Reviews in this issue:
The Urbane, featuring Arena's John Mitchell on guitar and vocals, recently released their second album Glitter. For the occasion we didn't only review this new album but also dug up Jan-Jaap's review of their debut album from the deep and dark catacombs of DPRP. Enjoy !
Ed's Review of Glitter
Compared to Neon the band's sound hasn't changed much. It is still guitar-driven alternative rock with loads of layers of riffy and rhythm guitar but no real solo's. If you're looking for Mitchell's long Gilmourian stuff don't look here: there's just one song with something that vaguely sounds like it could be a guitar solo.
The music on Neon was already quite emotional, aggressive and maybe even depressed. It seems like this outlet for frustration has been maintained, while there might even be less 'happy' songs (as in happy melodies, not happy lyrics) on Glitter than on Neon. Missing Something is probably the only song that is vaguely 'happy'. Well, what did you expect from the man who's main ambition is - I quote - to be more happy more of the time and to chill out a bit more.
Something that did change since Neon is the addition of Patrick 'Paddy' Darlington on keys. Paddy is no stranger to those of you familiar with the Arena crew or prog band parties. At times it's a bit hard to spot his playing among the guitar frenzies, but at other times his work really adds another dimension to The Urbane's sound. The repetitive keyboard melodies makes them even sound a bit like Coldplay in tracks like Don't Say.
Another thing that has improved is the production of the music. Where Neon sounded rather one-dimensional there's a lot of depth in the sound of this new CD. The band still uses lots of distortion in some of the vocals and guitars and although it might be overused a bit it does sound less extreme than on Neon.
Not being too familiar with the alternative rock genre I asked fellow-DPRP editor BJ to name some bands that came to mind when listening to The Urbane. He mentioned names like Travis, Placebo and Supergrass. I personally think that the average Urbane song is more melodic than any of the other alternative stuff I've heard and therefore it reminds me a lot of Green Day's Dookie album. Lots of fine vocal melody hooks abound. At times traces of early Radiohead can be heard as well.
Although I really like the music on both Neon and Glitter, I do find it a bit hard to listen to one of the albums in one go. I tend to lose interest after about 8-10 songs. Not that the other songs that follow are bad - on the contrary, I like each and every song on the album - but the music just isn't as varied as your average prog album. As a matter of fact, you sometimes hardly notice that a new song has begun. Nevertheless, there's still quite some variation in the music. Whereas most of the songs have relatively tranquil choruses while the lads let it rip in the refrains , there are also some 'no mercy kick-ass rock' tracks (Chain Smoking, Hate My Radio, In Between) and some more quiet tracks (Beautiful Sun, Don't Say, Track 14).
One of the most remarkable tracks on the album is the version of Cindy Lauper's Time After Time, not something you would expect the band to choose as a cover. Although it might be considered a standard strategy to get airplay, this version works very well and is one of the highlights on the album.
Since this isn't prog or even prog-related I will refrain from giving a rating since I would have to scale it down. If you're interested in any of the aforementioned bands and like some powerful in-your-face guitar rock, make sure you check out Glitter. The Urbane are among the best in their own genre.
Hester's Review of Glitter
I don't think that John Mitchell needs much of an introduction here on DPRP. His way of manipulating the "sixstring" has most likely contributed to Arena's still rising star in the progressive firmament, but the fact that he is the frontman of alternative rock combo The Urbane is a lot less well-known. Those of you who are not afraid to listen to any kind of music as long as it is good, might therefore be interested to hear that The Urbane have just released their second album Glitter.
It was already apparent on The Urbane's debut album Neon that John Mitchell wanted to use his own band to explore more song-oriented music. The role of the guitar was therefore a lot more supportive than in Arena and the amount of solos was reduced to a short one here and there. This course is continued on Glitter, whereas the influence of progressive rock is even smaller than it was on Neon. Apart from that, there is hardly a guitar solo to be found on Glitter at all, which I think is bit of a shame considering Mr. Mitchell's huge potential.
What already struck me when I listened to Neon the first time and strikes me again with this new album is how much The Urbane sounds like Foo Fighters. Both bands have the same kind of catchiness, the same kind of energy, the same tongue-in-cheek kind of approach and the same crisp layer of grunch covering most of the tracks. Therefore I would not have been surprised to find a song like Chain Smoking A Way To Your Heart on Foo Fighters' Nothing Left To Loose or Learn To Fly on Glitter. What only adds to the likeness is Mitchell's voice. Both Dave Grohl and he have the same vocal warmth coupled to more than enough strength to really scream out when necessary.
