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Reviews in This Issue:


Vanden Plas - Far Off Grace
Special Edition Re-Issues
Vanden Plas - Far Off Grace
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:Inside Out
Catalogue #:IOMCD155
Year of Release:2004
Time:70:22
Samples:Vanden Plas
Info:Click Here

Tracklist: I Can See (4.01), Far Off Grace (7.03), Into The Sun (6.32), Where is the Man (6.10), Iodic Rain (6.13), I Don't Miss You (3.51), Inside Of Your Head (6.54), Fields Of Hope (6.44), I'm In You (6.42)
Bonus Tracks: Kiss of Death (5.41), Shape of my Heart (4.44) Iodic Rain [Live Video]

Vanden Plas - The God Thing
Special Edition Re-Issues
Vanden Plas - The God Thing
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:Inside Out
Catalogue #:IOMCD154
Year of Release:2004
Time:70:33
Samples:Vanden Plas
Info:Click Here

Tracklist: Fire Blossom (2.55), Rainmaker (6.39), Garden of Stones (7.47), In You:I Believe (4.29), Day I Die (6.04), Crown of Thorns (6.44), we're Not God (7.12), Salt in my Wounds (7.21), You Fly (7.31)
Bonus Tracks: Combien De Larmes (4.29), You Fly (9.22)

How could a band that I'd never even heard of, produce music of such sublime heaviness and beauty? That was the question I asked myself when I first came across this Garman band named after a car, four years or so ago. Thinking that there must be more of this stuff hidden away within the musical underground, I started searching the web to quench my new thirst for previously undiscovered purveyors of beautifully heavy music. And so began my love of progressive rock and metal in all its various forms. No surprise therefore, that Far Off Grace holds a special place as one of my all time favourite albums.

You only have to listen to the immense title track that launches this album. 'Phenomenal' isn't a word that I use to describe a track very often. But 'Phenomenal' is the only word I can use to describe this amazing piece of music. Take the punchy chord rhythm and catchy chorus of Into The Sun; take the dark, crying emotion of Where Is The Man; the sarcastic love letter that is I Don't Miss You; the rolling drum riffs and odd meters that dominate Iodic Rain's six minutes of manic intensity; the staccato riffs and supreme melody of live favourite I Can See; the flowing keyboard and guitar solos that split the progressive, ever-changing musical scenery of Inside Your Head; the wacky middle-eastern opening to Fields Of Hope and the reflective mood that builds into the rousing climax of the closing track I'm In You.

It's been five years since its release and I can honestly say that it still sounds as fresh and exciting now as it did the very first time I listen to it. An absolute classic of the genre that few progressive metal albums will ever surpass.

The God Thing was the band's second album and while not in the same class as the above, it does hold two of the band's best tracks. Rainmaker is the one that many identify with the band. Built on a slightly evil-sounding riff; the towering keyboards, some crazy bass work and sublime melodies lead to a chorus that truly boasts one of my favourite hooks ever. The title track also hits me every time. A very complex structure, hides a gloriously addictive chorus and there are lyrics that hold a prophecy for a future doom as we meddle with creation. An absolute belter when played live as well.

Elsewhere it's a far more thoughtful album, where the mood and lyrical messages are the dominating ingredients. You have the thought-provoking lyrics of Garden Of Stones that deal with singer Andy Kuntz's confrontations with drugs and an evil sect; the evocative bass lines that drive In You: I Believe and I'll Fly which is dedicated to the Kuntz brother's grandfather who guided the family though the horrors of the second world war. There's also the cello and piano ballad that is Crown Of Thorns featuring the lovely line: 'Fly me morning to the whisper of the trees, to the knowledge of the moonlight, the deception of the peace'

This pair of reissues forms just a small part of the bumper special edition package from Inside Out that also features albums by Threshold, Tiles and Spocks Beard. All have been digitally remastered and housed in slipcases that feature extended booklets with liner notes and a sizeable collection of photographs. The God Thing has two bonus tracks: Combien De Larmes (the French studio version of How Many Tears) and You Fly. The later is taken from the band's appearance at the Elysee Montmartre in Paris in 2000, but is one of the tracks that never made it onto the Spirit Of Live album.

