Reviews in this issue:
- Damian Wilson - I Thought The World Was Listening 1997-2011
- Blue Mammoth - Blue Mammoth
- John Hackett - Moonspinner
- Subsignal – Touchstones
- Camembert – Schnörgl Attahk
- Factor Burzaco - II
- Soft Machine – NDR Jazz Workshop ~ Hamburg, Germany 1973
- Soft Machine – Alive & Well
- The National Orchestra Of The United Kingdom Of Goats – The Chronicles Of Sylliphus [EP]
- The National Orchestra Of The United Kingdom Of Goats – The Three Walls Of Kolepta [EP]
- Solstice Coil - Natural Causes
- Slivovitz - Bani Ahead
- Anubis - A Tower Of Silence
- Lisa Cuthbert - Obstacles
- Matt Stevens - Relic
- Moonwagon – Night Dust
- Øresund Space Collective – Sleeping With The Sunworm
- The Pineapple Thief – Variations On A Dream/8 Days
- Phi – For The Love Of Ghosts
- Astralia - Osmosis
- Caligula's Horse – Moments From Ephemeral City
- J21 - Beyond The Holographic Veil
Damian Wilson - I Thought The World Was Listening 1997-2011
CD 1: Disciple (5:01), Commune (4:32), Beating Inside (5:02), Please Don't Leave Me 'Til I Leave You (3:03), Never Close The Door (2:52), One Life (3:18), A Long Way Home (4:19), Naturally (1:10), Homegrown (original demo version) (4:25), Adam's Child (3:21), Quietly Spoken (3:04), When I Leave This Land (4:56), She's Like A Fable (3:23), Spin (5:13) See You There (1:43), Wedding Song (2:53)
CD 2: Array Of Lights (4:30), Brightest Way (3:18), Light In The Middle (4:39), Smile (4:26), For The One I Long (3:36), Warning Light (3:55), Moment Of Your Doubt (4:20), Naked (4:02), Subway (3:16), Fine Weather (2:47) Nothing In This World Remains The Same (3:14), Just The Way It Goes (4:31), Feels Good (4:37), Nothing Without You (2:35), Part Of Me (3:45)
Damian Wilson is a singer-songwriter who has been around the block a few times as they say having been voted 'Best male vocalist' no less than seven times by the Classic Rock Society. In addition to taking his own Damian Wilson Band out on the road he’s fronted Threshold, Headspace, Landmarq and Rick Wakeman's English Rock Ensemble. His dynamic delivery has also put him in much demand as a session singer having recorded with Ayreon, Star One, Gary Hughes, Guy Fletcher, Aina, After Forever, Stream Of Passion, Shadowland, Mostly Autumn, Casual Silence and Praying Mantis. A versatile vocal range and natural stage presence also makes him perfectly suited to musicals having toured extensively in the lead role of Les Misérables. And if that wasn’t enough he’s released four solo albums, Cosmas (1997), Disciple (2001), Live In Rehearsal (2002) and Let's Start A Commune (2003).
Considering his consistent output at the beginning of the millennium the only surprise is that despite his activities elsewhere he has not recorded another solo album in the past eight years. Cue this double CD retrospective which brings together 31 re-mastered songs from across all four solo albums including re-recorded versions and previously unreleased material. Given his reputation in the prog and metal field, newcomers to his solo work may find this collection surprisingly mellow in tone although the ballads are evenly mixed with more up-tempo tunes. The instrumentation is also very traditional with scarcely a guitar or synth solo in sight. Instead Wilson opts for strings for the slower songs and brass to beef up the livelier tracks with acoustic guitar and piano often prominent. On occasions as in Quietly Spoken and For The One I Long (which is reminiscent of the 1960’s standard Hey! Baby by Bruce Channel) he relies solely on his own guitar and voice to carry the song.
Disc 1 opens in understated but beautiful fashion with the title song from the second album Disciple. This bittersweet song finds Wilson’s sensitive delivery sounding very similar to Dan Fogelberg, particularly his ballad Longer. The next song Commune contains the line that provides the title of this collection and with its punchy horn arrangement its one of the more up-tempo offerings as is the tongue in cheek Please Don't Leave Me 'Til I Leave You and the extremely catchy A Long Way Home. The latter along with Disciple are for me the highlights of disc 1. Other personal favourites include the soaring When I Leave This Land, the lilting She's Like A Fable (which is blessed with the familiar rippling ivories of Mr Wakeman senior) and the unashamedly romantic Wedding Song.
Fittingly, given this time of year, there is a Christmas song included entitled Array Of Lights which opens the second disc. Naturally it’s a tad sentimental but conveys an irresistible sense of nostalgia and I’m surprised that it’s never previously been released. In contrast Light In The Middle really rocks whilst Smile lives up to its title thanks to another sparkling brass arrangement. Naked is blessed with one of Wilson’s more powerful vocals ably supported by a solid electric guitar and organ riff whilst the hypnotic Feels Good is a compelling slice of pop poetry. It’s the haunting beauty and sheer brilliance of Just The Way It Goes however that makes this compilation for me. Probably my favourite DW song, the passionate vocal and lush strings has the ability to reduce a grown man (or at the very least this grown man) to tears.
True, Damian Wilson’s solo material is not the proggiest you’re ever likely to encounter (a certain “ultimate progressive rock website” doesn’t even include him in their listings) but it is music of quality and distinction from a man who has more to offer than his voice (although admittedly it’s a great voice). He writes songs that have maturity and depth which combined with his pitch perfect delivery reveals an artist of immense talent and this superbly compiled two disc collection is a fitting tribute to that talent.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Blue Mammoth - Blue Mammoth
Tracklist: Blue Mammoth I Overture – The Awakening Of The Giant (3:15), II The King of Power (6:30), III Winter Winds (4:23), IV Coda – Back Again (1:28), Metamorphosis (5:32), Rain Of Changes – A Poet Spirit Voyage I Growin’ (8:08), II Who We Are (5:21), III The Sun’s Face Through Dark Clouds (3:50), The Same Old Sad Tale (5:20), Quixote’s Dream I Farewell My Lady (1:19), II Hero (6:58), III Solitude – The Sad End Of A Dreamer (0:53), Resurrection Day (5:32), Infinite Strangers (5:09)
The first thing that you notice about Blue Mammoth’s debut release is the stunning artwork. The next notable thing about this album is when you press play, as this is an album that is filled with grandeur that calls to mind the heady days of ELP, Yes, Deep Purple, Styx, Kansas and The Flower Kings with Andre Micheli vocals sounding not that dissimilar to that of Nad Sylvan.
The music takes you on a wonderful journey with its symphonic presentation that really is a pleasure to participate in, constructs of sonics that delight the listener’s ear. Julian Quilodran (bass, cello, flute, acoustic guitar, percussions and backing vocals), Thiago Meyer (drums, electronic and acoustic percussions and backing vocals), Andre Lupac (electric and acoustic guitars, flutes and backing vocals) and Andre Micheli (piano, organ, synths, lead and backing vocals) have spent their time well with this creation.
The album is full of stunning keyboard interactions and old school guitar passages that have been manipulated in such a way that they really define what’s so good about this music. The atmospheric soundstages really envelop the whole concept creating the minds visual structures as every note passes.
The band may have referenced the 70’s for their approach but this is by no means a poor attempt, in fact much the opposite. They have definitely kept it sounding fresh and relevant. The beauty is not only in the music presented but also the stunning production job where every individual instrument can be heard clearly.
Whether Andre Micheli’s keyboard interactions or Andre Lupac’s dexterous guitar playing is leading or accompanying there is no doubt of the proposition, which is to both entertain and reward. The solos are both epic and melodic, offering light and at times darkness, really stating how symphonic prog should be constructed and played. What we mustn’t forget though is the importance of Julian Quilodran and Thiago Meyer, that all important backline who hold everything together perfectly, their contributions being no less important. The music tension builds slowly, but when it arrives at its destination it is a euphoric high.
Brazil isn’t really noted for this approach but Blue Mammoth are definitely a progressive band that will fill the appetite of the insatiably hungry and is an album that is full of lush phrasings and passages that will please. Just drop into any track here and confirmation of the previous statements will be supported.
It is the suites Blue Mammoth, Rain Of Changes – A Poet Spirit Voyage and Quixote’s Dream where the band really hit their stride as they allow theirselves time to breathe and develop. Welcome to the world of Blue Mammoth.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
John Hackett - Moonspinner
Tracklist: Witchfinder (1:57), Appassionata (3:34), Red Hair (2:48), Overnight Snow (2:19), Moonspinner (2:42), Windhover (3:27), Green Shoes (2:17), The Shepherd Wheel (1:08), No Going Back (2:53), The Great Including (2:19), Aftermath (2:45), Two Daughters (2:23), The Prince Of Morimont (3:19), Thoughts Turn Homeward (4:19), Andante [JS Bach from BWV 1034] (3:22), Syrinx [Debussy] (2:38)
There have been many releases in 2011 heralded by fanfares, countdowns, video diaries, news bulletins, in fact a multitude of promotional tools have been engaged to promote the release of a new album. Some however just sort of popped up and said "hello I'm here". One such release was Moonspinner from flautist and guitarist John Hackett. Despite whatever promotional formats are employed, with the hefty current progressive output, you are still unlikely to hear or know of them all. In fact this album from John Hackett may well have slipped by me had I not be fortunate to catch him (along with the excellent Nick Magnus) at the Progmeister Festival in March this year. John & Nick provided the audience with a fantastic set of music that formed one of the major highlights of the day.
