Reviews in this issue:
Proto-Kaw - Before Became After
Tracklist: Alt More Worlds Than Known (7:31), Leaven (8:28), Axolotl [for lack of a better name] (6:07), Quantum Leapfrog (5:45), Gloriana (9:09), The Occasion Of Your Honest Dreaming (3:41), Heavenly Man (5:55), It Moves You (4:29), Theophany (11:44)
In 2002 Proto-Kaw released their first album called Early Recordings From Kansas (1971-1973), full of songs which were never released before. The album got great reviews and so these guys decided to bring out another Proto-Kaw record. I always liked Kansas, especially Leftoverture (1976) and Point Of Know Return (1977) are still frequently “found” in my CD player. The only thing I miss on this Proto-Kaw album is the voice of Steve Walsh, then it would have been a true Kansas album. The band the World came to know as Kansas was actually the third version of the band. Proto-Kaw is the renamed, reformed second version. Kerry Livgren composed nearly 60 songs during the Proto-Kaw period. Nine of the songs from that period were professionally recorded in the seventies and became the material for the highly acclaimed first album of Proto-Kaw.
They really were the pioneers of progressive rock in America and on this second album you will find an old and new mixture of tracks played by the original members Lynn Meredith (vocals), John Bolton (saxophone & flute), Kerry Livgren (guitars, piano, keyboards), Dan Wright (organ, keyboards) and Brad Schulz (drums), plus newcomer Craig Kew (bass guitar). Although the songs are updated from almost 30 years ago, they still sound very fresh and really exciting, just like progressive music should sound like.
The opener is filled with hard rock guitar riffs, jazz improvisations, orchestral musical passages, flute and guitar solos and last but not least: beautiful melodies. That track, just as the next one, definitely reminds me of Magellan; Leaven starts with a chorus, then the bass guitar comes pumping in and the rest of this track is packed with heavy and quiet passages, piano parts and very complex musical structures. In other words: a real challenge for progressive rock lovers. Axolotl [for lack of a better name] is also real proggy with amazing guitar work and beautiful flute melodies.
Proto-Kaw is constantly shifting and the music is so varied that it is very difficult to describe what sort of music you can really expect. Without any doubt I can say that Proto-Kaw has its own, rather unique sound, and a perfect example for that statement is the jazzy/funky song Quantum Leapfrog; check out the howling guitar solo and the roaring saxophone. Gloriana is a rather dramatic epic song, again with lots of flute melodies (Camel??) and some jazzy parts. With the semi-ballad Heavenly Man, Proto-Kaw slow things down a bit, and with The Occasion Of Your Honest Dreaming and It Moves You, Proto-Kaw show their “commercial” side, as these are songs that are rather short and perhaps a bit radio-minded.
Save the best for last is a good slogan, and this is true for this album as well. Theophany (what the hell does it mean??) is without any doubt my favourite track; a real Kansas-like song, very complex, great guitar riffs and heavenly solos finish off this album with a perfect musical blast. For all lovers of great progressive rock music this album is a must; buy or die!!!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Trettioåriga Kriget – Glorious War 1970-1971
Tracklist: Intro (0:35), Amassilations (8:55), Konserten (18:18), Ontro I (1:11), Ontro II (1:03), Thirty Years War (5:19), From Your Streets (16:55), Outro (1:03)
Tracklist: Liuset (8:55), Nightflight (5:40), Lang Historia (7:40), Elden Av Ar (5:10), Mote (4:36), Moinbudet (2:30), Nightflight-77 (6:50), Gnistor (8:00)
I first discovered legendary Swedish proggers Trettioåriga Kriget (Thirty Years War) via a series of weekly, late-night English language broadcasts from Radio Sweden in the mid 1970’s. I remember being intrigued by their exotic twist on my beloved Prog rock but I was too young at that time to catch one of their British concerts, and their original albums remained beyond my grasp. Long after all hope of exploring this music further had been relinquished, the CD reissue boom of the 1990's meant that I finally managed to obtain a copy of their second CD Krissang (War Song). It proved to be a worthwhile addition to the collection, presenting a highly individual, yet typically Scandinavian Prog rock in a complex, guitar driven vein.
Though the group soldiered on for many years, they never broke free from cult status, but they ultimately proved to be highly influential with the new breed of Scandinavian progressive groups of the 1990's. Both Landberk and Anglagard (to name but two) were clearly, and openly, influenced by them.
The group reformed in the 1990's to promote a CD War Memories featuring unreleased live material but even that did not prepare me for these two highly welcome releases.
