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2010 : VOLUME 66
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


Seventh Wonder – The Great Escape
Seventh Wonder – The Great Escape
Country of Origin:Sweden
Format:CD
Record Label:Lion Music
Catalogue #:LMC295
Year of Release:2010
Time:67:58
Info:Seventh Wonder
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Wiseman (5:42), Alley Cat (6:06), The Angelmaker (8:29), King Of Whitewater (7:20), Long Way Home (4:26), Move On Through (5:04), The Great Escape (30:14)

Andy Read's Review

Following two critically acclaimed albums and stunning sets at the ProgPower festivals in both Europe and the USA, the fourth release from this Swedish quintet is one of the most anticipated ProgMetal albums of the year. Often, high levels of expectation can damn an album to disappoint. Having lived with this for a month now, it is still on heavy rotation. The Great Escape has managed what should be impossible - it has exceeded my high expectations.

I maybe in a minority, but I felt the band’s last offering, Mercy Falls, lost its musical way at times, having to compete with a complex concept storyline. I still prefer the more direct song writing found on its predecessor, the addictive yet powerful, Waiting In The Wings. Thus, I’m pleased to report that the feel of this album, musically and lyrically, sees a return to an approach that lets every track stand on its own two feet. To mark a decade since their formation in Stockholm, Seventh Wonder have delivered an album of technically-advanced progressive metal with hooks and melodies to die for.

The Great Escape does features some new flavours. For the first time, the band has created a track longer than 10 minutes. Weighing in at half an hour, the title track is epic in every sense. Its story is based on a space saga Aniara, written in 1956 by Swedish Nobel Prize winner Harry Martinson. To use phrases from the original book, the band had to obtain permission from the author’s daughter who holds the copyright. After hearing a few Seventh Wonder tracks she liked them and said ‘yes’. To try to maintain a listener’s interest in the story and the music for 30 minutes is a big risk. However the band pulls it off impressively.

A very different flavour comes with the poppy power ballad Long Way Home. It features Tommy’s sister, Jenny Karevik who appeared in a Swedish Pop Idol contest in 2008. She has a stunning voice which brings a nice dimension to the song. More use of the family gene pool should be made on future albums.

If these two tracks represent the new flavour, then the remainder of the album is exactly what you would expect from Seventh Wonder, only better.

The band has made its first promotional video for the incredibly catchy song Alley Cat. It scored over 20,000 hits on YouTube within 14 days of upload and at the time of writing has had over 63,000.

Alongside the equally catchy Wiseman, it provides a strong opening to this album. However my preferences lie with the harder-edge and greater complexity to be found on The Angelmaker and King Of Whitewater; possibly the two best songs yet to bear the band’s name.

I do have just two niggles. Small things, but they do distract enough to stop me being totally blown away. The first is with the composition. Throughout this album there are sections where the different phases of a song don’t quite slot together. I’m no songwriter, but as a listener I seem to keep thinking: 'They could have done that a bit better'. In a similar vein, the band’s use of backing and harmony vocals is too exuberant for my tastes. As an occasional device used to emphasise a melody it would be okay. But when you’ve got a lead singer this good, additional effects are overkill.

Although this is the last album recorded with Johnny Sandin on drums, there emerges a clear benefit of the band having had a stable line-up for many years. There is a rare coherence to the overall sound and the music is delivered with a tightness and perfection one rarely finds in any genre. Tommy Karevik is already rated as one of the best singers around. But the seven songs on offer provide clear evidence that Andreas Söderin on Keyboards, Johnny Sandin on drums, guitarist Johan Liefvendahl and bassist Andreas Blomqvist are on an equal level.

The Great Escape doesn't tread much new ground. It works because both the songs and the musicianship are stellar. Very likely to become Lion Music’s best selling release ever, The Great Escape has elevated Seventh Wonder to the top level of progressive metal. This is an album you simply must have.

Menno Von Brucken Fock's Review

The Swedish prog-metal outfit Seventh Wonder offers their fourth release and finally I managed to focus my interest on this five -piece. What an incredible band they are! Superb mastering of instruments and a really good vocalist, a pretty unique combination, yet a very powerful one. I will have to do some catching up on their previous releases. On this album, the band takes their progressive influences even further by including an epic: the title track is a masterpiece of over half an hour, lyrically based on the space poem Aniara by Nobel Prize winner Harry Martinson. Sit back, turn up the volume and let yourself be blown away by the craftsmanship and the catchy melodies of Andreas Blomqvist on the bass, Johan Liefvendahl on the lead guitar, Tommy Karevik on vocals, Andreas Söderin on the keyboards and Johnny Sandin on drums.

Karevik's voice reminds me of Fates Warning's Roy Alder (in his best days) and also of Pagan Mind's Nils K. Rue.

