Reviews in this issue:
- Jordan Rudess - Notes On A Dream (Duo Review)
- Zlye Kukly - At The End Of Days
- Pi XPRNC - Algenia
- Simon Steensland – Fat Again
- Kosmos – Vieraan Taivaan Alla
- Giorgio C. Neri - Logos
- Jaén Kief – Las Hadas No Vuelan Mas II
- Shadow’s Mignon – Midnight Sky Masquerade
- Andrés Ruiz - Los Deudos
- Alchemy Room – Origin Of Fears
Jordan Rudess - Notes On A Dream
Tracklist: Through Her Eyes (5:22), Lifting Shadows Off A Dream (6:05), Perpetuum Mobile (2:13), The Silent Man (4:24), Another Day (5:35), Hollow Years (4:11), The Grand Escapement (4:20), The Spirit Carries On (5:44), Speak To Me (6:55), The Answer Lies Within (4:15), Collision Point (1:09), Vacant (3:18)
Dave Baird's Review
The history of progressive rock is littered with high-profile keyboard players who have released a myriad of solo albums. However, I'm hard pressed to name many that have used songs from their respective bands as the base material and only Rick Wakeman springs to mind as releasing CD's with solo piano interpretations (OK Patrick Moraz did a (superb) version of Soon on the Yes tribute Tales From Yesterday). Never one to sit idle, Jordan Rudess now presents us with Notes On A Dream, solo piano interpretations of Dream Theater songs with a few original compositions "in the progressive style".
There is an excellent interview with Jordan on YouTube (part 1, part 2, part 3) about this release, where a lot of detail into the recording and rationale behind the CD is given. It is well worth spending the 30 minutes watching regardless of whether you're interested in the album as it really gives a deep insight into Jordan's creative process. Perhaps the most relevant points that are covered are why the choice of songs and the method of recording. Jordan specifically wanted to use Dream Theater songs with a strong melody that he could expand and elaborate, for this reason he decided to focus on ballads rather than the more complex pieces. He then noodled around at the piano and tried to record a few tracks acoustically, but on each occasion he was foiled by his noisy dog either snoring under the piano, scratching to get into the room or barking from the other side of the house. It's one of many very light-hearted moments on the interview where Jordan really reveals himself as a incredibly warm and funny guy. Finally he resorted to developing the pieces at the Steinway before heading off into his studio where he utilised the excellent Synthogy Ivory piano software via Apple Logic for the recording, building up with a combination of pre-determined notation and heat-of-the moment improvisation. In any case all tracks are single solo piano, although you may be excused for thinking there are overdubs, such is Jordan's mastery of the instrument.
Those already familiar with Jordan will be well aware of his keyboard skills, in fact I would say quite confidently that he's by far the most technically proficient pianist ever to grace our genre; we can thank all those years at Julliard for that! Virtuosity itself though can have its own pitfalls, the tendency to play too fast, or too many notes seemingly for the sake of it with a disregard for tension and feel. So it goes without saying that while the playing technique is totally awesome, jaw-dropping stuff, there are many moments, too many perhaps, where you have have the definite impression he's overplaying. One wouldn't say he's doing it to show off or to be technical for the sake of it, rather it's the style of the man's playing, take it or leave it.
In the interview mentioned above, Jordan talks quite a lot about going back to his love for the piano, his roots and his classical beginnings. He makes quite some references that he was looking for a Chopinesque feel and whereas there's certainly some of this to be had there's actually a wide range of genres being plundered: jazz, prog, lounge, late romantic period classical, baroque even and of course a mix of all three together. Through Her Eyes from Scenes From A Memory is here played in a real laid-back lounge style, you could imagine going to some up-market party where they've hired a pianist, he'd be playing a bit like this. Sounds like he's just playing the songs and noodling about with it, lots of runs up and down the keyboard that don't really add anything, but rather detract from the flow. Lifting Shadows Of A Dream continues the lounge feel but keeps things much moodier and tense. With big doses of Chopin, Debussy and Saint-Saens Jordan works around the melody nicely, there are still a lot of notes but they work very well here in building the mood.
Perpetuum Mobile is the first original composition on the CD and could best be described as technical baroque, a real Bach thing going on here although I was also reminded in structure and approach of Händel's Harmonious Blacksmith Suite No 5, albeit played on steriods... It would make an excellent counterpoint study exercise for advanced students. Back to the Awake album again for The Silent Man and Jordan plays this fairly straight with the melody taking a strong lead. Once again I feel it's a good candidate for the party pianist, but more hints of jazz here, even a Moraz flavour at times along with hints of Chopin and Debussy. It's kind of relaxed but does sound like he's pushing it a little too much (be clear there's very few people on the planet could play this at all, it's deeply difficult!). Back further in time still to Another Day from Images & Words and this is perhaps the best adaptation on the CD. Starting with a Mozart meets Keith Jarrett intro that segues into the main theme, really wonderful, lots of notes here but they feel appropriate and full of vivacity. The vocal melody is particularly well suited to the piano and Jordan shifts up an octave to play the guitar theme in a very delicate way, it's intensely beautiful, really quite moving. The track alternates with fat Tchaikovsky chords, sweeping runs, arpeggios and more of that tinkling in the upper registers. It's astonishing playing, you can't imagine how he can play it in the first place and then how it can be so wonderful. Superb track.
