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Reviews in this issue:
Spock's Beard - Don't try This @ Home Either
('From The Vaults' Volume 3)
A few months ago Spock's Beard released a live album called Don't Try This
At Home. The tracks on that CD were recorded at a gig the band played in Tilburg's
013 Venue on September 28th 1999. Not all of the songs
that were played that night appeared on Don't Try This At Home. Seemingly the band
felt that 'the quality of the rest of the recordings were not up to the same standard'. Personally
I think that the band left the other songs off since they feature lots of long improvisations
(taking up a lot of time) and are sometimes played in a less than serious manner (funny voices,
a fast version of the intro to The Doorway, etc).
According to the meagre 4-page CD booklet of this new release the band decided to release the missing songs nevertheless 'after many requests from the fans'. I myself think that - as they did with previous tours - they needed another quick and dirty album to make an extra buck during the 'V' Tour. The CD was therefore released on the band's Radiant Records label instead of their normal label Inside Out.
Interestingly enough the songs on this album were mixed by drummer Nick D'Virgilio. The sound quality
is very good; many times better than that messy other Radiant Records live album
Live at the Whisky and Nearfest.
What makes this album also more interesting than it's older sister Don't Try This At Home is the fact that it features lots of extra improvisations. The Doorway features an extra long (5 minute) acoustic middle section (including the Asylum bit) with Nick, Neal and Al on guitar, while The Light features that amazing Thompson/Collins-like drums and percussion solo (6 minutes) with Neal and Nick playing on one drum kit !
Also present on this CD is Ryo's Solo on the portable keyboard, which starts with more than 4 minutes of atmospheric soundscapes and effects - often barely audible - after which bass and drums join in for an ELP-like jam. I personally can't get very excited about all of this 12 minute piece since the music is not very interesting and Ryo's play is far from impressive to say the least. The solo - which also keeps rearing it's ugly head at every gig - has lost its novelty value long ago. As a matter of fact, Dave and Nick manage to impress me more with their bass and drum parts !
The CD closes with Squonk (a cover from the Genesis album Trick of the Tail) with great vocals by drummer Nick (while Neal Morse is playing the drums) and a fine version of Waste Away, closing with 15 seconds of Hendrix' Fire.
As always the performances are great, not counting the occassional messed up guitar solo by Al Morse and the many bum notes by Ryo in his solo piece. Neal is doing great on vocals with the raw Catfish Man section of The Light as only exception. Nick and Dave are absolutely amazing as rhythm section.
Besides Go The Way You Go (with a nice additional jazzy piano solo !), of which a live version already appeared on
The Official Live Bootleg (aka The Beard Is Out There - Live), some of the versions of the
songs on this album have not yet been released in a decent quality before. Besides that, these
live versions often sound much more dynamic than the original studio versions (especially those
taken from The Light).
If you are a Spock's Beard fan and you like extended renditions of already long songs to begin with, this one is a must-have for you !
Conclusion: 8- out of 10.
Sonus Umbra - Snapshots from Limbo
I was pleasantly suprised by this relatively unknown production (at least to me). The music is progressive, diverse and suble. The production is bare at times (lacking a proper background), but all in all it is a nice album, which sounds familiar from the first time you play it (since it features chords sequences and rhythms from many sympho/prog bands from the past). The main setback is that it also gets really boring towards the end, as there is hardly any climax-building.
The main musical theme on the album is that of singer-songwriter with most tracks dominated by acoustic guitar.
The album opens with a rather Fish-like track, mildy folky with acoustic guitar and musical box. In terms of
atmosphere, the album reminded me a bit of
The opening parts of the second track, the heavier Dopplerganger, reminded me a bit of Dire Straits, and even Camel/Floyd in terms of the electric guitar. As you can see, quite a different reference! Still, the subtlety of the music is not lost in this rhythmically more complex track. The middle section is a bit oversimplified, with electric guitar soloing over a too simple power-chord based drum 'n bass layer. This flows into the calm second section. This calmness is continued in Seven Masks, a bit more lushly orchestrated than the previous track. This ballad has the atmosphere of Granchesters Meadow (Pink Floyd), you know, sitting in a garden on a sunny summerday, fingering your guitar. The middle section seems ripped from the Atlantis-suite by Pallas though, soon enough followed by a Marillionesque keyboard solo (fortunately, because the album started to get too quiet by now).
Demons is a nice uptempo semi-acoustic piano/guitar track, getting progressively more electric.
Here for the first time, female vocals are featured, which go quite well together with the male (slightly Latimer-like) vocals, giving
it a bit of a Mostly Autumn feel.
