Reviews in this issue:
- Abraxas - 99
- Anyway - Chambers
- Cirrha Niva - Enter The Future Exit
- Dream Theater - Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes From A Memory
- Fountain Of Tears - Fountain Of Tears
- Grass - Grass
- Index - Index
- Janison Edge - The Services Of Mary Goode
- Landmarq - Thunderstruck
- Marillion - Marillion.Christmas
- Melbourne - Indian Ocean
- Mostly Autumn - For All We Shared
- Mostly Autumn - The Spirit Of Autumn Past
- Mike Oldfield - Millennium Bell
- Saga - Full Circle
- Sfumato - Demo 1999
- Spock's Beard - Live at The Whisky and Nearfest
- Triangle - Square The Circle
- Trusties - Growing Smaller
- Unified Past - From the splintered present surfaces
- Wolverine - Fervent Dream
- XII Alfonso - Odyssees
Abraxas - 99
Tracklist: 14.06.1999 (2:58), Czekam [Awakening*] (1:42), Jezebel (6:49), Szalenstwo Przyszlo [Madness Came At Night] (0:17), Spowiedz [Confession] (4:21), Anatema, Czyli Moje Obsesje [Anathema, My Obessions] (7:30), Petla Medialna [The Media's Loop] (3:37), Noel (5:11), '37 (1:16), Medalion [Locket] (6:10), Iris (6:40), Oczyszczenie [Purification] (4:30), Moje Mantry [Above] (3:08), D.I.R.T [bonus-track] (1:25). (*English titles, when different)
Let me first say that I am heavily biased -in a positive way- towards this group, since the first time I saw them in march 1997 at the first DPRS-festival. Abraxas (not to be confused with the German metal-band) is one of the most talented progbands around and very much underestimated until now. "99" already is their third album and with it, they prove they can keep a constant high creative level.
14.06.1999 is the opening track, which starts with a spoken introduction in Polish. This song has a very Crimson-esque atmosphere, with a dominant position for Mikolaj Matyska who took over the place on the drum-stool from Marcin Mak. When the keys come in, this short, but great track changes into something a bit Dream Theater-like.
Czekam (Awakening) is an interlude between the first and second song. Atmospheric keyboard sounds create a mystical background for a heartbeat ending in a flatline. A spoken text concludes the track.
Jezebel is one of the best tracks on the album. Starting in the vein of King Crimson's Talk To The Wind, it develops into a romantic ballad, which is transformed into a heavier bit with a beautiful double guitar-piece. Apparently Abraxas decided they wanted to use the talents of another guitar-player, original founder Lukasz Swiech, in addition to Szymon Brzezinski, who again shows on this album he's able to play a style of both technique and feeling. Brezezinski is also responsible for the majority of the compositions, showing a great diversity, which makes 99 an adventure along several moods and styles.
After another spoken bridge, we arrive at Spowiedz (Confession), a dark and threatening song, well suited for Adam Lassa's voice. The driving guitars carry the song along several breaks, great drum-fills and female backing vocals.
A change of sound in Anatema (My Obsession), brings you at ease, with a soft guitar-solo, directly followed by a heavy riff and a beautiful keyboards by Marcin Blaszczyk. Adam Lassa makes you part of his secret with the help of a 'whispering' way of singing. Although Lassa's way of singing is not as theatrical (or 'Fishy') as on the first album, he again shows his 'performing' qualities. The last part of this track is a very romantic duet with a female singer.
Petla Medialna (The Media's Loop) is a dramatic and bombastic track, with heavy beating drums and orchestral keys. The percussion reminds me of Genesis' The Brazilian. Heavy guitars are the icing on the cake.
Tinkling keyboard sounds introduce Noel to us. This song has a great rhythm, with a wonderful combination of guitars, keyboards and rhythm section. The song speeds up in the middle, returning to the initial rhythm in the third part. Noel ends the way it began.
'37 is a shorter track, featuring the sound of an old record with a string-orchestra (played on keyboard), which serves again as an interlude.
Medalion (Locket) features acoustic guitars, quiet percussion and sweet vocals with lovely backing vocals. Turning into a rock-ballad when the drums and electric guitars come in, this song gives opportunity to Adam Lassa to show both hard and soft side of his voice. The song ends with a faster part, with Brzezinski on guitar-lead, which suddenly ends.
Iris is a very strange but great track. On their second album, Centurie, Abraxas showed they were not afraid to experiment with modern techniques. Iris also features some electronic sounds in the drum-dominated introduction. The second part of the song has a marching beat, great keyboards and funny guitar bits. This fades out into a threatening key-part, which turns into silent night-sounds, before returning to the marching theme through the sounds of a musical box. An orchestra finishes it all off. Very different, but great!
A church organ creates the perfect introduction for Oczyszczenie (Purification), which is a typical, moody Abraxas instrumental, which would have fitted on Centurie as well. Marcin Blaszczyk takes his time (about the whole song) for a great keyboard part. Regrettably this is faded out, until suddenly Moje Mantry (Above) starts, which features the same theme, this time played by Szymon Brzezinski on guitar. The female backing vocals are really very beautiful. It seems as if guitar-player and keyboard player couldn't decide which version would appear on the album, so they included both. Both are beautiful though and it's a pity they didn't integrate them into one song.
The English version of '99' features a short instrumental, called D.I.R.T, as a bonus track. Despite this extra I prefer the Polish version. Lassa's English is not very well, which shows from mistakes in the lyrics and a bad pronunciation. You also miss some (Polish) backing vocals on the English version. Abraxas should stick to Polish, although the English song-titles and the introduction in the booklet helped a lot to understand at least a little of the concept behind the album.
Abraxas means 'Essence' and that's what it is: essential music. I can recommend this album (especially the Polish version) to any prog fan. Abraxas shows 'staying power' and progression with 99, which has become my favourite album of the year!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10Jan-Jaap de Haan
Anyway - Chambers
Tracklist: Fishing-rods (3:47), Anyway Chambers (4:18), Goats (4:10), Oak Tree (6:09), Anchormen (3:40), Little Cave Melody (4:10), Cuckoo-Clock (4:45), Tabasco (3:23), Windmills (5:17), Skorpion (3:55)
Anyway, a Poland based five-piece progband originally recorded the material on this album around 1993, but for some reason Chambers wasn't released before 1998. This possibly results from their initial scope: the Polish territory. But, with Polish colleagues Collage, Quidam and Abraxas exploring both musical and continental boundaries, Anyway possibly decided to do the same. I don't know.
Chambers features 10 songs, the shortest counting 3 minutes, the longest just over six. This longer song, Oak Tree, is one of the most intriguing ones on the album. An introduction with bass and keys (vaguely reminding me of Gabriel's early work) leads to a vocal-part, with religious content. The bass and rhythm hold a prominent position throughout the song, and without showing much variation Anyway create different atmospheres in the song. Very well done.
The Anchormen features a guitar-part more prominently and an upbeat rhythm by Mikolai Matiska, who shows his skills on this album. Together with a bass-player, called R.M., he forms the solid (but still adventurous!) backbone of this band. Spoken about adventure, Anyway try to make every song a short adventure, by telling a tale, changing sounds or different arrangements. Little Cave Melody, for example, features a very jazzy piano-part and Goats features some animal-sounds (as could be expected from the song-title). Of course, you can expect something interesting sound-wise in a song called Cuckoo-clock. As with Oak Tree, there's a good balance between sound effects, rhythm-section and keyboards, played by Krzysztof Pacholski, who's responsible for the music as well, together with Lukasz Swiech, the singer. Surprisingly enough these names can also be found on the latest Abraxas-cd, called '99' (see above). Swiech is present on that album as second guitarist and Pacholski is the writer of Noel. Finally, Anyway's drummer, Mikolaj Matiska, is Abraxas' new drummer as well.
Tabasco will surprise you with a driving bass-line and funky guitars by Artur Franczak, who is relatively under-employed in this group, which leans heavily on a rhythm/keyboard-combination. Swiech's vocals are not the most melodic in this track, but this is made up for in Windmills. A raspy keyboard-sound and beating drums create the perfect scenery for the dreamy lyrics. Regrettably the English of these lyrics is my main point of criticism. Both in grammar ("silence is not a good sing (...) but I thing Johnny wanna conquer that colony") and in pronunciation, Anyway makes quite some mistakes. But right at the moment where I get really annoyed by this ("Hiding in the haven", where 'heaven' is meant, pronounced as "Giding in the Geaven"), Anyway finishes the album with Skorpion in Polish. Although musically not the most interesting song of the album, it breathes the (Polish) spirit of what the band really should sound like.
