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CD & DVD Reviews •

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Issue 2004-028

Reviews in this issue:

Sylvan - X-Rayed
Sylvan - X-Rayed
Country of Origin:Germany
Record Label:Point Music
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2004
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: So Easy (8:19), So Much More (3:07), Lost (7:16), You Are (5:30), Fearless (9:11), Belated Gift (4:07), Today (3:10), Through My Eyes (6:50), Given - Used - Forgotten (12:55), This World Is Not For Me (8:20)

Ed's Review

As I've mentioned before, some of the best current day prog bands come from Germany. Bands like RPWL, Alias Eye and Sylvan are gaining more popularity abroad and have even braved the stage of the Classic Rock Society's gigs in Rotherham. Sylvan has indeed been one of those bands I've become very fond of. I liked their second CD Encounters and I absolutely loved their third one, Artificial Paradise. Especially on the latter, tracks like Deep Inside, Timeless Traces and the title track show how good prog rock songs are written; full of emotion, aggression and splendid melodies. That atmosphere is continued on the band's new album X-Rayed. As a mater of fact it is highly intensified. Whereas Encounters and Artificial Paradise still radiated feelings of hope this is as dark and depressing as it gets. X-Rayed oozes pain, fear and aggression.

Now, I'm one of the last people to shun away from deeply emotional music. Timeless Traces on the band's last album is one of those rare songs which, like Marillion's The Great Escape, has got that certain something that literally moves me to tears. X-Rayed however was even for me an overdose of emotion. Whereas I found Artificial Paradise quite accessible I had a hard time getting into this new album. I'd even say I really disliked it when I played it the first time. But knowing the quality of the band I know there had to be more to it so I continued playing the album over and over and over again. It has taken me more than a month to finish this review while losing count of the number of times I played the CD.

X-Rayed is no easy listening. Sure, the typical and heart wrenchingly beautiful ballads are still present in the form of tracks like So Much More, Today and This World is Not For Me. The band vocalist Marco Glühmann has this gifted ability to sing in an incredibly emotional way, not to mention the amazing range of his vocals, which although different in style could be compared to the range of Queensrÿche's Geoff Tate. Besides these ballads however is a whole range of songs which are quite a bit heavier and harder to digest than the average song on Artificial Paradise. The latter still had some 'happy' tunes like Around the World but you'll have a hard time finding those on X-Rayed. Just look at some of the subject matter of the songs as described on the band's website: 'the emotional numbness conquering oneself in order to avoid the pain', 'trying to come to terms with overwhelming emotions not felt before', 'deep pain felt due to the loss of important persons', 'the anger of a broken relationship'. Better stay away from painkillers, razorblades and train stations while listening to this one.

Some of the influences and styles which were present on the band's previous album are used on this album again. We get the Faith No More-like angry semi-rapping which we heard before in the track Artificial Paradise in the middle section of So Easy and Given-Used-Forgotten, the jumpiness and singing style of Red Hot Chilli Peppers in Fearless and the almost classical piano sequences of the band's second album in the opening of Given - Used - Forgotten. And of course there's loads of great vocal melody hooks, atmospheric keyboard soundscapes, funky bass lines and catchy guitar riffs and solo's in Marillionesque style, not too mention many drum loops and sound effects. There's also many occasions on the album where songs move from quiet verses to heavy, guitar driven choruses. Take for instance Belated Gift - a song that has definite hit single potential - this song moves into a style one would normally expect from band's like Garbage or Guano Apes. But it works.

There's too much happening in all of the 10 individual songs to discuss in this review, so I will just mention a couple of remarkable things about some of the songs. So Easy is a nice opening track in good Sylvan tradition. The building tension and power can easily be compared to openers of their previous albums like No Way Out and Deep Inside. Lost, Fearless, Belated Gift and Through My Eyes are all good examples of the band's heavier and angrier new approach.
You Are is a remarkable song in the sense that it's a love song with a power and tension one would normally not expect in a love song. One of my favourite tracks.
Fearless is an unholy marriage between Red Hot Chili Peppers and Metallica followed by a spooky psychedelic section and a touch of Floydian slide guitar in the end. Today is a ballad which starts minimalistic and builds to a majestic orchestration. Through My Eyes was the track I had most difficulty to get into. Not sure why. Maybe the emotions are a bit overdone in this one or maybe the song is a bit too heavy on the stomach for me. It does however feature a middle section with some amazing time signatures.
The album's epic Given-Used-Forgotten combines the bands past with the current style. It features classical piano and those typical Sylvan arrangements when at one moment you are cosily inside a pretend comfort zone just before you are attacked by a killer guitar riff or magnificent guitar solo. Not as good as their previous epic (Artificial Paradise) but still a marvellous piece of work. At the end of the album This World is Not For Me helps you to get your feet back on the ground. This time the climax guitar solo is in the middle of the song while the last minutes are used for a peaceful bit of piano, leaving you completely fulfilled (if not drained) when the album ends.

