Reviews in this issue:
- Iona – Another Realm
- William D Drake – The Rising Of The Lights
- Damian Wilson Band – Cheers Lads! [DVD]
- Hillmen - The Whiskey Mountain Sessions
- Henderson/Oken - Dream Theory In The IE
- Pythagoras – The Correlated ABC (Duo Review)
- The Aristocrats – The Aristocrats
- Voyager – The Meaning Of I
- Orphaned Land - The Never Ending Way Of ORwarriOR
- Arnaud Krakowka – Antic Journey
- The Future Kings Of England - Who Is This Who Is Coming?
- Rotor – Festsaal Kreuzberg
- Karda Estra - New Worlds
- Psicodreamics - Ancient Wisdom
- Spirits Burning – Behold The Action Man
Iona – Another Realm
CD 1: As It Was (2:41), The Ancient Wells (7:22), Another Realm (4:26), Clouds (6:45), An Atmosphere Of Miracles: i. When We See Beyond ii. Intimacy iii. An Atmosphere Of Miracles (15:35), Let Your Glory Fall (7:25)
CD 2: Ruach (6:20), Speak To Me (3:30), And The Angels Dance (6:02), Foreign Soil (4:50), Let The Waters Flow (5:25), Saviour (5:04), The Fearless Ones (5:41), White Horse (11:09), As It Shall Be (3:16)
Five years is a long time in the music world, so much so that a band can easily drop of the radar no matter how memorable their last release happened to be. If you’re an Iona fan patience is not just a virtue, it’s a necessity with Another Realm being only their second studio release in the past ten years. Fortunately when it comes to quality they have never failed to deliver with nine stunning albums (including live recordings) to their credit since their formation in 1988.
This latest release is a departure for the band being their first double studio album and also marks the debut of new man Martin Nolan who replaces the incomparable Troy Donockley on uilleann pipes and whistles. Otherwise its business as usual with Joanne Hogg (vocals, keyboard), Dave Bainbridge (electric & acoustic guitars, bouzouki, piano, keyboards), Frank Van Essen (drums, percussion, violins, violas) and Phil Barker (bass guitars).
Before considering the music itself the first thing that struck me about Another Realm is that each band member has upped the ante in terms of their individual contributions. That’s particularly true of Joanne and Frank although perhaps Dave’s trademark soaring guitar flights are more discreetly used this time around. And yes lyrically the band’s Christian ethos is as apparent as ever although those of a less spiritual nature can be reassured that this never overshadows the music which is nothing short of inspirational in its own right.
Iona never open their albums in an obvious manner and this is no exception with As It Was being a hauntingly beautiful ballad with sparse but effective instrumentation. It’s the equally haunting sound of the uilleann pipes that introduces the Celtic flavoured The Ancient Wells with Nolan proving to a more than adequate replacement for Donockley whilst injecting his own personality into the music. The melodies are strong and Joanne has never sounded better as Nolan leads the ensemble into an infections reel that is so typically Iona. The rhythmic title track Another Realm displays Essen’s prowess both with conventional drums and bodhran as well as providing some lively fiddle playing whilst the gorgeous Clouds (composed by Joanne) sees the band at their most tunefully accessible. Bainbridge’s soaring guitar solo is the icing on the cake here bringing Steve Hackett’s exhilarating Every Day to mind.
At 15 minutes plus the appropriately titled Atmosphere Of Miracles is not so much an epic piece but rather three individual pieces seemingly masquerading as one. Whilst there is no obvious connection between each section they do combine well, from the shimmering Clannad style wordless vocals to the stirring sound of the pipes to the rousing symphonic finale, it’s all wonderful stuff. This would have made a fitting conclusion to disc one but for good measure the band toss in the inspirational Let Your Glory Fall distinguished by Barker’s excellent bass work. Not to be outdone Bainbridge lays down a stupendous guitar break around the midway point.
Disc two begins in an equally unconventional fashion with the pastoral Ruach, a mini violin concerto possibly inspired (if my ears don’t deceive) by Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. So delicate is Essen’s touch here it’s hard to believe he’s the man who also pounds the drums for the band. If like me you have a liking for 20th century classical music this track alone could be worth the price of admission. The mood continues with the melancholic lament Speak To Me before the sparkling And The Angels Dance lifts the mood with its catchy chorus. The nostalgic Foreign Soil sees Joanne in romantic mode contrasting with the breezy Let The Waters Flow which features fluent guitar dynamics from Mr Bainbridge. It’s a track that brought back memories of his excellent solo album Veil Of Gossamer.
The reflective Saviour is Iona at their most spiritual without sounding overtly preachy whilst the instrumental The Fearless Ones is a real curiosity with its ambient and dissonant sounds making for a challenging (by Iona’s standards) listen. The lengthy White Horse is the band at their proggiest with inspired instrumental interplay from all concerned together with a triumphant choral finale leaving As It Shall Be to bring the album full circle with a variation of the haunting opening theme.
If I was to say that Another Realm was a return to form for Iona would be misleading, as I said earlier they’ve never failed to deliver. This may be a double album but there is not a single filler track in sight, every song deserves its place here. If like me you’ve been a tad disappointed of late by the output from certain female fronted bands like Mostly Autumn and Magenta its heartening to know that Iona still have the power to to surprise, move and entertain in a manner that lesser band can only dream of.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
William D Drake – The Rising Of The Lights
Tracklist: Super Altar (2:54), Ant Trees (1:55), In An Ideal World (3:52), The Mastodon (3:49), Ornamental Hermit (4:55), Wholly Holey (2:40), The Rising Of The Lights (2:04), Song In The Key Of Concrete (1:28), Me Fish Bring (6:38), Ziegler (4:13), Laburnum (1:37), Homesweet Homestead Hideaway (9:33)
This is a wonderfully well crafted album of superb songs from a particularly worthy artist. The fact that it will never be heard beyond small groups of converted devotees is a travesty of almost biblical proportions but such is the life of a cult musician such as William D. Drake whose extraordinary body of work is approached with a mixture of contempt and confusion by many “listeners” who may have never actually heard much of it.
This is because of his close ties with Cardiacs, a group he played keyboards with for a decade from the early ‘80s and whose sound he was instrumental in creating. In fact when he left it was quickly decided that no one else could play keys to the required level so he wasn’t replaced and the band continued ever after with “Bill-in-a-Box” programmed keys. No band produces such extreme reactions as Cardiacs but they have provided us with a magnificent back catalogue of breathtakingly wilful and difficult music that as a result of the tragic and debilitating health problems suffered by leader Tim Smith in 2008 is currently unavailable in physical formats without the outlay of large wedges of cash and is now unlikely to be enlarged upon.
Drake’s career since Cardiacs has seen him contribute to bands such as The Sea Nymphs (with Smith again), North Sea Radio Orchestra, Nervous, Lake Of Puppies, The Grown-Ups, Lefaye and Stars In Battledress as well as a run of solo releases of which The Rising Of The Lights is the fourth. If any of the above names are familiar you will know what interesting and diverting talents Bill possesses. His ability to meld classical, prog and straightforward songsmithery should have made knowledge of his work far more widespread.
The Rising Of The Lights follows on from 2007s fantastic Briny Hooves and is another startling collection of eclectic music and acoustic based songs. Elements of the trademark sound of Cardiacs is noticeable in tracks such as opener Super Altar, Ant Trees (both originally intended for Sea Nymphs) and Wholly Holey but are presented here in a gentler and less acerbic form than may have been provided by Smith and Co. The bizarre lyric and quick fire delivery of Super Altar keeps things barrelling along, the Olde World feel exhibited in the cover art coming through in the music. Ant Trees off-kilter lyrics have a distinct prog edge referencing past times and Victoriana including Lewis Carrol’s The Hunting of the Snark, spinning along with dextrous writing and playing from all concerned. This seldom becomes a full on rock album but uses the resources well to create an interesting hybrid using techniques learned by Drake through his working life and classical training. The core band features bass, drums, clarinet, keys and voice with guest guitar here and there. Throughout Drake’s piano is the key feature and never far from the surface.
