Reviews in this issue:
Vanden Plas - Beyond Daylight
Tracklist: Nightwalker(7:35), Cold Wind (5:14), Scarlet Flowerfields (5:40), Healing Tree (5:45),
End Of All Days (7:25), Free The Fire (4:30), Can You Hear Me (4:11), Phoenix (5:59), Beyond Daylight(10:42).
Bonus track on initial pressing: Point Of No Return (Kansas cover) (3:15)
Beyond Daylight is Vanden Plas's fourth full-length studio album and appears
over two years since the release of Far Off Grace, their last studio effort.
Of course in the meantime we have had 2000's The Spirit of Live but since
then the band have been very quiet, partly due to problems with guitarist
Stephan Lill's wrist and partly because they have been working on musicals
and other projects.
Far Off Grace certainly raised the band's profile. The excellent production from
Dennis Ward showcased the band's instrumental strengths very well, highlighting their
mighty rhythm section of Andreas Lill on drums and bassist Torsten Reichert, as well
as the inventiveness of keyboard player GŁnter Werno. However the big change seemed
to be in the guitar department, where Stephan Lill's sound became much heavier in a
way which was reminiscent of Dream Theater's John Petrucii, particularly around the
period of their Awake album. The new 'hardness' in their sound seemed to dominate
over the more whimsical, melodic side of the band and as result it remains my least
favourite disk of theirs.
Nightwalker is the right sort of tune with which to open the disk. Moody and
menacing, with some tasty basswork from Torsten, the big chorus is powerful and anthemic
enough to give the disk a real kick-start. The sound, though heavy, is somehow better
balanced and this tune is a promising start to the disk. It is followed by Cold
Wind, which opens with some nice piano that is soon drowned out with one of Stephan's
chunky riffs. However as the song develops there are some rich chorus parts and a
neat break into a instrumental section which features a gorgeous, fluid guitar
solo from Stephan.
Scarlet Flowerfields is one of those immediately catchy Vanden Plas numbers,
opening for a change with some pleasant acoustic guitar and building steadily in
intensity up to a classic, soaring chorus. Beautiful keys from GŁnter in the
middle section carry the song along and although the chorus is 'heavier',
this is achieved through a build up in atmosphere and volume rather than with a
heavy guitar-driven approach. In fact, as it also contains a neat guitar solo
from Stephan it forms a perfect resume of their style and in the same way as
You Fly or How Many Tears it shows every sign of becoming a
However, having made a promising start, the disk dips a little in the middle.
Healing Tree, has Andy largely accompanied by Stephan but it lacks a
sense of urgency. End Of All Days is slightly better, containing a
trademark Vanden Plas chorus and a nice keyboards solo, but once again the
construction and tempo changes seem predictable rather than flowing naturally
and it might benefit from having been made a little shorter.
Free The Fire is a return to their earlier more Hard Rock-style
root. It has a welcome urgency not found on the other songs, an uplifting
chorus and a fine guitar solo from Stephan Lill, yet still fails to satisfy.
But then we have Can You Hear Me, a dreary, over-long number which
dissipates all the energy of the preceding number and which is a real
low-point of the disk.
Fortunately, just when things were looking bad, the material improves with
the lively Phoenix, every bit as positive as its title suggests,
raising the disk from the depths and brings the listener to the final,
title track Beyond Daylight - the key to unlocking the mystery behind
the stories of the preceding numbers. It is a brilliant resume of their
style and of the preceding tunes, taking little excerpts and blending them
into an impressive, progressive number.
The bonus track on the Limited Edition version of the disk, is a cover of
Point Of No Return by Kansas. Short and punchy with a memorable
chorus, it fits well alongside their own material. Vanden Plas perform a
faithful rendition, just adding their own, slightly harder edge to the tune,
by way of making it their own. It accomplishes its purpose with a brevity,
which Vanden Plas would do well to copy.
With this disk the band have achieved a pleasing balance to their sound
melding melody and big choruses again alongside a rock solid rhythm
department and pounding guitar. If there are Dream Theater fans who
feel that their recent disks have lacked a little punch, then this is perhaps
the sort of antidote they require. However, for the seasoned Vanden Plas fan
this is very much 'more of the same'. The band appear to have neither expanded
their sound nor written more than a couple of really great tunes. Its solid
stuff, but Scarlet Flowerfields and the title track aside, it seems
to lack any emotional intensity. I had expected more.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Dreadnaught - The American Standard
Tracklist: Ballbuster (4:28), The Jester's Theme (6:36), Deneb (2:42), Tournament (2:42), Derby Days (8:30), Popeye (2:25), BŁnnaschidt (4:50), James Thresher Industries (0:57), Welding (4:51), Kim Philby (3:33), Rats and Me (4:35), Swing (3:38), Clownhead (5:25).
The American Standard is third album by Progabilly trio Dreadnaught. Don't take the album title to literally, as not one single standard is used here, but many musical styles are mixed up in a crazy way.
Dreadnaught is a band that likes to confuse its audience. A piece may start in a relaxing jazz style, and then suddenly changes to fast rockabilly (!), mixed with some exciting "classic" prog rock (as in The Jester's Theme).