To conclude, despite the bad English (hmm, great name for a band), Anyway have delivered an album of interesting, captivating tunes. Maybe they should elaborate some of their stuff to be accepted as 'prog', but many elements are there: Anyway are original, sound good and have a sense of humour. No surprise Chambers has not become a moody album. If the band decides to record their next album in Polish, I'm sure they can benefit from the current interest in Polish prog and get bigger in the coming years. Only time will tell.
Conclusion: 7- out of 10Jan-Jaap de Haan
Cirrha Niva - Enter The Future Exit
Tracklist: Vacuum (9:09), Sky Decor (10:21), The Dream (3:08), Redemption Denied (4:40)
Cirrha Niva (the name comes from Cirrha & Niva, the mountain tops of the Parnassus, signifying Divine Wisdom, Poetic Inspiration and Human Knowledge) was founded in 1993 and as of January 1998 consists of guitarists Rob Willemse and Peter Vennema, bassplayer Liselotte Hegt, vocalist Arnold Kloek, drummer Tommy White and keyboardist Wilbert vd Broek. This demo is their fourth release, after the demo Alighieri's Roots (1993), full length album The Mirror World Dimension (1997) and demo No More Psychosis (1998). Enter The Future Exit was originally meant to be only a promotional demo, but it was released to the general public by popular demand in June 1999.
The demo (which has great artwork, especially since it's "just" a demo) contains four songs, two new ones, Vacuum and Sky Decor, and two live versions of a song previously released on The Mirror World Dimension (Redemption Denied) and a song which as far as I know does not appear on any previous release.
This track has a very Egdon Heath like opening (No Second Faust), largely due to the hollow drum sound and the rhythmic piano. The track becomes more aggressive after three minutes, when the effect of dual rhythm guitars can really be felt! Keyboards are almost completely absent in this part, and this part is more traditionally metal. Around the fifth minute things calm down, and a vocal duet leads us into a very energetic instrumental part, with again a dominating role for the guitar(s). Heavy rhythm guitars carry the final part of this track again.
Begins very gently with acoustic guitar. What follows is straight doom metal, very heavy rhythm guitar on a slow rhythm. The keyboards are mostly drowned out by the onslaught of the two guitarists but around the 4th minute they resurface for a moog solo. After this the music level drops down for a very short time, before continuing in the vein of Metallica. The combination of heavier and softer parts reminds of Metallica's Black Album and more recent work. The keys take the lead again after 5 minutes creating a dramatic mood. Liselotte Hegt takes over the lead vocals for this part, which is very threatening ("my depression insanity"!!). The ending reminds of Scandinavian metal: heavy rhythm guitar with soloing lead guitar.
This instrumental starts out as a ballad, but becomes more interesting with an incredible instrumental build-up, followed by a great guitar solo on a solid base of a great rhythm.
This track is very heavy with pounding drums and rhythm guitar, and a lead role for Kloek's almost whining vocals (not meant in a negative way), comparable to Saga's Michael Sadler in places.
Cirrha Niva describe their music as Progressive Power Metal. I would say it is power metal with progressive elements, but not more so than for instance The Gathering. My favourite track from this album is The Dream, which is really tight and fleshed out. The first two tracks are sometimes a bit too long. Considering that this is a demo, I'd suggest to the band to make it their songs a bit more compact on forthcoming albums.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Dream Theater - Metropolis Part 2: Scenes From A Memory
Tracklist: Regression (2.06), Overture 1928 (3.38), Strange Deja Vu (5.12), Through My Words (1.03), Fatal Tragedy (6.49), Beyond This Life (11.23), Through Her Eyes (5.29), Home (12.53), The Dance of Eternity (6.14), One Last Time (3.47), The Spirit Carries On (6.38), Finally Free (12.00).
Many fans were disappointed when the track Metropolis Part 2, the sequel to their 1992 classic off Images And Words, was left off the 1997 album Falling Into Infinity. However, the band explained that the track didn't suit the album and would be released as a separate EP. Now, more than two years later, that highly anticipated EP is finally here, and the thirty minute "track" has evolved to a full seventy-seven minute concept album. And I'll tell you, it was worth the wait.
Earlier this year keyboardist Derek Sherinian had been sacked in favour of the more classically trained Jordan Rudess, who had already worked with drummer Mike Portnoy and guitarist John Petrucci on the Liquid Tension Experiment with Tony Levin on bass. A wise decision, because although Sherinian wasn't a bad musician at all, his contributions to Falling Into Infinity somehow seemed to lack something. Yet now Rudess manages to combine the fast solos of Dream Theater's first keyboardist Kevin Moore, together with the warmer approach of Sherinian, thus achieving new heights for this world-class band.
But then still... an eerie feeling came over me when I heard about the dreaded words "concept album". Dream Theater isn't exactly known for their sublime lyrics - it's all about the music and the melodies after all. So how would they deal with it? I was pleasantly surprised, because the album contains everything a classic progressive concept album is supposed to have: the typical type of lyrics that don't seem to make sense until you actually know the underlying incomprehensible story (about a man who finds out that he has lived before as a woman, and that he/she was murdered in the twenties. He tries to find out about her - and his - life through regression and unravels the mysteries of the murder).
The twelve songs are divided into two acts, which are each divided in five and four scenes respectively (and yes, apparently the film-script has already been written). Some of the songs are seen from first person perspective (either the man, Nicholas, or the woman he used to be, Victoria), but others are cleverly sung from a third person perspective (like the heavy Beyond This life, which is a newspaper article about the murder).
Meanwhile the voice of the psychiatrist comes through every once in a while, leading Nicholas (and the listener) through the regression. But remember that a session only takes an hour!
Musically this is also the best they have ever done. The band had already proved to be tremendous musicians, they have now taken it a few steps beyond. James LaBrie sings better in mellow, relaxed songs - the band plays in loud and heavy songs. Here they have found the perfect balance between heavy-metal parts, with top-speed keyboard- and guitar-solos, and quieter parts, including the two ballads Through her eyes and The spirit carries on.
And also the music follows the rules of a classic concept album, like numerous sound effects and recurring themes (like the siblings Through my words and Through her eyes, or the vocal melody in Regression which returns in The spirit carries on). But the best gimmicks are the two instrumental songs Overture 1928 and The dance of eternity which both start with a very brief reference to the classic Metropolis part 1.
There are some moments of recognition as well; most notably Regression and The spirit carries on. In both songs LaBrie sings very much like Roger Water's way of mumbling through the words, and especially the latter of the two could easily have been a Floyd creation, complete with a Hammond organ, choir and a Gilmour-like guitar-solo. But apart from these references the album is mainly a feast of self-indulgence, which the band blows over you, with a strong leading role for newcomer Rudess, tightly supported by the other members. Only bassist John Myung is less prominent than on the other albums. Apart from a bass-solo in The dance of eternity and some heavy bass-playing during the guitar-solo in One last time he can barely be heard. But apart from that there is nothing at all to criticise on this album.
It’s a pity really that Counting out Time has actually finished, as this would definitely have been my choice for the 1999 chapter.
Undoubtedly the best album of the year!
Fountain of Tears - Fountain of Tears
Tracklist:Survive (6:34), She Wants To Be (6:37), The Sleeper (6:03), Carousel (5:35), Real (5:21), Tracks 6-10 same as 1-5 but instrumental
This is the debut album of USA-based Fountain of Tears. Now, you can't be too critical of a first-born, but in this case I think I should be, since there is some potential here, if they find a way to produce their next album better.
Piano is a very prominent instrument on this album. The first track opens with it and it is the most prominent instrument in the mix throughout the song. This automatically means that the (female) vocals are pushed back. I am not too impressed by them anyhow, so I think this is a good thing.... The song does have an OK melodic structure, but it is somewhat bare, a bit more power was in order. The second track reminded me a little bit of Rush, although the drumming here is really dull (contradiction in terms, eh?). Again, the overall melody is nice, but it lacks dynamic range. The third track is more Gothic, with church bells playing a melody. A poem (Edgar Allen Poe's The Sleeper) is recited over it and a dark atmosphere is created. Rhythmically, it is the most interesting and varied song, and overall the best track on the CD. The last two songs are completely in the same vein as the first two.
In summary: the mixing is really dull, without any dynamics, the drums are unimaginative, the female vocalist only uses the middle regions of her vocal capabilities and the instrumental tracks, being just copies of the first five without the vocals, add nothing. On a positive note: the melodic lines are generally nice and the recital of the poem in the third track gives it a nice spooky atmosphere. If they would have been able to deliver this type of songs throughout the album, it would have been fine. Now, it is merely mediocre. Next time: play with more guts and power!
Conclusion: 5 out of 10.
