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Reviews in this issue:
Poor Genetic Material - Winter's Edge
This is the third album from German group Poor Genetic Material. Although new to me, reviews of their previous albums (Summerland and Leap Into Fall) can be found in the DPRP archive. Prior to that, the core duo of Stefan Glomb (guitars) and Phillip Jaehne (keyboards) recorded two albums of instrumental soundscapes. With the addition of Philip Griffiths (vocals) and Ludwig Benedek (drums) - both from Alias Eye – and Dennis Sturm (bass), this new “group” formation seems intent on taking their progressive musical ideology in an increasingly commercial direction. They describe this new disc as being “Art rock” rather than Progressive, but don’t let that discourage you, as I would not hesitate to recommend this beautifully crafted recording to any reader of these pages.
On a musical level, I would say this group is a blend of some of the better neo groups (Jadis, Marillion, Land’s End) with some influences from 80’s artists (The Police, David Sylvian) and with a strong dose of ambient music a la Brian Eno.
The album’s title and packaging (highlighting a series of impressionistic paintings by Oliver Schollenberger) perfectly sum up the mood so expertly conjured by the delicately layered keyboards and guitars, and held together by the subtle but solid rhythm section. The evocative, poetic lyrics are given full justice by Philip Griffiths. He is truly the jewel in a highly polished crown here. His clear, strong tones ride high above the music and command your attention at all times. Although the music is very good, with plenty of room for leisurely instrumental introductions and atmospheric interludes (sometimes calling to mind the ambient creations of Brian Eno), it is the vocals that kept me coming back to this excellent disc. His phrasing is immaculate. I am very keen to hear the previous albums, and also those of his other group Alias Eye. As a point of reference, I would say that, at various times, I was reminded of Michael Sadler (Saga), Gary Chandler (Jadis) and Paul McMahon (Haze) but Griffiths is easily equal to the best this trio has to offer.
The album can be divided into two distinct sections, with the first part (songs 1 to 4) having the more commercial material, and the second (the epic Winter’s Edge sandwiching Nuage Blue) playing like a side long suite (if I can evoke the days of vinyl records) in the classic style of the 70’s greats. This is not to say that the commercial approach is abandoned; indeed, the melodic vocal sections at the core of this extended work are utterly gorgeous, and would melt the hardest of hearts. It’s just that there is more room for instrumental development, and some stronger riffing sections, which, together with some entrancing flute-like sounds from the keyboards, give the piece its proggier edge.
Having said that, the “commercial” songs are unlikely to be troubling your radio or the charts anytime soon, they’re far too subtle and involved for that. Radio programmers hearing the delicate, gentle introductions will have tuned out long before the songs gather full steam. Believe me, this is their loss and the gain of any true music fan willing to give a chance to music which dares to stretch the song format beyond its usual safe parameters. My favourite songs are; the lengthy title track: Whitescape which flirts with a reggae beat; and Hugging Horses which has some lovely rippling piano, a terrific vocal performance (slightly marred by a spoken interjection which is a little cheesy) and a memorably melodic chorus. At times I was reminded of the latest album from Swedish melodic proggers Galleon. At the end of the last track, there is a minute’s silence before a brief vocal coda revisits one of the previous melodies.
Despite being immediately likeable and approachable, subsequent listens have only served to enrich my enjoyment of this superb album.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Marillion - Recital Of The Script
'Hammersmith Odeon, London, England, April 18th 1983' (121:37): Script For A Jester's Tear (8:45), Garden Party (7:00), The Web (10:06), Chelsea Monday (7:45), He Knows You Know (6:23), Forgotten Sons (13:58), Market Square Heroes (8:27), Grendel (18:02), Credits (1:04)
Bonus Material: 'Live At The Marquee, London, England, 1982' (11:04): He Knows You Know (5:27), Backstage (1:03), Market Square Heroes (excerpt) 1:32), Fish Interview (3:05)
Disc 1 'A Year In The Life' (50:04): Introduction (0:49), Hooks In You (video) (2:48), In Conversation - Steve Joining The Band (3:34), In Conversation - Steve's First Gig (4:02), In Conversation - Steve's First Tour (5:05), In Conversation - Uninvited Guest (1:28), Uninvited Guest (video) (3:40), In Conversation - Keyboard Parts On Tour (1:49), Eric (demo) (4:16), In Conversation - Brazil (1:43), Kayleigh (live in Brazil) (3:55), Lavender (live in Brazil) (2:29), Hooks In You (live in Brazil) (2:52), In Conversation - Easter (0:38), Easter (video) (4:22), In Conversation - Writing The Next Album (1:10), This Town (demo) (5:14)
Disc 2 'Live at the De Montfort Hall' (1:32:42): Backstage (0:19), The King Of Sunset Town (6:42), Slàinte Mhath (4:37), Easter (6:39), Uninvited Guest (4:50), Warm Wet Circles (3:51), That Time Of The Night (6:00), Holloway Girl (5:21), Berlin (8:36), Seasons End (7:50), Hooks In You (2:55), The Space... (6:34), Kayleigh (3:50), Lavender (2:43), Heart Of Lothian (2:54), Incommunicado (5:08), After Me (3:36), Market Square Heroes (10:01)
Bonus Material 'Director's Cuts' (39:31): The King Of Sunset Town (6:22), Easter (6:39), Holloway Girl (4:46), Berlin (9:09), Seasons End (7:47), Incommunicado (4:48)
Last year EMI released a compilation DVD which featured all the promotional videos Marillion made during their EMI years. Though rather disappointing on the extras side, the release proved there is still a market for the old Marillion material. So it comes as no surprise that two more Marillion releases show up in EMI's re-release cycle. However, conscious to the demands of their fanbase, the band made sure that this time the releases would include at least some interesting extras.
