Reviews in this issue:
- Frost* – The Philadelphia Experiment
- Motorpsycho – Heavy Metal Fruit (Duo Review)
- Kingcrow - Phlegethon
- Day Six – The Grand Design
- Also Eden - Differences As Light [EP]
- Flash – Out Of Our Hands
- Sam Gopal - Escalator
- Les Batteries - Noisy Champs
- Different Strings - Victims Of Love [EP]
- Beppe Crovella – What’s Rattlin’On The Moon
Frost* – The Philadelphia Experiment
CD1: Intro (2:05), Hyperventilate (6:09), The Forget You Song (2:37), Wonderland (4:55), Falling Down (6:24), Black Light Machine (10:39), Experiments In Mass Appeal (9:18), Snowman [Tenori On Version] (6:26), Story Time (1:57) (which is in fact an introduction to), Pocket Sun (5:02), Saline (6:15), Dear Dead Days (7:04)
CD2: Milliontown (27:24), The Other Me (7:20), The Dividing Line (16:43)
DVD: The Dividing Line [5.1 Mix], RoSFest Documentary...
Ladies and gentlemen
You can relax now
Your world is now officially a better place!
(The Dividing Line)
Frost* are a popular music combo, who make pleasingly progressive sounds when they pluck, pound, prod and hit their instruments. And they do all this plucking, pounding, prodding and hitting with glee (you can buy it in tins you know). And relish. They have made two long-playing studio records since 2006. Which is about one every two years. Give or take.
This new live album, recorded @ RosFest in the United States of Good Ol’ God-Fearing America is, dear friends, a complete and absolute majority winner on a number of levels. So I apologise in advance to Conserv-o-liberals and fence-sitters everywhere when I proclaim this is the best “modern” prog live album I’ve heard since ForEver.
First there’s the best, and funniest, introduction to a gig you’re ever likely to hear. So funny in fact that when I first heard it a little bit of wee came out.
Then you’ve got joyous, near note perfect live versions of Hyperventilate, Snowman, The Other Me, Black Light Machine and the wonderously epic Milliontown from debut album Milliontown and Experiments In Mass Appeal, Pocket Sun, Saline, Dear Dead Days, Falling Down and Wonderland from Experiments In Mass Appeal. Which makes it a great ‘best of’ kind of thing for those new to the band as well as a reminder to fans of just how fabulous these chaps are in the live arena. They don’t play often but when they do they don’t half make a good fist of it. The ‘3J’s and a P’ event at Summer’s End promises to be an absolute belter. Get a baby sitter, or sell the kids to gypsies.
Every track is a standout but check out Black Light Machine or Milliontown if you want to know just how bloody good modern prog can get. The latter, for example, still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. And I don’t have much hair left.
It’s to be differentiated from Frostfest Live which Jonno reviewed recently, since that was a single disc of several of the tracks that appear here albeit in a strictly limited edition CD of 1000 copies. So, in about a hundred years it’ll be worth millions. That had Hyperventilate, Wonderland, Black Light Machine, Story Time, Pocket Money, Saline, Dear Dead Days and The Forget You Song on it, so check out said (excellent) review by the erstwhile Mr O’Boyle, and the aforementioned DPRP reviews of both studio albums for the ins and outs of each respective track on TPE. Not sure though what Jonno means by “tight complex passages”. If it’s what I suspect it is then there are, I understand, soothing balms and ointments available.
For the hardcore fans, and making this an essential purchase (as if it wasn’t already) is one new studio track, written by Mr Godfrey to commemorate the 10th anniversary of fab interweb radio station The Dividing Line. The song, a little tiny bit of which is quoted above, is called, unsurprisingly, The Dividing Line. And it’s ruddy marvellous.
I’m a plastic bag of miracles, a pocket full of lie
Thus we begin. In a galaxy far, far away. Oh wait. That’s something else. Where we do start is in an operatic, climactic frenzy. And this is only the beginning. The prog equivalent of foreplay, I guess. Then things get glam and Marilyn Manson-ish. Jem (I hope he doesn’t mind me calling him that) lets rip with some skirmishing synth here and there but it’s the pounding rhythms (Andy Edwards on drums, who combines stonkingly well with Nathan King on bass) that define the early part of the song before we get our breath back with a quieter vocal section and dreamy synth strings.
Things soon veer back towards the mentalist end of the spectrum again with electric violin (courtesy of Mark Knight), frenzied keyboards and a backward speaking section before a Transatlantic/Beard section puts things back on a more traditional, proggier keel. Or even a more lanotidart, reiggorp leek.
Full on Frost* riffage takes over, with tortured soloing (Godfrey, John Boyes and “Mrs.” John Mitchell are all credited with geetars so I don’t quite know who to credit) leading into the haunting vocals of (new to my ears) Tara Busch in a lovely duet with Dec Burke before Floydian slide guitar, sampled sound effects and an abrupt finish.
What a song. Enough to make a wife-beating drunkard forget about the football. And that’s just the ones who have been playing.
And, rounding things off we have a bonus DVD that comes complete with a 42 minute documentary that goes behind the scenes in the run up to the RosFest gig, plus “laugh out loud” out takes and a 5.1 surround mix of The Dividing Line. If you have a ‘things to before I die list’ then add ‘beg, borrow or steal a proper surround sound system to listen to this’ to it. I’ve got ‘Swedish twins’ and ‘tarmac a traveller’s drive’ still to do by the way.