In An Ideal World is a beautiful piano led song of romance that features ex-Cardiac & Sea Nymph Sarah Jones on vocals while the predominantly instrumental Mastodon has much more thump but retains the piano up front with influences from classical music, Gentle Giant and perhaps even Gryphon. The brief lyric delivered in a mock-Victorian style adds to a wonderfully entertaining whole and as throughout the performances are exquisite. Ornamental Hermit sees the lyric and vocal dripping with emotion, busy piano taking the lead supported by mellotron before the introduction of rhythm and clarinet. The feel gets darker, building to a crescendo before falling away on dissonant piano crashes with a flourish to finish it off perfectly.
Wholly Holey is a fun piece that continues the vision of simpler times long gone and is followed by the lolloping, off-kilter title track, an instrumental reeking of late nights after too much to drink. Song In The Key Of Concrete is a whimsical piece with more Gentle Giant influences building to a stomping finale while Me Fish Bring is wonderful and airy built on a repeating piano figure with male and female vocals, clarinet again adding colour. Ziegler is another instrumental with a galloping piano-led rhythm that works itself into an upbeat theme with effective use of harmonium that reminds me of Swedish music from the ‘70s. Laburnum sees Jones return for a song that takes the words of James Joyce and adds them to a soundtrack dripping with emotion.
The lengthy Homesweet Homestead Hideaway is another whimsical piece with Cardiacs influences and lugubrious clarinet, Drake’s vocal complemented nicely by those of Dug Parker in the opening part before a bizarre staccato interlude changes the direction midway through and moves on into a sweeping and romantic piano section. The final part sees a new, more grandiose theme emerge to finish the album in style.
The Rising Of The Lights is a wonderful addition to a compelling back catalogue, the solo elements of which you can discover for your benefit and delectation by following the samples link above. Give it a try, hopefully you’ll find it rewarding and if you are not familiar with Drake or the other fine artists working in the orbit of Cardiacs you have a lot to discover. Do so, it is likely to improve your listening life like it has mine.
Drake’s live appearances are not frequent but he and his So Called Friends are appearing at a Tim Smith benefit at The Windmill in Brixton, London on 3rd February 2012.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Damian Wilson Band – Cheers Lads!
DVD 1: Cheers Lads! - Live In Boerderij (2:09:25), Forever Young, Arthur, Into the Black Hole, Starship Trooper, Commune, I Want To Build My World, Please Don't Leave..., One Life, Nothing Without You, Quietly Spoken, Homegrown, She's Like A Fable, When I Leave This Land, Naked, Nothing Left In Me, Solitary Witness, The Castle Hall, Best Years, Sanity's End Bonus Material Paul Jude (10:19), Extras (7:07)
DVD 2: 20 Years Of Avoiding A Job – 20 Years Of Avoiding A Job – Video Introspective (54:33), Behind The Chaos – Tour Documentary (54:43), If You Want Blood - Tour Collage (10:22), Johnny B. Goode – Tour Collage (6:54), Damian’s Birthday Celebration (13:07), Moment Of Doubt (6:34), Exchanging Sock Horror Stories (19:00)
DVD 3: A Retrospective Black Plastic Bag (1:40:00)*
Not one, not two, but three DVDs greet you when you open the box, and according to Damian’s notes there is nearly eight hours worth of material contained therein! So, reviewing this is going to take a lot of time then, so here goes…
In celebration of either twenty years in the biz or of his fortieth birthday, this is a mammoth trawl through the musical life and times of Damian Wilson, warts and all. As he puts it in the liner notes if you’re still there after these meandering musical travels and travails you must either be related to or an intimate friend of our hero!
The subtitle gives us a clue as to Damian’s irreverent sense of humour that infuses this marathon collection. Here’s some more – Chris Mars is described as “a keen gardener and (who) also likes meat”, while Dirk Bruinenberg is “an excellent drummer and one of Holland’s top welders”, Nic Slack met Damian at the Wilson family chiropractors where they inevitably “clicked straight away”, and brother Paul Jude Wilson bemoans that “it’s never your fault is it?” after Damian was arrested for the fifth time in a week for stealing a bus.” With a sense of humour like that we should get along just fine.
DVD 1 Cheers Lads!
The main feature of DVD1 is Damian’s 40th birthday concert from De Boerderij, The Netherlands in October 2009, and covers Damian’s entire career. It opens with Forever Young (no, not that one), an old Landmarq song which sets the scene with some strong melodic symphonic prog led by Chris’ keyboards. Damian’s voice is a strong and clear instrument, and one that doesn’t have to resort to histrionics to get its point across. The fun really starts with Into The Black Hole when Damian claims to have forgotten the lyrics to the first verse so he calls up Ayreon’s Arjen Lucassen to the stage to remind him, where they spend the time sharing the joke! On this evidence can we call Damian the Robbie Williams of prog?
Included is a fairly plodding cover version of Starship Trooper that shows Yes to be the great band they were at their peak. The song is redeemed somewhat by the ending instrumental section when Damian goes walkabout in the audience, picking out a pretty girl for a hug. Yep, definitely the Robbie Williams of prog.
On the main menu you get the choice to watch the electric or the acoustic set, but if you just play the whole thing from the start, the acoustic set is inserted as the middle third. This works well, as it breaks things up nicely. The acoustic set is just Damian, his acoustic guitar, an electric piano and later a bass guitar, and it is here that Damian gets to show what a good singer he is, stripped of the symphonic prog overload of before.
Please Don’t Leave Me Til I Leave You gets to show that Damian can write a damn good pop tune if he puts his mind to it, replete with some good ol’ barrelhouse piano from Nic Slack. When I Leave This Land is rather splendid stadium sized ballad that reintroduces the band proper and is the sort of thing you should wave your lighters to.
Now it’s back to the electric set, with Landmarq’s Solitary Witness a more subtle example of the symphonic prog style. The heavier style of Ayreon is showcased on The Castle Hall where Damian shares the vocal duties on top of a nice bit of riffing, The melodic overtones are still there though, and this song is a good example of the genre done well. By now the somewhat reserved Dutch crowd has loosened up and looks like they’re really digging it. The heavy vibe continues with Praying Mantis’ Best Years, and Threshold’s Sanity’s End, not really my thing but certainly AOR metal played with skill nonetheless.
The extras include brother Paul Jude Wilson’s solo acoustic support set singing three of his brother’s songs, Damian relating a story about his hair falling out during a set changeover for the acoustic set, while in a nice touch telling the audience that he had put 50 Euros behind one of the bars for the lucky punters who can get to it first. Can’t imagine Robert Fripp doing that can you? There’s also a clip of a blooper moment where guitarist Ruud Jolie makes a false start to Best Years that was of course edited out of the finished film – bet he loved that!
DVD 2 20 Years Of Avoiding A Job
Starting with Video Introspective, which as the title suggests, is Damian’s life story, and a many-splendoured thing it is too. Damian is a personable and informative host, with a nice line in self-deprecating wit, telling us amongst many other things that he once failed a maths test to become a milkman and on his 21st birthday too! Oh, and Bob Geldof once told him to fuck off, but then again doesn’t His Bobness do that to everyone? He also reckons that Fullers ESB is the best pint of beer, but he hasn’t had Oakham Bishop’s Farewell then has he?! Little-known fact – he did a two year stint in Les Miserables – what Les thought of that is not known… I’ll get me coat.
Actually, his appearance in the long running musical coincided with what Damian reveals was the worst period of his life as his family split up, this part revealing him to be more than just a cipher rock’n’roller. It is sometimes easy to forget that the folk we are looking up to on a stage have the same trials and tribulations as the rest of us, and this serves as a timely reminder. There are other deeply personal revelations in the documentary too, along with lump-in-throat descriptions of the inspirations behind his songs, all done without the slightest hint of schmaltz, and Damian handles it all with a natural grace and humbleness that is touching.
Damian is a bloke who wears his heart on his sleeve, which comes across as much in his songs as it does in their descriptions on this documentary, although maybe advertising the fact that he hasn’t got a girlfriend is a little too much information! I think you would have to be in possession of a heart of stone not to like the guy by the end.
