Reviews in this issue:
- MoeTar – From These Small Seeds (Duo Review)
- Mastercastle – Dangerous Diamond
- After Forever - Decipher: The Album ~ The Sessions
- Effloresce - Coma Ghosts (Duo Review)
- Delusion Squared – II
- Leslie Hunt - Wait For It
- Lunocode – Celestial Harmonies
- Echosilence - Distorted Horizon [EP]
- Phavian – Meridian I
- Phavian – Foreword [EP]
MoeTar – From These Small Seeds
Tracklist: Dichotomy [Part One] (3:57), Infinitesimal Sky (3:02), Butchers Of Baghdad (4:19), Random Tandem (4:12), Ist Or An Ism (4:58), Morning Person (2:54), New World Chaos (5:40), Screed [Part Two] (4:40), Never Home (4:50), From These Small Seeds (5:20), Friction (3:08)
Roger Trenwith's Review
MoeTar is a band from the Bay Area of San Francisco formed by singer Moorea Dickason ("Moe") and bassist Tarik Ragab ("Tar") in 2008. Originally independently released in 2010 and engineered by Dan Rathburn of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, From These Small Seeds was re-released this year by Magna Carta Records with a slightly different track listing. The rest of the band comprises Matt Lebofsky on keyboards who is also a member of miRthkon and many others, Matthew Heulitt on guitars and David M Flores on drums and together they fashion an avant-prog-pop stew that is nigh on impossible to pigeonhole.
Catchy, infectious, intellectual, refreshing, exuberant and slightly bonkers are some descriptions that apply to this wonderful album that has lurked in the DPRP reviewers' download section unclaimed since January. Not being a fan of download only review copies I thought I'd take the chance and boy am I glad I did!
Let's start with Moorea's voice, which often takes the form of a lead instrument as much as any other band member's contribution. Strong and powerful and at times almost strident, it is also capable of more subtle vocalisations. Imagine Elaine Di Falco after sharing several packets of cigarettes with Tom Waits and then imbibing a soothing brandy, lemon and honey or three. Tarik's bass playing is at times quite extraordinary, particularly on New World Chaos, and shows a dexterity that is never flash for its own sake, and the same can be said of the rest of the instrumentation. The guitar at times takes on a Bill Nelson guise from the Be-Bop Deluxe era, and like that band Moe Tar defy easy categorisation. Try to imagine Sparks being taught the rumba by Zappa while channelling Thinking Plague and XTC fronted by Laurie Anderson and you'd be about a third of the way there but in danger of getting lost.
There are certainly progressive elements here, for most of the songs are highly complex and New World Chaos for instance has more ideas in its almost six minutes than most bands manage in entire albums. You might think that would render it almost too complicated to listen to, but such is the skill of the arrangement that you'll find yourself humming along to it and most of the others too. Elements of pop, rock, and punky new wave weave in and out of 11/4 time signatures, and there is even a jazz ballad hidden in here that ends with a free-form guitar wigout and a marvellous thing it is too.
The problem with a lot of bands, and one not necessarily confined to the lesser known groups we often review on here is their inability to write lyrics that get beyond 10th grade poetry. Most realise their limitations and as a result a lot of albums we review either have no or very few lyrics.
Mostly penned by Tarik, this album has copious amounts of lyrics in every song, and for once that does not induce sneer or loathing, for the lyrics here are something else, declaiming on the failures of organised religions, homesickness, urban dislocation, cut'n'paste apocalyptic mania, banality, social engineering, star worship and morality, and probably the kitchen sink too. If anything the lyrics might be a little too verbose, and how long it took for Moorea to memorise these Joycean-sized slabs of wordsmithery is anyone's guess. Take this little gem as an example from Random Tandem, enunciated at speed in syncopation with synth note picking:
"I closed my eyes and took a ride away and then I was aboard a galleon ship adrift across a sea of blue and green and red and grey. A gentle sway. A broken mop that swept the day away through the cabin windows past the cobs and knobs. An old map charted out the prophecy the bane of our philosophy. The greed and generosity. The fortune and colostomy. The pagan profane there in the window, there in the flame, then it blew out."
Methinks Tarik should write a book!
All in all this is a stunning debut that shows talent and ambition in spades, and is an album that is still revealing new things to this listener even after the umpteenth spin, and is a must for anyone with a liking for lyrical and musical intricacy. And you can jump up and down to it!
Brian Watson's Review
Hailing from the Bay Area (that'll be California, not Morecambe Jonno) MoeTar comprises core members Moorea Dickason on lead vocals and bassist/songwriter/lyricist Tarik Ragab. Also appearing on this album, originally released in 2010 but now re-released by the band's new label Magna Carta are guitarist Matthew Charles Heulitt, drummer David Flores and keyboardist Matt Lebofsky.
