Reviews in this issue:
- Adrian Belew - Side Three
- Tony Levin - Resonator
- Paatos - Silence Of Another Kind (Duo Review)
- White - White
- Pangolin - TRB
- Thörbjorn Englund – Influences
- Roz Vitalis - Enigmarden
Adrian Belew - Side Three
TrackList: Troubles (3:13), Incompetence Indifference (5:01), Water Turns to Wine (3:46), Crunk (1:17), Drive (3:27), Cinemusic (1:37), Whatever (3:17), Men In Helicopters v4.0 (3:07), Beat Box Car (4:30), Truth Is (1:34), The Red Bull Rides A Boomerang Across The Blue Constellation (4:34), & (3:17)
Well, belatedly, but not painfully so, the third in Adrian Belew’s triumvirate of Side releases has arrived for scrutiny. I say “belatedly” because I had expected Side Three to be issued in the final quarter of 2005. I say “not painfully” because I had started to suspect that the conclusion of the Side trilogy wouldn’t see the light of day at all, and I’m glad that it in fact did, since this is the neatest of the three CDs.
I found Side One, in my DPRP review of the same, to be "a decent but sub-par release" and mostly I was disappointed with the lack of songs and the over-abundance of techno effects on that offering. Side Two gave me an eclecticism that I thoroughly enjoyed. With Side Three, I find the Adrian Belew I had been expecting: still an acute satirist, still a wry humorist, still the funkiest white-boy guitarist I know, and still an artisan of songs par excellence.
There are a few more guest stars appearing on Side Three than on the earlier CDs. Les Claypool and Danny Carey return (from Side One) on Whatever and Men In Helicopters v4.0 (Microsoft has poisoned us all!) Robert Fripp shows up to play the "flute guitar" on Water Turns To Wine, and old King Crimson stalwart Mel Collins lends a hand with saxophone on Beat Box Car (fine work!) and flute on Truth Is. Otherwise, welcome to The Adrian Belew show, per usual.
Now, I’ve harped on it and carped it out enough during my DPRP monologues: I love songs. Songs, man. I was born in 1965 and my earliest musical memory is pop radio and The Beatles: What can I say? I’ve always appreciated Mr Belew because he is a Beatley sort in his approach to song writing and also in his willingness to throw in a few odd kicks, a la I Am The Walrus. I just hate it when he strays too far off course from pure song-craft, especially since he has the knack for memorable melodies and arrangements. In that sense, Side One was not quite my cup o’ tea but Side Two got the water boiling, and Side Three is a well-dipped bag!
There’s a lot here to praise, and the entire CD disc merits attention (with one exception: see below), so I’ll only list my favourites.
The first track, Troubles, combines a sliding razor guitar with a beautifully delivered, half-reverend, half-snake oil huckster sermon on physical ailments and "pocketbook trouble". It’s a pretty sassy tune instrumentally with bounce and the vocals are quaint but funny.
Incompetence Indifference is a gem, telling the tale of Mr Belew’s adventures in the "mean ol’ world", wherein no one gives a shit about anyone else and no one gives an honest effort. It’s a brilliant meditation on our American (and Western) decadence, saved from Nietzschean shrillness by its light-hearted mockery. I love the faux phone voice menu at the end (featuring Martha Belew): it does feel that exasperating at times, trying to connect to flesh-and-blood sentiency in this computer-infected, isolating niche we call modern life.
Initially Water Turns To Wine struck me as more of Side One’s too technological experimentation, but the quiet though lively percussion, easily strummed acoustic chords, and bittersweet contribution from Mr Fripp’s "flute guitar", all make for a pleasant bit of ear-candy fluff.
Whatever is certainly the snappiest tune on the CD, and probably my favourite. The lyrics are a fragmented commentary on uncertainty, hopelessness, vanity, and spite, and sit smartly on top of the Carey/Claypool jive and Mr Belew’s jagged, shrapnel guitar leads. This one caught me off guard: it’s minimalist in the extreme but the juxtaposition of the terse poetry with the controlled discord bites hard.
The rest of Side Three is passable and better, but I do need to complain about Men In Helicopters v4.0. Now, this is a fine song (I first heard it on the Salad Days compilation). It is a powerful lament upon human devastation of the Earth’s resources. Mr Belew has dusted off the track, adding Mr Carey’s too martial drum rolls and an overly busy, overly upfront bass line by Mr Claypool, and labelled it as “Version 4.0”. Even if I appreciate the joke in the title, I a) didn’t think the retooling was an improvement over the Salad Days version; and b) would’ve preferred to hear something wholly new. Minor gripe, though, as the album does tickle my fancy.
