Reviews in this issue:
Queensrÿche - Greatest Hits
Queensrÿche's Greatest Hits has been on offer for some time now, but we thought it worthwhile to belatedly review it just the same. Not only is the band one of the great acts of progressive metal ever (they seem to prefer "progressive hard rock" themselves), but things are stirring in the creative vault with the signing to a new label and the upcoming release of a double live album. The Greatest Hits album encompasses the timespan which we could term the "DeGarmo Era", from the Queensrÿche EP to the '97 album Hear in the Now Frontier. The tracks are presented in chronological order and each of the albums is featured with two songs; with Hear in the Now Frontier losing a track to Empire (not considering the bonus track Chasing Blue Sky).
Most of the single releases are present, with Real World from the movie Last Action Hero the notable exception. Always an important point in moulding a Greatest Hits or Best of ... album, track selection easily stands the test of criticism. The one thing I cannot comprehend is that a track from the Operation: Livecrime album is not included. The bonus tracks, Chasing Blue Sky and the featured version of Someone Else? with full band are also fine choices, if you do not own the releases of HitNF or Promised Land for the Japanese market on which these were earlier featured. I don't, so these two bonus tracks do indeed make this CD more worthwhile. Chasing Blue Sky is a good track (which ought to have been included on the standard version of HitNF), which sounds like a mixture of classic Queensrÿche and Chris Isaak. (Trust me on this one.) Someone Else? features the alternative lyrics, another nice touch.
The band itself seems not to have been consulted on track selection; at least, there's no mention of it in the booklet. Which brings us to packaging. Hugh Syne's artwork is impressive as usual. Paul Sutter provides an article on the history of Queensrÿche, in which he includes some facts I hitherto had not known.
Rating this album as an introduction to Queensrÿche's discography would earn it a recommendation. But while the addition of the two solid bonus tracks gives Greatest Hits some added value, this will not be enough for many fans. Considering the band's rumoured present shaky relation with Capitol's owners, EMI Records, it cannot come as a surprise that no new or exclusive material was included on the disc. And that prevents me from rating Greatest Hits an 8.
While HitNF and Q2K haven't really impressed me, there is some exicting news from the Queensrÿche front. The band has recently signed with Sanctuary Records which has scheduled the release of a "career spanning double live CD" Live Evolution late September. It will hold over 100 minutes of music. A DVD version is scheduled for October, which includes exclusive animation and bonus tracks.
Before this starts to sound like a commercial break, let's also keep focus on the new studio album for which plans have yet to reach a more definite stage. This will be the real test for Queensrÿche as they (hopefully) try to revive their former global success and as guitarist Kelly Gray will get another chance to fill the shoes of one Chris De Garmo.
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10.
No Glue - No Glue
Having received both these albums from No Glue, I immediately proceeded to listening to the albums, not knowing what was in store for me. Admittedly it has been no mean feat to get a review down for these albums, the main reason being due to the difficulty in being able to translate these lengthy tracks full of improvised material into written words. The music is in itself heavy and requires a fair degree of concentration to appreciate, bordering on the free jazz.
No Glue is a trio of musicians, namely Stacey Starkweather (bass, disturbances), Greg Matses (guitar, guitar synthesiser) and Gabe Jarrett (drums, unusual beats). Two-thirds of the trio (Starkweather and Jarret) originally formed part of the Jazz Mandolin Project and together with Matses have created a project which is aimed at laying down fully improvised tracks, usually recorded live, aided by electronics and MIDI technology. In fact both albums are live recordings. The first, No Glue, was recorded over the course of the band's first three shows while Higher Ground is a digitally mastered live recording from September 7th, 2000 when the band were opening for Fat Mama.
Starting off with the self-titled debut album, the first track No Preconceptions, running at over twenty three minutes, occupies almost half the album. As I mentioned the aim of the band seems to be that they wish to create a sense of organisation from within a structure that is based on a free form of jazz. The track actually starts off in a most accessible way, something which throws the listener completely off balance, with a commercial sounding guitar riff that slow breaks down as the other instruments join in. The fact that the music is improvised and is very free does not allow the music to descend into a fracas and a barrage of noise. Instead the band always manage to maintain a sense of control over the proceedings with the solos and the noise level never going overboard.
The drumming of Jarrett gives the tracks that unpredictable feature with his continuous variances in rolls and rhythms while Sarkweather is only happy to comply by shifting accordingly his bass runs. The opening section to Broken Candle (and as is most of the album) is a testament to Jarrett's drumming as he leads in the track accompanied by synth-effects and a funky backdrop with the brunt of his playing carried out on the cymbals and high-hat.
Sandbox is the first track in which one actually hears the crowd and in this track, which has a string funk element, the striking feature is the strong rhythm that the band possesses. The album comes to a close with "It's Good, But It Did Kinda Suck" which does not feature any music but is actually a form of interview with a rather inebriated member of the audience listening to the group.