An up tempo opening in Wiseman and after the instrumental opening, heavily orchestrated by Söderin, the tempo changes to mid tempo and we hear an AOR influenced piece with several nice choirs (I wonder how they do that live!). Nice hooks are alternated by the same up tempo instrumental bits as in the opening. Drums, bass, guitar and keyboards play together as tight as can be with the speed of a machine gun. The music is to preferred by far however! The impressive range of Karevik with his clear voice is emphasized right from the start of this album.

The single Alley Cat might have inspired by one of the best songs ever written and performed by Saga: Don't Be Late. Very catchy choruses and Blomqvist's bass plays along with guitarist Liefvendahl with incredible ease and Blomqvist makes it sound so easy, but for what I know this man is a bass guitar virtuoso. Also because he writes part of lyrics, he is much more that 'just' a bass player. Also a nice synth solo by Söderin. The Angelmaker opens as a ballad with piano, bass and vocals, but with the addition of drums and guitars the sound gets a bit heavier and the track evolves into a possible second single: it's got pop, rock, metal and most certainly some progressive elements as well. Near the end of the track a Symphony X like instrumental piece, displaying the superb musicianship of these guys.

Solo piano and subtle orchestrations open King Of Whitewater as an intro, but yet another great piece of music full of different tempo's and styles ranging from pop to symphonic and from metal to folk - (thanks to the addition of violin played by Arto Järvelä). The most poppy track is a beautiful ballad called Long Way Home. Söderin's piano carries the music and bass (Blomqvist plays a fretless one) & drums accompany. Liefvendahl plays an acoustic guitar, Karevik provides his excellent vocals and the choruses. Some parts of the melodies remind me of the great Dutch outfit Kayak. Probably Tommy Karevik's sister Jenny is the additional vocalist. Again a prominent role for Blomqvist's bass, opening the track Move On Through, the man does play it like a lead guitar in the solo, accompanied by just keyboards.

Then the epic: acoustic guitar and vocals as in a tear jerking first part. Subsequently a more classical piece, mainly 'orchestra' playing beautiful symphonic melodies, followed by an instrumental part performed by the band. Then the full band in brilliant form, with classically inspired music in the vein of Symphony X. On one third of the epic a mellow, truly accessible piece by the band, Söderin playing piano and providing 'strings' while Blomqvist keeps on exploring the neck of his bass, but it doesn't disturb or distract, I would say it's a trademark of Seventh Wonder! A more up tempo piece in the middle with melodic but also very nimble-fingered solo's by guitar, bass and keys while Karevik's vocals reach their upper limits. After this we have seemingly a new track because there's a short break, but after this mini-pause we hear Liefvendahl plucking strings of his acoustic guitar followed by yet another very melodic and rather slow part - a very melodic solo by Liefvendahl on the electric guitar. Then a passage heavily influenced by Dream Theater. Heavy but still very accessible and Karevik is supported by Jenny again. The choruses sometimes have a distinct 'Queen' feel. As one could expect the final part is quite bombastic and orchestral but Liefvendahl's acoustic guitar makes the circle round again.

The Great Escape is quite an experience to listen to while influences of bands like Symphony X and Dream Theater are clearly detectable, but also the band has beautiful melodies like Kansas, Saga or Kayak and choruses like Queen. The promotional information talks about SW taking their music to the next level and I really believe that's true. The successor to their concept-album Mercy Falls is a truly nice addition to the genre of progressive metal at it's very best. I'm convinced that this band might become the heirs to the throne of Dream Theater, although DT are not done yet. SW could be called the European counterpart of Symphony X and especially for fans of more technically challenging metal, fronted by a male vocalist with a clear voice and an impressive range, this album is definitely worth checking out. Production is quite okay. All instruments can be heard exquisitely, although I would have loved a bit more depth in the drums and even slightly heavier guitars. Technically the band can compete with the very best bands worldwide and I'm convinced these five Swedish musicians are capable of achieving even more than the already very impressive album they released on December 3 this year. The Great Escape might well be my favourite prog-metal album of 2010!

Conclusions:

ANDY READ : 9.5 out of 10
MENNO VON BRUCKEN FOCK : 8.5 out of 10



Steve Hackett – Live Rails
Steve Hackett – Live Rails
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Wolfwork Records
Catalogue #:WWCD002
Year of Release:2010
Time:CD 1 59:56
CD 1 57:38
Info:Steve Hackett
Samples:Click here

Tracklist:

CD 1: Intro (2:18), Every Day (6:50), Fire On The Moon (6:16), Emerald And Ash (8:59), Ghost In The Glass (3:22), Ace Of Wands (6:48), Pollution C (2:21), The Steppes (6:00), Slogans (4:22), Serpentine (6:42), Tubehead (6:06)

CD 2: Spectral Mornings (5:57), Firth Of Fifth (10:39), Blood On The Rooftops (6:30), Fly On A Windshield (2:06), Broadway Melody Of 1974 (1:47), Sleepers (7:32), Still Waters (5:30), Los Endos (7:43), Clocks (8:04)

This new live double from Steve Hackett is an excellent document of his current touring band. Anyone who has seen them in recent times can testify to the power of this unit, the live environment being the best place to experience Hackett to the full. (Read DPRP's reviews of his recent live shows here. Beautifully recorded in Paris, London and New York the set features classics from the earliest days of Steve’s solo career right through to his latest release, Out Of The Tunnel’s Mouth, plus a cracking selection of lovingly rendered Genesis classics which are genuinely the best live versions of these songs I’ve ever heard.

