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2006 : VOLUME 4

REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


Proto~Kaw – The Wait Of Glory
Proto Kaw – The Wait Of Glory
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:InsideOut
Catalogue #:IOMCD 235
Year of Release:2006
Time:61:29
Info:Proto~Kaw
Info:N/A

Tracklist: Nevermore (9:15), Relics Of The Tempest (5:06), When The Rains Come (8:54), On The Eve Of The Great Decline (4:49), Physic (5:42), At Morning’s Gate (3:08), Melicus Gladiator (4:50), The Vigil (7:18), Old Number 63 (6:50), Osvaldo’s Groceries (3:15), Picture This (6:30) Bonus Track: One Fine Day (4:32)

Jeffrey Terwilliger's Review

First, a short introduction for those of you not familiar with Kerry Livgren: He is the single largest influence in progressive rock to come out of the entire Western Hemisphere in the 1970's. If this is a surprise to you, well, I'm really sorry you missed out on Kansas, and welcome to the sunlight! What was not common knowledge until recent years is that the band headed by Kerry Livgren 35 years ago, called Kansas (II), was replaced early on by members of another band - White Clover - which included singer Steve Walsh. This was the classic Kansas line-up (III) that was Livgren's vehicle for all the radio hits, as well as the stunning prog epics which of course never got airplay. Livgren's musical relationship with the legal entity Kansas was off-and-on throughout the last two decades. And when they released Somewhere To Elsewhere in 2001, it was not only a landmark reunion, but also a prelude for Livgren's back-to-the-future musical direction. One modest song from that album, The Coming Dawn, not only signalled Livgren's lyrical shift, but also contained a middle titbit that Primordial Kansas II played while they were struggling for recognition. Some old tapes from those days were collected, cleaned up and released in 2004. But since the band wasn't legally "Kansas", they were given the name Proto~Kaw.

Imagine the surprise and excitement those guys must have felt when The Man Who Invented American Symphonic Prairie Prog, who was someone they could tell their friends they knew in the old days, called them together again to re-form the band? ("Has this ever happened before? But we're in our 50's! Am I dreaming?") Livgren cooked up a big batch of material, and they played it, and released two CD's. The Wait Of Glory is the follow-up to the first one, Before Became After.

Let me tell you, folks, this is no band of old geezers. This band is a force to be reckoned with.

There is no band to compare Proto-Kaw to except, well, Kansas. But I will qualify that: Livgren's musical ideas shine through like light through a cloth - this cloth is just a different texture than the other cloth was. Lead singer Lynn Meredith can't possibly fill the shoes of one of rock history's most awesome tenors, but these days, its probably better not to. He has a herky-quirky voice that most proggers will appreciate, and fits right in. John Bolton's woodwinds not only take the parts Livgren might have given to the violin in past times, he also adds a very atmospheric flute. Dan Wright's keyboard work has a retro, yet fresh sound, highlighted especially in track 9. Jake Livgren is in there too, playing keys and guitar. Mike Patrum (drums) and Craig Kew (bass) are new members drawn from the homeboy pool in Kansas USA. They sound more conventional than Ehart and Hope, though I dare say this bassist is the most versatile and creative Livgren has recorded with judging by the solo in track 7.

Lyrically, Livgren has always focused on the mysteries of the afterlife. Tracks 1,3 and 10 continue this tradition. Now he is mixing in more apocalyptic themes as in tracks 2,4,5 and 8. While this is a modern prog trend and in fact reflects the dark urgency many people feel, not many artists can claim ownership in this area as firmly as he, considering his long history both in the genre and in matters of faith.

Martien Koolen's Review

Last night I caught Proto-Kaw live in the act in Verviers and I was impressed. However mostly by their “older” song material from their previous “come back” CD Before Became After. That album was in my top 10 of favourite CDs of the year 2004, but whether this new PK album, called The Wait Of Glory will end up in my top 10 of the year 2006 will be hard to say. This totally depends on the fact if there will be more excellent prog rock records throughout this year.

The second album of Proto~Kaw is without any doubt far jazzier and even more psychedelic than the debut, which had lots more musical power. Just as with the previous CD, the new album title relates to the band’s fateful past. The music on this album however definitely belongs to the future. The Wait Of Glory is a varied album and actually the music is a blend of prog, rock, pop, jazz, avant-garde, psychedelic moments and many jam section parts.

