Reviews in this issue:
- Harvest - Underground Community
- Odessa - The Final Day
- Vestal - Symbiosis
- Nurkostam - III Of Dreamers
- Nurkostam - XIII
- Unified Past - Tense
- Procosmian Fannyfiddlers - Requiem Fatigue
Harvest - Underground Community
Tracklist: Autumn Leaves (3:44), Beyond The Desert (3:38), No Return (5:37), The Story Of Tim Ballas (4:50), Mara (4:51), Underground Community (1:37), Change Life (4:22), Post Disaster (4:23), The Horizon (5:20), Waiting To Happen (6:17), She Tries (4:41), Night Comes Down (2:51), Interrupted Broadcast (3:46)
Anyone that’s visited the beautiful city of Barcelona will be familiar with its vibrancy and rich artistic heritage. A fitting location then to launch a new band that combines melodic prog tendencies with indie rock sensibilities resulting in a remarkably tuneful collection of songs on this debut album. Harvest began life in 2008 when Monique van der Kolk (vocals), Jordi Amela (keyboards) and Jordi Prats (guitars) who knew each other from a previous collaboration enlisted the rhythm partnership of Roger Vilageliu (bass) and Alex Ojea (drums). Their main claim to fame thus far is supporting Marillion when the latter played Barcelona in 2009. Marillion are a band they greatly admire which explains the presence of the elegant Waiting To Happen here.
Underground Community maintains a deft balance between the bands up-tempo, rockier offerings and the more restrained but never dull ballads. Leaning towards the former category is the breezy opener Autumn Leaves which despite the title has a sunny, upbeat feel with an infectious freewheeling melody and an equally infectious vocal. Monique has a beautifully evocative voice that has a crystalline purity with no trace of an accent that recalls both Andrea Corr and the legendary Joni Mitchell with just a hint of Rickie Lee Jones thrown in for good measure. The two heaviest songs come in the shape of the strident Mara with its pounding drumming and the concluding Interrupted Broadcast. The latter tune benefits from Prats’ raunchy guitar histrionics and a punchy rhythm track courtesy of Vilageliu and Ojea.
At the other end of the spectrum is the haunting Night Comes Down, an acoustic folk ballad with solo violin adding to the songs intense beauty. The bands ability to produce an atmosphere of elegant restraint is also apparent in their version of Marillion's Waiting To Happen (from 1991’s Holidays In Eden album). It’s a sensitive interpretation with Steve Rothery flavoured weeping guitar and upstages the original with the addition of a majestic guitar and mellotron coda. Another emotive song and the one that first attracted me to the band is the hypnotic She Tries. There is an air of restrained power that builds from tender beginnings with a walking rhythm and sensitive vocal before evolving into a rich wordless choral hook with tumbling piano, ringing guitar and heavenly backing harmonies. Checkout the video for this song on the bands website and I can almost guarantee that it’ll have the same persuasive effect as it did on me.
A characteristic of several songs including the graceful No Return, the semi-acoustic The Story Of Tim Ballas and the melancholic Post Disaster is their deceptively laidback, sometimes ambient beginnings before skilfully blossoming into more animated and anthemic affairs with guitar and piano often driving the melody or adding aural textures and rhythm. With song writing this good it’s not surprising that several tunes posses the catchy potential for hit single success. The infectious Change Life would certainly fit the bill and is possibly my favourite song here thanks to an intoxicating melody embellished with a rippling piano rhythm and lush strings courtesy of Amela’s keys. The uplifting The Horizon is another strong contender with a compelling guitar hook and brashly energetic chorus that develops into a stately choral finale.
My only note of criticism is artist Antonio Seijas’ rather bleak artwork which to my mind doesn’t fully reflect the zestful spirit and emotions displayed in the music. That is of course unless you count the brief title track Underground Community, a rather sombre instrumental consisting of piano and electronic effects. Beyond reproach however is the bands sharp production which ensures that every note and syllable is delivered with remarkable clarity.
