Reviews in this issue:
Sense - Out Of Range
Tracklist: Out Of Range / Out Of Line (11:07), Turning Around (4:21), Nothing Left For You (10:15), Nightmare (8:03), Shadows Of Ignorance (4:52), Election Day (4:18)
This one is good. A second album is always important for a band. Will it hold the promises made with the first one? In the case of Out Of Range from young Canadian band Sense, mission is definitely accomplished. This second effort shows the band in complete possession of its means. The band was formed in 2001 by François Bérubé (vocals & twelve strings acoustic guitar) and Stéphane Desbiens (guitars, bass, mellotron & backing vocals), soon completed by Sylvain Bérubé (drums & piano) and Sylvain Laberge (wooden flute, low whistle, tin whistle & saz).
The album kicks off with Out Of Range / Out Of Line, a very representative track of where the band is at. It alternates between 4/4 and 5/4 with some peculiar (and arrhythmic) phrasings, mainly in a moderate tempo. The three important ingredients are all here: the twelve strings and beautiful voice of François - in the vein of Steve Hogart, the flute (in the first break) boosting the folk feel of the music, and the versatile guitars of Stéphane Desbiens, somewhere between Steve Rothery and Alan Holdsworth. This is without a doubth in the same family as Marillion with a touch of old Strawbs and a splice of UK on steroïds (second break in 5/4 with the bass line resolving over 2 bars). This play of contrast over delicate and mellow singing and furious instrumental is present on almost all songs of the album. After a brief speed-guitar demonstration the songs resume and close in an appocalyptic multi-layers guitar ending.
Turning Around is a powerful balad with a strong melody, one of many composed by the tandem F. Bérubé-S. Desbiens. The pastoral flutes arrangement may remind you of Harmonium or Celeste. Sense's only drawback will be more striking here : the strong french accent of François Bérubé. This is minor, considering that prog fans are usually more tolerant about that. But since Sense's lyricist, Francis Foy, is also french speaking, why don't they sing in french?
Nothing Left For You starts with piano (composed by Sylvain Bérubé, played by Annie Bilodeau) and voice, joined by a church organ, leading into a great wha-wha guitar solo from guest musician Brett Kull (Echolyn), accompanied by strummed saz from Sylvain Laberge, followed by some jazzy, sustained and hispanic virtuoso from Desbiens (versatile you said?). Here again the melodies are very efficient with a strong Marillion feel. A violin (courtesy of Sandra Poulin) doubles some flute parts. This is followed by Nightmare, the only piece of the album starting on an agressive mood, here a wink to ELP with guest Fred Schendel (Glass Hammer) on Hammond B-3. The refrain is popish "à la" Supertramp while the choruses lean more toward later Visible Wind. Here again, contrast in moods, mellotron galore and plenty of killer guitar parts.
The album closes with two shorter pieces, The very pastoral and folky Shadows Of Ignorance, a perfect showcase for the talented Sylvain Laberge (again assisted by Poulin's violin) and Election Day, yet another mellow song in the line of Hogarth's Marillion.
With the strong melodies, the original use of wind instruments and the capacity to turn influences into something new (and interesting) rather than pale imitations, Sense have proved that it is still possible to appeal to a majority of prog lovers and they also paved the way for other bands like compatriots Hamadryad. And to top it all, Desbiens's guitar work is very enjoyable.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Ixion - CryoGenesis
Tracklist: The Gamble (10:32), Into The Cold (5:11), The Mold (7:21), Rebirth (7:41), The Dream (6:20), Syndrome (7:09), The Wake (8:58), To Choose Again (5:10), The Sleep (8:22)
Ixion is not a band as such, but a collection of musicians who came together to record CryoGenesis, the first album by Jankees Braam. The album is a concept about a terminally ill woman who decides to have herself frozen until medical science has advanced enough to be able to cure her of her illness. Revived 500 years later, the world is, naturally, a totally different place. Unsure of her place in the future world and haunted by memories of the past, the woman is unable to cope and eventually decides that the only peace will come in permanent death. The story covers similar themes to The Sleeper Awakes by science fiction maestro HG Wells but, never-the-less is still an original and well thought out concept.
