Reviews in this issue:
- Gösta Berlings Saga – Tid är ljud
- Mastodon - Blood Mountain
- Hauteville – Relief Data Incomplete
- Quaker - Autocritica
- Rockaphonica – Fuera De Tiempo
- Qui - Prelude
Gösta Berlings Saga – Tid är ljud
Tracklist: Helgamarktz (5:12), Syrenernas Sång (8:16), Aniarasviten (8:25), Ljud Från Stan (8:06), Tog Du Med Dig Naturen? (9:59), Knölsvanen (7:17), Svarta Hål Och Elljusspår (8:19)
Neither the promo materials nor the band’s website is very helpful in supplying details about this interesting band, although from the latter one can discover at least the band members’ first names: Alex, David, Gabbe and Mathias (since replaced by Einar). And the blank CD booklet itself gives us only the song titles. Well – we’re thrown back on the necessity to listen carefully to the music, then, and that’s surely a good thing!
Gösta Berlings Saga (the band’s name comes from the title of a novel – that much the website tells us) plays instrumental progressive rock, clearly most strongly influenced by all our old favourite Seventies progressive bands, though mostly in mood rather than specifically in the music. Nonetheless, I hear echoes of (I wouldn’t say allusions to) such venerable groups as Gentle Giant and Camel in many of these songs; and even the production, which is full and, I guess I’d say, warm, reminds me of the kind of thing one might have heard when putting a good record on the turntable back in 1976. The instrumentation and performances, too, will take you back (if you were there to begin with!): skillfully played, supremely melodic guitar and electric piano, drumming that’s both tasteful and tasty, and nice deep propulsive bass. And – wait for it – the occasional flute, violin, and, yes, Mellotron.
I have less of a clue when it comes to this album than many others would, because I can’t even understand the titles of the songs; however, the promo materials tell me that Tid är ljud is “a concept album dealing with the interaction between city and nature and some of the creatures that reside therein.” Well, okay, although I have to say that, having listened to this album at least half a dozen times before I read the promo letter, I hadn’t the slightest inkling that that’s that the album was “about” – or even that it was intended as a concept album. However, I’m pleased to be able to say that, at least from my perspective, it really doesn’t matter: each composition stands on its own and is a separate melodic entity (though some are pretty long melodic entities!). And how shall I describe the sound of those songs, other than through the comparisons I’ve already made? Imagine technically interesting but not “mathematical” Seventies-style progressive rock, with tempo changes that suit the songs (and aren’t included just to show off), each composition built around a single strong melody but admitting of frequent solos (as you’d expect from an instrumental album), the effect being not only pleasing but sufficiently challenging to reward any number of careful listenings.
Among the seven longish tracks that constitute this album, none of them less than good, there are a few that stand out. Album opener Helgamarktz is probably my favourite, featuring an introductory synth-and-guitar passage that, if it isn’t a quotation from Yes’s Roundabout, certainly sounds like it to me. The intro passage over, though, the song resolves into a Camel-like propulsive composition with swirling background keyboards and a tastefully restrained lead-guitar melody. The next song, Syrenernas Sång, is built on an amusing snare-drum shuffle and entertains with noodling, jazzy solo guitar over a muted spoken-word monologue (the only “vocals” of any kind of the album). And Knölsvanen goes through a number of changes of tempo and mood, though the bulk of the song reminds me of the kind of thing we hear on, say, Wind And Wuthering – though without the vocals, of course.
A fine album that’s difficult to describe: it wears its influences lightly, though it’s sure to appeal to fans of Seventies progressive rock. I hope it finds an audience beyond the band’s native country’s borders, because this is a band that deserves to be heard.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Mastodon - Blood Mountain
Tracklist: Wolf Is Loose (3:34), Crystal Skull (3:27), Sleeping Giant (5:36), Capillarian Crest (4:25), Circle Of The Cysquatch (3:19), Bladecatcher (3:20), Colony Of Birchmen (4:19), Hunters Of The Sky (3:52), Hand Of Stone (3:30), This Mortal Soil (5:00), Siberian Divide (5:32), Pendulous Skin (22:15)
The barrage of Dailor's drums at the start of Wolf Is Loose signals the intent of this intense, loud and complex album. Think Dillinger Escape Plan math metal mixed with a smattering of hardcore, Iron Maiden and perhaps a hint of Steve Vai's space jazz.
Once more Mastodon have gone for a concept, this time based on a theme that could easily have graced a Peter Gabriel fronted Genesis long player from the mid 70's. Our hero is looking for the Crystal Skull, and on the journey that leads us to the top of Blood Mountain we encounter fantastic creatures that seem to have other ideas about our final destination.
