Reviews in this issue:
- Andromeda - Playing Off The Board (Duo Review)
- Pendragon – Past And Presence
- Neo - Broadcast (Duo Review)
- The Fromuz - Audio Diplomacy
- Nearfest 2005 (VA) - Rising To The Surface
- Mike Oldfield – The Space Movie
Andromeda - Playing Off The Board
Tracklist: Periscope, Mirages, In the Deepest of Waters, Two is One, The Hidden Riddle, Chameleon Carneval, Inner Circle, Eclipse, In the End, Encyclopedia, Reaching Deep Within, The Words Unspoken
Extras: Interviews, Rehearsal October 2006, Andromeda Goes Dutch, European Tour Tales, Three Days in Poland, Photo Gallery, Old Live Footage (Arch Angel, Extension Of The Wish, Crescendo Of Thoughts
Andy Read's Review
To fully appreciate how far this Swedish band has come in just three albums, I'd suggest that you actually start watching this DVD by jumping into the 'extras'.
There you will find a trio of old live clips including one shot at its fourth concert, in a small Stockholm bar in 2001. Shot from behind a pillar and with a stage seemingly lit by a red candle, you struggle to make out much of what is happening, but it appears that the audience consists of three men and a dog - or maybe a small, hairy person who jumps around a lot!
After that, sit back, grab a beer and enjoy the main show. You will really appreciate the transformation.
One of the more proggy ProgMetal bands, Andromeda's compelling music is based on an ever-changing interplay between guitar, keys and vocals. There's plenty of power and passion, as they share and develop a song's melodies. It certainly is complex music, but that fact that both the instrumental and vocal melodies are packed with memorable hooks, makes it a pretty accessible listen. Even my 11-year-old son, David sat down and watched a few songs on this DVD; and he's only ever said before that my music is a 'load of crap'!
This, the band's first DVD, is the latest in a long line of such products from Poland's Metal Minds label. It seems to have found a nice little business bringing in niche progressive bands for the combination of a rare Polish gig and a live video recording. Anyone who bought some of the label's earlier DVDs (I've got the TV studio based Delight and Green Carnation 'concerts'), will be pleased to know that the standard of both the concert setting and the cinematography have come on in leaps and bounds.
Filmed in Katowice, during the tour in support of last year's superb Chimara album, the venue is an impressively large and grandiose concert theatre - the type of place that usually hosts an orchestra or opera.
With the profile of a band like Andromeda, this is never going to be a big budget production. But having said that, the quality of the video and sound, the range and variety of camera shots and angles, and the crisp, clean editing has produced one of the best concert films of this type you are ever likely to see. The lighting is superb, enabling the cameras to get consistently clear shots and providing a nice variety of visual moods and atmospheres. This really is a good-looking film.
The venue does lead to the one grumble I have about this live show - the venue is full but the audience is sat down throughout, is quiet and lifeless, and barely features in the footage. If you want to see a live show with lots of band/crowd interaction, then this may leave you a little cold. On the plus side, this does mean that you concentrate on the music and the band, and despite the audience, they sure put in a world class performance.
David Fremberg has long been one of my favourite Progmetal singers, but here he exceeds my expectations by some distance. Combining an animated stage presence with an emotion-filled, note-perfect performance, this is a vocal master-class. Exactly the same adjectives could be applied to guitarist Johan Reinholdz.
I must admit that I'd never fully appreciated how great a part the keyboards of Martin Hedin play in Andromeda's music or how clever the interplay is between him and Reinholdz. His superb backing vocals add an extra dimension to the sound too.
Playing Off The Board is taken from a line in the title track of their second album, yet this show covers all three albums equally. Apart from the dull, balladic Eclipse, the set list includes what I'd say are band's best songs. The selection is carefully paced, with a good balance of heavier and lighter moments, and of instrumental and vocal based songs.