The other main feature on DVD2 is Behind The Chaos – Tour Documentary, a look back at the 2009 tour featured on DVD 1. As with all “rawk docs”, one is wondering how much like Spinal Tap it will turn out to be. Remember that cringe inducing waste of noughts and zeros that Metallica came up with a few years ago? Not to worry folks, Damian’s affable nature and the lads’ impish sense of humour gets us through it, although there’s nothing particularly shocking here, the fans will lap it up. The days of snorting illicit substances off groupies’ thighs seem long gone, luckily, or not, depending on your point of view! We also find out that Paul’s support slot at Boerderij was a last minute fill in as our hero wasn’t ready to go on stage, due to his taking a run, something he does a lot apparently, much to the mickey-taking delight of his band mates. Somehow you can’t imagine Ozzy ever used that as an excuse for turning up late, can you?
The extras on DVD2 include collages of cover versions of If You Want Blood & Johnny B. Goode which were probably fun if you were there, and more entertainingly Damian’s Birthday Celebration with Damian rapping and drinking with the crowd in good form and receiving a cake with firework flares (!) for his 40th birthday. Of more interest to the fans is an unreleased song Moment Of Your Doubt from De Pul in Holland. I won’t spoil it, suffice to say it is a highly emotional six minutes. The DVD ends with Exchanging Sock Horror Stories, which should be self-explanatory.
Almost everything so far has alternate commentary tracks by various combinations of the band, but in the interests of my eyesight and my sanity I’ve resisted investigating!
DVD 3: A Retrospective Black Plastic Bag
Subtitled “filled with cringeworthy memories” this final lap takes us through archive footage of Damian’s musical past, going right back in time through Threshold and Landmarq and others to The Button Factory in 1989. My timing at 100 minutes is an estimate as there is no timing info on the separate two page booklet for this DVD, and as it says, some of this is indeed cringeworthy and where it isn’t the sound or video quality is pretty lo-fi, so the less said about it the better. Some sub-Hendrix funk from Orphic Soop actually isn’t that bad though, and neither is DWB 2002 which has a surprising folky air, featuring a female violin player. Damian’s solo support slot on the Stream Of Passion tour is a good ‘un too. One thing can be said is that Damian is one of those lucky fellas who doesn’t seem to age, looking much the same now as he did 20 years ago.
Maybe DVD3 was more of a cathartic exercise for Damian as well as a must have for completists perhaps?
Just like the DVD set that was a bit of a marathon wasn’t it? Now I’ve got to the end of this I feel as if I’ve known Mr Wilson for most of my life, and a thoroughly likeable and entertaining chap he is too. Although his music is not necessarily the sort of thing that I would normally cut a rug to, I can heartily recommend this to any fan of any of the numerous bands Damian has played with. Damian’s own fans will already have it of course.
Now then, to the marking... well for sheer effort alone it has to be...
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Hillmen - The Whiskey Mountain Sessions
Tracklist: Lights On The Bay (8:31), The Fire Burns (16:17), Patio View (9:13), Summer Days (8:55)
Formed in 2007, Hillmen are a California-based instrumental quartet featuring the considerable talents of Djam Karet members Gayle Ellett (keyboards) and Mike Murray (guitar), as well as drummer Peter Hillman and bassist Ralph Rivers (who appears on the first two tracks). The Whiskey Mountain Session, their debut album, is also the second released by Djam Karet's own label, Firepool Records, whose inaugural release was Herd Of Instinct superb self-titled debut in the late spring of 2011.
As an almost perfect foil to Henderson/Oken's 76-minute Dream Theory In The IE (which was released at the same time), The Whiskey Mountain Session runs at a mere 43 minutes, and comprises only four tracks. Even if the title might suggest bluegrass or Southern rock, the album blends classic jazz-fusion with psychedelia and heady Latin and other ethnic overtones. Like The Heavy Soul Sessions, Djam Karet's latest release to date, the album was recorded live in the studio, without any edits or overdubs, preserving the spontaneity of the interaction between the musicians and the flexible nature of the compositions - which, according to the liner notes, "grow, evolve, live and breathe". This free-improvisation context lends an appealingly loose texture to the music, though without detracting from the artists' impressive technical proficiency.
Recorded in a mountaintop studio overlooking the Pacific Ocean, The Whiskey Mountain Session combines the warm, engaging sound of vintage instruments such as the Hammond organ and the electric piano with the resources of modern technology. With its laid-back pace and easy, natural flow, the music is strikingly effective in evoking the beauty of the surroundings in which the album was created - though at the same time it may suggest the dim, smoky interior of an old-time jazz club, or also the mellow, informal atmosphere of an open-air festival. The recording emphasizes the unstaged nature of the sessions, avoiding the artificially polished quality of so many modern products.
From the faint sounds that introduce opener Lights On The Bay, it is easy to visualize the band coming in and tuning up their instruments, then settling down to play. Over a background of understated drums, the guitar emerges discreetly, supported by equally muted keyboards and bass - then gradually takes the lead, while the organ and other sounds flesh out the rather sparse fabric of the composition. Opening in similarly subdued fashion, the 16-minute The Fire Burns takes the listener into vintage Santana territory with the riveting interplay of organ, piano and guitar underpinned by the discreet but unmistakable twang of the bass and the tireless work of the drums. The lazy, bluesy saunter and slow-burning guitar and and piano in Patio View conjure echoes of Traffic in their heyday; while Summer Days reprises the warm Latin feel of the piano and guitar with a brisker, more energetic step. While the differences between the individual tracks may not be as evident as in more conventionally structured albums, there is enough variation to avoid monotonousness, as well as a pervasive sense of melody that makes listening quite an enjoyable experience.
Being heavily based on free improvisation with no predetermined structure, The Whiskey Mountain Sessions may have limited appeal for those who like the more disciplined approach of traditional prog, and find jam-band music somewhat repetitive. However, the sheer quality of the performances and the intriguingly descriptive nature of the music make this album a worthwhile proposition for fans of jazz-fusion and traditional jazz, as well as open-minded music lovers.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Henderson/Oken - Dream Theory In The IE
Tracklist: Alive Enough? (8:10), Forgotten Spirits (8:03), Deeper Waters (6:47), Dream Theory In The IE (8:36), Zombie Attack (7:09), When All The Birds Die Away (12:25), John Henry Changes The Rules (24:54)
Multi-instrumentalists Mike Henderson and Chuck Oken Jr are known on the progressive rock scene as founding members of iconic southern California band Djam Karet. A not exactly prolific, but deeply eclectic outfit, active since the mid-Eighties, Djam Karet have released almost no new material in the past seven years. In the meantime, though, they have started their own independent record label, Firepool Records, and the band members have been engaged in a number of interesting side projects, such as Mike Henderson's laid-back White Arrow Project and Gayle Ellett and Chuck Oken's electronic duo Ukab Maerd.
The material featured on Dream Theory In The IE, the third album released on Firepool Records, comes from three shows performed by the duo in December 2010 in the southern California region known as the Inland Empire (IE for short). About 6 hours of music were condensed in 76 minutes, without any overdubs or edits except for the addition of some effects during the mastering process. Like Ukab Maerd's The Waiting Room, the album is firmly rooted in the electronic progressive tradition, though in this case acoustic/conventional instruments play a larger role, and the inevitable references to the likes of Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze are tempered by warmer ambient, ethnic-tinged tones.
As can be expected, the music showcased on Dream Theory In The IE is minimalistic, based on the careful build-up of moods and atmospheres rather than the grandiosely orchestrated development typical of traditional prog. However, Henderson and Oken inject the warm, organic feel of acoustic guitars, creating layers of sound that merge seamlessly with the the panoply of weird electronic effects with often mesmerizing results. While this particular musical approach is undeniably much of an acquired taste, the intriguing Eastern surfacing in some of the compositions will bring to mind Pink Floyd circa A Saucerful Of Secrets or Ummagumma.