Grass - Grass
Tracklist:Rhyme (4:10), Freespace (3:45), Tribute to Tim (2:32), Cappuccino (2:18), Beast (4:21), The Rebel in the Desert (4:57), Butterfly (3:59), Chicxulub (3:29), Mr. McGoo (4:27), The Demented Caretaker (3:28), Cactus (4:15), Bilbobaggins (5:13), Flowerchildren (18:56)
Oh Dear, the eternal question pops up after hearing this cd by American based Grass: is this prog? Well, it definitely is not symphonic, that's for sure. But it has some progressive edges here and there. I'll give then the advantage of doubt and call it prog, since it mixes quite some styles, sometimes within a song but the lack of keyboards is severe.
Lyrics are really funny sometimes, in the first song for instance the lyrics are quite weird. It has some nice breaks with wah-wah peddle guitar parts. The second song has an almost Nirvana-like feel about it. The next song has funny lyrics again, alliterating (i.e. the first letters of each word are the same), but musically it reminds of antique Yes in its worst songs. The last song apparently consist of six different parts, since the cd contains 19 tracks, and only 13 have titles. The rest is not connected to each other in any way and just seem to have been forgotten.
Well, now I've basically summed up the different styles used on the album, giving you an impression of what can be found on it. In general, it is entertaining music, but the link with what most people would call "prog" is difficult. Therefore, the rating cannot be high, since we judge on prog-quality and not entertainment value.
I would say, continue in this way, just don't call it prog.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10.
Index - Index
Tracklist: Quaterna Requiem (7:57), Caverna (8:37), Serenata (8:01), Ciclos Das Mares (6:51), O Setimo Selo (9:49), Index (7:20)
We, Europeans, often tend to forget that lots of fine progressive music is made at the other side of the globe. Chile, Argentine and Brazil have a small but very lively prog-scene and maybe we should try to discover these countries once again to search for musical gold.
One of the first gold-mines explored by myself recently is Index, a four-piece band from Brazil. Their (debut?) album is purely instrumental, blending different styles of '70 prog, like Camel and ELP. As a result their sound leans heavily on the keyboards, played by Eliane Pisetta. She turns out to be a skilled keyboard-player, who appears to be able to (re)create every single keyboard-sound you had never heard again since, for example, Richard Sinclair left Camel.
The problem with instrumental music always is: "how to describe the tracks without falling in the inevitable trap of comparisons?"
All six tracks clock between 6 and 9 minutes. The opening track, Quaterna Requiem is a more jazz-rock influenced composition with many variations and an early Camel-like sound.
The first part of Caverna on the other hand is more atmospheric, with gentle organ-sounds on top of which some fun guitar pieces can be heard. Especially the last part of this track, with it's funky guitars and fusion-like rhythm is wonderful!
Serenata starts with a beautiful acoustic guitar-piece which definitely proves keyboardist Eliane Pisetta is not the only talented band member. Jones Junior knows how to handle the 6- and 12 strings as well. A piano-tune joins the guitar and the musical result is: romance. This track sounds very pure, as the rest of the album. It sounds like the recordings are 'live', which makes every instrument very audible and the music very transparent. Like Seranata, Ciclos Das Mares has an acoustic introduction, preceded by a two-minute long 'synth' string-section, but soon develops into a lovely electric ballad, with a nice melody and enough room for Junior to improvise.
O Setimo Selo is another atmospheric composition, and -by writing this- I emphasize my main problem with this album. After about 20 minutes of instrumental music, I tend to lose concentration. Maybe it's lack of variation of styles, rhythms and sounds, or maybe it's the instrumental character of the compositions, but despite the quality of the music I miss something that grabs and holds me. On the other hand, better no singer than a bad singer.
But I won't be too negative about this, since there's a lot to enjoy on this album, like the bass-solo in the middle of O Setimo Selo or the Wakeman-ian combination of piano and synths in the title track, Index.
The prominent position of the keyboards in Index's music is remarkable considering the fact that the music is written by the guitar-player. Maybe a co-operation with a singer would make Index focus a bit more on melody than on the current musical schemes and themes. It would make the music a bit more accessible.
However, the band should never loose their 'retro'-sound, since the special combination of guitar and keyboards gives Index a gem, worth to polish. The first signs of 24-karat gold can be found here already. For fans of instrumental jazz-prog with lovely retro-sounds, explore this cave!
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10Jan-Jaap de Haan
Janison Edge - The Services of Mary Goode
Tracklist: A Twist in the Tale of Earth History (9:29), "OLDMAN" (2:02), Beneath the Boy (8:29), The Services of Mary Goode (5:40), The Birth of Mary Goode (9:34), Mary Goode and the Dwarf of Dreams (4:09), Joker (5:49), Julie Lies (7:18), The Day That I Fell (11:36)
Janison Edge started as a project by Mike Varty, known for his keyboard-work with Shadowland, and female singer Sue Element. Skilled musicians like Landmarq's Dave Wagstaffe on drums, Arena's Ian Salmon on guitars and Paul Brown of Medicine Man on bass complete the line-up. Last year, their first album The Services Of Mary Goode was released, which reviewed here.
The opening track on the album is A Twist in the Tale of Earth History. The sound of Janison Edge is very recognizable as neo-progressive. Sweeping guitars, bombastic organs and on top of that a typical synth-solo. Sue Elements female voice is something different than 'ordinary' and it's nice to see another female-singer entering the prog-circle. The sound of her voice is very accessible and nice to hear, although she hasn't the power of e.g. Tracy Hitchings.
Oldman, the second song, is a gentle ballad, where Mike Varty accompanies Sue Element's lovely vocals on piano. Together they were responsible for all the material. Oldman leads into Beneath The Boy, which starts as a mid-tempo song, but changes in the middle into a threatening bombastic piece, 'starring' Ian Salmon on guitars, followed by a great and fast keyboard solo.
The title track is divided into four parts. The first two of them are The Services of Mary Goode and The Birth of Mary Goode. The former is an atmospheric song, mainly as a result of the use of organs, much reverb on the guitars and military drums. The latter is longer song, with several rhythm-changes and returning choruses. At moments it reminds me of some Shadowland compositions. Although it's a longer track, it's not very clear where it's going, which is a pity.
The third part of 'Mary Goode' is Mary Goode and The Dwarf Of Dreams. This part is introduced by mystical synth- and wind sounds. Piano and acoustic guitars accompany Sue Element in the first part of the track. This is a very gentle song, which is a sort-of cross-over between Kate Bush and Madonna (can you imagine that?).
Joker is a very typical song, which I really like. It has a very strange rhythm, several breaks and nice sound-effects. One of the more adventurous and, as a result, more original songs. Towards the end it speeds up in a great way. Lovely track!
Julie Lies is a lovely ballad, with lots of mellotron, a lovely piano and nice acoustic guitars. Element has a very fragile and soft voice here, which is really nice. Julie Lies gradually builds on and on and becomes more powerful towards the end.
The Day That I Fell is the last part of the title-track and the longest song on the album. Like the other longer tracks, The Day That I fell certainly has beautiful parts, but as a whole these longer tracks lack a bit of direction. Salmon's rhythm-guitar doesn't sound very inspired at moments -'though the solos are great!- and some keyboard-parts are a bit unoriginal -'though I love the sound!-. However, this doesn't make The Day That I Fell less interesting, because a lot is happening in these 11 minutes. Heavy and soft parts, fragile and bombastic pieces, it's all there. So there's much too discover and enjoy in this finale-track.
All in all, I think Janison Edge have made a fine album with some lovely songs (Dwarf Of Dream, Joker) and great keyboard stuff (Beneath The Boy) on it. The longer, more traditional neo-progressive tracks have much to enjoy, but sometimes lack a bit of originality and direction. Overall, however, The Services Of Mary Goode is a nice and interesting debut-album, packed in some lovely artwork and certainly worth a try.
Conclusion: 8- out of 10Jan-Jaap de Haan
Landmarq - Thunderstruck
Tracklist: Pinewood Avenue (6:14), Solitary Witness (5:38), Science Of Coincidence (4:44), Tailspin (5:02), The Overlook (9:20), Between Sleeping and Dreaming (9:18), Borders (4:33), Summer Madness (10:47)
Last year, Landmarq returned to the European stages with a new singer: Tracy Hitchings had replaced the illustrious Damian Wilson. With Tracy, Landmarq released Science Of Coincidence, their fourth studio-album and probably their best to date. Many of the gigs of their 1998/99-tour were recorded with Thunderstruck as the result. Half of this album consists of material off Science Of Coincidence and half of it originates from previous albums.
Pinewood Avenue from The Vision Pit is a great opener. It's an upbeat track, which gets the audience (including you) in a party spirit immediately. Drummer Dave Wagstaffe gives the track a 'harder' edge by using a double bass drum. Tracy Hitchings appears to be very capable of singing Wilson's melody, but she refrains from copying him.
