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2011 : VOLUME 38
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


The Android Meme – Ordo Ab Chao
The Android Meme – Ordo Ab Chao
Country of Origin:Canada
Format:CD
Record Label:Magna Carta
Records
Catalogue #:MA-9110-2
Year of Release:2011
Time:47:06
Info:The Android
Meme
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Machine Stops (3:53), Sumii (3:54), Polar Rose (5:41), Sigma (4:19), Ordo Ab Chao (3:34), Left Right Parasite (5:44), Esoterika (4:18), Spook (4:13), Whistleblower (5:15), Stranger (5:49)

The title of this debut album from Canadians The Android Meme - a phrase meaning technology with the ability to appear “alive” - translates as ‘order from chaos’ and they are nothing if not confident, Magna Carta describing this disc as “their first step towards global domination”. A scary thought but luckily The Android Meme back it up with a fine album.

Formed in Toronto in 2005 the band centres around Stefano S. Amelio (vocals) and Mathias Devereaux (guitar/keys) with newer recruits Mark Davidson (bass) and Jake Hamilton (drums) who play on 6 of the 10 tracks (Michael Vertolli and Nick Tamm appear on the rest). They have managed to produce a very focused and mature recording that builds up its own back story and theme based on conspiracy theories, social engineering and control by secret governments. They go a bit far by describing themselves as warning of the dangers of modern society like “rock and roll prophets delivering a message the world needs to hear” but no matter, it doesn’t hurt to big yourselves up. Despite the grand themes and Masonic symbolism of the cover Ordo Ab Chao is not a concept album but given the subject matter it appears a mistake not to have provided lyrics with the disc.

The songs are well written, punchy and don’t outstay their welcome, a key feature being the distinctive Tool element (The Machine Stops, Stranger and Polar Rose which features a nice touch of piano) which is no bad thing and The Android Meme pull it off well and make it their own without simply cloning. Elsewhere there is hard rock (Sigma), some techno influence (Sumii) and metal (Ordo Ab Chao, Esoterika). Spook gives the metallic template a twist of mystery and otherworldliness which continues into Whistleblower while Left Right Parasite is a good mix of Tool and latter-day Rush with Placebo vocals. There is a sense of tension hanging in the air around this band and none of the tracks fail to connect, the standard being very high with good production from Matthew von Wagner.

Stefano’s vocals have a wide range and all the performances are good making this a band to watch if you like prog metal that majors in prog. The rhythm section do a fine job nailing the songs down while allowing them space to breath, the basis of the songs staying within the prog metal guitar/bass/drums sound with keys in a generally more minor role but managing to spread into other fields very successfully. Whilst covering a variety of stylistic areas the whole still comprises what could be considered a unified sound for the band which is muscular while retaining melody.

The music is melodic and doesn’t get bogged down in metal clichés, and after a couple of spins it really got under my skin and I found myself unknowingly humming Sumii. Whilst I don’t fully subscribe to their world-view this is an entertaining and enjoyable debut which I’m sure they can build on.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

JEZ ROWDEN



Anima Mundi – The Way
Anima Mundi – The Way
Country of Origin:Cuba
Format:CD
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:FGBG 4405
Year of Release:2010
Time:58:26
Info:Anima Mundi
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Time To Understand (13:59), Spring Knocks On The Door Of Men [Act One: Spring Arrives From Her Celestial Dwelling - The Ordinance, Act Two: Revelation - Apotheoses At Infinitum, Act Three: Heading For Eternity - The Last Journey, Act Four: Seasons For An Alchemist - A Game Beyond Nature, Act Five: Mother Spring - The Way (26:33), Flying To The Sun (9:34), Cosmic Man (8:19)

It has taken quite a while for me to review Anima Mundi’s third album The Way, an album that was released back in 2010 and this review that is way overdue, nevertheless reviewing this album is an absolute must.

Now it is not everyday that a band rises to popularity originating from the island of Cuba. Now I'm sure many will be familiar with Cuba's political and economic background, however progressive rock music from Cuba? But despite these turbulent influences Anima Mundi have done an absolute stunning job in creating The Way.

Firstly to the band and Anima Mundi consist of: Yaroski Corredera (bass) Roberto Díaz (vocals & guitar), Manuel Govin (drums), Virginia Peraza (keyboards) and Carlos Sosa (vocals). Joining the main band are three guest musicians : - Mónica Acosta (fagot), Yarin Martínez (flute) and Javier Mauri (percussion).

Before Anima Mundi were able to record the album they many personnel problems to overcome. The predecessor to The Way, the DPRP recommended Jagganath Orbit, was more than 6 years in the making and The Way itself took two years to complete. In musical terms Anima Mundi are far from being original, yet they do have a sound of their own. Heavily influenced by the prog sounds of the ‘70’s as well as some modern progressive rock bands Anima Mundi have created an album that is absolutely world class. The Way is an album that every self respecting progressive music lover needs in his or her collection. If for no other reason than the recording is done by a Cuban artists.

Now to the music. Four songs, all of epic length. Lengthy compositions each and every one of them being entertaining from the first note to the last. Virginia Peraza’s keyboards dominate throughout making the music highly melodic and symphonic in sound.

Identifying the main influences for the music isn’t particularly hard to do. Yes and King Crimson from the old ‘70’s era, along with The Flower Kings and Spock's Beard influences from the present. If you listen closely to Cosmic Man, you would swear you can hear Transatlantic playing. The song has all the ingredients of a Transatlantic song yet still retains the Anima Mundi sound to it.

In the song Flying To The Sun I had some sort of Aha-Erlebnis moment, when the chorus starts singing the title line - "flying to the sun" - and I could hear myself go into Pallas mode. Instead of "flying to the sun", I went So Close To The Sun, complete with all the bombastic sound. Once again indicating that Anima Mundi have a wide variety of influences.

Spring Knocks On The Door Of Men opens with Mónica Acosta on fagot (bassoon) thus making the music sound as if it were classical but slowly evolving into a monstrous progressive rock song with lots of lush keyboards and heavy guitars, changing rhythms and moods. Every ingredient that makes for a great epic is there and not a boring moment in the whole of the twenty six minutes.

