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2011 : VOLUME 42
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


Steve Hackett – Beyond The Shrouded Horizon
Steve Hackett – Beyond The Shrouded Horizon
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:InsideOut Music
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:CD 1 59:00
CD 2 28:45*
Info:Steve Hackett
Samples:N/A

Tracklist:

Standard CD: Loch Lomond (6:50), The Phoenix Flown (2:08), Wanderlust (0:44), Til These Eyes (2:42), Prairie Angel (2:59), A Place Called Freedom (5:57), Between The Sunset And The Coconut Palms (3:18), Waking To Life (4:50), Two Faces Of Cairo (5:13), Looking For Fantasy (4:33), Summer's Breath (1:12), Catwalk (5:44), Turn This Island Earth (11:51)

Bonus Disc*: Four Winds: North (1:35), Four Winds: South (2:06), Four Winds: East (3:34), Four Winds: West (3:04), Pieds En L'Air (2:26), She Said Maybe (4:21), Enter The Night (4:00), Eruption: Tommy (3:37), Reconditioned Nightmare (4:06)

Mark Hughes' Review

Beyond The Shrouded Horizon is Hackett's 23rd solo studio album in 36 years which, when you combine with live albums, the GTR release and the fact that for a few of those years he was still a prominent member of Genesis, is a pretty reasonable batting average. After losing a way a bit in the early 1980s, as least as far as his electric music went, he began a musical resurgence in the late 90s that a cod psychologist would probably attribute to laying his Genesis past behind him and drawing a line under that era of his career by recording and releasing the Genesis Revisited album. I have to state that being a big fan of his first three albums I was underwhelmed by a lot of his subsequent releases. Although not a road to Damascus enlightenment, my opinion changed following the release of Out Of The Tunnel's Mouth, which I freely admit I purchased simply because Ant Phillips appeared amongst the musicians! Catching the live show at the nearest venue adding icing to the cake and my interest in Hackett was once again piqued.

This latest album once again features Hackett and keyboard player Roger King as the main protagonists. Alongside, the supporting cast includes a couple of famous names in Chris Squire and Simon Phillips, a couple of familiar names in John Hackett and Nick Beggs, and quite a few other names who may not be famous or familiar but add immeasurably to the CD. The release comes as a standard 13-track, 59-minute CD and as a limited edition with a second 29-minute bonus CD containing an additional 9 tracks from the recording sessions.

Taking the main CD first, the collection is very diverse covering a lot of bases. Loch Lomond opens proceedings with an introduction of growling guitars and keyboard effects. This gives way to an acoustic vocal section where Hackett's somewhat nasal vocals are wonderfully accompanied by the more dulcet tomes of Amanda Lehmann. A rather unconvincing segue leads to a fine electric solo which, with a small break for a rousing vocal reprise, continues until the end. A brief acoustic guitar flourish introduces the instrumental The Phoenix Flown an excellent number featuring just Hackett, King and drummer Gary O'Toole. Wanderlust and Summer's Breath are typical Hackett solo acoustic guitar pieces, the former neatly linking into the lush 'Til These Eyes upon which Hackett' remarkably good vocal performance is backed by the strings of Christine Townsend (violin, viola), Richard Stewart (cello) and Dick Driver (double bass) as well as the clarinet of Rob Townsend. Once again, this track blends nicely into the intro to Prairie Dog and one is all set for another low key instrumental when the electric guitar bursts through and Hackett's harmonica blows a mean riff. Instantly we connect into A Place Called Freedom which, musically, has some fine moments but the vocal melody and lyrics do nothing for me. I would have much preferred this one to have been an instrumental as the soaring electric guitar underpinned by the acoustic is rather good (although the jaws harp is annoying!)

Between The Sunset And The Coconut Palms is one of those songs that only Hackett could come up with, vaguely reminiscent of a bygone era, languid, sensual and much better than the rather clichéd title would suggest. On the other hand, Walking To Life is more of a pop song than anything else with Amanda Lehmann taking sole responsibility for the vocals, Hackett adding an Eastern feel with his sitar guitar and O'Toole providing a rudimentary drum beat that is probably appropriate for the song but not very exciting. There is more promise in the instrumental sections but overall it is a rather fragmentary piece. Much better is Two Faces Of Cairo, a widescreen instrumental that is positively driven by O'Toole's hammering of the kit. The ballad Looking For Fantasy is somewhat different and must be the only song to reference Jimmy Page, The Kennedy's, Karl Marx and a Thomas Hardy novel in the lyrics! However, it is the last two songs on the album that will have people smacking their lips in anticipation, featuring as they do the mighty rhythm section of Simon Phillips and Chris Squire (who also plays on Looking For Fantasy although you couldn't tell!). Catwalk is a electric blues-based number with powerful drumming (as expected) and some furious and mean guitar fills from Hackett that oozes passion - could almost be a tribute to Gary Moore (a positive thing!). After that it would take something special to close the album and, fortunately, with Turn This Island Earth, Hackett has come up with the perfect closing number. Intricately arranged and utilising the full basket of tricks, this involved and intertwined track has a bit of a shaky start with the vocals somewhat over-treated giving a warbling effect but as things progress so does the tempo and the atmosphere with guitar being let loose to fly all over the place. King excels on his keyboard orchestra creating a stunning symphonic section, a great end to the album.

But what of the bonus CD, is it worth paying the extra cash for? Well even for those who are not committed Hackett fans, there is a lot to offer on this bonus disc. The Four Winds quartet is a lovely selection of instrumentals with North featuring the icy blast of Squire and Phillips, South being a lovely piano and acoustic guitar duet, East being a slower number with Benedict Fenner on keyboards and Hackett adding some nice electric work throughout, and West taking us full circle and offering up another excellent Hackett acoustic/classical piece. Pieds En L'Air (translation: feet in the air) is literally Hackett putting his feet up as he doesn't play on the track at all! Instead it is a warming and pleasing string piece featuring Christine Townsend, Richard Stewart and Dick Driver in the fine tradition of English classical music. The instrumental nature of the CD thus far is maintained with She Said Maybe which would be perfect if it featured a real rather than programmed drummer on it. The only vocal piece on this second CD is Enter The Night, with Hackett, O'Toole and Lehmann all contributing the output from their vocal chords. My first impression was that it instantly reminded me of Camel and Homecoming from their Nude album. However is soon takes on its own identity and turns out to be a strong number. Eruption: Tommy is also a fantastic number and, once again, draws forth the Gary Moore impressions, this track would easily have sat on Moore's Back On The Streets and I bet no one would have questioned that it wasn't Moore himself. This track alone is worth the extra cost of the double CD version (at least in my opinion anyway!). Finally there is a rather superfluous re-recording of Air-conditioned Nightmare, renamed as Re-conditioned Nightmare. Differences from the original version are minimal, definitely filler, but if you have not heard the original then nice enough.

So, in summary, Beyond The Shrouded Horizon is, I think, a step on from Out Of The Tunnel's Mouth. Yes there are a couple of numbers that fall s bit short of the mark but the rest is of a high enough quality to achieve a recommended tag, especially when the two disc set is considered. However, even if you opt for buying the single disc I doubt if you will be disappointed.

Alison Henderson's Review

In a career spanning some 40 years, Steve Hackett has found a formula for longevity that other musicians can only dream of. No longer remembered as the slightly introverted bearded, bespectacled guitarist of Genesis, his body of work over the ensuing decades stand testament of how re-invention, innovation and creativity can add years to the longevity and popularity of any artiste.

Even though he could now be seen as a senior statesman - and indeed a perfect ambassador for prog - his music seems timeless, ageless and always in a constant state of regeneration. And this glorious outpouring is no exception.

In recent times, his songs have been punctuated by certain episodes in his private life which often made for lyrically interesting material. But now, he appears to put that particular past behind him.

What has emerged now is a musician totally on top of his game and at peace with the world, able to translate that inner contentment and confidence into a cornucopia of diverse songs which positively glow.

