Reviews in this issue:
- Kingcrow - Timetropia
- Richard Pinhas – Metatron
- Moonlight - Integrated In The System Of Guilt (Duo Review)
- Liquid Visions - The Lost Recordings
- Variant - Beyond Jargon
- Object Permanence - The Perfect Plan
Kingcrow - Timetropia
Tracklist: A Perfect Life (4:08), Fading Out Part I (2:30), Timetropia: Out Of The Darkness (1:46), Realusion (1:56), Between Now And Forever (5:18), Fractured (3:16), Home (3:45), A Merry-Go-Round [Chemical Ecstasy] (3:33), Fragile Certainties (4:05), A Hitchhiker (1:28), Turn Of Events In A Drawer (5:12), Fading Out Part II (6:17)
A band that appears to have dipped underneath my radar so far, this is the fourth album from Italy's Kingcrow. Timetropia was actually released last year and judging by the fact that I've not heard or read a thing about this record, I don't appear to be the only one who has missed out. However, on the evidence of the music on offer here, their lack of a profile is a real shame, because Kingcrow has much to offer.
The bracket of 'progressive metal' given to them by their label could be one reason. Timetropia is a highly-polished and well-constructed rock album that owes as much to progressive rock bands like Marillion and Porcupine Tree than progmetal acts such as Queensrÿche or Dream Theater. Sure the guitars do have a heavy edge, but that's only one element of the many that make up the Kingcrow sound. There really is a little bit of everything here - neo prog, melodic rock, folk rock, symphonic metal, psychadelic rock and even a bit of calypso! In this respect, this album reminds me of the fantastic Tribute To Life released by Greek band Fragile Vastness in 2005.
Take the classy opener A Perfect Life, announcing itself in a very neo-prog manner that could be lifted from Pallas's The Wedge, before introducing a modern, anthemic rock chorus that precedes a folk rock verse by The Oyster Band. it's certainly very addictive, as is the title track, where the distinctive Italian take on traditional ProgMetal is morphed with a heavy Queensrÿche metal riff and a chorus from the Winger back catalogue. It shouldn't work, but it does.
Home offers the doleful 60's vibe of The Doors before combining a calypso mid-section with a chorus that could be lifted from a Mamas And The Papas album. It sounds weird but again it works a treat. A Merry-Go-Round is an up-tempo rocker with a groove by The Wildhearts; Fragile Certainties is a laid-back lullaby where singer Mauro Gelsomini shows off his higher range, and the brief A Hitchhiker offers operatic symphonic metal that brings to mind fellow countrymen Rhapsody.
The closing song, Fading Out Part II is one of my favourites. It begins with a superb take on Pain Of Salvation before growing into a well-crafted piece of Italian-style ProgMetal-lite, along the lines of Proloud or Time Machine.
If I'm being critical, then some of the songs don't really develop as far as they could. For example the opener has a fantastic chorus, but it is only used once. Only three of the songs pass the five-minute mark. With such a wealth of ideas, I'd have liked to have heard a few of them developed more fully. Although having said that, where the band does exactly that, on the penultimate song, it's the poorest on offer. So maybe less really is more?
Timetropia is a concept album, where a story about a man who is recovering from a car-crash-induced coma, is woven across 12 tracks, with short inserts to carry the story between each. The tale is a good one and the way it is told really does add to, rather than detract from or overwhelm the music.
So there we have it. To these ears, this is a bit of a hidden gem that will appeal to anyone who enjoys music that puts heavier and lighter moments into a mix that isn't afraid to go off at odd tangents, whilst being held together by a common style and some great, addictive melodies. A little quirky perhaps, but in no way a hard listen, I must go and look for Kingcrow's other three albums [Something Unknown (2001), Matzmariels (2003) and Insider (2004)]. Highly recommended.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Richard Pinhas – Metatron
Disc One: Tikkun [Part 1]: The Unification Of The Name (14:31), Aleph Number 1 (11:21), Moumoune And Mietz In The Sky With Diamonds (8:22), Shaddai Blues (7:28), Metatron/Shaddai/Chabbatai (14:03) Bonus Video Track: Tikkun [Part 4] Gematria52vs814
Disc Two: Tikkun [Part 2]: Tikkune Zahar (11:09), The Fabulous Story Of Tigroo And Leloo (11:15), Metatron(ic) Rock (9:04), Babylon Babies (14:06), The Ari: Isaac Lauria Song (7:53), Double Face Of Metatron (6:39), Tikkun [Part 3]: En Penta Eddenai (15:14)
Richard Pinhas both with his group Heldon, and as a solo artist, whilst clearly inspired by Robert Fripp and his Frippertronics/Soundscapes, has in turn been hugely influential on a whole generation of electronic/experimental musicians. Over the course of thirty plus years Pinhas has continued to explore the boundaries of Rock, Electronica Ambient and Experimental music, incorporating spoken word, computer controlled visuals and themes from literature/science fiction in an impressive body of work which never fails to intrigue, challenge and captivate his audience.