First of the two is Recital Of The Script, originally released in 1983 on VHS, shows a live registration of the two gigs at the Hammersmith Odeon, London, on April 17th and 18th 1983. Incidentally, these were also the final shows Mick Pointer played with the band, as he was replaced by Andy Ward only weeks later.
In 1984 a video EP was released with two more tracks from the same shows: The Web and Grendel, and these two tracks have been re-installed according to the running order of the set for the release of this DVD.
The concert is professionally filmed by an array of cameramen, quite a few of which seem to be standing in the audience, thereby giving the feel of really being at the gig. Even so the director has the tendency to focus mainly on Fish, with the rest of the band more serving as a backdrop to his theatrics.
It takes a while to get into the gig. The band is either a bit nervous with all the cameras around them, or they're completely doped up (this is 1983 after all) but Script for a Jester's Tear and Garden Party are played such a slow pace, that you'd worry if the audience isn't falling asleep.
The Web gets the show going and from then onwards the show only gets better. Fish' theatrics are a treat, as he portrays much of the lyrical content with little or no stage props. He declares his love to a plant in The Web, mimes drug use in He Knows You Know and he shoots the audience before committing suicide in Forgotten Sons.
Highlight of the show is the one song that neither Fish, nor Marillion wishes to be associated with: Grendel. Pompous, self-indulgent, kitsch... a progressive rock classic in every sense. Fish' theatrics here include walking around the stage with some kind of Nordic mask on and pulling someone out of the audience pretending to kill the guy!
Unfortunately two of the songs played on the night, Charting The Single and Three Boats Down From The Candy, could not be tracked down in the archives, so these are missing on the DVD.
This is made up for by some very interesting and very rare looking footage shot at the Marquee in London in 1982. This may very well be the first ever time the band got filmed - it sure looks that way! It is presented in the form of a sort of mini documentary, with He Knows You Know played in full, a look backstage before the band goes back onstage for the encore, part of Market Square Heroes and finally a short interview with Fish.
All in all a worthy addition to you Marillion collection. If you can get past the 'dated' look of the footage, this is pure nostalgia!
From Stoke Row To Ipanema was originally released on VHS in 1990. It was a year after the split with Fish, the band had recorded and released Season's End, toured the globe on their most extensive tour to date, and they were in the studio recording their next album. However, EMI felt there was still need for an introduction of 'the new guy' and therefor released this video.
The video seems more like a television documentary then anything a fan would relate to though. It consists of interview snippets with the band (focusing on Steve Hogarth) interspersed with promo videos from the three Season's End singles and live footage from their extensive world tour.
The video isn't overly exciting. It features some interesting anecdotes and the Brazilian live footage is quite impressive, seeing Marillion perform in front of an audience of 85,000. Highlight are the bits from the studio, where the band performs an early, yet seriously rocking version of This Town.
For the rest it is mainly a document which shows where the band was at that time in their career. It is a bit sad that thirteen years onwards some of the prejudice against the 'new guy' still hasn't disappeared and Marillion need to promote themselves in eerily similar ways!
Originally the video ended with six songs that had been recorded at the De Montfort Hall, Leicester, on April 24th 1990. The band played a special gig in a TV studio, which was recorded by five cameras. After this short set, the band took the stage again, and played the full 90 minute set they would normally play (oddly enough including the same six songs a second time). This too had been filmed and a few of the songs have been broadcast on the TV show "Rock Steady".
