REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:
Manning – Margaret's Children
Tracklist: The Year Of Wonders (9:49), Revelation Road (5:10), A Perfect Childhood [Before The War, Abroad, Outbreak, Within The War, After The War] (17:05), A Night At The Savoy, 1933 (5:05), An Average Man (6:31), Black Silk Sheets Of Cairo (7:57), The Southern Waves (8:48)
John O'Boyles's Review
Another year may have past but the rather impressive ambassador of prog folk rock storytelling has not been idle; Guy Manning has recorded another album that packs power and punch, which is what you would expect from a musician of this calibre. Manning’s new album Margaret’s Children picks up from 06' Anser’s Tree, offering seven vignettes, little epic musical mini movies, each biopic having been created with the help of some musical and artistic license, stories that grow from the twisted branches of the aforementioned tree that stick firmly in your mind, memorable dalliances, something that makes Guy’s music and albums so interesting and endearing in the first place.
The success of Charlestown, his previously and probably most challenging musical creation which received 10 out of 10 from these ears, could have been re-emulated, but Guy has chosen to travel a different road, to add some more character to Anser’s Tree. He is neither one to follow trends or scared to experiment with different musical approaches. Sure Guy has a unique vocal phrasing that works well within the confines of his musical structure, a musical signature that most musicians try to seek all their lives, with few achieving a result as memorable as this.
The Year Of Wonders is a song that opens up the album with infectious rapidity that just pulls you into the storyline, melodic sweetness. The urgency of the song makes it both strong and memorable; the vocal approach that is Guy’s signature is complimented by the participating musicians. This really is the way to open an album, a statement that is punctuated with stunning flute inflections, little flurries of excellence aligned with ornate an interesting keyboard manipulations that set the mood. As ever all the instrumentation that is included has been used to good effect, building blocks that heighten the emotions of the biography. The possessions of Margret Montgomery may have eventually found their way into the hands of Fleming Barras, but based on the balance of the grand opening, they have certainly found their way into safe hands.
Revelation Road upholds its part in the story strongly, a colourful and emotive semi acoustic phrasing, its deliverance never distancing itself too far from the electric soundstage, defined lines that Americanises the story of the medicine man that is concise and terse. Such is the power of the lyrical content you can close your eyes and see Jorgen plying his trade, black and white images annotating the scenes from a Steinbeck-esque world such as The Grapes of Wrath.
“Times are hard and many farming families feel so alone, their land is dry and their harvest over, no one watching over them now. The dustbowl dream just blows away as they look skywards hoping for clouds, no where to go, who can they turn to now?”
The piece de resistance for me on the album is the seventeen minute plus A Perfect Childhood. This really is a song that encapsulates what Guy as an artist is all about, the master of storytelling. Taking the story of an unbelievable human being, a story that needs to be told, a story that defines unselfish choices, acts of humanity never showing distinction, leading to the humanist paying the ultimate and perverse price, her life. Although the song does take some artistic license, the whole construct has such sumptuous beauty, a piece that need to be heard to be believed. Musically it has everything that makes this style of intelligent music so powerful and rewarding, this really is Manning at is best a song that is built up of five acts. Each time I hear this song the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, especially on the closing sequences. I defy you not to be moved by this song too.
“With tears in her eyes she said it quite clearly It’s not over I’m not afraid to die for my country, my sanity, my love and my honour I am an innocent in Gods Eyes.”
Phideaux proclaims the Savoy is proud to present Miss Harriet Horden. A Night At The Savoy, 1933 has Julie King supplying the smoky jazz tones that are underpinned by a lovingly caressed piano. The sound of the 30’s have been captured and emulated with precision and brought up to date featuring some beautiful clarinet passages by Marek Arnold. The guitar interactions that are swathed by subtle organ notations add the final depth to the whole proceedings creating and interesting and sublime song.
A heavy wall of sonics opens An Average Man, a song about an average man whose life changes when he is called up for service. A song about an average man is by no means a song with an average approach, its moody interludes are syncopated with a variety of rhythms which are pronounced and somewhat unexpected in the grander scheme of things making it a classy showcase, its pleading approach screams out to be recognised, musical grammar that is highly effective that comes to an abrupt end by gunshot.
The stage is set for Black Silk Sheets Of Cairo as the band meter out the Eastern tones. Its musical sexiness and unbound enthusiasm are highly rewarding, a marriage of catharsis that purifies and purges as it builds those intricate and convoluted scenes. Flutes, keyboards et al are stunning having really captured the moment. As the charm and perverseness of the subject matter works its magic, so does the music, something that is very apparent throughout the whole album. The passages just flow to their full crowning glories, powerful and yet again highly memorable.
The closing The Southern Waves is a song I first heard some time ago at one of his shows, which he played to the audience as a mark of respect to the Japanese people who suffered that devastating Tsunami, a song that held the audience captivated as they silently and respectfully listened on. The effectual and emotive musical language that was used to create this piece was the one thing that struck me immediately as those in attendance too. This song and A Perfect Childhood really sums up Guy, not only does he intelligently create music, he fills those notations with thought provoking words, very cleverly, something that makes his approach unique.
“The southern waves arise to forge the child once held in Pangaea’s arm her southern waves with Gaia’s voice reshape the land reshape our world.”
The power of the song is matched by the interaction of the musicians who feel every note played, presenting a highly emotive and electrically charged construct of both music and lyrics. The stunning guitar solo really accentuates the whole mood and moment. This really is a touching tome that will bring a tear to the listener’s eye.
Closing statements can sometimes be difficult when reviewing and album as one hope’s that the essence of what has been created has already be relayed to the reader by the time they get to this point.
I highly rated Charlestown as an album as I do with all of Guys works to be honest; as for me they are reverential in approach always inspiring me as an individual to analyse what he has written, which is what as I say intellectual music is all about. Twelve years and twelve albums in Guy Manning continues to release material that is prolific, memorable and of the highest order. Margaret’s Children as an album can proudly hold its own against any of his previous release and is a fitting and rewarding addition and complementation to Anser’s Tree.
