Reviews in this issue:
Marillion - Anorak In The UK Live
CD 2 (59.43): Between You And Me (6.11), The Great Escape (6.10), If My Heart Were a Ball It Would Roll Uphill (9.22), Waiting To Happen (5.55), Answering Machine (2.59), King (8.41), This Is The 21st Century (10.17), When I Meet God (10.08)
Tracklist EMI version: Separated Out, Quartz, Map Of The World, Out Of This World, Between You And Me, The Great Escape, King, If My Heart Were a Ball It Would Roll Uphill, Easter
A new live album from Marillion. Another one? Well, yes and no. One must not forget that many of their releases we review in this column are internet-only - sometimes even fan club-only - releases. The last official live album Marillion released was Made Again, in 1996. Since then, among the countless releases on their own Racket Records label, they have also made four studio albums (the same amount that was released between Made Again and its live predecessor The Thieving Magpie) so to put it in the words of the band: It was time for another one.
In order to make this release worthwhile for fans, and still be able to sell the album through shops (a combination that tends to be impossible nowadays) the band have decided to release two different versions of the album. Through their web site they sell the album as a double CD, containing a 24-page booklet with extensive liner notes by the band, whereas the version in the shops is only a single CD, doesn't contain all the liner notes and in no way does it add anything to the value of the Internet version. True, real collectors will go for the one exclusive track EMI demanded for their version (which Marillion duly gave them by way of their most-played and most-released song of the past decade: Easter - a pity really Kayleigh wasn't played during last tour :-)) or perhaps some go for the different cover (the Internet-only version contains some very subtle differences - among the hundreds of Barrys on the cover you can spot some Internet-only Barrys, i.e. the one from the Map of the World single, or the one from the Convention weekend) but in no way does the EMI version have much collector's value. Mind you, I even wonder whether it was such a wise move for EMI to go ahead and release their version, as in my opinion anyone who can will opt for the Intact version.
For this review, we will stick to the 2CD version of the album.
So this is their live album to mark the four studio-albums in between. However, as this album was recorded over three nights during their Anoraknophobia tour, the emphasis lies on that album, with no less than seven tracks, leaving out only The Fruit of the Wild Rose. The unholy trinity of This Strange Engine, Radiation and Marillion.com only provide respectively only one (Man of a Thousand Faces), one (Answering Machine) and two (Rich and Go!) tracks for this compilation.
The rest of the tracks are all taken from the four studio albums before that, Afraid of Sunlight (King, Out of this world and the title track), Brave (Mad and The Great Escape), Holidays in Eden (Waiting To Happen) and Seasons End is only represented on the EMI version, with Easter. On a side-note, Out Of This World is the only one of these tracks that did NOT appear on Made Again, so in terms of exclusivity they could have opted for some different tracks instead.
So far the marketing and politics, let's go to the music. First off I have to admit that I am an absolute sucker for live recordings - a natural side-effect of my love for concerts, I presume. With Marillion people like me are well-served, for despite the fact that this is only their fourth official live album, the amount of Marillion CDs I own, that contain live recordings, now totals 30 (and that is excluding bootlegs). I just prefer to hear songs in a live environment, with the whole vibe and all, even when artists have a bad night and the recordings contain some bum notes.
The album was recorded by Dave Meegan, over two nights at the Academy in Manchester and the Forum in Londen, in May 2001, using his multi-track recording track, the same which had been used to record the Brave shows in 1994 (which you can find on Made Again)
Some of the tracks really benefit when played live, like for instance opener Separated Out. In my opinion this song sounds a lot better when played live, as didn't really care for the studio version. The same goes for my least favourite track off Anoraknophobia: If My Heart Were A Ball It Would Roll Uphill - I don't like the track at all, in its studio form, however, when played live the transitions between the different sections just sound better and the whole thing starts to sound more like a song, rather than some cut and paste job.