Retaining the Electric Band line-up – Messrs Nick Beggs, Roger King, Gary O’Toole, Rob Townsend and Amanda Lehmann who served him so well on the past couple of tours, this album shows just how brilliantly they have fused to almost a single, solid high octane unit. And it also introduces one or two surprise big names on the journey.

Essentially, this is a magical mystery tour to some special places very dear to Hackett’s heart. But what hits you more than anything else about Beyond The Shrouded Horizon is the almost totally effortless way in which the maestro can just bring those silver guitar strings to life, finding new expression in practically every soundscape they inhabit whether electric or acoustic.

The swelling opening chords of Loch Lomond leading into a huge slab of melody punctuated by the characteristic wah-wah guitar sound opening into a melodic acoustic section topped by gorgeous harmonies with Amanda Lehmann high in there and are those really bagpipes in the mix?

The Phoenix Flown a gorgeous guitar-driven chunk of prog with a great rhythm followed in quick succession by the all too brief acoustic Wanderlust that builds into Til These Eyes, a rolling mellow river of a song.

Prairie Angel, a work in progress on the most recent tour, is now a fully blown anthemic outpouring with lots of heavy hard driving guitar and the most incisive melodies almost coming out of nowhere.

A Place Called Freedom takes us from acoustic, jingling guitars with a delightfully light vocal melody line into that rich creamy guitar and soaring keyboards. If there was a single on this album, this would be the one to play with its lightness and that guitar keeps coming back and hitting you broadside after broadside with its richness of tone and sheer beauty.

Between The Sunset And The Coconut Palms, a gentle acoustic guitar and vocal harmony which brings to mind of Hackett’s Serpentine Song and which takes you off on a magic carpet to somewhere warm and wonderful - all woven into its melody lifted even higher with a lovely lilting symphonic passage.

Waking To Life has Amanda Lehmann singing above sitar and a swelling melody line before that extraordinary guitar and sustain comes back to send your senses reeling yet again.

Two Faces Of Cairo, is another great musical stopping point in the musical travelogue of with some full on drumming from Gary O’Toole and that wonderful Arabian guitar sound which Hackett has constantly captured so well in recent musical excursions. And it them morphs into another one of those searing guitar interludes where he can sustain notes almost at will.

Looking For Fantasy is a wistful little song about a lady of a certain age reflecting on her past life recounting some of the key events of the 60s and 70s while dating a guy half her age who “resembles a young Jimmy Page”. Hold that thought! Again a beautiful acoustic guitar underscores and heightens the nostalgia of this piece – a recurring theme in his work over the decades.

Summer’s Breath, another acoustic interlude, makes an all too brief appearance before one of the stand-out tracks Catwalks comes swaggering in that full-on, look at me kind of way that harnesses both Chris Squire and Simon Phillips in the rhythm section. It sounds like Still Waters with attitude with Steve just getting out there and basically showing off with his fluid often raunchy runs.

This incredible journey ends with the haunting Turn This Island Earth a shimmering piece of musical beauty which embraces the cosmos, among the planets, where again, Hackett lets rip with a little bit of jiggerypokery while on this flight of fancy.

Packed full of different moods, textures and oozing class and originality, it was difficult to see how Hackett was going to trump Out Of The Tunnel's Mouth, one of the best albums of the past two years. But somehow, either by stealth, by luck or in my opinion, through an intrinsic love of his craft which manifests in musical brilliance, this has taken the Hackett magic to a completely new level.

Conclusions:

MARK HUGHES : 8 out of 10
ALISON HENDERSON : 9.5 out of 10



Steven Wilson – Grace For Drowning
Steven Wilson – Grace For Drowning
Country of Origin:UK
Format:2CD
Record Label:Kscope
Catalogue #:K Scope 176
Year of Release:2011
Time:CD 1 39:41
CD 2 43:25
Info:Steven Wilson
Samples:Click here

Tracklist:

CD 1: "Deform To Form A Star" - Grace For Drowning (2:05), Sectarian (7:41), Deform To Form A Star (7:50), No Part Of Me (5:44), Postcard (4:28), Raider Prelude (2:23), Remainder The Black Dog (9:26)

CD 2: "Like Dust I Have Cleaned From My Eye" - Belle De Jour (2:59), Index (4:48), Track One (4:15), Raider II (23:21), Like Dust I Have Cleaned From My Eye (8:01)

It should have been a quiet year for The Hardest Working Man In Showbiz, aka The Man Who Never Sleeps, as his band Porcupine Tree took a well deserved break after finally cementing their rightful place amongst the rock elite with the triumphal Incident tour ending in 2010.

However, you didn’t really expect Steven Wilson to rest on his laurels, or on anything else for that matter did you? What to do for our hero? Well, let’s start with a new Blackfield album and tour, during which he had to cope with the sad loss of his father, to whom this album is dedicated, as well as remastering work for King Crimson, Jethro Tull and Caravan, and production credits on Memories Of Machines’ and Opeth’s new albums! I’ll bet he put some shelves up in SW HQ in any remaining quantum measurements of free time too. Oh, and the trifling matter of his new solo project, lest we forget!

To say Grace For Drowning was eagerly awaited may rank as understatement of the year, such is the reverence and respect Steven justly commands from his growing fanbase. Having followed Porcupine Tree since around 1994 and subsequently all things SW I count myself in that number, and yes, I too kept a close eye on the doormat on the day that this album was predicted to arrive.

Using a pool of talent that you would expect a modern day prog icon to be able to call on, including the ubiquitous Theo Travis whose exceptional playing is all over the album, as well as Nick Beggs, Jordan Rudess, The London Session Orchestra and the Synergy Vocals choir, both led by Dave Stewart, and many other prog luminaries, a full organic soundscape is crafted. Gone are the metal stylings of his group’s recent works, and instead the “heaviness” is largely atmospheric or jazz tinged rather than guitar riff based. Interviews with Steven have told us that this is an album in homage to 70s prog stylings, but before you throw up your arms in despair (or delight, depending on your particular whim), all of this is on a decidedly modernistic framework. You cannot tell me that Remainder The Black Dog, despite its obvious 70s heavy prog influence does not sound as if it was made in the 21st Century. Other nice touches are the occasional use of the orchestra and the choir, which lend a layer of sophistication to the songs on which they appear. The choir is particularly effective on Raider Prelude for example, giving it a wonderfully eerie presence.

Splitting what would have been an 80 minute epic single CD into two CDs is a sensible move, as in my opinion any single album should be no more than an hour long in order to avoid a dulling of the senses. So many bands these days, and not just prog bands at that, seem to think they have to fill a CD to near capacity regardless of their ability to craft a musical experience worthy of such a length. Steven Wilson, who doubtless does possess the required ability as evidenced here, by splitting this album into two “proper” length albums is giving the listener the chance to indulge in a metaphorical half-time orange, should he or she so desire.

So, what do we have on our stereos and blu-rays? Grace For Drowning is billed as a double album of two separate but complimentary albums, each of the classic vinyl length of around forty minutes. Part one is Deform To Form A Star, a suite of songs that lyrically would have fitted well into the Porcupine Tree canon. From concerns of entropy on Deform To Form A Star, to rampant cynicism over a relationship of convenience on No Part Of Me, to the almost suicidal despair over a broken relationship of Postcard, to the bleak dissolution of Remainder The Black Dog, there is nothing here a Porcupine Tree fan would find unusual. No, it’s the music, that is where the difference lies. The first two tracks, both instrumental set the tone, especially Sectarian with its languid reverbed electric piano break creating just the right amount of jazzy smokiness in between the heavier passages. Yes folks, as if you didn’t already know, it’s jazz-prog that informs this double album, representing a big shift from previous works.

