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2011 : VOLUME 51
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


Discipline – To Shatter All Accord
Discipline – To Shatter All Accord
Country of Origin:USA
Format:Download/CD
Record Label:Strung Out Records
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:57.00
Info:Discipline
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Circuitry (6:16), When The Walls Are Down (7:30), Dead City (5:15), When She Dreams She Dreams In Color (13:41), Rogue (24:04)

The physical CD is available on 31st October. For now you can stream the opening track Circuitry from the link above, or buy the full album as a download for 10 dollars, which is what I did. A live favourite for over 15 years, and on the band’s MySpace page for years, a raw live version of Circuitry appears on 1997’s ProgDay ‘95 compilation CD and on the band’s 1995 Discipline Live VHS tape (!), as does second track When The Walls Are Down.

Now the keenly eyed amongst you will have noticed that two out of the five tracks have already been released (albeit as nigh on fifteen year old live versions) elsewhere. However both the above original releases are long out of print, and we now finally have shiny studio versions of both tracks to add to our collections. Both the above live versions of Circuitry and Walls did, however, appear on Cyclops’ 2010 double live compilation Live Days, which I reviewed last year, rating a 9.5 out of 10.

So.

Two paragraphs in proper and I still haven’t mentioned Unfolded Like Staircase. Must be some kind of record for me.

Let’s get it out of the way. Unfolded is my favourite progressive rock album of all time. In over 30 years of listening, and out of a collection touching 1500 albums, Unfolded Like Staircase is ‘the one’. Now, if I was all alone on a desert island I admit Unfolded isn’t the jolliest disc I could have picked. In fact, the themes of death, loss, loneliness and alienation would surely test my resolve. If the music wasn’t so amazingly wonderful then I agree: shipwrecked on a Tuesday afternoon, dead by Tuesday teatime. No Tom Hanks redemptive moments with basketballs. And if no rope had washed ashore (I have neither the technical skill nor the patience to fashion rope from tree bark or what not) then coconuts can quite easily be fashioned - with sufficient will and clarity of purpose - into effective killing tools.

So what we have here then are three brand new tracks, two of which clock in at ‘epic’ length and spangly studio versions of two much loved rough and ready live classics. Recorded by the Unfolded line up of Matthew Parmenter (voice, mellotron and keys), Jon Preston Bouda (guitar), Mathew Kennedy (bass) and Paul Dzendzel (drums). For a Discipline fan this is as close to prog heaven as it gets.

So the questions you’ll have, I’m guessing, as I had all those years I read this site looking for recommendations (why do you think I actually have 1500 albums?) are: 1) is it any good? (Yes, very); 2) will I like it? (Yes, a lot); and 3) should I buy it? (Yes). I’ll get me coat…

But just how good is it? Well, let’s start at the end. Rogue is 24 minutes long, described as “a psychedelic song-suite staged as theatrical drama”. Not that length matters, mind. But… Oh Bugger. Just as I thought I had my albums and tracks of the year list just about sorted along comes this. What can I tell you? This is staggeringly good. I'd go so far as to say that it's one of the best songs I've ever heard. Bouda's guitar work is outstanding - some of the greatest soloing I have ever heard, in fact. Kudos also to the rhythm section, which is amazingly tight, as always, but this is perhaps Jon Preston Bouda's finest hour. There's a fluidity to the playing that is truly a joy to behold. If this song was a girl I would not only ask it out. I'd marry it. I mean her. Yes, I love this song.

When She Dreams She Dreams In Color, (a snippet of which appeared as an extra on the Live 1995 DVD, as a coda from a 1997 recording, complete with violin played by Parmenter), comes in at around the 14-minute mark. Drenched in gorgeous mellotron strings, and violin (sure to please the Kansas fans amongst you), the song’s a soundtrack to a noir movie in your head.

Last of the ‘new’ ones is Dead City. Bouda’s psychedelic guitar gives way to poppy, Howard Jones style keyboard chops before the unmistakable voice of Parmenter is unleashed. Part Hammill, part Gabriel. Bouda’s guitar comes back for a spine tingling little solo before the song fair cracks along, all stabbing violin and newsreader samples depicting a tale of zombies on the loose. Well, the band does come from Detroit.

When The Walls Are Down has dreamy sax (which previous live versions lacked) over plaintive piano before the chugging guitar riff and tortured vocals with which some of you might be familiar. Elsewhere Jon Preston Bouda’s guitar work is incredibly evocative. He truly can make the instrument speak, duetting with Parmenter, adding fills, texture, colour. Or riffs as big as houses. There’s walls of saxophone towards the end that’ll gain appreciative nods from Crimson and VDGG fans.

And so we come to Circuitry. Or rather we begin. Whatever your pleasure. Propelled by a down and dirty guitar riff with washes of organ underneath, again the guitar stabs out from beyond the riffage before some gentle piano and saxophone. Said instrument is then truly unleashed, again evoking VDGG in their pomp, this time taking centre stage. Organ and guitar compete boldly, carrying on the musical conversation, each one occasionally shouting to be heard, then acquiescing upon the urging of Parmenter’s voice. The ringmaster keeping them in check.

Is it as good as Staircase? No. But then to this reviewer’s mind nothing is. It is, however, quite simply one of the very best albums you’ll hear all year.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

BRIAN WATSON



Haken – Visions
Haken – Visions
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Laser's Edge
Catalogue #:SR-1060
Year of Release:2011
Time:56:15
Info:Haken
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Premonition (4:09), Nocturnal Conspiracy (13:07), Insomnia (6:05), The Mind’s Eye (4:04), Portals (5:27), Shapeshifter (8:07), Deathless (8:04), Visions (22:25)

Basil Francis' Review

Last year, UK-based group Haken took the progressive world by storm with their stunning debut Aquarius, and stunning it was too! With perfectly crafted songs, quirky eclecticism and technical wizardry to make Dream Theater cringe, Haken proved that you can and should expect more from your music.

With such positive feedback from their first album, it was only a matter of time before the band would give us a second offering. Visions, like Aquarius, is another 70-minute concept album, this time about a boy who has a premonition of his own death in his dreams, and how he spends his life trying to avoid it. Once again, the band take an almost cinematic approach to progressive metal in order to tell the story.

With this album, the band experiment with different song lengths: two of the tracks come in at just over 4 minutes, whilst the title track takes up a staggering 22 minutes (more on that later). Structurally, the album is a bit of a mess, as Nocturnal Conspiracy is essentially two separate songs in one track, whilst the trio of The Mind’s Eye/Portals/Shapeshifter make up a single continuous suite.

The album does maintain some structural integrity though, as the opening instrumental Premonition acts as an overture (although strangely the main theme is not used elsewhere in the album). With such a forceful opening, the listener knows that they are once more in for a treat. With each song, Haken show that they’ve lost none of their technical flair as they switch time signatures and execute perfectly balanced solos throughout.

