Dutch Progressive Rock Page
2005 : VOLUME 59

REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


RPWL - Live ~ Start The Fire
RPWL - Live ~ Start The Fire
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:2CD
Record Label:Inside Out
Tempus Fugit
Catalogue #:SPV 48612
Year of Release:2005
Time:61:26 & 67:03
Info:RPWL
Samples:Click here

Tracklist CD1: Sleep (10:00), Start The Fire (4:50), Who Do You Think We Are (4:10), Day On My Pillow (6:30), Roses (7:00), Not About Us (5:10), The Gentle Art Of Swimming (8:50), Wasted Land (5:40), Crazy Lane (4:20), Trying To Kiss The Sun (5:10)

Tracklist CD2: World Through My Eyes (11:50), Opel (6:10), Cymbaline (15:00), Welcome To The Machine (7:20), I Don't Know (4:30),Hole In The Sky (13:00) Bonus Track: New Stars Are Born [Studio - Full Version] (13.00)

After releasing 4 studio albums and many a tour RPWL now finally releases a double live album. And I don't know about you people, but I have been waiting for this album for a long time. Having had the pleasure to see the band play live on several occasions I can easily say that RPWL is a live band as live bands should be. Not your standard 'let's play the songs note for note as they are on the album' affair, no Sir ! This bunch loves to throw in a couple of covers, extend their songs or even completely rework them for live renditions. And that's how I like it best. This new live recording captures several of these moments in their full splendour.

There's a distinct difference in flavour between the two discs. Disc one is based on the band's performance at Rockpalast earlier this year. Disc two sees the band paying tribute to their biggest inspiration, Pink Floyd, with two cover versions of Floyd songs (Cymbaline and Welcome To The Machine), a cover of a Syd Barrett tune which also appeared on their 'left-overs album' Stock (Opel) and some of their most Floydian material.

As was to be expected, the focus of the band's own material lies on their latest studio album World Through My Eyes, which is represented by 6 tracks. The first two albums are represented by three and two songs and the Stock album by two songs. Probably my only complaint about the album is that the band didn't throw in more material from God Has Failed and Trying To Kiss The Sun. Considering that there's still half an hour space on the discs I would have loved to have seen live versions of Waiting for a Smile, Home Again, In Your Dreams, It's Alright, Spring of Freedom (with it's solos) and especially the freak-out version of Side By Side on this album. As a matter of fact, I would have given up a track like Gentle Art of Swimming, which isn't one of the bands best compositions (from a vocal melody point of view) for one or more of these tracks.

But even without the mentioned tracks there's lots to enjoy on the two CDs. The first CD opens in a rocking way with strong performances of an extended Sleep, full of Asian influences, and Start The Fire. Next up is a wonderful reworked version of Who Do You Think We Are, which unlike the studio version starts with a scaled down arrangement before the rest of the band kick in. After a resting point with the lovely ballad Day On My Pillow the band is joined on stage by one of my favourite singer/songwriters: Ray Wilson. Together they put on splendid performances of the single Roses, which Ray Wilson also sings on the band's album, and Genesis' Not About Us complete with synth solo.
After Gentle Art Of Swimming, as said not one of their best tracks but with an interesting guitar solo full of effects, the band continues with the powerful U2-like Wasted Lands. Crazy Lane and the title track of their second album close the first disc.

The second disc starts with a completely different version of World Through My Eyes. Unlike most, I was never all that impressed by the version on the band's last studio album but I love this earlier version ! It's much more laid back, with lots of room for improvisation and a much more Floydian atmosphere (think pre-Dark Side era). As such it fits in perfectly with the rest of the material on this disc.
I've never been a big fan of Syd Barrett's work with Pink Floyd or his solo stuff. As such I cannot get very excited about the band's cover of Opel, which also appeared on their Stock album. The next track, and one of the highlights of the album, is a whole different ball game though. Back in 2000 the band released their version of Pink Floyd's Cymbaline on the tribute album Signs Of Life. The track was also often played live during their shows and now one of these versions is finally captured on CD. And what a marvellous version it is! Clocking in at 15 minutes this version incorporates both the Funky Dung and Remergence sections of the Atom Heart Mother suite, which blend perfectly with the often unrecognised Floyd classic Cymbaline.
The band continue their journey through the world of Floyd with one of the most powerful versions of Welcome To The Machine I've ever heard. Amazing stuff ! After a fine version of I Don't Know, which almost feels out of place between all of this Floydian material, the band closes the live set with the popular and most Floydian of their compositions: Hole In The Sky. This 11 minute version combines all three parts of the band's debut album and is another highlight.

