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2011 : VOLUME 48
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


Derek Sherinian - Oceana
Derek Sherinian - Oceana
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:MTR 348
Year of Release:2011
Time:46:13
Info:Derek Sherinian
Samples:N/A

Tracklist: Five Elements (4:37), Mercury 7 (4:29), Mulholland (5:56), Euphoria (5:34), Ghost Runner (4:54), El Camino Diablo (5:06), I Heard That (4:53), Seven Sins (5:56), Oceana (5:38)

Raffaella Berry's Review

Keyboardist extraordinaire Derek Sherinian needs no introduction to fans of progressive and classic rock. With a career spanning over 20 years, countless high-profile collaborations and a stint in Dream Theater, besides his work with Planet X and a solo artist, and - most recently - with the splendid Black Country Communion, Sherinian has established himself as one of the top keyboard players on the modern music scene, eliciting comparisons with the likes of Jan Hammer and Keith Emerson (incidentally, two of the biggest influences on his playing). Like Emerson in his heyday, Sherinian has often been compared to a guitarist for his upfront, aggressive approach; in the light of such a comparison, it is not surprising that the vast majority of Sherinian's output sees him sparring with some of the finest rock guitarists, whose individual styles he complements with impressive versatility.

Oceana, Sherinian's seventh solo album, does not stray far from the path laid out by his previous releases. With legendary drummer Simon Phillips on board also in the role of producer, the album features 9 strongly guitar-oriented tracks. Though, as is the case of all of his solo albums, not all the tracks are performed by the same group of musicians, this time the number of guest artists is more restricted than on his other releases: for instance, renowned jazz-rock bassist Jimmy Johnson plays on 7 out of 9 tracks. All the compositions are performed by a basic quartet of drums, bass, guitar and keyboards, which produces an exhilarating amount of old-school fusion with a hard rock tinge, in the tradition of Colosseum II and Jeff Beck circa Blow By Blow and Wired. Far from sounding patchy, or just a vehicle for impeccable but ultimately soulless displays of chops, Oceana is a well-rounded, highly cohesive effort, in which the astonishing virtuosity of the musicians involved is put at the service of the music rather than the other way around.

Indeed, those expecting a barrage of keyboard pyrotechnics from one of the foremost ivory-ticklers on the current rock scene will be disappointed, because on Oceana Sherinian plays more of a supporting role than a starring one. Sharing most of the songwriting credits with Simon Phillips, whose unflagging beat provides a solid backbone for each composition, Sherinian provides a canvas for the scintillating guitar work of his guests, leaving them free rein while only occasionally stepping into the limelight. In spite of his enormous talent, which might well lead him into the temptation of showing it off, he channels his contribution into the fabric of the music (just as he does in Black Country Communion) rather than trying to dominate it.

While listening to Oceana for the first time, I was reminded of a trio of similarly conceived albums (Over The Top, Tilt and Octopuss) released by legendary drummer Cozy Powell between 1979 and 1983. Though Powell was only marginally involved in the songwriting process, the albums presented a collection of amazing talent - including such luminaries as Jeff Beck, Jan Hammer, Jack Bruce and Gary Moore - powered by the driving intensity of his drumming. Oceana showcases the same heady mix of fusion and hard-edged classic rock, enhanced by outstanding sound quality and very tight compositional standards, and refreshingly devoid of self-indulgence. The compact running time of the tracks - between 4 and 6 minutes - allows the individual musicians to focus on the quality of their contributions, without the aimless meandering that is often associated with "epics". A strong sense of melody runs through the whole album; the music flows smoothly, allowing the listener to savour every performance.

The first two tracks on the album feature Sherinian's Planet X sidekick Tony McAlpine. Five Elements is a very cohesive jazz-rock effort where the contribution of each instrument is finely detailed, and the synergy between Sherinian's warm, expressive piano and powerful organ and McAlpine's clear, piercing guitar creates an exciting combination; Mercury 7, on the other hand, is a densely woven, fast and energetic number graced by an acrobatic guitar solo bolstered by Sherinian's keys. Toto's Steve Lukather (also known for his countless collaborations as a sessionman) contributes his textbook-perfect guitar work to three tracks. His clarity and exquisite sense of melody enhance the jazzy dynamics of Mulholland and temper the somewhat brooding atmosphere of Euphoria, discreetly paralleled by organ and synth. In Seven Sins, however, Sherinian turns up the bombast quotient, aided and abetted by Phillips' thundering drums, while Lukather steps in with a synth-guitar solo.

Steve Stevens (another high-profile sessionman known for his long-time collaboration with Billy Idol) offers a stunning performance, melodic but assertive, in Ghost Runner, working in unison with Tony Franklin's masterful bass lines and sparring with Sherinian's rumbling Hammond; while in the slow-burning title-track - a slice of classic guitar-based fusion - Stevens' guitar takes on a wistful tone, enhanced by unusually subdued keyboards. Sherinian's Black Country Communion bandmate, Joe Bonamassa, values tone and expression over speed, and injects a bluesy groove in the fabric of I Heard That, where he engages in a sort of dialogue with the keyboards. On the other hand, speed is provided in plentiful supply by Whitesnake axeman Doug Aldrich's fiery performance in El Camino Diablo, where the soaring interplay between guitar and Hammond organ brings to mind the unforgettable duels between Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple.

Complemented by distinctive cover artwork, depicting a collection of vintage keyboards lying at the bottom of the sea, Oceana offers a classy package of old-fashioned, warmly engaging instrumental music that will undoubtedly appeal to both classic rock and prog fans. Especially recommended to those lovers of great guitar playing who shun the over-the-top antics of many contemporary six-stringers, this is one of those rare albums that, while not claiming to break any new ground, manages to convey a timeless quality. A compact effort clocking in at a very manageable 46 minutes, Oceana never outstays its welcome, and its remarkable cohesiveness from a compositional point of view makes listening a genuine pleasure - proving once again that Derek Sherinian is the legitimate heir of the great keyboard heroes of the Seventies.

