Reviews in this issue:
- Symphony X – Paradise Lost (Duo Review)
- Various Artists - The Spaghetti Epic 2
- Prisma – Collusion
- Jon Anderson - Live In Sheffield 1980
- Dial - Synchronized
- Opus Est - Opus II
- Devin Townsend - Ziltoid The Omnicient (Duo Review)
- Kosmos – Polku
- Arpia - Terramare
Symphony X – Paradise Lost
Tracklist: Oculus Ex Inferni (2:34), Set The World On Fire (5:55), Domination (6:29), The Serpent (5:03), Paradise Lost (6:32), Eve Of Seduction (5:04), The Walls Of Babylon (8:16), Seven (7:01), The Sacrifice (4:49), Revelation [Divus Pennae Ex Tragoedia] (9:17)
Louis Koot's Review
Let there be no doubt about it: Symphony X is a metal band! If their new album Paradise Lost carries any statement it has to be the message that this is no music for sissies!! The band gets labels like prog rock or symphonic metal but this album shows Symphony X is before all heavy. The aggressive and harsh guitar is so much in your face it grabs your throat to keep you in a permanent stranglehold. I guess touring with the likes of Megadeth, Nevermore, Anthrax and Fear Factory under the Gigatour banner is evident enough. And Symphony X certainly rival their big brother and fellow colleagues on the Gigatour, Dream Theater, at their own game.
Another palpable display of the aggressive metal tone of this album are the vocals of Sir. Russell Allen. The marvellous vocalist uses his voice in a rough and darker timbre through most of the songs making them sound more appropriate for the aggressive nature of the album. More appropriate sure but if I like it is another matter. I rather have Allen singing in a melodic way like on the great Russell Allen & Jorn Lande albums or with Star One. I think it’s a shame that this awesome singer forces his voice to overdrive as to me he sounds much more pleasant in his ‘natural’ way of singing. But that is my preference and just a little critical remark as it doesn’t spoil the brilliance of this record.
Paradise Lost is an album that carries al the characteristics we know from Symphony X. The way the songs are structured is pretty much business as usual. Some new elements are introduced in ways of a gothic sounding choir or the prominent classical guitar. A song like Serpent’s Kiss bends the rules a little bit stylistically. With a really splendid guitar riff between the verses this is certainly one of the best tracks of the album. Guitarist Michael Romeo totally blows me away with his startling technique. If you see the good man playing in his Young Guitar Lessons video instructions you know what I mean. He has the tendency to fool around with putting more tricks around or instead of the basic riffs. A style of playing he shares with Edward Van Halen even though they are quite different players. Romeo’s over-the-top way of playing is featured all over this album. Eve Of Destruction opens up with a fast melodic theme that gets repeated throughout the song and the track has an equally impressive guitar riff between the verses. The guitar solo is smoking hot and furious. But the greasiest guitar riff is featured in last track Revelation [Divus Pennae Ex Tragoedia] which also includes a very well constructed chorus. This song offers some room for all musicians to freak out in Dream Theater style in the middle part. Romeo proves not to be the only virtuoso in the band as keyboard player Michael Pinnella keeps on filling the sparse gaps with fast solo spots or atmospheric layers. The rhythm section of drummer Jason Rullo and bassist Mike Lepond finishes it all with an intense foundation.
No Symphony X album would be complete without the grand ballad! And this album features even two: Paradise Lost and The Sacrifice. The title track being the most typical Symphony X song with all elements the band offers falling to place perfectly. This song alone is worth buying the whole album! In comparable style to their song Communion And The Oracle from the album V: The New Mythology Suite this ballad is just breath-taking. With the warm chorus the song shows the band in its most accessible form. The Sacrifice is a tad different with a slight aggressive undertone in a song obviously dealing with the more excruciating side of love. The middle section has a clever keyboard tune working as base to a groovy guitar solo and the song finishes with a solo spot on the Spanish guitar.
With Paradise Lost the band has succeeded in making an excellent album that will surely please the fans and broader their appeal to a larger fan base. This record will help them to move upwards in the big leagues of heavy metal!
Martien Koolen's Review
Paradise Lost is Symphony’s hardest and heaviest album, but you can also enjoy those typical classic SX musical elements. The sound of this album is also amazing (thanks to Jens Bogren (Opeth)) as PL sounds fuller, heavier and therefore much better. There is NO bad song on this CD and I think that PL is their best album so far. The album is filled with ten fantastic compositions and the technical skills, especially the guitar work, as instrumentalists come together on this CD like never before.
The album kicks off with the extremely bombastic Oculus Ex Inferni, featuring strings, a choir, fast guitar arpeggios and lots of other classical/opera-like musical elements. Actually this track reminds me of the Italian power metal band Rhapsody On Fire. Follow-up Set The World On Fire is extremely heavy, starting with very trashy and fast riffage by Romeo. Eventually after one minute Russell’s vocals come crashing in and the song really comes to life. The chorus is extremely heavy and addictive and some of Romeo’s guitar solos and riffs are really out of this world. Domination begins with a bass solo followed by super groovy guitar licks and riffs, making this track again a very heavy and trashy one. The guitar solos are very speedy and the vocals are extremely “brutal”, making this song exceptionally suitable for waking up the neighbours, play it f…… loud!!
The Serpent’s Kiss could be best described as Megadeth meets Dream Theater meets Nevermore, featuring some wicked guitar riffs and distorted vocals. In the middle part you can hear a choir and some strings making it sound a bit “classical”. Paradise Lost is the first power ballad with lots of melody, emotional vocals and a couple of sparkling guitar solos. The very melodic chorus of this song makes it a memorable and quite beautiful song. Another highlight of this album is The Walls Of Babylon, starting with spooky Arabian-like vocals, leading into more brilliant guitar riffs by Romeo. The brutal vocals, the bombastic chorus and the extremely amazing keyboard and guitar solos make this song one of the best SX has ever recorded! Seven is another very heavy song with Malmsteen-like guitar arpeggios and more fast solos and heavenly vocal passages. The choir and the great wah-wah guitar solo dominate this track.
