Reviews in this issue:
Bjorn Lynne - Revive
Bjorn's latest album, which follows other instrumental CDs like The Void,
Wizard of the Winds and Wolves of the Gods, consists
of re-arranged and re-recorded versions of his earliest work. These songs were written in the
late eighties on an Amiga 500 computer. On his homepage Bjorn recalls: "The equipment was limited,
and the sound quality wasn't fantastic, but a lot of musicians wrote a lot of cool music in this format. I called myself
"Dr.Awesome", and as part of the demo-group "Crusaders", I wrote a lot of music for Crusaders music-disks, demos and
In 1999 Bjorn released an independent CD with some of this old material called Decade. The CD featured a CD-Rom section containing several hunderd old Dr. Awesome tracks in various formats. Bjorn seemingly enjoyed revisiting this old stuff because he took the 12 most popular ones and recorded them in proper Y2K version. Bjorn: "They have the same melodies etc. but are completely re-recorded with real instruments in a real studio."
Bjorn plays guitars, bass, keyboards and percussion on the CD and takes care of all programming, while his friend Rory McLeish, who also played on Wolves of the Gods, puts in some additional guitar solos in 12th Marrior and Moongazer.
So what does the music sound like ? Bjorn himself wrote: "If you already have some of my
other CDs, and wonder how this CD compares to the previous ones... I would say that this CD
is positive, upbeat, optimistic and more 'immediate' than some of my more darker, deeper and
more thought-out music stuff from my other albums. But I'll leave it up to you to judge. This
is just full-on instrumental and symphonic melodic synth-rock! Don't analyze, just pump it up."
I think Bjorn is quite right in this description. You will not find the progressive melodies of Wizard of the Winds and Wolves of the Gods on this album, neither is it as spacey as The Void. The material comes closer to stuff you'll hear on albums like Dreamstate. It's more straightforward and lighthearted. Some of these tunes would work extremely well as tunes for TV shows, while most tracks also sound very retro, like 70/80s electronic rock.
The tracks are all instrumental and based on electronic music (synths and cleverly used drum
computers) with added guitar. The music reminds me of differents bands and artists, like
Jan Hammer (you know, the guy that made the 'Miami Vice' music) and some of Mike Oldfield's more electronic stuff. Other bits conjure
up Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis and even some of ELO's music like Here is the News
(for the Dutch readers: the VPRO theme). The product sheet of the record label also mentions
similarities with Tangerine Dream, but I can't really tell you if they are right since
I'm not familiar with the music of that band.
Best tracks are the energetic 12th Warrior (with an excellent McLeish guitar solo), the spacey Moongazer and Space Deleria 2000 (with excellent percussion, didgeridoo effects and spoken text), both of which would not have been out of place on The Void. Bridge 2 is nice and diverse as well.
The two parts of Empty Spaces are semi-classical piano pieces that drag a bit without a good melodoy.
Personally I prefer Bjorn's more prog-oriented stuff, which doesn't mean that this is a bad CD. It works quite well for me as background music to work to and some more uptempo tracks are great in the car. On the other hand, it's not something I would put on and go crazy to or would intensly listen to; I would probably lose interest after a couple of songs. I would therefore only recommend this CD to fans of electronic sympho or people who are into the modern dance/trance scene as well as rock music.
I would have expected some interesting background information about the tracks in the booklet, but unfortunately it's just one of those folded 4-page things with trackslist and credits. For samples, please visit Bjorn's Homepage.
Conclusion: 7- out of 10.
Emily Bezar - Four Walls Bending
Emily Bezar hails from the San Francisco Bay Area, an area renowned for the variety and proficiency of musicians that it has seems to have produced over the years. What we have here is an incredibly talented woman who manages to fuse a variety of styles ranging from jazz to straight forward rock together with a rich infusion of classical music coupled with an unmistakable voice the likes of which I have only heard when listening to women like Kate Bush and Tori Amos.
Four Walls Bending is her third solo album following Grandmother's Tea Leaves (1994) and Moon In Grenadine (1997) as well as a stint with fellow Bay area musicians The Potato Eaters who in the mid-nineties released Wreckless. A graduate in classical music both as a pianist as well as an opera singer, Emily Bezar has managed to utilize to the maximum her classical background and incorporate it within the framework of a jazz-rock tune. There is no change in the line-up from Moon In Grenadine and aiding her, once again, are Morris Acevedo (guitar), Andrew Higgins (bass) and Steve Rossi (drums).
