Reviews in this issue:
- Gong - Histories And Mysteries of Planet Gong
- Daevid Allen & Mother Gong – The Owl And The Tree
- Gong - Acid Motherhood
- Jerry Gaskill - Come Somewhere [Duo Review]
- Mermaid Kiss - The Mermaid Kiss Album
- Spastic Ink - Ink Compatible [Duo Review]
- Gargantua - Gargantua
- Symmetry - A Soul's Roadmap
- Music Station - Shaping
- Urban Spacemen - Plainsongs
Histories And Mysteries Of Planet Gong
Disc One: Gong Concert Intro (3:55), Captain Shaw (1:13), Love Makes Sweet Music (1:05), Riot 1971 (1:40), Radio Gnome Premix (2:40), Pothead Pixies (1:22), Line Up (0:39), Clarence In Wonderland (4:35), Soft Machine Radio Interview (3:22), Catspin (1:55), French Radio Introduction (1:57), Gong Poem (2:05), Moonfield (5:42), Where Have All The Flowers Gone (5:39), Herbacious Border (3:55), Thirteen Eight (3:25), Oo La La (3:25), Deya Goddess (8:27)
Disc Two: Radio Brainwave (1:40), Chinese Puzzle (3:33), Afraid (1:44), Hypnotize You (3:12), Gliss U Well (1:12), Radio Oversoul (0:52), Opium For The People (4:19), Dreaming It (5:32), Auburn Mary (3:05), Are You Ready (3:29), Hypothetical (3:47), Crazy Town (3:15), Muruoa (0:45), Red Alert (3:33), Chernobyl Rain (3:48), Water (7:09), Jaminji (6:59), Hanging Future (5:15), Heart Song (6:55)
Daevid Allen & Mother Gong –
The Owl And The Tree
Tracklist: Ocean Of Molasses (1:32), Supercotton (8:36), Olde Fooles Game (2:28), Zeroina (2:56), Brainwash Me (3:58), Monstah! (2:31), Bible Study (0:30), Bazuki Logic (4:15), Waving (4:05), Makototen (13:36), Untitled (0:10), Schwitless In Mollasses (4:35)
There’s something old and something new in this batch of Gong and related releases from Voiceprint. First up are two reissues, and then there’s an entirely new Gong disc, featuring the fruits of a collaboration with members of Japanese Freak-Rock collective Acid Mothers Temple. Histories and Mysteries is a revamp of an archival project that first saw the light of day in single disc form as The Mystery and History Of The Planet Gong (roughly analogous to disc one of the current release). It was then, confusingly released as a double set which for some reason included most of The Owl And The Tree (see below).
The current release ditches The Owl And The Tree and some of the weaker tracks from the earlier edition and adds a further 20 tracks from the archives, making this the definitive edition of the collection.
Histories and Mysteries... is a very mixed bag of historical fragments, radio intros, interviews and some previously issued tracks from various Gong offshoots. As such, it is probably a must hear for the die-hard Gong freak, but it’s unlikely to be a frequent visitor to anyone’s CD player and can only be recommended to ardent collectors.
It was nice to hear some of the tape loop collages recorded for concert intros, and fans of Kevin Ayres will lap up the version of Clarence In Wonderland recorded during his brief stint with the band. Also of note is Hypnotise You an unused mix of the B-side of Gong’s first single from way back in 1969. The interview snippets are amusing enough first time around, but prove eminently skipable on subsequent listens. The more musical offerings tend to come from alumni projects like Mother Gong (thirteen eight, Aubern Mary), The Magick Brothers (Herbacious Border) and Harry Williamson (Moonfield, Jaminji). There are several rather good Daevid Allen pieces too (Water, Where Have All The Flowers Gone and Deya Goddess being my favourites).
The second disc is much more consistently musical and listenable than the first one, but is unlikely to appeal to casual listeners. It is nice that this sort of historical anthology is available, but is really only for completists.
The Owl And The Tree has now gained a re-release in it’s own right and is a nice addition to any Gong Family fan’s collection. Credited to Daevid Allen and Mother Gong, this set is actually a joint release rather than a collaboration, with Mother Gong contributing the first five tracks (and the two bonus cuts at the end) and Daevid Allen contributing tracks six and seven. This was a side each on the original vinyl release.
The Mother Gong tracks are of two varieties; the first are jazzy instrumentals, heavily featuring the skilful saxophone playing of Robert Calvert (the Jazz musician of 70’s Prog/Fusion band Catapilla, not the singer of Hawkwind fame) and the guitars and keyboards of Harry Williamson; And the second consist of Gilly Smyth’s hippy poetry set to sympathetic musical backdrops. Though never particularly musically challenging, the liberal folk and space music touches and ethnic percussion help make for a pleasant and relaxed listen.
