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Reviews in this issue:
- Kaos Moon - The Circle Of Madness
- Dynamic Lights - Shape
- The Amber Light - Strange And Strangers [EP]
- Alexander Kostarev Group – Live @ Inprog
- Sanity - Live At 22 [DVD]
- Som Nosso De Cada Dia - A Procura da Essência ~ Ao Vivo 1975 - 1976
Kaos Moon - The Circle Of Madness
Tracklist: Eternal Light Avenue (5:04), Say to Me (7:05), Crawl (3:43), The Waves (5:19), The Wall of Silence (6:50), SOAB (4:28), Presidency (5:10), The Circle of Madness (3:18)
I've been putting off reviewing this album for weeks now and for the life of me I have no idea why. I elected to do the album, I liked it from the very outset and each time I've put the CD on to start reviewing it I've not managed a single word. This isn't a criticism of the music, far from it, as for each time I've played The Circle Of Madness, I've just sat back and enjoyed the music. In the end, and so I can remove this CD from my "pipeline", I have reviewed it in total silence.
The Circle Of Madness is the second release from Kaos Moon, with a gap of some ten years since their debut After The Storm. Having not heard their first album a little investigation was needed - the consensus suggests that band have changed direction slightly, which is not too surprising as the only original band member remaining is Bernard Ouellette (vocals, keyboards and drums). Ouellette has assembled what appears to be a tighter band altogether, with Norman Lachapelle (bass), Sylvain Provost (guitar) and Magella Cormier supplying additional (drums & percussion). With this nucleus in place a number of other musicians swell the ranks adding sitar, violin, cello and soprano saxophone to some of the tracks along with supplementary percussion, keyboards and guitar. The overall sound is therefore varied without ever becoming cluttered.
The album opens fairly gently with Bernard Ouellette's voice accompanied with some sparse keyboards, percussion and spiced up by Jean-François Bélanger sitar playing. From here the track follows a fairly standard verse chorus format, latterly featuring a brief but melodic solo by Benoit Chaput, before the tempo is picked up with some lovely fluid bass playing from Norman Lachapelle. This with the keyboards and guitar give a Camel-like flavour to the fade out. Next track is the delightful ballad Say to Me, again Ouellettes vocals are splendid this time complemented by classical guitar. Once again the track builds with numerous turns and twists, with the vocal arrangements becoming more detailed and intermingling with the more complex arrangement.
Crawl is a grooving track (yes, prog can groove) - Lachapelle's bass is wonderful, as it is throughout the album, pulsing the song along, which is then countered by the soft Hammond organ, sustained guitar and expressive vocals. This is followed by another ballad-like track, the soft and dreamy The Waves, with Robin Boulianne adding violin interludes as well as taking the solo passage. Again the track has numerous pick-ups and tempo shifts thus making the overall arrangement interesting and elevating it above a "standard" ballad.
One thing which becomes more apparent about The Circle Of Madness is that although most of the material is relaxed, the arrangements are far from being bland or uninspired and after a couple of run throughs these intricacies become more obvious. An excellent example can be found The Wall of Silence, where the jaunty feel of the track initially camouflages the busy backing. The inclusion of the violin, punctuated rhythms and instrumentation in this track, and the following piece, did conjure thoughts of earlier Kansas.
Presidency opens with narration from, well I'll let you guess from who, and for me is a little tacky. If I was to offer any criticisms on the material it would be with the lyrics, which at times didn't fully support the material, and some of the repeated chorus lines were a tad weak and a little predictable. But for someone like myself who tends to let the "deeper" intricacies of the singing drift by, this did not present a major problem. It certainly did not detract from the strong melodies or Bernard Ouellette's splendid voice and delivery. No better displayed than here in Presidency, which is so infectious it has lived with me for weeks. The album concludes with the title track - lyrically much more attuned to the music which percolates along and forms a fitting conclusion to the proceedings.
Many albums I review take a little time to get into - not so with this one. All the tracks are instantly catchy, the arrangements show an imaginative interpretation of what are well written songs, although it took till the second listening, remarkably sung with a distinct and pleasant voice. Ouellette's relatively high voice reminded me at times of Jon Anderson but with the added raspier lower end did give greater variation to the melody lines. So by the second run through of the album I had warmed to the vocals - the fact that all the material is written by Bernard does benefit the songs as his voice flows with the music rather than merely fitting in with it.
