REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:
Evergrey - Torn
Tracklist: Broken Wings (4:42), Soaked (4:58), Fear (4:15), When Kingdoms Fall (5:32), In Confidence (4:03), Fail (4:50), Numb (5:17), Torn (4:43), Nothing Is Erased (4:40), Still Walk Alone (4:43), These Scars (5:51), Caught In A Lie (Digipack only bonus)
Andy Read's Review
After the big melody, big budget production hopes of their last album, Monday Morning Apocalypse, Swedish kings of Morose Metal, Evergrey return to more familiar territory for their seventh disc. Torn is the band’s first release after signing a three album deal with Germany’s SPV label. According to the accurate description of lead singer and guitarist Tom S Englund the new offering mixes the heavy guitars of Recreation Day with the atmosphere of In Search Of The Truth. To that I would add that this also includes the simple, catchy melodies of Monday Morning Apocalypse.
Having lived with the album for two weeks, my initial indifference has developed into a growing fondness. Torn is simply Evergrey doing what they do best. Atmospheric metal with some great melodies, heavy riffing and sharp solos. The lyrics and mood sit firmly on the darker side of depressed. It's often said that all the best and enduring metal bands have a signature sound. Evergrey has always had that sound, and this album has it in abundance.
Long time fans will notice some of the melodies and riffs hold more than a striking resemblance to what has gone before. Those who’ve never got into the band, will find nothing to change their mind here. Tom’s vocals are as strong as ever. There’s a slightly heavier, down-tuned vein to the riffing. I'm not the greatest fan of this muddier sound. To me the heavy, melodic riffs just scream out for a big, clear production. The keys sit firmly in the background, although adding frequent melodic flourishes. The drumming and bass are tight, if just a little functional. Did I mention that there are some great melodies? In a live setting the opening duo of Broken Wings and Soaked will stand up to anything the band has penned before. The guitar solos traded between Englund and Henrik Denhage are also some of the best the pair have created. Those on Nothing Is Erased, Fail and Numb stand out in particular.
It’s often said, but there really isn’t a single filler to be found, and cleverly the band keeps you listening by saving their trump card to the end. These Scars has a great edge and atmosphere that would not be out of place on In Search Of Truth and is taken a step further by another stunning vocal from Tom’s wife Carina.
Evergrey is a band that has slowly built its fan base, and developed its style with each record. All of its records have made the Top 20 in their home country, with the last two making the top 10 – numbers six and three respectively. I see no reason why Torn will not continue their ascendancy. As with the ir last two releases, whilst still a top notch record, Torn has something missing. It's may that the band now has a greater focus on the song. It is maybe the aformentioned muddy guitars, the unispiring rhythm work, or the bit-part role played by the keyboards. But overall it just doesn’t have that x-factor to make it another In Search Of Truth. However with repeat plays I have found a quality and depth that will delight most fans, and which gives this album good staying power. As I've said before, even if only 'good', not 'great', then an Everygrey disc is still better that 95% of those that I'll listen to in any given year.
Martien Koolen's Review
Monday Morning Apocalypse, released two years ago, was not really my favourite Evergrey album and still the best Evergrey album so far is The Inner Circle, which is already 4 years old. The new CD Torn is really an album that is better than Monday…, but definitely not as good as The Inner Circle.
On this new album which features eleven songs, I truly miss the piano-laden keyboards and amazing songs like A Touch Of Blessing or In The Wake Of The Weary. The songs on Torn are a mixture of songs from the albums Recreation Day and In Search Of Truth. The guitars truly dominate on this CD featuring a lot of great, although rather familiar, riffs and lots of great guitar solos. Especially the guitar solos in Fail and Numb belong to the best Evergrey solos ever!
The album kicks off with the super song Broken Wings, filled with fantastic vocals, great guitar parts and a killer chorus. Other highlights of this album are: These Scars (a very diverse, typical and dark Evergrey track), Numb (with a great chorus and the best screaming guitar solo of the entire CD) and Fail, an up tempo, trashy song, full of staccato riffs and two speedy guitar solos.
The rest of the album is filled with typical Evergrey songs in which mostly Englund’s voice and the guitar riffs and melodies dominate. However there are NO bad songs on this album, so if you are a prog metal fan you should definitely buy this album, although it is not their best one.
Listening tip: Broken Wings at full power!!!
ANDY READ : 8 out of 10
MARTIEN KOOLEN : 8.5 out of 10
RC2 - Future Awaits
Tracklist: Time Pieces (10:58), Future Awaits (7:07), 11 (7:29), Autumn (8:02), El Diablo Suelto (4:02), Coming Down Again (6:12), Voice Of The Storm - Part 1 (6:06), Voice Of The Storm - Part 2 (9:49)
Liner notes are a lost art. I remember the joy of getting an album, unwrapping the sleeve and reading a short story written by the artist or a commentary by a journalist. I loved reading about what I was about to listen to. The chance to learn something about the music and to gain an insight into its creator(s). Liner notes nowadays only seem to appear on the occasional boxed set or re-issue. So Venezuelan Progrockers RC2, (now relocated to Barcelona - Spain), get off to a blinding start when I unwrap their album to discover not only ‘a story behind the album’ but ‘a story behind the songs’ within their booklet. Fantastic!
