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Reviews in this issue:
- Guapo - Black Oni
- Phideaux - Chupacabras
- Oliver Wakeman - Mother's Ruin
- Baker Gurvitz Army - Live
- Three Man Army - 3
- Paul Gurvitz - Rated PG
- Arilyn - Virtual Reality
- Kalle's World Tour - Start
- Arion - Arion
- Jaugernaut - Contra-Mantra
Guapo - Black Oni
Tracklist: Black Oni – 1 (3:33), II (11:54), III (10:20), IV (5:44), V (12:56)
UK avant-garde instrumental outfit Guapo have been producing albums since 1997, but only really came to attention of the progressive rock scene with last year’s excellent Five Suns set (released on the US Cuneiform label). You could argue that this was where they really cemented their own sound too, toning own the wilful abstractedness of earlier efforts such as Towers Open Fire in favour of a more coherent yet still foreboding and experimental sound based around dark, ambient electronics, a ilitaristic rhythm section and haunting and evocative keyboard melodies.
Five Suns was dominated by the 45 minute title-piece, a real tour de force, and Guapo have in some respects repeated the formula for its follow up, which is strongly rumoured to be the second part of a trilogy. There are certainly many similarities between the two pieces, although Black Oni (perhaps unsurprisingly given the first word in the album's title and the distinctly spooky-looking image of a forest at night that adorns its cover) is an altogether darker piece. I could in fact save those who bought (and liked) Five Suns the trouble of reading the rest of this review by saying that this is easily the equal of, and arguably better than, its predecessor, and can be purchased with confidence.
For those newer to the band, however, it might be worth a brief talk through the five stages of the album. It’s worth saying at this stage that, whilst the usual bands I’ve seen Guapo compared to are Magma and the Larks Tongues In Aspic -through-to- Red era King Crimson, you could pick just as many reference points from the worlds of avant-garde, electronica and horror soundtracks. It speaks volumes that Black Oni is being released by ex-Faith No More frontman Mike Patton’s Ipecac label; home to an eclectic range of artists, ranging from the atmospheric post-metal outfit Isis to Patton’s experimental outfits Fantomas and Tomahawk. Suffice to say that this feels like the ideal home for Guapo, and if you’re a fan of any of the bands on the label you’ll probably enjoy Black Oni, regardless of your knowledge of the aforementioned 70’s outfits.
The first part of Black Oni immediately sets a bleak scene, with sinister, industrial electronics eventually giving way to the introduction of one of Guapo’s trademark, heavily percussive rhythms, over which Daniel O’Sullivan weaves some slightly manic organ melodies. This gives way to some further clanking industrial noises before part 2 sees the song really start to take off. Once again drummer Dave Smith kicks off with a militaristic marching rhythm, varying the pace and intensity of this very skilfully as this section progresses. O’Sullivan produces some simple but effective melody lines, mainly on Fender Rhodes this time, whilst Matt Smith’s solid, bottom-heavy bass provides a strong counterpoint. A third of the way through a harmonium wheezes into life, with Smith also bringing into play another of Guapo’s trademarks, a huge gong (akin to the one Roger Water’s hits with relish on the Pink Floyd Live At Pompei film). The latter half of this part sees Guapo alternating between some subdued, anticipatory pieces dominated by some spine-tingling keys from O’Sullivan, and more up-tempo sections where the militaristic rhythms dominate.
The third phase of Black Oni sees the first introduction of a new element to the band’s sound, with all backing stripped away and O’Sullivan left to play a supremely evocative and haunting piece, verging on the classical style, on the piano. Gradually this builds in intensity, adding extra notes on a higher scale, before the tension is finally relieved by the sudden interjection of an up-tempo, pumping bass-line from Smith. From here the piece once again weaves in the familiar melody lines from earlier parts, and gets increasingly frantic, with several discordant sections – it often looks like the whole shebang is about to go off the rails, but the tight rhythm section just about manages to keep things on track.
The fourth section eases up on the tempo, but not in the unsettling atmosphere. Dark waves of electronica, feedback, squealing machinery and echoey industrial clanging succeed in putting the listener a little ill at ease – I was reminded at this point of some of the 70’s horror soundtracks, such as the one for Dario Argento’s Susperia, written by Italian outfit Goblin. Distant clattering drums and the re-introduction of the gong only add to the uneasy atmosphere.
