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2008 : VOLUME 40
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


Unifaun – Unifaun
Unifaun – Unifaun
Country of Origin:Sweden
Format:CD
Record Label:Progress Records
Catalogue #:PRCD 033
Year of Release:2008
Time:75:57
Info:Unifaun
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Birth Of A Biggie (7:37), To The Green Faerie (6:16), Mr. Marmaduke And The Minister (7:59), Swingers Party (5:48), ReHacksis (7:41), Quest For The Last Virtue (13:57), A Way Out (6:18), Finistère (2:36), Welcome To The Farm (4:30), Maudlin Matter (4:09), Bon Apart (1:28), End-Or-Fin (7:36)

"Can you tell me where my country lies said the Unifaun to his true love's eyes”. So goes the opening line to both the Genesis classic Dancing With The Moonlit Knight and their 1973 album Selling England By The Pound. Thirty five years on, Peter Gabriel’s wordplay provides a suitably evocative title for the debut project from the partnership of Nad Sylvan (vocals, guitars, bass, keys, drums) and Bonamici (keys, vintage sound design). The pair decided to collaborate after discovering a mutual interest in all things Genesis through an internet forum in October 2003. The liner notes state that their goal was to "write the songs Genesis never did" or more precisely to produce music in the style of Genesis circa 1972 to 1980. As Gabriel jumped the Genesis ship halfway through the 70’s the Swedish duo draws inspiration from both his and the Phil Collins era that followed. The latter comes more naturally to Sylvan thanks to a singing voice that’s a dead ringer for PC’s. His PG style phrasing on the other hand sounds closer to Fish during early period Marillion when the big man displayed a penchant for Gabrielesque vocal mannerisms.

Although there are umpteen Genesis tribute acts out there, Unifaun make a point of stressing that they do not fall in that category. Their approach is more akin to The Watch, a band that also produces original material with a distinct Genesis flavour. If anything the influences in Unifaun’s songs are even more overt than their Italian counterparts. Some sections of their music for instance can be directly linked to passages from Genesis tunes especially in the mini-epic Quest For The Last Virtue. On the other hand there are times when they hardly sound like Genesis at all which is not altogether a bad thing. In fact it wasn’t until I progressed beyond the ‘spot the Genesis bit’ before I really began to appreciate the album and recognise the songs for their true worth. The cleverly titled opener Birth Of A Biggie is a good case in point. Like so much of the material here its influence can be pinpointed to the Trick Of The Tail/Wind And Wuthering period. What sets it apart however is the strong sense of melody that lingers long after the lush Tony Banks style keyboards have submerged into the subconscious. Likewise, the acoustic tinged To The Green Faerie boasts rich harmonies and a catchy chorus that harks back to the Mike Rutherford penned Your Own Special Way and is every bit as memorable.

With its gothic organ sound, stirring mellotron and eccentric style Mr. Marmaduke And The Minister is a throwback to the quirkiness of The Musical Box, Harold The Barrel, and elements of Supper’s Ready. The bubbly synth however comes courtesy of the Selling England album and Sylvan rolls his R’s in fine Gabriel/Fish fashion. As with the opening song Birth Of A Biggie which concludes with a guitar phrase more typical of Howe than Hackett, Mr. Marmaduke closes with a brief but excellent synth solo that evokes Emerson as much as it does Banks. ReHacksis is the first of four instrumentals and delivers exactly what you would expect given the title. Whilst Sylvan’s playing doesn’t quite soar the same heights as Steve Hackett’s he does provide a strong hook and the lyrical flute is especially evocative of SH’s early solo albums. Given its length, it’s not surprising that the aforementioned Quest For The Last Virtue contains more than its fair share of Genesis references. Sweeping mellotron string and choral washes, a Slippermen style vocal, a pastoral acoustic guitar and flute interlude are all featured. Once again Sylvan and Bonamici take all of these elements and wrap them up into one tunefully infectious bundle.