Part two, titled Like Dust I Have Cleaned From My Eye, is less song based, dominated as it is by the 23 minute jazz-prog epic Raider II, which does all the things one would expect, again using the 70s influences but in a thoroughly modern way. The opening filmic short instrumental Belle De Jour is followed by the electronica infused and orchestral and frankly mildly disturbing Index, a lesson for the collector nerd in all of us. Things briefly get all Barrett era Floyd on Track One; perversely and typically the third track on the second disc, before descending into menace, concluding with a wistful guitar part, a bit of a mini-epic. The real epic follows, the aforementioned Raider II, whose grim subject is made clear with the opening line “A fist will make you understand intention”, the Synergy Vocals choir repeating a theme that were this early VDGG would have been played by Dave Jackson. A charming tale of serial killers, this is a tour-de-force and an obvious high point. The 70s influences are strongest on this song, and after some nice flute playing by Theo Travis in the early parts has lulled one into a false sense of security, given the nasty lyrical theme, heaviness inevitably ensues with some fast guitar led playing sending the song hurtling along at a gallop. This song has all the elements of a typical VDGG or Crimson epic sound collage, and its organic feel is no doubt the result of Wilson having close contact with the likes of Lizard and Islands in recent times, in fact in places Theo Travis does a damn fine Mel Collins impersonation, and whether deliberate or not, it is no bad thing.

Being of a certain age I know exactly where all this is coming from, the question is, what will recent converts to Porcupine Tree make of it? One hopes it will lead them to explore their dads’ (or grandads’!) record collections to discover the delights within. Not to say this work is a slavish recreation of a bygone sound, à la Wobbler’s recent museum piece, it is not, there are enough modern touches to make it a relevant work to those of us who like their progressive music to be precisely that.

Steven’s good friend, Mikael Åkerfeldt, may well have been better served to have released Heritage as a solo album, which, by so doing with Grace For Drowning, Steven has hopefully avoided alienating his hard won Porcupine Tree fanbase, who it is to be hoped, will dig it anyway. It is a brave sideways step from Insurgentes, which bore a fairly close resemblance to Porcupine Tree’s sound, sharing as it did similar influences, and is a record that poses interesting questions as to where Porcupine Tree will head next, given Steven’s declared intention to drop the metal riffing. That however is a conundrum for another day. For now, what we have here is a work of some merit which will hopefully bear repeated listens over the coming months and years, as on the first few listens it is turning out to be something of a grower, rather than the instant hit that was Insugentes. Being a work of depth and no little originality, despite wearing its influences on its sleeves, a grower like this usually lasts the course far better than something that instantly gratifies. This is a modern record that isn’t afraid to take the best elements of past prog triumphs and mould them into a fresh and new sound for a 21st Century audience.

Subjectively, is this “better” than Insurgentes? No, nor is it worse, just different. I urge those of you who prefer Steven’s more metal oriented writing and as a result may prefer the first solo album, to please give this fine work the chance it deserves, you will be grateful in the end, believe me!

Much anticipated now is the Wilson/Åkerfeldt side project, going under the title “Storm Corrosion”, which according to an Opeth press release via Metal Underground should have an album out in April 2012. Furthermore, "This album could be seen as the final part in the odd trilogy of records completed by "Heritage" and Steven Wilson's brand new solo album "Grace For Drowning". If that doesn’t get you drooling, I don’t know what will!

My one small gripe is that there is no DVD-A surround mix with all the extras this time, that luxury being afforded only to those who have invested in a blu-ray player. While I understand Steven’s fondness for new sonic and visual technological developments, surely the economies of scale are such that a DVD-A version in parallel would not have broken the bank, and would have kept happy the majority who do not own a blu-ray player, and maybe cannot afford to invest in one.

Ah well, at least I’m going to see the tour in the not so distant future, something I’m already counting down the calendar to!

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

ROGER TRENWITH



Touchstone – The City Sleeps
Touchstone – The City Sleeps
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Steamhammer
SPV
Catalogue #:SPV 309582 CD
Year of Release:2011
Time:60:56
Info:Touchstone
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Corridors (5:49), When Shadows Fall (10:01), These Walls (3:39), Throw Them to The Sky (5:02), Sleeping Giants (4:14), Good Boy Psycho (6:45), Horizons (6:36), Half Moon Meadow (5:15), The City Sleeps (11:38), Corridors Epiphany (1:57)

The fall has always been my favourite time of year. A season of shorter days, apple cider, Thanksgiving turkey, crisp, cool air; and the inevitable if not traditional bountiful bevy of new music that hits the CD store shelves and web portal warehouses. This year is certainly no exception, with new releases from Steven Wilson, The Tangent and Touchstone among the latest autumnal prog deployments.

Touchstone’s latest, being reviewed here, is their third studio full-length and fifth overall recording and is entitled The City Sleeps. Touchstone has come into a high profile since their debut EP Mad Hatters, and when not in the studio they are a formidable stage act as well, as convincingly documented on the live release Live In The USA.

Touchstone, formed in 2001, is currently made up of Kim Seviour on vocals, original members Rob Cottingham (Telpa Europa, Cinema, The Waterbreakers, Ghost) on vocals & keyboards and Adam Hodgson (Blacktide, South Side Of The Sky, Jesus Wept, Zinomorph, -Core, Slippy) on guitars, Paul “Moo” Moorghen on backing vocals & bass, and Henry Rogers (The White Orchids, Final Conflict, DeeExpus, Nerve Toy Trio, Sort Code) on drums. The music on The City Sleeps was written by Hodgson, Cottingham and Touchstone; with lyrics (except for the below mentioned narration) written by Cottingham and Seviour.

The style of music the band plays can best be described as song-oriented album rock with many excursions into progressive territory and a lot of riffy guitar.

With Touchstone’s latest release, these styles continue to cement the band’s sonic foundation, with the band’s progressive sojourns perhaps no more evident than on the over eleven and a half minute title track. The title track was recorded as a sequel to the title track of Touchstone’s previous album Wintercoast, and it features special guest Anna-Marie Wayne, daughter of actor Jeff Wayne, laying down that compelling narration, the words of which were cleverly scribed by Hodgson and edited by Cottingham. Also on this track, a certain John Mitchell contributes a combustible guitar solo.

The other epic track on The City Sleeps is When Shadows Fall, which dishes up dizzy precipices of guitar from Hodgson, some proggy synths from Cottingham evoking Jem Godfrey of Frost* and vocals that are commanding from Cottingham yet carefree from Seviour.

Epics aside, the The City Sleeps gives the band plenty of space to shine in the shorter, more song based tracks, like the crisp Horizons, a tune whose sheen recalls Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin, and which offers the razor-sharp rhythm section of Rogers and Moorghen.

So while the material on the band’s latest effort is mostly song based and accessible, general makeup template notwithstanding, the tracks in no way sound unoriginal or recycled. Infectious, if anything. Some of the tighter songs save a bit of prog merit for their closings, in the form of acrobatic, borderline false endings that come at you like a 92 mile an hour curveball from Josh Beckett.

Moorghen on parts of the album dutifully steps up next to Seviour to sing backing vocals, and the harmonized combination of male and female vocals is not unlike that heard from independent Goth band Black Tape For A Blue Girl.

Hodgson showcases his versatility on another Frost* style track, Good Boy Psycho, which sees his forlorn acoustic strumming giving way to a hot electric solo any hair metal band from the eighties would be envious of today.

The CD comes in a glossy, well designed gatefold digi-pack along with a colourful booklet of lyrics, credits and artwork. The music itself will appeal for fans of guitar heavy, female fronted prog.

