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Reviews in this issue:
Jordan Rudess - Rhythm Of Time
Tracklist: Time Crunch (6.28), Screaming Head (7.19), Insectsamongus (9.33), Beyond Tomorrow (9.56), Bar Hopping With Mr Picky (4.36), What Four (6.50), Ra (7.53), Tear Before The Rain (6.39)
There are two sides of Jordan Rudess' solo efforts. A 'classical side', which has resulted in four classical/improvisational CDs, and a 'rock' side, which gave us 2001's Feeding The Wheel and now this album. This third solo album since joining Dream Theater was recorded in a time-span of only 14 days, in between the Train Of Thought tour rehearsals and the tour. It is amazing how in such a short time Rudess managed to assemble an all-star cast around him to play on the album: Joe Satriani, Steve Morse, Greg Howe, Vinnie Moore, John Guth, Dave LaRue, Bill Ruyle and of course his regular collaborator Rod Morgenstein.
In a recent interview Jordan Rudess stated that this album was partially an answer to the people who felt his contributions to Train Of Thought were too minimal. With the heavy rock style of most of the tracks on this album Rudess demonstrates he was indeed present at the Train Of Thought writing sessions, but more importantly he also reminds the listener that he was also 25% of the Liquid Tension Experiment - the project which could be seen as the initiator of modern-day fusion metal.
Personally, I wasn't particularly impressed with his previous outing Feeding The Wheel, so to me it came as a great surprise that as this is an album demonstrating the rock side of Jordan, we are treated to sixty minutes of great, fast and mostly heavy fusion, which immediately resembles that of precursory Dream Theater keyboardist Derek Sherinian.
Like Sherinian, Rudess produces a wide variety of styles on his album. Opener Time Crunch is what you'd expect on a solo album of a keyboardist from a prog metal band: heavy guitar riffs, super fast solos and lots of power. Halfway Rudess makes room for guitarist Vinnie Moore and lets him play some great solos for the second half of the song. The track is in fact surprisingly guitar-orientated when you think of it. Screaming Head continues in similar vein with more heavy guitar riffs, yet here comes the Jordan Rudess as we know him from Dream Theater: with long drawn, almost guitar-like solos played on his Kurzweil. Rudess makes way for Joe Satriani to play a firing solo, but basically this track is one long string of keyboard solos. It also has some of his trademark 'funny piano themes' in the middle, and an unexpected Moog solo to boot.
The surprise of the album are the two vocal tracks that can be found. Beyond Tomorrow and Tear Before The Rain are both ballads, sung by Kip Winger (of late eighties metal band Winger). Winger has a breathy, slightly hoarse voice, which immediately recalls the various vocalists of The Alan Parsons Project or perhaps Richard Marx. Musically, it's not that far off either, as both tracks are basically a piano-vocal ballad, with some orchestrations. The nine-minute Beyond Tomorrow has a long instrumental section as well though, which is basically a long string of different solos tied together. And Jordan Rudess shows he has been following his prog classes and follows the first rule of 'how to create an ace prog track': add a Moog solo. And no matter if the Moog solo is only 20 seconds in a four-minute instrumental mid-section, it really lives up the song. It really does, it makes the song, if you will. If only the solo would have lasted a bit longer and if only Rudess would be allowed to use a little Moog here and there in Dream Theater.
Jordan Rudess demonstrates that he is one of the fastest keyboard players in the world and for some people there may actually be too much demonstrating going on. Some tracks, most notably Insectsamongus and Ra, seem more a demonstration of his skills and what funny sounds he can produce from his keyboards, than real 'songs'. To his defence, I have to say that the sheer weirdness of the second half of Insectsamongus makes up for the demonstration-like nature of this track. Jordan's take on the Doctor Who theme around the 7-minute mark is just hilarious and the guitar solo at the end reminds of the best of Dream Theater.
As the album has been recorded in the time-span of only two weeks, Rudess can be forgiven his little bits of self-plagiarism here and there. Bits in Screaming Head seem to have been lifted straight from a section of Dream Theater's Beyond This Life, while the use of a sitar sound in Ra inevitably reminds of the track Home.