Not all songs benefit from the live treatment though. Man of a Thousand Faces, for instance, sounds rather shallow, compared to its studio version, whereas I've heard too many bad performances of Afraid Of Sunlight - a great track to hear live, however, when you listen back to it there is almost always something wrong with it. In no way does the version on Anorak in the UK match that of Made Again.
The highlights of the album are the very emotional Out Of This World (the raising of Bill Campbell's boat had just happened), the always great Mad and aforementioned If My Heart Were A Ball It Would Roll Uphill.
Tracks like King and Waiting to Happen are always a treat, while we can only be happy that The Answering Machine is played in an ultra-short version. "The shortest Marillion song ever written" concludes H after its ending - thank heavens for that!
One thing I can't really place on the album is the 50-second intro before Separated Out. This collection of samples sounds quite like the bornlivedie intro on Porcupine Tree's Coma Divine, however, I can't determine whether this was played before the show, or has been created specially for this album.
The 2CD version of the album also features two bonus tracks, This Is The 21st Century and When I Meet God. These two tracks were not played during the first leg of the Anoraknophobia tour (during which this album was recorded) but they were during the second leg, when Dave Meegan wasn't around with his recording truck. The band liked the live versions of these songs so much, that they decided to re-record them in their own Racket Club, in a semi-live environment. In front of a select audience they played the songs exactly the way they played them live - with H playing guitars and percussion, Pete doing backing vocals and midi-pedals, etc - while Dave Meegan recorded the whole lot.
The result, unfortunately, isn't as good as I had hoped. The main thing missing, still, is the live vibe. Furthermore, in my memory these two tracks sounded so much better when played onstage. The extended guitar solo in When I Meet God is a lot lower in the mix than it was live (thus sounding almost similar to the original, which was so far mixed down it could barely be noticed), while This Is The 21st Century isn't all that different, only shorter.
Nonetheless, these are bonus-tracks and should be treated as such. Although not everybody may see the point of them, but at least they filled up some empty space on the cd. Now the only thing I don't understand is why they didn't include Fruit Of The Wild Rose, which was, after all, played on both recorded nights!
In conclusion, I have to say the album isn't as good as previous live albums. That is, it doesn't match the splendour of Made Again, yet it is a whole lot more consistent than The Thieving Magpie.
The best album to compare it with is their live album Piston Broke, which is only available through their web site and fan clubs. This album was basically compiled in the same way (recordings of various shows, yet all songs arranged in the order of the original set list) although Anorak In The UK is recorded in a better way. It does give a good overview of where the band is now
As BJ I'm a bit of a sucker for live albums, but not all live albums. In my personal definition a good live album should have all of the following a) a good and balanced selection of material b) superb performances c) good sound quality and d) added value compared to the studio versions of the material (this could be a different arrangement, an extended version, an interesting cover version or some other treatment that makes it different). Most of my favourite live albums score very high on these criteria (e.g. Sting's Bring on the Night, IQ's Forever Live, Porcupine Tree's Coma Divine, Marillion's Unplugged at the Walls and many Pink Floyd (bootleg) live recordings, just to name a few).
Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that this new Marillion live album doesn't score all that well on the mentioned four criteria. Let's examine. A good and balanced selection of material ? Not quite. Even though the band justify the release of Anorak in the UK by referring to the 4 studio albums that have been released since their last official live album Made Again the Anoraknophobia album is over-represented at the expense of the other 3 albums. We also get 5 songs that were already available (in superior versions) on Made Again, not to mention various other Racket releases. I understand that this would be a logical thing since the album was recorded during the Anoraknophobia tour, but it certainly doesn't make the album a representative live compilation for the last 4 albums.
Superb performances? Not quite. The band certainly doesn't play bad but in most cases the live versions are no improvements on their studio counterparts (with the possible exception of If My Balls Were a Heart ..., which even in this version still isn't a big favourite of mine). Some renditions miss a spark of passion and almost sound 'obligatory' while certain other sections are downright dodgey or uninspired (e.g. the guitar solo in the end section of When I Meet God). I've heard the band play much more enthusiastically and passionate than this. Only the rhythm section (Mosley and Trewavas) shows any kind of enthusiasm throughout the performance.
