elements often felt forced and overdone. On Conflict and Dreams they showed surprising maturity, with both sides of their background now firmly integrated. Problems in song structures were also resolved. "Angels and Rage" is a model of dynamic, non-linear progressive rock song. Its chorus is a fine piece of stadium rock-meets-prog rock, with elements of Boston, Journey, and the Dream Theater coming to mind as one listens to Bret Douglas' powerful voice. The other highlight on this album is the 17-minute "Western Desert," an impressive showcase where keyboardist Mark Robertson and guitarist Alec Fuhrman play a game of tug-of-war, alternately stirring the piece into the direction of Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer -- ELP wins the battle in the brilliant finale. Robertson throws more Emerson-inspired organ and piano episodes in "Then You Were Gone" and "Valley of the Shadow," the latter often sounding like a 1990s hard rock-tinged reworking of "Karn Evil 9, First Impression: Part I" -- exciting and gloriously pompous, except for the disappointing finale. The music is tightly written and performed. Given that gratuitous moments of virtuosity are an integral part of the genre, here they have the merit of fitting the music. Conflict and Dreams remains Cairo's best effort and, despite its lack of originality, one of the very good prog rock albums of the 1990s.

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