Reviews in this issue:
- Genesis - Turn It On Again: The Hits (Tour Edition)
- Genesis - Live Over Europe
- Patrick Moraz – Resonance
- Patrick Moraz – ESP
- Satellite - Into The Night (Duo Review)
- Threshold - The Ravages Of Time
- Daevid Allen & Euterpe – Good Morning
- Man And Friends - Christmas At The Patti
- Shadow Gallery - Prime Cuts
- The Resonance Association - Failure Of The Grand Design
- Trans-Siberian Orchestra - Christmas Eve And Other Stories
- Trans-Siberian Orchestra - The Christmas Attic
- Zip Tang - Luminiferous Ether
- Edition Speciale - Horizon Digital
- Quantum Fantay - Ugisiunsi
- Clear Blue Sky – Gateway To The Seventh Dimension
- Ulver - Shadows Of The Sun
- Baraka - VII
Genesis - Turn It On Again: The Hits (Tour Edition)
Disc 1 [78:19] Turn It On Again (3:49), No Son Of Mine (5:46), I Can't Dance (4:00), Hold On My Heart (4:36), Tell Me Why (4:59), Invisible Touch (3:28), Land Of Confusion (4:46), Tonight, Tonight, Tonight (4:28), In Too Deep (4:58), Throwing It All Away (3:50), Mama (5:18), That's All (4:24), Illegal Alien (5:16), Abacab (4:10), No Reply At All (4:33), Carpet Crawlers 1999 (5:40)
Disc 2 [70:48]: Paperlate (3:25), Keep It Dark (4:32), Man On The Corner (4:27), Duchess (4:20), Misunderstanding (3:11), Follow You, Follow Me (3:59), Many Too Many (3:31), Your Own Special Way (6:18), Afterglow (4:11), Pigeons (3:15), Inside And Out (6:48), A Trick Of The Tail (4:34), Counting Out Time (3:40), I Know What I Like [In Your Wardrobe] (4:08), Happy The Man (3:08), The Knife [pt 1] (3:17), Congo (4:04)
Probably the biggest happening of the year is the Genesis reunion: For the first time in 15 years the most commercially successful Genesis line-up is on tour again. In their press conference the band exclaimed they were not in it for the money, hence the relatively limited number of shows and reasonable ticket prices. However, a record company also needs to eat, so Virgin took a less charitable approach to the reunion and released a staggering number of 15 Genesis releases in 2007 alone. One of two compilations released in 2007 is the re-release of the 1999 Turn It On Again: The Hits compilation, which at the time was released as an excuse for the Genesis 'reunion' of which Carpet Crawlers 1999 was the result.
As the original compilation focused mainly on the most commercially successful period of the band, it was incomplete as a singles overview. So here comes the "Tour edition" re-release which includes the an almost complete singles overview, only missing the band's first three (The Silent Sun, A Winter's Tale, In The Beginning) and last two (Shipwrecked, Not About Us) and a few more missing from the early period (Watcher Of The Skies, Lamb Lies Down On Broadway etc). Actually, "Tour edition" is somewhat misleading, because only 13 of the tracks were featured in the 24-track setlist of the Turn It On Again tour, and one of the performed singles, Ripples, is absent from this compilation (despite there being enough room left on the second disc for one or two more tracks).
The songs are presented in a roughly reversed chronological order, with the exception of the title track and aforementioned Carpet Crawlers, which bookend the first disc, and Congo which is almost apologetically tucked away at the end of disc 2. All tracks are presented in the new 2007 stereo mixes by Nick Davis, which were created for the SACD/DVD re-releases of the Genesis back catalogue.
Needless to say the more interesting stuff can be found on disc 2, as this contains songs from the band's more adventurous period. Yet it remains to be seen who would actually be waiting for such a compilation. For the die-hard fans there is far too little to enjoy (although Carpet Crawlers 1999, Pigeons, Inside And Out and Happy The Man are nice rarities) and for the casual fan of eighties' Genesis there are way too many weird, complex and unknown songs on disc 2. For the latter the original single disc edition of this compilation is a far better (and cheaper) option. Otherwise, the SACD reissue box sets are a far better alternative.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Genesis - Live Over Europe
Disc 1 [71:58]: Duke's Intro (3:48), Turn It On Again (4:26), No Son Of Mine (6:57), Land Of Confusion (5:11), Medley: In The Cage, Cinema Show, Riding The Scree, Duke's Travels (13:30), Afterglow (4:27), Hold On My Heart (5:58), Home By The Sea (11:58), Follow You, Follow Me (4:19), Firth Of Fifth (excerpt) (4:39), I Know What I Like [In Your Wardrobe] (6:45)
Disc 2 [67:16]: Mama (6:57), Ripples (7:57), Throwing It All Away (6:01), Domino (11:34), Conversations With 2 Stools (6:48), Los Endos (6:24), Tonight, Tonight, Tonight [excerpt] (3:49), Invisible Touch (5:35), I Can't Dance (6:11), Carpet Crawlers (6:00)
An inevitable result of the Genesis reunion tour is a new live CD and DVD. The DVD will not be available until February 2008, but the CD version was released in November of 2007. The CD features the entire set of the Turn It On Again reunion tour, however, each song is recorded at a different location. Almost all introductions and in between song banter has been deleted, so the album sounds more like a live compilation (which it essentially is) rather than a concert registration.
In my opinion the Turn It On Again Tour setlist was a thoroughly satisfactory one, with a good balance between old and new, trying to satisfy both the die hard fans and the fans of the more commercial period of the band. So in that respect this is a great compilation of those tracks, with the medleys being an additional bonus.
Speaking of medleys, there are three of them. The first is the opening track which consists of instrumental bits from Behind The Lines and Duke's End before moving into the reunion tour motto Turn It On Again. The second medley is an 18-minute trip into the history of Genesis which contains full versions of In The Cage and Afterglow with a selection of Tony Banks' solos from Cinema Show, Riding The Scree and Duke's Travels in between. The third medley is basically the ending of The Old Medley of the 1992 tour, with the solo of Firth Of Fifth leading into I Know What I Like.
Special mention must go to the updated Drum Duet between Phil Collins and Chester Thompson. Drum solos are usually a boring affair, but Collins and Thompson have always managed to make something cool out of it, and their 2007 Conversation with 2 Stools is no exception. Very uniquely the drum solo starts with the two drummers playing on a couple of bar stools, before moving on to their respective drum kits. The drum solo leads -inevitably- into Los Endos, which is THE perfect Genesis set closer.
The encores are fairly straightforward, although ending the concert with the downbeat Carpet Crawlers can be considered a brave, yet grateful decision.
On the other hand there's the performances and recording. You can't blame the band for getting older, but in comparison to contemporaries like Yes or even The Rolling Stones their performance is lacking, well, energy for most. Most tracks are played in a lower key to suit Collins' voice better, but it also seems as if they lowered the tempo of the tracks. Especially In The Cage seems tediously slow.
The recording is crisp clear, with -I think- a fair bit of tinkering done in the studio. This results in such a sterile sound, with audience noise mixed to the lowest level possible, that it sounds like a studio run-through rather than a live performance. This is not helped by the fact that almost any audience interaction has been cut out. All gigs of the tour were also recorded and released as "The Encore Series" official bootlegs, and though the audio quality of these albums is far from perfect, they capture the live feel of the band a lot better.
