REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:
Caamora - She
CD 1: Act 1 Overture (6:12), Scene 1: The Storm (4:31), The Veil (4:59), Covenant Of Faith (3:19), Rescue (5:04), Scene 2: The Lost City (1:57), The Bonding (5:25), Ambush (5:22), Scene 3: Judgement (5:27), History (5:36), Scene 4: Confrontation (6:16), Vigil (4:50), Scene 5: Shadows (7:20)
CD 2: Act 2 Scene 1: Fire Dance (9:56), Scene 2: Cursed (4:51), Closer (2:57), Disbelief (1:11), Murder (4:03), The Eleventh Hour (5:10), Scene 3: Resting Place (6:14), The Sands Of Time (4:18), Scene 4: Embrace The Fire (3:35), The Night Before (3:55), Scene 5: The Fire Of Life (10:12)
As someone that makes a point of never buying an album that’s advertised on TV you could say I have an aversion to sales hype. I was therefore understandably sceptical when a fanfare of publicity announced the release of Caamora’s ‘Rock Opera’ She. Two years in the making it was officially premiered in Katowice, Poland on 31st October 2007 with an extravagant stage show that was recorded for DVD. The album has just now been launched and is available in virtually every conceivable format. Depending upon your preference (and pocket) the options include (takes a deep breath) a double CD studio album, a double CD digipack with a bonus track, a triple vinyl album with bonus track, a live DVD, a DVD digipack that includes a double live CD, and finally a box set that includes the double studio CD, the double live CD, the live DVD and a bonus DVD. My review copy arrived in the most modest of these formats, the studio album minus the bonus track. Oh, and I almost forgot there is also an EP available headed by the song Embrace.
The concepts creator’s are Polish vocalist Agnieszka Swita and UK keyboardist Clive Nolan who teamed up after meeting in England in February 2005. Clive is of course better known for his work with Arena, Pendragon and Shadowland. As Caamora they have two previous EP’s to their credit,
Closer from 2006 and Walk On Water released in 2007, both of which provide tasters for this album. The literary amongst you will be aware that She is based on H. Rider Haggard’s classic adventure story of the same name. I’ve never read the book myself but I do remember being taken by my parents to see the 1965 film version which starred a very curvaceous Ursula Andress in the title role of Ayesha. Unsurprisingly Agnieszka plays this part with the other principles sung by Clive (Leo), Alan Reed (Holly) and Christina Booth (Ustane). Alan and Christina of course need no introduction being familiar as the lead vocalists with Pallas and Magenta respectively. The backing band also features an impressive list of names including Mark Westwood (guitars), John Jowitt (basses), Scott Higham (drums and percussion), Alaster Bentley (oboe), Mark Kane (horn) and Hugh McDowell (cello). Clive of course supplies the keyboards and is responsible for the music, lyrics, orchestrations and production.
As befits the story this is prog on a grand scale from the sweeping and symphonic Overture to the powerful and climactic The Fire Of Life. In between there is not one single disappointing track in the entire set. A tympani roll and a gong crash announce the Overture with its strident brass and swirling strings. Danny Elfman’s gothic theme for the 1989 Batman movie seems to be an obvious influence here. It provides a perfect backdrop for Agnieszka’s theatrical vocal style as the ruthless and immortal Queen Ayesha with powerful support from the massed voice choir. It’s not all elaborate orchestrations however as exemplified by the fast and muscular proggy guitars that add a touch of Neal Morse to the The Storm. This song introduces Clive and Alan’s characters two Victorian travellers, and joined by Agnieszka they deliver excellent and complex three-part harmonies. It’s Christina’s chance to shine taking the lead for Rescue and The Bonding which benefit from her commanding performance. Both songs feature infectious vocal hooks propelled by powerful, almost tribal drumming.
Alan comes into his own during History, a gloriously melodic mid-tempo song. A mellow synth break paves the way for a satisfying conclusion with the choir adding their weight behind Alan’s uplifting choral refrain. Confrontation is a key song as Ayesha and Ustane clash over their shared love for Leo. Starting out as a reflective love song from Christina, it’s interrupted by Agnieszka who will develop the same song herself in the delicate Vigil that follows. Staying with Confrontation, the mood becomes defiant with dramatic vocal exchanges between the two female leads against a backdrop of explosive percussion. Christina is at her absolute best here leaving the new Magenta album with a lot to live up to. Agnieszka’s vocal range and versatility is demonstrated to the full during Shadows, a song that develops from the macabre to the monumental bringing disc one to a spectacular close.
