Reviews in this issue:
- Trespass – Morning Lights
- Colour Haze - Tempel
- Taproban - Posidonian Fields
- Darjeeling - L’envers Du Décor
- Whitechapel – Le Masque D’Arlequin
- Sebkha Chott - Nagah Mahdi Opuscrits en 48 Rouleaux
Trespass – Morning Lights
Tracklist: Song Of Winds (3:38), Morning Lights (21:33), Ripples (12:16), Vivaldish (5:39), Forrest Bird’s Fantasy (4:59)
This is the second CD from Israeli outfit Trespass. You can read about the band and their first CD here.
The current offering takes the band even further down the road of classical inspiration. They may have plenty in common with bands like ELP, Trace and Focus, but this is, in the main, down to sharing the same influences as those bands, rather than influence from the bands themselves. Being in their late twenties, the talented trio of musicians were too young to have experienced the Prog giants’ work first hand.
That said, any fans of the aforementioned groups will surely delight in this work. The mainly instrumental material is exuberant, sprightly and addictive. The tight rhythm section of Roy Bar-Tour and Gabriel Weissman provide the perfect back-drop for the richly entertaining keyboard extravagances of mainstay Gil Stein. He also adds a flourish or two on recorders.
Whilst still at school, I was floored by the Dutch trio Trace. I absolutely loved their Birds opus and I converted a few non-prog school chums to it too. Morning Lights is very much in the mould of that fondly-remembered LP, even down to the content of a few short tracks and one sprawling epic - predominantly instrumental but with brief vocal sections. I have seen a few reviews of Trespass where the reviewers are not too fond of Stein’s singing, but his smoothly delivered, high register croon reminds me of Russell Mael of oddball popsters Sparks, and I do mean that as a recommendation. The vocal sections are sparse and brief anyway, so shouldn’t worry you too much.
The compositions are redolent of many 70’s classics, and positively ooze Baroque atmospheres with Bach and Vivaldi being prime targets for emulation. Whilst the compositions are not overtly complex, this CD is a breezy entertainment from start to finish and in every aspect (right down to the terrific fantasy cover artwork), it would make the ideal stocking filler for any Prog head this year.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Colour Haze - Tempel
Tracklist: Aquamaria (8:43), Fire (5:41), Mind (2:58), Tempel (8:29), Gold & Silver (6:39), Earth (3:59), Ozean (4:28), Stratofarm (6:59)
Now in their twelfth year and eighth album, Germany's Colour Haze have resolutely stuck to their guns with their version of stoner psychedelic rock that owes a lot to the fine tradition of the great Krautrock bands of the Seventies. The current line up of Stefan Koglek (guitar, vocals), Manfred Merwald (drums) and Philipp Rasthofer (bass) has been together since 1999 and have formed a musical relationship that is borne from years of rehearsals and playing together. Festival regulars, the band are about to embark on their latest tour taking in seven countries in the heart of Europe.
Opening cut Aquamaria starts with a languid bass guitar like something from the first Black Sabbath album but gradually builds, almost organically, into a jam replete with guitar riffs that increase in heaviness until the point of distortion. Lyrics are intoned rather than sung giving a heavy mantra atmosphere. Intriguing stuff. Fire adds some cod falsetto vocals which are not entirely convincing to a more mellow ambience that once again builds into a heavier sonic assault, trance-like in its repetition. Mind adds some Hammond organ (courtesy of Christian Haweller) played like it should with a gritty growl although my personal preference would have been to have heard this fantastic instrument made more use of on this track and throughout the album. The organ's only other appearance is on Gold And Silver where it has a rather more subdued supporting role towards the end of the song.
Title track Tempel has a more jazzy introduction soon building to the heavy riffing that is the basis of a lot of this album. A reprise of the introductory section brings the track to a gentler conclusion. Earth continues along similar lines although the vocals are more prominent on this track and the guitar solo has a cleaner edge to it. Ozean is a rather surprising atmospheric guitar piece replete with effects and waves of cymbals. The thought of Hendrix springs to mind. Final track Stratofarm also has a mellow beginning with an almost chant like vocal. The track seems to be going nowhere until about four minutes the guitar takes over gradually leading the listener deeper into a sonic morass of distortion, riffing and frantic soloing. Nice way to end the album guys!
