Reviews in this issue:
Threshold - Concert in Paris
Tracklist: Freaks (5.24), Turn on tune in (5.53), Long way home (5.52), Change (4.43), Devoted (6.44), Light and space (5.32), The ravages of time (9.56), Paradox (9.51).
While everyone was waiting for the the new threshold album (reviewed below), DPRP still had to review the latest outing, the live album Concert in Paris, which was recorded on their last tour. This 'fanclub'-album is only available via www.thresh.net so maybe you hadn’t even realized that it had been released. This is a pity, because the album certainly deserves attention.
With their latest (3rd) singer, Andy "Mac" McDermott on board for two albums in a row (a record!), fans - including myself - started asking Threshold for a new live-album. A Threshold gig is - ‘though not always for musical reasons only - a very special experience, with lots of energy both on stage and in the audience. A new live album could certainly bring something of that atmopshere, I thought. Also, a live album could be a chance to hear some older material presented by the new singer.
In these two aspects I am not fully satisfied with Concert in Paris. I think the interaction with the audience lacks a bit (as on most live-albums, I admit) and the track-listing heavily leans on songs from Clone and Hypothetical. With four tracks from Hypothetical and two from Clone, there’s only two tracks from a previous era: Devoted from Psychedelicatessen and Paradox from Wounded Land. An understandable choice probably, especially since only one show was used for this recording, the Paris gig on September 23rd 2001. Threshold was supporting ARK on that gig, so this probably was their entire set. On the other hand, more material was played during the entire tour, for example Sunseeker (also from Psychedelicatessen) has been played several times, like on Bospop in Holland, and Virtual Isolation (from Extinct Instinct) has been played for example in Verviers, Belgium. Probably no recordings were made on these occasions. If these tracks, or classic tracks like Sanity’s End (played on the 1999 tour) and the more recent The Latent Gene were included, this could have been a live best-of. Now, it almost is….
Having these expectations, does this album disappoint me? Not at all. From the fast Freaks ("Paris, where are you?") until the threatening version of Paradox there's much to enjoy on this album. Although Mac's voice sounds a bit distant at some moments, the overall sound is quite good. Harmony-vocals and keyboards, two things that tend to be low in the mix at concerts, are well positioned in the mix here. On the other hand, Jon Jeary's bass isn't always very audible, not as result of the recording, but because of the power of both guitarists. Nick Midson and Karl Groom both take care of rhythm-guitar and the solos.
New drummer Johanne James is not that typical "double-bass drum all the time"-drummer: he adds to the melody. I love his playing in the intro of Devoted, for example.
Highlights on this album are Long Way Home, with it's fine piano-intro and melancholic interludes, The Ravages of Time, with it's great chorus, and Paradox, the only track that has been recorded by all three Threshold singers. Of course I could compare the different versions here, but I won't. This version sounds natural and that's more than enough for me to enjoy it. It's always a great encore and so it is here. Finally, I have to mention Mac's vocal qualities again. For those still thinking about previous singers: listen to the quiet middle part of Devoted and you're sold.
Coming to conclusions, even though this is not the definitive live-album by Threshold, I can certainly recommend this album to fans, but also to people unfamiliar with Threshold. It’s a nice starting-point, showing what Threshold, and progressive metal, is about. This is the kind of album you love to play in the car. Good sounding, but still a bit unpolished and still straightforward. With all the extra’s (mini-interviews, tour diary, screensaver and hidden track) included, Concert in Paris certainly is value for money.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
By: Jan-Jaap de Haan
Threshold - Critical Mass
There is also a limited edition 2CD release available with a bonus 3 track CD and multimedia section:
Phenomenon (radio mix), Do Unto Them, New Beginning, Multimedia (2 Videoclips, Screensaver)
Threshold have been the UK’s leading Progressive Metal outfit for some time now yet despite their releases receiving good reviews, they’ve remained very much underground. Changing line-ups didn’t help the band build on their initial success, but since the arrival of Andrew ‘Mac’ Macdonald on vocals and Johanne James behind the drumkit, they’ve achieved a stability which has enabled the band to move forward. 1999’s album Clone received good reviews, but it was 2001’s release Hypothetical which really relaunched the band’s career. Their biggest selling album to date, it was no surprise that Inside Out requested that the band press ahead with the follow-up album. So, barely 18 months on from its release we have Critical Mass, not forgetting that in the meantime, the band have also released privately, a live album entitled Concert in Paris (reviewed above).
