REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:
Agents Of Mercy – The Fading Ghosts Of Twilight
Tracklist: The Fading Ghosts Of Twilight (7:29), The Unwanted Brother (5:46), Afternoon Skies (4:02), Heroes & Beacons (9:07), Jesus On The Barricades (4:03), Wait For The Sun (5:18), A Different Sun (8:09), Ready To Fly (4:53), People Like Us (4:55), A Soldiers Tale (11:49), Bomb Inside Her Heart (4:25), Mercy & Mercury (7:56)
Dave Baird's Review
Agents Of Mercy is the latest offering from the side-project master Roine Stolt. On this occasion he has teamed-up with Nad Sylvan from fellow Swedish proggers Unifaun on top of some of the usual suspects (Zoltan Csörsz, Jonas Reingold), some new but known faces (Pat Mastelotto, Jimmy Keegan) and a complete mystery newcomer (although most suspect it's Tomas Bodin) Biggo Zelfries. Initially starting as a collaboration on a couple of songs the project blossomed into a full CD now released on Stolt's own Foxtrot Records.
In Unifaun Nad sings, plays guitar, bass and some keyboards, here it's just his vocal talents that are drawn upon, he's singing the lead on all tracks except for three Waiting For The Sun,Ready To Fly and People Like Us. And what a voice this man has - certainly not for the faint-of-heart as he's certainly more "character" than "purity", he sounds an awful lot like early Peter Gabriel, which is hardly surprising when you consider that the
Unifaun album is essentially a Genesis tribute. Of course being Swedish his voice shares some tonal characteristics with Roine's, but with added attitude, imagine if you would a Swedish Andy Tillison? Maybe not quite accurate but gives some idea. Regardless he takes a little getting used to, but it's worth the effort as there's a lot of depth, passion and theatrics; after the initial shock and a few spins of the disk I realised I love it.
And what of the music? Well Roine is Roine. Like many of the top prog artists he has a very distinctive style which I can imagine is very difficult to break away from, in fact I don't think he, or we, would want that anyway. So yes, it sounds a bit like The Flower Kings at times, early Flower Kings that is, Retropolis and Stardust We Are immediately spring to mind with some small hints of latter albums along the way. The title track is a great start to the album, a gentle opening piano pattern, theatrical vocals and a haunting melody which builds symphonically into the main part of the song which switches towards early Genesis, even I can hear this and I don't even like Genesis... There are great vocal harmonies between Roine and Nad and despite many chops and changes of direction the whole piece stays mellow and relaxed. In the latter stages there's a nice Mellotron break which makes me think of The End Of Innocence in its pace and feel. One can sense a big dose of Yes too, particularly Jon Anderson influence. Gentle guitars and vintage keyboards abound in multiple layers while Roine puts in a good turn on the bass. It's an impressive start, pretty much sets the tone of the whole CD and is one of my favourite tracks on the disk. No idea what they're singing about though, it's a tad surreal.
Conversely, The Unwanted Brother is the track I like the least. I find the melody awkward and some of the background vocals are a bit too twee and cheesy. There's some nice bluesy playing from Stolt that adds some interest, but otherwise I'm left cold on this one. Afternoon Skies is a better affair though, up-tempo and bouncy with a folksy acoustic guitar driving the piece along. As with much of Stolt's output it's more than a little quirky, but works well with it's slightly strange lyric about mid-life. There's some really nice violin by Biggo (is anyone really called that?) and fabulous bass from Roine. Heroes & Beacons is the first cut on the album that could have been lifted from a Flower Kings release, especially the first thirty seconds of the introduction. Jonas is on bass this time and as usual sounds fabulous, it's a great track. Reingold's back on the next track too, Jesus On The Barricades, also featuring Zoltan who puts in a stellar performance with some brushwork on the drums. Yet another mellow track with great vocals from Nad and a lyric questioning religion and Gods' existence.
Waiting For The Sun is the first track with Roine taking the lead vocals and this only adds to the impression that you're listening to The Flower Kings -
Through The Walls springs to mind both in the style and the lyric - which is appears to be about how people are more distant/apart than they used to be in the 'old days'. A Different Sun continues the TFK references, this time the introduction is a dead-ringer for Slave To The Money from
Space Revolver and the track positively oozes with classic Stolt lead guitar although Nad's back on the vocals. Roine's voice is back on Ready To Fly which again gives a strong Flower Kings feel (although the intro acoustic guitar sounds a lot like Porcupine Tree's Last Chance To Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recycled). Zoltan's drums again add to that vibe, but the track seems to lose direction and gets a bit messy.
People Like Us is a relatively straight-forward song with a funny lyric about a normal working-class couple, pleasant but not earth-shattering. A Soldier's Tale is the longest track on the album and as you would expect more in a prog style, gentle prog that is. It again deeply alludes to The Flower King style and tells the tale of a Vietnam veteran reflecting on his experience with guilt and regret, trying to justify what he did in the name of others. Despite the long running time this piece doesn't do a lot for me. Could be that it will come in time like many great tracks, but I can't see it yet. Bomb Inside Her Heart is an acoustic track almost with a country & western, folk, 60's vibe underpinned with some nice Mellotron (if such a thing is possible), and some great melodic guitar. Nad's voice excels here in this less electric setting on what is perhaps the most mainstream track on the CD. It's a real foot-tapper and yet the lyric contains some deep hints of sadness and tragedy. Mercy & Mercury closes the album and we find ourselves back at the beginning with a reprise of some themes and lyrical references from the opening track. There's more of the Flower Kings vibe here - loads of bombast and classic Stolt guitar. Nad's singing is once again dramatic, it's interesting that when he pushes it his voice breaks a bit, which gives dramatic effect and conveys great emotion, it's a super ending.
