Issue 2005-069: New Year's Eve Special
Reviews in this issue:
- PFM - Dracula
- Pallas - The Dreams Of Men
- Salem Hill - Mimi's Magic Moment
- Medea - Room XVII
- Guddal & Matte - Genesis For Two Grand Pianos Vol 2
- Stride - Imagine
- Rob Van Der Loo's Freak Neil Inc - Characters
- Mike Oldfield - Light + Shade
- Mike Oldfield - Exposed [DVD]
- Various Artists - Prog-Resiste [DVD]
- Magenta - The Gathering [DVD] (Duo Review)
- Fates Warning - Live In Athens [DVD]
- Discipline - Live 1995 [DVD]
- Marillion - Merry XMas To Our Flock
- Crazy World - Crazy World
- Pure Reason Revolution - Cautionary Tales For The Brave
- Malpractice - Deviation From The Flow
- Mangrove - Facing The Sunset
- Dolores Castro - Fifth Dimension
- Råg i Ryggen - Råg i Ryggen (Duo Review)
- Pink Floyd Tribute (VA) - Back Against The Wall (Duo Review)
PFM - Dracula
Tracklist: Ouverture (5:08), Il Confine Dell’Amore (1:13), Non E Un Incubo E Realta (5:38), Il Mio Nome E Dracula (7:16), Il Castello Dei Perche (4:03) Non Guardarmi (4:11), Ho Mangiato Gli Uccelli (3:57), Terra Madre (6:16), Male D’Amore (3:59), La Morte Non Muore (2:53), Un Destino Di Rondine (11:07)
In order to make the deadline for the New Year Special, which hopefully I have, I have not gone into quite as much depth as I might have liked for this CD. Never mind though, because I can say the most important thing very quickly – If you are a fan of Italian Prog, Symphonic Rock or Rock Operas in general, then you need this album. It is a major return to form from one of the great Italian prog bands of the 1970’s.
After the jazz–fusion Jet Lag and the Mediterranean folk-tinged Passpartu in 1978, PFM spent many years pursuing a more pop-oriented direction. Tentative steps back towards a progressive style, albeit in a Neo vein, were made on the concept album Ulisse, but 2000’s Serendipity, despite featuring a String Quartet on four numbers, was more in a modern alternative rock style. Coming directly after that, Dracula is therefore surprising to say the least. It is a very pleasant surprise, though as Dracula sees the band completely immersed in a progressive rock mode throughout. It’s not a return to the refined, pastoral lyricism of their masterpieces Storia Di Un Minuto or Per Un Amico, rather this is a compelling and dramatic slice of powerful, modern progressive rock. The soundtrack to a rock opera which will be staged in Milan and Rome in 2006, this CD deserves to win PFM a whole new legion of fans (even despite its exclusive use of Italian lyrics) and should certainly delight all the old fans too.
From the superb scene setting instrumental Overture, which utilises dynamic orchestration and searing rock guitars and synths to really stir up the emotions and pile on the drama, to the stunning, epic closer Un Destino Di Rondine, which features a heart aching, tender duet with guest female vocalist Dolcenera, as well as sections with gothic choirs, and all manner of dramatic melodic twists to bring the whole piece to a suitably extravagant conclusion, this CD sizzles, stuns and shocks at every turn.
Il Castello Dei Perche with its prominent, languid bass and delicate piano and acoustic guitars harks back to the sound of Jet Lag before the orchestra drags it away into new territory. Non Guardarmi is a gentle, romantic ballad featuring acoustic guitar and lush orchestral backing. Ho Mangiato… throws in metallic crunch and funk to the mix to fantastic effect. Throughout, the interplay between the scorching guitar of Mussida, the spectacular, colourful synth work of Premoli and the sheer extravagance of the orchestral arrangements impresses with its power and passion.
Although this is a thoroughly progressive work, it is not difficult or wilfully experimental, and never loses a strong commercial edge, making it capable of having wide appeal. It never lapses into the schmaltzy sentiment of Lloyd Webber but it does have the feel of a large scale theatrical production, complete with romantic ballads, tension filled instrumental interludes which frequently build to striking crescendos, and, show stopping numbers like La Morte Non Muore with its resounding massed choruses.
The performances of Franz Di Cioccio, Franco Mussida, Patrick Djivas and Flavio Premoli are spot on throughout and prove there’s lots of life left in this ultra-talented band of seasoned performers. The whole thing bristles with the energy of a fresh faced young group.
In a year which has seen a lot of great progressive rock releases, including the equally surprising Van Der Graaf Generator reformation, and stunning new works by the likes of Riverside, Stream Of Passion, and many others, Dracula effortlessly slides into my Top Ten of the year. It comes with my highest recommendation and I urge you to check it out!!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Pallas - The Dreams Of Men
Tracklist: Bringer of Dreams (9:49), Warriors (7:14), Ghostdancers (7:31), Too Close To The Sun (11:34), Messiah (4:57), Northern Star (4:00), Mr Wolfe (5:48), Invincible (10:44), The Last Angel (11:28)
To call Pallas' output scarce would be something like calling Roine Stolt a work-aholic. Both descriptions are true in a way, but they don't exactly capture the essence of either. The Dreams Of Men is only the sixth album in the twenty-four year career of these Scotsmen. However, if you take in mind the band's 12 year hiatus between 1986 and 1998, then six albums in 12 years isn't all that scarce. After all it is not less than contemporaries Pendragon or IQ produce. Furthermore there is a difference in album making where some artists chuck every note they play in the studio on their albums -not necessarily sticking with the Roine Stolt comparison- and other work on their music just a little while longer, perfecting the compositions as they go. And indeed, like predecessing album The Cross And The Crucible comes across very polished, very well thought out and indeed, very good!
Both the music and the lyrics on the new album follow the direction the band headed with The Cross And The Crucible, which I think is a good thing as I rate that album as one of the best prog albums of the past ten years. Although this is not a concept album, it does have connecting lyrics as each song deals with -as the title suggest- different dreams/desires of men. From the likes of Tony Blair (Messiah) to the Celtic settlers travelling to the promised land (Ghostdancers) to the motives of terrorist (Warriors) to the myth of Icarus (Too Close To The Sun). Each and every lyric is a little story in itself, and together they make a very interesting collection of tales.
Musically the album is slightly harder edged than the previous albums. Though firmly based in the subgenre we call neo-prog (to the discontent of singer Alan Reed) the guitar riffs and drums are definitely harder edges and not as polished as on previous albums. I read a review of someone who compared Pallas with Arena. I can see where he's coming from, because the departure to heavier music is not unlike what Arena did with Contagion. Arena with more adventurous vocals and a better drummer might be a way to describe the music of Pallas.
So, as for the music, what can I say? It is superb. Opener Bringer Of Dreams quite literally carries on from The Cross And The Crucible; it would fit very well in between the first three tracks of that album. A beautiful solo violin backed with some synthesised strings serve as an introduction to Floydian guitar, before the rest of the band kicks in with a very powerful rhythm and bombastic keyboards. Though the band utilises a trick already done with the title track of The Cross And The Crucible (a fake ending, which is followed by a powerful guitar solo) it doesn't feel like a remake. More like a familiar re-acquaintance.
Warriors starts with a very heavy, almost metal riff, before returning to familiar Pallas ground. With this song the band manages to successfully incorporate fast-paced prog with quiet mellow parts and long-drawn guitar solos. Excellent stuff. Ghostdancers sees that beautiful violin returning at the start and gives the song an almost movie-soundtrack feel. The epic nature of the lyrics do help, of course. The first half of the song deals with the Celtic settlers heading for America to find their luck. The second part sees it from the perspective of the native Indians who were slightly less charmed by the dreams of the white men. The song ends beautifully with some native American chant.
Standout track is Too Close To The Sun, which is a strong contender for song of the year from my part. The song is as prog as can be with an 11/8 rhythm and more twist and turns than you have fingers on your hands. Then album the sags a slightly with Messiah. It is a rather monotonous song (the first in 4/4 on the album, I think) and the female backing choir reminds me of the work of Mike Oldfield on Heaven's Open - certainly not something I enjoy being reminded of. For some reason there is a bit of Land Of Hope And Glory in the mid-section that is completely out of place. It might fit in with the lyrical content, but it ruins the song for me.
Mr Wolfe is another one where they've gone awry. It is good that a band tries some new directions and don't rehash the same songs over and over again, but this an attempt to sound a bit more modern (some Muse influence for example) which just doesn't do it for me. It is a shame that in between these two mediocre songs a piece of utter beauty goes somewhat unnoticed. Northern Star once again evokes Mike Oldfield as a reference, but this time it is the type of little guitar/synthesiser ditty Oldfield used to do in the time when he still made interesting music. It is a beautiful atmospheric instrumental with just acoustic guitar and synthesisers, which, allegedly Niall Mathewson and Ronnie Brown recorded in just one take.
Another great epic is Invincible, which has a leading role for bassist Graeme Murray's vocals. At one point he is singing so aggressively that I half thought they had brought original vocalist Euan Lowson back for a guest role. The song has a somewhat industrial feel to it, with marching drums and a pounding bassline. The three-minute climax is probably the best and most massive endings Pallas have ever done.
Album closer The Last Angel is 11 minutes of almost surreal beauty. A very slow building song with a great instrumental mid-section and a beautiful finale with a female opera singer.
The album is available in a regular edition and a special edition which comes with a bonus disc. This bonus disc contains different remixes of some songs, as well as studio outtakes and some un-finished songs. Both the regular and the special editions come with excellent artwork, depicting the songs. The booklet of the regular edition can be viewed as a special flashbook on the Pallas site.
Even with two mediocre songs there is still a good hour's work of outstanding music on this album. Definitely a must-have!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Salem Hill - Mimi's Magic Moment
Tracklist: The Joy Gem (15:03), All Fall Down (7:14), Stolen By Ghosts (21:30), The Future Me (18:53)
Salem Hill is a marvellous band that keeps reinventing their own sound and thereby continues to surprise me. Of course surprises can be both positive or negative. Positive surprises included the marvellous and emotional concept album The Robbery Of Murder and some highlights on the - overall a bit messy - Not Everybody's Gold. On the other hand, I wasn't all that impressed by the band's next album Be, although considered the band's best work by themselves and a lot of their fans I missed the emotion of Robbery and the liveliness of Gold on this more aggressive and guitar driven album. But now the band are back with an album filled with epics, which isn't only their best work since Robbery, but as far as I'm concerned, the best album of 2005 !
I have to admit being rather sceptical about this CD. Considering the different approach on Be I couldn't believe my eyes seeing only four tracks on the inlay. Surely I remembered band leader Carl Grooves saying that the last thing they wanted to do was return to the big prog rock epics of Sweet Hope Suite. And here we had no less than three massive tracks. That caused more scepticism because in hindsight, although containing some marvellous sequences, Sweet Hope Sweet as a whole was rather fragmented, unbalanced and dragging. So it was with a mixture of doubt and joy that I put the CD in the player for the first time.
And I was completely blown away ...
They had done it again. The four tracks on the album were all wonderful pieces of composing, performing and arranging. But what's more, it combined all of the positive elements of their previous albums in one splendid end result. The emotion of Robbery, the tempo and liveliness of Gold and the tendency to try something different from Be, topped off with some Salem Hill trademarks like the alternation of vocalists, usage of close harmonies, impressive lyrics and choice of instruments and sounds (yes, the vibraphone is back !). I was delighted to hear that violin player David Ragsdale of Kansas fame was back, adding the sound I missed so much on Be on three out of four tracks. Also, the lack of virtuosity on the keyboards of Be is gone by session work by Fred Schendel of Glass Hammer on the fourth track, and excellent work by Groves on other tracks. More than on any other album by the band some new influences are also becoming clear. One of the other DPRP team members commented after hearing the album for the first time: 'This is the best album that Neal Morse never made'. And indeed, never has the band sounded more like Morse or his past bands Spock's Beard and Transatlantic. Fortunately, this never turns into a blind copy and the band continue to showcase their own mentioned trademarks. It is remarkable though that none other than Morse himself performs a duet with Grooves in The Joy Gem.
