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Reviews in this issue:
- novAct - Tales From The Soul [Duo Review]
- Adrian Belew - Side One
- Elegant Simplicity – Anhedonia
- Voyager - Element V [Duo Review]
- Fruitcake - Man Overboard
- Jaime Rosas Trio - Extremos
- Krel - Out Of Space
novAct - Tales From The Soul
Tracklist: Sharply Condemned (4:34), Hope And Fear (5:34), Eternal Life (5:23), Path Of Daggers (4:53), So Help Me God (7:01), Flower (5:05), The Rider (3:51), Nothing Worth Fighting For (4:21), Promises (6:02), Bad Religion (5:36)
After too many years, of the same faces doing very similar things, there finally seems to be a new wave of younger bands bringing something fresh and different to the realms of heavy, progressive music. The debut album from Polish band Riverside was easily the best release of 2004, along with another debut from Australia's Without End. It may only be February, but I'm sure that this new Dutch band will easily be towards the top of the pile when it comes to picking the highlights of this year.
DPRP was one of the first websites in the world to pick up on this Arnhem-based five-piece, when we got hold of their excellent four-track demo Misunderstood a couple of years ago. This was quickly followed by a great show supporting Pain Of Salvation at Amsterdam's Headway Festival – a gig that led to the band (then known as Morgana X) being snapped-up by American ProgMetal label Sensory.
I predicted then, that their debut album would be a breath of fresh air to the scene. And with the ambitious Tales From The Soul, that is exactly what novAct has achieved.
Without doubt the greatest asset that the band has, is vocalist Eddy Borremans. In a crowded market place you have to have something which separates you from the pack and Eddy's unique, soul-based delivery does just that. You can just sit back and be drawn into every song, thanks to the sheer emotion and depth that he manages to convey. Not that the rest of the band merely follow in his wake. This is progressive music that goes straight to the point. Nothing is there just for the sake of it - no pointless solos or widdley bits – a million miles from the Dream Theater's of this world.
Wouter Wamelink mixes crunchy riffs with some beautifully flowing open solos; Michiel Reessink adds some great keyboard hooks and Jeroen Van Maanen holds the rhythm together, adding the odd flourish exactly where it's needed. Particularly impressive for me is the contribution of young drummer Martijn Peters whose wide range of rhythms and fills perfectly enhances the music without ever becoming over-bearing. Peters does much more than simply keeping the beat - a similar effect as when I listen to Fates Warning's Mark Zonder.
Of the ten songs, we have the four found on the demo but now totally re-recorded plus six brand new compositions. There is nothing that sticks out as a weak song, even though the band explore a pretty wide range of moods and styles.
We open with the great, grindingly-heavy riff that launches the politically-charged sentiment of Sharply Condemned. Down-tempo and Eternal Life is a tribute to the late, great Jeff Buckley that will for many will be the standout track. Meanwhile So Help Me God is a real vocal tour-de-force. novAct’s versatility is shown with a track like Nothing Worth Fighting For - really the closest they come to progressive metal. There's a certain similarity to Queensrÿche in the arrangement with constant contrasts of rhythm, mood and pace, especially in Eddy's use of a wide variety of vocal patterns and phrasing.
For me the band is at its best when it mixes up the dynamics within a song, as on my current favourite track - the album closer Bad Religion. There are quiet sections, where it is either just voice and guitar or voice and keys. This really opens up the sound and shows off Eddy's voice to the full. Then when we hit the chorus, all the instruments combine to create a denser and heavier sound. Both elements are great, but when used in contrast, it really works a treat. Of course another great, melodic chorus helps as well!
And there’s more! If, like me, the lyric booklet is more than the thing that goes in the front of the CD case, then you'll love the thoughts that Eddy tries to explore here. Despite his denials, the vocalist has some strong opinions and isn't afraid to express them. Flower deals with a case of child abuse in the family, Promises is about the empty pledges of politicians, Nothing’s Worth Fighting For echoes the frustration of corrupt wars such as Iraq, whilst Bad Religion does exactly what it says on the tin.
The production by Everon duo Oliver Phillips and Christian Moos is solid and it also helps when your drummer is a graphic artist. Despite its limited size, the booklet - especially the cover art by Russian artist Oleg Paschenko - compliments the music perfectly.
The one problem I see for the band - or it could be an asset - is that this music absolutely fails to fall into any simple category. They've built their name so far with strong support from the ProgMetal fraternity. But Tales From The Soul really has the potential to appeal to a huge range of music fans. My girlfriend, who hasn't got a hard rock album to her name, was listening to it in the car and immediately pronounced that: 'These are really catchy songs - I like this a lot.' All that leaves me to say, is that with Tales From The Soul, novAct has released a simply fantastic debut album.
At the start of the year one is of course reluctant to give predicates like: "best album of 2005" or "best newcomer". But what if the album under review really deserves it, and the only thing holding this predicate back is the album's release date early in the year? It left me with a bit of a problem: it might be much too early for declaring a best album but novAct are certainly a very strong contender for best newcomer (they have previously released material under the name Morgana-X but this was only a demo).