A problem that both The Urbane and Foo Fighters share, is that a lot of their songs sound quite similar. In some cases, this can be blamed on the fact that the way a track builds up to a climax is used several times on the CD. This feeling of déjà vu also applies to certain melody lines, which sometimes return in a different disguise. The verses of the rather calm track Beautiful Sun, for example, sound like a repetition of the chorus of Chain Smoking A Way To Your Heart. Another thing is that the thick layer of distortion which is covering most songs kind of blurs the details that tend to give a song its own identity.
Other bands that come to mind when listening to The Urbane are energetic pop-punkers Green Day around their Dookie album and Blink 182 (especially in Cut The Wire). I also catch myself thinking of Radiohead's Pablo Honey and the hit-speckled The Bends rather often. Interestingly, Mitchell's voice sounds a lot like Ray Wilson's (ex-Stiltskin, ex-Genesis) in the track Hate My Radio and there are even some Porcupine Tree-like weird sound fragments included on different spots on the album.
The good stuff can be found at the beginning and the end of the CD. The three first tracks, Chain Smoking A Way To Your Heart, 12 and Glitter are about as catchy as it gets and make it hard to sit still when listening to them. Just a shame that the end of Glitter mainly consists of endlessly repeated "nananana"s, which gives it a cheesiness that it could have done without.
Surprisingly, The Urbane have included a cover of Cindy Lauper's Time After Time on the album. This was one of the two songs that were available for downloading a few years ago and which I thought was only meant as a nice little extra at the time. I often feel a tad dubious about including covers on regular albums. If the new version adds a lot to the original, then it can be interesting, but if it is exactly the same song, only rockier and sung by a male singer this time, then I do not really see why it cannot at least be labeled "bonus track" and snuck in at the very end of the album. Just a thought.
Officially the final track and simultaneously the longest song of the CD, Suffocate, is a good example of "saving the best for last". The intro of the track is surprisingly subtle and reminds me of a film soundtrack that I cannot quite put my finger on at the moment. This is one of the few moments on the album that sound somewhat proggy with its Porcupine Tree-like mysteriously melancholic atmosphere. This is the track I like most on the CD, due to its great build-up in tension, although the fact that the Tree is one of my favorite bands might play a role as well, I have to admit.
The start of the hidden track (which I suspect to be called Walking Through Manhattan) hints at Portishead before the song turns into a beautiful mixture of U2 (guitars) and Peter Gabriel (atmosphere). Great way to close the album!
To be honest, I do not think that Glitter would have been reviewed on DPRP if it had not been for John Mitchell. Apart from Suffocate, this album does not have a lot to do with progressive rock, in my opinion; we are talking about alternative rock on the edge of grunge and light punk here. This does not at all mean that it is a bad CD, although I think that Neon was just that little bit fresher and just that little bit catchier that makes me like it just that little bit more. Recommended only to the progrocker with a taste for light-footed alternative rock music in the vein of Foo Fighters, Green Day, Blink 182 and Radiohead (before they went ambient).
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Jan-Jaap's Review of Neon
John Mitchell's first solo-album is not a solo-album. Together with Martin Raggett on bass and 'Scooby' on drums, John formed a group called 'The Urbane'
The first album by The Urbane is called Neon. Although this Cd is once again a product of great quality, it brings nothing you would expect. If you expect a melodic guitar-album, with brilliant guitar-solos in the vein of Elea, you are very wrong. "It's not prog, but it still rocks!", John Mitchell writes in the sleeve notes and he is completely right. This has nothing to do with symphonic or progressive music. The 12 tracks on the album can be compared to some of Radiohead's stuff, or maybe even Garbage. To be honest I think I wouldn't have noticed this album, unless John Mitchell played on it.
The songs are short and guitar-oriented. Riffs and rhythm are the most important ingredients of the songs, not the classical on-going solos. I think from an 'alternative' point of view, this is a great album. Many of the songs have very nice melodies and some may even have hit-potential. Some songs sound really aggressive or depressed, others are more cheerful. John Mitchell appears to have a great voice, which really suits the raw sound of the album.
Quietly is a fast song with a very catchy chorus and a great bass-line. John's vocals sound as if he is using very old equipment. The track even starts and ends with the sound of an old LP.
Mary Jane also is a fast and happy tune. The guitars are very heavy but there's enough space for the other instruments as well. I love the bass-lines a lot. Party-time!
After these fast songs Aeroplanes starts slow, with just guitar and vocals. The chorus is nevertheless very bombastic again. John singing at the top of his voice and sounds very desperate. The aggressive chorus suits the 'when I go insane' lyrics in a great way.
Fading Out could easily be a single. After a heavy opening, there are some quieter parts and the second part is built around a great and catchy chorus.
After all the guitars Loop is a resting-point for the listener. Although the chorus is very bombastic, the staves are very fragile.
