Reviews in this issue:
Death & Taxes - Paradigm For A New Quarter
Tracklist: Cyberpunks From The Galactic Core (3:47), Munchkins From
Hell (4:55), Paper Thoughts (7:04), Invisible Man (2:53), Fighting The Bromides
(3:47), Genuflecting Derelict (6:09), Circle Song (5:36), Man Machine (3:55),
Swirling Serling's Bargain Matinee (6:50), My Silent World (3:30), Sexual
Intellectual (5:54), Obstreprous Auguries (2:19), The Woodpecker Song (7:28),
Acid Bath (2:38)
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Record Label:||Obstreporous Recordings|
|Year of Release:||1996|
Named after a Benjamin Franklin quote "....the only thing we can be
certain of are death and taxes", Death and Taxes describe themselves as a
progressive jazz fusion metal band. Though this title might be a wee bit
bombastic, this trio does manage to incorporate a vast array of styles though
the predominant factor is that they are very very metal. Emerging from the South
Bay in Los Angeles, the group was formed in 1987 with only bassist Tom Shannon
remaining from the original lineup. The remaining two members are Tony Martinez
(guitars, vocals) and Mark Hanson (drums, percussion).
Straight from the onset, Cyberpunks From The Galactic Core is a broad
indication of what the group's music deals with. Fast and furious, this style is
more akin to the most technical of speed/trash metal bands that were so popular
in the eighties. Unfortunately the sound is a bit muffled at times with all
instruments bunched together with little or no delineation between individual
Munchkins From Hell keeps up the tempo, yet there is more musicianship
involved in this track. The riffs remain decisively in the speed metal vein with
the guitar licks reminding me of Testament, that is until the tempo
changes. This track shows the first hint of progressive influences as the speed
dies down to an almost complete standstill with Shannon able to wander off into
some great bass runs with the remaining two musicians just backing. Paper
Thoughts is in my opinion one of the highlights of the album. Starting off
like a track that could have easily slotted on 'Master Of Puppets' (Metallica)
with a delicate Rush-like intro which gradually piles up into a
double-bass drum led rhythmic romp. This the 90's King Crimson playing
Invisible Man is one of the oldest tracks presented on the album. Originally
written when Shannon was in a group called New World in the late
eighties, it still retains those speed metal influences from groups like Testament,
Kreator and Death. Short and straight to the point. The
instrumental Fighting The Bromides on the other hand has a more funkier
touch to it though it soon descends into that bone-crunching riff that this
group can create to then return to the funk! To hear is to believe!
The music just keeps on hitting you between the ears. On Genuflecting
Derelict you feel that the group is moving in a Red Hot Chili Peppers
direction to then diverge into an almost Slayer like onslaught, Circle
Song sounds like pre-keyboard Rush while Man Machine is easily
the most commercial track on the album. Not that the music moves away from its
complexity, yet this is the first ear-friendly chorus.
Swirling Serling's Baragin Matinee and My Silent World, which
is anything but silent, are an excellent showcase for the more jazz-tinged
influences the group possesses. On the other hand Sexual Intellectual is
fast and furious with great playing from all the band members and The
Woodpecker Song is a great complex prog-metal tune. Acid Bath,
another track from the eighties, sounds slightly outdated and could have easily
been left out of the album in my opinion.
Undoubtedly if you have no affinity for metal in any sense let alone speed
metal, then it would be difficult to even conceive you liking just one of the
tracks here. On the other hand if you like progressive metal this group will go
down superbly. The only drawback that this recording had was the mixing which on
certain tracks sounded a bit muddled with the vocals in parts recorded a bit too
way down the mix.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
National Health - Playtime
Tracklist: Flanagan's People (15:57), Nowadays A Silhouette (6:32),
Dreams Wide Awake (8:18), Pleaides (10:26), Rhubarb Jam (1:17), Rose Sob (1:46),
Play Time (9:38), Squarer For Maude part 1 (5:11), Squarer For Maude part 2
Last year, Cuneiform Records released Arriving Twice by Gilgamesh, a
collection of unreleased live tracks from this seminal Canterbury band. This
Cuneiform have done it again with another legendary Canterbury group, National
Health. Recorded live in 1979, this recording has live tracks taken from a
period in the bands history that till this day has remained undocumented
musically, at least until now.