Bob Mulvey's Review

Derek Sherinian returns with "solo" album number seven and following on in the traditions of previous releases, Oceana features a stellar crew of musicians with Derek and Simon Phillips at the helm. The crew this time around and in the six string section we have Joe Bonamassa, Steve Lukather, Tony MacAlpine, Steve Stevens and Doug Aldrich. In the four (and five) string department we have Tony Franklin and Jimmy Johnson. So with such an esteemed crew do I really need to comment on the musicianship? Nah! What we have on Oceana is nine awesome instrumentals with absolutely top drawer performances from all.

Now whilst listening to Oceana I pondered the idea - what do hard working musicians do for fun when they have finished their day jobs? Well this year, nine such musicians went on to play on a Derek Sherinian album. As not only does this release exude class it also has an strong element of enjoyment. This in turn rubs off on the listener - well this listner for one...

Now I've reviewed three of Derek Sherinian's solo albums: Black Utopia (2003), Mythology (2004) and Blood Of The Snake (2006), so I'm a little wary of repeating myself here on Oceana. So as with previous Derek Sherinian albums I've covered, I've left much of the introductions and hard work to my fellow DPRP reviewing colleague(s). And once again I just want to add a few suggestions and offer comment on why you should buy this album.

I have all the previous DS albums and although previous releases have had their fair share of killer tracks, Oceana is to me the most consistent release so far. First off Simon Phillips is so in the groove on this album that his playing lays a perfect foundation to the whole release. No finer example than in Mercury 7. I doubt there are many drummers who could make this, as the title implies, 7 metered time signature - rock, shuffle and groove in such a fashion and at tempo. The track reminding me of a not to distant relation of Jeff Beck's Space Boogie from the There And Back album. Set that against the sheer drive (and groove) of I Heard That. Enough said...

With previous DS releases I've made comment that Derek's selfless approach which has perhaps meant that we have not been treated as much as we should to his playing. Oceana has, I feel, redressed this and Derek shares the limelight more than I have detected on previous outings. Throughout we are treated to great Hammomd(y) organs, Rhodes & electric piano and distinctive synth sounds. The Emersony tinged Seven Sins being a prime example. His interaction with the assembled guitarists is something to behold.

There are no highlights on Oceana, but only because, for there to be a highlights there would need to be weaker tracks. And I haven't found any. On top of this Derek has chosen to keep all the tracks around the five minute mark - so enough time to develop the ideas, but not overlong so as to become tedious. The production, as one might expect, is superb and even in the denser musical sections there is clarity and separation between all the instruments.

I know there are many out there who are wary, or even avoid, instrumental albums. I personally love them, but to those who dabble warily I would just say that Oceana is well written/arranged and although there's no singing, the album is replete with fine themes, recurring melodies and soloing that is both thoughtful and tasteful.

In our recent interview with Derek Sherinian he talks, amongst other matters, about this latest release. You can read the article HERE.

Finally. Did I mention I really liked this album?

Conclusions:

RAFFAELLA BERRY : 8.5 out of 10
BOB MULVEY : 8.5 out of 10



Furyu - Cio Che L'Anima Non Dice
Furyu - Cio Che L'Anima Non Dice
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:30:59
Info:Furyu
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Illusione Dei Miei Giorni (6:13), E Poi La Luce (8:43), Un Momento: Vado A Fuoco (4:10), Finalmente Io Sono (5:36), La Vastità Del Mio Tempo/Ciò Che L'Anima Non Dice (6:57)

The term "FURYU", which in modern Japanese means "elegant", was used in the poems of the late Heian period (Japan, 795-1185) to represent an aristocratic and nostalgic vision of life; it literally means "flowing wind and water". So now you know.

Dating back to 2000, Italian band Furyu, who hail from Bologna, comprises: Zappoli Michele (bass), Matteo Migliori (guitar/vocals), Giulio Capitelli and Federico Melandri (guitars), Riccardo Grechi (drums) and Damiano Storelli (effects/samples). Yes, they have a twin guitar attack. And it sounds fabulous. They can do fantastic acoustic stuff too (see the last track for a great example) but the riffage is sublime, and the rest of the band are wonderfully tight, and all in all this record is a little gem.

The unique selling point of Furyu for me is not only the twin guitars, but the wonderfully emotive vocals of Matteo Migliori, in Italian. Operatic in places, plaintive in others, this sets the band apart from a lot of the bland rubbish I have to listen to. In fact it puts them head and shoulders above most of the Porcupine Theater and Dream Tree wannabes out there.

There’s an ebb and a flow; a rhythm; a beauty, even, to the lyrics in their natural Italian that just doesn’t translate into English. It might put some people off, but I thought they were fantastic.

The opening track fair bursts from the speakers with a healthy NWOBHM vibe before calming down just a tad and you get the first taste of those amazing vocals, before an orchestrated twin guitar assault on the senses. For lovers of Pain of Salvation, Opeth, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden everywhere. Things get pretty funky after that, then there’s a wonderfully restrained guitar solo that propels us to the lyrical denouement and a hint of the BOC Imaginos guitar orchestra. I told you that there was a lot going on, didn’t I? And that’s just the first track.

Elsewhere there are wonderful melodies, memorable riffs aplenty and more technical expertise than you can shake a stick at. Every track is a standout. Check out the guitar solo near the end of E Poi La Luce.

Un Momento: Vado A Fuoco starts out in a much more considered fashion, all alternative/indie prog with some amazing drum work, and jangly guitar work with some balls to the wall rock out moments and ends in a very Rush like instrumental section.

Finalmente Io Sono continues the Rush motif with great bass/guitar interplay, more fantastic drumming, symphonic keys. Awesome track, this one. This will sound fantastic live, and I’d urge you to check out this band.

You see to my mind, too much of today’s prog metal places way too much emphasis on the ‘metal’ part of the equation, and in consequence ends up sounding turgid and tedious but not this – every track is different, layered, with time and tempo changes aplenty. It’s incredibly well produced, passionate music that shape shifts and mind melds prog/metal, tech metal, jazz and even fusion into a wonderfully coherent whole.

I managed to get hold of a physical copy of the CD, but you can download it for free. Legally! Here.

Excellent. Recommended to all. And it’s free. What’s not to like?