Not surprisingly for anyone familiar with ambient-progressive music, the 7 tracks on the album are all quite long, with the shortest (Deeper Waters) clocking in at almost 7 minutes, and the longest (closer John Henry Changes The Rules) taking up nearly one-third of the CD. The title-track, strategically placed in the middle, seems to bring together the acoustic and the electronic strain, while the first three tracks hinge on the skilfully rendered contrast between the "natural" sound of the guitars and the eerie, often rather scary sounds wrung out of the two artists' impressive array of electronic devices. Alive Enough? introduces the cinematic note that is a constant of the album, with a faint but unmistakable Eastern vibe and the guitars providing a steady backdrop possessed of an oddly riveting quality. The Pink Floyd echoes return in full force in Forgotten Spirits, where the surging keyboard waves are offset by the solemn, intense voice of the electric guitar and the gentle tinkle of various percussion instruments; while the gently burbling sound of water enhances the slower, rarefied texture of Deeper Waters.
With the title-track, things take a more dissonant turn, with guitar and percussion emoting almost randomly and electronics taking centre stage. The guitar-based crescendo in the intensely cinematic Zombie Attack brings to mind Pink Floyd's Careful With That Axe, Eugene, while - not surprisingly - birdsong samples enliven the hypnotic,spacey plod of When All the Birds Die Away. On the other hand, John Henry Changes The Rules is not only the longest, but also the least cohesive track on the album, as it feels like three different pieces strung together without any apparent continuity. The second part is definitely the most interesting, dominated by organic, melodic keyboard sounds, but as a whole the track would have benefited by some more editing.
With its hefty running time, Dream Theory In The IE is not for the faint of heart, or those who like a lot of variety and excitement in their music. Though the purely electronic component is not as pronounced as in Ukab Maerd's previously mentioned album, there is enough of it to put off those who prefer music performed with a more conventional instrumentation. While the album falls short of recommended status due to its excessive length, which implies the presence of filler material, it is, however, a disc that offers a lot of interesting moments, and is warmly recommended to fans of artists such as Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, Pat Metheny and the whole ECM roster.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Pythagoras – The Correlated ABC
CD 1 A: Drifting Around Irrational Forces - Drama Queens For Teenage Idols (5:15), Epilogue (0:52), Prologue (0:47), Floating Angel Blues For You (5:12) B: Right Angles And Other Corners – Jingle Jangle Jungle (1:41), International Spacial Headrooms (3:02), So The Infinity Pilot Stumbles (4:45), Sonic Mayhem Sucker Punch (2:30), Cosmic Jive Suspension (1:59), The Everyday General Topic (1:47), Earl Honeydew And The Missing Superheroes (2:53), Translucent Action Figure Halo (1:05), A Notion Of Motion [Rollercoaster Daydream] (4:23) CD Bonus Today Is For Crying [Dedicated To J & S] (5:59)
CD 2 C: Lo-Fi Watercolour Ballet – Start Here, Or, I Will Try To Explain (2:07), Rose, Chicken, 27 (3:55), The Main Event (3:30), All Of The Answers (6:48), The Accepted And The Denied (3:41), Right On Time (0:56), A Particular State Of Mind (1:28), Ultimate Signs Of Life (1:54), I Hope My Considerations Are Of Some Benefit To You (6:58), How To Own A Treasure (0:53), Situations, Circumstances, And Beautiful Sunsets (2:05), The Challenged Spirit vs Reality (2:29), Murphy Saw (2:20), To Put Some Things In Practice (2:49)
Roger Trenwith's Review
My continuing journey off the beaten track and well into the dimly lit back alleys of progressive music brings me to this… well, spellbinding piece of art from the sadly long defunct Dutch experimental group Pythagoras. You would be forgiven for expecting something angular (heheh) and dissonant but what greets the ears is another kettle of fish altogether.
Formed back in 1979 in Den Haag (The Hague) in the Netherlands by keyboard player René De Haan and drummer Bob De Jong (sadly passed away only a few weeks ago) and ably assisted by numerous guest musicians, Pythagoras left behind two milestones in progressive electronica, 1980’s Journey Into The Unknown and 1983’s After The Silence, disbanding a few years later. Musea have released this 28 track package featuring unreleased tracks from the 1983 to 1985 period, including tracks from a live performance in Delft back in 1983, interspersed throughout Part B.
We’ll come to the music later. My review copy is a truly spectacular package, a triple fold-out sleeve that contains a seven inch single (Part A), a ten inch LP (Part B), a twelve inch LP (Part C), two CDs which contain all the tracks from the three pieces of vinyl plus a bonus track, and finally but not least, four art prints. I wish I could have posted a photo or two as my written description simply does not do this piece of art, and for once that’s exactly what it is any justice at all. “I wish you were here to see it”… a major case of Indiscipline if ever there was one! Parts A, B, and C, both in a practical (the folded cover) and a musical form comprise three sides of a right-angled triangle, combining to make a mathematically perfect whole, in the style of the Pythagorean Theorem. Designed by René De Haan, it deserves an award. Cover of the year, no contest.
Although their two official releases mentioned are filed under “Symphonic Prog” on Prog Archives, the music produced by Pythagoras on this retrospective is more of a melancholic ambient bent, the symphonic element leaning towards the avant-garde. I can hear all sorts of reference points here, from Klaus Schulze, Bill Nelson, Gong, early Pink Floyd, Europop, Blue Nile, Cabaret Voltaire, BEF, Steve Reich, David Bedford, Alan Parsons, Brian Eno, Thomas Dolby, Jade Warrior musique concrète, film soundtracks, these are just some of the influences brought to bear on this intriguing trip. However given the vintage of these sounds it’s sometimes difficult to work out who was influencing whom.
Although dominated by the keyboards, synths and electronica of René De Haan there is all kinds of other instrumentation as well, including Pieter Ubbels’ sax, Pieter Courtens’ synths and sequencers, Piet van Steenis’ fine guitar playing, amongst others. They all combine to produce a sound that has not dated too much simply because it is more than the sum of its parts and quite unique, somewhere between space rock, symphonic prog, ambient music and avant-garde.
Considering the recording methods used when these tracks were created were primitive by today’s standards, the sound on this release is still very good, and credit must be given to Nico Brandsen and the team for the mastering.
The link to the band website above provides streaming of individual tracks from the album, so why not play it while you read on? Part A: Drifting Around Irrational Forces serves as a gentle European flavoured introduction, the delightful bayan (a Russian accordion) of Oleg Fateev taking centre stage on Drama Queens For Teenage Idols (very Bill Nelson, that title!) before keyboard-led drama takes over. Floating Angel Blues does everything it says on the tin and is a haunting and lovely piece of music, built on gentle keyboards and gossamer acoustic guitar before soaring off into the heavens.
As you might expect from its sub-title, Part B: Right Angles And Corners is the spikiest of the three parts, containing as it does the live tracks. On International Spacial (sic) Headrooms Nico Bransden is credited with something called a “phase shifter” and I can only imagine that this bit of kit produces the Quark... era Hawkwind swooping noises. This track along with its live companions on Part B is the most Klaus Schulze like on the album, not that such a comparison is a bad thing. So The Infinity Pilot Stumbles taps a direct line from (or maybe to) Brian Eno, and together they all bubble along on the Euro-train very nicely indeed. I find Part B the most compelling overall as it ventures into some very angular territory on Sonic Mayhem Sucker Punch which is where the Cabaret Voltaire comparison comes from, but it also meanders into spacious ambient territory on the following two tracks. It will certainly hold your attention that’s for sure.
Part C: Lo-Fi Watercolour Ballet is a kind of new age neo-symphonic sound painting, and Start Here, Or, I Will Try To Explain is where Piet van Steenis’ guitar gets to feature, as it does on a number of tracks on Part C, where he plays some tasteful lines but without falling into stale predictability. Part C also includes the only “song” proper, The Main Event, the lyrics and vocals of Gerrit Eijkelboom sounding not unlike a less portentous Phil Oakey over an atmospheric piano, synth washes and acoustic guitar backing, and is the only track that seriously gives away its vintage. All Of The Answers is the darkly ambient horror movie soundtrack of our nightmares, and A Particular State Of Mind and Ultimate Signs Of Life put me in mind of Jade Warrior. The Challenged Spirit vs Reality features an all too brief but beautiful sax break by Pieter Ubbels. To Put Some Things In Practice concludes this historic trawl through a sadly all but forgotten backwater with just the guitar and keys leaving us adrift on an ambient sea, wondering what might have been.