Anyone who has listened to previous Mastodon releases will be pleased to hear tight melodies, harmonies and lead guitar sparring. There is also some experimentation with different sounds, like the tribal war dance drumming intro on Crystal Skull, and some lighter vocal work adding variation and texture to the narrative.
Sleeping Giant allows the listener a chance to draw breath as Mastodon weave an intricate soundscape in the lead up to the verse. This is where the band start to get into their progressive metal stride as Mastodon play around with the time signature and tempo of the song. Capillarian Crest is next and Mastodon start to play seemingly impossible guitar harmonies over a frantic drumming pattern.
Bladecatcher is an instrumental with very strange sounding guitar (vocal?) work and this gives way to a very Queens Of The Stone Age sounding chorus on the Grammy nominated Colony Of Birchmen. Hunter Of The Sky is almost conventional by Mastodon standards, but it gives the brain a break for a few minutes. Hand Of Stone has some very catchy lead guitar work and Mastodon experiment with a pleasing harmony vocal. The song then morphs into a thrash ending that would do Slayer proud.
This Mortal Soil starts very mellow and hypnotic, but again Mastodon mix it up with a bit of straight Southern hard rock and also some hardcore. The end seems to be nigh for our hero as Siberian Divide alternates between mournful hopelessness and frantic horror movie soundtrack. Pendulous Skin leaves us drifting off on a stoner rock cloud with a bit of Hammond organ in the mix to loosen up the mood.
Very few albums can hold my attention as well as this one has. The end comes along too soon (OK, there's 15 minutes of filler before a "hilarious" gag at the end, but skip that) and you are reaching for the play button again. The variety of moods that Mastodon have managed to create on a Metal album is astonishing. Even the more standard "middle of side 2" tracks don't lower the overall quality of the album, and it is after all a concept, so there must be space for the hero to move between scenes. The move to the major label has not made Mastodon any less adventurous. Bring on the next album!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Hauteville – Relief Data Incomplete
Tracklist: Monster [The Race] (5:16), From Adam To Atom (5:40), Perfectablism (4:57), Immaculate Eyes (6:03), Like Anybody Hellse (6:17), The Perfect Lens (6:52), Relief Data Incomplete (5:42), Jaywalker (5:55), Reflection (4:23), There Be Dragons (3:38)
It is not often that I get my hands on some French music to review but when I do it’s usually something special or different. With Hauteville the same goes since they come up with a mixture of pop and progressive rock that results in giving the band their own identity. Not something extremely spectacular but at moments entertaining. I had never heard of Hauteville before but I’m under the impression that Relief Data Incomplete (attention-grabbing title!) is the follow-up to their self titled debut album Hauteville from (1998). Their website isn’t very informative and it has carried the message ‘under construction’ for quite a while now. Not a smart move considering the release of a new album but alas.
The progressive side of this music consists of the creative use of synthesizers often with a distinct 80’s feel. While the song structures and especially the clear vocals of Lydie Gosselin tend to bring the songs in pop territory. The singer’s voice sometimes reminds me of Tori Amos in the slower parts and even Madonna at certain moments. She is really a good singer and refreshingly different from all the ‘gothic’ female singers flooding the music industry nowadays.
Still I get the feeling Hauteville could have had more in store with this great vocalist. For example in the way they do in their fine version of the Dalbello song Immaculate Eyes. This reference shows exactly what I mean as I miss some of the magic on this album in song writing and performance compared to an artist like Dalbello for example.
Next to Lydie Gosselin, Hauteville consists of Didier Therry (keyboards, bass, guitars), Denis Turmel (guitars), Laurent Ober (bass) and Vincent Turmel (drums). For additional help in writing the songs Franck Botten is used to bring some lyrical inspiration. Together with Denis Turmel he is responsible for the clever lyrics dealing with social issues, relationships and politics. They come up with some fascinating song titles as well!
The guitar players are doing a great job as there are some very spicy guitar parts on this disc, but to my regret much too few.
I would have welcomed more of this fire in the songs that started with the great opener Monster [The Race]. Also the beginning of From Adam To Atom that has an original guitar riff. Together with some screaming solo guitar especially at the end of this song it creates something special. A song like Perfectablism on the other hand passes by without making any lasting impact. And towards the end of this disc these types of songs seem to be taking over to form a collection of not overly exciting popish tunes. The Perfect Lens has some fierce guitar again but not enough to ‘save’ the song.