The upcoming DVD When In Rome... will undoubtedly be recommended fare, but in the meantime you may as well give this album a miss. If you want a tour souvenir of the last tour you'd better get one of the Encore series.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Patrick Moraz – Resonance
Tracklist: Vortex Of Life - Movement 1 (2:00), Vortex Of Life - Movement 2 (3:41), Vortex Of Life - Movement 3 (3:56), Vortex Of Life - Movement 4 (4:23), Sundance (6:06), Moondance (3:14), Resonance (8:33), Colloids Bounce Around (3:13), Standing In The Light (6:16), The Light (12:45), Birds On A Wire (5:10)
Patrick Moraz – ESP
Tracklist: Prelude in C#min (3:42), Prelude in C# [Little Diamond] (3:05), Prelude in C# (3:14), Sonata in C (1st movement Allegro in C) (3:18), Sonata in C (2nd movement Andante in G) (5:11), Sonata in C (3rd movement in Allegrettho in C-F-C) (3:33), Prelude in A min (Andante inspired by "Keep the Children Alive") (4:49), Etude in Bb (2:23), Etude in F# (Waterfalls) (2:48),Etude-Fugue in A (starts in F#) (2:45), Etude in Bb (Dynamic Symmetry) (2:16), Etude in F# (1:31), Etude in F (Chords in 5ths) (2:28), Prelude in G and Bb (3:54), Prelude in Bm (5:57), Grand Sonata in Dm (1st movement Allegro) (8:57)
Ask most any Yes fan to name the classic lineup of the ‘70’s and the inevitable name of Rick Wakeman will appear. The contribution of Swiss born virtuoso Patrick Moraz, the band’s keyboardist between 1974 and 1976, is often overlooked. Not only did he tour extensively with the band appearing in front of their largest crowds ever, he also contributed to the highly regarded (by critics and fans) Relayer album. More importantly for Moraz his time in Yes gave him the wherewithal to kick start his solo album career with the monumental Story Of I released in 1976. Prior to Yes he spent a year in Refugee, a keyboard led trio with the ex-Nice rhythm section releasing one studio album and the recently discovered Live In Concert ~ Newcastle City Hall 1974. Prog rockers Mainhorse had been his only previous band, formed in 1969 with long time collaborator Jean Ristori back in his native Switzerland. They also released the one self-titled studio album. He has also made several guest appearances, most notably on Fish Out Of Water, Chris Squire’s one and only solo album.
After Yes, despite a lengthy stint with The Moody Blues from 1978 to 1991 and two albums with Bill Bruford in the 80’s, Patrick’s solo albums continued. There has been fourteen to date, culminating with Resonance in 2000 and ESP in 2003. The complete back catalogue is soon to be available once again courtesy of Voiceprint, remastered by Moraz himself. These two discs are his second and third solo piano works, with Windows Of Time originally released in 1994 being the first. They allow Moraz the freedom to display his creative concert piano skills, something he’s been doing since a gifted child performer in the 1950’s. Thankfully he avoids the Wakeman route of producing a collection of standards and cover versions. No “Moraz pays tribute to The Beatles” or “The Best of Yes on Piano” here, all the pieces are original Moraz compositions. Coincidentally, by design or accident both albums have an identical playing time of exactly 60 minutes. In terms of style however there is much to separate them.
Resonance is the more eclectic of the two releases with Moraz extracting more moods and tempos than you would have thought possible from a single instrument. Often his touch is soft and delicate and at other times he’s pounding the keys for all their worth. The opening four-movement Vortex Of Life incorporate fast and furious playing demonstrating just how far removed his technique can be from Wakeman’s more rhapsodic style. In fact the jazzy flourishes that often appear reveal a style more akin to Keith Emerson. To be honest I found the temperamental, almost improvised nature less engaging than the pieces that follow, although the moody Movement 4 does finish in dramatic fashion. Sundance is more upbeat and tuneful although it’s a tad overlong with the energetic repeated piano motif beginning to drag after awhile. Moondance is more mainstream incorporating honky-tonk jazz and rock and roll into a concoction that Jools Holland would be proud of. The title track Resonance is an emotive and relaxed piece, which following the previous tracks has a walk in a park on a Sunday afternoon ambiance.
Colloids Bounce Around is similar in spirit to Moondance with a lively ragtime jazz feel that echoes the solo work of the ELP frontman. In turn Standing In The Light returns to the atmosphere of the title track with a pretty melody and a hint of Randy Edelman style Americana, so this time it’s a stroll through Central Park. The Light is by far the crowning achievement of both albums and I’m not just saying that because it’s the longest. It’s a melancholic and bittersweet piece with the piano oddly reminding me of Elton John’s playing in places, which is intended as a compliment. About halfway in it reaches one of the loveliest and most moving melodies I think I’ve ever heard before becoming more strident with emotive thundering keys. Following that, Birds On A Wire is something of an anti climax even though it includes lively Mozart flavoured noodlings. An appropriate closer in as much as the classical style provides a taster for what’s to come on the next album.
If the veiled title of ESP (short for Etudes, Sonatas and Preludes) and the stark modernist artwork are not exactly dead giveaways as to the contents, the track titles are. Although they’re not especially derivative in style it would be easy to accept that this was not a collection of original compositions such is the quality. The three preludes that open have a sweet and lyrical beauty, full of rippling notes played with both speed and delicacy. The three sonatas that follow don’t really do it for me I’m afraid, not because of Moraz’s playing, which is faultless, more the baroque classical style. It all sounds a tad too twee to my ears although the 2nd movement, which Patrick favours himself, is not without its charm. In contrast Prelude in A is warmer, whereas Etude in Bb is uplifting like a bird in flight and Etude in F# has a reflective beauty. At this point the track titles become very confusing but I’m sure that it’s Etude in F (Chords in 5ths) that crackles with a nervous energy. The two penultimate preludes are both strikingly romantic with memorable melodies, and the rapid cascading notes this time bring Mr. Wakeman to mind. Grand Sonata in Dm brings things to a dramatic and fitting finale.
On both discs Moraz explores the range and potential of the grand piano to its full. Rarely has the piano, if you excuse the pun, sounded grander. For those who are familiar with his previous work his playing here is as good as you would expect. In terms of recommending one over the other it’s a tough choice and really depends on your musical preferences. Although stylistically quite different, in the case of both albums I personally preferred the more melodic and slower pieces. On ESP especially Moraz’s melodic flair keeps it from sounding too highbrow. And as I observed earlier Resonance has the advantage of the stunning The Light. Although an album’s worth of piano instrumentals may on the face of it seem of marginal interest to DPRP readers, they’re both excellent releases deserving of anyone’s attention. After all, prog artists have been skirting around the periphery of classical music since the 1960’s. Patrick Moraz takes things just that one step further and should be applauded for doing so.
