Reviews in this issue:
Dream Theater - Live Scenes From New York
Tracklist CD 2 (66.38): One Last Time (4.12), The Spirit Carries On (7.40), Finally Free (10.59), Metropolis part 1 (10.37), The Mirror (8.15), Just Let Me Breathe (4.03), Acid Rain (2.35), Caught In A New Millennium (6.22), Another Day (5.13), Jordan Rudess Keyboard Solo (6.40)
Tracklist CD 3 (60.53): A Mind Beside Itself (total: 22.16): i. Eurotomania (7.22), ii. Voices (9.45), iii. The Silent Man (5.09), Learning To Live (14.02), A Change Of Seasons (24.33) [i. The Crimson Sunrise, ii. Innocence, iii. Carpe Diem, iv. The Darkest Of Winters, v. Another World, vi. The Inevitable Summer, vii. The Crimson Sunset] Enhanced Features: Another Day (video) (5.11), Jordan Rudess Keyboard Solo (video) (6.18)
Dream Theater has the good habit of turning their end-of-tour gigs into something special. At the end of their previous tour, the Touring Into Infinity tour in 1998, they played a four-hour set in Paris, which included material spanning their entire career.
The final gig of their Metropolis 2000 tour was slightly shorter, but only slightly, and it featured two sets and an encore, totalling just under three hours and fifteen minutes.
The first set was their last album, Scenes from a Memory, in its entirety. The story was portrayed with the help of video images, extra vocalists and an actor, Ken Broadhurst, portraying the hypnotherapist live on stage.
The concert was already available on VHS video (Scenes from a Memory set only), DVD (one hour of live bonus material - more on that later) and now on a triple CD pack, featuring the entire gig.
Often when band perform a concept album in its entirety, the live version often doesn't add much to the original when put on a CD. Recent examples are IQ's Subterranea of Marillion's Brave. The live performances can't top the original, and all songs are played note-for-note like on the studio album.
Now Dream Theater is not known for playing its songs exactly like on the studio album, so it comes as no surprise that there are quite a few extras to be found. So many in fact, that the album didn't fit on one CD anymore.
The first half is pretty much similar to the studio version, but Through Her Eyes contains a wonderfully extended intro, a duo performance of John Petrucci and guest vocalist Theresa Thomason. The song also features an extra guitar solo at the end.
The Spirit Carries On also features Theresa Thomason on vocals and here she sings the parts of the Victoria character (on the album portrayed by singer James LaBrie himself), as well as adding some harmony vocals to the final chorus, backed by a 12-piece gospel choir. This track too features a second guitar solo at the end, great stuff!
The final track, Finally Free also features a reprise at the end, adding another three minutes or so to the playing time (although the sound effects off the studio version are omitted). In all, the live version contains some 8 minutes more music than the studio version. Not exactly The Wall proportions, but nonetheless interesting.
The band's performance is very good as well. I've never been a great fan of James LaBrie's live capabilities (as they never match his qualities in the studio) but apart from a few bum notes during Through My Words his voice holds remarkably well. The rest of the band's performance is outstandingly tight and there are no bits and pieces of other music incorporated in their songs (thank heaven for that) like they so often do.
The second set starts with a splendid version of Metropolis - part 1, "The Miracle & The Sleeper" off the Images and Words album, immediately followed by the 1994 album Awake's The Mirror, which includes an extended keyboard solo. The Mirror is then immediately followed by a medley, which is chopped up on this album, probably because of credit reasons. First there's the first half of Just Let Me Breathe, not one of my favourites of 1997's Falling Into Infinity, which segues into a snippet of the Liquid Tension Experiment's Acid Rain, off their second album. Since three quarters of LTE is now part of Dream Theater, it is only obvious that they pay a brief visit to this super jam group. And John Myung is more than capable of filling the gap of Tony Levin. After this brief visit there's a bit, which is aptly called Caught In A New Millennium, as it consists of the verses of New Millennium, with the choruses and a solo of Caught In A Web, before returning to the end of Just Let Me Breathe. It sounds a bit forced at the transition to the first chorus, but at the second it sounds almost natural.
