Reviews in this issue:
- Glass Hammer - Live At NEARfest
- Asia - Silent Nation [Duo Review]
- Karda Estra - Voivode Dracula
- Moongarden - Round Midnight
- Pär Lindh and Björn Johansson - Dreamsongs From Middle Earth
- Swedish Family - Vintage Prog [Duo Review]
- Dave Bainbridge - Veil Of Gossamer [Duo Review]
- Umphrey's McGee - Anchor Drops
- Magnum - Brand New Morning [Duo Review]
- Psychotic Waltz - A Social Grace & Mosquito (Box Set)
Into The Everflow & Bleeding (Box Set)
- Mindflow - Just The Two Of Us ~ Me and Them
- Razor Wire Shrine - Going Deaf For A Living
- After Forever - Digital Deceit [CD Single]
Into The Everflow & Bleeding (Box Set)
Glass Hammer - Live At NEARfest
Tracklist: Greetings Ladies And Gentlemen (1:36) Chronotheme (5:06) Tales Of The Great Wars (10:26) One King (6:12) Further Up, Further In (14:28) Cowboys And Mendians (2:42) A Cup Of Trembling (8:03) Portrait (He Knew) (6:27) Chronos Deliverer (5:16) When We Were Young (8:14) Heaven (4:08)
I have liked Glass Hammer for a number of years now, ever since I picked up Journey Of The Dunadan. That was their first album, and contained some good music but suffered a little from being disjointed. I didn’t much care for the narration either. Each successive album I heard (I have On To Evermore, Lex Rex and Shadowlands) found my appreciation growing as, seemingly, did the band’s confidence and ability. Nearfest continues an unbroken run of upward progress, being – in my opinion- their best yet.
For what is primarily a studio project, Glass Hammer have released quite a few live products – this CD follows Live And Revived and the Lex Live DVD- but on the strength of this one, I say keep ‘em coming! If anything, the performances here are considerably more muscular and compelling than their studio counterparts. The live sound is first rate; each instrument is clearly defined in the mix, with sumptuous keyboards, razor sharp guitars and commanding vocals. The backing vocals and choir (check out Chronos Deliverer) add yet another dimension to the soaring music. The overall sound is punchy and direct, lifting the Glass Hammer experience to the next level.
In terms of material, most of this comes from Lex Rex, with a choice couple from Chronomotree (on this evidence, a superb album, which I shall have to acquire), and one – the sublime Heaven – from Perelandra. The choice of material is spot on, highlighting the group’s strengths (an inspiring blend of Yes, Genesis and ELP), and keeping one’s attention captivated throughout the show.
Many bands choose to throw in a cover or two in live performance. I usually approve of this, if the songs are chosen wisely and approached in a spirit of fun and adventure. Glass Hammer fulfil this promise and then some, with a stunning version of Kansas’s Portrait (He Knew) featuring a guest performance from Rich Williams. It’s great fun, with a strong vocal performance from Walter Moore.
If you want some criticism, I didn’t like the hokey announcements on Lex Rex and the opening introduction here is equally cringe inducing, but skipable. I will also be skipping Cowboys And Mendians, which is drummer Matt Mendians’ solo spot. No offence to him, but drum solos have never been my cup of tea. This one is only short and is there if you’re interested. I’m not qualified to tell you if it’s good or bad.
It’s hard to single out highlights from an album that is consistently wonderful, but the aforementioned Heaven, When We Were Young and A Cup Of Trembling all have that little extra touch of magic that can set your spine a tingle.
I can’t think of any group currently producing symphonic rock of a higher quality than this – Highly Recommended!
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Asia - Silent Nation
Tracklist: What About Love (5:25), Long Way From Home (5:58), Midnight (6:23), Blue Moon Monday (7:16), Silent Nation (6:03), Ghost In The Mirror (4:35), Gone Too Far (6:47), I Will Be There For You (4:09), Darkness Day (6:17), The Prophet (5:15)
To be honest I was a bit sceptical when I received the new album of Asia, because their last two albums Aura (2001) and Arena (1996) were a bit disappointing to me. Back in 1981 (when we were all young and beautiful) Asia started as a super band with Steve Howe, Carl Palmer, John Wetton, and Geoff Downes as top musicians. They released two very successful albums and even scored hits with songs like Heat of the Moment and Only Time will Tell. From that band line-up only Geoff Downes is still around as an Asia member. The full line-up in 2004, besides Geoff, consists of John Payne (vocals and bass guitar), Guthrie Govan (guitar) and ex-AC/DC, ex-Manfred Mann’s Earth Band drummer Chris Slade.
Silent Nation is Asia’s eight studio album in 22 years and it is probably one of their best. The CD kicks off with a super opener called What About Love. It is a real rocky, proggy song with the very recognisable warm voice of John as the main trademark. I am truly overwhelmed by the catchy chorus, the heavenly melody and the outstanding guitar solo on this track. However the second and third song Long Way from Home and Midnight are definitely more “poppier” and mainstream material and they remind me of albums like Aura and Arena. Blue Moon Monday and Silent Nation are rather dramatic, sometimes orchestral, semi-ballads with typical Asia arrangements and melodies.
Ghost in the Mirror has a sort of Peter Gabriel-like acoustic guitar riff and is maybe the most average track of the complete album. After that one Asia really gets cooking again and the second part of this album is without any doubt the best part, with the amazing ballad Gone Too Far as starting point. That one is dominated by the crystal clear voice of John Payne, the breathtaking chorus (almost makes me shiver), the outstanding beautiful guitar solo and the dramatic ending. Truly one of the best Asia songs ever! I Will Be There For You really rocks and here Govan’s sparkling guitar solo steals the show. Darkness Day starts a-cappella, with a church choir (in Latin?) and it evolves into an orchestral melodic masterpiece. And last but not least Asia ends this album with the magical ballad The Prophet. A song with superb vocals and a thrilling guitar piece a la David Gilmour.
This album proves that Asia is alive and rocking. Silent Nation is one of the best Asia albums ever, and that is something that I would not have thought these guys were capable of after their two last simple CDs. True compliments, gentlemen!!
Four years after the release of Aura Asia are back with a new studio album, the fifth since the band's re-formation with John Payne in 1992. It seems the band was ready for a change: gone are the traditional one-word album titles that started and finished with the letter A, gone are the fantasy covers by Roger Dean or Rodney Matthews, and they even have a new record label.
However, it seems that is pretty much where their innovation ends, as musically the album stays firmly within the familiar territory of accessible AOR. This is also what may deter many people from buying this album, and what critics around the world will gladly use to write off the band as has-beens: this albums sounds as if it was written and recorded in the mid-eighties, rather than 2004!
John Payne's raw voice is a bit of a mixture between Steve Lukather and Chris Thompson, immediately invoking unavoidable similarities with the bands these gentlemen have sung in. Long Way From Home, for example, sounds a lot like an Alan Parsons track, with guitar much in the vein of Ian Bairnson's and vocal styles that would not be out of place on an album like Ammonia Avenue or Eye In The Sky. The title track and Gone Too Far have a very distinct Toto feel, circa The Seventh One and Kingdom Of Desire.
I Will Be There For You sounds a lot like Quiet Riot's Cum On Feel The Noise, Blue Moon Monday could have been a Bon Jovi song, and Silent Nation bears close resemblance to John Parr's St Elmo's Fire
It is truly amazing how an album recorded in present day can sound so dated. The arrangements, the guitar sound, the reverb on the drums, the song structure, the choruses... in fact, with so many of the songs so closely resembling eighties' hits, this album is almost another "Rock Ballads" CD-compilation.
