Reviews in this issue:
- Kamelot – Ghost Opera (Duo Review)
- Autumn – My New Time
- Xystus - Surreal
- A Chinese Firedrill - Circles
- Slavior - Slavior
- Soniq Theater - Enchanted
- Soniq Theater - Seventh Heaven
Kamelot – Ghost Opera
Tracklist: Solitaire (1:00), Rule The World (3:40), Ghost Opera (4:06), The Human Stain (4:01), Blücher (4:03), Love You To Death (5:13), Up Through The Ashes (4:59), Mourning Star (4:37), Silence Of The Darkness (3:43), Anthem (4:24), Edenecho (4:13)
Louis Koot's Review
A lonely and desolate violin preludes an avalanche of moody progressive metal. Solitaire is the introduction to an album that is drenched with a sad melancholic vibe and loaded with heavy lyrical substance. No concept album this time around, but an overall dark and gloomy atmosphere connects the music of this disc. At first listening the album sounds much more stripped down than what we are used to from Kamelot. This more direct approach seems to leave no place for flirts with other musical styles or complex progressive adventures. But first impressions can be deceiving as this album does carry a lot of progressive essentials in a subtle manner.
The first time I got acquainted with the music of Kamelot was with their The Fourth Legacy album from 1999. Their mixture of audacious power metal and progressive elements with some gothic tendencies has me hooked ever since. Even though The Fourth Legacy remains my favourite because it was the album that got me into Kamelot’s music in the first place their following studio records Karma, Epica and The Black Halo are all masterpieces. To top the amazing The Black Halo album would be very daring so I think it is smart Kamelot changed their approach a little with Ghost Opera. So this is not an ambitious concept piece with over the top bombast but a collection of short power metal songs with the focus on very strong hooks. And I have to say this approach succeeds, as Ghost Opera is an excellent record.
Singer Roy Khan names Geoff Tate from Queensrÿche as one of his influences on his dramatically way of singing. So it’s no coincidence that some of the songs on this album remind me of 80’s Queensrÿche. Especially the experimental nature of tracks like The Human Stain and Blücher bring up that reference. Then Edenecho starts out with a piano intro that is very Savatage-like. But mostly Kamelot sound like themselves, as by now they found their own niche in the progressive metal scene. Big part of their sound is production tandem Sascha Paeth and Miro who again are responsible for the excellent audio and orchestration of the songs. The progressive and gothic elements are less dominant but still all of the songs are flavoured with a moody atmosphere. In some songs Roy’s vocals are a bit computerized which, even though I don’t like this in general, isn’t really disturbing. In Mourning Star it works very well especially with the startling chorus with dubbed female vocals. And the track shows that guitar player Thomas Youngblood has no problem to keep coming up with these interesting guitar riffs. This is one of my favourites on the record next to the beautiful ballad Love You To Death. This love song dealing with a Japanese tragedy shows Kamelot at their sensitive best almost outshining their already impressive back catalogue of ballads. Amanda Somerville is the vocalist responsible for the tasty female lead vocals. The typical speedy Kamelot songs with the ‘happy’ guitar melody and double bass drums are missing on this album. Only Silence Of The Darkness is a fast-paced track. Some fans might be disappointed with this but I don’t object, as I was never that fond on the speedy songs. As I am more into tracks like for example Lunar Sanctum from The Fourth Legacy the overall experimental nature of this album is fine by me. And songs like Up Through The Ashes and Edenecho shine with their effectively pleasant choruses.
Keyboard player Oliver Palotai is welcomed on this album as full-time band member. And even though Ghost Opera isn’t very symphonic the contributions of the keyboard player are evident. Apart from the above-mentioned names Kamelot consists of long time members Casey Grillo on drums and Glenn Barry on bass. The beautiful artwork of the album comes again from the hands of Swedish artist Mattias Norén. Watch out for the digipak version of Ghost Opera with extra bonus track The Pendulous Fall and a bonus DVD with the video of the title track and ‘the making of’. A tasteful package for a superb album!
Martien Koolen's Review
Kamelot’s eighth studio album is again surpassing its predecessor The Black Halo, mostly in terms of song writing and production. Their musical mix of progressive metal, gothic metal, power metal and mainstream hard rock is almost second to none on this new album. The eleven new tracks are all filled with double bass rhythms, progressive elements, orchestral parts, walls of keyboards, addictive guitar riffs and amazing vocal passages. I would say that Ghost Opera is truly dominated by the great voice of Roy Khan, especially in songs like Anthem or Love You To Death, his singing really “make” these songs come to life.
