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Reviews in this issue:
Magnitude Nine - Decoding The Soul
I must admit, I'm a bit of a sucker for melodic metal and with the release of Decoding the Soul, Magnitude Nine has produced an album that I will happily suckle on for many months to come.
When they were still known as Magnitude 9 (note the 9), with their second effort Reality In Focus, this American band, lead by guitarist Rob Johnson and vocalist Corey Brown, released one of the better ProgMetal albums of recent years. Their third release however, is a deliberate move away from the progressive arena and into a more ‘mainstream', melodic metal platform. Sure there are still plenty of ever-changing riffs, and the melodies and arrangements have a respectful nod to their past. But if you expect to feast on any of the extended instrumental workouts or the hard-edged metallic chops that were commonplace before, then you'll have to go hungry.
On hearing of this change in direction, I must admit that I agreed to help ‘Decode the Soul' with a bit less enthusiasm than I would otherwise have had. And as expected, this is certainly a very different sounding album when compared to its predecessor. In foresaking the instrumental exercises, the band has concentrated on the melodies and each of the ten tracks on offer, has a hook that just sink deeper with each listen. The consistency of the song quality here is remarkable. Some tracks really stand out. Openers, New Dimension, Lies Within The Truth and Facing The Unknown in particular.
While all the tracks have a sound that's unmistakably Magnitude Nine, other reference points may help you decide if this is for you. Prime time Dokken springs to mind on more than one occasion but it's fellow American melodic metallers Millenium that I really see similarities to - especially in the use of vocal harmonies and the crunch of the Rob Johnson's guitar, which has a similar appeal to that of Ralph Santolla (now with Iced Earth).
So, if mere labels put you off trying this record, then you'll be the only losers. Because in its own right, this is an excellent release.
Decoding The Soul is the third release of American band Magnitude Nine. Although their previous albums Chaos To Control, Reality In Focus went by me, they appear to have been received pretty well. The band themselves call this album: "a step forward. The songs on this CD are more mature in direction".
A couple of weeks ago I did a review on Dead Air Radio and at first I thought of using that review for Magnitude Nine also. But after a few spins I did find a big difference: whereas with D.A.R; which was a good album, it did not stick. Magnitude Nine does, with a number of the tracks on this album being very catchy and therefore easy to cope with. I hold Inside Out highly sometimes it is as if they are not a record label but more like a progrock/prog metal quality mark.
The best feature on this album are the vocal harmonies although the fact that all tracks are up tempo and energy filled is also a real plus. Furthermore every song might be straight forward pumping guitar rock but there is a touch of differing detail in each track. As always, I might argue that it is all a bit too straight forward and that some tracks lack a little surprise in their composition, but because music-wise it is all so well done I find those things not worth of mentioning. Naming a highlight or pointing out a representative track to listen to is hard to do and that is not because there are no highlights to be found, but the album is of a very consistent quality.
Decoding the Soul will not be remembered as "the best rock album ever" but it makes a nice addition to my collection. No real surprises but plain good rock with a touch of progressiveness. I suspect more people will enjoy this album. So if you like power rock American style: Magnitude Nine is one of the best in the genre. On many occasions I have expressed my dislike for that genre but I do like Magnitude Nine. Let that be a recommendation for the rest of you.
