Reviews in this issue:
Llanfair P. G. - Friendly Faces/Bestiarium
Llanfair P. G. is a Russian band from St Petersburg which was formed in 1994. Their name is taken from the shortened form of the name of a small Welsh town. The full name of the town is 58 characters long and hence an abbreviation does seem handy. The name was chosen basically because of the band's interest in Celtic culture and not only the music as such. Their latest album Friendly Faces/Bestiarium does, however, indeed show a certain flavour of the Celtic folk rock scene.
The band consists of Doctor Leopoldus (voice, guitars, fiddle, mandolin, recorder), Eléan Ó Rígh (vocals, keyboards), Karlsson (5-string and fretless basses) and Andrew Svenson (drums). On stage, the band is joined by Rob McReddin who acts as a performer, playing with Tarot cards and getting the audience involved in the show.
Although the Friendly Faces/Bestiarium album may not look like much (it's a paper sleeve cover, almost like an old LP with an inside sleeve for the CD with the lyrics on it) it has turned out to be a very positive surprise. Sure, the lyrics are not always perfect English and there is at times a pretty heavy Russian accent on some of the vocals (something which I in all honesty usually do have a problem with), but there is definitely enough heart and spirit in the music to make it really interesting.
The CD opens with the track The Callin'-On Song. Organs and melodic guitars soar into more harpsichord-like keyboards and then it moves onwards into a 70s like rock/folk rock melody. Doctor Leopoldus does the vocals and the track reminds me quite a bit of the Finnish band Five Fifteen as well as some early Jethro Tull.
The track that follows, Banshee Song, opens with a tender fiddle melody and introduces Eléan Ó Rígh's vocals. This use of both male and female vocals (even though the female ones seem slightly underused) is another thing that reminds me of Five Fifteen. This track too has the same 70s kind of feeling mixing rock and folk rock, even though this track is slower and more mellow.
Blind Dog continues with the 70s Tull sound, especially since it adds a flute to the instrumentation (and I still wonder who is playing the flute since there is no mention of a flute player in the sleeve). The opening is very folk like and soaring, but the track on the whole is rather dark and the bass lines and Doctor Leopoldus's vocals remind me of Devil Doll and their extraordinary singer and front man Mr Doctor. A favourite track of mine that mixes the darkness of a band like Devil Doll (which in itself is a mix of many things) with a clear sense folk melody.
In Werewolves Song we are suddenly served a rather nice boogie. A feature which once more brings Five Fifteen to mind. I cannot help but feeling a certain kinship between Mika Järvinen's (Five Fifteen) and Doctor Leopoldus's approach to music, even though the latter has a greater focus on folk rock. The Tull influence also lingers in this track.
Waterfalls And Garden is an instrumental track and it is probably the weakest track on the album. Even though the melody is nice, flowing and folk-like with its use of mandolin and organs it feels slightly too repetitive and long despite the fact that it is one of the two shortest tracks. Still, not a bad track as such.
Mollie Brown is the second longest track on the album. With its 8 + minutes it really allows the band to go into a truly magnificent instrumental orgy with wonderful 70s guitars and organs that brings Jethro Tull á la Aqualung to mind as well as some of Devil Doll's darkness once more. Dark brooding lyrics about a love long lost can of course seldom fail and the musical intermezzo allows the musicians to really show off their skills and playfulness, before returning to the original theme and taking us into the even darker ending.
Carnival Funeral starts off with Medieval vocal harmonies and a skilfully handled mandolin. After a rather long intro for a relatively short track, the song bursts into a fast folk dance friendly melody that makes me think of Levellers and especially their track Dirty Davey from the album Levellers. Doctor Leopoldus's fiddle adds to this feeling.
