REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:
Vanden Plas - Christ 0
|Country of Origin:||Germany|
|Catalogue #:||IOMCD 239|
SPV 085-48792 CD
|Year of Release:||2006|
Tracklist: Christ 0 (5:37), Postcard To God (6:19), Wish You Were Here (9:16), Silently (8:33), Shadow I Am (5:30), Fireroses Dance (6:05), Somewhere Alone In The Dark (5:32), January Sun (10:07), Lost In Silence (4:21), Gethsemane [Bonus Track](6:18)
Christopher Frick's Review
Vanden Plas, after a four-year break since the release of Beyond Daylight, have returned with Christ.0, arguably the best album of their career and one of the best albums of 2006 (it may be early in the year to be saying that, but I'll say it confidently anyway). For anyone unfamiliar with this phenomenal band, Vanden Plas combines a heavy and intense backbone (brothers Stephan and Andreas Lill on guitar and drums respectively, and Torsten Reichert on bass) with the accented and unique voice of Andy Kuntz and the light, airy keys of Gunter Werno. While comparisons can be drawn to elements of other progressive metal bands, Vanden Plas has crafted a sound all their own. Each album offers something unique and slightly different, but Vanden Plas is instantly recognizable to their fans.
For those familiar with Vanden Plas, Christ.0 is equal parts The God Thing and Andy's solo project Abydos. This album is best listened to as a whole, as the songs stand decently on their own but work best as pieces of a larger puzzle (for instance, the recurring theme in Postcard To God and Fireroses Dance is lost if one or the other song is singled out). Christ.0 is a concept album based on The Count Of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, a book I have not had the pleasure of reading in its entirety but have heard is among the greatest books ever written. The first few hundred pages of the book certainly support this argument, if I had had time to finish it I would comment more on the album's following of the storyline. As it is, all I can say is the album is composed with all the beauty, eloquence, and emotion the story was written with.
As mentioned above, this album blends the best elements of The God Thing and Abydos (especially the immense, bombastic orchestrations of the latter) with the refined sound and heavier approach of Beyond Daylight. Stephan's driving guitars propel this album forward, balanced by Gunter's lofty keys and supported by Andreas and Torsten's rock-solid rhythms. The real highlight, however, is Andy's melodic and powerful voice. While some find his accent distracting, or even annoying, it is the single element that got me hooked on Vanden Plas over five years ago (and subsequently made Abydos my favourite album ever). Something about Andy's voice simply carries more emotion than the "typical" progressive metal voice.
Although Christ.0 is best appreciated from beginning to end, there are certainly memorable moments that stick out. The opening track contains some of the catchiest moments on the album, which is appropriate, especially for a concept album. Again, I wish I had been able to read more of the book in time to do this review, but from what I have read this song makes several references to the story's main themes. The opening measures of Wish You Were Here, with their haunting keys, are another highlight, if admittedly brief. Silently uses some of the neatest harmonies on the album, and January Sun begs comparisons to Beyond Daylight (the song) and all its musical and emotional shifts. The requisite ballad, Fireroses Dance, brings the most beautiful six minutes of the album. The bonus track, Gethsemane, recalls the Far Off Grace album, and actually serves as a nice addition without seeming terribly out of place.
My personal love of this band aside, this progressive metal album is easily among the best (if not THE best) to come out so far this year. The use of symphonic elements, standard progmetal fare, and touches of older progressive rock (the band cites Kansas as an influence, and it shows) make this album shine, and the Monte Cristo theme is handled with energy and enthusiasm. Fans of the band, be sure to pick this up, it's Vanden Plas' best effort yet. Fans of the genre who are unfamiliar with Vanden Plas, if you want to acquaint yourself with the band this is the place to start. There's even enough orchestration to interest most symphomaniacs. If you're not sure about Andy's voice, check out the sound samples on the band's web site. Pick up a copy of Christ.0, perchance pick up a copy of The Count Of Monte Cristo, and get ready for a VERY intense experience.
Andy Read's Review
What a tremendous start of the year it has been. New albums from the likes of Queensrÿche, Evergrey, Andromeda and Green Carnation would have been enough for most fans of heavy progressive music. Add to that, releases from the likes of Platitude, Pyramaze, Red Circuit, Silent Voices and Age Of Reason and you certainly can’t complain about a lack of choice! Now, you can add to that list, the new offering from Vanden Plas. While the latest offering from Evergrey won my respect for trying something a little different, Christ 0 gets the plaudits for playing safe, but very, very sure.
If, like me, you are highly familiar with the band’s back catalogue, then listening to any of the nine tracks on offer, you will constantly hear riffs, melodies and vocal refrains that sound uncannily familiar. That’s not to say Christ 0 is just a rehash of old ideas and, overall, this is just about the heaviest, darkest and most symphonic effort from the band. But I think its fair to point out, that across the 70-odd minutes of music here, there is very little that even the most imaginative writer could describe as ‘new’. But as I said, Christ 0 will win acclaim for doing what the band does best – and in many cases, even better than they’ve ever done it before. And when you can write songs as comprehensively addictive as these, where’s the need to start reinventing the wheel?
Long regarded as Germany’s best and most important ProgMetal band, Christ 0 sees Vanden Plas at their creative peak. There’s a clear dramatic element added to the collection of songs this time around, clearly inspired by singer Andy Kuntz’s
theatre work. There’s also a more noticeable down-tuned guitar, and the dynamics are given an extra level with the use of orchestration and a 40-piece classical choir in a few songs.
There are just so many great hooks, great riffs and great atmospheres, that it really is hard to pick out highlights – but I’ll have a go. The opener immediately shows you what to expect. With a great central melody line, built on a lovely, weighty riff, the title track really is one of the heaviest songs the band has written. Postcard To God is a mid-paced anthemic song, but one that speeds up the intensity for the instrumental section. The darkly progressive Wish You Were Here is currently my favourite, thanks to its hook-to-die-for. Although Somewhere Alone In The Dark provides good competition for the same reasons. Clocking in at over 10-minutes, January Sun is where the band really opens out its sound. Less intense and very progressive, in a proggy-sorta-way – it is easily the most ambitious track on offer and works a treat.
There are a couple of softer songs. Fireroses Dance mixes piano and orchestra, before getting a bit nastier towards the end. However the short closing ballad Lost In Silence is the only track that comes close to being a filler.
There is also a bonus track, Gethsemane from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, is given a metallic makeover, whilst allowing enough of the original to shine through.
So, if you were looking for Vanden Plas to offer something fresh, then you may find this a disappointment. And if you’ve not previously gone for this band, then there’s nothing here to change your mind. But if, like me, you’re an absolute sucker for everything Andy Kuntz and Co has done to date, or if you generally enjoy well-crafted, riff-based, heavy progressive metal, then this is an
absolutely essential purchase.
CHRISTOPHER D FRICK - 9 out of 10
ANDY READ - 8.5 out of 10
IZZ – My River Flows
|Country of Origin:||France|
|Record Label:||Just For Kicks|
|Year of Release:||2006|
Tracklist: My River Flows (5:28), Late Night Salvation (12:16), Rose Coloured Lenses (3:40), Deception (7:17), Crossfire (8:33), Anything I Can Dream (3:22), Abby's Song (3:48), Deafening Silence [i. Realization, ii. Lesson From The Heart, iii. Deafening Silence, iv. Passage Of Life, v. Sanctuary, vi. Illumination] (21:36)
There are many new bands out there in the prog rock scene who try to recreate the spirit of the good old Seventies. I for one always thought that IZZ isn’t simply one of them. Yes, they may have lent some aspects of that retro sound but IZZ is a truly special case here. The term “recreating” doesn’t really cover their potential of the band, so “reinventing” could be a better one instead. A great compliment here as you might understand.
I didn’t have the chance to get my hands on their first full length album
Sliver Of A Sun, but their 2002 release I Move simply blew me away. Their modern and brave approach to the prog music back then was like a dream coming true and that album simply was one of the milestone records for the 21st century. The use of samples, e-drums and their combination of the classic prog with some aspects of modern rock and folk rock at times was a real feast for any open minded prog rock fan. The following record Ampersand was something between an EP and a full length album and contained 7 new songs as well as live versions of some of their older material. Nothing seemed wrong at that point, and the way to the top was open and clear for them.