I wrote enthusiastically about this band after listening to their self-titled debut album released in 2003. It’s been a long time coming and the first thing that struck me when listening to this, their second album, is the significant change in musical direction.
Future Awaits is a lot more symphonic, and a lot less traditional – both in terms of the influences of traditional prog bands and the traditional music from their homeland.
They still compose in a traditional ProgRock way, but RC2’s style of prog has a strikingly modern sound. Last time, comparisons with Floyd, Marillion, Genesis and Camel abounded. Those are still there, but listeners more familiar with Sylvan, Arena, Sieges Even, Riverside and early Enchant will find equal amounts to savour. It is though, a natural progression from the music on the debut album. It is also sung entirely in English. I did rather like the debut being in their mother tongue, but this will surely open them to a more mainstream audience.
There are eight tracks, all of them on the longish side. Only the instrumental is under six minutes and the last two tracks are actually a two-part song, stretching to about sixteen.
The album starts off in fine form. Time Pieces is simply a great piece of classic, progressive songwriting. A rousing staccato metallic guitar opens in a complex signature. A cute piano melody is added before the song moves into a more mellow section led by a bluesy guitar lick. Around halfway through the song changes direction. A lump of electronica is mixed amid some neo-prog influences. The distinctive vocals carry a catchy melody and some effective phrasing. This song contains many parts and moves back and forth between them. Similar to that great riff which opens Sieges Even’s Art Of Navigating … album, the riff here is repeatedly used to bring the listener (and the song) back to familiar territory. And that folks is the story of the whole album. Sometimes romantic, sometimes aggressive. Always engaging and packed full of clever details. Everything allowed plenty of space by a crystalline production.
If I were to describe RC2’s music in a single word, it would be intricate. It’s not complex. It’s all about carefully constructed layers of arrangements, melodies and harmonies, each supporting one another, never jarring.
A few other highlights would be the different groove which opens up 11. It could have been taken from Queensrÿche’s Empire sessions. In contrast there’s also some fantastic King Crimsony keyboard work in the middle of the song, plus more of that lovely, bluesy guitar. Autumn possibly just edges it as my favourite song. I adore its beautiful dolefulness, great use of a flute, its emotive topic, and the way it brings to mind a more-proggy Sieges Even or Wolverine. The keys and piano dominate Coming Down Again. This is another song with great variety which brings in elements of Floyd, Riverside and Sylvan. (Both Time Pieces and Autumn are currently available in full from the band’s MySpace)
My criticisms are more things for the band to consider in future. The one track which does jar a little is El Diablo Suelto. A progressive arrangement of a traditional folk song, it does make sense when seen as part of the album’s story. However the jolly, dancy folk of the opening, conflicts too heavily with the carefully constructed arrangements found everywhere else.
The final track was actually written for the band’s first album (back in 1999), and it does show a little. It is an enjoyable listen but the NeoProg arrangements give it a very old school prog vibe. The arrangements and vocal melodies are far more sparse than elsewhere. Not a poor song, but it is the weakest. It does show how much the band has developed and matured. Perhaps a newer song, using that maturity would have been a better option. I also think the band could make a little more use of the traditional folk elements. Not in the way they’ve done it on El Diablo Suelto but a more subtle approach using some of the rhythms and instruments as they did so effectively in their debut. It needed not be on every song but it would certainly give the band an even more distinctive sound.
Every member deserves credit, for this album is very much a sum of its parts. However I will single out guitarist Eric Baule who brings so many different guitar moods to this album. A major factor in its amazing variety. Sadly he seems to have since left the band. A word too on vocalist Felix Duque. I'll accept he won’t be to absolutely everyone’s taste. Some may consider his production a little thin at times. Certainly more use could be made of harmonies and I still think he has a far richer tone in the lower ranges. However, all my favourite bands have really distinctive voices, and for me, Felix's delicate, emotive voice fits the bill perfectly.
One more thing I’d like to say, and it is back to those beloved liner notes. Whilst this is certainly one of my more extensive reviews, I have been careful not to divulge the story to be found in those notes. I think you should have the pleasure of discovering it yourselves. Rest assured, knowing the stories will both greatly enhance your enjoyment of the music and your appreciation of its creators.
For me the stories reinforced what I could have guessed from the music: RC2 are five musicians whose vision and dedication has won through some impossible challenges to produce music from the depths of their hearts and souls. Future Awaits is an album with intricate details, fantastic compositions and great melodies that will appeal to a wide cross section of the Prog Community. It announces the band as one of the most promising on the modern scene.
