REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:
Haken - Aquarius
|Country of Origin:||UK|
|Year of Release:||2010|
Tracklist: The Point Of No Return (11:27), Streams (10:14), Aquarium (10:40), Eternal Rain (6:43), Drowning In The Flood (9:28), Sun (7:19), Celestial Elixir (16:56)
Haken are a British band who were originally formed in 2007 by 3 school friends, two of whom (guitarist, keyboardist and song-writer Richard Henshall and vocalist/ lyricist Ross Jennings) remain and form the backbone of the present group. Along the way there have been a few line up changes, with the six piece responsible for their debut offering Aquarius including bassist Thomas MacLean (guitarist and main songwriter for technical, avant-garde inclined prog metallers To Mera, who also include Henshall in their current line-up) and guitarist Charles Griffiths, who plays with the equally adventurous metallers Linear Sphere.
Given the background of some of the musicians, its perhaps no surprise that Aquarius is a highly ambitious debut album. Not only is it a seventy plus minute concept album – about a mermaid, no less – but it features a head-spinning array of different musical styles and tempos, which certainly needs more than just a cursory listen to absorb (in fact, had I reviewed it after just a couple of plays then my conclusion would have been very different) but once the melodies and choruses get stuck in your head, its very difficult to dislodge them, and all but the most jarring time changes somehow seems entirely natural and fit the songs to a tee.
I’m not going to try and do a detailed song-by-song run through the album, but a description of the opening track The Point Of No Return will serve to give a taster of what listeners can expect. A flurry of dramatic piano notes lead into a bombastic, symphonic opening that almost sounds like a grand finale, but before you can bathe in the bombastic splendour of this we’re off on a tangent into the sort of music you might find playing at a circus or carnival – oft kilter but expertly played, as is everything on the album. The song then settles into a pleasant vocal-led section, with Ross Jennings’ soothing voice dominating, whilst the guitars add ballast to the nicely textured keyboard work. At this stage, the song is vaguely reminiscent of Kansas – appropriate given the song’s title. There’s a good symphonic sweep to the sound, which builds in presence and power convincingly. Next, there’s a brief – not especially heavy – section where Jennings’ employs his own version of the patented Mikael Akerfeldt-style death grunt. I’m not really sure this works here – to be fair, it is more effective on the more doomy section of Streams that its all employed in – but it’s a brief diversion before we’re back in the circus. Soon the song dives into a blazing instrumental section dominated by heavy riffs, elastic guitar solo’s, loose-limbed bass work and some oddball keyboard sounds – it could be seen as self-indulgent (and to some extent is) but ultimately this is just another part of the band’s artistic palette. Some jazzy late-night piano work seeps improbably into some scything, Dream Theater-esque riffs before this impressively segues into a return to the main symphonic theme, and the song is topped off with a fine finale.
The other songs on the album follow a similarly eclectic and engaging pattern, with more going on on each of them than there are on many band’s entire albums. Streams has a lovely Firth Of Fifth-style piano intro, the aforementioned doomy section, highly technical jazz guitar work and even a kind of doo-wop pastiche from Jennings, whilst the anthemic chorus is one of the strongest on the album. Aquarium features, at various times, some soulful, bluesy guitar work and great Hammond soloing, whilst Eternal Rain – aside from the wonderful rippling keys on the intro – features a particularly emotional performance from Jennings and some of the finest guitar solo’s on the album, fired off with seeming nonchalance.
Drowning In The Flood recovers from a slightly dodgy start – marrying nu metal-style riffs with a sludgy, aggressive vocal more suited to the likes of Pantera – to showcase some of the strongest evocation of atmosphere on the album, including a sublime mellow mid-section majoring on twinkling keys which recalls early to mid-nineties Marillion. Again, the way the song ebbs and flows, and builds to various crescendos, is extremely impressive. Sun is something of an oddity in that it remains relatively laid-back throughout, avoiding the temptation to add any additional layers of sound. The vocals, keyboard and guitar work and overall mood can’t help but recall Opeth’s Damnation – an album that seems to becoming more and more influential as the years pass.
Finally we have the ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ 16-plus minute epic Celestial Elixir. Many of the previous themes are revisited (including the chorus from Streams) and this – as opposed to say some of Transatlantic’s work – helps to create a unified feel to the album without feeling like they’re milking a few musical themes because that’s all they have. The more quirky, bouncy sections recall the likes of (early) Spock’s Beard and A.C.T, yet as always there’s heavier elements that offset the lighter musical moments effectively.
What’s most impressive about this album is how assured it is. The song writing is excellent, the production just right and the performances excellent throughout. As I’ve mentioned numerous times before, the instrumental work is stellar, with the interplay between guitars and keyboards being particularly worthy of note. Vocalist Ross Jennings deserves a special mention – on first listen I had his voice down as perhaps the weak link on the album, but again repeated listens have changed this perception – his smooth, confident, multi-ranged vocal style (at times similar to a young James LaBrie) helps to make some of the more challenging sections easier on the ear, and he definitely knows how to belt out an anthemic chorus. The impressive use of harmony vocals to add atmosphere and texture is also noteworthy.