Unlike other Salem Hill albums, this one is not a concept album. Instead each song is a little concept of it's own touching on a wide range of topics, ranging from Lord of the Rings-like mythical gems (The Joy Gem) to what might well be a stab at the modern advertising and Idols culture (All Fall Down).
The Joy Gem features one of the best vocal melodies that the band has ever presented and is delivered as a duet by Neal Morse and Carl Groves, the latter of whom seems to become a better vocalist with each album. I simply love his high reach and the fragile tenderness and emotion in his voice, making him one of the best vocalists in prog as far as I'm concerned. After All Fall Down this is the most accessible track on the album and I immediately fell in love with it it's atmosphere of hope and liveliness upon the first listening. It is without a doubt my favourite on the album.
The song starts with a very Wind And Wuthering Genesis feel, owing to the choice of keyboard sounds. Soon though the violin of Ragsdale and duet by Morse and Groves takes the song in a fully different direction. After 4.5 minutes of vocals the song moves into an instrumental middle section including splendid keyboard and violin solos accompanied by a pumping rhythm section. After nine minutes we return to a ballad tempo vocal section with Morse performing in his trembling, hoarse style. Bass player Patrick Henry joins in for a smart counter vocal melody, soon followed by the band's trademark vibraphone. Finally the song returns to the vocal melody that opened the song, closing with just piano and a short section of childlike guest vocals by Alyssa Hendrix.
Sometimes things can get a bit too retro and this is exactly the case with the intro of All Fall Down. The synth sound immediately conjures up images of soft porn movies from the Seventies (or so I've been told). Fortunately the keys are quickly exchanged for the vocals of guitarist Mike Dearing and a fine tune with some great harmony vocals evolves. This is another one of those tracks that has you singing along, whether you want it or not. A slightly gospel feel is switched for a distinct folky Jethro Tull-ish feel in the second half of the song by way of a fine up-tempo rhythm and flute solo by Jeff Eacho. A fine piece of work.
Next up is the longest track on the album, and according to many the best song on the album: Stolen By Ghosts. It certainly is the most emotional one and the first time the band touch upon the same heartfelt pain that made Robbery such an impressive album. The smart trick of this epic lies in the usage of vocal ballad sections sandwiched between lively,
up-tempo instrumental sections, as well as the use of different vocalists for different sections.
First piano and slow violin create the right melancholic mood, after which the emotional vocals by Dearing come in. What follows is a twenty one and a half minute long journey through six sections. After the first section (Ghosts) follows an up-tempo and very energetic Me Again which, after tasteful violin and keyboard solos, finally breaks down to a heart-wrenching vocal ballad variation on the section's theme. Again beautifully sung by Groves accompanied by piano, with Ragsdale adding extra atmosphere.
A rather jazz fusion-like instrumental section called Escape, featuring a funky bass line and fine solos by keys, violin and guitar eventually leads to Acceptance, another emotional vocal section. The 'first climax' of the song comes in the form of Stolen Ghosts with Dearing screaming out his anguish in tortured vocals. And just when you think the song has reached it's peak in a violin/guitar-duet and dies out, in comes an unexpected 'tag on'. A mysterious tune called Hold On that combined distorted vocals with long stretching cries. Spooky to say the least.
And after all of these highlights there's still about twenty minutes of more quality music to follow. The Future Me starts with a quirky instrumental opening that goes into a powerful hammered bass and the songs main theme on guitar. After no less than five and a half minutes the song quiets down for the first vocals by Grove, presenting another society-critical view by the Salem lot. The warm, emotional mood is maintained by a wonderful piano solo by Fred Schendel of Glass Hammer.
The middle section features another pumping bass rhythm, on top of piano, synth and guitar perform their solos. One of the highlights of the album is the climax of this song, in which Alyssa Hendrix continues to sing the lyrics while Groves starts singing variations on top of it.
Biggest difference with the previous Salem Hill albums for me is that there is no moment whatsoever on this album that I don't like. Also, the production and arrangement is the best I've heard the band put our since Robbery gone are the crowded, slightly messy sound of Gold or the harsh approach of Be, this new album is how records should be made ! This simply is the band's best album to date featuring the best music of 2005 ! Enormously recommended to everybody, especially fans of Salem Hill, Spock's Beard, Transatlantic, Yes and the like.
Leaves me with only one question ... Who's Mimi and why did she allow her name to be used in such a silly album title? Fortunately the lovely cover design (wow, what marvellous eyes !) draws the attention away from it. ;-)
Conclusion: 9+ out of 10
Medea – Room XVII
Tracklist: Room XVII (8:28), Farewell? (4:28), Endless Knot (5:02), Maiden Journey (5:42), My Dual Mind (8:37), Dance Of The Deals (3:33), Graveyard Islands (8:45), State Of Suspense (6:20), Chaos Solution (10:46)
The term ‘rock opera’ has been around since the birth of prog when it was first applied to The Who’s Tommy in 1969, and the original Jesus Christ Superstar album the following year. During the 1970’s Pink Floyd and Genesis released their own variations with The Wall and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway respectively. In more recent years it has become the domain of prog metal bands, including Ayreon, Kamelot, Avantasia and Symphony X, who have found the style an ideal vehicle for songs inspired by science fiction, fantasy and mythology. These works can often be overblown and pretentious, but fortunately that is not the case with Room XVII. True, it does include eleven different vocalists, but a sense of continuity and accessibility is maintained throughout.
The album is the brainchild of Henry Meeuws, and this is his second release under the name Medea following 2003’s Individual Unique. His day job is keyboard player with Dutch progressive rock band Casual Silence. If that suggests a solo album along the lines of Rick Wakeman, then think again. Like a number of his prog rock contemporaries, Meeuws is a multi-instrumentalist. He plays keys, guitars and bass on the album, with electric guitar taking centre stage. Solid support is provided by Fon Janssen (of Mennen and Project Fear) on drums. I’m not about to explain the concept behind the album because this historical tale is quite complex, suffice to say that the evocative lyrics are rich and descriptive, providing the listener with a sense of time and place during each song.
The singers are uniformly excellent as the characters in the story, sounding suitably sympathetic to their roles. In fact, they sound so good; it’s almost a pity that each vocalist is used so sparingly. Musically the album has both power and melody in abundance, with dynamic arrangements, sounding sweet and subtle when necessary. Keys provide a colourful orchestral backdrop, with piano, organ and synth stepping forward on occasion to take the spotlight. The presence of rhythmic guitar riffs is indicative of Meeuws’ prog metal influences, but these are never domineering or overbearing. Solo lead guitar is given ample space to shine, with a crystalline sound quality ensuring that it is always in the sonic foreground.
In the title track Room XVII, flamboyant electric guitar, symphonic keys and classical guitar combine to provide a dramatic introduction to the album. The chorus makes reference to the albums title, very useful, as my knowledge of Roman numerals is shaky to say the least! The vocal from Maurice Fende, who played Judas in the Dutch production of Jesus Christ Superstar, is suitably theatrical. The angelic soprano voice of Nanda Philipse makes a brief, but memorable appearance, and put me in mind of Sally Oldfield. In Farewell? Casual Silence lead vocalist Rob Laarhoven is joined by Sandra Peeters of V-Male, with her beautiful vocal sounding uncannily like American symphonic rock queen Lana Lane. I guess this duet could be loosely described as a ballad, but it skilfully avoids sounding sickly sweet or sentimental. It’s ironic that with so many fine vocal performances on the album that my favourite track should be the instrumental Endless Knot. This uplifting piece has a melody to die for, with the solo guitar swooping and soaring but never losing its grip on the main theme. A must for admirers of Howe, Hackett, Stolt and Bainbridge I feel.
Maiden Journey is another stand out track, which opens with some nimble piano work and excellent four-part harmonies courtesy of Eric Smits, Robbie van Sliphout, Dirk van Helmond and Joss Mennen. Rob Laarhoven’s distinctive high vocal is present for the strong chorus, and the crisp sounding double tracked guitar adds a metallic edge. My Dual Mind encapsulates everything that is good about this album. Lyrical classical guitar gives way to a driving rhythm with a punchy guitar and organ backdrop to the melodramatic vocal of Ernst Le Cocq d’Armandville (Casual Silence). A stunning instrumental section features majestic guitar and synth interplay reminiscent of Pendragon in full flight. Classical guitar and Harbour Of Tears like symphonic keys provide a serene close. A change of mood for Dance Of The Deals, with its distinctive Latin rhythm, courtesy of acoustic guitar, piano, and keys. The addition of a gutsy guitar sound ensures a rock sensibility is present.
Graveyard Island is one of the albums heaviest tracks, emphasized by high-speed guitar and synth interplay against a backdrop of crunching guitar riffs. Edwin Balogh (Ayreon, Omega) enters into the spirit with some suitably gritty vocals. Complex vocal harmonies give the song an extra dimension. The presence of the male voice choir lends a Hollywood movie feel to State Of Suspense, and a brief excursion into Rhapsody territory. The voice of Sandra Peeters makes a welcome return, and Joss Mennen’s performance is particularly impressive. Chaos Solution provides a fitting conclusion to the album. Delicate piano and haunting violin provide the backing to Maurice Fende’s plaintive vocal, before a shift in tempo and the voice of Ernst Le Cocq d’Armandville. A bombastic instrumental section includes lightning guitar runs, joined by keys, piano and spirited violin playing. Classical guitar and piano provide a moment of tranquillity, before a scorching guitar solo plays out against a backdrop of orchestral keys.
This album is a stunning achievement by anyone’s standards. The fact that the playing, compositions, arrangements and production are for the most part the work of one man makes it even more remarkable. If first class musicianship, great melodies, strong hooks, and superb vocals with breathtaking harmonies are on your short list, then this album is for you. If not, then I’m surprised you’ve read this far because you’ve surely strayed on to the wrong site. For anyone that’s suffering from post Christmas blues then this is the perfect antidote. This release provides a cracking start to the New Year.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Yngve Guddal and Roger T Matte -
Genesis For Two Grand Pianos Vol 2
Tracklist: Me And Sarah Jane (6:33), Seven Stones (4:58), The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (5:15), The Battle Of Epping Forest (11:09), Blood On The Rooftops (5:30), Eleventh Earl Of Mar (7:25), The Cinema Show (11:10)
Once in a while an album comes along that has a refreshing sound, and is so perfectly realised that it captures the imagination. Genesis For Two Grand Pianos was one such album, and it justifiably received a DPRP recommendation. Tribute albums are common enough, but this was unique, featuring classic Genesis songs re-arranged for two Steinway D Grand Pianos, and performed by two classically trained musicians. The two Norwegian pianists must have been reasonably pleased with their efforts because three years later comes the release of Genesis For Two Grand Pianos Vol. 2. Fortunately, the choice of material and playing on the album is more inspired than the title. The first album included some less familiar but excellent Genesis pieces such as Mad Man Moon and Can-Utility And The Coastliners. This release continues in the same vein. Songs are re-created in their entirety, with arrangements and timing that stay faithful to the originals. Unfortunately, I can recall the Symphonic Music Of Yes tribute from a few years back, which included a version of Close To The Edge that was hacked from 18½ to 7½ minutes.
This release, like its predecessor, was recorded in the Concert Hall at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo. Roger Matte completed his musical training here, whilst Yngve Guddal attended the University of Music in Berlin. The sessions took place between 2002 and 2003, and it’s obvious from the performances that both men are Genesis fans. Expressive playing throughout, particularly during the longer pieces, shows a devotion to the music that is more than mere academic interest. The fact that the music sounds so good, even with the minimal instrumentation, is a testimony to the thematic strength of the original material. Harmony and melody always featured strongly in Genesis songs, so to present their music in this environment is an obvious, and well deserved choice. Tony Banks’ compositions are prominent, not surprising, as he was the key writer in the band, and piano always featured in his work. The Genesis connection is further emphasised with Paul Whitehead’s cover painting. He was responsible for the distinctive artwork that graced Genesis’ earliest albums, including Trespass, Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot.
