REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:
Æon Spoke – Æon Spoke
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Catalogue #:||SPV 80001016|
|Year of Release:||2007|
Tracklist: Cavalry Of Woe (4:14), No Answers (3:37), Sand And Foam (3:19), Nothing (5:22), The Fisher Tale (5:24), Emmanuel (4:31), Grace (4:58), Pablo At The Park (5:10), Yellowman (3:45), Silence (4:41)
Tom De Val's Review
Its unfortunate but somehow I feel compelled to start this review by saying that Æon Spoke comprise two ex-members (guitarist/ vocalist Paul Masvidal and drummer Sean Reinert) of seminal Floridian Technical Death Metal band Cynic, responsible for an album (1993’s Focus) which has become over the years one of the most influential and respected albums in the whole technical metal genre. Unfortunate because, as Gerald mentioned in his review of Æon Spoke’s (independently released) debut
Above The Buried Cry, they sound absolutely nothing like Cynic. The music Masvidal and Reinert (in tandem with guitarist Evo) now make is neither metal nor particularly technical, but instead can be broadly classified as melodic, haunting and emotional rock music with the emphasis squarely on the song.
As I’ve stated, I do have evidence that this is not the band’s debut, but you wouldn’t know it from either SPV’s promotional material or Æon Spoke’s own website, both of which seem to indicate that it is indeed the first material the band have put out. A quick comparison of the contents of the two discs shows that no less than seven out of the ten tracks here appear on Above The Buried Cry. I have no idea whether these songs have been re-recorded or not, but in the end perhaps it doesn’t matter – I imagine very few people actually got to hear the first album, and if SPV succeeds in getting these songs to a wider audience then so much the better, as they certainly deserve to be heard by as many people as possible.
Lyrically, there is some correlation with Cynic, as similarly to Focus the content explores spiritual and philosophical themes. On Æon Spoke, the emphasis is on exploring ‘the depths of spiritual isolation that underlies the human condition’, with the lyrical content informed by Masvidal’s work as a musical therapist with critically ill transplant patients.
The sound of marching feet opens Cavalry Of Woe, before Reinert’s military drum beat takes up the slack. The verse section combines closely clipped riffing with Masvidal’s mournful vocals, before sliding into a fuzzed-up, emotional chorus slightly reminiscent of Radiohead’s Just. Next track No Answers is in many ways an easier song to get into, a melodic, plaintive number driven by strummed acoustics in the verse before carrying off into a jangling, slightly psychedelic-sounding chorus – one that reminded me of long-running Australian act The Church. Masvidal’s unfussy but emotional vocal delivery is again a highlight – is this really the same person who was so unsure of his voice that he his it under waves of effects on the Cynic album?
Sand And Foam is very much in the vein of Blackfield, or perhaps Stupid Dream-era Porcupine Tree, with Masvidal sounding very Steven Wilson-like in the spacey verses, before a more propulsive chorus, driven by walls of guitar noise and an excellent choppy drum pattern by Reinert. Nothing is introduced by some lazy, loping grooves, again powered along by strong drum patterns. The short, sparsely accompanied verses again subside into a powerful, toe-tapping chorus. Masvidal’s vocals have a languid ‘had enough not bothered anymore’ air to them which suits the song. There’s a spacey, psychedelic air to the elongated final section of the track which is more reminiscent of the earlier, Pink Floyd-influenced Porcupine Tree.
The slow-burning The Fisher Tale is a good track to have in the middle of the album. A subdued spoken word introduction is married with some low vocal chants before some strummed acoustics and well placed keyboard notes combine to sound like we’re about to hear a laid-back track that could almost be an outtake from Pink Floyd’s Meddle. However, the song slowly builds in intensity, with Masvidal’s vocals gradually getting more anguished and increasing in range – to the extent that he almost sounds like Muse’s Matt Bellamy by the end.
After the intensity of The Fisher Tale, Emmanuel takes things down a notch, again maximising the spacey feel to good effect. The loud echoey drums are a distraction, however. Grace follows, an ethereal-sounding ballad with treated piano and Masvidal’s vocals floating dreamily over the instrumentation. The nicely understated guitar solo (one of the few) shows he hasn’t lost his skills as a top-notch player either.
Pablo At The Park is the obviously ‘radio friendly’ track, thanks to a naggingly catchy main melody line which will stick in your head for days. The verses definitely have a Coldplay feel to them, which can’t hurt the song’s chart potential. Yellowman is a more obtuse proposition, with heavily reverberated piano, gentle acoustic strumming and a lazy, almost downbeat rhythm, coupled with Masvidal’s weary vocals evoking Talk Talk circa The Colour Of Spring. Subtle orchestration adds texture in the latter stages.
Silence ends the album strongly, a catchy, semi-acoustic number with a big, multi-harmonised chorus, and a nice slightly mystical feel due to the use (sparingly) of what sounds like a sitar and some rather haunting keyboards. The intonation of the songs title followed by a short period of the same is a nice touch, and an effective one.
The bottom line is, debut album or not, this is a fine album chock full of emotional, heartfelt and hauntingly melodic songs that will imprint themselves in your head very quickly. No this is not ‘progressive’ rock as we usually understand the term, but then neither are Blackfield and The Pineapple Thief, and they are certainly favourites with a large percentage of DPRP readers. If you like those bands, or indeed just like the sort of material that emphasises songs over endless technical trickery and has the capability to move the emotions, you owe it to yourself to get hold of a copy of Æon Spoke sharpish.
Andy Read's Review
When I was a spotty teenager and started to bring home albums by the likes of Savatage, Watchtower and Voivod, I overheard my parents telling their friends: ‘Never mind. It’s just a phase kids go through. He’ll grow out of it when he stops being a teenager.’
