Reviews in this issue:
- Robinson, Bass & Clement - RBC
- Kotebel - Ouroboros
- Viima – Kahden Kuun Sirpit
- Astra - The Weirding
- The Snowy White Blues Project - Our Time Of Living
- Man - Kingdom Of Noise
- Zombi - Spirit Animal
- Heart Of Cygnus - Over Mountain, Under Hill
- Witchbreed - Heretic Rapture
- Leyla Fon Rio - Matiz
Robinson :: Bass :: Clement - RBC
Tracklist: In Effigy (1:48), Bullet For Lisa (6:04), Bach In The Old Choral (0:27), Frontline (4:32), No Way Back (6:44), Domine Secundum (1:54), Bleed To Understand (4:58), Monsters At Your Feet (1:40), Hard To Say Goodbye (8:42), Not To Be (2:17), Cloak & Dagger Man (4:00)
This was an unexpected release for me as during the current Camel hiatus, due to the unfortunate illness that main man Andy Latimer is hopefully recovering from, I had lost track of the comings and goings of their long-time bassist Colin Bass. Here he is joined by French-Canadian Denis Clement who so impressed drumming for Camel on their most recent (but hopefully not final) tours this side of the millennium and American Prince Robinson who is a new name to me but is a respected veteran of the Los Angeles session scene having worked with big names in various fields such as Ike Turner, Thelma Houston and Dizzy Gillespie. Robinson and Bass met in Germany where both are now based and discovered similar tastes and outlooks leading to Bass playing on Robinson’s Almost From Sunrise album. Bass invited Clement, also now residing abroad in Sweden, to join them for a few dates and the seeds of RBC were sown.
This is a very varied disc put together by experienced and well travelled musicians but even those who know the pedigree of the performers may be surprised. Robinson is a revelation and a truly gifted guitarist. It is his technique that colours the album moving effortlessly from blues and jazz through passages with a hint of Bill Frisell to overdriven histrionics that most can only dream of. His preference for creating atmosphere by overlaying multiple guitar tracks to create orchestrations raise his playing and his soulful sound is warm and rich, sharp shards of distorted guitar mixed with gorgeously melodic passages. He has a style all his own and seems to be more than capable of employing it in any idiom he fancies. Bass adds jazzy flourishes here and there and nails the bottom end while Clement has all the necessary chops and adds the propulsion with hard, driving beats. He really is one of the best around. Together they prove to be a very potent unit.
Overall the album is very well recorded indeed with a lush and full production that is a pleasure to listen to. The material is impressive, ranging from hard rocking pieces through electric blues to a couple of guitar interpretations of classical pieces. There is also an interesting version of Camel’s Cloak & Dagger Man, originally from that band's Stationary Traveller album, and of the other tracks Robinson supplies six and Bass two.
The brief In Effigy kicks things off with bright and twinkly guitar and a solid beat. Echoing distortion flavours the background and already Robinson catches the attention with his imaginative playing. This moves straight into another instrumental, Bullet For Lisa, muscular drumming and jazz bass underpinning the vibrant multi-tracked guitar work. There is some great soloing from Robinson and Clement drums up a storm. It may not be progressive rock but it is very enjoyable.
There is a change of mood with a swing through a short piece of J.S. Bach which acts as a prelude to Frontline, the first vocal track on the disc and a great modern blues number from Robinson with a fantastic mix of slide guitar and picking. Robinson has an excellent blues voice, occasionally adding a strange but not unpleasant inflexion that, bizarrely, reminds me of Dionne Warwick! His vocals on the album are generally reminiscent of a mix of Daniel Lanois and Robbie Robertson of The Band with a smoky, soulful quality that is very appealing.
No Way Back is the first Bass penned track which he sings himself in typically fine fashion. Originally appearing on Bass’ An Outcast of the Islands this version is up-tempo and heavy with more multi-tracked guitar, a great little song that builds to a nice climax. You get the impression that these guys would be a lot of fun live and you can sample a live clip on their MySpace page.
William Byrd’s Domine Secundum is a longer slice of classical music orchestrated for guitars and shows more of Robinson’s skill in a new direction, these beautiful classical fragments adding to the diversity of the album. Bleed To Understand is another lovely Robinson track with more inventive guitar, slower this time but really good and building into a gorgeous jazzy solo section before sliding into the funky and quirky coda Monsters At Your Feet. Hard To Say Goodbye is the second of Colin’s songs, originally from his In The Meantime album, which he again sings. His voice is very different to Robinson’s, the contrasts again adding to the variety. This is the longest song on the album starting as a slow and beautiful ballad, a fresh and well played late night chill-out with more laid back soloing. The second half changes the feel, kicking up some dust and raising the tempo with plenty of scope for some emotional soloing from Robinson.