Now I will not mention John's notable credentials and affiliations here, as any visitor to a progressive rock site will certainly be aware of his heritage, but simply move on to the music of Moonspinner. For those who are familiar with John's previous solo album Prelude To Summer (2008), then you will have a good idea of what to expect. Notable differences on Moonspinner are that, with the exception of Debussy's Syrinx, which features guitarist Andy Gray, this is a completely solo effort. Perhaps also worthy of a mention here is the stronger progressive feel to this latest offering and noted by John: "I am very proud of this new album. I hope it goes some way to building a bridge between classical and progressive music".
So what might you expect to find on Moonspinner? Sixteen delightful tracks performed on flute and classical guitar. Of these sixteen tracks, fourteen are self-penned and one piece each from Debussy and Bach. So much for the facts...
What is more difficult to convey is what a fantastic album this really is. From the sprightly, dare I say Anderson/Tullian opener Witchfinder to the gentle and pastoral Thoughts Turn Homeward we are treated to sumptuous flute melodies served on delicate, often intricate, bed of guitar - which linger long in the mind. We are transported through hazy summer days, birds in flight, tranquil winter mornings, foreign lands, times of old and so much more. The imagination is allowed to wander free. Brief snippets from Moonspinner can be found by clicking the Samples link above - just take a listen...
Moonspinner is a beautiful album that is uplifting, beguiling and utterly charming. So what else can I tell you? The recording and mixing is impeccable. I can also tell you this has been a really difficult album to review! Why? Well firstly every time I've started to put pen to paper I've ended up putting them down and simply just listened to the music. This review has therefore been completed in absolute silence. It is also customary when reviewing to offer contrast and to comment on both the positive and negative aspects. Trouble is I can't find a single negative thing to say about this album. As if to confirm this and as I proof read my review, album playing, a smile crosses my face with the track Two Daughters emerging from the speakers. And now we have the splendid The Prince Of Morimont.
Oh listen - just buy this album! You won't regret it...
Conclusion: Whole heartedly recommended!
Subsignal – Touchstones
Tracklist: Feeding Utopia (5:21), My Sanctuary (5:09), Echoes In Eternity (5:24), The Size Of Light On Earth (6:04), As Dreams Are Made On (4:42), Wingless (6:10), Finisterre (6:41), The Essence Called Mind (4:38), The Lifespan Of A Glimpse (6:11), Embers - Part I: Your Secret Is Safe With Me (8:35), Touchstones (11:03), Con Todas Las Palabras (5:27)
The second album from this band started by the former guitarist and singer of Sieges Even sits comfortably on the middle ground between progressive rock and progressive metal. Touchstones is a real crossover album that has enough to appeal to both audiences but never too much prog or too much metal to alienate either.
One of the joys of writing for DPRP is that we are able to take a little more time to allow the delicate pleasures of progressive music to fully unfold. With most albums from this genre, it would be impossible to give the music proper consideration within the two-week deadlines that most webzines seem to work to.
With the first Subsignal release, Beautiful And Monstrous, my initial reaction was one of disappointment with the album’s lighter touch. It took quite some time for the subtle melodies to work on me. From a frustrated 5 out of 10, it eventually became an 8 out of 10. Touchstones is heavier than the debut, as Markus Steffens is given more freedom to let his hair down. Some of the hooks and melodies are more immediate. But again, time is required to allow the music on this disc to really blossom. The wait is more than worthwhile. This is a pure gem of an album.
Mid-80s Yes is an obvious influence on the band's direction. Helped by heavily-layered vocals, vocalist Arno Menses often sounds a dead-ringer for Jon Anderson. There are frequent sections that also remind me of the final incarnation of Sieges Even. If you found the first Subsignal a bit on the light side, you'll find this one more to your liking.
The only criticism that I can level at this album is that at 70 minutes it is just too long. With only Embers and the final track being candidates for ‘filler’ status, the problem is not about the band struggling to maintain the quality. It is just that after an hour almost every band starts to repeat itself. I will always prefer albums that underplay their capacity, leaving you wanting more.
My favourite songs change with almost every listen. Echoes In Eternity is one of the band’s heaviest songs yet, whilst more heavy riffs combine wonderfully with the staccato harmonies on As Dreams Are Made On. Finisterre would be perfectly at home on The Art Of Navigating… The proggy opening on The Essence Called Mind works well and the combination of some great female vocals with Arno on The Lifespan Of A Glimpse is another highlight. As ever, Marcus Steffens’ acoustic guitar is another selling-point and this is a disc jammed full of melodies and hooks. For the purists this release is also available as a limited edition double vinyl.
With its second album, Subsignal has clearly moved from being just an extension of Sieges Even. It is a band with its own sound and identify. With the album debuting at 53 in the Garman charts it is also starting to generate a strong following.
If sophisticated, yet accessibly melodic, modern progressive rock is your thing, then I strongly suggest you do not let this album pass you by. In what has been a very strong musical year, this will easily sit in my Top 5.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Camembert – Schnörgl Attahk
Tracklist: Infinicheese (1:34), Clacos Zero (0:35), Untuns Untungan 2.0 (11:13), Clacos 1: Notre Mère À Tous (1:58), El Ruotuav Ed Sram (8:16), Clacos 2: Die Experimente Von Dr Frankenschnörgl (0:48), Le Meurtrier Volant (9:01), La Danse Du Chameau: Batifolade (5:30), Soif! (1:18), La Tempete De Sable (4:52), Rêveries Lubriques Sous Une Dune (1:09), The Final Run (5:01)
French loons Camembert first came to fromage in 2005 in Strasbourg and from an initial three piece now number some seven members, plus a guest appearance on Untuns Untungan 2.0 by Yugen’s Francesco Zago, playing instruments ranging from the humble bass/guitars/drums through to trumpet, didgeridoo, harp, tenor and bass trombone, tuba, xylophone, and many percussion instruments.
On Schnörgl Attahk they produce a prog-jazz symphony relating the tale of the Earth’s imminent invasion by the Schnörgl, who are “Nasty small gelatin electrical beings, bastards who come from Outer Space to invade planet Earth” led by Professor Frankenschnorgl – you have been warned! Luckily for them the entire thing is instrumental, as you could never get away with singing the extensive accompanying story unless you were George Clinton. Maybe the band are under the effects of Wet Cheese Delirium when they came up with this piece of inspired lunacy, but it has to be said any influence of Gong is restricted to their name, but maybe the same cannot be said of the influence of psychotropic cheese! Similarly the album’s title is the only Magma influence I can detect and the RIO influences are more of the Art Zoyd and Henry Cow variety.
The didgeridoo is heard on Clacos 1: Notre Mère À Tous (Mother Of Us All), a dreamy number in the middle of the ongoing jazz symphony, which has elements of Nucleus in the horn arrangements. Suitable craziness is coming from somewhere near Zappa territory, and there is often a Canterbury feel particularly when the xylophone steps forward on El Ruotuav Ed Sram (March of the Vulture – backwards. The work I do for you!..). When the assemble start to cook they put me in mind of Jerry Dammers Spatial A.K.A. Orchestra, itself a homage to Sun Ra. Camembert also list the influence of Gentle Giant which I can see, and Yes, which I can’t!
All this and more is felt most keenly on Le Meurtrier Volant (The Flying Killer… you’ll just have to read the story, which is in English, luckily for us) which goes through many twists and turns. From mad cosmic jazz replete with electronic swooshes and effects, to symphonic prog via an unusual guitar break and back again to the classical jazz cacophony, everything and more is crammed into its nine minutes and it is an album high point.
La Danse Du Chameau (Dance Of The Camel) is something of a mini-epic, split into five parts, and covers all the bases listed above. Guitarist Vincent Sexauer gets to show his best Zappa inspired chops in the first part, and accomplished ensemble playing shines throughout. There’s even a Latino jazz outbreak in the last part. Just out of interest the story here is about a camel lost in a sandstorm, who close to death has erotic dreams of a lady camel (Rêveries Lubriques Sous Une Dune – Lustful Musings On A Dune) before he is abducted by the Schnörgl! It’s the wet cheese again folks… The band may not have heard of Frogg Café, but if you’re a fan of the classy American act you’ll love this!
Boy that’s a whole load of influences I’ve listed there! And with that lot under their belt it would be nigh on impossible not to craft something that was in a style of its own, and this they manage with ease. Reading the mission statement on their Facebook page brings a smile to my face - “The band has only one goal: to be progressive in the real sense of the term.” For once a mission statement that doesn’t make me groan, and one they have lived up to consummately on this complex yet playful album, infused as it is with an impish sense of humour.