The album opener Time To Understand sees the band take off in good old ‘70’s style progressive rock music. This is high school Neo-classic progressive rock music. With their third album Anima Mundi are ready to take on the world and become famous. Let’s just hope it does not take as long to the release of a fourth album.

Concluding: As mentioned earlier if you are into ‘70’s progressive rock like Yes, King Crimson, or more up to date The Flower Kings, Spock's Beard or Transatlantic, then you need to have The Way in your collection. Actually all prog lovers should have it. It is a classic.

Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10

GERT HULSHOF



Sacred Dawn - A Madness Within
Sacred Dawn - A Madess Within
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:DarkStar Records
Catalogue #:DSR 0046
Year of Release:2011
Time:60:22
Info:Sacred Dawn
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Untold Story (7:21), What You Did To Me (4:19), Demonlover (4:18), A Madness Within (7:34), Summer Of Treason (7:13), It Shall Be (4:48), Delirium (6:29), The Decision (5:32), Wrongfully Accused (6:22), Dawn Of The Day (9:45)

Three years after their debut album Gears Of The Machine, Chicago’s Sacred Dawn deliver their second collection of progressive-tinged melodic Power Metal.

Musically, A Madness Within has a strong leaning towards the old skool metal stylings of Savatage, Black Sabbath and Metallica plus a whole host of NWOBHM bands. More recent reference points would be Firewind, Kamelot and any number of Euro power metal bands from the late 90s.

What Sacred Dawn does is take these influences of Thrash, Power, Classic Heavy and Euro Metal and shuffle them about within an extended song format. Too often bands who try to hop around the metal sub-genres end up never standing still long enough for listeners to be able to settle into a groove. Such bands also tend to be much better at one sub-genre than another, causing a frustrating imbalance in song-writing quality.

Sacred Dawn are both proficient in all the sub-genres and do not try to over-complicate things. They do though offer enough variety to maintain my attention. Mix-in a good sense of melody, some memorable and neck-swaying riffage and some splendid soloing and you have ten tracks offering a very enjoyable listen.

It’s a similar approach taken by other US bands such as Archetype, Prototype, Meyvn and early-Suspyre. This isn’t as progressive as any of those names but of a similar quality.

The expansion to a five-piece has been a good move. The addition of keyboards brings extra depth to the band’s sound and arrangements. Brian Kim’s input is very effective with his keyboard riffs on the likes of the first single, The Decision, and his twin solo with the guitar on Summer Of Treason. However if Sacred Dawn wishes to attract more fans from the progressive spectrum, then I feel much more use needs to be made of the keys. A lot of the time Brian is proving little more than depth and tone. I also think the band would benefit from letting-rip a little more often; to up the tempo; to add a bit more excitement.

As a vocalist Lothar Keller utilises a rich, deep tone which I feel suits the music well. Not so convinced by the occasional forays into more modern, screamo rasps, although that may be a personal preference for clean vocals.

The ten songs tell a tale based around a story written by Brian Budzynski which is included in the 16-page liner notes. It is one of the more effective concept packages I’ve seen in recent years.

The whole thing is well-produced and will be of interest to anyone who enjoys a bit of melodic, old-skool heavy metal with a complex twist.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

ANDY READ



October Equus - Saturnal
October Equus - Saturnal
Country of Origin:Spain
Format:CD
Record Label:AltrOck
Productions
Catalogue #:Alt 019
Year of Release:2011
Time:44:36
Info:October Equus
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Estructuras Primitivas En El Crepúsculo (4:38), El Furioso Despertar Del Homúnculo Neonato (3:19), Una Mirada Furtiva En La Noche Saturnal (7:04), Ingravidez (1:11), Llegó Como Un amanecer Ardiente (3:29), Realidad Ciega (2:59), Avanzando Velozmente Contra Vientos Lacerantes (3:19), Un Mundo De Sueños Abstractos (0:46), No Pudieron Detener El Silencio (1:42), Sutiles Ecuaciones Vivientes (6:01), Ella Era Invisible En La Oscuridad (1:11), ¡Abre Los Ojos! (4:45), Último Refugio (5:32)

Though Spain's outstanding contribution to the progressive rock scene is no secret to anyone, Spanish outfits falling under the RIO/Avant umbrella are rather thin on the ground - unlike what happens in neighbouring countries like France or Italy,. which in the past decades have contributed more than their fair share of acts to the subgenre. However, even if Spain may lack a tradition in this sense, October Equus seem to have what it takes to help put Spain on the map of "difficult" prog. Hailing from the historic city of Toledo, October Equus (Latin for "October Horse", a reference to a Roman festival in honour of Mars, the god of war) are a seven-piece who first got together in 2003, releasing a demo titled Hydra the following year. Their self-titled debut album came in 2006, followed in 2008 by Charybdis, and then by Saturnal in the late spring of 2011. The band started out as a quartet, led by founding members bassist Amanda Pazos Cosse and guitarist Ángel Ontalva, as well as keyboardist Victor Rodríguez, who had briefly left after the release of Charybdis and then joined again for the recording of Saturnal.

Contrary to common perception, it is not only the symphonic contingent of progressive rock bands that indulge in nostalgia so as to deserve the tag of "retro". While the average listener may think that anything featuring dissonance, above-average complexity and chamber-style instrumentation is necessarily more innovative than the output of those acts whose main inspiration lies in the great symphonic acts of the Seventies, this belief is not grounded in reality, since even outfits bearing the daunting RIO/Avant tag often pay homage to someone else. This is also the case with October Equus, whose undoubtedly intriguing musical offer is rooted in the fertile groundwork laid out almost four decades ago by King Crimson, Univers Zéro and Henry Cow. Indeed, the band's current configuration brings to mind the distinctive structure of Univers Zéro's various line-ups, and the essential contribution of Vasco Trilla's drumming to the structure of the compositions resembles a lot Daniel Denis' starring role in the sound of the seminal Belgian outfit. Rather than on the iconic bassoon (almost a symbol of the RIO/Avant subgenre), October Equus rely on a whole range of saxophones (courtesy of Fran Mangas and Alfonso Muñoz - the latter, like Trilla, also a member of Catalan outfit Planeta Imaginario), as well as Pablo Ortega's cello, to add depth and fullness to the foundation provided by the other instruments. Interestingly, Rodríguez employs mostly keyboards of the analog variety, with organ, piano and mellotron lending a note of welcome warmth to the angular framework of the compositions.