And now, we finally have the new record. While listening to the record, the first thing that strikes is that the female vocals are much more prominent than on their previous recordings. Also, the superb production quality is another plus for the album.
Let’s look at the tracks:
The album kicks off with the amazing straight ahead rocker My River Flows in the best Echolyn manner. Some references to the late Spock’s Beard can also be made. The fast paced second half of the song and the drumming extravaganza containing two drums is simply breathtaking. Yes, two acoustic drums. It should be noted that many songs on this album contain two
drum sets. Speaking of drums, the next song is Late Night Salvation, a song which contains a drum solo section. Well, it’s been quite a while since I last heard a drum solo on a studio album. Anyway, the song begins with a Dream Theater sounding fierce guitar riff and then it builds up to be more like a Glass Hammer song with all those Yes influenced keyboards and vocal harmonies and stuff. Clearly one of the highlights of the album... Rose Colored Lenses is a short, melodic light-prog song which reminds me of The Beatles. The following song Deception begins in a more Supertrampy feel, but right in the middle it gets more silent with female vocals accompanied by keyboards and slowly reaches a climax which is a little reminiscent of that legendary crescendo in the middle of Camel’s Lady Fantasy. Another beautiful song…
Then comes Crossfire, a song once again reminiscent of Glass Hammer and Echolyn. Its great melodies are also of note. The following track Anything I Can Dream is more like a cross between Beatles and Echolyn, while its sweet refrain gives you some kind of a country feel. But the next one Abby’s Song is a straight forward folky tune, which unfortunately is completely useless. Anyway, the following song makes up for it. The epic track of the album is called Deafening Silence, and is one hell of a majestic effort. The diverse, dynamic, melodic and well arranged structure of this song will probably blow you away. Like many epic songs it sometimes lacks of coherence, but it’s not disturbing at all.
My River Flows is really a tough situation for a reviewer since it is simply a very good effort. The downside is that it’s somewhat more “conservative” than their previous albums. While the album still contains amazing moments and really creative arrangements, it is impossible to escape from the feeling that it is hiding behind the scene’s bigger brothers such as Glass Hammer and Echolyn. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing but considering the fact that IZZ has nothing short of those names mentioned, it somehow makes me wonder why. There are many bands out there who can clone the names mentioned, but IZZ simply has the potential to become a legend in the American prog scene. Why not going the more liberal path they once paved with such great performance and become the next best thing in the scene, but going the easier way instead? It is a mystery for me, but I can’t be unfair to this album. It’s simply a great record which once again proves, that no matter what they do, they are great at it. Their previous records were for the more open-minded proggers, but My River Flows may also be appealing for the retro-purists. But I
still wonder why they do not use this great potential to reinvent the prog sound like they did with their previous offerings. Yes, it’s a mystery…
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Cast - Mosaïque
|Country of Origin:||Mexico|
|Record Label:||Musea Records|
|Catalogue #:||FGBG 4647.AR|
|Year of Release:||2006|
Disc 1: Azteca Imperial (8:49), Signs Of Love (11:03), Suenos Collectivos (10:02), Jupiter (7:49), Cruces En El Mar (3:32), Hay Un Lugar (7:15), Princesa Celestial (3:55), Flaupepe (0:18)
Disc 2: Zona De Ilusiones (13:05), Niños De Cristal (5:18), Niños De Cristal II (4:23), Cuerda Floja (8:23), Flapepo (3:00), Adapted For Your Eyes (5:48), Nueva Luz (8:39), Ara Imp (1:13)
Amazingly Mosaïque is the nineteenth Cast album to be released since 1994, although admittedly the total does include live albums and collections of songs written and recorded in the first 16 years of their existence before they hit on the novel idea of actually selling their music! This latest album is a mixture of previously unreleased older material mixed in with the latest compositions by this interesting and varied musical collective. Never having been troubled by a constant line-up, keyboard player and main composer Alfonso Vidales remains the only musician to have been involved throughout the 28-year history of the band with an ever increasing number of other players coming and going over that period (there is an interesting and informative graphic demonstrating the flexible nature of the band on the group's homepage. For the record the five other current members of Cast are Pepe Torres (flute, saxophone, clarinet), Kiko King (drums and percussion), Flavio Miranda (bass), Lupita Acuña (vocals and backing vocals) and newest member Claudio Cordero (guitar).
I have always found Cast to one of those bands where the mood of the listener plays a big part in the perception of the music. Wrong mood and things appear awkward, right mood and everything flows beautifully. However, with Mosaïque, things seemed to gel from the start. The healthy and diverse mixture spread over 100+ minutes of music provides the listener with everything from brief solo instrumentals to extended progressive workouts. The first four tracks on Disc One are firmly in the latter vein. Azteca Imperial opens proceedings with a tribal drumbeat soon eclipsed by the band in full flight dishing out a very impressive and dramatic instrumental piece with keyboards and guitar prominent throughout. Signs Of Love, one of two songs sung in English, stems from 1995 and the recording sessions for the Endless Signs album while Suenos Collectivos brings us up to date with a Spanish sung song from recent times. Comparatively, these two songs demonstrate the advances the band have made. Although Signs Of Love is by no means a bad song, the more adventurous composition of the latter gives it the edge, particularly as the Annie Haslam-esque vocalisation of Lupita Acuña add a lot and the male lead vocals of Dino Brassea are more to my taste. Jupiter is a bit of an oddity, a lazy, meandering clarinet opens over what like a collection of teacups being stirred. Flute takes over from clarinet driving the melody before clarinet and saxophone drive the music through an adventurous journey of twists and turns.
Cruces En El Mar, dedicated to the victims of the December 2004 tsunami, is an emotional duet that segues neatly into the plaintive yet optimistic Hay Un Lugar with its vaguely medieval structure and recorders never sounding better. Princesa Celestial dates to 1990 and is in a much more poppier vein, so much so that it sounds like a totally different band - good song though! The brief Flaupepe is exactly as the title suggests, Pepe Torres and a flute! Side two opens strongly with instrumental Zona De Ilusiones with its delightful piano and flute introduction followed by an impressive all-round performance from the rest of the band, it would not be too far off the mark to suggest that elements of this piece bear vague resemblance to Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Niños De Cristal takes a while to get going and is marred slightly by a too predictable rhythmic structure which doesn't really take the song anywhere. Fortunately things pick up a bit on Niños De Cristal II which, although not the most adventurous of compositions, lets fly with riffs aplenty and an almost constantly soloing flute. Cuerda Floja is from "the era when Cast entered into Cool Jazz" with this piece being one of the most "representative interpretations". Jolly, jazzy and jaunty although not too heavy on the jazz to alienate those who have no time for this particular type of music.
Flapepo is another medieval-type instrumental so more recorders combined with a great organ sound - works really well as a piece and I'd love to hear something like this developed into a whole suite of related instrumentals. Second English song, Adapted To Your Eyes, follows and once again stems from circa 1994. For some reason this song reminds me of Kowtow period Pendragon. Another couple of instrumentals draw the album to a close. Nueva Luz is the most bombastic the band get on the album and will be a treat for anyone who like a whole variety of keyboards mixed together while, as at the end of Disc One, Disc two closes with a brief instrumental solo, Ara Imp, a very Arabic sounding ditty.
Overall, Mosaïque is a decent collection of songs and instrumentals that will certainly please fans of the band. For the more casual listener the mixture of music, although not exceptionally diverse, may be a bit much and one of the other eighteen Cast albums would probably serve as better introduction to the group, particularly for the more progressive rock afficiado.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Jim Gilmour - Great Escape
Tracklist: No Sign (7:19), Algonquin (5:30), Lost Among The Way (5:12), Killarney Sunrise (4:42), The Northwind (4:01), Radiant Lake (4:41), Carden Isle (3:44), Wasteland (2:59), Canoe Do It? (5:27), Last Portage (13:28)
Since 1980, Jim Gilmour (not related to David Gilmour) has had the keyboard duties for one of the most interesting and enduring bands in prog rock music, namely Saga. He also does the backing and sometimes lead vocals for Saga, as well as being one of the songwriters for the band. Now Jim goes it all the way on this new solo album following upon his solo album from 1997 called Instrumental Encounters.
