Reviews in this issue:
- Abraxas - Cykl Obraca sie
- Helreidh - Memoires
- Marillion - Eighty Days
- Porcupine Tree - Coma Divine
- Yes - Keys to Ascension 2 / Open Your Eyes
Abraxas - Cykl Obraca sie
One of the best things the end of the Cold War has brought us (apart from a lasting peace), is Polish Progressive Rock. After Collage and Quidam, Abraxas is a new revelation from Poland in the prog-scene. Their 1996, beautifully decorated, debut album is to be recommended to anyone with ears on their head.
Tabula Rasa, as the last song of their album is called, an unwritten page, that's what Abraxas was to me. But after this I'm looking forward to see them in March, when they're visiting Holland for the Dutch Progressive Rock Stage festival. They sing in Polish, which didn't bother me, especially since the band was so smart to choose song-titles that can be remembered by non-polish-speakers. The limited edition box contains a poster with all English translations on it: what a service! I'll pick out some of the songs: Before is an up-tempo instrumental that leads into the theatrical Tarot. This song sounds like the unexpected future that can be explained to you with the help of Tarot-cards: sometimes threatening, sometimes joyful. The singer uses different sounds of his voice, which is a bit unusual, but I like it. It helps to keep the singing interesting when you can't understand the lyrics.
Dorian Gray is nice, a dark-sounding song, that, for some reason reminds me of Shadowland.... and Kameleon has this nice Pendragon-like rythm. If you like these neo-progressive bands, I think you should give Abraxas a chance. Main difference with many of the so called 80's-bands, is that Abraxas has a less smooth (over-produced) sound with both really rocking and several acoustic song-parts. It is for this production that this album sounds very honest and all but commercial.
Alhambra is a beautiful song, with an acoustic medieval intro and many sound and rhythm changes later on in the song. Especially the longer songs have many of these changes: bombastic parts are followed by quiet piano-pieces. There's room enough for improvisation in the songs. Ajuda and Tabula Rasa have long keyboard-parts that sound classic but refreshing. The former song reminds me in some parts of the early IQ, the latter is the perpeft album-closing epic (11 minutes).
Although the songs have complex structures, Abraxas accomplished to keep a rough edge to their music, which I really like. This debut-album is interesting - every minute of it! Having seen their painted faces in the booklet, and having heard these theatrical songs (especially Tarot, Alhambra and Ajuda) I'm looking forward to seeing them on the 21th of March, alive!
Porcupine Tree - Coma Divine Recorded Live In Rome
It's been one and a half years since I've bought my first Porcupine Tree CD because people told me that the band could be considered the Pink Floyd of the nineties, and were one of the few prog bands who were really progressive, in the actual meaning of the word.
They also told me that the Tree was even better on stage. The early albums of the band were mostly done by Steve Wilson on his own and feature quite a lot of computer drumming. Seemingly, the tracks sounded much better with a real band. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to attend a Tree concert yet since I fell for their music. You can imagine my joy when I heard that a live album would be released. I had high expectations .... and I wasn't disappointed !
After some audience and back-stage noises the Bornlivedieintro is rolled, the band gets on stage and open the set with Signify. This heavy instrumental track is longer than the original on the album with the same title; it features a two minute improvisation at the end. The album features a lot of improvisations and new arrangements of old songs. That's one of the great things about this CD. Nowadays, too many prog bands just step on stage and play the songs exactly as they are on the albums. It sometimes makes me wonder what's so special about concerts anyway. Where have the days gone when bands like Pink Floyd would expand a 5 minute song to a 15 minute jam ? The days when tracks like Market Square Heroes used to last for 10 minutes ? The Porcupine Tree disc brings back the feeling of listening to those old Floyd bootlegs from the early seventies.
After Waiting Phase One and Waiting Phase Two, which is much more energetic than the original, we are treated to a shortened 13 minute version of The Sky Moves Sideways Phase One. It may be shorter but it does contain some heavy guitar jamming after the vocal part.
Overall Steve Wilson's vocals are better and don't sounds as depressed as on the originals and his guitar solo's are more raw and powerful, resulting in major improvements on tracks like Dislocated Day, which follows the Sky epic and also features some amazing drumming by Chris Maitland.
The Sleep of No Dreaming is a nice, solid song but wouldn't have been among my choices for the live album; it's just not one of my personal favourites, especially not when there's so much other great material to choose from.
Next up is an 11 minute version of Moonloop. I always found that the first half of the studio version dragged on too long. Fortunately the live version features some changed bass lines by Colin Edwin, new keyboard bits by Richard Barbieri, percussion by Chris and guitar improvisations by Steve, resulting in a much better version than the original.
The last but one track on the album is a long improvised version of an oldie and audience favourite; Radioactive Toy. The CD closes with a fantastic new version of Not Beautiful Anymore,which once again proves that this music should indeed be played by a full band.