Before you know it you've had another 32 minutes of non-stop music, when James LaBrie announces the next song for which the band has brought a guest musician along: Another Day, once again off the Images and Words album features Jay Beckenstein on soprano-sax. After the medley and the many in-between ditties and extra's Another Day sounds awkwardly close to the original.
Then it's time for newcomer Jordan Rudess to show off his talents in a solo, which starts as a beautiful classical piano piece and changes halfway into a more electronic sounding Ryo Okamoto-type solo (yet with a bit more virtuosity and less show-element), before ending in a great Kurzweil solo.
Both Another Day and the Jordan Rudess solo were not featured on the DVD and the respective videos are featured on a small enhanced feature on disc number 3. A nice bonus, which shows that the band intended to use all the available space, to release all the available material. I wish there were more bands to do such a thing. You could of course say that some bands prefer quality over quantity, but I personally prefer the quantity of a full concert, over the "quality" of only utilising half the capacity of a CD and leaving out a large part of the recorded concert (are you listening sirs Marillion, Spock's Beard and IQ?).
Right, two hours in, and there's still one more disc to go! The final disc features 'only' three songs: the 20+ epic A Mind Beside Itself, off Awake, Learning To Live, a 'mere' 14-minute version of this classic off Images and Words and the epic A Change Of Seasons. Like on the respective studio albums, the three parts of A Mind Beside Itself are indexed separately, while the five parts of A Change Of Seasons appear as one 24-minute track on the album.
I rate part 2 of A Mind..., Voices, as one of my all-time favourites of the band, and I'm somewhat disappointed that it is just this one where LaBrie's voice suffers badly from a long night's singing. He can barely make the long, high notes of the choruses and at many points he's on the verge of singing off key. Then again, at least you can say that this is a real live recording, unlike the band's earlier live releases like Live at the Marquee, or the live part of A Change of Seasons.
Part 3 is the rarely performed The Silent Man. This short acoustic ditty has been transformed in a full band version, which starts great, but almost falls apart at the transition where they return to the acoustic original for the first couple of verses. Fortunately they pick the full-band format up pretty quickly, making it a great sounding, refreshing new version, which includes an acoustic and an electric guitar solo, no less than two piano solos and a massive ending.
In all A Mind Beside Itself is the worst performance on this monster-album, proving that not all Dream Theater compositions work that well live. Far more confident seems the band with the performance of Learning To Live, which is near flawless.
The final encore, the last little song the band performs, is the monster epic A Change Of Seasons, rarely performed live in its entirety.
The nearly three hours of performing and the fact that this is a rarely performed song do not show at all in this flawless performance of the best song the band has ever written.
A brilliant point is when, during The Darkest Of Winters, each instrumentalist plays a tiny solo during each of its three breaks. Although quite funny on the original studio version, it's downright hilarious to hear it here, when all three come up with cartoon themes, among which the theme of The Simpsons, John Petrucci Style. A little gimmick which shows the sheer importance of maintaining a good sense of humour onstage.
And that the band has humour is also proven by James LaBrie, who later apologises for "the short set" they played. The short set had lasted over three hours...
The sound quality is tremendous, a lot better than their previous live-album Once in a LIVEtime. All instruments can be heard clearly and especially John Myung's bass is far more prominent in the mix than on the studio versions of the tracks.
Oddly enough there is no Mike Portnoy drum solo on the album, but then again, is there really any need for it? Drum solos tend to become very boring upon repeated listening, and Portnoy gets plenty opportunities to show off his capabilities (like, for instance, the ending of Finally Free), plus that by now the world probably already knows he is the best power-drummer this side of Neil Peart anyway.
In conclusion, I'd say that this is probably your ultimate live-album, provided you like the band's music of course. Oh, did I mention the price yet? This triple CD only costs marginally more than the average single CD does! OK, the albums is packed in only a three-fold carton sleeve, with the discs inserted in flaps, and the liner notes limit themselves to the credits and the thank you's, but the whole thing is filled with photos of the gig - there's not a single negative thing that can be said about this package.
