Reviews in this issue:
- The Devin Townsend Project - Addicted (Duo Review)
- Marillion - Less Is More
- Camel - Breathless
- Camel - The Single Factor
- Camel - Stationary Traveller
- Colossus Project (VA) - Tuonen Tytär II
- 10t Records (VA) - Undercover
- Elf Project - Mirage
- The Vital Might - Red Planet
- Ron Ziai – Ron Ziai
- IT - Departure
- Narrow Pass - In This World And Beyond
The Devin Townsend Project - Addicted
Tracklist: Addicted! (5:37), Universe in a Ball! (4:09), Bend It Like Bender! (3:37), Supercrush! (5:13), Hyperdrive! (3:36), Resolve! (3:12), Ih-Ah! (3:45), The Way Home! (3:14), Numbered! (4:55), Awake!! (9:44)
Tom de Val's Review
Devin Townsend’s previous release, Ki – the first of four to be released under The Devin Townsend Project moniker – saw him in a much mellower state than usual, and reaching into unchartered musical territories. It was always the intention that the second release would be, in Townsend’s own words, ‘very much in line with my back catalogue’, and true to his word, here it is – Addicted.
Townsend himself makes comparisons to the big, wall-of-sound heavy rock found on earlier releases Ocean Machine and Accelerated Evolution, and states that ‘I wanted to make a record that was heavy, without being dark and depressing... something that sounds good, has a good beat, and a positive feeling’. He also emphasises the album’s simplicity and straightforwardness. Well... in Townsend terms, it is pretty straightforward and a bit ‘lighter’ both musically and in subject matter than his general oeuvre, but by most peoples standards this is still pretty heady, complex stuff – some of it could be called pop-metal, sure, but this is still quintessential Devin Townsend – slightly insane, slightly manic, but 100% genius.
Personnel wise, there’s been a complete reshuffle since Ki – those coming in include bassist Brian Waddell and drummer Ryan Van Poederooyen, both former alumni of the Devin Townsend Band, but surely the most important addition is that of Anneke van Giesbergen. The use of female vocals on a couple of tracks on Ki obviously gave Townsend the thought that he’d like to do more work in this vein, and the collaboration with the ex-The Gathering singer is something of a master-stroke; by turns serene and powerful, Anneke’s vocals compliment Townsend’s beautifully, and provide that elusive ‘X’ factor so many albums search for but few achieve.
From the opening bars of the title track, it’s clear that Townsend’s promise of a return to the ‘wall of sound’ approach was no idle boast. In addition to the main guitar riff – a fantastically scuzzy, evil-sounding riff, at that – there’s whooping electronics, a thumping industrial backbeat, pulsating bass, thudding drums and some angelic harmonising from Anneke. Townsend’s vocals on the verse are of the half growl-half sung variety he excels at, whilst the chorus is wonderfully simplistic yet effective. As usual there are all sorts of little things going on in the background – such as a potpourri of strange sounds that sound like they’re emanating from some North African bazaar – which just add to the overall effect.
Addicted! merges seamlessly into the equally ferocious yet melodic Universe In A Ball!, which if anything amplifies both the aggression and the industrial elements, with the tempo nudged up a tad too – although of course there’s still the little musical diversions you’d expect. This leads into Bend It Like Bender!, which will surely be a track Townsend fans will either love to hate, or even hate to love! Presumably named as a bizarre hybrid of the UK film "Bend It Like Beckham and Bender", the robot in "Futurama", the song is appropriately a hybrid of metal and – gulp – disco. With verses that see an almost glam rock vocal delivery collide with industrial size riffs, it erupts in a hi-NRG chorus with Anneke giving a very ‘girly’ pop-style delivery. With a chorus that gets stuck inside your head very quickly, this is one of those songs that you feel shouldn’t work, but somehow does. Perhaps its something only a select few musical masterminds can get away with – Pain Of Salvation’s (superficially similar) Disco Queen has the same sort of effect for me.
The pace slows a little for Supercrush!, which emphasises, err, crushing riffs and the sort of over-the-top symphonic, orchestral feel best seen on Townsend’s Terria album. Anneke van Giesbergen gets her first big role on here, singing with breathy restraint on the paired back verse, increasing in range on the bridge before Townsend delivers a magnificent vocal on the chorus, really stretching his powerful voice to its limits. The layering of Anneke’s backing vocals over his leads on the latter stage of the song really works, too. The song keeps up the intensity to its close, and is one of the strongest pieces on here.
The title Hyperdrive! may seem familiar to Townsend fans, and indeed this is a reworking of the Ziltoid The Omniscient song – one of the more accessible on that pretty bizarre concept album. The twist is that Anneke is on lead vocals here, and you’d almost think the song was written for her, as her clear, passionate style fits the track like a glove. Her soaring delivery on the chorus is the definite high point. I’m normally not a fan of artists covering their own songs (especially when the original is barely two years old!) but such is the quality here that I feel it is justified. Resolve!, meanwhile, sees Townsend revisit the sort of pop-punk-hard rock style he was coming up with on his Infinity and Physicist albums; it also shows the influence of a band he used to be in briefly, UK rockers The Wildhearts – the verse is actually quite similar to that band’s minor hit of a few years ago, Vanilla Radio. The chorus is a powerful one, with Townsend at full throttle over an almost spacey montage of atmospheric keyboards and clanking industrial rhythms.
The next song, Ih-Ah!, sees the tempo and intensity drop significantly – indeed you could almost call this a power ballad; it’s certainly very straightforward for Townsend. Many fans seem to love this track, but I have to say I found it to be the weakest of the album, as it just seems to drift along, and is a little too sickly sweet for comfort. Townsend showed on Ki that he could do atmospheric balladry very well, but this song doesn’t really work for me.
The Way Home! is more up-tempo, but eschews the heaviness shown earlier on in the album, with Townsend’s vocals at their more hushed and emotive. In the wrong hands this might be called (derogatively) an ‘emo’ style track – but thankfully we’re not in the wrong hands. There’s some impressive vocal operatics on the chorus, and the inventive keyboard sounds help keep the interest maintained. Numbered! sees a return to guitar crunch, with an almost militaristic industrial beat offset by Anneke’s swooning of the (one word) chorus. I have to say there doesn’t seem to be too much that’s ‘positive’ about the seemingly apocalyptic lyrics, but musically the song doesn’t dwell in darkness – there’s some typically ornate, swirling symphonic sections, and Anneke’s sweet delivery makes the inevitable seem somehow less daunting.
The finale, Awake!!, is easily the longest track here, and as you might expect the most complex. Not that that’s immediately obvious, with the song initially a straightforward enough piece of pop metal riding along on a riff that almost seems like simple 12-bar boogie, albeit given a unique Townsend twist. Anneke delivers the bridge in uncharacteristically urgent fashion before Townsend gives it some power on the chorus. Townsend continues adding little elements to the sound as the song goes along in this (relatively) linear fashion (including adding some cheesy but effective eighties keyboard stylings to the verses). The song gradually builds into a pummelling beast built around a repeated industrial riff, with Townsend muttering (loudly) ‘we...deconstruct’ – giving a flavour of what the next album (Deconstruction) might sound like, perhaps? Gradually this peters out, leading to some ambient electronic soundscapes, with the usual sonic bells and whistles thrown in to keep things interesting. There’s some chilled out vocalising from Devin too, which sounds like the stuff he was doing on Ki – so definitely a track that bridges the different faces of the man they call ‘Hevy Devy’...
