- Caamora – Journey's End... An Acoustic Anthology
- Meshuggah - ObZen
- Mahogany Frog – DO5
- Zero Hour - Dark Deceiver
- Hawkwind - Spirit Of The Age ~ An Anthology 1976 - 1984
- Hawkwind - The Dream Goes On - From The Black Sword To Distant Horizons ~
An Anthology 1985 - 1997
- Jon Anderson – 3 Ships ~ 22nd Anniversary Edition
- Neil Campbell With Michael Beiert & Anne Taft – Ghost Stories
- Direction - Est
- Presto Ballet – The Lost Art Of Time Travel
- The Resonance Association – We Still Have The Stars
- Andrew Roussak – No Trespassing
- 3rdegree - Narrow-Caster
- Hardin & York - The World's Smallest Big Band
- The Web - Fully Interlocking
- Klotet – En Rak Hoger
Caamora – Journey's End... An Acoustic Anthology
Disc 1: Journey’s End [Studio Track] (4:10), So The Music Stops [Live In Poland] (2:35), Sacrifice [Live In Poland] (4:46), Covenant Of Faith [Live In Poland] (3:40), Embrace [Live In England] (3:24), Shadows Of Fate [Live In England] (4:44), The Bonding [Live In England] (4:30), Mea Culpa [Live In Chile] (3:40), Horizons In Your Eyes [Live In Chile] (5:07), The Eleventh Hour [Live In Chile] (4:48), Judgement [Live In Chile] (5:15), Murder [Live In Bolivia] (4:10), Resting Place [Live In Bolivia] (6:12), Invisible [Live In Germany] (3:47), Closer [Live In Germany] (2:57)
Disc 2: Shadows [Live In Belgium] (5:16), State Of Grace [Live In Belgium] (3:03), Glimmer Of Light [Live In Belgium] (2:45), The Veil [Live In Argentina] (4:29), (I Can See Your) House From Here [Live In Argentina] (3:46), Salamander [Live In Argentina] (3:08), Confrontation [Live In Argentina] (6:20), The Storm [Demo] (6:13), Vigil [Demo] (4:50), The Hermit [Demo] (5:04), In Aeternum [Bonus Track] (4:49), Grunwald [Bonus Track] (3:37), Father [Bonus Track] (4:44), With Darren Redick [Midnight Radio Interview] (18:28)
Regular visitors to this site may be aware that earlier this year I raved over the debut Caamora album She rating it 10 out of 10. An unprecedented situation in my case but wholly justified for what is without doubt the most impressive album I’ve encountered this decade. It should therefore come as no surprise that when the opportunity came along to review this latest collection of live and demo tracks from the duo of Agnieszka Swita and Clive Nolan I was first in the queue.
The title Journey's End as reflected in the opening song is a reference to the conclusion of three initial and very hectic years in the life of Caamora. This has included the realisation of the She album and stage production together with a succession of live dates to promote the project globally. The second part of the title An Acoustic Anthology is slightly misleading however. True many of the songs rely on the basic combination of Clive’s piano and Agnieszka’s voice but there are also several guest appearances that add extra colour to the performances especially in the South American shows. The sets also include several non She songs taken from Clive’s pre Caamora career. This is apparent from the opening Polish concert which includes the engaging So The Music Stops one of Clive’s oldest songs where he also provides the lead vocal and Sacrifice a number originally recorded with the band Strangers On A Train.
The set list in England includes the up-tempo Shadows Of Fate from The Hound Of The Baskervilles which was co-written with Oliver Wakeman. Guest Mark Westwood supplies some neat acoustic guitar embellishments but the highlight is Christina Booth’s appearance to add her crystal clear tones to The Bonding as she did on the She album. It’s interesting to compare the polite applause from the English audience with the enthusiastic reception the songs receive from the Chilean fans. The memorable Arena song Mea Culpa stands out here as does the haunting Horizons In Your Eyes a song written by Clive for Tracy Hitchings’ solo album Ignorance To Ecstasy. They both benefit from José Luis Ramos’ bass work and stirring orchestral keys from Claudio Momberg.
Backing tapes provide symphonic keys and sampled drums to flesh out the arrangements for the Bolivia shows but also on hand are guitarists Myung Jung and Gonzalo Paz. The latter adds a suitably edgy solo to the strident Resting Place which also features superb dual vocals from Agnieszka and Clive. Disc one concludes with two ballads recorded in Germany in November 2006 where they shared the bill with Galahad. The beautiful Invisible was written for Tina Booth’s character Ustane in She but never made it onto the finished work although she did get to perform the bittersweet Closer also performed here. Agnieszka’s rendition conveys just the right level of emotion and an effective reminder of just how stunning the song is.
Disc two opens with a mixed bag of songs recorded during a sound-check at the famous Spirit Of 66 in Belgium. The sinister Shadows is a vocal tour de force for Agnieszka followed by a strong performance of Arena’s State Of Grace and finally the excellent Glimmer Of Light, another Nolan/Wakeman composition. The live recordings from Argentina are arguably the albums strongest with the addition of guitarist, vocalist Sebastián Medina and vocalist Celina Berro Madero. Once again backing tapes provide the keyboards and percussion. Celina takes over lead for The Veil and (I Can See Your) House From Here with the latter in particular benefiting from her soulful delivery. Sebastián’s vocal during Arena’s Middle Eastern flavoured Salamander is less successful however sounding a tad strained but the show concludes in style with a great vocal duet from Agnieszka and Celina for the aptly titled Confrontation.
Next up are three demo versions of songs from She starting with to my mind an improved version of The Storm thanks to the eerie orchestral intro and ghostly chants. On the original version of Vigil included here Agnieszka sings the words that would eventually go to Christina Booth and if anything the melody is given more emphasis. The Hermit didn’t appear on the standard CD version of She which is a shame because the strong melody shines through despite the basic piano and keys backing. The first of three bonus tracks In Aeternum is virtually worth the price of this double disc set in its own right. It also sounds very uncharacteristic (for Caamora) being more in the vein of Enya and Carl Jenkins with massed celestial voices and tribal drums building to a spine tingling peak.
Written by Agnieszka and sung in her native language, Grunwald has a real folk vibe with piano and sombre cello from Hugh McDowell. Father with its sing-along chorus is a recent recording of an old Shadowland song featuring rich Mike Oldfield style double tracked acoustic guitar by Ian Salmon and lead vocals by Clive. The album closes with a recent radio interview where they talk warmly and candidly about Journey's End and the She project. Agnieszka sounds oddly nervous at times but very genuine nonetheless. Wait a couple of minutes after the interview has concluded and you will discover a hidden song. It’s given the full band treatment complete with sleigh bells and a catchy, tongue in cheek chorus that would make a great Christmas single.
If like me you were hooked on the She CD then it’s a no brainer that Journey's End should be an essential addition to your collection. The songs work very well in their stripped down form with Clive often pounding out the rhythm on piano and Agnieszka conveying the melody in her distinctive and melodramatic style. There is certainly a greater variety of sounds than I anticipated with the demo and bonus material in particular holding the most interest for me. The lavish packaging is also worthy of mention which includes an extensive booklet that provides a pictorial and written accompaniment to Caamora’s musical travels around the world.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Meshuggah - ObZen
Tracklist: Combustion (4:08), Electric Red (5:51), Bleed (7:22), Lethargica (5:47), ObZen (4:24), This Spiteful Snake (4:52), Pineal Gland Optics (5:12), Pravus (5:10), Dancers To A Discordant System (9:36)
Swedish technical metallers Meshuggah are one of those rarities in the modern scene, a genuinely original outfit who have succeeded in creating a sound wholly they’re own. Whilst starting out relatively conventionally in 1991 with Contradictions Collapse – which bore the influence of Metallica’s landmark 1988 album …And Justice For All – it was with 1995’s career-defining Destroy Erase Improve where the Meshuggah blueprint was properly laid down. Marrying the primal aggression of thrash metal with a more considered style of technical, industrial metal a’la Tool, whilst also incorporating plenty of down-tuned riffing, King Crimson-esque progressive touches and a jazz-fusion style in some of the solo guitar playing, its fair to say that it had a pretty seismic effect on the metal scene, with fans having heard nothing like it before or since. Whilst the band has hardly been prolific since, they’ve managed to put a distinct spin on each subsequent album without sacrificing this core sound. 1998’s Chaosphere upped the aggression factor (and downplayed the melodic one) even further, whilst 2002’s Nothing saw the tempo’s decreasing a little, with an emphasis on sludgy, grinding, contorted riffs. Consisting of just one 21 minute track, the 2004 EP I is considered by many (myself included) as the peak of their achievements, a dizzyingly technical yet highly progressive piece which sees each of the musicians at the peak of their powers. The technicality increased even further on 2005’s Catch Thirty Three, with drummer Tomas Haake utilising his own unique drum machine (the famed ‘drumkit from hell’, utilised more recently on Devin Townsend’s Ziltoid The Omniscient) as the complex drum patterns required were too much for a human, even one with his sublime skills.