Glorious War is a completely unreleased album recorded in 1970-1971, by an earlier, pre-debut line-up. Unlike many archival releases, this is not scraps and outtakes, it definitely was recorded with an album release in mind, and though the sound is necessarily primitive by today’s standards, the tapes have been cleaned up nicely, making this very listenable.
Of the eight tracks, four are brief free-form guitar solos (with some studio tinkering), intended to bookend the two sides of the proposed vinyl album. As such they are a little superfluous on this CD release. They are worth hearing once and can always be programmed out on subsequent listens. The real meat of the album is found in the remaining four tracks.
Amassilations is a harmonica-driven, blues wailing, proto-prog cross between the doomy sound of early Black Sabbath and the spacey drones of Pink Floyd circa Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun. The real highlight is Konserten, an 18-minute piano concerto, featuring the precocious talents of 16-year-old Dag Kronlund. Unlike many of their contempories, who tried with varying degrees of success, to marry the rock group sound with an orchestra, Trettioåriga Kriget opt for the more unusual option of transplanting the concert piano into an otherwise entirely rock group setting. This track has a timeless quality to it, which makes it a satisfying listen even after all these years. I would recommend buying the CD just for this track alone.
The remaining tracks, Thirty Years War and From Your Streets, whilst essentially pretty good tracks, and both having their moments of brilliance, are slightly let down by (as with many recordings from that era) a tendency to ramble, bordering on the self-indulgent. This of course was par for the course back in those days, but may not be so easily tolerated today. As with their other albums, excellent guitar playing is a strong feature throughout, though the overall feel is quite different to that encountered on their other albums.. T K was never a group to rest on its laurels.
I found this CD to be very enjoyable, bringing back many fond memories of a bygone era. Whether younger listeners are able to make a strong connection with this music is doubtful, but adventurous listeners of any age wishing to experience a bluesy, downbeat slice of proto-progressive rock should buy this with confidence. Existing fans of T K will surely be unable to resist.
As if this wasn’t enough, a reformed version of the group have now presented us with an entirely new work, though the four part title suite is based on unfinished ideas from 1977, with the concluding part Nightflight 77 being an actual recording of that vintage. The other four tracks are completely new (the new Nightflight being totally revamped to include vocals). There is a loose concept to the work, but as the lyrics are in Swedish, this may not be apparent. From the booklet notes, I gather that there are several autobiographical references in the lyrics.
The sound and feel of this disc is obviously very different to the archive release, the material bearing no relation to each other, except that we are obviously still in the company of artists who want to push themselves and their music to the limits of their abilities. Primarily a guitar based group, but with enough keyboards to add plenty of texture to the sound, T K 2004 play with a vitality and fervour long since missing from the work of many of the prog heroes of the 70s (regardless of whether they have ploughed on through the years or jumped on the bandwagon of groups reforming for once last run round the houses).
The storming opener Ljuset is a winner from its opening seconds, with vivacious percussion and lively bass playing providing a rock solid base for the jangling guitar licks and riffs. Splashes of mellotron add the finishing touches to a very full and absorbing sound. The pace drops for the vocal section, which is well handled and the vocals are delivered with enough feeling to render the obstacle of language redundant. This is a triumphant opening to a successful reunion disc.
Night Flight is another strong track, which seems to borrow the saxophone riff from Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street and transposes it to guitar. Trettioåriga Kriget have always seemed willing to borrow bits and pieces from other groups, but - as here - the end results are always uniquely their own.
Lang Historia is built on a terrific chugalugging riff, with more mellotron backing adding to the epic feel. The guitar soloing is stupendous. You may well catch flashes of other groups as you listen, but the overall feel is entirely original.
The opening section to Elden Av Ar is one of my favourite bits of the CD, with organ and guitar combining to excellent effect. Fans of Scandinavian prog will know what to expect when I say that this is suffused with the typical moody melancholia associated with bands from that region.
As this review is fast becoming an epic in its own right, I will try to cut things short by concluding that the rest of the CD never really lets slip the quality, with even the acoustic ballad Molnbudet holding its own. Considering that this is a reunion disc, the standard is incredibly high throughout. All pre-existing fans of the group will want this, as should fans of Landberk, Anglagard, Wishbone Ash, Camel and… I could go on! Now I come to think of it, why don’t you all try to at least hear a little of this disc – you may well be pleasantly surprised.