Far Off Grace also has two bonus tracks - the great little version of the Dokken classic Kiss Of Death (the studio version not the one from the live album) and the balladic Shape Of My Heart, which has some great lyrics. There's also a live video of Iodic Rain, taken from their Wacken set in 2002.

Unless you're a Vanden Plas completist, then I can't really see that it's worth anyone who already has these albums shelling out again. However if you've ever wondered what this band is like, but never got around to finding out, then either of these great value packages provides the best excuse you'll ever find. What are you waiting for?

Conclusions:

Far Off Grace : 10 out of 10
The God Thing : 8 out of 10

Andy Read


Il Castello Di Atlante - Quintessenza
Il Castello Di Atlante - Quintessenza
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Electromantic Music
Catalogue #:Art112
Year of Release:2004
Time:46:54
Info:Il Castello Di Atlante
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Non Puoi Fingere (12:19), Il Marinen Forgia Il Sampo (7:50), Il Tempo A Venire (3:25), Cavalcando Tra Le Nuvole (7:06), Questo Destino (14:59), Il Tempo A Venire (1:15)

Of all the CD's I reviewed last year, one of my favourites was Il Bianco Regno Di Dooah by Conzorsio Acqua Potibile (CAP). Il Castello Di Atlante have much in common with that group; They also have their roots in the Italian Prog scene of the mid to late 1970’s; They did not record until the early 1990’s; They play a rich symphonic progressive rock overflowing with influences from PFM, Jethro Tull, Genesis and Banco.

In addition to this, the strong presence of violin as a lead instrument highlights similarities with Quella Vechia Loccanda and the rippling pianos and emotional vocals recall another of my favourites, La Loccanda De La Fate.

Of their earlier albums, I have their first (Sogno Il Signore Del Terra Del Nord) and third (L’Ippogriffo). Whilst they are both enjoyable albums, the compositions lacked some of the power and punch of, say, the best of PFM, and the modern production and shrill keyboard sounds made it difficult to truly engage with the material, ensuring that both discs remained in the “nice but inessential” part of my collection.

I am pleased to report that Quintessenza, their fifth release, sees a marked upturn in both the production and the compositions. The opening track Non Puoi Fingere reveals a warmer production, ditching most of the harsher synth textures and capturing more of the feel of the classic Italian sound. The composition is likewise improved, with a much tighter grip on the flow of the piece, with smoother transitions between the various sections and a keen sense of thematic development. These qualities prevail throughout the disc, making this their strongest effort to date. The main melodic theme of the opening track sounds like it evolved from a similar theme on Steve Hackett’s Voyage Of The Acolyte. This may just be coincidence, but either way, the melody is sufficiently different (and hugely enjoyable) that it doesn’t matter where the inspiration came from. As with most of my favourites from the Italian scene, this track (and the disc as a whole) takes influences from rock, jazz, classical and folk and blends them into a seamless whole, creating a bubbling stew of sound, which reveals new delights with every listen.

Il Marinen Forgia Il Sampo is another great track, opening with a boldly stated Tull-ish folky riff, which later reappears as a fully blown medieval dance. keyboards, guitars, and violins all entwine in a skilfully handled mix. The vocals are definitely to my liking, having that emotional quality that has long been a tradition in Italian song. There are also some brief harmonies and accapella sections. All the vocals are in Italian, so be warned, those who don’t like Non-English vocals. My only quibble with this track is that it was written and recorded for the Kallevala various artists compilation project, meaning: I already have it, and lyrically at least, it makes little sense when taken out of the context of the epic Finnish poem on which the project was based. Of course, if I had written a track as good as this one, I would want it to reach a wide audience, but, call me greedy if you will, I personally would have liked another new track instead – at forty-six minutes, this is not a long album, and this track could still have been tagged on as a bonus.

Il Tempo A Venire, although short, is one of the finest tracks, beginning with delicate guitar and piano under a heartfelt vocal, before breaking out into a brief but powerful and moving melody in the same vein as the PFM classic Impressione di Septembre. It’s poignant and memorable and has all the grandeur of the finest classical themes. It’s a lovely track. Cavalcando Tra Le Nuvole stands out as a joyful instrumental canter through a light and jazzy melody, executed with typical Mediterranean élan. Its violin-led melody is easy on the ear and reminds me of the Ossana offshoot Citta Frontale or PFM circa Passpartu.