Overall, I was impressed by this, my first exposure to Colour Haze. They certainly capture the essence of psychedelic rock and their heavy approach will be pleasing to the more metal minded music fan. However, the similarity of a lot of the pieces and the lack of overall variety prevents me from recommending this album to the majority of our readers but if you are into heavy stoner psychedelic riffage then you could do a lot worse than check out Colour Haze!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Taproban - Posidonian Fields
Tracklist: EvapZis (2:46), Immersion (6:52), Caronte’s Ship Imponder Ability (3:46), Riding In Posidonian Fields (2:27), Entwinings (2:12), Suspension (4:18), Octopus! (6:29), Uncontrolled Dreams (8:53), No Return (6:12), Farewell (6:05)
This is the third CD from the Italian trio De Rossi (keyboards), Mariotti (bass and electric guitars) and Guidoni (drums and percussion) and their music is filled with influences from notorious bands like Glass Hammer, Nexus, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Vangelis and even Rick Wakeman. Most of the songs are largely or completely instrumental filled with dominating organ and keyboard sounds and guitar solos are almost not present on this rather mellow album.
The album starts with the rather dark song EvapZis which only features acoustic guitar, keys and a strange deep voice…. Immersion is again a very mysterious and rather tranquil song with lots of old-fashioned organ sounds and solos which are continued in the third track called Caronte’s Ship Imponder Ability. This song also features a short bass and drum solo. Riding In Posidonian Fields is a short mellow, boring ballad which truly sounds as a nothingness…..
The first really good song is called Uncontrolled Dreams, a track with lots of IQ characteristics and finally an electric guitar melody. In the middle of the song you can enjoy a real ELP passage joined by some really “raw” Chris Squire-like bass lines and riffs. This is genuine keyboard prog bringing back memories of good old Vangelis, Wakeman and ELP of course. It is a true shame that not more songs on this album have the same high musical quality of this great track. No Return is filled with lots of irritating redundant Arabic-sounding vocals and to make things worse the song ends with the sound of waves at the beach…….. how original and completely out of this age! The last song only lasts two minutes, followed by two minutes of silence – again very original – and it really ends with a Blackmore’s Night part, in other words: medieval music with acoustic guitar and accordion.
All in all, this album is not really my cup of tea, too mellow and too much old school prog, however if you cannot get enough of ELP or Vangelis then you should definitely try out this album.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Darjeeling - L’envers Du Décor
Tracklist: Entrer En Matière (0:37), Lenvers Du Décor (4:14), Insensé (3:33), Passionnément Correct (4:42), La Transe (5:36), La Chair Humaine (4:38), Nos Fiançailles(5:16), Les Sirènes (4:25), La Tendance (4:46), L’involu Songe (4:25), Moi Je… (4:23), Mes Oeillères (5:36), Vision (6:35)
French band Darjeeling formed in 1998 and spent their first four years together performing cover versions by such bands as Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Toto, Dream Theater, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Queensrÿche. At the end of 2001 they began to write their own music, completing 13 songs by 2003 after which they put together a demo to send to prospective record labels. Two French companies offered recording contracts but the band turned them down waiting instead for a global deal which, as of yet, has not emerged. In the meantime the vocalist, Eric Pariche, produced the songs already recorded and the band have released this eponymous CD.
In general the music displays strong influences of the bands they were covering in the early days, especially so Dream Theater and Queensrÿche with guitarist Phil Vermont sounding very much like John Petrucci throughout and the delivery of the vocals not dissimilar in style to Geoff Tate although completely different at the same time being more theatrical, operatic and also in French. However, the band I'm most reminded of on nearly every track is Tool, really, imagine Tool with a French vocalist and it could be them.
Individually the tracks can be quite rewarding, the musicianship is of a high quality and there's enough going on to keep it interesting. Listening to the CD as a whole though is a tedious exercise as most of the songs sound the same and lack strong melodies. The music is very guitar-centric, chuggy riffs predominating throughout with the Toolrÿche rhythm section underneath. The occasional guitar solos are precise and technical but lack feel and flair which I find a shame from an obviously talented player. The vocals are tiresome too - they're far too over the top and I personally don't find singing in French suits the style of the music. Don't get me wrong, French is one of the most beautiful languages on the planet but it just doesn't fit with metal. I also think the band are dreaming if they think people outside French speaking countries will buy their music sung in French, I really don't think that will happen.