Well it may be the results of middle-aged spread, and it’s taken 20 years longer than my parents expected, but my tastes do seem to be mellowing slightly. Actually, I’d better qualify that. My late night musical tastes seem to be mellowing slightly. Settling down before bed with a glass of wine, the idea of banging my head to ‘Hall Of The Mountain King’ just doesn’t appeal like it used to.
For daytime listening my latest haul includes albums by Regicide, Aghora, Empyrios, Dark Moor, Eyefear and Trail of Tears. But for when the clock starts to think about striking midnight, I’ve started to look for some milder moods.
I’m still experimenting, so bands like Æon Spoke are not really my usual musical bag – even though it boasts two members of progressive legends Cynic. However I rather enjoyed the Pure Reason Revolution album and as the sample that I had heard of this album seemed to be in a similar vein, I’ve given it a go.
Firstly, the sample was of the track Calvary Of Woe, which is a little misleading as it emphasises Æon Spoke’s heavier (not that heavy), and progressive leanings a little more than is genuinely representative of what you’ll find on the album. After several listens to the whole disc, this track is actually my favourite song.
Elsewhere the opening trio are all top quality, very direct and modern sounding atmospheric rock songs. Sand And Foam has a hippy-trippy groove that could be lifted from a Masters Of Reality album; the first single Emmanuel has a really atmospheric, even spiritual feel to it, whilst Nothing is a more up-tempo pop rock song with a chorus that just sinks into your mind.
Indeed, there’s a very heavy 60s influence on several tracks. Pablo In The Park is a plucked guitar, singer songwriter ballad that is far more Woodstock than Bloodstock; a style mirrored in Grace but with the piano as the lead instrument. Yellowman could have been written by Simon and Garfunkel.
Pretty much everything here is well written, with strong structure and melody. It more than fits the bill for a late night accompaniment to my glass of Merlot.
But if you’re looking for music to offer a bit more of a challenge or a touch of variety, then this may disappoint. Every song is led and dominated by the vocals with the instruments often doing little more than providing a background noise and rhythm – albeit a very pleasant noise and rhythm.
The singer’s hushed tones are fine but again it is very much a case of one style fits all. As a result, the album is rather single-paced. After a couple of listens, if you play the record on ‘random’ then it is hard to really distinguish one from another.
Again, I stress that I’m delving into a pretty shallow pool of relevant musical knowledge here, but for fans of pure progressive music then I guess this will hold little interest. However for those of you who don’t mind going in a more modern direction of say
Coldplay, then the Prog-Lite, meets mellow 60s vibe, meets middle class rock that most of this album refers to, may be worth exploring further.
TOM DE VAL : 8.5 out of 10
ANDY READ : 7 out of 10
The Third Ending - The Third Ending
Tracklist: Eleven (5:31), Back Home (6:16), Tungsten Blues (4:52), Can You Hear Me? (7:27), Fingerprints (1:42), Digital Sunrise (5:47), Cold Light of Day (3:19), Falling (3:29), Part V (3:57), Coming Around (5:36), Fingerprints (reprise) (6:23)
When one thinks of areas of the world that produces great progressive rock bands, one thinks of the UK, Germany, Italy, America and, more recently, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Possibly the last place that would come to mind is the continent of Australasia. Well that is surely about to change with the self-titled debut by Tasmanian band The Third Ending. Originally an independent release, the album has recently been picked up by Californian label ProgRock Records who unleash it onto a wider world. The wider world should be grateful. The band, four accomplished musicians by the names of Nick Storr (vocals, keyboards, guitars), Andrew Curtis (guitars, backing vocals), Cornel Ianculovici (bass, backing vocals) and Andrew Knott (drums, backing vocals), have been together since 2002 but the necessity of earning a living and other musical commitments meant that it was over three years before recording was started on their debut. The time was well spent though, as it has meant that the finished songs are honed to perfection.
Displaying a mixture of styles, although remaining resolutely prog, the album starts with Eleven, a well balanced composition that ranges from a lightness of touch on acoustic guitars to the grittiest of grunge-like electric guitar. Storr possesses an instantly likeable voice which is backed by harmonious backing vocals by the rest of the band. Back Home is a more laid-back number with a gentle opening of acoustic guitars and bongos. Again, Storr shines with his sensitive singing of the rather melancholy lyric; Curtis adds wonderfully understated electric guitar over the strumming acoustic, once again proving that less is more and you don't have to cram in a million notes a minute into a song to make it progressive. Tungsten Blues, the album's only instrumental, defies its title by avoiding any blues stylings instead taking on a heavier rock mantle that features some impressive guitar playing.
The final seven tracks are an interconnected suite which flow together nicely. Short opening number Fingerprints is purely acoustic while Digital Sunrise effortlessly blends intense power chords with a melodious chorus with multilayered vocals. Cold Light Of Day takes us back in an acoustic direction before heading into a more atmospheric and discordant phase which gradually builds, leading into the opening guitar solo of Falling. The distorted vocals on the verses are backed by keyboard choirs of a quite sombre nature and in complete contrast the purer, unadulterated choruses. Part V starts with a deep bass riff taking the listener into a mostly instrumental number spare a reprise of the chorus from Falling. The structure and arrangement of Coming Around, starting with piano and vocals before the rest of the band join in, reminds me of early Coldplay, although I have to say that it is not a very apt comparison, I suppose I can just imagine Coldplay covering this song! Ending with another impressive guitar solo and rousing chorus we head into magnificent closing track, Fingerprints (reprise). Cleverly, the lyrics are almost identical to the opening track of the suite, with one subtle difference, the line "A place where you know you'll be alone" changing to the more optimistic "A place where you know you're not alone".