In comparison with the previous tracks, neither A Way Out or Maudlin Matter owe an obvious debt to Genesis despite the lilting Carpet Crawlers style keyboard rhythm in the former and the weeping guitar and mellotron backdrop in the latter. Both songs benefit from different but equally stunning choral refrains. Finistère is a short but melodious instrumental in the brooding tradition of After The Ordeal and Hairless Heart with some excellent Hackett flavoured guitar atmospherics. Should Unifaun ever decide to release a single from the album then Welcome To The Farm should certainly be first choice. It features a bright sing along chorus in the vein of I Know What I Like only better and would sit comfortably on a Collins solo album. Somewhat surprisingly the album ends with two instrumentals. The first Bon Apart is a tranquil classical piano piece and a reminder that Banks didn’t feature this instrument solo as much as he should have done within Genesis. With its pulsating rhythm and densely layered guitar and keys, End-Or-Fin is a tuneful mid-tempo excursion that owes as much to The Flower Kings as it does Genesis. Doubtless had it been performed by the latter it would have had Collins’ vocals all over it.

There are a number of prog artists and copyists I can think of that can pull off a passable Hackett lick or a Banks synth break or a Collins drum fill. What sets Sylvan and Bonamici apart is their ability to capture the true essence of Genesis’ music including the sense of fun and melody as much as it does the epic sweep. Unlike many of their contemporaries, Genesis rarely indulged in lengthy virtuoso soloing and likewise Unifaun keep the instrumental work on a short leash which benefits the song and the melody. A minor criticism is the odd occasion when they go beyond their remit of “making the songs Genesis never did.” A good case in point is the synth and mellotron choir sequence in Quest For The Last Virtue which could have been lifted from the end of Genesis’ Entangled and pasted into the middle of Unifaun’s song. To give full credit not only do they faithfully recreate the sound of their heroes but they’ve produced an album that stands up very well on its own merits. So whether you’re a fan of Genesis or not there is much to enjoy in this gloriously uplifting and meticulously crafted release which also brings to mind fellow Swedes like Carptree, Simon Says and Moon Safari. As Gabriel once sang “The captain leads his dance right on through the night, join the dance”.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



Sylvan - Leaving Backstage
Sylvan - Leaving Backstage
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:Progrock Records
Catalogue #:SPV 452542 DCD
Year of Release:2008
Time:148:46
Info:Sylvan
Samples:Click here

Tracklist:

CD 1: Eternity Ends (2:53), Bequest Of Tears (3:04), In Chains (8:55), Bitter Symphony (1:25),Pane Of Truth (9:14), No Earthly Reason (1:54), Forgotten Virtue (7:06), The Colors Changed (6:48), A Sad Sympathy (1:42), Questions (6:58), Answer To Life (6:09), Message From The Past (2:58), The Last Embrace (3:29), A Kind Of Eden (04:48), Posthumous Silence (5:38)

CD 2: Lost (7:32), That's Why It Hurts (7:09), So Easy (8:19), Encounters (4:13), One Step Beyond (7:46), This World Is Not For Me (7:31), Deep Inside (9:18), When The Leaves Fall Down (5:10), Artificial Paradise (18:54)

Together with the excellent Posthumous Silence : The Show DVD, Sylvan, one of my favourite contemporary bands, has released a double live album recorded at the same concert. The first disc captures the integral performance of the Posthumous Silence concept album, while the second disc is presented as a 'best of' collection of live renditions taken from the band's albums released between 2000 and 2007. Of this second set, only Artificial Paradise (arguably the band's best composition ever) appears on the aforementioned concert DVD.

