REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:
Yang – Machines
|Country of Origin:||France|
|Year of Release:||2009|
Tracklist: Massacre (5:15), Superball (4:22), De La Mélancolie À La Révolte (5:12), Le Procès (5:54), Circuits De Satisfaction (5:11), 3ème Messs (5:38), L'étau Familial (4:32), Heavy Motion, Light Thoughts (5:44), Some Rescued Demons (5:14), Temperance (4:02)
It has taken 6 years for Frédéric L'Epée’s Yang to release the follow-up to 2004’s Cuneiform released A Complex Nature which was glowingly reviewed on DPRP. This second, independent instalment follows the same King Crimson dual guitar influence as the debut but there have been some line-up changes with Nico Gomez and Laurent James joining on bass and guitar respectively, the rest of the group still comprising L'Epée (guitar) and Volodia Brice (drums).
L'Epée, who previously played with Shylock in the ‘70s and Philharmonie in the ‘90s, formed Yang in 2002 as an instrumental quartet mixing guitar counterpoint with rock dynamics. After the debut album the band broke up but with the new recruits on board a new, more powerful Yang has appeared. The music is in the vein of Gordian Knot and ‘80s+ Crimson with intricate and beautiful guitar pieces embedded in hard-edged compositions with complex rhythms. The connection with Robert Fripp is close and Machines was recently mentioned in RF’s diary after L'Epée, who previously attended some Guitar Craft seminars, sent him a copy.
Massacre kicks things off with an industrial rhythm section conjuring images of the album’s title with the guitars opposing each other – one slashing, one picking – into a delicate mid section before the pressure builds again. Superball initially sounds like it could be a late period Rush instrumental moving through changes of mood and texture and holding the interest throughout. There is a very live sound, particularly to the drums, and the guitars play off each other beautifully, complementing and contradicting where necessary. King Crimson’s twin guitar incarnations are obvious pointers but do not give the full impact of the subtleties inherent in the playing by all concerned. This is predominantly a guitar album; they shriek and wail when required but the addition of delicacy and beauty makes it almost breathtaking.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is an album of shredding solos as this is far from the truth and all of the pieces are laid out to reap as much emotional benefit as possible whilst retaining the technical accomplishment. A good balance is achieved.
De La Mélancolie À La Révolte is filled with emotion and a hint of Metheny that builds into a metallic pounder with psychotic stabs of guitar and sublime harmonies – all at the same time! Le Procès opens unusually with bleepy noises and ticking clocks before rhythm and melody emerge over gorgeous plucked acoustics. Then “the French Fripps” kick into some classic Krimsonesque dovetailing guitars with more jazz influence. Circuits De Satisfaction appears more mainstream with a steady rhythm before jazz madness crashes the party. Quiet flowing sections move through a choppy bass solo which opens into a smoother part before returning to the original theme to close.
The Arabic textures of 3ème Messs are refreshing before the return of the Machines and some thumping industrialism. L'étau Familial is a particularly French sounding track to me; sophisticated, different and stylish with some nice up-tempo parts with KC visible but against a straighter rock background.
On Heavy Motion, Light Thoughts the title sums things up nicely – a roller coaster of thumping metal, delicate classical and jazz flavoured acoustics and increases in intensity with interlocking guitars. A hint of Tool can be found in Some Rescued Demons’ elastic rhythms and frenzied guitars. But that isn’t the whole story and the dynamics and variations are mesmerizing and I’d love to see them pull this off live. Temperance is a glorious display of controlled power and technique, the jumpy guitars striking against the solid rhythm section will have you pressing ‘play’ again as soon as it finishes.
This is dynamic instrumental music that rocks hard whilst maintaining a firm grip on melody. Many instrumental albums get a bit samey but not this – not to me anyway and I love the collisions and recoveries. The rhythm section has chops in spades and can mix the genres and styles with the best of them but keep things nailed down as a backdrop for the wonderful guitars. There is jazz, blues, world and rock and the whole seems more accessible than KC but without down-playing the complexity. Ultimately, although the influence is clear, this is not a Fripp & Belew tribute – they are merely the spark that has resulted in this very different flame.
So if you like energetic and enthusiastic instrumentals with superb dynamics and lots of melody whilst lacking the all too common problem of self indulgence you could do much worse than get your hands on this fine release. Hopefully it won’t be so long until the next one. Classy.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Karmakanic & Agents Of Mercy – The Power Of Two ~ Live USA
Tracklist: The Fading Ghosts Of Twilight (8:21), Heroes & Beacons (10:00), Jesus On The Barricades (6:31), Where Earth Meets The Sky (14:43), Do You Tango? (8:39), Lalles Solo (5:46), Eternally (10:01), Afterglow (6:36)
Last summer Roine Stolt and Jonas Reingold put their heads together and came up with an inspired idea of how they could showcase their side projects Agents Of Mercy and Karmakanic in a combined live environment. Putting The Flower Kings temporarily on ice they devised a show which would feature members from both bands in a single line-up playing two separate sets. Following a warm-up gig in Lund, Sweden on the 21st September 2009 billed as “One evening of prog extravaganza” they played five dates in Europe before heading off for a two week stint in the USA.
Zoltan Csörsz (studio drummer with both Karmakanic and AOM) was unable to make the Atlantic crossing due to a prior engagement on a jazz tour of Asia, leaving Reingold as the common denominator for both acts. The obvious replacement was Nick D´Virgillio, always a popular choice of drummer for prog bands touring the US. Ironically Jimmy Keegan, touring drummer with Spock’s Beard, had also played on the Agents Of Mercy album. This live recording is culled mainly from their appearance at the CalProg festival in Whittier, California on the 10th October, their first date in the States. Joining Stolt, Reingold and D´Virgillio on stage was Göran Edman (vocals), Nad Sylvan (vocals, keyboard) and Lalle Larsson (keyboards).
