Reviews in this issue:
Grace - Gathering in the Wheat
Tracklisting CD 2:Burglars (4:20), Sing Something Simple (4:11), Oklahoma (5:51), The Wolf (5:44), Earth Bites Back (6:25), Court of Despair (10:06), Holyman (11:13), Rain Dance (7:21), Molly Leigh (8:36)
Grace are a UK based band and are around since the early 90's (not counting their 2 early 80's albums). With Gathering in the Wheats they have produced a massive live-album, summing up most of their career onto 2 CD's, both well over an hour long.
I hope that you will understand that I cannot discuss the individual tracks of this album on this short web-space, since 20 tracks is too much. Let me instead tell you that if you like 80-s prog/sympfo bands, then Grace will be your thing. In some respects their music reminds me of Twelfth Night or even early Genesis, being quite theatrical. Twelfth Night, however, was more bombastic and elaborate in their compositions than Grace. The longer Grace compositions like The Piper and Court of Despair come close though. In this particular song another feature of Grace's music becomes apparent: Folk/Celtic infuences. Since I personally love this kind of music (they combine church organ with a fiddle in a folky tune and stuff like that), these songs are highlights on the album. The combination of the typical vocalist (who has an enormous vibrato), the large instrumentation (with sax, flute etc.) and OK recording quality for a not-too-wealthy band give a generally positive impression of the band and CD.
Indeed, Grace makes music that is very much suited to be performed live, and I think they have a bigger reputation as a live band than as a studio band. This is also a bit of an annoying feature of this CD: it is the complete, uncut concert, which means that you have a 45 second break in between each song where you can hear the drunk audience shouting crap at the band and the band anwsering with more crap (at one point the audience wants to applaude but get cut off: "shut up, the tape is running"). At more than one occasion the audience is warned that it is recorded, a bit unneccesary if you ask me. But if you have been there, it must have been great fun. It seems Grace are performing live again with two new young members added to the band, for instance at the Whitchurch festival on August 6., so go see them and buy this CD while you're at it!
Current Line up: Vocals: Mac Austin; Lead Guitar: Adam Rushton; Bass Guitar: Dave Rushton; Drums and Vocals: Tony Hall; Flute and Sax: Harry Davies; Keyboards: David Markham.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
review by Remco Schoenmakers
GB arts - Return to Forever
GB arts are a German prog-metal band, around since 1987. They combine powerful rock with sofisticated melodies. Return to FOrever is their second album.
The first impression I had after listening to this album was: what a
well-produced and well-balanced album! GB arts are at times very heavy (as
in the first two songs City of Light and Prophecy), very
complex and very delicate. The title track Return to Forever , for
instance, starts with extremely heavy guitars, followed by Dream Theater-like
keyboard work, and a Metallica-like chorus. Then, Gregorian chanting
followed by a a guitar solo. Just to give you an impression of what you can
expect of this album. What is striking is that they prefer emotion over
technique. I do not mean that they play badly, hell no! What I mean is that
individual instruments are kept in the background, if neccesary. The keyboard
for instance sometimes does remarkable complex stuff in the background
during the guitar solo in The Storm, without disturbing the natural
flow of the guitar. At the end, there is a fade-out and then again a fade-in.
Why that is, is a complete mystery to me.
A nice ballad, Falling Rain cuts the album in two. This song, especially the guitar solo, reminded me of Still Loving You by The Scorpions. The vocals sometimes vaguely reminded me of Dream Theater. Since I'm a sucker for good ballads (see previous reviews...) this can make or destroy an album for me. In this case, it is one on the highlights.
Behind the Mirror starts slowly, to awake from the previous song, then growing heavier and more theatrical and the vocalist can show what he can do. The last official song Time to Go even has an almost IQ-like feel to it in the opening bars!
The last track, the bonus track Parade of the Innocence, is briliant. It's a shame that it is only a bonus track. This song deserves much, much more since it is the definite highlight of the album. An almost epic song, with a clear structure. Although the music is completely different, one can compare it in structure to Grendel by Marillion.
The fact that they use a good variation of instruments, played with skill, makes this a thumbs-up album for me.
Current Line up: Vocals: Achim Reichert; Lead Guitar: Andre Rasfelt; Bass Guitar: Thomas Senff; Drums: Jörg Nazarow; Keyboards: Andreas Beckmann.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Review by Remco Schoenmakers
Hope For The Future - A Marillion Tribute Album
The Marillion Tribute Project was a concept started in September 1997 by
Jon Epstein. It was to be a CD with all proceeds to go to charity. During
this time he started to work on the project, collecting demos from artists
that were interested in contributing tracks to the CD. He also made contact
with artists on major record labels, seeing who might be willing to lend a
helping hand. Unfortunately, most of the the artists who he had been in
contact with wanted payment to be part of this charity CD, and obviously he
could not afford to do so.