Fire Dance opens disc two in style with stately horns and strings punctuated by triumphant guitar and drum crescendos. It lends an epic Hollywood gloss this time echoing Alan Silvestri’s stirring main theme for The Abyss. A haunting oboe theme reveals that the dance will soon turn into a death waltz. With its gothic organ sound the menacing Cursed underscores Ayesha’s evil intentions towards Ustane. Suitably Agnieszka is at her most strident here bringing the uncompromising style of new wave singers like Siouxsie Sioux and Hazel O’Connor to mind. Sadly and inevitably the fate of Christina’s character is sealed but not before she delivers a heart wrenching performance of the bittersweet Closer. A stark but lyrical piano backing and a melody to die for (literally) provides a perfect platform for Christina’s evocative vocal.
Until this album, unlike his keyboard playing, I was unfamiliar with Clive’s vocal work. His performance was a real revelation therefore engaging in several outstanding duets with Agnieszka as the fate of the two lovers is played out. Resting Place features some of the albums heaviest moments with potent driving guitar and soaring symphonic keys underpinning the powerful but intricate counterpoint harmonies and yet another compelling hook. In contrast The Night Before is a beautiful ballad with lilting piano and strings supporting a memorable chorus that builds to a spine tingling finale. If the decision over my final rating was still wavering then it was sealed as Agnieszka leads the choir into the stunning choral majesty of The Sands Of Time. The two principles don’t have it all their own way however with Alan taking lead once again for Embrace The Fire. It’s an engaging guitar driven rock song with a ridiculously catchy chorus. Appropriately the albums longest song The Fire Of Life brings things to a dramatic conclusion. Several reflective moments that include harp, acoustic guitar, oboe and cello allows the singers to reprise some of their earlier vocal melodies. In between electric guitar and orchestral keys build powerfully and for the final time they are joined by bombastic choral work delivering a rousing climax.
Although I normally favour a complete track-by-track critique the observant amongst you will have noticed that I’ve omitted to mention several of the songs listed above. Such is the excellence of the album there are more quality songs here than there are superlatives to do it justice. Otherwise I would have waxed lyrical about the energetic and catchy The Veil, the graceful acoustic embellishments during Covenant Of Faith, the majestic ELP like organ and brass fanfare to The Lost City, the high drama of Ambush, Agnieszka’s vocal tour de force throughout Judgement and so much more. Every single one of these songs has the ability to lock themselves into your head and stay there long after the album has been returned to its elaborate packaging. That packaging includes superb graphics and artwork, and sound wise the discs also benefit from the involvement of Threshold’s Karl Groom at the mixing desk.
This album has virtually become a permanent resident in my CD player and I never tire of hearing it. Furthermore I feel sure that repeated listens will reap its rewards for some time to come. For once this is a release that lives up to all the hype. The burning question should be not is it worth your time and cash but which version are you going to buy. In the meantime it’s back to the Caamora’s website for me. With my birthday just around the corner that box set is looking very tempting.
Conclusion: 10 out of 10
Elfferich Four – Eccentricity
Tracklist: Shower (3:46), Ruperts Roof (2:32), Shift (3:35), Eccentricity (5:01), Wintersleep (4:06), Small Wings (3:39), Nun Is Now (3:39), Force (3:30), Carabas (3:36), Lucky (3:17), Nightwalk Nine (3:46)
One of the first CDs I reviewed for this site was from an American instrumental band called Apeyga, a band which offers tight little jam pieces with hints of King Crimson. In the same vein of instrumental Crimsonish bands is Elfferich Four, who on their fourth release Eccentricity sound better than Apeyga through their reliance on heavy time signatures. And since the early nineties when they first formed, they have made a great use of time, indeed.