Clocking in at 44 minutes, Saturnal comprises 13 tracks, none longer than 7 minutes, whose credits are shared between Ángel Ontalva and Victor Rodríguez. The album, recorded in 2010 and mastered by renowned sound engineer Udi Koomran, is accompanied by a stunningly illustrated booklet with distinctive artwork by Ontalva himself (who is also responsible for the cover of Planeta Imaginario's latest album, Optical Delusions) - as well as photos of the band in action at the 2011 edition of the Freakshow Artrock Festival in Würzburg (Germany). While the album is not, strictly speaking, a concept, it is definitely one of those efforts that are meant to be approached as a whole, rather than a collection of separate tracks. Interestingly, some of the track titles are inspired by fragments of poems by free-jazz icon Sun Ra - very visionary, with an evident metaphysical slant that evokes the beauty and power of nature as well as the human condition. Though an overall dark feel can be perceived throughout the album, it is not the austere, somewhat macabre gloom of Univers Zéro or its offshoot Présent (another considerable influence on the band), but is rather tinged with surrealism and a hint of Mediterranean passion.

The pervasive influence of Univers Zéro emerges right from the very beginning of Saturnal, in the slow, subdued opening of Estructuras Primitivas En El Crepúsculo with its strong classical suggestions and Ontalva's spiky guitar backed by powerful, march-like drumming. The sound is somewhat abrasive, and not something that will delight the ears of fans of more melodic fare, but the dense instrumental interplay has a haunting quality, and takes on a definitely epic dimension in the 7-minute Una Mirada Furtiva En La Noche Saturnal, a piece of angular, tightly orchestrated beauty infused by the gentle autumnal melancholy suggested by the deep voice of the cello, in which the stellar drumwork engages in a dialogue with the complex guitar lines. Echoes of King Crimson surface in Avanzando Velozmente Contra Vientos Lacerantes, where the mellotron softens the jagged, drum and guitar-driven pace slashed by expressive sax bursts. The two final tracks are almost strikingly contrasted - the intense ¡Abre Los Ojos! (a real wake-up call, as the title implies), complete with wailing guitar, chaotic drumming and solemn, mournful organ, and the sedate, atmospheric Último Refugio, quite reminiscent of the more melodic compositions in Univers Zéro's catalogue, especially in the muted pace of its second half, in which all the instruments work together to create a closely-knit, yet almost mellow texture.

As clearly implied in the previous paragraphs, Saturnal is not an album for everyone, and tolerance for some measure of dissonance and chaos (albeit of the controlled variety) are essential for anyone wishing to approach the album. On the other hand, though slightly derivative at times, it is a finely-crafted effort by a group of talented, motivated musicians, which will hopefully encourage other Spanish bands and artists aiming to explore the more challenging dimension of progressive rock.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

RAFFAELLA BERRY



Comedy Of Errors – Disobey
Comedy Of Errors – Disobey
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:COE 001
Year of Release:2011
Time:68:33
Info:Comedy Of
Errors
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Disobey (6:46), Jekyll (5:13), Prelude, Riff And Fugue (4:42), Carousel (9:58), American Rodeo (4:10), Could Have Been Yesterday (5:56), Alisa’s Lullaby (1:37), Joke (4:24), The Student Prince (25:54)

Disobey, the new album from Scottish neo-prog act Comedy Of Errors, is something of a prog rock rollercoaster; it's certainly exciting, but there are a more than a few ups and downs. However, for a band who have been defunct for 23 years, this album represents a remarkable comeback. In fact, of the original group, only vocalist Joe Cairney, writer and keyboardist Jim Johnston and guitarist Mark Spalding remain, proving that this is not a completely different Comedy Of Errors.

While the quality of the music is questionable in places, one thing is certainly true: this album rocks! You have only to hear the opening bars of the title track, Disobey, to hear this. The guitars, bass and drums are usually set to 'heavy' and, with fewer odd time signatures than your regular progressive offering, it's quite easy to headbang to this album: always a good thing. In fact one track, namely American Rodeo seems to be purely about rocking out, with a simple chord progression that carries on throughout the song. The song in question seems like a mockery of this style of music, with lyrics like 'I'm going down the highway, and I'm going all the way'. The song ends with the lyrics 'Don't think it for a minute, the thing you do is art', which is quite a clever satire.

While the bulk of the album falls under the neo-prog umbrella, there's a fair bit of diversity between the tracks. From the soaring guitar of Prelude, Riff And Fugue to the anthemic chanting of Could Have Been Yesterday, there's a lot to be heard on this album. Most of the songs have an up-beat, light-hearted feel, with a few exceptions.

While there can be no doubt that this is a prog album, this is not the sort of album you'd pick up to hear prog. The opening track, Disobey, for example, sounds great with its 90 second intro and heavy feel, but when you listen closer, there's not a whole lot going on in the song. There's just 4 verses, all of them slightly different, but no instrumental or other progressive musical device. This makes it just slightly disappointing to the progressive ear.

Where there is a dirth in odd time signatures and meticulous instrumentals, the band make up for it with interesting instrumentation and songwriting. The 10-minute track Carousel has some really interesting songwriting, including a lullaby-type instrumental near the middle. However there are faults too; there's nothing in this track that really hooks the listener and the song is just a bit too slow throughout.

There is some good news though. The band save the best till last with the four-part 26-minute suite titled The Student Prince. The first part of the suite, When Will I See You Again? is easily my favourite track on the CD. The suite begins with a lyric which is sung almost note for note like the 'But he forced a smile...' lyric from Genesis' Can-Utility And The Coastliners. It's often been said that neo-prog is almost all influenced by Gabriel-era Genesis, and this particular line proves the point further. The main riff heard at the beginning and reprised at the end is utter genius and the guitar solo on top is just perfect. The second part, And So To Bed, has a more progressive structure, with a powerful 6/8 instrumental towards the end. The third part Foolcircle, is more of a ballad, and gives an injection of raw emotion to the suite. The final part, Green Light Coda ends the suite with in a quiet, laid-back way. How the parts are linked can be gleaned from the lyrics, but this is nonetheless an interesting and enjoyable suite.

