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Reviews in this issue:
Schloss Adler - Music For Survival Horror
As a little diversion from his work with Vulgar Unicorn, Neil Randal, alias Schloss Adler, has produced an eerie album with music that seems to have been written as a soundtrack for a horror movie (apparently it is a homage to old black-and-white horror movies). Not very progressive and no rock at all, this album provides us with The Orb like soundscapes (but then 20 times creepier). Vaguely one can still detect some Vulgar Unicorn influences, e.g. using the movie dialogue sound effects. This album is quite unlike what you normally expect from a Cyclops release. Are they slowly moving to a more broad spectrum of music?
There is not much to tell about the album, the tracks all seem fragments which conjure up a certain angst-loaded atmosphere. It is however a nice album to test out your stereo system with its deep dark synth-bass tones. The use of the acoustic instruments is worth a special mention (acoustic guitar, grand piano and violincello). In particular the grand piano (my personal love) is abundantly represented (for instance Falling features only the piano). Randal seems to have a love for the lower region of the keyboard though...!
Some of the tracks are really psychedelic, like Murder, whereas a track like A Trap Disguised As An Invitation almost seems to have a rhythm and is quite a nice track. A Safe Place is the first track which gives the listener some time to breathe and this mildly more relaxed style continues in the following track. Strange Orgids is one of the best tracks on the album, being more of a classical piano/acoustic guitar piece.
Well, it is a nicely produced album, but the music itself did not really grasp me. Some of the tracks are really creepy, others are quite experimental (too experimental for my taste). The first thirty minutes, one can still cope with the chilling tracks, but then it is just too much. I have not managed to play the complete album in one go....maybe people who are more experienced in digesting movie scores can.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
Various Artists - Un Voyage En Progressif Volume 6
Once again Musea Records present a low priced sampler which gathers tracks from some of the better albums this company has released during the past year. As always one is struck by the diversity that the label has to offer both in terms of music as well as culture with no less than six countries represented here.
The album starts off with French band Halloween with the track Scheherazade, taken from their album Le Festin. This is a rather unexpected opener for a compilation album as it is possibly one of the least commercially appealing tracks on the whole compilation. The initial segment starts off in an ethnic mood, almost Middle Eastern in nature. In fact the track features a ME-sounding violinist duetting with the remainder of the band as well as the female vocalist.
Japanese band Prority play a melodic jazz-rock on Yellow taken from their album, Light Is Decomposed Into Fragments. One would compare the music on this track to Pat Methney or John McLaughlin rather than to more traditional progressive rock bands. On the other hand, Norwegian band Kvazar make full use of their synthesisers creating a neo-progressive sound reminiscent of groups such as Pendragon as they move through Ballet taken from their self-titled album.
French band Priam's approach incorporates a slightly more adventurous style of playing. The instrumental
Sensitivis (Chrysalid Square), taken from their album Diffraction, utilises a variety of ambient effects
that give the track a much fuller sound when compared to most of the other tracks on the compilation. Starting off
in an almost New Age fashion, the track picks up with the entry of drums and distorted guitar work giving it a
classical progressive feel complete in both sound as well as a continuous variance in time signature.
Dutch band Cliffhanger are represented on the album with Autumn from their Circle album. The track starts off in an acoustic setting, and is one of the worst moments on the whole of the album with rather weak vocals and keyboard playing though it does redeem itself slightly as it shifts into a Yes-sounding piece of music.
In Mister Green, French band Taal have produced one of the albums of the year (in my opinion) and the track Coornibus was lifted from the album for this sampler. With Mekong Delta-like guitar work combined with Middle Eastern musical traits and a lush orchestral sound, this track manages to condense in one track the essential themes that the band presented on their album. This is without any shadow of doubt one of this album's highlights.
Vital Duo is composed of the brothers Thierry and Jean Luc Payssan, both of whom are members of one of France's better known progressive rock bands, Minimum Vital. On the album Ex Tempore, the duo have abandoned their rock roots and presented an album of medieval music. The track La Tour Haute (Sauver Les Hommes), had originally appeared on a Minimum Vital album, but this time around the brothers have done away with the rock and just present a pleasantly melodious track with acoustic guitars and organ.
