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Reviews in this issue:
Jadis - Fanatic
Special edition bonus track: The Flame Is Burning Out (4:08)
I don't think that the name Jadis needs very much of an introduction. Formed in the mid-eighties, it is one of those bands that have managed to carve out their own niche within the by now considerably sized progressive rock genre. Jadis's trademark sound - consisting of strong, catchy riffs, a solid rhythm section, thick layers of melodic keyboard sounds, soaring guitar solos and Gary Chandlers warm vocals - has brought them a growing crowd of enthusiastic fans. Both fans and people who haven't heard Jadis yet, but are interested in some high-quality prog, may want to prick up their ears, because Jadis have just released their fifth studio album, Fanatic.
Well, what can one say about a new Jadis album? I do like this band very much - I find their brand of accessible, almost poppy prog rock very appealing, and very... summery. It's just the sort of bright, breezy and uplifting music that makes me want to sit out in the garden on a hot day and relax. It's with that thought in mind that I have decided to write this review in my back garden on a wonderful summer Sunday afternoon, just to get me in the right mood.
On first listen, I often find Jadis albums slightly formulaic and occasionally samey. But you usually need to spend a little time with them for them to sink in and truly appreciate them. That was very much the case with this album. I initially thought, here we go again - all the usual trademarks are there; the Chandler/Orford harmonies, the jangly guitars, the catchy melodies etc. But I have lived with this album for a whole week now, and I would say it is certainly as good as anything they have done up until now.
Opener The Great Outside is a rousing, mid-paced rocker, with a raunchy, almost Zeppelin-like opening riff, giving way to some soaring guitar lines from Gary. A very good song, but the best is yet to come. Into Temptation kicks off with some bright, clean guitar chords before settling down into a bouncy little number. And is it me, or did the main riff seem slightly reminiscent of Zeppelin's Black Dog? Hmmm, there's another Zeppelin reference. Gary pulls off a couple of superb solos on this one, the second one very heavy on the wah-wah, building to a superb crescendo near the end that I know is just going to sound terrific live.
Each And Everyday begins with some retro-style drum machine sounds, but Gary's voice is really in top form here. We get some of the trademark "na-na-na" vocals again, but who's complaining? A gentle, laid back song that just gets better each time I hear it.
Some intricate drum rhythms signal the opening to I Never Noticed. A very listenable song, but it has yet to grow on me. It bounces along quite merrily and Gary's guitar work (slightly Dave Gilmour-ish here) is always top notch, including some wonderful harmonics. I believe this track also contains the only keyboard solo on the album.
The title track, however, is the pièce de résistance. It starts with some spacey, treated piano from Martin Orford, with some gentle sequencer rhythms chugging along in the background. Close your eyes and you would swear you were listening to Tangerine Dream. For a while it seems as though the song is going to happily continue in this vein, until some ethereal keyboards take centre stage, leading us into what is possibly one of the best, and most exquisite guitar solos I have heard for years. The sheer emotion that Gary rips out of his guitar on this one almost had me in tears. I suspect Gary must be influenced somewhat by Andy Latimer of Camel, as it is highly reminiscent of Andy's style of guitar playing.
Some more of Gary's beloved guitar arpeggios take us into Yourself Alone, another favourite track. This has a superbly catchy chorus that has been going round in my head for a couple of days now. I can certainly see myself singing along to this one at the next gig.
Take These Words is another bright and breezy number that has some more wonderful guitar lines from Gary. I suppose you could describe this track as proto-typical Jadis, as it contains all of the familiar elements. Those who like the band will love it, those who don't won't - it's that simple.
What Kind Of Reason is the longest track on the album, and one which took me a while to warm to, but I really like it now. It begins as a very laid back acoustic number, but Gary's voice really shines on this one, very powerful and emotional. As if this was not enough, he also throws in another blistering guitar solo.
It's at this point that I thought the album took a bit of a dip in quality. Who Can We Be Sure Of just did not work for me - the slightly dissonant nature of the chorus seemed at odds with the rest of the material on the album, and there seemed to be a few too many superfluous changes thrown in. Similarly with the closing track, The Flame Is Burning Out. This one again seemed to be trying to be just a little too heavy for my taste.