An area of opportunity I see for Touchstone with future releases is to make acoustic guitar more prominent, to create some more variety. That said, The City Sleeps is a great album and justly deserves my recommended rating.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

JIM CORCORAN



Cosmograf – When Age Has Done Its Duty
Cosmograf – When Age Has Done Its Duty
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Festival Music
Catalogue #:201107
Year of Release:2011
Time:62:53
Info:Cosmograf
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Into This World (11:15), Blacksmith's Hammer (5:01), On Which We Stand (9.28), Bakelite Switch (7:36), Memory Lost (7:03), When Age Has Done Its Duty (13:02), White Light Awaits (5:49), Dog On The Clee (3:30)

Geoff Feakes' Review

Cosmograf is the alter ego of multi-instrumentalist Robin Armstrong who hails from Portsmouth England and has a penchant for concept albums. When Age Has Done Its Duty is his third such offering in as many years following in the footsteps of 2008’s Freed From The Anguish and 2009’s End Of Ecclesia. As the title suggests his latest deals with the trials of ageing and eventual death whilst stylistically it wears its Pink Floyd influences firmly on its sleeve. This includes the almost obligatory (if a tad overused) sampled voices and ticking clocks and the powerful Gilmouresque guitar arrangements. Also Armstrong’s vocals are delivered in an almost half spoken, deadpan manner akin to Roger Waters although tonally he sounds closer to Peter Hammill.

In addition to vocals, Armstrong provides guitar, bass and keyboards but still makes room for the occasional guest appearance. He’s a more than competent musician in all departments especially guitar and is supported throughout by a sterling performance from It Bites drummer Bob Dalton. Dalton’s playing adds plenty of weight to the self explanatory opener Into This World which combines crunching riffs and metallic shredding. Blacksmith's Hammer on the other hand has a traditional folky vibe thanks to Armstrong’s thick acoustic guitar sound and even thicker south country accent.

On Which We Stand is for me the standout track, clearly influenced by the lyrical side of vintage Genesis with the ringing 12 string of Also Eden’s Simon Rogers complemented beautifully by Armstrong’s inspired classical guitar and celestial organ. There is also more than a hint of Gryphon and Yes in there as well.

Of the rest, Bakelite Switch does an effective job lyrically of evoking life in the 1970’s although musically the strident tone has a more contemporary Porcupine Tree feel about it with a manic organ solo thrown in for good measure. Memory Lost contains that distinctive sounding Gilmour rhythm guitar supporting a strong lead vocal from guest Huw Lloyd-Jones (a new name to me).

The title track When Age Has Done Its Duty is unsurprisingly the album’s magnum opus although its length can be partly attributed to the inclusion of the poignant ‘Growing Old’ by poet Matthew Arnold. I’m not normally a fan of narrated interludes as they often get in the way of the song proper but here the prose is seamlessly and tastefully incorporated into the songs relaxed pace. In addition to the obligatory soaring guitar break it features another strong vocal this time courtesy of Steve Thorne who was responsible for 2009’s excellent Into The Ether album.

The penultimate White Light Awaits is best remembered for the weighty power chords from ex. Galahad bassist Lee Abraham who doubles up on lead guitar leaving the melancholic Dog On The Clee to ends things on a tranquil note.

In keeping with the subject matter and lyrics, Armstrong’s music is often dark in tone although I can’t help thinking that he has a rather pessimistic and gloomy outlook on life. Benefiting from strong melodies, On Which We Stand and the title song are the brightest hopes although the album as a whole has a quality feel thanks to the first rate musicianship and Armstrong’s own excellent production (assisted by Rob Aubrey). This is another superb release from Festival Music, a label responsible for some of the finest prog music to come out of the UK in recent times.

Alison Henderson's Review

Cosmograf is the brainchild of Robin Armstrong, a musician, writer and producer whose influences are steeped in the prog songbook especially Pink Floyd. This is the third album to be released under the Cosmograf banner and has taken 18 months to bring into being at Robin’s studio with the help of a stellar cast of contemporary prog musicians.

When Age Has Done Its Duty is a concept album and continues the long tradition that England has of great story tellers. In this case, Robin’ s concept is a cradle to the grave – and beyond - interpretation of life and all its challenges.

A ticking clock and a baby crying start the wonderfully moody Into This World, which comes across as a meditation on the meaning of life with its melancholic minor key piano, insistent guitar riff which climaxes with followed by a fast and furious guitar solo from Robin.

Blacksmith’s Hammer is a lovely acoustic folky song in the great tradition of ELP’s Lucky Man which is a nostalgic look back at childhood memories interspersed with a light and airy electric guitar.

A churchlike organ sound punctuates another great acoustic song, On Which We Stand, co-written with Almost Eden’s Simon Rogers, that again lyrically harkens back to childhood adventures. There is a really wistful mood pervading throughout along with big slab of synthesiser and electric guitar work from Rogers before it reaches its climax.

Bakelite Switch has all manner of added sounds such as a brass band and that recurring clock motif before it launches into a huge heavy duty sound driven by the drums of It Bites drummer Bob Dalton. Armstrong again assumes vocal duty and it is this song which really brings to light the fact he is the natural successor to Peter Hammill both in the timbre of his voice and the delivery of the words. Coupled with this is the blistering lightning fretwork from Luke Machin, The Tangent’s brilliant young guitarist breaking the surface of the song throughout.

The clock and the words of Prof Stephen Hawkings give way to the most achingly beautiful Memory Lost with Unto Us’ Huw Lloyd-Jones delivering the saddest, most heart-wrenching vocal. Again, Armstrong comes in with a fabulous guitar solo which has shades of Dave Gilmour.

A spoken recital on “Growing Old” from Tom O’Bedlam introduces the title track When Age Has Done Its Duty which begins with a swathe of mellotron and plaintive piano before Lee Abrahams’ Band’s Steve Thorne adds his classy, emotive voice to the glorious restrained melody. Even the guitar sounds pared back as the song recounts the final moment of life morphing into a church organ and then the most searing, full-on guitar solo from Armstrong, which so beautifully depicts the release of the soul. However, the telephone conversation which follows does not quite fit into the overall mood of the song.

The mood changes again with White Light Awaits, a choppy electro-synthesiser and insidious beat accompanying Armstrong’s voice turning more sinister and threatening over Lee Abrahams' heavy guitar riffs which all rounds off with a swirling synth.

A church clock and birdsong again shifts the mood into a different space with Armstrong taking vocal, acoustic guitar and keyboard duty on the wonderfully mellow and chilled out Dog On The Clee.

This stunning collection also has a wonderful cover design by Graeme Bell which depicts all the elements of the tracks including the ever-present clocks as an elderly figure with a stick gazes out over the next spectral horizon.

Without a shadow of doubt, Cosmograf has created one of the most gloriously diverse and absorbing prog albums of the year. All the key elements are there – strong songs, thought-provoking lyrics, some impeccable playing, all invoking the spirit of Pink Floyd and at times, Van Der Graaf Generator but in a very modern idiom.

Conclusions:

GEOFF FEAKES : 7 out of 10
ALISON HENDERSON : 8.5 out of 10



Paolo Siani & Friends Featuring Nuova Idea -
Castles, Wings, Stories & Dreams
Paolo Siani & Friends Featuring Nuova Idea - Castles, Wings, Stories & Dreams
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Black Widow
Catalogue #:BWR-131
Year of Release:2010
Time:48:06
Info:Paolo Siani
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Un Dono (2:13), Wizard Intro (3:03), Madre Africa (7:54), Questa Penombra È Lenta (6:57), Chimera (4:23), The Game (10:38) [a. Wizard Of Your Sky, b. Mickey's, c. Jump, d. Wizard Of Your Life], Cluster Bombs (6:43), This Open Show (3:16), C'Era Una Volta (2:59)

One of the founding members of Genoa-based band Nuova Idea, drummer Paolo Siani is not a household name in the world of progressive rock - with the exception of loyal followers of the Italian prog scene of the Seventies. In spite of the quality of their musical offerings and the release of three albums between 1971 and 1973, Nuova Idea did not achieve the same level of fame as their fellow Genoese New Trolls and Delirium, and disbanded soon after their third album, the highly-regarded Clowns. After a brief stint in avant-garde outfit Opus Avantra for their second album, Lord Cromwell, Siani joined Equipe 84, one of the most successful Italian beat bands (who also dabbled in prog with their 1974 album Sacrificio). Then, for almost three decades, he worked as a producer, while he kept writing and recording his own music. In the first decade of the 21st century, the renewed interest in progressive rock and the growing awareness of the Italian scene prompted Siani to resume his career as a musician - with the commendable purpose of raising funds on behalf of Genoa's Giannina Gaslini Children's Hospital.