The album starts with The Gamble, the longest track on the album that serves as both an overture and an introduction to the story. As such, the initial part of the song is a mixture of different styles and tempos which are fused together very well. A short, spoken narrative section (something I have never liked, with the exception of perhaps Richard Burton on Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds) tells of the woman's harsh options before the story is taken up in the first person. One interesting aspect of the album is the use of two female vocalists: Esther Ladiges and Maaike Breeijman who represent, respectively, the so-called 'Old Soul' and 'New Soul' of the woman. This clever arrangement allows the inherent dichotomous torment of the woman to be emphasised once the subject has been revived and works particularly well on The Wake and the end of The Sleep. Interesting vocal arrangements are also present on The Mold where the doctor (sung by Peter Everts and the psychologist (Gerton Leijdekker) debate the issues surrounding the woman's revival.
As with a lot of concept albums, the main focus is often placed on progressing the narrative to the extent that individual tracks don't often work when played in isolation. This may be a reason why such albums are often ridiculed by the mainstream press and are often adored by progressive fans who revel in the twists and turns of long-form pieces that don't adhere to the three-minute pop song formula. The music on CryoGenesis is certainly varied and is synchronised well with the emotions of the lyrics, although in places is a bit too varied and would have benefited from a couple of more memorable hooks to bring everything together.
CryoGenesis, although unlikely to make most people's list of top ten concept albums, is, none-the-less, an interesting album that is well performed and well packaged. One can sit and listen to the album all the way through without getting bored or reaching for the fast forward button. The musicians perform well together each contributing their own influences which results in considerable musical diversity. After the disappointment of having record company support withdrawn at the last moment it is pleasing that the album has finally seen the light of day. The omens are good that Talisman, Braam's next project, could be every bit as interesting as CryoGenesis.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Ken Baird - Martin Road
Tracklist: Brave Anna (7:16), Window (4:44), She Takes One Step (5:37), Drawing Water (5:25), In Between A Home (5:02), Outside (4:04), Paved Over Summertime (3:48), This Old Boat (6:11), Martin Road (7:46), Victoria Day (4:31)
With Martin Road, the fourth release from Canadian songsmith Ken Baird, he takes a step back from the grand symphonics encountered on Orion, for an introspective, intimate collection of melancholic ballads. If you enjoyed his previous album, and want more of the same, this may initially be a little disappointing, but judged on its own merits, its worthy of the attention of lovers of thoughtful, crafted, if a little downbeat, songs.
Keeping one foot in the Progressive camp by retaining the Mike Oldfield influences (chiefly in the guitar and use of penny whistle) and adding some Steve Hackett / Genesis circa And Then There Were Three instrumental textures, the overall feel is gentle and folkish, with Baird’s tender, contemplative vocals skilfully breathing life into his poetic lyrics. The writing is strong and mature, conveying complex emotions as Baird laments lost relationships (Paved Over Summertime, Window) and conjures poignant images of hope and endurance (Brave Anna). The arrangements are subtle and often spare, with occasional swells of lush, faux-Orchestral grandeur. The closest stylistic comparison I can make is to the heart-breaking, folk songs with chamber arrangements of Nick Drake, and Ken’s vocals do have some similarities with Nick, though there is more of a prog atmosphere present here.
Ken plays keyboards (mainly piano), whistle and guitars, and he is assisted at various points by John Mamone and Dino Verginella on bass, Steve Cochrane and Jacob Moon on guitars, Chris Lamont on drums and the lovely Susan Fraser on vocals. Regrettably, Fraser plays a smaller role here than on Orion, being confined to backing vocals, which is a shame as her work on Orion was delightful. Cochrane adds sprightly jangling guitars to She Takes One Step (one of only a few relatively upbeat tunes) and Lamont’s expert drumming is particularly effective on this track and Paved Over Summertime, giving one the feeling of being on a train ride through an autumnal landscape. It’s very evocative. Outside comes closest to Genesis, having the melancholy feel of Wind And Wuthering, and Martin Road seems to be a personal evocation of an inspirational place.
There aren’t really any poor tracks here, but my favourites are Brave Anna, She Takes One Step, Paved Over Summertime and This Old Boat. From a progressive perspective I would have to recommend Orion over this disc – the tracks are longer, with more room for instrumental development and symphonic rock structure - but there is some lovely music here. Be warned though, beautiful as it is, the overall atmosphere is very melancholic and wistful, so not one for those rave-up prog parties, its more suited for snuggling up in front of a warm fire on an autumnal evening.
