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Reviews in this issue:
Zenit - Pravritti
Zenit is a Swiss band founded by Andy Thommen (bass, ex-Clepsydra) and Ivo Bernasconi (keyboards). They are joined by Gigio Pedruzzi (drums, Changes and Shakary's Alya project), and Italian fusion/rock guitarist Frank Di Sessa and vocalist Lorenzo Sonognini. With this foundation, they have now released their debut CD, Pravritti, which consists of nine tracks: two instrumental, four with Italian lyrics and three with English ones.
The two instrumental tracks are the opening track, Placebo, and track 8, Alone. The former, which is one of my favourites on the CD, is a neoprog track reminding me a bit of German Cromwell and an even greater deal of Jadis. The other one is the only track which Bernasconi has not been involved in writing. It is a short acoustic guitar piece written and performed by Di Sessa. It is nice, but not that special.
The four songs with Italian lyrics, Quello, Noman's Land, Il Cavaliere Rosso and Le Onde Del Tempo, are the weaker ones on the CD. They bring to mind the Italian prog I have heard (which in all honesty is not much - my primary reference would be Calliope), but also a lot of Italian pop. Quello contains really good instrumental bits, reminding me of bands like early Genesis and Marillion, but the vocal melody lines are lacking something. It all just comes through to me as Eros Ramazzotti (who is no favourite of mine). Noman's Land does in all honesty have a nice vocal bit in the middle but otherwise shares the same problem. This track is overall more fusion-like and less to my liking. Il Cavaliere Rosso featuring Diana Bernasconi on vocals is pretty hollow, in my humble opinion. It leaves me rather cold. The best of the Italian songs, I think, is Le Onde Del Tempo. The music seems to have a bit more heart here, even in the vocal bits.
Whereas the Italian bits do not really get me going, the songs with English lyrics are much better; and for several reasons. The vocal melody lines are nicer written and also (to my surprise) Sonognini has one of the best English pronunciations, I have ever heard from an Italian. At times his vocals comes through as an early 90's Fish or a Gary Chandler (when Chandler is having a good day). These three songs are also, unlike the rest, not solo compositions by Bernasconi. Two of them, Fragile and Pravritti, are written by Bernasconi and Thommen, while Icarus is written by Bernasconi and Sonognini; which possibly explains the difference in sound here. These songs are also more in the vein of neoprog á la IQ and Jadis, in a rather nice fashion. Well executed, and I like them all a great deal. The closing track, Pravritti, shows that the band knows how to play a long, coherent piece of music very well. Well composed and all thumbs up from my corner.
What then is my concluding judgement on Zenit's debut? It is an enjoyable album, maybe not one I will put on as often as a lot of other albums in my collection, but it will definitely stay in the collection and be taken out every once in a while. The weaker Italian songs aside (which, by the way, is just my personal taste), the other songs are good enough to justify putting the CD in the player. The musicians are very skilled, and when the songs are good enough that comes through very well. My own personal wish for the future would be for Zenit to include more English lyrics, since these seems to blow more life into Sonognini's vocals. Another point would be for the band to try writing more of the music together. Bernasconi has provided some excellent stuff to the album both in collaborations and in the instrumental Quello, but the best tracks remain the ones on which the collaborations took place. So more of that in the future. Until then, this is a CD for those who like Italian music and neoprog in the vein of Jadis.
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10.
Ark - Burn The Sun
Norway has proven fertile in producing good prog metal of late. Last year, I took the commercial prog metal of Sonic Debris to my heart, and now Ark heads in the same general direction. Burn The Sun is the band's second album (unfortunately I have not heard the first album, so I cannot compare them), but while the first one was released as a trio consisting of Jorn Lande (vocals, ex-The Snakes), Tore Østby (guitars, ex-Conception) and John Macaluso (drums, ex-TNT), the band has now become a five-piece, with the addition of Randy Coven (bass), who has been working with Steve Vai and Steve Morse, and Mats Olausson (keyboards), who has been working with Yngwie Malmsteen. And the result is really good and with quite a few surprises.
The first three tracks, Heal The Water, Torn and Burn The Sun presents some pretty ordinary, but really good metal/prog metal in the vein of Dream Theater and Iron Maiden. Especially Lande's vocals often remind me of Bruce Dickinson's way of singing. They carry a bit of that raw power that is Dickinson's trademark. Musically, I am also sometimes reminded (especially in vocal melody lines) of Dickinson's solo album The Chemical Wedding. Other references that come to mind are; the instrumental middle section in Arena's Sirens (in Heal The Waters), some Korn (in Torn) and some Paul Weller (in Burn The Sun). The first track is actually one of my favourites on the CD.