Part five once again sees the tension being relived – of sorts; at the commencement of this section the pace is once again ratcheted up, and O’Sullivan weaves his now-familiar organ melodies around the tight but dextrous rhythms. He also adds some flashes of Mellotron to the mix. The pace once again slows a few minutes into this section, becoming almost funereal as O’Sullivan once again uses the Mellotron, this time to altogether darker effect. I would argue that perhaps the conclusion is dragged out a little too long, but Guapo just about manage to sustain the tension and atmosphere, and add an extra layer of symphonics to the mix as the piece comes to a suitably epic and atmospheric finale.
Overall, I think that Guapo have managed to surpass Five Suns with this release – and given its predecessor’s quality that’s no mean feat. In a way it benefits from the fact that, at forty five minutes, its just the right length, whereas Five Suns added an extra couple of tracks after the epic title track, which probably amounted to a bit too much of a good thing. Make no mistake, Black Oni is not an easy listen, and you probably would not wish to put it on if you have had a bad day and are looking for something accessible and uplifting. Personally, however, I think this is an excellent and very individual piece of instrumental music, and I’d certainly recommend if you like your prog dark, brooding and atmospheric.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Phideaux - Chupacabras
Tracklist: Okay (2:06), Chupacabras [a. Supper's Calling, b. The Shepherdess, c. A Brief History Of Truth And Beauty, d. Chupacabras Stomp, e. Get My Goat, f. Study & Review, g. The Gift] (20:42), Party (5:17), Fortress Of Sand (5:06), Ruffian On The Stairs: A. Ruffian On The Stairs (2:59), B. Sunburnt (2:50), C. Return Of the Ruffian (4:17), Titan (5:15)
Chupacabras: a creature reputedly native to parts of the Americas, particularly Puerto Rico, where it was first reported, and Mexico. The creature is blamed for attacking and drinking the blood of livestock, hence its name which literally means 'goat sucker'.
Phideaux Xavier's fourth album, named after the mysterious vampiric creature, was originally scheduled for release earlier this year (recording was actually completed towards the end of 2004). However, mastering delays, the decision to undertake a minor remix and getting the artwork finalised has resulted in the album only recently being completed. Regarded by the artist as "a bit of a clearing house" (some of the songs were originally composed for earlier albums) and "a lesser album for the friends and fans, it is not exactly the album to win over folks", Phideaux is seriously selling himself short. Anyone who has heard the previous two albums reviewed and recommended by DPRP, Fiendish and Ghost Story will know that Phideaux is pretty adapt at mixing styles and influences to come up with something unique. Chupacabras is no exception, with pop, psychedelia and progressive rock all playing their part in backing the stories that Phideaux regales the listener with.
And Progressive is the word to use about this release. Although the previous albums may not have sat easily under such categorisation (not that it matters), Chupacabras certainly does, and not simply because there are two long-form compositions included on the album either! Okay serves as an introduction to proceedings, the keyboards, guitar and choral vocals providing an almost gothic atmosphere (that's gothic and not Goth!) leading into the epic title track. The song was originally composed for inclusion on Fiendish and a 14-minute version was recorded but left incomplete as it was felt it would overshadow the rest of that album. Now revamped, expanded and new instrumentation added, it is the centrepiece of its own album. Told from the point of view of the mythical (?) Chupacabras, the song begins with the rather melodic Supper's Calling. An upping of tempo and synth textures acts as an intermezzo before acoustic guitars and more choral vocals introduce The Shepherdess sung, appropriately, by Valerie Gracious. The contrasting vocals is a nice touch. A short piano and sitar guitar piece leads into A Brief History Of Truth And Beauty where again the contrasting vocals draw the listener into the story. Electric guitars and a heavier sound introduces Chupacabras Stomp and then into the dobro-infused Get My Goat, a placid classical tinges instrumental featuring flutes, oboes and all sorts of other instrumentation. This track bears similarities with Journey Of The Sorcerer by The Eagles (you know, the track used as the theme tune to The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy). Finally, things are rounded up with the short Study & Review and The Gift which reprise elements of Supper's Calling and A Brief History Of Truth And Beauty. Impressive stuff.