Solitary Witness has changed a lot. The bagpipe-introduction has been replaced by a faster part, which leads the audience from Pinewood Avenue to the much quieter Solitary Witness. This is one of the things I really like on this album. Many of the songs, including the more recent ones, have been rearranged or expanded, which makes this live album more than a 'studio album with audience'. Solitary Witness is one of the best examples of this. Tracy Hitchings really made this song one of her own. It's one of the best tracks Landmarq have written and a beautiful ballad.
The title-track of the Science Of Coincidence album is next. This is a real fun track, a typical neo-prog song, like Marillion's Incommunicado or Arena's Welcome To The Cage, with a very prominent role for a repeated key-lead by Steve Leigh.
Tailspin was something special for the band, since they had never played it before. A jazzy and melodic bass-line by Steve Gee is the basis for this mellow track, which makes you really dream away. A new key-solo and Tracy's voice make this song a complete new version of the original on Infinity Parade.
The Overlook is a beautiful epic, starting off with a nice piano-part, followed by an emotional Tracy Hitchings, who really shows her best in this track. It slowly develops into a very Floydian instrumental part with a leading spot for Uwe d'Rose on guitar, reminiscent of Gilmour and Latimer. A faster and heavier part - with enough room for all musicians to show their talents - is the highlight of this song and of the album. Simply awesome!
Since this album changes from fast and heavy to quiet and atmospheric every other song, another ballad is up next. Between Sleeping And Dreaming is another of those re-worked tracks, which features an entirely different second part. The first part however remained the same and still brings you this lullaby-like mood, in a combination of orchestral sounds and intense vocals. The new second part has been constructed around Steve Leigh's piano-part and slowly grows into a bombastic finale.
Borders is one of the oldest Landmarq-songs and - to be honest - my less favourite on this album. However, I think many fans will be grateful Landmarq has released this track, because -as with Solitary Witness and Tailspin - the original hasn't been available since the demise of their previous label, SI-music. Borders is a bit 'folky', in the vein of Fish' Internal Exile and features nice harmonies by the rest of the band.
Summer Madness is the perfect end of the album, as it was live. This joyful, up-beat song usually makes the audience jump and sing-along. On this version Hitchings makes her audience participate as well. She also introduces the band in a very funny way, which - again - adds something different to the original. Great finale!
To conclude, it's great to have Landmarq back and this is the best proof of it. Thunderstruck presents the best side of the band. The atmospheric album is a great addition to your Landmarq collection, or a great starting point for new fans. Produced by Karl Groom at Thin Ice studios the album sounds great and a collection of funny and rare pictures is featured in the booklet. Thunderstruck probably is the best live-album of the year. Looking forward to their next studio-album.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10Jan-Jaap de Haan
Marillion - Marillion.Christmas
Tracklist: Gabriel's Message (4.09), The Answering Machine (3.19), Interior Lulu (8.42), Tumble Down the Years (4.36), Memory of Water (10.03), Abraham Martin and John (4.34), Runaway (4.44), Estonia (6.41), Beautiful (5.03), Marillion's Message (3.01).
Last year Marillion followed the good habit of bands like Dream Theater and Pendragon to present their fans with an annual Christmas present. Last year's cd featured some hilarious Christmas messages from the band, as well as snippets of new songs and a karaoke contest with the instrumental backing tracks of No one can, Beautiful, Cover my Eyes and These Chains - not very interesting for more than a few spins in your CD-player.
However, this year's Christmas cd is something different. It starts with a completely new track, Gabriel's Message, which is Marillion's version of a traditional Christmas-carol and a beautiful one too! One of the more "progressive" tracks they've recorded these past years, with multi-layered vocals, roaring guitars and some haunting samples (of kids singing Jingle Bell!!!). Of course it is just a fun thing, but musically very interesting.
The next track is a never released single edit of Answering Machine, which is not very different than the album version, apart from its length: a much more comfortable three minutes. I never really liked this track as it sounds way too much like the currently popular trends in the British music-industry. So had they released it as a single, without the name Marillion attached to it, it could even have become a hit!
Then we are treated with Interal Lulu and Tumble down the years, two tracks that had been recorded for last year's Radiation album, but weren't considered good enough at the time. The songs have been re-recorded and re-arranged for their latest album Marillion.com and now the two songs are presented here in their previous form. Especially Interior Lulu is an interesting one, as it has a much more laid-back feel to it, and it doesn't have the percussion during the first part. Also Mark Kelly's keyboard solo is much clearer and the fact that this version is only half as long as the final version, makes it a welcome alternative if you don't want to spend the full 15 minutes of the .com version.
Tumble down the years is not so much different, it's a bit more rocky in the vein of Radiation.
Then we are treated on yet another remix of Memory of Water. This time the technopox remix, which is rather boring and worse than last year's Silent Budha mix. Fortunately it's only a mere 10 minutes you have to sit through...
The next three tracks have been recorded earlier this year when the band was preparing an acoustic tour through France, which got postponed as bass player Pete Trewavas got hospitalised after a traffic accident.
The first of the three is the beautiful Marvin Gaye cover Abraham, Martin and John, which is also featured on the Unplugged at the Walls album. However, this version is entirely acoustic, and the roaring Gibson guitar of Steve Rothery has been replaced by a piano, giving a whole new dimension to the song.
Also the next track, Runaway, is different from its preceding acoustic versions on Unplugged at the Walls and the re-mastered Brave bonus-cd.
Estonia, the third track has never been released in an acoustic form before, and once again the band has wonderfully managed to scale the electric parts down to acoustic guitar and piano.
The last real track on the disc is one of last year's karaoke contest winners: Anne Bond, a teacher at Cradley CE Primary School had turned the song Beautiful into a singing exercise for her class. The band invited Bond and her class to the Racket Club recording studios, to record the song with the band and the kids.
So it's out of tune, out of time and, frankly, quite horrible.
The cd finishes with a message from the band (mainly Mark Kelly and later Steve Hogarth) explaining about the tracks on the cd and wishing everybody a Merry Christmas. Very funny, but not for more than a few listens, just like the horrible previous track. And that is where the band did well: they put the two least interesting tracks the last, so it is quite easy to switch off your cd-player just before these come-up.
And hey, it's a freebie, so why complain? There are plenty interesting tracks on it!
The cd is only available for members of the Marillion fanclub and comes free with an annual subscription. For more information, visit the Marillion website.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Melbourne - Indian Ocean
Tracklist: Free (6:51), River God (7:38), Rainy Day (4:39), All That You Are (3:15), Voodoo Stirred (5:11), Shaken (4:54), Because of You (7:19), The Visit (5:52), The Sun in Summer (5:49).
Who is Melbourne? Well, Melbourne are Doug and Carrie Melbourne. I saw them both play with different bands last year. I saw Doug playing as 'Tony' with his band ReGenesis, and Carrie I saw with Mike Oldfield on his 'Guitars'-tour. Together, Doug on keys and Carrie on bass, Chapman Stick and vocals, they recorded an album entitled Indian Ocean.
Right from the first song, Free, the influence of Oldfield becomes clear. An electronic (but not 'plastic'!) drumbeat is the backbone of an atmospheric track, with a 'tapestry' of key-sounds and Carrie's nice voice on top of it. Towards the end Doug gives a gentle solo and in the meantime the song 'flows' from chord to chord.
River God shows Carrie on Chapman Stick more prominently. Some oriental percussion adds in a great way to the drumbeat at the background. In the middle Carrie has room for a bass/Sticks-solo, after which is returned to the sounds and percussion of the first part. As with Oldfield's music, this instrumental slowly develops into different directions.
Rainy Day follows more of a 'song'-structure, with a recognizable verse-and-chorus division. On the background Doug creates different sounds, including a 'distorted' guitar-sound, while on the foreground a fretless bass fills the gaps between the vocals.
All That You Are is a bit faster composition, with a very nice combination of piano-sounds and a deep bass-line. Doug even has a vocal part and the combination with the deep bass reminds me of Peter Gabriel's work.
This impression is confirmed by the beginning of the next song, Voodoo Stirred, which starts with African drums, but soon changes into a 'soundscape', with a desert-like atmosphere, slowly developing into a lovely bass-line, with a vocal, not unlike Suzanne Vega's. Very nice indeed!
Shaken starts with a fast drum-and-bass rhythm, with a deep sound and soft keys on top of it. Although rhythm and melody are complete opposites here, the sounds as a whole is balance. On top of it all, Doug plays a very subtle piano-part.
A dark string section opens Because of You. A great rhythm/beat, including clicking fingers and again a deep bass-line brings Peter Gabriel (or better: Tony Levin) to mind. At moments, out of the dark, the string section returns. Very mystical. Very strange. At moments it even seems as if they've been playing in different rooms at the same moment. But, as with Shaken, despite the contrast of rhythm and music, the whole is in balance. The song ends with a spoken text.
The Visit is a duet between Doug and Carrie. It's a nice song with a lovely atmosphere and a great Stick-part. The percussion really adds to the romantic mood. Doug knows his vocal limitations, so what he does is right at its place. His vocal part supports Carrie's.