By the fourth track, however, Ark show that they are not just a clone of Dream Theater or Iron Maiden. Resurrection is a slower track with acoustic guitars and Latin rhythms (which also grows heavier as the song progresses). I cannot help thinking about Swedish Art Rebellion at times, as well as Spock's Beard's Latin section in The Light. Sometimes the guitars gain some speed and then suddenly the melody moves into more pop-like sensibilities and then back to rock and metal. The mixing of genres works really well and Ark get to show off their skills as musicians very well here. All of this makes this a really interesting track.
If the previous track started to show other sides of Ark than just metal, Absolute Zero continues this thread marvellously. The vocals suddenly linger somewhere in-between later Peter Gabriel and Björk, and the verses are based on the rhythms of club music (though the chorus breaks out into metal). At times, I start thinking of Alex Lifeson's solo project Victor and the song by the same name. Credit to Ark for their musicianship once more, and for their experimental spirit; a great track.
Just A Little creates a very nice break with more soft Latin rhythms, reminding me of some Jethro Tull (around Roots To Branches), Spock's Beard's The Light (once more), Queen's Innuendo and The Eagles' Hotel California. Although the song does grow more metal-like towards the end, it retains its Latin flavour, which makes it both nice and interesting.
Continuing their fascinating musical odyssey, Ark continues with another slightly slower, but nevertheless really powerful track, Waking Hour. A lot of the track sounds like something Phil Collins might have written (until it grows much harder than anything Collins has made), especially in Macaluso's drumming; and Lande's vocals also bring Collins to mind here at times. The metal sections reminds me a lot of Queensrÿche.
Noose opens back in true metal fashion and moves around in Queensrÿche and Dream Theater style, with some Queen-like flavour added. Sometimes the vocals even carry some Freddie Mercury-like qualities very nicely. There is a nice guitar solo and also a weird instrumental middle section which I find hard to categorise, but nevertheless enjoy a lot.
The following two tracks, Feed The Fire and I Bleed, are both more or less plain and rather simplistic rock songs (the latter being a bit heavier and slightly more complex). This said, and as such, they are very good. The first one carrying elements that remind me once more of Mercury and Collins, whereas the second brings Weller back into my mind.
After ten very good tracks, Ark ends with a long very atmospherical finale, Missing You. Featuring a lot of lovely Floyd-like guitars from Østby and more Collins-like drum work from Macaluso, the track circles around Olausson's keyboards which here get their most prominent role on the album, and with right. Coven's bass work is flawless and this slow, at times bombastic, song is definitely one of the best on the album. After a really good, almost one minute long, Floyd-like guitar solo, the song breaks out in fast metal with vocals. When the chorus returns, the instruments have gained a certain metal sound that is kept and merged with the old melody. At the very end, there is some really nice bass and drum playing going on.
To summarise, this is a great album and anyone interested in prog metal and what can lie beyond should give this CD a chance. In a time when a lot of things tend to end up sounding just like that which preceeded it, Ark offers a new mixture of old elements and to some extent reinvents the music. Personally, I am going to keep a look out for whatever these guys come up with next. Keep up the spirit!
Conclusion: 8,5 out of 10.
Death & Taxes - Theenigmathatisman
Theenigmathatisman is the second release from this Los Angeles-based band and the musical maturity that they have acquired since their debut is remarkable. Whereas their debut was a very direct and in your face metal output, this second album is replete with experimentation and does justice to their own definition of the band, a progressive jazz metal fusion band.
The album opens with Becoming, a short track which acts as an intro to the second track on the album
Question In Question. Becoming sees the band retaining that raw sound though immediately one senses
that there is a looser feel to their music with room for improvisation. Questions In Question is an excellent
opener to show what the band have matured into. The sound is still powerful, though even the production seems to have
been varied from their last album. In fact a prominence is given to the bass and drums with the guitars not as far
forward in the mix as one would expect from a heavy band. I remember hearing a similar sort of production on
Onslaught's In Search Of Sanity album. The music retains that complexity with the drums constantly varying the
beat, while the music flits from a raw harsh sound to a mellow placid feel. The duet between bass and guitar during
the solo is exquisite.
What Can You make Of This? has a funkier direction, almost Living Colour in texture with collaboration from Bal on trumpet which gives the track that extra free jazzed up feel. With Words Of A Feather the band enter the space rock genre with a track that starts off with the guitars feeling airy and light, though with the progression of the track they subsequently pick up in strength and power. On this track show the band show their prowess and capability in producing high caliber progressive metal, something that is not very easy to achieve when the band is just a trio and without the use of keyboards.
