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2009 : VOLUME 48
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


Mostly Autumn – Pass The Clock
Mostly Autumn – Pass The Clock
Country of Origin:UK
Format:3CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:AUT0033
Year of Release:2009
Time:213:04
Info:Mostly Autumn
Samples:Click here

Tracklist:

Disc 1 ~ Something For The Spirit: [69:15] Fading Colours (8:29), Ghosts In Dreamland (3:04), Pure White Light (4:29), Distant Train (4:51), Answer The Question (5:00), Evergreen (7:59), The Second Hand (4:26), Storms Over Still Water (7:40), Paper Angels (4:18), Tearing At The Faerytale (6:49), Pass The Clock (12:10)

Disc 2 ~ Something For The Campfire: [68:56] Yellow Time (5:14), Prints In The Stone (3:47), The Eyes Of The Forest (2:46), Boundless Ocean (5:46), Shindig (3:00), Blakey Ridge/When Waters Meet (2:13), Winter Is King (5:16), Which Wood? (2:42), At Last To Rivendell (2:05), Simple Ways (6:12), On the Wings of Gwaihir (4:49), Steal Away (4:42), Bitterness Burnt (4:59), Shrinking Violet (8:33), Goodbye Alone (6:52)

Disc 3 ~ Something For The Candlelight: [74:53] The Night Sky (9:29), Silver Glass (7:05), Half The Mountain (5:19), Carpe Diem (8:08), Hollow (6:12), Passengers (6:07), The Gap Is Too Wide (11:10), Glass Shadows (11:17), Heroes Never Die (10:06)

Leaving aside the puzzling question as to why a band with only 8 studio albums and one EP to their name can see it appropriate to have now released 5 studio CDs of retrospective material (these three plus 2002’s double-CD Catch The Spirit), I will concentrate on the task in hand, which is to review Mostly Autumn’s ten-year collection of material from their studio output, called Pass The Clock. Of course, completist fans of the band will already have bought the album, so it is fair to assume that this review should be aimed either at those who are either unsure about, or yet to experience, the band’s music.

Mostly Autumn are a British band whose primary influences are the music of Pink Floyd and the rich folk music heritage that has inspired many progressive bands from their islands. Correspondingly, Mostly Autumn’s music is, in the main, slow in tempo; the electric guitar tends to be used for lead phrasing with the keys filling out the background, so the soundscape never becomes heavy. The musical emphasis has always been on melody and dreamy soundscape “paintings”: these are the Mostly Autumn’s strengths. Other than the usual guitars, keys, bass and drums, the band has often used flutes, whistles and uilleann pipes from the “folk palette” within its soundscapes. The folk influence is strongest in the first four studio albums - in particular on the first two, For All We Shared and The Spirit Of Autumn Past - after which it has waned, but not disappeared. Storms Over Still Water, their sixth, has the least folk inspired nuances and is the band’s rockiest album: fans of Iain Jennings’s band Breathing Space will recognise that his songwriting style must have strongly influenced that particular album. Another significant feature of the band’s music has been the use of two lead vocalists - Bryan Josh and Heather Findlay – in the three permutations possible: This has added extra spice to the music, in particular as Findlay’s voice has blossomed over the years to become one of the most beautiful female vocalists, frankly, in all of rock music. Her performance on the band’s recent albums is worth the price of the discs alone! Finally, musically, it’s probably fair to say that Mostly Autumn’s music has a 1970s, rather than a 21st century, feel and texture.

The band has always benefited from the synergy of having more than one capable songwriter. For the first six albums the main songwriters were Bryan Josh (guitars, vocal) and Iain Jennings (keyboards), with an increasingly significant contribution as time went on from Heather Findlay (vocals). Iain left after the Storms Over Still Water (2005) album (he has since rejoined but without yet having the opportunity to contribute to another studio album) and the band recruited another songwriter, Chris Johnson – his beautiful Silver Glass is included on the Something For The Candlelight disc – from the Heart Full Of Sky (2007) album. Chris, however, left after that album to pursue a solo career and the band’s most recent album, Glass Shadows (2008), was, certainly creatively, effectively a Josh/Findlay album. Perhaps because of the absence of a third songwriter Glass Shadows saw Findlay moving – very capably - into US West Coast/AOR territory (which the band hadn’t previously explored) on some of her songs: interestingly, none of them makes it onto these three discs; quite how significant that omission is remains to be seen.

Mostly Autumn’s studio albums have all been reviewed, and very favourably, on DPRP: see For All We Shared, The Spirit Of Autumn Past, The Last Bright Light, Music Inspired By The Lord Of The Rings, Passengers, Storms Over Still Water, Heart Full Of Sky and Glass Shadows.