This band from Arnhem, The Netherlands have brewed a superb mix of : not too complex, not too simple, high energy and yet intelligently decorated music. No track on this album spans more than 8 minutes so none of them is bombastic in nature, but there is still enough progressive in their metal to make it progressive metal (if you are really pressing for a label that's the one). These are all very nice compositions, but if you only like your prog metal with numerous tempo changes and breaks, these songs leave something to be desired. The songs are of an almost pop song like simplicity with exactly enough extra's to lift them far above average. If this deficit of complexness is your reason for putting aside this album you are missing out on something really good.
At ProgPower novAct were good, but an album this sophisticated really comes as a surprise, and that's strange because most of the songs on this album were played at ProgPower. It seems you need more than one spin just to recognize the decorations to the melody lines.
It is one of those albums that you will like instantly, but still are able to play over and over again without the music getting boring. It is not often that I can sing the lyrics to an album I have under review. There are two reasons for this: The lyrics are very good and the album has been in my CD player for more than a month. There is not a better or lesser track on this album, they are all of constant high quality. The same goes for the performers, the voice of Eddy Borremans is a revelation between all the thirteen in a dozen high pitched screaming voices. Wouter Wamelink knows how to make his guitar weep and do quick loops but also to stop doing it at the correct time. Martijn Peters' drums and Jeroen van Maanen's bass form a good rhythm section: rock steady but never easy or plain, although I would have liked the bass a bit louder in the mix. This all completed with the superb keyboards of Michiel Reessink who does a lot of the 'decorations'.
Sharply Condemned is a comment on today's politics: we are very quick in condemning an act of violence but never really act upon our feeling of dismay. It starts of with a somewhat Jean Michel Jarre-like intro but from early on the weeping guitar takes the lead. Hope And Fear has something funny musicwise: they are inches away off using the keyboard loop of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells - it's almost the same but not exactly. Eternal Life is a track that deserves the prog metal predicate, it has a number of tempo changes and again the lyrics are really good. Path Of Daggers has some excellent faster guitar loops and cooperating bass and bass drums. So Help Me God is a one of the quieter tracks, the keyboards lay a sad background. Flower has a very Lacuna Coil like start and the first few lines of the lyrics make this comparison even more true but the rest of the song they leave behind the comparison. Again the lyrics are very powerful and personal. The Rider is an up tempo track with a gloomy atmosphere, there's a lot of bass in this track, and my oh my the guitar solo's in this one! Nothing Worth Fighting For has a very subtle build up from mellow to a bass filled chorus the lyrics sound really heartfelt Promises starts of quiet again but is one of the most up-tempo tracks on the album, noteworthy on this tracks are the drums and especially the double bass drum. Bad Religion again has superb lyrics (not shy of taking a stand) and the music again has that straightforwardness that seems less obvious once you hear it more often and discover all the extra keyboard and guitar loops.
So what is it about this album that makes it so much more than yet another 'OK' debut album? The real quality of novAct is that without it being a whole new category of music it is still very original. And quality musician not busy showing off but leaving each other room, so it all fits together. But I am glad I have finally finished the review not that I want to get rid of it but it is time for other albums to get their chance in my CD player again. But still I think novAct will find it's way back to my cd player again (and again, and again ). This is what DPRP recommended is all about: we find an album of a not too well known band and tell you to go out and just buy it, so please do.
Adrian Belew - Side One
Tracklist: Ampersand (4:23), Writing on the Wall (3:53), Matchless Man (2:32), Madness (6:54), Walk Around the World (4:58), Beat Box Guitar (5:08), Under the Radar (1:39), Elephants (2:15), Pause (1:20)
All reviewers bring biases and prejudices into the assessment of art. We know, by now, that there is no pure realm of objectivity, except possibly in conceptual mathematics, and certainly not in aesthetics or any type of valuation. There are no norms by which we can all concur about what is “fine” art and what is “low” art. At best, in a review, I can say either that I enjoyed or disliked the art, and then say what I felt merited praise or deserved scorn. This is as close to objectivity as a reviewer can approach, that is to say, the reviewer is insurmountably far away from objectivity. In short, I can offer my opinion. And opinions form out of nothing but the entirety of a music reviewer’s past listening experience, since there is no other standard by which to judge. The baggage of musical preconceptions and expectations accompanies the reviewer. The baggage can’t be misplaced at the airport or mishandled by the hotel concierge because it’s always fastened to the reviewer’s wrist (or neck, perhaps) with adamantine links.
And so, I bring baggage to my review of Adrian Belew’s newest offering, Side One, the first of three disks promised for release this year (with the other two named, conveniently enough, Side Two and Side Three). Generally, I have enjoyed Belew’s work when it has veered more to the side of Beatley pop. I thoroughly appreciated his 1998 release Salad Days, which was a very strong collection of catchy, concise songs, smartly arranged and including witty, reflective lyrics. And I thought that his contribution to King Crimson’s ‘80s releases, especially Discipline and Three of a Perfect Pair, wholly rejuvenated what might have otherwise become a thick, lumbering dinosaur act. Belew is adept at songcraft and, having heard him at his best, one always anticipates, well, the best. Side One (even with contributions by Les Claypool and Tool’s Danny Carey on the first three tracks) falls a few arrow lengths short of the bull’s-eye, unfortunately, although I will admit, it is here a matter of taste, of opinion only, since the CD isn’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination.
