Reviews in this issue:
Divine*In*Sight - Sorrow & Promise
This is a debut release from Divine*in*Sight who comprise of Bartholomew Boge - Guitars & Vocals, Jonathan Dexter - Bass Guitars, Keyboards & Footpedals and
Frank Ralls - Percussion.
Their sound is primarily based around guitar, bass and drums with keyboard augmentation. At times reminiscent of 80's Rush but with a harder edged rock guitar sound and the inclusion of keyboard layers help to add a further dimension. The main body of the album Sorrow & Promise sees this instrumentation into a grandiose rock opera.
The album consists of three main tracks although tracks one and three are
subdivided. Black River is the opening track with a gently atmospheric delayed
guitar riff which gradually introduces the rest of the instrumentation.
At this point you are aware that these three guys are fine musicians
and possess a strong rhythmic sense, sadly the introduction
of the vocals were a disappointment; although melodically very
pleasant, they lacked character and strength. This was again not greatly
helped by being fairly low within the mix! Having said that the track
is varied instrumentally, and the softness of the vocals
adds an interesting contrast to the music.
Track Two - By Leaps and Bounds is one of the highlights of the album with shades of Rush, this well shows the now obvious talents of all three members of the band.
The remainder of the album, some fifty two minutes is referred to
by the band as Sorrow & Promise - A Christian Progressive Rock Opera and is subdivided into nine tracks. Musically and lyrically the track charts
one man's reflections upon his faith within a dream.
Sorrow & Promise is varied throughout with nice usages of time signatures, however, sadly for me, the track like many Rock Operas gets a little lost along the way. You feel sure that a "video" would wonderfully capture the dramatic elements within the arrangement. The tracks that make up this epic piece cover many moods, reflecting the changing spiritual facets of the main character. Lyrically thoughtful, there is a strong message to the music and their faith is where Divine*in*Sight draw much of their inspiration from. Highlights from Sorrow & Promise were By Leaps and Bounds, Sleep which has a wonderful instrumental section and the Sorrow & Promise Overture.
A well thought out "concept" album with many pluses. Fine musicianship is displayed throughout from all the members - and worthy of note is Jonathan Dexter's bass playing and distinctive Rickenbacker sound. The band play cohesively together and all the musicans compliment each other admirably. The CD comes with comprehensive notes and lyric sheets. Audio samples are available from the bands website (click the link above) and check it for yourself.
Rating: 6+ out of 10
Reasons for a Decade - Project: Alcazar
Reasons for a Decade from Project: Alcazar is the joint efforts of Chris Steberl (Guitar, Bass & Keyboards) and John Homan (Drums and Percussion). A relatively short album by today's standards, clocking in at just over 32 minutes long and features seven instrumental tracks. A mixture of self penned Prog/Metal and adaptations of classical pieces from Mussorgsky, Vivaldi and Mozart - so no problems here with the compositional content.
Within a few bars of the opening track you are aware of Chris's obvious fretboard skills and the ensuing tracks confirm this. Most of the compositions are fast and furious - not one for driving in the car with - and there is an obvious chemistry between the two musicians, allowing them to convince you that this is a band album. I've never been a great one for comparisons with other bands/musicians, however, to help anyone thinking of getting a copy of Reasons for a Decade, Malmsteen, Macalpine, Becker, Satriani (Neptune Island) - all come to mind.
From start to finish the music is a blistering powerhouse of excitement and for those more metal orientated this is one to check out. Highlights for me would be the excellent Sahara Skies with it's Al Di Meola / Pat Methany qualities and the final track Silk n Honey which is superb.
Conclusion : Not particularly a Prog Rock album in the traditional sense but worthy of inclusion for several reasons. An admiration for the musicianship shown by both Steberl and Homan although personally I would have preferred to hear more of Chris's compositions. Never having been totally convinced with renditions of classical pieces (I am sure there are many ELP fans who would disagree), this aside the dexterity and skill of both Steberl and Homan bring their own dimensions to these pieces.
Rating: 6+ out of 10
Michelle Young - Marked for Madness
Michelle Young's qualities may be unknown to many of you, although she already presented herself with Glasshammer, the Leonardo-project (in duet with Steve Walsh) and her first album Song of the Siren (1996). Michelle also contributed to DPRP's The Vision Pit.
With Marked for Madness, however, she presents herself very clearly to the prog-scene. This album is the result of the collaboration with Clive Nolan, who was responsible for keyboards, arrangements and production, with Karl Groom engineering.