Asia - Live in Buffalo
Disc 1 Time Again (5:42), One Step Closer (4:28), Without You (5:51), Ancient (4:10), Claps (6:35), Midnight Sun (7:03), Only Time Will Tell (4:36)
Disc 2 Cutting It Fine (5:53), Keyboard Solo (4:16), Wildest Dreams (5:47), Here Comes The Feeling (12:42), Sole Survivor (6:07), Heat Of The Moment (5:31)
The first album of this super group is still the best they ever recorded. A super group because it consisted of Geoffrey Downes (keyboards), Steve Howe (guitar), Carl Palmer (drums) and John Wetton (vocals, bass guitar). A super album because of magical songs like Heat Of The Moment, Sole Survivor or One Step Closer. All the tracks from that debut album, which was released in 1982!!!, are on this live - which sounds like a bootleg to me – album. Ancient consists of several Yes chords and rhythms and is of course performed by Steve Howe. Claps, or should I say The Clap, is another acoustic guitar track, only suitable for lovers of Howe’s typical guitar picking. Midnight Sun is a ballad, where musically nothing interesting happens …
On the second CD Mister Downes shows his keyboard talents in the rather boring Keyboard Solo and Here Comes The Feeling is lengthened to 12:42 with a Carl Palmer drum solo (yawn, yawn). The rest of the material is just great, only John Wetton’s vocals are extremely irritating. He misses almost all the high notes and he even sings completely false in songs like Cutting It Fine or Sole Survivor. But if you are a real Asia fan, you probably would love to have this album. By the way, the subtitle of this album is: From The Asia Archives; so, does this mean that there is more to come?? Let’s wait and see and hope that the sound quality and the vocal parts are better.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Asia - Live in Hyogo
Disc 1 Intro (0:56), Wildest Dreams (5:16), Sole Survivor (6:09), Don't Cry (4:54), Voice Of America (5:11), Solo Geoff (2:14), Majesty (2:35), Time Again (5:06), Praying for a Miracle (3:56), Only Time Will Tell (5:03), Rendez-Vous 602 (3:26)
Disc 2 Book of Saturday (4:07), Days Like These (3:59), The Heat Goes On - Solo (10:45), Go (6:05), Heat of the Moment (7:25), Open Your Eyes (7:43)
Asia will scarcely need any introduction to these pages, deemed in the early eighties as the next "super-group" with their eponymous first album reaching No.1 in the American album charts, subsequently turning into a multi-platinum seller and spawning a number of top twenty hits. This recording from Hyogo features that early line-up of John Wetton, Carl Palmer and Geoff Downes, however Pat Thrall had replaced Steve Howe in the guitar seat. Sadly the CD does not come with any liner notes, so additional information about the date and recording of this album are somewhat vague. Needless to say that the bulk of the songs come from the bands first three releases - Asia, Alpha and Astra.
Live at Hyogo and Live at Buffalo continue the "from the archives" series of official bootleg releases, these two from Voiceprint Records. I have to say that the audio quality of the two CDs is not great, with the majority of the sound picked up from ambient microphones. The mixing consequently is not wonderful either and Geoff Downes is somewhat lost along the "reverberent" way, having said this most live recordings, unless seriously re-mixed, seem to always lose the keyboards (I have never been able to understand why this is a problem, for such an important part of the sound). However what is lost in the sonic quality is partially compensated for in the atmosphere of the concert and the audience is electric.
Along with the instantly recognisable tracks, the concert features all of the Asia armoury including protracted solos from Geoff Downes and Carl Palmer. In my younger days I sat in many a concert hall and marvelled at Carl's solos - sadly they never quite carried that magic onto disc. Geoff Downes solo sections are pleasant piano/keyboard workings of Video Killed the Radio Star and Majesty (Geoffry Downes and the New Dance Orchestra - 1987) providing a gentle interlude amidst the plethora of catchy tracks. Great to hear Wildest Dreams again, still for me the best track that Asia produced. Also welcome was the inclusion of UK's Rendez-vous 602.
This concert catches the band still in its heyday and only goes to show that the live stage captures all, this is most noticable in the vocals, John Wetton's intonation being somewhat suspect and can be heard "not quite hitting those top notes" - but hey this is live and unedited. Personally John Wetton's voice even when suspect, has a warm and natural timbre - a voice I have never tired of hearing. Pat Thrall gives the music a distinctly rockier edge - I always felt Steve Howe to be slightly miss-cast in the lineup and was happier to see him return to the Yes fold.
The appeal of this disc I would suggest will largely depend on your interest in the band, one for the completist surely and as a momento of those early days of the band, possibly.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Trusties - We Just Want To Rule The World
Tracklist: Overture (2:59), Universe's End (6:14), Back To The Womb (2:43), Your God (6:13), Messages (3:44), Looking For Keith (1:37), The Ultimate Decision (4:02), A Different White (5:43), The Usual Black (1:59), In The Forest (3:05), In The Valley (5:00), Nothing (5:01), Everything (10:42)
DPRP reviewed Trusties' first album Growing Smaller and although I have not personally heard this release, it would appear that the Trusties have made significant changes to their sound. Jan Jaap tells of an acoustic album, without "a single drums-solo or widdly-widdly keyboard". Well there still isn't a widdly keyboard solo here, but the music does have some drum/percussion interludes and the introduction of electric guitar has surely added a distinctly rockier edge to the music.
