Reviews in this issue:
- The Syn - Syndestructible
- Talisma – Chromium
- Uli Jon Roth - Beyond Astral Skies
- Uli Jon Roth - Sky Of Avalon
- Hot Fur - Hot Fur
- Tin Scribble - Children Of Saturn
- Seven That Spells - My Momma Wants To Kiss Your Mamma
- Magus - Lucid Dreamer
The Syn - Syndestructible
Tracklist: Breaking Down Walls (0:51), Some Time, Some Way (7:56), Reach Outro (3:38), Cathedral Of Love (8:58), City Of Dreams (9:38), Golden Age (8:07), The Promise (13:28)
Yes bass player Chris Squire is no stranger to band reunions, but for this album he goes back nearly 40 years to rekindle a relationship with vocalist Steve Nardelli to reform one of the pioneering classic rock bands. The Syn first came together in 1965 and gigged extensively, supporting the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Cream, The Who and Pink Floyd. The band's recordings from this time have recently been re-issued on a compilation album from the same record label. After the band split in 1967, Chris teamed up with Jon Anderson the following year to form Yes, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Squire and Nardelli share writing credits for all the songs on this album, with assistance from the other band members on several tracks. The line-up is completed by Gerard Johnson on keyboards and vocals, Paul Stacey on guitars and vocals, and his twin brother Jeremy Stacey on drums. They replace original members Andrew Pryce Jackman, Peter Banks, and Martyn Adelman respectively. Andrew Pryce Jackman, who worked on solo albums by Chris Squire and Steve Howe, sadly died in 2003. Peter Banks, who joined Squire in Yes, was originally part of the reunion, but dropped out in 2004 prior to the bass player coming onboard. Banks was involved in the writing and recording of two songs, neither of which are included on this release.
The short but atmospheric Breaking Down Walls gets things underway. This is an a cappella version of the choral refrain from the albums closing track, as well as being the first in a sequence of three tracks that combine to open the album (confusing isn’t it!). It flows without pausing into Some Time, Some Way with ringing acoustic guitar and flute like keys. Crisp drumming and a fluid bass line, which doubles the songs melody, are added. The vocals sound relaxed and assured from the start, backed by layered acoustic and electric guitars. Strummed acoustic guitar and harmonic bass introduce the melodic bridge with a confident and atmospheric vocal that stands out. Melodic keys and guitar combine for the closing section where the complex vocal harmonies really shine. A sustained organ note, chiming acoustic guitar, moody synth and silky harmonies lead into Reach Outro, which develops into a spacey instrumental. As the tempo rises, abstract electric guitars, random drum fills and a commanding organ sound are a testimony to the bands psychedelic roots.
Gentle acoustic guitar and layers of relaxed orchestral keys lay the foundation for Cathedral Of Love. The mood is maintained with lyrical bass and restrained drumming, overlaid with rich sitar like guitar and plaintive vocals. As they gradually turn up the heat, spirited rhythm playing, majestic organ and a soaring guitar solo bursts into a dynamic bridge section capped with a glorious uplifting vocal. A rapid descending Trevor Rabin style guitar and bass run returns to the main choral refrain, with the addition of bombastic instrumentation and majestic harmonies to provide a grandiose ending. A 5½ minute edit of this song is the bands current single. City Of Dreams opens with a cautious vocal, and stabbing bass notes doubled by piano. As the song gets into its stride, dynamic drums, guitar and piano interplay drive the piece along with strident bass ever present. The main song succumbs to melodic rippling piano, establishing a new theme complete with a dynamic vocal section, beautiful harmonies and muted Pete Townsend like guitar chords. The main song returns, this time with a more urgent tempo, powered by soaring guitar, punctuating piano and a brisk rhythm section. Spiralling piano ushers in a more relaxed but strong choral ending, backed by flute like keys and tumbling piano.
