Reviews in this issue:
- Everon - North
- Believe - Yesterday Is A Friend
- Magellan – Innocent God
- Majestic – Decension
- Brighteye Brison – Believers & Deceivers
- Gurth – Tormentes
- Rick Miller – Angel Of My Soul
- Brother Ape - III
Everon - North
Tracklist: Hands (5:12), Brief Encounter (6:52), From Where I Stand (5:56), Test Of Time (5:02), North (5:04), South Of London (4:05), Wasn't It Good (6:34), Woodworks (3:25), Islanders (4:18), Running (5:01)
Everon first made an impact on my musical consciousness when I heard the stunning Back In Sight on internet radio some five years ago. That particular song provided the majestic finale to their last album Flesh which in my view was one of 2002’s best releases. A courtesy glance at the DPRP review from the following year will show that I’m not alone in that opinion. In fact the band's offerings in the current century have all received a highly reputable average DPRP rating of 9 out of 10. Prior to that they had three well received CD releases in the 90’s making this their seventh in total. Since their 1993 debut the band have developed a reputation for producing painstakingly crafted albums which may partly explain why it has taken six years for North to surface. The on-going work with other artists in their own recording studio Spacelab is another reason. Front man Oliver Philipps didn’t actually start writing the album until the winter of 2005, a process that would take him over a year. A good deal of 2007 was then spent in the Spacelab studio turning Philipps’ compositions into reality.
Together with drummer Christian Moos, vocalist, guitarist and keyboardist Philipps provides the nucleus of the band augmented as on previous releases by bassist Schymy and guitarist Ulli Hoever. Apparently in some quarters Philipps’ vocals are considered to be an acquired taste but personally for me they hit the mark every time. His passionate singing cuts cleanly through the mix rendering every word crystal clear with only the merest hint of an accent. His upfront piano playing remains a fundamental part of the bands sound underpinned by lush keyboard generated strings and brass. Being responsible for the engineering and jointly with Philipps the production it’s not surprising that Moos’ solid drumming also features prominently in the sonic foreground. Hoever is on top form throughout laying down weighty but often intricate guitar parts. Only Schymy seems to suffer from the otherwise powerful production with bass not being as prominent in the mix as it may have been.
Everon’s albums have always been noted for their vivid and colourful fantasy artwork. The stylish digipack cover for North breaks this tradition by depicting a lone boatman in a bleak sepia tinted seascape. The music is anything but bleak however and in terms of both style and quality it ranks alongside the bands previous releases. Coincidently it also has almost exactly the same playing time as the last album. The opening song Hands thunders along in fine Everon fashion with Philipps’ rapid fire vocal aided by the clever juxtaposition of his own crisp acoustic guitar and Hoever’s metallic assault. The stately Brief Encounter benefits from elegant classical guitar work and a spine-tinglingly good chorus. The keyboard orchestrations add a symphonic gloss to the proceedings. The classy From Where I Stand slows the pace down a little allowing guest cellist Rupert Gillet to inject his classical flourishes. The momentum picks up in true Everon style for the impassioned choral refrain.
Test Of Time is another fine song although not one of the albums strongest. It also lays transparent the band's trademark style which is melodious orchestrated verses building to a bombastic and ever so slightly over the top chorus. The title track North follows this pattern and as always Philipps’ ear for a good melody enhanced by the layering of colourful instrumentation ensures it remains highly listenable. South Of London is something of a departure with its simple but catchy main theme and contemporary electro-pop punctuations. Guitarist Hoever brings it back to more familiar territory with a scorching all guns blazing solo. With its bittersweet lyrics Wasn't It Good is an unashamed ballad with Philipps bearing his heart and soul matched by an emotionally charged guitar coda. Following the proceeding songs laden with strident vocal sections the instrumental Woodworks is a welcome breather. Nonetheless it’s an energetic but at the same time polished piece with tuneful piano closely shadowed by stunning guitar interplay.
Vocals return for the penultimate Islanders but this time it’s the beautiful vocal chords of Judith Stüber. She is no stranger to Everon having performed a couple of duets with Phillips on the last album. Her sensuous delivery is perfect for the achingly good chorus that stays with you long after the CD has finished spinning. It’s certainly the mellowest song on the album providing an effective contrast to the restless Running which brings things to a close. Here they bring every Everon trick into play to go out with all guns blazing. Cinematic orchestrations, fluid piano, soaring guitar and a propulsive rhythm combine forces to deliver a potent climax. Frustratingly the track fades all too quickly leaving this listener at least wanting more which on reflection is not a bad way to bow out.