The Daevid Allen tracks are very good examples of his craft, both as a humorous and philosophical poet and as a Glissando guitarist. Owly Song is a witty little ditty, recalling his work with the Spanish group Euterpe, and I Am My Own Lover has a long and dreamy, spacey gliss intro before breaking into an energetic song for its final third.
The set as a whole is a fairly gentle and tranquil experience and would make a fine introduction to Mother Gong or the solo works of Daevid Allen for new listeners. Long-term fans will know what to expect and should not be disappointed.
Acid Motherhood represents a new twist in the history of Gong, and sees Daevid Allen teaming up with Kawabata Makoto (guitars) and Cotton Casino (synthesisers) of Acid Mothers Temple to form the core of a reenergized group which also features Allen’s son Orlando on drums, Josh Pollock on guitars and Dharmawan Bradbridge on bass. Further ties to classic Gong come in the shape of guest vocals by Gilli Smyth on Supercotton and Mike Howlett having co-written Zeroina.
I imagine those who have encountered the prolific Acid Mothers Temple will either be delighted or horrified at the prospect of this musical merger, but it should be clear from the outset that the most outrageous excesses (20 minute feedback frenzies being common) of the Acid Mothers sound have largely been left behind. It has to be said that Gong, in all its many incarnations and offshoots, has always been capable of their own brand of tripped out mayhem anyway. The current disc does have some of these elements, but there are also some more structured and song based tracks as well.
There are no references to Pothead Pixies this time out, but Allen finds fresh inspiration for his goofy nonsense in his new compatriots, transmogrifying Cotton Casino into Supercotton for a wacky tale of heroes and villains battling it out to suitably frenetic musical accompaniment. As Allen revels in lines such as “Much too old, much too young, and she’s got the cutest bum!” to a wild space rock backing, complete with synth swoops and gurgles and cosmic guitar, I can’t help wondering if someone in their 66th year has any right to be having this much fun. As no one seems to be stopping him, we may as well jump aboard and enjoy the ride
Unusually for a Gong release, there are no saxophones this time around, and the guitar-heavy sound means much of this CD harkens back to the twisted punky rock of Planet Gong or even the primitive chaos of Magick Brother, rather than the smoother (but still crazy) Jazz-inclined rock of many Gong albums.
The presence of the Japanese Acid warriors can be most felt on Supercotton, the two almost formless freak outs with Molasses in the title, and the long and intense guitar jam space trek Makototen, though Makoto contributes delightful bazuki to the ethnic folk instrumental Bazuki Logic. Allen contributes some of his best songs in ages with Brainwash Me, Olde Fooles Game and Waving. The last two are gentle folky tunes (with spacey tripped out backing) that serve to cool things down in between the more furious and freaky numbers. Zeroina and Monstah are both brief but powerful romps, with the former having a punkish clatter and the latter being a funked up percussive beast.
I know Gong are very capable of polarising the prog community, being a love ‘em or hate ‘em sort of band, and this release is unlikely to change anything in that respect, but this is far and away the best release from the Gong camp in many a moon and is terrific fun. It’s quite remarkable that a musician of Allen’s vintage can still be so creative and energetic and surely that’s something we should all cherish.
Histories and Mysteries : 5 out of 10
The Owl And The Tree : 6.5 out of 10
Acid Motherhood : 8 out of 10
Jerry Gaskill - Come Somewhere
Track list: The Kids (3:39), She’s Cool (3:22), Johnny’s Song (2:24), No Love (4:29), L.A.Flight (2:24), Faulty Start (3:13), All The Way Home (3:29), Crazy (3:18), Garden Stroll (1:25), Walk Alone (3:33), Every Day (2:53), Gallop (3:06), Hello Mrs. (2:40), I Saw You Yesterday (3:53), Face The Day (3:48)
Given that his fellow King’s X cohorts Doug Pinnick and Ty Tabor seem to be forever releasing solo projects, its perhaps not surprising that drummer Jerry Gaskill has decided to enter the fray with his solo debut Come Somewhere.
Given his contribution to the trademark three-part vocal harmonies that King’s X utilise, its no surprise to find that Gaskill has a perfectly acceptable singing voice – nothing out of the ordinary, or enough to make you think that King’s X have been making a mistake by not giving him the lead before, but certainly listenable. In addition Gaskill handles guitars, piano and (surprise surprise) drums, whilst Ty Tabor helps out on bass and guitar as well as production.
