Reviews in this issue:
The Flower Kings - The Rainmaker
Tracklist: Last Minute On Earth (11:40), World Without A Heart (4:29),
Road To Sanctuary (13:50), The Rainmaker (6:02), City Of Angels (12:04), Elaine (4:55),
Thru The Walls (4:31), Sword Of God (6:00), Blessing Of A Smile (3:12), Red Alert (1:10),
Serious Dreamers (8:59)
Introduction to the Duo Review
Rob: I've always been a bit critical towards this band. In their best moments, they sound really great. Instrumentally, the band is quite good, albeit not always original.
As for the songwriting, some of the songs could use a stronger melody. Sometimes the songs suffer from overly complex instrumental arrangements, or too much pathos. This does affect the overall quality of their albums (especially their 2CD's). The band seems to have lots of material, but some of their compositions could have been more effective if used in shorter tracks or movements. So I was glad to see that their new release, The Rainmaker, again is a single album, like its precessor, Space Revolver.
Remco: Oh dear. What a difficult album to review yet again. Why? Because it sounds so very,
very... Flower Kings like! As with all their albums, it takes a while to get into the
music, but then it's quite rewarding. I must admit this one is a bit easier on the
listener than their previous album, Space Revolver. It combines
features of the finest bands that have walked the Earth: Genesis, ELP
and Yes, as they are by now famous for. Stolt appears to be tireless, as I
also received the new TransAtlantic album for review, so within a couple of weeks,
we are treated to two of his latest masterpieces.
Last Minute On Earth
Rob: Complex prog rock track with some heavy riffs and difficult rhythms. The vocal melody is good and very progressive. Also some fast adventurous instrumental parts, with strong ELP influences (Tarkus). Good one!
Remco: The album opens forcefully with Last Minute On Earth. First, an Indian chant
starts (a Rainmaker chant?), followed by a heavy prog guitar riff. Despite the length
of the track (almost 12 minutes) it sticks to mind immediately, and in its entirety.
Or is it just me finally getting the hang of the Stolt compositions ;-)? What is
clear is that he returns a bit to older work and the track is not as experimental as
some of the tracks on Space Revolver. I don't know whether it is Stolt's involvement
in TransAtlantic or something, but in this track I hear more and more Spock's Beard
like little tricks, especially in the upbeat to the freakier parts (yes, as a good
Flower King, they put the more freaky jazzy stuff in here as well). All in all
a solid composition and one of the best on the album, and one of the better ones
in their oeuvre.
World Without A Heart
Rob: I like ballads, but this one is a missed opportunity. The verses are good, but the chorus is too weak and makes the song tensionless. Pity.
Remco: World Without A Heart has a teeny-weeny Camel feeling in
its intro, but that disappears very quickly to make place for a typical Flower Kings
ballad, more in the style of the previous album, with a Yes-like instrumental break.
Road To Sanctuary
Rob: A complex prog rock track with several movements.The first part is quite heavy, with loads of Gentle Giant and ELP influences. This piece has some very strong instrumental parts, and a nice slower vocal section with acoustic guitar. No weak moments here: very well done!
Remco: Then it's time for ELP (loads and loads of Hammond) and Genesis in
Road To Sanctuary . Quite complex and good solid rock is mixed with more
difficult parts. It is composed out of a lot of different little parts, with a
Selling England.. type middle part, which is very strong.
Rob: Instrumental title track. This piece has a Bolero-like beat, and some atmospheric mellotron sounds and wailing guitars. Not very special, but the tracks brings in a moment of rest on the album.
Remco: The Rainmaker is a film-music type of track, a bit of a spaghetti-Western
thing, with a Bolero rhythm, but quite powerful and symphonic.
City Of Angels
Rob: This is a more lighthearted prog rock track. Lyrically, it's all about love in present day society. Modern hippie stuff! The verses are typically Flower Kings, upbeat and nice. The choruses are not that great, but I like the Howe-like guitars and the funny keyboard parts.
Remco: The previous track has quite a contrast with City Of Angels, which features some odd timings. A
relatively good track, more in vein of the older Flower Kings. The main section is
not overly interesting though, but there are a couple of bars near 10 minutes that
are pure genius. Why? I dunno, they're just so almost over-the-top, so Awaken
(also a track that is so genius because it is almost over-the-top).
Rob: A peaceful simple song, not unlike Genesis used to do. The final section is more jazzy, and sounds a bit like the band If. Not thrilling, but nice.
Remco: Elaine is not overly interesting. A nice little track.
Thru The Walls
Rob: The organ intro made me laugh. Some old progressive clichees here! But the band holds back a bit and give the melody a nice subtle treatment. It would be a good piece to play live and improvise!