Whenever I play an Everon album of which North is no exception I’m continually reminded of albums like Bat Out Of Hell, Operation Mindcrime and Metropolis Part 2. Not necessarily because of any musical similarities (although there are several) but more due to the skilful and meticulous way in which it has been put together. The end result is a real labour of love and I for one cannot help but be impressed by its manipulative and infectious charms. Occasionally their technique is a little too obvious making the music seem calculating but for the most part it works. Even the consistent use of one word album titles is all part of the game plan I feel. As I remarked earlier I’ve been a huge fan for around five years now and North has only served to reinforce my opinion. As a result the bands impressive average DPRP rating I mentioned at the start of this review remains unbroken.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Believe - Yesterday Is A Friend
Tracklist: Time (6:18), Tumor (6:03), What They Want [Is My Life] (8:01), Mystery Is Closer (6:00), You & Me (4:51), Danny Had A Neighbour (5:17), Memories (7:22), Unfaithful (6:14), Together (2:35) Bonus tracks on digipack version: I Wish I Could, Holy Night, Best Wishes For Robert Fripp
The second album from this Polish progrock band, develops its association with two of its country’s most successful names from the genre: Riverside and Satellite. At the same time, Yesterday Is A Friend takes big strides in allowing Believe to – well - believe in themselves as well.
Mirek Gil, founder and moving spirit of this quintet, first emerged as a pivotal musician in Collage. He also played on the debut album of Satellite. Believe generated many positive reviews in 2006 with their debut release Hope To See Another Day. Our review praised the band for avoiding easy comparisons with Gil’s previous bands, opting for a more alt rock vein in the mould of Pearl Jam and Alter Bridge. The vocals and a lack of consistency in the song writing lost marks.
I’ve never heard the debut, but based on our review it appears that Gil has sought changes in both the positive and the negative areas. Yesterday Is A Friend is a sublime combination of the lazy mood of Satellite and the more alt rock vibe of Riverside, with a respectful nod to Porcupine Tree. The vocals fit the style perfectly and the songwriting is consistent throughout.
On a cursory listen, thoughts of Riverside-lite repeatedly sprang to mind. Further plays unwrapped quite a different musical beast. Firstly there is much more variety of influence on here then ever found on anything Mariusz Duda and Co have produced.
The majority of songs weigh in at between six and eight minutes allowing time for some instrumental explorations but no excesses. The melodies are catchy but not superfluous.
However the biggest difference, and the one element that really sets this album apart is the magnificent contribution of Japanese violinist Satomi. Sometimes merely adding an extra texture, frequently taking centre-stage for solos or twin melodies with the guitar, and elsewhere adding lovely little details which slowly emerge as you explore this disc in more detail. Her contributions really add a distinct energy and spice to the Believe sound.
We open with Time. A gentle, coasting acoustic guitar lick mirrors the Satellite debut while the melodies dip into the melodic sides of Sieges Even, Sylvan and Fair To Midland. The Satellite vibe continues on Tumor but this time with an art rock vibe of Alias Eye, and the darker styling of Riverside.
There are some beautiful acoustic moments in What They Want, along with some clever interplay with the violin and flute. The bass-led closing section is very clever.
The Andean/ethnic drum patterning is a highlight of Mystery Is Closer which also boasts the best sing-along chorus of the whole album. The balladic You And Me takes its inspiration from the USA as opposed to Poland - Simon & Garfunkel to be precise. Danny Had A Neighbour is driven by a slightly odd beat and refrain which sometimes I like for it’s variety, and sometimes slightly jars with the rest of the album. Memories is the heaviest song. Not really metal, but there is a fabulous, driving groove created by the violin and guitar working in unison.
Unfaithful is my least favourite track. Nothing bad about it, but neither the melody or the instrumentation really grab me. I could have done with out the horrible spoken passage at the end of the closing track Together.
This album is a very well constructed blend of classic, and modern progrock with a deft touch of folk. The dominant mood is a dreamy one, with twanging acoustic guitars, violin and occasional flute. However there are constant changes of pace and intensity. Sudden bursts of electric guitar and pounding rhythms are used to great effect.
