Issue 1998-003Reviews in this issue:
Nangyala - Spheres
Nangyala, founded in April '95, evolved from Pink Project, who performed several splendid The Wall shows in the past years and will also be performing Dark Side of the Moon in Delft in June. One member of the band (Peter) also played in another Pink Floyd cover band called Pros and Cons.
Besides the obvious Pink Floyd and Marillion covers, the band also has its own material. Spheres is
a mini-CD containing five of those compositions. The band describe their music as a combination of
symphonic rock with psychedelic influences and synthesizer music.
On this CD, the line-up of the band is: Alex Armaos (Guitars/Vocals), Peter Chattelin (Bass/Vocals), Stefan van den Anker (Guitars), Tom Spaapen (Hammond/Keyboards), Danyo Romijn (Synthesizer/Keyboards) and Geronio Welling (Drums). Alex Armaos has recently left the band; they are currently looking for a new vocalist/guitar player.
I've seen Pink Project and Pros and Cons play live and had been quite impressed both times, so I had high expectations about this CD. Perhaps a bit too high.
The CD opens with dark synths and a roaring guitar solo, not unlike Pink Floyd's Sorrow. After one and a half minute this track, Afraid (5.55), quiets down and becomes a semi acoustical tune with Alex Armaos singing the lyrics in a rather fragile way. This reminded me a bit of the beginning of Child in Time. After the second and third chorus there's something which sounds like radio contact of a plane (Learning to Fly ?). A very nice guitar solo closes the track.
The second track (6.08) is an instrumental with the strange title No Willy ! - is this about that Bobbit guy ? As far as I'm concerned this one is the best track on the album. Melodies and rhythms change just before they begin to get boring and there's a nice bluesy jam in the middle. Compositions like these clearly show the strength and potential of the band. It's a shame that this is the only track on the album on which they really excel.
The third track is a ballad called Satin Dress (6.41). For the first couple of minutes it only features flute synth, violin, acoustical guitar and multiple vocals and sounds a bit like a Simon and Gartfunkel tune. I tend to lose interest quickly. In the end the drums and keyboards come in while the vocalist begins to wail. Haven't I heard this somewhere before? Yes, it sounds like a poor attempt to do the Celestial Voices part of Pink Floyd's Saucerful of Secrets. Not very original.
The fourth track, As You Fly (5.45), is a heavier piece with vocals that remind me of The Dream Disciples or a poor Bruce Dickinson imitation. The overall track sounds like something which could have been on Iron Maiden's debut album. Although the track shows another side of the band and the music isn't bad I don't really like the vocals. Armaos' voice isn't powerful enough to sound convincing in this song.
The last track is a composition by Chattelin called Brand New Day (6.17). I've never been very impressed by Chattelin's vocals. He does a nice Waters impression but in his own composition it will not hold out for long. He's also got a very obvious accent. The music of the track is very nice though, with some good Hammond and guitar.
All musicians play their instruments very well, especially the guitar and keyboard solos are very nice. I'm not very impressed by the vocals though. Both Alex's and Peter's vocals lack the power that the songs need to sound really convincing. I hope they'll find a good replacement for Alex.
The production isn't the best one I've heard. Especially the drums sound rather dry and often too much in
the foreground. The overall sound could also use a bit more depth.
The album is very varied, contains different styles of music although the recurring guitar twiddling in the quiet parts sounds the same all the time. As with their previous musical projects the musicians of Nangyala certainly show that they have great potential. I wonder what the departure of Armaos will result in; he was after all the most important composer on Spheres.
The CD comes with a 4 page booklet which includes the lyrics of the tracks. The artwork is far from impressive and rather "flung together". There's several pictures of the band but they're so small you can hardly tell the people apart.
One other thing. Why do bands release mini-albums with just 30 minutes of music? Why not include more material (the band had several other songs) and compile a real debut album? People buying these mini-CDs often get relatively few music for a relatively high price.
Conclusion: with better vocalists and production I would have given this mini album a 7+ but I can't really give them more than a 6 as it is. I do believe though that with the right means and a bit more effort the band could really go somewhere !
