Reviews in this issue:
- Khatsaturjan – Disconcerto Grosso
- Mystery – One Among The Living
- Antidepressive Delivery – The Best Of Antidepressive Delivery
- Spiritual Beggars – Return To Zero
- Hawkwind - The Xenon Codex
- Aviva - Peer Gynt In Favour
- Stefano Panunzi - A Rose
- Jake Hertzog Trio - Patterns
- El Sledge (+) - Fletcher's Last Night [EP]
- Martini Henry - End Of The Beginning
- Shouse - Alone On The Sun
- Astrovoyager – Symphotronic Lunation
Khatsaturjan – Disconcerto Grosso
Tracklist: Rhyme Of A Dime (4:33), Reality Escapade Saga (6:07), Herculean (18:02), Present Here And Now (4:11), Dusk (5:46), Claims Of ‘No Can Do’ (4:02), The Tunnel (16:02), Travels Led By Chance (4:19)
Khatsaturjan are a Finnish band who formed in 2000 with the specific intention of playing classical music in a rock setting. Their name is derived from and an homage to Aram Khatachurian, the Armenian-born composer whose most famous work (I think) is probably his Adagio from Spartacus which was used as a theme tune for The Onedin Line, (a BBC TV drama in the ‘70s) and surely one of the most memorable and beautiful melodies ever written. You will also no doubt know his extremely famous Sabre Dance. Similarly, his Gayane’s Adagio was famously used by Stanley Kubrick in 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the process of researching this album I did a bit of investigation into Khatachurian and discovered these and other gems were his work and I would definitely recommend getting yourselves a little wet in the same waters.
“That’s all very interesting,” I hear you say, “but what of the band and the album?” Disconcerto Grosso is Khatsaturjan’s second full-length release and the follow up to their debut EP, Aramsome Sums in 2002 and Aramed Forces Of Simantipak which Dave Sissons enthusiastically recommended in 2006. They have persisted with the same vintage symphonic, intricately woven progressive rock for which comparisons to Genesis, Yes and Gentle Giant would seem apposite, but that would be to belie their own startlingly original take on the First Wave Prog of the early to mid ‘70s when our favourite genre was in its unfettered prime. This is a deeply involving and deeply interesting album that was 25 months in the making which also bears some of the hallmarks of a number of the RPI (Rock Progressivo Italiano) cohorts too: melodramatic melancholy and histrionic, passionate extraversion; balladry, exoticism, and the magical union of the traditional and the modern.
Even so, these associations are just to give you a hint of the flavours that have gone into Disconcerto Grosso. What’s more pertinent is the way in which this album exhibits its own genius in a succession of intricate, bold, and daringly original compositions. It would be fruitless of me to go through the album on a track by track basis as every single on of them undergoes so many sophisticated (and not so sophisticated) shifts in style, arrangement and motif that it would be impossible to catalogue them.
At the core of the group is a guitar, bass, and drums with keys set-up, played by Atte Kurri, Jaakko Koikkalainen and Ilkka Pispala, and Ilkka Saarikivi respectively. In fact, all of the band play keyboards (apart from Jaakko), Saarikivi adds cello to his credits, and everybody sings. The instruments have a warm and natural, analogue tone. There’s nothing digital about the production of the music, everything seems to have been geared to capture the living timbre of the instruments through judicious and artful knob-twiddling on amplifiers. Indeed, the production throughout is first-class, from the source tones of the instruments to the mixing and mastering of the whole, all of which was done by the band themselves. The piano, which is the principal keyboard instrument in these tracks, often sounds like an upright which serves to heighten the slightly Bohemian feel of the whole thing. In fact, two of the pieces are built around a sonically simple arrangement of drums, bass and piano only (other keyboard sounds do feature strongly and guitars have a central role too, but the core, the foundation of the sound, is simple). These songs (Claims Of ‘No Can Do’ and large sections of The Tunnel) are not simple in their musicality however. None of them are. You are treated to music which is operatic and theatrical in one track (Rhyme Of A Dime); ribboning strands of torrenting and cascading melodies that create compelling and dramatic acoustic shapes and atmospheres in another (Herculean, which is brilliant). Gorgeous, dreamy and extremely catchy melodies sit side by side with singularly strange, leftfield passages (Reality Escapade Saga – wonderful!). There’s a slight touch of samba in Travels Led By Chance which is sung in English and Portuguese (Matti Muraja guests here along with the Underwater Sleeping Society guitarist Tomi Tiittanen). There’s even a musical chase scene! A section of The Tunnel sounds like it might accompany a silent movie at the moment when the moustachioed, top-hatted, encaped villain ties a distressed damsel to the railway tracks.
Overlaying the ‘core’ sound are a range of synthesised ‘guest’ instruments in each track that are intelligently and sparingly employed for maximum effect. From the ubiquitous (and vital) Hammond B3 to oboes, mellotron flutes, tubular bells, a brass orchestra, pipe organ, Farfisa organ, and a range of mellotron and synth strings, all of which deepen the musical character and symphonic nature of the compositions. Yet, these are as nothing when considered against what I judge to be the album’s most striking and incredible feature, the vocal arrangements. I don’t really want to get into the business of comparisons for this review because I think Kahtsaturjan are as unique as it’s possible for a band to be, but if Queen and Procul Harum were to have got together in the early ‘70s to write some symphonic prog, then the vocals may have sounded something like this. However, this cheapens somewhat the markedly original quality of the vocal arrangements. I totally echo Dave’s comment that:
“The vocal arrangements are slightly eccentric in places – in fact if I had to make a comparison to another band, it would not be Yes or Genesis, but The Enid. The vocals do occasionally remind me of those on The Spell for instance, but Khatsaturjan are better singers, and not quite so quirky as Robert John Godfrey, in case this comparison was putting you off. Overall, the vocals are really striking and memorable.”
