Reviews in this issue:
Moonlight Circus - Outskirts of Reality
Now, this is prog metal, with a focus on prog. No wonder, since members of Moonlight Circus have played with Black Jester (hence the name, since one of the Black Jester albums is called Welcome to the Moonlight Circus) and Helreidh.
The opening track Nightfall is a kind of Pink Floyd and JM Jarre hybrid opening: piano (but way faster than Wright could ever do), keyboards and a piercing guitar. Since I adore Floyd, I could appreciate this piece. Silver Surfer also has a very keyboard dominated opening, but with powerful deep guitars and a nice uptempo verse. The vocals are on the edge sometimes (especially on the slower moments...), but that is well compensated for by the power with which this track is delivered. Actually I think this will probably be a treat to see live, especially if the abundant keyboards are well up front (horns, strings, the whole works is pulled out of the microchips in this track!).
Two Shadows is darker in mood. The pounding
rhythm, supported by all instruments, is very driving. Here again, the vocals
could have been better. The lead is fine, but the backing vocals (which are too
much up front here) sometimes are disturbing. The song is a bit too long as well,
since the basic idea has worn out after about seven minutes. Fortunately, this
is broken by a rhythmically interesting interlude (of course, Dream Theater
pops to mind, but also a lot of more prog rock oriented bands have done things
like that, just think of early IQ).
Whirls Of The Past opens with a classical symfo melody played on a keyboard (string setting), over which a guitar plays a strong melody. This reminds me of the kind of music that first triggered my interest in progressive rock (and especially symphonic rock), of the likes of Quasar and early Landmarq (even though the rest of the track is heavier than that). Also, a band like Polish Collage is a good reference for the melodic structure of this track. It was good to be taken back to the roots of my sympho love for a change!
Ballad For A Falling Star is a good rock ballad, of the Dream Theater type.
Not that it is overly complex, but there is something that triggered this
reference. The semi-acoustic approach of this song is always garantueed to work.
Nice, but nothing really special.
The last two tracks on the album are also half epics. The first is July Days, which opens extremely DT like, with dissonant chords, a non-trivial measure and very complex melodic and contra-melodic lines. A powerful track follows, with lots of interludes, short melodies popping up here and there, in the best DT tradition. Now here is a DT clone track that actually works! Good job boys!
Outskirts Of Reality is the final mini-epic on the album. It opens like a ballad, and only slowly becomes harder and more and more bombastic, until the climax-building starts all over again. Fine track, in the same vein as the previous one. This one will also do great when performed live!
Good prog metal, with the focus on prog for a change. Good use of keyboards and other instrumentation. The vocals are weak, unfortunately. Better vocals would have lifted this album to a much higher level. The compositions are sometimes very strong, like July Days, and sometimes less, like Two Shadows. Where the first is full of original ideas, the second exploits a handful of ideas for almost 10 minutes.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Raimundo Rodulfo- Sueños (Dreams)
It is not often that we get a South American album to review. Indeed it is quite a gem if you are interested in calm, moody and semi-acoustic music. This must also be the reason that Musea Records has selected this album as their pick of the month January. Behind the CD lies quite a story that can be read on his Internet page (see above, you can also find soundclips etc. there). It is apparently also featured on a multimedia section of the CD, however, my computer refuses to load the CD. The whole CD is larded with his brother Peter's paintings. Apparently he is quite an artist, as he has had some expositions in London galleries. The band recently opened for The Flower Kings, again giving a testimony to their musical skills.
Now to the album itself: the Steve Howe-like acoustic guitar opening of
Labyrinth sets the scene for what is to come. The song continues a bit folky,
bringing seventies bands like Happy The Man or the highly symphonic
Sebastian Hardy albums to mind. As such, the compositions sound a bit dated,
but well, good music never dies. The guitar, both electric and acoustic, plays
the most prominent role on this track, supported by a very strong rhythm section.
In the guitar lines I sometimes seem to hear a couple of bars of the odd Yes
songs (which also were clearly an influence to Raimundo). All in all a really nice
uptempo, sometimes even edging to jazz, opener of the album.
The folky influences continue in the next track, Friendship. Here, the Sebastian Hardy reference is even stronger. The interplay between a violin and the guitar is very nicely done.
New Horizons starts very
Howe-like again, fingering the acoustic guitar in top speed. The flute and violin
over it gives it a calm mood, almost like Granchester's Meadow (Pink
Floyd). However, the combination of the violin and flute further down the
track doesn't really work any more, it seems like they are mildly out of tune
(probably due to the difference in character of these instruments).