On a different note, the band hasn't exactly had sheer luck with their release of Metropolis 2000 live. First, the PAL version of the DVD contained a synchronisation error and was recalled shortly after its release. The remastered DVD has been delayed ever since, and its release date has once again been postponed.
But worse even was the artwork for this CD version. Originally it contained a reworking of the flaming barbed wired heart off Images and Words with a burning barbed wired apple (the big apple) and in its flames a silhouette of the New York skyline, including the World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty. In a horrible coincidence the album was slated for release on September 11th...
The album got recalled immediately, the artwork changed, and is now slated for October 9th in Canada, October 16th in the US and there is no known date for a European release yet.
Pre-orders at online CD store CD-now got sent out a day early, on September 10th, so there are quite a few albums in circulation which still contain the original artwork, however, people who feel offended by the artwork can have their copies replaced (see the official website for more details). Unfortunately there are also some very sick people who are offering their copies for up to $500 on auction sites like E-bay. Well, you ain't getting mine, that's for sure.
Conclusion: 9- out of 10.
Kvazar - Kvazar
An interesting album from Scandinavia. I am not sure where exactly they come from, though. I don't know anything about the band, but I think this is their first CD. The booklet with strange and very dark pictures, and some untitled songs gave me the feeling something different was waiting for me.
Well, maybe it was less weird than I expected, but it's interesting nonetheless. Overall, the music is atmospheric, melodic, at times slightly heavier. Themes are carefully worked out to longer pieces, though never getting boring. It has some psychedelic elements as well, and primarily reminiscent of a Seventies' feeling. However, the structure of the songs show a more modern approach, taking their own paths, making this music progressive by definition, ie. it progresses.
It's hard to name bands that Kvazar sound like, but Pink Floyd and some Nektar (their slower bits, that is) are in there. In the second track, there's a guitar line that reminds me a lot of one of the pieces in Jeff Wayne's The War Of The Worlds. There's also a bit of Anglagard, when they are not too complex, or After Crying.
It's a pity the production is not in par with the music. Although the album was recorded in 1999 (why it was released only now, I don't know), but the sound of the drums reminds me of the mid Seventies. It sometimes is almost irritatingly present with its limited sound range. On the other hand, the drums are very well played. I am with a higher recording budget this band is able to produce some amazing music.
The mix is also lacking something. At lot of times I thought some instruments could have used a bit more attention, as they are hardly audible. At other times, the mix turns out to be very good, so you hear a soft acoustic guitar despite of the drumming. In the heavier bits, the mix is better, as you can hear most instruments evenly. Especially the keyboards could have been more up front.
The compositions are interesting. No simple verse - chorus constructions here. The songs are more sound journeys, but do have common themes. It's not a bunch of sounds, there is song. And there is heart, feeling. Readers who have read other reviews of mine, know I like that. The instruments are handled with care and love, vocals are warm. This kind of music, and therefore Kvazar, could become very popular in our relatively small prog world, getting a (cult?) status like Anglagard.
Like I said, a pity about the production. And in these days of cheaper recording facilities, it still takes a good ear to mix everything into an album. But that's the only downside of the CD, and can easily be improved on the next album. Still, I find the music adventurous, exciting, and very interesting. So, this is a hard one to rate. I will have to take the average between an objective ear and subjective heart...
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Picchio Dal Pozzo - Camere Zimmer Rooms
Picchio Dal Pozzo are one of Italy's hidden musical gems. With only two records to their credit, and both separated by a distance of eight years, Camere Zimmer Rooms is the perfect album to allow an insight into what the band were doing in between these two releases. The band's main inspirations came from the English Canterbury scene with a string influence of jazz-fusion with the right dose of ear-friendliness that allow the music to be appreciated not only by jazz-rock admirers.
