Reviews in this issue:
Geoff Tate - Geoff Tate
"Queensryche are a pretty disfunctional bunch of people", said Geoff Tate, the band's singer and composer in a recent interview. Since the departure of Chris DiGarmo from the band they have lost their main musical composer and Tate confesses that this created a real gap in the band's creative core. Perhaps this was one of the triggers to record his first ever solo album, after being in Queensryche for some 20 years. As a matter of fact, the material for the new Queensryche album seems to have been written mainly by members of Tate's new solo band (guitarist Jeff Carrell, guitarist Scott Moughton, keyboardist Howard Chilcott, bassist Chris Fox, and drummer Evan Schiller) ! Seemingly it was send to the rest of Queensryche to work on and throw around before they would eventually venture into the studio individually (!) to record the upcoming album.
All in all a rather strange situation for a band which I loved very much during their 1988-1995 period, in which they produced three marvellous albums (the concept album Operation Mindcrime, the melodic and commercial Empire and the dark and atmospheric Promised Land, the latter being one of my favourite albums ever). The strong melodies and overwelming emotions which were present on these albums seemed to be missing on the band's more recent output and I had therefore already given up hope for the band. And now a solo album of one of my favourite vocalists arrives. What to expect ?
Well, for those of you who expect another Queensryche album, you're going to be very disappointed. Musically Tate's album is as far removed from Queensryche as it can be. In the majority of the songs you'll have a hard time to fins any of the raw guitar power of Tate's other band, while Off The TV, the album's heaviest track is one of the few tracks that even comes near the Queensryche sound. If you would still be interested in knowing which Queensryche material comes closest to Tate's solo stuff, just take a look at the setlist of his current solo tour on his Homepage.
Instead of the 'Queensryche sound' you get a wide mixture of styles ranging from Latin inspired 'Tate meets Enrice Igleasias' music with Spanish guitar and dance rhythms (Helpless), dark and melancholic ballads with strings and piano (In Other Words), Blue Eyed Soul music in the good Hall & Oates tradition (This Moment, Every Move We Make) and lots of interesting groove rhythms (like in Passenger) and drum loops, thus creating a much more contemporary sound. Allthough most of the album follows a relatively mellow mood, there is an occassional moment when the guitars are pulled out and the band gets louders, as in the chorus of Flood, Off the TV and Grain of Faith (which also features a great bass line). Still, most of the time the electric guitars are used to support the melody and atmosphere instead of being a prominent solo instrument.
The album also features a wide range of interesting instruments, including Steinway piano, upright bass, drum loops, Hammond, timbales, fretless bass, viola and samplers. Of course the wide range of Tate's vocals does remind you of Queensryche immediately, but that's basically because of the
characteristic sound of his voice. Another thing that is present on Tate's album, which I've been missing so much in
Queensryche's music since 1995 is the true emotion, ranging from passion and torment to hope to anger and sadness. As such, it does reflect the same mood as Promised Land. Still, whereas Promised Land sounds very full and deep, Tate's solo record
manages to created the same moods in an often much more simple, and sometimes even minimalistic, way.
Lyrically most of the album covers the bright and dark sides of relationships. Perhaps not one of the most original subject matters, but certainly one that you can easily relate to. As such there will definitely be one or more songs that will appeal to anybody lyrically.
It took a couple of spins to get used to Tate's solo album, and some of the songs are not as accessible as others (in the way that a song like I Am I is rather inaccessible on the first couple of times you hear it). Still, currently I just cannot stop myself from playing it over and over again. Once more, don't expect a prog metal album. If you love Tate's voice and if the thought of a slightly more contemporary approach of the Promised Land material appeals to you, you simply have to check out this album ! It is certainly going to be one of my favourites of this year. Best tracks: Helpless, the laid back center three-piece (Every Move We Make, This Moment, In Other Words) and the closing Over Me.
Conclusion: 8,5 out of 10.