Song-wise, its perhaps not surprising that there’s a pronounced King’s X feel to much of the material – from the opening, typically fuzzed-up riff of The Kids, you certainly get the feeling of being in familiar territory here. The music is generally split into heavy-ish pop-rock and more sparse, solo acoustic stuff – often in the same track. The melodies are generally pleasing on the ear, with those trademark vocal harmonies often employed, to good effect. As with King’s X, the influence of The Beatles is never far away, and is actually quite overt in places – I Saw You Yesterday being a case in point, with the chorus reminding me very strongly of a Beatles track which I can’t quite put my finger on.
It must be said that, although as mentioned the harmonies and melodies here are pretty good, there’s nothing overly substantial here; many of the songs are only two or three minutes long, and therefore there’s no room for ideas to develop much, and several of the more interesting tracks, such as the slightly Byrds-y Faulty Start just seem to peter out. There is a reverse side of the coin of course, and that is that some of the duller tracks end before they’ve really began to drag.
The production is fairly sparse and raw, which was no doubt intentional, although it does give the album a somewhat unfinished feel – it’s almost more like a collection of demos than anything else. There are also some psychedelic effects chucked in for good measure, but these seem rather superfluous to requirements.
Overall, on Come Somewhere Jerry Gaskill has come up with a perfectly pleasant but, for me, inessential album of pop-rock songs which will probably appeal primarily (as doubtlessly expected and even intended) to King’s X fans. Its appeal outside of that band’s fan base is likely to be limited; it’s probably not going to be of much interest to your average progressive rock fan, whilst, frankly, there are lots of better singer-songwriters out there. Still, a respectable effort.
Other band members of the super rock band King’s X have already made solo albums. Ty Tabor (guitar player and singer) is probably the busiest “bee”, with his solo album Safety and side projects like Platypus, The Jelly Jam and Jughead. Doug Pinnick (bass guitar and singer) made an album called Poundhound, but this is Jerry Gaskill’s first solo album and hopefully his last!
Come Somewhere contains 15 short tracks, with the longest one No Love just clocking over four minutes, on which all instruments besides guitar (played by Ty Tabor) are played by Jerry. Of those 15 tracks, nine are acoustic ones and these are really boring, non-rock songs which you could listen to during a bonfire party on a beautiful summer evening. However I really have problems listening to un-plugged tracks like Johnny’s Song (yawn, yawn!!) or the horrible Every Day; you cannot label these songs as rock songs!! But enough of that, there are actually three songs I like on this album. The Kids, the opener, which rocks like a Galactic Cowboy track, great rhythm and background vocals. She’s Cool, a rather melodic rock song with clear influences from The Beatles and Enuff Z’Nuff, and last but not least Face The Day, a hard rock track in the best tradition of King’s X.
I would rather forget about this whole album and listen to Jerry playing with King’s X on marvellous progressive rock albums like: Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989), Faith Hope Love (1990) or more recently Please Come Home…Mr Bulbous (2000).
Mermaid Kiss - The Mermaid Kiss Album
Tracklist: Mermaid Kiss (2:26), Breathing Under Water (3:27), Write My Name In Stars (5:54), Blind (5:14), Spirit (4:02), Soundchaser (5:04), This Feeling (3:38), Just Like You (4:02), Some Days Are Like This (3:03), Like Water (4:15), Fated (3:00), Whisper (3:48), Thirteen (2:21), Mermaid Kiss Reprise (3:11)
Mermaid Kiss are a trio of musicians from Kington, Herefordshire whose debut, The Mermaid Kiss Album was released in June of 2003. Although this album is the first under the current band name, the three musicians, Evelyn Downing on vocals, flute and sound loops, Jamie Field on guitars and bass, and Andrew Garman on keyboards, bass and drums, have previously recorded musical scores for a local film project called The Vawn, a stage production of Twelfth Night and two musical projects that came out under Evelyn Downing's own name (the album Shine in 2001 and the Electric EP a year later). What is remarkable is that Evelyn is still only 20 years old! However, her vocals defy the tenderness of her years - assured, confident and dynamic she certainly is a match for current female stars in the progressive rock firmament - Rachel Jones from Karnataka and Heather Findlay from Mostly Autumn to name but two.
However, that is not to say that Mermaid Kiss occupy the same musical territory as those two groups, although in all honesty it is very difficult to actually categorise what type of music Mermaid Kiss do play! This is no criticism or drawback, far too much emphasis is placed on categorisations and the overuse of comparisons generally doesn't help bands who are searching for their own identity and often results in very misleading preconceptions. What is true to say is that the album is full of stunning vocals and harmonies, some very lush arrangements and a fair degree of experimentation. Generally, the album is quite laid back and dare one say, mellow. Ultimately relaxing, but not in an insipid 'new age' music way, the songs flow over the listener yet also reveal hidden depths on repeated listening.
