Reviews in this issue:
Various Artists - Cyclops Sampler 4
Tracklist CD2: Mostly Autumn - Pieces Of Love (4:15), Parallel Or 90 Degrees - Encapsulated (7:30), Pineapple Thief - Private Paradise (11:38), Salem Hill - When (5:58), Sinkadus - Positivharalen (7:15), Sphere - Shrimp SNG (4:09), Transience - Desert Falls (8:24), Twelfth Night - The Ceiling Speaks (6:28), Von Daniken - Fish Finger/Plank's Ton And Whelk Song (Extract From Electrick Fish Music) (3:34), Vulgar Unicorn - More Money Than I Know What To Do With (4:55), Kopecky - Bartholomew's Kite (8:04)
The fourth sampler from Cyclops comes in the form of a double-cd which gives an extremely broad view into the variety of progressive bands that have released or are releasing albums on this which can be considered as one of if not the leading progressive label around.
The album gets started with an instrumental guitar-based track, Sunlight on Leaves, from Robert Andrews, ex member off the group Land Of Yrx, who has debuted with Cyclops with an uncharacteristic album especially when one looks at his past work. Sunlight On Leaves is an acoustic track with a guitar based introduction and gentle Nick Drake-like arpeggios, something which can be found throughout the whole album An Amnesty For Bonny Things On Sunny Days. no new innovative material, yet still relaxing, in the Gordon Giltrap vein.
Scottish band, Citizen Cain take the sampler into more upbeat territory with an introduction that is a cross between Genesis and Marillion from the 'Clutching At Straws' era. Liquid Kings is an interesting track but the maybe a bit overdrawn and certain musical sections become a bit tedious due to repetition. The vocals are typically neo-prog, at times sounding similar to Peter Gabriel though there seems to be a lack of depth and strength, something which at times fellow East-Lothian persona Fish seems to suffer from! Very little new stuff present here as it sounds like a rehashed version of the old Marillion.
Finneus Gauge are up next with Press the Flesh taken from the album More Once More. This is the stuff I have a soft spot for, continuous changes of rhythm coupled with crafted melodies. The group do not dwell for more than a few seconds on any particular idea allowing the listener just enough time to digest what is being played out.
Flamborough Head are next with Schoolyard Fantasy taken from their debut album Unspoken Whisper. Though their name is British (Flamborough Head is a cliff formation on the east coast of Britain), they are Dutch and Schoolyard Fantasy is the first track featured on their debut album. The introduction has Pink Floyd written all over it, yet this is not reflected throughout the whole track as one could say that on the whole what we get is a mish-mash of influences from Pink Floyd, as already mentioned, to Marillion.
The first exclusive track to the sampler is On The Edge by Norwegian band, Fruitcake. The influences are of classic rock bands with possibly as stronger leaning towards Genesis on this particular track. Haze are presented to us with a live track, For Whom, taken from their 20th Anniversary Concert album. A mellow track with the most part of it involving a duet between a quirk keyboard and vocals. Definitely not a highlight and not representative of what Haze have to offer.
Shapechanger by Bjorn Lynne comes from his second album Wolves Of The Gods, one of the trilogy of albums he has/is composing as an accompaniment to novels by Allan Cole. Being part of a concept album, I feel that such a track loses out on a lot when not heard in the whole context of what it should be representing. Nothing innovative but featuring some melodic keyboard augmented by Mike Oldfield-sounding guitar work.
Guy Manning is known for his work with Parallel Or 90 Degrees, yet Post Mortem is taken from his solo work Tall Stories For Small Children. The first part 3 Score Years And 10 features a keyboard introduction and tries to set the mood for what is forthcoming. Indeed In My Life is very different to what one expects. Guy Manning has a voice that manages to convey his moods and expressions and accompanied with an almost acoustic backing band this track is one of the highlights of the first CD.