Remco: The same can be said about the old-Genesis-like Thru The Walls as about Elaine.
Sword Of God
Rob: Wow, this is a heavy track! Great bluesy vocals, sometimes a bit like early Tull. I particularly like the keys and guitar, playing the same melody.
Remco: Sword of God is a very
powerful and even heavy track, edging towards Deep Purple in the verses!
A good solid prog track.
Blessing Of A Smile
Rob: Slow instrumental piece, not very special, but a resting point.
Remco: This dominating Sword of God is followed by the sensitive instrumental Blessing of a Smile, where the Colin Bass like bass is an ear-catcher, as is the saxophone.
Rob: Short dynamic instrumental, but very well done. Fast drumming, and some Genesis keyboards and Yes guitars.
Remco: Blessing of a Smile flows into Red Alert, a one minute AWBH like
thingy (it somehow reminded me of Brother of Mine).
Rob: The most poppy track on the album, sometimes even funky. Musically it's not bad, but the song never seems to reach me.
Remco: The album ends with the
last big composition Serious Dreamers, an uptempo swinging piece, typical
of their style and a worthy closer.
Rob: I have the feeling the band is still progressing. The Rainmaker has several longer tracks, but compared to their earlier stuff (until Space Revolver), the band seems to be able to produce more compact pieces, without useless long arrangements. The Flower Kings clearly show their various musical influences, but they have enough quality and fresh ideas to come up with another good album.
Remco: All in all the album has not disappointed me. It lives up to the expectations (albeit only after a couple of listenings), but I don't yet know if it will grow further.
It is quite varied and the middle section is not extremely interesting. However,
as a whole, it is an album that is almost flawless and it really "works",
better than Space Revolver, of which it is obviously a successor.
For Flower Kings fans a must, others should definitely consider giving
it a try.
Rob Michel: 7 out of 10.
Remco Schoenmakers: 8 out of 10.
Gina's Alchemy - The Magick Vol. 1
Tracklist: The Magick (4:16), The Alchemist (5:28), Eyes Of A Child (3:19), Magick In the Mirror (3:37),
The Moon Tune (4:32), Earth Song Part I/II (3:31) Part III (3:35) Part IV (1:38), A Thousand Years Of Peace
(3:40), Dancer (3:50), Celebration (4:53)
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Record Label:||Sisyphus Records|
|Year of Release:||1998|
Led by the potent Grace Slick-like vocalist Gina Citoli, Gina's Alchemy present us with a blend of
classic rock coupled with some noteworthy progressive hooks on this, their debut album, The Magick Vol. 1. The
lineup on this album consists of Gina Citoli (vocals), James Walsh (keyboards), Steve Lundberg (guitars), Sue
Birch (bass) and Carl Wergyn (drums).
From the onset with The Magick, it is obvious that the band fuse the elements of seventies and eighties rock with
a slant to the American style of this genre. Without a doubt, because of the presence of a female vocalist,
comparisons will be made to Jefferson Airplane/Starship and Heart, but the influence of classical
bands such as Journey are also audible. Some of the tracks, though, such as the opener The Magick,
only come across as AOR-rockers with little of a progressive nature in the music.
The Alchemist has an almost musical-like feel to it, especially in its initial segments. Of note is the
lyrical content of the band's music that deals in the magical side of nature as well as the elements, themes very
reminiscent of eighties bands such as Dio. Once again the track highlights the group's style that is based
on the stadium rock of bands such as Kansas and Journey with the piano/keyboards occupying a role
that acts more as a chorus rather being a virtuosisitic performer.
The ballad-like Eyes Of A Child acts as a breather between the more uptempo rocking numbers with it's
arrangements and especially backing vocal harmonies very much in the Meatloaf/Jim Steinmann vein. Magick
in the Mirror has the group fusing the ballad and rock structures, once again bringing in the Kansas
references, though without the complex solos and shifts in time signature, a style maintained in The Moon
Tune. From a progressive rock point of view, this track is the first to show a certain amount of variety
within the same track with some subtle changes in time signature as well as the central section which is a jazzed
up version on the nursery rhyme "Hey Diddle Diddle".
Earth Song is the first track on the album which is relatively rich in progressive influences. The track
itself is subdivided into four parts, each one played out in a slow and dramatic way. Parts I and II has an
ethnic percussion accompanying Citoli's powerful voice as piano and guitar ebb in and out of the mix while Part
III sees the percussion increasing in rhythm as the vocals become more choral in nature. Wergyn's drums are
the highlight of this track with the continuous change in beat while the chants and percussion persist. Part
IV sees a return to the straightforward rock, very much in the Heart vein.