A fitting if unintended tribute to Bob de Jong this album deserves more than the limited attention it will probably get. The packaging is excellent, the music interesting and in parts exceptional. To borrow one of the track titles, I hope my considerations are of some benefit to you.
Conclusion: Cover art & concept 10 out of 10, Music 7 out of 10, so, losing the half mark, overall (see below ;0)...
Basil Francis' Review
Dutch outfit Pythagoras have issued their swansong album The Correlated ABC, and what a special album it is! Originally active in the early eighties, the remnants of Pythagoras (René de Haan, Bob de Jong) have reunited to provide some closure to their loyal fans, by mixing together new material as well as old recordings of their deceased bandmate Pieter Courtens. I must applaud Mr. de Haan's generosity for sending me a copy of the album.
The first remarkable feature of this album is its extravagant packaging. This is a triple-vinyl ordeal, with a double CD copy of the album also thrown in for good measure. The three vinyls are marked A, B and C: Part A is found on a 7" single, Part B is found on a 10" LP, and Part C takes up a regular 12" LP. Strangely enough, the lengths of each side are all very precisely measured: Part A has six minutes per side, Part B twelve, and Part C twenty-one. The names of each part are scratched lovingly into the vinyl within the central groove. The album itself actually folds out, with seperate 12", 10" and 7" parts containing their respective vinyls, the CDs popping into little sleeves of their own affixed to the 7" part. This sleeve is not only unique but quite functional! The names of the songs as well as credits can be found within the sleeve, and behind the 12" part, there are alternate images to be shown through the hole in the front of the sleeve, in case you aren't so fond of the heliotrope default image. Of course, the winning card is the fact that the album has the ability to fold into a right angled triangle, to celebrate Pythagoras' theorem relating the sides of a right angled triangle by their squares. Any pedant will immediately complain that seven squared plus ten squared doesn't equal twelve squared. Shh, it's awesome! Packaged with the bizarre scent of second hand smoke, this is a highly unique collectable album cover that will be remembered for years. Unfortunately there are only five hundred of them (mine's #300) so you'd better hurry to get yours! But quickly read about the music before you do.
When you peruse the tracklist, with names like Rose, Chicken, 27 and Cosmic Jive Suspension, you'll start to get an idea for what kind of music this is. Indeed, this is a very avant-garde album, sometimes quiet and subtle, sometimes tuneful, but often downright bizarre. Indeed, there are quite a few 'room-clearers' on this album, but these don't appear quite as often as one would expect. In all honesty, Part A, subtitled Drifting Around Irrational Forces is my favourite part; the opening track Drama Queens For Teenage Idols making for a brilliant and moving introduction to the album. I wouldn't say that there's anything that particularly keeps me coming back for more, but on the whole, listening to this album is a surprisingly gratifying experience.
The music on the album is at it's best when it's tuneful and rhythmic, or at the very least tacet. At these times, one can let their head float away with the strange and special music the band are peddling. When the music is noisy however, (I'm looking at you So The Infinity Pilot Stumbles...) the music can get quite cacophonous, and for once I'm actually inclined to agree with the ignorami who believe our genre is "just noise". On any other album, I'd say the production is lousy, as the music is never very clear, but in this case the lo-fi mixing seems appropriate. One wonders what crisping and clarifying the music would do anyway. This is an avant-garde album, and the rule of 'nicer is better' goes right out the window.
Overall, this is quite a marvellous achievement from a band many thought were long gone. The packaging is simply gorgeous (if pungent), with the seperate vinyl sleeves explaining which players play what instruments on each track. We may not be all fans of avant-garde music, but we owe it to ourselves to try it every now and then. Sadly, Mr. de Jong also passed away last year after the release of this album, so it appears that this really is going to be the last we see of this band. If you're tired of hearing bands sticking to the rules, and want to hear something truly bizarre, this album is for you.
The Aristocrats – The Aristocrats
Tracklist: Boing!... I’m In The Back (4:59), Sweaty Knockers (8:09), Bad Asteroid (5:53), Get It Like That (7:46), Furtive Jack (6:52), I Want A Parrot (9:58), See You Next Tuesday (4:32), Blues Fuckers (4:59), Flatlands (7:13)
On this past New Year’s Day my best friend and I went to McDonald’s for breakfast. While we were in line to place our orders she showed me something on her mobile device. A friend of her boyfriend had posted his top five artists of 2011 on his Facebook page. They were Joe Satriani, Symphony X, Pain of Salvation, Dream Theater, and none other than new instrumental prog trio The Aristocrats.
So this threesome, obviously much freakier than that other type of threesome if you check out some of their song titles like Sweaty Knockers, are taking the viral world by storm, born like a bad little baby out of what was supposed to be a one-off gig at the NAMM convention in Anaheim, California in January of 2011. Drummer Marco Minnemann, bassist Bryan Beller and guitar man Guthrie Govan (the latter enlisted as a last minute substitute for guitar fusionist Greg Howe) threw down a set filled with a cocktail of so much magic and chemistry that they focused their vision on continuing their live work and the making of an album.
So here we have it- the self-titled debut release from The Aristocrats. While it’s only their first release at the dawn of their discography, the individual partners in crime here have lengthy resumes and credible experience. Govan is perhaps most know for his tenure with Asia (later Asia Featuring John Payne), and has also played with GPS, The Young Punx, Docker’s Guild, The Fellowship, and Erotic Cakes.
Minnemann has a resume longer than my... with noted highlights including stints with the power trio KMB (which also includes Beller), Eddie Jobson’s Ultimate Zero Project, UKZ, Trey Gunn, The Adrian Belew Power Trio, Steven Wilson, and Paul Cusick. I am a witness to his drumming skills, as I saw him quite capably play in Eddie Jobson’s Ultimate Zero Project at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, Massachusetts in 2009.
Beller also comes to the band with experience. In addition to the aforementioned KMB, he’s performed with Steve Vai, Kira Small, Dethklok, Z, James Labrie, Mike Keneally, Razl, and a slew of other artists.
There are nine tracks on the CD, with each member contributing a track from earlier in their respective career along with two new tracks. Minnemann’s contribution of the naughtily titled Boing!... I’m In The Back, also appears on his forthcoming double CD release Evil Smiles Of Beauty/Sound Of Crime.
Probably expecting a spanking in return, if he’s into that sort of thing, Minnemann on Boing!... I’m In The Back smacks our pathetic little proggie slave worm asses with some thrash craziness flirtingly veering into a languid slow section. Oh, God yes, the torture! And a bit of surf and rockabilly get into the action as well.
Minnemann’s drumming is snappy on Bad Asteroid, a tune from Govan that he used to play on stage during his time with Asia. It features a fiery boogie woogie section tempered with a fully executed groove that shows that these three silly bad boys of The Aristocrats can be business like when the time demands.
And from Beller’s catalogue we have See You Next Tuesday, originally from his 2003 View offering and here seeing hot lightsaber sweeps of electric shock guitar from Govan which could therapeutically force, as it were, the mighty Darth Vader into completely forgetting that Luke Skywalker was his son.
Mention of course must be made to the new material, including Sweaty Knockers, a Beller tune showcasing his striding and brooding bass, some Satriani-influenced fluid soloing from Govan, crisp drumming from Minnemann and a light jazzy element Allan Holdsworth would be proud of. The jazz hues that appear on much of the CD portray a modest band not caught up in the whole unjustified, masturbatory “Look mommy, I’m shredding, for the simple sake of doing it” thing.
We are transported to the equally bad-behaving Key West via the slight tropical surf melody and crazy playfulness of Furtive Jack and the lackadaisical, Crimson-leaning I Want A Parrot, the latter of which could inspire one beer too many on Duval Street at ten o’clock on a weekday morning.