Sadly though, and this came as quite a blow to me personally, the band have mainly eschewed the almost Gentle Giant-esque quirkiness that captivated me on Aquarius, and have instead chosen to play more ‘straight’ progressive metal. On their last album, the band’s ability to sound fresh and invigorating was mainly underpinned by the fact that you’d hear a jazz solo or an a cappella verse or even a rock ‘n’ roll workout where you’d never expect it. Those brilliant moments of eclecticism are unfortunately kept to a minimum here, though such moments do still exist here, e.g. the ‘arcade game theme’ during the instrumental of Insomnia, as well as several moments in Visions. With this more deadpan prog-metal sound, Haken end up sounding extremely similar to Dream Theater in many of their songs, especially during the instrumentals - which I suppose isn’t entirely a bad thing.

Another great loss for Haken is the overall sense of charm that came with Aquarius. With softer moments like the sublime opening to Streams, coupled with the fairytale story of a mermaid, the bands’ debut really knew how to persuade the listener to keep on listening. With such a dark story that seems all too typical of metal concept albums nowadays and no killer themes to speak of, Visions leaves me underwhelmed in wake of its predecessor.

All is not lost though. With the closing track Visions, Haken goes in the (long) list of progressive bands that have written a 20 minute epic. Having heard many such tracks in my time, I’ve learned never to prejudice a song by its length, as it could really go both ways. However, seeing as this is the legendary Haken we’re talking about, I really shouldn’t have been too worried in the first place. Naturally, Visions is a well crafted epic, with diverse themes that keep the listener interested all the way through. As mentioned earlier, some of the quirkiness from the first album creeps in too, and there is even a (very) brief jazz part during one of the instrumentals. The chorus is an absolute storm, and recurs in various forms throughout the track. My only real grumble is about the way the track ends, as the band choose to stop playing abruptly and let a string quartet close the album. While I would never try and tell a band how to write their music, I definitely feel that a more traditional crashing finale would have suited the end better. As a closing song, Visions doesn’t quite match 2010’s Celestial Elixir but it gets pretty damn close.

With Visions, it’s a classic case of ‘difficult second album’. I will admit, given the sheer power and freshness of the band’s debut, I was slightly disappointed by this album, but nevertheless found it an interesting and exciting listen. Visions may not be quite as good as Aquarius, but despite this, Haken still deliver a truly progressive album, and definitely one of the best so far this year.

Jon Bradshaw's Review

A year ago, Haken erupted into my consciousness with what turned out to be my ‘Newcomer Of The Year’ album, Aquarius. It demolished boundaries and dazzled in its whirling complexity. Now they have followed swiftly on with their sophomore release, Visions. The collective partnership of Ross Jennings (vocals), Richard Henshall (guitar and keyboards), Charlie Griffiths (guitar), Thomas Maclean (bass guitar), Raymond Hearne (drums and percussion), and Diego Tejeida, (keyboards and sound design), who is a new addition to the team, have delivered a sterling album.

Having said that, I think it’s fair to remark that something has changed. Haken’s confident swagger is still there but their rough edges have been polished off. Gone are Jennings’ occasional barking vocals to be entirely replaced by his clean singing style which reminds me of Patrik Lundström (Ritual, Kaipa). Gone is the rawness and a lot of the eccentricity of Aquarius. There seems to be a deliberate move towards ‘Progressive Metal’ (with a capital P and a capital M), as opposed to the progressive rock with metal stylings of Aquarius; Visions sounds a tad more commonplace than Aquarius did. This is not to say that it lacks innovation or that their clash and clatter and potency is entirely missing, but it is diminished. Some of the visceral surprise has gone, perhaps naturally. There was something about Aquarius that bore the hallmarks of pressure being released. That all of their energies, pent up until the opportunity to relieve their straining, creative boiler, were unleashed into the recording studio. There’s something more studied, more refined, more controlled about Visions. In places, it’s still a turbine of an album, but the steam is under regulation. Where Aquarius pulled and fussed and tugged, jostling to make everything fit, Visions seems under the influence of a tighter pen making it self-contained and fluid.

For me, it is in the fifth instrumental track Portals that we find the Haken that I enjoy most. This is music that’s trapped in a room of mirrors, desperately seeking an exit but able only to reflect itself by increasingly frustrated and angry measures. Hearne’s drums provide a tremendous, gathering cloudburst of energy, vitality, and drive. Henshall is the principal composer of all of the material and he or Griffiths provide the sparking, bristling, electrifying lead guitar. Whatever the case, it’s breathtaking. Tejeida’s keyboard solos are visceral full of anguish and menace in equal measure. Maclean’s bass is not just a supporting instrument either, he lopes along with the hulking power of a rhinoceros or is just as likely to play with gossamer delicacy and often both within the same song. Portals then, is a twisting, furious, writhing entity but it resolves into sharply focussed moments of unity, clarity and melody and the playing is superb. This is what the Haken sound is about, to me.

The opener, Premonition, sets a charge that detonates spectacularly in Nocturnal Conspiracy. The former introduces a string quartet (The Haken String Quartet) that is a prominent feature throughout the album. They add personality to the mix, sometimes providing gravity and scale, sometimes light and air, and Premonition is an opulent, cinematic and majestic piece with powerful chugging guitars and multi-tracked French Horn amplifying the grandness. This texture carries over into Nocturnal Conspiracy, which also has a broad, cinematic feel to the whole arrangement, but it starts with a lovely restrained interplay between piano, guitars and the rhythm section that marry delicately with the vocal melody. This is another touchstone piece for the ‘Haken Sound’ as I perceive it. Shifting between restraint and bombast with exquisite melodies, its multiple transitions and developments are handled deftly, even when it bursts unexpectedly into a jazzy ‘lounge’ section before culminating in a sublime and powerful finale. The other track that stands out for me is Shapeshifter. It keeps the momentum of Portals alive but Tejeida’s constantly morphing keyboard work paints a freak-carnival of sounds behind the pulsating bass and taut guitars, Tejeida, as ‘sound designer’, has done a really impressive job. The whole album is dripping with atmosphere and the keyboard work throughout is lush and involving.

All of these have that sense of daring to tread where few others would even dream possible, but the rest leave me a little cold, or numb or simply underwhelmed. The move towards a more mainstream and coherent sonic concept has resulted in half an album’s worth of ‘been there, heard that’ music, (mostly from Dream Theater and mostly on Systematic Chaos, it has to be said). I get hints of Kansas here and there and references to Queen and A.C.T - all of whom are fabulous artists that I have regard and love for in varying measure, I’m just disappointed is all. The fiendishly imaginative feats of their debut, its sense of awe, wonder and inventiveness hasn’t, for me, been sustained. Leprous’ Bilateral is the daring and boundary-pushing album within the prog-metal world this year (so far). Visions, sadly, hasn’t quite switched me on.

This isn’t a bad album, far from it, I’m just throwing my dummies out of the pram because it doesn’t shake me up like Aquarius did. I actually imagine that Visions will introduce Haken to a whole slew of new fans globally and what I’m hearing is world class. In fact, it’s hard not to imagine that Haken will ascend to the heights of the bands I’ve mentioned above, they’re that good but, for me, Visions is equivocating. It’s too ambiguous to have any truly defining moments and until fans have had time to listen to it repeatedly and make their own decisions, I shall remain slightly ambivalent.