I couldn’t have put it better so I haven’t, but I would also add Guy Manning to the mix here – one of the vocalists sounds very like him. I say ‘one of the vocalists’ because all of the band sing so there’s a constantly changing vocal character to the pieces. Some are better than others, it has to be said, and one of them is actually pretty awful in the classical sense of ‘singer’, but do you know what, it works. They each bring the unique individuality of their voice to the game and when you factor in Atte Kurri’s, at times, bizarre, nonsensical lyrics, the quirky nature of some of the singing is more than appropriate. I don’t use nonsensical in any pejorative sense. This is good nonsense, lyrics that Spike Milligan would be proud of and certainly equivalent to Peter Gabriel’s poesy in its chimerical imagination but there’s something a bit more prosaic and even political at play in lot of the lyrical content.
This is an album from a band in full maturity demonstrating highly accomplished songwriting and all-round musical artistry which should be of enormous interest to anyone who likes symphonic prog. If that is your preferred thing, then do not miss this album, it’s an absolute cracker. Curiously, and for me importantly, it can bear close, concentrated listening (which I would anticipate) but it also works really well if you’re doing something else and it’s playing in the background. It creeps into your consciousness and stops you in your tracks, forcing you to listen. Here is a sign of art: something that arrests our attention and wakes us up out of the sleeping ‘zombie’ mode that we ‘function’ in most of the time, forcing us to see the world with fresh eyes. Like I say, political.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Mystery – One Among The Living
Tracklist: Among The Living (1:13), Wolf (5:53), Between Love And Hate (5:53), Till The Truth Comes Out (9:25), Kameleon Man (5:01), Through Different Eyes: [i] When Sorrow Turns To Pain (3:56), [ii] Apocalyptic Visions Of Paradise (1:48), [iii] So Far Away (5:51), [iv] The Point Of No Return (2:21), [v] The Silent Scream (5:57), [vi] Dancing With Butterflies (2:42), One Among The Living (6:27), The Falling Man (7:39), Sailing On A Wing (4:55)
We here at DPRP like Mystery. Their 2007 album, Beneath The Veil Of Winter’s Face received a highly recommended review.
If you’re not familiar with the band, then on this album they comprise: Benoît David (vocals), Michel St-Père (electric & acoustic guitars, keyboards) and Steve Gagné (drums). For One Among The Living, Mystery is joined by a host of guest musicians, including Antoine Fafard on bass as well as Daryl Stuermer, Oliver Wakeman and John Jowitt. No mean feat to attract such prog royalty, who I’m certain don’t lend their talents to any old tosh.
Now, after being tickled by the fact that the spell check threw up Godwit as a suggestion for Jowitt I moved on to conclude that Mystery are now far more than the sum of their parts. A real band, and not some strange hybrid derivative of a myriad tribute bands. Monsieur David’s recent experiences with Yes encapsulate the journeyman made good story that we all, as little boys, must have dreamed of.
I, for example wanted to be David Essex. My therapist’s bills run into the thousands. I played cardboard cut out (thanks Dad) guitar to “Gonna Make You A Star” at the school concert. I had long black curly hair then. I was probably ten.
It should come as no surprise then that Benoit David’s vocals dominate the album. But here is no faux Jon Anderson sound-alike (although said albatross can’t help raising its’ head above the parapet from time to time). Whilst the Bolton maestro’s influence is never far away, the progniscenti will hear Glenn McLaughlin of Iluvatar, or Cary Clouser, or, in places, Geddy Lee. David’s vocals can range across the genres, and are perfectly suited to the neo/symphonic music on offer (bolstered by a few well chosen prog metal – think Rush and Dream Theater - sections).
There’s no Opeth style growling though. Which I’ve told my daughter (when she’s wandered into the cave during one of my metal moments) is how the Gruffalo sounds when he’s hungry. In his DPRP review of the previous album Gerald Wandio suggested David also sounded somewhat like Dennis de Young of Styx, without the operatic excess, and I wouldn’t argue. There’s also a hint of Shaun McGowan of the very most excellent (and criminally overlooked) Mr So & So about the vocal work in places. Suffice to say he’s one of the finest vocalists working in progressive rock today.
David’s recently found fame should not, though, detract from the sterling instrumental work by his band mates, which is top-notch neo/symphonic prog. If anything the Yes thing should bring Mystery to the attention of a wider audience.
The album must surely rank as a contender for album of the year. Vocal and instrumental sections combine with thoughtful lyrics to create a wonderfully diverse selection of songs. For example there’s a lovely Tony Banks style Moog keyboard solo courtesy of Oliver Wakeman on Kameleon Man even though Jowitt’s main bass riff reminds me in places of Big Bottom by Spinal Tap. One Among The Living has fluid guitar runs and choir mellotron. Sailing On A Wing has Daryl Stuermer providing a suitably fantastic guitar solo.
Centrepiece of the album is the twenty-minute plus epic Through Different Eyes, a six-piece suite credited in its entirety to Michel St-Père who wrote everything bar Wolf and Kameleon Man (on which David provided lyrical input). This serves as a timely reminder of the talents of the man who seems to be at the heart of this band. Despite the celebrity of the vocalist. David’s vocals are achingly beautiful, though, and the lyrics reminiscent in places of Hogarth (“in this old dirty town”) at his poppiest and most poignant best. “Neverland” gets a mention too (The Point Of No Return). The aforementioned tune comes on like a mid-90s Rush track, a modern counterpoint to the beautiful choir mellotron that came before. The Silent Scream starts off acoustically, all Wind And Wuthering, with David dropping an octave or too, before that Hackett-inspired guitar starts to fill the empty spaces helped by swelling mellotron. And then after a shorter, quieter interlude a burst of guitar solos erupt that will have you thinking of the erstwhile Mr Rothery.
All in all, it’s got to rate a DPRP recommendation.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Antidepressive Delivery – The Best Of Antidepressive Delivery
Tracklist: In Pine (5:43), Glasses (4:03), Lifekeeper (8:09), Goodbye (3:42), True Love (6:10), Alive (13:49)
According to their own biography, Antidepressive Delivery desires to stand in the tradition of the great progrock bands of the seventies. I would definitely agree that they do so, even though, when I played the first track, In Pine, I thought I had mistakenly just put on a Black Crowes CD. This is due to the (great) vocals on the album, in a style rarely heard in progrock.