This carefree nature shows a group of three adventurous guys who are clearly putting their music’s emphasis on having fun and not sucking up to conformity. Beller, Govan and Minnemann are all skilled at their individual crafts and their debut album is like that potent Key West brew that will have you wanting to drink more.
The music is fresh and fortified and will appeal to any fan of instrumental power trio stuff. Justin Bieber’s little Catholic school sissy bitches will just have to settle for, well, Justin Bieber. Oh wait, Stewie shot him on “Family Guy”. Fuck.
The well-produced CD has a professionally designed booklet with a track listing and credits, and a clever caricature of the band on the cover.
For the next Aristocrats release, an area of opportunity and admittedly perhaps a risky sacrifice to the power trio format would be to bring in a keyboard player.
The Aristocrats- they’re like the Seth Macfarlane of prog rock. Maybe with their next album they’ll flip out their own little “bird” with a re-working of Govan’s Rhode Island Shred.
Victory, it seems, is theirs.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Voyager – The Meaning Of I
Tracklist: Momentary Relapse Of Pain (4:01), Stare Into The Night (4:18), Seize The Day (4:48), Broken (4:46), The Pensive Disarray (5:56), He Will Remain (2:46), The Meaning Of I (4:19), Iron Dream [In Memoria : Peter Steele] (4:00), Feuer Meiner Zeit (0:36), Fire Of The Times (4:49), She Takes Me [Into The Morning Light] (4:07), It's Time To Know (2:18), Are You Shaded? (5:29)
Hailing from Western Australia, with a German-born singer and signed to the specialist American label Sensory Records, there is little wonder that over the course of three albums Voyager has developed a firm fan base across the world for its unique take on progressive metal.
Always a hard band to describe to those who’ve never heard them, on listening to the 13 tracks on this, their fourth creation, the following comparison struck my mind. On repeat listens it has stuck with me. Think Pet Shop Boys goes Prog Metal. Although the band itself prefers to compare its sound to a mixture of Amorphis melody, Soilwork heaviness and the vocals of A-HA's Morton Harket. I think we’re saying the same thing!
Conceived in 1999 by Danny Estrin, a German-born musician, Voyager hit the scene with Element V (2004). Released on the Dutch-based DVS Record label it won many fans for its inventive and upbeat variety of styles. Three years later a sharp change of direction saw a simplified melodic approach with UniVers. In 2009 I Am The Revolution developed the sound in a heavier direction whilst retaining the melancholic, melodic spectrum of its predecessor.
With their newest release the band continues its evolution maintaining the melancholy, the melody, the heaviness but with an added splash of electronics and a wider variety of groove. Polished, dark, yet skittishly playful.
The Meaning Of I is mostly a progressive metal album, with many of the elements you expect; staccato riffage, key and time changes, and lots of variety of pace, mood and influences. However, were not talking complex song structures, mathematical time signatures and solos that take longer than your kettle to boil. This isn’t ProgMetal in the Dream Theater, Sun Caged or Andromeda mould.
As ever the biggest impact is left by Danny's unique vocal style but listen more carefully and the innovation of the drumming and bass lines is matched by the virtuoso guitar work of Simone Dow and Scott Kay. Additional layers are added by the guest vocal performances of Dan Tompkins (Tesseract) and DC Cooper (Royal Hunt). Estrin even reverts to his native tongue on a couple of songs.
I find the songwriting in the first half to be more enjoyable than in the second half which doesn’t hold my attention as tightly. Songs such as Seize The Day, Momentary Relapse and Pensive Disarray are more easily accessible.
This album should satisfy existing fans and as ever the invitation is there for anyone who enjoys heavier progressive music, to seek something slightly different...
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Orphaned Land - The Never Ending Way Of ORwarriOR
Tracklist: Sapari (4:04), From Broken Vessels (7:36), Bereft In The Abyss (2:45), The Path Part 1 - Treading Through Darkness (7:27), The Path Part 2 - The Pilgrimage To Or Shalem (7:45), Olat Ha'tamid (2:38), The Warrior (7:11), His Leaf Shall Not Wither (2:31), Disciples Of The Sacred Oath II (8:31), New Jerusalem (6:59), Vayehi Or (2:40), M I? (3:27), Barakah (4:13), Codeword: Uprising (5:25), In Thy Never Ending Way [Epilogue] (5:09)
Orphaned Land is a Middle Eastern Progressive Metal band from Israel and has a long and interesting history. Like their 2004 DPRP recommended album Mabool. Above all they have an open mind to a better world; without clashing religions that is. This mix is crucial for their existence to begin with. For me, born and bred in a country that once used to be a very liberal place, I like the body of thought that Orphaned Land is trying to spread. Peace, love and understanding. Make music no war. Those kinds of elementary matters of human existence. Open-mindedness and tolerance rather than bigotry. But enough about that, this website is about music.
The album reviewed is the Tour Edition which consists of two CD’s. I will stick to the original release and will therefore only review the first disc. Beside the aforementioned mixed band characteristics, there are several other aspects that need to be said here. Like the apt use of folk and Yemenite elements. The close relationship Orphaned Land has with the busiest progressive man alive, Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson, who also produced the album for them. Another thing about Orphaned Land is that listening to this album is a treat. But, to be honest, these guys were born for stage presence really!
If you want to know more, read this track by track review below.
Sapari sets the tone with its Yemenite folk characteristics and the duo singing of Kobi Farhi and Schlomit Levi. A killer opener in style that forces you to sing a long, whether you like it or not. This short and powerful oriental statement is followed by a seven minute dark metal track by the name of From Broken Vessels. This song reminds me most of their impressive live appearance at the Oriental Metal Tour. Though this may not be the best track of the album, it does accurately define them as they are on stage. A solid metal song with some grunting and a touch of Orient hidden underneath. Bereft In The Abyss shapes quite an opposite world of sound for us, a gentle and fragile Oriental folk bit in between. With a broad selection of authentic instruments.
Then there is song number four, The Path Part 1 – Treading Through Darkness, by far the best track of the album. A fine and well balanced progressive gem with different styles of singing; metal and folk perfectly mixed. Kobi Farhi’s voice resembling that of Opeth’ Mikael Åkerfeldt’s more than once. A masterpiece with a tender oriental folk ending that blends into Part 2 - The Pilgrimage To Or Shalem. This in turn ends the opus a little heavier as its counterpart started it. Olat Ha'tamid is a short Hebrew interlude song. Followed by The Warrior which is a somewhat weird yet attractive waltz which handles the battle between light and darkness.
His Leaf Shall Not Wither is a serene song that reminds me of UK based Mostly Autumn in several ways. For its folk acoustic guitar and for the beautiful and sensitive duet, like Josh and Findlay. Obviously characterized with an oriental soundscape and biblical lyrics, that is. The up tempo Disciples Of The Sacred Oath II reflects the bands more raw character. Musically this track is a rather indefinable one, the weakest and less interesting of the album. Fans may disagree. I quickly skip to the much more attractive eclectic song New Jerusalem which kicks in with the tender voice of Schlomit Levi accompanied by a rippling bouzouki at first and subsequently turning into a slightly heavier section at the beat of an army marching. With Vayehi Or we are back in the strong but ‘simple and short’ sing-a-longs. In M I? , which stands for ‘Am I the Son’, another biblical artefact is being sung. Perhaps the content is interesting but musically this is certainly not the case. Barakah has a promising start but it gets on rather unsatisfactory and in the end blends into the straight metal styled Codeword: Uprising. With track fifteen In Thy Never Ending Way [Epilogue] we come to the end of this album. And a true epilogue it is because we are treated with several melodies and riffs from former tracks all glued together. The final two lines of the album’s lyrics outline the message they want to bring to us listeners ‘Evolve thy self, and lose all hate. So a heaven you may create’.