An early 70’s rock and roll sound permeates Golden Age, complete with Rolling Stones like guitar chords, rhythm and rattle percussion. An edgy guitar sound dominates, underpinned by an insistent galloping banjo like riff (trust me, it works!). Following a short but lyrical piano interlude, superb Chris Rea style slide guitar takes over, with a driving rhythm section and organ backdrop. The Promise starts in reflective mood, with atmospheric guitar, understated string-laden keys, subtle bass lines and emotive vocals. Dynamic drums signal a brief appearance of the chorus, followed by intricate stately church like organ, with a complex martial-like drum pattern and articulate bass work. A return to the chorus with electric piano providing a moment of tranquillity, before the piece becomes edgy and restless with searing guitar, stark organ and rumbling bass. Symphonic keys and guitar flow majestically into an epic choral section, with busy drum fills that Keith Moon would be proud of. Colourful guitar with rich bass and organ dissolves into a spacey conclusion with atmospheric voice, bass, keys and percussion.
The band describes themselves as “Prog Modernists”, suggesting that they are taking the concept of progressive rock into the 21st Century. Personally, I feel that the music has a decidedly late 60’s/early 70’s sound, which is quite fitting considering the bands roots. Steve Nardelli’s voice in particular harks back to that era, with a soft and slightly husky delivery, at times reminiscent of the likes of Eric Clapton and Steve Marriott. Although each piece is quite lengthy, averaging around the 8 to 9 minute mark, the emphasis is on songs and melodies, with key changes and soloing kept to a minimum. The performances are accomplished rather than showy or overblown. Paul Stacey (The Lemon Trees, Oasis) provides a variety colours and textures, utilising an array of guitar sounds. Gerard Johnson (Saint Etienne, Peter Banks) is a classically trained keyboardist, but his playing here is restrained, often providing a supporting role, and favouring the more traditional sound of piano and organ. The professional drumming of Jeremy Stacey (Finn Brothers, Sheryl Crow) is slick without being over elaborate.
Chris Squire’s bass work unsurprisingly draws the listener like a magnet. His playing is as good as you would expect, sounding suitably mean, moody and magnificent. Paul Stacey and Gerard Johnson are both credited with the production, but generously they ensure that Squire is always prominent in the mix. His tone is earthy and gritty at times, with a sound normally reserved for his stage work. Thoughtfully, he leaves the lead singing to Nardelli, but his distinctive backing and harmony vocals are conspicuous from the start. If this gives the impression that the album has a Yes like sound, then I shall redress the situation by stating that Squire’s involvement is the only obvious link between the two bands. His forceful presence throughout does however put this album high on the recommended list for all Squire fans. For everyone else this album has a lot to offer, although you may find the bands self-styled prog tag a little misleading.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Talisma – Chromium
Tracklist: Qwhat (6:18), Dementia (3:29), Leviosa (5:12), Chromium (3:52), Nebuleuse (2:48), Nuclide (2:57), Inversion (4:20), Mobius (1:57), Tribajigue (0:59), Cumulus (3:12), Hindi (4:14), Double (3:22)
Canadian instrumental trio Talisma are now on to album number two for the Unicorn Label. You can read a review of their first one Corpus here. The band may be pleased to learn that I am much more sympathetic to their cause than Martien; their blend of flaming fusion, prog rock and world music is definitely something that I enjoy. However, I do agree with Martien that the over-use of short tracks makes for a disjointed listen, and often ideas are cut off before they have time to fully develop.
The trio possess considerable chops on their given instruments, with guitars and guitar synths playing a prominent role in the brew. There is plenty of invention and surprising melodic twists, but it’s a bit lacking in the compositional department. I have reviewed quite a few instrumental albums this year, from the space rock of Radio Massacre International to the jazz of The Soft Machine Legacy, but this CD falls closer to label mates Parallel Mind, or Dutch combo Novox. I would say this sits somewhere between the two in terms of success as a unified work, with Parallel Mind being the better of the three.
Talisma are at their best on the longer tracks, with opener Qwhat probably as good as it gets, with ethnic percussion underpinning some sweet melodic guitar synth lines and with a serene spacey shimmering quality alternating with high energy bass and percussion duelling. They even throw in an Eastern tinged guitar solo – this really is a fizzing concoction. Leviosa also impresses with a hard driving opening riff, which may well remind of King Crimson, (as does much of the rest of the disc, without ever being truly derivative) but Talisma do manage to add their own unique twist. There are some quite unusual guitar textures here, along with a sense of menace, of skirting the edge of some vast precipice, without ever quite falling off the edge. It’s quite thrilling stuff. Unfortunately, the disc does lapse into a sequence of short pieces which, whilst not without merit (some of them sound like a darker, instrumental Yes), do not hang together as well as they might.
