Reviews in this issue:
DGM - Hidden Place
Well, we've entered the latter part of the year and there's certainly been plenty of variety on offer in the Progressive Metal field so far. From the complex conceptuality of "Redemption" to the modern ProgMetal of "Lanfear", from the atmospheric widdlings of "OSI" to the stunning PowerProg of "Andromeda" - there's barely been two albums that have taken the same slant on the genre. Now, add to this, the forth album from Italian five-piece DGM.
I only caught the last of their three releases on the Elevate label and while listenable, Dreamland hardly kept me glued to the stereo. Having recently signed on the dotted line with the increasingly promising Scarlet Records, Hidden Place is a step up in class in every department.
Often described as Europe's answer to Dream Theater, to me, that does the band a huge disservice. Sure, tracks like Invisible Rain, Save Me and Heaven take more than a passing reference to Awake - period DT, but there's so much more on offer here.
Where DGM differ from most, is in the way Hidden Place sees a very Hard Rock approach to the songwriting. That makes this very accessible and has the potential to appeal to both a metal and hard rock audience. On top of that, in Titta Tani they have a blues-tinged vocalist that is equally at home on the Vanden Plas inspired opener A Day Without The Sun (my favourite) and the Steelhouse Lane-inspired Blind. I certainly don't recall him being this strong on Dreamland and so can only put his vocals down as another big improvement.
What really impresses me though, is the way the band has struck the right balance between creating a varied and inventive musical background with some accessible and yes, catchy songs. The title track has a brilliant hard rockin' guitar/keyboard opening; Save Me has a great mood change with its jazz piano mid-section, while Alone shows off Tani's bluesy vocals to great effect.
While there have been some good releases, the problem with many albums this year has been a worrying inability to maintain the quality across the whole album. Call it the filler-syndrome. Too many discs have had two or three tracks that fall short - fillers - effecting the overall enjoyment. DGM has almost managed a full house here - just the penultimate offering Age of The Flame falling flat on its face.
DGM recently landed a slot on the "Italian Gods of Metal" fest, along with the likes of Queensrÿche, Whitesnake and Angra. These three bands are actually a pretty good summary of where DGM is coming from. In my book at least, that alone will guarantee this impressive album a place towards the top of my top 10 for this year - and it's getting better with every listen.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
All Too Human - Entropy
Bonus Tracks: What Do You Call Me Now? (6:05), The Limits Of Man (5:17)
These tracks are available on the European version released in June 2004 by Steelheart Records.
This is an independent release? You could have fooled me. Entropy is All Too Human's second CD which, still without a deal, they put out themselves last year. The first pressing sold out and now it has been re-issued with a wider distribution as well as a new single in the shape of The Jester.
From what I've gathered from sound clips on their informative website, it's much heavier and more complex than its predecessor Forever and a Day. This is Progressive Metal the way I like it - great musicianship, a heavy and very catchy sound and a complex array of song structures. If you need comparisons then Dream Theater circa Dream and Day... and early Queensrÿche would be good reference points. But this American outfit, blends enough other influences to create their own unique sound.
I guess the killer riffs and diverse guitar performance of Clint Wilson is one big plus point, as are the vocals of Don DuZan. He has a unique, powerful, and very expressive voice which definitely brings back memories of Geoff Tate at times (especially on the biting E-killer). And to re-enforce the influences, Derek Sherinian also handles keyboards on this album. However name-dropping isn't really necessary. With catchy songs like The Jester, with the more metallic energy of E-killer and with the more progressive workouts of Seven Deadly Sins (another great chorus) and Entropy - All Too Human have all too many reasons to stand on their own two feet.
Occasionally the instrumental sections do become a tad self-indulgent for my tastes and the tracks tend to lose the melodic identity created by Don's vocals. Also audiophiles be warned - the drum sound is abysmal throughout. It really does stand out like a sore thumb, especially the awkward, tinny, bashing on the instrumental Arrhythmia. Considering the excellent sound elsewhere, this really is a major and somewhat puzzling let down. At times it really does distract attention from the song.
But as a package Entropy is full of crunchy guitar riffs and enjoyable melody - yet with enough instrumental acrobatics to keep the most intense Prog-head entertained. The album is available direct from the band's website for around $10. With eight songs and a running time of 60 minutes, you'll definitely get your money's worth. It just amazes me that a band as good as All Too Human are not signed to a record label.