Japanese band Ars Nova have made a name for themselves for their fast paced music that makes full use of their heavy keyboard sound which though bombastic at times, does tend to leave the listener gasping for breath. One other characteristic on Succubus, taken from Android Domina, is the full sound that the band strive to obtain on their recordings with a full blown choir used to create the vocal harmonies, thus maintaining the same level of sound as when the keyboards dominated. A modern day ELP!
One country that has always appreciated classical progressive rock is Italy. Ezra Winston, on
Night-Storm, taken from Ancient Afternoon, play a brand of music that has its roots firmly entrenched in bands like King Crimson
and Genesis. This is immediately apparent with the flute introduction, much like I Talk To the Wind
(King Crimson). Definitely one of the album's highlights.
The compilation comes to a close with Croisade Pour Olympia, by XII Alfonso from their album Claude Monet: 1883-1889. The music may best be described as rock music with a light jazzy feel. The music is actually very placid and relaxing with some delightful guitar work set mainly in an acoustic setting with delicate flute playing.
Priced as a low budget CD, this album allows the listener to view at a glance many of the new releases on the Musea Records Label for 2001. It is a worthy introduction for anyone wishing to see what is new on the progressive rock scene.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Anyone's Daughter - Danger World
Anyone's Daughter are back with a new studio album, this being their sixth album. The last two studio albums were released in the early eighties with the band resorting to German lyrics, a contrast to their first albums from the seventies. This time round the band have resorted to an English based album with the musical style varying considerably from what they had previously offered. In fact one can state that with their double album Requested Document Live 1980-1983, the band closed the totally progressive chapter of their musical history. Instead they have turned to a more modern approach much like bands as Marillion have done, though this has greatly affected their music.
In fact one must also mention that the band has also featured a radical change in the line-up. Two musicians are constant features of the Anyone's Daughter lineup and these are Matthia Ukmer (keyboards, b.vocals) and Uwe Karpa (guitars). The new members are André Carswell (lead vocals), Peter Kumpf (drums) and Raoul Walton (bass).
As I have already mentioned the band has decided to modernise their approach and resort to a more accessible and decidedly more commercial sound. This has also resulted in an overall loss in their progressive touch. Out of the window have gone the lengthy pieces and characteristically complex music. Instead we get tracks that would be on par with bands such as Toto (I'll Never Walk That Road Again), latter day Bad Company (The Glory) and Gotthard (Good Gone Bad). The band even introduce a folk element on Wheel Of Fortune such as Fish had done with Internal Exile though I must admit that the biggest insult on the whole of the album is their destruction of the track Moria, a track that the band had already released and was till this date their most successful single.
A times the progressive roots of the band do tend to surface such as on Helios which unfortunately sticks out like a sore thumb on this album devoid of progressive rock influences. In fact it does remind the listener what Anyone's Daughter were capable of with their Genesis influenced progressive rock that featured some delightful keyboard work coupled with accessible hooks.
Having heard the earlier albums of this German band, I admit to feeling very disappointed to what this album offers. Maybe after such a long time since the last Anyone's Daughter studio album the remaining members should have opted for a different name and not maintained and tarnish the original band name which has quite a reputation, especially amongst German prog-rock lovers. Having said all this criticism, the album is well executed with some crisp production and the music is easily accessible. However, do not let the name deceive you, their is absolutely no comparision between what the band released in their previous incarnations and this one.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10.
Speed Limit 35 - The Speed Of Sound
Every now and again the Internet and sites such as MP3.com present some very interesting bands, and Speed Limit 35 is just one of these bands. The Speed Of Sound is the band's debut release and covers a wide range of musical genres from traditional progressive rock to a more guitar orientated, almost alternative styled rock. The band consists of Steve Rabeler (guitars, bass, drum programming), Mitch Gorman (keyboards, guitars, bass, drum programming) and Judilynn Niedercorn (vocals) together with help on various tracks from John Walker (guitars, e-bow). For those familiar with fellow progsters, Persephone's Dream, Niedercorn was vocalist with the band on their 1997 release, Evening Mirage.
The album itself can be divided into two separate styles and arrangements; the instrumental tracks and those that include vocals. When looking at the album from a progressive point of view the tracks that are of particular appeal are those that include Niedercorn's vocals, as the instrumentals (Throb, GuiTarPits, Binky, Phuzz and HTML) are mostly reliant on the guitar work of the remaining three musicians. Some, such as Throb, HTML and GuiTarPlus owe more to bands from an alternative rock setting while tracks such as Binkyhave a delightful atmospheric touch to them. Phuzz, on the other hand, sees the band in a more adventurous setting with the main musical focus being the various drum patterns that can be introduced within the track.
