Issue 2007-003: Alias Eye - In Focus - Round Table Review
Round Table Review
Tracklist: I'm Your Lie (4:37), In Denial (3:45), The Call (4:03), Enlighten Them (4:01), Books (2:30), History Lesson (3:44), Rhodesian Rhapsody (4:21), Hold On (4:15), To Be Or Not To Be...Revisited (3:48), Falling (4:25), How We Perceive… (11:14)
Ed Sander's Review
I have always really enjoyed the music of Alias Eye. Their unique blend of prog with the use of unconventional instruments (for rock music that is), incorporating different musical styles and adding a good sense of humour always appealed to me. I therefore ended up recommending their first two albums, Field Of Names and A Different Point Of You on DPRP. After an absence of four years the band are finally back. They have changed their label from DVS Records to QuiXote Music and if one should believe the fact sheet that comes with the promo of their new album In Focus, they have also changed their style and approach.
On In Focus the band are going 'back to basics' as they describe it. After two albums that focused on production and a wide range of instrumentation this new album has a restricted range of keyboards, a more straightforward rock sound and as it seems is more oriented towards guitar riffs. The latter might have something to do with the new guitarist Matze Wurm coming on board. I personally really had my doubts about the choice to go 'back to basics' since these basics certainly aren't the basics for this band. The prog audience have come to know them for their rather Spock's Beardy quirkiness, their wide range of instruments and their sense of humour. Although not fully absent on this CD these elements certainly seemed less present than on their first two albums. As a result the album sounds less like the Alias Eye album I had expected, at least ... it did upon the first couple of spins I gave this CD. I feared the band had lost some of their own identity and became too much like many other bands out there.
And indeed, I was rather disappointed when playing the album the first couple of times. The opening track clearly heralded a new direction with a more rock-based approach, although it also featured wonderfully atmospheric segments. Fortunately, after repeated listenings I found that the impact of this new approach was less substantial than I had expected. The band's characteristic traits are still present. There's a wide range of styles ranging from rock to jazz to calypso/tango and their sense of humour is still very much present in the hilarious a cappella section of The Call (ring-a-ding-dong, wireless !), the silly lyrics of To Be Or Not to Be ('I worked out all the answers from A to Z, I finally know what I want on my bread') or the playful interplay between keyboards and guitar in Falling.
A couple of words about some of the tracks. Album opener I'm Your Lie shows the band with a harder edge and (fortunately) sets the wrong expectations as an opener with it's heavy approach and virtuoso guitar solo. I'm not too fond of the semi-screamed overacted vocals by singer Philip Griffiths. He's got a great voice (also displaying it in the band Poor Genetic Material) but he also has a tendency towards 'overacting' every now and them, giving you the impression that we're dealing with a musical/opera-wannabe instead of a prog rock singer. Regardless of all of this, as mentioned the quieter sections of this opener are very tastefully done.
Fortunately the next track, the funky In Denial, proves that the band has not lost their preference for mixing different styles. Another example is Enlighten Them, which incorporates calypso-like rhythms, while the band's quirkiness is still vividly present in History Lesson. Also, the band has not completely sworn of the less obvious instruments, using didgeridoo and a jazzy organ solo in Rhodesian Rhapsody.
Most of the songs are short, compact and have good melody hooks. The ballad Hold On especially excels in this area with a melody that lingers best. As on any Alias Eye album the mixture of rock songs (I'm Your Lie, The Call, History Lesson, To Be Or Not To Be, Falling), ballads (Books, Hold On, How We Perceive) and songs with challenging styles (In Denial, Enlighten Them, Rhodesian Rhapsody) is very well balanced, resulting in a diverse album that will not easily get boring.
Oh, and for those of you who might wonder about the length of the last track, I'm sorry to inform you that this isn't an epic. It's actually a rather forgettable ballad (if it wasn't for the female guest vocals) of less than four minutes, which also ends rather suddenly in what could have been a gentle closing guitar solo. So, you guessed it ... there's a hidden track here. I often find these things rather annoying but in this case I have to admit it is the funniest hidden track I've ever heard. Another proof that the band has not lost their good sense of humour !
