Reviews in this issue:
- Manning - Number 10
- UKZ - Radiation [EP]
- Josh & Co. Limited - Through These Eyes
- Richard Barbieri - Stranger Inside
- Richard Barbieri - Things Buried
- Gravity Field - Gravity Field
- The Other Side - A Higher Vantage Point
- ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - Festival Thyme [EP]
- Xystus - Equilibrio
- Tinkicker – Soliloquoy Of The Transparent Boy
- Jack Foster III - Jazzraptor's Secret
- Sanctuary Rig - Khnosti
Manning - Number 10
Tracklist: Ships (5:34), The Final Chapter (7:44), An Ordinary Day (6:03), Bloody Holiday! (5:51), Valentine's Night (6:17), A Road Less Travelled (10:34), Another Lazy Sunday (5:25), The House On The Hill: Part One - In The Frame, Part Two - Travel Plans, Tangible Expression, Part Three - The Other Shoreline, Part Four - Into The Light (15:52)
In the Guy Manning interview this time last year I reflected on his prolific output which at that point included nine albums in nine years. In his customary direct manner he responded “When I don’t want to do it anymore and I can’t be bothered I’ll just stop”. Thankfully, for every discerning music fan, Guy does still want to do it and can still be bothered resulting in this his tenth album in ten years. Actually the count is not strictly correct with 2008 being the first year since his 1999 debut that hasn’t seen a Manning release (his last Songs From The Bilston House appeared in November 2007). It still proved to be a busy year for Guy however as in addition to being one sixth of The Tangent and his considerable contribution to Not As Good As The Book released in March 2008 he played several live dates with a mostly new Manning line-up and spent a good deal of time writing, rehearsing and recording this latest album.
Despite Guy being a gifted multi-instrumentalist (which here includes keyboards, acoustic 6, 12 and classical guitars, electric guitars, mandolin, bouzouki, bass and percussion), there is once again a healthy input from Manning contributors old and new. The current live band are represented by David Million (electric guitars), Julie King (vocals), Kris Hudson-Lee (bass), Phil Wilkes (keyboards) and Kev Currie (backing vocals). And a Manning album wouldn’t be a Manning album without the presence of Laura Fowles (alto sax, vocals), Ian 'Walter' Fairbairn (fiddle), Stephen Dundon (flute, tenor sax) and of course Andy Tillison (keyboards, drums). Completing the impressive cast are Danny Rhodes (additional drums), Pav Chana (percussion), Ed Niedhardt (soprano sax, bass clarinet) and Hannah Hudson-Lee (backing vocals).
In true Manning fashion the album kicks off in lively style with Ships and a classic Yes (circa The Yes Album) flavoured organ and guitar riff. Sax plays its part in keeping the momentum going aided by tuneful synth and guitar solo contributions from (I believe) Messrs Tillison and Million respectively. The Final Chapter contrasts some very stylish bluesy guitar work in the vocal section with a joyfully insistent (and slightly folky) instrumental theme courtesy of acoustic guitar, flute and synth. Just two songs in and already the rich instrumental textures we’ve come to expect from a Manning album are keenly observed. An Ordinary Day is no ordinary song with a sublime orchestral arrangement that is something of a departure from Guy’s often multi-layered instrumentation. Centred around a lyrical piano motif it boasts a beautiful melody with an ascending vocal line not unlike The Tangent’s In Earnest.
The sax led Bloody Holiday! finds Guy in ‘Grumpy Old Men’ mode as he reflects on the frustrations of air travel. His tongue is firmly in his cheek with an otherwise lyrical synth making sly references to two 10cc songs I’m Mandy Fly Me (the romanticism of flying) and Clockwork Creep (the horrors of flying). From the ridiculous to the sublime you could say and Valentine's Night. Here Guy and partner Julie King perform a delightful duet against a delicate backdrop of chiming keys, clarinet and acoustic guitar. The memorable chorus builds to a stirring finale with elegant violin and flute embellishments. At ten minutes plus, A Road Less Travelled allows the band ample scope for instrumental expression. A song of varying moods it begins very mellow with flute, mellotron, electric piano and fiddle supporting the reflective vocal. The highpoint however is a lively instrumental reel led by playful violin and flute followed by great rippling synth line and majestic guitar and symphonic keys fanfare.
The penultimate Another Lazy Sunday belies its title with a funky organ driven rhythm, edgy guitar work and a stunning sax solo providing the icing on the cake. The four part The House On The Hill is Manning’s longest continuous track since the title piece from 2005’s One Small Step. It fulfils all the customary requirements of a prog mini-epic including a slow, introspective beginning and a grandiose finale. A good deal of its length can be attributed to the appropriately titled Tangible Expression mid-section. Co-written with Andy T, it takes a leaf out of The Tangent’s book with a succession of jazz tinged solos as saxophone, piano, guitar, flute and fiddle take full advantage of their individual slots. If I was awarding points than the extended guitar display would certainly take the honours for me. The aforementioned finale builds from a strong vocal melody into a stately choral coda with floating strings and a stirring sax break to play out.
