Reviews in this issue:
Yes - Symphonic Live
Disc 2: Don't Go video (4.28), Dreamtime Documentary (31.51)
When it comes to making movies there is probably no band in progland that has more experience than Yes. Collectors will have a hard time tracing all the footage the band has ever released on VHS, VCD, Laser Disc and now DVD. Highlights of their videography include the 1990 Union rockumentary (in which becomes clear that 'unification' was definitely not the word to describe that particular album and tour), the 9021live video (directed by the now Academy Award® winning director Steven Soderbergh), the countless obscure releases of their gigs in the mid-seventies or the more recently released DVD/CD double feature Keys To Ascension.
With the introduction of DVD Yes have continued the good habit of releasing live footage of virtually every tour they do. This DVD marks, in their words, the end of the Yessymphonic era. The era in which they recorded the album Magnification with a symphonic orchestra and embarked on a world tour with that same orchestra - a long held dream of the band.
The DVD comes in a beautiful package as a three-fold digipack in a cardboard sleeve. Unfortunately no liner notes, but some very cool computer generated artwork instead (and the documentary on the DVD makes up for any lack of liner notes or photos).
The first disc of this double DVD package features the entire concert in the Heineken Music Hall in Amsterdam, on November 22nd 2001 and includes all the often hilarious in-between-song talk by Jon Anderson. As with all post-Union tours of Yes, the setlist mainly focuses on the first half of the seventies, with only a few tracks taken from their new album and generally ignoring anything that was released in between. Whereas one can criticise the band on the fact that apart from the tracks off Magnification the newest track they played is 19 years old while the newest track after that stems from 1976 (!!) you have to give it to them that most of their fans only care for their music from the past anyway. Plus that the many line-up changes between the late seventies and early nineties make it that certain band-members don't have any connection with much of the material released in that period (Even though Owner Of A Lonely Heart gets played, Steve Howe does not play Trevor Rabin's guitar solo - extra touring member Tom Brislin gets the dubious honour of reproducing that solo from his keyboard, while Howe plays his own thing at the extended ending).
Yet despite the rather shortsighted choice of songs for their setlist, they have not entirely gone for the obvious. While Starship Trooper, And You And I and Roundabout have been in the setlist ever since their initial release, the band also chose for the lesser fan-favourite Ritual - Nous Sommes Du Soleil and the addition of the orchestra made them decide to play the wackiest thing they had ever written, Gates Of Delirium, for the first time in 26 years.
All throughout the gig you get the option of switching between concert footage and computer animated films. These (sometimes quite dodgy) animations fit the heavenly nature of the music and lyrics well and give a nice alternation to the concert footage. The band is probably conscious about them not being the best looking kids on the block, yet I personally prefer Chris Squire's face-pulling, Alan White's heavy-metal like banging, Jon "Pope" Anderson's waving at the audience and Professor Doctor Steve Howe's guitar lectures over these animations.
The concert is basically a whole string of highlights, with its possible climaxes being the resurrection of Gates Of Delerium and the extended bass-solo in Ritual, followed by a Drum *Quintet* (Genesis Eat Your Heart Out!). And of course, a bad version of And You And I simply does not exist.
The orchestra also puts a nice touch to the music, while at no point being distracting or too prominent (like IMO was the case with Metallica's S&M outing). And even though they initially didn't want to take a keyboardist on tour, there is still enough to do for Tom Brislin.
As can be expected from a perfectionist band like Yes the sound quality is excellent. One can choose between three formats: Dolby Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS. Although the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is actually pretty standard, it's the DTS mix that really gives you the feeling of being right in the middle of a concert hall - superb stuff.
The second disc features a music video of Don't Go (nice, but nothing fancy) and a very interesting documentary about the whole Yessymphonic concept (including some bloopers at the end). Unfortunately the extra features end here. No hidden features, bonus tracks or audio commentary - especially the latter would have been a real treat, hearing Jon Anderson's hilarious comments over the music or something like that, but with almost two hours and three quarters of excellent concert footage, one can't really complain, right?
A fantastic packaging and a must for any Yes fan. To quote the back of the DVD slipcase: "be warned, this is no dry 'rock plays classics' affair"
Conclusion: 9 out of 10.
Elegy - Principles of Pain
Elegy has been around for about ten years now. During that time, they had quite some line up changes, the most important one being the addition of Ian Parry in 1996. During their existence they have recorded five albums, an EP and their current work Principles of Pain. The music of Elegy on this album reminded me mostly of Symphony X; symphonic heavy metal. The guitar work of Patrick Rondat (who used to work with Jean Michel Jarre) is one of the most striking aspects of the album as is of course the typical vocal work of Parry. His voice is somewhat raw, but very powerful, a great metal voice indeed. In general, the compositions are nice but nothing really special, just easy to digest prog metal.