Guy has presented seven songs here that have had their roots firmly planted on Anser’s Tree, remarkable vignettes that highlight his prowess as both a musician and wordsmith. As a concept, retreading a path that has been used before was a bold and brave step, it could have been fallen flat on its face, which has happened with other artists but something that Guy has definitely not allowed to happen. All the songs here are destined to become favourites with his fan base with one or two becoming firm classics.
For those of you who are already acquainted with Guy’s work, you will embrace this album with open arms. For those unfamiliar I can only suggest that he is an artist you get to know as soon as possible as it really is artists like this that do make a difference in the world of music. The approach is all about his music and not his ego, something that I highly respect in an artist. I can only suggest that you play catch up and dig out some of his back catalogue which is also stunning.
Bob Mulvey's Review
Guy Manning and assembled cast return with album number twelve, released in as many years. One might wonder that, with such a prolific output, have standards dropped? Well, the contrary applies here and in recent times Guy appears to have honed his song writing skills and hit a rich vein of creativity. Last year's Charlestown was a strong release and therefore set the bar high for its follow-up and I am happy to report that Margaret's Children is more than equal to its predecessor.
Having been involved in last year's Charlestown RTR I'm little wary of repeating myself, I'm little wary of repeating myself, as Margaret’s Children treads on familiar ground. I don't mean this in a detrimental way, there is something to be said for having a distinct and recognisable sound. Do we need to reinvent the wheel with every recording? So those elements that make up the Manning sound are there in abundance - strong story telling with thoughtful lyrics, rich vocal melodies and harmonies, catchy tunes, strong instrumental sections. What more do we need?
Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to catch the Manning band, (at the inaugural Progmeister Festival), which despite my early misgivings managed to cram all their large ensemble and equally impressive array of equipment onto the small stage area. I mention this concert as it was nice to finally to hear the music in a live setting. Again impressive to hear the band pulling off what are in essence multi-layered studio recordings in the this environment. Memory serves me the band performed one of the tracks from Margaret's Children at the aforementioned gig - although which one eludes me at the time of writing. Methinks - Revelation Road?
My DPRP colleague John 'Jonno' O'Boyle has given a detailed summation of the album so in customary fashion I'll just add a few thoughts on the music. So album number twelve opens with the up-tempo The Year Of Wonders - boasting an infectious chorus line that once heard rattles around in your head. The band are cooking here and once again the icing on the cake is the returning Steve Dundon adding his magical flute work to the proceedings. The middle instrumental is equally impressive with electric piano underpinned by organ - gradually some lilting flute is added - Marek Arnold adds sax and if I'm not mistaken there's also violin in there. That infectious chorus line returns to take the track towards the close. Worth buying the album for this track alone...
Always a sceptic when it comes to the "epic track" on any album, but once again Guy and fellow musicians have come up trumps. Bookended by lighter acoustic sections they act as a perfect introduction and conclusion to the piece. The cello and violin adding greatly to the mood. Around the three and half minute mark the track picks up pace with Guy's clever crafting of Canterbury and folk elements taking up their places. Again another catchy chorus line sits in between the storyline punctuated by a whole
gamut of instrumental interludes. The whole seventeen minutes of A Perfect Childhood passes very quickly.
Elsewhere the New Orleans' bluesy/jazz vibe of A Night At The Savoy, 1933 is a nice diversion - similar to the sort of curve ball that Queen would add into their earlier albums. An Average Man is again replete with great instrumental passages and reminded me of the excellent Jakko Jakszyk album The Bruised Romantic Glee Club. The Eastern tones of Black Silk Sheets Of Cairo possibly encapsulates all that is Manning. The storytelling, the ever present catchy chorus and the interweaving of a multitude of instruments. Clarinets dance with violins - electric piano and percussion bounce - synthy keyboards and guitar harmonise - flutes and saxes blow... And all in just under eight minutes.
I mentioned earlier that I had caught Guy Manning in concert recently and what surprised on the day, whilst chatting with people in the interludes, was how many hadn't come across his music before. A shame really as I believe Manning is an important part of the current resurgent progressive rock music scene. I'm sure Manning fans will have already pre-ordered, but for those out there who haven't dabbled then there are a number of fine albums to choose from. Margaret’s Children is as good a place
as any to start.
John O'Boyle recently spoke to Guy Manning - so check out what Guy had to say about the new album, (amongst other things), HERE.
JOHN O'BOYLE : 10 out of 10
BOB MULVEY : 8.5 out of 10
Transatlantic – More Never Is Enough
CD 1 ~ The Whirlwind: Overture/Whirlwind, Wind Blew Them All Away, On The Prowl, Man Can Feel, Out Of The Night, Rose Coloured Glasses, Evermore, Set Us Free, Lay Down Your Life, Pieces Of Heaven, Is It Really Happening?, Dancing With Eternal Glory/Whirlwind [Reprise] (79:00)
CD 2 : All Of The Above Transatlantic (31:57), We All Need Some Light Transatlantic (10:23), Duel With The Devil Transatlantic (28:48)
CD 3 : Bridge Across Forever Transatlantic (6:03), Stranger In Your Soul Transatlantic (33:17)
DVD 1 : Transatlantic Live In Tilburg: The Whirlwind
DVD 2 ~ Transatlantic Live In Tilburg: All Of The Above, We All Need Some Light, Duel With The Devil, Bridge Across Forever' Stranger In Your Soul, 2nd Encore: Return Of The Giant Hogweed (Genesis)
Basil Francis' Review
Actually guys, more is more than enough!
Eighty minutes is a long time. In that time, a person could watch an episode of their favourite TV series, take the dog for a walk, learn origami, or possibly all three! Yet eighty minutes is the amount of time that the men of Transatlantic expect their fans to devote to just one live track... AGAIN!
Transatlantic's new 3CD/2DVD live release More Never Is Enough is as perplexing as it is grammatically incorrect! Speaking as a fan who went to see the band's last performance to date at the High Voltage Festival 2010, I was overjoyed with the immaculate live album Whirld Tour 2010. This was released in different formats including a deluxe 3CD/2DVD package, which contained two hardback 'books' to hold the CDs, as well as presenting some wondeful liner notes and beautiful photos. While this live album was recorded at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, the DVD also contained the encore from the HV Festival when former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett came on and helped the band out with a surprise rendition of The Return Of The Giant Hogweed. This live album gave me fond memories of my time at the festival whilst allowing me to listen to the TA songs I'd missed in their shortened set (in the 90 minute festival set, the band performed only two songs: The Whirlwind and the above encore).