Party began it's life as an all synthesiser demo some 15 years ago and was seemingly forgotten about until the Ghost Story album was being mixed. At that time most of the synthesiser parts were replaced. An interesting amalgamation of styles, the song still retains the ghost of its electro past but this shouldn't put people for whom such music is anathema off listening as it is a fine song, made by the "It's not nice to leave before the party is over" female spoken part midway through. Fortress Of Sand is a sound collage mixing a musical theme from Get My Goat, a vocal demo from Titan and the electric guitar part from Headstones (from the Fiendish album). An interesting experiment resulting in a fairly low key and mostly instrumental piece. Although probably not a track that stands out in isolation, it does fit in well with the rest of the album.
From the more gentle, we progress to the vicious trilogy of songs that comprise Ruffian On The Stairs. Another song originally recorded for Ghost Story, this piece is unchanged from those sessions. The eponymous first part mixes heavy riffing guitars with electric piano while Sunburnt concentrates on atmosphere setting the scene for The Return Of The Ruffian. Which brings the whole song together. Add some fine lyrics relating the tale of self disillusion and the death of ego (I particularly like "I kissed you once to make you stay, I kissed you twice now go away") and you have the recipe for a great song. Final track Titan is vintage circa 1997, having its origins from the time of a band called Satyricon. Again, a recording was started during sessions for the Fiendish album but never concluded. A more sedate number, it rounds the album off in style and although a very simple song, the arrangement is perfectly suited.
With some great performances from all the musicians involved, tasty arrangements and high quality writing, Chupacabras is far more than a collection of oddities and previously unreleased pieces flung together from "excavations of the Bloodfish boneyard". The album hangs together very well providing a cohesive and coherent fifty minutes of entertainment. Add to that a superbly presented 20-page booklet and a very reasonable price, what you get is a class album.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Oliver Wakeman - Mother's Ruin
Tracklist: Don’t Come Running (3:45), The Agent (8:36), In The Movies (5:11), Walk Away (4:25), Mother’s Ruin (6:11), Calling For You (4:02), If You’re Leaving (4:51), I Don’t Believe In Angels (4:32), Wall Of Water (10:42)
When Rick Wakeman announced earlier this year his intention to retire from the live music scene by the end of 2006, it seemed like the passing of an era. I guess he made the decision in the knowledge that the future of keyboard driven rock was in safe hands, with his two sons Adam and Oliver keeping the Wakeman banner aloft. From the start of their respective careers, they have both maintained close musical links with their father. In addition to his session work, Adam has worked in partnership with Rick, and Oliver has obviously been influenced in terms of his approach to recording. Together with fellow keyboard ace Clive Nolan, he produced The Hound Of The Baskervilles in 2002, and Jabberwocky in 1999. The latter featured a guest appearance from Wakeman senior as the narrator. He also teamed up with Rick’s old band mate Steve Howe in 2001 for the 3 Ages Of Magick, and appeared on his Spectrum album earlier this year.
The cleverly titled Mother’s Ruin is his ninth album release to date, in a recording career spanning just eight years. The album was actually completed at the end of 2003, but due to various circumstances, it has only just seen the light of day. This is something of a departure from previous releases, which have been mainly solo or concept albums featuring guest musicians and vocalists. This is his first ‘band’ album, and wisely he has surrounded himself with a group of talented musicians. In addition to Oliver himself on piano, keyboards and acoustic guitar, it features the vocals of Moon Kinnaird, David Mark Pearce on electric guitars, Tim Buchanan on basses, and Dave Wagstaffe on drums and percussion. Oliver takes full credit for writing the words and the music.
The brash Don’t Come Running provides a rocking start to the album. With a gritty keys sound, energetic guitar and forceful rhythm section, this song has plenty of drive. Unfortunately, it lacks a really strong hook to make it a truly memorable opener. At under four minutes however, it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. The Agent gives the band more scope to flex their musical muscles. A persistent guitar riff is the tracks pulse, with dynamic guitar and synth soloing given full reign around the half way mark. I’m afraid though that I have little empathy with the songs subject of unscrupulous music biz types. The sound of rainfall and symphonic keys set the scene for the reflective In The Movies. A fragile vocal, delicate piano and sensitive drumming enrich the soundscape. Dramatic guitar adds a harder edge, and a stately synth solo reminiscent of Rick’s Minimoog work in Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, stands out. Symphonic keys resurface for a serene ending.
