Reviews in this issue:
- Mogwai – Special Moves
- Chris – Making Sense
- Star One - Victims Of The Modern Age (Duo Review)
- Crippled Black Phoenix – I, Vigilante
- Hawkwind - Space Bandits
- Barbara Rubin – Under The Ice
- Exhibit A – Make Mine A Lobster
- Deva – Between Life And Dreams
- Salim Ghazi Saeedi – Iconophobic
- Deep Imagination – Awareness
Mogwai – Special Moves
Tracklist: I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead (6:01), Friend of the Night (5:30), Hunted By A Freak (4:07), Mogwai Fear Satan (11:43), Cody (6:10), You Don't Know Jesus (5:31), I Know You Are But What Am I (4:04), I Love You, I'm Going To Blow Up Your School (7:57), Rights Make 1 Wrong (9:05), Like Herod (10:38), Glasgow Megasnake (3:50)
I’m reviewing my own two-disc special edition set that also includes the Burning Live DVD, a proper art house black and white recording, with different tracks and listings. You can pick the whole package up for about nine quid (UK money) so to my mind it’s a no-brainer of a purchase.
The DVD has: The Precipice, I’m Jim Morrison I’m Dead, Hunted by A Freak, Like Herod, New Paths To Helicon Part 1, Mogwai Fear Satan, Scotland’s Shame, Batcat.
Mogwai played a three-gig stint at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New Jersey, on 27th through the 29th April 2009 and, of all the thousands of gigs I’ve missed, for a thousand different reasons, I wish I’d been at one of these.
I saw them live at Leeds Festival eight or nine years ago, after first hearing Rock Action (2001). They were in a small tent and they succeeded in vibrating the fillings from my teeth. The rumbling bass was like a thousand helicopters delivering peace and freedom to a bunch of people who wanted neither.
Since that time they’ve released Happy Songs For Happy People (2003), a personal favourite of mine, and for that matter, of my dearly departed dead parents. I shit you not. Whenever Alf and Anne Watson used to come for dinner, which wasn’t often, I’d always putsaid album on low in the background.
Then, almost symbolising ever so aptly the emotions (and the year) of my divorce came Mr Beast (2006) and in the same year Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. Which is about a footballist, apparently. I have, obviously, no frame of reference that can help me here so I’m spitballing somewhat. So... If you take pleasure in watching foreign men with long greasy hair and bad accents chase a pig’s bladder around a field then perhaps the above album is for you.
Mogwai are a band you must listen to. They don’t need me, or any other reviewer, to become better heard or more famous. They are entirely and utterly unique. You either get/like them, or you don’t.
Their earlier work – Young Team (1997) and Come On Die Young (1999) served as a big “fuck you” to the bland, homogenised and posturing stadium rock bollocks that proliferated at the time. And said albums are rightly recognised as classics of whatever genre was cool and hip at the time. In fact there is a bit of a “Cool Britannia” tarnish to the band that I’m sure they hate.
We here at DPRP have only previously reviewed The Hawk Is Howling from 2008, which we concluded was a well-produced, well-played and memorable work, and we gave it eight out of ten.
Mogwai make immensively massive collages of sounds, and are the progenitors of the quiet/quiet/quiet/really quite fucking loud/stupidly brain imploding loud school of instrumental music that has relatively recently had the “prog” tag appended to it. You’ll have heard TV soundtracks, film scores, and adverts that have either directly used Mogwai songs or copied fairly heavily from them.
It’s awesome, staggering and incredibly intelligent music. I mean, who wouldn’t like a tune called “I Love You, I'm Going To Blow Up Your School?”
So in conclusion, Mogwai are multi-thousandaires. Which makes them rock royalty. OK, so they may only have two gold toilets each, and they don’t need me to buy them a platinum sandwich toaster but this is still an excellent live CD and, if you can get hold of the DVD, a great package.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Chris – Making Sense
Tracklist: Resemblance (3:01), Waking From A Dream (10:26), To Fly (5:25), Making Sense (7:10), Fantasy (11:49), Sky Castles (3:13), Shades (6:10), Eve Of Destiny (9:28), Wishful Thinking (3:23), The Final Hour (9:52)
The second disc from Dutchman Christiaan Bruin follows hard on the heels of last years’ A Glimpse Inside which Leo Koperdraat gave a rating of 7. Chris is still incredibly young but his compositions show a maturity beyond his years. Once again the whole shebang is a one-man piece of work with all the instruments, production, mastering and artwork self-realised. Chris is clearly a creative type!
With influences ranging through IQ and Genesis territory and towards The Beatles, Making Sense is a conceptual examination of an individual’s search for identity and purpose. The symphonic arrangements and vocal layering of the debut are still there but developed further into a richer, more dynamic and versatile sound. The elaborate, inventive compositions offer a wide range of emotions and plenty of melody with good lyrics throughout. The album is well recorded and produced with solid drums, good use of keys and some lovely guitar and piano.
Although the playing and writing is once again very impressive, unfortunately, as Leo pointed out, the vocals just don’t hit the mark. Chris’ voice is too raspy and lacking in range to be an enjoyable listen which is a shame as the material deserves top quality delivery. For example, opener Resemblance is a moody keyboard driven scene setter but the lack of vocal power diminishes it somewhat.