At the event they began with a selection of songs from the 2009 Agents Of Mercy album The Fading Ghosts Of Twilight, and following an intermission they played material from all three Karmakanic albums. The trio of Stolt penned AOM songs included here feature lead vocals by Sylvan with excellent support from Edman. The title song The Fading Ghosts Of Twilight includes tuneful elements of The Beatles (circa The Magical Mystery Tour) and Genesis (circa The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway) whilst Heroes & Beacons has its more poignant moments offset by an expansive guitar theme that has a distinct TFK’s ring about it. The highpoint of this portion of the set however is the bittersweet Jesus On The Barricades. Larsson’s tasteful piano, Reingold’s moody fretless bass and Stolt’s lyrical acoustic guitar are complimented by Sylvan and Edman’s soulful harmonising.
In contrast with the mostly mellow Agents Of Mercy tunes, the Karmakanic offerings are noticeably more upbeat (and proggier). Where Earth Meets The Sky combines fast and tricky instrumental work (particularly from Larsson) with a strong central melody superbly sung by Edman whose smooth delivery is in marked contrast to Sylvan’s nasal tones. Also from 2004’s Wheel Of Life album is the fusion extravaganza Do You Tango? which provides ample opportunity for virtuosity (and egos) to shine. Bass, piano, synth, guitar and drums are all given solo spots and whilst I’m no fan of drum solos D´Virgillio’s extended contribution is mightily impressive.
Lalle's solo is a throwback to the keyboard extravaganzas that were once a notable feature of Wakeman’s performances with Yes. The first half is all piano with romantic classical flourishes giving way to rapid flights. Larsson then switches to synth with impossibly fast finger work in the style of Patrick Moraz which clearly impresses the CalProg crowd. A little surprisingly the melancholic Eternally closes the set, just as it did Karmakanic’s most recent
Who's The Boss In The Factory album. It’s an inspired choice however and dedicated by Reingold to his parents who passed away in 2007. Following a sombre piano and bass intro, Stolt gives his best performance of the disc with a searing solo backed by a martial rhythm that builds dramatically to an Ennio Morricone flavoured climax.
Following an extended bout of clapping and cheering from the audience (a judicial piece of editing would have not gone amiss here) they return to the stage for an encore of Genesis’ Afterglow with Sylvan doing his best Phil Collins impression. His mellotron is too far back in the mix however to compete with the atmosphere created by Tony Banks on the original but Stolt compensates with a spontaneous guitar break to play out.
As live albums go this is a prime example which showcases the individual and collective talents of the musicians involved as much as it does the songs. With some stunning playing by all concerned, Larsson stands out in particular proving to be the equal of most every keyboardist active on the prog scene at present. Special mention should also go to Roine Stolt’s superb sound mix, although quite why he reproduced Richard Nixon’s meeting with Mao Tse-tung for the cover artwork is beyond this reviewer. It’s also a pity that it didn’t run to two discs and include the complete set list. A live version of Karmakanic’s epic Send A Message From The Heart would have been especially welcome.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Electric Orange - Krautrock From Hell
Tracklist: Bandwurm (5:43), Sundos (5:00), Chorg [Cpt.Gyok’s] (10:50), Hers (9:37), Kunstkopf (6:28), Neuronomicon (25.01) Wurmloch (15:38)
Electric Orange was founded in 1992 by Dirk Jan Muller (organ, synthesizer). Working initially with guest musicians he was joined by Dirk Bittner (guitar, vocals, percussion) and then subsequently Georg Monheim (drums) Tom Ruckwald (bass) and Josef Ahns (guitar). Working in their own studio they write and produce their own music, which is often session based and spontaneous. They have recorded several earlier albums, the last being
Morbus, which was released in 2007 and favourably reviewed by us. Krautrock From Hell is their 9th album and continues their tradition of psychedelic / krautrock / spacerock.
Now it must be said that I have never been a huge fan of krautrock. I dabbled with Tangerine Dream and Can when I was a teenager, but I preferred more English orientated progressive rock. However I have always been open minded about music and therefore played the CD with no pre-conceived ideas about the genre.
With the opener Bandwurm I thought,” here we – go, this is exactly what I was expecting” repetitive base, sound effects, synth’ noise, oh dear!
Then came a surprise. Second track Sundos, opens with a repeated Hammond organ refrain before entering an energetic psychedelic rock workout, some what reminiscent of Piper At The Gates Of Dawn - Pink Floyd. Now this was more like it, as I have always had a soft spot for this kind of stuff, it takes me back to my youth of hot summers nights and too much cider!
Track three, Chorg [Cpt.Gyok’s] another surprise! Suddenly I am listening to early Uriah Heep (without vocals) - swirling Hammond, riffing guitars and a general groove and mood that also has a flavour of mid-period Porcupine Tree.
Track four, Hers, begins with some synth’ and guitar noodling, which then leads into a more song orientated section with vocals and ambience reminding me of Porcupine Tree again, only this time circa On The Sunday Of Life.
Track five, Kunstkopf, is another psychedelic rock gem, with rhythmic percussion, rumbling bass, distorted guitar, synth’s, sound effects etc. Its influences are easily identifiable, again early Floyd and Can.
Track six, Neuronomicon. What a great track. 25 minutes of music which ebbs and flows in almost progressive fashion from its acoustic guitar opening, through string synth’ driven psychedelic rock with Hammond organ and guitar, then slowing into a bass led passage which has lots of distorted guitar and effects. Then the Hammond kicks back in with treated “electronic” vocals and lots of sci-fi effects finally building into a Hawkwind style boogie with guitars and synths rising to a crescendo before slowly fading out.
