Reviews in this issue:
- Appearance Of Nothing – All Gods Are Gone
- Matt Stevens - Ghost
- Persephone’s Dream – Pan: An Urban Pastoral (Duo Review)
- Han Uil – Dark In Light
- Anta - The Tree That Bears The Equine Fruit
- Toxic Smile - I'm Your Saviour
- After... - Live At Home
- Apeyga - Ring [EP]
- Axiom - Truths Denied
- Lebowski – Cinematic
Appearance Of Nothing – All Gods Are Gone
Tracklist: The Mirror's Eyes (6:03), 2nd God (6:18), Sweet Enemy (9:00), Destination (9:10), The Call Of Eve (5:17), …I Said Silence (7:31), The Rise And Fall Of Nothing (4:56)
Swiss band Appearance Of Nothing slid almost unheard into the ProgMetal scene two years ago with the release two years ago of their Wasted Time debut.
The UK-based Escape Records, to which they are signed, is a specialist melodic rock/AOR label. Perhaps a lack of reach into equally specialist ProgMetal community was the reason why it took almost a year for the quintet’s very impressive offering to begin to get the worldwide profile it deserved.
DPRP was one of the first to offer Wasted Time an enthusiastic review. Two years later and we have an opportunity to see if the band has managed to build on the promise shown.
Last year there was an album released by Polish band Votum in January which remained my favourite CD until the year end. In 2011 it’ll have to be a damn good record to displace All Gods Are Gone from topping my personal end of year charts.
If you want to hear modern progressive metal that is original and captivating in equal measure, then you’ll struggle to find better.
Whilst using similar building blocks to the debut, All Gods Are Gone utilises a pallet of new construction materials. It is a major step-up in class in every aspect.
The album is considerably more aggressive, more ambitious, and more modern. There are some incredible compositions on All Gods Are Gone. Undoubtedly progressive and unavoidably metal, there's an abundance of diversity both between and within every track.
With vocals duties again shared between Pat Gerber and Omar Cuna there’s a good variety to the songs. This is enhanced further by collaboration with renowned vocalists Dan Swanö (Edge Of Sanity/Nightingale) and Devon Graves (Psychotic Waltz, Deadsoul Tribe).
Take the first track, Mirrors Eyes. A follow-up to the song Man In The Mirror from Wasted Time, it opens with a heavy and intense riff that wouldn’t be out of place on any of the last three Redemption albums. We have two verses and a bridge before we get to a chorus that any melodic rock fan would die for. Swanö’s growls add an extra bite here. Halfway through and an acoustic break flows into a more aggressive burst featuring Swanö again. Keyboard and guitar solos prompt the introduction of another riff-based theme and another keyboard section to close.
2nd God opens in a more ProgPower style, wrapped around a lovely and clever guitar and keyboard riff. Sweden’s Morifade and Kamelot spring to mind. A sudden change of pace brings some silky AOR, before another to-die-for chorus mixes up clean and growly vocals to great effect. Then out-of-nowhere begins an entirely new but entirely appropriate organ-led blues riff as a throw-back to the early days of Deep Purple and Jethro Tull.
I just can’t stop playing both of these opening songs. They set the shape for the five tracks that follow.
Devon Graves adds a sublime vocal to Sweet Enemy before it motors off into a more heavy metal territory. Savatage-meets-Deadsoul Tribe, with a hard rock chorus, would be a good description of Destination.
This album really does hammer along without taking a breath. The electro disco metal riff of The Call Of Eve will be immense in a live setting. The proggy instrumental section, a burst of jazz and a Boston-meets-White Sister chorus, again displays a rare ability to switch moods multiple times without the listener noticing.
There are plenty of complex breaks and solos to thrill throse who like an emphasis on ‘progressive’. However the band never cross the line between being impressive and oppressive.
The only bit that doesn’t work for me are the screamo vocals which open .. I Said Silence. Normal service however is quickly resumed with an excellent Heavy Prog mid-section and yet another chorus-to-die-for where clean and growly vocals enjoy a glorious collision.
The screamo vocals, the uninspiring instrumental which closes the album and the fact that at 48 minutes, another song or two would have added value; these are the only reasons why this hasn’t received a perfect score.
The only area that I don’t hear an improvement is in the production. That’s because it’s again handled by Markus Teske (Vanden Plas et al) and is again absolutely fantastic.
All Gods Are Gone is an essential purchase for fans of the genre. My only concern is: will this release again fail to get the attention it so richly deserves?
