Reviews in this issue:
Queensryche - Live Evolution
Tracklist Disc Two: Empire/Promised Land Suite: I Am I (4.05), Damaged (4.12), Empire (4.50), Silent Lucidity (5.28), Another Rainy Night (4.37), Jet City Woman (5.22), HITNF/Q2K Suite: Liquid Sky (4.59), Sacred Ground (4.05), Falling Down (5.17), Hit The Black (3.39), Breakdown (4.03), The Right Side Of My Mind (6.29)
Queensryche has played an important role in the last two decades of my life. First noticing them in
my 'metal' period - you know, the time when you push the boundaries and anything your parents
dislike becomes twice as interesting - when they were on TV with that B-movie-like video for Queen of the Ryche, and later really discovering them when they released their brilliant concept album
Operation Mindcrime (1988). The album fitted in perfectly with my love for concept albums on one hand and the slight rebellious tendencies of 'teenagehood' on the other. Oh. and it also contained some damn fine music.
Their follow-up album Empire (1990) was, although slightly more commercial, another great treat with some outstanding compositions and it was also the period when I saw the band live for the first time on the Monsters of Rock Tour. Still, even these two albums would pale compared to the sheer brilliance of Promise Land (1994). Not only do I consider this to be Queensryche's masterpiece, it is also one of my favourites of the nineties and is most probably in my 'deserted island top 5' permanently. Again, the darkness of the album and the realisation that things were not quite as you had expected them fitted in very well with the soundtrack of my life, scene mid-twenties.
You can imagine the anticipation when Hear in the Now Frontier was released in 1997. Rarely have I been so disappointed by an album of one of my favourite bands, even to the extend that I have played the CD maybe once or twice and have put it away in some dark corner of my CD collection, never to be taken out since. I was hoping that their next effort Q2K would make up for this but the lack of positive reviews eventually resulted in me never picked up a copy.
And then suddenly I read that the band had released a retrospective collection of live songs. How interesting ! Initially I thought that it would be a collection of live recordings taken from performances over the last 20 years. However, having bought the double CD I noticed in the sleeve notes - which by the way are printed in what must be the most unreadable font ever - that the songs were actually recorded during two gigs at the Moore Theater in Seattle last July.
As you can see in the track list above, the disc is split up in four sections, each representing a period in the development of the band. The term 'suite' might give the wrong impression though; overall the songs are not integrated into long flowing pieces or medleys.
The first suite covers the period 1983-1987 with songs taken from 1983's Queensryche EP (Queen of the Ryche and The Lady Wore Black), 1984's The Warning (NM156, Take Hold Of The Flame & Roads to Madness) and 1986's Rage For Order (Walk in the Shadows, London, Screaming in Digital). Although this certainly isn't my most favourite period in the band's history (I normally refer to it as Geoff Tate's 'listen how beautiful I can scream'- years), the selection of songs is a pretty good one. I've always found NM 156 a bit unpleasant to listen to and would have rather seen it replaced by e.g. I Will Remember, but songs like Roads to Madness (with a slight Iron Maiden flavour) and Screaming in Digital are fine classics and already hinted at the direction the band would take with Operation Mindcrime. Also, I don't mind finding the old heavy metal classic Queen of the Ryche sandwiched among these early tracks, if only for nostalgic value and the fact that the (by now) irritating 'metal screams' are absent from this version. All in all this first part makes for a very reasonable selection and fine performances, although I wouldn't have minded some acoustic renditions, as they once played them in MTV's Unplugged show.
The next section is a sort of mini-version of the Operation Mindcrime CD. In 40 minutes the band runs through some of the highlights of the concept album. Personally I always thought that the second half of the album was a bit of a weakness because the story lingered for far too long on the 'lost love' for Sister Mary without much else happening (compared to the first half). I therefore don't mind that some of the bits from that part of the album are missing. On the other hand, I kind of miss the title track and Speak, so in the end I'd probably still prefer to play the recently re-released Operation: LIVEcrime above this shorter version.
Some remarkable things about this version are the new extended intro to Revolution Calling, the presence of Pamela Moore in Suite Sister Mary (doing her backing vocals for the title's character - as a matter of fact I always thought that Tate was singing these himself until I saw the LIVEcrime video for the first time), and Electric Requiem (here called Requiem) being placed in the middle section on Spreading the Disease. In my honest opinion the latter doesn't make any sense. Not only does it break-up the flow of the track and does it replace the extended percussion break I liked so much on LIVEcrime, it also doesn't make any sense chronologically since it deals with Nicky discovering the murder on Mary, who now appears alive and kicking in the next two songs !