Good sound quality ? Not quite. Although the recording quality isn't all that bad the CD suffers a lot from what I'd like to call the 'Radiation Effect'. Starting with King back in the days of Afraid of Sunlight, the band has developed a love for punchy, heavy, in-your-face songs or songs performed in a rather loud arrangement. Radiation was the all-time low in this approach and I can still remember how much I disliked the fan club concert they played shortly before the release of that album. Don't get me wrong, I like the occasional heavier side of Marillion but in recent years it has resulted in a bit of a 'wall of noise' during live concerts. The live version of Quartz on this CD is a good example. All subtlety of the studio version is swept away until only a thick layer of noise remains during certain sections.
As a result of all of this I have recently preferred the acoustic live performances by Marillion above the regular live sets. As was to be expected however, Anorak in the UK features many occurrences of the 'Radiation Effect'. At the same time, I miss a lot of the emotional power of the band's music. Steven Rothery's once so legendary weeping guitar sound is not much present on this album and Mark Kelly's keyboards have taken a very supportive role compared to earlier material (which doesn't necessarily mean 'Fish era').
Added value compared to the studio versions ? Hardly any. The versions are basically all exact copies of their studio counterparts. And, as mentioned, most of them do not reach the same level of quality. I cannot think of any reason why I would prefer to play these versions above the originals (for the majority of the songs). The two live-in-the-studio recordings of When I Meet God and 21st Century, for instance, are just second rate versions of their originals. The lack of a real live sound only emphasises this.
All in all, it's not a horrible album. It's also not a real punishment to listen to, but it doesn't offer any serious amount of pleasure to me either. It just doesn't have added value for me and I can therefore not consider it a must-have for Marillion fans.
Oh, a bit of nit-picking to close this review. Mad is actually both Mad and The Opium Den, a pity they didn't play the whole of Goodbye to all That. Now that would have been a nice change of atmosphere.
Stereokimono - Ki
Stereokimono is a young band from Italy. The band started in 1988, but their debut album Ki was only recently released. The band has won several prices for their live performances, and for Ki they received a "Fuori dal Mucchio" nomination for the best Italian debut album.
Ask this band for their musical style, and they will probably say "psychophonic oblique rock". Descriptions like these are often original (and sometimes quite annoying), but hardly informative. The only thing it tells me is that the band doesn't want to be categorised. Call me simple, but this music sounds like prog rock to me...
The eight tracks on Ki are all instrumental. The overall band sound is quite modern, with lots of spacey keyboards. Most synths are played by Alex Vittorio (also on bass), who often adds some nice little jazzy or oriental elements. The drums are played by Cristina Atzori (heya, it's a girl)!
Main soloist is Antonio Severi, whose guitars (also midi guitars) mix very well with the synths. His style is quite diverse, sometimes melodious, sometimes raw jazz-rock or heavy prog, often reminding me of Robert Fripp (King Crimson), David Gilmour (Pink Floyd) or Frank Borneman (Eloy).
The album starts with a eccentric piece (called Eh! Ah!). It's rather odd rhythms than melody here, with some strange vocal effects (see title), and nice Crimsonesk guitars. As a whole this piece is not very representative for the rest of the album.
The next track (Apoteotico) starts quite dreamy, with melodious bass lines and spacey guitars and keys. Then it turns into a nice uptime proggy piece, slightly bizarre, with great energetic proggy drums and aggressive solo guitar.
In the long Phileas Fogg, the influences of Pink Floyd are very clear (Wish You Were Here era). After a cosmic opening part, a mysterious jazzy rhythm starts, followed by a very Gilmouresk guitar solo, building up in tension and becoming more and more aggressive as the piece develops.
Next is a nice uptime piece with some light jazz influences (Per Vederlo Devi Chiudere Gli Occhi). It has some very nice and raw electric jazz-rock guitars (a bit oriental), "underwater" bass lines, and an exciting "Spanish" synth solo.