Now the DVD comes with a bonus disc, which features the entire Montfort Hall gig, as well as the six songs that had been included on the original video, as "director's cuts".
So instead of just a video re-release, you get an hour and a half worth of live material, most of which is previously unreleased. If only all DVDs were this good!
Although never very obvious, Steve Hogarth proves a worthy contender to his predecessor's theatrics. He too is good at expressing the emotion of the lyrics and he does it equally well with Fish' song as with his own songs.
It's great to see his gimmicky magic gloves in action, when he plays them on a glass plate during Uninvited Guest. Another highlight is the little keyboard duel during The Space...
The ten minute version of Market Square Heroes is a real treat. It's the Marillion-on-acid version, as it's played nearly twice as fast as the original studio version and it even incorporates a little bit of that other early live-favourite: Margaret.
The Director's Cut footage that follows is a bit of an anti-climax, but nonetheless enjoyable. It's interesting to see the difference in performance with the rest of the show. The band is much more animated, and Steve Rothery (normally not the most 'active' stage persona) is running around and jumping like crazy.
Picture and sound quality of both DVDs is reasonable. Since both releases were only ever intended as VHS release, none of the footage surpasses TV quality. It is interesting to see how the 1983 footage is actually better than that of 1990! Most likely because the 1983 concert was filmed with conventional, optical film cameras, and the 1990 show with video or betacam cameras.
The soundtrack has been remastered and cleaned up, but unfortunately it is stereo only. The original masters were stereo, not multitrack, so it wasn't possible to remix a 5.1 surround soundtrack.
EMI's re-release frenzy seems unstoppable, with DVD versions of Brave and Live From Lorelei being scheduled for 2004. However, if the bonus materials on those is as good as these, then no-one's complaining!
Recital Of The Script : 8 out of 10
From Stoke Row To Ipanema : 8+ out of 10
Round House - Live@2001 In Osaka
One of the perks of reviewing for the Dutch Progressive Rock Page is the access one gets to bands who would have remained unknown to the reviewer where it not for particular albums of theirs to come under the scrutiny of that individual. Nowadays, the Internet also provides a valuable source of information for the reviewer to be able to provide a historical background to an otherwise unknown band. However, language barriers do pose a problem to this and unfortunately this is the case with Round House. Having received a set of 3 CD's from their record label, I immediately proceeded to their website to try and get a glimpse into the band history. Unfortunately, Japanese is a non-starter for me and all relevant information on both the website as well as the liner notes to the booklet are in Japanese. Thus I can only piece together what little information I could figure out from the occasional hint buried within the text, such as Roman numerals!
Two of the albums Wings To Rest and Jin.Zo-Ni.N.Gen are studio recordings, or out-takes of recording sessions that the band were doing during the late seventies. The third album is meant to be a live recording of the band in 2001 in Osaka. I use the word meant because there is never any hint of a live audience in between tracks, though the album was probably recorded from the soundboard of a live concert. There are three members of the quintet that have survived from the original lineup to play on the Live album and these are Masayuki Kato (guitar), Yoshiaki Uemura (bass) and Hirosi Natori (drums). The original seventies recordings have Kiyoharu Someta on keyboards and Yoshinobu Fuji on guitar and these are replaced by Yoshinori Kataoka and Tsutomu Tamura respectively on the live recording.
All tracks on the three albums are instrumentals with the band playing a melodic style of music that is a blend between progressive rock and fusion with some great interplay between the twin guitars. The Live In Osaka album consists mainly of tracks found on the other two albums, though it also displays some interesting variations when compared to the originals. Starting off with Jin.Zo-Ni.N.Gen, the album itself can be subdivided into three sections, according to the dates during which the tracks where recorded. The first three tracks come from a recording session from 3 June 1978 at Yamaha Studio in Meguro and they showcase the band playing a very European jazz-rock style with little or nothing betraying their Oriental background. Tracks 4 and 5 come from a session at TIME in Osaka on 20 November 1978 whilst the final track is included as a bonus track from a November 1978 home recording session at guitarist Masayuki Kato's home.
The music is reminiscent of many of the fusion bands that were present during the mid-seventies period such as Mahavishnu Orchestra or Return To Forever. Admittedly the recording on the album lacks a certain kick as the bass is really low down in the mix which really acts as a detriment to a full enjoyment of the music presented. On the other hand one should definitely mention the fabulous guitar work that really is astounding. Few progressive or jazz-fusion bands managed to present twin guitar work with much success and it was mainly in the hard rock/heavy metal scene that this combination was successful.