The CD kicks off with the amazing Nevermore, which starts with an orchestral intro and a fabulous guitar melody. Later on as the song progresses, it features a lot of strings, melodic guitar solos, organ and piano components, making Nevermore a hell of a prog rock song. This song is furthermore stacked with many awesome melodies and sometimes very emotional vocals by Lynn Meredith. A perfect start for a fantastic album?

Unfortunately the very high musical level of the opening song is not continued throughout the rest of this CD, as lots of other tracks are “filled” with too many flute and saxophone passages, which are not really to my liking. Especially On The Eve Of The Great Decline is a total and sheer disappointment because of the many flute, saxophone and tiresome acoustic guitar passages. Physic swings, but is too jazzy and it seldom rocks and most of the tracks seldom do. The album ends with the second highlight Picture This, which is a Kansas-like prog rock track of the highest calibre. Why not more songs like this one, or the brilliant opener? Still, The Wait For Glory is a great album to listen to and also to enjoy, but I definitely prefer Before Became After.

The Wait Of Glory is also available as a special edition, including the bonus track One Fine Day, plus a bonus DVD.

Conclusions:

JEFFREY TERWILLIGER - 8.5 out of 10
MARTIEN KOOLEN - 8 out of 10



Violent Silence - Kinetic
Violent Silence - Kinetic
Country of Origin:Sweden
Format:CD
Record Label:Progress Records
Catalogue #:PRCD018
Year of Release:2005
Time:50:21
Info:Violent Silence
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Morning Star (2:16), Kinetic (7:13), Torrential Rains (6:20), Night Lights (1:45), Sky Burial (8:12), Subzero (4:01), Quiet Stalker (18:01), Homesick (2:24)

How would you feel if you saw that the CD you hold in your hands is labelled as progressive rock, when there is no guitar? Personally I was preoccupied. Either I'll have something imitating ELP or - nightmare - something like Artension's only album I ever heard (Into the Eye Of The Storm). Taking a look then at the "literature", one can find very good critiques for Kinetic, as well as for their debut Violent Silence (see here for DPRP's review).

Violent Silence consists of five musicians, founders Hannes Ljunghall (keyboards) and Johan Hedman (drums), Phillip Bastin (bass), Bruno Edling (vocals) and - where the guitarist should enter the stage in a Hawaiian shirt open to the waist! - a second keyboardist, Bjorn Westen. Personally I identify three possible dangers: (a) the sound is not full, and the guitar is really missing, (b) the music trying to fill up the vacuum, is tiring and the keyboards get on your nerves, and (c) it sounds like a boring neo-prog clone of early Clive Nolan works - with the guitar removed to make a difference.

Well, to start the review: none of the above is true. The band is able to bridge symphonic art rock with electronica (due to the choice of sounds produced by the keys). The keyboards are able to actually replace the guitar at some points and even take over the rhythm section from the bass. What we actually have is an amazing duel between keyboards and drums producing complex arrangements. I have to admit I am quite impressed by the drumming, which is really solid, powerful and smart all over the album -although maybe just a bit too much in the front in a couple of instances. Influences are Yes, UK, Genesis, and nowhere material is "kindly borrowed" and "gracefully reproduced" - the band has a sound of its own.

The only time they seem to be trying to play technical and gets a bit tiring is in the track Torrential Rains, which for me is the weakest track, although not bad anyway. Kinetic makes a really huge contrast with the ambient opening track, since the keyboards are really harsh and aggressive and the rhythm is really fast. Still the track has various themes and it's a great kick off, showing how two lead keyboards can replace two lead guitars! The energy and speed of this song might be a bit misleading since there are lots of pop influence too, mainly in Subzero, a mid-tempo mellow track with a cute catchy refrain, and maybe a Dream Theater-like ambience in it.