Of course there are criticisms I could level – there is the odd seemingly pointless musical interlude, the use of death grunts remains suspect, and some of the songs (particularly Celestial Elixir) could do with a bit of trimming – but ultimately these are minor complaints. Since receiving this album for review (and once over the first couple of spins) I’ve found myself repeatedly reaching for it, and always finding something new on each subsequent listen. A very impressive debut from a band who I have high hopes will become leading lights in the modern progressive rock scene.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
TOM DE VAL
Sacrum – Days Of Quarantine
|Country of Origin:||Argentina|
|Year of Release:||2010|
Tracklist: Survive (3:53), Pressure (5:01), Dazing Silence (5:30), The Unknown (5:44), Eternity (5:25), Quarantine (6:27), Keeping Me Alive (4:13), Recalling (4:40), Dancing Stars (6:36), Forbidden (6:36), Midnight Sun (6:06), The Last Trace (6:02), Animal [Bonus Track]
With a second album packed with adventure, variety and passion, these Argentinian progressive metallers have delivered the potential shown on their promising debut. In reviewing Cognition (2008), I was wary of an over-emphasis on Dream Theater mimicry and a singer who needed to find his comfort zone. I concluded that if they could stamp a bit more of their own identity next time around, whilst maintaining the concise song writing, then Sacrum will be a name to watch.
That’s exactly what they’ve done on Days Of Quarantine.
The Dream Theater cloning has been swept away. In its place are twelve slices of modern, aggressive, progressive rock/metal. They are the sort of songs, which although crammed with memorable melodies, are not afraid to suddenly change pace many times over.
The music alternates from riff-based direct ProgMetal (Keeping Me Alive – think Redemption), modern Crossover-Prog (Dancing Stars – think Karnivool or Three), and some ProgPower Metal (Quarantine – think
Days Of Quarantine has many lighter moments such as the balladic The Unknown and the acoustic opening to Eternity. It has some heavier sections such as the second half of Eternity and the chaotic workout that brings Forbidden to an end. Some tracks such as the opening pairing keep on a pretty even keel. Most tracks explore various combinations. No single track hangs around long enough to get tired of anything.
The composition skills shown across this album are very mature. It’s the sort of album you can play in the background, enjoying the melodies and riffs. Equally it’s an album you can sit down with the headphones on and really listen to. Both approaches offer great rewards.
The production is meaty yet allows every element to bloom. There’s some sort of doomsday storyline going through the album which adds an extra dimension, as does the bonus track sung in their native tongue. Oh, and I almost forgot, there’s a heavy dose of electronica thrown into the mix this time. The opening of the title track in particular holds some very groovy dance beats.
Being picky, I have to say that despite a promising opening Recalling should have been left for a future rarities album. The key is totally wrong for the singer’s voice. The Last Trace is a reflective song needed to close the story, but is a weak way to end such a strong album. Not wanting to end with a negative, I must also say that the guitar work is stellar, especially the short bursts of solos and the interplay with the keyboards.
The transformation of Sacrum reflects the approach taken by fellow South Americans Mindflow. If you enjoyed Mindflow’s Destructive Device, I think you’ll love this.
In October they will become the first ever band from Argentina to appear at Progpower Europe. It is a festival which always throws-up a totally unexpected new delight. This year the spotlight could well fall on Sacrum.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Myrath - Hope
|Country of Origin:||Tunisia|
|Record Label:||Brennus Music|
|Year of Release:||2007|
Tracklist: Intro (2:08), Confession (6:38), Hope (8:55), Last Breath (4:25), Seven Sins (11:24), Fade Away (4:49), All My Fears (5:13), My Inner War (8:34)
Five piece Myrath, (which means Legacy), comprise of Malek Ben Arbia (guitar), Elyes Bouchoucha (keyboards and vocals), Zaher Zorgati (vocals), Anis Jouini (bass) and Saif Ouhibi (drums).
Hope is Myrath’s second album, as they recorded a Tunis only released album called Double Face. They are a band from Tunisia who started life playing death metal covers, graduating to being an exclusively Symphony X covers band, when Bouchoucha joined the band after graduating from the Tunis Conservatory.
The opening track called Intro, funnily enough, really defines where this band originates from, the mysticism of North Africa, tribal drum, choral vocals and keyboards, opening the door for the rest of the album, powering into some very classy musical excursions. The Symphony X influence is still with the band, along with Dream Theater and Pain of Salvation, which is not a bad combination. Even with this being the case Myrath have managed to keep some originality too. Confessions features some stunning keyboard interplay that is akin to Michael Pinnella, (which goes without saying really), or Jordan Rudess in style, thrown in with some very dexterous and dynamic lead and rhythm work from Arbia. This is a combination that works very well throughout the whole album, with not one bad track to be found. Hope the title track shows off the vocal prowess of Zorgati, who has a powerful voice, keeping the generic eastern tinged vocal style, which is reinforced by the supported musical backdrop. This is where bands like this win hands down, thinking slightly outside the box and then delivering the goods. Ouhibi, is a very talented drummer whose footwork and stickmanship is outstanding, fast paced and precise. Time changes are akimbo, that are very fitting and well executed, creating a very powerful and interesting song, which again features some really amazing guitar work, especially the solo at the end of the song.
Last Breath has a slightly heavier approach, sounding vaguely like Dream Theater, the layering of the vocals works very well, adding a dynamic, strengthening the chord progressions being played. The band really know how to interact, keyboard verses guitar, being ringed fenced by Jouini and Ouhibi. The epic Seven Sins is up next, again Zorgati demonstrates his vocal talent, sounding as if this was a piece from a stage show. The music takes lead with its own direction, mixing varying styles, constructing, displaying the bands vast talents, which for me, is by far the best track on the whole album; this is what prog metal is all about. For a debut album that has been constructed by songs as good and as strong as these presented, really says something about a band, Seven Sins has just got what it takes, by the cup full. Fade Away opens with keyboard orchestration and some nice acoustic guitar work, before the band kick in. Zorgati takes a very calm and relaxed approach in his vocal style, with his diction being very good, creating Myrath’s ballad. That may sound crass, but all the big boys do it sooner or later, Myrath did it sooner rather than later in their career and a fine job they have done too. All My Fears steps up the game again, moving back into powerful music territory, being probably the most formulaic approached song on the album, featuring pounding drums, pounding bass and guitar rhythm, having moments of brilliance thrown in. My Inner War, the album closer is another epic piece of no nonsense prog metal, with varying instrumental leads, having atmosphere, allowing the band to really show the world what they are capable of, mixing again varying styles, featuring Arbia playing some very interesting guitar parts. The track builds; creating complex runs that stop as quick as the start, having the listener begging for more.