The remarkable thing about this album is that it was never meant to be recorded as such. The band had just about bought new equipment for touring, and they set up everything in the studio to just "try" it out. The resulting sessions that ensued would end up as four of the tracks on this album as I Pinguini would be recorded three years later, in 1980. The band line-up for the album included Andrea Beccari (bass, flute), Aldo De Scalzi (vocals, keyboards, guitar), Aldo Di Marci (drums, percussion), Paolo Griguolo (guitar, clarinet, vocals), Claudio Lugo (saxophones, flute) and Roberto Romani (tenor sax, flute). Also roped in as guest musicians were founder member Giorgio Karaghiosoff (sax, flute), Roberto Bologna (guitar) and Francesco Tregrossi (acoustic guitar).
The album opens with Il Presidente (The President) which immediately underlines all the Picchio Dal Pozzo musical influences. As on all the tracks of the album, lyrics are sung in Italian, which do may act as a deterrent to those unfamiliar with the language, though it is one of the most beautiful languages to sing in. The Canterbury influence shines throughout the track (and the album!) especially material with which Robert Wyatt was involved with. One finds the utilisation of saxophones and clarinet in a similar way to Soft Machine, though the jazz-rock scene including groups such as Ian Carr's Nucleus also seem to have left a lasting impression. Vocals are also used as instruments with great harmonies giving the music a wider dimension. Just when the music seems to be moving well along an improvisational theme the group break into a jazz-rock rendition of the Italian National anthem. Simply fantastic!
Il Mare D' Irlanda (The Sea of Ireland) starts off in a lullaby like fashion with the clarinet adding to the somnambulistic backdrop. Though a pleasant listen, it is possibly the most uneventful of the tracks on the whole of the album with very little happening when compared to tracks like Il Presidente and Pingiuni. On the other hand it also shows the mellower side of the band who draw their influences not only from the jazzier side of music from bands such as Hatfield And The North but also from the lighter aspect of the Canterbury scene from bands such as Caravan.
La Cittá (The Town) is probably the most avant garde track on the whole of the album and would fit in well on a Pink Floyd album. Elements of musique concrete abound on the track especially during the initial stages which merges sounds of traffic, tuning of radio stations and various other sounds of daily life. Hearing the loops utilised at the very beginning one almost expects the music to develop into a modern day dance track but thankfully this does not occur. Musically La Cittá (The Town) is one of the more upbeat as well as adventurous tracks on the album with a large amount of free flowing jazz influences pervading throughout as the clarinet and drums really let loose in between the vocal sections which act as a breather to the instrumental sections. The unison of sax and clarinet creates a barrage of noise ably contrasted by the scat and keyboards while Di Marco's drumming is reminiscent of his mentor, Robert Wyatt's approach to drumming.
Pinguini (The Penguins) is the only track that was recorded at a later date to the rest of the album, in 1980, when the band were about to release their second album. Once again the emphasis is on the jazz rock scenario with the track being replete with awkward hooks and random shifts in time signature. However when compared to the first tracks on the album, it seems that with the passage of time the band acquired a taste for a more abstract style of playing. Gone are the more appealing choruses or mellow sections and instead we have a track that features a set of contrasting instruments, almost Gentle Giantesque in nature. The album come to a close with the short Il Fantasma D' Irlanda (The Irish Ghost), the second time the group bring up an Irish them into their song titles, though it could have just as well been left out of the album as it just features a short spacey sound effect that fades out as soon as it appears.
Camere Zimmer Rooms is a must for all those enamoured of both Italian prog as well as the Canterbury music scene. It is indeed unbelievable what material lies waiting to be discovered within the vaults of musical history!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
No-Man - Returning Jesus
No-Man, for those who are unaware is in actual fact a duo consisting of Tim Bowness on vocals together with multi-instrumentalist Steven Wilson. Wilson is rather more well-known than Bowness both for his work with prog-rockers Porcupine Tree as well as his work as a producer with various musicians such as Marillion and Fish, to name but a few. Though the fourth album for the duo, Returning Jesus is the first studio album released since 1996's Wild Opera. The band seemed to have left the more experimental touches that they were developing and on this album have gone for a relatively simpler style which, however, is much more effective.
