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Reviews in this issue:
Fish - Sashimi
A new live album from Fish... this must provoke a reaction in the vein of "What?!? Another one??" And it's even worse, because it's another release recorded at the Raingods with Zippos tour. The third one...
But, we shouldn't judge too hard yet, because of the other releases the Issue 30 cd was a fan club-only recording that was given away for free with the fan club magazine, and the second one, Candlelight in the Fog, was a limited edition tour souvenir, available ony through the official website. Sashimi is actually the only real release of the tour. It is just that it arrived a bit late and it seems a bit strange to buy a registration of a 1999 tour mid-2001 when the tour for the new album is already over.
Nonetheless the album is great to hear. This comes as a slight surprise after so many rather disappointing live albums in the past years -personally I think this is the best live album since Sushi. The sound is very good, Fish's voice is in pretty good shape, John Wesley's retains his guitarplay well within the limits of listenable and on the whole I haven't got much to comment on the album. True, I still don't like Elizabeth Antwi's voice, but that's just a personal matter of taste. She does an OK job on Goldfish and Clowns (which is a nice bonus anyway, as this track wasn't on Candlelight in the Fog) but she still sounds completely miscast for the Sam Brown parts in Just Good Friends.
Most of the in-between-song chatter has been cut out and I'm glad for that. Although I agree that (especially nowadays) Fish's chatter accounts for a large part for the atmosphere at a gig, I found his chatter way too much -and almost annoying- on Candlelight. It is nice once, but for repeated listening you want music, and no stand-up comedian show. And on Candlelight there was nearly more talking than music. So, although this album has a shorter playing time, you get at least an hour and three quarters of music and no more than 10 minutes of chatter and applause.
The highlights are, just like Candlelight, the two epics: Plague of Ghosts and the Hotel Hobbies / Warm Wet Circles / That Time Of The Night-trilogy. Some of the samples are a tad high in the mix on Plague but for the rest the performances are excellent. Of course the marathon ends in the typical way of all band members walking off stage one by one, until Fish is left alone and lets the audience take over, only for the band to come back once again and play a short reprise (it seems the audience bit is slightly cut though).
Another treat is Sunsets on Empire, which isn't on Candlelight. Although the track can also be found on the Issue 30 cd, this version is far better.
Of the rest of the tracks the only one really worth mentioning is the great rendition of Cliché. Like said before, I'm not a big fan of John Wesley's playing (other than on his solo-work) but Cliché is one of the very few tracks where he doesn't rape the original guitar parts. I wish I could say the same about The Company, but unfortunately Wesley's playing only extends itself to loud-louder-loudest, so there's not much left of Robin Boult's subtle notes of the original.
As all live releases of Fish the album comes with a nice booklet full of anecdotes of the show and tour. The artwork is quite nice, a painting of Fish by a guy named Thomas Kus.
In conclusion, if you already have the previous two releases from this tour, then I'm not sure whether this one will add too much extra value to your collection (unless you're a biiiiig fan). However, if you haven't, and you are one of those poor sods who still feel the need to buy a live release of each and every Fish tour (like yours truly) then this one is your best bet of the three!
Conclusion: 8- out of 10.
In Solitude - Opus: Universe
Opus: Universe is Portuguese hard rock outfit In Solitude's second CD since they were founded in 1995. The line-up on this CD consists of Sérgio Martins (vocals), Paulo Camisa (guitar), Eduardo Borges (bass), Augusto Peixoto (drums) and Lisa Amaral (keyboards). Some tracks, notably Omega Event and Gravity's Triumph, feature additional lead vocals by Jorge Marques and Ana Lara, respectively. The backing vocals are delivered by the Invicta Metal Choir, Jorge Marques, Ana Lara, Marco Alves, Ricardo Rocha and Emanuel Melo.