Sky Burial is another example of pop-oriented song writing and is a ballad with very balanced vocals and amazingly mellow sounds (close to New Age in the beginning) produced by the keyboards. The bass is much more present here than elsewhere before in the album and I can say that this is my favourite track - for the moment - since an obvious contender is the more challenging 18 minute long Quit Stalker, which I am appreciating more and more with every listen. The track starts with samples and I just love this nonchalant singing and wah-wah keyboards (I said wah-wah keyboards, NOT guitar!), somewhere reminiscent of Dream Theater and Tiles. It slowly builds up though with a good pompous bass-work to a keyboard improvisation, NOT to endless cumbersome solos, but nice tunes full of imagination and creativity that never get you fed up. The legacy of Genesis and Yes is quite evident at this point... Ordered chaos in the tunes, like someone opened the Gates Of Delirium and let you in! Plus, I confess that were I not to know a prior the absence of the guitar, I would have been fooled for the first couple of times giving it a listen (while cooking)! Really, this is definitely among the best prog moments of the year. The clever, sweet, non-melodramatic ending just concludes a great track, where once again I did not miss any guitar! The album closes with the ambient but sentimental Homesick, a good choice.

The technical capabilities of these guys are great, and I am particularly impressed by the inventive drumming and the scope of the keyboards. The voice of Bruno Edling is good and fits to the tracks but I have to confess that I find it a bit flat, although the vocal lines are very well worked on and that compensates.

Back to the beginning now: can a band playing rock without any guitar be a kind of a rising star in the Swedish (and not only) prog scene?

Hell, YES!

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

CHRISTOS AMPATZIS



Various Artists – Close Encounters Of Electronic Music
Various Artists – Close Encounters Of Electronic Music
Country of Origin:France
Format:CD
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:DR 8428.AR
Year of Release:2005
Time:62:27
Info:Musea Info
Samples:N/A

Tracklist: Awen - Witche’s Trance (10:29), Nightbirds - System Merge Part 1 (10:25), B. Loreau - La Dixieme Dune (10:01), O. Briand - Libourne Dream’s (10:12), C. Richet - Live At Libourne ~ The First Step (10:41), J. C. Allier - {i} Fairway {ii} Seabirds (10:26)

On 7th and 8th August 2004, in Libourne, six French synth acts gathered to present, over the course of two nights, a ninety plus minute set each of live electronic music. This smartly conceived and executed CD presents a ten minute extract from each performance, making for an enjoyable compilation of contemporary synth music and an ideal way of acquainting oneself with the featured artists.

My previous experience of the contributing artists is limited to Christian Richet (read my review of Waves here ) and I wasn’t particularly relishing the prospect of a rematch. Surprisingly, his contribution is very enjoyable and stands out as the most unusual and experimental piece, utilising abrasive textures and odd voicings in an adventurous, semi-industrial workout.

Taking the others in order of appearance, Awen gets things off to a strong start with a heavily sequencer driven piece, with noodling, melodic synth leads. This recalls recent work by Radio Massacre International, and shows clear inspiration from Tangerine Dream. If you like their Sorcerer soundtrack album, you’ll love this.

Nightbirds are the only duo here, but they sound much like the other acts, the presence of a second player failing to add much of significance to the overall sound. The piece starts off melodically, with a bouncing synth pattern growing in stature as the piece progresses. In the latter stages, the melody drops away for a more freeform, spacey excursion.

Bertrand Loreau is up next, and he neatly reverses the pattern established by Nightbirds, quickly moving on from a spacey intro to a mellow, melodic vibe, largely featuring nicely evolving melodies, employing orchestral string effects as a backing to meandering synth solos. This is nicely done, and has a Vangelis vibe.

Olivier Briand favours a slightly more modern approach, with bright digital synth tones. His rhythmic yet melodic style, with a touch of experimentation, blending in various effects and found sounds, recalls Jean Michel Jarre. This is a successful piece of music, but I do prefer the more cosmic stylings of Awen.

I’ve already mentioned Christian Richet’s track, so I will skip to the concluding piece from Jean-Christopher Allier. Although a few of the preceding tracks change course around the halfway mark, Allier is the only one who effectively plays two short but linked pieces. They are both tuneful and melodic, but whilst pleasant enough, they seem a tad too sweet and simplistic to really satisfy. He seems to take inspiration from the late period Tangerine Dream, when they were heavily into providing inoffensive soundtracks and commercial Muzak-y tunes. Its nice enough, but not really my cup of tea.