Disobey has given me such mixed emotions that it's been difficult to say how I feel about it. While this album is no masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, it is still a triumph for the Scottish fivesome. There's certainly some comedy, maybe a few errors too, but Disobey shows a band with real potential, and I for one am interested to see what they come up with next (as long as they don't wait until 2034 to release it).

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

BASIL FRANCIS



Avant Folk- Avant Folk
Avant Folk- Avant Folk
Country of Origin:Mexico
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:AP1002
Year of Release:2011
Time:49:16
Info:Avant Folk
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Jarana Avant-Folk (3:32), In Memoriam (5:09), La Ruda (6:40), Costa Fenicia (3:41), Oceano Mar (4:45), Trip (2:01), Ti (1:55), Co (1:34), De Beirut A Cosamaloapan (4:14), Balada (3:40), Brisa (5:47), Guitarra Avant-Folk (3:24) Brilarma (2:44)

Eblen Macari (acoustic guitar, TC electronic processor and vocals), Mauricio Sotelo (12 string acoustic guitar, Chapman Stick and TC electronic processor) and Eblen Macari M (percussions) are Avant Folk, a trio from Mexico who have recorded this beautiful album that is full electro-acoustic magic. This is a trio of musicians that are at one with each other with this being their debut album that is a creation of love.

It is certainly an opposing musical soundstage compared to what I have been listening too lately. This is an album that you can just kick back and relax to allowing you to take in the musically dexterity of these musicians.

The album is just swathed in experimental, jazzy, folk and Latin inferred instrumentals that are hypnotic. There are plenty of rapid paced passages which interestingly never lose any of their melodic integrity making it a welcome and pleasurable listen. The band certainly been inventive building these melodic structures almost like they have been trying to find new ways of musically entertaining with their given choice of instruments. Quite ingeniously they have been able to liberate the sounds of each incorporated instrument which cleverly makes sense as opposed to it becoming insipid musical notation that neither challenges nor stimulates. A lot of time and thought has gone into the structures and production of these passages, time and effort that has not been wasted. Just stepping through the album selecting any track at random, each time you are met with what is essentially entertainment of the highest order.

From album opener Jarana Avant-Folk you just know that the trio have found a correct and winning formula, something that is confirmed by the outstanding track Costa Fenicia where you see another side to Macari who supplies a somewhat rather short vocal display, but no matter, that is not what the album as a whole is about. Ti engages some nice pedal work that creates a dynamic and atmospheric approach which is punctuated by the beauty of the acoustic guitar and at times a rapid percussive soundstage that gives it a slightly harder approach. The shorter pieces and to be honest there aren’t any twenty minute plus epics here, manage to be succinct, classy loosing none of their power or integrity. Guitarra Avant-Folk the penultimate track confirms that the experimental sounds have authenticity and credibility, a track that is texturally layered with refined beauty, which really sums up what is on offer here in general.

Macari and Sotelo certainly are attuned to each other with perfectly matching fretwork which is all propped up by Macari M’ interesting percussive work. As a trio they really know how to put on a show. For starters we are talking of an album that would appeal to fans of Pat Metheny and Star FK Radium and lovers of beautiful melodic and passionate musical prose. This really is an engaging album that offers reward to its listener.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

JOHN O'BOYLE



Kaarna - Spring
Kaarna - Spring
Country of Origin:Finland
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:icb-002
Year of Release:2010
Time:46:03
Info:Kaarna
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Twelve (5:06), Four (9:05), Montreaux (5:26), Scandal (5:59), Song [live] (7:05), Montreaux [live] (5:33), Four [live] (7:49)

Finland has a well developed and diverse music scene, in addition to a long and well supported jazz tradition, and Kaarna are a Finnish instrumental fusion improv guitar/bass/drums trio leaning towards the jazzier end of the spectrum with added psychedelic and heavy prog influences. Spring is their first release and one gets an inkling of the direct nature of their music straight off from the one word song titles. The album has four pieces recorded in the studio, two of which are also featured in the three live pieces that follow, so, more a long EP than an album per se.

Opening piece Twelve, the "rockiest" thing here, builds on a simple two chord structure and from the off the band extemporise with gusto, atonal Fripp-like jazz chords build and crash through distortion and other effects. The piece sounds like it will collapse at any moment but always pulls itself back from the brink. Hendrix influences from the more psychedelic aspect of his playing are all over this too, and that is no bad thing!

The bass (Mikko Nurmi) and drums (Tatu Henttonen) throughout are solid where they need to be and with a lightness of touch when required on the slower moments, and the guitar (Miiko Iivanainen) is always the centre of attention.

The second piece, Four, the longest on the CD at just over nine minutes, has some nice looped fading guitar at the start, and is slower and reflective, and the jazz influences, particularly from the rhythm section shine through.

Montreaux is infused with the ghost of Ollie Halsall from one of Patto's more introspective songs. This band may or may not be aware of the great sadly deceased UK jazz rocker, but that's what I'm hearing. For me Montreaux is a highlight, all the more so as it is one of the repeated songs in the live section. The last studio piece, Scandal, starts quietly and teases as it hints at a lift off that eventually arrives with some scatter-gun wah guitar, creating a sense of tension that is sometimes hard to achieve with improvisations, and requires no little musical skill.

The live pieces sound rougher, as you would expect, but this only adds to the organic feel of the record. The first live piece, Song, is built on a simple melody line and develops into a smoky mood piece. The other live helpings are Montreaux, as mentioned before, and Four, both slightly more immediate and going off in altered directions from their studio counterparts.

