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Reviews in this issue:
Pain Of Salvation - The Perfect Element I
OK, prog-heads. It's that time of year again: go to the shop (Europe now and US-continent end of this month) and buy this masterpiece! This album, which I now possess for two weeks, keeps haunting me. Prog metal in its best form: powerful, bombastic, but also delicate and sensitive at times. Highly melodic and excellent rhythmic section, combined with great lead and harmony vocals and a superb production: no doubt about it, this one's going to be in my top 5 of this year.
InsideOut Europe is slowly growing to be the most important prog-label worldwide, with a lot of excellent bands signing. Pain of Salvation is no exception, with this band IO has signed a prog band that has the potential to be one of the most important prog metal bands on the scene. Having read Jerry's review about One Hour By The Concrete Lake, I was not really tempted to buy that album, but after hearing this one, I think I'll check that one out too. And best of all: the current album is only part one of what is going to be a two-album effort! But let's stray no longer and dive into the track by track.
The album opens with the most metal-like track, Used. Pounding and swirling, with almost rap-like vocals, reminding of Faith No More, but the short chorus is typical prog-rock, almost Arena-like. This band is touring with Arena now, which I find a bit strange since the music is much harder and has a different approach than Arena, but probably you do hear some similarities, especially in the instrumental sections and guitar soli. The track flows into In The Flesh, which has nothing to do with the Floyd track by the way. This resembles Arena the most of all tracks on the album, but also the quieter Dream Theater or Fates Warning comes to mind. The complex vocal middle section is a treat. This is more prog-rock than prog-metal, so all you metal-haters out there: forget these guys have long hair and just listen to the music, I'm sure it will get to you as well. The instrumental acoustic piano/guitar section with which this track sensitively ends, is gorgeous. Now the peak of the album is reached with the song Ashes. Apparently they made a video to accompany this track and I would love to see it. Please post it on your web-page, boys! The haunting dark atmosphere of the chorus almost drives me crazy: it's in my head when I get up in the morning, it's in my head when I go to bed in the evening: "As we walk through the ashes, you whisper my name....". The continuing musical-box melody that pervades the whole track while climaxes come and go just echoes and echoes through my cortex.... and a guitar solo of Gilmouresque proportions (but not the length) to end this track...I think I just wet my pants...
Morning on Earth continues this musical-box idea, but is much quieter. The fantastic vocalist and the excellent vocal harmonies come to light behind a background of strings and acoustic guitar. The spoken vocals over music remind of Waters' Pros And Cons (you know, the part where he reads to his kids "pathetic, he said, that's what it is...") [this track is called Go Fishing - ed]. Idioglossia is almost as hard as the first track, again Faith No More comes to mind, but the complex rhythmic tricks of Dream Theater find their place here as well, as does the chorus of Ashes, which returns in in slightly harder version. This track is highly diverse with many different things going on constantly and can compete with DT in terms of composition as well. It's a pity I don't have the lyrics with the promotional copy, since there is definitely a lot going on lyric-wise too.
Her Voices opens like a piano-vocal ballad (the keyboard player is really good too, by the way), but the powerful guitars soon
set in (the tempo is still "ballad" though). The song slowly evolves and before you know it you are listening to
folk music in a prog metal jacket! Again brilliant work on the composition site.
Dedication is a rest point on the album, quite calm and laid back, where the keyboards have the most impressive role (no solo, but excellent support of the vocals).
King Of Loss is a long track, with a mildly Middle-Eastern atmosphere. This is a very dynamic track: one moment all is quiet, the next all hell breaks lose and before you know it, the storm has settled again. Gliding chords provide a special feeling to the chorus. The last section will return later on, and as such the album is musically a whole entity where songs intertwine in compositions. A superb guitar solo finishes the track, well if you don't count a lot of dissonant chords ;-).
Reconciliation is shorter but in the same vein and a bit more uptempo. Song For The Innocent is another ballad but with a massive instrumental guitar solo section (ala Comfortably Numb). In my opinion, it would not be a shame to stretch soli like this for 5 minutes. But hey, I can't have all....
Now the final section is there: Falling (a keyboard chord plus guitar thing like Floyds' Marooned or Waters' Ballad of Bill Hubbard) which flows into the 10 minute masterpiece The Perfect Element. This track features the best of the previous tracks in terms of compositions and atmosphere, in terms of bombast and sensibility, in terms of vocal harmonies and screams, in terms of melody and rhythm. It just sums up the rest of the album. Absolutely brilliant closing of a brilliant album.