Although the album is admirable in its own right I think Orphaned Land is much more fun to enjoy live on stage than listening to them on this album at home. Maybe because of the many short tracks what some of us proggies are having difficulties with. However it’s more likely because you don’t experience the obvious fun and charisma this band is having on stage. Overall the album can be seen as fantastic, which I think it is because of the quality and uniqueness, as well as disappointing. The latter due to the afore mentioned fact that this band is born to play in a live setting. Final remark, the sometimes abundant growling on this release is more annoying than live too. Like I said, this music is meant to be experienced in a live setting preferably.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Arnaud Krakowka – Antic Journey
Tracklist: Prelude To History (1:20), Lifeforce (6:06), Apollo’s Nothern Land (7:08), The Astral World (9:23), Universe Of Memories (6:55), The Truth Behind Horus (5:56), Sundown (5:00), A Spirit In Black & White (4:10), Meditation Mystery (8:07), The Myth Of The Sun (10:26)
Arnaud Krakowka became known in the musical world two years ago when he released his debut album Parallel Dimensions, although even though reviews for this album were good, he still remains relatively unknown to a wider audience. In the world of music it is very difficult to build a name for yourself, especially when making music in the ovecrowded area of space rock and more specifically the genre which is dominated by a very gifted guitar player called Uli Jon Roth. When listening to Antic Journey this becomes very obvious, the sound of Arnaud's guitar, the overall mood and atmosphere of the album breaths the Transcendental Sky guitar.
The music is heavy, fiercesome at times, dramatic even, but mostly very spiritual and emotional and certainly doesn't reside in the softerside of New Age, or the Shoegaze side of music. The highpitched notes played give me a feel as if I am listening to mantra’s. Like living in a complete other dimension. Going into a spiritual world.
Antic Journey is perfomed by Arnaud with the help of Nik Walker (ex Old Tennis Shoes) on bass and Michael Ehré (ex Vinnie Moore, Metallium, Firewind) on drums. However this album deserves a much better quality of sound in my humble opinion. Not completely throughout the album, but certainly there are moments when it sounds as if I was listening to a demo.
In the main the compositions are brave and of high standard, technically played by all involved. The melodic and emotional strength of the music is amazing. Although I really like the musicality of Antic Journey, it is not an album I will play very often due to the poor sound.
Scoring is hard in this case, the music deserves a high score, poor sound quality leaves me in doubt. Still, and after much thought I must admit I find the music and compositions of such a standard that I recommend listening to this album to anyone who loves the guitar play of guys like Uli Jon Roth and Yngwie Malmsteen. Arnaud Krakowka is one guitar player to keep an eye on.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
The Future Kings Of England - Who Is This Who Is Coming?
Tracklist: Journey To The Coast (2:04), The Globe Inn (4:26), Finding The Whistle (2:01), Watcher Part 1 (1:56), Who Is This Who Is Coming? (9:09), Convinced Disbeliever (3:59), Watcher Part 2 (1:59), A Face Of Crumpled Linen (10:17), Spectacle Of A Scarecrow (5:54)
The boldly titled UK trio The Future Kings Of England have struck again with their latest release Who Is This Who Is Coming?. I must admit that prior to listening to this album, I had been very anxious to hear the band, as I had read nothing but good things on our rival website ProgArchives. However, perhaps I should have stuck with DPRP, because the reviews of the band's previous three albums seem to correlate precisely with what I hear here.
It seems that once again, this is a mainly instrumental concept album, based around a short story, in a similar style to Camel's The Snow Goose. The band have picked 'Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You my Lad' (1904) by M. R. James, and the quaint card album sleeve contains quotes from the book, as well as the words 'Quis Est Iste Qui Venit' which translate to give the title. However, this album suffers with some of the same problems that The Snow Goose does, in that without prior knowledge of the book, the concept is completely lost on the listener. Even the quotes provide minimal understanding of the story, and the title of the novel isn't mentioned anywhere.
Musically, the band claim to have a range of influences, from Genesis (not evident at all) to Amon Düül II, but by far the clearest influence is Pink Floyd. Direct references are hard to pin down, but the atmospheric feel this album gives is very Floydesque. About halfway through the album an alarm goes off in an unmistakabley Timely way, and in the final track, a Gilmourian guitar solo is to be heard. However, incessantly comparing the band to Floyd simply don't do the band justice.
The music is really pastoral and laid-back; these Future Kings formed with the intention of making so-called 'Head Music' so don't expect any whizzy keyboard solos or complex time signatures (as if you hadn't heard enough already). Despite being a mainly instrumental album, vocals can be heard about 9 minutes in, and again at 23. In each of the songs, the band present a new and different sound, and this is perhaps my concern. For an album that is clearly designed to be listened to as a whole, it can seem needlessly bitty and directionless at times. I can find very few faults with the music itself, but this collection of tracks doesn't quite fit in the way you'd like.
You might expect that the standout piece would be the title track, but in my mind this is not the case. The nine minutes which close the first half of the album are instead devoted to a rather experimental track, like a tiny musical probe into your mind. If you've ever listened to Tangerine Dream you'll know what I mean. The overall effect is actually quite pleasant, an atmospheric detour from the melodic first quarter of the album. Of course, this is the type of prog to polarise fans of the genre: those who wish to hear dense and complicated music will surely be put off by the lack of 'stuff' here. Of course, 'stuff' does start to happen again later, and for many (myself included), the best track on the album must surely be the longest: A Face Of Crumpled Linen. This track harks back to Floydian use of repetition and structure, and certainly the fade towards the middle of the track points to Echoes. Towards the end, the band speed up for a dramatic close before the final track.
In all honesty, this really isn't a bad album. With its atmospheric soundscapes, this album could easily be used as a soundtrack, and would probably work better if fitted to images. Without images or a clear concept, the mind has little to work with when enjoying this album. It'd be perhaps best to say that this is not a fully realised album, as I couldn't say that there was anything brilliant to keep me coming back for more. Worse still, the album can be quite inconsistent at times, as if the band are trying to fit in too many immiscible ideas. On the other hand, there is never any time when the music seems plain or ordinary, and for this we must be grateful. Another boon, the album is very digestible with its atmospheric affability and suitable length. This isn't the next Dark Side Of The Moon but The Future Kings of England are getting there.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Rotor – Festsaal Kreuzberg
Tracklist: Drehmoment (6:07), Hart Am Wind (3:23), 3 (4:19), An 3R4 (4:42), Karacho/Heizer (3:11), Transporter (6:11), Klar Schiff (2:19), Derwisch (4:57), Die Weisse Angst (10:04)
On the evening of November 14th 2009 at the Festsaal Kreuzberg club the power of Rotor’s music was captured live. Jump forward to 2011 nearly two years to the day the recording is released, quite simply being called Festsaal Kreuzberg.
For those of you not in the know, power trio Rotor provide a sonically bolstered bass ridden powerhouse soundstage that takes point of reference from The Melvins, Fu Manchu and Shellac. We are talking an instrumental fusion of Stoner, Rock and Indie Space Grunge. Trust me this amalgamation does work and sounds far better than I have just explained; an approached that has served them well as they are a band that has been plying its trade for the last thirteen years and in all honesty this album, album number five could have been a stunning double.
The nine instrumental pieces that are on offer here have stayed within their confines, the band not allowing theirselves the opportunity to exercise freedom, letting these pieces breathe of their own accord to see how they would naturally grow, which is a crying shame really and is the only disappointment here.
The groove throughout is very infections, intricate passages, although on first listening they sound somewhat straight forward. Throughout there isn’t any real leading solo work as such as the band ploughs their way through the set? With the band staying within the confines of the musical boundaries of each track you really do get the feel of how these three gentlemen interact, symbiotically like a perfectly tuned machine.
There are several highlights to be enjoyed here, the hypnotic An 3R4, a storming version of Karacho/Heizer the funky Transporter that just builds and the potent album and set closer Die Weisse Angst. The aforementioned tracks alone make the entry ticket price worthwhile, but be under no illusions the other track do have their own merit and are well worth investing time in.
If you are already a Rotor fan then you will be familiar with all these tracks and Festsaal Kreuzberg is a worthy addition to your collection. For the uninitiated Festsaal Kreuzberg is a perfect window into their world.
