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2011 : VOLUME 60
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2011 New Year's Eve Special

REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


Seventh Wave - Things To Come + Psi-Fi
Seventh Wave - Things To Come + Psi-Fi
Country of Origin:UK
Format:2CD
Record Label:Market Square
Records
Catalogue #:MSMCD154
Year of Release:2012
Time:CD 1 36:59
CD 2 46:35
Info:MSR Info
Samples:Click here

Tracklist:

CD 1: Things To Come Sky Scraper (2:17), Metropolis (4:25), Intercity Water Rat (0:48), Escalator (0:26), Old Dog Song (4:12), Smog, Fog And Sunset (3:11), Fail To See (4:05), Premonition (3:15), Festival (2:05), Eversolightly (4:33), Communication Skyways (4:42), Things To Come (1:46), 1999½ (1:09), Dance Of The Eloi (1:45)

CD 2: Psi-Fi Return To Foreverland (3:47), Roads To Rome (3:12), Manifestations (5:41), Loved By You (2:45), Only The Beginning (7:58), Aether Anthem (1:29), Astral Animal (3:08), El Tuto (2:11), Camera Obscura (9:01), Star Palace Of The Sombre Warrior (6:25)

Click on my name at the bottom of this review and the link will take you to the DPRP ‘Contacts & Credits’ and there you will find a further link to my top 5 prog albums of all time (or at least my choices in 2005 when I compiled the list). Four of the artists listed will almost certainly be familiar as will their respective albums. My fifth choice however Things To Come by Seventh Wave is perhaps a little more obscure, a situation this review will hopefully remedy.

Following protracted recording sessions that began in 1972, Things To Come originally appeared on vinyl in April 1974 followed by its successor Psi-Fi in August 1975. Both albums were the creation of multi-keyboardist Ken Elliott supported by drummer Kieran O'Connor. Prior to forming Seventh Wave both men were members of early prog come psychedelic incarnations Second Hand and Chillum although their relationship had its ups and downs. Sadly further disagreements between the pair during a US tour to promote Psi-Fi led to the premature demise of Seventh Wave in 1976.

Going their separate ways, Elliot revived his career as a writer of TV themes and jingles which despite paying the rent was a great loss to the prog world as without question Things To Come (and to a lesser extent Psi-Fi) is one of the most memorable, ground breaking and inspired albums of the prog genre (or any genre for that matter).

A glance at the track listing above will show that Things To Come is divided into 14 tracks with an average length of just 3 minutes although in reality when played it flows as two continuous pieces. The midway break was necessitated to allow the music to be split between sides 1 and 2 of a vinyl disc although on CD such considerations become redundant.

Each song on Things To Come is generally preceded by an instrumental track, a strategy that was not uncommon at the time. The instrumental tracks feature lush, tuneful and occasionally ambient arrangements courtesy of an arsenal of keyboards that include ARP, Moog and EMS synthesizers. Obvious comparators would be Tangerine Dream, Rick Wakeman, Vangelis, Keith Emerson and pioneering electronic composers like Walter Carlos although with a far greater accent on melody. Despite the absence of guitars I would also cite Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells released less than a year earlier which was similarly a product of meticulous overdubs. In fact it’s quite impressive how Elliott and O'Connor infuse the music with weight and power without the need to resort to guitars or bass.

Fronted by Elliott’s distinctive falsetto delivery, the songs themselves on Things To Come are almost contradictory being ridiculously catchy in the pop/rock sense with lyrics that occasionally border on the banal (as in Old Dog Song) whilst layered keyboards and assorted percussion provide a sweeping orchestral backdrop. This combination may on the face of it seem a tad incongruous but somehow it works resulting in a listening experience that’s infectious and exhilarating without ever sounding pretentious. This is particular true of the final 10 minutes where the listener is literally swept along on a tide of swirling synths and exotic percussion. As one American reviewer remarked at the time, "Two men from Britain sounding like twenty".

By the time they came to record Psi-Fi it seems that Seventh Wave were suffering something of an identity crisis. The back of the album sleeve depicted Elliott, O'Connor and producer Neil Richmond decked out in glitzy costumes and face paint suggesting they had jumped on the 70’s glam-rock bandwagon. And this time rather than it being a two man effort they brought in a host of guest musicians that included Hugh Banton (Van Der Graaf Generator), Pete Lemer (Mike Oldfield) and Steve Cook (Gilgamesh). Ironically, with the exception of bass player Cook, the guests duplicated the contributions of Elliott and O'Connor (keys, vocals and percussion) suggesting that the music was intended to be reproduced live utilising a full band (minus a guitarist of course).

If there was an identity crisis as I suggested earlier then it also carried through to the music on Psi-Fi. Although there were fewer tracks this time around (10 in total), overall the album was a more fragmented affair with quirky pop and funk tunes rubbing shoulders with prog-rock extravaganzas. Compare the opening and closing tracks for example where the bubbly vitality of Return To Foreverland is in stark contrast to the epic grandeur of the exotically titled Star Palace Of The Sombre Warrior. Whilst retaining the pomp and grandeur of the first album, it seems that Queen and David Bowie had gate crashed the party.

Although Star Palace may have been the single best thing ever recorded by Seventh Wave, overall Psi-Fi for me didn’t reach the dizzy heights of Things To Come. Perhaps the lasting legacy of Psi-Fi is that it was a pre-curser of the synth-pop boom that would follow a few years later with the emergence of bands like Ultravox, OMD and later the Pet Shop Boys. The lively Manifestations for example is very much a forerunner of The BugglesVideo Killed The Radio Star whilst there is also similarities between Seventh Wave and Howard Jones both in the vocal department and in the harmonious fusion of upbeat pop and keyboard based prog.

There’s no telling in which direction Seventh Wave would have developed had they stayed the distance. In a recent interview Elliot relates a story whereby they were approached by Peter Gabriel to become his backing band when he originally left Genesis but this fell through when the increasingly unreliable O'Connor failed to show for the audition. Although it’s impossible to predict how long the band’s career would have lasted had circumstances been different, I find it hard to imagine how they could have ever bettered Things To Come. Re-mastered from the original studio tapes, this 2CD digipack retailing at a tantalisingly low price is an excellent reminder of one of the most innovative but shamefully overlooked bands of the 70’s.

Conclusion: 10 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



Lunatic Soul - Impressions
Lunatic Soul - Impressions
Country of Origin:Poland
Format:CD
Record Label:Kscope
Catalogue #:Kscope 188
Year of Release:2011
Time:49:02
Info:Lunatic Soul
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Impression I (5:29), Impression II (4:04), Impression III (7:03), Impression IV (3:57), Impression V (5:02), Impression VI (7:33), Impression VII (3:13), Impression VIII (4:24), Gravestone Hill [remix] (3:51), Summerland [remix] (4:26)

Impressions is the third album by Riverside bassist/vocalist Mariusz Duda's solo project Lunatic Soul. It follows 2008's self-titled debut (the "Black Album") and 2010's II (the "White Album"), and comprises eight tracks written during the sessions for both those releases. According to Duda himself, the compositions are meant to complete the trilogy, adding to the story told in I and II. Unlike its predecessors, the album is prevailingly instrumental, with only a sprinkling of wordless vocalizations. Duda plays the majority of the instruments, with Maciej Szelenbaum contributing flute, piano and strings on four tracks, and Indukti drummer Wawrzyniec Dramowitz appearing on one track. Both musicians also appeared on Lunatic Soul's previous efforts.

As the artist has frequently pointed out, Lunatic Soul provides an outlet for Duda's musical explorations in the breaks from recording any new material with his main band, giving him the opportunity to expand on the atmospheric component of Riverside's sound (especially evident in the band's first two albums). Indeed, Impressions accurately represents the main direction of the influential Kscope label, which in the past few years has established itself as the main purveyor of "post-progressive sounds". Like the majority of the label's output, it needs repeated spins in order to fully sink in, and may very easily fade into the background if not properly attended to. On the other hand, in spite of an overall sound that may come across as delicate, almost brittle, it manages to eschew monotonousness and offer quite a lot of variety, even if conveyed subtly rather than obviously.

A relatively short album for today's standards, clocking in at under 50 minutes, Impressions is structured like a single composition in eight movements - as shown by the minimalistic track titles. With Duda's clear, melancholy voice employed as another instrument, the album largely hinges on keyboards and electronics, with the addition of mallet percussion like glockenspiel, acoustic guitar and Duda's Fender Jazz bass. As previously mentioned, drums only appear on Impressions III; the electric guitar is conspicuously absent, while ethnic string instruments like the ukulele or the guzheng (a kind of Chinese zither) appear in some of the tracks. The plentiful sound effects rarely jarring or disruptive, contribute to the general subdued mood.

The ethnic component of Impressions emerges in the opening movement with Duda's muted, chant-like vocalizing, while the glockenspiel and electronics create a contrast between organic, crystalline sounds and impersonal, yet almost disturbing ones. This element (thankfully not used as a novelty factor) is further emphasized in the 7-minute Impressions III, which brought to my mind another standout 2011 release, Herd Of Instinct's eponymous debut. One of the undisputed highlights of the whole disc, it begins sparsely, with gentle chiming and crackling sounds; then it develops into a a strangely heady tune, the bass, guitar and ukulele meshing into a flowing, mesmerizing melody fleshed out by the drums, and closes with a lovely, Oriental-tinged guitar solo overlaid with flute. The other track over 7 minutes (and the album's longest), Impressions V, reprises the Eastern flavour, juxtaposing the dry, metallic twang of the bass and string instruments with flute and percussion and eerie electronic effects.

Other tracks evoked reminiscences of Kate Bush, especially in the juxtaposition of electronics with ethnic/acoustic instruments to create rarefied yet entrancing, deeply emotional textures. The melancholy, piano-led Impressions II feels like the perfect soundtrack for a rainy autumn day, while the interplay between the lovely, delicate piano and the sharp, metallic tone of the guzheng in Impressions VIII make for riveting listening. In contrast, Impression VI's lushly atmospheric sonic tapestry shifts into a faintly sinister, cinematic tone towards the end, further intensified by the almost harsh, tense sounds of VII. The two bonus tracks, alternate versions of Gravestone Hill (from the "White Album") and Summerland (from the "Black Album"), both feature Duda's velvety, understated vocals, and - if compared with the main body of the album - sound slightly more "mainstream", bringing to mind Porcupine Tree's more atmospheric compositions.

All in all, Impressions is a fine album that is consistently high in terms of quality, in some parts even exquisite. As I already pointed out, it can also come across as deceptively "easy", and therefore end up in the highly undeserved role of sonic wallpaper. Its delicate yet intricate texture needs repeated listens to be fully savoured, and the instrumental interplay is superb albeit thoroughly unflashy. Even if the lack of "real" vocals or conventional songs might alienate some fans of Riverside's more assertive output, those who appreciate the musical direction of the Kscope roster as a whole will find a lot to enjoy in this album. Indeed, Mariusz Duda is growing into one of modern prog's most influential artists, and might one day give the likes of Steven Wilson a run for their money.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

RAFFAELLA BERRY



Dave Willey & Friends – Immeasurable Currents
Dave Willey & Friends – Immeasurable Currents
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Altr0ck
Just For Kicks
Catalogue #:ALT021
Year of Release:2011
Time:43:33
Info:Altr0ck Info
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Too Much Light [Ionescu’s Theme] (3:47), The Old Woods (5:46), If Two See A Unicorn (1:57), What A Night (4:02), The Conservatives (1:50), Winter (3:22), I Could Eat You Up (3:36), Wordswords (5:40), Autumn (3:18), Mitch (2:57), A Garland Of Miniatures (2:40), Nightfall (4:31)

I’ve had three AltRock releases to review lately, and it seems I’ve left the best until last. This album, once it worms its way into your inner ear will not leave you alone. Dave Willey, a veteran of the USA avant-prog scene, best known for his work with Thinking Plague and Hamster Theatre has gathered together his musical friends from near and far and together they have crafted an avant symphony of pure delight.

Immeasurable Currents sets the poems of Dave’s late father, Dale Willey, from a collection entitled The Tin Box Papers and Other Poems to music that is by turns intriguing, enticing, beautiful, furious, odd, and several other adjectives that simply cannot be typed fast enough. The album has taken years to assemble and finally see the light of day. One benefit of this is that amongst the “Friends” is the appearance on some songs of the unmistakable bass of Hugh Hopper, now of course sadly no longer with us. Hugh also had a hand in some of music composed for the CD.

The other “Friends” in question are Deborah Perry whose distinctive and excellent vocals throughout show that a female voice in prog does not have to be unbearably twee as is too often the case. Her voice can be melodic, playful, scary, edgy, sometimes all in the same song. You may know her from Thinking Plague, and indeed other members of that band, past and present, feature on this album.

Elaine di Falco (vocals), Wally Scharold, Mike Johnson, Dave Kerman and Farrell Lowe are the others making “immeasurable” contributions. Most of the instrumentation is Dave’s, layered and multi-tracked to perfection by Udi Koomran in Tel Aviv. A truly international collaboration then, that is certainly more than the sum of its parts.