A fine album then, with perhaps just a couple of below par tracks. Like most of Jadis output, it will please fans of the band most certainly, though is unlikely to win many new converts. But if you, like me, are one of the converted, there is much here to enjoy.
My "relationship" with Jadis has been somewhat odd for a long time; there were songs that I absolutely loved, but also quite a few that left me completely indifferent. Their previous studio album Understand appeared to be "something completely different" though, as the Monty Python guys would put it. That album grabbed me by the throat and refused to let go. I was completely smitten by it, from the jangly guitar intro of Where In The World to the fade-out of Counting All The Seconds! All of a sudden, Jadis displayed a freshness and an edge, which I had missed in many of their earlier songs. What also struck me was that there was much more emotion present in the vocals, which was even shining through in the music - everything just felt a lot more sincere. Needless to say, I was really looking forward to hearing its follow-up.
I must admit that I felt slightly disappointed the first time I played Fanatic. The album did certainly not have the same impact on me as its predecessor, but now, after having played it a number of times, I can honestly say that this is not a bad album at all. On the contrary, this is a really good CD, although I still think it loses the race from Understand by quite a bit more than a noselength.
Such a statement does, of course, crave an explanation. The reason why I think that Fanatic does not match the same level as Understand is because the main part of the album shows a return to the older, smoother Jadis sound. The fresh and exciting, rockier feel from Understand does surface at several instances (e.g. in The Great Outside, I Never Noticed and Yourself Alone), and it is at those moments the band really sparkles, but on the whole they seem to have stepped back into their old boots again. And that is the thing, apart from a few exceptions, all edges have been sanded off once more, leading to a sound which is more connected to AOR than to progressive ROCK. And well, I am sure that some of you will see this otherwise, but to me, AOR is just not as much of a "turn-on" as full-fledged prog rock is.
Okay, that all might have sounded a bit negative. As I mentioned above though, I do still think that this is a really good album. I very much enjoy listening to it and caught myself quite often singing or whistling one of its tunes when I was not. Like John wrote, "all the usual trademarks are there" and that means that you can expect some high-quality tunes with great dynamics, written and performed by four guys who know their instruments inside and out. Chandler plays some splendid solos and riffs, Orford lays down some beautiful atmospheres and spot-on backing vocals, Jowitt squeezes in a couple of bass-gems (listen to his playing on I Never Noticed and Yourself Alone, for instance!), whereas Christey is the solid, but at the same time inventive backbone of the band.
First track The Great Outside is one of my favourites on the album. It reminds me at times of Jadis's own Wonderful World and of Genesis's Los Endos when the bass pedals come in, but could easily have been a track of the previous album. Into Temptation is more in the vein of the older Jadis sound, whereas it also features some heavier bits, which I really like.
It is interesting that John writes "We get some of the trademark "na-na-na" vocals again, but who's complaining?", when he is talking about Each And Everyday, because well, I am! Complaining, that is. Not about the first couple of times that the "na-na-na"s are passing by; they just remind me of More Than Meets The Eye there and that's all. But I think that the fact that they come in at the end of Gary's vocal outburst more or less destroys the entire emotion of that bit. A shame, that! I Never Noticed and the spacey beauty of the title track are a lot more convincing, on the other hand.
The heavier sound of the verses of Yourself Alone gives this song something threatening, which I really dig. The chorused keyboards and throbbing bass once more remind me of the Genesis sound from some A Trick Of The Tail tracks. This is my favourite track on the album, even though I think that the end could have been a bit stronger.
Take These Words is indeed a "proto-typical Jadis" track, as John puts it. One can hear elements of many of Jadis's older songs in it. This does not really apply to the emotional and well-built-up What Kind Of Reason. Here, I am reminded of both H-era Marillion (some parts of the impressive album Brave come to mind) and later-Pink Floyd (this feeling being strengthened by Chandler's Gilmour-like guitar solo).
