Reviews in this issue:
- Project Creation – Dawn On Pyther
- Don Airey - A Light In The Sky
- Moongarden - Songs From The Lighthouse
- Genghis Tron – Board Up The House
- The Bob Lazar Story – The Silence Of Perez De Cuellar [EP]
- Zlye Kukly – The Strange Heavenly City
- Room - Pre-Flight
- Mizukagami - Yugake
- The Last Placid Days Of Plenty – Headphone Gallery
- St Mikael - Mind Of Fire
Project Creation – Dawn On Pyther
Insanely talented multi-instrumentalist Hugo Flores, who has previously released albums both solo and as Sonic Pulsar, here presents part two of a projected four CD series under his Project Creation guise. I haven’t heard the first instalment of this epic project, but my fellow DPRP reviewer surely hit the nail right on the head in his review of Floating World, as Dawn On Pyther is very much in the vein of Dutch maestro Ayreon’s recent works.
Flores utilises many elements to tell his fantastical Sci-Fi creation myth, blending prog rock, prog metal, folk and symphonic rock in an often bombastic and thrilling brew which nevertheless is melodic and full of subtle touches also.
Flores sings, and plays electric, acoustic and bass guitars, sitar, and synths. Oh, and he wrote, orchestrated, recorded and mixed it too! I hope he’s found some time to have a rest after all that! Also featured on the album are various guests on vocals and sundry instruments, but chief of these is surely Zara Quiroga who contributes some absolutely stunning vocals across the disc. Check out either of the links above for a terrific video clip of Growing Feeling which shows her in full flight and whose power and majesty makes an ideal preview to the album. Fred Lessing also merits a mention as he contributes recorders, flutes, 12 string and classical guitars and various percussion elements and presumably helps add a strong folk vibe to much of the music on the CD.
With five of the tracks in the 8-9 minute range, Flores allows plenty of space for his compositions to develop, with lots of changes of pace, tempo and instrumentation in each composition. He also ensures that there are plenty of strong melodies to engage the listener. Although most of the compositions have very powerful segments, there is also a lot of folk influence in the melodic structures of the songs, a mixture which enables Flores to establish his own voice – this is not Ayreon-lite by any means.
The interweaving of female and male vocals is expertly handled in the telling of the tale throughout the album, with only the merest hint of accents showing through occasionally.
As with most concept pieces it is difficult, if not superfluous, to pick out highlights and, indeed, no one track stands out here. The whole CD flows together in a grandiose, storytelling fashion and certainly repays your attention if taken as a single entity.
This CD is most likely to appeal to fans of Ayreon, Arena, Threshold, Dream Theater and the like, but it’s cinematic scope, skilful execution and melding of disparate elements (especially the folk elements) may give it a wider appeal, so it is worth check out even if you are not huge fans of the afore-mentioned artists.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Don Airey - A Light In The Sky
Tracklist: Big Bang (1:05), Ripples In The Fabric Of Time (5:40), Shooting Star (4:47), Space Troll Patrol (3:40), Andromeda M31 (4:26), Endless Night (5:05), Rocket To The Moon (1:20), Lift Off (0:55), Love You Too Much (4:00), Cartwheel ESO 350-40 (0:58), Sombrero M104 (3:04), Into Orbit (3:02), A Light In The Sky (pt 2) (7:10), Pale Blue Dot (3:04), Metallicity (1:13), Big Crunch (6:47), Lost In The End Of Time (4:17)
Don Airey is the current keyboard player for Deep Purple and a well known name within the history of rock music. He has contributed to some of the most important rock albums of all time, including Ozzy Osbourne's Blizzard Of Ozz and Diary Of A Madman; Down To Earth by Rainbow and Whitesnake's 1987. Among his other accomplishments he has also played with Gary Moore, Judas Priest, Jethro Tull and Michael Schenker.
A Light In The Sky is Don's second solo album, his first album K2 dating almost twenty years ago and featured many famous names. His new album also features familiar names - returning once again, Laurence Cottle (Sting, Eric Clapton, Alan Parsons and Mike Oldfield), Danny Bowes and Chris Childs (Thunder), Darrin Mooney (Primal Scream) and Carl Sentance (Krokus). The whole album is inspired by a hobby of Don Airey's - astronomy.