The keyboards generally concentrate on adding to the warmth of the record. There is some delicate piano work in some songs, and Mystery Is Closer sees guest musician Adam Milosz beef out the sound on synthesizers and organ.
Over the past few weeks this album really has become a friend to me. A warm, musical bath at the end of a tiring day at work. It’s got a depth that will demand repeated plays over a long period, and will certainly be appearing towards the upper end of my Top 10 at the end of the year.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Magellan – Innocent God
Tracklist: Invisible Bright Man (6:18), My Warrior (6:51), Innocent God (9:20), Found (6:54), Who To Believe? (5:13), Sea Of Details (6:00), Slow Burn (4:41)
Having been derailed for many years by mainman Trent Gardner’s side-projects and probably staying too long on the Magna Carta label, Magellan seemed to have been handed a life-line when they were signed to InsideOut for the decent Impossible Figures album. Sadly, following the less impressive Symphony For A Misanthrope, this collaboration has ended. Innocent God crept out last year via the internet on the Muse-Wrapped label, and has now been belatedly given a world-wide release by Musea; in all honesty, however, they needn’t have bothered, as this album, whilst pleasant enough, sees Gardner seemingly running out of ideas.
Returning to the shorter (in relative terms!) songs format of Impossible Figures, Innocent God sees Trent and his guitarist brother Wayne joined by long-time musical ally Robert Berry, who is credited with playing ‘a long list of familiar instruments’ – assumedly this includes drums (as if memory serves, Berry is a drummer), although there certainly appears to be a heavy reliance on the drum machine, which is rather a shame, as it sees a return to the mechanised feel of the early albums.
Material-wise, this is pretty accessible stuff, none more so than on opener Invisible Bright Man, which is one of the stronger songs here. Underpinned by an electronica back beat, Gardner and co succeed in generating a big, powerful sound, with Gardner’s much maligned voice (I quite like it, but can see why others don’t) sounding strong and impassioned. There’s a symphonic feel to proceedings, with Wayne providing some extra crunch without over-imposing himself. The song flows well; it isn’t especially progressive, but does have its peaks and troughs. The one noticeable thing is that there does seem to be something of a vocal overload, and little space for the music to breathe; a criticism that could be levelled at many of the other songs here.
Other standouts are the title track, which despite being rather overlong and repetitive (a standard criticism you can level at much of Magellan’s output, to be honest) has some fine blues-drenched riffs and a well-worked industrial feel to much of the rhythm section (not sure about the MOR balladry on the chorus, however), and the powerful instrumental Sea Of Details, which sees Trent Gardner utilising a wide array of synthesiser sounds, and allows himself to have some fun, free of the obligation of trying to cram lyrics into the song’s framework. There are some great solos from Wayne on this one too.
Less strong are the likes of My Warrior and Found, both of which flirt with tribal rhythms, yet ultimately run out of ideas quickly and become rather dirge-like (I do like some of the stabbing, Keith Emerson-esque organ work on the former, however). Who To Believe is a rather tiresome ballad, whilst the faux-hard rock of Slow Burn, whilst having some good bluesy playing once again from Wayne, only really serves to reinforce the feeling that Magellan shouldn’t really try to ‘rock out’.
Ultimately, despite the criticism above, Innocent God does remain a fairly pleasant listen throughout, and the performances are fine – there’s just a rather tired feeling about the whole affair, as if Trent Gardner has written Magellan into a musical cul-de-sac. Post their InsideOut tenure, I’m not sure how much of a commercial future there is for Magellan, and they really need to come up with stronger material than this if they want to grab the interest of an increasingly over-loaded progressive rock audience.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Majestic – Decension
Tracklist: Descension I (6:57), Close My Eyes (7:48), Tides (3:41), Break Free (5:44), Descension II (5:44), Hear Me (5:50), Broken (5:24), At The Edge (7:43), The Longing (9:16), Descension III (7:43), Last Dance (4:31)
Majestic is not to be confused with the Swedish prog-metal quintet with the same name. In this case it’s the pseudonym of American multi-instrumentalist Jeff Hamel and his is the only name you will find in the booklet that accompanies this release. I can tell you little about the man except that he was the lead guitarist with a now defunct Detroit prog-metal band called Osmium and Descension is his first official solo release. For more information click on the link above which will take you to his Myspace site. None of the music samples contained there however appear on this CD, so we’ve included a link to the label’s site where all the tracks can be sampled.