The heart of the album is the three part monster Tikkun, collectively clocking in at over 40 minutes in length (Still hungry for more? Part four can be found as the soundtrack to the bonus QuickTime movie on Disc One – which features road movie/backstage/onstage footage of the North American tour 2004). Built largely on a terrific drum performance by ex-Magma drummer Antoine Paganotti, this mesmerising, enthralling sonic tapestry of guitar loops and electronic effects, shimmering and undulating, gradually growing and morphing as it wends its leisurely way, will transport you to a magically fresh and strange audio landscape. I could lose myself for weeks in music like this.
Part 2 ditches the drums, leaving crystalline, looping guitar tones to create a fascinating, spellbinding sonic edifice, alternately beautiful, unsettling and otherworldly.
Though we’re mostly in ambient/atmospheric territory, there are a few tracks where more conventional rock rhythms and structures are employed. Moumoune And Mietz… is the first of these, also adding bass guitar and violin to the stew. The drums are up-front in the mix, and the pleasant melodic theme (which in more commercial realms, would be the centre of attention) remains, strangely, slightly out-of-focus. It’s an enjoyable 8 minutes. The Fabulous Story Of Tigroo And Lelo, likewise has an aggressive rhythmic thrust and some savage rocking-out from Pinhas in guitar hero mode, harking back to the full band days of Interface.
Metatron(ic) Rock however, is a looping, echo drenched bliss out, filling the room with an ethereal ambience.
Shaddai Blues in fact eschews any blues influences and instead flirts with techno rhythms in an uneasy marriage with floating guitar drones. I did find this became a little monotonous and was glad when the rhythmic pulse died out, leaving the drone to slowly fade out over the concluding minute.
Babylon Babies, a loose and jazzy, noodley keys, guitars and drums jam sounds to me, somewhat unexpectedly like vintage SBB. It’s a surprising but enjoyable departure nonetheless.
Pinhas’s main allies here are the afore-mentioned Paganotti and Jerome Schmidt, who is credited with laptops and loops, but with old Heldon cohorts Patrick Gauthier and Didier Batard contributing, alongside guests like Chuck Oken Jr (from Djam Karet), Alain Renaud (guitar) and Phillipe Simon (violin) and with spoken samples from the likes of Philip K Dick, Maurice Dantac and William Burroughs, there’s plenty of textural variety melded seamlessly with the guitar loops and electronic processing.
This mammoth double disc set, containing a daunting 2 hours 10 minutes worth of material nevertheless comes highly recommended to fans of Ambient Electronica and all adventurous listeners
Just to be clear, you should forget for the moment that I also like Marillion, Glass Hammer, Yes, Genesis and the like. I equate my liking for early Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Ashra and minimalist composers like Glass and Reich, as well as Eno and ambient electronica acts like Amorphous Androgynous and Squarepusher, with my affinity with Pinhas’s music and it is on this basis that I recommend this superb set.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Moonlight - Integrated In The System Of Guilt
Tracklist: Slice (8:49), Recovering (7:06), Come With Me (3:38), Noom (4:07), For Better Days (11:49), Not My Politics (4:15), Reset (7:53), Redrum (12:09)
Jez Rowden's Review
This CD took me a long time to review. I just couldn’t get a handle on it and didn’t know where to start. In fact I’m still in two minds about it – I hope to have this sorted out by the end of the review!