The production is rather lacking also, sure all the instruments can be heard but it's flat and lifeless, and this coupled with the lack of texture and direction in the music just kills the whole experience. I could imagine with a stronger writer in the band they could be capable of producing something great but I'm afraid this isn't it. Their website offers streaming audio of the album and, as I said above, in small doses it's pretty good. The opening track (after the intro), Entrer En Matière, perfectly captures the essence of the band as does Insensé and Passionément Correct - actually any of them will do really as they all sound the same. There is some slight diversion from time to time when they throw in some Eastern scales (think a bit of the feel in Dream Theater's Home) and there's a bluesy guitar solo on La Chair Humaine but these moments are few and far between.
To sum up this is clearly a band capable of producing something good given perhaps some guidance and more application. The effort they have put into the presentation of the CD is admirable with very nice artwork and a smart, if rather difficult to navigate website. I'm hoping they'll learn from this and come back stronger, and although I won't have the CD in my regular playlist I will certainly return to it on occasion.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Whitechapel – Le Masque D’Arlequin
Tracklist: Au Nom Du Pere (7:30), Le Flutiste (5:30); Melissandre (6:15), Whitechapel (6:45), Elixir (4:20), Pleine Lune (4:30), le Masque D’Arlequin (7:35), Les Enfants De La Nuit (5:15), Echec Et Mat (5:40), Sarajevo (5:00), Ailleurs (5:10)
On the face of it, naming your band after an area in East London when you are, in fact, from France seems a little odd, however it makes more sense when you start to listen to Whitechapel’s debut album. Whilst Musea’s promo blurb compares the band to fellow French acts Ange and Mona Lisa (neither of whom I’ve heard so have no idea how valid this is), the overwhelming influence I could detect was that of the early 80’s ‘neo-prog’ mini-wave spearheaded by Marillion.
Musea do go some way to accurately describing the band’s sound when they describe the album as combining ‘sophisticated pieces with elaborate atmospheres, heavy guitar riffs and theatrical vocals’. The ‘elaborate atmospheres’ are certainly present on opener Au Nom Du Pere, with an interesting introductory keyboard instrumental from Greg Iung that sounds uncannily like something Goblin could have produced for the Susperia soundtrack. The mood is kept dark up to the sudden switch into the song proper, where a galloping bassline provides the backbone for some very early-80’s Mark Kelly-esque playing from Iung, balanced by some surprisingly heavy riffing from guitarist Laurent Isola. When Fabrice Altairac’s vocals kick in it’s a bit of a shock initially as he sounds for all the world like a French version of Klaus Meine, the singer with German hard rock legends The Scorpions! You do gradually get used to this as the album progresses, but I still find the vocal delivery not entirely compatible with the music – an acquired taste I guess. It doesn’t really help that Altairac is singing in his native tongue as I find that, fairly or unfairly, French just doesn’t seem to work as a language of rock n roll.
Au Nom De Pere sets a reasonable standard, particularly with some strong solos by Iung and Isola, who both seem to share pretty much equal billing in each song. Elsewhere the quality of composition varies, although at least the band does try to go for some variety rather than sticking to the same style throughout the course of the album. The best of the bunch are Melissandre, a dark ballad with a nice vintage organ sound that could have come straight off A Whiter Shade Of Pale, and Le Masque D’Arlequine itself, which rides along on some powerful metallic riffing in the Threshold vein, contrasting with a reasonably strong AOR-style chorus. Songs such as Elixir, a ballad in the Lavender vein, and Sarajevo, which sounds a little like the vintage Judas Priest slow-burner Dreamer Deceiver, certainly have their strong points but rather have their edges blunted by some ill-advised arrangements – the awful and misplaced ‘big’ drum sound employed in the former, for instance, simply distracts from the core of the song. Other tracks are simply rather poor – Le Flutiste being a prime example, which after blotting its copybook by featuring a cheesy synth version of a flute rather than the real thing, goes on to sound like a less-good version of Europe’s 80’s poodle metal anthem The Final Countdown! Not really in keeping with the ‘sophisticated pieces with elaborate atmospheres’ aesthetic…
The real stumbling block to fully enjoying the album, however, is its production – simply put, its poor, with many instruments (particularly the guitars) sounding rather sludgy and unclear, contrasting rather jarringly with the keyboards which are often overbearingly high in the mix. Combined with the clunky graphics in the album booklet (which look as if they were designed on an old ZX Spectrum!) this serves to give the album a dated feel, which I’m not sure was intentional, especially as the ‘eighties sound’ is now widely discredited.