The second ballad is called The Sacrifice and it opens with piano and vocals. The lyrics are very emotional and the song features a breathtaking, very melodic guitar solo. This is the only resting point on the album but it is a great song with magical vocal parts by one of the best prog metal singers on this Earth! The album ends with the epic Revelation, lasting over nine minutes. This one is again filled with astonishing riffs, solos and choir work and it is without any doubt the most progressive song on the CD with a very complex structure. The song ends with the main riff from The Divine Wings Of Tragedy.
This is an album you really should buy, at least if you like prog metal. It is SX best work and after the amazing releases of Rush, Porcupine Tree, Threshold, After Forever and Dream Theater, another amazing album can be added to the fabulous rock year 2007!!
Various Artists - The Spaghetti Epic 2
Randone: The Good (25:04)
La Voce Del Vento: The Bad – I. [Curtain Rises] A Canyon At Dawn, II. A Lonely Man, III. Would You Mind Having This War Somewhere Else Please? IV. Call Me Evil, V. Smoke Hangs Over A Battlefield (24:23)
Tilion: The Ugly - Act 1: Tuco, Can You Recognize This Face? The First Desert. Act 2: Tuco (Variation), Desert And Sun, The Rich Carriage Of Death. Act 3: Tuco [Variation For Organ And Group], Brother, War (26:57)
Following hot on the heels of the recent 7 Samurai CD comes the latest offering from Colossus (The Finnish Progressive Music Association). This is from the same stable as their previous works consisting of epic length tracks inspired by a classic movie. With Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West providing the subject for The Spaghetti Epic, the director’s earlier work The Good, The Bad And The Ugly is the inspiration for The Spaghetti Epic 2. Once again the guide for each band participating is to produce a suite around the twenty-five minute mark influenced by 70’s Italian progressive rock utilising analogue keyboards wherever possible. For me personally this album has so much to live up to. Not only is the movie one of my all time favourites, Ennio Morricone’s memorable music score is in my opinion the work of a genius. Leone’s 1966 masterpiece is the most famous of all Spaghetti westerns with the story of greed and betrayal laced with humour played out against a realistic American Civil War backdrop. It contains spectacular and brutal action sequences that still maintain an impact today.
All three bands featured here also performed on the original Spaghetti Epic. Randone, La Voce Del Vento and Tilion have each based a suite on one of the three main protagonists as played in the movie by Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach respectively. Finnish band Haikara, another veteran of The Spaghetti Epic were originally slated to perform the opening piece but sadly their leader Vesa Lattunen died in March 2005 whilst recording was in progress. This release is thoughtfully dedicated to his memory. For those who haven’t seen the movie the elaborate CD booklet provides a plot synopsis and detailed studies of the trio of main characters. The excellent artwork is again by Stefano Scagni with illustrations based on specific scenes from the film. The movie was the final instalment in a western trilogy that included A Fistful Of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More. The events here take place before the ‘Dollar’ films making it a prequel rather than a sequel. With the production values and Leone’s directorial skills improving with each film the scale of this movie far exceeded its predecessors setting a new standard for the often low budget look of Spaghetti westerns.
Italian band Randone may have come into the project at short notice but the opening piece has clearly been invested with a considerable amount of care and attention. Whilst their suite ignores individual chapter titles the music is subdivided into individual movements with excellent ensemble playing throughout. Following an explosive intro (literally), relaxed David Gilmour style guitar musings set the scene as the story of The Good unfolds. The recognisable two-note motif from Morricone’s main theme appears early on with the suitably earthy but lyrical tone of soprano sax taking the lead. Reeds man Graziano Raniolo continues to take centre stage alternating between soprano and the more familiar tenor sax. He is joined by the urgent but lyrical electric and acoustic guitar work of Marco Crispi. In addition to his Floydian style, Crispi brings Jan Ackerman and Mike Oldfield in particular to mind with his consistently melodic playing that includes a memorable touch of mandolin.
Mainman Nicola Randone makes his presence felt with a fine symphonic layering of piano, Mellotron and Hammond. No flashy soling here, just very stylish orchestral embellishments. He also provides the warm and expressive Italian vocals supported by atmospheric wordless female backing. Around the half way mark Livio Rabito adds his weight with a majestic if brief bass solo that reminded me of Tony Reeves’ work with Greenslade. A barrage of drums from Riccardo Cascone and stately lead guitar succumb to a simple but exquisite melody from Moog, acoustic guitar and vibes. Triumphant guitar and vocals set the scene for the penultimate section rounded off with percussive effects and sampled sounds which ironically are taken from the soundtrack of For A Few Dollars More. A jazzy sax and piano duet wind things down with a final nod in the direction of Morricone to close. This is an excellent start to the proceedings. The band has captured the essence of the movie and Eastwood’s character whilst maintaining their own identity.
Adopting the name La Voce Del Vento (meaning “The Voice of the Wind”) is none other than Andy Tillison and Guy Manning suitably rechristened Andreas Tillisoni and Guy De M’Anningi! In comparison with Randone’s ensemble style the arrangements here are dominated by keyboards especially during the instrumental sections. [Curtain Rises] A Canyon At Dawn for example finds the duo in ELP territory with Tillison providing eerie synth effects and dramatic organ chords ala Keith Emerson. Would You Mind Having This War Somewhere Else Please? features showy Moog soloing that will strike a chord with all Wakeman fans. Manning’s characteristic vocals for A Lonely Man are sung in the first person introducing the character of The Bad and the main theme. Given the killers ruthless nature it’s a surprisingly melodic theme that suggests a depth to the man that’s not explored in the movie. The instrumentation here and during Call Me Evil has its mostly mellow moments featuring piano and sampled flute.