All in all X-Rayed is a splendid album which you need to give the chance to grow on you. No easy listening, but enough gems to dig into. I have to admit that I liked Artificial Paradise a bit better since it is an album that works better in any mood. Nevertheless X-Rayed is a highly recommended album and another CD that proves that Sylvan is among the top of the prog scene of the new decade.

Tom's Review

I tend to find that it’s often better when a band you’ve never heard before knocks you out with an unexpected gem of an album than it is when an established band delivers the goods as you’ve come to expect. A case in point is this new (fourth) effort from German outfit Sylvan.

I’ve seen descriptions of the bands music along the lines of ‘similar to Marillion and IQ’. Well, I can only imagine these descriptions must have been written in reference the band’s earlier output, as whilst there are undoubtedly shades of the aforementioned bands (there are echoes of the Marillion of Brave/Afraid of Sunlight vintage throughout, whilst the epic Given – Used – Forgotten has hints of the dark soundscapes IQ were creating on Subterranea) they’re hardly the main reference points.

Sylvan produce strong, emotional rock music with a definite modern feel. By this, I’m not just referring to the judicious use of samples, drum loops and ‘industrial’ sounds throughout the album, but the general feel of the music itself. At times fragile and melancholy, at others heavy and aggressive, this has its foot in both the progressive rock camp and the more modern, ‘alternative’ rock movement – for an example of the latter, check out the raging Lost, which brings to mind A Perfect Circle at their most venomous.

The two bands who probably most inform the modern day Sylvan sound are Porcupine Tree (from Signify onwards) and Pain of Salvation. I cite the latter as a good point of comparison not because the music Sylvan create can necessarily be directly compared with the Swedish prog metal giants (although at times it does come close), but more for the general emotional impact the music makes. Sylvan vocalist Marco Glühman also bears something of a similarity to Daniel Gildenlow; he is in many ways a more technically skilful singer, yet also manages to convey the emotional power and vulnerability that Gildenlow can.

All the musicians are on form on this album, but pride of place goes to guitarist Kay Söhl – one minute he’s grinding out heavy riffs like his life depends on it, the next unleashing a fine melodic solo which would give the likes of Steve Rothery or (Enchant’s) Doug Ott a run for their money. Keyboardist (and twin brother of Kay) Volker Söhl, meanwhile, for the past part paints atmospheric (and often quite spooky) backdrops, which are all the more effective for the restraint he exercises in doing so.

Song wise, it’s difficult to pick out highlights, but for me the track Fearless, well placed in the middle of the album, features everything that’s best about the band. Starting with an almost reggae-ish groove reminiscent of Rush’s Digital Man, the song builds to a very powerful chorus. The mid section sees an ambient, brooding atmosphere, dominated by Volker Söhl’s keyboards and a sampled montage of far-off voices, take hold, before the song builds superbly to a powerful climax, featuring one of Kay’s most controlled yet effective solo’s.

The only real (minor) criticism I would have is that the album sometimes seems a little too dark and weighty, and that it would be nice to occasionally have a breather from the intensity. That said, both You Are and Today are both, if not exactly ‘happy’ tracks, decidedly more upbeat and lighter in mood. You could also argue that to include songs which break up the intensity would also break up the flow of the album.

Overall, then, this is an excellent album which manages to fuse elements of ‘traditional’ progressive rock with a more modern sound to often exhilarating effect. Do yourself a favour – for the good of your (musical) health, get yourself "x-rayed" as soon as possible!


Ed Sander : 8+ out of 10
Tom De Val : 9 out of 10

Eccentric Orbit - Attack Of The Martians
Eccentric Orbit - Attack Of The Martians
Country of Origin:US
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:EOCD1
Year of Release:2004
Info:Eccentric Orbit
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Star Power (7:36), Sputnik (7:08), Attack Of The Martians [Flying Saucers And Little Green Men, The Face On Mars, Martians Everywhere!] (10:41), Forbidden Planet [The Arrival {Innocence Lost}, The Intruder, The Krell, The Tempest / The Departure] (14:09), The Enemy Of My Enemy (6:06)

