Reviews in this issue:
Dream Theater - Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence
Disc 2: Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence (42.04) [i. Overture (6.50), ii. About To Crash (5.51), iii. War Inside My Head (2.08), iv. The Test That Stumped Them All (5.03), v. Goodnight Kiss (6.18), vi. Solitary Shell (5.48), vii. About To Crash (reprise) (4.04), viii. Losing Time / Grand Finale (6.00)]
With all of Dream Theater's previous albums the capacity of the CD was filled to its max, so it was only a matter of time that the material for an album wouldn't fit on a single cd anymore. The six songs on Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence are spread out over two discs, with the whole second disc being the title-track, clocking in at just over 42 minutes!!
The album begins where its predecessor Scenes From A Memory ended, with the noise of a finished record. Some spooky church bells toll and the opening track The Glass Prison starts in a very Metallica-like way (with a strong echo of A Change Of Seasons). The song is the heaviest the band has ever done and demands a lot from the listener who is less charmed of nearly straightforward metal. This track will probably do well with fans of (older) Metallica, but also Biohazard of Sepultura. The vocals sound different than on previous albums, James LaBrie's voice is often distorted and there is a larger role for the vocals of Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci. To top it off there are many other tricks that you wouldn't expect on a Dream Theater album, like a scratching record and grunt vocals (both briefly though).
In all The Glass Prison is a large step in a completely different direction than anything on Scenes From A Memory. I'm not sure whether it serves as a good opener though, it might scare first-listeners off...
Blind Faith is a lot mellower and harks back to the style of their 1997 album Falling Into Infinity. It sounds quite a bit like a combination of Peruvian Skies and Trial Of Tears.
Misunderstood sounds a lot more 'fresh' again. Although the song is a bit overlong and the ending drags on for at least three minutes too long, the first six minutes are very enjoyable. It starts with a very quiet intro, which builds up slowly to a full-bodied climax with a classic Dream Theater sound. But here too are many 'modern' sound-effects to be found.
The Great Debate is another classic Dream Theater track: epic, heavy and effects-laden. The interesting lyrics deal with the question as to how much science should affect the natural course of life and health (e.g. cloning, research on living creatures etc.).
The role of Jordan Rudess has to be pointed out here, as he frequently uses classic prog-sounds that really add to the music. There are quite a bit of mellotron-type chords and even an early-Marillion style Moog(-like) solo.
The last track of the first disc, Disappear, is once again a step in a whole new direction, with another lead-role for Jordan Rudess. While its atmosphere is quite similar to that of Space Dye Vest (off Awake), the music enters a territory commonly inhabited by bands like Porcupine Tree or even Radiohead! Distorted piano, weird vocals, slide guitar effects and mellotron sounds. Die-hard Dream Theater fans probably couldn't care less for this track (as it's a ballad) but I like it a lot. This one track (the shortest on the album) nearly contains more originality than all the other tracks combined. It's just not standard Dream Theater territory, that's all.
Any other band would have stopped here. Fifty-five minutes is a respectable length for an album. But not for Dream Theater, they have just "one" more song up their sleeves. One little track called Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence with the length of no less than 42 minutes. For comparisons, that's the length of Marillion's Misplaced Childhood!!
The track starts with a seven minute overture in which Rudess conjures an entire orchestra out of his keyboard. Although it sounds nice, I can't help but wonder what it would have sounded like if the band had hired a real orchestra for this section. At times the instruments -especially the horns- sound a bit too fake.
The first half of the track contains many classic Dream Theater moments, and isn't all that bad, but somehow leaves an unsatisfying taste in my mouth. It sounds as if the band is trying too hard to create an epic - much in the same way as Transatlantic's latest album sounded too forced. The track features all the cliches of an epic; an overture, recurring themes, and two pages of lyrics.
And although nice, it doesn't get overly interesting until part five, Goodnight Kiss. This beautiful ballad contains fine, almost frail vocals of LaBrie and one of the best vocal melodies of the album.
