REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:
Manning - One Small Step
Tracklist: In Swingtime (4:30), Night Voices (5:56), No Hiding Place (9:33), The Mexico Line (7:02), One Small Step... (Parts I-VIII): Star Gazing (4:34), For Example (3:03), At The End Of My Rope (2:04), Man Of God (2:36), A Blink Of The Eye (4:56), God Of Man (2:30), Black And Blue (7:26), Upon Returning (3:28)
Read almost any review of a Guy Manning release, and at some point there will be the inevitable comparison with Ian Anderson. If you’ve never heard a Manning album (shame on you!), this may give a false impression. Yes, there are similarities in the voice, and he does incorporate elements of prog and folk in his music, but not overtly so. He actually has one of the most distinctive voices in rock. Not a great voice in the technical sense, but a warm and compelling voice. His music is difficult to pigeonhole, being a rich blend of prog, folk, jazz, mainstream rock, even pop. This is his seventh album to date, and the second with his current record label. In addition to his work as Manning, he has been a key player in The Tangent along with his old friend Andy Tillison. Together, they have worked on several other projects, so I suppose Manning could be described as a workaholic, something he has in common with fellow musicians Roine Stolt and Neal Morse.
This release reveals his talents as a multi-instrumentalist. In addition to vocals, he plays all keyboards, acoustic 6 & 12 string guitars, classical guitars, mandolins, electric guitar, bass, drums, percussion, and according to the sleeve notes, kitchen sink! Although this has a solo album feel, he has brought in his regular band to flesh out the sound. They are Laura Fowles on saxophones and backing vocals, Gareth Harwood on electric lead guitars, Rick Ashton on additional bass and backing vocals, and Ian Fairbairn on fiddle. Martin Orford from IQ and Jadis guests on flute. Drummer Simon Baskind is credited as “drums consultant” whatever that involves! The inspiration for the songs comes from the artwork of the album designer Ed Unitsky. Special mention has to go to his images inside the CD booklet, which are quite stunning, and deserve high praise.
The bright and breezy In Swingtime gets things underway. The song is about growing older, but the combination of layered acoustic guitars, string drenched keys, relaxed organ, and crisp rhythm section provides a sunny and optimistic feel. The strong saxophone solo with its rich orchestral backdrop is a reminder of Gerry Rafferty’s City To City album. Dynamic saxophone and strings build to a rousing conclusion, with organ having the last word. Night Voices is a gentle reflective song, with the atmosphere effectively conveyed by lilting strings, delicate acoustic guitar, and a folk like rhythm. Guy adopts a storyteller vocal, with serene backing vocals during the choral refrain. Inspired fiddle work, assertive classical guitars, and a mandolin-sounding backdrop are all strong features, which enhance the folk element of this piece.
Melodic electric guitar and a colourful organ sound give No Hiding Place a pop sensibility, providing an effective contrast to the rest of the album. Strong hooks abound, with an infectious chorus, driving rhythm section, chugging guitar, and Mellotron punctuations. A wave of strings leads into a cacophonic Van der Graaf Generator style instrumental section which cuts through the song like a knife. A pulsing rhythm, aggressive sounding organ, piercing guitar, and manic saxophone build the tension to almost breaking point, with symphonic keys holding it all together. A triumphant organ, supported by stately synth and a martial-like rhythm regains order and the main song returns, this time sounding more urgent and dynamic. The choral refrain, with its layered vocals sends shivers down the spine. Poignant synth and guitar take the final bow. I’m going to cast my vote for album track of the year, and this is it. Pop and prog collide head on, and it works brilliantly! Thankfully, for The Mexico Line, Manning avoids the obvious and doesn’t go south of the border for his musical inspiration. Instead, the song adopts an easy going, mid tempo country sound, with acoustic guitar, steel like electric guitar, fiddle, and a relaxed rhythm section. The combination of Guy’s voice and the country feel put me mind of The Mavericks, but somehow I can’t see Manning being adopted by the line dancing fraternity! A strong saxophone break and rich organ solo at the close add spice to the song.
