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Reviews in this issue:
Guillaume Cazanave - Dizziness (Liah's Saga N2/4)
Sometimes a CD comes along for reviewing purposes from an unknown (at least to me!) artist whose work you tend to fear for the worst at first glance. However, this work of art was definitely not the case. What we have here is an instrumental album featuring a number of concepts which whether when looked at individually or in a global context exceeded all my expectations. On the other hand I was slightly disappointed with the slightly disjointed liner notes and for some reason the CD lists there being twelve tracks while the album only indicates eight tracks hence the reason why I could not include any times for the individual tracks).
Musically this is definitely not one for those people that like to hear an album and decide immediately whether they they like it or not. Actually it is exactly the opposite featuring music which seems to breed a dark side requiring a lot of attentiveness and repetitive listening. Yet for those who are willing to be patient, it is worth it as with each listen one notices new musical avenues and hints thus creating an unbelievable effect.
The concept for this album is based on an idea conceived by Liah Brokensand and this second part of the saga is all about a female artist by the name of Alise Straedart and Cazenave's attempt to translate what is painted to notes, something which he does magnificently. In fact one can look at the entire album as being a canvas with various musical themes resembling different colors on the canvas which can stand alone yet when merged into one create a beautiful picture or as in this case a beautiful piece of music.
Alise Straedart is now well into her seventies and residing in Laos. She does not communicate by means of speech but via her art, and practices Buddhism Theravada. The paintings she does (some of which can viewed on Cazenave's website) utilize a lot of intensity and visual richness yet are surrounded by a black frame. This is what Cazenave has tried to embody in his music as he applied music to pictures taken from each of Alise's six period's or levels of work.
It is impossible to delve into each individual track as the influences and styles vary continuously and are all merged into one. At times there seems to be a light at the end of the dark tunnel with the music seemingly becoming more uplifting though this is ultimately quashed. In other sections one can almost sense the influence of the Middle East via various instruments and modalities, however the music seems to have a dark side to it, one of a certain mystery which seems to unravel slowly with every listen. From an instrumental point of view, one feels as if there has been the hand of a number of musicians and not one person only. This something on par with Mike Oldfield, especially with the piano interjections between sonoric bombardments, yet at the same time much more powerful and sinister, Tangerine Dream, as regards the ambience yet not as electronic, Vangelis, when compared to the almost soundtrack aspect to the album yet not as bombastic. It's plainly and simply Guillarme Cazenave.
If you feel that you are unable to listen to a classical concert or symphony, or are unable to experiment with new sounds, then unfortunately this album is not for you. If on the other hand, you are a true progressive rock fan and are open to a variety of styles and influences, this is one you should try.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.
Greg Howard Band - Lift
The Greg Howard Band is a quartet of proficient musicians (three of whom are Dutch) with Lift being the debut album for this band. The leader of the group is Greg Howard, one of the foremost spokesmen and instructor of the Chapman Stick in the musical world. No newcomer to the recording world, he has twelve recordings under his belt as well as numerous collaborations with various artists, most notably as a guest musician with the Dave Matthews Band, playing on 'Remember Two Things' and 'Before These Crowded Streets'.
Making up the quartet apart from Greg Howard are three Dutch musicians, Jan Van Olffen (electric bass), Jan Wolfkamp (drums, loops, timbales and percussion) and Hubert Heeringa (soprano and alto saxophones, violin and wind-controlled synthesizer). Also featured on this album is a guest appearance by Louis Gerrits on EWI and tenor and soprano saxophones. Having a Dutch backing band can only mean that there is going to be a strong delve into the jazz-rock territory, something the Dutch seem to be masters at, with groups such as Focus, Ekseption and Trace to look up to.
The opening track, Dissent, really sets the standards for this album as it has a fusion of all the influences that are to surface at one point or another throughout the album. All the musicians are given the time and space to show off their musical prowess, yet this is never at the expense of the other members and is never over indulgent. Cross Country is much more laid back featuring a Latin rhythm coupled with some great relaxing saxophone from Louis Gerrits, aptly responded to by Howard's Chapman Stick. Bring out the candles for this one!