The Dutch band is comprised of Jeroen Elfferich on drums and song compositions, Rik Fennis on guitars, and Bert van Der Mullen on bass. There was a “fourth”, a dude on saxophone, but he has long ago departed the band, leaving them as a trio. Interestingly, the same exact thing happened to Van Der Graaf Generator when saxophone man David Jackson left that band. But I digress, and musically so does Elfferich Four on Eccentricity, a veering, jazzy voyage through odd arrangements and tricky key signatures that leave your ears dizzy, yet wanting more. The Warr guitar styling of Crim alum Trey Gunn influence opening track Shower and the aptly titled Shift, the latter of which also points to Yes as well as indie band Field Music as a reference. The general epic panorama sequences of Yes or similar prog cinematic lengths is encapsulated on the songs by Elfferich, who deftly composes quite original little tunes, such as the equally aptly titled Forest, that change in structure and rhythm in just a few minutes. Again, a great use of time.
Elfferich lays down the blueprint, and all three build the house. Van Der Mullen’s bass is fluid and thick, at times evoking current Crim bassist Tony Levin, and is especially evident on the ¾ bluesy pogo of the title track. Fennis at certain places sounds like rockabilly guitar luminary Jim Heath (Reverend Horton Heat), and shines in particular on the early Floyd-ish Carabas.
The CD is produced well and has a somewhat indie looking cover design.
I love the, well, eccentric variety on this CD and the quality of Elfferich's compositions. While he has more than displayed his skill at harnessing and encapsulating prog elements, serving it up as “prog lite”, it would be interesting to see the band experiment with longer tracks on future releases. Adding a vocalist would be interesting, too.
Eccentricity will most likely appeal to fans of indie rock, instrumental rock, experimental rock and prog in general. If you are more into straight up, mainstream vocal pop, Elfferich Four may not be for you.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Agua De Annique - Air
|Country of Origin:||The Netherlands|
|Year of Release:||2007|
|Info:||Agua De Annique|
Tracklist: Beautiful One (4:41), Witnesses (4:16), Yalin (3:23), Day After Yesterday (3:42), My Girl (4:14), Take Care Of Me (2:42), Ice Water (4:09), You Are Nice! (3:16), Trail Of Grief (4:34), Come Wander With Me (3:31), Sunken Soldiers Ball (5:07), Lost And Found (5:15), Asleep (2:29)
Anneke van Giersbergen has been the face of The Gathering for over 10 years and soon after she joined the band they claimed success with their album Mandylion. Their single Strange Machines even made it into the charts. That album was already a step away from the gothic death metal genre in which the band started out but later albums like Souvenirs and Home with acoustic instruments changed the sound even more. Halfway through 2007 came the sudden announcement that The Gathering and Anneke would part ways, Anneke choosing a career of her own and created the solo project Agua De Annique. The big question of course was what musical direction the debut album Air would take?
Agua De Annique continues the acoustic style of The Gathering but Anneke has given the album her own personal twist, coming pretty close to Home. Air is more accessible, but on occasions can still demand a bigger attention from the listener. The opener Beautiful One sounds very pleasant and enchanting but immediately after Witnesses is more daring with a strange pace and a contradicting vocal line. On You Are Nice! a heavy rock guitar can be heard, the rest is mainly acoustic guitar with piano. Each song has it's own identity and together they create a perfectly balanced album with a gentle mood. The trumpet solo on Day After Yesterday by guest musician Timothy Conroy is one of the highlights on the album for me. It almost needs not to be mentioned but for the record I would like to state that Anneke's singing is beautiful. Air is not a concept album but is loosely built around the phenomenon called stewardess. "The lady in the aisle" represents the duality of life, the comfortable and the uneasy. The song Come Wander With Me is a cover from Jeff Alexander who wrote it for an episode of The Twilight Zone.
Air is a beautiful piece of music in which Ague De Annique continues the style of the album Home from The Gathering. Acoustic guitar and piano occasionally accompanied by flute and trumpet create a delicate sound. Agua De Annique has not become a copy of The Gathering but fans will surely embrace this new band from Anneke van Giersbergen. This is a perfect album for a quiet moment. All aboard and enjoy your flight.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
The Neil Campbell Collective - Particle Theory
|Country of Origin:||UK|
|Year of Release:||2008|
Tracklist: Particle Theory (7:44), More Particles (4:58), Aria (3:42), 517 (3:13), The Line (7:58), The List (3:21), Angels And Aeroplanes (4:14), Particle Theory (6:52)
I was fortunate to receive a pre-release copy of the Particle Theory CD from Liverpudlian composer, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Neil Campbell just prior to Christmas 2007. Presumably as since first discovering the music of its founder I have become somewhat of a fan of his music and have said so on several occasions on this site. So as it is now nearly April, why has it taken such an age for this review to find its way onto the DPRPages.
