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Reviews in this issue:
- Trettioåriga Kriget – Hej På Er!
- Magellan – Symphony For A Misanthrope
- Centrozoon – Never Trust The Way You Are
- Dream Aria - In The Wake
- Alon – The Artist Manifesto: Document 1 [EP]
Trettioåriga Kriget – Hej På Er!
Tracklist: Hej På Er! (4:30), Natten Som Alltid (4:00), Stan Tur Och Retur (4:00), Moln På Marken (3:20), Dagspress (4:15), En Kvall Hos X (5:35), Ser Du Mej (4:38), En Dag Om Natten (3:14), Andra Sidan (5:30)
Bonus Tracks: Mot Alla Odds (3:54), Rapport (4:48), Hur Star Det Till (4:27), Rockgift (2:45)
My love affair with the stupendous Trettioåriga Kriget continues to blossom with this the first CD reissue of their third album Hej På Er! which was originally released at the end of 1978.
Right from the start it is obvious that T K have with Hej På Er! taken large strides towards a more polished mainstream sound, with shorter, more accessible, but still carefully constructed and progressively inclined tracks. The production is clear and precise, allowing the cool, ringing tones of the guitars to really shine. On the opening number they sound like a Scandinavian Wishbone Ash to me, with an infectious main riff.
For Natten Som Alltid, acoustic guitars give a folky twist on the verses, punctuated by jangling riffs. Slide guitar and falsetto vocals complete the picture. Whilst Stan Tur Och Retur has a more moody feel, with keyboards that remind me a little of fellow Swede Bo Hansson – this one is in a symphonic vein, and the overall effect is very satisfying. Moln På Marken, the first of two instrumentals, is a lovely track with a delicious central guitar melody, sounds like something Focus’ Jan Akkerman would have come up with. Saxophone helps add to the groove.
Dagspress takes a similar tack with the melodic guitar lead but adds a more driving beat, accelerated tempos and some agitated saxophone to create a tense atmosphere. The percussion workout at the end is a nice touch too. En Kvall Hos X utilises slick and jazzy saxophone and a swaggering guitar riff to help create this “snapshot of a party”. On Ser Du Mej?, violin and cello provide choppy orchestrations in the instrumental breaks, along with power chords and impressive vocals. This is one of my favourites.
En Dag Om Naten is another nice track, with excellent vocals and slightly funky keyboards. The final track Andara Sidan is a dreamy little number with a melancholic feel and has an effective synth solo from Matts Lindberg (who also plays sax on the album)
In conclusion, though definitely less “progressive” than Krissang, which remains my favourite of their albums, this is still well worth seeking out and provides strong pointers to the sound of their comeback album Elden Av Ar. Though on a different label, the packaging follows the previous reissues in being superbly presented in a stylish digi-pack, with lots of photos and copious notes in his usual candid style, by lyricist Olle Thornvall.
The bonus tracks are the single Rockgift and three tracks from the next album Mott Alla Odds which all show the “New Wave” direction that Kriget went in at that time. Proving that it’s hard to hide your musical skills, these tracks are still expertly performed and are quite enjoyable but are done in a very straight and poppy style (roughly comparable to the place of Gentle Giant’s Giant For A Day or PFM’s Come Ti Va in those bands’ respective catalogues), and therefore many proggers may not want to pursue Kriget’s original career any further than Hej På Er! (they followed Mott Alla Odds with one more album in 1981) but the aforementioned comeback album from 2004 is a glorious return to adventurous music and is one of the better reunion efforts in the prog market. Both that and Hej På Er! would make very worthwhile additions to your collection of Scandinavian prog.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Magellan – Symphony For A Misanthrope
Tracklist: Symphonette (2:51), Why Water Weeds? (8:31), Wisdom (4:24), Cranium Reef Suite (18:05), Pianissimo Intermission (2:08), Doctor Concoctor (4:13), Every Bullet Needs Blood (6:42)
American prog rockers Magellan seem to have gone from being one of the least productive bands on the scene to one of the most; after just three releases in twelve years prior to 2002’s Hundred Year Flood, we’ve had 03’s excellent Impossible Figures (the band’s Inside Out debut) and now, in short order, this new release. Of course, this time frame ignores all the side projects (Explorer’s Club, Leonardo et al) with which band leader Trent Gardner has busied himself with in Magellan down-time, but it does suggest a renewed focus on his main venture.