So, the Side experiment is done and well done, in the main. If you generally like and purchase Mr Belew’s solo efforts, none of the Side CDs will disappoint you totally. Side Three turned out to be the winner for me, and maybe you’ll say the same. If you like pop songs and/or you like Mr Belew’s contribution to King Crimson, there’s stuff here for you, on any of the discs. There’s not much old school prog rock on Side Three, for sure, but I guess that’s why it’s "old school": no one’s really doing it these days. But there’s enough diversity and progressive energy in the Side series to make it worthwhile for the DPRP audience.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Tony Levin - Resonator
TrackList: Break It Down (7:02), Places To Go (5:46), Throw the God a Bone (5:23), Utopia (6:20), Beyond My Reach (5:16), Shadowland (4:57), Crisis of Faith (2:10), What Would Jimi Do? (4:32), Sabre Dance (5:05), Fragile as a Song (4:31)
I’ve realized that I don’t know very much about Tony Levin. Obviously, any reviewer at DPRP will be familiar with the post-Red line-ups of King Crimson and so will know that Mr Levin has participated in that band for a good, long time. However, I have to admit that my interest in K.C. after the Wetton era is largely a concentration upon the contribution of Adrian Belew. I know Mr Levin is there in the mix and I do remember some very percussive, very tricky bass guitar and Chapman Stick work on (at least) Three Of A Perfect Pair, but otherwise I can’t claim any great knowledge of his significance in the Crimson legacy. (And please: that is not at all to suggest insignificance.) I do also know that Mr Levin appears on the two Liquid Tension Experiment recordings; I had the first (but never the second) and sold it, as I wasn’t really very fond of the compositions (for a variety of unimportant reasons). I do know, by hearsay and Internet reading, that Mr Levin has played with Peter Gabriel. Lastly, I do also know that Mr Levin plays on John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy, and I do recall some smooth, smart, minimalist but effective bass lines on that album. So, I’m not a huge devotee to Mr Levin’s output, but I’m moderately aware of his existence. None of which really matters, I guess, in my assessment of Resonator, which I found (and still find) to be a surprisingly and refreshingly satisfying audio experience.
Judging by the CD insert, Resonator seems to be Mr Levin’s fourth solo release (I have never heard the previous three, so I can say nothing by way of comparison) and features - along with Mr Levin on bass, Chapman Stick, keyboards/piano, cello, and vocals; Larry Fast (synthesizer); Jesse Gress (guitar); Pete Levin (organ); and Jerry Marotta (drums and vocals). As well, Adrian Belew plays guitar on Throw The God A Bone; Steve Lukather plays guitar on Utopia; and we hear from various members of the Levin family, including Lilly the Dog, on Throw The God A Bone.
Now, I want to point out, right off the bat, the one possible negative aspect of Resonator: Mr Levin is the lead vocalist and is, to be delicate, an acquired taste. His voice is far from terrible, but it’s very plainly geared toward background harmonization, as it lacks the fullness and sharp contours that a lead singing voice should generally proffer. It’s nasal, a bit wispy, and even off key at times (occasionally reminiscent of Andy Partridge of XTC). However, there is a certain charm to it (sometimes husky, sometimes boyish), and if it isn’t a voice I always want to hear, it matches the songs’ moods and atmospheres well enough, which is all I can want. Plus, the phrasing is generally excellent and the lyrics are clever (and often humorous) enough to hold my attention. So, don’t avoid this disc because of Mr Levin’s singing: it ain’t that bad, it just ain’t always perfect.
What I love about Resonator is this: It is a collection of bona fide songs. Anyone who reads my reviews knows that I am a greater fan of song craft, intelligent lyrics, and the pop idiom in general than I am of lengthy, boorish, self-important prog wankery. (Most of the time…) And while Mr Levin does serve up a few side dishes of K.C.-inflected, industrial prog overstep, mostly, this is a batch of balanced, well-constructed, thoughtful, listenable tunes. Ah, tunes: Remember those?
I’ll just mention a few favourites ...
Beyond My Reach is a gorgeous, plaintiff reflection upon lost love, memory, the passage of time, and disappointment. The blend of the crisp but measured drums and the melancholy bass line works to suggest both world-weariness and perseverance.
What Would Jimi Do? is (besides being a light-hearted jab at a minor piece of conservative Christian propaganda) not only an ode to the excellence of Mr. Hendrix’ musicality, but an inquiry into the current, largely void state of modern music, within which it is hard to imagine the bold innovation of a Jimi Hendrix ever emerging. Mr. Gress rips on this track and injects a nice blast of Hendrixian fury into the proceedings. (At times, and I’m agreeing here with some other reviews of Resonator that I’ve read, Mr. Gress is way over the top, in a decidedly mid-80s gun-slinging fashion a la Mssrs. Vai and Satriani. But, to me, he sounds like he’s enjoying the view from the top, and I didn’t mind the blistering leads at all, in context.)