Fortunately for me, I happen to like such compilations, and the accessibility of the music meant that I was able to sing along with half the songs already upon second listening. And it was upon that second listening that I really started to appreciate the songs. The production is impeccable and all four musicians can handle their instruments very well. Especially newcomer Guthrie Govan deserves special mention, as he is an extraordinary player, considering that Asia is in fact his first band. He does some great soaring solos, but is equally adept at the occasional acoustic stuff.
Overall, you can say this album sounds very polished, very accessible but also very good!
So, if you like AOR, or if you miss the eighties, then Silent Nation is a must-have for you. People who live in present day may need a little more caution, but will find this album still worth checking out.
Karda Estra - Voivode Dracula
Tracklist:Voivode Dracula (9:14), Lucy – Festina Lente (6:36), The Land Beyond The Forest (6:07), Mina (8:12), Kisses For Us All (13:17)
Following on from last year’s excellent Constellations album, the symphonic act Karda Estra (and more specifically composer and multi-instrumentalist Richard Wileman) have come up with an equally intriguing but markedly different follow-up in Voivode Dracula.
Thematically Voivode Dracula harks back to Karda Estra’s earlier Eve release. Whilst that album took as its source material a Frankenstein-influenced tale, here (somewhat unsurprisingly given the album title!) it’s the legend of Dracula that provides the inspiration for a dark and haunting work which sees Wileman utilising essentially the same tools as on his previous effort, but creating a vastly different mood. Whereas Constellations was instantly accessible and a relaxing late night listen perfect to unwind to at the end of a tiring day, Voivode Dracula, whilst equally evocative and atmospheric, is a far more unsettling piece of music that takes a number of listens to fully appreciate.
Once again, Wileman handles ‘conventional’ instrumentation himself (keyboards, guitar, bass and percussion) whilst a number of female musicians (the same line-up as on his previous work) provide vocals, violin, cello, flute, cor anglaise, saxophone and oboe.
The title track immediately sets the tone for the rest of the album – a dark and brooding synth backdrop is laid down, over which strings, reeds, organ and pianos weave their haunting, evocative melodies. Far more so than in previous offerings, Wileman makes use of persistent, pulsating percussion and bass rhythms to drive the music onwards. On many occasions the tension is racked up as layer upon layer of detail is added, until finally the storm subsides and in its wake comes a lilting and beautiful melody played out on clarinet or oboe.
As on previous releases Ileesha Bailey provides some wonderful vocals, which are particularly prevalent (and effective) on the tracks Lucy -Festina Lente and Mina. Bailey’s voice is effectively used as an instrument; there are no lyrics as such, with her delivery somewhat akin to choral chanting. The above named tracks also provide a nice contrast with the more dynamic and menacing likes of the title song and The Land Beyond The Forest; although no less haunting, the shimmering, orchestral soundscapes utilised here give the work as a whole a more rounded and varied feel. The overall feel of the album is such that I could imagine it being used as a soundtrack to one of those early twentieth century horror films; the one that particularly springs to mind is Nosferatu, a genuinely creepy film, several scenes of which I could envisage being given added impact by Wileman’s compositions here.
In the end synopsis, this is another fine release by Karda Estra. I must admit that, personally, I slightly favour the aforementioned Constellations, primarily because it fits a greater variety of moods. That being said, kudos to Richard Wileman for varying his sonic palette here, yet remaining true to Karda Estra’s trademark sound, and creating a very effective and original piece of work.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Moongarden - Round Midnight
Tracklist: Round Midnight (7:48), Wounded (7:25), Killing The Angel (4:53), Lucifero (6:36), Slowmotion Streets (5:47), Learning To Live Under The Ground (10:24), Coda: Psychedelic Subway Ride (1:56), Nightmade Concrete (5:42), Oh, By The Way, We're So Many In This City And So Damn Alone (1:54)
This Italian band keeps surprising us. After a first album (Moonsadness, 1993) deeply rooted in "conventional" prog rock and a second one (Brainstorm of Emptyness, 1995) less overshadowed by its influences, the double The Gates of Omega showed a huge change in orientation for the band. First a shift in the influences (Porcupine Tree and Radio Head come to mind) and second a much darker mood. Only one thing has remained, the overall great musicianship. Round Midnight confirms the tangent started in The Gates Of Omega, with a bit less emphasis on the dark side, but just a little bit. All the songs are composed by Cristiano Roversi (keyboards) and David Cremoni (guitars). The band is completed by Luca Palleschi (vocals), Mirko Tagliasacchi (bass) and Massimiliano Sorrenti (drums).
The album kicks off with the title song, Round Midnight, a very modern intro; groovy bass (played on Chapman Grand Stick by Roversi) under vibrating guitar chords, followed by a break on vibraphone accompanied by a bubbling synth-bass. The song is haunting, the chorus is a hook. Luca Palleschi sings in English. The second song, Wounded, has Radio Head written all over. An intro on acoustic guitar with noisy organ pad and a "radio-filtered" voice set the tone for this complainant piece. There really is a progression in the arrangements here, including a multi-voices part drenched in Mellotron, a cool guitar solo drifting over insistent Hammond B-3 pads and some hints at Pink Floyd's A Saucerful of Secrets.
Killing The Angel is a shorter song in the line of Round Midnight, with a stronger rock feel, yet again reminiscent of Radio Head (sound effects, radio voices, Thom Yorke's vocal mimicry). Lucifero's intro, with vocal and smooth electric piano, reminds me of The Flower Kings. This ballad song starts easy and simple and expand into something very dramatic, again sustained by Mellotron. After a nice (and short) guitar solo, the song concludes by taking up the intro's mood. Slowmotion Streets relies on cello (Marco Remondini), oboe (Francesca Leasi), heavily phased electric piano and processed voice to install a strange yet seducing atmosphere. The title of the song fits like a glove.
Learning To Live Under The Ground is the mandatory "metal" piece of the album, very much in the line of Porcupine Tree's In Abstentia. It's in 5/4 and includes gorgeous and growling Hammond parts. This song has a wider dynamic than the rest of the album, frequently moving from a very soft passage to a more violent one. The vocal harmonies are very pleasing to my ears. There are some Sigur Ros influences present here. The guitar solo, à la Steve Rothery is well constructed, evolving around a build-up of the accompaniment. Some backward sounds introduce a short piano break leading into the finale of the song. Coda: Psychedelic Subway Ride, a short ambient instrumental, serves as a conclusion to Learning To Live Under The Ground. Nightmade Concrete, another smooth song, ends on a nice and too short Moog solo. Oh, By The Way, We're So Many In This City And So Damn Alone, conclude the album with Palleschi only accompanied by electric piano, not far from Lucifero's intro. The melody reminds of Spock's Beard and Neil Morse.
This is without a doubt a commendable CD. The only problem with Moongarden is that you always have this feeling of "déjà vu". What saves them is that it is always in good taste and the musicianship is strong and never showy or flashy. If their evolution from one album to the next is an indication, they are definitively getting there.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Pär Lindh and Björn Johansson -
Dreamsongs From Middle Earth
Music Inspired by 'The Lord Of The Rings' by J.R.R. Tolkien
Tracklist: Dream One (5:19), Dream Two (6:04), Dream Three (4:18), Dream Four (11:22), Dream Five (7:18), Dream Six (8:28), Dream Seven (5:32), Dream Eight (3:11), Dream Nine (3:54), Dream Ten (8:07)
Dream Songs From Middle Earth is the second collaboration between Swedish multi-instrumentalist Pär Lindh and guitarist Björn Johansson. Their first collaboration Bilbo was released in 1996 and was inspired as the title suggests by Tolkien's first book The Hobbit. Now, eight years later they are back with another Tolkien inspired collaboration, this time taking on the masterpiece The Lord Of The Rings.