Talisma are a talented outfit, who are worth a listen for instrumental prog/fusion buffs, but they’ve yet to fulfil their obvious potential.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Uli Jon Roth - Beyond Astral Skies
Tracklist: The Night The Master Comes (4:15), What Is Love? (3:23), Why (4:50), I’ll Be There (5:07), Return/Chant Of Angel ( 3:21), Icebreaker (2:46), I’m A River (4:45), Angel Of Peace (3:41), Eleison (6:54), Son Of Sky (2:27)
Uli Jon Roth - Sky Of Avalon
Tracklist: Bridge To Heaven (4:41), Thunder Bay (2:06), Pegasus (2:28), Starships Of Dawn (2:11), Winds Of War (5:54), Sky Valley (1:09), The Wings Of Avalon (2:55), Until The End Of Time (2:15), Tod Und Zerstorung (1:08), E Lucevan Le Stelle (1:41), Starlight (4:47)
The first time Uli Jon Roth really proved what he was capable of as a guitar player was on the legendary double live album Tokyo Tapes. After that he quickly left the German rock band The Scorpions to start a solo career – as Electric Sun - and his solo debut called Earthquake hit the stores in 1979. This album was dedicated to the best guitar player ever – Jimi Hendrix – and musically speaking that was a great album for guitar lovers. However the lyrics and especially the German-English vocals were very poor. Roth’s second solo album Firewind was dedicated to Sadat and it was again an album filled with amazing guitar picking and solos, but also with rather weak vocals…
Beyond The Astral Skies is the last of the Electric Sun albums and this re-mastered album has some extensive new artwork and a video bonus track of the song The Night The Master Comes.
The music on this CD can be best described as guitar rock music with lots of classical musical elements. So, you can hear violins, orchestral percussion, lots of vocal power and some fantastic guitar playing by Mr Roth. Especially his e-guitar work is technically brilliant stuff, however the compositions are again, just as on the other Electric Sun albums, rather weak and mediocre. For fans however this re-release is a must, as they can enjoy a true psychedelic fantasy space rock album with sometimes dazzling guitar solos!
The second of these re-releases is the 1996 Sky Of Avalon album, which is also called: Prologue To The Symphonic Lands and contains as a bonus track a video of the song Cry Of The Night, from Metamorphosis. The album was very successful in Japan and I can imagine why, as this CD features a rock band, an orchestra and a choir. The music is very bombastic and melodramatic and sometimes I wonder if this is art or kitsch. In any case the material is bittersweet and you can hear this in the opening song Bridge To Heaven, which is in fact a “cover” of the classical Puccini song E Lucevan Le Stelle. That song is also on this album, but then as an instrumental Yngwie Malmsteen-like piece. Vocalists Tommy Heart and Michael Flexig are not my favourite kind of singers, as they tend to sing in very high-pitched timbres and with a rather over the top melodramatic force. Short orchestral instrumental songs like Sky Valley and The Wings Of Avalon also do not belong to my favourites. But the absolute “horror” tracks on this album are: Until The End Of Time (awful ballad-like song), Tod Und Zerstorung (with screeching German vocals) and Starships Of Dawn (an opera-like drama).
Actually only two songs are worth listening to, without getting “sick”; Pegasus (filled with howling guitar solos) and the instrumental version of E Lucevan Le Stelle. The rest of the material is too bombastic and too much kitsch-like classical music. Really only meant for Uli Jon Roth die-hard fans!
