Reviews in this issue:
Yoke Shire - Mask Of Shadows
Yoke Shire produces an album that touches upon virtually every possible music style that the 70's produced. Ranging from the power-chords of Deep Purple, the Latin feel of Santana, the vocal harmonies of Yes, the folkyness of Jethro Tull, the psychedelica of early Floyd and the subtle multi-layer keyboard harmonies of Camel (OK, 90's Camel).
The sound of the songs on this album is rather rich in instrumentation and it is quite amazing that only three people are responsible for it, especially since all sounds are genererated using "real" instruments (being a keyboard player myself I dislike people claiming that keys are no real instument, I prefer to call it "original" instruments). Apparently, they can be seen performing live each playing two or three instruments at a time. That must be quite a sight! The artwork is rather weird: I couldn't really see a connection between the metal/gothic-like artwork and logo and the melodic content of the album. But then, I didn't go to deep into the lyrics, so who knows what I missed...;-)
The album opens with a harmonica of some sort playing a medieval melody. This is a theme that pops
up now and again on the album. Apparently there is some kind of structure between the songs, a concept,
but although I realise it is there, I cannot tell you what it exactly is. Seems to be something medieval,
though. The next song, Black Tower is a bit of a macho thing in the Deep Purple (In Rock)
style, but influenced by Santana. Cool cat.
Shape Of A Dancer continues this style, with a great slapped bass line under it and it varies nicely. Magic Circle has some medieval or even Middle Eastern style to it. Just a banjo-like instrument with keys and vocal harmonies playing this mystical tune, just to enter into a happy dancing song, with handclapping and flute.
A deep slap bass beats the rhythm in the powerful opening of Maiden Voyage, bit
Threshold-like, though not as full. The middle section is a bit Yes-like. Loads of
echo/reverb on the vocals here, a bit overdone in my opinion. This song craves for an even more
bombastic performance than it has received on the album, maybe a bigger keyboard tapistry was in
order (but this is just minor critisism). The last minute sees an interesting change and a violently
soaring guitar sets in.
And then it's time for the absolute highlight of the album, the very reason why it will get a high rating: The Brook, The Mirror And The Maiden. Starting with only vocal harmonies, but really superbly done, it immediately grips attention. Well, there is no other way I can describe them except in terms of waveforms on keyboards: while some voices use a sine-wave setting (sounding "smooth"), the bass voice is "sawtooth" (sharp) giving a great effect. Then a Yes-like part follows, with marimba, vocal chanting and guitar. Slowly this climaxes and becomes more powerful, but still a calm mood is present. Then, after 5 minutes it dies away and a lonely flute, like a howling wolve, is played. This enters into one of the most beautiful melodic structures I have heard recently. Weaving sounds into each other, a Camel-like part, with the power, yet calmness of their latest release Rayaz is reached. The song ends with a keyboard tapistry that should be enjoyed with the hifi-set at maximum volume. This flows into Return Voyage, a short psychedelic experiment, but after a minute a powerful rock-theme is played. I know this theme somehow, just can't come up with title or band. Frustrating. The exact same theme as Maiden Voyage returns in the last minute, complete with slap bass.
Ghost Notes is another short psychedelic experiment, with diverse creepy sounds. The last minute has guitars that sound like the begintune of the Formula 1 racing events on television (hey, everybody is allowed to have his abberations ;-). Mask of Shadows is a nice power-prog song with varied guitar work. Magic Dust is a nice little piano ballad that tops it off.
In summary: tremendously varied album, combining the best of all worlds. Personally, I thought the first couple of tracks were not too interesting. But the epic and the fore- and afterplay to it are high quality. The last part of The Brook ... has a melody that stuck in my mind for days and really moved me. And that should always be the criterium to judge music: it should move people (yes I know, I am a hopeless romantic). Yoke Shire succeeds in doing that in the second half of the album.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.
Land's End - Natural Selection
A couple of weeks ago keyboard player Fred Hunter send me two CDs. One was his recent 'solo'
project Transience and the other one a 1997 album of his band Land's End. Land's End's history
goes back a to the early nineties. After several changes in line-up and the release of a demo in 1992,
the band got the line-up that was maintained until this day; Mark Lavallee (drums), Fred Hunter (keyboards & bass),
Francisco Neto (guitars) & Jeff McFarland (vocals & acoustic guitars).