What is extremely weird about this particular album is that, in my opinion, its niche is within the record collection of enthusiasts for whom it probably was never intended. This is not a progressive rock album, yet the intricacies that its music carries, the beautiful changes in time signature as well as the almost continuous inability to predict what is going to be presented throughout each and every track make it as must for the progressive rock lover. Do not expect epic tracks or lengthy solos, but on the other hand, listening to this album is a lesson in the adaptation of classical music to suit the demands of a jazz/rock audience.
Velvet Eye, is a clear example of how Emily has managed to fuse all her musical influences. The introductory notes give a sense of vertigo with arpeggios stemming from a spacey guitar and piano accompanied by an initially soft-spoken voice which eventually builds up into a rich soprano. The rock of Velvet Eye gives way to the jazz tinged rock of Kingdom Come which further showcases Emily Bezar's vocal capabilities. Jazzy piano coupled with continuous off beats, the rhythm section on this track is absolutely astounding. Suddenly out of the disorganized organization comes a break with the chorus, which holds you breathless even though simple and soft.
The title track, Four Walls Bending, an introductory piano which sounds very much like something Tori Amos would love to have done, yet the chorus is sublime. The guitar work on the chorus section is similar to the David Gilmour-aided Kate Bush, making this one of the best tracks on what is an impressive album. Lead is somewhat more upbeat with an intertwining guitar and piano introduction. Once again the unpredictability of Bezar's music comes to the forefront on this track. There is a continuous flirtation with the easy listening as well as vocal experimentation which is where her classical training stands out.
Filigree Of Noon is probably the most jazzy track insofar with atmospheric interjections coupled with that soaring voice. Sigh on the other hand starts off with a crunchy King Crimson-like chord which oddly sounds out of place after the soft sections on the previous tracks. The jazz tinge still remains prevalent with Morris Acevedo's guitar replying to Bezar's voice with some interesting licks.
Maybe So once again takes us back to a slower tempo jazz with the emphasis being Bezar's voice and her piano, unlike Black Sand which features more electronic work. The initial mellow section is gradually won over by a gentle crescendo leading into the chorus. So subtle is the work that the continuous changes in tempo never jar and lend to the progressive element in this work of art that should appeal to all progressive rock lovers. Rondo keeps up the progressive element with the rhythmic introduction and continuous offbeat. Robert Fripp would wet his pants if he had to hear this track, this is what he dreams of when he creates his Projekts.
The closing number, His Everything, which could be described as a duet between piano and vocals combined with a textured background full of samples, pulses and orchestral arrangements. A great track to conclude an incredible album.
As I mentioned earlier, this album should appeal to progressive rock fans not because of the nature of the music itself but because of the broadmindedness of such fans. Words cannot describe this album. At times you feel Kate Bush (before she sold out), Tori Amos and Dawn Upshaw may have come close, but this is something they could only have dreamed of!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10.
America Gomorrah - Exchanging Truth For A Lie
Taking their name from a line in the song Beautiful America by ska-band Five Iron Fenzy, America Gomorrah are a trio from Denver, Colorado presenting their debut album, Exchanging Truth For A Lie. Their style of music could best be described as hard rock with a substantial dose of seventies influences coupled with a number of progressive influences, as well as projecting a Christian Rock message.
The opening riffs to Truth For A Lie create an excellent platform for the whole album Nice guitar riffs with good sounding vocals which at time sound like a cross between Blue Oyster Cult and Ozzy Osbourne. The bridge is extremely interesting with some good keyboard interplay. The keyboards also come to the forefront in the instrumental Seven Trumpets which is about the seven trumpets in the book of Revelation, a subject oft utilized in progressive rock most notably by Aphrodite's Child in their opus album 666.
More Than A Carpenter is a straight forward rocker of a song with its roots deeply embedded in the seventies, as are the following two tracks, Yamiso (pronounced Why Am I So?) and Good And Faithful Servant. Direct and to the point, several analogies may be made with several "old" rockers including the afore mentioned Blue Oyster Cult and .38 Special. Yamiso and Good And Faithful Servant are more ballad-like in structure compared to More Than A Carpenter and all have that typical American feel to them especially the last track which is in a country-rock vein. In truth these three tracks are the only deterrence to those who would want to hear a strictly progressive rock album, yet on the other hand these are cracking good rock tunes.
A phone ringing starts off Revelation 101 which remains firmly within the rock realm though there is less of a commercial tone to this track and it involves a delightful solo halfway through with some interesting time changes. In fact as the album passes the middle section (i.e. from track six onwards) the music of America Gomorrah becomes more complicated and leans evermore towards the progressive end of the rock scene.
Better Man has the group returning to a style similar to that of the opening track Truth For A Lie, in that there is a heavy dose of keyboards during the bridge section with the group changing the song structure and time signatures during both keyboard and guitar solos.