So who might this album appeal to - well, given that I have awarded it a DPRP recommended - ALL presumably ! But that will never be the case, however I would say that if I had got my finger out earlier, The Circle Of Madness would definitely have ended up in my top 10 albums for 2004. I can't particularly single out any track that was inferior or let the album down, so consistently strong was all the material. So if you enjoy well crafted melodic progressive rock songs, played with style and flair whilst encompassing just enough technical and instrumental passages to make the songs interesting, but without destroying the overall concept - then do yourself a favour and buy this album. Or at least have a listen to the track samples on the Unicorn site.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Dynamic Lights - Shape
Tracklist: In The Hands Of A Siren (9:24), Between Two Parallels (7:44), Remembrances (8:11), Density (2:16), Going To Nowhere (6:08), One Thousand Nothing (11:30), Connecting (2:08), The Big Show (7:27)
Two years ago I reviewed the self-produced debut of this young Italian band, called Resurrection. I concluded the review with stating that the band definitely had potential, but wasn't quite there yet. I must admit that since then I've not listened to Resurrection more than a handful occasions, and I had somewhat forgotten about them until this album got dropped through my mailbox. After hearing the new album, I doubt this will happen again.
Shape follows the direction the band took with Resurrection: prog metal with more than a hint of Fates Warning and Pain Of Salvation. Singer Matteo Infante does a good job in imitating the vocal style of Daniel Gildenlöw, though without coming across as a copycat. It is drummer Simone Del Pivo who keeps the music from falling into the metal category, with his very original and technically mind-boggling percussion work. His playing style is often very reminiscent of Mike Portnoy.
However, the real star of the album is keyboardist Giovanni Bedetti, whose keyboard work dominates the music on the album. With piano being the preferred instrument he gives the heavy rock music a special twist with his virtuosi melodies. It is as if Jordan Rudess himself plays on the album, as Bedetti's fast playing style resembles that of Rudess. Sometimes classical, sometimes honky-tonk, and sometimes swapping the piano to play a roaring Kurzweil solo. Fans of the style of Jordan Rudess will certainly find lots of things they like on this album. Bedetti even gets a solo spot on the album: the track Density is a two-minute classical piano improvisation.
Guitar aficionados may be a little disappointed in this album, as Marco Poderi's role is limited to rhythm guitar in most songs, with only a few solos. However, like the rest of his band mates, he too has a very varied style of playing. At times doing the 'Petrucci 100 notes a second thing' and other times, like in The Big Show sounding more like a Steve Rothery.
The music on the album is very diverse. Opener In The Hands Of A Siren is a good example. Upon the first opening bars it suggests pretty straightforward metal at first, but quickly turns into a more proggy affair, plenty tempo changes (mellow during the vocal parts, fast and heavy during the instrumental sections). Yet the biggest draw on this song are the guest vocals of Swedish singer Jamina Jansson, who already impressed as guest vocalist on Wolverine's The Window Purpose.
Cliché as it may sound, the 12 minute epic One Thousand Nothing is hands down the best song on the album. Infante's vocal melodies at the start of the song are almost jazz (punctuated by Bedetti's piano), but give way to a terrific long instrumental section which sounds as if it came from the same recording sessions as Dream Theater's Metropolis pt 1. Bass solo, keyboard solo, heavy guitar riffs, a Rick Wakeman-esque piano solo, more vocals and then one of the few guitar solos on the album.