Glorious War : 7 out of 10
Elden Av Ar : 8.5 out of 10
Final Conflict (FC) - Hindsight
Tracklist: Empty Promises (7:14), A Moment In Time (7:38), Hindsight (9:48), Dead Of Night (7:44), Can’t Buy Experience (6:10), Shadowdance (5:37), Choices (7:49); Heart & Soul (9:17)
Final Conflict (or FC as they apparently now wish to be known) are a British outfit who’ve been around for quite a while, releasing their first couple of albums in the early nineties. Since then, however, activity has been somewhat scarce, with only one further album, Stand Up, which was released in 1997. Presumably this inactivity is due at least partly to the somewhat unsupportive nature of the UK music industry to bands of FC’s ilk, but they’ve clearly decided to persevere, and Hindsight is the result.
Musically, whilst there are clear nods to the world of prog, its perhaps more enlightening to call this a rock album with progressive elements, and in that respect the band can be compared with fellow British contemporaries such as Primitive Instinct and Jump – although its actually quite difficult to pinpoint who the band sound like, or to point out a particular style. A few tracks reminded me a little of Genesis circa Calling All Stations, which you might give you a general idea of FC’s sound, although this is by no means an exhaustive comparison.
The band certainly employ many elements common to progressive rock in their sound – plenty of atmospheric instrumental passages, good interplay between the guitars of Brian Donkin & Andy Lawton and Steve Lipiec’s keyboards, lengthy songs with plenty of pace and mood changes – but focus in the main part on well-worked songs with clear structures and strong choruses. The vocals, handled by Donkin and Lawton, are above average and delivered in a confident manner.
Highlights include opener Empty Promises, a solid mid-paced track with a strong chorus, nicely worked instrumental breaks (particularly the fine guitar solo’s at the song’s conclusion) and a convincing momentum throughout which successfully sets the general mood of the album; Hindsight itself, the most ‘progressive’ track on the album, has a nice contrast between the neo-prog feel generated by Lipiec’s (early) Mark Kelly-esque keyboard sounds and the more conventional hard rock riffs and soaring solos provided by the guitarists, whilst album closer Heart & Soul is a slow-burning epic with another strong chorus and some laid back, atmospheric solo work which ranks amongst the best on the album.
There are a few slips in quality – the folky Shadowdance, whilst featuring some nice flute playing, is somewhat dull, and Can’t Buy Experience, despite starting strongly, becomes rather muddled and directionless – but generally the album is a consistent, and always listenable, work. Production is pretty good, particularly as I assume the album has been recorded on a fairly limited budget.
Overall then, this is a solid release from a band that certainly deserve to get more attention than they have in the past. As I’ve mentioned before, its perhaps too straightforward to appeal to the most hard-core of prog fans, but I imagine that many fans of the genre will find something to enjoy here, and if its combined with some live activity should see FC expanding their present fanbase.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Pseudo Buddha - 3 Months In Fat City
Tracklist: September 6 (13:11), October 4 (11:00), November 1 (32:09), November 14 (9:29)
3 Months In Fat City is ostensibly live recordings taken from four sets of music, which have then been linked to create one track that runs for just over one hour. These "raw audio documents" are know as the "Hooka-Jooka Series" and this particular one is Volume IV. I have no prior knowledge of the band so can only assume that this is their fourth release. What I found interesting, especially in light of the good audio quality, was that the tracks had been recorded on a two track machine and then with the minimum of editing (and without overdubbing) - mastered for CD. A testament to the live skills of the musicians.
Pseudo Buddha offer a strange concotion of music labelled as "space rock-raga-psych-improve" and although I am not entirely sure what that fully entails, it probably captures many of the styles encapsulated within the music. The track(s), which derive their names from the dates of the actual performance, follow a similar pattern throughout. We start with a fairly easy paced legato rhythm on which are layered a number of percussive and percussion parts, which in turn set the tempo whilst driving the track along. To this is added the bass elements, with a combination of lower bass drones and some skilfull fretless bass. Electronica, sound effects and ethereal noises also accompany much of the music. This rather dense layering forms the basis for the other instruments to explore avenues of free expression.
We should also mention here the musical influeneces that are encompassed within the tracks. As mentioned above the percussive elements form a large part of the music and along with the 'driving' forces are a multitude of percussion instruments - congas, bongos, tablas, shakers, cabasas etc. Rhythmically the music draws heavily from Indian and Middle Eastern cultures and this is then accentuated by the notation offered by the other instruments - flutes, saxophones, clarinets, bass guitars etc. Combined with the electronic music and heavy ethnic ingredients (notably Indian raga) are smatterings of jazz and what I believe to be called Space-Rock.
3 Months In Fat City is consistent "live document" from start to finish and although variations in the music are present, the overall effect is a little one dimensional for me. It is possible to include this release in the genaral area of Ambient music as it is an album that would suite sitting back and relaxing to, and did conjur images and notions of a film-score, (a very long film). Rhythmically the album is truly hypnotic however the free improvisations did tend to drift somewhat aimlessly.