Hollow Years on Falling Into Infinity was never a favourite track of mine so Jordan's treatment comes as some relief. Starts nice and smooth, great first verse with some nice ostinato on the left and fat chords on the right hand. It get a little lost with trills and runs, but just about holds it together. The second original piece The Grand Escarpment is a tour-de-force, jazzy, Keith Emerson styled piece with hints of Prokofiev and Shostavokic. Emerson's piano piece on Karn Evil 9 2nd Impression comes instantly to mind along with his Piano Concerto No 1, again though it's all played faster than you'd think possible, in a word, mental! Showing that he can slow it down we're treated to a fairly relaxed rendition of The Spirit Carries On, still full of runs and the like, but toned down a bit and it works really well, again the vocal harmonies shining thorough on the piano. The mid section of this track would pass as one of Chopin's Nocturnes, very nice, top marks.
Speak To Me is a less well know piece that was released with the Japanese version of Falling Into Infinity, I can't say I know it that well myself so difficult to compare the two. Jordan again puts forward a tremendously technical track that this time works well, perhaps because I have no frame or reference? The Answer Lies Within is another slower piece leaning heavily on Chopin. It's really nice but seems a little anonymous, maybe, despite all my moaning I subconsciously prefer the fast stuff after all! Collision Point is the third and final original piece. It's a very short, technical jazz piece that lacks any clear melody or direction, you could find hints of many composers and styles in its one minute length, Jarrett and Emerson again, Shostakovic perhaps, it's a bit of an exercise to listen to never mind play it... Things finish up with Vacant from Train Of Thought and it's perhaps the most disappointing piece on the whole CD as it loses all the feel and melancholy of the original. A strange choice in my opinion and a difficult one to carry off, especially when Jordan insists on those fancy runs - they just don't fit in a track about someone dying.
So a bit of a mixed bag ranging from the OK to the incredible, none of it dreadful, but some of it not quite working. Jordan says in the videos that he hopes this CD can help break through Dream Theater's music to a wider audience, rather amusingly he implies that women don't care for technical metal prog and could be drawn to these "beautiful tunes". Well I can't say I agree with that, I know plenty of women like prog metal, it's more the problem that they've not really heard any, or sat down and listened carefully, intense prog isn't for casual listening, at least not on first exposure. Likewise though these piano pieces are neither so easy to listen to, in fact they demand a lot of attention of the mind wanders, so in that respect he may be disappointed. Often at home I will play some Chopin or Philip Glass, calm gentle music that can be appreciated in the background while you're eating dinner, Notes On A Dream just isn't that type of music, with a couple of exceptions it's right in your face demanding attention, Shostakovic being the closest classical analogue I can think of.
I've been quite critical in this review which may lead some readers to think I don't like the album, this isn't correct, but I think it could have been so much better, and hopefully he'll repeat the process in the future with a new batch of tunes and chill-out a little. A third of the tracks are nothing short of mind-blowing, they're the pinnacle of what can be played on the piano technically, compositionally and sonically, a real achievement. The other tracks, every single one of them puts the vast majority of all other pianists quivering in a corner such is their technique, another other person playing this stuff would be lauded to high-heaven, but you expect better from Jordan; not better playing, that's surely not possible, but a more sympathetic approach. Certainly worth while buying if you're a hard-core Dream Theater fan or interested in piano music in any shape or form as it covers so much ground and shows what is possible, but I doubt it's going to appeal to the mainstream prog fan.
Rating this album is really very difficult. As I've said multiple times, and am going to say it again, on a technical level no-one comes close, you need to move into to upper echelons of the top concert pianists for a comparable level of playing. On the other hand I do find the profusion of notes a little detracting, which makes it less than a pleasure to listen to. So on one hand I've never heard anything like it and I should be blown-away, but...
As for the quality of the recording, the piano sounds a little synthetic at times, but I think that's because I received MP3's for the review and they're a less than perfect encode, for sure the Ivory software is very highly rated, can be an original CD will sound a lot better, so I intend to buy it anyway. Maybe that says the most...
Geoff Feakes' Review
In addition to his 10 year tenure with Dream Theater, keyboardist extraordinaire Jordan Rudess has not been a stranger to solo releases. His previous outings are a testimony to his eclectic tastes with two rock-fusion albums (Feeding The Wheel and Rhythm Of Time), a prog covers collection (The Road Home) and several all keyboard affairs to his credit. For Notes On A Dream he returns to his first instrument the piano to provide classical tinged interpretations of his favourite Dream Theater ballads. One man, one grand piano and no sundry distractions from heavyweight guest musicians (a feature of his past work). Rudess has never hidden his appreciation of players like Keith Emerson, Patrick Moraz and Rick Wakeman and that clearly shines through in his expressive renditions here.