The full band feel kicks in on Waking From A Dream which is a great extended track with some excellent guitar and melodies but, again, the vocals don’t do it justice. Chris’ voice works better in the higher registers and there is good use of multi-tracked vocals to give a choral effect. This track has dynamic twists and turns and ticks most of the boxes, the jewel in Chris’ crown being the way he handles melody, keeping it varied to provide an interesting listen.
The Neo feel is never far away but with pop sensibilities intact on To Fly and Wishful Thinking which show a clear Beatles influence. Again they deserve a better singer and the raspy tone of some of the harmony vocals in the former are particularly grating. This is a shame as most of the harmonies are well executed and more enjoyable than the solo vocals, such as during Sky Castles and at the start of Fantasy where they are topped off by a melancholic guitar solo. This epic track features many movements and is another fabulously written and executed piece with hints of Flower Kings here and there.
Shades is quality modern prog with a tip of the hat to Indie guitar bands and there is an epic IQ quality to Eve Of Destiny which works very well managing to integrate more Beatles and Flower Kings sections while retaining a sound of its own. The Final Hour brings us full circle ending the album in a similar vein to how it began after a track of epic proportions with more distinctive IQ and Flower Kings influences.
Throughout the quality of the playing is superb which is extraordinary as it is all just Chris, his writing and arranging also noteworthy. There is much to enjoy and appreciate and Chris should be justly proud of the results but it is a shame that this album has the same major failing as the first. This is enjoyable stuff but, frustratingly, could have been so much better. I don’t think anyone would think any less of Chris if he were to move away from the one man band theme and involve a classy vocalist as the music would be enhanced as a result but whatever he does next Chris is clearly a talent to watch.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Star One - Victims Of The Modern Age
CD 1:Down The Rabbit Hole (1:20), Digital Rain (6:23), Earth That Was (6:08), Victim Of The Modern Age (6:27), Human See, Human Do (5:14), 24 Hours (7:20), Cassandra Complex (5:24), It’s Alive, She’s Alive, We’re Alive (5:07), It All Ends Here ~ a) I Think Therefore I Am, b) Four Years, c) It All Ends Here (9:46)
CD 2: As The Crow Dies (4:42), Two Plus Two Equals Five (5:05), Lastday (4:47), Closer To The Stars (5:12), Knife Edge (4:25), The Making Of Victims Of The Modern Age (35:00)
Jon Bradshaw's Review
I must confess to being an avid follower of all things Arjen Anthony Lucassen. His Aryeon project ranks as some of my all-time favourite music and all of those albums still get regular rotation. Star One is an outlet for Mr. Lucassen’s metallic musical personality. First seen eight years ago on ‘02s Space Metal their debut album took films based in entirely in space as its thematic source. This time, the songs are based in a similarly ‘sci-fi’ dimension but are connected to films and TV shows of dystopian worlds. It was loads of fun trying to guess which movie/show each song is linked to and I won’t spoil that for you by presenting spoilers here. Anyway, it was with high anticipation that I gently slid the CD drawer shut and waited for the data load…
As ever, with any of AAL’s projects, he has solicited the aid of some of the world’s best metal singers. This is apparent throughout the album with phenomenal individual performances and incredibly rich vocal harmonies lending everything that distinctive Arjen Luccassen, ‘Rock Opera’ feel. Turning out for muster are the same artists who appeared on Space Metal: Dan Swano brings his deep baritone and fearsome vocal fry with power and ferocity. Check out his “See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil” in Human See, Human Do or “Violence makes violence” in Victims Of The Modern Age to get a flavour of the brutality this man is able to express with his voice. Damien Wilson and Russell Allen bring their dramatic tenors to the fold with their correlate heroic character that so fits Arjen’s compositional style. On this evidence, Russell Allen must surely be one of the best in the world in this vocal mode. Just listen to his delivery in It All Ends Here or the closing lines of the title track. Heck, just listen to his delivery. Completing the vocal quartet is Floor Jansen with her stunning soprano. Again Floor is supreme at what she does, having the ability to sing with delicacy and softness or staggering power; one of the few voices in the world that will actually melt your face and then break your heart at the same time. Lest it really need pointing out after such a glowing introduction, what these four masterful throat sorcerers accomplish is never less than tremendous and if I were grading ‘Victims’ on vocal performances alone, I would dish out a perfect ten without hesitation.
Arjen has found a pretty settled band around him to realise his musical visions in a live setting (by his standards at any rate) and it’s this live line-up that forms Star One this time around. The rhythm section consists of the brilliant Ed Warby who has drummed on many of Arjen’s projects with Peter Vink on bass. The drum sound is cavernous, making Ed’s kit sound like it’s made of giant sequoias skinned with Brontosaurus hide and set to stun. This is compounded by Peter Vink’s titanic bass sound. Apparently, he picks with a piece of broken glass. This produces a gnarly, igneous, growling tone which is the perfect, gleeful compliment to Ed’s Jurassic drumming. Together they create immense, tectonic waves of sound that are liable to effect microclimates wherever in the world this album is played. Seismologists will scratch their heads and small creatures of the earth will flee their nests as birds take to the skies in giant flocks. Equally, please consider your pets when you play this album. Joost van den Broek (Shadow Gallery) once again wrings ichor and banshee wailing from his synth solos. Great squalls of tempestuous sound emanate from his dizzyingly quick fingers throughout the album that may cause derangement in lesser mammals. This pyrotechnic prowess does not end with Joost. Gary Wehrkamp (also Shadow Gallery) provides guitar solos and he is the twister to Joost’s blizzard. Together with Arjen’s usual polymath brilliance playing anything and everything else, the aggregate result produces a certain amount of incredulity.