Songs like Fated and Mermaid Kiss are beautiful in their simplicity while Like Water and Breathing Under Water are more rockier numbers (although far from conventionally so); Whisper is very atmospheric and hard to believe is based around one chord, Soundchaser effectively merges loops and a myriad of vocal harmonies and This Feeling, with its haunting flute is as memorable a song you'll hear this year. However, Just Like You gets my vote for standout track on the album. Dealing with the issue of cloning, the added effects portray the strangeness of what it would be like to find out that as an individual you are not unique, merged with the uncertainty of the long-term validity of the procedure. This is summed up in the vocals where Evelyn learnt to sing and record the lyric backwards then reversed the tape. The result is perfectly clear but has an ominous feeling of being not quiet right.
Think of any female-fronted band or female artist of the last two decades, be it Kate Bush, Iona, Clannad, All About Eve, Karnataka or even Kristin Hersh, and you can find elements of these artists in The Mermaid Kiss Album. A refreshingly different album that captivates and engrosses from the outset. Check out the samples on the bands website and be captivated by the Kiss!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Spastic Ink - Ink Compatible
Tracklist: Aquanet (8:10), Just A little Bit (4:42), Words For Nerds (5:22), Melissa's Friend (7:08), Read Me (4:16), Multi Masking (8:11), In Memory Of (6:50), A Chaotic Realization Of Nothing Yet Misunderstand (12:11), The Cereal Mouse (1:20)
Ink Compatible is the long awaited second album from Texas based tech-metal band Spastic Ink. Out of the deranged mind of guitar virtuoso Ron Jarzombek (Watch Tower, Gordian Knot) this outing has been more than four years in the making. Their previous album, Ink Complete, was released way back in 1997. The original "super-power" trio of Ron Jarzombek (guitars, programming, composition, lyrics & production), Pete Perez on bass and brother Bobby Jarzombek on drums (both from Riot) has expanded with the arrival of singer Jason McMaster, another Watch Tower alumni. Knowing that Watch Tower are considered by many as the "inventors" of technical metal (sometimes also referred as math-metal), you won't be surprised if I tell you that this album is loaded with super fast playing, mind boggling riffs and abrupt tempo changes.
Although this second album is a logical continuation of their first offering, some differences are evident, the biggest one being the presence of a singer. Sound production is also better and the overall sound is a bit heavier. That being said, the music we have here has little to do with metal; Apart from certain "textures" - mainly the rhythm guitar phrasings and the frantic rhythmic section - the music easily avoid classifications with its multiple "imprints" from very various genres. It starts off with Aquanet, establishing very well the tone of the album. The sung sections seem to be there to give the listener a break between the more difficult instrumental passages. Musicianship is at the forefront, this band is very tight. The song itself is about a chat session on internet, the theme of the whole album being "computer related". This theme is well represented by the artwork of the booklet and they even made the CD itself mimic a hard-drive disk.
Just A Little Bit features "stop and go" playing at a machine precision level, echoing ideas initiated by Frank Zappa in the early seventies on Andy (from the One Size Fits All album). The song is packed with very efficient rhythm changes and interesting contrapuntic guitar interplay. The third piece, Words For Nerds, is one of the highlights of the album. Complete with humorous bits reminiscent of Frank Zappa or Mr. Bungle, superb processed guitar sounds and a very Zappaesque synth solo courtesy of David Bagsby (of Xen and Patrick Moraz fame), this first instrumental of the album has it all. From now on it is clear that the technique is not there for the sake of demonstration (as is too often the case with that kind of music) but at the service of inspiration and talent.
Melissa's Friend, with it's cryptic lyrics, makes us aware that it is really the same guy behind the music and the words. Indeed, the listener will have as much difficulties making sense of the lyrics than he will have decoding the intricate layers of music. Same thing with the obscure references to Yes song titles in Just A Little Bit or the text of A Chaotic Realization Of Nothing Yet Misunderstood (ACRONYM) will leave you clueless if you don't have the booklet in hands. Read Me is an interesting instrumental with classical undertone. It is followed by Multi-Masking, an extravaganza opening with electronics and processed voice, quickly diving into what could be a "perfect" metal song, with double bass-drum galore, dramatic singing and plenty of mood changes, synth, bass and guitar soloing. Like on the rest of the album, solos are quite short, the part of the lion going to the written parts.