This album is not ground-breaking and innovative, there's very little new here. Even Roine himself open admits that it's pretty much a jaunt into the past, he says:
"Early Genesis meets Beatles White Album - or Refugee meets early Bowie or Queen. ELO meets Debussy or In The Court Of The Crimson King"...
Can't say I hear all of that mind (although on reflection perhaps Nad's voice shared some characteristics of Lee Jackson), but it serves the point! What you do get is a set of very well crafted mellow early period prog with bang up to date production, far more laid back than the bulk of The Flower Kings output. It's not particularly complex but not so straightforward either with plenty of variation and instrumental layers. Nad Sylvan is a real find for me, his characterful voice sitting well with the musical style, indeed if The Flower Kings were ever looking for a new singer I can imagine Nad would fit the bill perfectly. Roine's guitar is, as ever impeccable and his bass playing (on 10 of the 12 tracks) is not too shabby either. Not a lot has been said of the supporting musicians, but the keyboards are fantastic (is it Bodin? Could be...), all classic sounds and no horrid patches. Drumming is competent throughout with Mastelotto surprisingly the most restrained of the three. Zoltan is the master in this genre and excels, Jimmy Keegan shows why he's the drummer for Spock's Beard live, he's damn good. The album art is rather nice too.
This is a very solid and competent release, the cohesion of the players is excellent when you consider it's an 'internet album', i.e. recorded around the world in various studios then edited together back at Roine's place. For existing Flower Kings fans this is a no-brainer, must-have purchase. Those on the border may enjoy the more theatrical, but gentle approach and could warm to Nad's vocals. Other readers who may not be aware of Roine's style (could there be any reading this?) and are curious might find it interesting too. If you're not a fan of Roine at all then steer clear, he's the writer of all songs and lyrics, and his mark is firmly stamped throughout.
Geoff Feakes' Review
One of my top ten albums from last year was Unifaun featuring Nad Sylvan and fellow Genesis fan Bonamici. Roine Stolt was equally enthusiastic and when he set out to record an acoustic album in 2008 he asked Sylvan to provide his distinctive vocal talents to several tracks. The pair obviously enjoyed their partnership because what started out as a modest solo project blossomed into a full blown collaboration. With Sylvan taking care of most of the singing chores and vocal arrangements, Stolt provides guitars, keys, bass and the occasional lead vocal and is responsible for all compositions and production. Providing the mostly analogue keyboards is Biggo Zelfries (the subject of much internet speculation) and fretless bass comes courtesy of the mighty Jonas Reingold. The impressive line-up of drummers includes Pat Mastelotto (King Crimson), Zoltan Csörsz (Karmakanic) and Jimmy Keegan (Spock’s Beard).
Although there are obvious similarities to Stolt’s previous outings both with The Flower Kings and solo wise, here the accent is firmly on the songs with wall-to-wall vocals throughout and only the occasional instrumental indulgence. A variety of influences are cited including The Beatles, Queen, ELO, early Genesis, Supertramp, CSN&Y, Klaatu, The Move, Pink Floyd, XTC, Debussy and early Bowie. The sound of The Fab Four (circa I Am The Walrus) is certainly in evidence in the title song The Fading Ghosts Of Twilight as is shades of the aforementioned Genesis. It’s a solid opener with Sylvan’s fluid vocal mannerisms incorporating elements of
Fish and Stolt’s TFK colleague Hasse Fröberg. The Unwanted Brother continues in a similar upbeat fashion but for me the somewhat repetitive chorus is less memorable.
The album takes a mellow turn (for the better) with the acoustic driven Afternoon Skies. A wistful song, it features pleasant harmonies courtesy of a multi-tracked Sylvan and sweet violin from Zelfries. Heroes & Beacons is another lovely song with mellotron strings and fretless bass from the Mr Reingold. The gloriously melodic instrumental work with articulate soloing from Stolt should definitely find favour with The Flower Kings fans. The mood continues with the poignant Jesus On The Barricades, a cross between Yes’ Onward and King Crimson’s Cadence And Cascade. Moody fretless bass, rippling piano and gorgeous harmonies all add to the atmosphere. Stolt takes over the lead vocals for the reflective Wait For The Sun, bringing the albums mellow section to a close.
The up-tempo A Different Sun is in a far more proggy domain than what’s gone before with inspirational drumming from Mastelotto and an uncharacteristically lengthy guitar workout from Stolt. Ready To Fly is another good song with Sylvan’s harmonies (backing Stolt’s lead) bringing to mind City Boy, a slick pop-rock act from the late seventies that moulded themselves on 10CC and Queen. People Like Us is best remembered for its neat instrumental hook although the edgy guitar break sounds to my ears a tad uninspired by Stolt’s usual standards. Likewise Bomb Inside Her Heart also failed to do it for me, recalling as it does The Beatles in folky-psychedelic mode around the Revolver period. As closing songs go, Mercy & Mercury has some strong elements especially the orchestral keys, celestial organ and weeping guitar. But Sylvan goes overboard with the vocals evoking the histrionics of Queen to begin with and later his theatrical delivery takes on the manic dimensions of one of the more colourful performers from the 70’s Alex Harvey.
I’ve saved possibly the best track until last (I wish Roine had done the same) with the mini-epic A Soldiers Tale. The synth intro (played I think by Stolt himself) sounds very Tomas Bodin, lending a TFK touch, and there is also some very neat and mellow bass lines. Sylvan is again in Phil Collins sound-alike mode (as he was on the Unifaun album) and an amusing guitar part mimics the distinctive style of Brian May in his early Queen days. An impressive instrumental interlude follows with guitar to the fore and an explosive drum barrage from Zoltan Csörsz. Stolt’s steel guitar playing here is a real joy.