Though Castles, Wings, Stories & Dreams is, to all intents and purposes, a solo project by Siani, it also sees a reunion of sorts of his mother band, with the involvement of three former Nuova Idea members: keyboardist Giorgio Usai, guitarist Ricky Belloni (both also known as members of New Trolls) and guitarist Marco Zoccheddu (who went on to join Osage Tribe immediately after Nuova Idea's debut) - plus an impressive list of guest musicians (including legendary PFM founding member Mauro Pagani). From a compositional point of view, however, it is a remarkably tight effort, nowhere as patchy as the many different contributions might lead one to expect. The album also avoids the pitfalls of excessive pretentiousness, keeping melody and clarity at the forefront without neglecting the occasional display of instrumental brilliance.

A compact, decidedly song-oriented effort, with a running time of under 50 minutes, Castles, Wings, Stories & Dreams manages to strike a nice balance between vocal and instrumental parts. The length of the individual compositions is also kept in check, with the obligatory epic, the 4-part The Game, clocking in at under 11 minutes. The inspirational Un Dono introduces the album with an expressive male voice reciting a short text by Mahatma Gandhi on a backdrop of sparse electronic keyboards. It is followed by the instrumental Wizard Intro, which blends Yes-like symphonic suggestions with touches of hard rock and an unmistakable Italian flavour. Chimera, also instrumental, hints instead at a jazzy inspiration, its loose structure made up of solo spots from bass, sax and piano over a brisk, train-like backdrop of drums and keyboards.

Siani, who plays most of the instruments on the album, also sings on the ballad-like Questa Penombra È Lenta, assisted by the clear, melodic voice of Ottavia Bruno, and complemented by lovely acoustic guitar and an airy synth solo; while the powerful yet clear voice of Roberto Tiranti, lead singer of power/progressive metal band Labyrinth (with a brief stint in New Trolls in the late Nineties) graces three out of the 9 tracks on the album. The deep emotional impact of Cluster Bombs, a hard-hitting, anti-war song powered by Hammond and military-style drumming that brings to mind Deep Purple or Uriah Heep, is intensified by his gritty performance; while on the epic The Game, a richly textured composition, enhanced by Hammond flurries and wistful violin, Tiranti gets a chance to show his more sensitive side. He then reverts to a more authoritative tone in the haunting Madre Africa, where the Deep Purple influences channelled by former The Trip and Acqua Fragile keyboardist Joe Vescovi and his Hammond organ are tempered by Mauro Pagani's flute, reminiscent of flute-driven Italian prog bands such as Delirium or Osanna. Two short pieces, the melancholy, cello-driven This Open Show and the instrumental C'Era Una Volta, a Baroque-inspired number performed by Siani alone, wrap up the album in tasteful, low-key fashion.

With refreshing honesty, Paolo Siani and his cohorts do not lay any claim to breaking new ground. In my view, the presence of English lyrics alongside the Italian ones is probably the main flaw of the album, as the use of English dilutes that unique aspect of Italian prog that lies in the use of the bands' native language. However, Castles, Wings, Stories & Dreams is a solid, well-crafted effort that is firmly rooted in the great prog tradition of the Seventies while enjoying a thoroughly modern sound quality. Featuring excellent performances from Siani and his guests, it is warmly recommended to fans of classic, prog-tinged hard rock, as well as devotees of the Italian prog scene.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

RAFFAELLA BERRY



Vargton Projekt – ProgXpriMetal
Vargton Projekt – ProgXpriMetal
Country of Origin:Sweden
Format:CD
Record Label:Lion Music
Catalogue #:LMC 307
Year of Release:2011
Time:75:36
Info:Vargton Projekt
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Jaipur (5:28), Ujevkoszonto (0:48), Uggarderojr (6:35), Rjoredraggu (2:48), I - The Gathering (1:49), II - Rendition (4:01), III - Defender & Believers (8:58), Norrsken (5:31), Lvorna (7:49), Capriccio (1:08), U Playin On My Drum (5:09), Outrott (1:09), Allegro Vivace (3:10), Digerrojr (1:42), Vargton (6:49), Naudljaus (4:28), Tokeri 1 (5:04), Tokeri 2 (3:10)

Vargton Projekt is a new band based around three acclaimed musical talents from the Swedish scene. The seeds were sown in 2006 when guitarist Mats Hedberg (BFH) contacted Morgan Ågren (Frank Zappa/Mats Morgan Band) to collaborate together after hearing his drumming on a Fredrik Thordendal (Meshuggah) album. Mats sent some rough demos which caught Morgan’s ear and the pair decided to collaborate.

The sessions continued between 2007 and 2010 with the intention of producing a purely instrumental album. That was before Mats asked vocalist Björn Jansson (Tears Of Anger/Ride The Sky) to put some vocals on selected tracks. Amongst a handful of guest musicians: keyboardist Hans Lundin (Kaipa) plays on three tracks whilst Lion Music label owner Lars Eric Mattsson performs some guitar solo duels with Mats on the track Defender & Believers.

I wanted to hear this album primarily because I’m a big fan of Bjorn Jansson from his amazing work on the highly recommended but sadly over-looked Tears Of Anger whose In The Shadows release was one of my favourite albums in 2006.

I thought at the time that he’d make an ideal replacement for Jon Lande if ARK ever records a third album (still waiting!). After hearing the opening track on this album my point has been proven. Packed with groove and loaded with progressive inventiveness and complexity, this is a very special piece of music.

Uggarderojr features more of a bluesy boogie riff mixed with some NeoProg stylings whilst Rendition utilizes more conventional rhythms amid a spacey, Floydish atmosphere. These are enjoyable, but the opener has set the bar too high.

Much of the rest of ProgXpriMetal is made up of slightly schizophrenic instruments with a heavy reliance on heavy guitar and drum oriented compositions with modern nod to the likes of King Crimson, Zappa and Mahavishnu Orchestra.

As is often the case with such instrumental workouts, some passages are sublime, some are intense, others more subtle and atmospheric and the rest are just pointless. Tokeri Parts 1 and 2 mix ambience with voiceover extracts; Rjoredraggu and Allegro Vivace involve a lot of feedback and more voiceovers. It’s certainly not easy background music.

This is an album that will appeal to those who like instrumental albums on the avant garde side of prog with the added interest of a couple of ProgMetal bluesy ‘songs’. Those who like their ProgMetal with vocals should find a download of Jaipur and leave it at that.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

ANDY READ



Various Artists - Prog NL
Various Artists - Prog NL
Country of Origin:Netherlands
Format:CD
Record Label:Prog NL
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:60:11
Info:ProgWereld
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Leap Day Half Mens, Half Machine (6:51), 21 Eyes Of Ruby Vleugellam (3:42), Harvest De Stille Zwerver (5:19), Bruut Pitt Twijfel (5:51), The Aurora Project Alles Is Een (5:19), Flamborough Head Rixt Fan't Oerd (7:25), Knight Area Rijk der Schaduwen (5:55), Ulysses Verloren (5:31), Nice Beaver Tijdlijn (6:31), PBII Haagse Soep (7:47)

Our esteemed colleagues of ProgWereld (www.progwereld.org), a Dutch online Ezine also dedicated to prog music, exists 10 years on 13th April 2011 and to celebrate that they decided to do something special and assemble and release a special compilation album. A bold plan, even more since they came up with the rather interesting concept to produce an album on with all groups sing in Dutch! With the occasion of their anniversary as the initiator they wanted to do something special for their readers and also to provide an extra stage for Dutch bands, giving them some extra exposure.

Thinking about this concept I realized I can't think of even one famous prog group in the world of prog heads that sings in Dutch; despite the considerable amount of good Dutch prog bands. I know prog groups singing in German, French, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Icelandic, Swedish, Norwegian, Japanese, Chinese and surely there are several local prog bands who sing in their native language around the globe. But despite the fact I'm pretty familiar with the Dutch prog scene I can't think of any prog band singing in Dutch. So that's one reason that makes this project so special.