One Small Step... is divided into eight songs, but in reality this is a single suite lasting just over 30 minutes. Each song flows effortlessly into the next, where the changes in tempo and mood are subtle. The listener is taken on a musical journey, which tackles the wider implications of man’s exploration of space. This is a rich tapestry of layered instrumentation, where the ever-present acoustic guitars play a percussive role. The whole piece has a distinctive acoustic ambience, where drums and electric guitars are sparingly used. Star Gazing sets the pattern, with acoustic guitars and a touch of bass providing the rhythm. A strong vocal introduces the main theme, with exquisite harmony backing. Keyboards play a major role with Mellotron atmospherics, a sprinkling of piano, floating synth and a warm recurrent organ sound. In For Example the guitars become more urgent sounding, and the shuffle like rhythm is underpinned by organ. The vocals are more intense in At The End Of My Rope, before relaxing with smooth harmonies against a symphonic backdrop.
In Man Of God rich six string and ringing twelve string guitars assert themselves, and a strong vocal floats on a sea of Mellotron. Flute and violin enrich the soundscape. The main song resurfaces for A Blink Of The Eye, where flute and violin weave in and out of an incessant bass line and a haze of strings. Delicate but incisive mandolin joins the mix. God Of Man returns to the theme of part IV, this time with different lyrics. Expressive violin shines, with a ripple of organ and Mellotron to close. The mood changes for Black And Blue, where David Gilmour like electric guitar dominates. This combined with drums, bass, organ, and lazy saxophone gives the track a distinct laid-back Floyd sound. Delicate flute is ever present. A strong guitar solo supported by organ and sax provides a dynamic end. Sunny acoustic guitar, Mellotron, and piano ushers in Upon Returning (great title), which takes the piece full circle. Beautiful harmony vocals return, backed by Mellotron, which doubles the melody. A hint of organ and synth, before fading voices on a wash of strings and violin provide a majestic conclusion.
I cannot recommend this album highly enough. A copy should be in everyone’s stocking this Christmas. Unlike a number of bands, Manning’s music does not beat the listener over the head with a stick; it invites you in, and holds you in a warm embrace. Just the thing for this time of year!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Saga - The Chapters Live
|Country of Origin:||Canada|
|Catalogue #:||SPV 99572|
|Year of Release:||2005|
Disc 1: Chapter 1- Images (5:03), Chapter 2- Don’t Be Late (6:33), Chapter 3- It’s Time (4:09), Chapter 4- Will It Be You (6:38), Chapter 5- No Regrets (4:02), Chapter 6- Tired World (6:40), Chapter 7-Too Much To Lose (3:18), Chapter 8- No Stranger (6:23)
Disc 2: Chapter 9- Remember When (5:30), Chapter 10- Not This Way (3:04), Chapter 11- Ashes To Ashes (4:48), Chapter 12- You Know I Know (4:17), Chapter13- Uncle Albert’s Eyes (5:03), Chapter 14- Streets Of Gold (4:11), Chapter 15- We’ll Meet Again (5:43), Chapter16-Worlds Apart (6:44)
28 years in the making, this concept album sees the fruition (in a live setting) of the grand (and grandiose) design that has been the raisin d’etre of Saga since its inception, making this literally the album of their career.
Uniquely, Saga conceived, right from the outset, to tell a long story (hence their moniker) over several albums. To add to the mystery, the chapters were presented in seemingly random order; the eponymous debut album had chapters 4 and 6 for instance.
The tale seemed told with the appearance of the Worlds Apart album in 1981, and all 8 chapters were performed live in 1986 on the Misbehaviour tour. Saga then gradually turned towards a more straightforward AOR style before the group fragmented. However, after a break, the core line-up was reunited for 1999’s Full Circle which, as well as reinstating their classic prog/pomp sound, also restored the Chapters.
Altogether, a further 8 Chapters were included on this and the next 2 albums, until having doubled in size, the story now consists of 16 chapters – all of which are performed in sequence on this terrific double set.