All of the songs on this three disc set, including the most recent ones from Glass Shadows (2008), have been re-mastered. This is extreme twiddling: it is tempting to see it as an attempt to get the fans to stump up money twice for the same songs. However, I know that many fans are interested in this side of the business so perhaps it is just my prejudice that makes me write that: whatever, the fact remains that none of these songs are the original versions. Of course, they are very close; there has been no re-recording other than for the remastered versions of Prints In The Stone and The Night Sky, which are taken from one of the band’s previous anthologies, the Catch The Spirit collection.

Band “leader” Bryan Josh’s approach to this anthology has been to produce three discs which are self-standing in terms of music synergy: hence, Something For The Spirit has the most up-tempo compositions; Something For The Campfire contains the folk and folk-rock numbers and Something For The Candlelight is slow tempoed and peaceful. This is a good strategy in so far as it goes: certainly, each of the individual CDs has a pleasing self-consistency; the problem is, however, that none of the three individual discs actually features a similar eclecticism to a Mostly Autumn album! One of the features of the band’s albums is the astute manner in the way that the different influences and textures are meshed together into a satisfactory whole. When this meshing works well – as, for instance, on The Spirit Of Autumn Past or The Last Bright Light - the result is more pleasing to the ear than it would have been to have had the elements separated out, as on this anthology. In this regard, Pass The Clock suffers from the same musical schizophrenia as the band’s debut, For All We Shared, which was effectively an album of “two halves”, the latter half containing all of the folk and folk/rock material in one contiguous run.

Song selections for anthologies such as these always cause a debate amongst fans but it is fair to say that nobody would argue with the inclusion of such Mostly Autumn classics as Heroes Never Die, The Gap Is Too Wide, Evergreen and Shrinking Violet. More controversial might be the inclusion of three songs from Music Inspired By Lord Of The Rings, which has been denigrated as a rush job to fulfil a contractual obligation with Cyclops. In fairness though, these compositions sit well enough within the running order of the respective discs, so I should give credit to Josh for designing individually holistic discs.

Nevertheless, despite the excellence of many individual tracks, I cannot recommend this collection to readers, primarily because of the reason I’ve already stated: none of the discs truly represents a Mostly Autumn album. My advice to those who are interested in the band but have yet to experience an album or are still not completists, is to search out the albums themselves, which are still generally available. Use these as starting points: if you are interested in the folk and folk-rock integration then aim for The Spirit Of Autumn Past or The Last Bright Light; if you’re interested in the rockier, more up-tempo side then aim for Storms Over Still Water; and if your tipple is slower music then try Passengers or for an integration with a poppier AOR side, Glass Shadows.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

ALEX TORRES



Dick Heckstall~Smith – A Story Ended
Dick Heckstall-Smith – ... A Story Ended
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2137
Year of Release:1972/2009
Time:70:25
Info:Esoteric Info
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Future Song (4:07), Crabs (5:12), Moses In The Bullrushes (3:41), What The Morning Was After (5:30), The Pirate’s Dream (11:09), Same Old Thing (6:37) Bonus Tracks: Moses In The Bullrushes [live] (7:44), The Pirate’s Dream [live] (10:18), No Amount of Loving [live] (9:25), I’ll Go Back To Venus (3:43), I Can’t Get It (2:59)

A couple of important explanatory notes before I get to the music. First, the full title of the album is truly exquisite: Dust In The Air Suspended Marks The Place Where A Story Ended. (And if you like that “dusty” title, you’ll want to search out another rare solo album made by a one-time member of another famous band: Uriah Heep’s Ken Hensley’s lovely 1973 album Proud Words On A Dusty Shelf.) Second, the last two of the bonus tracks on this album are credited not to Dick Heckstall-Smith alone but to the band Manchild (featuring Heckstall-Smith, of course). Finally, Dick Heckstall-Smith died of cancer in 2004, five years before the re-release of this excellent 1972 album.

So okay, there are the facts. One further one I guess is essential for those of you who weren’t fans of the band Colosseum back in the early seventies: Dick Heckstall-Smith was that innovative band’s saxophonist. When the band broke up, several of its members (notably Jon Hiseman) contributed to this solo album; also heard on the album is the incomparable Chris Spedding. In a modest, now-dated way, this is an all-star effort, and I think it’s just superb. Nope, it’s not for all tastes; but if you’re a fan of fusion, you’ll love it; if you liked Colosseum, you’ll love it; if you like saxophone in general, you’ll love Heckstall-Smith’s playing in specific.

Now, I’ll grant that when I first heard about this album (and although I was a Colosseum fan, I didn’t know about this album till the CD reissue came along this year), it struck me as a bit odd that the saxophonist of such a band would release a solo album. We (okay, “I”) usually think of saxophone as an instrument that embellishes the music, at least in any genre aside from jazz. But it turns out that Heckstall-Smith was an excellent composer; each of these songs is an interesting, challenging delight. Some of the pieces sound most like late Colosseum; others really remind me of some of the longer pieces that the venerable Procul Harum was creating at about that same time. (In fact, one of the three vocalists on this album, Mark Clarke, reminds me occasionally of Harum’s Gary Brooker.)