Musically, I would say that Symphony For A Misanthrope falls somewhere between those last two albums; it retains, to an extent, the punchy, slightly heavier approach adopted for Impossible Figures, but also sees a revisiting (in one instance at least) of longer, more involved compositions. In terms of personnel, Gardner is joined as usual by guitarist brother Wayne, whilst Joe Franco, who drummed on Hundred Year Flood, makes a return here.
The album kicks off in typically bombastic style with the instrumental overture Symphonette. As the title implies, this is a pseudo-classical piece with typically strong melodies, and all the pomp and grandeur Magellan fans have come to expect from Gardner projects – subtle this is not. The first track proper, Why Water Weeds?, kicks off with some typically crunchy guitar riffs from Wayne Gardner, suggesting this is going to be a solid, punchy number along the lines of the Impossible Figures’ opener Killer Of Hope. However, what actually emerges is more of a dark symphonic ballad, albeit with plenty of tempo changes. The dark feel doesn’t just come from the music; lyrically, the optimism Gardner seems to have been showing on Impossible Figures (no doubt due in some part with the signing of the deal with Inside Out) has been all but wiped out here, replaced by a bleak and world weary viewpoint. Don’t know if this fits Gardner’s current mood in reality, but it generally fits with the music. Why Water Weeds? certainly has its moments, including a great up-beat section complete with all sorts of Hammond noodling introduced later in the track, but in general comes across as a rather unfocussed and disjointed affair, something that unfortunately can be said about much of the album.
Wisdom opens up as a straightforward acoustic guitar and piano-led ballad; whilst it is embellished later on with Gardner’s arsenal of synthesised sounds, the song never really seems to get going, although its pleasant enough. Next up is the track which most will undoubtedly focus on, the 18-minute epic Cranium Reef Suite, and in all honesty this, like the album as a whole, is something of a mixed bag. In its favour are some wonderful melodies, not least on the lush, symphonic opening section, whilst there’s also some stellar instrumental sections, including a great lead guitar break by Wayne towards the latter part of the track, but once again the actual structure of the song is rather suspect, and it doesn’t seem long into the track before Magellan start repeating the same melodies over and over again to an ever-diminishing degree.
Following this, there are a couple of rather forgettable tracks - Pianissimo Intermission is, again, a fairly self-explanatory piece, featuring Trent Gardner beavering away on the piano doing his best JS Bach impression. Doctor Concocter is to my ears a deeply misguided attempt at straight-ahead heavy rock – discernible melodies are conspicuous by their absence. Fortunately things end on a high note with the excellent Every Bullet Needs Blood; despite featuring a rather overbearing snare drum sound this is far more like it – a crisp, punchy track with a nice flow, well-worked tempo changes and a strong anthemic chorus. If only they’d included a couple more like this, it would have probably made a difference to my overall impression of the album.
Overall then, Symphony For A Misanthrope is something of a mixed bag. Whilst there are numerous strong melodies littered throughout the album, my general feeling is that the song structures in many cases are not robust enough to hang them on. In many cases it almost feels like sections have been very quickly edited together with little thought to how they fit into the song as a whole, and there’s a general feeling of Gardner and Co going into the studio with too few ideas and therefore being forced to stretch them out. However, strange as it may seem after all this criticism, and despite being somewhat disappointed overall, I still find this to be a generally enjoyable album, simply because as I’ve stated, there are some strong melodies, and the enthusiasm with which the band go about their bombastic business is infectious.