The effort announces itself with Ampersand, a thrashy, punky riff underneath extremely processed vocals. The guitar is aggressive and very forward in the mix. Regrettably, Claypool’s playing is buried, but the drumming is great. Belew’s solo is very cool and typically King Crimson, wiry and perturbed. I have no idea what the lyrics intend: I’m even a bit mystified at a song dedicated to this symbol? ”&”. The tune is ultimately boring, though, as it's too monotonous with no hooks but just a constant frenzied beat. The ending is a cacophonous mess.
Writing on the Wall like Ampersand offers another good groove and more of the trebly, wiry guitar riffs, but devolves into pure KC techno-sound. The drums are again busy and energetic, very prominent in the mix. The bass is again too quiet. “I see the writing on the wall” is all Adrian has to say in this song; I don’t mind a dose of minimalist verse but this doesn’t pack much punch. I did love the guitar tone, it reminded me of White Album-era Beatles (e.g., Yer Blues). At 2:00 there’s a neat little atmospheric, the tempo goes into cut time and we hear Les C. a little better with thick, ropy bass lines. The soloing is OK but it’s harsh and triangular. Adrian has a workout over a thumping rhythm and it’s nothing spectacular.
Matchless Man is the best track on the disc, featuring Danny Carey on tabla? - a good decision! It’s sexy and sensual and hypnotically suggestive. The repetitious lyric works in this song, as the entire track is a lower chakra drone. Another exemplary Beatley solo by Belew, both Indian and electronic in George Harrison fashion, and Les finally lets a few tremendous riffs escape. I like Adrian in this mode: a variety of sounds and instruments but sparse and moody. Maybe the promised Side Two and/or Side Three will feature more in this vein?
That’s it for the power trio and we move on to Madness. This is a soundscape, haunting with stormy effects and a melancholy, descending guitar arpeggio. It then transforms into an outtake from The Power to Believe. It does sound like madness, I’ll grant that, but it’s an annoying, indulgent, and bland insanity. There’s some minor textural variation but it’s nothing novel. I don’t care for this sort of music, that’s all. If it’s Adrian’s madness, I’ll sit next to Syd Barrett in the asylum instead: I like my craziness with a splash more whimsy and melodic tang. I say this with regret and some hesitation, but this is the kind of track that, first, doesn’t make me yearn for Side Two and Side Three, and second, makes me seriously want a cash refund.
The opening passage of Walk Around the World is a direct descendant of Three of a Perfect Pair. The vocal is nice and the lyrics are capable. The main musical theme doesn’t alter in the chorus, although the singing line changes, and I’m not sure that this works. The melody is sweet but the riff (too dominant in the mix) is overbearing. The added bass part at 5:00 gives the song a little more muscle and, without vocals, the song makes sonic sense. I think the conceptual message here involves introversion and the artistry of the mind versus true travel around the world (and maybe Adrian references his painting). The spoken lyrics at the song’s close serve as an encouragement to mind expansion; it’s the Vijnanavada Buddhist message: "reality is in your mind, so improve your mind and improve your world".
Beat Box Guitar, with its crackly, LP sound effect, showcases a 1960s spy motif over a rave-trippy techno beat. It’s an aural collage. The repeating riff isn’t especially enticing. Adrian is without question a master of studio concoction but that talent pales next to his acumen with fun songs and satiric commentary.
Under the Radar features a watery, bubbly vocal over a slow, fingerpicked guitar progression. There is a smattering of spacey sound effects, and then, with an abrupt shift to a mock BBC radio broadcast snippet, it’s time for Elephants. The rhythm and the guitar pattern suggest a strong, majestic beast crashing defiantly through the jungle. There’s a bit of language-play now, as Adrian lists words starting with “e” to explain elephants’ plight: “ensnared,” “endangered,” “eradicated”. The guitar solo over the chords is a buzzsaw cutting through the dense foliage, maybe the tool for pilfering tusks: it’s relentless and evil. We get the “f” words (“forgotten,” “famished,” “fossils”), then “elephants are…gone!” I thought this song had the best match of topic, lyrics, and musical backdrop of any on the CD, and it hearkens back to Belew’s environmentalist critiques in songs like Lone Rhinoceros and Men in Helicopters.
The recording concludes with Pause, a quick little token of echoey, mild feedback, Dr. Who special effects, some pounding noise, some bizarre arpeggios, and some whooshing wind. It’s anticlimactic, to be honest.