And if all of this wasn't enough we get a special bonus track in the form of the full length version of New Stars Are Born, a shorter version of which appeared on the special edition of World Through My Eyes. This new version, which is almost twice as long, is another fine example of how the band draw their inspiration from Pink Floyd. The track features a long middle section full of improvisations and psychedelic freakin' bringing back memories of the Wish You Were Here and Animals albums... Wonderful stuff.

All in all the tracklist makes this a bit of a weird live album, not really representing he average RPWL gig. But there's so much great material to be found on both discs that you won't hear me complaining. This double CD comes highly recommended to all fans of RPWL and Pink Floyd.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

ED SANDER



Nemo – Prélude à La Ruine
Nemo – Prélude à La Ruine
Country of Origin:France
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:-
Year of Release:2005
Time:62:02
Info:Nemo
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Les Temps Modernes (8:00), 1914 (7:40), O.G.R.E. (4:56), Prélude à La Ruine (1:30), Les Yeux Fermés (Le Retour de L'Ogre) (6:28), Eve Et Le Génie Du Mal (4:30), Tous Les Chemins (9:04), Cluster 84 (5:30), Le Monde à L’Envers (15:02)

It is always a crime to underrate good music. One of the victims of this public indifference is certainly Nemo. Of course there are numerous reasons for this situation which also can be read in the interview I conducted with Jean Pierre Louveton, the band’s vocalist, guitarist and main composer.

This French band has already released three albums, all of them being truly hidden gems. Their second album, Présages was also reviewed by DPRP, which you can read here. Having realized that their latest studio album was not reviewed by us, I quickly decided to share my opinions about this overlooked masterpiece with our readers.

Nemo’s music can be identified as prog metal, but there’s certainly more to it than that. Prog rock, neo-prog, jazz, and classical music combined with some metal attitude would be a better description in my opinion. And I think that with Prélude à La Ruine they delivered one of the finest albums ever produced in the prog territory. Comparisons could be made with Dream Theater and Yes, but their music derives from a “very” wide spectrum and is truly unique. But the strength of the band lies in the contrast of the rocking guitars (Jean Pierre Louveton) and the symphonic and versatile approach of keyboards (Guillaume Fontaine), both working in perfect harmony even though their approach sometimes completely differ from each other. This near-perfect collage also allows the band to change styles during the songs in such a way that you don’t recognize the transitions from a very heavy part into a light jazzy interlude or even to parts with rappy vocals. Everything runs so smoothly and it never gets boring during the whole album. The addition of the violin on some spots is truly beautiful and gives a glimpse of the strong sense of melody of the band. Another point of importance is the sound quality. It’s quite good for a self-produced album. In fact it’s even better than many known prog label releases.

I for one look for emotional, intelligent, complex (not for the sake of being complex), diverse and melodic music in prog and with Prélude à La Ruine, Nemo delivers all of them in top quality. The only minor flaws are the weak vocals of Louveton (who simply is an amazing guitarist) on some spots, but I think this also helps the band to create an intimate atmosphere. Yes, I found the word to describe Nemo’s music: Intimate… During a period in which 99 % of the prog bands sound clearly synthetic, Nemo differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack with their modern and intimate approach to prog. Their passion for this music can easily be felt. If you’re not discouraged by French lyrics, I highly recommend this masterpiece to any prog fan. Now, if you excuse me, I have to get my daily groove dose of Cluster 84…

PS: The band is preparing their new album SI to be released in early next year. Meanwhile they also have a live album called Immersion Publique. Check their webstore, because all of their albums are quite hard to obtain.

Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10

YALCIN INEL



Niacin - Organik
Niacin - Organik
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Magna Carta
Catalogue #:MAX-9081-2
Year of Release:2005
Time:61:44
Info:Niacin
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Barbarian @ The Gate (2:57), Nemesis (4:00), Blistertime (5:33), King Kong (7:20), Super Grande (4:57), Magnetic Mood (6:39), Hair Of The Dog (4:18), 4'53 (4:17), Stumble On The Truth (3:48), Club Soda (4:31), No Shame (4:26), Clean House (4:21), Footprints In The Sand (4:31)

When one thinks of progressive trios then it is usually Rush or ELP that spring to mind. One group that almost everyone would omit is Niacin who with their seventh album, Organik continue to redefine what is actually mean by a power trio. Comprised of three superlative musicians in the form of bassist Billy Sheenan (Talas, Mr Big), keyboard player John Novello (Edgar Winter, Chick Corea) and drummer Dennis Chambers (whose credits include recordings with everyone from Funkadelic to Steely Dan), Niacin's music inhabits its own world of progressive rock, fusion and even a dash of jazz. As anyone with a bit of a biological background, or who reads the cereal packets over breakfast in the morning, niacin is the chemical name of vitamin B3, and was chosen as the bands name because they base their sound around "the mighty and majestic Hammond B3 Organ". And in the hands of Novello there is no doubt that the full potential of the classic B3 sound, an instrument that back in the late sixties/early seventies was more important than the guitar across the whole spectrum of musical genres, it utilised to maximum effect.

A lot of people are put off by anything labelled as fusion, thinking that it will be endless musical masturbation with individuals showing off just how brilliant they are with complete disregard for structure or melody. But when mixed with the rock idiom things do take on a more prog-friendly atmosphere. Take for example the highlights of Return To Forever and the early solo albums of Al Di Meola, Frank Zappa's output was littered with jazz and fusion experimentations, heck even ELP could be 'accused' of occasionally venturing into fusion territory and not many people seemed to mind. Yes, Niacin do get very technical and can pack in more notes to the bar than many people would deem necessary, particularly on the opening trio of numbers Barbarian & The Gate which will make you think your CD player is running fast, Nemesis, best described as Gentle Giant on speed and the driving Blisterine which pummels the brain into submission. But, boy can this trio rip it up! In the infamous words of The Rutles, "I was shocked, and stunned!" Elsewhere the group do mellow out a bit; their rendition of Zappa's King Kong is actually preferably (to me at least) to the original, Magnetic Mood is a slow bluesy number, Hair Of The Dog ventures more into the jazz domain and Clean House ups the funk rock quotient, particularly on the bass line. However, no matter what the style, there is a distinctive melody line within each piece, sometimes dictated by Sheenan, mostly by Novello and occasionally by Chambers.

Overall the album is predictably unpredictable. You know that each track is going to be a stack of B3 runs, a heavy bassline and some fancy drum fills, but other than that it's anyone's guess! The musicianship is absolutely first class, the musicians have an innate ability to gel together a skill that is enhanced by the crisp and well balanced recording. No one individual stands out, and remove or replace any one of the group and the whole thing is likely to collapse. Of course, the album will not appeal to everyone, some won't like the all instrumental nature or dislike the sound of the Hammond organ, others will not be comfortable with any kind of fusion aspect or not be a fan of complex interplay and furious playing considering it pretentious self-indulgence. But for people who are open to any or all of these elements Niacin have a lot to offer and are worthy of investigation.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Negative Zone - Negative Zone
Negative Zone - Negative Zone
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Musea
Catalogue #:FGBG 4621.AR
Year of Release:2005
Time:45:45
Info:Negative Zone
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Overture (2:10), Cats (2:39), The Stack (2:18), Don't Sleep Part 1 (8:09), Who We Are (3:39), Farewell (2:17), Fly Away (2:53), Don't Sleep Part 2 (3:15), Hold Out Your Hand (4:37), Island (2:17), Fairy Tales (2:42), Negative Zone (8:41)