As a brief aside, I’ve got to say that hearing the album your view of Nick (and his beautiful locks – listen to the intro) D’ Virgilio as one of the best drummers in the cosmos will no doubt be reaffirmed – as the DVD documentary reveals he had about two days to rehearse all this stuff with the band and it’s not, let’s face it, simple music.
Four reasons, then, why you should sell your cat (or a kidney) to buy this. Two CDs, one DVD and pictures of the band dressed up as Battle of Britain pilots. What’s not to like? To quote from Wonderland, “it’s so right it’s so right”. Or as an audience member shouted after Black Light Machine “I think we just got frost*ed”. Yes, you did.
Conclusion: 10 out of 10
Motorpsycho – Heavy Metal Fruit
Tracklist: Starhammer [Feat. The Electric Psalmon] (12:57), X-3 [Knuckleheads In Space] / The Getaway Special (9:03), The Bomb-Proof Roll And Beyond [For Arnie Hassle] (6:01), Close Your Eyes (3:39), W.B.A.T. (9:43), Gullible's Travails [Pt. I - IV] - I. Eye All-Seeing, II. The Elementhaler, III. Circle, IV. Phoot's Flower [A Burly Return] (20:42)
Jon Bradshaw's Review
I’m not going to go into a detailed history of Motorpsycho, they’ve been around for over 20 years, released umpteen albums and EPs, found little commercial success outside of their Norwegian homeland, or Northern Europe at least, and remained stoically experimental, eclectic and alchemical in their approach. We haven’t touched them since 2001’s Phanerothyme which received a lukewarm reception and it’s a shame that we’ve neglected, for whatever reason, their subsequent output. That album marked the middle of a particular phase in Motorpsycho’s writing style that only lasted for three or four albums and they’ve since released four more that are different in style and perhaps more appropriately worthy of our attention here at DPRP. If you want to learn more about the band’s genesis and evolution, Wikipedia has a good entry but there are plenty more internet sources to investigate out there.
So what of Heavy Metal Fruit? The title is borrowed from a lyric in Blue Oyster Cult’s track Me 262 (on the album Secret Treaties) and shares a little of that recording’s vintage, up-tempo, sweetly harmonised, hard-rock formula. Primarily though, what Motorpsycho accomplish are five tracks of full-blown progressive space rock and interstellar psychedelia, tinged with vintage metal and classic rock which bookend Close Your Eyes, a piano-driven ballad that showcases Kare Vestrheim as guest keyboardist. Even this track, a calm and welcome respite in an otherwise foaming maelstrom, also retains its connection to the psychedelic era in that it sounds reminiscent to Because from The Beatles’ Abbey Road. The other players are founding members Bent Saether (bass) and Hans Magnus Ryan (guitar) joined once again by drummer Kenneth Kapstad who first played with them on 2008’s Lucid Little Moments, adding his superb talents to the line-up.
Opening with the infectious, intoxicating, ecstatic chunk and groove of Starhammer, Motorpsycho demonstrate right from the off how deeply they can mine simple musical ideas in search of the sonic mother lode; plunging us into subterranean darkness, charged with danger and tension then resurfacing, providing both relief and bearing precious metals. In this opener we ride shotgun with Tony Iommi-like trilled riffage over thick bass chords and a melody that makes me think of Led Zeppelin, but I can’t identify exactly why. The centrepiece of the song is a long and gorgeous passage of gliding, silvery guitar spiralling around the occasional cascade of Rhodes piano, supported brilliantly by heavy bass and drum patterns that shift and morph with mercurial fascination. The whole thing rises and falls; relaxing into drifting and sinking waves of sound that then build in intensity and urgency. Rinse and repeat, but this time even more intensely and urgently. When the refrain kicks back in after this excruciating crescendo of tension, the release is joyous.
X-3 [Knuckleheads In Space] / The Getaway Special) pumps along in hi-tempo recalling early Monster Magnet and the vocal comes over like Spiritualized meets Golden Earring or, (if you know them) the brilliant Rose Hill Drive as the lyric implores:
Won’t you fly us
To the bright shining stars?
Won’t you fly us
Past the Moon and past Mars?
Again the rising wave of tension-inducing, whirling, gauzy noise recalls Sonic Youth and signals what would appear to be the end of the track, but it’s not. Suddenly we drop into a laid-back jazz fusion groove with liquid, slippery guitar in a contrapuntal arrangement with mellow trumpet supplied by Matthias Eick (Jaga Jazzist). Very tasty this. The insistent and infectious grove of The Bomb-Proof Roll And Beyond [For Arnie Hassle] is underscored by a gentle Floydian progression on electric Rhodes with a swirling backdrop of star-spangled percussion. This sets up a radiant fugue-like vocal arrangement where multiple vocal harmonies befitting Yes or Spock’s Beard herald the descent into a distorted and unsettling freak-out of noise and sonic textures. Cue the three minutes and five seconds of shambling and neurotic jazzy inflections that aimlessly fluster and muddle their way to the beginning of W.B.A.T. The track itself is a slightly ponderous and repetitive riff but has a lovely celestial chorus that almost manages to compensate for the awful introduction. This pales quickly into significance relative to Gullible’s Travails which is a 20 minute epic in four parts that move through classic space rock a la Man in Part I, into a delicate and acoustic Part II which is lyrically compelling, being about an ageing man who has had enough of life’s struggles and wants to ‘go’; it’s sonically exceedingly fragile and prominently features Hanne Hukkelburg on backing vocals before bleeding into Part III which is another gradual build-up of heavy, pulsing rhythms underpinning layers of pysched out guitars and keys, unusually metered in 7/4 before Part IV washes in on a symphonic tide of gloriously orchestrated strings and brass – breathlessly beautiful it is too. If this is, as I suspect, a musical interpretation of death, in this case the eponymous Gullible’s, and if Motorpsycho have got it right, then we can all look forward to a wonderful, wonderful exit from this life.