On this second solo album you can listen to five instrumental tracks and five with vocals. The music and words on this CD were written with the help of images and experiences Jim had on his excursions in the Canadian wilderness. That is probably the reason why the entire album sounds a lot like film music, some songs could perhaps even by used as a soundtrack for a "romantic" movie…..
For me the keyboards dominate too much and I would rather have liked it if Jim would have stayed closer to the Saga sound. Just the opening song reminds me of good old Saga, meaning real prog rock with lots of guitar and keys, scrambled together into a great catchy melody. During the keyboard passages in songs like Algonquin, No Sign and Canoe Do It?, Gilmour sounds like keyboard giants such as Jordan Rudess, Kevin Moore, Patrick Moraz or Richard Andersson. The vocals on this album are definitely NOT to my liking as they are far too sweet and poppy. Further I really do not enjoy the piano improvisation Carden Isle and the last five minutes of Last Portage, which also only consists of piano "exercises".
Best tracks are No Sign, Algonquin, Canoe Do It? and the first 6 minutes of Last Portage. But as I already said before, the album is too much dominated by keyboards, making it perhaps an essential listening for all keyboard players in the world???? The true Saga fans, like yours truly, should first listen very carefully to this album before buying it.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Gigur - Fin Del Tiempo
|Country of Origin:||Mexico|
|Year of Release:||2005|
Tracklist: Bebiendo De La Crátera: a. Falla Tridimensional b. La Gnosis (6:22), Fin Del Tiempo (En Mis Manos) (5:25), Flotandoenti (3:58), Resonancias Atemporales (4:11), Quintaesencia (6:25), Crater (4:44), Pasajero (12:07), Sueño Estelar (4:54), Diferentes Pero Iguales (8:16), Para Tí Qué Es Más Fácil? (Abrir O Cerrar Algo) (7:25), Mundos Paralelos (No Existe El Tiempo) Parte 1 (2:35)
One of the benefits of reviewing for the DPRP is the opportunity to check out new music that can be a little out of the ordinary whilst remaining totally accessible. Such is the case with Fin Del Tiempo, meaning ‘Time End’ in English, the debut release from Gigur. The album was apparently funded by a cash award received following a competition held in November 2004 by CONARTE, the Mexican governments institution for art. A not inconsiderable sum of this money was obviously put to one side for the album packaging. The unusually shaped digipack uses a striking combination of photography and artwork designed by local artist Ricardo López.
The credits in the booklet are in Spanish which required some translation on my part to figure out who was doing what! The band hails from Monterrey in northern Mexico and was formed as recently as 2003 by Ivan Taméz. In addition to Taméz who provides electric and acoustic guitars, synth and vocals, the
line-up includes Jorge Bringas on guitar and keyboards, Carlos Gonzalez on drums, and Ricardo Vilchez on bass. The quartet are joined by “special guests” Emilio Delgado and Arturo Aguirre on drums and bass respectively.
With the exception of one track this is an all-instrumental album with the guitar talents of Ivan Taméz providing the focal point. Guitars are utilised to create a variety of textures and moods, often in the space of a single track. Keyboards are used sparingly and almost solely to create electronic effects. I must confess I had my misgivings when I first heard the opening piece Bebiendo De La Crátera. A cacophony of sounds, rather like an orchestra tuning up is followed by polite applause giving the impression that it is a live recording. Delicate but warm guitar picking in the style of the California Guitar Trio is let down by a constant electronic humming noise. This eventually submerges the guitar until loud sustained guitar chords take over. Not the most auspicious of starts, and I was already prepared to file under ‘interesting’ and ‘arty’. I was caught off guard by the glorious title track, which opens with intricate Beach Boys inspired harmonies before building a solid wall of sound reminiscent of early 80’s Siouxsie & The Banshees and The Cocteau Twins. A melodic mid section includes proggy guitar and beautiful Spanish vocals followed by a dramatic Porcupine Tree style sequence full of guitar distortion.
The almost lightweight Flotandoenti is a fusion of sunny jazz playing and the edgier tone of Bill Nelson. The folk tinged rippling acoustic guitar of Resonancias Atemporales provides a backdrop for a basic but haunting melody first heard in the previous track, this time played on what sounds like synth. The shrill electronics in the opening 1½ minutes of Quintaesencia is an uncomfortable experience akin to sitting in a dentist’s chair. Things improve when the drums kick in, setting up a lengthy Robert Fripp experimental sequence with subdued but discordant guitar tones. Crater opens with a blast of lightning fast Gentle Giant style lines, before settling into a mid tempo jazz groove with melodic ringing guitar and crisp bass punctuations. Stylish drumming heralds Pasajero the albums longest and possibly most successful track. The guitar creates a reflective and relaxed mood throughout combining fast but mellow jazz noodlings with longer sustained notes that add breathing space to the sound. It floats effortlessly between jazz and proggy moments without breaking its stride save for a lengthy and fluid bass solo at the half way mark. The guitar builds into a spirited blues solo towards the end.
In contrast, Sueño Estelar is a blaze of early 70’s Sabbath and Purple style hard rock that incorporates screaming metal guitar and a memorable tune with melodic prog overtones. Diferentes Pero Iguales
moves things forward a decade with a crunching 80’s metal sound and a persistent Metallica style riff. Without warning it develops into an awesome proggy soundscape with scorching electric guitar and a hint of acoustic guitar. A forgettable moment is provided by synth, which mimics the sound of a Theremin, before making amends with great slide guitar effects that echo the work of Steve Howe. Para Tí Qué Es Más Fácil? provides another change of pace with meditative acoustic guitar, swirling electronic effects, and lyrical electric guitar that has a bright tone similar to that of Mark Knopfler. Curiously the final two minutes are completely silent except for a short and sharp electronic blast of sound. The final track Mundos Paralelos (No Existe El Tiempo) Parte 1 consists entirely of ambient electronic sounds with excessive cross channel phasing, providing a disappointing ending to an otherwise excellent album.
Coming to a decision over the rating of this album has been a difficult compromise. It contains some remarkable music, but unfortunately the all important opening and closing tracks are something of a let down. Had the high standards of the better material been maintained throughout then it could have easily earned a DPRP recommendation. My suggestion for the future would be to ditch the annoying electronic and synth noises and concentrate on what the band does best. The guitar work is some of the best I’ve heard in a long time, sometimes flashy and experimental, but always inventive and tasteful. There is nothing wrong with the bands mostly instrumental approach, but the vocals sound so good they might want to consider including more in the future. Full marks go to the production team of Iván Tamez, Emilio Delgado and Jorge Diaz for providing the album with a clear and sharp sound. Tamez is also responsible for composing the strong material, with the exception of Quintaesencia, which was co-written with Delgado, Bringas and Aguirre.
To their credit, Gigur prove that there are young bands out there that are still willing to break down the staid musical barriers, making them worthy of your attention. Moreover, if you have a penchant for guitar instrumentals that combine power with grace in equal measures then you would do well to check them out.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
The Underground Railroad –
The Origin Of Consciousness
Tracklist: Julian Ur (7:45), Julian I (2:38), Love Is A Vagabond King (10:43), Halo (8:21),The Canal At Sunset (4:18), Metaphor (2:57), Creeper [The Doorman pt 2] (13:30), Julian II (9:00)
Patience is a virtue, and all those who have waited five long years for the sequel to
Through And Through, the intriguing debut of Texan Proggers The Underground Railroad, can now reap the rewards with this superior follow-up.
Again ploughing a somewhat unique furrow through strange territories hinted at (but left largely unexplored) by elements of Genesis, Gentle Giant, Echolyn and many a Canterbury band, this disc contains 7 slices of unsettling but absorbing, and ultimately fulfilling progressive music. With a strong flavour of fusion, particularly in the searing fretwork of Bill Pohl, and grounded by the impressive and virtuosic keyboard style of Kurt Rongey, and topped off with compelling vocals – with especially strong harmony work – Origins surpasses the debut by some margin.
This is not immediately accessible, hook-filled music, indeed you may not like it at first, but these mature, muscular compositions have a way of working their way under your skin, and are likely to become firm favourites given time and concentration. With angular riffing, and slippery time-signatures cradling lyrics which are abstruse and steeped in philosophical musings, this often dark opus supplies food for thought in abundance.
Not a disc where individual tracks stand out, each composition contains twists and turns and there is a unifying mood which runs throughout the album, making the whole album a gripping listen.
