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Reviews in this issue:
Jean Pascal Boffo - Parfum D'Etoiles
To be honest I had never heard before of Jean Pascal Boffo, or his works. Triggered by the very stylish cover, but a bit insecure due to the description of Musea as "somewhere between jazz, rock, classical and ethnic music", which more often than not indicates that the album is a mess, I put the album in my player. I was pleasantly surprised, no make that very pleasantly, by the album. This is an album that can easily match that of much bigger names like Steve Hackett, Mike Oldfield or others who are in the bussiness of creating highly melodic, calm and moody pieces of music. Combined with a truly fantastic production - the man is a sound engineer and has an own studio; he for instance produced, mixed and recorded the latest album of Luxembourg Supper's Ready, Listen to the Pictures - crystal clear female vocals, abundant use of percussion and acoustic instruments, this is a musicians album pur sang. The packaging itself is also worth a compiment: in stead of the usual jewel case, this is a combination of mate plastic (the CD holder) and a cart board casing in which the booklet is glued. Very stylish indeed.
Now let's concentrate on the music. The opening and title track is quite atmospheric
and is a mix between Oldfield and Hackett, but the general style is that of a
more poppy ballad, delivered however with such style and class that it becomes
almost incomparable with other works. This is also one of the few places on
the album where a electric guitar solo can be heard.
The next track innocence is typically Hackett, combining an almost classical acoustic guitar tune with melancholic strings. clownerie is a rhythmic sound experiment. A modern Satie ? But more in the style of Debussy or Ravel perhaps... Very interesting indeed with a fagot (?) doing the bass and piano, percussion and strings weaving their melodies over it. You do have to like classical music or late nineteenth, early twentieth century though to fully appreciate this track.
Prie fort is more modern, but in essence features the same Ravelesque handling of the main (vocal) melody, but with an almost Ambient rhythmic section. le magicien takes us back to Hackett. love is is a spooky mostly vocal track, not the best one on the album, but with a nice bass line. Then a small mini-symphony follows: secret ways. It opens like Heroes, a Camel track from The Single Factor. The rest of the track is somewhat reminiscent of Camel (Ice from I Can See Your House From Here), but doesn't really build up to a climax like Ice does. The track is followed by the highly romantic endless love. This is too calm and sweet for my taste, it edges towards musac.
regarde les adultes opens with moody sax-playing. Since Pendragon's KowTow I always associate a sax with rain somehow...anyway. This has the same mood. But again the whole melodic structure is quite impressionistic. célébration is darker and rockier and has a bit of the Oldfield/Tubular Bells feel to it. Quite a nice track. one is one of those Hackett things again, dreamy acoustic guitar. The album ends with the second long track invizible. It opens dark and threatening with a musical box/glockenspiel and very, very melancholic violin, whose Gipsy-melody swirls around your head. Impressive violin playing here! Combined with vocal chanting and percussion, this goes on for a couple of minutes. Then: silence. Apparently something comes after that, but both my CD players and my computer skipped that. A well.
Well, as you can see I really liked the album, although it could have used some heavier tracks for the necessary change of pace. Now the individual tracks are really nice, but the album as a whole is a bit too slow for my feeling. But all in all it is highly recommendable if you look for a classy dreamy album.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Tantalus - Jubal
"Adah gave birth to Jabal: he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother's name was Jubal: he was the father of all those who play the harp and flute:" Genesis 4:20-21
The above lines are taken from the liner notes of the this new album by Tantalus, Jubal whom the bible states was the father of all musicians. Thus with the album title explained, it would also be worth noting the meaning of the band's name. As the website states, the name Tantalus has its origins in Roman and Greek mythology. Tantalus was the Roman name for the god Prometheus. He was the son of the all powerful Jupiter (Zeus) who, having heard that Tantalus had fed his own son the blood of a divine animal, chained him to a rock for one thousand years. As part of his punishment the fruit that grew above him was always to far away to reach and the water below was always receding, giving us the word tantalize.
Led by Max Hunt (keyboards, percussion, programming, vocals), this band saw the light of day in 1994 as Hunt collaborated with guitarist Robert Willder resulting in the album Smoking Angels. Following a solo stint, Hunt reformed a band under the name Tantalus in 1999 and recorded Jubal with the following line up: Bob Leek (lead vocals, guitars), Tim Day (lead guitars), Max's wife Gerlinde Hunt (keyboards, percussion, vocals), Damien Slowey (drums, percussion) and Jason Tilbrook (bass, mandolin, balalaika, 12-string guitar).