In the true spirit of solo albums Hamel goes it completely alone providing guitars, bass, keyboards, drums and percussion. In addition to his not inconsiderable instrumental prowess he is also responsible for the vocals. His fragile voice has an engaging quality and a husky rawness not unlike Don Henley or Bryan Adams especially. He certainly doesn’t sound like your typical prog rock vocalist (if there is such a thing!). His guitar style has heavy rock overtones employing solid riffs overlaid with sometimes fast and furious soloing. He also favours a wah-wah technique which often adds a spacey psychedelic flavour to the songs. The opening and closing tracks Descension I and the aptly titled Last Dance on the other hand combine jangly 12-string style guitar and delicate piano that instantly evokes early Genesis. For the same reasons Anthony Phillips’ also comes to mind in the latter tune as does Steve Hackett’s Narnia thanks to a lush acoustic guitar accompaniment.
Following a deceptively mellow synth intro Hamel’s funkier side gets an airing in Close My Eyes with a frantic guitar and organ workout supported by a mesmerising bass riff. In contrast Tides starts life as a plaintive acoustic ballad in the vein of Spock’s Beard’s June before morphing into a Porcupine Tree flavoured vehicle for phased vocals and spacey electric guitar. Break Free mixes double tracked metallic guitar with soaring vocals to strident Dream Theater effect whilst Descension II captures Pink Floyd’s more pastoral side (remember Grantchester Meadows?). With rippling acoustic guitar again to the fore this time laced with synth strings, Hear Me benefits from a lyrical melody not unlike The Who’s Behind Blue Eyes. Broken is, for me at any rate, a song that evokes mixed feelings. It starts life with an edgy guitar riff and meticulous drum fills before succumbing to a ponderous vocal section but redeems itself at the close with a David Gilmour edged moody guitar melody.
With At The Edge, Hamel continues to demonstrate he’s no slouch behind the drum kit with an impressive rhythmic pattern that would do Mike Portnoy proud. The song certainly lives up to its title and after several twists and turns including a memorable chorus it soars into hyper drive with an exhilarating guitar and synth coda. Hamel has certainly provided a thoughtful balance with this debut saving probably the best tunes until the end. The Longing opens with possibly the albums proggiest section with supercharged guitar and synth interplay that has mid period Marillion and Incommunicado written all over it. The full on harmonies would sit comfortably with Cryptic Vision before making way for a bubbly synth led instrumental excursion. Descension III is probably the biggest surprise opening with a pulsing modernist synth motif that’s in stark contrast to the Celtic folk coloured outro with its synthesised harp and flute flourishes.
There’s no doubt that Hamel has produced a fine body of work that goes beyond the inherent limitations of one man and a studio. Without the benefit of the sleeves notes and the internet it would be quite conceivable to accept that this was the collective handy work of four or five musicians at least. He is also without question a man for all seasons providing a rich variety of moods, tempos and instrumental textures. His command of the guitar is beyond reproach and he has clearly spent many hours perfecting both his keyboard and percussive techniques. The CD booklet, with its otherwise eye catching artwork, gives no information on the recording process but I assume that Hamel is also responsible for the production. This is an excellent debut release by anyone’s standards from a gifted songwriter and musician.
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10
Brighteye Brison – Believers & Deceivers
Tracklist: Pointless Living (5:13), After The Storm (7:36), The Harvest (20:27), The Grand Event (34:44)
Although Brighteye Brison are part of the wave of progressive rock talent that continues to emanate from Sweden they could easily be mistaken for an American band. Their third album overflows with a rich variety of textures graced with polished harmonies so typical of many US acts. Their lineage can be traced back to 2000 when keyboardist, saxophonist and vocalist Linus Kåse joined forces with bassist, vocalist and fellow Stockholm Royal College of Music student Kristofer Eng. Linus’ elder brother Daniel brought his drum talents from the Stockholm Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and six months later guitarist Johan Öijen completed the original line-up. Following the release of their 2003 self titled debut album sound engineer, keyboardist and vocalist Per Hallman came onboard. The recording of their second album Stories was spread over three years before it finally saw the light of day in 2006. In the meantime the band made an unlikely appearance on a Swedish tribute album to the glam rock outfit Sweet in 2004. Drummer Daniel left the band after the release of the second album to be replaced by Erik Hammarström. More recently they contributed to Inferno the latest project from the Finnish Progressive Rock Association Colossus.
