Reviews in this issue:
The Amber Light -
Goodbye To Dusk, Farewell To Dawn
Tracklist: A New Atlantis (4:54), Tartaros (8:11), Devil Song (3:40), Gangsters (6:54), The Drowning Man In My Hands (7:36), Hide Inside (5:05), Clock Hands Heart (14:20), New Day (13:18)
The Amber Light hail from Wiesbaden, Germany and formed in the summer of 2000 eventually settling as a permanent four-piece (Louis Gabbiani on vocals, keyboards and guitars, Jan Sydow on guitars, Rabin Dasgupta on bass and Peter Ederer on drums) in mid 2001. Their first release, a four-track mini CD with the great title As They Came They Slightly Disappeared, was released in late 2002, although that seems to have been a limited edition promo item which is currently unavailable. Still, not to worry as Goodbye To Dusk, Farewell To Dawn, the first full-length album, contains over an hour of great music. The album displays a maturity that defies their age, all the musicians are in their early twenties, and although the group exclusively use analogue equipment, they draw their influences from the gamut of progressive music, ancient and modern.
From the outset it is evident that The Amber Light deal in soundscapes and that textures: feeling and emotion play a big part in their music. A New Atlantis boldly starts proceedings with Louis Gabbiani's plaintive keyboards and vocals introducing a gentle piece of music that is akin to a blend of Mark Hollis and Sigur Ros. The piece slowly builds into a crescendo of guitars before ending with a reprise of the sedate vocals, this time accompanied by a lone acoustic guitar. Tartaros ups the tempo with a driving bass that expands into a tour de force - track 2 and already we are in epic territory! The band have toured with Germany's top Pink Floyd tribute band Interstellar Overdrive and it is obvious that a few tricks have been learnt from the Floyd's oeuvre, although that's not to say they sound anything like them!
Devil Song slows things down again with lovely acoustic guitars and the classic mellotron sound from the keyboards while Gangsters progresses from a heavy beginning, to a more jazz-tinged middle section (where the vocals inexplicably change from being sung in English to Italian [or is it Spanish?]) before all hell is let loose with the introduction of the saxophone of John Guatleri. This piece gives an impression of what Van Der Graaf Generator could sound like if the Hammill/Banton/Jackson/Evans line up were creating new music today. The Drowning Man In My Hands is fairly sombre in mood and harks back to the atmosphere of the opening number A New Atlantis, while Hide Inside is the album's most consistently upbeat number.
The last two tracks, Clock Hands Heart and New Day are the large scale compositions of the album, with the two songs combined occupying more than 40% of the album's running time. Intricate long-form pieces that weave in and out of melodies with subtle twists and turns that build tension before lapsing into almost minimalistic periods of introversion. Again, Sigur Ros spring to mind as an apt comparison.
An album of contrasting light and shade that is full of musical surprises, The Amber Light have produced an album that draws on the roots of classic progressive rock and interprets it in a truly modern setting. I confess to having fell in love with this album the first time I heard it and even after repeated playings still haven't discovered every nuance and detail. I heartily recommend Goodbye To Dusk, Farewell To Dawn - come on, step into the light and bask in its amber glow.
Its not very often that you can put on a CD and every track strikes an immediate chord, however this was the case with The Amber Light's first full release, Goodbye To Dusk, Farewell To Dawn. I would therefore just like to echo Mark's comment on the instant appeal of this album and concur that repeated listenings have only increased that initial enjoyment. As I see little can be added in the way of background information to Mark's overview of this release, I will concentrate on my thoughts about the material and the musicians.
As with many of the CD's we receive at DPRP, the first run through of the album happens in the small hours of the morning, trying to unwind after the days trials and tribulations and before retiring off to bed. So the delicate opening track, A New Atlantis, couldn't have been better chosen. It's tremolo-effected electric piano and Louis Gabbiani's delicate solo voice setting proceedings into motion. As the track unfolds light guitar textures are added, and as Mark points out, builds to an emotional crescendo before the classical guitar and voice close this brief track. I have listened to A New Atlantis many, many times now and have not tired of it one iota, on the contrary, and at this juncture it must feature strongly for the best track of 2004.
The tempo is lifted with Tartaros, as the percolating bass line pulls the music along, garnished with delicate electric guitar and light keyboard sounds. Breaking up this hypnotic rhythm are the choruses, which act as powerful resting points along the way. Again touching on Mark's comments and noting his Floyd reference, (which I found were most present in the guitar sounds), with the tremolo effect much used by Dave Gilmour in his early recordings. So once again a strong track full of passion and dynamics.