Beyond Astral Skies - 6 out of 10
Sky Of Avalon - 3 out of 10
Hot Fur - Hot Fur
Tracklist: Adventure In Space (4:27), There's A Face In The Sky (4:04), Moon (4:36), Sabres 15003 (6:07), Habhabibi Give Me A Kiss (4:37), Ladies & Gentlemen (3:34), Johnny Baby's Nightmare (8:46), Man & Ape (6:44), The End Of The Play (4:47), Heretz (11:56), 5 Camels (5:12), Tomatoes (7:17)
Hot Fur is the child of guitarist Lior Frenkel. The band exists from the late 90's and claims to be a musical-theatrical ensemble, since their shows include lots of costumes and some weird dancing. The material of this album was initially released back in '98, and now, re-mastered and remixed hits the market through Musea. The band apparently tries to adopt a "careless" feeling and this becomes evident by looking at the artwork...the cover of the CD is this "bird" dressed in funny clothes hitch-hiking in the desert - obviously one can see some intentionality here: give us the worst cover prize, we don't care! Nevertheless, in the booklet one can read a dark story (in English) that makes me wonder what the lyrics are about, especially when I see its "heroes" also being track titles...Not speaking Hebrew, I guess I'll never know!
What do they sound like? Mmmmmmm... Well as the major influences I would mention Zappa, especially in the spirit of the music and the sometimes clever changes, early Vai works, like Flexable, and 70's soft-prog bands. There's some heavy doses of jazz, funk, fusion influence in there, but also some psychedelic avant-garde fills that make the whole "experiment" smarter. Trumpets and sax are often used, and there are some synths around and the rhythm section is quite concrete. Vocals are in Hebrew, mainly female but there is occasionally some male voice narrating (personally I wish we could stick to the girl!). Big band - 10 musicians involved.
Adventure In Space is a very straightforward opener that puts you in the spirit right away with the loud rhythm section and the brass, while the second track encaptures the band's different moods, being 70's oriented - an interesting track. Moon gets even milder, a soft nostalgic track sang by Yael Kraus with vocal lines that start very sweetly but end up to leaving the listener displeased. The track unfolds quite nicely with some prog references in the complex guitar arrangements. Very clever track, but would have been better if kept instrumental or if sang as a "traditional" soft number.
Sabres 15003 is a pleasant instrumental getting back to the funny tunes that apparently the band enjoys playing, still the themes are alternating at the right moment and the Return To Forever-like (Musicmagic if I'm not mistaken!) choral vocals give a very relaxed ambience.
Psychedelia with a jazzy feeling is how I would describe Habhabibi Give me a kiss, one of the most interesting and also innovative tracks of the album. Ladies & Gentlemen stands out as very well performed, especially the bass and the duet with the guitar is great. Johnny Baby's Nightmare sounds a bit repetitive of themes introduced earlier, trying to blend the psychedelic avant-garde side of the band with the Flexible Vai-ish guitars. Probably, one of the weak tracks, together with the next one which also does not show much evolution being stuck to a couple of riffs and some indifferent vocal harmonies. Return to good quality and ideas with The End of the Play - good vocals and clear, very clear inspiration from Vai, almost funks at some point, excellent! The super long Heretz starts in a very boring way with a useless narration, along with some alto singing, which ends up with some nice ideas - could definitely be shortened. Five Camels starts with a mysterious darker mood thanks to the bass and guitar duel and ends up to be mainly an improvisation, very good but sounds out of place at the end of the record. Last but not least, Tomatoes! Excellent closing track with a funky mood lurking until the saxophone kicks off and brings to mind some 70's fusion. The oriental guitar solo maybe gives an indication of the origins of the band.
This is an interesting release, exceptionally pleasant and fresh - also thanks to the production, technical but not tiring and combining various styles, and mainly moods. Could definitely undergo some improvement, but this record is overall good. I wish I could see them live to complete the picture.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Tin Scribble - Children Of Saturn
Tracklist: Entervallum (1:05), Vox Populi Vox Dei (1:13), Vox de Morte (3:37), Bleak (0:37), Intervallum (5:30), Breakable (1:07), Listen (6:42), Wake (5:49), Things Left Over (6:39), Throwing It All Away (5:25), Saturn's Sun (3:01), Separate Silence (3:13), Separate Silence II (4:53), Schwa (2:33), For A While (7:37)
"Dark, tuneful, politically-conscious art rock" is how another reviewer (Joe Lisboa) described this debut album by the American band Tin Scribble, which is a very apt description to my opinion which I can't top, so I just borrowed that from him. Children Of Saturn does indeed try to spread some conscious thought around the world about the "insanity and ignorance around us" and it becomes pretty clear right at the start of the album that they are not very fond of the Bush administration (who is?). Some songs are a clear plea for independent and critical thinking and some others uncover the band's grievance about people's attitude towards each other and politics in the world. Michael Allen Moore who is the main writer of the band clearly has an urge for some world-improvement.
