Reviews in this issue:
- Xinema - Basic Communication
- GPS - Window To The Soul
- Various Artists – Canossa "Rock Opera"
- SBB – Live In Spodek 2006
- The D Project - Shimmering Lights
- TAT - Quinta Essentia
- First Band From Outer Space - Impressionable Sounds Of The Subsonic
- Dificil Equilibrio - Flood
- Mind's Eye - Waiting For The Tide
- Himalia - Himalia II
Xinema - Basic Communication
Tracklist: Colours (5:07), Train to Nowhere (4:49), Talk (5:53), Speak To The World, Part I - IV: [Pt.I Awakenings (1:57), Pt.II Newton's Cradle (4:57), Pt.III At the Hovel of Eddie's (0:51), Pt.IV Basic Communication (4:48)], Life The Way I Knew It (3:40), Ghost Of A Memory: Part I - V [Pt.I Nothing to Fear (4:00), Pt.II Grapes Of Wrath (0:43), Pt.III The Passage (1:18), Pt.IV Black Pigeon (5:22), Pt.V Deus Ex Machina (1:25)], Dust in your Eyes (5:40)
One of the more pleasant albums I reviewed in 2002 was from Swedish trio Xinema, and their Different Ways album struck an immediate chord with me. Some four years later that album still receives regular spins in my CD player and I was certainly looking forward to this second release from the band. Thankfully the interim years have not seen any changes to the band members - so the impressive cast of Sven Larsson (lead guitar), Mikael Askemur (vocals, guitars, bass & keyboards) and Jonas Thuren (drums & vocals) remain unaltered.
And what of the music - has that changed? Well yes and no. Certainly that distinctive wall of sound that Xinema produced so well on the first album is still there - the warm and distinct vocals of Askemur, the fine guitar work of Larsson and the crisp drumming of Thuren are all still much to the fore. What has changed and of particular interest here is that the band have expanded their AOR palette, adding a much proggier slant to the proceedings. Something drummer Jonas Thuren muted after the release of their first album.
Now I had already been impressed with the overall quality of the band's debut and certainly Basic Communication is another step further on. Not only musically have the band surpassed their earlier efforts, but also the production values are notched up. However if I was to interject a critical note here, then my main criticisms would be that Mikeal Askemur's vocals are sometimes lost in the mix, certainly in the grander sections, and secondly that I longed for the band to pull down the walls of sound and look to perhaps a simpler arrangement here and there. I suppose what the album lacks is a really bad track :0)... seriously though I would have loved for the impressive keyboard sounds to dip out of the music occasionally. Don't get me wrong there are dynamics within the music, but the quieter moments could have been stripped down to just a single instrument and voice. This for me would have been the icing on the cake and given the music an extra dimension. But hey, I'm just supposed to be reviewing the album and not writing it.
Musically I find that the Saga influence is still strong with Xinema and certainly Colours and Train To Nowhere would certainly have been a credit to the Canadian rockers. The polished arrangements, driving guitar rhythms and lush keyboards give the album a strong opening. As previously mentioned a great deal of thought has gone into the music and the production with plenty of subtle sounds and textures lurking within the music. Talk on the other hand has an almost U2 vibe to the music - well if you can imagine U2 with a wall of keyboards and a mega melodic guitar solo. A great track...
Basic Communication contains two mini epics, both clocking in around the thirteen minute mark. The first of these is the impressive Speak To The World, Part I - IV. Opening with a rising atmospheric keyboard piece before launching into more familiar Xinema territory. Part III is a neat little string interlude which in turn gives way to the rather gentle title track. Sven Larsson concludes this mini epic with a wonderfully melodic solo.
Life The Way I Knew It follows much in the footsteps of the previous song adding a lighter note to the middle section of the album. We then move into the second of the "epics". Ghost Of A Memory: Part I - V is certainly a more complex piece, containing two instrumental sections, two "complete" songs and a vocal conclusion. Nothing To Fear starts us off in familiar territory, segueing into the linking Grapes Of Wrath and The Passage. The latter being a rhythmically strong linking section into The Black Pigeon. Ghost Of A Memory concludes gently with voice and keyboards. Certainly things could have been wrapped up at this point, but perhaps the band felt that this may leave the ending of the album a little flat. Personally I think I would have gone out with Ghost... as although Dust In Your Eyes is a valid enough track it doesn't really say anything new.
