Reviews in this issue:
Quark - Once Upon A Crime
Quark is a French prog-metal group. Yep, you read it right: French. Good to see that the French now dare to thread beyond the boundaries of electronic music (Mr. Jarre has many followers in France...).
The album itself is a typical debut album and actually not very interesting. It all sounds nice, but hardly professional. The
compositions are hardly worth mentioning. The most important influence is Dream Theater, but with hints of bands like
Fates Warning or Iron Maiden, as is obvious from some rhythmic tricks in the first tracks.
However, the album never gets heavy, it all stays within limits, even Soldier, which tries to be heavy,
Other tracks that in principle could have been nice are Angel To Come (Remember is a classical guitar upbeat to this track), but this ballad lacks all power due to the poor instrumentation (no keyboards and tame electric guitar). No, this album really didn't convince me. On a positive note: the vocalist has hardly any accent and is relatively accurate in the placement of the melody. The Rage parts are a bit Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin-like, you know the ancient rock thing.
Well, instead of boring you with too much detail of a track-by-track, I skip immediately to the conclusions. At no point the album gains strength, although it does get some momentum in high speed tracks like the Overture (weird to put an overture in the middle of an album, but ok). But at no point I get exited about the compositions. I heard it all before, it is basically a variation on a theme from the more well known track. Understand me well: there are no crap songs on the album but the spare use of keyboards, the meagre guitar and mostly uninspiring rhythmic work leads me to give the following grade:
Conclusion: 5 out of 10.
Body Full Of Stars - Welcome!
Body Full Of Stars are back, with this being their second album following Falling Angels. As seems to be the case with most Stone Premonition releases, musicians from various outfits flit from one release to another with a crop of them popping up on most of the releases. However, with this release, as opposed to the vast majority of this label's releases, the style of music just cannot be classified as space-rock! Actually any form of classification is practically impossible as there is a vast array of styles ranging from fusion to pure unadulterated rock.
Welcome! starts off with a funky bass riff courtesy of Mark Dunn who seemingly is the leader of this group penning the majority of the album's tracks as well as producing the album. At times I am reminded of Dan Reed Network, yet at others there seems to be that Fish element especially when the chorus turns up with Martin Holder's guitar lick. We're All Americans Now retains that funky vein with Tim Jones' vocals sounding like a cross between the late Ian Dury and Roger Chapman.
Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere is more upbeat than what we have had so far and the most progressive-leaning track so far. Though complex the track still maintains a familiar catchy trait to it comparable to the David Bowie fronted Tin Machine. End Of The World takes on a new aspect with a Canterbury feel to it whilst managing to incorporate a sing-a-long chorus a-la Caravan.
Missing You is a soulful ballad, something of rarity for a Stone Premonition release, but a gem. B With U brings back that funky groove and once again harks back to that Caravanic influence when the chorus comes along while Shop Girl is pure unadulterated rock.
One of the few genres not tapped in so far has been jazz, that is until Freedom. A nice jazz groove coupled with an almost Caribbean tinge gives this song that laid back, good feel attitude. The album closes with Simple Solutions which smacks of 70's rock complete with Hammond Organ.
There is no ground breaking work present on this album and not one of those albums that I would recommend to the progressive rock fan. On the other hand if you are willing to listen to good rock tunes complete with ear-friendly choruses then this album will do for you!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Krom Lek - Inspirational Flotation Compilation
Inspirational Flotation Compilation is the first offering from this group, yet as its name implies is not an album of new material but a collection of recordings the group made between 1993 and 1995. What does one expect to hear on this release? Looking at the list of instruments which apart from the "traditional" rock instruments, one can also see bogeridoo, flutes and sax, and couple that with other Stone Premonition releases, then one must look to groups such as Ozric Tentacles and Gong for inspiration. Furthermore the presence of various mushrooms on the cover lends credibility to the space-rock influence!
Colour Your Mind starts off this cosmic trip which is in the Ozric mode. Watery keyboards, spacey guitar, airy flute and a hypnotic rhythm and vocal section. The trip has begun! September Skies has a middle-eastern tinge to it courtesy of the percussion used, whilst on the other hand Hornblowa has a bogeridoo driven riff. This last track has a lot taken from the early albums of The Levellers with that omnipresent hypnotic rhythm and interaction between "vocals", or better still shouts and breaths, and flute.
Cello is a half-minute narrated piece, totally devoid of music which lends to the eccentricity of the album. Atom Splicer has a male/female combo and once again highlights the group's ability to incorporate various influences within their music while Dragonfly has a very jazzy feeling with scat-like vocals accompanying the group together with David Sanborn-like saxophone.