It makes me lose interest after a while and brings me to the conclusion that Hauteville holds a promise that is not yet fulfilled.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
NB: Since the writing of this article the band's website appears to be fully functional.
Quaker - Autocritica
Tracklist: Fruhstuck (6:47), Autocritica? (7:37), Memorias De Un Pato De Hule (6:18), Russian Mountain (6:43), Hanoi (3:20), Melos Per Manencia (8:04), Arsis (8:01), A Zurda Y Siniestra (7:30)
Quaker are another good young band from Argentina – there do seem to be plenty worthy of note at the moment! South America has always been a breeding ground for prog talent and its people connoisseurs of the form and this band clearly show King Crimson influences throughout their work. This eight track album, as far as I can tell their debut, is completely instrumental and based around the twin guitar set up of Papo Manes and the brilliantly named Jeronimo de la Arena with Frederico Caselli on bass and Luciano Caselli on drums. The instrumentation mirrors that of ‘80’s Crimson and this is certainly the base from which they start, almost all the tracks are long, twisting and interesting.
Fruhstuck opens the album with wailing guitar before heading into a very melodic theme and King Crimson-style interlocking guitars. I don’t know which player uses which style but one generally sets up in a clean picking Robert Fripp style while the other plays more distorted rock leads in the Adrian Belew mould. Melody is high on the agenda throughout the album, which doesn’t make it as tricky to get into as you may imagine. The bass is elastic and always on the move and the drumming gives a distinct ‘80’s Bill Bruford feel. The lead work sometimes heads into a more Santana vein with sustain and distortion used to good effect. Angular passages are alternated with ones incorporating more melody keeping the interest high. Sometimes these periods of melody are a bit light and too greatly at odds with the more aggressive bursts but overall it works nicely.
All of the tracks here involve King Crimson influences to some degree, however this doesn’t mean they are merely clones. At times the bass sounds akin to Tony Levin, particularly the opening of the second track, Autocritica? with it’s fast picking and harmony. Twin guitars are employed, both interlocking or with heavy soloing over picked backing, but the lead is much looser and less nutty than Belew’s contributions to KC. Electronic percussion is used to give depth and some of the drum patterns are very Bruford. On the track Memorias De Un Pato De Hule the drums have a very South American flavour, which in my mind gives a similar effect as the gamelan had on King Crimson’s Discipline in it’s rhythmic feel, over which a nice distorted guitar solo offers a very ‘70’s jazzy sound.
Synths are also added to the title track, but the sounds employed are far from satisfying and simply distract from the good work going on beneath. This is a shame as they could have been used sparingly to give depth rather than overpower the sound, but luckily this is a very small part of the band’s music. The synths redeem themselves on Russian Mountain giving the epic feel the title suggests. Busy percussion and interlocking guitar in different tempos start it off before the driving drums take it into Discipline territory, again with distorted and angular soloing.
Shortest track on the album, Hanoi, is by far the least satisfying. It’s use of treated guitar and effects giving it a soundscapes feel with Three Of A Perfect Pair era drums (think Industry). Meles Par Manencia, however, again gives some jazz influence with Pat Metheny Group melodic bass over a guitar, very melodic in a slower tempo. More energy is added with a soaring guitar solo and more Fripp picking, which makes it sound more like KC’s Red. Arsis has a very mournful tone through soundscapes and a very disjointed Fripp-style solo. It’s odd and a bit disconcerting but it works well with a nice simple plucked string finale.
Final track, A Zurda Y Siniestra, is very heavy, loud and aggressive in a Thrak way. Very schizophrenic and the most Krimsonesque tune here. Plucking and power chords again jostle with interludes of lighter melody. In the middle a samba beat signals a change of direction before a return to the bedlam of the intro with drumming in a Pat Mastelotto style and a guitar freak out. The ending is abrupt followed by light and confused applause – a nice touch!
This album is, I’m afraid, going to be passed over by many who may feel from the above that Quaker are simply trying to be King Crimson. Though the weight of this is heavy throughout the album they are certainly trying to push things in a new direction. If you are unaware of KC and are able to hear this album without prejudice I’m sure you’d get the view of a good solid and talented band playing well written pieces, at times intricate while retaining melody.