In Memory Of... shows that Ron Jarzombek is not just about fast notes. This beautiful "slow paced" song reveals the ability of the guitarist to create strong harmonic moods. This one should please those more inclined toward the neo-prog genre. The guitar really shines here, combining the expected "clichés" with unexpected avant-garde manipulations. None other than Sean Malone (Gordian Knot, Cynic & Aghora) assume the bass chore on this one. It aptly opens the way for the "plat de résistance" of the album, the twelve minute tour-de-force A Chaotic Realization Of Nothing Yet Misunderstood. With guest musicians Doug Keyser on bass (Watch Tower), Jeff Eber on drums (Dysrhythmia) and cameo appearance by Marty Friedman (Megadeth) for a short but very enjoyable guitar solo, Jarzombek take us on a trip that could easily serve as a "resumé" for the entire album. The piece is full of incredible heavy riffs, exquisite tempo and mood changes, triple unison charges and some spoken (whispered) parts à la Zappa's Central Scutinizer (from Joes Garage). The album close with yet another Zappaesque piece, the very short The Cereal Mouse, an instrumental blending guitar pyrotechnics, classical references and cartoonish sounds effects.
Even though I consider this album a true masterpiece, I'm aware it won't appeal to all prog fans. If it weren't for it's inherent complexity that requires acquired taste to be fully appreciated, I would have given it at least a big 8. If you are looking for challenging music, don't pass this one out. If you are into tech-metal, you should already have it. If not, don't wait, it is the best of the genre.
Spastic Ink, well there's a name to conjure with and one that didn't initially fill me with anything other than dread. Unlike Claude I had not previously encountered this band and mulled the thought that SI had mistaken us for the Dutch Punk Rock Page. However as I quickly looked through the CD booklet I noticed the name Jarzombek - oh yeah I've heard of this guy, all may not be lost. Some readers may be familiar with Ron Jarzombek for his involvement with WatchTower, personally he is guy I've read about, but have heard little of his playing.
Musically we are in heavy terrain, with the emphasis on a mixture of ultra technical/prog metal/fusion with the vocal tracks steering us towards the metal end of the spectrum. The arrangements are complex, totally off the wall and even after innumerate listenings I am still struggling to understand what is actually going on here, or even why. This said I find the music totally intriguing and have played the album (mainly in short bursts) over and over again. The fascination with Ink Compatible doesn't just revolve purely around Ron Jarzombek's guitar work, but also with the incredibly tight musicianship displayed by the band and guest musicians.
Where to begin ?
Well I normally start with the rhythm section when listening to any music and the core of Spastik Ink - Bobby Jarzombek and Pete Perez both deserve medals for their comprehension and performances of this material. Ron Jarzombek is responsible for the writing of all the material which he has been creating over the last four years and presumably with the aid of computer technology. The tendency with this medium is to write material that is then not possible to be reproduced by humans and although I get the impression Ron may have fallen foul of this to a certain extent, hats of to the musicians assembled on Ink Compatible that they have been able to do so. Special note should also be awarded to David Penna for his contribution to the ever (some forty or so ?) changing tempos in Words For Nerds, which sounds like an easy copy and past exercise for a music programme and a minefield to master and play.
Of the music - as mentioned earlier it is in the realms of metal/fusion, but not mentioned before is the quirkiness which could well derive some influences from some of Frank Zappa's wonderfully torturous arrangements and some of the weird and wonderful keyboard solos. Checkout Jens Johansonns contribution to Aquanet or Dave Bagsby's splendid solo in Words For Nerds. Perhaps we could also look to Mr Zappa's influences in the zany "dialogue" that juts in and out of most of the tracks.
Outstanding moments or the obligatory highlights - impossible! Each track had its truly wonderful moments but it really would be impossible to single one track above another.
On the downside for the album I have to say that the vocals did nothing for me and seemed totally out of place within this technical maelstrom of instrumental prowess. This is not to cast scorn on the vocal performances, but more that they seemed ill fitting in the scheme of things. Even Daniel Gildenlow did not raise the stakes for the vocal contribution. Continuing with the negatives from Ink Compatible, there isn't a moments rest to speak of and at the end of it all you just feel you have been pummelled to death. So back to track one then! On the upside we have amazing playing throughout, with stella performances, thought provoking arrangements (if not at times overly complicated for their own good) and a display of musical karate you are unlikely to witness more than on a few rare occasions in a lifetime.
This is a difficult album to get into and I'm still on with it. If you think that all that can be said or done with the "guitar" album and that the boundaries of such albums can go no further - then this album may well change that perception !