Matias Noren has done another nice job on an album cover but the inside of the 12-page booklet is rather minimalistic with only two pages having additional art and the artistic font they've chosen for the lyrics makes them nearly unreadable.
All in all this is another fine release by Alias Eye, which might just take a bit longer to sink in. It might not quite reach the same heights as their debut album and it's a bit of a shame that the band holds back in the areas that are so characteristic for them, but nevertheless the end result is still typical Alias Eye and comes recommended to fans of the band and anybody that likes a bit of humour and cross-overs to other musical genres in their prog.
Geoff Feakes' Review
My fellow DPRP reviewers have me at a slight disadvantage here as In Focus is my first taste of the music of Alias Eye. So I’ll skip the in depth history lesson save to say that this is the band's fourth release with one change in personnel since their 2000 debut CD Beyond The Mirror. He is Matthias Wurm replacing original guitarist Mathias Richter in 2006 shortly before recording this album. What changes if any he brings to the bands sound I cannot say. The rest of the line up comprises Philip Griffiths vocals, Vytas Lemke keyboards, Frank Fischer bass and Ludwig Benedek drums. According to the record label bio this is a “back to the basics” sound from the band in contrast to their last two albums Field of Names and A Different Point Of You. In Focus is self produced by the band with the majority of the song writing credits going to Griffiths and Lemke.
I'm Your Lie is a good opening statement from the band with its rapidly alternating heavy and softer passages consolidating two sides of their style into one easily digestible song. New boy Matthias Wurm really makes his presence felt with a bombastic but fluid solo. With its repetitive and unremarkable chorus In Denial is a straight forward rock song and my least favourite of the set. The track is given a welcome lift by another shining guitar break from Wurm. With its curious opening a cappella line “Ring a ding dong wireless” I really didn’t know what to make of The Call at first. This is swiftly followed however by a meaty stattaco riff that is one of the loudest I’ve heard for some time and displays the bands production skills to good effect. Griffiths’ assured vocals are at their best here including some smooth harmonies during the bridge section. I especially liked the acoustic guitar variation of the main riff that followed.
Keyboardist Lemke shows off his accordion skills throughout Enlighten Them which has a tricky Latin rhythm that puts himself and vocalist Griffiths through their paces. Some unusual elements (in prog terms at least) but an uplifting song that worked for me. Contrasting in style is Books, a beautiful vocal and piano duet and a cautionary reflection on the quest for knowledge. Griffiths’ smooth performance is reminiscent of Tony Hadley on Spandau Ballet songs like True and Through The Barricades which is no bad thing in my book. History Lesson is built around another persistent riff which is a speeded up variation of the Dragnet theme that graced the long running American TV cop show. Lemke is again in the front line this time with a nifty Rhodes piano break. Apart from the Rhodes, the poppy Rhodesian Rhapsody has several points in its favour including a memorable chorus, meticulous solo bass lines from Fischer and Griffiths’ didgeridoo playing to flesh out the rhythm section. An unlikely inclusion I know but believe me it works.
The reflective ballad Hold On is possibly my favourite song on the album. Dominated by Lemke’s remarkable but understated piano work it features another excellent chorus and incisive guitar punctuations from Wurm. The driving To Be Or Not To Be is not the greatest of songs but Benedek really excels with his intricate drumming ably supported by bass man Fischer and Wurm’s rhythmic guitar work. Griffiths closes the song with the flamboyant line “Eat your heart out Shakespeare”. If Hold On isn’t my favourite song then Falling certainly is. This is a cleverly constructed mid tempo song with an infectious riff and an unashamedly catchy chorus. Over a solid rhythm Lemke and Wurm trade Hammond and guitar blows in fine prog style. How We Perceive provides a slightly frustrating ending to the album. Delicate guitar and electric piano underpin a melancholic vocal from Griffiths joined by the beautiful voice of guest Anna-Sabrina Lopp for the final verse. Just as the song is about to develop, or at least that’s how it feels, it is cut short at less than four minutes.