The record company blurb tells us that:
"Amid sonic references to Zappa, The Beatles, XTC, Gentle Giant, Stevie Wonder, Laurie Anderson and many others, MoeTar offers a fresh approach to rock, pop, electronica and experimental music. Simply put, From These Small Seeds is the culmination of a collision of styles that seems to defy the odds – and our ears."
About half the songs are written for album two, apparently, but what then of this, album one?
Well, you just might have discovered your new favourite band. For MoeTar are out of the same stable as District 97, in crafting a hugely accessible but nonetheless incredibly complex modern progressive rock album and whilst they are at it show us Europeans (with the main exception of Magenta, and a few select others) how to do female-fronted prog. Female singers, you see, don't have to shriek and scream like a cat's clawing at their privates. They should, well, sing. And that's what Moorea Dickason does with great aplomb. Now, I'm no expert but it seems to me that melody, and rhythm can be stumbling blocks for bad singers. Good ones can keep up, and duet, if you will, with the tunes. Bad ones shout over it, and their lack of range dictates to a great extent the type of tunes the musos bang out in the first place. But not here. This band is tighter than a gnat's nether regions, laying down some complex tuneage. A number of singers I can readily think of would have given up the ghost a few bars in to the up-tempo album opener Dichotomy. But not Moorea.
One minute she's a lounge singer, in a smoky bar (or a smoky singer, in a lounge bar); the next a torn-curtain Vaudevillian then a dusky, nay a sultry chanteuse; and an avant-garde artiste experimenting with function and form. She can belt out a rocker, too. And do the jazz thing, Cleo Laine stylee. Zappa's an apt starting point aurally. Fans of American bands like Bubblemath, Frogg Café, Fluttr Effect and Spiraling will definitely dig this, and it comes highly recommended to all lovers of adventurous modern progressive rock music.
I read one review that argued it gets a bit too clever sometimes. Which is a bit like saying that Stephen Hawking should dumb down. Maybe drool a bit more. If you've got it, flaunt it. That's what I say. As someone with zero musical talent I want to be in awe of those who do when I listen to a record. And these guys are a supremely talented bunch. Musically you'll be regaled by pop, prog, pop/prog, jazz and avant-garde soundscaping.
There is some seriously good progressive rock music coming out of America at the moment. Now that MoeTar have big label support here's hoping for more great things from them. Whilst I had a download to listen to then if this is anything like any of Magna Carta's heavier releases then the package will no doubt be of a high quality.
Butchers Of Baghdad is up on YouTube and is a fantastic tune. Good time honky tonk, blistering rock, skilfully crafted prog, mournful bluesy introspection and a lighters-aloft stadium anthem all in a shade over four minutes. The album can be bought all over the place, and on the usual download sites. It's made my top five of the year. No question. Flex that finger.
Mastercastle – Dangerous Diamond
Tracklist: Another Flower (3:20), Alone (3:55), Time 4 Lovers (4:22), Icy Moon (3:57), Au Premiere De Coup (4:27), Dangerous Diamonds (4:53), Take Off (4:57), Blue Diamonds [instrumental] (4:53), Lovin’ Me (4:48), Sixth Sun (3:57), Bitter And Sweet (3:56)
The gang are back! Mastercastle have charged their batteries, upped their ante and recorded the album of their career... thus far. Dangerous Diamonds is the band's third album, which has taken all the lessons learned from their debut 09’s The Phoenix and 10’s Last Desire, times it by ten and then recorded the results. My friends, be under no illusions, their two previous albums were fantastic in their own right, it’s just that this release outweighs them by a mile.
Giorgia Gueglio (vocals), Pier Gonella (guitars), Steve Vawamas (bass) and Alesandro Bissa (drums) have applied their talents and come up with a winning formula. From the opening track Another Flower and what a way to open an album, the band means business as Pier steps up a gear with his guitar virtuosity that is complemented by the interactions of the other musicians. On top of that Giorgia’ vocals are clean, powerful, inflection free, no-nonsense and downright stunning, having more than an element of originality in her delivery.
The band have understood the mechanics of a memorable and melodic song, that needs to strike a chord with its listener, as all the tracks featured here are succinct, punchy and to the point where they need to be and at other times sedate, nice and melodic, a beauty that offers balance to their approach, that will have the melodies quickly bouncing around your head.
The power metal approach that the band take is best witnessed on Another Flower, Dangerous Diamonds and Sixth Sun, whereas Alone and Au Premiere De Coup take a leaning that is more orientated towards the Heavy Metal genre, being slightly more generic in approach, which doesn’t equate to them being poor tracks; rest assure they are not as they still contain their own personalities, inflected by some stunning guitar gymnastics.