If I had experienced this CD earlier, it would have been in my “best of year” choices and I can give it no less a score than 8.5, for its depth, maturity, edginess and its willingness to explore slightly uncomfortable areas, both sonically and lyrically, referencing the 70’s Classic Prog sound whilst pushing ahead in a thoroughly modern style, to unchartered waters. Be warned, though, this is no easy listen, no snappy tunes or catchy choruses here, but neither is it unapproachable, dissonant or especially avant-garde (though there are a few slight nods in this direction).
Check out the sound samples on their site and if intrigued, I urge you to give this one a try.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Phideaux - 313
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Year of Release:||2006|
Tracklist: Railyard (3:32), Have You Hugged Your Robot? (3:08), A Storm Of Cats (2:34), Never Gonna Go (3:43), Pyramid (4:13), There's Only One Of You (2:37), Orangutan (2:57), Sick Of Me - Coda 99(5:41), In Search Of Bitter Ore (4:03), Cats 2 / Body To Space (5:33), Watching Machine (2:27), Run Singing Tiger (3:37), Benediction (4:05)
One of the great privileges of reviewing for DPRP is being introduced to artists that, even in this internet age of global communication, one would possibly never cross paths with. One such artist is Phideaux who, in their own words are "a loose anarchistic troupe/recording project between songwriter Phideaux Xavier, drummer Rich Hutchins, producer and engineering wizard Gabriel Moffat and a revolving cast of friends." The cast of friends helping out on this release includes vocalists Ariel Farber, Linda Ruttan Moldawsky and Valerie Gracious, bassist and singer Julie hair, drummer and singer Molly Ruttan Moffat and keyboard/guitar player Mark Sherkus. Hot on the heels of Chupacabras, the collection of older songs that didn't quite fit on previous albums, comes 313, 13 songs that were actually recorded back in March 2004. The delay in releasing Chupacabras has actually resulted in a bit of a backlog as the next album, The Great Leap, is already in the can while recording of a Doomsday Afternoon, a progressive epic, should have commenced by the time you are reading this.
So, what about 313? Well anyone familiar with Phideaux's albums will know that, as a songwriter, he doesn't limit himself to any particular genre, effortlessly slipping between styles. This results in never knowing quite what to expect with each release, and often with each succeeding song. This blending of styles is always exciting, particularly as the standard of song writing is consistently high. The experimentation continues as, remarkably, the 313 was conceived, written and recorded in one day! (Although some overdubs were added later and the lyrical pre-editing credit suggests that at least some of the lyrics existed prior to recording). Despite the obscenely short time taken to get everything on tape, the album is entirely void of filler, no rambling jams, improvised ambient meanderings or overtly experimental nonsense - each song is fully formed and to the usual high standard.
The album starts on a melodic note with the piano introduction to Railyard. Actually, the piano is used prominently throughout the album, although very rarely is it presented as a solo instrument as there is a whole host of other instruments to add variety to the sound. These include electric sitar (Have You Hugged Your Robot?, A Storm Of Cats and Sick Of Me), e-bow (Orangutan, Coda 99 and Run Singing Tiger), Ensoniq synthesiser (Coda 99, Watching Machine and Sick Of Me) various sampled instruments (Mellotron on Railyard, harpsichord on A Storm Of Cats and even a toothbrush on Watching Machine!) Generally it is quite a full sound with lots of texture and a plethora of harmony and backing vocals that always add interest whenever they appear.
A couple of stand out tracks are Have You Hugged Your Robot? which has a melody line adapted from a classical piece (the name of which escapes me at the moment) mixed with a heavy, insistent riff, all sorts of spacey synths and an obligatory robot voice provided through a vocoder; the totally marvellous Sick Of Me which, as well as being musically interesting, features a superb vocal performance by Valerie Gracious; and also Run Singing Tiger, another upbeat number featuring more co-lead vocals by Gracious that has a relatively simple lyric (based on a poem by Devon Moffat, whom I assume is the child Gabriel and Molly Moffat - apologies if I am off beam on that one!, and some very incise guitar parts. Benediction, recorded live in the studio, closes the album in quite a sombre mood, particularly considering what has come previously. The instrumentation is piano, a rather subdued organ cymbals and shaker with almost funereal vocals. The effect is haunting although somewhat out of place on the album.
A couple of tracks don't work so well in the context of the overall album, In Search Of Bitter Ore reminds me of something from The Men In Black by The Stranglers and Orangutan is initially a bit sparse, is rather repetitive and the backing vocals that elsewhere add so much to the overall ambience seem to be rather incongruous on this number.
Naturally the perennial question of "is it prog?" rears its head when considering this album to which I would answer with a resolute "yes"! Okay, it is far from traditional progressive rock and doesn't fit into the tenuous and dubious classifications that seem to litter music these days. 313 is by no means a 'challenging' album, nor does it break down any barriers or extend boundaries. But having the audacity to even attempt to record a whole album in a day is nothing but ambitious. That Phideaux managed it and, what is more, came up with some very good songs in the process is testament to the musicians involved and the skill of the songwriter himself.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Mike Florio - Arisen
Tracklist: Bells For 1827 (7:24), Binary World (5:55), Fractured (4:38), Pretending (4:33), Media Ride (3:38), Paradise Of Stone (9:09), Violent Moods (6:58)
Note: If you hated the '80s, and/or think the '80s made Prog look bad, skip this review.
That being said...if Kansas, Styx, and Genesis had done a collaboration in about 1976, this is what it would have sounded like. Mike, a keyboardist/pianist very much in the Kansas/Genesis vein and vocalist with much in common with Steve Walsh, is backed on this album by Bill Thomas on guitars, Dave Bailey on bass, and Steve Golden on drums. And from the first seconds of Bells For 1827, a song referencing (but not about) the death of Beethoven, Mike and Co. show they're not amateurs. The opening keyboards, no less bombastic than any epic of the '70s or our own time (Symphony X's The Odyssey particularly comes to mind), lead into the heart of this beautiful song, driven by intricate piano chords and reverb-drenched guitar. In just over seven minutes, Mike manages to capture and summarize every element that made Leftoverture a great album, all while sounding fresh and modern (and remarkable - the recording on Arisen is flawless).
Binary World calls to mind the height of Styx's career, and not only musically but lyrically gives a nod to Mr. Roboto ("My blood is oil supreme/Fuelling the soul of my new machine/Computer memory extreme/Storing the images of my dreams"). Fractured opens with a brief harpsichord figure a la Siberian Khatru before returning to the Styx feel, complete with organs, soaring vocals, and a killer guitar solo. And now that I've name-dropped several prominent bands and a handful of albums and songs from the mid and late '70s, I need to point out that sonically Arisen has more in common with 90125 than Close To The Edge. Mike's voice certainly falls between Steve Walsh and Dennis DeYoung, but the music itself has that happiness and thought that fell between progressive rock's oft-pretentious adolescence and it's oft-politically-active adulthood. It's what sets, say, 90125 apart from both Close To The Edge and Magnification.
Pretending and Media Ride continue the Kansas-meets-Styx feel, while Paradise Of Stone brings a less cheery and bright mood to the album. If anything, this song has much in common with the depressing ballads of loss of the later '80s. Like any good song, I can't put my finger on it exactly, but this song just has that less-cheery FEEL to it, even the guitars and keys sound like they may be trying to cover up some inner sadness. It's a nice change, and shows a little diversity in the album's stylistic leanings. Mike has a "formula," sure, but it works very well, and he moves the variables around enough to keep the album interesting.
Violent Moods, the closer, is quite possibly the most beautiful song on the album. The first four minutes are all Mike, with piano and keys dancing sensuously under his voice, followed by an instrumental section featuring some great keyboard work and a wonderfully fluid guitar solo. The mood on this track is similar to drifting upward through a bank of clouds, very light and airy but not exactly sunny.