However, the world's favourite prog supergroup has struck again with another live release from the same tour, and herein lies the fault. It's an unwritten law that you should never release two live albums from the same tour, but this isn't the biggest problem. Indeed, the biggest problem is that the tracklisting for these two live albums is exactly the same! Just as making the same joke twice in a row causes it to be less funny the second time, releasing the same live album twice in a row causes the second, and perhaps even the first to lose some of its magic. The main difference is that the audio doesn't correspond to the video (which I have not been able to see), as the two were recorded in Manchester and Tilburg respectively. The DVD even has another version of The Return Of The Giant Hogweed with Steve Hackett, which was a bit of a let down for me, as I had previously believed that the encore for us had been a one-off special.
One of the main reasons I don't listen to Transatlantic that much is that I simply don't have the time. When listening to a band who specialise in writing ridiculously long songs, it's quite hard to fit the music into one's schedule (one might even muse that the band use the oddly phrased motto 'More Never Is Enough' when writing their songs!) If I barely have the time to listen to their music anyway, I cannot see how releasing a live album that exactly mirrors the previous one will help. The band now have a total of four live albums, with just three studio ones, which seems quite daft to me.
Nevertheless, it's always great to hear these classic tracks again. Those familiar with the band's material will have no problem enjoying this album for what it is, and I for one found myself either singing out loud or even air guitaring whilst listening. The sound quality is absolutely gorgeous, and there are a few suprises too, (although a few of these also appear on Whirld Tour 2010) with the best being a snippet of And You And I halfway through The Whirlwind followed closely by a rendition of Smoke On The Water during Stranger In Your Soul.
During the afore-mentioned segment of Stranger In Your Soul, drummer Mike Portnoy asks the audience 'What could really satisfy a prog rock crowd?', and I for one think that this latest live album is not the answer. Contrary to the title of the album, I believe you can have too much of a good thing, and having more than one live album per tour is definitely too much. This blatant self-plagiarism cannot go unpunished, leading me to deduct 3 points from what would otherwise be a 9/10 album. Those who have not already purchased last year's Whirld Tour 2010 might be more interested in this release as it contains two full-length seperate shows, differentiating the audio from the video, and it goes without saying that fans who attended either the Manchester or the Tilburg gig will find this essential. Despite the band's total error of judgement in releasing this album, I still support them fully, and hope they find it in them to record a new album - though perhaps they could return to the more manageable 30 minute format!
Brian Watson's Review
As if last year’s live box set extravaganza wasn’t enough, we’ve now got a five disc set comprising 3 CDs and 2 DVDs, comprising the complete audio from all of Transatlantic’s final show on The Whirlwind tour in Manchester on 22nd May 2010 as well as video of the 013 Tilburg show. The ‘bonus’ DVD has some additional material, comprising excerpts from other gigs on the tour, the so called ‘stranger jams’ where Mike Portnoy does ‘crazy’ stuff. Man. Oh, and there’s a version of Hogweed with Steve Hackett.
We’ve only had the CD version to review, so you can add at least one mark onto my overall rating if you’d like.
We’ve reviewed both The Whirlwind, and the subsequent five disc live box set,
An Evening Of Transatlantic. The latter rated 9/10, and the former, in a Round Table Review, got a 7, two 8s and a 9. In fact, Jonno termed ‘An Evening Of…’ as “prog porn” and this new set is, you’ll be glad to hear, no different. Seeing as it’s not, really, different.
Just as our thrusting, grunting, moaning and lying do not necessarily define us, or constrain us then different artistic performances can have different nuances and, perhaps, different energies.
As an example, in Manchester, my French mate Brooksy** didn’t have a hat. Whereas in London, which he also attended, he said he would have liked to have worn a hat. But he couldn’t find one that suited him.
We reviewed the show in London from which An Evening Of... came from, as well as the Tilburg and Manchester shows here.
Jonno felt that Roine Stolt “fingered his way emotionally” in Manchester – the lad really does have a porn fixation doesn’t he? And DPRP reviewers Gert, Joris and Edwin loved the sold out Tilburg show. And, as best as I can tell, none of them wore hats.
So, if you’ve already got the Whirlwind record should you buy this? Yes.
If you’ve already got the live box set thingy should you buy this? Yes. I mean maybe. Alrighty then, Yes if you can afford it.
If you were at either Manchester or Tilburg should you buy this? Buy it now. Sell a child. Even your own.
** Do not, when confronted by someone from France, under any circumstances, run with scissors.
Conclusion: 7.5/10 (review of download of 3x CDs only). (So that’ll be an 8.5, then: ed.)
BASIL FRANCIS : 6 out of 10
BRIAN WATSON : 8.5 out of 10
Poor Genetic Material – Island Noises
CD 1: Roarers (5:38), A Dance So Strange (4:44), Brave New World (3:56), Let Them Beware (5:52), Caliban’s Dream (6:08), Island Noises (19:55)
CD 2: Banquet Of Illusions (5:49), Assassins And Sleepers (5:47), In A State Of Grace(6:22), Fountain Of Innocence(8:38), Sycorax (4:32), Ariel (2:42), Drowning The Book (9:04), Dreamstuff (8:33)
Gert Hulshof's Review
Island Noises is already the seventh effort of German rockers Poor Genetic Material. This latest edition is also the seventh to be reviewed by us here at DPRP and all the other albums have been reviewed quite favourably with three of them receiving the DPRP recommended tag. So the question is - is Island Noises equally good or... read on.
With the opening track Roarers on the first CD, I first thought I had put the wrong CD in my player as I could have sworn I was listening to an IQ song and it wasn’t. The album continued with A Dance So Strange where the feel drifted more and more into the direction of Pallas with the wide keyboard work and the style of singing.
Next up is Brave New World and I was pleasantly surprised by the soft intonation, the acoustic guitar, emotional singing and at the end the outro with flute and once again acoustic guitar.