Mostly Autumn are one of the most pleasant surprises within the prog-world during the last two years. Suffice to say that even Cyclops have acknowledged this by giving this group the space of two tracks. In fact they close CD1 and open CD2. First comes The Night Sky from their debut For All We Shared and can be considered to be the best track on what is a great album. Melodious, yet extremely atmospheric, there is a lot in the latter day Pink Floyd as the track builds up to a crescendo with the guitar appearing only half way through the track first as an accompaniment to the blistering violin solo and then as a solo instrument in its own right. Pieces Of Love from The Spirit Of Autumn Past is an incredible song, featuring this time the voice of Heather Findlay. The track is haunting with Genesis-like atmosphere created courtesy of the acoustic guitar and sonoric keyboard backdrop. An excellent track to introduce a classic album.
Parallel or 90 Degrees have been given quite a substantial amount of exposure on various music magazines, most notable Classic Rock Magazine which has even featured two of their songs on the cover cd's. Encapsulated is drawn from The Time Capsule and features a mixture of different progressive flavors ranging from the time changes Peter Hammill and Van Der Graaf Generator mastered to the folk-tinged narrative Ian Anderson so likes to utilize. If you are into rhythmic changes backed by rich keyboard solos, then is one for you.
Pineapple Thief, led by Vulgar Unicorn guitarist Bruce Lance, present an alternative version of Private Paradise which had originally appeared on Abducting The Unicorn. The sound is very similar to Smashing Pumpkins with Billy Corgan-like vocals and a rich acoustic guitar sound occasionally tainted by crunching power chords. Even the middle instrumental section involves a series of long drawn out chords which contribute to a fantastic atmosphere.
The Robbery Of Murder is a concept album from Salem Hill recounting the story of a child who loses his father because of a drunken driver and his quest throughout life to finding his father's killer and revenge. When is a ballad and is about the boy as he passes through a phase of denial. As a track this is a great one with Salem Hill sounding at times like Dream Theater. There is a saying that goes that a good rock band can be judged by its ballads and if that is the case then Salem Hill have everything going for them.
Sinkadus present an instrumental track, Positivharalen, which starts off in a typical Genesis style with a prominent bass sound accompanied by airy keyboards. The flute sections are exquisite and contrast sharply with the rhythmic sections of the track. The track makes an interesting listen though after a while the constant rhythmic pounding becomes a bit repetitive, but I feel that I could not be able to judge the band just on the basis of the track. Shrimp SNG, from Sphere is also an instrumental track yet is so different to what Sinkadus presented previously. Unlike the previous track, Shrimp SNG has a certain upbeat feel to it and is refreshing to hear.
Transience is the brainchild of Land's End keyboard player Fred Hunter, with Sliding being his debut album. This version of Desert Falls is different from that on the album, which originally ran at thirteen minutes. The track itself is divided into two sections, The Memory and Time Flows Backwards. The Memory is mellow and laid back with the vocals very much in the forefront and very little in terms of musical diversity as the tune is repeated over and over again.
Twelfth Night need no introduction to those who hold progressive rock at heart. The Ceiling Speaks is culled from their live album Live And Let Live. It is immediately evident that this is a group that evolved during the neo-progressive wave during the eighties. Though I am a fan of this group, one has to admit that the sound is now outdated and that progressive rock has now moved on. Even so, still an enjoyable listen for those nostalgic of the days when groups like Marillion, Pallas, Pendragon and Twelfth Night would make it to the charts.
Von Daniken remain within that eighties vein with a lush keyboard/piano sound. Once again the sound on this Extract From Electrick Fish Music seems as if it would appeal only to those who like neo-prog, but a whole album and band cannot be judged by virtue of one track only. Vulgar Unicorn seem to be one of those groups that elicit a love/hate reaction presenting a progressive ambient or dance style of music on their album Jet Set Radio. Repetitive with a basic drum beat, I cannot quantify this track as being progressive. The album closes with a last minute inclusion from Kopecky, with a track Bartholemew's Kite taken from their self-titled debut album. An interesting instrumental, this group seem to lean towards the progressive metal scene. A great way to close the sampler!
Overall, this sampler features a great variety of progressive music and is an ideal starting point for those who are unsure on what to buy. Not all tracks are appealing, yet the great variety should have the vast majority of buyers happy. Next sampler please!
Conclusion:8 out of 10.