Conclusions:

BASIL FRANCIS : 8.5 out of 10
JON BRADSHAW : 7.5 out of 10



White Willow – Terminal Twilight
White Willow – Terminal Twilight
Country of Origin:Norway
Format:CD
Record Label:Termo Records
Catalogue #:TERMOCD009
Year of Release:2011
Time:56:52
Info:White Willow
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Hawks Circle The Mountain (7:10), Snowswept (4:13), Kansas Regrets (4:39), Red Leaves (8:40), Floor 67 (9:54), Natasha Of The Burning Woods (6:30), Searise (13:14), A Rumour Of Twilight (2:35)

Given the band’s meticulous attention to detail when it comes to recording and the fact that the last White Willow album Signal To Noise was released in 2006 you would be forgiven for presuming that they’ve spent months (if not years) in the studio labouring over this latest offering. Terminal Twilight (the band’s sixth album since their 1995 debut Ignis Fatuus) was in fact recorded in fairly modest circumstances with the minimum of post-production tinkering. The result is a very vibrant and almost live sounding album that harks back to their 2004 release Storm Season. Their trademark melodic song style remains however, interspersed with thoughtfully crafted (but not overblown) instrumental interludes.

Terminal Twilight features old and new faces with founder and guitarist Jacob Holm-Lupo joined by returning vocalist Sylvia Erichsen (absent from the last album) plus Lars Fredrik Frøislie (keyboards), Ketil Einarsen (flute), Ellen Andrea Wang (bass) and Mattias Olsson (drums). Holm-Lupo is the man responsible for the compositions and the opening track Hawks Circle The Mountain is typical of his style. Moody and melodramatic to begin with (almost Italian prog in style) it blossoms into an infectious synth led melody around the 5 minute mark. Sylvia Erichsen’s crystal clear vocals cut through the instrumental melee with hint of a Björk in her delivery.

Snowswept boasts another strong tune and chorus with Sylvia’s voice this time sounding delicate and fragile before the song hits its rhythmic stride around the halfway mark. Guest Tim Bowness of No Man fame takes on singing duties for the beautiful Kansas Regrets and his breathy delivery is perfectly suited to the song’s pastoral tone with acoustic guitar, flute and piano bringing Iona to mind.

Perhaps the album’s most expansive piece is Red Leaves (available to sample on the band’s website). Following a classical piano intro, soaring vocal sections are interspersed with proggy instrumental flights the highlight of which is a swirling cacophony of synths that reach an exhilarating peak. The harmony vocals have an air of Solstice about them and for me it’s only the uneven and sprawling guitar solo that distracts from the song’s overall grandeur.

Another lengthy piece Floor 67 is perhaps less consistent beginning with a tranquil vocal lament that develops into a bright and breezy song section before giving way to a fragmented instrumental midsection. The curiously titled Natasha Of The Burning Woods is undoubtedly one of my favourite tracks with a lyrical flute theme augmented by acoustic guitar and keys strings. The catchy drum led coda that follows is one of the album’s true epic moments.

Although clocking in at over 13 minutes Searise is perhaps for me less successful in the epic stakes although it certainly has its moments. This is particularly true of the delicate acoustic ballad that serves as the song’s intro and the powerful guitar and mellotron section that likewise provides the finale. The latter part in particular brings The Lamb era Genesis to mind and there is an especially fine bass pattern that underpins the uplifting keyboard work.

The album concludes on a brief but delectably tranquil note courtesy of the instrumental A Rumour Of Twilight. With its chiming acoustic guitar against a restrained keyboard backdrop there is a distinctively Anthony Phillips flavour here.

All in all this is an excellent and atmospheric album from White Willow, a band that continues to demonstrate their standing as one of Norway’s finest. Dark and mysterious one moment, sunny and uplifting the next, there is really little more that you can ask of a prog album (or any album for that matter).

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



Goad - Masquerade
Goad - Masquerade
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Black Widow
Catalogue #:BWR122
Year of Release:2011
Time:77:14
Info:Goad
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Fever Called Living (6:32), Eldorado Parts I-II (Heavy Run) (5:18), Last Knowledge Pt. I-II (6:44), The Judge (5:10), Valley Of Unrest (6:07), To Helen Pt. I-II (7:34), Alone (6:00), Masquerade [Fast & Short] (2:25), Intro (Classic Guitar Prelude] (1:36), Slave Of The Holy Mountain (4:26), Dreamland (7:12), The Haunted Palace (4:43), Masquerade With Dance Macabre (13:27): pt I (The Dream) (4:21), pt II (Incubus) (3:32), pt III (Disturbance) (2:15), pt IV (Sunrise) (2:31), pt V (Final) (0:48)

Hailing from Florence, Italy, Goad have been active for close to 30 years, though, unlike other Italian bands they are a nearly unknown quantity for most progressive rock fans. Formed in the late Seventies by multi-instrumentalist Maurilio Rossi and his brother Gianni, they have been producing albums since the early Eighties, though most of them have never been officially released. Starting from the early 2000's, their association with prolific Italian label Mellow Records and, even more recently, with Genoa-based Black Widow Records has made their later works more widely available. However, Masquerade, their eighth studio release, may very well be the one that finally puts them on the international prog map.

A highly eclectic outfit, Goad show a keen interest in weird, dark-hued literature, which makes them a perfect fit for Black Widow's fascination with the esoteric. Not surprisingly, most of their albums have a concept format, however loose, and Masquerade is no exception. Recorded over three years by a sizable group of musicians - the seven band members, plus a number of other guests, almost a mini-orchestra - the album is largely based on Edgar Allan Poe's work, with some of the songs featuring Poe's original verse as lyrics. The iconic American author had already provided the inspiration for Goad's 1995 album, titled Tribute To Edgar Allan Poe: while their 2004 release Raomen had been based on Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology (a major source of inspiration for Italian musicians in the Seventies), and 2006's The Wood was conceived as a tribute to cult horror writer HP Lovecraft.

Like the majority of Goad's previous output, Masquerade is completely sung in English - something that generally undermines the uniqueness of Italian progressive rock, rendering it more similar to the English blueprint for the genre, and therefore less original. However, in this case the choice is perfectly understandable, seen as Poe's verse has been left in the original English-language version, and the lyrical themes are definitely easier to follow in one language rather than two. Maurilio Rossi's Italian accent, as is the case with most Italian singers that use English, is rather noticeable, but the overall effect is not unpleasant at all. Although his somewhat harsh vocals definitely fall in the acquired taste category, coupled with the slightly gritty quality of the sound and the rich, distinctive instrumentation, they enhance the eerie, brooding atmosphere of this undeniably ambitious undertaking.

Interestingly, at first Masquerade does not sound very Italian - perhaps with the exception of the idiosyncratic vocal delivery, which may bring to mind abrasive yet highly expressive singers like Jumbo's Alvaro Fella or Balletto di Bronzo's Gianni Leone. Some of the more melodic numbers show a distinct Genesis influence, but the overall tone of the album is much more akin to the angular, sharp-edged aggression of King Crimson or Van Der Graaf Generator, intensified by the vintage feel of the recording. Running at a hefty 77 minutes, Masquerade conveys the atmosphere of Poe's writings with grandiosely epic sweep, through the skillful alternation of stormy, high-energy moments and quieter, softer ones. Some of the songs are divided in two parts, and the title-track, strategically placed at the close of the album, is a five-part, mostly instrumental Gothic tour-de-force, opening with sinister, plodding Black Sabbath-like riffing and closing with airy keyboards and gentle acoustic guitar - a cinematic, often riveting effort throwing in a lot of diverse influences, but much more cohesive than one might expect.