The Eastern flavoured intro gives way to the sound of trains before the band launch into scene setting opener and one of the jewels in the Hackett back catalogue, Every Day. Immediately the depth and power of the harmony vocals are clear together with Nick Beggs gorgeous bass sound and the master of the guitar dazzles with some stylish lead.

The dynamics of the ...Tunnel’s Mouth material transfers well to the stage with the delicacy of first half of Emerald And Ash giving way to a more aggressive ending to good effect. Most of the songs from the album get an airing and other than a brief “Evening All!” at the end of Fire On The Moon Hackett lets the music do the talking. He supplies some good lead vocals with fine support from the rest of the band, the addition of Amanda Lehmann increasing the range of the vocals and filling in the guitar gaps around Steve’s lead to great effect.

Rob Townsend is a wonder to behold with some emotionally charged woodwind, particularly the intro to Ghost In The Glass which also features evocative rhythms from Beggs and Gary O’Toole who is a monster behind the kit. The jaunty bounce of Ace Of Wands with tin whistle from Townsend is played with precision and dexterity, particularly the jazzy mid-section. This band can easily handle anything that is thrown at it with breathtaking results.

The dissonance of Pollution C changes the mood until Townsend emerges to transform it into the stately and epic The Steppes with Slogans making for a Defector double whammy. The variety of the material at Hackett’s disposal is staggering as is evidenced by the swift turn into the lyrical Serpentine with more gorgeous harmonies and on into Tubehead which features Steve’s recreation of a train building a head of steam, the rhythm picking up the pace and the band rocking out.

The second disc opens with another of Steve’s crowd pleasers, Spectral Mornings, before a whole slew of Genesis classics, many rarely performed previously, O’Toole pulling off the vocals with aplomb; stunning stuff. Roger King is dazzling on Firth Of Fifth which also features clarinet from Townsend before Hackett’s signature solo caps it off. The intro to Blood On The Rooftops features Steve on classical guitar which is always a pleasure to hear and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is represented by a couple of brief tracks during which the crowd gets involved in a bit of a sing-along.

More from ...Tunnel’s Mouth in the form of Sleepers which builds from laid-back intro to raging finish with more fine work from Townsend and the bluesy Still Waters before a knockabout intro to Los Endos which coupled with Clocks, including O’Toole drum solo, bring proceedings to a rollicking conclusion.

Hackett is truly one of the legends of his art and there is so much more to his style than a simple display of guitar technique. This is sophisticated music played with style where the quality of the pieces is always put first by a skilled and passionate band that has a feel for the material and play it as if their very skins depend on it. If only all live albums could be this enjoyable and entertaining.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

JEZ ROWDEN



Lunatic Soul – II
Lunatic Soul – II
Country of Origin:Poland
Format:CD
Record Label:KScope
Catalogue #:KSCOPE161
Year of Release:2010
Time:51:00
Info:Lunatic Soul
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The In-between Kingdom (6:48) Otherwise (2:48) Suspended In Whiteness (7:56) Asoulum (6:23) Limbo (1:52) Escape From Paradice (4:38) Transition (11:07) Gravestone Hill (3:41) Wanderings (5:28)

Lunatic Soul II is the second solo album from Mariusz Duda, the lead singer and creative force behind Riverside. The first Lunatic Soul album was released in 2008 and Duda has described the project as “double album divided into two single ones by the period of two years anticipation”

This concept is reflected in the white artwork, which is the negative image of the first album. Duda explains” the cover looks as it does because since the beginning it was always supposed to be a black and white diptych, a journey through the land of the dead. And now is the time for the second and final part. It is a story about a journey through the afterworld, a place that exists somewhere in-between, enriched with new motifs and retrospections, being a sort of road movie about a lost soul”.

Like the first album, Lunatic Soul II was recorded at the Serakos studio in Warsaw under the supervision of Robert Srzednicki and Magda Srzednicka .The majority of the instrumental parts are played by Duda himself with guest appearances from various other artists including Maciej Szelenbaum (keyboards, flutes, quzheng) and Wawrzyniec Dramowicz from Indukti (drums).

But what of the music? This is an album that defies conventional classification. It is progressive rock at its finest, fusing musical, cultural and ethnic influences into a new form, which differs significantly from its constituent parts. The stated influences include Peter Gabriel, Dead Can Dance, Books About Ghosts and Silent Hill. But I also hear Porcupine Tree, Anathema, Aphrodite’s Child (666) and Mike Oldfield’s Ommadawn.