Resonance:: 7.5 out of 10
ESP: 7.5 out of 10
Satellite – Into The Night
Tracklist: Into The Night (6:54), Dreams (13:30), Downtown Skyline (6:20), Lights (2;14), Don’t Walk Away In Silence (7:35), Heaven Can Wait (9:04), Forgiven And Forgotten (6:05)
Tom De Val's Review
At first sight, it may have been surprising that Polish outfit Satellite could come up with such an assured, quality offering as their debut A Street Between Sunrise And Sunset – less surprising, though, when you realise that the mastermind behind the band, drummer and songwriter Wojtek Szadkowski, was also a key figure on Collage’s Moonshine album, widely regarded as one of the finest neo-progressive albums released in the 1990’s. Into The Night is the third release from his new project, and completes a trilogy, following A Street… and 2005’s Evening Games.
As with its predecessor, the songs on Into The Night are a little less immediate than on the debut, and my ears were instead tuned in to the less favourable developments to the band’s sound – notably the rather irritating tendency to incorporate some dated (over)production techniques (particularly on the drums and percussion), and a pronounced rockier, heavier feel on some of the tracks – notably the chaotic opening to the epic Dreams, and the faux-anthemic Heaven Can Wait. To me this harder-edged style is neither the band’s strongpoint musically, nor does it suit vocalist Robert Amirian’s voice.
Satellite are much better, in my opinion, when sticking to their strengths – lush, symphonic prog, featuring multiple layers of orchestral keyboards, a fluid but unobtrusive rhythm section, topped by Amirian’s mellow, laid-back vocals and Sarhan’s soaring guitar work. Thankfully there’s plenty of that here, and given a few listens, the likes of the memorable title track, the aforementioned Dreams (once it settles down) and Don’t Walk Away In Silence all reveal themselves to be equal to anything in the band’s back catalogue. There’s a comforting, atmospheric late night feel to much of the material, and within this context a willingness to experiment – witness Downtown Skyline, which definitely incorporates some Porcupine Tree touches (circa Stupid Dream), or the soul-tinged, dreamy closer Forgiven And Forgotten. All the musicians put in fine performances, although its perhaps Sarhan who takes the honours here, with a number of winning solo’s – very much in the soaring, languorous David Gilmour/Andy Latimer vein rather than the hundred-notes-a-minute shred merchants.
All in all, Satellite have produced another album of quality symphonic prog with Into The Night which, if perhaps falling a little short of the (very high) quality of their debut, is easily as good as Evening Games in my opinion, and is certainly one of the better albums in this vein released this year. Whether the band can continue churning out albums in this vein without the law of diminishing returns eventually setting in is perhaps questionable, but for now just lie back, dim the lights, crack open a beer and let this lush, atmospheric music wash over you.
Martien Koolen's Review
This could probably turn out to be one of the best prog rock albums of this year as Into The Night is a sheer musical delight. An album filled with majestic guitar solos and breathtaking melodies that “haunt” you the entire day ... Into The Night is the last part of the Polish band Satellite’s trilogy and it is their best one so far. Musical references that come to mind are Arena, Porcupine Tree and especially their country fellows Riverside. Listening to this album over and over again I “fear” that this band is very fierce competition for Riverside as especially the guitar riffs, melodies and solos remind me so much of that other magical Polish band.
The album opens with the title track which is a true symphonic rock masterpiece full of heavenly guitar solos and ballad-like musical passages. The first true highlight is the thirteen minute-epic Dreams, which is divided into three parts. Part 1 is an up-tempo prog metal intro followed by lots of Arena-like passages and even some Porcupine Tree guitar riffs. The song ends with an amazingly brilliant guitar solo which gives me gooseflesh every time I listen to it.
Downtown Skyline starts with an intro that strangely reminds me of the song Rooster by Alice In Chains, followed by yet again marvellous Riverside-like guitar work, keyboard solos and some heavier prog parts. Lights is a short instrumental song, filled with spacy, rather boring piano and keyboard parts, which “ruins” the album a bit ... Don’t Walk Away In Silence opens with a Gilmour-like guitar intro, followed by more breathtaking guitar solos and Riverside-like melodies. Heaven Can Wait is a guitar driven track and also shows a rather howling organ solo. This amazing album ends with Forgiven And Forgotten, a rather mellow-like song with lots of orchestral parts and surprise; surprise a magnificent screaming guitar solo.
If you like Riverside and neo prog rock filled with superlative guitar work then you will love this CD. I would have almost given it a perfect 10, but I am afraid that I must deduct something for the rather disappointing song Lights ...
Buy or die!!
Threshold - The Ravages Of Time
Tracklist: Slipstream [radio edit] (3:24), Light And Space (5:24), Mission Profile (8:17), Falling Away (6:53), The Ravages Of Time (10:17), Phenomenon (5:29), Pressure [radio edit] (3:50), Fragmentation (6:35), Oceanbound (6:43), The Art Of Reason (10:19), Pilot In The Sky Of Dreams [radio edit] (3:51), The Latent Gene (8:03), A Tension Of Souls (7:08), Eat The Unicorn (10:06), Consume To Live (8:13), Innocent (4:42), Exposed [radio edit] (4:40), Sanity’s End (10:23), The Whispering (7:53), Voyager 2 (9:02)
After eight studio albums and two live CDs British power metallers Threshold have long left their mark on the international rock music scene. I have all their albums and they are all classic examples of the perfect arch between progressive and power metal. The Ravages Of Time is their first "best-of-album" and what an album it is.
This double CD features songs from all eras of the band’s history, so from their debut album Wounded Land, back in 1993, as well as their last amazing album Dead Reckoning (2007). Threshold has always been one of my favourite British power metal bands and the albums I especially like are: Critical Mass (2002) and Subsurface (2004). Threshold has had three singers, being Wilson, Morgan and Mac, and my favourite is without any doubt mister McDermott!! His vocals really shone and now that he has left the band I wonder what will happen as Mac is replaced by no other than Damian Wilson ...
At the end of the Eighties Karl Groom and Nick Midson formed the band and in 1993 they released their debut album Wounded Land. On the first three albums of Threshold the keyboards tended to dominate the music as for the later albums Karl Groom’s guitar is definitely more present.
My favourite tracks on this amazing double album are: Falling Away, Phenomenon, Fragmentation and Voyager 2. On this album are also a couple of previously unreleased radio edits, namely: Slipstream, Pressure, Pilot In The Sky Of Dreams And Exposed. However in my opinion these radio edits are not as good as the original tracks!
Nevertheless, this is a great album and a must for Threshold fans!!!!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Daevid Allen & Euterpe – Good Morning
Tracklist: Children Of The New World (3:42), Good Morning (5:18), Spirit (4:47), Song Of Satisfaction (2:16), Have You Seen My Friend (3:37), French Garden (3:23), Wise Man In Your heart (11:28), She Doesn’t She (2:40), Bonus Track: Euterpe Gratitude Piece (9:52)
Here’s one I’m sure all Gong fans have been waiting for – the long overdue reissue of the erstwhile leader of Gong’s first post-band solo album. It has been released on CD before but has long been unavailable. This outstanding 24 bit re-mastered edition from the reborn Eclectic Discs in their new Esoteric Recordings guise is smartly presented, with liner notes and lyrics and, more importantly, it sounds great!
Originally released in 1976, this is easily Daevid Allen’s best and most consistent of all his many solo ventures, recorded in his then home of Mallorca, with the local group Euterpe. It was a groundbreaking release then, combining ethereal ambient synths with the natural folky vibes of acoustic instruments for a dreamy, mystical atmosphere with strong hippy leanings but with a few edgy, darker moments and (of course) a little of the old patent Allen madcap humour.