As months passed, Jon realized he no longer had time to put in on the project, and handed over the project to friend Gina Achord. Hope for the Future is a charity CD, with all proceeds to go to Interplast.
Before I proceed with the review of this CD let me just compliment on the wonderful work Gina has done. Regardless of the actual songs on the album, it is a marvellous job she did.
Okay, on to the actual music ...
Some of you will know John Wesley from his support acts for Marillion or the work he did with them
as a roadie. John will also join Fish for his upcoming Raingods With Zippo's
In John's version of Fallin' From The Moon (part 3 of The Great Escape) he plays all instruments. This basically means acoustic and electric guitar and some programming on a sequencer and drum computer. The song starts rather strangely with the sound of a sequencer and drum machine which slowly decrease in tempo until after half a minute only the drum computer remains. Acoustic guitar comes in and John starts singing. He even added some nice additional lyrics and some bits from Born to Run (the Radiation album track) to the short original ones. After three and a half minutes the electric guitar solo comes in, which is a variation/expansion on Steve Rothery's original one.
It takes a while to get used to Wesley's way of singing, which is slightly moaning and grumbling, but after a couple of spins I really got to like this one. One of the better songs on this album.
DPRP recently reviewed the Timescape album Two Worlds. This Swedish band
now reappears on this tribute album with a version of The Space.
I was rather shocked by the distorted industrial rock (you know, the Nine Inch Nails kind) which opens this version. Fortunately, the distortion only lasts half a minute and although the slight industrial feel stays a very interesting version of this Hogarth-era favourite follows.
It's got a more heavy feel than the original. The vocals are good and singer Michael Moberg even plays around with the everybody in the whole of the world section a bit. It took a while to get used to this song, but in the end I started liking it.
Going Under has, in my opinion, always been a rather tedious dragging
song to begin with. The lads didn't leave it of the original Clutching at Straws
LP for nothing. Braintree didn't improve the song. They turned it into another
industrial rock song with sqeaky noises, distorted vocals, monotonous drums
and an overall chaotic feel. Nope, not my cup of tea at all.
The version of Just for the Record by Evil Genius suffers from almost the same problem. The couplets are sheer chaos and it therefore sounds more like an attempt to rape a good song. The chorus seems to miss any link with the rhythm.
Out of This World has always been one of my favourite tracks of the Hogarth-era Marillion. Three man band And Again offered their version for the Marillion Tribute. There's a very positive and a negative side to their version. On the positive side, their performance is splendid (apart from the guitar chords in the opening which don't sound quite right to me). On the negative side, their version is almost an exact copy of the original right up to the use of the intercom sounds (although the texts and sample now concern space travel instead of David Campbell's last speedboat race). In that way, it's far from being original.
The version of Cannibal Surf Babe by Chicken Fried Funk could have been a real killer. They turned the surfing version into a very funky version, which works very well indeed. The only problem is that although the band are doing very well, singer Izquierdo sounds totally uninterested, especially in the chorus. Good vocals could have made this one of the most interesting covers on the album. Too bad.
The following two tracks are good acoustic performances. First, Scott Jones plays a nice version of Sugar Mice with acoustic guitar (the way Hogarth plays it). After that Accelerated Decreptitude (a two person band) play a wonderful medley of Afraid of Sunlight and That Time of the Night. The song starts with a full piano/vocals-only version of Afraid .. after which the opening section of That Time follows, to return to the Dayglo Jesus section of Afriad ... which closes the song. Although the merging of these two doesn't flow as well as you would expect it is still one of the highlights of the album.
After these two quality tracks, it's time for some disappointments again.
First, Twist of F8 play a
musically fine version of Tux On which is completely ruined by the
terrible vocals of their singer. It sounds like somebody tries to strangle
him while he's singing ! The song ends with a four minute extended
guitar solo which is quite good but loses it's strength after a couple of
She Chameleon by Body suffers from a dominating monotonous drum sound (not unlike the one in the original '81 demo of the song) which has been added to the original arrangement of the first half of the song. Without this the song would have been quite reasonable, although the vocals are a bit too frail and uninspired as well.
The Answering Machine is a difficult track for me. After hearing it played live on the Dutch Fan Club Convention and hearing it on Radiation I didn't like it at all. This was mostly caused by the way it was played because I absolutely adore the version on the recent Unplugged at the Walls album. The version of the song by The Wish (basically one person: Eric Wilson) on Hope for the Future takes the distorted sound out of the original but replaces it with a lousy production of a track which basically only features drums, vocals and lots of sqeaks and beeps form synths.