Opus: Universe is a concept album about the creation of - you probably guessed it -
the universe. An interesting idea, but sadly the band have lost themselves in scientific
terms to describe the event. This has led to pompous lyrics that are often rather awkward
and do not seem to fit the straightforward hard rock music on the CD. To give a few
examples, lines like "Element structures from colliding quarks are appearing" (Alpha
Event) and "The surrounding haze is called accretion disc" (In The Depths) are
not really things you would expect to hear in connection to a Scorpions-like
piece of music.
The cover and inside of the booklet, on the other hand, entirely fit the theme of the album; they display all kinds of brightly coloured pictures of solar systems and such. The lyrics are not always that easy to read because of these, often chaotic, backgrounds and the size of the letters. Another rather bad thing is that the band's website which is mentioned in the booklet is not accessible and the band's email address does not appear to work either.
The first track on the album, Awakening, belies what the rest of the CD is about.
Its rather mysterious, soundtrack-like atmosphere is a sharp contrast to the mainstream
hard rock with some winks at metal the other songs are forged from. I must say that I
was really disappointed by that; Awakening seemed to promise some exciting
progressive rock/metal, but well... that was obviously not the case.
I already mentioned The Scorpions, and their typical 80s sound (which still seems to be very popular in Germany) can be found in most tracks. Luckily, there are also some other influences to be found on the album and those were able to raise my interest every now and then, whereas the hard rock bits just bored me after a short while. One can, for instance, find some nice "carpets" of strings that sound very much like (80s) Duran Duran in Legacy Of A Dying Star, some A.C.T (notably Today's Report) in track 10, and some traces of goth rock (think of The Cure, The Mission or Fields Of The Nephilim) in the intro of Entropy. But apart from these few exceptions, straightforward hard rock is the "order of the day".
Many of the guitar solos, riffs and some of the keyboard parts are nice, but there is nothing really new here. The vocals are powerful, on the verge of hollering, but do not change in texture very often which makes them very monotonous. This seems to be the case with the other instruments as well; their sound does hardly change throughout the album. Apart from that, about the same speed is maintained almost all the time, only to be exchanged for a somewhat lower one in the occasional, obligatory power ballad. The choirs in the choruses are not really my cup of tea either. They basically sound like a large crowd of guys shouting along to the band in a stadium-sized venue (which makes those parts sound messy) and I must say that this annoys me greatly.
All in all, I am not very enthusiastic about this album. Although the intro promised much, most of the other tracks do not manage to hold my attention for very long since they basically sound pretty much the same. Those who are into 80s melodic hard rock with some sharp edges may want to check this CD out, but I do not think the hardcore prog fans will find much to their liking here.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10.
Uriah Heep - Acoustically Driven
The band Uriah Heep started in the late 60's. Their music was deeply rooted into the blues and heavy rock, but with lots of progressive influences, bombastic arrangements, classical themes and pumping organ sounds. For this reason, the band often was compared with Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. To many people, the band's best albums were made in the early seventies. Anno 2001 the band is still playing, albeit in a different line up (without original singer David Byron and keyboardist Ken Hensley). Uriah Heep's recent live album, Acoustically Driven, showcases the current band live in an unplugged setting.
I'm not too familiar with Uriah Heep, apart from their most well-known songs (like Easy Living, Gypsy, Return to Fantasy, and Look at Yourself ). But I've always been a collector of unplugged albums like this, and the CD came in a beautiful cover by Roger Dean (known from his artwork for Yes, Asia etc).
Acoustically Driven is not one of those 'intimate' unplugged albums. All of the songs have a full band playing, with drums, organ, and loads of acoustic guitars. The band is backed by a string quartet that sounds really great. Some of the songs also have beautiful solo's on obscure instruments, like bagpipes, pedal steel guitar and flute. Another nice surprise is a guest appearance by Ian Anderson (from Jethro Tull) who plays some beautiful flute on two songs.