The story is a fanciful Sci-Fi scenario, apparently involving Einstein’s brain being transplanted into an alien body (the creature which graced many of Saga’s album covers) but the songs themselves deal with contemporary world affairs including religion and politics. Not one to spend a lot of time analysing lyrics, I must admit that the story remains opaque to me, but this does not spoil my enjoyment of the music, and I’m sure there’s hours of fun to be had in poring over the words if you’re so inclined.
Unlike many live albums, this is, of course, not a Greatest Hits set (though Don’t Be Late (here with sterling audience participation on the chorus) and It’s Time sure sound like hits to me), but it concentrates on the more involved, proggy material and thus is exactly the kind of Saga I really like. It should be noted that also I really like the atypical Generation 13 album, which I gather is not a particular favourite of hard core fans. Not that this sounds anything like Gen 13; rest assured this is the classic, guitar and keys - fronted bright and anthemic, tuneful Saga, resplendent with catchy choruses, melodic hooks aplenty and the distinctive, clear, soaring vocals of Michael Sadler – it’s a fan’s dream come true. As always, the keyboards give a rich, full pomp-tastic backing and there are plenty of stonking guitar riffs and fiery solos too.
The set is remarkably cohesive given the time frame within which the tracks were originally composed and recorded, but the second disc understandably has a more modern, direct and punchy sound, being the more recent material, and it proves they’ve lost none of their compositional prowess either. The sound is good for a live album, meaning that it does sound live, not having been aurally airbrushed in the studio, and there are the odd moments when the mix falters a bit, but it’s certainly a good registration of the performance.
Saga have always been a band that could (and should) appeal to prog fans and AOR/mainstream fans alike, and this CD captures the essence of the band so well that this should be a must have for fans and an ideal starter for anyone wanting to know what the band are all about.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Wobbler - Hinterland
Tracklist: Serenade For 1652 (0:40), Hinterland (27:46), Rubato Industry (12:44), Clair Obscur (15:42)
The oddly named Wobbler are a relatively new Norwegian band, and this is their debut album. It was recorded this year. I say this not to be facetious, but because, if it wasn’t for the evidence of my own eyes, I would possibly not have believed that what I was listening to was a new release and not a long lost archive item from the 1970’s. We often talk of modern progressive rock bands taking influences from the classic bands of the Seventies, but Hinterland is so steeped in the sound of the early years of that decade that you’re almost surprised that the music comes in CD format, and not on well-worn vinyl in a scuffed double gatefold sleeve. Hell, Wobbler even have the look right, and you feel that were the five long haired and bearded musicians dressed in fur lined coats that adorn the inlay photograph to be transported back thirty five years they’d easily fit in with the fashions of the day.
Wobbler are the almost archetypal symphonic prog band, and take their main influences not only from the oft-mentioned likes of Yes and Genesis, but equally from the less celebrated but equally influential outfits such as PFM and Gentle Giant. It’s also clear that Wobbler are from essentially the same scene as fellow Scandinavian progsters such as Anglagard, Anekdoten, Landberk and White Willow. There’s a close connection with the latter, in that keyboard player Lars Fredrik Frøislie joined White Willow for their last album, Storm Season, whilst WW main-man Jacob Holm-Lupo is one of the producers of Hinterland.
Frøislie is clearly the key player on this album, and just the mention of his armoury of instruments will make many symphonic fans purr with delight: Mellotron, mini-moog, Hammond, Wurlitzer, clavinet, harpsichord, grand piano – they’re all here, and used judiciously throughout.
Of course, just the knowledge that these instruments form a key part of the Wobbler sound, and that Frøislie is more than adept at playing all of them, may be enough for many symph fans, and indeed connoisseurs of vintage keyboards, to rush out and buy the album, but the more discerning music fan will rightly say ‘that’s all well and good – but does the actual music cut the mustard?’. Thankfully the answer is generally ‘yes’.