With ten consecutive albums under his belt Guy is still able to maintain his winning formula of quality song writing, excellent musicianship and multi-textured arrangements. When I say winning I should add artistically because like so many of his contemporaries Guy still remains shamefully ignored by the paying public at large. As I’ve possibly remarked before he is a without doubt a man for all seasons always bringing a variety of different moods and musical colourings to the prog-rock table and none more so than on this release. Although there is often a personal side to Guy’s lyrics they consistently have the ability to strike a chord with most of us as characterised by the graphic poetry of Another Lazy Sunday and the telling humour of Bloody Holiday! With the usual keen eye for detail, tying it all neatly together is the crystal clear production from the Tillison/Manning partnership plus excellent inner artwork to illustrate each song.
Conclusion: 8.5+ out of 10
UKZ - Radiation [EP]
Tracklist: Radiation (7:44), Houston (4:36), Tu-95 (7:17), Legend (1:38)
The wait is finally over: progrock legend Eddie Jobson returns to the world of progressive rock after some 25 plus years absence. Through the internet Eddie gathered his new UKZ band with multitalented musicians from all over the western world. On the bass (Warr guitar) there is Trey Gunn (King Crimson) from the US, on the guitar Alex Machacek from Austria, on drums Marco Minnemann from Germany, on vocals Aaron Lippert (living in Belgium but a US citizen) and of course Jobson (from Great Britain) plays the keyboards and the electric violin. Eddie also did the recording, mixing and producing.
The title track starts off with echoing spacey sounds, followed by a metal-like riff from the guitar and drums, but Gunn’s Warr guitar adds the progressive and masterful touch quite soon. The crystal clear sounds with an enormous depth go right through to your bones. Then Aaron starts singing with a slightly transformed voice while Gunn’s bass keeps on playing that same nice groovy melody. The chorus does remind of Jobson’s earlier works a lot. When Jobson’s particular keyboard-sounds can be distinguished more easily, it’s the start of a heavenly beautiful interlude in which the atmosphere of the first UK album, but also the spectacular sound of Jobson’s Theme Of Secrets, can be recognised. A prominent role for Minnemann and at the end of this interlude Machacek shows he can play in Holdsworth’s style too. Sometimes the influences of Tony Levin can be heard in Trey Gunn’s way of playing.
Beautiful melodies and sounds come to us in the slower song Houston, almost a ballad. Musically there are influences from a crossover between GTR and UK and maybe with a little bit of Yes. The track also features a remarkable slow solo by Jobson.
The most experimental track is Tu-95 with definite bits & pieces from Jobson’s Zinc album, with what appear to be almost cacophonic sounds, but then again not if one listens carefully. Not too easy for the ears but finally we hear a different kind of prog-music! Jobson’s sequences and effects are superb and the basic riff resembles the one in the opening of In The Dead Of Night by UK.
The last track is a ‘simple’ (but not quite simple to play) instrumental by Machacek. It’s a solo-piece on the acoustic guitar, a bit of Holdsworth influences again.
In conclusion this is Jobson at his best: in control, playing with top class musicians and giving all prog-fans the message he is not done yet. We should be eagerly anticipating the full length UKZ album and I hope the line up will hold out more than just this EP. I surely can’t wait to see them play live! Hopefully Jobson will demonstrate he has maintained his ability to play the electric violin on the forthcoming album, because on this EP it’s role was insignificant. Equally, I hope Eddie will do a bit more keyboard soloing like he used to in UK. Production wise, this EP is outstanding. To be continued!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Josh & Co. Limited - Through These Eyes
Tracklist: Merry She Goes (1:25), Land Of The Gods (3:43), The Appian Way (3:15), We Graze (4:17), Black Stone (3:50), Slow Down (5:57), Through These Eyes (5:34), Into Your Arms (4:05), Old Friends (3:05), Not A Dream (6:04), Only In The Loss (0:39), Going Home (5:52), Carry Me (3:42), The Appian Way [Radio Edit] (3:16)
Through These Eyes is the first solo album of Bryan Josh, the man introduced as "The Heart And Guitar of Mostly Autumn". On the albums of Mostly Autumn he is credited for the majority of the songs but somehow he still had something to say for himself. So all the tracks on his solo album are written by him and he plays guitar, keyboards, bass and the vocals. The drums are by Gavin Griffiths, who played live during the Mostly Autumn tour following the release of Heart Full Of Sky and the female vocals are sung by Olivia Sparnenn who has performed background vocals on several Mostly Autumn albums. Initially this made me afraid that Josh's solo album would be a Mostly Autumn album with a replacement for Heather Findlay. I can assure you upfront that this is not completely the case.
Merry She Goes is a short atmospheric instrumental opening, already showing Bryan Josh's love for Pink Floyd, whilst Land Of The Gods is a song that could have been on either of the two latest Mostly Autumn releases, with the soul of Glass Shadows combined with the rock approach in Heart Full Of Sky. That Josh really means business is shown on The Appian Way, a powerful and cheerful song that would easily have been the best song on the above mentioned Mostly Autumn albums. It's a catchy song with some commercial potential, and it would certainly be nice to hear this one on the radio.