First of all, let there be no doubt about it: the renditions and production of all tracks are absolutely top notch with all musicians delivering excellent performances. Perhaps the only track on the two CDs that does not work that well is Encounters, which sounds very much out of context, having been pulled from the rest of the epic it is the closing section of. It's also the only track in which Marco Glühmann struggles with the height of the vocals a bit. The choice of tracks for the second CD is also tastefully done and all tracks are indeed among the finest compositions this band has put out in the past years. One might only wonder if some tracks should not have been dropped in favour of classics like Timeless Traces, No Way Out or even an epic like Presets or Given-Used-Forgotten. Still, this is more of a 'what if' than a real complaint. Then why, you might ask, am I left rather indifferent to this release?

There's a couple of reasons why this release fails to impress me. First of all, I would have preferred for the second CD to be part of the DVD package instead of being released on CD only. Since the film crew was present I still cannot figure out why this wasn't done. The band could have created a two DVD set if they didn't want to break the atmosphere of the show on the first DVD ... So, we are left with audio recordings that are very close to the original studio versions. That's my second reason; the CDs add very little to what's already out there. In the past decades there have not been a lot of live versions of concept albums that really add much to the original. I hardly ever play the live versions of albums like Brave or Subterannea because they simply don't add anything. True, on DVD with the visual aspect they do come to life, but 'audio only' there's no real reason to choose these over the originals. This also goes for Posthumous Silence; the DVD is stunningly brilliant but the show is so tightly timed that the renditions are almost note-by-note copies. The only real improvement compared to the studio versions are the use of the backing vocalists. If only these ladies had been used on the studio album.

The same argument also goes for the songs on the second disc. All fine versions but not really different from the originals. In this case there isn't even the alternative of the DVD version! It feels like being stuck with second best ...

Having said all of this, there are some groups of people to whom I would highly recommend this double live album. First of all, anybody that's curious about Sylvan and would like to sample their back catalogue. This collection features most of their best material and is therefore an excellent start! Even for people who already own Posthumous Silence but are not aware of the band's other stuff: go out and get this collection! You will not be disappointed by the songs on the second disc, which will be well worth the investment. For long time Sylvan fans: better spend your money on the DVD and keep your fingers crossed that the band will eventually release the second disc on DVD as well.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

ED SANDER



Curved Air - Live
Curved Air - Live
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Records
Catalogue #:ECLEC2067
Year of Release:1975/2008
Time:48:56
Info:Curved Air
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: It Happened Today (5:35), Marie Antoinette (6:58), Back Street Luv (3:48), Propositions (8:02), Young Mother (9:06), Vivaldi (9:24), Everdance (6:01)

The timing of Curved Air’s formation couldn’t have been better coming as it did in January 1970, the dawning of the decade of classic progressive rock. It followed a meeting between classically trained violinist Darryl Way and keyboardist Francis Monkman who was already working with drummer Florian Pilkington-Miksa and bassist Rob Martin under the name Sysiphus. Monkman had himself studied at the Royal Academy of Music and it was this classical grounding that supplied the virtuoso skills perfect for their musical aspirations. Purely instrumental acts were still in a minority however and the band’s manager Mark Hanau was convinced that a female vocalist would be an ideal addition. Enter Sonja Kristina who had been a member of the London cast in the long running stage musical ‘Hair’. The bands new name was chosen by Monkman taking his inspiration from the title of Terry Riley’s seminal 1969 album A Rainbow In Curved Air. Song based, their eclectic sound incorporated mainstream rock, folk, classical and fusion.

With the exception of the bassist who would be replaced twice, the original line-up recorded three successful studio albums Air Conditioning, Second Album and Phantasmagoria plus a hit single. The bands nucleus of Way and Monkman departed in 1972 quickly followed by Pilkington-Miksa prompting the need for new blood which included a teenage keyboardist named Eddie Jobson. The resulting album was the highly regarded Air Cut but the new recruits soon splintered leaving the band floundering. This paved the way in 1974 for the reformation of the original line-up with yet another new bassist, American Phil Kohn. A new studio album was not on the cards but they did embark on a string of live dates at the end of the year. The December 1974 gigs at Cardiff University and Bristol Polytechnic were recorded, edited and released as a single vinyl LP Curved Air Live in February 1975.