Following a short (and fairly pointless) introductory piece, we’re launched straight into the title track, a near 28-minute epic that shows the full range of Wobbler’s song writing skills. As you’d probably expect from a band of this ilk (and indeed a piece of this length), this shifts through a variety of different moods, from laid-back and mellow to dark and dynamic, and a number of musical themes and motifs are established and crop up throughout the piece. Frøislie is the dominant force here, utilising a lot of Mellotron washes during the more reflective sections, yet equally excelling at attacking the Hammond and mini-moog when the pace and tension crank up a notch. Recorder and flute (the latter played by another White Willow member, Ketil Einarsen) are frequently utilised, often in tandem, and there’s a particularly strong section where flute is joined with baroque guitar and harpsichord to play a piece which is at once both pleasant and relaxing yet mildly unsettling – something Wobbler seem to excel at.
Its worth noting that, although as mentioned in my introduction, Wobbler do take their cue from the Seventies prog scene, there are relatively few occasions when you can make a direct link to a piece by another band and think ‘I’m sure I’ve heard that before’. There’s only a couple of occasions on this track where I had this feeling – one is at the songs conclusion, where layered guitars soar over a wave of Mellotron, immediately bringing Anekdoten to mind, whilst the other are the sections where the band indulge in some acrobatic vocal harmonising, reminiscent of Gentle Giant. It must be said that, compared to the gusto with which the likes of Spock’s Beard use this technique, Wobbler’s efforts are rather tame.
A quick word about the vocals – these are used sparingly, and are probably best described as adequate. Tony Johannessen has a reasonable voice, which handles the mellower material quite well, but is less strong when called upon to provide a more forceful delivery. These moments are relatively rare however, and the vocals certainly don’t detract from the main business in hand, which is of course the lengthy instrumental sections.
After this lengthy opus, there’s a danger that what follows could be anticlimactic, but thankfully Wobbler manage to keep the quality levels pretty high. Rubato Industry starts at a high tempo from the off, and generally keeps it that way. Both bassist Kristian Karl Hultgren and drummer Martin Nordrum Kneppen are kept busy here, with the former in particular impressing with some fluid, persistent rhythms. Once more Wobbler illustrate their skill at building momentum, letting it subside then building it up again.
Final track Clair Obscur sees Wobbler dispense with vocals altogether. Once again a variety of moods are created, ranging from the rather whimsical introduction, where grand piano is juxtaposed with some flute playing from the Andy Latimer school, to a section midway through the track where Frøislie really cranks things up, and almost appears to be playing all of his instruments at once. Guitarist Morten Andreas Eriksen is featured a little more here than elsewhere, with his playing vaguely reminiscent at times of both Steve Hackett and Mike Oldfield. In general, Clair Obscur exhibits a more playful, light-hearted feel than the darker, more serious-minded Rubato Industry.
My main criticism of Hinterland would have to be that there are too many sections which seem to drift aimlessly before being discarded in favour of a seemingly unrelated theme; a sense of cohesion to the compositions, particularly on the title track and Clair Obscur, is sometimes missing.
Overall, however, Wobbler have created an impressive debut album. Personally I’d rate the material in the good to very good bracket rather than excellent, partly due to the aforementioned criticism regarding the compositions, but also because there just aren’t that many moments (for me) that have that ‘wow’ factor, that gets the hairs on the back of the neck tingling. This however is obviously more of an individual thing, and I’ve no doubt that for many symphonic prog fans the ‘wow’ factor will be here in abundance. Nevertheless, a strong release, and one that bodes well for a bright future for this unashamedly retro outfit.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
TOM DE VAL
Might Could - All Intertwined
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Year of Release:||2005|
Tracklist: Machinery (3:34), Lapse (3:49), The Miscommunication Suite [i. Turn Around, ii. Be Wrapped Up, iii. It Is On Coiled, iv. It Goes [Burns] Reeled Up, v. It Goes [Fire Wound] Arc (5:23), Tricycle (3:49), Standoff (4:29), Instability (3:21), Puijilittatuq (6:43), Interchange 3 (3:51), A Horrible Croaking (2:01), Not Every Song Finds A Name (8:08), The Water Parted (5:47)
Might Could are a Maryland (USA) based instrumental ensemble who have crafted this, their aptly entitled sophomore album. This in turn follows up their self titled debut from 2003. Now it is not very often that album titles give any real clues as to what may be encompassed, however All Intertwined perfectly captures the essence of the music of acoustic guitarists Andy Tillotson, Tim McCaskey, Aaron Geller and bassist Luis Nasser.