Metal is quite a simple musical medium, but once fired in the crucible of Arjen’s mind, it is elevated to a higher plane. Victims has a metallic physique worthy of Boris Vallejo but it has the soul of Bach or Mozart. There’s an elegance and beauty in its virtuosity that I cannot fault, and again, if I were judging it solely on the performance of the band, I would have to give it another perfect ten. Nor can I find fault in the production. The engineering is superb. It’s crystal clear but the guitars sound thick and biting. It is supposed to be a metal album after all, and if the guitars don’t cut it, the whole thing would just fold in on itself like a paper house in the rain. There is no danger of that. The guitar tones are robust, vibrant and crushing in places, dominating the sound stage from beginning to end. The band have created some of the most gargantuan music Arjen has ever committed to disk and in spite of the potential danger, I absolutely recommend finding the best sound system you can and playing this LOUD.
For all the excellence, I have a problem. Certainly, as I have alluded, Arjen has beefed up the sound of Star One on Victims making it more metal than Space Metal ever was. It’s more direct and up front, what Russell Allen describes as, “that big, slick, open sound”. Indeed, but there is something all too familiar going on here. I can hear too many similarities in this album with his other work. This is a big disappointment. Bits of everything he has done in the last eight years creep through the melodies and harmonic structures and it lacks any real sense of progression for me as a result. There’s a sense in which, and I’m speaking entirely subjectively here, Arjen reached a creative peak with Ayreon’s 01011001 and he’s been recycling those ideas, almost unable to release the formula that worked so effectively. Guilt Machine had a different tonal palette, it was shaded differently, but melodically, it had its root on 01011001. The same is true here.
In another sense, this is a profoundly unfair criticism because I don’t always come from a position of such intimate knowledge of an artist’s back catalogue in other reviews and I am comparing and contrasting dissimilar projects. If Victims was a debut album, it would be hailed as a masterpiece and I’m sure that many eyes in the prog metal world will be turning slightly green. However, I can’t help myself, and it really colours my overall opinion of this release. From an objective perspective, this is Star One’s sophomore album. It trumps the first one by some considerable distance and, if you don’t know Star One or any of Arjen’s other work, get your hands on this and work backwards. If you’re already a disciple, then you may find yourself either, utterly satisfied and transfixed by the formula or, like me, you may be growing just a little jaded with the lack of momentum. I for one hope that Victims will draw a line under this creative phase as the perfect summary of the last eight years of Arjen’s monumental output.
This album is already on its way to the departure lounge and after some time touring and promoting it, which I sincerely hope he is able to do if he can get the personnel together to make it happen, then I believe, the time is ripe for a new blueprint, a new direction. As brilliant as it is in so many departments, I’m beginning to fear this horse is only going to fit for glue some time soon. For the second time. Mr Lucassen has overextended his thrust (the first being Guilt Machine) leaving him slightly exposed and vulnerable to attack.
Gert Hulshof's Review
Star One is one of the many projects run by Dutch multi-instrumentalist Arjen Anthony Lucassen and Victims Of The Modern Age is the second studio album for the Star One project, which is available in various versions - a single disc and limited edition double disc. The first Star One album dates back to 2002, so you can well speak of a long awaited studio follow up to the debut of this project.
Once again Arjen has asked, Damian Wilson, Floor Jansen, Dan Swäno and Russell Allen to perform the lead vocals. Musicians this time next to Arjen are Ed Warby, Gary Wehrkamp, Peter Fink and Joost Van Den Broek. Three guest vocalists are present in Tony Martin, Rodney Blaze and Mike Andersson.
The storylines, as with the first Star One album, are of science fiction nature and this sci-fi thing is more or less Arjen’s alter ego. His love for this genre is without doubt and has been the starting point for most of his projects throughout his career. This may well contribute to the fact that from the start to finish the album there is a very familiar sound and feel, it is if I were listening to one of Arjen’s other projects. In itself there is nothing wrong with the musicality of thiS album, nor is there a problem with any of the compositions, it is just that they all sound a little too familiar, as if they had been done before.
Victims is an album very worthy of the title space prog metal and that of the heaviest kind. Fat, loud, heavy guitar work, massive keyboards, heavy pounding rhythms all of which build a wall of sound. The vocals of Wilson, Allen, Jansen and Swäno fit very well within this music.
This Star One album is well worth a listen and certainly it is very well produced as with all of Arjen’s work. The ideas behind the music - the concept remains strong, but the main flaw is that the overall feel is just a tiny bit too familiar. It is more or less and Ayreon album released as a Star One album.
However the limited edition bonus disc really is a great bonus as it differs as to what we hear on the actual album version. Really worth buying the limited edition instead of the single disc version. What makes it more special is the Star One, or Arjen’s, version of the ELP classic Knife Edge. This is a remarkable version, nothing like the original, well apart from compositionally of course.