After a mellow three minutes John Petrucci repeats the main theme of Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence in a beautiful guitar solo and the pace picks up again in an interlude that at times seems to have come straight out of a Pendragon track, with pounding bass-drums, sound-effects, mellotron and guitarwork very much in the vein of Nick Barrett. The transition to part six, Solitary Shell, is a for Dream Theater-standards very simple one. But in its simplicity it is stunningly beautiful. When I heard this for the first time, my first reaction was "damn this is good!". Unfortunately it was the first time I thought this, already some 25 minutes into the song.
Solitary Shell is a light-hearted song, with more than a hint of Yes's Wonderous Stories and is deservedly chosen as first single off the album. (even though it is, like most of the Dream Theater singles, completely different from most of the rest of their music).
The last two parts of the song keep up the quality of Goodnight Kiss and Solitary Shell leading to a satisfactory ending.
In conclusion I'd say Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence is a worthy follow-up to Scenes From A Memory, although not as good. John Petrucci is as good as ever, as is Mike Portnoy, although his drums (and especially his bass-drum) are a bit too high in the mix. His firing fast bass-drum is so heavy, that when played too loud, this album could cause nausea. John Myung is also higher in the mix than on the previous album, which is good, although his sound is still sometimes drowned out by Portnoy's drums.
As I wrote in my review of Scenes From A Memory, I like James LaBrie's vocals better when he sings quietly, rather than his screaming style. Unfortunately, on this album there are a lot more of his screaming moments, and also many times his vocals are distorted. I have the feeling he can do so much more than he shows on this album.
Jordan Rudess deserves another mention as he is just everywhere, and with so many different styles of playing. Also, I think his input has a lot to do with the album sounding quite fresh and innovative at times.
The main thing lacking on Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence, in comparison to its predecessor, is good vocal melodies. The best way to compare the album is as a combination between Falling Into Infinity and Awake. As said, the 42-minute title track is the inevitable highlight of the album, but misses too much to become a real prog-classic.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Romislokus - Between Two Mirror's
Admittedly, Russia is one country where my knowledge of progressive rock is near to nil, bar a few bands. Thus the album Between Two Mirror's was received with eager anticipation and I must admit to have been pleasantly surprised. The band has been around for about three years or so and is composed of Evgeniy Goerlov (keyboards, vocals), Irina Yunakovskaya (cello), Mihail Voronov (lead guitar), Mihail Brovarnik (bass) and Yuriy Smolnikov (rhythm guitar, vocals). Stylistically the band describe themselves as a progressive rock/ambient band, a description that could be attributed to them though one could also add that there is an element of alternative rock that forms an integral part of their style.
Being Russian, the vocals are also sung in Russian and though this could be a drawback to those who like to focus on the lyrical content of an album, the language does not form any barrier to the enjoyment of the album. In fact Gorelov's vocals are carried out in an almost narrative style that blends in with the mysterious and dark nature of the music. Furthermore, my impression of former Eastern block bands is their attempt to re-create the sound of the seventies by rehashing material that sound so much like various other classical bands. However, Romislokus have managed to create an alternative and new style, that could still be attributed to various influences, though they manage to sound so very fresh and different.
From the opening track, Cold, one realises that the band place a lot of importance on the ambient sound created by the keyboards. Sometimes the music does tend to hark back to the kraut-rock days of bands such as Can and Kraftwerk, and possibly the reason for the song being called Cold was the very fact that much of the works by these greats was described as being too cold and calculated. Furthermore the use of the keyboard effects, and the occasional drum machine, does at times remind me of a latter day Depeche Mode and even Talk Talk, especially on the The Wood Cutter.
With Give A Glance the band start to come out of their shell of what seems to be calculated and somewhat over-cautious music. Not that there is a radical change in the programming, yet the addition of the cello to the whole musical aura gives the track a much wider listening range. Whereas with various other prog-bands such a diversion occurs via a guitar and sometimes a violin solo, Romislokus introduce a rich cello sound which further adds to the overall melancholy as well depth of the band's sound.
At times the band do try bands such as U2 in their adaptation of computer enhanced effects that are merged together with their rock sound as happens on The Thunderstorm Is Coming, though it is with The Mist that the album suddenly takes a turn towards a darker and moodier approach. The sound has a Goth-like touch to it reminding me at times of bands such as Paradise Lost as various effects are merged in with the increasingly harder edged guitar work.