RC2 should be very proud of their achievement. Future Awaits is a superb album.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Ephrat – No One’s Words
|Country of Origin:||Israel|
|Catalogue #:||IOMCD 300|
SPV 79872 CD
|Year of Release:||2008|
Tracklist: The Show (10:31), Haze (7:12), Better Than Anything (8:26), Blocked (4:55), The Sum Of Damage Done (9:36), Real (18:58)
Giving some credence to the view that some of the best up and coming prog acts are from hitherto overlooked territories, Ephrat are Inside Out’s second Israeli signing this year, following the highly regarded debut from Amaseffer, released earlier this year. Named after Omer Ephrat, guitarist, keyboardist, songwriter and all round driving force of this four piece, Ephrat produce a convincing blend of hard rock and classic prog. Whilst the presence of Pain Of Salvation’s Daniel Gildenlöw on one track and the ubiquitous Steven Wilson on mixing duties might lead you towards believing you’ve got Ephrat’s sound nailed (especially as the Wilson connection is amplified by the presence of Blackfield’s Tomer Z on drums), thankfully this band are far from being mere imitators, and are also a long way from being predictable.
Opener The Show is a good illustration of Ephrat’s claim in the publicity blurb to play “sophisticated prog music that’s driven by a rock n’ roll feel”. Kicking off as a bombastic hard rocker, all driving power chords and Deep Purple-esque Hammond organ, the song evolves to incorporate a traditional middle eastern feel in some of the guitar work, and a quieter section where classical guitar, flute and tamba combine in a mix which gradually increases in intensity and speed and skilfully draws us back into the main song. Vocalist Lior Seker’s performance is best described as pleasant, his voice not being overly strong but effective enough for the material.
Paatos’s Petronella Nettermalm provides guest vocals on Haze; the trip-hoppy, almost avant-garde verse, complete with Nettermalm’s trademark breathy vocals, reminds one of the music of her main band, but this is contrasted by a discordant, heavy chorus, all buzzsaw riffs and heavily effects-laden vocal work. The song gets a little too chaotic in places, but just about holds the interest. Better Than Anything initially seems to be developing as a Blackfield-esque melancholy pop-prog number, with its strummed acoustic and dual vocals, but it soon takes a left turn into heavier territory, best described as an unlikely but effective mix of superior nineties alternative rock (think Soundgarden or Alice In Chains) and Queen at their most pompous and bombastic – some of the solo guitar work would do Brian May proud, and you can just see Omar Ephrat throwing rock star shapes during some of the solo’s he fires off.
The instrumental Blocked is the least impressive piece here, being essentially one main riff subject repeated seemingly endlessly with numerous unnecessary embellishments, but its soon forgotten once The Sum Of Damage Done starts. Probably the standout track of the album, it has a bravura performance from Gildenlöw on vocals which really shows the power of this guy’s voice. Starting off as an odd amalgam of eighties ‘cock rock’ and seventies glam, with Gildenlöw giving a good impression of a typical crotch grabbing hair-metaller, it is unsurprising that this is just a preface for a far more harrowing piece, as the tempo suddenly drops and Gildenlöw ditches the rock star act and crawls back into his hole, his haunting and genuinely emotional vocal cutting through a spare backdrop of acoustic guitar and melancholy, spare but dramatic synth washes. This section gradually builds back to the main riff, but this time it’s subverted and driven down a highly technical, Dream Theater-ish direction, with Omar Ephrat given a chance to show his chops. The song climaxes with some grandstanding, almost soul-like emoting from Gildenlöw that brings to mind some of his performances on recent Pain Of Salvation albums – but it has to be said this track is superior to much that Gildenlöw has penned recently.
Many a prog album stands and falls on the concluding ‘epic’ piece that so many bands feel compelled to conclude their albums with, but thankfully Feel is one of the better examples. As with many epics, to describe the song in detail would be rather tedious for the reader, but suffice to say it moves through its myriad sections – from ELO-esque orchestral pop rock through guitar-drenched passages redolent of late 70’s Rush to pastoral balladry featuring flute and dreamy vocals – with some ease, and manages to sound like a single piece, courtesy of recurring melodies and repeated musical motifs, which is often where these tracks come apart. Ultimately it provides a suitable climax to the album.
Overall, this is a strong debut from Omer Ephrat and his band. Sure, it has its flaws – some of the songs definitely go on a little too long, and there are occasions when the changes in pace and style aren’t executed as smoothly as they might be – but that’s to be expected from a first album. Ultimately this is a well produced, varied affair that should appeal to a fairly wide spectrum of progressive rock fans, particularly (but not exclusively) those into heavy prog and classic, seventies-era pomp rock.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
TOM DE VAL
After... – Hideout
|Country of Origin:||Poland|
|Catalogue #:||Oskar 1038 CD|
|Year of Release:||2008|
Tracklist: Hillside Of Dreams (5:13), Fingers (5:56), Senses Confuse Reality (4:19), Waiting For (6:39), Hideout (5:50), Healing Our Sorrows (4:54), Fly On (3:36), Reflecting Me (5:12), Looking For Each Other (6:06), The End (11:40)
At the end of his insightful review of After...’s first album, Endless Lunatic, my colleague Tom de Val expressed a hope that a second album would soon be forthcoming and the belief that it would be worth waiting for. Well, the album’s here, and it is indeed a respectable one. I myself don’t believe that the band has been successful in dodging the shadow of its influences (which Tom rightly suggests include Porcupine Tree, 70's Pink Floyd, and their fellow Poles Riverside); on this album, the band is still trying to find its own voice. Lurking in the background of many of the compositions here is a clear debt to – this time around – mainly Porcupine Tree, both in the louder and in the quieter songs. However, and I say this although Hideout is a nicely crafted and enjoyable album, After... just ain’t Tree, so this CD inevitably strikes one as a bit of a knockoff.