Moonlight, from Poland, have been around for 15 years or so, releasing almost a dozen albums during this time but this is the first of theirs that I have heard so can’t comment on how it compares with their back catalogue. The band is basically a 5-piece with a female vocalist, keyboards, drums and guitar and bass who both contribute to the keyboard work, but additional musicians appear on the album. A well produced piece and well played throughout with no instrumental standout performance so there is a good band feel.
The music presented here has a very modern spin and is very imaginative – however, I can’t decide whether it is genuinely original or not. Consistency of writing and playing is strong throughout and there is a mix of old and new, for example in the use of the old “Scratchy LP” sound effect to add to the otherworldly and mysterious effect that underlies the album.
The songs are good and bare repeated listening but proceedings are much too leisurely and passages that don’t add much are stretched out too far. I found it enjoyable but a bit frustrating as huge chunks of the playing time is taken up by atmospheric and effects laden passages, generally quite subdued, that disrupt the flow. They do add to the overall feel of the album so maybe need to be there but I find them drag on far too long. The timings for the album given above are difficult to arrive at as no less than 3 of the 8 tracks have very long lead in times prior to the start of the actual track concerned – up to a seriously over the top five minutes in one case. But, now on to the music itself.
First track, Slice, starts with the first use of the scratch effect. A spooky sounding detuned upright piano adds to the mysterious feel but the song itself doesn’t start for three and a half minutes. When it does it is good. Guest male vocalist Adam Sypula (who also appears on Not My Politics) sounds a bit Chris Cornell or Mike Patton and the song carries a Red Hot Chilli Peppers/Audioslave/Faith No More feel. Main vocalist Maja Konarska sings the choruses giving the song quite a sinister impact. At 7 minutes slap bass kicks in with the surprising introduction of a piano accordion giving a slightly Eastern background. A track filled with variety.
Next is Recovering with another long and sparse introductory synth and guitar section. The female vocal over a low key beat with synth backing coupled with the addition of piano and sharp sounding guitar and effects makes for a Portishead feel and a nice groove. There is a long trail out with the industrial groove employed in the background intensifying. This effect carries over into Come With Me with more rhythm and a lead bass before drums and vocals start. There is a swimming keyboard section before a bit of Reggae in the last minute. Noom starts spookily – again scratchy sounds – with a breathy female vocal over a muted guitar backing. A nice melody and laid-back feel creates suspense and drags you in.
For Better Days again starts with a much too long scratchy, mellotron strings and moody synth dark intro before the song starts 3 minutes in, a nice melody well played and presented. The off kilter mid section gives a great sense of mystery with the use of muffled synth sax and accordion, but 2 minutes of guitar and synth fade out is too much. Not My Politics sees the return of the male vocal over a fast driving synth beat. Good arrangement but the words are hard to make out. Reset is next with another long lead in; a nice piano led melody finally arrives again sounding like Portishead with floating female voice.
The final track, Redrum, groans under the weight of its 5-minute preamble which includes brief verses of an unnamed song book ending 4 minutes of effects. When the song proper starts in comprises a good beat and guitar lead, up-tempo and interesting, but for almost the final 3 minutes it is back to quiet guitar and synth atmospherics.
So, enjoyable yet frustrating. Shrewd editing could have made this a great 40-minutes of modern and atmospheric sounds. I still enjoy it and would recommend it to anyone who fancies a slice of well played and written modern sounding rock with a prog edge. I like a sense of the dramatic and atmospheric interludes but here it just seems to overbalance the proceedings with a sense of going nowhere fast. A shame as this bunch produce plenty of good work here and are well worth hearing. Don’t let the negative comments I’ve made dissuade you from listening to this album however – I like it! As I said earlier, a difficult one to review and not for everybody.
Guillermo Palladino's Review
In February 2006 our team-mate John Shannon reviewed Moonlight's Downwords and wrote the following about this Polish band:
“Some art is fairly well set into a genre and some art defies genres. And with 'Downwards', the band’s tenth full-length release, Moonlight defies (and perhaps ignores!) my effort at categorization.”
Nearly a year has passed by since this, and Integrated In The System Of Guilt, their eleventh studio release, came in late August and reaffirms that John was absolutely right.