Not To Be is another short instrumental, slow, modern and wickedly inventive. This is stylistically a companion piece to the album opener which could well have bookended the album nicely if it wasn’t for the finale. I am undecided whether the album actually needs Cloak & Dagger Man. On one hand this is a totally different version from the original, setting the song in a power trio format which works very well. Purists may cry out – what would Mr. Latimer say? – but this is good stuff. On the other hand the album stands complete on its own without it making it quite unnecessary. Nonetheless, it is good rocker to end on from a throbbing trio that’s having a ball.
I didn’t expect what I got from this disc – top quality playing I did expect but the material is uniformly excellent and hugely enjoyable. It may not be the most prog album in the world but it is a great deal more entertaining than most. Quality is written through this one like a stick of rock.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Kotebel - Ouroboros
Tracklist: Amphisbaena (7:28), Ouroboros [Theme, Variations I-VII, Coda] (16:07), Satyrs (7:25), Simurgh (13:07), Behemoth (7:39), Legal Identity V 1.5 (3:54) Bonus Track: Mysticae Visiones (16:22)
Let me set the record straight, and at risk of being controversial with my dear DPRP colleagues, I firmly believe it’s releases such as this, Ouroboros that should make the roundtable reviews, instead of the “big” names we all know and love, as these get enough press coverage elsewhere, although I understand why they get the RTRs and the headlines.
I say this because Kotebel have created a beast (the CD deals with mythological monsters, but no pun intended here) of an album, a thoroughly enjoyable, impressive collection of brilliantly crafted instrumentals. I’d say this is a nearly perfect release: interesting (at least, for me) subject matter, great eye-catching artwork (by Nacho Hernández Roncal), impressive performances, and great sound (recording, mixing and mastering are top notch); everything on behalf of a collection of wonderfully crafted pieces.
Venezuelan Carlos Plaza Vegas is the mastermind behind this band, a man with a clear vision of his art. Since the band’s debut Structures (1999), Kotebel have been perfecting their own brand of progressive music, which reached remarkable heights on their Fragments Of Light (2003), and comes of age on this new album.
What does Ouroboros sound like? Imagine a melting pot where you throw some classic King Crimson, ELP, modern jazz and fusion, Zappaisms, contemporary classical music and even a nod to film soundtracks. It sounds epic and wide in scope when needed, but it can also be eccentric and experimental, and sometimes gets rocky and unpredictable.
Plaza uses a vast array of sounds and textures, from classical piano to mellotron. Well, keyboards are of the essence to Kotebel’s sound, so there’s another credited keyboardist (Adriana Plaza), and even guitarist César García Forero gets to play some keys; let me say he’s such a versatile guitarist you’re hearing Pat Metheny one second, and suddenly he morphs effortlessly into Robert Fripp.
Also a special mention goes to the rhythm section, which I think to be marvelous; both Jaime Pascual on bass and Carlos Franco on drums are obviously very talented musicians, and their inventive contributions to the songs are essential.
Every track on the CD is devoted to a particular legendary creature. This somehow reminded me of what Trent Gardner tried to do on the second Explorers Club album, Raising The Mammoth (2002), and more precisely the long instrumental Gigantipithicus, a track that tried to be bombastic and wide in scope, but maybe tried too hard and ended up being flat, boring and overlong.
That certainly is not the problem with Ouroboros. Amphisbaena (a two-headed serpent) begins with some intriguing keyboards and percussion, to suddenly become an ever transforming journey with a dissonant edge. Menacing and slightly “grotesque” keyboards, angular guitars, a thick but articulate bass, and jazzy versatile drumming. And everything happens within seven minutes. I love it!
Ouroboros (the serpent that devours its own tail) is the center-piece of the album, and it develops the band’s aesthetics in rather spectacular fashion. Mirroring the cyclical nature of what Ouroboros represents, the sixteen minutes of this track comprise diverse variations of the main theme, a moody piece driven by pulsating bass, plaintive keys and some delightfully ominous timpani. There’s room for great keyboard solos (sometimes you’ll hear Keith Emerson, sometimes it will be Tony Banks), very tasteful and hypnotic piano (around the six minute mark), and even some pure jazz (the breakdown around the three minute mark is just magnificent), before reaching a fitting climax via driving percussion, fusion guitar and neoclassical piano (all naturally combined at the same time!)
Satyrs (wine and women lovers from the woods) is a more irreverent and also harder rocking piece, a guitar driven stormer that wouldn’t have been out of place on KC’s Thrak (1995), if it wasn’t for its obvious jazzy deviations. Simurgh (a mammal bird that’s seen the End of the World three times) is probably the most obviously symphonic sounding piece on the album, and it might be my favourite. It starts with some persuading keyboards, and slowly builds up via some mellotron and then massive sounding percussion. It all gets incredibly addictive when some thumping bass enters the fold, followed by some very lively, bouncy piano… and then you’re hooked for the remaining eleven minutes.