Crippled Black Phoenix – I, Vigilante
Tracklist: Troublemaker (8:33), We Forgotten Who We Are (10:47), Fantastic Justice (7:53), Bastogne Blues (12:01), Of A lifetime (6:45), Burning Bridges [Bonus track] (2:43)
Crippled Black Phoenix (CBP) has been around for a while, but either they forgot to tell anyone, or we all sat with our heads up our arses, because only with the release of I, Vigilante has the word spread about this “new” British band.
CBP started in 2004 as a solo project for Electric Wizzard drummer Justin Greaves. He was collecting a vast amount of musical ideas that did not seem to fit in the projects he was involved with at the time. However Greaves does not seem to be someone who likes to work solo, as by the time debut album A Love Of Shared Disasters was recorded CBP had turned into a six piece band.
For their third proper release, (released through Invada Records - run by Portishead's Geoff Barrow) I, Vigilante, the band expanded into an eight piece collective. Greaves is a multi-instrumentalists who, next to the guitars, keyboards and drums also plays interesting instruments such as a saw and banjo. He also uses a lot of sound effects. On opener, Troublemaker, the wolf on the sleeve and the title of the albums gets explained by a boy who is asked why he will stay out of trouble from now.
“Lupus Pilum Mutat, Non Mentem” – The wolf may change its fur, but not its nature.
And taken from their MySpace:
"This is the sentiment that runs throughout the new six track album “I, Vigilante”. It encompasses words of warning and tales of trouble from times past up to the present, songs of standing your ground and stories from our history, for it is only through history we truly exist."
After the spoken word intro Troublemaker is a storming album opener. The track is graced with some outstanding playing on slide guitar from Karl Demeta. The tempo is slow and the sound ‘swampy’ with Hammond organ in the background and heavy drums and guitars. If you look on the internet CBP are often compared to Pink Floyd and although there are traces of this influence to be heard, CBP's music has more to do with stoner rock, folk and a little psychedelia.
The music is characterized by stop/start, soft/loud and acoustic/electric moments. But also the slow build ups and the hushed almost mumbled voice of Joe Volk. Daisy Chapman (piano, keyboards) and Charlotte Nicols (cello, voice) are also very important for the CBP sound on this album. With their piano and cello motifs they often form the basis of the songs on this album. These melodies are often hauntingly beautiful. There are very good examples of this to be heard on We Forgotten Who We Are and Fantastic Justice.
The absolute highlight of this album is the twelve minute Bastogne Blues which is graced with a instrumental melody after the first verses that brings tears to my eyes. Just piano, cello, banjo and some strummed guitar chords. This melody luckily returns throughout this beautiful song in different forms and shapes. Sometimes stripped bare, sometimes as a vehicle for soloing electric guitars. This song, that is a tribute to the veterans of WWII of the Battle of the Bulge, starts with an impressive story of one of those veterans, and is an absolute triumph!
The official part of the album ends with a Journey cover in the form of In A Lifetime. As I am not familiar with the original I can’t comment on the quality of the cover but what I can say is that it is a good song which proves that next to singer Joe Volk the band also has a good female singer in the band, namely Charlotte Nicols. Where Volks voice is more melancholic, Nicols has a very powerful voice.
There is also a very short “hidden track” called Burning Bridges which is totally different from the music on the rest of the album. This track is also a cover and was the theme song to the movie Kelly’s Heroes. It’s a very upbeat track and an absolute sing-a-long song. Very different from the rest of the album and great fun, but it also leaves you a bit confused after the album has ended. Which is intentional I guess.
Crippled Black Phoenix is a very talented band and I, Vigilante is a very good album. Readers who also like stoner rock with influences from folk and psychedelia are definitely going to like this album. In the meantime I’m going to order some of their back catalogue now...
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Hawkwind - Space Bandits
Tracklist: Images (9:34), Black Elk Speaks (5:12), Wings (5:24), Out Of The Shadows (4:58), Realms (3:23), Ship Of Dreams (5:16), TV Suicide (5:25) Bonus Tracks: Out Of The Shadows [live studio version] (7:55), Snake Dance [live studio version] (4:26), Images [single version] (6:03)
Hawkwind entered the 1990s and their third decade with yet another new line-up. Guitarist Huw Lloyd Langton, credited as being largely responsible for the band's revival in the previous decade, had opted to chance his arm as a solo artist. Surprising even the most ardent of Hawkwind fans his replacement was none other than Simon House, the classically trained violinist who had made significant contributions to the quintet of classic Hawkwind albums released between 1974 and 1979. Other changes were the addition, for the first time in the band's history, of a female vocalist in the shapely form of Bridget Wishart, and a new drummer in the form of Richard Chadwick. These three joined the remaining members of Dave Brock (guitar, vocals, keyboards), Harvey Bainbridge (keyboards, vocals) and Alan Davey (bass, vocals, synthesiser). Since the band's mid 80s peak with their The Chronicle Of The Black Sword and subsequent tour (chronicled, if you'll excuse the pun, on the Live Chronicles album), the band had descended into relative state of torpor with only one further album, 1988's The Xenon Codex, keeping things ticking over. Revitalised by the new line-up and a successful BBC live recording in Nottingham in January 1990, the band returned to Rockfield Studios in April to commence recording Space Bandits.