My feelings on this album are predominantly positive, with only a minor note regarding the vocals. Infante suffers from the same problem as most of his colleagues from Italian rock bands: an accent. While certainly not as bad as some other bands I've reviewed, it is something people can have a problem with. I for one would not have mind if the Infante had sung in Italian, to be honest. But despite that one minor note: Highly recommended to all the fans of Pain Of Salvation, Wolverine, Fates Warning and Jordan Rudess.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
The Amber Light - Stranger And Strangers
Tracklist: Softly There, Everywhere (4:20), Still Going Nowhere (3:29), Stranger & Strangers (14:27), Hide Inside (acoustic) (3:55)
Wiesbaden's finest The Amber Light follow up their DPRP Recommended debut album Goodbye To Dust, Farewell To Dawn with a four-track EP Stranger & Strangers. Continuing with their eclectic blend of musical genres, this latest disc is quite a diverse package. Opening number Softly There, Everywhere has a prominent bass line and recurring drum pattern that gives it a feel somewhat akin to early The Cure, although the guitar riff and smooth, yet plaintive, vocals make it somewhat less morose. Continuing with Still Going Nowhere, The Amber Light prove that progressive bands can run with a groove. This upbeat number is a fine mixture of engaging beat and chiming guitars. The juxtaposition of slower melody line with a faster tempo back beat works well resulting in a song that will get the feet of even the most reluctant dance floor participant tapping!
For better or worse, prog rock has become synonymous with songs of extended duration. This has sometimes resulted in tracks that are lengthened beyond their natural duration or containing one too many solos. This may be one of the reasons why progressive music is dismissed by the wider population as being self-indulgent and a forum for displays of technical ability with style overcoming content. The Amber Light succeed in their longer pieces by having an arrangement that keeps the listener actively engaged for the entire length. Stranger & Strangers is no exception. Closest in style and structure to the group's album, the song will undoubtedly be the main incentive for a lot of people to buy this release. And they will not be disappointed. Starting slowly, the song gradually builds from a brief vocal introduction leading to the extended instrumental section with keyboards and bass holding the song together and laying down a foundation for the guitar to provide the light and shade. No solos as such, but a heady mixture of crashing chords, feedback, arpeggiated riffs and more reflective and subdued sections. Sigur Ros comparisons are still valid in places but this is only a small part of the whole and is so integrated with the song that it almost renders the comparison redundant - the band have really defined their own sound.
Hide Inside rounds of the album and again shows a different side to the band. Recorded live for a German radio session in May of last year, the song is stripped back to basics performed on two acoustic guitars. This gives it a more immediate impact and focuses the attention on the vocals and lyrics largely hidden in the more frantic electric band version found on Goodbye To Dust, Farewell To Dawn. As with any good song, laying bare the basic elements should still result in a piece that stands up and, indeed, should reveal otherwise hidden nuances. Again The Amber Light succeed and, if anything, the acoustic version holds sway in the preference stakes over the electric version.
Stranger & Strangers is a worthy filler while we wait for the next full-length album (although when you think of it, the early albums by The Beatles and The Stones were of a similar length to this EP!!). However, 'filler' is entirely the wrong word to use as each of the songs on this release is worthy of inclusion on anyone's MP3 playlist. And one shouldn't just focus on the title track, great as it is. The other three tracks are well worthy of attention displaying the diverse nature of what I consider to be Germany's hottest band. Well worth a listen.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Alexander Kostarev Group – Live @ Inprog
Tracklist: Intro (0:14), Vegetarian (7:38), Hard Water (7:09), Purgatory (9:47), A-Theist Hacker (6:00), Oasis (6:33), Concerto Grosso #1 : Allegro (4:29), Largo (5:59), Menouetto (4:15), Adagio (3:48), Presto. Finale (4:55) Bonus Material: PC Video of Vegetarian (7:55)
This tasty item is the first of a couple I have received from Russian label Starless which began in 2002/2003, releasing a clutch of recordings by home-grown groups (Kostarev Group included). They seem to have since moved more into the field of reissuing items from around the world (Tempano, Trespass etc.) but I hope there are more Russian releases to come as the two I have received are particularly good.
On the edge of the CD case is proclaimed “Sympho Progressive Fusion” and this pretty much sums up the music of Alexander Kostarev and his group. The disc is effectively split into two halves, with (after a brief taster of the second half) the first five real tracks being in a Jazz Fusion vein and the concluding five tracks (the Concerto Grosso) unsurprisingly being in more of a symphonic style.
Certainly no slouch when it comes to the guitar, Kostarev however chooses not to hog the limelight, with the accent being on ensemble playing. The expanded instrumental line-up also features keyboards, violin, flute, saxophone and drums so there is plenty of diversity in the musical textures. Kostarev himself contributes harmonica on Hard Water, somewhat unusual for this type of fusion, but surprisingly effective as it clashes with the penetrating violin of Gennady Lavrentiev.