Though many love Allen for his silliness, I know there are also those who are put off by it. This album reins in the wackiness for the most part and is his most enchanting and accessible excursion. From the cock-crow and gentle acoustic guitar which ushers in Children Of The New World with its spacey ambience, right through to the closing saxophone bleats of the humorous little ditty She Doesn’t She, this album is never less than delightful. It has a mysteriously charming atmosphere which is ideal for soothing and caressing your mind in times of stress. Revealed by the enhanced sound quality are some fantastic backing harmony vocals throughout, which were hard to pick out on the crackly vinyl album I’m used to hearing.
Allen mines a rich vein of psychedelic poetry on fanciful little tunes like Good Morning with more than a hint of the childlike wonder employed but Syd Barrett on Piper At The Gates Of Dawn.
As good as the combination of Euterpe and Allen turns out to be, the standout cut is the hypnotic, percussion-lead glissando guitar fest Wise Man In Your Heart which features former Gong colleagues Mike Howlett and Pierre Moerlen. It’s a track to lose yourself in on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The disc is bolstered with the previously unreleased Euterpe Gratitude Piece which continues the dreamy ambience for an additional 10 minutes, a most welcome addition to the disc.
Anyone who ever fell in love with this album must surely want to acquire this great reissue, and it’s also the ideal opportunity for Allen virgins to dip their toes into the waters of the peculiar world of planet Gong.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Man And Friends - Christmas At The Patti
Tracklist: Welcome To The Party - Flying Aces (2:55), Boogaloo Babe - Ducks Deluxe (3:46), My Way - The Jets (4:06), Jambalaya - The Jets (4:32), Jingle Bells - Plum Crazy With Dave Edmunds (0:31), Run, Run Rudolph - Plum Crazy With Dave Edmunds (2:17), Mona - Help Yourself With Deke Leonard (11:40), Eddie Waring - Help Yourself With Deke Leonard (14:04), Life On The Road / Shuffle - Man With Dave Edmunds & Stan Phifer (11:41)
The 19th December 1972 saw the Welsh Man band hold the first of their annual Christmas parties in Swansea. They invited loads of their friends, which included several ex-members of the group, and indulged in a six-hour marathon of music and mayhem, only stopped by the local constabulary when midnight struck. A recording of some of the evening's highlights was released on the United Artists label in early 1973 as a limited double 10" record set which retailed for the princely sum of £1.43, with all profits going to charity. In keeping with the spirit of the original release, the artist royalties from this re-issue are also being donated to charity - The Samantha Dickson Brain Tumour Trust - very apt considering original Man band member Micky Jones' diagnosis with a series of brain tumours.
First up, it should be noted that this album should not be considered a Man album per se, although there are certainly enough contributions from Man members and ex-members! It is mainly an historical artefact of the cooperation between groups, labels, managers and whatever of that time, a memento of the spirit of the times and a good record of a stimulant infused night of reckless abandon. Three 'legendary' Welsh bands reformed specially for the evening including The Jets (who like The Beatles, were darlings of Hamburg's notorious Reeperbahn district in the early to mid 1960s), Plum Crazy (although vocalist Plum Howells, who also sang with The Jets, was replaced for the evening by Dave Edmunds who pops up all over the place on this album) and the glorious Eyes Of Blue whose reformation was somewhat incomplete given that the original vocalist and drummer were on tour at the time of the concert with Wild Turkey and Gentle Giant respectively (perhaps that is why they did not feature on the album). The contributions of these groups, although of historical interest, are nothing major to shout about. The Jets provide a ramshackle version of Eddie Cochran's My Way and an energised version of Hank Williams' Jambalaya. Plum Crazy's contributions are of a more seasonal variety with a brief instrumental version of Jingle Bells and a fairly faithful rendition of Chuck Berry's Run Run Rudolph. The first recorded work by pub rockers Ducks Deluxe is Boogaloo Babe which has as predictable a sound as the title would suggest. The Flying Aces, playing their first ever gig, contribute the more acoustic Welcome To The Party, specially written for the concert. It acts well as an opening number for the album despite the fact that on the night the group were the penultimate act! It's a shame that the other song the group played that night wasn't included as well, as the (female) vocals of George Ace make a nice contrast to the otherwise male dominated proceedings.
The last three tracks feature more typical Man-type extended workouts, although two of the tracks are actually by Help Yourself featuring ex-Man guitarist Deke Leonard (who also performed with The Jets and the Flying Aces, and wrote the sleeve notes to this reissue, despite seemingly not remembering very much of the evening's events!) and the infamous pedal steel guitar player B.J. Cole. Strangely the first track by Help Yourself, an extended slow blues cover version of Mona, was actually the last number they played and the second track, Eddie Waring, was the first! However, considering Eddie Waring is one of the highlights of the album it no doubt made sense to sequence the album with this fine extended jam number leading up to the climax of the concert (or, more likely, the limitations of the double 10" format dictated the order!). Either way the presence of BJ Cole adds another dimension to the Help Yourself sound dominated by the guitars of Leonard, Malcolm Morley and Richard Treece. Man close the album with Life On The Road, a 'romping Shuffle' from the groups then current album Be Good To Yourself At Least Once A Day. This leads nicely into an improvised Shuffle.
Although not the best Man live performance on record, and there are many to choose from, the album holds a certain charm, particularly as a reminder of the comparatively free and easy musical times gone by when music was all that mattered. Highlights are undoubtedly the Flying Aces, Help Yourself's Eddie Waring and Man themselves. It is just a shame that, as with the other Esoteric Man releases, some bonus tracks have not been included. There are a lot to choose from, such as the 'Eyes of Blue' set or the final thirty-man jam that ended the concert, would have rounded out this release and made it a better acquisition for collectors or simply the curious. As an album it just about stands up, as a representation of Man it should be passed over for the other excellent Esoteric reissues. But then, it is never really was a Man album, but a reminder of a good time for those who were there or who could not make it. And as a worthwhile charity still benefits from every sale (which is more than bootleg copies contribute) you can't argue with the rationale for the re-release.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Shadow Gallery – Prime Cuts
Tracklist: Mystery (4:20), Ghost Of A Chance (5:16), Deeper Than Life (4:32), Hope For Us (6:00), The Crusher [Edit] (5:48), Colors [Edit] (5:34), The Final Hour (5:05), Say Goodbye To The Morning (6:46), Don't Ever Cry, Just Remember (6:29), New World Order (8:11), Legacy (5:04), Rule The World [Unreleased Demo] (5:50
The second band to be signed to the ground-breaking Magna Carta label in 1991 (after Magellan), Shadow Gallery is widely regarded as one of the founders of the modern-day progressive metal genre. The four albums they went on to release for the specialist progressive label, managed to combine a heavy use of symphonics, metal guitar riffing and soloing, lush keyboards, melodic rock melodies and layered harmonies. Nowadays, numerous bands make use of this combination, but 16 years ago, it was entering unchartered territory.
Signed to the Inside Out label for their last album, RoomV, this disc is a pretty good ‘Best of ..’ collection taken from those first four albums. The tracks have been chosen by the band, with the added advantage of Rule The World, an unreleased demo from the Carved In Stone sessions.