In a recent issue of the Dutch magazine iOPages, a discussion was held about the very mediocre vocal qualities nowadays in the genre. True though it might seem in many cases, one particular set of countries seems to be exempt from this generalisation: Scandinavia. Just think about Daniel Gildenlöw (Pain of Salvation), or Tommy Karevik (Seventh Wonder), and you will know what I mean. Antidepressive Delivery is another convincing example of the great vocal capacities in the Nordic countries.
More than that: with their third album The Best Of Antidepressive Delivery, this talented quartet adds a whole new dimension to the vocal tradition in progrock. The lead and backing vocals are all sung by the vocalist and bass player Pete Beck (who joined the band in 2006 for their well received second album Chain Of Foods). The backing choirs sound a bit like what Queen did in the seventies, while his leads are pure blues. Either way, the way Beck sings, is convincing and of an outstanding quality.
Other references that I found are Kansas, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd (Dark Side Of The Moon period) and The Beatles (Abbey Road (Because) period). Somehow, you can even hear a bit of The Rolling Stones (who ever said that the Stones and the Beatles are two separate worlds?!).
But let me say it clearly: Antidepressive Delivery is no clone of any of these bands: their sound is too unique for that. You might call their music ”progressive rock and roll”. Listening for the first time, the rock and roll part is obvious. But soon you discover that the tracks have all but a classic structure. For example, I have not discovered any chorusses in the six tracks. (Although the band sometimes repeats chords, it never repeats lyrics.) Then, you find out that the unfolding stories stand at the basis of the structure of the composition itself. Lyrics reinforce the music and vice-versa.
Once I understood this approach, I started to appreciate the music even more an learned to like the stories Beck tells you, full of the humour and irony that we know from for example Monty Pythons Flying Circus. The stories are about serious issues, but somehow they make you smile. In that sense, the name Antidepressive Delivery couldn’t be chosen better.
If you want to have an impression: try listening to the more than eight minute long monologue by "Death" itself: Lifekeeper. This track includes the finest (passionate) lead vocals and bluesy multivocal choirs, as well as an instrumental finale with Gilmourian guitars (by Christian Broholt) and Wrightian Hammonds and Moogs (by Haakon-Marius Pettersen): brilliant!
The well produced album The Best Of Antidepressive Delivery (to be sure, in spite of the title, it is not a compilation album!) is highly recommendable for nostalgics of the seventies that nevertheless want something fresh and original. Even more so because the album can be downloaded freely: the band was fed up so much with record labels that they decided to make it available on their website. Apparently they hope to earn some money with the vinyl LP they released with their own label in August 2010.
The only criticism I have is that the album (forty minutes) is so short. I hope the next one will not take four years again.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Spiritual Beggars – Return To Zero
Tracklist: Return To Zero [Intro] (0:51), Lost In Yesterday (4:52), Star Born (3:07), The Chaos Of Rebirth (5:21), We Are Free (3:25), Spirit Of The Wind (5:52), Coming Home (3:24), Concrete Horizon (6:02), A New Dawn Rising (4:44), Believe In Me (6:43), Dead Weight (4:50), The Road Less Travelled (3:44) Bonus track on first pressing digipak: Time To Live (4:15)
If there’s one record label that has kept the prog fires burning for the last decade plus then it has to be Inside Out. Their roster of artists reads like a veritable who’s who of the great and the good in the progressive rock and progressive-metal world. And I should know, as I have bought a large chunk of their output over the years. From A.C.T to Ray Wilson (note to Inside Out – get a band whose name starts with a Z…) I’ve bought ‘em all. And now I get to review their latest offering, albeit in MP3 download form. As I’m not that familiar with the band, please indulge me as I paint a picture of who we are going to be listening to this fine evening. Well, it’s fine-ish as I write. Partly cloudy. With a chance of showers…
Spiritual Beggars were formed in 1994 by guitarist Michael Amott (Arch Enemy), who started the band as a side project after he left the (recently reformed) death metal band Carcass. This is their 8th album since that eponymous debut, although there’s been a five-year gap since 2005’s Demons, which they briefly promoted live supporting Dio in Japan. The album features long-term musical companions Ludwig Witt (drums, also in Firebird), Per Wiberg (keyboards, also in Opeth) and Sharlee D’Angelo (bass, also in Arch Enemy and Witchery).
Starting the band up again after a five-year hiatus meant looking for a new vocalist for the group. Amott comments:
“In that sense, it felt like starting over. Our previous singer JB decided to leave the band and to dedicate himself solely to Grand Magus, but we remain good friends. This led to our drummer Ludwig suggesting to check out this singer he had played with in a bar band, Apollo Papathanasio. He is also in a Metal band from Greece called Firewind. But he is a local guy, who lives 20 minutes from my house - Apollo is half Greek, half Swedish. His voice will blow people away, at times he sounds like Dio or Coverdale and he’s got that raw bluesy edge that I love”.
The twelve tracks (the limited edition version digipak additionally includes a cover of Uriah Heep’s Time To Live) fall pretty much into the ‘classic rock/metal’ genre but there’s still enough going on to keep prog-metal fans interested. Fans of capes, mellotrons and wizards (although the short intro is a spacey/psychedelic tease of sorts) might be disappointed but overall the record should float the boat of anyone who likes melodic, tuneful, heavy rock.
Solos aplenty, and bags of Hammond reflect Amott’s love for 1970s classic rock, even though he admits extreme metal was always his first love. Influence wise we’re very much in Black Sabbath/Deep Purple/Whitesnake territory, as well as NWOBHM luminaries such as UFO and Iron Maiden. Amott cites Ritchie Blackmore, Tony Iommi, Michael Schenker and Frank Marino as particular influences on his playing, and it shows. He’s an incredibly accomplished and powerful guitarist and his guitar work dominates the record. Special mention must be made of Papathanasio’s voice too – it’s perfect for this style of music, and put me in mind of Hasse Froberg - a particular favourite of mine - in places.