This time the band has had a major line-Up change, Krzysztof “Bialy” Medrala (known from his work with Body Mind Relation) replaces Maciej Kazmierski, who has been the band’s drummer for the last nine years. And for the first time in the band’s history there is a guest on an album, Adam Sypula from Ctrl+Alt+Del joining vocalist Maja Konarska for the opening track. The other band members are: Maja Konarska - vocals, Andrzej Kutys - guitar, Michał Podciechowski - bass guitar and Kuba Maciejewski – keyboards.
There are many influences from several musical genres on this album, such as Space Rock, Post Rock, Trip Rock, some Psychedelic, Gothic and Electronic ambiences / atmospheres - a “Disco-music section” on one song, and a lot of King Crimson elements. Note that in this release the lyrics were sung in Polish, however an English version release will be available soon.
Slice is the opening track, in which the band provides us a powerful song with plenty of Crimson-esque melodies combined with electronic atmospheres as a background sound. Adam Sypula as a guest vocal. Recovering is a more rhythmic song, with a Trip Hop influence combined with rock, melodic vocals and many jazzistic elements (maybe this idea makes “Trip Rock” a valid musical term to describe it); immediately Portishead came to my mind. Come With Me is probably the most commercial song, with a basic musical structure, and maybe the first of the whole record to appear on radio stations.
Noom is a much more relaxed song played by keyboards, with some sounds capes and Maja’s beautiful voice - played in waltz tempo, this song particularly for me represents a strong change respect to the musical route we've been listening to. For Better Days takes us back again into a more powerful and melodic composition - the longest song on this record, but at the same time the most outstanding moment of it. Not My Politics is a song which combines an aggressive guitar riff with the constant use (or abuse?) of electronic resources. Reset is the darkest song of the whole album and the one that has the most Post-Rock influences, unfortunately it appears to be the more boring too. Redrum awakes us from the previous song, giving another brilliant moment in which the band takes advantage of the Frippian influences and creates a perfect balance between them and this Trip Rock thing, all of which results in a very interesting finale for this work.
Before I go to my final comment I had to say that there are some issues in the mixing and mastering work that gives this release a lack of quality.
This album represents an atypical blending of musical influences, but the results are going to be most interesting than the typical Symphonic-Progressive Rock listener might imagine. As a matter of fact I can recommend this album to all of you.
Liquid Visions - The Lost Recordings
Tracklist: Fragile Illusions (5:02), Phantom Child (4:29), Walk Like an Angel (8:08), Nightrider (10:58), Yellow Sunshine Paper Man (14:00), No Limits (4:58), Shadow Man (6:02), Patchwork (5:25), Nuclear War (11:36), Nightfall (9:11)
Germany's Liquid Visions were around for a dozen years from 1994 to 2005 and were one of the leading lights in the psychedelic rock area drawing their influences from late Sixties garage rockers all the way up to more modern psych bands like Bevis Frond. The group fell apart at the beginning of 2005 when guitarist and founder Hans-Peter Ringholz and dancer/theremin player/sometime organist Kat (aka Psychic Siren) decided to take a "baby break" and the other members of the group decided to leave them to it. This CD of 'lost' live and studio recordings stems from the year 2000, before Kat had joined the band, and around the time they released their Endless Plasmatic Childhood Overdose album. In addition to Ringholz the CD features the talents of Robert Terkhany (vocals and guitar), Dave Schmidt (bass, mellotron, organ) and Steffen Schurz (drums).
The group describe their music as "garage-fuzz-rock meets long, freaky space-trips", and who am I to argue with that as it basically tells you all you need to know! With half the tracks clocking in at over 8 minutes there is plenty of space for the band to demonstrate their freak out capabilities. The shorter tracks demonstrate that the band had a firm grip on what made the plethora of largely self-financed US garage band singles so great. The two opening tracks are both killers, Fragile Illusions has a great chorus and a fine guitar solo over a typically psychedelicised backing while the cover of Lincoln Street Exit's Phantom Child (from the excellent 1969 album Drive It) is every bit as good as the 1969 version with Liquid Visions giving the song a more contemporary sound while maintaining the character of the original. Of the other shorter tracks No Limits has a beginning, middle eight and an end that sounds like The Shadows on acid, Shadow Man bears resemblance in places to late '70s Hawkwind with a riff borrowed from Bowie's Heroes and Patchwork, the album's sole instrumental, features plenty of wah-wah guitar in the intro but extends into a series of guitar solos with a great melodic bass line and both guitarists playing off each other, occasionally combining to give a slightly off kilter Wishbone Ash effect.