So, Arisen is an album with a '70s soul and an '80s attitude. If that makes any sense, go buy this album, you'll enjoy every second of it. Mike Florio has mastered that art of making songs that are both musically interesting and emotionally involving, so listening to the music and drawing parallels unfortunately only tells half the story (as evidenced by my attempt at explanation above). If you enjoyed anything you heard on the radio between 1979 and 1990, this album will probably at least make you smile as you reminisce; and if you own much Kansas or Styx, Arisen will be a refreshing twist on some familiar themes. Happy listening.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
CHRISTOPHER D FRICK
Subterra - Cautiverio
|Country of Origin:||Chile|
|Year of Release:||2005|
Tracklist: Sentencia (2:12), Altar Caníbal (6:29), Las Cuatro Paredes (4:27), Alfabeto (6:00), Bomba de Tiempo (8:24), Mordaza (5:23), Duelo Ciego (4:33), Pánico (5:17), Cautiverio (5:24)
I have stated it before and it remains a truth in reviewing music: the ones that are really great are easily described. The same goes for the really bad ones. The ones somewhere in between are the hardest. And as you might have guessed. Subterra's Cautiverio is one of the last category. Without really being able to explain why, this album does not immediately spark my enthusiasm. I must note however that this second offering by Subterra (a review of their first can be found
here) is not too bad, not bad at all.
From their sound it is clear that Subterra started out as a Marillion cover band. The guitars and atmosphere of Subterra certainly bring up a kind of Marillion feel. Not that their music is much like Marillion, Subterra moved towards a not too heavy kind of prog metal but still it is clear where this band takes it's roots. Strange thing is the first track is very much like the start of Jean Michel Jarre's Revolution. Throughout the rest of this album the guitars take the lead and they do a good job. Small and original riffs that do not exhaust you by trying to be too complicated. Unfortunately vocalist Max Sanchez feels the need to scream throughout nearly all this fine music. His voice is not out of tune, but it is not a real singing voice either, so it is often no more than an annoying scream. But then in Las Cuatro Paredes, one of the best tracks on the album, he shows us that
he actually has a pretty pleasant voice. Other examples can also be found and it makes me wonder why he finds it necessary to null all that with the other tracks.
The music on this album does not always seem to flow naturally. It is a bit sharp-edged and that makes it hard even after a number of spins to understand where the music is going. I understand that this is all a matter of taste, so probably someone else will like for exactly that same reason. The quality of the mix leaves room for improvement: the music could have done with a more full sound - as it stands it is all a bit hollow. This is a bit of a pity because it slightly masks the fact that the people in Subterra are very good musicians.
Subterra is a more than average band but somehow they are not able to grab me. Tracks like Las Cuatro Paredes, Bomba De Tiempo and the instrumental Mordaza have bits and ends that show that there is more to this band, but is just is not clear through the complete album. I should not leave unmentioned the best track of the album: Duelo Ciego with its dark atmosphere, perfect vocals and excellent keyboards - this shows the band's full potential.
So I have really been trying to like this album (I did spend a lot of time for this review), but as it turns out - things like that just can't be forced. Subterra produce a prog metal/neo prog kind of music, which does sound great on paper and as it turns out - a little less good on CD.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Viima - Ajatuksia Maailman Laidalta
|Country of Origin:||Finland|
|Catalogue #:||Viima-001 CD|
|Year of Release:||2006|
Tracklist: Leijonan Syksy (6:27), Ajatuksia Maailman Laidalta (6:38), Ilmalaiva Italia (6:00), Meri (7:57), Luuttomat (5:57), Johdatus (9:31)
Hailing from Finland, there is not much information available about the band on their website other than Ajatuksia Maailman Laidalta is their debut album and that three members of the current line-up did not play on the recording! Indeed, only Kimmo Lähteenmäki (keyboards and drums) and Mikko Uusi-Oukari (guitars and flute) remain from the recording sessions, although it should be noted that these two musicians are responsible for the bulk of the writing. The two bass players featured on the album, Jarmo Kataja and guest performer Jankkee Kuismin, have been replaced by Aapo Honkanen and, more significantly, female vocalist Päivi Kylmänen position is superseded by the decidedly male Hannu Hiltula (who also plays flute and saxophone). The current line-up also features a permanent drummer, Mikko Väärälä, allowing Kimmo Lähteenmäki to concentrate on the keyboards.
Listening to an album sung entirely in Finnish was a new experience for me and, admittedly, quite an enjoyable one. The language is quite quirky but also rather poetic with the vocals handled delightfully by Kylmänen. The overall feel of the album tends towards a more folkish impression, particularly on opener Leijonan Syksy which has a light and breezy air that is all rather jolly. A couple of tidy and tuneful guitar solos are dispersed throughout the track with a dash of flute added to mix up the tonal qualities. Ajatuksia Maailman Laidalta is more piano based, unsurprising given that it was written by the keyboard player. Comparisons with early Renaissance are fairly apt and fans of that band and their ilk will find plenty to enjoy within these six songs. Ilmalaiva Italia starts as a gentle ballad with acoustic guitars supporting the vocals and keyboards providing atmospheric wind effects. However, once lulled into an easy state a duo of powerful electric guitars and then a heavy synth solo rip the song apart. The contrast is sharp and unexpected, as is the reversion back to acoustic form at the end of the song.
And so the album continues, interspersing acoustic folkish textures with more rakish electric components. Meri impinges close on Camel territory with its extended organ solo and vaguely Latimerish guitar solo separated by some Ian Anderson flutisms; Luuttomat, featuring guests flautist Anne Leinonen and also saxophonist Kimmo Alho, has a simple and rather gorgeous introduction leading into a more angular saxophone part which, initially seems rather out of place as it introduces a totally new atmosphere to the album. The cycle is repeated with some nice acoustic guitar work layering in some Robert Fripp-like angularity. Final song Johdatus wraps everything up in a concluding statement that reiterates the themes and styles displayed throughout the previous five songs - unerringly jolly and totally engaging, rather like The October Project in a few places. What impresses most about the album is the maturity of the writing and playing, which is very assured and confident throughout.
Inevitably the switching of genders of the lead singer will have a rather large impact on the sound of the band and how this will affect the direction the group takes remains to be seen. In many ways it is a bit of a disappointment as Kylmänen's voices suits the music perfectly, although that is being totally unfair to new singer Hiltula who has not had a chance to display what he can offer the band to a listening audience. On the whole, the album is very pleasant and suitable for those tranquil moments when one just wants the world to slip by.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Fragile Vastness - A Tribute To Life
Disc 1: Where Everything Began (4:23), Maya's Diary (2:26), Somewhere (5:32), Ya Va Illegando El Dia (5:47), From East To West (6:27), Failte Rombat A Chara (3:42), Love And Loss (5:51), Help (2:19), The Sun Shines For All Of Us (4:07)
Disc 2: Heart Of A Lion (4:28), Gaia (4:36), Renaissance (6:31), I Want To Do Something That Matters (5:09), Going Down (3:00), Coma (4:34), Don't Wake Me Up Till I'm Dead (3:28) Maya (0:06)
Every month or so, an evening in front of my computer, sees me ploughing through various websites and forums, to discover what bands are getting a positive vibe down in the metal underground. There are a lot of frustrating dead ends, but every so often, I hit a jackpot that makes all the fruitless surfing worthwhile. And this, the second album from the Greek Progressive band Fragile Vastness, stands as one of my biggest jackpots ever.
A Tribute To Life is a two-disc concept album that follows the last months of a man's life, after learning that he has cancer. Like many people, he doesn't realise what he's got until it's almost gone, and so he sells all his possessions, to satisfy his desire to travel and see the world beyond his television set.
The 17 tracks follow him on his journeys - both the geographical and the psychological ones - as he struggles towards the inevitability of the closing chapter of his life. The musical influences come and go, as he arrives and departs from various parts of the world. Equally, the emotion of the music changes, as he finds love, despair, anger and calm.
It sounds an ambitious project, but the twin journeys bring out the true strengths of this band. Fragile Vastness uses many worldly musical styles and borrows from many genres, to create a mesmerising and compelling piece of music.
In one way, A Tribute To Life is like a book. You need to set aside time and go through both discs and the two booklets to fully appreciate everything that's on offer. But equally, the songs can be enjoyed by themselves, without any further reference.
Around half the tracks are instrumentals and interludes, providing meaningful segments of the story and adding great variety and character to the album. However, it's the vocal songs that make this album what it is - and what great songs they are.
Space doesn't allow me to go into details, but overall, the foundation is clearly built on progressive metal. There are ever-changing moods and rhythms, top-notch musicianship, an abundance of heaviness mixed with lighter moments, and some crackingly addictive hooks.