Questo Destino is the longest track on the disc, but it flows through its various sections in compelling fashion. There is a noticeably stronger Genesis feel on this track but with added violin, and there are plenty of other twists and surprises to be had along the way. Again, with strong melodic development and precise instrumental interplay, it’s a winner from start to finish.

The CD concludes with a reprise of the concluding section of Il Tempo A Venire. With a tune this good it’s worth restating it and it makes a superb, majestic finish, guaranteed to leave you wanting more.

I was very pleasantly surprised by this CD, it finally sees Il Castello.. fulfilling their promise. Fans of Italian Symphonic prog should not hesitate in seeking it out. I think I still slightly prefer the CAP from last year, as it was a more unified work and had a few more of the quirky twists and turns that I like, but there’s not much in it, they are both great CD’s!

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Dave Sissons


Tr3nity - Precious Seconds
Tr3nity - Precious Seconds
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:GFT Cyclops
Catalogue #:CYCL 138
Year of Release:2004
Time:67:33
Info:Tr3nity
Samples:Click here

Track list Livin’ A Lie (13:52), Run Before You Walk (11:30), From Afar (10:01), More Than I Deserve (11:58), The Last Great Climb (20:12)

It is as clear as anything that Tr3nity stand squarely in that musical tradition affectionately known as ‘old school prog’. The band themselves make no secrets about their musical roots and indeed their second album, Precious Seconds, breaths that whole atmosphere. Their debut album, released in 2002, was entitled The Cold Light Of Darkness. Don’t get me wrong, even though all the elements developed by the ‘big five’ of the seventies are there, like the 10 to 20 minute epics, Tr3nity succeed in making that music 'their own'. It’s not like they sound ‘like this’ or sound ‘like that’. They just have the interest, the competence and the patience to put their story to that kind of music. Music with a positive purpose (musically as well as spiritually), they call it. If you’re not much into experimentation and innovation in progressive rock, this is as good a continuation of ‘mainstream prog’ as anything. It will be superfluous, therefore, to compare to the all-too-obvious sources of inspiration in terms of bands. For illustration (and for a change), let me only refer to particular albums with similar twists instead.

Their first song, Livin’ A Lie, opens with an intro where band members Paul Gath (keyboards) and Rob Davenport (guitars) put their fingerprints on things straight away. The growling synths and organs in the background and wailing guitar is an effective tool from the prog toolbox (compare The World or The Window of Life). This leads us across the first bridge with taped voices and sound effects to an instrumental passage where a tight rhythm section kicks in to support alternating guitar and keyboard riffs and solos (Raindances). The verse and chorus made me think of the American AOR bands of the seventies and eighties, if only because vocalist Chris Campbell’s voice reminded me of Steve Walsh. The band is at it best when they launch into an instrumental section again with a furious guitar solo backed up by groovy bass and drums. After a playful ‘blues bar’ interlude ( I Can See Your House From Here), the band are ready to take us through the last two parts of a catchy instrumental ending (first guitar and then frantic keyboards), picking up the main melodic theme again (Mirage).

The second song, Run Before You Walk, begins with an excellent piano & vocal section, joined by lead guitar and rhythm section after a few verses. Then there is a quieter interlude with electric guitar against a piano backdrop. After building up the tension, a guitar solo takes us full throttle through a musical landscape. After revisiting the quiet section with verse and chorus in 6/8, the song ends with an enjoyable and energetic instrumental passage, with duelling guitar in 4/4 and organ in 13/16, that lasts quite some time but without seeming long. It sweeps you along, like being taken from Selling England... and Dark Side... to The Jewel... and Songs From The Lion’s Cage.

From Afar, the next track, begins with a playful guitar and organ piece, accompanying verse and chorus like something that could be on Please Don’t Touch. When I say that the middle piece could be from Wind And Wuthering, you know we are visiting the late seventies. Personally, I find this a very tasteful and powerful episode in progressive rock, so I don’t mind commending Tr3nity for understanding how that kind of thing is done. If only because the singer has a completely different voice, the music has it’s distinct quality. There is only one point where I cringe every time I hear it, and that is when Campbell sings “Rainy day” in the chorus. It sounds out of tune (or, if it isn’t that, it slept at least one night under the same roof), so that I wonder why they didn’t solve that in a more convincing way.