His choice of material may come as a surprise to DT fans; he’s clearly put careful consideration into selecting those songs that are open for interpretation in this manner. The arrangements have been modified in some cases and these stripped down versions are a testimony to the qualities of the original melodies. A good case in point is Through Her Eyes, originally released in 1999 as part of Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes From A Memory and then as a single, this is a beautifully rhapsodic opener. At one point I even detected a resemblance to Don McLean’s perennial American Pie. Lifting Shadows Off A Dream from DT’s Awake is another stunningly beautiful piece where he again allows the melody to cut through. Next up, Perpetuum Mobile is an original composition although it’s clearly influenced by the classical baroque style of Bach and skilfully handled by Mr Rudess.
Again from Awake, The Silent Man was always a lovely song but here JR draws out hidden depths with rippling notes cascading in all directions. Another Day from Images And Words is a real highlight, full of grand flourishes and musical gestures. Like waves on a shore the articulation is sometimes calm, sometimes stormy but never dull. Another favourite is the beautiful Hollow Years, exquisitely recreated with a delicate performance which in contrast with the previous track doesn’t go overboard in terms of dynamics allowing the strong melody to carry the piece. Two more Rudess originals receive an airing in the shape of The Grand Escapement and the brief Collision Point. Both feature impressive playing with fast and flashy runs from one hand whilst hammering out the rhythm with the other. Jazzy flourishes abound ala George Gershwin as might be performed by Keith Emerson in Oscar Peterson mode.
He delves back to his first album with DT once again for The Spirit Carries On with an achingly romantic treatment that develops into a lush and rhapsodic arrangement in true Rachmaninoff style. A brooding piece, Speak To Me builds from dark and moody beginnings into a wonderfully tuneful and uplifting section with some fairly intense moments along the way. Likewise, The Answer Lies Within from Octavarium is thoughtful and meditative to begin with as Rudess establishes the main theme before coming to life with fast and rhythmic flights that utilises the full range of the keyboard. To close, Vacant from Train Of Thought provides a suitably memorable and dramatic finale.
Boasting strong themes with plenty of variation in mood and tempo this release belies the fact that it comes from the fingers of one man and his piano. With my CD player set on repeat, the terms ‘precision’ and ’taste’ constantly came to mind each time it spun. For anyone that has doubts regarding Jordan Rudess’ playing abilities they couldn’t fail to be impressed by his tour de force performance here. He displays a level of virtuosity that other keyboardists in the field could only dream of. It should certainly find favour with Dream Theater fans and on that note I should add that I found Notes On A Dream a more rewarding listening experience than I did DT’s Black Clouds & Silver Linings.
Zlye Kukly - At The End Of Days
Tracklist: Act1 Mad Theater (3:45), Strange Tomorrow (6:30), Blind Man (5:05),We Kept Watch Over Time (3:49), He Walks Along The Seashore (5:29), Act 2: Legend (2:32), Teddy Bear (5:00), Babylon Is Doomed (7:01), Star Path (5:22), At The End Of Days (6:14)
We’re slowly catching up with Zlye Kukly, a Russian neo-folk project via Jerusalem. Two years ago I reacted favourably to "Chuzhoj Nebesnyj Gorod" or The Strange Heavenly City. This was originally recorded in 2002 and followed two CDR-only releases. Now I have a copy of "Na Zakate Vremyon" or At The End Of Days which originally came out in 2006.
The baseline of this band’s musicality is set upon traditional Russian and Israeli folk music with the lion’s share of the performance taken up by the bandleader Fred Adra. His distinct vocals and electric/acoustic guitar are accompanied his bass, drums and keyboards. He also writes most of the songs and lyrics. A string of guest musicians are brought in to add flute, mandolin and piano (lots off) and violin (just one track). Adra is supported to good effect by just one female vocalist this time around (three last time) on four of the songs.
This is a much simpler collection of arrangements than previously, with a far heavier leaning towards the traditional Russion/Hebrew folk stylings. It’s also not as dark an album as before and there are less baroque, gothic and theatrical tendencies too, which does reduce the complexity and variety of the material.
Although the language remains an impenetrable barrier, thankfully this time around the Moscow-based label MALS has translated the song titles and some of the lyrics into English to give a fuller insight. The cover is rather eye-catching, apparently reflecting Adra’s other creative occupation, as an award-winning children’s author.
Yet again I can’t resist being drawn into the music. Yes, I’m a sucker for anything with a mandolin in it, but At The End Of Days is simply an enjoyable, charming and inventive neo-folk album.