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

BRIAN WATSON



Nosound - The Northern Religion Of Things
Nosound - The Northern Religion Of Things
Country of Origin:Italy/UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Kscope
Catalogue #:KSCOPE186
Year of Release:2011
Time:50:41
Info:Nosound
Samples:Click here
Track list: About Butterflies And Children (3:01), Fading Silently (5:49), Kites (6:21), Tender Claim (4:01), The Misplay (4:40), The Broken Parts (6:14), Lightdark (8:10), Hope For The Future (4:46), Sol29 (7:39)

Nosound's fourth album represents, in many ways, the sound of a band coming full circle. The debut album, 2005's Sol29 was principally down to the efforts of one man, Giancarlo Erra, the mainstay of the group and composer of all material. The success of the album allowed Erra to take the album out on the road for which he recruited other musicians in order to capture the intricacies of the material. Two subsequent albums, Lightdark in 2008 and A Sense Of Loss the following year, cemented the group's relationship and saw them moving away from the synth laden soundscapes into a more organic sound with acoustic guitars and string sections. By this point the list of musicians needed to create, and recreate, the songs was more than a handful and so it came as somewhat of a challenge when Erra was invited to play a one-off solo show in London in August 2010. Determined that the performance would be completely live, the option of using backing tracks was discarded from the earliest stages. Instead, triggered loops, keyboards and/or acoustic guitar would be employed for the performance. Naturally these limitations meant some radical rearrangement of the songs chosen for the performance would be needed, to the extent that the inclusion of any drums would not be possible as a drum machine counted as a backing track!

Rising to the challenge Erra arranged a selection of the more personal numbers from the back catalogue excluding some of the lengthier numbers as they would not of lent themselves to a solo interpretation. Satisfied with the way things were progressing, Erra decided to record some of the rehearsals to see how they sounded and once again set some ground rules so a true representation of what the audience would hear on the night. The recordings, taken directly from the instrument outputs, were to remain exactly as they were played with no tinkering with the sound or overdubs allowed. So essentially this is a solo live recording, albeit without an audience. As would be expected, the sound of the songs is not as complex or layered as the studio renditions, the looping of keyboard sections can deliver a drone-like ambience in places but it does help to emphasise the lead instrument (invariable piano and acoustic guitar). This can work magnificently as on opening instrumental About Butterflies And Children which sets the scene beautifully providing a fine introduction to the delicately acoustic Fading Silently, the echo on the vocal providing a splendid tactic to boost the lone voice. Kites has a more early Porcupine Tree feel to it, the kind of material Steven Wilson put together in his bedroom that formed the earliest releases under the now famous band moniker. It is back to the acoustic guitar for Tender Claim, the second of only two songs from the most recent studio album A Sense Of Loss. I can't help feeling that this track would have been stronger without the monotonous drone behind it and the vocal reverb; a stark, and naked, performance may have been somewhat bolder and more dramatic.

Of all the song rearrangements on the album, The Misplay probably comes off worse mainly because of the keyboard sound employed: rather too brittle and harsh. The tempo is increased slightly for The Broken Parts, the first of three songs from the debut release Sol29 and does tone down the keyboard backing by measures leaving the acoustic to virtually stand alone. The strength of the song lies in its inherent simplicity and Erra is very adept and balancing the guitar with what minimal keyboards there are without ever breaking stride in his strumming. Clever use of the feet and volume pedals perhaps? Nice whistling as well! The title track of the second album provides the longest song, starting with just piano and vocals. Seamless switching of the looped instrument allows a greater opportunity for varying the prime instrument, that is, the one actually being played. The 'performance' ends with two more tracks from the first album, Hope For The Future and the title track itself. The former, again on acoustic guitar, edges it over the much more ambient Sol29 which could have been extracted from a Tangerine Dream album.

A somewhat brave release as these rearranged versions are, by their very nature, quite far removed for the original compositions. However, saying that it is a nice memento of an event that not many people could have witnessed and for fans of the group it is a fascinating insight into how the songs were stripped down and reassembled for solo performance. On the whole it is a very relaxing album, ideally suited for late nights or when unobtrusive background music is required (and I don't mean that as an insult!). Ultimately it fulfils a purpose and in itself is a valid release but one that I suspect that will not have been as eagerly anticipated as a Nosound band album of all new material will be.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Jonesy – Dark Matter (Inner Space)
Jonesy – Dark Matter (Inner Space)
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Jonesy Records
Catalogue #:GBK8L1100001
Year of Release:2011
Time:38:00
Info:Jonesy
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Parallel Universes (8:09), Silently Screaming (5:55), Coldblood (10:22), Maybe We’re All Madmen? (4:51), Dark Matter (3:20) Bonus Track: The Bown Supremacy (5:24)

For those who are not already aware of this relatively obscure group, Jonesy were actually a ‘70s progressive outfit who split up after just three albums: No Alternative (1972), Keeping Up (1973) and Growing (1973). Their sound, usually drenched in mellotron, was often likened to that of the ever popular King Crimson, as it usually had exhibited quite a dark flavour. The band also recorded a fourth album, but this was shelved and was remastered for a release in 2006. As a side note Esoteric Recordings released a comprehensive reissue of the band's output in 2007 with Masquerade ~ The Dawn Years Anthology.

It seems though that the band have returned with a new offering, consisting of cleaned up old recordings mixed together with entirely new material. It’s impossible to tell what is old and what isn’t, showing that the production of the album has been a very careful affair.

However, this is not the Jonesy you may have heard all those years ago. In fact, if it weren’t for the unmistakable Jonesy logo on the cover, you may not realise it’s them at all! Far from the mellotron-drenched hard rock of the ‘70s, the band have instead taken a more experimental atmospheric approach to their compositions. Quite often, one is reminded of Pink Floyd, the middle section of Silently Screaming sounding remarkably like Us And Them.

This is a dark, murky album, and the song structures are usually quite loose, with many audio samples blurring the tracks together. The 10-minute Coldblood is not really a song, but more of a sonic assault! The most straightforward track on the album, is actually the bonus track The Bown Supremacy, which is nothing more than a funky instrumental.