What I love most about the album – hmm, having started that sentence, I realize it’s going to be hard for me to pick one thing. Okay, what I love most about the album are the many passages in which Heckstall-Smith’s saxophone lines, often ridiculously complex, twisting and turning, are doubled by guitar – sometimes by two guitars, sometimes by wordless vocalizing, too. The saxophone is absolutely integral to every one of these compositions, and Heckstall-Smith has a command of numerous styles – some of which he sometimes employs in the same song, sometimes at the same time, via overdubs! A saxophonist or fan of the saxophone will be in heaven listening to this CD.

But here’s the thing: I actually pretty much hate the saxophone in general, yet I love this record. For me, at least in pop music, there’s John Anthony Helliwell, Clarence Clemons, and that’s it. The timbre of the instrument seems designed specifically to annoy me. But Heckstall-Smith makes a believer of me. The way he wields the instrument demonstrates that a great musician’s particular instrument doesn’t matter much; what matters is what he or she does with it, and Heckstall-Smith pretty much builds his songs around his innovative, delightful horn playing.

Listening to this album, I find myself genuinely sorry that he won’t be making any more. Here was a talented man who played an important role in one of the important early progressive/fusion bands but who also had a distinctive musical voice of his own. Aided by a bunch of other gifted musicians, he’s left us an album to be cherished.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

GERALD WANDIO



Pantokraator - Tormidesööjad
Pantokraator - Tormidesööjad
Country of Origin:Estonia
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:PKCD003
Year of Release:2009
Time:44:37
Info:Pantokraator
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Metsavaht {Forest Ranger} (3:31), Linnamäng {Town Game} (4:04), Pilvedesse Sõuan Paadi {I Row A Boat Into The Clouds} (4:35), Kodukäijad {House Ghosts} (4:48), Päike Mu Päike {Son My Son} (3:39), Tule Tule {Come Come} (4:15), Käsmu (5:07), Tormidesööjad {The Storm Eaters} (6:00), Tuultekodu {The Home Of The Winds} (4:52), Paus On Hea {It's Good To Pause} (3:35)

Tormidesööjad (The Storm Eaters) is somewhat of a coup for me as it marks the first time I have reviewed an album from Estonia. Not a country noted for its progressive output, however Pantokraator although new to me have been in existence since the mid 80s following a number of guises and a fairly transitory band line-up. The band released their debut album Pantokraator I in 1990 and then a ten year gap ensued before the second "compilation" album Jäi Servi Seisma in 2000. In the interim period the band had ceased functioning (circa 1992) mainly due to economic circumstances. In 2006 keyboard man Erik Sakkov and vocalist Lauri Saatpalu teamed up once more to give Pantokraator another airing. The current band consists of founder member Erik Sakkov (keyboards), Lauri Saatpalu (vocals), Roland Puusepp (drums) and with Triinu Taul (vocals), Taavi Langi (guitars), Henno Kelp (bass) joining in 2006. The CD also notes various guest musicians and vocal contributions.

I'm assuming that Pantokraator are now fairly well established within their own country as not only does this album come in an excellently published gatefold cover and musical production values to match this high standard, but recently the band has released a rather lavish "collectors" version - Valge Raamat (The White Book) consisting of 3 CDs enclosed in a 200 page book... These are Tormidesööjad, Tuba Tuules (mainly songs from their first album) and Liig Palju Taevast (rare and unreleased tracks).

Now the fact that Pantokraator formed during the 80s does not surprise me as listening through the songs on Tormidesööjad they certainly reflect that period. The band themselves acknowledge a link between their ethnic and folk origins mixed into a "rich proggy sound". To a certain degree I can hear these elements throughout, however added to this must surely be a liberal dose of 80s electronic pop, which on the surface this strange brew may sound like a mish-mash, but surprisingly it works well. Well in the main. Let's take look at the music...

The concise Metsavaht opens proceedings in a catchy and immediate fashion. The chunky rhythms, hummable melody and dense vocal arrangement immediately reminded of Art Of Noise with added embellishments from post punk rockers Hazel O'Connor and Toyah. Whereas the clear digital synth lines of Linnamäng also kept me to the same era, although the vocal arrangements had me turning to Deep Forset this time. By this point and on the first run through I did muse the thought that perhaps this wasn't an album for DPRP, however at the two minute mark the rhythm section busies up and Langi lets rip with a brief melodic solo. A similar instrumental extravaganza erupts at the three minute mark, this time with a synth solo from Sakkov. A first hint of Pantokraator's progressive leanings...

The middle section of the CD however only fleetingly moves into progressive realms. This is not to say the music isn't good or well constructed, just perhaps a little prog-lite. Pilvedesse Sõuan Paadi is an infectious and pleasant ballad, with a catchy keyboard motif, fretless bass and layered backing vocals - the song fades with a melodic guitar solo poking through the vocal arrangements. In many respects the following song Kodukäijad, another laid back ballady song has the flavour of 80s Marillion. Päike Mu Päike is just horrible though - a sort of American 80s pop/rock meets Human League track and barring some heraldic keyboards, there is little to save this piece.