Just one more album to go, Strange Tomorrow from 2007, and we’ve fully caught up with Zlye Kukly. Bring it on!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Pi XPRNC - Algenia
Tracklist: Chaos I (Genesis) (2:50), Drowning (4:08), Conexion I (0:56), Arise (5:49), Chaos II (Fall Away) (2:43), Lights Turn on (7:21), Rain (7:00), Chaos III (Falling Away) (2:30), Algenia (20:36), Serenity (4:33), Chaos IV (2:59), Becoming (4:23), Shape (6:05)
Hailing from Venezuela, Pi XPRNC, a name which defies pronunciation, are the brainchild and musical dream of Karen González who not only writes all the music and lyrics but also sings and plays guitar and synthesisers. But this is no one-woman band as she is joined by percussionist Yonder Rodríguez, bassist Miguel Blanco and drummer David Cajías. First, let's start of by stating that despite what other reviewers, as well as the press release sheet, might have intimated, any comparisons with King Crimson are somewhat null and void. Yes, five of the tracks, Chaos I to IV and Conexion I, are effectively, and effective, linking pieces that are of a more esoteric and atmospheric nature but they bear no resemblance to any Fripperesque soundscapes, they are intricately and effectively linked to the sound that Ms. González has created of her own accord. And that sound is rather unique, exploring a wide variety of textures and styles, weaving in percussive patterns from around the world in-between a grand variety of sounds and 'noises' wrung from the entire length of the fret board. As a guitarist González doesn't aim to assault the senses with an attack of lightning dexterity but goes for a more considered approach, mixing soothing layers with power chords, riffing and the occasional restrained solo, such as on Rain. When the music ramps up her voice can sound similar to Amy Lee from Evanescence but it is on the slower numbers, such as the great Lights Turn On and the plaintive Serenity, where her voice is most effective and pleasing. There is a degree of experimentation in the music, not least in the expansive title track Algenia which heads off in so many different directions throughout its 20 minutes it is neigh on impossible to predict what the next few bars will hold, and that is even after hearing it a multitude of times! Percussionist Rodríguez adds intriguing patterns throughout and I presume that it is González herself adding a very effective Middle Eastern sounding passage via synths towards the middle of the track.
The more I listen to this album, the more I discover. The first time I played it I was somewhat underwhelmed as I was of the impression that it was unfocused and trying to be too much of everything. However, I believe one has to get into the mindset to fully appreciate what is on offer and that can only come through repeated exposure. I, as I suspect many other people, often find that the immediate is also the transient; how often has one heard a song and fell instantly in love with it only to find that several months (weeks? days?!) it is all but forgotten. But things where you have to expend a little effort in order to understand and get under the skin oftn bear the most dividends. The sonic scope is broad, the arrangements intriguing, the performances solid and the production of a high standard.
Karen González is virtually the antipathy of 90% of women in the music business: writer, arranger, producer, engineer, singer, guitar player, synth player, original, full of ideas and so on. For that alone she deserves our recognition and support. That the debut album she has come up with is as strong as it is only adds to the appeal. The only thing she has in common with the female divas that litter the charts is that she is a pretty fine singer. To top it all, she's not bad looking either...
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Simon Steensland – Fat Again
Tracklist: Der Klang Von “Musik” (16:13), Lost In The Ark (2:00), Merde! (0:25), Memories Of Jan Josta (2:27), Loch Ness (2:20), Hide & Seek (8:26), Fral Oss Ifran Ondo (2:05), The Queen Of Sweden (1:52), Petite Merde (0:26), The Lion Tamer (20:23)
You may find the cover art of Fat Again off-putting (I know I did), but it’s OK because many of you will find the music off-putting too!
Simon Steensland is a seasoned practitioner (I make this his seventh CD release) of a dark and difficult music more readily associated with France (the Zeuhl of Magma), or Belgium (the R.I.O. of Univers Zero). On Fat Again, there are also distinct passages in a King Crimson vein. This latter influence notwithstanding, I know quite a few readers will have lost interest at the mention of Magma and Univers Zero. It’s fair enough really as Fat Again fits squarely into the R.I.O. genre and is unlikely to appeal to any other than the staunchest of avant music fans.
If you’re still reading, you may care to know that the music on the CD falls into two distinct types. The first being two long tracks (1 & 10) which feature a full band line-up of Robert Elovsson (keyboards, clarinet), Arvid Pettersson (Fender Rhodes, accordion), Einar Baldurrson (guitars), Morgan Agren (drums) and Steensland himself on a whole slew of instruments. These tracks are easily the standouts for me, and whilst R.I.O and Zeuhl are styles I have only a limited interest in, I did find these two epic length tracks to be worth the price of admission. Typified by repetitive, grinding bass and pounding drums, both tracks alternate intense, heavy passages with quieter interludes. On Der Klang Von "Musik", accordion adds an unusual texture to the closing stages and on The Lion Tamer, some decidedly delicious guitar and piano lends a fusion edge to proceedings.