As all the lyrics were originally poems, you would be right to expect a little more than the average rock lyricist could come up with. Nature in all its glory features highly and lines like “Miasmas are taking these old woods, these deer, and more” indicate the concerns of Willey senior to deep effect. This is from The Old Woods where Hugh Hopper’s bass appears for the first time in the second half of the song, anchoring a strange ambience. Tales of observations on domesticity in a speeding car, of wild storms seen from the comfortable side of the window, are backed by poignant musical vignettes crafted from Dave’s many instruments which include piano, guitar, bass, accordion, bells and sundry others. The short, jaunty and sprightly The Conservatives is a kind of anti-anthem for the backward looking traditionalists of the Willeys’ homeland, complete with a whistled melody no less. Elaine di Falco’s tune to the poem Winter is a short piece of quiet classicism evoking the bleak atmosphere of the season. Elaine’s huskier tones contrast nicely with Deborah’s more straightforward enunciation. An album highlight, I wish it were longer than its mere one minute fifty seconds.

The seasons are later revisited on Autumn, which uses Elaine’s honey-smooth voice over a simple piano and bass backing to describe the death of a wasp as a metaphor for autumnal decay. The implied tale of incest of I Could Eat You Up is backed with a furious charge of chamber prog as it lurches along to its sudden ending. Possibly the strangest piece of music accompanies the densest poem here, Wordswords and an eerie frightening world is brought to life in stark prose that reminds me of Elliot’s The Wasteland.

Mitch sees Dave narrating the story of retreat to within oneself in a style not a million miles from early period Tom Waits, creating a surprising but effective interlude between Deborah’s and Elaine’s alluringly multi-faceted tones.

Another influence throughout is undoubtedly Robert Wyatt, both musically and vocally, the latter very much in the way that the lines of the poems do not always seem to scan logically with the music but still seem to “fit” where they shouldn’t.

Nightfall ends the album in a wash of calming ambience, and fittingly, the music and Dale Willey’s memory “...rises into the stars, the high desert lies open, white.” A lovely end to a beautiful, subtle and gorgeously imaginative work that you will find hard to better on the racks of your local CD store. Highly recommended.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

ROGER TRENWITH



Alan Reed – Dancing With Ghosts
Alan Reed – Dancing With Ghosts
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:The Merch Desk
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:25:00
Info:Alan Reed
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Sanctuary [The Return] (5:55), Who's To Blame? (4:52), Kean On The Job (5:34), Teardrops In The Rain (3:03), Begin Again (5:58)

It’s a personal thing but my favourite Pallas albums have been The Wedge and Beat The Drum when they toned-down the symphonics and centralised the melodies with the vocals given a bit of space to shine. The immediately recognizable voice of Alan Reed was always a key component of my enjoyment of the band’s music. Thus I was more optimistic than disappointed when his sudden departure from Pallas was announced in January 2010.

In explaining this EP, his first solo release, Alan has said that Dancing With Ghosts is intended as both a stepping stone to his first full solo album First In A Field Of One, and to draw a line under his previous activities with Pallas.

Covering Alan’s past and present, there are a couple of Pallas songs, an Abel Ganz track, and two new compositions which are set to turn up in quite different forms on the forthcoming solo album. All five songs are stripped bare to the bone, with just voice, guitar, a smattering of keyboards and the occasional acoustic bass. As a collection of acoustic arrangements, it is certainly a fresh way of looking at things but maybe a slightly unexpected way for one of the UK’s most notable progressive singers to launch a solo career.

What it does do, is act as the perfect showcase for Alan’s voice and songwriting and a clever bridge between his past and future. There is a chronology to the running order. We start with three old songs that are among my three personal favourites from Alan’s past.

Sadly, many acoustic covers are simply stripped-down copies of the originals. What struck me immediately is how each have been totally reworked for the new format, successfully bringing out fresh elements of each song.

Sanctuary was the first song Alan co-wrote with Pallas and he aims to emphasise its ghostly quality on this version. I love the vigorous acoustic guitar rhythm and the clever adaptation of the song as it moves through its various phases. The vocals are given space and really flourish when listened to on the headphones.

Who's To Blame? is another Pallas song. Here Alan has tried to take it much closer to what he believes was the original idea, than in the version on The Cross And The Crucible. It features a sitar drone which was apparently on the original demo.

Kean On The Job is an Abel Ganz original from 1983 which I've always enjoyed for the lyrical story as much as anything else. Again the stripped-down arrangement allows the vocal lines to take centre stage.

Teardrops In The Rain is a new song about a troubled relationship. The version here apparently bears very little resemblance to its full-blooded parent that will appear on the album. Begin Again is my least favourite of the five. Pleasant enough but the fact that it comes very much from the Celtic folk tradition, means it sits a little too distant from Alan's progressive roots for my listening preference here. Thankfully he did resist any temptation to use a bagpipe.

In addition to vocals Alan impresses with some tasty classical guitar as well as adding the bass. He is joined by Mark Spencer on keyboards and sitar, Jennifer Clark adds double bass and acoustic bass guitar whilst the percussion has been left in the very capable hands of Scott Higham.

If you’re a Prog purist and/or dislike acoustic music, then this probably won’t be top of your shopping list. However if you enjoy any of the first three songs in their original inceptions, then the new versions will hold much interest. If you are a fan of Alan’s voice and/or interested in his career post-Pallas then this EP is an ideal stop-gap.

For someone like me who enjoys an occasional foray into acoustic music, who loves Alan’s voice and who appreciates the clever reworking of the first two Pallas classics, then this EP will bring many enjoyable hours of listening.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

ANDY READ



Ozric Tentacles - Paper Monkeys
Ozric Tentacles - Paper Monkeys
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Mad Fish Music
Catalogue #:MADF 159792
Year of Release:2011
Time:61:55
Info:Ozric Tentacles
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Attack Of The Vapours (5:22), Lemon Kush (6:15), Flying Machines (6:26), Knurl (6:08), Lost In The Sky (7:20), Paper Monkeys (7:17), Plowm (7:52), Will Of The Wisps (10:42), Air City (3:53)

With almost 30 years of activity under their belt, Ozric Tentacles are one of the few bands on the current progressive rock scene to enjoy cult status - not only for musical reasons, but also because of their nature of family-based "cottage industry". Besides mainman Ed Wynne, the band's current lineup features his wife Brandi (who has been a member for over 10 years), and their son Silas, who is on board for the first time on this album. Moreover, in spite of the many lineup changes (almost inevitable for a band that has been around for so long), the Ozrics have always remained true to their distinctive sound - and to such an extent that their 25 or so albums have often been criticised for sounding so substantially alike as to be almost interchangeable.

Being familiar with a few of the band's earlier albums, I find myself somewhat in agreement with this apparently harsh view. While there are many bands and artists on the rock scene whose music has constantly evolved - so much that their earlier output may be almost unrecognizable for those who are familiar with their later releases (it is the case, among others, of Rush and Genesis) - others, such as AC/DC or, to a lesser extent, Iron Maiden, have developed a trademark sound that has remained almost unaltered throughout the years. Ozric Tentacles fall into the latter category, and their dedication has gained them a hard core of followers, as well as quite a few detractors. However, the English band's approach, far from being stale, remains genuinely forward-thinking. Edward Macan, in his seminal book on progressive rock Rocking the Classics (released when the Ozrics were in the early stages of their career) took them as one of the examples of the possible developments of prog in different directions than the traditional Seventies template.

Unfortunately, Ozric Tentacles have never become a household name, and modern prog has grown in many ways away from their own musical vision, as witnessed by the current wave of "retro-prog" bands. There is, however, more of a trace of their intensely rhythmic, often hypnotic sonic tapestry in Porcupine Tree's earlier output, especially on Voyage 34, and the inclusion of world music features (especially evident in the use of percussion) has gained a lot of traction among modern bands. The Ozrics were also among the very few acts that dared to incorporate elements of rather controversial genres like dub, reggae and trance/techno, as well as ambient/New Age. Indeed, the structure of the typical Ozrics composition, often based on the repetition of lengthy sequences in regular time signatures, differs quite sharply from the traditional prog blueprint; it also requires some tolerance for a heavy use of electronic effects, which replace the lushly orchestrated keyboard layers so prized by mainstream prog fans.

Some reviews of the Ozrics' more recent material have pointed out that those albums are more of an Ed Wynne solo project than a genuine group effort. However, the continuity between Paper Monkeys and the band's previous releases is hard to miss - from the superb, Far Eastern-tinged cover artwork down to the quirky, often nonsensical song titles. And then, even if the band have never really deviated from their original sound, there is enough variety on display here - though not of the immediately noticeable kind. The ethnic influences, with their warm, organic feel tempering the icy weirdness of the electronics, jump at the listener right from the brisk percussion pattern of opener Attack Of The Vapours, intertwining with the spacey thread unspooled by Ed Wynne's guitar and Brandi Wynne's synths. Lemon Kush partly follows the same template, with the hypnotic regularity of Ollie Seagle's drums and Silas Wynne's deep, almost guttural bass lines providing a reliable foundation for guitar and keyboards; however, the careful listener will detect differences in the way the instruments interact with each other, their subtle permutations adding interest to what, to the untrained ear, may sound like just another trippy, spacey jam. In fact, the most typically spacey track on the album is the oddly-titled Plowm, slashed by wild electronic effects that include piercing whistles and ominous creaks, and supported by the trance-like, unflagging 4/4 drumming.

Will Of The Wisps, the album's longest track at almost 11 minutes, is more laid-back, the synths projecting slow, majestic waves, and mallet percussion adding their distinctively liquid sound; however, the track gets a bit monotonous in the second half, and a wild guitar solo comes just in time to inject some excitement. While the title-track brings things into more standard rock territory, with Ed Wynne's clean guitar tones and neat, forceful drums imprinting the first half of the song before the synths step up again, Flying Machines and Lost In The Sky, as the titles suggest, offer rather canonical examples of the Ozrics' trademark psychedelic/space rock sound, with the latter's second half resembling (rather uncomfortably) Seventies dance music. Conversely, the haunting Knurl plays the Eastern card to the hilt, with plenty of subtle rhythm variations, mixing Indian and Far Eastern suggestions with the inevitable spacey ones. The ambient component of the Ozrics' music emerges in album closer Air City, a fluid piece of chill-out with gently chiming guitar and mallet percussion to soften the weirdly echoing electronics.

Although not offering any real surprises to those already familiar with the band's previous output, Paper Monkeys will certainly please the Ozrics' loyal following, as well as fans of artists such as Steve Hillage, who combine traditional psychedelic/space rock with ambient dance. The blend of organic sounds and electronics is definitely one of the standout features of the band's music, though it may not encounter the taste of the more mainstream prog fans, those who prize carefully structured compositions and complex time signatures. Indeed, the Ozrics may be an acquired taste, but Paper Monkeys (though some will see it as somewhat redundant) provides ample confirmation that their unique artistic vision still has a lot to offer to the progressive music scene.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

RAFFAELLA BERRY



Chest Rockwell – Laugh And The World Laughs With You [EP]
Chest Rockwell – Laugh And The World Laughs With You [EP]
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:26:43
Info:Chest Rockwell
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Black Reign (7:30), Juggernaut (4:40), Hogwash (5:54), Ultimo Hombre (3:40), Cut It In Half (4:59)

A couple of years ago I wrote an enthusiastic review about Chest Rockwell's album Total Victory, which I recommended to readers of this site. I sincerely hope that some of you followed up the recommendation because perhaps then Total Victory will have given you as much listening pleasure as it has me. I can already sense that this latest offering of theirs, the EP Laugh And The World Laughs With You, is going to prove as firm a favourite as that excellent album.

The band's brand of rock is influenced by their progressive – or is it rebellious? – outlook. There was a fair bit of variety about Total Victory, which was roughly subdivided into three sections (a pop structured section, a softer and quirkier rock section and a heavier and more “epic" section to close off the album). On the EP, the balance is towards the latter – heavier and epic – side of their nature, so that in parts they edge into progressive-metal territory. Thankfully, they never quite lose that sense of adventure and invention that was evident on that last album, so that the reference-calls I made to fans of Riverside, Dream Theater and Rush still hold. Listening to Laugh And The World Laughs With You there was one additional reference that struck me and I will mention it despite the fact that it seems slightly perverse. At times, the band sound like how one would imagine a beefed-up, angrier, 21st century version of The Byrds. There's something occasionally in the guitar sound that harks back to that. It's a compliment, by the way!

It's a demonstration of how difficult it is to make progress in today's music business that a band as accomplished as Chest Rockwell have to resort, two years after that excellent album, to producing an EP to keep contact with their fans, rather than having the resources for the recording of a full album sooner. They plan another EP next year, for the same reason.

Black Reign is a good opener; varying in intensity and dynamics, the verses urgent and powerful, then with a touch of wistful keys for contrasting colour and texture in the chorus. The lyrics are as impressive as before, the writing style approaching prose, but Josh Hines's vocal delivery is very good and flexible, so that the combined effect is to draw you into the music as a whole. This is a great opener – it grabs you: urgency, anger, bitterness, great rhythmic guitar work coupled with a stonking rhythm section. Juggernaut increases the pace and intensity without losing the effectiveness of the musicians' work, or of the vocal.

