Reviews in this issue:
Vine Sweetland & The Forefathers Of The New Millenium - Light Shining In The Distance
A dying guru inspires a young caterpillar with his final vision of life's ambition. Crawling from the window sill out into the jungles of tribulation she pursues wisdom and understanding. The trials of her existence offer friendship and folly, heartache and horror, as she acknowledges her destiny: that she has become the last butterfly born.
Onto this strange album, the likes of which I have not heard since I first listened to An American Prayer by Jim Morrison and The Doors. The leader of this ensemble is Vine Sweetland, known within the Californian spoken word scene and he is ably aided in musical direction by Rahul Sakyaputra, a world reknown sitarist who studied under Baba Alla Uddin Khan.
Though the album indicates only one track (at close to seventy four minutes!), it is subdivided into twenty seven sections. Unfortunately there is no visible division within the track and so to access a particular section, one has to either fast forward or listen to the whole track. Musically speaking this album features a variety of influences ranging from world music to pure psychadelia.
Sweetland's narration at times is hypnotic while at others his shouts jar the listener (remember Jim Morrison screaming "Wake Up!" in An American Prayer?). At times he is talking about pain, frustration and anger whilst at others he questions the beauty of life. In certain sections the words make alot of sense but at times, in sounds alien-like with certain vocal effects that reminded me of artists like Captain Beefheart. If there was any need for confirmation of a sixties influence, there is the narration by Dr John Beresford on the last section, The Guide, as special guest. He was the man who turned on Timothy Leary (the famous LSD 60's guru) with Albert Hofmann's 47th gram.
The music itself is as intriguing as the narration. The majority of the music is dominated by a Middle Eastern feel with drones, sitars and hypnotic tantras. Yet even this is not continuous as there is the occasional dive into more traditional Western territory with the use of flutes and even a Stax-like groove. Obvious correlations to other bands cannot be made as an album like this, I have never encountered. The influences are too varied and short-lived to be able to pinpoint such a thing, yet at times there were hints of Jethro Tull, Frank Zappa, the afore-mentioned Captain Beefheart, not to mention Ravi Shankar.
In truth I would have preferred to describe this album as a psychadelic masterpiece which would be of particular interest to Dead Heads or to those still living out the summer of love. The album is an enigma. Some might call it a masterpiece, others bizarre while others would dismiss it as pretentious. This is one classic case of the listener having to judge for himself. If you deem yourself adventurous, then have a go and you will not be disappointed.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Arena - Unlocking The Cage
Arena and their official fan club The Cage have had the good habit of releasing fan club-only releases over the last couple of years. After Welcome Back! to the Stage and The Visitor Revisited, they now bring the members Unlocking The Cage, featuring rarities from all different line-up periods of the band.
The CD starts with Enter, which is soundscape Clive made as the opening tape for the Immortal? Tour. This track would flow into Moviedrome, the set opener, and is also featured on the new live album Breakfast in Biarritz. As I mentioned in the review for that album, this intro tape must have worked fine during a gig but it's too long and boring to make an interesting repeated listening both on the live album and on this fan club CD. I admit it has a value as a rarity, but despite it's role as an opening track, I personally would have stuck it on the end of the CD as a secret bonus track.
At first I feared that the Encore Track would be that horrible medley the band played back in 1996 when they didn't have enough own material to fill a complete set. Fortunately it isn't exactly that same piece of cutting-and-pasting. Instead we are treated to a medley recorded during a 1999 studio rehearsal, which incorporates some of the best monster riffs from tunes like Valley Of The Kings, Empire Of A Thousand Days and Fool's Gold, while closing with a vocal section from Out Of The Wilderness, featuring Rob Sowden on vocals. Whereas I really hated the old medley, this one is very enjoyable indeed and probably one of the highlights of this CD.
Next up are two songs from Arena's very first performance, recorded during a mini gig they played at a Marillion fan club convention back in 1995. The two tracks feature John Carson on vocals, Clive Nolan on keyboards and Keith More on acoustic guitar. The main value of these tracks lies in the nostalgia and rarity of the moment. Both tracks have a bit of hiss, but not really annoyingly so. Crying for Help IV and the ballad part of Jericho sound very good, although I'm not too fond of the overuse of that typical 'metal trembling' (sorry, don't know the official term) in Carson's vocals and More's tendency to force as many notes in a second; acoustic renditions like these often work best in a scaled down modest rendition. Still, they are very enjoyable, something which cannot be said about the uptempo end of Jericho; it just doesn't work in an acoustic version for me since it misses that necessary energy of a full band. Carson's failing voice doesn't help either.