Unfortunately, the rest of the disc consists of shorter tracks where Steensland handles all the instruments, except for occasional assistance from Morgan Agren on drums, and featuring various vocalists.
Aside from the eight minute Hide & Seek, which is pretty good, I found the other tracks to be too bitty and experimental for my tastes, and rather too vocal heavy (in an operatic style) as well. I much prefer the hypnotic intensity of the longer tracks to the chop and change styles of the shorter numbers.
All in all, though, I would think that this is a safe purchase for Steensland’s existing fans and Zeuhl/R.I.O. followers – probably not breaking any new ground in those fields, but a solid enough album of its type to warrant investigation for avant rock fans.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Kosmos – Vieraan Taivaan Alla
Tracklist: Uneton Enkel (5:00), Luovun (2:58), Renée (4:24), Don Juan (2:40), Yön Hiljaisuus (4:46), Tuulisina Päivinä (8:36), Vieraat Saapuvat [Osat 1–3] (12:08)
Vieraan Taivaan Alla is the third album from Kosmos, a folk-prog collective from Finland whose last album, Polku, was favourably reviewed at DPRP. The accompanying blurb speaks of their music “sailing between soft prog, folk and a couple of more electric and psychedelic tracks” which seems more than accurate. This album appears to be an amalgamation of the overriding styles of their first two, namely, the first half is predominantly folky, acoustic and soft like the debut album Tarinoita Voimasta, while the latter part of the disc features heavier and more psychedelic electric material as featured on Polku.
When looking at the instrumentation my first thought was Thieves’ Kitchen – female vocalist? Check. Mellotron? Check. Recorders and flutes? All present and correct, but the end result is very different. Where Thieves’ Kitchen offers variety and challenge this is fairly basic and not challenging enough, just nice. The lyrics are all sung in Finnish but Kosmos have thoughtfully included an English language lyric sheet. Their website also has an English version which will at least give them some extra international exposure. The translated lyrics have a generally mystical theme and aren’t bad but a lot of this is clearly lost if you don’t speak the language.
The album begins with spacey sounds and a background pulse before Uneton Enkel (The Sleepless Angel) gets going with acoustic guitar from Aapo Helenius and the voice of Päivi Kylmänen. Before long Ismo Virta’s mellotron makes an appearance adding a sense of mystery and atmosphere, padding out the sound, and the refrain is carried along by the drums of Kimmo Lähteenmäki. Predominantly acoustic this is a pleasant opener that sets out their stall for the next few tracks. Nice and unassuming.
Luovan (I Give In) features acoustic guitar, this time from Kari Vaiponpää, and double tracked vocal with a recorder solo for good measure but is nothing startling. By now the vocals are showing their limitation; a little too fragile and one dimensional although pleasant enough. Violin adds to the folky feel of Renée, with a rustic, gypsiness, the tempo similar to what has gone before and no change in the vocals. More mellotron but now it is apparent that it will be underused which is a shame as I’m a sucker for the wonderful old things. Again the best way to sum this track up is pleasant. Don Juan is all acoustic with an occasional bassoon parp. I hear a hint of Pentangle here but don’t get carried away – this band isn’t that interesting. Yön Hiljaisuusis (The Silence of The Night) is more of the same. You get the picture now, tasteful acoustic guitar and Mellotron.
This is where the album shifts direction. We get two more long songs with much more of a rock feel. Tuulisina Päivinä (On Windy Days) sees the return of drums and the first electric guitar, much more spacey with the haunting presence of the mellotron. Not a massive amount of energy but not bad. The main problem here is the vocals which are just too fragile and don’t fit well with the backing. Nice though Paivi’s vocals are they are just not strong enough. An instrumental squall breaks out in a Pink Floyd, Interstellar Overdrive moment which then subsides as we return to the structure of the song.
Next up is the three part epic Vieraat Saapuvat [Osat 1–3] (The Strangers Arrive). It isn’t really an epic as the song itself is simply bookended by a couple of minutes of speech over a drone with tinkly bells. The words involve hypnotism – putting the subject to sleep at the start of the track and bringing them back to consciousness at the end. The main section is an up-tempo psychedelic guitar and mellotron piece over a steady beat, the words dealing with opening the doors of your mind. Half way through a series of violin sections simply sound cobbled into the swirling spaciness and it doesn’t quite work. The violin isn’t “Out There” enough and it is a bit of a relief when it stops.