The band has one final trick up their sleeve however. Leave the last track running and after six minutes of silence they come back in. Unfortunately it’s not a return to How We Perceive but a (thin) joke with Griffiths singing “You’ve found the hidden track” over a deliberately MOR backing.
Apart from the disappointing ending and the odd weak chorus this is an impressive and mature release by anyone’s standards. Nothing is over-egged with a no frills approach that allows the quality of the song writing to shine through. Also the sharp production results in a clear and uncluttered sound. In Griffiths the band has one of the best voices around although he does succumb to the odd embarrassing line like the impromptu “Check it out now!” during Rhodesian Rhapsody. When reviewing the last album one colleague remarked that had it not been released by a progressive label then the DPRP would not be giving it the time of day. True, this release is mostly free of the usual prog trappings but given the skilfully crafted and well written songs and excellent all round musicianship it certainly deserves its place here.
Martien Koolen's Review
As I was truly disappointed by their last album A Different Point Of View, which was way too laid back, mediocre and sometimes even boring, I looked forward to the new album of this German prog rock band. Well, the band has a new guitar player and in their bio the record company states that this new album is a back to the basics album! Meaning rockier music and restricting keyboards to piano, Rhodes, Wurlitzer and Hammond to maintain the rough character of the songs. None of the 11 songs exceeds the 4:30 mark but are they better than on the last album, I beg to differ. In my humble opinion there are only three (I’m Your Lie, In Denial and Falling) really great songs on this, again, rather meagre album.
I’m Your Lie is the longest track on the album (4:37!!) and also one of the best. It is a melodic A.C.T.-like prog rock track with a fantastic wah wah guitar solo by Alias Eye newcomer Matze Wurm. In Denial is also one of the better songs as it is a funky up tempo track, sometimes even mainstream like with again a sparkling guitar that lifts this song up to a higher musical level. The Call starts with an a cappella intro followed by a heavy guitar riff with staccato passages. It sounds like “metal” sometimes. However the middle part is rather funky and the song is in fact nothing special. It ends with a Spanish guitar outtro..
Enlighten Them kicks off with an accordion intro followed by Latin/Asian musical influences. It is a rather folky song with a piano solo and lots of nasal vocal parts. Rather dull in fact and it reminds me of their previous disappointing album. Luckily Books is a short song as it is an extremely nagging piano ballad with really “offensive” lyrics. Like e.g. “the more I read the less I know. All these books have only emptied my mind…". Give me a break, guys! Or is this supposed to be funny?????
History Lesson starts with a piano intro followed by a true prog metal riff. However the song evolves into true nothingness... The next title Rhodesian rhapsody refers to the magical Queen monster hit???? However this song more reminds me of Steely Dan or Toto. Mainstream rock with a jazzy feeling and a nice keyboard solo. Again, however nothing special.
Hold On is again a piano ballad like song. It has a nice melody but again it does nothing for me…… To Be Or Not To Be is again a highly original song title…but this song is actually quite all right as it is a mix of jazz, funk and rock and finally I can enjoy a sparkling guitar solo. It really has been a while…
Falling is the third good song on the album. It rocks and grooves and finally the vocals are really good. This song also features an amazing guitar – organ duel, and which instrument wins??? How We Perceive has an acoustic guitar intro with similarities to a well known RHCP song. It is a ballad, again, featuring female vocals as well. The last 7:5 minutes of the song are utter silence which is so BORING and already been done before so many times. But wait, the last 1:10 are filled with country & western music, so sad but true!!
All in all, again a disappointing album by Alias Eye with only three good songs! The songs are much too short with too much vocals, not enough solos and hardly any musical surprises. Where is the musical progression of this once promising band????