Lana Lane - Ballad Collection Special Edition
Tracklist Disk One: Avalon (6:25), Athena's Shadow (4:44), Stardust (5:00), Season's End (5:16), Through The Fire (5:03), When Time Stood Still (5:47), Clouds (4:05), Heart of Dawn (1:32), Take A Breath (5:21), Across The Universe (4:16), Avalon Reprise (4:38).
This must be one of the hardest disks (well actually two disks) I had to review in quite a while. The music is fine, vocals are wonderful and the production is excellent. But due to the fact that the album contains exclusively rock balads, it is very tough to listen to it from beginning to end, concentrated, without at a certain point getting enough of it. And playing the two disks in a row is practically impossible.
The two albums contain a total of 24 tracks, so you understand that I cannot discuss all of them in great depth. I will just in a couple of sentences indicate what I think of them. Lane sings flawlessly on all tracks, so no need to discuss that aspect of the albums ;-). The instrumentalists are (as usual) her husband Erik Norlander on everything with knobs and keys, and the Rocket Scientists clan, supplemented by some other guest musicians and her regular crew. The first disk contains completely new material (both original compositions and covers), recorded just after Lana Lane's Secrets of Astrology album, whereas the second disk (apart from Season's End) was released in 1998 as the 'Lana Lane Ballad Collection' (albeit only in Japan, where Lane has great successes). I saw the CDs as I discuss them now in a local record store for 40 guilders, normally the price of a single CD, so it's not an expensive double album!
The opening track Nether Lands, a cover from Dan Fogelberg, features Lana at her best. Quite a nice track (even
though the song has nothing to do with my home country, despite the title), bit melancholic.
Hands To Heal opened more like a pop ballad (e.g. Madonna or something) but the chorus is more powerful. This is one of the original compositions on the album (it also contains a lot of covers, which I will denote as such in the review). The instruments are used very effectively on this track as well and a good rock ballad is the result.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is a cover from Elton John, and actually I do not like this song. This has nothing to do with the performance on this album, but with the fact that I hate EJ compositions.
A Place In Time and Nevermore are related tracks, in the sense that they flow into eachother and have a similar mood, despite the fact that the orchestration differs.
Ghost Beside My Bed is a more powerful rock piece (finally). Darker and moodier, this comes closer to the Norlander/Rocket Scientists school, with an enormously powerful chorus, that etches itself in your brain in a matter of seconds. The duet of Lane with herself (hurray for stereo sound) is funny. In my personal opinion there should have been more tracks like this on the album.
The harmony vocals on the Crosby/Nash track Critical Mass which Lana performs with her brother Greg Phelps, sound beautiful, and are worth a compliment. The subsequent Wind on the Water is a really nice composition as well, although the tempo is quite low (but hey, it's a ballad ;-). The Rivermaid, another original composition, is not quite my cup of tea, it sounds too cliché, as does the next track Autumn Leaves. Innocent When You Dream is even worse. This Tom Waits cover is of the type that drunken assholes in harbour pubs barf at you when they miss their girlies.
Supertramp's If Everyone Was Listening is way better, and is performed very well, almost makes you forget the original.
In conclusion: mixed feelings about this disk. It contains a couple of good tracks (with Ghost Beside My Bed as a winner) and a couple of bad ones (in my personal opinion of course). Performance and production are high standard though.
I like disk two somewhat better in general. It contains better original compositions and the covers are a bit more up to (prog)
standards. Avalon is an original Rocket Scientist track (from their first album Earthbound). A wonderful track, that has
had its own share of evolution of the past years. The melancholic and melodic feel of this track, supported by a variety of
instruments, already outshines all tracks of disk one (apart from the Ghost song).
Athena's Shadow is an acoustic piece, supplemented with some bass and drums. However, I personally think this may have been a very effective track if is would have been stripped completely to its raw basics: acoustic guitar and vocals. Now it sounds a bit over-arranged.
Stardust, another Rocket Scientist track, still keeps reminding me of ELO (the live version on Oblivion Days did as well, of which this version is mildly different, with a cool guitar solo).