The idea is interesting: the ten dreamsongs on this album are inspired by the various dreams that appear in the books, rather than the story of the book itself.
The subtitle Music Inspired by 'The Lord Of The Rings' by J.R.R. Tolkien is a bit of a downer though. After all, sales bins in record stores and supermarkets are overflowing with low budget discs entitled Music inspired by The Lord Of The Rings, all trying to ride the wave of success created by the movie trilogy.
Many many years ago life was easy, fellow Swede Bo Hansson recorded his musical version of The Lord Of The Rings, and for many this was the perfect soundtrack to the book. However, since that kiwi guy made his movies, and Howard Shore created a terrific score for those, there are simply too many wannabees trying to make a quick and easy buck by jumping the LOTR bandwagon. And just like with Mostly Autumn's version two years ago, I find it difficult to determine whether this album falls in that category or not. I think it is a bit of both. Problem is, how would the average Joe know that this (and Mostly Autumn's) is actually a great album? After all, with a title like this people are more inclined to buy it for the title than for music.
And be honest, if you'd listen to an instrumental track, and not look at the liner notes, would you go "oh, this heavy bit must be where the Black Riders attack!" I wouldn't think so, so what is the point anyway? For all I care the album could have been Inspired By The Rise And Fall Of The Dark Lord Who Threatened The Elderberry Ferries In The Pond Of Mother Goose and I still would have liked the music.
But enough of that, the daft title aside this is in fact one great album to listen to. The first name that springs to mind is Mike Oldfield, as many passages of the music draw close comparison to albums like Ommadawn and Amarok, and for me as a vivid Oldfield fan, disillusioned by prolonged absence of his creativity, welcome the album of Messrs Lindh and Johanssen with open arms.
The first two tracks lie strongly within the Oldfield territory, with beautiful atmospheric choirs, African percussion and high-pitched electric guitar solos. When flutes and acoustic guitar come in it starts to sound like a collaboration between Mike Oldfield and Ennio Morricone, really, and I could easily picture the music being used as a movie soundtrack.
But the music is not all Mike Oldfield, don't get me wrong. It is much more varied than that. Dream Three for example is a fast rock track with fast drum rolls, various synth solos and a super-fast organ solo at the end. A track like Dream Eight on the other hand is heavily Genesis influenced (Lamb era) with marching drums and staccato organ chords, while a second organ plays a solo that would make Tony Banks proud.
Dream Nine is more like eighties' pop, reminding me of bands like Kajagoogo and Visage.
The music on the album is so incredibly varied that it is almost impossible to review all songs individually here - especially because many of the songs contain various musical themes as well. There is rock with heavy drums and guitar, there is folk with flutes and mandolins, there is baroque with horns and harpsichord, there are Asian influences with sitar and timpani, there is synth pop with sequencers and long solos and there is also a healthy dose of ethnic influences.
Lindh and Johanssen both play a wide array of musical instruments on this album (in true Oldfield fashion, I might add) but instead of using synthesisers to create the sounds of instruments they couldn't play themselves, they hired a number of guest musicians. This gives the music on the album a particularly true feel, having real choirs, a real horn section, a real harp and real trumpets and trombones. Of the guest musicians the one that immediately springs to mind is one Roine Stolt. However, quite unexpectedly the Flower Kings frontman guests as a bassplayer on Dream Three, leaving the guitar solos up to Johanssen.
Mr Oldfield may have lost his marbles and is currently only interested in creating pseudo techno virtual reality games, financed by his endless string of re-releases, yet the world need not despair, for Lindh and Johanssen are here, and if truth be said, they do a far better job at it too!
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Swedish Family - Vintage Prog
Tracklist: Stone Heart (6:03), A Man Without Mind (5:01), The Gothenburg Heros (3:58), Waltz Of Sadness (4:04), The Last Goodbye (4:28), From The Foot (6:10), The Summerdress (3:08), The Flu (5:17), Östuna Anthem (3:22), The Agent Dance (4:11), Always Grumpy (4:18), Brunos Erotica (3:08)
No-one knows why it took so long, but now it finally happened, a great compilation of the best this great group has to offer. Swedish Family, who does not know them? Legendary, ground-breaking, far beyond their time and the best progressive and symphonic music Sweden produced in decades. Already founded in the late 60's and still not forgotten today.
This album, Vintage Prog, contains one song from each one of their ten albums, but none from their 1974 album When Kids Do It For Fun) and it also includes the B-side of their 1974 hit Making Kids, a recording from the road tapes from Östuna Church and a lost track re-recorded by The Flower Kings, a group that is considered to be the rebirth of Swedish Family.
What a delight to hear this group again after all those years (their last album already dates back to 1979 and most of their albums are now impossible to buy) and it's very clear where today's progressive groups get their inspiration from! It's clear that I can't get lyric enough about this release and the retro-vibes are flooding through my body and pumping in my head and I'm overwhelmed by a immense sense of pity that today's music doesn't offer so much sublimity anymore, with of course a few good exceptions like the aforesaid The Flower Kings!
Ah, those were the days ... sigh sigh ... "So ladies and gentlemen, that concludes our tour through the mind of Tomas Bodin, we hope you have enjoyed this experience and don't forget the guide".
Yes and welcome back to reality! No, don't start doubting your own memory if you have never have heard about Swedish Family and started to think you missed a complete section of progressive music's history! The whole story of Swedish Family just recently popped out of the brain of Tomas Bodin, the keyboard player of The Flower Kings. It's already been dubbed the "ProgWorld's Spinal Tap", a perfect imitation of a music reality with a twist. So what we really have in our hands and CD-player here is the fourth solo album of Tomas and the first to be released on his own record label Helicon House.
When I receive a solo album of a keyboard player from a great progressive, symphonic band I expect lots of key-extravaganza and preferably a lot of instrumental stuff. This album offers some of the first and more than plenty of the latter since it's an all instrumental album (I just love those!). Tomas is not alone on this album though and gets some assistance from several musical friends including several members of The Flower Kings. The sleeve even mentions eight group members that surely will be Swedish finest in the Twilight zone, but in real life, with some knowledge of the Swedish language, one can discover the hidden meaning and humour behind these names. Of course it's very clear that Bo Dean who plays the Hammond organ refers to Tomas, just pronounce the name and you know why. In Swedish "Inge Naning" means "I have no idea" and "Hadde Wattnät" means "has anything happened?"; the other names are other kind of word jokes or alter ego's of Roine Stolt who's responsible for the contributions of three of the mentioned band members.
So the idea, gimmick and story behind this CD and its sleeve (a great dated picture from an organ catalogue) is fantastic, but what about the music? Well, actually that's quite amazing too! The CD kicks off with a great progressive track in the best Flower Kings tradition, that has a nice atmosphere and a prominent role for some very great guitar playing by Roine Stolt. On the second track an accordion makes his first appearance and sounds a bit out of place in-between the more electronic sounds produced by keys (including a very Jon Lord like organ sound) and strings, but it actually works out and produces a quite unique and very interesting soundscape! The song itself is just great and one of my favourites.