Both Places To Go and Throw The God A Bone reveal Mr. Levin’s humorous side, with Places a commentary on homes and movement between them (including evolution out of Mars!) and Throw a look at the relativity in the relationship between dog, man, and god(s). Funny stuff (and check out Mr. Levin’s solid, motive effort on Places: amazing).
Lastly, I’ll mention Break It Down, which is a very strong, very philosophically timely song, dealing as it does with the human penchant for division, analysis, and separation at the expense of unity and synthesis. (This song might well rock a Buddhist monastery.) It will be some time before we admit that it is the actions out of the heart and not the intellect that redeem our short, fleeting lives: Mr. Levin seems to understand that lesson well. The chorus in Break It Down is rousing, a true sing-along stomper, and some of the initial Stick playing harkens back to Three of a Perfect Pair or Sleepless.
There are, in my opinion, a few missteps on Resonator (e.g., Crisis Of Faith) but I don’t want to dwell upon them at all because this album is far more successful than not. In fact, so far, it’s one of the best things I’ve heard in 2006. It’s got some earnestness, some ingenuity, and some satire: all good in my book. I can recommend this unabashedly to anyone, not just prog fans: it deserves a wide audience.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Paatos - Silence Of Another Kind
Tracklist: Shame (4:32), Your Misery (5:06), Falling (5:10), Still Standing (6:10), Is That All? (6:49), Procession Of Fools (0:34), There Will Be No Miracles (3:36), Not A Sound (7:25), Silence Of Another Kind (2:41)
Joris Donkel's Review
Paatos is the Swedish quintet that surprised us in 2004 with their excellent album Kallocain that was so successful that their first album from 2002 Timeloss was re-released worldwide as a result. Now here's their third album Silence Of Another Kind, a title that was taken from the song Not A Sound which deals with the imponderability of life. This new album includes the familiar Paatos elements, but there are also some slight changes noticeable. The album moves into a bit more heavier direction, the comparison with trip-hop specialists Portishead still applies, but in a lesser way.
On the other hand the comparison with The Gathering gains ground as this album features several tracks with a more powerful and fuller sound just in the style that Dutch band has mastered after they went astray from their death metal sound. This influence by the Dutch band is not so strange if you consider the fact that in 2004 they went on tour together and guitar player Peter Nylander indeed confirmed being influenced by them. The reference with the, to me unknown, band Green Carnation is also mentioned on the press sheet. The voice and singing style of Petronella Nettermalm, especially when she sings in her hypnotically style, almost whispering, still reminds of Björk, but then without the squeaky noises.
So there are several steady elements that make this album very recognisable as a Paatos album, but what changes can be detected? As said before there is a slight style change into a more heavier direction, meaning more hefty guitar and keyboard outbursts. But more remarkable I find the fact that most songs are more build up like a pop song rather than a progressive rock song and are therefore also a bit short in progressive rock terms. Despite the fact that the sound itself is still pretty alternative and progressive it's mainly the base structure of the songs that is rather standard, so on this aspect the album is a bit disappointing. But since poppy isn't necessarily bad, even for a progressive rock fan, don't worry about the quality and enjoyability of this album! Considering the general sound I would describe most songs as 'trip-pop rock with a progressive touch'; that basically covers it.
Since I already tried to describe the basic idea and sound of the album I'll now restrain myself to elaborate only on the elements that offer some more or else besides that. For instance on the first track Shame; it directly kicks off the album fiercely with a symphonic Mellotron laden sound; the soft voice of Petronella then nicely contrasts with the thick sound. It's a good song that will please prog lovers, despite its shortness. Your Misery probably comes closest of all songs to the Portishead sound, a slower song, but the harmonies at the end give it an additional spark. The chorus of Falling directly secures a firm place in the memory as it's pretty easy-listening and it gets repeated several times, well executed though, but it's mainly the mellotron instrumentation in between that lift the song up into something beyond just a pop song. A part of Still Standing reminds me very strongly of Madonna's hit Frozen and although the chorus and the rest of the song drifts in another direction the originality factor seems to be unwillingly restrained here.