Kostarev’s guitar often has an odd, fuzzed-up sound, giving a unique twist to the blazing hot fusion. Also unusual in tone are many of the keyboard sounds employed by Ekaterina Morozova. There’s a touch of Keith Emerson’s style here and there, but quite different in actual sound. She’s great throughout, but particularly impressive on the furious Vegetarian and also on Concerto Grosso. In the picture on the sleeve, she looks a little like she could audition as the next Harry Potter, but she brings her own kind of magic to this special musical brew.
Oasis utilises tablas and flutes for a moody eastern tinged opus, a tad more restrained than the preceding tracks but delicious nonetheless. Kostarev pulls off a great solo here. As with most of the tracks, the arrangements are meticulously tight but with room for improvisation.
The second half of the disc is, if anything, even more enjoyable, still finding room for some jazzy touches and a little improv but mainly veering off into a neo-classical symphonic style, by turns light and playful (the opening Allegro) and sombre and moody (the Mussorgsky-ish Largo). There are quite a few prog bands that have tried their hands at this particular genre, with varying degrees of success but AKG manage to pull it off with quite some panache, giving the format their own particular twist. The violin and flute come to the forefront with sprightly playing from Yuri Lopukhin underpinning the sweeping melodies of Lavrentiev. With Kostarev vigorously attacking the fret board, this comes across like a cross between King Crimson and New Trolls. The gentle, almost straight classical opening to Menouetto is roughly pushed aside for a frenetic jam before returning to a milder conclusion, but with a splash of avant-rock to keep you on your toes.
Adagio has a stately classical theme and a funky edge, and Presto Finale reprises the opening motif for a rousing conclusion, with dynamic organ and feverish flute.
This live album is enjoyable from start to finish, and comes with a bonus Video track enabling us to get a glimpse of the team in action. Though not startlingly original, they have managed to inject a fresh perspective on an old formula, and create some unusual of textures by use of non-standard instrumental voicing.
My appreciation of this disc has grown considerably with continued listens and I feel justified in awarding a recommended tag to an, admittedly obscure, release which deserves a larger audience.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Sanity - Live At 22
Tracklist: Intro (2:04), No One Sleeps Tonight (5:30), A Gathering Of Souls (5:15), My Little Angel (6:18), Say (5:26), Lonely At The world (7:50), Stolen from Idols (5:30), Man Along The Line (7:33), Together As One (8:09), Victims (4:54)
With only a few self produced mini and/or demo CDs to its name, the fledgling Dutch prog metal combo Sanity has taken the somewhat unusual step of releasing a full length concert DVD coupled with a CD featuring the same performance in audio form, despite having yet to release a full length or professionally produced album. However, despite the very professional looking packaging, this ultimately still feels like a demo release, more of a calling card for major labels than a fully realized live DVD. The show presented is a small club affair, captured by good but not spectacular camera work; the sound is likewise proficient but the band, whose performance is solid if visually quite ordinary, are let down occasionally by a slightly indistinct mix. I am unable to comment on the digital 5.1 surround sound.
These shortcomings notwithstanding, the DVD is really quite enjoyable and shows a band with lots of promise, playing strong, well crafted material in a gothic tinged mix of traditional neo prog (a la IQ) and harder edged metallic riffing in the vein of Queensrÿche or Dream Theater. The band is a tight unit, anchored by a dynamic rhythm section (Roger Van Acquay – bass, Fred Den Hartog – drums) and with impressive contributions from keyboardist Nathan Cairo and guitarist Jeroen Hoegee, they produce a consistently striking, often moody, always interesting backdrop for the arresting vocals of Kees Van Keulen. I have a feeling that Van Keulen is one of those vocalists who may polarise the potential audience, having a Rich dark-toned, wide-ranging voice with operatic tendencies. Some may see it as somewhat histrionic whilst others will experience it as being very emotionally expressive and often very moving. I am definitely in the latter camp, finding much to enjoy in his deeply felt performance, but I am a big fan of Peter Hammill, who would be a reasonable comparison in terms of approach, if not exactly in sound. Peter Nicholls of IQ, David Bowie and Geoff Tate of Queensrÿche might also be useful pointers to the type of singer we are talking about.