Gargantua - Gargantua
Tracklist: Obilas Mi Sie (Diabolus In Musica)(4:31), Slowolnosc (6:43), Szla-dzie (Ajachta!) (9:13), Fumator Kulbaczny (4:35), Wrzesien Przysnien (6:43), Tarczowali Dzisiaj Las (3:52), Azur (7:10)
Finding out information on the Polish quartet Gargantua is a hard task, as this young band don't, as yet, have any internet presence except for a few brief mentions on some native websites. The four members of the group are: Marcin Borowski (drums and percussion), Justyn Hunia (keyboards and vocals), Leszek Mrozowski (bass) and Bartek Zeman (guitar and vocals) and they recently released their first, eponymous CD. The music they perform is certainly quite unique, taking influence from the more quirky elements of King Crimson, applying the complexity of Gentle Giant's musical arrangements and mixing the result with some jazzier elements results in a hybrid fusion that is, as the band stated in their letter accompanying the review copy of the CD, "challenging to classify".
The songs are sung in Polish, a language that doesn't necessarily lend itself to smooth flowing melodies and rhyme, at least not to Western Europeans. Apologies to all Polish speakers for this comment! I am sure there are some marvellous Polish poets and the language is replete with its own beauty to native speakers, but in general terms it is quite a harsh language compared with, for example, English. However, the cadence of the vocals only adds to the quirkiness of the songs. Opening song Obilas Mi Sie (The News Of You) starts with atmospheric keyboard chords behind an echoed guitar leading into a few bars of glockenspiel before the vocals start. The nearest resemblance is undoubtedly Gentle Giant but there is a certain angularity to the music that is not present on much of the Giant's output. Considering the staccato guitar and the general stop-start nature of this song, the bass is very smooth and has a mellow tone to it. Slowolnosc (Free Wordom) continues in a similar style although the guitarist employs a network of Fripp-isms and the keyboards have a rather more prominent role. Szla-dzie contains a multitude of discordant rhythms not too dissimilar to the music than can be found on the first two Faust albums from the early 1970s. A very strange piece that is very experimental and complex. Don't expect an easy ride with this album, it is not something to chill out too!
Fumator Kulbaczny is the album's only instrumental but maintains the style of the previous tracks. As in other places, elements of Sigur Ros poke through now and again, more in feel that actual musical similarities - the band are not afraid of utilising their instruments to get the sounds they require, even if it is a bit unconventional. Wrzesien Przysnien (September To Remember) features some interesting lyrics, although of course that will not be so immediately apparent to non-Polish speakers unless they have the translation provided by the band! By the time the listener gets to Tarczowali Dzisiaj Las (Today They Bladed The Forest - and no, I don't know what they mean either) things are becoming very familiar. In many ways this album could be one continuous piece of music as each track is in a similar style and rhythm with very few changes in tempo. Each track does, however, offer up some alternatives in the arrangement, the glockenspiel is reintroduced and what sounds like a sitar guitar is used to add some variety. Final track Azur (Translucence) is a variation on a theme, drawing in what has gone before and adding in a few piano runs. The album closes as if the money in the electricity metre has run out or there was a sudden power cut...interesting!
Overall, Gargantua have produced an album that is, at the same time, complex, unique and challenging. It is rare for a young band to produce a debut album that is so distinct is style and is so genre defying. As the group admirably admit, the market potential for such music is rather modest, but a lack of commercial potential does not mean that the music lacks an essential validity. A brave statement of intent and original music that may not set the world alight but makes it a better place all the same.
Conclusion: Incredibly hard to rate this album, as it was to review it. I can't imagine anyone playing this album everyday but then again the uniqueness of it makes one want other people to hear it. Thus, the 6.5 out of 10 awarded is somewhat arbitrary and largely based on the frequency that the album will be played rather than any statement on musical quality.
Symmetry – A Soul’s Roadmap
Tracklist: Singularity (1:08), Dark Horizons (6:22), Visions (4:39), Who I Am (6:01), Confusion (1:24), I Can’t Believe (4:01), Turn Away (5:03), Lost (6:01), Lies Lie Beneath (5:41), Dreams Are Leaving Traces (4:48), Journey Into The Unknown (7:26), Transition (1:28), Point Of No Return (4:37), Cheating Death (4:56), Listen To Me (9:31)
Dutch band Symmetry was founded in the early nineties by singer Erik Masselink and guitar player Franc Tiehuis. After completing the band with another guitar player, a bass player and a drummer the mini-album To Divinity was recorded in the beginning of 1997 and released in 1998 under Symmetry’s own control. The first full-length album Watching The Unseen was released in 2002 and this one was a true prog metal classic already.
The new album is called A Soul’s Roadmap and can be seen as a huge development in the music of Symmetry. I think that the two ex-Harrow band members Martin Kuipers (drums) and Erik de Boer (guitar and vocals) also had their influence on this new album that one could certainly describe as prog metal with “clear” musical influences from bands like: Fates Warning, Sieges Even and Queensryche. But you can also hear some modern musical sources from bands such as Evergrey, Wolverine or Pain Of Salvation. It is rather technical music with twin lead guitar attacks and most of the songs are rather complex but still all 15 tracks have a clear melodic sense.