Is That All? is one of the true gems on this album, certainly not in the last place since it features some more heavier guitar sounds and nearing the end a bombastic atmospheric backdrop of sounds that comes over 'like a stoned version of Portishead' (as quoted in the press sheet). Also in this track the clear and high vocals contrast perfectly with the general sound produced by the other instruments. There Will Be No Miracles actually bears a strong reference with the group Evanescence, especially in the chorus; it's not related to that reference, but this is the weakest song on the album. The beginning of Not A Sound has a fairytale like Irish feel over it, but later on it gets more a Björk feeling including the return of the melancholic weeping violin. It might be clear that this a slow and dramatic song; a true little jewel, beautifully polished by the climax ending! This would have made a perfect, climax, ending to the album, but upon the risk of being called old-fashioned Paatos ruined that by adding a track (the title track even) that just consists of some strange repeating sampled noises and vocals. If this is the silence of another kind I personally prefer the good old kind of silence.
With this album Paatos clearly shifted from sampling to a more organic sound. The Mellotron sound of course always does it well with prog lovers, but it must be said Paatos knows to use it well and has incorporated it well in their established own sound. The compositions are a bit too short and straightforward to be considered as true prog, but on the other hand it's also more accessible. The album is, certainly for these days, a rather short one, lacking any genuine lengthy prog songs. The quality though is still guaranteed again and the album does include some fine moments, just not enough to make it a real remarkable album. It is as if Kallocain sent you on an exploring journey to other countries while Silence Of Another Kind lets you explore your own backyard; also plenty to explore there if you look carefully, but just less exotic. All in all you can call this album very enjoyable and fans of Paatos and the aforementioned references, excluding Evanescence and Madonna, can get this album with confidence.
Tom De Val's Review
Swedish quintet Paatos made a positive impression on me with their last (second) album, Kallocain, a couple of years ago. Effectively blending a modern ‘post rock’ influenced sound with the sort of 90’s Scandinavian prog sound created by the likes of Anekdoten, Landberk and White Willow, the main down sides were the occasional feeling of electronic trickery dominating some sections over actual melody and emotion, and the general one-paced nature of the material.
Fast forward to 2006, and Silence Of Another Kind sees the band in general keeping faith, and indeed progressing, the same sort of sound they had established on Kallocain. There have been a few (generally subtle) changes in approach however; as the band rightly point out in the promotional material, this time they have gone for a more organic sound, and there is a (slightly) rockier feel to the songs. In addition there seems to be much more variety to the material, which does avoid the ‘much of a much-ness’ problem I encountered on occasions with Kallocain.
Opening track Shame rides in on an up-tempo groove (by Paatos standards anyway!), with cello and violin adding some flavour in the background. Female vocalist Petronella Nettermalm’s delivery here is somewhat cold and aloof (and nicely understated), which fits with the rather bitter lyrical themes, whilst the chorus is simple yet effective. Your Misery returns to the more familiar slower pace that was indicative of the Kallocain material, with a pulsating Massive Attack-like rhythm overlaid with some rather disorientating, hazy sounds somewhat reminiscent of Portishead. Nettermalm’s voice here is a disdainful, bitter croon – you can imagine her singing the song in a black cocktail dress, holding a cigarette holder and looking down upon the audience from atop a grand piano in some smoky club. In keeping with this image, the chorus has a rather thirties-era jazzy flavour to it.
Falling is one of the highlights of the album, a relatively straightforward but very well-worked ballad that allows Nettermalm to showcase the more emotive side of her voice, with the lush, multi-tracked chorus being particularly impressive. The quality is kept up by Still Standing, which combines a lazy, mid-tempo groove (involving some rather funky bass lines from Stefan Dimle) with some quality guitar work from Peter Nylander, whose wiry, sparse playing style here is reminiscent of U2’s The Edge circa The Unforgettable Fire. The chorus nicely contrasts with the verses, being heavier and more purposeful.
Is That All? has a ‘post-rock’ feel to the guitar sound (US avant-garders Tortoise come to mind as a comparison), before merging into a grungy chorus. I found this track slightly unsatisfying as a whole as it doesn’t quite hang together, although it is intriguing, and there is a strong instrumental section towards the end. Following the short segue piece Procession Of Fools we come to the short sharp Indie/pop-rock blast of There Will Be No Miracles, a catchy track which even incorporates some power-chords on the chorus – this is Paatos rocking out! There’s some nice Hammond organ lines behind the guitar noise, and the song has a rather quirky, kooky feel to it which is rather beguiling.
The album’s ‘epic’ (in terms of length at least) is Not A Sound. Opening with a slow military drum rhythm, a rather mournful melody is carved out by the violin, somewhat reminiscent of the soundtrack to the Coen brothers’ film Fargo. Johan Wallen’s classical piano sounds provide a nice contrast to this. Petronella Nettermalm’s vocals are clear and cold on the chorus, even slightly regretful, before she comes over very Björk-ish on the sparse chorus. The quality of the individual instrumental performances on this song is particularly strong, with some fine saxophone work by guest musician Jonas Wall being especially worthy of note, whilst the song succeeds in creating a sombre and mournful soundscape. Sadly, the album peters out somewhat with the rather aimless ambient electronica of the title track; it may have been better to incorporate this track earlier in proceedings, or leave it out altogether.