Comparatively, the remainder of the CD appears to be a (tiny) bit weaker; certainly good, but not as essential. Behemoth (the biggest and most powerful animal ever) never quite reaches its potential, though I love the acoustic guitar and dreamy keyboards. Dealing with such a huge creature, let’s say (pun intended… sorry) the song lacks a bit of weight…
As for Legal Identity, it is a percussion-led nice little rocker, with again some delightful soloing by Carlos Plaza, but it is somewhat unrelated to the rest of the album, and it should have been kept as a B side or outtake for future releases and/or compilations. As a wonderful Bonus Track, there’s a nice, very powerful sixteen minute (the original clocks in at thirty five) live version of their classic track Mysticae Visiones included here, which was recorded in 2007 at the Gouveia Art Rock Festival, and features some beautiful vocals by Carolina Prieto embellishing this piece’s proggy, jazzy, folkie (and a long etc)… twists and turns.
As you might’ve presumed from what I’ve said on my review, this is an essential purchase for any prog fan.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Viima – Kahden Kuun Sirpit
Tracklist: Autio Pelto (6:09), Unohtunut (8:29), Sukellus (7:36), Kahden Kuun Sirpit (22:45)
Reviewing the latest Colossus opus Dante’s Inferno as I did recently I was impressed by one of the better tracks on the release from Finnish band Viima. On that occasion it was a purely instrumental piece although here soprano sax and flute player Hannu Hiltula also provides vocals. He’s been with the band for three years now following the departure of female singer Päivi Kylmänen. Founding member and guitarist Mikko Uusi-Oukari, keyboardist Kimmo Lähteenmäki, drummer Mikko Väärälä and bassist Aapo Honkanen complete the line-up. Despite the personnel changes, the bands style (early 70’s melodic prog with folky elements) and influences contained in their 2006 debut album Ajatuksia Maailman Laidalta are still very much in evidence. If anything, their sound has matured and developed in the intervening two years.
This album was put together over a two year time span although the majority of the final takes were recorded between June and November last year. It’s certainly been worth the time and effort boasting some very fine instrumental work and confident melodies, not least in the opening track Autio Pelto (Barren Field). It’s very Camelesque from the start with guitar and then flute picking out the strong main theme. A smooth layering of Moog and Mellotron adds a touch of Rick Wakeman ala The Remembering from Topographic Oceans. So far so good but then the bands Achilles heel materialises in the shape of Hiltula’s vocals. Unfortunately his musicianship isn’t matched by his singing with a monotone delivery that’s flat and uninvolving. Fortunately the vocals don’t stay around for too long or diminish from what is otherwise an excellent opener.
Unohtunut (Forgotten) ups the anti with a very grandiose guitar and keys intro that eventually subsides for a lyrical acoustic guitar and flute interlude. The latter is played by Hiltula who ironically uses the Melly to create the sound of the flute rather than playing the real thing as he does elsewhere. He also provides some dispensable, half spoken vocals. Better is the rippling piano and celestial organ effects. When it shifts into a heavier, more strident gear the bass, along with guitar, is convincingly prominent although the drum sound is for my money a tad too lightweight. It ends as it began with the grandiose fanfare now providing a stately finale in true ELP fashion.
The token instrumental comes in the shape of Sukellus (The Dive). Soprano sax is well and truly to the fore lending an almost medieval quality to the fast and tricky melody bringing to mind Gryphon, not to mention a touch of Gentle Giant. A laid back synth theme makes way for a lively sax break which is thankfully free from the improvised squeaks and squawks that so often blights many such solos. The main melody comes in for a fair amount of repeat playing which fortunately is memorable enough to stand up to all the attention.
Whilst Hiltula and guitarist Uusi-Oukari have been responsible for the music thus far, surprisingly drummer Väärälä takes sole writing credit for the epic length title piece Kahden Kuun Sirpit (Two Crescents). He also provides additional keys and guitars on what proves to be a very effective extended work. A symphonic introduction courtesy of Mellotron strings is followed by a quirky bass led tune with an over dependency on the vocals offset by neat jazzy Rhodes piano and guitar work. A silky smooth synth theme develops into a noodly solo that brings Andy Tillison to mind. From here on in the listener is treated to an extended instrumental section awash with lush (mostly analogue) keyboards. A sweet steel guitar part adds an almost Hawaiian touch but the acoustic guitar, keys and swirling strings put it in Mike Oldfield territory circa the Incantations album, a really lovely sequence. Guitar has been fairly discreet until now, erupting into a soaring Andy Latimer flavoured solo before segueing into an orchestral coda complete with sweeping strings.