For their debut album, France's Negative Zone have looked towards the past for their inspiration, in particular focusing their attention on the first half of the 1970s. One of the up and coming bands of that time, in the progressive spectrum at least, was a certain Pink Floyd who although yet to reach truly global status, had released such interesting albums as Atom Heart Mother and Meddle that took the more overt psychedelia of their first couple of albums into a more progressive rock direction. And it is this era of Floyd that Negative Zone are obviously most drawn to.

However, the quartet of Cedric Gartaut (guitar and vocals), Bruno Ramousse (bass, vocals and flute), Manuel Santiago (guitar, keyboards and vocals) and Fabrice DiMondo (drums) have more to offer than just another tribute band; they have taken the atmospherics and soundscapes most frequently associated with bands like Pink Floyd and adapted them to create something of their own. Yes, pieces like the instrumental The Stack could easily have been excised from an early version of Echoes and the glorious organ and bass dominated Don't Sleep Part 2 is a perfect three-minute précis of the famous group's signature sounds, yet elsewhere there is more on offer. Island, for example, is an acoustic based number that nods passively towards early Porcupine Tree. The macabre Fairly Tales has a gentle electric piano backing and layered harmony vocals which all sounds very jolly until you realise what they are actually singing: "Kill me again, smash my brain, feel my pain".

Elsewhere, Who We Are, another instrumental, deals feedback, atonal guitars and screeching flutes; Farewell has a fair ground quality to it; Hold Out Your Hand is another acoustic based number that shares nothing with the Chris Squire composition of the same name except for the title, but is still a great little song; and opening numbers Overture and Cats could be a totally different band, the latter song being a quirky pop song (of sorts).

With the majority of the album comprising shorter pieces, extended compositions are limited to Don't Sleep Part 1 and the group's signature song Negative Zone. The former number once again borrows from the Floyd. Deftly arranged and played, the piece captures the essence of the period but carries way too much of the style and structure of Echoes to score high on any originality rating, indeed, at times you could be listening to an Echoes remix rather than a self-penned composition. Negative Zone itself contains more of the Frenchmen's own style of music. A heavy and dramatic opening settles down into a period of atmospherics which introduces the vocals before a myriad of instruments are added to the mix as the piece gradually builds to a crescendo. Easily the most original piece on the album and proof that there are new things that can be done within the seventies idiom.

Overall, a bold and brave debut that will either be enjoyed for what it is or derided for being a poor pastiche of something greater. Personally I think it is rather quaint and found this first album by the French band to be enjoyable and interesting. However, given the overt Floydisms, I hesitate to rate it as a recommended album, perhaps that will come next time. Still, pay their website a visit, listen to the samples that play as you browse and make up your own mind

Conclusion: 7+ out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Mikromidas - Faunus
Mikromidas - Faunus
Country of Origin:Norway
Format:CD
Record Label:Musea
Catalogue #:FGBG 4557.AR
Year of Release:2005
Time:49:33
Info:Mikromidas
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Den Dagen Jeg Forsvant (9:21), Virveldans (4:27), Sjaelernes Evige Baeven (3:36), Trollmann (6:10), Sultekunstneren (9:23), Den Gjengrodde Sti (0:58), Englesangen (3:29), Famle Rundt (4:13), Krigsmann (7:56)

Here's another fine example of the Norwegian prog invasion that is currently flooding the world. After Magic Pie I now have the honour to review the new album from another progressive band from Norway: Mikromidas. Their second album is called Faunus which follows their debut album from 2001 Brennende Drømmer that we reviewed back then. The band was formed in 1995, is based in Stavanger and consists of Atle Bye on bass, Halvard Jakobsen on guitar, Øystein Larsen on Hammondorgan and Mellotron, Ståle Leirtrø on guitar and vocals and Rune Forselv on drums.