The Offering has a nice rhythmic backdrop, creating a King Crimson-like atmosphere while Still Water is a showcase for the width of range that the Chapman stick possesses. Here Greg Howard utilizes both the depth in bass as well as guitar-like versatility of this instrument whilst Heeringa's saxophone provides a laid back sonic palette. Chrysalis once again features Heering's prominent saxophone playing to lead into The Effect Of Marco's First Lekker Bekkie In The Morning which retains that laid back feel of Chrysalis though the sax playing features some lovely fretless bass interjections.
Albatross retains that ambient setting while Restless, as its name implies, tends to get things moving again. Some great drum loops introduce this piece while accompanied by some lovely bass runs together with a synthesized backdrop. A prelude for things to come, for though Nord is once again a relaxed affair, Blues For Ayman has the group moving in a more spirited fashion as Howard and Heerings engage themselves in a most interesting duet. The album comes to a close with Experimental Sunrise, which is as sentimental as it is engaging. This track could easily be used as a closer for one of those sentimental films as it manages to evoke a feel that though called on was not achieved in the rest of the album. A fantastic close for a great album.
This album is a great buy for those searching for that relaxed jazzy album after a hard day's work. Further more it should be of additional value to those interested in bass playing especially the Chapman Stick.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Eduard Artemiev - Warmth Of Earth
Russian composer Eduard Artemiev has opted to try writing music for a rock group and the result is the CD Warmth Of Earth. It contains four instrumental tracks and seven songs with lyrics in Russian (written by Yuri Rytkheu). The songs are performed by the female vocalist Jeanne Rozhdestvenskaya who is accompanied by the "Boomerang" Ensemble consisting of Yu. Bogdanov (synthy 1000, electric guitar, acoustic guitar), A. Zakirov (bass guitar), S. Bogdanov (drums), and I. Len and S. Saliev (keyboards). The result of this project is interesting. Artemiev has managed to write something both poppy and slightly bombastic, leaning towards progressive rock of the 70s and early 80s, but with a sound that is very synthetic. In fact, every once in a while the sound reminds me of soundtracks for computer games or 70s and 80s television series.
The instrumental tracks are very atmospheric and one, Farewell, even reminds me of the Japanese New Age instrumentalist Kitaro. The track breathes a meditative mood, whereas some other instrumental tracks contain more energy. This said, it should be noted that the CD by no means could be considered heavy. Even when it leans towards the bombastic (which is mostly on the vocal tracks), it is always within a light and upbeat spirit.
As already stated, the lyrics are in Russian, and therefore totally lost on me, but the vocal melodies are very nice and Rozhdestvenskaya's voice is good. My three favourite tracks would have to be Meeting On The Milky Way, with its slightly harder and deeper vocals, Rekkens, which with its distorted, cartoon-like vocals reminds me of the playfulness of Valensia, and Where Are You? which is probably the track with most edge in it, leaning towards English bands like Arena and IQ.
The final track, Finale (Hymn To Human Being), clocking in at nine minutes plus, brings the total grade down a bit. It is simply too long and too unstructured. The last two to three minutes turn instrumental (in a slightly repetitive way) and end in a fadeout that makes the song lack any climax whatsoever.
On the whole, it is fun and nice to listen to the CD, though it works best as relaxation in the background. The Russian lyrics are, of course, a problem for those who either want to understand what the lyrics are about or not very fond of the Russian language. Personally, I find them pretty charming on this CD (though it is just impossible to sing along to even a few bits that I would really like to do that to).
