Reviews in this issue:
- Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid
- Amaseffer – Slaves For Life
- Lobster Newberg - Vernal Equinox
- Us - Climing Mount Improbable
- Love Sculpture - Blues Helping
- Love Sculpture - Forms And Feeling
- Demians - Building An Empire
- The Collins/Wardingham Project - Interactive
- Invisigoth - Narcotica
- Vespero – Foam
Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid
Tracklist: Starlings (5:05), The Bones Of You (4:49), Mirrorball (5:50), Grounds For Divorce (3:39), An Audience With The Pope (4:27), Weather To Fly (4:29), The Loneliness Of A Tower Crane Driver (5:14), The Fix (4:27), Some Riot (5:23), One Day Like This (6:34), Friend Of Ours (5:01) Bonus Track: We’re Away (1:59)
Around the time of their debut album, one or two UK music magazines mentioned Elbow’s name in articles of the type which seek to map the prog scene past and present. I remember lead singer Guy Garvey, whilst not exactly fessing up to be a progger, at least not recoiling in horror at the thought. Personally, I would say they fall more into the intelligent arty Indie scene, but I’d like to sidestep any debate as to whether Elbow are actually a prog group by stating upfront that this album deserves to be heard regardless of what genre you might like to pigeon-hole it in.
I have bought all of Elbow’s albums as they have been released, but I sometimes wondered why I was continuing to do so. Asleep In The Back admittedly had at least a few absolutely classic tracks (Newborn for example), but was definitely an uneven album. The next two albums failed to really register with me, perhaps being overly melancholic in tone, though odd tracks like Grace Under Pressure had a certain majesty which stuck in my mind.
Now though, I feel my perseverance has really paid off, as The Seldom Seen Kid sees Elbow raise their game to a whole new level. It’s my favourite album of the year so far and I doubt anything else will beat it in the remaining months. (In fact, I’m definitely going to revisit their earlier albums asap as I’m thinking perhaps I dismissed them too quickly.)
Seldom Seen Kid begins with the deliciously delicate fluttering of Starlings, punctuated with startling brassy stabs, and containing lyrics which serve as a great example of Garvey’s craft; by turns witty, tender, passionate and poetic. He stands tall on this album as a rain-dampened romantic, in love and loving life as well, conjuring poetry from the mundane and everyday occurrences of modern life.
Love certainly features strongly on the album (The Bones Of You, An Audience With The Pope, One Day Like This), but Garvey also turns in a humorous tale of race fixing in The Fix, which features a guest spot for Sheffield guitarist Richard Hawley, who also shares vocal duties on the track.
The musical arrangements throughout the album are exquisite, embellishing Garvey’s lyrics with restraint and taste. Brass, strings, guitars and keyboards all help to create beautiful, atmospheric backdrops to Guy’s perfectly judged vocal performances. At a moment’s notice, the music rises from delicate minimalism to heart-swelling crescendos and back again. There is a certain downbeat aura at times; they have not abandoned their mordant Mancunian roots entirely (nor should they), but the overall feeling is much more optimistic than the melancholy-drenched work of the first few albums.
There are no weak tracks on the disc, but the five track sequence from Grounds For Divorce to The Fix is perhaps the strongest unbroken chain of songs I’ve heard in many a year. Most bands would be happy to have just one song as good as these in their catalogue, but Elbow rattles them out one after another. An early favourite of mine was An Audience With… which would make a perfect theme tune for a James Bond film, grandiose pop of the highest calibre, yet still managing to incorporate guitar flavours which would fit right in on a Tom Waits tune. Weather To Fly is a gorgeous anthem, growing from Sigur Ros-like serenity to crowd pleasing choruses and heart warming brass lines in the space of a few minutes. The Fix is hilarious, with Hawley’s voice perfectly gelling with Garvey’s, and he’s no slouch on the guitar either.
Remarkably, Elbow manages to top even these gems with the jubilant, celebratory, anthemic One Day Like This. Their performance of this track, complete with string section, was the highlight of BBC’s otherwise pretty dull coverage of this year’s Glastonbury festival, and hopefully it should help them achieve the success they richly deserve.
The album closes with Friend Of Ours, a very touching tribute to Bryan Glancy, a deceased friend, to whom the whole album is dedicated. Garvey’s manfully enunciated “love you mate” will surely bring a tear to the eye of even the most jaded listener.
