Reviews in this issue:
Greenslade - 2001 - Live The Full Edition
It had come as a pleasant suprise whilst leafing through a copy of Wonderous Stories, now of course the classic Rock Society Magazine, to see that after a long absence, Greenslade were touring once more. One of the dates from the tour was held at the HLC (Rotherham UK), organised by the Classic Rock Society (CRS), where in fact this CD was recorded on 10 February 2001. Originally available featuring only four tracks from the concert and now released in its entirety.
Originally formed in late 1972 by Dave Greenslade (Keyboards) and Tony Reeves (Bass) from the then defunct Colosseum - the drumming slot was filled by Andrew McCulloch who had done stints with, and among others, King Crimson and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown - and the final ingredient being Dave Lawson (Keyboards & Vocals) from Episode Six. The line-up took the unusual step of incorporating two keyboard players and sacrificing the inclusion of a guitarist, this first period for Greenslade produced four studio albums. However it was not to be until the new millennium that the fifth studio album was released, Large Afternoon, re-uniting the two founder members Dave Greenslade and Tony Reeves. This time around joined by John Young (Keyboards & Vocals) who's work seems to be never ending, Asia, Fish, John Wetton and Carl Palmer/Qango and more, along with work on his own material. The drum position for the Large Afternoon was taken by Chris Cozens, however it was John Trotter who toured with the band promoting the album and therefore appears here.
The album opens with Cakewalk from the band's last studio album, a solid driving arrangement, with nice rhythm changes from the anthemic to the delicate - strong and cohesive playing from all and expressive solos from the keyboard department. As has always been the case with Greenslade comparisons to Emerson Lake & Palmer are inevitable - frustrating no doubt for the band, but on this occasion expressed in the most complimentary terms. From the new to the old and a track from the band's first album follows, Feathered Friends, again opening strongly, although this time with a more R&B feel. The song is taken down from the intro and remains in this vein throughout - featuring John Young on vocals - the middle solo section is very tastefully executed.
One of the striking aspects of Greenslade is the excellent choice of keyboard sounds throughout, perhaps best illustrated in the third piece, Catalan, opening with an almost classical guitar notion, before leaping into the sprightly, re-occuring main theme - interspersed with some fine bass soloing from Tony Reeves. One of my favourite pieces from the album. From here we go to the first of two tracks from Large Afternoon - No Room - But a View a gentle track, at times reminiscent of Al Stewart's The Year of the Cat with a Camelesque song arrangement from Breathless. After the gentle opening section the tempo is lifted for the second piece from Large Afternoon, this time the title track, an infectious keyboard riff interlaced with superb soloing from all, in this more prog/fusion piece. It is in these instrumental areas that Greenslade most excel for me - so into another major highlight from the album Sundance a gentle piece, albeit with some changes in rhythm, a lilting track with an atmospheric Hispanic sounding theme - the middle section featuring some superlative keyboard soloing.
The following three relatively new vocal pieces Wherever I Go (as yet un-released on a studio album), On Suite and the bluesy In the Night show Greenslade in a different light, a more accessible AOR style. Carefully crafted and arranged songs but, and there is always a but, throughout this recording I did not warm to John Young's vocal delivery. It was not helped here by the lack of any backing vocals, present on the studio versions. Having said this In the Night is superbly atmospheric.
So we move onto the close of the evening and two tracks that totally capture what must have been a truly wonderful night. With Joie de Vivre and Spirit of the Dance you can almost touch the atmosphere, sense the aura - if truth be known it is that distinct Hammond organ sound that does it for me, here in full flow. The first of the tracks being much in the ELP structured/improvised approach they adopted to round of their sets (without the knife throwing and keyboard gymnastics of course). The second has all the atmosphere of the Last Night of the Proms - rousing, infectious, stirring - you can almost see the bodies swaying, moving and dancing in unison. A fitting climax to the concert.
I must confess to being one of those, in the past, who dismissed Greenslade as an ELP clone, rather than what they really are - contemporaries - and though similarities do exist between the two keyboard orientated sounds, in retrospect, I could easily have enjoyed both bands equally. A must for Greenslade fans, but for those less familiar or unsure, this recording serves nicely as a "best of", featuring live versions of tracks from all five studio albums and is a good introduction to the music of Greenslade.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Mister Kite - All In Time
Sweden appears to be a very fruitful country for progressive rock and metal the last couple of years. Mr. Kite is another band that stems from Sweden, and this is their full length debut album (they have already released a couple of demo's).