The album ends with an absolute highlight: Beautiful by Tracy LaBarbera. The name of the song basically sums it all up. This version opens with piano and Tracy singing with a wonderful voice. Later on the bass and guitar come in and there's even a delicious sax solo. The track also features vocal overdubs and male backing vocals. Amazing !
One of my main problems with the album is the choice of songs. First of all, there's a big emphasis on the Afraid of Sunlight and Clutching at Straws albums. Although I really like these albums, thery're very over-represented on this tribute, with each 4 songs from out of 12 songs. Second, although it's a good thing that none of the obvious songs have been picked (you know, Kayleigh, Lavender, Incommunicado, Cover My Eyes, Easter, etc) I would hardly call songs like Going Under, Just for the Record and She Cameleon big 'Marillion Classics'.
The other problem I have with the album is the performances themselves.
In my opinion a cover should in some way be different from the original. It
has to have a different arrangement, an interesting improvisation or
some other original idea. This goes for most of the songs on the album
except for Out of This World. At the same time the songs should stay
faithful to the original, especially for a tribute album. In my opinion
some of the tracks on this album take it a step too far, thus sounding more
like parodies than tributes. I especially dislike the 'industrialized
garage versions' which appear on this album.
Also, some of the bands just don't have the quality it takes to perform the song or have an element which spoils their performance.
Furthermore, the promo copy of the CD came with a letter which in a slightly teasing and agressive way tries to tell the receiver what he has been missing soince ignoring Marillion. This CD is supossed to open his eyes. I'm not quite sure if Hope for the Future will succeed in obtaining that goal.
As fellow DPRP editor BJ said, it's hard to tell for whom this album was meant.
People who don't know Marillion but like the music on this album might be
disappointed by the 'real thing', whereas Marillion fans will probably
prefer the original recordings.
Personally I also feel that the album sounds very 'American'. I'm sure that a European tribute album would have ended up quite differently.
The CD comes with a 8 page folded booklet with liner notes by Gina and a
(rather subjective and laughable) band history by Ray Achord, Gina's
husband, as well as details about
the performing bands. Achord's contribution sounds more like a preach to
the unbelievers than an objective view on the band's past history. Almost
every album is described as 'the greatest thing which ever happened to
rock music'. Afraid of Sunlight is described as the best album
Marillion ever released and there's only a very short reference to one
song (!) on Radiation.
The artwork was done free of charge by the Bill Smith Studios. Although I have always disliked their quick cut-and-paste and flung together work, it does give the CD a finishing touch.
Half of the music on the CD is good, the other half isn't, at least not if we keep in mind that this is supposed to be a tribute. If you're a big Marillion fan it's still worth checking out though, especially since it's not too expensive (you can buy it for $12 (excl. P&P) from
Conclusion: 6 out of 10.
Thought Sphere - Eden's Shore
Thought Sphere is the second German prog-metal band to be reviewed in this issue (GB Arts is the first). As with GB Arts, this album is well-produced and well-balanced. The music is a bit less metal and a bit more prog oriented than GB Arts.
Thought Sphere is a band where I have no info whatsoever about. The CD-booklet is not very helpful in this respect either. It contains the lyrics, a group photo and that's it. There is a multitude of keyboards on this album, but according to the credits, there are two guitarists and no keyboard player. I guess this is a mistake and someone accidentally got the wrong instrument credit! So let's focus on the music.
In general, the album is a mixture between metal, prog and even Gothic. Actually, since I once ended up at a party in Kreuzberg, Berlin, which turned out to be a Gothic party, complete with satanic masks and people dressed as bats, with more metal sticking out of their face then I have hair, I have a strange feeling about German Gothic. But I tried not to be influenced by these memories and then this album is quite agreable.
The opening track Eden's Shore makes clear that this album,
although heavy and dark at times, is more prog than metal. A good use of
keyboards makes this a nice song. I would compare it to some of
the Aragon songs (for instance Rocking Horse), for those of
you fortunate enough to know that band :-). Untreading the Weaving of
the Stars (what a title) has a chorus that really sticks into one's
mind, based on half tone increases and decreases, with a nice
quick-fingered guitar solo in between, all in average rock tempo. Seal
of Thorns is in the same vein. Grailkeeper's Gate is somewhat
faster and has more tempo-changes, complete with Dream Theater-like
guitar and keyboard riffs.