Overall a strange little album that is very polite but not exciting or particularly interesting. The material could probably have worked better in different arrangements but is nothing special, simply nice. The singing is OK, the playing OK, the songs OK. Maybe it’s the strangeness of the language to me but the first phase of Quidam comes to mind but, sadly, the vocals and playing aren’t as good and the material just not up to it. They clearly do what they set out to do so can’t be criticized for that but, for me at least, it just isn’t enough. There is nothing really noteworthy about the melodies and the band still lacks, as was noted in the review of Polku, the necessary punch. The six piece group seems generally underused, most tracks only featuring 3 or 4 of them at a time, and the fact that a number of guest musicians also appear is surprising as there is just not enough going on to necessitate everyone who was involved. I don’t know what a Shrutibox is but apparently Olli Valtonen has one and used it on this album. Nice.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Giorgio C. Neri - Logos
Tracklist: Intro (2:25), Id & Trad (4:38), Alleanza (4:03), Seconda Navigazione (1:33), Addio (1:00), Le Braccia E Le Ali (6:04), Guerra (1:23), Godinus (a)(4:31), Godinus (b)(6:19), Tuona Il Cannone (7:02), Per Tutti E Per Nessuno (1:14), L’Ultima Danza (9:17), Sipario (3:05)
More music from Black Widow. More old fashioned sounds from this label with a special fondness for retro, vintage, low-fi or whatever you call it. What’s (relatively) new here is that the focus is not on the creepy and the macabre, as is mostly usual on this label’s releases, although there’s a slightly eerie feel (some church organ here, some religious chants there…) on a few tracks…
Giorgio C. Neri presents us with a loosely conceptual album with a certain “cosmic” atmosphere to it, and plenty of references to philosophy and some of its most relevant figures; there’s a reference to Plato on the spoken word of Seconda Navigazione and to Nietszche on Per Tutti E Per Nessuno. The remaining lyrics belong to one of the best tracks on the album, the epic medieval ballad Tuona Il Cannone, as the CD is for the most part instrumental.
Being an eminently instrumental release, you’d expect high quality musicianship, and there’s certainly nice playing to be found here, but more focused on the recreation of a certain warm and organic presence. The music on Logos made me think of Steve Hackett’s solo albums (oddly, the most recent ones, say from Darktown onwards) and, to a certain degree, of the pastoral 70’s Mike Oldfield (and, as the author of Tubular Bells, Neri plays most of the instruments on the CD himself).
Being a solid album, it might be too solid, if that makes any sense, and with this I mean that most tracks sound alike. Id & Trad and Alleanza (both back to back on the tracklist) are almost identical guitar led (nicely spiced up thanks to some tasty keyboards) instrumentals, and Le Braccia E Le Ali doesn’t escape this description. Also, there’s a bit of predictability going on here; I thought you couldn’t (or you shouldn’t) call Intro the first track on your albums anymore and, when you have something titled Guerra (Italian for War), you might like to use some sound effects, but please stay away from guns, bombs and crashing planes.
Even with its imperfections, Logos has its moments. The Godinus duet (a and b sections) and lengthy L’Ultima Danza achieve a nice balance between the energy of classic guitar rock and some nice acoustic passages. Also, the album has that indescribable “something” you find on most Italian prog, that slightly romantic feel which is often irresistible even on the most obscure (I’m not calling Giorgio C. Neri “obscure”, if that’s what you’re thinking) artists and recordings.
Overall, this is a reasonably enjoyable album, but nothing particularly memorable or groundbreaking, just pleasant, well performed vintage symphonic rock.
Nothing more and, certainly, nothing less.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Jaén Kief – Las Hadas No Vuelan Mas II
Tracklist: Invierno En Atlantis (4:48), Religio Medici (4:50), Ilusiones Olfativas (5:33), El Hilo Del Insomnio: El Vuelo Del Ave (3:57) / La Clepsidra (3:49), Hombres Des Hielo (3:55), Angustia Angelical (4:37), Tus Suenos De Tul (9:20), Las Hadas No Vuelan Mas (3:59), Epilogo (6:22)
Translated as "fairies do not fly anymore", Las Hadas No Vuelan Más II is the second album from Colombian eclectic proggers Jaén Kief. While we are into the meaning of words, Jaén ("ha"-"en") is a variety of grape that grows in Spain, whilst Kief ("ki"-"ef") means “absolute rest” in Middle Eastern parlance. "Kief" is also a term used in Middle Eastern communities to describe "absolute happiness" - the effect produced by hashish. Why am I telling you this? Well, in a way my lexiconic indulgence has not only fulfilled my semantic curiosity but provided a good way to describe this band’s music. “Jean Kief” is a name which evokes the diversity of East and West; the same eclecticism as invoked by the thirteen songs on offer.
Having favourably commented on their debut album of 'complex and sophisticated symphonic rock', I discovered the follow-up to be another challenging if less rewarding listen.
Featuring an array of seven musicians (plus three guests) playing guitars, drums, keyboards, flute and sax, plus male and female singers, there's a good balance between vocal and instrumental sequences. The songs again manage to remain progressive and accessible in equal measures.