I've offered Saga as a distinct comparator to Xinema's music and certainly if you are a fan of Saga I strongly suggest you check out either of the band's albums. However let us not dwell on this too much, as our three musicians are very capable of producing their own sound. In Sven Larsson Xinema have a formidable guitarist who fully understands the word melodic, much in the way that say Steve Lukather approaches his instrument. Multi-instrumentalist Mikael Askemur has to be commended for his role not only as the band's main vocalist, but also holding down the bass and the majority of the band's sound in the keyboard department (of which they are plentiful). Lastly we have Jonas Thuren who cements the band together - rock solid when necessary, or providing greater flamboyancy when the music allows - he brings to mind Neil Peart in this respect. And as Jonas also contributions to the vocals and is responsible for the bands impressive artwork - we have a formidable trio here.
So four years on Xinema have come up with an album that neatly follows on from their debut and holds out much promise for future releases. Basic Communication took a fair bit more listening to get into. However the rewards of this more in depth analysis has borne their fruits and I'm sure over the coming months and years that this album will receive repeated plays in my CD player. In my conclusion of Different Ways I veered away from a DPRP recommended, because of the more AOR nature of the material encompassed on that album. Well Xinema have been true to their word and come up with a strong release that takes on all of the strengths of the previous album, with the added bonus of a greater helping of progressive ideas. It would be somewhat churlish of me now not to award it the recommended tag this time.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
GPS - Window To The Soul
Tracklist: Window To The Soul (6:57), New Jerusalem (8:27), Heaven Can Wait (8:03), Written In The Sand (6:54), I Believe In Yesterday (7:15), The Objector (6:19), All My Life (5:28), Gold (5:02), Since You’ve Been Gone (4:55), Taken Dreams (4:57)
GPS probably stands for Govan, Payne and Schellen, all former band members of super AOR band Asia. When Mr Downes decided to reunite with the original line-up of Asia, vocalist/bass player John Payne knew what he had to do, and so he formed a new band, consisting of the earlier mentioned ex-Asia members and Spock’s Beard keyboard player Ryo Okumoto. Payne wanted a clearly different sound than with Asia, meaning more keyboards and more of a focus on the guitars. And as you listen to this album for the first time, you will notice that the music of GPS is “heavier” than the music of Asia. This does not mean that Window To The Soul is a metal or hard rock album; it is highly melodic rock music that will also please the Asia fans. Okumoto plays a big part in the sound of Payne’s new band colouring the music of GPS with his Hammond sounds, string arrangements and majestic piano passages. However, to me the real “star” on this album is guitar player Guthrie Govan. His guitar solos in songs like Written In The Sand or the title track really make a difference.
The magnificent opener of the album is the title track filled with lots of heavy guitar riffs, a fantastic shredding guitar solo and a magical howling keys solo. Right from the start you will notice that Payne uses his voice in a rather different way than with Asia, his vocals sound more powerful and sometimes even a bit rough and “brutal”.
New Jerusalem features an Asia-like intro with lots of melody due to the strings arrangement by Ryo; the rest of the song is a kind of ballad-like mainstream rock with highly catchy chorus and truly sparkling keyboard solo. Heaven Can Wait is again rather long track with a sing along chorus with obvious Asia trademarks. After four minutes the tempo of the song changes before you can enjoy the proggy middle part followed by a rather quiet keys part. The song ends with a fast excellent instrumental part, making this song one of the highlights of the CD. The best guitar solo can be heard in Written In The Sand, a typical AOR song with lots of choirs, keys and piano passages. The Objector is a slightly different track as it features some funky and jazzy rhythms with lots of guitar parts and again a main role for Ryo’s keyboard.