As a quieter, older brother of Symphony X, Shadow Gallery has generally been a little too lightweight for my tastes. Where they score highly, is on the emotional level and the avoidance of overly drawn-out instrumental sections.
The band has always tried to tell a story through their (concept) albums, which is the one thing you obviously miss out on with this selection. That aside, it will provide a pretty good introduction to those who have been curious, but not curious enough to grab one of their discs. There’s a good mix of the heavy (Legacy) and the ballads (Ghost Of A Chance). The demo track is great, offering an interesting mix of symphonic speed metal with a 60s-inspired melody. Yet I can’t see it as enough, to tempt those who already own all these songs on the full albums. A well-selected ‘Best of…’ album – no more no less.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Resonance Association - Failure Of The Grand Design
Tracklist: The Darkening Storm (4:49), Left Hemisphere (9:41), God Is In Tiny Boxes (9:12), Magnetophon (2:23), I Have Seen The Future, And I Am Not In It (9:57), Right Hemisphere (3:12), Three Hundred And Sixty Degree View (5:01), Electrolyte (5:04), Disintegration Of The Grand Design (4:36)
Winter. Cold this time of year. Apparently The Resonance Association passed on the hot cocoa when they recorded their icy debut full length release on Burning Shed, Failure Of The Grand Design.
The CD comes after five download EPs from the Resonance Association, comprised of Daniel Vincent (Karma Pilot, Onion Jack) and Dominic Hemy (The 3rd Fire). Vincent plays acoustic, electric and bass guitars; synthesizers, programming, piano, and sound manipulation. Hemy plays electric and bass guitars, theremin, synthesizers, and field recordings.
The duo plays dark, cold instrumental music veering between several various genres including, but not limited to, noise core, metal, Kraut rock, house, and industrial. The track Left Hemisphere features Vincent’s frigid, windswept electronics including his ticking metronome sound reminiscent of Time by Pink Floyd. Painfully wailing guitars freeze into an industrial sound design that recalls some of the grooves heard in Goth clubs in the cold industrial late Eighties. An acid house beat propels the song into modern times, before it trails into a subzero ambience, delicately as the last autumn leaves tossed in a December wind.
The coldness returns on Three Hundred And Sixty Degree View, a drone piece featuring some ambient guitar noise similar to the sound of Fear Falls Burning (Vidna Obmana, who has collaborated with Burning Shed labelmate Steve Wilson).
The meandering guitar is also found on opening track The Darkening Storm, with thunderstorm field recordings from Hemy, who mixes in the natural thunderstorm sounds with just the right amount of restraint, not overdoing it. The drone guitar is also found on I Have Seen The Future And I am Not in It, starting off darkly before it hardens into a frigid cry and a long cavernous section of sonic black ice. A dangerous song.
The aforementioned guitar is played well across the CD. Both talented musicians are credited with guitar as well as synthesizers, but it is not distinguished as to who plays on what track. The songs are composed and produced well and create a unique sound devoid, for the most part, of any similarity to other bands.
One way for The Resonance association to improve with future releases would be to compose more songs in the vein of the newly recorded industrial-house fusion track Electrolyte, previously known by hard core fans as a live staple. More dance-oriented tunes such as this could give the band some crossover appeal in the modern Goth/industrial club scene.
I very much enjoyed this CD when I heard it and I know I will be giving it future listens. Hot cocoa, hot shmocoa- revel in the coldness with The Resonance Association!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Trans-Siberian Orchestra -
Christmas Eve And Other Stories
Tracklist: An Angel Came Down (3:56), O Come All Ye Faithful / O Holy Night (4:19), A Start To Follow (3:48), First Snow (3:52), The Silent Nutcracker (2:21), A Mad Russian's Christmas (4:41), The Prince Of peace (3:32), Christmas Eve / Sarajevo 12/24 (3:24), Good King Joy (6:35), Ornament (3:37), The First Noel (0:54), Old City Bar (6:17), Promises To Keep (2:40), This Christmas Day (4:19), An Angel Returned (3:52), O Holy Night (2:38), God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (1:14)
Trans-Siberian Orchestra - The Christmas Attic
Tracklist: The Ghost Of Christmas Eve (3:00), Boughs Of Holly (5:42), The World That She Sees (4:12), The World That He Sees (7:04), Midnight Christmas Eve (3:04), The March Of The Kings / Hark The Herald Angel (4:55), The Three Kings And I (What Really Happened) (2:14), Christmas Canon (4:24), Joy / Angels We Have Heard On High (4:12), Find Our Way Home (4:42), Appalachian Snowfall (4:20), The Music Box (3:51), The Snow Came Down (6:28), Christmas In The Air (4:18), Dream Child (A Christmas Dream) (3:55), An Angel's Share (3:45), Music Box Blues (4:12)
The name Trans-Siberian Orchestra and the typical Christmas covers might suggest that these are normal classical Christmas albums. A small sticker slightly reveals the true contents, it states: "Ft. members of Savatage". Mr. Savatage Jon Olivia, Paul O'Neill and Robert Kinkel founded this orchestra in 1996 and it contains mostly musicians from heavy metal band Savatage. Metal/rock Christmas albums usually result in well known carols played on rock instruments, for example the album We wish you a metal Christmas and a heavy new year. This is not the case for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Besides members of Savatage a large orchestra and choir is used. The music style is often described in different terms incorporating progressive rock, symphonic metal, and heavy metal, with influences from classical music. It will be liked by (progressive) rock fans but more interesting fact is that it can be tolerated by people who are appalled by heavy music.
Both albums are concept albums built around Christmas stories written by Paul O'Neill. These are not typical Christmas albums but certainly not heavy metal albums. Two elements of the Savatage music are present on this album: their unique style of power ballads and their use of Canon singing. The latter is very suited for Christmas songs, multiple vocal lines are sang repeatedly until all entwine. The amount of heavy songs and orchestral/acoustic songs is split fifty-fifty. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra has a large amount of vocalists that all deliver perfect performances. Zak Stevens, Savatage singer at that time, is one of my favourite vocalists but only does backing vocals. Among the instrumental songs is one Savatage song, Christmas Eve / Sarajevo 12/24, which is taken from their album Dead Winter Dead.
Christmas Eve And Other Stories is their best selling album but The Christmas Attic doesn't differ very much from its predecessor. A third Christmas album was made in 2004, The Lost Christmas Eve, and the trilogy can be bought as a boxed set. These Christmas albums are perfect to enjoy by yourself but can also be shared with the family during these special days. When you have fallen in love with these albums it's hard to only be able to play them at Christmas. For now the only non-Christmas album by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is Beethoven's Last Night but next year will feature the long awaited non-Christmas album Night Castle.