All in all I'd rather play LIVEcrime than this version, which is a bit of a shame because the 40 minutes would have made good space for some other stuff, like .....
... more songs from Promised Land ! Indeed, probably the biggest disappointment of the album lies in the fact that out of 135 minutes of music only 8 minutes are taken from their all-time masterpiece ! What were they thinking ?! Whatever happened to great tunes like Bridge, Promised Land or the piano/vocal ballad Someone Else ? These were absolutely brilliant during the Roads to the Promised Land tour ! Unfortunately we only get I am I and Damaged, both great tracks but not nearly
enough for a Promised Land fanatic like me. Is this all, because it's not what I expected ?! What's more, the guitars in Damage are far too low in the mix and almost inaudible.
Instead the band moves swiftly on to a selection of four tracks from Empire. During the title track it becomes quite obvious that the band is using tapes with some of the vocals ('east side meets west side downtown ...'), whereas the nasal sound that Tate's voice has adapted almost spoils one of their most beautiful songs (Silent Lucidity). The out of tune double guitar solo doesn't help much either. Another Rainy Night and Jet City Woman are good albeit slightly commercial songs, which I would personally have replaced with Best I Can and Della Brown.
The fourth section of the album consists of a selection of songs from the disappointing Hear in the Now Frontier (is that the reason why it's only represented by one track ?) and their latest studio album Q2K. This was the first time that I actually heard material of the latest studio album (and probably the second time I heard the HITNF track). Personally I think that Liquid Sky and The Right Side of My Mind are rather good tracks that aren't too far removed from the dark and moody Promised Land-style. Sacred Ground however sounds like a weak remake of Liquid Sky and Breakdown is also a rather weak track, as far as I'm concerned.
Falling Down and Hit The Black (the latter taken from HITNF) are very un-Queensryche. In itself that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing and I have to say that they contain some great rhythms and mean greasy riffs, a combination which reminds me a lot of the nineties sound of Metallica. Unfortunately though, besides the verses of Hit The Black the songs miss a good vocal melody, just like Breakdown and Sacred Ground.
Geoff Tate has always been one of my favourite singers, at least when he left his 'screaming' period
behind him. Maybe that's why I'm extra critical when listening to Live Evolution. Somehow his
voice seems to have lost some of it's clarity. He's still got an amazing reach, but especially during the
ballads his voice sounds annoyingly nasal, which gives the impression that he is far from being interested in singing them
The rhythm section of Queensryche, Scott Rockenfield and Eddie Jackson, have always been the amazing backbone of the band, combining driving 'in-your-face' force with inventive rhythmic patterns. For me, this is one of the few things that keep the weaker songs in the fourth section of the CD listenable, since from a melodic point of view there isn't an awful lot to write home about.
Another weakness in the melodic section is the painfully missed Chris DeGarmo on lead guitar. Rhythm guitarist Michael Wilton does a fine job as ever, but new lead guitarist Kelly Gray fails to reach the same heights as his predecessor. As a matter of fact, the lead guitar is sometimes almost inaudible, e.g. in tracks like Damage. This might however be a problem with the mixing of the live recording. Another sound problem is the slight static distortion I detected during the louder parts. Combined with the blurred photographs in the booklet this makes the album feel a bit like an 'official bootleg', which it might well be judging from the label it was released on.
All in all an album I have mixed feelings about. There's too many flaws to make this the ultimate Queensryche live document and especially the selection of songs (well, actually the lack of some material) is far from what I would have liked to see on this album. Let's hope that a recording of the Roads to the Promised Land will ever be released in the future.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Into Eternity - Dead Or Dreaming
Let me first stress that this album has nothing to do anymore with progressive metal. This is just plain death metal, despite the incidental semi-acoustic interludes and rhythmic changes now and again. The reason I write this review is because this album is marketed as "Second album of the Canadians, more progressive, more metal!". Well, the metal part is true, but there is little to enjoy for the progressive rock/metal fan. Only die-hard metal fans, who now and again like some more mellow melodies in between very hard (death) metal, will enjoy this album to its core. Personally, I find the artwork (skyscrapers covered by dark clouds and a field of crosses in front of them) quite distasteful too, especially after the eleventh of September (of course, the artwork was created before that, and even though the release date is in October I can understand that a small label has no money to change the artwork). Still, all this death-stuff is not very appealing to me.
Now, the album itself is well produced, and some tracks, like Unholy Holocaust and are even digestible by somebody like me (where After Forever and Wolverine is about the most heavy I can take), reminding me a bit of Fates Warning. But tracks like Selling God, where the first thing you hear is a screamed "Satan!" are way beyond what I can take. Sorry, but this makes me feel plain sick. Most of the tracks are like this, and the melodies and compositions are quite similar throughout the album, if you heard one track, you basically heard them all. This is an album that will disappear somewhere in my closet, never to return to my player again. So view the rating in light of these remarks: no doubt (death/speed)metal lovers will rank it much higher, as there is obviously talent playing there, it is not a second-rank garage band. But the same is true for Britney Spears, and she would not get a high grade either....