I did appreciate the relatively short length of the CD (just about 33 minutes long). Matchless Man and Elephant were more in the style that I prefer from Adrian Belew. Also, I liked the few places were he crosses modern tech-core grinding with a Beatley guitar flare. But, ultimately, and admitting that it mostly plays well and isn’t abominable, I was disappointed in this project. I suspect that diehard Belew fans and fans of post-Thraak Crimson will have greater fondness for Side One than I did. I don’t know that fans of Les Claypool and Danny Carey will find much of especial interest here, since the contribution of both to the CD is so minimal. I may simply have to wait for both Side Two and Side Three to evaluate Adrian’s 2005 output. Maybe the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts, and maybe Side One will be stronger in context. For now, I’ll call it a decent but sub-par release, and I’ll hope for something closer to my preconceived (if unfair) expectations from a gifted musician.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Elegant Simplicity – Anhedonia
Tracklist: The Gateway (11:05), The Other Side (5:04), When Hearts Meet (3:23), When Sparks Fly (11:50), Desperate Hours Alone (7:45), Lost (19:03), It Will Always Be You (9:13)
Anhedonia is, remarkably, the sixteenth full length CD from Elegant Simplicity since their debut in 1992. Although he has been helped out in occasion by other musicians and particularly by vocalists, the bulk of the work on this impressive catalogue is by the talented multi-instrumentalist Steven McCabe. As Anhedonia is entirely instrumental, the only other contributor to this CD is drummer Christopher Knight. My only other experience of Elegant Simplicity so far is The Nature Of Change from 1996, and as the weak link in that recording was the programmed percussion, the presence of a real drummer here is definitely an improvement. Unfortunately, he appears to mainly follow pre-programmed guide tracks and therefore the rhythms still feel a little forced and pedestrian. Still, this aspect is improved, so I won’t complain too much.
In all other respects, the improvements are much more noticeable; the artwork and packaging are much more professionally handled; the sound quality is likewise improved, more punchy and vibrant; the compositions are deeper, more fully worked out and satisfying; and last but not least, McCabe’s musicianship has come on in leaps and bounds.
His main focus is on guitar and keyboards, but he also plays bass and flute and adds in some sampled sound effects for good measure. As was the case with his earlier recordings, the main stylistic pointers remain Camel and Focus, with all the melodic clout that implies, but there are also harder elements at work here, particularly on the opening numbers.
The booklet warns us of “the conceptual continuity of the recording” but being instrumental, the only real clues as to possible meanings are in the titles. Anhedonia is a medical term describing a form of depression, which manifests itself as the inability to experience pleasure from normally pleasurably activities. Titles such as When Hearts Meet, Lost and It Will Always Be You suggest a love story, but whether the depression is caused by or responsible for the loss of love is not entirely clear. Either way, the music is largely effective in conveying a variety of moods, often dark and sombre but not exclusively so and no doubt there will be as many interpretations of the story as there are listeners.
The opening trio of tunes are particularly good; The Gateway states some of the main themes of the album, has a classically inspired opening and is positively drenched in the classic Mellotron sound that I love. Throughout the album, McCabe creates layers of keyboards, with lush Mellotron and chunky organ being frequently in the spotlight. There are some great synth solos too. The Gateway has some convoluted melodies and almost reminds me of Banco at times, with its richly interwoven guitars and keys.
The Other Side is more of a straight rocker, but packs quite a punch, and still there’s plenty of Mellotron. This far in I’m really enjoying the album, and I think many of you will too. McCabe writes strong melodies which will stick with you long after the disc has finished.
When Hearts Meet is short but sweet, with a keening melody played on the guitar, over orchestral backing. It’s a little more subdued than the two preceding tracks, but the guitar solo at the end is still quite a smoker. When Sparks Fly uses sound effects to move the story on, but it is here where I start to become confused. I’m not entirely sure what is supposed to be happening at this point. That aside, the track is still impressive from a musical standpoint, with dramatic themes and plenty of instrumental colours. I was reminded of Vulgar Unicorn at one point, with the slightly jazzy pop backing to yet another good guitar solo.
Desperate Hours Alone sees the return of the opening orchestral theme and uses effective electric piano sounds to convey a series of complex moods and atmospheres. The guitar solo here is emotional and powerful.
The website points to the two concluding tracks as the highlight of the disc, but for me the epic-length Lost is perhaps the (comparatively) weak point of the CD. It’s not a bad track, perhaps a bit overlong, but if I’ve understood the concept at all, I feel that it lacks the real bite of despondency and despair, of romantic anguish that is called for. I’m thinking perhaps of the grandeur and mournful majesty of The Enid perhaps or the Savage Anguish of Peter Hammill (see his classic Over for a visceral portrayal of a broken relationship). There are some nice, romantic passages with delicate piano, and some nice flutes, and the string effects introduce an air of melancholy but it falls somewhat short of the powerful emotional wallop needed. Of course, I may have misinterpreted the concept, and perhaps the track should be judged on its instrumental merits quite apart from any conceptual considerations (but isn’t that the whole point of having a concept?) and if so, I’d say its a good track, but still it feels a little fragmented and doesn’t quite hang together as well as it might. I like the guitar melody at around the ten minute mark – it has some of the wistful melancholia of Be Bop Deluxe’s superb Adventures In A Yorkshire Landscape. By no means a poor track, it nevertheless stops this CD from being quite the masterpiece it could have been.
It Will Always Be You opens with sombre strings played against an almost too twee melody simply picked out on the piano. Thankfully it develops from there, with some nice Latimeresque guitar recalling Camel. The flute also adds to this impression. From a conceptual point of view, the feeling I get from this track is the endurance of love and of a triumph over adversity, so it seems to be at least a hopeful conclusion to an often sorrowful story, told with skill and passion by a talented musician.
My guess is that if you are a fan of the previous Elegant Simplicity albums (particularly the instrumental ones) you will be delighted with this one. If you are a fan of instrumental, melodic rock or prog – especially Camel and Focus – again you will enjoy this CD.