A Soul’s Roadmap is the first conceptual rock album of Symmetry and the music tells the sci-fi story of a guy called Korben, who is searching for his wife’s soul. As a result of this conceptual approach the music has been used to visualise Korben’s journey in any possible way. The story is told backward like the movie memento, so the first track called Singularity is in fact the end of the story.
Dark Horizons features a bombastic guitar opening, which evolves into a rather heavy guitar riff that dominates this song together with some Iron Maiden hooks and melodies. Another track that I like is Lies Lie Beneath, a song with an explosive instrumental intro and some head banging riffs that could guarantee a nice head ache….. Journey Into The Unknown is the third highlight and it is again a very diverse track, filled with astonishing guitar lines, amazing guitar solos and an unexpected bass guitar solo in the end. But as many bands do, Symmetry saves the best for last. Listen To Me, also the longest track of the album, is without any doubt the best song these guys have written. In this song there is so much going on, that is almost impossible to describe; but I can tell you it is a killer track! Only the last 1.5 minutes (a peep sound?) are super redundant, guys. Furthermore it would be wise for singer Erik Masselink to vary his voice some more, sometimes it all sounds a bit too monotonous, although his throat could be best described as a mix of the sounds of Eric Adams, Blaze and Bruce Dickinson, but he is not – not yet – as good as those guys. So keep working on that vocal parts and I truly believe that Symmetry will become an internationally highly acclaimed prog metal band.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Music Station - Shaping
Tracklist: Shaping : [i] Intro (1:34), [ii] Shaping (6:51), [iii] After Twiglight (6:55), Home (6:56), Past (6:24), Alone (6:29), Painting Souls (6:38), Inside (5:03), Night Dreams (3:46), Gamble Away (8:26)
The history of Music Station is a relatively short one, with the band forming in 2002 and whilst trying to complete the line-up the founding members set about the task of writing and rehearsing material. After several attempts to cement the band the original members - Ventzi Velev (guitars), "Bobby" (bass) and Boris Zashev (keyboards), were joined by Radoslav Haralampiev (drums) in October 2002 and with Pavlin Manev completing matters in January 2003. So in band terms things evolved fairly quickly and this rapid development continued into the recording process with Shaping being released a few months later in July. This might give the impression that some or all the material might have suffered in quality, or that the recording was rushed or that the band might have used "filler" tracks, but this does not appear to be the case. In the main this is a good album - debut or not.
The evening that I sat down to listen to this CD for the first time, I mulled the thought that it would be great to just put on an album and just enjoy the music as it unfolded. And that is pretty much what happened, so much so that having listened to the album through once, I put it back on and started the review, finishing the majority of it in the early hours of the morning. I have to say that the music had a ready appeal with a good balance between the technical/instrumental sections and the vocal passages. Initially the album looked as if it would fall into the Prog Metal category, but it became obvious that although the band may have strong leanings to that style, the music covered a greater spectrum including a healthy dose of Melodic Rock, some Neo Prog and the odd smattering of jazz-rock.
The album opens with the three parts that make up Shaping - Intro a lovely rippling piano solo tinged with classic references and could easily have come from the fingers of Tony Banks or Rick Wakeman. This then segues into Shaping, which develops the themes from the opening in a fairly typical prog metal workout - stop start rhythms into a fairly up-tempo beat, keyboard flourishes and guitar licks duelling, strong vocals and the obligatory solos. The last of this trilogy is After Twilight a medium paced rocker, opening with a gentle percussive rhythm before the lavish harmony vocal arrangements that make up the chorus sections. The track also gives a glimpse of Ventzi Velev's fine guitar work.
Musically the album gets better as it goes on, mainly as the arrangements became more complex and less song orientated, as with Inside, a very good track which once again sees some fine guitar work from Ventzi Velev - on the downside I could have lived without the "cookie monster voice here. Whilst on the subject of the vocals I did find these a little cliched, although I can imagine that many will find Manev's vocals a big plus for Music Station. Its not that I could fault Pavlin Manev's voice, he has a strong vocal delivery, slightly over the top vibrato in the more delicate tracks, but my main criticism is that it was somewhat stereotyped and not distinctive. At times I was reminded of James LaBrie (Night Dreams), Ronnie James Dio (Gamble Away) and Glenn Hughes (Home) - so he is in illustrious company.