It’s a fusion of Afro-Celtic drums and rhythms with soaring orchestral synth’s and grinding/rumbling bass. It combines thought provoking lyrics with ethereal harmonies, chiming percussion with melodic acoustic guitar and subtle clever keys. In places it spirals and swirls like a musical kaleidoscope evoking hypnotic gothic horror, deep melancholy and forlorn hope, together with rolling vistas, leaden skies and deep uninviting places. It has power, beauty and emotion and it rocks!

This is an album for the dead of night. Put on your headphones, turn up the volume, turn out the light and sip your absinthe!

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

KEN TRUMAN



Porcupine Tree – Recordings
Porcupine Tree – Recordings
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:KScope
Catalogue #:KScope134
Year of Release:2001/2010
Time:61:32
Info:Porcupine Tree
Samples:N/A

Tracklist: Buying New Soul (10:24), Access Denied (3:35), Cure For Optimism (6:11), Untitled (8:53), Disappear (3:37), Ambulance Chasing (6:32), In Formaldehyde (5:19), Even Less (13:55), Oceans Have No Memory (3:06)

Jim Corcoran's Review

Back in 2001, my esteemed DPRP colleague Ed Sander reviewed the Porcupine Tree compilation Recordings and gave it an 8+ rating, calling it “another fine release by Porcupine Tree” and “a must have for Porcupine Tree fans”. The release of the CD, compiled of b-sides and demos from the Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun recording sessions, was limited to 20,000 copies which devoted fans quickly snapped up. Out of print thereafter, the CD if available could only be grabbed in used form from E-Bay or other used outlets, and if you were lucky you wouldn’t pay an arm and a leg for it.

A brief historical sketch of the band to those readers who do, in fact, need an introduction. PT singer and guitarist Steven Wilson (Altamont, Karma, Pride of Passion, Blazing Apostles, No~Man, Bass Communion, IEM, Blackfield, Contimuum, other collaborations/appearances, solo) originally started Porcupine Tree as sort of a whimsical hobby-style and mainly solo psychedelic project in the late 1980’s with D.I.Y. cassette releases, material from which then appeared on the debut proper release On The Sunday Of Life. Sophomore release Up The Downstair, again mostly a solo affair, followed. After this, the increasingly profile-building Porcupine Tree morphed into a touring and full-fledged band with Wilson on vocals and guitar, joined by Richard Barbieri (Japan and various configurations of its alumni, Rain Tree Crow, The Dolphin Brothers, The Bays, Tim Bowness, Indigo Falls) on keyboards, Colin Edwin (Ex-Wise Heads, Random Noise Generator) on bass guitar, and No~Man collaborator Chris Maitland (Blackfield, Kino, Guilt Machine) on drums. Maitland left the band in 2002 and was succeeded by Gavin Harrison. John Wesley additionally works with the band as a touring second guitarist/vocalist. On Recordings, Wilson also handles piano and throws in a bit of samples, Barbieri additionally plays some analog synths, and Edwin occasionally jumps from bass to double bass.

Since then, Porcupine Tree’s popularity has grown even further, and it seems fitting for KScope to roll out a proper retail release of this critical disc, giving fans new as well as old a chance to delve into the vaults.

I can attest to the band’s popularity, though I am a new fan and no expert, as I recall one time in the early 00’s riding the bus in downtown Providence one evening on my way home from work and passing by Lupo’s, a local live venue. There was a long line of concert-goers stretching all the way down the sidewalk and around the corner for what was apparently a sellout gig. The band playing that night? None other than Porcupine Tree.

The main must-buy factor of Recordings is likely the inclusion of what amounts to two and a half new studio mastered tracks. Oceans Have No Memory originally only existed as a demo on the Piano Lessons 7” single, and the bouncy Access Denied makes its studio master upgrade here from its previous life as a demo laid down during the Lightbulb Sun sessions.

And then there’s that half a track. Buying New Soul originally showed up as an edit (6:09) track on a German Snapper two-disc tour edition of Lightbulb Sun, as a 5.1 DVD-audio track on the 2008 Snapper Lightbulb Sun re-release bonus DVD (10:24 in length), and as a fourteen and a half minute instrumental audio track including pre-vocal overdubs that came on a bonus disc with the first 5,000 pre-orders of the Snapper 2008 rerelease. The version we get on Recordings is the 10:24 vocal version. Fans in the PT community will debate the longer instrumental track versus the shorter vocal version as an inclusion proper on Lightbulb Sun. Steven Wilson’s excellent voice notwithstanding, I am undecided as if there would have been a suitable place for Buying New Soul as a Lightbulb Sun album track. It admittedly contains some strong Floydian moments via its acoustic guitar and harmony style vocals, but rather sloppy drumming from Maitland.

Another strong track that Porcupine Tree devotees will delight in wrapping their hot little ears around is the full version of Even Less. This song was originally recorded in two different parts, the first of which is the lead-off track on Stupid Dream, and the second showing up later as a B-side from those sessions on Stranger By The Minute. On Recordings, those two halves finally unite as one 14:08 tour de force, and it is excellent as its two parted predecessors, with majestic strings by the East of England Orchestra arranged by Wilson and Chris Thorpe and conducted under the capable baton of Nicholas Kok. This full version is seamless, without the patchy cut-and-paste darkness that bookends Cure For Optimism, a B-side from the Shesmovedon CD single.