In September 1994 they released their first album Pacific Coast Highway. Several months later the band signed with the Cyclops label, with whom they released 3 more studio albums and one live album so far. Natural Selection was the band's most recent studio album.
The first time I played the Land's End album I was slightly put-off by the lack of originality when I heard the first real track. I switched to the Transience CD and put the other one on the stack of 'Pending Work'. The Transience review was a lot easier to do (you'll find it elsewhere in this column. After finishing the hardest work on the DPRPoll I went back to the Land's End album and after playing it several times (I found it rather hard to form an opinion about it) it really started to grow on me.
Strictly Speaking In Geographical Terms is just one minute of sound effects of frogs and a keyboard
soundscape. It's one of those tunes that makes you turn up the volume of your stereo set just before
the next track suddenly starts with a loud and bombastic beginning, startling you.
That second track is From The Ruins Of A Fallen Empire and is a long epic of almost 15 minutes. The start sounds like a mixture of Punch & Judy (keyboards), Bitter Suite and Assassin' (drums) and Eye in the Sky (bass). After this Marillion-esque start (Fugazi period) a very Tony Banks-like keyboard solo followss. The middle piece is more Floydian with a nice guitar solo by Francisco.
Many variations and new themes follow. After the melody of the opening section has returned the song goes into a closing section with some more solos.
It is a very nice track with a lot of variety, some great melodies and good singing.
From The Ruins Of A Fallen Empire merges seamlessly with the next track,
Love Through The Winter And Blood In The Spring - bloody hell, who made up these weird
titles ? As a matter of fact, the whole 74 minutes album is really one long track, with every
song merging into the next one.
Love Through the Winter ... starts with some freaky guitar in the background and percussion before keyboard bass and guitar pick up a threatening repeated low key note. Vocals come in and sing a mysterious dirge that slowly gains in agressiveness.
The mid section of the song is formed by several rather psychadelic bits (reminiscent of early Floyd), including a Marillion-esque keyboard solo .....
.... and then after 11 minutes of bliss, the song goes into the wonderfully emotional ballad
An Emptiness That Cannot Be Filled. Acoustic guitar and vocalist Jeff at his best, and
a Floydian guitar solo in the end to top it off.
Next track, My Home, starts with a powerful prog rock section before it goes into a more laid-back Marillion-esque song. In the middle section guiitarist Neto goes berserk on the wah-wah pedal. Great stuff ! After an orgasmatic climax the song returns to the earlier low tempo rhythm after 6 minutes. After s slightly cheesy synth-sax solo the vocals continue and the song comes to a final climax one more time.
Natural Selection is an incredibly long track; 30 minutes ! Of course that doesn't
immediately make it a good song, although it will fascinate most prog fans. The track starts
with the same frog sounds as the opening track of the album. In the first part of the epic,
Unravelling The Threads Of A Waning Moon, Spanish guitar and congas accompany a nice
quiet laid-back ballad that last about 4 minutes. The second part of the track, Meridians Of Time,
is a slightly more experimental bit, accompanied by the Spanish guitar from the previous section.
So far so good.
After about 6 and a half minutes a rather horrible section called Practice starts. This part is a DAT recording with 2 microphones set up in a room of a spontaneous jam. The first problem is that its sung in German. If there's one thing worse than a German singer with a heavy German accent than its an American singer who wants to sing in German for no good reason whatsoever. Besides that, since it's a spontaneous jam, it really isn't a good piece of composing and therefore completely out of place. This torture lasts for about 6 minutes. What were they thinking ?!
The next segment, the two minutes long Theory, the weird fiddling of Practice changes into a slow tempo section with vocals and a dark low bass line. Next is Hell, a 9 minutes long instrumental section which starts with a variation on the same bass line. After some Rothery-like echoing guitar effects it's one guitar and keyboard solo after the other, most of them variations on earlier themes in the song. At 21 and a half minutes the song returns to the melody of Unravelling ....