Tour Of The Deep Ocean is just one of the examples of pieces which manage to allow the twin guitar work to really come to the fore, not to mention that is one of the album highlights with the music varying from a more rock orientated approach with some crunching guitar work to Mellotron-backed evocative guitar solos. The fine work displayed on most of the album comes a cropper with the last track which really leaves a lot to be desired. True, it is a home recording, but it might have been better left unreleased!
With Wings To Rest, Round House seem to take on a much more "commercial" or better still, ear-friendly, approach. The album features tracks laid down in two separate sessions, one in 1978 and another in 1979 at the Yamaha Studios and is substantially more palatable than Jin.Zo-Ni.N.Gen in many aspects. The music still has a strong jazz-fusion tinge to it though it seems to be so much more cohesive and structured, allowing it to be of much more appeal to the progressive rock lover.
The highlight of this album must surely be the opener, A Red Rose And A Whisper Of A Devil which has a catchy strong and hypnotic rhythm. Musically it is much of the same with hints of early Camel thrown in with the fusion of groups such as Brand X. Unfortunately the production qualities of this album are somewhat lacking in clarity and this is a real detriment to the overall appreciation of Wings To Rest. From the little bits of information I managed to get of Round House, it seems that this album was actually released after the band had broken up and it consists of a number of tracks that were lying around from various recording sessions the band had made.
In 2001, it seems that three of the original five Round House members (Masayki Kato, Yoshiaki Uemura and Hirosi Natori) reformed the band for two live gigs together with the help of two guest musicians, Yoshinmori Kataoka on keyboards and Tsutomu Tamura on guitar. These gigs were recorded with the Osaka gig retained and churned out as a live album. As a live recording one cannot but be impressed by the tightness of the band as they go through the various pieces, the majority of which are taken from Jin-So-Ni-N-Gen album. Once again the music offers little in terms of variety when compared to the other two albums. However, one must remark that the clarity of the recording is that much better to make it the album that one should sample should he/she wish to try out this Japanese band. One should mention that though the album was recorded live, there is very little hint of any audience whatsoever and the only time that one can sense a live "atmosphere" is when the band are introduced by one of the band members. In a nutshell, Round House are not portraying any new ground breaking material. The best comparison would be to put them in the same category as many of the jazz-rock/fusion bands of the seventies. Technically they sound great and would definitely please any lovers of this musical genre yet on the other hand don't expect to hear anything new.
Live @2001 In Osaka : 7 out of 10
Jin.Zo-Ni.N.Gen : 6.5 out of 10
Wings To Rest : 6.5 out of 10
Jeffrey Ryan Smoots - Loss For Words
Loss For Words is the fifth album from American multi-instrumentalist Jeffrey Ryan Smoots (or JRS for short!). Following on from the 2001 Despair To Peace, a classical album dealing with the death of a loved one, Loss For Words, is a collection of 12 hard-edged, melodic, progressive rock songs with the emphasis placed firmly on the guitar. Citing such six string luminaries as Alex Lifeson, Ty Tabor and Yngwie Malmsteen as major influences and being a fan of progressive bands such as Dream Theater and King's X, it is not surprising that the album features a lot of heavy, and one might add, accomplished guitar playing.
But, it is not all-out fretwork histrionics, the writing is strong, has a high degree of melody and features some interesting twists and turns that keeps the attention. JRS handles all the instrumentation on the album - bass, keyboards, even live drums (although there are some programmed drums in places). However, it is the guitar that takes prominence. From the hard rock, multi-tracked onslaught on Mr Negativity, to the proto-grunge of Zeta Principle to the harmonised melodies on King Lerxst, this album has the lot for any discerning fan of the electric guitar. What is more, it is highly original material to boot. Sure, the influences are apparent in places, but just as you think that a track is settling down into, for instance, a southern rock groove, it veers off at an unexpected tangent.
Although there are variations in tempo, personally I would have preferred a few more laid back numbers to counteract some of the more 'in your face' tracks. Ambergris (which, trivia fans, is actually the discarded linings of sperm whale intestines used in the manufacture of perfume) is the closest that you'll get to a ballad. With a keyboard/guitar intro that is reminiscent of Michael Schenker-era UFO it has a hook line that will sit in your brain for days. But mostly the solo guitar (which has a definite touch of the Al Di Meola's about it) is left to soar over chunky riffs that some metal bands wouldn't be ashamed of.
Overall, the album was quite a refreshing change. It was good to hear a purely instrumental album that focused on short pieces. Although my periods of listening to heavy music are getting further apart and 'progressive metal' leaves me all but cold, JRS has come up with something that little bit different that I am sure to want to revisit at regular intervals in the years to come.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10