The CD opens with the short Solitaire which could also be the overture for a real opera, as it is filled with strings, violin and keys. It has a real touching, sad melody, setting the tone for the rest of the album, which is lyrically rather dark, sad and gloomy. This rather short intro is followed by a bombastic, mid tempo song called Rule The World, featuring some Eastern influences and mysterious vocal parts by Khan. The first wall of sound can be heard in the title track as it is packed with strings, guitar licks, heavy drums and amazing vocals. This song is so bombastic that it even reminds me of Rhapsody on fire... The Human Stain features a head banging riff, great emotional vocals and a rather cool Marty Friedman-like guitar solo. The first real musical highlight is Blücher, a Queensrÿche-like track with lots of classical, orchestral parts and especially some truly breathtaking vocals.
The longest track is called Love You To Death and it has a nice piano/keys intro followed by strings, vocals and a great melody. This is a song that also could have been on their former album The Black Halo, mainly due to the astonishing female vocals of Amanda Sommerville and the sparkling guitar solo by Thomas Youngblood. Up Through The Ashes is again a Rhapsody-like song with dark and mysterious vocals and lots of orchestral parts. Mourning Star starts with keys and a choir intro (sung in Latin), followed by some heavy riffs and the female vocals tend to make this song very gothic like.
The only "real" ballad is called Anthem and it features an orchestral classical theme, a background choir, lots of piano and some really emotional and dramatic vocals by Khan. Actually this song is a bit too “sweet” for me, as it sometimes reminds me of musicals played in the West End of London... The album ends with a typical Kamelot track called EdenEcho, which is again rather bombastic, also featuring some gothic choir parts and a rather speedy, but melodic guitar solo.
I would say that the new songs are heavier and more complex than ever before, but they are still extremely catchy and also rather accessible. The production was again done by Paeth, Miro and Reitmeier and the album sounds truly contemporary and alive, so you could say that Kamelot’s third SPV release is again an album to look forward to for the fans. Listening tip: Blücher!
The album will also be released as a limited digipak, including bonus track and a bonus DVD.
Autumn – My New Time
Tracklist: Satellites (4:32), Closest Friends Conspire (3:49), Blue Wine (4:28), Angel Of Desire (4:38), My New Time (3:47), Communication On Opium (4:40), Twisted And Turned (4:18), Shadowmancer (4:03), Forget To Remember (4:41), State Of Mind (5:26), Epilogue (4:06)
This Dutch female fronted rock band went through a lot of changes since their last successful album Summer’s End. Three newcomers, being Jerome Vrielink (bass guitar), Mals van der Valk (guitar) and Jan Munnik (keys) have joined Jan Grijpstra (drums), Nienke de Jong (vocals) and Jens van der Valk (guitar) to end up as the best Autumn line up ever. The new sound of the band could best be described as compact, dynamic and innovative as this new line up does not acknowledge any musical restrictions. So you can hear musical influences like gothic, new wave, stoner rock and metal, guaranteeing lots of diversity. My New Time is the most personal and intimate Autumn album so far and especially the vocals of Nienke de Jong shine on this new CD.
The eleven new songs are all filled with exciting arrangements, lots of killer grooves, catchy choruses and most of all the excellent vocal performance of Nienke. Satellites features a gothic intro followed by an up tempo riff and some true main stream musical influences, while the follow up Closest Friends Conspire even features dance influences while being dominated by Nienke’s vocals. Blue Wine is the first highlight and really reminds me of Within Temptation and After Forever, featuring a heavenly piano intro, a beautiful melody and a sparkling guitar solo.
Communication On Opium also starts with a ballad like intro followed by a metal riff, catchy vocals and a guitar solo that makes me think of Evanescence... Twisted And Turned is a fantastic melodic power ballad with a superb ferocious guitar solo and even some bombastic parts. State Of Mind is probably the heaviest song Autumn has ever written as it is doomy and rather hypnotising; a song that will do very good on stage I think...
All in all a great album with an excellent “in your face” dynamic sound proving that there are more amazing Dutch female fronted rock bands than After Forever, Epica and Within Temptation!
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Xystus - Surreal
Tracklist: R.O.C. (4:54), My Chrysalis (4:03), Whole In Pieces (4:24), Run & Hide (2:10), Holding On To Better Days (3:18), Voltage (4:47), End Of The Line (3:45), Brighter Kind Of Light (3:54), Surreal (19:56) – Part 1 Aenigma (1:13), Part 2 Make It Happen (4:32), Part 3 Mystified (4:30), Part 4 Confusion Collision (1:16), Part 5 My Saviour (4:11), Part 6 It All Ends... (4:55)
Dutch rock band Xystus was founded back in 1999 by Ivo van Dijk en Bas Dolmans. Their debut album called Receiving Tomorrow was released in 2004 and all the leading magazines in The Netherlands were quite enthusiastic about this record. On their new CD Xystus cooperated with Ivo Severijns (the bass player of The Wild Romance and Powerplay) and the mix was done by no one less than Oscar Holleman, who is of course “famous” for his excellent work with well-known Dutch bands like Within Temptation, Krezip and After Forever.