The lineup for this album include Alan Gowen
(keyboards), John Greaves (bass, vocals), Phil Miller (guitar), Pip Pyle (drums)
and guest Alain Eckert (guitar on tracks 1, 3 and 4). Of further interest is the
ability to witness certain tracks that would find their way onto a studio album
in later years as there are only two tracks on this album that had previously
appeared on a National Health album, the Greaves song Squarer For Maude
and the Miller song Dreams Wide Awake. Both tracks taken from the second
National Health (NH) LP, 'Of Queues And Cures'. Flanagan's People would
make it to the third NH album, 'D.S. Al Coda' while Nowadays A Silhouette
would appear on the 1981 album 'Before A Word Is Said' credited to Phil Miller,
Alan Gowen, Richard Sinclair and Trevor Tomkins. Rose Sob, a Greaves/Blegvad
track, would surface on John Greaves' second album Parrot Fashions and Play
Time was a Gilgamesh composition.
With this line-up, Alan Gowen was
trying to move in a more free jazz direction and move further away from the
constraints of a rock band. This is evident throughout the album as the group
indulge in some wonderful playing, and is possibly the main reason why Dave
Stewart would opt out of the band before the tour from which these live dates
were taken. As always the playing is extremely sharp and tight, showing the
musical levels these groups had reached bordering that fine line between jazz
and Canterbury Progressive Rock.
Unfortunately the band folded in 1980, with
members going their own way. Alan Gowen died of leukemia in May 1981and the
material on this album (edited, mastered and sequenced by pip Pyle and Phil
Miller) is a tribute to this musician. The album comes complete with a 16-page
booklet with liner notes by Aymeric Leroy, which tells the story of the last
period of National Health with Gowen. Illustrated with rare photos, it includes
interviews and comments with all surviving members of the band.
If you like the jazz leaning bands progressive rock, especially National Health, this album
is a must for your collection.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Parallel Or 90 Degrees - Unbranded
Tracklist: Gods Of Convenience (9:10), Migraine (8:19), Unbranded (8:37), Shoulder To
Shoulder (11:26), Space Junk (10:39), An Autopsy In Artificial Light (I. Simmer, II. Artificial Light, III. Sitting Duck On A Carpark Floor, IV. Gears, Dandelions & Total Darkness, V. Afterlife Wot? (Part 3), VI. The Five O' Clock Rush) (25:05)
|Country of Origin:||United Kingdom|
|Catalogue #:||CYCL 092|
|Year of Release:||2000|
It's been a long time since I heard anything by PO90. I remember I liked the first album when I heard it. They sounded very new, very fresh in a world where not much really happened. Maybe I should have heard it a couple more times to really make up my mind, but you just can't do that with everything you hear. I hope this lack of knowledge on the band's progression doesn't limit me in giving you my opinion about this album.
When I put on this new CD, it reminded me of what I still remember from that first album. But what I now noticed, is that since then, more bands have begun to play like this. I had to think of Spock's Beard and Flower Kings right away - the way of making songs of both, and the sound of the first. The way they use a Hammond organ and the way Tillison lets his heart cry out, make me think of Van Der Graaf Generator as well.
It's ambiguous. There are bits and pieces that I do like (and some I do like a lot). I like VDGG, so you know what parts I like. Other bits I don't like at all. These remind me of Spock's Beard and Flower Kings, which I personally don't like at all.
In the second part of Migraine, they remind me, for example, of VDGG's Killer. It's not only the heavier bits - also the title track has got very good moments. But songs like Gods Of Convenience sound like there's been too much thinking. And that's precisely what I think is missing in the music of Spock's Beard: the blues, the sadness, the agression, the happiness - the real emotion. Very well crafted, but not enough soul. I must admit that I like PO90 a lot better than Spock's Beard. Simply because there is more soul.
Space Junk was a nice surprise. Let's put a bit of Hawkwind here, they must have thought. Marvellous intro! Great contrast between heavy and softer pieces here. This could be be the modern VDGG! When piano playing and singing are warm and emotional, or when things get really heavy or intense - that's when I really like it. But when there's too much thought behind it, too much "let's do this and then that", I lose interest. And the mix of those two feelings makes this a very hard album to review.