Then one of the best tracks ever written come by: Marillion's Season's End. Unfortunately Lana misses the point of the song a bit: Hogarth puts this withdrawn anger in his voice, in the intonation, but Lana sings it, though nicely, without much of an emotion. The same goes for the performance of the instrumental parts and the orchestration. It is too automatic, without the power and emotion of the original recording. This is a song that should be sung with all your heart, not your head.
Through The Fire, an original composition, actually does just that: feature emotion. It is clear that she is much more connected to this acoustic track. A really enjoyable ballad is the result.
When Time Stood Still (an outtake from ELO's Time album), a nice track, but nothing special, typical ELO style. Again, not my cup of tea. Clouds has the same feel to it. Somehow, this all sounds so terribly cliché. This in contrast to the really interesting Heart of the Dawn, an upbeat to the excellent Take A Breath (what do we learn from this? Norlander, please compose yourself and leave the covers to other, less talented artists: your compositions are way better than those of most of the artists you cover!). The melodic lines and chord changes in Take A Breath are really good (compliments!) and it is performed with enthousiasm and fire, with exquisite guitar playing.
The Beatles' Across The Universe (at first glance I thought it was another ELO track, from Discovery I think), has this same ol' cliché feeling over it again (in Holland we have a band called BZN which produces the same type of music, brrr).
The album ends with the instrumental Avalon Reprise (to make up for the previous track).
The conclusion is obvious: many of the covers fail. I do not like them, because I already don't like the originals (apart from Season's End, where I think they "grew too tall and reached too high"). The original compositions on this album are much better, and I think I hear that they enjoy playing them more as well. So maybe the whole project was a bit overambitious and a single ballad collection, filled with only original recordings, would have appealed more (at least to me).
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Vandolor - Greetings From Europe
I only knew about Dutch band Vandolor (or rather project around singer / guitarist / keyboard player Dolores Bremer) from a book. I was glad I could get to know the music when I was sent this mini CD. Especially Dolores' voice that was described as a blend of Nico and Janis Joplin made me curious. I know it's quite old, but I still would like to bring it to your attention.
The opening track is an emotional rock song. Not a ballad, but a beautiful, sad song. (I like sad songs, I should add.) A strange middle part with a slow guitar solo, while the drums are getting faster and faster. Unusual, as the guitar melodies are turned to the background for a while. Slow and still powerful - I like that very much.
In contrast, the second is a very driving track, sudden musical changes with raw vocals remaining fairly constant. This kind of music makes you really listen - it simply demands that you listen. Not in a freaky jazz-fusion way, but simple because it is exciting.
Yes, Dolores' voice is unusual. More Nico than Joplin, but better, as how personal her voice was, Nico could not really sing, and Dolores can. It's a relief to hear a voice like this among all those high-pitched male voices you hear too often in prog. They Talk About You Anyway is more of a rock song at first, but still a lot is happening. Narrow Minded is heavier. It has a full sound. A bit of pomp rock, really, but that is not the correct term to describe the whole sound.
I don't know whether to take the fifth track serious or not. The intro are what the title implies - babbling and talking on sound effects. For a song as short as this one, I think it's a long intro. The middle part of the song is a variation on the Seven Dwarves' theme... Yes, the "hey ho, hey ho"... It's a short story, but it's more a part of a long story. A joke, or a serious introduction to a serious story.
Like I said, the music is (very) melodic. It's not very complex, but it has very nice and sometimes sudden changes in tempo.
On a few occasions I have the feeling the drums don't really fit the music, like they're drumming a different song, or it might also have something to do with the production - it's like the drums are apart from the rest of the music. On the other hand, this is one of the things that make you realize the music has something special. On most records, drums don't grab my attention at all - it's there and that's it. Not on this disc.
The next Vandolor CD is going to be a full-length album. I am very much looking forward to it, only the rumour that Dolores won't do the vocals, did not make me very happy. Well, it's the overall musical result of course, but I like her voice so much! First she is emotional in a tormented way, then she is aggresive. A voice like that mixed with music like this - it makes the music more emotional than an average singer would. Dolores has something special.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Deyss - The Dragonfly From The Sun
Remember that Swiss band that in the mid Eighties had a minor success (well, in our small progressive world that is) or at least gained popularity with their Vision In The Dark album? (Note: track 7 on this CD is an early instrumental version of a song on that album.) I always thought they didn't have a lot to contribute to the prog world, as their music was very much like contemporary Marillion. Typical neo-prog, which I heard enough of at that time.