After the spacey intro, things kick off in a familiar classic rock vein, with a speaker-pounding, chugging riff and we are first introduced to mister P’s awesome voice. A lovely keyboard sojourn segues into the first of Amott’s blistering solos, this one gorgeously restrained, before the bus is off to metal town again.
A couple of standouts include the ‘Sabbath does death/prog-metal’ excellence of Chaos Of Rebirth, drenched in Hammond and with a riff and guitar solos that if you play in the car will have you driving waaay too fast. In fact the choral climax that ends the track will see you off to the pearly gates, as you side-swipe a tractor, with suitable solemnity.
Spirit Of The Wind starts out quietly – yes, we’re in power ballad territory, albeit one with a fantastic repeating drum ‘n’ guitar riff. If you have a lighter, raise it above your head. The guitar solo is suitably bluesy.
Coming Home has an anthemic chorus and Michael Schenker riffage that made me smile a lot (as I approach 46) and remember seeing UFO at Bradford St George’s Hall in 1980 (aged all of 16).
Concrete Horizon is another storming piece of classic Hammond-infused metal with a hugely enjoyable Strangers In The Night-era UFO exuberance. Throughout this record the production is top notch and imbues the music with a live quality.
Dead Weight has another shout aloud chorus, and pant-wettingly good solo and if they can do justice to this material live then Spiritual Beggars will have to be on your must-see gig list.
Album closer The Road Less Travelled doesn’t quite work, though, being the second ballad on offer and after the monster riffage of what’s gone on before the twee mandolin and plinky ponk piano seems like a bit of a let down.
Now, I have one of these brennan digital jukebox things, on which I upload all my review CDs, as well as more wires, cables, amps, speakers and electronic bits and bobs than is healthy, so as I can hear them in as close to an “audiophile” environment as I can afford. I play ‘em in the car and on the laptop too but all my review CDs go on this piece of kit. As well as my own stuff. So, as Spiritual Beggars ends, the machine segues into Transatlantic’s Live In Europe, which I’ve only got round to adding to the machine. And herein lies the rub. Return To Zero just isn’t going to get the pulses racing of hardcore, dyed in the wool prog-monsters. I knew I had to listen to the album again, to give it my full attention (5+ listens is the norm), but I just couldn’t help letting Transatlantic go on to the ‘next’ song. Which as they are half an hour long made for some long nights I can tell you. Bet you can’t guess which label Transatlantic are on can you?
That said, this is a very good ‘classic rock’ album, that I’m sure will find favour with many of you who I’m sure will return to it from time to time. Probably in the car. Just don’t exceed the speed limit, OK? It’s not big and it’s not clever. Unless of course you can get to an unrestricted section of autobahn. Then you have my permission to go well and truly nuts...
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Hawkwind - The Xenon Codex
Tracklist: The War I Survived (5:24), Wastelands of Sleep (4:16), Neon Skyline (2:05), Lost Chronicles (5:34), Tides (2:58), Heads (4:59), Mutation Zone (3:55), E.M.C. (4:53), Sword Of The East (5:25), Good Evening (4:42) Bonus Tracks Ejection (4:36), Motorway City (6:40), Dragons And Fable (3:19), Heads (3:58), Angels Of Death (5:31)
Atomhenge, in conjunction with Esoteric Recordings, continue their Hawkwind reissue campaign with the 1988 album The Xenon Codex, the first studio album since 1985's The Chronicle Of The Black Sword. Somewhat surprisingly, during the past three years the band line-up had remained constant with Dave Brock (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Huw Lloyd-Langton (guitar), Harvey Bainbridge (keyboards), Alan Davey (bass) and Danny Thompson (drums). With a full UK tour booked for April, the group's management decided that new material was needed to promote on the tour so in a rather rushed schedule the band holed up in the Welsh Studios of Loco and Rockfield during February and March and managed to write, record, master and manufacture a new album in time for the live dates. Of course, it helped that the album appeared on the label owned by their management company but even so it was an impressive achievement.
Even more surprising was the quality of the material with opener The War I Survived, based on the Vonnegut novel Slaughterhouse Five, being one of the strongest Hawkwind songs committed to vinyl (as it was then) in many a year. A veritable cornucopia of all of the strongest elements of the band's music crammed into 320 seconds it kicks the album off in great style. The mellower Wastelands Of Sleep continues the trip with some great guitar playing from Lloyd Langton blending brilliantly with the more ambient keyboards. As with Chronicles.... Thompson's drumming is somewhat basic, often uninspired, particularly on Neon Skyline, a brief but compelling rock song which segues neatly into the instrumental Lost Chronicles, a rather lovely keyboard dominated piece with Lloyd Langton again adding a masterful solo whose beauty lies in its simplicity. The track ends with a short reprise of Neon Skyline which provides a break before the next instrumental number, Tides. Thus far the album has been very much a band effort, with credits for the first five numbers belonging to Brock, Brock, Davey, Bainbridge and Lloyd-Langton, respectively.
Heads, a strange tale of a brain (enclosed in a decapitated head) being kept alive in a jar, is rather more pedestrian in nature but follows a somewhat typical template employed by several earlier compositions. However, it becomes obvious that the short timelines allocated for the generation of the album meant that a certain amount of 'filler' material would need to be included, evidenced by the next two tracks Mutation Zone and E.M.C.. The first of these numbers is a rather more experimental number reminiscent of something left off Church Of Hawkwind for being below par while E.M.C. is an endless meander of electronic warbling that is all but superfluous. Fortunately, these are the only two really duff tracks on the album as although Sword Of The East is somewhat on the experimental side of things it is rather a compelling song where Lloyd Langton's guitar again lifts the music to another plane. Final track from the original release, Good Evening, is based on a studio jam with various sound effects added to make the song psychedelic, eccentric and amusing all at once. Although the piece could arguably also be considered as filler material it does have relevance and also shows that the band were not taking themselves too seriously.