This is all the more surprising as Campbell does great in the second song as well as in the next song, More Than I Deserve. Accompanied solely by electric piano he launches us right into A Curious Feeling, as it were, in this classic song/instrumental passage/song type track. I think keyboardist Paul Gath probably doesn’t mind being in Tony Banks‘ footsteps. The repetitive chords are simple but effective, taking you on a musical journey with different layers of instrumentation. Drums and bass are effective here as well, plugging along in a captivating tempo. As far as lyrics go, here we see something of Tr3nity’s spiritually positive - even Christian - purpose: hope, thankfulness, and a longing for connectedness at the heart of their music.

The final and longest song of the album, The Last Great Climb, is surely their 'piece de resistance'. This 20-minute epic captures most of what they prove to be capable of on the rest of the album. It tells the story of a friend who leaves for a hike in the mountains, enjoying the beauty of God’s creation, never to return however as he dies in an accident. The moral is that we never know what to expect in this life and as tomorrow may be our last day we should consider if we are doing the right things. So, ‘the last great climb’ is not only the last thing the man did physically, but also a metaphor for dying. Music-wise we are treated to a composition consisting in several parts. The band take their time to move from the chorus and verse to instrumental movements. It is an epic all right, but not a cut-n-paste job. I have that same feeling that I have with Pride and Stardust We Are - it goes on and on in an lively pace, time passes before you know it, and yet it doesn’t wear out.

What can be said about this last song, can be said about the entire CD.. Maybe the compositions do not stand out as really exceptional chord and melody writing. But the musicians play it with skill and flair, which gives the compositions an agreeable amount of style and honesty. Perhaps one or two guitar solos could have been a bar or so shorter. And overall the productions sounds a bit ‘dry’, as if the instruments have not been recorded in the same room and don’t always ‘gel’ fully as a ‘warm’ whole. However that may be, Tr3nity know what they want to do and what they’re capable of, and they do it well. If you’re into that venerable tradition of ‘old school prog’, here’s one of the worthy inheritors.

Conclusion: 8- out of 10

Bart Cusveller


Thork - We Ila
Thork - We Ila
Country of Origin:France
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:-
Year of Release:2004
Time:66:30
Info:Thork
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: L'origine (11:40), Délectable Ennui (9:07), Errance (1:07), Ea (21:18), Errances (1:04), Danse De La Terre (10:48), Immanence (11:26)

Dark folk progressive rock, I do not know of many record stores having a large collection in that area but that's where Thork should be stored. It says so on the back of the CD sleeve: file under dark folk progressive rock. In my opinion you can then keep it filed there. DPRP has also reviewed their 2000 Urdoxa release.

This album has some enjoyable and original moments but it is a pity that you have to wade through numerous minutes of pretentious musical mush just to get there. At first I thought it just needed some getting used to, but weeks and spins later, it still has not connected. 'Dark' I can understand, 'Folk' I do not understand at all (or maybe the use of violins is their excuse), 'Progressive Rock' is also hard to understand`, fusion/avant garde could also have been used.

The first track sounds very promising: it has keyboards, guitars, drums and what's even better: it has melody. But after this first track that seems to drain from the music slowly. There is little melody to be recognized and Thork starts losing themselves in half completed loops, a casual note here and there. The strange thing is that I really like L'origine, almost as much as I dislike all other tracks. I have the same feeling with some Flower King's albums: I know a lot of people like them, but I have never really learnt to appreciate them but feel that I am the one at fault, not the music. Because I wanted to make sure I was not missing the point this album got more spins than I normally give for a review. We Ila is one of those albums that you have to listen to more than once because the first time you will not really appreciate it. However even after all those spins I still do not really like it. This album is too complex for me - and this time I have decided it is the music, not me.

The best feature of this band is by far their web site: a beautiful flash-based collection of weird pictures and designs that makes a very different but enjoyable browsing experience. I do not know who created the web site but it is really creative and original. The same theme is also used on the CD cover.