Light and shade return with Devil Song, acoustic guitars, soft keyboard textures and once again Louis Gabbiani's splendid voice. The stage is now set for the album's most "progressive" track, Gangsters, with its shifting tempos, aggressive guitar riffs (well as aggressive as The Amber Light ever become) and more eccentric vocalisations. The middle of the track takes on a light-weight jazzy mood before John Guartler adds his striking and maniacal saxophone to the frenzied ending section.
Release once more comes in the form of The Drowning Man In My Hands, a slow and melancholic track, as the title might indicate. The middle piano pick-up takes us to familiar ground for the band, with drawn out vocal and guitar notes whilst the band build things up. More up-beat is Hide Inside which is the most song-like track on the album, again the gentle guitar textures compliment the raunchier sections in the choruses. Gabbiani's voice is very good here and his falsetto voice is nicely complemented by the backing vocals.
We now look at the closing two epic tracks and Mark's summation here pretty much says it all. Clock Hands Heart uses its full fourteen minutes to develop. What I found distinctly brave was that the first three minutes of the song featured (relatively) un-effected electric guitar and voice. Even when the band do appear the backing is minimal. The pattern is then repeated, in a slightly shortened form, before the slow, repetitive, but always increasing in intensity 'build-up' which dominates the remainder of the track. All of which is accomplished without walls of keyboards (well except the gritty organ near the end) or hugely distorted guitars. We again return to the electric guitar and voice to close the track - passionate stuff indeed.
The last of the songs, New Day, is slightly more up-tempo but again retaining much of the intensity of the previous tracks. The vocals (not in English once again) are again a expressive and definitely a strong feature. I would have to say that Gabbiani's vocals are the key factor to The Amber Light's appeal, although Jan Sydow's guitar is hugely effective and the contributions from Rabin Dasgupta on bass and Peter Ederer should not be dismissed lightly.
Well this was a strange, but pleasant surprise for me. In some ways a very simplistic album, but one full of subtle and gentle textures and packed full of warmth and emotion. It was in fact the passion of the performances that was most captivating. Not my usual digest of flamboyant instrumentation, walls of sound and odd metering, but none the less a very enjoyable album.
Adaro - Schlaraffenland
Tracklist: Schlaraffenland (5:16), Wer Alten Weibern Traut (4:18), Nu Ruh Mit Sorgen (5:38), Lieg Still (5:00), Herr, Wer Hat Sie Begossen [Mit Der Milche Und Dem Blute?] (4:00), Es Is Ein Schnee Gefallen (3:58), Minne Ist Ein Sußer Nam (4:05), Kom Her Zu Mir (3:42), Der Edelfalk [Es Is Nit Alle Lieb Verloren] (5:52), Wohl Dem Leibe (4:34), Frau, Du Sollst Unvergessen Sein (3:16), Psalm XIII (3:55)
Adaro is a German band which has its roots in medieval rock music, a genre which is quite popular in their home country. With their fourth album Schlaraffenland they venture a bit towards a more proggy type of rock, which results in a very varied album, all sung in German. The German language may put some people off on the first listens, but after a while you do get used to it.
The vocals are shared between Christoph Pelgen and Konstanze Kulinsky and this interaction between male and female vocals adds to the variety. Pelgen's voice isn't anything special, but Kulinsky has a beautiful angelic voice which echoes Maggie Reilly and Heather Findlay, and really fits the music well. The instruments used range from folk instruments like bagpipes, whistles and fiddling violins, to heavy, roaring guitars with solos that would make Dave Gilmour proud.
The origins of the songs all lie in medieval period and all of the lyrics have been written between the 13th and 17th century, which is clearly noticeable in a title like Frau, Du Sollst Unvergessen Sein (Woman, you'll not be forgotten).
Musically however the band is far more modern. Think Ritual, Iona, some Mike Oldfield, Jethro Tull, a dash of Mostly Autumn and of course the other medieval prog band I know: XII Alfonso. While some songs are definitely folk rock (like opener Schlaraffenland), others will certainly appeal to the rockier fan of prog. A song like Nu Ruh Mit Sorgen for example, contains a terrific instrumental section which starts with a haunting roaring guitar (think Steve Rothery on the opening of Brave) over which a second guitarsolo in the vein of Steve Wilson is played, this then develops very naturally (yet unexpectedly) into a bagpipe solo - very original indeed.
Another track worth mentioning is Komm Her Zu Mir, which musically seems to come straight off a Porcupine Tree album. Heavy, roaring guitars with strange effects and a typical Richard Barbieri type keyboardsolo make this one of the best tracks on the album.