Hence, it's not strange that the piano/vocal-combination in the title track echoes a distant Strangers on a Train-feeling. This track is one of the more progressive compositions on the album with spooky effects, and a great guitar-solo towards the end.
A Lively Toast is a great, upbeat track with an addictive, repetitive piano-line. Michelle's voice resembles Kate Bush's in some tracks, and this is one of them. This track is a great, funny pop track. Simple but effective and by that, one of my favourites on the album.
Spider's Thread starts with a keyboard flute (real would have been nicer) introduction, followed by a nice string-arrangement which is the main basis of this track. Knowing that Nolan is a great Kate Bush-fan, I can hear some influences here. The song takes you along several atmospheres, from romantic to more threatening.
Orchestral arrangements of an almost "cinematic" nature are featured in the instrumental Hope:Realization. This wouldn't be out of place in a movie or musical. In a way it reminds me of Nolan's arrangements for Jabberwocky.
The shortest track of the album, First Light, features the great voice of Bobby Kimball (Toto). Too bad he's only present for two lines. It would be great to hear more of this great singer together with Michelle's great vocals.
Dancing On The Head Of A Pin takes a three minute introduction, with a duet of thunder and vocals, only to burst out into a great track with powerful drums, a lovely melody and eclectic vocals on top of it. A real highlight!
The album slows down again with Demons, which is, again, an atmospheric song with orchestral arrangements in Jabberwocky-style. This time there's a nice multi-vocal arrangement. Besides the orchestral keyboards Nolan presents himself towards the end of the song with a nice 'widdly' solo. The following Hope: The Darkest Hour is mainly a collection of dark and threatening sounds, but the meaning of this remains unclear to me.
It leads into Melissa's Demise, a pop/rock-song in almost Tori Amos-style about a girl 'nobody liked' who committed suicide. Gone are the 'Kate Bush-isms'. Welcome the guitar! A great riff and ditto solo give this album the necessary edge. Michelle Young appears to have a great 'low-end' of her voice as well, which is used here with aggression.
The Right of Passage is another orchestral song, this time in classical dance style from Vienna, with a violin-solo at the end. Personally, I like the solo-sound a lot better than the sounds used for the orchestra. That's the only problem I have with this kind of arrangements: they never can replace 'the real thing'.
Hope: Encouragement combines the orchestral arrangements with bass (by Peter Gee) and guitars (by Karl Groom) and the track benefits from the fuller sound which is the result. Nolan is present on backing vocals.
One of the most captivating vocal performances is present on Mystery Man Summoned. It is followed by the short Pull The Wool which is mainly a collection of voices.
The longest track on the album is Walk in the Light. The slow introduction leads to a very powerful part of the track, which breaks down to a beautiful piano-part, soon to be interrupted by heavy drums and guitar. The 'walk in the light'-line from First Light is repeated here, this time by Michelle Young herself. With all it's changes in mood, speed and sounds, this probably is the most 'progressive' track of all.
The short acoustic Toujours Ensemble finishes it all, not unlike Made Again (Marillion) or Friday's Dream (Arena). A beautiful, positive resting point at the end.
Overall my opinion on this album is a positive one: Michelle Young is a great singer and a fine composer (she, not Nolan, wrote the music!) with a very versatile voice. The diversity of the tracks makes the album interesting, but at the same time this holds the risk that you don't like all tracks the same way. Funnily enough, my personal bit of criticism on the album is the same I had on Nolan's Jabberwocky-partner Oliver Wakeman a couple of weeks ago. Some of the (in this case orchestral) tracks rely to much on the quality of the sound of the keyboard-samples. These samples never have the dimensions an orchestra has and it's audible. Partly as result of that, Spider's Thread, Demons, Right of Passage and Mystery Man Summoned, although nice songs with lovely melodies, depend too much on the same ingredients for my taste. They also lack a bit of necessary 'edge', which is so present in songs like Marked For Madness, A Lively Toast, Dancing On The Head Of A Pin, Melissa's Demise and Walk In The Light. To me, these five songs are all real highlights of the album (together over half an hour!). They really stand out and I am convinced most prog-fans will like them, since they are beautiful, interesting and accessible at once. It depends on your personal taste whether you'll like the rest of the tracks, but I think at least prog-fans who like Kate Bush and Tori Amos should immediately buy the album, since they will love the excellent female vocal performances. Fans of Strangers on a Train and the Jabberwocky-album could very well give it a try as well.