Yet another great release from the consistently high quality Italian AltrOck label, I recommend this strange trip if you have even a modicum of musical curiosity.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Factor Burzaco - II
Tracklist: Beginnin (1:51), Progressions (4:53), What (2:23), In Memoriam (5:39), Guantanabu 1 (7:07), Guantanabu 2 (1:38), Guantanabu 3 (4:15), Straviko (5:59), Before The End (0:32), Mereditika (7:34)
The AltrOck press release that accompanies this album speaks of Factor Burzaco as being up and coming darlings of the RIO/Avant-Prog world nicknaming them the “Argentinian Thinking Plague”. Following on from 2008's self titled debut this aptly named second release sees the band consolidating their position with vocalist Carolina Restuccia in particular pushing herself and her unusually expressive and acrobatic voice to the limit. Other references mentioned include Igor Stravinsky, Henry Cow and King Crimson but that really doesn’t tell you what to expect.
Factor Burzaco seem to boast a cast of thousands (in fact 16 plus conductor) covering the traditional instrumentation of a rock band (only multiplied – 4 guitars, 2 bass, 2 drums) coupled with programming, percussion, accordion, and a wind section of clarinet, flute, bassoon and sax. The band is the brainchild of Abel Gilbert who, oddly, is not present on this album but his compositional take on “post-traditional music” certainly is. His trait of using fractals of his mammoth orchestra to exist separately but within the whole leads to some interesting moments, the albums tracks acting as movements of a greater whole. The lyrics by Marcelo Cohen are modern poetry sung in Spanish but reproduced in English in the booklet.
From the dissonant scream and splash of percussion that starts Beginnin this is not an easy listen. The mix of modern classical and rock is not uneasy but neither does it flow particularly sweetly and in fact this work is more classically influenced than anything else. The opening track is low key with stabs of vocal and woodwind before Progressions veers into a rockier path, part Velvet Underground, part King Crimson. The vocals are often a little too histrionic but Restuccia, who delivers the majority of the vocals, and her occasional male counterparts are capable if unauthodox vocalists. The track flows nicely with an unexpected groove, the dissonant elements spicing the soup. Progressions drifts into What, the sparse lyric undulating with building wind drones acting as a buffer before the more avant garde staccato vocal intro to In Memorian. This is an interesting track that encapsulates a number of the elements of Factor Burzaco’s sound; the wilful weirdness and eclectic sounds coming together here and there to produce moments of beauty. To the uninitiated (like me) it sometimes appears to go on too long without much happening but then an accordion appears or a mournful clarinet changes the mood and sparks the interest again. There is certainly depth in the composition and it has the odd toe-tapping moment but this is serious music intended for the experimental end of the prog spectrum.
The three part Guantanabu is a mini suite in itself, the first part featuring mainly spoken and sung male vocal with tinkling percussion and occasional interjections from Restuccia. There is a theatricality to it that some may find odd; it isn’t opera but it isn’t The Sound of Music either, the schizophrenic vocals seeming to argue with themselves. The English translation helps to make some sense out of what is going on but this is certainly not for everyone. Small groups of instruments break out and fade away and this is sometimes magical in a minimalist/Philip Glass way. The second part is an electro-drone with additional percussion that serves to segment the album in a similar way that King Crimson did with some of the “lesser” pieces on Thrak. It flows on into the third part which is based around the rock set-up with proper drums. The acoustic instruments give it a classical feel but the guitar and drums add impetus. There is KC influence in the way the parts interlock and Restuccia returns to reprise her role from the first part before the track is submerged in sound effect trickery and static.
Staviko has a dancing vocal sometimes hinting at a Spanish Björk with wind and strings adding atmosphere. Again there are lengthy sections where not much happens, burbling drones modulating and fluctuating. Before The End is another brief interlude that leads into the lengthy and melancholic Mereditika which takes a long time to really go anywhere but when it does Restuccia again proves herself to be the ace in the pack with her beyond unusual vocalising.
Despite the massed ranks of instrumentalists there is a sparseness to much of this album that shows Gilbert to be a truly gifted composer producing music that is rewarding and deserves to be heard despite the fact that its audience will only ever be a very small one. The classical influences are the most pertinent, Gilbert’s band/orchestra producing some delightful moments punctuated by a good deal of head scratching and beard stroking but with a playfulness that lifts it above the dry and dusty. Not an easy listen and not for the faint-hearted, you’ll need to sit still and pay attention – and no fidgeting at the back!
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Soft Machine – NDR Jazz Workshop ~ Hamburg, Germany 1973
CD: Part I- Fanfare (0:48), All White (3:38), Link 1/Link 2 (5 :04), 37 ½ (6:31), Link 3 (0:47), Riff (3:51), Part II- Down The Road (10:41), Link 3a (1:00), Stanley Stamp’s Gibbon Album (4:47), Chloe And The Pirates (8:34), Gesolreut (11:48), E.P.V. (3:34), Link 4 (3:34), Stumble (6:56), One Across (6:10), Riff (1:08)
DVD: The DVD has a similar tracklist, although The Soft Weed Factor (6:19) substitutes Down The Road, and there’s two audio bonus pieces: 1983 (15:33) and Encore Improvisation/Stumble Reprise (10:51)
Soft Machine – Alive & Well
CD 1: White Kite (3:00), Eos (1:19), Odds Bullets And Blades Pt. I (2:18), Odds Bullets And Ballets Pt. II (2:32), Song Of The Sunbird (1:24), Puffin’ (1:17), Huffin’ (4:41), Number Three (2:26), The Nodder (7:12), Surrounding Silence (4:04), Soft Space (8:17)
CD 2: K’s Riff (4:41), The Nodder (7:12), Two Down (2:28), The Spraunce (6:17), Song Of Aeolus (3:41), Sideburn (7: 43), The Tale Of Taliesin (8:09), Organic Matter/One Over The Eight (5:54), Soft Space Part One [Edited Version] (4:15) , Soft Space Part Two [Disco Version] (5:41)
Listening to these two Soft Machine double live releases back to back (if you happen to have spare time) is an interesting experiment, just as if you played Genesis Live (1973) and Seconds Out (1977) consecutively and then proceeded to compare them to outline the differences, the nuances in both sound and performance of two slightly different incarnations of the same band.
In the case of NDR Jazz Workshop and Alive & Well, a thorough listen (and watch, as there’s also a DVD included, and a very nice document it is: pure 70’s underground with 00’s sound and picture quality) to the four discs will offer you not only a glimpse of what this legendary band sounded like on stage, but also a fairly complete overview of how 70’s jazz-rock and fusion developed; from the Miles Davis/ Herbie Hancock sound of the 1973 Hamburg recording, to the more muscular, Mahavishnu Orchestra style of the 1977 concerts in Paris.
For some this band ceased to exist or, at least, lost most of its charm once they “betrayed” their Canterbury roots when Robert Wyatt (or Kevin Ayers, for that matter) abandoned ship in the long gone days of psychedelia, which led them to mutate into a more “conventional” jazz rock outfit. Perhaps this move alienated too many of the original fans, but wasn’t enough to persuade the fusion community, which is a shame, because the music contained on these releases is (mostly) as good as jazz fusion can get, with the kind permission of the holy Mahavishnu/Weather Report/Return To Forever trinity.
The Hamburg set features a sound mostly monopolized by Karl Jenkins’ superb sax phrasing and Mike Ratledge’s eccentric touch on the organ, offering a complete snapshot of what the band was about around the time Six (1973) was released; in fact, this album is almost completely represented here, with some great renditions of Chloe And The Pirates and The Soft Weed Factor, but there’s also some Fifth (1972) in here in the shape of All White. The whole set plays like an extended version of Six’s live record, since the setlist is quite similar, but the main difference here is the personnel, given the band on stage expanded the core quartet by adding some extra colour thanks to Art Themen’s sax and Gary Boyle’s guitar; this last addition is particularly interesting as it prefigures what Soft Machine would become on subsequent releases, with Allan Holdsworth and John Etheridge notably transforming the band into a more (obviously) guitar oriented outfit. That’s not Boyle’s case, as he plays a more secondary role, but at the same time his fluid jazz guitar is a good counterpoint to balance the double sax attack.
The Paris sessions are the culmination of the band’s transformation, which can also be compared, strictly from the point of view of the instrumentation, to the same process Van Der Graaf Generator underwent: from David Jackson’s sax, to Peter Hammill’s and Graham Smith’s guitar and violin. If Vital (1978) was this VDGG’s incarnation testament, so Alive & Well was for this Softs’ (though still there was to be another studio release, 1981’s ill-judged Land Of Cockayne) and both share a similar energetic, intense approach to the repertoire. Here, everyone’s playing to their strengths, with manic soloing from Etheridge and violinist Rick Sanders (the Puffin’ and Huffin’ sequence is extenuating proof of this), though John Marshall’s superb drumming (as always; just check his solo, Sideburn) is also worthy of note. This release is an expansion of the original 1978 album, which is confined to the first CD, while the second features previously unreleased material, including some frankly unnecessary outtakes: why include another (identical) version of The Nodder? Why three different versions of Soft Space (Jean Michel Jarre gone wrong/disco), otherwise a mediocre piece? As interesting for completists as these tracks may be, they feel like filler to me, and don’t add anything of interest to the whole.
