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Saturday 25th, July 2009
Above & Beyond - Trance Nation

Do you remember how trance used to sound? Back in the happy days of trance? Reflecting on the halcyon days of Ferry Corsten’s classic Trance Nation mixes it’s possible to get goosebumps just by reading the tracklists. The Ministry Of Sound series has had some other notable releases since then, mainly if you can stomach Judge Jules’ take on trance, but it has been a sleeping giant for some five years now (if you ignore the ‘classic’ release). MOS have decided the time is right though to bring it back, and who better than Above & Beyond to re-invigorate it. The trio have rightly achieved their place in the highest rankings of the DJ elite through their productions, DJing and Anjunabeats label giving us some of the finest electronic music the world has to offer. They have a clear idea of what they want to achieve – to create a mix that “stands the test of time” and understanding the importance of the “Trance Nation legacy”. The question is, have they succeeded?

CD1 opens confidently with the gorgeous ambient intro of DJ Tantana’s Dub of Passenger 10 – Mikado that evolves into a smooth trance-house hybrid, followed by the chunky Martin Roth remix of Andrew Bennett – Break Away that he graces with one of the most sublime synth sounds that man can create. They then drop in Marco V’s moodily magnificent Unprepared ahead of Stoneface & Terminal’s Ibiza flavoured mini-trance monster Santiago. Quite a departure from the usual S&T sound, you can imagine this slaying the Amnesia dancefloor. Secret, the first Oceanlab track on the album, is remixed here in the stripped down yet powerful way by Andrew Bayer, with the classy musical backing pushing the warm, soothing vocals of Justine Suissa to the fore. Following a proggier than usual, yet still uplifting, production from Sunny Lax comes the marvellous Deep Down from Josh Gabriel. One of his best vocal production since his Andain/Gabriel & Desden heyday, the hypnotic, sexy and strangely macabre vocal wraps itself around some slinky trance melodies and is one of the highlights of the first disc.

A pause for breath comes from Firestorm - Redemption, here in a remix from the marvellous Cressida who have created wonderful lazy, laid-back breakdown. After a fine, yet unspectacular, take on 7 Days & One Week comes the musically rich Mat Zo remix of Airplay 47 – Be Free where gorgeous warm strings and beautiful choral vocals swell through the clicky beats. Up next is one of the biggest tracks of the year from one of 2009’s most dominant production teams, Cosmic Gate with Sign Of The Times, here in the Markus Schulz remix. Cosmic Gate have evolved into one of the most powerful forces in trance and this is them on top form with huge dancefloor-destroying sweeps and the perfectly simple lead melody that radiates from the production with the beauty of a perfect sunrise. Mat Zo pops up again under his real name, Matan Zohar, and another smooth, slickly executed piece of progressive trance – the soothing, gently rippling piano melodies transport you to a sandy beach. The last two tracks feature producers very familiar to our forum. Airbase is present with Interfere, here fortunately without the peculiarly unsettling vocal, allowing us to fully enjoy Jezper’s beautifully crafted melodic musical arrangement. Closing the track is a production from Carl B & Static Blue here in the JPL remix. Joni is one of the most consistently exciting producers in trance and he doesn’t disappoint here, entwining the beautifully Balearic guitar in a gently grooving production and an excellent closing track.

The frequently ingenious Mat Zo opens CD2 with 24 Hours, somehow infusing an electric guitar riff into a trance track and, even more improbably, making it work. It is a statement of forward-thinking intent for the mix. Above & Beyond tread a familiar path through the opening stages of the mix, past the powerful, heart-string tugging Stadium Four from Lange & Andy Moor, the gritty yet melodic Club Dub of Are You? by Ronski Speed and the infectious Exposure from Gareth Emery. They emerge the other side into the glorious Oliver Smith remix of Ashes that is just bursting with imagery. As ever with Suissa, the lyrics flirt with the nonsensical but here they really work the imagination. This is an exceptionally high quality production. The in-form Breakfast takes a less obvious classic, Saints & Sinners – Peace, and reworks it his own distinctive stampeding, futuristic style. He has more than done this masterpiece justice, weaving the emotive spoken vocals and melodies into an epic crescendo that reaches heights few other producers can manage.