Not your average prog album and certainly not everybody's cup of tea, but if you like the bands named as an influence here, mixed with a healthy dose of folk, you would do well giving this album a try.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Newfair Flik - Situations
Tracklist: Preface (3:01), Skylines (4:32), Eyes (4:50), Drifting (3:52), Pipe Dream (2:13), Mr. Inc (5:16), Eve Said Newfair Flik (5:49), Paranoid Euphoria (5:02), Discarded (6:31), Sign Of Surrender (4:05), Shades Of Day (6:32), No Voice (8:52), World And Dreams (6:20), Morning Light (3:29), Situations (1:10)
Newfair Flik is the artist name given to the latest project by the Philadelphian musicians Joe DiVita (vocals, drums, bass guitars, programming) and Dan Simone (vocals, keyboards, guitars, programming). The duo originally met in High School and previously played together in school jazz ensembles and a local acoustic rock band. However, that ended six years ago and, subsequently, Simone moved out of Philadelphia to work in Oregon. The genesis of Newfair Flik began in the winter of 2001 with writing and recording taking place at studios (whenever the pair could get together) and over the internet (oh the joys of modern technology!). The resulting album, Situations, is a very fine and melodic album that incorporates a diverse range of styles and influences. Although only three tracks are complete instrumentals, the 72 minute running time leaves lots of room within the songs for instrumental passages. The instrumentals themselves exemplify the diverse nature of the album: Preface, after a shaky vocoder introduction, develops into an upbeat number that highlights the jazz backgrounds of the musicians; Discarded starts off as a gentle piece with reminiscent of classic Camel before developing into a more contemporary composition with elements of harder rock and even reggae (of a sort!); Pipe Dream has a sublime melody, a great keyboard sound and a very effective virtual choir adding backing - quite simply you'd be hard-pushed to find a better way to spend two minutes of your time!
Throughout the album we are treated to a veritable smorgasbord of styles, acoustic ballads (Morning Light, Sign Of Surrender), cod reggae (Drifting), industrial, polyrhythmic percussion (Mr. Inc), ELP-style synth and keyboard workouts (Paranoid Euphoria), even Beach Boy-influenced vocals (Eve Said Newfair Flik). However, the result is not an incoherent mass of individual pieces, there is cohesion throughout the album which flows smoothly from one track to the next. The fact that several pieces change styles within themselves (No Voice, for example, starts off like a Pink Floyd epic, all moody keyboards and sustained guitar before developing into something altogether more ethnic from the realms of the Ozric Tentacles).
With so many different ideas there are bound to be some things that are not to personal preferences. I found some sections of World Dreams rather too reliant on programmed instruments and rather disjointed but there are a couple of good solos; Shades Of Day is ostensibly a quite unremarkable song yet still manages to linger in the memory as an effective ballad. One of the strong points of the album is the vocals. Both DiVita and Simone, although probably in no fear of being recruited for the opera, are good singers, both have pleasant voices and, more importantly, know how to use their voices to the best effect. The vocal arrangements are also very good, although I would like to have heard them delve more into harmonisation.
There is a lot to hear on Situations, and I don't just mean the 72 minutes of music. There are subtle inflections, pieces that were hidden on one playing suddenly reveal themselves the next time. It is an album that reflects most moods and can be listened to when one is feeling in any mood. "Newfair Flik", the name, summons up images in my mind of some frightful comedy folk band but Newfair Flik, the music, is something I can live with for a long time to come.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
S & L - Time Machine
Tracklist: Time Machine (5:08), Faithless Breed (5:28), My Friend My Enemy (6:40), Runaway (4:20), Noise (4:58), A Different Man: Part I (6:46), A Different Man: Part II (7:48), Landscape (Sunrise & Sunset) (6:24)
S&L are Italian duo Salvio Schiano (keyboards/ programming) and Lino Esposito (guitars), and Time Machine is their second CD. Joining them on this album is drummer Mariano Barba, whilst a couple of bass players and a vocalist (Marco Basile) appear on several of the tracks.
The music that S&L produce is accurately described by their label as melodic prog metal, with crunchy riffs, symphonic keys and fluid, melodic solos to the fore. Five of the eight tracks are instrumentals, but in general the duo eschew the usual muso route of complicated time changes and an inordinately high rate of notes per minute for simpler strong structures and an emphasis on the music serving the tunes – a good job, as when they do go forgo melody for showmanship (as on the aptly titled Noise) the results are distinctly underwhelming.