Tule Tule returns us to the ballady format - acoustic guitars, fretless, catchy synth lines and a strong melody, carried superbly by Lauri Saatpalu who possesses a very distinctive and natural timbre to his voice. Which again he puts to good effect during Käsmu which conjured images of the music from "The Lion King" in its arrangement. The title track along with Tuultekodu and Paus On Hea move us more in the prog direction. After a fairly lengthy intro Tormidesööjad boasts a sparkling instrumental section amidst its electronic and world music foundation. Segueing into the rockier Tuultekodu. Again some nice instrumental work. The final cut opens with a fiery tune full of guitar lines and keyboard flourishes.

What else can I tell you? Vocally Lauri Saatpalu has a very rich voice and all the songs are all sung in his native tongue. I'm pleased that Panto chose to do this as it adds greatly to the music. And although the excellent booklet has English translations I think you may well follow the "plot" more easily in Estonian. The CD also features female vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Triinu Taul, who I would have liked to hear in a more prominent role. As it is her role vocally is more supportive and with her instrumental talents appearing here and there in the mix. As mentioned earlier there is also a fairly hefty cast of guest musicians, who appear throughout.

I feel sure that Pantokraator have carved out a comfortable career for themselves in their own (and neighbouring) countries, however if their intention is to appeal to a global "progressive" audience, then perhaps a re-think of the material is in order. Now don't get me wrong here, this is not a criticism of the music, which I found enjoyable to listen to and certainly demonstrated the band's obvious abilities as musicians and writers. It more reflects their prog-lite approach. When they cut loose they ably demonstrate that they could compete in a prog market at the highest level - it's just that there is only about ten to fifteen minutes of material here on Tormidesööjad that shows this. Now their MySpace lists several prog legends as influences, but personally I've never really heard many of them on this album, barring perhaps the odd keyboard line or sound, or a fleeting guitar theme. Again not a bad thing, just initially it set me off on the wrong road...

I don't however wish to conclude on a down beat. Truth is, it has taken sometime to write this review with this album having many, many spins in my CD player. As a consequence Tormidesööjad has grown on me and I've thoroughly enjoyed listening to Pantokraator's mix of musical styles combined with their cultural heritage. The band's MySpace has brief snippets (30-40 seconds) from all the album's tracks and well worth three or four minutes of your time...

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

BOB MULVEY



RanestRane – Nosferatu Il Vampiro
RanestRane – Nosferatu Il Vampiro
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:2CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2009
Time:97:26
Info:RanestRane
Samples:Click here

Tracklist:

Disc 1: AttopRimo: Il Sogno Di Lucy (3:11), Lucy (2:52), L’ufficio Di Reinfield (2:27), Passera Presto (2:54), Via De Wismar (2:12), La Locanda Nel Villaggio Degli Zingari (5:43), La Montagna (5:01), Sona Quasi Arrivato (1:28), Il Castello (4:08), L’assalto (3:15), Il Risveglio (4:33), Il Contratto (2:59), Saranno Giorni Tristi (4:14), Che Giorno Maledetto (5:41)

Disc 2: AttoseCondo: La Nave (5:22), Che Succede (3:15), La Riunione Del Consiglio (1:58), Finalment Qui (2:04), Ritorna (3:01), La Nozione Dell’amore Mancato (4:23), Il Dario di Jonathan (3:28), Adesso So il Perche (3:38), Alla Ricerca Del Conte (2:12), Gli Ultimi Momenti Di Wismar (3:09), La Morte Di Mina (2:32), L’ultimo Incontro (5:54), Il Ritrovamento (3:16), Via Da Wismar (2:23)

RanestRane are an Italian symphonic prog band who formed back in 1996. They first conceived this ‘rock opera’, based on German director Werner Herzog’s 1979 film Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht, back in 2000, where they would provide live accompaniment to screenings of the film. They recorded and released an album of the soundtrack back in 2006, but only now seem to be getting around to promoting it.

Two fairly obvious problems regarding the band getting some attention with this work seem to present themselves. Firstly, the classic Italian prog band, PFM, released their own vampire-orientated rock opera – Dracula Opera Rock – back in 2005. Whilst I haven’t heard the album, its fairly obvious that comparisons will be drawn, even though RanestRane’s work probably pre-dates it. Second, the original film already had a soundtrack by a progressive band that has becoming something of a cult classic – more of this in a little while.

