Reviews in this issue:
Djam Karet - Suspension & Displacement
Dreadfully long soundscapes, loops and improvised tracks. Djam Karet's 1991 CD in a nutshell. No matter how much other people can rave about this kind of music, I cannot. I just don't like New Age.
Djam Karet formed in 1984 out of a group of LA-based musicians. The band's name means "stretched time " in Indonesian. Well, that's their music on this album indeed... This is one of these albums that just go on forever, and although the quality of the recording seems good, the music itself is a long collection of samples, tape loops and other effects. In fact this album was so boring, I could not listen to it in its entirety, I had to listen to it in parts. This is waaaayyyy too ambient for me. Just check out the sound files on the above mentioned page to see if you might enjoy it.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10.
Djam Karet - Burning The Hard City
OK, this is more like it. More of a Floydian/Crimson mix although by no means it deserves the title "hard rock" they would like to label this album, in order to contrast it to the previous album (did I mentioned they were released together, like some musical Yin & Yang ?).
The cover, like a more subtle version of the Ayreon Electric Castle cover, already promises some more action than the other one, not to mention the heavy song titles. The music itself is based on the very early psychedelic Floyd, but with more hard rock based melodic lines. Even so, it all sounds quite clinical, dynamically flat and, most of all, without the fury early Floyd or Crimson put into their music. By no means can they touch the level of the masters they try to combine in their music. It surprised me to see that some magazines have published raving reviews of these twin albums. But if you like these bands, some jazz and don't care if that level is not quite reached, you might try this. Be aware that the ongoing loops are featured on this album too. Still, this comes much closer to my perception of progressive rock than Suspension & Displacement.
Again, with regards to the rating, a word of caution: first album is absolutely not my taste, the second album lacks all emotion hence the grades. Other people may love them (if you like to be stoned and drown in repeating music).
Conclusion: 6 out of 10.
Perspective - Coming into Focus
Ohio based band Perspective delivers its first CD, which is full of guitar oriented progressive rock. Rod Middleton (guitars, vocals), Ben Burton (acoustic and electric percussion, vocals) and Chris Matthews (bass, keyboards) have recorded six long tracks in which they explore themes and rhythms instrumentally, in two cases with vocals added. Apart from the these days almost obligatory comparison with Dream Theather, Perspective takes its main influences from Rush and Fates Warning. For those willing to make the difference one could say this CD has progressive rock as well as progressive metal on it.
The three band members joined up in 1998. Burton and Matthews are also members of the progressive rock band The Neapolitan Orchestra, while Middleton is involved with instrumental metal band Jagged Doctrine.
Guitars dominate most of the tracks, but there are some good ensembles of guitars and keys on NS3 and Tapestry. The other instrumental tracks, Volatility and The Unspoken Word prove somewhat lacking in this departement, focusing instead on Middleton's skill on strings and on bass and drums.
Even the two true songs have a primarily instrumental base. The vocals are deep and though more than adequate obviously not the main skill of these performers. Improvision is a very catchy song and, as their sales pitch rightly claims, the most radio friendly track on the album.
Expertly performed music, though it all seems somewhat alike. It's not that compositions are not varied in themselves, they just tend to sound rather identical to each other. The addition of vocals to Seasons and Improvision helps to relieve the lack of originality, but this remains essentialy an album for those who favour instrumental bands.
Coming into Focus is available at the MP3.com website. A multimedia section with MP3 versions of the songs, lyrics and band info is also available on an enhanced section of the CD.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Scenes - New Beginning
New Beginning is the latest demo from German band Scenes, which has been around in one form or another since 1995. Founded by guitar players Eddy Nowroth and Chris Lorey, who both played in Frozen Tears from '92 to '97, Scenes now is a sextet. The vocals of Hubi Meisel appear to be the latest addition. Meisel was a member of the German band Dreamscape in 1998 and 1999. The line up is completed by Viktor Schonfeld (keyboards), Jan Ebert (bass) and Hendrik Edelthalhammer (drums).
Band members favour Dream Theater and Symphony X and Meisel has compared their own sound to these bands. It's definitely progressive metal, but brought very subtly with emphasis on melody and drama. Compositions and arrangements are not all that complex, but have enough variation to catch the attention of any prog fan. Pretty good lyrics too.