Whilst this impressive debut from Harvest resides on the border between mainstream rock/pop and prog, fans of Marillion, No-Man, Blackfield and to a lesser extent Mermaid Kiss should have no problems appreciating its charms. In fact in my opinion it’s an album that deserves a place in anyone’s collection regardless of any particular musical preferences. They are without doubt a band with an acute ear for a good melody and hook, and given that there is 12 original songs with no lame ducks amongst them this is a remarkably strong collection.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Odessa - The Final Day
Tracklist: Final Day (7:28), Viene La Sera (5:42), Taxi (4:27), Compra (4:34), Cometa Rossa (3:59), Senza Fiato (4:40), Piccolo Mio Sole (4:22), Depèche Toi (3:55), Leila (5:38), Going South (4:05)
Originally forming in 1998, Italian quartet Odessa released their debut album, Stazione Getsemani, late the following year. The interim period has seen the band performing early classic rock covers at numerous concerts, along with their self penned material. Fast-forward ten years and we now have the follow-up album The Final Day. Band leader Lorenzo Giovagnoli (keyboards & voice) and bassist Valerio "Vallo" de Angelis remain from the previous release with Giulio Vampa taking on the guitar duties and Marco Fabbri filling the drum stool. Apart from being a gifted keyboard player Giovagnoli is responsible for the vast majority of the writing on the album, all of which which makes for a consistent and varied listen. Area's Cometa Rossa and a co-write with Sarah Scutt (Senza Fiato) being the only two exceptions.
I have to say The Final Day (Il Giorno Del Giudizio) has been with me for quite some time now awaiting a review - so my apologies to the band. It's difficult for me to pin point exactly why it has taken so long to complete this review, as I pretty much liked the music from day one. Subsequent plays of the album have just increased my liking of Odessa's The Final Day. I suppose the biggest problem has been trying to pop it into some kind of category, not that it needs to categorized particularly, it just simplifies matters for me. First spin suggested links to their Italian progressive heritage with an early 70s (retro) classic rock vibe, but the more I played the album the more "influences" or pointers crept in...
So let's take the title track which kicks the album off. A retro 70's style guitar riff with distorted Hammond lurking in the background - only Marco Fabbri's nifty drumming giving the game away. The guitar riff morphs with a more 90s progressive metal edge and the Hammond spreads its wings. A brief Wakeman-esque keyboard flurry and we are into the vocals. The lyrics for the opener are sung in English, (a little may have been lost in the translation here), and complemented by Lorenzo Giovagnoli's expressive vocal delivery. Layered vocal lines and harmonies enrich this rocky section with the instrumentation suggesting Mick Box/Ken Hensley era Uriah Heep and with shades of Deep Purple. Then we move to the middle jazzy/bluesy instrumental - Dixie Dregs? The vocals return and this section and the instrumental outro add Colosseum II into my mix. Tricky for what on the surface is a straightforward rock song... And all of this doesn't cover the half of it...
So to Viene La Sera! and accessible 70s era jazz/funk - Gino Vannelli (Brother To Brother/The Gist Of The Gemini) perhaps? Complete with Fairlight keyboard sounds... but nothing remains simple and from the ballad type opening the instrumental section boasts slick guitar runs and Hammond flourishes. Then 80's Toto enter the mix followed by a The Stranglers type riff...
Now you're probably thinking this just has to be a total mish-mash of disparate music - and on the surface it sounds it - but Giovagnoli and fellow band members manage to combine this potpourri of styles and make them all work.
Taxi initially takes a leaf from Viene La Sera's book, however the middle instrumental has a beautifully punctuated organ section that could well have featured on any 70s progressive rock album. Compra is bouncy guitar/keyboard driven rocker with the instrumental section that has late 70s Bruford stamped on it. Elsewhere Cometa Rosa takes its cues from the prog metal camp. The album's only instrumental Senza Fiato affiliates with ELP in their prime, although with a strong driving metal edge and a funky Mahavishnu instrumental section. Piccolo Mio Sole is a ballad and features a nice solo from Giulio Vampa. Leila has a touch of the Doobies and a return of the Dregs feel about it...
Now before concluding I must point out (again) that, although I've made many references to other bands in this review, the final outcome is a well written and constructed album. The comparisons are merely elements within the music - the spices that add to the overall flavour.
So a pretty impressive album all in all and one which is performed by four guys who are well in tune with each other. The only downside to The Final Day for me were the vocals - always a sticking point for me anyway. Actually Lorenzo Giovagnoli is a fine singer just a little too theatrical and over the top for my tastes. They didn't spoil the album for me and certainly those with a penchant for Italian prog should have little difficulty here. Although note that Giovagnoli undertakes the lyrics from the album in four different languages! If I've been a little harsh on Giovagnoli's vocals, then praise for his keyboard skills I shall heap, as not only does he display his abilities admirably throughout, but his selection of sounds also compliment the many facets of the music.