So, if you are in for something new, or want to try something Russian, Warmth Of Earth is not a bad CD at all. It will definitely find its way into my CD player every once in a while, but there are many other bands that I would recommend trying out before this one.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
Into Eternity - Into Eternity
The new label DVS Records made a strong start last year with the realease of Sonic Debris's debut album Velvet Thorns, and they followed up that first critically acclaimed release with Into Eternity from Canada. This band, consisting of Tim Roth (lead vocals, guitar), Chris McDougall (keyboards), Jim Austin (drums, vocals), Scott Krall (bass, vocals) and Daniel Nargang (guitar), is much harder than Sonic Debris and follows the interesting new trend within the progmetal genre to go for heavier, rawer music and combine clear vocals and death vocals (like After Forever and Wolverine).
The first track, Torn, opens with a sampling from what I believe to be some kind of horror or fantasy movie with a Carmina Burana-like choir part in it. The song then breaks out into a hard and heavy metal track with rather a lot of death vocals in it. The rhythms are nice, but slightly too repetitive for my taste.
Sorrow follows in the heavy footsteps of its predecessor but with some very up front keyboard lines in it and a very nice section of death vocals doubled by clean vocals. The clear vocals are given slightly more room on this track and I must say that I really like Roth's vocals. They are especially interesting in that they are not really typical metal vocals. So far into the CD, my impression has only been that it is getting better and better.
When Left Behind starts with its soft acoustic guitars and gentle vocal harmonies, I am almost surprised after the previous onslaught. Well, the metal starts up again pretty soon, but this song is slower and more melodic, in my opinion. One thing that points to this is also the fact that the death metal growling is nowhere to be found in it. At any rate, this song has become one of my favourites on the CD.
Into Eternity is obviously a band into film. The fourth track, The Modern Day, opens with a sampling from Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction - a short piece of dialogue between Bruce Willis and Ving Rhames: "OK Man?" "No, I'm pretty fucking far from OK." The track then bursts out into a hard and heavy track. The vocal melody lines are very similar to the previous track, only this time adding the death vocals to the fray. All in all, there is a bit too much of speed extravaganza in this song for my liking, but the keyboards create atmospheres that definitely hold the music together nicely. Also, the addition of an Iron Maiden-like guitar solo makes the song slightly better in my opinion.
After the outburst of track four, A Frozen Escape offers a superb relief. Starting with rain and thunder, this track is based on acoustic guitars and gentle vocals singing in harmony. This is probably THE best track on the CD. Melodic and moving. There are also some more spoken voices that might be samplings from some kind of sci-fi movie or tv-series, but which definitely remind me of the speaking voices in some Dream Theater tracks (e.g. my all time DT favourite Space-Dye Vest). Once again: BRILLIANT TRACK!
The band once more unleash their heavier side in Behind The Disguise. They go for more speed and heavy drumming (though slower now) and a short but superb bass solo at the beginning. They use both death and clean vocals again in this song. Still a bit too much fast pounding on the drums for my taste, but there are some really nice keyboard lines, a clear and very good guitar solo and the slower (still heavy) bits are really great. The song ends with another Tarantino quote (either from Jackie Brown or Pulp Fiction) in a sampling of Samuel L. Jackson.
Track seven, Holding Onto Emptiness, offers a soft keyboard opening and slow drums, but if we had expected another gentle track, we are not entirely right. True, it is not relying on speed as a main factor, but rather on some wonderful basslines and guitars that are unleashed in a slow heavy groove. The drums speed up in the chorus, but clearer guitars are coming through and sweep the listener away. There are no death vocals in this track, but it might very well be the heaviest track on the CD. I really love the bass in this song and the track is a definite favourite!
The title track (of both CD and band) starts with nice acoustic guitars that are joined by floating electric guitars. The gentler vocals return, but after a little while the song breaks out into a heavy solo and moves on to become a more massive wall of sound. At the end, we are given a lovely acoustic guitar solo. A fantastic song that really shows the potential of Into Eternity.
In Speak Of The Dead, the Pulp Fiction-reference returns with an opening sampling. We are then served heavy guitars on a solid atmospheric keyboard soundscape. Death and clean vocals are both used, the death vocals being accompanied by vicious guitars. There is also a very nice clean guitar solo... and a keyboard solo!