There’s a 10-year gap between the original releases of the first two pieces, and they are worlds apart in terms of style, but both sound equally at home here. Me And Sarah Jane is one of the bands better later tunes, and the choral melody is effectively captured. Seven Stones reflected the bands increased confidence in writing longer songs, and this lyrical piece is delivered with great skill and sensitivity. The introduction to The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is so close to the piano lead original that it’s almost a surprise when the familiar Collins/Rutherford rhythm section does not make an appearance. The pair do a creditable job, with percussive piano playing capturing the dynamics of the song. With The Battle Of Epping Forest, the two pianists do full justice to a complex and very demanding piece, successfully recreating the shifting musical textures. Whilst listening to this version, I was reminded that when the band originally recorded it, they thought it was more effective as an instrumental before Gabriel added his vocal parts.
With Hackett’s classical guitar and Banks’ symphonic keys featuring strongly in the original, Blood On The Rooftops lends itself perfectly to this type of interpretation. A superb performance, with echoes of Rachmaninoff in the arrangement. The Eleventh Earl Of Mar is in my opinion the least successful track on the album. Although both musicians work hard, the music lacks the melodic flair of Genesis’ better work, and the piece tends to drift, lacking direction for the most part. The Cinema Show on the other hand is excellent. Artistically, this was one of the bands finest achievements; the music is rich in melody with several strong themes and changes in mood and tempo. The piece is brilliantly reproduced down to every last detail. The highlight of the album I feel, and a fitting finale.
If I had to draw an analogy, I would say that listening to this album is rather like experiencing Mussorgsky’s piano interpretation of Pictures At An Exhibition, in contrast to the more familiar orchestrated version by Ravel, (or ELP for that matter). In this instance, the vocals are an obvious omission, as is the dynamics of the electric instrumentation. For some, this might prove to be an obstacle, even to a discerning prog audience. However, whilst this album may not necessarily have a broad appeal, the quality of the material and the musicianship means it certainly deserves serious consideration. Genesis fans would be wise to check it out, especially those who appreciated Tony Banks’ Seven: A Suite for Orchestra. Followers of Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman’s solo piano work should also find much to enjoy, although I should point out that the style of playing here is very different from both those gentlemen.
Steve Hackett’s high regard for the first album is well documented, but it would be very interesting to have an appraisal from Tony Banks. This release doesn’t quite make it for me in the same way that the first album did, possibly because the concept is not so original second time around. What this album achieves so successfully is to remind the listener of the qualities of the original songs, and the relevance of albums like Selling England By The Pound and Wind And Wuthering in the development of progressive rock.
So what next for the virtuoso Norwegians? Genesis Vol 3 may be on the cards, or how about Pink Floyd, or possibly ELP? Should there ever be a ‘Westlife For Two Grand Pianos’, then it would be time to hang up the headphones!
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Stride - Imagine
Tracklist: Imagine (5.07), Alive (5.28) Endeavor (4.16), How Far (6.30), Role Model (7.41), The Waiting (5.31) Ion Drive (3.41) Face The Day (6.30) Time (6.07)
Could this be an interesting new(ish) dimension to the rather stagnant Progressive metal sub-genre. One of my favourite albums of the past year has been the debut from classy Norwegians Circus Maximus. Their take on progressive metal having more than a sniff of fresh air about it thanks to a heavy reliance of lighter melodies and mood more reminiscent of AOR bands such as Journey and Foreigner. Progressive AOR Metal if you like.
Now, in a very similar vein, comes the second album from this promising progressive metal band from Texas. Unable to find the right voice to match their indisputable instrumental abilities, the members of Stride decided to release their first album, Music Machine as an instrumental effort.
This came out in 2001 and generated a positive feedback across the world. But constantly on the lookout for the right singer they eventually came across Gary Belin. A new demo caught the attention of specialist US label Sensory Records and the invite to perform at the prestigious Progpower Festival in Atlanta.
And right from the start of Imagine you can see the appeal. The formula is simple: blend some insane chops, with some infectious melodies, and a vocalist who has more than a passing resemblance to Steve Walsh.
This is nowhere near as heavy and intense as Circus Maximus, with less of the metallic riffing and much more of the AOR-lite, typified by prime time Journey. But when they hit their groove, the potential, for this currently little-explored combination, is clear.
The opening title track, and Alive which follows, both have some solid, up-tempo, semi-anthemic melodies, interspersed with some great technical playing. Neither element is overdone, keeping the listener keen to hear more. At the other end of the disc, Face The Day is probably the standout track.
Sadly this release just needs another four or five songs of this quality to become an essential purchase. With two rather ordinary instrumentals, in Endeavor and Ion Drive and three rather ordinary AOR tunes in How Far, Role Model and The Waiting, it's just a bit too lightweight and predictable. Very listenable, but there's just not the necessary strength in depth.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Rob Van Der Loo's Freak Neil Inc - Characters
Tracklist: Characters; Talking Chair; I'm The Hero; I Understand; Downtown; Beyond The Garden; Bulldozer Blues; Café Supreme; Jaba; Absence
This is a new project from Sun Caged bass maestro Rob van der Loo, and if you think the band name is a mouthful, then try chewing away at the music, contained within! This is modern, progressive metal with a pretty unique and intense and angry sound. It certainly isn't an easy listen and won't be everyone's taste, but rather like a very hot curry, if you can handle it, then there are plenty of rewards to be found within.
The album tells the story of several different characters, which have to deal with their own frustrations in life. Since each character is unique, each song has a very different musical style, to reflect their personalities. In this respect, it is rather like the Man On Fire album that was reviewed a while back. In musical terms though, this is much darker, heavier, rawer and above all weirder!
As you'd expect from a Lion release, there is the usual sprinkling of 'guest' musicians that add a certain 'connoisseur' status to this disc. The vocals are spread between Irene Jansen (Star One), Andre Vuurboom (ex-Sun Caged), Arjen Lucassen and Nick Hameury (Engine of Pain). Elsewhere, musicians include Sean Malone (Gordian Knot - bass) Steve DiGiogio (Iced Earth) - bass), Marcel Coenen (Sun Caged - guitar), Joost van den Brook (After Forever - keys) and Chris Godin (guitar - Gno).
Clearly the bass is the lead instrument throughout, and the things that Rob can achieve with his range of basses and Chapman Stick can certainly impress you. For any frustrated bassist and/or fans of avant-garde, quirky ProgMetal, this will be compulsive listening. For the rest of you, approach with caution.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Mike Oldfield - Light + Shade
Disc 1 "Light" [41:27]: Angelique (4:40), Blackbird (4:39), Gate (4:14), First Steps (10:02), Closer (2:51), Our Father (6:50), Rocky (3.19), Sunset (4.49)
Disc 2 "Shade" [40:32]: Quicksilver (5:55), Resolution (4:33), Slipstream (5:15), Surfing (5:36), Tears Of An Angel (5:38), Romance (4:00), Ringscape (4:22), Nightshade (5:11)
I'm not quite sure whether it is good or bad what Mike Oldfield is doing at this moment. On one hand it is good that he isn't releasing Tubular Bells 35, but at the same time, his recent output seems to lack any kind of inspiration. I have to say that this is nothing entirely new through. Repetition has always characterised Oldfield's career and some of his work in the seventies and eighties was also born from a lack of inspiration. However, at least so far every decade he has produced a couple albums that were sheer genius. Like
Tubular Bells and Ommadawn in the Seventies, Crisis and Five Miles Out in the Eighties, to Tubular Bells II, Amarok and Songs From Distant Earth in the Nineties. However, as far as the present decade is concerned Oldfield still needs to create that masterpiece. It is a shame that the only interesting thing he's done the past ten years was his re-recording of the original Tubular Bells in 2003.
And while some of his lesser albums in the past 30 years were basically quick rehashes of previous work, at least those were those were rehashes of interesting work (ok, perhaps not counting the dreadful Islands and Earth Moving albums) but in the past ten years Oldfield has ventured mainly in the ambient/techno area, yet without ever coming up with something that has any kind of heart or soul in it.
Oldfield's previous non-Tubular Bells album Tr3s Lunas showed some premise and was in fact a very nice album with ambient music. Light+Shade however is almost exactly the same, yet far less entertaining. All throughout this album I get a déjà vu feeling. I've heard it all before, and what is worse, I've heard it all before on other Mike Oldfield albums.
The album is called Light+Shade to enhance two sides of Oldfield's music: bright and dark. However, both sides sound quite similar to me. Sure, Light is somewhat mellower and more brooding, while Shade is more up-tempo and happier (err... duh?). But on the whole the music on both discs is not miles apart. Oldfield tries to explain in the press-release:
"[I planned to do] a big, complicated album, a bit like one of my earlier works, like Tubular Bells, which had 30 to 40 different sections. It was a bit like Monty Python "And now for something completely different!" From beautiful to crazy, and back again. But doing it like that seemed to date it, back to the seventies. I'd heard a CD in the series of chill out compilations by Buddha Bar, in Paris the two-CD set was called Dinner and Party, with two different genres of music for two different moods. Though I didn't like that much music on that Buddha Bar CD, I thought I'd do something similar in that format."
Light passes by without any noticeable highlights. Think the mellower stretches of Songs From Distant Earth or Voyager (or aforementioned Tr3s Lunas of course) and you get a good idea. The only noticeable variation is whether the lead melody is played by a guitar or by piano, and whether the track contains a drum computer rhythm or not.
The unmistakable highlight of the first disc is the beautiful almost classical piano piece Blackbird. Shade contains a little bit more vocals than Light. I wouldn't want to call the tracks songs, but tracks like Surfing and Tears Of An Angel do contain a few lines of distorted female singing.
The main problem with the album is this: I rate Oldfield as a class guitar player, but the guitar work on his new album is mostly below par. Boy, was I glad to reach Resolution, where he turns on the distortion on his electric guitar for the first time. This song is one of the better tracks of either discs! Surfing also contains a double guitar solo which echoes some of the finest moments of Amarok. It is just too bad that the accompanying arrangements come entirely out of the computer. Another great guitar solo ends Ringscape, possibly the best track of the album. Unfortunately the nice atmosphere of this track is destroyed by the when it is followed by album closer Nightshade which sports a Pet Shop Boys style rhythm.
The cause of this whole debacle is probably Oldfield's fondness of computers and technology and his determination to create this entire album with composition software like Fruityloops. This results in an album that is completely devoid of emotion, and lacks most of the things I have come to love in Oldfield's music.
The listener is encouraged to play around with composition software as well, as the first disc contains the software Umix and the tracks Quicksilver, Our Father, Slipstream and Angelique that can be remixed by using this software. Unfortunately you can only adjust the volume of the various components of the music and you can't really change anything about the structure of the song itself. Nonetheless by cranking up the volume of the guitars and switching off the drum computers and sequencers you might already get a better song out of it.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Mike Oldfield - Exposed [DVD]
Disc 1 [56.17]: Intro (2.16), Incantations Pt. 1&2 (30.19), Incantations Pt. 3&4 (21.15), Intermission (2.31)
Disc 2 [55.29]: Tubular Bells Pt.1 (28.21), Guilty (6.01), Tubular Bells Pt.2 (11.34), Encore (Guilty) (9.30)
Bonus Material: Multi-angle viewing
It is always sad to see how a former label of an artist uses the back catalogue as a cash cow with endless re-releases. However, in between the re-releases of Tubular Bells and the compilation albums Virgin have unearthed some genuinely interesting material, which, to my knowledge, hadn't been released before.
The footage on this DVD was shot in 1979, back in the days when prog was still considered popular and when it was still feasible to tour the world with a forty-five piece orchestra.
Those familiar with the original Exposed live album (released in 1980) will know that this is probably the best live outfit Oldfield has ever toured with. Not only the fact that there is an entire orchestra playing the complex music, but also the music itself has been re-arranged. Especially Tubular Bells has been turned into a rocking piece, with the addition of drums and percussion.