The final track Wurmloch goes back to the band’s influences being a synth led, slow building atmospheric piece with lots sound effects and percussion, very much in the vein of early Tangerine Dream.
This is a good album, all be it firmly set in its genre of psychedelic/ krautrock / space rock. It will appeal to lovers of inventive atmospheric music with “balls”! This is great music to listen to on headphones, late at night, with the lights out, and with several beers or in contradiction, a small sweaty club with lasers and lots of dry ice. Overall the production and sound quality is excellent and the artwork and presentation of the CD is of high quality.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Afroskull - To Obscurity And Beyond
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Year of Release:||2009|
Tracklist: …The Launch (0:20), Spyplane (6:20), Waste Management (6:19), Me & My TV (5:55), Dance Of The Wild Koba (7:26), The Curse (7:38), …Could This Be The End? (0:41), Redemption (5:57), Everything (5:55), Zero Hour (6:22), Escape From Rome (8:04)
Afroskull describe themselves as...
"New York City funk/rock collective by way of New Orleans. The ‘Skull is a sonic gumbo that is one part Funkadelic and one part Black Sabbath with generous helpings of Zappaesque runs and jazzoid horns"
...which should certainly be sufficient to whet anyone's appetite! Originally formed in New Orleans at the turn of the century, the nascent group, who took their name from the perceive halo surrounding the skull on the back sleeve of Steppenwolf Live, released Monster For The Masses in 2000 to critical acclaim but limited commercial success. The band fragmented and band leader and guitarist Joe Scatassa returned to his home town of New York City. Along with drummer Jason Issac, a new version of Afroskull was assembled employing the talents of Matt Iselin (keyboards), Dan Asher (bass), Seth Moutal (percussion) and the so-called 'Horns of Doom' - Jeff Pierce (trumpet), Justin Flynn (tenor sax) an Rafi Malkiel (trombone) - ably augmented by Ronnie Cuber (baritone sax, bass clarinet) who has played with the Mingus Big Band and Frank Zappa, to name but two.
Mostly instrumental, Afroskull continue the fine heritage of horn-laden rock bands in a contemporary style. If the original Chicago Transit Authority, Blood Sweat And Tears or even the Eddie Hazel guitar dominated early years of Funkadelic floated your boat then To Obscurity And Beyond will be a worthy addition to your musical collection. If you're not sure about any of those references, then head on over to the band's MySpace site and grab a listen, particularly if the fantastic Zero Hour is up on rotation on the music player. These guys hold no prisoners and let rip throughout the album that is joyous and upbeat from start to finish. Scatassa is a mean guitar player that can deliver great solos as well as providing a solid backing giving the horns free reign to blast away the cobwebs from your speakers. Asher has the groove and lays down some fat bass that combines harmoniously with the solid drums and percussion all of which leaves Iselin little room to break through but he manages it occasionally. Other times, listen carefully and you'll certainly hear his impressive contributions.
Instrumentally the band can't be faulted and have even ventured out into providing lyrics to two of their compositions. Waste Management (with Iselin on lead vocals) is a fine and funky jazz-rock number and Everything (featuring guest singer Michael Taylor) is a degree more soulful with another excellent guitar solo from Scatassa. For me this album is a great discovery and one that has already occupied an excessive amount of time in my CD player. With a number of live shows available for free download from the brilliant Live Music Archive, it looks like I will be in for a funkified 2010!
Recommended, yes indeed!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Causa Sui - Summer Sessions Vol. 1 ~ 3
|Country of Origin:||Denmark|
|Year of Release:||2010|
|Time:||CD 1 48:15|
CD 2 47:17
CD 3 33:35
Vol. 1: Visions Of Summer (24:42), Red Sun In June (8:06), Portixeddu (7:39), Soledad (7:48)
Vol. 2: Track Sun Prayer (1:05), Rip Tide (5:27), The Open Road (14:16), Cinecitta (3:26), Tropic Of Capricorn (23:00)
Vol. 3: Eugenie (8:08), Red Valley (9:49), Lonesome Traveller (3:27), Santa Sangre (8:22), Venice By The Sea (3:46)
Causa Sui are made up of Jonas Monk (guitars, vocals, electronics & keys), Jess Kahr (bass), Jakob Skott (drums & percussions), Rasmus Rasmussen (keys & electronics on Vol. 2), Johan Riedenlow (saxophone), who all contribute this recording of Summer Sessions Vol. 1 ~ 3 an instrumental album, which contains progressive jazz, krautrock, space rock and heavy psych.
From the out set of disk one you really get the flavour of this band, which is driving rhythmic tones with an improv feel. There is no real let up in how the band perform, who all come across as being really comfortable playing together having their sound firmly rooted in the early 70’s.
The opening track on Vol. 1 Visions Of Summer is a stormer of a track with some great guitar work, heavy bass lines and some great rhythm work performed by Skott, who is playing his heart out all over this track. Had this album track been released in the 70’s it would have been a classic by now with people referencing it, but as time changes, so do people’s choices. I listened to this track late at night, lights dimmed, head phones on which allowed me to hear this in its full glory, and full glory it is too. All sorts of images flowed through my head, bits of The Grateful Dead, bits of Hawkwind and bits of The Doors to name but a few. This really is a track that hits all the points that it should. Soaring instruments weaving turning twisting to a frenetic conclusion, doing so with such class and style, this is how improvised music should be recorded. Red Sun In Jade offers more of a laid back feel, trance like rhythms layered by keyboards and drums being played with a really loose vibe, but so precise. This has a more structured and composed feel than the opening track, and is none the less worse for it. Portixeddu is a percussion lead piece with a faster tempo, having a Santana vibe to it, sounding almost Latin in origin in places, with some great support guitar work, ending up in an interstellar overdrive of cacophony as expressed by the saxophone playing of Riedenlow, which is so fitting. Soledad the closing track on Vol. 1 has a bit of an Alex Lifeson guitar tone at the beginning powering into some fascinating power chords and lead work with bass heavy musical support, bringing to mind Black Sabbath. This disk starts with a powerful opening track and ends with one too, and in between all the supporting cast are also rich in texture. WOW.