Remco Schoenmakers' Review
What I remembered from the previous CD of Alias Eye I reviewed (Field Of Names), was that it was good but nothing extraordinary. I think the conclusion for this CD will be the same. In general nice music, but it never really touched me. Its base is more in AOR than in progressive rock, but at points the CD does surprise. I have listened to Field Of Names again before this review, and I definitely like that one more than the current album, I'm afraid...
The strongest point of Alias Eye is their vocalist, Philip Griffiths, who can mimic the vocal styles of many other artists. In the opening track for instance, I sometimes hear hints of Damian Wilson. This opening track is one of the highlights of the album. Powerful and diverse, it has a bit of an Echolyn feel to it. The next tracks are a bit rockier. Although some Hammond is used, in my opinion the tracks are a bit bare due to the lack of keyboards and overabundant use of heavy rhythm guitar. Perhaps Deep Purple could be a reference. A trick Alias Eye use a lot on this album is to first play a couple of bars of a melody line on a simple instrument (organ or acoustic guitar), immediately followed by the same riff on heavy electric guitar. A nice find, but not if you use it three times on the album.
A surprising song is Enlighten Them. Its base is a Salsa theme, but it's progressively progressing into something more progressive. These are the kinds of musical innovation that I like. Also, due to the more creative use of keyboards and a more pronounced melody line, this track stands out.
I then thought my wife had switched to radio and an Elton John track was on, but no, it was still the same CD. Hmmm, what to think of that? Really, Griffiths is a magician with his voice! Boring ballad though. The stark contrast with the frantic next track History Lesson (do I vaguely pick up some King Crimson here?) is strong though. The album then goes out like a night candle. Some middle-of-the-road tracks follow, and before you know it the album is over. Oops, did I miss something? Nope, there really wasn't a lot going on. Well, maybe on To Be Or Not To Be...Revisited, which in the verses has that nice Egdon Heath feel I was hoping for, but unfortunately as soon as the chorus is played, any promise of something interesting is wiped out again. This band has a bit the same problem as bands like For Absent Friends have: nice production, non-offending compositions, but no excitement. A final no-no is to have a final track of 11 minutes of which only 4 minutes are music, 6 minute silence, and then some silly blues bars....yawn.
In conclusion: a disappointment compared to Field Of Names, but apparently their previous release was also not too exciting (I must admit I missed that one). Too bad, with some better compositions (really, it is the level of the compositions that are not up to par) they could be in the upper league of the modern prog scene, especially given their wonderful vocalist. Of course, it could be that that it not what they desire, but I wonder what they would like to be, then. Still, when grading I am in doubt. I did give a lot of criticism, but the album was never really 'offending', most tracks were OK, and some even good. And if you have a more 'mainstream' taste, I'd guess you would like this album better than you would Field Of Names for instance. The production is OK, the booklet very nice and in general the CD gave me a positive feel. So I will grade it a 7, even though for my personal musical taste it would have been a 6.
Tom De Val's Review
German band Alias Eye made a good impression upon me with their second full length release, A Different Point Of You. Whilst not a particularly progressive release in the sense the word is usually used, it was a strong and varied album full of punchy and melodic songs. Since its release in 2003, things have been quiet in the camp, although vocalist Phillip Griffiths has contributed to a couple of Poor Genetic Material albums. However they’re now back with one of the first new releases in 2007, with a new guitarist (Matthias Wurm) in tow and boasting a self-proclaimed ‘back to basics’ sound.
This latter comment is lifted from the album’s press release, which states that the band wanted to make this album ‘rock’. Whether they’ve achieved this aim is something I’ll come back to, but its certainly true that Wurm has a more conventional hard rock style than his predecessor, and was clearly weaned on the playing of the likes of Ritchie Blackmore and Michael Schenker – there’s even a touch of the Malmsteen’s in some of the more virtuoso moments. In keeping with the ‘back to basics’ approach, keyboardist Vytas Lemke has limited himself to ‘old fashioned’ instruments such as piano, Rhodes, Wurlitzer and Hammond. No doubt many prog head’s ears will prick at the mention of these much-loved instruments, and there’s no doubt that their use does benefit the band’s sound, giving the album a warm, approachable feel.