"Last Christmas" we played Wham, from now on we will play the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
Christmas Eve And Other Stories:: 8.5 out of 10
The Christmas Attic: 8.5 out of 10
Zip Tang - Luminiferous Ether
Tracklist: Tower Of Tuna (5:39), Missed The Beginning (5:15), Nothing Here (6:10), Doctor Plush (10:00), Like We Did Before (5:02), Beta (5:47), Searching For Treasure (4:24), With A Twist (3:46), Tarkus (18:10)
Chicago quartet Zip Tang offer up their debut, self-released album that "chooses the mantle of obscure integrity over the albatross of ubiquitous vulgarity", or so it says on their web site. Actually that rather off-kilter description of the band that offers up music with "the irreverence of Frank Zappa / the majesty of King Crimson / the vocal harmonies of Yes" is quite fitting. With a rather unconventional line-up of Marcus Padgett (saxophone, keyboards, main vocals), Perry Merritt (guitars, vocals), Rick Wolfe (bass, vocals) and Fred Faller (drums, percussion) one would expect a somewhat unconventional sound.
What Luminiferous Ether provides is an hour of contrasts. Take With A Twist for example. A rather 'new wave' beginning suddenly lapses into a blues guitar solo which cleverly wends its way back to the original off-beat groove. With a twist indeed. The Zappaesque opener Tower Of Tuna builds from a proggy intro into a mixture of odd and humorous lyrics, guitar and sax interplay, weird synth lines and even a final section dominated by some great drum breaks. The quality of the recording and production is exemplary with a crisp drum sound and the instruments clearly distinguishable, even when the sax and guitar parts are mirroring each other. The band's humour is self-evident on the chorus of Missed The Beginning, perhaps a paean to the short attention span of many people these days: "I missed the beginning, I slept through the middle, I wasted the ending, Don't tell me it's over". With a saxophone as joint lead instrument it is inevitable that some jazzy elements creep into the album. Probably most pronounced on Beta, but it is jazz in the way that early King Crimson adapted the genre on their first couple of albums. Again, the central section takes a bit of a detour into a slower and sleazier vibe, like a radical reworking of Henry Mancini's Pink Panther Theme.
Beta is book ended by two of my favourite tracks on the album Like We Did Before and Searching For Treasure, possibly because they are more conventional songs. Like We Did Before, a slower number which is well sung and features some great melodies wrung from Merritt's guitar, has a sort of downbeat Porcupine Tree/No Man feel while Treasure makes good use of harmonies with some persuasive work by the rhythm section of Wolfe and Faller. Mmm, just noticed that neither of these tracks feature any saxophone, put that down to my preferences rather than any slight to the contributions of Marcus Padgett. Best opening to any track occurs on Nothing Here with a string synthesiser and acoustic guitar duet that deserves to be credited as a separate piece (or at least designated as an 'interlude'!).
The remaining two tracks set out the prog credentials of Zip Tang. Dr Plush, a real slow burner of a song, has definite Pink Floyd overtones and, once again, kudos to Faller for providing some excellent work on the skins and cymbals. Good use is made of harmonies and Padgett works overtime providing spacey, pseudo-psychedelic synthesiser lines and an extended saxophone solo. Some tasty layered guitar parts add a splash of dissonance followed by a succinct solo before the listener is pulled back to the meat of the vocal melody. A rather incongruous ending mixed a vaguely Parisian accordion sound with tapes of screaming and exploding bombs, intriguing. The surprise element of the album is a full 18 minute version of ELP's Tarkus. Considering ELP was largely a showcase for the extraordinary talents of Keith Emerson, Zip Tang's version largely dispenses with keyboards, with only the Hammond Organ being reproduced on keyboards. The bulk of the synth lines are reproduced either on saxophone or guitar. That Zip Tang have managed to produce a faithful reproduction of such an epic number says a lot about the musicianship and arrangement skills of the band. That Zip Tang have managed to introduce a whole new freshness to the piece is both unexpected and astonishing. Maybe it is a case of being too familiar with the original that the cover brings out new elements of the song, it really is like hearing Tarkus for the first time all over again.
Luminiferous Ether manages to be diverse without being disjointed and progressive without being derivative. I'd recommend this album to anyone who is in need of getting some fresh air into their musical lungs.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Edition Speciale - Horizon Digital
Tracklist: Aurore (5:48), Camera (9:26), Ma Vie Degenere (2:59), Daisy (7:06), Jungle's Jingle (6:33), Confluence (4:55), Rouge Champs (4:03), ES Blues (4:23), Open It Up (4:50), Babylone (7:15), Time Will Make It Better (6:19)
Edition Speciale are a French fusion band lead by guitarist Marius "Mimi" Lorenzini and keyboardist Ann Ballester and whilst deeply rooted in the 70s fusion scene, Edition Speciale have branched out their influences to include pop, funk and progressive rock. Horizon Digital is a very complex blend of these styles with female vocals sung in French.
First up is Aurore. A complex, synthesizer based instrumental, that really jumps around a lot and in many respects can be compared to their more well known counterparts The Mahavishnu Orchestra. It really lacks any form of melody and a central theme to tie all of the parts together. However, the sections do follow a logical progression that does not sound forced.
Camera is were the pop and funk influences begin to appear. Starting out slow, it begins to build up over some layered synthesizer and funk inspired guitar into the first appearance of vocals. The vocals sound strikingly similar to those of Jon Anderson of Yes. The second half of the song takes on a more traditional 70s Yes inspired direction.
Next up is the short, bluesy piece Ma Ve Degenere. This is a less complex song that serves as a little breather before diving back into the rest of the album. A very enjoyable selection that was the first to grab my attention.
Daisy has a very unorthodox and syncopated feel to it. While mostly instrumental, there are a few instances of harmonized vocals that build tension in transitions between melodies. The latter half develops into a cross between straight ahead jazz and Gentle Giant inspired prog.
Jungle's Jingle retains the use of obscure, and even dissonant, melody. As quickly as it began it ends and leads into an improvised bass and organ duet that continues for the rest of the song. There is again a strong nod towards Birds Of Fire era Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Lastly is Confluence. Starting very slow with only marimbas, guitar and organ, it abruptly transitions into a Latin inspired direction. About a third of the way through a strange, and even out of place, series of yodels and spoken words breaks the continuity of an otherwise enjoyable song.
As a great bonus, there are five additional unreleased tracks. These were originally intended to be on their follow up release but it never materialized as some band members had other commitments. They were all recorded in one day for the purpose of a demo but, because the album was never recorded these are all that were made. It would have been interesting to hear how these demos could have developed.
While there is plenty of melody to found on this album, most of it ventures into obscurity. There is a lack of convention in terms of "catchyness" found here. I have played Planet X to many people and the reaction has almost unanimously been that the melody and structure didn't sound right to their ears. This also would apply to Horizon Digital. If you enjoy music with a strong emphasis on atonal melody than you will most certainly appreciate what is offered here.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Quantum Fantay – Ugisiunsi
Tracklist: Ugisiunsi (7:29), Blocktail (4:45), Forehead Echo (4:46), Snowballs In Ghostland (5:14), Nick Shlut (7:35), March of the Buffelario (8:25), Autumn Landscapes (6:32), Lunar (11:30)
Quantum Fantay's line-up consists of Pieter (Pete Mush) Van den Broeck (synthesizers, composer, producer), Wouter (Jaro) De Geest (bass), Gino (Bartolini) Verhaegen (drums), Karel Slabbaert (flutes & additional keyboards) and Glenn (Dario Frodo) Ployaert (guitars). Special guests are Srdjan (Sergio) Vucic (guitars) and Jolien (JOL) De Maesschalck (vocals on Ugisiunsi intro).