Special mention must go to Jordan's protégé Daniel J, who plays guitar on pretty much every track on the album. His techniques are equal to those of the veterans that play on the album, and if truth be said, for the music it wouldn't even have been necessary to invite Messrs Satriani, Howe, Moore and Morse to the recordings. Daniel J could have played all those licks himself!
Also included is a very interesting 7-minute movie about the creating of the album. The interview bits are fun to watch and it is great to see Rudess get so animated when he tells about all his new 'toys' with lovely knobs to twist and buttons to push. When watching this movie it becomes a lot more clear how the album was created and you can easily forgive him for some of the more 'keyboard demonstration' type tracks on the album.
There is plenty to enjoy on this album. While the rock purists may frown at the two ballads on the album, they will certainly be delighted by the sound of the bone crunching riffs of tracks like Time Crunch and spine-tingling solos like the guitar solos in What Four? and Insectsamongus, or the keyboard solos in Screaming Head.
In conclusion, if you like what Rudess did with Liquid Tension Experiment, not to mention the Rudess/Morgenstein project, then you should already own this album. But also fans of the work of Derek Sherinian and Planet X, or any other instrumental rock fusion for that matter, should definitely try this album.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Aeon Spoke - Above The Buried Cry
Tracklist: No Answers (3:46); Pablo at the Park (5:15); Suicide Boy (3:34); Grace (5:54); Silence (4:22); Emmanuel (4:37); Face the Wind (5:37); For Good (4:11); Nothing (5:33); Yellowman (3:45)
Knowing that two of the four members of Aeon Spoke were founders of the highly regarded technical/progressive metal band Cynic, I was sure that I knew exactly what to expect from their new project. And I could not – could not – have been more wrong. If you’ve seen the 2001 movie "Rock Star", I can make this rough comparison. Remember the Judas Priest-like band "Steel Dragon" that the Mark Wahlberg character sang for? And now remember the end of the film, when we see him, reunited with the guitarist from his original band, performing indie/acoustic music in a coffee house? Well, that’s the sort of switch in musical direction lyricist/singer/guitarist Paul Masvidal and drummer/keyboardist Sean Reinert have undertaken with their new band (which includes guitarist Evo and bassist Stephen Gambina) – which is not to say that Aeon Spoke’s music is really classifiable as “indie/acoustic.” In fact, I’ve been struggling to find some way to classify the band, but I haven’t yet hit on it.
Perhaps I should begin by talking about the lyrics, because the music is clearly written to suit them and because the album is partly unified by a lyrical theme: “Lyrically the record explores the depths of spiritual isolation that underlies [sic] the human condition,” Masvidal is quoted as saying in the band’s official bio; furthermore, we’re told that Masvidal “worked as a caretaker for the dying while writing the songs for this record.” When I say that the music suits the lyrics, then, do I mean that it’s unrelentingly gloomy and downbeat? Not at all. In fact, this is an out-and-out beautiful album. Furthermore, although the instrumentation is thoroughly traditional – two guitars (mostly acoustic)/bass/drums/a bit of keyboard – and although none of the musicians exhibits any particular virtuosity (although it should go without saying that all the playing is very fine indeed), this group and album sound like no other. If I had to compare Aeon Spoke to any other band, just to give you some sense of their sound, I could, I suppose, say that a few of the songs – especially Emmanuel and Yellowman – vaguely remind me of Radiohead or perhaps Coldplay – those bands’ quieter songs like Fake Plastic Trees or No Surprises, Spies or High Speed. I could add that there’s a remote early-Pink Floyd vibe to parts of the album. But please don’t think I’m saying anything like “Aeon Spoke sounds like Radiohead and Coldplay and Pink Floyd.” That’s just the closest I can come to providing a familiar frame of reference for this utterly original band.