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Matt Stevens - Ghost
Tracklist: Into The Sea (3:30), Big Sky (5:39), Eleven (2:35), Draw (3:39), Burnt Out Car (3:48), Lake Man (6:17), Glide (3:02), 8.19 (5:28), Ghost (4:33), Moondial (4:09)
The second release from guitarist Matt Stevens is a completely realised entity underlining a talent that is the result of modern home recording techniques, the Internet and much hard work. Recorded over a 3 year period with a little help from Kevin Feazey (keys, programming and production) and Stuart Marshall (drums) Matt has come up with a quite lovely album of generally acoustic instrumental pieces that are all inventive and uplifting.
The use of loops and multi-tracking make for a much more varied sound than albums of this type tend to achieve. The drums and programming are always in the supporting role to Matt’s guitar but this is in no way simply a “look at me!” album as although the playing is excellent it is the writing that sets Matt’s music apart. These quirky and upbeat melodic instrumental pieces are spiced with invention using multi-layering and subtle soundscaping to create their own sonic world.
Some of the tracks are more percussive and one or two are a bit rockier with Draw being a prime example, reminding me of a kind of acoustic Battles. Burnt Out Car sounds oddly sunny and like something that Adrian Belew may have come up with. There is a more subdued feel to Late Man but the delivery is vibrant while Glide features the exquisite combination of a folk-influenced guitar with glockenspiel. Moondial’s acoustic sound changes abruptly when full-on drums are unleashed (with further use of the glockenspiel!) to support the albums first and only “proper” guitar solo.
This is not a prog album per se but is shot through with a “prog attitude” where if it sounds good and works, use it no matter what it is. This is an album that certainly benefits from repeated spins, blossoming and opening up to thrill at every stage. There is a cinematic quality that benefits from post-rock influences; this is timeless and new at the same time. Matt’s music rethinks the role of the acoustic guitar in much the same way as Ed Alleyne-Johnson did for the electric violin.
Having started posting online Matt has used the Internet well in his quest to get his music heard and in the course of this has built up a large following. As well as the physical release Matt is using the Radiohead model of download it for free and pay whatever you feel it is worth. He has had some fairly high profile gigs lately armed only with guitar and sampler and his fan base is certainly growing so this may just be the way to get his music to the masses. Online feedback is glowing and well deserved and Matt should have a great future as a leader in his chosen field.
This is one that I’ll be coming back to again and again.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Persephone’s Dream – Pan: An Urban Pastoral
Tracklist: Prelude (0:39), Invocation (1:17), Pan’s Labyrinth (7:28), Those Who Remember (3:42), Chaosong (1:24), Sidewalk Soliloquy (2:50), Chaosong [Reprise] (1:30), Denouement Of A God (1:02), Le Defile Sartyrique (1:32), Maenads, Melody And Meter (3:00), Ubi Sunt (1:12), Seduction Of Daphnis (4:58), Nectar Of The Gods (3:12), Youth’s Denial (1:15), Temptation Of Icarus (2:14), Selene Rising (2:03), The Tears Of Selene (9:30), Erato’s Pulse (11:05), Silhouette (8:45)
Jim Corcoran's Review
I must confess that before writing this review, I had limited knowledge as to who or what Pan was. All I really knew is that he was a dude with like half the body of a goat (on his own body, that is). Upon my receipt of and listening to Pan: An Urban Pastoral, the fifth release from Pittsburgh-based concept proggers Persephone’s Dream, I have a new understanding of the mighty Greek God Pan, checking out some great music along the way.
The following are the musician credits for this latest release from Persephone’s Dream, on recorded duty since 1997. Vocalist Ashley Peer sings from the characters’ role point of the Maenads. Again, before listening to this CD my knowledge base of all things Pan was limited, but the Maenads were apparently Pan’s flock of nymphets. Such a stud, that Pan. The golden-voiced Dale Mossburg sings from the role point of Pan. Scot Harvey plays acoustic and electronic drums, vibes, and percussion. According to the booklet’s credits he handles some vocals as well, but it was unclear when I listened to the CD and checked out the booklet as to where his vocals are contributed. A host of international people under the moniker Voices of Earth, too numerous to mention individually, deliver spoken word elements on one track. Rowen Poole plays 6-, 7-, and 12-string guitars; atmospheric synths, and contributes lyrics to three of the tracks. Roman Prokopenko plays bass. The aptly named John “JT” Tallent plays percussion, drums, bells, chimes, whistles, odd instruments, odd sounds and oddities. Sort of a modern-day Jamie Muir without the dripping blood. Jim Waugaman plays piano, organ, Moog, Mellotron, synths and, voicing the role of the Urban Youth, vocals. Aside from Poole’s three lyric contributions, the rest of the lyrics as well as the Urban Pastoral story come from the talented mind and capable pen of the band’s principal wordsmith Kelly Fletcher. A check of the Persephone’s Dream website does not currently list Peer in the band section, but instead lists newcomer Josie Crooks, making it apparent that since the release of the Pan: An Urban Pastoral Peer has departed the band.