Overall, this is another fine effort by Paatos. Whilst not perfect (some of the songs work better than others, and I would like to have heard more of Petronella Nettermalm’s more emotional, fragile side in her vocals), it does manage the trick of sounding comfortably familiar to listeners of the previous album, yet at the same time shows the band have a spirit of adventure and aren’t afraid of taking risks. Whilst I imagine Silence Of Another Kind might have limited appeal to the more traditional-minded progressive rock fan, it is certainly recommended to those whose listening takes in a more broader remit, especially bands such as Portishead, Massive Attack and (recent touring partners) The Gathering.
White - White
Tracklist: New Day (5:11), Beyond The Sea Of Lies (4:31), Give Up Giving Up (4:41), Crazy Believer (5:31), Fate (5:16), Dream Away (4:40), Once And For All (5:15), Mighty Love (7:06), Loyal (4:09), Waterhole (6:11)
Following the recent news that the proposed 2006 reunion tour has been shelved it’s looking a decidedly gloomy year for Yes. The release of the 9012Live DVD will satisfy many fans, and by way of further consolation comes this new release from drummer Alan White called simply White.
Apart from the wealth of session work, this is his first album outside the band since the solo Ramshackled released over thirty years ago. Rather than taking the solo route on this occasion, he follows in the footsteps of rhythm partner Chris Squire with a band project. He is assisted by ex Asia keyboardist Geoff Downes, Steve Boyce on bass, Karl Haug on guitar, and Kevin Currie providing lead vocals. The album artwork depicting a snow-covered landscape is unmistakably the work of Roger Dean. Although it certainly looks the part, I can’t help wondering just how much mileage there is in reproducing those floating rocks! Inside, the credits reveal one or two salient points. No one person emerges as principal songwriter with Currie, White, Boyce and Haug all credited, along with the names of Stockwell, Edens and Hogan. Ted Stockwell was in the band MerKaBa with Currie and Boyce, whilst the identities of the other two are uncertain. Surprisingly, given his status and track record, Downes receives no writing or production credits, which to me suggests that he was brought onboard in the later stages.
The opening song New Day is typical of what the album has to offer, which is chorus driven mainstream rock with a contemporary edge. The up beat mood is emphasised by Haug’s gritty upfront guitar matched by Currie’s earthy vocals. Crisp cymbal work is a constant feature of White’s busy drumming and Boyce contributes some intricate bass lines. Downes' adds organ, which hovers unobtrusively in the background. This is definitely one of the albums better songs, as is the up-tempo Beyond The Sea Of Lies that follows. Here the guitar adopts the urgency of U2’s The Edge, and the uncomplicated solo is suitably effective. Not for the last time on the album the vocals have a Gabriel like huskiness. Organ is again the main keyboard contribution joined by an all too brief synth break. Give Up Giving Up benefits from a strong Clapton style blues hook, which works better than the repetitive chorus. Crazy Believer builds from a slow start but soon loses direction. The synth solo at the end feels like an after thought. Fate, an otherwise uneventful song is rescued by a striking drum pattern intro, a commanding bass line and a soaring guitar break.
Dream Away is melodically the albums strongest cut, thanks to a memorable chorus with strong backing vocals. Guitar and keys provide a suitably majestic backdrop in a song that has all the hallmarks and commercial appeal of Bryan Adams. Once And For All is notable only for the atmospheric guitar solo with just a hint of distortion. Many white (excuse the pun) rock bands have attempted to play reggae with variable results. Even Led Zep tried their hand on 1973’s Houses Of The Holy and thanks to the mighty drumming of the late, great John Bonham they just about pulled it off. White achieves the same on Mighty Love due mainly to the authentic drum, organ and electric piano rhythms. The acoustic guitar led Loyal features a good electric guitar solo and articulate drum work. Waterhole provides an effective, if not stunning conclusion. Again acoustic guitar provides the impetuous, giving the songs opening section a folk like ambience. Symphonic keys provide the foundation to some very good bluesy slide guitar to close.