The song combines uptempo almost danceable pieces with very withdrawn parts,
keeping it interesting, but one also constantly has the idea the track is finished
only to discover it starts all over again.
Brainstorm is more electric, a bit more in the vein of the jazzier French jazz-fusion-proggers like Spheroe (although they keep it quite easy at first, with a 2-4 beat rasta rhythm as the most shocking part before entering a truly jazzy part, even featuring some trumpet). Well, with these tracks I basically have discussed the rest of the album as well. There is not much more variation to the aforementioned themes, except maybe the opening of the 20 minute epic Universal Codes, which opens with a synth soundscape, combined with tribal sounds, giving it a New Age (or Yes, whatever you prefer) feeling. In fact somehow it reminded me of Antarctica by Vangelis. The rest of the track, though well composed and well played, contains no additional value for the review.
In conclusion, a fine played album by skilled musicians. The mix is not too great, in the faster parts the rhythm section is too much up front in my opinion. It is understandable why especially Musea showed interest in this album, seeing the preference they show for the more jazzier and complex progressive music, as well as the symphonic highlights of the seventies. This album fits in seamlessly with the rest of their catalogue. Therefore, I don't think this will remain an independent production for long. It has all the quality to deserve a good marketing and distribution channel.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Soundchaser - Intergalactic Radio Station
Soundchaser (or The Soundchaser Project) consists of two guys with an obvious passion for
science fiction, prog rock and electronic music. Renato Menezes plays guitars, guitar synths and synthesizers,
while Soren Lemche takes care of vocals and keyboards. Both of them live in Rio de Janeiro, although
Soren - as the name suggests - hails from Copenhagen.
The band's first album, Intergalactic Radio Station, was recorded between January and September 2000 and released last December. On their web site the band explains the album and band name as follows: "The band name is from a Yes tune at the Relayer album and the title is from a Vangelis song at the Direct album, and this doesn't mean that we sound like them, just paying due respect to the "masters".
Besides Vangelis and Yes, the band names a whole list of influences in their biography, ranging from various progressive rock bands to many fushion bands and contemporary stuff like Enigma, Portishead and others.
The album opens with the dark and atmospheric Intergalactic Radio Station I, which is basically just a series of
synth sounds and effects. The tune wouldn't be out of place as an intro tape to an IQ concert. When
the (compuer) drums come in, the second part of the song starts while a DJ welcomes the listeners
to 'Intergalactic Radio Station'. This is one out of 4 songs that feature spoken lyrics (the others
are purely instrumental).
These narrated lyrics, which the band use in their songs and are often inspired by science fiction, balance on the sometimes thin line between hilarity and poetry. For instance, check out the words to Neon Pink Glow: "What ever happend to that axe Euguene? And why did that diamond stop shine ? Did we all go clean? Or did we just feel fine? Did Pink get well ? And was there really anybody there ? Yes Mother, they all broke my balls....". Clearly an ode to Pink Floyd, although the song doesn't sound anything like Floyd's stuff.
Or what about the text in Wild Robots where 'an unemployed and badly damaged cyber-grandson of HAL' ponders over computer sex and environment failure ?
Most of the songs can be divided in two groups. Some follow the 'pop song structure' verse-chorus-verse-chorus,
even though they are instrumentals (not counting the spoken text). Tracks like Intergalactic
Radio Station, Neon Pink Glow and Wild Robots fall into this category.
The other half of the tracks are much more free formed (One World, Lakestorm/Heaven and The Nexus) and some even seem to contain spontaneous jams (Lunarscape), not unlike some of the long solos by Keith Emerson (ELP) or Ryo Okumoto (Spock's Beard).
Most of the material is quite lively and 'happy', resulting in some nice 'toetappers'. The music also takes some obvious influences from fushion and funk. Soundchaser uses a lot of different synth sounds, ranging from flute-like sounds to guitar and bass emulations.
One World has a rather Eastern flavour and features some chanting you would normally expect on a Deep Forest album. The funky Lunarscape contains a very interesting jam-duel between different keyboards, but unfortunately this builds a bit too long around the same theme for my taste (6 minutes!).
Although I like a bit of electronic music from time to time, I couldn't get myself to play the whole album in one go. That's probably just a matter of taste because Soundchaser do offer some fine tunes on their debut album. They are clearly very talented musicians having lots of fun and inspiring eachother and - as I've said with other solo keyboard artists - I would love to hear them play in a full band line-up. The album as it stands now is basically one big synth solo, and although I like keyboard solos there's only so much I can take. All in all, this is an album that comes recommended to the lovers of electronic music that appreciate a healty dosis of fushion and funk in their music.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
John Wetton - Live At The Sun Plaza Tokyo 1999
Tracklist Disc 2: Easy Money (11:08), After All (4:29), Rendezvous 6:02 (5:32), Time Again (5:16), Starless (10:13), Heat Of The Moment (6:50), Don't Cry (5:38)
Another John Wetton live album, and at first glance this seems to be a great offering. Unfortunately the result is a real disappointment with an extremely poor production. Quite frankly it sounds like a cheap bootleg with an almost inaudible bass and an almost continuously echoing treble! What makes it even more sad is that this in fact seems to have been a great concert and one that would have been the definitive John Wetton live album!