This is one of the most interesting discoveries that I’ve made during the last few months, Quantum Fantay (who were originally known as “Quantum Fantasy”, but a typing error turned out the events) are a Belgium band formed in late 2004 in Lokeren by Pete Mush and Jaro after the disbanding of their previous band called Oregon. The most relevant musical influences of this band are Ozric Tentacles, Jethro Tull, Hawkwind and Solaris, Added to this we have a mixture of musical elements from Liquid Space-Rock, Neo-Progressive, Electronic Music, Groove, Space and Psychedelic Rock, a little bit of Reggae and Drum ‘n’ Bass, unbelievable, huh? Resulting in this, their first release called Agapanthusterra.
The opening theme for this album is also called Ugisiunsi, (a term that I don’t have an idea what it means), and is the only track featuring vocals and this is confined to the intro. A very pleasant keyboard arrangement combined with some guitar riffs that reminds me immediately of Ozric Tentacles combined with a short presence of flutes in the background. Blocktail is for me one of the best tracks on this album, with an interesting mixture of elements of NeoProg and Space Rock, combined with some kind of a groove combined with flutes that gives to this song a very special kind of rhythmical cadence. Forehead Echo is a song that shows us the diversity between all the tracks, note that this is a very rare combination of flute and a Reggae-like rhythmical base combined with electronic effects and some heavy riffs. Snowballs In Ghostlands is a more prog rock based song, with an IQ influence but combined with some flute arrangements that reminds me of Camel and Galie (from Mexico).
Nick Shlut is a much heavier song that starts with a keyboard based riff combined with the guitar but the middle section turns into a more Space Rock based song, with a lot of keyboards combined with a beautiful flute solo. March Of The Buffelario is an incredible song in which the synthesizers take a main role, the sounds are a mix of Rick Wakeman and Jean Michel Jarre combined with the guitar arrangements and of course the flute. It is like a some kind of experiment to fuse old fashioned musical elements from the Classic Rock of the 70’s with all the new sounds and electronic resources from the 90’s. We also have a World Music based section, in which the flute takes again the flow of the music, and finally we can hear again this combination of sounds between the Wakeman and Italian Symphonic Rock influences combined with a little bit of Drum ’n’ Bass. Autumn Landscapes is a song that have a little New Age influence and some groovy sounds, but ends with an intense guitar solo and flute duo. Lunar is an ethereal progressive song that starts with a beautiful flute solo that reminds me of Ian McDonald. After that, starts a guitar solo with a keyboard arrangement that makes this another great song… With a two minute silence in the middle section, an up tempo progressive piece emerges as the fitting finale for this great album.
Ugisiunsi is a very interesting musical experience for any progressive rock listener because the band amalgamates the influences from different musical eras and various musical genres that are unusual to hear combined within prog rock. Don’t miss the opportunity to listen to this band. Highly recommended.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Clear Blue Sky – Gateway To The Seventh Dimension
Tracklist: Edge Of The Sky (4:27), Blue Star Of India (3:46), UltraMarine (2:34), Love Inner Spiritual Awakening (5:34), The Unseen Place (2:18), Vision At Chebar (4:57), Voice Across The Water (3:19), OpalesSense (1:54), Gateway To The Seventh Dimension (8:08), Dance In The Light (3:44), Galaxy Of Dreams (3:26), Intramural Mindspace (3:54), Final Stand (5:06), Jupiter's Gypsy (3:43), Emergence (4:39)
You know how it goes when you checkout music samples on a band’s website and think to yourself this is excellent stuff I should get hold of a copy of the album. Once you do it can be one of two extremes, either the music totally blows you away or else it’s a complete disappointment. The latest from the legendary Clear Blue Sky, (I say legendary because they’ve been around since the late 60’s), falls somewhere in the middle of those two camps. In the ensuing years they’ve been one of the least prolific bands around with just four original albums in a recording career spanning 36 years. The last, 2001’s Mirror Of The Stars was given a warm DPRP reception. Their latest Gateway To The Seventh Dimension, which has been four years in the making, comes in a most impressive gatefold sleeve with elaborate artwork that should have all self-respecting sci-fi and fantasy fans drooling. If that sounds like you then this album may just provide the ideal soundtrack for your world. Originally a trio from West London, bassist Mark Sheather has long since departed leaving John Simms (guitar) and Kenny White (drums) joined by Kraznet Montpelier (bass and keyboards) and Maxine Marten (vocals).
By all accounts the band’s original sound encompassed heavy rock and blues with a touch of psychedelic prog. These days the blues element is very thinly spread and the hard rock has morphed into contemporary melodic metal. And despite my comments earlier the space rock tendencies are not as overt as the exotic (and slightly pretentious) song titles would suggest. In fact I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity and freshness of the music. Now this is where things for me get a little confusing. I assumed that the male sounding tenor voice was that of John Simms who has previously supplied the lead vocals, with Maxine Marten on backing vocals. However in the CD booklet Maxine only is credited with vocals and the photographs confirm that she is most definitely all female! For vocal comparisons I was going to suggest Stuart Nicholson (Galahad) and Geddy Lee (Rush) but on balance I’d better add prog diva Lana Lane. Either way the evocative singing suits the bands style perfectly adding a touch of melodrama to the proceedings, especially the gutsy opener Edge Of The Sky.
For his part Simms is given ample opportunity to display his impressive guitar skills, providing a variety of moods and textures. He stamps his mark on every tune injecting fast and weighty metal licks into UltraMarine and OpalesSense, more complex proggy noodlings in Galaxy Of Dream and Final Stand, and slow bluesy solos in Love Inner Spiritual Awakening and Emergence. The mini-epic title song provides him the space for a real tour de force that ranges from moody and stately soloing in the vein of Gary Moore to blistering sonic attacks. Simms’ long time friend and colleague Ken White is a solid workman like drummer of the old school providing a driving beat that brings Hawkwind to mind in songs like Dance In The Light and Jupiter's Gypsy. For me the star of the show is Kraznet Montpelier. In addition to the crystal clear production he supplies the symphonic backdrop to the band’s outer worldly concept especially the relaxed Blue Star Of India and the soaring title song. It’s his monumental bass playing that stands out however adding muscular patterns to tracks like Edge Of The Sky and OpalesSense. His work on Jupiter's Gypsy is particularly noteworthy adding a jazzy flavour to an otherwise not especially memorable tune.