On We Graze the energy level decreases proving Josh not only embodies the rock side of Mostly Autumn as this is a beautiful song with an acoustic guitar and sometimes accompanied by a Coldplay like piano. Black Stone on the other hand starts very dark and moody but the chorus is very fiery, pounding drums and heavy guitar riffs. The rock sound of Mostly Autumn is back and it continues on through Slow Down, one of my favourite songs on this album. At first listen a straightforward rock song, but after a couple of spins this song would not get out of my head. Here the contribution of Olivia Sparnenn is more significant than on the first songs, but it's not in the same amount as Heather Findlay's contribution in Mostly Autumn. Through These Eyes is more folky with some spoken messages, even introducing deceased musicians that could be Josh's all time perfect band.
The first part of the album is the rock part of Mostly Autumn whilst the second part is more mellow and personally I would have liked these styles mixed a bit more. Into Your Arms is a bluesy ballad, followed by Old Friends which is a slow piano ballad sung by Olivia Sparnenn. Then Not A Dream is a very powerful ballad that slowly increases in power, starting acoustically and ending in one of those brilliant Pink Floyd-like solos, significant to Bryan Josh's playing.
Only In The Loss are spoken words and a short interruption to the music, before Going Home which is a very dark song and proves that Josh is a brilliant song writer. A very good composition and a typical Josh song with, of course, lengthy solos. Carry Me is also a ballad and a mellow acoustic song. As I mentioned before, it would have been better if the rock songs and ballads were mixed evenly over the album.
Bryan Josh is apparently seeking commercial success because the album features a radio edit of the catchy song The Appian Way, a good choice. Although it took a while before I noticed the difference between this version and the original one earlier on in the album. It's of the same length and one really has to search hard for it. I'll spoil the fun by telling that in the original version he used the F-word once, a good reason to put the song on the album again, but with a gap in the vocals.
Though not really surprising Through These Eyes really grabbed me. The style of this album is somewhere between Heart Full Of Sky and Glass Shadows but leaning a bit more towards the first one. As stated the first section on this album is heavier and the second part contains more mellow songs which personally I would have liked it mixed a bit more. The female vocals are clearly outnumbered and therefore this album cannot be seen as a Mostly Autumn album with a different female vocalist. At first I did not understand the need for Bryan Josh to make an album of his own but after hearing this album that question never reared it's ugly head again. This is a really good album that of course is recommended to all fans of Mostly Autumn, especially if you like Heart Full Of Sky.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Richard Barbieri - Stranger Inside
Tracklist: Cave (6:32), All Fall Down (3:11), Hypnotek (8:16), Byzantium (7:32), Decay (5:02), Abyssyn (6:45), Morphia (5:44), Retina Blur (4:30), Stranger Inside (3:36)
Back in the early nineties when I was younger and a slacker, I often earned my livelihood by working various temp jobs. The fleeting and changeable nature of these jobs saw me deployed to different warehouses, er, distribution facilities; and factories, or rather, um, manufacturing domiciles. In maintaining a politically correct or professional décor in their vernacular, the temp agencies often referred to these blue collar positions as “light industrial”. Those fleeting days are behind me, and now my “day job” is at a bank. I never thought I would encounter “light industrial” again, but my ears stumbled upon it when I listened to Stranger Inside, the sophomore solo release from Porcupine Tree keyboardist Richard Barbieri (in addition to PT, ex-Japan/Rain Tree Crow, and a host of others).
Barbieri is joined on this offering by Porcupine Tree band mate Gavin Harrison who contributes drums to two tracks, and legendary bassist Danny Thompson on one track. The CD was mixed by Japan alum Steve Jansen, who also provides additional arrangements, percussion, and programming; presumably across the whole recording (the credits do not indicate which specific tracks he plays on). The CD was mastered by Porcupine Tree colleague Steven Wilson (doesn’t it seem like this guy is everywhere?). Vocal samples from Tim Bowness (No~Man, Centrozoon) and Barbieri’s wife Suzanne has been, as it is put in the CD’s credits, “used and abused throughout the recording”).
Stranger Inside is different from its predecessor in its generous use of sampling. In addition to the aforementioned sources, samples have also been harnessed in the form of wav and mp3 files from the Freesound Project under the creative commons sampling plus license, courtesy of sampling Robin Hoods “Studiorat”, “Jovica”, “Wingz”, and “Ejaz215”. And the sampling is carefully restrained so that it doesn’t come off sounding like the excess of Ministry or Meat Beat Manifesto. It, like, arrives unannounced on All Fall Down, with Barbieri’s light piano, Harrison’s breezy drums and acoustic bass from Thompson just meandering along and enjoying themselves until the sampled female voices drop in as if to say “Surprise!” To quote Marillion, on this song they’re like “the uninvited guest” and seem out of place.
As a parallel, on the moody jazz piece Morphia, the sampled female voices seem apart, yet are mixed over each other like a disturbing crowd of split personalities. This schizophrenic crowd also makes its sonic way via sampled voices on the trip-hop of Byzantium. An eerie voice sample plays out like a phone call from the dead in Abyssyn, a house-metric workout giving Barbieri some modern appeal. And on the brooding edge of Hypnotek, samples along with and industrial groove give a contemporary feel which could have come from the studio of Trent Reznor.
Stranger Inside is well composed, performed, and produced. The gatefold packaging depicts x-ray photos and blurry, ghostlike images.
While I enjoy the drum programming elements of solo Barbieri, I would nonetheless love to hear the crisp drumming of Harrison featured more prominently on Barbieri’s next solo release. I believe there is enough breathing room in his creative realm for acoustic drumming and drum programming to co-exist in harmony.