No drums, no keyboards, but do not be fooled by the absence of these instruments, this is not twee album of gentle guitar noodling, far from it, this is a well written, intricate, interlocking guitar extravaganza. Drawing influences from Robert Fripp's Discipline era King Crimson, the music takes on many twists and turns as it unfolds. Now there may be a tendency for this kind of offering to become lost in its own technicality, but mercifully a strong sense of melody and harmonic structure prevails. The recording is also excellent, with all the instruments being distinguishable throughout, so it is possible to be enjoy these pieces on more than one level.
Now to try and condense the music from All Intertwined into a few short paragraphs would not do it justice, neither would it serve any useful purpose. My suggestion is simple - follow the "Samples" link above, click on Machinery and just listen. Three and a half minutes will tell you whether or not this album is for you. Personally I was hooked from the opening few bars, with my favourite selections being the excellent Standoff, Instability, The Water Parted and Machinery, but at the end of the day almost every track is a winner.
I would suggest that this album is very likely to appeal to fans of Robert Fripp, and those familiar with the recordings of the California Guitar Trio should definitely check out this album. And in my opinion a fair cross section from amongst the prog community might well find much to enjoy here. All Intertwined is a great album, and one that has given me immense pleasure whilst reviewing. I have played this album often over the last few weeks and will certainly continue to do so for many years to come.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Henning Pauly - Credit Where Credit Is Due
Tracklist: Your Mother Is A Trucker (3:59), Cure The Breach (4:32), Three (5:33), Scheislauthartwiedreck (6:10), I Don’t Wanna Be A Rock Star (4:54), Six (4:13), Seven (4:18), Radio Sucks (5:33), Halo (10:45), Copyright Conspiracy (4:52), German Metalhead (6:55), I Like My Video Games (4:10), Bonus (14:04)
Henning Pauly is of course the man who released great albums like Unweaving The Rainbow (with James LaBrie on vocals) and An Absence Of Empathy (with Sebastian Bach on vocals). On this album you can hear singer Juan Roos and he is not my favourite kind of singer, although in the bio Henning describes Juan’s voice as a perfect blend between Geoff Tate (Queensrÿche) and David Coverdale…. I really beg to differ here, just listen to Roos’s nasal vocals in the ballad Seven and I think that you will not hear any Tate or Coverdale trademarks.
If you liked the Frameshift album with James LaBrie then you will probably not like this album, as it is loud, heavy and filled with loops, brutal riffs and some heavy industrial drum sounds. This album is a real modern metal one and not at all related to the progressive genre; the sound of the album sometimes reminds me of bands like Linkin’ Park and Trent Reznor. Musically the album is too much of the same, too many vocals, too many loops and beats and too much of the same well-known trash metal riffs.
The best song is without any doubt Halo, which is actually based on the music of the X-box game Halo and the lyrics evolve around the story of the game as well. The song is filled with lots of bombastic and orchestral passages, amazing guitar solos – check out the last two minutes – and some rather dramatic vocals. This song has clear influences from Rhapsody and Aina and it really is the musical highlight of this most of the time rather dull metal album. The absolute “horror” is the bonus track, which features only riffs and narrative passages in German, consisting mainly of abuse words like scheisse (shit), drecksack (asshole) and that sort of stuff; who needs this, or is it supposed to be funny???
Lyrically the album has some interesting and humorous aspects as several of the songs deal with the world of rock stars, scandals and getting credit for what one has done. So, listen to I Don’t Wanna Be A Rock Star or German Metal Head and be amused, but again I have to repeat myself in saying that this album is musically not as interesting as the Frameshift albums…..