The consensus on Catch Thirty Three was that it was perhaps a little too cold and sterile (not that earlier records exactly oozed emotion), and the band have perhaps taken some of these criticisms on board for their latest opus, ObZen. For a start Haake is back behind a proper drum kit, and the band have chosen to focus again on individual songs (Catch Thirty Three had individual tracks listed, but was to all intents and purposes a single piece). The sound is certainly a little more organic, and the opening track Combustion is remarkably straightforward for modern day Meshuggah – a straight-to-the-point thrasher in what is, for Meshuggah, pretty standard time signatures. You can even headbang to it, whereas I defy you to try and do this to most other Meshuggah tracks! Vocalist Jens Kidman is his usual blunt, aggressive self – his style of delivery, a stream of near-monotone rants bellowed out at the top of his voice, won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it is undeniably effective, and provides a raw, brutal counterpoint to the sophistication of much of the music.
Electric Red returns to more familiar ground, featuring the sort of complex polyrhythms we’ve come to expect from modern day Meshuggah. Haake’s ever-dextrous drumming is a wonder to behold – at times I find myself tuning in almost exclusively to his percussive work, despite all the other things going on around him. As ever, a series of cleverly-executed twists and turns keeps the listener on their toes, and the stabbing, hypnotic riff that the song fades out on is one of the best on the album. The next track, Bleed, rides in on a great fast rolling riff, accompanied by plenty of subtle things going on in the margins. The song keeps you enthralled throughout – the speed rarely lets up, lead guitarist Fredrik Thordenal gets to play one of his jazzy, atonal solo’s (his style is not unlike that of Allan Holdsworth) and there’s even what passes, in Meshuggah’s world, for a chorus.
As indicated by its title, Lethargica sees the pace slowed down somewhat, with some very angular playing dominating – there’s no let up in the aggression levels, however. The title track, meanwhile, sees a return to the sort of churning riffs that dominated Nothing, with the atmospheric keyboard backdrops carrying with them a vaguely oriental feel, perhaps purposely given that the subject matter touches on various Eastern philosophies and the art of meditation. Its worth noting as a whole that, whilst Kidman may deliver them in a brutal, to-the-point way, the lyrics are actually highly intelligent and thought provoking, in keeping with the complex and highly accomplished musicianship.
This Spiteful Snake is more akin to the Meshuggah of 2004/5, a cold and rather dry-sounding piece that features a fiendishly complex-sounding solo from Thornendal. Pineal Gland Optics is a pacier piece with the jazzy feel returning in places, whilst Pravus sees an intriguing black metal influence seep into the material, with the aggression and intensity bars raised even further.
Meshuggah round things off on ObZen with the multi-part epic Dancers To A Discordant System. There’s plenty of variety on display within Meshuggah’s self-imposed limits – there are even some sections where Kidman reigns himself in, adopting a rather menacing near-whisper, which just makes the inevitable return to his full-throated roar all the more effective. Once again the song boasts what you could call an anthemic chorus, and the combination of dizzying technicality and ruthless efficiency is something to behold. The combination of a hypnotic, repeated riff and atmospheric keys on the song’s outro compels the listener to want to play the thing through again – after a suitable break to catch their breath, that is…
A criticism that could – and indeed has – be levelled against ObZen is that, whereas its predecessors all showed off a new aspect to the band’s sound, ObZen isn’t so much a progression as it is a compendium of the different styles the band have used since their Destroy Erase Improve breakthrough. Turning this on its head, however, the variety on display – in Meshuggah terms at least – keeps the listener interested over what is a very punishing fifty-odd minutes, with little let-up in intensity, whilst you do get the feeling that the band are here perfecting many of the styles they’ve been tinkering with on earlier releases.
Ultimately the music of Meshuggah is never going to appeal to all palettes – whilst their sound is certainly progressive and complex, it is also extremely heavy and aggressive – they have not become the darlings of the metal world for nothing, and ObZen is, in any sense of the word, an impressively assured release. It’s also a great starting point for the uninitiated, and should see their profile increase significantly.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Mahogany Frog – DO5
Tracklist: G.M.F.T.P.O (1:30), T-Tigers & Toasters (11:11), Last Stand At Fisher Farm (3:52), You’re Meshuhgah! (3:46), I Am Not Your Sugar (2:28), Demon Jigging Spoon (4:35), Medicine Missile (4:22), Lady Xoc & Shield Jaguar (8:55), Loveset (6:25)
DO5 is Canadian eclectic experimentalists Mahogany Frog’s fifth album, but so far, they have flown under my radar, so I now have a lot of catching up to do. You see, DO5 is quite simply one of the best CD’s I have heard all year. The cover image of a souped-up toaster spewing forth synthesisers amid a psychedelic rainbow of colour gives one some idea of the phantasmagorical musical extravaganza contained within.
This quartet of musicians utilise guitars, bass, drums and a wide array of keyboards to produce a diverse sonic buffet which draws on many influences to create something refreshingly different. Hard rocking freak-outs grow out of hypnotic, minimalist electronica; post rock delicacy melds with full-blown symphonic excess.
I can’t think of any other group who would (or could) combine the exuberant party pop of You’re Meshugah!, the Ennio Morricone meets Tangerine Dream Kraut/Spaghetti Western soundtrack stylings of Last Stand At Fisher Farm (resplendent with trumpets and synths) and the haunting, majestic symphonic rock of Lady Xoc & Shield Jaguar on the same disc. If they did try, I’m sure they wouldn’t quite manage to conjure up such a wonderful, mesmeric, euphoric work as this.
The modern post rock of Tortoise or the icy minimalism of Iceland’s Mum is as much a touchstone as, say, the classic progressive rock of Yes, who definitely comes to mind on Lady Xoc
The range of moods covered and the emotional depth conveyed is simply breathtaking – this disc is delightful and surprising from the snarling, driving, power chords and feedback opening of G.M.F.T.P.O to the ambient droning fade out of closer Loveset.
Organs, pianos, synths and guitars mesh in a multi-layered, opulent sound that offers up new delights on each successive listen. Experimental but often highly melodic, this is a disc I will return to again and again.
What a great conclusion to the musical year. I urge you to try it soon.
Highly recommended for open-minded listeners.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Zero Hour - Dark Deceiver
Tracklist: Power To Believe (7:07), Dark Deceiver (3:56), Inner Spirit (12:18), Resurrection (3:18), Tendonitis (1:19), The Temple Within (6:13), Lies (3:20), The Passion Of Words (4:32), Severed Angel (2:37)
Dark Deceiver is the fifth album from this long-running (possibly the longest running?) technical metal band. It continues the development of their sound as witnessed on the successful Specs Of Pictures…
There is a distinct focus on more conventional songwriting, in so much as the songs have a clear central melody. Vocalist Chris Salinas spends less time in the upper registers than before, showing off his amazing range and technical ability to the full. After commenting previously that some of his riffs were starting to sound a bit repetitive, guitarist Jasun Tipton really does mix things up this time. Dark Deceiver showcases his most diverse and inventive collection of riffage yet. It is both the most complex and the heaviest album of the band’s career. It is as ass-kickingly intense an album as has ever been made.
Highlights are the monstrous riff which opens the title track, and the fantastic melodies which hook you into Power To Believe, Resurrection and The Passion Of Words. Apart from the rather jarring opening, The Inner Self is one of the best songs the band has written. It blends a cacophony of ideas, rhythms, melodies and styles that fully rewards repeat listens. Salinas’ execution of the mellow passage two thirds through this song stops me in my tracks ever time. That Mike Guy somehow manages to keep it all together, and even add his own flourishes and fills, shows why I rate him as one of my favourite drummers.
I’ve not been a fan of the band’s use of instrumental segments on their last two discs. However, my previous grumbles about the desire for another proper song instead, have been ignored, and so I’ll just accept the two which appear again here as part of the deal. For the record, Tendonitis is an ironic showcase for bassist Troy Tipton. His frenetic fretboard flurrying, facilitates a good understanding of why the band has just been forced to take a year’s break while he endures an operation to tackle the painful condition.
I’ve docked a point as neither Lies nor The Temple Within are up to the same high quality as the other tracks. The two instrumentals and a few odd sections from the remaining tracks don’t work for me. Neither does the cover illustration. Stylistically it gives totally the wrong impression of what is found within.
That said, Dark Deceiver will cement the reputation of Zero Hour as the most accomplished purveyors of progressively-tinged technical metal on the scene. Apart from the cobbled-together disappointment that was Fragile Mind, I firmly believe that both Metamorphosis and Towers Of Avarice are two of the finest ProgMetal albums ever written. The more modern Specs Of Pictures ... gets regular plays as well.