Confirmed fans will probably already have this anyway, but if you’re a newcomer to Magellan and are intending to check out their material, I’d recommend checking out Impossible Figures or one of their earlier albums, such as 93’s Impending Ascension, first, as they offer a better idea of what the band sound like at their best. A final thought would be that, whilst its nice to see Magellan producing albums more regularly, perhaps they need to spend a bit more time on the next one.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Centrozoon – Never Trust The Way You Are
Tracklist: Like A 1000 Stars (0:32), Bigger Space (9:22), Ten Versions Of America (4:29), Carpet Demon (3:59), Not You (1:28), Make Me Forget (4:57), Little Boy Smile (5:03), Song Unsung (0:59), Pop Killer (3:43), Skylight (4:13), The Scent Of Crash And Burn (4:07), Mother’s Call (0:49), To The Other (2:48)
Centrozoon is a collaboration between British vocalist Tim Bowness (best known for his work with Steven Wilson in No Man) and German musicians Markus Reuter (touch guitar, bass, loops) and Bernhard Wostheinrich (synthesisers and percussion). Whilst the German duo have several back catalogue items to their name, Bowness’s involvement is more recent, and I’m unsure whether he is a permanent addition to the band’s ranks. Having seen both Reuter and Bowness in solo capacities at a recent London gig, I was (whilst a little underwhelmed with their individual performances) intrigued to see what they would come up with in tandem, and must admit to being pleasantly surprised at the quality of this album.
With a touch guitarist in Centrozoon’s ranks its fairly inevitable that comparisons to King Crimson are going to be made, and these are fairly valid – with the link being compounded by Crimson drummer Pat Masteletto’s appearance on a couple of tracks. However Centrozoon’s music is in general far more groove-based and accessible than Crimson’s recent output, and its’ clear that 90’s outfits such as Portishead and Massive Attack are just as big an influence, as is the 80’s work of David Sylvian (always an influence where Bowness is concerned).
Whilst its atypical in terms of length, the first main track Bigger Space nonetheless gives a good introduction to Centrozoon’s sound – the instrumentalists creating a laid-back, almost-ambient groove, over which they add layers of instrumental flavour – particularly near the end of the song, where Reuter almost goes in to widdly overload on his touch guitar. Over this backdrop float Bowness’ always-impressive vocals; wisely he cuts back on his usual earnestness here, instead delivering a more reigned-in, relaxed vocal performance that suits the music.
Other tracks generally conform to this style, although there are variations on the theme; Make Me Forget, for instance, has a very melancholic feel and is perhaps the song most indicative of Bowness’ work with No Man; Carpet Demon is the sole track you could feasibly call up-tempo, driven by an almost techno-ish back-beat, whilst the ambient wash of Skylight has a late-night feel, and is rather reminiscent of Brian Eno’s work circa Another Green World.
The album does start to drag in the last third, with the likes of (the excellently named) Pop Killer not really making much of an impression. The lack of variation in tempo also begins to work against the album by this point, and in truth this is not a work that the more traditionally-minded prog fan is going to take to. Nevertheless, this is overall a solid album which should certainly satisfy fans of Bowness’ previous work, whilst also appealing to those prog rock fans who enjoy relaxing to a bit of superior ‘chill out’ music from time to time.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Dream Aria – In The Wake
Tracklist: Spirit (4:09), Sungoddess (4:30), In The Wake – Soul (2:48), In The Wake – Body (1:54), Blue Lady (5:32), Snapshot (3:33), Pacis (4:46), Promise (5:33), He Touched My Soul (4:12), Raindrops (3:33), Opus Dei (4:25), Spanish Nights (3:04), 11th Hour (3:54)
Is there an “atmospheric metal” movement in southern Ontario, Canada? I haven’t been able to find out. But a few months ago, I reviewed the superb debut CD by an Ontario band called Trance of Mine, and now here’s another excellent debut CD by another Ontario band – and, boy, are there similarities between the two. I’ve no doubt that it’s possible that the bands arrived at their sounds independently, but I wouldn’t be surprised, either, if I learned that the bands knew each other.