The band has been around for a decade and the playing is tight, balanced and well-focused. No single element dominates. There's a much stronger folk influence to their music and much less symphonics than I recall from before. The folk is taken both from their own culture and the western scene – but with a very modern energy to all the songs. The lyrics are all in the band's native tongue, which will give an added dimension to those who speak can understand.
From the copyright, it seems this was actually recorded in 2006, but it's only just been released in Europe.
A couple of the songs really don’t work for me. The modern salsa-tinged, alt-prog-art rock of El Vuelo Del Ave goes too much against the grain, whilst the mix of male and female harmonies on La Clepsidra jars instead of combines. The drum sound production across the whole disc is terrible.
Overall I just didn’t find this as engaging as the debut. However for those interested in the more exotic fringes of the progressive world, this is worth seeking out.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Shadow’s Mignon – Midnight Sky Masquerade
Tracklist: A Dragon Shall Come (4:57), A Slave To Metal (5:51), Midnight Sky Masquerade (6:50), Goodnight Boston (4:42), Darkness Comes To Light (4:36), A Beast Abandoned (4:49), I Will Never Ever Stop (4:27), All Hail The Warrior (4:56), Kingdom Of The Battle Gods (10:06), Spirit Of The Elves (3:39), No Metal Son Of Mine (6:58), Out Of Control (3:58) Bonus Track: Midnight Sky Masquerade [Acoustic] (6:29)
Henning Pauly is a prolific multi-instrumentalist who has made a name for himself in the world of progressive rock through his work with Frameshift (who featured James LaBrie as the vocalist on their debut) and the prog-metal outfit Chain. He’s also released albums under his own name – Babysteps was an ambituous rock opera, but Credit Where Credit’s Due shows he’s unafraid to work outside the progressive sphere, being his own take on industrial and modern (“nu”) metal. Apparently he’s also released a punk album with the band The Anthologies. With such a diverse back-catalogue it should therefore be no real surprise that he’s now decided to have a go at making a full-blown eighties style power metal album under the name of Shadow’s Mignon.
Apparently inspired simply by hearing some classic metal on his car one day and deciding to try and write some music in this style himself, Pauly recruited vocalist Juan Roos (who sang on Credit Where Credit’s Due) and keyboard player Stephan Kernbach to assist him in creating Midnight Sky Masquerade, an album as pompous and overblown as Pauly surely intended it to be.
Anyone with at least a cursory knowledge of eighties metal will be able to see the main sources of inspiration for this metal fest from the song titles alone; the likes of A Slave To Metal and All Hail The Warrior could have been pinched wholesale from the Manowar library of unused song titles; I Will Never Ever Stop and Out Of Control sound like stock titles used by any number of eighties hard rockin’ outfits such as Whitesnake and UFO, whilst A Beast Abandoned is surely going to be Iron Maiden inspired. Meanwhile, the numerous refererences to dragons, gods, kingdoms and – yes- elves can only really summon up the ghost of the diminutive metal grandad himself, Ronnie James Dio.
Musically this is trad metal all the way – songs romp along at mid-pace, guitars wail, terrace-style chants abound and Roos’ reasonably assured vocals belt out a stream of power metal clichés as if they were the most important words ever committed to tape. There’s even a couple of obligatory power ballads (Goodnight Boston and I Will Never Ever Stop – the latter of which is almost more mawkish than anything the eighties bands came up with!), and an over-the-top multi-part epic (Kingdom Of The Battle Gods). The songs that you’d expect to sound like certain bands largely do ( I had to check A Slave To Metal really wasn’t a Manowar cover!) and surprises are generally thin on the ground, but this remains a solid listen for fans of the style, even if its (presumably low budget) origins mean it lacks the dynamics of the big eighties releases.
In conclusion though, whilst this is quite enjoyable, nothing really stands out (or to put it another way – stands out as sillier or more clichéd than the next song), and somehow the real passion and fire that metal can generate is missing. Ultimately this is probably down to how the album came about in the first place; you’ve got to really love this style of music for it to come across properly – whether genuine or pastiche (take Spinal Tap as a prime example of the latter) – and this doesn’t really come through; its hard to know if Pauly actually likes this style of music anymore or just fancied a crack at writing it, having enjoyed it back in the day. At the end of the day this is more of an enjoyable curio than a bona fide addition to the canon of great metal records. It did, however, get me digging out my battered vinyl copies of metal classics such as Dio’s Holy Diver, Black Sabbath’s Heaven And Hell and Maiden’s Number Of The Beast, so if that was part of the album’s aims its succeeded on that score!