The disk opens with Phenomenon, a typically punchy Threshold rocker that's mellowed by a catchy chorus. Johanne James' crisp drumming and the familiar twin axe attack of Midson and Groom get the disk off to a good start. The following lengthier tune Choices sees the tune carried alternatively by driving guitars or the more gentle keyboards of Richard West and is packed with multiple changes of pace. Mac also puts in an excellent performance with his voice swelling from the mellower passages to match the harder-edged, more guitar-driven parts.
Falling Away opens with Richard West's keys and what sounds like some effects-laden percussion. One might cheekily describe it as a power-ballad, as it swells from lovely mellow keyboard accompanied verse sections, to the powerful and memorable chorus section, where all the entire contribute. There's some great backing vocals too from Jon Jeary. But then Fragmentation sees the band experimenting a little. Once again there are multiple time changes while the music varies from the mellowest keyboard-driven passages to some of the heaviest, most metallic riffing I've ever heard from the band. Once again the vocals and chorus are good, but I feel that there are perhaps too many changes of mood and the result is that this is the least memorable tune on the disk.
The almost 9 minute long Echoes Of Life opens with just Richard West's piano, before Mac and then the remainder of the band join in. Its slower pace allows the warmth of Mac's voice to be showcased, but at the same time it gives all of the musicians the opportunity to shine and in a manner than produces a more coherent result than the previous song. Round And Round covers the subject of reincarnation but with the exception of a crisp guitar solo, its rather disappointing. In the same manner, Avalon sees the band once again going off into Ballad territory and though it is well executed, it also lacks a certain spark.
The epic title track Critical Mass [part 1-3] closes out the disk. Encompassing many moods it once again features great lyrics, several neat guitar and keyboards solos and a lovely final section where Mac is accompanied by acoustic guitar and some gorgeous synth sounds.
Whilst this disk lacks an outstanding track to match the brilliance of something like The Ravages of Time from Hypothetical it retains much of the feel of the last two albums and there is a great consistency to the song-writing, though perhaps too many ballads. The rhythm section of Jon Jeary’s and Johanne James are outstanding throughout and provide a solid foundation for the rest of the band. The dual guitars of Karl Groom and Nick Midson are as sharp as ever, injecting pace and heaviness when required and sharing responsibilities along with Richard West’s keyboards for providing the melody. Solos are always concise and effective while Mac’s voice excels throughout, particularly during the mellower sections, of which there are a lot on this particular disk. His delivery is smooth and well controlled, yet he’s able to add just the right amount of grit to his voice when it is required for the heavier sections.
The production is good and clear, allowing all the musicians contributions to be heard, but the use of effects to process either the percussion or Jon Jeary's backing vocals really don't seem to work out. I can understand the band wanting to introduce something new and fresh to their signature sound, but the experiments here are not very successful.
In conclusion, Critical Mass is yet another good Threshold album, which most prog-metal fans will want to check out. I personally found Hypothetical a step up from Clone and though this is a solid follow-up, it doesn’t quite have the magic of its predecessor.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Grand Stand - Tricks of Time
The second release from this Swedish quintet and some four years since their last offering, In the Middle on the Edge. Since then Grand Stand have undertaken major line-up changes and joining Tomas Hurtig [drums & voice] and Olov Anderson [keyboards, synthesizers & vocals] are Göran Johnsson [lead vocals, bass & keyboards] and Michael Rank Jensen [guitars, bass & vocals]. Subsequent to the release of Tricks of Time the band have added a fifth member, Leif Isberg, who takes up the role of full time bass player.
