Reviews in this issue:
The Flower Kings - The Rainmaker
Introduction to the Duo Review
Remco: Oh dear. What a difficult album to review yet again. Why? Because it sounds so very, very... Flower Kings like! As with all their albums, it takes a while to get into the music, but then it's quite rewarding. I must admit this one is a bit easier on the listener than their previous album, Space Revolver. It combines features of the finest bands that have walked the Earth: Genesis, ELP and Yes, as they are by now famous for. Stolt appears to be tireless, as I also received the new TransAtlantic album for review, so within a couple of weeks, we are treated to two of his latest masterpieces.
Last Minute On Earth
Remco: The album opens forcefully with Last Minute On Earth. First, an Indian chant starts (a Rainmaker chant?), followed by a heavy prog guitar riff. Despite the length of the track (almost 12 minutes) it sticks to mind immediately, and in its entirety. Or is it just me finally getting the hang of the Stolt compositions ;-)? What is clear is that he returns a bit to older work and the track is not as experimental as some of the tracks on Space Revolver. I don't know whether it is Stolt's involvement in TransAtlantic or something, but in this track I hear more and more Spock's Beard like little tricks, especially in the upbeat to the freakier parts (yes, as a good Flower King, they put the more freaky jazzy stuff in here as well). All in all a solid composition and one of the best on the album, and one of the better ones in their oeuvre.
World Without A Heart
Remco: World Without A Heart has a teeny-weeny Camel feeling in its intro, but that disappears very quickly to make place for a typical Flower Kings ballad, more in the style of the previous album, with a Yes-like instrumental break.
Road To Sanctuary
Remco: Then it's time for ELP (loads and loads of Hammond) and Genesis in Road To Sanctuary . Quite complex and good solid rock is mixed with more difficult parts. It is composed out of a lot of different little parts, with a Selling England.. type middle part, which is very strong.
Remco: The Rainmaker is a film-music type of track, a bit of a spaghetti-Western thing, with a Bolero rhythm, but quite powerful and symphonic.
City Of Angels
Remco: The previous track has quite a contrast with City Of Angels, which features some odd timings. A relatively good track, more in vein of the older Flower Kings. The main section is not overly interesting though, but there are a couple of bars near 10 minutes that are pure genius. Why? I dunno, they're just so almost over-the-top, so Awaken (also a track that is so genius because it is almost over-the-top).
Remco: Elaine is not overly interesting. A nice little track.
Thru The Walls
Remco: The same can be said about the old-Genesis-like Thru The Walls as about Elaine.
Sword Of God
Remco: Sword of God is a very powerful and even heavy track, edging towards Deep Purple in the verses! A good solid prog track.
Blessing Of A Smile
Remco: This dominating Sword of God is followed by the sensitive instrumental Blessing of a Smile, where the Colin Bass like bass is an ear-catcher, as is the saxophone.
Remco: Blessing of a Smile flows into Red Alert, a one minute AWBH like thingy (it somehow reminded me of Brother of Mine).
Remco: The album ends with the last big composition Serious Dreamers, an uptempo swinging piece, typical of their style and a worthy closer.
Remco: All in all the album has not disappointed me. It lives up to the expectations (albeit only after a couple of listenings), but I don't yet know if it will grow further. It is quite varied and the middle section is not extremely interesting. However, as a whole, it is an album that is almost flawless and it really "works", better than Space Revolver, of which it is obviously a successor. For Flower Kings fans a must, others should definitely consider giving it a try.
Gina's Alchemy - The Magick Vol. 1
Led by the potent Grace Slick-like vocalist Gina Citoli, Gina's Alchemy present us with a blend of classic rock coupled with some noteworthy progressive hooks on this, their debut album, The Magick Vol. 1. The lineup on this album consists of Gina Citoli (vocals), James Walsh (keyboards), Steve Lundberg (guitars), Sue Birch (bass) and Carl Wergyn (drums). From the onset with The Magick, it is obvious that the band fuse the elements of seventies and eighties rock with a slant to the American style of this genre. Without a doubt, because of the presence of a female vocalist, comparisons will be made to Jefferson Airplane/Starship and Heart, but the influence of classical bands such as Journey are also audible. Some of the tracks, though, such as the opener The Magick, only come across as AOR-rockers with little of a progressive nature in the music.
The Alchemist has an almost musical-like feel to it, especially in its initial segments. Of note is the lyrical content of the band's music that deals in the magical side of nature as well as the elements, themes very reminiscent of eighties bands such as Dio. Once again the track highlights the group's style that is based on the stadium rock of bands such as Kansas and Journey with the piano/keyboards occupying a role that acts more as a chorus rather being a virtuosisitic performer.