Back to the music, have a listen at the MP3 samples and decide for yourself but for me this is an absolute no no. Too complex, too dreamy to incoherent. Not my cup of tea. Apart from Track One, that is, I like that one.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Dries Dokter


Disen Gage - The Screw Loose Entertainment
Disen Gage - The Screw Loose Entertainment
Country of Origin:Russia
Format:CD
Record Label:R.A.I.G.
Catalogue #:R004
Year of Release:2004
Time:51:31
Info:Disen Gage
Samples:-

Tracklist: Solaris (5:24), Komar (3:46), Augenapfel (3:00), Kategeriin (4:13), Arabia (4:57), Chinagroove #17 (3:35), Witchtanz (4:08), Latino (4:01), Jewboilove (4:53), Waltz (2:06)
Bonus Live Tracks: Solaris (4:08), Theme (4:02), Chinagroove #15 (3:33)

Konstantin Mochalov (guitar and keyboards), Yury Alaverdyan (guitar and percussion) and Nikolai Syrtsev (bass, percussion and keyboards) first united in 1999 whilst students in the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute. The line-up was completed with the addition of drummer Evgeny Kudryashov and the instrumental quartet soon became a popular attraction at local gigs and festivals. By 2002 conflicts of maintaining academic careers and becoming a rock star meant that the band were forced to keep a low profile. However, although things were pretty quiet on the live scene, the group did manage to arrange a few late night sessions in a recording studio to preserve their original material for posterity. Originally conceived as a cassette for friends, family and fans to commemorate the end of the band, the impact was ruined when they decided not to split up! Picked up by the Russian Association of Independent Genres, the recordings have found their first proper release as a limited edition (1000 copies only!) CD complete with three bonus live cuts.

Opener Solaris sets the tone starting with ethereal keyboard tones leading into an almost psychedelic groove akin to Ozric Tentacles in their prime. With the next track, Komar, we get to the crux of the band, the interplay between the dual guitars of Mochalov and Alaverdyan, one providing the rhythm and the other incessant sound effects that bring to mind King Crimson. This comparison continues with Augenapfel which features some nice soloing. The bass of Nikolai Syrtsev is prominent throughout and takes a more up front role in the percussion-laden Katergeriin which features a more ethnic beat and a return of the spacey keyboards. A few power chords and some rather strange spoken passages (which reminded me somewhat of Vivian Stanshall's performance on Tubular Bells) add to the interest. Arabia does, as one would expect from the name, have a more Eastern feel and takes the band into more of a fusion direction, like something from an early Al Di Meola album. Memories of early Twelfth Night are brought to the fore in Chinagroove #17 while Witchtanz is rather more discordant and although along similar lines to what had gone before is perhaps rather too fragmentary to work completely. Credit to the band though for trying to throw in something a bit different.

Track 8, Latino, is really more of the same kind of thing. Not meant as a criticism, just that I've run out of comparisons! There is a greater use of sound effects in this piece and more of the oddly spoken voice. Things are jazzed up a bit on Jewboilove where a different sound is heard courtesy of the saxophone of guest musician Elena Philipova. The sax blends in surprisingly well in the mix and this is one track that I feel fades out too fast, particularly as there are some good bass and drum parts. Final studio track, Waltz comes closest to displaying the group's ethnic traditions as there are definite elements of Russian folk songs (or what I, as a Westerner, have been led to believe are Russian folk songs!). A short jolly number that rounds things off nicely.

The three bonus cuts, recorded live in 2002, prove that the band can accurately reproduce their material on stage. Solaris, the only track from the studio album, is a very true replica of the original and the quality of the performance and recording is first rate. Indeed, on first hearing the album I didn't even realise it was live! Theme lowers the tempo and has a more slow jazz feel to it while Chinagroove #15 is a near relation to the #17 that appears on the album.