As the album is reaching its end I must say that the last three songs are a bit of too much of the same, too many Asia influences and too many sound a like melodies and choruses. However, if you like(d) Asia –just like me – then this album will be a real treat to your ears. I would even say that this CD comes very close to Asia’s last masterpiece Silent Nation. It is just as Payne said: “This album should not be seen as a second rate Asia.” GPS is an exciting new band, so give them a chance and enjoy Window To The Soul, I know that I truly love their debut album.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Various Artists – Canossa "Rock Opera"
Tracklist: Mangala Vallis Pietra Su Pietra (6:13), Trama Sonora La Regina (6:27), Sequencer Danja Di Matilde R Gaffredo (7:37), Arcanoise Tre Giorni (10:57), Type La Battaglia (4:14), Oltremare Il Porta (10:33), Master Experience Il Suo Richiamo (10:10)
Although Canossa is certainly a concept album, the tag “rock opera” is a little misleading. Taking as its subject matter an ancient castle located in the North Italian province of Reggio Emilia, the songs are performed by seven individual prog bands native to the area. Rather than performing as characters within a continuous story, each band relates a different episode from the castle’s history. OK, so it doesn’t sound like the most inspired of concepts, but believe me once the music kicks in any misapprehensions soon disappear. Produced by Gigi Cavalli Cocchi, drummer with Mangala Vallis one of the bands featured, the album has been two years in the making. Graced with striking Dali-isk artwork by Augusto Daolio (vocalist with Italian band Nomadi), the digipack gives little indication as to the albums theme. However, the disc contains a PC compatible multi media section in Italian, English and German crammed full of everything you would care to know about this release, and more.
Each of the seven songs reviewed below is preceded by a narrated track spoken in Italian and delivered in suitably melodramatic tones by Gigi Cavalli Cocchi. Each introduction clocks in at around 1½ to 2 minutes with accompany music by Fabrizio Varchetta. They are worth repeated listening if only for the beautifully crafted Vangelis and Bjorn Lynne style orchestral and choral soundscapes. I have not included these in the tracklist above due in part to the intricate typeface on the cover that makes the titles virtually impossible to decipher.
Appropriately, Mangala Vallis are the first band up with Pietra Su Pietra, one of the best songs on the entire set. This is the only band here that isn’t new to me, with two previous albums under their belt since forming in 1998. Opening with low key but atmospheric organ chords and percussion, acoustic guitars and synth strings take over and carry the song along at a relaxed pace. The excellent vocals, performed by guest Fabio Mora, have a melodic quality far removed from the bombastic style normally associated with Italian prog. Rich Yes like harmonies enhance the mood of the piece. The acoustic guitars and mellotron style strings have a ring of early Genesis about them, but not overtly so. More obvious is the synth break during the latter part of the song, which sounds a little too close to Emerson’s solo on Lucky Man for comfort. Nothing startling original I know, but it is a skilfully constructed song high on melody and makes for a satisfying opener.
Better still is La Regina from Trama Sonora, a five-piece band that has been around since 1995 with just one previous album to their credit. They continue the acoustic guitar mood, this time with a Steve Howe edge. Beautiful female vocals from bassist Greta Fornasari and lyrical synth are offset by a dramatic organ enhanced rhythm and a crisp Bill Bruford snare sound. Clarinet is introduced in an elegant bridge section, underpinned by articulate Chris Squire like bass lines. The song has a measured stately pace throughout that evokes Mostly Autumn, emphasized by the soaring guitar solo that closes. Probably the albums best track from a band to certainly watch out for in the future.
Sequencer started life in 1985 performing prog covers before focusing their talents in 2001 as a Genesis tribute band. The intro to Danja Di Matilde R Gaffredo comes as a surprise therefore with strident synths punctuated by heavy bass and drums. The band soon displays their true colours however with mellow flute, Hackett style weeping guitar and waves of mellotron strings. Vocalist Roberta Magnani sounds unlike either Gabriel or Collins but has a very good voice nonetheless. His restrained and clear tone matches the reflective style of the song perfectly. Organ signals an unexpected change in tempo with intricate and punchy guitar lines joined by synths to close. On a minor point of criticism the drum sound compared with the previous track has all the resonance of an empty biscuit tin.
The albums longest song Tre Giorni comes from Arcanoise, a band that began life in 1997. Vocalist Alessandra Rossi recently joined the four-man line-up for this recording. She has pleasant if unexceptional voice, which suits the mood of the song, including some nicely pitched harmonies. It opens with a simple repeated guitar phrase, which is swept aside by power riffs and a heavy, spacious drum sound. The guitar tone becomes lighter, with a rich synth and organ backdrop, urging the vocals along to several short climatic moments. The bass work here is impressive with clever lines underpinning the surging choral ending. The guitar and keys have a typically smooth neo-prog sound that would sit comfortably alongside UK acts like IQ, Arena and Pallas.