In many ways Attack Of The Martians by Eccentric Orbit is the US equivalent of Trion's 2003 album Tortoise (a review of which can be found here). Both groups wanted to record an album that featured classic 1970s keyboards - analogue synths, Rhodes electric pianos, Hammond organs, Wurlitzers, mellotrons and the like. Both groups put the instrumentation to the fore by cutting out the distractions a vocalist would cause and concentrating solely on the music. The main difference between the two bands is that the American group do it all without the aid of a guitar player. Eccentric Orbit's line-up consists of Bill Noland on bass, Derek Roebuck on keyboards, Madeleine Noland on additional keyboards and MIDI-controlled wind synths and Mark Cella on drums. With no guitarist the emphasis is placed firmly on the keyboards although Bill Noland's bass has some very interesting lines that are occasionally brought to the fore to carry a melody. His exceptionally strong playing dominates several pieces but, in particular, sections of Forbidden Planet takes the bass where it's not often heard! Interestingly enough, considering the album is so dominated by keyboards, the sole composer of the material was actually Bill the bass player who makes his presence known right from the opening of Star Power with a rough and heavy bass growl that resonates through the body.

One can't help but draw comparisons with Emerson, Lake and Palmer, although stylistically the music on Attack Of The Martians bears little relation to much in the ELP cannon. However, the odd bar here and there will set the recognition neurons firing and several of the sounds achieved can be traced directly back to Emerson's technical manual. Not that this is a criticism, one of the ideas about recording such an album as this is to utilise the keyboards in a manner akin to the great groups of the 1970s. That they have achieved this suggests the raison d'être of the band has been accomplished; that they have produced an original, interesting and entirely enjoyable album in the process is much more than the icing on the cake.

The album possesses an inherent menace to it, mainly bought about by the aggressive bass sound. There is a fair degree of variety though particularly during the 14-minute Forbidden Planet which could well be a lost soundtrack to an episode of the classic television show from which the track takes its name. Split into four sections, the first section (The Arrival - Innocence Lost) opens with a spacey wind-synth sound that Hawkwind would be proud of. Piano melodies, played mostly by the left hand, are elegantly entwined around some great bass work on the second section (The Insider) while the third section The Krell is given over to the analogue synthesisers. Finally, the piano and bass are reintroduced for the conclusion of The Departure.

In many ways, the last track The Enemy Of My Enemy distils the elements of the previous 39 minutes into a glorious summation. Lovers of the sounds of mellotrons will delight in this piece, although I believe that samples were used as opposed to original instruments (if it is authentic enough to pose the question, what does it really matter? Some people can be rather too precious!). If you liked the Trion album (and plenty of people did!), then Attack of the Martians is a perfect companion piece, different but complementary. I always find it great to discover an obscure band from the past but end up being frustrated that, for whatever reason, the band only recorded one or two albums. With Eccentric Orbit I feel that I have discovered a previously unknown band from my favourite musical period, but one whose musical trip is just beginning!
Oh, it's a groovy cover as well!

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Mark Hughes

Pilgrym - Pilgrimage
Pilgrym - Pilgrimage
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:HydeAway Records
Holyground Records
Catalogue #:HDYCD04
Year of Release:2004
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Circus Of The Absurd (7:57) Ghosts Of Years (6:01) Believe Me Now (4:52) Building A Perfect Universe pt I: i Endless Space ii The Spark iii Creating God (4:44) Building A Perfect Universe pt 2: i Understanding The Machine ii All That You See (5:02) Song Of The Albatross (7:02) Black Sun (7:14) Bonus Tracks: Reborn (Live) (6:20) Circus Edit (5:44)

One look at the excellent artwork (by Lee Gaskins) gracing this CD, with imagery reminiscent of Paul Whitehead’s classic Genesis covers, should have devotees of 70’s style Progressive Rock salivating with anticipation. These high expectations are met, to a large extent, by the music contained herein, but to fully appreciate this disc, you will also need to have a liking for the more commercial end of the genre, where it intersects with A.O.R. – as exemplified by Asia or Manfred Mann’s Earth Band.

The band are based in West Yorkshire, England (just up the road from me in South Yorkshire) and consist of: Andy Wells – vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards and composition; Tony Drake – vocals and guitars; His son, Oliver Drake – bass and guitars; and Kevin Mulvihill – drums and percussion. Now also part of the band, but only featured on the bonus live cut, is keyboardist Emma Pearson. Mike Syslo is the bassist on two tracks but has now left the group.

Self-produced, the CD was mastered at Holyground Studios by Mike Levon. Holyground was responsible for 70’s vinyl mega-rarity Astral Navigations (though its high price tag is due more to its scarcity than its musical worth, in my opinion) and also early works of Bill Nelson.