Super album! Well worth checking out.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Vestal - Symbiosis
Tracklist: State Of Flux (7:28), Crystal Phase (5:05), The Catalyst (5:13), Symbiosis (6:39), Resistance (5:12), Metamorphosis (14:12)
Vestal is a one man band from the US and my attempts to find more information about this artist failed miserably. All music was composed and for the most part performed by Thomas Vestal and no one less than Bob Katz was responsible for the mastering. Listening to this album one can only sit back, let this music take you and leave you wondering why there are so many talented musicians around you haven't heard of!
State Of Flux opens with guitar, bass and some keyboards in a melody that reminds me a bit of Don’t Fear The Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult but quickly transcends into something more progressive, with nice but heavy guitar riffs and delightful soloing on the keyboards with Moog-like sounds. Many variations in rhythm patterns and references to Dream Theater. It’s difficult to say if I would have had the same criticisms if I hadn’t known this was a project by one musician, but somehow both the instruments and some of the melodies seem a bit isolated. Sometimes the integration is missing and the music doesn’t really flow. In the second track Crystal Phase it seems to me the piano made the foundation for this composition and was arranged a bit further at a later stage. The atmosphere and some of the sounds are the same as can be found in the Rudess Morgenstein Project, although in this case there are a real bass and guitar too.
The Catalyst is a track in the same vein, nice keyboard layers and organ, Vestal proves he can play the bass and the guitar quite well, the guitar being the predominant instrument. The drum sounds however are a bit too ‘busy’ for me, there seems to be more breaks than a more or less constant rhythm pattern. The title track Symbiosis could also be described as a mix between Dream Theater and the Rudess Morgenstein Project although Vestal cannot compete with the individual qualities of the instrumentalists in aforementioned bands… but then again: who could? In Resistance at first there’s a piano, followed by a piece of ‘progressive jazz rock’ with some minor fragments of ambient music. The longest track, the ‘epic’ Metamorphosis, opens with keyboard dominated music and although some of the melodies are performed by the guitar, there’s a major role for both piano and organ. Lots of soloing by synths sounding a lot like a crossover between pipe organ and a Fairlight. Instead of building up to a grand bombastic finale, the music fades away softly.
I wonder what Vestal could achieve as songwriter and guitarist/keyboardist in a good band, like Kerry Livgren in Kansas for example. Symbiosis is proof of an abundance of original ideas and definitely a calling card to be proud of from a not to be underestimated multi-instrumentalist! I’m sure this is not the last bit of music from Vestal, but in my opinion this artist could benefit from a more intensive participation of other musicians as well as from someone who could co-write with him. This could provide a more natural ‘band sound’ and could make his compositions a bit more accessible. This approach could compromise the freshness and boldness of all his ideas but still I think it would be worth considering. Highly recommended for fans of the Rudess Morgenstein Project, the Jupiter Project and certainly of interest to fans of ‘rather mellow instrumental Dream Theater music’ and it's not a coincidence that Jordan Rudess plays in all three acts mentioned before!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Nurkostam - III Of Dreamers
Nurkostam - XIII
Tracklist: Iscream (2:59), Dome (5:56), Alone (4:47), Between (7:14), Madness (2:50), Archie (7:44)
Back in the midst of the year that was 2009, DPRP received a package from Finland containing two albums by the band Nurkostam. The latest release, at that time, was III Of Dreamers, although our somewhat hectic and packed reviewing schedule has meant that unfortunately this review is only just being written. This is somewhat unfortunate as the group has just released a mini-album called C. The band comprises the original trio of Tero Koski on keyboards and stringed instruments, Toni Nurmi on vocals and stringed instruments, and Janne Tamminen on keyboards and stringed instruments along with sundry supporting musicians: Aki Tulikari on vocals and drums (and stringed instruments!), Eljas Tikanmäki on drums and keyboards, Aleksandra Siren on vocals and flute, and Tomi Hyttinen on drums.
I really had no idea what to expect from this band and the opening bars of Ulrich left me wondering: a very 'tinny' cymbal sound and pounding drums instantly made me think that this might not be the most perfectly recorded album. However, as things progressed and more instruments were introduced, most prominently an electric piano, I came to realise that everything slotted together rather well. An initial thought was that Nurkostam bore some resemblance to Sigur Rós, an impression enforced by The Camel Song, a melancholy ode that drips angst and an aching longing. Ocean utilises a glockenspiel to tap out the melody over a plaintive picked electric guitar delivering a piece which is defined by its minimalistic simplicity. With The Dreamer the band introduces a more orchestral element with plenty of the 'stringed instruments' in evidence throughout and the keyboards adding a pseudo brass section and very realistic sounding choir to provide a very atmospheric ambience. The sedate feel is maintained on Almost Famous with a solo acoustic guitar opening proceedings before some analogue-sounding synths are introduced and, for the first time, vocals. The blend of the male and female voices is very pleasant and contributes to the mellow air that has thus far been generated by the album.