The energetic Walk Away is one of the stronger tracks on the album. With a dense mix of guitar and keys, prominent bass and drums, a strong melody and confident vocal refrain, this has all the hallmarks of Asia. The environmentally sensitive Mother’s Ruin is the albums centrepiece. Following a suitably grandiose introduction, a swing-like rhythm featuring piano, keys and acoustic guitar provides backing to a theatrical vocal. The piece develops into a rich musical tapestry, combining lyrical piano, strident guitar and colourful keys. In contrast, Calling For You is a straight ahead rock song dominated by a penetrating guitar riff. The solid rhythm section, strong vocal delivery, and bombastic guitar and keys interplay all have shades of Deep Purple.
The beautiful If You’re Leaving is for me, one of the albums highlights. The piano work that underpins the song combines both grace and maturity. The lyrics are bittersweet, with a plaintive vocal delivery reminiscent of Jim Diamond. The poignant tumbling synth is sublime, and the fluid bass and drums are inspired. A melodic guitar solo fades all too quickly at the end. The mood is maintained with delicate piano providing a deceptive introduction to I Don’t Believe In Angels. The song bursts into life with lightning synth, a vigorous Santana like rhythm, and a rich organ sound. A brief but memorable guitar solo brings the song full circle. The lengthy and melancholic Wall Of Water brings the album to a close. The playing here is superb, but the piece lacks a solid structure. The prominent bass and intricate drumming is particularly good, but the guitar and keys exchanges seem to prolong the build. As the music develops, the instrumentation becomes more incisive, with keys providing a lush backdrop to a simple but majestic guitar coda.
This album has a hard edge for the most part, but prog and melodic rock combine with hard rock to provide contrasting moods. The material has its weak moments, but these are easily outweighed by the stronger elements. The songs are well crafted, diverse in subject matter, and the musicianship is never in doubt. The album also benefits from a crystalline production courtesy of Oliver himself. Since recording the album, the band has acquired a new bass player and vocalist, so it would be interesting to catch them in a live environment to see how the songs have developed.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Baker Gurvitz Army - Live
Three Man Army - 3
Tracklist: Three Days To Go (4:26) Dog’s Life (2:56) Jubilee (4:34) Look At The Sun (3:18) Don’t Wanna Go Right Now (5:20) Come To The Party (2:28) Let’s Go Get Laid (3:52) Doctor (2:42) You’ll Find Love (3:26)
Paul Gurvitz - Rated PG
Tracklist: Give Me A Sign (5:51) I Can Only wait (3:45) Made In Heaven (5:51) Save Jerusalem (4:10) Save The Last Dance For Me (3:44) If You Can’t Be The Woman (5:51) Captured (3:30) Where Do I Belong (3:49) I Never Stopped Loving You (4:24) One Love (5:51)
This is not a full-blown review; it’s more in the way of a heads-up to alert interested parties to the availability of these items, with a brief comment as to their style and content, to enable the curious amongst you to determine whether they may be of interest.
As I have mentioned in a previous review, I find the release policy of Revisited Records to be a little puzzling – it’s all quite at odds with the sort of stuff the parent company Inside Out specialises in (to great success). What we have is two sets of 70’s Hard Rock and a modern Singer-Songwriter/Soft Rock collection, all three pretty far away from the remit of this site. Having said that, I’m sure there are a few of you who will be glad to acquire these CD’s.
All linked by the Gurvitz Brothers, these three CD’s are all in fact previously unissued.
Having fronted Psych-Rockers The Gun (whose Race With The Devil is a minor classic) in the 1960’s, and then Three Man Army, Adrian and Paul Gurvitz linked up with Cream drummer Ginger Baker in the mid 70’s to pursue a prog-tinged hard rock direction. The Baker Gurvitz Army CD here is an unreleased live set featuring tracks from their first two records (Baker Gurvitz Army and Elysian Encounter), bolstered by two unreleased tracks – the opener Wotever It Is and a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Freedom. The bluesy hard rock is mostly played in a straight–up style, but Pete Lemer’s electric piano and some nice 3-part harmonies from lead vocalist Mr Snips and the Gurvitz Brothers make this an interesting listen for nostalgia freaks. I especially like the funky opener and the lengthy, jamming Remember. The group never managed to breakout of the second division, and this CD is not really going to attract many new fans either.