As live jazz rock (and, in consequence, as a quintessential 70’s listening experience), these two collections fare reasonably well. As live Soft Machine, it leaves you with the impression that, although the playing is top notch and there’s plenty of challenging music to impress the listener, this was a band that never quite fulfilled their potential as a really innovative and groundbreaking unit, choosing instead to stay within some kind of “comfort zone” where nurturing the then very popular fusion of instrumental rock and jazz was enough to survive in the music business.
NDR Jazz Workshop: 7 out of 10
Alive & Well: 7 out of 10
The National Orchestra Of The United Kingdom Of Goats –
The Chronicles Of Sylliphus [EP]
Tracklist: The Birth Of Sylliphus (4:02), The Life Of Sylliphus (6:12), The Death Of Sylliphus (3:18)
The National Orchestra Of The United Kingdom Of Goats –
The Three Walls of Kolepta [EP]
Tracklist: The First Wall Of Kolepta (9:18), The Second Wall Of Kolepta (4:35), The Third Wall Of Kolepta (6:31)
I am going to introduce you to a new band and they are called: The National Orchestra Of The United Kingdom Of Goats (UKOG). It sounds like they did not really care and just decided to choose the first name that came to mind. A little more effort guys. Well to be honest I don’t know what the name means and the band refuses to explain. Keeps things interesting and mysterious I guess. But it gets even more strange because I can’t find any information about the band members. There are some band photo’s and they seem to be a four piece and I’ve read part of an interview with the bands bass player “Tom” but that did not reveal very much. The band have a band statement on their facebook page which reads:
"The National Orchestra of the United Kingdom of Goats has formed to cure the pain and darkness from all the lost souls that mindlessly roam this world. These four heroes have set out to tell the one true story. The one story that will save a great many and destroy the ones already far beyond redemption. Close all doors, light a candle - and kill the ones in charge."
That does not seem to help either. Vague... (I think they are from Italy but I’m not sure of that either). Well let’s stick to the facts and the music then. The band released two EP’s so far. The first one was called The Chronicles Of Syllyphus (you can probably imagine how often I wrote Syphillus) and was released in February 2011 (fact). The EP contains three tracks (fact) and they are quite good too (fact). UKOG make modern progressive rock in the vein of bands like Jolly and Amplifier, with heavy guitars and atmospheric keyboards dominate the sound of this band. The three tracks are cleverly arranged and good be seen as a three track suite where melodies return throughout. The tracks share the same melody in the verses for example. Especially The life Of Syllyphus is a strong track which is graced with a very good chorus and atmospheric but heavy instrumental section that also shows their prog metal influences. It ends with a great guitar solo that is totally over the top. The Death Of... is a short but beautiful ballad where the emphasis is more on the vocals.
On May 28th UKOG released the second EP called The Walls Of Kolepta. As well as with Syllyphus I drew a blank with Kolepta while searching on Wikipedia. On this second EP the band does show improvement. The ingredients are basically the same but maybe a little more ambitious as is immediately shown in the lengthy opener The First Wall Of Kolepta. After a lengthy build up the song works itself to a climax that results in a great guitar solo and the band repeat this routine once more before ending. The keyboards are a little more upfront on this new EP and there is piano to be heard and the bass player excels in parts of the song. The Second Wall Of Kolepta is a far more straightforward rocker. A prog metal rocker to be exact where you can hear influences by bands like Haken and a little Leprous. Like on the first EP the final track is a strong ballad.
Despite all the secrecy and mystery surrounding the band, (hooded band members and guys with masks, no names etc), which I find a little trying, they did surprise me with these two EP’s. The songs combine accessibility, heaviness and depth with strong musicianship and good vocal delivery. If you are a fan of modern progressive rock with some prog metal influences you should definitely check out these EP’s. You can download them for free at their site.
Conclusions: 7ish out of 10 (I can be vague too)...
The Chronicles Of Sylliphus: 7 out of 10
The Three Walls of Kolepta: 7 out of 10
Solstice Coil - Natural Causes
Tracklist: Question Irrelevant (5:34), Outcome Inevitable (2:02), Fall Schedules (4:50), I Know (4:43), Human Again (5:37), Singalong Deathtrap (5:36), Walking Graveyards (4:06), Too Many Regrets (6:47), Moral Oxidation (4:04), Replacing People (6:10), Designed Instincts (5:09), Recipe For Eternity (6:00)
As if to prove that progressive rock is appreciated globally, Solstice Coil are a prog band from Israel, hardly the epicentre of any form of rock music. Indeed political and financial restrictions over the years have largely prevented Israel from being a regular stopping off point for many internationally renowned acts. But since when has political and financial limitations prevented like-minded musicians from getting together and creating music they love? And that is what has happened with Solstice Coil. Originally formed in 2001 as a Radiohead and Muse cover band they eventually decided to release some music of their own resulting in 2005's delightfully titled A Prescription For Paper Cuts. The positive reaction to the album led to the band being invited to perform at Belgium's Prog-résiste festival the following year. The band's second album, Natural Causes was released earlier this year featuring the line up of Shir Deutch (vocals and guitar), Opher Vishnia (lead guitar), Shai Yallin (keyboards), Yaniv Shalev (bass) and Yatziv Caspi (drums). The group gained some international exposure when their parody of the Dream Theater drum audition videos became somewhat of a viral hit on YouTube and was so widely regarded that Dream Theater actually opened their concert in Tel Aviv by screening the whole 10-minute video! If you have not seen it, it is well work checking out, you can find it here.
The cover of the CD booklet is an impressive painting, by Vitaly Alexius (reproduced in larger scale in the fold out poster booklet) which, coincidentally, is remarkably similar to the Fountains Of Wayne Sky Full Of Holes album cover which was released at about the same time. The music verges to the heavier end of the prog spectrum but avoids the over-indulgences of a lot of so-called prog metal acts (which I tend to find tedious in the extreme), it is more in the style of what used to be called Heavy Rock with more of a balance between keyboards and guitars. What sets Solstice Coil apart is their sense of melody and willingness to rein things in when necessary but let loose occasionally to vary the tempo and keep things interesting. Prime examples are the opening two tracks, the titular linked Question Irrelevant and Outcome Inevitable: a heavy repeating riff, some odd chords, decent melody, a succinct guitar solo and a lovely switch between the titles via an acoustic bridge and quirky guitar line.
The musical dichotomy presented by the band stretches from the more acoustic based numbers, such as the lovely I Know, to songs such as the heavier (in parts) Too Many Regrets and Recipe For Eternity where their switching between guitar and keyboard lines is exemplary, some nice string synth work as well. Elsewhere the songs are more in the mid-tempo range with considered arrangements and some unexpected twists along the way. Singalong Deathtrap sticks instantly in the memory, with well arranged backing vocals and, again, finely interwoven guitar and keyboard lines. For some reason Moral Oxidation reminds me of some new wave acts of the late seventies, which shouldn't be taken as a negative! Meanwhile Replacing People suffers in the intro from a too busy drummer distracting from the mellower melody line. But it is only for a short period and Caspi soon calms down to provide suitable backing to the ballad.
Taken individually, it is hard to state that there is a bad track on the album as each of the 12 songs has its merits and no particular negative aspects. However, I have found that it has taken me an inordinately long time to appreciate the finer points of the album, which is possibly a reflection on my inability to find time to dedicate to concentrating on the album. Perhaps if the album had been somewhat shorter rather than a full 70 minutes it may have been an easier task, but then choosing which tracks to eliminate would be a very difficult job. To me the album doesn't really hang together that well; it might just be a question of resequencing. Overall though, Solstice Coil's second release contains a variety of tracks that are well written, well performed and essentially very good songs. Well worth checking out their website and on-line samples and don't forget to check out the parody video, it's very funny!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Slivovitz - Bani Ahead
Tracklist: Egiziaca (6:57), Cleopatra Through (5:23), Fat (5:03), Vascello (6:05), 02-09 (5:37), Opus Focus (3:51), Bani Ahead (5:20), Pocho (5:51)
Named after the strong plum brandy typical of the Balkan region, Slivovitz have been together since September 2001, when some of the current members met during a jam session in the streets of their home town of Naples, Italy. Currently a seven-piece, Slivovitz released their first album, Hubris, in 2009, after their fortuitous (and fortunate) online meeting with MoonJune Records mastermind Leonardo Pavkovic. In the ten years of their existence, they have gone through a number of line-up changes, but the core of the band - consisting of guitarist Marcello Giannini, saxophonist Pietro Santangelo, harmonicist Derek Di Perri and bassist Domenico Angarano - has remained unchanged.