After discussing the album, I would like to take up another point. Unfortunately I missed the Arena/Pain Of Salvation concert in Holland (I was enjoying Camel with long instrumentals since Latimer had a throat infection and could not sing that day, besides I was not aware of this album yet), but apparently their stage performance is rather static: doing a competition in trying to look angry. I have not seen it myself but would find that a real pity if true. Just look at Dream Theater (I saw them last week in Den Bosch): it is possible to deliver serious prog metal, but have a party with the audience at the same time.
Well, in conclusion: as you may have noted I am thrilled about this album and am convinced this album should and could reach a large prog audience. I will give it the highest note I have ever given (apart from Pallas' The Sentinel, but that's a classic). I hope Pain Of Salvation will produce a 'Perfect Element Part II' that will receive an equally high note, I really do. Don't I have any criticism? Eghhh, nope. Well, maybe one: you have to like musical boxes. Most of the guitar lines seem to be centered around that "theme" ;-)
Conclusion: 9+ out of 10.
Gilgamesh - Arriving Twice
The name Gilgamesh should not be a new one to those people who follow the Canterbury scene of progressive music. In fact two albums were released in the seventies, 'Gilgamesh' (1975) and 'Another Fine Tune You've Got Me Into' (1978). The brainchild of this group was the late keyboardist/composer Alan Gowen (1947-81) who formed the band in late 1972 and named it after The Epic Of Gilgamesh, from Sumerian mythology. The material on this album are tracks that were recorded between 1973 and 1975, prior to the release of the group's first album.
Musically Gowen was a jazz pianist and his musical roots and compositions were firmly embodied in this style of music. The rock influence came from the musicians that played together with him resulting in a sound which mixed Jazz Fusion with Progressive rock. Bands that could be categorized in a similar vein would be Nucleus, Isotope and to some extent Soft Machine.
The tracks present on this album can be catalogued into three separate recording sessions. With Lady And Friend and You're Disguised were recorded in 1973 at Pathway Studios in London. Though the first recordings of the band, one can feel the sense of direction that Alan Gowen wanted to take the group in. At that stage he only possessed a Wurlitzer piano resulting in a very basic sound unlike future recordings which would have far more keyboards and a broader sound. The lineup for these tracks were Alan Gowen, Phil Lee (guitar), Neil Murray (bass) and Michael Travis (drums). All except Neil Murray would last till the recording of the first album. He would eventually go on to have a distinguished career, at first within the prog scene with Babe Ruth, Colosseun II and Bill Bruford. However fame would come his way when joining bands in the heavy blues/hard rock vein as Whitesnake, Gary Moore and Black Sabbath even though he would return to the reformed Gilgamesh for a short while prior to the sessions of the second album in 1977. Both tracks especially You're Disguised are based on a free flowing form of jazz with improvisation being the primary motif behind all the music.
The second batch of tracks, Island Of Rhodes and Extract were recorded in the Autumn of '74 in London while performing on BBC Radio. By then the lineup included Steve Cook on bass who was also at that time a musician with Barbara Thompson and the Don Rendall Five who also included Peter Lemer on keyboards. Lemer joined the group for these sessions thus augmenting the sound of the group. Following these session both Lemer and Cook left the group to work with Seventh Wave. Extract is a track of particular interest as it is only an excerpt of an original track written around November 1973 by Alan Gowen when both Gilgamesh and Hatfield And The North where playing together at the Leeds Polythecnic known as The Double Quartet. After both bands had played their sets they would join together and play this 40 minute song onstage together. There are no official recordings of this suite but Extract is a section of this extended work. Again one sees that the style of music has varied little with the emphasis consisting of free flowing jazz with the piano and guitars answering each other.
The final tracks are from a 1975 recording session prior to the release of their self-titled debut album by which time Gilgamesh had ceased to exist as Alan Gowen and Phil Lee had joined National Health. This group was basically a fusion of Gilgamesh and Hatfield And The North. These final four tracks all would appear on the debut album as did With Lady And Friend, You're Disguised and Island of Rhodes, however, the versions that appear on this CD are different from those that had been released on the original album. One of the basic differences between the recordings on 'Arriving Twice' and 'Gilgamesh' is that on the latter the group lineup was augmented by Amanda Parsons on vocals for two tracks. For these last batch of recordings the bassist within the group had changed once again with the post taken by Jeff Clyne, though for a period Mont Campbell (Egg) had joined. Jeff Clyne already had previous experience with this style of music as having played in jazz-rock groups Centipede, Nucleus and Isotope to mention a few.
Musically the group seemed to be maturing as there is a contrasting difference between the initial recordings and these final ones yet the influences and styles vary little over this three year period. More could have been expected of Gilgamesh but the departure of Jeff Clyne and the reluctance of Mike Travis to "rough it" until fame came their way brought the group to a premature end.