The design of the CD artwork is very similiar to the Signify album; misty visions of pillared halls. The booklet features atmospheric pictures of the band on stage.
The CD is filled with over 76 minutes of music, and that's where the only disappointment lies; it should have been a double album. The CD was recorded during three gigs in Rome where lots of different songs were played. We're missing out on great stuff like Dark Matter, Idiot Prayer, Up the Downstairs, Voyage 34, Every Home is Wired and Burning Sky now that they've decided to make it a single CD.
This one is a must for those of you who already liked the previous Tree albums. For those who are into early seventies Pink Floyd, psychedelic prog rock or want to try our more music by the man who produced and co-wrote Fish' Sunsets on Empire: give this one a spin !
Overall conclusion: this album defintely deserves an 8.5 out of 10.
Helreidh - Memoires
Treviso, Italy; The birthplace of so many interesting progressive rockbands. Once again we have been blessed with new offspring from this area.
Helreidh, the youngest child, just released their debut album Memoires on the Underground Symphony label. Looking at the CD, the album's stunning packaging immediately grasped my attention. The hard-bordered digipack has a beautiful glossy painting on it's cover. No money has been spared on the inside either. The full color booklet is packed with intestingdrawings. But enough about the visable presentation. What really counts is the music!
Bombastic, emotional, powerful, atmospheric. Just a few words that spring to my mind whilst istening to the album. It has that very typical Italian sound which in no small part has to do with the emotional voice of Franco Violo, who also happened to play with Asgard some time ago. The music has references to Asgard (Imago Mundi) and Dream Theater. Someone who listened to the album when I played it to him even described it as 'Black Jester with a good vocalist'. Incidentally the drummer used to play with the aforementioned mentioned band.
Though the album is relatively heavy, there are many peaceful moments to balance the power and complexity displayed in other ones. In one of the tracks the band even plays an adapted version of Edward Grieg's Peergynt Suite.
A very good album with both complexity and emotion.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Yes - Keys to Ascension 2 / Open Your Eyes
There you have it - two new Yes albums released almost simultaneously.
A good opportunity to review and compare them both.
Yes - Keys to Ascension 2
CD1: I've Seen All Good People: Your Move/All Good People [Live], Going for the One [Live], Time and a Word [Live], Close to the Edge: The Solid Time of Change/Total Mass Retain/I Get Up, Turn of the Century [Live], And You and I: Cord of Life/Eclipse/The Preacher the Teacher/Apocalypse
CD2: Mind Drive, Footprints, Bring Me the Power , Children of Light: Children of Light/Lifeline, Sign Language
First, Keys to Ascension 2. About a year ago Yes released a double CD called Keys to Ascension which featured 2 new studio tracks and 7 live tracks recorded during a series of concerts the band did at the Fremont Theatre, San Luis Obispo, California in March 1996.
Keys to Ascension 2 is another double CD. The first disc contains the missing live tracks from the SLO gig and the second disc has 5 new songs recorded 2 years ago in the fall of 95 and spring of 96.
Looking at the live tracks of Keys 2 I can't help but thinking, 'Hey, haven't I seen these before on a Yes or ABWH live album ?'. Surrounded by I've Seen All Good People, Going for the One, Time anda Word, Close to the Edge and And You and I there's only onetrack you wouldn't immediately expect; Turn of the Century.
If you add the songs on Keys 1 and take a look at the complete SLO setlist you will notice that all songs played during that gig come from albums from the 70s ! I don't know if this was the purpose of the whole performance, but I do think it's striking.
Although we've heard it all before, it's still nice to hear these songs again. After all it's some of the best material of the band. The recording and production is much better than previous official live releases and Time and a Word has a beautiful and completely new arrangement. On the other hand, I've heard better and more powerful versions of some of the live tracks. Especially the keyboards sound rather thin and flat at times. The church organ solo on Close to the Edge has almost been reduced to a barrel-organ playing in the background. Also, at certain moments the members of the band (in this case Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman and Alan White) seem to have a slight difficulty to play together and in tune with each other. Fortunately, these moments are rare.
Listening to the second disc with 'new' studio tracks I get the feeling that the band tried to do the same as during the SLO gig; go back to their musical style of the 70s. And believe it or not, the results are very good indeed. Of course, there are some weak and some very strong bits but thesewere also present in the 70s material.
First of all we get the 18 and a half minute long Mind Drive whichhas some great recurring melodies and powerful passages. Foot Prints (9.09), possibly the weakest of the five, is followed by Bring me the Power (7.25).
The next track, Children of the Light (6.02) has two parts. First,Children of the Light which was written by Anderson, Squire andVangelis and is rumoured to originate from a 70s composition which has been performed live a couple of times under different names.
The second part is a very nice instrumental piece by Wakeman and Howecalled Lifeline. The album closes with another beautiful Howe/Wakeman instrumental called Sign Language (3.29).
All in all, as far as I'm concerned this new stuff is some of the best work Yes has done in recent years.