The set list is very consistent in terms of overall quality, making it difficult, if not redundant to pick out favourites. The only drawback being that the songs begin to feel a little samey towards the end. Each one displays a variety of moods, with hard-rocking sections and quieter passages, crunching riffs and dramatic symphonic atmospheres, but none manages to lift itself out of the, admittedly strong, pack to emerge as a standout. Together As One and No One Sleeps Tonight are good examples of what’s on offer, if you want a taster, but really any of the songs would give you a good idea of the bands strengths, capabilities and overall style.
This kind of emotional metal prog is very popular at the moment, and Sanity could easily develop into one of the leading lights of the genre, given a little more time and a larger budget. In Van Keulen, they have a charismatic and talented focal point, ideally suited to deliver the forceful material. I shall definitely watch out for a full length CD from these guys.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Som Nosso De Cada Dia -
A Procura da Essência ~ Ao Vivo 1975 - 1976
CD 1 - O Barulho Aterroriza: Sinal da Paranóia (10:50), Fragmentações (12:04), Neblina (15:14), Tema da Batera (3:34), Rara Confluência (11:09), Bote Salva Vidas (13:22), Tinta Preta Fosca (Bem no Fim) (8:09), Blues da Gaita (3:11), Improviso (1:38)
CD 2 - Cuidado com o Verdi: Bote Salva Vidas (12:10), Sonhas Paulinho (9:04), Tinta Preta Fosca (Bem no Fim) (6:01), Água Limpa (7:34), Fragmento Instrumental (2:15), Tema da Batera (5:35), Blues do Verdi & b. Voando a 10.000 por Hora (17:20), Rajada Runaway (10:50), Sinal da Paranóia (8:45)
Som Nosso De Cada Dia (SNDCD) is a progressive rock band from Brazil that was born in the seventies scene. To commemorate the thirty years release of their debut and classic album Snegs (1974) the band release this double CD that presents for the very first time the live recordings of SNDCD from their brief period of activity in the mid seventies. SNDCD began performing live some new material – aside from their Snegs album – that would be independently recorded at the end of 1975. The material included here was selected basically from two gigs in Sao Paulo in late 1975 / early 1976. All tracks presented here have been selected by bassist and singer Pedrão Baldanza from the few remaining tapes in the personal archive of guitar player Egidio Conde. The recordings, despite being directly obtained from the venue’s soundboards, present some flaws, technical glitches and saturation. So, don’t expect an excellent sonic quality of this recordings as it sound like a bootleg record – the bad ones, because some bootlegs have excellent quality. Musically, by removing all these sonic issues, this double CD is an enjoyable live set for those of you who like jazz/fusion (such as Chick Corea, Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra) type of prog music combined with a touch of seventies classic rock style such as Blind Faith, Cream, etc.
The band line-up for both concerts is Pedrão Baldanza (bass, vocals, Fender Jazz bass 64), Pedrinho Batera (drums, vocals, Ludwig drums, Moog drums), Egidio Conde (guitar Gibson ES-335, Fender Stratocaster), Dino Vicente (keyboards, Hammond Organ B3, ARP Odyssey, Moog 15, Fender Rhodes electric piano) Tuca Camargo (keyboards, Fender Rhodes electric piano, Minimoog, clavinet) and Rangel (percussion).
Sinal da Paranóia starts with a relatively long musical introduction in the form of jamming session that combines keyboards, bass guitar, drums and guitar. Keyboard is key force during this introduction part with a Chick Corea style. Bass lines are performed dynamically backed up with an excellent drumming and jazzy keyboard. This relatively long introduction plays repeated set of chords to accompany keyboard improvisation. Guitar continues the role of solo after keyboard. It then brings the vocal line in which enters the music in the middle of the track. This part reminds me of a classic rock tune Presence of the Lord performed by Blind Faith. It’s not exactly the same melody-wise, but it produces similar nuance. It also reminds me to PFM and Genesis' music.
Fragmentações opens with a spacey soundscape followed with drum beats reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s early work. The music sounds like a jam session with spacey nuances, featuring electric guitar and keyboard. It flows flatly with relatively no major changes in tempo, only it demonstrates some guitar solo, keyboard fills and some improvised bass lines / drumming. It’s too long and a bit boring for my personal taste. But for those who like repetitive chords with some improvisations, you may survive with this 12 minute track.