Since I received the promo version of Fanatic, which doesn't include the bonus track, The Flame Is Burning Out, I cannot say anything about this song. I must admit though, that I also thought that Who Can We Be Sure Of was not such a great track. There is an almost Morissey-like dissonance present in the track at times, something which I have never liked, although I also get some Genesis - ...And Then There Were Three... vibes from it.
Summing it all up, Fanatic is a return to the older, smoother, more AOR-oriented Jadis sound, although a few songs - most noticeably The Great Outside, I Never Noticed and Yourself Alone - display some great moments that hark back to the rockier sound of Understand. It is a good album, but just not as good as the previous one. I do therefore agree with John that people who weren't already convinced of the quality of Jadis's music, will most likely not be convinced by this new album either. Still, I would certainly recommend anyone who has not heard this band yet, to check them out!
Moon Of Steel - Insignificant Details
I guess it’s always wise for a band to take a few years between the release of its debut and the follow-up album. But 13 years!? Moon of Steel will certainly never be accused of rushing things!! Anyway that’s the time that’s passed since this Italian band first arrived on the progressive/power metal scene with the release of their debut album Passions. It received good reviews and entered the charts in several European countries as well as Japan. But it was followed only by a long break due to ‘personal reasons’.
Moon of Steel reformed in 1999 with a four-track mini CD and contributions to two Queensryche and Dream Theater tribute albums and has spent the past three years putting together its comeback album.
Now, one of the beauties of this reviewing lark, is that every so often a record will land on my desk, that in all reality I’d never have even got to hear about - let alone gone out and bought. Such was the case with ‘Insignificant Details’. But heck, after playing this constantly for a few weeks, the wait (if I had of course been waiting!) would have been more than worth it. It would be a real crime if this little gem doesn’t make it to a wider audience.
The label has billed this as ‘for fans of progressive melodic metal in the vein of Queensryche, Dream Theater and Nevermore’. Well I can see a bit of the latter but very little of the first two. Moon of Steel you see are pretty unique. If you need comparisons, then fellow Italians Lacuna Coil would be a second cousin - but without the male-female vocals and grunts.
What really sets this band apart from the rest, are two things. The sheer quality of their songs and the absolutely stunning vocals of Sarah Bonetti. This is where the Lacuna comparison is strongest. Bonetti has a very similar voice to that of the Coil’s Cristina Scabbia – that lilting, sensual tone that grabs your attention from the first notes and holds you mesmerised throughout. On one or two songs All About Eve’s Julianne Regan would also be a good landmark.
Standout tracks are many, but I Am kicks off with all meaty Evergrey riffs and builds slowly and surely to a sublime throwaway hook. Like many of the songs on this album it’s all beautifully paced and structured, with an off-centre guitar solo and other twists and turns that keeps the listener interested.
After is the only track that employs male/female harmonies and has the darkest Gothic vibe. Coming closest to Lacuna Coil, it builds up gently into a stomping ballad with some lovely progressive guitar work from JJ Oliveri.
Grey is the masterpiece. It launches with a heavy, rollercoaster riff that strides out in a series of ever-changing grooves before Bonetti’s slightly pained vocals kick in. We soon change direction with a more laid back section before the guitars hit another heavier groove and what sounds like the chorus. But then we change to another chug-along riff that really rolls the neck muscles, before hitting an even better and totally sublime hook that you want to play over and over again. Metal is rarely as exquisite as this.
The most epic moment comes with Details. This is Bonetti at her most evocative and Moon Of Steel at their songwriting best. The track opens with some pounding, almost Thrash guitar and bass before we dip into a tender, acoustic passage where Bonetti truly caresses the listener. With some grinding guitar work it builds brilliantly into a stunningly intensive melodic hook that I doubt will be bettered this year. This is one of three samples on the band’s website. You really have to listen to it to fully appreciate how good this is – words can never really do it justice.
Elsewhere The Wave is a gentler, atmospheric piece – very much All About Eve territory - while What Will Remain offers a haunting, acoustic introduction. The whole thing has a crystal sharp production and while I’ve concentrated on the vocals a lot, there’s no doubt this is a very strong band in every department.
For anyone into melodic, powerful and progressive metal and especially anyone who goes for the likes of Lacuna Coil, I really can not recommend this album highly enough. If anyone can get me to see them live - let me know?!