Overall Dark Deceiver easily maintains their record and will sit comfortably within my Top10 at the year end.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Hawkwind - Spirit Of The Age ~ An Anthology 1976 - 1984
CD One: Reefer Madness [full extended version] (8:17), Kadu Flyer (5:08), Steppenwolf (9:40), Kerb Crawler (3:55), Back On The Street (2:58), The Dream Of Isis (2:52), Quark, Strangeness And Charm (3:42), Spirit Of The Age (7:18), Damnation Alley (9:08), Hassan I Sahba (5:23), Over The Top (7:52), The Golden Void (4:46), PSI Power (6:09)
CD Two: 25 Years [alternative mix] (4:37), Freefall [non-cross-faded mix] (5:14), The Only Ones [non-cross-faded mix] (4:17), Uncle Sam’s On Mars (5:45), Jack Of Shadows (3:28), High Rise (4:42), Robot (8:13), Shot Down In The Night [single version] (4:13), Brainstorm [live] (9:06), Motorway City (6:44), Levitation (5:48), Space Chase (3:09), Who’s Gonna Win The War [single version] (3:37), Nuclear Toy (2:59), Transdimensional Man (4:01)
CD Three: Angels Of Death [alternative single version] (4:31), Rocky Paths (4:08), Virgin Of The World (4:13), Nuclear Drive (3:33), Some People Never Die (3:55), Psychedelic Warlords (4:54), Silver Machine [1982 single version] (2:58), Choose Your Masques (5:31), Dream Worker (4:56), Waiting For Tomorrow (3:46), Arrival In Utopia (5:42), Utopia ’84 (2:06), Social Alliance (4:41), Dragons And Fables (3:19), Night Of The Hawks (5:07), Stonehenge Decoded (live) (8:19), Orgone Accumulator [live] (5:20)
If there is any band that has suffered from the constant issue and reissue of numerous titles which are mostly of dubious legality and even more dubious quality it is Hawkwind. Determining what is worthy of purchase and what is a cash-in can be a full time occupation. Add to that the fact that the remastering of the original albums a few years ago only extended up to 1974's Hall Of The Mountain Grill leaving several key titles out of print, life has not been easy for Hawkwind fans looking to update their collections into the digital domain. Thankfully, that should soon be rectified with the formation of a new label, Atomhenge, which is part of the Cherry Red Group and being managed by the team behind their Esoteric imprint. The quality and research that is evident on all the Esoteric releases is being applied to the Hawkwind catalogue from between 1976 and 1997, that is all the albums from Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music to Distant Horizon together with all singles, EP’s and associated master tapes. So bodes well for plenty of rare and unreleased bonus tracks! The entire catalogue is being reissued over the next 18 months but as a precursor two triple CD anthologies have been issued.
The first, Spirit Of The Age concentrates on the years 1976 to 1984 with tracks presented in chronological order. To me this is a definite plus point as one gets to hear the changes of the band over time, particularly relevant with Hawkwind and their revolving door policy with regard to band membership. A very informative booklet with band history, plenty of colour photos, including original artwork, as well as band members playing on each track is comprehensive and up to the usual high standards associated with Esoteric. This first set focuses on the final albums with Robert Calvert, the bands innovative vocalist and poet that did much to characterise the band. The four albums originally released by Charisma Records (Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music, Quark, Strangeness And Charm, Hawklords: 25 Years On and PXR5 are often overlooked as the band transgressed from their more overt space rock sound to something more in keeping with the time. The first track on the collection exemplifies the approach being taken to the remastering and reissuing, the previously un-issued extended version of Reefer Madness which is some two minutes longer than originally presented, and all the better for it. Three other tracks are included from ASAM, which are the more song-based numbers. Both sides of the non-album single Back On The Streets/The Dreams Of Isis are next, recorded by essentially the same line-up (minus Nik Turner) as the ASAM album and released midway between that album and the next, Quark, Strangeness And Charm in January 1977. The inclusion of this rarity adds nicely to the chronology. QSC itself was probably the album where a lot or ardent fans began to wonder what was going on. A memorable rendition of the title track on the Marc Bolan TV show which featured Robert Calvert and a parrot hamming it up and the idiosyncratic nature and title of the song (which is actually based on the names given to subatomic nuclei!) didn't help matters. Still the album did contain two classic Hawkwind numbers in Spirit Of The Age and Damnation Alley, even if the Arabic-tinged Hassan I Sahba remains somewhat of a mystery. Over The Top from the Sonic Assassins 12" single is the low point of the first CD, a rather throw-away live number. The EP would have been better represented by Freefall but this omission is made up for by the inclusion of the Assassins live version of The Golden Void previously only available on one of the Friends And Relations compilation albums. CD One ends with the excellent PSI Power from the under-rated Hawklords album.
The second CD continues with the Hawklords and an alternative mix of 25 Years and "non-cross-faded" mixes of Freefall and The Only Ones. Not quite sure what the difference is between these and the cross-fade mixes but I suppose they are nice to have for completists! PXR5, the last of the Calvert albums, is represented by four tracks, three of which are classic numbers. Personally I would have included the title track instead of Jack Of Shadows but I suppose it does show another side of the band. Completists are again catered for with the single version of Shot Down In The Night from Live Seventy-Nine which also provides a version of Brainstorm, a song that no Hawkwind compilation would be complete without. The start of the 1980s saw the release of Levitation the last consistently good album by the band that I remember hearing at the time, and certainly the last one I bought at the time of release. Possibly it was the travesty of seeing the band with Ginger Baker who insisted on playing a totally inappropriate drum solo and, so I am led to believe, even suggested the band change their name to Ginger Baker's Hawkwind!! Again, one can't argue with the three choices selected to represent this album as they are easily the best with Space Chase being a great instrumental number. Final three tracks are again nice inclusions for collectors as all were originally only available on singles. Nuclear Toy is rather different but has a certain charm but that was the function of b-sides, giving bands the opportunity to do something a bit different from what appeared on the album. Transdimensional Man another b-side but this time from 1981's Angel Of Death single, is very good and surprisingly left off the accompanying Sonic Attack album.
CD Three and we are entering a stage where my musical preferences began to move away from Hawkwind, although I was certainly familiar with the first of the two albums represented on this disc, Sonic Attack and Church of Hawkwind through an elder brother who 'kept the faith' a bit longer than me. The previously unreleased single mix of Angels Of Death is, again, a nice bonus although I can't recall how much it differs from the actual released version. If the number of tracks included on this anthology from the two aforementioned albums is any indication of quality, then I guess I am not the only one to consider this a low point in Hawkwind's career. Despite a period of relative stability in the line-up (which at this point was a quartet of Dave Brock, Martin Griffin, Harvey Bainbridge and Huw Lloyd-Langton) they took a while to get it together. Rocky Paths has all the right elements and is better than I remember, despite the vocals sounding very unlike anything previous. I was also pleasantly surprised by Virgin Of The World, far from a classic track but some nice guitar and keyboard work behind an intoned and repeated poem. Nuclear Drive, from 1982, is more a straight ahead rock number that doesn't really go anywhere, and Some People Never Die is a synthesised piece with a commentary of the shootings of Lee Harvey Oswald and Senator Kennedy placed over the top. The band seemingly a bit bereft of ideas and seemed to be writing "Hawkwind-by-numbers" pieces. This seems to be proved by the totally unnecessary re-recording of Psychedelic Warlords and Silver Machine released as a single in 1982. Neither of the new versions is a patch on the originals: the plodding Warlords loses much of its majesty whilst Silver Machine could at best be described as a competentish cover version, although what the group was thinking of using a drum machine (or a very unimaginative/inhibited Martin Griffin) on both these tracks is just bizarre. The final major label album was 1982's Choose Your Masks. The title track was in a similar vein to the single, plodding and monotonous, ditto Lloyd-Langton's Waiting For Tomorrow, although Dream Worker manages to capture some of the spacey atmospherics the band is renowned for and Arrival In Utopia shows the band were far from past their glory days. Indeed, the two tracks from Zones, a Michael Moorcock spoken word piece (Utopia '84) and the excellent social Alliance, featuring a returning Nik Turner, suggests the loss of major label support had given the band a spur to get back to what they did best. A planned reunion of ex-band members for the Earth Ritual project didn't quite go according to plan. Instead a 12" single was released included on which was the masterful Night Of The Hawks. The CD closes with two live tracks from 1984. Stonehenge Decoded (from This Is Hawkwind - Do Not Panic) is a rather sprawling piece probably best appreciated in the context of the complete live album or actually at the festival, while the rehash of Orgone Accumulator (from Undisclosed Files Addendum) is just that, a rehash that has more of a punky attitude, albeit several years too late.
On the whole, this set is a very good anthology of the nine years between 1976 and 1984, an era that saw music styles in turmoil. That the archetypal hippy band managed to survive through the punk era and come out of the other side with integrity intact says a lot about the group, or more pertinently perhaps, the resolute nature of Space Captain Brock.