The CD’s concept tells the story of the encounter a youthful resident of an imaginary city has with the tempting, come-hither Maenads and ultimately with Pan himself.
As there are four different voice-based elements on the CD, I shall touch upon them all. In Invocation, the Voices of Earth deploy spoken work elements in a vast palette of tongues ranging from Gaelic to Tagalog and create a theme of global unity.
On Those Who Remember, Peer’s vocals as the symbolic voice of the Maenads are adjoined by a chorus of indigenous birdsong, ostensibly harnessed as the odd sounds of Tallent and which seems to sing along with Peer, Tallent’s chiming percussion flavouring the track.
Waugaman makes his vocal entrance as the voice of the Urban Youth on Sidewalk Soliloquy, which also features some apparent atmospheric synths as well as an acoustic guitar solo from the multi-skilled Poole.
Peer and Waugaman do not have what I would call stellar singing voices, although in regards to Peer admittedly her voice could grow on you after a few listens. Her voice brings those tempting Maenads back into the story as she sings from their point of view in Maenads, Melody And Meter, a piece featuring a bolero style staggered key signature, edgy guitar from Poole (pardon the U2 pun), dark organ and symphonic waterfalls of piano from Waugaman, and the man with the golden pipes, Dale Mossburg, singing from the point of view of the goat-man himself, Pan.
Prokopenko’s bass gets a spotlight on Pan’s Labyrinth [Instrumental], bouncing along and easing into a seventies-style Rush groove towards the end, with Tallent’s odd sounds of city cars driving and horns honking adding a tape effects style landscape which is not overdone and smoothly gives way to the end of the track. Tallent’s drumming and sound effects duties recall another man in a similar role, Dark Side Of The Moon-era Nick Mason.
Persephone’s Dream carves a sound all their own, but does not escape the occasional reference point as is the case with the Peter Gabriel commonalities evident in Tallent’s percussion and Poole’s atmospheric synths on Le Défilé Satyrique [Instrumental], one of five, you guessed it, instrumentals on the CD. Instrumentals can have their place on a concept album if they are not overdone and carefully timed and sequenced, as successfully shown by the late, great Rick Wright on his concept album Broken China.
The overall musicianship and creativity is top-notch on this well-produced and performed CD. The CD booklet contains the Urban Pastoral story as scribed by the aforementioned Ms. Fletcher, as well as the lyrics. So the listener can sit back, pour a glass of Chianti, play the CD, and peruse the lyrics. Which I entreat you to do.
It could be argued that the continuity of the CD is somewhat cramped or crowded with nineteen tracks crammed into under sixty-nine minutes. So with their next studio release, which I await with baited breath, it would be advisable for the band to go with fewer and longer tracks as they have with some of their earlier releases, and perhaps expand things to the 2CD format ala Ayreon and Marillion.
This CD will appeal to fans of elegant, symphonic female fronted concept prog. Purveyors of more conventional fare are advised to look elsewhere to get their Lady Gaga fix.
It will be interesting to see what dynamic Josie Crooks brings to the band, and I look forward to their next release.
Gert Hulshof's Review
Persephone’s Dream is not entirely unfamiliar in the reviews section of DPRP, as all their previous albums have been reviewed here, apart from their debut album. Pan: An Urban Pastoral is the fifth release for this Pittsburgh based band and what have they delivered, I can hardly begin to describe - but I need to anyway.
The title and subtitle say enough really. Pan: An Urban Pastoral, that is just what this album is. Even though it has been divided into nineteen sections, you should never listen to only one track by itself as this would do the album an injustice. Mind you the tracks are playable separately, especially the longer ones but I would not do that, just sit through the entire sixty nine minutes, it will be over before you know it.
What a way to start a review I hear you say, starting out with the conclusion. No it is not. This is such high class conceptual story telling in music it is unbelievable. I have heard nothing like this since, yeah since when...
Now I have read comparisons to Genesis, Camel and even Dream Theater from various sources and I could not agree more with my fellow reviewers from magazines and online sites. So far this is my recording of 2010, for conceptual albums that is.
Now for a breakdown of the nineteen tracks.
All starts with a Prelude which is just what it says, a musical introduction to the score and sounds as if it is played from a very old gramophone player. Segueing directly from the prelude we hear the Invocation, in various languages from all over the world.