This is a band that is ready for the big stage and should be out on a major tour with the big guns. The quality of what has been presented here needs to be shared with a bigger and wider audience, make no mistake of that. I can’t highly recommend this album enough, it really is that good. It will be really interesting to see where Myrath go from here.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Myrath - Desert Call
|Country of Origin:||Tunisia|
|Record Label:||XIII Bis Records/|
|Year of Release:||2010|
Tracklist: Forever And A Day (5:41), Tempest Of Sorrows (4:42), Desert Call (7:00), Madness (6:18), Silent Cries (10:45), Memories (4:53), Ironic Destiny (5:44), No Turning Back (5:38), Empty World (7:06), Shockwave (7:15)
Tunisia isn’t a country which you might expect to be the home of a solid progressive rock band, in fact I doubt there will be that many progressive rock outfits from that country at all. I know of only one band and this is the one I now have an album under review - Myrath. The album Desert Call is to my best knowledge their second full album that has been released worldwide, having previously recorded another album which had a Tunisian only release.
Myrath is a five piece band comprising of Zaher Zorgatti – vocals, Malek Ben Arbia – guitar, Seif Ouhibi – drums, Anis Jouini – bass guitar, Elyes Bouchoucha – keyboards & vocals. During the recording of Desert Call they have had extra guitar assistance of Stephan Forte. Myrath, which translates as Legacy, started as a metal covers band under the name of Xtazy in 2001, mainly playing death metal and Symphony X covers. Come the year 2005 they decided to make an album of their own. This album Double Face was a self produced Tunisian release only - under the name of Xtazy. In 2006 they changed their name into Myrath and recorded a second album Hope with Kevin Godfert as producer. And now it’s 2010 and I have their latest release, Desert Call, in my CD player.
From the first track onward Myrath do not want to hide their background. Forever And A Day starts with a choir sound, followed by a Tunisian or traditional Arabic sounds in the music, Not only that, but there are also lyrics in their native tongue. I must say I hadn’t heard an Arabic lyric in a rock song before, so it is a nice twist in the music. Further to that Forever And A Day is a classically built up progressive metal song like the great bands play. Wait!! Myrath is one of these great bands.
Tempest Of Sorrows as the second track again has these Arabic sounds interacting in the song with the vocals of Zaher. The song has a good clean melody line, good vocals, shredding guitars and of course the aforementioned traditional ethnic instruments.
The title track off the album, Desert Call, is again a song with a fine structure, great choruses and shredding guitar, along with the ever incorporated ethnic instruments, both the traditional instruments and guitar play a solo in the song.
I do not want to keep repeating myself over and over about these brilliantly crafted songs. Each in its own league - from the more traditional way of progressive metal in songs as in Madness, Ironic Destiny and No Turning Back. Myrath also know how you need to build a symphonic song, listen to Silent Cries, Memories and Shockwave. In these songs the keyboards play a more dominant role, but they never forget their ethnic background and of course the rocking guitar is ever present.
Two years ago Myrath had to cancel their performance to Progpower Europe, so I am really looking forward to see them at ProgPower 2010. With only two world wide release to their name I rate these musicians very highly and they certainly belong up in the spotlight with companions like Dream Theater, Shadow Gallery and other great heavy progressive rock bands. Desert Call is a must have album for every fan of heavy progressive rock. Not one song is a filler - all are high quality.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Oceans Of Sadness - The Arrogance Of Ignorance
Tracklist: Roulette (5:31), Self-fulfilling Prophecy (5:01), Subconscious (5:25), Some Things Seem So Easy (6:31), The Weakest Link (4:13), Between The Lines (4:53), In The End (5:54), From Then On (4:11), Failure (6:06), Hope (3:00)
Tijs Vanneste (vocals), Wim Melis (guitars), Tom Van Cauwenberghe (guitars), Hans Claes (keyboards), Jo Van Heghe (bass) and Guy Vernelen (drums) are the personnel that make up Belgium Doom band Oceans Of Sadness.
Oceans Of Sadness have been in existence now for fifteen years, having released five albums to date, For We Are (2000), Laughing Tears, Crying Smile (2002), Send In The Clown (2004), Mirror Palace (2007) and their latest release The Arrogance Of Ignorance (2008). The album features guest appearance by Annlouice Loedlund (Diablo Swing Orchestra) and Johan Liiva (Arch Enemy, Hearse).
Oceans Of Sadness have recorded an album that is rather interesting in its approach, one minute it’s heavy and melodic, featuring nice vocal passages, the next, shouty and screamy vocal phrasings, having an atmospheric and dark approach. The album is very listenable and very likeable, having a well polished and somewhat commercial sounding edge, due to Jens Borgen (who has worked with Opeth, Katatonia and Amon Amarth) sterling job on production.