The fourth track on the CD was called Brave New World 2 according to the message put on the screen by my CD player, but in the booklet it was called Let Them Beware, which was more appropriate anyway. The song set right off with dark intentions on the piano. Further on it grew stronger when the rest of the instruments joined in, and above all the fierce voice. Let Them Beware is narrated by a powerful voice into the next track on the CD called Calibran’s Dream. The story is told about an
island full of noises, but it appears to be just a dream, yet one to be dreamed again and again. A nice story line and evenly so song.
Last song on the first CD is the title track Island Noises. Many different keyboard sounds producing a sound pallet in which the song is opened with narration on top of the melody line the starts building on the guitar, Starting slowly building up tempo as we go further into the song, changing the tempo with an awesome bass dictating the mood together with the organ, then again flute is added and tempo changes once more, I am absolutely blown over by this song. All those tempo changes and beautiful sounds, melodies and all, neo-classical progressive rock from the TOP shelf. The afore mentioned bands probably have influenced the band but more likely the main influence lays in the 70’s with Yes and Genesis, specially when listening to the guitar work.
As if there is no stopping them the music on the second CD is continued in 70’s style progressive rock. Influences of the era’s great guitar players is evident with noticeable influence in guitar styling of Steve Howe, Andrew Latimer and Steve Hackett. The song compositions all have this same feeling to them, with both lyrics and melody lines having great resemblance to the rock music of the giants of the 70’s era of rock and roll.
All the works Poor Genetic Material have released thus far have been of a concept nature and Island Noises is no different. The entire 2CD song collection is based on “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare. On the back cover of the booklet a phrase from the Tempest has been put.
“As you from crimes would pardoned be, let your indulgence set me free.”
When building an album around a theme one must be awfully sure to be able to entertain people with the music recorded or you will end up making the entire album just for yourself. Now unless I am mistaken a musical project is never recorded solely for oneself and the five lads of Poor Genetic Material are confident enough to produce and release a concept album, they have preceded this album with a concept album 6 times before. They have even done a four seasons concept over four albums.
When you are into eclectic, melodic almost melancholic music of conceptual nature I believe Island Noises to be an absolute must have, an addition to your collection. If you are not I recommend a try out, you might be pleasantly surprised by the stylish beauty of the album.
Menno Von Brucken Focks' Review
German musicians Stefan Glomb (guitars) and Philipp Jaehne (keyboards) used to work on soundtrack material only until they got in touch with Alias Eye, another band from Germany. More song oriented material followed and the duo became a band fronted by Phil Griffiths, the son of legendary Beggars Opera vocalist Martin Griffiths. Phil is an accomplished singer with around twenty years of singing in the musical Phantom Of The Opera to his credit. Lyrically the duo has been inspired by Shakespeare’s Tempest. Certainly no ordinary ‘you love me, I love you’ kind of lyrics but as with all the compositions, carefully written.
If there would be something like ‘original’ or ‘classical’ symphonic rock, I guess PGM would be a could candidate to fit in that category. Only difference is, these guys have a trained vocalist, whereas most prog bands fail to have a really good singer. Although the combination of a trained musical singer with prog music might seem odd, in my opinion it works very well indeed as can be heard in the opening track with a lot of characteristics from ‘melodic progressive rock’.
Orchestral arrangements and a nice bass melody, played by Dennis Sturm, in the second track remind of Eloy in the eighties, while Jaehne does really well on the keyboards. Except for this awesome interlude A Dance So Strange is a catchy mid tempo song with the emphasis on Griffiths' vocals and harmonies. In Brave New World we hear a nice pop melody with gentle clean guitars and some jazz influences, there might be some Steely Dan influences there too: smoothly the music flows and rather slowly. In the second part the flute reminds of older records by Camel. A classical solo piano opens Let Them Beware, the fourth track, followed by some harsh, echoing guitar sounds. The full band joins in with a bombastic chorus. The piano solo is sort of an interlude to the next up tempo part until the bombastic chorus returns. Between the two last choruses again a strange very subtle melodic interlude. In the opening of Caliban’s Dream we hear the ex-Beggars opera vocalist himself, in a spoken poem. Beautiful, subtle music again reminding of Camel (Snow Goose) with changing tempo's and everything that makes this kind of music so interesting.
No doubt the masterpiece is the ‘epic’ and title track Island Noises: the opening played by echoing clean guitars and organ. Again the spoken words are performed by Martin Griffiths. Some influences of early Marillion can be heard when the music changes style: an instrumental interlude with some psychedelic touches, mostly guitars and keyboards. At around 6 minutes in the track influences of Eloy return with the full band playing, as another interlude a bit of ‘Camel meets Canterbury’. At around 13 minutes yet another style but still very melodic and catchy. When the music and the drums seem to lose the connection, suddenly there’s guitars with Griffiths singing a pop tune, the style and tempo to be compared with Phil Collins’ version of You Can’t Hurry Love. In between another interlude by piano and guitar. The last part is a nicely built up theme. It starts off as pop music in the style of Fiction Factory or China Crisis, but gradually it becomes majestic symphonic rock.
The first track on the second CD is a sequel to the finale of the title track but after a few minutes it changes into a seventies pop/rock tune with sliding guitars. At the end of the track the melody of the first part returns and Glomb gets a chance to excel on the guitar. In Assassins And Sleepers we hear semi acoustic guitars, bass and piano in a way that reminds of Genesis a bit. Then the music sort of transforms into a lush kind of symphonic pop until at some point at the end a theme used earlier returns. Organ, electric guitar and subtle orchestrations form a symphonic opening of In A State Of Grace, a mid tempo rock song, with nice ‘seventies’ influenced slower instrumental interludes, the second one a bit in the style of Camel again. Some reciting by Martin Griffiths and dreamy music, changing into a more up tempo jazz influenced instrumental piece. Halfway the vocal part is different, more influences of great prog bands like Marillion, while the last part of the song is an awesome instrumental piece by keyboards and acoustic guitars in the style of Ant Phillips. Sycorax is an instrumental piece featuring piano, keyboards and flute. Some influences from Jade Warrior, so a slight and distinct oriental touch. A melancholic ‘classic symphonic’ feel in Ariel, especially because of the mellotron sounds. Same applies to the next track Drowning The Book although there are also a more modern, more rocking pieces, with in the middle a delightful instrumental interlude by keyboards. The last track is also quite a complicated track with all sorts of melodies and different styles. From musical, pop and rock to bombastic majestic symphonic music featuring keyboards, as it should in my opinion. In the middle a nice piece featuring Glomb’s acoustic guitar. The grand finale is a slow majestic piece with a lot of keyboards and melodic soloing by Glomb.