In the spirit of research I rented out a copy of the film. It’s a gothic, extremely atmospheric work that owes more to FW Murnau’s silent classic Nosferatu than either the British Hammer Horror films of the sixties or the Hollywood films of the thirties and forties. More unsettling than genuinely scary, it boasts an incredible performance by Klaus Kinski who makes for a truly creepy Count Dracula. What impressed me more than the film, however, was the soundtrack by German ‘krautrock’ pioneers, Popol Vuh. Using a mix of atmospheric, electronic drones, choral chants, pastoral, Mediterranean-tinged folk and middle eastern style pieces, along with allowing for plentiful moments where ‘the sound of silence’ endures (the soundtrack also contains non-Popol Vuh material such as extracts from Wagner’s Das Reingold), it compliments Herzog’s vision superbly.

RanestRane don’t try and compete with a classic, and take a very different approach. There’s no ‘sounds of silence’ here – every minute of the film is accompanied. The band mix instrumental segue pieces with songs containing vocals, and in addition insert plentiful amounts of dialogue (an Italian-dubbed version, rather than the original German). It’s the instrumental work which I think is most effective, with some superbly atmospheric motifs – one in particularly using reverb and a gradually descending scale of notes to suitably eerie effect – being repeated at certain points throughout the album to give a real feel of identity to the piece. In some places this part of the band’s repertoire has distinct echoes of those seventies Italian horror soundtrack greats Goblin.

The songs with lyrics are a little more of a mixed back. There’s no problem with the vocals – Daniele Pomo (also the band’s drummer) has a versatile voice which can comfortably handle the high ranges; he sings in his native tongue, which is fine, as although you might not be able to fully understand the lyrics, knowledge of the film will mean you can be fairly sure of the content. The band are at their most effective when they keep the tempo down, and go for atmospheric ballads which are often deceptively mellow but with a dark undercurrent. These are replete with Riccardo Romano’s emotive keyboard and piano work, which often has strong parallels with Mark Kelly’s work on nineties Marillion albums such as Brave and Afraid Of Sunlight, and are often coloured by less likely instrumentation such as accordion. The guitar work tends to take more of a supporting role, although Massimo Pomo does get let off the leash on occasions. Often this is on the more rocky material, which is generally less effective – the songs sometimes come across as little more than pleasant but unremarkable MOR rock and sees the tension that surely should be kept at a tense level throughout slacken somewhat.

My main criticisms – aside from the fact that the second disc seems to rather run out of steam and can’t quite compete with the quality (or dark atmospheres created) on the first – are to do with the insertion of dialogue; maybe this is trying to mirror the dialogue heard in the film when the band play this soundtrack live, but to me it often serves to stop the flow of the material, and sometimes appears at inappropriate times such as in the middle of a song.

Overall though, although very different than the original soundtrack, RanestRane have produced an interesting alternative take that works more times than it doesn’t. The band are clearly skilled musicians who know the way to create a suitable atmosphere, and this album should hold some appeal to both Italian symphonic prog fans and horror soundtrack buffs. The band haven’t lost the soundtrack bug on completion of this project – their latest work is a version of the Stanley Kubrick-directed, Steven King-written classic The Shining, which I’d certainly be interested in hearing.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

TOM DE VAL



Dead Heroes Club - A Time Of Shadows
Dead Heroes Club - A Time Of Shadows
Country of Origin:Ireland
Format:CD
Record Label:ProgRock Records
Catalogue #:PRR303
Year of Release:2009
Time:54:41
Info:Dead Heroes Club
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Theatre Of The Absurd (9:20), Stranger In The Looking Glass (9:50), The Centre Cannot Hold (4:12), A Gathering Of Crows (11:30), The Sleepers Are Waking (4:44), A Time Of Shadows (15:05)

True progressive rock with a Tolkien like cover but no concept album. Irish prog bands are rare but the Dead Heroes Club keep the flame alive. They consider themselves to be part of the 'song for song's sake' category, therefore this is no concept album but features six standalone pieces. A Time Of Shadows is their second album and their music has many influences from the old Genesis music, especially as the voice of Liam Campbell sounds a lot like Peter Gabriel. The name Dead Heroes Club suggest a tribute to deceased musicians but besides Genesis I hear a lot of old-Marillion and old-Pendragon whom are still very much alive.

The opener Theatre Of The Absurd immediately shows the direct connection to Genesis. The lyrics are very poetical and I could hear a link with the old Marillion and Fish albums but also some Pendragon, but that could be the masks in the booklet and the use of the word "Masquerade" in the lyrics. The different rhythms and melodies come and go on this song and the only thing I miss is a great lengthy guitar solo, the only solo on it is short and fuzzy. The second part of the song is more powerful however and there is more keyboard present.

Stranger In The Looking Glass begins in a Marillion style of a long time ago with a nice chorus that sounds familiar but still original, however, the guitar solo could be a bit more upfront. Just like the first song the second part is more up-tempo, sounding more like Pendragon and IQ. At the end of the song instead of a solo a catchy riff is followed by a solid rock riff. I really like long guitar solos but they are hard to find on this album. But that is all a matter of personal taste, for every one of me there is probably someone else cheering the absence of long solos.