IQ - Seven Stories into '98
DISC 1 - 1998 Recording : Capital Letters (In Surgical Spirit Land), About Lake Five, Intelligence Quotient, For Christ's Sake, Barbell Is In, Fascination, For The Taking, It All Stops Here, Eloko Bella Neechi
DISC 2 - 1981-82 Recording : Capital Letters (In Surgical Spirit Land), About Lake Five, Intelligence Quotient, For Christ's Sake, Barbell Is In, Fascination, For The Taking, It All Stops Here
A long long time ago in a galaxy not far from here a band called 'IQ' released their first album (on cassette only). The thing was called Seven Stories into Eight and had been recorded in several sessions between June 81 to October 82. Besides pure IQ compositions it also featured several tracks which had originally been done by the bands from which IQ evolved; The Lens and The Same Curtain. The cassette was sold at concerts.
More than 15 years later the same band decided to put together a rarities album with all kinds of tracks the fans had been asking for through the years. Now .... behold a typical example of IQ planning!
- Initially it was going to be a single CD until someone got the idea to make it a double and include the Seven Stories tracks on the second disc.
- Then the decision was taken to split the two discs and release the Seven Stories disc in April 1998 while the rarities album was postponed to November 1998.
- When the band started looking for some good quality tapes they found out that there weren't any. All versions they found were far from acceptable, so the band decided to go into the studio and re-record the whole thing from scratch. The result would be called Seven Stories into '98 and they didn't plan to spent more than a weekend on the sessions.
- Right, you guessed it... the plans changed. The re-recordings went extremely well so the band booked some additional studio time to get the thing right.
- When finally all tracks had been re-done fans kept asking for the original to be included so the format was changed once again into a double set. The first disc would have the re-recordings and the second one the best available recordings of the originals.
I will not go into the second disc for this review but I will describe the tracks and the changes that have
been made to give you a good idea of what to expect.
The album opens with Capital Letters (3.49) a weird instrumental that hasn't changed much compared to the original. The vocoder computer voice of the old version has been replaced by Peter Nicholls' infamous Sean Connery imitation (which could be heard first on Geoff Mann's Second Chants). It's a very strange tune, even for IQ standards, and I don't really know what to think of it.
About Lake Five (5.26), an instrumental from The Lens period, follows. It opens with a Martin Orford's keyboard solo which has the same feel as the opening of Awake and Nervous; it sounds great on this version. The track then goes into a peaceful easy-listening tune with gentle guitar by Mike. I prefer the opening part; much more exiting.
Next up is Intelligence Quotient (8.16) which was re-recorded once before with Paul Menel for the shaped picture disc. Martin did the vocals on the original version but Peter Nicholls is singing on the re- recording. It hasn't drastically changed but sounds very good nevertheless.
This golden-oldie is followed by a tongue-in-cheek Christmas medley called For Christs Sake (5.17), which features major Santa ass-kicking renditions of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. Great for scaring the family during the holiday season. It features some beautiful guitar solos by Mike.
The next track, Barbell is In (4.52), used to be a reggae track originally sung by Martin. The track
has been re-written completely and was turned into what Martin described as "world music". It features
tribal rhythms and percussion while Pete sings in a quiet mystical way. Fantastic stuff! The only thing
missing are some chanting indians. ;-)
The last three tracks of the original version featured Peter Nicholls vocal debut in the early eighties. Fascination (7.03) has been wonderfully re-arranged and although I have to admit that I never liked the original very much, I really like this new version, which has lots of energy and great bass and drums by John and Cookie.
For The Taking (4.32), originally a track by Pete's band The Same Curtain, remains the fragile and emotional acoustic ballad about the miseries of war.
Last but certainly not least is the all-time-favorite track for many IQ fans: It All Stops Here (7.52), which must also be the IQ track which has been issued in different versions most. This new one features some incredible powerful drumming by Paul Cook and John Jowitt's fantastic kerplunk-ing Rickenbacher bass (which can be heard throughout the whole album), turning it into what might easily be the best version of the song ever.
The first disc closes with a bonus track which was played live quite a lot during the early eighties and was resurrected during the early nineties; Eloko (5.15) (also known as Eloko Bella Neechie). The track was completely re-written and basically only the original guitar solo remained. The result is an enchanting piece of work.
All new versions are definite improvements on the originals from the cassette album and show you what
they should have sounded like. Don't expect a new Subterranea, because that's one thing it
definitely isn't. The tracks on Seven Stories into 98 are a re-visiting of an important period of the
band, when their music was quite different.
The CD comes with an extensive 16 page booklet telling the stories behind the songs. Unfortunately, I haven't seen the booklet yet, so I can't tell much about it.