All bands were free in their choice to either re-record a song of their own, with Dutch lyrics or record a brand new song especially for this album. Most of the groups choose the 'easy way', but four wrote and recorded a brand new song for this album: Leap Day, Harvest, Flamborough Head and Nice Beaver.

All bands recorded and produced their own song, but Gerben Klazinga of Knight Area did the mastering and was very active in the studio for this project. There are some differences in recording quality between the songs, since every band did that on his own with his own equipment and possibilities, so as a whole this album truly sounds as a compilation from various sources.But that really isn't a problem listening to it, certainly not when knowing the background story of it.

But there are some more surprises to be noted on this album, for instance Spanish group Harvest, what are they doing on this 100% Dutch album? Well actually their female singer Monique van der Kolk is Dutch (now living in Barcelona) and joined the group when they were searching for a singer for their group Dracma. Another surprise comes from the notorious Flamborough Head that hails from the province of Friesland whose people never miss an opportunity to make clear that their own local language is a true language and not just a dialect. Considering the fact that I hardly understand a word when they speak Fries I must admit they seem to have a point. So bearing that in mind the song that Flamborough Head wrote and recorded especially for this album is sung in Fries, it's actually the odd one out as it is actually not sung in Dutch. Maybe this is even the first prog song ever recorded in Fries, who knows? If the flat dialect from The Hague can be considered as true Dutch is another point of discussion, but the very tongue-in-cheek song PBII contributed automatically makes any Dutchman smile as it is a well-known dialect often used by people with a slight (posed) attitude.

Well, what can be said about the music on this special compilation album? First of all that it doesn't sound weird at all to hear prog songs sung in Dutch; hey, it's prog isn't it, so everything goes. But seriously, sometimes English songs translated into Dutch sound very peculiar and forced just like something that is cramped within a surrounding that doesn't really fit. But in this case I really can't say that this is the case; either the lyrics are so well translated or altered that it doesn't sound unnatural or the lyrics in itself are already sophisticated enough that also a translation doesn't loose the intended atmosphere. If you don't understand Dutch these songs will sound to you just as any other one in a for you strange language; it certainly isn't so that the Dutch language with its harsh sounds (someone once said that Dutch sounds as if you have a sincere throat infection) isn't appropriate for prog songs or any other sort for that matter! Many Dutch artists were asked why they don't sing in their native language, and the two answers mostly given are that they feel it's necessary to sing in English to enable a possible international career and secondly that Dutch isn't apt for singing. Well, I think that the second reason is herewith undermined; well of course some categories of music really sound better in some languages; can you imagine a chanson not sung in French or Rammstein not singing in German; they tried that once and it sounded awful. But clearly prog can handle the Dutch language.

The opening song by Leap Day, especially written for this album, directly sets the standard high; this is certainly not a left-over song donated for this album, but a truly fine symphonic piece of music that makes the listener curious to hear more of this group; definitely one of the highlights on the album. 21 Eyes Of Ruby is a new name for me; their song starts like a true ballad with a minimal decoration, but after the long slow intro the bombast kicks in and it all becomes rather epic; just too bad about the fade-out ending; but still another group to further explore. Spanish group Harvest delivered a brand new song, with strong Marillion influences, but with a south-European touch; the a bit whispering singing style by Dutch singer Monique makes it sometimes difficult to understand what's she's singing and it sounds like she's already living abroad for some time since her Dutch is not totally accent free anymore. Still quite a nice song, although a bit flat in variation and excitement all way through. Bruut Pitt is actually the musical project from Ruud Rijnbeek who's running, together with Gerben Klazinga, the Studio The Pitt. This is the only other artist that is yet unfamiliar to me. The song he produced here is not so licked as the famous actor he sort of named himself after; the Dutch lyrics do sound a bit unnatural on some spots as if they don't fit in there, but as a matter of fact there aren't much lyrics in the song anyway, the guitar-driven instrumental second part of the song rocks solid though. The Aurora Project re-recorded one of their ballads for this album and their long stretched vocals work very fine in Dutch too.

Seagulls open the song Flamborough Head wrote especially for this album and with this song they again prove what a vast crowd of insiders already know; this is one of the best Dutch prog bands ever! For some reason never received the recognition they deserve, but their, very Renaissance influenced, contribution to this album should be another clear indication to check out more of this group! Definitely one of the highlights on this album. Knight Area already accomplished a well deserved worldwide acknowledgement, and they prove that a real solid rock ballad also sounds good in Dutch; in fact I even prefer their Dutch version over the original English version since it just sounds a bit more powerful and contrasting in this version!.

Ulysses is another name not so familiar to most, still building up their name and even though they delivered a nice song it's clear they don't have state-of-the-art equipment at their disposal since the recording of their love ballad sounds a bit flat and dull. Nice Beaver is actually one of the very few to produce a more heavier sound on this album; I truly don't believe the Dutch language isn't apt for faster and heavier songs, but somehow almost all artists choose a slower, often ballad like song for this compilation. Their song Tijdlijn (Timeline) includes sound fragments of some breaking news moments in recent Dutch history (for instance the killing of Pim Fortuyn); this is clearly a song with a message. A message, pollution of the seas, is also included in the song by PBII (formerly known as Plackband), that starts with the sound of whales. But the Den Haag accent used together with the lyrics itself bring a smile to any Dutch listener bringing back fond memories to Jacobse & Van Es, the 2 characters played by Dutch comics Koot & Bie who became so popular 2 decades ago that they easily could have been elected into parliament (which they wisely choose to avoid). Besides that this protest song from the Den Haag based band with a clear message to the politicians residing in their own city is also musically seen another highlight on this album, very varied and with some surprising ideas.

So all in all I'm very enthusiastic about this album, not only because it's unique, proves a point and is a nice compilation of good Dutch prog bands, but also since musically it's a well worth listen! I actually want to throw it into the face of all these nagging Dutch artists saying Dutch sung music is so underrated and then come up with the 753th version of some tedious ballad, sing-a-long or tearjerker that only people who can handle no more than 20 notes per minute really like; if these people are sincere about giving more attention to quality Dutch sung music let them play this album to really prove a point! But I find it difficult to rate it since it's a compilation of various groups and exists of a mixture of re-recorded and new songs, so I'll just recommend it. The first 100 people who purchased a copy in the advance sale (to partly finance this project) are mentioned in the booklet. Lyrics for al songs can be found on the website www.prognl.nu. Besides the pre-sales copies a limited edition additional batch was made of this album. At the moment of writing less than 100 copies are still available, so I advise you to hurry to order your copy at: www.prognl.nu The price is only 10 euros for the The Netherlands and 12,50 euro for the rest of the world (both including postage costs), so order now! The only thing I don't like about this album is: why didn't we come up with this idea.....? respect to Progwereld!

Conclusion: Not Rated, But Very Recommended

JORIS DONKEL



25 Yard Screamer – Until All Are One
25 Yard Screamer – Until All Are One
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:64:31
Info:25 Yard
Screamer
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Jeremiah (14:18), All Gods Toys (4:56), Whorus (4:17), Train (13:10), The Waiting Room (6:03), Parade of Souls (5:40), The Thirteenth Bell (16:04)

“He stands in black and white his vision cracked and split like a sepia photo”

In 2007 25 Yard Screamer released Cassandra an album that put its right foot to my arse, giving it a swift and firm kick making me sit up and listen. 2011 see’s the release of their latest opus Until All Are One which has performed the exact same task with precision. I must admit that I was slightly wary of playing their new album such was the imprint that Cassandra left on me, an album I awarded 9.5 out of 10, as I didn’t want to be left disappointed. I guess I should have been a little smarter in my thought process as to my delight after several listens Until All Are One didn’t let me or the side down one iota, the album deserves a gracious and fitting position next to Cassandra.