Vol. 2 opens with Sun Prayer a beautiful acoustic guitar piece opens the second set and it drops into Rip Tide a rough dirty sounding guitar piece that has Jimi Hendrix written all over it. Munk displays a multifaceted approach to his guitar playing with the saxophone kicking in and grabbing the bull by the horns, shaking things up, offering another dimension to the track. The Open Road is the first of the two longer pieces on Vol. 2. We see Causa Sui trying new approaches jamming with confidence. Riedenlow tones rip and tear through this track giving it direction, supported by machine gun precision drumming in full artillery support, not that the band sound like they are lost, in fact far from it, they are only too willing to see where he wants to go and follow with such style and panache, eventually all taking turns and finally bringing it to a relaxing closing conclusion. Cinecitta offers dreamy acoustic soundscapes that are layer with some electronics and keys offering a break from the dynamic ride of the previous track. Tropic Of Capricorn jumps straight back into improvisation mode with a more rock oriented feel. You wait in anticipation for the band to warm up and take you on another long musical soiree, Voila. It doesn’t take long, there’s just some amazing guitar work here, rising and falling with great prowess. Damn I’ve just reached for my air guitar. Chords menacingly creep forward slowly building a groove that just sucker punches you. Voila the saxophone kicks in with raucous precision, leading to more a progressive jazz sound, like Miles Davis has just been invited to the party, with space tones layering the playing. Jeez this is some pretty damn good stuff.
So we come to Vol. 3 the last but by no means the least of this so far fantastic package. Can this be as consistently good a piece of work as the rest of the set? Yet again the answer is a big emphatic YES. Eugenie kicks off the five tracks on offer here, with slow playing saxophone and trippy keyboards building gracefully incorporating some very nice psychedelic guitar work. Red Valley is up next which is in a similar vein as Eugenie in the way it builds and layers its soundscapes, with more trippy keyboards and space / psychedelic tones, very mesmerizing stuff indeed. The Lonesome Traveller calms things down with its jangly summer guitar opening somewhat simple in structure by very effective, layered by keyboard and drums offering it a deeper dimension. Santa Sangre has spacey tones with added saxophone giving a Miles Davis feel to the whole affair. In fact I got so much involved listening to Riedenlow’s playing I hadn’t notices the rest of the musical framework creep up on me, so intense is his playing, then wham it all hits you. Amazing stuff, it really is. Venice By The Sea is sadly the closing piece of the musical journey and is beautifully played, again trippy guitars complementing some great spacey keyboard work. This is like a blue room come down piece, you just chill out after having just been emotionally and physically drained by Causa Sui.
This is a very classy and powerful set that is consistently good all the way through. Causa Sui are a band of very switched on musicians, who know what they want, how too achieve it, not short of ideas, willing to mix things up and still come out with an excellent and consistent album. Usually with a recorded piece of work of this magnitude there is at least one piece that can be considered as being weak, here I found none. Causa Sui offered me excitement, balance and more importantly left me begging for more. This album is certainly in my top 10 for 2010, possibly ending up in my top 5, but it’s a bit too early for that grouping yet. I seriously mean it folks, this album is that good. If you like any of the mentioned reference points or this genre then you won’t be disappointed.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Cloakwheel – This Crooked Path You’ve Drawn
|Country of Origin:||Switzerland|
|Year of Release:||2009|
Tracklist: Smolder (4:43), House Of Cards (6:19), Final Wish (5:40), Transition Days (7:24), Dreams Of Falling Phase 1 (3:05), Dreams Of Falling Phase 2 (3:38), Dreams Of Falling Phase 3 (3:38)
Cloakwheel are a progressive metal band from the Bay Area in San Francisco, which was very famous for the glut of bands that it presented to the world in the 80’s including Metallica. Cloakwheel consists of Vic Carreiro (soundscapes & guitars), Marcus Luscombie (vocals & guitars), Pete Deutscher (drums & percussions) and John Deutscher (bass). With This Crooked Path You’ve Drawn being their debut album, although they have recorded and released a two track demo back in 2006, of which neither of those tracks appear on this release.
Cloakwheel have recorded, engineered and mixed their debut release even producing the artwork too, what busy people they have been. On listening to the album I feel that there is just something missing from the end product. The band could have bolstered their sound with some keyboards giving it a bit more depth, an opportunity that they have missed this time. The musicianship on the album is good but it is nothing that you probably haven’t heard a hundred times or so before which probably doesn’t do the band any justice either, and to boot, as a band they don’t bring anything new to the table.
Across the seven tracks on this album, you get flashes of brilliant guitar work supported by some flashy bass playing and classy drumming, but unfortunately it’s not consistent enough across the whole album.
The stand out tracks on this album for me are, Smolder the opening track, House Of Cards which has a great guitar driven sound supported by some excellent work by the Deutscher brothers.
The Dreams Of Falling Phase suite, are the strongest set of songs, and this is where the band really stand out and are playing their best, guitars, bass and drums weaving in and out of each other with great confidence and competence with some great time signatures changes. What comes across as the band plays these pieces is how well they interact with each other. Given time and the right pieces this band could have some real potential.
Final Wish is just a prog metal by numbers song that just ambles and has no real ambition of going anywhere, as does Transition Days although the latter does have some really interesting guitar played throughout the piece.