The title track, Principles of Pain, is one of the heaviest and most impressive tracks on the album. Furthermore, the album contains something for everybody, from ballads (Silence in the Wind and A Child's Breath) to Iron Maiden like rockers. The second part of the album reminded me more of Threshold, especially the tracks Hypothesis and Missing Persons, due to the combination of heavy rhytmic guitar with prominent keyboards.
In conclusion, an album which is nice to have next to your Symphony X collection, which does not contain any flaws, has been recorded and mixed perfectly but which does not contain any great surprices.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Nnecra Packê - Paracelse
Sometimes one comes across the weirdest of bands when reviewing new music and Nnecra Packê are just one of these bands. This French band seem to have followed the path of bands such as Magma where a strange incomprehensible language has been created immersed in a fantasy world based on the cosmos.
This is immediately identifiable by some of the tack titles such as You Cannot Kill Your Mothergate and Lost In Space (Because My Ship Has Gone Away). This coupled with the sonoric effects synonymous with space or cosmic rock as well as the utilisation of the voice as a rhythmic instrument rather than what one would expect from a conventional rock band further compounds the mystique of this band and their music.
Possibly one of the closest albums that I have come across in recent years was the one by Australian band, Sh'Mantra whose tracks are also able to go on endlessly with slow variations brought in at an ever so slow pace that the pulsation of the track, as happens on You Cannot Kill Your Mothergate, almost becomes hypnotic. Very often the music descends into a cacophony of distortion and psychedelic swirling guitars and effects that at times does sound Floydian with the twenty two minute long La Lune being the perfect example. Even then, the band does tend to degenerate into what sounds like pointless doodling and grunts with the music moving further away from the experimental psychedelia to descend into Voivod-like metal, a theme that features on various tracks on the album most notably towards the end of Skyfire.
Herakleïtos is another example of the band's metallic leanings with a pace that verges on the speed metal yet their music is accompanied by that swirling keyboard sound that creates a cosmic touch, allowing the band to get back in touch with the baseline subject of their album! Not all music is distortion as one finds on tracks like Cherez Teernik Zverdam and Lost In Space (Because My Ship Has Gone Away) which help re-establish the overall psychedelic influences of the band.
This is not your Sunday morning type of album. It requires great dedication and an open mind to possibly appreciate Paracelse, however, unfortunately, after a period of time it tends to get drawn out and almost repetitive. The homogenous dark saturated sound allows little space for the listener to sit back and appreciate the musical nature of the album which lies hidden beneath the dense distortion that is present most of the time. This is definitely an album which has no in between, it is either love it or hate it.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10.
Tr3nity - The Cold Light of Darkness
Tr3nity is a young British prog rock band. They're not a trio, but a quartet. The players are: Chris Campbell on vocals, Rob Davenport on guitars, Paul Gath on keyboards (also producer) and Rolf Smith on drums. The band has just released their debut album, The Cold Light of Darkness.
If you like epic tracks, you will like the strong album opener, Eyes of a Child. It starts with a very moody instrumental opening section, with quiet synths and sequencers, and slow guitar sounds (Floyd/Queen style). The second part is basically a ballad. Here, the band sounds a bit like Styx, and also the vocals remind me of Dennis DeYoung (but more airy and with a less strong vibrato). The last section is a more powerful improvisation, with some good synth soloing, a bit high (sometimes almost painful) but their "fast and happy" sound combines very well with the guitars.
The second track is a shorter ballad, The Mask. The melody is not real proggy, maybe even a bit cheesy, but not bad. And hey, the third song is... another ballad, Into The Dark. This time more proggy, and in fact a beautiful track. Again those Styxian vocals, nice subtle synths, and good guitar work. The drums are effectively played, but could be a tad tighter every now and then. In the last part those fast and high synths reappear, with a powerful electric guitar solo (some Pendragon/Floyd).
Have you ever heard a mixture of funk and prog rock? Probably not. It's all there in the next track, Which Way?. The first part is strikingly unproggy and more like swinging funk. Still, the music is given a typical progressive treatment, and I must say that this unusual combination of styles works surprisingly well. In the second part, the band slows down a bit and goes back to a more traditional prog rock format, with Floydian guitars and nice organ work.
The second half of the album is called The Exposure Suite. It consists of four separate slow pieces: The Film (a ballad with mainly acoustic guitars), Help Me (a ballad with quiet synth layers), Is There A Paradise? (a good piano ballad), and Can't You See? (a triumphanting power ballad, with a nice heavy drum beat and military whistle sounds).
As a whole, the suite doesn't work for me. I find the chosen format all too subtle and intimate. A more elaborate arrangement with more diversity (and some "big sounds") might have worked out better. For now, the tension is lost halfway - a pity, because this suite certainly has its moments.
The song melodies on The Cold Light of Darkness are not typically progressive. The prog sound lies more in the arrangements, and the way that the instruments are played.
Very often, a band's strongest and weakest points go hand in hand. This might be true for Tr3nity. They can write a good prog rock ballad, but I think the album has too much of them. As individual pieces they're all quite good, but the album could have been better with more diversity (faster sections) between all those slow songs.