Well, it’s certainly clear that Devin Townsend’s new healthy, family-man lifestyle is having no detrimental effect on his creativity – quite the opposite, in fact. Three years ago it sounded like we weren’t going to be hearing much more from Townsend in the future. In fact we’re hearing a lot more, and of a consistently higher quality, too. In an era where many artists take five years to come up with one mediocre album, Townsend has come up with two excellent ones in a matter of months. He’ll be off on tour soon (another reason to rejoice) but don’t worry, as Deconstruction is being laid down as we speak, so another Townsend opus should greet fans early in 2010. If he keeps up this kind of quality, it will be worth the (short) wait.
Bart Jan van der Vorst's Review
My first encounter with Devin Townsend was Ayreon's The Human Equation. I was invited to Arjen Lucassen's studio for a sneak peak of the album and during our meeting he could not stop raving about Townsend. He played me some of Townsend's isolated vocal tracks and listening to all the layers and textures added to his short performance did indeed convince me of his genius, yet that didn't mean I immediately liked what I heard. I tried one of his albums at the time, but it didn't grab me at all, nor did any of his releases after that. In my opinion Townsend's latest solo album Ziltoid The Omniscient was hilarious, utter genius and almost entirely unlistenable. Nope, Devin Townsend was not for me.
Then came Ki, the first of a four-album project under the banner The Devin Townsend Project. Out was the in your face, over the top heavy-ness, and in came atmosphere and melody. I loved it! I can safely say that in a year where almost all of the established prog bands have disappointed, Ki stands out as the surprise of the year for me.
Addicted is the second in the series. Although it is a return to Townsend's heavy side, there is one big difference. As Devin Townsend explains
"I wanted to make a record that was heavy, without being dark or depressing. When I got into metal it was for the energy behind it, but somewhere along the way that energy started getting really negative. In music right now, there’s a ton of heavy bands that are really depressing to listen to loudly. I wanted to make a record without any real deep metaphor on the surface. Something that sounds good, has a good beat, and a positive feeling. It is still heavy as-all-get-out, but I think there’s a differentiation to be made between being ‘peaceful’, and being peaceful but wanting to celebrate loud, crushing music."
Well, positive energy it is! Most of the album has a lot of power and drive, coupled with very accessible melodies, guaranteed to bring a smile on your face. If Happy Metal were a genre, this album would be it!
The Devin Townsend Project will see Townsend team up with a different band for each album, and the biggest trump card he pulls on this album is having Anneke van Giersbergen on vocal duties. The first two tracks sees van Giersbergen do little more than provide some backing vocals, but this shifts when we get to Bend It Like Bender!, which has Townsend taking care of the verses and Van Giersbergen the choruses. The roles are reversed on Supercrush! where Van Giersbergen does verses and Townsend the choruses (in one of his best vocal performances on the album). But the surprise comes with Hyperdrive! and Resolve! which are both sung entirely by Van Giersbergen with Townsend merely providing the backing vocals.
It is things like this that make this album a sure winner. Had the entire album been like, say, Universe In A Ball! (a brash, straight forward, noisy rocker and the weakest track on the album), then the noisefest would become boring. But by alternating the vocal styles (not just the interaction with Anneke van Giersbergen, but also Townsend's own style moves from Cookie Monster to Operatic and everything in between), the album becomes very accessible and likeable. Well, likeable in the way that you need to be able to appreciate crunching guitar riffs and grunts, that is.
I will not go through a description of each and every song, as Tom already did that in his review above. My favourites are the highly contagious Bend It Like Bender! (which can be previewed on Townsend's Myspace), Anneke van Giersbergen's reworking of Hyperdrive! and the massive climax of Numbered! and Awake!!, the latter proving that Townsend is not only a good singer and guitar player, his keyboard skills are also more than adequate.
Although Addicted is not as atmospheric, melodic or accessable as Ki, it is a good follow-up should enable Townsend to reach a wider audience and convert the non-believers. It worked for me!
Just one word of warning: Don't listen while driving - I managed to get three tickets for speeding while preparing for this review! :-)
Marillion - Less Is More
Tracklist: Go (4:59), Interior Lulu (7:32), Out Of This World (5:07), Wrapped Up In Time (3:40), The Space (4:51), Hard As Love (4:56), Quartz (5:47), If My Heart Were A Ball (5:11), It's Not Your Fault (3:32), Memory Of Water (2:37), This Is The 21st Century (5:40), Cannibal Surf Babe [Hidden Track] (3:27)
In the last decade I've not really been enthusiastic about Marillion's releases. Anoraknophobia and Marbles still had their moments, but with Somewhere Else and Happiness Is The Road one of my long time favourite bands finally lost me. I stopped going to their gigs, with the exception of the Weekend Conventions, which I mainly went to because of the atmosphere and the full performances of older albums. But even at those occasions I found it increasingly difficult to be captured by the newer material played.
You can imagine my sudden excitement when the band announced that they would revisit some of the older stuff with an acoustic album. Not only did this promise an album with special versions of some classic tracks, but thinking back of the tasteful renditions on Unplugged At The Walls I also anticipated the band doing something a lot more creative than their normal note-for-note live performances. The sneak previews that appeared on the band's website got me even more excited since it seemed like they were taking this project to the extreme. As Hogarth mentioned during one of the live gigs of the tour that followed the release of this album, they stripped these songs to the bare bones, rearranged them and put some flesh back on. As such the result is an even bigger deviation from the originals than on Unplugged At The Walls. And I mean that in the nicest possible way ...
Less Is More consists of 12 songs spanning the whole 'Hogarth Years' with The Space (off Seasons End) being the oldest and Wrapped Up In Time (off Happiness) being the most recent one. Well actually that's not 100% correct, since It's Not Your Fault is a completely new track. Unfortunately this new one, a piano-vocal only composition, is as boring as most of the material the band released in the past years. It even suffered from the I-ran-out-of-ideas-for-the-chorus-syndrome, resulting in continuous repeating of the song title. As you can imagine I can't get very excited about Wrapped Up In Time either. And not just because it is one of the less adventurous tracks on this CD.
But this still leaves 10 tracks and boy are they good. The Space is not enormously different from the version on Unplugged At The Walls and one could even question it's inclusion, but basically all of the other songs are little gems. The most impressive aspect of these versions is the choice of instruments. The band went out of their way to use unexpected instruments in their new arrangements. Some bass parts, for instance, are played on xylophone. There's also loads of glockenspiel, dulcimer, Hammond organ, harmonium, autoharp and even a pipe organ on the CD. Some songs feature harmonica and strings and there's the obvious acoustic guitars and brushed drums. All of this give the songs a whole new personality.