If you listen to either Barbieri solo CD and you frown and say “it doesn’t sound like Porcupine Tree”, then solo Barbieri may not be for you.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Richard Barbieri - Things Buried
Tracklist: Nevada (5:08), Fear And Trembling (5:40), Light On Glass (6:33), Drops Of Mercury (7:39), Flaw (4:59), Medication Time (6:54), Red Square (7:52), Path Not Taken (6:29)
Back around 2004, I was looking at the website for Marillion one day when I noticed their online shop was offering for purchase Things Buried, the debut CD by Richard Barbieri. I was unfamiliar with the Porcupine Tree keyboard man at the time and paid little attention to the link for ordering the CD. After being exposed to the DPRP site, first as a fan and now as a writer, I started to learn more about Barbieri and to develop an interest in him. Aside from Porcupine Tree, he has also played in seminal new-wave act Japan (and their alter ego band Rain Tree Crow), The Dolphin Bothers, and Indigo Falls (with his wife Suzanne). He has also collaborated with, among others, various configurations of Japan alumni, as well as Tim Bowness (No~Man, Centrozoon), and electronic improv group The Bays.
In addition to releasing music and playing live, Barbieri has penned articles on analog synthesis for different publications and composed music for film. He has also created programs for music software and synthesizer manufacturers.
Snapper Records has recently re-released Things Buried (the copy provided to me for this review is the earlier release on Intact).
This CD sees Barbieri striking out on his own and forging his own musical identity. With that said, this review is in no way an attempt to compare Barbieri’s solo work to Porcupine Tree. Barbieri intended with Things Buried to create a Richard Barbieri CD. And the result is quite good.
Barbieri is joined on half of the CD’s tracks by Andy Gangadeen (Massive Attack) on acoustic and electronic drums, and noted bassist Percy Jones (David Sylvian, Brian Eno, and more) on fretless bass. The voice of Barbieri’s wife Suzanne is hauntingly sampled into opening track Nevada, which is layered over with Barbieri’s dark synth passages and some scraping rhythmic elements. A macabre rhythm section of Jones on the fretless and Gangadeen giving a nod via the electronic drum controls to his Massive Attack colleagues invades Light On Glass with a nightmarish pacing. They also turn up as a rhythm section on Flaw, which in its polyrhythmic gamelan styling evokes Discipline-era King Crimson. Gangadeen’s electronic drums create a similar effect on Medication Time, which merges into a more organic groove at the end of the track. The Bristol trip-hop sound shades much of Things Buried with tints of darkness, and is quite evident on Path Not Taken. A rhythm section of intrigue is made up on this song by Jones’ bass and Barbieri’s electronic percussion.
The minimalism of Red Square could conceivably bring back some memories for Jones of playing bass with Eno. Who needs frets, right?
The music on Things Buried is composed, performed, and produced well. The CD comes in simple gatefold packaging with blurry, surreal images on the front and back.
I can think of no room for improvement on Barbieri’s next solo effort (featured above).
This CD will most likely appeal to fans of ambient, trip-hop and experimental music. If you’re looking for Deadwing, you won’t find it here.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Gravity Field - Gravity Field
Tracklist: Lost Forever (4.13), Paris Based Think Tank (5.52), Psychoanalyze (5.34), Sheeple (4.17), Illuminati Apocalypse (4.37), Chapter 322 (8.46), Dead Cat Bounce (5.03), The Well Of Sorrow (7.48)
After four albums under the name KingBathmat, John Bassett had a new musical project under the title of Gravity Field. The eponymous debut album was written, recorded and produced by Basset with the exception of the drums on which Bassett was aided by Bernie Smirnoff and Tony Mora. However, a band has now been formed and is currently in rehearsal for future live dates. The album is currently only available as a download from the band's website (at a very modest price), although if there is enough interest a physical CD may be released later in the year which will combine a second album, already under development, with the current release.
In a departure from the KingBathmat releases, Bassett had taken a harder approach with Gravity Field, combining the more psychedelic elements of the earlier releases with a harder edge focused on some heavy guitar riffing. Melody hasn't been completely abandoned though, as Bassett has an awful talent of infusing his music with memorable hook lines and interesting side swoops through whatever he plays. Add to that the fact that is voice is simply not suited to anything approaching heavy rock/metal - none of the histrionics of Dream Theatre or Iron Maiden and lacking the gruffness of Metallica - and you have a very interesting combination. This is exemplified on Paris Based Think Tank where the initial guitar assault is combined with a violin that imposes an almost Warrior On The Edge Of Time era Hawkwind flavour to proceedings all wrapped up with a repeating vocal line treated to make it a tiny bit more cosmic. A really exciting number! Psychoanalyze lifts a page from the Tony Iommi book of riffs and wraps it around a sort of heavy Porcupine Tree vibe.
And it continues in much the same way for the rest of the album with the odd period of relief from the riffs as on Chapter 322 where the harmony guitars are pushed to the background in the later part of the song to make way for the wash of keyboards. And Dead Cat Bounce where guitars come from all angles and mix in with the bass in a mid-tempo central section. Or finally, on The Well Of Sorrow, where a temporary island of relative calm expounds regret and sorrow - Searching high and low, the memory remains - intermingled with the incessant and obligatory electric six strings.