First time in the CD player and the the initial reaction was that this is a good album, subsequent listening did not change my opinion, although I did muse why the album immediately struck home. Familiarity was the conclusion, as I was able to hear many styles and influences weaving through the tracks. This is meant in the most complimentary of terms and by no means a criticism - the music drawing heavily from both past and present progressive music eras.
Tricks of Time begins with the 'tongue in cheek' entitled track, Jurassic Spark, opening with a strongly themic guitar passage, followed by a brief but very Hackett like interlude, bringing a smile to my face and giving an early indication as to one of the bands stronger influences. The song moves into a heavier mode and preambles the vocal sections which are strongly featured throughout this track, but do not form the mainstay of the rest of the album. Initially I had misgivings about the vocals on this track, however the more I listened, the more acceptable they became.
The first of the instrumentals follows, the aptly titled Words are not Enough, a fairly subdued track after the opening piece, but still retaining the symphonic feel from the rest of the album. A number of contrasting and stylised solos ensue, alternating between guitar and keyboards and show the dexterity of both musicians.
Waiting for Water brings a more commercial edge to the proceedings, a gentle ballad, chordally notions of 10CC's - I'm Not In Love, did spring to mind, but again the harmonisation between the keys and guitar helped retain a more progressive element to the proceedings. The track revolves around the repetitive vocal sections, which are more readily accessible here and serve to break the tastefully executed, impressive and melodic guitar sections.
My ears pricked up at the opening of the second instrumental Empty Barrels Rattle the Most as the opening chord section was distinctly Tarkus, however there the similarity ends. This track for me was the highlight of the album and embodied not only what was the essence of Grand Stand, but also serves as an excellent example of progressive rock in the new millennium. Although drawing inspiration from the past masters the material is presented and played with a modern outlook. Notions of Camel were strong here, albeit with a heavier AOR rock guitar sound, the referencing being in the byplay between the lead instruments and the empathy shown in the rhythm section.
The album finishes with a sixteen minute epic [sub-divided into eight sub sections] and follows in the footsteps already laid down, but with enough variation to keep the imagination going. So as not to retread what has already been written I would only like to make reference to Andersons fine solo section.
To summarise, I found the album very enjoyable, with fine musicianship from all and cohesively played together. The rhythm section was excellent and Tomas Hurtig was a pleasure to listen to, forming an excellent backbone for the strongly themic guitar and keyboard passages. There were numerous time signature sections and the predominance of 7/8 did suggest a strong reference to earlier Genesis, although it should be noted that the band never tried to emulate this. So if the band's previously mentioned and the likes of IQ, Spock's Beard and Pallas feature in your CD collection, then add Grand Stand's Tricks of Time.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Marillion - EMI Singles Collection
Extras: Animated Menus, Lyrics, Discography, Photo Gallery, hidden bonus track: Deserve (4.40)
To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the band EMI has released an updated version of the singles collection video (which was originally released in 1992, at their tenth anniversary). It gives a very nice overview of the Marillion history from their very first single Market Square Heroes up to and including their last single under the EMI flag, 1995's Beautiful.
It has to be said, Marillion has never been a singles band, nor have they ever had the budgets for promotional videos that some other bands had, like for instance that other eighties' EMI cash-cow Duran Duran. Besides that, Marillion never had a clear identity outside their loyal fanbase, so their promo videos are quite a mixture of styles. Some of them are absolute crap (Market Square Heroes, Assassing, Lavender), while some are actually pretty good indeed (Sugar Mice, Uninvited Guest, No One Can, Dry Land). Then others are more standard rock fare (Kayleigh, Lady Nina, Hooks In You and the Bon Jovi inspired Sympathy), whereas others again have an interesting form of storytelling, often quite funny even (He Knows You Know, Garden Party, Heart Of Lothian, Incommunicado). The three Brave videos are a story apart. These all consist of outtakes from the Brave mov ie an d are probably the reason why this DVD has a 15 rating.
In my opinion Sugar Mice is the best of the lot, which also sees the band doing the most 'acting'. It takes place in a gritty bar, with all colours filtered out, apart from the occasional red or blue (which was a very popular way of filming at that time, see any George Michael video of the same period if you want to know what I mean). We see Fish telling his sad story here, while the rest of the band are are to be the other bar visitors, dressed up as the Village People!