But the band didn't stop there. While some songs, like Go, This Is The 21st Century and Interior Lulu follow the original structure quite closely, other songs have been completely reconstructed. It takes a couple of spins to get used to things like the end section of Out Of This World, the clock effects and jazzy mid section of Quartz and the brilliant new Hard Is Love where an aggressive rock song has been turned into a sensitive ballad with the 'it makes you hungry and it makes you high' melody being turned into a chorus. But once you get used to these renditions you'll appreciate the whole new direction the band took these classics to.
Finally, some songs are real improvements compared to their originals. I never really liked the originals of the a cappella Memory Of Water or the patchy If My Heart Were A Ball, but the versions on Less Is More are definitely enjoyable. Cannibal Surf Babe, which for some strange reason has been 'degraded' to a hidden track, is different from the version on Unplugged At The Walls and gets rid of the annoying keyboards of the original. A big improvement as well.
All in all, for me, this is the best album that the band has done in ten years. If you like acoustic renditions or if you like the originals of the songs on this album, Less Is More is an absolute must-have.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Camel - Breathless
Tracklist: Breathless (4:20), Echoes (7:19), Wing And A Prayer (4:42), Down On The Farm (4:21), Starlight Ride (3:21), Summer Lightning (6:05), You Make Me Smile (4:15), The Sleeper (7:05), Rainbow's End (3:10) Bonus Track: Rainbow’s End (Single Version) (3:00)
Camel - The Single Factor
Tracklist: No Easy Answer (2:57), You Are The One (5:22), Heroes (4:49), Selva (3:33), Lullabye (0:57), Sasquatch (4:43), Manic (4:26), Camelogue (3:42), Today's Goodbye (4:07) A Heart Desire (1:11), End Peace (2:56) Bonus Track: You Are The One [Promo Version] (3:50)
Camel - Stationary Traveller
Tracklist: Pressure Points (2:10), Refugee (3:48), Vopos (5:33), Cloak And Dagger Man (3:54), Stationary Traveller (5:34), West Berlin (5:09), Fingertips (4:30), Missing (4:21), After Words (instrumental) (2:01), Long Goodbyes (5:20) Bonus Tracks: In The Arms Of Waltzing Fraulines (2:19), Pressure Points [Extended 12” Single Version] (6:15)
Whilst researching for this review I was reminded that it’s been seven years since Camel released their most recent and quite excellent A Nod And A Wink album. A pity that its been so long because at the time it looked like they were back into their recording stride and once more at the top of their progressive rock game. The same cannot be said for all of the 13 proceeding studio releases that stretches back to their 1973 self titled debut. It was the subsequent trio of albums Mirage (1974), The Snow Goose (1975) and Moonmadness (1976) that are generally considered to be the quintessential Camel recordings although for me personally Dust And Dreams (1991), Harbour Of Tears (1996) and the aforementioned A Nod And A Wink (2002) all rate very highly.
If the above albums are the cream of the crop in the bands career then along the way they must have surely served up their fair share of ‘so so’ offerings. That brings me to the first in a batch of planned reissues from Esoteric Recordings, Breathless, The Single Factor and Stationary Traveller which originally appeared in 1978, 1982 and 1984 respectively. The observant will have noticed that chronologically speaking I Can See Your House From Here (1979) and Nude (1981) are missing from the list but Esoteric have both earmarked to follow very soon along with the live Pressure Points (1984).
For me Breathless was a watershed in Camel’s career with one foot in the bands melodic, often instrumental prog past and one in the contemporary commercial world of the late 70’s. The choice of Mick Glossop as producer whose name was attached to several hit singles at the time was also very telling. It was the last album to feature Peter Bardens as full time keyboardist who departed before the mixing was completed. Along with Andy Latimer, Bardens was undoubtedly the bands creative driving force during the 70’s and sadly he later fell victim to lung cancer which claimed his life in 2002. In addition to original members Bardens (keyboards), Latimer (guitar, vocals) and Andy Ward (drums) the album features the talents of ex Caravan and Hatfield And The North man Richard Sinclair (bass, vocals) and Mel Collins (flute, saxophone). Dave Sinclair (Richard’s brother) also put in an appearance on keyboards and stood in for Bardens during the subsequent tour along with Jan Schelhaas.
The bright and tuneful title track Breathless is a perfect opener with Collins’ distinctive and lyrical sax to the fore. The mostly instrumental Echoes continues in a similar vein with Latimer’s ringing guitar and Bardens’ stately synth providing the focal points. The infectious Wing And A Prayer has an almost Reggae rhythm and some neat electric piano work whilst Down On The Farm contains the seemingly incongruous combination of heavy Pete Townsend style riffs and a breezy Canterbury flavoured vocal section courtesy of Richard Sinclair. The latter song feels very much like a tongue in cheek forerunner to Squigely Fair from A Nod And A Wink. In marked contrast are the poetic Starlight Ride with its heavenly flute and sax playing and the hypnotic Rainbow's End, a bittersweet curtain closer to the Latimer/Bardens partnership.
Less effective is the cod Bee Gees Summer Lightning, a misguided attempt to climb onto the then popular disco bandwagon and the superficial You Make Me Smile which also incorporates a dance beat reminding me of the Climax Blues Band’s hit Couldn’t Get It Right from two years earlier. The jazzy synth led You Make Me Smile is one of the bands least memorable instrumentals with an indulgent guitar solo being more angular than usual for Latimer. In October 1978 one month after the album appeared, a single was released with Rainbow's End as the B side. The bonus track included here sounds identical to the album version which precedes it proving to be a rather disappointing addition. All in all however Breathless was a worthy album from Camel with superb contributions coming from both Sinclair and Collins as they had done on the previous Rain Dances (1977).
Following a gap of four years and two albums 1982’s The Single Factor saw Andy Latimer return accompanied by an impressive line-up of session musicians. This was partly due to an abortive tour the previous year where it had become necessary for Andy Ward to follow Peter Bardens out the Camel back door although ironically the latter returned for a guest appearance on the track Sasquatch. Again the emphasis was on shorter (mainly under 5 minutes) songs written by Latimer with assistance in the lyric department from partner Susan Hoover. The album title is supposedly a reference to Latimer being the only remaining original member but it could also be read as an indication of the pressure he was under from the record company to produce a hit single. The end result is a pretty diverse gathering of songs (often sounding half finished) to say the least.
It opens with two limp sing-a-long affairs No Easy Answer and You Are The One both presumably intended to appease Decca Records which even the moody bass work of new man David Paton cannot save. Paton along with Chris Rainbow, both fresh from the Alan Parsons Project, provides the vocals for the melancholic Heroes (not to be confused with the Bowie song of the same) which includes some of the best harmony singing ever in a Camel song. The aforementioned Sasquatch features the combined talents of Anthony Phillips (12 string guitar) and Simon Phillips (drums) but even their presence cannot lift this instrumental above the ordinary despite some fine Mini-Moog from Bardens and Latimer’s soaring guitar. The aptly titled Manic for its part would sit quite comfortably on a Steve Hackett album with gothic keyboard contributions from Ant Phillips and Francis Monkman.