The final segment is called Awaiting Extinction and starts at 24 minutes. The tempo increases while more variations on earlier themes follow. The song ends with a very Focus-like bit of guitar and a final verse with a bit of a Klaatu-feel.
Despite it's length the title track is probably the weakest song on the album. Practice definitely spoils the continuity of the epic and some of the instrumental segments don't really work quite the way they should. Some of it just feels too long and drawn out, especially the last two sections, which are just repetition after repetition of the same themes. If the song would have been limited to about 15 minutes it would probably have worked better.
While writing this review I still find it hard to describe the music. None of the band members
are brilliant musicians and there are quite some bum notes and bits and pieces when not
everybody is playing 100% in time. Especially Mark Lavallee is a rather questionable drummer
(which only enhances the 'early Marillion' feel of some of the songs). Fred and Francisco are doing
quite reasonable on keys and guitars and occassionally they really shine in a moment of excellence.
Jeff is a very capable singer, although most of his singing is in the same style, never getting
really agressive. His voice is very enjoyable though, although some of the multi-vocal overdubs
are a bit clumsy, so you hear Jeff singing twice, but out of synch.
Nevertheless there is a real 'live' feel to the music and there's a certain chemistry between the band members that gives the music it's edge. You don't just listen to this album; you experience it. It's got a lot of influences from Pink Floyd, Marillion and Genesis. There's the occassional psychedelic bit reminding me of Pink Floyd in the late 60s, early seventies.
Most of the album evolved from jam sessions, and they managed to capture that feel in the songs, while not losing themselves in senseless repeated themes and mediocre musiscianship (not counting practice that is).
Recommended to fans of early Floyd or Fish-era Marillion. Early Genesis fans might give it a try as well.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Transience - Sliding
Transience started out as a solo project of Land's End's keyboard player Fred Hunter. In the end however, all of the other Land's End band members also ended up playing on one or more tracks on the album.
Fred himself describes the album as follows: "The concept of the album is simple...Places ... that's it. It's about how certain places I've visited (and Jeff) have left a stamp on me and those memories will never leave, so it has an underlying feeling of the memories never being recaptured etc."
The CD opens with a wonderful tune called At Squaw Peak. This song features nice melodies, good, dreamy vocals and a slightly over-the-top guitar solo at the end that seems a bit too loud for this quiet piece.
Sliding is an instrumental track that leans heavily on electronics, including midi-bass and percussion loops. Over all of that a wonderful Spanish guitar solo is played. Nice mood piece !
Desert Falls is a long 13 minute track. The first half, called The Memory just drags on a bit and doesn't do to much for me. The melody just does not appeal to me very much. The instrumental second part, Time Flows Backwards, features a menacing bass line, atmospheric keyboards and a saxaphone, which unfortunately plays a bit of a melody that seems to be improvised on the spot and doesn't really go going anywhere. Nope, not one of the better songs on the album.
LA Post is one of the highlight on the album. Acoustic guitars, bass, keyboards, close-harmony vocal overdubs, handclaps. I love it ! I could imagine Spock's Beard playing this. Great lyrics as well !
Captiva Island is another instrumental, mainly consisting of keyboard soundscapes and saxophone. The first half is mostly an ambient mood piece without any clear melodies. The second half opens with bombastic keyboards and drumming, soon giving way to a ripping Floydian guitar solo. Not bad, although the song could have been structured a bit better.
Utah Revisited more laid-back singing accompanied by acoustic guitars, drums and keyboards. The second half features another saxophone solo. Nice, but nothing special.
The Seven Pools is the longest track on the album; more than 19 minutes.
After two minutes of sound effects and quiet noises the song finally starts
with a keyboard solo. After another 4 minutes of various keyboard melodies a short Floydian
guitar solo follows. When the song has been quietly moving on for almost 8 minutes it dies down,
only to start again with the first vocals a minute later.
The vocals are nice and are followed by another keyboard solo, more vocals and more keyboards. A bit too long an too quiet really ....
Stanley Park is a keyboard-only song with several sounds and melodies.
