Persona Grata is a progressive rock group based in Slovakia. Their concept album ‘Reaching Places High Above’ plays 50 minutes of evolutionary material. A band of this caliber who took time to grab attention almost out of the blue needs a lot of credit, especially as their music is crafted around the influences of Yes and Dream Theater – fellow progressive rock/metal legends. Although they only recently gained a bigger following, they formed back in 1999 and released two demos, ‘Kus Hry’ (2005) and one of ‘Reaching Places High Above’ in 2006. The band clearly increased the standard of this demo and developed it into a CD of excellence.
Boasting a valued opener track, it starts the album off as an intense piece – beginning with a speech from a flight attendant, it sounds as though we are about to embark on a journey. Inclusive of a little flute and keyboard section and an uplifting, melodic rhythm guitar , ‘Ace‘ seems to tell a delicate story, even with the instrumental breaks without Martin Stavrovsky’s passionate vocals, but soon varies into something more aggressive and infernal towards the end. The use of the radio effect and the harmonic keyboard effects really give the genre a new quality.
Probably one of the most standout factors of any metal/prog rock recording is the riff work. The riffs surprisingly don’t overcrowd or overshadow any of the other elements in their pieces – they are instead blended along with these elements and fall straight into place. Looking for these catchy riffs? Check out ‘Orient Express‘ (Track 4) and more clean cut melodies in ‘Edge of Insanity‘, with a beautiful flute sequence but also a pretty crazy coalesce of harsh mingling voices, a fantasy land tune, airy female voices and thrilling artificial effect – obviously the song flips back and forth between hard rock traits and soothing acoustics all to reflect exactly as the title speaks of, insanity. Overall busy, fast and slow and soft and thrash, all at the same time. Conflicting and positively confusing – I would say this track is particularly remarkable.
The use of woodwind instruments is raw and organic and almost myth-like – giving everything a good kick of vitality. The two shorter tracks featured on the album – ‘Venice‘ (classic baroque period qualities) and ‘Istanbul‘ transport listeners right to the heart of those places – hard-hitting ambience and cinematic detail. But we also can’t forget the finishing track ‘I am you‘. A breathtaking, otherworldly recording I feel like actually had the awkward note progressions and vocal qualities of Radiohead (0.50 – 2.20) – of course, more thick and clean in texture and less experimental, and obviously of a different genre. At 8.20 we feel as though something is coming to a close but are surprised with another breakthrough, and the finality of piano keys and space reflection within the last minute.
– Chloe Cheng