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Drahk Von Trip - Heart And Consequence
Tracklist: One Of A Kind (5:59), Autumn (7:13), Anger (5:09), Ode To A Godess (6:32), Long Distance Call (6:27), Gahn (5:17), Daddy's Dead (5:29), R.A.M.M. Wow, We're Really Expressing Ourselves (3:39), In A World Of trouble (6:59), I Want to Tell You (6:51)
Sweden seems to have a pretty healthy music scene as far as progressive rock acts go. One of the latest additions to the list are Drahk Von Trip a sextet from Malmö on the southern tip of the country. I have been unable to find out much about the band due to their website being currently under construction, however, what is known is that the band have previously released a demo EP, Is Us, which gathered some promising reviews, and consists of Göran (drums and percussion), Susann (vocals, violin and flute), Mats (guitars), Ralph (bass), Twodox (vintage synthesisers and percussion) and Micke (guitars and theremin).
The group state that the majority of their musical ideas come from free-form improvisations, although once an idea has germinated rather more stringent arrangements are put into place. Despite this, there is an inherent looseness to the album, undoubtedly as a result of the majority of the music being recorded live. A variety of influences can be heard throughout the 10 tracks, which is mostly in the vein of light psychedelic/progressive rock, albeit with a degree of more ethnic styles creeping in every now and again (the unusual structure of Daddy's Dead, for example, includes a didgeridoo solo!). Long Distance Call is an unusual hybrid of space rock and folk with the latter elements being reminiscent of It's A Beautiful Day, while In A World Of Trouble trips along nicely.
Vocalist Susann has a pleasing, if not overly dramatic voice, and you'd be hard pressed to tell that she is Swedish, her diction being nigh on perfect. Standout performance, vocally and musically, is on Autumn. This song has an ominous opening which is coupled with a lovely melodious chorus. The song somehow manages to be mysterious, ominous and encouraging all at the same time!
The darker side of the band is represented by Gahn, a foreboding track with a sonorous bass line, intertwined lead guitars and plenty of synth effects. Susann managed to deliver the vocals with a mixture of cynicism, vitriol and sarcasm, leaving the interpretation of the lyrics wide open. The band are not afraid to let rip either, opening track One Of A Kind has a couple of great solos (even though it is generally of a more sedate pace), Anger is just that (although it probably wasn't necessary to distort the vocals), and the instrumental R.A.M.M. Wow, We're Really Expressing Ourselves displays the progressive rock aspects of the band with aplomb.
Overall, the album is an interesting and entertaining mixture that crosses and exploits a variety of genres. A very strong debut album that, although not quite falling into the category of an essential release, does suggest a great deal of promise and notifying the world that Drahk Von Trip will be a name to look out for in the future.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Karma Pilot -
Between The Darkness And The Morning Light/
Between the Darkness And The Morning Light: Today I Have Become (6:59), Never Seen This Before (4:02), The Last Place on Earth (8:58), Summer 1999 (10:17)
Midnight Paranoia: Carcinogen (18:29), The Me And You (5:14), Midnight Optimism (8:07), Live Session 1 [March 20, 2005] - For the Benefit of the Tape (Part 1), When We Were Younger (The Me and You)
Karma Pilot is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Daniel Vincent and the music is, very straightforwardly, a true blend of psychedelic rock, progressive rock, electronica, ambient music, and a touch of pop. Following a few years of work with his brother Pete under the aegis Onion Jack, Vincent started anew with the Karma Pilot project. The CD actually features two recordings - Between the Darkness And The Morning Light and Midnight Paranoia - upon both of which Vincent is the sole musician.
To be truthful, I’m not especially qualified to gauge the success of this recording. I can say that the engineering is professional and precise and the mix promotes all of the various instruments and sound effects well. However, I am not a huge fan of the more ambient strain of progressive rock and I don’t have enough exposure to the sub-genre to say to what degree Vincent’s work is innovative or derivative. It all sounds fairly nice, if a little tame, but I keep thinking I’ve heard most of it before in the few snippets I can recall from, say, Heldon, Tangerine Dream, Djam Karet, latter-day Radiohead, Fripp and Eno, post-Syd/pre-DSotM Floyd, etc.