Pan’s Labyrinth is the first track of substantial length which is an instrumental flight into the world of our main character Pan. In this first instrumental part of our story a theme is developed, which is addictive with a good melody and structure. At times the music reminds very much of seventies grandeur prog songs, but with a strong modern day attitude.
Next up is Those Who Remember, where we hear the sounds and why this is called an urban pastoral, with cars, birds and other city noises grabbing our attention. Furthermore we get to hear the first lyrics sung by a female voice. It’s almost opera and carried by beautiful melody and playing which are a delight to listen to. Vocally I get pointers towards early works of Ms Kate Bush.
With percussion we enter the next episode, an instrumental interlude called Chaosong, followed by Sidewalk Soliloquy. A male voice this time and the intonation of the music changes slightly with this change in vocals. Basses are a tiny bit more present. It is followed by the reprise of the musical interlude we heard before, but now the music of Chaosong [Reprise] is a bit faster, a bit heavier if you like...
Le Defile Satyrique is an instrumental piece played almost entirely on percussion instruments, which brings us to the tenth episode in the story. Maenads, Melody And Meter - a dialog or duet, if you will, between Maenads and Pan I believe. A high class and very well done section, that is almost classical in approach, especially near the end with the keyboards sounding orchestrated.
Next we have Ubi Sunt, an incantation of what was and still is to be, followed by The Seduction Of Daphnis - again this is a great song and the theme of the story stays ever present. All kinds of twists and changes occur with alterations in the rhythm and performed in a brilliantly constructed way.
Nectar Of The Gods is a song that seems to have come straight out of the catalogues of Kate Bush and Björk. Brilliantly done with a long middle part consisting of percussion, voice, Moog-sounds, and bass. Continuing, Youth's Denial has a change in setting once again - a temptation nevertheless. A Temptation Of Icarus that is. Great bass line and guitars in this track.
We are now going to Selene Rising, it’s as if we need to cross a bridge right now - never in the concept has the theme been back as now. The Tears Of Selene is a classic piece of progressive rock music where everything is present - a great melody, a story line, guitar, keyboards - the works - its fantastic how this sounds. I will never ever get bored of listening to music played and structured so well.
Slowly but surely it is obvious we are working toward some sort of climax in the music and lyrics, however there are only two tracks to come and we are just over halfway in the storyline. The end of The Tears Of Selene is marked by organ sounds, whereas starting Erato’s Pulse we have bells playing. This prompts me to think that a lot of the music in the last songs reminds me of Mike Oldfield, though different stylistically, it is probably the instrumentation that makes this effect. I cannot even tell you the many different instruments I heard, a lot of them percussion instruments.
Silhouette brings the story and the album to an end and again there are no significant differences to the other pieces on the album - lots of percussion, a nicely played keyboard melody and a heavy bass line. All ends as it began with the gramophone playing the music.
Pan: An Urban Pastoral is a work of which Persephone’s Dream can be proud of, it will be extremely difficult to surpass this in the future. But as they saying goes: “never say never” - we do not know yet if this will be possible.
Need I conclude? Well OK here is my mark...
Han Uil – Dark In Light
Tracklist: War Of Thoughts (2:54), Aquila Island (4:47), The Same Old Endless Story (5:28), A Song For The Soldier (4:31), I've Waited Too Long (3:42), Dark In Light (6:18), Memento (7:01), I Love You Still (4:15), Getting Up (4:49), The Great Descent (3:28), Love Can Be Found (4:06)
In 2008 I reviewed the debut album File This Dream by promising new Dutch prog band Seven Day Hunt. The band comprises three ex members of Egdon Heath along with vocalist Han Uil who has one previous solo album to his credit Alone from 2006. Prior to this he had a five year stint with prog metal act Antares which produced 2001’s Choking The Stone album. Uil goes it alone once more for his second solo offering although that’s not entirely true as he is joined by Seven Day Hunt members Jaap Mulder (keyboard), Aldo Adema (guitar) along with Corola Magermans (backing vocals) and Eric Healing (saxophone). The end result is quite different from SDH being harder, less proggy and more singer/songwriter orientated. That’s probably not so surprising given that Uil provided the lyrics only for File This Dream where as here his abilities as a guitarist and composer are conspicuously showcased.
The opening instrumental War Of Thoughts is by far my favourite track on the album leading the listener into a false sense of (symphonic) security. Here Uil creates a grandiose cinematic landscape where melodic guitar with a bluesy edge (and more than a hint of Mark Knopfler) is underscored by dramatic orchestrations. Aquila Island which follows is more atypical however combining gritty guitar driven flights with mellower Mellotron laced interludes. The Same Old Endless Story is unfortunately aptly named with an average melody and chorus enlivened at least by some Alan Morse tinged cutting guitar lines.