The album contains mainly instrumental tracks which are filled with thick layers of heavy keyboards, these instrumental tracks differing in style between rock, prog and jazz-fusion. The lyrical tracks are basic eighties rock songs, linked by short instrumental passages containing spacey keyboard sounds. The opener Big Bang is one such a track. The first real track is an instrumental, Ripples In The Fabric Of Time which is heavily influenced by the music made by French keyboard virtuous Jean Michel Jarre. The first lyrical song is Shooting Star which starts a bit like Smoke On The Water - a very basic eighties rock song. Funny experimental tunes appear on Space Troll Patrol - an uplifting and entertaining song, whereas Andromeda is a slow instrumental with guitar and keyboard solos alternating and with the keyboards producing a heavy wall of sound.
The beginning of the album is promising but the centre part shows a bit of a draw back. Endless Night is a basic rock song, which goes in at one ear and out at the other, and Rocket To The Moon is a rather short bluesy bit which is really out of place on this album. Lift Off is the sound of a rocket lifting off! Love You Too Much is one of the better lyrical songs but sounds a lot like an old Whitesnake ballad. Cartwheel ESO 350-40 is another of the short spacey keyboard tunes. This combination of two basic rock songs, an out of place bluesy number and some short spacey sound effects, creates a gap in the album which lacks the quality that the other parts of the album do have.
I was afraid the album was going to fade out after the good start, but from this point the album increases in level of quality. Sombrero M104 is a dark song with bombastic piano playing and some Spanish influences. Instead of using a Spanish guitar, Don prefers to play the Flamenco parts on his keyboard. Into Orbit is like a piece of classical music but played in a way a rock musician plays classical music. Swaying violins in contrast with furious parts when the violin and keyboards entwine. A Light In The Sky (pt 2) is the last and also the best of the songs with vocals. Still very much eighties rock but more entertaining and of course lots and lots of thick layered keyboard solos. And if possible the keyboards dominate even more on Pale Blue Dot. After a short instrumental break, Metallicity, it is time for a jazz fusion song. Big Crunch features beautiful violin playing and will appeal to fans of The Mahavishnu Orchestra. The fast melody which connects the separate solos bares resemblance with a melody in the song A Light In The Sky (pt 2). Lost In The End Of Time ends the album with some James Bond like tunes along the way. Could Don be inspired by Moonraker?
By far the most interesting material on this album are the instrumental tracks which vary in style between rock, prog and jazz-fusion. As mentioned earlier in the review the lyrical songs are in a basic eighties rock style, which Don Airey contributed to many in that era - nice but not very interesting. And all the different parts are linked together with short instrumentals with spacey keyboard sounds. The middle part has a bit of dip with a couple of basic rock songs linked with some sounds which make it a gap of lesser quality. The last part of the album with interesting songs makes up for this gap and turns the verdict to a recommendation. With a side note that you have to like music which is filled with heavy thick layered keyboards. If you like eighties rock songs on the side then this album is perfect for you.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Moongarden - Songs From The Lighthouse
Tracklist: My Darkside (7:26), It's You (7:04), Solaris (13:00), Emotionaut (3:55), That Child (5:52), Flesh (2:49), Dreamlord (11:30), Southampton Railroad (4:11), Sonya In Search Of The Moon [part 5] (5:47), The Lighthouse Song (9:32)
It has been nearly four years since Round Midnight, the last Moongarden album was released and, true to form the band have undergone a couple of changes since then. From the last album only principal composer, keyboardist and Chapman stick player Cristiano Roversi as well as bassist Mirko Tagliasacchi remain. Original vocalist from the 1990s Simone Baldini Tosi returns while the drum stool is now occupied by Maurizio Di Tollo. The biggest change though is the departure of long-time guitarist David Cremoni who has been replaced by Marco Tafelli. A recent deal between Galileo Records and ProgRock Records sees the album gaining greater international distribution which should help increase exposure for this Italian band.