Highlights for me are the superb melodies of Periscope, Mirages and Encylopedia; the superbly complex and multi-layered Two Is One and the belting opening riff of Reaching Deep Within. I'd never really liked the tracks In The End or The Words Unspoken too much on record. But the added dynamic and groove from this live performance takes both songs to another level. The instrumental Chameleon Carneval is where you need to go to see what a talent Reinholdz is.
I can't say that I've ever done it for a DVD before, but this sounds so good that I often put it on just to listen to.
The extras are the usual bunch, but the tour stuff is fun and the interviews have a nice level of detail for fans. Although the varying light levels are annoying, a bit of imagination has again gone into the editing, with each question being interspersed with live footage.
For any fan of the band, this is undoubtedly a quality product and an essential purchase. For those who've yet to give Andromeda a chance, if you like your music highly progressive, very melodic and with a good level of heaviness, then the 'best of' nature of the songs makes this the best place to start.
Sadly this tour came nowhere near the UK, but the band has just been booked for the Progpower UK festival next May. On the basis of this live DVD, that is a show that no lover of progressive metal should miss.
Martien Koolen's Review
Ever since their first album Extension Of The Wish I was a fan of this Swedish prog metal band and now after four albums it was time to bring out their first DVD. The set list contains twelve songs, four from each album and this video was recorded during their Chimera tour of 2006 in Poland.
The opener Periscope form their last album Chimera sets the tone for the rest of the gig; great melodies, lots of keys, crystal clear vocals and lots of guitar hooks and solos. My musical highlight is definitely the instrumental Chameleon Carneval with impressive guitar work by Johan Reinholdz and very fast keyboard solos by Martin Hedin. After Encyclopedia the band leaves the stage, but luckily after a while they return to do two more songs and these last two tracks really kick some serious ass. Reaching Deep Within and The Words Unspoken are amazing prog metal songs proving that these guys are on the verge of getting through to the bigger audiences. Speaking of audiences, what is wrong with the crowd during this gig, are they alive or what, as they hardly give the band the applause and the appreciation these guys deserve. The rest of this gig is just fantastic and the sound is also of a very high quality, so you can really enjoy one hour and twenty five minutes of great Swedish prog metal.
The extras consist of a bonus video featuring an interview with guitar player Johan Reinholdz and singer David Fremberg, some rehearsal stuff, old live footage and a couple of European Tour tales. Furthermore the usual stuff like a biography, the discography, a photo gallery, desktop images and some web links.
Pendragon – Past And Presence
Tracklist: Higher Circles, The Pleasure Of Hope, Leviathan, Victims Of Life, Armageddon, Fly High Fall Far, Excalibur, Please, Oh Divineo, Alaska, Dark Summer’s Day, Circus, The Black Knight, 2AM, Stan And Ollie
Extras: Interview with Nick Barrett and John Barnfield, Behind the Scenes , Nigel Harris on drums at Riffs Bar, UK, 28th Oct 2006
This DVD celebrates the 21st anniversary of the debut album of Pendragon called The Jewel released back in 1985 and the band starts this gig with three songs from that “famous” album, namely Higher Circles, The Pleasure Of Hope and one of the fans al time favourite Pendragon songs Leviathan. It is so much fun seeing the band enjoy themselves that much on stage, especially Nick is really getting it on... The sound quality is excellent and the crowd is really enjoying themselves too with singing, shouting and clapping along to the familiar Pendragon songs.
My favourite track on this DVD is the instrumental Excalibur, a song where Nick shows what a great melodic guitar player he is. The epic classic Pendragon track The Black Knight is of course also on the set list and during 2AM Nick goes into the crowd and Julian Baker treats us to a nice saxophone solo. The last song is an extended version of Stan And Ollie also featuring a sax solo and Nick “introducing the band. Pendragon is still a great band to watch and listen to - I have seen them a couple of times in the flesh - and this DVD is really worth its money as the actual gig lasts one hour and forty five minutes.