Maurilio Rossi's expertly wielded array of keyboards form the backbone of Goad's sound, the distinctive rumble of the Hammond organ conjuring shades of Deep Purple, very evident in Eldorado and the very aptly-titled Masquerade [Fast & Short]. However, the energetic flute-guitar riff at the very opening of Fever Called Living clearly references Jethro Tull, another enormously influential band for the development of Italian prog. To Helen, one of the highlights of the whole album, betrays a folksy influence in the dance-like pace of the violin section (courtesy of Francesco Diddi, who also plays the flute), while the fabric of the track is heavy, slashed by guitar, assertive flute - again in the Jethro Tull mould - and particularly intense vocals. On the other hand, Valley Of Unrest and Alone explore mellower territory, with a softer vocal approach as well: the latter in particular is a melancholy ballad (as suggested by the title), mostly acoustic, while the former is characterized by the expressive sound of the trumpet, almost answering the call of the guitar (whose tone is quite reminiscent of Steve Hackett). The solemn The Judge also harks back to Genesis' melodic yet dramatic approach, based on the seamless blend of keyboards and guitar.

A decidedly intriguing album, Masquerade falls short of recommended status because of its excessive length - which, in my view, almost inevitably entails the inclusion of filler material. Maurilio Rossi's vocals can also become rather grating after a while, even if they fit the general musical atmosphere quite well. On the other hand, in spite of these shortcomings, the album has a lot to offer to the discerning prog fan, and the references to legendary Seventies acts hardly ever smack of derivativeness. With its stylish yet adequately disturbing artwork (thankfully devoid of the cheesiness that often plagues Black Widow releases), and appealingly rough-around-the-edges sound quality, it is quite likely to attract the interest of fans of dramatic heavy prog - especially those who also share an interest in Gothic literature.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

RAFFAELLA BERRY



Majestic - Labyrinth
Majestic - Labyrinth
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:60:16
Info:Majestic
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Labyrinth (31:40), Mosaic (15:16), Phoenix Rising (14:20)

Majestic was created in the mid-2000s as a solo project by Minneapolis-based multi-instrumentalist Jeff Hamel (formerly with Detroit progressive metal band Osmium). It was only in 2008, when - after the release of Hamel's first two albums (String Theory and Descension) - the considerable talents of vocalist Jessica Rasche entered the picture, that the one-man project turned into a full-fledged band, albeit an exclusively studio-based one.

Like many studio-only projects, Majestic are quite prolific, having released three albums in as many years since Rasche and her husband, drummer Chris Nathe, got on board. While I had not been particularly impressed by Descension, 2009's Arrival and especially last year's Ataraxia showed a lot of potential, with much tighter compositional standards and Rasche's pure yet commanding vocal tones exponentially increasing the music's interest value. Both of those albums, however, seemed to follow the modern trend for running times well in excess of 60 minutes, which obviously put the attention span of the average listener to the test. Labyrinth, Majestic's fourth album, released as a free download in the early summer of 2011, pursues an equally ambitious route, though cutting the running time down to slightly over an hour - almost 20 minutes shorter than its predecessors.

While Ataraxia featured 11 tracks, Labyrinth only comprises three songs, none of them under 15 minutes, and - in a very brave move - opens with the eponymous, 30-minute super-epic. On a personal level, I am not a huge advocate of tracks that are almost as long as the average vinyl record, because, in my decades-long experience as a listener, I have realized they are quite difficult to get right, and can very easily turn into a sprawling mess. I also believe that placing such a tour de force at the opening of the album is often counterproductive, as a top-heavy album almost inevitably produces a sense of weariness in the listener well before things are over. On the other hand, while Labyrinth (the track) suffers from the shortcomings shared by the majority of super-epics - chiefly a palpable lack of cohesion, with too many changes in tempo and mood, and a whole lot of diverse influences thrown into the mix - it does also offer quite a few moments of interest.

Though Majestic have occasionally been labelled as neo-prog, their quintessentially eclectic approach combines the influence of vintage prog acts such as Genesis and Pink Floyd with the more modern approach embodied by the likes of Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree. The really distinctive element in their music, however, resides in Jessica Rasche's beautiful voice - even though on Labyrinth the emphasis is more firmly placed on the instrumental aspect of things, particularly on the interplay of keyboards and guitar, both handled by Hamel. While the drums (this time provided by John Wooten) sound occasionally a bit tinny, the lush keyboard layers add a sense of melody and solemnity, often creating entrancing atmospheres in contrast with the metallic harshness of the guitar riffs.

As previously hinted, the title-track introduces the album by pulling out all the stops, with slow yet incisive riffing out of the Black Sabbath songbook, distorted guitar passages and majestic (pardon the pun) keyboard surges. Rasche's vocals begin in a low-key mode, then gain assurance, floating over the instrumental din with a graceful yet assertive tone that reminded me of Anneke van Giersbergen (formerly of The Gathering). Some of the heavier symphonic passages hint at Ayreon even more than Dream Theater, while the distinct spacey/psychedelic flavour of other sections, as well as the fluid, echoing tone of Hamel's soloing, point to a strong Pink Floyd influence. As a whole, the track holds true to its title: meandering and definitely overlong, in spite of the not infrequent glimpses of potential greatness. On the other hand, Mosaic, in spite of its title, is the most cohesive number on the album, and the only one devoid of metal elements. Rasche sounds particularly authoritative, her clear yet full-bodied voice blending very effectively with the gently atmospheric mood, and complemented by the sharp, clear tone of Hamel's guitar. The use of various sound effects merges with the nostalgic tone of the piano, and the often sparse texture of the song manages to hold the listener's interest much better than the mind-boggling twists and turns of the title-track. With closer Phoenix Rising, the only completely instrumental track, the metal influences resurface in the shape of harsh riffs and fast and furious drumming, though alternating with rarefied passages and a particularly lovely guitar solo towards the end - almost like Pink Floyd jamming with Dream Theater.

With a striking cover by UK artist Mark Mayers, Labyrinth is an interesting effort, even though the somewhat extravagant title-track tends to overshadow the rest. Rasche's outstanding vocals, which had been Ataraxia's biggest draw, are a bit underused, and the "kitchen-sink" approach adopted in the composition of the title-track can be a bit confusing, especially for first-time listeners. In my view, Majestic are at their best when pursuing the spacey/psychedelic route and keeping the metal influences to a minimum, to avoid sounding like yet another female-fronted symphonic prog metal band. While Jeff Hamel is undoubtedly an excellent instrumentalist, and the band has a lot of potential, they need to get a tighter grip on the compositional aspect and revert to the more balanced approach evidenced on Ataraxia.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

RAFFAELLA BERRY



Quorum - Klubkin’s Voyage
Quorum - Klubkin’s Voyage
Country of Origin:Russia
Format:CD
Record Label:MALS
Catalogue #:MALS 367
Year of Release:2011
Time:79:01
Info:Quorum
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Overture (3:52), Klubkin’s Voyage Part One (4:00), Books And Dreams (5:06), Beginning (4:14), Geographic Community (5:41), Insanity (1:59), Confusion (3:06), Non Accidental Meeting (3:44), Decision (4:02), Klubkin’s Voyage Part Two (8:41), My Land, Where Are You? (8:17), Discovery (7;10), World Is Mocking At An Innocence (3:40), So Tired (7:36), Klubkin’s Voyage Part Three (2:37), Voyage Goes On! (5:08)

Quorum is an interesting band from Russia, who formed in 2003. The current line-up consists of Dmitry Shtatnov (keyboards, vocals, bass, producer and main composer), Pavel Barabnov (guitars, composer), Sergey Niconorov (drums, part of the lyrics), Elena Kanevskaya (backing vocals) and Dmitry Drogounov (flutes, voices).