The opening track No Rain immediately sets the pace and setting for the whole of the album. The whole album seems to be set in an ambient capsule which seems to give the whole sound a rich texture no matter how many instruments are playing, a feeling conveyed by very few producers such as Daniel Lanois. Bowness contributes to the melancholic feel that pervades the track with his dramatic soulful vocals accompanied by richly textured strings. The entry of the godfather of British Jazz-Rock, Ian Carr, and his trumpet heralds in a somewhat more experimental touch to the whole of the track, though everything remains atmospheric and placid.
No Defence has the group progressing what is an almost slow blues, but once again it is the ambient structure that really stands out. The multi-layering is sublime while the guitar licks sound very much like David Gilmour. A name that also springs to mind is David Sylvian and this might come as no surprise as collaborating on the album is drummer Steve Jansen who also played with Sylvian in Japan. Furthermore, Richard Barbieri another ex-Japan member plays with Wilson in Porcupine Tree! The laid back trumpet outro, courtesy of Ian Dixon, contributes to the overall picture of the track.
Close your Eyes is the first track to feature a percussive backdrop and creates a hypnotic rhythm that is broken by the entry of keyboards and a dreamscaped guitar sound which makes the track sound like a cross between Simple Minds and Marillion. Carolina Skeletons is one of two tracks that are not entirely new to the No-Man repertoire (Both Carolina Skeletons and Close Your Eyes originally appeared on the Carolina Skeletons 1998 E.P.). This longer and more elaborate working is one of the highlights of the album. Once again things move at a very slow pace though the inclusion of the piano gives the track that dramatic touch which commands the attention of the listener. One can see that some of the main inspirations to both Bowness and Wilson are the great melancholic singer/songwriters from the early seventies such as Nick Drake and possible even Tim Buckley. I have read that the track is about Karen Carpenter (The Carpenters) and the more I read into the lyrics, the more probable it seems.
Outside The Machine features a more jazzy drum beat with a pleaful repetitive chorus that weaves its way in and out of the main theme. Bowness' vocals really stand out on this particular track making it one of the more moving pieces on the album. The title track Returning Jesus starts off with an uncharacteristic percussive tone and with its sparse repetitive lyrics allows Wilson to fully expand on the soundscape he has achieved so far on the album.
The album has only one instrumental track, the flugelhorn swamped Slow It All Down with its Mercy Street (Peter Gabriel) styled rhythm though each track has its fair share of instrumental sections. The original title for the album was meant to be Lighthouse, and the track possessing the same name on the album is one of the stand out tracks. The track possess a raw power to it with its lush organ sound and laid back double bass sound. One could describe it as a modern day Nights In White Satin, another powerful yet slow paced and dramatic piece of music. Halfway through the track there is a break in the vocals which give way to a delicate crescendo that reminded me of Say It With Flowers, originally a Fish track on Sunsets On Empire that had the help of Steve Wilson.
All that You Are brings the album to a close, a track whose organ sound gives it a slightly dated feel, almost late sixties. The floating high-pitched voice that accompanied Bowness creates a heavenly sound that embodies the whole of the album. Long have I waited to hear such a complete album that manages to convey such emotions with such minimal effort. The album most definitely goes into my top 10 albums of 2001.
Describing No-Man as a progressive rock band could actually stretch the definition of progressive, but the album does have its moments with hints of Pink Floyd, latter-day Talk Talk, David Sylvian and Portishead. However this music is too good to be missed with the arrangements and subtleties a must for all those who care about good music, and this should definitely apply to most progressive rock fans.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.
Wild Rossis' Notes - Apokalypsis
The fact that the title of Wild Rossis' Notes's second CD is Apokalypsis and that the front cover is an adaptation of a doomy picture by Hieronymus Bosch may lead the reader to believe that we are dealing with a concept album. However, this is not the case. Apart from the title track, which is more than 21 minutes long, the Germans have recorded eight other, shorter songs, which have nothing to do with the End of Days. The shorter tracks range from a "mere" 3:30 (Neckbreaker) to an 8:16 minutes' length (Enfants Du Ciel) and contain a myriad of different musical styles and influences. More about that below, though.