So the answer to the ‘does real prog rock still exist’ kind of question is definitely YES! Although this review should have been written months ago I still feel an obligation to these fine musicians to let all prog fans know this is vocally, lyrically and musically great stuff indeed. Poor Genetic Material proves it is possible to come up with original songs in the genre of progressive rock with more than enough points of interest for people who usually would listen to other genres. One of the finest releases in prog-rock in 2011 in my opinion.
GERT HULSHOF : 8 out of 10
MENNO VON BRUCKEN FOCK : 8.5 out of 10
Airbag – All Rights Removed
|Country of Origin:||Norway|
|Record Label:||Karisma Records|
|Year of Release:||2011|
Tracklist: All Rights Removed (8:59), White Walls (5:19), The Bridge (6:20), Never Coming Home (9:00), Light Them All Up (3:01), Homesick I-III (17:21)
This, the second album from Norway’s Airbag takes the template of their first album Identity and expands on it with six songs spread across fifty minutes, and dominating the album is the final track Homesick, all seventeen minutes plus of it.
Any band that names itself after the song of another is obviously wearing its influences on its sleeve, but rather than Radiohead, I’m hearing more of a Porcupine Tree, Anathema, and a post-Waters Pink Floyd influence than that of the Oxford indie-proggers.
The songs are all slow to mid-tempo affairs instrumentally dominated by the symphonic sweeps of the two keyboard players and Bjørn Riis’ very Gilmour/Wilson style of guitar playing. The vocals, also by Bjørn although of a similar range to Steven Wilson’s are distinctive enough to have their own identity (no pun intended!), expressing the lyrics which are unrelentingly dark and full of fear, desperation, world-weariness and isolation. The lyrical themes are hinted at by the cover art which shows a strange man/dolphin figure swan diving off a bridge, obviously hinting at suicide but with a hint of redemption given the fact he may swim away? In fact the lyrics are actually far darker than the music which expresses an atmosphere of merely melancholic tranquillity throughout.
Apart from the first and last track the rest of the songs run or fade into each other, adding to the symphonic feel, and my one criticism is that a slight lack of dynamics tend to detract from ones concentration, and I’d imagine if you put this on after a hard day at work you might find yourself drifting off halfway through!
All prog fans love an “epic”, so what of Homesick? On the promo album cover it is listed as “Homesick I – III”, so we have a tune in three movements that meanders along pleasantly, but again maybe suffers from being a bit one paced. The middle section slows to an ambient wash of keyboard dominated sound before the bass gently stamps out a slightly faster rhythm over which the synths and other keyboards slowly build up the atmosphere into the by now expected guitar solo which soars and swoops in and out of the backing. It could be an outtake from the Sky Moves Sideways, and I mean that as a compliment.
There are some really good individual songs on this album, but taken as a whole All Rights Removed is an album that suffers for being too musically uniform, both in texture and in tempo. To these ears there are instrumental passages that cry out for a saxophone or a piano or some electronica to take the lead instead of the ever-present guitar, well played as it may be, and as I say earlier, this sonic predictability to me is the album’s only failing.
Still, a step forward from Identity, and a band to watch for in the future. Hire a sax player boys!
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Catafalchi Del Cyber – Benediktus Und Vobis Quoque,
Catafalcus Est Tu
Tracklist: E Adesso Facciamo I Soldi (5:35), Benediktus (5:57), Dark Deglutation (4:10), Ocean (8:15), Carabinieri (2:21), Metanolo (5:39), Recinzioni (4:04), Ipercomunismo Postalieno III (10:49)
Catafalchi Del Cyber mainmen Matteo Bertolini (guitar & bass) and Mirco Ravenoldi (vocals/keys/guitar) apparently got together during a King Crimson concert in Verona in 2003. Although this influence is suggested here and there, particularly on Benediktus where guitars and drums certainly have a Krimsonic edge, this is an album with eclectic leanings in other directions. The founders’ initial intention was to create a full scale progressive rock project, as evidenced by the sporadically deployed mellotron, but what they have produced is somewhat different as ambient dance textures creep into Dark Deglutation and Carabinieri.
The band, completed by Ersiker Anaman (drums) and L’Imperatore (keys) - the former being described as “obscure and controversial” for some reason - are competent and the performances good although there is the odd shaky moment. Ravenoldi’s vocals are fine most of the time but never reach the heights necessary to lift the band to a new level. They have certainly produced a piece of work that does not immediately smack of its influences from classic prog and this is an interesting if not earth shattering listen with something different suggesting few direct comparisons.
During opener E Adesso Facciamo I Soldi it soon becomes apparent that the production is a little disappointing which is a shame as it detracts from what would have been a very enjoyable number of driving guitar and drums with pools of calming vocals. A very well realised keyboard solo increases the melody and overall this is a good piece.
Ocean is probably my favourite on the album where an Anekdoten vibe is apparent to start coupled with trance textures and good use of electric piano before the track bursts open with drums and soloing guitar. Metanolo is very nice with a light acoustic feel, vocals in English this time, before spreading its wings with a Zappa-esque guitar solo and foreboding rhythm. Recinzioni is a jazzy little number with an entertainingly different vocal, some of the structures hinting at
A pet hate of mine is the misguided fascination with “hidden” bonus tracks on CDs, the sort where the disc apparently ends but springs back to life after a number of minutes silence. The results of this sort of thing are seldom satisfying and the listener usually has to endure an in-joke or half arsed song not good enough to make the album proper and, sadly this is the case here where after the rousing finale of Ipercomunismo Postalieno III we get to suffer several minutes of what resembles crackly old Italian oompah. It’s like pulling teeth and every time you think it is about to stop it doesn’t. They probably had great fun recording it but this is a guaranteed one listen deal (except I’ve managed to get through it twice!).