The final three tracks on the album are the most progressive leaning tracks of the whole album and include an atmospheric introduction (Prelude) to a great rocking instrumental, This Present Plague. Bob Waldman's bass creates the basic rhythmic structure to this track which has the sound of the group resembling that of many progressive metal bands and has an added kick injected during this romper together with some nice keyboard interplay. Closing the album is the longest track, Through A Glass Darkly, clocking in at just under thirteen minutes and is one of the better tunes of the whole album. Some groups tend to run flat when trying to present a rock epic. This is not the case with America Gomorrah who manage to merge the mellow and subtle opening section with a nice rocking middle section where bandleader Gene Crout's guitar at times sounds uncannily like that of David Gilmour.
As I mentioned initially, this album cannot be defined as a totally progressive rock album. America Gomorrah manage to fuse classic melodic rock with progressive rock influences at times to create a very encouraging album. Some people might be put off by the open Christian rock message that is promoted in the album, but believe me when I tell you that the music presented should dispel any skeptics. I look forward to the next album from this group. In the meantime you can obtain this album from most leading online record stores as well as from the America Gomorrah website.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Avalon - Eurasia
Familiar with German band Avalon only from reputation, not from firsthand experience, I expected their new CD Eurasia to be another melodic metal album with (slight) progressive influences. But although this can clearly be defined as melodic metal, there's a nice twist: Avalon have incorporated various Asian influences in their Euro style hard rock, with a smathering of oriental instruments (classical sitar, dolky, djembe) and some outstanding female choirs, a buddist chant and sinhalese lyrics.
The bands line-up is sure to raise an eyebrow in itself. This German band has grown more international over the years with vocalist Chandana Chitral Somapala originating from Sri Lanka (though you wouldn't know it from his vocal performance) and new drummer Jacques Voutay joining from France. The band also has a great female bass player in Petra H. Delorian. Eurasia is produced by Sascha Paeth, who has also worked with Rhapsody and Kamelot.
A short history. Established in august 1992, Avalon released a three-song promotional MC One Night, tracks that were added as bonuses on their debut album Why Now (1995). In May 1997 the second album Mystic Places was released worldwide, but this year also saw the departure of drummer Ringo Kei as well as singer Many Stürner because of health problems. Replacements were found in (temporary) drummer Ronny Dehn and Chitral Somapala. With this line-up, a third album, Vision Eden, was released in 1998. In early 2000 Avalon started work on Eurasia with their new drummer, frenchman Jacques Voutay.
Although the oriental influences pop up throughout the album, most tracks can best be defined as highly energetic metal. The opening track, Aurora, is however a one minute traditional buddhist chant, followed by a short instrumental piece dominated by Indian classical sitar, with underlying guitar, dolky and percussion. From here it's quite a step to the riff-driven harshness of Burning Souls. Straightforward, but gripping track. A great central instrumental section sees the return of sitar, followed by a fierce guitar solo. This will go down well with Vanden Plas fans. A funky intro to Temujin prepares the way for another song that's bound to please the Vanden Plas fans. Good backing choir in the chorus and another fine instrumental section. It's followed by Black Hole Wisdom, a good progressive metal track.
The band slows the pace for Eternal Flame, which sports a classic sounding riff section with keyboards on melody. This opens another good instrumental piece as the pace is heightened for the chorus. The verses are further heightened by sitar and piano. Fine chorus including female voice. And when you think it's done Avalon adds another good instrumental piece to top it off. The folksy Save the Holy Land is a bit dissapointing, although good use is made of percussion, dolky and acoustic guitar. It just doesn't seem to go anywhere. But we're rocking again with The Last Call with traces of early Threshold.
Lots of percussion is used in combination with brushes on the title track Eurasia, at heart an instrumental track and dominated by guitar chords, but concocted with sung Sinhalese lyrics. A haunting male choir over bass finishes this piece, as it flows smoothly into the next track The Stranger which again closely resembles Vanden Plas.
Minimal instrumental support for the ballad The Painting, but it gains some power towards the end. Funnily the melody starts to resemble the instrumental bridge of Falco's Jeanny in the very last section. Quite amusing after the metal mayhem is the bonustrack Kyrie, originally off course of Mr. Mister. But Avalon manages to impress their energetic hard rock style on it, with special attention for alternative key passages and guitar. The closer Semaruma is a short, but wonderful quiet instrumental piece, dominated by countermelodies on guitar and heightened by use of Chapman Stick and ebow.
In conclusion this has to be labelled a fine product, finely crafted and extremely well produced. There's not much fun to be had if you're looking for intricately complex signatures, but this well composed and hard edged melodic metal will go down well with progressive metal fans more interested in powerplay than complexity.