What should be most appealing to progressive rock fans are those tracks that involve Judilynn Niedercorn. In fact it seems that her involvement brings out a very different character in the other musicians. Whereas before the music seemed to be more guitar orientated, now we find the music somewhat more languid and melodious. Tracks such as August lead one to think of bands such as Renaissance without the intricate piano work whilst pieces such as Siren Song sees the band moving towards a more traditional folk sound. The instruments might not be suggesting this, but it is the way Niedercorn goes about her vocals. Comparisons could easily be made with other female vocalists such as Sue Frasier, fresh from her recent collaboration with Ken Baird, and also at other times with Heather Findlay (Mostly Autumn). Having said that, not all the tracks with Niedercorn's vocals are progressive in nature with Lean A Lttle Closer having more in common with bands such as Little Feat than progressive rock.
Strangely enough though the music of this band is extremely endearing to most progressive rock fans, it is possibly difficult to categorise the band as a strict progressive rock band! Earlier on last year I also had the opportunity to review a similar styled band that played a fine line between alternative and progressive rock and the band was called Acumen. Till now they were possibly the only band who seemed to thread that fine line. Well it seems that now there are 2 bands that can fall within my categorisation of alternative progressive rock (or progressive alternative rock!). With the band seemingly sponsored by MP3.com, one can find a number of samples of the album on the site and I recommend that you do just this as they will surely please a large number of you. Furthermore the band are also posting samples of their new album on their Website to allow interested people to have the opportunity to shape the music of their next album. Give the band a try and you won't be disappointed.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Soft Monster - Floating
Soft Monster comprise basically of two musicians: Alan Emslie on drums and percussion and Euan Drysdale on keyboards. On this their debut CD, they are joined by guitarist John Irvine, who guests on all the evenly numbered tracks. All the tracks featured on Floating are instrumentals and are possibly best catagorised within the Progressive and Jazz Rock idioms.
An album of sharp contrast and presumably one that is reflected by the bands name. The keyboard sections in general are atmospheric (Soft) and chordally based, forming if you like, a canvas for the stronger (Monster) rhythmic sections and are probably best illustrated in the opening track Ooger. The drums just sort of explode after the delicate dreamy introduction and ares reminiscent of perhaps Rush or Genesis. It is, infact, Alan Emslie's drumming that is the mainstay of the album, not only is it dynamic and tasteful but throughout many listenings I was constantly aware of the meticulous detail towards the recording of the drum parts and the clarity and precision within each.
The second track is Da Monstas and is one of the highlights from the CD - opening with a "funky" slap synth bass riff which leaps into a groove that just pulls you along. The added instrumentation from the guitar not only gives a rocky edge to the piece but the fluidity of the themic solo section is splendid. Equally engaging was Floating, the title track and as it's name suggests is an nicely atmospheric, moody track with gently subtle string parts, sparse reverberant piano and minimal, but effective, drums and percussion. This nicely took the CD down before the mid tempo Pushing Free, a track with a driving beat and featuring the lead guitar of John Irvine with shades of a Dave Gilmour type solo.
Next was another good track, the strangely titled, Doughnut Warden with an almost ballad type quality to it. Something of a missed opportunity I felt here, as this surely must be a great track to solo over? The album continues in a similar vein as the opening tracks, although slightly more laid back now and the three remaining tracks now feature more percussion parts from Alan Emslie. The strong keyboard layering that is present throughout continues into the final track Three Rooms and again there are some tasty guitar passages.
Floating was an album that grew on me the more I listened to it. The production was superb, especially the drum and percussion sounds. What for me did not raise Floating into a great album, was it just seemed to lack something, and several listenings were necessary to pinpoint this. Although rhythmically excellent and the musicianship great, the lack of variation and melody seems to hold the key and as it stands, I see Floating being more of a musicians album than one of greater appeal. A quick look on the website tells us that Soft Monster plan to tour in 2002, with John Irvine on guitar, and possibly with guest vocalist. Perhaps this extended line-up may provide the answer?
Conclusion : 7 out of 10