This, then, is Jonesy in the 21st Century, a feat not many may have imagined possible! Fans of the band will surely be happy to see this old legend come to life again for another release, but shouldn’t expect to hear something similar to the group’s previous work. Dark Matter (Inner Space) may not have the instant appeal of Jonesy’s classic albums, but is certainly an album worth exploring.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

BASIL FRANCIS



Mogador – All I Am Is Of My Own Making
Mogador – All I Am Is Of My Own Making
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent/
Just For Kicks
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2010
Time:50:15
Info:Mogador
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Unexpectedly, Friday (3:21), Deep In Trouble Deep (4:51), Panic! (6:19), So Cold (2:15), One Day (5:42), Sweet Liberty (6:25), Homely Smells Again (6:27), A New Beginning (4:59), All I Am Is Of My Own Making (5:44)

Mogador are a three piece outfit from the Italian/Swiss border near Lake Como and they have been around for a few years now. In front of me is their second effort, although they like to see it as Mogador’s first effort and consider their previous release more as demo. The band are Richard George Allen (drums, percussion & voice for the protagonist in the story), Luca Briccola (guitars, keyboards, flute, orchestration & backing vocals) and Paolo Pigny (bass, acoustic guitars & voice of the narrator in the story). As special guest they have Marco Bonetti palying soprano & tenor sax on All I am Is Of My Own Making.

The title of this CD really made me want to revieiw this album, I am not sure but the phrase ‘all I am is of my own making’ is one with historic value, however in progressive rock it is a line that can be found in Procol Harum's song In Held 'Twas In, where a young man visits the Dalai Lama. So I started listening with great interest to this album, and right from the start was amazed by the sheer beauty of the album.

Unexpectedly, Friday, begins ehm, unexpectedly, only to turn into a song that might have been recorded by The Flower Kings, obviously influenced by that side of the prog genre. Whereas the second track Deep In Trouble Deep takes us back to the ‘70’s era and in the vein of bands like Klaatu or VDGG. In the only instrumental from the album, Panic!, we remain in the Seventies with a track that leans toward the less experimental side of Gong.

With So Cold the close harmonies come in and with this the likes of our favourites from the Seventies. As with One Day, sees Mogador playing a ballad to which I could picture Peter Gabriel during his Genesis era. Also listening to the choir in this song, the orchestration is awesome and I hear The Moody Blues and Procol Harum influences. And in Sweet Liberty influences of VDGG, Gong and The Flower Kings all in one song. A great middle sections with all the percussion instruments and bass playing.

In Homely Smells Again this is continued, but only to introduce the influence of poppier sounds also present in the Seventies with Klaatu, Focus or the later The Beatles albums. A New Beginning continues my belief that these songs are an actual Lennon & McCartney penned song, with the harmonies later used by Klaatu. Just listen to this it is stunning material.

Now I have reached the last of the songs on the album, The title track All I Am Is Of My Own Making. An old style ballad of great beauty with the addition of saxophones and great melodies. This has absolute potential hit potential - with Mr Churchill introducing a song of strong Beatlesque influences.

Need I conclude? If you read the review you will have guessed the strong recommendation of this album. There is no doubt in my mind that Mogador is a great band, with great musicians. I will keep my eye on them. Refreshing...

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

GERT HULSHOF



The Soulbreaker Company - Itaca
The Soulbreaker Company - Itaca
Country of Origin:Spain
Format:CD
Record Label:Alone Records
Catalogue #:AR-033
Year of Release:2010
Time:56:02
Info:The Soulbreaker
Company
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: It's Dirt (9:38), Oh! Warsaw (4:02), Sow The Roses (4:37), Rude Perfume (3:30), Colours Of The Fire (5:42), Where Mermaids Sing Loud (4:20), No Way Back Home (4:41), Hail While She Leaves (3:55), Take A Seat On The Moon (4:54), Saviours (3:33), Sandstorm (7:11)

Itaca is the third album from the Spanish band The Soulbreaker Company. This is a band that has created and presented a powerful melodic classic rock album with a modern psychedelic twist. The boys have given forth eleven songs for your consumption that are thematically linked, a journey sometimes into space and sometimes upon earth.

Vocalist Joney Moreno has a somewhat interesting if not unusual vocal approach that matches the music more than perfectly, which can at times though sound slightly samey but strangely still emotional. No matter, as it is fitting for the framework it is working in and it’s powerful. To bolster the whole soundstage the band present some rather excellent twin guitar work, Dan Trignanes and Asier S. Breaker work perfectly together providing the frame work for all this to happen. The riffs are colourful, powerful and heavy, but we aren’t talking ripping your face off heavy. The final three members who play no less a part in the proceedings here are J.J Manzanedo (bass), Ortiz Domingo (drums) and the brilliantly named Lazyhand (organs and harmonica), who I might add is far from being a lazy hand, really are an integral part of the band as they jam out these songs. You almost get the feeling at times that their inclusion is necessary for the band to function as well as it does, really adding that final depth that unifies everything.

From the outset the band present atmospheric and spacey songs, a wall of beautiful melodic sonic’s, songs that pull you in creating a false sense of security. The double whammy being, that when you arrive at that moment of contact and realisation, the power and beauty of what is on offer has enraptured you, creating delight beyond pleasure, leaving you feeling rather warm inside. You can delve into any part of the album and find this to be the case, which really confirms the bands intentions.

There may be some slight repeated musical themes, but no matter as it doesn’t pull any of the loose based concept down. Even on the more urgent songs such as Oh! Warsaw, Rude Perfume or No Way Back Home see’s the band still showcasing their talents to the highest degree, which does include some rather fabulous Hammond organ tones, might I add. It is though, for me, the longer songs It’s Dirt and Sandstorm where the band excels the most, songs that are allow to mature and breathe more.