As in the case with Ramshackled, this project has taken the Yes man back to his rock roots. Even with the White/Downes/Dean connection, I was under no illusions that this was going to be a Yes clone. The musicianship is solid enough, but the near absence of proggy moments left me slightly under whelmed. Although his name features boldly on the album cover it’s difficult to gauge how much White influenced the musical direction. To his credit, the drum work is as good as you would expect. I was also mightily impressed by the intelligent playing of Steve Boyce. He certainly compares favourably with another bassist more familiar to White fans! Currie’s raw vocal style is not completely to my tastes being better suited to a heavy rock style. Haug, a class guitarist dominates throughout but at the expense of Downes’ contributions in my opinion. I can’t help thinking that a musician of his calibre could have rattled the keys parts off in his sleep. To be fair there is some good songs here benefiting from a first rate production that delivers a US radio friendly sound. This is an album that is more likely to appeal to lovers of mainstream rock than a demanding prog audience. Yes fans should check it out by all means. The excellent White/Boyce partnership may just be worth the price of admission.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Pangolin Band - TRB
Tracklist: TRB (5:12), Dragonfly (5:15), Collide-A-Scope (0:50), Summer (7:27), Rain (0:59), Electric Ambience (3:02), Treeline (9:17), Palisades Intro (0:43), Palisades (9:18), Cathedral (7:57), . . . and when we awoke, the sky had changed (0:43), Tenebrous (6:40)
Pangolin Band has an unusual name, don’t you think? Well, wait till you hear the music. I’ve listened and listened to this disc, trying to come to grips – is that the cliche? – or get a grip, or whatever, with it and on it. The grasp eludes me still. Even on CDs whose songs are very different individually, the careful listener can usually sense some sort of unity, give himself or herself some category, even if provisional, to put the whole thing into, a context within which to evaluate it. I’m finding it very difficult, however, to do so with TRB, the debut album by this three-piece Australian band.
A few words by way of general introduction are in order – but even those can’t be satisfactory, when the band, in its promo materials, name-checks such wildly different artists as The Church, Cocteau Twins, Alan Holdsworth, Smashing Pumpkins – and, perhaps most misleadingly (to my ears), Cream, Led Zeppelin, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. How, you wonder, could any band live up to such citations? Frankly, Pangolin Band can’t. Had the band not mentioned those famous predecessors, and had I not repeated them, I can pretty much guarantee that you wouldn’t have thought of any of them while listening to this album – I surely didn’t! This is, I guess I’d have to say were I to venture a brief overall description, polite, mellow jazz-rock, nicely played, pleasant to listen to, occasionally challenging – but with not a Clapton, a Page, or a Hendrix in sight.
The core of the band is guitarist Paul Hughan, bassist Gerrit Thomson, and drummer Barry Mason. Vocals are provided by three women – Kylie Auldist, Wendy Rule, and Jacinta Percy – making the analogies with Cream, Zep, and Hendrix all the odder, it seems to me. I shouldn’t need to say this, but I like to make this point when I can about a CD that otherwise doesn’t terrifically impress me: the playing and singing are professional and, well, unfailingly pleasant. “Serenity” is a word the band itself uses in describing its sound (right, “serene” like Hendrix and Cream and Zep were serene? – I think, at the risk of belabouring the point, that those three bands should never have been invoked), and that’s an okay word, though I still prefer “polite.” Part of the problem is the very flat production: even on those songs or parts of songs (notably Summer, or the final section of the nine-minute Palisades) where the band does, sort of, “rock out,” the production leaves no space for the drums, bass, or – most importantly – guitar to do its stuff. The power chords are there (though only rarely), but they make little impression. The vocals, meanwhile, are throughout mixed too high (for my taste, at least), and the inflection of all three women’s voices is decidedly jazzy – not of itself (of course!) a bad thing, but, in the case of the music here, perhaps not entirely in keeping with the intended effect of the whole.
In fact, the band is least successful when it rocks out and most successful when – mostly in intros to some of the longer songs, in interludes within them, or in the four short instrumental pieces (Collide-A-Scope, Rain, Palisades Intro, and . . . and when we awoke, the sky had changed) – it abandons rock and roll entirely and indulges in pleasant soundscapes, created either by synthesizer or (notably in Rain and Palisades Intro) by gorgeous arpeggiated guitar work. It may well be a case of the CD’s production having been unable to capture the band’s desired sound, but Pangolin Band does not sound like a rock band to me – they sound like a potentially interesting jazz-rock fusion band with leanings towards Metheny and, especially on the album-ending (and most successful) track Tenebrous, early Brand X.