A big transition to The Centre Cannot Hold which has a powerful rock riff. At the end of the song the pace slows down but the main part is hard rock. If the opener did not build a bridge to Genesis then A Gathering Of Crows surely will. The song has an up-tempo pace for a long time and has a thick layer of keyboards. The final part is slower and finally features a normal guitar solo, though it does not last very long. When Liam Campbell is singing on this song it is truly as if I hear Peter Gabriel. Sleepers Awaken is the second of the short songs, though it has all the potential of an epic song it is still within five minutes. When you think the song is transforming the sound slowly fades. The main event on this album is the title track A Time Of Shadows, again an epic combination between old Genesis and Marillion. This song has many changes all nicely put together. Strangely enough this song also does not have the lengthy solos you would expect. The song works up to a climax but for me it does not deliver the full deal completely. The final part of the song has a decent guitar solo but it is a long wait.

Dead Heroes Club has provided us with an album with many elements from the glorious prog past and many times I had the feeling of being back in the time I started to get interested in prog music. A Time Of Shadows is a good album and the people who will pick up this album will have a nice spin. Many of those people will also end up playing their old Genesis and Marillion albums. I have the same feeling with this album as with The Garden from Unitopia. The style of music is in a way comparable but above all it is also an album that makes me want to play other albums that do have that magical shine. Not wanting to end in a critical way I do think that many fans of old Genesis will surely have a good addition to their collection with this album.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

EDWIN ROOSJEN



Xerath - I
Xerath - I
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Candlelight
Catalogue #:CANDLE274
Year of Release:2009
Time:39:11
Info:Xerath
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Intrenity (3:32), Alterra (2:48), Nocturnum (3:46), Consequences (4:28), Interlude (1:40), False History (3:27), Abiogenesis (5:54), Reform Part I (3:21), Reform Part II (4:35), Right To Exist (5:40)

One of the brighter lights in a generally moribund and overly derivative UK metal scene, Xerath became known to the wider metal world through winning an unsigned bands competition run by the highly regarded UK metal magazine Terrorizer. Candlelight records wasted little time in signing the band, and this album appeared in short order, perhaps unsurprising given that the majority of the material had been written over the previous couple of years.

Style-wise, Xerath describe themselves as playing ‘orchestral groove metal’ – or, more un-appetisingly from my perspective, ‘chug-core’. What this means in practice is that dense, polyrhythmic metal grooves in the vein of a (more straightforward!) Meshuggah are married to a synthesised orchestral backdrop somewhat redolent of a film score for a gothic horror or dark fantasy film (elements also used – albeit in a far more chaotic context – by fellow UK extreme prog-metallers Biomechanical). By themselves, neither of these styles would be particularly noteworthy or original, but coupled together in the skilful way they are here produces a sound that is quite compelling.

The songwriting is pretty good, with the band ensuring the majority of the tracks have enough individuality to make them stand out from each other. There are changes in pace, and times when the foot is taken off the gas, so that when the heavy riffs come crashing back in, it’s that much more effective. Xerath also show that they can get to the six minute mark on songs such as the standout Abiogenesis without it seeming as if they’re stretching the material to breaking point. The production is pretty good, with guitarist Andy Phillips’ riffs sounding sharp and edgy and the soundtrack elements high enough in the mix to make an impact but not so overpowering that they drown out the other instrumentation.

Perhaps inevitably, for a young band, there is the odd track which doesn’t work as well as others, and you feel that if the album was any longer diminishing returns would certainly set in. Richard Thomson’s vocals – an aggressive shouting style, perhaps more usually found in hardcore or metalcore bands – work in places, but the style gets tiresome after a while, and a bit more variety would be welcome (perhaps the more emotional singing employed on occasions by Dutch outfit Textures - with whom, incidentally, Xerath could certainly be compared). Only a few singers can get away with this kind of monotonous delivery – Meshuggah’s Jens Kidman certainly being one – and Thomson does not belong to this elite group.

All in all, however, this is a strong debut release that should ensure Xerath become a force to be reckoned with in the technical extreme/ prog metal genre. It can only be hoped that the British metal fans and media, who seem far too keen to overlook genuine native talent in favour of the next big thing from the States or mainland Europe, give Xerath a chance to show their worth and make some headway.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

TOM DE VAL



Baroque – La Fiaba Della Buonanotte
Baroque – La Fiaba Della Buonanotte
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:MP3079
Year of Release:2009
Time:51:31
Info:Baroque
SamplesClick here

Tracklist: Ouverture Maledetta (1:26), Batracomiomachia (4:26), Memento (3:52), Nera (3:21), Scherzo In Re Minore (4:07), La Corte Degli Scontenti (3:19), Santa Pasienza (4:51), Cenere (4:18), Operetta...La Demoniaca (3:40), Regina Nera (4:44), La Carie (5:27), Oniricausto (4:44), Boris Bestarius (hidden track) (2:55)