All the fourteen new songs were written by Ivo van Dijk (music) and Bas Dolmans (lyrics) and if you compare them with their songs on the debut you can hear that this band has grown a lot in three years time. The music of Xystus is a mix of rock, pop, metal and film music, with typical musical ingredients like industrial drums, fast melodic guitar solos, metal riffs, lots of keys, strings and even dance influences. In tracks like R.O.C. or Brighter Kind Of Light they even remind me of Kamelot. R.O.C., the opening song is filled with guitar riffs, keys, strings and other prog metal characteristics; at certain points it is even a very bombastic song due to the orchestral parts. My Chrysalis – the single – is a kind of pop/rock song with a catchy chorus and lots of melody. The next two songs are rather “heavy” featuring up tempo riffs, amazing vocals and lots of great guitar picking. The piano ballad Holding On To Better Days is not really my cup of tea, as it is rather dull so that even the melodic guitar solo can not “save” this sheer mediocre track.
The musical highlight of this CD is without any doubt the last epic song called Surreal with its playing time of almost twenty minutes. Here Xystus show what they are made of, as this is melodic, progressive rock at its best. The song is one musical highlight beginning with a classical-like intro followed by lots of neo classical rock parts, gothic passages even and finally coming to an end in the last part called It all ends… The latter being a melodic ballad like rock song with amazing vocals and some heavenly musical parts. This is certainly one of the best Dutch prog rock records I have heard in a long time! Check this band out!!
Surreal will also be released as a limited edition digi-pack.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
A Chinese Firedrill - Circles
Tracklist: Circles (6:15), Automatic Fantasy (7:26), Insane (4:11), Siucra (6:18), Never Say Never (5:30), Grass and Stone (Ethereal) (6:50), Rock, Paper, Scissors (9:22)
A Chinese Firedrill is the new project of Joey Vera and he plays all instruments except for the drums, which are handled by Greg Studgio. Prog metal fans may know Joey Vera as the bassist of Fates Warning since their brilliant A Pleasant Shade Of Gray (APSoG) album. Lately he also played the bass on the latest OSI album Free, replacing Sean Malone. His past involvements include much heavier bands such as Armored Saint and Anthrax, as well as bands like Chroma Key. While A Chinese Firedrill’s sound borrows some elements from Fates Warning, OSI, Chroma Key, Engine, Porcupine Tree and a host of others, it is so much more than just influences. Vera showcases his outstanding song-writing skills in this gorgeous album called Circles, where a wide range of musical styles melt into one homogenic piece of art.
The album kicks off with the song Circles. The song’s intro is quite reminiscent of Alan Morse’s (Spock’s Beard) borderline guitar licks, but as soon as the distorted guitars kick in the whole sound gets a similar vibe to Fates Warning meets Tool. The song has a modern American rock flair a la Engine and some OSI elements all around and thanks to its wonderful refrain, it’s one hell of a memorable song.
Automatic Fantasy begins with some percussion work and slowly builds up into a Porcupine Tree flavoured sound. In the middle part of the song there’s a heavy section once again reminiscent of Fates Warning and thereafter another section with Alan Morse guitars. At around 4:30 a piano riff sets the mood for an APSoG style Fates Warning goodness. The addition of acoustic guitars and an electric guitar solo thereafter brings back the good old memories of Eleventh Hour to mind. Thumbs up!
Insane is quite an original track showcasing some Porcupine Tree influences with a harder edge at some points. It contains a simple but marvellous guitar solo right in the middle which is followed by multi-layered vocals building up a brilliant climax towards the end of the song.
Siucra begins with an atmospheric intro and is the most bombastic and radio friendly song on the record. Porcupine Tree in their Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun period may be a good reference, but the song still manages to sound fresh and original.
Never Say Never, another very Fates Warning-sounding track captivates the listener with its incredible chorus where the synthesis of the main melody and the underlying atmospheric keyboard work creates a small miracle.
Grass And Stone, however, is more unconventional and has an interesting vibe with all the rhythm and mood changes but it lacks the amazing melodies which can be heard on the previous tracks.