Highly recommended to fans of Vanden Plas and early (Wounded Land) Threshold, though Avalon lacks Threshold's high level of songwriting and does not display the excellence of a Günther Werno on keyboards. Overall it's not highly complicated music, but with it's addictive rhythms and melodies, Avalon's sound is absorbing. The classic Asian influences contribute a lot to Eurasia's charm, but don't expect a fusion of metal and world music.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
GB ARTS - The Lake
After having been pleasantly surprised by their first album Return To Forever, I was quite curious to hear if the German prog metallists GB ARTS would be able to keep up the high level and the own sound which had attracted me in their debut album.
GB ARTS had set the level a bit higher for themselves now and have had the courage to attempt a concept album. The Lake deals with a calm water somewhere, where under its surface terrible things happen and human souls get absorbed until a chosen person is able to free them. Or something like that (go hear for yourself, I would say). The greatest challenge the band themselves have met is the departure of their vocalist Achim Reichert, now replaced by Markus Brand. Marcus does a good job in replacing Achim, but I think I liked Achim's voice a bit better.
The album has a difficult opening (well, for the listener that is). Somehow
I get the impression that only
after track four I get the hang of it, and go really loose. But then, the
second half of the album is more easily digestible on the composition site and
completely in the style of Queensrÿche.
The opening track, A Voice, has a really nice intro, pure prog metal with its piano and heavy guitar/keyboard combination, a bit of a Dream Theater/Symphony X/Pain of Salvation blend. The voice of Brand is quite good here, theatrical and full. However, he is sometimes a bit inaccurate in the starting of a note, resulting in some unnecessary vocal pitches. But for the rest: no complains. Good track.
The Surface opens as a ballad, of which they proved on Return To Forever that they know how to write and perform a good one. Then a Dream Theater like section is set in. Here I do have a problem with the vocals, they are not really sharp, and when the vocal line provides a contra-melody you have to be point sharp, or the melody will "float". On the compositional side however, this is a highly interesting track with lots of contra-melodies, rhythmic changes, and dissonant parts, excellently done.
Silver Rain is a bit too much for me, where the verses only feature a single chord, and a multitude of vocals are overlaid. It features a cool guitar solo though, nicely supported by bass and keyboards.
Break Free sounds like Led Zeppelin's Kashmir (the guitar chords, that is). A heavy track with a really nice instrumental middle section, it has a good tempo progression in it. This track is more focused on the rhythm section then on the melody.
My New World, opening with a narrator, reminds me enormously of
Queensrÿche's Empire album (it has a bit of a feeling of a mix
between Jet City Woman and Silent Lucidity to it ;-). Only for
that reason alone, it is a gorgeous track. Also, the vocals are way better now,
since Marcus doesn't have to shout, and the true strength of his voice becomes
apparent: it lies in the lower regions. The middle section of the track is a
keyboard and guitar solo/duet. Excellent! We need more of this!
The Chosen One, back to early Iron Maiden (albeit with much more keyboards)! Heavy, up tempo, double bass drum, it's the opposite of the previous track. Good solid hard rock. The second half, over which the voices of reporters are heard, is a solid wall of sound. Cool.
The next track, I Can't Remember, brings us to the Operation:Mindcrime album (or is that just a Pavlov effect that I get from hearing sirens in combination with the title?). No, although I can't directly combine the music to any Mindcrime song, the whole atmosphere does strongly remind me of that classic, especially the middle instrumental section, where some fine bass guitar work is featured.
We stay in the influence of the Empire album with the ballad Shadow of Faces. A nice rock ballad, with a very emotional guitar solo.
Back to power rock with Old Warriors, with some good guitar and keyboard work. The keyboard solo in the last part is a bit weak though. The last track, The Darkness Is Over, finishes the concept: the souls are freed, and can go home (or wherever you go). The vocals here seem to be out of tune sometimes, which is a pity. If you can't reach them, why not tune the whole track down a bit? For the rest, it is the open, happy track you expect at the happy end of a concept.
Again, the balance between the instruments is wonderful. Everybody knows when it is time to stay on the background. The concept is cool, and the way it is performed is also very nice, sometimes coming close to that mother-of-metal-concept-albums, Operation:Mindcrime, but with a bit more use of keyboards. You haven't heard me talk much about the rhythm section. That's because they just do a fine job, period. The vocals are sometimes not really good, and at other times very effective, I don't know what to think of them. Also the constant overdubbing of the vocals becomes annoying at times, you constantly listen to at least 2 or 3 overdubs, singing the same melody. Ok, this makes it more massive, but also less fragile, and that is something that is needed now and again to. A good vocalist can do it on his own! Well after all this critism: I really enjoyed the album, and I think many prog-metal lovers will enjoy it too.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.