Sometimes it is very easy to write reviews. Especially when a band succeeds in getting the fun they had making an album across to the listener. And Italian band Baroque do that very well on their debut album La Fiaba Della Buonanotte (the fable of the goodnight). The album is an exiting journey with influences from old bands like Queen, Bowie (during his glamrock period) and newer acts like A.C.T., Big Elf and maybe a touch of Liquid Scarlet. I also hear influences from Italian artist Morgan (His solo debut Canzoni Dell’Appartamento from 2003 is one of my favorite albums ever). The four bandmembers are Mat Le Mad (real name: Matteo Tambussi on vocals, guitars and synthesizers), Alberto Ghigo (vocals and bass), Stefano Tiozzo (guitars, piano and keyboards) and Alessandro Ghigo (drums and percussion).

The stength of Baroque lies in a couple of things:

  • The two guitar players show a talent for producing some great and exiting riffs that are influenced by the glamrock period from the seventies. They also complement each other which results in some fine twin guitar parts.
  • Mat le Mad has a versatile voice that fits well with the music. Especially the big opera voice that Italians are so fond of. There are also some fantastic vocal harmonies.
  • The album sounds great. The album sounds as if the songs were recorded live. Never too polished but still crystal clear.

The album opens stately with an ouverture (Maledetta) including the sounds of a theremin and a frog. I am not kidding. And the fun thing is that the sound of the frog forms the rhythm for the next track. That track, Batra Comioma Chia, shows all the strengths of this band. The track is blessed with a great riff from the guitars and a ripping hammond, excellent vocals and beautiful vocal harmonies. The same applies to (Me) mento, Operetta....La Demonica which all find their origin in glamrock, but the adventurous way these songs develop with the vocal arrangements and inventive musical sidesteps makes them progressive. Nera is a quieter song with some strong upfront bass playing. Another ballad is Cenera which has some Morgan influences and a great guitar solo at the end.

Stefano Tiozzo impresses with his piano playing on Regina Nera. This is a typical Italian progrock track; pompous with opera like vocals and an entire choir at the end. Scherzo is the only English sung track (except for the chorus in Oniricausto). The track opens with a harpsicord part that reminds me of Vivaldi. Also great fun is the instrumental Santa Pazienza. This is a very varied track mixing Russian folk (if that exsists??), cabaret and vaudeville in the first part of the song and then transforms into a beautiful atmospheric piece with keyboard strings and another great guitar solo. On a couple of tracks you can hear traces of 60's psychedelica (La Corte Degi and La Carie).

I had a great time listening to this very adventurous album and I will be returning to La Fiaba Della Buonanotte regularly. This album shows that these guys are very talanted. This debut album sounds selfassured and is packed with high quality songs. As the album was recorded in 2006 I hope that a second album will follow soon. This album is excellent for those who think that A.C.T. is too smooth and Big Elf is too loud.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

LEO KOPERDRAAT



Meridiem – Full Catastrophe
Meridiem – Full Catastrophe
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Pangea/Voiceprint
Catalogue #:PGVP002CD
Year of Release:2000/2009
Time:54:47
Info:Voiceprint Info
Samples:N/A

Tracklist: 187 (3:35), Shaft in Oslo (3:16), Sheol (8:54), Lapis (5:30), Gehenna (7:30), Shaft In Oslo [Live] (3:54), Release [Aria] (4:34), Shimmy (7:22), Poison Tear (6:41), Release [Again] (3:08)

Meridiem – A Pleasant Fiction
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Pangea/Voiceprint
Catalogue #:PGVP001CD
Year of Release:2004/2009
Time:52:12
Info:Voiceprint Info
Samples:Click here
Meridiem – A Pleasant Fiction

Tracklist: The Girl On The Back Of The Motorcycle (5:39), Melting (4:47), Chase The Blues Away (5:38), The East (4:56), Brilliant Ending (6:13), A Pleasant Fiction (6:20), Can I Get A Witness? (4:59), Carlotta (6:09), Where You Stand (3:30), Give Me Everything (3:45)

Back in 1997, soulful singer and songwriter Percy Howard (Language of Dreams, Sway, Nus, The Hashisheen) invited Bill Laswell to work in a new project called Meridiem. Anchored by drummer Charles Hayward (This Heat, Mal Dean’s Amazing Band, Radar Favourites, Dolphin Logic, Quiet Sun, Camberwell Now, and more) and offering an experimental sound, Meridiem saw a successful debut release and a tour of the US west coast. Joining the band for their sophomore effort, released under Howard’s name, were Warr guitarist Trey Gunn (Sunday All Over the World, Sylvian/Fripp, King Crimson, Quodia, KTU, TU, Eddie Jobson’s Ultimate Zero project, UKZ, and more) and guitarist Vernon Reid (Living Colour, Yohimbe Brothers, Masque, and more). The next Meridiem release after that was Full Catastrophe, reviewed here.