Though, as it often happens with such idiosyncratic releases, Hubris flew somewhat under the radar of mainstream prog fans, it was an extremely intriguing album (albeit slightly rough around the edges) - blending as it did a solid, Italian-style jazz-rock foundation (harking back to bands like Perigeo or Arti e Mestieri, as well as Area, Napoli Centrale and Il Baricentro as regards the ethnic contaminations) with heady suggestions of Eastern European music, including related traditions like klezmer and gypsy music. While Bani Ahead follows in its predecessor's footsteps in terms of influences and general direction, it also diverges from it on account of its all-instrumental format and more decidedly rock bent. Most importantly, it is clearly more cohesive from a compositional point of view: indeed, some reviewers had observed that Hubris was "all over the place", which might be interpreted as either a compliment or a form of criticism. Bani Ahead, however, is a very tight, compact offering, with an ideal running time of under 45 minutes, devoid of any filler, and permeated with the sheer joy of making music - something that is becoming increasingly rare.
Heirs to one of the most venerable and influential musical traditions in the Western world, the members of Slivovitz (as their name implies) display an impressive openness towards other traditions. The Eastern European connection has been a constant in the band's sound since their inception, and their strong Mediterranean imprint reaches out towards African/American jazz, thus spanning no less than four continents. In this and other aspects, Slivovitz embody the forward-thinking philosophy of their label, projected towards musical regions (such as Indonesia, with excellent bands like Simak Dialog) that have been only marginally explored by progressive rock. Clearly, for Slivovitz this cross-fertilization does not mean paying superficial homage to the popular "world music" trend, but is rather an integral part of their artistic makeup of denizens of one of the most iconic cities in the world, like all seaports an authentic melting pot. In this, they can be compared to Calomito, another Italian band who released their second album, Cane Di Schiena, earlier this year - though a more distinctly RIO/Avant flavour permeates the Genoese outfit's "world-jazz" leanings.
Bani Ahead's compositional approach gives a lot of prominence to brass instruments - namely Ciro Riccardi's trumpet and Pietro Santangelo's saxes, aided and abetted by Derek Di Perri's smooth harmonica - as exemplified right from the start in opener Egiziaca, the longest number on the album at almost 7 minutes. Bookended by an airy, upbeat horn-driven tune with a slow, mournful trumpet section in the middle and a particularly exhilarating ending, it may bring to mind some of Frank Zappa's more eclectic, jazzy output. The alternation between a distinctly uptempo mood and more sedate, almost meditative moments is a very noticeable feature of the whole album, displayed in a series of intriguing variations - as in the stop-start structure of the slinky, haunting Cleopatra Through, with its tantalizing reggae suggestions and dense instrumental tapestry; or the dramatic shift in tempo and mood in the middle of 02-09, where the muted, melancholy beginning turns into a tightly orchestrated storm driven by sax and trumpet, then slowly subsiding in a gentle violin tune.
While the title-track evidences the clear imprint of the Neapolitan and Mediterranean tradition in its cheerful, dance-like pace, with a spirited dialogue between horns and guitar fuelled by the dynamic work of the rhythm section, the neat hand clapping in album closer Pocho, coupled with the subdued tone of the guitar, suggests a flamenco influence, though a touch of dissonance and the occasional harshness of the guitar riff add spice to the relaxed, melodic texture of the first half of the track. The faint funky echoes at the opening of Vascello turn into a sombre, stately tone, occasionally relieved by the trumpet, and pervaded with an enthralling, Old-World feel, and Opus Focus, the shortest item on the album, is also the most rarefied, almost loose-textured, with trumpet, sax and violin emoting sparsely and mournfully. Fat shares similar characteristics, but it is more fully arranged, and showcases the impressively natural flow of the music at its best. Derek Di Perri's expressive harmonica steps right into the limelight on this track, interacting with the guitar in an almost vocal dialogue.
Offering a finely-achieved balance of complexity and accessibility, with plenty of melody infused with the warmth of the Mediterranean, Bani Ahead is an album that can appeal even to listeners with slightly more conservative tastes than the average MoonJune devotee. Slivovitz's sophomore effort shows a dramatically increased level of maturity and compositional discipline, and the music - in spite of its many twists and turns - feels remarkably compact and organic, its eclecticism finally reined in and given a more definite shape than on the somewhat rambling Hubris. Highly recommended to fans of jazz-rock/fusion with a world music bent, but enjoyable for everyone.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Anubis - A Tower Of Silence
Tracklist: The Passing Bell (Part I-VI) (17:08), Archway Of Tears (5:45), This Final Resting Place (8:28), A Tower Of Silence (9:57), Weeping Willow (2:43), And I Wait For My World To End (5:15), The Holy Innocent (11:45), All That Is... [i] Light Of Change [ii] The Limbo Of Infants [iii] Endless Opportunity (11:13)
Back in 2009, Australian six-piece Anubis released their debut '230503' with generally positive feedback. Having not heard this album, I can't really comment on whether the band have improved or not, but I can certainly say that this years' 'A Tower Of Silence' has won me over.
The band's sound is positively grounded in prog rock; a good trait if I ever saw one. While I generally find that 'neo-prog' comes with negative connotations, there's few other words I could use to accurately describe their music. Think IQ meets Pink Floyd in Sydney. Indeed, the band describe their music as cinematic progressive rock. The band incorporate some incredibly retro keyboards throughout the album, including mellotron and moog sounds. Even better, most tracks on this album have a purely 'epic' feel to them, something I haven't heard enough of this year.
A great example of this is the album's opener; The Passing Bell stretches on for 17 minutes, with six sections making up its whole. I feel this was a good move by the band, as waiting until the end of an album to hear a longer song can make you quite impatient. While most of the suite is nothing out of the ordinary, we really begin to understand the majesty of Anubis in the closing minutes, where the guitarist delivers a phenomenal guitar solo in the style of David Gilmour. Great moments like this assure us that there is more good stuff to come. Indeed, The Passing Bell isn't even the best track on the album!
Whilst the band certainly incorporate odd time signatures and fast tempos into their music, their level of technicality is slightly lower than you might expect. Indeed, on some tracks with repeating chords, drummer Steven Eaton neglects to vary his drumming patterns, making the music sound slightly more repetitive than it should. Also, the guitar solos are built around long notes rather than short ones, meaning that it often takes longer for a song to get to where it's going to.
Another problem is the mix. I'm a huge fan of 'clean' sounds, with exceptions only when the artist has purposefully created a more murky atmosphere. Unfortunately, the album is lacking in the crispness it needs for the listener to enjoy it fully. I find that on occasions it can be quite difficult to hear the drums, and when listening on headphones, the sounds can be quite harsh on the ear. This is a minor quibble though.
The tracklist is a very good one. The longer tracks are certainly the best, and these make up five out of eight tracks on the album. These aren't the only good tracks; indeed, And I Wait For My World To End is a really good shorter track, with a catchy chorus. Things really start to get good towards the end, and The Holy Innocent followed by All That Is... make up my favourite part of the album. Both these tracks are truly epic, both with triumphant extended outros. On The Holy Innocent, I don't think 7/8 has ever sounded so powerful with that saxophone solo, which sounds rather akin to the sax solo heard on Supertramp's classic track Crime Of The Century. All That Is... is split into three segments, and in the last 6 minutes of the track, it's clear that the band are on the home stretch. I especially like the way this song ends, with a choir replacing the instruments and chanting the way to a finish. Marvellous stuff.
Anubis claim that A Tower In Silence is a concept album, and I must admit I really didn't pick up on this whilst listening. The songs segue into each other, but apart from this, they all sound pretty seperate to me. The lyrics are your bog-standard show of arty words thrown together, which hardly draw the listener into the story, if there is one.
Nevertheless, A Tower Of Silence is certainly a triumph in its own right. I've had immense amounts of fun listening to this band from down under, and a couple of the songs on the album have me hitting the play button over and over. With beautiful artwork worthy of Hipgnosis, the CD is housed in what is essentially a minuture gatefold sleeve, another prog rock cliché if I ever saw one. A Tower Of Silence is a breathtaking album which gives the listener a lot of value for money.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Lisa Cuthbert - Obstacles
Tracklist: Blind Eye (2:37), Won’t Be Long (4:29), Second Leaving (7:52), Ready To Unfold (7:05), Cherry Blossom (5:32), My Material Girl (6:00), Storm Coming On (5:16), Obstacles (4:49), Burden (4:23), Nothing Left (5:19), Fragile Dreams (3:48)
This has been a fantastic year of musical discovery for me. It could just have been a vintage year anyway. In addition to the 10 out of 10 splendidness of Leprous’s Bilateral, I’ve had to award near perfect scores to the likes of Wolverine, Arch/Matheos, Appearance Of Nothing, Subsignal and Fair To Midland plus new bands such as Lost In Thought, Eumeria, Innosense and Thence.
It has also partly been down to starting the DPRP Radio Show. In seeking to cover the full breadth of the progressive genre covered by DPRP, I’ve had to expand my musical awareness into new areas. The latest albums from Magic Pie, Gazpacho, Sanguine Hum, Sean Filkins, Paatos and Mars Hollow are all ones that I probably would not have come across previously.