Backtracking to 1974, Three Man Army 3 is in fact unreleased demos for their fourth album (their third was called Three Man Army 2 ?!?) which was intended to be a rock opera, and you can sort of see what they were aiming at from these cleaned up demos, particularly on the Who–ish rock workouts Come To The Party and Doctor. There are some interesting numbers, including the lazy Dog’s Life and the slow-building rocker Three Days To Go, but the highlight is the terrific Mott The Hoople tribute Jubilee which is a Glamtastic fun trip.
Coming up to date, Paul Gurvitz has carved out a successful career as a songwriter for a stream of popular acts including Five Star, Imagination and Jermaine Jackson. Needless to say, none of these are of any interest to us. Rated PG is not as bad as this might suggest; in fact it is a well-crafted, mellow singer-songwriter album, entirely performed by the talented Mr Gurvitz. His many years of experience show through on sophisticated ballads like Save Jerusalem and Captured, and subtle world music influences and orchestration help lift Give Me A Sign and One Love respectively. I was often reminded of Chris Rea at his most laid–back. This is a pleasant, inoffensive album which would make a nice listen as you cosy up by the fire with a loved-one, but it’s generally too soft, too safe to appeal to fans of more experimental music.
The packaging is well-executed on all of these CD’s, and the sound quality is great, even on the live stuff and the demos. Gurvitz fans can purchase with confidence, curious proggers should try before they buy.
Arilyn - Virtual Reality
Tracklist: Beta (0:47), Chaos (5:51), Rise ‘N’ Sorrow (6:05), Reality (8:05), Run (5:24), Fall From Here (5:12), Unreal (6:24), Break Out (5:29), Time Went Backwards (5:51), Virtual Reality (6:23), Encourage Me (8:00)
This outfit may be a relatively new name to some, but they first came together five years ago following the demise of the band Desperation. Bassist/vocalist Christian Külbs, guitarist Jürgen Kaletta, and drummer Christof Doll from that band were joined by Jürgen Moßgraber on keyboards to form Arilyn. With a new name and a change in musical direction, their first album Tomorrow Never Comes was released by their current record label in July 2002. Following extensive gigging in their native country, they returned to the recording studio in 2004 to commence work on the all-important second album. The result is a heavier, more up-tempo release than their debut, and on initial hearing, seemed to lack the light and shade of its predecessor - however, give this album a chance, and it will soon have you hooked.
The band describes their music as “space rock”, which is a fair assessment I guess, although I would add ‘melodic progressive metal’ as a further point of reference. Each song does in fact follow a very recognisable pattern. Typically, a short instrumental intro, followed by repeated verse and chorus, a longer instrumental development leading to the final extended chorus. This is a formula that serves the band well however, due in no small part to the strong melodies and superb musicianship. The main ingredients are a driving rhythm section, powerful guitars, soaring keyboards, and strident vocals. The album also boasts a clean and crisp production, although this does have a tendency to smooth off some of the rough edges. The clue to the albums title and concept is in the lyrics, which are delivered with clarity, and only a hint of accent. This is just as well, as poor colour matching means the words printed in the CD booklet are almost illegible.
With swirling electronics and macabre voices, the short Beta serves as an eerie introduction to the album, and the dramatic and atmospheric Chaos. Pulsating synths and forceful guitars set a frantic pace, with solid bass and drum support adding to the urgency of the song. In contrast to this tension, the assured and measured vocal delivery adds a stately dimension to the song. The heat is turned down for Rise ‘N’ Sorrow, which includes a sparkling synth intro, giving way to electronic piano and a mellow bass line. Some misjudged melodramatic dialogue appears briefly, but is soon forgotten, thanks to a strong chorus backed by weighty guitar and keys. With a much lighter feel, Reality is the longest, and for me least successful track on the album. I not sure about the easy going guitar sound here, which seems more suited to a 1970’s pop/soul record. Another surprise ingredient is saxophone, courtesy of guest musician Sebastian Mettenheimer. He gives a gutsy performance, providing the band with an excuse to move up a gear towards the end.