Viima have surmounted that all important second album hurdle in style producing an assured collection that builds on the strengths of its predecessor and all within a trim 45 minutes. Musically the sound is melodic, expansive and easily digestible. Whilst the lyrics are sung in the native Finnish language they have been thoughtfully translated into English for the benefit of the CD booklet. Which brings me back to my only real issue with this release, the vocals. My suggestion for the future would be to enlist the services of a more harmonious singer or even dispense with the vocals altogether, music this good doesn’t necessarily need words to justify itself. Although the vocals failed to blight my overall appreciation it does reflect on the final rating and as a result just misses out on a DPRP recommendation.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Astra - The Weirding
Tracklist: The Rising Of The Black Sun (5:44), The Weirding (15:27), Silent Sleep (10:41), The River Under (8:41), Ouroborus (17:23), Broken Glass (3:45), The Dawning Of Ophiuchus (5:29), Beyond To Slight The Maze (11:36)
Not to be confused with the Italian progressive metallers of the same name who we recently reviewed on this site, this Astra are a five piece hailing from San Diego, California, who have come up with a debut album that delivers a spacey, psychedelic and decidedly retro take on progressive rock. Being as it is released on the British "Rise Above Records" label, which has a certain hipness attached to it in rock and metal circles, this album has been getting a bit more hype and coverage than your average new prog release; whether its worth it is perhaps a matter of opinion, but there’s no doubt that there’s much to enjoy over its (lengthy) running time.
Astra have a sound that harks back to the late 60’s/ early 70’s and the dawn of the psychedelic and progressive rock genres – there’s really nothing here that sounds like it was recorded beyond, say, 1973, let alone the 21st Century. Vintage keyboard fans in particular will be in raptures – swathes of Mellotron drench pretty much every track, whilst Arp, Moog and organ are all used liberally in the compositions. They aren’t allowed to dominate proceedings though – there’s plenty of spacey, bluesy free-flowing guitar work as well, much of it seemingly improvised, and it is this element that gives the album its psychedelic flavour.
Influence-wise, whilst some of the more loosely structured pieces have plenty of room for lengthy, almost freeform jams which have echoes of fellow countrymen such as The Grateful Dead and even Jimi Hendrix, and some of the rockier compositions bring to mind Blue Oyster Cult in their heyday, its actually British bands who seem to provide the majority of the inspiration here. Take the title track for instance; once past the whimsical, flute-led opening (shades of the Canterbury scene) we go into the main body of the song; dominated as it is by some slow, doomy but not overly heavy guitar riffs and a vocalist in Richard Vaughan who sounds not entirely unlike a young Ozzy Osbourne, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the lengthy epics Black Sabbath were writing by the time of Sabotage – the likes of The Writ and Megalomania. Final track Beyond To Slight The Maze, meanwhile, shows the convergence of what appear to be the band’s two main influences – early King Crimson (the stately, symphonic march of the main theme reminded me strongly of the title track from their classic In The Court Of The Crimson King) and Pink Floyd (the harmony vocals employed in the early sections are highly reminiscent of those of Rick Wright and David Gilmour on Echoes). There’s also some great organ work from keyboard man Conor Riley which is in the vein of Keith Emerson in his days with The Nice.
Despite these influences being fairly obvious throughout, Astra have managed to stamp something of their own mark on proceedings – not an easy thing when you consider the variety of compositions on show across the length of the album. We have spacey, psychedelic instrumentals (Dawning Of Ophiuchus, the standout 17-minute Ouroborus – which despite its length is far more structured and melodic than you might imagine, and exhibits a definite Hawkwind influence), symphonic prog (the sombre The River Under, the aforementioned Beyond..), acoustic folk (the short ballad Broken Glass, which provides the listener with a much needed breather) and the mellow, whimsical and very English tones of Silent Sleep, which with its heady combination of flute, mellotron and melancholic guitar work does make one think back to a bygone age that, in reality, probably never really existed.
For all the plus points, the album does have its shortcomings. In trying to go for a retro sound, the band have also seemingly chosen to go for a retro production job, forgetting that the reason the bands sounded like they did back then was due to limitations in terms of both technology and money – not by choice. Put this up against the likes of Selling England By The Pound or Dark Side Of The Moon and sonically it doesn’t stand up very well – the sound is rather muddy and boxy (especially the drums) and there’s a lack of clarity in places. It also has to be said that, whilst there’s something to be said to letting the songs breathe, several of them do test the patience somewhat by going on too long – the compositions aren’t especially complex, and a bit of editing here and there (perhaps curtailing some of the more freeform jamming) would have increased the impact in my opinion.