Notes added 9 December 2003 & 5 July 2004
All Too Human have now been signed by NuParadigm Music in the USA. Available through Steelheart Records in Europe - see note above.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Shadowkeep - A Chaos Theory
This is something for prog metal heads and especially those who enjoy the Queensrÿche of Rage for Order, Operation: Mindcrime and Empire.
A Chaos Theory is Shadowkeep's second full length album and even though I have heard neither Corruption Within nor the debut mini-CD Shadowkeep, I must say that this British five piece consisting of Rogue M Vox (vocals), Chris Allen (guitars), Nicki Robson (guitars), Steve 'SK' Kightley (bass) and Scott Higham (drums) has managed to impress me. Musically following bands like Iron Maiden, Fates Warning, Shadow Gallery and - last but not least - Queensrÿche, the band is one of many currently revitalising the metal community.
The band is not only leaning heavily on the legacy of Queensrÿche, but Rogue M Vox also manages to sound uncannily much like Geoff Tate very often - while at other times he captures the qualities of the likes of Ray Alder (Fates Warning), Mike Baker(Shadow Gallery) and even Keith Sudano(Eternity X). Added to this is the use of extremely good harmonies reminiscent of Shadow Gallery. The guitar work is top notch. Allen and Robson can easily be compared to great metal guitarists like Jim Matheos (Fates Warning) or Chris DeGarmo (Queensrÿche). The music goes between speed, power, bombastic moments and soft melodies.
Favorite tracks include the opening A Distant Paradox (which sets the Queenrÿche anticipation high), the superb Beware the Signs (which would easily fit on Operation: Mindcrime), the potential single Thorns and a Rose, Believe (with its brilliant guitar solo), Fear and Loathing (with Vox's spot on Tate-like screaming at the opening), the short, gentle and brilliant The Kether's Syndrome and the heavy Chaosgenesis... which all in all is half the CD, and there are more enjoyable tracks unmentioned.
This is is defintely a band with great potential and I will keep my eyes open for what they do next. And anyone into good prog metal in general and Queensrÿche, Fates Warning or Shadow Gallery in particular should check this album out... pronto! There are no excuses good enough not to.
Conclusion: 8+ out of 10
Green - Life
This is a slight departure for the Italian-based Frontiers label. Better known for its hard rock releases, Green is a very interesting band that has put together a very surprising album. Mixing melodic rock with very strong progressive influences, Life is their debut album and one that presents a collection of melodic hooks, original songwriting and instrumental skills in a fresh, honest and very personal way.
A concept album, more in terms of the message than the songs, Life combines strong, personal experiences through the story of Mr Kite. The songs deal with his will to live and to go on, no matter what he finds on his path. Taking inspiration from the incredible amount of ideas offered by everyday life, Green has tried to tell something which really has to do with themselves, the reality around them as they see and live it every day.
However, from beginning to end, the band shows that it has an uncanny sense of song. Imagine Rush and Pink Floyd mixed with Winger and Giant and you'll be somewhere towards getting an idea of the music that's on offer.
The album opens with its best track. Mr Kite is a great slice of progressive tinged melodic hard rock, as is I Still Love... which could have come off any of the Winger albums. The middle of the album goes off in a more Neo-Prog direction with lots of atmospheric instrumental sections - Cycling in The Rain for example, is a joyful bike-ride across the Italian countryside. The centrepiece of the album is Fabrizio Pieraccini who provides all the vocals and guitars as well as producing the disk. A strong accent does rather dominate a few of the songs but it's not enough to detract from the overall impression of a band that has a clear vision and can write some great songs.
If, like me, you're a great fan of both hard rock and progressive rock then this will certainly be a very worthwhile listen.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Chain - Reconstruct
I have to comment on the Earthscapes first. They are small parts of musical blur in between the tracks on which a voiceover does Douglas Adams, Monty Python and some other quotes. I really do like Douglas Adams and Monty Python a lot but can't see the point of these Earthscapes. Some of the quotes are pretty funny but it might be I only understood because I already knew them. The music on the album is in no way funny it is serious progmetal/progrock. So I am somewhat doubting but at the moment my opinion is: this album could have done without these Earthscapes.