Unfortunately the DVD lacks a 5.1 surround soundtrack. Most likely because no multi-track sound recordings of the gig survived. For some reason the song Guilty is even presented in mono! To make up for this the concert is spread out over two discs so that the entire gig can be viewed in four different modes. There is the normal edit, then there is a split screen mode where you get to see the different edits in three little screens. Then there's the stage edit, which only shows the footage filmed from the two cameras that were on the stage, and finally there's the wide shot option, which has the entire gig shot from the back of the venue with a wide-angle lens.
All these are nice gimmicks of course, and don't particularly stand for multiple viewing, but it is a nice way to spread a two hour concert over two DVDs!
The entire concert is included, and with entire, I mean entire. Up to and including the intermission, where the audience starts throwing paper airplanes on the stage (something which continues for the entire second half of the show). The minutes that the band is offstage between the main set and the encore the cameras just keep running and the credits roll. In that respect the encore literally is an encore!
When I saw Mike Oldfield at the Tubular Bells III premiere in London in 1998 I was very disappointed when the encore consisted of two songs which had already been played that night. It turns out Oldfield has been doing that throughout his career, because even in 1979 when he already had four studio albums and a host of singles under his belt, Oldfield also opted for the easy approach and played a second rendition of Guilty as an encore.
Naturally the footage is somewhat dated. After all, it was filmed more than 25 years ago. The footage certainly could have benefited from better lighting and also Mr Oldfield is not the most exciting person to watch. Fortunately there are lots of close-ups of the other musicians playing (that pianist is maaaaad!). Also, the rest of the musicians make up for Oldfield's impassive performance with lots of jumping and running and dancing across the stage. I reckon this was the last performance of the tour, because many of the musicians are particularly animated.
The party atmosphere does have some influence on the performance, especially the encore reprise of Guilty is rather messy, but for the largest part the performances are top-notch. At least the music is entirely created live, and that is something which was seriously lacking in the more recent tours of Mr Oldfield.
It is a very nice document of its time and certainly a recommendation for Mike Oldfield fans.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Various Artists - Prog-Resiste [DVD]
Tracklist: Mindgames, AmAndA, Paatos, The Watch, Eclat, Liquid Scarlet, Ken’s Novel, CAP (Consorzio Acqua Potabile), Bonus track
This release is an engaging souvenir of the Prog-Resiste Convention held at ‘The Spirit Of 66’ in Verviers, Belgium on 9 and 10 October 2004. Judging from the opening footage this is an intimate venue, providing just the right environment for an evening of quality music. The disc features one track each from the eight bands that performed over the two days. There is also a bonus version of a progressive rock classic. Production values are as good as can be expected, with clear graphics and menu options. The picture quality is very good, especially considering that from the evidence of the footage, non-professional cameras were used. More importantly, the sound, taken from the mixing desk, is excellent through out.
Each performance is preceded with an interview with the band members. French or English subtitles are supplied, depending upon the language used. These are worth watching if only for some unintentionally funny translations. They can be avoided if necessary by using the menu option to select each track. Curiously, the song titles are not provided, but are sometimes included in the bands introduction. I have listed each performance as they appear on the DVD, together with the bands country of origin.
Mindgames (Belgium). From the outset the vocalist asserts himself with a precise and melodramatic delivery of English lyrics, and meaningful stares into the camera. The band reveal their Genesis influences from the start, although they take a while to warm up. When they do, a melodic synth solo heralds some intricate guitar and keys interplay. Plenty of theatrics from the vocalist, now wearing crown and robes, before a brief reprise of the opening song section. The split screen presentation looks dated, but at least proves that more than one camera was used.
AmAndA (Belgium). A symphonic introduction from the flamboyant keys player, with a falsetto delivery of French lyrics from the vocalist. Heavy guitar riffs and melodic synth soling follow, before a lengthy, but incisive guitar solo with a metallic edge to conclude. A short, but strong performance from a young band, delivered with plenty of enthusiasm.
Paatos (Sweden) A laid back start, with English lyrics from the female vocalist who is clearly influenced by Bjork. The tempo moves up a gear, with punctuating Mellotron like keys, and an incisive guitar solo. A relatively short performance means that they never really get into their stride, and this for me is the least successful of the performances on the disc.
The Watch (Italy). Following a lengthy classical introduction on synths, the band launches a spirited assault with bass to the fore. English lyrics from the theatrical vocalist in mime artist make up, with shades of Peter Gabriel, Fish and Roger Chapman. A tranquil bridge, with 12-string guitar and flute (courtesy of the vocalist), has all the hallmarks of early Genesis. Bags of Mellotron, and a good, if repetitive guitar solo to close. Solid performances all round.
Eclat (France). A jazz-rock fusion instrumental, and technically the most accomplished performance on this release, with overtones of early King Crimson and Frank Zappa. Saxophone dominates, but the whole band shine, with piercing guitar, melodic keys, prominent bass, and inventive drum work through out. Great stuff.
Liquid Scarlet (Sweden). This is a slightly bizarre offering from a band that, on this hearing alone, is difficult to pigeonhole. The strong vocal delivery, with sparse guitar and percussion backing, is quite hypnotic. As the piece builds, sampled strings provide the only obvious prog connection. The bleached white video trickery is over done. The stage wear includes matching white polo necks.
Ken’s Novel (Belgium). A bombastic Gentle Giant like introduction is followed by a lengthy vocal section with a symphonic keys backdrop. The guitar work is versatile, heavy and discordant one moment, melodic with Eastern overtones the next. An excellent Patrick Moraz style synth solo is undermined by the camera work which picks out everyone except the keyboard player. The Flower Kings style melodic vocal refrain provides a dynamic finale, a pity that it’s allowed to drag on for too long.
CAP (Italy). A deceptively simple start with a strong vocal, this time in Italian, before the band launch into a folk dance, complete with whistle and recorder. The rock guitar gives the sound a harder edge, and put me in mind of the Irish band Horslips. Following a lengthy introduction in French, the band are joined on stage by drummer Gigi Cavalli Cocchi (Mangala Vallis), and vocalist Bernardo Lanzetti (PFM). The bonus track that follows is PFM’s Impressioni Di Settembre from 1972. This is fine rendition, with the two guests excelling. It only lacks the majestic Mellotron crescendo of the original, which they compensate for with additional vocals. As they take their bows, the 20th Century Fox Fanfare surges from the PA, declaring an end to the event.
The music on this release generally falls into the progressive rock category, but the performances are diverse. Each band displays a unique style, even if the music is not always original. There is also a sense of friendly rivalry; particularly amongst the vocalists who work hard to out do each other in the presentation stakes.
With only a single track from each band, I’m not sure how representative this release is, but it does provide a good opportunity to sample some new music. I have been sufficiently impressed by several of these bands to want to hear more. The local acts certainly show their worth, although top honours for me go to their friends across the French border. This may not be a high profile release, but approach with an open mind and you should find it an entertaining viewing experience.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Magenta - The Gathering [DVD]
Tracklist: Intro [Opus 3] (0:53), King Of The Skies (4:36), Gluttony (11:24), Demons (4:34), Broken (4:11), Children Of The Sun (20:24), Overture (5:34), Genetesis (11:07), Call Me (5:04), I'm Alive (5:40), The White Witch (23:36), Pride (11:29)
Bonus Material: Arrival of the audience (2:58), Comments from the audience (4:18), Interview with Rob Reed (5:16), Interview with Christina (2:53), In the studio with Rob Reed (2:12), Promo video for Broken (4:12), Photo Gallery (5:02)
John Morley's Review
It's been a long time coming, but Magenta's first live DVD is finally here.
I was lucky enough to be at this event when it was filmed earlier this year. I enjoyed the concert and the filming experience enormously, but I did have misgivings about this method of filming a live DVD in this fashion. In an ideal world, I am sure most bands would like to film a handful of actual concerts, and put the best bits together for a complete live experience. But that can be logistically difficult and also horrendously expensive. Of course you can try filming just one concert, but that can be very limiting as you are prone to all sorts of sound/technical problems that you are just going to have to live with - unless you decide to "enhance" the finished product after the fact, which is never a very popular option with fans. So Magenta decided they would hire the Pop Factory venue in South Wales, which has studio and recording facilities as well as the capacity to film live events. So what we would have would be a very professionally filmed event, with a seated audience. My worry was that this relatively sedate and low-key approach would detract from the live atmosphere. But as it turned out, we just treated the night as a normal Magenta concert and whooped and cheered along as we normally do. And thankfully the finished product is a wonderful souvenir of that night and a very fine DVD.
First thing that strikes you is the wonderful, colourful packaging - sporting the new Magenta logo, it has the various album/single covers reflected in a silvery globe floating amongst billowing clouds. This theme is also used to good effect on the DVD menus.
Now, I'm a bit of an audiophile and can be very particular when it comes to sound and picture quality on DVD's, so my association with the band is very much secondary in that regard.
Sound options are 5.1 and 2-channel stereo. I guess it's down to personal preference, some people prefer 2-channel stereo for concert DVD's as it is usually a more dynamic, powerful experience. Personally I like the spaciousness of a 5.1, as long as the mix is ok.
On first kicking off the concert section of the DVD, first impressions were that the picture was pin sharp, almost looks like high definition - so no complaints there. One thing that struck me initially on the 5.1 mix was that the centre channel seemed quite prominent. OK, this is perhaps a personal preference issue and maybe it's just me being a bit too picky - certainly no complaints about having Christina's wonderful vocal prominent, that's for sure. However, by the third track the mix evens out and the balance is fine. Bass is very strong, and it's actually a very powerful, satisfying experience. By then I had just got wrapped up in the whole audio experience of listening to Magenta through my sound system, the neighbours were away so I cranked it up and just watched it right through. And the 2 channel stereo mix really does give your sound system a run for it's money, and will please those who want that "you are there" effect for sure.
As I watched the concert, what started to occur to me as it went on was that it actually looked and sounded even better than what I remember from being at the live event. At the actual concert your viewpoint is limited to where you are sitting, but when you see the whole event captured from multiple angles it really does bring it to life.
I remember there was a large plasma screen at the back of the stage with some terrific CGI-style animations of the bands logo and some of the various album covers and promo photos - but it seemed to be largely hidden behind the drum kit on the night from where I was sitting. But with the use of multiple cameras you get to see it in all its glory and it looked great. Talking of visuals, there are occasional camera effects, slo-mo, morphing etc but they are used sparingly and are never distracting or take anything away from the live experience. Nothing worse than someone doing a great guitar solo and you are looking at a shot of trees blowing in the wind or something similar - I'm sure we've all seen a few live concert DVD's that have made that mistake. Thankfully the actual utilization of the camera angles and positioning is very good indeed - lots of movement, sweeping across the front of the stage, looking from behind the band members and tracking the stage from a camera positioned at the rear of the hall. But where the mood of the song demands, the camerawork is also appropriately laid back and steady. A word too about the lighting, which once again comes across superb on the DVD. Lots of colour and very imaginative, framing the band members in reds, greens etc, and bathing the stage in light without being too fussy or overused.
And then there those magical "perfect" moments - the first one comes in the middle of Children Of The Sun, during the "Take my hand, protect our land" section. A very complex and difficult vocal section that in the past the band have not always managed to nail down live - but here you have the full frontal attack of Christina, Rob, Martin and Chris singing all of the vocal harmony parts for all they are worth, and the cameras capture every moment of it, with superb intercutting between all of them. That was the first lump in the throat moment and it was only the first viewing. And it gets better - Chris Fry really goes for it in his solo, and the cameras are swooping and diving all over him to capture the moment perfectly. Awesome.
The second one comes halfway through Call Me. The camera is in front of Christina at a distance, and move forward very steadily framing her glowingly in the halo of the light directly behind her, and it's a superb effect - it's actually not an effect but you could be forgiven for thinking it is.