Conclusion: 7. 5 out of 10
Kingcrow - Insider
Tracklist: Friendship (1:44), The Project (4:40), Temptation (3:24), Never Say Die (3:54), Eyes Of A Betrayer (4:32), Into The Cell (1:19), Lies (5:39), The Killing Hand (8:31), Stardust (5:17), Save Me (5:55), Finale (4:08)
Kingcrow was founded in 1996 by Diego Cafolla (lead guitar) and his brother Manuel Cafolla (drums). Their first demo Eyes Of Memories received great reviews and this led to a sale of over 700 records without the professional help of a distributor. In the summer of 2000, Kingcrow recorded and released their second demo called Hurricane’s Eye. This demo features the epic song My War, which is an example of the creativity of this band. Finally in 2001 they recorded their first full-length debut album Something Unknown and also a few band changes took place. Bass player Claudio Polito was replaced by Matteo Trinei, singer Stefano Tissi was substituted by Mauro Gelsomini and Ivan Nastasi (guitar player) joined the band. The new line-up was complete now and Mauro and Diego started to work on a concept album.
Insider was recorded in Rome from 20 September to 15 November 2003 and the music on this album is a mix of heavy metal and progressive rock and has obvious influences from bands like Iron Maiden, Savatage and Judas Priest. The actual story and some of the songs even remind me of the classic concept rock album Operation Mindcrime, although Kingcrow does not actually play in the same league as Queensryche. The music is sometimes obscure and mysterious and the vocals tend to sound like Rob Halford in his Sin After Sin-period with Judas Priest. Especially in songs like Lies or the superb The Killing Hand where Mauro’s timbre is almost the same as the frontman of Priest. If you can remember the Winterbane album with lead singer Tim Owens (also known as Ripper Owens) then listen to The Project and you will experience actual deja-vu feelings there.
The three instrumental tracks on this album are packed with typical metal riffs and hooks and in the last one, Finale I even detect a Black Sabbath melody! Insider is a great album for people who like to listen to progressive metal and like bands such as Wolverine, Fates Warning, Savatage, Winterbane and Empty Tremor. Definitely one of the best progressive Italian bands of this time. Listening tip: The Killing Hand.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Scott Mosher - Inferno
Inferno marks the third release from New Yorker Scott Mosher, following up two previous independent releases - Ambient Earth (1996) and Virtuality (2001). Scott is joined once again by Todd Corsa, who appeared on the previous album and undertakes a similar role performing not only the vocal duties but adds the odd guitar break for good measure.
Musically Scott creates an instantly accesible mixture of heavy progressive rock with distinctly infectious themes which not only eminate from his guitar fret board, but also from the vocal melodies. Added to this are a lush layering of keyboard sequences and ambient canvasses. All of which create a melodically rich album, not overly heavy (imho), with many of the vocal tracks having a strong AOR flavour. Granted much of the music owes alliegances to the heavy rock field but what sets it aside is the extensive use of keyboard textures that broaden out the sound and add warmth and depth to the material. I pondered the thought that the music had many of the qualities to be found in the material of Vangelis and to a certain extent Jean Michel Jarre. However Scott then progresses these sequences and or soundscapes by adding crunching and chugging guitar rhythms along with his melodic guitar themes.
The standout track from the album has to be the Rush-like Look Into You, which I feel the Canadian trio might well pass an approving nod too. Interestingly when I listened to the album for the first time I couldn't quite place who's voice Todd Corsa reminded me of - until this track. Close runners to Look Into You are Left Behind and Season of Fire [Re-mix] - and not a guitar solo to be heard !
Initially I had placed Inferno amongst the ever growing number of guitar orientated releases on my reviewing table, however this is definitely the least indulgent of the guitar selections, with more emphasis being placed upon creating moods and to this end the guitar is used as component within the music. In fact the keyboard textures are more fundamental to the sound than the guitar. Inferno made an intersting resting point and its less note dense approach made me return to this album on several ocassions.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Navigator - ReEvolution Volume One
Tracklist: Sword Of Endeavor (6:41), The Telling (3:13), Capacities (6:12), Sage Of My Time (5:19), Ancient days (3:23), From Within (3:19), Inspirational Will (3:50), To Begin (6:00), Season Of Life (4:36), Overload (4:56), Travelling Through The Earth (7:54)
Navigator are currently a duo of guitarist Michael Soro and drummer and vocalist Rob Thurman, although they are joined on this, their debut album, by Marc Perricelli who played keyboards and synth bass and provided lead vocals. The group originally formed in 1998 with the aim of "filling the void evident in the genre by creating a retro-progressive sound and taking it to its next level". ReEvolution Volume One is, as the title suggests, the first chapter in a two-part concept, although I must confess to not actually knowing what the concept is! It would probably be clearer from studying the lyrics, but, unfortunately, a full CD booklet was not included with the review copy we received (understandably the band has a tight budget and needs to control costs!)