Roine Stolt has certainly produced an engaging collection of songs that contains enough proggy elements to satisfy genre purists. For fans of The Flower Kings in particular I would suggest that it’s essential listening. True, not every song grabbed my attention and although Roine could never be accused a short changing his audience, with 12 tracks spread over 78 minutes I can’t help thinking that that’s around three or four songs too many. Given the collective talents involved my expectations were running understandably high and on balance this release delivers most of what it promises.
DAVE BAIRD : 8 out of 10
GEOFF FEAKES : 7.5 out of 10
Delirium – IL Nome Del Vento
Tracklist: Intro [Dio Del Silenzio Reprise] (1:23), Il Nome Del Vento (6:01), Verso Il Naufragio [inc. Theme One] (6:35), L’Acquario Delle Stelle (6:11), Luci Lontane (4:15), Profeta Senza Profezie (4:20), Ogni Storia (5:03), Note Di Tempesta (4:30), Dopo Il Vento (9:40), Cuore Sacro (6:49) Bonus Track: L’Aurora Boreale (4:26) Bonus Video: L’Acquario Delle Stelle
Il Nome Del Vento sees the return to action of one of the great bands of the original progressive boom in 1970’s Italy. First time around, they released three albums (Dolce Acqua, Lo Scemo E Il Villaggio & Delirium III: Viaggio Negli Arcipelaghi Del Tempo). From the gentle, jazzy folk rock of Dolce Acqua, their albums improved in quality with each release, culminating with the superb Delirium III in 1974.
Fittingly, the new album opens with a brief reprise of Dio Del Silenzio from the third album, reminding us, if necessary, of the classic Delirium sound. Any doubts about their ability to pick up where they left off are immediately dispelled by the following two tracks. The first, Il Nome Del Vento is gorgeously melodic, featuring a string quartet, sax, and flute, with contrasting vocals from Mimmo Di Martino and Sophya Baccini (of Presence). It’s just delightful, with a sophisticated arrangement and some intricate instrumental flourishes. Its successor, Verso Il Naufragio, contains a joyful reworking of Theme One (George Martin’s instrumental composed for BBC Radio One). Delirium play it very much in the style of Van Der Graaf Generator (whose own version was used as the theme for Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock Show, also on BBC One), but then veer off into some marvellous progressive riffing, with punchy guitar, pianos and mellotron. Brilliant!
Over the course of the album, we are treated to jazzy diversions, mellow passages, emotive vocals (in Italian), and many multi-textured instrumental breaks. The quality never really drops, but the album ends on another high note with the exquisite Cuore Sacre, whose breathy, aggressive flute and powerful organ combination reminds of Jethro Tull at their rocking, progging best.
Interestingly enough, although L’Aurora Boreale is billed as a bonus track, it features yet another reprise of the theme found on the opening number, bringing things to a satisfying conclusion, so I am unsure why it isn’t part of the album proper, it certainly fits in well with the other material.
As a bonus, there is a computer video track for L’Acquario Delle Stelle, which is nicely done, mixing live action and computer generated images to good effect.
This really is a superb reunion disc, full of all the ingredients of the classic Italian sound of the 70’s but with a mature and elegant approach. I would rank this up there with Le Orme’s Elementi and PFM’s Stati Di Immaginazione as proof positive that the Italians have still got what it takes to produce excellent, truly progressive music after all these years. They are much better than many English prog bands’ reunion efforts (naming no names, but I’m sure you can think of more than a few damp squibs).
If you liked Delirium’s earlier albums, or enjoy PFM, Banco, Le Orme, Jethro Tull or VDGG, you should check this out at the earliest opportunity, you won’t be disappointed!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Roswell Six - Terra Incognita : Beyond The Horizon
Tracklist: Ishalem (11:00), The Call Of The Sea (6:26), I Am The Point (5:42), Letters In A Bottle (5:02) Halfway (4:06), Anchored (4:40), Here Be Monsters (5:29), The Sinking Of The Luminara (5:41), The Winds Of War (4:49), Swept Away (4:18), Beyond The Horizon (5:09), Merciful Tides (5:07), The Edge Of The World (4:42)
Husband and wife best-selling authors Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta have teamed up with Rocket Scientists keyboardist Erik Norlander to create the concept album Terra Incognita: Beyond The Horizon, under the project name Roswell Six. The CD’s lyrics were written by Anderson and Moesta, and are adapted from a storyline from the first novel in Anderson’s “Terra Incognita” trilogy, The Edge of the World.
As Anderson explains in the liner notes to the CD, Shawn Gordon of ProgRock Records reached out to Anderson to introduce him to some new music on the label. Anderson suggested the book/CD crossover project. In the CD’s liner notes Anderson discusses music as an influence on him, lists several prog bands as these influences, and points out that much of the music he liked was itself influenced by science fiction and fantasy. Gordon recruited Norlander to compose the music and produce the CD. Gordon is executive producer of the project, and Anderson is co-executive producer.