As many people will probably know, Clive Nolan writes all lyrics for Arena, as well as the vocal
melodies. To help the singer in the band, he normally records a demo version of the song with
himself doing the vocals. These tracks are referred to as 'ghost tracks'. A ghost track of
Enemy Without already appeared on the previous fan club album, and now we are treated
to another one. The Visitor has always been my least favourite track from the classic album with the same name. The only thing I really like about this song is the majestic reprise of The Hanging Tree in the second half.
This ghost track makes it very clear why Clive Nolan is not singing in Arena; not that he has a bad voice, he's just miles away from people like Carson, Wrightson and Sowden. So what we actually get is an inferior version of the original. Nothing to get excited about, although the rough mix of the Hanging Tree reprise is quite nice.
My main criticism of the new live album Breakfast in Biarritz was the lack of added value compared to the studio versions since most songs are played identical without any extensions or improvisations. I was therefore delighted to find this version of Don't Forget to Breathe on this album which was recorded at the same Paradiso gig in 2000 but did not make it to the album. True, the song is perhaps not played 100% tight and the mixing of the track is rather rough but it does feature a nice extended intro (with belching bass and crying guitar) and end ! Another highlight.
The next two tracks State of Grace and Tears in the Rain are acoustic versions with Paul Wrightson on vocals, recorded for radio play purposes. As far as I'm concerned State of Grace is also one of those songs which doesn't really work in an acoustic version since it misses the power and the venom that the song is meant to have. Also, the monotonously repeated A note becomes a bit annoying in the acoustic version. Tears in the Rain on the other hand works perfectly. The same goes for the acoustic live version of Friday's Dream from the Y2K studio album Immortal?.
The nice cover & inlay artwork and 8-page booklet are once again done by Mattias Noren, resulting in his third Arena CD cover. The artwork nicely incorporates references to other Arena CDs and the fan club itself. The booklet features pictures of the different line-ups, as well as liner notes by The Cage, Mick Pointer and Clive Nolan.
All in all, I might not be overtly enthusiastic about the individual tracks on this CD, but I nevertheless think it is a great release; the best out of the three fan club CDs so far. First of all, I applaud the attitude of both Arena and The Cage to release albums like these and even offer them to the fan club members for absolutely
free ! There's some other bands and artists that have adopted this good habit (e.g. Fish and
Marillion) and I can only give them both thumbs up for this. The content of the concerned
albums might not always meet the higher standards of commercial releases, but it's the thought and the gesture towards the loyal fans that counts.
Second, I think this is an album that I'm sure Arena fans and collectors will enjoy a lot.
The Cage is currently offering a special membership package to new subscribers; 4 magazines plus all three fan club CDs for a very reasonable price (50 NLG, 18 GBP, $33). For more information, please visit The Cage Page.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
The Doors - Live In Detroit
Tracklist disc two (66:23): 1 tuning (1:59), 2 Carol (1:35), 3 Light My Fire (13:45), 4 Been Down So Long (7:15), Medley: 5 Love Hides (1:45) / 6 Mean Mustard Blues (3:47) / 7 Carol (Reprise) (0:44) / 8 Close To You (0:45) (7:01), Medley: 9 I'm A King Bee (2:37) / 10 Rock Me Baby / Heartbreak Hotel (3:30) (6:07), 11 The End (16:01)
I think this is the first time for The Doors to enter our CD Reviews pages. That's not too big of a mystery, since not a lot of new material has been released the last couple of years. I didn't feel like reviewing the Complete Studio Recordings, containing all studio albums from 1967 to 1971 as there were only three differences (The End, Break On Through, and Who Scared You) compared to previously released material. And I think The Box Set and An American Prayer were released just before I joined DPRP.
But at last here's some really new material, and almost all songs are previously unreleased! Live In Detroit contains the complete performance of The Doors' concert at Cobo Hall, Detroit, Michigan, on May 8, 1970. Bootlegs existed, but never contained the complete show. And what a show it is - it runs way over two hours... (This fact, by the way, led The Doors be banned from Cobo Hall.)
The Doors were recording what would be their last studio album with Jim Morrison, L.A. Woman. I was very glad to have a bootleg with the title track of that album (recorded December 12, 1970), and the track listing here shows me a nine-minute version of Been Down So Long. Couldn't wait to get home and hear it!
There are also some other songs not legally available elsewhere. The version of their Mystery Train Jam is only available on a few bootleg recordings, most notably on Jim's Alive - The Ultimate Seattle Tapes. The band played this medley only a couple of times during mid 1970. Ship Of Fools and You Make Me Real were not played very often either, and it's great to see it released here.
The booklet tells me the recording is taken from two sources. On a few occasions, the main tape that was used was cut, so they took a piece from the other source to fill in the gap. The two sources have a slightly different sound, but the compilers found it more important to give us the whole show than to give the best sounding parts of what they had. And I totally agree! This album was produced by Bruce Brotnick, and that's a big relief. Their previous producer, the late Paul Rotchild, made it his hobby of cutting a song from two or three shows together and present it as an unreleased track, without telling where the sources came from (For example, the live disc in the Box Set). At last, something complete! The sound quality is still very very good for a recording of more than 30 years old.