I wish I could recommend this album more highly, but I can’t quite imagine its ideal listener. Even I – a huge fan of Steely Dan – don’t find its mixture of jazz and rock terribly satisfying, and, despite repeated attempts to get a fix on it, I can’t say that TRB is really an album either for careful listening or for pleasant background ambience. Given the players’ obvious talent, I hope that, next time around, they’ll find both a clearer focus for their compositions and a producer who can do justice to their vision.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Thörbjorn Englund – Influences
Tracklist: Jesus Stole My Harley (3:54), Heart Of Fire (2:12), Demonica (2:26), Siberian Nights (3:32), Winds Of Change (1:06), Wicked Child (2:26), Walking On The Edge (1:36), A Flame Of Flamenco (1:18), Flying (3:55), Princess Lane (2:30), Notes From The Dark Side (2:14), Devilina (4:43), W.A.M Goes Electric (0:54), The Abyss (2:02), Beautiful Beyond (2:30), Vikings Tomb (1:35)
Look – if you like Yngwie Malmsteen, buy this CD and revel in it. If you don’t, don’t and don’t.
That remark is meant to be a bit comical and a bit flippant – but it also sums up what I’ll have to say in this review, for better or for worse (and which of those it is will depend on the reader and listener). Let me expand a bit: if you enjoy technically excellent classically-influenced electric guitar, it’s inconceivable that you won’t groove to this CD. If you want songs rather than compositions, enjoy lyrics and vocals, and value tastefulness and instrumental modesty over sometimes self-indulgent virtuosity, this release probably isn’t for you.
Thörbjorn Englund, who is of course Winterlong’s guitarist, is serious in his title of this album – Influences. From even a cursory listening to a few tracks, it’s obvious that his influences include Malmsteen, Satriani, and Vai – but it’s Malmsteen’s gorgeous Bachian Stratocaster sound that’s invoked most often and thoroughly here. Englund doesn’t compromise his vision by inviting other musicians, either, choosing to play every instrument himself save for drums (provided more than ably by Leif Erikson). I don’t mean to imply that this is simply a Malmsteen knockoff album, though, because it isn’t. One of Yngwie’s faults, astonishing musician though he is, is a lack of a sense of humour – a certain seriousness about his work – and Englund doesn’t suffer from that fault. My proof: three of the tracks on this album are “covers,” if that can possibly be the word, of tunes from a twenty-year-old Nintendo Entertainment System videogame, Castlevania. How good are Englund’s versions of those tunes? Here’s the verdict of my son Sam, a self-confessed video-game expert:
“The tunes in their unimproved game format made me want to play the game over and over again. Englund’s version are so much more than that – utterly wonderful.”
Not knowing the originals, I still confess that these tunes are among my favourites on the album: they’re peppy, melodic, energetic – and short. Englund covered the tunes because, he says, the game had “the greatest soundtrack of all videogames.” And his enthusiasm can be heard in his versions of these songs.
Aside from those three “covers,” if that’s the word for new versions of ancient blippy-bloopy videogame themes, the other songs are originals. But, despite Englund’s meticulous descriptions of his intentions behind each one (those descriptions are available at the Lion Music website), and although some of the tracks stand out as distinct from the others (more about those in a moment), they’re all monuments to guitar virtuosity. Nothing wrong with that – I gave a 9/10 review to an album dedicated to that same principle, Marc Rizzo’s Colossal Myopia, only a few months ago. There is, however, a sameness to the pieces here that makes this album notably less successful than Rizzo’s. Each piece works on its own, is melodic and allows Englund to demonstrate his considerable skills – but “self-indulgent” unfortunately is the compound adjective that comes to mind more often than not as I listen to Englund run through the various scales – superbly, with command both of tone and of phrasing, to be sure – again and again in song after song.
There are, as I just said, a couple of exceptions. Notes From The Dark Side is kind of a cool, slow, emotive piece (though Englund denigrates it now – check out his notes on the Lion Music site); and his coy take on Mozart’s 40th symphony, W.A.M. Goes Electric (lame title there, Mr. Englund!) is kind of neat, in the tradition of the revered Ritchie Blackmore’s Difficult To Cure, that archetypal rock-god-turned -classical-aficionado's ambitious version of the final movement of Beethoven’s ninth symphony. And Beautiful Beyond, the CD’s penultimate track, bravely and effectively eschews guitars completely in favour of piano and strings. Unfortunately (to my mind), rather than stopping there, Englund ends the album with just the sort of piece that anyone would guess would end such an album – a slow, pensive, emotive guitar workout, in this case called Viking’s Tomb.