Rock, Paper, Scissors is the closing track and has a more retro vibe, with little influences of Peter Gabriel, Dire Straits and Pink Floyd. A very interesting track throughout, but could have been better in my humble opinion.
As I mentioned before ACF may be called a one-man project of Joey Vera where he is everywhere except for the drums. As you might know, he is quite good on bass. There shouldn’t be any doubt about that. His vocals are a little bit hard to get used to, but after a while one realizes that it suits the music amazingly well, though I have the admit that he is not the best singer on earth either. His guitar and keyboard work doesn’t leave too much to be desired since this album is not about virtuoso stuff. Wonderful melodies, interesting sonic textures, great arrangements and an ever changing emotional atmosphere are the strengths in this record and I don’t think it would be better if John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess would play here, but I certainly would like to see Steven Wilson and Kevin Moore in this project. I don’t have any information about the background of the drummer, Greg Studgio. I think he does OK on this record, but I wouldn’t mind a more gentle and versatile performance on drums. If you like me are a Fates Warning fan, this record comes highly recommended, but also Porcupine Tree, OSI, Chroma Key and Tool fans or any modern progressive music fan should definitely give this album a try. Highly recommended.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Slavior - Slavior
Tracklist: Origin (3:54), Shatter (4:40), Swept Away (5:07), Altar (4:49), Another Planet (4:57), Deeper (4:22), Dove (5:02), Slavior (5:37), Give It Up (4:46), Red Road (8:49)
As a rabid fan of Mark Zonder (former drummer for Fates Warning) I was easily sold on Slavior when I first heard of their plans for an album. The band consists of Mark Zonder on drums, Wayne Findlay (MSG) on guitar, keys and bass and finally Gregg Analla (Tribe of Gypsies) on vocals, so it is not too inaccurate to call this band as a member of super-group-flux. How does it differentiate itself from the rest is a little surprising though. The answer is easy: They don’t pretend to be a super-group at all. While all of the members are more than quite proficient in their fields, they don’t try to show their balls all the time and the result is a modern groovy heavy rock sound which aims rather for the mainstream than the usual prog audience. The band also admits that and states that the album was “designed for masses”. But don’t let this put you off (well, if you’re reading this, you probably are looking for something progressive, aren’t you?), the songs mostly contain polyrhythmic structures and some interesting guitar work, but the balance overall shifts towards a more straight-forward approach. Sounds familiar actually, do you remember a band called Asia?
Mark Zonder says that he always wanted to record an album shaped around the drums, and Slavior is the fruit of his wish, but this should not mean that this album is a drumming extravaganza with lots of drum solos or such. Fans of Zonder won’t be disappointed here though, since most of the songs contain wonderful drumming integrated quite homogenically into the song structures. One big surprise for me was the performance of the other two members. Analla is a superb singer, perfectly suited for this kind of music as he writes and performs wonderful and memorable vocal melodies. He easily adapts to the diverse emotional atmospheres within the songs. Findlay also adds critical touches to the sound with his interesting guitar hooks and grooves. The most beautiful thing about the album is that all of these great performances are perfectly integrated into the sound and none of them sounds over-produced. The downside of the album is that it sometimes sounds too much like your average modern American rock/nu-metal band. But fear not, there are still mind-blowing progressive passages where rather strange genre influences such as reggae can be heard. Overall, there’s plenty of groove, melody and diversity throughout the album which makes it an enjoyable journey. Songs like Origin, Shatter, Another Planet and especially Dove are evidences for the great potential of this band which I think isn’t fully unlocked yet.
Fans of Zonder should get this album no matter what, although his style is quite different than his performance with Fates Warning. While it may not be your typical progressive metal album, its attitude is clearly interesting. My only concern is that the album sounds somewhat stuck in between. It definitely won’t appeal to the mainstream due to its semi-progressive nature, yet it also won’t be hailed by the prog audience since it’s a little bit straight-forward for progressive ears. But if you consider yourself as an open-minded listener and if you’re looking for melodic, groovy and intelligent heavy rock/metal, it’s an easy recommendation. Just don’t expect something similar to Fates Warning.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Soniq Theater - Enchanted
Tracklist: Highlander (4:04), Sorcerer’s Apprentice (5:37), Morgana (4:44), The King’s Enchanter (12:23), Avalon (6:00), Horus Eyes (3:55), Sagittarius (4:29), Nanga Parbat (5:29), Lizards and Wizards (3:48), Amazing Bells (6:17)
Soniq Theater - Seventh Heaven
Tracklist: The Fountain (3:57), Welcome Home (3:39), Lilly (5:20), New Year’s Eve (4:40), But Seriously (4:11), Lift-off (4:05), Trip Across The 7th Age (6:38), Closer To Heaven (6:39), Silk Road (5:31), Divine Harmonies (4:05)
Keyboard maestro and multi-instrumentalist Alfred Mueller returns with two new releases, featuring his punchy melodic instrumentals and boasting an array of keyboard sounds to capture the imagination of even the most die hard of fans. Since the demise of Rachel's Daughter in the late 90s Alfred has gone it alone producing an new album pretty much every year since. Enchanted is the sixth solo release from the Mueller studios and follows on in the tradition laid down on his previous albums.