Well before I move onto my observations of this latest offering from The Neil Campbell Collective, let me quote from the press release.
"Around a year in the making 'Particle Theory', whilst remaining eminently melodic and filled with sumptuous rhythms, textural and harmonic arrangements, has almost completely abandoned any vestige of conventional song forms. Across the length of the album a small handful of themes are presented, layered and hyper-arranged in an array of wildly diverging contexts, demonstrating an amalgam of styles and references from progressive, post-minimal and ambient music."
An accurate appraisal of the album I might hasten to add. I would however like to to pick up on just a couple of phrases from the above, which might well go to explaining why, and if truth be told, the first few spins of Particle Theory did not capture my attention in the same way that the band's previous release,
3 O'Clock Sky, had.
The two phrases in question are; "has almost completely abandoned any vestige of conventional song forms..." and "post-minimal and ambient music..." Taking on board the first of these, I initially found the more open and experimental approach adopted on Particle Theory difficult to digest and only with subsequent playing did the depth, and at times beauty, of the music gradually click into place. The second which includes the dreaded word "ambient" started the alarm bells ringing, and certainly the almost five minutes of More Particles did not help the tinnitus to stop. I need not have worried, as Neil Campbell is a musician first and foremost, he effectively manages to contextualize those ambient sections.
So where are we with this album? As with 3 O'Clock Sky the album opens at a heady pace with Neil's rippling classical guitar underpinned by Mark Brocklesby's busy and precise drumming. Running throughout the track are several layers of modulating and sweeping synth lines giving a further dimension to the music. A track of light and shade with numerous linking passages employed to add an ebb and flow to the music. The inclusion of Alex Welford's horns adds much impact
too. This is a complex piece in terms of arrangement and certainly keeps the attention throughout the seven and a half minute running time. Once again Neil has called upon cellist Nicole Collarbone to add her magic in this great opener. Particle Theory segues into the previously mentioned More Particles - a rather amorphous piece constructed from multi-layered synths. Best viewed as a linking passage similar perhaps to On The Run from Dark Side Of The Moon, although here the piece conjures up the vast emptiness of space.
With a slightly different arrangement the delightful Aria returns us to the melodic fold - a beautiful piece first heard by me on the splendid
Fall album from Neil Campbell and Nicole Collarbone. All of which nicely leads us into one of the
highlights of the album and the hypnotic rhythms which make up 517. Once again droning synths are employed, however it is the propulsive rhythm that makes this track for me. A clever little synth motif, Neil's assured classical guitar all poignantly punctuated by Noicole's cello. The layers grow steadily with electric and acoustic guitar themes emerging throughout. The addition of rhythmic handclaps give an Spanish touch to an engaging three minutes of music. This trio of tracks is concluded by a return to the Fall album and initially a similar type of arrangement to that employed on Aria. The inclusion of Mark Brocklesby on kit and the addition of piano, bass etc gives both tracks a different slant, and one that works very effectively. Now by this point, and on the first run through of Particle Theory, I had assumed that the album was to be an all instrumental affair. So I was a little surprised to hear Jeff Jepson step up the the microphone midway through The Line. The vocal section works well and certainly Jepson's performance adds to the piece, which in part reminded me of an "old" MMEB track from the Glorified Magnified album.
The List is the second of the "ambient" tracks from the album. A haunting piece with Nicole Collarbone effectively weaving her cello throughout and
with the inclusion of the Theremin giving a "spooky" (sorry couldn't think of a better word here) feel to the proceedings. Segueing neatly into Angels And Aeroplanes the second and final vocal offering from the album. This time Neil takes on the main vocal duties - I can imagine it is an acquired taste, but really like the timbre
and delivery of his voice. A gentle moody track with the choruses set back in the mix and evocatively sung by Victoria Melia. Another great track and certainly one that would have sat nicely of the previous NCC album.