The band profess to influences from ELP, King Crimson and Greenslade, (and Andy Wells is a huge Andy Latimer fan) and all these bands can be discerned in the music here, but the most obvious reference, to my ears, is Pink Floyd, with echoes of Dark Side Of The Moon right through to Division Bell era Floyd showing through.

Circus Of The Absurd is a powerful opener, surging forward on a wave of organ and guitars and having a very retro vibe. The opening section is an upbeat, rocking song with melodic vocals but the second part of the track has more room for instrumental development, featuring synths and mellotron in a very progish, stop/start workout. The music is not overly complex, but should have a wide appeal for prog fans. The next two tracks hold back on the prog elements a little, hence my warning above. Ghosts Of Years is a slow piano ballad, with a nice vocal melody by Andy Wells, sounding like a slightly grittier John Wetton. Mellotron provides a nice symphonic atmosphere to what is essentially a pleasant commercial tune with progressive embellishments. Believe Me Now is by far the most commercial sounding tune, with a heavy Asia influence. The John Wetton comparison is even stronger on this track. It would sit nicely alongside Heat Of The Moment or Soul Survivor. I also caught traces of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band in places. For fans of this sort of stuff, this track comes highly recommended. Very nicely done, and ultra radio friendly, it’s the sort of thing I like to hear once in a while, but is a bit too poppy for my tastes.

Thankfully, the album takes a much less commercial turn from here on, with the two-part Building A Perfect Universe diving straight into spacey Pink Floyd territory for a largely instrumental, keyboard drenched piece that is fully satisfying. Tony Drake adds some nice Gilmour-ish wailing guitar. Only the short vocal section at the end of the second part mars the piece a little, and this is purely because its “All that you touch.. All that You See..” refrain is a mite too derivative of Eclipse from Dark Side Of The Moon.

Song Of The Albatross is another instrumental track, but this time with a more gentle, New Age groove. It is amiable enough, ideal for those moments when you want to relax, and it never quite reaches New Age bland out, but its plodding beat may prove irritating when you want something more engaging. The track is redeemed somewhat by a soulful guitar solo towards the end.

The album proper ends with Black Sun where the doomy atmosphere and heavily layered mellotron and organ give a King Crimson air to the song. This is probably my favourite track of the album and should delight Floyd/Crimson fans. If the band can match this quality throughout a second album, they could really build a reputation in the prog community.

Of the bonus tracks, the edit of Circus is strictly filler, but Reborn is another killer prog track, with its dreamy mellotron conjuring memories of Barclay James Harvest, though it also rocks out more than they used to. Though this track amply proves that the band is a mouth-watering prospect as a live act (and I’d like to see them play soon!), I would also have liked to hear a studio version of this track!

In conclusion, there are no really bad tracks on this disc, and at least a couple of great ones. While the CD acts as a useful shop window of several styles (which they are more than capable of playing), I would hope that Pilgrym will persevere in their progress and present us with a second CD that grabs the Prog nettle by both hands and lets go some of the more commercial elements. I know they have recorded solo projects and perhaps the more Asia sounding stuff could be saved for a differently named project. Heck, I’d probably buy that too, but I just want an unadulterated Progout from these guys!

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

Dave Sissons

Hal Darling - D2R
Hal Darling - D2R
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:-
Year of Release:2003
Info:Hal Darling
Samples:Click here
Tracklist: Clown Of Fire (4:48), Black Rhyme (4:50), Prom Vomit (2:37), Where Seraphs Despair (3:32), Rope Of Sand (1:52), Aggressive Biological Behaviour (6:27), An Unsettled Score (2:51), Run (6:28), Dog Dreams (2:46), A Breach Of Species One Through Five (0:40), Mr. Smith Shows The Children How To Smoke A Cigarette (4:41), Asunder (6:56)

D2R is the second release from Hal Darling and follows up the simply entitled Darling album from 1996. The title for this second independent release, in Hal's own words, might be taken as a play on words - "Darling's Second Release", "Detour" or perhaps just D2R - the choice is yours. I have to admit that I had not heard any of Hal Darling's material prior to D2R arrival on my desk last month. However my interest was piqued by a note from Hal suggesting I might be the most suitable person on the DPRP site to review the album. Flattery indeed, or perhaps slightly more to do with my penchant for complex instrumental albums, rather than anything to do with my literary skills.