Various styles and approaches have been used throughout the album, death, black, power, thrash and progressive metal, which reminded me loosely of bands such as Katatonia, Arcturus, and Opeth. You have the inevitable power chords, punchy rhythms, walls of orchestral keyboards, which keep you attentive from beginning to end. I really like the way the vocals have been played against each other, a melodic framework, working in conjunction with screeching vocal tones one minute, death metal growls the next, Self-fulfilling Prophecy is a really good example of that. This approach adds depth to the track, which is interesting, as it would be quite easy to replicate ten tracks that all sound generically the same, which is something that Oceans Of Sadness have avoided. Subconscious uses the dual vocal approach that has been perfected by bands like Lacuna Coil, but due to the song having a very strong presence, it all works very effectively, with its bouncy melody. Some Things Seem So Easy, an atmospheric ballad per se, is another really good example of what this band are capable of, both lyrically, vocally and more importantly musically, showing that over the last fifteen years they have really built on their confidence and presentation. Tijs vocals have been layered and used to great effect, without over indulgence. In The End juxtaposes extreme metal with prog elements, making it a very powerful and crushing track. The album closer Hope with Claes piano driven theme, is dark and atmospheric in approach, being a very fitting instrumental, the come down after the nine previous high powered and classy tracks.
Lyrically is an area where sometimes an album can get overlooked. Lyrically is where this album really hits home, powerful word play which here is two very good examples of this;
- Roulette, “I don't believe in God, I don't believe in religion, But I believe in nature having it's opinion, We are as strong as we are weak and there's no difference between you and me”.
- Failure, “Every day in every way hypocrite’s reign, Time to pay, make my day, fire away Now... Time has come to face the truth about this world today, yeah me and you”.
- And the title of the album, The Arrogance Of Ignorance, need I say more?
All the tracks presented here are thunderous almost epic in approach, with some complex passages added for good measure. Sonically as an album, this is the business, with it memorable music structures. No sooner has the next song started and you are still humming and running the melodies from the last one. Now that doesn’t happen often, even better, by the end of the album, I struggled to decide which track to hum, that’s even rarer. As a band Oceans Of Sadness are a very tight and cohesive package, that for my money are worth investigating further.
We need more albums like this, having a multitude of tracks that vary in tempo, approach and have class and substance. This will be on my play list for quite some time to come.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Shadow Gallery - Shadow Gallery
Tracklist: The Dance Of Fools (7:36), Darktown (9:12), Mystyfied (7:10), Questions At Hand (6:55), The Final Hour (5:07), Say Goodbye To The Morning (6:51), The Queen Of The City Of Ice (17:11)
Personnel: Brendt Allman (acoustic, electric guitars & vocals), Mike Baker (vocals), Carl Cadden-James (bass, vocals, flute), Chris Ingles (piano & keyboards). Additional Personnel: Ben Timely - (drums & percussion - Ben Timely is a name that the band gave to the Alesis HR-16 drum machine), John Cooney (additional percussion), Lianne Himmelwright (backing vocals).
Now it is not all that often we do reviews of band's back catalogues, however for the occasion of Prog Power Europe 2010 we made an exception. The band under review here is Shadow Gallery, not unfamiliar to most of us. Shadow Gallery have been around for a while now and all of their previous albums have been reviewed by DPRP, barring two. So with these reviews here we now close the loop on the Shadow Gallery catalogue, firstly with their self titled debut album, released back in 1992, yes, 18 years ago people and considering what has been happening since then quite a long time.
I started this review on a different basis than all my other reviews, the album is in my possession almost 15 years now, and I have listened to it more than once as you can imagine. Reviewing an album which you already know from the start and is not a re-mastered or remixed version is difficult at least. When I started listening to Shadow Gallery I caught up with a lot of memories I had of the time it was released. I remember that almost at the same time another album was released by a notorious progressive metal act. And above that an album that is noted as classic. Dream Theater’s Images And Words. Now In my humble opinion Shadow Gallery deserve at least the same stature as their opponents Dream Theater. Both bands are in my collection with their full catalogues. Never mind all that, Dream Theater have risen to higher acclaim than Shadow Gallery for whatever reason.
Going back to the album, Shadow Gallery consists of seven songs that vary in length from just over five minutes up to a seventeen minute long epic. The album was produced back in 1992 and recorded lacking a real drummer, so the band brought in
"Ben Timely" - a drum machine. Although at times it sounds as if a real drummer is playing, probably the work of John Cooney playing additional percussion. On the other hand we have the late, great Mike Baker on lead vocals. It is a real shame this fantastic singer passed away two years ago. I really enjoy the way he sings his songs.
Listening to Shadow Gallery you can definitely hear the band is in its development stages, trying to find the musical direction they want to go. If you listen closely you can hear elements of progressive heavy metal, symphonic metal and folk influences are also around. What I remembered best about this album were the fantastic lyrics sung by the ever so grand Mike Baker. I fell in love with The Queen Of The City Of Ice the first time I heard this song. The really Mike's theatrical way of singing,
like a song in a musical and the beautiful guitar melody accompanying the voices - I still have shivers running down my spine listening to this masterpiece. The voices also have a similarity to the first ever rock song of that nature, Queen’s
Bohemian Rhapsody - which also send shivers down my spine. The Queen of The city of Ice really is my favourite song on the album and the seventeen minutes seem to pass by as a mere five minutes.
Further to this Say Goodbye To The Morning is a classic example on how to play the best in class symphonic rock music. All ingredients are there, great melody, keyboards (layering a soundscape as well as accompanying the vocals), acoustic guitar, piano and even flute to finish up the symphonic sound. Grand chorus and soloing. Nothing is left out.
The Final Hour is a more traditional heavy metal type of song which slowly builds from a ballad type beginning in to a heavy metal rock song and with the solo to finish the song.
Questions At Hand is undoubtedly built around the fast tempo of the drum machine, which makes it sound like a speed metal song at times. Halfway through there is a fantastic change in this song with a nice piece of piano to change the intonation to symphonic, with a lovely "aaah" choir in the background. Then going back to "Ben Timely" speeding us till the end with heavy, almost duelling, soloing.
When I first heard Mystified I thought I was listening to a newer version of Ozzy Osbourne’s Mr Crowley, with the same type of keyboard playing and feeling to it - but the sudden shout never came. Instead the song builds up as a steady rock ballad in a Queensrÿche vein and with the choruses reminding me of Extreme.