For a debut album, the quality is outstanding. I liked the mixing and production, no complaints there. Also, the vocalist is excellent. He can do a lot with his voice and has the perfect metal intonation in places where this is effective, yet he manages not to overdo it. The music, prog metal as you might have guessed by now, is difficult to describe in terms of other bands. Its sounds all very familiar but without a very clear reference. I think that the music is closest to Threshold. Also, hints of Queensryche can be heard.
The strongest track on the album is God Knows I Know, part of a four-piece composition called The Diary Of A Stranger. With the female oooohhh-aaaahhhh background choir it sounds like a metal version of a Floyd track ;-). It also contains an excellent keyboard solo and combined with the pounding rhythm guitar, the link to Threshold is quickly made! The same can be said about Another Me, a very good metal track. As a matter of fact, The Diary Of A Stranger tracks are all very strong and present the best compositions on the album. Take the next track Rain for instance. This goes back to more "normal" metal in the style of the Empire album of Queensryche, in my opinion a very good album, but not due to its overly complex compositions.
One of the most progressive tracks on the album is probably the opening track All In Time, which has some nice rhythmic tricks up its metal sleeve. The tracks not mentioned so far are mostly more regular melodic metal tracks, quite nice but they, to me, have no special twist. It is a pity that the band does not experiment a little bit more with keyboards, because everywhere they do use keyboards, it really adds something extra to the tracks. The closing section of the album Reflections is a very strong keyboard part, where the melodies of the previous parts are reoccurring in indeed a very reflective way.
If you like Threshold, I think you should definitely check these Scandinavians out. The album has enough speed to keep interesting and enough resting points not to be overwhelmed. A very nice debut, with a good production and a very stylish booklet. Well done!
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Flamborough Head - One for the Crow
This is the third release from Flamborough Head, who I have to admit to knowing little about and therefore some research has been necessary to familiarize myself with the band and it's history. This done I can tell you that some personnel changes have occurred since the bands last album and in come Margriet Boomsma (Vocals, Flutes & Recorders) and now as a fully fledged member Eddie Mulder (Electric, Acoustic & Classical Guitars).
The album opens with the title track - lush strings forming the opening theme, nice changes within the dynamics before the introduction of the vocal sections. Magriet Boomsma has a distinct folk like quality to her voice and its introduction to the track was a contrast to the symphonic opening section - fine backing vocals help reinforce a strong Folk Rock notion. One for the Crow is the first of two lengthy opening tracks, both with solid guitar themes and nicely orchestrated string movements setting the tone for the album. The second of the tracks, New Shoes follows a similar pattern between the vocal and instrumental sections, a similar tempo and again with a complex middle section, amply displaying the obvious talents of each of the musicians - shades of Tony Banks and Genesis from Edo Spanninga in the keyboard department.
Track three is the first of two instrumental pieces, the first and the shorter, is the gentle Separate played principally by Eddie Mulder on classical guitar with accompaniment from Margriet on recorders, I believe, an excellent piece. From this we are taken into Daydreams a much fuller instrumental with numerous changes in style, medieval, folk, rock ballad and although the chord sequence is fairly predictable at times it allows some fine guitar work from Eddie. These pieces were probably my favourites from the album, gently atmospheric and varied in approach.
Nightlife picks up the pace and brings me to one minor criticism, that the tracks although varied in construction did follow a similar tempo throughout. This aside Nightlife and the final song Limestone Rock are strong pieces showing Margriet Boomsma in more varied and dynamic roles, almost "Musical" at times. Couple this with her delicate, infectious flute and recorder playing surely this must be a huge plus to the band. And yet again two fine solos from Eddie Mulder - this man is tasteful and his style and bluesy feel did bring to mind Dave Gilmour. Sandwiched between these two songs is another gentle instrumental Old Forest this time on electric guitar and a flute accompaniment - lovely. And finally the concluding pieces played on classical guitar New Shoes - a) Old Shoes Reprise and b) Pure 16th of June.
Throughout One for the Crow I couldn't quite make up my mind if the verse-chorus vocal sections worked with the distinct and progressive nature of the rest of the material, the two didn't quite mesh for me. Granted it made the music more accessible and gave greater variation, but the two elements seemed a little at odds. However this is the first recording together with the new line-up and the combination of both folk and rock elements, along with the fullness of the symphonic sound could quite easily set Flamborough Head aside from the others.