Dike heralds a slight change with a louder and more prominent electric guitar. Again the subtle blend of voices provides a distinguishing feature, although in this piece the tone is somewhat more menacing, albeit still in rather a subdued manner. This feeling is also highlighted by the spoken text (in Finnish; the sung vocals are in English) and the final vocal refrain with its sinister echo effect. The 'menace' is continued on into Motherside which is much more of a band piece and the heaviest the band have got so far. A strange amalgam of more recent Radiohead and a dash of King Crimson, this is a cleverly constructed song, although I am in two minds about the rather lengthy and prominent spoken section, even if this time it is in English! Anon closes proceedings with an introductory 'fanfare' that is positively upbeat in comparison to the rest. However, this is only a brief interlude as soon we are left with just a solo piano and more spoken words. Considering how good the vocals were on Almost Famous and Dike it is a shame that use of spoken words is somewhat overdone as it slightly smacks of pretension. Pianos play a large role throughout the rest of the song which manages to keep the listener's attention by the addition of more instruments building up to the climax.
Although not knowing what to expect I was still somewhat surprised by the III Of Dreamers. Although not something that I would play all the time, it does possess a certain charm that certainly draws one into it and demands attention. I have to say that each time I have played the album it has always come as something of a surprise, a testament I think, to the originality of the compositions. Certainly interesting and worthy of investigation by those with a sense of adventure and quest for originality.
In addition to sending us a copy of their latest album, III Of Dreamers, Finnish band Nurkostam also sent along a copy of their debut album from 2005 called simply XIII (what is it with the Roman numerals!) with a request that we provide a review if possible. Although not something we would usually do, unless an album has been re-released that is, we are happy to oblige this time, mainly because the album is a very different proposition from the III album.
At just over 30 minutes in duration, XIII is more of a mini album or EP than a full length release. In many ways it is more of a conventional album with a greater band-focused approach than the more introspective feel heard on III Of Dreamers - a sort of prog version of Talk Talk who switched from being very successful pop stars to purveyors of minimalistic soundscapes. On the two shortest tracks, Iscream and Madness, Nurkostam are in a very heavy mood with both songs, but in particular Iscream, having a strong resemblance to mid period King Crimson. Both are fine numbers performed with drums, bass, electric guitar and keyboards. Dome is a particularly strong song that sounds terribly familiar although for the life of me I can't quite place what it reminds me of! Toni Nurmi is a fine singer with a pleasant voice that belies his native origins whilst the final guitar solos are nothing but class itself. Alone begins with an electric piano developing into a mature ballad, leading nicely into Between with some great organ playing and atmospheric guitar. Unfortunately the effect was rather spoilt for me by the way the vocals have been delivered, almost sotto voce and in a child-like manner. Much better is final track Archie with a ticking clock providing the backbeat and the restrained tension of the song, it is easy to see how the group moved in the direction they did on the second album.
Because of the more conventional nature of this release I found it more immediate than III Of Dreamers. The increased variety was also more appealing with the two heavier numbers sitting nicely alongside the more relaxed songs. And in Dome the group have a great number that would undoubtedly have widespread appeal given the exposure. So the two albums are rather contrasting, and listening to the newer material posted on the band's website it is evident that although the songs are back, the style is different again, but still maintain a Nurkostam stamp.
III Of Dreamers : 6 out of 10
XIII : 7 out of 10
Unified Past - Tense
Tracklist: The Return Of The Profit (3:48), They Know (6:58), Cellular Chaos Pt 1 (2:53), Ice Melt (9:46), Oh My God (5:24), The Earths Energy (8:26), Cellular Chaos Pt 2 (3:38), Under The Influence (4:11), Really Under The Influence (6:27), Cellular Chaos pt 3 (4:13), An Outer Body Experience (7:34), my Name Is Stephen (4:07)
After an absence of nine years Unified Past returns into the progressive rock scene, with the follow up to their 1999 album From The Splintered Present Surfaces, which they recorded under the name Unified Past. Before then they were known as Labyrinth, but the internet was a booming business and they wanted a website, which is when they found out that there was already a band named Labyrinth. Stephen Speelman is the driving force behind the band and this album features the return of two members who played on the first album dating back to the early nineties, Victor Tassone on drums and Steve Calovi on vocals. Vinnie Krivacsy has played on more albums but for some reason he now plays on only three songs, he is not in the band picture and his name is printed smaller, do not know the reason for that.