Human Fly is a fusion between the previous two tracks as the beat and feel is decisively in a funk-metal vein though the guitar effects give the track that hippy spaced out feeling. The opus Instrumental With Words, running at close to eleven minutes, is one of the stand-out tracks on the album. The guitar effects create that sinister feeling to the whole of the music as the group show how they have attained their new-found musical style that has seen them progress from an almost speed metal output to a more polished and at the same time accessible musical format. Of course the odd reference to their previous style does surface occasionally, but this is blended in with complementary off beats and Shannon's mesmerising bass hooks that allow the guitar onslaught to fit neatly into place.
The title track The Enigma That Is Man opens with an acoustic element that contrasts sharply with the previous Instrumental with Words. More emphasis is placed on syncopation on this track as the rhythm is shifted continuously with awkward off-beats that break the mould of this track from being a straight forward commercial track into a complex progressive rocker. Bottomless Hippopotamus starts off as a slow stomper with a bluesy riff that eventually moves into a funkier direction to eventually become a furious sped up rocker of a tune. The chord playing and bass runs on this track by Tom Shannon is the highlight of the track.
The instrumental Frenetic Genetic Overdrive, as its name implies is a more sped up affair with the distortion cranked up to a maximum as the band return to their roots with a distinct sound that reminds me of groups such Testament. Mid-way the track slows down to a Black Sabbath/Type O Negative plodding sound, a proof that deep down the band still hold their musical roots close to heart! Diet Of Worms has the band retaining their heavy stance though the heavy nature of the music only comes across in fits interrupted by pleasant breaks while the closer After Words is an experimental instrumental track that features an array of effects coupled with interplay between guitar and bass. The now customary bonus track follows the same lines as After Words with the music assuming a free flowing almost improvised nature.
Overall this album shows that the band have made a vast musical improvement over their debut album and this definitely bodes well for the future. They have managed to move forward and create a sound that incorporates a degree of experimentalization together with a certain amount of funk without betraying their metallic roots. The band are gradually coming round to their own band definition which is that of a progressive jazz metal fusion outfit.
On a sadder note, the band are unfortunately in a state of limbo with the news that band leader Tom Shannon has been diagnosed with brain cancer and at the time of writing this review had just undergone surgery to remove the tumour and is undergoing a period of recovery. From all at Dutch Progressive Rock Pages we wish Tom Shannon a quick recovery and look forward to reviewing more of his work in the future.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Quadra - L'Archiviste B...
L'Archiviste B... is the debut album from French band Quadra which is comprised of Didier Guillemer (guitars), Patrick Michel (bass), Frédéric Morala (vocals, guitar), Jean Louis Peugeot (drums) and Jésus Vargas (keyboards). Musically the band play a conventional style of progressive rock with a musical balance maintained between classical and neo-progressive styles.
The album opens with Vieux Fossile (Woodstock Jubilé), and the band musical qualities (and deficiencies) are immediately apparent. The interplay between guitars and keyboards is just right with neither of the two instruments outplaying the other while on a negative note all the vocals are in French. This could be a drawback when trying to appeal to a universal audience, especially with regards to those who do not understand French and would like to know what the track is dealing with. The track alternates between its rocking and mellow moments with the instrumental parts never being too bombastic, but delicate and fitting. Partir, on the other hand, starts off with a catchy Tubular Bells-like keyboard hook that is retained for the duration of the whole track which has a more rockier sound than the previous track.
Alcali Volatil seems to lose the progressive flavour that the opening tracks had, a reflection of the change in songwriter! If I had to compare it to any particular sound, I would say it is an attempt at adopting the early Hogarth/Marillion era sound with the keyboards relegated to just a filler effect. Hotel Chelsea is more adventurous, though the bagpipe-sounding keyboards and guitars play a theme taken right out of Aphrodite's Child's 666 epic album.
Lettre has the band taking on a heavier sound with the guitars becoming more prominent as the power chords create a powerful sound while the keyboards remain quaint and airy. Final Fatal is a sharp contrast to the rest of the album. Whereas most of the album has tracks that are relatively slow paced, this track has a more upbeat feel and moreover the band also include a set of English lyrics mixed with the French lyrics. The mid-section of the track has an interesting Saxophone solo (courtesy of Etienne Verges) that gives the track a jazzed up feel, a change from the bland straight forward rock feel that prevails throughout most of the album.
The title track, L'Archiviste Bordélique has a neo-progressive touch to it, though it seems to remind me of Franco Battiato at times with its shifting between uplifting beats to melodic keyboard solos as the vocals vary between narrated and sung lyrics.