This demo CD was recorded in four days in April and May last year, and unfortunately this shows in overall quality. But the band still manages to produce some very good progressive rock, especially instrumentally. Guitars are good (there are some nice acoustic parts) and the keyboards are brought to the fore at precisely the right moments. The vocals of Meisel are a bit of a let down in the first and third track, though not on Display and Away.
Mysterious Bird excellently combines keyboards and guitar, but from the start the vocals
are noticably weak. Meisels voice seems to waver from time to time. I consider the second track,
Display my favorite. Lyrically complex, it has far better vocals and good overall
The third track, Pain Is So Close To Pleasure sounds like something Rush could have produced, with some good parts on piano and acoustic guitar, but it didn't really do anything for me. The last track, Away kicks off with a good intro and is again a tapestry of interesting lyrics. Another good song.
A pretty good demo, showing talent and some excellent songwriting. Sound quality could have been better though and as mentioned the vocals are a disappointment on two songs. Enough potential though to make it in the progressive scene. New Beginning is available for DM 13,- or $ 7,- plus IRC from the Scenes homepage.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Sunscape - Sunscape
Agreeable Italian prog/ambient/space rock; Sunscape in a nutshell. Sometimes sounding like Camel's Moonmadness, sometimes more psychedelic, but never offending.
The cover you see here is my own creation from some images on their website, since they didn't send a booklet along with the CD and I couldn't find the correct cover on their site, so don't be surprised if you order the CD to get a different cover ;-).
The first two tracks are an ambient/Camel crossover, quite interesting and a good atmosphere piece. Highlight of the album is the fourth track, Simbiosi, with a whispered male and female vocal line that almost is unisono, giving it the impression of a chant. It is a very mysterious track, the modern version of a Gregorian chant (but not like some others just putting music under one, no, this is quite different but invokes the same feeling). Lyrics are in Italian, and although therefore hard to understand for non-Italians, this is way better than bad English. The vocals themselves are not bad either, nice melody lines and enough vocal quality of both the male and female vocalist to make them pleasant to listen to them.
Prospettiva features some classic symfo-rhythms and melodies. Consortio Nettuno
starts with Maya-like panflute (bit New Age/Yes-like) but then turns into one of these tracks
that are created using an old analog keyboard with lots of sample loops and tweeking buttons and
knobs. Very unimpressive.
The next track is back to actual instruments and the flute, which is already weak in all the tracks, sounds particulary skinny in this track. Some will call it subtle, I call it weak. Spore is almost a pop song! Enough different styles on this album. The long Schüsswassen (what a title!) is quite psychedelic, repeating the same 5 notes over and over again. No, I have to be fair, a lot more is going on, but these notes are the constant basis over which a Camel-esque, sometimes almost jazzy, musical web is woven. Quite an interesting track. The last track even features some Floydian quitar...
A lot of musical styles and most of the time quite interesting compositions. The most impressive thing is that the album is a whole, not fragmented, what one would expect from these many styles gathered on one album. The vocals are okay, but many of the instruments, especially the flute is weak, sounding quite shaky. If the songs were delivered with some more dynamic power and confidence, the rating would be higher.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
Ian Anderson - The Secret Language of Birds
Let's get straight to the point, Ian Anderson's The Secret Language Of Birds is not a progressive masterpiece, but a series of beautiful 'listening-songs'. Fifteen in total, clocking in between 1,5 and 5+ minutes.
Ian Anderson, the frontman of Jethro Tull needs no introduction. For more than 30 years he has led the musical direction of this progressive dinosaur. Barely half a year after the release of J-Tull Dot Com, The Secret Language Of Birds hits the market, also on the Roadrunner label. The third album by Ian Anderson certainly isn't a continuation of its predecessors Walk Into Light and Divinities. The first edition of this new album features an enhanced CD bonus section with a clip of the title song and an explanation by Anderson himself:
"I've been, for 31 years, the unplugged guy in a rock & roll band, playing the mandolin, the
bazooky, the acoustic guitar, flutes and whistles, the percussion.
I always like to come back to the simple and essential elements of singer/songwriter music.
This time around, I thought, I would do the thing the fans would probably expect me to do, which is to make that record that really is Ian Anderson's little part of Jethro Tull, the rock band.
So I guess, I'm just doing the personal, sometimes introverted, sometimes humorous, sometimes quite moody and revealing kind of music. My private little thing."