Full Catastrophe features three studio tracks alongside seven live tracks. As there are just three studio tracks I will comment on each of them.

Opening track 187 is a heavy rocker featuring Howard’s voice emitting from the baritone end and almost coming off as a restrained Dio, along with growling guitar from Reid. Gunn goes for the low end of the Warr on this track, which segues into Shaft In Oslo. This track sees Gunn utilizing the higher end of the Warr, laying down some ambience over a funky groove from Reid and Hayward. The only other studio track, the Kraut-ish Poison Tear, again features Gunn playing the higher end of the Warr.

Then there’s the live stuff, which comes off as mostly improvised. An example is Sheol, a lengthy jam that showcases Gunn giving equal opportunity to both ends of the Warr. Howard’s distinctive vocals are evident on the Kraut-jazz of Lapis and on the noise jam of Release [Aria]. Reid shows off his guitar mastery on Shimmer, and on this track Gunn’s versatility is again evident in some sonic Warr odysseys north and south of the strings.

After Full Catastrophe, the all-studio A Pleasant Fiction was released in 2004. A vast roster of personnel too numerous to fully mention participated in its recording, with Gunn absent and Laswell returning. Some guest female vocalists are featured, like the simply named “Jarboe” who gives the track Carlotta a ghostly hue. The presence of the guest female vocalists on A Pleasant Fiction lends a Patti Smith commonality to things, like on the improvised-sounding Can I Get A Witness? References on this CD also lean to modern-era Syn, but with a little more caffeine in the Americano coffee house sound. We also get acoustic balladry in Melting, featuring the vocals of Happy Rhodes, and a bit of ambient jazz on the opening track.

Both Meridiem CDs feature colorfully, professionally designed CD booklets and cover art.

So we have two Meridiem releases with two different approaches. My favourite of the two is Full Catastrophe. If you dig improvised vocals or instrumentation, you might want to check this band out. If you seek something more mainstream, this isn’t it. My biggest suggestion for room for improvement, should Howard decide to revive Meridiem some day, is to handle his own singing. With all due respect to the talented guest singers on A Pleasant Fiction, Howard has an awesome singing voice.

Conclusions:

Full Catastrophe: 7.5 out of 10
A Pleasant Fiction: 6 out of 10

JIM CORCORAN



Atomic Workers - Third Disaster
Atomic Workers - Third Disaster
Country of Origin:Italy/UK/
The Netherlands
Format:CD
Record Label:Black Widow /
Nasoni Records
Catalogue #:087-2 CC
Year of Release:2009
Time:41:50
Info:Atomic Workers
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Secret Way To The Valley (4:40), Third Disaster (6:15), You (5:32), Chaos On The Breeze (4:07), Lost Pleasure (2:36), Here’s Where I Belong (3:21), Home (4:13), Breakdown (3:21), Kap-E-Tone (7:45)

I wouldn’t call Atomic Workers a progressive or symphonic band, but they certainly embrace the aesthetics of the golden age of late 60s and early 70s, just as nearly every other Black Widow artist does; on the other hand, they seem to stay away from the trademark macabre/gothic themes that characterize most of their label mates.

That said, one of the main noticeable influences are Black Sabbath (particularly on first track Secret Way To The Valley), so the dark side is not that far after all. As rocking and groovy as their music sounds, the Workers (or shall I say the Atomics?) stay away from the hard rock/heavy metal clichés, and instead go the garage way, with a heavy accent on the psychedelic and an adequate low-fi wrapping.

Third Disaster explores the psyche side of the band, while You goes the Pink Floyd road through jamming and improvisation. The Floyd again resonate on Chaos On The Breeze, but this time we go way back to The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn and the pop madness of Syd Barrett. Lost Pleasure seems to allude to, well, the “lost pleasure” of making lots of primitive, unadulterated noise, as this again harks back to Sabbath’s brand of hard rock, peppered with a short drum solo courtesy of Diego Mocci.

Time to wear your kaftans proudly as the eastern perfume of Here’s Where I Belong unfolds; if you’re more into classic 70s (Italian) prog, complete with some nice viola flourishes, Home will make you feel like… Just look at the title. To complete the spectrum of classic references, the powerful ballad Breakdown salutes Led Zeppelin and Janis Joplin with reverence, while closing number Kap-E-Tone thanks The Who for the inspiration, wrapping up the album with a chaotic, hypnotic (and maybe a bit too long) jam where Fabio Mongelli and Danielle Sindaco get to squeeze their guitars.

I like the organic feel of the album, and I bet Atomic Workers are a great band to enjoy live, but here the raw, primal sound could also be consequence of certain amateurism; elsewhere, I’m not too sure about Laurence O’Toole’s (weak) vocals.

All in all, a nice little release, with plenty to enjoy, but most certainly with plenty to improve.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

HECTOR GOMEZ




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