Some highlights of the album are: Echoes In The Dark (a great bombastic song, with beautiful electric solo guitar), The Golden Palace (a haunting ballad), Blind Eye (uptime prog rock with Ian Anderson on 1 leg), Traveller in Time (nice organ here) and Lady in Black (the single). Although the band never goes really 'wild', the album sounds far from cheesy or mellow. Most of the songs can be categorised as 'dark power ballads'. Leadsinger Bernie Shaw has a good voice, and sometimes sounds a bit like Geoff Tate (Queensryche) or Paul Stanley (Kiss).
Final Judgement: I really like this CD, mainly because I have a special interest
in unplugged prog rock in general. The album is well balanced and
the songs seem to fit together. The arrangements are great, and
the strings fit in really well. Most of Uriah Heep's music is not
too complex, but it certainly is prog rock (of the 'retro'-kind).
However, I don't think this album can compete with their best
older work (with its typical wild organ sounds). So if you're
only interested in a first introduction to the classic and heavy
Uriah Heep, I suggest you start with one of their Best Of albums
By the way: there will also be a DVD version of Acoustically Driven. Also expected is a limited edition 2CD The Two Sides of Uriah Heep (which has Acoustically Driven and an official bootleg Electrically Driven).
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Autumn War - Camera
Recorded on a Paris system in a basement, Camera is the latest EP from Illinois based band, Autumn War. The band consists of Christopher Bunn (lead vocals, guitar), Jonathan Reich (bass, vocals), John Blum (drums) and C. Michael Pilato (lead and rhythm guitars, vocals). Musically the band play a style of melodic rock that provides a number of ear-friendly hooks together with just the right dose of guitar work to prevent them band from being categorised as a pop band. All three tracks are great rocking tunes that see the band as a mix between groups such as Collective Soul and relatively harder hitting groups such as Creed and Live. However I fail to see any resemblance whatsoever to a progressive rock style, not even the heavier melodic metal bands that sometimes get dumped onto the progressive rock category.
All three tracks are somewhat diverse in style with the most commercially appealing being their second track, Goodbye California which flits between acoustic and electric guitar work. As the band prepare to release their first full length album, I recommend that all those who like commercial rock to give these guys a shot. If this EP were featured on any other rock site, they would have got a much higher rating, but since this is a progressive rock site and the EP is devoid of any progressive influences I was somewhat forced into giving the album a low rating. A good effort nonetheless and a very pleasant listen.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
Sh'Mantra - Formula Orange
CD2: Recurring Nocturnal Habit II (2:58), Inanimate Articulate (8:11), Tws (24:47)
Formula Orange is the second album for Australian prog-rockers Sh'Mantra, following their 1998 debut album Cornucopia. Categorising this band is very difficult, but what is certain is that they have derived a large part of their musical influences from bands such as King Crimson especially when one hears the slow expansion and layering of their music. Furthermore the band manage to incorporate most of the essential features of modern classical music with elements of musique conrete, minimalism and atonality expressed throughout the album.
The album opens with Kiutl, a track that progresses at an extremely slow pace. Starting off with the sound of feedback to then move into an arpeggio-like guitar riff the music is modified ever so slowly and at a layered pace so that as time goes by one can sense all the musical ideas being gathered together. This continues with layer over layer being added to reach a peak at five minutes when the song twists into an alternative rocked out tune that dissolves into an aura of feedback. The drums seem to do their best at trying to revive the track by keeping the upbeat momentum and they progressively take over centre-stage within the band, but the feedback wins as the bass seems to sound the final salute. The last two minutes of the track also have their final twist with the introduction of vocals, whose melancholy rival those of Thom Yorke.
Robots On The Beach is one of the strongest tracks on the album, and not just because it is one of the rare occasions that vocals feature prominently on the album. The track in itself is relatively short when compared to the duration of most of the other tracks on the album but it is a track of many faces. As the track opens it seems to have an alternative slant to it with the minimal guitar work accompanying a steady bass line, while the vocals tend to draw the listener into a hypnotic trance, somewhat similar to Tasmanian band, Paradise Motel. Gradually the track picks up pace and strength to abruptly break off into an immensely heavy riff that totally disrupts the hypnotic trance that the track had accrued.