There hasn’t been any personnel changes in their absences, the band are still a trio who offer a powerful soundstage that is just intriguing, which calls to mind Metallica, Porcupine Tree, Rush and Marillion. Matt Clarke (bass), Nick James (guitars, keyboards & vocals) and Donal Owen (drums) are three musicians who hail from Wales, who are musicians that complement each other to perfection, a musical unit that are water tight, the emotive energy they expend can be physically heard in their music.

There are seven tracks on offer here that feature some rather spectacular musicality, seven tracks that all have character and unique personalities that create a dark world. There is just something about their song writing approach that really presses my buttons which causes me to incessantly press repeat play.

Jeremiah the first of the three epic tracks presented really sets the bar for the rest of the experience that is offered. As ever the lyrical content is intriguing, it’s just so easy to become engulfed in their lyrical world, an important factor that is 25 Yard Screamer. Nick James offers up the story line having you questioning what you have just heard. It is a song that lyrically you could deconstruct; forlorn sentiments that are hauntingly disturbing, beautiful yet dark and compelling, despairing expressive hopelessness.

“He becomes the deception of an innocence heart the one who considers that sex is the best place to start”

The interaction musically is just as powerful; powerful chords that punctuate the exacting sentiment of the song that see’s Matt Clarke and Donal Owen working in conjunction, constructing their graphic and precise notation.

All Gods Toys remit is reinforced by its questioning musical approach, a repeating pattern that is quite infectious, a more basic approach than the album opener but no less dynamic. Matt Clarke supplies some really nice bass work, a phrasing that urgently moves the song along that sits just high enough up in the mix to really take control as is Donal Owen’s powerhouse drum work.

Whorus the albums only instrumental is as dark and menacing as the title would suggest. Its malevolent approach stalks the listener as a wall of sonic intensity is constructed with Nick James just absolutely wringing the neck out of his guitar with the inclusion of some nice pedal work climaxing to a very fitting ending that will have you pressing the repeat play button. If the intent of the band was to personify evil intent then Whorus as a construct succeeds gloriously.

Train is no less intense, although its opening sequence could lead one into a false sense of security, but as the band kick in, the ante is upped, massively, those monstrous guitar tones just sap all your energy, leaving you under no illusions of the bands commitment, ability and intensions, something that was more than evident on the Cassandra album too. Vocally this is where Nick James has excelled really taking an emotional standpoint swooning his way through the story, creating an added depth that is supported by a full cast of differing musical approaches that work together on so many differing levels that had me mesmerized from the outset and commenting “wow” on its completion.

“I must have missed a chapter skipped a page, where everything descended into rage, I never saw it come to this at all, suddenly I’m standing at this door”

This album may have been four years in the making but with quality like this the band has prove that this time has not been wasted.

The Waiting Room enters into the arena with a spring in its step commanding your respect, dalliances of raw energy married with melodic heaven succinctly displaying the bands song writing ability, an ability to entertain, mixing things up, again playing with varying musical approaches especially when it drops into the more relaxed passages.

Parade Of Souls kicks its way through the speakers, Nick James’ guitar tonoc ith full support of his two cohorts, galloping passages that are up there with the best of them. Respite is offered with its layered guitars and vocal harmony, be under no illusions though the respite is only a breather as the whole song just climbs again to those mentioned heady heights.

“I offer you all, I can give you the key I can show you the door, I am a singularity I am all that there is, I am all that there is of me, I am a singularity”

The Thirteenth Bell the final and longest song here is the band at their most creative; lyrically it may annotate the striking of the clock thirteen times at midnight saving a man’s life, but musically it just has so much to offer. Jeremiah may have opened the album with a maelstrom of musical mayhem; The Thirteen Bell just eloquently builds with its musical crescendo’s, layered dynamics that are genius, a perfect blend of all the instruments they have brought to the table and a fitting conclusion. Silence is offered before the song starts again, its striking atmospheric semblance is rather fitting for the whole movement making it a rather stunning piece.

There is just an addictive attraction with the union of these three guys as they play out their creations. The whole feel of the album reeks of creative passion and be under no illusions this is not a band that are punching above their weight. They have released seven fantastic songs on this album, not overplaying or filling for the sake of doing so, just bringing perfect balance to the table. If you loved Cassandra then this is an album you are definitely going to love, Until All Are One is an album that has definitely found a place in my top ten for 2011.

Now for the live shows...

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

JOHN O’BOYLE



Gerald Krampl - Lighthouse
Gerald Krampl - Lighthouse
Country of Origin:Austria
Format:CD
Record Label:Sandrose Records
Catalogue #:SCD 30.018
Year of Release:2010
Time:47:24
Info:Gerald Krampl
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Lighthouse (4:58), Tomorrow, Come What May (3:09), Distant Shorelines (3:53), In Better Days (3:02), Timeless Heart (6:10), Walking The Last Mile (3:52), Voices Unheard (4:29), Dance Of The Innocent (3:28), Cloudburst (3:27), Thoughts Of Before (3:54), Nightpearls (2:56), The Guiding Light (3:24)

Gerald Krampl, the former keyboardist/composer of Kyrie Eleison and Indigo from Vienna (Austria), had a training in classical piano and music theory. Active as a band member in the seventies and eighties, Gerald continued his activities until 1993. Then he took a break from music to focus on Reiki: he earned himself a masters degree. In 1999 he started a new musical project with his wife: Agnus Dei, but unfortunately his beloved wife passed away and so several albums have been released after her passing away in 2002. This instrumental keyboard album is the successor to Innocent Wasteland (2009), and is a mixture of neo-classical, new age, ambient and minimalistic music.

In twelve original compositions Gerald comes up with amazing melodies, subtle turns and beautiful arrangements. Krampl combines his craftsmanship on the grand piano with his abilities to play synths as well his capabilities to arrange and produce. The result is an extremely nice, easy listening album full of emotions. The album starts off with a classical tune on the grand piano with some string arrangements as well as a synth sounding like a violin playing the lead melody. Tomorrow, Come What May is a lovely tune featuring the grand piano as well. Subtle string arrangements again but the melodies are more in the vein of gentle pop music, like the most elegant ballad you could imagine, superb and yet plain and simple.

Enriched by the sounds of the ocean, the piano is to accompany 'string' instruments in the next track Distant Shorelines, also a very nice, poppy tune with some classical touches. In Better Days as well as Cloudburst are mainly piano pieces that could have been found on one of the illustrious "Piano" albums on Private Music in 1985 or 1990. Piano accompanies several 'strings' in Timeless Heart, a track I would categorize in the same New Age section as Distant Shorelines, although in Timeless Heart there is a nice classical interlude.

In Walking The Last Mile you can feel the burden on the shoulder of the pedestrian having to walk this last mile: a mellow somewhat sad atmosphere in which piano and subtle strings can be heard. Lots of strings and synths in Voices Unheard, some Jarre influences here and well within the melodic "EM". Dance Of The Innocent is a pretty waltz featuring piano and some strings again. Beautiful harmonies in Thoughts Of Before in which Krampl undoubtedly reflected on the many joyful as well as some sad events in his life and in the same vein is the next track Nightpearls: piano, strings ("cello") and some synths. The last track The Guiding Light is to be a beacon for the listener: relaxation but leaving her or him behind with a positive feeling.

Undoubtedly not extremely difficult to play once you have the notes before you but surely not quite so simple to compose to say the least. Krampl has created a masterpiece in this genre and this album will appeal to most fans of both New Age music as well as Electronic Music.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

MENNO VON BRUCKEN FOCK



Greylevel – Hypostatic Union
Greylevel – Hypostatic Union
Country of Origin:Canada
Format:CD
Record Label:ProgRock Records
Catalogue #:PRR361
Year of Release:2011
Time:67:52
Info:Greylevel
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Memory Remains (9:31), Achromatize (11:13), Terminal (8:15), Pale Blue Dot (7:44), Already, Not Yet (9:03), Buried In Time (3:46), Hypostatic Union (13:09), Parallel Signals (5:11)

Initially Derek Barber’s solo project, Canadians Greylevel evolved into a ‘band’ with the addition of Richard Shukin (rhythm and lead guitars) and Esther Barber (vocals). ProgRock Records liked what they heard and released the band’s debut, Opus One in early 2007. Tyler Friesen on drums and Davis Friesen on bass complete the current line-up and this, their second release is therefore their first as a five-piece band.