Neblina explores the spacey nuance at its intro, continued with a mellow voice line reminiscent of PFM; augmented with bass lines and improvised keyboard. It projects the seventies progressive rock vein with some bluesy style. The guitar solo performed between two singing parts is truly stunning. Right after the second part of singing – in the middle of the track – the music turns into a faster tempo in a jazz improvisation vein featuring excellent keyboard solo; continued with guitar solo and vocal line. Drumming is performed dynamically. I personally enjoy this track, despite sonic quality issue. Well, if the band gets together in the studio again to record this track, I’m sure it will show this is a wonderful track with great composition!
Tema da Batera is a short track with a very poor sonic quality so that I can not listen and observe in a great details on the music. For sure, it comprises an excellent combination of drum sounds, keyboard effects, bass lines and guitar in energetic mood. But I cannot comment further as it produces unclear sounds. It also happens with Rara Confluência which has similar sonic issue. This seems like a wonderfully crafted music performed lively in front of dynamic audience. The keyboard and guitar sounds are superb but unfortunately I cannot hear them clearly.
Sonically, Bote Salva Vidas has a better sonic quality than two previous track. It contains dynamic drumming which with bass lines and keyboard fills accompany an excellent guitar solo. The style is still the same: jam session but it produces some nice melodies from the solo parts. Some keyboard sounds are played at the background and project a symphonic nuance of the song. During some transitions, the guitar is played in Steve Hackett style. The bass lines play important roles to bring the music into different form. This happens in the middle of the track where the long transition is followed with a vocal line. At the end of the track, guitar solo takes the lead to conclude the track accompanied by dynamic bass lines and excellent drumming. Composition-wise, this is an excellent track.
Tinta Preta Fosca (Bem no Fim) begins with an ambient soundscape followed with drum work that brings the music in a full swing with a sort of poppy style. The vocal line is performed energetically by multiple voices augmented with an organ. Guitar solos fill in between singing parts. Even though it’s not tightly composed, this song has a stunning guitar solos.
Blues da Gaita as the title implies, pushes the band’s music into a blues scene using harmonica as opening augmented with guitar work, bass lines and organ. Disc One is concluded with a short piece Improviso in a jazz/blues style.
Disc Two contains four tracks with the same title therefore I won’t review again each. However, I will give some views on Tema de Batera as the sonic quality is better than on Disc One.
Sonhas Paulinho starts with an ambient guitar solo and it flows gradually into a slow/medium tempo music featuring guitar as main melody during the first half of the duration. As usual, bass lines are played dynamically and keyboard sound provides a symphonic nuance. Vocal starts to enter the music in the middle of the track. Unfortunately, sonic quality is poor so that I cannot hear a transparent voice. For sure, guitar solo plays critical role.
Água Limpa features keyboard as main solo in its opening, accompanied by bass lines and drums. When vocal enters, the keyboard turns into an organ sound at background. Right after the singing part, the music turns faster into an improvised jazz/fusion style. Sonic quality has limited me from observing further on composition of this song. For sure, the tempo has gradually increased towards the end of the song.
Tema da Batera starts off with an energetic drumming and dynamic bass lines in relatively fast tempo. It is then followed with an excellent drum solo until the end of track. The record continues with a long jam session track Blues do Verdi - Voando a 10.000 por Hora. It’s a nice jam session combining excellent keyboard, stunning guitar and dynamic drumming / bass lines. In some parts, bass guitar is given a chance to perform in solo. Rajada Runaway begins with a bass guitar solo followed with drum beats and guitar fills. Vocal enters in ambient style augmented with a bluesy guitar fills. Stunning guitar solo continues right after first part singing part. The singing style of the lead singer is technically excellent.
To Summarize - for those who knew the band historically, would love this collection because this double CD comprises the band’s live experiences in their glorious days during the seventies. For those who love jazz/fusion based progressive music would also enjoy this record. You can find great solos on keyboard and electric guitar combined with excellent bass lines. The only big problem with this live compilation is its poor sonic quality.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10 (7.5 for music and 4 for sonic quality)