The review copy came without any packaging which is a shame as it is described in the garbled press release as uniquely interactive and Dada-esque allowing the listener to modify the cover. I’m not sure that I understand what they are trying to do with this so it would have been interesting to see it.
Benediktus Und Vobis Quoque, Catafalcus Est Tu has the feel of being slightly unfinished but despite the not brilliant production is still an engaging listen of interesting and generally well performed pieces. Catafalchi del Cyber may not have been wholly successful in creating the prog tour de force that they set out to but this is a good album that points towards a bright future.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Ego - Evoluzione Delle Forme
|Country of Origin:||Italy|
|Year of Release:||2011|
Tracklist: Expò (4:19), Rivoluzione Estetica (6:04), Evoluzione Delle Forme (5:18), Contemplazione Dell'Opera (1:25), Meditatio Mortis (8:53), I Misteri Di Milano (3:41), Stato Multiforme (11:17)
Hailing from Castiglione Olona, in the northern Italian region of Lombardy, Ego are an instrumental trio consisting of Pierluigi Caramel (keyboards, flute), Daniele Mentasti (bass, trombone) and Sergio Iannella (drums). Evoluzione Delle Forme, their second album, follows MCM Egofuturismo (2008). The three band members have been active on the Italian music scene for many years, and share a passion for the classic progressive rock bands of the Seventies - especially ELP and Le Orme, both keyboard-based trios. Unlike other Italian acts, Ego are not a household name in prog circles, and come across as a rather low-profile outfit, with very little biographical information available about them besides the members' names and roles. The press release accompanying Evoluzione Delle Forme only offers a summary of the band's musical characteristics, with no hints as to their history and development.
I first became aware of Ego about a year ago, when I reviewed MCM Egofuturismo for the website I was collaborating with at the time. In spite of the undeniable quality of the music featured on the CD, my conclusion was that the album was unlikely to leave much of an impression on the prog community as a whole. Since instrumental projects are a dime a dozen these days, both those involving full-fledged bands and the ubiquitous "solo-pilot" endeavours, an album must display some distinctive qualities in order to stand out from the ever-increasing mass of releases that are flooding an already oversaturated market. Unfortunately, the above-mentioned lack of biographical details is probably not the best strategy to make one's output appealing enough to an audience that, albeit restricted in numbers if compared to the mainstream, is regularly bombarded by a large quantity of rather diverse music.
Evoluzione Delle Forme marks a step forward - though not a huge one - from the worthy, though not particularly memorable, MCM Egofuturismo. For one thing, it is almost 10 minutes shorter - an important factor for an instrumental album, which, in my view, has more to gain in choosing a compact format rather than a sprawling one. Though its structure reproduces that of the band's previous effort, the 7 tracks are markedly shorter, with only closer Stato Multiforme approaching "epic" status with its 11 minutes, and a short interlude neatly dividing the album in two halves. In comparison to its more ambitious predecessor, the album possesses a warmer, more organic sound, relying less on electronic effects and more on "real" instrumental interplay. When the effects step into the limelight, as in the title-track and the above-mentioned Stato Multiforme, the results come across as somewhat cheesy, especially if contrasted with the natural flow of the rest of the album. The strong classical imprint of the music, while generally increasing the melodic quotient of the compositions, sometimes veers uncomfortably close to those pop reinterpretations of classical pieces that were so popular in Eighties Italy - with Rivoluzione Estetica being the main culprit, especially on account of the ultra-regular drum beat contrasting with the airy feel of the keyboards and the solemn, expressive voice of the trombone.
As in the case of MCM Egofuturismo, the comparisons with ELP are inevitable, especially because of Ego's guitar-less configuration. However, the three musicians make things more interesting by adding some instruments typically associated with classical and chamber music, such as violin, flute and trombone - the latter, together with church organ, forming the fabric of the short, meditative Contemplazione Dell'Opera. The flute, working in unison with Caramel's scintillating keyboards (very much in the style perfected by Seventies icons such as Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman), lends a distinctly Italian note to opener Expò, and contributes to the sprightly, upbeat feel of I Misteri Di Milano; while the lyrical strains of the violin, together with tolling bells, contribute to the climactic ending of the quintessentially symphonic Stato Multiforme. On the other hand, the almost 9-minute Meditatio Mortis takes a decidedly electronic direction, with a cinematic, Gothic-tinged sweep that brings to mind Goblin's iconic horror movie soundtracks, and occasionally hints at Jean-Michel Jarre's Seventies work.
Unfortunately, because of the lack of a booklet in the promo copy of the CD, I am unable to comment on the artwork, which had been one of the most striking features of MCM Egofuturismo. Evoluzione Delle Forme also hints at a synthesis between music and visual arts, supported by a cover that made me think of the aesthetics of the seminal Futurist movement (also referenced in the debut album's title). In any case, the album is a worthwhile listen, especially for fans of vintage, keyboard-driven symphonic prog, and flawless from a technical point of view (including sound quality). However, as previously observed, its "facelessness" creates a sense of detachment that reinforces the impression of music that is impeccably performed, but somewhat lacking in personality. In the current music world, so strongly dependent on image and advertising, very few (if any) artists can afford to hide behind their music.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Motion Theory - It's Not As Dark As That, Friend [EP]
|Country of Origin:||UK|
|Year of Release:||2011|
Tracklist: Let's Pave Over The Sea (3:45), Dead Reckoning (4:31), Anima [live] (4:00), Sure It's Chaos, But It's Ours (4:56), Forgotten Girl (4:50)
Cheshire quartet Motion Theory follow-up their critically acclaimed debut album Featherhead with an EP of new music. Right from the opening of Let's Pave Over The Sea it is immediately obvious that the young quartet - guitarist Jamie Wesley, singer Dom Main bassist James Kerr and drummer Will Soutter - have made great musical strides. The song is of epic qualities with a vast dynamic range and Wesley alternately providing a delicate repeating refrain switching to massive power chords in the infectious chorus. The scope of the number allows Main to display his full vocal range while the mature arrangement provides a fine balance of light and shade. Dead Reckoning shows that the band are developing their own style which although still bearing hints of Muse moves in their own individual direction. In Wesley the group has an excellent guitarist who is succinct in his soloing and never tempted to be overly flash. The synths (played by Main) blend well with the guitar during the introduction of the song which starts delicately before ramping up to an uplifting middle eight.