Overall there’s certainly some promise here, but I feel that stronger and more consistent song-writing and a more professional production and presentation are a must next time around for Whitechapel to make much of an impact in the busy ‘retro-prog’ marketplace.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10
Sebkha Chott - Nagah Mahdi Opuscrits en 48 Rouleaux
Tracklist: Boum Boum Yüla (0:35), Valdez Retro Maldito Seveso (1:43), Ruben With The Pippermint (0:25), La Complainte D'Yvette H. (1:44), Alchimie Malhabile (1:11), L'Age Du Cuivre (1:15), Furtive (0:05), Bossa 'Na Bossa (0:46), Préavis De Grève (0:25), La Procession Des Imbéciles (2:44), Un Autre Chemin Que La Violence? (2:00), Lâche Cette Cuillère!!! (0:30), La Routine Habituelle! - Les Gaugaus...Les Gaugaus...Les Gaulois!!! (1:04), Nice Trap (1:33), Café La Main Verte (1:14), Sombre Gloire (1:25), Wagadey Wagadey Wagadey Wagadey Wagadey Wagadey Woy Hey! (0:23), Pour Quelques Mollards De Plus (1:30), Hymen (2:02), Sensual Lips And Magic Tricks (2:08), Menstrual Fix And Phallic Sticks (0:55), Fils-Phoque Au Gingembre (1:18), Olé! (1:07), All Blacks (0:39), Mrs Râ Et Amon Aclaque Ont Une Fille A Tête De Chat? (0:07), Illusions (1:47), Salle D'Attente - Pasteurisation (1:20), Confrérie De L'Intox (1:58), Choc Post-Opératoire (1:12), Ferme Les Yeux, Tu Vas Tâcher Tes Lunettes! (1:09), J'Ai Ejaculé Une Boîte De Mouchoirs! (1:03), De Saint-Calais A Betlehem En Trafic (0:42), Tupperware De La Mer Morte (1:32), Agrabah (1:03), VaGoDor Deu Sahpun (1:53), L'Harmonie Est-Elle Municipale? (1:23), Méchoui (0:35), Mais Qui A Laissé Cramer Le Chameau? (1:13), Voodoo Break (0:45), N'y Va Pas, Tante Mireille! (0:29), Ode Létale (2:05), Near Death Exercise (1:57), Goat Of Rahahaaz Vs Mustach'Man (1:07), Enlève Ton Pied De Ma Chaussure, Pablo! (0:12), Soul Coït (12:50), A Peine (1:29), Ma Lamborghini Tato (1:02), Le Cirque Des Enfers - Yüla T'Informe (0:59)
The French collective known as Sebkha Chott were formed in 2000 by two students with a desire to produce original music. The concept expanded, as did the line-up, with a debut album, DeL'Existence De la Mythologie Chottienne en 7 Cycles being released in 2003. Three years later, the 48-track Nagah Mahdi... is unleashed. After typing out the track list I am rather reluctant to write a lot in this review; after playing the album, the reluctance is somewhat intensified.
The track listing may give some impression of what is included: a selection of short pieces strung together to give a rather dissonant whole. The group themselves define their music as 'Mechanik Metal Disco' and is an amalgam of just about most musical categories one can think of. Firstly, there is no question that the musicians that form the group are very, very accomplished: the sheer depth of their musical abilities and arrangements is, on reflection, quite breathtaking. However, I found that to my ears the flip from interesting and pleasing music to utter unlistenable, often in the space of a handful of seconds, was rather too much to take. In particular the death metal grunting male vocalist was pretty abysmal, but I suppose is a counterpoint to the sometime delicate and soaring female vocals. Ironically, the longest track on the album is probably the worst track, even though in itself it is rather fractured and disjointed, but the sedate pace doesn't really mix with the other 47 tracks.
If Zappa taken to the extreme and mixed with Mr Bungle, bossa nova, a smidgeon of funk and everything in-between grabs your fancy then by all means take a dive into the world of Sebkha Chott. Torn between the belief that I could be listening to a work of genius or that it is a case of Emperor's new clothes, I am ultimately drawn to the latter and admit that it is either pretentious self-indulgent toss or beyond my appreciation.
Conclusion: 3 out of 10