Musically the standout moments come in the form of Time 4 Lovers a tale about an all but too short romance, the ballad Lovin’ Me where you get to hear the real beauty and emotion the band create and the stunning instrumental Blue Diamond, which would seem to be a bit of a trademark for the band, the inclusion of an instrumental on each album.
The real stars when push comes to shove are Giorgia Gueglio and Pier Gonella, not belittling the contributions of Steve Vawamas and Alesandro Bissa because without that strong backline, this music wouldn’t have such strong foundations. On top of this the production work on the album is top quality, capturing the participating musician’s contributions perfectly, which really highlights why one should hear this album.
There’s no need or place for those fifteen minute plus interludes, just concise notated pieces that hit the nail on the head time and time again that gets a big thumbs up from this corner. Nobody seems to do this approach as good as the Italians, a statement which if you sit back and think about, you will concur and start to name bands with ease. It is bands like Mastercastle and LoreWeaveR that bring something special to this music. Long may this continue.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
After Forever - Decipher: The Album ~ The Sessions
Disc 1: Chapter 1 - Decipher ~ The Album: Ex Cathedra - Overture (2:02), Monolith Of Doubt (3:31), My Pledge of Allegiance #1 - The Sealed Fate (6:25), Emphasis (4:18), Intrinsic (6:44), Zenith (4:21), Estranged - A Timeless Spell (6:55), Imperfect Tenses (4:08), My Pledge Of Allegiance #2 - The Tempted Fate (5:07), The Key (4:47), Forlorn Hope (6:21), Bonus Tracks: For The Time Being (5:04), Who Wants To Live Forever (4:48), Imperfect Tenses (4:10), Monolith Of Doubt - Single Version (3:32), Imperfect Tenses - Orchestral Version (4:06)
Disc 2: Chapter 2 - Decipher ~ The Sessions: The Key (4:42), Monolith Of Doubt (3:31), My Pledge Of Allegiance #2 (5:02), Emphasis (4:17), Estranged (6:53), My Pledge Of Allegiance #1 (6:20), Imperfect Tenses (4:05), For The Time Being (5:02), Forlorn Hope (6:20), Zenith (4:18), Intrinsic (6:56), Who Wants To Live Forever (4:48), Monolith of Doubt - Demo (3:43), Emphasis - Demo (4:30), For The Time Being – Demo (5:09)
Around four years ago I was mightily impressed by the ‘special edition’ reissue of After Forever’s stunning debut album Prison Of Desire which was originally released in 2000. Their second album Decipher followed in 2001 and now like its predecessor it too comes in for the expanded, re-mastered and repackaged treatment.
Musically Decipher doesn’t so much pick up from where Prison Of Desire leaves off, rather it recreates much of its predecessor’s ambitious ideas, proving to be just as compelling nonetheless. Unsurprisingly the line-up remains mostly the same, namely Floor Jansen (vocals), Mark Jansen (guitars, screams), Sander Gommans (guitars, grunts), Luuk van Gerven (bass) and the only change, Andre Bergman (drums). Bergman rejuvenates the rhythm section with his relentless kick drum playing whilst a host of guest performers enhance the arrangements with traditional classical instrumentation and backing voices.
The classically operatic Ex Cathedra with its rich orchestrations and massed choir leads into the energetic and riff laden Monolith Of Doubt with Floor Jansen’s soaring soprano to the fore. This sets the pattern for the rest of the album - heavy guitars with a hint of distortion underscored by strident symphonic keys, a powerful and driving rhythm section, sweet strings and stunning vocals. It’s a heady and infectious (if a tad formulaic) concoction with the middle-eastern flavoured My Pledge Of Allegiance #1, the stately and theatrical duet Imperfect Tenses and the expansive epic Forlorn Hope standing out for me amongst 11 skilfully crafted songs.
The only staple ingredient of the band’s sound that doesn’t really do it for me are the imposing growls, snarls and screams courtesy of Gommans and Jansen which occasionally (as in Estranged and My Pledge Of Allegiance #2) distract from the otherwise superb instrumental work going on behind. At times it sounds like Gommans has been gargling with razor blades but in his enlightening liner notes accompanying this reissue he reveals that he drank Ouzo to achieve the desired effect, confirming that Greek culture had its own small part to play in the advancement of death metal!
Of the bonus tracks on disc 1, the bands take on Queen’s Who Wants To Live Forever with guest contributions from Arjen Lucassen (guitar, keys) and the incomparable Damian Wilson (vocals) being a stirring and welcome addition. Also worthy of note is For The Time Being which was absent from the original release and features the After Forever “orchestra” and choir at its most majestic. Disappointingly the ‘Orchestral Version’ of Imperfect Tenses is not purely instrumental as I had anticipated although the strings are fuller in the mix.
