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Reviews in this issue:
Agitation Free - River Of Return
After an absence of twenty five years cult German rock band Agitation Free are back with a new album and other krautrock guest musicians such as Johannes 'Alto' Pappert (Kraan) on sax and guitarist/producer 'Potsch' Potschka (of Spliff, Nina Hagen). The group have changed their musical style especially when compared to that of the Agitation Free of the early seventies and could be described as a fusion of ambient, new age, jazz and of course progressive rock.
River Of Return, the title track, starts of this instrumental journey with an acoustic guitar which is looped throughout the track and around which is built the structure of the whole track. There is little in terms of complexity, in fact it is the minimalistic nature of the instrumentation and down to earth playing present that makes this track, and the album, so endearing to hear. There is some great interplay between the solos with an unexpected didgeridoo break, making this track an excellent opener to the album.
2 Part 2 has more of a progressive tone to it. The opening is set in an
ambient mode which progresses deep into the track even after the rocking beat is
introduced. Effects are interspersed with sounds of ukelele and udu giving an
almost Peter Gabriel touch to the track, while the second half of the
track is dominated by an excellent guitar solo.
Fame's Mood is country-blues in nature reminding me of such luminaries as J.J.Cale and Ry Cooder. The bonus track on the album, Keep On, also evokes this style of music yet is much more upbeat than the laid back Fame's Mood while Das Kleine Uhrwerk is a fusion between acoustic bluegrass with a Mediterranean touch.
Susie Sells Seashells At The Seashore, together with 177 Spectacular Sunrises, is the closest the current Agitation Free come to what they originally sounded like in the early seventies. Minimalist music set around lush keyboard atmospheric creating an oceanic wave effect, they almost verge on the New Age. This is what most of the old fans of this group would want to look out for. And for the younger generation, if you liked the Passion album from Peter Gabriel, this should do it for you too.
The Obscure Carousel is rather similar to the opening album track in that it is built around a guitar loop. It features a great duet between Gustl Lütjens' guitar and Johannes 'Alto' Pappert's saxophone. Unlike The Obscure Carousel, Nomads has an ethnic percussive loop as a backdrop to the guitar solos which progressively veer off into a space rock/psychadelic direction.
An interesting return for this classic rock band. I eagerly await their next venture (hopefully not another twenty five years) on which it is rumored Michael Hönig is willing to participate. Details on obtaining this album are available on the excellent Agitation Free Website.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Jaye Foucher - Contagious Grooves
Female rock guitarist Jaye Foucher is back with her second album Contagious Grooves, this time unlike her debut, Infectious Licks, a totally instrumental album. Aided by John Vittori (bass) and Matt Scurfield (drums, Event) together with the production work of Shaun Michaud, Foucher has managed to create a musical album spanning a variety of rock styles from the hard rock driven Zombieland to the almost acoustic introduction of Angst.
From the opening track, What Comes Around, one can realize that this is not going to be an ordinary instrumental album. Full of catchy hooks, Foucher's tracks manage to come across as easy listening even though they display an undercurrent of anger and strength together with technical prowess. Take the opening number, one notices that it is not just a matter of going over the frets countless times, as many relatively well-known guitarists do, but Jaye Foucher is also capable of producing a good tune.
From the rhythm driven What Comes Around, comes the contrasting Angst which features an acoustic backbone over which is overlaid Foucher's electric solo. The clarity and almost singing quality of her notes remind me at times of Michael Schenker (M.S.G.; U.F.O.; Scorpions). The narrated piece could be taken from a Queensryche album who together with Dream Theater are Foucher's favorite groups. Zombieland with its its hard, heavy dragging riff is listed as the suggested radio single in the promo pack received with the album and is one of the heavier tracks on the album with some great rhythm guitaring creating an almost Metallica-like sound.
Surreality shows off Foucher's love of progressive metal and possibly the Dream Theater influence shows up here especially in the opening section. Contrasting keyboard and guitar work with the guitar "winning" the battle in an uncharacteristic minor key to suddenly launch off in a solo broken by John Vittori's bass which creates a sudden change in time signature. Finally the progressive streak in Jaye Foucher is coming to the fore. Just as the tempo and complexity was picking up, Beginnings takes us back to acoustic land, which unfortunately lacks that complexity which has made Foucher's albums stand out from the myriad of other instrumental albums available on the market.