The packaging of Keys 2 is (of course) very similar to its predecessor. There's another one of those Roger 'I like rocks' Dean covers which is probably part of the same painting. The booklet contains 3 pages of live pictures, song credits and another looooong 'thank you' list. Unfortunately, no lyrics have been included in the new booklet, although they were in Keys 1.
Conclusion: thanks to the improved sound quality of the live tracks compared to older versions, the great version of Time and a Word and the highly interesting new material this album still deserves a 8 out of10 despite its shortcomings.
Over to the other one ... Open Your Eyes.
Yes - Open Your Eyes
The first two things which annoyed me about this studio album were the sticker on the box saying 'first studio album since 1994' (Hey, doesn't the material on Keys count ?!) and the album cover. I know that Dean's landscapes have begun to lose their charm for a lot of people, but an uninspired black cover with a huge orange Yes logo isn't exactly what I would call a good alternative. Even the cover of Close to the Edge looks brilliant compared to this.
The contents didn't prove to be much better. Compared to Keys 2 this is a completely different side of the band; shorter tracks (the longest song is 6.16 minutes), more commercially tainted and compositions which are not by far as sophisticated as the Keys stuff. I've always liked the different styles of the band; although albums like BigGenerator, Union and Talk will never be my favourites, they do contain some very nice tracks.
The band on Open Your Eyes is the same as on Keys, thoughRick Wakeman left the group and was replaced by Billy Sherwood. Sherwood wroteand co-produced the Union track The More We Live, Let Go with Chris Squire, played several instruments on the Talk tour (as well with The Chris Squire Experiment) and mixed both new Yes albums.
All tracks on Open Your Eyes were composed as a group effort.
I can be quite short about my opinion: I don't like it at all. I've listened to it several times but it doesn't do anything for me and this just might be the first Yes album which has this 'non-effect' on me. I cannot detect any melodies or tracks worthy of rememberance on this CD. It leaves me cold. Whereas a couple of tracks on Big Generator, Union and Talk had close-harmony vocals almost all of the tracks on Open Your Eyes are spoiledby multiple vocalists and Anderson overdubbed on Anderson overdubbed on Anderson... etc. I don't mind the occasional song like this, but a whole album like this is downright awful. Everything sounds the same.
It starts quite alright with the heavy New State of Mind and the title track isn't that bad also, but it goes straight down the hill from there. I quickly lose interest and feel the need to put Keys back on before I have heard the other 9 tracks.
Promising moments like the acoustic intros to Universal Garden and Wonderlove are quickly ruined, while No Way We Can Lose sounds like an energyless twin of Saving My Heart. Somehow .. Someday sounds as a poor attempt to copy the Trevor Horn period and even the ballad From the Balcony is boring as hell.
Even the lyrics are the most cheesy Yes lines I've ever seen. 'I am the man on the moon and I hope to shine upon you very soon' .... aw comeon, gimme a break! Also, Steve Howe's guitar playing doesn't suit this style as well as Trevor Rabin's does.
To be honest, if you really really really like the multi-vocal tracks on the previous albums, there just might be something of intrest for you in Open Your Eyes. Nevertheless, listen to it before you buy it, but for those of you who prefer the more complicated 70s stuff, or like the occasional easy-digestible material combined with masterpieces likeEndless Dream: stay away from this new one.
By the way, I've noticed that Yes is only playing one songfrom this album on their current tour. Makes me wonder why ...
Conclusion: 5 out of 10.
Marillion - Eighty Days
CD singles rarely get a review on the DPRP review page. Nevertheless,this particular one is interesting enough to discuss here.
The title track of this release is the same Crowded House-ish track as on Marillion's latest album This Strange Engine and isn't any more interesting than it is there. The good stuff follows after this 5 minute ditty has ended.
The extra tracks have been recorded live in Paris on the 20th of May,1997. First we are treated to a 16+ minutes version of This Strange Engine. Unfortunately the bass solo that preceeds the live version of this song has not been included. The quiet bass lines are therefore quickly joined by the clear voice of Steve Hogarth and before long the rest of the band joins in to launch into a great version of the epic. In some ways this live version is better than the original album track becauseit has a certain raw edge. Also, the band is playing very well and thetrack isn't spoiled by technical problems as was the case at the Vredenburg gig of the same tour.
After a rollercoaster ride of the different styles in this Brave-in-a-nutshell piece we get another beauty. Years ago a track calledThe Bell in the Sea appeared on the B-side of the UninvitedGuest single. It was played live a couple of times during (semi)-acoustic sessions and it eventually became a favourite of the fans. Afterrepeated requests on the Freaks Mailing List the track was added to thesetlist in the full-band version. This song, with it's atmospheric openingand powerful follow-up can now be heard as the third track on the CDS.
Both 'extra tracks' make this a very interesting addition to anybody's Marillion collection. Get it while it's still available.
Conclusion: 8- out of 10.