I was pleasantly surprised by the next long track L'Altra Marea. In fact, this one reminded me strongly of my two favourite Eloy albums (Planets and Time to Turn). This piece has exactly the same atmosphere, with those typical spacey keyboards, and Floydian guitar soloing. Nice one!
Next is my other favourite on the album (Istanbul Di Giorno). A nice proggy piece, which has a dramatical oriental part (mainly guitars), intertwining with a more relaxing section, with some classic violin and some folky/jazzy Jethro Tull-style keyboards. Nice contrasts, and great tension building!
The album concludes with two weaker tracks. The first (Concerto N.1) is a very short interlude, with some irritating sax or door noises, and the album's closing track (Il Nulla Respira) is a not-too-special jazzy piece, a bit lighthearted and humorous.
I quite liked this album by Stereokimono. The compositions on Ki are strong, the musicianship very good and the album sound very clear. About the jazz-rock influences I mentioned: don't let them scare you off! They are clearly present on this album, but never too strong, and in fact they mix very well with the overall spacey and proggy band sound. Particularly if you like the instrumental side of Pink Floyd or Eloy, you might wish to give this band a try.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Höstsonaten - Springsong
Höstsonaten is a project by the Italian musician Fabio Zuffanti, also known from his other prog rock band, Finisterre. Hostsonaten originally started as a side project, but the recent Springsong is the band's third album.
The musicians playing on the album are: Fabio Zuffanti (composer, acoustic guitars and bass), Francesca Biagini (flute), Sergio Caputo (violin), Edmondo Romano (whistles, recorders, bagpipes, sax), Agostino Macor (keyboards), Boris Valle (piano), Robbo Vigo (piano), Stefano Marelli (guitars) and Federico Foglia (drums).
Springsong is a fully instrumental album with moody acoustic music. It has a very nice "conceptual" feel. There are no long silences in between the separate tracks, and most of them nicely float into the next one. Also, most tracks are built around several musical sections, and the main theme reoccurs in several tracks.
The instrumentation is quite acoustic, with lots of tasteful 12-string guitar. Most of the melodies are played on flute, whistles and recorders. Other solo instruments are the violin and some moody saxophones. Because of these instruments, the album has a nice peaceful and almost folky feel.
In fact, the music reminded me strongly of Anthony Phillips' first solo album, The Geese And The Ghost (Phillips played guitar with Genesis before Steve Hackett).
The band throws in some strong progressive style elements. The proggy keyboards are very tastefully done. They are often in the background (piano, string synths), but the album has quite some beautiful "mellotron moments", and some more dominant solos on organ and Moog.
I'm a bit more critical about the drums and the electric guitars. The drums are played in an typical proggy way, often with those nice "beats against the rhythm". But to be honest, I think this kind of music asks for a more subtle approach (the drums on Living Stone are a good example of what I mean). The same goes for the occasional electric guitar solo. They're quite proggy, but sometimes a bit overly dramatic (like on The Underwater).
Having said this, the album has some very strong moments, my favourite tracks being In The Open Fields (a good example of the nice "Antony Phillips" style), She Sat Writing Letters (with free style piano and sad haunting violin), The Wood Is Alive (with a wild Wakeman-esk keyboard solo) and Evocation Of Spring (with latin style percussion and exotic gypsy violin).
Springsong by Höstsonaten is a nice attempt to combine folky sounds, dreamy New Age atmospheres, and progressive rock elements. This combination works very well at times, resulting in a colourful mixture of sounds and moods. Sometimes the drums and electric guitars disturb the breakable atmosphere of the album. But all in all, Springsong is a pleasant album, recommended to those who like to hear acoustic prog rock, with lots of violin and flutes. The beautiful artwork is worth a special mention.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Montany - New Born Day
Montany is a Dutch Power Metal band, in the tradition of Helloween or Gamma Ray, or even the recently reviewed Helliose. It is smooth metal larded with plenty of keyboards and Iron Maiden like guitar riffs. As such, there is not much new under the sun. It is noteworthy that this band has been around since the late eighties and only now has the guts/possibility to record a full album. Since they had plenty time to ripe, the band sounds mature and in no way one would have expected that this is a debut solely listening to the music.