Overall though, whilst still very much a product of their influences, Astra have combined these well to produce an approximation of their own sound which will surely grow with future releases. This is an adventurous and enjoyable slice of retro prog/psychedelia which should find favour with many readers of this site, and hopefully the band will make it over to play in Europe, as I imagine that it is in the live environment where they really shine.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
The Snowy White Blues Project - In Our Time Of Living
Tracklist: Rolling With My Baby (5:07), Good Morning Blues (3:31), Lonely Man Blues (3:00), In Our Time Of Living (6:31), Blue To The Bone (3:04), Red Wine Blues (3:05), I Ain't No Doctor (3:36), I Still See You (4:25), Hot For The Money (3:15), I'm So Glad (3:26), One Way Ticket (4:04), Simple (3:59), I Want To Thank You (3:29)
When Bob, our chief review editor, asked me if I was interested to review the new Snowy White CD I didn't hesitate for a second. Of course I was. I've been an admirer of Snowy's work for years and have had the pleasure to see him perform numerous times with his White Flames band, as well as during recent Roger Waters tours. When the CD arrived in my mailbox I was quite surprised. While I had expected the familiar 'Snowy White and the White Flames' on the cover it now said 'The Snowy White Blues Project'. Hold on, had I missed something ?
For most of you he will not need any introduction, but for the rest of you here's a little background on the man. In the seventies Snowy worked with people like Al Stewart, Peter Green and Richard Wright of Pink Floyd. He also played guitar during the In The Flesh and The Wall tours of the Floyd. After playing with Thin Lizzy for a while Snowy released his first solo album in the early eighties, which included the hit single Bird Of Paradise. After a failed attempt by his record company to have him play commercial music, Snowy followed his heart and released two blues albums with Snowy White's Blues Agency. He once again joined Roger Waters for his Berlin performance of The Wall, as well as Roger's tours in the last decade. He also toured with The Rolling Stones' Mick Taylor. Together with a backing band he named 'The White Flames' Snowy has released six more solo albums, one live album and one live DVD in the last 15 years, not to mention a series of compilation albums capturing work from his 35 year long career.
It's been difficult to describe Snowy's musical style with The White Flames. Although it is clearly grounded in blues it contains many other influences like Latin; Snowy's work sometimes sounds remarkably much like Santana. The Dutch-Indonesian backing band brought a whole new groove to Snowy's music, although his earlier solo albums hadn't shunned fusion influences either. This mix of styles has prompted me to call his music progressive blues. I've always considered Snowy to be interesting for prog fans because of his background and musical style, even if his stuff is miles away from prog.
But back to the new album. As mentioned I was very surprised when I received a CD that said 'The Snowy White Blues Project'. Turns out that Snowy wanted a break from the White Flames in 2008 and had teamed up with Ruud Weber Jr (bass/vocals), Matt Taylor (guitars/vocals) and White Flames drummer Juan van Emmerloot to play more traditional blues. The album contains 13 songs, 2 covers (Lead Belly's Goodmorning Blues and Skip James' I'm So Glad) and all of the other songs written by either White (4), Taylor (3) and Weber (4). Snowy actually only sings one song (the typical Snowy ballad Red Wine Blues), with Taylor and Weber taking care of vocal duties on the other songs. All of this is clearly a return to the days of The Blues Agency with a comparable blues style and others doing the vocals. I have to add that this works quite well; Weber and Taylor have better voices for the more powerful blues stuff and I even like them a lot better than The Agency's Graham Bell. The presence of two guitarist in the band also does a lot for the overall sound, with many a guitar duet being performed. At times the guitars are playing the same melody in different octaves while at other times one plays lead and other rhythm. Note that the emphasis is really on the guitar work here; there's no keys to be found anywhere on this album.
There's really no bones about it, this ain't no prog, this is blues boy! As you would expect the CD offers a wide range of blues styles. There's toe-tapping shuffles, the traditional ballads full of self-pity and crying guitars, Chicago blues, you name it. Now, if you never ever cared for blues this CD is not for you. If you, like me, have the blues in your bones than there's a lot to enjoy on this disc. If you have any doubts, check out the samples on their MySpace page. As such I really feel sorry for having to miss The Project's recent tour. This is music that is supposed to be heard live. Don't let the cheap bargain bin packaging fool you; this is quality stuff. All in all a nice diversion back to Snowy's roots. But if you're wondering if this is the end of the White Flames, don't worry they're already working on a new record.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Man - Kingdom Of Noise
Tracklist: Shadow Of The Hand (5:53), Steal The World (4:18), Iceflowers (4:46), Russian Roulette (7:05), Kingdom Of Noise (3:52), Standing In The Rain (4:47), Speak (3:55), Chuffin' Like A Muffin (4:43), Dissolve Into Despair (4:14)
Not only has recent weeks since the re-release of the first two albums to bear the name of Welsh legends Man, but also the latest efforts of this legendary band. Entitled Kingdom Of Noise, the album sees yet another change of line-up. Currently the group comprises Martin Ace (bass, vocals), Phil Ryan (keyboards, vocals), Josh Ace (guitar, vocals), James Beck (guitar, vocals) and Rene Robrahn (drums, vocals). George Jones (son of founder Micky Jones) and drummer Bob Richards seemingly having maintained the traditional membership state of flux, indeed Phil Ryan himself left and rejoined during the recording of the album. Richards does play on seven of the album's nine tracks, Jones and Beck play on none whilst engineer Alan Murdoch adds guitar to three numbers. Confused? About par for the course as far as Man go!