It’s hard for me even to single out the best songs on this fine album, because it really is very much of a piece. That’s not to say that the songs blend into each other, because they most certainly don’t, but only that they are uniform in their quality. I might mention the gorgeous Face the Wind as a favourite – “I faced the wind / Cold drops of rain hit my face and it stung boy / But I faced the wind” – and also Suicide Boy and Pablo at the Park, which are perhaps the peppiest songs on the album, though “peppy” is a relative term here. The album doesn’t rock and doesn’t want to. Although Above the Buried Cry is not a concept album, the songs work together both musically and lyrically so well that it’s hard to listen to it in bits – not that the songs can’t stand alone but that they’re so inviting that I find myself wanting to hear all ten of them each time I play the album. Really, it’s quite a feat this band has accomplished – or rather two feats: to create a wholly unified album whose parts support the whole but also work individually and to put together a ten-song album without a single weak track.
There just isn’t much more for me to say about this album than I’ve said; it must be heard, and I recommend it very highly. You might not want to listen to it when you’re down – but then again you might, not only because the music itself is so beautiful despite the lyrical matter but also because those lyrics are carefully crafted and always ready to find the redemption in the subject. Suicide Boy, for example, begins “Suicide boy you’re gone / You say that waves of joy are breaking beneath your frown” and ends “I hope that you find all the love and the light now you’re free.” The album won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it’s very much to mine, and I can’t wait to hear more from this adventurous, talented band.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Hamadryad - Conservation Of Mass
Tracklist: Eternal Loop (0:49), Amora Demonis (6:58), Carved In Rust (0:23), Still They Laugh (2:22), The Second Round (4:31), Still They Laugh Pt. 2 (2:25), Shades Of Blue (5:26), … Action ! (9:39), Nameless (10:24), The Second Coming (4:23), Watercourse Hymn (10:10)
Whenever I get a CD of a band that I had never heard before, I tend to spin the CD in my player without having to bother with CD jewel and its sleeve notes. My objective is clear: get a feel about their music, full stop. This album was by no exception. I did not even want to observe its lousy cover (to my personal taste). Well, if I merely judged from its cover, I would not bother to purchase this CD, as it did not seem to be a prog cover at all. When I got the early part of their music in my ears, my first impression was “just another” progressive metal band. But, then there was a part with sort of sitar sounds (reminded me to Ravi Shankar) performed in ambient, psychedelic style, and it changed everything. Their music is unique and original. Oh sorry … I don’t mean to say that they are immune from any influence. No no no! There were strong influences of 70’s prog sounds but overall their music is far away from “derivative”.
I only opened the sleeve after the third spin and did some research about the band on the web. The early history of the band centred around two gentlemen in Quebec: - Denis Jalbert (guitar) and Jean-François Désilets (bass) who collaborated through a band to cover Rush. Having changed personnel, band name and music style (they even once took the form of "grunge" style in the vein of Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilot, etc) finally they ended with Hamadryad.
This was their debut album released in 2001 (the copyright was 2000 by Unicorn). Hamadryad's music is a blend of influences from 70’s prog heroes Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant as well as progressive metal of the 90’s with bands like Dream Theater, Pain of Salvation, Fates Warning or Symphony X (especially V album). There are some influences also of Canterbury with Allan Holdsworth style and similarity with the music of Finneus Gauge / Echolyn. Finally the use of Taurus bass pedals reminds me to early Genesis.
The line-up on this album is : Denis Jalbert (6 and 12 electric and acoustic guitars, backing vocals), Jocelyn Beaulieu (lead and backing vocals, 6 string, electric & classical guitars), Jean-François Désilets (bass guitar, lead and back vocals, Taurus & Midi bass pedals), Francis Doucet (C3 Hammond organ, Mellotron, MiniMoog, Roland synthesizers) and Yves Jalbert (drums, percussion, backing vocals).
Let’s have a look Hamadryad's music, track by track.