Hailing from Nebraska, Hal Darling is primarily a drummer with a fair degree of keyboard dexterity and programming skills, all of which are reflected throughout the twelve tracks that make up this album. Joining Hal are two other musicians, Uri Gatton (electric, acoustic and MIDI guitars) and Athan Gailis (woodwinds, brass and MIDI horns). The resultant music is in the main intense and demanding, although perhaps surprisingly (but refreshingly) not all the tracks feature drums. Neither are those tracks that do feature drums, merely an avenue for demonstrating technique, but more as an integral part of each of the arrangements. Therefore we are treated to twelve evolving instrumental pieces of music that draw from progressive rock, classical, jazz, RIO and a little splash of the avant-garde. The tracks are often jarring, nearly always provocative and slightly menacing which did make the listening process a tad difficult, when playing the album from start to finish. There are no pointless meandering ambient sections or protracted keyboard washes to be found on D2R, but predominately strident organ and piano accompanied by strong rhythmic drumming.

A selection of crowning moments from D2R would thus reflect the above remarks and be as follows. The album's opening piece Clown Of Fire, because of its odd metering, changes of tempo, gentle humour (suggested by the "fairground" organ textures) and the contrasting lighter pizzicato sections. Its pace and overall sound did conjure early Keith Emerson material circa The Nice, albeit that the complex arrangement here outweighs any of the material written by the aforementioned band. Comparisons to Keith Emerson and ELP are also to be found in the all too brief Rope Of Sand and the superb Aggressive Biological Behaviour - certainly around the Brain Salad Surgery period. However I would not want to give the impression that D2R is some sort of Emerson influenced spin off. So continuing with the highlights would be the delightful (and again far too brief) A Breach Of Species One Through Five and the final cut from the album, Asunder, a great rocker with full on Hammond-esque organs, grandiose orchestral keyboards and driving drums - powerful stuff to end with. Just before concluding this section, I did find a nice touch was to be found in the liner notes for the CD, in which Hal offers his wry and often humorous observations into the thought processes behind each of his tracks. These tortured ramblings (just joking) can be found on Hal's site as well.

Whilst listening to (and trying to write a review of) Hal's music I did ponder how much simpler life could be if I wrote for a "blues/R&B" ezine. Music [IMHO] often akin to an episode of Scooby Doo, in which the main characters and storyline (the twelve bar riffs) remain the same with the only twist being "who might the bad guy be" (the solo). Hal's music is more in line with an episode of the X Files; one that is not only complex but full of twists and turns. I chose to use this analogy as much of the mysterious, moodier, darker and more dissonant material to be found on D2R could well serve as a menacing soundtrack. Any way enough of this foolishness and to continue with this summation of D2R. As mentioned above this release should interest those prog fans with a liking for complex instrumentals, containing touches of RIO, shades of jazz, a sprinkling of the avant-garde and a healthy dose of traditional and contemporary classical music. Purchasers of material from the Cuneiform label may well find something to their tastes here. Finally and after numerous attempts, I find that I am still unable to wrap-up this album review with a few carefully chosen words, so I can only suggest you either buy this CD (which will no doubt please Mr Darling), but if not then at least have a listen to the MP3 clips on Hal's site. Enjoy!

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

Bob Mulvey

Minimum Vital - Atlas
Minimum Vital - Atlas
Country of Origin:France
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:FGBG 4533.AR
Year of Release:2004
Info:Minimum Vital
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Saltarello (3:50), Volubilis (7:02), Louez Son Nom (7:36), Voyage I (7:32), Deux Amis (6:54), La Ribote (3:25), Atlas (6:44), Icarus (6:28)

French six-piece Minimum Vital have been releasing albums since the mid-80’s, and were one of the first acts to sign with the Musea label. The band have been quiet for a while, with their last studio release being 1997’s Espirit d’Amor, but they’ve certainly returned to the scene in style, as Atlas is a winner.

The core of the band are the Payssan brothers ~ Jean-Luc (guitars) and Thierry (organ and synthesisers) – who write all the material. Bassist Eric Rebreyol has been with the duo from the start, whilst drummer Didier Ottaviani and vocalists Jean-Baptiste Ferracci and Sonia Nedelec all joined during the nineties. There’s no doubt that this line-up has now thoroughly gelled, as Atlas is the work of a confident outfit who not only produce some fine music, but sound like they’re having a lot of fun doing it.

Its actually quite hard to describe the sound that Minimum Vital produce, or exactly why it works as well as it does. Take a dash of Gallic folk, a large pinch of (accessible) jazz-rock fusion, a hefty slab of mediaeval occidental music (Thierry Payssan spends almost as much time playing mandolin as he does more conventional instruments) and, of course, a chunk of fluid, up-tempo prog (think Gentle Giant meets mid-70’s Genesis) and you have a fair description of the band’s sound, although that doesn’t really do it justice – one thing you can say though is that Minimum Vital certainly have their own identity!