With guitar sparingly used throughout the piece, Manning’s Spanish flavoured acoustic guitar work stands out during Smoke Hangs Over A Battlefield. Later Tillison provides the vocals together with bombastic organ work and jazzy synth that would not be out of place in The Tangent. His skilfully performed upfront bass lines also deserve a special mention. The second main theme is introduced here which provides an arresting instrumental hook. Excellent piano playing played at full tilt announces a reprise of Manning’s vocal melody leaving Tillison’s theme to provide the memorable coda with a blink and you’ll miss it reference to Morricone at the very end. Mindful of their excellent track record in The Tangent and Manning, it was evident that the UK duo’s take on Italian prog was going to be a marriage made in heaven.
Tilion’s final suite is not only the longest but possibly the most complex. It’s introduced by the sound of breaking glass which replicates the entrance of The Ugly on screen as he crashes through a bar room window. From here on it’s a rich concoction of characteristic Italian prog that seesaws between strident and discordant King Crimson style meanderings to lush symphonic passages. The five man unit have obviously viewed the movie well because with their vast array of instrumentation that includes double bass and cello they’ve captured the characters’ conflicting sides perfectly. Alfio Costa incorporates every keyboard under the sun to provide comical spinning harmonium moments, sombre celestial organ, aggressive synth work and delicate piano. Andrea Ricci’s suitably over the top Italian vocals also evoke the characters’ maniac spirit to perfection.
Roberto Aiolfi’s jazz bass patterns here are some of the best I’ve heard putting me in mind of the great Jonas Rheingold. He’s given excellent support from Paolo Cassago who provides restrained but always inventive drum work throughout. Guitarist Flavio Costa has the knack of being everywhere on this disk without overly drawing attention to himself. Although he incorporates acoustic and classical guitar he seems most at home with the jazzier moments on Gibson Les Paul that has echoes of Steve Howe. His range of style however sums up the bands performance and this piece perfectly. Of the three suites this is certainly the most challenging but at the same time provides rewards with every successive play. Right now my favourite part is the bittersweet The First Desert with its passionate vocal, melodic ringing guitar, lyrical piano and symphonic mellotron. Lasting just a minute and a half Tilion demonstrate how a song can be more effective when it’s not stretched beyond breaking point.
For me personally Morricone’s original music is so closely linked with The Good, The Bad And The Ugly that it was difficult to appreciate this release on its own terms. To do that it was initially necessary to mentally disassociate it from the movie. Only than was I able to fully appreciate the music and acknowledge how well each band had captured the spirit of the main characters. Not only is it a fitting tribute to the film it is also a reminder that Morricone’s use of electric guitars, loud percussion, vocals and bombastic orchestrations made him a precursor of prog. The Colossus projects have developed a well deserved reputation for presenting quality progressive rock and this is up there with the best. I’m still discovering something new with every play which is as it should be. Aware however that I couldn’t wait until Christmas before committing a review I felt it was time to pen to paper. If you are a devotee of 70’s prog, Italian prog or for that matter just plain excellent prog then this comes highly recommended.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Prisma – Collusion
Tracklist: Paragon (5:35), Feeling Of Guiltiness (6:06), Over Bodies And Cases (4:37), Head Trip (5:51), Maslow (4:09), Glide In (4:37), Inner Circulation (4:08), Normal State (7:04), Passion – The Highest Necessity (5:01), Sield Land (5:09), Genius (5:21), Perseverance (5:51)
This band have put a lot of effort into getting their album noticed – the CD comes in its gatefold digi-sleeve Velcroed into a folder bearing the bands logo and also containing a well put together press release – nice job. Luckily after that build-up the music doesn’t disappoint. Prisma come from Switzerland and do the prog metal thing very well. Collusion is the debut album from Michael Luginbuehl (vocals/percussion), Valentin Grendelmeier (guitar/vocals – and if that isn’t a prog surname I don’t know what is!), Marc Muellhaupt (bass) and Andi Wettstein (drums) and comes after four years working together. Having recorded and produced the album themselves and got it mastered by no less a figure than Howie Weinberg (Smashing Pumpkins, Mars Volta, etc.) they have issued it themselves and it sounds very promising. They appear to be still on the lookout for a distribution deal and hopefully they’ll find one, as they ought to be heard more widely. Also, the artwork is tasteful and suitably moody, the band seeming to have a good idea of how to project themselves and develop an image.
Their music, all sung in English, is quite Tool influenced throughout. Prog metal it most certainly is but contains a lot more subtlety than is usual in this genre. All of the material is interesting and well played – no stand out musician as they all do a good job. Additional contributions come from string musicians from the Zurich Opera who certainly add to the sound when employed. Don’t get the impression that this is some overblown metal opera as it isn’t. After opening track Paragon starts with a brief string intro, the strings are used sparingly and to good effect and the band play well together and have a full enough sound on their own. There are moody sections and up-tempo pieces and an overriding sinister vibe that really works. The Tool influence, as seen in tracks like Over Bodies And Cases and Passion – The Highest Necessity where the rhythm section put in some great work, is there in the scope of the material and sometimes the vocal mannerisms but they are not merely clones. The vocals are in a lower register and lack the range of Maynard James Keenan, a bigger nod to the Tool sound coming with the drums, and on some tracks, the bass.