The final song, The Sun in Summer, is a very oriental song, with 'Indian' vocals and eastern key-sounds. Again, the Levin-like bass-sound creates a dark atmosphere, whereas the Stick adds a lighter touch. As with many compositions on Indian Ocean, the on-going percussion, carries you along different sounds and atmospheres. Just let yourself go and enjoy.
I think Indian Ocean is a must for any Mike Oldfield fan. This album offers some very interesting music, in which rhythm and atmosphere are more important than melody and lyrics. As a reference Amorak comes to mind, but Indian Ocean is even better than some Oldfield albums.
For none-Oldfield fans: this is a very atmospheric album, with interesting Stick-work and nice keyboard-soundscapes. To be honest I think it's more Carrie's than Doug's album, since she's more prominently featured. If Melbourne concentrates a tiny bit more on melody and adds one or two 'songs' (contrary to 'compositions') to their work, I'm sure they will appeal to even more people, since this would make their next album a bit more accessible. A bit more attention to the artwork would finish it all off.
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10Jan-Jaap de Haan
Mostly Autumn - For All We Shared
Tracklist: Nowhere To Hide (Close my Eyes) (6:12), Porcupine Rain (4:40), The Last Climb (8:00), Heroes Never Die (9:33), Folklore (5:49), Boundeless Ocean (5:42), Shenanigans (3:50), Steal Away (4:56), Out Of The Inn (6:43), The Night Sky (10:25)
An absolutely brilliant debut album by Mostly Autumn. This band, consisting of no less than 8 musicians, is probably the best debut band of 1999 (unfortunately I received the albums too late to include them in my 1999 poll votes...). Bryan Josh is the main composer, and a gifted one indeed. On their second album, which I'll discuss below, keyboard player Iain Jennings shows that he is equally gifted. This band is going to produce more miracle albums in the future, trust me! It's Pink Floyd with Celtic influences, although both influences are quite well separated on both albums.
Opening with a real nice prog song, a bit in the vein of the recently deceased Egdon Heath, they show already the maturity of their compositions. Constantly changing between major and minor chords, they still produce a relatively "easily digestible" track. The next one, Porcupine Rain is a powerful, bit spacey track. It opens with a really electronic sound, a bit like IQ's track Subterranea opens, then entering into a Floydian part. The intertwining vocal harmonies of Josh and female vocalist Heather Findlay create an atmosphere of great power and beauty. The Last Climb has a calm Hackett-like guitar/ electronic jazz organ duet for an opening, with birdies tweeting in the background. The main melody reminds in feeling of the type of music on Floyds' The Division Bell or even Richard Wrights' solo album Broken China (the track with Sinead O'Connor on vocals of that album especially comes quite close). Of course I can't remember the Floyd using a violin solo on their albums though! This is also the first track with a typical Gilmourish guitar solo, although I must say it is probably more like the most recent Pendragon tracks (spot the subtle difference ?). The opening of Heroes Never Die comes close to Camel's Heroes in all aspects (note the flute that is obligatory then!). A guitar section reminiscent of the one from track 2 sets in subsequently. The track only slowly gains momentum, keeping the bit tight atmosphere only to burst out in a big chorus, which is repeated in a transposed key. Three minutes of beautiful guitar work (a successor to Comfortably Numb has been born...) tops off yet another small masterpiece.
So far for the Floydian part of the album. Now, with a traditional called Folklore a completely different part starts: Celtic music sometimes larded with prog. Folklore starts with a melody that may be the same one as Belfast Child of the Simple Minds (I'm not sure though) but then enters into a gay violin/tin whistle tune. Irish pubs on Sunday afternoons.... as suddenly as it appeared it is gone and a powerfull prog part starts...and almost unnoticeably through two bars of drumming goes back to the Irish part. You don't believe what you're hearing!
Boundless Ocean features a flute intro that doesn't remind of Camel (yes, its possible)! It is a quite ballad type track, with a violin solo and a type of keyboard playing and drumming that bring the Floyd back in your head...
Irish dance and djembé on the next one! Ever heard of Red Jasper's Midsummernight's Dream (it's on one of the SI samplers)? Well, imagine that track played with much more power and fury and you'll get close to this one! Cool Celtic Rock.
Steal Away is a ballad, with Heather Findlay on lead vocals. She has a really nice voice and it's a shame that she doesn't get so do more lead work on this album. A smoothly flowing melody with lots of keyboard tapestry. A story told by a man with a fiddle starts Out of the Inn, something similar has been done by Ritual on their debut album (although this one isn't in Swedish). The song itself is Irish again, but with interesting keyboard effects mixed through it and a melody that reminds of Pallas' The Sentinel. Slowly the Irish drops off and only the prog part remains. Can you imagine what it sounds like? No? Then go and buy this album! If not for this then for the last track, the 10+ minute The Night Sky, with a kind of build up like Pendragon on Masquerade Overture. For five minutes it is calm, increasing tension with a violin solo, that turns into a melancholic guitar solo, fading in the wind.
By now you have guessed that I am really impressed by this album. Normally, when I am this impressed I give a 9. Thing is, their next child, The Spirit of Autumn Past, is even better. Now, I don't rank higher than a 9 (unless a second Dark Side comes around), so this one gets a:
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.
Mostly Autumn - The Spirit of Autumn Past
Tracklist: Winter Mountain (6:55), This Great Blue Pearl (5:41), Pieces of Love (4:15), Please (6:10), Evergreen (8:00), Styhead Tarn (3:32), Shindig (3:07), Blakey Ridge/When The Waters Meet (2:12), Underneath the Ice (3:49), Through the Windows (4:41), The Spirit of Autumn Past (part 1) (2:43), The Spirit of Autumn Past (part 2) (6:30), The Gap Is Too Wide (11:37)
After being stunned by their first album, see above, I was eager to hear their second one. And the little criticism I had with the first (e.g. Heather Findlay not singing enough) was resolved on this one. After the first one, this one is really familiar since the whole construction of the album (where are the uptempo tracks, where are the slow ones, where Celtic, where Floydian) is almost identical.
In the wind that opens the CD, the guitar solo of the last song of the previous album can be heard, indicating that they just continue where they have left on the previous album. Winter Mountain is an uptempo cross between Floyd, recent Marillion and Celtic Rock. This Great Blue Pearl has a " modern Floyd" feel to it, with Jennings playing a cool Hammond. A nice track that ends with one of those by now familiar Gilmour guitar pieces. Findlay does lead vocals on the calm early Genesis-like piece Pieces of Love (think of the quiet Lamb tracks). Then the album goes a bit deeper with the stunning, crying, Please. Intense, with a melancholic powerful chorus not often heard, this song is one of the highlights of the album. Evergreen is a semi-acoustic piece, with Findlay showing the beauty of her voice. In a song of this length, compositional quality comes to light. The leaflet of Cyclops gave me a clue: this song reminds a bit of Stairway to Heaven. Indeed, in structure and melancholy it does.
Styhead Tarn is more experimental, with a firm beat and spooky sound effects. The album now enters the Celtic Rock part with violin and flute in Shindig and Blakey Ridge/When the Waters Meet. Underneath the Ice is difficult to put in a corner: a bit hippy-like maybe. Through the Window is again a Celtic/ Rory Gallagher track.
Then things turn to magic: The Spirit of Autumn Past opens with a Wright-like piano track, but intensely quiet and of great beauty. An electric guitar sets in, and a song that is typical of the starts of the last two Floyd albums arises. This flows into part two, that grows into a Dire Straits type of track with a powerful chorus. The last track, an epic called The Gap Is Too Wide is a sad song, in memory of Susan Jennings. A beautiful melody softly takes the listener into another world. Then a choir including friends and family of Susan set in, sending shivers down my spine. The guitar sings its song of sorrow and longing and on top of all Troy Donockley of Iona gives a superb Uilleann pipe solo. Wow.
Intense, almost 70 minutes of beautiful compositions and great musicianship. Mostly Autumn combine Floyd with Celtic music in a natural, non-forced way. Great vocals, guitar and keyboards, need I say more? Go get this album, and the previous one while you're at it! These people can, no should, become big.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10.
Mike Oldfield - The Millennium Bell
Tracklist:Peace on Earth (4.10), Pacha Mama (4.06), Santa Maria (2.44), Sunlight Through the Cloud (4.33), The Doge’s Palace (3.07), Lake Constance (5.17), Mastermind (3.04), Broad Sunlit Uplands (4.03), Liberation (2.38), Amber light (3.43), The Millennium Bell (7.38)
Mike Oldfield has been responsible for some of the most innovative and original music over the last three decades, the quality of which has been steadily reclining in recent years. And although he was on the right way back with his last album Guitars, this third release in only fourteen months, a celebration of the last 2000 years in a mere 45 minutes, must be his worst ever (yes, even worse than Tubular Bells III).