This said, as a band all the musicians gel really well together, especially if we consider the relatively short period of time that this has been a completed line-up. As one would expect from this type of material the rhythm section of Radoslav Haralampiev and "Bobby" is very tight and lays strong foundation to the (slightly under used) Boris Zashev and already touched on Ventzi Velev. The material also held a good balance between the vocal and instrumental passages and the variation within the instrumentation gave the album good dynamics. Alone for instance is a mixture of rockier riffs and a degree of complexity whilst the middle solo section is played by an acoustic guitar.
Bulgaria may not be the first country to spring to mind when looking for music of this quality, but Music Station may well prove the band that put their country on the map - progressively speaking. The material didn't strike any new boundaries, just well executed music that would place the band firmly in those areas of their counterparts. As mentioned earlier and to give an indication of how much I enjoyed this album, I wrote the majority of this review after the first listening and only filled in the "gaps" over the next few weeks. Splendid stuff.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Urban Spacemen - Plainsongs
Tracklist: Rising Light (7.57), Cosmic Blues (7.39), City Song (5.11), Taking Control (5.15), Plainsong (13.46), Brand New Day (6.07), The Little Peace at the End (12.03), In The Garden (2.55)
Urban Spacemen played their first gig together almost exactly two years ago but their flight path extends back to the early 1980s. The story really starts in 1984 when drummer Ron Bennett joined up with guitarist / vocalist David Weston in the ninth line-up of Chemical Alice, the progressive band mostly remembered for featuring a very young Mark Kelly of Marillion fame. After Alice split in 1985, Weston and Bennett formed the slightly jazzier Slartibartfast whose line-up included keyboardist Andy House. This latest musical venture only lasted a couple of years before the musicians went their separate ways, although in late 1987 the trio did play a gig with various members of Osiris, another local band, under the name Urban Spacemen. A collection of bands came and went during the nineties, playing everything from soul and blues to jazz-rock to Grateful Dead covers and introduced Weston to fellow guitarist Mick Overy. A reunited Chemical Alice, featuring Weston, Bennett, House and the soon to emigrate bass player Jack Grigor, played a one-off gig in January 2002 which was so well received that the musicians were asked to perform again a few months later. As Grigor would be an ex-pat by this time, Terry Willson was enlisted to hold down the bottom end, Mick Overy was asked if he wanted to join in the fun and lo, the Urban Spaceman launched themselves on an unsuspecting universe.
With less than a dozen live performances under their belt, the Spacemen have released their debut album, Plainsongs, which features the bulk of their original compositions to date. The results hark back to some of the classic seventies rock acts that were prevalent on the festival scene, fusing jams, improvisation and more conventional progressive rock. There are similarities between modern American so-called 'jam bands' such as Phish and Widespread Panic mixed with influences from British stalwarts like Man and even Hawkwind. The duel lead guitars of Weston and Overy are also reminiscent of the classic Wishbone Ash sound, particularly on the opening Rising Light which almost effortlessly invokes the mood and feel of benchmark albums such as Argus. Both guitarists are prominent throughout the album with the structure of each song allowing plenty of space for solos. Credit must be given to the band for restraining themselves and not overindulging in the soloing. One gets the feeling that tracks such as Taking Control and City Song could easily have been extended with the guitarists happily taking the songs into new directions with the rest of the band eagerly following.
The album isn't totally dominated by guitars as keyboardist House is eager to join in the fun. His role encompasses providing spacey Tim Blake-ish effects (as on Plainsong), laying down the musical platform over which the guitarists can bend their six strings and even providing a few solos! There is some lovely organ work that brings to mind Dave Sinclair at his best with Caravan. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with the vocals, it would be fair to say that none of the three vocalists in the group (Overy, Weston and Willson) have the strongest of voices. This is not really an issue as the prime focus of the band is the instrumentation. They do harmonise together reasonably well, particularly on Brand New Day, which is probably the closest the band gets to creating a track that could be used as a single, not that one could ever imagine they would ever contemplate such a thing! My main criticism of the album is the cymbal sound. I find it quite 'tinny' and intrusive, but that is probably just personal preference.
Saving the best for the close, The Little Peace At The End, which runs neatly into the album closer In The Garden, provides the highlight of the album for me, from the keyboard introduction (with Mellotron-like choirs upping the prog rating) to the funky and insistent bass riff, these pieces admirably capture everything that the Spacemen are about and what they aim for. The quarter of an hour of music flies past with never a dull moment. Each of the musicians excels on this excellent pair of compositions that must be the highlight of any live set. With The Little Peace At The End, The Urban Spacemen have found their own little Dark Star around which to orbit.
There is enough on this album to keep fans of any of the bands mentioned in this review happy. The maturity of the musicians, the confidence in their abilities and the lack of pressure to make it big, has given the Spacemen the freedom to simply record an album of the music they like. And unlike the urban spaceman sung about by Neil Innes, these astronauts actually do exist!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10