I have held back from giving this album a 10 because… Well, because I don’t give 10’s, (and the bonus track is not really that great) but take it from me, this is Elbow’s masterpiece and if you’ve any interest at all in modern progressive pop (such as Peter Gabriel’s recent work, Sigur Ros, Radiohead, Muse, Coldplay etc) then you owe it to yourself to hear this album.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Amaseffer – Slaves For Life
Tracklist: Sorrow (2:41), Slaves For Life (8:28), Birth Of Deliverance (11:11), Midian (11:48), Zipporah (6:10), Burning Bush (6:31), The Wooden Staff (9:13), Return To Egypt (3:26), Ten Plagues (11:29), Land Of The Dead (6:54)
Amaseffer is a project created by three Israeli musicians - drummer Erez Yohanan, guitarists Yuval Kramer and Hanan Avramovich. The trio have enlisted Edguy/Therion vocalist Mats Leven and Arch Enemy's Angela Gossow to front this first part of a trilogy based around the Old Testament story of Moses and the Israelites' exodus from Egypt. The band name is apparently three Hebrew words combined (am ha seffer) to mean ‘people of the book’.
If I had to sum this up in one set of words it would be ‘film-score progressive metal of epic conceptual proportions’. Orchestral elements meld with Middle Eastern sounds and progressive metal.
This certainly isn’t your average CD. Don’t bother with more than a cursory listen to mp3 samples. This is one piece of music you just have to buy, sit down in a comfortable chair and listen to as a complete whole. A whole 79-minute story, in one long song. Yes it’s cut up into chapters, but the "film score-like" approach to the writing, means that each song has many elements complete with sound effects, orchestration, spoken word sections and enough chanting to make you feel part of the desert scenery.
The traditional Arabic musical themes and constant vocal readings bring to mind a chilled-out Orphaned Land without the growls. Angela Gossow (Arch Enemy) does show-up on one song to provide the vocal backdrop of a death-like passage - presumably someone (or maybe lots of someones) are getting killed!
Sadly I don’t have the booklet to follow the detailed story but I’m sure that once I do, it will add another level of enjoyment.
Andy Kuntz was the singer originally chosen for this project and I can see his more theatrical style as shown on Abydos fitting it perfectly. However when he pulled out, they opted for Mats Leven. Leven is amazing here. Gone are his traditional screaming parts (Therion) and wild metal singing (At Vance). In place is a story-telling, mid-range style that is packed with emotion and drama. The duet with an Israeli female singer is spell-binding. He sounds incredibly convincing and fits the part perfectly.
The production is absolutely monstrous. The album was recorded and mixed by Markus Teske (Vanden Plas, Abydos) and the artwork was done by Mattias Norén (Evergrey, Kamelot, Epica). If you wanted an audiophile hi-fi but could only afford a system from your local store, then put this CD in, and you’ll never notice the difference.
I will however stress that this album only works if you’re prepared to immerse yourself into the story. Melodies, riffs, heavy moments and lighter sections abound. But they are greatly overshadowed by the cinematic excesses of the score. For a lot of the 79 minutes, this may be too much of a musical desert for many.
This is an increasingly rare foray into ProgMetal-land for InsideOut, but one I am sure will generate a lot of interest. Of particular interest to fans of Abydos, Shadow Gallery, Ayreon, and Beyond Twilight. But basically this will thrill anyone who enjoys music that crosses many boundaries in order to provide a concept album of epic proportions. I’d tip this to feature in many a Top10 list at the end of the year.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Lobster Newberg - Vernal Equinox
Tracklist: Equinox (3:20), Paradox (8.05), Lloyd (5:06), Tabasco>Sauce (9:56), Happy Together (4:38), Flaunch (4:11), Woods (9.10), Irwin (6:45), African Bridesmaid (9:14), Wentworth (12:53), Solstice (4:09), Unnamed track (2:23)
Lobster Newberg were formed in 2006 at a high school in Chicago recording their debut album in early 2007. At the time the group comprised Colin Peterik on keyboards and vocals, Sean Briskey on guitar and backing vocals, Will Gumbiner on bass and Victor Vieira-Branco on drums. However, the group effectively split in October 2007 for personal reasons but have recently been re-launched with only Peterik remaining from the original line-up. Peterik's father, Jim, is an established musician having been a member of both the 60s/70s band Ides Of March and the 80s group Survivor. Indeed, Peterik senior can partially take the blame for the nauseating Rocky theme song Eye Of The Tiger which he co-wrote. Fortunately, Lobster Newberg sound nothing like Survivor, indeed it is hard to think who they do sound like! A mixture of jam, fusion, progressive, rock and pop, the group are certainly not short of ideas as their debut CD, Vernal Equinox is packed to the max. The change in personal doesn't appear to have had a great effect on their musical style judging from the three new songs posted, for free download, on their MySpace page, although at least one of them was performed live by the previous incarnation.