Hawkwind - The Dream Goes On -
From The Black Sword To Distant Horizons ~ An Anthology 1985 - 1997
CD One: Song Of The Swords (3:23), Shade Gate (3:03), Needle Gun (4:11), Zarozinia (3:21) Master Of The Universe [live] (3:57), Dreaming City [live] (4:25), Moonglum [live] (4:42), Elric The Enchanter [live] (2:33), Conjuration Of Magnu [live] (1:48), Magnu [live] (3:05), Dust Of Time (2:26), Cajun Jinx (4:59), The War I Survived (5:23), Heads (4:58), Lost Chronicles (4:05), Wastelands Of Sleep (4:15), Wings (5:11), Ship Of Dreams (5:16), T.V. Suicide (5:21)
CD Two: Images (9:36), Back In The Box [live] (6:19), Treadmill [live] (8:07), Lives Of Great Men [live] (3:26), Void Of Golden Light [live] (6:44), Eons (Snake Dance) [live] (4:18), Ejection (5:48), LSD (8:20), Mask Of Morning (8:47), The Secret Agent (8:13), Letting In The Past (2:52), The Camera That Could Lie (4:59)
CD Three: Space Is Their [Palestine] (11:49), The Dream Goes On [live] (1:44), Right To Decide [live] (7:33), The Dream Has Ended [live] (4:44), This Future [live] (1:50), White Zone (7:29), Sputnik Stan (7:05), Death Trap (3:56), Alien I Am [The Roswell Edit] (5:28), Love In Space [live] (4:48), Lord Of Light [live] (3:54), Distant Horizon (5:31), Phetamine Street (5:30), Waimeia Canyon Drive (4:53), Alchemy (3:13)
The second anthology released by Atomhenge/Esoteric/Cherry Red covers the 13 years between 1985 and 1997. This is rather a trip into the unknown for me as despite being a huge fan of the early Hawkwind years, by 1985 I had moved into other musical areas after being disappointed by a couple of the early releases in the 1980s by the spacelords. This is not to suggest that the band went into rapid decline at this point, as their continuing endurance and consistent support testifies and, as we shall see, selections on this anthology disprove. Following being dropped by RCA records, the disappointment of not being able to complete the proposed 'Earth Ritual' concept and the second sacking of Nik Turner, the band once again turned to the novels of Michael Moorcock for inspiration. This time it was the tales of Elric of Melinborne that provided Hawkwind with an upturn in their fortunes. The Chronicle Of The Black Sword album and the accompanying stage show was a major achievement for the band on a limited budget. What is more the muse had returned with some excellent new songs such as the scene-setting Song Of The Swords and the poignant love song (yes, a love song!) Zarozinia. Even the non-Elric song, Needle Gun, which is rather too reminiscent of Kings Of Speed, proved to be a live favourite and even saw Hawkwind sharing a stage with Dame Vera Lynn at the songs premier at an anti-heroin concert. The Chronicle of the Black Sword tour was recorded and released as the Live Chronicles album in 1986. The success of this tour, both in terms of performance and audience attendance, is exemplified by the fact that almost a third of the first disc from this anthology is comprised of tracks from this release. Mixing classic songs, the Elric tales and newly composed numbers, the songs included here have me eagerly awaiting the full reissue of the album. It was three years between The Chronicle Of The Black Sword and the next proper studio album, The Xenon Codex. In-between saw the release of Out And Intake a collection of odds and ends recorded live and in the studio in 1982 as well as some newer studio recordings from 1986. Basically put out to help with band finances, it assembled a lot of odd and previously un-issued bits and pieces like the decent Bainbridge instrumental Cajun Jinx presented here. Despite a relatively poor production on The Xenon Codex, tracks such as Lost Chronicles provide a thoroughly enjoyable progressive-style instrumental while Wastelands Of Sleep again shows a gentler side to the band. After a prolonged period of line-up stability, the first album of the 90s, Space Bandits, saw more changes with the departure of guitarist Huw Lloyd-Langton and drummer Danny Thompson, the latter replaced by Richard Chadwick. In a surprise move Simon House was temporarily welcomed back to the group and, even stranger, the performance artist Bridget Wishart guested on vocals. Unfortunately, the four tracks from the album on the anthology are not that inspiring being somewhat languid although T.V. Suicide has a nice synth section and Images (which opens the second CD) shows that Wishart had something to offer as a vocalist, even if the track itself is a bit confused and overlong.
After Space Bandits there was another period of inactivity studio-wise by the band with demand for new product being satisfied with a couple of live albums: Palace Springs (recorded in the US in 1989, released in 1991) and California Brainstorm (recorded in 1990, released in 1992). In fact, Palace Springs also contained two previously un-issued studio tracks recorded around the time of Space Bandits, both of which are included here. Back In The Box and Treadmill are both fairly decent numbers, the presence of House's violin being a bonus. The two live tracks from this album, Lives Of Great Men (aka Assault And Battery) and Void Of Golden Light (aka The Golden Void), were renamed due to publishing issues. However the name change doesn't alter the pieces which are presented here as nice takes of these classic tracks. California Brainstorm was originally issued in the US only as a thank you to the US fans who had provided the support for the 1990 tour. Hardly an essential addition to the collection but Eons (which was released on the next studio album under the title 'Snake Dance') is a fine instrumental and the version of the Robert Calvert's Ejection (from 'Captain Lockhead And The Starfighters') was played as a tribute to their former lead vocalist who had died the previous year. By 1993 and the time of the Electric Tepee album, the band were down to a trio with Brock accompanied by bassist Alan Davey and drummer Richard Chadwick. Embracing new technology the band attempted to update their sound but, if the evidence of LSD is anything to go by simply succeeded in regaining their old sound. The other two tracks from this album are also reminiscent of classic Hawkwind and, as a consequence, this is another album whose re-release I await with some anticipation. On a bit of a roll, Hawkwind's next studio release, It Is The Business Of The Future To Be Dangerous, came a mere 16 months later and was largely an instrumental affair, although surprisingly it did contain a version of The Rolling Stone classic 'Gimme Shelter' (not included here). Showing a different side to the band, The Camera That Could Lie is essentially a reggae tune while Space Is Their (Palestine) (the first track on Disc Three) takes on a more Eastern approach. Neither is really that interesting.
Recordings from the 1993 European tour were released as The Business Trip - Live. Yet more publishing issues meant the renaming of several more older tracks three of which are included here. The brief The Dream Goes On (aka Iron Dream) precedes the immensely enjoyable Right To Decide and The Dream Has Ended (aka a short rearrangement of You Know You're Only Dreaming, which is quite wonderful) which links neatly into This Future (aka Welcome To The Future). These four tracks prove that Hawkwind remained an inspiring live act. A rather strange anomaly is White Zone, released under the name The Psychedelic Warlords. The album was a more electronic and ambient affair which featured a lot of samplers, minimal guitars and even less vocals. The title track, featured here, is apparently the most Hawkwindesque number although not having heard the album I can't confirm that. A reasonable number in its own right and indicative of the creativity within the band at that time. Keeping the studio momentum going, the band, with new member Ron Tree taking over on vocals, quickly recorded their own alien conspiracy theory album, Alien 4 which was accompanied by the Area S4 EP. Sputnik Stan reminds me a bit of Captain Sensible's Meathead album for some reason and is okay if a little formulaic. The remake of Death Trap was unwise and unnecessary as the original is far superior while the single 'Roswell' edit of Alien I Am does nothing to make the song more enjoyable. The Alien 4 concept was taken on tour in another ambitious stage show. To recoup costs the live album Love In Space was released in 1997. The title track from the album is nothing sensational, again being rather turgid. However, the non-album track released on the accompanying Love In Space EP is a killer version of Lord Of Light. The final hurrah for this anthology comes with four tracks from the 1997 Distant Horizon album. The title track is a bit of a mixture, a blend of ethnic rhythms, a truly awful appearance by a rap-toaster and some otherwise classic Hawkwind moments. Tree, now doubling on bass and vocals contributes Phetamine Street that shows he has a long way to go before he can write songs that match the Hawkwind legacy, while new guitarist Jerry Richards had a hand in Alchemy which is more in the traditional style. Last word (although not last track!) should go to eternal leader Dave Brock who doesn't quite achieve his own high standards with Waimea Canyon Drive.
This is where the story ends as far as the Atomhenge label is concerned. After Distant Horizons it would be eight years before another studio album materialised, the intervening period being taken up with several more live albums and compilations. As far as this second box set goes, it is revealing in that it identifies areas of the band's history that I, and I suspect a lot of other people, will have ignored. It also highlights what are the official releases so that anyone who wants to did further into the Hawkwind history will not be unwittingly fooled by the innumerable dodgy releases out there. The remastering and presentation of the box set is second to none and I for one look forward to the release of the original albums starting in early 2009.