You can add to the second list, the debut album from Dublin-born singer-songwriter Lisa Cuthbert. Not your usual ‘progressive’ artist but she is reasonably well-known in prog circles for her appearances with Anathema-related projects Antimatter and Ion. I was contacted by her publicist asking if I could play a track on the DPRP Radio Show in advance of her appearance supporting Marillion at Amsterdam’s Paradsio in November.
You can listen to her version of Opeth’s Isolation Years in show 23. My enthusiasm for Lisa’s amazing voice and her melancholic, brooding mix of eclectic sounds with a Celtic twist, quickly generated a copy of the full album which has not been off of my player for two weeks.
Obstacles contains ten self-penned tracks plus a bonus live rendition of Anathema's Fragile Dreams.
Too many singer songwriters find a groove and stick within it. As a result I tend to find that a whole album of material becomes repetitive. Lisa utilises a subtle but constant change of mood and pace across the album that maintains my interest. There is a nod towards Kate Bush, another towards Tori Amos. The atmospheric stylings of Antimatter are a reference point. Certain songs remind me of the recent acoustic offerings from Anathema. If you have a tendency towards female singer songwriters then you can probably pick up a whole load of other influences.
Sometimes, such as the opening of Blind Eye or Second Leaving, just the power of Lisa's voice and piano is enough to captivate. However a full band, including Antimatter’s Mick Moss on bass, is available to develop the musical context. This works superbly on the almost rock-pop vibe of My Material Girl.
The occasional addition of Moss’ vocals adds another effective texture, as do Lisa’s own sparingly-used vocal harmonies. The use of cello and the production gives a lovely warmth to the sound, superbly offsetting the darker tone and lyrical themes. This album is packed with such delicate details. It remains the sort of album where a song is far more likely to have a piano solo than a guitar solo.
Only two songs drop short of perfection. I find the title track rather too simplistic with a keyboard sound that doesn’t work for me. The melodies of Burden haven’t been as addictive as elsewhere.
However from the first listen, Obstacles has become a constant companion. The haunting Cherry Blossom, the bouncy My Material Girl and the dramatic Storm Coming On is the best quarter of an hour of music I've heard all year. The profoundly emotional melodies hide an ease, confidence, depth and fluidity to Lisa’s songwriting that should ensure a long and bright future. Her voice is just beautiful.
Anyway enough gushing. The digipack album has been released on Music In Stone, the independent record label owned by Mick Moss. A follow-up to is scheduled to be released in autumn 2012.
In the meantime, Obstacles shows Lisa Cuthbert as a simply amazing singer and a huge songwriting talent. This may not fall into a pure Prog Rock category but I’d challenge anyone who enjoys great singer songwriters not to enjoy this album. Very highly recommended.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Matt Stevens - Relic
Tracklist: Nightbus (3:53), Relic (4:57), Rusty (3:00), 20 GOTO 10 (3:23), Rushden Fair (3:35), Up (5:01), Scapegoat (4:51), Sand [Part 2] (5:11), Frost (2:47), 30 END (6:06)
Many gig goers in the UK will have become familiar with London-based guitarist Matt Stevens over the last couple of years; he seems to pop up as support all over the place as well as performing his own headlining shows and now also with his band The Fierce And The Dead. Having reviewed both his last disc, Ghost, and the recent TFATD album, If It Carries On Like This We Are Moving To Morecambe, I have been looking forward to hearing Relic which I’m pleased to report does not disappoint. Kevin Feazey (keys, bass, programming & production) and Stuart Marshall (drums) are again on hand to help out in a supporting role that doesn’t detract from Matt’s skilful work.
Relic comes out of the traps like a combination of the two releases mentioned above with the electronic beats of Nightbus. I was also pleased that the glockenspiel from Ghost has been retained as it really adds something. Stevens’ ideas are fresh and the track rattles along nicely.
All of the tracks are fairly short and to the point which gives them a weight that would be lost if they rambled on too long and it is this punchyness that makes Relic a very entertaining listen. The title track has a clattering opening, crisp guitar emerging with solos over the top as it moves through several sections that retain both momentum and interest. Rusty is anything but with basic percussion to support the guitar, a Spanish influenced solo changing the feel.
Those familiar with Ye Olde Worlde computer programming language BASIC will remember commands such as 20 GOTO 10 and 30 END with either fondness or, as in my case, frustration. The former incorporates Battles type staccato guitar and a smouldering intent well supported by the drums. Rushden Fair is a pastoral acoustic number with layered guitar giving it depth while Up uses claps and knocks as rhythmic support to the layered guitar textures. Scapegoat is a more angular piece, limited percussion keeping the focus on the multitude of guitar textures looping around each other as a background for a lovely rising section incorporating violin from Chrissie Caulfield.
The start of Sand [Part 2] is as moody and barren as the desert suggested in the title, a funky drum and bass rhythm emerging with a fragmented solo that resembles Eastern pipes. The hot and sun baked atmosphere is brought to a crushing end by the onset of Frost with a thrashy metallic intro surrounding limpid pools of Robert Fripp influenced sustain, a full on electric solo underlining the sharp edges unlike anywhere else on the disc. 30 END draws things to a close with a mellow acoustic number that evolves to include cinematic vistas before grinding to a slightly unnecessary disjointed ending. Overall this album is harsher than Ghost while retaining its sense of melody.
Matt is no one trick pony and has again produced an interesting listen with some great ideas delivered with precision. As instrumental albums go this is inventive, enjoyable and accessible, keeping the attention throughout via a number of styles and settings. There is certainly more influence from Matt’s recent work with TFATD which adds another dimension to the style of Ghost and although other instruments are given more space the role of the acoustic guitar and Matt’s looping techniques are still central to his style and appeal. Another uplifting and rewarding release; a must for listeners searching for modern instrumental music with a heart.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Moonwagon – Night Dust
Tracklist: Hoodoo Horizon (8:42), Highway To The Orange Desert (8:31), Oceans Away (9:24), Super-Altar (4:09), Starmask (5:53), Thunderdrift (7:46), Sundown Mountain (15:43)
Progressive music had its founding in England, it is very often said and that may or may not be the case. What is true however is that various parts of the world develop progressive music in an entirely different fahion. To illustrate this, the subject of this review is an album by a Finnish band that has drawn attention of the music press. Moonwagon was established in 2008 and play a blend of psychedelic, ambient and Krautrock and listening to these four guys, Ami Hassinen, Jani Korpi, Joni Tiala and Janne Vlikorpi play is absolute fun.
Moonwagon's debut album Night Dust was initially released independently but recently a deal has been struck with Running Moose Records.
The album starts with Hoodoo Horizon, an intense piece of music with lots of tempo changes and spheric moments. These spheric moments and changes in tempo are upheld during the entire album. High intensity through and through. The driving force in each song is enormous and all the songs lend themselves very well for massive stadium performances, where the crowd can really be swept up to high levels through the intensity of the play.
The retro sound is very reminiscent of the ‘70’s, Thunderdrift for instance sounds a bit like Led Zeppelin’s Achilles Last Stand, without the vocal lines, whereas, in Oceans Away bits and pieces remind of early ‘70’s Uriah Heep or Atomic Rooster, prompted by the Hammond organ. In the last track from the album, which starts very moody and atmospheric, is reminiscent of Pink Floyd - an epic song, growing into a fiercesome space rock track with some effects pointing towards Hawkwind's Silver Machine. Mantra like vocals, a grooving sound and great timbre.
All through the album an atmosphere is created of sheer joy making - Night Dust a real pleasure to listen to - an hours worth of music performed in a way that is sublime and absolutely stunning. This debut album can be seen as 'mission accomplished' and I for one cannot wait to hear what the boys come up with as a follow up to this beauty. And dare I say, that apart from the mantra like vocals in the last track, it is completely instrumental.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Øresund Space Collective – Sleeping With The Sunworm
Tracklist: Part One (15:34), Part Two (20:10), Part Three (21:52)
Possibly the 10th album from Scandinavia’s Øresund Space Collective, for they have released so much stuff that flew under the radar it’s nigh on impossible to tell, Sleeping With The Sunworm is drawn from the same sessions in 2008 that have so far produced the Dead Man In Space and Slip Into The Vortex albums.
Although I have not heard Slip Into The Vortex the new album seems to continue from the overall laid back groove of Dead Man In Space and fans of the band will know exactly what to expect. That’s the thing with OSC, they do exactly what it says on the tin.