Eternal Loop - Amora Demonis starts off with a tape loop that did not attract me at all. Luckily, it ends relatively soon (49 secs) and flows to the second track Amora Demonis. The intro part with heavy riffs on guitar is good enough to conclude the progressive metal nuance of this song. The vocal part is performed in high tone; it reminds me to the voice of Laura Martin of Finneus Gauge. The beginning part is a heavy rhythm section dominated by guitar and it then flows into a slower tempo with a guitar fills in Hackett-ian style. The solo guitar style is a blend of Holdsworth and Alex Lifeson. It’s a stunning double guitar solo augmented with the works on sitar by Denis. The last half of the song reminds me to Finneus Gauge style. An excellent track and it has since become my favourite.
Carved In Rust is a very short, but very nice though, a capella track in the vein of Gentle Giant and Queen and set an excellent tone for the next track onwards. (In my opinion these four tracks: Carved In Rust – Still They Laugh – The Second Round – Still They Laugh Pt. 2 should be packaged into one epic and enjoyed its entirety as one song). Still They Laugh opens with a guitar fills and accompanying music in the vein of neo prog style performed in psychedelic mood. The harmony between lead and backing vocals is really wonderful. The Mellotron sound at the end of this song is really catchy and brings us to 70’s prog scene. This then flows seamlessly to the next song.
The Second Round with its Hammond intro reminds me to the nuance of IQ's Subterranea. The tempo turns relatively faster whilst still maintaining the original tagline melody of previous track. The guitar riffs remind me to the work of Scott McGill from Finneus Gauge. In this song the band has created a melody even more catchy than previous. I can taste the vocal quality of Jocelyn Beaulieu, it is excellent and unique. I tend to disagree with any review that has stated the similarity with Jon Anderson. In my opinion, they have different vocal timbres even though they each sing almost entirely in a high register. The last part of this song contains singing style of Gentle Giant and it clears the pathway to bring the music back to the Still They Laugh nuance.
The Hackett’s guitar fills style return in the intro of Still They Laugh Pt. 2, however this time, the work of the keyboard background is mixed heavier than the first part and at the end it dominates the closing part. It reminds me of the style of 70’s Symphonic Slam. Another great song the band has composed is Shades Of Blue - its opening dominated by double guitar work, one gives the guitar fills is typical of Genesis and the other guitar gives a howling sound. The guitar fills sound like Marillion in the Clutching At Straw album. Overall tone of the song is psychedelic with a catchy melody. The bass line is stunning.
The hard rock influence (of Led Zeppelin) is obvious in ...Action !. However, as what is typical in prog rock, there is tempo change as well. When the music turns quieter and slower in tempo, the lead guitar solo is a reminiscent of neo prog style. It’s a stunning guitar work that sometimes sounds like Floyd as well. In the middle, the music turns faster again demonstrating electric guitar in the vein of Holdsworth, but with heavy metal speed. It then continues with a nice Hammond solo.
Nameless kicks of with heavy rhythm with some riffs and keyboard solo augmented with a dynamic bass line. It gives a sense of progressive metal scene at the beginning. But when the Hammond organ starts to roar, it sounds like 70’s prog – reminiscent of Keith Emerson. This is the longest track on the album and the music flows smoothly in a somewhat psychedelic way with some changing tempo. In quieter passages (approx minute 6:15), the organ work reminds me to Genesis’ Watcher of The Skies. The ambient vocal line enriches the song composition. The last part of the song sounds like an encore of neo prog tune and it’s really good to conclude the album, actually.
The Second Coming is composed differently whereby acoustic guitar fills dominate the rhythm part. Piano and vibes augment the music during transition parts. Melody wise, this is a ballad song with some proggy touches. It’s accessible to most listeners, I think. Watercourse Hymn is an epic song with four sections, performed in a relatively moderate tempo. Again, acoustic guitar is used heavily, augmented with keyboard. The double acoustic guitar solo during the transition at the middle of the song is really stunning. It’s a cool song. There is nice keyboard solo during the ending part of the song. The song ends up with an acoustic guitar touch, which to my personal taste, gives a sense of a "loose end" to conclude the entire album. I would prefer Nameless to conclude the album as it has a powerful climax at the end.