They describe their own music as a melodic and pompous seventies style kind of rock with lyrics in Norwegian. The choice for the latter was very deliberate as they say:

"We don't want to accept that all the bands in the world have to sing in the same language, English"

About the topics they sing about they say:

"The texts deal mainly with a light philosophical view of life and the human existence, and they are directed against everything and everybody that contributes to press human beings into a conformist way of life without any choices left."

So you could say they have a message for the world and are a sort of protest singers of the modern day!

The Norwegian vocals form an obstacle if you prefer to understand what is sung, unless of course the Norwegian language is not gibberish to you. The booklet is not helpful in this matter, since it only provides the original Norwegian lyrics, but on the backside of the booklet there's a short explanation in English where all the songs are about! But if you tend to concentrate more on the music and just consider the vocals as another instrument this CD might also prove to be something interesting for your ears, even if the message itself totally passes you by!

The album starts off very tranquil with an acoustic guitar and when my mother accidentally put this CD on she thought: "ah well, this is agreeable", but shortly after the organ kicks in, accompanied by the rest of the band, and thus bursting the volume and bombastic sound, my mother gave it up again. But not me of course since the warm Hammond organ and the Mellotron sound always pleases my ears and Mikromidas knows how to use it well.

The song Den Dagen Jeg Forsvant which means 'the day I disappeared' is mainly an instrumental song with sparse vocals which pleases me just well. It's a very nice tune with a warm, full sound, mainly organ based, in a relaxed tempo. Although the songs clocks nearly 10 minutes one hardly notices the time since the music is so varied and interesting, definitely one of their better songs! Virveldans, meaning 'Whirl Dance' is a very vocal song, a bit standard poppy with few surprises, but with an agreeable warm underlying soft prog carpet. Sjaelernes Evige Baeven (The Eternal Shivering Of The Souls) has some more variation like a big tempo change and some hefty Mellotron sounds, but again there's too much singing in there to my taste.

This is a good moment to focus on the vocals, to my opinion often the weak point of most prog records. Ståle Leirtrø is clearly not an excellent vocalist; his singing style is though quite recognisable and he clearly does not try to copy anyone else, but he sings like he constantly holds back his volume as if he's singing from the back of his throat. I personally am not so charmed of this kind of singing, although I must admit that it suits Mikromidas' music better than if he would have sung full power like a metal singer. It therefore sounds as if he spasmodically tries to adept his singing style to the overall mellow and symphonic musical sound of the group. Homage to his efforts, but to my opinion he's not the ideal singer for this band; but of course every band has to do with what they have (at that moment). All in all I must say his way of singing and the general musical style of the group (if you would leave out the occasional lush organ and Mellotron solo's) remind me strongly of the older albums of the French group Ange.

Trollmann (Wizard) has a classic prog intro, but then for a while it is the vocals again that dominate the song. There are some short parts without them, but the song lacks variation although there's also a short organ tune that seems to repeat itself endlessly. It is only near the end of the song that there's a good instrumental segment that gives the song it's finest moment. Sultekunstneren (The Starvation Artist) has some more to offer in the variation and musical department; not only is it mostly instrumental, but also offers some highly quality guitar, Mellotron and organ interactions, orchestrations and variations, the slightly whaling guitar takes a bit more prominent role in this song. At some points there are some segments that remind me of King Crimson and some other fanatic users of the Mellotron, but really not so much one could say their music bears a high resemblance with the music of these bands! Totally judged it's not directly a memorable song since at some point it seems to have lost direction a bit like in the way experimental jazz is famous for, but overall it's an excellent song; one of my favourites.

Den Gjengrodde Sti (The Overgrown Path) is a short nice mellotron instrumental that paves the way for Englesangen (Song Of Angels); another fine, slower, but not remarkable song, again somewhat too much focussed at the vocals. It's quite typical for the main style of this album, it has a nice basic tune, a good layer of pleasant organ or Mellotron sounds and some good guitar layers, but it doesn't really excel in musical virtuosity. Most of the time the organ and Mellotron produce the underlay and the guitar also just serves the total sound and does not stand out much. To my opinion they could have been used more often for laying down a tune that stands out more thus making the music more exciting.