Darktown begins in a mystical fashion with spooky keyboards and guitar sounds, then running off fast to go into the folklore sound with an Ian Anderson like flute, which gives way to a bit of the Jethro Tull idea in the song. Even lyrically it has something often heard in the 70’s. The song also has an operatic feel to it, sounding as if Jethro Tull meets Queen, meets
Nightwish all coming together and named Shadow Gallery. It’s an awesome idea for a song that needed further working on.
The opener for the album The Dance Of Fools could not have been named better. I hear a lot of classical music influences in the song. The track has good lyrics and lays down the basis for the firm voice of Mike Baker. Listening to the songs again, years after their initial release back in 1992, I feel that back then and even now that Shadow Gallery deserves more note than they receive.
Production wise you can hear that back in 1992 the technology was not as far advanced as we have now, and the tracks could have been produced with a bit more treble - but then again I must not forget that "Ben Timely" is a drum machine and this of course brings in some boundaries of what was possible.
This is me reviewing an album of music recorded almost 20 years ago and I have to say I had a lot of fun listening to the album, this time for reviewing purposes. I have even gone all the way to put it on my MP3 player and I burnt a special CD for in the car.
Concluding: This was and still is a excellent debut by, to me, one of the foremost outstanding bands in modern progressive rock.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Shadow Gallery - Carved In Stone
Tracklist: Cliffhanger (8:41), Interlude#1 (0:40), Crystalline Dream (5:44), Interlude#2 (0:43), Don’t Ever Cry, Just Remember (6:29), Interlude#3 (1:03), Warcry (5:59), Celtic Princess (2:05), Deeper Than Life (4:33), Interlude#4 (0:16), Alaska (5:18), Interlude#5 (0:18), Ghost Ship (21:56), TG 94 (7:24)
Personnel: Carl Cadden-James (bass, vocals, flute), Brendt Allman (acoustic, electric guitars & vocals), Chris Ingles (piano, keyboards and synthesizer), Gary Wehrkamp (piano, guitar, synthesizer & vocals), Kevin Soffera (drums & percussion), Mike Baker (vocals).
For their second release Shadow Gallery had become a full blown band with a real drummer in Kevin Soffera and multi-instrumentalist Gary Wehrkamp. Carved In Stone immediately shows that the sound of the band has evolved substantially and the addition of the newest band members is no doubt very helpful to that process.
The complete album has a more consistent feel to it, starting with the song Cliffhanger which is of course a pure heavy metal prog song, Crystalline Dream takes it all a step further equalling, in my humble opinion, the quality of Dream Theater songs from the same era - recalling, correctly I think, that they had done Awake just a year before. Don’t Ever Cry, Just Remember is a song to my personal liking - a rock ballad with fantastic vocals, additional flute. The song fills me with joy although looking at the lyrics a song that deals with sadness. How funny life is, I really like the melody in this song.
Symphonic prog is what describes Shadow Gallery music best, War Cry is piano driven and makes me think of Kansas, but also other more AOR bands from the USA like Kevin Cronin and REO Speedwagon. This is what I like to call a typical American rock song. It also has a great guitar solo. Celtic Princess like all the interludes is an all keyboard piece of music, a bit longer and an instrumental track probably done by both Chris Ingles and Gary Wehrkamp.
Next we go into Deeper Than Life, progressive rock in the Queensrÿche vein, meaning grand lyrics with choruses, a keyboard solo and speeding guitars. A great driving song, mind you keep your foot of the gas or you might get a speeding ticket.
Alaska sounds almost like a hymn, with all those choruses, the music line is underneath the vocals. Almost completely done on synths, I think, although I hear some guitar and flute, but everything else sounds as if done on a synthesizer. Beautifully played.
We can now sit and listen to the epic on the album divided into seven sections it plays a total time of almost 22 minutes. We are in for great guitar passages, grandeur vocals, excellent keyboards, great lyrics - the works. As we are used to in epics the song tells a tale, this time around, about a Ghost Ship. With all the necessary soundscapes to make it worthwhile to sit listen enjoy and imagine what is happening next. Great music. Wonderful playing. It is almost as if you are present in person on this Ghost Ship.
The last song actually is hidden on the CD. TG94, which personally they could have left this off as it does not really belong to the rest of the songs and is not really much more than a filler. So the album could have been 7 minutes shorter.
Conclusion: Shadow Gallery evolved musically, but looking at the compositions I would have loved to have had more songs developed like The Queen Of The City Of Ice. I feel therefore that Ghost Ship is not as good as The Queen... You can’t win them all, as they say.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Leprous – Tall Poppy Syndrome
|Country of Origin:||Norway|
|Year of Release:||2009|
Tracklist: Passing (8:31), Phantom Pain (6:50), Dare You (6:45), Fate (4:38), He Will Kill Again (7:31), Not Even A Name (8:46), Tall Poppy Syndrome (8:28), White (11:31)
Leprous are a young Norwegian quintet who hail from the town of Notodden, well known as the breeding ground for the (now disbanded) black metal behemoths Emperor. The connection continues in that Leprous have recently been acting as the backing band for live shows by Emperor’s front-man Ihsahn; I actually first heard them in this context, at a recent festival show, and was highly impressed by their ability to make playing such complex material look easy.
Thankfully it’s not just their technical abilities that are impressive, as their debut offering Tall Poppy Syndrome shows a maturity in the song writing far beyond their tender years. Beyond putting them in the broad church of ‘progressive metal’ it is quite difficult to classify their sound; their website offers comparisons to the likes of Opeth, Arcturus, Porcupine Tree, Van der Graaf Generator and (perhaps unsurprisingly) Emperor – all these are valid to a greater or lesser extent, but probably only scratch the surface of what is a highly varied collection of songs.