Overall, this album is beautifully composed, well structured, rich with catchy melody in many segments, integrating a wide range of musical elements and influences but is still cohesive as an album. The skills contributed by each musician were all at par excellent with special attention on dynamic bass lines, roaring keyboard / Hammond in symphonic and psychedelic style, powerful high tone vocals, and stunning double guitar harmony. Musically, this is an excellent and almost flawless debut album. Despite heavy influences from previous bands, their music is not derivative. As far as musical flow, I would expect the band conclude the album with something climactic that brings listener to musical ecstasy and curious mind that drive for another spins. Unfortunately it does not really happen as the concluding track has a bit of loosening end. Beside music, I think the CD sonic quality requires more of bass sound. The album cover is also another downside element. Otherwise, Hamadryad is a band to consider in prog arena. Highly recommended album!
Note: After debut album release and some gigs performed, the band’s lead singer decided to leave the band pursuing a solo career. The band is now working on the second studio album as a four-piece band.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Yang - A Complex Nature
Tracklist: Les Deux Mondes [The Two Worlds] (8:16), Souterrain [Subterranean] (6:35), Seducteur Innocent [Innocent Seducer] (5:46), Compassion [Compassion] (4:26), Homme-Enfant [Manchild] (4:41), Impatience [Impatience] (7:03), Le Masque Rouge [The Red Mask] (5:27), Orgueil [Pride] (5:54)
When it comes to aesthetics, I may be the biggest bitch ever known (testosterone notwithstanding). Carl Jung says it has something to do with my INFP temperament; me, I say I’m just picky. And not so much with edibles and drink, perhaps a little more with chemical stimulation, but with all art, and especially music and literature: oh yeah. I’m terrible. But, also, I’m great that way, because I’m not pretending to Platonic universality in my assessment of “good” and “bad”. Instead, I’m simply saying, “This moved me.” Or, “This has failed to move me.” If the artistry is, for me, utter shite, I’ll let you know; if I find it brilliant, I won’t deny it.
Yang’s 2004 debut release, A Complex Nature, is indeed brilliant, and if it isn’t the single best new recording I’ve heard this year, I’m not sure what is. It isn’t necessarily ultimate sonic innovation many of the sounds have been unveiled before in other contexts but it is very crafty, very well conceived, and perfectly realized.
Yang is guitarist/composer Frederic L´Epee’s new ensemble. L´Epee has fronted two well received progressive-slash-avant garde groups in the past (Shylock and Philharmonie) and he truly fronts his new gig, remarking, “[Yang] is not a new Philharmonie. I am for the moment? the only composer…” I wouldn’t, through personal experience, have any idea about a) the quality of L´Epee’s earlier work or b) the degree to which Yang echoes Philharmonie, since I didn’t know L´Epee from Adam before receiving this review copy of A Complex Nature. Instead of laurels, I’m concerned, in the “What have you done for me lately, baby?” sort of way, about what is Yang, here and now. Cuneiform’s press release tells me, in glowing terms, that L´Epee’s guitar prowess and compositional acumen are respectable, at the least, and formidable most of the time. If Cuneiform’s hype is over-exaggerated, I won’t say; but I will say that L´Epee offers praiseworthy music intense, vital, sly, and always accessible in Yang’s first run out of the chute.
A Complex Nature was recorded in a three-day span to maintain the spontaneity of the compositions. Great plan, and it succeeded: the music percolates and jumps, or reclines sensually, with life and verve. (Kudos to Frederic Betin, who recorded and mixed the CD, for preserving the band’s essence with balance and power.)