Chris Fielding has done a sterling job on the production work really complimenting that bands creation, having found the right balance, crisp, allowing it all to flow quite naturally. The band does owe their sound to the likes of Mountain, Deep Purple, Hawkwind, King Crimson, Hypnos 69 and to some degree even The Doors which is not bad really. This is an album that needs to be savoured undisturbed to allow you to get the maximum effect.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

JOHN O'BOYLE



Man On Fire – Chrysallis
Man On Fire – Chrysallis
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:10t Records
Catalogue #:10T10052
Year of Release:2011
Time:61:00
Info:Man On Fire
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Repeat It (4:33), In A Sense (5:24), A (Post-Apocalyptic) Bedtime Story, (5:07), Chrysalis: Part 1: In Between The Lines (2:53), Part 2: The Pundits (3:00), Part 3: The Muse Returns (1:41), Part 4: Free to Fall (3:15), The Projectionist (4:40), Tear Gas (4:46), Higher Than Mountains (4:19), Gravity (10:12), Gravity [instrumental – bonus track] (10:02)

The fourth album from Atlanta’s Man On Fire sees the band expand to a six piece, including violin (Jenny Hugh) and trumpet (Cameron Harder Handel), with lyrics again by unofficial seventh member Steve Carroll. Musical polymaths Jeff Hodges (keyboards, synths, vocals) and Eric Sands (basses and guitars) form the core of the band, augmented by Elise Testone (vocals) and Quentin Ravenel (drums). Various guitarists guest throughout, including Vitaly Popeloff of From.uz and backing vocalist Alexandra Hodges (the latter on The Projectionist only) completes the picture.

You would expect a full and involving sound given the instrumentation listed above, and indeed that is what you get. Eric Sands’ sinuous, sometimes funky but always melodic bass lines are a feature throughout and when he picks up his fretless bass, Tony Levin springs to mind. Often a good piece of music making can be let down by vocals that seem to be added as an afterthought, but not here. I’ll admit Jeff’s occasionally gravely tones took a bit of getting used to but once assimilated they give the songs an extra level of muscularity that make them all the more memorable. On The Projectionist the voice reminds me of Midnight Oil and Elise, her soulful voice used to full effect takes the lead for a part of Gravity which instrumentally has the feel of 80s post-pop pioneers Talk Talk before they went minimalist, before changing tack to a bass led funk stride, thus lending another level of variation to the album that has more than enough twists and turns to keep one involved throughout. In fact the influences here seem to be more from intelligent 80s pop than classic prog, which is not necessarily a criticism by the way!

Indeed such is the aural template laid out that genres are tossed about like so much flotsam and jetsam, but this is no hodge-podge of sounds, no sir. Styles vary from organ driven funk-rock on Repeat It to an intro of folk tinged violin and hints of piano dissonance on Chrysalis to more 80s intelligent pop styles on In A Sense all combine to produce a cohesive organic and engaging whole.

To keep the prog crowd happy there is a mini-epic on this album, the 10 minute title track Chrysalis whose lyrics hint at an annoyance with the opinions of critics, so I better tread carefully here… a central theme is reprised through four short parts that are held together by a slightly dissonant piano and some nice trumpet work and electronica, before ending in some up-tempo riffage. Chrysalis keeps the listener interested far more than some longer efforts by bigger name bands than Man On Fire, so hopefully they won’t come for me in the night!

At just under the hour mark the album has not fallen into the “filleverysparesecondofspaceonaCD” trap that some albums are prey to. As I’ve said on other reviews, I consider an hour to be the ideal length for a single album. Any more and my attention starts to wander, no matter how good the music.

It has been debated by others as to whether or not this band is “prog”, with the often damning conclusion that the band fall into the faint praise genre of “crossover”, but I will not fall into ye olde pigeonholing trappe. This is simply good musicianship backing intricately crafted songwriting and it engages you purely on its own terms. Although sometimes displaying AOR influences, this remains a thoroughly modern sounding record; so if you are only into the current crop of sonic museum curators and musical archaeologists masquerading as “progressive” music makers then this ain’t for you, but if you have an open mind give it a go!

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

ROGER TRENWITH



Jacula - Pre Viam
Jacula - Pre Viam
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Black Widow
Catalogue #:BWR-135
Year of Release:2011
Time:45:34
Info:Jacula
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Jacula Is Back (7:08), Pre Viam (9:25), Blacklady Kiss (6:15), Deviens Folle (5:58), In Rain (5:53), Godwitch (6:37), Possaction (5:38) Bonus Video 18 Veritates (4:41)

The oldest of the projects in which Italian multi-instrumentalist Antonio Bartoccetti (aka Antonius Rex) has been involved in the past 40 years, Jacula give new meaning to the definition of "cult band". Their first two albums, released in the very first years of the progressive rock explosion, with their cryptic Latin titles and über-Gothic atmospheres, have commanded the sort of admiration that borders on worship - in spite of their decidedly idiosyncratic nature and somewhat controversial subject matter. In particular, their debut album, In Cauda Semper Stat Venenum (allegedly released in 1969), with its dense, claustrophobic mood, full of references to the occult, and liberal use of a distorted guitar tone, anticipated in many ways Black Sabbath's seminal debut, though it was obviously doomed to obscurity by its non-English origins. Jacula's shock value, however, was in many ways more genuine than the comparable efforts of bands such as Coven and Black Widow, avoiding references to Satanic paraphernalia such as the Black Mass, and concentrating instead on a form of occult belief based on the soul's survival after death (something that found fertile breeding ground in Italy's deeply Catholic culture), even going as far as to involve the presence of a medium in both their early recordings. The band was named after the protagonist of a series of erotic horror comics (a cult genre in itself), a female vampire whose name clearly references the legendary Count Dracula.

Bartoccetti and his wife, Doris Norton (featured on Jacula's debut as Fiamma Dello Spirito, and a pioneer of electronic music in her own right), released a number of albums between 1974 and 1980 - all of them reissued by Genoa-based label Black Widow Records, specialized in rock with a dark/occult/Gothic subtext - and then making a comeback at the beginning of the new century with the DVD Magic Ritual (2005) and the albums Switch On Dark (2006) and Per Viam (2009). In spite of rumours about a new Jacula album, however, fans of Bartoccetti's highly individual brand of progressive rock waited in vain for the project to resurface after the decades-long hiatus that followed their second album, Tardo Pede In Magiam Versus (1972). Now, after four decades, Jacula is finally back... Was Pre Viam (a title that, like Antonius Rex's 2009 album Per Viam, is an anagram of "vampire") worth the wait? For fans of the band's unique sound and imagery, the answer is a resounding yes. Even though, as can be expected, the sound quality and the artwork are state-of-the-art 21st century, and some modern influences have crept into the disturbing solemnity of the music, all the elements that have made Jacula an icon of dark/Gothic prog are still present in spades.