For my own part, aside from my reservations about the conceptual side of things, I did enjoy it a lot, I will definitely be playing it again, and I was pleased to see that McCabe has polished his skills since The Nature Of Change. He still seems like a musician striving for better things, and has a lot of ideas to express. I will be interested to hear his next effort, which I gather won’t be too long in coming.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Voyager - Element V
Tracklist: Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (2:32), To the Morning Light (5:26), Cosmic Armageddon Pt. I (5:28), Towards Uncertainty (1:15), The Eleventh Meridian (5:04), This Bitter Land (4:46), The Ancient Labyrinth (5:23), Miseria (0:37), Monument (6:25), The V Element (2:22), Cosmic Armageddon Pt. II (6:34), Kingdoms of Control (5:27), Time for Change (4:10), Echoes of Old Terra (1:31)
Element V, the debut album by the Australian band Voyager, is a truly excellent progressive-metal album. Imagine a band that sounds by turns like Saga, like Dream Theater, and (now wait for it – I’ll explain) even like the Viking-metal and black-metal bands Bal-Sagoth and Cradle of Filth, without ever sounding for more than a moment like anyone but themselves, and you get a very vague idea of Voyager’s range. Really, they’ve created a sound all their own on this album, and you need to get the album and hear that sound.
Consisting of five talented musicians – drummer Geoff Callaghan, guitarist Mark De Vattimo, singer/keyboardist Daniel Estrin, bassist Melissa Fiocco, and guitarist Emanuel Rudnicki – Voyager plays what sounds to me like an old-fashioned version of the kinds of progressive metal that are currently popular. For one thing, they’re not afraid of keyboards; for another, they’re not afraid of a little bombast. You might occasionally and fleetingly think of Europe in some of the keyboard-heavier passages, but this isn’t pop metal by a long shot. De Vattimo and Rudnicki’s gorgeous twin-guitar attack weaves dextrous melodies over Callaghan’s deft percussion (and he’s no stranger to modern metal’s double-bass-drum work, either, providing both bottom end and interest to many of Element V’s songs). Bassist Fiocco doesn’t often show off but prefers to stick close to the guitars, intelligently working by the maxim ignored by too many bassists: “No bass player ever ruined a song by underplaying.”
And then there are Estrin’s vocals, one of my favourite elements in the band’s sound. Not too histrionic (but a little bit!), they remind me of no one’s so much as those of Saga’s Michael Sadler. However, Estrin’s no stranger to semi-death-metal growls on occasion, though those growls are used sparingly and for effect; and damned if you won’t be put in mind of Cradle of Filth on those occasions when the guitars are sitting out, the drums and bass are locked into a calm but propulsive passage, and Estrin half-sings, half-chants, half-whispers a line or two in a voice that echoes Dani Filth’s in similar passages. Just as the wrong singer can damage or even ruin the sound of an otherwise good band, so can an otherwise good band benefit from having just the right singer, and that’s the case here: I can’t imagine a better voice for the kind of music Voyager plays.
What about Bal-Sagoth, though? I don’t suppose a lot of people have heard that rather wacky British Viking- (or is it Druid-?) metal band, although they’re infamous in certain small circles for having come up with perhaps the longest song title of any in their genre [The Dark Liege of Chaos is Unleashed at the Ensorcelled Shrine of Azura-Kai (The Splendour of a Thousand Swords Gleaming Beneath the Blazon of the Hyperborean Empire Part II)], and really they’re a neat band, employing unabashedly orchestral arrangements, mostly played on synthesizers, to back up such lyrics as “My life bleeds forth unto the earth (from many deep and dire wounds) / To slake your roots, great old king. . . .” Sure, it’s goofy, but better that than, say, “Brown sugar / How come you dance so good?” Anyway, Voyager (who themselves have doubtless never heard or even heard of Bal-Sagoth) really do call that band to my mind now and again, especially with the grand and sometimes grandiose keyboard sweeps that pepper their songs, accompanying ambitious narrative lyrics. Estrin doesn’t just rely on synthesizers, though; in a few songs, notably the excellent Cosmic Armageddon Pt. I, good old piano sounds echo through, to good effect as well. And there are other interesting touches. The catchy This Bitter Land begins with that well-worn effect of intro vocals apparently being played on a scratchy old record (nearest analogue – well, does anybody remember Klaatu’s The Loneliest of Creatures from way back in 1977?) And, finally, speaking of Saga as we were in connection with the vocals, their drummer Steve Negus was a pioneer with electronic drums – and here they are, on the (almost) title song of the album, The V Element. They’re used well and suit the song perfectly, too.
I’m going to say one more thing about the album that may sound a bit odd – but it’s true. It’s an exciting, invigorating, even hopeful-sounding CD. Now, I’m a big fan of all the genres of heavy metal, including doom and death and all that wonderfully depressing stuff, but I have to say that the sheer joy this band obviously takes in making their music is apparent in every note and is simply delightful. This isn’t music-by-the-numbers progressive metal: it sounds to me as though all five musicians have steeped themselves in fine music and have spent a long time thinking about just how they’d like to fit into the metal universe, and the niche they’re beginning to carve out with this debut album makes a bold statement about just where they will fit.
I’m tempted to go on longer about this superb album, but I’m going to leave it there and just encourage everybody to get it. I can’t imagine fans of melodic progressive rock and metal being anything but delighted with this band. I hope that enough people do buy the album to enable Voyager to make another, and another, and another. They’re already superb; if they get even better than they already are, they’re a band to watch.