So that's off my chest now. Chain was formed in 1994 and at the time they wrote a number of songs. One year later the band broke up. And that could have been the last we ever heard of Chain. But one of the members Henning Pauly listened to some rehearsal tapes years later and decided to produce the album in LA. So nine years have passed and the band has risen from their ashes. Nice story for a debut album isn't it?
It does not take too long to appreciate this album or at least I did not need much time to get used to it. All songs are of a well above average quality. Especially Before There Was, which is a perfect instrumental beginning to this album. I bit too perfect almost: in my opinion it is the best song on the album. Six minutes into the album and the best part is already behind you - a perfect combination of keys and (guitar) strings. Modest piano parts that are interleaved by strong guitar and drum parts. To me this is really an energy shot. This song is firm-soft-firm and "my oh my" the piano loops. First Life at first came across to me as a somewhat a ordinary rock song but after listening more often I am starting to enjoy this song. It is the first example of Matt Cash's vocals and what nice vocals they are. Just one slight comment: in some songs his voice is just too emotionless, it is just all on the same tone then.
While Impact has the correct ingredients of a standard progmetal song Incommunicado Prisoners Of Silence leans towards progrock more than it does to progmetal. Parts of this song brought me back to Both Worlds by For Absent Friends. Missing link is a nice ballad carried by flute and acoustic guitar, which gets heavier towards the end. The Augmented Animal at first appears to be one of the Earthscapes but it evolves from a mellow piano and vocals track to a more up-tempo song, via a complex keys solo it returns to the mellow part. This song has a very good build up.
Conspiracy takes me back to a time long gone and I doubt many people remember (or have ever known) but this song sounds like Winter which can be credited to the voices mainly, but also to the guitars. The Planet Is Fine is a up-tempo (and yes, cheery) tune with slower parts and a screaming guitar at the end. In Signs the keyboards, entangled in guitar riffs, play a leading role, however, during the chorus the tempo slows down a little. What There Will Be is a track with complex guitar and keyboard parts and because of the small dose of heavier guitars this is a real progressive rock song.
It is hard to put a specific label on Chain's Reconstruct (but then again who needs that label?). There is not really a consistent style across the album. But on the other hand it is not a number of unrelated songs either. There somehow is a binding principle and the different styles just show that Chain is able to play a broad range.
The strange thing is that I liked this album from the start (but without the "wow") and would have rated it with a '7' but after listening more often it grew on me a bit more and I got convinced that this album needs a DPRP recommended. So there you have it.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Gordian Knot - Emergent
In Emergent, Gordian Knot have produced an instrumental album that is a very welcome change from the shred-or-be-dead approach taken by most acts who walk this particular musical route.
Based around a core trio of Sean Malone (Fates Warning, Cynic) on bass, one-time Cynic bandmate Jason Göbel on guitar, and the Yes/King Crimson drummer Bill Bruford, the music is fleshed out by a top-notch array of guests including Steve Hackett (Genesis), Jim Matheos (Fates Warning) and fellow Cynics Paul Masvidal on guitars and Sean Reinert on drums.
Thankfully, while all consummate virtuosos, those concerned seem content to work together for the good of the song. Solo spots are plentiful but they are well-placed within the overall pieces and as a result there's plenty to enjoy - even if like me you generally avoid instrumental albums like the plague.
Whilst very much a band thing, Gordian Knot is very much the vision of Sean Malone whose bass and Chapman Stick are key features throughout. There's a good mix of reflective atmospheric numbers, more up-tempo rock workouts and a heavy dose of jazz/rock fusion.
This is actually the second Gordian release - the debut came out in 1998 and saw Sean team up again with Reinert, along with other luminaries such as Trey Gunn (King Crimson), Ron Jarzombek (Watchtower, Spastic Ink) and John Myung (Dream Theater).
Sean describes this album as: 'Instrumental music written from a vocal perspective' . That would be a fair description. The songs are structured in a similar way to vocal music with verses and choruses. Here however, the verses are through composed solos and the choruses are where the instruments are integrated into the same melodic framework.
Having the sound laid down with co-producer Scott Burns - known largely for his work in early '90s extreme metal - has made it an impressive listen too. And any Cynic fans will be especially interested in one song - A Shaman's Whisper marks the first time all four Cynic members - Sean, Paul Masvidal, Jason Göbel, and Sean Reinert - have recorded together since 1993.