The potential of two keyboardists is exploited to the full utilising an array of analogue instruments including Mellotron, Hammond organ, pipe organ, synths and grand piano. In addition Kåse and Hallman incorporate a variety of electric pianos including Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Clavinet and the Yamaha CP70 electric grand. The way in which their complimentary styles mesh is a throwback to earlier dual keyboard acts like Rare Bird and Greenslade. It’s not all keys driven however as guitarist Öijen is given ample space to shine with a succession of solos, riffs and melody lines. Eng and Hammarström are not backwards in coming forward either although bass fairs better in the mix than do the drums. Case in point is Pointless Living which opens with a heavyweight solo bass riff introducing a rousing and compelling guitar theme bringing Rush instantly to mind. All manner of keyboard parts follow, each jostling for pole position before a wave of Earth, Wind & Fire style soulful voices accentuate the infectious chorus. It’s a near perfect opener that meters along under a head of steam pausing only occasionally for breath.
After The Storm includes several jazz flavoured excursions best of which is the excellent piano playing and smooth Level 42 style lead vocals. Other plus points are the shimmering organ backdrop, nimble bass work and busy drumming which underpin the track. A number of solo diversions however including a piercing synth break and a sprawling guitar workout means that for me it doesn’t flow as well as the rest of the album although the playing is top notch. The Harvest which is the first of two epic length pieces is probably the albums most accomplished piece and works on every level. It has hooks aplenty including a celestial organ intro; a psychedelic Beatles influenced vocal section and mellow electric piano meditations with overtones of Tony Banks. It builds in tempo with a driving rhythm pattern lifted from Genesis’ Watcher Of The Skies heralding a stunning vocal melody with layered harmonies. A busy instrumental segment echoes ELP with rousing synth and sax exchanges underpinned by rhythmic organ punctuations. Hallam trades his keys for gentle acoustic guitar leading the band into a gorgeous unplugged rendition of the songs principle chorus. The atmospheric Vangelis style synth and Mellotron string backdrop is a real joy. The majestic finale comes courtesy of a catchy ringing guitar and vocal theme with shades of Yes and The Flower Kings.
The Grand Event is almost as good as its predecessor although at 35 minute it’s probably just a tad overlong. Breezy mandolin and a haunting sax refrain introduce a lush acoustic guitar and synth strings overture that has all the hallmarks of Pink Floyd’s Welcome To The Machine. A complex counterpoint a cappella vocal interlude is pure Gentle Giant by way of Spock’s Beard. The intricate guitar and keyboard interplay that follows keeps it in GG territory with a nod in the direction Van der Graaf Generator thanks to an edgy sax break. The eerie sound of the Thermin courtesy of bass man Eng is an unexpected inclusion whilst the stirring sound of the pipe organ ensures the track lives up to its title. When this is joined by a prominent and compelling Hammond melody it certainly pushes all the right buttons and suddenly it has vintage Kansas written all over it. Ex drummer Daniel Kåse makes a guest appearance at this point this time adding trumpet to the mix. Several crescendos and false endings contribute to the tracks extended length before eventually military drums and soaring guitar provide a grandiose coda.
With their latest release Sweden’s Brighteye Brison have produced the quintessential prog album that neatly sums up everything that is good about the genre. With one foot firmly in the 70’s and one in the present day this is classic progressive rock with a contemporary edge. As a regular contributor to the DPRP pages my listening time is usually devoted to the latest releases and rarely do I find the opportunity to revisit albums. Believers & Deceivers however is a disc that is destined to become a regular resident in my CD player over the coming months. In fact it will be a benchmark for every other release still to come my way in 2008 and is certain to be a tough act to follow.