At six seconds short of 80 minutes there is certainly enough material on Vernal Equinox. Opening instrumental Equinox is dominated by organ, a few guitar power chords and some upfront drumming, indeed, throughout the drums are up front in the mix, which provides a very rhythmic quality to the album. The opening three minutes of Paradox sounds very like a very mid 1970s Pink Floyd but then suddenly veers off with a discordant keyboard solo followed by a piano blues riff overlaid with a ferocious guitar solo and ends with more keyboard and organ effects (including Mellotron sounds prog fans!). Very different, very good. Lloyd, another instrumental, is more guitar orientated with some nice riffing where the keyboards and guitar echo each other's performance. A fuzz-laden guitar solo is answered by a more simplistic keyboard break ending with a bit of a freak out. Tabasco>Sauce starts in a similar vein but suddenly mellows out in the vocal section which has a quite sixties feel, albeit in a modern context, if that makes any sense! Following the first chorus there is a seemingly aberrant electric samba complete with "Ariba!" chants which certainly draws the attention before more frantic keyboard and guitar riffing with pummelling drumming from Vieira-Branco that makes one tired just listening to it, oh the energies of youth! A repetition of the chorus brings the mood down and closes the song in a more sedate fashion. A decent cover of the Turtles hit Happy Together takes the original and, in a very Vanilla Fudge-like way, adds a new intro. Always a great song, it is in no way diminished by the Lobsters and indeed, they have made it more palatable to a rock audience who may have found the original too sugary sweet.
Flaunch takes us back to the rock with an insistent riff with keyboards and guitar once again echoing each other, even the bass gets a go this time! Several changes make the piece rather fragmented and altogether the piece lacks a coherence found elsewhere on the album. The same can't be said for Woods, which changes the tone by careful use of acoustic guitar and more laid back synthesisers in the opening third of the piece. The tempo is nicely, and naturally, increased by a switch to electric guitar which runs riot throughout the next third and beyond only tempered by some growling keys. The piece is finished by a return to an acoustic base that, initially, has a rather Moody Blues like sound. Another instrumental, Irwin, follows the broad template of previous pieces, although incorporates different elements to give it a distinguishing flavour from what has gone before. Two long pieces come next which, combined, contribute to over a quarter of the playing time of the album. African Bridesmaid brings to mind some of the early 80s British prog, although that may purely be the synth sound used in the opening. The drums are very prominent throughout the piece, although not as one might think from the title in a very ethnic or tribal manner. I kept expecting there to be a complete drum solo at any moment! A more mysterious section with effects that could be representative of wildlife gives the impression of being out in some jungle while a couple of guitar solos are powerful enough to keep the interest up. The substantial Wentworth is once again dominated by keyboards (guess it is obvious why Peterik kept the band name after the split!) and utilises a range of different styles and voice effects to differentiate between different characters. Interesting piece that manages to maintain one's attention throughout. Final track Solstice is a variation on the opening of Paradox with a very chaotic ending while the hidden track is the first couple of minutes of Solstice but in reverse!
Overall this is a fine effort for a debut with a high level of musicianship for such a young band. Having the guitar and keyboards playing identical parts simultaneously is perhaps overused rather too frequently but generally there are plenty of ideas and variations so as not to bore the listener.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Us – Climbing Mount Improbable
Tracklist: The Lesser Of Two Evils (14:09), Climbing Mount Improbable (11:58), The Scar (9:08), Song For The Man In The Monastery (7:26), The Way We Were (17:38)
If like me you googled the title of the new Us album to discover a little more about the band then you wouldn’t have failed to notice that Climbing Mount Improbable is also the title of a 1996 science publication. Not having read the book I cannot confirm if it has influenced the bands sixth release and the song titles hold no clues. Either way the evocative title suits the bands sweeping symphonic style perfectly as does the superb artwork by artist Henry van Veenendaal. My colleague Mark provided an insightful summary of the bands history in his review of their last album Reflections which I need not repeat here. Suffice to say that the line-up remains unchanged led by brothers Ernest and Jos Werners who between them supply guitar, bass, keys and vocals. Jos' wife Marijke provides additional vocals and filling the drum seat once again is Joris ten Eussens.