However the one track that instantly sold the album to me is the stunning Can You Hear Me?. A beautiful ballad that features intelligent lyrics beautifully sung and set within an impressive arrangement. A lament on poor communication which starts with a voice on the telephone who can't tell if the woman on the other end can actually hear what he is saying, the opening couplet instantly pulls one into the song: "Spent the last two years dividing, seems she wants to multiply". The acoustic guitar solo is perfectly pitched transitioning into a great electric guitar solo. The final verse, recorded as if it was a message left on an answering machine, has the achingly poignant with the final line, "I hope that when you hear this... Never mind", the last words sung with such pathos and resignation that it is almost heartbreaking.
Ever so often, seemingly out of nowhere, an album crops up that simply hits the spot, pushes all the buttons and keeps one's finger stabbing at the repeat button. Perfectly played and arranged with sterling performances by all four musicians, intelligently written, original and diverse, The Third Ending have created a masterpiece that deserves to be heard all around the world. Go out and buy a copy so they can release a follow-up soon!
Conclusion: 9+ out of 10
Puppet Show – The Tale Of Woe
Tracklist: Seasons (8:45), The Seven Gentle Spirits (14:17), Harold Cain (4:16), The Past Has Just Begun (16:41), God's Angry Man (4:13), On Second Thought (11:52)
Although The Tale Of Woe is only their second release Puppet Show who hail from Northern California have been around since 1994. They maintained a high profile during the 90’s with a succession of live appearances in the San Francisco Bay Area and the release of the debut album Traumatized some ten years ago. Since then the bands musical commitment has been comprised by the individual members ‘day’ jobs, a situation this reviewer can certainly empathise with. Following abortive attempts in 2002 and 2005 to finalise the latest CD a deal was struck with ProgRock Records to ensure it saw the light of day. Initially produced and recorded by the band, they enlisted the help of pro producers Terry Brown and Peter J. Moore to mix and master the tapes to add that all important sonic polish. The bands line-up follows the classic prog-rock template of vocalist, guitarist, keyboardist, bassist and drummer, namely Sean Frazier, Chris Ogburn, Mike Grimes, Craig Polson and Chris Mack. They share writing credits for all tracks along with Rush Manbert the bands previous drummer. Even original drummer Matt Lipford who left five years ago gets a couple of name checks which is democracy for you.
Given the bands name and the CD artwork you would be forgiven for thinking that their music is a throwback to early 70’s theatrical art rock as exemplified by acts like Genesis and Ange. The influences are certainly there but the sound has a more contemporary neo-prog feel and a much harder edge that takes in Rush and Dream Theater amongst others. Seasons launches with a blaze of dramatic guitar and synths underpinned by rock solid rhythm work. Polson’s busy bass pattern powers the song along with Frazier’s moody vocal skating on Grimes’ expansive keys sound and Ogburn’s melodic guitar lines with inventive drum fills from Mack. What’s immediately evident from this opening cut is the bands ability to incorporate the lyrical elements of players like Tony Banks and Steve Hackett into a heavier no-nonsense driving rock style. Whilst I can think of a list of comparators as long as your arm I will restrict myself to Pallas and Strangefish at this point.
The epic length The Seven Gentle Spirits allows the band to stretch out and include some reflective moments with Frazier demonstrating his vocal dexterity to the maximum. Lyrical piano dominates the first half eclipsed by organ and synth soling in the latter part. A change of key introduces the majestic ending with guitar and vocals providing a firm nod in the direction of Fish era Marillion. The otherwise unassuming Harold Cain is given a lift by some excellent four-part harmonies and spot on guitar and organ playing. The albums centrepiece The Past Has Just Begun includes everything that is good about this band or indeed prog for that matter. A lengthy and complex instrumental intro gives way to a melodic section with an impassioned vocal set against a backdrop of classical guitar and piano. The organ solo that follows is excellent as is the soaring weeping guitar line that has Alex Lifeson written all over it. Ogburn follows through with a commanding solo before Grimes takes over with a mesmerising display of rich Rick Wakeman flavoured synth work. With the end in sight the sound becomes ballsier with Mack’s full on drumming leading the way to a bombastic conclusion.
The title of God's Angry Man is reflected in the sound of this inventive and aggressive instrumental. It certainly gives the impression of five working guys caught in the rat race letting of steam in the best way they know how which is threw their music. The sampled sound of computers is included in the cacophonic mix together with some first class Jon Lord style organ dynamics. In complete contrast On Second Thought opens with ringing Antony Phillips tinged acoustic 12 string and mellotron strings. It soon erupts into a restless guitar and organ riff before a flying synth solo introduces an impassioned vocal. Heavyweight chords and metallic guitar lines propels the song along at a breakneck speed but the musicianship remains impeccable throughout. It concludes on a disappointing note with a laidback mainstream song part that feels out of place owing more to Aerosmith than the rest of the album. It doesn’t really fit the majestic guitar and mellotron style choral coda that follows distracting from an otherwise excellent album.