That too-great debt acknowledged, I’ll concentrate as much as I can on what the band has to offer on its own terms. And this is, as I said, an enjoyable album. I myself prefer the slower songs, like the gorgeous Fingers, which opens with simple, resonating electric piano and develops into a mid-tempo ballad with lovely lead and background vocals, and Healing Our Sorrows, a track that nicely manages dynamics between quiet keyboard-and-guitar passages and breakout loud sections underscored with powerful but tasteful guitar soloing. However, most of the songs on Hideout are more up-tempo numbers, including the almost-twelve-minute album closer The End. The End is both a bit obvious and a bit portentous, with lead vocalist Krzysiek Drogowski half-intoning half-whispering “This is the end” more than once – to make sure we get the point, I guess. But the song itself takes its time winding through interesting passages of riffage and atmospherics – it’s a fitting end to the album because it showcases the band’s various styles all in one piece (admittedly, a rather conventional album-ending gambit).
Elsewhere, we’re treated to the fine musicianship of the various members of After... , with particular kudos going to drummer Radek Wieçowski. I especially enjoy his intros to several of the songs, notably that of opening track Hillside Of Dreams, the flurry of drums sounding not absolutely unlike Neil Peart’s intro on Rush’s One Little Victory. In fact, the drums are prominent on this album, so it’s a good thing that Wieçowski is a fine percussionist, not only skilled but musical. Guitarists Czarek Bregier and Wojtek Tymiski also perform superbly throughout, providing lovely quiet support or soaring leads where appropriate. The mostly longish tracks allow all the musicians to demonstrate their skills, although some of the songs meander a bit – another reason I prefer those slower ones, which, to my ear, work best as discrete songs rather than as compositions.
But the main problem is that (I find I can’t dodge this criticism after all) the band doesn’t have a lot to offer that hasn’t been essentially done before and better by the groups who have influenced it. Half the songs here call forth in my head Porcupine Tree’s Arriving Somewhere (But Not Here) from their masterful album Deadwing – and I do not of course mean to say that that song, or Tree in general, were a template for After... or Hideout. Not at all. But even Drogowski’s vocals, which I think are very good indeed, remind me too much of Steve Wilson’s – except just not quite as good. You see my point: this album is certainly enjoyable on its own terms, though listeners unfamiliar with Porcupine Tree will probably enjoy it the most. But those who, like me (and I know I’m in the minority here), found Tree’s last full-length album Fear Of A Blank Planet kind of dull, a regression rather than a progression from the sublime In Absentia and Deadwing, might well enjoy hearing a similar yet different band work essentially the same terrain as Porcupine Tree, with pleasant if not striking results.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Time Of Orchids – Namesake Caution
Tracklist: In Color Captivating (1:04), Windswept Spectacle (4:39), Darling Abandon (4:35), Parade Of Seasons (4:35), The Only Thing (4:25), Gem (4:45), Crib Tinge To Callow (7:13), Meant [Hush Hush] (5:52), We Speak In Shards (10:02), Entertainment Woes (5:34)
New York City based quartet Time Of Orchids have released a number of albums on a variety of interesting underground labels, with the renowned Cuneiform label picking up on this latest, fifth, effort, released towards the end of last year. Given that Cuneiform tend to specialise in ‘avant-garde’ prog (although it’s a given that the term ‘avant garde’ covers a pretty wide spectrum), its no surprise that Time Of Orchids are a pretty experimental bunch; if the fact that their last album was released on legendary avant-jazz man John Zorn’s Tzadzik label (also responsible for much of the output of the singularly odd Kayo Dot) doesn’t tip you off that this is unlikely to be a straightforward listen, then the fact that the band list influences ranging from Ennio Morricone to Mr Bungle via Madonna, Yes, Nirvana and Stravinsky should do it.
The album opens quite gently, as if easing the listener in. Whilst the angular bass work hints at their more experimental side, both Windswept Spectacle and Darling Abandon live up to their rather pretty and grand titles, all sweeping orchestral synths, walls of melodic guitar and the band’s piece de resistance, the ever-present vocal harmonies which can’t help but remind you of The Beach Boys, albeit you can’t really imagine Brian Wilson and co coming up with rather artsy lines such as “its only a care for the soon, to defend your humble heart, to be part of the whole”! Darling Abandon even reminded me loosely of Echolyn with its prog-pop sensibilities, albeit fed through a post-rock, psychedelic visor.