Transience plays nice, laid-back music. Wonderful stuff to relax to. Besides the occassional keyboard bit that doesn't flow 100% perfect all of the instruments are played very well. The choice of some of the keyboard sounds does not really match my personal taste, but they aren't too annoying either, they just sound a bit too old-fashioned compared to the rest of the music. The drums sound a bit flat as well every now and than.
Some of the pieces on the CD would do quite well as the soundtrack to a movie. The album tries to
give you the feeling of being at the various places the songs were inspired by. It succeeds
quite well !
I would have prefered the album to be a bit more diverse; most of the songs are very laid-back and quiet. It sometimes comes dangerously close to the boringness of the latest Elegant Simplicity. Besides LA Post there are no songs that will get you extremely excited, but Sliding contains great music to relax to and dream away on. Nevertheless, maybe Fred should consider to visit some more exciting and lively places next time to get inspiration for the next Transience album.
A nice album that shows even more potential than can actually be heard in the tracks on the disc.
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10.
Rare Blend - Infinity
Jazzy musak. That's what Rare Blend, a USA based, fully instrumental band, produces. Only at some points the album lifts above the level of average entertaining music. It is at these points, where the more complicated music starts, that the album becomes marginally interesting. For the rest it's 13 in a dozen.
Opening the album with a really jazzy piece one thinks: oh, sounds cool. But listening to it a couple of times, the feeling that you are listening to elevator or supermarket music strikes. Meaning: easy listening. The promised mix of prog, fusion and jazz is only present in a couple of tracks. Twice Upon A Time, a ballad style track has some more interesting melodies, where Floyd shows its head around a corner in a nice but restrained guitar solo. Even a proggy break enters, before turning back to jazz. Best song of the album is Blue Samba, which has an interesting melody, and a crying Floydian guitar. This is the only track where the musical styles they quote truely come together, even larded with a bit of blues. Do note the funny songtitles, by the way.
The individual musicians have an impressive musical record, all of them having many years of experience on their instruments, and being music teachers. Their compositions, however, could not really get to me. However, I think that in a setting of a bar, with the band performing live, these songs are sure to create a friendly, and jazzy atmosphere. For the fans of prog, there is not much to gain here, yet. I say yet, because if in the future they focus more on their prog side, like they do now in Blue Samba, I think they will be able to produce a mighty fine piece of work. Rare Blend sure has the capacity to do that!
Their album can be ordered through cdnow or their website.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10.
Blood Red Flower - Last Link To The World
This quartet, Blood Red Flower, playa progressive hard rock in the style of bands like Queensryche, but the general feel of the songs is more accessible and, as they state themselves in the info sheet that came with the CD, a lot of songs have FM radio potential.
Having said this, I guess you already have a feel what to expect from the album. It is well produced, with a clear sound and focusses more on melodic rock than on the more complex rhythms and melodies normally associated with prog. Phil Naro, the vocalist on this album, also send his solo album Ten Year Tour for review purposes to DPRP. This album is a collection of previously unreleased material of the past ten years. However, his solo work is really more mainstream hard rock, in the vein of bands like Kiss (with members of which he has collaborated in the past), Bon Jovi and even Bryan Adams, with 3 minute songs. Sounding very nice and uplifting, this CD too is remarkably well produced considering the fact that these are recordings over a period of 10 years. Unfortunately, this type of music has nothing to do with the subject of our page: prog. Our review policy states that in these cases we do not do a full review. For those interested in this kind of music however, check out Phil Naro's web site.
Back to Last Link To The World. The album is quite diverse, with some quite powerful compositions,
best of which in my opinion is Dogs Of Doom. Opening with a spooky cello solo, it paints a dark
a constant half-tone variation in the melody and a strong chorus. Naro's voice is quite suited
for this kind of picture painting. One of the other strong compositions is the opening track
Cautionary Tale, a song that seems to go up and down in waves.
State Inside Your Mind is a Queensryche-like track, Mindcrime era. Celestial could be a FM radio hit. Naro's voice at times sounds very much like Sting. The rhythm in this track actually reminds of Sting, too.