And as with their previous album, the lead track bookends Particle Theory. Rising neatly from Angels And Aeroplanes, the first three minutes of Particle Theory "part 2" is a fabulous piece. Revisiting the opening track but with a completely different arrangement. I love Stan Ambrose's Celtic harp which superbly counterpoints Neil's classical guitar. I've listened to this section many times! From here the track picks up pace morphing into a piece of music I could well have imagined gracing a late 60s early 70s film... Composer Lalo Schifrin springing to mind. The tempo is maintained as we conclude the album in a lighter vein with Nicole's cello and Neil's classical guitar gradually disappearing into the last of our droning synths.
I can well imagine that given the chance Particle Theory could well find a strong following within our progressive audience. The music touches on several sub-genres and craftily weaves them into album that is diverse, whilst remaining somehow convincing as a whole. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, this album wasn't an instant hit with me, but has certainly won me over.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Web – I Spider
|Country of Origin:||UK|
|Record Label:||Esoteric Recordings|
|Catalogue #:||ELEC 2027|
|Year of Release:||1970/2008|
Tracklist: Concerto For Bedsprings: I Can’t Sleep, Sack Song, Peaceful Sleep, You Can Keep The Good Life, Loner (10:19), I Spider (8:39), Love You (5:32), Ymphasomniac (6:52), Always I Wait (8:22) Bonus Tracks: Concerto For Bedsprings (10:40), Love You (4:23)
Like many others I became acquainted with the music of keyboardist and vocalist Dave Lawson with the release of the debut Greenslade album in 1973. A dual keyboard led quartet, the band also included Dave Greenslade, Tony Reeves and Andrew McCulloch. Whilst I was aware of his colleague’s pedigree having come by way of bands like Colosseum and King Crimson, I was unfamiliar with Lawson’s background. Thanks to Esoteric and the re-release of this 1970 album from Web and the 1971 Samurai set (see review below) which followed, my education is now complete in that department. As with all of Esoteric’s retrospective releases this album has been lovingly remastered, on this occasion by Lawson himself.
When Lawson joined Web, a then soul influenced band, they already had several recordings under their belt but this proved to be their last. Up to that point he had been a member of Episode Six, a band best known for once having Ian Gillan and Roger Glover amongst its ranks before they found fame and fortune with Deep Purple. Taking over sole song writing duties he transformed Web into a jazz-rock outfit with progressive rock and blues leanings. What attracted Lawson to the band in the first place was the dual drumming of Kenny Beveridge and Lennie Wright. Completing the line-up for the recording was Tom Harris (saxophones and flutes), Tony Edwards (electric and acoustic guitars) and John Eaton (bass guitar).
They nail their new colours to the mast by opening the album with Concerto For Bedsprings, a ten minute opus in five contrasting parts. I Can’t Sleep is a suitably strident and atmospheric introduction with heavy sax and organ underpinning the imposing vocal which is unmistakably Lawson. A spooky repeated organ motif rather like the vintage Twilight Zone TV theme leads into Sack Song a melodic jazzy instrumental with buoyant piano and sax. In keeping with its title Peaceful Sleep finds the band in gentle mode with a plaintive vocal resting on a light piano, flute and sax backing. In contrast the up-tempo You Can Keep The Good Life has an aggressive edge aided by a pounding piano riff. During the stark chorus Lawson’s voice it at its most strained and in my opinion least appealing. A strong sax solo continues the mood although it’s a tad overlong and begins to drag long before it ends. Loner returns briefly to the earlier mood to provide a peaceful close.
The title track I Spider is another lengthy piece although with less contrast in mood than its predecessor. Slow and moody for the most part it has a thoughtful vocal with a delicate organ backing and a spiralling sax motif. The edgy guitar punctuations sound very Peter Banks ala Yes’ version of Everydays from Time And A Word released the same year. A soaring sax break proves to be the most uplifting part. Love You opens with the rare use (for Lawson) of Mellotron with acoustic guitar and a reflective vocal which is Lawson sounding at his best. The mood and tempo abruptly changes as menacing sounding sax and guitar erupt. Mellotron and tympani are used to good effect here to sustain an air of tension and the whole thing reminded me of Van Der Graaf Generator. A heavy and bluesy guitar solo rounds off what is thus far for me the albums best song.