The sound recording is great throughout, and musically the quality is remarkably consistent, only dropping slightly towards the end. Each synthesist (and Duo) brings his own subtle personal touch to a genre largely based on Jean-Michel Jarre / 80s Tangerine Dream, with the occasional nod to Vangelis, and the slightest hint of Tim Blake.

Although the acts do have their own personalities, (and with the possible exception of Richet) I wouldn’t like to have to tell them apart in a darkened room. Far from being a problem, this actually brings a unity and smoothly flowing atmosphere, making for a pleasant hour of listening. This is a great late night, headphones experience, recommended as a tasty introduction to the world of the contemporary French synthesist.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

DAVE SISSONS



Maldoror - L’Arbre-Cimetière
Maldoror - L’Arbre-Cimetière
Country of Origin:France
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:MACD104
Year of Release:2005
Time:65:13
Info:Maldoror
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Acte I: Les Pantins De La Vérité: L'Arbre Cimetière - Part 1 (2:29), Tristes Cités (4:02), A La Recherche Du Passé (3:14), Bal Des Pendus (5:18), La Convocation (2:39), L'Ouverture Du Procès (6:42), Acte II: Comparutions: Le Pouvoir Des Mots (7:42), Les Nouveaux Mondes (7:44), Simples Physiciens (8:29), Ainsi Soit-Elle (5:26), Acte III: Les Cendres De La Mémoire: La Sentence (4:50), L'Arbre Cimetière - Part 2 (6:32)

French band Maladoror have a long history dating back some 11 years during which time their performances mixed cover versions with a few original compositions. Eventually, ten years into their existence, they got down to recording their own album, a concept album by the title of L'Arbre Cimetière (The Tree Cemetery). The group comprises four members: Christophe Bellieres (vocals, guitars and keyboards), Stéphane Descamp (bass and backing vocals), Jean-Christophe Rouanet (guitars and backing vocals) and Silvain Goillot (drums).

Any fans of Rush, as Maldoror are, will recognise the concept: a hero (Iken), an oppressive regime (The Masters of Power) and a forbidden book (containing "overwhelming proof of the existence of a past that had been erased by centuries of dictatorship") - 2112 anyone? Still, they won't be the first, or last, band to be influenced by what has gone before and the music is dramatically different to the Canadian trio. Bellieres, unsurprisingly, sings exclusively in his native language, and does an admirable job given that French doesn't always sound that convincing in the rock idiom. Musically the band have lots of ideas and have packed a lot into the 63-minute running time of the album. There is a natural flow and rhythm as the story progresses mixing hard rock with more acoustic sensibilities, often within the same song - Le Pouvoir Des Mots (The Strength of Words) is a good example, and also one of the highlights of the album. There are also some unusual aspects mixed in, like the vaguely techno intro to Ainsi Soit-Elle (Thus, Be She) with the words of the narrator spoken backwards (the group even printed the words backwards in the booklet!).

The musicianship is of a high standard throughout and the songs are arranged in a stylish manner. The string synths and acoustic guitar of Simples Physiciens combining particularly effectively, while the keyboards and electric guitar of La Convocation (The Summoning) do impart an ominous and threatening mood. However, overall the album didn't draw me in or leave me with the impression that I really wanted to play the album again in a hurry. It is hard to explain why that is, maybe not being a French speaker hindered my understanding of the concept (although not speaking other languages hasn't hindered appreciation of other songs not sung in English). Perhaps it is the fact that the French language never felt comfortable to my ears, who knows. There is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with this album; there are some great moments of music and a general search of the internet (or a browse through the very impressive electronic press kit that accompanied the CD) throws up some very favourable reviews. Perhaps, with time, I'll come to have a greater appreciation of the album. However, never wanting to stand in the way of the progress of a new and obviously talented band, I urge you to check out the band's website to listen for yourselves and discover what it is I'm missing!