Four Chords That Made a Million B-sides Disappear and In Formaldehyde are acceptable tunes and like Buying New Soul could be the subject of hullabaloo among hard-core PTers as to whether they would have been worthy of inclusion as album tracks on Lightbulb Sun. Again my jury is out.

Ambulance Chasing is a lengthy instrumental cut originally found as a B-side to the Piano Lessons CD single and with its blistering guitar from Wilson and processed soulful saxophone courtesy of guest Theo Travis (Travis & Fripp, Gong, The Tangent, Bill Nelson, Bass Communion, No~Man, Soft Machine Legacy, others) would have made a fitting closing track to Stupid Dream.

Recordings comes in a rigid digibook with minimal yet artistic photography and band credits, as well as historical notes on each track.

So all in all, a worthy compilation from Porcupine Tree. To the new listener, perhaps not the best starting point as I would rather suggest Stupid Dream, and with a few of the Lightbulb Sun outtakes being questionable or at the best acceptable my rating comes in half a point under recommended.

Gert Hulshof's Review

Recordings is an album from Porcupine Tree that I have been searching for, for quite some time. Knowing it was a limited edition album, (limited to 20,000 copies), it is very much sought after in by the huge fanbase of PT. Including myself. But finally my wait is over and now I can listen to the songs on this album of B-sides and additional recorded material, in a legal way straight from my CD player.

Now Porcupine Tree need no further introduction to the vast audiences, especially the progressive community, although at the time of the original version was released the fanbase was still growing - so progressive rock and therefore Porcupine Tree's music was in a way obscure.

In my memory the press release, or information on the PT site, at the time the original version was released said something like: Recordings is an album of songs which have been found not to fit on last albums or have had a released as a B-side to a single and have not appeared on an album. So ever since the album hit the streets in 2001 there has been debate among Porcupine Tree fans as to wether or not some of the songs should have been on the albums in question. The albums of course being either Stupid Dream and/or Lightbulb Sun. Sure you can agree on the fact that Buying New Soul would have fitted perfectly on the actual release of Lightbulb Sun? But that said it fits perfectly on Recordings as well - maybe even better. You be the judge of that.

Now I like the music of Porcupine Tree a lot and I believe it to be a good move to finally re-release a proper version of this obscure album from the Porcupine Tree discography. For new fans of Porcupine Tree and especially the ones that have discovered them through Deadwing and/or Fear Of A Blanket Planet will discover a Porcupine Tree that has evolved and changed throughout their entire career. Musically Recordings ismany a mile away from what the band play these days, much more psychedelic if you will.

Once again I can say the long wait is over, Porcupine Tree fans old or new now have the chance to buy their copy of Recordings. So to all collectors out there, here’s another one for you. To me this was an instant buy as I needed to have this album in my collection - the only official release that was missing.

As far as I know the original package was a jewel case package, this time Kscope has gone to the effort of releasing it in a digibook package. All of the original artwork is present, the same outside photograph as on the inside in the booklet, photographs of the band members - and the notes added to each of the songs.

Recordings is a good addition to the collective Porcupine Tree discography and the songs remain as they were, a collection of recordings from various sessions. A must have for a fan, although if you are new, probably not the best place to start. Therefore my conclusion ends just under the recommended.

Conclusions:

JIM CORCORAN : 7.5 out of 10
GERT HULSHOF : 7.5 out of 10



Vespero – By The Waters Of Tomorrow
Vespero – By The Waters Of Tomorrow
Country of Origin:Russia
Format:CD
Record Label:R.A.I.G.
Catalogue #:RO58
Year of Release:2010
Time:63:13
Info:Vespero
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Daphne (5:21), Precious (8:32), Amaryllis (7:28), Gao Zult (5:50), Tall Tree (7:31), Punto Fijo (8:03), Pavane Lacryme (4:24), Seagulls Sings [When It Rains] (6:47), Aurora Borealis (9:16)

This little gem dropped through my door and was opened with excitement, as I have had a fantastic run of stunning albums to review of late, almost as if they have been saved as an end of year reward. I am anticipating a disappointment soon, but I can tell you now, yet again RAIG Records have hit the mark. Vespero have recorded a new album By The Waters Of Tomorrow that has knocked me for six. Their previous DPRP reviewed albums 2007 Rito, 2008 Foam and 2009 Surpassing All Kings receiving 8 out of 10 and the last two 7 out of 10 respectively, showing that this is a band with some quality.

The band for this album consists of Ivan Fedotov (drums & percussions), Arkady Fedotov (bass, bass synth & melodica), Alexander Kuzzovlev (guitar & electronic manipulations), Alexei Klabukov (keyboard & mellotron) and Vladimir Belov (cello & keyboard) and Alisa Coral (bubbles, waves & oscillations 1,6), Valentin Rulev (violin 4,7,9), Natalya Dosoyevskaya (flute 8) and Elena Belozyorova (voice 8).