The final track, Witch Hunt, is also the longest of the album. It begins with sounds of wind and Doctor Leopoldus reciting some Latin in a dark voice. Eléan Ó Rígh then takes over to speak to us in the role of the witch, a nice monologue even though the accent is a bit too heavy here for my taste. After that the music really gets started with a wonderful bass line, deep drums and very Jethro Tull-like flutes. This breaks into a more doom/goth metal like chorus (which still maintains the 70s sound on the guitars) only to return to the more melodic Tull inspired melody-line now focused around a guitar. Atmospheric sounds with some female vocal and keyboard harmonies then turn into a longer instrumental section in the vein of psychedelic rock. Very nicely executed. The psychedelic section flows back into the doom/goth metal chorus and the song ends with a short Tull like organ melody and another short recital of Latin.
All in all, a really enjoyable album recommended to fans of early Jethro Tull, Five Fifteen or folk rock in progressive rock. Personally I will be looking into finding some more stuff since there seem to exist at least three more albums that were released before this one.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Chance - Escape to Horizon
Chance is actually one person; the French composer Laurent Simonnet, who composes and performes his music with computers. The album, which was recorded between March 96 and October 99, also features several guest musicians among whom Roine Stolt of The Flower Kings (on track 1 and 3, as far as Roine could remember) and J.L. Payssan of Minimum Vital.
It's 'one of those' CDs we receive quite a lot from Musea; electronic music, sometimes rather ambient and sometimes with rock influences.
As was to be expected, Aquatic Fiction starts with the sounds of waves on the shores and the calls of dolphins. In the minutes that follow, quiet sections with keyboard chords and acoustic guitar alternate with uptempo sections featuring drum computer, computerized bass and electric guitar. Some fine keyboard and guitar solo's in this song, which sometimes has a slightly Camelish sound, but although the piece is quite melodic it never gets really exciting and goes on and on and on ..... Nevetheless, it's one of the better tunes on the album and it certainly grows on you. If only it had been half as long (something which goes for other tracks on the album as well).
Ilona starts with a double heartbeat (I assume those of a mother and baby to be born) followed by a baby that at times cries and sometimes laughs. This track was (of course) inspired by Laurent's daughter Ilona. All rather predictable and actually rather annoying. The last thing I want to hear when I put on a CD is a baby crying. These samples really get on my nerves. The track continues with dark synths and acoustic guitar, while the second half of the track is more ambient.
From Here To Eternity continues the predictable patterns of the music: samples of a shuttle
launch and contact with ground control (where have I heard that before ?). The track features some
very interesting Floydian guitar work (by Stolt I assume), which is the highlight of the track.
Unfortunately a great guitar solo alone does not make a great track.
The Dreaming Zone, you've guessed it, is a dreamy synth piece.
The Time Human Machine is a piece in three parts. The style of the earlier songs of the album is basically continued in these 25 minutes with more acoustic and electric guitar, virtuose keyboard solos and ambient synth parts.
I've heard worse computerized drums, but I quite dislike the computerized bass lines on this CD. The music, as mentioned is very electronic and sometimes ambient although it does feature some nice keyboard and guitar solos. Some of the tracks might have been nice as a 'resting point' on another (vocal) album, but I can't stay interested in this for a full hour. It could be nice as background music though, although I would be surprised if the had this in mind when he made the album. Still, Laurent is obviously a very talented person in both playing keyboards and composing, however it would work much better with a full band and vocals.
The 8 page fold out booklet comes with colourful and atmospheric paintings for each track.
Only recommended to people that like long instrumental tracks of electronic music and to Stolt completists.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
Guillaume de la Pilieres - Psychedeleidoscope
Tracklist: Therapie Orientale (14.47), Psychedeleidoscopop (9.49), L'Art Et La Maniere (4.30), Le Psychodrome Celeste (5.44), Ultime Psychose (6.07), Transhumance Ethylique (6.30), Psychopatum Universalis (8.04).
With an album title like Psychedeleidoscope there's usually no guessing as to what you're getting musically. And indeed French composer, singer and all-round instrumentalist Guillaume de la Pilieres serves up almost an hour of mainly psychedelic songs, varying in length and, more importantly, in quality.