Open Invitation is a not too interesting hard rock track. One Million Lightyears Away and Yes It Pays are more mainstream. Nice, but nothing special. Sometimes it reminds me of 80's Yes, but without the interesting rhythmic and melodic tricks of that band. Love & Hate almost leans to punk rock or Madness with a pounding bass guitar and three chords on the guitar. Silent Partners, on the other hand, is quite interesting, with a more complex rhythmic section and a funny melody on the low strings of the guitar (or is it bass?). I would have liked to hear more of these types of tracks! The album ends with Break Free, an average rock song, Bryan Adams style.
The conclusion is that the album is at points interesting (track 4 and 9 for instance), but on other tracks is too easy, too average and commercial to rank high in a progressive rock review. They do deserve credit for producing a fine sounding album, and all members have many years of experience in the serious music bussiness, which can clearly be heard. But maybe that's where the album fails: it sounds too smooth, with hardly any experiment and made on experience rather than creativity.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
Digital Ruin - Dwelling in the Out
The InsideOut Music label is becoming one of the premier distributors of progressive rock, and the catalogue includes its fair share of solid progressive metal with Vanden Plas and, more recently, American band Digital Ruin. This last group's second CD Dwelling in the Out hit the shelves in January.
Digital Ruin plays heavy and technical power metal, with dark melody lines and powerful riffs. The biography on the InsideOut Music homepage describes the album as a collection of 'tales of corruption and torment' provoking a 'bleak conceptual vision', and they're not kidding. This is pretty dark stuff, excellently executed by the different band members.
The story of Digital Ruin begins in 1988 when bass-player Mike Keegan and drummer Timothy Hart form a rhythm section. The band then went through some changes in the line-up. Present members Dave Souza on guitars and vocalist Matt Pacheco joined respectively in 1991 and 1992. Digital Ruin recorded 2 demos and performed as support act on the Dream Theater's Awake Tour. They released another 5 track demo and a 2 song promotional video, before producing the full-lenght album Listen in 1997. Long time guitar-player Joe Sawyer then left the band. In 1999 the second album Dwelling in the Out was recorded as Digital Ruin signed on at Inside Out Music.
Though the music retains a basic metal sound, this is mixed with keyboards (Matt Pacheco), piano and sound-effects to generate a dynamic whole. Some songs include vocal excerpts, such as Dream Theater and Roger Waters are wont to use. The technical quality is good, but overall production, by the band itself, must be said to be a bit disappointing. The vocals of Matt Pacheco could have been better handled in the mix in my opinion. He now seems a bit subdued at times, when I'd like to hear what this guy can do if he really let it rip. Another minor defect has to be the lack of very much variation, though the songs are all very strong in their own right. This too might have been overcome in production, but probably also has to do with the overall atmosphere of the album.
If not for the mentioned minor deficiencies, I'd have slapped a DPRP recommendation on this CD. I'd advise all prog metal loving readers to check this out for themselves. You can sample the excellent song Living for Yesterday in RealAudio on the American InsideOut Music homepage.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Altair - Fantasías Y Danzas
Fantasías Y Danzas is the second CD by Spanish duo Alfredo G. Arcusa and Isabel Muniente, who released their first album back in 1990. They perform a kind of arty progressive music, heavily dominated by keyboards. Main composer Arcusa provides drums, while Muniente plays keyboards, piano and synth-bass.
Arcuso decided in 1986 to form an instrumental band in cooperation with the best musicians in Catalonia. After the release of Altair, in 1992 he joined with Jordi Sabatés in Nosferatu and in 1994 and 1995 recorded two albums with Amarok, which seems to have reached some popularity in Japan. With this return to Altair, he has signed on as the first European band at the Mexican label Luna Negra.
I must admit to a basic dislike of this kind of music, in which the keyboards must carry the whole album in terms of composition. That is why I'm glad Arcuso plays a large part in all tracks on drums, with a quality and talent that reminds me of the work of Nick Mason in the early days of Pink Floyd on such albums as Ummagumma. Some might find it distracting in overall arrangement though. Muniente delivers fine work on piano, but on keyboards produces some highly irrating crescendos of high-pitched sounds. Shifts between piano and keyboards only leads to a ramshackle whole in a scraping together of themes.
Some tracks have a very strange quality, such as Al Abordaje which sounds like the theme from some old computer game about the Middle Ages. The short track Oracíon del Ermitano and the longer Visiones work best. The last track of the album is a recording from a live perfomance in September 1989.