The melancholic A Song For The Soldier brings a change of mood with restrained sax and sweet backing vocals adding their own poignancy. Only the rather lame arrangement lets it down. I've Waited Too Long is an altogether brighter affair with some rather nimble and inspired guitar work that brings David Gilmour to the table.
The title song Dark In Light begins innocently enough but soon reveals a darker side where Uil’s strident vocal tone is reminiscent of Andy Tillison and during a protracted solo he also demonstrates that he’s not adverse to a touch of guitar shredding. Memento harks back to Uil’s metal leanings with Adema providing added weight in the histrionic guitar department resulting in one of the stronger efforts here.
Unsurprisingly given its title I Love You Still is an unashamed heart-on-sleeve ballad where Uil adopts a stark vocal delivery ala Peter Hammill. Getting Up is another guitar fuelled affair which (in its busy vocal arrangement at least) seems heavily influenced by latter day Marillion whilst the Middle Eastern flavoured The Great Descent motors along at an uncompromising pace and tone. The (mostly) instrumental Love Can Be Found concludes the set on a welcome proggy note with splendid synth and guitar exchanges that has an air of mid period Camel about it.
Despite the contributions I listed in the opening paragraph, Han Uil is for the most part solely responsible for what can be heard on this album and is to be applauded for producing a rich and full blown band sound. In addition to the acts I’ve mentioned above, post Neal Morse Spock’s Beard is probably the closest comparison I can think of. True, the arrangements could be more inventive, the melodies and hooks a tad stronger, but overall this is a fine complement to his on-going involvement with Seven Day Hunt.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Anta - The Tree That Bears The Equine Fruit
Tracklist: Abyssal Ibis (8:14), Needling Seamaw (9:22), Firm (4:10), Abtenauer (4:58), Apical Dominance (9:37)
Anta, are a band that over the last several years has been shaping itself, now finally establishing themselves as a cohesive and active band, which consists of Alex Bertram-Powell (synths), Joe Garcia (bass), Ganiel Seruu (guitar) and James King (drums), all of which played with Rose Kemp in Vilna and which two members of played on Rose Kemp’ 2008 stunning Unholy Majesty album. Rose Kemp maybe a band some of you maybe familiar with as they have supported Porcupine Tree and Jarboe, the stunning legend and ex Swans member. I have been fortunate to have seen Rose Kemp support both bands. To some degree I digress but not too much, as what is presented here is not a million miles from the sonic dynamic offering of Rose Kemp, and Jarboe connection.
The Tree That Bears The Equine Fruit is certainly an unusual and rather intriguing title, which is fitting with what is presented here. You only need to look at the artwork that has been used to know that this is not going to be a straight forward listen. It is an eclectic mix of old school King Crimson and Pink Floyd mixed in with the drone tones of such bands as Isis and Sleep offering a very strong sonic landscape of yesteryear. As an album the musical approach is almost apocalyptic, low sonics, dark, dangerous, challenging sound structures that seriously reminding me of Godspeed You ! Black Emperor too especially with its psychedelic, ambient, experimental and progressive approach.
Anta has offered five monstrous instrumentals that really echo round the mind like some demented madman, mentally torturing your inner Zen, the self contemplation. At first I wasn’t enamoured with this album, but as time has passed it has really grown on me, usually the sign, in these eyes, of a strong album that has longevity. As with the music it is melancholic, melodic, challenging but yet abstractly rewarding, not applied or practical but rewarding.
As the gong crashes on the opening track Abyssal Ibis, the driving heavy organs and synth’ kick in, with their repeating rhythmic passages which are punctuated with some heavy artillery percussion work, with flailing guitar chords bouncing off it all. Needling Seamaw moves in the same sort of direction, but not as heavy as the opening track. I’m not too sure what a Seamaw is? (answers on a postcard please), but what I do know is that the track is a dark hypnotic and stunning instrumental, which oozes and bleeds that massive organ sound they have going on throughout the album.
Firm sees the band exercising their version of experimental and somewhat psychedelic tones which features one of the most haunting piano melodies I’ve heard in a while. It’s all a bit of a respite from things past and paves the way for things to come, except for the album closer, which is well worth the wait and attentive listen, with Firm being the shortest piece on offer. Abtenauer is a horse breed of German extraction, an easy trotter, that is particularly graceful and fluid in its movements, a mood and approach Anta have manage to capture perfectly within the instrumental structure. The band have presented a modern take on Krautrock, which almost feels devoid of emotion in the cold light of day, but the more you listen, the more the strength of the piece grows, each layer just presenting itself to you. As Abtenauer segues into Apical Dominance the album closer Anta really find their pace, as the track travels, it grows with grace and elegance, its sturdy and confident structures just ignite the whole piece, breathing life and character as it builds. Each musical interaction is fit to perfection, as with the phenomenon of apical dominance the phenomenon whereby the main central stem of the plant is dominant over other side stems; on a branch the main stem of the branch is further dominant over its own side branchlets, (who says music is not educational?), which adds to the atonal Sci Fi approach of the piece, with swathes of power chords included.