The music is old fashion progressive rock with a powerful twist best described as Uriah Heep with less keyboard. In the opening song they tried a bit too much to make an easy score instead of taking the time, so The Return Of The Profit starts well but lacks impact, especially when the vocal part begins. They Know is a much better song in which they take more time to let the song grow.
The first part of the Cellular Chaos trilogy is an instrumental piece, starting with Dream Theater like prog metal, this song takes a sudden twist with a brilliant Spanish guitar section. The trilogy is scattered over the album instead of a successive sequence. Ice Melt starts like a Led Zeppelin song and is about the global warming of the Earth - nice song with many changes and a sequential chorus in the first part of the song that is addictive.
Oh My God, you can say that again. This song is very messy, it is hard to find rhythm or structure, the vocals are not that good either, although the second part, with the solos, is better. Sadly the decrease in quality continues with a song like The Earths Energy which is a clear miss. Steve Calovi stretches his vocal chords beyond a point in a way that it sounds very forced. The pace is very slow and for an eight minute song there are not that many changes which results in a boring track. Cellular Chaos pt 2 does not lift the level either, with a terrible sound, a guitar solo which is mixed in poorly and a chorus which is sung badly - a disappointment after the promising first part.
Under The Influence is an instrumental song with many changes that slightly increases the comfort level, whereas Really Under The Influence kind of drags itself to the end with some grunge parts, but not really worth mentioning.
The third part of Cellular Chaos is a step in the right direction, with An Outer Body Experience being a bigger step up again and My Name Is Stephen!, a funny song to close the album, is also a very nice tune. Funny thing is that this probably easily constructed song is one of the better on this album.
Unified Past has returned after a gap of nine years, sadly though the overall level of this album is not sufficient enough to make it a happy return. The return of lead vocalist Steve Calovi is I think not a big success, his voice is not mixed in right and at times you can really hear him stretching for notes. Other things also vary a lot in quality during this album which makes it incoherent. Some brilliant passages on this album and some bad passages, the average quality is not sufficient.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Procosmian Fannyfiddlers - Requiem Fatigue
Tracklist: A1 Requiem Fatigue (3:36), We Are Here To Annoy You (3:46), Crap In The Ceiling (6:27), Even Now... (4:05), Carpe Scrotum (1:20), Versatile Man (6:08), Prolific Cashmere (3:06), Too Fat For Love (4:36), The Bar-Latrine Is My Chapel (4:09), Dogging Me, Dogging You (2:58), Diaphragm Of Doom (2:21), Funeral Fire (8:10)
With each successive Procosmian Fannyfiddlers album I receive I wonder if the band have heeded any of my comments. Well it certainly doesn't sound like this is the case as Requiem Fatigue follows much in the vein of their previous releases. For those unfamiliar with the band's music then it might best be described as bawdy folk rock with heavier overtones. We still have the male/female vocals, flute, violin accompanying the more traditional prog instrumentation (guitar, keys, bass & drums). Joining the band this time around is session musician Kjell Oversand.
As little has changed, to my ears and for fear of repeating myself I will merely refer you to my two previous Procosmian Fannyfiddlers reviews: The Horse From Hell (2008) and Father Dog (2005). Along with Dave Sissons' review of the Return Of The Sweaty Owl (2003) and Remco Schoenmaker's more positive view of their 2001 release, The Rolling Court Massacre.
On the positive side the band still manage to offer flashes of great music and whilst listening to the album there were moments when the ears pricked up - sadly too short lived. The ensemble singing is again, at times, striking and at others straining. Hebbe Santos posses a delicate voice which, is again at times, delightful, (although I have some difficulty reconciling it to the lyrical content), however somewhat grating when she forces it out in the rockier sections. The lyrics remain as always tongue in cheek, bordering on the offensive. A glance at the song titles will give you an indication of this. The band do however inject a sense of humour into their songs - Dogging Me, Dogging You having a little side swipe at ABBA. Musically the palette seems to have broadened and a more retro feel is present here and there - which certainly makes the production slightly more acceptable.
The negatives still remain for me - the pure production, the dense often cacophonous mix, the grating distorted guitar sound and the too often strained intonation both musically and vocally.
I'm glad to report however that the Procosmian Fannyfiddlers have at last embraced the world wide web and now have their own website - (linked above) and so the (progressive) world can sample the band's music and judge for themselves.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10