Never mind the neighbours, there is only one way to play this music and that is loud where the impact of these creations is at its best. Go forth press play and clear those cobwebs.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Karda Estra - New Worlds
Tracklist: Chronoclasm I (1:26), Transmissions (3:24), Fifty Below Zero (1:54), Girl In A Spaceship (2:55), Eternity (3:38), Sea Of Tranquility (4:08), The Sky Below (4:22), Radiance (4:30), The Dolls House (3:20), The Celestial Lounge (3:11), Invaders From Venus (3:27), Chronoclasm II (1:30)
New Worlds is the 9th album from the classical-goth-progressive crossover band Karda Estra, the outlet for the many talents of Richard Wileman who plays an assortment of guitars, keyboards and percussion instruments throughout the album. Featured heavily on this album is Amy Hedges who provides some lovely clarinet passages on several of the tracks, most notably on Fifty Below Zero and Girl In A Spaceship which, as with many other pieces in his back catalogue has a very Steve Hackett influence. With the majority of the songs being quite short there is a feeling that the music has been composed for a soundtrack to a film. Consequently there is a rather disjointed feel to the album although the album as a whole does hang together fairly well. Ileesha Bailey is also on hand to provide the somewhat trademark ethereal 'vocal' lines on Chronoclasm I, Transmissions, Sea Of Tranquility, The Sky Below and The Doll's House
Anyone familiar with the previous albums released under the Karda Estra name will recognise the dark, somewhat brooding, atmospheric nature of the music which is maintained to good effect throughout the current album. Although Wileman never pushes himself to the fore, allowing his guests to dominate proceedings when necessary, he still manages to control the overall effect of the album. Generally the music is very appealing, although the odd track, such as Radiance, is a bit too sparsely arranged, which in itself is no bad thing, as the wonderful The Doll's House demonstrates, but lacks an essential element to drive it into the musical subconsciousness. There is even a psychedelic twist in proceedings with The Celestial Lounge where a toy piano takes centre stage alongside the oboe (played by Caron Hansford). The album concludes with Wileman in solo mode, playing everything, including trilobites, which I thought was an extinct sea creature whose existence is known about from fossils!
Although not as immediate as some of the other albums under the Karda Estra banner, there is an enticing haunting quality to the music that does pull one along with it. The recording is top notch, the production clear, and the musical themes enticing. Considering that Wileman is giving this album away free or for a nominal charge you'll probably have a long search in order to find a better bargain.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Psicodreamics - Ancient Wisdom
Tracklist: Forest Heartbeat (6:20), True Spirit Of Nature (8:07), Samhain Ecstasy (4:34), Sancta Inquisito (5:10), Druids Trance (6:04), My Beloved Loneliness (6:03), Ritual Of Love (6:18), Earth Prayer (6:07), Beltane Moon (5:21), Bewitched By The Faeries (8:00), Wisdom Of Trees (8:05)
Although the genre of EM (Electronic Music) has lost quite a bit of popularity, there are still artists who maintain loyal to this type of music and compose genuine songs from their creative hearts and minds. One of those is Salva Moreno aka Psicodreamics. With Ancient Wisdom he delivers his 10th studio album to date filled with a soothing, meditative kind of music. Unlike artists like Yanni, Tangerine Dream of Australis, the emphasis in Moreno's music is on harmonies and flowing melodies. No guitars, only subtle percussion and on many occasions the leads are played by a synth sounding like a woman's voice. Sources of inspiration for his music this time were the Celtic myths, rituals of Druids and the 'wisdom of nature' among others.
The album's first track Forest Heartbeat is an ethereal song with echoing sounds and synths mimicking the sounds of nature. Drift away and let your tensions go, is what Moreno is trying to say here I guess. The next piece is ambient as well called True Spirit Of Nature. Again soothing enchanting sound-scapes as in the Lord Of The Rings movie when the Elves are leaving their homes to flee from the threat of Mordor. There's a change in style in Samhain Ecstasy: percussion, more up tempo and accompaniment by piano among others while the main melody is 'sung' by a 'woman's voice'. The way the piano is used reminds me of the song I Like Chopin by Gazebo. Kettledrums, strings and a female 'choir' are the prelude for a mid tempo tune with some highly original percussion sounds. The lead is primarily performed by a female 'voice' and we hear some guitar samples too. As could be expected from a title like Druids Trance, it's chill out time: gorgeous sequencers and slow melodies but still interesting because of the great textures has been able to create. In My Beloved Loneliness some of the sounds of nature are combined with a lead sounding like a uilleann pipe. The Ritual Of Love is a tune set to bring the listener in higher spheres: nicely built up with some percussion and lots of attention to detail if one listens carefully. Awesome bass sounds and a lead by the 'female voice' again in Earth Prayer, a tune featuring two chords and some percussion. Beltane Moon is my personal favourite, combining more pop orientated EM with the touch of the Spanish master of "ambient EM". Time to slow down and start dreaming again in Bewitched By The Faeries, beautifully flowing melodies, subtle orchestrations and samples sounding like a harp, surely inspired by the Irish folk music. The lights go down when the sirens are calling you in the last track Wisdom Of Trees and invite you to set foot in the dream world of Psicodreamics and you are advised to accept the invitation!
In conclusion Ancient Wisdom is perhaps more ambient and chill out than some of the previous albums and because of the female voice samples I must admit this album will not be in my personal best list. Because my main interest is progressive rock I rather tend to listen to music with slightly more power, percussion and rhythm patterns. Still in my opinion Psicodreamics did come up with a truly nice and original album again and it will surely find its way to fans of the more ethereal, spacey type of music.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Spirits Burning – Behold The Action Man
Tracklist: Rendezvous At Lava Lounge (5:38), Stand And Deliver (4:42), The Real Time (5:06), Internal Detective (4:20), Strafed By A UFO (4:19), Outcast (4:43), Hypnospy (4:47), Crank Up The Vibes (3:28), Train (3:58), Hemlock On The Rocks (5:03), Every Space Opera (4:41), Obelisk Of Fondue (2:57), Astral Flight Gassed (4:44), This Mark You Make (5:05), Pieces Des Innocents Noir (2:38), Underworld Messiah (5:07))
Have I stumbled across a missing Hawkwind album? This is vey much an album that is sonically in the vein of Quark Strangeness And Charm. Composer and producer Don Falcone has overseen a collective of over thirty musicians, which includes such artists as ex BOC’s Albert Bouchard, Gong’s Daevid Allen, ex Hawkwind Alan Davey and Bridget Wishart, a collective which in turn has been named Spirits Burning and the end product is Behold The Action Man.
Falcone has utilised this approach several times before and BTAM is his tenth album. One feels that one should be more familiar with this gentleman’s output but unfortunately I am not, something that I maybe need to rectify? Two of his previous outings Alien Injections and Earth Bound received 6.5 and 5 out of 10 respectively from the DPRP office.
There is a concept behind this creation which can only be described as a dark space rock journey into film noir, an album full of hazy ideas that work in some places and fail to grab your attention on others. The Hawkwind reference is compounded even more by the inclusion of lyrics by Roger Neville-Neil, (someone who it would appear has been influenced by the legendary Robert Calvert), a man that most die hard Hawkers will know, having supplied lyrics for such songs as Heads, Needle Gun and The War I Survived from Hawkwind's late 80’s output.
The album does peak and trough as it journeys but unfortunately it plateaus more which does leave some slight frustrations. There are some memorable rhythmic and melodic passages to be heard throughout with the musicians interacting well but I’m afraid not enough to save it from becoming a somewhat mundane album.
The outstanding tracks featured are Stand And Deliver with its dual vocal presentation, the urgent Strafed by A UFO, Daevid Allen’s delivery of a somewhat misplaced Obelisk Of Fondue, a discordant Astral Flight Gassed and the moody and atmospheric album closer Underworld Messiah.
The best analogy I would offer up here is that this is an album that will leave some confused and fans of this approach more rewarded and for me that is the rub as I did have higher hopes. It isn’t that this is a poor album, its just that I have heard this expanding musical approached tackled slightly better.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10