Performance-wise, the band were at full strength - they knew they all had to be at their best and they did not hold back, everyone gave 100%, that's clear.
As for the set list, you get most of Revolutions, (albeit in their customary oft-reworked but always interesting forms), a few of the Seven tracks including my personal favourite Pride; the singles I'm Alive and Broken; the aforementioned Call Me; a couple from the soon (?) to be released new album Home, and the current set opener King Of The Sky (which at the recent Borderline gig a friend who had not seen the band live for a couple of years remarked "Damn - they're a metal band!").
All in all, a very good live document, and great to have the likes of White Witch, Children Of The Sun, Genetesis and Call Me as they will probably not be played live for much longer to make way for the newer songs.
On to the extras. A small but satisfying collection, consisting of a few little filmed pieces showing the audience arriving and being interviewed after the show; a couple of interview's with Rob Reed that are insightful as to the process Rob adheres to when composing and putting material together for a new album' and an interview with Christina on her influences and musical background (Shock horror - our Tina was a punk!). There is also a montage of photos from the bands triumphant appearance at Rosfest back in May, which brought back some great memories for me.
Though these are relatively short pieces, it's my experience with DVD extras that it's best that they don't outstay their welcome - better to leave people wanting more than just throwing a whole load of irrelevant junk on the disc. I could happily have listened to more of Rob and Christina for example. With DVD's the extras are just the icing on the cake; it's the main event that is the real meat and potatoes and in that regard this first Magenta DVD does not disappoint. And who knows, hopefully this is just a first, and there is a lot more archive material around (I know the band shoot a lot of video footage wherever they go), footage from Rosfest maybe, more band interviews that could be filmed etc.
OK, you all know I am biased when it comes to Magenta, and I am still waiting for the day when the band falter, give a bad performance, release a bad album etc, but a) as far as I am concerned it has not happened yet and b) if it does be sure I will be honest about my opinions on the subject. Like I said before I am very particular when it comes to good sound and I would be the first to pick fault here.
The simple fact is that in my opinion Magenta's The Gathering DVD looks and sound a lot better than a lot of more expensive concert DVD's I have seen by some major bands and artists.
On May 14th 2005 Magenta played a very special gig at The Pop Factory in South Wales. With access limited to only 100 people this DVD shoot was an experience in itself. The 100 lucky attendees all have their names printed in the credits of the DVD, and have received a copy of this DVD, as it was included in the ticket price. Now there's something other bands can learn from!
Amongst the 100 names in the credits one can spot at least one DPRP editor as well as a few regular contributors. Upon seeing the result on DVD I wish I'd been able to cross the pond myself for the gig.
Despite the gig being filmed in a very small venue, with such a select audience, the gig doesn't for a moment feel like a pub gig. Most of the six cameras were hand-held resulting in very dynamic footage. Some of the shots and editing may be a bit too much MTV style for my liking, but I have to say that the entire concert doesn't contain a single boring or static shot. The filming is much better than some DVDs I have seen of 'larger' bands in the genre.
The band is particularly animated (something I also noticed when I saw their performance at ProgSfest last year) with very nice interplay between guitarist Chris Fry, keyboardist (and main composer) Rob Reed and the lovely Christina Booth.
The three guys on the second row (guitarist Martin Rosser, bassist Matthew Cohen -who left the band shortly after this gig- and drummer Allan Mason-Jones) do suffer a little from lack of lighting in the back, but there are still plenty shots of the three of them. Rosser also gets the occasional moment to shine when he gets to play a guitar solo, though he maintains largely in the shadow (literally) when compared to the showman that is Chris Fry who jumps more than Pete Trewavas and pulls more funny faces than Andrew Latimer.
Robert Reed impresses me with his ability to play all the intricate keyboard parts. As he explains in the interview that is on this disc Magenta was never originally intended as a live act, so some of the songs are nigh on impossible to play live. However, by simplifying some of the arrangements and by having some of the parts played on guitar instead of keyboards he can do without samples or pre-programmed melodies.
I am also particularly impressed with Christina's live performance. While on the studio albums her voice may sound fragile she has the ability to sing the entire gig at full force, while maintaining that beautiful clarity.
Setlist-wise the band plays a nice combination of 20-minute epics and their shorter singles. It is a pity that only two songs of my favourite album Seven are included, but on the other hand you do get the full versions of both The White Witch and Children Of The Sun
I was asked to write a review of this DVD because a) I'm not as biased towards the band as John is, and b) I've been known to be quite critical every once in a while (to the point of being almost unfair in my review of the band's debut Revolutions). However, I can only echo John's comments above and give this DVD the good ol' DPRP recommended label. I deduct some minor points for the lack of more songs off Seven, and the occasional nausea inducing camera work, but these are just minor gripes to an otherwise perfect release.
Fates Warning - Live In Athens [DVD]
Tracklist: One, A Pleasant Shade Of Gray Part III , Life In Still Water , Simple Human, Heal Me, Pieces Of Me, Face The Fear, Quietus, Another Perfect Day, A Pleasant Shade Of Gray Part XI, The Eleventh Hour , Point Of View, Monument, Still Remains, Nothing Left To Say
DVD Extras: Behind The Scenes, Excerpts From Bulgarian TV, Athens Rehearsal, Athens Soundcheck, Holland Headway Festival (Ft. Mike Portnoy): Another Perfect Day, The Eleventh Hour
Those of you who read my review this band's headline performance at the Headway Festival, in Holland, in April 2005, will know that it left a lasting impression on me. The band put on a packed show, that pretty much encompassed the whole gamut of new influences they have brought to the progressive metal field, across their illustrious career.
That show, was the only one in western Europe to promote their acclaimed FWX album and followed a handful of gigs in Greece, Hungary and Bulgaria. The set list between all the shows, was pretty much the same, thus it was with great anticipation that I awaited the DVD, capturing the complete concert from February 20th at the Gagarin venue in Athens.
Having endured a few line-up changes, Fates Warning consists today of founding member guitarist Jim Matheos, vocalist Ray Alder and bassist Joey Vera. The eve of the tour, saw the sad departure of drummer Mark Zonder. As a replacement, Spock‘s Beard drummer Nick D’Virgilio was brought in, with the sound being beefed up to good effect by a second guitarist, none other than Frank Aresti.
Now, anyone who has a copy of the band’s only previous DVD, The View From Here, should have noticed that the bonus material included rare webcam footage of a gig in Greece, where the crowd was literally packed to the rafters and going absolutely mental. Apparently the biggest market for FWX was also in Greece. Little surprise therefore, that the band decided to shoot their first proper live DVD in that country.
It clearly wasn’t a big budget production; the camera angles are pretty limited, mainly from high at the back of the hall, and the stage is just the band, instruments and amps. The lack of real close-up shots does limit the effect, and visually it gets a bit repetitive as you pass the hour mark.
But a big plus point is the crowd, in adding a real sense of excitement. The set, the performance and the sound is perfect. Nothing from the John Arch era, but the rest is a good mix of stuff from the ‘best of’ category; a solid showcase from the ‘new’ album, and a few rare selections from the back catalogue for the connoisseurs – how long since they last played Quietus?
Incidentally this DVD is the band’s first for the Inside Out label. It’s unclear whether this is a permanent move from Metal Blade, but if there are future releases from the Fates camp, then it would be a major coup for the label.
The Athens gig also featured keyboardist Kevin Moore (collaborator with Matheos on OSI and of course formerly with Dream Theater). Despite his typically low-key stage presence, he adds an great extra layer of sound during his brief appearance.
The bonus material features behind-the-scenes footage from rehearsals and soundchecks, plus two clips from Bulgarian television. These are of the ‘look at once out of curiosity’ value. However for me the tracks Another Perfect Day and The Eleventh Hour, recorded at the Headway Festival, with special guest Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) on drums, bring back great memories. It’s only webcam quality and the tracks are not full length, but you do get to hear me introducing Another Perfect Day by yelling it out from the crowd!!!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Discipline - Live 1995 [DVD]
Tracklist: Diminished (8:00), Canto IV (Limbo) (14:50), Carmilla (10:04), The Possession (6:00), Blueprint (6:08), The Nursery Year (6:11), Circuitry (7:00), When The Walls Are Down (6:37), Homegrown (11:42)
Extras: 1988 Interlude (3:52), Piddle-A-Dink (1:42), Piddle Diddle Iddle (5:18), 1992 Man And The Locust Part 1 / Still Night (6:14), Faces Of The Pretty (5:12), Mickey Mouse Man (5:24), Man In Transition (4:06), 1997 When She Dreams She Dreams In Color (7:22), Eyeballs Story (5:03), 1998 Into The Dream (21:45)
Discipline, the idiosyncratic prog maestros fronted by composer and recently turned solo artist Matthew Parmenter, have not exactly flooded the marketplace with product in the 18 or 19 years since their formation. A handful of (long-deleted) cassettes, two studio CDs, one live CD and a few appearances on prog festival releases just about sums up their back catalogue. But what a back catalogue! The parsity of releases is more than compensated for by the quality of the music, each album having a very high standing in my list of progressive favourites. Parmenter is quite an individual composer, possessing the ability to merge macabre tales with stunningly good tunes. Live 1995 was originally released on video although not widely distributed and, due to the differences in video format around the world, was never available outside the US. However, ten years on the internet and advances in DVD technology has made it possible, and affordable, for this video to be released around the world in a digital medium.
Recorded two years after the debut Push And Profit CD, and two years before the Unfolded Like Staircase follow-up, the recording portrays a band that had achieved a high degree of competence as live performers. Not surprising as by this stage they had been playing together for almost eight years. The audio quality is excellent with a mix that allows the guitar of Jon Preston Bouda, the bass of Matthew Kennedy, the keyboards of Brad Buszard and the drums of Paul Dzendzel to be individually distinguished without any one instrument (or vocals for that matter) taking undue prominence. The main concert carefully mixes multiple camera angles with nice fades between performers to capture appropriate solos etc. The stage lighting is rather dark, with most of the spotlights (understandable) focused on Parmenter and Bouda leaving the rest of the band rather in the shadows a lot of the time. However, having said that, there are some very atmospheric images that are in keeping with the various musical themes. Unfortunately, the picture quality from the camera at the back of the theatre is not always the best suffering from (minor) interference when set to the widest angle. I'm not sure if this is a function of the analogue to digital transfer, deterioration in tapes or simply down to the equipment used. It has to be remembered that it must have been horrendously expensive for a young band to put together a video at that stage of their career so any short-fallings have to be seen in that light and, more importantly, the fact that any imperfections in no way detract from the enjoyment of the DVD.
So what of the show itself? Well it is Discipline at their most theatrical. Parmenter dons different costumes to emphasise particular songs - from a pseudo-jester's outfit (Diminished) to a toga (Canto IV), what looks like a witches outfit, including broom! (The Nursery Year) and a straight jacket (and little else!) (When The Walls Are Down). Whatever your feelings on the use of costumes, it certainly makes for interesting watching, particularly when combined with Parmenter's characteristic face paint (depicted on the DVD cover) and his so-called "Magic Acid Mime". Four of the songs from the set are from Push and Profit, the sombre Diminished (which proves to be a surprisingly good opening number), the fan favourite Carmilla, the sole instrumental Blueprint and this reviewer's favourite The Nursey Year. Of the other tracks only Canto IV has previously appeared on a Discipline CD, although live versions of three of the other songs were included on the now out of print ProgDay '95 compilation CD, with The Possession having only ever been included on the original video release. These four rare songs presents the viewer with 30 minutes of prime Discipline that are every bit the equal of the material on the band's CD releases and Would certainly be a great basis for a new album, even if it is old material! The Possession is a dark and dirty number of ominous intent, delivered with force and venom by Parmenter, Circuitry is more keyboard based and features the vocalist showing off his musical abilities on saxophone, only one of two occasions where he provides more than vocals (the other being additional guitar on Carmilla). Meanwhile When The Walls Are Down is quite a disturbing number (particularly with the straitjacket attire) while Homegrown is quite the tour de force, how any composer could write something of this quality and not want to rush release it in some format is beyond me. This song also highlights the superb playing of the band, in particular John Preston Bouda who has shone throughout the whole performance. The instrumental coda that brings the concert to an end is masterful, you'd hardly notice he broke a string!