In almost 80 minutes the band takes us -almost nonstop- on a journey with Klubkin, a character they derived from a TV show in Russia, but a non existing name in the history of mankind as far as discoveries are concerned. Because the lyrics are in Russian most of our readers won’t be able to understand what exactly the band is trying to get across lyrically. Most of us will frown, hearing this language with all those strange sounds, unfamiliar to us listening to English most of the time or with maybe Spanish, Portuguese, French, German or Dutch.

The Overture shows us exactly where the music is taking us: well played progressive music with touches of jazz and fusion. Both guitar as well as synth playing melodies and solos. The music flows right through into the first of the three ‘Klubkin’s Voyages’ and for the first time the vocals. A mediocre voice but not in the least disturbing and fortunately there are many exquisite instrumental pieces. The third track features flutes in the first part, sounding a bit like Cusco meets Gandalf. Then we have the vocal parts - in between an up tempo piece with deliciously soling of guitar and synth.

Track four begins with a vocal part on superb mid tempo progressive rock. As multiple times in the previous track a tasteful change of tempo, the music is now slower and more majestic and in spite of the vocals there are gorgeous arrangements by different keyboards, a bit in the style of bands like Starcastle. Geographic Community for the most part, has a distinct Pink Floyd feel (Have A Cigar) with a tasteful guitar solo by Barabnov followed by an even more impressive sole by Shtatnov’s synth. Insanity is indeed a nice rhythm with all kinds of strange sounds and effects on top. Whereas in Confusion the vocal harmonies on top of rock music, and in the second part of the song a sliding guitar, the music sounds like a modern version of music by the late Bo Hansson. Non Accidental Meeting is a jazzy pop tune featuring piano and female background vocal harmonies.

Decision is a nice piece paying a tribute to the symphonic rock of the seventies, featuring the sounds of the organ, vocals, guitar solo and the flute. The duet between guitar and flute reminds of Caravan and Shtatnov’s organ sounds like it has been played by a Mr Rick Wakeman. Back to basics, that is to say superb progressive rock, only instruments this time, in part two of Klubkin’s voyage. Melodies and solos by flute, guitar and synth combined with tasteful orchestral arrangements as well as piano and exquisite drumming and bass playing (Rickenbacker of course). As a sort of an interlude there are solo spots for Barabnov’s acoustic guitar and a flute in a rather Spanish sounding piece of music. In My Land Where Are You? It’s pop meeting musical featuring Shtatnov’s voice and piano. In the middle section some impressive piano playing followed by solos on the guitar. Then a more classical music orientated majestic piece, gradually turning back to the more progressive kind of music.

Discovery opens with piano and drums, followed by a part where the synth is playing solos on top of a nice deep bass line. Then Shtatnov starts to sing and is accompanied by bass, piano and drums. Vocal harmonies are added, then all of a sudden the organ comes in, then the guitar and the music changes style once again. In yet another tempo there’s an interlude by the keyboards. A tribute to EL&P can be heard at the beginning of World Is Mocking but the music changes quickly into a pop meets prog kind of style with multiple changes of tempo and influences. So Tired opens with an acoustic guitar, then flute, bass and strings are added, followed by a synth. Shtatnov sings on top an acoustic guitar but it’s almost impossible to describe how quickly the music changes style and instrumentation, but strangely enough it keeps on flowing! A delicious duel between synth and guitar in the first piece of the instrumental Klubkin’s Voyage Part Three, with some familiar themes. Very sweet and melodic is the final part of the voyage, but not without an interlude with some Genesis influences. Solos by Barabnov and vocal harmonies are the conclusion of this voyage, perhaps to be continued…

In spite of the language barrier, which took me quite a while to get over, the music flows from the beginning to the end and because of all the little bits and pieces melded together with extraordinary craftsmanship, the album remains challenging and interesting for the whole 79 something minutes. The music, in my opinion, is way above average, played by highly skilled musicians. Improvements are possible production-wise but most certainly Quorum must rank among the top bands in their country and probably well outside of Russia too.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

MENNO VON BRUCKEN FOCK



Lukas Tower Band - Albedo
Lukas Tower Band - Albedo
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:Transformer Records
Catalogue #:LTBCD04
Year of Release:2010
Time:55:24
Info:Lukas Tower Band
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Sisters (7:24), The Sands Of Dee (5:38), She Is Far From The Land (2:22), Medley: i Morrison's Jig ii My Lady Nottingham's Puff iii Pic St. Loup (4:59), The Angel Files (3:47), La Bastide Set: i La Bastide iiClavel's iiiA Fig For A Kiss iv High Reel (8:46), Strange Ways (8:16), Lunatic Boy (4:23), Rajah (6:31), Dawn (3:13)

Named after the twin-towered St. Lukas Church in Munich, the Lukas Tower Band have been around in various forms for over a quarter of a century but have remained somewhat low key, so much so that they received a newcomer of the year award back in 2000 after they had existed for some 15 years! The website gives no information as to how many albums they have recorded in that time and just mentions the current one and one called After Long Years. The band seems to have gone through numerous changes over the years but the current line-up comprises Wolfgang Fastenmeier (guitars, percussion), Gerhard Heinisch (bass), Angela Maier (vocals), Fredy Orendt (keyboards, accordion, flute), Silvia Szekely (violin), Thomas Willecke (drums, percussion) and Ursula Wilpert (low and high whistles), with Jochen Scheffter providing strings on one track.

The music is quite a strange, and unique, blend of folk and progressive rock. Oddly enough, considering the band is German, the lyrics to the songs are adapted from the works of English poets: Lords Tennyson and Byron, Thomas Moore, William Blake and Charles Causley. Sung in English, without any trace of an accent, Maier is not the most dynamic of vocalists but her performances do suit the songs very well, giving each piece more of a feel of a story telling. The two medleys Medley (!) and The Bastide Set are lively pieces containing a mixture of traditional and original reels that make great use of the whistles and violin. As such they could easily be mistaken for Fairport Convention, even down to the humorous titles - My Lady Nottingham's Puff indeed! As a big fan of the Fairport's I couldn't help but fall in love with these pieces!

Elsewhere, the more progressive elements shine through, with hints of Jethro Tull and Camel being detected throughout; the beginning of Strange Ways even having similarities to the early albums of the great Hoelderlin. Throughout the album electric guitars and keyboards are intermingled with acoustic guitars and plenty of flute, generating atmosphere, more Latimer than Anderson. Most of the original material is written by Fastenmeier although keyboard player Orendt wrote the music for Lunatic Boy, which, unsurprisingly, is the most keyboard heavy of the tracks, and the pair co-wrote the very strong opening track Sisters. Rajah has a very eastern feel to it with lyrics that sound as if they are Arabic. An involved piece that changes frequently and has plenty of percussive elements as well as a fine section with electric guitar and violin echoing each other to generate a very interesting song. Violin also dominates the opening of Dawn, which is joined first by an acoustic (playing a riff adapted from Jethro Tull) and then electric guitar. All too soon it is over, a strange way to end an album!