Images opens proceedings and displays an amalgam of the old and the new. Wishart's vocals are somewhat unexpected but fit in well with the music which is a triumphant return to form. The replacement of lead guitar with violin adds light and shade to the music which bears greater resemblance to the classic numbers of the mid to late seventies than the heavier numbers of the eighties. But that doesn't suggest any wimping out on behalf of the band, as Images features some fantastic soloing by both House and Brock that really sets the tempo for the album. Indeed, it was such a powerful and energetic number that an edited version was released as a single which, characteristic of these Atomhenge releases, is included as a bonus track. Black Elk Speaks has an insistent tribal rhythm underneath a native Sioux Indian narrative written by the American Indian Holy man and cousin to Crazy Horse, Black Elk, and recited by poet, philosopher and historian of American culture, John G Neihardt. Wishart sings some of the final stanzas with the whole thing backed by a typical Hawkwind soundtrack. Strangely hypnotic and typical of the band's whole ethnic awareness and counterculture ethos it is an interesting and bold addition. Environmental issues, and particularly the fate of wild birds, is covered on Wings (a percentage of the royalties from which was generously donated to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) is a more sombre number with some lovely flowing bass work from Davey and a rather downbeat vocal delivery by Brock. Brock also takes lead vocal duties on the driving Out Of The Shadows, again a characteristic Hawkwind song that would not have been out of place on Doremi Fasol Latido.
The only instrumental of the album, Realms, is more of a sonic mood piece comprised mostly of sustained keyboard drones mostly in the lower parts of the sound palette. Normally the type of thing associated with Bainbridge, it is surprising to discover that the number was actually composed, and presumably, if his keyboard credits are anything to go by, played by Davey. The piece sets the scene and perfectly segues into Brock's Ship Of Dreams which draws inspiration from past glories such as You Shouldn't Do That whilst maintaining its own air of originality. House excels on this song with his sawing violin enhancing the delivery. Bainbridge's sole writing contribution to the album was TV Suicide which in light of the other material on the album sounds somewhat more dated, rather ironic considering its use of more modern (at the time) electronic sounds and some of the other tracks bearing resemblance to material from nearly 20 year previous! The main song is one of the weaker numbers on the album but the closing synth passage is a suitable way to bring the original album to a close. Giving Bainbridge's increasing isolation from the rest of the group it is no surprise that this would be his last album with the band.
Two additional songs have been included as bonuses, live studio versions of Out Of The Shadows and Snake Dance, and both are really excellent. The extended Shadows is simply wonderful with House shinning throughout and the version of Snake Dance shits all over the rather torpid version that appeared two years later on Electric Teepee.
The promising start to the decade was not maintained as within 12 months the band would be back to a trio and the rejuvenation and momentum gained from Space Bandits all but lost. Anyone who might have been put off by the thought of Hawkwind with a female vocalist should have their concerns dismissed as Wishart only really features on two of the songs and one of those is the standout track of the album. While a lot of the post seventies Hawkwind albums could be somewhat hit and miss, Space Bandits is worthy of recommendation and inclusion in any spacerock collection.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Barbara Rubin – Under The Ice
Tracklist: Under The Ice (2:59), The Land (1:06), Angel Heartbeat (3:40), A Place That Nobody Knows (3:56), Stupid Day (3:43), Liar (4:40), Before The Light (1:39), Ero E Sona (2:43), Music And Love (3:26), No More Tears (4:34), Orange Roses (1:27)
Under The Ice is Barbara Rubin’ debut solo album, which is musically different in approach to her prog metal band LoreWeaver, which received a rather impressive but well deserved 8 out of 10 from DPRP. For those not in the know, you should check out the LoreWeaver album Imperative Auditions, as it is a well kept secret; oh yeah and it’s very impressive album too.
The gracious thing about this album other than its stated beauty is that the key word for Ms. Rubin is versatility, I mean, to record an album with the collaboration of friends / musicians of uncommon worth, tells you something about her metal. It would have been quite easy to present the world with another prog metal album that emulated LoreWeaver; something that Barbara has quite cleverly steered away from, allowing her talent to shine through allowing her to create her own identity, breathe and grow in stature, without having to rely on her past. For the most part the album takes an ethereal / ambient approach, sounding classical in places, with hints or a rockier approach, which all in all makes for an album of art and beauty.
Under The Ice opens with a beautiful piano tone, a facet that is present throughout, which has been reinforced with some rather eloquent string arrangements. Barbara’ emotional and provocative vocals soar throughout, climbing, weaving, capturing the emotion, the passion, displaying such raw emotion, grandeur of the finest order. This really is the way to open an album, crafting style with provocative word play like the opening line, “My thoughts are hardened under the ice”. You can just pick stunning phrasings throughout, whether that is lyrically or musically.
The Land is a short and highly emotionally charged piece, the violin being accompanied by the piano, or is it the other way? Either way such is the precision of the interaction of the two, you are tonally comforted. Low toned phrases are spoken, which cleverly encapsulates the listener, dividing their attention.
Angel Heartbeat is the song that really pulls out all the stops, Barbara’ tones fill the room with their warmth, caressing your heart; vocally this is as good as it gets, “my mind reflecting ‘bout your memories…”, and “when your heartbeat can touch my heartbeat”, are just delivered with gracious passion. This is a song that wants to take you on a journey, and succeeds in doing so, several times.