As expected from the Atomhenge reissues, previously unreleased bonus material has been added to fill out the CD. On this album there are a collection of five live tracks recorded during the Christmas Tour of 1988, which saw the inclusion of Richard Chadwick on drums and, although unknown at the time, the last appearances of Lloyd-Langton. The live material is of high recording quality and of equally high performance status. The live rendition of Heads is far superior to the studio version and the other, more familiar live numbers are equally as worthy of inclusion, with highlights being Ejection and Motorway City. Dragons And Fables is the only slight disapointment but largely because it sounds out of place and out of context amongst the four other tracks. Overall, another solid album given the excellent reissue and repackaging treatment by the Esoteric crew.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Aviva - Peer Gynt In Favour
Tracklist: Peer Gynt’s Morning (5:38), Ingrid (3:49), Mountain King And His Daughter (4:50), Solveig (4:03), Long Arabian Way (5:10), Anitra (5:02), Ese (7:47), Skaids’ Hymn (1:54), In Favour (5:18)
The cast for this recording is simply Aviva (keyboards, programming and composing). Aviva is the brain child of Russian virtuoso pianist and multi-instrumentalist Dmitri A. Loukianenko.
Loukianenko's two previous albums were reviewed here on DPRP, Rokus Tonalis receiving 7 out of 10 and Nutcracker In Fury receiving 6.5 out of 10. Now we have that difficult third album? Aviva has chosen the work of Norwegian composer Grieg, to re-interpret, re-image, rework, which is a brave step indeed.
Peer Gynt In Favour is unique in its approach, as Loukianenko has modernised the music beyond belief, giving it a new lease of life, not that any of these pieces required life breathing into them, as they are well known and loved classics. He has well thought his plan, executing it impeccably. Purists of classical music aren’t going to be jumping through hoops to praise these recordings, but in the same way, when the likes of Tomita or ELP electrified and re-worked their own interpretation of the classics, I guess in some quarters it was deemed sacrilege, in other quarters it was deemed GENIUS.
Symphonic prog is an area that seems to be growing in popularity, and this is another album that can be added to the list, although to these ears, it has a more off kilter approach that Aviva has taken to this genre, not the straight forward approach, as so expertly been mastered by the likes of The Enid.
What has been created is by no means retro sounding, it’s very much forward thinking in its construction and approach, although elements have been left in, allowing instant recognition of the track. Almost like a remix of your favourite song, having been put in the hands of a visionary, who believes that he can add and created something a bit more unique. Harmony mixed with disharmonic sounds, with 80’s sounding keyboards.
This really is a heady mix of electronic keyboard wizardry, enhanced by what sounds like an electronic drum machine and a whole manner of electronic gadgetry, but not in the sense a showboating. Loukianenko’s obvious love of this genre goes without question, loving creating these pieces. There are no long limbering pieces here; they have all been kept relatively short which for me maximises the effect of what has been created, classical music dragged into the XXI century.
All the tracks presented are excellent in their uniqueness, especially Peer Gynt’s Morning, Mountain King And His Daughter, Ese and In Favour. There is no point in breaking down these tracks one by one; they are well enough known pieces, although you may not know them by name. Loukianenko created this piece of work for the theatre play by Henrik Ibsen.
This for me is going to appeal to fans of Keith Emerson, Mike Oldfield, Tomita, Yes, Rick Wakeman, Jean Michel Jarre and ELP, although tread carefully as at times it will be challenging, as it is not immediate, but when the break through comes you will love it.
Classical music is a genre that has allowed prog to exist today in its base and natural form. Prog fans tend to be very open minded about various musical approaches, which is one of the reasons that make prog so special.
At this moment in time Russia seems to be creating a bit of a wave within the prog world. I have investigated and reviewed several artists/bands from this geographical location, being more than surprised. I think this is another country that will soon be recognised for its high quality prog.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Stefano Panunzi - A Rose
Tracklist: State Of Mind (5:14), Fades (5:08), On Line, Now! (4:13), Child Of Your Time (5:02), I Miss You (6:18), Unreality (5:46), Where Is My Soul (5:52), The Bridge (5:48), Tonight (5:34), Lights And Shades (4:42)
In the wake of his 2005 release Timelines, Italian keyboardist/programmer Stefano Panunzi (Fjieri) returns with A Rose, a ten-track offering of mostly lighter fare on Emerald Recordings.
Panunzi is joined in his latest endeavour by several notable musicians. Among them are vocalist SiRenée (Tuner), guitarist and Warr guitarist Markus Reuter (Tuner, Centrozoon), vocalist Tim Bowness (Centrozoon, No-Man), flautist Theo Travis (Travis and Fripp, Gong, The Tangent, Bass Communion, No-Man, David Sylvian, Cipher, Soft Machine Legacy, and others), bassist Mick Karn (Dali’s Car, David Torn, NiNa, Gary Numan, Kate Bush, Japan, Rain Tree Crow), vocalist and guitarist Giancarlo Erra (Nosound), and a host of other talented musicians and vocalists rounding out the support.
The CD is comprised of seven vocal tracks and three instrumentals. With the exception of Unreality, a slow ambient trip-hop style piece that evokes the recent solo work of Richard Barbieri, the instrumentals are mostly forgettable affairs. So for this review I shall touch upon my favourite vocal tracks from the CD.
State Of Mind features SiRenée on spoken and sung vocals and the song glides in with a symphonic flair evoking Tuscany-era Renaissance and, via the song’s general feel, No-Man. Reuter lays down some guitar drone on this tune and it fades out with some Fripp-like elements.
Speaking of which, Fades, featuring Bowness on vocals, is a forlorn track offering up some wistful flute from Travis. As far as this song’s similarity to other bands goes, with respect to the vocals it should be obvious. Enough said.