But what happens then? The start of The Gothenburg Heros sounds like it's a sailor playing a traditional folk-song on his accordion, but when the tune is taken over by a powerful guitar and organ we know we're back in the progressive world and the ending of the song is even very futuristic. The accordion keeps bewitching us on the next 2 tracks, helped by flute and vibraphone; very warm, mellow atmospheric songs that even slightly remind me of Yann Tiersen although they are slower paced than most of his compositions, but the addition of the keys give it a much fuller sound. In From The Foot guitar and keys are again entangled in a beautiful musical dance, but then halfway an apparent present audience starts to clap along with the beat and a voice (from Tomas?) starts to mumble along with the tune making the song sound like a live improvisation.The Summerdress proceeds in the same mellow atmosphere, once again with accordion this time accompanied by a mellow sax and together they produce another fine tune.
The Flu instantly reminded me of Focus, but that's surely caused by the restrained yodelling that pops up a few times here and with which Thijs van Leer in a grander way amazed us all many years ago. The structure and basic tune of the song comes much more closer to the progressive sound of The Flower Kings though. Östuna Anthem is like a slow tender dance between an organ and a sax, where the organ has a very distinctive Seventies sound to it. The organ and Minimoog sounds on this album actually automatically remind me of some bands from that decade with a distinctive keyboard sound, like for instance Deep Purple and Procol Harum.
I must admit that Tomas really managed to give the whole album a very Seventies feeling all together as if the songs really originate from that era. But then again there are also too many modern sounds in between there that you can't really date it and that leaves you puzzled as you can't really relate it to anything else you know; I personally like this kind of experiment.
The Agent Dance is another one of my favourites from this album, a really fine tune in which the organ and guitar really splatter again in a way that lets the Seventies revive; it's as if Jon Lord joined Focus to produce an intriguing new sound. The track Always Grumpy, credited as the first bonus track, does not sound grumpy at all as it has a folky influence again. The last track Brunos Erotica, the second bonus track, is actually the only track from this album I don't like, but it's actually not much of a song anyway, more an experimental mix of some loose Moog, drums, guitar and distorted voice noises, a bit like The Waiting Room by Genesis. But as this album truly can be called experimental and progressive let's forgive Tomas this escapade.
All in all this is a magnificently interesting and creatively surprising album that is absolutely worth while to listen to, a real delight! I very much appreciate the combination of traditional folky tunes and sounds with the organ and Minimoog and the Seventies atmosphere of it all. The fact that's it's an all instrumental album only adds to my appreciation of this album and I would wish more of these kind of albums would be made!
This project was announced as the "Spinal Tap" of prog rock. It is in fact a solo project from Flower Kings' keyboardist extraordinaire Tomas Bodin. It started as some kind of homage to the Swedish prog of the 70's. To this effect, Bodin put himself in a certain framework dictating how the material would sound, which instruments would be allowed and how they would be played. In other words, lots of phaser, analog keys from the 70's and more feeling than technics. It was afterward that Bodin decided to make up this fictitious 8 piece Swedish prog band of the 70's who allegedly recorded ten albums between 1969 and 1979. The complete line-up and discography of Swedish Family can be found on the Flower Kings' projects web page.
The real musicians behind Swedish Family are Tomas Bodin (keyboards, accordion, percussion & vocals), Flower Kings' Roine Stolt (guitars & bass), Samla Mammas Manna's Hasse Bruniusson (Drums) and Ulf Wallander (soprano saxophone), the latest two being regulars on the Flower Kings line up. The album was completely composed and produced by Bodin. The result is a superb blend of instrumental folk, rock and jazz. Connoisseurs of Swedish prog will hear references to bands such as Kebenekajse, Hanson & Carlsson, Fläsket Brinner and even early Kaipa. Others may find some similarities with the "softer" side of the Canterbury scene (early Caravan) and maybe also Camel in the melancholic feel of some tracks.
It starts off with Stone Heart, an enticing jam piece featuring Hammond organ, synth, wha-wha guitar and flute. The flute is in fact played on keyboard using the flute sound from the Chamberlin (an ancestor of the Mellotron). A Man Without Mind follows with its uplifting theme on accordion and synth and its intense ending on double-fuzz guitar. The Gothenburg Heros is yet another foot stomping accordion driven tune, full of dripping Hammond and distorted guitar. This is one of four make believe "live" pieces on the album (From The Foot, The Agent Dance and Brunos Erotica being the other three). The effect is convincing. At the end of the song we can hear the particular sound of the CS80, a wink to UK's Eddie Jobson and Bodin's sole use of a sound not from the 70's on the album.
Waltz Of Sadness could be subtitled "Swedish Family's Whiter Shade Of Pale". It is a very strong and soulful piece featuring Ulf Wallander's saxophone, more accordion, Hammond and phased electric piano. The Last Goodbye starts like The Gothenburg Heros and pursue with an interesting interplay between folky accordion and sax and jazzy bass and electric piano. It sounds like a melancholic working class anthem. From The Foot is another jam piece featuring Hammond and electric guitar plus some vibraphone. This one could almost fit in an old Leone movie. Midway through the song, Bodin performs some funny "skat" singing doubling the guitar. The Summerdress continues in the same vein as The Last Goodbye. We accelerate the pace with The Flu, yet another anthemic melody with weird synth sounds (goes with the title), gorgeous Hammond and peculiar humming. Maybe the "heavier" piece of the album.
Östuna Anthem was wrote in the tradition of the hymns and sound very "religious", almost like a requiem. It is very moving and shows that Bodin has a lot more to offer than meets the eye. The Agent Dance, with its intro by a French m.c. and its pompous style, would be right at home in a workers rally. The last two songs are "bonus tracks". Always Grumpy is another Morricone look alike. Since the original tapes for that piece were destroyed, it was re-recorded by The Flower Kings (are you following me?). The last track, Brunos Erotica, is quite a departure. It sounds like a VERY free improvisation. But, as on the rest of the album, absolutely nothing is improvised here, everything is make believe. Let me tell you it works! The poem we hear Bodin declaiming was originally made for the Flower Kings' Adam & Eve album. It was improvised à la Bruno K Öjjer (a famous Swedish poet), hence the title of the track.
All in all, an album with great musicianship, loads of feeling, killer sing-along melodies and a bit of humour. The perfect solution when you absolutely need prog and your mother-in-law is coming for supper. Yes, this is a crowd pleaser and an incentive to look for the next Bodin effort. I was expecting some kind of joke... It turned out to be a big and very pleasing surprise for me.
Dave Bainbridge - Veil Of Gossamer
Tracklist: Chanting Waves (2:17), Over the Waters (7:29), Veil of Gossamer (4:55), The Seen and the Unseen (2:17), The Everlasting Hills: Part 1 - 5 (19:47), Seahouses (3:06), Until the Tide Turns (4:30), The Homeward Race (5:26), Star Filled Skies: Part 1 - 4 (14:49)
Bart Cusveller's Review
A little music theory. A professor of mine once taught me that we are generally still used to listen to music as it developed in the Renaissance and Barok periods of our cultural history. Meaning, in the course of a composition we expect to hear a series of restful and restless intervals in harmonies, rhythm and volume, finally coming to rest, as in the great works of Bach and Beethoven. The way these musical patterns alternate in time form the basic structure of our expectations. I guess the best metaphor for this kind of music is a river, or journey, or story.
In the second half of the 20th century, different ways of composing music developed. Music that does not use traditional harmonies or intervals of rest and restlessness. Certain composers, for instance, did not end their music with a consonant, but with a dissonant. Others did not follow traditional dynamic of quiet and loud, or fast and slow patterns. Their concern was not how their music progresses in time. It is as if they just intend to express or depict a space, or being in a place. Metaphors for this kind of music that come to mind are a landscape, an atmosphere, or painting. Many of us must learn to listen to such 'spatial music' as we are used to listen to 'temporal music' with our '19th century ears'.