To be honest, there is not a lot of subtlety in Jacula's music. Even a cursory look at the CD cover will prepare the would-be listener to what is inside, and those who are familiar with Bartoccetti's work will be happy to find that his approach has remained largely unchanged. Eerie sound effects, stately, almost liturgical church organ passages and recorded voices ranging from the subtly disquieting to the positively scary are prominently featured in most of the seven tracks, while the guitar makes occasional, though substantial appearances. However, the keyboards are the real stars of the show - most of them manned by Bartoccetti's son Rexanthony, who creates some very intriguing textures with the use of both analog and digital equipment. The line-up is completed by drummer Florian Gormann, who provides a solid, regular backbeat (sometimes even too much so, sounding a bit like programmed drums), and two female vocalists, Blacklady and Katia Stazio.

Though Pre Viam might well be considered an acquired taste, and the heavy-handed occult framework may put off those with religious sensibilities, first-time listeners may be surprised by the sophisticated, melodic nature of most of the music. The album narrates the rather outrageous story of Jacula's return on earth as a character called Blacklady, ending with a full-fledged episode of demonic possession (according to Bartoccetti, based on a true story). However, in terms of subject matter the album has much more in common with the decadent, refined atmospheres of the Late Romantic era (drawing comparisons with the work of authors such as Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Baudelaire) that with the bleak nihilism of black metal; while the music may evoke those soundtracks of cult horror movies produced by the likes of Claudio Simonetti (with Goblin and as a solo artist) and Keith Emerson. Surprisingly, as Bartoccetti explains in the album's promotional material, the ultimate message of his music is much more positive than the Gothic trappings of cloaked and hooded figures, pentagrams, grimoires and skeletons would suggest, embracing the cause of environmental awareness as well as that of spiritual growth. As difficult as it may be to take him seriously, there is something genuine in his enthusiasm for his chosen path that prevents him from coming across as a cartoonish figure.

Very much in character, the album opens with the sound of falling rain, ominous creakings and other disquieting noises, including wailing human voices that immediately suggest a séance. However, Jacula Is Back soon turns unexpectedly melodic, with lovely guitar parts enhanced by piano and the omnipresent church organ. Choral effects, coupled with heavy riffing and regular drumming, spice up the second half of the track, which closes with the same melancholy acoustic guitar arpeggios that introduce the title-track - a patchy, but oddly compelling, heavily keyboard-driven piece with echoes of Pink Floyd and Goblin, interspersed by a female voice repeating "Oh sir, it can't be". The following Blacklady Kiss, partly based on the reinterpretation of One I Love, a song written by American folk singer Jean Ritchie, is the most mainstream item on the album, featuring plenty of melody and a clear, Gilmourian guitar solo - in a very romantic (in the literary sense of the term) juxtaposition of love and death. Deviens Folle ("I am going mad", a line repeated insistently all through the song) continues in much the same direction, combining the autumnal, almost classical beauty of acoustic guitar, piano and mellotron with ominously atmospheric synth washes. In Rain's setting of a sinister, corrupt monastery is emphasized by church organ and Gregorian chants; while Godwitch delves deep into vintage Black Sabbath territory, its intro practically lifted from the Birmingham band's legendary theme song. A deceptively mellow acoustic guitar and piano section shifts into a tense, menacing incantation bolstered by Hammond organ and synth - preparing the listener for the "cold shower" that is Possaction, a sonic rendition of The Exorcist introduced by solemn, martial drumming, with wailing voices that gradually turn into hair-raising screams.

A compact, well-balanced effort clocking in at 45 minutes, Pre Viam is obviously not for everyone. While lovers of offbeat, esoteric-tinged rock are quite likely to be intrigued, people of an orthodox religious persuasion may be turned off by the very cover, and Possaction may well send impressionable listeners running for the exits. On the other hand, the keyboard and guitar work are quite deserving of attention, though the real quality of the music may be somewhat obscured by the visual and contextual aspects. In any case, the album offers a different take on progressive rock than the slew of run-of-the-mill, derivative releases that are flooding the already oversaturated prog "market". Highly recommended to fans of horror movie scores, as well as a soundtrack for Halloween parties - though probably it would be a good idea to avoid listening to Possaction when home alone in the dark.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

RAFFAELLA BERRY



Curved Air - The Lost Broadcasts
Curved Air - The Lost Broadcasts
Country of Origin:UK
Format:DVD
Record Label:Gonzo Multimedia
Catalogue #:HST058DVD
Year of Release:2011
Time:39:22
Info:Curved Air
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Vivaldi (8:38), It Happened Today (5:02), Propositions (7:02), Back Street Luv 1 (3:56), Back Street Luv 2 (4:11), Piece Of Mind (10:33)

First of all, I must declare an interest in this particular DVD which spans more than 40 years as Curved Air was the very first prog rock band I discovered at a very tender age. Curved Air was one of the most pioneering and cutting edge prog bands of the early 70s fusing many elements which later became characteristic of the genre – electric folk, classical, US West Coast and arthouse.

But what distinguished them from other bands was the sheer quality of the sum total of the musical parts especially violin virtuoso Darryl Way, classically trained mult-instrumentalist Francis Monkman and of course, Sonja Kristina, their iconic vocalist and front-woman.

The Lost Broadcasts DVD collection is a series of sets featuring performances by bands which have rarely been seen since the original transmissions on German television, and in some cases, this is more than 40 years. This Curved Air DVD comprises five of their finest songs from their first two albums, the ground-breaking Air Conditioning and its equally powerful follow-up Curved Air 2, both of which created a huge stir when first release. Some of these clips have already turned up in YouTube but of an inferior quality to the songs here.

Blasting off this collection is an extended version of their signature piece Vivaldi which rips, crackles and burns due to the intensity and brilliance of Way’s extraordinary playing which still sounds vibrant, fresh and sharp despite the ensuing 40 years.