As is usual on completing a review a quick visit to the bands website is on the cards, (note here that only the Record Label link is active at the time of this review), to find relevant links etc and to see what other reviewers have said. I freely admit to having mixed feelings on this release and perhaps somewhat surprising to me was that all the reviews I read were pretty much unanimous in their praise! Perhaps I have missed something - however I stay with my more reserved findings.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Kopecky - Sunset Gun
Tracklist: Sunset Gun (7:57), Ascension (5:32), The Divine Art Of Flying (5:22), Selqet’s Kiss (10:49), Creation’s Brief Gift (10:11), Temptation’s Screaming Ground (9:49), Departure (5:42)
Kopecky are an instrumental outfit hailing from Wisconsin, US, who take their name from the surname of the three brothers who make up the group – guitarist Joe, drummer Paul and bassist/keyboard player William. They have released two studio albums and one live set prior to this latest effort.
The music contained on Sunset Gun is perhaps best described as a mixture of virtuoso guitar playing a’la Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and any other guitar wiz you care to mention, and atmospheric soundscapes, courtesy of William’s synths, which could probably be said to give proceedings something of a symphonic air. There’s also a pronounced ‘eastern’ feel to many of the tracks, not least The Divine Art Of Flying, in which the Sitar is the dominant instrument.
Song-wise, the compositions here don’t generally follow a linear path, with some sections certainly having the feel of being improvised, and it’s true to say that the band tend to go principally for moods and atmospheres rather than memorable tunes much of the time. The technical standard of playing, however, is very high indeed – the brothers are obviously extremely talented musicians.
I must admit that this is one of those albums which, even after a number of listens, I was left rather cold by. I think that this was probably due to a combination of the rather loose song structures (as mentioned above) and the tendency of Joe Kopecky to go in for rather a lot of unnecessary shredding and soloing – fine in the context of a solid framework but somewhat overbearing within this context. The album has grown on me over time however – I particularly like the atmospheric soundscapes that William comes up with, whilst tracks like Creation’s Brief Gift show that the band are more than capable of sustaining a particular mood and feel for the duration of a piece.
Ultimately, I can’t say that this will be one of those albums that I’ll be listening to a lot over the coming months, but like I say it has grown on me after repeated listens, and will no doubt continue to do so. Ultimately Sunset Gun is one of those albums which it’s probably best to listen to the samples and judge for yourself. Fans of the likes of Derek Sherinian and his Planet X project, in particular, should find much to their liking here.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Phoenix - Renascent Phenomenon
Tracklist: Renascent Phenomenon (1:13), Death By Loving (2:45), Symptoms Of A Dawning Love (4:07), For A Change (5:54), Day After Night (4:10), Inbetweeen (3:40), CaLamity (4:55), Hereafter (5:04), Direction Nowhere (4:42), To A Square (4:30), Operation: Weekly Friday's Obsession (3:26), It Makes Me Laugh (2:30), Until Eternity (5:16), I Am Noone (2:59), 2nd Fantasy's Movement (2:55), Ever So Incomplete (2:52)
"Founded on July 19, 1970, Phoenix performed only twice, covering such bands as Procol Harum. The band's own compositions were never performed in public. The album Renascent Phenomenon finally brings this material to a wider (and largely unprepared) audience." So reads seemingly the only information relating to the history of Phoenix that can be found on the internet. Recorded 32 years after the band broke up by the two main protagonists, Mathilde Roza (keyboards) and Jos Husting (vocals, guitars, programmed drums, bass, keyboards and songwriting), the album leaves a lot to be desired in the hi-fidelity stakes. Even to call it "lo-fi" would be rather generous as the recordings are generally very flat and lack anything in the way of dynamics. At least the naive production values match the naive writing, very simplistic and, I admit, not to my taste at all. The programmed drums often seem incongruously out of kilter with the melody (! a good example being For A Change)
In one Internet review of the album the vocals have, rather amazingly, been compared with Peter Hammill and Roy Harper. This either displays a complete ignorance of either of those two fine artists or simply not being able to come up with a more apposite comparison, and using the stock references to artists that are renowned for being difficult to categorise. Whereas Hammill uses his voice as a powerful and emotive instrument, the vocal on the Phoenix album have a monotonal, almost dirge-like quality. This may, of course, have been the intent, and if so it has succeeded very well!
I found it incredibly difficult to get through this album in one sitting and when I resumed playing it after a suitable break I couldn't determine where I had laid off. Apologies to all concerned, but to my ears this album has very few redeeming features. Fans of melodic, symphonic progressive rock that enjoy complex musical interplay between instruments should avoid this album like the plague.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10