Robert Andrews - The Host
This is the second solo offering from Robert Andrews and follows in the footsteps of An Amnesty For Bonny Things On Sunny Days released in 2000, again with seven instrumental pieces designed to be relaxing rather than challenging. Andrews (bass, electric and acoustic guitars), is joined on the album by David Groves (guitar synth, guitars & keyboards), Malcolm Parker (drums) and Russell Jones (saxaphone).
The album opens promisingly with the beautiful Contrails, a wonderfully controlled piece, the main theme being taken by the guitar, which with the backing instrumentation, intensifies from start to finish. My thoughts drifted towards a German guitarist, Thomas Blug or perhaps an extremely restrained Joe Satriani, with one of his gentler melodic pieces. The title track The Host, the longest track from the CD follows, opening with a more delicate mixture of electric and acoustic guitars and a serene keyboard melody. This is picked up circa four minutes into the track, by a solid, driving drum beat, a change from the guitar into a more rockier vein and from here onwards the track follows this A-B pattern format. At just over fifteen minutes it did tend to meander, and without any significant changes, each of the passages were a little over long. However sections of the instrumentation did conjure memories of Led Zeppelin around the Physical Graffiti era.
Caution to the Wind again opens with a pleasant melody, arranged between classical and gently played electric guitars, lulling you into a peaceful calm at which point Malcolm Parker picks up the beat and the track moves into a twin harmony solo with guitar, keyboards and latterly the sax. The track then returns to the more delicate opening section albeit with a modified instrumentation and the cycle is then re-iterated. A good piece and the up-beat instrumental sections were quite infectious.
Two atmospheric pieces ensue, the first a dark and eerie composition, the whaling guitar punctuating the fairly static chordal background. Mount Maroma the shortest piece from the CD links nicely to the dreamy Lake Vinuela, a warm and ambient composition, spacey, swelling guitar chords gradually float into a melancholic guitar solo, nice little jazzy touches and always tastefully held back.
I didn't quite know what to make of the following track at all, as it was a total contrast to what had passed so far. Saboteur starts with a symphonic "mellotron" section, steadily building to a crescendo with the inclusion of Timpani drums, reminiscent of early Genesis' opening sections. What follows are a number of interesting mainly guitar driven passages, the first an intricate and repetitive motif, played over a low but rising keyboard notation. The next section is seemingly a simple Rock & Roll riff but there is more to this than meets the ears - ala Steve Morse. And so the track moves through a number of different phases (each phase being approx 1:00 to 1:30 minutes in duration). At times each of the different segments were not too dissimilar in character to passages by King Crimson, Mike Oldfield and Steve Hackett. Certainly an interesting concept and after a few careful listenings, I can say - convincing.
The Host concludes with Ice Angel a reverberant tune for solo bass guitar and thus finalizes what is a different and interesting instrumental CD. On the whole fairly tranquil, but always with that element of surprise, normally at the point that you had been subdued, closing your eyes and drifting into a semi-conscious state. This, I should add, is intended as a compliment rather than a criticism, as after the trials and tribulations of the day I enjoyed the soothing aspects of this album. For me there were some extremely good moments, and some - I'm still not so sure moments, but over all an enjoyable and satisfying album. Highlights for me were the opening track Contrails which is excellent, and Mount Maroma and Lake Vinuela.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Left Coast - Worlds of Mystery
Hailing from San Diego, California, are five musicians who collectively make up Left Coast - here with their debut CD Worlds of Mystery. An album of many facets and covering many genres of music, all of which are well written, well produced and, given the fact that this is an independent release, makes its own further comment. The maturity of the compositions suggests that some or all the members have a track record outside of this line-up, but I have no information to support this notion.