It Happened Today is another smouldering piece of prog history, the opening track from Air Conditioning. The arty blistering guitar and violin intro with throbbing bassline from Ian Eyre giving way to a full-on vocal attack from Sonja Kristina with her smoky, smouldering mezzo-soprano with a hint of vibrato. It is not just her voice but also her innate, unique, hippie chick beauty, surrounded by similarly ethereal-looking male musicians which set the band apart and has never been matched.

Propositions is the angry track, a edgy, jagged slab of guitar/violin riffing with a huge backbeat from drummer Florian Pilkington Miksa giving way to some delicate mellotron touches as Sonja screams and whoops her way through the abstract lyrics.

Backstreet Luv was a surprise huge hit for the band and here, there are two renditions of the song recorded during different sessions, one of which features session drummer Barry de Souza. What really punctuates this song is Sonja’s almost staccato phasing during the verses which offer up almost a sense of anticipation in a cautionary tale of young love and its inherent complications. For once, the violin takes a backseat with a huge mellotron and choppy keyboards the main drivers of this epic song.

Piece Of Mind, Curved Air II’s magnum opus rounds off the DVD, an intricate, epic and in many ways revolutionary piece, split into several movements, which tips its hat lyrically to T S Eliot’s sweeping poem The Wasteland. However, the piece does actually sound better on record than here which is probably the only one negative mark against it.

But is the DVD worth the investment? Indeed it is, because no other band from this era either looked like or sounded like Curved Air. Sonja Kristina was one of the very few ladies to make a name within the realms of prog and to my mind, remains the very best of all the female performers. And luckily for us, she is still fronting and touring with the band, which still also has Florian Pilkington-Miksa in its line-up.

This is a wonderful record of how prog rock looked and sounded over 40 years and as well as showcasing the brilliant dynamics of the band, it also shows how their music has stood the test of time.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

ALISON HENDERSON



Il Tempio Delle Clessidre – Il Tempio Delle Clessidre
Il Tempio Delle Clessidre – Il Tempio Delle Clessidre
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Black Widow
Catalogue #:BWR-123
Year of Release:2010
Time:53:34
Info:Il Tempio
Delle Clessidre
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Verso L’alba (2:52), Insolita Parte Di Me (7:21), Boccadasse (5:21), Le Due Metà Di Una Notte (5:19), La Stanza Nascosta (5:10), Danza Esoterica Di Datura (6:13), Faldistorum (6:02), L’attesa (4:36), Il Centro Sottile (10:40) Bonus Track (only on CD) Antidoto Mentale (3:29)

Il Tempio Delle Clessidre is an album in the "rock progressivo italiano" genre that will appeal not just to fans of the genre, but also to a wide cross-section of progressive rock fans and I can recommend it unreservedly.

Reading the, now traditional, "the band members would like to thank" section of the CD booklet, it is easy to see that Il Tempio Delle Clessidre has been a real labour of love for founder member Elisa Montaldo. Even for someone whose Italian abilities are very limited, like me, it is possible to understand the fortitude that has been needed to overcome innumerable obstacles and bring this project to fruition. That it has, and that Elisa has fulfilled her dream, should make us all glad, because Il Tempio Delle Clessidre is a beautiful album in which the highlight is the superb, classically inspired playing on piano and keyboards of Elisa herself.

It is perhaps superfluous to say this about an album of progressive rock music, but I found that with this music - more so than on that of many other progressive bands playing today - paying careful attention reaps huge dividends in order to extract full value from the nuances of the instrumentalists. For instance, mentally strip away the other players and the vocals and, focussing just on Elisa one could be listening to an album of inspired piano classical music, with occasional orchestral accompaniment (here provided by her various keyboards of course, replete with mellotronics, though I'm not sure if it's a real mellotron being played). What this does is bring to mind some of the classic bands of progressive rock who have been equally classically inspired in this way, such as Emerson, Lake & Palmer (in particular the Keith Emerson inspired compositions), both pre-1978 Renaissance incarnations and perhaps even Procol Harum (in their rockier moments). These reference calls are important because they show that this music will appeal to fans other than just "rock progressivo italiano" aficionados.

However, it's also absolutely true to say that another of the music's roots, perhaps its prime one, is that fine Italian tradition of 1970s "rock progressivo". Indeed, it was with the intention of recreating Museo Rosenbach's iconic Zarathrusta (from 1973) in live performance that this Genovese band was formed in 2006 by Elisa and the vocalist on that famous album, Stefano "Lupo" Galifi. The performance of Zarathrusta having taken place in February 2007, the duo then formulated their next project of releasing an album of original material, which this is.

Joining Elisa and Lupo on the album are Fabio Gremo on bass, Giulio Canepa on guitars and Paolo Tixi on drums.

In keeping with the genre's tradition, there are lengthy instrumental passages, but there are also plenty of vocal ones: in fact, the opener Verso l'Alba is the only totally instrumental composition. Lupo's vocal is very good; after all these years his vocal performance on the album is one of the strongest to be heard in "rock progressivo italiano". The main composers on the album are Elisa and bassist Fabio, there is more or less an equal split in musical and lyrical composition between them, so clearly Fabio has also had significant creative input.

Insolita Parte De Me, credited to Elisa and Fabio combined, is one of the most pleasing compositions of the album: it has one of the sweetest melodic sections and the music is superb, changing between rockier, melodic and jazzier phases, and featuring good integration between the guitars and piano, as well as some strong bass playing. Elisa can make her piano shine through even on Fabio's sole compositions such as Le Due Meta Di Una Notte: this piece is also a good showcase for Paolo's drumming skills and for Giulio's rock guitar. Elisa's La Stanza Nascota is the most classical piece on the album and features guest Antonio Fantinuoli on cello. The ending to this composition is almost magical, with a mellotronic choral keys section, then some deep rumbling overlayed with the recitation of part of the lyrics. Very effective and very theatrical – it makes me convinced that this is, at least in part, a conceptual album but my Italian is too weak to draw out the exact meaning for you: however, the music itself speaks volumes, it is compositionally superb.