A drum-loop starts Immaculate, which has a U2-feeling, particularly because of the reverbs on guitars. This track sounds a bit different from all the guitar stuff on the first part of the album. The vocals are very prominent. Maybe that's why this song is one of my favourite tracks on the album. With it's 6 minutes, it's also one of the longer tracks.
Wide Awake again has that typical contrast between a quiet intro and heavier choruses. Staring at the Sun is another of my favourites. A heavy drumbeat 'cracks' through your speakers. Guitars are played with many effects. While the high 'Staring at the Sun'-phrase is repeated over and over again, the song builds to a great climax.
After this musical violence, the title track Neon is an oasis (!) of rest. I like the vocals a lot, especially in the chorus where John sings great backing vocals as well. When the track ends you notice the song has become much heavier than it started.
Radio-sounds accompany Static. The acoustic guitars and the female backing vocals add something extra to this great track. Guitar-sound and vocals give this track even a Beatles-like sound at some moments. Towards the end there's a great guitar-solo.
When you don't pay attention, you could think Try is the second part of Static. It has the same drive and starts with a beautiful string arrangement. The chorus is nevertheless, as on all the other tracks, very heavy. There's a very funky middle part in this track that brings the necessary variation. Personally, I think too many tracks develop in exactly the same way (quiet intro - heavy chorus), which is a pity. The contrast between the parts is very nice but it happens too often in the same way. Finally, The Tide, is a very pure song. Together with Immaculate, Static and Staring at the Sun, it's one of my favourite tracks. It's a very monumental song, with great vocals and a wonderful guitar-part in the middle. It's the only longer guitar-solo on the album and it's great! In fact the solo is the chorus and return several times. Counting 7-and-a-half minutes it's the longest track on the album and it's worth every second. John saved the best for last!
To conclude, if you have an open ear for good and heavy alternative music, this is a great album. If you're just a typical 'prog-lover' (you know what I mean), it's not your cup of tea. Although I've heard some proggers who were really enthusiastic! Some tracks are really gems, and many other have a really catchy chorus. This album shows John is not only a great guitar-player, but also a great songwriter.
Jan Jaap de Haan
Seven Seraphim - Believe In Angels
Tracklist: Atmosphere Collide (0.34), Anastasia (4.20), Lady Jade (4.02), Song Blaque (5.20), Dance In The Red (6.03), The Discordant (2.55), The Rain Keeps Falling (Thru Rose Coloured Glass) (5.06), Cyanide By Moonlight (1.18), The Hand That Feeds (6.42), A Prayer For The Innocents (1.57)
A bit of a rarity this - a neo-classical-inspired Prog/Power Metal band from the States. Seven Seraphim is based around the notable talents of guitarist Andrew Szucs and there's some serious shredding to be heard across the ten tracks to be found on Believe In Angels.
The basic song material - rhythm, melody and solos - also isn't bad. Opener Anastasia or the later The Hand That Feeds would have held their own on any Alcatraz album and Lady Jade wouldn't be out of place on the last Morifade disc. However while the band really are masters of their instruments, they make the mistake of incorporating at least one passage in almost every song that just does not belong or fit there.
Song Blacque had a bit of jazz-fusion combined with a fairly predictable Rainbow/Purple song. A Prayer for The Innocents is a proggy outro and The Rain Keeps Falling goes off in a more Westcoast AOR direction.
I guess these passages are an attempt by the band to create their own style and to make them stand out in an already over-crowded market place. Sadly the band simply hasn't got the songwriting skills of say Symphony X or Kamelot to bring it off. Instead of enhancing the songs, the 'progressive' elements just jar with the listener and disrupt the flow.
Singer Greg Hupp has a good voice but too often goes in directions and tries some phrasing that is either out of his reach or more annoyingly doesn't fit the song.
Another minus point is the disc's running time. I'm certainly no great fan of filling out albums with pointless instrumentals, atmospherics and bonus tracks. But 38 minutes (six real songs!!!) is awfully measly for a studio album these days. Also, the album was recorded and mastered at two top studios, so why is it then that it sounds flat and the rhythm section almost disappears in the mix?
As mentioned above the songs do qualify for a pleasant listening experience and fans of Malmsteen-esque guitar acrobatics, will certainly find enough of a reward in Szucs' playing. However, while one doesn't wish to dismiss anyone wanting to add to the progressive music bank, I really think Seven Seraphim would stand a better chance by playing their strongest card - Szucs' blistering guitar skills - and sticking to a more straight-ahead neo-classical style of metal.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Metamorphosis - After All These Years
Tracklist: After All These Years (9.43), New Lords (8.03), Sanctuary (2.14), Didn't We Know (8.13), Eyes On The Clock (7.12), No One's Home (4.32), Another Day (9.52), Not Far From Heaven (5.41), Moonbeams On The Wall (9.54)
This review starts with an apology, both to the band and to the readers of this website. I've had this album in my possession since May this year and am now starting my sixth draft for this review. I suppose every reviewer comes across such an album once every while, which just seems impossible to review - you could call it selective writers block. Usually these are the crap albums, the ones you feel you only need to review in order to encourage other people to stay away from that album. In such cases two paragraphs about how crap the album is should suffice.