Even though they have a refined sound and play with meticulous skill this is a band with an uncompromising style that really knows how to rock. Although they’ve been around for some time now their music has passion and energy with a fresh and inventive approach that put me in mind of Spock’s Beard’s debut The Light. Despite the albums title the music is far from woeful and comes highly recommended. I for one hope that Puppet Show do not keep us waiting another ten years before the next release.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Hatfield & The North - Hattitude
Tracklist: Grosso Lavoro (2:40), Drowning In The Bathroom (5:59), K Licks (long) (2:38), The Crest (3:36), Pink & Green Machine (1:44), Further Dances (2:30), La Barbe extract (1:23), Confiture De La Barbe (3:03), Born Again Crustacean (4:10), Elevenses (1:53), Farce Majeure (1:47), Spaces Not Notes (0:44), Song For All Our Mums (2:33 ), Extract (3:30), The Men’s One-Metre Dash (6:28), K Licks (short) (0:51), One Of Wilde’s (1:47), Blane Over The Low Countries (4:34), Drowning Reprise (1:42), Goodbye For Now (2:43), Bonus Track: Al Clark Presents (2:17)
Hugh Hopper - Hopper Tunity Box
Tracklist: Hopper Tunity Box (3:35), Miniluv (3:34), Gnat Prong (7:58), The Lonely Sea And The Sky (6:39), Crumble (3:54), Lonely Woman (3:22), Mobile Mobile (5:03), Spanish Knee (3:50), Oyster Perpetual (3:10)
Phil Miller - In Cahoots ~ Conspiracy Theories
Tracklist: Conspiracy Theories (7:07), Press Find Enter (8:40), Flashpoint (5:54), 5s &7s (8:11), End Of The Line (11:03), Freudian Triode (10:18), Orinaca (5:44), Crackpot (7:59), Lydiotic (8:39)
I thought I would handle these three CD’s together as they present a nice little snapshot of the Canterbury Scene; One being unreleased recordings of a seminal Canterbury group from 1973-1975; One being the first decent reissue of an old classic from 1976; and one being a new release by the group led by one of the founding members of Hatfield And The North.
First up, and most welcome, is Hattitude, being the second archive release from one of the most defining bands of the whole Canterbury movement, such as it was. With links to Caravan, Gong, National Health and others, the Hatfields’ meagre output of two official releases and a rarities set (which was spread over the CD reissues of the two proper albums) was much loved by fans, many of whom, I’m sure remain eager for more.
Hattitude fits the bill nicely – crammed full of unreleased versions of old favourites, sometimes masquerading under new names ( E.G. opener
Grosso Lavero is a take on Big Jobs, and also crops up again later as Song For All Our Mums with improvised lyrics, and Drowning In The Bathroom is Fitter Stoke Has A Bath.)
The recordings are taken from various live tapes found in 2005 by Dave Stewart and lovingly edited, sequenced and segued by Pip Pyle, to whom this CD is now a fitting memorial, as he sadly died last August.
Present and correct throughout this disc is the English eccentricity, gently whimsical vocals, Pythonesque absurdity, jazzy sensibilities and that unique but indefinable spirit that typifies the Canterbury school of prog. With lots of quirky little solos and vocal improvisations and wordplay, there is plenty here to keep your attention and make the disc a worthwhile addition to the original releases.
I really enjoyed hearing these old favourites in a new light, as I’m sure will most of you that are already Hatfield Aficionados. I am sure to play this delightfully nostalgic CD often.
Next up is Hopper Tunity Box from former Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper. Originally released in 1977, I was curious about the album even then, but never managed to actually hear the record. Brief exposure to some of Hopper’s later work led me to believe that I shouldn’t waste too much time tracking it down. All these many years later, the CD reissue fell into my lap and my interest reawakened. Now I regret not pursuing the album at the time, as surely this powerful, original, inventive work is a lost classic of British jazz rock experimentation!
From the opening title track, with its trademarked Softs style fuzz bass sound and quirky keyboard and recorder-lead melodies, through a segue into the brutally multi-tracked basses of Miniluv, also featuring shit hot tenor sax from Gary Windo, right through to the bass-only closer Oyster Perpetual, the listener is in for a wild ride through the fusion landscape, taking in nods to Coltrane (The Lonely Sea And The Sky), interpretations of Ornette Coleman tunes (Lonely Woman), whole tone scales, Phrygian tunes and much much more.
Apparently, a mastering error on the original album (repeated on the first CD issue of the work) has now been corrected, allowing fans to hear for the first time the full Elton Dean solo on Lonely Sea.
This work sounds remarkably fresh today, and has found a fitting home on the Cuneiform label, alongside many great Soft Machine archive releases. The booklet is reversible so if you prefer the original artwork, as I do, you can display that instead. This is a great release, well deserving of your attention, fusion heads!
Lastly, we catch up with the recent work of Phil Miller. As guitarist with Matching Mole, Hatfield & The North and National Health (three of the very best Canterbury scene stalwarts), Miller was an important figure in the movement. Fans of the aforementioned bands will therefore likely be interested to hear his current output. There has clearly been, over the years, a mellowing of spirit and an increase in the jazz quotient, as track one clearly demonstrates.
Opening with a relaxed jazzy groove and featuring a walking bass line and slippery sax melodies, In Cahoots add just a hint of tension and a dash of the old Canterbury styling. Really, Miller and cohorts are sailing very close to pure modern jazz, as opposed to anything of a progressive nature. This is a nice easy listen, nevertheless, though primarily surprisingly low key in the guitar department, aside from one or two solos which threaten a little of the old fire and invention
The odd track out is Orinaca, which is a short, eccentric little tune with Gong’s Didier Malherbe on Ocarina leading a disjointed dance which is endearingly daft.
With some nice floaty flute solos, tastefully mannered electric piano from Pete Lemer, and a whole range of saxes and brass instruments, this is a safe purchase for fans of relaxed modern jazz. As a prog fan, I found it to provide nice background music, but it rarely grabbed my attention fully; I doubt I will play it very often. Quite nice for a mellow evening by the fire with a loved one, perhaps.