The extras are culled from four concerts dating back to the bands earliest days. The first three tracks, from 1988, show a band in development. Interlude is probably the most interesting, if a little chaotic and naive compared with what was to come. Piddle-a-dink is a short guitar and bass instrumental while Piddle Diddle Iddle, another instrumental, is a totally different style, sounding more like Focus than anything. By 1992, things were sounding, and looking, more like the band we know today, despite four of the tracks having been released on the band's first cassette, Chaos Out Of Order back in 1987. Man And The Locust Part 1 serves as a rather frantic instrumental introduction to Still Night while Mickey Mouse Man and Man In Transition portray a light and airiness, particularly on the latter track which is the nearest the band have come to playing a pop song!. Finally from this segment is Faces Of The Pretty, which will be familiar to those of you who have the Push And Profit CD. A great version, although visually the backing vocalist annoyed me for some reason (sorry!) although his bass vocals do add a lot to the track. Skipping to 1997 we get another unreleased gem in When She Dreams She Dreams In Color with Parmenter again displaying is multi instrumental abilities performing on violin. An insane prog-goth-folk hybrid, this instrumental piece has an air of melancholy which I found riveting. The Eyeballs Story is not for the squeamish or faint of heart, although the live rendition is not quite as eerie as reading it in the booklet of the Live Into The Dream CD booklet. Final track is a rare 1998 performance of Into The Dream, all 21 minutes of it. And what a bonus it is, great sound and great performance.
This DVD is a very welcome addition to the Discipline catalogue. It may not be a massively expensive production and the extras may mostly be taken from static single camera video recordings. But the performances and music are excellent and the sheer volume of rare songs included make this essential for anyone who even has the slightest interest in this fine band. Recommended for the music, which, after all is what it is all about.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
If anyone has copies of the Discipline Chaos Out Of Order or Blueprint cassettes please get in touch as I'm desperate to hear them! Thanks Mark
Marillion - Merry XMas To Our Flock
Tracklist: Marillion's Christmas Message (2:44), The Erin Marbles (4:17), The Hollow Man (5:02), Cover My Eyes (4:01), The Bell In The Sea (4:58), Runaway (6:27), You're Gone (4:35), Dry Land (4:55), Fantastic Place (6:20), This Is The 21st Century (5:55), Easter (5:07), Marbles I (1:40), Don't Hurt Yourself (4:39), The Answering Machine (4:18), Man Of A Thousand Faces (3:59)
For the eighth year running Marillion have prepared a special gift for their fans. Readers of our previous New Year's Specials will know by now that Marillion's Christmas CDs can be a bit of a hit and miss affair. The 2005 edition definitely falls in the former category, as this is easily their best effort ever. (better, or at least on par with the excellent Piss-up in a Brewery).
It starts with the annual Christmas message from Marillion, which is the usual banter and laughter and can easily be skipped on repeated listenings. At least this time the band took some effort to make it a nice one, as last year the Christmas message was no more than a 'remix' of previous messages. Also making a triumphant return after last year's absence is Marillion's take on a popular Christmas tune. This time, rather than covering someone else's song, they created their own Christmas song by taking the lyrics of their Marbles quadrilogy and putting them to the music of various traditional Christmas tunes - Pogues style. The result is as hilarious as it is brilliant. For this track the band plays mainly traditional instruments and the Marillion combo is expanded with Gazpacho's Mikael Krømer on violin and Kristian 'The Duke' Skedsmo on mandolin and tin whistle.
The remainder of the CD is filled with a registration of "Los Trios Marillos" (Steve Hogarth, Steve Rothery and Pete Trewavas) live at XM Radio in Washington DC. Those who are familiar with the radio station, or perhaps Porcupine Tree's XM albums will know the excellent quality that is offered by the station. The gig is semi-acoustic, with Steve Rothery occasionally switching to electric guitar (most notably for Fantastic Place) and Steve Hogarth's keyboard providing some basic drum computer rhythms for some of the songs. This being a radio broadcast means Hogarth is doing a little more song introductions and explaining about song elements than usual, making the gig even more special.
As had already become evident with earlier acoustic live albums, Marillion's music works very well in a stripped-down setting. Highlights are This Is The 21st Century and Fantastic Place which are both quite different from their electric studio counterparts. Some of the acoustic versions, like You're Gone, Answering Machine, Cover My Eyes and The Bell in the Sea may actually be an improvement to the originals. Unfortunately, this isn't true for all of the renditions played in the XM Session; the version of Easter with it's dreadfully slow first section certainly isn't an improvement on a classic.
The packaging is as hilarious as the Erin Marbles track, with the band parodying the BBC series Father Ted by dressing up as dirty vicars and cardinals. The absolute highlight of the folded sleeve is the picture of Steve Rothery on the inside, shouting out 'Booze! Arse! Grendel!". Good to see that the band hasn't lost their sense of humour.
As said, the album is only available for members of their fan club, and comes free with a year's subscription. However, at only 10 quid, this CD is well worth signing up to the fan club for.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Crazy World - Crazy World
Tracklist: No White Marble (6:51), Welcome To Crazy World (0:44), Long Hair Wildman Rides Again (3:21), Poor Alice (6:10), Out Of Me (4:08), Sweet Little Ugly Duckling (3:21), Old Tambourine (2:50), Welcome To Crazy World [Slight Return] (1:49), Solversborg Afternoon (4:48),Good Times, Bad Times (3:41), Misery Loves Company (3:21)
Crazy World is the brainchild of one Mika Järvinen, vocalist with Finnish hard rockers Five Fifteen. His avowed aim was to form a band who would, to quote the press release, ‘combine all the elements in the spirit of the classic rock sounds of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, The Who and Bowie’. With a band containing musicians who’ve worked with the likes of Wigwam and Stratovarius, I feel that Järvinen has certainly managed to evoke the spirit of seventies hard rock with this release although, whilst obviously in heavy debt to its influences, this is far from the simple copy-cat effort that might be expected.
The first thing to note is that Crazy World have managed to capture a very raw, organic sound - it really does feel as if the band have just plugged in and started to play, something that suits the music down to the ground. Rather than crash straight in with an up-tempo track, the album opens with the mid-paced slow-burner No White Marble, which is soon revealed to be a wise move. A strong track with a slightly mournful feel, helped by some dark lyrics and a downbeat delivery from Järvinen, musically it comes across as something of a hybrid between Bon Jovi’s Wanted: Dead Or Alive (which features similar lead guitar work) and the Lynyrd Skynyrd classic Freebird. Keyboard player Esa Kotilainen adds some evocative Mellotron work throughout the track, which increases the melancholic feel of the piece. Typically of this album, No White Marble features a chorus that, once heard, is extremely difficult to get out of your head
Long Hair Wildman Rides Again sees the band pick up the pace; the title may be rather clumsy, but there’s nothing clumsy about the execution of this fine hard rocker which, with its heavy use of Hammond organ and driving riffs sounds like it could almost be an outtake from an early 70’s Deep Purple album session. The rest of the album follows a similar course, with slower, more reflective pieces being countered by faster, heavier fare. Of the former, the gentle ballad Poor Alice is a standout, with fine vocal harmonies on the chorus and top-notch moog and lead guitar solos, whilst the whimsical pomp rock of Sweet Little Ugly Duckling has echoes of Barclay James Harvest. Of the rockers, Old Tambourine evokes the spikey bravado of early The Who material, whilst Out Of Me is a solid hard rock anthem with plenty of tasty lead guitar work from Timo Kämäräinen. The only bona fide cover the band attempt is a faithful (if hardly necessary) run through Led Zeppelin’s Good Times Bad Times, although the feedback-drenched Welcome To Crazy World [Slight Return] nods very heavily in the direction of Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile [Slight Return] – I imagine the use of the bracketed sub-title is a bit of a giveaway…
With this album I’d say that Crazy World have managed to do what they set out to – paying tribute to the bands they were growing up listening to in the Seventies by writing songs in the style of those bands, but putting their own spin on this sound. Therefore its’ no surprise (given the frequent reference points I’ve made throughout the review) to say that this isn’t a particularly original affair, but this never seems to have been the band’s intention. What it is is a highly enjoyable set of seventies style classic rock, full of strong hooks and hummable choruses, played by skilled musicians who are clearly enjoying themselves. If you are a fan of seventies hard rock, and even some of the softer stuff, you should find plenty to your liking here.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Pure Reason Revolution -
Cautionary Tales For The Brave
Tracklist: In Aurelia (3:50), The Bright Ambassadors Of Morning (11:50), Arrival/ The Intention Craft (8:35), He Tried To Show Them Magic/Ambassadors Return (5:20)
Many prog fans don’t look on the major labels too fondly, and usually with good reason – quick to drop bands when the style became unfashionable in the late 70’s and 80’s, they’ve been equally quick in rushing out to sign bands now that certain sections of the media have decided that prog is ‘cool’ again. While many bands popular with readers of this site have toiled away for years with scant success and recognition from the media, it will rile some that a young band such as Pure Reason Revolution can get themselves a deal after such a short existence, and without even releasing so much as a single prior to signing on the dotted line with Sony-BMG. However, one listen to Cautionary Tales For The Brave, the band’s first (mini) album, and you might actually find yourself having a bit more respect for a conglomerate such as Sony, as they appear to have found themselves a bit of a gem here, and what’s more one that hardly produces what could be called straightforward, commercial music.
That said, the album does begin in relatively conventional style with In Aurelia; an up-tempo track driven by an insistent rhythm section and powered by distinctly scuzzy guitars, its perhaps more reminiscent of bands currently riding the ‘nu wave’ zeitgeist such as Interpol or Franz Ferdinand than anything overtly progressive, although there is a hint of what to come with some nice layered vocals on the chorus and bridge, a dash of psychedelia courtesy of the spacey keyboard backdrop, and a lyrical subject matter that’s distinctly ‘out there’.
Things really begin to get interesting, however, with the album’s centrepiece, the near 12-minute opus The Bright Ambassadors Of Morning. The fact that the title is lifted from the Pink Floyd epic Echoes should give you some indication of the direction the music takes on this multi-part epic, although it would be true to say that PRR take, if anything, more of a cue from early Floyd standards such as Interstellar Overdrive and Astronomy Domine than they do from the band’s seventies work. Musically this track is interesting in its own right – veering from bass-led, dub-heavy psychedelic sections to Led Zeppelin style hard rock riffs via lush, symphonic keyboard and guitar work reminiscent of early 70’s Yes – but the real revelation here are the wonderful five-part vocal harmonies. From the long, evocative sighs that accompany the opening psychedelic keyboard spirals, through the almost Beach Boy-like bouncy harmonies of the first main vocal section, and on to the main chorus - where a solo voice is first joined by a second voice, then a third and so on, with each adding a new dimension to the sound – this is simply the best vocal harmonising I’ve heard on a prog album since Spock’s Beard burst onto the scene a decade ago. The beauty of it is that, whilst none of the band’s vocalists boasts a particularly strong solo voice, they all bring something unique to the mix, and it’s certainly the case that the sum is greater than the individual parts. Such is the quality of the vocal work and some of the (extremely catchy) main melodies that you easily forgive the band for dragging out some of the sections for a little too long.
Trying to follow this could very easily have led to an anti-climax, yet Pure Reason Revolution manage to keep up a high standard on the remainder of the album. Following the short introductory segue The Arrival, The Intention Craft gets underway in a style reminiscent of Muse, all sweeping guitars and symphonic keys, before the tempo is upped and the aggression levels increased for a song very much in the modern alternative rock vein, with a male-female vocal trade-off adding interest (although also hitting home the fact that the vocalists work best in tandem than solo). The strongest part of the track is possibly the closing section, where the heaviness fades and a piano plays a melancholic melody over a persistent drum loop, whilst distant vocal harmonies drift from ear to ear – the calm after the storm.