Roversi has spent the time since the last album well, composing sufficient music to practically fill the new CD; at over 70 minutes this is a long album and, naturally, contains several long songs. The range of music is quite diverse, starting with a quite heavy progressive number, My Darkside, that makes good use of a variety of keyboards and displays how well the new guitarist and vocalist have slotted into the band. It's You starts as a rather nondescript ballad which unfortunately shows the weakness of Baldini Tosi as a torch singer, although things do improve when the guitars come crashing in, although the song doesn't really go anywhere and suffers from over repetition, a tighter arrangement knocking off a couple of minutes and ending the song with the final guitar solo would have improved things a lot. First of the songs that exceeds the 10 minute barrier is Solaris which has a very Eastern feel in both the guitar and vocal melody. Inspired by the work of director Andrew Tarkovsky the song is cinematic in scope, with an excellent variety in sound and a very impressive guitar solo that has a David Gilmoresque feel to it. In contrast Emotionaut starts with some 'scratching' and a more funky beat; the overall song reminds me somewhat of Jesus Jones from the 1990s who really pioneered the mixing of rock and dance music. An okay song, but not one that really inspires.
That Child features special guest vocalist Andy Tillison from The Tangent on vocals. And a good match it is too, as the song could reasonably be an out-take from one of Tillison's own works. The guitar and mellotron section is particularly inspiring. The piano, synth and violin (played by guitarist Tafelli) piece Flesh provides a nice instrumental interlude and introduction to Dreamlord, a calm piece with a great hypnotic bass line that one expects to suddenly burst forth but manages to maintain the restraint until almost the 10th minute when guitars and keyboards provide a nice counterpoint and ending to the song. Indian sounding percussion introduces Southampton Railroad and maintains the beat throughout. Some good harmony singing ensues although again there is probably rather too much repetition. Sonya In Search Of The Moon [part 5] (no idea what happened to the other four parts!) is an instrumental number with a great tune and nice use of string synths. Title track The Lighthouse Song rounds things off nicely in a more relaxed mood.
The forth album by Moongarden displays some moments of delight and overall is quite an impressive release. The artwork by Ed Unitsky is just as impressive. Worth investigating if you have enjoyed any of the previous releases.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Genghis Tron – Board Up The House
Tracklist: Board Up The House (5:54), Endless Teeth (1:47), Things Don't Look Good (3:35), Recursion (2:08), I Won't Come Back Alive (6:34), City On A Hill (3:26), The Whips (2:07), Blow Back (4:01), Colony Collapse (1:56), The Feast (1:14), Ergot [Relief] (10:47)
Hailing from Philadelphia, Genghis Tron unleash their second album, Board Up The House, on to an unsuspecting public. Melding a variety of influences from harsh grindcore to ambient electronica, there’s plenty of reference points to other artists past and present on the pioneering Relapse label, but the band have carved out a pretty unique sound for themselves here.
The title track serves as an excellent introduction to the band’s style; a repetitive keyboard motif reminiscent of label mates Zombi leads into a fearsomely heavy hardcore riff, with improbably-named vocalist Mookie Singerman screaming his lungs out over the racket, before his vocals morph into a calming, mantra-style on the chorus. The dark, pulsating beats introduced in the latter part of the song actually reminded me of Pink Floyd’s Empty Spaces, whilst this eventually builds into a huge, Mastodon-style riff which continues to build and resonate to the track’s conclusion.
Elsewhere, Endless Teeth and The Feast are raging jazzcore that emulate The Dillinger Escape Plan at their most frenetic; The Whips Blow Back mashes up blast beats and some spooky chillout electronica which encompasses Moog and Wurlitzer organs, whilst Recursion is a late-night ambient piece reminiscent of Zombi, or even The Orb. The highlights are I Won’t Come Back Alive, which has numerous stand-out sections and sees the band employing the sort of build-and-release mechanisms beloved of post-rock bands, and the ten-minute plus closer Relief, which starts out as something akin to a stoner doom track, all sludgy riffs and slow tempo’s, before increasing in pace and intensity, culminating in a sea of swaying, hypnotic guitar noise reminiscent of the mighty Neurosis.
Overall, not all of the experimentation with melding various genres together works, but the hits far outweigh the misses on what is for the most part an exhilarating set. My mark reflects the fact that this probably won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I would advise the more adventurous to check out the samples on the band’s MySpace site and judge for themselves.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
The Bob Lazar Story – The Silence Of Perez De Cuellar
Tracklist: Wheat Hat (5:00), There’s No Trolley (2:02), My Hand Looks Like A Brontosaurus (4:39), The Silence Of Perez De Cuellar (2:56), Meat Whores/Glass-Eyed And Frankly ft. Crazy Legs (4:49), Foodstool 82 (1:58)
Don’t you hate band names like Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd? “Oh, by the way, which one’s Pink?” – I have to paraphrase that line as I begin this review, because I naively assumed that one of the musicians in The Bob Lazar Story would be named – well, you know. But it’s their little joke: Bob Lazar (I had to look the name up) is an American physicist who claims knowledge of U.S. efforts to duplicate alien technology in a top-secret facility near Area 51. So okay: put that band name together with the titles you see listed above and you get an idea of how serious this band is.