Unlike Dead Man In Space which had distinct “songs” if you can refer to their entirely improvised output in that way, Sleeping With The Sunworm is one continuous piece of music split into three parts that meld into one another, spread over 57 minutes, and comes across as a musical stream of consciousness, so here goes…
…stepping out of the teleporter we join our heroes drifting in the cosmos as a Hawkwind ambience slowly builds around a bass motif before fading away into the ether with much flanging of guitars and ephemeral synth swooshes easing the listener into the chemically altered state of OSC’s universe as a lazy and effortless but beautiful piece of guitar work takes us over to the other side where we meet the Ozrics returning from a trip to the outer reaches of the Supernova Factory, while on a background wave of Hendrix-like guitar we have noticed that the Warp Factor has gone through the gears and upped the ante considerably…don’t throw that cigarette butt out the window, don’t throw that cigarette butt out the window….too late too late…now we are really flying as the drummer takes the metre to another level, more flanged wah-guitars swirl round your head as space debris flies past the window at incredible speeds, glissando guitar melting the structure of the piece, we reach a watering hole for a well earned rest as the keyboards take over, eventually soaring away on the Chronoglide Skyway arriving at the orbit of our destination, gravity’s pull slows things right down for the re-entry through the atmosphere, the ghost of Man at their most laid back and grooviest wanders through the good ship OSC and it’s been a good trip again, slowly evolving and….we’re back on Terra Firma, feeling psychically cleansed and maybe a little tired, we have to face reality again, but with a lysergic spring in our step…
Did that help? Jamming-based space rock is not everyone’s cup of Venusian Nectar, but if you dig this kind of altered state vibe, you’ll love this album. If you’re going to buy it, be quick as like everything they’ve done it’s a limited edition CD, this time of 500 copies.
Finally, one wonders what this band of highly accomplished aural space travellers would come up with if they all sat down and actually wrote something?
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
The Pineapple Thief – Variations On A Dream/8 Days
CD 1: Variations On A Dream We Subside (4:59), This Will Remain Unspoken (3:27), Vapour Trails (9:03), Run Me Through (4:29), The Bitter Pill (4:41), Resident Alien (4:17), Sooner Or Later (4:13), Part Zero (7:28), Keep Dreaming (4:25), Remember Us (16:09)
CD 2: 8 Days Sunday 20th (5:46), Monday 21st (6:23), Tuesday 22nd (4:40), Wednesday 23rd (5:28), Thursday 24th (7:19), Friday 25th (7:17), Saturday 26th [Part One] (4:10), Saturday 27th [Part Two] (4:53), Sunday 27th [Part One] (5:55), Sunday 27th [Part Two] (5:05)
Coinciding with their move to the UK’s classiest prog label Kscope, The Pineapple Thief has taken great strides with its last two releases, 2008’s Tightly Unwound and 2010’s supremely confident Someone Here Is Missing. Originally released in 2003 on Cyclops Variations On A Dream was the “other PT’s” 3rd album and now forms part of Kscope’s remastered reissue series by this often overlooked band. Variations On A Dream is coupled with the same original limited edition album 8 Days as it was first time round, then in a limited run of 1000.
The Pineapple Thief of Variations On A Dream/8 Days features a different line up from the current band and the songs are less direct than now, strongly featuring the keyboard textures of Adrian Soord, including that prog stalwart the mellotron, not that there’s anything symphonic prog about these albums.
Leader Bruce Soord’s so English lyrical world of love, loss, angst and introspection is already in full swing throughout especially on songs like The Bitter Pill and Sooner Or Later and his plaintive voice, sometimes unfairly compared to Billy Corgan and Thom Yorke is cleaner than both of those singers but with a certain style of his own, it’s not as if he’s trying to copy those two, after all!
Highlights for me are the aforementioned Sooner Or Later which to these ears is instantly recognisable as The Pineapple Thief and no-one else, forget all those trite Radiohead/Muse comparisons, and the equally wonderful and anthemic Part Zero, replete with Bruce’s great guitar break, still part of the live set today.
Variations On A Dream was the band’s third album and it is evident in the grooves that a lot of thought has gone into its creation, maybe too much at times, resulting in a serious work that sometimes suffers from not letting go, particularly on the “epic” Remember Us which takes sixteen minutes to get… not very far at all, and could easily have omitted the middle section without anyone noticing. Variations On A Dream gives me the impression of trying too hard to impress, not that it is a bad album by any means but considering that it probably took far longer than the eight days it took to create its companion CD one can only say that “difficult third album syndrome” was there in abundance.
More interesting is the 8 Days CD, which was written and recorded in eight days between Sunday October 20th and Sunday October 27th 2002 in what must have been spare studio time during and after the Variations On A Dream sessions. Considering there are fully formed songs here as well as ambient interludes and extended riff ideas, parts of which no doubt appear on later albums in finished songs, this was some feat, and in my opinion eclipses the main album.
Monday 21st in particular is a slowly building piece of epic pop-prog centred around the synth trumpet line. Tuesday 22nd is a driving indie rock song that could have been a hit, and it sounds familiar in that I’m sure it surfaced on a later TPT album in a different guise. Found sounds introduce Thursday 24th, a trademark slice of melancholic Soord soul searching that saunters along like a contemplative stroll in the woods and is quite lovely, and there are other examples of great songwriting here too. How or why 8 Days never got a full release back in the day is anyone’s guess. If the band had taken the strongest songs from both albums they would have had a real contender on their hands. As it is there are parts of Variations On A Dream which are a bit forgettable, and it is surprising that 8 Days feels the more complete of the two given that it was banged out so fast!
With last year’s statement of intent Someone Here Is Missing, Storm Thorgerson cover design’n’all, and the subsequent live shows finally getting this underrated band some of the recognition they have long been struggling for and more than deserve, one can only hope that the future is bright for The Pineapple Thief. As for this release, it’s an interesting part of their career, and the remastering has been given due care and attention by Bruce, but it’s probably a “fans only” release. If you’ve never heard anything by them you would be better off going for the career-spanning retrospective (up to 2008’s Tightly Unwound) that is 3000 Days.
Conclusion: Variations On A Dream – 6 out of 10 | 8 Days - 8 out of 10.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Phi – For The Love Of Ghosts
Tracklist: The Surgical Cut, Parts 2-4 (9:51), Departure (4:41), DesIre (12:08), Wintersong (5:23), The Illusion [Death Is Dead] (6:19), The Surgical Cut, Part 1 (9:05), Epilogue: For The Love Of Ghosts (1:47)
Progressive rock continues nowadays to find a comfortable place in contemporary culture by way of the subgenres of progressive metal, post-prog, and as one of our competitors is loathe to saying, “eclectic prog”. Austrian band Phi are adding some sonic adhesive to that comfortable place with the release of their debut full-length For The Love Of Ghosts. The band’s history since their inception in 2006 has seen a few line-up changes, the release of an EP in 2007, the backing of some corporate sponsors (no, they haven’t “sold out”) and winning first place and picking up other strong showings in various band contests, including first prize at the Austrian finale of the podium.jazz.pop.rock contest.
The style of music Phi plays on For The Love Of Ghosts, described on their Bandcamp page as a dark concept album, is heavy post-prog or art rock with Porcupine Tree and King Crimson being obvious influences. Phi is made up of Markus Bratusa (Dozentenensemble Gitarrewoche Benediktbeuern, Duo w/ Reinold Bernard, Das Gesicht Der Mae West, Big Pete And The Hugging Thiefs, Reinold Bernard’s Birthday Band, HBLA Teacher’s Band, Faintasy) on guitar, vocals, programming and additional keyboards; Arthur Darnhofer-Demàr on bass and backing vocals; and Nick Koch on drums and programming. Guest musicians include former fulltime member Christoph W. Pirker on keyboards and organ on the first six tracks, Markus Czwiertnia on violin on one track, and Peter Yearsley of the books on tape organization Librivox on spoken word on two tracks. All music was written by Bratusa and Phi.
Another commonality on this album besides Porcupine Tree is The Resonance Association, referenced forcefully in some areas and lightly in others. You can detect their influence on The Surgical Cut, Part 1; in which early Pink Floyd is also evoked via some pastoral organ from Pirker. Koch pushes the tune along with a strong drumming rollick. Lush layers of melodic guitar from Bratusa gloss over some drum programming, giving way to crisp spoken word from Yearsley.
Wintersong highlights plaintive violin from Czwiertnia, and some softer parts here and there add some nice variety to the otherwise mostly heavy album. Powerful vocals from Bratusa, who has a singing voice not unlike that of former David Cross Band singer Arch Stanton, and soulful organ from Pirker add to the action.
Opening track The Surgical Cut, Parts 2-4 instantly kicks in with blistering guitar and jittery vocals from Bratusa, driven drums from Koch, an overall edge evoking UKZ, more well-delivered spoken word from Yearsley and a sharp organ flourish from Pirker.
*For The Love Of Ghosts is modestly packaged in a cardboard sleeve, but the modest packaging should not deter those purveyors of hard post-prog from delving into the contents within. If you’re seeking folk music, head for a coffeehouse.
So all in all a great album from Phi. I’m taking my rating a point under recommended due to some similarity between some of the songs. Of course, repetition may not be a bad thing for some, who may dig a densely-packed, weighty album with a lot of continuity.