Parade Of Seasons is perhaps more typical of both Time Of Orchid’s style and ‘avant garde’, experimental prog as its usually understood – juddering bass lines, edging, shifting, stop start rhythms and sudden changes from sparse piano to distorted shards of guitar noise being the order of the day. Yet the band’s sure sense of melody and the previously mentioned vocal harmonies serve to sugar the pill, making even the more ‘out there’ material palatable. Gem is perhaps the most impenetrable piece here, a scuzzy, punk-psychedelic mash up. The Only Thing is a nice contrast, a gentle, slightly eerie song with some very high vocals – you can definitely see how Julee Cruise (of Twin Peaks fame), who guested on their previous album, fitted in to the band’s musical worldview.
Crib Tinge To Callow incorporates some jazz fusion influences, whilst everything comes together for the intriguing, sometimes blissfully melodic We Speak In Shards. The tranquil, almost mood-music ending to Entertainment Woes is a nice way to wind the album down, and leave the listener with memories of the more melodic side of the band, rather than the more jarring, experimental side.
Overall, this is probably one of the more approachable Cuneiform releases I’ve heard in a while, and it’s a credit to the band that they are able to be as experimental as they are whilst still incorporating plenty of melodic hooks to hang the songs on to. Personally I’d perhaps like them to concentrate more on the more stirring, symphonic side than the edgy, avant-garde one, as this is where I feel they really differ from other bands in the genre and where their strengths lie; even so, this is an enjoyable, well constructed album as it is and should be of interest to all adventurous prog fans not afraid to go ‘outside the box’ every once in a while.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
TOM DE VAL
Evolve IV - Decadent Light
Tracklist: Number 16 (4:20), War (4:53), Listen Up (4:18), Judgement Day (3:53), Rolling Along (3:16), Saturday's Gone (4:31), Must Have Been The Future (5:08), Baby Come Back (3:00), Voyager (4:06), Write (5:02), Goodbye (8:05)
Peter Matuchniak (lead guitar and keyboards), Michael Eager (rhythm guitar and vocals), Paul Sheriff (drums) and Jim DeBaun (bass) began by exchanging emails after answering online ads designed to bring together like-minded musicians who had the desire to make contemporary music with a classic feel. Matuchniak may be a familiar name to devotees of the early 1980s prog scene as he was a member of Janysium and Mach One, whose CD
re-issue we reviewed some five years ago. Eager had previously been a member of a variety of bands such as Vitamin Funk, Mind Expansion and HED. Peter had kindly sent me a copy of the album before the recent news that the group had signed with ProgRock Records, so I have had a while to get into the album before penning this review! Despite that I found the album quite difficult to categorise or come up with any similarities. Oh sure, there are influences a plenty amongst the tracks but the quartet have managed to come out not sounding quite like anyone else. Very much guitar led, there are impressive lead breaks which transition from the raucous to the almost ambient, often within the space of the same song (for example in War). But on the other hand, there are Beatlesque melodies highlighted with flute and sax (courtesy of guest musician David Gilman), songs that contain elements of Radiohead (of any era) and enough variety throughout the fifty minutes of playing time to keep even the ears of the most inattentive listener twitching.
True to the band's name, the group have taken the core of a collection of good songs and pushed them through numerous iterations, taking elements of various musical styles, keeping the best bits and forgetting the stuff that didn't survive. All done subconsciously and through inbuilt filters of aural neuronal circuitry. The instrumental Rolling Along is a personal favourite with Tali Azerad providing some fine vocalisations
(visit her website - to hear her remarkable performance of The Great Gig In The Sky with Floyd tribute band Which One's Pink, but she also blends well backing Eager on Saturday's Gone. Another strong song is Must Have Been The Future which is a joyous ditty that gets the feet tapping and the fingers snapping. Whereas ...The Future may be considered to have a distinct Englishness about it, Baby Come Back has its basis in American music, Gilman guests again, but this time on violin, handy to have such talented friends! Voyager is another instrumental that starts with some hard riffing moves into a more spacey section and then reverts back to the big riff for the close. Final track, Goodbye is the longest on the album with some nice sax work, this time by Stephen Bell. This song took the longest to get into as at first I thought it was a bit too disjointed and the vocals were a bit too 'casual'. However, I was forced to change my mind after spending an infuriating day with parts of the guitar and vocal melodies running through my head and not being able to place the song!
Decadent Light is an example of the positive benefits of the internet, four previously unconnected individuals meet through the ether, form a band, record an album and then sign to an established label. Okay, so it's not The Beatles story, but I never did believe in fairy stories. In reality Evolve IV have made a very promising debut album that is a fine mixture of progressive-edged tunes and that's a tale I'll not get tired of hearing.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Dorian Opera – No Secrets
|Country of Origin:||Germany|
|Catalogue #:||MALS 275|
|Year of Release:||2008|
Tracklist: Ouverture (6:40), Sacrifice (5:22), Tell Me Your Lies (6:48), Dead Or Alive (4:30), No Secrets (4:11), Little Lies (5:58), Fly With Me (4:57), One Of These Days (6(18), Truly Yours (5:31), She (6:11) Bonus Track: L’Estate - Presto (3:14)
A lot of bands (at least apparently) don’t worry too much about what their name says about them. My all-time favourite example is the American band that had a huge hit a few years ago but which has (at least so far as I know) pretty much vanished – the horribly named Hoobastank. Call me shallow, but the very name made me certain I wouldn’t like their music. (I didn’t.)