Run hurtles along at full throttle, with the combined forces of guitar, bass and drums supplying the momentum. Dynamic vocals take the sonic foreground, with keys providing a symphonic backdrop. Strummed guitar and a prominent bass line provide a relaxed timbre to Fall From Here. The song builds to a strong chorus with vibrant vocals and a commanding keys solo. Sax makes a memorable reappearance as the song builds in strength, before returning to the calm beginning. Uncompromising bass and drums, guitar cranked up to the maximum, and dramatic vocals all combine for Unreal, the heaviest song on the album. Even the keys have a menacing edge. The instrumental section, featuring flying synth and stabbing guitar is one of the albums more powerful highlights. With a simple but compelling repeated guitar line, and a strong chorus refrain, Break Out is one of my favourite tracks on the album. The contrasting mood between verse and chorus demonstrates the versatility of the vocalist to the full. A galloping rhythm leads into another dramatic instrumental passage, this time with multi-layered guitars to the fore.
Time Went Backwards explodes into life with bombastic synth and punctuating guitar chords. A melodic piano, guitar and bass interlude provides a brief moment of tranquillity, before a steady, but strong build full of power and dynamics. Electronic effects and phased vocals establish a relaxed tempo for the title track, Virtual Reality, which benefits from meticulous drumming throughout. The vocals are at their most plaintive here, and a melodic, if short, guitar solo adds to the atmosphere. The mood is broken as powerful guitar and swirling synth vie for attention towards the close. The lengthy and slow burning Encourage Me provides an anthemic close to the album. A martial-like drum pattern, strong vocal refrain, and frenzied guitar and synth interplay carry the piece along. As the song reaches a peaceful conclusion, a lazy sax solo surfaces to take the final bow.
The song writing on this album is strong and rich in melody; the lyrics are thoughtful, if a little on the introspective side. Christian Külbs has an excellent voice, which he uses to good effect throughout. His bass playing is solid, and never over elaborate. The drumming of Christof Doll has both drive and sensitivity, playing with a lightness of touch when required. Jürgen Moßgraber’s keyboard work is colourful and expressive, often taking lead duties and solo honours. The dynamic guitar work of Jürgen Kaletta has weight in abundance. If I could make one suggestion for the future, it would be to balance the power guitar and fills with some longer and more intricate soloing.
To draw comparisons with other bands is difficult, and would probably be misleading. Yes, similarities with other acts are there, but the band’s overall sound is very much their own. They do however possess the same combination of power and grace that can be found in the work of Arena, Pallas, Rocket Scientists, Porcupine Tree and a number of other bands. Whatever your personal preferences, you really should put this album on your shortlist, it’s an impressive release by anyone’s standards. A final word of recommendation to those of you who spend time on the road. Given that it has such a dynamic and vibrant sound, this is one of the best driving albums that I’ve heard in a very long time.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Kalle's World Tour - Start
Tracklist: Start (4:44), No (4:48), Normal (4:23), Be (3:59), Humor (5:34), Tango (3:13), Capitalist (4:23), Kotelet (1:19), Come Blood, Bleed Hair, Kom Blot, Blidt Her (4:43), Jeg Ha Stjålet Denne Sang (4:08)
Drummers often get a rough ride. The basis of many (bad) band jokes, hidden on stage (not just behind their kit but usually also behind the rest of the group) and largely assumed to be non-musical musicians. Maybe this is because even some of the most high profile rock musicians have released 'solo' albums to which they have seemingly contributed little except beating the skins (take, for example, Alan White, Nick Mason, Cozy Powell, Carl Palmer). Drummers that do forge an individual identity, tend to step out from behind the kit to become front men (eg, Roger Taylor, Dave Grohl, Phil Collins), probably a reaction to all those years stuck at the back of the stage. But just occasionally you get a drummer who remains primarily a sticksman but also comes to the fore as a writer. Most recent example is Kalle Mathiesen, Danish drummer of no fixed genre who is happy to perform in jazz groups, pop groups, folk groups and collaborate with hippy rockers, avant garde guitarists and performers that cross many different styles (step forward Robin Taylor!). What is more, Kalle is good enough to excel in all of these genres.
For his sophomore release Kalle, who plays drums and keyboards and wrote all the material, has teamed up with Kim Matzen (bass), Peter Müller guitars and singer Marie Ingerslev. Anyone who has heard the first Kalle's World Tour CD, Nu (variously described as experimental, avant garde, weird) may wonder if they are in for more of the same. The answer to that simple question is the even simpler reply, No.