De la Pilieres composed for and played guitar in the French band Versailles, which released four albums in the nineties, and he collaborated with Mona Lisa on their latest album. Psychedeleidoscope is his second solo album, on which, according to his label, he tries to capture the feeling of early Pink Floyd and Ange. Unfamiliar with the second of these bands, it's save to say he hasn't succeeded in capturing much of the PF's sound.
The album starts off well enough with Therapie Orientale, a title once again revealing the nature of the music with its oriental influences, with in parts heavy, and pleasant, accent on sitar. This long song slips into more routine rock halfway through, focusing on electric guitar, while vocals retain a spaced-out, echoing quality. Psychedeleidoscopop is an almost ten minute long track, that captured my attention only in the last three minutes, when some haunting melodies and spoken lyrics are introduced. Too little, too late, if you have to sit through the drawn-out first part in which the same theme is repeated to exhaustion.
With Le Psychodrome Celeste some quality is restored. A haunting composition, in which the distortion of vocals is used to good effect with added atmosphere from backing chants. This makes no attempt at variation, but sticks to its main melody for five minutes. The aptly titled Ultime Psychose, focuses on whining vocals with keyboards or synths in repetitious melody. Guitar solos prove an unnecessary addition. Instead more attention could have been directed to bass and drums, which completely fail to establish themselves. This is also true of the last track, Psychopatum Universalis, a rather standard rock outing, until hammond, flute and a range of other instruments are added at the very end in a seemingly desperate attempt to give this a sort of Focus atmosphere.
L'art Et La Maniere and Transhumance Ethylique are at base unsignificant little pop tunes, diverting from the psychedelic sound of the whole. The first of these two might do well as a single in the charts, if not for the extremely muddled vocals. The second tries to capture a more progressive spirit in an instrumental middle section, to little avail.
Psychedeleidoscope mixes psychedelic and progressive elements with emphasis on the former. Unfortunately the focus of the album is too dependent on electric guitar (not surprising considering the musician's background), though De la Pilieres produces some fine haunting themes on keys and proves a able sitarplayer. He doesn't fare too badly on bass either, but drums and percussion appear to have been added nonconsequentely as if at an afterthought. Most importantly the vocals are a let down, often deformed, although this does add to the psychedelic quality. The same can be stated, less kindly, as to the amazingly muddled sound quality of the album.
Time to dig up those classic Sixties and Seventies albums for quality psychedelica. If you want to hear some good French singing, try Johnny Halliday instead.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10.
Emerald - Aesthetic Dust
Progressive metal with an Italian accent, highly complex rhythms, sometimes interesting keyboards, but too many notes-per-second. That's in a nutshell Aesthetic Dust by Emerald.
This Italian band opens their debut album with a Dream Theater-like track (this reference holds for
the rest of the album as well). Complex breaks is
the main keyword on this track. Personally, I am not to fond of the vocalist and the guitar player.
The keyboards and drums do some nice work on this track.
This complex line is continued in the next track. The keyboard sounds remind me a lot of the recent (previous decade) Yes work. However, I'm not confident with the different breaks, they seem too "produced" (o darn, we want to produce prog, throw in a couple of breaks, just do something semi-complex). The guitar solo in the middle section is quite nice, however, due to the non-conformistic approach taken in the rhythmic section there.
M is slightly more melodic in its opening section, which improves the whole feel of the song immediately. The rest drowns in its own overcomplexity. The guitar in the middle section is particularly horrible.
The instrumental The Snake and the Sunset holds more tightly to the main melody and is a more interesting track. The mini-track Crying is a ballad and flows over into the next track, a more uptempo track. The end section is the only thing worth mentioning.
The opening of the next track is nice, a bit IQ-like. Then it's back to where they started. The rest of the album is in exactly the same vein, with only a nice melodic interlude in the form of Past To Present. Endless Time, a piano-vocal ballad, doesn't really impress either.
No, sorry, it's really hard to imitate Dream Theater and Emerald in my opinion fail miserably. They drown themselves in overly complex rhythms, without a thought about melody. The sometimes simplistic instrumental interludes, the lack of convincing power of the voice of the lead singer etc. don't make it any better. This just didn't do it for me. Their website didn't seem to work, but is included for completeness above.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10.