The melody line and song structure of Famle Rundt (Fumbling Around) is to my opinion the weakest of this album and it's only the guitar/Mellotron dominated instrumental bit near the end that makes this song worthwhile; luckily enough it's one of the shortest songs as well. But then the quality is heavily cranked up with the closing title Krigsmann (Man Of War), and to my opinion the best song of the album; even coming close to having the potential becoming a prog classic! Alright maybe I'm slightly exaggerating here, since some of my previously noted critical comments also apply on this song but especially the spectacular big finale is a true example how fine and mind-blowing, climax building prog should sound like (I'm a sucker for bombast)!

Although there are some points of improvement in general this album can be judged well over the OK mark. The general sound is recognisable, but still original and the songs are well-structured and mixed resulting in a overall pleasant and solid sound. The exciting instrumental bits are too limited and the general tendency is more to produce a mellow sound than musical extravaganza, but it's also clear these guys have it in them to throw a bit more of the latter in there! Hope they'll do that with their next album!

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

JORIS DONKEL



Miosotis - O Monstro e a Sereia
Miosotis - O Monstro e a Sereia
Country of Origin: Portugal
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:-
Year of Release:2005
Time:66:21
Info:Miosotis
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Prólogo (2:25), O Monstro (4:36), Rio (2:38), Haxixe (3:31), Flutuações (4:39), Hoplocampas (4:07), Terraço (7:06), Corte No Real (7:42), Um Papel Desenrolado (17:24), Falésia (2:55), Sereia (5:49), Coda (1:22)

Miosótis is a Portuguese band that exists for several years but just released their first "professional" album. The music can best be described as an ambitious mix between avant-garde, ambient and prog-rock, with a little finishing touch of folk or popular. What comes to mind is Premiata Forneria Marconi and Genesis, especially due to guitar fills and flute here and there, but also Eyeless In Gaza and Tuxedomoon. The singing is done entirely in Portuguese, and the big amount of lyrics is thus unavoidably not taken into account-at least for those of us out there that do not speak Portuguese.

The beginning of the album is quite indicative of what will follow, since after the ambient Prólogo comes the song O Monstro which is a good mix of all their styles. Unfortunately the track ends very roughly for my taste. The prog influences become more evident in Rio and quite surprisingly give way to track Haxixe, whose end really reminds me of the experimental avant-garde band's Eyeless In Gaza darkest epics. Flutuações is the first great track of the album, again belonging to the "prog" family, beautifully painted with the help of a lot of instruments (trombone, acoustic & electric guitars and keys). The next track goes on at the same high standards, with a jazzy David Sylvian-like ambience and brings us to the instrumental Terraço, which starts in a very ambient way, has a Tuxedomoon-like sax+piano interlude and ends very lyrically, ode to the 70's prog again here (long live the flute!).

The eighth track Corte No Real has quite a neo-prog feel, as it is built on more poppy-tunes, but still retains a fair amount of experimentation as the track comes to its end. The longest track of the album is Um Papel Desenrolado. Once again an ambient start with a lot of soundscapes and some noises that wake up memories of listening to those "lost" parts of Thick As A Brick, an avant-garde phase that slowly fades into a more Canterbury-oriented part and a "poppy" rhythmic middle part (Portuguese pop effect? I can't claim to be the expert!) with a cute vocal line. The track finishes with a classic part containing opera vocals, that I do not find really necessary since it makes the track a bit too long and finally, disconnected. Although the spooky acoustic guitar that "haunts" the album opens the following track Falésia, the rest of the song is quite different and I come to realize one of the drawbacks of the album: some tracks fail to find their way soon enough. Same goes for the next track, which starts ambient and finishes off folk. I consider this track as the last track of the album since the inclusion of the minute-and-a-half-long Coda looks like an attempt of the band to destroy the ambience of the whole album! Why do we need a circus song to end a melancholic, lyrical and quite dark and sophisticated album?