The album will not be released as an official GEP album since the band want to avoid people regarding it as "the new IQ". It will be sold as merchandise during the upcoming April gigs. For more information about the April tour, check The Lush Attic.
Conclusion: Seven Stories into 98 is a definite must for all fans of the band. It will also give people
an insight what the band would have sounded like if they would have had the same equipment and high
quality skills they have nowadays. Besides that, the disc with the original recordings is a fan's dream
come true and offers more ways to compare the IQ of 82 with to IQ of 98.
8- out of 10.
Arena - The Visitor
Arena's new album, which last over an hour, is a concept album. The story is about
an angry and disillusioned man who walks across a frozen lake. The ice breaks
beneath his feet and he sinks down in the cold water. Most of the album
is about the seconds that follow and the way the man experiences his
life-threatening situation. His relation with The Visitor forces him
to face certain elements of his life and inner self again. At the end of the
album (Running from Damascus) he's pulled out of the water, but by
whom .... ?
There you have it. I didn't figure this out myself, I got it from a recent magazine of The Cage.
Let's cut the small-talk and go straight to the album. You're probably very anxious to know what this one sounds like.
A Crack in the Ice (7.25) opens with a menacing theme which slowly
gets louder. It's a very catchy theme which will return in many other tracks
on the album. A 'flatline' sound of a heart monitor is mixed with the
sound after which the whole band kicks in and the power of The Visitor hits you right
in the kisser.
The opening track is a very powerful song and a splendid opener of an album which lives up to high expectations. Paul Wrightson's vocals never fitted the music this well and they sound much less 'exaggerated' than on Pride. Crack also features a wonderful break where acoustical guitar is combined with electric guitar. I wonder how they are planning to do this live.
Two minutes before Crack in the Ice ends the music reaches a climax
in an explosion. Celestial chanting voices combined with creepy
keyboards and shifting shards of ice give you the feeling of slowly sinking
down in the ice cold water. A guitar comes in and Pins and Needles (2.46)
begins; a beautiful emotional piece with delicate vocals by Paul. The protagonist
doesn't want to accept his death just yet. I'm not ready to be taken yet ...
Suddenly a very 'Nolanish' keyboard tune starts, soon joined by fast drum beats and the rest of the band. Double Vision (4.25) has begun. A rather heavy track with clear links to the previous Arena albums. The song also includes the lyrical bit I will always find you !, which seems to be very important in the story.
After the violence of the previous track comes the instrumental Elea (2.36), which
combines acoustic guitars, a wash of keyboard chords and a heart ripping
John Mitchell guitar solo, in a wonderful intermezzo.
When the electric guitar dies down an acoustical guitar takes over with another melody and takes us to The Hanging Tree (7.10) which is one of the highlights on the album. It features beautiful close harmony vocals which gave me goose flesh all over the first time I heard them. The track has lots of variation and goes from an acoustic ballad into a roaring Floydian guitar solo (isn't that a bit of In the Flesh I hear ?) and finally ends in a Comfortably Numb-like theme.
A State of Grace (3.26) is a shorter, more venemous composition about
religion, which is followed by a peaceful instrumental bit called Blood
Red Room (1.48). The latter contains keyboard effects and a voice saying
phrases like I will always find you and You can't hide from me.
Just when you think tranquility has returned to your living room (or whatever place you're in when you play the album) the menacing powerful theme creeps back in and fast drums and keyboards introduce the next track, In the Blink of an Eye (5.29). This probably is the song which matches the earlier Arena material best. It's got one of those 'Songs from the Lions Cage' guitar licks. A very nice track but not one of the best on the album. It ends with the 'flatline'.
Sampled and distorted drums, guitar and vocals open the 'horror' piece of the
album; (Don't Forget to) Breathe (3.40). A great creepy piece of music.
The pace of playing is slow and the song is rather constant. Fine prayers,
sweet dreams, don't forget to breathe my friend ... !. More close-harmony
Serenity (2.10) is a track which could have easily fitted on a Pink Floyd album. The guitar/keyboards-only instrumental sounds like a mixture of Floydian tracks like the opening of Shine of You Crazy Diamonds, Sorrow and Marooned. Nine out of ten people would probably believe you if you'd tell them this was Gilmour and Wright playing. Fantastic track.
Tears in the Rain (5.44) is a beautiful ballad which can easily compete
with Crying ... part 5.