The Bridge is a midtempo soulful track showcasing the plaintive vocals of Erra, some mellotron style keyboarding from Panunzi, melodic guitars which sparkle up the song also courtesy of Erra, and some pretty phat bass for your face from Fabio Fraschini. In my music listening experience, with the notable exceptions of Rush and Yes, bass players are often relegated to the background of the mix, but not here. On this recording, Panunzi in the role of producer along with co-mixer Luigi Colasanti Antonelli had the creative vision to bring up the bass guitar elements way up in the mix, which is a good thing.
Some of that seeping bass is played expertly by the capable Fraschini on Child Of Your Time, which offers nicely thick, midtempo drumming from Giampaolo Rao, and a plaintive vocal delivery from Sandra O’Neill.
The performing and producing of the music on this CD is close to top notch. Perhaps some uninspired music composition as it relates to originality, but nonetheless overall a great CD from Panunzi.
The CD cover art and photographs come courtesy of Luigi Colasanti Antonelli. The printing on the gatefold spine is upside-down which I find annoying. The artwork on the cover depicts a close-up of a rose tinted in a yellow sheen. A Mitch Miller pointer, perhaps? Sorry, my bad.
As far as room for improvement on his next release goes, the only area of opportunity I see for Panunzi is to perhaps bring Barbieri and Pat Mastelotto into the fold.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Jake Hertzog Trio - Patterns
Tracklist: McJazz (2:45), Wistfully (5:56), Joining Hands (3:24), Leaves Again (3:49), Not Blues (4:51), Sun Lovers (4:48), What’s New (7:02), Dipole (3:40), Her (4:17), Georgia On My Mind (2:29), I Love You (8:48)
On this album are Jake Hertzog (guitars) is joined by Harvie S (acoustic bass) and Victor Jones (drums) who collectively form the Jake Hertzog Trio and like ever so often in the jazz scene the group is named after its leader. In this case Jake Hertzog. This is the second full album by this young jazz guitarist and his first release on Buckyball Records.
I already hear a lot of you ask why a review about a jazz album on DPRP? Well just because Patterns is an album full of atmospheric tunes flavoured with jazz and a real progressive tone to it. First things first, it is not a very long album but it is awfully strong and completely instrumental. Jake and crew take us all on a spin around the guitar and he sure knows how to play his chosen instrument. Being as young as Jake is, he has a wonderful career lying ahead of him playing jazz/rock/fusion. At his age Jake already belongs among the great jazzy guitar players like Pat Metheny, Al Di Meola, John Mclaughlin to name but a few.
On Patterns we have eleven tracks of which eight are own compositions by Jake Hertzog, which leaves three covers. Well no not covers re-arrangements by Mr HerTzog. And he does a terrific job to. It is very daring to take on a real classic song like Georgia On My Mind and make a new arrangement, but Jake has done so.
The album has not one boring moment, it is a strain of patterns if you will, but with great precision and care, emotions and skill, great melody and superb playing. Still I can only recommend the album to the true lovers of instrumental music or the more jazz/fusion sectors of the progressive community. This being the reason why I cannot go higher than seven out of ten in my numeric conclusion. If I were to rate the same album to a more jazzier publication or readership I would be inclined towards a nine 9 out of ten - easy. It is a fantastic album...
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
El Sledge (+) - Fletcher's Last Night [EP]
Tracklist: Pig Vomit (4:39), Apokalupsis (4:05), Treowth (0:56), Wretched Anchor (1:47), Hunger For Power (2:59), Disembowel (2:31), Baptism Of Fire (4:01)
El Sledge (+) have released this live album that goes by the name of Fletcher’s Last Night which is definitely not for people of easy disposition. This band is a duo that consists of Stephen Sroka (drums) and Matthew Graboski (guitar and voice).
Here’s a history lesson for you, after Matt Graboski released an album called Drag Of The Mask, Martini Henry was formed and then abandoned after having recorded two albums, Airaid and End Of The Beginning. El Sledge was then formed, which featured just Matthew Graboski. From here El Sledge (+) was born when Matthew Graboski added Stephen Sroka to the line up. This is a blend of music that is not afraid to sonically challenge the listener, a dalliance with the sonically heavier end of the musical spectrum, experimental and alternative.
Pig Vomit, the opening track, well what can I say is an aural assault, with its bass heavy guitar effects and pounding drums featuring some very interesting time signatures. One of the first things I noticed on this track is the lack of vocal finesse, what I mean by that its short shouty screamy assaults, although they are only short and not often, they really do reinforce the song title. Musically the track is very strong, but is definitely not ear candy, as you can imagine. There is plenty of nice guitar work featured though, obviously supplied by effect pedals / backing tapes, rhythmic in places and mellow, supported by the very dynamic and versatile drum talents of Sroka.
Apokalupsis is next up and mellows the whole situation down somewhat; opening with Sroka’s repeating drum pattern and Graboski’s mellow guitar rhythm having a really nice lead section. The vocals are effect, heavy, all echo and distant. Once the song has found its feet, it just builds to a powerful crescendo, proving that these two guys can function in a very tight capacity encompassing power and passion.
Treowth is the shortest track on the album, not that there are any long twenty plus minute epics presented here, a meagre fifty six seconds of pure and adulterated rhythmic mayhem, featuring some really tidy drum and guitar work.
Wretched Anchor proves that there is more to the duo than just trying to power your way through a set of songs. Graboski’s vocals are very melodic and quite a surprise, a trick that he could maybe have exploited a bit more, as again this is only another short piece, which segues into Hunger For Power, which does see Graboski capitalise on his vocal dynamics producing a very nice piece indeed. Its passionate, emotional and his pleading vocal dynamic range is impressive, which is held together by the tightness of the two.
So with a track called Disembowel, I can only prepare myself for another assault in the form of Pig Vomit, but to my pleasant surprise, this is not the case. By the time the band have hit their stride, they have really found their feet. Baptism Of Fire is the atmospheric and somewhat a show stopper of a song, brings this unique and quite impressive album to a close. As a track it is a culmination of all that has been played before it, bringing it altogether in perfect harmony, well for this duo's version of harmony, which throughout pleases the appreciative audience attending, no end.