Up, Up & Insane has a touch of Satriani with a change in sound texture as well as technique. Synthesizers are used in full force on this track which is a good rocker of a track, whilst on the other hand My Own Abyss once again slows down the pace and tone to an acoustic level. Bass slapping and a keyboard introduction gives Transition that funky touch which slowly evolves into a good progressive instrumental with some nice keyboard interjections. The final two tracks on the album are also the oldest in terms of composition with Hippo Groove dating from 1989 and The Untamed from 1995. Hippo Groove has a bluesy tinge to it while The Untamed has Jaye closing the album at a furious pace (a-la-Malmsteen) and involves some nice harmonic work.
On the whole the album is an enjoyable rock instrumental album. Thankfully, unlike many other instrumental albums, Jaye Foucher does not overstay her presence with the tracks being concise and to the point without any dillydallying. On the other hand, I hesitate in labeling this as a progressive rock album but rather a rock album with a fusion of influences. If you are into instrumental albums, this would make an interesting addition to your collection.
The album can be ordered online at www.guitar9.com, www.CDNow.com and www.Amazon.com. The CD is also available by mail order from the Jaye Foucher Website and in record shops in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the U.K.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Avantasia - Avantasia (CD Single)
Avantasia is going to be a full length (prog)metal opera project by German Tobias Sammet of Edguy. The basic idea is sort of the same as Lucassen's Ayreon projects, if I understand correctly, with many guest performances. Where Lucassen focuses more on the prog influences, Sammet focuses on the metal content.
The impression of the songs on this CD single is that it is all very smoothly recorded, with excellent musicians (members of Helloween, Gamma Ray, Stratovarius, Rhapsody and more, to name a few...). There is also an (anonymous) guest vocalist dubbed ERNIE, which should be well known in the metal world. Hhhmm, personally, I am not 100% sure I know who it is, so I will not make any guesses, but look at Sammet's webpage (especially the guestbook) for some educated guesses on the identity of this (excellent) vocalist.
Now to the heart of the matter: the music. Basically the CD single, used for promotion of the
forthcoming full length album which DPRP will also review very soon, consists of 3 songs and an edit version
of the title track. This title track, Avantasia, sounds a bit like an eighties
Queensrÿche song. Actually, this is the impression I get generally of the CD: super
music, but dated, nothing innovative. However, the older metal and hard rock lovers amongst
us will agree that it is pure gold what is made here. Simple, yet effective choruses, verses
with mainly bass and drum and a couple of guitar chords... it all takes you back 10 to 15 years
ago, when metal sometimes even entered the top 40.
Reach Out For The Light is more or less identical in style, maybe edging more towards Iron Maiden's Seventh Son of a Seventh Son album (especially parts of the highly symphonic title track), but the chorus is a bit too simplistic in my opinion.
The best track is The Final Sacrifice. However, this will not appear on the album! How on Earth can that happen: the moody church organ, the heavy pounding guitar, the early Iron Maiden high speed double bass drum and growling and howling voice, it all adds up to a perfect metal track!
This CD single gives us a bit of a taste what is to come. A metal opera which is low on prog content but high on pure metal joy. Probably those who thought Ayreon's Flight of the Migrator was too symphonic (still) will like this, as will those who still cherish their Operation:Mindcrime copy. Those of you who are deeply into seventies sympho or neo-prog, will probably not enjoy these high speed, not very complex, compositions. I myself am somewhere in between: I will have to wait until I hear the complete album as an entity before I can truly judge these tracks. There are a couple of objective facts: excellent musicians, truly fantastic vocals, and perfect production. For now I will conclude:
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Leah Waybright - Beauty Gone Wild
On hearing the name Leah Waybright, many, if not all would ask as to who she is and what her connection with the prog-world is. Trained in classical music both as a pianist and a composer, Leah Waybright is also the instructor of floral design at the New York Botanical Garden as well as curator of a wildflower preserve. Looking at her from a progressive rock perspective, she is also wife of Rick Kennell, formerly of Canterbury sound group Happy The Man. In fact this album is also the first time in over twenty years that three of the original Happy The Man members have played on the same album and they are namely Rick Kennell (bass, orchestration and percussion), Ron Riddle (drums and percussion) and Stan Whitaker (guitars).