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



ARZ - Serai
ARZ - Serai
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:ARZ0001
Year of Release:2005
Time:54:19
Info:ARZ
Samples:CDBaby
Sample Page
Tracklist: Jjinn (4:12), The Strange Experiment Of Dr. Trent (11:35), Spindleshank (2:45), Serai (7:14), Trance (4:00), Crimson Passage (5:22), Dandelion Wine (4:09), Fortress/Siege (5:14), Hexen (2:46), Stomp (2:33), Clovus (4:21)


ARZ - The Magi
ARZ - The Magi
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:ARZ0002
Year of Release:2005
Time:56:39
Info:ARZ
Samples:CDBaby
Sample Page
Tracklist: Futureman (6:23), Ambergris And Indigo (4:45), Ur (15:05), The Magi (24:05), Tea with Me (6:19)

ARZ is the name for the collected work of Steven Adams, an American guitarist who has released this impressive pair of solo albums, armed only with his guitars and a Korg 01/W Music Workstation - producing all the music himself. Although originally envisioned and written as a band project, including vocals, it soon turned into a solo concept and, fair dues, the presence of other musicians is not missed. Adams handles everything perfectly well by himself, indeed, with the possible exception of the electronic drum sound, the listener would be hard pushed not to think it was not a pair of guitarists, bassist and drummer actually playing on the record. Steve could be considered a one-man Djam Karet, there being many similarities between the two artists.

The music itself is a splendid mixture in a myriad of styles and incorporating influences from around the globe. Although sometimes promotional blurb has to be taken with a pinch of salt, the ARZ website does sum things up quite nicely (and accurately!):

"This music embraces the concepts of progressive rock — far reaching in harmonic progressions and structure; expansive, limitless instrumentation, combining metal, classical, and world music".

This is exemplified in opening cut Jjinn which effortlessly blends an Eastern acoustic vibe with a heavier western rock sound. A similar style is adopted in Trance, although in a more mellow manner. The underlying ferocious acoustic guitar is worthy of comparison to Al Di Meola in his prime.

For fans of solo acoustic guitar, two tracks, Spindleshank and Dandelion Wine offer some rich fingerstyle playing that fans of the acoustic Steve Howe will appreciate. Similarly, the country-flavoured Stomp also has overtones of the Yes guitarist with the acoustic guitar being accompanied by bass and drums. The remaining tracks are more of a mixture, often blending electric and acoustic instruments to great effect. This is particularly evident on Hexen which maintains a nice balance of acoustic and electric instrumentation throughout. However, it is the title track, Serai where it all comes together: the ethnic influences, blistering electric passages, fast-passed acoustic interludes and a general sense of discordance and almost abandon, all within a rigorously tight arrangement!

For me, one of the most interesting tracks is The Strange Experiment Of Dr. Trent. It twists and turns blending Hackettonian and Fripperian styles to form a soundtrack to a story told only by the music. Powerful stuff indeed! Fortunately, Dr Trent is the first part of a song cycle that continues on two tracks on the second ARZ CD The Magi. From the titles of these two pieces we get a bit closer to the idea behind the underlying musical story. Ur was an ancient Sumerian city on the banks of the Euphrates river while The Magi were the Sumerian priests who, it has been suggested, had the responsibility on maintaining the Sumerian culture and identity. Both of these songs follow on superbly from Dr Trent, providing a rich blend of atmospheric, stimulating and evocative music. Given that the combined playing time of these two pieces is nearly forty minutes, Adams manages to keep the listener enthralled and engaged, spinning off on weird tangents and throwing in instruments like mandolin and banjo to add to the variety. The sheer profundity of musical ideas makes each listen anew experience, there is so much to hear, to discover and to assimilate that repeated playings are essential.

As if that wasn't enough there are three other tracks on the CD worthy of attention. Futureman is once again an exquisite blend of electric and acoustic guitar work that rocks hard; Ambergris & Indigo is a more reflective piece while the album is rounded off with Tea With Me, with harmonising electric guitars, plenty of keyboards (piano in particular), various synth string effects and a rousing electric solo at the end that concludes proceedings nicely.

These two albums should really be considered as a pair as they complement each other well. Perhaps it was thought that the idea of a double album of instrumental guitar based progressive rock lasting for almost two hours would put some people off. That should not be the case as Steve Adams's music has depth is a real delight. I have no hesitation in recommending both of these albums to my fellow progressive music fans.