Okay, I’m not that shallow. Some of my favourite bands have lousy or at least sort of dumb names. But I really do appreciate a band that tries to convey something with its name, and I appreciate even more one that manages to suit its name to its music. Dorian Opera has nailed it with that name. As they explain on their site, they want to suggest their classical influences (evidenced as well by the Vivaldi piece they include as the so-called bonus track) with the word “opera” while acknowledging their rock roots by alluding to the dorian scale. What you think of when you see the band’s name is pretty much what you get, and I respect that.
And Dorian Opera doesn’t disappoint. If you have a taste for classically-influenced progressive metal, you’ll like this album. I’ll say right off the top that the production’s not great, with the rhythm guitar suffering the most from a rather scratchy distorted sound and the drums occasionally sounding “tunky” (you know the snare sound I mean!), but it’s certainly not awful production. I just find myself wishing that these guys’ excellent musicianship was served a little better on the recording. They really are crackerjack players, all four of them. Oliver Weislogel’s fluid, melodic guitar solos are a highlight of the album, but there’s lots to admire in Joe Eisenburger’s powerful bass playing, Andrew Roussak’s tasteful keyboard work (check out the piano solo in Little Lies and the lovely intro to One Of These Days), and Harry Reischmann’s energetic but musical drumming. The best venues for their musicianship are the three instrumentals on the album, on a couple of which (No Secrets and L’Estate) Weislogel makes his guitar sound uncannily like a violin – giving even more appeal to his fine solos.
What about the songs? Okay, I’ll just say it and then drop it: Roussak’s lyrics (he writes them all) are probably better in German. In English, they don’t (for the most part) rhyme, and while the ideas are interesting and more than good enough to carry the songs, they’re a bit rough, idiomatically. A sample from Dead Or Alive:
“No, it wasn’t me
I swear it was not me
I was still on my way as it happened
How stupid it can be
He was my only friend, and I couldn’t stop it!”
Bassist/vocalist Eisenburger makes the lyrics work, for the most part, and the stories they tell are kind of neat, but they’re certainly not the best thing about the album.
No, the best thing is really the playing. The songs themselves are quite well constructed, though a few of them seem to be perhaps too self-consciously “epic,” with the twists and turns you’d expect from progressive-metal compositions. But you can’t help enjoying the musicianship throughout. As bands will do on their debut albums, Dorian Opera pulls out all the stops here, so we’re treated not only to good progressive metal but also (in that “bonus track” especially) their take on classical music and even some quasi-medieval acoustic balladry on Fly With Me (on which I’m afraid Eisenburger gets a little histrionic in his singing, to unfortunate effect). As a whole, it’s really an enjoyable collection of songs, showcasing several styles and always very fine playing.
Because of the undeniable problems with production and lyrics, I can’t quite give the album a DPRP Recommended rating, but I do think that fans of progressive metal will find a lot to like here. It’s an auspicious debut from a very talented group, and, the faults I’ve noted aside, it’s a debut to be proud of – and, I hope, one for the band to build on in subsequent albums.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Tomorrow's Eve - Tales From Serpentia
Tracklist: Nightfall, The Years Ahead, Dream Diary, No Harm, Remember, Succubus, Warning, The Curse, The Tower, Faces, Muse
I’m a fussy sod when it comes to singers. I know a lot of critics enthuse about these German purveyors of ProgMetal, especially their
Mirror Of Creation double header. Whilst I’ve enjoyed the music, the quality of the vocals has always tempered my desire to come back for more.
This time the quality of the music overshadows the failings in the vocal department – almost. Some fantastic riffing and solid songwriting means this is certainly the band’s best album yet. The deep, yet sharp riffs are monumental. Guitarist Rainer Grund excels on opener The Years Ahead, the ultra heavy Tower and Succubus, and the 20-minute epic Muse. His work shares the same qualities of Redemption’s Nick van Dyke and even Sabbath’s Tony Iommi.
There’s nothing lightweight here. Remember starts off all soft and wimpy. But this is only to lull you into a false sense of security, before another monstrous riff is unleashed.
Tales From Serpentia is a dark, angry, unhappy collection. It is also a very good, though somewhat derivative, progressive metal album. By derivative, I mean the band has not taken enormous risks in developing their music from what has gone before. That's not to say that the eleven songs aren’t strong or complex. They just don’t stray too far from the standard riff-hungry progressive metal stylings on which numerous bands have successfully based their sound over the past decade. Little surprise then that my two favourite tracks are where the band steps out of the mould. Faces benefits from its dynamic variety whilst Muse makes full use of the keyboards in probably the most prog-influenced song the band has ever written.