Because of financial reasons, Jörg Simonett (vocals), Heino Tiskens (keyboards, and backing vocals), Alexander Vitt (bass guitar), Christoph Heußen (guitars) and André Dückers (drums) have opted to print the lyrics on their website (which is entirely in German, by the way) instead of in the booklet (if "booklet" one can call it at all; it is just one, folded page). Not too convenient, I must say, but the reason to do this is certainly a valid one.
As I already mentioned, one can find many different musical styles and influences on Apokalypsis. For example, the mixture of progressive metal and eighties Germany-based hardrock à la The Scorpions of the first track, Enfants Du Ciel, is followed by a silly Beastie Boys-meets-Mr. Bungle song called Star Wars (including weird voices, evil laughter, burps (?!), the Star Wars theme and lyrics in which the characters of Star Trek and Star Wars are mixed together in a funny way). The third song, Neckbreaker, on the other hand, starts with a Frankie Goes To Hollywood-like guitar/keyboard intro but soon after evolves into a metal track with a thick rap sauce, somewhat like Rage Against The Machine. Apart from a host of songs that seem to have had various pieces from the Dream Theater catalogue as an example, one can also find a track on the album (Black Hole) that sounds remarkably much like Extreme's hit More Than Words (almost the same acoustic guitar sound and close harmonies). Still, I cannot say that I think this versatility is a plus here; it makes the album feel somewhat unbalanced to me.
Much of the music on the album is very enjoyable (I particularly liked the music of
Neckbreaker and Time). However, I do not like the sound of the vocals
very much. Simonett sounds a bit like Joe Jackson when he uses his voice in the
lower registers, and like the smaller-chested brother of Dream Theater's James La
Brie when he goes for the higher regions. In some sections, he has a somewhat whiney
quality, which simply annoys me. At other times, like in Once, the other instruments
sound so much heavier than the vocals, that they do not seem to fit together; more
powerful vocals would have been much more appropriate there, in my opinion. Also,
the vocal melodies do not always seem to fit the music and therefore sound almost
off-key, like for instance in the heaviest parts of Doomsday.
The lyrics feel rather awkward at times. The main reason for that is probably that Wild Rossis' Notes really wanted to tell stories and make statements that were as unambiguous as possible. Since less is often more, this effectively resulted in things getting slightly overexplained and the fact that the guys are not entirely proficient in English did the rest. I mean, there are more subtle ways to express the following, I think. "I can't see no reason to live / because of that I drink so much whisky" (Meaning Of Life). "There are neckbreakers in our state / And this will be perhaps our fate / The hope of let the good survive / won't just please be in another strife" (Neckbreaker).
The magnum opus on the album, Apokalypsis, is what so many long prog tracks
basically are; a collection of separate songs that have been glued together. In six
different parts, the Apocalypse is described minutely, where the Bible is closely
followed. Here too, the will to describe everything into detail makes the lyrics
sound a bit uncomfortable. I mean, things like "The sixth seal involved a mighty
earthquake / Sun got black as mourning dress, moon got like blood" (Opening The
7th Seal) do not really flow.
The music of this track has some very nice moments. Starting with a choir singing what I presume is a psalm about the End of Days, the song goes from some heavy Ayreon-esque segments via a keyboard solo that could just have been played by Martin Orford (IQ) to a Dream Theater-like part to mainstream rock, and ends with birdsong and a cappella. Remarkably enough, the fifth part, The New Jerusalem, with its typical combination of high and low voices and acoustic piano, sounds very much like a song of the aforementioned Joe Jackson.
In conclusion, those of you who are into prog metal, have an open mind with respect to other musical influences like rap and can appreciate a somewhat Joe Jackson-like approach to the vocals, should give this CD a try. The vocals are definitely not my cup of tea, but then again, someone's voice is often something one either loves or hates. Still, there is some very nice music to be found on this CD, so if the vocals are your mug of earl grey and you usually do not listen to lyrics, you will not be disappointed.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.