One of the main issues with the genre of prog metal is that the bar has been set really high by the likes of Dream Theater, Fates Warning, Pain of Salvation, Queensryche, Therion and Threshold but to name a few. To aspire to reside along side bands of this class is one thing. To be there you really do need to produce something really special and exciting, something that Cloakwheel at this stage have not achieved.
Musically you can certainly hear the influences of Dream Theater, Fates Warning and some Alice In Chains thrown in there too for good measure, and I think these are fairly good reference points.
To many times we get albums that open and close with really strong songs and in between you get filler tracks. Although I say this about Cloakwheel, when you hear songs like the Dreams Of Falling suite you know that they have that something special thing. The biggest let down though, being that this is their debut and only a short album, one would have hoped that it would have been filled with lots of showcasing rather than sounding a bit samey and generic in places. I am left torn between wanting to give the band more, but just can’t justify it as at times they left me a bit cold.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
A Torn Mind - Barriers [EP]
|Country of Origin:||UK|
|Year of Release:||2010|
|Info:||A Torn Mind|
Tracklist: Sixes & Sevens (7:27), Edge Of The World (5:59), Titans (6:12), Impurity (9:23), Vita (10:29)
Scotland’s A Torn Mind comprises Grant Kilpatrick on lead vocals, guitar; Chris Hartles on guitar, saxophone, keys; Ryan Anderson on bass guitar, vocals and Euan Sked on drums and vocals.
They describe their influences as Genesis, The Mars Volta, Dream Theater, Muse, Pink Floyd and Thrice. In addition, I picked up hints of A Perfect Circle, Threshold, Jadis, Pallas, Rush, Marillion, Iron Maiden and Frost*. They are more to the neo-prog, prog-metal end of the spectrum but with some surprising elements. They are not frightened to throw in some trumpet, a la Big Big Train, for example, and make good use of Hartles’ saxophony skills.
Now, it must be mentioned that these lads are not long out of High School yet their music, and ‘brand identity’ shows maturity well beyond their years. They have clearly invested a lot of time and effort in their web and MySpace sites for example, which are very professional and suggest that this is a band with a plan.
Vocally, Grant Kilpatrick is reminiscent of Gary Chandler, Alan Reed and Stuart Adamson. With three out of the four pitching in on vocal duties there are some pleasing harmonies to be had too.
Sixes And Sevens kicks things off with an insistent Frost*-like riff, and a lead vocal highly evocative of Jadis. There’s a saxophone solo midway through a fluid neo- onslaught of keys and percussion that leads into great vocal harmonies atop mid-80s Rush with a hint of early Pallas in their pomp.
Edge Of The World starts out slowly but quickly becomes a taut melodic prog-metal workout in the vein of Threshold with great vocal harmonies and good use of tortured synths and stun guitar. There’s an acoustic interlude before more full-on riffage.
Titans starts out slower, and stays in that Kayleigh-era Marillion groove before some impressive twin guitar duelling with understated Hammond weaving in and out before another bombastic ending.
Impurity is back in Rush / Dream Theater territory with myriad changes of tempo, showcasing the band’s impressive musicianship. The stun guitar (Eric Bloom) and vocal harmonies remind me in places of Blue Oyster Cult, and there’s some frenzied sax work and Gentle Giant multi-layered harmonising to boot.
Vita begins with Francis Dunnery jamming with Rush before a solid symphonic section evokes bands like Enchant and A Perfect Circle. Midway through there is a snatch of trumpet before that twin Iron Maiden guitar attack takes over. Spoken word sound samples have television evangelists spewing forth over an insistent, smouldering riff.
This is an impressive debut from a band that can only develop further. They’ve thrown everything into the EP, to showcase their musicianship and their prog credentials. It’s a bit of a kitchen sink approach, but they are chock full of ideas, and you’ve got to admire their brash confidence.
As a self-produced effort it isn’t of course going to compete with the big boys in terms of sound quality. It’s a bit trebly in places, like much of the New Wave Of British Prog in the 1980s, although with a year or two of gigging under their belts, and a decent bit of production who knows what the future might hold for them. Definitely one to catch live if you can.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Daal – Disorganicorigami
|Country of Origin:||Italy|
|Record Label:||Mellow Records|
|Catalogue #:||MMP 513|
|Year of Release:||2009|
Tracklist: Holocaustica (2:32), Chimaira (6:21), Mo(o)nso(o)n (6:15), Brain Melody (6:50), The Dance Of The Drastic Navels Part.1 ~ [Chapter One: Touch My Oscillators, Chapter Two: Inside the Electronic Witch, Chapter Three: Ibridaex, Chapter Four: Sleeping Away] (14:24), DisOrganicOrigaMi (3:00), A Saucerful Of Secrets (11:34), Children Of Our Dreams (2:26), Var Glad Var Dag (6:39)
The air raid siren sample that opens Disorganicorigami, the debut release from Italian duo/project Daal, could serve as a signal of a sonic invasion guaranteed to put your ears on their edges.
Daal is comprised of the principal duo of Davide Guidoni (Taproban, The Far Side, Gallant Farm, Nuova Era, Ozone Player and more) on [drums, V-Drums, mandala pad, percussions, taiho, octobans, wavedrum, mandala drums and samples]; and Alfio Costa handling [Arp Solina, Moog modular synth, Minimoog model D, samplers, Prophet 5, Arp 2600 synth, grand concert and Bosendorfer pianos, Oscar synth, Mellotron mod M400Sm, Hammond Organ mod M100, Yamaha CS80, and the Discovery Vst synth]. The band’s name comes from a combination of the first two letters of each of the duo’s first names. Additional contributing musicians include Alfio’s younger brother Flavio Costa (Prowlers, Tilion) who plays electric guitar on one track, Cristiano Roversi (Moongarden, Mangala Vallis) handling Chapman stick bass on one track, Alessandro Papotto (Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Periferia del Mondo) playing various woodwinds on three tracks, Cristina Vinci and Laura Mombrini (Prowlers) handling left and right vocals respectively on one track, Fabio Zuffanti (Finisterre, Maschera di Cera) playing bass on one track, Vincenzo Zitello who on one track handles flute, clarinets, violincello and viola; and Riccardo Paltanin playing electric violin on one track. Guidoni and Alfio Costa first met when their respective bands each contributed a track to Musea Records/Colossus Project The Spaghetti Epic.