If this album was shortened a bit and the tracks got to the point sooner without sometimes annoying long introductions, I think we would have a very interesting album that connects quite different points of the musical universe. It is quite clear that the band is capable of both composing and playing music and that they are musically mature. I would just prefer if they sat down and compressed some of their music into more concise and coherent songs. Although it is a very interesting album, O Monstro e a Sereia somehow fails to qualify as an album to be played often in my CD-player.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

CHRISTOS AMPATZIS



Flight 09 - Human Instinct
Flight 09 - Human Instinct
Country of Origin:Uzbekistan
Format:CD
Record Label:M.A.L.S.
Catalogue #:MALS 046
Year of Release:2005
Time:50:13
Info:Flight 09
Samples:-

Tracklist: Eternal Disgrace (5:40), The Eastern Winds (4:56), Dancers In The Night (6:40), One Night Without You (4:38), My Dream (5:08), The Crow (7:28), He's Calling Me (5:27), When The Sleeper Wakes Up (5:35), Watching Your Soul (3:58)

Flight 09 are veterans of Uzbekistan's Rock scene, having originally formed in 1986 in the Republic's capital of Tashkent. After releasing six independent cassettes, the band finally signed a deal with Neurosis Records in the US who released their first CD, Rifflection, in 2002 followed by Forbidden Lullabies a year later. The latest release from the three-piece of Igor Savich (guitars, vocals, keyboards), Constantine Savich (bass) and Art Piyanzin (drums, backing vocals) was released by Neurosis at the end of 2004 but has recently been picked up by the Russian label M.A.L.S. for distribution throughout Europe. In the process, the CD booklet was redesigned, the track order rearranged and apparently a degree of remixing occurred. Shortly after its release drummer Piyanzin left the group to be replaced by Vlad Nemtinov.

Although they describe themselves as "the most popular Hard-Rock band in Tashkent (if not in the entire Republic)", it seems that they have had to change their style somewhat as the progressive metal that they played almost exclusively since their formation is apparently no longer that popular in their hometown. Consequently they were "forced to return to their proto-progressive hard rock roots", or what is being labelled in the pointless world of genres as 'Cathedral Rock' (surely that should that be neo-cathedral rock as I'm sure Bach got there first!)

The overall sound is that of a heavy rock band, with plenty of unrelenting riffing from Igor Savich. At times there are echoes of 70s bands like Deep Purple, particularly on Eastern Winds, while One Night Without You takes a more modern slant mixing softer, more restrained verses with frantic choruses in a more prog metal vein. Nice guitar solo at the end although the drumming is rather basic and too high in the mix for my tastes. However, it is not all crunching guitars, as the band do mix things around. Dancers In The Night is a more measured composition with a gentle synth flute and acoustic guitar opening and a chorus with a fine melody. Likewise, When The Sleeper Wakes Up puts the acoustic six-string to good use and again possesses a strong chorus which nicely swaps the synth backing of the verses for a more dominant piano.

The Crow is amongst the stronger compositions and is one that would probably gain most favour amongst progressive rock fans. With all the hallmarks of an epic ballad, the song starts slowly and relatively quietly with acoustic guitar picking out the melody, synth chords providing atmosphere and the odd electric guitar motif adding texture. The second half of the song is mostly instrumental, starting with a great sounding bass line which is overlaid by a tasteful guitar solo. However, in my opinion I think the song does lack that special something, I think it would actually benefit from going a bit moreover the top; make the guitar solo a bit more dramatic and not try to hide behind subtlety.

There are a couple of clunkers: Watching Your Soul, listed as a bonus track, stands out being of a very different style to the rest of the album and omitting it from the running order totally wouldn't have been too great a loss. As for the singing, well the vocalist wouldn't win any golden tonsil awards as his voice possesses a rather unique quality. However, they are appropriate for the style of music and are not too much of a distraction. On the slower songs Igor's rather heavy accent is more prominent, although again this is not really an issue.