The abrupt ending of Robots On The Beach is sharply contrasted by Pit And The Pendulum which features a melancholic sound richly infused with electronic ambience that would fit in perfectly in the Radiohead repertoire. On this track, the band show that they can conjure up some remarkable melody lines and still wander as far way as possible from the traditional. 74.40s167.20e04:46:18 consists of a totally guitar and electronic tune with the basic melody laid down by the guitar and layers of both guitar and electronic effects are gradually piled on top of each other, creating an effect that is somewhat Enoesque in nature and is both relaxing while at the same time remains intriguing.
Sweat Of The Sun, Tears Of The Moon is a much more accessible instrumental track which is set in an acoustic vein with a most delightful melody played out from beginning to end on the acoustic guitar. Sunburst On The Cayman Trench starts off as a continuation of Sweat Of The Sun though the guitar work is overrun by a steady bass line that dominates the track. Having said that the guitar and keyboards are still present though they fail to retain the dominant effect that they had on Sweat Of The Sun and tend to act more as fillers with variety coming mainly from the drums.
The first CD comes to a close with the lengthy Absence_Substance_Quantity_Quality_ Relation_Action_Affection_Position_Time_Location_Condition_Place And State_Presence, another instrumental track that this time betrays one of the band's major influences, Pink Floyd. In fact there are numerous hooks that seem to have been borrowed from Floyd's vast repertoire. In fact this track would fit in snugly on any Floyd album from the early seventies such as Animals and Wish You Were Here. The track has its moments of musique concrete with the use of voices and other effects, though the highlight of the track is the drawn out keyboard solo accompanied by some exquisite drum playing.
On to the second CD that starts off with Recurring Nocturnal Habit II that makes a pleasant change to the rest of the album as the dominant instrument here is the bass guitar. The initial part of the track has the bass playing chords to a rhythmic steady guitar and keyboard, something akin to Mike Oldfield and Alan Parsons Project. The theme is repeated over and over gradually picking up in rhythm to then suddenly die and lead into Inanimate Articulate. This track is one of the few instances where the track seem to be playing a rather more straight forward style of rock, though it still is not devoid of the constant fluctuance in time signatures and keys. However, bass and guitars trade licks making the track one of the more easily accessible tracks on the album. The more one listens to this group, the more one comes to understand that they really and truly are a cut above the vast majority of bands that claim to play within the progressive rock sphere. It is virtually impossible to pinpoint a reference artist as they seem to creating something new, though one cannot but compare them to the ground breaking nature of Soft Machine in the early seventies.
Tw5, running in at close to twenty five minutes, is one of the most intense tracks on the whole album. The track consists at layer upon layer of sonoric effects as well as feedback that create a very uneasy feeling when listening to the track. Initially one could attempt to tie in this track to Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, though as the track progresses the feedback gives way to a great rock instrumental. Though the guitar work is slow and plodding, once again it is the drum work that gives the track it's character and power. The feedback comes to fore every now and again, sometimes overpowering the keyboards, whilst at other times allowing the keyboards and various other effects to dictate matters. 5 minutes into the track all instruments lie low to allow the synthesisers to take over giving the track a new direction and also allow the band to display an influence that had not been so apparent on the rest of the album. Here we get a range of music that could be derived from bands such as Neu!, Tangerine Dream and Can, something which the band perhaps should have experimented and exploited in more depth. Further drama is added to this track in the finale when we have the reappearance of those melancholic vocals together with the re-introduction of hte remainder of the instruments who take the track into a heavier dimension.
This album has been one of the finest pieces of exciting new music I have come across this year rivalling other experimental pieces of music from groups such as The Beta Band and Radiohead. This double album is a must for all those of you who are interested in experimental music that, however, is not too fluid and abstract, but on the other hand has a definite beginning and ending. In an ideal world, this band would be at the top of the charts!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10.