Pain of Salvation is a common reference point, especially on the atmospheric Somewhere and the up-tempo I Want To Do Something That Matters. But there are plenty of more straightforward moments, like the anthemic, hard rock groove of From East To West and the bouncy Heart Of A Lion. Add into the mix, that cornucopia of world influences - Peruvian panpipes, flamenco and mariachi guitar, middle-eastern music, some salsa and even some R'n'B - and you have something really unique and special.
Vocalist George Ikosipentakis absolutely sings his heart out. The story demands that he is able to switch gears between screams and softer parts. It's a huge challenge, but one that he rises to perfectly.
There are no guitar or keyboard excesses going on here. Every note is played with meaning and has a purpose. Guitarist Alex Flouros is particularly outstanding in the way he is able to generate so many styles.
There are also a string of guest musicians to provide the specialist elements. It is rare to find a band prepared to go to such lengths - most rely on electronic imitation. But the end result here is amazing, adding a real authenticity and touch of class to the album. And it's all topped off with a production that allows every instrument, no matter how small a part, to be heard. One has to accept, that the sheer variety of the music may be off-putting for some. But, the way that everything fits so well into the concept and the sheer strength of all the individual songs, easily wins through.
Finally, one word of warning - the band's Greek-based record label is totally and utterly useless. You can supposedly order online from the label website - but if you live outside Greece, you have to email for postage costs. Three emails - no reply - no purchase.
The label website also states that its releases are distributed throughout Europe by EMI. The boss at my local store phoned the EMI's UK distribution head, and they've no record of the band or label. Even more worryingly, Sleaszy seems to have no distribution through online stores or even specialist metal retailers. Of the 20 or so stores I tried, only one German specialist stocked this album - but would not accept payment from the UK!! I finally tracked down a copy from American specialist label Laser CD. Around £14, with postage, will get you a copy flown over in a few days. Thankfully, it has proved to be more than worth the effort. A Tribute to Life is an album that delivers so many goods, in such a comprehensive way. It is a true rarity. I seriously can not recommend this enough.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Age Of Nemesis – Psychogeist
Tracklist: Fate’s Door (6:10), Grey Room (4:33), Faceless Enemy (4:56), Mommy’s Crying (6:33), Psychogeist (3:16), Breaking Away (7:53), Goddess Nemesis [Instrumental] (3:26), Eye Of The Snake (6:03), Karma (7:02), Abraxas (7:51), Awaking Minds [Instrumental] (2:36)
I admire Queensrÿche, mostly enjoy the band’s work, and acknowledge their importance (and especially that of their Operation: Mindcrime album) to progressive metal. Why do I mention Queensrÿche as I begin a review of Age Of Nemesis? Because comparisons between the two bands (and between this album and Operation: Mindcrime) will inevitably be made. Both bands play powerful, inventive progressive metal; Age Of Nemesis’ singer, Zoltán Kiss, has a voice in many ways similar to that of Queensrÿche’s Geoff Tate; and both bands have recorded concept albums (in Age of Nemesis’s case, sort of a concept half-album) about the manipulation of innocent people by shadowy government forces. But I’m happy to say that Age of Nemesis not only survives that comparison but perhaps comes out on top.
Now, I’ll admit that Queensrÿche’s album was, at the time of its release (can it really be eighteen years ago?), groundbreaking; and I’ll further admit that Age Of Nemesis’s story is more particular and bizarre and thus less generally engaging than Queensrÿche’s. And with those admissions I’ll abandon for now the comparison and concentrate on this particular album. The first six songs constitute "The Psychogeist Story" – and, as I say, the story’s a weird one. Very briefly, it concerns a young boy from a broken family who’s raised in an unknown location by his doctor father. When the father dies, the mother finally locates the child, only to discover (eventually) that he’s been the subject of horrific medical experiments that have turned him into a “psychogeist.” As the extensive liner notes explain, he’s been “taught to step outside himself, to places independent of his body” and has thus become “a horrific weapon of unimaginable power.” Eventually, the mother persuades (or so she believes) the son to abandon his powers, his desire to kill those who harmed him, and his determination to kill himself as well.
Yes, this is gloomy stuff as well as odd. But it’s an ambitious idea, because it forces the band to try (I think successfully) to suit the music in the six pieces that make up “The Psychogeist Story” to the many twists and turns of the story. And again here the band’s link (and I’d say debt) to Queensrÿche can be clearly heard. The album’s superb production showcases all the instruments in turn, probably most noticeably the widely varied keyboards and the excellent guitars, the former courtesy of György Nagy and the latter of Zoltán Fábián. In fact, I can hardly praise Fábián more highly than to say that, before I read the liner notes, I’d assumed that the band had at least two guitarists. Nope: Fábián does it all, from deft shredding to soaring Strat-sounding leads to chunky riffs that put me in mind of nobody so much as Zakk Wylde.
But the virtuoso guitar work and those neat keyboards only contribute to the overall excellence of the album. The songs themselves (those that constitute “The Psychogeist Story,” the three other songs, and the two instrumental pieces) are all individually interesting, well-constructed, and melodic. I think my favourite song on this album is the weird Eye Of The Snake, which on its own fulfils the band’s promo letter’s promise of “an exotic Eastern vibe” with its minor harmonic leads and nearly-sitar-sounding guitar. Also excellent is the album-closing instrumental Awaking Minds, a lovely keyboard-and-guitar piece that nicely lightens the overall dark mood of the album. But there isn’t a weak song on the album, and that’s another of its many strengths.
But no album’s perfect, and this one has a few flaws. It goes on too long and (perhaps this is largely the same thing) is a bit too ambitious, especially in the case of the conceptual half of the CD. I’d have to say that the story is a bit much, melodramatic or portentous but not truly chilling (as, I think, Operation: Mindcrime’s story was). And, while I’m very hesitant to fault the band’s English (they’re Hungarian, and this is only their second English-language release after four in their native language), it’s probably an indication of the obscurity of the story that each song, beside the printed lyrics in the booklet, has a lengthy paragraph explaining those lyrics. While I’m one of those fans who love to read CD booklets – though, as my poor eyes age along with me, I long nostalgically for the much larger print we used to see on record sleeves! – I also believe firmly that an album should stand without explanation. And, frankly, the lyrics (themselves translations) really do need explaining.
Musically, though, for fans of progressive rock and especially of progressive metal, this album is a treat from beginning to end. Over six albums, the band has found its groove, and both the music and its execution are simply excellent. I happily recommend this album and look forward to more from Age Of Nemesis.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Enneade - Remembrance
|Country of Origin:||France|
|Record Label:||Musea Records|
|Catalogue #:||FGBG4637 |
|Year of Release:||2006|
Tracklist: King Of Silver (17:49), The Dreamscape: The Awakening / Into The City Of Dreams (9:30), On The Verge Of The Waking World / Open The Gate (10:14),
Farewell Goodbye (11:32),
This six-piece band is described by the Musea press sheet as "Progressive Heavy Metal". I find them nothing of the sort, although drummer Frederic Lacousse has a pretty fast kick foot and there is no shortage of chunky overdriven guitar chords. Also one track (4) has a touch of vocal growling but it is only for background effect. Overall the production is clean and balanced and the musicianship is good. As for the material - well, I very seldom see the point in a track-by-track review, but in the case of this debut, I will use that style because each track has its own atmosphere and strengths (is that a polite way of saying the group has no identity of its own? Can't say for certain with just a few spins). The cover features fractal art in the design, might have been cool 10 years ago but now looks rather dated. The tracklist is either 2, 4 or 7 tracks depending on how you read it, but however you slice it, the list says "We're a Prog Band! No
Mr Music Here!" So off we go.
King Of Silver opens with jungle sounds, Angra style, but is exaggerated to the point of cartoonishness. This mercifully short introduction, meant for whatever purpose, segues into the opening guitar. The first music in the track is gentle & atmospheric like some early Genesis or (modern-day) Hamadryad, then launches into the main themes with a more aggressive sound akin to Fate's Warning or perhaps Dimension X. And as with those examples, there are lots of dynamic shifts in the rhythm and feel before returning to the main theme.