This band have a good feel for album pacing, or EP pacing in this case, and Hogwash is that rare beast – a delightful rock instrumental. This shows the band's inventiveness: the root melody is good but then the added interest comes virtue of subtleties in the musical dynamics and texture. Beautiful!

After Hogwash's wistful interlude, we get the full-face onslaught of Ultimo Hombre, a very good but fairly straight rocker; then the finale of Cut It In Half throttles back the intensity slightly, and adds more variety and keyboard colour.

The four-piece band comprise Josh Hines (vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, electric sitar), Nick Rouse (drums, percussion, piano), Nick Stewart (bass, keyboards) and Seth Wilson (electric and acoustic guitars).

To conclude: overall, the EP showcases less variety and progressive invention than Total Victory, perhaps because of its limited duration, and so it edges closer to progressive metal, but for any fans who have enjoyed either of the last two albums then Laugh And The World Laughs With You will be a more than worthy addition to your collections. If you've not heard of the band before and are a fan of progressive metal, then this EP – available from CD Baby - would be as good a place to start as any: it is worth checking them out!

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

ALEX TORRES



The John Irvine Band - Wait & See
The John Irvine Band - Wait & See
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:JIB001
Year of Release:2011
Time:42:02
Info:John Irvine
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Bat (1:20), Hubbub (5:35), Frazzled (5:40), Cul8r [Sweet Sorrow] (8:46), Zigzag (3:56), In April (6:30), Wait & See (6:03), New Brunswick (4:32)

In a week that saw several instrumental albums arrive, this one was a pleasant surprise for me. Why? Well it sees the teaming up once more of two Scotsmen, namely guitarist John Irvine and drummer/percussionist Alan Emslie. Perhaps not a familiar name to many, but in the early part of the noughties I reviewed four albums from Alan Emslie. Three under his own name and one under the title of Soft Monster. All albums were enjoyable and all featured John Irvine as a guest musician. So fantastic to see these two guys together once more. Completing the line-up on Wait & See they are joined by Doug Kemp on bass.

Wait & See is an instrumental offering with all eight compositions written and arranged by John Irvine and possibly best categorized under the progressive and jazz rock/fusion umbrellas. The opening two tracks quickly confirm that the "gnarly fingered one" is strong with John Irvine. The Bat, a brief but dark atmospheric piece is replete with swelling chords and accompanying cymbals. Hubbub on the other hand is bright and breezy with some great interaction between Messrs Irvine and Emslie. As mentioned the influence of Allan Holdsworth is evident throughout Wait & See, but that doesn't give us the full picture. There's lightness within the arrangements and as Hubbub unfolds, and with the introduction of the guitar synth, I'm more minded of Pat Metheny.

Frazzled on the other hand is all about groove and punctuation and the rhythm and interactions are captivating. This track has become a firm favourite for me and if you could imagine throwing Andy Summers and Eric Johnson into a melting pot, then it wouldn't surprise me if they came out "frazzled". The longest piece, Cul8r [Sweet Sorrow], returns to Holdsworth voicings for the opening section, however the greater part of the track is taken up by a jazzy, blues solos - an area John McLaughlin was not afraid to dabble in. Or perhaps AH around Road Games. The relatively slow tempo of the piece really works well.

Elsewhere we have the mightily catchy Zigzag; the restful, jazzier In April which is more of a solo piece for John - although there is some light percussion from Alan and Doug Kemp supplies the tasteful bottom end. The title tune echoes Zigzag with its catchiness whilst bringing out a rockier, dare I say it, AOR edge. If we pair up Zigzag and the title tune then album closer New Brunswick would be coupled with In April. A melodic solo piece on guitar with tasteful, lightweight ornamentations added to the mix.

I found Wait & See a well conceived album, with a lightness and openness that I very much enjoyed - and although there is some serious playing to be heard, the music never gets bogged down or too weighty for its own good. Wait & See comes across as an album that has been designed to be listened to and not as a recording to display instrumental prowess. If you are into well written instrumental progressive, jazz rock music then I certainly recommend you check out this album.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

BOB MULVEY



Also Eden – Think Of The Children!
Also Eden – Think Of The Children!
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Festival Music
Catalogue #:201110
Year of Release:2011
Time:54:09
Info:Also Eden
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Think Of The Children - I (6:59), Hiding In Plain Sight (3:53), Oversight (6:28), Cijfers (3:22), The Greater Game (9:28), Stealth (5:40), Dream Without A Dream (6:10), 1949 (9:57), Think Of The Children - II (4:02)

John O'Boyle’s Review

“They say the camera never lies, so they questioned what you had to hide, it all depends upon your point of view”.

When Messrs. Rogers, Hodson, Dunn, Nicholas and Harding get together something rather special seems to happen both in the studio and live. Their latest release Think Of The Children! is certainly no exception to this rule. Since the debut About Time which is a firm favourite of mine as is their follow up It’s Kind Of You To Ask, Also Eden has never disappointed. There may have been some slight change in personnel, but in all honesty that hasn’t detracted from their creative and passionate force and approach. Sure there is a slight change in their sound both musically and lyrically but that isn’t a bad thing in fact this change brings food to the table and in all honesty it is a meal full of riches.

The albums opens with Think Of The Children - I a sedate and ornate passage that sets the benchmark which from there on in just climbs. The presentation is innocent having an observance that needs your full attention. Rich Harding just delivers the lyrics with such tortured emotion that each utterance just raises the hairs on the back of your neck, something that is very evident and consistent throughout the whole album.

Musically Think Of The Children - I perfectly segues into Hiding In Plain Sight a harder sounding approach, guitar annotations perfectly punctuating the song. Ian Hodson works his fingers over the keys adding a rather underrated repeating melodic passage whilst Simon Rogers really displays that the guitar is an extension of his personality as he absolutely nails the deliverance note after note, constructing the power of the track.

From the opening of Oversight Steve Dunn and Lee Nicholas work in perfect harmony as they manipulate the meter and timber, one minute bouncing repeating themes, the next a harder edge sound, the harmonious existence of the instrumentation is assembled in such a manner that they act out each scene much like the early Marillion albums.

Atmospheric and for all intense and purpose the instrumental Cijfers breaks the ice somewhat with its soundstage being very reminiscent of Rush, a reference I sure they won’t be unhappy about, that courses it way out of the speakers. It doesn’t actually sound like the most complex track on the album but that may just be due to the level of musicianship here. One thing that is for sure though, is that Cijfers is rather compelling as it opens the narrative door for The Greater Game, the first of two epics. This for me is where Also Eden always scores the homeruns as they allow themselves time to really build the solid structures that are just layered with pure beauty and excellence. From beginning to the end The Greater Game is pinpoint neo prog at its finest. The moods are allowed to be colourful and diverse. The cleverness of the construct for me personally is that it is allowed to gesticulate, emphasising its magnificence.

Stealth maybe the most adventurous and rockiest track on the album but once the band hit their stride there is absolutely no way of holding them back even as Rich Harding’s punctuates his lyrics throughout the piece. The power, authority and effectiveness of the music more than matches his penmanship and at times leaves him behind.

Dream Without A Dream a firm favourite of mine that just presses all the right buttons.

“We gave our freedom willingly, Bought into the common ground, Ignored the peril with a smile, Our house a castle, safe and sound. Now these walls are closing in, Closing in from all around, Take fragile breaths of liberty, With freedom nowhere to be found.”

As ever it is all accompanied by four musicians who know how to construct songs that are memorable and intriguing, soundstages that have been perfectly displayed for all to hear.

The penultimate and outstanding album track 1949 the second of the epics is where it is all at lyrically, a song that moved me the first time I heard it live; the album version is no less powerful, in fact this version takes the whole experience one step further. As ever it is full of those fabulous twists and turns that are associated with this band, its eloquent journey mesmerizes as does the impassioned playing. Close your eyes and build images to what you hear, this is just music to die for.

And so my friends Think Of The Children - II closes the album with the same beauty that it opened with although the approach is at the opposite end of the scale, acoustic dalliances than meander though no less electric or poignant.

Throughout this review I have only quoted the lyrics twice but in all honesty I have restricted myself to that as the accompanying booklet presentation does a much better job especially when viewed with the rather interesting artwork.

It is known that I do love the intelligent and eloquent use of words, which when are partnered by musical presentations as good as this, leads me to comment that this is musical nirvana. Listening to the album is such a delight as it all perfectly segues, delivering its story. This is definitely another album that will be in my top ten of 2011.

Geoff Feakes’ Review

Up until now Also Eden are a band I’ve been familiar with in name only. The release of their latest album Think Of The Children! on the consistently excellent Festival Music label was however enough to convince me that it was worthy of further investigation. I can find little information on the band’s history but thanks to previous DPRP reviews I understand that they originate from Cheltenham (as did my father) in the South-West of England and appeared on the scene around 2005. They have three previous CD releases to their credit, two of which About Time (2006) and Differences As Light [EP] (2010) have been well received by the DPRP.

The line-up has undergone several changes since 2005 with recent newcomers Rich Harding (vocals) and Lee Nicholas (drums) joining Ian Hodson (keyboards), Steve Dunn (bass) and Simon Rogers (guitars). Reading the previous reviews and the band’s website I was expecting something more in the neo-prog vein but was (pleasantly) surprised to find a more contemporary edge to their music. That said Harding’s melodramatic and versatile delivery put me in mind of singers like Fish and Mark Colton (Credo) and I’m not surprised to discover that prior to Also Eden he was in and out of several Marillion tribute bands. The music is also more guitar based than I expected with Rogers energetic playing infusing a strong sense of dynamics without resorting to hollow displays of virtuosity. The same goes for Hodson who colours the music with synth washes whilst Nicholas and Dunn provide that all important rhythmic drive with energy and passion.

Full marks should also go to the artwork which is in tune with the album’s message whilst telling a story of its own. The front cover depicts a young boy with puppet strings attached slumped in front of a TV in an otherwise bare room. The room resembles an animal cage and through the bars we can see a children’s playground. On the reverse cover the same boy is shown outside playing where the bars at the window have now become the links of a climbing frame symbolising his freedom.

The title song Think Of The Children neatly bookends the album with the intro to part 1 providing a surprisingly passive start with Harding in reflective mood against a stark piano and keys backdrop. A crashing power chord signals the entrance of weighty guitar, bass and drums followed by a lively synth break which for me could be more prominent in the mix. The cleverly titled Hiding In Plain Sight alternates a lightweight, skipping rhythm with heavy riffing whilst Oversight features a compelling opening (and closing) guitar hook and superb drum work. It’s the album highlight in my view with a memorable up-tempo melody and some particularly fine guitar and synth exchanges.

The confident and tricky instrumental Cijfers opens with spoken narration sounding very reminiscent of Pete Sinfield’s Still before segueing smoothly into the first of the album’s two mini-epics. The Greater Game begins in vintage Genesis mode with rippling guitar, reflective vocals and haunting keys strings. It develops slowly but confidently taking in a soaring guitar solo for the climatic finale with energetic vocals supported by more powerful drumming and an infectious guitar loop.

The appropriately titled Stealth starts deceptively with gentle guitar before a sudden and unexpected heavy metal assault. Harding gives a convincingly histrionic vocal performance here in true Iron Maiden fashion. In contrast Dream Without A Dream is centred around a melodic chugging, acoustic guitar motif before the penultimate track and second of the album’s main pieces. 1949 follows the formula of previous tracks, opening in tranquil Marillion fashion with mellow ringing guitar before the build. A sensitive vocal and a soaring Steve Rothery flavoured guitar break and dramatic power chords all play their part in the climatic coda. Think Of The Children - II brings the album full circle with the positive line “Think of the children give them the space to grow” to conclude as it begun on a mellow, reflective note.

Also Eden have done a fine job in producing an album that combines a variety of moods and tempos. Highly dramatic, serene and tranquil, dark and atmospheric, optimistic and uplifting, Think Of The Children! is all of these and more. If the band can build on these strengths I can see a great future ahead of them and I look forward to their next release with keen anticipation.

Conclusions:

JOHN O'BOYLE 9 out of 10
GEOFF FEAKES 7 out of 10



Side C - Stati D'Alienazione [EP]
Side C - Stati d'Alienazione [EP]
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Freecom
Catalogue #:FRRK0909
Year of Release:2009
Time:28:12
Info:Side C
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Radio Alienazione/Imperfezione (6:19), L'altro Lato (6:05), Slowly Dies.. (8:03), Nuova Speranza (7:44)




Side C - Andare Via... [EP]
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:29:27
Info:Side C
Samples:Click here
Side C - Andare Via... [EP]

Tracklist: Semplice Gioco (6:53), Tempo Di Convenzione (8:26), Ultimo Viaggio (5:44), Non Sai Più Piangere (8:26)




Out of nowhere comes one of my favourite discoveries of the year. Small time Verona-based band Side C have struck progressive gold with their two EPs Stati D'Alienazione and Andare Via.... The band has a classic Italian progressive rock sound, with all the creativity and gumption of the classic bands of the genre. The band has a female lead singer, Laura Bressan, who reminds me ever so slightly of Debbie Harry, the lead singer for Blondie. Bressan has a sexy, yet powerful voice, and proves that she is able to really use it, especially on Semplice Gioco.