Conclusion: Both albums 9 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Project Z - Lincoln Memorial
Project Z - Lincoln Memorial
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:AbstractLogix
Catalogue #:20645
Year of Release:2005
Time:73:35
Info:AbstractLogix
Info
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Departure (4:06), Miso Soup (6:22), Stale Salt Lugs (6:42), Freener Frolic (6:38), You Do (8:04), Sister Barbie (5:06), Slaif (5:11), Sad Sack (4:04), 'Ol Bugaboo (5:12), Zamb Fear (4:00), Microburst (7:20), Lincoln Memorial (5:26), Arrival (5:18)

In the world of progressive rock there are fuzzy borders. Not every fan agrees on what defines Prog, but everyone agrees on a few central core examples like Genesis and Spock's Beard. A lot of prog fans also like instrumental jazz fusion when it has structured themes. Vital Tech Tones or Uncle Moe's Space Ranch, as rather far-flung examples, could be relatives of the genre, with compositions as vehicles for solo improvisation. It is a bit of a stretch to call freeform improvisation with no structure Progressive Rock. Only a few freeform studio jams enter my mind in the prog world, such as Three Minute Warning (Liquid Tension Experiment) and Too Late For Tomatos (The Flower Kings). These pieces are treated as bonus tracks following regular structured songs. In my opinion they are also unexcelled - the most creative spontaneous jams, deserving a place on their respective discs by virtue of sheer brilliance alone.

To make Lincoln Memorial, guitarist Jimmy Herring brought four other guys into a studio in Georgia USA, rolled the tape, and they just started playing. A few hours of jamming was edited down to CD size and released as Project Z's second album. Jeff Sipe (drums) and Ricky Keller (bass) formed a competent and daring rhythm section. Sipe has a keen sense of dynamics, often setting a new rhythm when the last one is starting to get old. Keller provided the bottom groove, doing some decent walks from time to time. He also was able and willing to climb up the fretboard and surf along with the lead instruments. Alto sax player Greg Osby shared the task of 'serving the ball' with Herring, and their musical lobs were usually returned and reflected by keysman Jason Crosby.

All of these guys are good players, with no one really dominating the group. The sounds are no-nonsense, traditional tools - no wild bowed bass harmonics, EWI's, or searing synth patches here. Herring's guitar style ranges from sort-of Holdsworth to sort-of Stern, while Osby sticks mostly to piano and organ. The strength and aim of this group is a very democratic send-and-receive, open ended communication through music. If you have to put a label on it, I would say jazz rather than prog rock.

Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman are among the influences cited by Herring, and if you are wild about them this CD will appeal to you. For the progressive rock fan - if you think the best track The Flower Kings ever recorded was Christiantinople, then this could be the doorway into a whole new musical realm for you.

This may be brilliant, but it will take a die hard improvisational jazz fan to judge.

Conclusion: Unrated

JEFFREY TERWILLIGER



Nihil Project - Samhain
Nihil Project - Samhain
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:AC002
Year of Release:2005
Time:45:25
Info:Nihil Project
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Astrodome Siddhi [Intro] (3:58), Samhain (5:32), Beauty Is Difficult (5:39), Imbolc (3:42), Ragnaro©k (4:34), And The Angels Went In Two By Two (4:40), Radha(r) (4:35), Be Here Now (8:55), Bonus track [untitled] (3:45)

Well, this CD is either hip, trendy genius, and I don’t have the intellect and aesthetic acumen to know it, or it’s dumbness lacquered with a poseur sheen: You be the judge.

Nihil Project is an Italian band spearheaded by the creative team of Antonello Cresti and Andrea Gianessi. Mr. Cresti writes lyrics, sings, and plays percussion, keyboards, something called a “zurna,” and samples. (Is it correct to say that someone “plays” samples?” “Controls” samples? Simply “samples,” in verb form? I don’t really know…) Mr. Gianessi plays the guitar (acoustic and electric) and sings, and also “plays” the laptop, samples, loops, and “theta waves” (or is it “waves”? I don’t really know…) Anyway and obviously, there’s a high amount of electronic fidgetry on Samhain, which is, I believe, Nihil Project’s debut recording. And there’s a cast of thousands lending a hand to Mssrs. Cresti and Gianessi…well, not thousands, but twenty plus, including members of other (prominent?) Italian bands and showcasing particular and sundry talent on e-bow bass, trumpet, something called a “santour,” the hurdy gurdy, fretless bass, “soundscapes,” “synthetic string quartet,” marimba, clarinet, “programming,” “laptop drone,” flugelhorn, Indian harmonium, and even a good ol’-fashioned piano! There’s a lot happening on Samhain…well, it seems like a lot, but is it really?