The Awakening opens with a sound and feel strikingly like Heaven's Cry, with the layered guitars in 7:8 but without that band's stunning double vocals. Vocalist Christian Arwan is in fact a rather plain singer, not strong or ear-catching, but not grating either. An occasional female backing voice fills out the sound. There is a nice section here where bassist/Stickman Julien Fayolle lays down a Levin-esque line while one of the three guitarists does a creative solo using what sounds like a guitar MIDI controller - although one of them plays keyboards, none is credited with a guitar synth. There are several passages like this in the two middle tracks, lending a King Crimson-like vibe.
On The Verge Of The Waking World is perhaps the most interesting track for me, it opens and closes with a droning riff reminiscent of Crimson or Gordian Knot. But unlike some pieces by those projects, this one takes off and progresses nicely before it can get boring. The spoken vocals in the middle describe dreamlike a parallel life on an alien world. Cheesy, yes, but the most memorable lyric on the record.
Finally Farewell Goodbye ties it all together, sounding like an amalgam of the disparate tracks that came before.
Although the players are very strong, occasionally there is a slight feel of un-tightness - no outright clams, just a newly formed and young band pushing an envelope. But this is a debut release, and the material is ambitious. Confidence and seamless groupthink is at this point a potential to be reached along with development of a signature sound.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Eric Mantel - The Unstruck Melody
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Year of Release:||2006|
Tracklist: Act I The Unstruck Melody (3:10), Tribute (4:41), The Simple Things (6:36), The Real You (4:01), Tai-Chi (5:31), Shine On (3:52), Under A Different Lite (4:15), Merry-Go-Round (4:11), Why So Lonely (4:06), Exit 10 (3:42), Intermission (0:45), Act II Gloria (3:52), Affectionately Yours (3:50), There Are No Words (3:55), Wings Of Fire (4:37), Only Want Your Love (3:35), True Home (4:03), Finger Pickin' Country (2:17), The Unstruck Melody [Reprise] (1:40), Don't Let the Day Go (5:16), Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven But Nobody Wants To Die (1:11)
I have to admit that prior to the arrival of this CD from Eric Mantel the name had almost eluded me, and so it would appear to the rest of the world. Even Eric's website notes him as "Chicago's best kept secret". A shame really as he is a formidable guitar player, who on this release, displays his vast array of styles and techniques, ending up in a thoroughly enjoyable album. Eric's first release in over a decade, The Unstruck Melody, however is not just an album of guitar virtuosity - the material here is well constructed, listenable and with a keen balance between the instrumental workouts and song structures.
Now if any of the following names feature strongly in your album collection - Eric Johnson, Steve Morse, Pat Methney, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Beck, Shawn Lane, Steve Howe, Wes Montgomery, Albert Lee, then do yourself a favour and check out this guy. Most of these legends of the six string axe are mentioned as influences of Eric Mantel, however The Unstruck Melody should not be viewed as some sort of
plagiarised tribute to these guys, but more an album by an undiscovered contemporary.
I have to say that The Unstruck Melody is a long album and took some listening, and with some twenty one tracks it would be nigh on impossible to review each of the pieces individually. So I'm going to try and lump things together and give a broad prospective overview. The album has eight vocal tracks and thirteen instrumentals. Album opener sees a whistling Mantel flick through some of his local radio stations. Yes we've heard it before although I thought it was a nice touch that he used his own music for each of the channel changes - so diverse is the material on the album that it worked very well.
Firstly then the vocal offerings: The Simple Things is our first taster of the vocal Mantel, and although I doubt he would win any Grammy's for his vocal talents they work really well in this setting. I was reminded of Eric Johnson's vocals (say no more). My favourite vocal track on The Unstruck Melody, The Simple Things is laid back number with a great repetitive vocal hook courtesy of Keith Marx, Amanda Elliot and Mari Zen. The song also features two great melodic solos. Same applies to Shine On although this time around wrapped up in a jaunty shuffle beat - again the choruses are infectious.
However with the exception of perhaps the balladic True Home which has a pleasant a cappella intro courtesy of Paula Mantel and just enough happening to keep my attention (including some nice E-bowing), I have to admit that the rest of the vocal tracks did little for me. Not necessarily because they were bad, but more that they just didn't appeal. The more I got into the album the more I tended to skip over these tracks. Only Want Your Love does have a great solo break, but not enough to warrant repeated listenings.
OK on to the instrumental tracks. The first cut, Tribute, and if I'd listened to this album blind I could well have believed that this was that other fine Eric, namely Mr Johnson, playing a tribute to Jeff Beck. The Real You on the other hand has a rather funky groove and one that I might have expected from say The Doobies or the Allman Brothers or perhaps Steely Dan. The "chorus" courtesy of Bon Jovi. Accompanying the infectious beat are the Hammond-like organ fills and with Eric employing sitar and Voice Box (Golden Throat) effects.
Best cut on the album has to be Tai-Chi again a fairly laid back piece with Eric utilising some subtle sound effects and extracting a gorgeous tone from his guitar. And at the point he cuts loose - what a delight. Now there was a time when I would have bought an album just for a track like this...
The pace also remains restrained for the majority of Under A Different Lite - a great relaxing track, nice acoustic guitar, soft synth melodies and another fine solo to finish. Exit 10 moves more into Steve Morse terrain followed by the brief gentle resting point, the aptly titled Intermission.
In the days of vinyl this release would have been a double LP, so we should view Act II
as side three presumably. And after the somewhat forgettable Gloria are a trio of diverse instrumentals. The first, Affectionately Yours is a delightful acoustic passage, whilst the jazzier side of Eric Mantel is explored in There Are No Words. This track featured on Guitar Nine's sampler Guitars At An Exhibition, which I heard some time back. The last of this trio is the rocky Wings Of Fire, which harks back to the halcyon days of rock, albeit with a modern slant. The first of the final two instrumentals Finger Pickin' Country is fairly self
explanatory whilst The Unstruck Melody [Reprise] - is similar to the Intermission and the latter part of the album opener, featuring sitar and percussion.
I really, really enjoyed this album and although not much of the material could be deemed as progressive in the
traditional sense, I felt there was enough interest to warrant its inclusion in these pages. I did struggle as to whether or not this should feature a DPRP recommended tag, not a reflection of Mr Mantel's guitar playing or even the music I hasten to add, but more of the nature of recommending this to "all" prog fans. In the end I awarded it the highest possible marks without the tag.
Eric Mantel is certainly a force to be reckoned with and hopefully The Unstruck Melody will be the hook to greater things. Fans of Eric Johnson and great guitar playing in general should give firstly the MP3s on Eric's site a listen and then go and buy the album.
Conclusion: 8- out of 10
Steve Morse - Prime Cuts
Tracklist: Heightened Awareness (4:19), Prognosis (6:01), La Villa Strangiato (9:26), The Clap (3:09), Quantum Soup (11:03), Busybodies (2:34), Led On (6:31), Air On A 6 String (2:20), Wooden Music (4:56)
Steve Morse can definitely be called an 'old-school' guitar player. Not only since he's been active as a guitar axe man for quite some time, but also because of the classic style of his playing. Don't expect any ultra modern experiments and out of space sounds that the likes of Joe Satriani and Steve Vai have treated us regularly, but more a solid hard-rock based guitar sound with great versatility and variation, of equal high quality.
Steve Morse, by now already past the 50 mark, formed his first band, the Dixie Grit already in the late 60's together with Andy West who continued his collaboration with Steve when the band changed its name into Dixie Dregs in the early 70's when they chose to mainly play instrumental songs. Even though they changed the band's name into The Dregs later on, they never achieved any mentionable commercial success, certainly not outside the USA and in 1983 the band even ceased to exist after Steve stepped out. Not long after Steve formed the Steve Morse Band in which he could find more room to lay down some blistering guitar work. Pretty soon this group saw the inclusion of former Dixie Dregs member Rod Morgenstein.
Obviously Steve had already made a name for himself as in 1986, not finding stability with his record company and band, he instigated the re-forming of Kansas by joining them, but not much later he decided to follow an old childhood dream and became a commercial airline pilot too (he already was an avid amateur flyer). Combining the two very different jobs turned out to be more difficult than expected and so he decided later on to leave Kansas again. Playing along at a Lynyrd Skynyrd gig in the late 80's made him realize his true ambition lied in music and he quit his flying job and focussed on a solo career.