This release gives an insight into one of the lesser known Canterbury bands, especially as to how the group progressed musically prior to the release of their debut album and their untimely demise. It also comes complete with a 16 page booklet which gives an insight into the band history and the life of Alan Gowen. This will go down well with those of you who are into jazz fused with rock. There is nothing commercial about this music but at the end of the day that is what makes it so appealing. Every time I listen to this album I hear different time signatures as well as dreamy themes. It is not the best material to come out of this genre of music but is a must for the Canterbury completist and interesting to those who like groups such as Soft Machine Mk II, Nucleus and Isotope.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Marillion - The Singles '82 - '88
A box set containing all the Fish-era Marillion singles, individually packed in their own artwork? For years this must have been the ultimate wet dream for any self-respecting Marillion fan. However, after Marillion and "it is not our label, but still they release all our albums" EMI attacked the fan's wallets with the otherwise excellent remaster series, which already comprised all the B-sides of the singles, you might wonder how much need there still is for this box.
True, the whole package looks excellent. The 12 singles come in a black carton box, which opens cigarette-box style. All the singles are sleeved in their original artwork and they feature all the possible songs that appeared in the original format, so 7"edits, 12" mixes and whatever else. And... well that's about it, really. No liner notes, no information about the singles itself and everything is done with the typical EMI inconsistency with misspelled names and titles, tracktimes that are sometimes mentioned and sometimes not, inconsistent information as to whether tracks are edits, full versions or remixes and last but not least airbrush artist Mark Wilkinson only gets credited for 5 of the 12 sleeves (and on Warm Wet Circles the print is so small it can barely be read).
Another thing that's missing is information as to whether the music has been remastered or not. It doesn't say anywhere on the package and unfortunately I am currently bound to crappy PC-speakers so I can't tell. It seems a bit strange after all the trouble they went through in remastering the albums not to remaster this box, but then again, it is very unlike EMI not to mention it, had it been remastered.
The fact that the singles feature all the possible edits that appeared on the original singles results in many CD's containing two - or in the cases of Kayleigh, Incommunicado and Sugar Mice even three- versions of the same song. Which, combined with the short duration of the individual CD's doesn't make it an item you put in your player to listen to. No, this is more an item that is to complete all ever Marillion recordings on CD, very much like the Japanese singles boxes of the likes of Queen or Madonna that have been released in recent years. However, in this case the tracks that have not been released on CD before total to only 2 edits and 3 live versions - hardly justifying the 25 pounds plus p&p you have to shovel up for this package.
Furthermore there are two singles missing: The live single Welcome to Garden Party and the USA-only single Lady Nina (both released in 1986). True, the latter didn't feature any new songs, yet the artwork may have been interesting and in the case of Welcome to Garden Party although the versions have also been released on various live-albums, the same thing can be said about the single Freaks, which is included. I mean, if you are pretending to be complete, why not be completely complete?
And then you may wonder as to why this box has been released. The only possible answer can be: Money. As it has no commercial value at all, this box is clearly marketed at the fans. The same fans who already have dug up their money to buy re-release after remaster after compilation after who knows what more, thus once more confirming the current status of Marillion's money grabbing and ripping off their fans.
But in this case I think it's even worse. I think it's a direct insult to Marillion's die-hard fans and collectors. Collectors that have spent years and heaps of money on collecting all the original single releases will only see their collection decrease in value with this box being so widely available. A good example is the Sugar Mice CD-single, which had been withdrawn only a week after it's original release and only a few thousand copies were available. Well, here's another few thousand for you!
So in conclusion, it's an excellent, beautiful package, but it has been released a few years too late and isn't quite worth the money. Only for real completists, and even then...
Conclusion: 6 out of 10.
Kurgan's Bane - The Future Lies Broken
The Future Lies Broken is Kurgan’s Bane’s second CD. I have not heard the first one, Search From Sea To Sea, but for those who have, I can still confidently say that things have changed. Former singer Alan Jantz has parted ways with the band and brothers Pete (electric and acoustic guitars, vocals) and Jeff Laramee (drums, percussion, vocals) and their companion Luis Nasser (bass, keyboards) have found his replacement in 34-year-old Lisa Francis - a woman with a voice that can really rock.