The rather strained, gravelly vocals of Martin LeMar still temper my enjoyment. Despite a steady flow of bum notes, he’s not so bad as to make this un-listenable. It’s more a matter of there being so many other singers who would add more depth and variety to this record.
Lyrically the songs are a collection of short stories ‘written by a twisted mind’. Each track is linked by a spoken storyline. On the whole this works well and doesn’t detract from the music. However, I hope something twisted happens to the person who decided to open the album with 45 seconds of swearing. Listening to a torrent of expletives in my local park is bad enough, but not in my lounge when I sit down to listen to some music. Crass!
Overall, Tales From Serpentia deserves to garner this band a wider audience. Those who cherish their previous work, and those who enjoy dark, heavy yet accessible ProgMetal are likely to lap up every last riff. Those who prefer a little more invention and variety may prefer to take a sip first.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Dr Hasbeen - Signs
|Country of Origin:||UK|
|Record Label:||Black Widow|
|Catalogue #:||BWRCD 104-2|
|Year of Release:||2008|
CD1 - STUDIO Signs (8:22), The Seers Song (6:20), The Time Watcher (5:11), Why Syb (4:01), Looking Glass - End Of Days (6:48), Why Syb [band version] (4:06), PSI Power (4:14), Heaven Awaits (4:12), Death Metal Head (5:26), Lifers (7:15), Waves Of Aliens (7:20), Never Forget (3:01), Axis Of Evil (5:27)
CD2 - LIVE Countdown - The Final Fight (10:05), Golden Void (4:11), Silver Machine (4:31), World Of Dreams (11:28), Apollo 13 (7:24), Return To The Afterlife (3:18), Suicide Machine (7:18), Sonic Attack (4:46), Hippy Trip (6:58), Master Of The Universe (6:47)
Dr Hasbeen hails from Derbyshire and is resolutely ploughing the spacerock furrow in a style that takes its inspiration direct from Hawkwind control. Centred around the self-appointed doctor, the erstwhile Martyn Hasbeen, on vocals, guitars, keyboards and drum programming, this compilation features an array of musicians which would take too long to credit in this review. Hasbeen can also be found playing keyboards in Maha Dev's Quintessence.
Things start off very promisingly with the album's title track which is simply a long-lost Hawkwind track. Indeed, the following two tracks are of a similar bent. It is as if Robert Calvert never left this world on his own cosmic voyage and the group had carried on producing high energy numbers with bags of keyboard washes and furious lead guitars laden with echo (even the hardest of Hawk fans would have difficulty distinguishing the extended soloing at the end of The Time Watcher from 'the real thing'). The first version of Why Syb is taken from a 1999 CDR and features Hasbeen alone. Reminiscent of a Calvert linking piece from Warriors On The Edge Of Time the reverb enriched locals are spoken over a quite decent acoustic guitar and the obligatory swirling keyboards. The second, band version, actually released two years before the solo cut, suffers from a poor mix. The female vocals are lost in the keyboard washes and it doesn't, in my opinion, have the same impact as the solo version, maybe because it doesn't sound like the 'wind. Speaking of which, there are a number of covers of songs from Brock et al, mostly on the live disc but PSI Power is included on the studio album. Long a favourite of mine from the Hawklords album, the Hasbeen version doesn't really do the song justice. Again a rather poor quality recording spoils things and notably it was also taken from a CDR release. Things continue in a rather nondescript way with Heaven Awaits and Death Metal Head but picks up a lot with Lifers with its combination of voice clips and a darker, more ominous vibe. This appears to be one of the newly recorded studio tracks (along with Signs, The Time Watcher, Looking Glass - End Of Days and Never Forget) and the quality of the recording certainly stands out. This is most evident on End Of Days which is a quite lovely piano and electric guitar piece. Likewise, Never Forget shows a different side to Dr Hasbeen, more detached from the space assault. This direction has more of his own identity and makes a decent break from the space rock onslaught. The other two studio tracks, Waves Of Aliens and Axis Of Evil, again take on the Hawkwind ethos in the case of the former and a more Motorhead approach on the latter, although nowhere near as good as what Lemmy and friends come up with.
The live CD has been compiled from various live performances between 1999 and 2003 with one uncredited track which is presumably a newer recording. Four of the tracks are Hawkwind covers so let's get those out of the way first. Golden Void is a pretty accurate rendition while Silver Machine has been (sic) souped up and is quite enjoyable despite the poor recording which tends to lose the vocals every now and again. Sonic Attack, one of Michael Moorcock's poetry pieces, is a very loose rendition with the band jamming against the shouted vocals and tends to lose the 'humour' of the original. Of course, no Hawkwind-inspired band could hope to exist without their own cover of Master Of The Universe. The riff heavy number is well executed, particularly in the sections where the vocalist isn't featured. Of the groups own compositions, Countdown - The Final Fight starts with the final system checks before launch of the gig and then launches into a very good instrumental piece that is a great bit of individualistic space rock. World Of Dreams is overlong. From the terminal introductory spoken piece to the torrid dirge (barely rescued by some nice guitar work) of the rest of the piece. Better are Apollo 13 with a nice keyboard riff and Return To The Afterlife which manages to say all it has to say in a succinct manner. The heavier side of the band is again displayed in Suicide Machine and, once again the recording quality leaves a lot to be desired. Last of the originals, Hippy Trip starts with the rather clichéd If you wanna get into it, you've got to get out of it, man (a misquote from a Genesis song perhaps?!!) and even mentions Hawkwind in the introduction. Unfortunately the song does not really go anywhere in its seven minutes.