Well, no, you don’t, unless you also think Frank Zappa was a frivolous musician because of his goofy song titles and often sophomoric (or worse) sense of humour. For all the goofiness inherent in the band name and the titles, this is one serious, dedicated instrumental progressive band, if this brief, six-song EP is anything to go by. In any case, I’ll echo the CD’s brevity with a brief review.
This is good stuff. The two main musicians, guitarist Matt Deacon and bassist Mike Fudakowski, have a lot of talent, but they’re not just shredders: the compositions here are all pleasingly melodic under the instrumental virtuosity, and that virtuosity itself is actually fun to listen to. I’ve heard (and reviewed) a LOT of instrumental progressive rock, and too much – I sometimes think most – of it is made for the sole pleasure of the musicians themselves. But The Bob Lazar Story is out to entertain as much as, or more than, to show off, it seems to me, and this EP is really engaging. All six songs, even the very short second, fourth, and sixth ones, are nicely crafted, and each and paints a pleasing musical picture. My favourite, and I think the best, is Meat Whores (etc.), which features a killer hard-rock riff that the band returns to again and again among interposed guitar and bass noodling (and I mean “noodling” here as a compliment).
What does the band sound like? I won’t even reproduce the obscene answer they themselves give to that question on their MySpace site (look it up if you must – I don’t recommend it); but if you like Zappa; if you like that venerable old progressive band The Dixie Dregs; heck, even if you just like King Crimson (and who among us doesn’t?), The Bob Lazar Story will interest you. The compositions aren’t as challenging as Zappa’s, for the most part, but they’re more immediately accessible, and they improve with repeated listenings. Best of all, these guys have put together a truly enjoyable collection that leaves the listener wanting more – meaning, of course, that you just have to hit “play” again.
I think you should seek out this short but delightful instrumental CD. I myself can’t imagine a fan of instrumental progressive rock who wouldn’t get a kick out of it. Maybe a full-length CD next time, guys?
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Zlye Kukly – The Strange Heavenly City
Tracklist: A Touch-Me-Not-City (3:15), Fearless (3:51), A Piece Of Yesterday’s Sky (8:19), One More Witch (3:46), Death Is Not The End (4:14), The Son (6:36), Dreams (6:23), Procession (3:20), Art Of Telling Lies (5:22), The Lamplighter (7:47), Another Celestial City (5:18)
Zlye Kukly appears to be an Israeli outfit consisting of emigrants from the former USSR, now living in Jerusalem and The Strange Heavenly City is a reissue of the third of the band’s five albums to date. Of these one was a live album and another a compilation. This was previously only available as a self-released CD-r. It also seems that The Strange Heavenly City is the first to be available outside of Israel.
Re-released by Moscow label MALS, this album seems to be aimed primarily at Russian-language listeners, since all the information in the CD booklet (its tray included), is exclusively in Russian. That may explain why in some places the band is also referred to as ‘Evil Dolls’ (the English translation of Zlye Kukly?), and the album title as Alien Celestial City.
They play a very curious style of music, which results in a strange but hugely engaging record from beginning to end. The baseline of this band’s musicality is set upon traditional Russian and Israeli folk music. There are constant baroque tendencies, and the band somehow adds a distinct gothic and theatrical feel, which gives the whole album a curious but compelling vibe. The arrangements are often complex with counterpoint rhythms and melodies which reveal themselves slowly; rewarding repeated, attentive listens. Not 'prog', but definitely progressive. There is also a dark melancholy to the disc. It brings to my mind Arcturus without the metal trappings.
The lion’s share of the performance is taken up by the bandleader Fred Adra. His distinct vocals and acoustic guitar are accompanied by violin, bass, drums and keyboards, plus some brass and folk instruments, accordion, and occasional electric guitar and oboe. He is supported to good effect by three different female vocalists on four of the songs, offering both traditional folk and more operatic vocals.