The band have built nine stunning musical interludes that are elegant, each unique in their approach, jammed out in their inimitable style, a journey through ones mind, presenting elements of psychedelia, progressive, space and Kraut rock of the highest order, that is both fluid, mesmerising and dynamic in approach, music that has been created from the soul.

The total dynamic of the band is stunning, adept in presenting vibrant bass lines, acrobatic drum work, heady and swirly keyboard stages, fantastic guitar interludes which underpins the whole structure of the music.

Daphne opens the whole affair, mischievous in approach, dynamic bouncing rhythms, almost as if the music is being chased. The sonic structures are very interesting, which draw you into the musical landscape, a theme that runs through the whole album. I just love the total interaction of all throughout this piece. Precious as the title suggests is a bit more sedate in its approach initially, more experimental and spacey, creating images that swirl around the mind. Fedotov’ percussion work is introduced into the fray which dynamically changes the whole approach, upping the ante, as the rest of the band follow succinctly. There is also some really nice Middle Eastern sounding structures thrown in that add depth to the whole track. Amaryllis sees the Vespero really working their instruments, aggressive in approach, swirling keyboard interactions complemented by some stunning drum and guitar work, which really stamps the hallmark of quality through it. I just love the way Fedotov really interacts, matching note for note, changing the dynamics and rhythms at will.

Gao Zult being one of the shorter pieces on the album, has the band really working that Middle Eastern sound perfectly, weaving it quite cleverly within the structures of Klabukov’ keyboard interjections, layering it with odd tones, electronic manipulations and time changes; this is the band at the height of their creative force. Tall Tree is a natural and fitting progression to Gao Zult, with its some what jazz approach, Arkady Fedotov’ bass work is sublime, holding court to the rest of the band as Ivan Fedotov really works around him, really complementing each others style. Kuzzovlev guitar work is stunning and powerful, tonally euphoric on the ear, being fully supported by Klabukov and Belov, making it a real stand out piece, the band sound like they have found their mojo.

Punto Fijo (is the Capital City of Carirubana Autonomy, County of Falcón State, Venezuela; where one of the world’s largest oil refineries is located). This may or may not be the reference that the band has used, but one thing is for sure, the initial dynamics has an almost South American feel to it, fast tempo, heavy percussive work, matching the stunningly present guitar work, which just sets the piece alight. It has an almost anarchic approach, the convoluted keyboard and electronic manipulations awash the whole venture, changing the emotional tones, adding character. This is a band that’s not afraid to experiment, knowing how to perfectly walk that fine line. Pavane Lacryme takes a rather relaxing approach, grand in approach, pastoral, a powerful statement, upstanding and defined, including some very nice emotional violin work, which on the whole works very well. Seagulls Sings [When It Rains] is Vespero back in experimental mode; dissonance on two levels, musically and cognitively, as the highly layered instrumentation really bounces around, taking a cerebral approach, implanting its tones firmly inside your memory. Unfortunately we see Aurora Borealis closing the album, which utilises all the sonic soundstages well, driving in approach, rhythmic, dynamic, convoluted and challenging. The whole piece is underpinned by a low sonic beat, whilst the rest of the band work their tones through it, giving it a sense of purpose, which really sums this band up, making it a most fitting closing track.

The production of the album is stunning, as is only to be expected from this label; Alisa Coral has done yet another sterling job; there just seems to be no end to this ladies talent. There is no mention as to who wrote what on this album, but as an educated guess, I can only assume that all the band participate in the constructs, which draws to mind such bands as Floyd, Ozric Tentacles, Here And Now, Tangerine Dream, Eloy, Brainticket and Hawkwind.

In total, Vespero have really majestically created a somewhat powerful musical statement, which sees the band really manipulating differing sounds, bonding them as one; unifying them for the pleasure of their audience. This is by far the best album I have heard by them and long may their creative juices flow, especially if they are creating such magnificent albums. In all honestly I could quite gladly spend some serious time going through the back catalogue of RAIG Records just digging up gems; Igor Gorely really does have an ear for good music and yet again we see his label release another stunning album.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

JOHN O'BOYLE



Carptree - Nymf
Carptree - Nymf
Country of Origin:Swede3n
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:CWNF5
Year of Release:2010
Time:44:30
Info:Carptree
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Kicking And Collecting (7:05), Land Of Plenty (7:34), The Weight Of The Knowledge (6:51), Dragonfly (8:20), Between Extremes (Prelude) (2:12), Sunrays (6:35), The Water (5:46)

I’ve always felt that there was something strangely unique about Carptree, even in the esoteric world of Swedish progressive rock. Whilst the individual parts include familiar genre elements like classical piano, strident synths, power riffs and theatrical vocals the sum of those parts can be impossibly catchy and grandiose, if a little off the wall at times. This has resulted in some of my all time favourite tunes including There Like Another and Malfunction, both from 2003’s Superheroes album. The duo responsible for these heady offerings is Niclas Flinck (lead vocals) and Carl Westholm (piano, grand piano, synthesizers). As on previous releases, which includes 2005’s Man Made Machine and 2007’s Insekt they are supported by a talented troupe of musicians and singers known collectively (if a little pessimistically) as the No Future Orchestra.