A talented array of musicians participated in the making of the CD. They include four vocalists - James LaBrie (Winter Rose, Dream Theater, Fates Warning, Ayreon, Shadow Gallery, Frameshift, True Symphonic Rockestra), Michael Sadler (ex-Saga), Norlander’s wife and prog solo artist Lana Lane (also Rocket Scientists, Ayreon), and John Payne (ex-Asia, Asia featuring John Payne, GPS, CCCP, Roger Daltrey, Lunatica, Lisa LaRue). In addition to the music composition and production duties Norlander plays keyboards. Kurt Barabas (Under The Sun, Amaran’s Plight) plays bass. Chris Quirarte (Prymary) occupies the drum stool. Gary Wehrkamp (Shadow Gallery) plays electric guitars, and Chris Brown (Ghost Circus) plays acoustic and additional electric guitars. David Ragsdale (Kansas, Native Window, Louise Mandrell, The Smashing Pumpkins, Jason Bonham, Queensrÿche), handles violin, and Mike Alvarez plays cello. Martin Orford (ex-IQ, ex-Jadis, John Wetton) plays flute.
I will try and not give away too much of the CDs storyline. Opening track Ishalem kicks in with some dramatic pipe organ style keyboard playing from Norlander, along with a heavy, symphonic intro that immediately tells you, you are in for a concept opera ride. All four vocalists contribute to this track. This CD is my first experience listening to Sadler and Lane, and they are both awesome vocalists. I will say however that Lane’s vocal contribution is a little lost in the mix on the opening track. Sadler’s voice is phenomenal, certainly much better than Saga’s new singer Rob Moratti. LaBrie’s singing is acceptable, and Payne’s voice is a vast improvement from what could only be described as the “vocal shredding” you hear on the last Payne-era Asia CD. Ragsdale’s violin solo on the opening track recalls the violin styling of Lucy Wilkins (ex-touring Roxy Music). Orford tosses in some flute accents at the end of the track.
In addition to the harder tracks, there are also a few lighter ballads. The heartbreaking Letters In A Bottle showcases Brown’s acoustic guitar and the nicely complemented strings of Alvarez and Ragsdale. Brown’s playing and Anderson’s lyrics on this track together recall the great acoustic ballads of Greg Lake.
On Anchored, LaBrie shows his ability to sing a rock ballad, and Norlander’s organ style keyboard playing along with Anderson’s faith-centered lyrics give the song a religious feel.
Here Be Monsters offers some fine transition between the different vocalists singing from the points of view of the concept’s “characters”. I would have preferred a couple lines from the point of view of the sea monsters, but I’m just being silly.
Although some of the heavier tracks sound alike, they help to retain the CD’s continuity. In fact, several of the musical themes are revisited in the CD’s closing instrumental track The Edge Of The World. On the subject of continuity, it is good that Norlander had the creative vision to largely refrain from segueing the tracks into one another, but rather to allow for a couple of seconds of silence in between each track, thereby avoiding pretension.
On this CD, Norlander does an excellent job of composing and producing the music. It will appeal mostly to fans of dramatic, conceptual work in the vein of Ayreon, among others.
Room for improvement? I can only think of the obvious - another Roswell Six release! Perhaps it could be based on the second instalment in Anderson’s trilogy. A tour and subsequent live CD/DVD would be awesome, too.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
The Treat – Audio Verité/Deceptive Blends
|Country of Origin:||UK|
|Record Label:||Rockular Recordings|
|Year of Release:||2009|
Audio Verité: [Side Rock]: This Is The One (4:16), Showtime (3:23), Drawing Lines (3:30), On The Waterfront (4:16), For A Reason (3:26) [Side Acoustic]: Beautiful Way (4:52), Cycles (5:19), Sweet Jasmine (3:16), By The Sea (3:50), The Dragon Den (3:56)
Deceptive Blends: [Side Electric]: Massive Attack (5:23), Anger Management (4:33), Cybernaut (3:06), Silent Voices (5:20), Farmer Jack’s Tree (3:38) [Side Experiment]: Citizen Of The World (5:58), The Art Of Deception (3:08), Fan The Flames (5:49), Little Fly (2:49), In My Own Time (5:19)
Eclectic Oxford-based rockers The Treat – and their main-man Michael Hyder in particular – are clearly not short of either material or ambition, with this new double album coming just a year after their Phonography CD of 2008, and is only their third release overall. As can be shown by the fact that the track list is broken down into clearly defined sides of different styles, The Treat cover a lot of ground here, although Hyder’s distinctive vocals and a certain seventies-leaning aesthetic help give a sense of cohesiveness to proceedings. The press release compares the band’s music to that of The Beatles (in their White Album era), Led Zeppelin and Queen – I certainly wouldn’t say the music reaches the greatness of these three bands in their pomp as yet, but you can see where the comparisons come from, in that these bands certainly pushed the envelope creativity-wise whilst retaining their own identity. The cover shows a variety of instruments, all of which are used (some extensively) over the course of the album – occasionally the use of the more exotic of these seems a bit superfluous but more often they are put to good use, often adding some interesting touches that help add to the songs.
As you might expect, “Side Rock” sees the band bashing out some blues-tinged seventies influenced hard rock in true power trio style. The opening This Is The One, which grooves hard and has a strong chorus, is probably the pick of the bunch although Drawing Lines, with its chugging guitars (reminiscent of Queen’s Now I’m Here) and almost punk-ish attitude, is also worthy of special mention. Less “rock” is On The Waterfront, which almost seems like Hyder’s own interpretation of the Otis Redding classic Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay. David Hart’s bass clarinet playing adds some interesting textures here.
“Side Acoustic”, as might be expected, is an altogether more laid back affair. The stand-out here (and one of the album’s highlights) is Beautiful Day, an atmospheric, mellow ballad which benefits a great deal from the warm vintage keyboard sounds Hyder employs on the song. The politically-charged Cycles is driven by Hart’s tabla playing and sees Hyder playing the mandolin, whilst the instrumental Sweet Jasmine is nicely melancholy, with some sensitive piano playing from Hart. By The Sea, however, leans (musically at least) a little too close to Queen’s 39 for comfort, in my opinion.