A characteristic example of Daal’s dark sound can be found on Brain Melody, with Papotto turning a haunting Turkish sax line and Alfio Costa throwing in some eerie Mellotron layers.
Flavio Costa plays some wailing guitar on Chimaira, which also features some melodic grand piano from brother Alfio.
Guidoni lays down a torrent of rolling mandala drums on Touch My Oscillators, the first “chapter” of the four-chapter The Dance Of The Drastic Navels Part.1. The fourth chapter, Sleeping Away, is a synth movement from Alfio evoking Rick Wright.
On that note, as it were, the CD includes a cover version of Pink Floyd’s A Saucerful Of Secrets featuring the vocals of Vinci (out of your left speaker) and Mombrini (out of the right). Not my favourite version of the song, but perhaps of interest to Floyd enthusiasts. The only other cover on the CD is of the Swedish band Ragnarok’s tune Val Glad Var Dag.
The band showcases a sonic strength in their song writing and musicianship that I believe bodes well for their future. My only complaint about the CD is a fair amount of Guidoni’s drumming sounds low budget. For improvement for their next release I would suggest that he stick mainly with the mandala drums as to my ears they sound crisper and brighter than some of the other drums he utilizes.
Fans of dark, electronica-based rock may dig this CD. If you seek something more upbeat and perky, your toes probably won’t be tapping if you give this a listen.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Quicksilver Messenger Service – Quarter Note Lounge 26 July 1977
CD 1: Fresh Air (4:24), Dr Feelgood (5:31), Baby Baby (5:44), Mona (9:01), Play My Guitar (5:06), Gypsy Lights (3:59), Cowboy on the Run (5:49), Bittersweet Love (5:11), What About Me? (7:38)
CD 2: Freeway Flyer (6:40), I Wanna Fly (5:17), Subway (4:24), Rambling Gambler (5:17), Who Do You Love? (10:51)
Quicksilver Messenger Service made their debut on Capitol in 1968 and went on to record a further 8 LPs between then and 1975. Now marketed and distributed by prog-friendly Voiceprint, they tell us that this double CD includes a gig that the band played in New Orleans during one of their many reunions in 1977. This gig was originally recorded for radio broadcast. At that time the band featured Gary Duncan (guitar), Dino Valenti (guitar, vocals), Rick Wetzel (bass), Chris Myers (drums) and Captain Kirk (keyboards).
Songs performed at the concert included staples of the Quicksilver live repertoire including Who Do You Love and Mona alongside lesser-known songs Bittersweet Love and Cowboy On The Run from the bands reunion album Solid Silver.
Quicksilver Messenger Service is considered to be one of the most important bands to come from the San Francisco music scene of the sixties. The band initially came together in 1965 and proceeded to play a great many gigs across America. They never quite managed the success and recognition of their contemporaries, The Grateful Dead and The Jefferson Airplane.
Maybe the reason for this can be found in the words of guitarist Gary Duncan:
"We had no ambition toward making records, we just wanted to have fun, play some music and make enough money to be able to afford to smoke pot".
Their live sound is typified by lots of Hammond, great vocal harmonies, frenzied guitar breaks and tortured solos. Points of reference for me include Santana, Blue Oyster Cult’s On Your Feet Or On Your Knees, Reo Speedwagon’s Live: You Get What You Play For together with a healthy dose of Lynryd Skynryd.
It’s not a bad ‘warts and all’ live recording, with nice audience interaction and participation all of which adds to the appeal of this album as a historical document. Fans are going to lap it up. The irritating radio voiceovers, like the one at the end of Dr. Feelgood, do annoy though.
Lyrically it’s pretty straightforward; mainly “ooh baby”, “girl I’m diggin’ you” love songs with a bit of hippy/trippy “I dream of a world without war”, “they’ve cut down our green trees” social commentary thrown in for good measure. The dual guitars of Gary Duncan and Dino Valenti do give a depth and power to the sound though and Valenti’s bluesy vocals add to the ‘good time rock and roll’ feel.
Standouts for me, who had never heard of the band before now, are the manic Who-like Mona (spoiled with another radio voiceover); the bluesy guitar solo in Play My Guitar; the Hammond infused Gypsy Lights, again with a splendid guitar solo but with that radio voiceover; the interplay of bass and Hammond on the jazzy Bittersweet Love; the bass solo on Freeway Flyer – the live playing of Joe Bouchard of BOC springs to mind; the vocal harmonies and chugging riff of Subway, like the Beatles on (more) pot; album closer Who Do You Love, very reminiscent of the Who’s Magic Bus, which sees an extended improvisational guitar workout underpinned by that ubiquitous Hammond sound. With added feedback and exploratory electronica. Great bass solo yet again then a bit of ELP keyboard mayhem, mixed with a Doors swirly organ culminating in a Hendrix-esque climax.