The one thing you could never accuse Holland’s DVS label of being is ‘boring’! From Into Eternity to Alias Eye via Chrome Shift and Heavens Cry - none of their acts ever tred the same path through the undulating fields of progressive rock and metal.
However, having said all that, the label’s latest release is by far the most challengingly unpredictable band that DVS has unleashed onto the world thus far. If you’re looking for a neat summary before you read any further then ‘a band that sounds like no other’ wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration. To help you along, I’ve lifted a quote about the recording process from the band’s informative website which probably says it all.
‘Imagine setting out to make a massive sandwich with about 60 ingredients. Imagine continuously adding ingredients, then trying to remove the butter and replacing it with mayonnaise. Imagine the frustration when you nearly finish your sandwich, then drop it, catch it half way but lose about 10 layers of cheese. Imagine replacing it, and getting so frustrated that the pickles won't stay on, that you're contemplating making it all again. But then imagine the satisfaction you get when you finally eat the sandwich and it tastes pretty damn good! That's about how we felt!’
Hailing from Perth in Australia this was actually released in Australia more than a year ago and has only been available on pricey import until DVS gave it a wider release.
There are touches of death metal, the epic tendencies of Rhapsody, some folk, classical and traditional music and influences of a whole host of power, progressive and speed metal bands. Iron Maiden references spring up more than once. The superb melodies a clear self-belief are the factors that bind it all together.
One of the band’s real assets comes in the shape of singer Daniel Estrin. More than capable of coping with the differing moods and styles, his voice can change from raw to smooth in a breath. I just love his overall sense of drama and melody – almost London West End in his delivery at times. The perfect voice for such a versatile band.
I won’t go into the detail of a track-by track breakdown because with 14 complex tracks, I’d be bashing away at the keyboard all night. Personal favourites are the opening duo of To The Morning Light and Cosmic Armageddon. Here the band gets the absolute perfect blend. There’s a solid metallic drive, some hook-laden melodies and that ever-changing musical backdrop that should become the Voyager trademark. Heck, part of one song is even sung in German!
While the death elements are far less and while the music has a much wider range of influences, it does in many ways remind me of the superb Orphaned Land disk that impressed so many for its ground-breaking combination of diverse styles last year. As a result it certainly won’t be ideal listening for everyone – but if your musical taste is in need of a refreshing change you won’t find many better bets this year for a little experiment. Not all the ideas work. While the Vangelis-style eletronica that crops up on tracks like Towards Uncertainty offers a clever sidestep, the pure electronic dance of the title track is just too far off the block. Some of the later tracks too just lack that sense of melody and cohesion that allow them to really stick in the mind. Cosmic Armageddon PtII for example is drawn out well past its natural conclusion.
It’s also an album that requires a fair modicum of patience. By about the third listen I’d settled on a score of seven. By the fifth it was verging on an 8 and as I’m now on my tenth run-through it deserves a DPRP Recommended purely on the fact that it’s given me 10 hours of pleasure already! Who knows, if I could wait until the summer to write this review, it may have got a 10!
Anyway, I bet Voyager are a blast as a live act as well. What odds for them to be the second Australian import to appear at the Progpower Europe festival in October?
Fruitcake - Man Overboard
Tracklist: Intelligence (5:58), Backwards Sounds (7:20), Lazy Timing (5:04), My Nights (5:41), Passion Impossible (4:35), The Smoking Gun (6:12), Once Upon A Naked Floor (4:01), Goblin Dinner (3:32), I've Taken Nothing (5:06)
Man Overboard is the seventh studio album by Norway's Fruitcake, one of the bands at the forefront of Scandinavian progressive music. On this latest album, the group are joined by new member flautist Ketil Vestrum Einarsen who expands the ranks of three guitarists Steffen Holthe, Jarle Glesåen Storløkken and Morten Eriksen, keyboard player Helge Skaarseth, bass player Olav Nygard and drummer and vocalist Pål Søvik.
On Man Overboard, Fruitcake have concentrated on more extended instrumental passages than on previous albums, something I found quite welcome as to me Søvik's vocals let the album down considerably. Although he is a fine drummer and reasonable lyricist, his vocals are at best monotonal, rather flat and to my ears lacked a degree of passion. This may just be a personal bias; although I do have a tendency to like what may be regarded as idiosyncratic vocalists (Peter Hammill, Neil Young, etc.) Søvik did nothing for me sounding quite bland. Indeed, it was quite a disappointment when the instrumental passages were interrupted by the vocals!
But casting aside this one criticism, Man Overboard contains some particularly fine music. The addition of Einarsen has expanded the sound adding some lovely flute passages throughout the album. His playing is more in the style of Jimmy Hastings and Andy Latimer, although surprisingly he doesn't feature on the very Camelesque instrumental Goblin Dinner. Opener Intelligence sets the mood, being rather laid back and containing an air of mystery. With superior arrangements, the musicians combine well to produce a soundtrack that is replete with various layers easily distinguishable thanks to the clear production. The guitarists' contributions throughout the album are always thoughtful and considered, adding texture and melody rather than overt and unnecessary displays of technical wizardry. The blend with the keyboards is interesting and works well, no more so on tracks like Lazy Timing, Passion Impossible and the excellent album closer I've Taken Nothing, a definite highlight of the album with each band member making significant contributions.