“Side Electric” is subtitled “another side of rock” so once again sees The Treat rocking out. Massive Attack (nice title!) builds slowly and lays on the power chords, culminating in a powerful chorus and some great wah-wah drenched guitar work from Hyder. Cybernaut has distorted vocals and a vaguely grunge-esque feel, whilst Farmer Jack’s Tree is a raw, country blues track with added banjo. Silent Voices is almost a pastiche of Pink Floyd’s classic Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, and again sails a bit close to the wind. The only real faux-pas, though, is the rather naff rap-come-spoken word section on Anger Management, which spoils the flow of what is an otherwise good track.
We’re in to ‘anything goes’ territory with “Side Experiment” where Hyder presumably put anything that didn’t fit into the other categories. Citizen Of The World opens with a riff which has similarities to the best-known riff in the world – the one on Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water – except its played on acoustic guitar and tabla! There’s also some sitar on this one. The Art Of Deception is quirky pop with Hyder singing in a “posh” accent; the song reminded me of something that New Zealand avant-garde pop outfit Split Enz might have done in their earliest days. Fan The Flames sees the band indulging in some cod-funk playing, and is another strong track carried by an inventive rhythm section. The album closes with In My Own Time, which even has a
mariachi band-style section, mixing surprisingly well with the song’s epic rock feel. The only pity is that Little Fly got left on the album, a truly terrible spoken-word-and–effects piece that was no doubt fun to make but should have been left on the cutting room floor.
Overall, whilst there are a few weaker moments here and there, and you could always make the argument that the best of these songs could have made a stronger single album, I doubt that was the point of this album, which aims to showcase a wide variety of styles and, in Hyder’s own words, create ‘a song for practically every occasion’. Another good album by The Treat then, which I hope will be backed up by some touring, as its surely in the live environment that these songs will shine the brightest.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
TOM DE VAL
Centrica - Centrica
Tracklist: Centrica Experience (8:31), Secret Vision (7:37), DNA Part.1 (6:21), DNA Part.2 (8:21), Reality And Illusion (9:26), Dulcedo (3:56), Eternal Dimension (8:20)
Centrica is a young band from Italy that focus on playing instrumental progressive metal with jazz-rock hints. The band is looking for a singer but for now we have the instrumental debut also called Centrica. The musicians are all technically skilful and the album is very diverse.
Centrica Experience starts with a double bass and keyboard chords and I feared a common rock album because it did not sound interesting at start, however this song moves from guitar solo to keyboard solo with much diversity. At times the solos are soulful and at times they are fast, even twin soloing by guitar and keyboard.
The name Dream Theater immediately rises to the surface but I think the style has more commonalities with the solo albums by Sherinian, though he is, of course, much more technically skilled. For the full eight and a half minutes this song remains interesting which is remarkable considering it is a debut album and instrumental, not many bands achieve that.
While the first song started very aggressively the Secret Vision begins very mellow with the pace slower and the solos more melodic, though a moment of faster playing is not feared. Again a good song that manages to keep interest for the whole duration of the song. Not really groundbreaking new stuff, but all the elements are of good proportion and nicely balanced. If they had put vocals on this song it would certainly have been much more interesting.
Following is DNA Part.1 which starts with keyboard sounds like Vangelis, which after about four minutes other instruments join in gently - nice acoustic guitar. The last minute is more heavy stuff! One might suspect a seamless transition from DNA Part.1, but that is not the case and DNA Part.2 fires up much faster and moves back and forth even more than the first couple of songs. Very diverse music with influences from Spock's Beard, Dream Theater, Sherinian and Porcupine Tree.
Reality And Illusion starts a bit too sweet with the melody is a bit too easy to satisfy. At about four minutes a sudden change and many keyboard solos spice up things, although the time changes sound a bit forced, not as natural as at the beginning of the album. Featuring good keyboard solos in the end part, but the guitar melody again sounds a bit too simple.
Dulcedo features piano with distorted guitar, a nice gentle piece but the combination does not fit, acoustic guitar would have been much better, although the final part of the song shows the great quality of the guitar player. The notes are reached very well and clear, superb.
Eternal Dimension starts Sherinian like, the heaviest song, (but not as heavy as Sherinian's latest album), at times it sure comes close. With very fast soloing by both guitar and keyboards and heavy pounding on the drums, this song really rocks.
Centrica sure is a promising band and this self titled album is very impressive. Musically it has similarities to Derek Sherinian and Dream Theater with numerous fast soloing sections on guitar and keyboard and also many time changes and jazzy transitions. It does not reach the quality of the above mentioned bands but for a debut album it sure sounds smashing. My opinion was that these guys need a singer and lyrics would certainly make their music much more interesting. And as if they heard me they are looking for one right now. If they find a good one then these guys will do great things.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Profuna Ocean - Watching The Closing Sky
|Country of Origin:||The Netherlands|
|Record Label:||Farr Records|
|Catalogue #:||FARR 09001|
|Year of Release:||2009|
Tracklist: Changing Legacy (7:00), Lost Inside [The Landscape] (8:21), Sad Silhouette (7:21), S.C.I.T.S. (14:25)
A new Dutch band, founded in 2008 by guitarist/singer/composer Raoul Potters present their debut to a wider audience. Together with bass player Arjan Visser (who also knows how to play keyboards), René Visser (keyboards, but also plays guitar) and self taught drummer Fred den Hartog, these four guys blended the musical styles they love with their own ideas. Classic rock mixed with symphonic elements is the end result.