What we have here in tracks one and six is thirty minutes of stunning, absorbing, transcendent, progressive, space rock that I would recommend to you absolutely wholeheartedly, regardless of your particular prog leanings. There’s a gleeful, knowing charm that smirks playfully from behind the music, mindful of its intentions and deliberate in its formula; conscious of its roots, revelling in its mastery and effect. This leaves another half an hour of music that’s a bit hit and miss with some truly excellent moments and some truly aimless, meandering noise. To be frank, I can totally live without the noise, it just seems pointless to me. It’s been done before by so many other bands over the decades and nothing in my mind is ever going to trump the shock of Orange County Lumber Truck by Zappa And The Mothers (Weasels Ripped My Flesh). 40 years on it doesn’t seem reactionary, revolutionary, shocking, or clever. Even so, I’ve been listening to Heavy Metal Fruit since March and it has had some heavy rotation over the weeks. Personally, I love it but I have to be cautious as the whole prog/not prog debate weighs on my conscience. If you are even remotely interested in Space Rock or Psychedelia, get your hands on this, I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I do.
Tom De Val's Review
It’s quite appropriate that Norway’s Motorpsycho were named after a Russ Meyer film – like the eccentric director, their music defies easy categorisation, and whilst they’ve created a cult audience for their work, widespread commercial acceptance (at least, outside their own country) still seems a long way off.
Motorpsycho were formed back in 1989 by the core duo of Bent Saether (bass/ guitar/ keys/ vocals) and Hans Magnus Ryan (guitar/ keys/ vocals) and have been pretty prolific since, at many points in their career producing at least an album a year, if not more. One of the reasons for their productivity must be the sheer variety of musical styles they cover – I can think of metal, psychedelia, space rock, prog, jazz, hard rock and pop of the top of my head – and that could just be in one song! This means that one Motorpsycho album is rarely that similar to the next, yet like the best bands they have managed to create a sound which is distinctly, if somehow indefinably, theirs – for instance, if you read the DPRP review of their 2001 Planerothyme album (the only previous release we’ve covered on the site) and compared it to this one, you’d be hard pressed to imagine it was the same band – yet if you listen to both works, it would be far more apparent that it was.
The band’s previous peak was probably around the mid-90’s, when they were (briefly) aligned to the burgeoning alternative rock/ grunge movement sweeping all before it at the time. The mid part of this century saw a distinct reduction in activity, yet the arrival of the versatile, technically gifted drummer Kenneth Kapstad in 2007 seems to have re-energised the band and re-ignited their creative spark – Heavy Metal Fruit is their third full-length since then, and, whilst I can hardly claim to have heard all of their previous output, it is easily the best, in terms of both artistry and song structure, of those I’ve heard.
Starhammer opens in a very ‘rock n’ roll’ way with a minute of silence – or more accurately, near silence, as close listening on headphones identifies some gentle guitar picking. The song soars into life with a bombastic, symphonic riff that’s part Kashmir, part Twentieth-century Schizoid Man, before the vocals kick in and the guitars take on a rawer, more hard-edged feel. The majority of the song, though, is taken up by what is presumably a part-improvised jam; based around a probing rhythm section, the skeletal guitar work is subject to plenty of wah-wah and reverb to give it that trademark psychedelic feel. The jamming builds in intensity, before the song floats into more spacey, ambient waters. Out of this sound wash a grooving bassline emerges, with the guitar now providing flurries of sound – there’s a definite kinship in this section with Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive. The song eventually comes full circle, ending with a reprise of that big opening riff.
V-3 [Knuckleheads In Space] rips along at quite a notch – it’s southern-tinged boogie rock recalls Scottish band Primal Scream’s own US-inspired early 90’s album Give Out But Don’t Give Up (itself heavily influenced by early 70’s Rolling Stones). The vocals appear to be a knowing pastiche of American ‘hipster cool’, and there’s a strong, soulful chorus and plenty of Hendrix-inspired guitar histrionics. This segues into The Getaway Special, a loose, pretty funky jam, with a (presumably keyboard-generated) trumpet doing some call-and-response with the guitars. There’s plenty of spacey whooshing and bleeping as the song reaches its conclusion.
The Bomb-Proof Roll And Beyond is more reigned-in, based on a churning groove with some nice Floyd-ian organ and mellow group harmony vocals (in fact, parts of the song recall the Floyd epic Echoes). The vocal effort is intensified on the powerful chorus. There’s a strange sound collage placed directly in the middle of the song, which might seem odd were it not for the fact that Motorpsycho do like to throw their audience curveballs on a quite frequent basis. There’s some superb a capella vocal harmonies to close out the song. This is followed by Close Your Eyes, a surprisingly straight forward ballad based around sparse piano and fragile vocals, and recalling the likes of Radiohead or Muse at their most introspective and stripped-down.
W.B.A.T. kicks off as a fairly frenetic jam based around an up-front rhythm and some sustained guitar soloing, before settling into a lumbering hard-rock groove, in the vein of early 70’s Deep Purple or Black Sabbath (in fact its not dissimilar to Sabbath’s A National Acrobat). Eventually the song arrives at a trippy, harmony-rich chorus which has echoes of vintage Gong.