Feeling Of Guiltiness is dark and slow with a good rhythm and features some nice guitar work at the end. The sounds employed throughout the album are interesting. Head Trip starts as woozily as the name suggests before slotting into a strident groove and again, excellent work throughout. Maslow starts with obvious references to the T band in the staccato rhythms, low-slung bass and rhythmic guitar – great stuff. Glide In does exactly that with echoing guitar, while Inner Circulation and Normal State are both hard and fast, kick ass numbers done very well. Sield Land is again dark in feel yet uplifting and Genius has an unpredictable edginess. Closer Perseverance has an epic feel and uses the strings to good effect; a great way to end a very good album.
I sometimes find the metal end of prog to be a bit soulless and one-dimensional. This is certainly not the case here as Prisma have maturity in their arranging along with a sense of taste in their playing – it isn’t all about showing off. They manage to achieve a state where emotion is successfully integrated amongst the power of the playing and the end result is quite beautiful. When rating this album I decided on an 8, as there are those for whom prog metal does nothing – those people probably won’t get much out of this – but I’m probably doing a disservice to the band by using that tag throughout this review as it doesn’t totally describe what they do. That said, if I were reviewing this for a prog metal focused site I would certainly score it higher and for Tool fans that can’t wait another 6 years for an album from them it’s a must! I look forward to hearing these guys make a breakthrough in a wider context over the next couple of years.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Jon Anderson - Live In Sheffield 1980
CD One: Some Are Born (4:19), Don't Forget [Nostalgia] (4:00), Funk Theme (1:39), To Be Over (2:06), Perpetual Change (1:26), The Prophet (2:23), Long Distance Runaround (2:41), Wonderous Stories (3:16), Rejoice (2:09), I've Seen All Good People (4:19), The Revealing Science Of God (1:27), All Good People (Reprise) (1:07), The Remembering (1:08), Ritual (4:37), Far Away In Baagad (3:22), I Hear You Now (4:49), One More Time (5:59), Everyday (4:04), Hear It (2:53), Take Your Time (3:50), Song Of Seven (11:40)
CD Two: Petrushka (11:15), Tour Song/Introductions (3:35), Heart Of The Matter (4:21), Band Jam (2:02), All Good People (3:00), For You For Me (5:41), Some Are Born (5:06), Don't Forget (Nostalgia) (3:09), Everybody Loves You (4:22), To Be Over (2:13), Perpetual Change (1:28), The Prophet (2:15), Long Distance Runaround (2:56), Wonderous Stories (2:50), Rejoice (1:56), I've Seen All Good People (4:16), The Revealing Science Of God (1:23), All Good People [Reprise] (1:08), The Remembering (0:44), Ritual (2:04)
This recording made in December 1980 came at the end of one of the most turbulent years in the career of Jon Anderson. At the beginning of the year the unthinkable happened when he parted company with Yes the band he had fronted for the previous twelve years. As the year unfolded he released his second solo album Song Of Seven and also found time to collaborate with Vangelis on their first joint effort Short Stories which marked the beginning of a fruitful relationship. For the first ever tour under his own name which ran through November and December he was supported by the aptly named New Life Band. The eight-piece line-up included seasoned session musicians and friends Ronnie Leahy, John Giblin, Morris Pert, Joe Partridge, Lee Davidson, Dick Morrissey, Christopher Rainbow and Barry De Souza. Unsurprisingly the songs from Song Of Seven provided the core of the set supplemented by several numbers from Short Stories and many Yes favourites. Ironically not one single song is included from Olias Of Sunhillow released four years earlier which to this day is still generally regarded as Jon’s best solo outing.
The concert takes up all of CD One and the first five tracks of CD Two with recordings taken from recently discovered soundboard tapes. The remaining tracks are the tour rehearsals taken from the original master tape of a recently unearthed bootleg recording. Any initial concerns about the sound quality are immediately dispelled when Jon’s voice cuts through sharp and clear on the opening song. The set kicks off with Some Are Born a song that had been released as a single but failed to chart. Not surprising as its bright almost naive poppy style was completely out of step with the post punk new wave sound of the time. The twee Don't Forget [Nostalgia] also from Song Of Seven sounds even more dated before the band launch into the Average White Band inspired instrumental Funk Theme allowing John Giblin and Dick Morrissey on bass and sax respectively to really demonstrate their chops. This serves as an intro to a lengthy Yes medley that proves to be the shows highlight.
Amongst the more familiar tunes is a generous selection of excerpts from Topographic Oceans and welcome rarities including To Be Over (Relayer), The Prophet (Time And A Word) and Rejoice (Tormato). It concludes with a show stopping arrangement of Nous Sommes De Soleil which differs from the Yes version and gives it more than a run for its money. The performances are excellent throughout especially from Ronnie Leahy on keys, Dick Morrissey on sax and flute and Joe Partridge and Lee Davidson on guitars. A trio of songs from Short Stories follows with the excellent single I Hear You Now standing out. Buddy Holly’s Everyday is a surprise addition and apart from some suspect backing vocals Anderson and Co deliver a fine version. CD One concludes with three more songs from Song Of Seven including the lengthy title track. Given that it’s been over 25 years since I last played this song I’d forgotten how good it was and the closest the second album came to the glories of Olias.
CD Two opens with another surprise, an arrangement of a Stravinsky piece, not The Firebird as may be anticipated but another of his ballets Petrushka. With Anderson taking a breather off stage, the bands skilled interpretation draws a well received and rapturous response from the crowd. Tour Song is a return to the earlier Funk Theme allowing Jon to dispense the obligatory band introductions. With the encore now underway the weak Heart Of The Matter is a nod in the direction of rock and roll leaving a rocking All Good People to close the show. The tour rehearsal that follows is dominated by the 25 minute Yes medley which is certainly worth hearing a second time. The band sound professional throughout although there is an obvious reduction in sound quality.