Both bands will remind objective listeners of The Gathering, and that’s why I began by talking about atmospheric metal, even though Dream Aria isn’t what most people would think of as a metal band. The Gathering, even in their recent live acoustic album, can bear the designation “metal” because of their origins; however, even they prefer a different generic label – in an interview, the band’s singer, Anneke van Giersbergen, says that their drummer suggests “trip-rock.” Well, whatever we’re to call that fine band’s last few albums, both Trance of Mine and Dream Aria will appeal to fans of late Gathering. But having established that similarity, I’d like to spend the rest of this review describing what makes Dream Aria an excellent band in their own right.
This band, for one thing, isn’t afraid to use samples. Well, big deal – half, probably more, of the songs one hears on the radio these days contain samples. But the ingenuity here is blending samples (and there are lots: the booklet credits an even dozen sample CDs) with traditional rock instrumentation and effectively disguising the samples, making them integral to the songs’ sound. But the synthesized/techno basis of many tracks is undeniable. Some of the songs, especially Blue Lady, will remind some listeners of that good, weird old studio conglomeration Enigma (remember their Sadeness from some years back – the song that created a brief Gregorian-chant fad?); and one track (don’t hold this against the band – it’s one of the best songs on the album), Pacis, nagged at me with its familiarity till I realized that I was thinking of Yanni’s most famous song, Aria. You know, that’s the one used in the famous British Airways commercial. Is Yanni’s song’s title’s similarity to this band’s name a coincidence? I’d say not: the song is only reminiscent of Yanni’s in its melody but very similar in the vocals throughout. That’ll give you an idea of the kind of song it is; and a few other songs on the album are not dissimilar. So, no, “metal” – “atmospheric” or otherwise – probably isn’t the term to apply to a band that’ll remind you of Yanni even in one song, even for only a moment.
I just mentioned the singing, and it’s – what’s the word? Heavenly? Ethereal? Angelic? Vocalist Ann Burstyn, who was asked to join the band after advertising herself as a “singer for hire,” is working in the big leagues here. Recurring to my comparison with The Gathering, there aren’t many singers I’d put in the same category as Anneke, but there’s no question that Burstyn belongs in that category. Her voice is both gorgeous and powerful, in its high and in its low ranges equally. It’s perfectly matched to the music, too. The other musicians – drummer Gary Gray, guitarist Jozef Pilasonovic, and keyboardist/composer Don Stagg – clearly care most for the songs and little for merely exhibiting their own skill, and that of course is a skill in itself, an all-too-rare one. The best songs, and I think those are found mostly in the first two-thirds of the album, are exciting, propulsive, often Eastern-tinged works (think, not sitar music, but Kashmir). The band’s own description: “Dream Aria blends alternative rock with soul, just the right amount of edgy opera, electronica/techno AND exotic instruments/flavours in all the right places!” I suppose that says it as well as I could.
Now, as much as I like this album, and I like it a great deal, it has one weakness – or rather one main weakness and one sub-weakness. The main weakness, one common to many debut albums, is that the band seems to be fishing. There are many styles on this CD, and that of course is not a bad thing; but the variation in style from song to song doesn’t conduce to a wholly coherent album. The sub-weakness is that one of the styles that the band tries out is MOR pop, most especially on the unsuccessful Opus Dei (liking the band as I do, I’ll stop short of saying that this is the kind of song one can imagine the dreaded Celine Dion singing, but, you know. . . ) and the better but still unfortunately slightly lame album-ending 11th Hour. I call 11th Hour lame not because of its sound – it’s a propulsive, power-chord-propelled rocker – but because it’s a shame that the band ended this innovative album with a song that, for the most part, calls to mind a pastiche of some of Pat Benatar’s more ambitious work. The band itself (how prescient!) has a response to my objection, it’s only fair to add. In the FAQ section on their website (and it contains only two questions and their answers), the response to the question “Why so many styles in your music? Isn’t this confusing for the listener?” [a question I’d respond to, if I were a musician and somebody actually asked me something so stupid, with “Duuh,” if anything] is “We’re in the ‘2000s.’ Today’s listener is seeking something new and exciting. Music should have no boundaries. We aim to break the ‘rules’ and offer something unique to music lovers across the globe!” I like the youthful naïveté of that response, but I think Dream Aria will discover that presenting listeners with “something new and exciting” isn’t a goal incompatible with developing a coherent, recognizable group sound and crafting albums that are wholly unified.