Soul Dusk is back to the acoustic guitar and vocals trick. Again a moody, calm piece. The Eagle Has Landed is more rocky, but still delicate. This could have used a lot more force, with a much shaper mix, to transport it towards a Landmarq-like track. Now, the power is only skin-deep. The Marillionesque keyboards make up for some.
Erich Zahn [based on a ghost story by H.P. Lovecraft - Ed.] starts spooky, with a really nice keyboard melody. A rather, I don't know, War of the Worlds like track. Good one, though. A Season in Hell takes us back to prog rock. Homo Homini Lupus takes back even further to Kayak and the likes. Quite a nice track too, with the best guitar solo on the album.
Insects Part One, is a kind of lullaby, nothing special but it has a nice chord sequence. The other two parts continue the style of the rest of the album and add nothing new, sounding almost like a Piper At The Gates Of Dawn track at times. The end sounds suspiciously much like Marillion's Fugazi.
Summarizing, one can say that the album is calm and moody, based on many different prog styles, and thus sounding a bit cliché. There is not a single track on the album that is absolutely brilliant, and not a single one that is really bad. All in all, if you are looking for a prog-based album that you can play while having dinner with your parents, try to get your hands on this one. Due to the lack of diversity and dynamics, this album gets an "OK, but try harder next time".
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
Root - Poles Apart
A highly impressive release, considering the fact that only one person is responsible for composition, artwork (although I am not too impressed by that), playing all the instruments, vocals, production etc. In fact, I wasn't even aware of that initially, only by reading the sleeve notes I found out about the fact that this is a solo production of David Kendall.
The opening track Kim of what is already the third album by Root, starts with some Floydian synth tunes and voices, but
soon it goes into a Marillion (Hogarth era) type of power sympho, combining the dynamics and sensitivity of an
album like Season's End into this track. Some excellent solos on both keyboard and guitar are of course the obligatory
ingredients of a track in this style.
Perfect is a ballad, a bit in the Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Power of Love style. I quite like this type of power-ballads, and this is just a typical example of that style.
Poles Apart is on the other hand more of the lullaby-type ballad, reminding of the latest Flower Kings
or again Marillion, with a Floydian (Division Bell type) interlude and an extremely long fade-out.
Should've Known is one of those eighties sympho tracks, which were then produced in masses. You know,
these uptempo, sort-of-happy songs. Blind Faith sort of continues this style, vaguely reminding me of Yes or ABWH.
The next track, All That He Could Be, again prolongs the style which by now becomes a bit annoying. A bit more variation would have been in order here. The excellent use of keyboards is worth mentioning though. The track finally gains some momentum at the end with a Gilmouresque guitar solo. Then it's back to Marillion again with Natural Gift. Even the voice of David Kendall is not unlike Hogarth's at times, but with a rockier edge. Right on time a slow interlude starts, too bad this only acts as a foreplay to a guitar solo of the same melody line as the main one, which makes it a bit less interesting.
A U2 like slide-guitar opens Only You. The vocals are a bit reminiscent of Bon Jovi in this rock-ballad. The result is a commercial track which might do well in terms of airplay, but may be to cliché for average prog lovers. Brightest Star opens with a Dire Straits like acoustic guitar, in the style of a lullaby. Slowly it builds up to a climax with some nice bombastic keyboards and guitar work. I suspect that the drums are electronic as is probably the case on the rest of the album as well, but it never gets really annoying. The rest of the track dies down a bit though.
All in all an impressive release, and definitely worthwhile for any record label to pick up. I think that, with the right people around him in a band, Kendall will be able to produce some high quality works in the future. I do hope he will leave the artwork of the covers to others, though, because initially I thought I was send a Hip Hop album to review.... If you are looking for something independant to add to your collection and you like the eighties style of prog, check this out! CD's can be ordered through the Root website.
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10.
Tomorrow's Eve - The Unexpected World
Tomorrow's Eve is another of the Teutonic prog metal bands with which the market becomes flooded lately. Playing a very decent type of prog metal, containing all the elements a prog metal band should pose, combined with a good production and a DDD recording, this one is definitely worth buying.
After the electronic opening mini-track, Tomorrow's Eve immediately kick in with a heavy guitar melody and fierce double bass drums. The most important reference, Dream Theater, is obvious from the start. Although the high level of Dream Theater is never achieved, they do produce a nice track with various rhythms and interesting melodic lines. And as a matter of fact, the somewhat less complex nature of the tracks makes it more appealing to those who think Dream Theater go over the edge at times. For instance, the next track Voyager, features all a prog metal fan's heart desires. The heavy guitars, the complex, constantly changing rhythm lines, long melodic tension arcs, good vocals, at times interrupted by some kind of death-voice (not very offensive, fortunately), all these ingredients simply add up to a good track. Even the really fast guitar thing that our friends of DT often do finds its place here. Of course, no prog metal album can do without a rock ballad, and in this case it is represented by Outside. Nothing really special, but nicely done.