Pretty much an essential purchase for those into instrumental Prog/rock/fusion and an interesting listen for others, who just like good music, played well.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Foe - Arm Yourself With Clairvoyance
I find myself once again dabbling my toes in the Prog Metal waters, spurred on by the recent review undertaken of Mythologic's - Standing in Stillness. Foe sees this continuation as I was intrigued by the unusual notion of a ProgMetal instrumental album. Granted an instrumental album in itself is not unusual, however my interest was aroused by the accompanying literature which hinted that the encompassed music might not necessarily be one of instrumental virtuosity. "Foe have found their voice on this debut through strong and bizarre melodies, often very linear, and always delivered with brute force." I am unable to give any great insight as to the band other than that they are London based, have been together for circa two years and have played previously together in Geiger Counter among others.
What Foe, in the guise of Jason Carty (guitar), Crawford Blair (bass & baritone guitar) and Paul Westwood (drums) produce is a powerhouse of ProgMetal tracks - a couple of minutes or so into Bloodmoss and two things were already embedded; this wasn't going to be subtle and it was certainly going to be challenging. Major guitar riffing over, at times, syncopated drumming and meshed together with flowing bass parts. Ever changing, this track probably contains enough riffs to fill most heavy metal albums, with the different parts flowing effortlessly together. The complexity of the arrangements was mindblowing and the interaction between the musicians was very apparent. I also had the sense that these guys would quite easily be able to recreate this music live.
The album's strong points also contibuted to it's downfall (for me). Granted there are inumerate changes in the arrangements and tempos, however it was all delivered with such an intense force it became a wearing. Certainly the first few tracks were impressive in many ways, however about half way through the album a sense that nothing was going to change became obvious. Also that although the following tracks would contain different riffs, that they would follow a similar formula. Having said this and one of the major pluses for me, was that the power encompassed within the music came from the structuring of the differing parts, rather than relying on double bass drums at a million miles an hour.
Well at the end of it all, I'm still unsure what I have experienced. Certainly this is a bold attempt, although I foresee that Foe are on a difficult path to greater recognition without a vocalist. Alongside this is the lack of any major virtuoso soloing, albeit that this is probably not beyond the musicians here, did tend to make me drift away from the music. As the saying goes 'only time will tell' the fate of Foe, although the band themselves are pressing on in great earnest. November sees the split release album The Combined Stupidity of Spiteful Men, with American Heritage and Art of Burning Water. This to be followed early next year by an EP entitled When You Carry a Hammer, Everything Looks Like a Nail.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Cea Serin - The Surface Of All Things
Irish tap dancing, exploding television tubes and Dr Stephen Hawkin - the devil's certainly in the detail on this little bit of metallic art. Sitting near the summit of the mp3.com Progressive Metal charts for more than three years and with a slot on the prestigious ProgPower Festival in Atlanta under their belts, this demo will hopefully be just the start of a long career.
Cea Serin is made up of J Lamm (bass, keys and vocals) and guitarist Keith Warman. Since this was recorded, a second guitarist has been added but the bassist and drummer recruited for the live shows have been 'sacked'. With just three/four tracks clocking at around 30 minutes, you know before you press 'play' that this is going to be a very progressive slice of metal. And it's a slice of metal that for some reason hit all the right buttons with me from the very start.
The main attraction is the brilliant guitar work of Warman - meaty, inventive riff, after meaty, inventive riff. His playing never becomes repetitive and contrasts brilliantly with the more atmospheric keyboard and spoken sections that grace this disc throughout.
The other attraction is the introduction of some novel 'musical' innovations, that I guess have never before graced a metal album. In addition to the exploding television tubes ('to represent the distorting media') we have one verse done in the type of text-to-speech software usually associated with Dr Stephen Hawkins (It does actually work!) Another nice innovation is the use of Irish tap dancing as a Riverdance-style percussive tool.
The occasional death vocals and the use of movie samples are a bit overdone and with so much attention to detail elsewhere, it does seem strange that they've made do with 'digital percussion' (otherwise known as a drum machine!) Another thing missing, is a picture of the band. Apparently they 'do not support (their) use or any other means of vain attempt to elevate ourselves above the music'. Pretentious? Maybe. Worth an album deal? Certainly!
FOOTNOTE: This demo is actually a bit dated now and information on the band's website sheds little light on their current plans/hopes. This demo also seems to go under the title 'Chiaroscuro' but is freely available from Mp3.com so well worth checking out.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10