Another nice one is Uninvited Guest, which sees a devilish Steve Hogarth literally talking to himself and the rest of the band appearing as some sort of silent ghosts - very eerie David Lynch style.
And for the girls there is Dry Land, which alternates National Geographic-style images of Iceland with a particularly wet and sexy looking Steve Hogarth.
The inclusion of the Brave videos, Beautiful and particularly Sugar Mice make this DVD particularly interesting for Marillion fans, as the latter was only available on the rare Incommunicado/Sugar Mice video single and the others have never been commercially released before.
Another nice feat is the hidden video of Deserve. Unlike most hidden features on other DVD releases, this one is pretty hard to find (No, I'm not telling, but take my hint that hidden features are often called Easter eggs). It is the same video that was featured on the Marillion.com bonus disc, so nothing new, but it is a nice feat and it shows how Marillion is still live and kicking.
Had this been my first DVD review and had I not invested a large sum of money in audio-video equipment, my review could have ended here, on a positive note. Yet I can't help shaking off my Marillion fan clothes, and judge the DVD in a more critical way:
First, the sound. This is the year 2002, and some 5 years after the introduction of the DVD medium I would say either Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1 surround sound has become pretty much the standard here. Instead the videos are presented in standard stereo, which seems like it's dusted up a bit, so by no means does it sound dull, yet it is the first music DVD in my collection that does not have 5.1 sound. And I am aware of the fact that these songs were never recorded with surround sound in mind, yet I am also convinced that you should be able to get a satisfactory result from remixing any multi-track recording. I mean, if they can present Gone With The Wind in 5.1, then surely Market Square Heroes shouldn't be too much of a problem.
I must make a side-note here that the image looks very good to me, it is evident that they have taken care into patching up the 20 year old videos.
Secondly, there's the extras. The DVD medium partly owes its success for its extras, the extra storage space gives the opportunity to include some nice features for the fans, which, with the risk of overdoing, most labels have taken up doing.
The extras featured on this DVD are a very nice animated menu (obviously most of the time (budget?) spent on this production has been spent on the making of this menu), lyrics to all tracks (which are somehow not accessible from the main menu), a discography which includes all artwork, yet fails to mention any release not on the EMI label (which leaves out the years 1995-2000) and a photo gallery which, here it comes, depicts 20 years of Marillion history in a stunning collection of 16 photos, all of which are taken from CD booklets.
And that's it, no biography, no interviews, no live footage, no commentaries, nothing like that at all.
In 1987 EMI released the now deleted video collection which had all the videos from Market Square Heroes to Lady Nina, each introduced hilariously by the band, whereas the 1990 From Stoke Row to Ipanema video contained introductions to the Seasons End videos. Surely they could have found the band willing to record introductions to the remaining videos and included these as well - now *that* would have been a nice treat for the fans!
But even without that, I simply cannot believe that there is no footage in the EMI archives which could have been used as a nice extra on this DVD.
Then there is the thing that bothers me with *every* EMI re-release or compilation: their utter devotion to be as inaccurate as possible, with mistakes that any given proof-reader or test-viewer could pick up on. Surely a discrepancy in the song order mentioned on the DVD case would have been picked up by such a test-viewer, not to mention the *two* that are on this DVD. And credits (present in the two-fold inlay) aren't really that difficult to check either.
We're talking a huge multi-national corporation selling millions of albums worldwide here, not some second grade DIY affair. I really don't get it.
So this brings me to the same questions which I ask myself with *every* compilation EMI released this past decade: who is this targeted at? Why did they release this?
One might argue that this DVD is meant to prove (once again) that Marillion has continued to exist after Fish' departure, however, it fails to acknowledge the fact that Marillion has also continued to exist after their departure with EMI. The three albums they released between Afraid of Sunlight and their return to EMI (distribution only) with Anoraknophobia are conveniently ignored, which makes it rather confusing for someone ignorant of this fact as to where that hidden track Deserve comes from. Surely a biography could have been a solution here. OK, these are readily available from the web, but where are the web links then?