Rock music by and large belongs to the first type of music: it leaps forward in time along fixed time measures (4/4), familiar chords, and a rhythm nicely tied up at the end of the bar. Progressive rock, by definition, goes beyond these traditional forms of rock, but still brings with it the expectation of Bachian and Beethovian dynamics. Most often it still has a verse-chorus structure to it, solos with the harmonies of the basic chords, and rest after alternating restful and restless intervals. Take Supper's Ready, The Light, or Harvest of Souls. If not, "it's just patches of sound", we think, when we first hear Peter Gabriel's Up.
So, once in a while, an album appears where things are different but can still be called progressive rock from another perspective. Dave Bainbridge's Veil of Gossamer is such an album. Bainbridge is well-known as co-founder, composer and guitarist of Iona, Britain's successful Celtic folk rock bands. In this band, Bainbridge already showed many times to be a highly gifted writer and player, taking the spot for accompanying pieces as well as piercing solos many times. When I heard about his first solo album, I personally expected Bainbridge to rock, taking his guitar playing out of the Celtic folk rock context and putting it to use in a prog vein. Not so.
Instead, it is as if Bainbridge, who plays more than a dozen instruments on this album, takes us to a hilltop in a beautiful countryside and makes us look around to the different sceneries. First, we see the sun rise above the sea (females voices over keys and percussion in Chanting Waves), and the day comes to life with people and animals rushing in the landscape like traffic (drums and electric guitar kick in on Over the Waters). As we stand in awe and wonder looking around in this magic spectacle, Bainbridge also makes us look upward. He suggests there is only a thin veil between heaven and earth (ethereal piano, strings, tin whistle and guitar in Veil of Gossamer) so that the unseen and the seen touch (acoustic guitar on The Seen and the Unseen). On electric guitar and piano he points us to different paths in the hillside around us, as it were, to discover the One behind the veil who touches our existence (The Everlasting Hills). On this 19-minute masterpiece, as on the first song, the album's theme is hinted at in the Gaelic lyrics, the rest is expressed by atmospheric music. It is at times reminiscent of Iris' Crossing the Desert or Camel's Harbour of Tears or Rajaz, now peacefully, then rocking to Iona faithful, Frank van Essen's, drums. Skilfully made? Certainly. Beautiful sound? Absolutely.
After another delightful piece on acoustic guitar, a painting of a seashore scene a la Horizons (Seahouses), the CD continues with a song that could have been on a Iona album. With Iona singer Joanne Hogg as vocalist, and folk instrument against a piano backdrop, Until the Tide Turns expresses Bainbridge's Christian faith in God to restore all earthly brokenness. It closes with perhaps the most proggish ending of the album, a nice bass-n-drums driven coda. This last look at the seashore, as one of the parts in Bainbridge's musical tapestry, is followed by a mad ride downhill at the end of the day, as it were (drums, electric guitar and bass in The Homeward Race). The album then closes with one last look around before coming home, in a four-part epic of 14 minutes. It combines lovely, and rhythmic as well as haunting, and chaotic passages, using folk but also rock instruments. One of the first movements features an almost Alan Holdsworth-like guitar suite (as in Everlasting Hills and Homeward Race), while a later movement has a twist of Peter Gabriel's later world music, coming full circle finally with female voices like the first track.
Bainbridge brought together a number of excellent and fitting musicians. To single out just the female singers: Mae McKenna, Joanne Hogg, and Rachel Jones (Karnataka) perform really well on this album. And although the CD was recorded over a number of years, the whole production sounds great as well. Don't expect an easy time listening to this one. The compositions are complex, rich, full of expression, woven together around a religious theme. In the beautifully designed booklet there are a number of keys to this theme. As far as the music goes, this CD taught me to listen to progressive rock with different ears.
When I first heard that Dave Bainbridge was planning his the first solo release I wondered what format it may take, would he move away from the Iona sound that he has been involved with for some considerable time now, or would he choose to break the shackles and produce a completely different sound? It is a question that often springs to mind when artists undertake solo projects away from a long term venture, and one that offers us a unique glimpse as to their input within that framework. Some are inexorably linked, as with Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull, others perhaps taking a different path in their solo work. One key factor in this, is who musically is selected to guest on the album - so as Dave has chosen to incorporate Iona band members, past and present among his guests, the tendency was to air towards a variation on a theme. Much is revealed in the opening track Chanting Waves with the delicate Gaelic voice of Mae McKenna nestling in amongst a gentle swelling backwash. However Veil Of Gossamer should not be seen as another Iona release, more perhaps as an extension or progression from it.
Having lived with this music over the last few weeks, I have to say that each listening has brought a greater appreciation and I can safely say that this must surely finish high in my favourite releases for this year. My greatest problem with reviewing this album has been how to keep it short enough - I could easily end up rattling on for pages. Why? Well because the music has so much to offer. As a concept album it works a continuous piece and I would suggest that it should be listened to in this long form as often as possible. However as finding an hour of uninterrupted time may prove difficult it is worth noting that each of the pieces stand well on their own. In this respect and some others it reminds of another favourite album of mine Camel's Harbour Of Tears.
So in effort to condense matters I have attached a few (inadequate) words to most of the tracks. The album posses two great progressive rockers (both instrumental), Over The Hills which sees the electric guitar put through some truly melodic phrasings and with the addition of the vocal harmonies of Joanne Hogg, Rachel Jones & Mae McKenna give the middle section something special, especially to the guitar theme. Second of the tracks is the intriguing if slightly uncomfortable 7/8 rhythm that accompanies The Homeward Race. Great track and great drumming from Frank Van Essen here. The title track is a dreamy piano led track with a splendid moody string accompaniment, strong atmospheres and electric guitar blending in with the reverberant whistles. The Seen And The Unseen and Seahouses are two tracks played on the acoustic guitar - these act as delicate resting points - terrific stuff.
The remaining tracks (a fair portion of the album) feature vocals or "wordless" vocal sections layered among the musical orchestrations. Until The Tide Turns is the most song like track from the album and featuring Joanne Hogg - an infectious song that stays with you long after the CD player is turned off. I found the lyrical content of the album to be passionate and often beautiful, the use of Gaelic language so befitting the vocal melodies along with those wordless passages or those sung in English. In Bart's review he touched upon Dave's spiritual beliefs and it was inevitable, given these strong convictions, that these would be reflected within the music and lyrics - always a grey area for one who does not share in those beliefs - however this content was so skilfully and tastefully incorporated that I had no issue with it, and Dave's obvious passions in this area added greatly to the music.
With all I have written it occurs to me that I have barely even touched on the two epics from Veil Of Gossamer, The Everlasting Hills and Star-Filled Skies. I fear that my words might not do justice to the haunting and beautiful guitar that opens The Everlasting Hills (part 1); or misses the beauty of the vocals accompanied by Troy Donockley's Uilleann Pipes in (part 2); doesn't quite capture the strings in (part 3); ignores the rippling piano in (part 4); or misses the strong rhythms that make up (part 5). Then of course there is more of this finery to be found in Star-Filled Skies. In fact there is so much to be found on this CD, my suggestion would be to go out and buy it.
Veil Of Gossamer is a truly wonderful album combining the best of Iona's Celtic atmospheres along with some splendid guitar work from Dave Bainbridge, and great performances from the assembled cast. The album has an ebb and flow, ensuring that your attention is held throughout - particularly engaging are the acoustic guitar tracks the sit comfortably between the electric guitar workouts and the splendid vocal and ethereal atmospheres. I am constantly surprised that Iona have not been more openly welcomed into the "progressive" world, as have Mostly Autumn or Karnataka, hopefully with the release of Dave's Veil Of Gossamer this oversight will be redressed. Highly recommended.