The lacklustre Camelogue has an autobiographical feel although the words are Hoover’s not Latimer’s whilst Today's Goodbye is one of the albums more memorable pop offerings with an anthemic chorus reminiscent of Neil Diamond’s America. The best tracks however are the most laidback which includes Selva a pretty instrumental with Hank Marvin phrased guitar from Latimer supported by Ant Phillips’ classical strumming although the latter is a too far back in the mix in my view. In the same vein is the moving coupling of A Heart Desire and the concluding End Peace. The first features Rainbow’s sensitive vocal with a basic accordion backing before segueing into a tasteful instrumental with Mark Knopfler tinged guitar rounded off by grandiose choral effects. It was not the best of Camel albums however although fortunately for Latimer the resulting tour proved to be one of the happiest in the bands history.
With The Single Factor featuring several different pairs of hands on the keyboards (including Latimer’s himself) the guitarist obviously felt he needed a more stable sparring partner for the next release so enter Ton Scherpenzeel, keyboardist from Dutch prog veterans Kayak. If the previous album had been a nadir in the bands career then 1984’s Stationary Traveller (if you excuse the pun) put them back on the prog road to recovery. There was even a concept which coming five years before the fall of the Berlin Wall focused of the plight of East Germany. The line-up was also more consistent which in addition to Latimer and Scherpenzeel saw the return of David Paton (bass), Chris Rainbow (vocals) and Mel Collins (saxophone). Ex. Jethro Tull and 10cc drummer Paul Burgess completed the line-up.
Except for Scherpenzeel’s pastoral solo piece After Words, Latimer and Susan Hoover were again responsible for all compositions but this time it was a far more rounded collection. The scene setting instrumental Pressure Points with its pulsating synth line (Terminator anyone?) and Latimer’s now customary searing guitar work grabs the attention and holds it right through to the majestic finale Long Goodbyes which boasts one of the most compelling choral hooks I think Latimer has ever written. In between up-tempo songs like Refugee, Cloak And Dagger Man and West Berlin keep the momentum going with their driving almost trance like rhythms and edgy guitar and keys work. Occasionally the contemporary synth sounds bring the likes of Ultravox and Visage to mind (this was the early 80’s after all). Vopos on the other hand opens with panoramic synth effects that evoke Vangelis in spacey, new age mode.
Of the rest, the superb instrumental title track Stationary Traveller is by far the albums peak with an evocative classical guitar and piano intro that harks back to Dire Straits’ Private Investigations from two years earlier. The stately guitar solo that follows is one of Latimer’s best in years. Missing on the other hand is a rather forgettable affair despite the poppy overtones. The laidback Fingertips for its part is most notable for Paton’s brooding fretless bass lines and a silky smooth sax break from Collins. The two bonus tracks are for once quite noteworthy including the nostalgic In The Arms Of Waltzing Fraulines which could have been lifted from the musical Cabaret. The extended Pressure Points improves on the album version with the addition of Echoes era Pink Floyd atmospherics and dramatic blasts from every producers favourite toy of the 80’s, the Fairlight.
Sadly Andy Latimer has been dogged by ill health in recent years, effectively putting Camel on hold for the foreseeable future. We can only wish him good health and a speedy return to the recording studio. In the meantime these three reissues provide and interesting retrospective even though as I alluded to earlier they may not represent the very best of the bands output. They do however prove to be revealing signposts in their turbulent recording career with Breathless signalling the close of one progressive rock era and Stationary Traveller the dawning of another. For me The Single Factor represents the wilderness years in between. As always Esoteric have done a first class job with the re-mastered sound and particularly praiseworthy is the extended booklets each complete with a lengthy band bio and period photos.
Breathless: 7.5 out of 10
The Singles Factor: 5 out of 10
Stationary Traveller: 7 out of 10
Colossus Project (VA) - Tuonen Tytär II
CD 1: Jinetes Negros | Atlantis (6:02), The Samurai Of Prog | Colossus (7:22), B612 | Sanaton Laulu (5:35), Tommy Eriksson | Cheap Evening Return (6:32), Overhead | Vuorellaistuja (8:24), Pax Romana | Nobody Never Knows Nothing (3:43), Kate | Last Quarters (6:53), Trion | Vanha Surullinen (8:11), Willowglass | Fairyport (7:00)
CD 2: Contrarian | Lucky Golden Stripes And Starpose (5:59), Simon Says | For Her Son (5:58), Cristiano Roversi | Sane Again (3:19), Ageness | Praying Stone (5:28), The Phase | Playground (3:29), Jeavestone | Delightful (3:39), Tkingdkeys | Gryf (6:30), Kumina.org | Joropo Llanero (3:19), Piece Of Cake | Boogie Jungle (5:17), Pinnacle | Paikalliset Tuulet (3:50), Onségen Ensemble | Escape From The Storm (5:35), Karmic Jaggernaut | Down To Earth (7:36)
CD 3: Fauno Di Marmo | Gloria Deo (7:15), Ozone Player | Kunnes (4:46), Yesterdays | Lost Without A Trace (2:37), Scarlet Thread | Tulen Pisara (6:47), Mist Season | Pan (5:35), Viima | Uuteen Aikaan (4:23), Equilibrio Vital | Impressions Of India (4:41), Stringpurée Band | Koin Siipesi (6:41), Kosmos | Takaisin Virtaan (5:20), Haikara | Yksi Maa-Yksi Kansa (12:07)
Nine years ago the first so-called 'project' was launched by the Finnish Colossus magazine under the name Tuonen Tytär. Now synonymous with epic productions of epic tales, such titles as The Spaghetti Epics, The Odyssey, The Divine Comedy, and, what else but The Colossus Of Rhodes, the first release was a tribute to Finnish Progressive bands of the 1970s. Since subsequent projects have all featured original music, it was felt the time was right for another tribute album. Taking the approach of the first project, bands were invited to submit versions of songs written and recorded by Finnish groups during the golden era of progressive rock. The only limitations were that no drum machines were allowed and each track had to be under seven minutes long (although, as we are talking prog bands some failed to stick to the second rule!). Originally planned as a double album, the response was such that Tuonen Tytär II is spread over three discs, features 31 bands and has a playing time of a few seconds short of three hours!
The very nature of this release means that there will be a degree of superficiality to this review. It is not possible to go into detail the contributions from each of the 31 bands as that would take longer than playing the album from start to finish! I will also collate the cover versions of each original band together, starting with versions of Wigwam songs as they undoubtedly had the biggest international acclaim during their time as evidenced by no fewer than six of their songs being given a makeover. The awfully named The Samurai Of Prog kick things off with the appropriately titled Colossus. Musically, things are fine, hammering home the prog credentials with no less than two Mellotron players, although the vocals are rather tortuous. Tommy Eriksson's Cheap Evening Return also suffers from weak vocals which overburden the rather gentle melody. Much better is Fairyport by Andrew Marshall aka Willowglass. A track that benefits from being played loud under which conditions the inventive use of various keyboards emphasise the different elements of the number. US band Contrarian take on Lucky Golden Stripes And Starpose and give it a very American heavy rock feel and although the vocalist can sing well, his style of singing is typically overblown. However, full marks to the guitarist for a nice solo and the drummer for some interesting rhythms. Cristiano Roversi does a fine job of Sane Again; establishing a degree of menace and, well, insanity, that makes a lie of the title. Final Wigwam track is by the DPRP recommended Yesterdays whose largely acoustic version of Lost Without A Trace maintains the quality of their debut album and is an overtly delightful, and gentle number. It's just begging for a flute to be added over the melody line though!