Hattitude : 7.5 out of 10
Hopper Tunity Box: 7.5 out of 10
Conspiracy Theories: 6 out of 10
A.C.T - Today's Report
|Country of Origin:||Sweden|
|Record Label:||InsideOut Music|
|Catalogue #:||IOMSECD 266 |
SPV 79432 CD-E
|Year of Release:||1999/2007|
Tracklist: Abandoned World (4:04), The Wandering (5:38), Waltz With Mother Nature (6:39), Why Bother (4:52), Today's Report (4:44), Welcome (5:51), Cat Eyes (4:27), The Chase (5:14), Personalities [The Long One]: Foreplay (0:24), Piece Of Meat (1:15), Tinnitus (1:09), Lord Of Lies (2:24), Emely [Ms Amnesia] (2:01), Insomniac (4:39), Concluding Speech (0:35) Bonus Material Grandpa Phone Home (4:39), New Age Polka (3:12), Welcome [Live Video]
A.C.T - Imaginary Friends
|Country of Origin:||Sweden|
|Record Label:||InsideOut Music|
|Catalogue #:||IOMSECD 267 |
SPV 79442 CD-E
|Year of Release:||2001/2007|
Tracklist: Take It Easy (4:27), Hippest Flop (4:48), A Supposed Tour (4:41), Biggest Mistake (7:49), Imaginary Friends (5:50), She/Male (4:47), Relationships - The Long One (26:18): [i] At The Altar (0:38), [ii] Svetlana (3:42), [iii] No Perspective (1:06), [iv] Second Thoughts (0:54), [v] Mr. Unfaithful (7:04), [vi] Gamophobia (0:46), [vii] Little Beauty (4:18), [viii] And [ix] They Lived Happily Ever After (7:23) Bonus Material Catherine (5:31), The Making Of 'Imaginary Friends' (11:00)
A.C.T - Last Epic
|Country of Origin:||Sweden|
|Record Label:||InsideOut Music|
|Catalogue #:||IOMSECD 268|
|Year of Release:||2003/2007 |
SPV 79452 CD-E
Tracklist: Intro (0:48), Wailings From A Building (4:21), Mr Landlord - Apartment 121 (4:40), Torn By A Phrase - Garden (5:35), Ted's Ballad - Attic (3:46), Dance Of Mr Gumble (2:09), Wake Up - Apartment 122 (4:27), Manipulator - Barbeque (6:13), A Loaded Situation - Surveying Room (3:29), The Observer (3:07), The Cause (3:26), The Effect (4:39), Summary (5:04), Outro (1:15) Bonus Material Ted's Ballad [Demo] (3:38), Summary [Demo] (3:01), Mr Landlord [Demo] (4:51), String Medley (2:52)
The move to InsideOut Music appears to have marked a significant change in the fortunes of Swedes A.C.T, and with the release of last year's
Silence album, the band now appear to be gaining greater popularity. Following on from this increased interest globally and the recent chart success in their own country, InsideOut have re-issued the band's first three albums;
Today's Report from 1999,
Imaginary Friends from 2001 and
Last Epic from 2003. Now as all three albums previously received DPRP Recommended tags and have already been comprehensively reviewed (Last Epic being the subject of a DPRP Round Table Review), the purpose of this overview is to focus on the additional merits of the re-issues.
Bonus material for Today’s Report kick's off with Grandpa Phone Home, which didn't feature on the original European release. A "typical" A.C.T song covering a multitude of styles in just a brief few minutes. Opening with a thematic guitar line, before dropping effortlessly into a reggae-fied verse, developing into a multi-layered chorus of vocals and guitar. This format is repeated with slight variations in the arrangements, before concluding with a melodic guitar solo. Similarly New Age Polka was recorded (apparently in one take) during the Today's Report sessions however appeared later on the Japanese version of Imaginary Friends. Full of pomp and ceremony, this instrumental track wends its way through a gamut of catchy tunes and riffs.
Last of the bonus material for Today's report is the Welcome live video - taken from the album of course and recorded on 12th August 2005 at G.A.R.F. Festival, Gothenburg in Sweden. Now this is not a large budget video and the audio quality is acceptable if not great, however what it does do is capture the band in a relaxed atmosphere and in front of an appreciative audience. As I've not seen the band live I was curious to see if they could pull off their somewhat heavily produced and arranged music in live performance - and the answer is yes they can. Herman Saming comes across as a confident frontman, with a strong stage persona and an engaging smile - although perhaps not in full flow here, so it would be interesting to see the full concert at some point. The vocal harmonies are present and the band are confident.
Imaginary Friends features two bonus tracks. Firstly Catherine which is an un-mastered version and serves as Tomas Erlandsson’s farewell to the band as he left before the recording of The Last Epic. As a un-mastered track it doesn't quite have the sheen of the rest of the album, suffering a little from the dull production, but musically not at all out of place. The second is "the making of Imaginary Friends" video. Like many such videos, is a watch once only experience, and probably slightly more amusing to the band or their close friends than perhaps the casual ACTor.
The last of the re-issues is Last Epic and remains a favourite album for me, mainly as it was my first real introduction to the band. Some four years later I still struggle to put a hat on the music of A.C.T. And listening through again for the purposes of this review, I am still at a loss, however it is safe to say that despite their influences the final product is fairly unique. Now much has been written to quantize A.C.T's music but none have succeeded, for me. Certainly the influences of
Queen can be heard, as can Canadian rockers Rush and Saga, but this would only paint a small picture - so perhaps if we added some ELO, It Bites, early Styx and Kansas this might broaden the palette. Yes, but now we might go back the sixties and add something from the Beatles or Cream's more concise studio material. Better, but then we need to counter this with a liberal helping of melodic ProgMetal. OK, but where do we get the reggae from, and what about those theatrical, operatic influences? Well after all that, I'm probably no closer than I was four years ago, but I feel a bit closer (I think). I digress...