Conclusion: 10 out of 10
kRé - Ruido Doméstico
kRé are a Venezuelan band centred around composers Ruben D'hers (guitar, Rhodes, cello, percussion, piano, violin), Raúl Monsalve (4 & 6 string bass, synthesiser) and Hugo Mármol (drums, percussion). They are ably assisted by Raúl Monsalve (4 & 6 string bass, synthesiser), Pablo García (tenor & soprano saxes), José 'Chemi' Gutiérrez (Rhodes, synthesiser) and Ana Rosa Rodríguez (cello, vocals).
Ruido Doméstico is an entirely instrumental album of jazz-tinged progressive rock - the linear notes pronounce that "kRé is a common space where we may improvise our differences" ... ummm interesting and certainly not the easiest of albums to review, particularly as there was no information on the band sent with the CD and not even a website to pour over!
On first hearing, the complex nature of the compositions tended to overwhelm and it was only after repeated listenings that the nature of the album began to sink into the psyche. There are a wide variety of influences that can be heard in the music: the jazz-rock of Weather Report, the more improvisational aspects of King Crimson and the psychedelic jazz of early 1970s Soft Machine or Kevin Ayers and The Whole World. More contemporaneously, parallels can be drawn with Sphere3 who combine progressive elements with hints of jazz.
The musicianship is superlative throughout, with each member of the band demonstrating their skills without being too flash or self-indulgent. The overall sound is very atmospheric and the Rhodes electric piano sounds work wonderfully alongside the very melodic guitar sound that has been achieved. Reviewing individual tracks would be somewhat pointless, not to mention difficult, but suffice to say there is sufficient variety amongst the compositions to maintain the interest over the entire album. The title track is the most minimalist composition based on a synthesised backing overlaid with plucked and bowed cello parts and guitar providing Fripp-like atmospherics. Ornamento is a very accomplished composition which is very well arranged and exciting in that one does not know what is coming next.
I have to admit that after first playing this CD I was instilled with a degree of apprehension over the review. However, with time, I have gradually grown to like the album and it is certainly something that that I will dig out and play when I want to listen to an album that is a little bit different. Certainly, "kRé" will not be everybody's cup of tea, but they have to be applauded for the class and quality of the music they have produced. One cannot fault the musicianship, the writing, the arranging or the production (although some of the saxophone solos do sound a bit 'rough' to my ears), and I can recommend the album to those of you that are a bit more adventurous in your musical tastes.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Ebola Joy – Sitra Achra
A suitably gloomy and mysterious cover image enshrines this, the third, self produced (Demo) CD by Czech duo Ebola Joy. They classify themselves as “Dark Electronica”- well, there’s no arguing about the dark bit, and I guess electronic means were extensively employed in the production of the music (being only keyboards, guitars and programmed drums) - but the sound achieved is much more that of a symphonic gothic doom metal band.
The duo is made up of Al on vocals and keyboards, and York on guitars and voices. They cite as influences My Dying Bride, Samael, Tiamat, Moonspell and Pink Floyd. As I have only heard the last of these, I can only assume that fans of the other bands would enjoy this disc. Whilst there are some Floydian atmospherics at work here, the overall feel is much heavier, and I don’t recall Gilmour or Waters (or Barrett for that matter) ever growling on record. I don’t want this to mislead you though; the growling vocals are only employed sparingly on a couple of tracks and, indeed, the rest of the singing is crystal clear and confidently delivered. The vocals are a definite reason for searching this out.
A glance at the track titles will give you a good idea of the kind of lyrical material on offer, being overly obsessed with death and portraying a very bleak outlook on life. Appropriately, therefore, the music largely consists of doom laden guitar riffs and gothic organ tones, backed by pounding drums and delivered at a funereal pace. It is considerably more enjoyable than this may imply, but party music it is not!
Dying World is a suitably sombre opening track, immediately setting the mood for much of what follows. The keyboard stabs are spooky and help add to the sepulchral atmosphere created by the mournful singing. You Have No Choice and Touch Of Death both add growled vocals, but it's quite tastefully done and not too off-putting for the novice to this kind of thing. If you can make it through the former track, you should find the rest of the album easier to appreciate, as this is as heavy and extreme as it gets.