The extras feature an interview with Nick Barrett and John Barnfield (I was rather “upset” by the rather broken English of the interviewer), behind the scenes footage, an animated menu, the band history, discography, a photo gallery, desktop images and some weblinks. Get it now if you can.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Neo - Broadcast
Tracklist: Overture, Erosion, For The Greater Glory, Hide And Seek, Crown Of Thorns, The Hanging Tree, The Enemy Smacks [End Section], Mindgames, Outer Limits, Shadows Of Fate, Paintbox, Masters Of Illusion, Nostradamus
Extras: Interview with John Jowitt and Clive Nolan, Neo Soundcheck ROSfest 2006
Mark Hughes' Review
Two members of IQ, two members of Pendragon, two members of Dirtbox, one member of Pallas, one half of Shadowlands, one half of Nolan-Wakeman, one member of Arena and one ex-member of Arena - all that in just six musicians. For this is the travelling prog sideshow known as Neo. Put aside the terrible name (supposedly tongue in cheek, although the original suggestion of Non-Pacific, a wry take on the Transatlantic band, is somewhat more humorous) the musical collective was assembled by John Jowitt and Clive Nolan as a way of playing to audiences in territories that their own bands may not have had much opportunity to visit. Given that at least one of those two musicians play in all of the bands mentioned above with the exception of Pallas, one does wonder if there are any territories left that haven't seen either Mr J or Mr N in some incarnation or another! Altruistic reasons notwithstanding, Neo is an opportunity for several luminaries of the prog world to get together, have a good time and play some music they enjoy.
And have a good time they certainly do! However, unlike the aforementioned Transatlantic, this is no 'supergroup' but, as they are eager to admit, a cover band who have chosen to cover material by themselves. (Well mostly, three of the tracks in the main feature and one from the soundcheck were written and recorded without any involvement by the various members of Neo). As such, and as would be expected, they do a good job of presenting the music. The major differences are found on the tracks that are sung by someone other than the usual singer. John Jowitt does a reasonable job on IQ's Erosion, while Alan Reed gives a satisfactory performance on the somewhat incongruous pairing of Arena's The Hanging Tree and the end section of IQ's epic The Enemy Smacks. However, another IQ classic, Outer Limits, is positively mangled in an unsympathetic arrangement that is too fast with Pendragon's Nick Barrett not providing one of his better vocal performances.
Two of the lesser well known tracks will probably remain that way, in my household at least. Clive Nolan takes lead vocals on Mindgames from the second Shadowlands album, a group I never found that inspiring. And this song does nothing to change my mind, although Mr N, despite looking somewhat uncomfortable and exposed separated from his keyboards, is warmly received by the audience who are appreciative of his efforts. Incidentally, the keyboards on this song are played by guest Neo-ite John Barnfield, a one-time member of Pendragon in the dim and distant past. Shadows Of Fate, from the Nolan-Wakeman album Hound Of The Baskervilles (which incidentally John Jowitt also played on!), has a better performance by Nick B, ably supported by Jowitt and Nolan on backing vocals (which, to be honest, is what their voices are better suited to). I can see the appeal that this song will hold for some people but is not really my cup of tea.
So that just leaves the double trio of tracks by Pallas and Pendragon, all performed pretty true to the originals. The addition of the extra guitar to the Pendragon tracks adds a new dimension to these pieces with Mark Westwood giving a good performance throughout. Indeed for probably the most 'unknown' member of the band, his performance is the one that stands out for me, handling the different styles of the original guitarists with consummate ease, even managing to add some of his own playing style to the proceedings. I was surprised, and rather disappointed, that the opportunity wasn't taken to air at least one Dirtbox song live, although sections of Clean are used on the DVD as background menu music.