Finnforest, a band of which I remained blissfully unaware until receiving this tribute set, are honoured with four of their instrumental numbers getting a modern makeover. B612 from Venezuela, tackle Sanaton Laulu with some aplomb and a degree of finesse that is lacking elsewhere, whilst Pinnacle also deserve a large wallop of congrats for a storming version of Paikalliset Tuulet with particular applause for Greg Jones on the drums. The high quality of the Finnforest material continues with Ozone Player and their slightly mysterious version of Kunnes which leaves the Stringpurée Band to tackle Koin Siipesi using the unusual line-up of bass, drums and electric kantele (a traditional Finnish multi-stringed zither-like instrument which resonates like a bell). Surprisingly original sound that is engaging and exciting. These four tracks are well worth checking out and I'll certainly be doing some investigations into Finnforest the band. Playground, the first of three Kalevala songs, is jauntily interpreted by The Phase who manage to give it a quite Big Country sound quite different from the quite funky musical backing of Boogie Jungle by Piece Of Cake. Sorry to be a bit of a bore, but the vocals on this one are not up to much either. The Onségen Ensemble tackle Escape From The Storm head on as it were, grinding out an electric maelstrom as if they really were fleeing from a hurricane.
Argentinean Jinetes Negros, who have the honour of starting off the proceedings with disk one track one, do so in style taking Nova's Atlantis, translating the lyrics into their native Spanish, and laying down a great prog track with (hurrah!) great vocals and harmonies. One of my favourite bands of recent years, Trion, also deliver the goods on Vanha Surullinen, deviating from their usual instrumental style to include not one but two vocalists. The mixture of the male and the female voice works well and anyone who has enjoyed either of the band's original albums will find nothing to disappoint here. Another group to gain a degree of critical appraisal amongst DPRP reviewers is Sweden's own Simon Says. Their rendition of For Her Son by Scarab is spoilt somewhat by overuse of a vocoder in an otherwise enjoyable number. The second Scarab number, Praying Stone here performed by Ageness, is a keyboard ballad sung by Tommy Eriksson who does a better job than on his solo number. A nice arrangement the piano, synths, flute and guitar blending together well. Another band I have a lot of time for is Overhead and they successfully make Tabula Rasa's Vuorellaistuja their own, another highlight of the set. The other Tabula Rasa song covered is Gryf by the awfully hard to pronounce Tkingdkeys. When I first heard this I was not all that impressed, but given time and repeated exposure it has really grown on me. Somewhat magnificent in a strange way, although don't ask me to elucidate!
The last group to be blessed with two covers is Tasavalian Presidentti, the first of which, Last Quarters is by Kate, actually a duo of two men neither of whom is called Kate! The sound on this recording is quite primitive, like the two had never been into a recording studio before. Full marks for effort but very few for attainment. Slightly better is the version of Takaisin Virtaan by Kosmos even if it has the air more of a traditional folk song rather than a progressive rock number. Of the rest of the songs, the Pax Romana version of Nobody Never Knows Nothing (originally recorded by Rockressio) has a certain charm which surprisingly appealed to me. Jeavestone stake their claim as the new Jethro Tull with the delightful Delightful originally recorded by Kaamos whilst in complete contrast Kumina.org whizz through numerous time signature changes with an invigorating run through of Pilirpauke's Joropo Llanero spoilt only by a pretty poor mix. Along similar lines, with often frantic drumming to match, is Down To Earth, Made In Sweden's instrumental number being put through its paces by a quartet of Americans going under the name Karmic Jaggernaut. Slowing things down, Scarlet Thread take on Fantasia's Tulen Pisara and do a fine job of it with a mellow guitar solo and some nice violin lines. Despite Mist Season's version of Pan by Maru & Mikael starting off in a similar fashion to Peter Hammill's After The Show, the track deviates into a light jazzy number that is inoffensive, albeit somewhat background music. The lightness continues with Viima and Uuteen Aikaan by Scarpa Flow. Some nice flourishes and good use of the Mellotron, give the piece a prog flavour but overall, it is a bit lightweight and somewhat boring. From the opening few bars of Impressions Of India it sounds as if even Equilibrio Vital will fail to lift proceedings but a great flute line rescues things from the mundane and builds a lot of character into the song. The last two tracks were both written by the band Haikara, the first of which, Gloria Deo, is Finnish prog by way of the Mediterranean via Italian band Fauno Di Marmo. Great keyboard sounds and a really tight arrangement make this track stand out, even if the drum sound is a bit harsh at times. Lovely harmonies as well. Final song is the anachronism of the set and a link to the original Tuonen Tytär album with Yksi Maa-Yksi Kansa by Haikara. And quite a corker it is too! Cello and sax, male and female vocals, acoustic guitars and powerful drumming. just a shame that multi-instrumentalist Vesa Lattunen looks so miserable in his booklet photograph!
All-in-all a decent tribute album to Finnish prog bands of the 1970s, but not without its flaws. For a start the set is simply too long and would have been more accessible as a double album. Secondly, some of the contributions are not really up to scratch, either being poorly recorded or by groups that appear to lack a decent amount of recording experience. Again, whittling out the non-essential tracks would have meant the best was concentrated on two CDs. However, as an introduction to some obscure Finnish bands and with a booklet that revels in its completeness, you have to take your (metaphorical) hat off to the people at Colossus. I just wonder if such an album featuring all original artists and songs would be feasible or viable; let's hope the originators of this music can reap any spin-offs from the publicity garnered by Tuonen Tytär II - I've already bought* the first album by Haikara whilst writing this, one positive aspect of downloads I suppose.
*Ridiculously low price of £2.99 at either Amazon or iTunes!
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
10t Records (VA) - Undercover
Tracklist: From.uz: Starless And Bible Black | King Crimson (9:04), The Vital Might: Sleeping Beauty | A Perfect Circle (4:38), Little Atlas: Battle Of Evermore | Led Zeppelin (7:38), Man On Fire: Visions Of China | Japan (5:42), Frogg Café: The Dance Of Maya | Mahavishnu Orchestra (11:18), Bolt: Das Model | Kraftwerk (3:49), Fluttr Effect: The Chauffeur | Duran Duran (5:40), Everything In Seven: Man On The Corner | Genesis (3:33), Elf Project: Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun | Pink Floyd (5:11), The Rebel Wheel: Cross-Eyed Mary | Jethro Tull (8:14), Steve Katsikas: The Best Laid Plans | Kevin Gilbert (5:37)
10t Records here offers us eleven of its artists (rather, I should say “all eleven of its artists”) each covering “a song by another artist that was influential in the development of their own musical identity... The mission was then to not simply do a faithful cover of that song, but to reinterpret the tune such that it represented where the artists musically find themselves currently.” Normally I wouldn’t quote so much from a promo letter, but when we’re faced with a CD such as this – featuring eleven artists that, let’s face it, are not all household names even in progressive rock circles covering songs by bands as (may I understate?) musically diverse as King Crimson and Duran Duran – I think we need to be as clear as possible at the outset about what we’re dealing with.