The album kicks off with Through The Camera. A lovely piano opens up and then a nice riff enters. From this opening and onwards it is obvious that the band has a strong Rush-influence. But it is an influence they handle well, in my opinion. Lisa Francis’s vocals remind me of another female American progressive rock singer - Lana Lane. Both have that darker (not typically female) rock voice which I must admit that I enjoy a lot. There is a lot of volume and depth in Francis’ voice, which is kind of surprising when one sees the pictures in the sleeve where she looks like a pretty small girl. The track is a bit hard, but still in a soft way with very neat production. There are some moments which remind me of early Marillion. Lyrics-wise this track deals critically with the Media. All in all, a very nice opening and one of my favourite tracks on the CD.
Just Look At Me Now has a slow start which brings IQ in their poppier moments to mind. Then harder edged guitars rock things up a bit. I am beginning to think that there is some reverb used on Francis’s vocals at times in order to deepen it even further - which I definitely do not mind. The song is, in all honesty, quite slow and I do enjoy the harder bits most - and I am still very impressed by the vocals. There is an instrumental part that recalls some more IQ and a Rush-like atmosphere lingers in the music in this track too. The ending is slightly off. A corny drum fill thing spoils the emotional setting that Francis has just left us hanging with. The song should have ended then and there, in my opinion, and Jeff Laramee should have kept his drumsticks still.
Warm Winter Nights presents us with some really nice bass playing and more of those fantastic vocals. The Lana Lane reference here stretches to include some of the guitar playing, reminding me slightly of Destination Roswell from Lane’s Garden Of The Moon album. There are also more Marillion and IQ influences present - and, of course (I feel like saying), the by now almost mandatory Rush reference. The guitar solo has a bit of hard rock quality to it, not so much in speed as in sound; it has a bit of an edge to it. Nice track.
The fourth track, Frankie Five Angels, is the instrumental first part of the song Vermin
which stretches over tracks four to six. This first part, which is also the longest, has some
interesting bits - I especially like the bass - but is on the whole slightly too long and also
too repetitive. This is one of the weaker moments on the CD and it does lower the quality of
Vermin as a whole.
Headless Mice, the middle sequence of Vermin, opens with soft keyboards and ethereal vocals. It is nice and melodic. The lyrics are OK, but at times I find myself annoyed by the often insistent (and to be honest not always that good) rhyming which is practised. The song has a gentle build-up that really breaks out into a crescendo after the end of the vocals and then moves into...
...Feudal Tourniquet, which opens with a direct vocal attack. A really good track with clear Rush influences and lyrics that I really like. It features another hard rock guitar solo which fits excellently into the whole and here a bit more speed is added. I really like this track and my only complaint is that Vermin as a whole is pulled down quite a bit by its first part. Seeing the good bits in the first part, the really nice second part and this superb third part, I regret not being able to hear the song that the band obviously has the potential to make here. Still, Feudal Tourniquet on its own is one of my favourite tracks on the CD.
Track seven, Nap In E Minor, is a very short piece played on classical guitar. A rather nice interlude between the longer songs, which allows Pete Laramee to show his skills on the quiet side.
If I would have to name one track on The Future Lies Broken as my favourite, it would have to be The Curtain And The Rose. The vocals are brilliant and the music is really good. Gentle piano/keyboard bits are contrasted by hard guitar bits. And over it all Francis’s vocals just soar like a great dark bird of prey. The only thing that bugs me is a very bad rhyme in the lyrics. In a catalogue of different kinds of people ("The old and the young / And the misunderstood / The actor, the author") very much reminiscent of the ending of Marillion’s Berlin (i.e. lyrics-wise), the Laramee brothers have suddenly chosen to enter "the prose" to find a viable rhyme for "The Rose". The only problem is that whereas all the other words in the catalogue refer to living beings (single or in group), "prose" is something abstract - a style or type of text. Of course, this is a minor detail on the whole, but it still bugs me. Great song though.
A slow dark piano intro opens Bad Blood and slow vocals follow. Musically it is very much regular rock music though still in the vein of Rush, in my opinion. There are also elements of Lana Lane’s music in it once more. An OK track.
Broken Clock is an instrumental song with clear Rush references but also with elements of IQ in it. I especially like the basslines which open the song. The track is pretty heavy on the whole and quite nice. Definitely much better than Frankie Five Angels which opened Vermin.
The album ends with Regina. The opening is a slow build-up with instruments, melodies and sounds creating a thicker and thicker texture which breaks into rock, after which the vocals come in. It is the longest track on the CD (Vermin is the longest song) and works very well. The Rush reference is once more present and the song is a really nice ending of a very good album. After the music has stopped, the album ends with sounds of the ocean and some windchimes.
To conclude, I am really happy to have found out about Kurgan’s Bane and their music. I will definitely keep an eye and an ear open for new stuff from their direction. The easiest way to describe their music is to say that it sounds quite a bit as if Rush had decided to record an album with Lana Lane on vocals instead of Geddy Lee. And I mean that in the best way possible. If you are into Rush and/or some IQ and early Marillion with a harder edge to it, do give Kurgan’s Bane a chance. It is well worth it.