With the exception of the acoustic The Son, the first eight tracks, including two instrumentals, are all dominated by a sombre gothic aura, set above restrained folk melodies. A Piece Of Yesterday’s Sky, Death Is Not The End and Dreams each contain some relatively expanded instrumental sections which all give a respectful nod to the Art-Rock idiom.
Although the language is an impenetrable barrier, I can sense that Adra is telling a gripping story. There’s a great sense of drama in his vocal delivery that conveys the sense of something deep, dark and sophisticated.
This is an excellent album by a band, whose leader comes across as being as charismatic, musical chameleon. I’d love to have had the chance to explore the lyrics and stories in more detail but the music alone is currently ensuring that this disc is on constant rotation.
Anyone who feels comfortable listening to foreign-language music with heavy, traditional, folk leanings, should be charmed by this inventive, mysterious band.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Room - Pre-Flight
Room were one of the numerous late 1960s bands who recorded a single album and then seemingly disappearing off the face of the planet. Hailing from Dorset, the group gigged a lot locally but only really came to prominence following their second place positioning in the 1969 Melody Maker new band contest. Despite being disappointed at not winning, the group were rewarded when Decca records offered then a recording contract. A five-piece, the group were unusual in not having a keyboard player and also having a female lead singer, Jane Kevern. With Steve Edge and Chris Williams on guitars, Bob Jenkins on drums and Roy Putt on bass the group entered West Hampstead studios in the summer of 1970 and reputedly recorded the music for the whole album, plus several other unreleased tracks, in one day! Vocals and backing vocals were added at a second session as were a whole host of other instruments (violins, violas, cellos, trumpets, flugelhorn and trombone) by a selection of top session musicians.
As was common at that time, the group displayed a wide range of musical influences, from blues and jazz to the up and coming genre of progressive rock. This is clearly demonstrated on opening number, the title track Pre-Flight, particularly on the instrumental second part where dual guitars merge well with the insistent horn stabs. The heavy blues of Where Did I Go Wrong? features some fine guitar work by Williams and apart from the vocals could almost be a Cream number. Again the dual lead guitars provide taut solos that smacks of constrained jamming. Given the speed of the recording it is obvious that the tracks must have been taken from the first or second takes which gives the solos a fresh and spontaneous feel. Indeed, it is possible that this number, along with Big John Blues, were largely improvised in the studio. No Warmth In My Life flirts with jazz and is perhaps the most unsuccessful number on the album, relying too much on the brass.
However, it is the original second side of the album that makes one sit up and take notice. Starting with Andromeda, the listener is presented with a more ominous sounding number where the brass provides the somewhat sinister backdrop to the vocals and the soaring strings takes one out into the solar system. Kevern's vocals are a plus on this track and it is obvious that she possesses a fine set of tubes, something that doesn't always come across in the recordings as they sometimes sound somewhat flat (as in lacking dynamic range rather than being out of tune!). War successfully manages to merge jazz inflections with the more overt rock elements of the band, the guitar following and repeating the vocal melody line is a nice touch and would have made this an excellent live number. Final track Cemetery Junction is an instrumental piece that like the opening number, really demonstrates the progressive edge of the band. The brass and string accompaniments once again are superbly arranged to fit in with the rock group who play at the top of their game, drummer Jenkins is superb and Williams and Edge deliver their best. On the intro to part two the 'orchestra' takes over delivering an almost funereal dirge before being overtaken by the electric instruments. The ending is somewhat mysterious with the guitars winding down and the sound of a chiming Big Ben introducing a guitar riff that wouldn't have been out of place on an early Black Sabbath album.