As expected, the longer tracks are opportunities for the band to stretch out into guitar driven extravaganzas. Walk Like An Angel is the most mellow thing on the album, although the latter quarter of the song is beefed up with a more aggressive guitar sound. The verses feature some nice harmony vocals and it has to be said that Terkhany has a pleasing voice with perfect diction and pronunciation. Nightrider verges on space rock territory with a very 'cosmic' last few minutes with dual guitars in free flight. The fourteen minute Yellow Sunshine Paper Man builds nicely gaining in tempo and intensity up to the nine minute mark after which things take on a more sedate air with a lovely organ section topped off with a fine guitar solo. The final ninety seconds are once again frantic guitar riffing and soloing bringing the song to a rather abrupt end.
With its repeated message of "it's hard to survive, just too much pain", Nuclear War isn't the most optimistic of sounds, but then with bloody mutants multiplying outside the bunker being killed by cyborgs and nothing to keep reality at bay except brain destroying synthetic drugs I suppose it is hard to keep positive. The first half of the song, with the vocals, is probably the weakest thing on the album for me, although the intensity of the closing five minutes is fine compensation. Finally Nightfall wraps the album up with a more diverse song that has very melodic vocal sections interspersed with a variety of instrumental sections including parts that sound a bit like a electrified Slavic folk song!
There is no doubt that Liquid Visions were great exponents of psychedelic garage rock and one of the better bands in the modern day genre. The album is of a consistently high quality and, for a compilation of unreleased material, the packaging is excellent. Fans of psychedelic guitar rock can't go far wrong with this album and the variety of material, from long jams to shorter songs makes it a particularly balanced album. Couldn't determine which were the live songs though!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Variant - Beyond Jargon
Tracklist: March To War (6:52), Today I Tried (4:20), None So Blind (7:12), Deeds (6:13), Carrin' Carrion (10:23), Going (7:00), Regardless (9:26), Reflections (1:15), When the Lights On (4:16)
Variant is a quartet from the Dallas, Texas area, specialising in a mixture of 1970's bluesy rock and psychedelia, with some generous progressive and art rock trimmings. Featuring Gary Langton on drums, Erik Connolly on lead and lap steel guitars, Mike Herrel on bass and piccolo bass, and Jerry Wengert on vocals and rhythm guitars, Beyond Jargon is the band's debut album, which appears to have been three years in the making. Described by the band as 'a complete story presented as an audio novel', it is certainly an interesting project, with the lyrics in the booklet presenting each portion of the story as a chapter in the form of a song.
As the band name suggests, the four musicians behind Variant come from different musical backgrounds with differing tastes. Each one contributes his own style, giving the music a surprisingly diverse number of influences. Hard to pigeon-hole, most often I hear The Doors mixed with the blues-based rock of Wishbone Ash, but with the dark, Indie vibe of Joy Division and the occasional metal riffing of Maiden or Sabbath.
The nine tracks cover a wide expanse of musical territory. There's the stomping heavy rock of March To War. It is well-placed as the album's opener, with some down-tuned Maiden riffing, low-pitched vocals and a distinctive melody. The vocals are pitched higher for Today I Tried. This offers a sense of vulnerability amid another solid, blues-based riff and some definite progressive leanings. Deeds has a much warmer tone, whilst Going is softer, quieter and even darker.
The songs on Beyond Jargon clock in at between four and ten minutes, with the longest being the guitar-based, nu-waveish Carrin' Carrion, which is extended by a nicely structured, progressive mid-section. The album loses its way a little after this, with Regardless rather too droll and one-paced for my liking, and with some uncomfortably strained vocals at the close. And despite having a nice vibe, When The Lights On is too one-dimensional and closes the album on a bit of a bum note.