Assessing this album on its own terms, it’s a success, I’d have to say. Englund both showcases his own playing and pays homage to his heroes and his influences. However, fine though the playing itself is, I can’t confidently recommend the CD to any but fans of skilful classically-influenced progressive-metal guitar. And, frankly, even though I’m in that group, it’s not an album that I’ll play all that often; I guess I’d just prefer to dig out my old Malmsteen and Satriani tapes.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Roz Vitalis - Enigmarden
Tracklist: Destiny Dethroned (4:44), The Battle (3:20), Breath Of Leaves-Accepting Ground (4:20), Ah Ty, Nochenka (3:38), Stress Of Tenderness (2:23), Heartcrying (3:09), Humilitas (6:33), Lovechoes (7:38), Charitas (4:43), Enigmarden (6:15), Looking For Hidden Stars (4:18), Gentle Spring Of Spring (3:39), Precautionary Motive (4:09), Be Aware Of Strangers (12:55)
Do you know any symphonic or progressive rock bands from Russia? I'm sorry to have to admit I don't, although I'm sure there are several, including some good ones, so why don't we hear from them? A land so vast as Russia and with such an ancient culture and rich musical heritage surely must also produce some good and interesting progressive rock bands. But maybe there's not enough interest for such music in their own country so they'll never get the chance to develop themselves and produce good quality prog or is it just a matter of the lack of proper facilities to produce such unpopular music, who knows? In any case did Roz Vitalis from Saint-Petersburg manage to overcome all such problems and did independently release several albums. Enigmarden is actually their third full-length album and they also released two EPs.
The band has existed since 2001, at first as a onend formed by Ivan V Rozmainsky who withdraws his music mainly from keyboards and programming. By 2002 three male and female voices were added, but by the time Roz Vitalis recorded its first EP Painsadist and album Lazarus in 2003, one male vocalist had left again. These recordings apparently can be described as keyboard-based electronic prog with an ethnic touch and a church sound poured over it by the use of a church organ sound and the female chanting voices. When very specifically catalogued you should look for these releases under the segment "church-rock". In 2004 the band released another double-pack, EP and album called The Threesunny Light Power and Das Licht Der Menschen, with very polyphonic prog-music devoted to the theological idea of Trinity. The full album consisted of three lengthy pieces and, just as the EP, focussed even more on church music and classical sympho-prog (Gentle Giant, Gryphon and Anglagard are mentioned as reference).
In 2005 two new members joined the band bringing in another female voice, harmonica and clarinet thus adding some folk and jazz elements into the musical spectrum. In this formation the 2005 release Enigmarden was recorded. Now the band is looking for a bass player and drummer so they can perform in a full live setting and they hope to find a record label. For this album the band consists of: Klara Metelkova - lead winds, lead vocals, harmonica; Ivan Rozmainsky - keyboards, programming, winds, percussions, voices; Nadezhda Regentova - voices, keyboards; Vladimir Polyakov - keyboards; Yuri Verba - clarinet.
The album is almost completely instrumental, only some soprano operatic singing can be heard on occasional tracks. It is mainly the keyboards, organ and the winds (mostly in the flute segment) that define the general sound of this album. The almost standard lack of drums and bass for all enhance the church atmosphere, but in fact it's too modern, experimental and cacophonic to suit well in a church and too spineless for a real prog album. So it leaves us somewhere in-between, thus making it difficult to appreciate in my opinion. On top of that, although that's mainly based on my personal taste, it's also too unstructured and chaotic to really please any avid prog lover's ear. Some pieces can almost be called ambient where others defy the majestic organ bombastic of the likes of Keith Emerson and Pär Lindh; the album truly does not show much coherency.
The compositions are often so chaotic and cacophonic that it sounds like they're played by a four year old girl trying out all possibilities on her flute and an over-active boy hammering away on the keyboards without any coordination or sense of melody. Just as with such heart-warming, but often musically aggravating family performances this album often sounds as if the various instruments are each playing a different tune. Upon the risk of becoming a bit too harsh now I dare to say this album could probably be best used to scare away any unwanted visitors or neighbours. No seriously, it's all just way beyond bearable experimental music and too fragmented to listen to with enjoyment when you're still plain sober.
The comparison with groups like King Crimson or Gentle Giant who had their fair share of chaotic, bombastic and fragmented music just doesn't apply since they still did manage to give the final product a coherent structure and although a challenge for the ears, still more in the sense of a discovery rather than a struggle. The music actually sounds as if it's the soundtrack of some weird movie, but without the picture you're only left behind with the feeling you're missing the point of it all. The poorly self-made sleeve that doesn't even have the proper size to fit perfectly in the jewel case turns out to be very indicative for its contents.
On the positive side I must praise Roz Vitalis for their attempt to try something different. Unique and original it truly is and maybe with a drummer and bass player they could manage to give the whole a pleasant twist when played live. I nevertheless would advise them to contact a film studio and offer their capacities for making movie soundtracks. So in short: If you like weird, very experimental, soundtrack like 'churchy' organ/flute based music then this is absolutely an album for you, otherwise you'd better skip this one.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10