My overall conclusion: 'This is the best album Kate Bush never made'.
Conclusion: 8- out of 10
Wounded Knee - Heyoke
Wounded Knee is an Italian prog metal band, around since 1994, but has produced only one real album so far in 1997. Heyoke is an album not dissimilar in style to GB Arts The Lake. Written from a metal perspective, it is larded with more symphonic elements due to the worked out composition and the generally melodic way the songs are treated. All centered around the theme of the oppression of Indian people ("native Americans") in the USA, the music itself also has a bit of a tribal feel to it. Quite an original vision, I can't recall to have heard that much before.
In the opening track some violin (Western fiddle) is featured, which
reappears now and again on the album, but by no means this can be called "progmetal
with violin" music, as the violin does blend into the tunes seamlessly. The
instruments are played well and well balanced, and even the keyboards get their share
in the spotlight. In the second track for instance, the main melodic structure and
breaks are initiated by the keyboards. The vocalist has the right metal voice, with
large theatrical vocal gestures. He is sometimes quite reminiscent of Damian
Wilson in his Threshold period.
The album becomes progressively more symphonic as time goes on, especially Achtung Banditen! has quite some power to it. Apo-Logy is an instrumental track with a complex rhythm ala Dream Theater, an obvious reference for most prog-metal bands which experiment with their rhythmic section. But the symphonic highlight is Sententia, where the keyboards stand in the spotlight in the first section. The track continues ballad-like, but the section in which the violin returns, can hardly be called a ballad even though the tempo is low. The track then gains momentum and power and becomes even mildly experimental, before slowing to a romantic melodic section, in other words, a track that takes more than one listening before one really understands it.
A nice prog metal album in short. Nothing really negative to remark on it, but at the same time, there is nothing really exciting about it either. The fact that some of the tracks are in English and others in Italian works quite well. The tracks are all quite nice in their own right, but the total feel of the album is rather predictable. Even the last track, which has more quality compositionally than the rest of the album, can't really break down this sentiment. Oh, and they thank "Haardshock" magazine in the booklet. Who said metal heads don't have humour ;-).
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
Tony Harn - Moving Moons
Moving Moons is the third solo album by Warrington-based guitarist Tony Harn. After earlier works From The Inside (1998) and the acclaimed Lifebox (1999) DPRP finally gets a chance to discover the man who has recently appeared on Tim Bowness' solo album World Of Bright Futures alongside Steve Wilson and Colin Edwin, of Porcupine Tree fame.
It's a pity that so little information about Tony Harn is available on the Internet, as the above is just about all I was able to gather.
Moving Moons is a very enjoyable listening experience which in more ways that one resembles Mike Oldfield's 1998 album Guitars. Fine, melodic guitar playing (both acoustic and electric), accompanied by keyboards and programmed drums.
As with many instrumental albums, this is a difficult one to review and the lack of easily identifiable melodies make a song-by-song review useless, but on the whole, the album can be described as a nice, well-produced collection of easy listenable atmospheric music.
The album opens with some very weird noises, in the vein of Genesis' The Waiting Room, before launching into a beautiful mellow staccato strumming, very much Steve Hackett style. This, pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the album.
The second track, Headstart, is a true gem and my favourite of the album. Here you find Oldfield-style distorted solos, alternated with Hackett-style strumming and topped with an excellent eighties' style prog-sauce.
Other songs worth mentioning are the lengthy Standing In The Doorway To Your World or the folky Jackal, which sounds quite like the instrumental works of XII Alfonso.
Towards the end of the album, the music seems to undergo a shift into a different direction. The slightly poppy ballad Bubbleburst seems a lot like a typical eighties' pop-ballad where the vocals have been replaced by guitar and keyboards and the drum computer sounds a bit too much like a drum computer here. The last track, Pulse Code, seems like a full-band reworking of IQ's The Other Side.
Apart from Hackett and Oldfield, Harn's playing also reminds me a lot of Philippe Claerhout (XII Alfonso) and at times even Nick Barrett (Pendragon).
Moving Moons is also a fine example of how nowadays personal computer equipment can make it relatively easy to a professional looking (and sounding) album. The CD itself is a recorded CD-R and the cover the result of combining a photo-shop like program with a decent printer, et voilá, here's a CD that is in no way inferior to any professionally released album on the market.
For fans of good instrumental, melodic, guitar based prog, this is certainly a recommendation.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.