Spirit Of The Age: 8 out of 10
The Dream Goes On: 7 out of 10
Jon Anderson – 3 Ships ~ 22nd Anniversary Edition
Tracklist: Give Hope [bonus track] (4:37), Save All Your Love (1:22), Easier Said Than Done (4:14), Three Ships (3:39), Candle Song [bonus track] (3:32), Forest Of Fire (3:33), Ding Dong Merrily On High (1:57), Hurry Home [bonus track] (6:47), Save All Your Love [Reprise] (3:10), The Holly And The Ivy (3:07), Day Of Days (3:32), Ave Verum [bonus track] (3:26), 2,000 Years (0:56), Where Were You? (3:55), Oh Holy Night (4:15), How It Hits You (5:09), Jingle Bells (0:32), Ray Of Hope [bonus track] (6:11)
Following an auspicious start in 1976 with Olias Of Sunhillow, Jon Anderson’s solo career continued tentatively into the 80’s with his fourth release 3 Ships debuting just in time for Christmas 1985. His solo output would eventually hit its prolific stride during the 1990’s but it’s the earlier albums that are generally regarded to be his finest. 3 Ships appeared around the same time as Yes’ disappointing 9012Live: The Solos when the band was still basking in the success of 90125 from two years earlier. They had just started work on the troubled Big Generator which would take a painstaking two years to complete. As he had done before Anderson took advantage of the lull in Yes commitments to concentrate on other activities. That same year also included movie soundtrack performances on St. Elmo's Fire, Scream For Help and Legend singing with David Foster, John Paul Jones and Tangerine Dream respectively.
3 Ships is that rare thing, a prog rock related Christmas record. Very few genre artists took up the initiative set by Greg Lake’s 1975 hit I Believe In Father Christmas although Chris Squire and Alan White had a brave stab in 1981 with Run With The Fox. Anderson’s answer was to compile an album that mixed seasonal standards with original self-penned tunes that had a similar festive tone. Both aspects were suitably conveyed in the simultaneously released single that paired Easier Said Than Done with Three Ships. On the face of it Jon Anderson and Christmas are an obvious combination with his wistful, angelic voice being a perfect choice for the yuletide occasion and the songs. This was the mid 80’s of course so in addition to tinkling bells, tinkling synths are abundantly evident along with artificial percussive embellishments and sound effects courtesy of every producer’s favourite toy at the time, the Fairlight.
The traditional songs, which include Three Ships, Ding Dong Merrily On High, The Holly And The Ivy, Oh Holy Night and Jingle Bells are treated with a reasonable amount of reverence although with that unmistakable 80’s pop vibe. The title song in particularly gets the full synthetic makeover but its still an exhilarating adaptation. Colourful orchestrations and a children’s choir add a suitably sentimental touch to The Holly And The Ivy whilst Ding Dong Merrily On High on the other hand finds Anderson’s vocal at odds with a pompous sounding adult choir. Sandra Crouch lends her soulful voice to Oh Holy Night but for me a better version can be found on Annie Haslam’s Christmas album It Snows In Heaven Too. Jon’s youngest daughter Jade, then just five years old, has the final word with a sweet rendition of Jingle Bells.
The original songs are a mixed bag ranging from the syrupy lullaby Save All Your Love to the rhythmic Forest Of Fire and Day Of Days, two examples of Anderson’s not wholly successful attempts to introduce an ethnic feel to the occasion. The latter does at least include some superb electric violin playing from Novi. Easier Said Than Done (written by Vangelis) once came across as a tuneful, radio friendly song but now it appears as dated as Anderson’s 80’s dress sense pictured on the albums rear cover. And with no obvious seasonal connection it incorporates a brief instrumental reference to Oh Come All Ye Faithful to justify its release as a Christmas single. Elsewhere the overblown Where Were You? is instantly forgettable in contrast to How It Hits You which is easily the most memorable of the albums original songs. Trevor Rabin also gets in on the act but you’d be hard pressed to recognise his guitar playing with Rhett Lawrence’s keyboards dominating throughout.
Despite there being 13 songs the original playing time ran to only 40 minutes so 5 bonus tracks have been added for this 22nd Anniversary Edition. They each have a Christmassy feel of sorts with two of them, the previously unreleased Give Hope and Ray Of Hope, opening and closing the album. Ray Of Hope in particular is effective with its symphonic keyboards providing a more satisfying conclusion than the original Jingle Bells ending. The other extras include the Celtic flavoured Hurry Home and the delicate Candle Song both from Change We Must (Anderson’s best album of the 90’s) plus a plodding version of Ave Verum taken from Toltec. Mozart’s hymn doesn’t suit Anderson’s voice at all but this is the exception to an otherwise fine selection of additions making this a significant improvement over the original. This re-release also features excellent re-mastering by Mike Pietrini benefiting George Tutko’s punchy Trevor Horn style production.
You could argue that on its initial release 3 Ships was a missed opportunity on Anderson’s part to add some prog rock grandeur to the festive season as Greg Lake successfully did ten years earlier. Others would point out that he captured the holiday spirit with just the right level of fun and childlike innocence. Put it down to seasonal nostalgia if you like but I’m going to plump for the latter and besides these songs have been a staple part of my Christmas for the past 23 years. True, it’s not an album I could listen to in the middle of July but at this time of the year its cosy sentimentality is more heartfelt than the vast majority of tunes that’ll be flooding the airwaves this Christmas.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Neil Campbell With Michael Beiert & Anne Taft - Ghost Stories
Tracklist: Ghost Stories Suite: (i) Introduction, (ii) Ghost Story 1, (iii) Sketch 1, (iv) Ghost Story 2, (v) Sketch 2, (vi) Ghost Story 3, (vii) Sketch 3, (viii) Sketch 4, (ix) Mrs S Meets JSB, (x) PSS (29:28), Ghost Tango (4:10), Volk (3:33), Sketch 5 (1:36)
DPRP has in recent years reviewed several fine releases from Liverpudlian composer Neil Campbell, whose works although centred around his classical guitar, have shown a diversity of styles beyond perhaps those implied by his chosen instrument. This trend continues here with his second release for 2008, following up the tricky, but ultimately rewarding Particle Theory. However this latest offering does not follow in it's predecessors footsteps, but rather harks back to engaging 2006 release, Fall which featured Neil and cellist Nicole Collarbone.
So for this latest album Neil is joined by soprano vocalist Anne Taft and "electronic soundscaper" Michael Beiert, all of whom appear within the first couple of minutes of the lengthy opening track. The Ghost Story Suite is an ambitious piece introduced by Beiert's eerie sound effects, gradually bringing into the mix a chilling wind, (a factor throughout the CD), before segueing the classical guitar which plays the first of our ghost stories. In the simplest of descriptors the suite alternates between those tracks that feature Anne Taft's wordless vocals (even numbers) and those instrumental tracks played by Neil Campbell (odd numbers). Michael Beiert being a constant but effective contributor throughout. Now I hope this over simplification does not imply any lack of depth or integrity within the music, however the Ghost Stories Suite is a track of subtle and clever changes that defy breaking down into its constituent parts.
Therefore the first Ghost Story 1 is a gentle piece with lightly picked guitar accompanied by floating, mournful and wordless vocals, whereas Sketch 1 is equally delicate with its evocative melody line played on the guitar. Ghost Story 2 sees Neil employing his trademark rippling guitar, again laying foundation to Anne's melody. Sketch 2 is another engaging melodic instrumental piece - the tone is set for the piece. And as piece it works splendidly, with subtle variations in pace and ambience, and certainly I found the Ghost Story Suite worked best as a complete entity, rather than trying to segregate the individual sections. This said beautiful Sketch 4 saw the repeat button engaged on more than one occasion, along with the following tune, the Bach inspired instrumental Mrs S Meets JSB.
Now at this point it would have been ever so easy to destroy the atmosphere of the CD, however I happy to report that the three closing pieces are of a similar fashion and therefore close the album in style. Ghost Tango certainly would have sat nicely within the main track whilst Volk with its layered guitar parts is extremely engaging.
So yet again another fine release Neil Campbell, who as yet has not failed to impress with his releases. Ghost Story 1 provided an ideal musical setting to several late night, winter evenings and during the festive season, a pleasant and welcome respite from the over sentimentalised and commercial nature of the season. Despite the subject matter Ghost Stories manages to deal with a chilling topic in an uplifting manner, so at the end of the CD I may well have felt suitably chilled but certainly in a tranquil and cosy fashion. Superb stuff once again...
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Direction - Est
Tracklist: Mémoire Privée (5:38), La Fuite (5:06), Capsule (4:13), Touriste Urbain (4:26), Naufragé (6:35), Soldat (11:40), Soldat [finale](2:03), Derniére Issue (8:07)
French Canadian band Direction may not win many originality prizes, but their latest album Est is certainly an entertaining listen. The music on this album is firmly rooted in neo-progressive rock and Est is the band's fourth album, having debuted in 2002 as a four piece with the album R. In 2005 the second album O was released followed by 13 in 2006. After 13 bass player Robin Gaudreault left the band and they decided not to replace him but to carry on as a three piece. Main songwriter in the band is Marco Paradis (guitars & piano), who wrote all of the eight tracks, four of which he co-wrote with Serge Tremblay (vocals, bass & keyboards). The third member of the group is Jean-Claude Tremblay (drums). As I am not familiar with their earlier albums I cannot compare this one with the band's previous output. In can tell you that this latest album tells the story of a man travelling, however as my understanding of the French language does not stretch much further than non and oui - I can offer little comment on the lyrics.