In conclusion I feel that this album makes a fine jazz companion piece to fellow Scandinavians My Brother The Wind's rock improvisation album. Well worth hunting down.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

ROGER TRENWITH



Aura – Deliverance
Aura – Deliverance
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Spider Rock
Promotions
Catalogue #:SP 001104
Year of Release:2011
Time:53:49
Info:Aura
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Arrival (8:20), In My Memories (6:17), Egypt’s Call (4:46), The Eden’s Tree (5:55), Efraim (2:01), A Candle’s Dream (5:33), The Bridge Of Silence (6:00), The Glorious Day (6:51), The Last Stand (3:54), Resurrection (4:07)

Italian band Aura has been around in the prog scene for 15 years now. Formed in 1996 Aura had taken about 12 years to release their debut A Different View From The Same Side and right now the follow up to this album has reached my desk for review. Consisting of Giovanni Trotta (vocals and drums), Angelo Cerquaglia (bass), Giuseppe Bruno (guitar) and Francesco Di Verniere (keyboards) have the traditional line up of a hard rock band. Still Aura Progressive Metal. With their debut strongly keyboards oriented, they now have taken it a step further down the road of completeness, making an album where neither keyboards nor guitar dominate the music. Thus making it more whole.

Deliverance is reportedly a concept album dealing with the story of a young man travelling through Israel. He travels through the old Palestine territories and relives the kind of the sufferings of the Israelites and the good lord Jesus himself, being resurrected at the end of the line. Surely the prophecies and sufferings of people always form a splendid subject to make an album of good music, but on the other hand choosing a subject from the religious corner can be detrimental. You may end up with a none selling record as people sometimes tend to see that as preaching. This I can tell you is not the case with this album by Aura as it merely tells the story of the travellers and his experiences along the way. From The Arrival straight through to Resurrection we get to listen to a storyline musically as well as lyrically, the only shortfall here is that the vocal lines sound a bit one dimensional in each of the songs - although it is not distracting.

The Arrival, the first and longest track on the album, is a ballad like song with a lot of lush keyboards, great riffs and solo’s on the guitar. What I found quite remarkable is the driving bass. I guess Giovanni being the singer as well as drummer needs this extra driving bass added to his drumming enabling him to do the vocal parts.

In My Memories is a bit heavier than the opener and my favourite part in this track is the ending where keyboards trade off soloing, followed by a progmetal guitar ending via a more traditional Joe Walsh harmony style found on Hotel California. Great listening.

Egypt’s Call has Giuseppe Bruno playing on his guitar in an Eastern style, bringing something a bit more mystical in the song. I heard something similar to this before on an album by Myrath. The drumming patterns also help the mystical imagery get in a stronger form.

Now I can now simply go on and tell you the same about each and all the following songs, but instead I will give my highlights from the rest of the album.

Efraim is a two minute instrumental track and is well worth a listen. Aura has listened very well to the likes of Planet X or Liquid Tension Experiment and you can well imagine a very stretched version for a live performance jam. Whereas The Bridge Of Silence has all the traditional elements of a Dream Theater song - in fact it almost resembles the structures Dream Theater use.

Enough said, Deliverance is an album well worth a listen and a good follow up to their debut. Yet I feel Aura is not there yet. They have the sound and the ability, but still something seems missing. I have done my best to determine what this is, but I don’t know. Deliverance may not be a classic,  and the album is less heavy than all comparisons I've made - yet it has influences from their styles. All in all I can truly recommend you check this album out.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

GERT HULSHOF



Calomito - Cane Di Schiena
Calomito - Cane Di Schiena
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:AltrOck
Productions
Catalogue #:Alt 017
Year of Release:2011
Time:53:60
Info:Calomito
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Bella Lee (3:34), Parliamone (5:43), Infraditi (7:36), Fungo (6:42), Cane Di Schiena (6:32), Pappa Irreale (2:27), Antenna (7:59), Klez (4:16), Max Dembo (8:47)

Based in the Italian port city of Genoa, one of the original melting pots of the Mediterranean region, renowned for its lively music scene, five-piece Calomito have been around since the mid-2000. The 2005 release of their debut album, Inaudito, was followed by a five-year hiatus and some line-up changes; then, in the first half of 2010, the band made a comeback with Cane Di Schiena, issued by the ever-reliable AltrOck Productions. Though they have been almost forcibly placed under the RIO/Avant umbrella, Calomito are extremely hard to pigeonhole, due to their boldly eclectic approach to music-making and a sound that fuses the warmth of the Mediterranean with a definitely cosmopolitan slant.

Though clocking in at well under one hour, Cane Di Schiena contains an incredibly dense amount of music that will gradually unfold with each listen. However, in spite of the common misconception about any kind of music that bears even a faint whiff of experimentalism, there is nothing abrasive or random about Calomito's sound. Each of the tracks is very carefully structured, in true "chamber prog" style - an ideal definition for a band like Calomito. Indeed, they transcend the strictures of the RIO/Avant classification, and should be rather seen as purveyors of eclectic, yet oddly intimate music that requires concentration on the part of the listener. On the other hand, Cane Di Schiena is not one of those deadly serious albums that command a quasi-religious devotion, but ultimately feel more like a chore than a pleasure. Calomito's humorous bent, directly descended from cutting-edge Italian acts such as Stormy Six and Picchio Dal Pozzo, as well as the Canterbury scene, is immediately evident in the punning, gently nonsensical titles, which point to a group of people enjoying themselves while making music. While generally quite light-hearted, the music occasionally reaches for a more subdued atmosphere, though avoiding the overly cerebral or even plain depressing tones which characterize the output of many RIO/Avant bands.

As is the case of other "chamber prog" ensembles - such as, for instance, AltrOck label mates Yugen - Calomito employ a number of other instruments alongside the traditional rock trinity of bass, guitar and drums, and an array of synthesizers. The prominent contribution of the horns evokes parallels with the likes of Miriodor, quite evident in the incredibly dense 3 minutes of Bella Lee, the album's opening track; while the equally important role of violin and viola hints at another remarkable modern chamber rock outfit, Seattle-based band Moraine, as well as vintage Frank Zappa. The more upbeat passages bring to mind Forgas Band Phenomena, though Calomito's take on the classic Canterbury/jazz-rock sound is somewhat more angular than the French band's. And then, while Univers Zéro's broodingly Gothic approach would appear to be at odds with Calomito's essentially sunny, optimistic one, Nicola Magri's splendid drumming, which goes way beyond a merely propulsive function, might easily be compared to Daniel Denis' essential role in supporting the whole fabric of the seminal Belgian outfit's sound.