As the rest of the album remains within the same ambient soundscape with Floydian surroundings amidst Eno-esque effects and at times Van Morrisonian vocalisations, we come to the closing number, Three Colours, which is in my opinion the highlight of the album. This track explores all the musical avenues that were portrayed on this album with the addition of some harrowing female vocals that further add to the dramaticity of the band's music.
Between Two Mirror's is not your normal run of the mill progressive rock album with lengthy solos and complex time signatures. However the modus operandi of this band with the delicate introduction of various instruments as the cello make this album a must for those who like the rather more subtle side of progressive rock such as bands like After Crying and possibly even Brian Eno. Don't let the fact that the lyrics are in Russian discourage you as the way they are executed allows them to blend in perfectly with the music of the album.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Curtis Reid - Omniumgatherum
Omniumgatherum, guitarist Curtis Reid's new album is, as the name implies, a showcase for his rock roots which he fuses with various other eclectic styles to give a musical collection that flits between some delightful rocking numbers and other more placid easy listening jazz pieces. Omniumgatherum actually means "a miscellaneous collection (as of things or persons)". Helping Reid out on this album are Mario Mendivil (bass), Gary Bruzzese (drums), Dan Tomlinson of Acoustic Academy (drums), Guy LeBlanc of Nathan Mahl (Hammond organ) and Aimee Davis (voice).
The album in fact opens with an abstract number, Reciprocity, which betrays the combination of jazz and rock that the album features as it merges into Application For President which has a Satriani/Vai touch to it, though not as heavy hitting. One of the most pleasant features of this album is the way Reid goes about introducing various styles on different tracks without causing the flow of the music to jar.
The Ghosts Of Narcissism has a Pat Methney/Tunnels touch to it. In fact Pat Methney seems to have been an inspiration to this guitarist as he even includes Unquity Road by the said guitarist on Somewhere Between Theory & Forgiveness. This last track also feature Aimee Davis' harrowing vocals which coupled with Reid's play on harmonics broaden the sonic atmosphere giving it an eerie feeling.
Another feature of Reid's repertoire is his blues influences. These surface on tracks such as Time Won't Change For Places To Wait which though mellow evokes the touches of fellow guitarists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jeff Healey. James Marshall is much more of a blues stomper and is the first (and only) track to feature Reid on vocals.
The album comes to a close with (They Say) The West Is Nice This Time Of Year which is the longest and most placid of the tracks on the album. Once again the references are made to the works of musicians such as Pat Methney. All in all the album might come as a bit of a surprise to those who had Reid's previous work which had a stronger rock reference and which would have pleased the progressive rock lover somewhat more. The execution of the album is great but will be of interest to those who like to hear the mellower side of jazz. In progressive rock terms, there is very little to harp on about on this album.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
Artsruni - Live Cuts 2000-2001
Music from an Armenian sextet, Artsruni, their name being derived from founder member, vocalist and guitarist Vahan Artsruni. Formed in 2000, the Artsruni project encompasses established musicians from their country who have meshed into an interesting and accomplished band. The Live Cuts 2000/2001 album, as the title suggests are recordings from concerts over that period of time. Primarily two concerts, the first six tracks taken from Lost and Found and four additional tracks which feature larger ensembles and the Ethnophonica (Suite, Part III) played with the Armenian National Symphonic Orchestra - more of this later.
The first six tracks are mainly instrumental and at times have an almost English folk rock essence to them. The melding of acoustic guitar, flute and electric guitar over complex arrangements conjured images of Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull. Nice interplay both counterpointal and harmonic between the lead guitar and flute further add to this comparison and finally on this point, recognition of flautist Arman Manukyan who's playing forms such a pivotal roll within Artsruni's music.
Similarities can also be drawn to some of the Italian progressive bands, where the instrumentalists feature strongly throughout the arrangements. This is nicely illustrated in the opening tune Aditon and here all of the above elements are fused nicely together. The piece opens gently with acoustic guitar and builds in intensity, each of the musicians joins in the composition and takes a small solo section - a superb opening track. A slight disappointment was that the track faded suddenly and I wondered what I had missed.