However, that is not an issue, any decent concept album should be able to be enjoyed without knowing or understanding the concept, and Navigator have succeeded in that. Each track stands up in isolation, extracted from the parent album. The group have also achieved their stated aims - ReEvolution Volume One takes the essential elements of the idiom but manage to avoid sounding dated. There is also a good balance between the instrumentation. In a lot of trios there is a tendency for one instrument/performer to dominate, the prime example being ELP who are totally dominated by the keyboard prowess of Keith Emerson. Navigator have struck a fine equilibrium between the keyboards and guitars, neither totally dominates proceedings but each has their moment. The production, by the band and Mike Rorick, is clear and first class, with distinct separation between each of the instruments and the vocals.
The mood of the CD is set by the atmospheric opening to Sword Of Endeavor which progresses into a more narrative section where the guitar and keyboard mirror each other over some inventive and dynamic drum patterns. The Telling is slightly heavier with a powerful guitar and some mighty organ swells, although I'm not totally convinced by the mostly spoken vocal. The opening of 30 seconds of Capacities has a keyboard riff that would have sat well on a Tarkus-era ELP album but soon settles into a mid-paced number featuring some nice guitar work in a variety of styles and an interesting array of keyboards. There is a lot packed into the six minutes of this track! Things are slowed down on Stage Of My Time on which the band demonstrate their acoustic side. This is the gentlest number on the album; the only other slow songs on the album being Ancient Days, Inspirational Will (reasonable but both quite non-descript) and closing track Travelling Through The Earth (more of which in a moment). From Within has a catchy melody and some good interplay between the guitar and keyboards, similar to what IQ are so good at achieving.
To Begin actually does sound like a new beginning with ethereal guitars and atmospheric keyboards leading into a mostly instrumental track (the vocals don't appear until the final minute of the song) that is probably the finest display of the bands abilities, not flash and technical (although hats off to drummer Thurman for some inventive playing), but sustained and controlled. Season Of Life is the most 'modern' sounding track of the set with a clean and crisp guitar to the fore while Overload revisits the heavier style of The Telling. Again the vocals tend to be more spoken than sung but Perricelli does get to wring some more atmospheric sounds from his keyboard rig. The album ends with Travelling Through The Earth, a track that some of you may be familiar with from its inclusion on the Christian Prog Rock compilation CPR Volume One. The opening reminded me, for some reason, of Cygnus X1 by Rush although that could be a completely fatuous comparison as I haven't played any Rush albums in years! This is a great song to close the album, melodious, relaxing, well played and well sung, it's one of those songs that a band with a bigger budget would have really gone to town on, one can imagine the piece arranged with orchestras and choirs! However, it works just fine as it is, sometimes the simplest approach is the best.
Overall, ReEvolution Volume One is a fine debut from three talented musicians. It is classic progressive rock that would appeal to many DPRP readers. It will be interesting to hear how the second part of the concept pans out, particularly since any replacement(s) for keyboardist and lead vocalist Perricelli may affect the dynamics of the band. Still, at least they may yet find someone who prefers to sing the lyrics rather than speak them!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Canturbe – El Vuelo De Los Olvidados
Tracklist: Leccion De Sangre (4:59), Amurado En Tu Puerta (4:16), Suenos De Ayer (3:57), En Virtuo Del Obcecado (8:20), De Todos Los Inventos (3:16), Medidas De Sol (3:28), Los perros de Villa Gesell (4:41), Linyera De Alcoba (4:10), El Vuelo De Los Olvidados (3:59)
Yet another worthwhile reissue from Argentine specialist label Viajero Inmovil, and I have yet to be disappointed with any of their releases. The disc to hand was originally released in 1980, but it appeared with only the band’s name as the title, as the record company was worried that the chosen title (now reinstated) was a reference to the people “diassapeared” by the ruling military regime in those dark days. The lyrics (entirely Spanish) appear to be appropriately dark in tone, and socially and politically aware – for example Leccion De Sangre translates as Lesson In Blood - but as I don’t speak Spanish I can’t comment further.