Overall, I ended up wondering what the point of this DVD is. Yes the musicians are enjoying themselves playing with musicians they rarely have the opportunity to play with and yes, it is admirable that they are spreading the music of some of the leading UK progressive groups to far flung corners of the globe that the original bands may not have time or finances available to tour. However, I doubt if anyone would go and see Neo if there were not already aware of the three main bands featured, namely, IQ, Pallas and Pendragon. Anyone desperate to own DVDs containing music of any of those bands would be better advised to buy any of the titles put out by the individual bands themselves. I suppose people who attended the actual concert may be tempted to buy a copy as a memento of a fun evening out and there will invariably be hard core followers of each of the bands mentioned who will deem it necessary to buy a copy in order to keep their collections complete. Still, you pays your money and you take your choice I suppose. Oh and the cover artwork is awful!
Martien Koolen's Review
Neo is a new prog rock super band formed by musical “oldies” like John Jowitt (IQ, Jadis), Clive Nolan (Arena, Pendragon, and Shadowland), Mark Westwood and Andy Edwards (IQ). On the night that this DVD was recorded they played songs from notorious bands like IQ, Pallas, Arena, Shadowland, Nolan & Wakeman and Pendragon. This amazing gig also features guest appearances of Nick Barrett (Pendragon) and Alan Reed (Pallas).
If you are familiar with the bands mentioned above then you probably know all the thirteen songs played during this amazing gig. I must say that I like the three Pallas songs (For The Greater Glory, Hide And Seek and Crown Of Thorns), the Arena classic The Hanging Tree and the three Pendragon songs (Nostradamus, Masters Of Illusion and Paintbox) the most. NEO have played together just three times before, so it is definitely something you will not see/hear every day. As extras you get a bonus video with interviews (John Jowitt and Clive Nolan), a sound check from the band at Rosfest and of course the usual stuff like a photo gallery, band member profiles, web links and desktop images.
The sound is great and the guys on stage are really enjoying themselves, so if you like typical English prog rock then you should buy this DVD. The special edition is the DVD plus one CD, which has the same track list, minus the Pendragon song Masters Of Illusion
The Fromuz - Audio Diplomacy
DVD: Intro, From Fromuz, Wax Inhabitants Town, Gameplay Imitation, Remark #12, Spare Wheel, Dual Ad Libitum, Familiarization Results, Harry Heller Theater, Babylon Dreams
CD: Intro (6:09), From Fromuz (10:09), Wax Inhabitants Town (12:33), Gameplay Imitation (8:16), Spare Wheel (8:36), Familiarization Results (7:32), Harry Heller Theater (12:11), Babylon Dreams (9:16)
In a previous DVD Feature, back in 2005, I reviewed an independently released DVD by an impressive quartet from Uzbekistan called The Fromuz. At that time I deemed the band's name was an abbreviation - 'From Uz'bekistan (although the new version of the DVD/CD I have, suggests a different pronunciation and meaning). At the time I reviewed Playing The Imitation (Live) there were tentative discussions in place for a wider distribution of the DVD and I am now happy to report that 10t Records have had the foresight to sign up the band.
So sporting a new title, Audio Diplomacy, The Fromuz now have that distribution network and as a nice touch 10t have included an audio version of the concert as well. A good move and certainly makes this a more appealing package. The two discs are taken from the same concert and the only difference is that two tracks have been omitted from the audio CD - Remark #12 and Dual Ad Libitum - due to the limitations of the media one presumes. Now as I wrote a fairly detailed review of the DVD back in 2005 I see little point reiterating those views so please follow this hyperlink to the Playing The Imitation (Live) original review for a more in-depth appraisal of the band and the music.
Although from Uzbekistan the band features some names already featured in the DPRP Reviews pages - Albert Khalmurzayev (keyboards) and Vladimir Badirov (drums & percussion), along with the 'newer' faces of Vitaly Popeloff (guitars) and Andrew Mara-Novik (bass). Suffice to say I was suitably impressed with The Fromuz and their rather unique take on the progressive, jazz fusion genre was particularly refreshing. Popeloff's incisive metal riffs effortlessly dissect the music, blending nicely with Khalmurzayev's rich and symphonic keyboards. Add to this the tightness of the rhythm section and the inclusion of numerous keyboard and audio samples, then what we end up with is rather intriguing concert. Along with this all the compositions are intricate and well thought through, bringing to mind some of the early exponents of the jazz fusion field. However the concert is not just an excuse for four talented guys to display their chops and Khalmurzayev's classical leanings along with Popeloff's melodic approach to the guitar add another dimension to the music and sound. Just a side note, I remember the first time I heard the opening tune From Fromuz and at that time it reminded me of something and for the life of me I couldn't pinpoint it - two years later the penny finally dropped. Pete Haycock's (Climax Blues Band) wonderful performance on the first "Guitar Speak" tour / video.