Given what I’ve said, you might be under the impression that this is going to be a vintage-sounding heavy rock outing akin to something Deep Purple may have put out in their early 70’s heyday; this isn’t really the case (although there are elements that could have graced the likes of In Rock and Machine Head). Nor, I should state, has it much in common with the term ‘progressive rock’ as DPRP readers would generally know it. Instead I’d describe the album as a mixture of pomp rock and quirky alternative pop – although even this is scratching the surface. The truth is that the band experiment with a variety of different styles and forms on this album, so much so that it makes the title, In Focus, rather misleading! In the end it’s the strong, confident vocals of Phillip Griffiths which help to glue the disparate elements together and give the album a sense of cohesion. Whilst his rather arch delivery perhaps doesn’t totally suit all the songs, it remains eminently listenable throughout and is undoubtedly a focal point for the listener.
Song-wise, the opening I’m Your Lie gives a good indication of what’s in store. Following a short keyboard intro, Wurm weighs in with a heavy riff which drives the verse, Griffith energetically belting out the lyrics. The gentle, melancholic chorus nicely contrasts this, and the short, laid back instrumental section initially shows Wurm is equally adept at teasing more subtle sounds out of his guitar, at least that is before he gets to unleash a multi-note Steve Vai-style solo. The song makes a strong initial impression, although (as with a couple of other tracks on the album) I was left with the feeling after a number of listens that it lacked substance.
Elsewhere it’s a mixed bag, with songs generally fitting the category of good, interesting but flawed, or generic and bland. In the former category are the grooving piano-based rocker In Denial, the quirky, accordion-led Enlighten Them, the suspenseful, punchy History Lesson and the gentle, acoustic closer How We Perceive, which features a wonderful performance from Griffiths. Experimentation abounds on Rhodesian Rhapsody, which mixes a Red Hot Chili Peppers-style rhythm with some excellent organ work from Lemke and tasty 80’s style LA metal guitar licks from Wurm, although the song suffers from lyrics which don’t seem to scan properly. The band were clearly listening to quite a bit of funk in the studio, if the bassline which kicks off Falling is anything to go by – it certainly has similarities to the legendary bassline which leads Herbie Hancock’s Chameleon. Elsewhere in the song there is some fine keyboard and guitar interplay which certainly recalls the Purple heyday of Blackmore and Jon Lord. As odd as some of these tracks are, they’re certainly preferable to the bland, middle-of-the-road balladry of Books and Hold On. Alias Eye also blot their copybook by including one of those cursed ‘hidden tracks’ – why bands persist with these is beyond me, especially when the resulting track is a lazy fifties-style rock’n’roll-by-numbers knock-off as it is here – hardly worth a near ten minute wait I feel…
Overall then, what to make of In Focus? Well, its refreshing to see a band that isn’t content to rest on its laurels, and instead is keen to bring in new elements to their sound and try something different in order to keep things fresh, even if it won’t necessarily please their existing fans. Its also true that Alias Eye have written a number of fine songs on In Focus which stand up to the best of their back catalogue. However I do feel that perhaps the band experiment a little too much on this record – flirting with a vast array of styles is fine, even expected, if you’re the likes of The Mars Volta, Fantomas or Pain of Salvation, yet my feeling is that Alias Eye’s core market is perhaps a little more conservative, and some potential fans may be alienated by the rather scattershot approach here. I don’t want to finish on a negative note however and would say that I think the move to a more ‘earthy’ approach in terms of instrumentation is a welcome one, and there’s enough good points here to say that its worth fans of melodic, song-based rock at least giving the samples a go. Just don’t expect a standard pomp of prog rock album…