It Only Takes keeps up with the up-tempo beat we have had so far. Once again the vocals are in duet format, all in a space-rock setting. This style and rhythm is maintained through tracks as Day Tuna and Taking Warmth From A Star. Krom Lek seem to be trodding the path that has been traversed by luminaries as Ozric Tentacles and Gong yet still manage to introduce there own variety of styles as Taking Warmth From A Star where the backbone of the tune is a reggae riff.
The final tracks of the album are completely different to that we have insofar been witness to. Gone is that happy spacey feeling, replaced by an ambience that was missing previously. 25A The Row consists of a guitar solo with a sonoric backdrop, Inna Depths is a mish-mash of manipulated voices with little or no musical input except for the final part where music or effects is used as a backdrop to the narration. The short Voices... is a half minute collection of as its name implies - voices! It's All Starting To Merge keeps on with the ambient setting that the final part of the album has had in store for us. Seems that Radiohead must have got their hands on this album whilst recording Kid A!
This album has given an interesting insight to the aspirations Krom Lek have. They manage to fuse a diverse number of musical styles and cultures thus creating their own unique music, which - though it can be attributed in similarity to groups as Ozric Tentacles - can proudly stand on its own.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Six-North - I'm Here In My Heart
Six-North are a Japanese eight piece group led by bassist/keyboardist Hideyuki Shima who is also the composer of all the tracks on this album. Classification of the style of music that this group plays is rather difficult as they are on the border between jazz, fusion and prog! At times there are hints of the Canterbury-based progressive bands such as Soft Machine and Gilgamesh to name but two, while at times the group verges on the experimental and free jazz.
The opening number Ajikan is in actual fact a version of a 1500 year old traditional Japanese tune played on the shakuhachi with a keyboard background giving the track a New Age feel to it, a stark contrast to what is to come. The title track of the album, I'm Here In My Heart, sets the pace of the album, improvisation and free-flowing jazz with the standout musician being Toru Morichika on the soprano saxophone. In fact based on this track only, I would find it hard to categorize this album within the rock field!
Inner Crystal is a more relaxed and easy-listening affair based on
just a trio of piano, bass and drums yet still very much within the jazz field,
this time though within as piano-bar setting! Silence, Darkness brings
back the full ensemble and finally we are approaching jazz-rock resembling at
times Ian Carr's Nucleus and Isotope, with some intricate
interplay between saxophone, drums and bass. My favorite track of the album so
Circular Pinx introduces another variable into the structure, a female voice. Thankfully Chizuko Ura does not possess that high pitched, shrill pitched, Kate Bush-like voice that for some reason most Japanese female vocalists possess. In fact her voice blends in beautifully with the surrounding musical atmosphere and even though she is singing in a completely foreign language (Japanese!) her voice still remains pleasant and appealing.
Speakless returns to the piano-bar scenario, relaxed with gentle smooth tones, almost Sting-like at times especially when the soprano sax intervenes. A lengthy synthesizer solo introduces a degree of interplay between instruments but on the whole there seems to be little of the improvisation that the album had started off with. Kundabuffer finally gives us the first real-proggish feel throughout the album with the lush guitar introduction. The piece is of a complex nature featuring continual time changes with the keyboards and guitar, while bass and guitars keep at the jazzy rhythm. Possibly the most interesting piece of music on the album.
Where No One Has Gone is a complete opposite number to Kundabuffer. Acoustic and very little in terms of variety in rhythm and instrumental interplay, this track is mellow in a laid-back mode while the vocals help create that atmosphere, replacing the keyboards in terms of function.
On the whole this made an enjoyable album requiring numerous spins to be able to dig into. On the other hand it is one of those albums that can appeal to a limited audience as the jazz influence is very strong and predominant throughout. Yet if you are into jazz/jazz-prog then this album is recommended to you.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Fates Warning - disconnected
A short while ago I was browsing at the local record store through the progressive music section (inexplicably mixed with the hard rock section), when I chanced upon the most recent release from Fates Warning. The band's name was, as I'm a progressive metal afficionado, of course familiar, but I had to confess to an almost complete lack of knowledge concerning the bands musical endeavours. I found I could not resist sampling this latest release from one of the founding groups of the genre. Hence the first Fates Warning review on the Dutch Progressive Rock Page.