When live recordings have been left lying on the shelf for so long it’s usually for a good reason. True the audio quality here is not the most pristine but it has so much more going for it. As a document of the first solo tour by prog rocks premier vocalist its significance is undeniable. Throw in rarities by Jon & Vangelis, Yes, even Stravinsky and the end result is surely due serious consideration. It should certainly be a must have for serious JA and Yes fans. Given his sincere performance throughout I can even forgive Anderson for the mostly bland tunes from Song Of Seven. To my ears he was trying too hard to lighten his style and prove there was a different side to his music outside of Yes. He would of course go on to release better solo albums and within just three years was back in the fold with Yes, but that’s another story. If you have some extra cash to shell out this album is also part of The Lost Tapes box set released late last year.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Dial - Synchronized
Tracklist: Beautiful (5:00), Sadness (4:34), Jewel (4:30), Candyland (3:40), Green Knees (5:58), Hello (3:56), Points Of View (5:37), Wish It Away (5:08), Wounded (3:12), Nature’s Cruelty (Mo’s Song) (2:17), Childhood Dreams (8:05)
If you imagine a mixture of the progressive rock of Pain Of Salvation and the theatrical art rock of Dutch band Cirrha Niva you think you might have an idea what to expect from this album of Dial. But such expectation is a bit too easy as Dial is certainly a hard act to pinpoint.
Former Pain Of Salvation bass player Kristoffer Gildenlöw hooked up with Liselotte ‘Lilo’ Hegt and Rommert van der Meer from Cirrha Niva fame to form their own band Dial. They recorded their first album with Synchronized. As the name Pain Of Salvation might appetize the prog fans I have to warn you: don’t expect too much of what the Swedish band is known for. This is surely something different. I would carefully name bands like Paatos or Portishead as a reference. But that would only apply to some of the songs on the album as variety is abundant here. Dial themselves put it like this:
"We express our own creative vision on alternative rock, pop, progressive rock and emotional music. This comes together with a nice touch of 'old school' hard rock, industrial and new wave influences. Still, we like to put ourselves in the genre of alternative pop/rock."
Big part of the variety on Synchronized is the use of two vocalists as Gildenlöw and Hegt take the vocal duties in turn thus creating a rather interesting diversity. Result of this is that the songs vary much in style so that the album demands an open-minded audience to please. Still the album doesn’t strike me as patchy in spite of the differences in musical styles. The overall atmosphere is a bit melancholic. But as I think some songs are very strong, particularly the more progressive ones, others leave me totally cold. Especially the arty and more experimental tracks are not my cup of tea. Liselotte Hegt has a way of singing that makes me think of Kate Bush and sometimes Hannah Stobart (The Wishing Tree). Hegt has a very distinct and charismatic vocal sound. The songs that are sung by Kristoffer Gildenlöw remind me of Riverside or the mellow Opeth apart from the link to Pain Of Salvation in the vocals. Gildenlöw puts some very tasteful lead guitar in a couple of songs that further enhance their appeal.
The clear production of the album comes from the hands of Devon Graves (Dead Soul Tribe) who also did some guest appearances on vocals and guitar.
Synchronized is a great album even though it’s not all to my liking. I think the adventurous listener and those who have a soft spot for the above-mentioned names, as reference, won’t be disappointed with this record!
Highlights: Beautiful, Sadness and Childhood Dreams.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Opus Est - Opus II
Tracklist: Four Metamorphoses Of A Face (I: The Seeing Eye - The God) (11:05); Four Metamorphoses Of A Face (II: The Blind Eye - The Tear) (7:41); Four Metamorphoses Of A Face (III: The Nose - The Dance Of The Flowers) (12:07); Four Metamorphoses Of A Face (IV: The Mouth - The Fallen Virgin) (12:47); Springtime (9:34), Winter (6:39), Marie-Claire (7:04), Square The Circle (7:20)
DPRP’s very own Jerry Van Kooten was instrumental in the release of Opus Est’s first CD and gets a very special thank you in the booklet accompanying this new release of archival recordings. (You can read his article at the link above, and the DPRP review of the first CD is here.
The eight tracks here date from 1979-1984, with tracks 2 & 4 being vintage radio recordings from 1979, tracks 5 to 8 are studio recordings from 1984, and tracks 1 & 3 are from 2004-2005.
The CD starts off very strongly with The Seeing Eye – The God, the first of a four part suite. Mixing prime period Yes with a strong dose of Genesis, Opus Est capture the essence of the Symphonic Rock scene of the ‘70’s very well. The grandiose opening could have been lifted straight from Close To The Edge. Alternating vocal passages which are more reminiscent of Genesis, both vocally and instrumentally, the track has a nice, dynamic pacing which holds your interest throughout.
Unfortunately, though the rest of the suite is still musically engaging, I found the vocals began to grate on me. They strike me as being similar to Stuart Nicholson of Galahad, or Geoff Mann of Twelfth Night, that is, not bad per se but not to my personal taste. It’s the tendency to over-emphasis the final syllable or two in a semi-shriek that I find off-putting, I think. Also, the preponderance of keyboards in the mix is a little top-heavy. I am a big fan of sympho keyboards, synths, organs etc, but I also like there to be plenty of variety instrumentally. Here, the guitar is fairly low-key if not to say underused, and aside from a little flute here and there, if you’re not a keyboard nut, you may be a little restless.
Springtime is the best of the later material, with sprightly, rolling drum beats and quirky, uplifting keyboards. Although not really sounding similar, I was put in mind of Camel’s early opus Homage To The God Of Light, at least until the vocals come in, and then it’s back to the Neo–Genesis feel.
Winter adds a funky touch, with a slightly more modern feel, toning down the symphonic style. Nilsson’s voice is particularly annoying here, reminding me of the late Geoff Mann, at his most mannered and excruciating. It’s the worst track on the disc.