Given all the changes and the fact that there are no original members of the group left, and the appalling lack of live venues when Man traditionally are in their element and at their best could easily knock spots off many more popular bands, it is a wonder how the band can keep going. On the basis of this album the question should be why they keep going. Having not seen the band live for many a year I can't comment on what they are like these days, if they can still take things to the limit and have an appreciative audience to help take them to the edge. But given that the musical interplay that they are associated with comes primarily from the intimacy of the associations between the players and many days on the road where night-after-night explorations can be built upon, expanded, contorted, inverted and stretched to extremes, it seems unlikely. (And apologies if Man fans who have recent experience of the live band still consider them as good as ever). The best one can say about Kingdom Of Noise is that it is mediocre, doesn't really stand out (except for containing the worst song even issued under the Man name, the execrable Chuffin' Like A Muffin) and bears scant resemblance to anything Man have done before. Yes, the group has always changed: personnel, musical styles and delivery. but there was always an element of quality, something this album is severely lacking.
Things start okay with Shadow Of The Hand with Ryan tinkling away melodically on piano and some nice harmony vocals, although Ace Senior's voice is showing signs of aging. Ace Junior takes he writing credit for Steal The World another mid-paced number and lacks structure seeming to just plod along from start to finish with no real change bar a brief section of strained guitar, one of Murdoch's contributions. Iceflowers, which along with Chuffin' Like A Muffin were recorded in Germany following the departure on Bob Richards, has an acoustic backing with Murdoch again adding his characteristic guitar sound. Again, it is a bit of a dirge and doesn't really take any risks. Russian Roulette is more up-tempo but the drums are too loud and the vocals too flat (although not so much in the out of pitch sense), but having said that could be a decent live number with more opportunities for fun arising out of the keyboard and guitar solos, the most 'traditional' Man song on the album. The title track is rather languid, mainly piano, acoustic bass and brushes applied to the drum kit. The song is okay but not that memorable and emphasises that the group is sadly missing a strong vocalist. Moving on, Standing In The Rain is rather dull; Speak has a promising opening riff but when the opening lines of "Speak for me, I've lost my voice" are sung one rather wishes the singer had and the piece had been recorded as an instrumental; and final track Dissolve Into Despair is forgettable and doesn't leave one wanting to immediately hear the album again. Ryan has a few nice piano parts though.
So overall nothing to write home about, a major disappointment given the fine legacy of previous Man albums. Out of all these numbers only Russian Roulette is really worthy of carrying the Man name. Perhaps the band should really have called it a day when leader Micky Jones was so unfortunately diagnosed with brain tumours?
Conclusion: 4 out of 10
Zombi - Spirit Animal
Tracklist: Spirit Animal (14:01), Spirit Warrior (8:55), Earthly Powers (10:45), Cosmic Powers (6:49), Through Time (17:30)
Zombi, from Pennsylvania USA, is another young band (although this is their fifth album) that incorporates progressive rock into their sound, but unlike the other young bands like Astra, Black Mountain (the album's artwork is done by Jeremy Schmidt. Could that be BM’s keyboard player, I wonder?), The Receiver, Diagonal, Oceana Company, Tea Club and Pure Reason Revolution (to name just a few) they incorporate progressive rock with EM. This makes them sound not unlike the wonderful Schicke, Fuhrs and Frohling (SFF) at times.
The band members are Steve Moore on electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitar, keyboards and A. E. Paterra on drums and percussion. The bands third album Cosmos was released in 2004 (Zombi from 2001 and Twilight Sentinel from 2003 were self released albums). I am not familiar with this album but reviews speak of Tangerine Dream meets Rush without guitars (??). On their fourth album Surface To Air I can not hear anything even remotely Rush like. This album is full of fully instrumental electronic music. What makes them special on this album is that the music has a firm backbone provided by the sometimes fierce drumming of Paterra and at times aggressive sequences. And now, on their fifth album, Spirit Animal they added bass guitar, guitars and new keyboard sounds to their musical palette, and although Surface To Air was a good album, Spirit Animal is much better.