Passing shows what the band are capable of – an opening that is rich in big, doomy riffs and symphonic synths gradually strips back to a more avant-garde-ish section with fragile vocals and some eerie keyboard sounds which bring back memories of 90’s Swedish proggers Landberk. Some tight riffing topped with growls (hints here of Ihsahn’s solo material) give way to a mass of vocal harmonies, before an atmospheric, fairly chilled section comes in, reminiscent of the material on
Opeth’s Damnation. The song shuffles through these various sections throughout the length of the song, yet never feels like a collection of disparate parts – there’s a cohesive feel to proceedings.
This song is probably the highlight of the first half of the album, but that’s not to say there are not moments to savour elsewhere. Phantom Pain has some great galloping riffs from guitarists Tor Oddmund Suhrke and ?ystein Landsverg, whilst keyboard player Einar Solberg is let off the leash with a frenetic solo worthy of Keith Emerson. Dare You has some technically impressive stop-start riffs and features some notably inventive bass work from Halvor Strand, whilst He Will Kill Again has a suitably dark spoken word intro and a nicely unhinged section (their own take on Opeth’s The Lotus Eater perhaps?) where trippy jazz-fusion like piano and funky bass combine to take the listener on an odd but not unpleasant musical journey.
It’s the last three tracks, however, which point the way to the masterpiece Leprous can surely produce, given time. Not Even A Name combines a symphonic black metal attack with some hauntingly melodic, mellow sections, tinged with sadness and regret – vocalist Solberg’s use of his higher range is impressive. The mostly instrumental title track builds impressively, with an assortment of scything, buzzing riffs sliding in and out of the mix, in a manner not unlike recent Riverside. The combination of sci-fi-like synths and heavy riffs work well, as does the appearance of some funk-influenced guitar work and the massed chanting near the finale.
The album closes with the impressive epic White. Opening with an elongated, emotional guitar solo over a hypnotic wall of riffs, the song is lifted to a higher dimension with some inspired Hammond organ playing. What passes for a chorus is in the ‘viking metal’ vein, and you could even imagine a crowd singing along to it. There’s plenty of highly technical, angular guitar work on show, and the song ends as a beautifully played piano ballad.
Overall, this is a highly impressive debut that really should appeal to a wide range of fans – the likes of Opeth, Porcupine Tree and Riverside have built up impressive fan bases in recent years, and Tall Poppy Syndrome should be right up fans of those bands street. Its encouraging that, as well as playing both the European and USA ProgPower festivals, Leprous will be support act on Therion’s upcoming European tour, as this gives them a real opportunity of gaining the larger audience their music certainly deserves.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
TOM DE VAL
Serenity – Fallen Sanctuary
Tracklist: All Lights Reversed (6:20), Rust Of Coming Ages (4:32), Coldness Kills (5:30), To Stone She Turned (5:00), Fairytales (4:56), The Heartblood Symphony (5:29), Velatum (4:31), Derelict (4:28), Sheltered [By the Obscure] (5:02), Oceans Of Ruby (4:16)
As you can see from my review, I was highly impressed with the debut offering from this Austrian quintet. Words Untold... was a disc that really possessed too much class and maturity to be a debut release. That view was reinforced when I was one of the first journalists outside of their home country to interview them. Serenity had become the first band from Austria to ever grab my attention.
Thus I needed little consideration before placing a swift order for the band’s second album, Fallen Sanctuary, when it was released a couple of years ago. For some reason however it has only ever had a stuttering presence on my play list. The debut is
the one I instinctively reach for when a slice of Symphonic ProgPower Metal tickles my fancy.
With the band being named as the Friday night headliners at ProgPower Europe, there was a need to revisit the album and find out why it didn’t quite hit the mark – or whether I’d simply reached a too hasty verdict.
With the ten songs on offer here, Serenity has firmly established a trademark sound which easily matches the driving rhythms, strong vocals and catchy melodies of Kamelot, Morifade, Sonata Arctica and Lanfear. At times they remind me of a less progressive VandenPlas. However the Serenity sound is much brighter (less dark) than all of these bands.
At their best, as on Rust Of Coming Ages, To Stone She Turned and Velatum, the band has an innate ability to compose catchy choruses without losing depth or complexity. There are plenty of fine details within each song, allowing the opportunity to discover hidden nuances over repeat listens.
The big difference from the debut is that the sound has been expanded greatly by a far more prominent use of symphonics. The band has made good use of producer Oliver Philipps (Everon, Delain, Wolverine) in creating some superb orchestral arrangements.
I’ve got the limited edition digipack although the bonus track, Journey’s End isn’t that great and the video for Velatum is available from the band’s website. Having handed the mix over to Jacob Hansen, the sound is top class. The vocals of Georg Neuhauser suit the music perfectly and he’s lessened the accent which may have put some off the debut.
Having listened to this afresh, it is undoubtedly a very good album but still doesn’t have the same impact on me as the debut does. Partly because I find the last three/four songs rather pedestrian and predictable. Partly because the bright arrangements have removed the dark and intense riffing which I generally prefer. It’s more a case here of wanting to clap along to the songs as opposed to getting the head-a-bangin'.
Across the two albums there’s plenty of top class material to fill a headline set which I predict will be one of the highlights of the ProgPower weekend.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Love De Vice - Numaterial
|Country of Origin:||Poland|
|Year of Release:||*2010|
|Info:||Love De Vice|
Tracklist: Cold Sun Goodbye (4:45), Once You Were A Giant (7:08), Dreamland (5:53), Kiss Goodbye (5:51), Foggy Future (4:49), Mission (3:14)
This is a bit of an unusual review per se, as it is composed of six songs from their Myspace web page. I was unable to procure a copy of their album, in time for the review.