On the whole this album was very much a surprise as in many ways it sounds so English. It may be too folky for hard core prog fans, yet too rocky for folk purists. But if one is not adverse to a bit of both merged together and performed diligently and with a sense of playfulness, then Albedo is well worth checking out.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



The Dawn Band - Agents Of Sentimentality
The Dawn Band - Agents Of Sentimentality
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:Elektrohasch
Records
Catalogue #:CD148
Year of Release:2011
Time:47:41
Info:The Dawn Band
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Love Is A Burglar (5:07), City Lights [Shine On] (6:28), Lost Soul At The Nightclub (2:43), Surfing The Big Wave (8:35), Boat Across The Ocean (4:27), Siam (2:33), Kussnacht (4:24), Armour’s Ark (5:19), Slowly Dancing [Around The Midnight Bar] (4:21), Love Is A Burglar [Reprise] (3:40)

Martin Treppesch (guitars, bass and synthesizers) and Daniel Zerndl (guitars, drums vocals and synthesizers), the drummer of Hainloose have formed a band called The Dawn Band. Between them they have managed to record their debut album that is full of indie psychedelic rock, an album called Agents Of Sentimentality that is powerful in some places, shoegazing in others, full of melody, an album that has taken inspiration and influence from Queens Of The Stone Age, Cheap Trick and Motorpsycho.

To reference the music as an analogy, all you need to do is just look at the artwork, varying wave forms, some calm while others climb to the crest, powerful and enabling before ebbing away to start all over again which really sums up what is featured here.

From the opening track Love Is A Burglar to the closing track Love Is A Burglar [Reprise] there are some elegant moments, music that clambers to be heard, music with differing personalities that aren’t always immediate, but when they are, they are worth listening too and have something to say. The longest track Surfing The Big Wave is where the band expresses theirselves the most, experimenting with various approaches allowing the soundstage to breathe, offering a dynamic overview of what they can create without the use of vocals to highlight and heighten the emotion. The guitar has a rapidity that is effective, which really captures the title of the instrumental which is complemented and confirmed by the excellent drum patterns that punctuate the whole piece as does Andreas Pernpeintner’s Hammond work. Siam takes a differing approach instrumentally, beautiful acoustic guitar work that is heavenly, reinforcing the effectuality and credibility of both approaches.

Not being a band afraid to experiment, it can be also noted that the acoustic approach also plays a large role. For me it is the unification of these two methods that compliments the whole proceedings and what works best. The balance of presentation between electric and acoustic works very well but you need to open your mind for it to work fully as this is a band that doesn’t recognise any musical borders.

Boat Across The Ocean sees Annick Michel adding her vocal tones, layered beauty, accentuating the lyrical storyboard which is again reinforced by Andreas Pernpeintner’s Hammond work.

The band understands that the construction of good melodies is important, which they have mastered throughout to great effect. It isn’t a complex approach taken, but the approach like I said is very effectual.

It is said that a picture is worth a thousands words, well on the balance of that statement, so is music, something that The Dawn Band have confirmed here.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

JOHN O'BOYLE



Daal – Destruktive Actions Affect Livings
Daal – Destruktive Actions Affect Livings
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Agla Records
Catalogue #:Agla CD02
Year of Release:2011
Time:45:58
Info:Daal
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Redroom (2:30), Anarchrist (7:00), Noises From An Interlude (2:07), Live 6666 (5:20), The Dance Of The Drastic Navels Part II (16:35), Cry-Hologenic (4:07), Aglatarium (4:37), Destruktive Actions Affect Livings (10:00), Memories From An Old Picture (7:00)

It took me quite a while to get into the world of Daal. Just like on their first album (Disorganicoricami from 2009) these guys are not in the business to please the listener too easily. On first listen the largely instrumental tracks, (only the first part of the lengthy The Dance Of The Drastic Navels Part II features some nice vocals by guest Guglielmo Mariotti from The Watch who also plays bass on the album), sound experimental and lack melody. But when you persevere and read what the album is about things start to make sense.

“Destruktive Actions Affect Livings wants to talk about friends and family members who are not with us any longer, of pain that cannot be healed, of struggles to communicate with those who are near to us, of destructive actions against those we hold dear, of injustice against the weak…..feelings that touched us deeply”

No easy subject matter but they manage to get this message across very well on this album. It means however that it’s not always nice or beautiful or easy to listen to. Like the subject matter listening to this album sometimes is a struggle and I believe that the musicians intended it this way.

Daal is a side project by drummer Davide Guidoni (Tapobran, The Far Side, Gallant Farm, Nuova Era, Ozone Player) and keyboard player Alfio Costa (Tilion, Prowlers, Colossus Project, Dark Session) based on musical experiment and free compositions inspired by electronic and progressive rock music. And that is exactly what’s on offer here. There are the electronic, atmospheric and experimental compositions like The Redroom and Noises From An Interlude. Abstract compositions that have an eerie feeling and could also be used as film music. These tracks are dominated by Guidoni’s percussion instruments and samples. Cry-Hologenic is another disturbing track where samples of a crying baby combined with a flat-lining heart rate monitor are a little too disturbing for me. The long title track is highly experimental and especially the second part reminded me of Zappa’s The Chrome Plated Megaphone Of Destiny from his album We’re Only In It For The Money from 1966. At the end Alfio Costa lightens things up a bit by adding some Mini Moog.

On the other side there are the more “traditional” progressive tracks like Anarchrist, Level 6666, Aglatarium and Memories From An Old Picture which are more melodic, make use of the extensive analogue keys collection of Alfio Costa and feature guests like Ettore Salati on sitar (Level 6666), Pensiero Nomade on guitars (Anarchrist), Bobo Aiolfi on fretless bass and Alessandro Papotto on soprano sax (Memories From An Old Picture). But although these tracks are more easy to listen to, they still are dark and need your full attention - like the very jazzy track Aglatarium with some delicious fretless bass. This track also features some energetic soloing on soprano sax (it must be Allesandro Papotto although he is not mentioned playing on this track).

The closing Memories From An Old Picture is a contemplative track with a beautiful melody played on soprano sax. Halfway through the track makes a complete turn around when sequencers take over and things get very electronic. However right at the end the beautiful melody returns again. This time played by piano and mellotron. The centre piece of the album is the sixteen minute The Dance Of The Drastic Navels Part II (part I was featured on their debut). Both described sides of Daal are coming together in this monumental composition. The first minutes are sung and it all sounds nice and tranquil but then the last twelve minutes you are taken on a bumpy ride where progrock, experimental parts and soundscapes rule. It takes a couple of times to start to appreciate what these guys are doing but it’s a mesmerizing track.