Besides a successful businessman, Anderson is also a master in playing the flute, without a doubt
one of the greatest of this earth, recognisable by his characteristic moaning through the German
flute, comparable to the efforts of tennis players like McEnroe and Monica Seles when taking a
difficult return. Besides that, Anderson is also blessed by a beautiful 'dark-brown', or
better 'full-grown' voice. Enough ingredients for a fine solo album.
Anderson, a born Scotsman but raised and living in the south-western part of England, has once again teamed up with a Tull member to perfect his work. As on Divinities it is Andrew Giddings, who doesn't only take care of all the keyboard parts, but also forms a solid basis in the form of bass and percussion. It's mainly an acoustic album with, as was to be expected, flute and vocals playing a leading role.
The songs display various different moods, wonderfully sung and surrounded by medieval sounding
ditties and folky melodies. 'Music of a minstrel' probably describes it best.
The mentioned 'flute-moaning' isn't present. The instrument is played very purely, emphasized
by a crystal-clear, own production. The last Tull CD unfortunately showed that the sharp
edges have disappeared from their music. That phenomenon is actually an advantage on this
work of art ! It's just a wonderful album to listen to by a blessed singer/songwriter.
On top of that, the CD comes in a remarkably well done package with tasteful and relevant artwork by Bogdan Zarkowski. Besides the normal credits and lyrics all of the songs come with liner notes by Anderson. For more information and sound samples check the SLOB Page at the Jethro Tull Homepage.
Conclusion: not prog-rock but still: 8.5 out of 10.
Eye Of The Storm - F2
Formed ten years ago, Eye Of The Storm released a self-titled album in 1991, but found there wasn't a lot of instant money to be made with their brand of music. To gather the funds to continue their career, the band took the, in my view rather drastic, step of changing their name to Mr. Personality and performing as a cover band. After three years Eye Of The Storm was reformed and March 1999 saw the release of their second, self produced album, F2.
Eye Of The Storm is Paul Sportelli (vocals), Craig Marcus (guitars, keyboards), Tom McNeill (bass), and Tony Bienert (drums, percussion). Sportelli has very good and interesting vocals from which you can, in my appraissal, clearly gather that the band spend a long time on the road performing cover songs, as he merges the vocal styles of performers like Bono, Eddie Vedder and Ian Astbury (The Cult). I should also mention bass, which has a strong role, dominating certainly the beginning of most tracks.
The wide spectrum in Sportelli's vocal perfomance is reflected in overall diversity of songs, half of which could be labelled progressive rock or progressive metal. But most of these have a simple structure which may be due to the fact that a lot of songs seem to have been made with the notion of air play in mind; just take a look at the track times and you'll see what I mean. The press information that came with the disc notes that three singles have already been released: Pail of Whales, Beyond the Sky and Forgotten.
Best to discuss the more progressive material first. Hate Media is a very catchy track, with good work on keyboards and some rather dreamy guitar passages. Beyond the Sky is the second track with keyboards, adding some distinctiveness to this powerhouse song. The only instrumental track is Dominion of Kings, which comes off as a kind of half orchestrated jam session, and the only piece in which keyboards play the main role.
Rainy Sunday succeeds in creating a very ambient atmosphere, not in the least through a background sound of running water and subtle play on guitar and drums. Singer Sportelli adjust splendidly to this mood. This could rightly be labelled progressive rock, as could the last track, Spawn, which is predominatly guitar driven but has a distinctly progressive last part.
So what's the rest of the songs like? One Good Reason is a short, violent track with howling guitars and fierce vocals, while Forgotten is a rather The Cult like song, dominated by a good bass line. Pail of Whales is a rougher track, combining metal and rap, overlaid with fine riffs, and One World could rightly be called a groovy funk track, differing immensely from the rest of the material. Bass is again very fine.
For a self produced CD the sound quality is very good and while arrangements are not all that original they are quite catching. The Eye Of The Storm homepage includes soundclips from both albums the band has released and also some unreleased live tracks and demos.
This CD won't earn Eye Of The Storm a DPRP Recommendation, but I will give it my personal recommendation. This band doesn't present itself as a progressive rock/metal act and rightly so. It is in fact its diversity of material which is it's main strenght. The only problem is that under 40 minutes this CD is damn short. But while it may no longer be named Mr. Personality, this band has enough personality left to make a splash in the music scene. Their third CD seems set for a spring release.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10 (This is for prog value. A solid 8 overall though for excellent rock and sheer pleasure).