The album starts with the 14 minute title track and it’s a very impressive album opener. Immediately Moore shows that he is more than capable handling guitar and bass duties as well. The song has a great build up starting with an impressive wall of Mellotron choirs and Paterra's excellent drumming - this song has so much energy! Think: SFF on Symphonic Pictures from 1976. For me this song alone is worth the price of the CD! On Surface To Air the guys already showed that they had a keen ear for a good melody which is, I think, incredibly important with instrumental music. And this new album is full of great melodies especially on the first three tracks. During these tracks Zombi manages to draw you into their music with adventurous twists and turns, however, they do not manage to keep this high quality level for the entire album duration. The reason for this is the fact that on the last two tracks and especially on lengthy album closer Through Time, the music relies more on sequences and energy and less on melody. Now don’t get me wrong here - the last two songs on the album are not at all bad but they are too much of the same to keep me interested.
Still I am of the opinion that with Spirit Animal Zombi have released a strong album. They show that they have grown as a band and as musicians (Moore’s bass and guitar parts on the album are impressive!). I can recommend Spirit Animal not only to those who like Electronic Music but also to progheads who like their instrumentals spiced with good old Moogs, Mellotrons, great melodies, guitar solos, fierce drumming and some upfront bass playing. And who doesn’t like that?
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Heart Of Cygnus - Over Mountain, Under Hill
Tracklist: Over Mountain (6:06), Under Hill (6:04), Black Riders (4:16), The King And His Steed (3:21), Lost At Sea (8:24), Erik (3:35), Blue Planet (3:54), The Mountain King (9:02), Revelations (6:55)
Another promising newcomer on the American progressive metal scene, this time hailing from Los Angeles. This is the second album from Heart Of Cygnus, coming two years after their debut Utopia. Their sound is nothing revolutionary as it’s pretty well routed in the 70s with the strongest influences coming from Rush, Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Genesis. However to name just four would be unfair as the breadth of subtleties in the band’s song-writing are taken from everything between King Crimson to Dream Theater. There’s also a heavy nod in the direction of Iron Maiden with a NWOBHM vibe going through the disk and even a bonus track of the Bruce Dickenson-penned Revelations.
After a first spin my biggest surprise was that Over Mountain Under Hill is all the work of just two musicians; all-rounder Jeff Lane (vocals, guitar, keyboards, bass) and drummer Jim Nahikian.
The pace is brisk, the arrangements sophisticated, and the musicianship is convincing, especially the vocals. Some great riffs are sprinkled among some fine melodies. Some of these hit you first time around, others need a little more time. Current favourite is the opening track with its lovely guitar melody and delicate acoustic mid-section. I enjoy the AOR style vocal arrangements of Blue Planet but not convinced they marry too well with the raw riffing.
A few too many instrumental sections go off on rather repetitive journeys – the riff towards the end of Under Hill is the worst example. Possibly bring in an outside producer next time for a more critical edit. The acoustic elements as used on Lost At Sea and The Mountain King are well done but would have a greater impact if interwoven within the songs a little more. The lyrics and cover suggest a lot of Lord of the Rings reading has gone on in the Lane and Nahikian households. Lines such as: "Take ‘em down, all the way to Goblin Town my lads" ain't gonna win too many Nobel Prizes though.
Overall, I found this an enjoyable listen, and an album that I will return to from time to time when I’m in need of a slightly retro Prog-Metal fix.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Witchbreed – Heretic Rapture
Tracklist: Atheos (1:16), Symphony For The Fallen (4:15), Thy Eclipse (4:14), Rebel Blood (4:20), Firethrone (4:06), Medeusa (4:23), Ignis Bellum (:44), Ruby Light Of The West (4:48), Fang & Claw (5:00), Eternal Exile (4:41), Unspoken Vow (4:53), Eden’s End (4:43), Heretica (2:00)
Despite the macabre sounding name, Witchbreed is not Goth, but are a female fronted metal band from Portugal. They are not prog in the definitive sense but show with their debut release Heretic Rapture that they can condense enough prog sensibility into their tight, taut songs that they serve up a sort of “prog lite”.
The band’s origins go back to 2006, when the simply named bassist Ares (ex-Moonspell) and guitarist Dikk recruited Ruby Roque on vocals, and then completed their lineup by adding Filipe Sousa on guitar and Tiago “Hollow” Lopes on drums. 2007 saw the young band touring around, including some opening sets along the Portuguese summer festival circuit. The band recorded two songs by the end of 2007 which saw release as a streaming promo, and were signed by Ascendance Records shortly thereafter. The debut full-length, being reviewed here, was recorded and mastered by February of 2009.