To conclude then. Personally the DVD worked better for me as although the precision and energy of the concert still manages to come across well on the audio CD, some of the atmospherics (and sound effects) seem a tad out of place. Still the recording of the original DVD is particularly good and therefore the audio version of the concert is extremely listenable. So with a sound that is both sharp and defined I can see no reason not to recommend this CD/DVD package.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Nearfest 2005 (VA) - Rising To The Surface
Wobbler: Imperial Winter White Dwarf (18:07), Frogg Café: Fortunate Observer Of Time (7:35), Creatures (11:05), You're Still Sleeping (13:51), Present: Promenade Au Fond D'un Canal (23:00), IQ: Born Brilliant (5:27), The Seventh House (15:43), Knight Area: Conspiracy (6:34), The Sun Also Rises (7:40), Mortal Brow [closing section] (5:20), The Muffins: Intro / These Castle Children (7:14), Captain Boomerang [Excerpt] (7:23), Ugly Buttling (3:38), Walking The Duck (3:03), Stethorus Punktum (4:02), Matthew Parmenter: Lair Of The Damned [I Get Scared When It Rains] (2:30), Crutches [The Carrot] (4:20), Rogue [Blush and Rouge] (3:01), Some Fear Growing Old (5:24), Kenso: Sora Ni Hikaru [Shining In The Sky] (6:31), Tjandi Bentar (7:10), Echi Dal Foro Romano (6:53) Le Orme: Felona e Sorona (20:18), Steve Roach ~ menu music
Containing over three hours of live, pro-shot performances, with stellar sound quality, this DVD will obviously make a great souvenir for any one who helped sell out the 2005 edition of one of the most successful Progressive music festivals on the calendar. For the rest of us, the nine featured artists cover such a varied and wide spectrum of styles that there should be something of interest to every prog fan and also its likely there’ll be one or two acts you maybe wouldn’t otherwise come across in your daily listening.
For fans of Neo Prog, Knight Area and the more well known IQ should have a strong appeal, and a brief acoustic spot from erstwhile Discipline leader Matthew Parmenter will also be of interest. (Away from his band, I found his decision to sport full face make-up a little disconcerting, but the music survives the transition to acoustic mode quite well.)
At the opposite end of the spectrum, for Avant / Rio buffs, a brace of spiky, intense performances from Belgians Present and USA’s own The Muffins should hit the spot.
For the more Fusion minded, Frogg Café and Japanese veterans Kenso both play up a storm in their respective sets.
Last, but definitely not least, there are sets from Norway’s Wobbler and Italy’s Le Orme whose classic epic Symphonic Progressive Rock moves should have an across the board appeal to prog fans old and new.
Each act gets approximately 20 minutes to display their wares. (Parmenter gets slightly less, and Frogg Café gets slightly more). It proves to be an effective amount of time for each group to make their point without ever outstaying their welcome.
With menu music from electronic musician Steve Roach (taken from his live NEARfest CD), all bases are pretty much covered. I appreciate that it’s unlikely many will like every single act here, but you may well be surprised at how much of it you do enjoy – it’s a great way of experiencing some new prog acts alongside some old favourites.
My personal favourites here are Frogg Café, Kenso (a band I’d been meaning to check out for some time. I wasn’t disappointed!) and Wobbler. All three of these bands are exciting musically, and also have the best stage presence. Much as I love it, prog music is often quite hard to put across on stage, but these groups have a little edge when it comes to stagecraft.