The album ends with the four part epic, Gullible’s Travails (got to love the band’s way with words!). The first part sees the band gradually establishing the key melodies, which recur throughout the piece, and is dominated by some nicely clipped riffing and smooth, soulful lead vocals. The second part sees things taken down a notch and is dominated by some gentle acoustic strumming and flute-like sounds from the keyboards, with the vocals having a very fragile feel to them. This segues into a powerful, tight groove around which the band weave some electronica-style sounds and squalling guitars. The song gradually acquires a more symphonic feel, before returning to the main melody established at the start, over which are laid some fine guitar solo’s and ever-more-passionate vocals.
Overall, Motorpsycho have come up with a winner with Heavy Metal Fruit. Highly varied yet never directionless, well-structured when it needs to be yet with plenty of room for improvisation and instrumental virtuosity, and stuffed with memorable moments, this should appeal to a wide cross section of progressive rock fans. Twenty years in to what has already been an impressive career, the band seem to have hit on a new golden age, and it will be very interesting to see what they come up with next.
Kingcrow - Phlegethon
Tracklist: The Slide (2:38 ), Timeshift Box (3:47), Island (5:16), The Great Silence (2:24), Lullaby For An Innocent (6:15), Evasion (5:01), Numb [Incipit, Climax & Coda] (8:47), Washing Out Memories (6:06), A New Life (4:55), Lovocaine (4:39), Fading Out Pt III (6:22), Phlegethon (9:37)
Italian rockers Kingcrow deliver their fourth full-length album with Phlegthon and again like their 2006 album Timetropia the album has a theme and as such can be named a concept. The band itself has changed in a few places from the band that made Timetropia, so time to reacquaint is necessary - here it goes. We have Diego Cafolla on guitar, Thundra Cafolla on drums, Cristian Della Polla on keyboards, Ivan Nastasi on guitar and the newbies for this album Francesco D’errico on bass guitar and Diego Marchesi on vocals.
Kingcrow have been around since 1996 and still seem to be working under the radar of most of the progressive rock world - including myself. Before this album I had heard of the band but never paid much attention to them. This may have a lot to do with how the band has been marketed thus far - as heavy metal progressive. Which in my opinion absolutely misses what Kingcrow is about and I would much rather label the band as progressive rock in general. Why? I hope to shed a light on this during the review of this CD.
The album starts with the track The Slide. Nearly forgot to mention that the concept is a story about Phlegethon and according to Diego Cafolla:
"The concept behind “Phlegethon” is about what we are in terms of how much our life experiences build our personality and the way that can affect our thoughts about others. So the story behind is about a dysfunctional subject, his own walk through life and the way his experiences modify his personality. Obviously there is an entertaining factor too so “Phlegethon” is a kind of psycho–thriller."
As with Timetropia the artwork helps build the story. To continue with The Slide, the opening sees a setting near a seashore; you can hear the tide. Imagine two people at the seaside (cover), slowly as the music emerges and the story is told we learn that an accident has happened at the cliff. A tragic event forever changing lives. A first encounter with death. A deep soundscape of keyboards, then proceding into an overture where all join in with the vocals telling the story.
After this introduction we are taken on a fast journey through time and space. The song appropriately called Timeshift Box is an instrumental piece containing all elements one expects; guitars dominate with both players, Diego and Ivan, doing a great job.
The story then takes us to the next chapter and it is a though the characters find themselves upon an island in time and space, so close together, yet so far away from each other. Islands is a song sung in an almost chanting way, with a fine melody line and with acoustic guitar playing (Spanish sounding) near the end of the track.
The Great Silence is beautifully introduced by keys and guitar, a chorus starts of the song in a classical way, after that the voice goes over into a fierce voice filled with anger and frustration - not able to do something.
The journey continues with Lullaby For An Innocent and the title implies a beautiful song full of tranquillity. You are being served; dual vocals, lyrics sung beautiful, strong melody lines and an emotional guitar solo. This is a song so very peaceful and yet so intense and with real beauty. Again a very beautifully played piece of acoustic guitar, absolutely mind blowing.
Moving on with a neo-classical song Evasion, keyboards taking off soon followed by guitars. Diego Machete has already shown his melancholic and furious voice, now he sings this track in a real neo classical style. Evasion is carried forward by a beautiful melody, great guitar, keys, and pounding drums. A video was shot for this song and can be seen once you enter the Kingcrow site.
By now we are completely Numb of everything that has happened. All is continued in a more alternative rock style, another great song, good melody and it all works once more. But before I continue reviewing all the songs in the same fashion - one superlative after the other - I will just stop here and merely say that I could not find a flaw on this album.
This is highly underrated band and with Phlegthon Kingcrow have succeeded making a true masterpiece. Personally I now feel the need to check out their back catalogue as this to me it was a first encounter, but what an encounter. Phlegthon has entered my top 10 albums with a bullet for the number one spot. I have not heard anything better so far this year.
I wanted to give pointers as to which band(s) they could be compared to and sure there are always familiar sounding bits, but my overall conclusion is that they have a sound of their own. So in conclusion this is a "must have" for all you proggers out there, it is absolutely superb.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Day Six – The Grand Design
Tracklist: Massive Glacial Wall (9:02), Lost Identity (9:01), Castel Gandolfo (6:29), Inside (16:27), Fergus Falls (7:40), A Soul´s Documentary (4:46), Age Of Technology (8:08), 7th Sign (7:02), In The End... (3:40)
It has taken an eternity for this album to see the light of day. The debut offering from this Dutch quartet came out in 2004. Eternal Dignity was a very promising slice of traditional ProgMetal with a modern and atmospheric twist. I remember them leaving a good impression when I caught their appearance at the first Headway Festival in Amstelveen in 2003.