Are you still reading? Is there still a chance that you might buy this CD? I’ll continue, then. Let me be honest (I won’t use the buzz phrase “full disclosure,” but that’s what I mean): I dislike most cover albums and tribute albums on principle and have found few specific ones that make me suspend that opinion. And I dislike the kind of pedestrian reviews that I find myself writing of such albums – you know, song by song, virtue by fault by shortcoming by excellence. But, damn, when this CD came along – including as it does compositions by a few of my favourite bands juxtaposed with compositions by, let’s just say, a few bands of which I am not so fond, I couldn’t pass it up.
Let’s eschew that boring song-by-song format, though, and I’ll simply hit the highlights and lowlights, reserving for the middle of the pack just a brief comment or two. So okay. The surprise favourite here (well, it surprised me) is Little Atlas’ Zeppelin cover, The Battle Of Evermore. I don’t know what Little Atlas’ version says about where the band “musically finds [itself] currently,” but it’s a darned interesting cover. It opens with keyboards instead of mandolin, gives the song a driving, shuffling rhythm, incorporates melodic background vocals, and includes a long instrumental section with power chords and organ. Doesn’t sound as though it should work, I know, but it really, really does. An excellent cover.
Also good are From.uz’s fairly faithful rendition of Crimson’s classic Starless And Bible Black (incidentally, the band’s name, which seems very obscure, actually couldn’t be more pedestrian once you know that they’re from Uzbekistan!); and The Rebel Wheel’s Cross-Eyed Mary, which showcases the band’s tightness and dynamics as it handles the song’s cool riffs; Elf Project’s Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, which follows the Floyd’s version pretty closely for the first half but then turns the second half into a light-metal workout that, surprisingly, captures the mood of the original while offering a different take on the song’s dynamics.
Kudos also go to Frogg Café’s brave cover of Mahavishnu Orchestra’s The Dance Of Maya. For my money, this is the most courageous attempt on the CD, just because the complexity of the original and the excellence of Mahavishnu’s musicians must have been daunting. Just fine as well is The Vital Might’s Sleeping Beauty (see my review of that band’s recent CD for a few more words about this cover, which ends that album).
A few of these versions, however, don’t (to my mind) either add much to the original or succeed on their own terms. Fluttr Effect’s Duran Duran cover is, I’d have to say, not quite as good as the original (and I’ll assume I needn’t say more about that); Man On Fire’s Visions Of China is actually mildly irritating; and, although I’m not familiar with Kevin Gilbert’s original, Steve Katsikas’ The Best Laid Plans strikes me as a bit of an anticlimactic end to the album. Finally, Bolt’s Das Model and Everything In Seven’s Man On The Corner (what an odd choice if one wishes to cover Genesis! – or so I think) are neither here nor there, although one might wish they were there.
Overall? Well – this album certainly doesn’t alter in any way my opinion of cover albums. The only song here that I’m likely to return to is that very neat re-imagining of Battle Of Evermore, and I say that despite my praise of a number of the other covers: even the good ones are, I think, mostly unnecessary. Taking nothing away from the talents of the individual bands, I’d categorize this CD as little more than “product” – while remaining grateful for that rare phenomenon, a Zeppelin cover that truly honours the original while markedly altering it.
Conclusion: Because of the stylistic variety on this CD, I think it’s more or less unrateable.
Elf Project - Mirage
Tracklist: Lessons (4:35), The Road Of Change (4:05), Serene (5:03), Jackhammer (2:39), The Go Between (4:38), Witchcraft (2:22), Norwegian Wood (2:04), Carolan's Welcome (3:24), Shine A Light (3:22), Whisper The Memory Of Old (10:08)
The Elf Project is predominantly the work of Carl Schultz who not only wrote and produced the whole album but also plays bass, synths, acoustic guitar, slide guitar, electric sitar, theremin, a guitar solo (on Shine A Light) and takes lead vocals on everything. Filling in the gaps are a whole host of supporting players who between them contribute drums and percussion, electric guitars, classical guitars, backing vocals, tambourine, Mellotron and flute. I am unsure if this is Schultz's first foray into recorded music, the acknowledgement on the inner sleeve that states he appears courtesy of Eclipse Records suggests not, although I couldn't find a band signed to that label that he was a member of - perhaps he just works for the company! Anyhow, this is the first release by the Elf Project and it is quite a mixture!
Blending progressive rock with pop is not a new concept, but one that has limited success in the mainstream music world, particularly when flashes of sixties psych are also thrown in along with a fair smidgeon of heavier rock elements. The results are such that I can't see the album taking the charts by storm but there is enough going on to provide a pleasing album. I should imagine most people will at least be aware of Norwegian Wood, that favourite from The Beatles' Revolver. The version here sticks fairly closely to the original with a nice acoustic backing and the electric sitar adding to the atmospherics. To my ears not as enjoyable as the cover by Mahogany Rush but a familiar oasis amongst the desert of new music. There is one other cover version, a classical guitar rendition of Carolan's Welcome written by Turloch O'Carolan in the early years of the eighteenth century. On the cusp of classical baroque and traditional folk, the piece is well played and rather beautiful. Shine A Light is a pure pop song, indeed I can imagine Take That recording something similar! Not adverse to the odd dose of decent pop music, I quite enjoyed this number with its un- preposing drum beat, harmonious melody and the quirky flourishes of electric sitar and jaunty flute. The other end of the musical spectrum presented on the album comes with the harder tracks such as Serene and The Road Of Change. Despite taking on a heavier mantle, the melodies are still present and deftly catch the ear, which along with some good guitar work by Israel Stark on Serene makes these songs very enjoyable.
The album includes two short instrumental numbers, Jackhammer and Witchcraft. Both are competent pieces of music that are well played with some decent bass playing on the energetic Jackhammer and a mix of guitar and keyboard on Witchcraft that cleverly fuses the two so that it is difficult to sometimes tell the two apart! A more progressive approach is taken on Lessons and The Go Between although a strong melodic undercurrent is present in both which rewards repeated playing. The final contrast is provided by Whisper The Memory Of Old which includes all sorts of atmospheric and ambient recordings that is somewhat hypnotic, very relaxing and almost mesmerising. Saying that, not a lot really happens throughout the ten minutes of its running time, but to be honest I would have been disappointed if it had! It comes and goes like the waves on the beach that feature midway through the song without ever losing its charm. Alright, it is not party music and may be easily dismissed as rather 'new age' but I did find it engaging and applaud the somewhat brave move of including it on a debut album, particularly as it take up a quarter of the running time of the whole album!
Overall a good effort with some strong song writing and, as noted throughout this review, some fine musical performances. For me the problem comes in that it is rather too diverse and lacks a strong sense of what the Elf Project are all about. Don't get me wrong, diversity is good but it is more usual to spread out different musical styles across different albums rather than on the same release. The other minor drawback is that it sounds somewhat too clinical and not 'organic' enough. One of the drawbacks of the modern age I suppose, when a single person can assemble an album on a computer and remove even the slightest flaw or imperfection.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
The Vital Might - Red Planet
Tracklist: Phantom Spaceman (3:58), The Truth (2:57), City (3:44), Trouble (3:47), Chime (4:34), Saturday (5:35), Seasons (1:33), 5 O’clock (5:22), Superstitious Wish (4:07), The Greatest Man (7:48), Sleeping Beauty (4:37)
I’m going to avoid mentioning the band’s hype, because I’m sure you’re all as tired as I am of bands that either sound like or are said to sound like Radiohead, The Mars Volta, and A Perfect Circle.