Tin Scribble originated from the fall of the Detroit progressive rock band House Of Usher who you might know from their 1999 debut release Body Of Mind. When that band split up, being frustrated with a traditional progressive rock ensemble, bassist Mark Jardine and guitarist/singer Michael Allen Moore struck out on their own with the intention of creating art rock. Gathering some fellow band members they started to write, record and master in their studio "Scrambled Sound" resulting in Children Of Saturn.
The group is made up of four members: Michael Allen Moore on vocals, guitars lead, rhythm, synth and acoustic, additional keyboard synth; Mark Jardine on bass guitar and bass synth pedals; Clinton Sabon on drums, electronic and acoustic percussion, marimba and Bryan Atterberry on guitar, lead, rhythm, Celtic harp and synth. On the album they had additional help by Colleen Cameron on piano, flute, voice and backing vocals.
Dropping famous names is a common thing in promotional activities by for instance record companies and even with this independent release it's no different. References that are mentioned here are: Tool, Radiohead, Porcupine Tree, Rush, Genesis. But as usual some of the mentioned names aren't really appropriate as reference, in this case I find it difficult to notice many similarities with the music of Genesis (much to heavy), Rush (very different sound) and also Radiohead (too fast). Tool and Porcupine Tree give a bit more accurate description as to what to expect when listening to this album, but Tin Scribble generally takes up a higher pace and lighter tone than the both of them. Riverside might for instance be a bit better reference in my opinion. Occasionally then the music reminds me of Nickelback or Live, but those groups really can't be named as a serious reference either.
The basic sound of the album is pretty heavy, full and guitar based, although there are some contradictory lighter elements in there as well. Several songs are suffused with oriental tainted guitar sounds providing the album a special and attractive sound. More than once some songs run over into each other, making the album a sort of concept-album. The number of songs mentioned on the sleeve doesn't match the number of songs on the CD, but it turns out the 12th song (Separate Silence) consists of 2 parts. Unfortunately the digi-pack lacks a print-out of the lyrics.
The album starts with some samples of a speech by George Bush Jnr, the one where he mixes up Hussein with Bin Laden, a bit later there's a fragment of another speech by someone else honouring Bush's anti gay marriage policy. The dark tone setting of the song indicates the musicians seem to be not in approval of these politic sentiments. Tin Scribble clearly tries to bring across a strong message, not only with their lyrics, but evidently also with their powerful music. Even though the album starts quite mellow in the first few tracks, their overall sound is heavy and full, but not really close to heavy rock or metal; there's plenty use of lighter instrumentation that give the whole a more varied and interesting sound and giving it a prog edge to the otherwise pretty common rock sound as played by the
two aforementioned groups in that category.
The singing is a different story, to be honest it's quite poor regularly inharmonious and almost out of tune, especially at the more powerful bits where the singer tries to reach a range his voice is clearly not apt for, resulting in an almost false vocal overdrive. But apart from these unpleasant incidents his voice often fits the music quite well though; although he sometimes tries to sing in a sort of oriental Arabic way in which he doesn't really succeed. I'm not charmed by it, but it stays just under a mentionable level of annoyance for me. But I truly advise him not to try to sing lower than his vocal reach, like for instance at the start of Wake; this sounds really terrible! This segment is directly followed by a nice short synth lick soothing away the occurred ear-damage.
A real pleasant surprise is the second last song Schwa, a rather slow instrumental where the marimba creates a Caribbean mood and is half way a rumba. It sounds very out of line to the rest of the album which it is indeed, but the oriental elements are so much present on the rest of the album that this track doesn't sound awkward in there in the end.