The energetic bassline and hugely uplifting, piano-flecked breakdown of Cold Blue – Fever suddenly takes the mix up a notch as we head towards the more hands-in-the-air numbers. Charged up, the mix powers through the electro driven Magenta from Nitrous Oxide, complete with some sweet chopped vox, and a solid, if slightly unnecessary re-visit of Mike Koglin’s The Silence dropping onto an Activa production. Acid 303 sounds have been a welcome feature of his tracks recently and are present here, adding bite to the production and the beautiful piano breakdown is one of the best he has done this year. The mix reaches a peak with the third and final Oceanlab track, the fan favourite On A Good Day. This treads a fine line between their more commercial productions but, in falling on the credible side, results in it being one of the finest vocal tracks the trio have ever produced with Justine Suissa’s performance hitting the emotional core. The waves of euphoria are relentless now, with another pounding production from Nitrous Oxide, a track from Robert Nickson that spirals ever heavenwards and the sweet, if slightly overrated L’Acrobat from Ferry Tale & Static Blue. The mix closes with one of my personal favourites, Ilya Soloviev – Universal Universe. I’ve rarely heard a vocal snippet used as well as here, a powerfully uplifting track to close the album.

Above & Beyond have really raised the bar with this album and succeeded with all their aims. They have created two mixes that flow and progress perfectly, and sound complete, with all quality, no filler tracks. The vocal tracks are neatly spaced out, with dubs used to prevent warble-overload (Armin take note!). Every single tune has something memorable about it and this album will stand the test of time just as well as Ferry Corsten’s. In the disposable culture we live in, this is quite a feat. Freed from the (admittedly not very restrictive) restraints of their Anjunabeats albums they have been able to fully call upon the wealth of trance talent available to them. As a snapshot of the trance scene as it is now it is confident, exhilarating and inspirational and it says a lot that the two weakest tracks on there are needless updates of classic tracks. This is almost as if they are challenging us to look forward rather than back as, after all if we stay looking back, we will end up standing still. This album is a massive step in the right direction. 5/5

Listen to samples and pre-order the album here.

Out 27th July.

CD 1

1. Passenger 10 - Mikado [DJ Tatana Intro Dub]
2. Andrew Bennett - Break Away [Martin Roth NuStyle Dub Mix]
3. Marco V - Unprepared
4. Stoneface & Terminal - Santiago
5. OceanLab - Secret [Andrew Bayer Remix]
6. Sunny Lax - Reborn
7. Josh Gabriel Presents Winter Kills - Deep Down
8. Firestorm Presents Coll & Tolland - Redemption [Cressida Remix]
9. Matt Cassar - 7 Days & One Week [Myon & Shane 54 Remix Edit]
10. Airplay 47 - Be Free [Mat Zo Remix]
11. Cosmic Gate - Sign Of The Times [Markus Schulz Mix]
12. Matan Zohar - First Glance
13. Airbase - Interfere
14. Carl B & Static Blue - Sunstruck [JPL Remix]

CD 2

1. Mat Zo - 24 Hours
2. Lange and Andy Moor - Stadium Four
3. Ronski Speed - Are You? [Club Dub]
4. Gareth Emery - Exposure
5. OceanLab - Ashes [Oliver Smith Remix]
6. Saints & Sinners - Peace [Breakfast Mix]
7. Cold Blue - Fever
8. Nitrous Oxide - Magenta
9. Mike Koglin - The Silence [Prospekt Remix]
10. Activa Presents Solar Movement - Eclipse
11. OceanLab - On A Good Day [Above & Beyond Club Mix]
12. Nitrous Oxide - Aurora
13. Robert Nickson - Circles
14. Ferry Tayle & Static Blue - L'Acrobat
15. Ilya Soloviev - Universal Universe

Written by:
Jon Nix

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