The recording’s initial track is Les Deux Mondes and reveals instantly that, despite the band’s name, we will be treated to both yin and yang, interplays of light and dark, soft and hard, gentleness and rage. The opening guitar is very abrasive and heavy with a shockingly plodding drum part (dirge Led Zeppelin, if you will) but both lend the song a tense, sinister air. At about 1:10, the guitar solo spirals upward and expands the contours of the song. At 1:55 comes the first segue into a softer passage: the band excels at this, and these transitions always make emotional as well as compositional sense. (Yin/Yang.) At 2:25, the atmosphere takes on a slightly watery or rainy texture, like a cool, mid-Spring shower. Then back to the heavy riffing: I get the point (Ying/Yang) and while it’s not my favourite moment in the song, it does make the title more fitting the world of sunshine, ease, and joy, up against the world of ogres, nightmares, cancer, and bomb blasts, ad infinitum. Fripp’s influence is obvious in the more angular picking (but it’s not contemporary Fripp, thank God, but rather the Fripp of Islands-through-Discipline). Interestingly, some of the darker passages remind a bit of John Paul Jones’ most recent solo output. There’s even a slight hint of Santana to make you wonder. The drummer, Volodia Brice, is especially accomplished on the percussive hardware in quieter moments. My only complaint about this track is that the bass was hardly noticeable.
Next, Souterrain commences with a very peculiar rhythm: the two guitars aren’t synchronized, or …? A fantastically irregular groove follows: it swings but you sure can’t dance to it! The variation between the two guitar tones is slight in places but exquisite: just enough of a complement to each other. There is a repeating trend wherein the harsher guitar is layered over jazz chords: this could be tedious, a bothersome experiment, but it charms. Here and throughout, the guitars (miraculously) never interfere with each other: beautiful blending, which is what Yang does best. Gorgeous, really.
Seducteur Innocent is one of two compositions that steer near pop melodicism and beg for a vocalist and lyrics. I appreciate the use of a recurring riff throughout; it gives the ear an anchor (which isn’t very Zen-like, but there you have it.) The band manages to stay ominous but with lines you want to hum. Again, the musical shifts all highlight a strong understanding of composition and how to offset, combine certain tones to concoct a whole work, without declining into some noisy concatenation of unrelated musical phrases.
The fourth track, Compassion, is slightly too long and too unvarying, but it contains a haunting nursery-rhyme style opening of slow arpeggios, clear, clean, and gentle, introduced later to a crisper, irritated guitar tone that reminds a bit of Starless. I thought the final staccato chords were smart: everyone hits it, and then signs off. To this point, the compositions consistently impress me as tight, neat, trim, and sensical, with enough fire and grit to keep them fascinating even in the mellower, somnolent passages. And there is trickery, like odd signatures that nonetheless never hurt the cause, but it keeps you pleasantly outwitted and never seems contrived.
The CD continues with Homme-Enfant (Yin/Yang), which showcases a playful, twangy introduction and what I think must pass as the recording’s only bass solo (by Stephane Bertrand). The pastoral softness and sweeter ambience alternates with energized and galloping guitar blasts: Yang is a guitarist’s and guitar fan’s dream. The song closes with an almost Doors-like atmospheric, restrained and buoyant and looping the same musical pattern, to end abruptly.
Impatience announces “Hurry! C’mon; get on with it! Move!” via a guitar line that seems to bellow, but it’s not manic or ill natured, just simply the need for an increased pace, justified or not. Yang uses a hybrid jazz guitar sound throughout: mostly clear with a slight touch of effect, that is close to loungy but never sappy. I hear echoes of King Crimson’s The Sailor’s Tale from Islands. The juxtaposition of truly patient phrases with anxious ones is no surprise by now (Yin/Yang) but it’s never stale. This track makes me admire Yang for the absence of thrash and shredding; L´Epee and Julien Vecchie (L´Epee’s student) are obviously skilled technicians but they never sacrifice the song’s thematic intention to the altar of mere showmanship. These are musicians, in my opinion of the word’s true meaning: creators and performers, with respect for both roles. Le Masque Rouge hands us the only clichéd moment of the effort, with its near-heavy metal frontal assault. It’s otherwise quite like a King Crimson, Red-era motif, dangerous with paranoid modulations. I can’t tell if I like the recurring riff or not, but it’s absolutely begging for lyrics. Finally, Orgueil rounds off the session. Yang saved the best drumming for last, apparently. This has a cool soundtrack feel to it, and it ventures into traditional rock voices and conventions but twists them well to avoid hackneyed playing. The bass solo around 5:00 is snappy and on target.