The curiously titled Ymphasomniac is an urgent sax led instrumental with a thumping piano backing. The eerie underscoring of Mellotron and the busy drum work is strongly reminiscent of early King Crimson. A lengthy percussion only section gives both drummers a chance to hit everything in sight before building into a bombastic piano, organ and sax coda driven by monumental drumming. Although the coda feels somewhat over extended it’s a cracking instrumental nonetheless. Always I Wait is an OK closer but is about three minutes longer than it needs to be. The trebly staccato guitar punctuations have a Hendrix influence whilst Lawson sings impossibly high joined by restless sax and organ. A fuzzed organ solo brought back memories of Tony Kaye’s work in Yes mark 1 whilst the vocals here sound very like Andy Tillison at times.
With the original album clocking in at less than forty minutes, which was about average for the time, two bonus tracks have been included. Both were recorded live in 1971 in Sweden, a country where the band seemed to find particular favour. As live recordings go they are both excellent in terms of clarity and musicianship. Here the instruments seem more pronounced in Concerto For Bedsprings. This is especially true of bass and organ which when combined with sax recalls the Mike Ratledge and Elton Dean partnership from Soft Machine. Love You skips the mellow intro of the studio version and compensates with an extended and excellent guitar solo. It’s supported by animated organ playing and together they build to a potent climax. Superb stuff making both tracks an essential addition.
Following the albums release and a string of live dates supporting the likes of Yes, Hawkwind and Manfred Mann, Web decided to call it a day. This was prompted by a lack of finance and also frustration over their name constantly being misspelt on billings. They didn’t so much disband however as evolve into the band Samurai. With I Spider they have left behind a worthy legacy and it’s not hard to see why Esoteric decided to give it a new lease of life. If you’re familiar with Greenslade then you will appreciate that Lawson’s vocals are an acquired taste, sitting somewhere between Andy Tillison and Patrik Lundstrom. Stylistically the music occupies the same area as Soft Machine, Colosseum, King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator from the same era with overtones of the Canterbury style. Well worth a dabble especially for those that recall early 70’s UK prog-jazz with affection.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Samurai - Samurai
|Country of Origin:||UK|
|Record Label:||Esoteric Recordings|
|Catalogue #:||ELEC 2025|
|Year of Release:||1971/2008|
Tracklist: Saving It Up For So Long (3:45), More Rain (4:27), Maudie James (4:56), Holy Padlock (4:44), Give A Little Love (3:40), Face In The Mirror (6:45), As I Dried The Tears Away (8:13)
Following the Web album (see review above) keyboardist and vocalist Dave Lawson and the band returned to the studio the following year under the new name of Samurai. The majority of the line-up remained intact including Tony Edwards (electric and acoustic guitars), John Eaton (bass guitar), Kenny Beveridge (drums) and Lennie Wright (vibes, drums and percussion). With the departure of Tom Harris they were without a full time sax player so for the recording they enlisted the services of Tony Roberts (tenor sax, flutes and bass clarinet) and Don Fay (tenor sax and concert flutes). An important decision because here Lawson’s compositions and arrangements were even more heavily dependent on wind instruments especially saxophone. He had yet to become acquainted with the ARP Synthesizer which would become a staple ingredient of the Greenslade sound two years later.
For this release Esoteric have done their usual fine job with the re-mastering and packaging. In addition to a recent interview with Dave Lawson the booklet includes some very interesting cover artwork. If I’m not mistaken the two persons depicted bear a close resemblance to John Lennon and Yoko Ono who were very visible in the media at the time. In comparison with the Web album the music here is jazzier and more rhythmic, even a little off the wall and experimental in places. The tracks are generally shorter and surprisingly the content is less proggy. And I know this is an obvious thing to say but like its predecessor it’s very much an album of its time. So much so that the intro to the opening song Saving It Up For So Long is very similar to In The Beginning from Genesis' debut album released two years earlier. I’m not suggesting that Lawson was influenced by, or even listened to the Genesis album (very few people did) but it does serve to put the music in some form of historical context. In addition to the memorable riff, sax is everywhere on this track and the vocals succumb to some phasing trickery, popular with record producers at the time but sounding a tad dated now.