Having said this, I found this an interesting debut album, and - with some added variety - a nice new band with potential.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Anders Helmerson - Fields of Inertia
The story of Anders Helmerson is an interesting one. In the seventies the Swedish born multi-instrumentalist played in various short-lived bands and studied classical music in Denmark and Sweden, meanwhile getting more and more interested in synthesizers and progressive rock. While studying in Stockholm he recorded various pieces of electronic music with two friends.
"One day I had my 1/4 inch tape under my arm and my teachers asked me what was on there. I told them it was some recordings I had made in a commercial studio. They insisted to hear it so I played it for them. Afterwards, when I turned the tape recorder off, they just stared at me. They said absolutely nothing. A couple of days later I was dismissed from school".
After being dismissed from school Helmerson spent three years working on his debut End Of Illusion. The album was an instant flop and a disillusioned Helmerson sold his instruments and moved to Canada to try his luck there. Although the attitude towards keyboard wizards was slightly more forthcoming on that side of the Atlantic, Helmerson never managed to have much success with any of the many bands he played with over there, finally causing him to turn his back to the music industry completely and, in 1987, return to Sweden to study medicine instead.
In the years that followed, End Of Illusion had become somewhat of a cult-hit and was sought-after by many people, resulting in Helmerson signing a contract for re-releasing the album through Musea in 1995. In the five years that followed Helmerson worked as a surgeon in Copenhagen, a GP in Norway and a ship's doctor on a cruise-ship, sailing all over the world. Through his work on the cruise-ship Helmerson met the city of Rio de Janeiro, a place where he would eventually end up living, after retiring himself from his work on the cruise ship.
His new life in Brazil caused him to regain interest in the musical industry again, some fifteen years after his initial retirement. And with a range of Brazilian artists and the backing of one of Brazil's premier prog labels Som Interior, Helmerson recorded this album, Fields Of Inertia. The album was recorded in Rio between January and June 2001, with some additional recording done in Cambridge, UK. Then mixed in New York in September, before it was returned back to Rio for its final mastering and release in early 2002.
The first things I noted upon listening to the album were the rather short playing time (considering the long time the recordings took) and the fact that there are in fact only three "songs" on it, with the other five tracks being not much more than in-betweeners. Yet all tracks are mixed as one continuous piece, so I'd rather see the album as one 33-minute piece of music, instead of eight different tracks.
The album opens with Conjuration, a very Enigma-style piece, with beautiful native chants and great percussion courtesy of drummer Valmir Bessa and percussionists Celio de Carvalho and Robertinho Silva.
Winds of Olodum starts with a bang, introducing a Latin rhythm and some very cool synth solos. The track echoes the work of Cyrille Verdeaux, especially the album Ethnicolor's, with the difference that Helmerson created his music using 'real' instruments and vocals (by Su Lyn), rather than samples. Another thing that must be mentioned is the fantastic bass-playing of Rogerio Dy Castro. Even though some of the bass-lines seem to come straight from the Knight Rider theme, his imaginative playing lifts the track to a whole nother dimension.
The music then quiets down again with Bahia Dreams, a percussionate piece with more native chant, and The Tears That Came After, which is basically a partially improvised intro to the next track, played by Helmerson on MS2000 synthesiser and bass-pedals.
The centre piece of the album is City Of A Haunting Silence, which starts with an almost exact copy of the intro to Rush's Tom Sawyer. This 13-minute track contains everything a prog lover could ask for - well, almost anything, the album is completely guitar-less, so no guitar solos here. But you do get Clive Nolan type synth solos, fantastic percussion, tempo changes aplenty and more whispered vocals by Su Lyn.
A slightly dissatisfying climax leads to the title-track Infinite Fields Of Inertia, which is once again a piece of music pretty much in the vein of Cyrille Verdeaux, with a very long piano-intro, playing over some very atmospheric samples. The second half of the track is another rock piece, with great percussion, ending more like a Yes-type of song, with high voices chanting lyrics that would have made Jon Anderson proud.
Ground Zero is an improvised piece by Helmerson, Dy Castro, Bessa and Silva. More fast percussion, heavenly keyboards and delightful bass-playing. The song got its name after 9/11, as it was being mixed in downtown New York around the time of the attacks.
Rêve Concorde is an ode to Helmerson's favourite airplane, to travelling, and is generally a resting point at the end of the album.
The booklet contains explanations of the songs, in such a way that one would expect this to be a New Age album, which it is clearly not. Similar explanations can be found on Helmerson's homepage.
As said, the album is more a 33-minute piece, rather than an album with different pieces. I took me a few listens to get into the music, but it seems to get better and better each time I hear it. It's not everyone's music, but I'd recommend it to anyone who likes experimental, electronic music, like Tangerine Dream, Vangelis or Cyrille Verdeaux.
The combination of classical prog themes with Latin rhythms works really well. Some very clever compositions, a good production and excellent musicianship made me decide a 'DPRP-recommended' tag is only justified.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.