Initially it seemed like the follow-up would appear quite quickly. A two-track demo of huge promise came my way in 2005. It featured two of the main songs to be found here with the recording appearing to be ‘ready to go’. The band toured constantly across their home country, yet by the time of their appearance at the ProgPower Europe festival in 2007, the ‘new’ album had still to be released – even though its songs made up around half of their live set.
The band’s website gives no reasons for the long delay but finally in 2010, thanks to those dedicated people at Lion Music, I finally have the second Day Six album in my hands.
One of the most original and fresh-sounding progressive metal bands to emerge in the past decade, Day Six produces a mammoth sound of great scope, detail and depth.
I find it impossible to meaningfully compare them to any other band. Their sound is equal parts heavy and light, dense and sparse. They make great use of dynamics and textures. It’s one of those albums you really have to sit down and listen to without distraction. A real grower of the type that will garner repeat listens over many years.
There are some colossal guitar riffs which wouldn’t be out of place on a Redemption album. There are some great acoustic segments which would fit with the recent output of Fates Warning. The frequent synthesised textures sometimes conjure up thoughts of Pink Floyd and sometimes of Opeth. There’s a bluesy feel at times, some NeoProg and even a few minutes of ambient jazz. A modern interpretation of early-period Rush is another possible verdict.
The band’s complex but clever arrangements ensure you never quite know where a song is going to twist. Yet – and this is the key to its success – all of these disperse elements have been combined in a totally coherent fashion. The fact that The Grand Design is very much a successful sum of its various parts is hevaily due to the unique, dynamic voice and guitar of Robbie van Stiphout who superbly ties all the ends together.
The combination of heavy guitar and ambient keys sets the scene with a great atmosphere on the opening track. Its subtle melodies and hooks continue into the second song, Lost Identity. Broodingly introspective, the use of a sax towards the end is a clever addition to the atmosphere.
Castle Gandolfo is more aggressive, yet the off-beat, jazzy, ambient mid-section keeps you guessing. The riff which provides the central theme to the epic Inside is one of the album’s highlights. However you have to get well inside the album until you reach its peak. Age Of Technology has been with me since the original demo. It’s such a well constructed song, with a clever little hook, that its appeal has never dimmed.
Lyrically this is a concept album which focuses on an extra-terrestrial spaceship that has been found in an Antarctic lake. The storyline follows five weather scientists who discover it and then begin a dark struggle to bring the truth to the world despite the plans of the secretive government.
Where the album falters is where the band has failed to be concise enough in its song writing and playing. Here and there certain instrumental sections just drag on repetitively for too long. Inside could have been drawn to a close four minutes earlier and had a greater impact. The closing instrumental says everything it has to say in the first 90 seconds.
The mid-section also struggles with two songs (Fergus Falls and A Soul's Documentary) that are very similar in their style and in their lack of a memorable hook or riff to hold my attention for almost 13 minutes. On both songs I feel the songwriting has been given less importance than the story-telling. As a result, every time I listen to this album my attention wanders during the middle and walks off entirely before the end.
However, as the remainder of the album is of such quality, I can live with those faults. With their second album, Day Six has confirmed their place as a top quality progressive metal band. One that is able to create its own unique identity through music that can challenge and entertain in equal measure.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Also Eden - Differences As Light [EP]
Tracklist: Seeing Red (8:27), Oud En Nieuw (6:06), Reality Cheque [i. Fool's Gold ii. Dead Reckoning iii. Rainbows End] (10:20)
I have been a big fan of Also Eden since seeing them perform their first live gig in 2005. Having watched them grow in confidence and ability over their first two albums About Time released in 2006, and 2008’s Its Kind Of You To Ask, I was disheartened on hearing that founding member and vocalist Huw Lloyd–Jones had left the band at the beginning of 2010. Today Also Eden consists of Ian Hodson (keyboards and vocals) Simon Rogers (guitar and vocals) Steve Dunn (bass) Dave Roelof (drums) and new vocalist Rich Harding.
Differences As Light is an EP containing 3 new pieces of music featuring replacement vocalist Rich Harding, and the first thing I should say is that I really should not have worried. With the new tracks on this CD, we see that the band have a new energy and slightly different direction. There is a heavier edge to the music, which enhances their blend of powerful, melodic and orchestrated instrumentation and thoughtful and evocative vocals and lyrics.
Seeing Red is the first track on the EP and opens with a tranquil guitar led intro before roaring into a superb keyboard/guitar riff, instantly getting the hairs on your arms standing up. This leads into the powerful and theatrical vocal section reminding me a little of Steve Hogarth of Marillion. The quieter moments are balanced with some fantastic crescendos, really showing off the power and range of Rich Harding’s voice. The overall guitar/keyboard refrain is highly catchy and sticks in the mind, weaving its way throughout the course of the track until its fade out.
Oud En Nieuw, track two, and something completely different! Here we have a much more mellow and reflective piece with lyrics talking about the turn of the year, taking stock of the past and looking to the future. Subtle piano, together with acoustic guitar, meander through the song with the addition of violin to add texture.