There’s nothing here that I could say is embarrassing or immature, certainly. The recording is well-arranged and smart. But I’m not sure that it’s especially novel or ground-breaking, and I’m guessing that most progressive rock fans who enjoy ambient and electronic compositions will have enough of this sort of thing in their music library already.
So, I’ll give it a 5, but it might be better than that, I just can’t say. It’s listenable and obviously the product of great care and consideration, so if you like any of the bands I‘ve mentioned above, go ahead and give it a spin. But don’t expect anything revelatory.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
JOHN J SHANNON
Melodic Meltdown - Second Skin
|Country of Origin:||Denmark|
|Year of Release:||2003|
Tracklist: Changing Skin (3:50), A New Beginning (4:04), One Day (4:26), Memory Lane (3:22), The Matrix (5:02), Illusions of you (4:32), Dragon's Teeth (5:31), Opening Another Door (3:09), Cold Days To Clear Your Mind (4:20), Gods Of War (4:17), Fire & Ice (5:12), Sleepwalker (7:28), Sleepwalker [re-mix by Schmid] (7:20)
Melodic Meltdown - The Missing Link [EP]
|Country of Origin:||Denmark|
|Year of Release:||2005|
Tracklist: What I Forgot (4:33), Virulence (5:28)
Danish guitarist Michael Søbygge after releasing three instrumental solo albums, put together this band in 1995, but the first release only came in 2003: Second Skin. Despite the fact that this release belongs to the new millennium, it seems to be nostalgic of the 80's power/prog metal scene. After the revival of the scene in the mid 90's from children of Dream Theater and Queensrÿche and the natural drop in interest in coming years, it looked like the genre had ceased to be. I must confess that I am quite surprised to listen to this album...
Influences are clearly Judas Priest (riffs), early Fates Warning era (ambience), Yngwie Malmsteen (guitar solos-classical themes-idol?), Megadeth (rhythm section). Half of the tracks begin with distortion-free electric guitar and grow into mid-tempo sort of ballads, while the rest start with heavy guitar riffs that dominate the song till the end. Lyrics also seem extremely 80's power metal inspired - Dragon's Teeth being the perfect example. Other themes are more prog oriented, like Memory Lane, but still not interesting. Guitarist Søbygge seems to be pretty talented, his solos are quite fine and so is his playing all over the album. Drumming seems to be sufficient though at some point I really had enough with the (useless at some points) double pedal. Vocalist Lars Banderup might have been considered acceptable some twenty years ago, but nowadays even the real metal audience will demand something more. It just amplifies the feeling of misery that the bad production and the poor quality of the compositions and lyrics radiate.
The band clearly lacks this magical gift for writing interesting music. Tracks are tiring and usually sound too much like things written in previous decades by the influences mentioned above. Look inside and without much effort you may find Victim Of Changes or Holy Wars/The Punishment Due, the structure of Fates Warning, Awaken era, and the songwriting of Malmsteen. Classical-acoustic guitar-work at some points improves a bit the impression, but it definitely does not save the day.
This work might only appeal to metal fans stuck in the 80's, but even worse, would definitely not impress them. The point here is that it addresses fans of Queensrÿche, Fates Warning, Heir Apparent etc., only these fans have progressed together with their favourite bands.
The Missing Link EP reflects the band's effort to go for a record deal and make a new start in 2005. It contains two tracks, and the band seems to adopt a new philosophy. Band members change with only founder guitarist remaining and the sound becomes more "rock" and more "fresh", getting a bit rid of that power metal out-of-date sound. The new singer is better and the production is improved. The first track is a nice hard-rock track with a cute refrain, while Virulence sounds extremely much like Beyond The Realms Of Death. The singing though is quite good.
Obviously Michael Søbygge is moving in a better direction, with a definitely better cast and a refreshed sound. The forthcoming album might be worth checking out.
Second Skin: 3 out of 10
The Missing Link EP: Unrated