Not so with this album. Upon first listening this album can easily be discarded as yet another weak neo-prog outing, which is as cliché-ridden as a George Bush speech. However, clichéd as it may be, it is also a darn good sounding album!
Listening to the first notes of album opener After All These Years leaves little doubt: this Neo-prog with a capital N, clearly crafted to resemble the likes of RPWL or early Arena. But there's nothing wrong with that - far from it! It is just that the album title should be changed to something like "A Young Persons Guide To A Prog Album".
Metamorphosis is a Swiss project by singer/drummer/keyboardist Jean-Pierre Schenk, and guitarist Giovanni Espositio, who used to play in a group called Nature in the early seventies. After All These Years is their first outing as Metamorphosis.
Schenk has a pleasant voice which reminds me a bit RPWL's Yogi Lang at times. His compositions are interesting and there is plenty variation on the album. Opener After All These Years has a distinct Arena flavour, while the next track New Lords features a pounding bass not unlike John Jowitt's work with IQ and a heavy syncopal middle eight section which comes straight from Porcupine Tree school (as does the following keyboard solo). The short Sanctuary is a keyboard/guitar instrumental which echoes Pendragon or even The Flower Kings and Didn't We Know is more like a straight-forward pop-rock song.
Eyes On The Clock is one of my favourite of the album. It is a bit heavier than the rest of the album and the guitarwork reminds me of the work from Australian band Aragon.
Despite its strange percussion No One's Home sounds a lot like some of the work from RPWL, with haunting guitarchords and close harmony vocals. Perhaps the least accessible song on the album, but still very enjoyable.
Another Day is a long piece with multiple tempo and mood changes. It includes an almost Beatles-que or Gentle Giant-like mid section, with a simple piano melody and close-harmony vocals.
Not Far From Heaven is once again on Arena turf, with bombastic keyboard sounds despite being a very ballad-like song. Album closer Moonbeams On The Wall opens all the registers and draws heavily from Arena and early Marillion.
This last track is also one of the points on the album where the music pays a bit too much an ode to the classics of the past. Already had After All These Years an instrumental section in the middle, which seems to have been lifted straight from Pink Floyd's One Of These Days and oh my, they've even dug up good ol' Grendel for the end section of Moonbeams On The Wall!
But does it matter? Not at all! Schenk has created an excellently listenable album with plenty to enjoy for fans of the genre!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Shizuka - Sho-Ka
Tracklist: hi (4:09), yume (3:56), sou (2:55), kokoro (4:07), ai (3:48), tori (3:43), katari (3:46), nan (3:58), irodori (6:06), ame (2:55), Bonus Track - titled only in Japanese (7:54)
Sho-Ka is yet another release from Vital Records, which is a division of the excellent Poseidon Records based in Japan. Vital's aim is to offer new bands/musicians the opportunity to record, release and have distributed, their material. Like many of the Vital releases the sound quality is not brilliant and the atmosphere of the band is captured in a raw and live state, with little in the way of production or overdubbing. This may seem a little strange, but worth bearing in mind the interest shown by many in early recordings of their favourite bands.
Shizuka comprise of Taniuchi (vocals, bass, etc), Kasai (guitar, bass, etc), Rumi (vocal, keyboards, etc) and the digitally accurate, if somewhat un-imaginative 'Mac Hine' (drums). The material falls under a broad banner of 'electronic music' whilst encompassing some progressive leanings. The distinctly analogue bass parts, minimal guitar and early digital synth keyboard sounds give it an 80's feel. The final layer to the sound comes from the vocals, mainly sung by Rumi, whose strident voice adds credence to the 80's reference, bringing to mind Toyah and Hazel O'Connor, to mention just two. However I did note that tori was very reminiscent of Sonja Kristina's vocals on Back Street Luv.
Sadly Sho-Ka did absolutely nothing for me, apart perhaps from mild irritation. I managed only one complete listening to the album and thereafter only sporadic stabs at two or three individual tracks at a time. The material followed fairly formulaic and repetitive structures, which on the longer tracks was somewhat wearing. Taking into mind the Japanese predilection to delve into the avant-garde (apologies for this generalisation), this album was difficult to digest.
I believe that Hiroshi Masuda deserves much credit for taking the time to offer his facilities to these bands, without whom some new and emerging talent may never be discovered. This may have been a blessing in the case of Shizuka, however this is only one reviewer's opinion.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10