Fates Warning was founded in 1983 and is seen by some as the band that started progressive metal. Interestingly, at the time they seem to have been labelled an Iron Maiden clone by many reviewers. "disconnected" is the bands ninth studio album. The line-up is: Ray Adler (vocals), Jim Matheos (guitars), Mark Zonder (drums). Additional musicians are Joey Vera on bass and Kevin Moore (ex-Dream Theater) on keyboards. Additional keyboards and sequencing (and apparentely also noise) were added by Matheos and Steve Tushar.
The first track, disconnected part 1, starts with wailing guitar which sounds eerily like the cry of a dying Martian from Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds. Add some highly atmospheric keyboards to have this short opening track draw you into this album. One proves a perfect combination of Adler's vocals, Matheos' guitar and Zonder's drumming. More forceful instrumentation gives way to lighter shades as support for Adler's voice at the start of the verses, then reemerges during the verse and into the refrain. The most energetic track on the album.
So opens with mysterious melodies from the keyboards. The lyrics of this one really got to me, conveying a message of confidence wrecked by apathy, like: "Feeling so full nothing desired. Like a man with everything I should be happy but I'm only tired". Inventive guitar play from Matheos and in parts Moore puts in some wonderful keys. We move into harsher territory with Pieces of Me, which starts off with a vengeance. Shrill guitar, power drums from Zonder. Instruments withdraw in the shadowy background at the start of the first verses, as on One, but in this track they stay in focus during the rest of the track, save for an atmospheric instrumental section in the middle. By the time I reached this track when first I played this CD, I had succumbed to the splendor of Adler's vocals, powerful yet emotional. He would not let me down later on.
Again imaginative use is made by Matheos of guitar and Moore on keyboards on Something from Nothing, which proves one of the highlights on what is in itself an excellent album. Ray Adler at times strains each word of the lyrics to maximum effect. Zonder carefully, but deliberately works his way into the fold, dropping out at times, only to slowly reemerge. Drums attain an echoing quality at times. As we reach the third verse the band gears up to add some energy to the track. The keyboard player then comes up with some short supporting pieces which are more like the works of Tony Banks than Kevin Moore, which makes me wonder if it is he who is playing here. The circle completes as Matheos returns to the initial melodies to wrap things up. A masterpiece.
And when you think that the highlight of the album has passed, Fates Warning hits you with Still Remains. Another subtle, atmospheric opening, keys providing a sinister backdrop to Adler's vocals. Further into the track the music covers a fast range of vocal and instrumental arrangements. At over sixteen minutes the band gets ample opportunity to work differing approaches into this track. Again great lyrics. "A few lines from life's long soliloquy a dying voice in one part harmony. All these words and memories are all of you that's really left for me." Dare I say another masterpiece? I dare.
Our old friend, the wailing Martian, is back for disconnected part 2. The melody and atmosphere of the opening track are taken as the basis of this longer version, which first features a recorded voice over beautiful keyboards, before the wailing guitar intercepts, supported by piano and the earlier mentioned sinister keyboard passages, which are used to fuller effect here, as added layers are introduced. As keyboards and piano slowly fade, only the wail of Matheos' guitar remains, before a voice is heared saying: "I think we were disconnected." Then, silence.
The strenght of Adler's vocal performance was already noted above. He doesn't strictly cover a wide range in his singing, but the use he makes of what is in his reach more than makes up for this. Jim Matheos proves very versatile in handling guitar and, surprisingly, doesn't seem to feel the need to show this through drawn out solos. Guitar is always an integral part of each song and the stronger for it. Kevin Moore puts in a good supporting role, though he makes the spotlight a few times. And he shows some insights into his playing I hitherto hadn't seen (though these may be passages where Matheos and Tushar handle keyboards).
Good compositions, with Something from Nothing and Still Remains as the absolute highlights. Some thoughtful lyrics, as stated earlier. There's a sad note to most of the songs, but never to the point of becoming depressive. Production and sound quality sometimes have a bit of a mechanical quality to them, but I think this is in keeping with the line of the album and thus probably intentional. Finally some fine artwork is included, though I don't much fancy the picture of a puppet-clown. (Which may be a personal affliction.)
Though Fates Warning is one of the longest standing progressive metal bands with an impressive history I couldn't define this album any better than as refreshing. This is a band that's obviously very concerned with songwriting and arrangement unlike so many of today's new prog metal bands, who take guitar riffs, double bass drums, speed and so-called complexity as starting points and worry about the quality and originality of their songwriting only later. Also don't look for the level of genuine complexity of that other prog metal giant, Dream Theater, here. But then, though their music remains top-notch in my account, DT sometimes seems to have made complexity a goal in itself. The scaled layering of structure and atmospheres serves more to achieving a great composition as a whole with Fates Warning. And in the end that is what makes this a great CD.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.