It starts with the horrible cover, which prominently shows his Tubular Bells logo once more. This, and the word "bell" in the title can only mean one thing: money. The cover is made of a collection of images, circling around the bell logo. This is done in such a terrible way, that I suspect Mike has created it himself back home, while playing with his i-Mac. His recent departure with manager Clive Banks has also led to a departure with the Bill Smith studios, which, in my opinion, did a far better job on his covers. And the anonymous liner notes are nothing more than propaganda-like press release, of which I wonder whether the author had actually ever heard the album before writing them.
The album starts very promising with the beautiful Peace on Earth - a vocal track, sung by Camilla Darlow, which represents the birth of Christ and the beginning of modern times. The song sounds not unlike Clannad, but then with the very distinct Oldfield-guitar present. Simply beautiful and immediately the best song on the album.
We immediately leap a thousand years forward in time with Pacha Mama, a song that is supposed to bring an ode to the South American Inca culture. And although musically this song is perfect, I wonder if Oldfield couldn’t have come up with better lyrics than just the two Quechua words, which are repeated over and over: Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) and Sacsayhuamán (satisfied falcon, this was an early working title for the album because of the incredible funny name you get when reading this word out in English).
The next song, Santa Maria, is about Columbus’ discovery of the new world in 1492 and wouldn't have sounded out of place on Vangelis' Conquest of paradise soundtrack. Then African vocals accompany an electronic drumbeat while a diary of Captain John Newton (1725-1807, captain of slave ship Duke of Argyle) is read out. From here the album goes straight downhill.
One of Oldfield's long time dreams was to perform with a full orchestration. On this album this dream comes finally true, when he had exactly one day to record with the London Session Orchestra at the Abbey road studios in London. The Doge’s palace is supposed to deal with renaissance-time Venice, although the 1990’s drumbeat accompanying the orchestrated track is completely out of place.
Lake Constance is a completely orchestral piece, which makes me wonder why Oldfield has never used an orchestra for albums like Voyager (1996) or The Wind Chimes (1987). This song is a welcome relief after the terrible previous track. It is also a welcome relief for the upcoming two tracks: the James Bond-eque Mastermind, dealing with 1920's gangsters, and Broad Sunlit Uplands, which deals with Churchill and WWII (which is the only song where a small bit of the classic Tubular Bells album is used).
Then a fragment of Anne Frank’s diary is shamelessly used for Liberation, read by Oldfield's daughter Greta, only to continue with the media-revolution of the last four decades – all accompanied by an African rhythm not unlike 1990's Amarok.
It is the splendour of the same Amarok, which I miss on the last real track Amber Light, where the African vocals are a far cry from the vocals featured on the aforementioned album.
The title track and last track on the album is supposed to deal with the future, and Oldfield does that by shamelessly copying the style of techno-band Underworld, before giving a reprise of almost every song on the album.
The album is a far cry from anything Oldfield has ever done before and not so much of a representative album for ending this millennium. Let's hope in the next millennium he will find some of his originality back.Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10.
Saga - Full Circle
Tracklist: Remember When (Chapter 9) (5:20), The One (4:21), Follow Me (5:07), Uncle Albert's Eyes (Chapter 13) (5:22), Home (5:06), Don't Say Goodbye (5:33), Time Bomb (4:05), Not This Way (Chapter 10), A Night To Remember (5:44), Goodbye (3:59)
Saga's musical history is one of highs and lows: classics like the first three albums and the recent concept album Generation 13 alternated with disappointing albums like The Beginners Guide To Throwing Shapes and Steel Umbrellas. When classifying the new record, it must undoubtedly fall into the first category. Full Circle harks back to Saga's early years, while at the same time presenting a modern sound.
Opener Remember When immediately sets the tone for the rest of the album: bombastic keyboards accompanied by that distinctive melodic rhythm guitar sound. One thing that is immediately apparent is that the production on this album is just awesome: very fat as we would say here in Holland.
The One is a very heavy track, a little heavier than we're used to hear from Saga, but it's still a great track, with a leading role for Ian Crichton who gives it his best on his guitar. How different is Follow Me, which starts with acoustic guitar before evolving into a slow ballad. Halfway into this Marillionesque track Michael Sadler is even accompanied by a children's choir.
The very varied Uncle Albert's Eyes starts with some great keyboard rhythms and melodies. The second part of the track has a blistering duel between guitar and keyboards. Home is a largely acoustic track, which gradually builds up in strength to a driving finale.
Don't Say Goodbye again starts with those hallmark keyboard / guitar rhythms before going over into a style reminiscent of Generation 13, with some great bass work by Jim Crichton. A couple of weird noises lead into Time Bomb, which is second only to The One in heaviness. The contrast between light verses and heavy chorus is greater the former track, though. It's those keyboard / guitar rhythms again, although they now alternate each other.
Not This Way is the third Chapter song on the album (that tradition has been given new life, too) and a real ballad with a leading role for Michael Sadler who is given the chance to demonstrate his vocal capabilities. A Night To Remember is a real Full Circle track again (you know what I was going to write next, so I won't!), while closer Goodbye is a slow track starting with very emotional guitar. This is a perfect closer, finishing the album but at the same time hinting at things to come.
Saga have certainly redeemed themselves again with this release, which is in my top-5 albums of 1999. The high point of this album is that it is consistently good, containing some very strong tracks but no weak tracks. And I would like to stress again the incredible production. In my opinion, the production determines at least a quarter of the quality of an album and in the case of Full Circle it has made that album a quarter better than it already is!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Sfumato - Demo 1999
Tracklist: Wrong! (5.40), Jake the Grain (11.50), Spleen (6.12), Take2 (6.41), Paranon (14.21)
Sfumato is a German band consisting of Jörg Schmider on guitar, Marcus Dörr and Bernd Reingold both on keyboards and vocals, Roger Klambauer on bass and Sven Schmidt on drums, percussion and vocals. This demo cd has been recorded in their own rehearsal room, and that shows, as the sound quality isn't much to write home about. So it is a wise decision of the band to release this as their "demo" rather than their "album".
The album opens with the uptempo Wrong!, which immediately makes you label the band as progressive metal, the type of music which is becoming way too abundant nowadays. However, the band does show they have talent and the title probably refers to their choice for this song as an album opener, as it is the worst track on the album.
The next track Jake the Grain shows the band is more than "just another progressive metal band", as this is not metal at all.
It starts with about two minutes of very ambient keyboards, before a Yes-like guitar starts playing and we are presented to a twelve minute epic full of time-signature changes, which even includes a bass solo. By this time all the Yes references have already disappeared and the band sounds much more like an aggressive version of Egdon Heath or Chandelier. (the latter is of course an easy reference because of the accented vocals).
The beautiful ballad Spleen confirms the Chandelier reference. It has some beautiful guitar-work and a great bass melody. Don't listen to the lyrics, it's the melody that counts. At least, with this band, because their ability of writing music is clearly greater than their poetic capabilities - as with many bands that sing in a second language.
It is probably therefore why the instrumental Take 2 stands out among the rest of the songs. It is a six minute trip through almost every possible rhythm without ever sounding "overdone". Excellent stuff.
The epic Paranon shows the full capabilities of the band. What prog-metal? This is pure sympho! Excellent complex melodies, plenty time-signature changes and above all: real music, rather than just a collection of guitar- and keyboard solos
To conclude, this band certainly has potential. With a bit more polishing of their songs (especially the endings) and a better production, Sfumato could become one of the future favourites. Keep an eye out for them!
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Spock's Beard - Live at The Whisky and Nearfest
Tracklist: Disc one: Introduction (1:01), Mouth of Madness (5:00), Gibberish (4:40), Skin (4:14), Go The Way You Go (13:27), The Distance To The Sun (9:50)
Disc Two: The Doorway (14:04), The Light (20:13), June (3:48), Waste Away (5:04), Squonk (3:33), Walking On The Wind (10:01).
Spock's Beard's fourth studio release, Day For Night, was very well received, for instance by the German magazine Rock Hard which rewarded it with a 10! As a result the number of people attending Spock's Beard's gig is still increasing. Fortunately 'The Beards' have their enthusiastic followers in their home country, the US of A, as well. Their tour in the summer of '99 was quite successful, with their Whisky-performance in L.A. and their appearance at Nearfest as highlights.
On both occasions mentioned above, recordings were made, but regrettably the multi-track tapes were 'screwed up'. Despite this setback, the band decided to bring out a double-live album and a video (of the Whisky-show). With this decision they give fans a nice souvenir of this tour and they avoid extensive bootlegging of the concerts, which were broadcast on the Internet as well.