When DPRP was first sent this album, there were some concerns that it may not be suitable as a 'progressive' release, and true, it may be a bit out of the ordinary from what is usually reviewed on this site. However, that is what makes it so different. 'Progressive' is just a label and regular readers will have noticed that we have featured bands one week whose music is vastly different from bands that appear the next. Most prog metal leaves me cold and I am pretty sure that some of the albums I have reviewed would not find favour amongst my fellow reviewers, but, so what? First and foremost we are primarily prog rock fans and each of us has our own particular preferences within the genre. As we age our tastes do change, although, we often maintain an affinity for music we absorbed in our formative years. For instance, as a youth I was a massive Motorhead and Black Sabbath fan but would no longer consider buying a new album or concert ticket for either of those groups, even though I still listen to their early albums. Every now and then something comes along that mixes these formative influences with things that are more akin to one's current preferences and Gravity Field did it for me. Yes a personal point of view but a review is bound to be subjective. I admit to self-indulgence and because of that it is hard to recommend this album as something that the general progressive fan would find to their tastes. However, I DO recommend that if you are in the slightest bit intrigued you head on over to the Gravity Field MySpace page or Homepage, take a listen and then, if inspired, spend £4 and get the album.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10 (but please read the review to find out why!)
The Other Side - A Higher Vantage Point
Tracklist: Maximum Vitality (5:11), Crying World (7:47), The Last Days Of Summer (6:52), The Call To War (7:01), Ouruboros (4:06), Schizoid (5:57), Transcendence (3:08), The Point Of Being (5:12), Walking The Labyrinth (5:49), Lunar Sunset [In Memoriam Peter Bardens] (3:28)
The Other Side is an instrumental progressive project by Alan Mallery who composed and performed everything on the album, despite what the credits to his (anagrammatical) 'band mates' of Lyle LaRaman and Lamar Neally might suggest! Hailing from Denver, Colorado, Mallery is the co-founder of the Colorado Art Rock Society and also a member of the jazz fusion group Zed.
Very much an album of differing moods, it is difficult to slot A Higher Vantage Point in to any particular pigeon hole. Mallery has managed to weave various styles and textures into his music and yet still maintain an overall relaxed feeling over the 10 tracks. An obvious starting point, if you'll excuse the oxymoron, is the final track Lunar Sunset [In Memoriam Peter Bardens] the title and dedication of which provides a clear pointer to the influence of the piece. With very definite references to the Camel song Lunar Sea, this is a fitting tribute to a great musician; the synths and acoustic guitar being well balanced and offering a good addendum to the Camel classic. Elsewhere we are presented with The Call To War, one of the more up-tempo numbers with added excerpts from wartime speeches from Churchill and Hitler; Schizoid, which is not a reference to the Crimson kind, but a very schizophrenic (er, duh!) track that utilises some very unusual synth sounds and has a rather unique and intriguing structure - the bass section, weird synth and honky sax section in particular! Saxophone also appears in other places throughout the album such as in the opening track Maximum Vitality which has a vibrant rhythm and catchy tune, and the languid Last Days Of Summer. This latter track is a relaxing paean to heady days and nights spent watching the sun set, or so one likes to imagine!
Crying World is one of the more immediate musical pieces on the album and I can imagine this being used as background music to some television programme. The piano coda is particularly pleasing, although, in my opinion, far too short. Speaking of pianos, Transcendence is a lovely elegiac piano piece with added bird song and running water, very soothing and comforting. The rather philosophically titled The Point Of Being is a trifle more funky in a very laid back way whilst Walking The Labyrinth is a bit more ominous and does have a slight ELP feel to it.
Although some people are not fond of instrumental albums and others are not that enamoured by music that is dominated too much by one instrument, Mallery has managed to avoid a lot of the pitfalls particularly associated with a lot of 'keyboard' albums. His ideas throughout are original, well thought out and performed. Indeed there are a couple of tracks on A Higher Vantage Point that are superior to some of the music that is released by much more established bands. It is indeed worth checking out the samples on Alan's MySpace page to get an idea of what the album has to offer.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - Festival Thyme [EP]
Tracklist: The Bells Of Creation [Machete Mix] (5:30), Inland Sea [Edit] (3:39), Festival Thyme (2:15), The Betrayal Of Roger Casement And The Irish Brigade (5:44)
Austin, Texas, Planet Earth. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting there for the Austin International Poetry Festival. Hailing from the great city of Austin are indie/alt rock sensations ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead. The band has been in existence for a little more than a decade and since that first self-titled, limited edition CDR EP have put out a string of six full length CDs, four more EPs (including Festival Thyme, being reviewed here), and several singles and music videos.
The band is comprised of Conrad Keely on vocals, guitar, drums, and piano; Jason Reece on drums, vocals, and guitar; Kevin Allen on guitar and vocals; Aaron Ford on drums, piano, and vocals; Jay Phillips on bass and vocals, and Clay Morris on piano and vocals. There’s definitely some multi-tasking going on in this band and it is not often that you come across one with three drummers and three pianists.
While not necessarily prog, the band has been described in their Wikipedia entry as “art rock” and some little proggy touches can be detected here and their on the EP.