Love De Vice is a prog metal band that originates from Warsaw Poland, having recorded two albums to date. Their debut Dreamland (2009) and Numaterial (2010) that will be hitting the shelves in October, as the album is in the final mixing stages.
The band consists of Pawel “Ozzie” Granecki (vocals), Andrzej Archanowicz (guitars), Robert Wieczorek (guitars), Krzysztof Slaby (keyboards), R.I.P (bass) and Tomasz Kudelski (drums).
- Cold Sun Goodbye starts off with Slaby’s wall of melodic keyboards which are a mainstay of the whole track, reinforced by some really nice guitar work. Ozzie has a very clear and melodic vocal range, which suits the band really well, giving strong definition, defining what Love de Vice are all about, sitting at the melodic end of the prog metal scale. The guitar solos are perfectly placed, having a wow factor about them. Slaby’s keyboard wizardry shines through, which had me reaching for the air keyboards.
- Once You Were A Giant opens with a soiree of keyboard work including piano, building a really nice textured soundscape, both haunting and ethereal. Wieczorek and Archanowicz take their guitars, adding soul, before Ozzie builds the picture, with his word play. “Once you were a giant now you are cold and dead,” sings Ozzie, very atmospheric and the solos are to die for. This is a song that just oozes class out of every pore, a song that had me going back repeatedly, pressing play.
- Dreamland is another keyboard led piece, that has the band not so much playing the music, but really offering you the emotional state of what they have created, warm and soulful, pitched perfect music. The guitar work is at the Floyd end of the scale, notes worked and every harmonic wrung from them.
- Kiss Goodbye is the longest track on offer here, with its opening beautiful angelic tones. The acoustic work is very clear and precise, before the rest of the band join in the fun. There are no unnecessary musical passages presented here, just what is required. These guys really know how to write and play, “Now you fly so very high... Nothings ever going to bring you down,” sings Ozzie, with music of this class I am not surprised, such beauty.
- Foggy Future has a harder edge than the previous numbers, with its poniant lyrics about the disaffected youth of his homeland, featuring some very strong melodies, showing that Love De Vice has more han one string to their bow. The repeating guitar lines are punctuated by Kudelski’s drums and R.I.P bass playing. Again we hear those loving solos being played, which gives you the impression that this is a subject they feel very strongly about, especially with it emotional delivery.
- Mission sadly is the last track available on their site, seeing Ozzie and Co. taking a more bluesy approach reminding me somewhat of Johnny Cash, in vocal presentation, especially with the acoustic work in support, allowing the band to show another side to the talent. The band has yet again intelligently used strong lyrical structures to tell a story, reinforcing what is being played.
I have reviewed six songs here from the band's Myspace web page, which I suggest is the next thing you do, after you have finished reading this review might I add, allowing you to witness what I have just told you. I am not sure as to whether all these tracks are off their first album or their future album, but what I do know is that they are quality of the highest order. Undeniably the band has been heavily influenced by the classic rock bands of yesteryear. I watched a YouTube video of these guys performing Deep Purple’s When A Blind Man Cries and they absolutely nailed it. The question I have to ask myself now is; how do I rate it on a scale of 10? I am going to give it a respectable 7, just based on the quality of what I have heard. The rating is by no means a reflection on their album as a whole, but I suggest to anyone who likes the more melodic end of prog metal, should check this band out.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Klone - All Seeing Eye
|Country of Origin:||France|
|Record Label:||Season Of Mist|
|Year of Release:||2008|
Tracklist: Candlelight (3:51), All Seeing Eyes (5:03), Promises (3:46), Hidden Ways (1:49), Freezing (4:06), Empire Of Shame (3:36), Choked (3:34), Last Breath (4:57), Not The End (2:30), Life Expectancy (3:15), Commonplace (6:32), Nightime (12:18)
Yann Ligner (vocals), Jean Etienne Maillard (bass), Guillaume Bernard (Guitars) Matthieu Metzger (saxophones, keyboards and devices), Mika Moreau (guitars), Florent Marcadet (drums) make up the band Klone, who have released three albums to date including All Seeing Eye. Klone’s two prior albums are Duplicate and High Blood Pressure, neither of which I have heard.
Klone sit at the heavier end of the music scale, reminding me slightly of Tool and also French stalwarts Gojira in Klone’s heavier moments. The band has managed to keep an air of originality which in this genre is not always possible. They have used to great effect, unusual instruments like the harp, saxophone and Chinese lute, I say unusual, as you don’t often hear these instruments in the heavier end of this genre. Vocally this album is an album of two halves, the throaty guttural approach and the clean melodic lines, which will appeal to some and isolate others. For me it the second half of the album musically is stronger than the first, having a more edge, where the band have dared to experiment with varying sounds. This is not to say that the first half of the album is the poorer cousin, as this is certainly not the case at all.
Candlelight gets the show on the road, having a powerful, slow bulldozing guitar riff with throaty vocals, which is mixed in with the in thing these days, melodic vocals, offering some credence to the whole affair, keeping their appeal options open. The whole track is played with power and attitude, never really escaping the slow pace it starts with. All Seeing Eyes sees Klone moves in similar circles as the last track, featuring some funky drum and bass work, with some very interesting guitar work thrown in for good measure. The track finally finds its feet, with some nice time changes, but never really escaping its initial feel. Marcadet drum work is very impressive and is the real star of this track, working well with Maillard. Promises has more rhythm and commercial appeal than the previous tracks, but the recipe doesn’t really change, although the boat is pushed out, featuring some exceptional guitar breaks, segueing into Hidden Ways. Hidden Ways has an unusual, quirky tone, oriental in approach, interjected with intermittent guttural guitar chords. This is a very short instrumental piece, which leads into a more commercial sounding Freezing, seeing the band really exploiting that commercial sound. Ligner has quite a range, being able to switch between styles, but this style certainly suits him better, sounding somewhat like Scott Strapp from Creed. Personally I feel that this approach works better for the band, offering substance, setting them apart.