Your Life In Death quickens the pace a little and employs an eastern edge to the keyboards to add a little spice to the song. Empty has melodic guitar lines and tasteful piano to help temper the despair conjured by the lyrics. Anonymous Face adds nothing new to the mixture and drags a little, making it my least favourite track.
Weary, appropriately enough, is a mournful ballad that reminds of Swedish extreme metallers Opeth’s quieter moments (check out their entirely proggy latest album Damnation - which abandons death metal shrieking for clean vocals and is drenched in mellotrons and which I heartily recommend.) I really like this track.
Stay begins with a crunching riff and veers towards a heavier Pink Floyd / Porcupine Tree sound, with the keyboards offering a glimpse of light amongst the gloom. This is another highlight. Return (On The Boundary Of Light and Shadow) is, unexpectedly, an exotic instrumental, which utilises vocal samples and sound effects alongside keyboards and percussion to create an intriguing coda to the album.
A touch more variety in the moods employed may have enabled this disc to be appreciated by a wider audience, as the vocals are great and the symphonic keyboards are sufficiently prominent to please most proggers, but the overall feeling of darkness will limit its appeal. Fans of Gothic Doom metal should lap this up.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
(I Am) One - The Gates Of Industry
Back in 1997 (I Am) One were formed in Holland and over the next two years recorded a collection of demos that on release caused a bit of a stir. As a result, the band signed a deal with a German label, were given a respectable budget and told to "Go forth and record an album." And then, for four years...nothing. Financial and legal difficulties at the German label prevented any of the recorded material being released but fortunately the band still had the original demos. With some embellishments and the addition of some newer recordings the band's debut album is finally ready for release.
The resulting album, taken from material recorded over a six-year period, is rather schizophrenic. Progressive rock songs mingle with some extremely American influenced soft rock pieces (think Bon Jovi without the big choruses) and some rather more commercial pop/rock material. One immediate detractor is the very unimaginative drum programming - it also sounds very poor, as if everything else had been finished and then someone realised they only had half a day to add the beat! Too uniform, too predictable, too incongruous with the other instrumentation. The other negative mark in my book, are the generally poor lyrics (which is, admittedly a bit ripe coming from someone whose linguistic skills are virtually non-existent!). Putting aside the negatives, what does the album have to offer for the discerning punter? The first part of opening track The Arena Of Time has a beginning that is vaguely reminiscent of Lone Star, a very catchy chorus, a guitar solo that borders on Dream Theater-type prog metal and a rather neat transition into the second half of the song, Turn To Stone. The twenty-minute plus title track is the most progressive piece on the album with the first four minutes of Osiris Arises packed with a variety of interesting musical ideas. The song culminates in a very good keyboard and chugging guitar section before a well-played acoustic guitar introduces the second section - The Ship Of Re. Largely instrumental, there is sufficient variety in the piece to maintain the interest, even if some sections sound a bit like Toto, although a bit of judicious editing may have tightened up the piece a tad. Nice guitar work out at the end though!
With the album's two extended pieces out of the way, the remainder of the album focuses on shorter material. Hold On is a more radio-friendly piece, as is Not Good Enough, even if it is a bit of a strain for vocalist Robert Loozen to reach the high notes! Running All The Time has the most interesting arrangement, slightly darker than most of the other material but possessing a good chorus it also features a keyboard solo that fans of Jon Lord will appreciate. Final track, Silence Of The Universe, is also split into two sections, the (very good) instrumental Follow The Stars and (the rather too disjointed) Silence Of The Universe which has a bit of a limp ending but at least tries out some different vocal arrangements.
The overriding impression is of a band that is not quite sure in what direction they are heading, and unaware of who their likely audience is going to be. Of course, this could be as a result of the rather unusual circumstances in which the album was produced but in order to build a reasonable following, (I Am) One will need to define their sound and work out where they are heading. They also need to rely less on programmed drums, it doesn't suit the music. However, for a collection of largely demo material, the album is a reasonable enough effort. Only time will tell in which way the band will progress.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10