In arranging the music, Fruitcake have left a lot of spaces and not been tempted to throw everything into the mix. This is of considerable benefit to the overall sound of the album with frequent passages where just one or two prominent instruments are playing. A good example of this is My Nights which starts with the focus on piano and flute, goes into acoustic guitar and synth (with vocals, admittedly quite appropriate for the style of the song) continuing in a similar vein throughout, with different instruments taking the lead. In contrast, the band gels together on tracks such as Once Upon A Naked Floor with succinct guitar solos interweaved with keyboards that throughout the album utilise a variety of sounds, some modern some older (possibly intentional on Backwards Sounds).
All-in-all a perfectly reasonable album. If you are familiar with Fruitcake's previous albums, or indeed any of the other groups that Søvik has sung with, then you may be more attuned to his vocals than me or may simply not find them an issue. Musically, the group have come up with an album that, although not breaking any new barriers, is interesting, well thought out and well played.
As seems common with a lot of new Cyclops releases these days, there is a limited edition 2CD version of the album containing a bonus disc, Dessert. This CD contains 11 rare and unreleased tracks from between 1988 and 2002 chosen by drummer Søvik and Cyclops' boss Malcolm Parker. Indeed, the bonus disc is so rare DPRP were not even sent one with the review copy of the album! However, we do know that featured artists and tracks are: Pål Søvik (Power in You, Big Wave, Can You Recall), Fruitcake (Where I've Been, Lost My Way, At Midnight, On The Edge), Norway (Winds Of Space), Flagrante Delicto (Wait For Me), Girl Grey (Marcabian Nights) and Guardian's Office (The Guardian). If you are a fan of any of these artists then Man Overboard offers great value for money!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Jaime Rosas Trio - Extremos
Tracklist: Breva Pieza Rockera VI (3:37), Breva Pieza Rockera VII (3:20), Sonido Vital Uno (3:32), Breva Pieza Rockera VIII (2:42), Breva Pieza Rockera IX (3:10), Sonido Vital Dos (6:02), Breva Pieza Rockera X (2:22), Tiempos de Paz (2:45), Viajero Astral (15:13)
A keyboard lead trio may draw some immediate comparisons, possibly a little jazz combo (dismiss this from your thoughts immediately) or more likely one or two bands from the halcyon days of progressive rock. The Rosas' trio emerged from the embers of Entrance who released two albums Entrance (1999) and En La Tierre (2002). In Rob Michel's review of En La Tierre he highlights several influences, from those we might take ELP, Triumvirat and Rick Wakeman as good pointers here. Adding perhaps Patrick Moraz to this list.
The tracks from Extremos are in general short, punchy, to the point and aptly summed up by their titles (an idea continued from the previous album, Virgo). No better displayed than in the album opener, Breva Pieza Rockera VI, which sets a hefty pace with Alex Von Chrismar pumping away on his double bass drum pedal, joined swiftly by Rodrigo Godoy's punchy bass, all of which sets the stage for Jaime Rosas to sweep majestically across his synths. The track itself is split into three sections the opening flurry, a more restrained mid section and finishing as it started. Three and a half minutes may not seem long, but this trio pack enough punch into this allotted time to make your mouth salivate with anticipation of more of the same.
Not to be, as Breva Pieza Rockera VII features the guitar work of Godoy and here the keyboards take a backstage, being almost non-existent, save some bass synth work. The track is therefore a fairly riff orientated piece carried by the dynamics from the drums. I wasn't really sure about this track at first (and possible still not) - certainly a bold move not to feature the keyboards, but somehow the track itself is lacking. This may be because ... VI had such an instant appeal - or perhaps a strong hook line was missing - certainly though the piece might have benefited from a less "dry" guitar sound, certainly in the solo sections. Still a brave move.
With Sonido Vital Uno the keyboards return to the fold in the form of a solo piano piece. Once again Rosas' skills are amply displayed and the crafted left hand work and chordal structuring did bring Keith Emerson to mind. The gentler and more ornate middle section however was more reminiscent of Rick Wakeman. Certainly Rosas' technique is comparable to the aforementioned.
Breva Pieza Rockera VIII brings back the band - once again a mid-tempo, riffy track, with shades of MMEB in there. Not to dissimilar to ...VII but the keyboards are employed to follow the main riff, making it a much more satisfying track. The music is a little darker here, although the track itself grooves along admirably. As does Breva Pieza Rockera IX - the pace is picked up somewhat for the opening salvo and here Godoy plays some precise guitar runs which he mimics on the bass. A JRT formula seems to be emerging, as the mid section of the track is once again slower, but this time Rosas uses a large choral backing to accompany the themed guitar solo. Once again the band pick-up the pace, returning to the opening section to conclude ...IX.
A rather more lush arrangement is employed for Sonido Vital Dos with the strings giving a mellower texture to the track. The piano drives the piece along without the aid of the drums. The music is not stagnant though and in the driven parts Rosas provides a suitable pulse from bass end of the keyboards, not to dissimilar to Vangelis. This is an infectious piece with intricate and deft touches on the piano. It did strike me that a strong vocal melody would have made this into a superb track.