Musically this album is stepped in traditional progressive rock with the band managing to merge a variety of influences from different eras. At times one feels as if he is hearing a seventies styled rock with hints of Genesis and Yes whilst at others there are traces of the eighties with hints of Asia and Marillion, just to mention a few.
The album starts off with Better Promise, and there could be no better promise as a prediction of the outcome of the album. Bob Leek has a voice that sounds uncannily like John Wetton's, with that richness in tone and timbre yet at the same time able to maintain a warmth that can make the harshest song sound gentle. The same can be said for the music as the group alternates between mellow passages and straight forward rock music whilst possessing a very full sound due to the fact that the group plays with two keyboardists.
When You Turn shows a mellower side to the band after the storming opener, Better Promise. Still boasting an almost neo-progressive touch, most notably Pendragon, there still is that John Wetton/Asia feel. Actually one could state that there is a peculiar cross between seventies Yes and eighties Asia as the group vary time signature and mood continuously taking the listener from complex rock with intricate time changes to laid back placid ballad structuring.
Route Forty Nine (Part One) allows the band to show off their musical prowess. A pure instrumental with the group showing off both their adeptness as well as tight musicianship with the two keyboardists interplaying with the lead guitar with all the solos revolving around the same theme. Dance Me A Song has more of the solo John Wetton style in that the music seems to move away from a progressive rock style and lean towards a commercial AOR. Notwithstanding the group still manage to carry off this one with grace and style making it a good listen. Listen out for the lengthy solo on the track with the interchanges between guitar and keyboards.
Neon City starts of with a Renaissance-like piano introduction coupled with wailing guitar. Here the group combines the grandeur of progressive rock with bombastic keyboard sound with a crunchy guitar rock sound. At times there seem to be hints of Pink Floyd, especially during the chorus section, though on the whole the group here manage to conjure up a great rocker of a track. Peas And Queues shifts mood from the abrasiveness of Neon City to one of acoustic melancholy. In all probability this is a track that dates to Max Hunt's solo days when he would play and sing just accompanied by his acoustic guitar. Though very different from the rest of the album, the track serves as a great break in between the hectic pace the other tracks create.
Night Flight starts off with atmospheric keyboards, yet soon moves into a neo-progressive feel with Leek's voice sounding very much like Steve Hogarth at times. Gasp is actually subdivided into three sections. The first part, Gasp, features some dominating keyboard and once again the Asia feel is evoked as arpeggio's weave in and out of the strong backbeat. Silk On A Cloud has the band shifting gear to a more relaxed mode with a keyboard dominated ambient setting coupled with chants and ethnic percussive elements while Reaching For Life has the group returning to the original format of the track.
Sun Quay is one of the few times that the group include obvious references from the distant seventies as the instrumental track has doses of various bands from that era such as the classical piano touch of Renaissance, the airy keyboards of Jade Warrior and the percussive elements of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. This track then gives way to Time Will Tell which is my favourite track of the album. There is an anthemic touch to the track as the group constantly alternate between bombastic full-blown themes and delicate Ambient settings. Once again John Wetton rears up his head as the track moves along the lines as epic tracks such as Battlelines.
Footprints once again allows the band to introduce various musical influences into their repertoire. The track is divided into segments with the first, Walk Alone, is melodic with a slant in favour of the guitar creating a neo-prog feel while the second segment, Moment in Time has the keyboards coming to the forefront. There is some great interplay between both keyboardists with each one contributing to the ambience of the track while Leek's voice is simply brilliant.
The album comes to an end with the lengthy Now's The Time. The introductory segment of this track seems to have a Floydian touch as does the solo guitar sound. Musically there are some great instrumental sections backed by some nice effects that create that special atmosphere.
I must admit to having been impressed by this group. Their ability to fuse the bombasticity of the seventies together with the popish touch of the eighties makes this album a warm addition to anybody's collection. A recommendation for anyone who loves progressive rock that incorporates a good hook in it.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Difícil Equilibrio - Trayecto
Few bands attempt King Crimson, let alone release a whole album of King Crimson cover versions. Well that is what Difícil Equilibrio did on their second album. Trayecto is their third release and remains faithful to their main musical inspiration. The trio of musicians that make up this band are Louis Rodriquez (drums, percussion), Alberto Diaz (guitars) and Enric Gisbert (bass) and together they have formed a group that has successfully attempted to created music that picks up where King Crimson left off with the Red album.