Their melodic prog credentials are immediately evident in The Lesser Of Two Evils, from the weeping Steve Hackett style guitar intro to the lush keyboard colourings that underpin the song throughout. Jos certainly has an ear for a good tune having written all the songs bar one and all three players demonstrate a high calibre of musicianship. Unfortunately the bands Achilles heel is also revealed early on, namely the lead vocal. The tenor delivery is flat and un-involving and they don’t make things easy for themselves with virtually wall to wall vocals during the opening song. It does get better in the second half however where Jos' singing is doubled by Marijke’s which adds more depth. Climbing Mount Improbable is a very catchy piece and appropriately as the title track it’s easily the albums strongest. Shimmering organ and Mellotron style strings bring Tony Banks to mind and likewise a tranquil chiming guitar section evokes early Genesis. The acoustic guitar shuffle at the end recreates the jangling riff from Supertramp’s Give A Little Bit.
The Scar benefits from a good upfront bass sound otherwise the overall tone is a tad soft. In fact the album generally seems to lack weight and dynamics despite the presence of some lively instrumental parts. It has another strong melody however even though at one point the organ/guitar theme strays a little too close to Waltzing Matilda for comfort. The singing is fuller and more rounded here reminiscent of The Moody Blues and as this is Ernest’s sole writing contribution I assume that he’s responsible for the vocal. Song For The Man In The Monastery is a driving mid-tempo tune with a sharper more distinctive guitar tone. Bass and drums rumble along nicely although, at the risk of repeating myself the vocals again let it down. I especially like the instrumental coda with looming bass against a wash of organ and synth strings.
The Way We Were is not Us’ version of the Barbara Streisand 70’s tear jerker but the albums token epic. It’s another worthy effort with a simple but captivating choral refrain and a compelling heartbeat bass rhythm. This time the soaring guitar adopts a Steve Howe flavoured timbre but the Yes style harmonies fail to elevate the weak source voices above their inherent limitations. During an extended instrumental section the guitar especially has a fierier edge whilst the keyboards continue to play a subordinate role providing the symphonic backdrop. As almost every album these days includes at least one track around the twenty minute mark my view of long form songs has become a little jaded in recent times. This however is better than most containing an engaging collection of themes that holds together in a cohesive fashion before bowing out with a mellow slice of Mike Oldfield inspired lyrical guitar.
Whilst this album ticks many of the right boxes there are several more it leaves unchecked. The melodies are certainly as good as I have heard on many a recent release and even some of the so called classics. In fact the bands style is very much drenched in early 70’s art rock. The guitar work is beautifully done echoing several of the progressive rock maestros and the bass sounds full and wholesome. The bad news however is the aforementioned vocals and the lightweight production. The drums suffer as a result and only rarely are the keyboards given the opportunity to cut loose with the occasional solo. On balance however the pros very much outweigh the cons as is reflected in my final rating. In addition to some of the above mentioned artists it has much to offer fans of contemporary acts like IQ, Strangefish and Us’ Dutch compatriots Flamborough Head.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Love Sculpture - Blues Helping
Tracklist: The Stumble (3:04), Three O'Clock Blues (5:09), I Believe To My Soul (3:47), So Unkind (2:56), Summertime (4:03), On The Road Again (3:35), Don't Answer The Door (6:03), Wang Dang Doodle (3:31), Come Back Baby (2:45), Shake Your Hips (3:20) Blues Helping (3:47), Morning Dew (2:53), It's A Wonder (2:42), River To Another Day (2:36), Brand New Woman (2:21)
The Love Sculpture emerged in Cardiff, Wales in the mid 1960s out of a beat group trio called The Image and originally featured the wildly talented Dave Edmunds, John Williams and Tommy Riley. They released a couple of singles (the first as The Human Beans) before being asked by EMI if they would record a blues album, a genre that was in vogue at the time and not represented by any artists on EMI's roster. Before the album was recorded Riley left the group following the lack of success of the two singles being replaced by Bob Jones. Edmunds has admitted that at the time he wasn't a blues enthusiast but he did have a desire to record an album, irrespective of the genre! In conjunction with the label a track listing was decided on and the group set about developing their own arrangements before heading down to London to record at the infamous Abbey Road studios at the end of July 1968.