The album's 9 tracks run the gamut of diverse influences, from world music to jazz-rock. While Infraditi shows probably the strongest connections to the RIO/Avant school of progressive rock - an astoundingly complex, 7-minute rollercoaster ride throwing in anything from carnival-like music to jazzy touches to jagged, almost dissonant passages - the subtler, mellow Parliamone seems to reproduce a dialogue between two persons (true to its title, meaning "let's talk about it"), with horns and synthesizers in the role of human voices. The choppy, dynamic Fungo exemplifies Calomito's skillful use of pauses to create interest; while the title-track's slow, meditative mood - some passages so low as to be barely audible - produces an intense, almost mesmerizing effect.

Some intriguingly exotic influences emerge particularly in the second half of the album. Pappa Irreale's lilting, violin-laced pace is sharply reminiscent of an Irish folk dance, or even American country; and the upbeat, drum-driven Klez, as the title points out, contains elements of klezmer and Eastern European gypsy music. Folksy overtones also show up in Antenna, possibly the most complex number on the album (and the only one featuring "weird" vocals, albeit briefly), which opens in remarkably low-key fashion, but ends with an exhilarating crescendo in which guitar, trombone and violin seem to engage in a sort of conversation. Closing track Max Dembo introduces spacey sound effects that enhance the powerful, rolling tone of the drums and the echoing guitar lines, and complement the relaxed, almost sultry Brazilian nuances in the first part of the track.

For all its dense musical content, Cane Di Schiena also offers plenty of melody, and the natural flow and easy elegance of the music make it an entertaining listening experience rather than an overly challenging one. Although fans of traditional symphonic prog may be put off by anything associated with the dreaded "avant-garde", I would recommend Calomito to everyone who loves genuinely progressive music - especially when technical expertise goes hand-in-hand with eclecticism, creativity and a keen sense of humour.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

RAFFAELLA BERRY



Jack Dupon - Démon Hardi
Jack Dupon - Démon Hardi
Country of Origin:France
Format:CD
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:FGBG 4877
Year of Release:2011
Time:61:54
Info:Jack Dupon
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Le Labyrinthe Du Cochon (9:15), Jeudi (De) Poisson (10:34), Sombre Trafic Sur Le Nil (3:40), La Marmite Du Pygmée (8:55), Le Château De L'Eléphant (6:26), Cravate Sauvage (9:27), Oppression, Dépression, Les Valeurs Du Cool (13:37)

In spite of its name, Jack Dupon is not a solo artist, but rather a French quartet whose their debut album, L'Echelle Du Désir, was released in the second half of 2008. Formed in 2001 by three high school mates, Arnaud M'Doihoma, Gregory Pozzoli and Thomas Larsen, in 2004 the fledgling outfit was joined by an older, more experienced musician, guitarist Philippe Prebet. The band, quite active on the live front in Europe, embarked on their first US tour in September 2010 - their quirky, highly theatrical performances leaving a strong impression on American audiences.

When I reviewed L'Echelle Du Désir, a couple of years ago, I was left with mixed feelings. While I appreciated the band's eclecticism and their undeniable expressive potential, I also felt they had overreached themselves with a debut album clocking in at nearly 75 minutes, and opening with a sprawling 30-minute epic. It seemed that the members of Jack Dupon, albeit talented and full of ideas, had yet to learn the valuable lesson that sometimes less is more - so that the album eventually overstayed its welcome. This time around, however, they seem to have heeded their critics' advice, and gone for a relatively pared-down offering, slightly over one hour long, which avoids the excesses that made L'Echelle Du Désir a less than fully successful proposition.

Unlike other bands placed under the RIO/Avant umbrella, Jack Dupon use a very traditional rock instrumentation, dispensing with keyboards as well as strings or reeds. Indeed, their configuration (two guitars plus rhythm section) closely resembles King Crimson in their Eighties and Nineties incarnations, and Fripp's crew, together with Frank Zappa, are clearly one of the main sources of inspiration for Jack Dupon's approach. However, the theatrical bent of the band, as well as the whole concept on which their musical output is based (the picaresque adventures of the titular Jack Dupon, a somewhat shady character), possess an unmistakably European flavour. While their French origins may bring to mind bands like Magma and Gong (whose flying teapots get a mention in Le Château De L'Eléphant), as well as Ange, an evident blueprint for the vocal department, there are also references to those Italian Seventies bands who pushed the dramatic element to the forefront.

One of the biggest obstacles for first-time listeners to Jack Dupon's music are the vocals, mostly handled by bassist Arnaud M'Doihoma with the assistance of his bandmates. Harsh, grating and exaggerated, bringing to mind the likes of Ange's Christian Descamps or even Jumbo's Alvaro Fella, M'Doihoma's singing style fits the music like a glove, but is also very much of an acquired taste - unless you see the voice as an additional instrument. From the instrumental point of view, though there is plenty of razor-sharp riffing, Jack Dupon's sound suggests the angularity of King Crimson rather than the sheer heaviness of metal, with insistent, interlocking guitar lines very much in Fripp/Belew style, and powerful surges followed by pauses of relative calm. On the other hand, the undercurrent of zany, Dadaist humour running through the album (reflected by the wacky titles and lyrics, as well as the quasi-Expressionist artwork) points to RIO/Avant bands like Samla Mammas Manna and Höyry-Kone, or even borderline progressive bands like Primus and Les Claypool's Frog Brigade.