A Place That Nobody Knows takes a more assertive approach, being no less intense that the previous songs, building a stage that really allows Barbara to highlight her vibrant talent, power and emotion.
Stupid Day sees Andrea Giolo offering lead and backing vocals on this song with Barbara, two vocal ranges that really compliment and work well with together, Andrea low range working in conjunction with Barbara’ higher range. This all held together by some haunting piano and violin work with has been layered and underpinned with some very subtle synth work.
Liar is more experimental in approach opening up with a synth soiree, being the longest track on the album. It’s not long before the guitar is added to the mix with its rhythmic repeating tones, whilst Morandotti really punctuates the structure with his drumming, which moves more in the LoreWeaver arena, but nowhere as aggressive. Songs like this show that Barbara really likes to work with lyrics and is able to be more creative in her approach.
Before The Light has a dreamy strings soundstage which is reinforced by a dancing piano tone, which allows the vocals to take you on a emotional journey albeit, a very short emotional journey.
Ero E Sona sees Barbara offering a song in her own native tongue, which really allows her to full throttle the emotions, which tug and pull at your heart strings. It’s not long before the room is swathed in its glorious tones that dance around confidently.
Music And Love like Under The Ice offers another platform for great soaring vocal passages, fanciful musical interaction, again with some really good word play, “Take me away, music and love, I'll find all around the world.” There is just nothing not to love about this song, again reinforcing perfectly what Barbara can achieve.
No More Tears, which quite spookily hit the nail right on the head, “This year the snow hasn’t fallen,” which when I looked out the window, it had just started snowing, is this an omen? This is probably the rockiest track on the album, which has that spine shivering Hammond organ tone, which won me over straight away being fully complemented by Barbara’ stunning vocals.
Orange Roses sadly the album closer which calmly and sedately brings everything to an end. This is another very short piece, but in all honesty I feel would have been destroyed if it had been any longer. It succinctly says goodbye to a lover, a listener, vocally being perfectly matched by that inimitable piano and violin sound.
This really has been an aural delight that has had me repeatedly pressing play. I really can’t wait to see this lady live, either solo or with Loreweaver, whichever one I that is; I feel I am not going to be disappointed. The only downside for me with this album was that no sooner had the musical journey started the journey's end arrived too soon. I could call to mind such artists as Lana Lane, Tori Amos, Paula Cole or Kate Bush both in vocal approach or construct, but that to me would do Ms. Rubin an injustice. The creation of this album has certainly been a labour of love, which I am sure that you will more than enjoy, as I did. Can I pick a favourite song? No, as the eleven songs that are presented here are all fantastic in their own rights, which is what makes this album so good.
Just to add some finality to this piece I would like to introduce the musicians involved with this creation Barbara Rubin (lead and backing vocals, violin, viola, piano), Andrea Giolo (backing vocals and lead vocals (Stupid Day)), Marianna Caltavuturo (backing vocals (Angel Heartbeat)), Alberto Rondano (Guitar), Paolo Baltaro (Acoustic guitar 6 and 12 strings), Andrea Garavelli (Fretless bass), Antonella Morrone (bass (Liar)), Sara Morandotti (Flute), Claudia Ravetto (Cello) and Simone Morandotti (Drums, Guitar, lead synth and Hammond organ).
Possa la vostra creatività crescere e prosperare per tutti di ascoltare
“Please you hear me out… Just for one time and I swear”. “I will remember it forever…” which says it all really.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Exhibit A – Make Mine A Lobster
Tracklist: Touch The Stars (4:21), Carousel (4:16), First To Last (5:24), A Far Cry (5:37), Rush Of Blood (6:00), Darker Sun (6:54), Wake Up To Reality (5:08), Missing Years (4:45), Scenario (6:32)
Milord, may I introduce Exhibit A, in their own words:
"Exhibit A were formed in 1984 when founder members Steve Watts (bass) and Nick Hampson (guitars) wrapped up their previous band Mithra which also had Barrie Cannon on drums, Steve Cable on guitar and Billie James on vocals. They gigged locally in Essex but failed to gather momentum.
Keyboard player Neil Foss came on board and the material headed into a more progressive vein although this tested Billie's vocals somewhat and the band carried on without a vocalist after she departed the band. Neil's brother David frequently attended rehearsals to listen to the band, and subsequently added vocals
Gigs soon followed and the band developed a good-natured following. The line up stayed the same until Barrie Cannon was replaced by Tony Robertson. This led to the band first album, 1990s A Different Dimension originally only available on cassette but now re-mastered on CD. The band played gigs at the Marquee Club, the Standard, the Borderline and the Rock Garden. Following 1994’s Out There album, Paul Caswell replaced Tony on drums."
Oh, and they were big in Turkey, tracks from A Different Dimension being played constantly on Turkish radio. The ArtRock prog show in Poland also gave them continual airplay.
So, this is the band’s first release in some sixteen years.
And they announce their return with NWOBHM power chords, and synth washes before Dave Foss’s excellent vocals kick in on opener Touch The Stars, a melodic slab of AOR power balladry with enough neo-prog synth work, fat bass lines (as in phat) and guitar virtuosity to keep things interesting.