Well, I try to recognize that bands often (usually?) have little say in what is claimed for them in their promo materials. And to be fair, the blurb accompanying The Vital Might’s second CD only says that the music on this album “has been compared to” that of those other bands. (By whom? We are left in suspense.) And, sure, having read that claim before first listening to the album, I guess I can hear some validity in at least one of those comparisons – on a fair day, with the wind at your back, you might hear an echo or two of A Perfect Circle on a track or two here (most obviously on the album-ending cover of that band’s Sleeping Beauty – see the end of my review). But to my ears, this band pretty much has a sound of its own, and it’s that sound that I’ll concentrate on describing.
The Vital Might is a three-piece band from Boston (hotbed of modern progressive rock, not). I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing their first album, but I’ll bet it’s interesting. On this album, bassist Rick Gauthier, drummer Evan Kraker, and guitarist/singer Andy Milk display a range of styles in eleven songs that are united, with only a couple of exceptions, by a remarkable density of arrangement. Listen to the first half of 5 O’clock for one of the exceptions to that claim: on this song, a ballad, Milk’s voice is for that first half in the forefront over delicate arpeggios and minimal percussion. But then, kaboom, in comes the mass of sound that characterizes most of these songs. Two observations: first, Milk’s voice is pleasant but not strong, so it’s perhaps just as well that in most of these songs he’s supported by his band mates’ backing vocals and the dense arrangements; second, those arrangements are not well served by a somewhat murky production throughout, so that one appreciates those moments (as in the first half of this song) when one can hear the individual instruments clearly.
The band certainly shows off its stylistic diversity on these tracks (though the “funk” promised in the promo letter is pretty icy – check out the fast bits in Superstitious Wish – and, unfortunately, those songs in which the band opens up and shows off its speed suffer from that sludgy production). My favourite song here is City, with martial snare drum and echoing chords backing up a genuinely interesting lyric structured as a series of non-answers to the question “why is this city here?” (“There’s no oasis from oppressive flatlands / There’s no indigenous people offering fortunes”): although structurally it’s perhaps the most conventional song on the album, it shows real inventiveness and courage in the cumulative power of its repetitions. Also notable is the epic-sounding (but not epic-length!) closing track Sleeping Beauty, the Perfect Circle cover I mentioned earlier, which attempts to do something a little different from the original and which showcases some very cool percussion and gratifyingly straightforward power chords, providing a satisfying conclusion to the album.
A good, solid album, I think. It’s not really to my taste, but I can imagine it appealing to fans of slightly heavier but non-metallic indie-progressive rock. That might sound like an over-qualification, but I mean only to indicate the territory this band is working in. I’ll add this: it’s one heck of a lot more interesting than the work of that other band from Boston that we hear so, so much about, the one whose name ends with “smith” and begins with “aero.”
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Ron Ziai – Ron Ziai
Tracklist: Burn In My Dreams (4:53), Wander (5:03), Veterans Of World War III (5:04), A Sip Of Wine (4:52), Can’t Come Down (4:11), Drowning [The Stone] (4:40), Southerland (5:42), We Are One (5:18), Become (3:48), With Goat Feet (1:25)
Every now and then DPRP receives for review a CD leaning to the Goth genre. Pittsburgh, PA programming wizard and multi-instrumentalist Ron Ziai has provided to DPRP such a CD for review. On the eponymous CD, Ziai handles lead vocals, electric guitars, acoustic six string, twelve string and nylon string guitars; bass guitar, piano, organ, santur, and djembe. Drums, strings, synths, hurdy gurdy, and harmonium were all performed and programmed by Ziai using Reason 3.0. A handful of guest musicians contributed to the action. The resulting CD is a well-composed, executed, and produced offering from Ziai that could rightfully earn him a position in the indie-Goth culture - although this may not necessarily be the direction Ziai intends to head in.
I say this because while there are some definite Goth style numbers on this CD, such as the gloomy Drowning [The Stone], Ziai on many tracks such as this is not afraid to bust out the electric guitar and lay out some proficient shredding which would lean away from Goth and closer to metal. With this said, the CD features a delightful mix of influences and hues guaranteed to satisfy the palates of many across the ideological spectrum.
I would love to learn to play the dulcimer and I could probably use a few lessons from Ziai. He hammers out some far Eastern notes on the santur, a type dulcimer originating from among other places Iran and India, on the Thanatos-like A Sip Of Wine along with fine backing vocals from Jody Perigo.
Ziai works the magic of Reason 3.0 to have us Wander, as the song is titled, with some hurdy-gurdy style sounds to far Eastern territory. Ziai’s multitracked vocals and more santur add to the world beat of the track.
Our musical journey exceeds the speed limit with Veterans Of World War III, obviously influenced by industrial acts KMFDM and Ministry with its samples of George W. Bush. Guest guitarist Dave Warren bends the pitch, if not the rules, via some slippery slide guitar.
So it is left up to the individual listener to decide if this CD is Goth or not. The good thing is, as I mentioned earlier, that it will satisfy many tastes with the exception of those connoisseurs of mainstream bubblegum.
The CD is packaged in a simple card sleeve. The back cover photo of Ziai unfortunately makes the credits difficult to read as they are in a black font. I’d go with white next time.
Another area of opportunity for Ziai to explore on his next CD is to join forces with a female lead vocalist a la KMFDM.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
IT - Departure
CD: God is Dead (3:28), Departure (4:19), Killing Me (3:44), Car Crash (4:42), Fighting For Freedom (6:12), Burn [Part 1] (5:07), Burn [Part 2] (3:54), Safe (2:27), Stand Back [Part 1] (3:58), Stand Back [Part 2] (3:17), Disappear (5:56)
DVD: Killing Me [video], Live At Algoma University, IT Story, Trauma EP, Live Photographs
The CD of IT’s Departure was reviewed on this site in November 2009, creating a concern with the band’s label manager that the review had been unfairly critical regarding the issue of non-distribution of the accompanying DVD disc. Sonic Vista have subsequently supplied the full CD+DVD disc set and this updated review now covers the DVD – the original review of the CD is reproduced below for completeness and context, unaltered and in its entirety, as there is nothing about the musical aspects of the review that needs altering. The overall DPRP rating for the CD+DVD combined has been increased, as a result of reviewing the DVD, to a 7 out of 10 score.
Immediately on spinning the 28-minute extract of the band’s concert at Algoma University, it is clear that any claims regarding the band being proficient as a multi-media group are justified. The band’s video projections are a significant enhancement to the music and the incorporation of this aspect onto the DVD film is well crafted, so that not only do you get good footage of the band, but there are opportunities to focus on the video special effects, as well as having them superimposed on the live footage. It’s very good! Of the six songs from the concert excerpt, the four selected from the Departure CD are ones that gave me less problem with the “God” issue and I enjoyed the excerpt very much, the rendition of Car Crash working particularly well on this media. The sound quality is very good too. If the band are playing live anywhere near you, I would definitely recommend a trip to see them, it looks like quite a show!