Totenlicht is one of the highlight of the album, a ballad with a dark mood, a female vocalist that sings along with the regular male vocals and even a language change (the middle section is in German). The song opens with a dark guitar melody and "radio" vocals (like on Queensryche's Empire), and real violins! A theatrical piece.
Remniscing starts slowly, and then a guitar riff that is really familiar, but I can't remember what (sorry!), to enter a really fast uptempo part. Emerald Dusk has one of these lines of music that stay with you for a long time, and in your memory sum up the whole album, do you know what I mean? Here, again, the female vocalist does her trick. I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the accent of the vocalists (or more accurately, the lack of it: most Germans have this funny accent when speaking/singing English).
Ivory Moon is calmer, indeed they cast up the atmosphere of a moon-lit beach. The middle section is more uptempo and they keep it that way until the end. Winternacht opens with a church organ and heavy guitar, I like that! The rest of the song is like the rest of the album, with some church organ soli in the style of Yes' Going for the One album. Candle to Remember, finally features piano instead of organ, but differs not much from Winternacht, in the sense that classical, almost Baroque style melodies are featured, that flow into a rock chorus.
My general impression was that although the individual songs are certainly OK, the album lacks diversity. The melodies and instrument settings are not distinct enough from song to song, so the songs have no "identity" so to speak (the only positive exception is Totenlicht). This is a pity, since they have talent and skill on their instruments and some really good ideas. Keep working on the melodies and variation of instruments, boys!
Current Line up: Vocals: Andreas Lohse; Guitars: Jens Schäfer; Bass Guitar: David Ludwig; Drums: Andreas Lösche ; Guitar: Adrian Weiss.
Distributed by B.Mind Records
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Review by Remco Schoenmakers
Sebastian Hardie - Windchase
Windchase is a re-release (original release 1976) of the second album of the Australian progressive formation Sebastian Hardie (like the name Pink Floyd, here too there is no person named Sebastian Hardie playing in the band). Sebastian Hardie focusses very much on melody, therefore not escaping comparison to early Camel or Caravan.
The album consists of a 20 minute suite, Windchase, and a handfull
of other songs. Windchase opens with a very Camel-like guitar
melody and a quiet mood. The middle section has some interesting vocals: a
single note only, whereas the mean instrumental melody plays on. Then the
same melody remains but is speeded up considerably for some time. After
a while, things calm down a bit. The moog, mellotron and organ do a nice
job supporting the melody line in this part. Next: bass guitar carrying
the melody. It ends with the same guitar melody the piece started with
(ok, with a small variation to it).
The next song, At the End, is a calm piece dominated by a bass line, and a gentle guitar over it. Combined with the hammond organ, it has a Focus feel to it. In fact, I had the impression this piece could burst into Tommy any second. Unfortunately, it didn't ;-). Life, Love and Music is much in the same style, a bit more uptempo and it sounds like a variation to the theme that opens Windchase. The vocals are not too well. Fortunately, there are not that many vocals on the album. Hello Phimistar is more like bluesrock, uptempo, with some breaks. Peaceful, well the title says it all. Again, this sounds like Focus due to the typical melody lines on guitar and organ.
A nice, quiet, but short album. Since it is recorded in 1976, it sounds out of date at some times (especially the melodies, although argeeable, sound a bit cliché to the modern ear). People who like early Camel, Caravan and Focus (especially the bit jazzy feel that some of their pieces have) will certainly find this album agreable.
Line up: Vocals & Guitars: Mario Millio; Bass Guitar: Peter Plavsic; Drums & Percussion : Alex Plavsic ; Moog, Piano, Mellotron Solina, Hammond: Toivo Pilt.
Distributed by Musea Records
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Review by Remco Schoenmakers
Fonya - Upper Level Open Space
Fonya is Chris Fournier, an American multi-instumentalist. Normally, this means he plays only synthesisers. Fortunately, Chris plays the guitar rather well and knows how to program a drum computer.
Apparently all the tracks have been inspired by landscapes.
The album opens with Stardaze at the Summit, a diverse piece. It
opens with steel-string classical guitars, into a quicker rhythm section.
The song has a multitude of tempo and instrument breaks, each
time with a new rhythmic and melodic movement. So, this is actually
prog-like, like Mike Oldfield! A surpise, since these one-man albums
often tend to be completely New Age. This sounds really OK.
14,000 feet opens with piano and synth. This sounds like it could be used for a documentary about Mount Everest or something. In other words: exactly what the title promises! It has New Age tendencies, but fortunately it ends as soon as it becomes boring. That what good composing is about!
Infinite Visions starts with appergio's on the piano and a free rhythm. A piano melody starts and keeps playing. After a while the rhythm becomes tight and an electric guitar plays beats, with variations in the melodic instruments. This song keeps up this part too long for me though.