Festival Thyme mostly serves as a bit of a preview of the band’s latest full-length release The Century Of Self. As the EP is only four tunes, I will touch upon all of them one by one. At five and a half minutes, opening track The Bells of Creation [Machete Mix] has enough tempo changes to make it a mini-epic of sorts. Island Sea [Edit] is a straight-up rock song with an accelerating tempo and shows that this presumably “art rock” band has enough contemporary hooks to reel in the ears of young people and bridge the musical generation gap. Phillips’ groovy bass serves as the intro to the title track, a rollicking waltzy number evoking Jethro Tull. The Betrayal Of Roger Casement And The Irish Brigade is another mini-epic with some haunting ambience and some sonic guitar soloing. Most of the guitar, piano, and drums on the EP are good, but the colourful and somewhat steampunk themed gatefold packaging does not specifically credit the individual musicians for each track.
The EP has good sound quality and the music is generally composed and performed well. Perhaps I’m just too old, but I don’t see this modern music striking my fancy with future listens. On their next release it would be nice to see this band create some longer epics in the vein of alt-prog contemporaries Tool and The Mars Volta.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Xystus - Equilibrio
Tracklist: Equilibrio Overture (3:02), My Song Of Creation (3:40), The Traveller (4:50), Last Breath (4:57), Divided We Stand (4:30), The Conflict (6:33), Destiny Unveiled (5:27), My Time Of Need (4:11), Forever Bound (3:47), The Message (6:15), Balance Restored (3:08), God Of Symmetry (6:39)
This Dutch outfit Xystus from the Den Bosch area is working hard for both national as well as international recognition. Critical acclaimed debut Receiving Tomorrow (2004), was followed by the DPRP recommended Surreal album in 2006. Now, the band returns with a huge production: a genuine rock-opera in cooperation with the full Utrechts Studenten Concert, the oldest existing symphony orchestra in the Netherlands. This USConcert was celebrating its 185 year anniversary last year and their mission became to perform a rock-opera with a ‘real’ metal-band. This is how the idea of conceiving Equilibrio came to be. Sold out performances in Utrecht Leidsche Rijn in July 2008 eventually led to the release of a DVD (ordering within the Netherlands through the band’s website) in January this year.
A few months earlier, the band recorded parts of this show in the studio and so the release of the Equilibrio album was realized. Guests on the album are George Oosthoek (Orphanage), Simone Simons (Epica) and from the world of Dutch Musicals: John “Tarzan” Vooijs and Michelle Spietelhof. Lead vocalist and founder member from Xystus, Bas Dolmans, performs The Traveller, the main character in the story. The huge task of the production of the album was done by drummer/composer Ivo van Dijk and keyboardist Joris van de Kerkhof and I must add they did remarkable job. The band supplied the core of all the music, the story and the lyrics and worked hard to get the whole production on stage.
The full orchestra plays the classically oriented overture and is joined by the band, but the sound is more classical than metal. In My Song Of Creation Simone (Lady Sophia) starts singing with her sweet voice, accompanied by the orchestra. Now it’s more like a “musical”, but with a metal edge to it. An atmospheric piece of orchestral music as we know from bands like Epica or Nightwish is followed by the band taking the lead in The Traveller and Bas introduces himself, he is “Diegu”. Again a major role for the orchestra, some choir singing, the band joining in and Bas is backed up by Death (George Oosthoek). Some of these parts remind me of Merlin and Nostradamus by Kayak.
We’re shifting into the higher gear in Divided We Stand and Michelle’s voice sounds quite a bit like Kayak’s Cindy Oudshoorn while John’s voice sounds remarkably similar to Bas’ singing, just a little sharper. In The Conflict we hear a solid piece of progmetal and “Diegu” is backed up by Michelle aka “Aveline” and then also John, aka “Primos” comes along. Throughout this track, George performs his notorious grunts. Tears can be shed in the slower melodic Destiny Unveiled. In My Time Of Need a more Celtic atmosphere when recorders and the harp can be heard, then a gentle pop/rock tune with Michelle singing the lead. Again a very melodic tune in the same vein called Forever Bound with Bas en John as main vocalists. A bit more up tempo and more in the vein of what Xystus did on previous albums, with John singing a duet with Bas in The Message; we also hear Bob Wijtsma’s guitar a little more prominent.
The foundation laid by the rhythm section Mark Brekelmans and Ivo van Dijk is excellent. Death comes along near the end. More emotions and acoustic guitars in the mellow Balance Restored, sung by “Diegu”, “Aveline” and “Primos”. The finale is more like progmetal in the gothic rock vein and Lady Sophia returns once more and because of her singing, this peace could have easily been performed by Epica.
In contrast to other ‘gothic rock’ albums and ‘rock-opera’s’, Xystus has managed to offer the listener a masterful experience, keeping their own identity but granting the full USConcert orchestra to play a major role throughout the entire album. Equilibrio is not just an album for group and orchestra but a real synthesis with equal parts for orchestra, band and vocalists: an impressive accomplishment, deserving our utmost admiration!