2008 saw five live album releases from the band, all reviewed (HERE) on the DPRP and all similarly distributed by Voiceprint. They garnered between 4 –7 stars. Stars were deducted for sound quality, the mix, and audience intrusion. Here the music’s fine, sound quality is pretty good but the radio announcements are incredibly annoying. This is not going to put off the fans though, who are going to buy it come what may. The rest of us may need to hear a few sound clips first. It’s proggy, because of the Hammond and the improv jazz bits. But it’s not going to float the boat of most hardcore prog fans. Classic rock fans will definitely find things to enjoy, though. All I can say is that I would have liked to have been at the gig. But then I was only 13. And in Bradford.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Alex Harvey – Presents: The Loch Ness Monster
|Country of Origin:||UK|
|Year of Release:||1977/2009|
One of the best live acts of the 70’s was undoubtedly The Sensational Alex Harvey Band with their flamboyant stage presentation and gutsy blend of hard rock and prog. They almost managed to upstage (and annoy) Yes during the latter’s 1975 Relayer tour thanks to the antics of their charismatic frontman Alex Harvey. I can still vividly recall at Stoke City football ground the unpredictable Glaswegian spraying black paint onto Yes’ gleaming white backdrop during the SAHB’s support slot. In 1977 Harvey’s over indulgent lifestyle encouraged him to take a break leaving the rest of the band to continue temporarily as a foursome. He took advantage of the respite to realise his long held fascination for the Loch Ness monster producing an album dedicated to the creature which appeared on the budget K-Tel label.
The perceptive will have guessed that the absence of a tracklist above indicates that there is no music to be found on the album. Its purely spoken word with Harvey and fellow narrator Richard O’Brien joined by a succession of eyewitnesses each giving an account of their sightings of the legendary monster (affectionately known as Nessie) at Loch Ness in Scotland.
O’Brien’s austere and very English introduction is in true BBC documentary fashion contrasting with Harvey’s surprisingly dulcet and very Scottish tones. Harvey provides the link to each account as the participants relate at length their experiences. Those interviewed include local residents, visitors, policemen, fishermen and a priest. The reported sightings range from one to five creatures at any one time and whilst they’re not always entirely convincing they are occasionally absorbing. It’s also interesting how the detailed descriptions of the monster from each eyewitness closely match one another.
In his original liner notes reproduced in the CD booklet Harvey asserts his belief that a family of creatures does exist in Loch Ness. There’s no doubting the sincerity of his convictions although the sceptic in me would ask this simple question. If a colony does exist then how is it that during the 60’s when Nessie mania was at its height numerous reported sightings followed yet when the media eventually lost interest the sightings also coincidently declined?
My cynicism aside, this reissue from Voiceprint makes this rare collectors’ album available on CD for the first time. I can however only recommend it to dedicated Alex Harvey compilists or to anyone that has a fascination for the subject and wishes to research the myth of the Loch Ness monster further.
I said earlier that there was no music on the album which is not strictly true. Following the final interview Alex performs a childlike ditty which includes the line “Although I love my teddy bear I like monsters too” adding a welcome note of levity on which to conclude. Five years later whilst on tour Alex sadly passed away due to a massive heart attack. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s up there now dreaming of teddy bears and monsters.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Qantum – Les Temps Oublies
|Country of Origin:||France|
|Record Label:||Musea Records|
|Catalogue #:||FGBG 4838|
|Year of Release:||2009|
Tracklist: Images D'Enfance (3:57), Le Voyage De L'Espoir (6:37), Errance (5:09), Milena (5:45), Féérique Utopie (7:07), Court Terme (3:02), Le Temps Des Mages (4:15), Présage (7:41), Impressions Fugaces (2:46)
Quantum are the fusion of two defunct French progressive rock acts, Ultime Atome (Ultimate Atom) and Lapsus Linguae (Slip Of The Tongue). Ultime Atome released an album called Dark Visions in 2004 also on Musea but I can find no web presence for Lapsus Linguae. What I can tell you is that Dark Visions was received with critical indifference as little more than a Marillion tribute album. Much the same can be said for Les Temps Oublies which is not only in a similar vein to Script For A Jester’s Tear, but could actually be mistaken for it. This does raise a question in my mind: “Why does a ‘progressive’ band delve 28 years into the past for its sound?”
Certainly Marillion, having taken theirs from Genesis and spawned the neo prog sound, have gone on to provide a template for many subsequent artists who have, in turn, developed the idea and created something distinct. Nothing could be clearer when considering Genesis themselves and their undoubted impact on progressive music as a whole. Influence is one thing and Qantum wear theirs quite openly on their collective sleeves but are doing absolutely nothing to push the envelope or develop the genre. Moreover, if imitation is a form of flattery, then forgive me if I am underwhelmed by the compliment. Whilst they may be singing from the same hymn sheet as Marillion and, to a lesser extent Genesis, the French translation on offer here is pretty dire, all things considered.
The band consists of Frank Foussard (keys), Simon Tardif (drums), Thierry Locatelli (guitars), Bruno Vente (bass) and Jean-Marc Tesoria on vocals. Les Temps Oublies presents us nine tracks which have that whimsical, slightly anthemic, slightly mythical, slightly other world and other time quality common to Genesis and early Marillion. It’s something of a motley collection of short interludes separating longer, twisting pieces.
Album opener Images D’Enfance (Pictures of Childhood) gets things moving along briskly with a raw, live feel to the recording which, if I’m being unkind, comes across as clumsy and loose before Le Voyage De L’Espoir (Hope’s Journey) joins the fray and the cracks that began to show in track 1 start to widen and bulge. It begins promisingly enough with pizzicato strings presaging the main theme, picked out on harpsichord and guitar. But, in spite of its three or four movements that provide some variety and depth to its suite-like structure, it all seems a bit lightweight and lacks any real bite. This is equally true of Errance (Wandering) which showcases some sweet melodic phrases as does Milena. By now however, I have grown distinctly restless. Féérique Utopie (Fairylike Utopia) does little to make me prick up my ears other than to note the melody is straight from Jesus Christ Superstar and Christ’s Trial Before Pilate. Court Terme (Short Term) is a pleasant pastoral piece led by classical guitar. Les Temps Des Mages (Time of the Wizards) is mercifully brief before Présage (Pressing) effectively concludes the sung pieces and is, for me, the best track of the lot. Despite some weird and unnecessary stereo phasing, this track manages to possess a potency the others lack, both in songwriting and execution. Finally, Impressions Fugaces (?) closes the album with an instrumental piece on piano and keys and I can’t wait to remove the disk from the CD drawer and listen to something else.