Bonus material for Last Epic's re-issue take the form of demos. Firstly Ted's Ballad and one of A.C.T's delicate moments. This demo stands up well in its stripped down form, no strings or layered vocals, but the simple piano and vocal arrangement shows what a good song this is. Summary is a "poor" audio quality early version, and at two minutes shorter, is in an embryonic stage. The harmony vocals are evident even at this
early stage though. Last of the demos is Mr. Landlord and in an early 8-track format (as is Summary of course). No vocals although much of the instrumentation is written and arranged in a format for Jerry Sahlin to put forward to the band. Interesting. Last of the bonus material on Last Epic was present but "hidden" on the original release. String Medley is a nice touch at the end of a splendid album.
Each re-issue comes with a comprehensive inlay booklet containing the lyrics, liner notes by the band members and depending on the album either live shots, enhanced images or promotional shots.
If you have always wondered about this rather unique and gifted band, but not yet put your toe in the water, then I can heartily recommend any or all of these three re-issues.
However in light of there being no re-mastering or other optional audio formats with these re-issues it is perhaps more difficult for those who have purchased the albums previously to dig further into their pockets. A.C.T completists may have no
such hesitation - as for the rest?
As for the numeric ratings for these albums I have decided to refer you to the original reviews - the links can be found in the opening paragraph.
Conclusion: See Original Reviews
Wicked Minds - Live At 'Burg Herzberg Festival 2006
|Country of Origin:||Italy|
|Year of Release:||2007|
Tracklist: From The Purple Skies (6:27), Witchflower (4:44), The Elephant Stone (11:45), Drifting (7:18), Before The Morning Light (8:35), Through My Love (10:25), Return To Uranus (19:53), Shadows' Train (6:08)
Wicked Minds, the Italian psychedelic hard rockers, keep the momentum going after their storming studio albums
From The Purple Skies and Witchflower with the proof that they can hack it as a live band. Recorded at the Burg Herzberg Festival in 2006, the album features four tracks from each of the studio albums and comes in at an impressive 75 Minutes (for the non-mathematicians amongst you that is an average of nearly 9.5 minutes per track!). Although the line-up of the band hasn't changed, regular drummer Andrea Concarotti was unable to make the concert but is ably replaced by guest Riccardo Lovotti, from extreme metal band Burning Tide / Edema.
As anyone who has heard the studio albums will know, Wicked Minds take a lot of their musical clues from 70s bands such as Deep Purple and Uriah Heep. The Ever-present Hammond Organ of Paolo 'Apollo' Negri and the hard-riffing guitar of Lucio Calegari dominate the sound, but both are masters at what they do and combine in an inventive and complementary way. Like those greats of the 70s, the band don't just concentrate on heavy numbers, but balance things out with the odd ballad or two. The excellent Before The Morning Light is rather beefed up from the studio version, but still has its delicate moments and J.C. Cinel can certainly carry a tune.
The album begins with the title tracks from the studio albums, From The Purple Skies has possibly the greatest Hammond riff in the last 20 years or so and the live presentation of Witchflower adds a new dimension to the song. The band also demonstrate that they can improvise on stage with two of the songs, The Elephant Stone and Through My Love both extended to twice their original length. The first of these tracks has a rather spacey, echo-laden guitar over a slow groove, while the latter starts with a four and a half minute guitar solo that contains nods to the ilk of
Hendrix and Blackmore and concentrates on sonic exploration rather than sheer notes per minute speeding up and down the fret board. Consequently it is much more interesting than self-indulgent.
However, it is the epic Return To Uranus that once again steals the show. In my review of the studio version of this track I compared it with Purple's Space Trucking, and this live version makes the comparison even more justified. Not that the songs are the same at all, just the way the track builds and the interplay of the guitar and Hammond hold the interest over the 20 minutes of the piece. The gentler elements of the song, the flute and acoustic guitar, are absent but the group are putting on a rock show, and they certainly do it with style!
So, conclusions. Simply, Wicked Minds are very, very good at what they do. One has to remember that it is thirty years since the heyday of the seventies and most progressive music lovers won't have seen or may not have even heard of the bands that were originally given the label of progressive. Heck I hazard a guess that most of the readers of these pages were not even a twinkle in their parents' eyes! If you want to hear a modern take on classic rock performed by excellent musicians (no joking, Paolo Negri could seriously give Jon Lord stiff competition for title of master of the Hammond Organ) then Wicked Minds are the answer. I love their studio albums and am not in the slightest disappointed by this live release. Recommended because I love it!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
The Source – All Along This Land
Tracklist: From The Start (4:02), All Along This Land: [I] Overture (7:45), [II] Over And Under the Stars and the Sun (4:22), [III] We Are Here (2:56), [IV] The Fall of Babylon (4:09), [V] Inside This World (3:16), Bridges (7:23), Unspoken Love (7:49), Dreams (7:31)
Everybody who reads this review – please buy All Along This Land. Let me begin there. It’s not often that I’m as excited by a new band as I am about The Source. This is a band that combines all the best things about seventies progressive rock with much of what’s best about what’s going on now and comes up with a sound that has one foot in the past and one foot in the future. It’s an immensely satisfying album, and it’s going to be difficult for me to do justice to it in words.
In the photos on the CD booklet and the website, the band members look about twelve years old – maybe fourteen – but I’m sure they’re not. However, they’re clearly too young to be this good, to sound so mature, to have incorporated so many musical influences so seamlessly into a unique sound of their own. Even before reading the band biographies on the site, and after hearing only the first couple songs on this album, I knew that guitarist Harrison Leonard must have grown up listening to and learning from Steve Howe, and indeed his biography confirms that fact. I’ve never heard a guitarist who can incorporate not only Howe’s style but also his trademark tone into a wholly new context, fitting remarkably fluid guitar lines into songs that sometimes echo elements of Yes but never sound derivative. Nor was it a surprise to me to hear that most of the band members are fans, not only of progressive rock, but also of jazz, because even the most complex songs here really swing. I don’t like to do this kind of “if you cross a chicken with a milkshake” comparison, but I’m at a loss for a touchstone for this band’s sound otherwise. Imagine a sound reminiscent of Yes, Steely Dan, King Crimson, and the great old Canadian band Klaatu, but without ever doing more than paying homage to those and other bands and styles, and you’ll begin to have some idea of this band’s versatility.