Since the band's debut release in 1997, there appears to have been little in the way of personnel changes, with the three core members remaining un-altered. Marko Oikarinen (guitars, drums, percussion & vocals), Ville Veijalainen (bass, vocals & clarinet) and Matti Ylilauri (vocals & percussion). The band's website makes note of two additional members who are used to expanded the lineup for live shows - Janne Ervelius (drums), who appears on two of the tracks from We Just Want To Rule The World and Ari Sutinen (guitar), who does not feature on this album. Finally there are several guest musicians playing cameo roles on various tracks - Anntti Karhu (trumpet) and Simo Laitakari (cello) on track one and Topi Silata, Mika Kamula and Matsin the Djembe all playing Djembes on tracks eight and tweleve.
On first running through the album you could quite easily be led to believe that each of the tracks are unrelated. Further listenings, combined with reading of the lyrics and a more detailed look at the cover artwork suggest a common theme or perhaps even a concept to the music as a whole. The reusing and modifications of themes from other tracks also strengthens this notion.
The album opens with an brief instrumental of epic proportions? Everything but the kitchen sink is thrown into these first three minutes. After the opening full band burst we have a gentle piano interlude with the melody played on the cello, which in turn serves as a prelude to the odd metering that accompanies this track. Following this gentle preamble is an odd section with a heavy guitar and trumpet riff - all of which unfold in a seemingly hap-hazzard fashion. The cello and piano return echoing the opening passage before fading out. From this excellent opening we are presented with the softly sung vocals from Universe's End - lyrically all is revealed in the title. The song meanders at a gentle pace for the first couple of minutes, before the tempo is picked up by a driving rock rhythm. A pleasant enough track, however for me the middle instrumental section was the highlight, still driving with both the bass and drums pulsating and some fine melodic guitar from Marko Oikarinen. In fact I was much taken with Oikarinen's guitar work and especially the well constructed and executed solo sections.
What works well throughout the album is the combination of the seemingly straightforward intermingled with the those more obvious complex timings sections, which in turn nicely contrast the variation between the acoustic and electric instruments - programmed and played. Variation is also provided by the alternating of song based tracks and those more instrumentally based tracks. Musically we also cover many boundries, rock, folk, Celtic, Latin, jazz, prog & probably many more. All of these factors have made this a difficult album to tie down and to a certain extent to review.
There are numerous highlights to be found - highlights for me were Overture and Universe's End (previously mentioned); the gentle and acoustically resonant Messages; the all to brief Looking for Keith; and the very bouncy In The Valley with its strong vocal line cleverly disguising the odd metering underneath.
I have refrained from making any comparisons during this review as I feel it would be of little guidance. The music blends both acoustic and electric instruments to offer strong contrast and dynamics. The vocals, which did have a noticable dialect (but added to the music rather than detracted) were well constructed and contained memorable hook-lines in the chorus sections. The mixture of complex and straightforward, instrumental and song based tracks was also an added bonus. To refer to back to Jan Jaap's comments on the first album - well there are now widdly-widdly bits, but the balance between vocal and instrumental sections has been well thought out.
Yet again it has been a pleasure to listen to another album I might well have passed by, as neither the band's name or album title (which conjurred images of Tears for Fears) attracted my attention. The music however spoke in volumes. Personally I enjoyed the more complex, instrumental tracks (but then again I always do). I would suggest a visit to the band's website and check out the samples (perhaps not the 'all rolled into one' medley first, though).