The concept of the album is intricately linked to Leah Waybright's fulltime job and that is flowers. The twelve tracks presented on the album are dedicated to a different type of flower and the album packaging includes a thirty two page booklet which has diagrams as well as a short story about each flower/track. In musical terms, most of the tracks are verging on the new age with the bulk of the music being keyboard oriented and very little of it resembling the music of the seventies Happy The Man.
The opening two tracks, Snowdrop and Windflower are both very similar in style and construction resembling the Bo Hansson style of music! Monkshood starts of with an Enya-sounding string introduction to eventually fall into the same rut that the initial tracks had presented to us. African Violet introduces a different rhythm as is fit for an African flower, with congas and various percussion. Unfortunately one of the main problems that affects the whole album is the musical timbre. It is very much as if one is listening to a midi file on the computer with the bass barely audible, synthetic drum sound and the keyboards sounding a bit too quirky at times for my liking.
Lily Of The Valley, Lotus Blossom, and Bird Of Paradise still retain that new age leaning though the latter features some interesting rhythm and is probably the first glimpse of "progressiveness" throughout the album so far. In actual fact the remainder of the album remains within the same musical confines with little or nothing innovative being created, though two tracks should be mentioned. Clown Orchid shows a break from the routine with as expected the theme based on fairground tunes while the final track Forget Me Not shows what could have been and what should have been. For some reason this is the only track on the whole album where the drums have a bit of kick in them, the music varies throughout with some nice time changes as well as melodies.
Aesthetically this is the way any form of concept album should be presented, yet on the other hand, musically speaking, apart from a few exceptions there is little or no variety which should appeal to those who like a new age style of music. Unfortunately the Happy The Man influence does not seem to have rubbed off here!
Conclusion: 6 out of 10.
Timescape - Strange
Timescape's Strange is the second album of this band. A while ago, JJ reviewed their album Two Worlds and wasn't too favourable about it. His main objection were the vocals. The same holds for me on this album too. They are plainly not good in many sections, and I don't think this is a matter of opinion. Fortunately, this is compensated for in the compositions.
The opening track of the album already illustrates the diverse style in their
compositions. Good progressive rock, reminding me a bit of Salem Hill's
latest effort or Enchant. Somehow, a bit of Fates Warning is present as well, but not
too obviously. Good guitar riffs, and some nice intermezzo's. But the vocals are
not too convincing and the composition, though diverse, comes across a bit
The second track Castles of Sand continues this style of quite mediocre prog rock. The dissonants in the verses are just too much. Hell Freezes Over is better in that respect, it even features a sort of Lenny Kravitz or Living Colour-like part and a catchy, more poppy, chorus. This song drives on the strong instrumental sound-wall.
In Moontower the vocals
go over the hill. The lower parts are fine, but the chorus is plainly horrible,
completely destroying the track. Watching over you... is heavier, more
prog-metal oriented. Heavy on rhythmic tricks, this track takes a while to
get used to, but in fact is not that bad at all, a track in the familiar
Dream Theater style, albeit without the instrumental virtuosity.
The short acoustic And leads us into ...looking for a miracle. Not a really interesting track at first, but it has a nice melody line, that somehow is familiar from some '80's pop rock band, I can't come up with the right one though. The very heavy middle is nice, with almost death-metal like guitars, interluded with a honky-tonk piano.
Crossroad is more mainstream prog,
a bit like Enchant or Salem Hill again. Stranger in the Mirror goes back to
this Kravitz trick with sharp slapped bass. Funky track, that's for sure.
I'm your Nothing is far more jazzy than the previous tracks, bringing Echolyn to mind, but with a darker undertone. The highlight by far of the album is the oddly spelled aDaYiN@LiFe. Finally, a well-flowing melody line, broad use of instruments (do I hear a violin?), good vocals, and piercing guitars. This song has a drive and power in it that the other tracks lack. It comes close to Arena in terms of bombast in some parts. This is what the rest should have sounded like too! Wonderful track too play loud, with its powerful wall of sound and sophisticated vocals.
Summarizing: as we say in Dutch: "seeing one swallow doesn't mean it's summer yet." In other words, the fact that the last track is mighty fine doesn't mean this is a good album. None of the tracks really suck (although Moontower comes close), but only the last track can really convince. Now, on the other hand, I had more or less the same conclusion with Salem Hill and a lot of other really like that album. Therefore, I think the best I can do is to advise you to listen to the audio clips on their homepage and judge for yourself.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.