They list their influences as Rush, It Bites, Marillion, David Bowie, Todd Rundgren and Spock’s Beard.
There are some fantastic time signature changes on offer, and the whole thing reminds me of poppier IQ, or Talk Talk. In fact there’s more than a hint of the Mark Hollis' in Dave Foss’ vocal delivery, which is no bad thing.
Now, I wrote all of the above before discovering a review of the album on the New England Art Rock site, a personal favourite. They’ve just made Make Mine A Lobster their album of the month, truly an accolade and they call it “excellent Progressive Pop that sounds like a long lost Tristan Park album or IQ circa late 80's trying to be the next more progressive Duran Duran… Neo-Prog, with a strong AOR feel”. So, it would seem, I’m not that rubbish at this reviewing lark, after all.
If you visit the band’s website you’ll see there’s a limited offer to get the download album for a tad under four quid. The production of the physical CD I’ve got to review sounds excellent, on decent kit and cans, with a lovely authentic slightly trebly ‘80s neo-prog feel. There’s a ton of sites where you can sound check the material and make up your own mind but if the poppier side of prog floats your boat, then this is definitely for you.
In conclusion, then: Very good. A worthy album that I’m sure I’ll return to.
So there, a review where I don’t mention badgers, Blofeld or denigrate anyone.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Deva – Between Life And Dreams
Tracklist: Breathe (0:30), Your Voice (4:00), Dancing Lane (7:30), New Essence (4:44), Out In Fog (4:33), Love And Faith (5:46), Fading From Here (6:41), Karma Pt.0 (1:26), Karma Pt.1-1969-Escape (7:37), Karma Pt.2-1949-Open Water (5:15), Karma Pt.3-1996-In Veins (6:33)
Deva is a Gothic metal group hailing from Italy and like many Gothic metal bands these days, Deva is female fronted. Our female leading lady here is Beatrice Palumbo, a classically trained vocalist, which you can hear and who has a high soprano voice and clear sound. As with many opera singers it is difficult to really understand the words, so you’ll need lyrics to do so.
Now the world has already seen a lot of female singers in Gothic bands - most famous are the ladies in Epica, Within Temptation, After Forever, Nightwish and Evanescence. What they all have in common is that they really sing and we can now add Beatrice to this list of great female vocalists. Beatrice sings absolutely fabulously by the way.
Now for the other band members: Frederico Salerno handles guitars, piano and vocals; Myriam Stallone does the bass and backing vocals; Marco Castiglione plays with his synthesizers and Thomas D’Alba likes to hit the drums.
Between Life And Dreams is Deva’s debut album and the idea to record an album was raised when Beatrice. Frederico and Myriam met and toyed with the idea to form their own progressive metal band. At the time Fredrico had started working on some compositions and half way through 2009, five songs were ready to be recorded. However at this time there was no complete line up for the band and it was not until the end of 2009 when Thomas joined that the line up was finalised.
Deva obviously want to prove that they belong amongst the top of the class in the Gothic scence, so no amount of effort was too much to make this album work. When I start listening to the complete picture of the album, it is a Gothic metal album, no doubt and all ingredients present: Soprano vocals by a female singer, great synthesizers to create a layer of sound, piano, riffing and soloing at speed from the guitar, violin and solid backing by the bass and drums.
A little dark intonation of the music, all of this creates Gothic metal. The compositions are more or less of a standard gothic nature, they are not highest of the class nor are they the worst I’ve ever listened to. In general they are good compositions, good melodies and fine arrangements. Is the music in its entirety outstanding? No it’s standard Gothic metal, but on the topside of the middle. Deva have done their utmost to make the album diverse and yes it is, but therefore it also lacks consistency in sound. The Deva sound is not yet fullypresent and they are clearly seeking the direction in which they want to go. This is not bad as they are excellent musicians.
The strong point on the album to me is the Karma suite, comprising of four parts, which sounds very good, the complete length of the suite is 20:51, which is of course of epic length and this is for me the way to go - but this is of course up to Deva.
I do not think we have heard the last of them yet, but it’s a though world out there. To gain some interest you must show progression and even be somewhat special these days. All in all a fine debut album from Deva who could well become one of the big names in Gothic metal.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Salim Ghazi Saeedi – Iconophobic
Tracklist: Composer’s Laughter (1:28), A Satire On Hell (3:03), And My Heart Aches Like 100 Aching Angels (2:15), Asiyeh (3:10), The Songful Song Of Songbirds (3:37), Transcend Ecstasy With Ecstasy (3:39), Don’t You See The Cheerful Rainbow? (3:21), Music is Haram (3:02), Dance In Solitude (3:01), Eternal Melancholy Of Loving Women (1:19), Give My Childhood Back (3:34), Breast-Milk (3:16), I Am Beautiful, Are You Beautiful? (2:59)
Album number four Iconophobic by Salim Ghazi Saeedi, someone whom I have never come across before. What’s even more unique is that he is from Iran, which again is not the first place you automatically think of for prog. His other three albums are for the completists out there ’06 Abrahadabra, ’07 Sovereign, and ’08 Ustuqus-al-Uss in the band Arashk.
Saeedi has been compared to the likes of Univers Zero, Art Zoyd, John Zorn, Patrick O’Hearn, Mike Oldfield and The Enid; although with this release I certainly don’t hear any of the last two.