While the piano of this song dies away sounds of moving water and keyboard chords come in. Then the whole band kicks in with Enemy Without (5.05). As far as I'm concerned another highlight. Great melodies and multiple vocals shouting out No ! Don't let the child die here !. After nearly 6 minutes the song suddenly switches to the menacing theme again and a reprise/variation of the Crack in the Ice melody follows in Running from Damascus (3.45). The protagonist is pulled out of the water ....
The album closes with the semi-ballad The Visitor (6.14). Though most
concept albums need such a track to calm the listener down a bit (remember
Marillion's Made Again ?), I find this one rather lame. It's got
one of those forced vocal bits and a rather annoying keyboard twiddle.
Fortunately the melody changes into the theme of The Hanging Tree after 3 minutes. After another brilliant guitar solo the menacing theme and 'flatline' close the album.
What a masterpiece !
The lyrics are very good besides the occassional 'cheesy' bit which seems completely out of place. Example: 'I defy you to stand on the crack in the ice' sounds very nice but what is the next line - With the power of your hand - supposed to be, except a rather lame rhime ?
The artwork is incredible (and it cost a fortune !). The front cover has a
man with a bowler hat and coat with flap riding a velocipede (one of those
old bikes with a huge front wheel) on the moors. The inner pages
of the booklet have beautiful artwork matching the lyrics; ice structures,
hanging trees, a vicar, a vampire, a crying clown ...
The inside of the inlay shows a young boy jumping over a gravestone. The name on the plate in front of the stone reads 'Visitor'.
The Visitor is the most ambitious and complete album Arena has
made until now. Taken as a whole it's definitely their best, and I can only
come up with very minor complaints. After last year's Subterranea
by IQ this is another masterpiece in prog history.
Conclusion: 9+ out of 10.
Please note: The album will not be available until April 20th !
Arena - Welcome Back! to the Stage
When Arena released their live album Welcome to the Stage I considered it to be far too early for a band's first live album. As far as I'm concerned a live album should contain the best live versions of material of a couple of records, not live versions of all tracks which have been released so far. Not that I dislike live albums (on the contrary !), but maybe quick releases like this should be presented as 'official bootlegs' like Fish, Marillion and Spock's Beard have been doing. Not that it makes much difference though.
Originally, the live album had even been intented to be a double CD. That plan was dropped for commercial reasons and several tracks had to be dropped to make it a single CD. The remaining tracks of the setlist of Arena's Pride Tour have been released on a mini-album called Welcome Back! to the Stage (except for the instrumental acoustic Isolation and Marillion's Grendel).
Initially the CD was announced as a 'rarities' album for the members of the
Arena fanclub The Cage. I was slightly disappointed
when it turned out to be no more than 3 live tracks. It didn't really seem like
a 'present for the fans' either because you still had to pay almost half the
price of a normal CD for it.
In other words, it's no more and no less than the missing tracks of Welcome to the Stage, recorded in Quebec, May 1997.
The first track on this mini album is Empire of a Thousand Days
(9.39). I always disliked certain parts of the studio version because
they sounded rather 'artificial'. This live version sounds very good
though. John Jowitt is playing some fantastic bass and also does some
backing vocals. The rest of the band is also playing very solid.
Second track is Fool's Gold (9.24) which is one of my favorites on Pride. If you listen carefully you can hear Clive having a bit of a hard time in the opening part. Nevertheless, this is a great version of a great song.
Last track is Crying for Help IV (6.47). The live version of this song is amazing and makes you wonder why it wasn't used for the live album. Reason was that this track was recorded straight from the mixing desk. No additional studio mixing could be done.
The artwork of Welcome Back! to the Stage is almost identical to
the full live album. It's got a smaller version of the stage picture which
was used as a cover of Welcome to the Stage. I that picture considered to
be rather dull in the first place. As you can imagine, I actually prefer the
small version. ;-)
The booklet itself is just a folded piece of paper with tour dates, credits and some liner notes inside.
The packaging was obviously a rush job; the track timings of Fool's Gold and Crying for Help IV have been switched.
The CD was made specially for members of The Cage. If you want a copy of this CD - which contains very nice live music and is in itself quite a rarity - you'll have to join the fanclub. Being critical, I would have liked to have seen more tracks, maybe some alternative versions or even a recording of Grendel. It's not like there wasn't any space left on the disc .....
Conclusion: 7 out of 10