Marie-Claire is a tender ballad, much in the mould of early Genesis, and quite nice too. It’s one for those more in a mellow frame of mind.
Closer Square The Circle keeps up the Genesis stylisms, and shares much with other similarly influenced bands like Galahad and Twelfth Night. Again, I quite like the instrumental parts, but find the vocals very wearing after a while.
As you might expect, with the material coming from various sources, the production is also varied, but overall, it’s of a pretty good standard for archive material.
Ultimately, this CD may interest fans of the classic symphonic prog of Yes and Genesis, but will hit home harder to those who favour the later neo progressive style more. Opus Est are good at what they have chosen to do, but bring little originality to the table. If the vocals are to your taste, then you may well really go for this disc. Not bad, but not essential.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Devin Townsend - Ziltoid The Omnicient
Tracklist: ZTO (1:17), By Your Command (8:09), Ziltoidia Attaxx (3:42), Solar Winds (9:46), Hyperdrive (3:47), N9 (5:30), Planet Smasher (5:44), Omnisdimensional Creator (0:48), Color Your World (9:44), The Greys (4:15), Tall Latte (1:03)
Dries Dokter's Review
If you have heard any of the previous albums of Devin Townsend you will know that Devin does not do standard albums. So I prepared myself for another new one but even if you are prepared for another original piece of music (can you prepare for that anyway?) it is seems to be beneath Devin to come up with something that people expect. Again he has out done himself by adding a quirky character and an even quirkier story. Mr Townsend seems to have completely lost his mind and this we are witness to that. But this would not be a Devin Townsend album if it did not also contain some fine pieces of music: loud but fine.
At first it is hard to come to grips with all the strange ideas that are presented in the absurd story of Ziltoid The Omnicient. And it might even be that Mr Townsend went just too far in a way that some people will not be able to get into this music at all. The story of Zitloid is just plain weird: he comes to Earth to have earthlings create him the perfect cup of coffee and destroys a planet to teach them a lesson. And this story is told unfolds as Devin Townsend is playing the role Ziltoid (a bit of a rough narrative voice). Accompanying this is music that is louder than ever before and one might even think that Strapping Young Lads and DT have finally crossed paths on this one, or the next SYL album must be louder than one can imagine! (To understand, read: the review of Devin Townsend - Synchestra). The music could be described as Frank Zappa meets loud Metal.
The music to Ziltoid The Omniscient is bound together by the driving drums and bass guitars, of course their are also lead guitars but at a lot of the time these guitars are not really melodic. But then again once they do play a melody the album turns out to be a real gem. And in that respect Devin Townsend's latest is no different from his previous albums: once you get into it, you learn to really appreciate what this man can do. And again you realise there is no one like him, Devin Townsend is a genre on his own.
The music starts of with pounding bass drums, and pumping guitars. And those will stay with us for most of the album. That is why the album takes some effort to understand. It is very easy to dismiss it for only having rhythms without melodies or structure. But they are there, and once you hear them they are brilliant. And the quieter pieces of tracks like: Colour Your World are sure to make every progrock fan's heart beat faster, of course DT has created mellow tracks before but in between the loudness of the rest of the album this one just sticks out. Especially because the track does start of louder and is decorated with all the screams and grunts of the rest of the album. Unfortunately that also means that aside from (prog) metal fans not many people will learn to appreciate this album for what it is: a brilliant and original piece of music. Devin Townsend shows that it is still possible to create highly original prog metal and not copy what one of the big names has already done before. That of course makes Devin Townsend one of the big names. Not in the least because Devin played everything on this album himself!
One may say that the narrative tracks are breaking up the pace of the album, I disagree with that, it is what makes this album special. Still: Colour Your World is one of the highlights because of the subdued melody and sensitive feel, but strangely decorated by more fierce parts. Hyperdrive has an excellent melody and accentuating guitar riff. N9 one should appreciate for the driving rhythm. The Greys has a bit of both, the well thought out melodies and the driving rhythms, only Devin Townsend can intertwine them like this.
Without a doubt Ziltoid The Omniscient is one of the most interesting releases of this year. Having said that it is probably not an album for everyone, it might be too quirky, too weird. Still it is one that deserves your time and effort to really understand and get into it. I can only hail Devin Townsend as the ultimate fourth dimension guitar hero (spoken with a rasping voice).
Tom De Val's Review
Devin Townsend is certainly a unique individual; this applies to his music, his appearance (hairdresser’s everywhere must shudder at his particular ‘style’) and (if you believe everything he’s said in various interviews over the years) his worldview and personal mindset. One thing you know you’re not going to get from Townsend is a boring, run of the mill experience, be it a gig, an album or (in this case) a space metal opera about a coffee-starved puppet alien. But more on the latter in a moment…
Devin’s musical career has certainly been an interesting one; first coming to public attention after being hired as the vocalist on Steve Vai’s 1990 album Sex And Religion, he followed this with a stint as live guitarist with British pop-punkers The Wildhearts, and was apparently once considered as a possible replacement for Rob Halford in Judas Priest (now that would have been something to behold!). Since the mid-nineties he’s juggled his heavy industrial metal Strapping Young Lad project with a solo career that has provided an outlet for his more varied and esoteric offerings. My personal favourite of these was 2001’s Terria, which seemed to get the balance of heaviness, melody and plain weirdness just about right; 1997’s Ocean Machine is also highly regarded by fans – and to be honest any album bearing his name is always at least worth a listen – Townsend doesn’t ‘do’ boring. A year or so ago Townsend announced that he was giving up his music career for the time being; he’s said this many times before, however, so it was probably no surprise to anyone when a new album appeared on the horizon. What perhaps was surprising was the concept for this latest project…
Rather than attempt to explain the storyline, I’ll just quote what Devin’s wife said in a recent fan mailing:
"The story as follows (without revealing too much): Ziltoid The Omniscient, a four-dimensional alien has come to earth and is currently hovering five miles above Qatar. Beaming messages to the earth, including video, music, and words, His Omniscient-ness has one dimension up on us humans, allowing him control over time. But, in order to bend time he requires the perfect fuel — BLACK COFFEE — found in abundance on only one planet in the omniverse... Earth. He plays guitar and sings, is moody and a bit sensitive, with his first record due in late June. Surrounded by nymphs and prancing plasma beings, the album was produced by Devin Townsend in the hangar of the Ziltoidian space barge. All hail Ziltoid and his Infinity metal! Prepare your finest brew! Ziltoid doesn't want to destroy the earth now...he just wants to be known as the best guitar player and get lots of chicks."