The press release tells me that I should expect “Third Ear Band meets the Beatles!” Well, I have no fucking clue what the Third Ear Band is, I’ll admit, but I also have no fucking clue where the influence of The Fab Four exists on Samhain. I didn’t really hear it, except for the minor employment of an Asian motif and a willingness (a la George Harrison on, say, It’s All Too Much or Only A Northern Song) to call annoying noise “music”. (And that is a less-than-significant borrowing from The Beatles’ legacy, to be certain.) Apparently, the album has something to do with Druidic Yoga, the “close connections between Taoism and Celtic cosmic philosophy,” “european pagan roots,” India, the British Isles, the Middle Ages, postmodernism, “pop-psyche, cosmic folk, bardic songs, avant-garde”. It’s supposed to be a “mind-blowing musical opera”. But is it really? Or is it shite, of the highest order? After all, I’m not sure what relationship there is between nihilism and an ancient Celtic harvest festival…but what do I know?

Let me start by saying what is enjoyable about Samhain.

Sometimes, the music reminds me slightly of old-school, Syd-tinged Pink Floyd (e.g., Astrodome Siddhi): good ‘n’ acidy with a bunch of spacey effects and sonic contortions. Of course, it’s REALLY old school by now, and trite, but it’s not the least cool thing on the CD.

Sometimes the music offers an infectious little dance/electronica groove (e.g., the title track and And the Angels Went In Two By Two). You get a neat half-disco, half-mystic bounce at times that works, sort of a hornier Kid A. I did appreciate the effect of orchestral instrumentation over the samples and rave beats, especially when the clarinet and flugelhorn were utilized. In fact, the variety of instrumentation of this album is its true hallmark although Samhain leans dangerously over the fence of hodgepodge blowing, plucking, tapping, and computer output. And finally, let me emphasize that the production is keen: I heard everything very clearly and the separation between instruments was perfectly managed.

Now, what did I dislike about Samhain?

1. There’s far too much cacophony for my taste: too much overlap of sound and too much abrupt change without establishing a context.
2. The neglect and absence of melody. (Yes, I realize this is a by-product of swaggering, cynical, post-modern disenchantment, with its flouting of tradition and conventional art forms, but it sucks and that’s all: if even Mingus and Coltrane could sometimes honour the moving passion of a strong melodic passage, then so too can every other musician in the cosmos Druid, Celt, Yogin, Lao Tzu, or otherwise.)
3. I cannot tolerate the spoken word readings at all. Besides the fact that I hated the shifts from Italian to English and back again (OK, that’s a personal preference, but I still hated them), I just thought that the inclusion of quotations from the works of Giordano Bruno, Aleister Crowley, Charles Baudelaire, and Rumi was far, far more affected and pompous than I can stand…and I admire and have read three of the four authors. It’s pure name dropping, when you get right down to it.
4. The singing (when there is any) is monotone and very bland and often ruins the song’s ambience or groove.
5. The songs are one-dimensional with little variation on the themes, motifs, and ideas. I would’ve liked to have heard an occasional bridge or chorus to break up the swelling sameness on these tracks.

Well, I’ll stop: You get the drift. There’s PLENTY here to develop and maybe Nihil Project will find a producer to mould the band and help shape it into something a bit more palatable. Or, not more palatable, I guess, maybe more capable of delivering from the heart instead of the head (or the pages of Derrida, Nietzsche, and the rest of that pack of poison snakes). I’ll give this a 3. It’s not the worst music I’ve ever heard, but it’s predominantly fake, soulless, contrived, imitative, and pretentious. I’ll never give this another spin: What else do I say?

Conclusion: 3 out of 10

JOHN J SHANNON




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