I ought to talk about the individual members’ contributions. Drummer Isaac Watts can lay down some mean rolls and fills, but in most songs, he chooses tact over flash and fits his drum patterns into the songs in a way that both supports and contributes to what the other musicians are doing. Bassist Nico Photos is capable of an impressive range of sounds and styles, suiting his work to the demands of each composition but rewarding attention paid by those attuned to inventive, soulful bass playing. I’ve already praised Leonard’s guitar work, and I’ll add only that, while the sound will often remind you of Howe’s, Leonard makes all the guitar work on the album completely his own (even, say, the acoustic guitar intro to Unspoken Love, which is not entirely unreminiscent of The Fish (Shindleria Praematurus) from Fragile. Nor is he chained to one or two sounds; Leonard’s also capable of, for example, fluid jazz leads when they fit the song. Finally, Aaron Goldrich, keyboardist and vocalist, is the band’s secret weapon, in my opinion. His singing is equal parts a smoothed-out Liam Gallagher and Terry Draper from Klaatu. His piano work is clearly influenced by his classical training, but his contributions on Hammond organ go right back to the great progressive rock of the seventies.
So yes, this is fine stuff. I won’t even try to single out exceptional moments. There isn’t a weak track on here, not even the Overture to the All Along This Land suite that takes up almost half the album. The songs combine the members’ love for and inward understanding of many genres with the clear joy they take in composing and performing music they’re enthusiastic about and want to share with others. I’ve almost no adverse criticisms of the album (a rarity for me, as is the extremely high rating I’ve given it); in fact, I could only wish that the production, which is actually very good indeed, had a bit more depth – the drums, particularly, occasionally (but only occasionally) sound a trifle “tunky,” a bit shoeboxy in this or that roll or fill. But that’s it – don’t look to me for any other complaints about this fun, engaging, all-around excellent debut CD. Okay, guys – get to work on your next one.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
FeedForward - Barefoot & Naked
|Country of Origin:||Netherlands|
|Year of Release:||2006|
Tracklist: Fade Away (6:22), Run The Race (5:11), Crossing The Line (8:28), Innocence (5:48), 143 (4:36) ,Our Sky [For One Time] (2:39), Before I Leave (5:59), Silent (4:50), Moving (7:35), Stop To Think (7:22)
It is a bad thing to judge too hastily. Forming a good opinion takes time, so in order to be able to write a well informed review more than just two or three spins are required. I mention this at the start of this review because a couple of weeks ago Barefoot & Naked would not have received a very high rating. The music just did not sink in. Sure, there was an appreciation for the voice of Biejanka, Mario's guitar, Jan's bass, Pi's drums and Job's keys but much more than a "good job, good craftsmanship" would not have been given.
Things are so much different now, weeks later. Of course it is a known fact that good albums need some time to grow on you. Well measured through that standard this is a good album. With a very unique style: progressive rock mixed with melodic metal. Kind of The Gathering (current style) meets Redemption. It is not only the music but also the vocals of Biejanka that make FeedForward have a unique own sound. Contrary to some other female fronted metal bands Biejanka does not sing opera, she sings rock songs (a bit like The Gathering's Anneke Van Gierbergen)
The guitar work on this album is really standing out: most of the tracks on this album have a high number of riffs and melody line to keep you attention. Some of the tracks might be a little complex but these riffs and melodies are always to build up to song. It might be that complexity that makes more than a few spins needed to fully appreciate the music of FeedForward. But like always with music like this: once the clicked is there it is hard to image how it was before that. Returning to this album has been a pleasure every single time and every time something new was discovered.
The highlights of this album are the tracks: Fade Away, that starts off with nice haunting keyboards, which throughout the complete album, are supporting the music but also have some impressive solos here and there. The cascading loops of the guitars are very catchy, the voice of Biejanka impresses immediately. Then there is Run The Race which starts of with a bass loop that keeps up through the complete track.. 143 has a bit of an odd asynchronous edge that makes it very original Before I Leave again for cascading guitar loops. And last but not least: Silent a track with a very haunting feel, good keyboards, and Biejanka's voice a bit back in the mix. Again great guitar riffs. (It might be important to note that all the guitar riffs on the album are very melodic but never become showing off.)
There is not much discussion on the internet about FeedForward and that indicates that the band is flying below everyone's radar. That is a pity because they deserve a place in the spot lights. Barefoot & Naked is a noteworthy album that comes recommended.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Milk - Two Sides Of A Coin
|Country of Origin:||Spain|
|Year of Release:||2007|
Tracklist: I Love You, But I´m Going To Kill You (4:27), Living In A Show (4:04), Voyeur [I´m Watching You] (5:14), Anormal Deformity (9:38), King Red (4:07),
Blind Faith (3:22), These Girls Are Lethal (4:29), Me Against The World (4:35), Brain Damage (4:26), So Big (3:18), Fragments [remixed] (5:22), Your Topography [remixed]
Milk is a Spanish quartet from Segovia and this is their seventh offering, even though their discography contains albums that are more EP's than LP's, dating back to 2001. Despite being definitely progressive, their influences are sometimes pointing to more jam-like music, funk or pop - not
forgetting to mention a classic-rock education judging from some covers they made (provided my understanding of their biography in
Spanish is not completely wrong). They do sound at times like a very fresh and talented prog band, and at times like a fun-jam band worth seeing live.