Songs with verses, strong choruses and short instrumental breaks are Direction’s qualities, with the first five songs on the album being prime examples. All clocking in between four and six minutes, these songs have all the ingredients that make Direction exciting. The main ingredient must be Serge Tremblay's keyboard playing and the sounds he uses the most being Hammond, Moog and mellotron (samples). From heavy Hammond chords to swirling moog melodies. Album opener Memoire Privée is a good example of what Direction is capable of. Whereas during La Fuite Tremblay uses the mellotron choirs much in the way Dutch band Taurus did in the eighties, another band that was very good with short but very strong songs.
Tremblay is also responsible for the bass work on the album and although the keyboards are his number one instrument his bass playing is more than just playing along and the album does feature some great bass playing. His singing is also above average, possessing a pleasant voice. Main songwriter Marco Paradis has a melodic style of playing, at times supporting the heavy Hammond with chords to match and other times delivering short and to the point solos. His piano playing opens the album and also forms the backbone of the start of Naufragé. Jean-Claude Tremblay keeps the songs together with his steady drumming.
However it is when the band is trying the long song format that things get a little less interesting in my opinion. Track six, Soldat, takes up a good eleven minutes of the album and I have to say that it’s the albums weakest track. There are just far too many lyrics to sing and not a lot of (interesting enough) changes during the song. It also misses a great chorus like on Touriste Urbain. Although Soldat [Finale] is a return to form, a short ballad with just vocals and piano. What’s quiet funny is that at the end of Soldat they use the same sound effects that Simon Says used at the start of As The River Runs on their latest album Tardigrate. However I must admit that on the eight minute closing track of the album they do know how to keep me interested during the entire song. Especially the careful build up to the end of the song is very well done. And just when you think they might mess all of that up with a fade out, they end the song just in time.
I started this review by saying that Direction would not win a prize for originality. There are a lot of bands that are also doing similar things as Direction, however I still believe that Direction is a worthy addition. Especially the first five songs are all excellent. The only disappointment of the album is the lengthy Soldat and so that still leaves 36 minutes of good and solid neo-progressive rock music.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Presto Ballet – The Lost Art Of Time Travel
Tracklist: The Mind Machine (10:50), Thieves (9:04), You’re Alive (4:24), One Tragedy At A Time (14:00), I’m Not Blind (6:16), Easy Tomorrow (6:30), Haze (9:28)
Listening to internet radio recently I was knocked sideways by a glorious slice of ‘70’s inspired progressive rock from a band called Presto Ballet. When the opportunity came along to review the album which spawned the song, naturally it was a no brainer on my part. I was surprised to discover that the music was the brainchild of one Kurdt Vanderhoof better known as guitarist with US thrashes Metal Church. Like my colleague Dave Sissons who reviewed Presto Ballet’s 2005 debut Peace Among The Ruins I’m unfamiliar with the music of Metal Church. What I can say however is that this second release from his ‘side’ project contains some of the most confident and tuneful prog I’ve encountered all year.
Vanderhoof (guitar, keyboards) is joined as before by Scott Albright (lead vocals) and they’re jointly responsible for writing the songs. Completing the line-up are new members Ryan McPherson (keyboards, vocals), Bill Raymond (drums) and Izzy Rehaume (bass). The album features a variety of analogue keyboards including Mellotron, piano, organ, synths and electric piano. The end result is a grandiose sound with upfront bass lines that give it a vintage Kansas, ELP, Yes feel. The guitar riffs are on the heavier side and combined with the weighty drum work adds a more contemporary feel, echoing Dream Theater and Spock’s Beard. Albright’s expressive vocals have been compared to various singers including Jon Anderson, Greg Lake and Geddy Lee but to my mind Steve Walsh, James LaBrie and Chris Thompson are nearer the mark.
The Mind Machine is the song that first drew the band to my attention and opens the album in a blaze of rhythmic Hammond and strident guitar. The rhythm section sounds both powerful and articulate and the breathless pace is broken by classical style piano, Mellotron and synth flourishes. Thieves maintains the upbeat momentum with stattacco bursts reminiscent of Yes’ Mind Drive and energetic guitar, organ and synth interplay that bring Neal Morse instantly to mind. A change of mood comes courtesy of You’re Alive with a chunky acoustic guitar riff in the vein of Supertramp’s Give A Little Bit and engaging Styx flavoured harmonies courtesy of Albright, McPherson and Rehaume.
The albums centrepiece One Tragedy At A Time is suitably bombastic with Yes like wordless harmonies and showy Kansas style piano and organ playing. A respite comes at the midway point with symphonic Mellotron and synths followed by a ringing guitar led instrumental section that harks back to Genesis circa Wind And Wuthering. And speaking of which, the rippling acoustic guitar intro to I’m Not Blind has Genesis written all over it. A misleading start however because it turns into a mid-tempo rock number with standard verse/chorus/middle eight format and a heavy but infectious guitar riff. Easy Tomorrow continues in the same vein with bombastic guitar soloing contrasting with flowery piano and synth embellishments. The appropriately tiled Haze provides a refined conclusion with rich harmonies, jangly guitars, mellow synths and lush Mellotron strings.
In the DPRP review of the last album, bands like Deep Purple, Rainbow, Uriah Heep and Led Zeppelin were mentioned. True, shades of Heep and Zeppelin especially still linger but otherwise this album is in a proggier domain. Interestingly enough Presto Ballet’s sound glides effortlessly across the spectrum capturing the spirit of several bands without necessarily being totally derivative of any single one. Likewise I wasn’t particularly reminded of any individual musicians other than the odd hint of a Wakeman synth here or a Hackett guitar there. A kind of prog for everyman then if you like, with a gloriously uplifting and instantly accessible sound that should appeal to both the older and younger fans of the genre.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
The Resonance Association – We Still Have The Stars
Tracklist: After The Storm (0:49), We Still Have The Stars (6:57), Path Of Totality (5:33), None More Evil (5:45), Unite (3:12), Midnight Highway/The Grand Misunderstanding (8:04), Subatomic Zoo (3:27), The Moment Has Passed (11:43)
During the Christmas holidays of 2007, I listened to with much enjoyment and appropriately reviewed Failure Of The Grand Design, the debut full-length CD and physical release of UK-based experimental duo The Resonance Association. It came after the band had previously put out five download-only EPs. The mostly instrumental music they offer is a mix of, among others, metal, neo-kraut rock, drone, and industrial. At the end of that review I stated that I would be giving the great CD future listens, which I have. I also suggested in the review that the duo, with future releases, focus more on the industrial-based stuff that can give them some crossover appeal in the modern Goth/industrial club scene.
So the Resonance Association are back with follow-up full-length We Still Have The Stars, and to a point they have heeded my advice. The version being reviewed here is a CDR. The band line-up is the same - Dominic Hemy (The 3rd Fire) and Daniel Vincent (Karma Pilot, Onion Jack) each on guitar, synths, and programming. Hemy also plays theremin on one track and e-bow on another. The main shift in musical direction on this CD is the addition of vocals on a few tracks. Intro track After The Storm features a guest spoken word vocal from Anthony Hemy (Dominic’s father) against Dominic’s now-familiar field recordings of, you guessed it, a thunderstorm. Guest vocalist Scott Fuller sings on the electronica-based Unite; regrettably, his vocal gets lost in the busy mix. And Vincent provides vocals on the Nine Inch Nails-influenced None More Evil, but the vocals are processed so much it’s again hard to tell what is being sung among the mix of dark guitars and whirling eerie synths.
The standout track is closing song The Moment Has Passed, a rock-based epic featuring lead and rhythm guitars from Vincent, synths and programming from both, and the aforementioned and far-out e-bow grooves from Hemy. Midnight Highway/The Grand Misunderstanding is like a really bleak version of Tangerine Dream, with some signature wailing guitar from Vincent and layers of the theremin from Hemy. The duo carves a sound all their own, and We Still Have The Stars is well composed, performed, and produced.
The post-industrial looking booklet which comes with the CDR was designed by respected graphic artist Carl Glover. Check him out at Alpha Studio. The design is also available if you purchase the limited edition heavyweight vinyl edition of We Still Have the Stars from Burning Shed, which incidentally also comes with a copy of the CDR.
If you are a fan of dark, experimental industrial based music you will love this CD, as I did. If you are into more conventional music this CD may not be for you.
To improve with their next release, I suggest that The Resonance Association avoid vocals. With the exception of the spoken word bit from the elder Mr. Hemy, the vocals don’t seem to add anything to the duo’s sound.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Andrew Roussak – No Trespassing
Tracklist: No Trespassing (4:31), Prelude (2:49), Lost In The Woods (4:36), Wartime Chronicles (7:18), Jesu Joy Of Man’s Desiring (3:56), Rhythm Of The Universe (5:27), All Good Things (4:10), Do Without Me (5:01), Vivace Furioso (5:15), Maybe (5:35)
Andrew Roussak is, among other things, the keyboardist for the fine band Dorian Opera, whose debut album I reviewed not long ago. This is a solo album, although he’s joined by a number of guest musicians on various tracks; Roussak himself wrote all the compositions (save for the two classical pieces, Bach’s Prelude and Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring) and plays all the keyboards. I’ll say at the outset that I like this album a lot; I’ll enumerate all my reasons for liking it later, but first I want to address the album’s weaknesses. They’re not damaging weaknesses, and, if I get them out of the way first, I can spend the rest of my time elaborating on the album’s virtues.