Along with the smooth comes the rough however and for me this is in the shape of the thankfully brief The Unseen Place and the not so brief Intramural Mindspace. Both instrumental, they hark back to early Floyd with spacey effects and low-key bluesy guitar meanderings that frankly left me cold. The other disappointment is the pompous Vision At Chebar with its histrionic guitar work and lines like “Celestial chariot, the Rider glides”. I found it hard to take seriously reminding me of the Stonehenge sequence from the Spinal Tap movie. As these are but three tracks out of a generous fifteen however they can be overlooked. Otherwise its all skilfully performed, well arranged and an enjoyable listen, although to be fair none of the melodies lingered for long in my memory once the disc had been returned to its stylish packaging. That’s despite the rich vocal harmonies that grace Voice Across The Water and Gateway To The Seventh Dimension, and the compelling coda to the concluding Emergence that has a ring of Bowie’s Heroes about it. If psychedelic space rock or melodic prog metal are your thing then this could be well worth your time and money.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Ulver – Shadows Of The Sun
Tracklist: Eos (5:05), All The Love (3:42), Like Music (3:30), Vigil (4:27), Shadows Of The Sun (4:36), Let The Children Go (3:50), Solitude (3:53), Funebre (4:26), What Happened? (6:25)
Norway’s Ulver have roots dating back to the early 90’s Scandinavian black metal scene. Many readers will probably be thinking of skipping to the next review following that first sentence, but please bear with me – there’s a twist here. Featuring the trailblazing Krystoffer G. Rygg (aka Garm, also once a key member of avant-garde prog metallers Arcturus), Ulver released some highly atmospheric BM releases, culminating in 1997’s Nattens Madrigal; since then, however, they’ve pretty much abandoned metal altogether (although still maintaining a strong following from within the extreme metal scene), releasing albums which are almost as notable as much for having little in common with each other as they are for their not inconsiderable musical merits. 1998’s Themes From William Blake’s The Marriage Of Heaven & Hell hosts recitals from that epic work backed by a mixture of ambient, metallic and industrial soundscapes; 2000’s Perdition City blended jazz and electronica, whilst 2005’s Blood Inside was quirky, alternative prog with some off-the-wall elements that would give Mike Patton’s Fantomas a run for their money. Shadows Of The Sun, however, drinks from a different well, a highly atmospheric, evocative offering which nods respectfully in the direction of the likes of David Sylvian, Talk Talk and Dead Can Dance, but successfully stakes its own ground.
With the sonorous, elongated notes of a church organ, opener Eos points the way forward; some understated, gothic atmospherics form the backdrop for Rygg’s mellow and understated yet darkly intoned crooning, with instrumentation such as cello, theremin and Gregorian chanting used sparingly yet effectively to create a sound that manages to be both relaxing yet haunting. All The Love kicks up the tempo a bit, even including some rudimentary drum and percussion work (a rarity on this album), but keeps the atmosphere highly charged, utilising ethereal choirs, chilled electric piano and the very Jon Hassell-like trumpet work of guest musician Matthias Eick, which certainly contributes to the Spirit Of Eden-era Talk Talk feel that crops up here and there throughout the album.
To describe the remaining seven tracks in detail would probably be self defeating, with the same descriptive words and phrases used ad finitum; ultimately, whilst it doesn’t sound like any of their other works, the album does work extremely well as a self contained entity, and indeed I can’t imagine listening to any of the tracks in isolation. One of the songs (Solitude) is actually a Black Sabbath cover, but is one of their slower, more mellow tracks (yes, they did have some) and has been effectively remoulded and ‘Ulver-ised’ to fit in with the rest of the material. If I’ve made it sound like an uneventful listen, then be assured, its not – there are peaks and troughs (check out the multi-layered vocals and rich walls of keyboards on Let The Children Go, for instance), yet its all within a very chilled and laid-back context – no power chords here (and in fact there’s only a few tracks where guitars are used in any way at all).
Ultimately, this is a great ‘mood music’ album, ideal for listening to late at night with the lights down low. The fantastic cover photo (from a 70’s edition of Natural History magazine) is well chosen and compliments the music very well. Ultimately one for those who enjoy some of the aforementioned artists, and also the work of highly artistic and individual musicians such as Brian Eno and Nick Cave.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Baraka - VII
Tracklist: M76 (1:20), Bharmad (20:23), Stella Maris (6:53), Phantom (5:07), 2M78 (4:43), Sand & Stone (6:36), Antares (4:06), Wormhole (6:04)
Baraka is a classic example of the wondrous beast that can be the technical power trio. This does not, however, make them Rush clones. Formed in Japan in 1997 their material is 100% instrumental and on their latest album, VII (unsurprisingly their seventh), the band produce an exciting and exhilarating hour of musicianship and dexterity. The trio of Issei Takami (guitar), Shin Ichikawa (bass) and Max Hiraishi (drums) produce a real tour de force here and have built on the extensive touring that they have undertaken over the years both at home in Japan and internationally. Their sound is jazzy and spacey with the hard edge necessary to give the power they need. The rhythm section offers a solid platform over which the guitar can fly but this is certainly not a one-man show and the band support each other well.
Opener M76 is a short intro piece with a plodding rhythm and guitar chords slashing over the top nicely setting up the spacey vibe that is a theme throughout the album. They then move into the epic twenty minute six parter Bharmad which opens with a typical blast of late period King Crimson metal which sets their stall out nicely, some great picking and a slight jazz feel, before slipping into a bluesy and mellow section reminiscent of Led Zeppelin. The bass takes over lead duties before a lilting guitar with a slight hint of Santana about it comes in. Suggestions of a likeness to bands like Rush are always going to be applicable to a group of this nature and this track has several moments where that bands instrumental sound (circa Hemisphere’s) is evident whilst retaining Baraka’s individuality. To be honest they can cope admirably with these comparisons and aren’t found lacking. The guitar tones are gorgeous and the bass soloing tasteful and, like all examples of the art of the solo on this album, not over the top or self-indulgent. Mood changes and interesting detours abound and the rhythm section is solid while offering the necessary fluidity where needed to lift them above the pack. Other passages elicit suggestions of Neo Prog acts such as Jadis or IQ and they don’t fall into the trap of keeping things heavy for the sake of it but use the power to good effect conjuring up passages of light and shade to hold the interest that many instrumental albums lack. Again a spacey feel is never far away and a section in the middle involves some very Pink Floyd keyboard washes with moody percussion.
After a frenetic and fitting conclusion to Bharmad brings the track full circle the mood is mellowed by the lovely Stella Maris. Again, bluesy elements are included to add emotion and a summery feel to this track, the rhythm section remaining controlled, guitar soloing nicely with a wah-wah tone and the addition of rhythm guitar and guitar synthesizer add depth. Phantom starts with a spooky vibe, very evocative of the title, with a slow descending bass scale and mournful guitar shrieks before picking up the tempo into a pounding rocker. Atmospheric sections bring Rush’s Cygnus X1 and the backwards guitar beloved of Robert Fripp to mind. 2M78 is a more involved re-tread of the opener in its rhythm with multi-layered angular guitar adding Crimness and guitar synth giving interest to the textures. The guitar solo has a jazz-fusion vibe, possibly a bit John Scofield in his harder moments. Sand & Stone comes in with a thumping power trio punch, the tight bass and drums leaving plenty of room for the guitar to wander. Again jazz influences the solos and this mood flows on into Antares where a feeling of otherworldliness is evident in its light and airy vibe. Big drums start Wormhole before a fiddly bass line and good guitar work bring the album to a close.
Nicely produced with good separation and balance between the instruments, all in all this is a very enjoyable piece of work and I for one would love to see them live. If they can successfully reproduce the multi-layered material with its use of added rhythm guitar and occasional twin lead then their live shows must be superb. Certainly worthy of investigation, any fans of instrumental power prog will find much to enjoy here, the variety holding the interest from beginning to end. I’ll be on the look out for more of their stuff and hopefully in the future they will have the opportunity to play in Europe more frequently (they played a one off gig in Marseille last year) – it’s a long way to come so the least we can do is pop along and say hello!
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10