The results were a pretty standard blues album although with some interesting arrangements. The skill of Edmunds' guitar playing were evident on the rendition of Freddie King's The Stumble and the more 'traditional' version of BB King's Three O'Clock Blues. Not only looking to the past, the group were right up to date borrowing heavily from Canned Heat for their version of On The Road Again, which had yet to be released as a single on either side of the Atlantic. Stand out tracks include Don't Answer The Door which leans towards Eric Clapton's playing with The Bluesbreakers and a version of Summertime which takes Gershwin's original and stamps the contemporary sound of the late 60s all over it. Willie Dixon's Wang Dang Doodle, released as a single as a taster for the album, is rather sedentary and not a patch on the lively Shake Your Hips or either of the Ray Charles numbers I Believe To My Soul and Come Back Baby, the first of which shows that Edmunds was as adept on the piano as on the guitar. The only original composition was Blues Helping that was basically a jam taped at the start of the recording sessions to get the group into the blues groove. It turned out so well it was added to the track listing and even became the title track.
Also included in this remastered edition are both sides of the first two singles. The Human Beans version of Tim Rose's Morning Dew is a winner, even if they do use the American pronunciation of 'dew'! while the first recording under the Love Sculpture name, Ride To Another Day is typical of the more whimsical side of the psychedelic era, although the b-side, Brand New Woman displayed a more bluesier edge, albeit recorded as a jam, and was possibly the reason why EMI asked the band to be their token blues representatives.
All in all, an album of its time. Nothing spectacular and would probably be quite obscure if it were not for the fact that it has an important place in Welsh rock music as it features the first recordings of Dave Edmunds. But that can't be the reason why we are covering it in DPRP can it? No, the reason is because of what came next...
Conclusion: 5+ out of 10
Love Sculpture - Forms And Feeling
Tracklist: In The Land Of The Few (3:59), Seagull (3:32), Nobody's Talking (3:36), Why [How-Now] (7:45), Farandole (3:44), You Can't Catch Me (3:28) People, People (3:23), Mars (1:53), Sabre Dance (11:18), Think Of Love (3:06), Seagull (mono single version) (3:30) Farandole [mono single version] (3:44), In The Land Of The Few [mono single version] (3:22), People People [mono single version] (4:52), Sabre Dance [single version] (4:52)
To coincide with the release of their Blues Helping album, Love Sculpture recorded a John Peel session that featured one track from the album, the then single Wang Dang Doodle. Two other tracks, The Rebel and Promised Land were never officially released by the band while the fourth, an electrified, up-tempo freak-out called Sabre Dance, a radically rearranged version of a classical piece by the relatively obscure Russian composer Khatchaturian, set the BBC's switchboard alight! The response to the Slavonic rock tour-de-force was amazing with so many listeners requesting that the session be repeated that EMI rush released a single to coincide with the re-broadcast. The single eventually reached the top 5 in the charts and generated a new interest in the Love Sculpture on the live circuit. A second John Peel session followed which, alongside a guitar laden version of Great Balls Of Fire, featured three new songs, The Inner Light, Evening and another classical makeover, Bizet's Farandole. This latter track underwent a similar treatment to Sabre Dance, and was also released as a single to capitalise on the radio session exposure while the other three tracks were left to reside in the BBC's Vaults.
When the album was released it not only featured a re-recorded version of Farandole and a vastly expanded and phenomenally over loaded guitar work out version of Sabre Dance that clocked in at over 11 minutes, but was also due to feature an interpretation of another classical piece, Mars [The Bringer Of War] from Holst's Planet Suite. However, following objections from Holst's estate, the track had to be omitted. Eclectic have reinserted this missing track into their reissue in its originally intended place, as a precursor to Sabre Dance. These reinterpretations of classical pieces were some of the first attempts at such endeavours, and were generally frowned upon by the classical music scene. However, soon many of the early progressive groups were incorporating orchestras into their longer compositions, some even going so far as to write their own classical pieces. In that light, Love Sculpture can be viewed as one of the instigators of progressive music, proto prog if you wish!