Like the original release, Esoteric’s otherwise fine remaster doesn’t include the full concert with the missing tracks presumably lost without trace. Unsurprisingly the set concentrates on the better known tunes from the first three albums which includes three each from Air Conditioning and Second Album and one from Phantasmagoria. Live, several of the pieces are padded out with extended instrumental workouts from the two leads with Way’s electric violin being very prominent. Fittingly, as it did the debut studio album, It Happened Today opens the set with its thumping rhythm, synchronised violin and guitar, and a raunchy vocal. It relaxes into a dreamy second half dominated by an elegant violin solo from Way. In addition to his keys work within the band Monkman also provides the lead guitar and it’s his bluesy lines that standout during Marie Antoinette. In contrast with the studio version Sonja’s raw delivery sounds like she’s been gargling with razor blades. In the CD booklet she states that “I particularly like feeling free to be spontaneous”. This would explain her over the top performance throughout the set which to my mind pre-empts the histrionic style of new wave singers like Siouxsie Sioux, Toyah Willcox and Hazel O’Connor.

Sonja’s performance is more disciplined during the crowd pleasing hit single Back Street Luv which remains faithful to the original complete with the rasping electric violin and synth. Propositions gets the extended treatment with spacey guitar, violin and keys sounds swirling from speaker to speaker. Monkman’s echoed organ effects are simply stunning. Young Mother benefits from outstanding, shore footed bass playing from Kohn underpinning Way and Monkman’s violin and synth flights of fancy. Always a set highlight, Vivaldi is an impressive display of classical violin from Way based on the composer’s The Four Seasons concertos. He digresses with a comical extract from the Sailors Hornpipe which is more welcome than Sonja’s manic vocal contributions. Similarly, she howls and growls her way through the first part of Everdance before thankfully violin and keys are given free reign to provide a memorable instrumental conclusion.

Curved Air Live is a superb addition to Esoteric’s ever growing catalogue of remastered reissues. The sound quality was very good to begin with as live recordings go with all instruments clearly defined in the mix. The band’s playing was at its peek and demonstrated that they were not above veering from the original songs tightly structured format. Following the tour this particular line-up dissolved once more although they have regrouped at various times for the occasional concert and the odd live album. Sonja remained as the vocalist throughout the intervening years and worked with the likes of Stewart Copeland and Tony Reeves as they passed through the bands ranks. The current line-up sees Sonja Kristina, Darryl Way and Florian Pilkington-Miksa reunited for a succession of live dates during October and November 2008. No doubt a good deal of the songs included on this album will feature in the set list. The good news is that if her recent work with artist Marvin Ayres is anything to go by, Sonja’s vocal posturing has mellowed over the years.

Conclusion: 7+ out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



Hyacintus - Sinkronos
Hyacintus - Sinkronos
Country of Origin:Argentina
Format:CD
Record Label:Viajero Inmovil
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2008
Time:54:30
Info:Hyacintus
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Mission Dada – Andante (4:49), Hipno Delfico – Adagio (5:55), Ritual Lunar [El Fraude] – Allegro (4:48), Sueno1: Shakespeare! [Ethical] – Andante (4:46), Explore [Plan SEA] – Largo (4:34), Implacable Kronos – Presto (5:51), Sueno 2: Asoma [SErA] – Allegro (4:50), Heart Place – Lento (3:56), Mission Recordada – Vivace (10:09), Vesenevi – Largo (2:59)

Years ago I worked a temp job where I was responsible for scoring standardized high school writing tests. I would score them in three domains, composition, written expression, and usage and mechanics. Argentine prog band Hyacintus composes well and utilizes usage and mechanics well on their release Sinkronos, but does not quite hit their stride in the written expression domain.