Personally, I consider this decision to use the mixing-desk tapes as a good one. Of course the result isn't 'top-sound-quality', but overall the sound-quality is quite well and at least the live atmosphere is maintained (something which cannot be said of many multi-multi-track recordings). "Live at The Whisky and Nearfest" features almost two hours of music, which means almost a full set. Only The Healing Colours of Sound, which was a highlight of this tour, is missing.
After the introduction of the band, The Beards break loose with a fast version of Mouth Of Madness, which really has grown to a great live track, largely because of the great drums and breaks.
Gibberish is destined to be a 'stayer' and a new live favourite. This Gently Giant-inspired song, as Neal Morse explains the audience, hasn't lost anything of its character. "Do you want anything in 4/4?", Morse asks the audience. "No!", is the answer, but Skin they get. And it rocks!
Regrettably Morse's voice is a bit raspy here and there and maybe that's why the larger part of the album is taken of the Whisky-concert. Morse struggles himself all the way through a great version of Go The Way You Go, which is not only a highlight live, but also on this album.
The Distance To The Sun was dropped for some of the European gigs, but is present on this CD. The almost Crosby, Stills & Nash-like singing of Neal and drummer Nick d'Virgilio really send shivers down the spine.
Bass-player Dave Meros is prominently featured on his Rickenbacker-bass in the introduction of a great version of Crack The Big Sky, another track from Day For Night. This is another typical Spock's Beard-track with many changes, instrumental interludes, and lovely solos by all five musicians.
The second CD starts with a one of my all-time Beard favourites: The Doorway. Over the years, the acoustic guitar-duet has been extended and also in this version it is one of the most remarkable parts. Neal and his brother Alan almost make it a duel!
If this wasn't enough, this epic is immediately followed by the longest composition on the album: The Light. This track has been present on the set-list, ever since their first album was released and here you have the chance to hear why. The reaction of the audience (although not as audible as one the Nearfest-tracks) to the question "Are they right?" is of course fun to hear, just as the terrific, almost three minute-long, drum-solo by Nick d'Virgilio. I can assure you Neal Morse is not the only one going mad at the end of this one!
The beautiful June, with -again- a prominent position for d'Virgilio on vocals, serves as a natural 'pause' before the much rockier Waste Away, which has become a traditional closer of the set for, with its lovely repeated melody. Regrettably the audience has some difficulty to sing along.
A pleasant surprise to many prog-fans is Squonk (originally by Genesis), which is played as the first encore. Although not the full song is played and the sound is not very balanced, especially d'Virgilio's vocal-capabilities make this version a joy to hear. I wish more bands surprised their audiences in such a way.
Walking On The Wind is the final song on the album and although it's not a natural 'set-closer' at first sight, it fits in here very well. It has a nice driving force, which shows in the great bass parts, and the lovely Hammond-parts, played by Ryo Okumoto. With its slower and bombastic ending with lovely mellotron and long guitar-solo, it turns out to be a perfect finale eventually.
To conclude: "Live at The Whisky and Nearfest" was not Spock's Beard's "dreamed" live-album and this probably is the main reason why it has been released on their own label, Radiant Records, instead of InsideOut.
However, despite its shortcomings, this double set is a really enjoyable live registration. It brings you all Spock's Beard is about, including the power and the fun. Although it's very simply packed, with little information and some black/white pictures, this might be a nice place to start listening to Spock's Beard. By playing songs from all of their albums, Spock's Beard made this a live 'best-of', which shows how the band has progressed over the years. All in all, this live double-album is a nice addition to your collection or a good way to meet these great musicians.
Conclusion: 8- out of 10Jan-Jaap de Haan
Triangle - Square The Circle
Tracklist: Foreword to the Elements of Life (6:34), Chasing the Shadows (7:29), The Centre Shines (11:08), The Saddest Show (10:28), Amy (5:36), Pygmalion (13:11), Nature's Window (11.07).
After a period of successful Dutch bands like Egdon Heath, Marathon and PTS in the first half of the nineties, it's become relatively silent in the Dutch prog-scene recently. Now there's a new act: Triangle. Triangle is a Dutch fourpiece, consisting of Roland van der Stoep (guitar), Jan-Willem Verkerk (bass) and Paul van der Zwaal (drums), and Martijn Paaschens (vocals/keyboards). Paaschens originally was the singer of the band, but soon he started playing keyboards as well, which added much to the progressive sound of the band. After two demo-CD's. ("Nature's Window" and "Pygmalion") they now release their first official CD "Square The Circle".
Square The Circle opens very bravely with a big instrumental piece, called Foreword To The Elements Of Life. These four 'elements' are illustrated in the beautiful artwork by Mattias Noren. The composition starts very atmospheric, with a prominent role for a melodic bass-line, but soon drums and guitar kick in with a fast and sweeping theme, which is repeated several times. It's a great opener, with much contrast between the more quiet and the heavier parts. This contrast remains throughout the album, which keeps the music interesting, but at the same time asks for the use of your volume button at moments.
Chasing The Shadows starts with a very gentle vocal/piano-part. Paaschens voice can best be compared with Jadis' Gary Chandler's and shows both power and subtlety. Chasing The Shadow has a faster second part with a prominent role for piano and bass, with sweeping guitar-solos in between. This song will certainly appeal to IQ-fans and at some moments it reminds me of No Name's latest album. The end is just as beautiful as the beginning.
The Center Shines is one of the four (!) '10 minute plus' songs. A spooky vocal with fast but melodic guitars opens the track. Van der Stoep's guitar-sound is very clear and very Hackett-like. A break leads to a quiet Marillion-like part with a great crescendo much alike this band. Slowly this builds to the chorus 'I scream at the sound of my alarm-clock' which sticks in your mind. After that, a deep 'musical breath' is taken before the next chorus. A very impressive song.
The Saddest Show opens with some high, almost Adrian Belew-like vocals. A slow ballad develops, with a returning guitar-pattern. Many TV- and Radio-sounds are used and a dark English spoken text creates the atmosphere for a very threatening part with haunting guitars, showing a strong resemblance to Steve Hackett's Spectral Mornings album. A quiet part with beautiful keyboards forms the middle part of the song, until the rest of the band joins for the finale. Drums and bass are slowly faded out and the listener is left with relaxing keyboard-sounds.
The shortest song on the album is Amy, but it lacks a straight verse/chorus structure. It leans heavily on guitars and complex rhythms. This doesn't make this song very accessible and maybe that's why I cannot get into this track. The melody isn't very clear either. Well, you can't satisfy all, can you?
A piano-part introduces the longest composition on the album, Pygmalion. A high guitar part and slow drumbeats accompany the vocals during the next minutes. A shivering guitar-solo marks the centre of this track. It leads to a break, followed by atmospheric keyboards, building to a faster part where the rest of the band returns for a sort of 'chorus'. From a melodic point of view this part echoes elements of some of the previous songs. The finale features heavy drums and breaks that eventually lead into a quiet ending.
Soft sounds lead into a nice guitar-rhythm, which brings you to a beautiful part, which bursts into the (by this moment) familiar, bombastic Triangle sound. Nature's Window combines some heavier bombastic parts with fragile melodic parts in a nice. Nice guitar-riffs go hand-in-hand with lovely keyboard-chords in the middle part. This part of the song ends with a thunderstruck and sounds of nature, followed by a dreamy guitar-line, played with much reverb. This slowly leads to a bit rawer sounds and a long solo finishes it all...
Although some improvement can be made in the variety of vocal-melodies, Triangle already show they're a mature band with this album. Intelligent music can be made in an accessible way and Triangle do this. All four of the musicians combine technical skills and emotion in their playing, which makes their music very enjoyable. With the beautifully packed Square The Circle they've made a great debut album and I'm sure they have the potential to even progress. Although the year 2000 has just started I guess Triangle is a candidate for 'newcomer of the year'. Let's hope this will push Dutch prog-rock in general to greater heights as well.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10Jan-Jaap de Haan
Trusties - Growing Smaller
Tracklist: Sounds Of Life (5:34), Dream Of 3 (3:03), His Blue Sky (4:14), Away (3:05), Morning Light (3:33), Why? (3:48), Come (4:06), Faraway (3:34), Lady Sun (3:54), Comanchio (3:19), Mother Earth (4:05), Goodbye (4:58), Further Away (4:31)
Trusties play minimalistic progressive rock. Or is it folk-music with Irish influences? Or is it melodic ethno-rock? There seem to be as many definitions for their musical style as listeners. In any case it's unique, acoustic music. Three guys from Finland released Growing Smaller in 1997. The main theme of the album is the near relationship between man and nature as an opposite of the distant relationship between people themselves.
Sound Of Life is the first, and longest, track of the album. It's a nice upbeat song with fine harmony vocals and a joyful chorus. Trusties creates a pleasant sound, with influences as diverse as Crowded House, The Beatles, REM, CSN&Y, early Genesis (pre-Trespass), and the Police. This final group's influence can be heard in Dream Of 3, which is built around a catchy repeated bass-line.