Track 6 wasn't supposed to be on the album, or so I am told. Cyclops reportedly persuaded Tillison to include it after all, so here it is. Don't know why he didn't want to have it here, since it fits in very well. As accounts for some other tracks, it's way too long for me. I like some long songs, but this patchwork is not my cup of tea.
I like Andy's lyric writing. I share his wanting to let people think instead of follow others, think instead of losing yourself in religion. A long long time ago, I wrote a lyric about alcohol, written from the perspective of the drink itself. I had to think of that when reading the lyrics to Migraine - written about a person suffering from them, from the perspective of the migraine. Can result in original stuff, but I didn't think this lyrics was very successful. Shoulder To Shoulder is better, although I think Tillison is going from "observing" to "telling" or "teaching" a bit easily. But the great thing is that the lyrics are not pretentious. And the way he can write lyrics and vocal lines is impressive. In a song like Shoulder To Shoulder it's clear he loves Hammill a lot, and has listened to Hammill a lot. Not copying Hammill's way of writing (how can one ever?), but using the same level of freedom in writing.
I know there are a lot of PO90 fans out there. If you know the band well, this is probably obligatory stuff (although I can't really compare it to their other albums, because I don't know them), if you don't have it yet. To try out PO90, I can't tell for sure that this is the best album to start with. Well written, well played, so at least check it out. Definitely good moments, some very, very good moments, alternated with parts that don't make me close my eyes and feel the music.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Jerry van Kooten
Parallel Or 90 Degrees - No More Travelling Chess
Tracklist: Arrow (7:45), Ronceveaux (6:51), Flight (19:25), Modern (10:02),
In The Black Room (12:17), Advance (8:47), Evolutionary Status Quo (4:44)
|Country of Origin:||United Kingdom|
|Catalogue #:||CYCL 086|
|Year of Release:||1999 / 1992|
Not a thing you see much - cover tunes of Peter Hammill and Van Der Graaf Generator songs. And since I have begun to learn about and appreciate the music of VDGG the last couple of years, I was very interested in how other musicians would treat those songs.
Before there was Parallel Or 90 Degrees, there was Gold Frankincense & Disk Drive, a two-piece consisting of Andy Tillison Diskdrive (vocals, keyboards, guitars, drums) and Guy Manning (guitars, keyboards, backing vocals). The project started in 1988, when Tillison lost his copy of VDGG's Godbluff album, he started to record the song Arrow from memory. Through the years, they recorded some more songs by Hammill and VDGG (well, written by Hammill anyway). In 1992, the results were released on a tape, together with two self-penned songs (the last two). Now this tape has been released on CD (well, back in 1999 that was, actually...). For this release, Tillison and Manning re-joined to record one more Hammill song (In The Black Room), so if you like the tape, you don't get just a CD issue of that probably by now worn-out tape, but also a bonus track!
With anticipation we (my girlfriend and I) put on this CD. Arrow is first. Of course, we immediately compared the music to the original. We didn't know what to expect, so it could be anything between one's weird interpretation and a serious attempt to a tribute. It was clear that the lever was set in the direction of the latter. Sounds nice, we thought. But when Tillison started to sing... the way he hits Hammill's original power is impressive. Not long after, I was listening to it without trying to compare. It was like a different version of the original. A modern version.
I can't compare Flight to its original, as A Black Box is probably the only Hammill album we don't have. But I can say that this song is definitely too long. The end is weird, and although I don't mind weird songs, it's too much for this one. The other two Hammill songs are good. Yes, simply "good".
As a bigger VDGG than Hammill fan, I prefer the first two songs, and especially Roncevaux is very good.
The album holds versions with a different approach towards the originals. On the one hand there's Arrow. Freaking, haunting, menacing like VDGG. On the other hand there's Modern (from Hammill's 1974 solo album The Silent Corner And The Empty Stage). Tillison and Manning play this song (originally played mostly on electric guitar only), and give it a VDGG treatment. The intro is so Hammill - you instantly know what it is, even if you don't know the song. The moments other instruments join in, it begins to start a bit electronic. Modern, you can also say. The way Tillison sings the lyrics and succeeds to create the atmosphere the original take you to, is really impressive. He has a different voice alright, Hammill's voice is even more tortured, frightened, and has a bit more air to press out of his lungs. But never for one moment I got the urge to compare these versions to the original - something I often have when listening to cover tunes.