Most of the tracks on Démon Hardi - the sole exception being the Middle-Eastern-tinged, guitar-driven instrumental Sombre Trafic Sur Le Nil - run at over 6 minutes, though as a whole the album is much more balanced than its predecessor, and not as riddled with filler. Prevailingly similar in structure, the songs alternate slower, almost menacing passages with harsh, frantic ones, the vocals used sparingly but forcefully to add intensity to the musical texture. The Zappa influence emerges most clearly in the upbeat Le Château De L'Eléphant, a veritable drum tour de force with funky touches and a classic rock feel in the guitar parts. Cravate Sauvage, on the other hand, is somber and somewhat monotonous, spiced up with effects-laden guitars interacting with the drums in the style perfected by King Crimson in their Eighties period; while the slightly repetitive La Marmite Du Pygmée features some outstanding guitar work. The longer tracks, such as opener Le Labyrinthe Du Cochon, or the jazz-meets-King-Crimson Jeudi (De) Poisson, offer more variety, though coupled with an occasional impression of patchiness - as is also the case of the 13-minute closing track Oppression, Dépression, Les Valeurs Du Cool, whose riff-driven, metal-tinged intro is followed by an uncharacteristically melodic section with a bluesy guitar solo, leading to a choppy, funky climax.

With music so obviously geared to the stage, Jack Dupon do not have the same strong impact when heard on CD. While the idiosyncratic vocals are almost inseparable from the music, and clearly require a live setting in order to achieve their full effect, the somewhat loose, improvisational nature of the music and its hypnotic pacing may fall rather flat in a typically passive listening situation. On any account, even if clearly not everyone's cup of tea, Démon Hardi is an interesting album by a very promising band that has undergone a positive development since its rather overambitious debut.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

RAFFAELLA BERRY



Envelopes Of Yesterday (VA) - The Manticore Records Story 1973 - 1976
Envelopes Of Yesterday (VA) - The Manticore Records Story 1973 - 1976
Country of Origin:International
Format:2CD
Record Label:Esoteric/Reactive
Catalogue #:MANTCD 21013
Year of Release:2011
Time:CD 1 78:33
CD 2 79:10
Info:N/A
Samples:N/A

Tracklist:

CD 1: Emerson Lake & Palmer - Jerusalem (2:44), P.F.M. - River Of Life (7:01), Keith Christmas - Foothills (3:55), Pete Sinfield - The Night People (7:56), Hanson - Mister Music Maker (4:24), Stray Dog - Tramp [How It Is] (6:53), Emerson Lake & Palmer - Karn Evil 9 2nd Impression Part Two (4:49), Keith Christmas - Brighter Day (6:10), Pete Sinfield - Still (4:48), P.F.M. - The Mountain (10:46), Stray Dog - Rocky Mountain Suite [Bad Road] (8:30), Emerson Lake & Palmer - When The Apple Blossoms Bloom In The Windmills Of Your Mind, I’ll Be Your Valentine (3:56), Thee Image - Show Your Love (6:41)

CD 2: Hanson – Smokin’ To The Big “M” (9:52), Emerson Lake & Palmer - Hoedown [Live] (4:02), P.F.M. - The World Became The World (6:22), Keith Christmas - Tomorrow Never Ends (4:03), Thee Image - Fly Away (6:42), Banco - Outside (7:45), Emerson Lake & Palmer - Take A Pebble / (Still) You Turn Me On / Lucky Man [Live] (11:07), Stray Dog - Worldwinds (7:16), Hanson - Rocking Horse Man (3:36), Keith Christmas - The Astronaut [Who Wouldn’t Come Down] (3:16), Greg Lake - I Believe In Father Christmas (3:36), P.F.M. - Harlequin (7:59), Keith Emerson - Honky Tonk Train Blues (3:12)

If you’re a hugely successful band then seemingly the next obvious step is to form your own record label. That’s exactly what Emerson Lake & Palmer did in January 1973 with Manticore, primarily intended as a vehicle for their own output following three very successful years with Atlantic Records. When highly talented bands like Premiata Forneria Marconi (soon abbreviated to PFM) came to their attention it was apparent that Manticore would also be a suitable home for other acts to flourish. Or at least that was the intention.

The name Manticore as every self respecting ELP fan knows is a mythical beast that featured on the 1971 Tarkus album. This two disc anthology celebrates the label by including a selection of tracks form each of the acts that appeared and for me it delights and disappoints in fairly equal measures. Whilst they may have shared the same record label, musically there is a clear distinction between the prog bands and the more mainstream acts here.

ELP themselves released two albums under the Manticore banner, Brain Salad Surgery in November 1973 and the triple vinyl Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends in August 1974 to commemorate the subsequent tour. Unsurprisingly these proved to be the most popular of the labels (and the band’s) output, particularly in the US. With enough ELP compilations and live recordings already available to fill an aircraft hanger the choice of material here is clearly limited but Jerusalem and a Karn Evil 9 edit (the familiar “Welcome Back My Friends” part) are obvious crowd pleasers. A live medley of Take A Pebble, (Still) You Turn Me On and Lucky Man provides an opportunity to dip into the band’s popular back catalogue whilst the lightning fast interpretation of Hoedown is four minutes of the best organ playing you’re ever likely to hear from Emerson. The instrumental When The Apple Blossoms Bloom (the ‘B’ side of the Jerusalem single) seems more of an album filler however.

Mention the name Pete Sinfield and you have the answer to any number of pop trivia questions. He came up with the name King Crimson, produced Roxy Music’s debut album and hit single Virginia Plain and (with less credibility) wrote tunes for Bucks Fizz, Leo Sayer and Celine Dion. It’s his friendship with Greg Lake however that secured his role as lyricist for ELP and his solo album Still becoming the first ever release on Manticore in October 1973. The two selections here show two sides to Sinfield with the quirky avant-garde The Night People sounding very Lizard era King Crimson whilst the stirring title song Still is best remembered for the smooth transition in mid verse between Sinfield’s limp vocal and Lake’s soaring tenor. The song Envelopes Of Yesterday from the same album provides the title of this anthology even though it’s not included.

After ELP, the label’s most commercially and critically successful signing was PFM and appropriately they are strongly represented with four tracks here. From 1973’s Photos Of Ghosts (the second album to be released by Manticore) comes River Of Life (the finest Moog and Mellotron extravaganza this side of YesAnd You And I) whilst The Mountain and the title track from The World Became The World (1974) as well as Harlequin from Chocolate Kings (1976) are fine examples of the band at their bombastic best. Released in early 1977, the band’s Jet Lag album proved to be Manticore’s swan song.