First off, and most significantly, I’m not altogether certain about Roussak’s choice of singer. Or rather, I’ll confess to liking Hendrik Plachtzik’s voice quite a lot; and I’ll admit that it suits the music, in most cases, not too badly. But Plachtzik’s voice, though expressive, is not particularly strong, and I can’t help wondering if the songs would come across a little more forcefully with a more powerful singer. However, I’ll give Roussak the benefit of the doubt: this must be the way he wanted the songs to sound, and, as I say, Plachtzik’s vocals do largely fit well with the material.
There’s an exception, though: the lounge-jazz song Do Without Me. To my ears, this song is a disaster in every way. The band is trying to swing but can’t, and, well, I’ll just be kind and say that this is not Plachtzik’s idiom either. This one song throws the album off stride, and I wish Roussak hadn’t included it.
But you know what? Those are my only adverse criticisms. The rest of the album is fine, fine stuff. It’s unselfconsciously 70s-sounding keyboard-grounded progressive rock; Roussak writes fine, melodic compositions (and ones that are not at all self-indulgent – though this is a solo album, Roussak has clearly envisioned the compositions as songs, not as showcases for his admittedly excellent keyboard work. Interestingly, too, the album showcases many styles (includingly, disastrously as I’ve said, an attempt at jazz), and Roussak is adept at all of them. I guess my favourite pieces are the instrumentals, but a few of the songs with vocals stand out, too. Here are some highlights:
-- Lost In The Woods is based on a Steven King story of a young girl who got, well, yes, lost in the woods. Roussak gives the song an almost baroque treatment, and Pachtzik’s rather frail vocals suit the subject well.
-- Prelude is Roussak’s vision of how the prelude from Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” would sound had Bach had access to modern instruments. Roussak may well be right!
-- Wartime Chronicles is an instrumental piece about the horrors of war, Roussak’s gorgeous grand-piano melody riding above grand, martial-sounding synthesizers and drums.
-- Maybe was, Roussak says in the CD booklet, intended to be part of a yet-unwritten musical, and that’s exactly what it sounds like. This song is the one on the album best served by Pachtzik’s voice; the song is a bit of a surprising choice to end the album (since it’s more mainstream, more straightforward than anything else here), but it works.
There are other pleasures on the album, certainly not least Roussak’s confident and stately interpretation of Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring (which segues beautifully from Wartime Chronicles); the gorgeous solo-piano piece All Good Things; and Roussak’s tribute to Keith Emerson, the propulsive, even rollicking Vivace Furioso, on which, as on many of the other tracks, Roussak is well served by his talented guest musicians. In fact, those two qualifications with which I began aside, this album is a delight, sure to please fans of the grand old bands and musicians of the first wave of progressive rock. I recommend it highly and look forward to Roussak’s next project.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
3rdegree - Narrow-Caster
Tracklist: Apophenia (4:43), It Works (5:05), Narrow-Caster (3:09), Live With This Forever (5:08), Cautionary Tale (5:07), The Proverbial Banana Peel (3:07), Young Once (5:15), Scenery (5:49), Free For All (4:36), The Last Gasp (4:55)
Founded by Robert James Pashman in 1990, 3rdegree met up again in 2005 after a long hiatus and determined to record together again. This decision resulted in Narrow-Caster; the band’s first studio album in 12 years. The album consists of 10 songs, a mixture of new songs and some from the band’s earlier incarnation. The band is made up of Robert James Pashman on bass, keys and vocals; Pat Kliesch on guitars and vocals; Rob Durham on drums; and George Dobbs on vocals and keys.
The album opens with the energetic Apophenia, a song about humankind’s tendency to look for, and find, patterns or connections in otherwise unrelated things. The edgy guitar work, underpinned by a driving bass line, is combined with creative vocals to create a track suggestive of echolyn. An impressive opener.
Next up is It Works, where the late-night piano intro invokes a sense of nostalgia, but as the track evolves a funky keyboard riff is introduced that takes things in a new direction. There is some outstanding keyboard playing on this track, and special mention must also be made of the striking lead guitar work.
It Works is followed by the title-track Narrow-Caster; a song about staying in one’s comfort zone; an accusation that can't be levelled at this group. The track leads in with the chorus, which contains some impressive vocal harmonies. Whilst the melody wouldn’t be out of place on an IZZ album, the lead guitar in the middle evokes memories of Steely Dan.
Vocally and melodically, the next track, Live With This Forever conjures up Jellyfish references. There’s a lot going on in this track, from the superlative vocals and excellent bass work through to some tasteful complementary keyboard sounds.
A change of pace brings Cautionary Tale, warning of the dangers of religious extremism. From a vocal perspective, Stevie Wonder springs to mind here. Quite a mellow track, but with a hard-hitting message.
The Dream Theater-ish The Proverbial Banana Peel is a heavier piece, full of grungy guitar and really nice drum-work; my only criticism would be that it doesn’t last long enough!
The chorus-verse-chorus structure at the start of Young Once soon gives way to an ambient late-middle section that ends in a Mike Oldfield-like instrumental. The haunting chorus is the icing on a very fine track indeed.
Scenery is an acoustic number that invokes aural imagery of Queen and ELO, highlights the softer side of the band and sets us up for Free For All; a pure Dream Theater-meets-Jellyfish rocker. Again the bass is used to good effect, providing the engine that propels the whole song.
Album closer The Last Gasp is an anthemic combination of light and shade with a melody that sticks in the mind long after the album has ended. It blends all the strengths exhibited throughout the album and is orchestrated in such a way that makes me hope the band turn their collective hand to a 10 minute-plus epic at some point in the future.
It’s not often an album as refreshing as this comes along, and we should treasure it when it does. Thoughtful and intelligent lyrics are united with outstanding melodies and sonic creativity reminiscent of Kate Bush. The bands that are referenced above only go some way to conveying a sense of the styles of music on offer here. If I were to try to summarise this album concisely, I would say the most pertinent comparisons would be with Echolyn and IZZ, but that is not to say it's in any way derivative. The superb production enhances an already high-quality mix of songs, resulting in an album that demands repeated spins, and rewards every listen with some new revelation.
Highly and unreservedly recommended!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Hardin & York - The World's Smallest Big Band
Tracklist: Just A Case Of Time (4:05), I Can't Find My Way Home (3:28), Love, A Song For You (6:20), Rock & Roll Medley: Jailhouse Rock; Mean Woman Blues; Rip It Up (4:55), The Pike (9:00), Northern Medley: Lady Madonna; Norwegian Wood (10:15) Bonus Tracks: If I Could Join Them (3:12), David Difficult (6:12), Tomorrow Today (3:23), Candlelight (5:19), Little Miss Blue (3:56), Can't Keep A Good Man Down (6:11), Cowboy (5:17), Everyone I Know (4:50)
Eddie Hardin and Pete York first got together in the Spencer Davis Group when Hardin had the unenviable task of replacing the teenage musical genius that was Steve Winwood. Following the recording of the soundtrack for the Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush film and a final Spencer Davis album, With Their New Face On, the duo left to become in-demand session players. Missing the stage and an audience, the pair soon decided to perform live taking up a residency at the famous Marquee Club in Wardour Street. With only a drummer and a keyboard playing vocalist, the unusual line-up caught the attention of the press and were soon snapped up by the new Bell label. The 1969 debut album, Tomorrow Today, was an excellent first step, featuring a host of session players backing Hardin's expressive piano, organ and Mellotron and York's considered percussive accompaniment. Although a hit in Europe, it was not a great success in their native country, something that was put down to the great difference between the live duo performances and the slick production of the album, although, it does contain some classic numbers, such as the title track and the marvellous Mullberry Place. As a result of the relative home ground failure of the first album, it was decided that the second would feature just Hardin and York.
The original release was split into three studio songs and three live songs in an effort to capture the essence of the band in the different environments. The album begins with Just A Case Of Time which features the only additional musicians on the album, a beautifully arranged string section and a touch of brass. Essentially a piano and vocal piece, York's contribution is minimal although he can he heard keeping the beat at various points. I Can't Find My Way Home is more of a honky tonk number, similar to something Keith Emerson would indulge himself with at various points during ELP's career. Indeed, Emerson could also have taken a leaf out of Hardin's book when it comes to the classical piano aspects of the wonderful Love, A Song For You. A fantastic ballad that is beautifully sung by Hardin and a highlight of the album. Although the piano is the dominant instrument, some subtle keyboards adds atmosphere. With three relatively slow piano pieces and York never breaking into a sweat, the live numbers provide a counterbalance, starting with a Rock & Roll Medley. Hearing these standards played on an organ rather than a guitar adds a bit of originality but on the whole the medley serves the purpose of warming up the specially invited audience of, as the booklet states, Soho Deadbeats. Things really come alight on the two other live numbers. The Pike, really showcases the power that the duo could create with just an organ and a drummer. In some ways there is a resemblance to early Atomic Rooster, although H&Y have a much cleaner sound. York gets to show off his percussive skills to great effect, so much so that it is only when the organ is reintroduced that one realises that for the previous 90 seconds one has been effectively listening to a drum solo! The Northern Medley of Beatles classics Lady Madonna and Norwegian Wood, only bear scant resemblance to the originals with the central motif of each piece being distinguishable in-between various keyboard excursions that at times border on jazz and at others into a rockier spectrum. Might sound horrific but it works surprisingly well.