All in all this is a very rewarding album, which is in my view, well work spending some time with, allowing you to understand and grow with the creations. It’s not immediate by any stretch of the imagination, but once the light turns on, you, as a listener are sonically rewarded
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Toxic Smile - I'm Your Saviour
Tracklist: Liquid Wall (9:10), The Change (5:37), The Abyss (7:45), Hidden Brand (6:31), Walked By Fear (6:21), Endless Cycle (6:42), Pride And Joy (6:33), Poles Apart (5:16), I'm Your Saviour (8:00)
After a six-year break from a 15-year career that has largely failed to exist outside of Germany and South Korea, Toxic Smile return with studio album number three and the aim of bringing their music to a wider world.
The name is the first barrier. 'Toxic Smile’ conjours up an image in my mind of an 80s hair or glam metal band. The sunny blob of an album cover does little to clarify the picture.
Musically this quintet has been described as 'combining the symphonic metal of Symphony X with classic melodic rock, art rock, progressive metal and old school prog along the lines of Yes and Genesis’. If that sounds to you like an impossible attempt to please all audiences, then don’t worry too much. I hear nothing that resembles Symphony X, very little that resembles Yes or Genesis and I’m afraid 30 seconds of metallic chordage does not a ProgMetal album make?
What Toxic Smile does deliver is a listenable collection of songs which combines heavy Neo Prog with a distinct Art Rock influence. There’s a smattering of jazz, one soulful ballad and a potential smile on the face of those who enjoy catchy melodic hard rock choruses. Or let’s put it another way: If your idea of a good night in, is to put Alias Eye, Seven Steps To The Green Door, Ricochet and Ricocher, Sylvan, Asia and Toto onto your MP3 player and press random, then this may be for you.
Whilst there is plenty of variety across the album, the songs tend do to stay within their individual styles, grooves and melodies. As a result, the likes of Change, Walked By Fear and Hidden Brand may be a little one-dimensionally dull for those who like a progressive song to, well, progress. The ambient late-night piano ballad of Poles Apart fares a little better as does Pride And Joy with its Alias Eye blend of jazz and ArtRock.
Two songs stand out a mile. Endless Cycle is the song with the album’s ProgMetal moment and where the band really stretches itself to bring in a genuine mix of styles and moods. The icing on the cake is a fantastic melodic hard rock hook that would not have been out of place on an 80s-era Asia or Toto album. For a very similar reason, the closing title track demands repeat listens.
On the whole, singer Larry B fits the music well. His lower range can be a bit raw. Where a smoother, more delicate approach is needed as on Liquid Wall and Walked By Fear, his vocals can grate a little. However on the soaring, melodic sections his powerful voice is excellent.
A couple of live dates in Germany and a two festival appearances have already been lined-up to support this release. Their label is also planning a re-issue of the band’s debut album which was only released in Asia. I’m hoping to catch them alongside Vanden Plas and Threshold at the Fused Festival in April.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
After... - Live At Home
Tracklist: Hillside Of Dreams (5:17), Cleaning From Scars (5:30), Reflecting Me (5:18), Closed Shame (7:49), Wonderful Mistake (4:59), Waiting For (6:44), Dreams Hang On Walls [acoustic version] (3:56), Spiders (4:04), Fingers (6:21), Senses Confuse Reality (4:47), The End (12:12), Planet Caravan (5:42), Hideout (6:47)
There have been so many bands emerging from the Polish scene in the past five years, that it has become difficult to keep track of/keep up with them all.
Both albums released by heavy proggers After... rather escaped my attention at first. Both Endless Lunatic and Hideout wore their influences a little too clearly on their sleeves for my DPRP reviewing colleagues. Both albums were generally well regarded though, and won the band a collection of European tour dates.
Live At Home is the band’s third release. It contains the best tracks from both albums performed onstage in their home town of Wloclawek (hence the album name).
The production is by Zbyszek Florek from Quidam. The nice booklet features the artwork of Rafal Paluszek (Osada Vida) and a 32-page booklet of photos from the show.
Featuring two guitars, the band has a heavier and rawer sound in a live setting. There are two cover versions; the laid-back System Of A Down song, Spiders which featured on Endless Lunatic, and a version of Planet Caravan from Black Sabbath’s classic Paranoid.