On the final track, Silence Through Virtue, keyboards and drums open, followed by slow heavy guitars and basses. It sounds very promising, but the keyboards fall into the background and a lot of the time the drums go for fast hammering again. The mix between death vocals and clear vocals is good and it is the death vocals that are allowed to see us to the end of the album screaming with just a gentle keyboard note fading away. Some really good guitar riffs definitely make the song worthwhile.
A very good CD, even if I could have done with a little less speed at times. Also, while I enjoy Roth's vocals a lot, the melody lines (though good) sound a bit too similar a lot of the time. The album cover is made by Mattias Norén (Progart) and shows his unerring sense for cover art for progressive rock (though it is not by far one of his best - just check out the Sonic Debris cover). All in all, I like the album a lot and can recommend it to anyone who is not afraid of the heavy (and death) metal side of prog. Personally, I am looking forward to the next Into Eternity album which is already in the making.
Conclusion: 8- out of 10.
Supper's Ready - Listen To The Pictures
Please do not confuse this Luxemburg based band with for instance the more well-known Genesis tribute band from Italy, or an equally named band from England. No, this band makes original prog rock in the style of Egdon Heath's Him, The Snake and I or Geoff Mann's (of which the vocalist has a lot in common) Twelfth Night (Love Song). Also a band like Aragon (e.g. Rocking Horse) comes to mind here and there, although mostly the music is not that sharp. The music on this album therefore can best be described as melodic rock, like the SI label specialized in during the old days...
The album itself is quite calm, and never really comes to a bursting climax. That is the most important type of critisism, since for the rest I have no severe complaints. The first track, Images of Childhood, illustrates this point fine. It starts out with moody acoustic guitar and keyboards, in the Egdon Heath style. The vocals are also a kind of hybrid between EH and Twelfth Night. Quite good therefore... No, make that *very* good. It is not often that a vocalist can carry away my approval on all fronts, but Pol Feltes can. I think he holds a promise as a prog vocalist, and may in the future do some great things. The song features some fine guitar work, but the general rhythm section is not very inspiring. Ordinary Man is also very atmospheric, edging towards Camel (since it features a flute ;-) and could have been a lost Egdon Heath track, both in instrumentation but especially the vocals it reminded me of The Killing Silence.
Esperanza Latina opens a bit more uptempo, with an electric guitar playing the
main melody, but still the general impression is that of calmness. With the
different guitar sounds throughout the song, this comes quite close to some
instrumental Camel works. Slowly the track becomes sharper, a bit more edgy.
In my opinion, they could have pulled this through even further, making it maybe
a bit more unfriendly on first hearing, but spicier in the long run.
Now a couple of shorter, more song-oriented tracks follow (hence the Him, The Snake and I reference). Fine tracks to listen to, but nothing really special to write about in a review. If you know how Him, The Snake and I sounds, you have a pretty good idea what to expect from these tracks. Open Mind (an instrumental) has a mighty fine melody, truly emotional, that strongly reminded me of something I heard before, but I can't recall what exactly.
The final track Indochine, is a long instrumental that opens in Indonesian style, with a lot of rain and thunder sounds, very effectively creating the mood of a rainy sunset in Java or something. The subsequent part is a bit, I don't know, artificial. I don't know if you ever listened to Jan Akkerman's Noise of Art album, David Gilmore's About Face or a couple of more recent Pendragon tracks, but this comes close to a lot of tracks that can be found on those albums. The guitar is prominent and the rest of the instruments are purely supportive of the electric guitar's intricate moves (from rock to even mildy jazzy when the guitar and a saxophone play in perfect harmony). Then again, if you like a good piece of guitar work, this is a fine track for you. It ends with eastern chanting and some melancholic acoustic guitar.
Summarizing, this is a good, melodic, song-oriented album. However, it is too calm, it could have used a bit more outspoken anger, a bit more of a bite. That would have increased it to a recommended level. Now, it is just on the verge of it. It is without a doubt an album I will play again now and then, due to the extremely emotional melodies featured distributed across the album.
Conclusion: 8- out of 10.