Many people shy away from all instrumental albums for some reason, particularly when a lot of classic progressive rock has great swathes of instrumental music contained within the characteristic long-form pieces. That is a shame as there are many great instrumental albums out there. The Screw-Loose Entertainment will probably never reach the status of a classic but Disen Gage have come up with an interesting and worthwhile album. Lovers of guitar music with a twist a la the Crimsos should seriously consider checking the album out before all 1000 copies are sold out.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Mark Hughes


Panzerpappa - Farlig Vandring
Panzerpappa - Farlig Vandring
Country of Origin:Norway
Format:CD
Record Label:Progrock.No
Catalogue #:aap001
Year of Release:2004
Time:49:40
Info:Panzerpappa
Samples:Click here
Tracklist: Farlig vandring [på tynt vann] (8:31), Ellipsoidisk karusell (10:38), Utrygge trøfler (7:03), Agraphia (6:53), Sykkelgnomflåtten (6:53), Ompapaomompapa (9:42)

In 1996, a young Norwegian musician called Trond Gjellum decided to record some demos under the name Panzerpappa. The music was in the vein of Samla Mammas Manna and Univers Zero. Two years later a band was put together with Trond on percussions, Steinar Børve on saxophones and keyboards, Knut Tore Abrahamsen on guitars and Jørgen Skjulstad on bass. That formation recorded a first self-produced CD ... passer gullfisk in 2000. A second self-produced CD Hulemysteriet was released in 2002 with a new guitarist (Endre Begby) and a new bassist (Jørgen Skjulstad). The two new guys left before the release of the CD (!?!) and were replaced by two musicians Trond played with in Richard Sinclair's back-up band. So for this third release, the line-up consists of Trond Gjellum (drumkit, acoustic and electric percussion, balaphone, glockenspiel, metalophone, sampler, trondofon, melodica), Steinar Børve (saxophones, keyboards), Anders Krabberød (electric five string bass, electric 4 string fretless bass, Chapman Stick, additional keyboards) and Jarle Storløkken (electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, accordion).

As all this thing was initiated by a percussionist, it will not be a surprise to discover that Panzerpappa is a lot about rhythm, even though it might not be apparent on first hearing. Those familiar with Frank Zappa's or Henry Cow's work will be on familiar ground. We are dealing with serious RIO here. The album starts brilliantly with Farlig vandring, an uplifting funky piece with a smoother central part. The saxophone is definitively the lead instrument here and makes is way with equal ease in the aggressive and soft passages. Ellipsoidisk karusell offers a study in duration contrasts, opposing very percussive phrasing against sustained pads (mainly mellotron). Here again tempo shifts abound.

Utrygge trøfler starts with a spacey riff played on flanged bass, completed by hand percussions and pedal volume triggered guitar before getting into an elaborate interplay between sax and guitar. This is very rewarding music for anybody who really listens carefully to what is happening. The next piece, Agraphia, starts on the smoother side, not far from Albert Marcoeur. This one is a tour de force in odd time signatures. It is followed by Sykkelgnomflåtten, an harmonized sax duet, reminiscent of Gardner's effort on Frank Zappa's Uncle Meat, accompanied by a cycling bass in 5/8. One by one other instruments join in a cumulative effect. The last piece, Ompapaomompapa, also blends different textures, jazz, RIO, avant-garde and even symphonism. Off-beat rhythms and contrapuntal interplays are plentiful. A great way to end an album that never lets is listener down.

Inspired compositions, extravagant arrangements, great musicianship, what more can I say! If you like your music demanding, get your hands on that one.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Claude Grégoire


Azureth - Yesterday's Future, Tomorrow's Past
Azureth - Yesterday's Future, Tomorrow's Past
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:-
Year of Release:2004
Time:66:55
Info:Azureth
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Wake The Dragon (6:51), Searching (4:26), Man On The Moon (4:25), The Grand Design (i. Overture [5:37], ii. The Grand Design [6:53], iii. Shadow Of A Man [7:39], iv. Fanfare [5:25], v. Humanity Revisited [4:38], vi. The Sleeper Has Awakened [6:01]), Timeless Moments In Sherwood (4:21), The Lathe Of Heavem (5:22), Afterglow (5:13)

We have the internet to thank for a lot of things, speedier communications, gigabytes of information at the click of a mouse, excellent prog rock sites (!) and now, it seems, the formation of new bands. How else would a keyboard player from Florida (Stephen Rivera), a guitarist from Texas (Mark Connors) and a drummer / bass player / singer from Norway (Kenneth Aspeslåen) link up? Recorded in different studios in the home towns of the respective musicians, it seems likely that Yesterday's Future, Tomorrow's Past was born out of electronic rather than personal interaction (one wonders if the participants have ever actually met in person!). Whatever the genesis of the album, the results speak for themselves.