In contrast, the gritty guitar tone and complex rhythm of La Battaglia by the trio Type is pure Red era King Crimson. This instrumental with its repetitive, discordant melody is a total departure from the sweeping symphonic songs found elsewhere on the album. The playing is some of the most technically accomplished however, including more Bruford inspired drumming and traces of Allan Holdsworth’s guitar style. I would add Gentle Giant as a further point of reference.
Normal service is resumed with Il Porta from Oltremare, another relatively new band formed in 2001. Low key Floydian style atmospherics lays the path for agile guitars and organ. Guest vocalist Lorenzo Campani’s bright, ear friendly style works well against a backdrop of symphonic keys and guitar. As the tempo moves up a notch the vocals become more strident with an instrumental break featuring fiery guitar and synth interplay. Following brief jazzy guitar noodlings a stately finale comes courtesy of a soaring vocal against dramatic chords, synth and bass. All in all, a very promising track from a still relatively inexperienced band.
Any expectations of a grand finale are dashed with the closing Il Suo Richiamo by Master Experience. The bands prog-metal leanings are evident from the start with an urgent heavy guitar riff that reoccurs throughout the song, often doubled by organ. The vocals by Matteo Beneventi are far more theatrical this time round and less convincing, to my ears at least. The solid bass and drums are uncomplicated but effective nonetheless. In comparison the keys and lead guitar lack the necessary weight and sound lacklustre, particularly during the pedestrian solos. Towards the end, the band all but fades away leaving battle sound effects to close.
Despite some misgivings I was mightily impressed by this release, but then I’m a sucker for Italian prog. Producer Gigi Cavalli Cocchi is to be applauded for the high standard and for maintaining a cohesive and consistent sound for the most part. My ignorance of the language means that I cannot confirm if it works as a concept, but as a sampler it’s an impressive showcase of talented acts. After much deliberation on my part it just misses out on a DPRP recommendation, but it was a close call.
Conclusion: 8- out of 10
SBB – Live In Spodek 2006
Tracklist: Memento Z Banalnym Tryptykiem (8:39), New Century Inc. Tajemniczy Swiat Mariana (8:23), Odlot (9:47), Rainbow Man (5:53), Calkiem Spokojne Zmeczenie (5:26), Improv: Drums Battle (1:51), Walkin’ Around The Stormy Bay (3:55)
Poland’s premier prog band has had a very long and prolific career – how many other bands could (or would dare) release a 22 CD box set? Their voluminous discography (you can read Yalcin Inel’s reviews of a couple of recent releases - New Century and SBB Live In Theatre 2005 DVD) includes many live sets, of which Spodek is the latest. It captures their set from February 24th 2006, when they supported Deep Purple.
Although eschewing the long drawn-out rambling jams, bordering on free form experimentalism, of earlier live outings for more concise pieces, SBB still manage to cram in a large number of solos, in a sparingly instrumented style which some (myself included) may find a little too sparse. The set contains a good mix of old and new, English and Polish lyrics, composed and improvised material. Although in recent years they often perform as a trio, teaming founding guitarist Apostolis Anthimos and bassist/keyboardist Josef Skrzek with Pat Metheny drummer Paul Wertico, this particular concert sees Wertico replaced by Irek Glyk, and the line-up boosted by the return (after 25 years!) of 2nd guitarist Slawomir Piwowar.
The disc opens strongly with the Moog synth wailing and bluesy guitar recalling Wish You Were Here style Floyd. Skrzek’s Polish vocals, a little rough around the edges, are not lacking in passion and vigour. The number builds nicely to a powerful guitar solo.
After the opening Memento … Skrzek mainly sticks to bass (I would have preferred more keyboards). Switching to newer material and English vocals, the title track of their last studio outing is next, and New Century proves that, long in the tooth as they are, SBB are still managing to come up with the goods, albeit in more of a blues rock style here.
Odlot feels much like an extension of the preceding number (in fact much of the CD is similar in style) again heavily featuring vocals which are semi-spoken, sung and howled by turns. Starting off slowly, the tune gathers momentum quite effectively, with some stellar bass work (and a good solo) underpinning the guitars.