On to part ...X and here the gloves are definitely off - sweeping Emerson-esque synth lines from Rosas, controlled but often frantic bass from Godoy and busy but precise drumming from Von Chrismar. A lot is packed into these two minutes or so, splendid stuff.
The lull before the storm is second of the gentler piano pieces, although this time augmented by simple synth melodies and a string under-current, akin to some of Rick Wakeman's solo passages. Engaging.
The closing track is the multi-faceted Viajero Astral clocking in at just over fifteen minutes. First run through I suspected the opening chords might takes us into a Tarkus like track. Not so, as the opening tempo is slow with a melodic guitar theme introducing the only vocals to be heard on Extremos. The lyrics are sung in Spanish and I suspect this may be why the band have not utilised them more on the album - shame really as it really does add another dimension to the sound. Following this vocal section is a nice punctuated Hammondy solo interlude, before a reprise of the chorus, opening guitar theme and gentler vocals. The remaining bulk of the track is taken up with solos (with brief returns to the vocals) - firstly the Emerson-like synth sounds for Rosas' solo, followed by a brief drum solo from Alex Von Chrismar. Viajero Astral ends around the 12 minute mark and had I been quick on the eject button I might well have missed the end keyboard extravaganza. Possibly some of the strongest on Extremos.
Certainly Jaime Rosas has raised the ante with Extremos and his material has had a breath of new life with the inclusion of a real drummer and bass player. Certainly the arrangements are not as orchestrated as those to be found on Virgo, however this has been replaced by a greater dynamic in the music. Areas I felt that the music could improve on where firstly in the arrangements, which were at times a little simplistic, using an A-B-A formula or in the case of Viajero Astral where the track seemed "glued" together, shorter songs, rather than whole piece. Secondly the material could use a few more "hook lines", be it keyboard or guitar themes or expanding on the vocals and vocal harmonies.
Apart from those two slight negatives, Extremos was an enjoyable album. For those who are missing a keyboard wizard in their lives and hark back to those times when Messrs Emerson, Wakeman, et al were at their most prolific, then this CD is well worth investigating further.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Krel - Out Of Space
Tracklist: Mober (5:26), Barricades (6:01), Star Of Last (4:57), It's Alive (9:52), Zero G (3:45), Androids (4:12), The Visit (2:09), Golden Tether (2:51), Release (5:19), Space Trip (5:33), Trees (1:52), Open (2:28)
Krel's history begins way back in 1988 with Martin M, Radar Dave, Mr. Dibs and Floyd joining forces with a drum machine to release the marvellously titled Mike Moorcock's Underpants under the name of Purple Otters Trotters. With the replacement of the drum machine with the rather more human Mike Man, the group changed their name to Krel and embarked on their own cosmic quest. Releasing two further cassettes, Who's Next On This? and Dark Star, the group supported Hawkwind on their 1992 Electric Tepee tour. 1993 saw some major line up changes and the release of the third tape Earth Zero before finally recording their first CD, Ad Astra in 1995. Since then the band seems to have remained dormant, until the sudden appearance of Out of Space.
Despite containing a mixture of newer songs, live material recorded on the 1992 Tepee tour and unreleased material recorded prior to heading out with Hawkwind (the 'Shed sessions'), there is a consistency and flow to the album that defies the decade or so over which the tracks were recorded. Be under no illusion, Krel take their influences from Hawkwind, create music very like Hawkwind and given the chance would probably happily join Dave Brock to become Hawkwind! The interesting thing is that it doesn't seem to matter, it is like listening to a long lost 'Wind album or, if you will, an android replica of the original. You have to face facts, Krel are very good at what they do. If tribute bands copying the sights and sounds of classic bands can attract huge audiences then I don't see why a band playing original music reminiscent of a classic band can't too.
Mober starts things off with compulsory cosmic synth sounds, spacey and ethereal, before heading into the rockier Barricades. The intro to this piece dates it somewhat with various politicians of the early eighties (oh how I never want to hear Maggie Thatcher's voice again!) passing comments on the travellers scene of that time. With florid and extended guitar soloing this track really gets the album moving. It's Alive is good enough to be an outtake from In Search Of Space being sonically related to You Shouldn't Do That: extended riffing, whispered vocals, dreamy synths and out there guitar solos; I suspect that a few people who are more than a little familiar with classic Hawkwind albums would not guess that was not the arch space troubadours themselves.
Androids is probably the most predictable piece lyrically (in the "do androids dream of electric sheep" vein) and Open is the only immediately identifiable live track being of rather inferior sonic quality and also the weakest track on the album, but then it is undoubtedly just a jam at the end of a concert. Altogether better is the synth laden instrumental Release leading neatly into the majestic Space Trip which once again has fluid guitar soloing and a vocal arrangement which will have you playing spot the Hawkwind song ! Add in a few short mood setting instrumental pieces like Zero G, The Visit, Golden Tether and the lovely and languid Trees, and you have a pretty damn fine space rock album.
So, nothing original but all the same an album that has considerable merits. It's appeal will depend on if you are a fan of the whole space rock genre or not. However, if you are a cosmic voyager, particularly of the starship Hawkwind, then you can't go far wrong with Krel.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10 (but recommended for classic Hawkwind fans!)