The first of these EPs is their debut studio endeavour, which was released in 2009. Stati D'Alienazione contains only four tracks, but what brilliant tracks they are. The disc begins with the sound of a radio being tuned, with clips from the tracks on the album being played, before segueing straight into Imperfezione. Two minutes into this song, a powerful instrumental emerges, and we sense the true majesty of this band.

The sense of magic never leaves throughout the EP; in every track, there is something wonderful yet creative, for example the sensational 7/4 intro to Nuova Sperenza. The band state that they try to compose their music free from any constraints, and the proof is in the pudding, as none of the songs follow a structure that could even remotely be compared to anything 'normal'. Even better, the disc has more than it's fair share of uplifting moments, for example, the anthemic intro to L'altro Lato. Such moments don't seem to exist too often in today's progressive music. Even if you're not such a fan of Italian singing, (and if you aren't you should be ashamed) the third track Slowly Dies.. has English lyrics, although these make about as much sense as any Yes lyrics ever did.

The second EP is from a live recording from June 2011, near Verona. This EP continues the trend of amazing songs with creative structures. Despite being a live recording, this EP is still especially clear, and shows the band in their element. The band have also recorded this concert on video under the user name progandroll. The band displays elements of funk on Semplice Gioco while Bressan hits some phenomenally high notes. The standout track is definitely Ultimo Viaggio, the shortest track between the two EPs at just under six minutes. The track begins with over a minute of eerie sound effects before launching into a chilling song. After another minute, the band create something close to a musical explosion, causing the unsuspecting listener to jump straight out of their skin. Afterwards, a calm instrumental follows, before this explosion takes place again. This track is solid proof that Side C know how to create something different and moving.

Side C have absolutely won me over with their first two EPs. It seems that all eight tracks in this collection are flawless, and there are more than a few masterpiece tracks too. This amicable Venetian band seem to be able to churn out progressive music of the highest order in a way that very few other bands can do. I've been in touch with the band and am pleased to announce that they are getting around to recording a full length album. Side C is a group to watch out for, and I think other progressive bands could learn a thing or two from these guys.

Conclusions:

Stati D'Alienazione: 10 out of 10
Andare Via...: 10 out of 10

BASIL FRANCIS



Gösta Berlings Saga – Glue Works
Gösta Berlings Saga – Glue Works
Country of Origin:Sweden
Format:CD
Record Label:Cuneiform Records
Catalogue #:Rune 319
Year of Release:2011
Time:46:05
Info:Gösta Berlings
Saga
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: 354 (5:54), Icosahedron (3:12), Island (12:58), Gliese 581g (5:53),Waves (2:55), Geosignal (2:22), Soterargartan 1 (12:51)

Leo Koperdraat’s Review

Now I absolutely love Scandinavian progressive rock and then especially those bands that embrace the darker, moodier side of prog. Bands like Anekdoten, Landberk, Anglagard, Paatos, White Willow and Liquid Scarlet to name a few. Another band that falls into that category IMHO is Gösta Berlings Saga. This band released their debut album Tid Är Ljud in 2006 and followed this with Dette Har Hänt in 2009. On this album they started to work with Anglagard's Matias Olsson when they recorded some overdubs at his studio. After the release of this album the band started touring and now they produce their third album Glue Works. This time they even worked more closely with Olsson who recorded, produced and mixed the album. The touring the band did seems to have given them more confidence and they have become an even more tighter outfit. The album was released on the Cuneiform label, a label that is known for the more ‘difficult’ or experimental releases. Don’t let that put you off because although the music on Glue Works is no easy listen and does need perseverance every now and then, it is a more than intriguing album. It’s their best album to date.

As I said in my review of their second album, Gösta Berlings Saga specialises in instrumental, dark and sometimes psyche related music. The music sounds vibrant there is a distinct 70s feel present in the music. New on this album is the addition of instruments like French horn, trumpets, cello, Theremin, bass harmonica, vibraphone and saw giving the album a more classical feel. It results in the presence of influences from minimal composers like Steve Reich and Philip Glass. The emphasis is on exploring a melody. Seeing what you can do with it; where it takes you. The songs sound very well arranged and thought out. Every member of the band plays an important role in this exploration. Instruments shift over one another, take the lead or a step back. It makes the album title very fitting. They switch between quiet, often Fender Rhodes led sections, and loud aggressive parts often led by Einar Baldursson’s guitar explosions. Not unlike Sigur Ros; Like on the short Icosahedron. Sometimes they take more time like on the two highlights of the album Island and Soterargartan 1 (the name of street where they have their studio). These are also the tracks that needs the most of the listeners perseverance as you need patience to hear how they slowly develop and expand and/or implode. But the strongest point of this album is the absolute gorgeous musical themes the band produces. For example the closing melody on Soterargartan 1 that starts around the six minute mark with Fender Rhodes is so incredibly beautiful that it is no problem at all that these guys take 6 minutes to fully work out this part by slowly adding cello and French horn. It’s so moving. Islands starts with a short classical part. And again it’s so beautiful especially with the sound of the saw. But after this short intro the whole band sets in and starts jamming, focussing on one recurring theme. This is the track that is the most repetitive. After seven minutes the melody is repeated and repeated while things get louder and louder. You either get sucked in or run for the ‘next’ button on your CD player. But then you’ll be missing a delicious fuzzy guitar solo and the subtle adding of percussion in the midst of the mayhem. That same percussion also plays an important part during Gliese 581g with again a Fender Rhodes melody to die for. The last two minutes of the track are totally different again and feature some delicious guitar riffs with again the percussion. The bass harmonica takes centre stage in the short Geosignal with again Alexander Skepp on percussion.

There is not a weak track on this album. Opener 354 with its shifting time signatures could have been on Dette Har Hänt and sort of glues that album to Glue Works.

With Glue Works Gösta Berlings Saga score a hattrick. Three albums and all three worthy of a DPRP recommendation.

Mark Hughes’ Review

Another revelation at this year's NEARFest Apocalypse were Sweden's Gösta Berlings Saga who kicked off proceedings on lunchtime of the final day. Although the group's history stems back to 2000, they didn't make their live debut until 2005, releasing their debut album Tid Är Ljud (Time Is Sound) a year later on the Transubstans label. The line up for the debut album was Alexander Skepp (drums and percussion), Mathias Danielsson (guitars), David Lundberg (Fender Rhodes, synthesizers and Mellotron) and Gabriel Hermansson (bass). Shortly after the album's release Danielsson decided to jump ship and was replaced by Einar Baldursson. The sophomore release, Dette Har Hänt (This Has Happened), was unleashed in June 2009, also on the Transubstans label, and gathered national acclaim when it was included amongst the nominations for Swedish national Radio's premier music prize. The band then concentrated on building a more substantive following venturing outside their native country to gig for the first time. For the third album, their first release outside of Sweden, the band have signed to the American Cuneiform label who were prompted to sign them after hearing just one of the group's new songs, Gliese 581g.

The band plays a rather unique blend of instrumental music than encompasses elements of prog, psychedelia and post-rock but have stamped their own style onto proceedings. Kicking off the initial rather jaunty and jolly riff of 354 that drives things along and ends with a more science fiction style Theremin-like drone, actually played on a musical saw. Rather too incoherent to be that much of a convincing opening number, the track lacks some of the more melodic elements of pieces on the first two albums. Icosahedron takes a more sedate approach with an angular guitar adding some atonal elements before the band rack up the pressure for a brief and rousing collaborative effort before a quiet ending with excellent use of xylophone. First of the longer tracks, Island, a reference to the country Iceland and not the English meaning of the word, features an interesting opening of cello and, once more, musical saw, played by Cecilia Linné and Leo Svensson respectively. The melody is taken up by guitar but soon resorts to an insistent throbbing riff that brings things together, lifting the piece to another level. The energy is maintained by the introduction of distorted guitars and powerful drumming is maintained throughout the remainder of the piece. Again, a lone xylophone can be heard amongst the cacophony of the closing melee which, in many ways, provides a grounding to the more chaotic elements.

The aforementioned Gliese 581g starts as a slow lament on electric piano with the now familiar and characteristic xylophone. Although not sounding at all dated, the track does invoke memories of some of the classic music of 40-odd years ago. An abrupt change some four minutes into the number brings in guitar and a straightforward drum and percussion interplay that completely alters the tone and style and yet cleverly avoids being too much of a departure. Two briefer numbers, Waves and Geosignal don't really get going and seem to be a distillation of ideas of where things could be taken, exemplified by the abrupt ending on Waves. Notwithstanding the previous comment, Geosignal does portray a different side to the band featuring a more acoustic vibe with added French horn, tuba, and trumpets. A haunting piece that is suitably cinemascopic in scale, the piece is even more dramatic by the nature of how different it is from what has gone before. Or indeed after, as the album is concluded with the other large scale number Sorterargatan 1. The oldest track of the album in that it was originally part of a trilogy of numbers written between the first and second albums, it is understandably the most similar to the material from those two albums. Consequently I find it the most appealing track on this new album with the addition of the lovely cello adding immeasurably to the atmosphere. There is even a passable Mellotron sample included! An excellent end to a rather good album.

Although this review would suggest that Glue Works is not as good as their first two albums, as Einstein probably never said, "all things are relative". The album is somewhat of a transition into a newer sound that is more in line with the modern post rock idiom. As such, it stands the band in good stead for future releases where their originality should make them a prospect to watch out for. However, in the meantime, Glue Works is an album that maintains the promise of international appeal that Gösta Berlings Saga certainly possess.

Conclusions:

LEO KOPERDRAAT 8.5 out of 10
MARK HUGHES 7 out of 10



These Curious Thoughts – Let’s See What 2moro Brings
These Curious Thoughts – Let’s See What 2moro Brings
Country of Origin:UK/USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:32:35
Info:These Curious
Thoughts
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Good Times (3:02), Dilated Pupils (3:24), Care In The Community (3:45), Beautiful Thing Called Life (3:15), World Of Pain [The Nihilist] (2.27), Spit (2:28), There's Shark In This Fishbowl (3:00), Swimming In Glue (3:03), Rainbows (2:48), Let's See What 2moro Brings (5:33)

Sean Dunlop from Detroit and Jim Radford from London met on holiday in Peru seven years ago and got on so well they became firm friends, with a shared love for, amongst other things, music. They kept in touch via the world wide interweb and a year later, with drummer David Biliti they composed and recorded over thirty original songs and decided to release a double album under the name, Shock Of The Cold.

From 2004 to 2008 the band grew to six members and they toured the Metro-Detroit area extensively and released several albums, as well as winning several local awards. However, in January of 2008, they decided to call it a day. Dunlop and Radford kept in touch, though and continued to write music. Jim does the lyrics whilst Sean composes all the music and sings. The new musical partnership that formed they termed These Curious Thoughts. Biliti was again used on drums and they recorded their debut, The World Outside in 2009.

The Colour Of Sound followed a year later. They decided after that to record a demo of stuff to send out to music industry professional types, which is where we come in, being in receipt of a shiny promo copy of (the unfortunately titled) Let’s See What 2moro Brings.

It’s a little over a half an hour long and I have to say it hits the spot right out of the gate, with the jaunty opener The Good Times, with a maddeningly infectious poppy hook that had 4 year old Izzy dancing like a mad thing. Vocally Dunlop’s laid back, drawly style is highly reminiscent of personal favourite Donald (Buck Dharma) Roeser. Which is no bad thing. Elsewhere he’s got a Greg Lake thing going on, and overall it’s a voice perfectly suited to the material.

Dilated Pupils is heavier, rockier and does not sound at all like just one dude is playing everything. As well as singing. There’s a Cardiacs tinge to the track, and an undercurrent of early 70s psychedelia (BOC again, this time Dharma’s fluid guitar playing: hurrah!) which continues into third track Care In The Community that owes quite a lot musically to Lightbulb Sun era Porcupine Tree.

Elsewhere you’ll be put in mind of The Beatles (Beautiful Thing Called Life) and (did I mention it already) Blue Oyster Cult (World Of Pain; There’s Shark In This Fishbowl). And REM (Swimming In Glue). Oh, and Spit has “explicit” lyrics apparently, according to a well known music download store. If the use of the word ‘fucking’ a couple of times offends you, then consider yourself forewarned.

Rainbows is an acoustic number, a tad ELP-ish when the power chord sounds out, that for me is probably the weakest track on the album. It’s not bad, in fact it does grow on you after repeated listens, but I still find it a wee bit well, twee.

And so we end up with the title track, all swirly synth, and jangly guitar. And vocal harmonies. Which is pretty amazing when you consider when there’s only one singer. It sounds like it should have been recorded by any one of a number of stadium filling bands. It’s anthemic.