Rainbow Man is a funk tinged blues with ragged English vocals – the twin guitars work together nicely, building to some effective soloing.
Calkiem ... is a more tuneful outing, breaking out into a guitar solo initially jazz based but becoming more rocky, backed by snappy drum work and solid bass.
As the show reaches its conclusion, Apostolis Anthimos switches to a second drum kit for a brief Battle and the impressive Walkin’ Around The Stormy Bay with Joseph back on keyboards at last, for a moody atmospheric finish.
SBB are all about individual instrumental prowess, with many solos hung on minimal melodic compositions, and whilst there are progressive and jazz fusion touches, this disc has more of a blues rock feel than anything else. If you go back to their first few albums, there is more of a prog vibe and much lengthier solos too.
All in all, a good show well worth having for fans of the band, and probably a neat introduction for newbie's too.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
The D Project - Shimmering Lights
Tracklist: Shimmering Lights (8:54), They Come And Grow (6:23), Hide From The Sun (7:59), What Is Done Is Done (Rat) (3:32), End Of The Recess (3:55), September Solitudes (10:08), That's Life (7:39). Bonus: Video Track
The D Project is a solo outlet for Stéphane Desbiens guitarist for Canadian prog band Sense. Desbiens plays guitars and keyboards as well as handling all the vocals and is supported throughout by Mathieu Gosselin (bass), Danny Robertson (drums) and Sandra Poulin (violin). Of the seven tracks on the album, six feature lyrics by author and the album's producer Francis Foy.
The opening number is the title track of the album and begins with a rather atmospheric intro of keyboards and guitar. The drums enter providing an interesting and relatively complex rhythm when all of a sudden, just as things are starting to get going, the music fades out and an offbeat and discordant riff starts up. Following a quote from John F Kennedy ("Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate") the song proper starts. A catchy melody played on the synth is backed by a repetitive guitar riff generates a quite simple song that meanders along nicely. Some great rhythm section work during the instrumental break at the end provides the interest, along with the excellent acoustic guitar work at the songs close. They Come And They Grow sounds in places like an outtake from Pink Floyd's The Wall album, the main riff providing the source of the comparison. Elsewhere the, quieter sections work well with some captivating violin playing and the odd Mellotron, culminating in a guitar solo that displays Desbiens mastery of the six-string instrument.
Hide From The Sun features the album's first special guest, Tomas Bodin of the Flower Kings. Balladic in nature, the violin provides a melancholy air, and the combination of different electric and acoustic guitars keep the track flowing and interesting. The heavier final section and synth solo rather spoilt the song for me although it does provide a neat bridge into the heavier and rather angry What Is Done Is Done (Rat), a rather formulaic and relatively uninteresting song to my ears, although the brief acoustic guitar solo in the middle is in a very passable Al Di Meola-style. Desbiens' vocals are better on the quieter numbers and although he is not the strongest singer they are passable. However, on some of the heavier numbers it does sound as if he is straining somewhat and he does have a tendency to almost shout the words rather than sing them. End Of The Recess is the only instrumental piece on the album. The acoustic guitar intro and outro is in a somewhat mediaeval style, separated by a fine Moog solo by the always wonderful Martin Orford from IQ.
September Solitudes starts off in an epic manner with a guitar solo backed by Mellotron supplied by Bodin. The female harmony vocals add immensely to the track, particularly as the main vocal melody doesn't quite seem to fit with the backing - too many syllables per line. At the four-minute mark the piece diverges into practically a separate piece with Fender Rhodes electric piano, again supplied by Bodin, taking the song in a separate, heavier direction. The musical interplay between electric and acoustic guitars and different keyboards adds variety and provides a very good instrumental section. The reintroduction of female harmonies and reiteration of the main musical theme brings the song to an end. Final track That's Life is basically a series of heavy guitar riffs and once again is rather a disjointed track which is rather repetitive and only saved by some very good keyboard work by final guest musician Fred Schendel from Glass Hammer. The lyrical and vocal contributions on this piece are, at best, annoying and, in my opinion, it would have been better left as an instrumental.