Make perfect sense? If it does you must be operating in the same bizarre universe as Townsend! Regardless of the absurdness of the storyline, it does provide a suitably grandiose backdrop for Townsend to have all sorts of fun with narration and an army of silly voices and sound effects as he attempts to create Ziltoid’s universe. It should be stated that he’s done this all on his own this time – with the assistance of ‘the drumkit from hell’, a particularly impressive drum machine borrowed from Meshuggah, and if you’ve heard that band’s Catch 33 album you’ll know what a formidable piece of equipment this is!
The first few ‘songs’ on Ziltoid… seem designed to scare off all but the true Devin fans and the most dedicated casual listener, as its full on in terms of both narrative (with plenty of gonzoid humour on show) and heaviness – even reaching Strapping Young Lad-like intensity at times. ZTO sets the scene and establishes Townsend’s chosen voice for Ziltoid – sort of like a death metal Kermit! – before By Your Command cranks up a chugging semi-thrash groove over which Townsend alternatively growls and emotes, depending on which character he’s voicing at the time. The usual multiple harmonies and layered, almost orchestral walls of sound are present, and almost overwhelm the listener at times. Towards the end of this piece Townsend sets up a very effective ‘space army marching off to war’ scenario, all martial beats and streamlined grooves, before Ziltoidia Attaxx!!! sees him thrashing away with abandon, the extreme silliness of the lyrics being compensated by a great groove and some girly ‘la la la la laaa’’s which somehow don’t seem as out of place as they should do.
The middle section of the album sees a definite mellowing in terms of material, and also a stronger focus on melody and song structure. Solar Winds is an album highlight, with Townsend vocals at their most fragile and delicate. The song gradually builds in intensity, with some great riffs holding things together as the melodies twist and turn, and the mood is altered with a carefully placed note here and there. Particularly noteworthy is the skilful building and rebuilding of the main chorus line, ebbing and flowing with the intensity building then pulling back – masterful stuff. Hyperdrive is the nearest Townsend is likely to get these days to a straightforward three minute heavy pop-rocker, which demonstrates an almost Wildhearts-like ear for a good hook. N9 features the return of some of the heavier riffs established earlier on – this does add to the cohesiveness of the album. There’s some nice Arabic flourishes on the outro of the track.
Planet Smasher is almost like a heavy metal version of War Of The Worlds – there’s so much going on here it again becomes a bit overwhelming. Once again earlier themes are incorporated into the sound. Color Your World kicks off as a speedy pop-thrash workout, with some good harmonies present both in the use of multi-layered vocals and keyboards. The song barrels along before morphing into a spacey ballad with mellow vocals, which again builds skilfully, aided by some swirling, spacey lead guitar word and a gradual increase in vocal intensity. The song plays out as a streamlined thrasher with Townsend bellowing out the line ‘You Are All Puppets!’ in a menacing manner…
The Greys is a fitting finale (at least musically), with its churning yet melodic riffage and dramatic and sonorous yet fragile vocals on the chorus bringing back memories of Terria. Tall Latte wraps the story up although may prove inconclusive to some – but I’m not about to give anymore of the ‘plot’ away (not that I’d be able to if I wanted to…)
One thing’s for sure – this is not an easy listen! Nor is it easy to write about – those who’ve heard Devin’s work before will probably know where I’m coming from, but if you haven’t – its really one of those cases where words don’t do the music justice, especially as Townsend is so unique – he really doesn’t sound like anyone else.
To be honest I’ve been wavering over whether to give this a recommendation or not – the doubts being there primarily as it is a lot to take in in one sitting, and also the nagging feeling that this might essentially be a novelty record – would you really want to sit through all the funnily voiced narrative and quirky humour more than a few times? In the end however the sheer quality and variety of music on offer wins through, and Townsend’s latest creation gets the thumbs up from this reviewer. With a series of puppet shows set to be posted illustrating various parts of the story, this seems likely to take up Townsend’s time for some good while, so it’s a good job that the music is definitely up to his usual high (if bizarre) standards. All Hail Ziltoid!
Kosmos – Polku
Tracklist: Polku I (1:20), Vieras Kieli (6:20), Kesä (3:23), Omini’i Dakakos (8:04), Lahja Vai Kirous (4:07), Eksyin (4:23), Ouija (4:19), Nuoruus (4:22), Polku II (1:51)
I certainly know better by now than to put much stock in the descriptions given in an artist’s promotional materials of the sound of a CD. Ninety percent of all progressive groups (or wannabe progressive groups) list Pink Floyd among their influences, for example – if only because the band members spent their teenage years listening to Dark Side with their buddies. However, although such descriptions are often useless or even misleading, I have to give Kosmos credit for describing themselves to a T. If you can get your mind around what “progressive folk with some psychedelic overtones” might sound like, you’ll have a good idea right away of whether this album is or isn’t for you.