The other tracks on the album are of a suitable high standard, with the wonderful In The Land Of The Few being a classic song of the period and beloved of late sixties psychedelic compilations. Seagull is a simple and quite gorgeous acoustic number which bemoaned environmental destruction and the rise of pollution (even more topical today). Nobody's Talking could be a Misunderstood or High Tide number while People, People is a more gentle song more easily associated with the hippy scene. Chuck Berry's You Can't Catch Me is a glorious romp through a classic song with more great piano playing by Edmunds, who also co-produced the whole album. Why displayed the ability of the band to extend a number outside the normal confines of a three-minute pop song, taking it to nearly three times that length but still providing enough sonic stimulus to carry it through.
The two albums released by Love Sculpture were dramatically different which has probably not helped the band to become an important stepping stone in musical history. Perhaps if they had been transferred from Parlophone to the Harvest label that was set up shortly before they disbanded things might have been different. However, Forms And Feelings provides a nice intermediary between the late Sixties psychedelia and the early seventies full-on progressive rock, a sort of 'missing link' to cull a term from biological circles. Being a fan of this era I was delighted by this reissue, which is packaged to the usual high Esoteric standards, and can happily recommend it to like-minded individuals.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Demians - Building An Empire
Tracklist: The Perfect Symmetry (9:19), Shine (3:17), Sapphire (7:28), Naive (4:54), Unspoken (5:59), Temple (3:05), Empire (6:32), Sand (16:09)
Nicolas Chapel. Who?
Well, it really is not fair to start the review this way, but it is true. Demians' Nicolas Chapel arrived on the scene out of nowhere and with his debut CD Building An Empire, and what an incredibly strong debut album it is! It also becomes more impressive when you get to know the story behind the album.
Nicolas Chapel was in his first band at the age of fifteen, sadly two of the band members died in a car crash, so he quit music and started to earn money designing company logos. However he found that he didn’t get enough satisfaction out of that job and in the search to find his true passion, he started to write songs again. The Perfect Symmetry, which opens the album, was one of the first songs he wrote and it turned out to be the starting point for his debut album Building An Empire.
Chapel wrote, performed and arranged everything himself, which is hard to imagine when you listen to the album, as it really sounds like there is an entire band performing these songs. To top this there there was absolutely no budget - everything was recorded at home and still the album sounds amazing! One of the strengths of Chapel is his ability to create the right atmosphere (sometimes using sound effects or speech) for each song and each lyric, and in the process taking his time to build up the tension. So in a some ways the music can be compared with a band like Tool.
Keyboards play an important role in the arrangements I think and Chapel utilises numerous string section samples, that sound deceptively real, giving the music an uneasy edge at times and at other moments sounding very emotional and almost triumphant. The track The Perfect Symmetry is a very good example of that. His guitar playing is also very versatile, from beautiful acoustic guitar parts to heavier electric stuff, which he handles very well and sounds self assured. I was really impressed with the beautiful guitar solo in Unspoken - one of my absolute favourite songs of the album. It starts quietly (reminding me of Quidam's latest album) with a Fender Rhodes piano and whispered vocals (he also has a very pleasant voice). The drums build up, strings are added and the song becomes more emotional and then comes that beautiful solo, just a few notes but of incredible beauty.
As a rhythm section Chapel also impresses with some great drumming and bass playing throughout the album and with everything in support of the song. And there are some fantastic songs on the album, the short Shine for instance which sums up everything that Demians stands for in just three minutes. As mentioned earlier The Perfect Symmetry, which is a great way to open the album, with a great atmosphere and some impressive guitar riffs.
Is there anything to complain about? Well not much really. Empire is perhaps not the strongest song of the album and maybe he could have varied the arrangement more, with the keyboard sounds he uses - but that’s really it.
With the arrival of Nicolas Chapel we welcome an incredible talent and talents like this only arrive every once in a while. This man has been blessed with an abundance of different talents, as this solo album (in the true sense of the word) shows. Building An Empire sounds very self assured, rich in melodies, atmosphere and emotion and is highly recommended to anyone who likes excellent modern progressive rock.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
The Collins/Wardingham Project - Interactive
Tracklist: Interactive (9:12), Attack Of The Necromongers (9:05), Borg Code (6:03), Carnival On Mars (3:32), Bionic Prelude (1:05), Bionic Zit Xpander (5:47), Metamorphosis (4:49), Brain T’s (5:43), Plasma Vortex (9:11)
Early last year, I remember there being quite a bit of excitement over this new instrumental heavy fusion project with guitarist and producer Paul Wardingham and Australian drummer Grant Collins. Because I had never heard of either of these two musicians, I put the recommendation of their album Interactive behind me for close to a year without much thought. Fast forward to just before Easter this year and by accident I happened stumble across Grant Collins website and thus to the sound clips of The Collins/Wardingham Project. Shocked and floored where my initial reactions – followed by an indescribable sense of resentment because I had ignored this brilliant album for so long.