Overall, it is difficult to know what to make of this album, it is certainly very diverse and has some very impressive musical moments. However, I found that it didn't hang together too well lacking a degree of coherence. I am sure Shimmering Lights will find favour amongst many of our readers, but on the whole it lacked something that would make it an essential release for me.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
TAT - Quinta Essentia
Tracklist: Thalidomide: Réminiscence (4:23), Quinta Essentia: Part I (2:24), Rian Iridiagmar (2:55), Mon Rève Est Une Chêne Creux (4:17), Quinta Essentia: Part II (1:07), Vampyr (4:27), Quinta Essentia: Part III (4:24), Le Testament de Flamel (3:35), Digression Du Bouffon & L’Eau De Bilocation (1:32), The Emerald Tablet (4:55)
TAT is a classical guitarist named Antoine Aureche who has, in Quinta Essentia, composed “a deep reflection in ten movements on the alchemical lore,” as his website tells us. A neat idea, to be sure, and – on its own terms, which it will be my business here to define precisely – it’s a pretty interesting success. It’s not rock, or progressive, or progressive rock, but I think it may well appeal to many readers of DPRP – but you’ll have to read on to see if you’re one of them.
You have to imagine ten distinct compositions that sound quite a bit alike, all with classical guitar as their main instrument – but nothing here is what I’d call a traditional song, nor in all the compositions does the classical guitar provide anything like a basic melody or even an underpinning (though admittedly in parts, at least, of most it does). The instrument is mainly used for colouration, to create a mood – and a dark mood, at that. That dark mood is enhanced by organ, timpani, bells, tabla-like percussion, and synthesizer and by mournful vocals – some by a male and others by a female guest vocalist – and even some growling vocals that would be considered death-metal singing if this were death metal: check out especially Digression Du Bouffon & L’Eau De Bilocation for those. But whatever the orchestration or vocal style of each song, the mood is what’s paramount here, and it’s gloomy and oppressive throughout.
So that’s what I mean by saying that the album is successful on its own terms. It’s slow, even ponderous at times; the subject is, in the broad sense, occult; the vocals are often spoken (or rather intoned) rather than sung; and the songs aren’t much differentiated from each other. Frankly, this is the kind of music a vampire (about one of which there’s a song here – Vampyr) might listen to if he decided to stay in for the night and listen to music on his iPod while hanging out in his coffin. Seriously – that’s the vibe. If that kind of sound appeals to you, I can’t imagine you won’t like this CD.
TAT himself is an excellent guitarist, too. Most impressive is the tastefulness with which he ornaments each of these compositions. We all know that classical guitarists are very little less prone than are solo rock guitarists to indulge in displays of virtuosity at the expense of the song as a whole; but TAT plays only and just what’s needed at each point in each song. And he’s also in full command of the dynamics of his instrument, able (like all good classical guitarists, of course) to move instantly from loud to quiet and back simply in the way he attacks the strings. So I should amend what I said earlier. You don’t have to be a vampire or even a vampire sympathizer to enjoy this album: it will appeal to fans of well-played classical guitar, too.
I believe I’ve talked myself into giving this album a DPRP Recommended rating. But I’ll remind you again of the qualifications I’ve stated. This is NOT progressive rock: it’s a dark, gloomy, atmospheric album more concerned with creating and maintaining a gothic mood than with impressing with instrumental virtuosity or establishing a catchy melody (nope, none of that here!). On those terms, then, it’s a very good album – even, I think I can say, unique.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
First Band From Outer Space -
Impressionable Sounds Of The Subsonic
Tracklist: Novaja Zemelja (8:22), Utan At Veta” (8:01), Mean Spacemachine (5:52), Impressionable Sounds Of The Subsonic (10:07), To Be Seen As The Underdog (5:36), Grona Hander (13:32), Todo Pasara (9:45), Mission Completed (7:14)
The only thing a reviewer can really ask for in successive releases from a band is that a) the band continue to do right what it had done right earlier; and b) the band advance in its musicality, if possible (i.e., progress), or at least find a way to keep its music vital, fresh, and enthusiastic. I’m glad to acknowledge that the First Band from Outer Space (FBfOS) has scored highly on all counts with Impressionable Sounds of the Subsonic.