On Start, Ingerslev's vocals form the centre point of each of the songs. Possessed with a startlingly smooth voice that can be soothing one moment (as on Be) and belting out rockier numbers the next (such as normal and Capitalist). Ostensibly, the album is a collection of off-beat pop songs with a twist. Relatively straight forward melodies, driven by the vocals, are the lynchpin around which the other musicians operate. On deeper listening it is quite amazing what these musicians are actually doing in the background. Complex rhythms wind in and out the harmonies all led by Mathiesen's prominent, and amazingly original drumming. He has seemingly drawn on his experience with all of the musicians he has ever worked with and added elements of jazz, progressive rock and numerous other drumming styles into the mix, all played in his characteristic and powerful style. However, this does no imply that the drumming overwhelms the rest of the musicians. Keyboards contribute quite a lot to the overall sonic textures and Müller's contributions are never less than tasteful (for example, his exquisite little licks on Humor and the tasty solo of Capitalist).
Astute readers will be wondering how such an album would fit into their collection of prog rock recordings. The answer is very well. So there are no 20 minute multi-sectioned epics, no lengthy solos, no overblown and portentous lyrics (but those things are probably the worst thing to judge good prog by anyway). Instead there is a collection of 10 well written, performed and produced songs that get under the skin and leave the listener wanting to play again and again, each time revealing more. Genre becomes even less significant when the music is an enjoyable as this. And a quick note about the songs with Danish titles. if you are ever hesitant about being able to enjoy songs sung in another language then Come Blood, Bleed hair, Kom Blot, Blidt Her and Jeg Ha Stjålet Denne Sang should disabuse you of the misapprehension for ever as they are amongst the strongest songs on the album. In particular, Come Blood, Bleed hair, Kom Blot, Blidt Her is a remarkable song, Ingerslev's layered and harmony vocals are wonderful (she really is the female vocal find of the year in my book!), the guitar and keys mesh in an almost IQ manner and the drum sound is exceptional.
If you only nip speculatively outside the realms of established and defined prog once or twice a year, then Kalle's World Tour may be the ideal place to Start!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Arion - Arion
Tracklist: Eyes Of Time (14:11); Daybreak Child (8:54); True Love (5:16); Land of Dreams (10:01); Cosmic Touch (7:29); Everyway (8:37); Natureza Mistica (8:48)
Brazilian outfit Arion originally released this debut album independently back in 2001, but it is now getting a wider release courtesy of Musea and Rock Symphony. The band’s website has not been updated for several years, so it is difficult to gauge whether they are still a going concern; hopefully they are, as Arion shows that this is a band of considerable promise.
Increasingly these days its hard (or meaningless) to categorise bands, but there’s no such difficulty here; from the first few moments of the opening Eyes Of Time, where keyboard player Sergio Paolucci reels off a bombastic solo straight from the Keith Emerson school of playing, its instantly apparent that we’re in neo-prog territory, with the influences of the likes of Genesis, early Marillion, Yes and ELP writ large in these lengthy compositions, chock-full of the expected changes of pace and mood (the fact that Paolucci is wearing a T-short emblazoned with the logo of the latter in the band photo is another giveaway!). So far, so familiar, but Arion put a spin on this formula by employing a female vocalist. Musea’s promotional literature is unusually prescient in comparing Tanja Braz’s voice to that of Renaissance’s Annie Haslam, as there is certainly a resemblance. Braz has a strong, deep timbre to her voice at times that is quite commanding, but can equally turn her hand to more balladic material which shows her (perhaps stronger) softer side. On some of the more strident sections, where the band wander into late 90’s Arena territory, you sometimes feel that the vocal lines would be more suited to a male singer, but in general Braz makes a positive impression.
In terms of songs, the aforementioned Eyes Of Time is easily the strongest piece here. Whizzing through a variety of sections, from the bombastic, symphonic opening, to a stately balladic section which leads to a lengthy guitar solo in the John Mitchell mode, through to the wonderful mid-section, which sees some great keyboard and guitar trade-offs, before finishing in an appropriately anthemic fashion, this is great stuff; the segues from different sections are consummately executed, the melodies strong, solo’s entertaining without becoming self-indulgent, and the energy and enthusiasm with which the band attack the material more than make up for the average production.
Whilst this is the obvious highlight, there’s plenty of good stuff on offer elsewhere on the album. Daybreak Child has an enticingly jaunty feel in parts, and gives Braz the chance to really stretch her voice; True Love has a somewhat whimsical, almost folk-y feel to it, and incorporates some latino rhythms in its closing sections, whilst Cosmic Touch has strong echoes of Renaissance in its main sections, although also (rather bizarrely) it journeys into jazz fusion territory at times with bassist/ composer Carlos Linhares doing his best Jaco Pastorius impression.