A majority of this album is heavy, synth laced fusion very much in the same vein as Planet X. And fortunately of equal quality! The first track Interactive is a very powerful and syncopated piece that sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the album. The first thing that becomes apparent immediately is how heavy this album is. Think Meshuggah without the constant, brutal vocals. This is one absolutely demands to be played at high volume.
Attack Of The Necromongers continues much in the same fashion as Interactive, but more in your face in terms of heavy riffs. I hear many similarities to Awake era Dream Theater, even a few riffs that could have been easily lifted from Awake. Which leads to another observation: scattered randomly throughout this album are riffs from a few other well known bands such as the above mentioned and many others. In most cases though, it’s just enough time to realize the similarity and then the song moves in another direction. It’s interesting to pick these pieces out.
Continuing in the Planet X direction are Bionic Zit Xpander (Bionic Prelude is just a short synth introduction.) and Plasma Vortex. Most of Bionic Zit Xpander is tension and release driven. Meaning there are many dissonant chords and odd rhythmic parts that have very nice resolution in subsequent sections. This is one of my favourite songs on the album – it’s very well executed. Plasma Vortex, in many respects, is a lot like the previous songs. At first I thought the main melody was ‘off’ and not catered to the song, but as it began to sink in, it made more sense in context.
Carnival On Mars is the first of two acoustic pieces and probably the most moody song on the album. I’m finding it very hard to find another song to compare it against for reference. The acoustic parts/synths of Malfunction from Virgil Donati’s On the Virg would, perhaps, be a good benchmark to judge it by. Metamorphosis can almost be perfectly described as an acoustic version of Dream Theater’s Home. It has a very ominous, Latin feel to it and is much different from everything else on the album.
I didn’t mention anything about the guitar solos yet because they are all just as incredible as the songs they are contained in. I can tell a lot of thought went into constructing them. There is not a wasted note to be found. Paul has a style very similar to John Petrucci, but with the note choices and fluidity of Brett Garsed. He certainly has excellent command over the fret board and, more importantly, what notes should go where.
The only song I found myself not really enjoying was Borg Code. There are a few great melodies scattered throughout its length, but the majority seems disjointed without much in terms of resolution. However, Grant really shines on here. It would be hard to find a drummer competent enough to handle playing in such odd time signatures.
So far, I have backed out of giving a perfect score simply because I don’t know how much I will still enjoy it months down the line. I have been listening to this album constantly and enjoying it consistently for three and a half months. There are still so many goosebump inducing moments that it would be hard for me not to award it my first ever perfect score. Truly one of the best fusion albums I have ever heard.
Conclusion: 10 out of 10
Invisigoth - Narcotica
Tracklist: Dark Highway Pt.1: Transmission (9:34), Dark Highway Pt.2: Before First Light (11:54), Shine On (4:30), Scars And Dust (5:24), Pornocopia (8:03), Narcotica (4:16), A Beautiful Disaster (4:57), Dark Highway Pt.3: New Rome (11:02), Dark Highway Pt.4: Take The Blood (10:09)
On reviewing Invisigoth’s debut album Alcoholocaust, I concluded that it was an intriguing yet uneven work, in the end a little too ambitious for its own good. Thankfully, on their sophomore release Narcotica (notice a theme developing here?), the duo of Cage (instrumentation) and Viggo Domino (vocals) seem to have come to the (correct) conclusion that what they do best are bombastic, symphonic and pompous epics, with Domino’s powerful, soulful voice given free rein. Consequently, Narcotica (or at least the majority of it) is a superior listen to its predecessor.