The music is really bass-driven in a lot of tracks, bringing even Rush to mind. The first two tracks are characteristic, with a bombastic rhythm section. Somewhere in between Rush and Red Hot Chili Peppers, with a bit of a Talking Heads new-wave feel. The piano and saxophone in Voyeur are giving a wider dimension, with funk once again as the main basis, even though the refrain is very poppy - but catchy. Lots of ideas that are very nicely developed in an -up to now- very lively and uplifting product. The first glance to one of their major influences (King Crimson) comes at the closing of this track and somehow prepares the listener for what follows. Which is a bit different from the initial approach. Anormal Deformity is dominated by dreamy keys and a very fusion-like bass, while it then evolves into a classic down-tempo progressive track, reminiscent a bit of Camel, to close again in a technical and complex Crimson-like way. I should mention here that these guys seem to know how to play very well, as they perfectly avoid sounding amateurish. Tight compositions and a great flow of ideas. This track is probably the album's highlight. The next track (King Red) is quite heavily charged, with distorted guitars and spoken parts, featuring again outstanding bass work by Rafa Rosas. Blind Faith (an orchestrated version of a psalm) doesn't really fit here, resembling more new age music than anything else.
Back a bit to the fun ambience with the poppy tune of These girls are lethal, featuring Marillion-like keyboards, and this trend goes on with Me against the world, a sweet track with a very cute refrain and solo. Brain Damage is a witty structured space-rock (see Ozric?) track, featuring piano and keyboards, frenzy bass lines and very solid drumming - as you might have guessed it is the instrumental track of the album. Interesting, to say the least, especially because the band finds space to fit in it a Crimson-pass and various moods, all properly blended. Too bad the whole trip ends up in pure funk: So Big has nothing of the distinctive characteristics encountered so far. Red Hot Chili Peppers is the only pointer I can find - including the rap hip-pop aspect. The anti-climax unfortunately goes on with the last tracks which are remixes of the band's previous materials. Fragments is SO different from what I would expect: ethereal female vocals in a melancholy pop-rock track - not bad but so not MILK. I'll pass Your Topography. Or better not, I'll give a hint: combine the riff of Jakko's Beat It with Iron Man and add selected female sounds from a cheap porno movie and you might get the idea.
The voice (and English accent) is definitely not exceptional but interestingly it seems to adequately fit both the progressive and the funky profile of the band. Concerning musical skills, this band is very advanced. And this very well self-produced album has a lot to offer. This is a fresh release, with an abundance of new ideas and positive energy. So if you are into a funky space rock with a strong fusion-like and KC component, you could disregard the last three tracks and enjoy the ride!
Conclusion: 7- out of 10
Bise De Buse - Joue Sa Musique
|Country of Origin:||France|
|Record Label:||Musea Records|
|Catalogue #:||FGBG 4684.AR|
|Year of Release:||2006|
Tracklist: Dodécaféiné (4:48), Valse à 5 Temps (4:20), Triton Diabolique (3:45), Les Lumières de la Nuit (5:59), Chocolate Fields (4:42), Sax-cello (7:13), Gambang (5:58), Lola (4:01), Valse à 5 Temps [alternative take] (5:53), Appelez-moi Tex (4:36), Kings & Queens (5:58), Errance (8:47), You Can't Kill Me (4:32)
Bise de Buse formed back in 1975 with Joue sa Musique being their sole release in 1981. The band consisted of the slightly unusual line-up of Pierre Michel (saxophones), Jean Bataillon (violincelle) and Laurent Spielmann (piano & synths). Augmented by two guest musicians, Gong’s Didier Malherbe (soprano sax) and Louis Merlet (violin). For this Musea re-release of Joue sa Musique five bonus tracks have been included and the trio format is expanded to a quintet, featuring a more traditional line-up with Gérard Dosdat (guitar), Jean-Louis Heitz (bass) and Maxime Malka (drums). Gone now is Jean Bataillon.
Musically Bise De Buse offers a complex mixture of arrangements which embody a strong classical influence along with contemporary jazz, avant-garde, RIO, Canterbury and rock. I am in uncharted waters here so my comparative should be viewed as that of a novice. In general the music reminded me of chamber music with the strings and saxophones working melodically and rhythmically in both unison and in counterpoint throughout. Often jarring but seldom drifting into pointless avant-garde cacophony. As such the music’s appeal stems more from its complexity rather than melodic stance. The exception is the adaptation of Steve Miller’s Chocolate Fields which serves as the album’s standout track and my personal favourite.
Of the bonus material Valse à 5 Temps is an elongated version (alternative take) of the track which appeared on the original album. Apart from the additional 1.30 minute running time, little seems to have changed although percussion appears to have been added. The audio quality is somewhat poorer here having a very high mid timbre. This poor audio quality extends through the four remaining tunes although the sound is more rounded - the quality of the recordings suggest that these were live “demo” takes. There is also a significant amount of distortion, again suggesting poor recording and a deterioration of quality from the original tapes. Appelez-moi Tex, Kings & Queens, Errance and You Can't Kill Me musically bear little correlation to the album as such, perhaps suggesting a shift in musical preferences, however as bonus material it does little to endorse the album as a whole. Interesting for Bise De Buse completists – whoever they may be.
Joue sa Musique is not an easy listen and certainly won’t appeal across the board. I am struggling to offer any guidance as to influences - perhaps worth noting that the album contains versions of Soft Machine/Hugh Hopper's Kings & Queens and Gong/Daevid Allen’s You Can’t Kill Me. And at this point it would be all to easy to select a number of the more musically obscure names from related genres to act as comparators (Henry Cow, National Health, Univers Zero), however these may be misleading and should be viewed only as influences or as a starting point, rather than directly related comparisons. As it stands Bise De Buse forge their own sound.
Conclusion: 4.5 out of 10