The opening Kicking And Collecting is in familiar Carptree territory. It’s both dark and majestic with an engaging vocal melody to hook the listener in and a manic synth solo (ala Andy Tillison) at the five minute mark to hold the attention. Land Of Plenty builds in an unhurried fashion until guitarist Ulf Edelőnn’s bombastic volleys usher in the memorable chorus. As the tension mounts Flinck’s vocals have a definite air of Peter Gabriel about them. The sombre tone continues in The Weight Of The Knowledge with the mood broken by a short piano interlude and later a frilly neo-proggish synth break.

Judging by the lyrics there is clearly a concept of sorts here (something about man is like an insect, or is it the other way round?) which seems to pick up from where the last album Insekt left off. This becomes most obvious in the song Dragonfly. The deceptively low key piano intro becomes very filmic with surges of orchestral effects and pounding hammer like percussion, sounding not unlike the soundtrack to some futuristic thriller. There is an almost operatic quality to the gothic backing voices here. Between Extremes (Prelude) is a powerful instrumental that maintains the cinematic feel with a prog metal meets Ennio Morricone flavour. Short it may be but certainly one of my favourite tracks here.

Sunrays contrasts an ominous verse section where Flinck’s cracked vocal is very reminiscent of David Bowie before returning to his more familiar falsetto delivery for the optimistically sunny chorus. After all the pomp and drama, The Water provides a surprisingly gentle end to the proceedings led by ringing acoustic guitars that have a hint at early Genesis. Appropriately (given the title) the shimmering synths ebb and flow and the reflective but infectious choral melody is embellished by rich backing harmonises.

Whilst this album undoubtedly has its highlights, with Land Of Plenty, Between Extremes and The Water standing out for me, I’m not entirely sure it reaches the excellent heights of the bands previous glories. However with different nuances still revealing themselves with each successive listen, time may well prove me wrong. It’s certainly a meticulously structured album with voices and instruments layered for maximum effect in true Carptree style. Despite the music’s unique qualities which I mentioned at the start of the review Carptree still retain the characteristics of a Swedish prog band which might be due to the vocal accent if nothing else. They also curiously remind me of UK band Red Box who during the 80’s also combined a tuneful-pop sensibility with extravagant instrumental arrangements.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



Star FK Radium – Blue Siberia
Star FK Radium – Blue Siberia
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2010
Time:38:14
Info:Star FK Radium
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Blue Siberia (2:58), Training Wheels (5:34), Karmara (4:32), Speedbike (3:36), Josie’s Porch Swing (3:18), Snow Angel (3:28), Lie In Slow Motion (5:53), Chasing The Sun (5:34), The Clearing (3:17)

Bill Martien (guitar), Matt Clarke (drums) and Alissa Taylor (violin) make up Star FK Radium, with Blue Siberia being their debut release.

Blue Siberia is washed with beautiful musical imagery relaxed and sedate for the most part, an emotional soundtrack, perfect ambience, whether the interludes are being lead by guitar, violin or drums, the mix and balance is precise and succinct. The music created is elegant, melancholic one moment, bouncy and vibrant the next, building perfection to the tones created. Even though we don’t see any epic twenty minute plus musical journeys, with beauty and quality, you don’t always need to do that. Jason Rubal has performed a stunning job on mixing and producing this album, giving you the feel that he is the silent forth member of the band, the ears of the audience.

The song titles are very fitting with the musical frame work; you can close your eyes and imagine that you are watching Josie’s Porch Swing or picturing Blue Siberia, such is the power of the musical tones, so picturesque in their structure. I really do love what has been created here.

Blue Siberia the opening track is a beautiful introduction to the whole affair, a perfect complementation of musicianship, featuring sedate and relaxing sonics, well balanced and emotional tones. Training Wheels utilises the soundtrack approach very well, Alissa’ adds her signature violin sound providing a path for Bills guitar tones, being a perfect complementation to each other. The beauty of the piece is that Matt’s drums are allowed to be assertive adding depth. Karmara is an enchanting and emotional piece that journeys slowly, featuring some stunning interaction from Bill and Alissa, whilst Matt adeptly places his precision percussions throughout.