The songs, apart from Medidas De Sol by bass player Luis Blanco, are all by vocalist and guitarist Jorge Garacotche and he has provided a fine setting for his delicate and dreamy vocals (a highlight of the disc), with gentle folk and jazz influenced tunes and some understated Latin rhythmic influences. The subtle and effective arrangements make for a nice late-night listening experience. Instrumentally, guitars provide the main focus, with flowing electric solos, warm and tender melodies and nicely layered acoustic textures. Subtle synthesiser touches come courtesy of guest Charly Garcia. There is nothing particularly complex here, and apart from the longest track En Virtud Del Obcecado which has atmospheric elements reminiscent of the quieter side of Yes and Genesis, together with dynamic bass playing, phased percussion and an intense guitar solo, there is nothing that is out and out progressive either, but I feel this would still appeal to many prog (and Neo) fans. It certainly appeals to me.
My favourite tracks are Amurado En Tu Puerta, Suenos De Ayer - both of which have lovely delicate melodies (the opening to Amurado is particularly beautiful) - and the afore-mentioned En Virtud... but really, the quality is remarkably consistent and I can happily listen from beginning to end. The only track that does not quite do it for me is the sole contribution of bassist Blanco, which is pleasant enough, but only features piano (by Ezequiel Itzcovich) and vocals and which lacks some of the instrumental colour and atmosphere present on the other tracks.
Whilst the overall sound is quite different, this album shares some of the warm melodic qualities of fellow Argentines Pablo El Entertador (whose two albums have long been favourites of mine).
I found it to be a delightful, slightly melancholic collection of gentle songs, with enough instrumental texture and shading to sustain my interest. Its individual character and welcome change of pace make this a CD I shall revisit often.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Initiation - Initiation
Tracklist: Designer Drugs (5:21), Seasons Change (3:31), Vultures (3:42), Hyperbaric Flames (3:29), Don’t Go Near The Water (8:08), Crystal Beach (12:37), Lady Of Whitehead (3:57)
Initiation are a four-piece band from Buffalo, New York. Singer, guitarist and band leader Mark Partyka has released several albums as a solo artist under various monikers, but this is Initiation’s debut release.
Musically, we’re very much in neo-prog territory; from confident opener Designer Drugs (which recalls IQ’s shorter tracks such as The Wake and The Thousand Days) to the atmospheric instrumental closer Lady Of Whitehead, the influence of Genesis, Yes, Marillion, Rush and Pink Floyd are heavily stamped over the album. In addition, Partyka’s vocals sound very similar to both Peter Gabriel and Fish, which could lead many to write them off (albeit unfairly) as something of a copy band.
Having said all this, the band generally don’t go in for direct imitations of their idols; the influences are more in the general sound. The song-writing is split between Partyka and keyboardist John Gilbert, and this helps add variety, with the songs all sounding sufficiently different from each other for the album not to start dragging. The band have a strong sense of melody, and tend to emphasise this over complicated structures and time changes, which adds to the accessibility of the music. There is still room for improvement with regards to song structures though – some of the songs seem to go round in circles long after they’ve made their point, whilst the lengthy Crystal Beach seems to be a familiar case of ‘it’s a prog album so it must have an epic on it’ – there are some nice individual parts but they seem to be thrown together in a random way, and don’t create a satisfying whole.
Instrumentally, Partyka’s fluid, melodic guitar playing stands out – he’s clearly influenced by the likes of Dave Gilmour and Steve Rothery, although he also appears to draw inspiration from the broader classic rock spectrum – his solo work on Vultures, for instance, reminded me a bit of the type of stuff you might hear on a Steve Morse solo album, whilst Don’t Go Near The Water sees him utilising both country rock and jazz styles. John Gilbert’s keyboard work is sound, generally used to create atmospheric backdrops and provide a foil to Partyka’s lead guitar work. The rhythm section of Ric Stave (bass) and Jeff Jankowski (drums) is competent, but tends to plod a bit, rather than really driving the music forward.
Overall, this is a generally enjoyable listen. Its’ possibly not strong enough to really stand out from the neo-prog crowd, but equally there are certainly many worse outfits around. The strengths of the band, primarily Partyka’s fine guitar work and their ability to come up with good, strong melodies, outweigh the weaknesses (mainly the over familiarity of the band’s sound, particularly with regard to the vocals, and the sometimes shaky song structures), and if these weaknesses can be corrected then the band should be able to make further progress in the scene.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10