Conclusion: 9- out of 10.
Morgan - Nova Solis
Originally released in 1972 this debut album from Morgan has now seen the light of day by its re-release on CD thanks to Angel Air Records. The prog outfit Morgan found life from from the ashes of the pop group Love Affair when Morgan Fisher together with two other former members of the group (Bob Sapsed/Maurice Bacon) got together. Their musical style would differ greatly from the days when they had their hit single "Everlasting Love". Also joining the group was Tim Staffell who was the vocalist with Smile (featuring Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen fame). It is rumored that Ian McDonald (King Crimson) also jammed with the group while they were auditioning for a fourth member though he never joined.
The quartet relocated to a cottage in Kent rented out for them by Sid Bacon, their manager and father of Maurice. They rehearsed there for 3 weeks with Morgan Fisher suffering from continuous bouts of hayfever whilst the rest of the group smoked away. Sid Bacon negotiated a deal for them with RCA Italy and the group went over to Rome to record in the hi-tec RCA Roman studios just off Via Tiburtina.
The music was basically a trio of keyboard/bass/drums augmented by Tim Staffell’s vocals giving the group a sound reminiscent of Emerson, Lake And Palmer without the pop hooks. In fact on listening to Nova Solis one must remark that probably what lacks is that tune that one can walk away singing after listening to it. Basically the album consists of vocals run through a VCS3 synthesizer ring-modulator together with a busy running fretless bass and quasi-classical keyboards.
The albums can be split into 2 sections. The first part and
originally the first side comprise of 3 tracks which vary both in style and in
Samarkhand The Golden starts off with a duet that Tim Staffel sings with himself with the rhythm gradually picking up leading into an extended Moog solo. This track is very much in style of ELP with both keyboards and bass going into runs and solos of their own. Alone was the song that Tim Staffell sang for his audition with the group. This track also features some acoustic guitar from Staffell and one can immediately sense that it was written under different circumstances than the rest of the album. In fact it is a Smile-era written song and easily the most accessible and 'commercial' track of the whole album. War Games brings us back to Prog-land. This track features some interesting interplay between the trio of musicians yet the highlight of this track is the running bass provided by Bon Sapsed which veers off at every chance possible, giving this track that something special when compared to the rest of the first half of the album.
The second half of the album, which also involves the whole
of the second side, is made up of the Nova Solis Suite. This suite can be
divided into six sections flanked by an intro and outro which is taken from
'Jupiter' by Gustav Holst (The
Planets). Permission for the use of this classical piece of music was given to them by the daughter of Gustav Holst, Imogen, mainly thanks to the
classical connections that RCA Italy had then.
The sound of the Morse Code takes us into Floating which in turn is picked up by the group. The sound of the grand piano solo gives this track a classical touch which is suddenly transformed into twenty five seconds of sound effects to simulate Take-Off. An encounter with Asteroids features an introduction with echo splashes created by Morgan Fisher's Hammond Organ's spring reverb unit.
Earth is another pre-Morgan written song by Tim Staffell during his Smile days which admittedly seems out of place on this suite. This almost folk-rock probably should have been recorded independently with just voice and guitar. Somehow the quirky keyboard solo feels out of place yet is what is requires to take us into Hyperspace: The Return Home. The term hyperspace immediately conjures up speed in one's mind and that is what this track has. Possibly the fastest track on the whole album, the rhythm section drives the piece, along with Fisher's oscillating organ swooping through the whole track. Through it all there is that jazz feel until we reach Nova which has that spacey starry kind of effect. May I Remember brings us back down to planet Earth and this track comes complete with vocals et al ! Hearing this track one can see why the remaining members of Smile (Brian May and Roger Taylor) recruited Freddie Bulsara (Mercury) as Tim Staffell's replacement. There is such strength and power in his voice that few vocalists possess. Theme takes us back to where it all began with Gustav Holst's 'Jupiter'.
Looking back this is not one of those ground-breaking progressive rock classics from the seventies but there is something about it which somehow makes it extremely appealing. The effects used by Morgan Fisher are impressive especially when one thinks of what was available in 1972. Here we have a blending of various styles with musicians that have come from very different backgrounds yet when they amalgamated their ideas the result was this album of complex music. The only drawback seems to be a lack of ear-friendly tunes that one can walk away whistling after hearing the whole album. This album is a definite must for the Queen and Mott The Hoople completist as well as those who are interested in keyboard driven progressive rock in the early years.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.