The highlight of this set is easily the four-part, forty-odd minute Dark Highway, which bookends the album. Take the Eastern-tinged epic sound forged by Led Zeppelin on the likes of In The Light, Achilles’ Last Stand and (in particular) Kashmir, ally this to the dense, beat-heavy early 80’s Peter Gabriel sound (think Rhythm Of The Heat or Lay Your Hands On Me) and add some Queen-esque bombast and Floydian atmospherics, and you have at least an approximation of the band’s sound on this epic piece.. If there are some cheesy sections, they’re easily outshone by some genuinely atmospheric and highly melodic work. Both Cage (who generally goes for atmosphere over flash, but manages to reel off some John Mitchell-esque guitar solo’s) and Domino, whose impressive voice is largely given free reign and unencumbered by the effects that were overused on Alcoholocaust, give fine performances, and only the rather distracting and over-used narration on the latter two parts detract a little from a highly effective work.
Perhaps inevitably, the shorter songs that bulk out the middle of the album come across as rather insubstantial in comparison. Best of these is Shine On, which with its almost funky grooves and soulful, gospel-tinged vocals has a vague Us-era Peter Gabriel vibe about it. Scars And Dust has some strong moments but the changes in pace and mood are none-too-subtle and the guitar solo’s are rather too tasteful, evocative of Eric Clapton in his Eighties, designer suit and out of his head era (perhaps an influence on the albums title!!), whilst the other tracks seem overlong given their rather monotonous rhythms and melodies, and seem to drift rather aimlessly, although Domino’s voice is always worth listening to.
Ultimately, at almost seventy minutes the album does feel overlong, and you almost feel the band would have been better missing out the shorter songs and simply extending Dark Highway a little, but as it stands this is still a solid effort which represents a significant step forward from the debut, and points to a bright future.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Vespero – Foam
Tracklist: Ouverture (5:38), Instruments Of The Roads (8:52), Figures (7:18), Foam (11:02), Skat (4:32), Float (8:25)
Rito, the label debut from Russian neo-Kraut rock band Vespero, was one of the first CDs I reviewed when I joined the DPRP team last year. It impressed me with its extended improv-based pieces drawing mainly on the early material of Tangerine Dream and Pink Floyd as influences. Prior to Rito, the band had put out a self-released EP and three self-released full length CDs. In addition to that, taking a cue from Canadian trio Rush, they cranked out no less than five live recordings, four of them self released. The fifth and newest is the label debut live release Foam. All this since 2004 (whew!).
Foam sees the band jump from their homeland-based label RAIG (Russian Association Of Independent Genres) to USA-based Trail Records, a move which could perhaps give them some more global exposure.
Foam is taken from a show at the Union of Theatre Artists in the band’s native town of Astrakhan, Russia. Five of the CDs six tracks appear to be either spontaneous jams and/or from older releases, with only one from Rito.
The line-up on Foam is Ivan Fedotov and Alexander Krupin on percussion, Alexander Kuzovlev on guitar, Arkady Fedotov on bass, flute, and synthesizer; Natalya Tjurina on voice, and Alexei Klabukov on keyboards. As I mentioned in my review of Rito, I could find nothing on the internet to indicate whether Ivan and Arkady are related. Valentin Rulev, who contributed some nice violin and synth work on Rito, regrettably does not appear here.
Since my review of Rito, two areas I mentioned as room for improvement have in fact improved. Firstly, gone is what I described as the snappy but dated drumming of Ivan Fedotov. What we get on Foam is more of a twin ethnic percussion feel from Fedotov and Krupin, the latter of whom did not appear on Rito. This new feel is evident across the CD and in particular on the closing title track.
Secondly, in my review of Rito I suggested that it would be nice to hear Tjurina’s voice featured more prominently on future efforts. On Foam she can be heard on four of the six tracks. I don’t know if this is deliberate or not, but it is satisfying. She evokes the worldly delivery of Lisa Gerrard (Dead Can Dance) on Instruments Of The Roads, although Gerrard is a much better singer. The tracks also feature some cinematic passages similar to recent Marillion, as well as a nice synth and keyboard deployment from Arkady Fedotov and Klabukov.
Foam will strike the fancy of anyone into jazz-rock, psychedelic, or Kraut rock; and will not appeal to those with more conservative or mainstream tastes.
The CD has good sound quality, save for some apparent recording glitches in the closing tracks. Hey, warts and all, right?
As I last mentioned in my Rito review, there is not much variety between the drone-style, improv-based tracks. The “cohesive work” argument does not pan out here as this is a live CD and not a studio recording. As Vespero has several live releases under their belt, I say the next step for them to take is to release a live DVD.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10