Barber provides vocals, plays keyboards and rhythm guitars and is, I suppose, kind of a Steven Wilson type figure. Much is made of the band’s Porcupine Tree leanings, so much so that said band are cited twice on the band’s MySpace page ‘influences’ section, along with such luminaries as Pink Floyd, Marillion, Talk Talk, Mark Hollis, Porcupine Tree and Blackfield.

We are in spacey, ambient, psychedelic territory, so don’t expect PT power chords.

Now, I’ll let you into a little secret. I’m a bit OCD when it comes to reviewing. First off, the disc is put in my Kenwood car system, for the journey to work. I then skip through each track, playing about 10 to 15 seconds of each song, to get a flavour of the sonic architecture and I know that if I let any one song exceed its allotted time then there’s something special going on, to my ears at least.

The album proper is then played in its entirety to and from work, before I switch to laptop, brennan and finally a fully-fledged CD player. And then I do the latter with headphones on. Sometimes I find it hard to take the CD out of the car. Again, another benchmark of a top rated album.

So.

I duly skipped through all 8 tracks in about 80 seconds or so, and had to check the blurb to see if this was a concept album. It’s all a bit, well, samey. I found it impossible to identify where one track stopped and another one begun and when I moved onto playing the entire album you could easily get fooled by segues from one to the other. This isn’t a ‘song’ based album. I can’t see individual songs being played at weddings and what not. No couple will I feel ever have one of these as ‘our song’.

It’s dinner party music. And I say this as someone who used to play ‘Happy Songs for Happy People’ by Mogwai whenever my mum and dad came round for tea many years ago as it was sufficiently bland at low volume to provide an ambience without my dad putting on his coat and doing one to the pub. As he sometimes did. Pump up the volume and it’s a different creature, and the same is true for this album but it’s just too generic for me to recommend it to all and sundry.

That’s not to say it isn’t quite good. If you like spacey, ambient, psychedelic music you are going to like this. It’s enjoyable, with some good moments but you could, however, dig out your Floyd, Porcupine Tree, Talk Talk or Marillion albums and give them a spin instead.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

BRIAN WATSON



Soniq Circus – Reflections In The Hourglass
Soniq Circus – Reflections In The Hourglass
Country of Origin:Sweden
Format:CD
Record Label:Progress
Records
Catalogue #:PRCD046
Year of Release:2011
Time:60:16
Info:Soniq Circus
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Inside The Hourglass 3am (7:53), Formula (9:51), Actor (5:11), Shadow Dance (8:33), Childbirth (2:34), By The Heartshaped Lake (11:04), Learning To Talk (7:32) Outside The Hourglass 4am (7:39)

The following takes place between 3am and 4am. Events occur in real time.

Sweden is a land of many things: Vikings, flat-pack furniture, great meatballs, and of course prog. Bands like Anglagard, Opeth, Pain of Salvation, Atlas, Karmakanic, The Flower Kings, Beardfish, Moon Safari, Galleon, Kaipa, Meshuggah, Therion and more have turned Sweden into something of a prog hotspot. Emerging from this prolific nation are Soniq Circus, consisting of Marcus Enochsson on guitars and vocals, newcomer Marco Ledri on keyboards, Markus Nilsson on bass and Christer Ugglin on drums. This is the band’s second album, since their eponymous debut was released in 2007.

Reflections In The Hourglass is a concept album about a man who wakes up in the middle of the night and reflects on his life since he cannot get back to sleep. We follow our protagonist's thoughts in real time, in a similar manner to the TV series '24'. The album is 60 minutes long and begins with three bell chimes to signal 3am and ends with four bell chimes to signal 4am, helping to strengthen the concept. In the CD booklet, each page shows the timeline between 3am and 4am, giving the times when each track would start if the album were played at this time in the morning. Moreover, the CD itself has a clock face with eight hands pointing to the eight starting times of each song.

While the band can be classified as heavy prog, the music is rather light for the genre, and more melodic. In the booklet, Ledri can be seen wearing a Dream Theater t-shirt, but no obvious DT influences can be seen besides the frequent use of odd time signatures. There are no long intricate instrumentals to be heard; the singing in English dominates this album.

Despite having a good songwriting style and adequate musicianship, the group have neglected to write any killer material for this album – stuff that really hooks you in without letting go. The first and last tracks are the best as they contain great verses and choruses and hold the album together. Other good songs from the album include the odd meter-riddled Actor and the epic, diverse Shadow Dance. Sadly though, nothing on the CD really stands out or impresses me and I feel like the group are playing just a little too safe.

Strangely enough, this album has become the closest example of what I’d call ‘prog standard’; if there was ever an average album in the progressive sphere, this would be it. Although the ‘hour’ concept is a great idea, it’s not as fleshed out in the music as I would have liked. This is a nicely produced, stylish album but there’s little to keep me coming back for more.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10

BASIL FRANCIS



Nik Kershaw – Live In Germany 1984
Nik Kershaw – Live In Germany 1984
Country of Origin:UK
Format:DVD/CD
Record Label:Gonzo Multimedia
Catalogue #:ABCVP137DVD
Year of Release:2011
Time:54:57
Info:Nik Kershaw
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Cloak And Dagger (5:09), Shame On you (4:13), Progress (3:07), I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me (4:46), Dark Glasses (4:01), Dancing Girls (3:51), Monkey Business (3:18), Bogart (6:23), Drum Talk (4:03), Gone To Pieces (5:07), Wouldn’t It Be Good (5:04), Human Racing (5:55)

A live DVD by Nik Kershaw reviewed on DPRP? I too doubted if we should do this, but then I remembered the first time I heard any music of Nik Kershaw. That was at the, with Dutch progressive rock aficionados, well known radio programme of DJ Wim van Putten's LP and CD show every Thursday evening. For me he's the John Peel of progrock as he introduced me to so many new bands like IQ, Marillion, Pendragon, Pallas, all the big names from the seventies and even the more obscure bands like Gryphon, Terracced Garden and East/West. And Nik Kershaw. He was very enthusiastic about this new artist who was about to release his debut album Human Racing. According to Wim van Putten, Kershaw used influences from progressive rock to write very catchy tunes. And although I quiet liked single Wouldn’t It Be Good I wasn't very positive about the rest of the album. I did very much enjoy his second album The Riddle which had some great tracks on it like: You Might and Easy. The first two albums were produced with Peter Collins who also was responsible for Power Windows and Hold Your Fire by Rush. Especially The Riddle has that same big, wide sound that those albums had.

Nik is still performing and releasing albums regularly. His latest albums were more in the singer/songwriter genre and as Nik Kershaw is able to write good tunes these albums are still very interesting. But not for progrock fans.

This DVD was filmed at the Montreux Music Festival (which makes it quite odd that the DVD is called "Live In Germany") in 1984 and features the performance of almost the entire Human Racing album as well as some b-sides like Dark Glasses. I must say that I did not find the concert very entertaining for other than nostalgic reasons (the clothes and the haircuts). It's a static performance by a band that is playing the songs competently but it's not very adventurous to be honest. There are some band dance routines that can be placed in the category "shake your guitar to the right, shake your guitar to the left". There are attempts by Nik to communicate with the audience and there are regular shots of the audience (and a quite prominent beer sign at the back of the venue).

I honestly can't recommend this DVD/CD package to others than real Nik Kershaw fans. If not for reviewing reasons I would have probably would have looked at the DVD once and then put it into my CD/DVD rack to never watch it again. It made me return to The Riddle though!

BTW: There is no mention of this DVD/CD package on Nik's website so I doubt if he is involved in this release.

Conclusion: 4 out of 10

LEO KOPERDRAAT


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