On a more positive note: the artwork is quite beautiful and the CD's packaging is very original. But it takes more than fancy dressing to make a good album, which in my opinion this isn't.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10.
Waterloo - First Battle
Over the years, french label Musea has established itself as one of the leading labels in the genre, building an extensive catalog during it's fourteen year existence. Apart from releasing new material by contemporary bands, an important part of the label's activities consist of re-releasing long out of print albums out of the vinyl age on CD.
First Battle by Belgian band Waterloo is one of those re-releases from the dawntime of progressive rock. The band's name refers to the village where Napoleon suffered his final defeat in 1815. This was Napoleon's last battle but since this album was Waterloo's debut album they called it First Battle instead. There's a little irony here because it was also their last album, and therefore in a way also their last battle.
The music on this album consists of all ten tracks from the original release, five tracks from non-album singles and one previously unreleased track. The sound quality isn't too good, which is partly due to the fact that the original master tapes are lost and the album had to be recorded onto CD directly from the record.
Most of the tracks are around three minutes length and quite poppy in nature. The overall style reminds a lot of early Jethro Tull. Waterloo's sound is folky, with a large role for the organ. The narrative vocals and of course the flute also add to the Tull impression.
I'm not certain what Musea's aim with this release is other than preserving a small piece of the Belgian musical scene of the very early seventies. The appeal to modern listeners will be limited, due in main part to the very dated sound of the recordings. However, the clear Tull influence I mentioned earlier might interest Jethro Tull fans to investigate this album further.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Bjorn Lynne - The Void
Somebody was kind enough to pass this 1997 album on to me for a review and although it's several years old it is probably unknown and interesting enough to spend some time and web space on it.
The Void is an album by the same man who more recently released the
Wizard of the Winds / When the Gods Slept and Wolves of the Gods albums.
As these albums, The Void is an instrumental concept album and therefore the mood of the
tracks is more important than the actual story.
The story is about a man from the 23rd century whose space ship's controls suddenly go dead. As a result he has to spend the rest of his live floating through space. Alone in the void.
As you can imagine, the perfect sound for this concept is electronic rock, or as Bjorn says on
his web site: vibrant electronic progresive psychedelic melodic space-rock. And indeed, that
pretty much sums up the whole album. It's where techno meets prog.
An album that comes closest to this type of music is Mike Oldfield's Songs of a Distant Earth, although Bjorn's emphasis on synths, sequencers and distorted guitars is even stronger. Besides that, there are obvious references to Jean-Michel Jarre, some of the more trance-like stuff by Ozric Tentacles and even a hint of The KLF.
Bjorn plays all keyboards, guitars, bass and programmed all drum computers and other electronic
gadgets. By the way, although I don't like drum computers Bjorn handles them very well and they
are never really annoying, although they do sound a bit dry at times.
The tension-building in some of the songs is very good and the music would certainly not be out of place as a soundtrack to a science-fiction movie. Unfortunately some of the tracks lack a good strong melody and therefore don't seem to be going anywhere. This is especially a weakness in Electroglow, On the Edge ?, Relentless and the first half of The Nothing.
Opening track Into the Void is one of the highlights of the album with it's dark and
menacing mood. All Life is One is a very diverse track with various melodies, among which
a very Floydian Shine On-like intro.
Electroglow with it's vocal effects and Oldfield-ish melody could have come straight of Songs from a Distant Earth, as does the next song Dar Shan. The latter combines a very joyfull melody with a menacing reference to the theme from Into the Void.
On the Edge is rather Ozric-ish but lacks a good melody, although the up-tempo mid section and bass lines in
the end section are better. The short Truth or Sanity is just an atmospehric synth-only
track. Relentless drags on without much happening, including an Abacab-like keyboard
solo. Fortunately the second half of this (too) long track features some interesting whisperings
and more prominent lead keyboards.
Signals is full of weird noises and sounds, dark & distorted guitar and diverse and interesting moods. Who Knows was written in 1989 by one Seppo Hurme and incorporated in this concept by Bjorn. It sometimes has an almost classical and exotic feel to it. If it wasn't for the drum computers, synths & sequencers this track would have been a bit out of place. The end section, where the mood returns to the overall feel of the album, works better.