The literal meaning of Iconophobic is to have an extreme hatred, dread or fear of images, so as an album title it was something that really caught my attention and intrigued me. Iconophobic is a concept album about fearing the world of imagery. Has that grabbed your imagination yet? Saeedi quotes that
"I don't know if it is really a psychological problem but I liked the idea of morbid alienation toward images, icons and in general, reality."
Has he grabbed your imagination yet? If the answer is no now, then you are probably not going to be interested in this album; but at least go to his MySpace page and give him a listen, you just never know. On further investigation, Saeedi presents a mix of avant garde, electronic, experimentation, jazz fusion and Middle Eastern sounds mixed into most of the instrumentals presented, being an album that really does require some work. This is not an immediate album by any stretch of the imagination, in fact after many listens; you still have to work with it, but it still makes this such an intriguing album. I am not too sure as to whether Saeedi is being clever for the sake of being clever, because at times this does sound too clever for its own good.
From the instrumental titles, you can certainly see that this is going to make you think, especially when you read the subtext to the title, which is what makes me think that this at times is too clever for its own good. A few good examples of this would be Breast-Milk (When you feel insecure and naked) or Composer’s Laughter (A rival between million hopes and one guffaw)?
One thing for sure though is that I do like what has been recorded musically, but is not going to be everybody’s cup of tea. There are some very interesting approaches, punctuations of electronics mixed in with some interesting sounding guitar work, some stunning bass and drum interaction which never really takes centre stage; in fact this is true about all of the instrumentation work. The tracks don’t flow as such, what they have been though is meticulously put together, as Saeedi is not afraid of experimenting, creating a proficient use of soundstages. The standout tracks for my money are Don’t You See The Cheerful Rainbow?, Music Is Haram, Eternal Melancholy Of Loving Women and I Am Beautiful, Are you Beautiful?. All which feature some nice time changes, being peppered with some nice orchestration.
You need to tread carefully if you are entering the Iconophobic world of Salim Ghazi Saeedi. You have been warned.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Deep Imagination – Awareness
Tracklist: Awareness Part 01 – Space (4:12), Awareness Part 02 – Clouds (4:16), Awareness Part 03 – Surroundings (4:52), Awareness Part 04 – Tradition (10:17), Awareness Part 05 – Creatures (4:04), Awareness Part 06 – Breath (5:01), Awareness Part 07 – Elements (7:09), Awareness Part 08 – Sense (7:51), Awareness Part 09 – Sleep (3:41), Awareness Part 10 – Eternity (3:56)
The sound in my ears tortures me as I ride an elevator descending through the deepest catacombs of hell. The elevator shaft seems to suck me through the fiery blackness, where horrific sanctions from Beelzebub await me. I -, no wait, it isn’t elevator music torture per se, I’m just listening to Awareness from German ambient project Deep Imagination. And I imagine deeply, no - I know deeply, that the 55 minutes of music (to use the term loosely) on the third release from Thorsten Sudler-Mainz (Na Klar, R,I & T; The Mess, The Silent Waters, L’Image Bleue, Sirmione Zinth & Jarganto, Realtime, Young Man Afraid Of His Horses, Whitebirds, Art Of Infinity) under his Deep Imagination moniker eclipse any torture that the devil could administer.
Deep Imagination, who also have a DVD, video installation, a few sound installations and some live gigs under their belt, did not inspire me to imagine much of anything at all when I listened to “awareness”, although perhaps I did imagine writing them a negative review. On this ten-part chunk of ambient cheese that got left on the counter too long, Sudler-Mainz handles keyboards and programming, as well as guitar on one track and percussion on one track. He’s joined by guest musicians Matthias Krauss providing additional keyboards on half the CD’s tracks, Art Of Infinity colleague Thorsten Rentsch on guitar (one track) and percussion and fretless bass (one track), and sax man Stefan Höllering laying down electro-saxophone on two tracks and tenor sax on one track.
Krauss’ additional keyboards don’t do much to save the ambitionless music, as is evident on the longest track on the CD, Awareness Part 04 – Tradition. However, the song admittedly is rescued from being a total train derailment by some uptempo programming from Sudler-Mainz which injects a little contemporary dance beat into the tune, and his analog style bass synth elements evoking Keith Emerson. Regrettably, though, the ten-minute track overstays its welcome.
Höllering’s tenor sax on Awareness Part 10 – Eternity stirs some soul into the track and if contributed elsewhere on the CD would have made for a stronger and more flavourful recording. His electro-saxophone, while an interesting visual novelty as evidenced by the video clips I watched on the Deep Imagination website, sounds muted and weak. Best to leave the sax unplugged, methinks. Rentsch’s guitar and fretless bass contributions are sparse at best and could have been livened up a bit.
So overall a bland and uninspired affair from Deep Imagination. Compatriots Tangerine Dream do it much better.
The CD booklet is colourfully and professionally designed , with a futuristic motif, musician credits, track listing, and some musing text in German and English on the theme of awareness.
I strongly recommend that for their next release Sudler-Mainz turns up the knobs on the programming more to go for a more dance-oriented sound. If he succeeds in doing that, I shall, as the CD packaging entreats, “file under electronica”.
Conclusion: 3 out of 10