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Tinkicker – Soliloquoy Of The Transparent Boy
Tracklist: Prelude (0:35), Rite Of Passage (2:59), The Transparent Boy (3:42), The Gift (4:26), Home For Christmas (1:13), Chanson De Geste (3:36), Thin White Line (The Wine And Dine Song) (3:03), The Soul Searching Suite (Demise – Part 1 (2:39), Ghost Of My Father – Part 2 (2:57), The Crash – Part 3 (1:17), Spray Painted With Faith – Part 4 (2:48), Acid Kiss – Part 5 (3:38)), The Bargain (3:39), Lament (5:17), Art Of Selfdestruction (4:07), The Slideshow Of My Life (4:54)
Most bands usually ease themselves in gently when starting a recording career; this route however has not been the one that Danish band Tinkicker have chosen to follow, with their debut recording being what they themselves describe as a ‘rock opera’. The story follows the titular ‘Transparent Boy’ as he graduates from being the school geek through getting a plum job in a company owned by his father and going down the power/sex/drugs route to what proves to be pretty hollow success. His family tire of his behaviour and leave on holiday without him, however their plane crashes on takeoff, killing them. This leads him to lose his faith, his mind and ultimately his will to live.
It’s a very dark topic for a concept album, and the band have obviously invested a lot of time and effort on the lyrics. However, it must be said that in many places it feels that the songs are merely a mechanism to carry the story, rather than entities in their own right, and this is one of the album’s main problems. There’s no doubt that Tinkicker have come up with a pretty unique sound – routed in heavy rock, there’s a strong hint of early Rush (circa Fly By Night) in the general approach whilst some of the riffs recall the classic Black Sabbath sound created at the dawn of the seventies. In addition, there are some goth touches here and there, reminiscent of Siouxsie And The Banshees (witness some of the swirling guitar work that crops up at various times) and mid-eighties era Killing Joke. The band occasionally veer into industrial and thrash territory, especially towards the latter stages as the subject matter turns darker, but it would be fair to say that the majority of this material would fit comfortably under the ‘hard rock’ banner. Vocalist Klaus Bastian, meanwhile, has a rather portentous, somewhat pompous delivery that fits the general tone of the album.
The issue is really that, whilst the band’s sound itself is interesting enough, the songs themselves aren’t particularly memorable – the majority are mid paced, and get a little monotonous after a while, especially as there are few hooks to hang them on. The odd track stands out – The Gift, for instance, which has a good chorus and an interesting psychedelic edge to it – but its only really towards the end of the album that the band stretch out and try a different approach, with the stately ballad Lament (a song which could almost have fit on to Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and indeed one which shares both lyrical and musical similarity to Comfortably Numb) and the semi-acoustic closer The Slideshow Of My Life being the standouts of the set.
Overall, this is an ambitious but flawed debut from Tinkicker. The band have certainly got an interesting sound, and indicate in places that they can pen a strong song - perhaps the best way forward would be to forgo the concept route next time and concentrate on the songs themselves. Despite my reservations, Tinkicker are still a band to keep an eye on in the future, as there is definite promise here.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Jack Foster III - Jazzraptor's Secret
Tracklist: Jazzraptor's Secret (0:39), The Corner (5:28), To Have And To Hold (4:36), Outbreak Monkey (6:16), Dreaming Not Sleeping (4:33), Mandelbrot World (9:07), God And War (7:59), The New American (7:21), Inspiration (3:51), Sometimes When You Win (6:20)
Jazzraptor's Secret is Jack Foster's fourth collaboration with Trent Gardener (Magellan) and Robert Berry. Their third album Tame Until Hungry, the only one without "Raptor" in the title, was criticized by some within the progressive community for not being progressive enough. That singer-songwriter orientation is still noticeable on Jazzraptor's Secret, but on many songs the musical limits are tested. The presence of Trent Gardner results in some Magellan influences, but for me the similarity to Sieges Even was amazing. The voice of Jack Foster has many resemblance to that of Arno Menses.
Jazzraptor's Secret start with some baby sounds, fortunately this uninteresting intro is faded after half a minute or so. The Corner opens in a Magellan like style, which is strange really because Trent does not appear on this song. The melody is very jazzy and contains some nice catchy lyrics, I recognized a children's song and some funny remarks about Fred Astaire, the latter really sticks in your head. The chorus is more progressive with heavy guitars and keyboards, again in Magellan style. To Have And To hold is an acoustic song that has that singer-songwriter feel to it that probably resulted in the criticism of Jack Foster's previous album. Indeed not the most exiting song, but still a very nice tune. Outbreak Monkey puts the album back on the progressive path, opening with a fast guitar and this song sounds a lot like Sieges Even - heavy parts alternated with some very good acoustic guitar playing. Dreaming Not Sleeping is heavier than To Have And To Hold but the focus is again a bit more on writing a compact song without too many difficult breaks. Just like To Have And To Hold this is also a very nice song but nothing spectacular.
Mandelbrot World is the epic song on the album with a length just over nine minutes and Trent Gardner makes his mark from the start with a signature keyboard solo. The heart of this track sounds like a protest song with acoustic parts and heavier choruses. However the length of the song is caused by the solos at the end of the song and therefore is more a stretched rock song than a true epic. God And War starts with churchlike a cappella singing that states something like "The Meek Shall Inherit The Earth"; sounds familiar. This is the true protest song on this album, very mellow but with a heavy climax just before the churchlike singing ends the song. The New American must have been written by Trent as it has Magellan written all over it - strange vocal lines and odd breaks. The use of acoustic guitar is a good choice, it gives the music a warmer feeling than a distorted guitar. Inspiration is another turn to the easy-listening rock and again a nice tune but I think the real progheads will not have very warm feelings for this song. Sometimes When You Win continues the mood with a nice rock song.