As a live album this suffers from a lack of interaction between band and crowd. What interaction there is, is all in Polish. I’m not sure whether there was a small crowd or if there was a small microphone for the crowd. Whatever the reason, there’s very little of a ‘gig’ atmosphere across the 80 minute performance.
As with the albums, both the singer and the song writing suffer from an occasional lack of consistency in the quality department. On the whole it’s good, but missed notes and uninspiring passages, allow my attention to wander.
Live At Home offers a nice summary of the first stage of the After... career. For existing fans it’s a good addition. For those who enjoy Riverside and Porcupine Tree a listen to this may prompt further exploration.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Apeyga - Ring [EP]
Tracklist: Clown (3:47), Silent Holiday (3:27), Oil & Oxygen (3:47), Android Asteroid (5:00), Jelly (3:56), Service Of Sending (5:21)
USA based Apeyga, who specialise in a heavy guitar oriented rock sound, release their fourth album Ring. As it is some five years since Apeyga last featured in the DPRPages it might be useful to bring the band information up to date. The two brothers, John and Justin Peloian who founded the group in 2003 remain. Later on drums were added and there have been a few changes in the drum seat. So the line up that created Ring is as follows: John Peloian (bass), Justin Peloian (guitar) and Pete Pace (drums).
Ring is not a very long CD, clocking in at just 25 minutes it is more an EP than a full blown album. Never mind that, what we are presented with is a heavy rock sound with hints of fusion and metal. It is very difficult creating an instrumental album and then give your audience a treat with every single song. So I would say the boys of Apeyga have chosen to give us quality, and not so lengthy for that matter, songs rather than go for quantity. With each track they try to create a certain atmosphere, a vibe for their listeners. That it is difficult to do so becomes clear when you listen to the material. I hear a lot of resemblance in each of them, but that might just be the signature of Justin. After all they only play instrumentals and as a trio, thus making variation even harder.
What is very apparent in this mini album is the high level of energy in the songs. Listening to this 25 minutes in one go can really wear you out. It is that intense. And all songs have this high intensity featuring heavy guitar work, thick layers of bass guitar and loud, pounding drums. All three musicians do their best to take the forefront and show off what they do best.
It’s quite a unique sound Apeyga have been creating over the last decade. Astounding music with quality in the production as well as performances, although calling it progressive rock, I don’t know. To me I think it more indie rock, but hey what’s in the name, you could call this post rock. The best way to describe the music really is to me think Zappa and then his heaviest stuff on guitar.
Being only 25 minutes long the album is worth a try for all heavy guitar lovers out there.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Axiom - Truths Denied
Tracklist: Truth's Denied (1:54), Never Die (5:33), Human Race (6:09), Red Eyes (6:22), Dawn Is Coming (5:33), Scar (6:41), Seven Steps To The Grave (4:45), State Of Grace (5:00), A Revolution Inside (4:16), Keep The Rain (3:31)
Axiom is a thrash progressive metal band from Italy and their debut album A Moment Of Insanity dates back to 2004. After a two year break, with two new members, they start writing songs for a new album and almost five years later Truths Denied is out.
Axiom originates from a thrash metal band, so the music is a bit heavier than I usually review for DPRP, however as there are a lot of keyboards in the sound of Axiom this gives it a progressive touch. Powerful progressive metal with complex musical structures. Of course the name Dream Theater rises to the surface and since the vocals on Truth Denied alternate between clean vocals and grunting the latest James LaBrie solo album comes closer in definition of style.
The instrumental opener does not really trigger my interest, it sounds technically OK but nothing really of interest. Never Die sounds more interesting, with many heavy guitar riffs and changes in timing and a layer of keyboard sounds to dress up the music. The overall sound is very heavy and if not for the keyboard layers it could not be classified as progressive. The first part of the album continues in that progressive way right up until Scar, that song contains the most changes and the lengthy instrumental part in the middle is good. The remaining songs follow a more predictable structure, more thrash metal influences.
Truths Denied is a descent album, maybe a bit to much thrash-metal for DPRP. Technically all is fine though I hear some transition that tend to a bit overdoing it, complexity for the sake of it. The last songs on the album lack the progressive structures of the first part, perhaps inspiration had run out. Still Truth Denied is not a bad album, if you like heavy music with a bit more complexity than usual then this is a nice album. Do not expect to find the new Dream Theater.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Lebowski – Cinematic
Tracklist: Trip To Doha (5:40), 137 Sec. (7:11), Cinematic (7:41), Old British Spy Movie (5:10), Iceland (7:12), Encore (6:07), Aperitif For Breakfast [O.M.R.J.] (6:06), [Spiritual Machine] (6:54), The Storyteller [Svensson] (6:38), Human Error (7:58)
Lebowski are a Polish band and Cinematic is their debut release. The band is a four piece with Marcin Luczay on keys and synths, Marcin Grzegorczyk on guitars and samplers, Marek Zak on bass and Krzysztof Pakula on drums. The two Marcins are the principal songwriters and co-producers of Cinematic.