Empire Of Shame sees the band exploiting, very effectively the dual vocal approach, which creates real atmosphere, offering the best of both worlds, the rest of the band follow suit. Choked is up next and sees the band returning to their brutal powerhouse ways. Bernard and Moreau take their playing to another level, tearing through this piece with a no nonsense attitude. The backline follow the show with assuming ease, really delivering the goods. Metzger underpins the structure with his keyboard playing which is buried in the mix, being stated but important. Last Breath is a very strong track, featuring the aforementioned saxophone, which is used to great effect. Metzger really stamps his authority all over this piece, displaying to the world what he is capable of. Last Breath has real personality, being thunderous and well thought-out. This is an avenue that Klone seriously needs to investigate further. Not The End opens all mellow. Maillard’s bass line’s lead the track, being followed by some sedate guitar work, and experimental sounds. As an instrumental piece, it paves the way for the beautiful Life Expectancy, which is a culmination of all that has passed before, creating another strong song for the band. Slow passages, time changes, experiment sound interjections, which is what makes this band approach a bit more unique. Commonplace takes another step forward, confirming that this really is a band that means business, not being afraid to experiment, creating haunting melodies layered into powerful guitar structures. The longest and closing track Nightime is a menacing song, opening with some fast paced bass work and as ever, strong stickwork. The song drops to a slower pace, where it creates creepy, evil, nightmarish visions, building, with its stoner orientated musical passages. One minute it’s in your face the next it’s comforting you, a real tour de force. The band has really thrown caution to the wind here, to build an epic long song, holding the listeners attention.
All in all Klone’s third album is a good average album that needs to be played loud. As a band they have the talent to take their vision to the next level, maybe taking a few risks along the way. I certainly found the more experimental pieces more rewarding. It will be interesting to see where they go from here.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Klone - Black Days
|Country of Origin:||France|
|Record Label:||Season Of Mist|
|Year of Release:||2010|
Tracklist: Rite Of Passage (6:33), Spiral Down (4:31), Give Up The Rest (5:48), Hollow Way (4:25), Immaculate Desire (6:00), Closed Season [Interlude] (2:37), The Spell Is Cast (4:36), Danse Macabre (4:00), Rain Bird (5:11), Behold The Silence (6:12), Army Of Me (4:11), Monster (4:12)
Klone’s Yann Ligner (vocals), Jean Etienne Maillard (bass), Guillaume Bernard (guitars) Matthieu Metzger (saxophones, keyboards and devices), Mika Moreau (guitars), Florent Marcadet (drums) have recorded their fourth album Black Days.
All Seeing Eyes their previous album received 6 out of 10 from these fine fair ears. The one thing I would comment on this time round is that the production of this album is much better than their previous album.
Album number four has seen Klone having a slight rethink on their sound. Their influences are still present, Tool, Masterdon, Opeth to name but a few. The rethink has produced a somewhat cleaner more sanitized sounding album, still maintaining their metalness, loosing none of its aggressive appeal. With Klone having finely tuned their sound, they have put themselves in a better position, asserting their authority, showing that they mean business.
Ligner has got real aggression in his tone, which is really apparent on the Bjork cover of Army Of Me>, which is probably the most metal track on the album, ironically, with the bands sound being different to the rest of the tracks on the album. Moreau and Bernard power their way through this place, making the song theirs. The dual layering of vocals is still used, but Ligner displays a gruffer side to his nature.
Rite Of Passage with its unusual opening and Spiral Down with its open aggressiveness, are the most Tool influenced tracks on the album, with stunning guitar work and really positive drum contributions from Marcadet; as on their last album All Seeing Eyes, Marcadet really takes control and Maillard, with his pounding bass, confirms that there will be no prisoners taken this time. Although there are Tool influences, both tracks are different and unique in their own rights. Give Up The Rest takes a slightly less brutal approach, as does Behold The Silence, with their Mastodon sounds, especially with Marcadet’s drum style. Ligner tones down the aggression slightly, which allows the melodic end of his vocal range time to breathe. Both these tracks and Army Of Me, really stand out, cleverly played and have well though out structures.
Closed Seasons [Interlude], is a unique pulsating track that features that experimental approach that I so loved on their last album. The saxophone works really well, the way it has been incorporated, intelligently constructing this instrumental. Its ethereal opening culminates in an orgasmic powerhouse ending. This shows what Klone can achieve, when they think outside the box. This is, for me, by far the best track on the album, showing real progressiveness and intelligence. The Spell Is Cast features some interesting guitar structures, seeing the band really getting into the groove, almost trance like, Ligner providing his best vocal performance. Danse Macabre follows, which is slower in approach, atmospheric, building menacingly, having an air of evilness about it, which is supported by the chugging bass line and dense guitar work. The lead guitar breaks really excel, supported by a repetitive rhythm. Rain Bird musically is another powerful and assertive song, something that the band doesn’t seem to struggle with. The music builds sways and swaggers, featuring big guitar soundscapes, interjections of Metzger’s saxophone, climbing crescendos and some really nice vocal acrobatics. Monster closes the album, sounding much like the rest of the album in tone, assuring the audience that Klone are nothing but a prog metal band that means business.
Fourth time round Klone have thought their plan out, decisively, delivering it to their audience, making it a slightly better album than All Seeing Eyes. They as a group have stepped up a level, no doubt, now they need to make their version of prog metal, unique to them, which is not an easy thing to do in today’s market.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10