All in all this is a good album with catchy melodies, strong instrumentation and a grandiose sound, at times titanic, in others delicate and textured. Certainly from what I have read, One for the Crow, is a step towards a more commercial AOR sound, but still retaining the essence that is "Prog". I am not suggesting this is necessarily a bad thing and on the evidence here I can see a wider audience for Flamborough Head in the future.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Mind's Eye - A Work Of Art
Again a Swedish band...man, they're popping up like mushrooms over there. OK, granted: Mind's Eye has been around a bit longer already. There previous album ...Waiting For The Tide was reviewed by Mark a while ago and now they're back with A Work Of Art. Bit of a strange title for a prog metal album, but it probably represents what they wanted to create. With their mixture of Dream Theater, Fates Warning and Queensryche, they are indeed moving in the territory of the more challenging compositions.
Courage Within opens a bit Queen-like, with harmony vocals, only to enter into a
more Dream Theater-like section. The vocals are of sufficient quality as are the rest of the instruments. A nice
opening, with a complex composition in which especially the rhythmic section has gotten quite some attention.
A Moment of Honor is more in the Fates Warning style, and calmer then the previous track. Especially the combination
of background and lead vocals works very effectively here. Keyboards could have been a bit stronger though, as they
are pushed relatively to the background of the mix.
Roll the Dice is more a progressive rock track then prog metal. It vaguely reminded me of Collage, at least as far as the keyboard sounds are concerned. The calm ballad Room with a View starts as do all the other tracks with some sound effects, this time of a crashing car and intensive care sounds. This short piano ballad then enters into Shallow Water, not the most remarkable track on the album. Then suddenly a style which you wouldn't expect pops up: My Kindred Soul sounds IQ like! The opening bars reminded me of The Narrow Margin from the Subterranea album. Otherwise the track is not too interesting. The Shape of Salvation is an average track in the style of the German prog metal bands. You have guessed the style of the rest of the tracks by now. Unfortunately nothing really spectacular happens on the remainder of the album either...
A nice but not overwhelming album. Nowadays there are a lot of prog metal bands out there and it has become increasingly difficult to rise above the average. Even though none of the tracks are bad, none of them, maybe with the exception of the first are truly outstanding either. Packaging, artwork, production and mix are all okay, but I missed that one special track that can make an album worthwhile.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
After Forever - Emphasis / Who Wants To Live Forever
It would be unfair to say that After Forever tries to lift along with the current success of Within Temptation, however, the average musically-ignorant journalist or DJ will most likely think so. And not entirely unjust, as similarities between the two bands are plentiful - dark, gothic rock with a classically trained female vocalist wearing beautiful dresses, to name just the obvious - and of course, now Within Temptation have become very successful in Europe, probably even The Gathering, pioneers of the genre, will be compared to them. For the people who have been asleep the past two months, Within Temptation managed something that only three prog bands have done in the past 20 years: score a top-10 hit in Holland (Genesis in 1992, Yes in 1983 and Pink Floyd in 1980), so a gothic prog-metal revival may be imminent.
So I can only say it is a wise decision to release this single. A (commercially) even wiser decision is to make it a double A-side single, with as second track, a cover of the Queen song Who Wants To Live Forever (the secret to hit success, cover a well-known track rather than releasing original material - worked well for bands like Alien Ant Farm and Madhouse after all). So for people not familiar with the band this serves as a bit of a recognition.
To start with Who Wants To Live Forever, this is in every way an interesting cover for Prog fans, as this is credited to After Forever & Ayreon, yep that's right, it's Arjen Lucassen himself on keyboards, guitars and also taking care of the production. Regular Ayreon vocalist Damian Wilson comes in as guest vocalist, singing of most of the Freddy Mercury parts, while Floor Jansen sings (most of the) Brian May parts.
Lucassen gives the song a genuine Ayreon treatment, with his trademark space-sounds and his distinct guitar playing. The rest of After Forever are responsible for making this version a lot heavier than the original. Wilson's voice fits the song really well, although his timing is a bit off at times. Also, it seems as if they are rushing through the song, as they sing all the words and play more notes, yet they finish half a minute earlier than the original. This makes it sound a little bit messy, in my opinion it could have been more.
The other three tracks are all taken from their second album Decipher, although Imperfect Tenses is a new recording, on which Damian Wilson guests as well. I am not familiar with the original, however, I quite like this version. The duet between Wilson and Jansen works really well, in fact, better than on Who Wants To Live Forever.
Emphasis and Intrinsic are both original versions from Decipher. I think Emphasis is probably a wise decision for a single, as it is probably the most commercial sounding track of the album, whereas Intrinsic demonstrates what the band has more to offer.
To conclude this is a good introduction to the band, which also contains enough bonus material for fans who already own Decipher.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.