The band borrows elements from a wide variety of musical styles, makes fun of them by blowing them up to ridiculous proportions, and then -after a few bars- changes to another completely different style. All in a dazzling tempo that keeps the listener in a constant state of musical confusion.
Especially in the many instrumental parts, melodies and rhythms are completely turned inside out (the first track, the instrumental Ballbuster, made me wonder "what the heck is going on here?").
The drums are quite jazzy and technical, constantly shifting into different time signatures. The bass guitar is restless, both supporting and attacking the drum parts with dominant and aggressive melody lines, not quite unlike Chris Squire (Yes). The main instrument is the guitar. Don't expect the usual "melodious" guitar solos here, they're often very wild and bizarre. I can hear quite some Yes (Steve Howe) and King Crimson (Robert Fripp) influences here. The vocals are not too strong, often destorted and not too much on the foreground. Some tracks also have additional instruments (sax, kazoo, violin, flute, organ and syths), which adds a nice colour to the sound spectrum.
The album has 13 separate tracks, some of which are connected parts of musical "suites". It's hard to point out some favourite tracks, as the album is an ongoing mixture of musical twists and turns, rather than a collection of songs and instrumental pieces. I think the album is mainly interesting in a "technical" way. The musical format comes closest to King Crimson (mainly the hectic Larks, Starless and Red period). The band has the weird sense of humour of The Cardiacs, and might also appeal to those who like the ecclectic Zappa stuff. The Yes influences are mainly in the way the instruments are played, but the musical result is totally different.
I quite like The American Standard for its energy and its experimental approach of the prog rock idiom. Traditional prog rock fans may find the album too hectic and technical. It seems the band is not interested in creating "magical bombast" or emotionally haunting songs. As the album is quite "uneasy listening", I think it will be appreciated best by the more 'progressive' prog rock fans.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Dealen - Forgotten Tapes
Tracklist: A Dream Within A Dream (4.33), Astral Body (6.44), aZ gWIR a eVEB d'AR bED (3.39), Farewel Dear World (2.18), For You and I (6.34), Return To The Body (8.09), Temple Of Heaven (8.19)
|Country of Origin:||Holland|
|Record Label:||Own Production|
|Year of Release:||2001|
Instrumental albums are always difficult to review, and this one is no exception. Dealen is the pseudonym for Dutch Ruud Dielen, and this self-produced album contains music he wrote and recorded between 1986 and 1991.
The album contains mellow, atmospheric instrumentals, which are all pretty much in the same vein as the music of Gandalf, although there is more emphasis on the guitars. In his playing style there is also some influence of Mike Oldfield, and overall the album reminds me a lot of the Tony Harn album I recently reviewed.
Some heavenly, new age style pieces like Astral Body and the very 'aptly' titled aZ gWIR a eVEB d'AR bED are alternated with more upbeat tracks like A Dream Within A Dream and For You And I (the latter of which contains some great roaring guitarwork and a very Cyrille Verdeaux-type keyboard solo). Temple Of Heaven is serves as "the epic closer", containing various tempo-changes, some really atmospheric and psychadelic themes and a great guitar solo in the middle.
All tracks were recorded between 1986 and 1991 and there lies the largest point of criticism I have. Despite the remastering, the recordings sound rather dated. Especially the drum computer is quite horrible at times. However, on the whole this is a very pleasant album to listen to; Seven lovely athmospheric instrumentals with a healthy dose of spacey new age!
This CD can be bought for € 8.75 plus € 1.80 p&p. E-mail Dealen for more details.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Bart Jan van der Vorst
Kotebel - Mysticae Visiones
Tracklist: Mysticae Visiones : Prologue;
Birth & Childhood... The discovery; Youth... The dream;
Manhood... The construction; Reflection; Death; Transition;
Meditation; First Heaven...Punishment; Second Heaven...Reward;
Third Heaven...The beckoning; Epilogue (35:48), The River (14:55)
A seconding offering from the pen of Carlos Plaza, the man behind the Mysticae Visiones album,
as writer, arranger and producer of this, the second release by Kotebel. Hailing from
Spain, the Kotebel project offer us symphonic progressive rock with a distinct leaning towards the
classical side, although this may be an over simplification of an album that covers many styles
and influences. A clever use of flute and cello combined with electronic and acoustic keyboards;
guitars; human voices and drums that give this music an interesting and unique quality.
The album opens with a lengthy piece of some thirty five minutes and supports musically,
a metaphysical theory of experienced feelings and sensations from birth to beyond
death. Mysticae Visiones is subdivided into twelve pieces each of which
depicts changes in state - an intelligently thought out concept, well executed here in music.
Prologue, the opening tune, is a haunting piece created by random notation on
synth and a string chord structure based around a flattened fifth interval. A female vocal
melody is added and with the inclusion of the other instruments builds dramatically until its
release into the sharply contrasting Birth and Childhood, a gentle piece played mainly
on piano and acoustic guitar. This again nicely segues the dreamy third track Youth
with the re-introduction of the beautifully haunting melody vocalised by Carolina Prieto.