*NB: In 2012 Phi signed with Russian label MALS - the album has been re-packaged and now includes an eight page booklet. (Ed May 2012)
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Astralia - Osmosis
Tracklist: Let Me Loose (5:35), Glove Box (8:25), Storm Cloudings (3:24), Chatter Box (6:15), The Flock (6:44), Osmosis (2:50), Mark One (3:03), After The Hypnosis (7:03), Dedalo's Torment (10:17)
Formed in the mid-Nineties in the historic university city of Padova (Italy), Astralia made their recording debut in 2000 with the album Connected, released on the prolific Italian lable Mellow Records. Then, as it frequently happens, they went into hiatus for over 10 years, going through a number of lineup changes. Osmosis, their second album, was completed in 2010, and released in the spring of 2011. In the meantime, vocalist Massimiliano Biolo and keyboardist Dario Andreella have left the band, and been replaced respectively by Corrado Ruzzon and Riccardo Pozzobon.
To those who hold stereotypes about Italian progressive rock bands, expecting quasi operatic vocals and lushly orchestrated textures, Astralia will immediately appear quite different. While their choice of English lyrics obviously confers a stronger international flavour to their music, their sound is more Deep Purple than Genesis, with nods to the edgier historic progressive outfits such as King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator, as well as early Pink Floyd. As a whole, however, Astralia hardly ever sound derivative or stuck in the past, and their music has a tantalizingly individual quality, which hints at possible intriguing developments for their future career.
Although on their website such influences as Queensryche and Rush are mentioned, very few similarities to either of those bands can be detected when listening to Osmosis. While their sound has an undeniably hard edge, with plenty of heavy guitar/organ riffs and dynamic drumming (drummer Massimo Loriggiola, brother of bassist Roberto, is also the author of the lyrics), it does not evoke the would-be epic grandiosity of a lot of progressive metal and its often overdone technicality. The warm, gruff vocals of singer Massimiliano Biolo might bring to mind a heavier version of his idol Peter Gabriel, and sharply diverge from the typically high-pitched prog metal blueprint, tackling both the high-energy tracks and the more sedate, atmospheric ones with equal effectiveness.
Clocking in at under 55 minutes, Osmosis features 9 remarkably well-balanced tracks - 6 longer ones with vocals, and 3 shorter instrumentals. Opener Let Me Loose sounds a lot like a statement of intent - starting with solemn church organ, then developing into a feast of heavy staccato riffs and powerful Hammond runs that provide a perfect foil for Biolo's expressive vocals; while the slower, almost soothing passages introduce the listener to the quiet-loud dynamics that are a trademark of the band's sound. In sharp contrast with this remarkable marriage of complexity and accessibility, Glove Box is experimental, almost impenetrable - drenched in electronic effects and ominous keyboard washes. The occasional vocal interventions sounding eerie and disembodied, Giovanni Binato's effects-laden guitar solos echoing assertively over imperious drumming. The psyche/space matrix also emerges in The Flock, coupled with the vintage hard rock feel of the heavy riffing and Dario Andreella's rumbling Hammond. Chatter Box, on the other hand, marries hard rock stylings to an engaging funky pace, reinforced by electronic effects reminiscent of Seventies funk-rock and dance music.
The three instrumentals play the atmospheric card with excellent results - Storm Cloudings with its classic electro-prog opening, the title-track with a distorted, drawn-out guitar solo shattering its apparent calm, Mark One based on seamless guitar-organ interplay. The two final tracks, After The Hypnosis and Dedalo's Torment (also included on Connected, though in a slightly shorter version), display the influence of Porcupine Tree, especially the first, with its relatively straightforward structure and fine balance between the harshness of the guitar riffs and the dreamy keyboards, Biolo's vocals hovering between a gentle tone and a more assertive one. Dedalo's Torment, on the other hand, goes for a very sharp alternation of soothing, low-key passages with minimalistic keyboards and whispered vocals, and explosions of sound driven by Hammond and guitar. Then the album, like the Ouroboros snake depicted on the cover (courtesy of Italian painter Domizia Parri), comes full circle, and reintroduces the solemn strains of the church organ at its very close.
A surprisingly well-rounded album, particularly recommended to fans of heavy, psychedelic/space-oriented prog, Osmosis proves that the Italian progressive rock scene has a lot to offer in terms of eclecticism and variety, and that modern Italian bands have both the potential and the willingness to go beyond the established modes of the classic prog sound of the Seventies. Though there is still some work to be done in terms of compositional cohesion, Astralia show a lot of promise, and will hopefully get their career back on track with a stable lineup.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Caligula's Horse – Moments From Ephemeral City
Tracklist: The City Has No Empathy [Your Sentimental Lie] (6:10), Silence (7:13), Singularity (3:33), Alone In The World (11:04), Ephemera (3:19), Equally Flawed (6:09), Calliope's Son [Don't Ever Look Back] (5:09)
Caligula's Horse started life as a solo project for guitarist Sam Vallen to express the heavier side of his musical personality from his other band Quandary. Delving into music that was heavier and more guitar centric, with an emphasis on studio production and layering, the sound took an intentionally modern form.
On this debut album Vallen not only plays all the instruments but undertook production duties too. However my main reason for giving this album a listen, was the involvement of vocalist Jim Grey who impressed immensely with Australian progressive metal band Arcane. Their second album, Chronicles Of A Waking Dream, was my favourite release in 2010.
This is modern progressive music that utilises an ever-changing palette of styles with an eye for melody and the other eye for technical prowess – especially in the guitar department.
I simply love everything about the opening track. There’s a great groove throughout, the vocals are pretty direct, the guitar work is delightful and the central melodies stick a hook into the memory from first listen.
The rest of the album can’t quite match this strong opening. I think my problem with it, is that there are some great moments, especially with Vallen’s guitar work, but as a whole the album skips and jumps between just too many ideas. When listening to it I don’t really settle into a groove that allows me to appreciate what Caligula’s Horse is trying to be.
Equally Flawed is the closest the sound comes to Arcane, Silence is a proggy ballad, whilst the longest track goes from progressive metal (SunCaged) to a more melancholic styling of say, Porcupine Tree. There are two instrumental led tracks which would be well suited to a guitar solo album. The closing song, Calliope’s Son tries to cram everything that precedes it, into five minutes.
Following the positive response to this album, Caligula's Horse has fully evolved from a one-man project into a live band with the addition of guitarist Zac Greensill, bassist and vocalist Dave Couper and drummer Geoff Irish.
All the ingredients are here. All it needs is for these ingredients to be combined in a more coherently consistent, song-orientated way. That would move it from being a good album to a great album. From the evidence here, that is distinctly possible.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
J21 - Beyond The Holographic Veil
Tracklist: 21° West (1:28), I Can’t Remember (5:21), The Veil Of Time (4:18), The Inventor Of Paradox (2:31), Travelling With The Ghost (3:07), Beyond (4:15), Kneeling (4:47), Calm (3:22), Shadow Life (5:28), Perpetuum (1:04), Last Drops Of Life (3:56), The Life And Death Equation (4:12), The Jupiter Trilogy (6:19), 21° East (4:04)
As soon as there is a Frank Zappa reference banded about my ears automatically prick up, as being a massive fan of the said genius who is in my personal opinion the greatest modern composer I am automatically interested. It also means that the bar is set high even before I hear a note which can lead to disappointment.
On top of all that with the inclusion and participation of Scott Thunes, original member of the Mothers Of Invention Don Preston, Ed Mann, Robert (Bobby) Martin then things start to sound even better. We also see Mike Garson who has worked with such luminaries as David Bowie, NIN and The Smashing Pumpkins and Reeves Gabrels who has worked with Bowie too.
Beyond The Holographic Veil is the second album from the enigmatically name J21 a follow up to his acclaimed debut Yellow Mind Blue Mind.
From the atmospheric opener 21° West which has been composed and performed by Don Preston as is the album closer 21° East, the album sees J21 and co. take you on a sonic ride. Just for the record Mike Garson is the only other musician given the stage to do this too with Calm and Perpetuum, where he offers up beauty with the keyboard, manipulating the atmospherics to maximize their effect on the listener’s ear, diametrically opposing Don Preston’s approach.
We see tracks of varying approaches offered up for your delectable ears here; although the divergence of the musical presentation may not be as proficient as Zappa it still emanates some fascinating ideas. For me it isn’t until The Jupiter Trilogy that J21 shows his adoration for Zappa, although in saying that it was co written with three others, Thunes, Mann and Marco Minnemann, but along the way you are rewarded making it the best track on offer.
There are some shuffling guitar presentations on The Veil Of Time and Beyond where as Travelling With The Ghost offers a pedal to the floor invitation, being more basic in its presentation and The Inventor Of Paradox could have easily been lifted off Satriani’ Not Of This Earth album and has the best guitar solo courtesy of Geoff Tyson.
The vocals of both Geoff Tyson and Robert Martin are pleasant and fitting in their surroundings adding texture, with I Can’t Remember confirming that Mr. Martin has still got that fantastic voice. I absolutely love his organ contributions throughout this piece too making it another one of those standout moments.
Beyond The Holographic Veil is a rather intriguing and interesting album which at times is slightly staid, for me though it would have been nice to have heard J21 take a bit more control over the guitar work and maybe taken a few more risks.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10