Eternal Wanderers - Eternal Wanderers
Eternal Wanderers are a Russian band consisting of Lena and Tanya Kanevskaya, two sisters living near Moscow. This demo CD is their attempt to create non-mainstream music according to their own 'artistic' minds. Unfortunately, the result is far from satisfying, rather the opposite. There is no question that the music could be labelled progressive rock, but as such (or as any other music for that matter) it leaves much to be wished for. A far too common problem in prog rock, in my opinion, is the fact that too many bands seemingly tend to go for long songs regardless of quality. Instead of letting shorter bits form songs in their own right, they are forced together into something longer, but far too often the seams of this stitching together are left visible. Thus possibly great short songs are lost at the price of an inorganic and quite uninteresting whole. With Eternal Wanderers, however, the problem goes even deeper. Not even the bits are really interesting.
The demo contains six tracks most of which are unnecessarily long patchworks. Most of it is instrumental but the vocals are not really missed. I do admit to having a problem with English vocals with heavy accent, but Eternal Wanderers do not stop at serving me bad English lyrics sung with accent; their voices are quite frankly terrible. Furthermore, I think it is almost a joke to read a band biography proclaiming: "We write lyrics exclusively in English. There are no any other motives for that except for that by an unexplained reason this language permits to express our thoughts more correctly." Well, if that is how well the thoughts of Eternal Wanderers can be expressed, maybe it is better that they do not use Russian (though I find it hard to think that it would be worse).
Eternal Wanderers are a demo band, obviously, and quite frankly they are hardly even that. What we are dealing with is two women with some amount of equipment to record a demo CD at their home. Sure, there are bits of weirdness that remind me of King Crimson or early Pink Floyd. But whereas these bands can create complex soundscapes that sometimes may seem chaotically random (which, of course, can trick a band into making the mistake to produce a random chaos of sounds), Eternal Wanderers' soundscapes are utterly random, long, badly jointed together and quite boring.
In Born To Suffer, a classical piano suddenly enters the until then electronic instrumentation, leaving me with the feeling that the band must have found a piano standing in their room and thought 'what the heck!' That feeling is strengthened by the guitar that follows. Bits and pieces that do not belong together. At another occasion (in the song Eternal Desert), I suddenly feel overwhelmed by the suspicion that we might be dealing with a dead drunk Jean-Michel Jarre who has sat down by his keyboard, going 'Oh, I wonder what noise this little key can make... and this one... and that one...'
The only slightly redeeming features on the demo (though in all honesty hardly redeeming) would be a quite OK, slightly Ayreon-esque keyboard bit in Born To Suffer and the fact that the titles often seem very appropriate for the songs. Born To Suffer... Motionless Chaos (Part 2)... No Dawn Anymore... Eternal Desert... All of these titles invoke a feeling of gloomy despair and that is exactly how I feel when listening to this music. Usually that can be a nice treat, if the feeling is induced on the grounds of craftily expressed atmospheric soundscapes (I am a great fan of Fields of the Nephilim), but in the case of Eternal Wanderers it is solely because the music is a waste of CDRs.
Conclusion: 2 out of 10.
Windchase - Symphinity
Beautiful lyrical melodies, in the vein of '70s Camel in this rerelease of the 1977 album Symphinity (as you can see from the horrible cover). The name of the band is inspired by the album "Windchase" by the Number One progressive rock band of Australia at that time, Sebastian Hardy. Actually, the members of this band were former members of Sebastian Hardy. This album is also recently re-released by Musea and is discussed here.
The opening track is a gorgeous piano piece, highly expressive and technically wonderful. The next track is typical for the rest of the album and is a mixture between Camel and Focus, with the lyrical expression of Camel and the compository intelligence of the Akkerman/van Leer collective, a bit Lunar Sea like. Glad to be Alive becomes a bit kitsch with the walsing rhythm and overtly present strings. This reminded me a bit of some of the tracks on the very first Yes record. The same goes for the melody, making it more of a Eurovision Songcontest track than a prog-track, but hey, these are the Seventies! At least it's a really happy track with lyrics like "lalalala it's good to be alive!". Beat that, Jon Anderson!