Conclusion: 8.5+ out of 10
Gurth – Tormentes
Tracklist: Somnis Lliures (2:50), Cami Sonor (5:43), Coses Que Passen (3:50), La Corrupcio De L’Enyor (3:20), Les Calderes D’en Pere Botero (6:04), Les Oliveres D’en Joan (5:22), El Patufet Va Amb Vespa (5:22), Tormentes De Diners Amb Fang (5:16), Truita De Tortuga (4:23), Juga’mi (4:55), Sssssxxxhhhh!!, A Dormir (5:34)
There is a restaurant in my town called Local 121. One of the drinks on the menu is an Earl Grey Martini and is infused with just the right amount of Earl Grey tea to give your taste buds a noticeable kick. The ratio of tea to liquor is perfect. The drink comes served in a Martini glass with the rest of it in a tumbler on top of ice, presented just so, giving you the opportunity to pour yourself a second glass. Fusion and presentation are two strong characteristics of prog band Gurth, hailing from the Catalonia region of Spain. Tormentes is their first CD proper, following a self-titled demo released in 2003. Since their inception in 1995 they have also dabbled in musical theatre, and participated in Stratusprog, a symphonic rock project based out of Barcelona.
The CD booklet is printed in Catalonian (a regional Spanish dialect) and I could not locate a reliable translator online, so I did my best to translate on my own. Each member of the band has a nickname and the lineup is as follows. Oriol Arranz ("Xuri") plays electric and acoustic guitar and also handles voice. Xavier Parera ("Piuri") plays electric, acoustic, and classical guitars, and what is listed in Catalonian in the CD booklet as "llaud arab i llaud espanyol" (an instrument similar to the lute) [our thanks to DPRP reader Juan Martin for this translation). Jordi Garcia ("Jetto") handles bass, vibraphone, and "veus" (vocals) [translation again by Juan Martin]. Raimon Iniesta ("Rai") is the band's drummer. Victor Nin ("Note") plays synth guitar. Several other guest musicians get in on the act.
On Tormentes, Gurth relies frequently on King Crimson as an influence. Les Calderes D’en Pere Botero has a hard intro which could have come off The ConstruKction Of Light, and Cami Sonor is quite similar to Crimson’s Thela Hun Ginjeet. The experimental Truita De Tortuga features a Fripp-like synth guitar loop from Nin, who also lays down a sweet synth guitar solo on Tormentes de Diners Amb Fang.
The fusion element on the CD lends a comparison to Dutch instrumental band Elfferich Four (a review can be found at DPRP 2008, Volume 15). Each track on Tormentes has a proper ending signaling finality, as opposed to any sort of wondering about what could have been.
The CD booklet features a colorful design and lyrics to three of the CD’s four vocal tracks, which are sung in their native tongue. For some reason the lyrics to Juga’mi are not printed. The songs are composed, performed and produced well; and will appeal to any fan of fusion jazz-rock or Eighties-era Crim.
On their next CD I suggest that the band experiment more with English lyrics and go for more of what Fripp would describe as a “Nuveau metal” sound.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Rick Miller – Angel Of My Soul
Tracklist: Lords Of The Abyss (6:19), Eternal Moonlight (4:31), Angel Of My Soul (4:56), You Are Gone (5:49), For The Love Of You (6:35), My Nightmare (3:52), Footprints In The Snow (4:07), The Moon And The Stars (6:19), Dark Is The Night (3:34)
Although Rick Miller is no stranger to the DPRP with five previous CD’s to his credit I can tell you very little about the man. His last release The End Of Days from 2006 was certainly well received and provides some interesting pointers of what to expect on this follow up. A tad misleading however is Miller’s futuristic cover painting based on the well-worn theme of a winding road to a precarious mountain top citadel (the only thing missing is an armour clad warrior riding some other worldly beast). The artwork is certainly a far cry from his pastoral landscape that graced the last release. On the musical front he handles the vocals, guitars and keyboards with additional guitar contributions from Barry Haggerty. ‘Drumatisms’ (as the sleeve notes would have it) are provided by the ambiguously named Will.
The song titles suggest an air of gloom which reflects the musical tone of the album, especially the first four tracks. As a result, to my ears at least they sound a little samey despite the crafted execution. Lords Of The Abyss sets the tone with a low-key ambient intro with atmospheric mellotron and guitar. Miller’s vocals have a deep, resonant quality with a measured delivery that at times takes on the tempo of a Gregorian chant. The songs melodramatic mood intensifies culminating with a blistering guitar solo. Eternal Moonlight follows the same pattern this time incorporating a tolling bell and ethereal female voices with the holy ambiance of a cathedral choir. In contrast Miller’s heavily processed voice is a throwback to the edgy sound of 21st Century Schizoid Man. And on the subject of King Crimson the lush mellotron backdrop during Angel Of My Soul is another reminder of their earlier years. The title song also includes a memorable song section with Miller all but spitting out the defiant words. During You Are Gone, the final song of this opening segment the guitar sound is more spacious reminiscent of Mark Knopfler’s picking style.