You are either going to love this 'tribute' Hawkwind band or be rather bored and have a 'heard it all before' attitude. For a compilation of tracks available for a cheap price then it is good enough for fans of this type of music and the newer studio tracks show that Hasbeen is capable of knocking out very good music in the space rock genre. The quality of the tracks taken from the CDR releases is somewhat variable but I suppose that may be part of the charm and, besides, when turned up loud and having 'got out of it' who could really tell?
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Gandillion - The 4th Nightingale
|Country of Origin:||The Netherlands|
|Record Label:||PMM Records|
|Catalogue #:||PMM 2008002|
|Year of Release:||2008|
Tracklist: Prologue: The Overture [Where All Life Begins] (3:38), Chapter I: Home A Play Under The Sun In May (4:45), Egg (2:49), The 4th Nightingale (11:39), Towards Distant Shores (5:10), Chapter II: Lost Child Among Children (5:41), Underground (4:51), Chase The Wind (3:29)), Chapter III: Turn Fuel For Her Rockets (5:01), Pilgrim: Pt.1 Pilgrim - Pt.2 Northern Meridian - Pt.3 One Moment Of Silence Please (10:28), Chapter IV: Truth Memories Fading Disguise (2:03), Green Land (7:22), Epilogue: Across The Lines Of Forever Where No Life Ends (3:37)
Gandillion is a female fronted progressive rock band from the Netherlands and The 4th Nightingale is their second album which is remarkable knowing that their debut album Perrenette Gandillion dates back ten years. Back in those days Gandillion could be found opening for Landmarq and Marillion.
The music of Gandillion is a combination of gothic and symphonic rock and for this latest album they have a new vocalist, Joyce Dijkgraaf. In the heavy parts of The 4th Nightingale their music style leans towards After Forever, whilst during the mellow passages, which are at least in the same amount as the heavy parts, I can hear symphonic influences in the style of Knight Area.
The 4th Nightingale is a concept album that deals with the story about a young girl called Robin struggling with her childhood - the title of the album refers to an event when Robin discovers a nightingales nest with four eggs. The Overture is an instrumental which features a theme that returns a couple of times on the album. It
comprises of a thick layered keyboard melody and heavy guitars as supporting rhythm. A bit to thick to my liking as the melody seems to disappear in a wall of sound. A Play Under The Sun In May is much more symphonic and features beautiful melodies and enchanting acoustic guitar. The vocals of Joyce Dijkgraaf remind me a lot of
Floor Jansen from After Forever. She doesn't quite have the power and at some points you can hear her voice crack when trying to reach a high note. She does not take the easy road which sometimes results in a terrible miss, brave but not something you want to hear on album.
Egg is a Pink Floydlike intermezzo, before the title track The 4th Nightingale which is the longest piece and should be the highlight for the album. The song starts very well and like on the rest of the album the mellow parts are absolutely brilliant. The vocals are "cracking" a little on the chorus, however at the end of the song Dijkgraaf tries to reach a note which makes you grind your teeth. The last minute of the song is a heavy climax, but it is now clear that this is not the
strong side of Gandillion, much too greasy and messy.
People who made it through the last part of the title track will be treated on the better second half of the album. Towards Distant Shores is a beautiful gentle song and ends with the theme from the opening track, hopefully for the last time. Child Among Children is a return to the heavy side and thus a step back in quality. The sound of Gandillion features a lot of keyboard but Underground features a beautiful guitar piece, the ending of the song is heavy but not messy like earlier on this album. Chase The Wind is a more up tempo song which is trying to be poppy. Fuel For Her Rockets and Pilgrim are the better songs on this album. Pilgrim is almost as long as the title track but it is much better - the vocals are more defined and the heavy parts are more balanced. From this song onward the album is moving on an automatic pilot. Memories Fading Disguise and Across The Lines Of Forever are mellow tracks that tie an ending to the story. Green Land is the last time Gandillion tries to provide some energy, but after a song like Pilgrim, it does not appeal.
The 4th Nightingale is an ambitious piece of work, the casing and artwork really show that this band is serious about their business. Sadly the music is not of a constant quality, some parts are good, (mostly the mellow parts), but on the whole it does not satisfy. During the heavy pieces the music is very poorly mixed and the vocals at times can be borderline bearable. The voice of Joyce Dijkgraaf comes out way better during the mellow parts. This is not an album I enjoyed listening to
- as all to frequently the quality level reaches below par.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10