Conclusion: 4 out of 10.
Rick Ray - Insanity Flies
Rick Ray has polluted the world with yet another redundant album. I am sorry if this sounds very harsh, but it is my sincere opinion that the albums of Rick Ray would have been nice background musac at best, were it not for the lunatic ideas he tries to convey in his lyrics. But I have ranted about that earlier in my review of Manipulated DNA. So why on Earth do I bother to review the albums Ray keeps bombarding DPRP and other prog magazines with? Because, as I said, it is nice little semi-progressive background musac. There is not much progression in his composing, although some tracks on the album, like Guitartichoke or the acoustic Missing Silhouettes are definitely agreeable to listen to. On the other hand, the opening track for instance could have been on any other album as well. Also, the really bad production downgrades the album a lot. In a track like Killing Pawns this is particularly obvious, it is like you are listing through a thick wall to the music. In Power Gone Mad he does his weird-spoken-vocal bit again (apparently portraying The Evil One). So, also in that respect nothing new under the sun. Rick Schultz also does his strange clarinet stuff on this album and manages to bring an extra note of annoyance to Eyes, Lies and Spies, making it a bit Zappa-like. Well, in summary, just read the previous reviews on Ray and you will know this album as well. Again, I cannot grade higher than a 4, also due to the very bad production. Should you due to some masochistic reason be interested in purchasing this album, go to the website for details.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10.
Mark 1 - The Criminal Element
Earlier this year I had the pleasure of reviewing Mark 1's debut album, Absolute Zero, an impressive debut which seemed to breathe fresh air into the slightly stagnant progressive rock scene. With their second album, The Criminal Album, this interesting trio of young musicians has not just sat on their laurels, but continued progressing in their musical maturity and have come up with an album that should become a firm favourite with all progressive rock fans.
Genesis is a group that features prominently in the music of Mark 1, and on this album the band have managed to create a range of numbers that allows the listener to relate vividly to Genesis, yet at the same time they have managed to incorporate enough elements to give their material their own trademark sound. In fact one of the main features that helps create this link with Genesis is the way Kyle Jones manipulates his vocals in a very Gabriel-esque fashion.
The opening and title-track The Criminal Element immediately sets the pace for the remainder of the album. The keyboards have acquired a fuller sound that gives the music much more power, when compared to Absolute Zero, though the group have retained their love for the use of minor chords, often played on the guitar, which contrast sharply with the general melody. If there is a track that shows that this band has matured, then this track is the perfect showcase.
Another Commercial Casualty shows a different side to the band's style of playing. There is an acoustic nature to their music that was rarely exploited on their previous album. On this particular track it is the use of the electro-acoustic guitar that is the main instrument whilst on The Life... the dominant instrument is the piano which almost gives the track a Ben Folds/Joe Jackson touch
Another feature of this intriguing trio is the very dominant British influence on their musical styles as well as sense of humour. Short tracks such as Captain Labrador's Unceremonious Disengagement (and the consequences thereof) stand out from the rest of the album with their zany nature and contrasting music, reminiscent of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band.
The lengthier tracks such as The Raven allow the band to return to that progressive rock style that they seem to perfect from one release to the next. On this particular track the group excel in inserting various styles, influences as well as effects with the music ranging from Tony Banks-like keyboard solos to Roy Harper-esque guitar work. Elsewhere the band manage to condense into a few minutes an enormous amount of ideas, a feat that very few band have managed to do within the progressive rock genre.
Running in at just over thirty six minutes, this is more of a mini-album by today's standards. Nevertheless Mark 1 have showed incredible maturity and inventiveness within their musical structuring and creativity. Surely if this band had to concentrate their efforts on countries such as England, where such a blend of music and bands such as Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and The Beta Band tend to acquire an amount of interest from the musical press, they would manage to attract much more attention and possibly success.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Bjorn Lynne - The Gods Awaken
Of all the artists and bands I've come across in the last 5 years I wrote for DPRP, Bjorn Lynne is probably the most versatile and colourful one. The multi-instrumentalist has a wide range of musical styles and seems to fit in well in any musical area, while at the same time running a very professional independent business centred around his website and mailing list. For those of you who didn't know yet, Bjorn doesn't only write sci-fi inspired music (like his album The Void), Trance music (under the name Divinorum) and progressive/symphonic rock (like Wizard of the Winds and Wolves of the Gods); he also writes music for computer games (e.g. 'Worms') !