Of the three vocal tracks, the strongest (and undoubtedly the highlight of the album) is My Friend My Enemy. Bursting out of the traps as if it really means business, this is well structured, has a real momentum, some of the best soloing on the album and a very strong chorus. Marco Basile is something of a production line AOR/ hard rock vocalist, but in a progressive metal scene overpopulated by tone-deaf warblers that’s something of a blessing, and he reaches the high notes with ease. The two-part A Different Man sees the band going for something of a prog epic, with more complexity in the songwriting than is evident elsewhere, and there are clear echoes of the likes of Dream Theater in both the vocal melodies and the build up to the inevitable grand finale. It’s a fair effort, though it doesn’t quite sustain the interest over its full length.
Overall this is one of those albums that’s enjoyable to listen to whilst its playing, although (My Friend My Enemy excepted) I found it somewhat difficult to recall many of the tunes once the album had finished. The answer is probably for the duo to employ a vocalist for the duration of the album next time out (also a translator – the lyrics make for painful reading at times!), and to concentrate on writing material that really reels in the listener, rather than effectively being something you put on in the background. As it stands though, this is a reasonable effort within its field.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Re-Union – Re-Union
(Featuring Redd, Jalea, Tango and Tricupa)
Disc 1 – Tango: Entera Para Amar (5:22), Vuela Pequenta (3:18), Nena Que Andas (4:41), La Tormenta (6:37), Diferencia En Blues (5:42) Tricupa: Tricupa Reino Miel (4:05), Vuelo Prenatal (4:26), Sol Celestial (3:03), Metro Patron (4:01), La Ventana II (5:49)
Disc 2 – Jalea: La Ventana 1 (4:14), Melosa (4:32), Helicoides (3:54), Jueves (3:38) Redd: Reyes En Guerra (7:37), Assecino Sentimental (8:06), La Esmeralda (6:25), Dedos Tristes (8:18), Matinee (11:11), Parto (4:08)
This two-disc set, capturing a live concert that featured the revival of four obscure (outside their home country at least) Argentinean bands, is something of a curate’s egg. Although the live sound and the technical skill of the - obviously seasoned - musicians is of a high quality, the end results- at least from a progressive perspective- are pretty disappointing.
The musical differences between the four bands are somewhat surprising, as the line-ups are substantially the same, adding or subtracting one or two members. All four bands represented here feature Capdevila, Corvalan and Araoz, with Imhoff, Albornoz, Aguero and Russo appearing in three bands each. Cerioni is the only one who pops up just once, in the final and best band - Redd.
Tango, who open the first disc with five tracks, are essentially purveyors of a proficient but ordinary blues rock, with nods to Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker and The Rolling Stones, but featuring Spanish vocals (as is the case throughout the disc). The only song with any progressive elements is La Tormenta, which features an atmospheric backing with slight symphonic leanings, and some impressive guitar work. With a distinct Latin flavour, it’s the only song of theirs that I would be tempted to play again.
The second half of the disc is taken up with five songs from Tricupa. Whilst retaining a bluesy base, the material moves in a slightly more progressive direction. Tricupa Reino Miel, though pretty commercial sounding, has a nice vocal melody and some fine electric guitar. Things look up with Vuelo Prenatal and Sol Celestial, both including some scorching guitar playing, with inventive arrangements lifting the progressive quotient a touch. Metro Patron is a bluesy rocker, with some very familiar sounding riffs, nice enough but nothing special. La Ventana II ends the first disc on a high point, having some nice Yes-like guitar parts and a subtle symphonic backing. Tricupa do show some promise, but really, there’s nothing earth shattering on show here.
The second disc starts off OK with Jalea performing La Ventana I, a mellow number reminding me of Wind And Wuthering era Genesis, but the next two songs are very poppy in style and although the tunes are catchy, they are also rather annoying. The last song is a straightforward rocker, and is pretty forgettable. Again, one good track is not enough to recommend this particular group.
Fortunately, the best is saved for last, as Redd are a genuinely progressive group and have to be the only reason any prog fan would want these CDs. Their set amounts to 45 minutes of high quality prog rock, and may be enough to tempt some of you to part with your money. Redd deal in guitar fronted prog, and with the songs mostly being in the six to eleven minute range, there is plenty of room for instrumental development, with some nice changes of mood and tempo, and more than a nod in the direction of Yes. Crimson and Floyd references also show up occasionally but Redd retains a distinct South American flavour. They also have a much stronger blues framework than is usual in progressive rock, making for a fresh twist on the genre. There is plenty of tension building, and dramatic climaxes.