As was more common in the late Sixties and Seventies than it is now, concert setlists were not heavily based on their latest releases. That made the gigs more interesting than most bands' at the moment. Songs were taken from all albums, some songs were never played live, and some songs played live were never released on studio albums. I like that. Also, what seemed more the case in those times than now, musicians seemed more able to jam. Improvisation is they solution to boring setlists. Or at least re-arranging. During many of the longer songs, The Doors always used to jam. Apart from jamming, parts of The End and When The Music's Over were also re-written during the years. Whatever live recording you hear, every version is different from another. This gig is no exception.
Because of this ability to improvise, you get very nice variations like Dead Cats, Dead Rats, written to the opening sounds of Break On Through. You need a band whose members are a unit, know each others' way of playing. On disc two, tracks 4 through 10, John Sebastian joined the band on harmonica and guitar. The Doors have primarily been a blues band, or at least the music was based heavily on the blues. With him, a great blues jam is played under the title of Been Down So Long, from their then forthcoming album. But also the other blues tunes following it (with Ray Manzarek singing) show the skilled musicianship of the people on stage.
The medley Alabama Song / Back Door Man / Five To One was played throughout their career. (Well, Five To One was added to the previous two songs because it was written a few years later.) It is a nice medley, but not very different to the many other versions available on bootlegs. Roadhouse Blues is good. Then follows a nice version of You Make Me Real. Rock and roll alright, but in the Doors fashion of course. Morrison's voice is a bit raw compared to other recordings, but what a marvellous voice he still has. Dark and mysterious, with lots of blues - that's what makes music alive, warm, emotional.
To me, next comes one of the highlights of this album. I've always found Ship Of Fools a weird result of a simple melody played in a difficult way. Manzarek's solos are exciting, alternating, and trance-matic as the music was supposed to be. Not the most exciting vocal melodies, but especially in a song like this, Densmore shows what a great drummer he is. Highly under-estimated, this man!
When The Music's Over is haunting as ever. Based on two verses and choruses, the middle part comprises so many different parts, it's like a musical journey I think is better than The End. Robby Krieger shows the uniqueness of his guitar playing, being one of the parts creating the mysterious sound that is The Doors.
The Mystery Train Jam is only half as long as on The Ultimate Seattle Tapes, but a lot better, as on the Seattle show Morrison fucked up a lot. Light My Fire of course contains a long keyboard solo and a long guitar solo - never boring.
Been Down So Long is very rare, as only a couple of songs off L.A. Woman were ever played live. Right after the completion of that album, Morrison went to Paris, where he died some months later. I am very glad that one of the few times they every played songs from the album, the gig was recorded. Now let's wait and see what Bright Midnight are going to bring us in the future...
Well, at last a complete Doors concert on an official release. The previous Bright Midnight release was a compilation CD of what is to come, so songs taken from several shows. The next BM release will be another compilation of songs from three shows the band did at the Aquarius, before those three gigs will be released separately. I think that's ripping off a bit too much. These CDs are not the cheapest ones, and you'd think they'd earned enough money by now to avoid those silly compilations. Of course they'll say that "the fans have a right to decide whether they want the complete Aquarius shows (three expensive separate CD sets) or one compilation with the best songs of those sets" or something. But I doubt if there's going to be one single person buying the compilation album and not buying the separate sets. If you're a fan, you'll want the complete sets.
Well, I'll simply avoid the compilations and wait for the complete sets to be released. If they're going to be like this Live In Detroit, I'm going to buy them as soon as they come out. At first I thought the Bright Midnight CDs were meant to be sold through the official Doors website only, but I found my copy in a regular shop. I guess they found a way of distributing the releases, which was a very wise thing to do!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Arise From Thorns - Before An Audience Of Stars
Rather unusual, this description of "progressive, acoustic music / female vocals". It made me curious! Arise From Thorns is Michelle Loose (vocals, keyboards), Scott Loose (acoustic and electric guitar), Tom Phillips (electric guitar), Trevor Schrotz (drums, percussion), and Chris Welborn (bass). Well, not completely acoustic as you can see, but still remarkable from the moment you put on this CD. I said "is", but that should have been "was". Last year, Arise From Thorns changed their name to Brave. This CD is a re-issue of their second CD from 1999.
The band is on Dark Symphonies, so there simply has to be something depressing in their music, as the press info claims. It's nice to see that a scene where metal was all around, other types of music are getting more popular as well. I can't help but thinking of a party I "accidentally" attended, and what I read about gothic parties. The atmosphere is dark, gloomy, but where there used to be slow and agressive metal, there's a soft spot with lots of room for melodies. It's the atmosphere that counts, and gothic or doom metal has no longer the monopoly on creating that. I also noticed the audience was getting younger. And so are the musicians. Or is that because I am getting older?