Onto the second CD by the band, Live @ Higher Ground which has a very similar format to the previous album. Once again the music is very free and improvisational, yet is somewhat more abstract than No Glue with more distortion or "disturbances" involved within the music. The lengthy Welcome My Sun has the band involved in a number of rhythms floating around synth-effects while Even If It's Wrong has a more traditional jazz feel, though the production of the album does not do justice to much of the bass work. This is a pity because the bass played a significant role on the previous album. The album comes to a close with Guest Speaker which features Dave Grippo on the saxophone. Most definitely the most accessible of all the tracks on both albums, the music almost veers on the easy listening, though there is always that moment of suspense of the band heading off into the unknown with the listener never too sure about what is about to be proposed. Look out for the great bass solo on this track!
Unfortunately I cannot categorise this band as a progressive rock band, hence the relatively low scoring of the albums. Such reviews would be much more at home within a jazz or an avant-garde website rather than a progressive rock site and I can only see these albums being of any appeal to those who are seriously into free jazz.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10. (No Glue)
Conclusion: 6 out of 10. (Higher Ground)
Mururoa - Planets
Mururoa is a nice amateur production from Italy. The music is a keyboard oriented progressive rock, mostly calm moody instrumentals like Sun, which is larded with vocal lines in incomprehesibly pronounced English and whose start reminded me of Pink Floyd's Us & Them. This version of the album contains only five tracks. According to their web site, on which the English is shockingly poor, it is their intention to release the full album with all 9 planets present, expect Earth, but including Sun and Moon. This demo version is also meant as a release to see if any labels might be interested in their music. Well, although the music is not too bad, it is hardly spectacular either. The mixing and recording could have done better. Especially in the mix some of the instruments or vocals are too loud. This of course could be overcome with more professional recording facilities, but the compositions are a bit dull anyway. It is all very moody, a bit melancholic, and the differences between the individual tracks is not very large. The vocals, and especially the vocal harmonies with the background vocals, are done a bit careless, not very sharp. The instruments are not very impressive played either.
On the one hand, it sounds like I have heard this all before, on the other hand, I can't really think of an example that would accurately describe the music. It's a kind of New Age music, but more progressively structured. For me, personally, I thought that five tracks is just fine. Since they are not too different from each other and derive their strength from the general athmosphere, I believe that 30 minutes is an effective length. If they would include the other planets, this would mean a doubling of the playing time. Unless the other compositions are radically different in style and mood (which I do not suspect), this would render the album terribly boring. Just leave it at these five tracks, it is plenty.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10.
Rick Ray - Manipulated DNA
Mark has reviewed (almost) the complete back-catalogue of American artist
Rick Ray. He discovered no progress in his works and has asked me to review
the new Rick Ray with a fresh view, since I have heard nothing from Rick Ray
I played the CD a couple of times and my general opinion of the music is that it is rather nothing-saying, meaning it is neither good nor bad. The guitar playing is average, his voice is average (at least it is not as bad as many other vocalists) and the compositions are average. Mainly, the songs, which I will not discuss track-by-track since they are more or less all of the same type, are composed around the vocal and guitar melody. All the other instruments, especially the keyboards and drums, seem to exists only to provide the necessary background for the guitar and vocal melody. It edges more to regular guitar and blues rock than to progressive music. One of the best tracks is the 10+ minute Psychonaut, where he manages to get out of the standard song structures and produce an interesting instrumental track.
So far, from a musical point of view, the CD is not very offensive.
What definitely is offensive to me are the ideas Mr. Ray entertains. I am
not a genius in deciphering lyrics, and they are not provided in the booklet
(well, the home-printed CD-cover). So I took a look at his web site and the
discussion there where he explains his ideas and lyrics. The man is a complete
fruitcake. Someone who claims drugs (in the meaning of medicine) are
a work of the devil, and the pharmaceutical industry is destroying people with
its drugs, is sick himself. Go tell that to people dying in Africa of
diseases easily cured with a medicine. Indeed, in the Middle Ages when we
did not have a pharmaceutical industry, people were much healthier...yeah right.
The Apollo moon landings according to Rick never occurred (they were filmed in
Disneyland), Kennedy was shot by his driver,
and the world will soon be ruled by the Anti-Christ, whose coming
is being prepared by world leaders nowadays in the progressing globalisation
of the world.
I don't have problems with people spewing such utter nonsense if they are these bums shouting in the street, in fact they have my sympathetic pity. But people with more charisma can manipulate other people into doing things a normal person would never do, like enter a sect, or refusing to have your child vacinated against lethal illnesses (in fact, Ray promotes that too). These persons are dangerous, not for society, as most people will realise the nonsense of their ideas immediately, but to mentally unstable individuals who see a leader in these persons.
Freedom of speech is a high good, and I hope that Rick will realise that this review is not part of the world media trying to manipulate the masses, but a sensere concern about the content of his believes, just as he is apparently concerned about mine. Despite that, I do feel personally attacked by these "anti-science" feelings, as I spend the better part of my live in astrophysics (but hey, it's all a hoax anyway) and now in the medical industry where I try to develop tools to improve the quality of life of sick people, but am told now that in fact I am collaborating with the Anti-Christ.
I will grade the album according to its musical quality (average), production and recording (low), and packaging (low) only, not by the objections of the lyrics I have elaborated above. While in general the playing and compositions are not too bad, the recording and mixing are far below the quality necessary to enjoy an album and the cover and inlay are produced on a $100 printer. Therefore, I cannot grade higher than a 5.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10.