The final three tracks on the album form part of the Univers Chiffoné concept. Big Bang Dream is the only instrumental track on the album, but it is proof that the band can conjure up something that is above average, and this is an auger for future recording. What is pleasant to note is that the group manage to create a pleasant instrumental yet still do away with overlong solos. VRP Sidéral starts in a Hocus Pocus (Focus) vein, though offers very little in progressive rock terms. On the other hand, closer Maléfices utilises a keyboard sound that could be termed as space-rock, though the track in itself varies little from most of what has already been presented.
As I have already mentioned, one of the main drawbacks on the album is the fact that the use of the French language that could be a limiting factor in the overall appeal. There are quite a number of good musical ideas on the album, though the group seem to have not quite found their touch. The final epic Univers Chiffoné is probably a good indication of the direction the band should head in. Till next time!
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
Polish Art Rock Volume 1
This album is a compilation by Lynx Music of 11 Polish sympho/prog/art rock artists and bands. As such, it gives a good idea of the level of the different Polish bands at the moment. Poland has produced some fine bands already (Abraxas, Quidam, Collage), some of which are also present on this compilation album. It also features some less known names. The level of the bands and compositions varies quite a lot, which is interesting in itself. The CD itself is very stylishly packaged, as a hard-cover booklet with a mini-encyclopedia containing all the biographic info on the bands in both Polish and (bad) English (I hereby volunteer to proof-read the English version for Volume 2, guys!), in which the CD is placed. Unfortunately, there are only 500 CD's pressed, so contact Lynx quickly if you want a copy (you can also email Lynx Music).
The album opens with a track by Abraxas, which has by now a loyal fan base in Holland
as well. I didn't know too much about Abraxas, apart from a rather interesting
performance I saw from them a year or so ago. Their music is art rock indeed.
Sometimes difficult to follow and with lots of large pitch jumps in the melody
line, a mix between early Marillion, Genesis and their own ideas. A nice but
Museion features a calmer, moodier track. Not bad, it is from their first album that is to be released soon, but also not very interesting. The melodic structure is very predicable and the instruments all sound quite flat.
The same can be said about the next track by Anamor, but is benefits from the good vocals of the female singer, which sings a bit in the style of the Dutch gothic sympho ladies (Floor Jansen, Anneke van Giensbergen, Sharon den Adel), but without their fire. All in all I like this, also moody, track better than the previous one but it could use more power.
Millenium (of which I reviewed the album Vocanda earlier), here plays an interesting
and powerful version of a Beatles classic (A Day In The Life (sic)), especially
recorded for this compilation album. The vocals are a bit weak here however and
the recording/mixing is not optimal. Anyway, with a Beatles cover you are quite
safe on the musical side of course.
Lucasz Swiech (of Abraxas and Anyway) follows with an unpronounceable track. This strange track, with mysterious music and spoken vocals, has a bit of a Zappa or Bowie undertone, I believe (which might match since according to the bio he is a fan of Mr. David). Strange track.
Lizard, also a band which is more international renowned, is represented with a
live track, a solid performance of a good prog composition, a bit
early-Marillionesque. The live atmosphere is clearly audible in this track.
One of the better tracks on the album, for sure, with a very powerful middle section.
Albion features an atmospheric track, edging with a heavy rhythm guitar towards metal at times, and very delicate guitar and (female) vocal in other sections. This track is part of their new material that will be released in the (hopefully) near future, and this is the first track on the compilation album that made me really curious about a band. I would love to hear the whole new album when it is finished. If the level of the material is the same as this track, then it might be quite a nice album!
Revolver goes psychedelic with Frank Zappa In Memorium (sic). Not my cup of tea,
a bit like Floyds Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast
Framauro has recorded this fine piece of music especially for this album. It sounds a bit like Millenium, which is no wonder since the keyboard player Ryszard Kramarski formed both bands (and the record label Lynx Music by the way). A nice sounding progressive track with some fine guitar work.
Kroner Cirkus present a track from their debut album Kometa Kronera. The track is dominated by dark and powerful guitar work and has a nice composition. With a nice guitar solo, it is one of the better tracks on the album.
Quidam, probably the best known exponent of Polish prog, is present with Bajkowy (live), recorded in 1997. The flowing melody, the fine vocals, excellent instrumental performance and composition, all prove within these four minutes that Quidam still is the best contemporary Polish band on the scene since the demise of Collage and why Camel's Colin Bass chose to tour with them on his solo tour.
All in all a very interesting compilation album. Not a single track was really superb, and not a single track really bad, though some were obviously better then others and gives you a good feel of the status of Polish art rock. The stylish design of the album is a big plus to me, but the bad English (even in the titles of tracks!) was a bit of a downgrader. Last advice to the reader: try to get it while you can, as the number is limited!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.