It did take a few listens but I've come to the conclusion that Wengert's vocals suit the music well. His style won't be to everyone's taste, so visit the band's MySpace page before you buy. The rest of the band is tight and the raw production fits the overall sense of the music. Whilst there's no real standout songs here, nor does it offer anything distinctively new, Beyond Jargon is a pretty solid debut album from a band that appears to know where it wants to go.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Object Permanence - The Perfect Plan
Tracklist: Stem $ells (7:10), Man In The Window (5:20), Life Vest (5:29), The Perfect Plan (5:56), Disconnect (4:24), Immortality (7:21), Open Minds (4:40), Voice Of Reason (5:29)
Some three years after the debut release of Michael DeMichele's The Ripple Effect, he returns with this, his latest offering The Perfect Plan. Now little appears to have changed in the intervening years with DeMichele still taking on the lion's share of the writing and production, along with the vocal duties and all the instrumentation. In fact all excluding the drums which are undertaken once again by Simon Janis.
Now some albums click immediately, some take their time before the music begins to appeal and there are of course those that do not ever appeal. Sadly this offering from DeMichele falls into the latter category. Now it would be oh so simple of me to pour scorn on this release, however my personal tastes are not necessarily what the DPRP reader is looking for in a review, but rather more an indication of what the music might offer them. It would also not serve well Michael DeMichele and the wealth of other independent progressive artists who look to "us" to help promote their music. So with this in mind - on to the music.
Well in the list of influences listed in the accompanying literature Porcupine Tree is probably the one I would most favour. Tool perhaps, Dream Theater I didn't hear. And the Porcupine Tree reference was not necessarily in overall sound but more within the atmosphere presented on The Perfect Plan. What takes the music away from PT are the rather early 70s crunchy guitar riffs (Black Sabbath being the one that springs to mind) and the vocals, which again had the Sabbath connection staying with me. Structurally the songs follow a fairly straightforward path, dominated by the driving guitar and a steady if not a little pedestrian rhythm section. Keyboards are used throughout, mainly in a supporting role lying just under the guitars, although occasionally surfacing as gentle a lead theme or as a harmony part.
So why didn't The Perfect Plan work for me?
Variation is the key factor here and even on the first run through of the album and by about the second or third track I was tiring of the formula adopted. And for me what Object Permanence lack is the input of other musicians (and of course Mr DeMichele may not agree with me on this one), but I really feel that the inclusion of other collaborators might just inject the spark the music needs. Granted the music may not end up exactly how it was originally conceived, but I'm sure the end results would far outweigh the changes. In fairness I can almost hear Michael shouting out... "I would, if only I could find such like minded musicians nearby." However, and if such musicians could be found, the one major area would be the vocals, as there are a fair few lyrics to be found on The Perfect Plan. These are fairly low in the mix making them indistinguishable most of the time - deliberately so I think and to conceal that DeMichele has not been blessed with a particularly strong or distinctive voice. This along with the lack of any great hook lines from the vocals doesn't help the music... More variation/dynamics within the arrangements and perhaps a little pruning of the overall song length.
Now all of this has painted a fairly black picture and so we should perhaps a look at some of the positives. The opening track, like many others, feature some atmospheric passages adding some interesting colour and variation to the music. The music also contains light and shade, although mainly at two levels, the more interesting being the shade. Perhaps a quick look at the two tracks to illustrate.
The opener Stem $ells begins with a percolating bass line before the main body of the song jumps in. The guitar is grinding, with the vocal line following very much what the riff is laying down. The track is then punctuated with reverberant thumping bass, gentle vocals followed by a slide guitar solo. We return again the verse/chorus section before the track is allowed to fade with atmospheric bass and percussion. Following on from this is Man In The Window, opening with an infectious riff which catches the imagination. However once again the verse/chorus structure is just too much on one level. DeMichele utilises his layered guitars well, although again slightly more variation in the distorted guitar tone might help. The solo section works well and demonstrates DeMichele has put much thought into the guitar parts. Although these two tracks do not fully reflect the album, they are a very good indicator. The best track for me was the title track where there is more emphasis placed on the cleaner guitar sounds and for me this works better.
Thanks to the internet, progressive music is once again finding a wider market, however in this increasingly expanding market the stakes are also rising. In 2006 we reviewed over 450 prog/prog related releases (and we missed a fair few), therefore competition for the "customer's" money is high. And within that perspective market no consideration is made as to whether or not the album is backed by a major label or if it is entirely self funded.
Work has begun on album number three and I genuinely hope that Michael and Simon find some collaborators to perform the music they so obviously embrace with open arms.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10