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Andrés Ruiz - Los Deudos
Tracklist: Altar (1:01), Narval (5:34), Caminante (2:13), Culminación (6:50), Los Deudos (3:14), El Inventor (4:06), Los Olvidados (6:05), Un Atajo Al Precipicio (2:31), Un Hijo En El Sueño (5:11), Viento Negro (1:31), Cuando Eramos Amigos (4:32), Marea (2:15), Desolación (4:03)
Los Deudos by Argentinean Andrés Ruiz is another CD that has unfortunately been overlooked by the DPRP reviewing staff since its release in 2008. Unfortunately I don't know much about the artist as his web site is in Spanish but his MySpace page cites Peter Hammill and Nick Drake as being amongst his influences, although neither come out in his own, rather individual, music, as demonstrated on this, his third album. Apparently it is conceptual in nature but, again, my linguistic inabilities fail in elucidating the concept other than what can be gauged from a translation of the album's title - The Bereaved. The majority of the instruments are handled by Ruiz himself with Alejandro Moffardin providing the bass on eight of the thirteen tracks. Elsewhere Erica Villar provides flute and Elizabeth Ridolfi viola on three tracks each, Diego Lopes get to blow his sax on one song, Hemán Espejo adds some guitar to a different song and Romina Grosso is credited with backing vocals on one piece.
The water-based introductory track Altar, leads into the relatively low key Narval which possesses a strange sounding keyboard opposing the rather breathy vocals and strummed guitar. The song doesn't really take off until the flute solo which takes the song on to its conclusion and into Caminante, a rather sinister jazz instrumental which again utilises some of the less often heard settings of a synthesiser's repertoire. Culminación is split into three parts starting with a slow electric piano, moving onto a faster second part with yet another horrible synth setting (plus what sounds suspiciously like a stylophone!) and a bass solo, ending with the final section during which flautist Villar is somewhat more soothing on the ears. The title track is rather melancholy, emphasised by the lonely viola, and it is at this point that I began to get a bit wary of Ruiz voice. Possibly a language thing, but he seems to be striving for endearment but hearing every breath and sigh doesn't do a lot for me. El Inventor is a bit more sprightly, although too much prominence in the mix is given to the drums for my liking, which at one point take off leaving the piano standing. This is a fairly confusing track and I am not sure what the objective is, indeed, the album as a whole seems to be quite all over the place.
Saxophone opens Los Olvidados but is soon superseded by a jazzy section that is only saved by the brief solo provided by the lovely sound of an electric piano. After a couple of verses Lopes gets a fuller solo. A stronger ending, which, on reflection, does have the faint odour of Van Der Graaf Generator about it, brings about the conclusion of one of the most interesting songs on the album. The viola, electric piano and flute combine very nicely on Un Atajo Al Precipicio another instrumental piece whose prime fault is that it is too short! Un Hijo En El Sueño changes things around a bit opening with guitar and voice but overall it is much of a muchness, particularly the odd synth lines and the characteristic vocals. Another brief instrumental, Viento Negro is just a rather bland synthesiser piece with some bloke singing a different song, although it is quite hard to hear as it is pushed well back. Suitable for a film soundtrack perhaps but just adds to the confusion in the midst of the album. The drums are again a bit of a distraction in Cuando Eramos Amigos which turns a bit bizarre with what sounds like someone playing with wooden chips and the female backing vocal, so strange in fact that when, out of nowhere, an electric guitar starts a languid solo one is taken completely by surprise. Marea, the final instrumental, is once again mostly keyboards but does have an eerie viola part plus some strange sound effects. The album is rounded off with Desolación which is not a whole lot different from the rest of the album.
Overall, I was not too taken with this album, it never seemed to take off, induced a lot of confusion and I found it very hard to differentiate one track from another. Sorry Andrés, but Los Deudos isn't an album that struck any chords and is unlikely, now that this review is over, to be ever played again.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10
Alchemy Room – Origin Of Fears
Tracklist: Inside My Fear (6:35), La Fin Absolue Du Monde (14:50), Obsession Red Blood (6:39), Lost (6:42), Waking The Child Part 1 (13:27), Waking The Child Part 2 (9:42)
Origin Of Fears is the band’s first creation from the Alchemy Room. To be brutally honest, I do not find it enjoyable. With just six songs stretched over 58 minutes, it appears that everything did indeed happen in the Alchemy Room – everything other than create something I can musically devour.
The whole album lacks originality, cohesion, melodies and variation. Every single track starts off with an acoustic/clean electric guitar. Every single song stretches my listening tolerance beyond reasonable expectations. Every single track has excessively long-winded riff sections.
Musically the emphasis is on the instruments. Lots of extended, riff-based passages within a vague progressive power metal styling. The production is badly focused with the keyboards way too low in the mix. Vocal duties are handled by Irene. Her voice isn't entirely unpleasant, but is too thin and sharp for my tastes. I won’t be ordering any limited edition prints of the album cover.
If not able to be too positive about an album, I do always strive to find constructive criticisms as to what positive elements a new band can build upon. Origins Of Fear has managed to leave me bereft of criticism of a constructive nature.
As they are still looking for a label, copies are available from the band direct or it can be listened to via their MySpace page, where you can of course make your own minds up.
Conclusion: 3 out of 10