This multi-media aspect of the band is reinforced during the DVD’s “IT Story”, where it can be seen that this is something that they have followed form their earliest days and concerts: it’s quite a challenge for an outfit that I am sure is financially constrained, so all credit to them.
The DVD also contains a promo-video for one of the songs from the album, Killing Me, some concert photos as well as a fine EP called Trauma. The first two you can pick up from the band’s website but the EP is unique to the package and features three tracks that were omitted from the Departure album because they lack sonic resonance with the rest of the music on there, but they are pleasant enough, in a lighter vein, and demonstrate the band’s musical versatility.
In conclusion, unlike in a lot of releases where the extra DVD is played once and probably never again, with Departure it is a significant enhancement to the overall package and the feel for the band. Certainly if you were tempted to buy, then you’d be advised to go for the CD+DVD option. Additionally, it looks as if it’s worth catching the band live if you can.
The original, unedited, review of the music CD alone now follows below.
Reviewing IT’s Departure was, ultimately, a frustrating experience. Despite the musical qualities on offer, the band’s (pronounced “it”, by the way, not “I.T.”) lyrical stance and choice of media samples caused me some irritation. Additionally, for a band renowned for its prowess at media manipulation – they started life originally as a psychedelic multi-media group – the omission on the part of the record company to distribute the CD’s accompanying DVD is doubly disappointing. Reviewing the stand-alone CD is not doing the band any favours.
Musically, IT’s sound is very close to a less heavy version of Porcupine Tree’s In Absentia to Fear Of A Blank Planet period. Indeed, parts of Burn (Part 1) are so like Fear.... that it’s scary! Lyrically, the first half or so of the album – up to and including Fighting For Freedom - is the antithesis of someone like Neal Morse; it is the antithesis of Christian rock. God, Lord and Jesus come in for a bit of a pasting. Another significant factor are media samples, or perhaps we should say “George W. Bush quotes”: starting with Killing Me and running through more or less the rest of the album the music is interspersed with Bush speech excerpts; only that some of them are not real excerpts; they are spliced up spoof excerpts, such as you can find on the internet. A couple of issues here, guys: one, it is debatable whether this is acceptable on the internet, but on CD it is not only unacceptable but libellous; second, if you want to make a political point there are far better ways of doing it than misquoting someone, particularly someone who doesn’t need misquoting! Surely we cannot have lost the art of writing protest songs in the 21st century! IT’s use of these media clips is similar to - but more annoying and not as well integrated with the music - bands such as the US’s Chest Rockwell and Australian heavy-metallers Templar.
Departure is the band’s fourth album, but their first for the Sonic Vista Music company. Forming in 1994, Nick Jackson (vocals, guitar) recorded and produced the band’s first full-length album The Stranger Inside The Shelf. It was at this time that the band first integrated multimedia into their live shows. Two Worlds was released in 1995 but the third album, Over & Out was not produced until 2002, by which time Nick had built his own recording studio (Spacehouse Studios) in London. Long time collaborator James Johnson left after this album, so ending the first chapter in the band’s history. Guitarist Andy Rowberry, drummer Alex Inglis and keyboardist Rob Archibald have since arrived and form the band for Departure, the beginning of the band’s future.
It will be interesting to see where that future takes them. There is clear promise on Departure but, certainly on the strength of the CD alone, that promise is yet unfulfilled. It is not clear whether this is a band more interested in producing music (four CDs in 15 years doesn’t point that way) or in producing live multi-media projects.
Musically, there is a market for IT, particularly so as a “follower” of the now popular Porcupine Tree: indeed, some would argue that the music’s greater lightness compared with Porcupine Tree makes it more accessible to the masses. There are moments where, rhythmically and melodically, the writing is strong and very appealing. Compositionally, the complexity is not always “progressive”; again this may open up a wider market which will include not only the progressive fans but those who favour simpler songs. The opener God Is Dead, for instance, depends on a mantric riffing rhythm for its effect, as does Stand Back [Part 1]. Departure brings in more melody, as does Car Crash, which is the album’s standout track. The album’s most complex composition is perhaps not surprisingly, the longest: Fighting For Freedom goes through various phases from its bluesy harmonica opening but, for me, gets lost in a long mantric rhythmic section half-way, never regaining interest. The track is typical in that it is nearly there as a perfect composition, but a couple of injudicious decisions in compositional direction mean that the spark never ignites. The same story is repeated elsewhere: glowing moments that don’t quite deliver on the promise.
In summary, then, frustrating... one of those “nearly” albums. However, perhaps if you’re a very keen fan of the particular Porcupine Tree period that I mentioned, then it may be worth your while to at least check out the sound clips on the band’s internet sites.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Narrow Pass – In This World And Beyond
Tracklist: In This World And Beyond/Just For You (12:28), Beyond (7:03), Silver Lady (8:36), Somewhere By The Sea/Timeless (7:36), Heaven's Crying (7:27), In Your Eyes (6:03), Flying From Ireland (9:20)
This is the second effort, (read DPRP's review of A Room Of Fairy Queen’s), from this project featuring Italian multi-instrumentalist Mauro Montobbio and singer Valeria Caucino and the seven tracks contained within should hold appeal for anyone who likes their prog with a heavy influence of Floyd, Genesis, Camel and new age folk. In This World And Beyond mixes Celtic moods with progressive rhythms, acoustic and electric, male and female singers, and instrumental and vocal passages in significant separate sections.
The variety in the sounds on offer are enhanced by the sue of 11 guest performers and everything from tenor sax, Irish bodhran, flutes whistles and violin. Some lovely melodies abound and Valerie’s Irish-tinged voice with its fragile tone is an absolute joy to listen to. The neo and classic prog instrumental sections are also well constructed and delivered.
The problem I have is that the connections between these various styles is poorly thought out. As a result the sharp bursts of guitar which follow the gentle folk passages and the sparse new age mood which follows the multi-instrumental prog workouts are difficult to adjust to. For example the burst of electronica which opens Timeless is out of place enough, but it’s then combined with some jazzy sax and a Hammond-dominated Genesis work out. I’m all for music which shifts between the various genres but there needs to be a musical theme linking them or at least some from of transitory segment to ease the flow.
The lengthy opening track is probably where things snuggle together the best. Sea lapping against shoreline, sinks into an nice acoustic section with piano to the fore. The male and female vocals combine effectively with the flute and we are onto the land of dreamy folk. After around four minutes the pace moves into a neo prog landscape, with the keyboards of Montobbio featuring heavily. The final third of the song returns to the original folky refrain. There’s much more folk and no metal, but in many other respects this reminds me of America’s Persephone’s Dream.
Beyond is a mix of Iona, Jethro Tull (medieval period) and Pendragon, whilst the bodhran adds additional Celtic energy to Silver Lady. The new age vibe is strongest on Heaven's Crying where angels are the dominant the lyrical theme.
There’s nothing here you won’t have heard before, maybe not necessarily all on the same album. The individual segments are really enjoyable, but as a sum of its various parts I find this album rather miscalculated.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10