This really is an album that will appeal to the fans of acts such as Flipper, Mr Bungle, Fantomas, all things Mike Patton related, The Melvins and fans of the heavier more abstract approach to musical interludes - and Jeff Buckley. I really like what El Sludge (+) have created here, although it is not an immediate album by any stretch of the imagination, but once you have worked your way through the sonic soundscapes presented, you will be surprised at what a little gem this is. To others this is just going to be an abhorrent cacophony of noise, condemned to the annals of obscurity. Obviously the choice is now yours? You know my opinion.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Martini Henry - End Of The Beginning
Tracklist: End Of The Beginning (3:47), Drag Of The Mask (5:10), Rising Darkness (3:23), The Beast On Hollins Street (4:32), Stand Under The Water In The Crest Depth (6:42), Legion Of The Moose (4:59), God Out Of The Machine (3:52), Airaid (16:10), Mad Mardygan (3:47), March To Darkness (7:08), Gun Pointed At The Head Of The Universe? (8:51)
Martini Henry are a trio consisting of Matt Graboski (guitar and vocals), Garrett Henritz (drums) and Ken Moore (bass). Martini Henry was born out of the ashes of Matt Graboski’s solo outing. The band released two albums, their first called Airaid and this End Of The Beginning. This is an album that spans the work of Matthew Graboski, from his solo days to material that was written between 2004 and 2005, a product that represents the band's output. By all accounts they were quite a live act to experience. Having just reviewed El Sledge (+) Fletcher’s Last Night, which is sonically far removed from the material on this album? Graboski is definitely an artist who doesn’t recognise boundaries having produced a challenging, engaging and thought provoking album.
Tracks 1 – 8 were recorded November 2004 through June 2005. Track 9 was recorded July 2006. Tracks 10 – 11 were recorded October through November 2005.
- End Of The Beginning has an acoustic opening before dropping into some very nice and astute guitar work. Graboski uses his vocals to great effect, proving that he can really hold a tune, with emotion and passion. Moore and Henritz are tightly behind him giving him their full support adding to the piece.
- Drag Of The Mask was the name of his solo album, again having an acoustic leaning with some very obscure lyrics. The acoustic style is both powerful and fascinating to listen to, reminding me very much of Ani Difranco in presentation and style. It’s not long before it all becomes electric and a form of chaos pursues, then dropping back to acoustic mode. This really is a band who knows no boundaries giving the listener something to think about. The whole song is both progressive and alternative in its approach, for me Henritz drumming is the real stand out feature throughout.
- Rising Darkness moves along in a similar fashion as the two previous tracks, sounding deep and meaningful with its strong approach. The repeating guitar structure is held together by Henritz rapid drum soiree’s with Moore’s bouncing bass lines.
- The Beast On Hollins Street confirms that musically this really was a tight and in synch band, with their time changes and approach to song structure, both melodic and engaging. The vocals as ever are very strong as is the musical presentation with the guitars and drums weaving in and out of each other.
- Stand Under The Water In The Crest Depth sees Martini Henry doing what they do best, quirky, tuneful and strong song structures, with everybody giving that proverbial 110%, which reinforces what they have set out to achieve. I really like the feel and sound of Moore’s bass, having depth and soul.
- Legion Of The Moose is a bouncy airy track which has a loose and vague Blues Traveller feel, not quite hitting the higher tones of John Popper or his signature harmonica playing, although it is a very nice presented piece.
- God Out Of The Machine features the eloquent guitar and vocals of Graboski, with its clear passages and sound. The rest of the band take a respite before this track segues into Airaid.
- Airaid opens with the sound of an air raid siren and gun fire, as planes fly across the sky. Being a song based funnily enough on an air raid and the devastation that it caused. This is a very atmospheric piece really showcasing the heady heights that Graboski and company could climb to. It varies in style and approach presenting some really nice progressive sound structures. Through the expertly placed drum rolls and runs breathing life, the bass creates the atmosphere, building the skeleton of the song, with interjections by Graboski. This is a strong and very well thought out and intelligent song, with its varying atmosphere’s, sonic presentations and time changes, I just love this track, for me it crosses all the T’s and dot’s all the I’s. The piece as a whole is just allowed to breathe building on every note as a tour de force. The guitar solo is absolutely stunning as are the rest of the bands contributions; this is as near to perfection as you can get in song writing circles, in my eyes. There is not one note out of place, not one weak tone, making it a contender to be considered for the, “one of the best songs ever list”.
- Mad Mardygan is a come down after the previous track seeing the heavy use of the acoustic and vocals. As ever the standard of playing is very high and pleasant to listen too.
- March To Darkness as with the rest of the album, the main building block has been the acoustic work, with all the other instrumentation being built around it. March To Darkness is no different, for me being one of the weaker tracks on the album, but this is a small price to pay for what else has been presented.
- Gun Pointed At The Head Of The Universe opens with a cruising bass line and drum beat that slowly builds, taking the lead throughout this piece with Graboski’s guitar not being as in your face as on other tracks on the album. His vocal presentation is less stated as well, sounding like Tyla as he does on a few of the tracks on the album.
On the whole the album has some very nice instrumental work, with Graboski, Moore and Henritz working well together as a trio. Whether it’s the bouncing acoustic work, the dexterous and nice lead guitar work, the rhythmic and well constructed bass work or the tireless drumming, one thing you can be sure of is that when you throw in some rather excellent vocals, you end up with one very strong album. This is what the band had set out to do, achieving their said goal. It is tight, intelligent featuring some nice progressive passages. This really is an album worth adding to your collection, I can assure you that you will pleasantly surprised enjoying what has been created here. This is a very enjoyable and charismatic album.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Shouse – Alone On The Sun
Tracklist: Bionic (5:20), Man Of Constant Sorrow (4:10), The Arabian (5:00), Choices (5:48), Alone On The Sun (4:47), Shock and Awe (6:17), You Can Fly (4:27), Dead In Memphis (4:55), Don’t Remember Me (4:30), For Alex (6:30)
This is a so called Enhanced CD: Meaning this disc contains extra’s such as a video of the title track Alone On The Sun and in this case, also the guitar tablature so you can play the songs for yourself - if you are proficient in playing the guitar and can read it that is. These extra additions to the CD were put on to make the album worth every penny, I would say. Although the black cover with red lettering on the inside hurts my eyes and I find it difficult to read the text, may be because the words appear to have a sort of a shadow.