Exactly what I loved about FBfOS on its third CD (We’re Only In It For The Spacerock), I love about the band this time out. FBfOS (still featuring Gothenburgers “StarfighterCarl” on drums, vocals, and percussion; “JohanFromSpace” on guitars, synths, and vocals; “SpaceAceFrippe” on bass guitar, synths, vocals, and percussion; and Moonbeam Josue on flutes and vocals) grooves with big, fat, thick, tangy, riffy rocka-rolla. At times I’d swear the band channels Hawkwind, Blue Oyster Cult, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Steppenwolf, Led Zeppelin, MC5, Iron Butterfly, etc. ad infinitum: all that sweaty proto-metal stuff your parents detested. But then, they trip you with some Floydian, T. Dreamian. Gongian reverb-laced sonic plasma that melts your mind and shows you bliss! Well, actually, it’s not quite THAT trippy, but it’s pretty trippy. Plus, as before, I think FBfOS has the absolute perfect blend of guitar swagger, rhythm-section, propulsion, cosmic cocksureness, and psychedelic freakiness. Somehow it all jibes really well. Maybe it shouldn’t, since by description alone this could be nothing but a dinosaur romp through boring, hackneyed, convention-laden quagmires. But, but, but…it’s all sterling.
(Let me say quickly that the band has a bit of help on Impressionable, in the guise of “SpaceBeardEmil” on percussion; “AstroRille” on vocals; and “ErkiOnMars” on spaceorgan.)
Highlights? Uttan att veta which is blisteringly haunting cross between Ozric Tentacles and old-school Tull. (The use of flute on this track and throughout Impressionable is classic.) I like the bouncy, punky interlude in the middle and the generous guitar assaults, all lavished with swirly, galactic synth trills. The title track is space-rock nirvana, one-part lysergic journey and one part melodic dirge. It showcases the band’s ability to handle a sweet, emotive ballad without affectation and coyness. (I got off on the space odyssey lyrics: Major Tom meets Space: 1999.) My favourite is To Be Seen As The Underdog, which is a powerfully encouraging tune about individualism, inner fortitude, and self-respect that employs an acoustic, T. Rex-style delivery (congas included). But honestly: There isn’t much here to dislike. It’s all energized, provocative, and heady.
I listen to this CD as I walk to the bus station in the morning on my way to my daily drudgery: It fires me up nicely. As always with Record Heaven releases, I have nothing but praise for this disk. There must be something in that Scandinavian water because the progressive rock out of those wintery climes is consistently great. I prefer this release to We’re Only In It For The Spacerock because the melodies and lyrics are more compelling and the power-chord hooks and rapid-fire riffs don’t let go.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Would I feel cheated had I bought this CD? No, this is terrific stuff. Would I recommend that you buy this CD? Maybe, but only if you really dig that late 60s - early 70s blend of psychedelic unpredictability and amped-up Marshall stack bomb blasts. Would I recommend that you hear this CD via begging, borrowing, or stealing? Definitely. FBfOS is getting exceptionally proficient at its game and the sheer complexity and atmospheric shimmer of Impressionable make it a worthwhile listen. But also: it just kicks ass.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Dificil Equilibrio - Flood
Tracklist: Flood (14:40), Firmamento (3:03), Trayecto III (7:01), Malva Bruma (7:16), Simetricacustica (3:54), Trayecto V (4:33), Ruptura Parte I (2:22), Ruptura Parte II (2:57), Requiem [Por Quim] (3:58), Secuencias En Equilibrio (2:28), Desesperado Y Siri Salidas Falsas (4:41)
Flood Fails To Float Reviewer’s Boat! Shock! Horror!
Seriously, I have to admit to being pretty disappointed with this disc from Spanish Crimson Acolytes Dificil Equilibrio. I was rather taken by their last offering, as you can read here, but this new CD just didn’t do it for me at all.
This is partly explained by the realisation that in fact it is not a “New” album at all, but a collection of Live and Live In Studio pieces, recorded over a number of years (some going back as far as 1988). Some of the numbers are outtakes from the previous releases (Firmamento, Trayecto III , Trayecto V) some are live re-workings (Simetricacustica) and a few are free improvisations. The first and longest of these, the opener and title track, is an onstage collaboration with the group Afraid To Speak In Public, with the members of Dificil Equilibrio gradually joining in as the members of Afraid... leave the stage. Starting with a long drum-only section before breaking out with guitars and bass, it’s bold and experimental, perhaps, but does not make for a coherent or satisfying listen, though it does get better towards the end. Firmamento is similarly free improv and not really my kind of thing.