It’s a fantastic effort for two dudes collaborating across the Atlantic. Dunlop is a musical genius, and Radford’s lyrics provide the perfect counterpoint. They’re smart, clever and insightful.

It’s a perfect length too; never outstaying its welcome, ensuring it’s an album that’ll receive multiple plays. Despite some of the darker lyrical themes it’s a perfect summer record. And it’s why I love reviewing for DPRP. Just occasionally, amidst all the generic, soulless, derivative bilge out there you can still find some great independent music played by highly talented and passionate people. For the joy of it. I’d heartily recommend you support them in their endeavours by buying this.

And if you like this you might be interested to know that they are currently hard at work on their next album, Making Mountains From The Ground.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

BRIAN WATSON



Humble Grumble – Flanders Fields
Humble Grumble – Flanders Fields
Country of Origin:Belgium
Format:CD
Record Label:Altr0ck
Just For Kicks
Catalogue #:ALT016
Year of Release:2011
Time:47:25
Info:Humble Grumble
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Sirens Dance (3:52), Aging Backwards (5:20), Flanders Fields (5:05), Sleepless Night (5:59), Horny (2:57), Little Bird (4:09), Duck On A Walk (3:25), The Greatest Kick Of The Day (3:23), Never Lose Your Mind (2:43), Love Song (5:27), Purple Frog (5:05)

Who knew that Belgium could be this much fun! Humble Grumble have been around for over a decade now, their music and outlook flavoured by folk and jazz influences, as well as ‘70s prog, with a large dose of Frank Zappa style off the wall humour. The sextet, aided by numerous vocal and instrumental guests, is led by founder and main composer, guitarist and singer Gabor Humble Vörös with a line-up including percussion, saxophone and clarinet.

Flanders Fields is their third release as far as I can tell, the underlying Zappa iconoclasm shot through with the above influences, most notably from a prog stand point Gentle Giant; I challenge anyone to listen to Never Lose Your Mind and not think of Portsmouth’s finest. Their press release suggests that Humble Grumble are “the most dynamic and musically diverse group to have sprung from Belgium in over a decade, putting on shows of utmost versatility and unforced originality” and who am I to disagree.

Horny is a noteworthy ditty regarding the perils of being, well, horny but not many bands would add a chorus of multiple repetitions of the word ‘Hippopotamus” over ethereal female vocal and make it seem like an obvious thing to do! The often surreal lyrics fit with the scattershot musical approach and the whole is delivered with a cheeky wink and boundless enthusiasm. Even the title track with its obvious First World War battlefield allusions is upbeat and entertaining without denigrating the meaning in the words. It sweeps in with mellow clarinet and marimba, the melancholy theme mixing memories of the past with a feel for the place as it is today. They can’t resist a full-on jazzy wig-out in the middle though!

Little Bird features harmonica and a verse in Spanish (what else?) amongst other madness and Duck On A Walk is simply very strange indeed! In fact the intro reminds me of some of the better British jazz acts that emerged during the ‘80s such as Loose Tubes or Bill Bruford’s Earthworks. The horns are also used to good effect in the abstract twists and turns of The Greatest Kick Of The Day, the spectre of The Mothers Of Invention hovering in the background, a lovely sax solo moving things back to the jazz end of town.

You could do a lot worse than give this album a spin. The playing is spot on and the songs entertaining, knowing when to depart before they outstay their welcome. There is an infectious enthusiasm about Humble Grumble that marks them out and I suspect that live is where they really shine. The funky bass lines (see Purple Frog) with brass, wind and string interjections make for a hugely enjoyable listen.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

JEZ ROWDEN



Infront - Inescapable
Infront - Inescapable
Country of Origin:Russia
Format:CD
Record Label:MALS
Catalogue #:MALS 369
Year of Release:2011
Time:52:07
Info:Infront
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Intro (1:05), Infinite Approach (8:43), Postcard Notice (6:58), Least They Forget (10:36), RUNNN 3 (9:43), Jokes Aside Pt 1 (6:55), Jokes Aside Pt 2 (5:26), Jokes Aside Pt 3 (2:42)

Inescapable is Infront’s second full length album, with some six years having elapsed since their debut album. We all know a lot can happen in six years, for better or for worse. Six years is a long time between albums considering a band needs to maintain its fanbase. On the otherhand six years also a lengthy period where you can utilize your creativity to the highest level. Back in 2005 DPRP reviewer Mark Hughes reviewed for Infront’s first album and was pleasantly surprised by that album. Full of instrumental tracks, appropriately entitled Wordless. For Inescapable the band have once again composed a series of instrumental tunes.

Almost all band members now get mentioned by their full name with one exception. We now know that Igor Uporov and Dmitry Chernishev play guitars, Alexander Meshcheryakov handles bass and keyboards and K. Shtirlitz plays drums. Difficult names for us here in western world. Unpronounceable even.

In a musical sense Infront are far from difficult to get into as the music grabs you easily and is built very well. From the first, to the last second of the album is enjoyable and here and there are some very familiar melody lines. Categorized as "heavy prog", I initially thought I was in for a treat in the vein of Planet X or Relocator. But this is not the case and Infront's music is more of experimental nature, leaning towards instrumental Gentle Giant or King Crimson. Whereas the music of the aforementioned bands sometimes is very complex and experimental, even after numerous listens, incomprehensible, Infront remain more accessible whilst retaining their own highly distinctive sound.

Tuning in to Inescapable means you are stuck, bound to your chair or wherever you are, obliged to listen until the album is over. There's a lot going on in the music which keeps it very exciting.

When the almost classical sounding Intro is finished track two starts in a very mellow sounding Porcupine Tree or Riverside fashion. But don't get comfortable as they make sure you do not just sit back and listen, as after a short time the music changes a more jazz/fusion style of playing with yet another twist right behind - going heavier.

Infront have a habit of dividing songs into parts, adopting different playing styles as they go along. They also add humour into their pieces, take the ending of Postcard Notice - sounding as if side one of your record has just finished and you’re listening to vinyl stopping - in need of changing to side two.

Tracks 4-5 are by far the heaviest of the entire album in good old fashioned heavy prog sound. Starting with a drone sound and then going out with a more Latin Santana like sound. We are thrown from one side of the musical scale to the other. I'm also assuming RUNNN 3 is a follow up to the song of the same name on album number one, although I must admit I have not heard that one.

In their last trio of tracks Jokes Aside, Infront make sure we will not forget them and their musicality. These three parts are full of twists, hooks, tempo changes, style changes and humour. You name it, it is there. Fun but also coherent that are well crafted and performed. A fantastic voyage into the Inescapable music of Infront, they are highly recommended.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

GERT HULSHOF



Trip Wave (VA) - A Retrospective Collection
Trip Wave (VA) - A Retrospective Collection
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Trail Records
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:79:52
Info:Trail Records
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Eastern Syndrome Celt (10:22), The Moon Pierrot Moon Dream (5:09), Do Major To Rake Your Fingers Through The Grass (7.08), Decadance Dream #5 (4:54), Disen Gage Solaris (5:26), Rada & Ternovnik [Rada & Blackthorns] Interlude (7:05), KRTL Soda (5:23), Deti Picasso [Picasso's Children] Happy End Is Inevitable (8:24), Vespero Inna Burst Into Tears (8:01), Kafedra.org Entrance To Invisibility (9:21), Liompa Thee (8:27)

Trip Wave is a compilation album that features eleven Russian recording artists, an album that will open a window for the rest of the world to enjoy and experience Russian psychedelic music, being a genre that has a long history. Trail Records has pulled together some of the bigger players that represent this genre allowing each artist in turn to showcase their adept musical candour, contemporary but original approaches, atmospheric music that is diverse, rocking soundstages, the challenging, the beautiful, being an excellent opportunity for the venturous music lover to test the water and soak up the whole ambiance.

In all honesty I don’t think that there is a poor offerance to be heard. Trail Records has somewhat hit a home run with this release; as an album it will introduce and warmly welcome you to the amazing world of Russian psychedelic prog, having a prefect balance of lyrically inflected songs and gloriously mature instrumentals that amaze.

Diversity is the operative word of the day, which is what keeps this all sounding as fresh as it does courtesy of the rather excellent mastering job performed by George Dugan. To say that this is a collection of songs/instrumentals from the last twenty years is surprising, as one would never have guessed that this was the case because all the tracks presented sound so fresh. The added bonus here too is that many of the featured tracks are previously unreleased.

Listen to the opening abstract Celt by Eastern Syndrome, the stark but dreamy bass inflected Moon Dream by Moon Pierot, the spacey Solaris by Disen Gage and or the rather stunning and firm favourite of mine Inna Burst Into Tears by Vespero a band I am familiar with who have released some stunning music.

These are only four examples as to why this is an album worth investing in, (there are plenty more reasons as to why you should), and adding to your collection, which I am sure, will lead to you investigating further. Here the pro’s far out weight the cons. In fact the only con for me is that this is only a single disk affair.

The excellence of the music included really emphasises the power and quality, probably far better than I can with words. I personally don’t usually buy into the concept of various artist albums as they are usually filled with one or two great tracks whilst the rest of the album is usually filled with mundane contribution. This is certainly not the case here. In essence what we have here is a perfect example of what I have found so interesting about the music being produced in Russia, a country that is a hot bed of diverse, challenging, beautiful and in all honesty fantastic music.

I raise my glass to this release as Trip Wave an album that has and will continue to rotate in my system and maybe an avenue that Trail may want to investigate further for a fully fledged Boxset?

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

JOHN O'BOYLE



Überfall - Treasures
Überfall - Treasures
Country of Origin:Italy/Switzerland
Format:CD
Record Label:Fazzul Music
Catalogue #:FM 0851
Year of Release:2010
Time:68:18
Info:Überfall
Samples:N/A

Tracklist: Überfall (3:44), Total (6:54), ...In Alle Ewigkeit (1:24), Strahlen (4:29), So Froh (4:21), Kuckuck (7:25), Kulturbetrieb (3:53), Pit's Tune (3:00), Überall (6:15), Irgendwo (4:09), Wie Einst Im Mai (6:22), November (7:39), Überraschungsfrisur (4:43), Endzeit (6:00)

As the title implies, Treasures is a compilation of rare and previously unreleased tracks by Swiss "free rock" outfit Überfall, active in the Eighties and led by saxophonist and composer Markus Stauss. Born in 1954 in the historic Swiss city of Basel, Stauss has been active on the music scene for almost 40 years, first as a member of various groups and orchestras, then with his own projects, starting in 1982 with Trio Infernal. Überfall (German for "accident") formed in 1984 by Stauss, keyboardist/vocalist Pit Kayser and drummer Andy Muckenhirn, was active until 1991, releasing three albums between 1986 and 1989. A compilation of tracks from these albums was released in 1994, with the title So Uferlos Im Abendwind.

Treasures comes with a lavishly illustrated booklet in five languages - the four official languages of Switzerland (including the little-known Rumantsch) plus English - containing detailed information on both the band and the music, as well as lyrics for the 6 tracks that feature vocals (all concentrated in the first half of the album). The second page of the booklet is proudly emblazoned with a veritable statement of intent, which describes the album's content quite aptly: "An anthology of happy little dancing tunes offers dramatic sarcasm, frightfull facts and restistance [sic] against standardisation". Indeed, Treasures possesses the sort of unabashed, aggressive energy that brings to mind the New York scene of the late Seventies and early Eighties, and Überfall's new wave matrix comes across quite unmistakably, especially in Pit Kayser's in-your-face vocal approach. The use of the band's native German adds a quirkily cosmopolitan touch, the peculiar phonetic structure of the language complementing the dynamics of the music quite perfectly, and evoking echoes of distinctively Teutonic subgenres like Krautrock and Neue Deutsche Welle.

Interestingly, none of the tracks feature the rock instrument by definition, the guitar, replaced by Stauss' array of saxes, as well as synthesizers and other electronics. The result, while angular and occasionally noisy, can also be surprisingly warm and engaging. Melody, though of a somewhat skewed nature, also lurks in some unexpected places, and there are quite a few catchy, almost hummable moments scattered throughout the album. A good example of this can be found in the album's opening track, which bears the band's own name, and is propelled along by Stauss' joyfully blaring tenor sax and Pit Kayser's energetic vocals and keyboards. Total is similarly conceived, with an oddly infectious quality that belies the chaotic, pure free-jazz sax solo at the end. In sharp contrast, the somewhat disquieting Strahlen merges the martial precision of the vocals with a dirge-like pace, and then ends with a manic, effects-laden coda; while So Froh resembles a conventional song, with violin and flute adding a welcome touch of melody. With Kuckuck and Kulturbetrieb Überfall take a more experimental direction - the former veering from a solemn, faintly ominous mood to an almost jolly one, spiced up by plenty of electronic effects; the latter spacey and insistent, with emphatic vocals underpinned by steadily droning keyboards.