The song is a bit longer than the original, made up by guitar improvisations. To me, these bits make the songs less interesting, but whenever the two musicians start to play again, more instruments join in, the music brings me back where we were before. It's not completely out of tune with the original VDGG way of making music, though!
The big difference between the original VDGG songs and these versions is the lack of saxophones. That instrument and the way it was played meant a great deal to VDGG's sound. Tillison and Manning had to use keyboards to reproduce that sound, and so it remains a bit artificial. But the power and enthusiasm with which the music is played makes up for a lot of this.
It is completely clear to me why there are such VDGG influences in PO90's music (see review above). He loves Hammill and VDGG! I do, too, and I really enjoy the treatment those songs got on this album. I'm going to hear this one a lot...
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Jerry van Kooten
Cast - Legacy
Tracklist: Proemio (2:21), Legacy's Executor (9:19), Key Of Life (9:30),
Celestial Garden (4:03), Magic Of Love (6:58), Personal Status (4:30),
We Are The Ones (5:54), Take A Look Back (7:41), Beneficiaries (4:22),
Living Dreams (1:26), Before Me (4:04), The Will (4:40), Conclution (7:41)
|Country of Origin:||Mexico|
|Record Label:||Musea Records|
|Catalogue #:||FGBG 4339.AR|
|Year of Release:||2001|
Legacy is the ninth studio album by Mexican Cast since 1993. Quite a highly
productive band therefore, and their studio experience shows. The production is
tight, the compositions complex and keyboard dominated. Unfortunately, the
website did not work at the time I checked, because my background on this
talented band is limited. The band plays progressive rock in a mixture of
Genesis (Tony Banks) and IQ-like guitar riffs.
Legacy is a concept album, apparently about the legacy every human being
carries with him from his parents and ancestors, and the legacy he himself
leaves behind. I think. Probably the website reveals more.
The opening track, with its rich keyboards, reminded me a bit of Dust and
Dreams (Camel). This song flows into the wonderful track
Legacy's Executor. The complex keyboards and rhythms are reminiscent
of early IQ (Tales From A Lush Attic). Prog rock at its finest. The
track is (very slowly) building up to a frantic climax. This is the type of
stuff you hope to hear when you buy a prog album, even though it is a bit
retro (you know, early IQ, early Landmarq like).
Key Of Life opens
darker, even more early Landmarq-like, although the verse goes back to
Nichols or Genesis' Gabriel years. Fantastic track also.
Neo-prog fans will adore this album, I believe. Great keys to
end the track.
Now the length of the songs become somewhat easilier digestible.
The vocal harmonics and subsequent instrumental part of Celestial Garden
are really wonderfully melancholic melodic. Magic of Love however,
enters into a too simple melody. Somehow this reminded me of a childrens LP I once
had from 'Barbapappa', who also sang such a tune. Fortunately the rest of the
song is much better, but it doesn't reach the level of the first tracks, despite the
heavy middle section. But I can imagine people disagreeing on that.
Personal Status is much more experimental, King Crimson-like.
A fine instrumental. Slowly, the songs become more mainstream prog again. For
instance Take A Look Back edges towards Egdon Heath in its approach.
Some fine guitar work and a good crying (Arena-like) verse. This
trend is progressed further in the instrumental Beneficiaries, a track that
could only mildly interest me. That is a general impression I have from the tracks
that follow, they seem a bit uninspired.
Cast has already produced a lot of albums (almost one every
year) and I think they just can't keep up with themselves. The tracks with vocals
are definitely better than the instrumentals, due to a better melodic structure.
The vocals are quite all right, by the way. The final track, Conclution (no not
a spelling error), is more based on classical music themes and features a flute
as main instrument, giving it a folky undertone.
Summarizing, this is a fine prog-rock album. Maybe it sounds a little bit outdated,
i.e. early nineties like. That could be a point of criticism. But for the rest
it just sounds good. Unfortunately, it does not contain a killer track, all of
them are nice, but there is not a track that really grabbed me by the throat. This
is unfortunate since this would have lifted the album to a "recommended" level.
Also, the sheer length of the album is a difficult point to me. When confronted
with 13 tracks, and not containing particular highlights, it is hard to keep
focussed on the music.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.