There isn’t a dead song on this CD, which is a gift in this day-and-age of remarkably masturbatory filler. All the compositions are precise and vigorous, never trading energy for form, or vice versa. Let it be said: This is totally a guitar showcase. The Bertrand and Brice are very good but both somewhat subdued throughout the majority of A Complex Nature. Still, I was never bothered by this, and I am usually a fan of prominent bass playing, at least. But I was enraptured by the guitar interplay, as I normally am not, and I liked the rhythm section performing the canvas for L´Epee’s and Vecchie’s paint, which is to say, performing like … a rhythm section. I pondered here-and-there how Yang might pan out with a passionate vocalist, well-penned lyrics, and compositions more along the lines of traditional songs. But it was just a fleeting supposition, an option for consideration, because in the end an unnecessary one, because this band is extremely mature and forceful, as is. Compositionally, a near juggernaut, with an uncanny awareness of song craft, catchiness, and tact. And straight-up brilliant. And if this is where the future of rock music is headed (no lyrics; brave compositions that don’t simply batter the listener with wankery, sonic booms, zombie chops; and subtle, flavoured ensemble playing), then I’m on board. I will explore Shylock and Philharmonie while I await my next dose of Yang.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Chroma Key - Graveyard Mountain Home
Tracklist: YYY (2:11), Give Up (4:05), White Robe (4:56), Mother’s Radio (4:16), Graveyard Mountain Home (2:32), Salvation (2:40), Before You Started (4:24), Human Love (6:01), Come In, Over (5:02), Pure Laughter (2:08), Andrew Was Drowning His Stepfather (2:12), Sad Sad Movie (5:38), True And Lost (2:30), Again Today (4:46)
I have never reviewed an album of Chroma Key and after listening to Graveyard Mountain Home I know why. I also completely understand why Kevin Moore left Dream Theater after the release of their third album Awake (1994). The music of Chroma Key has absolutely no connection or DT influences whatsoever ... Kevin Moore mixes dark ambient, post rock and psychedelic music to create Chroma Key’s music. So this album could best be compared with mysterious and psychedelic bands like for example: Tortoise, Millenia Nova, Sigur Ros and Pink Floyd in their very early days.
The basis for this album is a movie, which suits as a source of moods, which were put into musical soundscapes by Kevin Moore. Just listen to songs like: Mother’s Radio, Before You Started or Come In, Over, which are “ filled” with rather strange soundscapes, Oriental musical influences and rhythms. In lots of tracks Kevin uses an acoustic guitar to create a certain atmosphere, like for instance in Graveyard Mountain Home and White Robe. For people that like ambient or lounge music I can recommend songs like Give Up or Pure Laughter. Weirdest songs on the album are: Human Love (longest track on the album featuring a strange narrative voice) and Andrew Was Drowning His Stepfather (nice title, by the way), which can hardly be described as music ...
It really is an album for people who like melancholic, dark and atmospheric music, and to be honest it is not my cup of tea. It kind of reminds me of Pain Of Salvation’s Be sometimes and regular readers of this site know how I feel about that album. If you liked Chroma Key’s other albums and Kevin’s contribution on the OSI Project, then you probably will like this album as well. A typical album for dark, wintry afternoons ...