As usual with Esoteric re-issues there are a bountiful collection of bonus tracks, which, in this case, double the length of the original album. The first six bonus tracks are from a radio session recorded in June 1969. Unusually for a session that was presumably part of the promotional duties for the first album, only three of the session tracks are from that album: the excellent title track, Tomorrow Today, Candlelight and Can't Keep A Good Man Down. Again, reproducing these songs as a duo gives them extra impetus with Candlelight in particular benefitting from a harsher organ attack than on the studio version. The blusier Can't Keep A Good Man Down skilfully combines the organ and piano, so much so that it is hard to remember that both are being simultaneously played by one man. The other three tracks from this session are all previously unreleased songs, great news for collectors! If I Could Join Them, another soft ballad, is another wonderful song that fits in very well with the three studio songs on the original album. It is a wonder that they did not include a version of this number in place of the Rock & Roll Medley, indeed, the song as it stands from this session, which includes some minor string parts, is good enough to have warranted a place on the album. David Difficult is dominated by the organ in a head on clash between Jon Lord and Keith Emerson in his Nice years. York adds another enthralling drum solo so as not to be left out. Little Miss Blue rounds off the session tracks and although interesting doesn't quite reach the heights of the other numbers from the session. The final two numbers were recorded live in Germany in 1970. Cowboy, which featured on the next studio album, 1971's For The World, and the previously unissued Everyone I Know, both fit in well with the reissue and show what a productive spell of great song writing Hardin, the principle songwriter, was going through as the sixties turned into the seventies.
It is always difficult rating reissues such as this as, obviously, it is of its time. Anyone who has not been raised on classic rock were there were seemingly no boundaries between hard rock, prog, funk (and if you think that is a typo, listen to the title track of Funkadelic's Maggot Brain album and tell me that is not a classic guitar solo that any of the idolised rock gods wouldn't be proud of) and a multitude of other musical genres. If you are of a slightly older age, have an interest in the roots of modern rock and prog or indeed think that the day the music died was in fact the day when Gabriel announced his resignation from Genesis, then The World's Smallest Big Band is certainly an album that is recommended as worthy of being investigated. If, on the other hand, you didn't know Gabriel was in Genesis, think that the 1980s prog resurgence is ancient history or have never lived without a mobile phone or the internet, well I'm sure your parents might be interested!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10 (but only because giving it a recommended score would display my inherent bias!)
The Web - Fully Interlocking
Tracklist: City Of Darkness (3:07), Harold Dubbleyew (3:11), Hatton Mill Morning (3:49), Green Side Up (2:01), Wallpaper (3:00), Did You Die Four Years Ago Tonight? (2:11), Watcha Kelele (3:51), Reverend J. McKinnon (2:59), Sunday Joint (2:03), War Or Peace: Theme; East Meets West; Battle Scene; Conscience; Epilogue (9:42) Bonus Tracks: I'm A Man (3:33), God Bless The Child (5:00), To Love Somebody (3:29)
The Web had an unusual career path which culminated in two early English progressive rock albums, 1970's I Spider and, following a change of name, the eponymous Samurai, released in 1971. Both of these albums featured a pre-Greenslade Dave Lawson. Prior to Lawson's involvement, the group had released, also in 1970, the transitionary Theraphosa Blondi, but the story really starts with a debut album Fully Interlocking in 1968. The group had come together in the Bournemouth area which, in the early 1960s, had a thriving musical scene including most of the key characters that went on to form King Crimson. Indeed, many of the members of The Web had played in groups with the likes of Fripp, Lake, Giles, Giles, Al Stewart and Andy Summers. In the mid sixties, percussionist Kenny Beveridge, guitarist Tony Edwards and bassist Dick Lee-Smith were approached by jazz drummer Lennie Wright and ex-Manfred Mann saxophonist/flautist Don Fay about forming a band with a 'unique sound'. The resulting group, unsurprisingly called Sounds Unique, proved to be a big hit on the local scene and further afield, with the group playing a four-month European tour in 1966. Prior to the tour, John Eaton had joined as an additional guitarist and to help pull the group sound together. Following their return, the group decided to move to London and change their name to The Web. Don Fay decided to move on (to Georgie Fame's Blue Flames) being replaced by Tom Harris (flute/saxophone) and American vocalist John L Watson. A meeting with renowned producer Mike Vernon resulted in the group signing to Decca and recording Fully Interlocking.
The result is a fascinating album that could only have been produced in the 1960s. Watson added a bit of soul to the proceedings but, on the whole, the album is decidedly English. The jazzier direction that the band would later develop is present in tracks like Green Side Up while the epic, in every meaning of the word, War Or Peace displays the progressive sentiments of the group. Fully orchestrated with spoken poetry elements, the result is akin to early Moody Blues. Elsewhere we are treated to African rhythms on Watcha Kelele (apparently Swahili for 'shut your noise'), satirical commentary on Harold Dubbleyew (for youngsters and non-British readers, the title refers to then prime minister Harold Wilson), the rather psychedelic lyrics of Wallpaper and a beautifully arranged choir, string and horn section on The Reverend J McKinnon.
Unless you are a fan of the other Web/Samurai albums or have musical tastes that extend beyond pure progressive rock and into the roots of rock music then it is probably unlikely that you will find a lot in this album. However, I love it, probably more than their other albums. A reflection of the time perhaps but there is a youth and vitality present in the music and the sense of spirit that anything was possible, no confines into what was appropriate music for a band to be making. As ever, Esoteric have done a marvellous job, the remastering (by Dave Lawson) is superb, the booklet and sleeve notes (by John Eaton) is interesting and informative and the bonus tracks (which I guess are early recordings by the group as they are cover versions, although unfortunately no information is provided on these numbers) round everything off nicely.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Klotet – En Rak Hoger
Tracklist: Jagad Av Satan (2:20), Vanlig Dag Pa Jobbet, Snutjavel (3:37), En Rak Hoger Sa Att Glasogonen Rok (4:17), Tulpandrakula (4:17), Den Felande Lanken (2:49), Sirankel (0:50), Allt Ar Inte Farligt (3:49), Ar Detta Humor? (3:49), Makt Korrumperar (4:51), Kontrollapparat (3:33), Baklangesmannen (0:38), Den Meningslosa (3:55), Ugglor I Mossen (5:14), Splittring (4:30)
Klotet are a new (formed in 2004) group, from Uppsala, Sweden. The members are Mikael Styrke – drums & Percussion; Milvesofia Rydahl – organ, Rhodes & keyboards; David Hallberg – bass guitar & Pahl Sundstrom – guitars.
Recently, there has certainly not been any shortage of excellent prog bands from Sweden with The Flower Kings, Karmakanic, Soniq Circus and Simon Says being only a few of the names which spring to mind. Klotet, however, cast their minds back much further for inspiration, as their entirely instrumental concoction draws on such stalwarts of the early Swedish prog movement as Kebnekajsie, Flasket Brinner and the legendary Bo Hansson.
Indeed, their guitar and organ/Rhodes dominated sound has as much in common with late sixties psychedelia and proto-prog as it does with the later symphonic progressive style. This extended suite of instrumental music sits somewhere between the folk tunes and whimsy of the first Samla Mammas Manna album and the grandiose melancholy of Anglagard (though without any mellotron or flute).
From the opening bars of Jagad Av Satan, with its ultra cool Fender piano and trippy guitar, the music is instantly identifiable as being of Swedish origin. There is much to enjoy in Klotet’s unique approach to their musical heritage, especially the wonderful Fender Rhodes and organ playing of Rydahl. Sundstrom weighs in with some beautiful, melodic guitar – his playing is fluid and not a little funky in places, especially on album closer Splittring.
The 14 succinct tunes, most of which segue into one another, are overflowing with deliciously twisting riffs and motifs. My favourites are the more intense numbers like Vanlig Dag Pa Jobbet, Snutjavel and Makt Korrumperar, but Ugglor I Mossen, with its rolling percussion and moody organ comes close to capturing the special magic of Bo Hansson’s masterpiece Lord Of the Rings and is a mighty fine track.
En Rak Hoger is an assured debut from a band with a somewhat unusual flavour and a lot of promise. Fans of Swedish progressive music will lap it up.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10