The album has some very strong segments and great sounds and the oriental touch spices it up (just like with System Of A Down in a different league), but all that doesn't make up for the lack of really overwhelming songs and especially the sometimes annoying way of singing (maybe they should employ a real Arabic singer?). The song structures are mainly solid, well built and the instrumentation is surely the strongest facet of this album. Making some (thorough) changes here and there this group could surprise us with a truly intriguing album in the future!
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Seven That Spells -
My Momma Wants To Kiss Your Mamma
Tracklist: My Momma Wants To Kiss Your Mamma (12:22), Space Cake Overload (6:15), Inhale Me / The Pink Garden Of Mystery (6:51), Bliss My Cosmic Peach (6:52), Merry Mary's Sweet Inferno (8:48), Black Liquorice / Tragic Boredom Of The Universe (7:51), Naked Harem Flashback (5:57)
Seven That Spells first surfaced in 2003 as the brainchild of guitarist Niko Potocnjak and bassist Tomislav Kalousek, although it wasn't long before the drum machine they had been using was replaced by Stjepan Jurekovic. Following the mini album The Blowout in 2003 and a live DVD released in 2004, the band recruited Hrvoje Niksic on synthesisers and promptly set about recording their first full album, My Mommy Wants To Kiss Your Mamma. Released in October of this year, the band have already completed the follow-up album, It Came From The Planet Of Love, whose release is dependent on finding a label willing to sign the band.
And that could be a difficult prospect, as Seven That Spells would be a challenge for anyone to market. Describing themselves as a psychedelic freakout band, the style of music is very much from the late sixties school of all out sonic assault. Song titles are rather superfluous as the entirely instrumental music is basically one long cacophony of intense soloing and blistering jamming. Think of a rather less subtle Barrett era Pink Floyd or, perhaps more pertinent, the Pink Fairies in full flow. The group do try and mix things up a bit, for instance Inhale Me tones down the intensity and presents a slightly more cosmic side to the band and Black Liquorice has more of a melody that gradually builds before the sonic attack.
On first hearing this CD I was somewhat under-whelmed, thinking that it lacked form, even substance. However, I was drawn back into the universe that the band occupies time and again and found subtle nuances in most of the pieces or simply just enjoyed the free flying assault on the senses. If you enjoy effect laden guitar freak-outs, can't get enough wah-wah in your life and want to escape from the world and let your mind wander for an hour or so, then Seven That Spells may be the band for you. Easily the best Croatian band I've heard all year!! Check out their website for details (although be warned, it does contain pictures of naked women - there, that should guarantee them a few more hits!)
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Magus - Lucid Dreamer
Tracklist: Traveller (7:24), Khyber Pass/Nostradamus (6:29), Until The Sun Burns Out (7:29), 108 Steps To Babaji (5:27), Rif (20:02), Highway 375 Suite (18:32), Khyber Pass/Nostradamus [Live] (5:35), Arrakis-Dune-Desert Planet [Live] (5:35)
This is not a new album by brainchild and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Robinson, it is however Magus’ first release on Big Balloon Music label, and is a compilation/remaster of songs taken from the 1997 Traveller and 1998 Highway 375 albums. So nothing new under the sun actually, only two previously unreleased live recordings of older tracks.
Khyber Pass/Nostradamus was recorded at Orion in the year 2000 and Arrakis-Dune-Desert Planet was recorded at the Hooker-Dunham Theater in Brattleboro, Vermont also in the year 2000. Both live recordings do not add much to the already well-known studio recordings, so what is the point? The rest of the material is of course “old’ stuff and if you really want to know what kind of music- if you actually do not know this band - Magus plays, then you should check out Nigel’s reviews in our DPRP CD review archives.
My favourites on this album are the two epic instrumentals Rif and Highway 375 Suite; songs filled with great riffs, fine solos, psychedelic passages and lots of other prog rock elements. The fine re-mastering of these songs allows fans to hear and enjoy these tracks the way they were meant to be heard, with a rich full sound, which was lacking on the original issues of these albums.