Three years ago Bjorn released an impressive album called Wizard of the Winds. This impressive album was the first in a trilogy (The Timura Trilogy) based on the fantasy novels of Allan Cole. It was soon to be followed by the second, less impressive album, Wolves of the Gods. This year, after 18 months of work, Bjorn finally released the third and final album The Gods Awaken.
In some ways, this is the most impressive album Bjorn has released to date. Whereas all music on Wizard of the Winds was written and performed by Bjorn and only one guest musician appeared on guitar on Wolves of the Gods, a whole entourage of musicians appears on the third part of the trilogy. Most well-known of these are probably Dave Foster (Mr. So & So) on guitar (track 8), Fred Schendel (track 7) & Steve Babb (track 4) (both of Glass Hammer) on keyboards, Ken Senior (Elegant Simplicity, Evolution, Purple) on bass and guitars (track 9) and Mark Robotham (Grey Lady Down and Thieves Kitchen) on drums. Less well-known but in no ways less important to the sound of the album are Mark Knight (K-Passa) on violin and Rebecca Webster on flute. Finally, Marc Pattison and Vince Vrbancic provide some extra guitar solo's on track 6 and 3 respectively.
As a result of all these musicians, and specially the drums, flute and violin, the music on The Gods Awaken sounds a lot more authentic than on Bjorn's other album, where most sounds come from electronic instruments.
The album also has it's weaknesses though. Unlike the first album this album does not feature any
spoken narration (besides the epilogue at the end). On the first album the narration worked very well to help tell the story and maintain the attention of the listener. The second and third album on the other
hand are fully instrumental and I have to admit that it's sometimes a bit hard to stay focussed on the music for 73 minutes long.
On top of that, some song are splendid, but other are just too long and drag a bit without any catchy melody hook. Most of the 6-8 minutes songs could easily have been 2 minutes shorter while still maintaining the strong elements of the compositions, and the experimental 14 minute Two Kings in Hadinland, which Bjorn co-wrote with Ken Senior, is just far too long (not the least because of the ridiculously long fade-out, which seems a bit out of place on the one-but-final track of the CD).
Some of the songs contain some fine elements but never rise above the level of a good soundtrack (as a matter of fact The Gods Awake would probably work very well with a movie like 'Lord of the Rings'). At other times it seems like some bits never passed a demo phase or aren't used to their full potential. A good example is the mysterious percussion of the opening track The Dance of Hadin; it makes you feel like being in a big cooking pot surrounded by cannibals somewhere deep in Africa and would make a perfect intro to a powerful and bombastic track. Instead the track ends as sudden as it began without ever coming to a real climax.
Another example of a great element in an otherwise so-and-so song is the use of the Santur (that hammered string instrument which some of you might know from the Alan Parsons Project track Lucifer) in Jooli's Song.
Nevertheless, the album contains some real gems, especially The Sisters of Asper, On Conjurer's Seas, King Felino and the Slay Ground and Lottyr, Lady of the Hells.
The Sisters of Asper is a fine examples of an effective combination of traditional instruments like the flute and electronica. As a matter of fact the atmosphere of the composition, combines with the flute reminds me a bit of Quidam. On Conjurer's Seas is a mysterious and menacing composition with flute, acoustic guitar and violin.
King Felino and the Slay Ground starts with a Hammond intro played and composed by Glass Hammer's Fred Schendel that is very much alike Genesis' use of the instrument in the seventies. Then suddenly the song turns into the heaviest track on the CD with bombastic passages full of heavy guitar riffs alternating with majestic and glorious ones. Lottyr, Lady of the Hells starts with a melody on string synths and piano. This beautiful melody, which reminds me a lot of the style on the first CD of the trilogy, is later played on synth as well, while violin adds an extra dimension.
I also need to mention the beautifully peaceful violin & flute combination in The Mural, a composition that would not have been out of place in T-Tauri's rendition of Pictures at and Exhibition, and not just because of the title.
The 12-page booklet contains pictures of all musicians, credits and liner notes for all tracks and a discography of available Bjorn Lynne albums.
Despite the mentioned shortcomings, The Gods Awaken is a fine album indeed and probably Bjorn's best one until now. If some of the less interesting music would have been cut or shortened you still would have a splendid 50 minute CD (this can be DIY-ed by using your program button). Still, the other 25 minutes are still very decent 'soundtrack-like' compositions, suitable as soothing background music. The music on the CD reminds me (as always with Bjorn's compositions) of Mike Oldfield, Vangelis and also of T-Tauri and Quidam or even Camel because of use of the violin and flute.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.