In that period Steve was voted Overall Best Guitarist by Guitar Player Magazine's Reader's Poll five consecutive years after which he was banned from that competition to give some other guitarists a chance at winning too. Steve released some solo albums, the Dixie Dregs were reunited, just as the Steve Morse Band until late 1994 Steve was asked to join Deep Purple replacing Ritchie Blackmore who had stepped out (again) and Joe Satriani who filled in for the remaining tour. Until today Steve keeps himself very busy being a member of Deep Purple, contributing to occasional Dixie Dregs or Steve Morse Band outings and laying down his fine guitar licks to several projects as a guest musician.
This particular album, Prime Cuts, can actually be called a 'Best of' album as it consists of a compilation of various tracks by various groups to which Steve at least contributed his guitar virtuosity. The red line running through this album is that all tracks are instrumental and are taken from of the vast catalogue of the record label Magna Carta. The album contains tracks by The Steve Morse band (tracks 1 and 6), Steve Morse solo (tracks 2, 8 and 9), Jordan Rudess (track 5), a remix by Vapourspace (track 7) and two taken from a tribute album, one for Rush (track 3) and one for Yes (track 4). Other artists that therefore can be heard on this album are Terry Bozzio, Dave LaRue, James Murphy, Mike Portnoy, John Petrucci, Van Romaine, Jordan Rudess, Billy Sheehan and Mark Wood.
The disc also contains a ten minute long video interview with Steve in which he explains and plays his evolution in guitar playing and gives some background information on his career and a vivid description of his biggest nightmare gig in Ukraine; intriguing stuff for any guitar player.
Because of the various origins one could call the album very diverse in styles, but the steady factor of Steve's high quality and varied guitar playing also unifies the album. Since it's basically a compilation from various other albums it's useless to go through this album track by track and to grade it. So I'll just end with stating that this album is an ideal chance for all music lovers who have a weak spot for instrumental guitar based music, in a not too experimental way, to get acquainted with Steve Morse, which is something you should do I think.
Elewout De Raad Project - The Cross
|Country of Origin:||The Netherlands|
|Year of Release:||2005|
|Info:||Elewout De Raad|
Tracklist: Mamaloe (6:21), Precious (8:58), Inspiration (7:27), Down Deep (7:52), The Cross (8:09)
Dutchman Elewout De Raad picked up guitar at the young age of six. Initially studying classical playing he developed a liking for bluegrass at age eleven before moving on to rock, blues and finally jazz after being introduced in the early 90's by a drummer he was then playing with. He went on to study at a Conservatory and has since spent his time playing in various bands, primarily gospel and at Christian festivals.
It is instrumental, jazz-rock, fusion that Elewout showcases with The Cross and he must have paid particular attention to the playing style and technique of Allan Holdsworth (and to a lesser degree Jeff Beck) during his studies because the bulk of the CD sounds an awful lot like the virtuoso from Bradford, especially in the chord-voicings,
arpeggios and overall tones.
With the excellent Jorrit Godeke on bass and likewise talented Hendrik Mulder on drums Elewout has almost recreated the whole feel and sound of the mid to late 80's Holdsworth experience; think of the Road Games, Metal Fatigue and IOU and you are there or there abouts. Whether this is deliberate or just showing heavy influence I couldn't say but surely it's so close as to be no coincidence.
That being said, anyone who's able to emulate the man from Yorkshire has to be a pretty good player in their own right, and Elewout certainly is. Although lacking the outright speed and liquid fluidity of Holdsworth
himself, he plays some impressive stuff and one can't help but enjoy it. It's perhaps also a beneficial consequence that the music is eminently listenable - less complex and 'out there' than a lot of Holdworth's compositions that can take many years of listening, if ever, to penetrate.
As one would expect, the CD is stuffed with solos which will appeal a lot to the guitarists amongst us although that's not to say it's purely an exercise in technique as the melodies are strong. The production is highly complementary to the players with the three instruments nicely filling the soundstage, very clear and precise. Perhaps the opening track, Mamaloe, is the best cut on the album with its busy drums, bubbling bass, smooth chords and melodic soloing. The rest of the CD never quite touches the same heights generally taking a more mellow approach except when the soloists pick-up from time to time.
Overall a pleasant CD with some excellent compositions and top-class musicianship. Will certainly appeal to anyone who enjoys the music of Holdsworth/Beck and could well be an entry-point for those that are new to the genre, but not really likely to appeal to the bulk of prog fans.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
George Hrab - Interrobang
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Year of Release:||2006|
Tracklist: Blue Genes (3:58), Barney's In The Vent (4:07), The Assumption (3:08), 'Ya Famous? (4:37), Disappointed (part III of Skeptic) (6:40), Out of My Mind (5:18), ? (3:24), She Suffers from Superlatives (5:50), ! (3:50), We're Looking for Something More Ethnic (2:21), Done Talking (5:05), Who Dogs The Outlet (5:02), Sciurus Carolinensis (6:24)
George Hrab...Even though Interrobang is the fifth album by George, this is the first time I have come across his name. Well, George is a drummer by default, but here he is actually the man in a one-man band, so he plays guitars, bass, keyboards, drums and...sings. George also performs on several occasions (like for The White House !?) with "The Geologic Orchestra" but also with some jazz-funk shapes covering Zappa among others.
Well, trying to describe his music, I would mention three names: Phish, Frank Zappa and Talking Heads. Phish was a popular American rock band most noted for jamming and improvisation, with elements of many many genres, including mainstream rock, hard rock, jazz, country, reggae, folk, even prog rock. To me Interrobang is the closest thing I ever heard to the sound and philosophy of Phish (funny lyrics and photos, humour and a big mix of musical influences). The presence of Zappa's spirit is also more than evident, not only in the spirit of the lyrics but also in the music which at some points really follows his zany steps. The Talking Heads influence is seen in some vocal lines, a bit in the singing and in the overall witty song-writing. I could even add Dave Matthews and "soft" Faith No More as pointers. George himself says that for the first time, the music is guitar driven and this album is less funk and more rock than his previous ones.
Blue Genes, The Assumption and 'Ya Famous deal with the artist's image, serve as George's way of introducing himself, and are quite mainstream acoustic tracks, the latter being also a bit too mainstream for my taste, sounds like those songs that play in the background of American juvenile soap operas, the first two though are really pleasant and get you in the groove. "I hate myself, I hate my voice, but I've no choice", but "Don't you assume you really know me", because "I won't be famous anytime soon, but I can play a pretty fine tune". Once again the condition that a person with a good sense of humour must first be able to make fun of himself is satisfied!
More complex song writing with a more moody feeling can be found in songs like Disappointed or She Suffers from Superlatives with the quite prog quirky spastic riffs towards the end of the track, a very cute refrain and Zappa influenced vocals (maybe my favourite track). Prog rock references are much more obvious in the very clever, excellent Who Dogs The Outlet (some mix of King Crimson-like guitar riff with Faith No More's Star AD). Funkier tunes are Out of My Mind and Sciurus Carolinensis, with the last one being actually THE Zappa track, talking about an imaginary attack by... squirrels!?! The albums contains also the two "title" tracks ? and ! and We're Looking For Something More Ethnic which are actually jamming tracks (drums and/or electric guitar). Barney's In The Vent is the heaviest rock tune of the album, although the refrain somewhere reminds me of the magnificent Talking Heads song Found a Job. Lyrics are as said above of a humoristic nature but there often are insinuations or pointers to "serious" subjects. Indeed, in the booklet George complements track ?'s lyrics with political / social comments on hot subjects (American politics, the Muslim world etc.). By the way, there are even two pages on the Theory of Relativity, opening for a note by George talking about the making of the record! Pretty nuts huh!?!
Ok, the progressive elements of this album are numbered, but I think it would surely appeal to some fans of funkier music, or simply Zappa fans. The production is very good, the sound is crystal-clean, material is well worked on, drum-work is really interesting. George Hrab has a talent for sure, and it would sure be interesting to see him perform his music, especially accompanied by a sax or a trumpet. Worth mentioning that the CD comes in an amazing DVD case, with a HUGE booklet containing much more than just the lyrics, and also pictures of George with... more clothes than the one of the cover. Even though it has little to do with prog, Interrobang is pleasant, amusing, interesting, and smart, making a pretty good alternative choice for this
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10