Sometimes the move from discord to melody can be a little too contrived but overall this is a really nice album. I don’t know how long the band has been together but they deserve to get a hearing. Recommended to those who like KC, particularly Robert Fripp’s picking technique, or technical, instrumental prog with good melody. It often comes across as much jazz as prog - hard and angular with a soft and furry side! Don’t be put off if you don’t like King Crimson as there is plenty to enjoy here.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Rockaphonica – Fuera De Tiempo
Tracklist: Passion Y Crimen (4:58), Fat Dreams (6:07), Fantasmas (5:03), Balada De Los Antartes (8:15), Cateter (5:13), Aceitunas (5:55), Supertwister (3:09), Rhayader (2:52), Rhayader Goes to Town (5:51)
Rockaphonica are an Argentinean band formed around the core of flute player Ricardo Luna. The line up features flute, keyboards bass and drums, with guest guitarists helping out on four tracks, to provide a purely instrumental album squarely in the mould of Camel. There is nothing to get away from this comparison but it is compounded with the addition of a tribute to Camel section at the end in the form of Supertwister, Rhayader and Rhayader Goes To Town. From the outset the flute takes lead position and straight away it sounds like Camel with poor keyboards. That is not to say that keyboardist Andres Bonelli is an awful player – when sticking to piano or playing in the background the effect is not unpleasant – however, his choice of keyboard sounds is often clichéd, the result being terrible. The rhythm section adds little and when they try to excite it just falls flat. This is a shame as Luna is a good flautist who can pen a decent tune.
The main problem with Fuera de Tiempo is that it is the band of a flute player who likes Camel. Camel (and Jethro Tull) uses the flute for variety and to offer a signature to their music rather than it being the core of their sound. This is a major flaw in that, unless you love flute above all else, it gets a bit samey after a while. When guitar is added the interest level rises but unfortunately the rest of the band sound ordinary most of the time. The violins required on Aceitunas are offered in synthetic form when the real thing would have lifted proceedings a great deal. Also, the two bass solos are totally pointless. This track is also the only one without flute, Luna choosing whistle instead giving the track the feel of a country dance.
Throughout the melodies are OK but almost every track is too long and outstays it’s welcome, involving a lot of repetition. It feels that, though there are some good ideas on show, a really class act would combine most of them into 15 minutes rather than stringing them out over a whole album. The band displays little dynamism and often seems to be going through the motions. The intro to Fat Dreams is nice with a very Camel sounding piano, but then half way through flute and piano are distorted in a way that is simply odd rather than interesting. Fantasmas also suffers for a wobbly bit in the middle that is simply rubbish. Very strange.
Balada De Los Antartes starts with a sound reminiscent of the finale to ELP.’s Karn Evil 9 (the plinky keyboards before the tempo goes mental) but the light melody is only improved when the guitar comes in with a nice extended solo and good use of synthetic orchestral sounds near the end. There is a more driving rock feel to Cateter with acoustic guitar, however the keys are again disappointing, as are the bass and drums.
The Camel tribute is nice to hear, but it is simply a collection of basic covers with nothing added and plenty taken away. Once again the keyboards are more pleasing when they stick to piano, everything else is, at the very least disappointing. My guess is that this is their encore.
The flute throughout is pleasant, as are the melodies, but the whole thing never seems to rise above pedestrian. I have to say that I feel the band is heading up a dead end with flute-led prog. Some may disagree, but I love the sound when it is added sparingly. Here it is simply too much. Light prog for flute lovers who can ignore keyboards.
Conclusion: 4.5 out of 10
Qui - Prelude
Tracklist: Astratto (4:21), Circle (4:34), Wcjc (3:23), Pozza (4:19), Falcon (2:07), BJ Live (2:53), Astratto Live (10:23), 8. Dum (3:15)
Qui is a three-piece jazz/ fusion band consisting of: Takashi Hayashi – guitar & Synth, Kanji Sugano – bass and Yukihiro Fujimoto – drums. Prelude is a demo with tracks recorded between 1997 and 2002, and two of the tracks are live recordings. They play a fusion style similar to Bill Connors and Allan Holdsworth.
I have been a fan of Allan Holdsworth’s music for along time and looked forward to reviewing this CD. Takashi’s guitar playing is similar to Allan’s playing mainly in the chordal voicing he uses. He plays in a legato style, but he does not have the energy or complexity that I enjoy in this style of music. The rhythm section is more jazz based than fusion based, what I mean by this is that they stay in the background and play with a soft touch. In some of the songs the bass and drums play with little or no variation making a three to four minute song seem very long. I much prefer a rhythm section with some punch that can take the lead in a song every once in awhile. The main reason I enjoy jazz/fusion is the high energy interplay between the musicians in the band. Qui is missing this interplay and therefore the music seems bland to me.
After listen to this CD I only recommend it to listeners that enjoy light fusion. The musicianship is good, but there is a lack of variation and imagination. Note it is easier to listen to one song at a time rather than the whole CD. Thirty-five minutes can seem like an eternity.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10