The band is made up of Jacinto Miguel Corral on electric, classical and acoustic guitar; vocals, keyboards, bass, and acoustic instruments; Jose Luis Hernandez on drums, Daniel Sanchez on stick and bass, Victor Sanchez on percussion, and Ada Guitart on vocals. Ana Tirigall and Ed (Charlie Watts) Martinez contribute vocals and drums respectively on a couple of tracks.

Regarding the music - the well-produced CD veers from genre to genre and with so many twists and turns it’s hard to keep the continuity together. You get Deep Purpleish grunge on Shakespeare! [Ethical], big band jazz on Ritual Lunar [El Fraude] and some ambience on closing track Vesenevi. A vocoder choral effect colors many of the tracks, and from the multi-talented Corral you get classical as well as bluesy electric guitar on Asoma [SErA] and some keyboard stylings evoking Keith Emerson on Mission Dada. The same keyboard sound reappears on Mission Recordada, linking these two tracks with a common theme. Too much commonality, however, is repetitive, as is the case with the CD’s overall melancholy and melodramatic arrangements.

On the theme of, well, themes - Sinkronos is presented as a concept album. If you listen to the CD and wonder what the concept is, check out the notations on the CD’s packaging as you listen. Here are some of the notations, excerpted:

A mission was given to him, and with the running of time, he had forgotten it.
He asked for help, and he was told: “Your guide, is your happiness. . .”
When he reached it, he said: “ The mission is done. . .”
And so that happened. . .

From the back of the CD package: “S.E.A. Triangle. “S” for swing, “E” for emotion, and “A” for Argument. Swing as an effect for rhythm. Emotion, in its different qualities. Argument, the character of the work, its meaning. These were the 3 aspects that have been taken into consideration for this work.”

The lyrics are not prominent; they seem to appear on at least six of the CD’s ten tracks. They are sung in Spanish, but are not printed anywhere in the CD packaging. So one can be at a loss when trying to grasp the CD’s theme, however at the same time things are left open to interpretation. Sinkronos will appeal to anyone with a taste for eclectic music. On the band's next release they may want to include a lyric booklet and go for a more focused sound.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

JIM CORCORAN



Flaming Bess – Wachter Des Lichts
Flaming Bess – Wachter Des Lichts
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:ARK 57966
Year of Release:2008
Time:77:55
Info:Flaming Bess
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Prolog (0:49), Wächter Des Lichts (5:28), Aklabeth (4:50), Die Hallen Der Diebe (1:57), Der Dieb (4:32), König Fur Einen Tag (4:45), Verrat (1:43), Der Verhulte (4:04), Welt Der Lugen (4:53), Ein Langer Weg (4:16), Die Hohle Unter Dem Eis (2:44), Sterbender Stern (5:11), Flucht Und Verfolgung (5:18), Stimmen (5:05), Die Dämonenpforte (2:06), Die Höhle Der Mara Morbis (5:08), Erkenntnis (5:46), Endloser Fall (5:33), Sphärenmusik (3:40)

Even the most ardent fan of obscure prog could be forgiven for not having heard of German outfit Flaming Bess. Having originally formed in 1969, the band waited until a decade later before releasing their debut, Tanz Der Götter – talk about missing the boat! After a follow-up in 1981 and another release (mysteriously under a different moniker) in 1984, there was a long wait until a reappearance in 1996 with Fata Morgana, followed by another decade pause before what has been a bit of a purple patch, Wächter Des Lichts being their second album in around three years. Such a sporadic release schedule is hardly the basis for building a firm fanbase; in addition, many of the titles and lyrics are in German, and like it or not, unless your name is Rammstein, this generally confines your appeal to your home country.