The songs are by turns up-beat and breezy (the almost jig-like Saltarello, the euphoric Louez Son Nom), mellow and wistful (Voyage I, which has something of the air of a sea shanty to it in the early stages before progressing to an emotional climax, and the folky close-harmonies of Deux Amis), or both (the title track, with its very proggy keyboard solos, judicious use of the Hammond and superbly handled change of pace and mood, is one of the albums’ highlights).

The musicianship throughout is top notch – Minimum Vital don’t dazzle with style over content, but there’s plenty of tight playing, and the solos when they come are wonderfully evocative. The rhythm section are very tight and punchy, steering these sometimes complex songs along with ease. The band’s secret weapon, however, are the twin vocals of Jean-Baptiste Ferracci and Sonia Nedelec. Predominantly singing in unison, the deep, distinctly gallic tones of Ferraci and bright, airy harmonies of Nedelec compliment each other perfectly. The duo both have a range most other vocalists would kill for, and can switch styles with ease, handling the powerful, emotional climactic section of Voyage I and the gloriously daft ‘di li dam! Dil li di dam dam dam’ accapella section of Louez Son Non with equal aplomb. The latter leads to another observation; whilst some of the lyrics are in French, and occasionally in English, the band mostly deal in what the booklet calls ‘imaginary words’, effectively words that fit the melody rather than actually mean anything. This may sound rather daft in theory (and looks a little odd on the lyric sheet!) but works fine in practice.

I guess the only real criticism I’d have of the album is the fact that there aren’t more ‘traditional’ instruments used, and the fact that it can occasionally stray the wrong side of twee (not often though). Overall though, this is an excellent release, from the songs, production, musicianship right through to the excellent cover layout and fine band photography. Musea will no doubt release hundreds of albums this year; some will be good, some not so good, but I doubt there’ll be many that match Atlas for quality. Okay, it can’t exactly be called a heavyweight release, but if you’ve had a hard day at work and are looking for something upbeat, relaxing and ultimately enjoyable to unwind to, this album will fit the bill.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

Tom De Val

Orphan Project - Orphan Found
Orphan Project - Orphan Found
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:-
Year of Release:2004
Info:Orphan Project
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Coming Into View I: Discovering New Surroundings (6:16), Chosen (6:01), Full But Lonely (3:55), Leaving My Seat At The Table (6:12), Trickle Down (4:26), Coming Into View II: Encircling Arms Of The Father (5:00), See What He Sees (4:09), Orphan Found (5:08), Parts As One (4:39), Paupers Unfulfilled (5:14), Coming Into View III: Gazing Down On Golden Streets (6:54), Outro: Wonderous Love (1:18)

Orphan Found is the amazing debut by Orphan Project, which I should have reviewed last year, but only discovered this year. The founder of Orphan Project, Shane Lankford, is a man who has a story, and his lifelong friend John Wenger wrote the perfect music to tell it. Making Orphan Found a concept album of sorts, played by a number of guest musicians, the pieces are loosely connected to one theme, the story of an orphan.

Shane Lankford, himself an orphan, was adopted by a loving family, but wondered where he really belongs and in whom he could find his identity. In the end, he realized his life is in the hands of his Heavenly Father, and that his restless heart may find rest in Him. The songs on this album reflect episodes of that search, sometimes in terms of biblical images like the prodigal son and the New Jerusalem. The personal quest, however, is at the same time an accessible experience to a broader audience.

Orphan Project dub their music "hard prog". It is indeed "progressive" in the sense that it goes beyond the borders of ordinary rock, using different instruments and song structures. And it is indeed hard in the sense that Orphan Project borrow powerful vocals and guitars-with-distortion-wide-open from our tougher musical neighbours. Somewhere between Under the Sun and Threshold, I'd say, Orphan Project show very capable musicianship and writing. Not without reason Lankford and Wenger credit American 'hair bands' (Journey, Kansas/Livgren, Petra) and well known prog giants (Yes/Rabin, Genesis/Gabriel) for inspiration. One could safely add Gilmour and Hackett.

On the more technical side (and then I'll get on with the songs themselves), the production and the mix really stand out, especially for a debut album. Someone there knew what he wanted to record for each song. There is diversity and transparency in sounds, effects and instruments (for instance such that drums are mixed to the fore when they deserve it and Wengers guitar pops out when it is played with balls). Also, Shane's seasoned voice gets all the space it needs. With some great vocal melodies, hooking choruses, and a range of nuances, he voices the lyrics very effectively. Let me just say that if you like Neal Morse's Testimony, you'll love this one as well.