If you are interested in something different from - the run of the mill prog - and you are not afraid of some challenging musical exercises then you should definitely check out Daal. Destruktive Actions Affect Livings is a very interesting and above all thrilling experience. Gear up and take a ride.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

LEO KOPERDRAAT



Blindead – Affliction XXIX II MXMVI
Blindead – Affliction XXIX II MXMVI
Country of Origin:Poland
Format:CD
Record Label:Mystic Productions
Catalogue #:MYSTCD149
Year of Release:2011
Time:46:11
Info:Blindead
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Self Conscious Is Desire (8:11), After 38 Weeks (4:12), My New Playground Became (6:06), Dark And Gray (6:18), So It Feels Like Misunderstanding When (6:06), All My hopes And Dreams Turn Into (8:00), Affliction XXVII II MMIX (7:18)

This snappily-titled opus is the third release for Polish outfit created by ex-Behemoth guitarist Mateusz Smierzchalski. In the wake of Devouring Weakness, Autoscopia/Murder In Phases and shows across Europe the band set out to create their ‘most complex and melodic album to date'.

A concept album telling the story of an autistic girl; from conception, through to birth and a slow descent through cruelty into madness. The seven tracks paint a dark, progressive, ambient musical landscape to match the story.

Musically this will interest fans of Neurosis, Isis and Arcturus. Across its whole, this album is very well constructed with some carefully balanced contrasts which maintain the listener’s attention throughout. There is a heavy use of electronica and samples and even a trumpet on one song. There is plenty of help at hand through the generous 40-page thick digi-book with accompanying illustrations.

It is an album that requires concentration. It’s not background music and the tracks make little sense in isolation. It is a darkly beautiful album for the adventurous listener and not for those who dislike ominous growls and serrated riffage.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

ANDY READ



Sendelica – The Pavilion Of Magic And The Trials
Of The Seven Surviving Elohim
Sendelica – The Pavilion Of Magic And The Trials Of The Seven Surviving Elohim
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:FRG Records
Catalogue #:CD010
Year of Release:2011
Time:67:09
Info:Sendelica
Samples:Click here

Tracklist:

CD: Zhyly Byly (6:44), The Elohim (15:41), Guiding The Night (3:21), Orion Delight (3:26), Arizona Spree (6:03), Banshees And Fetches (12:18), The Pavilion Of Magic (7:20) Bonus Tracks: Venus In Furs (4:23), This Is The Day (7:48)

DVD: Ritual [a 35 minute movie] & Bonuses – Spaceman Bubblejam (24:30), Banshees & Fetches Promo Video (12:48)

This prolific bunch of Welsh space rockers have come up with more variations of their trademark space jamming on this their fourth album proper, which in addition to various singles and EPs have all been churned out in just five years.

Led by guitarist Peter Bingham they create a suitably spacious soundscape which lends itself to extended jamming. Fans of Ozrics, Hawkwind, Oresund, etc will love this, but then they probably know all about this group anyway.

What of the casual listener? Well although there is nothing here that will sound particularly unexpected to those into the extemporisations of the aforementioned bands, the music is certainly engaging. You won’t find your attention wandering as Sendelica take you on a journey inspired by “the Seven Mighty Elohim …(who)…carry the highest vibration of light that we, as humans, can comprehend”, according to "Spititual Encylopedia". As is evident from their previous works, this lot are not shy of taking on a grand concept. If only they had a lyricist capable of translating that into song, for the main part of the work is entirely instrumental.

No decent space rock album would be complete without at the very least the influence of the likes of Nik Turner, and Sendelica have gone one better by employing his services on flute on This Is The Day. This and the other cover version bonus track, Venus In Furs (you don’t need me to tell you who wrote these two, surely?) also obviously use singers, both female, to great effect and it is a shame they are not used on the main album, even if only as background “oohs and aahs”.

Aside from the space rock influences the soundscapes also draw on classic Krautrock, and in places some songs take on a shoegazey feel, notably Orion Delight, and I’m put in mind of Terry Bickers’ spacier work, although how that comparison would go down with the band is a moot point! There’s some lovely sax work by long-time collaborator Lee Relfe on Arizona Spree, a laid back and dreamy affair after the harder edged earlier songs, in fact if take in isolation this song transcends any genre restrictions and is simply, well, like I said, lovely! This dreamy altered state is carried on into Banshees And Fetches, and again the sax work is exemplary. The rhythm section of Glenda Pescado (bass) and Nick Danger (drums) keep things bubbling along nicely and Glenda’s fluid playing fits the sound like glove. Meanwhile whooshing in and out of the nebulae are the synths and gadgets used wisely by Colin Consterdine. Sometimes the synth players in space rock bands tend to get a bit carried away, but not this chap, it’s all quite restrained and tasteful.

Overall an enjoyable album, even for those of you not necessarily of a space rock persuasion. The version I got to review includes the DVD listed above, and the short film Ritual with its hazy psychedelic imagery and strangitude aplenty, concluding with a Druid celebration at Stonehenge is backed up by Sendelica’s ambient noodlings which range from Careful With That Axe stylings to noises Mogwai might make in their quieter moments. Space Bubblejam as its title suggests is a live jam, filmed after a gig in a cellar in Cardigan, and is a tad overlong and probably for the real fans only, and the promo film for Banshees And Fetches is just ok, and seems to consist of a chap wandering about along an estuary alternately filming the ground as he walks or the estuary itself, all in colour negative. The DVD special edition is obviously a psychotropic feast for the fans, but not for casual listener!

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

ROGER TRENWITH



Infinity Overture – The Infinite Overture Pt. 1
Infinity Overture – The Infinite Overture Pt. 1
Country of Origin:Denmark
Format:CD
Record Label:Lion Music
Catalogue #:LMC 296
Year of Release:2011
Time:45:09
Info:Infinity Overture
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Hunger (4:49), The Stand (4:27), Angels (5:54), Evernight (4:45), Secrets (4:59), Back From The Past (4:58), Smoke And Mirrors (5:00), The Infinite Overture Pt. 1 (7:15), Darkness Of Mind (5:02)

Danish symphonic metallers Infinity Overture received favourable reviews for their debut, 2009’s Kingdom Of Utopia. They seem, however, to have eschewed this symphonic approach in favour of a more guitar focused sound on their second recording. Which may lose them some fans, but gain them some others. According to the record company it’s a more gothic, darker sounding record, with the addition of guest vocalists Fabio Lione (Rhapsody Of Fire) and Amanda Somerville (Epica, Kamelot).

The band proper comprises: Kimme Tenna Nielsen (vocals), Niels Veljyt (guitars, orchestration & grunts), Bernardo Fesch (bass) and Jakob Vand (drums). Extra growling is courtesy of Simon Holm on Smoke And Mirrors, Darkness Of Mind & Evernight and Hjalte Sejr Bertelsen on Smoke And Mirrors. Mads Damgaard plays some lovely piano on Angels, Secrets, and standout track The Infinite Overture Pt. 1.

Did I mention there’s growling? And grunting? I read one review of the album that described it as sounding like someone retching. Which seems unfair. But really isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I love Blackwater Park but this thing really isn’t my bag. Before I start sounding like my dad I’d add that the band now seem best classified as more of a technical metal band. They do dabble with progginess, but indulge in a great deal of shredding. Sometimes, it seems, for the sake of it. There’s some great sounding female vocals but the growling does, to my ears, let the album down. I mean, if I wanted to listen to people being sick I’d go to Halifax town centre for a night out on a Saturday.