The next two pieces, Anush-Garun and The Lost Symbol follow in a similar vein and further develop the format set out in the previous track. The rhythm section is extremely tight and worthy of note is the playing of Artour Molitvin on bass guitar, who's improvisational skills lend a jazz-rock element to the sound. One of the striking features of Artsruni's music is the space within the arrangements and it was only on the second more detailed listening that the reason for this became evident - no keyboards.
The tempo is taken down for the next two tracks Barev and Im Ser, both of which feature excellent solo sections from guitarist Vahagn Amirkhanyan, as well as more mellow sounds from both the flute and fretless bass. The final section of Im Ser and the gentle ballad Yes Em which follows are our first introduction to vocals on the CD. Sung in Artsruni's native tongue - his vocals have a warm timbre to them and hopefully on future recordings will be included more. As with all of the tunes on the Lost and Found section of the album the band play well and cohesively together and despite a couple of minor mixing anomolies - the percussion section in Barev and a lack of some sonic quality throughout the recording - this is a worthy addition to any CD collection.
It is this point that the album changes and we have now moved to another concert. Gone are the elements that make up Lost and Found and are now replaced with the orchestrated concert. The first of the pieces, Patranq opens with strident strings and a mournful flute section - a melancholic tune that did grow on me the more times I played it. Sadly, however, the next two tracks did absolutely nothing for me and as the songs were so unlike the first section of the album it is difficult to evaluate them within the same parameters. The two songs were not greatly recorded and had a middley sound to them. I did think that perhaps these tracks had been added to lengthen what would have been a short album. On a longer CD these may have been bonus tracks.
Salahatak closes the album, a warm and gentle ballad with acoustic guitar, soft vocals and light strings - a song full of atmosphere.....
An enjoyable album well worth checking out. Artsruni are currently recording a studio album, and hopefully we will be able to review this too.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Popol Vuh - Future Sound Experience
On 29 December 2001, the musical world learnt of the death due to a stroke of Florian Fricke, the innovative German composer who was also leader of progressive electronic band Popol Vuh. Ironically, the twenty seventh album of this band, Future Sound Experience, was scheduled to be released just two weeks later. In actual fact this album was originally recorded in 1993, and had a limited release then. The version that is now being made available has been totally remastered with additional musical links added in to make the various tracks flow into one another giving the album a much more cohesive feel.
The band name is derived from the sacred book of the Quiche Indians and musically is on par with various other fellow German electronic bands such as Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel. Contrary to the initial albums released under the Popol Vuh moniker, the music has ceased to become a total band effort with the brunt of the music borne by Fricke himself. This has also caused the music to shift towards a more electronic and New Age style.
As is common with many German electronic composers the music can be considered to consist of many different layers all of which merge into one another. Changes within the music are introduced at a slow pace and occur unobtrusively though the overall emphasis remains on ambience. At times there is the hint of use of musique concrete as happens on the opening Gutes Land with the basic sound created by the use of choral. The synthesizer is not the only instrument utilised, though it is the prime mover. Tracks like Kleiner Krieger feature fragments of guitar and the utilisation of samples of African percussion
In fact the main difference between tracks is the various samples that are introduced within the framework to give the track that certain individuality. Morgengruss seems to have a whole choir singing in the background as the percussion goes on in the foreground and could have fit snugly onto the soundtrack of Ennio Morricone's 'The Mission'. Hungern Und Duersten has a more dramatic feel to it with the male voices dominating giving the sound a more Dracula-ish touch, a touch accentuated by the use of bell chimes and Gregorian-like chanting.
With Liedklagen the music shifts towards Middle Eastern influences with the sounds of sitars and tablas while Reines Herz features a mixture of the choral work that one found on tracks like Morgengruss, though there is a folk touch to the music with guitar and what sounds like wind instruments. Weinen Und Lachen is, in my opinion, the most pleasant track on the album with interjections of piano and the occasional touch of guitar and sitar which are blended in a most enjoyable way, a style maintained on the closing Tanz which is also the only track which features what can be termed as drumming as understood in the Western world.
The music of Popol Vuh may not be the easiest music to listen to and is definitely not the most accessible. On the other hand it is a must for those people who like music from bands such as Tangerine dream, Ash Ra Tempel and lately Faymann And Fripp.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.