The relaxed samba rhythm that accompanies More Rain gives it a cocktail lounge feel. The vocals are light and airy this time and the song benefits from some superb flute embellishments. Maudie James continues the light, jazzy mood with dual sax soling and a driving piano riff. There is a greater urgency to Holy Padlock but dual sax playing is still very much to the fore along with a jazz flavoured organ solo and a fast acoustic guitar riff. The highlight for me however is the busy drumming towards the end. A complex wah-wah guitar pattern doubled by piano distinguishes the up-tempo Give A Little Love as does the moody organ break. On the downside it plays out with a not so inspired jazz inflected sax solo.
If the previous tracks had been a little samey to my ears the two final songs offer more variety, benefiting from a lengthier playing time. The strident organ and sax riff that rocks Face In The Mirror is the albums best moment so far and is offset by a gentle and compelling piano motif similar to a clock chiming. The edgy and lengthy guitar solo sounds quite bizarre to begin with and is not instantly recognisable as guitar. Throughout the song the animated but articulate drumming is a revelation. As I Dried The Tears Away is easily the albums most ambitious track. The opening part is slow and reflective with piano and vibes interrupted by bombastic sax punctuations. It develops into a tuneful vocal melody joined by moody guitar which for me is possibly the albums highlight. In contrast it becomes very avant-garde around the halfway mark with discordant piano and organ sounds. Following a sharp organ solo and a low key percussion interlude in concludes with a contemplative vocal section that has a ring of The Tangent about it.
Like Lawson’s time with Web, Samurai’s existence was short lived. Following the albums release the band went on the road but struggled without saxophone which had become such a fundamental part of their sound. Despite strong support from their record label at the time, which had bassist Tony Reeves as their A&R director, the band folded due to lack of commercial success. Lawson along with Reeves would go on to become one half of Greenslade leaving this release buried below a plethora of prog-rock releases from 1971. And to be fair with such classics as The Yes Album, Fragile, Nursery Cryme, Tarkus, Meddle, Aqualung, Pawn Hearts and Soft Machine Four all released the same year it’s not hard to see why it didn’t make the same impression. However, as a memento of those heady times when prog was actually considered to be cool it’s certainly worth checking out.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Eternal Wanderers – The Door To A Parallel World
Tracklist: How Long I'd Been Facing The Dark (8:10), The Door To A Parallel World (7:46), Ride Without End (4:22), Too Close To Heavens (7:21), No Way Back (5:49), Visions Of The Lost World (11:46), Revival (7:41)
There is nothing uncommon about female singers in prog bands these days but what makes Eternal Wanderers quite unique is that the band is fronted by two sisters. Elena and Tatyana Kanevskaya put the band together in Moscow just over ten years ago but have taken until now to release their debut album. Elena supplies the vocals, keyboards and recorder whilst Tatyana takes care of the guitar duties. They are joined by bassist Dmitry Shtatnov and drummer Sergey Rogulya, with Sergey Alyamkin, who has subsequently left the band, providing the drums on one track. Flute and recorder player Dmitry Drogunov has also joined the band since the recording of this album.
Elena sings in English in a distinctive style that would fit comfortably into a traditional folk environment. Her voice did take a while to grow on me I must confess sounding not unlike a cross between Joan Baez (on the mellow songs) and new wave singer/actress Hazel O’Connor (on the strident songs). Her mostly synth keys work is very much in the symphonic neo-prog vein whilst Tatyana’s guitar technique betrays her love of Steve Morse’s playing. Their musical style is fairly eclectic injecting songs and instrumentals with elements of prog, folk, psychedelic and electronic. It all fits together in a harmonious fashion and I was especially taken by their flair for strong melodies. This is certainly true of the title track The Door To A Parallel World, a mellow and tuneful instrumental led by spacey Floydian guitar. The technique also reminded me of PFM’s Franco Mussida, a name that doesn’t come to mind as often as it might when I’m comparing guitarists.
As instrumentals go even better still is the albums longest cut Visions Of The Lost World. An unhurried introduction eventually blossoms into a hauntingly beautiful guitar refrain that Camel and Wishbone Ash would be proud of. It also benefits from some busy and nicely timed drum articulations that are a throwback to Phil Collins’ pattern from Band Aid’s Feed The World single. The only weak link is an ambient bridge section compising eerie electronic effects of the type normally found in sci-fi movies. This part’s a tad drawn out in my view but the guitar theme returns once more augmented by symphonic keys and tubular bells to provide a majestic coda.