Umphrey's McGee - Anchor Drops
Tracklist: Plunger (6:01), Anchor Drops (4:59), In The Kitchen (3:59), Bullhead City (4:31), Miss Tinkle's Overture (5:37), Uncommon (2:51), Jajunk Pt. I (3:19), 13 Days (4:27), Jajunk pt. II (3:44), Walletsworth (4:37), Robot World (5:00), Mulche's Odyssey (4:58), Wife Soup (7:43), The Pequod (2:55)
America has a long tradition of so-called Jam Bands, from the sixties stalwarts of "The Grateful Dead" and "The Allman Brothers" to the phenomenal international success of "Phish" and "The Dave Matthews Band. However, there are a multitude of other bands that have yet to hit the international scene, such acts as "Moe", "Ekoostik Hookah" and the marvellously monikered Umphrey's McGee. All three of the latest generation of Jam Bands seem to have achieved great success on the US live circuit (three or four hour sets to very large crowds are often the norm) but have yet to crossover into the mainstream with their studio releases. However, given the potential revenue from live performances and the fact that official downloads of entire concerts are available from a variety of on-line sources, it may not be that much of a concern for the musicians. One also has to take into consideration that it is in the live arena that these bands are in their element and where they truly deliver. In many cases, the studio albums simply pale in comparison with contemporaneous concert recordings. Umphrey's McGee may be exception to prove the rule with their latest release Anchor Drops.
Named after a relative of one of the group, the band comprises Joel Cummins (keyboards, vocals), Brendan Bayliss (guitar, vocals), Ryan Stasik (bass), Andy Farag (percussion), Jake Cinninger (guitar, synthesisers, vocals) and Kris Myers (drums, vocals). These musicians are augmented by special guests Elliot Peck (vocals), Karl Danson (trumpet) and Andy Geib (trombone). By varying the instrumentation (including use of the lovely Fender Rhodes Piano and a Moog Taurus II synthesiser) the overall sound is kept fresh and exciting throughout. Details on previous releases are somewhat scant, although it appears that Anchor Drops is at least their third studio release (the first McGee baby being delivered in 1998) along with a couple of official live albums and even a DVD.
Throughout the album there is a nice mixture of electric and acoustic, none more so than on the opening track Plunger which effectively combines some rather neat dual lead electric guitar riffing (reminiscent of Wishbone Ash in places) with a gentler acoustic passage that demonstrate just how well the musicians interact and just how good they are. This has to be one of the most exciting opening tracks I have heard in a long time, great playing, very interesting arrangement and decent vocals. Keeping things balanced is also an excellent ending to the album in a pair of tracks that, in many ways, sums up the group. The mini-epic Wife's Soup is an engaging piece that throws together progressive rock with a funkier groove and a horn section, is followed by a very simple and plaintive acoustic instrumental The Pequod.
What comes in-between is no slouch either with musical exploration being the key. Progressive music has never been afraid to display its influences on its sleeves and Umphrey's McGee are happy to admit that the recipe for their music is "one cup of Jam, 1/2 cup of Metal (heavy), two tablespoons of Pop, one cup of prog, 1/2 cup of Jazz and a pinch of Country". The album contains all of this (and more) in a blend of musical variety: country-esque numbers (Bullhead City) sits alongside lyrically whimsical pieces (Uncommon), jazzy-tinged explorations (13 Days), 70s instrumental pastiches (Robot World) and out-and-out progressive mayhem (Miss Tinkle's Overture). The most impressive thing is that it all works superbly well together!
A thoroughly satisfying album displaying maturity, sophistication and adventurousness. It is not surprising that one journalist has suggested that Umphrey's McGee could be the band to take over the mantle recently relinquished by Phish's decision to call it a day.
And in case anyone is wondering about the flags under the bands name, it is nautical international signalling code spelling out the band's hometown, Chicago!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
*Update: Since this article was written Umphrey's McGee have signed with Inside Out Label - the album is now receiving the publicity and distribution it rightly deserves.
Inside Out release date : 21st February 2005.
Magnum - Brand New Morning
Tracklist: Brand New Morning (6:17), It’s Time To Come Together (4:36), We All Run (4:54), The Blue And The Grey (5:53), I’d Breathe For You (6:26), The Last Goodbye (6:26), Immigrant Son (5:35), Hard Road (5:20), The Scarecrow (9:50)
In 2001 Magnum celebrated their “come back” with a brand new album called Breath Of Life, however I can now tell the fans of this melodic hard rock band from Birmingham that they are really back with this fantastic CD called Brand New Morning. It proves that “old” rockers can still do their job very well and that you never get tired of listening to some bands although they still make the same kind of music for over more than twenty years! The voice of Bob Catley and the guitar melodies and solos of Tony Clarkin still make me shiver every time I listen to this new album, especially in the epic The Scarecrow (a song that lasts almost 10 minutes). These guys show what they are made of, great melodies, beautiful guitar lines, powerful singing and lots of diversity make this song one of the best Magnum compositions I have heard in a long time.
The guys in the band play like it is their first album ever and that they should prove something as the sound is so fresh and full of energy. Just listen to the magnificent power ballad The Blue And The Grey and you think that you are dealing with a new band ... The Last Goodbye is also one of the highlights of this album. It starts with a “sweet” piano intro, later on followed by a rather heavy guitar riff; and as the song goes on it becomes a dramatic, emotional symphonic rock song, like only Magnum can produce.
Unfortunately it is not only hallelujah on this CD. There are some points of criticism, which I also have to mention. First of all, most of the songs are in the same mid tempo and I would have liked to hear more rocky things from Magnum, as I know that they are capable of doing so, they proved that already a long time ago. Secondly, the lyrics on this album are a bit too simple most of the time and I really think that Catlin and Clarkin can do better than produce typical stereotype sentences like: “I’d breathe for you, if you want me to”. And why for god’s sake does it always have to rhyme??? But besides those two points of criticism I rather enjoyed Brand New Morning and Magnum proves that a bad penny always turns up. If you do not have a Magnum album in your rock collection, then this one is really a good one to start with.
British outfit Magnum are now something of an institution in the UK. When the band began back in the mid 70’s they were a pomp rock outfit influenced by the likes of Queen, Kansas and Uriah Heep. By the early eighties however, whilst the pomp element remained, it was twinned with a more conventional hard rock style. Critically the culmination of this period was the 1985 album On A Storyteller’s Night, a superb piece of work that is rightly revered by the band’s fans and remains one of the best British hard rock efforts of the eighties. Commercially the band peaked in 1988 with Wings Of Heaven, a UK top-five release. This led to the band getting the ‘Hollywood treatment’ by their record label, getting flown out to the US to cut the rather overly slick and commercial Goodnight L.A. album. Whilst this fared reasonably well sales-wise, it wasn’t long before Magnum were swept away by grunge’s onslaught, and the band quit amidst general disinterest in the mid 90’s.
Somewhat unsurprisingly a reunion came about come the turn of the century (although it should be said that guitarist/ songwriter Tony Clarkin and vocalist Bob Catley had worked together in the interim in the short-lived Hard Rain). This resulted in the Breath Of Life album, which met a somewhat mixed critical reception, not least because the band saw fit to use a drum machine – surely sacrilege for a band of Magnum’s type and standing. Advance word has been much more positive on the latest effort, Brand New Morning, and its’ not really any wonder. Not only have the band sorted out the drummer problem by recruiting the very human form of Harry James (Thunder), but Clarkin has penned a decent set of songs which certainly harks back to the band’s eighties heyday, and if not quite reaching that standard certainly doesn’t sound too shoddy in comparison.