The instrumentals make it easier to enjoy the band members' adroitness for those who find the vocals somewhat offputting; they also offer quite a lot of variety, with the standout compositions concentrated towards the end of the album. November, the longest track at over 7 minutes, as the title implies exudes a subdued, mournful mood, at times evoking a funeral march. Wie Einst In Mai, on the other hand, references spring in its title, and its tone is appropriately upbeat, with surprisingly melodic sax and a discreet bass line. The sax- and electronics-driven title-track displays a strong Frank Zappa influence, while the sparse, meditative Irgendwo sees baritone sax and drums conversing over steady keyboard washes. The presence of guest bassist Alex Schaub comes across quite forcefully in the jazzy Pit's Tune and Überraschungsfrisur, as well as in Endzeit, which wraps up the album on a sedate, atmospheric note enhanced by quirky electronic effects.

Clocking in at almost 70 minutes, Treasures is a long album even for today's standards, but contains enough variety to prevent the onset of listener fatigue. While the songs with vocals may be an acquired taste, especially on account of the aggressive, punky vocal style, the instrumentals in the second half have the potential to appeal to fans of Zappa and RIO/Avant-Prog. In any case, adventurous listeners will find a lot to appreciate in the album, on account of both the band's excellent musicianship and its genuine anti-establishment, "Rock-in-Opposition" attitude.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

RAFFAELLA BERRY



Zauss - Überall In Terra Straniera Borders Beyond
Zauss - Überall In Terra Straniera Borders Beyond
Country of Origin:Italy/Switzerland
Format:CD
Record Label:Fazzul Music
Catalogue #:FM 0829
Year of Release:2011
Time:61:50
Info:Zauss
Samples:N/A

Tracklist: Hymn (6:51), Senza Nessuna Eleganza (6:30), Bewegung (5:27), Moods (4:28), Pastorale (5:29), Wendepunkt (3:35), Earthquake (5:16), Kontaktspiel (3:27), Quisquilia (4:43), Little Quakes (2:02), Strahlen (2:39), Migrazione (5:03), Meandering (6:20)

Zauss is a duo composed of Swiss saxophonist/composer Markus Stauss and Italian guitarist Francesco Zago (of Yugen and Picchio Dal Pozzo fame). This album, the duo's second release, following 2006's Neulich Neben Den Grenze, bears three closely related, though not identical titles (Überall means "everywhere", while In Terra Straniera means "in a foreign land") in German, Italian and English - the two musicians' mother tongues, plus the international language by definition.

Released, like its predecessor, on Stauss' own label Fazzul Music, Überall explores the possibilities that the combination of just two instruments - the electric guitar and the saxophone - offers to genuinely creative artists. Its structure also suggests contemporary academic chamber music rather than progressive rock - and, indeed, Überall cannot be labeled a rock album, but rather one with a definitely electroacustic, free-jazz bent. The 13 tracks form three cycles, based respectively on bass, tenor and soprano sax, each cycle comprising four tracks, plus one bonus track (Meandering) that can almost be seen as a summation of the whole album. The two artists' initial idea was to have four groups, each containing a track from each cycle, with the bonus track standing independently at the album's close; then they decided to go for symmetrical intervowen cycles, including Meandering in the fourth group - so that the seventh track on the list, Earthquake, finds itself strategically placed at the centre like a sort of hinge. This is all rather complicated, and unlikely to be grasped by the casual listener - even though the information, which integrates the rather scant liner notes, can be downloaded in English, German and Italian from Fazzul Music's website.

Überall was recorded live in the studio (a practice that has recently gained some traction on the non-mainstream music scene) in the second half of 2010, without any overdubs, conveying the natural sound of the improvisation sessions, in which two different yet complementary playing styles come into close contact. Needless to say, the music is as minimalistic as the instrumentation, aimed at the creation of moods and, as the artists put it, surrealistic impressions. While the titles are inspired by world events that occurred in the period in which the album was being recorded, it is left totally up to the listener to imagine a connection between them and the actual music. To use a rather worn-out cliché, this is not for the faint of heart: with plenty of jarring sounds (as typical of free-jazz) and very occasional melodic, laid-back moments, a complete absence of the support of percussion (a near-necessity for any form of rock music), the music requires patience and imagination, and would make an ideal soundtrack for a quirky, art-house film or avant-garde play.

The 13 pieces featured on the album offer very little in terms of composition that can be compared with rock, even of the instrumental variety. In some cases, they make rather uncomfortable listening, as is the case of the thematically- and musically-linked Earthquake and Little Quakes, both based on the deep, guttural sound of the bass saxophone like the similarly spiky Moods. Other tracks reveal occasional hints of melody, like the mournful opener Hymn or Migrazione, which alternates quiet and loud parts where the sax and guitar almost reproduce the sound of strings. Some of the compositions are apparently simple, though effective - as is the case of Pastorale, almost a modern take on Debussy's Afternoon Of A Faun, with flute-like soprano sax emoting over a steady, droning guitar background: others show a higher degree of complexity, like the aptly-titled Meandering that closes the album with dramatic, almost cinematic sweep.

When I listened to Überall for the first time, I was reminded of a couple of similarly-conceived albums that I had heard in the past year or so - in particular WD-41's excellent second album Temi Per Cinema (with trumpet replacing the saxophone). However, I found Überall a more arduous listen, and definitely the kind of album that needs to be approached in the right set of circumstances. As I previously pointed out, though undeniably progressive, it is not a "prog" album, and its appeal for the mainstream prog crowd is therefore limited. For this reason, I have refrained from giving a rating in order to avoid doing the album a severe disservice. While Überall is a very interesting proposition for adventurous listeners (especially those for a penchant for free jazz), I would hesitate to recommend it to those who privilege the more conventional features of progressive rock, such as melody and lush arrangements.

Conclusion: Not Rated

RAFFAELLA BERRY



Abnormal Thought Patterns - Abnormal Thought Patterns [EP]
Abnormal Thought Patterns - Abnormal Thought Patterns [EP]
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:20:48
Info:Abnormal Thought
Patterns
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Machine Within (2:38), Velocity And Acceleration: Movement 1 (3:50), Velocity And Acceleration: Movement 2 (4:25), Velocity And Acceleration: Movement 3 (1:43), Velocity And Acceleration: Movement 4 (2:12), Ulnar Nerve Damage (0:50), Electric Sun (5:10)

It’s been a busy and different year for the Tipton twins in terms of their recorded output. They started the year with a new band project in the shape of the excellent, if inconsistent, Cynthesis album. They close 2011 with the debut EP from their new TechMetal instrumental trio and their new record label.

As with the Cynthesis album, Abnormal Thought Patterns is more of a new formation than a new team. Whereas on Cynthesis the brothers Jasun and Troy Tipton reunited with former Zero Hour singer Erik Rosvold. This time they are joined by Zero Hour drummer Mike Guy.

For lovers of high-octane Tech/Math instrumental metal or just great playing, then this will be compulsory listening. This is a wholly instrumental album filled with poly-rhythms, abundant riffage, changing time signatures, and Guy's inventive drumming.

The Machine Within sets out the stall nicely with a very similar style and pattern of playing to be found across the four-section Velocity And Acceleration. The title sums it up nicely – it starts fast and gets faster with variations on the same theme. We then have some amazing bass playing on Ulnar Nerve Damage – if you’re a bass player then you have to hear this. The final song is a more traditional TechMetal instrumental with Jasun showing off his more fluid soloing style.

With instrumental acts such as Animals As Leaders and Long Distance Calling starting to gather a serious fan base there is clearly a market out there for this sort of thing. While the early material offers the sort of sounds one may hear from Zero Hour the final track maybe offers an indication of new directions to be explored in future releases from this trio. For the time being, this is a fast, crazy car ride of a listen.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

ANDY READ



Kalutaliksuak – Snow Melts Black
Kalutaliksuak – Snow Melts Black
Country of Origin:Russia
Format:CD
Record Label:R.I.A.G
Catalogue #:R065
Year of Release:2011
Time:73:04
Info:Kalutaliksuak
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Hear The Snows Are Melting, Breath The Floods Are Growing (19:44), Sing Your Bliss Of Love To The Mighty (22:25), You Shall Gain What You Have Prayed For (20:56), On The Morrow And The Next Day (9:57)

Approximately one fifth of the enormous land mass that is the USSR suffers at least a day, and in the far far North the entire period between mid November and mid January each year in total darkness. In this dark, forsaken, freezing cold and creepily surreal world it is inevitable that storytelling passed down through the generations gave rise to myths, legends and folklore conjuring all manner of ghosts, strange creatures and happenings of the permanent night. Shamanic practices are still carried out in some of the more remote Arctic regions and, as legend has it, if appropriate respect is not given to the winter spirits all manner of karmic havoc can be unleashed on these frozen communities.

Equally inspired by this indigenous shamanism and avant-garde music, Moscow based Kalutaliksuak (an Eskimo malicious ice deity apparently), have a long and convoluted history and are a band that have occasionally disappeared without trace only to resurface many years later, with group members playing simultaneously in other bands and solo, joining and leaving at will. Formed originally in 1993 by Vladimir Konovkin (assorted keyboards) and Alexander Chuvakov (guitars, flutes, voice, percussion) and here supported by Alexei Ohontsev (bass) and Sergei Titovetz (drums, percussion), their first proper album was 2008’s Last Day Of Sun. Prior to that a collection of demos and rehearsal tapes going as far back as 1993 were spruced up for their first self-titled release back in 2007. There are also three EPs available to download for free from RAIG Records website, which I’ve yet to investigate.

On Snow Melts Black we are taken on a journey across the tundra as the melting snow turns to floods, paying due respect to the sprits along the way in hope of deliverance from nature’s excesses. With three of the four tracks clocking in at around the twenty minute mark, and the fourth a mere ten minutes in length, the only way to do this ice-slab of an album justice is to go the route of that reviewing device that is loved and loathed in equal measure, the track by track description, so different are the icy sounds within.

Opening track Hear The Snows Are Melting… sets the scene with an eerily chilling build up of skewed strung out keyboard and treated guitar atmospherics. Pipe organ runs up and down the scales inter-woven with wah guitar scratchings are rudely interrupted by crashing drums and a Frippian mathematical excursion on the guitar, then reprising the scale runs on the organ, and then some garbled mycological altered-state shamanic shouting and funky wah bass guitar and mad lead guitar squallings all compete but meld together to take the listener to a very dark place indeed. At one time the “song” slows to a funereal pace with single note bass plucks lasting whole bars while strange percussive noises and off-kilter early Floydian keyboard noises abound, only for the beat to be picked up by a dangerously sinister funk wah bass, more shouting at the firmament and elongated keyboard sound painting dance the thing round the totem pole, eyes rolling back in the collective head. Set the controls for the depths of the permafrost!

Any reference points I can think of are tenuous and ephemeral at best, but the previously mentioned early Pink Floyd at their most “out there”, Amon Duul II of Phallus Dei on baaad drugs colliding with snatches of Henry Cow and Magma with a nod to the spacious style of 80s Miles Davis, while displaying a love for the free-form “anarchy with a tune” of the mighty Faust all spring to mind, but then again Kalutaliksuak sound nothing like any of those. It could be avant space rock, but this is a space you wouldn’t want anyone knowing you had visited, that’s for sure. The holiday snaps would certainly frighten the adults, the children would be permanently traumatised.

And that was only the first track! After a breather we’re back for the promise of respite that lies in the title of Sing Your Bliss Of Love To The Mighty which is introduced with what sounds like a Tibetan bell and some declamatory throat singing to an American Indian totem beat. A shamanic ceremony is underway, so much for any anticipated ambience. There is ambience of course, but it’s scary in nature as dissonant electric piano accompanies the chanting, later partnered by similarly edgy guitar strums. Does the Mighty appreciate this calling down of the spirits? We shall see, the beat speeding up, loooong keyboard chords over more agitated throat singing. I can’t imagine where this is going next, and that makes it all the better in my book, predictability being the curse of the mundane. A word for Sergei Titovetz here, whose drumming keeps it all together in tandem with his and fellow percussionist Alexander Chuvakov’s taste for Jamie Muir-on-hallucinogenics clattering madness. A burst of lovely if too short fluting at around the halfway mark maybe indicates the Mighty’s approval, but we’re back on the reindeer train across the frozen wastes as things take a slightly more defined shape for the next part of the song with a King Crimson Mincer-like vibe predominating, before an interlude akin to that produced if Henry Cow had been a jazz-fusion band, before ending backing in Mincer territory. Bonza!

We’re now steering the sled home, the huskies are hungry and it’s time for a cup of hot coffee before venturing out for the home run. Don’t wait up, I could be some time. You shall gain what you have prayed for starts like a soundtrack to a fairy tale from Hell, again fleet-footing round the old totem pole. If there is an avant-garde parallel to “shredding” then Alexander Chuvakov does just that before slowing to a more conventional solo, skirting and shimmying inside and outside the simple beat. The keyboards then take up the mantle before being rejoined with ascending wah guitar, the bass now filling out from its previous one note plucking, weaving around the backbeat. Halfway in we are becalmed, and another gorgeous flute interlude snake-charms its way into our ice flow of sound, a mournful paean to lost love and hope, but uplifting at the same time. Becoming more and more optimistic the flute is joined by shimmering percussion and chiming strummed guitar, and latterly a redemptive sequence of mellotron-like chords. If we prayed for this, it was worth it. At this point there is indeed a similarity to Animals era Pink Floyd of all things, which was as unexpected as it was justified, but still ancient. The song ends on an eerie (yeah, I know, that word again, but it fits so well) flute and spoken word invocation in thanks to the spirits, followed by some brief dissonant piano crashing.