The latter illustrates one of the criticisms I’d have of this album, which is that some of the compositions are a little ragged, with sections hanging together in a rather disjointed fashion. This is particularly noticeable in the last two tracks, which are somewhat weaker than those that have come before. Everyway starts as a pleasant ballad, but far outstays its welcome, simply becoming a scales exercise for Braz, before a heavier Arena-like section suddenly appears for no discernible reason. Natureza Mistica, meanwhile, is written by Brazilian poet Thyaga, who also contributes some vocals (sung, and sometimes simply spoken, in his native Portugese), and meanders somewhat aimlessly, despite some strong sections such as a busy percussive showcase mid-track, and a great soaring guitar solo.
Despite these criticisms, however, this remains an enjoyable progressive rock album that shows considerable promise for the future. Even if Arion have been dormant for a while, hopefully this re-release will rekindle interest and spur them on to greater things.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Jaugernaut - Contra-Mantra
Tracklist: Anthem (salt in a wound, overture, The Lightbringer's Lament, Art Of Deception) (12:32), The Damage Is Done (4:59), Better Living Thru Anarchy (5:19), Doing It The Hard Way (Creatio Ex Nihilo, The hard Way, The Shepherd, The Hard Way Reprise) (14:51), Vanity (6:28), A Different World (5:43), All I See Is Gray (7:12)
Between 1978 and 1986 out in Olympia, Washington USA, there existed a band called Jaugernaut. Having released two independent albums (Jaugernaut in 1980 and Take 'Em There in 1984) the band split in 1986 having failed to gather any interest from the music industry. Jumping through time and space to Dallas, 2005 and the appearance of Contra-Mantra. Neither a collection of rarities nor a reformation album, but "an attempt to recapture the magic" of the original band by bassist Jim Johnston. (The other member were approached but declined to participate). Just as back in the 1980s, Johnston has ignored musical trends and fashions to focus on the music that he likes best progressive album-orientated pomp rock (his description, not mine!)
The CD, first part of a double concept release, is an "interpretive and speculative story of the origins of evil". Almost all entirely written, performed and produced by Johnston (Jim Brammer added the majority of the electric guitar solos and Marty Prue added classical guitar), the music is of a consistently high standard. The style throughout is rooted in 70s and 80s American rock along the lines of Journey, a less saccharine Styx and latter day Kansas amongst others. There is a degree of variety in the songs: tracks such as The Damage Is Done and Vanity take on a more pop-rock vibe with catchy melodies and multi-layered vocals, while the two tracks that top the 10-minute mark fall more into the prog vein. The first of these tracks, Anthem, is my favourite, the grandiose keyboards of Overture, the more subdued and acoustic The Lightbringer's Lament (great vocals!) finishing with the rocking Art of Deception.
The Hard Way is a slightly different animal, the opening is based on rhythm, different percussive effects mixed with a groovy bass line and some abstract guitar figures. A rather lovely and plaintive acoustic guitar melody serves as a prequel to the first vocal section where the main melody is taken up by electric guitar, although often obscured by the other instrumentation. Piano and faux harpsichord add texture as the track chops and changes through the different sections with different musical influences are incorporated into the mix. The result is not as free-flowing as Anthem and can be rather disjointed in place; fifteen minutes is possibly a bit too long and a bit of editing may have helped things along. Still, that is just a personal opinion. Overall, there were some very good sections within this piece - nice to hear a mandolin included, even if it was reminiscent of Heart!
Final track All I See Is Gray breaks the mould a bit being a ballad that rather on focusing on the meaning of love, reflects on the meaning of life. keyboard strings (nice pizzicato effect!), massed backing vocalisations, great classical guitar solo and just about everything else make this song rather overblown, and all the better for it!
Overall, Johnston has come up with a strong collection of songs. As I have not heard either of the albums by the original band I can't compare the styles. However, I can't imagine that they are too dissimilar, taking into account some considerations of musical styles that have emerged over the intervening 20 years. Johnston is a competent enough musician, his forte is bass and keyboards but he is no slouch on the guitar and his drumming, although at times rather rudimentary, is good enough and infinitely preferable to using a drum machine. A commendable effort and worth looking out for if you are into the type of music mentioned above.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10