So rather a mixed bag. The album has potential appeal over quite a cross-section of progressive music fans and I think the album would certainly reward perseverance in the listening stakes.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



John 5 - Songs For Sanity
John 5 - Songs For Sanity
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Shrapnel
Mascot Records
Catalogue #:M 7170 2
Year of Release:2005
Time:42:59
Info:John 5
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Damaged (3:04), Soul Of A Robot (3:34), Gein With Envy (2:07), Sin (4:09), Behind The Nut Love (1:43), Blues Balls (3:28), Fiddlers (3:12), Gods And Monsters (4:09), 2 Die 4 (4:06), Death Valley (3:57), Perineum (5:08), Denouement (4:18)

Martien's Review

His first solo album was only released a year ago and now John 5, better known as John Lowery, surprises everyone with a new CD. You probably know John from his co-operation with Rob Halford or shock rocker Marilyn Manson. This instrumental heavy guitar album is perhaps not to everyone's liking who regularly visits this site. However if you are in for a bit of weird, fast and heavy guitar picking, then you might even like this album…..

I only like the fast tracks, like Damaged, Soul Of A Robot, Perineum and Denouement, which remind me of good old guitar heroes like Chastain, MacAlpine, Vai, Moore and Satriani. In those songs John really picks his guitar really well, but the rest of the album is rather non-music. Like for instance the horrible Country & Western-like Gein With Envy, or the acoustic, dull song called Behind The Nut Love. Even more boring are the acoustic lullaby 2 Die 4, the psychedelic track Gods And Monsters and the semi-acoustic Hillbilly song Death Valley. Those are really awful songs, so that is why I cannot grant John 5 more than 4 points out of ten. But then again this is not really a progressive release, so….

Bob's Review

In all truthfulness this release from John 5 really doesn't warrant a Duo Review, however as it is an album that has been in my CD player (on and off) for several weeks now, I couldn't resist adding just a few words of my own. Martien has offered a brief insight into John's recent past, and certainly on that evidence I was a little hesitant about what I might find on this CD.

The opening couple of tracks were pretty much what I might have expected with heavy metal riffs, million mile an hour solos and the predictable melodic themes. Interesting, and certainly the guitar playing was impressive, but probably that was about it. So at this point I was of the opinion that if there wasn't any significant change on the following track, then I would go no further. Surprisingly Gein With Envy moved into Country Rock territory, with comparisons to perhaps better known exponents like Albert Lee and Steve Morse coming to mind. Certainly his technique places him in this illustrious company.

Next the somewhat dark and eerie opening of Sin follows - but fairly short lived as the zippy riffing quickly returns. Then we have the splendid Behind The Nut Love - a great track similar in many ways to the wonderful playing style of Adrian Legg. Blues Rock, with the not too surprisingly titled (Blues Balls) turns up next, and then back to the Country styling with Fiddlers, albeit a bit heavier here. Some really great playing although it did tend to sound a tad corny in places to my ears. Nice textures and more blistering solos can be found on the "dancey" rhythm of Gods And Monsters, which in turn leads into the gently picked 2 Die 4 - another highlight for me. Three tracks still remain - the Country Rocker Death Valley, the Via-esque Perineum and the dark, grinding Denouement.

Taken individually the majority of the material worked really well, but sadly for me Songs For Sanity just wasn't a consistent album in terms of flow. The guitar work certainly didn't come into question, however I did struggle with the switching from Metal to Country Rock, to gentle picking styles and with the odd Rap-like track later into the album it just didn't work (for me). And it is this diversity of the material which suggests that with Songs For Sanity, John will not capture a greater audience, and for the reasons just stated. A pity really as the majority of the material on the album is well worth a listen too - well assuming you are into guitar orientated music that is.

Conclusions:

MARTIEN KOOLEN : 4 out of 10
BOB MULVEY : 6.5 out of 10



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