The next track has a bit more Akkerman feel, due to the prominent guitar-playing. This instrumental shows the skill of their compository talents. A bit of an Ice-like (Camel) feel in the middle section. No Scruples is so intensly early Camel that I won't spend another word on it. Really varied track. Lamb's Fry is quite long, a kind of pastoral in the intro, but with a jazzy edge. Then a little darker theme sets in, hypnotising. A long instrumental section follows, with different breaks, but nothing really exciting. Non Siamo Perfetti is a short almost classical interlude (on acoustic guitar), followed by Flight Call. By modern standards with would be called a cliché track, sounding like Seventies pop music. The final track is a bonus track, recorded live in 1998, but it hardly adds any value to the original studio version.
Lovers of Focus and Seventies Camel will also like this album, no doubt about that. With the highly melodic tracks and excellent instrumental (especially guitar) skills, I would recommend it to everyone still in their Seventies phase. However, it does sound quite outdated nowadays and we've heard it all before.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Azazello - Black Day
Azazello is a Russian band consisting of Alexander Kulak (guitars, vocals), Idris Faridonoff (drums), Dmitry Bakay (bass) and Vitos Afanas'ev (keyboards). Unfortunately I know very little of the band as their homepage is in Russian and the computer does not read Cyrillic letters, nor is my Russian that good in all honesty.
The music has an 80s kind of sound and is like a somewhat weird mixture between 80s pop, 80s metal, King Crimson, neo-prog, computer game music and classical music. All vocals are in Russian and even though I do not understand a single word of the lyrics I find the vocals pretty nice. It should be mentioned, however, that the main parts of the songs are instrumental and consist of varying bits and pieces. One critique I would have is that the band often commits the error of many aspiring prog bands and puts songs together with the seams showing. Still, there are many interesting elements in the songs and at times they remind me slightly of Eternity X (though without Keith Sudano's brilliant vocals).
The CD begins with Begining Of The End [sic!]. The song has a very nice intro with keyboards and then moves into something that reminds me of computer game music and pop music. The song is nice, but it is something of a patchwork and I get the feeling that I have heard a lot of it before (even though I cannot place it). The track also uses a lot of sound effects, especially in the intro and epilude.
Black Day, the title track of the CD, is a somewhat faster instrumental song, the beginning of which I would describe as computer game music with the addition of heavy metal guitars. There is a section of folk rhythms. The sound, however, is not that of folk music, but rather the more electronic computer game sound that the keyboards seem to add to most of the songs. At the end there are two weird interludes with piano and strings (both, I believe, played on the keyboards).
The third song, I Love That World, starts off with heavy guitars. The vocals are kind of weird on this track. At times they remind me of Ian Anderson's. There is a really nice symphonic part that comes into the song in two places. The part brings Savatage's intro to Dead Winter Dead to mind. All in all a pretty good track.
By the time Free Flight starts, I am starting to get a bit bored. There are certain sounds that just keep coming back, making a lot of the songs sound very much alike. There is a slow bit which is expanding instrumentally that I really like. The vocals remind me of some 80s pop and some Italian prog. At times the track seems almost a little 80s mainstream-like. At the end there is a really nice piano bit, but once more the bit seems slightly out of place.
Demon Of Love starts off with fast drums and metal guitars and I just feel like 'so what?' The vocals are OK and there are definitely nice parts even though the somewhat electronic drum sound is starting to annoy me at times. There is a really nice acoustic guitar section, but the general problem of the song is its lack of coherence. It is the bits and pieces syndrome at work.
There are some more heavy guitars and keyboards in Take Your Choice !, but that is nothing new by now. The song is rather boring and the vocals are not really among the best on the CD. There is a jazzy element to a part of the song, but I do not really find it enjoyable. On the whole there is too much instrumental weirdness for my taste going on in this song.