The cohesion of the four members on stage is shown by the inclusion of a live recording of Anima, a bold choice considering it is an acoustic ballad. The quality is such that it is hard to tell that it is not a studio cut. Presumably this is an "in the studio" live recording but never-the-less the rendition is nigh on perfect with Main note perfect and balancing his vocal delivery perfectly with the delicately played acoustic guitar. Drums would undoubtedly be too obtrusive so Soutter keeps his hands free of stick and concentrates instead on the tambourine, which it has to be said is delivered perfectly (All Hail The Tambourine!). Simply a lovely song. The wonderfully titled Sure It's Chaos, But It's Ours, gives Kerr a prominent role keeping things pinned together while guitars and keyboards are layered over the top. Again, the originality of the band shines through and shows the immense potential that is waiting to be mined. Final song, Forgotten Girl, slows things right down with a steady drum beat, languid vocals, an almost subsonic bass guitar drone and additional guitar effects blending together in an intriguing amalgamation that is both haunting and captivating.
The reviews for this EP have been universally positive and have earned the band their first national exposure on the UK's Radio One as well as generous regional praise, the EP even being awarded album of the month by Manchester Music. There is no doubt that the EP is worthy of such acclaim and on this strength the next full length album should be a real treat, particularly if they are able to attract (and can afford!) the services of a producer who will be able to hone their immense collection of ideas to provide a cohesive result. Visit the band's website and you can not only pick up a physical copy of the EP for £5 (plus postage) or even cheaper if you prefer downloads, watch some impressive live videos, and even pick up the bands back catalogue for free if you sign up to their mailing list! Motion Theory are definitely a band to watch, their modern progressive sound has huge crossover appeal and they are ripe for discovery. Check them out now!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Eternal Wanderers - So Far And So Near
Tracklist: And The World Will Be (9:18), So Far And So Near (10:01), Mounds (7:08), Energy Of Light (8:35), As You Wish, I Care Not (9:04), A New Day Will Come (5:21), Thread Of Love (8:37), And I Will Follow (6:05)
Eternal Wanderers is a Russian group who describe themselves an art rock and psychedelic band. Formed in 1997, their founding members are the Kanevskaya sisters, Elena the vocalist and keyboards player and guitarist Tatyana, who have been working over the years to develop the band’ distinctive sound. They performed their first concert in 1998 and soon after that won first prize at the Talent Rocks festival held in a suburb of Moscow. More accolades soon followed while their recording output was confined to compositions for compilation CDs.
It was in 2006 that they added a bass player and drummer, with the end result being their first full length CD, The Door To A Parallel World, which took them over a year to complete. With the departure of original drummer Sergey Alyamkin after its issue, Sergey Rogulya joined them and bass player Dmitry Shtatnov. For this album, they are also joined by flautist Dmitry Drogunov.
The musical style of So Near And So Far is very much electronically centred with a particular dreamy quality but also contains other prog elements such as jazz and metal. In essence makes it sound like an amalgamation of early Pink Floyd and Clannad – no bad thing at all.
The whole philosophy behind it is to create music evoking life in parallel worlds and on different planets and the lyrics sung in English reflect this.
From the shimmery spacey synths which kick off And The World Will Be, there is much to admire in the contents including very strong resurgent medieval musical motifs that conjure images of portcullises and men in suits of armour riding through them. This is very much in context with the other worldiness it evokes and gives it a distinct Celtic edge. There is also no getting away from the fact Elena does sound very much like Maire Brennan. This is a terrific start to the album with a flute in the mix of a song which builds well into a huge climax.
So Far And So Near delivers more of the same in terms of massive swirls of synthesisers this time alongside fuzzy guitars and still with that wonderful medieval motif cropping up from time to time.
The wind, a bell and laughter start off the proceedings on the interestingly named Mounds again full of medieval musicality and Elena’s sweet strong voice breaking in over the lush instrumentation.
Then Energy Of Light heads off in another direction with several instruments, including violin and recorder sounds, coming in over the pacey rhythm which shifts several times as different passages of instrumental play can be heard finishing off with the briefest of vocal performances.
As You Wish, I Care Not is probably the stand-out track as it positivity crackles with keyboard energy, a Moogy passage giving way to a snazzy, jazzy piano piece full of colourful flourishes and vitality, a big bassline packing a punch which almost sounded reminiscent of Chris Squire at one point.
A New Day Will Come returns to the spacey synthesisers and again, this composition grows with grandeur with guitar and violin along with a huge vocal passage. Thread Of Love includes an acoustic guitar and synth sound before it morphs into a chunky, chaotic, avant-garde section.
And I Will Follow brings the album to a gentle, sublime conclusion with Elena’s voice combining elegantly with the flute over a beautiful melody line.
This is another of those albums which really fires the imagination and delivers an awful lot of what it promises. It is also fantastic to see a band led by two sisters who have followed the courage of their convictions in creating an original brand of music – and from a land not usually associated with prog.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Bader Nana – Wormwood
|Country of Origin:||Kuwait|
|Year of Release:||2011|
Tracklist: Wormwood (1:56), Rose (5:20), Quarantine (6:04), Journey (6:49), Earth 1348 (5:24), The Plague (8:35), All Fall Down (1:07), The Answers (5:01), Desperate Measures (4:34), Destroyer of Worlds (13:02)
To my surprise and joy I regularly come across some really good progressive rock/metal from unexpected places like the Maghreb and the Middle East. Bands such as Myrath from Tunisia, Amaseffer from Israel, and from the United Arab Emirates Absolace and Empty Yard Experiment have been recent discoveries.