He Tried To Show them Magic kicks off with a return to the Beach Boys-style harmonies over a jaunty but slightly maudlin jangly backbeat, before the song stops and gradually rebuilds, the vocal harmonies building and subsiding in tandem with the drum beat. Before long the tempo has been upped again and gradually we return to the chorus of The Bright Ambassadors… A more whimsical vocal-led section gradually winds things down, with a rather mournful violin solo bringing things to an end all too quickly.
As you might have been able to tell, I’ve been highly impressed by Cautionary Tales For The Brave, and the overall feeling I’m left with is that, if this is what the band can produce first time out, who knows what they will come up with on their first full length effort (due in spring 2006), especially now that they’ve had plenty of time on the road to gel as a unit (as an aside, I’ve heard very good reports of Pure Reason Revolution live shows, and the good news for UK fans is that there are plenty of dates planned for 2006 already). Even if, like me, you are rather sceptical of bands that suddenly appear seemingly fully formed on a major label, I would urge you to be ‘brave’ and throw ‘caution’ to the wind (ouch! - sorry couldn’t resist!) and give this lot a listen. OK, the album isn’t perfect, but this is still a great mix of modern, alternative rock and classic prog and psychedelia, with the exquisite vocal harmonies really giving the band an edge over potential rivals. I certainly think we’ll be hearing a lot more of Pure Reason Revolution in the very near future. Recommended.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Malpractice - Deviation From the Flow
Tracklist: Assembly Line (5:48), Colours In Between (4:50), The Industry (4:25), The Long Run (7:19), Dividedd (5:51),Expedition (5:57), Circles In The Sand (6:15), Fragile Pages (9:36)
If you buy one Progressive metal album this year, buy this!
Hailing from Finland, Malpractice - Joonas Koto on guitar, Jonas Maki on bass, Toni Paananen on drums, and Mika Uronen on vocals - are kicking out a brand of melodic in-your-face prog metal that equals and, I daresay, surpasses anything I've heard from the genre thus far. On Deviation From the Flow, the fourth album by the band (after a 7-year break), Malpractice breathes a new life into the Scandinavian metal scene, balancing superb musicianship with melody and hooks that will stay in your head for weeks.
The opening track, Assembly Line, gets straight down to business with a driving riff before settling into a stop-and-go groove overlaid with the single element that sets Malpractice so far ahead of any other Scandinavian acts I've heard - the perfectly balanced and harmonized vocals. The band is certainly capable of being screamer/growl metal (indeed, many of the members belong to other local speed/thrash/heavy metal bands), but they let their Progressive streak shine through like the early morning sun shimmering on a lake. The band's full sound is largely due to balance, each member using his instrument to augment and compliment the song without gratuitous overplaying (although Joonas' guitar solo around the four-minute mark is spectacular!).
Colours In Between opens with one of the most straight-forward metal grooves on the album, quickly moving into what could be called a "typical Prog" feel. Malpractice must have done their homework, because they embody, even epitomize, the very essence of what "Progressive" is without really sounding like any of their contemporaries. They fall somewhere between the chops of Liquid Tension Experiment and the melody (with regard to the instrumental approach) of Enchant while bringing in their own twist. It's not too heavy for the light-proggers, it's not too light for those who enjoy their metal, it's just right.
The Industry features some of the most "straightforward," if slightly syncopated, playing on the album, and provides one of the clearest glimpses into the somewhat cynical, or perhaps progress-questioning, lyrical theme behind much of the album with the chorus: "It's not about who you are, it's all about who you know/Where do you go when everything depends on others?" This is one of my favourite songs from the album, and I could honestly see this song making it to any mainstream radio stations willing to play something as heavy as Van Halen or Linkin' Park.
The fourth track The Long Run opens with a drum fill and a chorus, then falls back into a mellow backdrop for the verses. Although I wouldn't make a direct comparison, Mika's voice sounds more than a little reminiscent of Timo Kotipelto of Stratovarius (in a good way). Toni's frantic drumming makes this song quite fun, and along with the chorus has made this my favourite song from the first listen. Another great guitar solo/section, too, for the chops fans. The octave(?)-harmonies in the bridge are a nice touch as well.
The first minute or so of Divided brings to mind some of the finer moments of Symphony X's V album, specifically the song Communion and the Oracle. Comparisons to a lighter version of Symphony X, with a little more of a pop vibe, would not be unjustified at times throughout this album. The song then alternates between a slightly heavier, more driving beat and the SymX feel, with a very Dream Theater-esque instrumental section near the end.
Expedition opens with that "typical Prog" feel again, something that makes me feel warm inside, almost nostalgic, and has driven me to listen to this album ridiculously many times over the past month. This song is full of long chords and harmonies, and a little over a minute into the song Mika borrows a play from the Pain of Salvation handbook, singing two contrary vocal melodies simultaneously. It's not often I get over two-thirds of the way through a metal album without getting bored, but these guys are still going strong and keeping the music varied and interesting.
After the wonderful feel of Expedition, Circles In The Sand opens with machine-gun drumming and airy, disconnected guitars, transitioning into a late '80s/early '90s feel that begs comparisons to Dream Theater's When Dream And Day Unite, albeit with better recording and more harmonies. This is another of my favourite songs, for the many transitions in feel (and the insane drumming!).
The final offering, Fragile Pages, opens with clean, bell-like guitar over long bass notes, adding in some pseudo-industrial effects and static before dialing in like an old TV set warming up into the heart of the song. The beginning of the instrumental section in this song has the only really noteworthy bass moment on the album, with Jonas getting a chance to show his melodic capabilities. While the first half of this song reminds me a lot of Ashes by Pain of Salvation, the latter parts remind me remarkably of Steve Vai. More very fun, very nice grooves, and a sudden ending to the album to match the sudden and powerful start. The album runs right at fifty minutes start to finish, and not a single second is wasted.
I can guarantee fans of almost any facet of Prog metal will find Deviation From The Flow positively exhilarating, both as an album built on solid players with remarkable senses of melody and musicianship and as a breath of fresh air in a genre which is beginning to become cliched. I have long been looking for a band which can bring together the energy of metal, the complexity of Progressive music, and the beauty of a singer not bent on trying to fit the "metal image," all while maintaining a not-too-heavy and not-too-slow sound all their own - and in Malpractice I have finally found them.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Mangrove - Facing The Sunset
Tracklist: Facing The Sunset (13:53), I Fear The Day (10:12), There Must Be Another Way (12:31), Hidden Dreams (20:58)
If a progband is meant to be sounding different on each of their albums, then Dutch Mangrove is probably the proggiest of them all. Their first album "Massive Hollowness" contained an interesting merge of funk and prog. Their second album Touch Wood seemed more of an ode to the music of seventies Genesis and eighties Marillion. And now their third self-produced album is a bit like their Tales From Topographic Oceans, with four epic tracks averaging around the 15 minute mark!
This time there were no changes in the line-up from the previous album, which enabled the band to develop their musical style further. Though perhaps the difference between this album and its predecessor is not as big as it was between the first two albums, the band has certainly 'grown'. Musically the album is a pleasant mix mainly Genesis-inspired neo-prog, with some Floydian overtones and the occasional hint of Yes-like psychedelia. Where the previous two albums could use some more work in the vocal department, Mangrove and especially singer/guitarist Roland van der Horst certainly have put great work into improving the vocals. Van der Horst's vocals are bit of a mix between David Gilmour and Colin Blunstone, with the occasional Jon Anderson falsetto added in the mix. Where on the previous album Touch Wood (the first album with Van der Horst on vocals) he was stretching his vocals too much, on this new album he limits himself to a more comfortable range. By no means is he a great lead-singer, but I've heard plenty of prog-bands with worse singers too.
The album opens with the title track, which is characterised by Pieter Drost's excellent fretless bass-work. Guitar and keyboard solos alternate, building to a long climax in which the guitar has a very distinct Steve Hacket feel. The next track I Fear The Day is like a Pink Floyd/Genesis hybrid, with nice piano and washes of Mellotron, backed with very laid-back drumming.
Instrumental There Must Be Another Way is a good showpiece for the individual band member's talents. This is where the excellent musicianship of the foursome becomes evident. Roland van der Horst's guitar play is top notch and often reminds of a slightly harder edged Steve Hackett. Pieter Drost does a good Pete Trewavas impersonation by playing very melodic and effective bass-lines. Joost Hagemeijer's drums are solid throughout, though they may be a tad on the safe side (more Nick Mason than Phil Collins here) and finally Chris Jonker's keyboards once again excel in very Tony Banks-like keyboard solos. There Must Be Another Way is an excellent way of showcasing the band's talents and will certainly be a great track to hear played live. It is also the most varied track on the album, with both very fast passages and a mellow acoustic mid-section. The ending is like a David Gilmour solo played over the music of Marillion's The Space.
Hidden Dreams is the band's magnum opus. The 20-minute epic starts very neo-prog style with shrill lead-guitar and very 'epic' drums. The vocals in this song are very Yes-like, with vocals duties shared between Van der Horst and Hagemeijer. To add to the mix are Tony Banks style keyboards (Lamb Lies Down era). The band keep this long song interesting by changing the direction of the (largely mellow) song some 180 degrees a couple of times with IQ-like up-tempo sections.
As with the previous releases, the artwork of the CD is top-notch. Some very nice close-ups of the band member's instruments. Furthermore an outline of the story of the concept is given - of course it is a concept album. With this album the band firmly land themselves their first DPRP recommended tag!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Dolores Castro - Fifth Dimension
Tracklist: Heaven (6:17), Homework (5:04), Somuch (4:45), SunnyDay (3:39), Peace (5:02), Japan (4:33), Changes (3:15), Stars (5:02), Emptyhouse (4:37), Wandering (4:49), ListenHearts (4:20)
I’ve been a fan of ambient music since I stumbled across a Brian Eno record in the mid-seventies. But the trouble I have as a reviewer is finding something to say about the stuff. Even second-rate ambient music – if it’s not a complete failure, by which I mean it’s unpleasant or grating (and I’ve come across a surprising amount of that kind of thing!) – is usually pleasant to listen to, often soothing, dreamy, seductive – so what is it we look for in first-rate ambient music beyond that? I’ve listened to Dolores Castro’s Fifth Dimension many, many times and can begin to answer that question. At least for me, first-rate ambient music walks the difficult line between music that one can play comfortably in the background and music that demands one’s full attention. I think Castro has walked that line with this excellent album.
I don’t admit to just everybody that I’m a fan of Moby, the shaven-headed vegan musician/essayist/café owner who seems almost as famous for writing music that makers of television commercials want to use (surely everybody knows by now that all the songs on his breakthrough album Play were licensed for commercial use) as for writing music that people want to hear. However, Moby’s a fine, inventive musician able to work in many different styles, including punk, techno, and, yes, ambient. Included with the initial pressing of his latest album, 2005's Hotel, is a second disc called Hotel: Ambient. And if I were to put Castro’s music on a scale between Eno’s and Moby’s (which is not to suggest that they represent extremes of this kind of music but only that they suggest a fairly wide range), hers would be nearer to Moby’s end. These are more songs than compositions, and – like Moby’s – hers seem suited to the subjects suggested by their titles; and, as I said before, they successfully (again, like Moby’s) walk the line between undemanding background and demanding foreground music.
The titles I’ve listed above are accurately reproduced, incidentally – the words are run together in just that way – and I’m giving Castro the benefit of the doubt, attributing the neologisms not to a weak command of English but to a desire to suggest the moods of the pieces themselves. Take the impressive Emptyhouse, for example. This gorgeous, half-mournful, half-wistful song, the feeling of an empty house created by spare piano over gentle synthesizer washes, sounds almost like an homage to David Bowie’s experiments with ambient – think of the second side of Heroes, for example (much of which was, of course, co-written with Eno). The lovely Peace is actually quite similar in melody but adds insistent, unintrusive percussion to the piano and synthesizer. Homework demonstrates that good ambient music doesn’t have to be just peaceful, though – I hope I’m not reading too much into the music because of the title, but I find the, again, insistent but this time intrusive percussion and the multi-voiced synthesizer lines a little stressful, a little tension-inducing – there’s work of some kind to be done, the music makes one feel, whatever Castro herself means by “homework”!