Whilst researching Lebowski for this review, I found them to have an impressive presence around the world on a host of international forums and music sites. Essentially, most of this presence is effectively in the form of a promotional e-flyer, raising awareness of Cinematic’s release. It’s professionally developed and presumably managed by the internet equivalent of a street team who have extended their marketing tendrils and laid spores around the web, it would seem, very effectively. More strength to their arm. It’s intelligent, savvy and slick. Herein lies Cinematic’s great strength and its gaping Achilles.
Everything about this release demonstrates detailed thought, planning and care in every facet of its presentation. From the artwork to the production to the compositions themselves there is evident craft and polish. Unfortunately, I also find it utterly soulless and barren. Please don’t misunderstand me, there’s nothing gimmicky or fake about Cinematic. In fact, the project has been five years in the making and is entirely self-financed and, given that much of it was recorded in a band member’s flat temporarily converted into a recording studio, the quality of the finished product is remarkable. No, this is definitely a painstaking work of passion and tears and joy and ambition. Why then does it sound so sterile and anodyne?
My answer to this is threefold. In part, I think it’s because the recording is pealing with reverb and delay. This certainly lends it atmosphere, but it also smoothes everything; the audio equivalent of airbrushing; there’s no analogue, no grit, no wrinkles to give it character and maturity. Cinematic has its sonic counterpart in Vangelis’ work from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. There’s nothing ostensibly wrong with this, I liked a lot of Vangelis’ work back then but it seems dated. You heard me right, a prog reviewer complaining because something sounds dated. To give you another indication, the opening track Trip to Doha simultaneously recalls Peter Gabriel’s The Passion (the soundtrack from The Last Temptation Of Christ) and The Art Of Noise circa In No Sense Nonsense. Again, I really liked these two albums at the time and they still stand up to scrutiny today but there’s nothing ‘post-‘ about Lebowski’s approach, nor is it in any sense an homage, nor is it ironic. It just sounds anachronous to my ears. This idea is compounded by the thematic concept tying the album together which is, in some way I cannot fathom, takes inspiration from the works of famous Polish cinematographers and movie directors.
I think this manifests itself melodically, in that each song has a strong melodic identity. Indeed, the melodies are, generally speaking, very good but, and this is a very significant ‘but’ for me, they are unassumingly polite and derivative. They are the kind of tunes that you hear when watching Ceefax (the BBC’s analogue text service broadcast at night, you can imagine, I’m sure); musical pleasantries that take the germ of ‘60s and ‘70s television or film theme-tunes and present them in easily digestible pieces, free from anything awkward like, having to pay attention. Put on your headphones and dig deeply into these songs if you like, but there’s nothing to reward close listening. These compositions wash over me like so much neutral guff. Structurally, it’s all so safe and unadventurous and cosseting. I suppose I could simply say that this is music to drift off to sleep to. Or, I could say that this is music to have on in the background, but I think it would work best if you’re a producer of Kobe Beef. This would definitely keep cattle feeling pampered and docile and passive; comfortably smiling at the promise of a bovine New Age whilst releasing inert odourless gases.
Ok, so I’m being facetious, but there is a truth at the core of my analogy. The sad thing is that these guys are obviously really good musicians and, with a little direction from outside of the bubble of the project, this could have been a great album. Unfortunately, some of its ideas are half-cooked, especially the vague attempt at a ‘world music’ aesthetic. Conversely, some of the signature recording techniques and musical ideas are overdone. Every track has layer upon layer of dreamy, soft synth pads and chiming, ringing guitars occasionally contrasted with muted, crunchy guitars creating a ‘darkly romantic’ mood that ends being very wearing to this old cynic. It’s a bit like listening to my wife for an hour, as lovely as she is, she’s not getting chocolates, or roses and we’re not going to Paris. On the other hand there are interesting moments here and there with a hammered dulcimer, e-trumpet and fretless bass. Simply put, I just don’t like this and I’ve tried to explain why. It’s not that it’s bad, like I say, it’s all done with polish and it does have some lovely moments (I actually quite like the track Spiritual Machine) so I feel quite sure that there will be some of you who will actively enjoy this kind of ethno-lite, new-age, transcendent, audio-honey but it’s way to saccharine sweet for me.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10