So once again, I can't help but feeling that this is yet another scam to make money on the band's loyal fanbase with as little effort as possible. It certainly has enough to be a recommended item to Marillion fans, but with just a tiny bit more effort or care this could have been a must-have.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Alan Emslie - Emotive Bay
I looked forward to the release of this album from Alan Emslie, as I had reviewed the Floating CD by Soft Monster last year, another of his ventures. The new album is primarily a solo project, again an instrumental offering and sees Alan re-united with John Irvine [guitar] on two of the tracks. A sharply contrasting CD on this occasion as we are presented with the lighter side of the man, undertaking here, the keyboard mantle as well as the drum and percussion job.
The album opens with Downforce and follows in similar footsteps to the Floating CD, on this track we begin with a techno-synth accompaniment (akin to Jan Hammer or perhaps Ozric Tentacles) and serves as the backdrop for the drums. This is Alan's forte, the track continuing with some superb playing [not a solo] and within a jazz rock or fusion style. As with the previous album, Floating, the drums and percussion elements have a great feel and very natural groove to them, thus making them a pleasure to listen to and show the obvious abilities of Alan Emslie.
The album changes tack altogether at this juncture and the ensuing pieces take on a much mellower and laid-back approach. In some ways they reminded me of the "ambient mood" CD's which are now readily available, albeit without the irritating sounds of running water or whales talking. The idea behind these particular CD's and presumably the intention with much of the material to be found on Emotive Bay, is to dim the lights, relax and chill-out. To this end the album works extremely well, as on the first listening and after an arduous day at work, I was well in the land of nod by the end of the third track [sorry about that]. Therefore subsequent hearings were called for, after which a more conscious appraisal is offered below.
Emotive Bay, Watching The Waves, The Distortion That Drives Us and Groovy Jelly as already touched upon are gentle, airy pieces. They have light, layered chord structures from the keyboards acting as a canvas for the addition of the fuller picture, supplied by some deft, tasteful percussion and additional themes and lead passages. Each of the pieces has it's own character, with subtle variations from the keyboards that ebb and flow, creating both tension and release, throughout the individual tracks. Subtlety is the name of the game and each listening reveals gentle nuances, particularly from the percussion elements. It is somewhat difficult to offer any comparisons here, best I can offer is Vangelis and again Jan Hammer, in their quieter moments. The Distortion That Drives Us, one of the lengthier pieces gives us the first glimpse of John Irvine supplying some sparse but effective lead guitar themes and sympathetic solo passages.
In stark contrast is Quarqaba, completely constructed around ever developing percussion parts, many horses trotting around a square came to mind. Monk-like Gregorian chants are added towards the end of the piece - interesting. As is our first taster of Alan's vocal contribution on Something Wrong? The voice initially very effected with a tremolo and later on, 'a tongue in cheek' dialogue adds a light hearted interlude to the proceedings.
So to the longest track and the second to feature the guitar of John Irvine, Beyond The 11th Dimension. The background structure is in keeping with the rest of the album, however the drums re-emerged giving the track a more progressive edge and an avenue for some fine byplay between Emslie and Irvine. As with most of the album there is much space within the music, allowing the tracks to create their own emotions within the listener - as perhaps the title of the album infers. And finally We Went To Bed Too Late, offering another insight as to the sense of humour that is present within Alan Emslie and his music, although it never detracts from the proceedings. For want of a better description this is a gently constructed ballad but without the inclusion of any vocals.
Difficult one to summarize really, the CD cover cites the encompassed music as ranging from "Prog Rock to chilled out soundtracks" - I can go along with this, and a visit to the website adds further pointers, "formula one grooves" and "North African dance" - so probably not trotting horses then! Certainly an interesting album and for me the highlights were Downforce, Beyond the 11th Dimension and the title track Emotive Bay. I am in a bit of a quandary to know, to what extent this CD may appeal to the wider progressive audience, but certainly well worth checking out.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10