Opener The Hunger perfectly showcases said female vocals. New vocalist Kimmie Tenna Nielsen really shines in fact, and her input prevents the album garnering a lower rating than might otherwise have been awarded. I promised myself, after my sabbatical, that I wouldn’t get bogged down again in these FFPB shenanigans. And that I would never, ever, use the word shenanigans in a review. Sounds like a New York Oirish bar, for heaven’s sake. Oh dear.

Technically they are very proficient, and it’s all mixed, mastered and produced to a very high standard by Sascha Paeth. I just think that technical proficiency has won out over compositional proficiency. Like the songs are merely vehicles to showcase all the shredding, the soloing and what not. They’re not ‘songs’ as such. The listener isn’t invested in the emotions of the song, just expected to marvel at the musicianship of the individual players. As such the lyrics are secondary. And if you can discern the lyrical content of the growling then you’ve got much better hearing than I. But then, as my ears are hairier than a hobbit’s armpit, that’s highly likely.

In conclusion, then. It’s OK, lifted by the female vocals, but otherwise mediocre and inconsistent.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10

BRIAN WATSON



Core Zero - Doxology
Core Zero - Doxology
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:MUE3892
Year of Release:2010
Time:54:00
Info:Core Zero
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Give It All (5:15), Doxology (3:40), Undefined (4:54), This Is War (4:23), Home (4:40), Ignite (5:56), Behind These Eyes (5:01), Liar (5:12), Like A Disease (4:18), Stand By Me (5:19), Uncommon (5:12)

Out of Denver, Colorado Core Zero brings a driving metal sound that covers a subset of styles that fits well into a modern metal sound. The progressive elements are sparse but when formulating their sound, it isn’t outside of the realm of possibility that adding prog to an already expansive array of stated influence or outcome was planned.

This album, Doxology, is primarily a heavy metal album with an expansive nu-metal sounding production. The band attribute influences widely such as blues, melodic metal, and hard rock. The prog elements are mainly hidden in and the solo-bridge work, however, prog differentiates from metal in that metal makes heavy use of “bar chords”. Most metal moves from chord to chord in a very blocky fashion. Prog musicians introduce complex yet tasty voicing’s as they move through chord progressions giving prog smooth and interesting tonal transitions.

A major annoyance in this release is the overuse of the drop-d key – and by overuse, I mean every song. I believe this signature metal sound that is ubiquitous for mosh pit gig bands works fine… for that, but to enter the larger market as a serious band requires some disciplined diversity. Core Zero calls upon such bands as Disturbed, Godsmack, Drowning Pool, and Avenged Sevenfold as compatriots, and I wouldn’t argue that point except to say Core Zero is more melodic. This band does lay down some good heavy drum intensive riffs with some great guitar solos that build an in-your-face action packed album. I don’t even mind the growling vocals when mixed in with some proper singing voice as Core Zero does.

Overall, it takes more than some high action heavy metal to make it back into my player. You can only rely on a good producer to do so much. The song writing must account for an audience that listens to an entire album to break into this arena.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10

BRENDAN BOWEN



Contraluz - Novus Orbis
Contraluz - Novus Orbis
Country of Origin:Argentina
Format:CD
Record Label:Viajero Inmovil
Records
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:71:47
Info:Contraluz
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: La Manopillación Del Censor (6:48), Cajita De Música [Una Historia De Amor] (10:23), Lléname De Sol (6:07), Trexón (7:37), El Día Después (7:03), Oídos En El Alma (8:27), Decime Papá Por Qué? (8:01), Hijos De América (10:29), Vamos Volviendo A Casa (6:57)

Contraluz are a rather captivating and beautifully sounding melodic band that calls to mind such luminaries as Kansas, Genesis, Jethro Tull, Camel and PFM to some degree, unfortunately they haven’t been too adventurous in their approach. The band consists of four members who all add their delectable touch to the creative process, these members being Carlos Barrio (guitars and flute), Néstor Barrio (drums and percussions), Jaime Fernández Madero (vocals and keyboards) and Freddy Prochnick (bass).

As a band they have been releasing albums since 1973 and Novus Orbis is album number four and being the first one I have heard. Retro prog is the order of the day here which is sang in their native tongue, something that doesn’t detract from the album, in fact it adds to the character. The whole construct has a beautiful and viable approach, non-aggressive, passive and persuasive, pastoral and folk tinged that recalls the heady days of the 70’s.

Musically their guitar presentations both electric and acoustic mixed with keyboards works really effectively, layered harmonies that include some nice vocal presentations. Carlos Barrio’s flute offers an added depth to the album but Néstor Barrio percussive work can be a bit stated at times.

Album opener La Manopillación Del Censor defines the bands approach and is pretty much the meter of the whole album, a display of their musical prowess which has erred on the side of caution. At times segments of their music does have a commercial edge to it which is most noticeable on Cajita De Música [Una Historia De Amor].

Oídos En El Alma sees the band taking a slightly more dynamic approach, not too daring but incorporating differing musical approaches that all sounds very familiar and comforting. The song title translates to Heard In The Soul something that musically they achieve making it one of the albums highlighted tracks along with Hijos De América and Decime Papá Por Qué?, with its mixture of cultural and ethnic tones, a marriage that performs its duty rather well.

The strange thing about this album is that I am drawn to liking the latter half of the album more; for me it features a stronger musical soundstage. I don’t want to take away from all that has passed and I don’t want to give the impression that it is weaker material, as it isn’t; it’s just the way the music comes across. This is not a striking album, it is pleasurable, one that has not been too adventurous musically, but there is something here for most people.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10

JOHN O'BOYLE



Tim Hunter - The Pathway Of Light
Tim Hunter - The Pathway Of Light
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Yorview
Catalogue #:YV1101
Year of Release:2011
Time:48:05
Info:Tim Hunter
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Pathway Of Light [Le Chemin De La Lumiere] (4:29), Spare The Tiger (3:43), Outside The System (3:19), Into The Blue Calm (3:37), Back To The Sunshine (3:52), The Precipice (5:50), Commercial Suicide (3:24), Dumb It Down (4:11), Psychic Voyager (4:03), Search For Your Soul (3:27), Cosmic Launderette [Kosmichen Wascherei] (4:11), Wave On (3:53)

Tim Hunter has been writing and performing his own material since the early 1970s and since 1998 has released 7 CDs although only two compilation albums seem to be currently available. On this latest release, Hunter plays the majority of instruments, but is occasionally joined, in various combinations, by Rob Corner (saxophone), Jaydee Nevison (drums), Paul Burton (bass) and, on one track, Paul Kearns (keyboard solo).

Although the press release that accompanied the album states that Hunter is "influenced by 1970s and 80s Prog Rock and high quality Pop" his music falls mostly into the latter camp. Although easy on the ear, there is not much to challenge the listener, and personally I found it all very lightweight with some of the vocals (and lyrics) being a bit hard to stomach. There is no doubt that Hunter has some good ideas and occasionally a guitar or keyboard lick grabs the attention but overall I doubt that any of the readers of DPRP would find a lot on this album that would float their boat.

Conclusion: 3 out of 10

MARK HUGHES


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