The core of the first track is Raoul plucking just a few notes on his guitar, while Arjan’s bass joins in with a fuzzy sound and René’s keyboards provide a lustrous tapestry of sounds and Fred’s drumming is subtle and refined. Raoul’s clear and steady voice is pleasant to listen to, although it is not very characteristic nor wide ranged. A more rocking riff based part at the end leads to a similar kind of music as in the opening piece. The second track, Lost Inside starts with pounding drums, spacey keyboards and somewhat dark riffs, alternated by a very symphonic keyboard driven pieces. As in the first track, the chords are played in ‘minor’, this time B minor, to provide an extra melancholic atmosphere. The sound of these symphonic parts reminds me of the earlier works by Eloy, even Raoul’s vocal sounds a bit like Frank Bornemann’s sometimes. The same melodies are used as accompaniment for Raoul’s solo’s at the end of this song, very nice, symphonic and ‘Floydish’. A beautiful symphonic intro by René’s keys is followed by a gentle piece, featuring Raoul’s guitar plucking and vocal. The chorus is pure delight with even more keyboards or rather orchestrations. Again the minor key to emphasize the emotional impact. To my ears the G string sounds very slightly out of tune.
In the last track again a nice symphonic intro comparable with Eloy (eighties). Then the electric guitar adds its chords and also a vocal line is added, then the music shifts into a more popular direction, think of Cloudmachine meeting Dire Straits: nice bass playing by Arjan. Within this more pop orientated part there are extremely symphonic instrumental interludes with nice guitar solos by Raoul. References could be Arena or Pendragon. The first part of this epic ends with whale-like sounds. Then den Hartog’s pounding drums announce an instrumental interlude, at first with just a bit of guitar and some strings, later also the bass. Then a more powerful sound with strong guitar riffs together with the bass & drums and all kinds of weird sounds from the keyboards. The final part of this epic melody-wise is a tribute to Pink Floyd, the piano and Raoul’s vocal making quite a difference however and this piece is followed by a sort of reprise from the first piece.
Altogether a stunning debut with great melodies and a fine atmosphere, proving the genre of symphonic progressive rock is alive & kicking! A fine addition to the Dutch prog-scene. Go see them live in November, supporting ALQUIN!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
MENNO VON BRUCKEN FOCK
OTR - Mamonama
|Country of Origin:||UK/NL/Brazil|
|Record Label:||Lion Music|
|Year of Release:||2008|
Tracklist: Ghetto (6:19), Taking You Down (4:15), Hello [Dona Nobis Pacem] (5:14), The Corner Club (4:56), Mamonama (5:08), Steal The Night (7:14), Face To Face (4:21), Shine (4:49), Woman (3:20), Ride On (3:35)
OTR (On The Rocks) are a new band featuring the intriguing line-up of vocalist John Lawton (best known for fronting Uriah Heep in the late Seventies) and Jan Dumee, the guitarist who stepped into the sizeable shoes of Jan Akkerman when Thijs van Leer first put together a reformed Focus back in the early part of this decade. These two are backed by a trio of Brazilian musicians, but if that makes you think there’ll be any kind of Latin feel to the music you’ll be disappointed. This is laid back (at times very laid back) classic rock with a vaguely bluesy feel at times. There are progressive touches, and these usually come from Dumee; given that he wrote about half of Focus’ comeback album Focus 8 it shouldn’t be a surprise that that band’s influence seeps through in a number of places.
Opening track Ghetto is a good introduction to the band’s style; a mid-tempo (if that) gentle rocker lead by some grooving lead guitar work, warm swathes of Hammond and Lawton’s deep, soulful tones. The lyrics are nothing to write home about (pretty clichéd to be honest) but they are secondary to the classy retro sound that’s achieved here.
Other highlights are Hello [Dona Nobis Pacem] which despite cribbing both a title and a lead line from Lionel Ritchie’s mushy eighties hit, is actually a moving, blues-tinged ballad which is more akin to some of the slower material Fleetwood Mac came up with in the Peter Green era; the epic-sounding, slow burning title track, which definitely has a mid-seventies classic rock vibe, and Steal The Night, which builds slowly and smoothly from an acoustic-led ballad to one of the more progressive pieces on the album, dominated by Dumee’s guitar and Hammond; it does seem to crib some of the melody lines from Focus 8, although given that Dumee probably wrote these its probably his prerogative!
Occasionally the tempo goes up a notch, and this actually results in some of the weaker material; the likes of Taking You Down and Face To Face are really by-the-numbers pub rock fillers, but even these are inoffensive enough not to warrant use of the skip button.
Overall, there’s nothing groundbreaking here, and as I’ve intimated nothing particularly progressive either, but if you enjoy laid back classic rock from time to time, and/ or you are a Lawton’s voice and the musical direction of Focus during Dumee’s time in the band, then you should find something to get your teeth into here.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
TOM DE VAL
Demon Fuzz - Afreaka!
Tracklist: Past, Present And Future (9:55), Disillusioned Man (4:59), Another Country (8:33), Hymn To Mother Earth (8:12), Mercy [Variation No. One] (9:40)
Bonus Tracks: I Put A Spell On You (3:55), Message To Mankind (3:54), Fuzz Oriental Blues (6:46)
There is no doubt that progressive rock is predominantly a white, male domain, both in the performers and the audience. This is particularly so when looking back to the early 1970s. However, it must be remembered that prog rock grew out of a desire for experimentation, a blending of styles, most commonly with that of classical music and full orchestrations. But there were other types of experimentations, particularly amongst black groups that took soul, reggae and funk and brewed it with the nascent heavier rock to generate music that was as much progressive as the white boys and their string sections. There are the obvious examples like Sly & The Family Stone, Funkadelic and even early Osibisa, but included in that list should be Demon Fuzz, a seven-piece group whose sole album was released on the Pye Records 'underground' imprint Dawn. The Dawn label has never had the cache of the other underground labels such as Vertigo or Harvest, despite having released some great albums.