The album begins with a great opener, because it already has everything that makes the whole cd attractive. Coming Into View: Discovering New Surroundings starts off with an intro featuring acoustic guitar and keyboard backdrop before the dual lead guitar and drums kick in, leading to a memorable chorus. Quite fittingly the song is about birth. Chosen, secondly, is about a kid in an orphanage waiting for adoptive parents. It changes mood completely to almost folky, with acoustic guitar, prominent snare drum, violin (!) and harmonizing vocals. The decision to use strings (violin and cello) is courageous, especially for a debut album in the harder regions of prog, but OP pull it off. The next scene in the orphan's childhood is a up-tempo song, called Full But Lonely, with tasteful keys and pushed forward by a rocking guitar riff. It describes a longing for more than material well-being. The same holds for Leaving My Seat At The Table, which goes full throttle with a great chorus and with an almost haunting violin and piano.

Orphan Found then continues in a somewhat quieter pace, with a song that seems to have references to Peter Gabriel. This song, Trickle Down, is about despair and could have been on Us, although it ends like Family Snapshot. Again, Wenger manages to get a good guitar solo. Also in a quieter vein, but building up tension to a contagious chorus, is Coming Into View II: Encircling Arms Of The Father in which the orphan in the story embraces the love of his Heavenly Father, in a spiritual rebirth, like the prodigal son in the biblical parable. This song, which opens with Floydian guitar, serves as a sort of bridge to the highlight of the album, the following two pieces. See What He Sees is one of the most heartrending ballads I've heard in a long time on a prog album. Introduced by cello and accompanied by piano, Lankford sings his heart out. The other part of the centerpiece of the album is Orphan Found, the title track. It picks up the hard rock pace of Full But Lonely and Leaving My Seat... again, with great guitar riffs, powerful chorus, quiet interlude with violin, a Genesis-like change of pace, and a guitar solo with chops.

This material will probably translate very well to live concerts. So far, the album has been able to hold the listener's attention with ease, also after repeated listening. And just like a good progressive rock album should, Orphan Found ends with a majestically sweeping finale, Coming Into View III: Looking Down On Golden Streets plus its outro Woundrous Love. Unfortunately, however, between the centerpiece and the finale, the album features one tracks and a half with too little of 'it'. Parts As One is a pretty straightforward mid-tempo rock song. Perhaps an album like this needs such a song as a point where the whole thing can come to rest for a moment, perhaps also when played live. But as far as progressive rock goes, it has too little to offer to me. The same goes for the first half of Paupers Unfulfilled. It is also mid-tempo, with U2-like licks, but it also seems to lack that 'umph' that makes both the restful and the restless songs on the album work. The second half has more power, however, and makes up for the initial faintness. If it is indeed a little drama that these songs are lacking, drama fortunately abounds in the finale, ...Golden Streets. It is lyrically about our orphan dying, but set in a hopeful tone, with sounds of sea waves, choir, and tubular bells. You get the picture. (Speaking of pictures, the cd comes in a case with delightful artwork, based on very un-prog tinted black and white photographs. Perhaps only the lettering leaves something to be desired.)

Interestingly, when you haven't heard the album, you probably still don't have a clue what it sounds like after reading this review. Hence my references to other work in the progressive rock genre. You'll have to hear it for yourself. Which brings me to the only big downside: the CD's distribution. So far, the independently manufactured CD has been available through internetshop CDBaby only. The upside, however, is that Orphan Project signed with Now & Then Records as we speak, promising better distribution in Europe and elsewhere. Judging by their debut, they deserve it.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

Bart Cusveller

A Day's Work - Drowning In What I Believe
A Day's Work - Drowning In What I Believe
Country of Origin:Netherlands
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:-
Year of Release:2004
Info:A Day's Work
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Here I Am (4:47), From Where I Stand (3:48), Who Will Save Us (4:15), Around My Head (3:18)

This is the second release from A Day's Work and as I reviewed their previous album, Above & Within, I was more than willing to do this one as well. Even more so than after their debut album this EP had me wondering if I should write a review for DPRP. The distinctive sound of A Day's Work is very present on this EP and this sound is not purely progressive. Still I have two reasons for writing this review: just like their previous offering I like this EP and furthermore: placing too tight a boundary around our genre might end us up with only the well known bands leaving no room for young blood (while we're complaining that all originality is gone). Although it is hard (and unnecessary) to compare A Day's Work to other bands I will use the list they give in their bio. The band state they have been compared to bands like My Vitriol, Filter, The Cure and Coldplay.