As we move into the second half of the album the mood changes, starting with For The Love Of You which is a song of two halves. To begin with it has a stately pace that echoes Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb before morphing into a biting rocker with distinct Nickelback overtones. My Nightmare lives up to its name with stark guitar and keys punctuations seasoned with a welcome dose of crisp drumming. It’s followed by the evocatively titled Footprints In The Snow which appropriately has the albums loveliest melody performed with polished harmonies worthy of The Moody Blues. Following the brooding intensity of some of the previous tracks, The Moon And The Stars sounds like a classy slice of pure pop and is no less enjoyable for that. In addition to the strong chorus it also boasts a silky smooth sax break which came as a surprise considering that no such instrument is credited. A deep breadth at the start of the final song suggests that a barrage of sound is about to be unleashed which fails to materialise. Instead Dark Is The Night is an acoustic ballad evocative of Crosby, Stills & Nash and even The Eagles providing a surprisingly mellow folky conclusion.
There is no doubt that this is a thoughtful and supremely constructed album that scores high marks on virtually every level. The singing, playing, writing, arrangements and production are all superb especially when you consider they’re mostly as a result of the labours of one man. The songs for me improve as the album progresses which is something of a rarity given that the reverse is often the case. The burning melancholy that pervades the album is probably best appreciated through headphones with a glass of your favourite tipple to hand. Having said that it also sounded good to me in the car so who said that driving music had to be the anthemic sing-along variety?
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10
Brother Ape - III
Tracklist: Universal Eye (6:43), Cosmic Overdose 8PM (5:11), Monday Breakfast (6:55), No Answer (7:57), Another Day Of Wonder (5:51), Immortal (5:02), All I Really Want (7:32), Human Equation (7:05), Three (0:54)
If Sweden’s Brother Ape don’t do themselves many favours with the unimaginative title of their new CD (surprise, surprise, its their third album), they do themselves even less favours by kicking it off with Universal Eye, a dull, rather aimless affair that had me checking my watch before the halfway mark had even been reached. Thankfully things do improve…
Whilst in describing their music as ‘accessible progressive rock’ their label hasn’t done them a complete disservice, there’s perhaps more of a nod to classic rock, Sixties/ Seventies pop and even jazz than there is to prog. That’s not to say it isn’t there as an influence; the punchy Cosmic Overdose 8PM has an Invisible Touch-era Genesis flavour, particularly in the keyboard sound – and you can’t get much more ‘accessible’ than that! The following Monday Breakfast, however, nods its head more to the likes of Steely Dan or more recent Pat Metheny, with some jazzy guitar playing from Stefan Damicolas; that said, the acoustic intro has more than a hint of Steve Hackett to it.
The up-tempo No Answers is more evocative of a stadium rock band, with its ringing lead riff, waves of clean guitar noise and some breezy vocal harmonies – the latter are worthy of note throughout the album; whilst Damicolas’ lead vocal is pleasant but somewhat insubstantial, its in the harmonies employed on many choruses which the band excel. These are all over Another Day, to the extent that this gentle acoustic pop song evokes memories of Crosby Stills Nash & Young; the prog influence does reappear in the pointed solo guitar work, which has echoes of Jadis’s Gary Chandler.
Immortal is up-tempo musically, but lyrically fairly downbeat; most noticeable is the big fat bass sound employed throughout. The warm and mellow All I Really Want is a more appealing track, and there’s a nice laconic organ solo towards the end. The final track proper, Human Equation, is a hard(ish) rocker with an almost glam-rock, T-Rex-like feel to it. The song is however too long, which is probably my main criticism of the album – there’s no need for many of the songs to go on for as long as they do, often two or three minutes past what seems to be their natural length. This, combined with a rather muddy, indistinct production job does contrive to take the edge of the material. That said, overall III is a pretty solid and varied release, and its nice to see a band unconstrained by perceived genre conventions.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10