Night Before The Christmas is the longest track of the CD. The opening is really mighty and contains some very nice piano and guitar bits. Unfortunately the track drops into some kind of speed metal for a while (at the same time sporting the by now less than amusing typical keyboard sounds). The vocals are better on this track, however. There is a certain King Crimson flavour to certain parts, especially rhythm-wise. There is also a very good symphonic section in the middle of the song.
The last track, Christmas, is a short instrumental song. Acoustic guitar in a kind of Stairway To Heaven-flavoured track ending with bird sounds and a crying baby. One of the best tracks on the CD, much due to it being an organic whole.
All in all, Azazello is not too bad. They still need to develop their sense of unity in their songs, but they definitely have the potential to become better.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10.
Glass Hammer - Chronometree
Does the following sound familiar? A man, listening to his collection of progressive rock albums, becomes aware that beyond the lyrics, the moogs and mellotrons there are voices from an alien race trying to communicate a message to him. If this does ring a bell, you either need to get this guy some serious psychiatric help or you are already familiar with the new Glass Hammer album Chronometree.
With this CD the American band Glass Hammer delivers classic symphonic rock, in the tradition of Yes, ELP and Genesis, with heavy focus on hammonds organs, mellotrons, mini-moogs and analog synths. Added influences come from modern progressive rock with a harsher electronic sound, especially on guitar, in some compositions. No wonder Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon) makes a guest appearance.
Glass Hammer has been operating in the symphonic/progressive scene since releasing their first album in 1993, but this is the first opportunity I've had to acquaint myself with their music. Chronometree is their fourth studio album. A full biography can be found on the Glass Hammer homepage. Founding members of and main contributors to the band are Steve Babb and Fred Schenkel, who have also released two albums with electronic ambient under the project name TMA-2. Both are listed in the credits of Chronometree for a respectable number of instruments.
Joining them are Brad Marler on lead vocals and acoustic guitar and Terry Clouse (Somnambulist) on lead guitar. As mentioned the Dutch master of bombastic rock Arjen Anthony Lucassen guests on guitars and a further guest performance is reserved for Walter Moore, who has performed live with the band on drums. Excepting Babb every single one of these performers is credited for acoustic and/or electric guitar!
Marler's vocals took some getting used to, seeming the weakest factor at the first listen. But give him a chance and you might get to enjoy his performance as much as I do. His slightly off-key and shrill voice eventually comes off best in the lyrically heavy tracks, like the ballad A Perfect Carousel.
As outlined above Chronometree tells the story of Tom, a fanatic progressive rock fan, who hears alien voices speaking to him through his collection of Yes albums, instructing him on how to build a time machine and promising to visit him. This tale is told in two main episodes: All In Good Time - part one, which covers tracks 1 to 4, and All in Good Time - part two, composed of tracks 7 to 9. The fifth and sixth track can be thought of as an interlude in which Tom's explicit use of drugs is dealt with, giving us some insight as to his delusions of alien contact.
The two main episodes focus heavily on hammonds, synths, mellotrons, moogs and such to great effect. Glass Hammer thus succeed spendidly in capturing the spirit of early symphonic rock, giving this album its strong retrospective aspect, while maintaining their originality in composition. The first episode is more lyrically dominant than the second, establishing the storyline as Tom becomes aware of the alien influences. It includes one of the best pieces on the album in the third track, which opens as an fast instrumental piece, Revelation, then shifts to lyrical emphasis and a laid back tempo in Chronometry.
The first part of the interlude, A Perfect Carousel, is an exceptionally fine ballad that I haven't been able to get out my head the last few days. It is followed by another strongly diverting track, Chronos Deliver, that couples guitar and synths with a children's choir in a bombastic, almost religious whole. As mentioned the second episode focuses more on instruments, which attain a harsher and more powerful character than in part one. This captures the mood of Tom's anticipation at the arrival of the aliens and the sorry shattering of his hopes and dreams.
One of the best albums of the year, highly recommended to enthusiasts of symphonic rock, this CD might well prove to stand the test of time to be included among the favourites in the genre.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10.