So what’s the problem? I can tell you. It’s all so flaccid and limp and fey. The songwriting lacks backbone and the whole thing is so simplistic; lacking either aural challenge or musical catharsis. The marriage between the instruments is convergent, by which I mean they are following each other’s musical thread and consequently coming together too often and merely reflecting each other’s ideas. There is no space. There are no musical contours, and little texture. Such textures as there are, are created from the same palette of sounds on almost every track which certainly provides the band with a sonic identity but no personality whatsoever. It lacks feel, and warmth, and power, and flair.
The rhythm section is pedestrian and rarely offers anything other than median dynamics. Worse still, there are occasions when the players are actually out of time with each other and themselves. Le Voyage De L’Espoir for example, contains a dreadful keyboard solo that is both clumsy and clunky. In the right hands this can be a desirable quality. Steve Howe in his pre-Drama Yes days was the absolute master of playing with staggering looseness yet simultaneously being ‘right in the pocket’, but this is inexcusable. What’s more, this is the take that made the final pressing. How bad were the ones that ended up in the recycle bin?
My final gripe is with the vocalist, Jean-Marc. Replete with the highly effected, uber-theatrical vocal delivery of Fish, including those tourettes-like outbursts and twitches peculiar to his style but with none of the magnetism or the originality of the man himself. Indeed, Jean-Marc occasionally comes across more like John Lydon in his PiL persona, though I’m not sure if that’s intentional, but he has this strange warble that he applies to some of the held notes which I found risible.
Bear in mind, that this is my ameliorated review. Had I written my thoughts after the three spins I could initially bear to stomach, my mauling would have been even more severe. However, I resolved to give Les Temps… as fair and objective a hearing as I could and after another 4 or 5 goes my ear attuned to its character and I began to find some redeeming qualities to it. Nevertheless, Qantum seem to suffer from the absence of a strong creative intelligence to lead the project. The idea of forming a band and playing free from any commercial constraints to make the music you like has a noble and appealing ring to it. Fine. But none of the musical ideas here display any evidence of having been thoroughly developed. It sounds immature in the sense of ‘not yet ripe’. It’s not really plagiarism, nor is it really an homage but I really think Qantum need to tear up the blueprint and start again because there is enough (just) to suggest that if they sought their own identity instead of tramping over old ground, they might, just might have something interesting to offer the prog community. This is not it.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10
The Scratches – Screaming Softly
Tracklist: It Begins With Mumbling And Piano (2:10), I Don't Think I'll Ever Get There Now (4:41), Rape, Murder, And A Little Bit Of Romance (1:39), All The Machines Are Screaming (2:57), Some Things Taste Better Standing Up (4:09), Nameless Piece (1:40), Grace Albedo (0:52), In The Afternoon I Smell The Pigments Changing (3:07), All Roads Also Lead To Barkhamsted (3:09), I Take The Shape Of My Container (0:56), Pack Up Your Box Of Crayons (2:33), Kulta [Sarah's Song] (0:54), Gamble And You'll Get Bombed (12:11)
Their myspace calls this “original acoustic music that is classically moody, boldly brooding and slightly atmospheric”.
Influences are listed as Emilie Autumn, Bartok, Ani DiFranco, Dresden Dolls, Dan Donegan, Kirk Hammett, Elton John's Second Album, The Ken Oak Band, Laura Marling, Nightwish, Shavo Odadjian, Paganini, Steve Reich, Roxy Music, Shostakovich, Tindersticks, Jay Ungar, Vivaldi. King Crimson is also listed and they nail their prog colours to the mast by adding the word ‘definitely’ to KC’s reference. This is not, though, progressive music, dear reader. Which is why I’m not highlighting any of the names in the text. Crimson fans who might have been encouraged by the press blurb - pause a moment.
This is avant-garde chamber music, played entirely on acoustic instruments by decent musicians without a recording deal, with occasional vocals by Phoebe from Friends. Smelly Cat anyone?
The opening track, It Begins With Mumbling And Piano could easily have been the six word review I submitted. It did, though, make me desperately want to shout out “Flash, Ah Ah” before it quickly degenerated into tunelessness.
For all you film fans there’s the theme from Fargo reprised on Nameless Place.
I’ve read another review of this record on the interweb: "Screaming Softly makes a good rainy day album for people too hungover to go out to the deli, or for winding down if you aren’t yet planning on falling asleep ...”
Alrighty then, on to the bits that are good from a progressive standpoint.
All Roads Also Lead To Barkhamsted starts out with plaintive violin and acoustic guitar and glockenspiel. It’s very understated, sparse and gentle. Lilting even.
I Take The Shape Of My Container is the stand out track – Phoebe-esque vocals again but on this song they work. A very bare piece, fleshed out with violin. Simple acoustic guitar weaves in and out of the cat scratch violin and vocal refrain. Don’t listen if you’re feeling a bit down though – it could well push you over the edge. If you’re slightly more depressed than “down”, then either ring the Samaritans or play something uplifting from the X Factor. Something chirpy.
So, there are two tracks out of 13 I can recommend to readers of this site. It’s a promo, so hopefully the band are just exploring themes, sounds and textures and will wow us with their next ‘progressive’ release.
Conclusion: 2 out of 10