As the promo came in one of these irritating cardboard slips, I have no idea what the booklet looks like nor have I studied the lyrics, but they seem to deal more with fantasy then with real life. I could have guessed this from the rather silly cover painting of course (well, silly... let's just say it is not my style).
The album contains some fine tracks, like Back From The Sky or Pyramid Of Cheops, where the vocals are better then anywhere on the album (the vocalist is quite strong but is put a bit back in the mix, making it yet another melodic instrument). The guitar player is most impressive, the bass work is not too complex, as is the drumming. The keyboards are functional as background tapestry but never really dominate the melodic lines.
Well, normally you are used to quite extensive reviews on DPRP, but this is really everything I can tell about the album: plain Melodic Power Metal, smoothly worked out but nothing out of the ordinary.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Arrival - An Abstract of Inertia
An Abstract of Inertia is the first full release on CD by this Finnish outfit. originally a one-man project in the form of Sinkkonen, who passed around a home made tape during 1999 leading some labels to express an interest in releasing an EP. Over time, the project grew into a band whose members, aside from Sinkkonen, had all been members of the outfit 'Obsessive Art'. The first fruits of this line-up was a promo CD, entitled Icon of Worthless, which helped the band to secure a 2CD deal with the Norwegian label, Edgerunner Records.
Though their promo describes them as 'Finnish Avant-Darkness', most casual listeners would probably re-label the music as Symphonic Black/Death Metal. Whilst a quick read of the lyrics does not reveal any particularly Satanic leanings, the vocals are of the order of the harsher end of death-metal barkings which I tend to associate with the Black Metal bands. The heavy use of keyboards both to create atmosphere and as a sort of lead instrument, will draw inevitable comparisons with bands like Dimmu Borgir and their ilk, and though the music often has a base of Thrash/Death Metal, there is ample opportunity for the band to incorporate a range of influences and sounds which are altogether far more subtle.
The disk opens with an instrumental overture Prelude, which does little to prepare the listener for the brutal assault to the ears that Spacepenetrator becomes. Furious thrashing guitars and thunderously fast-paced double bass-drum pounding are bathed in lush keyboards as vocalist Sin K barks out the lyrics, which the song title being the only words comprehensible to the unatuned ear. Much of the tunes follow in a similar vein, offering slightly different blends of the same elements, yet spiced with a nice short guitar solo as during Under the Cloak of Darkness, or more frequently lovely keys or piano such as on 6th Day. The keyboards are even more prominent during Ardor for Euphoria and 6th Day providing some lovely melodies and progressive touches on top of the cacophony.
Other than the opening overture, the only other track offering some light relief is Intermezzo: Chanel 352: a truely delightful acoustic guitar tune which is really well played and shows another facet of the band's armoury, rather as Opeth did on Blackwater Park with the tune Harvest. However normal service is resumed for the concluding number An Abstract of Inertia.
Whilst I cannot claim to be an expert on those bands which utilise symphonic elements within Death/Black metal genres, this release does not strike me as one which is particularly ground breaking. That being said, the playing is excellent and the band do display a talent for mixing the symphonic and acoustic sounds in with the more vigorous thrashing for which the bands of this style are well known, particularly during Under the Cloak of Darkness and Ardor for Euphoria. Sin K produces the dark guttural sounds required and manages to sound sufficiently malevolent while the other musicians display fine capabilities (particularly the Sn TwentynineA on keys and Inzomniac on guitars). So, overall the mix holds up as well as one might hope.
The music is overall too well grounded in the Death/Black Metal genre for its progressive elements to appeal easily to the typical progressive music fan. However those fans who already enjoy the darker end of the progressive metal spectrum and who are acquainted with bands such as Opeth, Dimmu Borgir or Arcturus, might consider giving this a listen.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10