Speedbike sees the band taking a quicker somewhat more assertive approach mimicking the journey with its rhythmic patterns. Matt really comes into his own here as Bill follows with confidence filling the gaps with his beautiful acoustic tones. Josie’s Porch Swing sees melancholy as the order of the day, whilst Alissa’s violin muses, deep in thought throughout, displaying emotional resonance; creating absolutely stunning and thought provoking images. Snow Angel just woo’s the heart, devoid of twee phrasings, as it see’s Matt again being able to ply his stickmanship, as the others weave around him. Lie In Slow Motion the longest track on the album carries on the theme, emulating the title, with its slow peaceful offerings, being allowed to grow with inclusions of some nice dynamic interactions, which disappear as quickly as the arrived. Chasing The Sun the penultimate track has a grittier approach, still staying within the constraints of all things past, just jazzing up the approach, allowing the listener to really get their teeth into the instrumentation. The Clearing sedates the soul, the calming effect to Chasing The Sun, a very fitting closing track, which brings this beautiful little album to an end, much in the same way as Blue Siberia opened the album.

Although this is only a short album by many people’s standards today, the band have really hit the nail on the head, with their succinct and impassioned presentation, a job they have managed to carry out perfectly. This is definitely a band that I now have my eye on. I am struggling to compare or reference this band to the any others I have heard throughout my musical journey, such is the uniqueness of what has been created here. The starkness of this creation brought to mind one band and their debut album, Cowboy Junkie’s and their debut Whites Off This Earth, although sonically they don’t have anything in common. It may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but is certainly mine.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

JOHN O’BOYLE



Chapter 10 – Songs From Ghost Ships 2
Chapter 10 – Songs From Ghost Ships
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2010
Time:61:56
Info:Chapter 10
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Carpathian Grave (4:50), Earth’s End (4:23), Rape Rooms [Mariners Tales] (5:25), Crest Of A Wave (3:06), Sea Sonnet (2:28), I Die Again (5:57), Ghost Fleet (5:55), Let The Ship Go Down (4:32), The Squall (2:12), This Sea Goes On (4:07), Lost At Sea (3:18), This Ship Is Sinking (4:35), Ghost Ship (11:01)

Kendalian band Chapter 10 brainchild of Kev Butler have unleashed Songs From The Ghost Ship 2, their fifth album. Why name the band Chapter 10, well nothing more simple than being the tenth band Kev has been involved in. Kev and long time friend Dave Sharpe got talking one night, Dave asking Kev to write him a song, which then grew into this project. Several albums later, here we are.

Chapter 10 consists of Kev Butler (guitar, acoustic guitar, mandolin and vocals), Dave Sharpe (lead vocals), Martin Carradus (Mini Moog, Poly Moog, Oberheim, Obxa, Korg Triton, Yamaha CS2X, Roland RS09, Korg MS2000, Moog Prodigy, ARP pro soloist), Steve Rigg (bass, fretless bass, double bass, tympani, drum, vocals), and Dave Steen (drums). Interestingly enough Chapter 10 are supporting The Watch next year on their debut Kendal date.

In general the album is very much a guitar and keyboard driven piece, which at times has a similar feel and sound to say NIN and Gary Numan, a slight tone of industrialism incorporating elements of prog, but still maintaining an air of originality within the presentation. The whole ambience is dark and brooding, with descriptive lyrics that hauntingly, emotionally menaces the listener’s ears and mind.

As a band, they are cohesive, interacting well, finely balancing their musical interaction. Kev’s guitar work is powerful, rhythmic and reeks of attitude at times, being supported by a strong backline, which reinforces Kev’s tones, holding everything together perfectly. Carradus does what Carradus does, competently adding his signature tones throughout, whether taking lead or layering his dexterous finger work, underpinning the atmospherics, making it sound like an imaginary soundtrack at times. The element that holds this altogether is Dave Sharpe’s vocal approach, matching the soundstage perfectly, which adds dimension to the music; every word he utters, feels heartfelt, almost as if he is living the moment.

From the opening and dark disturbing tones of Carpathian Grave the band present thirteen tracks featuring driving rhythms, which at times can be menacing, prowling the darker recess’ of the listener’s minds, building disturbing stories and scenes by the use of some interesting word play. As the album progresses the band take an interesting approach with Rape Rooms [Mariners Tales] with its interesting melancholic tones, the poetic A Sea Sonnet, which does what it says on the label, being underpinned by some atmospheric keyboard sonics before it segues into I Die Again which really highlights the emotion of Dave Sharpe’s vocals. Lost At Sea opens with some nice layered mandolin, giving it a slight sea shanty feel. This Ship Is Sinking sees the band taking a more abrupt approach almost setting the scene for the album closing eleven minute song Ghost Ship, with its haunting melodies, splashing waves, building images of lost souls seeking salvation, which is by far one of the stronger tracks on the album.

I just love the DIY approach and off kilter tones that have been used throughout, which for me keeps the listener intrigued. Songs From The Ghost Ship 2 is an interesting album, which to be honest is a progression from Songs From The Ghost Ship 1, (which is interesting within its own right), with sharper song structure, both lyrically and musically. The album is never going to set the world alight, but that’s not the point of this release. This is a bunch of friends doing what they love doing best, creating music from the heart.

To obtain a copy of this album send a cheque to Kev Butler for £5.00 to 9 Aikrigg Avenue, Kendal, Cumbria LA9 6DY U.K.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10

JOHN O'BOYLE


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