From the first notes of Compulsíon there is a distinctive trademark sound which appears and remains constant throughout the whole album. This time it is the guitar that dominates the track and is at the forefront of the mix, slowly incrementing by a semitone, something Fripp loves to do. On the other hand, Mudan Las Palabras has the guitar swooping in and out creating the ambient setting to the track, Frippertronics! It shows clearly that Alberto Diaz was a disciple of Fripp in Guitar Craft courses. The bulk of the musical material as well as the rhythm is set by the bass and drums. Gisbert shows off his bass playing and proves that a bassist does not have to do runs or fast flurries to prove his worth.
Hostilidad Simétrica maintains a similar style to Mudan Las Palabras though the guitar plays a slightly different role here, playing a more active role in the dictation of events and not just providing the ambient soundscape to the rhythm created by the bass and drums.
In truth the whole of the album could be defined as a variation on a theme as the group explore the boundaries of rhythm and syncopation. The melody line is practically nonexistent but that is not the scope of Dificil Equilibrio. What one should expect is a variety of drum patterns replete with offbeats accompanied by distractive bass lines and chords. The guitar work varies from the ambient (Vigilia) to the broken arpeggio (La Lógica Del Vampiro) to almost heavy metal distortion (Self Portrait). At times the track features a combination of both or all features (Generatión Extraviada (Parte I)).
This is not an album for the faint hearted or for those unappreciative of the works of King Crimson of late. For those that love to hear how a band can explore the boundaries of progressive rock, then this album from Dificil Equilibrio will do just fine.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Gordon Reid - Aliens
Aliens is a soundtrack for a documentary on the sea and its inhabitants, and that has most definitely left its tracks on the music. It sometimes gets slightly boring, yet it is not without its merits. All of this seems to suggest to me that this music would work much better together with a visual display - which is obviously lacking in the CD format.
The music is often mellow with hints of great keyboard wizards like Vangelis and Kitaro (even Jean-Michel Jarre to some extent), as well as some rather Pink Floyd-like movements. There are even some bits that remind me of early post-Fish Marillion (keyboards- and guitar-wise). Gordon Reid performs everything himself with the addition of "vast improvements to the drums and percussion" by Nick Magnus (who also produced the album), and some very nice guitar work by Clive Osborn on Forests Of The Deep, In The Dreamtime and Nautilus. My favourite track, by the way, is the above mentioned In The Dreamtime which contains some really nice neoprog-like keyboards, atmospheric guitars and an expanding soundscape with drums and bombastic sounds.
If you like instrumental music in the vein of the parties mentioned above, there is a high probability that you will enjoy Reid's album. Personally, I like it best when played in the background due to the atmospherical nature of this kind of music - but taken as such, I must admit that it is really good. I'm sure the CD will find its way into my CD player when I am in need of some good, relaxing music. Apart from that, I can only add that I have become mighty curious about what the video Aliens of the Sea is like. With the right pictures, I am convinced that this music can be mind-blowing.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Andromeda - Extension Of The Wish
Question: what is the similarity between Flower Kings, Pain Of Salvation, A.C.T, Evergrey, and Wolverine? Indeed, these are all Swedish prog/metal bands that have gained quite a reputation outside the land of elks and IKEA. I would not be very surprised if Andromeda could soon be added to this list, since their debut album Extension Of The Wish immediately managed to conquer a spot on my high-rotation list and that certainly does not happen to each and every CD that I receive for review purposes.
Andromeda was formed in June 1999, but did not manage to record their debut album until
last year, because of their problems finding a suitable vocalist. They actually ended up
using a session vocalist on Extension Of The Wish, Lawrence Mackrory (ex-Darkane).
By now they seem to have found a permanent singer in David Fremberg, though. Apart from
him, Andromeda consists of Thomas Lejon (drums), Gert Daun (bass), Martin Hedin (keyboards),
and Johan Reinholdz (guitar).
The cover of Extension Of The Wish is interesting: a branded, doll-like figure is standing waist-deep in water, stirring the fabric of the universe where the water ends. The inside of the booklet is nice, but not very adventurous. It contains all lyrics, which have been printed on a background of stylised letters, and mainly deal with the (psychological) problems which so many people have to face every day (e.g. problems with a loved one, betrayal, fear, thoughts of suicide).