I’ve said all that I really want to say, but I’m not satisfied that I’ve done a good job of fully describing the album. The problem’s partly with the variety of the music, but maybe “problem” isn’t the word. There’s a lot to offer here, and I can see that the band is brimming with more ideas – ideas that, I hope, will spill over onto subsequent albums. I recommend this album highly and would likely give it 8.5 out of 10 were it not for those two or three songs that, I think, undercut it a bit near the end. That’s a small failing, though, on an otherwise excellent debut album.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Alon - The Artist Manifesto: Document 1
Tracklist: Time Will Tell (5:53), Going Back (5:20), Art's End (4:52)
Compelling seems to be an appropriate word for this three track EP from Alon, a singer/songwriter from Drexel Hill in Pennsylvania, who offers three very listenable tracks that combine strong atmospheric soundscapes in a structured format. Broadly falling into that huge cauldron termed Artrock, Alon mixes his strong, but never insipid, vocal melodies within a solid song base.
The line-up for The Artist Manifesto sees Alon joined by Kenny Jackson (drums), Jim Hamilton (percussion - track one), Shaun Patrick Callen (bass on track two), Chico Huff (bass on track one), Eileen Brady (vocals on track one), Denise Ne Jame (vocals on track two), Harrison McKay (keyboards on track three) and Scott Herzog (vocal effects on track two). I mention this cast of musicians so as not to give the impression that Alon is solely responsible for the musical input on the CD. This said his contribution is integral to the overall sound, performing the main vocal duties along with the guitar work, keyboards, M-Tron, EBow, programming and "The Alonmorphic Control Station". I'm not entirely sure what the "ACS " is, but would hazard a guess at an array of digital and analogue effects used by Alon to create the song structures found on the album, and presumably live.
All three tracks flow well together, the first two being songs and the final piece an instrumental. Time Will Tell is a real grower, the rhythm is gentle, grooving and infectious with the subtle bass of Chico Huff being most appropriate. The strings lay a lush backwash for Alon's vocals which flow across the music in the main, but with just the right amount of bite to lift it up in certain sections.
Going Back is the most upbeat of the three tracks although the steady pace of the CD is still maintained. The vocal style is more aggressive with the music retaining a modern feel but something about it reminded me of some of the better material from the 80s - Simple Minds being the band that kept springing to mind. Probably my least favourite of the three tracks, but still with strong merits.
The album closer Art's End is a gentle undulating piece with a deep bass drone note that drifts in and out of the music at strategic points, thus giving contrast to the piece. The track is pulsed by a shuffling percussive rhythm, which in turn is embellished with a multitude of subtle guitar textures and sound effects. The EBow is particularly effective here as are the spacey keyboard sounds. Great stuff.
This EP represents what I have most enjoyed about writing for DPRP. In all truthfulness if this CD had landed on my doorstep four or five years ago I most likely would have let it slip by me, purely and simply because it would not have fitted with my notion of "good" music. The Artist Manifesto does not contain any solos to speak of, no odd metering, the pace is relatively slow, but none of this seemed to matter. Now I doubt this is going to appeal all our DPRP readers, but it did for this "evolving" DPRPee. Musically if I were to offer any loose pointers, we would look towards guys like Steve Wilson and Tim Bowness.
I have not offered a numeric conclusion to this CD, as purely and simply to do so would be pointless, with just three tracks to go on there is just not enough material to do so. On the one hand it is possible that an album of material similar to the three pieces offered here would certainly be highly rated, however on the other hand would the gentle pace, atmospheric textures and laid back approach become a little tiresome over a longer album. Impossible to say. All I would say though is as it stands this is extremely enjoyable EP and leaves this listener keen to hear future works from Alon.