Reality Cheque is the third and final track on the CD and is a stomping multi-paced prog’ classic split into three parts. This to me is the stand out track. Although not as immediate as the first track it’s a real grower. Part one is called Fool’s Gold and features a strong vocal melody with multi-layered guitars leading into a flowing lyrical guitar solo. Part two is called Dead Reckoning and is full of staccato vocals and stuttering aggressive riffs, mechanical keys and heavy drums and bass all careering along at a frantic pace. Rainbows End is the concluding part, and to my mind the best bit. Changing the mood again, it opens with a haunting single voice before fading into fantastic (shiver down the spine) harmonies, which slowly build to an instrumental climax of restrained power and beauty.
This is a great EP and I can’t wait to hear a full album of new music. Although all the classic Also Eden sounds are in place, the new energy and heavier sound give them an added dimension. You can still detect their roots - Marillion, Pallas, IQ, Genesis etc, but they are forging a sound, which is unique to them, being powerful, melodic, theatrical and thought provoking. Long may it continue!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Flash – Out Of Our Hands
Tracklist: Open Sky (0:41), None The Wiser [King] (3:20), Farewell Number One [Pawn] (1:40), Man Of Honour [Knight] (4:45), Dead Ahead [Queen] (4:40), The Bishop (4:21), Psychosync: Escape, Farewell Number Two, Conclusion (4:53), Manhattan Morning [Christmas 72] (6:25), Shadows [It’s You] (3:18)
In April 1970 guitarist Peter Banks had the dubious distinction of being the first person to be unceremoniously discharged from the ranks of Yes. Following session work and a brief stint in Blodwyn Pig he formed Flash in August 1971 following a phone call from vocalist and Roger Daltrey lookalike Colin Carter. They brought in bassist Ray Bennett and drummer Mike Hough to occupy the engine room along with unofficial fifth member and keyboardist Tony Kaye. Kaye had recently followed Banks out of the Yes back door and stayed around long enough to appear on the 1972 self titled album Flash before drifting off to form his own band Badger. Flash signed to the Sovereign label on the strength of one song and the successful debut album was followed by In The Can later that same year and in 1973 their third and final album Out Of Our Hands.
By this point Bennett had established himself as the band’s principle songwriter even though Banks’ distinctive guitar technique still dominated. Although a prog band of the traditional school, they were first and foremost tunesmiths featuring the high pitched voice of Carter (sounding not unlike a young Jon Anderson) supported by West-Coast flavoured harmonies. With every track bar one coming in at under the five minute mark they were also free of the excesses (and ironically the successes) indulged by much of 1973’s prog fraternity which included Tales From Topographic Oceans from Banks’ former band. And with an overall playing time of less than 35 minutes it was lean even by 70’s vinyl standards.
Banks’ low key instrumental opener Open Sky provides a brief prelude to Bennett’s antiwar song cycle headed by None The Wiser. It’s a strong song with a measured but pronounced riff not unlike Floyd’s Have A Cigar before opening up for some fast but tuneful playing. The overripe vocals have a tendency to swamp the otherwise fine instrumental work in my opinion before making way for Farewell Number One, a plaintiff song with a Beatlesish air about it. Man Of Honour with its distinctive banjo intro is another memorable song with robust harmonies and some wonderfully melodic lead bass lines from the composer. The lively acoustic guitar picking from Banks rounds off what is for me the highlight of this collection. It’s a song that would have also sat comfortably on the debut Yes album. Dead Ahead benefits from infectious instrumental work, a memorable guitar hook and ambitious counterpoint harmonies. The strident instrumental break around the midway point is almost identical to a similar section in Genesis’ Dancing Out With The Moonlit Knight, a song that coincidently appeared that same year. The Bishop features a galloping intro rather like a TV western theme leading to a chunky guitar riff and although the delivery is certainly lively with solid drum fills from Hough, overall the song lacks a little weight in the bottom end.
Less ambitious but still nonetheless effective is the Banks/Bennett composition Psychosync and although it’s in three parts it still weighs in at less than 5 minutes. It begins promisingly with Escape which is reminiscent of Wishbone Ash’s interpretation of Vas Dis with its buoyant, staccato riff and rapid fire guitar lines. The middle section Farewell Number Two echoes Yes once more with dare I say it almost Howe like guitar phrasing whilst the aptly titled Conclusion accelerates to a rhythmic instrumental close.
The two Carter penned tunes have been bundled together at the end of the album and for me are slightly less satisfying than what’s gone before. Manhattan Morning has a jazz vibe thanks to a relentless King Crimson style guitar riff that’s closer in spirit to Banks’ solo album Two Sides Of Peter Banks, also released in 1973. The frantic intro to Shadows [It’s You] and the weeping guitar line that follows are clearly influenced by Jan Akkerman, a musician much admired by Banks. Carter’s catchy choral refrain rounds things up on a suitably upbeat note.