The ballad-like Eyes Of A Child acts as a breather between the more uptempo rocking numbers with it's arrangements and especially backing vocal harmonies very much in the Meatloaf/Jim Steinmann vein. Magick in the Mirror has the group fusing the ballad and rock structures, once again bringing in the Kansas references, though without the complex solos and shifts in time signature, a style maintained in The Moon Tune. From a progressive rock point of view, this track is the first to show a certain amount of variety within the same track with some subtle changes in time signature as well as the central section which is a jazzed up version on the nursery rhyme "Hey Diddle Diddle".
Earth Song is the first track on the album which is relatively rich in progressive influences. The track itself is subdivided into four parts, each one played out in a slow and dramatic way. Parts I and II has an ethnic percussion accompanying Citoli's powerful voice as piano and guitar ebb in and out of the mix while Part III sees the percussion increasing in rhythm as the vocals become more choral in nature. Wergyn's drums are the highlight of this track with the continuous change in beat while the chants and percussion persist. Part IV sees a return to the straightforward rock, very much in the Heart vein.
A Thousand Years Of Peace is an acoustic based ballad which allows Citoli's rich vocals to come to the forefront while Dancer is one of the more commercial tracks on the album with a typical AOR styled chorus. The album comes to a close with Celebration which remains within he style that prevails throughout the whole of the album. In fact I find little or nothing that allows me to label this music as progressive. Instead it is more of a radio-friendly piece of music with some very catchy tunes. Only for those who like commercial rock!
Conclusion: 6 out of 10.
Alchemy VII - Alchemy VII
Following the release of The Magick Vol. 1, Gina's Alchemy became Alchemy VII and a four song EP was released. This album features three new tracks as well as the four tracks that appeared on the EP. Furthermore the lineup has changed somewhat from the debut album with Marshall Davis coming in on bass instead of James Walsh and the permanent addition to the line-up of Sarah Montgomery and Deb Elliot on backing vocals.
With the opener, Aradia, the group show that they have not drifted too far from the style that they presented us with on their debut album which is a heavy dose of classic rock dating mainly from the seventies coupled with catchy choruses. On Need More the voice of Citoli evokes that of Nancy Wilson, from the early days of Heart.
Natural Order Of Things is a straightforward twelve bar blues track, something that was surprisingly missing from the band's repertoire especially when one considers that Citoli seems to be a fan of Janis Joplin judging from her use of vocal range. Shape Shifter is another of those rock tracks that would have fit in snugly in the eighties when American hard rock "hair" bands dominated the airwaves with their easy listening keyboard dominated rock music.
On the ballad Forever, Citoli once again shows off her vocal prowess while Follow The Eagle is the first time that the band seem to show an amount of musical digression going into a more folkier sounding territory. The album comes to a close with In Your Name that has a slight funk tinge to it, but there is nothing too remarkable about it.
As on the previous album, Alchemy VII play more of a melodic classical rock rather than a progressive blend of rock. As a result, the rating for this album is more a reflection of the fact that this is not what I would term as an album of progressive rock but rather a melodic rock album. Hence the low rating does not necessarily mean that the music is of low quality, but signifies that it is not what I would look out for on a progressive rock album.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10.
Maudlin Of The Well - Bath
These two albums by Maudlin Of The Well, are seperate but simultaneous releases.
They are supposed to an opus in two parts, described as a "musical journey of astral dimensions into the infinite depths of the human imagination." These works are the follow-up to the band's 1999 debut album.
Maudlin Of The Well is a 9-piece band, with musical influences by King Diamond, Iron Maiden, Metallica and underground gothic, doom and death bands. Their music is described as "progressive astral metal". The two albums are a strange mixture of moods and styles.
The featured songs have some quite unusual melodies and pace changes. Most of the vocals are done in -don't be shocked!- a growling and grunting style, with corresponding instrumentation (low heavy guitars and wild bass drums). But strangely, the albums also countain tracks with mainly acoustic instruments (like in the nameless "interludes"), and even has some gentle ballads (with vulnerable, almost Susan Vega style vocals).
Listening to the music, I must say that both albums certainly have their good moments. Soundwise it's all clear and the instrumentation is remarkably diverse (even including sax, organ, viola, upright bass and clarinet). However, from a prog rock perspective I can only conclude that this band is only remotely interesting. Progressive rock influences are only used for short effects, like the classic church organ intro of The Ferryman, or some flashing chord sequences, like in Riseth He The Numberless.
Final judgement: this extreme mixture of styles and moods doesn't work for me. Heavy, moody, doomy, jazzy, extreme, gentle, hypnotising: it's all there! But to me, it's all too far from that "good old" friendly prog rock. And moreover, I don't like people to grunt & growl in my ears...
Conclusion: 5 out of 10.