I myself think it succeeds admirably at what it attempts. It’s “progressive” folk because, although the songs are mostly founded on acoustic guitar, there’s a liberal use of mellotron, along with various other synthesizers and also flute and even theremin to spice up the arrangements. Add to that tastefully played drums and bass (on a few songs) and some right-on psychedelic guitar solos, and you have a band unlike any other.
And of course there’s the vocals, by Päivi Kylmänen, whose voice is lovely and sweet, but not cloyingly so; her vocals are perfect for this kind of music, whose overall tone is, to use an overused adjective, haunting. The lyrics are sung in Finnish, but the band has thoughtfully provided English translations (for “those without a fluent grasp of Finnish [don’t laugh, there really are such people!],” they jokingly – I assume – say), and the lyrics too are perfectly married to the music, mostly introspective and semi-mystical.
The album is very much of a piece, meant, I should say, to be listened to as a whole (and its reasonable length makes such an enterprise possible). Song to song, there’s a nice variety, from the mildly Middle Eastern / Led-Zeppelin-III-ish vibe of Vieras Kieli to the mid-tempo folk-rock of Kesä (my personal favourite – check out the organ and that far-out wah-wah solo!) to the slow, introspective Eksyin. But it creates and maintains a mood, too, largely because Kylmänen’s vocals, tasteful and distinctive, link the pieces together.
If the album has a flaw, it’s that it’s a bit too dreamy, even a bit too sleepy. Now, I don’t myself think that that’s a significant flaw; this band has hardly set out to be aggressive or to rock its listeners’ socks off. But even folky acoustic rock can use a bit of punch. I’ll forever use Aeon Spoke’s debut album as a point of reference, so close to perfection is it at acoustic-folky-progressive rock; that album, while also mostly mellow and introspective, packs a punch in its barely-suppressed energy, managing to balance hard and soft, juxtaposing largely depressing lyrical themes with often buoyant music. Kosmos lacks the same grasp of dynamics, I think, although songs such as Kesä do negotiate between loud and quiet pretty successfully. The album’s certainly not bland, and nor is it background music, but I suppose it could be a bit more assertive, even if with slightly punchier production that would more clearly emphasize the excellent musicianship and beguiling melodies.
All that said, I’m happy to recommend Polku (which, for those of us “without a fluent grasp of Finnish,” apparently means “path”), because, as I said at the outset, I think Kosmos do exactly what they set out to do, and I can’t imagine that anyone with a taste for the mellower side of progressive rock wouldn’t enjoy this lovingly crafted, pleasant album.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Arpia - Terramare
Tracklist: Bambina Regina (3:43), Rosa (6:11), Diana (4:06), Monsieur Verdoux (3:27), Mari (5:14), Libera (3:42), Umbrla (5:26), Luminosa (6:01), Metrr (6:15), Contarsto Della Villanella (3:42), Piccolina (5:41), Terramare (6:25)
Italy always had quite a tradition in progressive music. More prog rock in the 70's, more prog metal in the 90's. The prog metal tag is most appropriate for these guys here, that are anything but a new band. Arpia exists since 1984, but has only released two full-length CD's: Liberazione in 1995 and Terramare late last year. While their very early demos were very theatrical and shows at the time included actors and pantomime, the CD I have here in my hands is quite a straightforward metal release. The band's current line up is Leonardo Bonetti on voice, bass and synth, Fabio Brait on guitar and Aldo Orazi on drums, with the participation of Paola Feraiorni on vocals and Tonino De Sisinno on percussion.
Terramare treats the issue of love through a more paganistic view and sees Earth and Sea (as the title reveals) as erotic elements of the world. The first thing that should be said as it might obstruct some listeners, is that the vocals are in Italian. However, their website features the translated version of the lyrics, so somebody who doesn't speak Italian can get a taste. Quite poetic and fitting the music. So, coming to the music: It is definitely rooted in the late 80's / early 90's prog metal. Without aiming at the complexity of Sieges Even or the lyricism or despair of Fates Warning, it definitely shares a lot with the music of those prog metal giants. Some tracks have quite a heavy and fast futuristic sound that vaguely brings to mind the less vulgar works of Voivod. The voice of Bonetti is very mature and more of the theatrical type than the high-pitch type. I should also say that the female voice assisting him from time to time does a very good job. The synths really contribute a lot, filling up the ambience and significantly enriching the sound.
I liked a lot the low-tempo tracks - they resemble a bit in style the slow tracks in FW's Perfect Symmetry. Basically whenever the music is not rhythm-section driven with a heavy and fast riff, the band does a very good job. Umbria builds upon a melodic and melancholic guitar aided by keyboards and to me is the highlight of the album. Similarly, Rosa and Mari really manage to build a nice atmosphere that captures the listener, featuring interesting changes and nice guitar work. Luminosa is also excellent, mainly due to the memorable melodic vocal lines. I guess here we reap the benefits of the Italian vocals. Piccolina also stands out because of the more "modern" feel to the guitars. The faster and heavier tracks are not bad but they lack that special something that their competitors do have (Monsieur Verdoux or Contarsto Della Villanella are typical examples). Of course, then it might have been hard to build an album without much diversity. But that is another story. A couple of other tracks are looking more like fillers, like Metro or Libera. I didn't really like the closer track much either - I would prefer a more smooth closing, while Terramare is rough despite the female vocals.
The overall quality of the tracks in Terramare is high enough to give it a good rating. Some songs fail to maintain the interest in very high levels but the rest keep the value of the whole product high enough. Definitely the choice to sing in Italian might discourage some of you, but I hope I argued well enough that they are worth a try by listening to the samples in their page. Let's hope the band becomes a bit more prolific in the future and delivers their next effort soon.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10