Demon Fuzz comprised Paddy Corea (sax, flute, percussion), Ray Rhoden (keyboards), Smokey Adams (vocals), Jack Joseph (bass), Stephen John (drums), Waldron Joseph (guitar) and Clarence Crossdale (trombone). Although most of the material was written by Rhoden and Joseph, it was band leader Corea who was responsible for the arrangements and the direction of the band. A two-month trip to Morocco in 1968 exposed the group to North African rhythms which, on their return to Britain, they began to incorporate into their own compositions, gradually losing their soul music roots and heading in a more progressive direction.
Just as Santana had successfully incorporated the rhythms of Latin America within a rock format, Demon Fuzz did so with African music, none more so than in the ten-minute opening instrumental Past, Present And Future, a surprising choice for an opening number perhaps, but one that lays down the pattern for what is to come. Disillusioned Man, the shortest track on the original album, gives Smokey Adams his first chance to shine, a great voice but rather sidelined by the extended sax solo. Another Country adopts a more jazz approach and is a bit too repetitive with Corea hogging the limelight for a bit too long. The last couple of minutes are rather fine though with an ever increasing tempo laid down by the drums and bass leading into a reprise of the verse. Standout track for me is Hymn To Mother Earth, an ecological number that has a lot in common, both in sentiment and style, to early Traffic. Flute, a laid back and languid organ and an impassioned vocal, all totally spiffing. Final track on the original album, Mercy [Variation No. One] closes the album as it was opened, with an instrumental. Beginning with almost tribal drums and a simple organ riff over which are laid the trombone and sax. An energetic bass line gets things moving, and as with the rest of the album, the guitar is largely in the background, assuming a role akin to that in soul bands - no scorching solos here! Again, the lead instrument is Corea's alto and tenor saxes which he blows to his heart's content whilst the rest of the band keep the rhythm going.
The three bonus tracks were released on an EP at the time of the album and were actually recorded at the same sessions. The album and EP were largely recorded live in the studio with only a minority of overdubs. This has the effect of allowing the band to get into a natural groove, allowing a freedom and degree of spontaneity to shine through, particularly on Fuzz Oriental Blues. But more of that in a moment. The cover of Screaming Jay Hawkins' I Put A Spell On You is instantly familiar, at least to me! A great version and somewhat surprising that it was not a big hit at the time. Message To Mankind starts with a Hendrix-like guitar riff superseded by a piano riff. A strong song promoting racial harmony and something well worth being rescued from the b-side of an obscure single. Final track Fuzz Oriental Blues again starts with guitar over a strong rhythm. Initially sounding more like a jam than a structured piece, things take a turn for the better when the organ takes up the main melody line. Somewhat uniquely, there is a guitar solo which takes the listener to the mid-point of the song. After a brief horn interlude, the piece takes up again at a faster tempo with sax taking the lead, but not so isolated in the mix, having to compete with the organ which ultimately takes over. A fine instrumental that brings the CD to a great close and, once again, a worthy addition to the album.
Sadly, Demon Fuzz didn't record anything else as neither the album nor the EP sold particularly well. Maybe it was the poor marketing by Dawn/Pye who never really knew how to promote their rather eclectic array of signings, or perhaps it was the album's artwork which was not all that enticing for the casual purchaser, it certainly ranks high on my list of terrible record sleeves! However, thanks to the perseverance and foresight of Esoteric Records, Afreaka! is available for discovery, or even rediscovery, nearly 40 years after the artists thought they had been forgotten forever.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Raimundo Rodulfo - Mare Et Terra
Tracklist: Náufrago (36:34), Libertad (9:01), Blue (11:30), Thoughts (19:45)
Raimundo Rodulfo is a guitar player from Venezuela who creates prog music with a Latin twist, and by using his acoustic guitar a lot he gives the music a taste of
flamenco. Mare Et Terra is his third album, (both previous albums have been reviewed by DPRP), and in between he played a part on the Colossus project Dante’s Inferno ~ The Divine Comedy Part 1, which my colleague reviewer stated about his contribution for that album as "one of the most distinctive and entertaining". Normally on a Colossus project bands play a song that lasts about twenty minutes. Raimundo only played 7 minutes on that album and keeps the epic songs for his solo release.
As an opener for his album he has written a song that lasts more than half an hour. Náufrago starts with acoustic flamenco guitar that is gradually joined by flute and piano. The electric guitar brings the melody that is repeated throughout this song, which itself bounces from one part of the musical spectrum to the other side.
Many Latin flamenco influences with flute but also energetic electric guitar parts. The vocals are in Spanish but do not follow a predictable line, no standard pop song schemes can be found in this song. Due to the length it is a hard song to get in to and some parts seem a bit incoherent.
This is completely different on the second song, Libertad is "only" nine minutes long and follows a more predictable path. As a prog lover I certainly do not mind a epic song, but Libertad brings me more pleasant listening time than the first song. The chorus is very friendly and this song really shakes. More flamenco influences and certainly acceptable for a prog head like me. This song shows all the great parts from the first song but nicely packed within ten minutes. The track also features some nice violin, cello and some great Latin percussion.
Blue is completely instrumental and gives the Latin flamenco a bump towards jazz-fusion, at times it reminds me a bit of the music of Gong but also from Mike Oldfield. It is a very intriguing song, the pace is very slow and it really sucks you into your stereo set. A very impressive track which shows that Raimundo is a very good guitar player.