Unfortunately the album failed to sell and even a high profile support slot to Pentangle at the Royal Albert Hall in January of 1971 failed to increase the fortunes of the band who split shortly afterwards. Naturally, the original album is now highly prized and even the initial CD re-release of the album is fetching decent prices. This Esoteric Recordings release has been remastered from the original analogue tapes and presents the album in a hitherto unheard quality. A fine album and of interest to anyone interested in the origins of progressive rock. Let's hope that some of the other material recorded during that summer day in 1970 still exists and will eventually gain a release.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Mizukagami - Yugake
Tracklist: Yugake (7:11), Hanamizake (9:51), Yatagarasu (4:58), Riu (7:23), Tsukinokusa Tsuyunokusa (2:54), Ruten – Ame (9:00)
Mizukagami’s 2003 self-titled debut album was one I thoroughly enjoyed, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Japanese symphonic progsters had resurfaced after a lengthy break with their second effort, Yugake. Stylistically, the band tread broadly similar ground as their debut, their sound in the main being a mix of classic seventies prog (with Camel clearly identifiable as a major influence) and early eighties neo-prog, topped by the appealing vocals (delivered in the band’s native tongue) of female singer Futaba. Futaba also contributes flute, and there’s a smattering of traditional Japanese instrumentation on show too, although this seems less prevalent than on their debut. Keyboard fans should certainly be satiated, however; Junya Anan (also the band’s principle songwriter) uses a wide array of vintage instruments, and the album is chock full of mellotron, Moog and harpsichord.
Following the solid opening title track, Yugake takes a left turn into notably rockier territory, and I use the word in both its literal and metaphorical sense. I find the band at their most appealing when sailing in gentler climes; the rather pedestrian ‘rocking out’ and guitar histrionics that take up much of the middle of the album doesn’t really seem to suit them, and its notable that the quieter passages in the likes of Riu are the ones that work the best.
Thankfully, the final two tracks are gems – Tsukinokusa Tsuyunokusa is a gentle, laidback track, mainly featuring just Futaba’s lullaby-like vocals accompanied guitarist Yasuo Asakura on 12 string acoustic. This serves as a good appetiser for Ruten – Ame, where the oddly haunting sound of a music box leads into a strong symphonic piece with a definite pastoral feel. There are times when the guitar soloing again threatens to go over the top, but thankfully its Anan who rules the roost here, with the pleasingly familiar sound of the mellotron casting a warm glow over proceedings.
Overall, Yugake isn’t as consistent an album as the debut, and consequently I found it less enjoyable as a whole, but the best moments are a match for anything on that album. I just hope that Mizukagami play a little more to their strengths on their next effort, which hopefully won’t be so long in coming.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
The Last Placid Days Of Plenty – Headphone Gallery
Tracklist: Into The Labyrinth (1:12), Sand In Rain (6:08), PRESSURE (3:46), Asleep At The Wheel (6:15), Mr. Boggs (4:55), A Classic Past (5:34), The Ironclads [Hampton Roads] (4:47), My Macabre Machine (5:04), Invisible Man (4:06), Diamond Jack And The Velvet Marauders (4:56), The End Of An Era (18:36)
This band obviously admires Genesis around the time of Foxtrot or maybe even The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. I’m not saying that they sound a lot like Genesis; I’m talking mostly about their ambitions. And in fact, Headphone Gallery as a whole exhibits the same kind of variety (for better and for worse) of music – maybe even more variety – found on The Lamb Lies Down. The difference, of course, is that this band ain’t Genesis.
I ought to begin by saying that what we will hear in the future from The Last Placid Days Of Plenty will sound different, perhaps very different, from what we hear on this album, because the band’s keyboardist and bassist/singer were replaced, after this recording was finished, by three new members. When a quartet becomes a quintet and the lead singer is replaced, the band’s sound is going to change, obviously. In any case, what we have before us is the band’s debut album, and my job is to tell you what it’s like, not to predict what the next one will be like.
Well – this one’s all over the place, to my ears. I don’t want to speculate, but that might be because, according to the promo materials, this album has been in the making since 1994! After thirteen years of recording, an album is unlikely to exhibit any kind of homogeneity. Unfortunately, the excessive breadth of sounds here, while exhibiting the band’s versatility, doesn’t really make for a satisfying album. Some individual tracks are very good (and I’ll come to those in a moment), but the album, well over an hour long, isn’t easy to listen to as a whole. Another problem, which I’ll only touch on here because this is after all a self-financed debut album, is the rather flat and murky production that doesn’t do much of a service to the songs or to any of the individual instruments.
The songs vary from straightforward though often satisfying hard rock (Diamond Jack and the Velvet Marauders, The Ironclads) through slightly goofy story-songs (Mr. Boggs – which reminds me a bit of Saga’s The Perfectionist or the “Narcissus is turned into a flower” section of Genesis’ Supper’s Ready) through quite lovely slow ballads (A Classic Past). What links all these styles is the vocal delivery of now-departed bassist/singer Al Webster. I hate to use the word, and I’ll qualify it in a minute, but “histrionic” is the adjective that comes to mind. Webster’s voice is strong, but too often he acts the lyrics as much as singing them, and, to my mind, that sort of delivery damages the songs. The band prides itself on its “theatrical” stage shows, so that kind of singing (and I’ve no idea if new vocalist Jeff Morrison will sing that way) may well be appropriate to the band’s intentions, but I find it cloying here.