The technical virtuosity of this band is immediately evident on Symphony For The Fallen. The rhythm section of Lopes and Ares throws in tempo changes to the point of dizziness, all of it anchored by the powerful singing voice of Ruby. Overdubbing of her voice to provide a choral effect works well and is not overdone.
Rebel Blood, one of the two tracks that were initially streamed as a promo, features a machine-gun riff evoking Ministry. Another point of reference on the well-produced CD includes Black Sabbath, er, Heaven And Hell. Some of the lighter, more melodic stuff is not too far removed from The Cocteau Twins. Fang & Claw leads off with a symphonic string-like sound and a mid-tempo section briefly recalling IQ. The un-credited keyboards on the CD are played well, foregoing ventures into soloing and utilized mostly to create layers and textures. Also courtesy of the un-credited department are the male “grunting” style vocals which frankly I could do without.
The music is composed and played nicely. Both guitarists are awesome but as far as soloing goes the CD does not credit them individually to the specific tracks. The promotional CD I received features a photo of the band, track listing and promo material on the back. On the front is a provocative picture of a raven-haired woman posed with arms outstretched. It could be interpreted as depicting a crucifixion, which could cause controversy, but I am all for freedom of expression.
This CD will most likely appeal to fans of tight, technically proficient female-fronted metal. If you’re looking for Octavarium, you won’t find it here. Composing epics such as this may be an area of opportunity for Witchbreed’s next release.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Leyla Fon Rio - Matiz
Tracklist: Anny Can't Define Me (7:31), Listen To My Jamy (3:56), Cadavre Exquis Cadavre (4:50), You're Mine Now (1:41), Favorite Game (3:30), She Loves Like That (6:21), Redux Silences (3:37), Blind (2:18), Glamy Universe (5:15), Behind The Glass (5:27), Le Temps Reste (4:33), Eternal Lite Beauty (0:36), Jolie Nuit (4:08), Fond De Scene Jazz (6:31)
As I have said in previous reviews, I seldom test the waters of the ambient, electronic market, however on those occasions I have, the results have been mixed. This release from French Musea/Dreaming label is one such foray and one that probably has not changed the score, so as to speak. I can tell you little about Leyla Fon Rio other than it is the nom de plume of a young French composer and multi-instrumentalist. On Matiz he plays/programmes all of the instruments and is responsible for the arranging, editing and mixing, which he produces from his home studio in Lyon (France). From the very outset I mused that the music of Leyla Fon Rio (LFR) would perhaps be more effective if set to a visual element, so I was pleasantly surprised when I visited his MySpace site and found the music accompanying a number of tastefully filmed clips along with snippets from more mainstream films.
Even without the visual aspect the majority of the music sits quite comfortably in the headphones and once removed from the car environment makes a relaxing backdrop to the end of the day. The mixture of soothing ambients, light jazzy elements, and gentle percussion all go to make a calming and often interesting musical canvas. I think the key word is tasteful. There is much happening in the music, but it is all subtly done. The sounds chosen help here - pianos, including Fender Rhodes, flute, cello, acoustic guitar and even when more strident electric guitar parts are added they are craftily embedded within the mix.
So the music tends to float your imagination rather than be demanding of your attention. This by nature has its downsides and as I've listened to Matiz for many weeks now and I think I have convinced myself that I like what I am hearing. But it has taken a long time and therefore I now question whether or not I should have convinced myself of this. Surely it should have grabbed me quicker than it did? Regardless of this, when Matiz works, it really does work well.
The album opener is an good example of this. It has all the instruments/characteristics mentioned above and here the sonic meanderings rest very comfortably. The subtle voices, Rhodes piano, lilting rhythm and cello are delightful and dreamy. None of the instruments linger very long, drifting in and out and are constantly replaced by others, thus you are always aware of change. Listen To My Jamy is similar in many respects however the music has a slight dissonance added to it and therefore is more challenging. Cadavre Exquis Cadavre has spoken text (processed through a digital delay) along with numerous sound effects. On the CD this track didn't work for me, but with the visuals (from Immortal) then it was much more effective. On the other hand Behind The Glass worked as a stand alone piece as well as when set to the disturbing footage from Elephant.
Along with the aforementioned the last twenty minutes of the album works well to - relaxing, soothing, enjoyable - with Eternal Lite Beauty and Fond De Scene Jazz conjuring up thoughts of the recent Jade Warrior album. And as pointers, elsewhere there are fleeting references to The Doors, Glass, Schulze and Sylvian.
There is over thirty minutes of material that sits well with me and depending on my frame of mind, perhaps a little more. So safe to say this is fairly decent debut and should you have a leaning towards more freeform music, then a trip over to the Leyla Fon Rio MySpace may prove rewarding.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10