Of the songs, which range from the Bjorn Lynne flavoured electronic soundscape opening of How Long I'd Been Facing The Dark to the fluid guitar solo that closes Revival, they’re all sufficiently diverse in mood and tempo to hold the listeners attention. The former includes a neat fretless bass solo whilst the latter indulges in forceful organ and synth interplay that brings ELP to mind. Elsewhere the vigorous Ride Without End features a memorable chorus supported by statacco metallic riffs and orchestral keys punctuations. No Way Back has an even greater urgency driven by a gutsy shuffle rhythm that owes a debt to Jethro Tull’s Living In The Past. Following a mellow synth break that has Wakeman stamped all over it, the song concludes with animated guitar and synth exchanges that standout as some of the albums best playing.
The albums centrepiece Too Close To Heavens has a folk ballad feel mainly due to the wistful sound of the recorder and the plaintive vocal. An engaging chorus is enriched by lyrical classical guitar picking and a warm bass sound. Elena’s singing is at its best here and I would say that this slower style suits her voice better than the up-tempo songs. During the aforementioned closing track Revival she also adds an ethereal chant that’s very effective especially against the celestial organ backdrop.
With The Door To A Parallel World Eternal Wanderers have produced a very worthy debut. In terms of personnel preferences I have only one minor gripe. To illustrate the albums concept of infinite inner and outer space, ambient electronic effects are liberally used to open and close almost every track to the point of predictable regularity. The end result for me is that each song is around a couple of minutes longer than it needs to be. On the plus side there’s certainly no doubting the care and effort they’ve put into the song writing, arrangements and recording. Elena and Tatyana are also responsible for the robust production which ensures that the music’s weight and subtitles are effectively conveyed. This release would make a fine addition to any neo-prog collection.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Believe – Hope To See Another Day
Tracklist: What Is Love (7:39), Needles In The Brain (5:18), Liar (6:57), Pain (5:14), Seven Days (6:09), Coming Down (6:04), Don’t Tell Me (5:29), Hope To See Another Day (12:11)
Believe are a Polish outfit formed around the talents of ex-Collage guitarist Mirek Gil. It would no doubt have been easy for Gil to knock out an album in the same neo-prog vein as his former band, but to his credit he’s taken a different route on Hope To See Another Day. In the main, the music eschews the style of his previous band altogether, the main reference points instead being the US alternative rock scene, with the music drawing influence from superior outfits of the grunge revolution of the early nineties (Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains) through to modern day outfits such as Alter Bridge and Nickelback. The symphonic / progressive overtones are on show mainly through Gil’s trademark soaring guitar work, but also through the use of violin on a few tracks, and Adam Milosz’s symphonic keyboards, which generally stay in the background but serve to add colour.
The opening pair of What Is Love and Needles In My Brain are pretty strong and serve as a good introduction to the band’s sound; mid-tempo, modern-sounding rockers which frequently hit an enjoyable, steady groove, with Gil’s guitar soaring over the choruses. Vocalist Tomas Różycki is probably an acquired taste, especially as he sings with a noticeable accent; generally he’s better when singing in a mellower vein than when trying for a more aggressive delivery.
Other highlights are Pain, which is a relatively laidback, dreamy track with some bluesy touches and a mournful, regretful tone to the vocals; Coming Down with its tribal drum beats and anthemic vibe, and the multi-faceted title track, which has plenty of room for Gil to embark on a number of extended solo’s. Unfortunately the consistency of the songwriting isn’t quite there yet; both Seven Days and Don’t Tell Me are rather aimless and forgettable, whilst Liar is a sluggish rocker on which Różycki adopts an aggressive style which comes across as rather strained and ill-fitting. The song also cribs the main melody from Brian Adams’ 80’s anthem Run To You – I never thought I’d be referencing the housewives favourite rocker in a review on this site, so I suppose the song has at least that to distinguish it!
Overall, although its not consistently strong, this is certainly a release that has its merits, and if nothing else Gil is to be applauded for avoiding the easy option and instead coming up with a fairly distinctive style of his own. There’s plenty here to build on in the future and, as this album was released back in 2006 and the band’s website is still being regularly updated, there is clearly hope that Believe will indeed see another day…
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
TOM DE VAL