Now we got this CD from Musea Records. The cover already states what we can expect: 1978 and 1979 recordings. A couple of things should be mentioned before I continue. First of all, we only got the booklet and CD, not the inlay. But then the booklet was too thick to fit in a normal jewel case, so I had to use a case for a double CD. Weird, I thought, but later I learned that this release is supposed to be a double CD. No second CD is mentioned in the booklet, so I can't tell you anything about that.
About that booklet... It's got not less than 52 pages! It contains old photographs of the band and a story which I think was written by one of the former members. In French! Now if you want to sell your records abroad, then I would suggest people translate those often very interesting stories into English.
OK, that's that. Now the music. First of all, it's instrumental. And it reminds me very much of Marillion in their early years. Or should I say very early years? It's like I am listening to a young band making music heavily influenced by or based on a combination of a lot of Genesis and a bit of Hawkwind, but less complex and a bit modern. Same thoughts I had when I heard those old Marillion tapes.
A difference is that Deyss wrote this in 1978 and 1979, more than a year before Marillion did things like this. Very melodic stuff, mostly done by guitar, long passages and a bit trancematic like Hawkwind.
So, how much is this recording worth for the prog world we're in now? Well, if you like this kind of music that was very popular in Britain in the early Eighties, you should definitely have a listen. Deyss fans will probably already have it by now. For the rest it's very nice but not stunning. It's a good document, and could have had a lot more attention if it was released properly instead of a tape, since for its time (prog was very out of fashion in that time) it contains some fresh sounding music.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10.
Bride Adorned - The Grey Eminence
Bride Adorned is a Finnish metal band with compositions heavily rooted in classical music and classical themes. The obvious reference then is Symphony X. This demo CD clearly shows compositional skills, but the production (especially the mix) are very amateuristic. Too bad, since the concepts are quite good.
Normally, when a production of a demo album is not up to standards, this can be forgiven. In this case however, the fact that the balance of the mix is completely off is really annoying. The choir sets in at peak volume, and the lead vocals are sometimes hardly audible, as is the case with some of the lead guitar. This is really a pity, since the band definitely has some potential. Especially the choir arrangments are worth a compliment, though the use of the choir is a bit overdone on the album (a bit more room for the regular compositions with guitar or keyboard solos would have been in order).
As stated in the intro, the music is best described by a reference to Symphony X. The chorus (sung by a choir) of the
first track, together with the symphony orchestra-like keyboard work, are really nice. The verses however are almost
inaudible and the drumming and rhythm guitar are quite unimaginative. You get the impression that the songs are constructed
a couple of bars at a time, which are later merged together but didn't quite fit. This is a problem throughout the album.
The second song opens promising, a good melody line, combined with a good rhythm, but just before the choir sets in,
the tempo changes mildly, where you have the impression it should have stayed the same. The rest of the song does not
feel like an entity again.
The third track, Bridewell, opens with a tight, Bachian, keyboard and drum line. The use of the choir as a kind of second keyboard is overdone, the track could have done without. Especially the vocal line after the first break is nice, but too soft and overkilled by the choir. Finally, the last track again opens with a nice uptempo keyboard line in the style of Bach, and a bit more Dream Theater-like part follows (though their complexity is never reached). The quiet middle section is a nicely flowing melody, but here the vocal shortcomings of the lead vocal are audible.
The band has potential, but has much to learn. I know I am highly critical in this review, but that should be taken as a sign of interest (trust me, a lot more bands which get a 6 sound better but are much less interesting). The two composers should work together to create a single track, I have the impression that ideas are randomly incorporated. Also the use of the choir, though powerful and well arranged, should be reduced to give some more room to solos on the guitar and keyboard (as the last track already does more). Finally, the production and mix should be much, much better. This is too amateuristic. Due to all these shortcomings I cannot give them a higher mark then I do, but I would be very interested to see what happens if they can invest some more time and money in better recording facilities.
Conclusion: 4.5 out of 10.