Thoughts is regarded as one song, but on the disc it is split into two pieces, both lasting almost ten minutes. The first part contains the lyrics and the second part starts when the soloing begins. The lyrics are in English, which is a shame, as although I do not speak Spanish, it suited the music better and gave it a bit more of a mystical side. The beginning is not so stretched as on the first song and stylistically reminds me of the Russian band Apple Pie. The faster pace of the first part makes it sound a bit nervous, with the second part at first continuing in that nervous pace, but breaks open for a collection of different solos. Keyboard, guitar and flute each get their spot without becoming separated. Nice transitions and all remains a very interesting collective.
So Mare Et Terra is a progressive album with many Latin influences, Spanish flamenco guitar, flute and percussion from this musician from Venezuela. The first song is very, very long and could scare away some listeners, whereas the much more compact song Libertad contains all the aspects of Raimundo Rodulfo's music but keeps it nicely compact. While writing this review summer is starting and only a few weeks before my vacation and certainly this album helps to get you in the mood.
This album can be enjoyed with full attention or just as background music while holding a cold beverage by the side of the pool. Although I think mainstream music lovers will find this album too difficult, it is prog after all.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Slychosis - Slychedelia
Tracklist: Columns (6:14), Flag Of Dimbu (8:16), Cosmic Irony (4:35), Harps Of Space (5:46), For Vlad (6:48), Distrust (5:17), St. John's Wood (6:47), Metaphysical Fitness (4:52), Afterlife (6:05), Crimson Fields Of Glory (7:16)
Back in 2006 we received an album from Mississippian progsters Slychosis. Their self titled debut being the fruits of many years hard work and although I had mixed feelings towards that release, I still visit the album from time to time. Late last year saw the band, or perhaps more accurately Gregg Johns and guests return with Slychedelia.
So what has changed? Well as alluded to above Gregg Johns has pretty much gone it alone with the aid of several guest musicians and computer driven software. Although it was nice to see both bassist James Walker and drummer Todd Sears from the previous album both featuring on this new release. Certainly the production values have improved and although this may not rank in Alan Parsons territory, it is certainly is no longer a distraction. The album also boasts some fantastic artwork courtesy of
Vladimir Moldavsky. On the band's debut the influences of 70s progressive legends Yes, Genesis, Floyd, Tull and ELP were all evident and although this heritage has not been abandoned entirely with Slychedelia, the music now alludes to other progressive influences.
Picked clean chords and "female" vocals kick off the album before the more chugging rhythm enters around the minute mark and with Gregg Johns taking over the vocal duties for the verses. The track then features a quirky vocal interlude before the chorus steps in with its' great hook-line and strong harmonies - which naggingly reminded of something I just can't pinpoint (It Bites perhaps, but I'm not entirely sure). Regardless this strong chorus is followed by themic guitar and keyboard solos. Another twist as we move into a neo prog interlude complete with analogue sounding synths and e-melletron choirs, before a return to the chorus and fade. Busy rhythms, a flurry of keyboard passages and guitar themes herald the Flag Of Dimbu which moves us more into the realms of heavy progressive rock. The strong choirs add a gothic notion to proceedings with shades of Derek Sherinian poking through here and there. A rather abrupt change takes us into a slightly Floydian passage before the equally abrupt change takes us back for the close.
Following this mini epic is Cosmic Irony, which didn't sit to well on the album for me. Granted it is a catchy song and features possibly the best vocal performance courtesy of Ceci Smith, but the introduction of real drums sees a dip in the production values. Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating we should all turn to programmed drums, it's just here that the music falls flat. Other reviews I've seen pick this track up as a highlight - so each to his own. Harps Of Space on the other hand is delightful. Not surprisingly featuring an excellent electronic harp sound accompanied by "heavenly" choirs. The middle section is complete with percussive organ that brings ELP to mind, albeit with some strong guitar riffing. The track returns to the gentler vibes of the opening and Gregg Johns takes the opportunity to add a lengthy melodic solo, before the returning heavier section takes us out...
Elsewhere on the album For Vlad fluctuates between rather dark atmospheres to a driving mid-tempo rocker, complete with wah-wah guitar and Hammondy organ flourishes. Dedicated to graphic artist Vladimir Moldavsky's images from the album. Distrust on the other hand moves along at brisk pace and here Jeremy Mitchell's drums are much more effective. Narration by Gregg in what is a fairly catchy straightforward track. St. John's Wood adds some acoustic guitar to the mix along with some nifty Moog-like synthy parts. Metaphysical Fitness possibly fits the bill as the albums ballad - melodically and lyrically a little too sweet for my tastes, but inoffensive enough. The end section sax theme from Chip Griffiths works well. Afterlife opens atmospherically in a sort of Vangelis fashion and provides a suitable backdrop for Gregg Johns to add a melodic solo or two. However it wouldn't be Slychosis if they didn't add a change in tempo and direction, which in fact they do. This for me would have been a fitting close to the album. Not so and the concluding piece, Crimson Fields Of Glory, is a bit of a downer. The over obvious Celtic themes played on a bagpipe sound are somewhat clawing as are the over abundant battle noises, and the narration just made me cringe. An abrupt change at least allows the album to finish on a stronger note with a rather lengthy solo section.
It's good to see Slychosis back and certainly the band have moved forward leaps and bounds since their debut and Slychedelia
certainly shows much thought and effort has gone into the new material. The writing and song structures are strong, although looking to smooth out some of the changes within the pieces would benefit matters. If Slychosis wish to appeal to a wider progressive audience then I would suggest that a vocalist, possibly Ceci Smith, would help strengthen this cause. Finally I can only imagine that Gregg and Co. will continue to produce albums and in this venture I wish them every success.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10