I ought to say something about what’s obviously the band’s grand statement, the eighteen-and-a-half-minute closing track The End Of An Era (whose title seems to hark back to the band’s own rather odd but kind of cool name). As you’d expect, all the band’s varied styles are on display in this LP-side-length song. It begins with keyboards that will tell your mind “Hey, it’s Supertramp’s Fool’s Overture!”; then comes some nice slow Gilmour-ish lead-guitar work. After some nice tempo and instrumental changes, we move through a long, slow section followed by a very nice bit of acoustic-guitar work, and, after many more variations, the song finally ends with a lovely, emotive guitar solo. Although I find the song far, far too long to sustain interest, I ought to add that the band does a good job of suiting the music to the lyrics, which tell a long story about a man who wants his grandson to remember him by finding and looking through a trunk of mementos in an attic. The lyrics are quite affecting, and the music is good, too – it just (to my ears, anyway) doesn’t come together, doesn’t compel the listener but rather demands attention it can’t really sustain.
I myself don’t think Headphone Gallery a success, despite the undeniable success of many of the individual tracks. The album is too diverse, even scattered; and the unsatisfying production and theatrical vocals (against which, I’ll admit, I’m biased in general) detract further from the album’s appeal. However, I can well imagine that many listeners with different tastes in varied, melodic progressive rock would enjoy the CD; and I’ll be curious to hear what the band does next, in its new configuration (and likely taking less time to make its sophomore album than the thirteen years it spent on its debut).
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
St Mikael - Mind of Fire
Tracklist: My Dream (9:15), Wizdom (7:09), Into Your Mind (5:40), Are You Dreamin’ Again? (8:23), Gyrax (7:40) Bonus Tracks- CD Bonus Intro (2:09), Did You Feel? (3:11), Organ Prelude (1:25), Stroll On Stumblin’ Street (:42), Dr. Terror’s Chamber of Horrors (2:54), Music Circus (1:20), The Preacher (4:09), Organ Mission of Love (3:14), Subwater Journey (3:33), Sinbad Song (7:51)
Attention neo-hippies: you can’t come home again. That is the case with Swedish neo-psychedelic mutli-instrumentalist ST Mikael. Mikael returns with Mind Of Fire after an eleven year absence from the scene. He is joined on the CD by compatriots Reine Fiske on guitar and Fredrik Bjorling on drums, both from the prog-psych band Dungen. If Mikael remembers the sixties he probably wasn’t there, as most of the CD falls flat.
The CD proper consists of five tracks that total thirty eight minutes. Bonus tracks follow. On the CD proper, sixties luminaries such as Cream, Donovan and early Traffic are obvious pointers. Wizdom, with its danceable funk groove, is retro much in the same way that Charlatans U.K. and Stone Roses were during the late eighties “Madchester” era. Harder artists from the sixties such as Jimi Hendrix are referenced at other points.
The first five tracks appear to be composed well, although regarding personal taste they are not my cup of tea. The overall production sounds dated, and this is most likely deliberate. Mikael and company are adept at their instrumentation. The CD’s main drawback is the unneeded collection of bonus tracks that make up the its bulk. Most of the pointless bonus tracks sound like mere demos or studio experimentations, with electronics, cheesy drum programming, and muted bass among the guilty parties. Two of the tracks, Sinbad Song and Did You Feel? contain enough strong elements that they could have become fleshed out songs for the CD proper, had Mikael toiled long enough on them. The bonus tracks provide a snapshot of Mikael’s creative process, but do so without helping the continuity of the CD as a whole.
The CD cover art and booklet feature a colorful psychedelic design. Nice to look at, but after listening to the bland CD you’d think eleven years would have been more than enough time for Mikael to come up with something better. On his next release I think Mikael should leave out the bonus tracks, and maybe just release a shorter-length CD, EP, or song downloads if he hasn’t got enough strong pieces for a full CD for those neo-psychedelic people out there.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10