Though strongly highlighting the band’s experimental tendencies, There are also several tracks where the band approaches the style of earlier releases, (not surprising as these are outtakes) readily revealing their Crimsoid fixation – guitarist Alberto Diaz was one of Robert Fripp’s guitar craft students- but though the tracks are often quite good in themselves, they are often very similar to existing tracks and fail to add much new, making this release definitely one for completists and fanatics only.
I urge you to track down Simetricanarquia or one of their earlier releases, and only come back to this one if you are really taken with the group.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Mind's Eye - Waiting For The Tide
Tracklist: Frozen Tears (6:55), Calling (Father To Son) (5:48), A Pond Of Thoughts (4:50), Closer (Spirits In The Room Part 1) (5:20), In My Mind (Spirits In The Room Part 2) (7:54), Primitive Light (5:28), Jealousy In Disguise (6:22), Fall On Trust (4:34), Circles In The Sand (6:21), Fade Out (1:13), Endless Passages (4:04), Spellbound (5:10)
This is a re-release of the second Mind’s Eye album Waiting For The Tide, which in fact is the third re-release for this album - its original was released in the year 2000 (Mark Sander's review of the original Waiting For The Tide), followed by a first re-release in 2002. So, why should we bother with this album again?? The only two reasons are the bonus tracks called Endless Passages and the instrumental Spellbound. The latter being a fast, furious track mixing musical elements of Dream Theater and Symphony-X, featuring a funky bass, a remarkable synth solo and a heavenly guitar solo, showing how much this band wanted to achieve success.
The second “new” song is a rather typical prog rock song with lots of staccato riffs, diverse rhythms and some high-pitched vocals by former Mind’s Eye singer Robert Forse. Fortunately you can enjoy the excellent voice of the new singer Andreas Novak on the other 10 songs, making it very clear why the old singer was fired. This album gives a good insight into the early development of this Swedish prog rock band. The band is currently working on a new album which will be out this year.
Re-released by Lion Music on June 2006 (with two bonus songs).
Conclusion: Update review
Himalia - Himalia II
Tracklist: Ibarra (4:27), Noisette (6:40), Dans La Canopée (5:20), Spirit Rapper (4:28), Baie D'Along (6:37), Callisto (6:14), Öland (8:35), Sur La Route De Quito (6:17), Cap Sud (4:14)
This is a laid-back, groove-oriented, rather traditional group based on drum kit, electric bass, electric guitar, saxophones, and Fender Rhodes electric piano. The name "Himalia" itself refers appropriately to a mythological nymph from Rhodes. The quintet, hailing from France, follows the trail blazed by Weather Report, Michael Brecker,The Crusaders and The Yellowjackets. The fact that you won't find reviews of any of these artists in DPRP should tell you that this doesn't really belong in the progressive rock genre, therefore this will be unrated.
The band itself is well balanced, every player gets a good spot in the music and in the mix. Interestingly, audio production is credited to a sixth man listed along with the rest of the band members. I noticed this as I was looking for a second sax player in a sextet, because alto and tenor saxes can be heard playing together throughout the album.
The only problem with these guys is that they sound bland. Flim & The BBs can be accused of being laid back, but outstandingly beautiful compositions made them one of my favourites in the soft jazz genre. Conversely, Michael Brecker's various projects have been musically unsophisticated, but usually performed with infectious high energy and enthusiasm. Since they play uncomplicated jazz pieces with very little heart coming across, I find Himalia disappointing in the way The Yellowjackets disappointed me on most of their albums. (As an aside, allow me to say I have been spoiled by being exposed to Auracle's album Glider at an early age. Although not well known, it has become my high-water standard by which I judge every small jazz band.)
While listening to this CD, I found myself waiting for a Samba or a fast walker so these guys could show their fire. Eventually a Rhumba came up but was nearly devoid of pepper. I would be willing to bet these tracks either took 4 to 10 takes each, or had to be read by most of the band. The last track (at last) sounded fresh, the guys cut loose in what sounds like one or two takes. Why couldn't the rest of this CD have had this level of enthusiasm?