With the short piano foreplay of Silent Dream, the epic of the album, Changes starts. The intro reminds
me strongly of Pendragon, in terms of the melody lines of guitar, keys and drums. The advantage of a 10+ minute track
is that a band can really show their compositional skills. In this case, they are more than OK; the track stays interesting.
The rhythmic changes occur at the right places, there is a good change in dynamics and moods.
Descent Into Insanity opens with a mildly hysteric key-thing, but becomes more sane metal further down the road. Quite a heavy track, with the distorted vocals only adding to that heaviness. The last track, apart from the electronic ending (as the album began), is quite uptempo, but larded with nice dragging keyboard chords. It features the most catching chorus on the album, interrupted by the most difficult to consume breaks. Just the way we like it, don't we ;-).
In conclusion, I think fans of prog metal and Dream Theater in particular, will be quite delighted with this release. Good solid prog metal in the vein of the masters. Don't expect any real strokes of genius here, but they know how to imitate their idols well. Good mastering of the instruments, good vocals, good production: maybe it's not the most original album of the year, but you will not be disappointed. Note by the way that the picture above is new artwork. You may find this album in the store with a different sleeve (with a kind of sea view on it). In the Benelux distributed by Bertus.
Conclusion: 8- out of 10.
Greenslade - Large Afternoon
Greenslade was founded in 1972 by Dave Greenslade, the keyboard player in Colosseum. Between 1973 and 1974 they made four albums after which the band split up in 1975 due to managerial problems. Now, 25 years later, Greenslade has reformed with original members Dave Greenslade and Tony Reeves (bass guitar) and "newbies" John Young (keyboards and vocals; ex-Asia, Qango, Fish) and Chris Cozens (drums). The outcome of this reunion of sorts is a brand-new album called Large Afternoon.
The rather vicious looking magician on the cover of Large Afternoon is exactly the same magician who was created by cover-artist Roger Dean (well-known for his artwork for Yes amongst others) for the cover of Greenslade's second album Bedside Manners Are Extra. However, the futuristic city scene in the background has been replaced by a photograph of some gnarled old trees surrounding a lush green meadow, which makes the painted magician look rather out of place, in my opinion.
The absence of guitars in Greenslade makes them sound a bit different than the average band. Although the presence of two keyboard players could have resulted in some thrilling keyboard duels, the band have clearly opted for a more laid-back Adult Oriented Rock (AOR) approach. This, in my opinion, has made the album more accessible.
More than half of the CD, five out of nine tracks, is instrumental and it is this half which is most proggy. Contrary to most of today's releases in the progressive genre, we are not talking about neo-prog here, though. The instrumental tracks basically sound like a cross between fusion (sometimes even bordering on easy-listening, like in Lazy Days) and seventies prog and they contain some very nice melodies. Of all five instrumental tracks on the album, Cakewalk is clearly my favourite, because of its driving rhythm, interesting bass lines and a great variety of lovely keyboard sounds (think of Genesis's Duke-era).
The four songs that feature lyrics remind me very much of various tracks by well-known "popular" artists like Chris Rea, Bruce Hornsby And The Range, Dire Straits/Mark Knopfler and Al Jarreau. Hallelujah Anyway - about God's creation of earth and its population - can even be regarded as gospel prog (although I do not think the word "copulate" would survive censorship), while the equally long track On Suite comes closest to what most people would consider prog, with its Everon-like keyboard intro and long, solo-filled instrumental sections. Young's voice has a pleasant, warm timbre, but - just like the vocalists in the bands mentioned in the beginning of this paragraph - does not display very much emotion.
Before I got Large Afternoon to review, I had only heard of Greenslade's
music. So, did this album make me curious about their other releases? Well, I have to
say, only slightly. There are some very nice moments to be found on Large
Afternoon, but it is all a bit too sedate for me, generally speaking; I miss some
"edge" in both the music and the vocals. However, I am sure that this CD would be
very nice to play while enjoying a good glass of wine and some French cheese in a
romantic, candlelit setting.
Recommended to those into more AOR-like prog with references to seventies prog, fusion and (especially in the songs containing vocals) poprock artists like Chris Rea, Bruce Hornsby And The Range, Dire Straits/Mark Knopfler and Al Jarreau.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.