In my previous review I did not introduce the band so to make up for this, A Day's Work are : Paul Glandorf (vocals), Michiel Rietveld (bass, backing vocals), Maarten Appel (guitars), Bart Jan Weel (guitars), Ronnie van der Meer (drums).

On this album the band continues the path set out in their previous release, but on this extended journey they appear to bring more experience and even better craftsmanship. All tracks have smart guitar lines, nice drums and excellent vocals. Catchy, recognizable and very original - they have managed to create a very special sound of their own.

The first track, Here I Am, seems to burst off the CD. It immediately makes me move to the beat of the rhythm. The guitars and drums convey such an enthusiasm that it almost impossible not to actively take part in it. This track changes from loud and firm to intimate within two measures. The guitar sound can best be described as garage rock. Paul is able to sing, scream, whisper and make it all sound good - this man really has a voice. From Where I Stand starts of with louder guitars whilst during the lyrics a more subtle guitar riff is introduced and used to good effect. The chorus starts off with a Paul Glandorf scream. The track Who Will Save Us will probably appeal most to DPRP readers as it has a nice build up with a number of tempo changes, the other tracks have them too, but this track seems to build-up to them more. Around My Head is a mellow track.

The artwork again is of high quality, created by Ronnie. There's only one real downside to this EP and that is that it is much too short, although the multimedia section (created by Maarten) makes up for it a little. The multimedia section contains MP3 tracks of their previous album, a video of an acoustic version of Around My Head, photos of the band, guitar tabs, scans of written lyrics and a one track, live video.

Again A Day's Work have put in much more than a day's work which results in four fine tracks, a rich multimedia section and excellent artwork. The fact that this is 'only' an EP makes it difficult to offer a numeric conclusion - I do not think it deserves a lesser rating therefore I leave it unrated but personally recommend it.

Conclusion: Unrated

Dries Dokter

Peter The Great - Go Figure
Peter the Great - Go Figure
Country of Origin:Australia
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:-
Year of Release:2003
Info:Peter the Great
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Battle Of The Dead Leopards (5:40), The Well (1:09), Bully (4:52), Cyclops's Binoculars (6:00), Nautilus 3:42), Lotus Eater (9:41), Seer's Fluxional Fluke (3:18), Edge Of Forever (4:16), Jupiter's Havana Cow (2:09), Labratto (6:13), The More I Know The Closer I Get (2:44), Compromise With An Idiot (3:48), Garlic Man (7:11), Pike (8:12)

Peter The Great, aka Peter van Breukelen, lives and works as a sound engineer in New South Wales, Australia. Emigrating 'down under' from his native Holland in the 1980s, he opened a studio to record local bands but ended up mostly working on his own material! The results of his writing and recording from the past couple of years have been compiled on the debut album, Go Figure, released on Anvil Records which is co-owned by the artist.

Peter cites bands such as Genesis, Yes, UK and King Crimson as being major influences, although music of that ilk is not representative of his own style. The music on Go Figure is entirely instrumental and played, almost exclusively, on keyboards. As a consequence, the album sounds more like the more mainstream releases by artists such as Vangelis and Jean Michel Jarre or even some of the soundtrack work by Tangerine Dream. I have to confess that I find single-instrument albums rather self-limiting and none of the latter artists mentioned feature heavily in my personal collection, if at all! Thus, Go Figure would have to be something special to overcome my own personal bias, and it almost succeeds.

From the outset it is obvious that Peter is a sound engineer as the clarity of the recording is superb, a great advertisement for his studios if ever there was one! He also uses an extremely large sound palette, generated mostly from the large collection of vintage synthesisers that the studio possesses. As a consequence there are lots of interesting keyboard-derived noises on the album, ranging from sunny steel drums (on Lotus Eater) to violent storm effects (on Jupiter's Havana Cow). There are also a wide variety of musical styles, some of which are indefinable! For me, the quieter, more mellow, numbers like Nautilus work better than the more up-tempo numbers like Labratto which dips too far into electronica and sampling for me.

There is no doubting the proficiency of Peter The Great and he certainly knows how to get the most out of his keyboards, both ancient and modern. Ultimately the lack of other instruments got to me and, at 68 minutes, the album was too long to maintain my attention which is reflected in my rating. However, I have to reiterate my own antipathy to synth-driven music. If you are into keyboard music then Go Figure could be right up your street as you'll be hard pushed to find a better modern example of this genre, visit the artist's website and check out the samples for yourself.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

Mark Hughes