I love Le Orme, but although Felona & Serona is their best known work, it’s not my favourite of theirs and I still don’t really like drum solos! Actually, there is nothing on this DVD that I really didn’t like, and nothing that I would particularly skip when I watch it again, though I may well just dip in for one or two bands at a time depending on my mood.
This DVD should make a nice addition to any Prog collection.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Mike Oldfield – The Space Movie
Tracklist: The Space Movie (79:56), The Making Of The Space Movie (26:36)
Along with his other successes director Tony Palmer has made a name for himself as a producer of full length rock films involving artists like Cream, Fairport Convention, Colosseum, Rory Gallagher and Tangerine Dream. Whilst this DVD doesn’t fall into the same category the musical content is the reason for its inclusion here. This 80 minute documentary was commissioned in 1978 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the first moon landing. The film includes never before seen footage made available by NASA and the United States National Archive. Although many of the images are common place now the film made quite an impact when first shown on UK TV in July 1979. The film has been previously available in video format with a reduced film and sound quality. This digitally remastered version restores some footage missing since the original showing together with a bonus interview with the director.
The film's music soundtrack is credited as being written, arranged and performed by Mike Oldfield. Not strictly true as it consists of previously recorded themes from his Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge, Ommadawn and Incantations albums edited to accommodate the images on screen. These are supplemented by orchestral versions of the same albums. The basic menu options divide the film into eleven selectable chapters with the photo from the Incantations cover used as a backdrop. Given Oldfield’s flair for producing extended, flowing, tuneful pieces he was on the face of it an ideal choice for a project of this kind. Unsurprisingly the marriage between the images and his melodies is a harmonious one especially during the rocket launch and flight sequences. Ommadawn is used extensively during these scenes which are topped only by the concluding images of the solar system to the strains of Incantations Part 4.
Throughout the film Oldfield’s compositions are forced to compete with the overdubbed sound effects and constant dialogue between the astronauts and mission control. Whilst these exchanges are occasionally insightful after a while they become an unnecessary distraction. The bland narration by Ed Bishop, best known for his role as Commander Ed Straker in TV’s UFO, is also dispensable. The film still has its moments of grander however. A memorable sight is the huge Saturn rocket mobile platform making its slow progress to the launch site accompanied by the rumbling strings of The Orchestral Tubular Bells. To underline the success of the rocket launch it’s preceded by earlier attempts showing various rockets taking off only to crash in spectacular fashion. On a lighter note Oldfield’s version of Blue Peter adds to the comical and now very familiar black and white footage of man’s early flight attempts.
Although the film gives due credit to the Russian space programme the US flag waving patriotism is never far away. This is especially evident with the lengthy excerpt from JFK’s famous “We choose to go to the moon” speech which must have surely provided the inspiration for the Simpsons’ Mayor Quimby character! The Making Of The Space Movie is an engaging interview with Tony Palmer by writer Jon Kirkman recorded in January of this year. Palmer’s account of his first meeting with Mike Oldfield accompanied by Richard Branson in September 1978 is an amusing one. Although he talks of Oldfield’s involvement at length his telling of events is hazy at times incorrectly recalling that by early 1979 Ommadawn had yet to be released and Incantations was still in the writing stage. Still, it’s an interesting insight into the origins of the movie from the mouth of the director himself.
Ultimately this is a film that hasn’t dated especially well. As an audio and visual experience its late ‘70’s origins are all too apparent making it heavy going during repeat viewings. Despite the DVD remastering the grainy images that remain ironically look less spectacular than Hollywood’s digital recreations in movies like Apollo 13. The music soundtrack fairs better coming across clearly for the most part although with occasional distortion in places. Unfortunately the over loud sound effects and dialogue means that cranking up the volume is not really an option. If the history of space travel is your thing or you are a Mike Oldfield compilist then you may feel a need to have this in your collection. Everyone else should approach with discretion. It’s also worth noting that an eighteen minute segment from the film is available as part of the Oldfield’s 2004 Elements DVD.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10