I’m not going to say that the album’s perfect, though. There’s a fine line between unification and sameness, and I’m not certain Castro’s album is on the better side of that line. I like to listen to an album through and feel that all the songs work together, that there’s a reason they’re all on the same album and, ideally, a reason that they’re in the order they’re in; however, if the songs fit together too well, if they’re too similar, well, that’s a bit of a failing. And there is a sameness to many of the songs here; and, also unfortunately, the album ends with perhaps its weakest track, ListenHearts. It’s by no means a bad song, but it comes closest to making me think, as I do when I listen to certain second-rate ambient music, “Hmm – if I’d had a synthesizer, I could have written that song!” ListenHearts is pleasant but no more – it’s too undemanding, too far in the background. I could wish that Castro had ended her album with one of the more challenging songs – leaving the reader anxious for more rather than starting to lose interest.
Those quibbles aside, though, I happily recommend this album to fans of good ambient music – or “Seventies-like electronic musics,” as the Musea promotional material describes it. This is only Castro’s first album, and I have to say I’ll be very pleased when I get her next one for review, expecting it to be better still.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Råg i Ryggen - Råg i Ryggen
Tracklist: Det Kan Väl Inte Vara Farlight (5:37), You Know It Ain't Easy (7:17), Spångaforsens Brus (5:52), Jan Banan (5:10), Naked Man (6:12), Queen Of Darkness (4:31), Sanningsserum (6:30), Sanningsserum [Live 1975] (7:26), Jan Banan [Live 1975] (5:26), Land Over The Rainbow [Live 1976] (5:15)
"Råg i Ryggen" means "to have guts" in Swedish, and these guys definitely had guts. This is a band dug out of the Swedish archives, formed in the early 70's that only yielded this album in 1975. Their end came after two years of gigs around Stockholm. This CD release contains apart from the tracks present in the original LP, three live tracks. The parallelism becomes evident once someone inserts the disk into the cd-player. This band is the closest thing to Uriah Heep I ever heard, mostly on their rock side though and not that much on their "mystical" side. The guitar riffs are similar, the Hammond/Moog passes as impressive and as pompous and even the vocals of Jonas Warnerbring are closely following the ones of the late Mr. Byron. OK, I have to stress the fact that this band brings Heep a lot in mind, but it would be unfair not to stress from the very start that the quality of the songs is very high and that this is indeed a lost gem!
The first track opens quite roughly and via a galloping hard-rock introduction, that leads to a wonderful atmospheric middle part which sounds like a marriage between Heep's Pilgrim and King Crimson's Epitaph, to finish fast again with a wonderful guitar duel. Almost NWOBHM! While the first track is sung in Swedish, You Know It Ain't Easy is in English and reminds me (a bit too much?) of Gipsy in its beginning, while it later unfolds into a blues guitar jam. Great vocal skills, passionate singing and good high tones. The next track is a very melodic instrumental, more in the line of Wishbone Ash's Argus period. Jan Banan is a real classic rock track, impressive riff, wonderful touch of keys and bluesy guitar, excellent. Another rock treasure is Naked Man, cool (English) lyrics, nice flute intro, wah-wah guitar, a classic. Queen Of Darkness is a quite simple mid-tempo track with a clever finish that wakes up some memories of Blue Oyster Cult. The last album track Sanningsserum is also quite Heep-like and mostly guitar-driven, quite a hard riff there. The bonus tracks are all live, the first two being live versions of two tracks present in the album, while the third one is a new song. Unfortunately the sound quality of these recordings is very poor. Land Over The Rainbow opens with a bizarre folky guitar and has some significant speed and mood changes-refrain sounds a bit like Rainbow Demon.
The album is very coherent and the compositions are mature but also fresh and well-worked on. Very good instrumental and vocal work all over the album, no redundant parts (excluding the live bonus tracks) and on top of that a very good production. This is indeed a lost gem, an absolute must for all fans of 70's rock and hard-rock. Makes you wonder a bit why you never heard of this band before...Too bad they never released a sequel to this album! BEAUTIFUL. ROCKS.
It is amazing how easy the internet has made it for long forgotten bands and obscure albums to be rediscovered by a new generation. Case in point is Råg I Ryggen, which translated means 'to have guts', who existed for seven years in the early 1970s yet only managed to release one, self-titled album during that time. However, the Record Heaven label have dragged the album out of obscurity to see how it fares in the modern world.
Råg I Ryggen fall into the cusp of heavy and progressive rock, similar to the way that early Uriah Heep are often cited as being progressive. Indeed there is a degree of similarity between the Swedish and English bands, mainly due to the biting guitars of Björn Nystrom and Jan Aggemyr blended with the arsenal of '70s keyboards and synths supplied by Christer Sjöborg (Moogs, string synths and Hammond organs in particular). The other three members of the group are Björn Aggemyr on bass, Jonas Warnerbring on vocals and Peter Sandberg on drums. Of the original seven-track album, three songs were sung in English with the remainder in Swedish, which seems an odd decision, although perhaps the band had a hopeful eye on a more widespread market than Sweden. The first English number, You Know It Ain't Easy slyly borrows a riff from Heep's Gypsy, although it's incorporation in the arrangement is probably an act of tribute rather than plagiarism as the rest of the song bears no resemblance to the earlier song. Replete with guitar and keyboard solos, this song is quite the epic rocker, and although characteristic of its time (or earlier), is an impressive number. Naked Man is a catchy song with the sound of blistering wah-wah guitars breaking through the initial vocal section before a short flute (presumably played by vocalist Warnerbring) and keyboard interlude re-introduces a vocal reprise. Queen Of Darkness, the last song in English, is full of the characteristic sound of the Hammond organ played through a Leslie speaker.
The Swedish tracks add a bit of variety to the mixture, although not on opener Det Kan Väl Inte Vara Farligt which nods firmly in the direction of Deep Purple with Sjöborg doing a pretty mean Jon Lord impression. Spangaforsens Brus is the oddity of the album, a delicate instrumental that sounds like an adaptation of a Russian folk song. However, as any fan of seventies music will realise, that time was one of great musical experimentation, drawing on a multitude of influences and, as a consequence, the piece doesn't sound at all out of place and, in it's own merry way, is a rather pleasing little ditty, with the twin lead guitars adding a Wishbone Ash vibe to the proceedings. It is back to the heavy rocking with Jan Banan which also exploits the twin lead guitar potential providing harmony guitar riffs, which are great, as counterpoint to the main synth riff, which is not so great as it is one of the few places where this album really does sound dated. Still, a rather decent keyboard solo makes up for this (minor) niggle. Last track from the original album, Sanningsserum reiterates the Uriah Heep comparisons being a powerful rock number which gives free rein to all the musicians in the group.
The three bonus live tracks are hardly worth the bother, suffering from twin problems of being poorly recorded and of very low fidelity (they sound like 3rd or 4th generation copies of a bootleg tape recorded on a cheap cassette desk). The live renditions of Sanningsserum and Jan Banan don't deviate substantially from the studio versions and Land Over The Rainbow, recorded a year after the album was released, suggests that the band hadn't developed much in their style which may have been one of the reasons they called it a day soon after.
For fans of seventies rock with progressive overtones, Råg I Ryggen have a lot to offer. Don't be put off from the sleeve with its rather naive drawing and very amateur attempt to replicate the Roger Dean style of lettering. This is a rare example of content championing over style.
Pink Floyd Tribute (VA) - Back Against The Wall
Disc 1 [40:22]: In The Flesh? (3:19), The Thin Ice (2:30), Another Brick In The Wall Part 1 (3:15), The Happiest Days Of Our Lives (1:43), Another Brick In The Wall Part 2 (4:02), Mother (5:59), Goodbye Blue Sky (2:44), Empty Spaces (2:09), Young Lust (4:18), One Of My Turns (3:35), Don’t Leave Me Now (4:08), Another Brick In The Wall Part 3 (1:39), Goodbye Cruel World (1:00)
Disc 2 [42:40]: Hey You (4:43), Is There Anybody Out There? (2:39), Nobody Home (3:11), Vera (1:23), Bring The Boys Back Home (1:05), Comfortable Numb (6:51), The Show Must Go On (1:40), In The Flesh (4:19), Run Like Hell (5:09), Waiting For The Worms (4:00), Stop (0:33), The Trial (5:19), Outside The Wall (1:47)
It is obvious that every decent rock collector should have a copy of the legendary Pink Floyd album The Wall. However if you should obtain a copy of this tribute to that extraordinary album is another thing. I for example am not particularly fond of covers and tributes, but I must say that this Pink Floyd tribute is rather OK.
Every title of Back Against The Wall is a cover of each original track, kept in the same order, but performed in a personal and very consistent way. The guy who managed all this is again Billy Sherwood, who gathered a team worthy of the Olympus of rock music. Just to mention a few: Chris Squire, John Wetton, Steve Morse, Ian Anderson, Rick Wakeman, Tommy Shaw, Tony Levin, Aynsley Dunbar, Glenn Hughes, Robbie Krieger and Alan White.
The vocals of Glenn Hughes, Tommy Shaw, Billy Sherwood and Jason Scheff are definitely outstanding and are by no means “inferior” to those of Waters and Gilmour. However the vocal parts of Ian Anderson (The Thin Ice), The Tubes' Fee Waybill (Another Brick In The Wall part 2) and Chris Squire (Comfortably Numb) are rather weak and poor. Guitar pickers Ronnie Montrose (Another Brick In The Wall part 2) and Adrian Belew (Mother) do a great job, however Billy Sherwood’s guitar solo in one of Pink Floyd’s best songs ever (Comfortably Numb), is rather mediocre.
All in all I would say that this tribute is for fans only, but you should check out Sir Malcolm McDowell’s contribution on the song The Trial.
I have to admit that I was initially impressed with the cast assembled for the marking of the 25th anniversary of Floyd's The Wall. Wow, all these guys paying tribute to one of prog's landmark releases. The list is truly impressive, many of whom Martien has listed above, and I have to admire Billy Sherwood for tackling this album. But you always feel that critically he was always on a hiding to nothing - if he stuck to the script, as in fact he has, then criticism would be levelled that it has done little to improve on the original. However if he attempted to develop and/or expand upon the original, then no doubt the scorn would be much greater.
So the burning question to be answered is - did this tribute to The Wall work? Well before answering this question I suppose I should just mention that The Wall isn't a favourite Floyd album of mine, far from it, although there is no doubting that it contains several great Floyd tracks. Certainly amongst my friends the subject of The Wall has been the topic of many a debate, over the odd beer or two through the years. I wonder what they will make of Back Against The Wall?
The answer to the above question, for me, has to be no! And my main disappointment with the release is that the notable cast of musicians add little of their own distinctive styles to the music. So in the end, half a dozen session musicians would have made as valid a tribute. So for those considering purchasing this album to find out what, say Keith Emerson might add to the music, then the answer would be very little. With a few exceptions, this pretty much applies throughout, with very few of the notable names making any discernable contributions. The best of the contributions can be found in the vocals - John Wetton's rendition of Hey You, Ian Anderson (The Thin Ice) and Glenn Hughes distinctive vocals (Young Lust).
In the final analysis Back Against The Wall has done nothing to alter my opinion on the original album and the contributions from the "star studded cast" add little if anything to the proceedings. Actually I'd go further and say I really missed Dave Gilmour's guitar and even his and Roger Water's vocal contributions.
The numerical conclusion is my reflection on the value of this release and not on the original. I doubt this album will receive many airings in my CD player, if I feel the necessity to listen to The Wall, I'll probably stick with the original.