The album opens with the aptly titled Earthquake, with guitarist Neil Hedegard supplying a "riff based" monster-metal intro, supported by the band. I have to admit at this point I was a little dubious as to what was to follow, however the mayhem stops and dream-like choral chord pattern heralds the voice of Richard Pavelec, his deep and warm timbered vocals, nicely contrasting the music. My early misgivings abated, the track develops well and shows the bands abilities immediately. This continues through the following track, albeit not so heavy, the verses having a nice groove to them and a distinctive hook-line to the chorus.
You again sees a different side to Left Coast, a more commercial song, and it is at this point that I can hear the Bowie qualities in Pavelec's voice, that are referred to in the band's website. A distinctly radio friendly track, if not a tad long for this medium. There is however an obvious fade out point just before the second guitar solo, which would be a shame, as Neal Hedegard is obviously a guitarist who has put great thought into his parts and his playing is yet another of the highlights to be heard throughout the album.
Continuing in the melodic rock format Moment of Truth opens with acoustic twelve string guitar, distant guitar licks and voice - a good track that follows in a standard verse/chorus format. I feel mention is needed here of keyboardist Chris Kokesh, although for the most part the sounds and textures are fairly minimal, it is this factor that is so additive to the overall sound. I found the lack of huge walls of chords and careful selection of sounds very refreshing. Do You In and Shadows introduce different aspects to Left Coast's music, a nice percussive bass intro from Alan Smithey on the first piece and tasteful fretless on the second. Completing what is a solid rhythm section is Roger Nigg on drums, it is in fact Nigg's innovative and dynamic drumming that contributes to raising the tracks above Left Coast's contemporaries. One the more diverse tracks is Spanish Lover, with a distinct Latin feel, aided by the two guest musicians - Chuck Prada [congas & bongos] and Kim Pollack [Spanish female voice].
Worlds of Mystery contains two interesting instrumental tracks, Evening in Montreux and Dancing on Crystal. The first of these is a tasteful and gentle piece with its neatly executed guitar chordal structure, well selected sounds and pleasant arrangement - of interest maybe to those familiar with guitarist Eric Johnson. The second and longer instrumental is again fairly laid back, with acoustic guitar and again minimal keyboards supplying much of chord structure, for the varied guitar passages that take the leading role.
A varied and interesting album, as already mentioned covering a diversity of styles, which make it impossible to label within any one or even two categories. I didn't find the album, in the strictest sense, particularly "progressive", much of the material being song orientated and in the main in common time. This aside the musicianship is first-rate and Richard Pavelec's voice adds another dimension to the songs. So my suggestion would be to follow the link above, listen to the tracks on their website and be your own judge.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Brave - Searching for the Sun
Brave is a young band from Virginia, that originally started as "Arise From Thorns" who recorded two albums in 1998 and 2001. Searching For The Sun is their first full lenght album as Brave. With a name like that, and also judging from their album cover, you might expect them to be a Marillion clone, but this is not the case.
On the official press release, Brave's music is described as "Progressive Metal". This description is hardly adequate. Yes, the band throws in quite some Metal influences, but these just add some extra dynamics to the mainly melodic, song oriented music (which also has a lot of mellower moments). Even more, the general atmosphere on the album is in fact quite optimistic and uplifting (even though there are some "darker" moments as well). And I must say this mixture of styles and moods works out very well for the band.
The songs on the album are quite good and catching. Their format is quite traditional (so no long epics here). About half of them have some heavy elements. Only Trapped Inside is a real heavy track. The others heavier tracks are more like prog rock with a mysterious or doomy atmosphere, and some heavy style elements (like Escape, I Believe, and the dramatic New Beginning).
The other half of the album has a more pop/rock feel, with no heavy elements. Like on the two slower tracks: Candle In The Dark (a friendly piano ballad) and Before Nightfall (a ballad with lots of acoustic guitars and an almost folky feel). Also quite good are the haunting Falling Into Bliss and the mellow Bleed Into Me (a piece with a slight jazzy swing).