The line-up on this live features John Wetton (bass. guitar and vocals), Martin Orford (IQ) (keyboards, vocal), David Kilminster (guitars, vocal) and Steve Christey (drums, percussion), with the recording taking place at The Sun Plaza, Tokyo on August 5th 1999. As Wetton himself describes the location in the liner notes, the Sun Plaza has been the scene of many a great rock concert over the decades with Wetton himself playing there under the guise of U.K., Asia and as a solo artist.
The material offered here is indeed a trip through how progressive rock has progressed since the early seventies and is proof how John Wetton has himself been played an important role throughout. On the other hand one can see how musically Wetton's output has changed since rhythm-driven days of King Crimson to the radio-friendly music of Asia as well as his latter day solo output.
The King Crimson tracks are spread out over an era of three albums, 'Lark's Tongues In Aspic' (Book Of Saturday, Easy Money), 'Starless And Bible Black' (The Night Watch) and 'Red' (Starless). Of these tracks, Starless has become a John Wetton live standard with the track played out in its entirety and it is heartening to hear these classics still being played around the world, something that the today's King Crimson unfortunately hesitates to do.
U.K. was one of the first progressive super groups that appeared on the scene towards the end of the seventies. Their repertoire unfortunately only yielded two studio albums, 'U.K.' and 'Danger Money' represented here with the tracks In The Dead Of Night and Rendezvous 6:02 respectively. U.K. could be seen to be the bridge between the musical complexity of King Crimson and what was to come in the eighties, Asia. Once again this was a super group, yet their output was a sad reflection of the times that were afflicting progressive rock. Radio-friendly pop sounding tracks took precedence over virtuosism. Asia also saw some bitter internal wrangling between various members of the group most notably the rows between Steve Howe and John Wetton, as well as between Wetton and Geoff Downes.
In truth one has to admit that the debut album Asia, was a multi-platinum affair and till this day remains a form favourite with rock lovers. A demonstration of this is the fact that on this album we have four tracks taken from that particular album: Sole Survivor, Only Time Will Tell, Time Again and the classic Heat Of The Moment. The group's second album, 'Alpha', could never compete with such a strong debut and was a disappointment in terms of sales. Nevertheless it represented by two tracks, The Smile Has Left Your Eyes and Don't Cry.
John Wetton's solo career has never matched in terms of sales his experiences with the other above-mentioned groups. Suffice to say that only six solo tracks are played out here (as much as from his Asia career!). Of course 'Arkangel' is well represented with four tracks, one of which is the forty four second introductory The Circle Of St. Giles, The Last Thing On My Mind, Emma and After All. One must add though that Emma is surely one of the classic tracks penned by John Wetton and his live renditions of this track are always moving to hear. The last album that has tracks also utilized is what in my opinion is John Wetton's finest solo album to date, 'Battlelines', which has the title track and Hold Me Now played here.
As I said initially, it is a tragedy that this album has such a poor production. In this day and age I cannot figure out how and why an artist can attempt to release such a mediocre album. The rating I have given is indeed a 5.5, with five of those points going out to John Wetton and his band for the way they played, and half a point going out to the packaging and poor sound! Sorry guys, but if you are looking to buy a John Wetton live album, look elsewhere. [Try the brilliant Nomansland instead - Ed.]
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10.
Paranoise - Private Power
If Peter Gabriel ever wanted to transpose the world music that gets released on his Real World label into metal setting, then he would most definitely utilize the services of (The Ancient Ecstatic Brotherhood Of) Paranoise with the outcome sounding somewhat similar to Private Power. This album has blown me away and gripped me from the first to the last note. Private Power is the third album from this group which features Jim Matus as bandleader on guitars, dulcimer and vocals. Most of the band come from a jazz background which has evolved to incorporate a love for world music, though admittedly world music hold the musical roots for the majority of all music.
Together with Matus there are Thorne Palmer (vocals, lyrics), Rohan Gregory (electrified violin) who has played with Page/Plant, Hypnotic Clambake and the Klezmatics, Bob Laramie (bass) who has studied with Michael Manring and played with Matt "Guitar" Murphy and Geoffrey Brown (drums) who comes from a funk background with groups as The Monster Band, Station 416 and percussive group Ninja Rhythms.