One of these bands was good enough to notify me about Bader Nana. Nana is a composer from Lebanon who lives, works and has his own studio in Kuwait. He released his near solo debut concept album called Wormwood in September. It tells the story of the European bubonic plague in the Dark Ages, converted into a modern space adventure setting. It is not a very happy subject but luckily Bader Nana’s music is not at all built on a dark or growling spirit as could be expected.
I must start by saying that Bader Nana must be a huge fan of Spock’s Beard. Next to some Dream Theater influences, every song reflects a high admiration for the Beard with elements from Snow easily recognisable. This is further emphasised by Nana’s voice, matching that of Neal Morse more than once. This is a good thing, let me be clear about that.
Wormwood is in fact a very enjoyable album with a flawless production. It could well be interpreted as a Spock’s Beard album that you’ve missed and can now add from their back catalogue now that you have found it!
The album starts off with a quiet intro that leads into the real opening track Rose. This is the name of the main character who in the end turns out to be the plague herself. The song has a nice build up and brings us to Quarantine which shows the heavier side of Wormwood’s musical spectrum. Journey is equally enjoyable, as are The Answer and Desperate Measures. Both of these songs are equipped with a set of very strong and well-performed riffs by guest musician Ramzi Ramman. These two songs are my album highlights. With the 13-minute track Destroyer Of Worlds the album’s story ends mostly calm, like a concept album should. It even has the odd acoustic guitar included.
Overall I think Wormwood is a fine and coherent album, especially if you are addicted to the good old Beard. I compliment Bader Nana on that. On the other hand I would suggest, or even urge him to use his fantastic skills to evolve beyond this approach next time. With Wormwood, Bader Nana has provided a very skilled, sublime and promising debut. The album is currently available as a free download from the artist’s website.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
André de Boer
However - Sudden Dusk
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Record Label:||N.A EAST|
|Catalogue #:||N.A EAST 1011|
|Year of Release:||1981/2010|
Tracklist: It’s Good Fun (3:43), Hardt (2:18), In The Aisles (2:16), Louise Sitting In A Chair (4:19), Beese (7:10), Sudden Dusk (4:02), Lamplight (3:15) Grandfather Was The Driver (3:21), Trees For The Forest (6:34) In The Most Of Making (5:18)
However - Calling
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Record Label:||N.A EAST|
|Catalogue #:||N.A EAST 1012|
|Year of Release:||1985/2010|
Tracklist: Orion (3:40), Sigh (2:13), Into The Dance (4:54), Reaching In A Dream (3:05), Spheres Of Action (3:33), What Goes Around (1:04), On The Face Of The World (6:55), Earthtime (3:45), Stop Sign (2:12),Intermission (0:30), Bell Toll (1:50), Calling (2:49), Airplay (3:14), Little Ricky (5:49), Heroes Return (4:09), Scyilla And Charybdis (4:40), Wild/Cold (8:37), The World War (0:35), What Goes Around Comes Around (2:20), Chips (2:49) 463-646-3463 (0:08)
Peter Princiotto - Life's Mystery
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Record Label:||N.A EAST|
|Catalogue #:||N.A EAST 1011|
|Year of Release:||2010|
Tracklist: Anthem [Prelude] (1:34), Reason’s Why (6:25), Storm Watch (3:40), Good Timing (6:35), Carmela (2:44), Moment At Hand (5:08), Leaping Doe (1:48), Sigh (2:20), Life’s Mystery (5:00), Louise Sitting In A Chair (4:19), Mt. Cleo (4:45), Eventide (4:41), To A Harbor (6:58), Anthem (3:37)
This is a review that is made up of three different albums that are all tied together by one man, Peter Princiotto. They are albums that do take a slightly differing approach to each other, albeit subtle at times. When I read the song details for each album I noticed that the songs had been written in differing years, within each album, which was noticeable when you started to play the songs. This though doesn’t detract from what is on offer as the musical journey is about the quality of the material. Noticeably too is that Peter Princiotto’s album also includes some of the aforementioned songs from However too.
The great thing about Seven Dusk and Calling is how both albums take their varying musical approaches that are one minute chaotic, the next sedate and melodic, sharing them with the listener, making them part of the experience. Although there is chaos, it is rewarding, a listenable approach that the participating audience can only admire. There is variance across the board which does keep things fresh, although for me the interest is more in the Zappa-esque approaches. Calling at times does have a bit more urgency about it, although it doesn’t stray too far from the path. When you listen to Theresa Gayle’s dynamic and powerful vocal display on Orion and Spheres Of Action, one could only have hoped for more as her contribution does add another dimension to the bands sound.
Instrumentally the band can’t be faulted, offering variance for the listener although some of the very short pieces like The World War and 463-646-3463 from Calling, left me somewhat bemused, which is the only complaint I have about what has been offered here. There is brilliance which is hidden within some tracks, being sometimes subtle, but is more noticeable on others like Beese from Sudden Dusk. The other standout moments from Sudden Dusk are It’s Good Fun, Trees From The Forest and In The Midst of Making.
Of the two However albums Calling takes a more jazz orientated approach which offers up beautiful songs like Into The Dance, On The Face Of The World, Airplay and Wild/Cold. Even the heavier Scylla And Charybdis has a character that is all its own, a haunting and intriguing piece that really grows the more you listen and to boot, features some stunning guitar work.
Peter Princiotto’s solo Life’s Mystery which was inspired after watching the diffusion of sunlight fill the sky one morning whilst out walking. Having witnessed this spiritual moment, he decided to assemble a collection of positive songs as a celebration of this experience. Again the approach is based on enhancing that experience using varying approaches, which does perfectly catch that moment.
Vocally here Peter sounds somewhat like Paul Heaton, but the whole beauty is in the music that is offered that really encapsulates and encompasses that given moment, which for me makes it the strongest and most consistent of the three albums.
The albums have been remastered which has created a great soundstage that really enhances the whole experience which is more noticeable on Calling and Life’s Mystery. The band definitely takes influence from the Canterbury scene and to some degree call to mind Gentle Giant with their approach which in all honesty is not a band thing. It is worth investigating these albums as there are some nice musical inflections presented.
Sudden Dusk : 6 out of 10
Calling : 6.5 out of 10
Life's Mystery : 7 out of 10