The other Italian prog-rock giants to sign to Manticore were Banco, releasing two albums Banco and As In A Last Supper in 1975 and 1976 respectively. Though perhaps lacking the same grandeur of PFM, they played with plenty of fire, energy and skill as displayed in the song Outside taken from the Banco album. As good as this track is it doesn’t display the more subtle, classical side of the band and for my money they warranted more than the single offering here.

If all of the above fall neatly into the progressive rock category then the rest (for the most part) fall well outside. Stray Dog, Hanson and Thee Image could all be loosely described as blues-rock with a raw energy that was perhaps better appreciated live than on record. That said there is some excellent guitar work on display here particularly from the American power trio Stray Dog with elements of Mountain, Jimi Hendrix and Wishbone Ash. All three acts however seem to suffer an identity crisis veering from hard rock to American flavoured blue eyed soul which failed to strike a chord with the record buying public. As a result their demise pretty much coincided with that of Manticore.

An artist that received a good deal of exposure during his time with Manticore was singer songwriter Keith Christmas who found particular favour with Pete Sinfield and Greg Lake. Despite his name, Christmas attempts to be an artist for all musical seasons although sadly prog isn’t one of them. Pop, rock, folk and jazz-funk are all glimpsed in the two albums Brighter Day (1974) and Stories From The Human Zoo (1976) but sadly his voice and song writing lack personality with the end results in my opinion sounding mostly bland. At his best he reminds me of Terry Reid and Esoteric clearly have faith in his talents because he has no less than four songs here. For a more comprehensive overview checkout Tomorrow Never Ends: The Anthology 1974-1976.

In case we forget Manticore also enjoyed a hit single in the shape of Greg Lake’s perennial I Believe In Father Christmas and to a much lesser extent Keith Emerson’s entertaining Honky Tonk Train Blues, both included here. They say you can’t keep a good tune down and listening to Lake’s seasonal favourite in the middle of July as I did in the course of this review worked almost as well as it does in December.

By 1976 Messers Emerson, Lake and Palmer had come to the conclusion that running a record label could be a severe drain on ones time and financial resources and as a result Manticore folded early the following year. The reality was that although there was a degree of individual accomplishment, none of the other acts came anywhere near to emulating the popularity of ELP themselves. Esoteric however have given each act their due regard by devoting detailed bios and accompanying pics in the extensive 24 page booklet that accompanies this collection. As a general overview, the text also chronicles the rise and eventual downfall of this ambitious if relatively short lived label.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



413 - Path To Hocma
413 - Path To Hocma
Country of Origin:Spain
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:52:58
Info:413
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Town (5:01), The Desert Of The Real (4:15), The Rising Of The Real Man (5:33), The Bindu Sea: Cloudy (3:05), The Brigit Mountains (6:29), The White Mountains (2:19), The Swamp (4:36), The Hocma Point (3:50), The Ophoist (6:05), The Virus Ophoist (1:50), The Yethunter [bonus track]

413 is a solo project from Basque David Pisaborro and Path To Hocma is his second album. I retrieved this information from his site because the promo sheet that accompanied this CD was only in Spanish and luckily the site had the information also in English. My Spanish isn't very good, to say the least. What's the point in sending a Spanish promo sheet to an English language review site? Anyhow, Pisabarro started out as a bass player in various local bands. He released his first solo album Reschith in 2008 and then decided to follow a course in engineering. After that he produced a couple of artists and then was ready to record and release Path To Hocma.

The album deals with the dark side of human behaviour and his lyrics seem to question religion or at least question actions done under the guise of religion. For example:

"Your Gods speak with fake thruths. Pray to their hollow words"

Things are not very bright in the music of 413 and the album (which has a very nice sleeve), but is also dark; depicting a city with above it raging waves and dark mountains (at least that's how I intepreted the sleeve). So what's the music like? Well... here's where things start getting difficult, because after repeated listens I still can't make heads or tales of it. For this album Pisaborro decided to go for a low-fi recording method. This meant that no amplifiers were used, no guitars and no studio (that is probably what you do after you've followed an engineering course). The album is dominated by percussion, metallic bass guitars, (sounding like all types of guitars. So all the guitar sounds I mention in this review where played on a bass) and grunt like vocals.

Opening track The Town is a good example of what to expect. However there are also some instrumental and more atmospheric tracks like The Desert Of The Real (percussion and some guitar), The White Mountains (just a gentle guitar melody and a simple string line), The Hocma Point (acoustic guitar intrumental) and The Virus Ophoist (short piano track). Pisaborro played all the instruments himself with the exception of the trumpet in The Rising Of The Real Man which was played by Nico

Zubia. There are also some guest vocalists providing spoken word performances (The Brigit Mountains and The Swamp), clean vocals and the earlier mentioned grunt/scream vocals (not sure what to call them to be honest).

The problem I have with this album is that Pisaborro does not seem to know what he wants with this album. A full blown metal album? A low-fi folk album? An atmospheric modern prog album ala Porcupine Tree? Because by attempting all of this it's ends up being nothing. Also the song writing is not of a very high standard, IMHO. The Hocma Point sounds pointless to be honest as it fails to produce any memorable melody and the same applies to The Virus Ophoist. And last but not least I do not particularly like how the album sounds. It sounds flat and one dimensional. Probably because of the lo-fi way it was recorded so Pisaborro intended to make it sound like this. There are a few tracks here that are interesting. The Bindu Sea: Cloudy and The Brigit Mountains have some enjoyable clean vocals and nice choruses. The Swamp has a slight, but also enjoyable Oceansize feel to it and The Ophoist features a couple of interesting twists and turns although the track does slip into boring mode at the end.

Pisaborro says on his website that in a few years time we will think highly of this album on a recording level as well as on a lyrical level. Well, maybe I will try that but for now I'm afraid that for me personally this sonic experiment has largely failed. The album is available as a free download from his website.

Conclusion: 4 out of 10

LEO KOPERDRAAT


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