Finally there's another long track called The Nothing. It's a slow piece with ups and downs. The most interesting thing is the sad sounding end section.
With The Void Bjorn has released an interesting instrumental album, heavy on the electronics.
Unfortunately 73 minutes is quite long, especially if not all tracks on the album are equally
strong. If Bjorn would have cut out some of the weaker tracks and brought the long tracks down to the
really interesting parts, reducing the album to 50 minutes max, than this one would definitely be
Still, with the programming fuctions of your CD player or as a nice bit of energetic music while your doing some chores, this is still well worth buying, provided that you like electronic rock.
For sound samples, visit the Void album page at Bjorn's Web Site.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Marillion - Zodiac
Zodiac is the name of the venue in Oxford, where Marillion played four consecutive sold-out shows in July 1999. The four shows have been recorded and a compilation is now featured on this seventh live album on the band's own Racket label.
The album has been recorded and mixed by sound engineer Stewart Every and that's immediately my biggest complaint of the album. Every's trademark is a sound which sounds just as if the music has been played through a brick wall by tin-can speakers. The band seems to love his work (Radiation, Piston Broke, Unplugged at the Walls), but personally I prefer a somewhat richer sound, like for example on 1996 live album Made Again.
The band however claims that recordings, which contain studio-overdubs like 'Made Again', take away the spirit of a concert. Partially true, because I don't feel you can really catch a live spirit by compiling a single CD from recordings of four different concerts either.
As for the choice of songs, this isn't very imaginative either. Most of the songs have been featured on other live albums before. An exception of course are the two new tracks, the powerful Rich and the terrible Deserve, which features Ben Castle on saxophone.
The Uninvited Guest and especially Afraid of Sunlight are played very poorly, I wonder if none of the other nights could have provided better recordings, or better songs maybe. Although I love the song Afraid of Sunlight, it is utterly destroyed by this version here and I would rather have seen a different song instead.
An interesting track is part of Goodby to all that (sections Wave, Mad, The Opium Den and The Slide) off their masterpiece album Brave. However, they already played this song on the Radiation tour in 1998 where they had tied it in between the songs Man of a Thousand Faces and Three Minute Boy, a combination which in my opinion worked better (especially Three Minute Boy). Now it is just a fragmented piece of music without a real beginning or ending. Played note-perfect though.
Each night featured a short acoustic set in which some of the song-arrangements from the
Oswestry shows were played. The songs in this short set varied each night. The songs picked
for this album are a beautiful Sugar Mice (with a piano solo replacing the guitar solo,
very nice) and The Answering Machine, to which Ben Castle's saxophone is a great
There is a short bit of the audience singing Happy Birthday for someone in the audience in between the songs and it is a bit unclear as to why this is left in. Maybe this is another one of those frantic attempts to "capture the live spirit", or it is because the band wants to show how much they care for their fans - I don't know, but it gets quite irritating after the novelty wears off.
But with the two acoustic tracks the album changes for the better. Castle joins the band once
again for an excellent rendition of Berlin, which leaves me wondering as to why the
band doesn't make songs of this caliber anymore.
With Cathedral Wall the band shows that they are still capable of writing songs that are - at least live - impressive. Only Mark Kelly's background vocal is a little out of tune.
The heavily played Waiting to Happen is another one that makes me musing of days gone by. It would have been better if the album had actually finished there though. Garden Party is a great party-track to hear live, but it's not all that great when you hear it on a CD. Steve Hogarth's vocals don't do the song much good either. You can hear the man is ageing, as his voice doesn't hold out the way it used to, during the gig.
Despite some poor song choices this is quite an enjoyable album. Not as good as some of the other Racket releases, but not that bad either (compared to the horrible Live at the Borderline for example). Once you get used to the sound quality, that is. The band shows to be still in top-shape and especially Pete Trewavas has to be commented on his playing, as this was his first live performance after his accident in January last year. (apparently he was still using crutches when playing on stage).
The concerts were also professionally filmed for release later this year.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.