I admit to having been a bit wary of this CD at first, a progressive band using fantasy artwork and having an opening song about dragons seemed rather too much of a prog cliché for 2004. However, putting aside the subject matter, Wake The Dragon clearly states the progressive agenda for the album. This track has the lot: varying time signatures, classic organ sounds, a multitude of synths, an engaging guitar riff and some quite frantic drumming all mixed together to produce a track that sounds like the 1970s never ended. Particularly the 1970s of Yes as Wake The Dragon contains snippets 'inspired' by just about every classic Yes song whilst maintaining an overall originality and it has to be said, being extremely well done. However, this is obviously a deliberate tribute to the band, and in particular Rick Wakeman, as they point out in the rather lavish lyric booklet available from the band's website (however, you'll need a password, provided when registering the purchased CD, to access it. Well worth it though as it is quite a work of art!).

After the opening prog onslaught, Searching offers some lighter relief being a more laid back number with some nice layered harmonies that provide an ideal complement to the acoustic guitar. Man On The Moon has a more ELP type arrangement, again, an acoustic guitar holds the song together whilst flights of keyboards zoom off in every direction and the drummer does his stuff in the background (and does it very well one might add). The weakest element is vocalist Aspeslåen (the only non-native English speaker in the band!). Lacking real power and straining on the higher notes, he is not helped by sometimes being placed too low in the mix. The music really needs a strong and forceful vocal presence which functions almost like another instrument. However, this is not a major sticking point, the musicianship of the trio more than compensates for any inadequacies in the singing.

Labelled as a mini rock-opera, The Grand Design is a concept "lamenting the present unrelenting course of humanity and a reluctant hero whose job it is to change the course of history". The suite in six parts, with a combined running time just shy of 40 minutes, kicks off with an instrumental overture that reminds me somewhat of Triumvirat, particularly in the synth lines. Having the melody line performed by the bass at the end of the song is a clever idea and throughout the playing is of the highest quality. The Grand Design serves as an introduction to the concept and is rather restrained, except for the spoken preamble (a quote by Albert Einstein) that is rather too quickly spoken for ease of listening. Keyboards to the fore in Shadow Of A Man with a classically-tinged piano intro leading to a short vocal section (which has a 12 note melody refrain that, coincidentally, is identical to that found in Back In The Game by Gillan) followed by a mass of keyboards and guitar before ending in a reprise of the vocal section and a final piano flourish. A very good song and one that stands up taken outside of the concept as a whole. The instrumental Fanfare tips a nod to ELP around about the time of Trilogy while Humanity Revisited links to the final section, The Sleeper Has Awakened, which, is about the hero accepting his lot and embarking on his epic journey (or so it says in the lyric book!) Not sure I am entirely convinced by the lyrical content, or even understand it (I was thrown by the inclusion of an native American Indian chant at the end) but probably need to read the lyrics closer. All in all, an interesting suite that has its moments but is possibly not as cohesive and convincing as a concept as one would have envisaged.

More "prog nonsense" (as IQ would say!) with Timeless Moments In Sherwood and the dragon from Track 1 now fully awake and wandering around the forest of the title. Thankfully as an instrumental we are spared a lyric. Again, keyboards dominate and the guitar, except when soloing, is pushed a little too far back to make any significant contribution, which is a shame. But it is a pleasant enough ditty as it is. The Lathe Of Heaven plods along without really getting anyway and is one of the weakest tracks on the album. A good guitar solo at the conclusion was marred by the continual repetition of the song's title and the ending was a trifle too abrupt. Final track is a cover of Afterglow by Genesis. With added allusions to Dance On A Volcano this is a quite sympathetic rendition of a classic song, enhanced by a good guitar solo but lacking in some of the warmth of the original.

Although perhaps not as musically broad as the band seem to think (they state their musical style to be a blend of progressive rock, fusion, alternative rock and progressive metal) Azureth have come up with a decent album that has no pretentions other than being a progressive rock CD drawing on influences from the classic era of such music. As such they can't be faulted and if that is your bag then there is plenty on offer here. With, of course, added dragons.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Mark Hughes




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