Let me take your attention to the man and his music. The man is Michael Shouse, a guitar player hailing from Kentucky in the USA. From what I have read and heard this must be his second solo album, for me it is a first acquaintance with Shouse. Main influences in Shouse’s music are great guitar players like; Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and John Petrucci. Co by naming these guys as influence and stating you could teach them a thing or two sets expectations high for the album.
Thus my exploration of the album starts. I must say the album starts surprisingly with a nice twist. We hear narration telling us the doctors are able to recreate the man called Shouse, make him better, faster i.e. sounds like the start of a television series from my earlier years, back in the seventies - The Bionic Man/Woman and not surprising may be then why the track is called Bionic. Apart from the nifty start this is nothing more than guitar shredding. After hearing this song, I was sincerely hoping I'd get to hear better stuff.
Second track on the album Man In Constant Sorrow is one of the two track that have vocals added - the rest is instrumental. Now there is no doubt that the musicians playing are all very talented and play their bits solidly, but I have to say that the vocal addition to the song did not improve on progressive rock sound. Man In Constant Sorrow appears to be nothing more than a standard, well played and composed Nu/Metal song. And I now start to have serious doubts as to do a track by track review of the album. Listening to the next track The Arabian made me definitely decide to not review track by track. Doing such a review would have me making the same remarks over and over again.
The complete album Alone On The Sun is not bad, no not at all, in fact it is a decent album. If you are a real lover of shredding guitars you must absolutely try it. It’s worth a go, but if you’re not in favour of shredding nor fast guitar playing you better not.
In realizing the album a whole can full of musicians were used: we have Gene Booth on vocals (track 2,9) – Charlie Zeleny, drums (1,4,6,10) – Joey Sanchez, drums (2,7,9) - Crum, drums (3,5,8) – Trip Wamsley, bass (1) – Sean Taylor, bass (2,9) – Scott Hubbell, bass (3) – Alun Vaughan, bass (4) – Kyle Honer, bass (5,6) – Byron Santo, bass (7) – Josh Kerr, bass (8) and Travis Nichols, bass (10). Michael Shouse plays all guitars and keyboards and does backing vocals.
Concluding, Alone On The Sun is a good listen but that is it for me. My expectations have not been met, but then I am not very much into this type of shredding. I like instrumentals, instrumental guitar music but I expect to be surprised or at least taken on an imaginative journey, which I was not.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Astrovoyager – Symphotronic Lunation
Tracklist: [CD-ROM, Excerpts]: Introitus (2:56), Full Moon Rendezvous (2:52), Apollo II (4:08), Moonset (3:53), Earthshine (2:00), Outroitus (2:45) Bonus tracks: Full Moon Rendezvous – Dance Mix (3:40), Apollo II – Master mix (2:40)
Astrovoyager is the work of French EM artist Philippe Fagnoni and after his first full length album Temporal Gravitation he has taken on this much bigger project (which includes visual elements). Inspired by the journey of the famous American spaceship Apollo (with Neil Armstrong), Fagnoni decided to compose his music as a soundtrack to the trip and ended up finding the right man in Eric Parisi to make a film.
It’s not clear to me why a such renowned company like Musea Records bothers to send promo’s like this to the press, as only about a third of the music can be reviewed and a mere two video outtakes of a hooded young lady in different positions on her couch and along with one of her walking in a city are the basis on how to evaluate the movie. Furthermore we have a video mixing several images from the actual film, an interview with Philippe, commenting about the whole ‘making of’ this project and finally some images from a ‘work in progress’ from studio sessions. There’s a PDF with biographies of the most important people involved. Philippe has a bass player and a drummer joining him as well but I haven’t been able to hear them play that clearly on the extracts offered.
In track 1, undoubtedly the introduction: mysterious space like sounds and a mellow female voice invites the listener to board the spacecraft for another journey. The sound of church bells and electronic music mixed with a real orchestra can be heard with sweet relaxing music featuring seemingly a cello as the lead instrument.
Completely different is Full Moon Rendezvous, more like disco or dance music like from Enigma, Future World Orchestra and heavily influenced by eighties synth-pop. It has a similar atmosphere as Giorgio Moroder’s I Like Chopin but this time the vocals are somewhat metallic sounding with a female singer trying her best to sound very much like Jane Birkin in Je t’Aime, Moi Non Plus. The same dance/disco beat is apparent in Apollo II, again much influences by bands like Visage. Some “Houston-sounds” are added to emphasize the fact we’re travelling in space like the Apollo mission!
Much more gentle, dreamy and really beautiful is the track Moonset, with a gorgeous mix between orchestra and electronics and heavenly guitar playing from Amaury Filliard in the middle section. Spacey sounds and echoing electronics are utilised in the first half of Earthshine and the full orchestra in the second part - but, it’s all over before the music gets started in the first place... a pity! Outroitus has the same bells as in the opening track, combined with orchestrations and a melancholic cello and while the same mellow voice invites the listener to come back to board the Astrovoyager any time again.
The first bonus track has a very nice EM opening with some nice interludes, but for the rest of the track it’s the real disco sounds and the rhythm which becomes more important than the melodies. It's a bit of the same story in the second bonus track, although the track sounds much the same as the original one - which leaves me wondering why these bonus tracks are included instead of more music from the original score?
My impression is, being familiar to the first album by Astrovoyager, that this could be a very nice offering indeed, combining a classical orchestra (in fact a superb classical quartet, digitally ‘enhanced’ to an orchestra) with EM and surely also some progressive influences. I would recommend interested listeners however to have a listening session first before ordering or buying!
Conclusion: Not Rated