His Blue Sky is another joyful song, in which the main theme is repeated by several, different instruments, among these a marimba, which creates a lovely atmosphere. Away, on the other hand, is a more tragic song about the difficulty of brother-love and what can go wrong. The vocals sound a bit 'Gaelic'.
The guitar in Morning Light reminds me of Anthony Phillips' solo-work. As a result, Morning Light really is very gentle with a clarinet on top of it. Very beautiful. Of a more folky nature is Why? This mainly is a result of the story-telling character of the track. Why? also features a lovely middle part with pump organ, which adds to the atmosphere of the song.
Come is a very mysterious, slow and moody song. Although the singing is very different, a comparison to Marillion (Estonia) comes to mind. The middle part of the song is dominated by threatening drums, until the initial bass-riff returns.
After some other slower songs, Far Away, Lady Sun, and the beautiful Comanchio, strange sounds (Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother comes to mind) introduce Mother Earth, which is a more upbeat song. Personally, I consider this a welcome change, since I started to lose attention after a few of the slower songs.
Goodbye brings a fantastic combination of two acoustic guitars, one in your left speaker, the other right. An acoustic bass completes the trio. The musical skills of Oikarinen, Ylilauri and Veijlainen are also the centre of attention in Further Away, the instrumental that ends the album. The pump organ creates a lovely, melancholic atmosphere for the clarinet and the nice acoustic guitar-solo.
The answer to whether this is prog or not, can hardly be given. Growing Smaller is a lovely, atmospheric, entirely acoustic album. The album is well-made, the songs well-written. Personally, I would have liked some more up-beat songs, but this doesn't say the slower ones are boring. The warm sound of the album breathes the atmosphere of a campfire near one of the Finnish lakes. There isn't a single drums-solo or widdly-widdly keyboard here, so be warned. Just sit back, relax and enjoy this very original album!
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10Jan-Jaap de Haan
Unified Past - From the Splintered Present Surfaces...
Tracklist: Head (4.59), Internal Affairs (3.35), Unearthed (4.57), Tree House (5.39), Just Like That (8.04), Resonate (4.19), Kingdom of the Stars (4.35), Silent Partner (3.27), Stretch (7.31), Dream of Love (6.31).
The Unified Past is a new New York based quartet consisting of Stephen Speelman on guitar and vocals, Vinny Krivacsy on keyboards, Peter Palmieri on bass and Matthew Wood on drums. After two self-produced albums under the name of Long Island's Labyrinth they signed up with Atomik records for their debut album.
The album contains ten powerful songs in the vein of nineties' Rush, especially because Speelman's voice sounds like a cross between an older Geddy Lee and Axl Rose. The first four songs on the album show enough room for all four talented musicians, but mis a real distinction between the songs. Apart from the beginnings there is not a lot of variation between the different compositions.
This changes for the better with the mini-epic Just like that, which has a leading role for the keyboardist Krivacsy. Another highlight on the album is the powerful Resonate.
The cd's liner notes are like a press release, praising the album and explaining briefly about the history of the band. I hope that it is only the promo-copy that includes these liner notes, because it looks as if they need to justify their album or something.
However, the liner notes end with an honest conclusion: "The Unified Past's interpretation of Progressive Rock is certainly not a new one, but it's a powerful one!"
And that's exactly what this album brings: ten well-produced songs, which are not too original at all. But then again, they're not all that bad either. Recommended to anyone who's tired of waiting for the new Rush album.
Wolverine - Fervent Dream
Tracklist: Whispers on the Wind (8:16), Echoes (7:55), More Than Grief (6:30), Again? (7:48), Last Words (1:33)
Wolverine's biography that came along with the CD is even more complex than that of Yes, even though this is their first release. Since all group members are born in the late '70s/early '80s (oh, I'm feeling old suddenly!) this normally means a musically immature album. Well, this is certainly very mature music, combining true prog elements like complex rhythms, long compositions and even the classical instruments like cello/violins, with true metal elements, like the death grunts that appear on every song. The combination of these things is very intense and the length of the album is an advantage here, since I think that 60+ minutes of this intense music is very hard to be handled by any listenter and would degrade rather than upgrade the music. I must admit it took me several listenings to really get into the music and I think most people will have this experience, but then it grows on you. The packaging and artwork, by Mattias Nóren, is beautiful and the cover is an example of how Genesis' Calling all Stations (of which it reminds me) should have looked like.
A didjeridoo opens the album and a Rush-like intro starts, where immediately the drumming quality becomes clear. Alternating clean and death vocals follow. They themselves claim that by combining the two they have created a new genre, but I wouldn't go that far. The quality of the death vocals is not really up to standards, they could be more melodic, less staccato. The song is very varied, with metal parts, Rush-like parts, Fates Warning comes to mind... a wild and rich blend of influences speak in this song. The guitar solo is a bit thin, unfortunately, since they guitar player seems quite good. Overall the mixing is "fat", creating a rich sound.
Echoes is my favourite song on the album, opening with an acoustic guitar and a string quartet (the real thing, not keyboards). This creates a mellow atmosphere again which the vocals of Stefan Zell come to live. Then, suddenly, a speed/death metal part starts, dark and gothic. A part that, in its rhythm, seems to originate from IQ's The Wake follows. Subsequently a slow, more mainstream part is played. The previous parts return, ending the song. Great piece of work.
More Than Grief is more uptempo, and hints to Iron Maiden in the intro. This too is a varied song, trying to create an atmosphere like the previous two, although in general it leans more to metal than to prog and Fates Warning is audible again.
An acoustic guitar opens Again, an a death/clean duet sets in (on the band page, one can download an mp3 of this part, which give a good impression of the album). The middle section of this song has some Dream Theatre/Queensryche elements. Especially Operation : Mindcrime appears to have left its marks, not only on this but also on some of the other songs.
Last Words is an acoustic, strongly reminding me of the intro of Metallica's Nothing Else Matters.
The overall conclusion can only be: positive surprise. If these guys can keep up being this original, they will be one of the important players in the field in the next millennium. Having proved at ProgPower that they can live up to the live expectations, they only thing vital for future success seems to be consistency: the next 10 years the only info that should have to be added to their bio should be: "After release of their debut album, no line-up changes occurred for the next decade."
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.
XII Alfonso - Odyssees
Tracklist:Eclipse (7.25), Odyssée (5.57), Lithophonia (3.11), Message 95 (4.15), Tomorrow (1.44), Où Vont Les Amants? (7.39), La Révolution des Oeillets (8.23), Nil (2.57), Invisible Links Part 2 (4.27), Tout Passé (4.38), Noria (5.06), Le Dernier Voyage (2.12), Dominique Larrey (8.25), En Castille (7.37)
XII Alfonso is a French band, which consists of Thierry Moreno on drums and the brothers Philippe and François Claerhout on virtually any other instrument. Their debut The Lost Frontier (1996) was highly praised by the progressive rock scene and gave them some concerts at festivals, at which they gave a complete and sophisticated visual show.
On this second album they are assisted by no less than 19 guest-musicians for the creation of these 14 delicate tracks. From the instrumental, Alan Parsons-like opener Eclipse, which includes snippets of conversations between Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 during their landing on the moon in 1969, to the live bonus track En Castille. The album takes you on a trip among all the possible musical themes this side of New Age. Truly there is not a bad track on this album.
Instrumental and vocal tracks alternate, and actually the only shortcoming this album has is the inconsistency. There are so many different styles thrown at you, that it might be too much for one listen. Some of the songs are very simple, guitar-based tracks like Tomorrow or Le Derniere Voyage, or the seemingly simple Tout Passé, which is a true gem in the vein of Mike Oldfield - the Claerhout brothers play an impressive amount of instruments as a two-men band.
Other songs are more straightforward ballads, like the beautiful Où vont les amants? with none less than Mickey Simmonds on keyboards during the vocal part and French legend Dan Ar Braz playing a wonderful guitar solo at the end.
Then other songs are really experimental, like Lithophonia, which is recorded in a cave, where the Claerhout brothers played the stalactites! Another experiment is the catchy Invisible links part 2 in which the band plays along with a tape send in from Argentina.
Noria is another really experimental track, with Arabic influences, and some excellent drumming by Moreno.
The 14 tracks are way too much to discuss separately, the main influence comes from Mike Oldfield, although the vocal tracks bear more resemblance to bands like Clannad (a French Clannad, but still). Yet many more references can be pointed out, most notably instrumentalists like Yanni and Jean-Michel Jarre (the vocoder in Message 95) or Camel (the aforementioned Invisible links).
Highly recommended if you are into Oldfield, Jarre or Yanni. You won't be disappointed!Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.