One of the main characteristics of the band is their use of a female singer, Michelle Loose (also on keyboards). Her vocals are very good: high, clear and emotional. She sometimes reminds me of Maggie Reilly (who sung Mike Oldfield's Moonlight Shadow), but slightly more powerful and rocking. Her crystal voice combines very well with the heavy musical instrumentation of the tracks.
As for the other three band members: the main instrumentalist is guitarist Scott Loose (also on keyboards). His guitar playing ranges from heavy electric to the more subtle acoustic fingerpicking stuff. The same goes for Chris Wellborn's bass playing and Trevor Schrotz dynamic drums: their playing is quite versatile and sounds good, both in the heavier and in more subtle moments. The keyboards on the album sound okay, but their role is very supporting. I personally would welcome some flashy solos here and there.
All in all, I really liked this debut album. Brave's music is mainly song-oriented, and the material is strong and well played. It all sounds fresh and full of energy, and particularly the vocals are very good. The band plays a kind of prog-influenced rock that is not overly complex or inaccessable, and their music might even get some airplay on alternative rock radio stations.
Some minor criticism: the vocals are good, but as they are quite passionate and emotional they tend to get a bit demanding towards the end of the album. Maybe the band should have included more "resting points" (like instrumentals or quieter pieces). And sometimes, the band almost (almost!) get a bit too poppy. I really like Bleed Into Me, but it could have been on an album by The Corrs!
But it's not easy to compare Brave to other bands. Maybe you can imagine a heavier and non-folky Blackmore's Night or Mike Oldfield. I think Searching For The Sun contains some high quality music, that will certainly appeal to both proggers and modern pop/rock lovers.
Conclusion: 8- out of 10.
Requiem - The Arrival
Requiem is a young band from Finland. They started in 1999, playing melodic death metal. After some personnel changes, the band moved into a more technical and progressive direction. The Arrival is their first album, and a very strong and powerful debut.
Requiem is an extremely loud band. And to be honest: I don't like heavy. Dream Theater and Shadow Gallery are about as loud as I can tolerate (in my rare "loud" moments that is). The music on The Arrival goes a whole lot further than this. Nevertheless, I must say that I immensely enjoyed the album (and it's still growing on me)!
The main reason: this band has much more to offer than just straight forward metal banging. Yes, the music is very heavy and full of aggressive energy. But at the same time it's very melodic, with surprisingly strong (dare I say "catchy"?) melodies. The songs are arranged in a complex proggy way, often quite technical and full-speed, but with room for some more subtle moments as well. Quite some classical themes are thrown in, mostly in a "heavy" disguise (not unlike Yngwie Malmsteen), but also in nice quiet moments.
As for Requiem's musicians: the bass (Pasi Kauppinen) and drums (Jari Huttunen) are played in a heavy, energetic and dynamic way. The two guitar players (Arto Räisälä + Teemu Hänninen) bring in loads of exiting riffs and solos. The keyboards are remarkably present, which is quite unusual for this kind of music. Keyboardist Henrik Klingenberg proves to be a good match for the heavy guitars guys. The band's combination of guitars and synths sometimes reminded me of a heavy Saga.
A very strong element in the band is the lead singer, Jouni Nikula. His voice is high and powerful (like a smooth singing Labrie). But he often goes for the "theatrical approach", singing like a truly possessed classic opera singer. Impressive, and very effective as well, as it adds to the apocalyptic feel of this kind of dramatic "doomsday music".
With a playing time of almost 50 minutes, the album is not particularly long. I won't go into a description of the 9 individual tracks, as most of the songs are done within the same formula (described above). But the album has no weak moments. Also the artwork is nice, with band pics, lyrics, and of course the obligatory fantasy art cover.
To conclude: I can really recommend this album if you are open to heavy prog. Requiem's music is loud (as in metal), but at the same time extremely progressive and melodic. Therefore I feel that the album - despite its loudness - will appeal more to prog rockers than to the average metal fan. At least one mellow prog rocker is convinced!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10.