Jack Foster has presented us a damn fine album and Jazzraptor's Secret does not have a weak moment on it. Apart from some short moments it also does not have any really outstanding things on it either. This album features some songs that are not bad but certainly are not daring enough. I heard many influences from Magellan and the resemblance to Sieges Even is uncanny. People looking for something experimental and excitingly new should not buy this album, however if you are looking for a good album with singer-songwriter influences accompanied by some more progressive works then this is perfect. I have played Jazzraptor's Secret many times and this one will certainly return to my CD-player again.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Sanctuary Rig - Khnosti
Jipamari Justify (4:18), He And She [Again] (7:11), Bring It On (8:34), Life Song (6:11), The Man In These Clothes (9:05), Don't Hurt Me (8:28), Mitchell And Shaw [Inverted] (4:42)
Famcrasl Long Haul (6:31), Learn Again (5:46), Spy In The Atmosphere (4:51), Just For The Record (7:51), Louise (4:15), Dawn Of A New Day (9:22), Louise [acoustic] (4:15)
Sanctuary Rig are a four-piece band based in London comprising Richard Slade (drums, percussion), Mark Rae (keyboards, 12-string, backing vocals), Paul McNamara (bass, bass pedals, 12-string) and Jim Faupel (lead vocals, lead guitar, 12-string, harmonica, backing vocals). Khnosti is their first full length album, a follow-up to their 30-minute debut mini album Sail On released in 2005. The band have had a varied musical past with each member playing in various bands over the years with probably only one of Rae's previous musical ventures, the Genesis cover band In The Cage, being familiar to DPRP readers. At 90 minutes plus, there is a lot of material here which covers rather a diverse spectrum, as the band state on their website: There's something for everyone on the new Rig album - straight-ahead rock, prog, slide guitar boogie, blues, a spacey instrumental, heavy rock, 60s and even a bit of calypso thrown in for good measure.... First up, the album title, as well as the individual titles of the two discs, don't appear to mean anything (although searching for 'Jipamari' did lead to a Czech website of the kind any mother wouldn't approve of!)
The album opens with Justify which bears faint resemblance, musically at least, to The Who. Although Faupel is not the greatest singer, he does a reasonable job on the number which gets proceedings going in a nice manner. He And She (Again) opens with a standard blues riff before expanding into a rockier number, which even includes some Mellotron choir towards the end. Nice phasing between the 'he' and 'she' components emanating through left and right speakers, although it would have been nice if they could have got a female vocalist in to do the 'she' parts to differentiate between the voices. Bring It One is rather more proggy with acoustic guitars and more Mellotron: when all is said and done, a decent song. Piano introduces Life Song, the only song credited solely to McNamara. This is a more laid back number with a mellow guitar solo over wafts of keyboard accent. Man In These Clothes is split into two distinct parts, the rather unexceptional vocal element followed by a more adventurous 'slide guitar boogie' section. The keyboards on this section are a bit distracting and 'Bontempi' like but the faux horns are very impressive and add a great deal to the song. Once again, a piano provides the introduction Don't Hurt Me, a rather sombre and downbeat song with an angry lyric about unfaithfulness. Unfortunately the vocals are a bit frail, the song would have benefited from being a lot more darker and ominous, although the jaunty piano refrain at the end is a nice twist. A nod to the heavier side of seventies rock can be found on Mitchell And Shaw [Inverted], and no, I have no idea what the inverted refers to!
'Famcrasl' starts off with the 'spacey instrumental' Long Haul, although don't expect anything like early Hawkwind as the space element mainly refers to the accompanying story in the booklet and voice over introduction and ending, still it's an amusing number and adds variety. Learn Again reminded me of pub rockers Brinsley Schwartz whilst Spy In The Atmosphere is the band rocking out in a simple song with a rather punk attitude. In total contrast, Just For The Record is almost pure blues and very nicely played and sung with a lovely tone to the guitar and Hammond organ being a welcome addition. The Mellotron flutes are also a nice touch and, although there are a lot of words, they are well written and surprisingly don't swamp the song. A very nice change in the middle of the song make this a definite highlight of the album. We are into singer-songwriter mode with the Dylanesque Louise, particularly on the solo acoustic version provided as a bonus track. Indeed, the song is rather more suited to the acoustic approach as the band version sounds rather too cluttered. So, that must mean the calypso bit must feature in Dawn Of A New Day, and indeed it does, with some fake steel drums adding something a bit different. A very upbeat number that is jolly, jaunty and altogether rather fun. However, that is only half of the matter, The Dawn. The Day part of the song is somewhat more serious and a nice instrumental closer to the album proper.
So a rather mixed bag of music and one that at ninety minutes may be rather too disjointed and diverse to play all at once. With a couple of very good songs, some amusing and interesting numbers and a lot that are decent enough but not essential, the Sanctuary Rig album is hardly an essential purchase for the average prog fan. However, they do have something to offer across the musical spectrum as can be heard from the samples on offer.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10