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Various Artists - Songs For Luca
CD1: Columba Aspexit [David Fitzgerald] (4:28), Open Sea [Eden's Bridge] (6:52), Sights [Troy Donockley] (3:13), In The Wake Of Colmcille [Dave Bainbridge] (4:57), Shepherd Wheel [Peter Fairclough Group] (7:23), A King’s Prayer [The Flower Kings] (6:10), Brightest And Best [Joanne Hogg] (3:52), For Luca [Nick Beggs] (2:28), The Whistlin’ Gypsy Rover [Mae McKenna] (2:53), Esther [Nick Van Essen] (5:12), Beijing – The Widescreen Mix [IONA] (5:17), I’ll Look For You [Jeff Johnson] (6:06), Starlit Garden [Debbie Bainbridge] (1:53)
CD2: After The Rain [Karnataka] (7:46), Morning Has Broken [Rick Wakeman] (3:12), My Song Is Love Unknown [Teri Bryant] (4:50), Labyrinth [Frank Van Essen] (7:30), Lament [Julie Tippetts] (4:18), Man – Live In Tokyo [IONA] (11:55), Like Father, Like Son [Adrian Snell] (5:39), Misty Eyed Adventures [Maire Brennan] (5:34), Forever In My Heart [Nick Beggs] (3:15), Aspirations [Gentle Giant] (4:37), Ca’ The Ewes [Mae McKenna] (5:50), Open My Eyes – Reprise [Dave Bainbridge & David Fitzgerald] (3:44), Bright Flame [Debbie Bainbridge] (3:10)
Songs for Luca represents the collective input of both musicians directly connected with Iona and those who have donated tracks to the album. Of the twenty six tracks from the album eleven are previously unreleased and along with these are a number of pieces that have been re-mixed or are special editions. Rob Ayling from the excellent Voiceprint label donated the first 1000 copies and contributions have been made by countless others. Luca himself, is responsible for the cover artwork. The story of Luca is a touching one and the purpose of this album, is to raise the necessary funds to allow Luca the opportunities to develop his skills and help him to be able to deal with life as he grows older.
Although much of the album revolves around the members of Iona, contributions have come from many musical factions, making this an across the board release. Familiar names can be found from progressive circles with tracks from Gentle Giant, Rick Wakeman, The Flower Kings and Karnataka. Iona themselves also being widely regarded in progressive world and the redoutable Troy Donockley, who has worked with The Enid and Mostly Autumn, to mention just two.
The album covers many delightful tracks from the Celtic/Folk genre and it would be difficult to select highlights from Songs for Luca as there are so many, however I was especially taken by Eden Bridge's Open Sea. In fact the album contains some of the most delightful female voices you would ever want to hear; Joanne Hogg, Sarah Lacy, Máire Brennan, Mae McKenna and Rachel Jones, so for those fans of Rachel's voice with Karantaka or the music of Mostly Autumn, then this could well make a welcome addition to your collection.
For me Songs for Luca proved to be one of 2003's more interesting releases and the gentle nature of the music made a welcome change to my "usual" digest of overly complex, instrumental "tomfoolery". Having said this, the album does contain some outstanding instrumental sections and delightful acoustic tracks (In the Wake of Colmcille). The recording, mastering and overall flow of the album is well balanced and seldom appears to be a compilation.
One can only wish Dave and Debbie every success with this release and for those who have not yet dipped their toes in the Iona waters (so as to speak), then with the diversity of material on offer here, this album might well make a pleasant introduction to the music of Iona.
This album is recorded for Luca, the autistic son of Debbie and Dave Bainbridge. Dave is a member of Iona. The money raised from the proceeds of this album will go towards the Son-Rise® (Autism Treatment Center of America) program. Their approach is profoundly accepting and respectful of Luca’s dignity. It is gentle and non-judgemental, a world where having/serving children with special needs is an honour and a blessing.
The songs on this album are mostly easy-listening tracks, with special lyrics. Some songs are even specially recorded for this album, e.g. In the Wake of Colmcille, Starlit Garden, Labyrinth, Forever In My Heart and Bright Flame. A King’ s Prayer by The Flower Kings has a new guitar solo and songs like Beijing and Man by Iona are special re-mixes. Other artists on this album are Eden’s Bridge, Karnataka, Rick Wakeman (with a cover of Cat Stevens’ Morning Has Broken), Gentle Giant, Frank Van Essen and many more. For me it is all a bit too easy listening and too quiet, but I think that a lot of people will and can appreciate this kind of progressive music.