Proceedings kick off strongly with the title track – featuring a driving, catchy main guitar riff, plenty of bombastic keyboard work courtesy of Mark Stanway, and a powerful chorus, this immediately sets a high standard. Although it is one of the highlights, there’s certainly plenty of other stuff to enjoy here; It’s Time To Come Together is a slightly cheesy but undeniably catchy track which would certainly be a candidate for a single if there was still a market for this sort of stuff; The Blue And The Grey is a solid ballad that has an unexpected country rock feel to it (think of the likes of The Eagles) in the verse, and features some of Clarkin’s best solo work on the album; Immigrant Son is a classy hard rocker with a heavier edge than you’d generally associate with Magnum, whilst the lengthy album closer The Scarecrow is a slow-burning, symphonic hard rock epic in the vein of Born To Be King and Don’t Wake The Lion, and is a fine way to end the album. Throughout the band’s performance sounds confident and enthusiastic, and Bob Catley is in fine form vocally, his warm, powerful voice bringing gravitas to the sometimes rather clichéd lyrics that Clarkin has given him to sing.
This will hardly go down as a classic in the way that On A Storyteller’s Night has – there’s a couple of tracks that could definitely be classed as filler, the whole affair is rather one-paced, some of the songs outstay their welcome, and the production, whilst reasonable (the sound is nice and thick), seems to lack a little sparkle.
All told, however, this is an enjoyable slice of classy pomp rock. I can’t imagine that existing fans won’t enjoy this, and whilst it’s unlikely to win Magnum too many new admirers, it is nice to see the band still able to knock out this sort of stuff without becoming a shadow of their former selves.
Psychotic Waltz -
A Social Grace / Mosquito
CD Set One [Disc 1] : A Social Grace : ... And The Devil Cried (5:43), Halo Of Thorns (5:31), Another Prophet Song (5:27), Successor (4:12), In This Place (4:10), I Remember (5:28), Sleeping dogs (1:33), I Of The Storm (4:33), A Psychotic Waltz (6:11), Only In A Dream (3:36), Spiral Tower (5:59), Strange (6:38), Nothing (5:44)
CD Set One [Disc 2] : Mosquito : Mosquito (3:14), Lovestone Blind (4:15), Haze One (4:36), Shattered Sky (4:49), Cold (4:25), All the Voices (3:04), Dancing In The Ashes (2:31), Only Time (4:37), Locked Down (3:26), Mind Song (6:08)
Bonus Disc : Video Clip - Faded, Video Clip - My Grave, A Social Grace CD Release Party Soma - San Diego 1991
Psychotic Waltz -
Into The Everflow / Bleeding
CD Set Two [Disc 1] : Into The Everflow : Ashes (5:09) Out Of Mind (4:45), Tiny Streams (5:02), Into The Everflow (8:18), Little People (4:07), Hanging On A String (3:49), Freakshow (5:40), Butterfly (9:18), Bonus Track - Disturbing the Priest*
CD Set Two : [Disc 2] : Bleeding : Faded (3:45), Locust (3:30), Morbid (3:39), Bleeding (3:55), Need (4:48), Drift (3:34), Northern Lights (3:19), Sleep (3:24), My Grave (3:27), Skeleton (3:25), Freedom? (4:46)
Bonus Disc : Into The Everflow Demo : Into the Everflow, Tiny Streams, Little People, Hanging on A String, Freakshow, Butterfly / Aslam Demo : To Chase The Stars, No Glory, Spiral Tower, The Fry Tape
What a perfect bit of timing! Two of my favourite recent releases have been the two albums by Austrian ProgMetallers Dead Soul Tribe. Previously known as Buddy Lackey, their front man Devon Graves used to be part of the highly-respected Psychotic Waltz. Having been told both acts share more than a passing musical resemblance, I have been trying without any luck to track down at least one of the four albums the band released in the 90s. Sadly, all were released on small, independent labels and all have long been out of print.
Then, just as I was about to give up hope, this wonderful little package drops through my door. Similar to the Omen box set that Metal Blade issued last year, this features all four albums released by the San Diego-based Prog Metal pioneers, split into two box sets. What struck me immediately, is just how influential Psychotic Waltz have been on numerous progressive and technical metal bands ever since. Both sets are absolutely packed with sounds that have been taken and adapted by many of the bands that feature in my record collection.
Both sets have been compiled by the band members, who should be congratulated on a good selection of bonus material with some nicely revamped packaging that doesn't reek purely of a cheap cash-in job.
The first package features the band's first and third albums. The independently-financed debut A Social Grace was released in 1990 and came as a breath of fresh air to the scene. Sounding like no band before or since, Psychotic Waltz managed to blend complex, technical playing with lyrical poetry amidst a huge breadth of styles. From the pounding I of the Storm to the beautiful I Remember, this was a band able to bring something new and fresh to the table. There is a feeling of a band still finding its full identity and there's a certain manic flamboyance that may not be the easiest of listens, but this was a solid launch for the band's career.
At the peak of their popularity, the band entered the studio in Los Angeles in 1994 with producer Scott Burns for an arduous recording process that resulted in the more restrained Mosquito. Blasted by some fans as a 'sell-out', it is certainly a less technical disc, with free-flowing melodies and more conventional song structures. There's also a heavy 60s psychedelic vibe on tracks such as All the Voices. And as usual, folding out the sleeve notes to read Lackey's lyrics is an absolutely essential aid to the listening process. The hard-hitting Locked Down and the dangerously-catchy title track are among the numerous highlights.
The third disk of this set features a couple of video clips plus rare video footage capturing one of their first ever gigs. This is taken by an old camcorder set up at the rear of the hall - so the quality isn't fantastic. But is an interesting insight into a band at the very beginning of their careers.
The second half of the collection begins in 1991. With the highly-acclaimed debut album and appearances in Europe under their belts, the band was keen to return to the studio when tragedy occurred. Guitarist Dan Rock suffered a near fatal fall while rope jumping off a bridge, meaning a delay of eight months until work could begin on Into The Everflow. When it finally hit the streets in Europe (the band still couldn't secure a deal in the US) it was clear that the album had seen a significant progression in the band's sound. The riffs are more intricate, the vocal delivery has more aggression and emotion, the music is more syncopated and has a greater use of melodies, and with tracks like the broodingly majestic title track and the intense heaviness of Out Of Mind, it saw a band clearly developing its own unique style.
Moving forward five years and the band's final release, Bleeding is definitely the Psychotic Waltz album that sounds closest to that of Buddy Lackey's current musical incarnation Dead Soul Tribe - and thus is clearly my favourite of the four. Following the direction taken on its predecessor, Mosquito, there is a more simplified approach to the songs with a greater emphasis on melody. But this time the quality of the songs are superior and the band manages to retain with more aplomb, some of the instrumental complexity found on the first two discs. Tracks like Sleep, Faded and the groovy title track, combine the strength and beauty that is so appealing to fans of Dead Soul Tribe.