For those unfamiliar with Soniq Theater (aka Alfred Mueller) then musically we are in the realms of heavily symphonic prog that draws much from the keyboard masters of the past. To my ears Keith Emerson being the most notable, more so his solo works during the 80s and after the demise of ELP. Most of Soniq's keyboard sounds have that distinctly brassy timbre to them which tends to pitch the material in that particular era. Not necessarily a bad thing of course. The album opens with two up-tempo tunes - Highlander which has a rousing and anthemic theme, including a bagpipe sounding timbre to bring home its Celtic theme. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice encompasses a whole smorgasbord of ideas and with the inclusion of sampled guitars Mueller is able to add a Dream Theater type prog metal tinge to the music. Again the keyboard sounds are impressive running through a whole gamut of sounds evoking Emerson, Wakeman and Moraz. Now as mentioned the Sonic albums are instrumentals however once again Alfred's impressive library of samples means that we do have voices included as we can hear with the wordless vocals on Morgana and a Enya like feel to the track. The track is interspersed with nifty synth themes, however the voices did tend to wear by the end of the piece.
The longest track from the album, The King’s Enchanter, moves us a little more in the direction of Rick Wakeman encompassing influences from both Rick's earlier concept albums along with his more recent AOR pomp rocker Out There - and I suppose at this point we might also bring in some Geoff Downes/Asia references to the mix. However Enchanted does have it's different flavourings - Avalon, Nanga Parbat and Amazing Bells add a more sequenced nature to the proceedings - suggesting influences from Vangelis, Jarre and Mike Oldfield.
Looking back through the DPRP archives I find it incredible to see it has been some six years since I first reviewed Soniq Theater's self titled debut album back in 2001. How time passes. So for this latest foray into the world of Soniq Theater I move forward to 2007 and the aptly titled seventh release - Seventh Heaven. I can report that much remains the same in the Mueller camp although there are some changes. Remaining the same is Mr Mueller who once again takes on all the programming, playing and recording duties for the new album. Surprisingly though we have vocals (Lilly and New Year’s Eve) - processed and presumably sampled, but still vocals.
I was a little dubious that Seventh Heaven might follow on closely from Enchanted and therefore making it difficult to say anything new about the material. Happily the music, although retaining its' distinctive identity, takes on a slightly more song orientated format - and not just because two of the tracks have vocals included. Seventh Heaven has a slightly more electronic drive to it and in many respects a lighter tone. This said the album opens in true Sonic style with a bombast of keys and a distinct hint towards the Neo-prog movement along with shades of Eddie Jobson/UK in the rhythm department. A cracking opener. Welcome Home is definitely a song in waiting, catchy and with a jaunty rhythm - it just needs some lyrics - in fact it sounds a little bit like a backing track to me. As mentioned the next two tracks feature vocals which are heavily processed, giving an indication why perhaps Soniq Theater is an instrumental venture. Certainly the most memorable parts here are the cutting synth lead lines.
The mood is taken down with the textured But Seriously before returning to the more familiar Soniq Theater sounding Lift-off. Whereas Trip Across The 7th Age recalls Vangelis once more, the strong church organ sounds and multi-layered keyboards of Closer To Heaven suggest a rather grander landscape altogether. The two remaining tracks again are heavily laden with keys but in much lighter and immediately infectious manner. The top and bottom of it is - if you like keyboard albums then these two albums are certainly worth investigation - with a span covering Vangelis, Jarre and Tomita through Emerson, Wakeman and Moraz, then surely there has to be something to capture the interest.
As always Soniq Theater's music remains bright and breezy and recalling a whole host of keyboard playing masters - many already identified. Alfred Mueller has consistently come up with interesting and entertaining albums and certainly if you've not sampled any of his music then either of these releases would be a good introduction. The CDRs come simply packaged and with relatively no artwork, thus keeping production costs down to a minimum and ultimately what you are buying is the music rather than the packaging. Soniq Theater's music is only available through their website.
Enchanted : 7 out of 10
Seventh Heaven: 6.5 out of 10