This final offering from Flash proved to be a very approachable and likable album. Unlike many of the prog releases at the time it gave little concession to the rising popularity in massed keyboards allowing guitar, bass and drums to do much of the talking which was true to Banks’ original intention for the band. After two years of intense playing, the band had undoubtedly developed a chemistry which was brought to an abrupt halt by Banks’ departure. Without the presence of their erstwhile guitarist the rest of the band were reluctant to sign to a new record deal and soon drifted apart. More recently Bennett and Carter resurrected the band and although Banks refused to participate, they currently exist as a live unit with Bennett switching to guitar and the addition of three new members.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Sam Gopal - Escalator
Tracklist: Cold Embrace (3:41), The Dark Lord (3:16), The Sky Is Burning (2:32), You're Alone Now (3:43), Grass (4:04), It's Only Love (4:19), Escalator (2:51), Angry Faces (4:04), Midsummer Nights Dream (2:15), Season Of The Witch (4:26), Yesterlove (4:58) Bonus Tracks: Horse (3:34), Back Door Man (3:07)
Sam Gopal, the band named after their Malaysian tabla player, were notable for three main reasons: they had no drummer; they were managed by Robert Stigwood (alongside Cream and The Bee Gees); and featured Ian (Lemmy) Willis (Kilminster) on vocals and lead guitar. Gopal had acquired a bit of a name for himself in the underground scene with his first groups, The Sam Gopal Indian Group/Blend and Sam Gopal Dream, performing at all the major psychedelic events in the late sixties with Jimi Hendrix himself even filming one of the latter group's performances and subsequently jamming with them on stage. At the end of 1968 Gopal assembled a new band featuring Lemmy (who famously roadied for Hendrix which is possibly how he was introduced to Gopal), rhythm guitarist Roger D'Elia and bassist Phil Duke. Shortly after forming, they signed with Stigwood who, despite his connections, contracted the band to the very small and short lived Stable label.
In the booklet Lemmy recollects: "I wrote every song on that album in one night on methedrine. Those were the days, eh?" Although several of the tracks were credited to the whole of the group in a display of unity, and an effort to share any royalties accruing from any sales, and a couple of cover versions were included, the statement is inevitably true as it is Lemmy's contributions that have the major impact. Released in early 1969, the overall sound incorporates the prevalent psychedelic influences of the time with Lemmy proving an able guitarist, particularly on the heavier and faster numbers such as Cold Embrace and the excellent title track which shows that Lemmy's lyrical style was formed long before Motorhead with the delightful line "If you think you like me living baby, you're gonna love me when I'm dead"! Midsummer Nights Dream, another out and out rocker, is also unusual as it features a drum kit (drummer uncredited). The drums, surprisingly, don't add anything and make the track somewhat cluttered. You can also appreciate how much cymbals can overcut the guitar, which has long been a bugbear with guitarists such as Robert Fripp.
Lemmy also shows a more tender side on a few love songs, the plaintive The Sky Is Burning, the acoustic Yesterlove, a version of which was recently included on an album of cover versions released by The Lemonheads, and the rather drippy It's Only Love. None are truly exceptional, although The Sky Is Burning does have a sort of Peter Green vibe going on. With a degree of prescience, The Dark Lord and You're Alone Now have a very Hawkwind feel to them, so much so that the latter of these two songs was used as the basis for the classic Hawkwind song The Watcher. The last original track on the album is Grass, which takes as its basis an adaptation of the main riff from Captain Beefheart's Dropout Boogie and is another slower number with some nice guitar work, and no, the grass of the title is not the smokeable kind!
The two cover versions on the album are both very good. Angry Faces, written by Michael Stearns, is prefaced by the sound of a storm (long before Black Sabbath used a similar sound effect to such good effect on their debut album) and features Lemmy in fine voice, while Donovan's Season Of The Witch, which must be one of the most covered of his songs, particularly by non-pop acts, brings the album to a climatic close with heavy bass, a slow but insistent tempo, drums on the chorus and great backing vocals from Sue Glover and Sunny Leslie. A third cover version, Willie Dixon's Back Door Man is included as one of two bonus tracks, both taken from a single released at about the same time as the album. Sam Gopal's version of this standard is rather pedestrian although is much better than the version hacked out by The Doors for example. The A-side of the single was another Lemmy original, Horse which has plenty of good lead guitar work and also has a resemblance to the future Hawkwind sound. Some application of phasing effects to the end of the song defines the era of production!
The sole album by Sam Gopal is decent enough with several high points and relatively few low points. It is largely typical of the late sixties period but has the originality of the tabla replacing, in all but two cases, drums. Certainly of interest to fans of Hawkwind who want to investigate the musical origins of one of that bands most famous ex-members and the source of one of their classic tracks, but also anyone with an interest in music of that period, which I certainly do!
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Les Batteries - Noisy Champs
Tracklist: Noisy Champs (3:39), Sunday And Dimanche (2;46), Identity Parade (1:46), Polar (1:30), Post-Polar (2:06), Dernier Solo Avant L’Autotoute (2:46), White Elegance (5:54), The Letter (1:57), Dernier Rendez-vous Au Gord (2:53), Flintstone (1:52), Maksymenko (2:20), 3 Hommes Et Un Mouchoir (2;13), 3 Legs For 2 Birds (2:06), Supply And Demand (3:04), Stop Those Ideas (2:20), Rosetta (4:11), Vieux Divan (3:20), Le Pad A Papa (2:16), Ondo Martini (4:00), Pocket (3:11), Concoction (4:52)
In 1985 the leader of Etron Fou Leloublan Guigou Chenevier has this idea of creating a trio that was entirely devoted to the art of drums and sticks. With this in mind Chenevier chose Rick Brown (V-Effect, Fish and Roses and Run On) and Charles Hayward (This Heat and Camberwell Now) to be part of this ensemble.
Les Batteries’ Noisy Champs is not an album for those of a faint disposition, having being originally released in 1986. If you are looking for flowing melodies and rhythm, you have stepped into the wrong universe. If you are looking for innovative, captivating and challenging compositional work then this album is for you, but only if you are prepared to put some effort into this album. If you are not interested in drum / percussion heavy albums step away now. This is an album that you will probably have to listen to in chunks, small ones at that, giving respite to work out what the hell is going on, having you scratch your head at times. Hey this is prog so anything goes.