Following on in this theatrical fashion is the astonishing Danza Esoterica Di Datura which features a varied array of sound images, abetted by Elisa's recitation of the witches' chant from Shakespeare's Macbeth. Towards the end of this soundscape, when the piano is silent, the music elicits memories of early Camel. The thematic transition to Faldistorum is initially minimal but then the music takes on a sinister turn – here we go with the music story-telling again! – courtesy of some spooky (remember Vincent Price?) recitation from another guest, Max Manfredi, followed by the closing section, in which Elisa plays the impressive-sounding organ of the Campomorone Church in Genova. Fabulous!

The close of the album throttles back slightly from this extraordinary middle section, with the theatrics diminishing and the steadier rock format returning, but always with plenty to enjoy from the instrumentalists.

The CD includes a "bonus" track which, although pleasant, does little to enhance the overall journey of the album. Certainly, if you have been concentrating on the music as it evolves from rock, through its theatrical section and then back again, you will want to complete your listening with the fairground and firework sounds of the finale of Il Centro Sottile as you will, by now, be completely emotionally satisfied. Just stop, relax and let the music simmer down through your body.

If there is a down side, it is perhaps that some of the sung melodies are not as sweet as some others in modern "rock progressivo italiano", but I guess that is the romantic in me talking! The musical highlights of this album are extremely impressive and I fear I may be too conservative with my rating. As I said in the opening, I can recommend it unreservedly - it will appeal to a very wide cross-section of fans.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

ALEX TORRES



Zero Gravity – Misplaced Moments
Zero Gravity – Misplaced Moments
Country of Origin:Belgium
Format:CD
Record Label:Sabam
Catalogue #:ZG032010
Year of Release:2011
Time:60:40
Info:Zero Gravity
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Disclosure (3:19), Second Betrayal – Part 1 (6:42), Second Betrayal – Part 2 (4:53), Inner Ruins (9:48), Paved With Good Intentions (2:24), WebShards (11:56), Swimming Ashore (1:46), Blind Into The Stare (8:15), Rest Denied (2:26), Life Formula (9:11)

After banging out a couple of demo EPs in 2003 and 2005, Belgian metal-smiths Zero Gravity now have a full-length album under their belts with the release of Misplaced Moments. The guys in the band are Alex Vanhaesendonck on guitars, Marc Beckers on keyboards, Sven Dupon on vocals and guitars, Dirk Vollon on bass, and Pieter Belmans on drums.

During parts of the intervening time between the release of that first demo EP back in ‘03 and the release of Misplaced Moments, the band cultivated their ongoing profile with debut live gigs in the spring of 2004, and an appearance in 2006 as the first unsigned Belgian band ever to play the Netherlands-based Progpower Festival.

So Misplaced Moments is firmly in place, with ten tracks spanning a little over an hour. You get four instrumentals here, alongside six vocal tracks. The guitars are heavy throughout, and as a rhythm section Belmans and Vollon are a taut team. The problem across this CD is that the guitars, drums and bass are so heavy in the mix that they drown out what would have otherwise been audible vocal and keyboard elements.

Misplaced Moments is not a failure, though. Let’s hit the standouts - WebShards features some wistful yet carefree guitar and a couple of rare spots for Beckers to shine on the keyboards. Blind Into The Stare sees Dupon’s vocals saved by some dutiful choral processing which is sharp, despite serving as a gimmicky crutch of sorts to lean on. That notwithstanding, this tune filleted my sonic senses like they were a freshly caught Canadian speckled trout.

Belmans, Vollon and the two guitarists are talented, but in the mix come across as too talented, like the ball-hog halfback in a soccer match who won’t pass the ball to the other players. As a whole the over-mixed rhythm section and guitars seem to lend to a lot of repetition across the CD, but if you like a lot of recurring heavy structures in your music than you might go for this.

The packaging of the album is pretty cool, done gatefold style with a well put together booklet of lyrics, credits and the track listing.

Also in the booklet is a dedicated acknowledgement from Belmans, which states: In loving memory of Bart Belmans (1979-2009) “There’s nothing worse than being misunderstood”. It goes on to say “Bart, we started our musical journey together; now I’ll continue it for the both of us. Thanks for being the inspiration you always were and always will be. Your support made me the musician I am today. Always your brother, Pieter.”

If you visit the above samples link, there’s a sample of Life Formula, as well as a bunch of samples of some of the band’s older tunes.

I would say the biggest area of opportunity for Zero Gravity with their next release is to crank up the vocals and keyboards so they get some equal prominence in the mix.

Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10

JIM CORCORAN



Arachnes – A New Day
Arachnes – A New Day
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:Download
Record Label:Lion Music
Catalogue #:LMC 301
Year of Release:2011
Time:47:34
Info:Borealis
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: I Know The Darkness (4:59), Big Hearth (3:51), I’m Sorry (4:14), Into The Fog (3:24), Magic World (4:57), My Face Is Hard (3:40), Running In An Old Town (4:20), Take Your Life (4:40), Parallel Worlds (2:10), The Reason Of The Things (3:20) Your Death (4:47), Fireball (3:34)

I thought this Italian ProgPower metal band had long since gone into the history books. A decade ago, the re-released version of their debut album, The Goddess Temple, was actually one of the first records I ever reviewed. It was shortly followed by a promo for their Apocalypse release. Both led me to the conclusion that this was a band with promise, let down by a rather weak and heavily accented singer that had yet to find its own identity.

It's been almost a decade since I heard those two records, and six years since the last output from this quartet from Milan. Not much has changed.

Based around the talents of the Caruso brothers, vocalist Enzo and guitarist Frank, the core sound is still a solid mixture of Gamma Ray speed, Malmsteen symphonics, Sonata Arctica power and the occasional progressive flurry. The songs are all pretty direct. A cover of the Deep Purple classic Fireball will give you a good idea of where they take their influences. It's perfectly listenable but nothing has left a lasting impression on me.

For ProgMetal fans with a liking for the above bands this is a solid enough release but I feel this is a band that has found its niche and is quite happy to stay there. It appears this album is only currently available in digital format via Lion Music and other outlets.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10

ANDY READ


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