Having said all that, Flaming Bess are certainly no slouches in terms of musicianship, and much of the album, if hardly revolutionary, is at least pleasant on the ear. Whilst I’ve seen their debut described as a mix of Camel and Eloy, the 2008 version of the band is more akin to a Tangerine Dream given a trance/electronica makeover, albeit this description may make the album sound a bit more modern than it plays – think ‘modern’ as a late 80’s/ early 90’s style sound and you’ll be in the right ballpark. The band are often at their best on instrumental pieces, where these ambient, almost orchestral electro soundscapes are infused by some fine guitar work – long-standing guitarists Hans Wende and Achim Wierschem achieve a fine, crystal clear guitar tone, and the clean, melodic solo’s reminded me at various times of the likes of Nick Barrett (Pendragon), Steve Hackett and, yes, Andy Latimer.

There are times when I think this may have played better as an instrumental album, but lyrics clearly play a large part in the band’s work. Wächter Des Lichts appears to continue a story started on the debut, about the band’s namesake, the ‘legendary goddess of light’ and her ‘heroic bridegroom’ as they battle their adversaries in a ‘land of sky castles and golden cities’. I wish I could tell you more of this fantastical story, but somewhat confusingly, whilst some of the song lyrics are in English (these are generally fairly clichéd and non-descript) the narrative pieces which act as links between the longer songs are in German, not a language I’ve managed to pick up that well (despite years of trying!)

Speaking of the singing, this comes from a variety of guests, none of whom are (to my knowledge) household names, even in the world of prog. Although many sing with a pronounced accent, the quality is generally fine, if a little bland at times. On these ‘proper’ songs the band occasionally stray from their general blueprint and go for a few different styles; sometimes this works quite well (the moody, dark ballad König Fur Einen Tag sounds like it could have fitted comfortably on Ayreon’s The Dream Sequencer, whilst Flucht Und Verfolgung shows a mellower, more pastoral side to the band), other times less so (the cod-rapping on Aklabeth, the cheesy attempt at AOR on Welt Der Lugen).

Ultimately, whilst undoubtedly overlong and patchy in places, and unlikely to win Flaming Bess too many new fans at this stage in their career, for much of its running time Wächter Des Lichts remains a pleasant, undemanding listen, and is worth checking out if a mix of prog and electronica sounds like your bag.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

TOM DE VAL



Factor Burzaco - Factor Burzaco
Factor Burzaco - Factor Burzaco
Country of Origin:Argentina
Format:CD
Record Label:Viajero Inmovil
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2008
Time:50:28
Info:Factor Burzaco
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: α (4:49), Mesianik (4:55), Restos De Camaleon (5:11), Como Acariciar A Un Tigre Muerto (5:09), β (0:30), Siembra (5:56), Un Cristal (4:51), γ (0:40), Falso 11 (6:18), Resbalar Sin Caer (6:23), ω [Viena Pop] (5:39)

In 1994, King Crimson returned to active duty following a decade long hiatus. They started off their tour in the fall of that year with several dates in Beunos Aires, Argentina. Crimson is one of the many musical loves of Argentine composer Abel Gilbert, who put together avant-garde project Factor Burzaco after listening to influences ranging from Debussy to Crimson to Henry Cow.

The band, hailing from the independent city of Beunos Aires, is comprised of Carolina Restuccia on voice, Marco Bailo on guitars, Federico Arbia on bass, Nicolas D’Almonte on drums, and Esteban Saldano on piano. Gilbert is the composer and arranger, and Jose Brindisi is the lyricist. If that isn’t enough, the recording also features a chamber orchestra led by Marcelo Delgado on most of the tracks. Sergio Catalan plays flute, Maria Zanzi is on oboe, Favio Loverso plays the violincello, Elena Buchbinder is on violin, Pablo Monteys plays baritone and tenor saxophones, and Pablo Berenstein plays alto and tenor saxes. On a few other tracks Mariano Gamba contributes tenor, alto and soprano saxes, as well as some flute. Marcelo Martinez is credited with collaboration on “electro acoustic processing” on a few tracks.