This album moves very much with the ethos of Terry Bozzio et al, where all the beats are felt and perfectly placed, (times by three), the timing being the key element. That may sound like I’m stating the obvious but with the complexity of the pieces presented here; it really is down to that finite detail.
With Noisy Champs it’s not a case of stand out tracks as such, I felt that it was the total contribution of all the parts that created the character, like Frankenstein’ monster, scary but beautiful, lovingly created but misunderstood. Hated by many loved by few.
There are stand out moments on each track, (breaking this album down track by track in my eyes would be pointless), almost like the one note guitar solo, having been perfectly placed, coagulating all the beats and intricacies building texture and structures. There are other forms of instrumentation and vocalisation too on the album but these are only really incidental in the grand scheme of things, the vocalisation has been used to great effect working in parallel with the drum beat and some rather good saxophone work too. At times this is a polyrhythmic album, incidental occurrences working in opposition but complementing the whole structure.
On the whole Noisy Champs is not a bad album with its twenty one well constructed, and innovative tracks, (sixteen original tracks and five bonus), but it is solely aimed at the more adventurous out there. You have been warned?
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Different Strings - Victims Of Love [EP]
Tracklist: Time And Again [radio/alternate version] (4:33), Victims Of Love [radio edit] (4:02), Fireflies [instrumental] (3:51), Cavatina [instrumental] (4:06)
Chris Mallia in the guise of Different Strings' previous work ...It's Only The Beginning (2007) received a positive review here at DPRP, with the criticisms aimed more at the production values rather than the material. I'm happy to report for this release, that Different Strings recorded the material at the Padded Cell studios and the demo quality is not an issue here. This release is a charitable affair, the proceeds of which are going to the family of artist Noel Cauchi, who died in a tragically last year. I have reviewed Victims Of Love from high quality MP3s, so there may be greater sonic values than my PC speaker system offers.
Chris Mallia seems to have an ear for a strong melody which is certainly evident in the two opening tracks. Time And Again is a prog/pop piece with a catchy chorus and a Beatles/Alan Parsons vibe about it. The track is nicely arranged with neat acoustic guitar bookending the track and with a nice refrain for piano and strings in the middle. The title track is in a similar territory and again an infectious track, gradually building into a power ballad. Taking on the vocal duties for this release is Errol Cutajar whose voice nicely compliments the lush arrangements - although on a critical note, there are some intonation issues in the top end of chorus.
The EP concludes with two instrumentals, the first of which, Fireflies is particularly enjoyable featuring acoustic guitar and a distinctly 80s synth sound and melody reminiscent of Vangelis. A somewhat chill-out affair that introduces an ebow to add variation towards the end of the track. Concluding is Cavatina which I'm sure needs no introduction. Personally I struggle with this piece of music, which I suppose is down to the plethora of turgid versions I've heard over the years. I shudder every time I see the song title with images of Hank Marvin flooding into my mind. The version here is no better or worse than any that haunt me...
The two "radio edit" tracks Time And Again and Victims Of Love featured on this EP will form part of Different Strings' forthcoming album Sounds Of Silence - Part I.
Tricky one to rate really - it's an charitable EP with a little over a quarter of an hours worth of music. This said, 75% of the material was enjoyable. I can only wish Chris Mallia success with this offering and look forward to the new album...
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Beppe Crovella – What’s Rattlin’On The Moon
Tracklist: Tarabos (5:10), Chloe And The Pirates (7:56), All White (6:24), The Man Who Waved At Trains (3:54), As If (4:14), Hibou, Anemone And Bear (3:28), Out-Bloody-Rageous (8:36), Pig (4:28), Esther’s Nose Job (6:04), Slightly All the Time (9:32), Leonardo’s E-Mail (4:11), Moonvision (2:17), Many Moons, Many Junes (3:05), Lunar Impression (1:17), Circular Lines In The Air (2:46), Moon Geezers (3:27)
With this CD by famous Arti + Mesteri keyboard player Beppe Crovella I gave myself a hard candy to review. Basically What’s Rattlin’On The Moon is a tribute to another famous keyboard player, former Soft Machine man, Mike Ratledge. So it is not at all surprising that all the tracks have a Soft Machine feeling to them.
In the liner notes with CD it specifically states following: "(no analog or digital synthesizers, or otherdigital keyboards were used on this recording)". Thus stating that when listening to this album you are in for a treat of analog keyboards and I can tell you that there are quite a few present. We have Beppe playing Mellotron, Wurlitzer E200 electric piano, Fender Rhodes Stage 75 electric piano, Hammond Organ M102, Hohner electric piano, Hohner clavinet D6, Rosler grand piano and Farfisa Professional. No need to worry about issues with commercials as I named more than one manufacturer here.
As I already stated in the first line of this review, What’s Rattlin’On The Moon is hard candy and as I do not know all of the originals and therefore I cannot compare these new rearranged songs to the originals. Neither am I a keyboard expert or wizard to be making too many comments the playing or arrangements. I know I like to hear Beppe when he's playing with Arti + Mesteri - he is a fantastic keyboard player. I found myself sitting and listening to this CD, but not being able to keep my attention to the music. The inability to keep my attention also made me decide not to do a track by track review.
I know Beppe Crovella can play and he shows he can on this album as well. However it is simply too, how shall I put this, experimental keyboard wizardry for my ears. Never mind that it is a well produced album, for the keyboard fanatics among us probably worth listening. Anybody else I would not apparoach with caution, I tell you your attention will fade after a few minutes.
Concluding as a keyboard tribute this is well done, but too experimental for me...
Conclusion: 4 out of 10