Finally we end with On The Morrow And The Next Day, a jaunty avant-prog St Vitus’ dance with the guitar sounding at times like an injured saxophone over a sinuous bass riff, jumping about like beans in a bag. If you had three left feet you could dance to it!

This has been one helluva trip, and one that is worth returning to time and time again, each visit revealing something new. A left-field music fan’s delight, this band sound like they have been thawed out after hundreds of years buried in the tundra, listened to some cutting edge prog and Krautock, jazz, avant-garde, and Russian modern classical and thought “Yeah, we can do that.” They then proceed to beat the ingredients to smithereens with a Mammoth tusk before reassembling the parts by sense of touch alone in the all-engulfing darkness of Arctic winter, and all in a fashion that probably only made sense to the band at the time but now rewards us with an album like no other released this year. Probably not for the Arena fan.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

ROGER TRENWITH



Merrell Fankhauser - Return To Mu
Merrell Fankhauser - Return To Mu
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD/DVD
Record Label:Gonzo Multimedia
Catalogue #:HST05-4CD
Year of Release:2003/2011
Time:CD 73:42
DVD 30:00
Info:Merrell Fankhauser
Samples:Click here

Tracklist:

CD: Mystical Land (3:47), Waterfall (3:43), On Our Way To Hana (3:49), Pictures Of The Past (4:29), The Unknown Writer (3:49), Queen Mu (4:34), Mother Sea (3:03), Beckoning Maiden (2:44), Polynesian Dream (4:50), Time Travellers (3:43), Prospectors Moon (4:08), Goin' Down To Atlantis (3:25), The Land Of Mu (4:00), Under A Maui Moon (7:37), Matthew's Dream (5:15), Lodru's Mu Chant(1:29), The Mothership (5:16), Mu Rainforest (3:06)

DVD: “How are you doing did you hear that I died I left a box of records on the shore there were thirteen illustrations and some unfinished songs I really cant remember much more. Someone better hurry and pick them up or they could be long gone forever more”.

Merrell Fankhauser’s CD/DVD set Return To Mu has a certain charm about it having been originally released in 2003. Merrell has quite a background, born in Louisville Kentucky, moved to California at the age 15 which changed his life forever; travelled from Hollywood for his 15 year jungle experience on the Island of Maui, which has been well documented in both magazines and books. To boot, he is one of the innovators of surf music and has gained high recognition throughout the field of rock music. He is the guy who wrote Wipeout!

Return To Mu in essence is a conceptual psychedelic folk rock album, a rather excellent one at that, which is full of exuberance, a sound and approach that the album cover artwork captures perfectly. The who’s who of participants is endless, working very much in the favour of the creator/creation. One gets the feeling that if a certain sound was required then he knew the guy to go to. All you need to do is scan the cast list below and you will start to see names that you recognise.

The whole feel does at times sound slightly twee, but the cleverness of this approach is that it works on so many different levels. To position this album for comparison think Beach Boys where Merrell does rival Brian Wilson, Neil Young, Surf Music, 60’s psychedelic rock and then you are not going to be too far off the mark.

This really is a cornucopia of sounds that are highly addictive, peaceful, relaxing, emanating his message through the medium of music that is just mesmerizing. Such is the power of the musical presentation you do feel yourself participating in the journey, being carried along voyeuristically watching as the dreamy musical sequences unfold, being a world that you just want to explore further.

To listening to this grand gesture properly you will need to open your mind, literally, putting any preconceived ideas to one side, as it does cover extra-terrestrial encounters, lost continents and civilisations, but don’t let that put you off. It isn’t your average approach, but this is what makes this album so good.

The DVD that comes with this edition doesn’t really bring anything to the table and in all honesty is a watch once wonder. To be quite frank, I really don’t see any reason for its inclusion. It offers up a slight historic insight into the world of Merrell Fankhauser with a couple of videos interlaced which are slightly cringe worthy at times, but there again you can make your own mind up on that one.

For me the album more than stands up on its own two feet requiring no additional bolstering. To take seven years to record an album built on your own personal beliefs is a brave venture, Merrell has succeeded. Sit back press play and seriously enjoy this captivating creation.

And just to add finality the cast of who’s who for this album is listed below;

Merrell Fankhauser (guitar, dobro, bass, keyboards, strings, vocals), Jay Ferguson (flute, keyboards, vibes, strings, synthesizer, percussion), John McEuen (mandolin), Dom Carmardella (bass, piano, keyboards, strings), Paul Delph (drums, piano, strings, vocals), Tim Fankhauser (guitar, vocals), Lorenzo Martinez (congas), Luis Munoz (drums, percussion), Jerry Sagouspe (drums, vocals), Bruce Clark (flute, sax), William E. McEuen (percussion, tambourine), John Cipollina (guitar), Randy Tico (bass), Mary Lee (violin), Marsha Sherman (harp), Bill Berg (drums), Steven Meese (piano), Jimmy Dillon (guitar), Ed Cassidy (drums), Nicky Hopkins (piano, Kurzweil strings), Bruce Sahroian (bass), Art Dougall (drums), Fred Ralston (vibes), Dean Torrance (vocals), Jim McRae (bass), Darrell Thatcher (steel guitar), Jonathan McEuen (guitar, vocals), Ned Christianson (Kurzweil strings), Mike Bennet (bass), Donnie "Divino" Smith (sitar), Stephen Be (flute, Indian drum), Chris Olsen (percussion), Anna Romero (vocals), Ben Benay (guitar), Bill Cuomo (piano, keyboards), Marty Davitch (synthesizer), Gary Malabar (drums), The Mu People (tribal drums) and Ernie Anderson (Mu God voice)

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

JOHN O'BOYLE



Introitus - Elements
Introitus - Elements
Country of Origin:Sweden
Format:CD
Record Label:Progress Records
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:66:42
Info:Introitus
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Hand That Feeds You (14:18), Earth (1:22), Like Always (8:22), Wind (2:02), Restless (8:14), Fire (1:36), Dreamscape (11:48), Water (1:58), Soulprint (17:02)

Introitus started out as a hobby project for Mats Bender and his wife Anna. Last year saw the release of their debut album Fantasy, featuring songs that had been worked on for some thirty seven years before seeing the light day. Now in my CD player is the follow up to Fantasy simply called Elements. Besides Anna and Mats their son Matthias plays drums and percussion whilst daughter Johanna plays percussion and additional vocals. Completing the line-up are Henrik Björlind (additional keyboards, guitar, flute, accordion), Pär Helje (lead guitar) and Dennis Lindqvist (bass guitar).

Musically Introitus leans heavily on the sound of seventies progressive music. The opening track The Hand That Feeds You leaves no doubt, opening the album with a nifty spacey synth sound that could well have been heard on an earlier Eloy album. The clear and beautiful voice of Anna Bender steps in and beauty is being created, this is just the beginning of a masterpiece in the making. The middle section reminds a lot of Emerson Lake & Palmer in Tarkus, complete with the organ solo. A fourteen minute plus epic to start an album.

The album can be divided in five epics divided by four intermezzos, all carrying the names of the natural elements. Each of these interludes forms a fantastic rest between the epics. An excellent choice to make distinctions between the various songs of greater length.

Second epic, Like Always, is a lengthy ballad which features the beautiful voice and singing of Anna Bender - her voice carrying this song from start to finish. On the other hand we have Restless, a fantastic instrumental, that could easily be found amongst the best instrumental prog songs around. Showcasing the Gilmouresque guitar sounds Pär Helje as well as the fantastic keyboard wizardry by Mats Bender himself. Although Restless is an instrumental we still hear Anna’s voice, more or less as used as an instrument.

What to say about Dreamscape? Here Introitus create a wonderful dreamy landscape for all of us to wander off into and dream, sweet dreams. Absolutely stunning the craftmanship and musicianship. Utterly strong compositions. Last but not least is Soulprint the longest track on the album, clocking in at over seventeen minutes. A great composition with fantastic synth and keyboards, in spacey fashion, great harmonies. Not a dull moment.

All throughout the album the listener is treated to fabulous sounding keyboards and synthesizers, the magnificent voice of Anna Jobs-Bender all accompanied by consistent and fantastic song material. Progressive music from the beginning until the end - with twists the turns, tempo changes akimbo. Excellent, an album of exquisite beauty and a true contender for best album in 2011.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

GERT HULSHOF



Mostly Autumn – Still Beautiful Live 2011
Mostly Autumn – Still Beautiful Live 2011
Country of Origin:UK
Format:2CD
Record Label:Mostly Autumn
Records
Catalogue #:AUT0339
Year of Release:2011
Time:CD 1 52:20
CD 2 68:39
Info:Mostly Autumn
Samples:Click here

Tracklist:

CD 1: Hold The Sun (5:46), Deep In Borrowdale (6:06), Something Better (3:39), Forever Young (4:58), Ice (8:23), The Dark Before The Dawn (4:41), The Last Climb (7:39), Questioning Eyes (11:04))

CD 2: Heroes Never Die (12:22), Distant Train (4:55), Answer The Question (4:39), Caught In A Fold (3:39), Nowhere To Hide (4:22), Go Well Diamond Heart (6:22), Passengers (5:53), First Thought (4:41), For All We Shared (5:02), Evergreen (8:32), And When The War Is Over... (8:07)

It seems that Mostly Autumn have a live album in them for almost every occasion. Also released in 2011, That Night In Leamington bid a fond farewell to the band’s lead vocalist of 13 years Heather Findlay whilst this latest introduces to the front of the stage former backing vocalist Olivia Sparnenn. Olivia proves to be a more than adequate replacement and is of course no stranger to the role having previously fronted Breathing Space with partner Iain Jennings who has also made a return as resident MA keyboardist. It’s pleasing to note that since Heather’s departure the rest of the band have remained stable with Anne-Marie Helder (vocals, flute, keyboards), Liam Davison (guitars, vocals), Andy Smith (bass), Gavin Griffiths (drums) and of course the imitable Bryan Josh (lead guitar, vocals). Collectively they are one the most formidable line-ups to grace a progressive rock stage (or any stage for that matter).

With a significant number of live releases to their credit, this two disc collection inevitably repeats portions of previous MA set-lists but along with stage favourites there are enough pleasant surprises (as well as a few disappoints) to justify this release. Disc 1 opens promisingly (if predictably) with the catchy and powerful Hold The Sun from the most recent studio album, 2010’s Go Well, Diamond Heart. In fact there are 6 songs performed from said album (8 if you include Forever Young and Ice, both taken from the special edition bonus disc). It’s also worth noting that surprisingly there is nothing included from the three previous studio albums, the rather good Storms Over Still Water (2005), the excellent Heart Full Of Sky (2008) and the slightly disappointing Glass Shadows (2009).

The indistinguishable pairing of Deep In Borrowdale and Something Better left me cold on Go Well Diamond Heart but here in a live context the sub Black Sabbath and Deep Purple riffing (ala Highway Star) fair better although there are in my opinion far more deserving songs in the MA back catalogue (Fading Colours and Pocket Watch from Heart Full Of Sky for example). Olivia performs Forever Young with much relish, rendering every word with emotion with fine support from the ever versatile Anne-Marie Helder. Ice is a slow starter but gets into its dynamic stride around the half way mark with an infectious vocal hook and Josh’s trademark ringing guitar.

Following the domination of Go Well Diamond Heart, The Dark Before The Dawn flies the flag for the third MA album The Last Bright Light whilst the David Gilmour-esque The Last Climb from the 1999 debut For All We Shared is a pointed reminder of the strong influence that Pink Floyd had on the young Bryan Josh as they did Steven Wilson and Nick Barrett. The extended guitar solo crackles and sparkles and is preceded by a fine display of restrained flute playing from Anne-Marie. It’s left to the superb Questioning Eyes taken from the second and final Breathing Space album Below The Radar to bring the first half of the set and disc 1 to a rousing conclusion.

Opening the second part is the perennial Heroes Never Die also from the debut album which gets the extended treatment thanks to a blistering solo from Josh. Disc two is however weighted firmly in favour of the seminal 2003 Passengers album beginning with Jennings’ Jean Michel Jarre like instrumental Distant Train. This is one of favourite tracks in the entire set which like its studio equivalent goes straight into the rocking Answer The Question. Despite some lively flute work, the blues rocker Caught In A Fold did nothing for me although the band’s performance is faultless and the same goes for Nowhere To Hide which again is a tad too mainstream (and easily forgettable) for these ears.