It is this recapitulation of the melodies, themes and patterns throughout Mysticae Visiones
which reinforces the classical notion of the music.
So the album opens very dramatically with good usage of highs and lows to create a strong
symphonic framework strengthened by the choice of the principal instruments, mainly the flute
and cello. It is here that the music changes and the tempo lifts during Manhood, a jazzy
track with some inspirational flute from Omar Acosta and a nicely constructed violin solo,
excellently executed on keyboard. From this we are linked to one of the highlights from the
album, albeit one of the shorter pieces, in Reflection and features the
guitar of Cesar Garcia, shades of early Genesis were brought to mind.
Track six onwards deals with those states from death to a point at which "evolution as humans
is completed when no further desire for material action is felt in the third heaven....". I did
say this was a deep album, but the music does capture the ideas it purports to deal with.
There are numerous moments of genius throughout these tracks especially from Carlos Plaza, his
keyboard sounds and style during First Heaven were very reminiscent of Keith Emerson
at his best. Not wishing to repeat what has already been said Mysticae Visiones continues
to it's conclusion with all the above ingredients in abundance. Although I would comment that
the drum and percussion parts were good, as in Transition, I did think that an actual
drummer would have elevated the album as a whole.
The second major piece on the CD is The River which although in keeping with the
previous epic, has slightly different variations, with a mixture of latin rhythms - I may have
detected influences from Al Di Meola here - and combining unusual, oriental sounding
keyboard timbres. The inspiration behind this can be found in an extract by Hermann Hesse
entitled Siddhartha and an interpretation of which can be found in the ideas embedded in Kotebel's
powerful symphonic music.
So you may have gathered that Mysticae Visiones is not a simple album - in fact it is
complex and challenging, possibly a little too dramatic and somewhat "heavy-weight". It
appealed more to the musician in me than the listener, but having said this, it is also very
enjoyable and surprisingly relaxing, well once I had stopped analysing it for the purposes
of this review. Possible other guides to similar styles not mentioned above might be found
in The Enid and Gentle Giant, however click the link in the
"Samples" box above and hear for yourself.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Autograph - Stoneland
The City (4:03), Oh My Boy (4:23), I Need You (5:30), Stranger (5:30), Demon (4:40),
The Bell (4:23), Master (5:20), Stone (4:23), Amour (4:48), World Inside (5:19)
|Country of Origin:||Russia|
|Record Label:||Musea Records|
|Catalogue #:||FGBG 4390.AR|
|Year of Release:||1989|
I Need You|
Stone Land was initially released in 1989 by this Russian band.
Their debut disk, which had been released 4 years earlier, had been very
succesful and its sales enabled them to travel to Los Angeles, where this
particular disk was recorded. It is polished FM with proggy touches and
the comparisons to the likes of Toto, Journey or Foreigner are fully
merited, though with Russian lyrics, you would be hard-pressed to confuse
The disk opens with The City, a pleasant, typically 80's sort of
pop rock tune with a regular verse-chorus-verse format and featuring a rather
high-voiced singer, very typical also, of those times. This tune also features
a smooth, engaging saxophone solo from second vocalist Sergei Mazaev and in
fact it is his sax playing and the accompanying horns which appear throughout
the disk, which could be considered one of the highlights of this disk.
Oh My Boy features a different, and to my ears, more pleasant voiced
singer over a synth and guitar led melody. Once again its fairly classy 1980's
fare much like the following numbers. I Need You features the first singer
once again and is a slow, ballad featuring keyboards which evoke the sound of
Foreigner very well, but which is overall a little on the sugary side.
Stranger is little better with only the chorus raising the number above the
mediocre level of the former.
Much of what follows could be said to lie within the smooth AOR/Radio-friendly
ballad territory and it is a relief to hear the guitars on Demon setting the
stage for a real rocker. However once the main theme, played on the organ, appears;
it takes over and the guitars are pushed way back in the mix again. They reappear
later on for the chorus and to execute a simple solo which does little to rescue
the number from being a simple sing-a-long pop tune.
This is followed by The Bell, which is yet another well crafted slow
ballad, packed with polished playing and nice touches on guitar and keys, while
Master raises the tempo a tiny bit with the guitars coming more to the
front and the voices blending well.
The plantive Stone features more excellent saxophone and keyboards.
Along with Amour, another slow, keys-led ballad with lovely touches of
sax and soaring chorus, they are perhaps the most memorable tunes on the
disk and while the concluding cut World Inside follows along similar
lines, its chorus lacks a certain magic and drags rather than soars.
The disk can be summed up as a nice 80s pop-rock effort, perhaps slightly
ballad-heavy, but nevertheless featuring some excellent playing and a
crisp production - thus a well produced product of its time. However
outside of the novelty value of this being a Russian Recording artist
produced in an American studio during the 1980s, the release will offer
little of interest to the fan of the Hard Rock/AOR of that period and
even less to a fan of progressive music. While this recording may have
a greater significance within the Eastern European market, its style
is too generic to stand out alongside western groups and the Russian
vocals, while pleasing, would provide another barrier to many. In short,
its a solid pop album, with limited appeal in this day and age.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10.