Guadalupe from Sierra Diablo is really interesting in choice of instruments (church organ, tingling sounds), has very free rhythm in the beginning and becomes almost hardrock in the middle section. Really bombastic and a nice guitar solo to top it off! Alpine Aquarium is weird. It uses plucked sounds (like Indian sitar-like things), to create the idea of airbubbles in the water. After a while drums come in, but the rest stays the same. At the end water-sounds start. Unneccesary, since the rest of the music already portaits the water.
Sundog starts of weird as well, with really computer generated sounds, if you know what I mean. In the middle the song becomes quite bombastic, with a sharp guitar. Acadia is jazzy with vibraphones playing the melody. At the ending, even a classical guitar plays along and a heavy electric guitar ends it. There is a lot of noise at the end of the song (and I mean white noise, the kind that you get out of your radio when no channel is on)! Bad move! Broken amp perhaps? Enchanted Rock is in the same vain as the previous songs. Mountain of God starts with a very groovy melody, almost like Pink Floyd's Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun played on a modern synth 5 times to fast. After a couple of minutes, the music stops and a wailing distant guitar over a synth plays. Then, it all becomes quiet and a single piano plays a few chords. Nicely done! After a while, tension builds and an almost modern Pink Floyd like piece develops. He doesn't take this to a climax though, but starts a kind of lullaby, which then again with Floyd like guitar work ends the piece.
This is definitely the best one-man album I have reviewed so far, but that is not only due to the talent of Fonya. What I found remarkable is that the titles and music match perfectly: if there is water in the title, the music is watery. If there is something like mountains in the title, the music matches the feelings you have there! Compliments! On the other hand, fully instrumental music has to be really good in order to stay interesting and that is something that is given to only a handful of Masters of the Trade (i.e. Mike Oldfield, Vangelis). The booklet is not very exiting (1 page) and I don't like the cover. It's too much a New Age logo and cover. If you want a fully instrumental album to relax by, but want it to be more exciting then a synthesiser New Age album, try this one!
Line up: Everything: Chris Fournier
Distributed by Musea Records
6.5 out of 10
Review by Remco Schoenmakers
Nepenthe - Everything Was Beautiful And Nothing Hurt
Tracklist: Skyrocketstereo (7:44), Moses Does Not Breathe (8:46), The Ugly And The Brave (7:05), Sorrow (5:04), Beauty Is A Warm Mind (3:43), Brethren (One Burning Question) (7:18), Moses Does Not Breathe (Single Version) (4:20)
Nepenthe are a fairly new American band. I say fairly new, because this CD was released in 1997, and this is one of a couple of CDs that we have had waiting for a proper review for too long. But here is it, telling you of a quiet, more delicate form of progressive rock. Unlike so many of their countrymen, Nepenthe play more emotional music.
The first track, for example, has an opening of about three minutes of acoustic guitar, piano, and vocals, introducing a ballad type of song. The vocals are clear, not unlike Ted Leonard of Enchant. Only then bass and drums (Jamie Boruch) enter, and the song builds up further and the atmosphere gets heavier. Not a real climax in musical terms, but stretched emotions. This also accounts for the third track; a long ballad of sensitive playing and emotional singing. Beauty Is A Warm Mind is a piano ballad, although not the kind of an "I love you" sing-along chorus. Nothing too special, but it fits this record very well.
Moses Does Not Breathe is more mysterious. Heavier; a bit of
distorted guitars, and more complex vocal melodies. The bass work by Matt
Mizenko (which, to my taste, might have been mixed more up front) is very
nice, a bit like Clive Mitten of Twelfth Night but less bombastic.
Very nice changes in melody. Also the fourth shows that no instrument
predominates another. During the breaks, both keyboards and guitars are
Brethren is again somewhat heavier and a bit more complex, and has very nice vocals by Jason Rosenfield. The instrumental middle section has a nice interplay of bass and keyboards followed by two short keyboard solos by Eddie Konczal and a guitar solo by Todd Mizenko.
The last track is the single version of the second track. I wonder whether it has actually been released as a single, or that it is used to stretch the record's total time.
The somewhat laid-back expression of their music reminds a bit me of the slower side of Timothy Pure. No long and blistering solos, but a musical picture in a very nice frame. listening to this album is like lying in the grass on a warm day in Spring. Time passes slowly, but there's now way you can fall sleep - you feel and enjoy the surroundings, the warmth of the sounds, the whistling of the instruments, not bothered by any sense of time.
A very fine debut album. Let's hope the next one is longer.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.