The title track Go Well Diamond Heart is one of the more interesting songs on that album with a menacing wall of sound courtesy of the whole band helped out with war like sound effects. Passengers is a slow burner building to the obligatory soaring guitar solo whilst First Thought from the same album is an average mid-tempo ballad. In a similar vein For All We Shared shorn of the symphonic introduction is only a shadow of its former studio self. Evergreen is a poignant reminder of the band’s second album The Spirit Of Autumn Past with Olivia at her most soulful, easily outstripping the studio version although Heather did an equally fine job to conclude the That Night In Leamington show. Here however the dramatic And When The War Is Over takes the final honours sounding suitably anthemic with another show stopping performance from Olivia.

Despite my misgivings over the balance of material and some of the choices made, Still Beautiful Live is a fine reminder of why bands like Mostly Autumn bother to release live albums in the first place. Already a fine unit to begin with, the band is on especially sharp form throughout with Josh’s guitar histrionics particularly impressing. Although the artwork is a tad disappointing, amounting to no more than a collection of band photos (with a not so flattering shot of Miss Sparnenn on the cover) the crystal clear sound production more than compensates.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



Mostly Autumn – That Night In Leamington
Mostly Autumn – That Night In Leamington
Country of Origin:UK
Format:2CD
Record Label:Mostly Autumn
Records
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:CD 1 62:05
CD 2 78:35
Info:Mostly Autumn
Samples:Click here

Tracklist:

CD 1: Fading Colours (6:44), Caught In A Fold (4:12), Flowers For Guns (5:17), Unoriginal Sin (5:08), The Spirit Of Autumn Past - Part 2 (8:49), Simple Ways (6:48), The Last Bright Light (8:29), Passengers (6:34), Shrinking Violet (10:02)

CD 2: Carpe Diem (8:30), Winter Mountain (5:35), The Dark Before The Dawn (4:25), Answer The Question (4:27), Nowhere To Hide [Close My Eyes] (4:58), Half The Mountain (6:03), Mother Nature (17:36), Above The Blue (6:02), Heroes Never Die (10:45), Evergreen (8:28), Farewell Speech (1:45)

Just up the road from my office there is a brewery chain pub that a friend and I occasionally use for lunch. As is the case with these chain pubs the food is generic. It will be unsurprising and it won’t disappoint, but neither will it thrill. Everything comes with chips and salad. If you asked for new potatoes they would as likely look at you as if you’d just sprouted a second head. Everything also comes with an industrial sized dollop of coleslaw that my friend and I have often speculated is delivered in a tanker, after the beer. If your lunch time palate is more adventurous you would have to venture off the main drag in our town, that’s for sure.

I’m supposed to be reviewing an album aren’t I? Oh yes here we are… The analogy above can be applied to many of the now long established bands of the later waves of the UK prog scene. They too are unsurprising and won’t disappoint, but neither will they thrill those of us who take delight in the more wilful and creative end of the prog spectrum, they are just “there” and satisfy a modest but dedicated fanbase with their largely unadventurous but wholesome product. Mostly Autumn are one of those bands, and That Night In Leamington is the recorded document of front woman Heather Findlay’s last gig with the group after 13 years in the line up.

Recorded at one of the best midsize venues in the Midlands, Leamington Spa’s delightfully charming Assembly, there are some pleasant pastoral moments on songs such as Flowers For Guns and The Last Bright Light, the former featuring the flute playing of Anne-Marie Helder and the latter some nice vocal arrangements. Both songs are a welcome respite from the sometimes overbearing guitar posturings of Bryan Josh that dominate a lot of the other titles, the ending of Mother Nature being particularly painful, akin to a manic Dave Gilmour on steroids… ughh I’ve come over all queasy at the thought. Even on the two songs mentioned earlier you just know that some ardent plank spanking is only just round the corner. Bryan also contributes vocals that sound uncannily like Mr Gilmour in places and Nowhere To Hide could easily have been an outtake from Islands.

I just wish the guitar soloing displayed a soupçon of subtlety now and again instead of going for the jugular every time. Even the slower playing such as that on Passengers seems to be ground out with a grimace at volume eleven when a bit of delicacy would not have gone amiss. The unfortunately titled Unoriginal Sin for example starts in a nice fashion with some good harmonising building the song up from an understated start, but you always fear that the axeman cometh. This overused dynamic is fine once or twice but it tends to define the whole concert, and gets a tad wearing after a while, to my ears at least.

Heather is certainly the star of the show and her strong voice adds to the powerful dynamic, as it has to in order to compete with the ever-present guitar menace. The vocal arrangements are actually very good throughout and are undoubtedly the best thing about this band in my ‘umble opinion.

The songwriting is of a consistently high standard, and the overall sound reminds me of female fronted AOR stalwarts such as Heart, Jefferson Starship, and even the louder elements of Fleetwood Mac, although the latter comparison is fleeting. A definite Englishness pervades the songs which at least serves to give the AORisms an individual twist, but why Mostly Autumn are known as “prog” is a mystery to me, but then again the words “prog” and “progressive” are often distant relations.

That Night In Leamington is an album that will probably not win any new fans for the band, but that was probably not the intention anyway. It is some two and a third hours worth of pleasant but unchallenging music spanning the band’s entire career which the fans will buy and to hell with the rest of us, and that’s exactly as it should be. If you’re into well played AOR with no unexpected quirks, then this will definitely be your chicken burger, chips and salad. Just be careful to be on your guard for an overdose of coleslaw!

Right, now the difficult bit, I have to mark this out of ten. From a musical and arrangement point of view it’s top notch, but being true to my taste for the weird and wonderful I’m afraid I have to say... (as if my opinion matters anyway)…

Conclusion: 5 out of 10

ROGER TRENWITH



Blue Dawn - Blue Dawn
Blue Dawn - Blue Dawn
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Black Widow
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:45:34
Info:Blue Dawn
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Crossing The Acheron (1:29), The Hell I Am (4:16), Inner Wounds (4:56), Hypnotized By Fire (5:56), Shattered Illusions (5:51), In My Room (4:35), A Strange Night (0:57), Dead Zone (4:40), That Pain (4:41), Deconstructing People (8:08)

Monica Santo (vocals), Paolo Cruschello (guitars), Enrico Lanciaprima (bass and vocals) and Andrea Di Martino (drums) are the quartet that makes up the Italian Gothic, Doom, Classic Rock, Metal Band Blue Dawn and this is their eponymous album.

Although not a true prog album in the pure sense of the word they do play and create some catchy music that is very much guitar driven. In saying that Crossing The Acheron does open up with a grandiose cinematic soundstage that hits the generic sweet spot being named after one of the five rivers that flows through Hades; the shorter A Strange Night part way in also plays with a similar structure.

From there on in the whole mood changes as they capture the moment creating their musical interludes that do vary in tempo and diversity building to the climatic final and outstanding piece Deconstructing People the song that really defines this band as a whole.

One thing I will say is that the band has certainly caught the essence and feel of the 70’s rock scene throughout the album. Paolo Cruschello definitely confirms throughout that he is no slouch on guitar mixing and matching lead and rhythm to great effect being the highlight of the album. The rest of the band follows and with such an approach they really have got something to work with, adding their fills and precise actions especially from the backline.

Lyrically this is all dark stuff as Monica Santo wraps her Italian inflected vocals around the imagery she is creating. On The Hell I Am we hear the call

“You have deceived me, you have sold me, you idolise me, then shut me down, but now it’s your turn to eat you guts, you’ll come to terms with all your acts”.

Or on Hypnotized By Fire

“Suddenly killed by anxiety, darkness now fallin’ onto me, like a total eclipse in waiting my entire world is fading, will I ever reach my goal, will I ever fill my hole”.

To be honest it’s not exactly what I would call a happy go lucky lyrical approach and neither is the rest of the album. To give some sort of semblance to the styles we are talking, think Trouble or Black Sabbath, Paranoid/Master Of Reality era with a female singer and you won’t be far off the mark. The beauty and cleverness in this approach though is that Paolo Cruschello never borrows from Iommi cleverly building and constructing his own convoluted guitar passages that work on so many different levels for which he should be applauded.

It is evident that Blue Dawn is a good and strong debut album that will appeal to fans of the aforementioned genres but will probably not appeal as much to prog purists as much, but there again, you just never know?

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

JOHN O'BOYLE



Time Horizon - Living Water
Time Horizon - Living Water
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Angelic Noise
Records
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:53:47
Info:Time Horizon
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Life Fantastic (7:38), Living Water Prelude (1:09), Age Of Wonders (7:16), Time Horizon (4:11), Forgiveness (7:14) Feel The Change (4:32). Me Chili Caliente (2:49), I Am Not Alone [Til The Dawn] (8:35), Living Water (3:24), Paradise (7:00)

The name Time Horizon will ring a bell with those who are familiar with the CPR (Christian Progressive Rock) compilations, whose fourth volume (produced, like the previous ones, by Randy George and Gene Crout) was released in the spring of 2011. Hailing from Northern California, the band was formed by keyboardist Ralph Otteson and drummer/vocalist Bruce Gretke in late 2004, and was originally a quartet. Living Water, was recorded with a different lineup from the band's current one, which includes two guitarists, Ricky Hunt and Dave Miller, replacing guitarist Dave Dickerson, and bassist Allen White replacing Steve Gourley. The album's title refers to a non-profit organization supported by the band, Living Water International, whose aim is to provide clean drinking water to the poorest inhabitants of those parts of the world plagued by water shortage. The funds generated by the sale of the first 1,000 copies of the album will go towards the drilling of fresh water wells in those countries. The message is nicely complemented by the CD's futuristic cover artwork, by graphic artist Ken Westphal (known for his stunning work on behalf of Uzbekistan band From.uz).

Thoughout the past few years Christian progressive rock has developed into an organized network (which includes high-profile acts like Glass Hammer, Proto-Kaw and Neal Morse) with a loyal core of followers, the very definition is enough to strike fear into the hearts of a large number of prog fans, and not necessarily only those who are militant atheists. Even people like me, who may have left religion behind but are still tolerant of other people's beliefs, tend to cringe a bit when confronted by the openly proselitizing attitude of those artists. American acts seem to be the main offenders, relentlessly hitting listeners over the head with lyrics that sound as if they belong more to the repertoire of a church choir than a rock band. Personally, I am not a big fan of using music as a vehicle for either religious or political content, as it is far too easy to become preachy and turn potential listeners away - no matter how good the music may be. Moreover, it takes a very gifted lyricist to make strongly ideologized content palatable, which would make a more nuanced approach a sensible option.

The often rebarbative effect of religious-themed lyrics notwithstanding, Time Horizon's debut album contains a lot to satisfy the cravings of melodic prog fans. Gorgeously layered vocal harmonies, masses of keyboards and soaring tenor vocals - the hallmarks of American-style, AOR-tinged progressive rock - are to be found by the spadeful on Living Water. The majority of the songs are longer than the average mainstream number, yet never reaching the canonical "epic length", and packed with catchy hooks and hummable choruses. Besides the usual suspects in terms of inspiration - Kansas, Styx, Boston and Asia, as well as more recent outfits such as Spock's Beard and Transatlantic (and obviously Neal Morse) - an overarching Yes influence, especially manifested in the deep, growling bass tone and seamless vocal harmonies, is hard to miss; while the guitar solos often bring to mind that master of melody, emotion and atmosphere, Pink Floyd's David Gilmour. Bruce Gretke's voice, almost a dead ringer for Steve Walsh's, fits the grandiose sweep of the music like a glove (as does his crisp drumming), and adds to the uplifting, hymn-like nature of the songs.

Life Fantastic (already featured on the third CPR compilation) immediately sets the tone for the whole album: introduced by majestic keyboard washes, then synth, guitar and vocals spar for the limelight in a smoothly arranged slice of proggy AOR infused with evident echoes of Yes. In a similar vein are Age Of Wonders, a strongly synth-driven piece contrasting the brisk pace of the verse with a slow yet catchy chorus, and the heartfelt, organ-powered Forgiveness with its noticeable Kansas imprint; while I Am Not Alone [Till The Dawn] and Feel The Change merge typical AOR grandiosity with more traditional, subtler prog sensibilities. On the other hand, Time Horizon sounds like the soundtrack of a sci-fi movie, without any drums and peppered by eerie robotic voices offsetting the passionate vocals and surging keyboards, and the two-part title-track, with its layered vocal harmonies backed by tribal drumming, is easy to imagine as the centrepiece of some unconventional church service. The only instrumental track, the amusingly-titled Me Chili Caliente, is a Latin-flavoured acoustic guitar piece very much in the tradition of Steve Howe's Clap or Mood For A Day. Paradise finally closes the album by blending the usual catchy, radio-friendly suggestions with some heavier riffing and an atmospheric, vaguely spooky bridge, quite at odds with the rest of the album.

Living Water is undoubtedly a well-crafted album that is sure to kindle the interest of fans of vintage melodic, AOR-tinged prog, though the band's uncompromising attitude as regards their Christian faith may get in the way of some people's enjoyment. While it is in some ways refreshing to encounter a band that is not afraid to deliver a positive, uplifting message (and whose engagement in a worthwhile humanitarian cause is highly commendable), the openly religious nature of their lyrics may well alienate quite a few prospective listeners. On the other hand, the members of Time Horizon know their business, and, if you like that particular musical approach, you might do much worse than check them out.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

RAFFAELLA BERRY


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