Although Andromeda is centered around guitarist Reinholdz, Extension Of The Wish has not become a collection of tracks filled with "guitar masturbation". Reinholdz is responsible for all the music and lyrics, but the seven tracks on the CD are definitely proper songs (i.e. not endlessly repeated chord progressions over which a continuous stream of flashy guitar licks and solos is played, like one can often find on CDs by the likes of Joe Satriani and Steve Vai) in which the keyboards play a large role.
The first track, The Words Unspoken, kicks off with a great, reverbed guitar riff.
When the other instruments join in, the music becomes a nice mixture of Dream Theater
and Evergrey, though some of the keyboard sounds remind me very much of A.C.T.
Especially the parts where the keyboard melody is doubled by the guitar are very nice.
Mackrory's vocals are not your typical high-pitched metal screams. They carry a great deal of emotion and - as will become clear in the other songs - are very versatile in sound. I do detect a slight accent and the way the words are stressed is not always entirely correct, but I have heard much, much worse, so this is only a minor complaint. The information sheet accompanying the CD mentions that Mackrory had never heard either the music or lyrics before stepping into the studio with Andromeda, but it sounds like the guy has been singing with the band for ages. Impressive!
Apart from some Dream Theater-like sections (in the style of Awake), Crescendo Of Thoughts contains some (keyboard) parts that remind me strongly of Ayreon (Into The Electric Castle). Very much in the vein of the previous song, but different enough to be a great track as well.
Track 3, In The Deepest Of Waters, is one of the heaviest songs on the album. It starts with a massive wall of power chords, the sound of which reminds me a lot of some Rammstein tracks, but then three times as fast, and Metallica's Sad But True. When the vocals join in, the track gets a different feel. Mackrory's (sometimes distorted) vocals and the floating keyboards create a threatening atmosphere very much like the one on Faith No More's Midlife Crisis. This combination, plus some great guitar solos, killer-keyboard parts, a brilliant job by the rhythm section, and the very quiet middle of the song, make me play this track again and again. This is definitely my favourite on the album!
Chameleon Carneval seems to be the odd one out on this album. Contrary to the other tracks, this one is without vocals and it sounds a lot like an extended jam. Using a recurring theme as a basis, all instruments get the chance to take center stage in their respective solos. It does not do very much for me, though. Good musicianship, sure, but this track just does not seem to be in place on this album.
Track 5, Star Shooter Supreme, also contains some nice guitar melodies doubled by keyboards (once more, Dream Theater seems to have had a large influence on the band). The vocals are distorted and all but shouted into the microphone. They bear a strong reminiscence to Junkie XL's Rude Boy on, for instance, Saturday Teenage Kick and Billy Club. A couple of great keyboard and guitar solos add some extra spice to this song.
The title track, Extension Of The Wish, is the longest one on the album (10:03).
It starts very quietly with some undistorted guitar and I must say that that is a nice
resting point after all the violence of the previous songs. After a nice guitar solo
the band change gear and the heavy guitars return, accompanied by some lovely keyboard
licks. As if to demonstrate that he possesses even more different vocal styles, Mackrory
now takes on the guise of Steve Wilson (Porcupine Tree) as he sounded in
The Nostalgia Factory (from On The Sunday Of Life...) mixed with a bit of
Babylon Zoo's vocal sound on their only hit Space Man.
At 4:15 minutes the song seems to end abruptly, but it continues with a long instrumental section which I think is a bit too repetitive at times. Once more one can hear a big hint of Dream Theater, especially in the parts where the guitar melody is doubled by the keyboards.
Arch Angel starts like a somewhat average metal track, but soon becomes more complicated both in melody and in rhythm changes. The first few verses and choruses are delivered over a rather calm section with undistorted guitar, after which the music becomes as heavy as before. I think this is very fitting considering the lyrics (the narrator is looking for protection from the violence around him). Apart from some more Dream Theater references, this track contains some nice oriental influences. Sadly though, it ends with a rather cheapish fade-out.
Andromeda's debut album Extension Of The Wish is highly recommended to anyone
who enjoys the heavy side of prog. On this album you will find some high-powered music
in which both guitar and keyboards play a large role, and which includes a steaming
rhythm tandem and a versatile singer. Related bands: Dream Theater, Evergrey and
Pain Of Salvation.
Knowing how much I appreciate Mackrory's vocals, I really hope that the "new" singer David Fremberg has the same kind of voice. I have seen that Andromeda will play at ProgPower 2001 and that (as well as the rest of the bands that have been confirmed by now) sure makes it worth visiting this festival!
Conclusion: 8+ out of 10.