The album kicks of with samples from the Master Musicians Of Jajouka, a group from Morocco who are famous for the tributes paid to them from rock luminaries especially in the sixties when the late Rolling Stone Brian Jones produced the album 'The Pipes of Pan', featuring these musicians. The chants of the Master Musicians slowly merge into that of the group with the two complementing each other to perfection as violin and guitars race off competing with each other.
Instability, Containment, Rollback featuring sampled text by Michael Parenti, has the group moving in a grunge direction with a rumbling bass backdrop as the guitars and violin let off power chords to Thorne Palmer's rich vocals (guest violinist on this track is Judy Stanton Cohen). Here the group move into King Crimson territory with their utilization of minor chord structure thought the back beat is a 4/4 time (unlike King Crimson!). The Musicians Of The Nile remind us that Paranoise's aim is to create an awareness of third world countries and their cultures as they introduce Tetrahedral Metaphor. In a similar fashion to Evil Vs Evil, the group progressively move in to seemingly play alongside the Musicians Of The Nile, and at times branch off independently, yet always return to The Musicians.
Mechanical World sees a return to a basic grunge rock structure. What sets Paranoise apart from the vast number of grunge bands is their utilization of a violin as a lead instrument, an effect which pays off. International Monetary Fun sees the group return to the African continent, this time though delving deeper into the heartland and further away from the Arab influences of North Africa. Samples this time are taken from Tanzanian Hukwe Zawose and master drummer/percussionist Doudou Ndaiye Rose. Once again the group's ability to merge their music with the samples is mystifying and magical, and most definitely enviable. Musically the totally unconventional time signature and continuous change of structure and chord sequences lends alot to King Crimson, but yet again, King Crimson never came close to creating this kind of musical diversity.
Constant Fear takes us back to the band composed tunes, without an utilization of samples. Funnily enough, though this kind of track would have been an excellent track on any other album, it pales in comparison to what the group have managed to create insofar. The throat singing style of xoomei from Tuvan group Huun-Huun-Hur introduces us to Structural Adjustment once again the group are back at doing what they know best. Also included are samples from The Gnoua Brotherhood Of Marrakesh. Here the group have managed to fuse together the music of musicians from two extremities of the world together with a westernized form of music. Few groups have managed to create this kind of atmosphere, and presently I can only think of two groups, namely Australian Aboriginal group Yothu Yindi and Berber group Orchestre National Des Barbes (incidentally I saw them live in London and met Robert Wyatt (Soft Machine, Matching Mole) there and he was blown away by their music).
The title track Private Power showcases the political message that Paranoise are trying to push through to the listener. This track features loops of Noam Chomsky backed by an impressive rhythm which initially utilizes samples from Doudou N'Diaye Rose to eventually give way to the group. There is a certain similarity between Paranoise and Rage Against The Machine in that both groups utilize their musical prowess to promote their political beliefs. The power generated by Private Power is immediately dissolved by the voice of Asha Bhose accompanied by the sarod of Ali Akbar Khan. The vast majority of rock bands, especially those with a progressive inclination, share a lot with sacred Indian music especially when one analyzes the structure that is used in composing tracks and perhaps it comes as a surprise that this influence has taken so long to show up on this album. Tarana has the band chugging along in an almost dragging fashion to the drone created by Bhose's voice.
Not There is the last track which is a totally Paranoise creation, in that no musical samples are used. It also shows another face to this group and proves that they could achieve much even if they had to perform purely within westernized musical circles. North African rhythms courtesy of Abu Hilal herald Centerless Grinding which features some great bass playing from Bob Laramie. Monuments also utilizes North African (Egyptian) rhythms, this time courtesy of Hossam Ramzy who apart from being a noted percussionist in his own right having played as a guest on various albums with various artists such as Peter Gabriel, is also leader of the Pharaoh's Chief Ensemble, the backing band to the Page/Plant releases and therefore an acquaintance of violinist Rohan Gregory who also played with Page/Plant. The track also features sampled spoken word from Richard Hoagland and Colin Andrews
The final segment of the album features various chants which act as a backdrop to spoken commentary from who sounds like Noam Chomsky.
Once again, I cannot explain fully the effect this album has had on me. It might be a bit difficult to digest if you do not dig world music, but if you are willing to experiment then make sure you get this album. The progressive rock featured here is very unlike what you would find on a classic prog-rock album, yet the very definition of a progressive band is one that dares to do something different and Paranoise have most definitely done so.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10.