Gilbert’s artistic vision is keen in that he easily peers off the beaten path to dig up avant-garde ideas and muses otherwise tucked away and obscured by the darkness of the mainstream. And it is as tricky to listen to and review as it was perhaps challenging for Gilbert to envision it. False endings and a cappella vocal sections here and there throw one for a loop, while the intensity of sweeping songs such as Como Acariciar A Un Tigre Muerto flows, ebbs, then flows again in a waterfall of style changes to the point of being a mini-epic. Lizard and Islands-era Crim is evoked on Restos De Camaleon which tosses in a lounge vibe reminiscent of Combustible Edison, and Mesianik, which gets heavier in sections. The piano stylings of Keith Tippet are snappily referenced by Saldano in the simply titled α. Other comparisons on the well-produced CD include proto-avants The Velvet Underground and On An Island-era David Gilmour. As a whole, Factor Burzaco sort of sounds like Stereolab unplugged. Perfect for any warehouse space, performance space, or coffeehouse.

The colourful CD booklet includes two pages of liner notes written in Spanish by Gilbert, as well as Spanish lyrics. (I translated bits of the liner notes and other reference materials for this review).

On the next Factor Burzaco release, Gilbert may wish to recruit a male vocalist. Other than that, I cannot think of a need for improvement from this fine project.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

JIM CORCORAN



Signal To Noise Ratio – Stan Nieustalony
Signal To Noise Ratio – Stan Nieustalony
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:MALS
Catalogue #:MALS 273
Year of Release:2008
Time:54:01
Info:Signal To Noise Ratio
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Dodekafonia (0:16), Mesjasz (4:15), Centryfuga (5:01), Entropia (13:41), Eden (5:30), Marzenie (3:45), Opium (10:53), Kruk (5:32), Centryfuga [6vT mix] (5:11)

Polish trio Signal To Noise Ratio’s debut album, Stan Nieustalony, is in fact a compilation of the 2006 Stan Nieustalony EP and the 2004 release Demo II, remastered and given a wider release for the first time.

The band describe their goal as playing ‘unbound music, based on improvisation and the search for new musical experiences’. If this appears to you to be longhand for avant-garde, then you’d be at least partly right, but this is far from the un-listenable mess that you might expect from the description.

Mesjasz gives a good indication of the sound within, the clunky electronics and atonal guitar mixing with some vintage organ work from Marysia Białota and distinctly ‘girly’ vocals from guest Marta Czyz; whilst sounding fairly abstract early on, there are some sublime melodic moments to be found in the latter part, and some calming, jazzy guitar playing from Przemek Piłacinski.

From hereon in, variety is the spice of life. Centryfuga has pulse-like beats and has a trancey, spacey, Ozric Tentacles-like feel. The lengthy Entropia starts off sparse and experimental, with a Middle Eastern flavour, comes together for a heavy riff-bolstered vocal section before taking on a mariarchi band sound, Piłacinski leading the charge with some spirited strumming. Eden sees the injection of some flute playing which lends proceedings a Jethro Tull like flavour; mixed in with some heavy riffing and organ runs which comes straight from the Canterbury scene, it surprisingly works quite well. Marzenie sees SNR at their most discordant, whilst the more chilled Opium sees the band stretching things out a little, coming over similar to the lengthy Pink Floyd live work-out Careful With That Axe, Eugene (sans screaming!). The use of grand piano on Kruk again gives a nice twist to the band’s sound. The less said about the ‘6vT mix’ of Centryfuga which is tacked on to the end of the album, the better, however…

As these tracks were originally self-released, its no real surprise that the production is less than stellar (the rather over-loud, hollow drum sound in particular being rather annoying) and there are moments where the ‘improvisations’ might have been edited a bit for better effect, but these criticisms can’t disguise the fact that there’s plenty to enjoy here for the more adventurous prog fan, and plenty of promise for the first album proper, which is apparently imminent.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

TOM DE VAL




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