Assecino Sentimental mixes in some jazz influences, with a nice piano solo nestling in amongst some powerful Floydian riffing. Really, you can’t go far wrong with any of their six songs, there is plenty of variety on offer, and the mixture of moods is skilfully handled. The eleven-minute Matinee builds from a blues/jazz base into a powerful and emotional atmospheric slow burner. Redd are definitely a band I would like to hear again.
When it comes to summing up this disc, I must admit to having struggled quite a bit. If this was just a 45 minute Redd CD, I would be rating this considerably higher, but after some deliberation, I think the rating must reflect that a large proportion of these discs is just not going to interest many prog fans. It depends on whether you are prepared to buy a two-disc set where only approximately half of the material is to your tastes. Of course, any existing fans of the bands will lap this up, and there may be some of you who fancy some blues and pop material alongside your prog. The quality is very good, but much of this is just not to my tastes. I would rate Tango and Jalea at about 4, Tricupa get 6 and Redd deserve 7 plus. I have more or less averaged the score on this basis.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Discus – … Tot Licht!
Tracklist: System Manipulation (9:20), “Breathe” (8:34), Verso Kartini-Door Duisternis Tot Licht! (12:18), Music For 5 Players (7:40), Anne (19:23)
During my time reviewing CD’s I’ve had the good fortune to have my eyes opened to the fact that there’s a lot of good music coming from outside of the ‘usual’ areas of Europe and North America. Even so it was still something of a surprise to see this album land on my reviewing pile: the second album from a prog band from Indonesia. To be honest, the band could have turned in a set of standard neo-prog and still be seen as something of a novelty, but Discus certainly don’t go down this route; … tot licht! displays a diversity and a desire to push the progressive rock envelope that puts many of their contemporaries to shame.
A look at the credits gives some indication of the wide range of musical styles contained on the album: the eight musicians, besides handling the usual guitars-drums-bass-keyboards combination, turn their hands to violin, clarinet, saxophone, '21 string harp-guitar'(!) and a variety of native percussive and woodwind instruments, which I won't pretend to know anything about. In addition, no fewer than five of the band take on lead vocals, and cover a variety of styles, although its female vocalist Nonnie’s sweet, breezy delivery which most caught my ear.
Opener System Manipulation provides a good introduction of the band’s music, and to their penchant for switching between very diverse musical styles in a split second; the track incorporates ethnic chanting, traditional melodies, lounge jazz, Zappa-esque experimentalism, distorted heavy guitar riffs, jazz fusion a’la Weather Report, Chick Corea and (particularly) the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and passages of King Crimson-esque prog. Whilst this music could certainly be called ‘challenging’ (often seen as a reviewer’s euphemism for unlistenable) it actually starts to make a weird sort of sense after a while, and the pace/ style changes are well handled enough that switching within an instant from a laid-back jazzy piece with Nonnie’s fluttering vocal harmonies to thrashy discordant metal with shouty male vocals doesn’t seem half the recipe for disaster that it may appear to be on paper (honest!).
The band probably reach their peak on the two lengthiest epics on the album; Verso Kartini… probably has the best vocal harmonies on the album and sees the most natural flow from one type of music to another; its also the track which has the most recognisable ‘progressive rock’ influences, with sections reminiscent of the likes of Genesis, Kansas and Jethro Tull in their seventies heyday. Anne, meanwhile, has interesting lyrics based on the diary of Anne Frank, and sees the band really going for it, reaching a fine, almost symphonic crescendo at the conclusion of the track.
Discus obviously realise that they need to break up these epics with some shorter, less frantic pieces; P.E.S.A.N. is a mellow affair with lyrics in the bands native language and a leading role for Iwan Hasan’s classical guitar, whilst Music for 5 Players is an almost freeform piece which showcases the violin playing of Eko Partitur, and reminded me somewhat of the King Crimson track Providence.
In conclusion then, this is not an album I would universally recommend to readers of these pages, as it does display a wilful eclecticism that many will simply find difficult to listen to. Speaking for myself, I found it a refreshing listen, and the band’s fine musicianship and ability to come up with some winning melodies is the thing that stays in the mind rather than the odd section or styles which doesn’t work (I did find the discordant metal sections which crop up in many of the songs a bit tiresome and off-putting after a while). Overall, I would say that if your musical preferences run to the likes of King Crimson (both the mid-70’s and present day version) and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and you like plenty of experimentation and diversity in your music, then this could be well worth investigating.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10