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Kalevala - Anthology
Disc One: Made In Sweden (I Don’t Care) (8:17), Shaking all Over (7:28), Antti (3:55), Jokaiseen Jokaiseen (6:05), Myskya Pakoon (5:20), Verkossa (10:15), Rockin Fish (2:52), Playground (4:50), Abraham’s Blue Refrain Parts 1 & 2 (7:55), Boogie (8:35), If We Found The Time (4:05), Panamanian Red (6:23)
Disc Two: Silver Fish (3:31), Lighthouse (4:00), Forever Train (3:31), Abraham’s Blue Refrain Parts 1 & 2 (6:43), Brown’ll Might Suit You (2:42), Highland Temple (3:50), Playground (3:10), Marketbox Street (3:08), Panamanian Red (5:06), The Song (5:07), Runaways (4:02), Turkish Pepper (4:10), Set In Time (3:26), Icebear Walk (5:03)
This two-disc set from obscure Finnish 70’s prog rockers Kalevala, whilst being a worthwhile release, is something of a mixed bag to say the least.
The first disc, containing live material from 1970 to 1977, starts off disappointingly with a raw, guitar driven hard rock number with jamming tendencies. The sound quality is not great and this track and the next (a perfunctory cover of Shaking All Over which is far too long) are both skipable. Thankfully the music gets more interesting from the third track, which has a prog/folk feel with lively whistles and flutes adding rustic charm. The Finnish vocals may be off-putting to some. Jokaiseen Jokaiseen is better still, adding sax for a mid paced proto-prog number- with a quirky style hinting at Gong in places. This track is a definite winner. The sound quality is improved here also. Myskya Pakoon is another goody with more spiralling, jazzy sax, fluid Bass runs, great guitar and a hint of funk. Verkossa is a 10 minute jam with some great sax, recalling fellow Finns Tasavallan Presidentti or perhaps Norwegians Burnin’ Red Ivanhoe.
One major flaw with the mostly excellent packaging is that the booklet, whilst containing an informative history of the band’s various line-ups (and some nice photos), fails to state which tracks are from which line-up. I assume that tracks 4 to 6 are from the 1972 line-up and that track 7 onwards features the 1977 line-up. These tracks see the addition of keyboards and the distinctive (English) vocals of Zape Leppanen. The music becomes more straightforward and rocky, with a pronounced Family vibe, courtesy of the amazing similarity of the vocals to those of b>Roger Chapman. Your enjoyment of these tracks will depend on how you take to the vocals. I am not a great Family fan, but I did enjoy these quirky rock songs, and the singing is pretty powerful. The sound quality for these tracks is little better than bootleg quality, which is a bit of a disappointment.
The other glaring error on the first disc is that the track list on the cover does not tally with the tracks as programmed on the disc. For some reason tracks 7 and 8 on the disc are listed as one on the cover, throwing the rest of the track list out. This kind of sloppiness detracts from the overall effect of the package.
The second disc features the first CD release of their third album Abraham’s Blue Refrain, which has been re-mastered so obviously the sound quality is much higher than on the first disc. The music is borderline prog, crossing more of those Family-isms with a West Coast and American folk rock vibe. Jim Pembroke of fellow Finns Wigwam provides lyrics, so fans of theirs may well like this disc. My favourite tracks here include; the stunning Lighthouse, with a superb and affecting vocal, reminding me of Jefferson Airplane; the devilishly convoluted vocal melodies of Forever Train; the catchy yet proggy Playground; and the slick and funky jazz rock Panamanian Red, with some scorching guitar breaks. The title track is also worth mentioning, being a fragile ballad, with some nice, delicate piano. It is a touch mournful but nice all the same
The disc is completed by five tracks from a 1995 reunion, which features Pekka Pohjola, also ex- Wigwam, on bass. These tracks successfully update the Kalevala sound, with the addition of violin adding a symphonic edge to the work. The Song is a particularly powerful track, showing that Zape’s vocals have lost none of their force or impact, and Turkish Pepper lives up to its name with a spicy exotic flavour, over a steady rock backbeat. Overall, I prefer the new material to that of the original album, which is a rare occurrence as far as reunion projects go.
The patchy quality (both in terms of material and sound wise) of the first disc makes it a fans only affair and this brings the overall score for this set down a bit, but the second disc is much better. It’s worth owning for fans of the band, Family, Wigwam, Finnish rock in general, and lovers of quirky, individual rock music with a prog/jazz/folk twist.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10