A Thousand Years Of Peace is an acoustic based ballad which allows Citoli's rich vocals to come to the
forefront while Dancer is one of the more commercial tracks on the album with a typical AOR styled chorus.
The album comes to a close with Celebration which remains within he style that prevails throughout the whole of
the album. In fact I find little or nothing that allows me to label this music as progressive. Instead it is
more of a radio-friendly piece of music with some very catchy tunes. Only for those who like commercial rock!
Conclusion: 6 out of 10.
Alchemy VII - Alchemy VII
Tracklist: Aradia (3:50), Need More (5:11), Natural Order Of Things (5:09), Shape Shifter (4:08), Forever
(3:43), Follow The Eagle (4:04), In Your Name (4:12)
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Record Label:||Independent Release|
|Year of Release:||2001|
Following the release of The Magick Vol. 1, Gina's Alchemy became Alchemy VII and a four song EP was
released. This album features three new tracks as well as the four tracks that appeared on the EP. Furthermore the
lineup has changed somewhat from the debut album with Marshall Davis coming in on bass instead of James Walsh and
the permanent addition to the line-up of Sarah Montgomery and Deb Elliot on backing vocals.
With the opener, Aradia, the group show that they have not drifted too far from the style that they
presented us with on their debut album which is a heavy dose of classic rock dating mainly from the seventies
coupled with catchy choruses. On Need More the voice of Citoli evokes that of Nancy Wilson, from the early
days of Heart.
Natural Order Of Things is a straightforward twelve bar blues track, something that was surprisingly
missing from the band's repertoire especially when one considers that Citoli seems to be a fan of Janis
Joplin judging from her use of vocal range. Shape Shifter is another of those rock tracks that would
have fit in snugly in the eighties when American hard rock "hair" bands dominated the airwaves with their easy
listening keyboard dominated rock music.
On the ballad Forever, Citoli once again shows off her vocal prowess while Follow The Eagle is
the first time that the band seem to show an amount of musical digression going into a more folkier sounding
territory. The album comes to a close with In Your Name that has a slight funk tinge to it, but there is
nothing too remarkable about it.
As on the previous album, Alchemy VII play more of a melodic classical rock rather than a progressive blend of
rock. As a result, the rating for this album is more a reflection of the fact that this is not what I would term
as an album of progressive rock but rather a melodic rock album. Hence the low rating does not necessarily mean
that the music is of low quality, but signifies that it is not what I would look out for on a progressive rock
Conclusion: 6 out of 10.
Maudlin Of The Well - Bath
Tracklist "Bath": The Blue Ghost/Shedding Qliphoth, They Aren't All Beautifull, Heaven and Weak, (Interlude 1), The Ferryman, Marid's Gift of Art, Girl With a Watering Can, Birth Pains of Astral Projection, (Interlude 2), Geography.
Maudlin Of The Well - Leaving Your Body Map
Tracklist: Stones of October's Sobbing, Gleam in Ranks, Bizarre Flowers/A Violent Mist, (Interlude 3), The Curve That to an Angle Turn'd, Sleep is a Curse, Riseth He The Numberless, (interlude 4), Monstrously Low Tide.
These two albums by Maudlin Of The Well, are seperate but simultaneous releases.
They are supposed to an opus in two parts, described as a "musical journey of astral dimensions into the infinite depths of the human imagination." These works are the follow-up to the band's 1999 debut album.
Maudlin Of The Well is a 9-piece band, with musical influences by King Diamond, Iron Maiden, Metallica and underground gothic, doom and death bands.
Their music is described as "progressive astral metal". The two albums are a strange mixture of moods and styles.
The featured songs have some quite unusual melodies and pace changes. Most of the vocals are done in -don't be shocked!- a growling and grunting style, with corresponding instrumentation (low heavy guitars and wild bass drums). But strangely, the albums also countain tracks with mainly acoustic instruments (like in the nameless "interludes"), and even has some gentle ballads (with vulnerable, almost Susan Vega style vocals).
Listening to the music, I must say that both albums certainly have their good moments. Soundwise it's all clear and the instrumentation is remarkably diverse (even including sax, organ, viola, upright bass and clarinet). However, from a prog rock perspective I can only conclude that this band is only remotely interesting. Progressive rock influences are only used for short effects, like the classic church organ intro of The Ferryman, or some flashing chord sequences, like in Riseth He The Numberless.
Final judgement: this extreme mixture of styles and moods doesn't work for me. Heavy, moody, doomy, jazzy, extreme, gentle, hypnotising: it's all there! But to me, it's all too far from that "good old" friendly prog rock. And moreover, I don't like people to grunt & growl in my ears...
Conclusion: 5 out of 10.