As with the first part, the second box set has some lovely packaging and a bonus disc of rare material. This time we have an eerily accurate take on Black Sabbath's Disturbing The Priest which was originally only available on the band's private re-issue of the album plus the band's first demo tape from 1986 when they were called Aslan. Oh if all re-issues could be done this well.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Mindflow - Just The Two Of Us ~ Me and Them
Tracklist: Focus (1:22), Meeting Her Eyes (5:34), The Logic Behind Heads and Tails (6:51), Real Illusion (1:26), Deadly Event (2:44), October 17th (3:31), So that Life CAN Move Along (1:59), Invisible Messages (5:26), Premonition (Wake Up Ariel!) (0:37), Honesty (9:29), Touch of Immortality (3:12), Dangerous Self Engineering (0:56), 2nd Dawn (9:34), Another Point of View (3:58), The House of a Locked Mind (2:36), A Noble Truth #2 (3:16)
Mindflow are a relatively old grouping; their first album, Just the two of us... me and Them, has been in the works since 1999, and finally arrives on these shores some five years later. Mindflow hail from Brazil, best known for speed-metal kings Angra.
The album kicks off with some scratching pen noises and sound effects in the form of first track Focus, before starting with opener Meeting Her Eyes. 7-string guitars and unison keyboard/bass/guitar runs greet you in a sound unashamedly reminiscent of Awake-period Dream Theater, including some lovely guitar solo work from sole guitarist Rodrigo Hidalgo. This first taste of Danilo Herbert's vocals holds up well. It reminds me most strongly of Dali's Dilemma, not at all a bad thing, and other Magna Carta projects. The complexity of arrangements and song structure is surprising for a debut album, and immediately lifts Mindflow above the pack.
The arrangement of the album is somewhat strange; three suite titles are given, but no indication as to which tracks belong to the suites! Indeed, the album flows together so well that this structure is fairly unnecessary. The ability of each of the musicians shines throughout, whether in the heavier recesses of Dream Theater's vocabulary in The Logic Behind Heads and Tails, or pulling up Pain of Salvation references. The fine bass harmonic solo from Ricardo Winandy in Real Illusion starts the first suite "Speechless Mistake", before leading into Deadly Event and October 17th that evoke Liquid Tension Experiment during their less self-indulgent pieces.
The rest of the album continues in this vein. As might be expected in this genre, the standout tracks are the longer ones. Invisible Messages features the most memorable chorus melody. Honesty builds the tension in a professionally executed manner, with some particularly fine vocals, featuring instrumental breaks giving it a Dream Theater feel thoughout, much like A Change of Seasons in some alternate universe. The My Little Secret pairing, consisting of Dangerous Self Engineering and 2nd Dawn, features some skilful keyboard work from Miguel Spada, before finishing with a fine acoustic ending piece. The album ends with the Tellavision triplet of the same high standard, with some particularly fine drumming from Rafael Pensado.
Mindflow have put out a stunning debut album in Just the two of us... me and Them. A consistently high standard is maintained throughout, with an excellent level of production and musicianship. If it has a fault, it lies in the disdain for standard song structures; while it certainly helps the band's progressive sound, it means the album lacks more memorable tracks like Invisible Messages. It's certainly a fine progressive metal album in the best of traditions, and deserves wide recognition.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Razor Wire Shrine - Going Deaf For A Living
Tracklist: Shards (6:26), Crackling Dimentia (6:04), Architecture For The Tortured Soul (8:28), Thought Residue (6:06), To Strike A Personal Chord (8:20), All Shades Of Bitter (5:57), World Of Hurts (4:18)
Razor Wire Shrine, yet another new name to conjure with, and a name that initially struck a note of foreboding with me - Mellotron drenched epics in 7/8 not being the first type of music that sprang to mind. Then of course there is the album's title Going Deaf For A Living - things didn't seem to be improving as I removed the CD and band literature from its packaging. But what is in a name? Next thing that caught my attention was the letters PMM (Progressive Music Management) and home of the Rodler brothers - a more hopeful air took over the proceedings.
I have to admit that until about a year or so ago I had not heard of Chris and Brett Rodler, my first taster coming with Mythologic's Standing In Stillness album from 2003 and following this was the excellent re-released R H Factor - both contrasting but equally enjoyable albums. The third release within a year to reach DPRP is RWS's Going Deaf For A Living, the CD in front of me.
Once again the Rush influences are very evident in the guitar and bass playing of Chris and the drumming of Brett, stylistically and in execution, but please don't look here to find another Lifeson, Lee & Peart offshoot, for although the influences are evident, the music treads a different ground altogether. Firstly the album is completely instrumental with liberal doses of odd metering, poly-rhythms, metal riffs, incredibly tight and cohesive playing which starts with the very first notes of Shards and only relinquishing its grip with dying bars of World of Hate. All of this heady display of technical prowess is accomplished by Chris and Brett and still the final ingredient has to be added. Completing the line-up for this album is guitarist Mike Ohm who contributes his soloing skills to the arrangements of RWS. Those familiar with Chris and Brett will know that Mike also featured on another (earlier) project Leger de Main.
Mike Ohm is a fluid and articulate player who weaves his intricate and technical web around the well punctuated rhythms, the mixture of the two creating an extremely intense and absorbing whole. I have to admit that on the first few listenings through the music was somewhat taxing as Going Deaf... offers little in the way of respite, however familiarity with the pieces soon made the listening process more enjoyable. Taking in the complexity of these tracks is something that I will look forward to over the passage of time (years)!
Selecting a favourite track from Going Deaf For A Living is somewhat of a difficult task as the album has a uniform quality, but if pushed it would have to be Thought Residue, but it is only the cherry on top of the cake - all the tracks are equally tasty!
It would be futile to offer any comparisons or pointers as to where to start with Going Deaf ..., although the sheer excesses of RWS might well appeal to fans of Ron Jarzombek's sideshoot Spastik Ink, whose Ink Compatible album we covered earlier this year.
And finally - yet another fine offering from the Rodler camp and as mentioned earlier, musicians up until just over a year or so ago, totally unknown to me. I have to say this is not an album for the feint hearted as it is veritable onslaught from start to finish. This isn't going to appeal to all in the "prog" fraternity and much of your overall enjoyment of the music would ultimately depend upon whether or not you are into well written, arranged and executed technically orientated progressive metal instrumentals, if so this album is well, well worth checking out!
Conclusion: - 8 out of 10
After Forever - Digital Deceit
Tracklist: Digital Deceit (Single Version) (04:08), Eccentric (Orchestral Version) (04:36), Sins Of Idealism (Single Version) (04:12), Blind Pain (Aggressive Version) (04:20), Interview (09:50)
If you look at the total time of this CD-single you would expect it to be filled with music. While there are the standard four musical tracks a large part of this disc is filled by Irene Janssen interviewing two of the bands members. It is a nice interview. And in my opinion that's exactly what's wrong with it: you learn at what age they started playing guitar/drums and what they like most of playing in After Forever but not one of the questions really matters, it's all nice. Maybe it is caused by Irene's involvement with the band (Floor Janssen is her sister). I would have liked to know how they look back at Mark Jansen departure, what they think of Epica and how they hate those questions. But maybe they are fed up with these questions because they must have been asked over and over again.
As for the music: the tracks on this disc are what one should expect from After Forever and for those of you in possession of the album Invisible Circles there are no surprises on this single. All of the tracks are previously unreleased but are not really far from the originals. Digital Deceit and Sins Of Idealism are single versions which means they are a bit shorter than the album version. On the album Eccentric is a real intimate track on this single an orchestral version can be found, while it is nicely done and some instruments work really well, I personally like the album version better mainly because it is even more of a showcase to Floor's voice. Track four is a version of Blind Pain labelled "Aggressive Version" and it is more, well, aggressive.
All in all a nice single, nice to get acquainted with After Forever. For real fans it is just another item that just has to be in their collection. And for people like me, that already know After Forever, this single is just another CD-single. It does not have much added value, decide for yourself if you want to spend your buck on it.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10