Anyway, it means that scene is not stuck with one type of music. The atmosphere alright, but there's lots of ways to create it. Arise From Thorns knew that, and simply did it.
The songs consists largely of an acoustic foundation. Keyboards provide soft, dreamy contributions and extra melodies; electric guitar for some more powerful parts. Michelle's vocals are clear, high, and melodic. Although she doesn't go as high as Sharon den Adel of Dutch band Within Temptation, she does sound like her. Also, Within Temptation are heavier, where Arise From Thorns have more acoustic guitar. Musically, Arise From Thorns are near that other Dutch band The Gathering on their Nighttime Birds or How To Measure A Planet albums. But especially the way Michelle sings make me think of some Within Temptation songs.
Some acoustic bits like a few intros sound like you're listening to a folk record. That's not a bad thing - it shows the diversity of sounds that form the music. Some Jethro Tull, but warmer and less complicated. Some Renaissance as well.
Althought the atmosphere is dark during most of the songs, there are also times of hope (as in Bluer Skies). Michelle's high voice sounds tormented at times (although she has to play that, she does not sound like a naturally tormented person), but the melodic vocal lines give the songs something sweet.
The production is very good. Very clear, as a metal production would drown the subtleties of this type of music. (The last tracks are bonus tracks to the original release, and track 12 was recorded live. The rather amateuristic production of this track is in high contrast with the rest of the album.) It is interesting to both metal fans and non-metal fans. You can close your eyes and really flow with the sound waves, but also play it among people who get irritated by the rest of your music collection. I am looking forward to whatever Brave is bringing us on their next CD!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Circles End - In Dialogue With The Moon
Although the Norwegian band Circles End already has a demo and an EP in their discography, In Dialogue With The Moon can be regarded as their debut album in their present line-up. They released the self-titled EP in 1998 and last year followed through with a promo CD/demo. Since then vocalist Karl Riis Jacobsen has joined the group. I neither own or have heard the previous releases, but as Jacobsen proves one of the few true highlights on In Dialogue With The Moon, I cannot say this bothers me that much.
The Norwegians play a brand of progressive rock that's strongly infused with jazz and also funk. The band apparently feels "progressive rock" is a somewhat inadequate label for their music, as jazz, funk, fusion and psychedlic music have stronger influence on this album than on earlier releases. Although I can't compare, the description of the very mixing of styles sounds like progressive rock to me. Circles End can be likened to a mixture of the King Crimson and fellow Scandinavians Mind's Eye's styles, and they also remind me of Light.
The album is a bit of a mixed bag. Besides a couple of well composed and arranged tracks, there are a few songs I found disappointing, especially when compared with the better material. Most tracks have a central instrumental section. The instrumental passages vary in strength. There are a lot of guitar frolics, which I often thought annoying, and I feel they could have done without the particular synthesizer performance of Kristian Landmark. Drums and percussion are standard, sometimes unimpressive, except on Sleepless. Also lyrics aren't groundbreaking, although there are some small gems as (again) the thoughtful Sleepless.
The album has a rather uneventful start, although Jacobsen on vocals makes an early good impression, in contrast with the first instrumental parts. The first two songs both carry a smathering of jazz, The Fine Line at the end and Startled Eye throughout in guitar, drums and keyboard play. Rhythm guitar is not as good as lead guitar.
The next two songs are much better. In Long Gone the psychedelic influence shines through. A guest performance on violin and both guitars (Omar Emanuel Johnson and Trond Lunden) in solid performance. Sleepless Part1: driving beneath the moon continues in the atmosphere of the last song; a bit jazzy, but at times building to a rumble. Great emotion in Jacobsen's vocals and even very good drums/percussion! Part 2: ...into the sun is essentially the continuation with a funky overbite.
I found El Mar/La Mar, written with keyboard player Landmark, a rather inconsequential song. Some good keyboard melodies, but the solo doesn't provide pleasant listening; guitar fares much better. The Dead is Me edges towards the folksy in the beginning with classical traits. This works quite nice with acoustic guitar.
Nothing much to say about Soliloquy, another likeable track oscillating between pop and instrumental prog, and This Day, which sounds like a Fates Warning rip-off in which drums fail miserably.
Even though there's some noteworthy criticism concerning the overall standard of the tracks, this CD did prove enjoyable after its uneasy start and excepting the instrumental track. The music is played with conviction, though not always equal strength, and the vocals of Karl Jacobsen lift this album above the mediocre. A bit of work to do still. More focus on overall arrangement than on guitar would help, as would better keyboards and more well composed songs like Sleepless and Long Gone.
Conclusion: 7- out of 10.