As with the reissue of Prison Of Desire, disc 2 is made up of alternate session and demo versions of virtually every track from disc one with Ex Cathedra being the only obvious exception. Although is an excellent song, another version of Imperfect Tenses (in addition to the three versions on disc 1) is perhaps at least one too many where as Lucassen’s meticulously layered instrumental demo of Who Wants To Live Forever is essential listening. Of the rest, each track is a fully worked version of the finished song minus the strings, woodwinds and choirs that would be added later. In fact the songs sound so good in their re-mastered form, disc 2 could easily stand up as an album in its own right.
The clumsy song titles aside (Monolith Of Doubt, Imperfect Tenses etc.) Decipher was like its predecessor and the After Forever albums that would follow a vital entry into the metal genre. Its excellent production values, fine musicianship and theatrical bombast put it comfortably alongside the work of fellow Dutch metal proggers Ayreonand Within Temptation. Mark Jansen, one of the albums chief contributors, would however jump ship the year after its initial release to form his own band Epica and more recently in early 2009, following a one year hiatus, After Forever themselves decided to call it a day. Although they achieved respectable sales success over the past decade, creating ambitious projects of this calibre on an annual basis must have surely taken its toll on the band.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Effloresce - Coma Ghosts
Tracklist: Crib (8:12), Spectre Pt 1: Zorya's Dawn (10:34), Pavement Canvas (8:58), Undercoat (2:54), Swimming Through Deserts (7:10), Shuteye Wanderer (16:31)
Gert Hulshof's Review
A little over two years ago Effloresce released a solid debut EP, Shades Of Fate, with a plan to follow it up soon after with a full length album. Well now we finally have the Coma Ghosts album, which has been released on the newly established Generation Prog Records label (who are also home to fellow German prog-fusion band Relocator).
Effloresce are what you might categorise as a cross between gothic and a heavy progressive band. All the elements you might hear in Nightwish or Within Temptation are present, but we also hear a great influence by more proggy bands like Dream Theater and Opeth. The voice of singer, Nicki Weber, particularly belongs to the gothic, symphonic style reminding one a lot of Tarja Turunen or Amy Lee; a clear, beautiful and high pitched voice. She can be mean too as all the growling we hear throughout the album is done by Nicki and she does this pretty well too.
Aside from Nicki the band consists of: Dave - guitars, (Se)Basti(an) - bass, Tim - guitars and Tobi - drums. Renowned producer, engineer and musician Dan Swanö was brought in for the mixing and mastering of the album so as you would expect it sounds very good. The musicality is extremely good, with a high quality of playing throughout. The art-work is done by Nicki and Dave, and it fits very well for the overall atmosphere of the album.
Crib shows us a blend of heavy prog mixed with gothic sounds. Heavy riffing and simple but very effective melody lines along with some keys in the back-ground, but most certainly thriving on the guitars. The combination of the high pitched voice and melodic guitars is very nice and of a high standard. With the second track we are presented with Spectre Pt. 1: Zorya's Dawn, does this mean there will be a follow up to this song? Who knows! What I do know is the track itself could have been taken from the newest Opeth or Dream Theater albums, that is at least, if it wasn't for the female vocals. The song is well built up with a strong melody line, fast rocking with some slower elements. Not a dull moment and no filler, just 10+ minutes of great progressive rock with a nice touch of flute to bring some peace and tranquillity into the song.
Pavement Canvas is the third piece on the album and I am not entirely sure what the title means, but musically speaking we continue the path already laid out before, with a strong and simple melody, solid bass work, intricate drumming patterns all showing a good instinct towards creating interesting differences in the music. The guitar solo is also of a high standard. Undercoat is a short instrumental piece with atmospheric keyboards supporting a solo guitar. Personally I cannot position it within the context of the rest of the album, perhaps in due time I will get it, but just now it seems like a filler track. Swimming Through Deserts is another mellow track, but this time with vocals. A good song but nothing special with a nice melody, great guitars. A fairly standard heavy prog ballad, albeit sounding heavily influenced by Opeth's Damnation period.
The last song is an epic going by the name Shuteye Wanderer. This song seems to me an impossibility to perform live given the growls and clean voices sometimes are near to overlapping. That as a given the whole song rocks, from the first to the last note. A great structure like the other songs on the album with a simple and effective melody, multiple changes in tempo and along with some nice twists and turns. A resting point as well, again with some nice flute. Kudos to the band that they're able to write such a long piece and keep the listener attached to the music throughout the entirety.
It's my belief that some of the more established bands can't do this type of music any better and this is a great ending to what can be seen as a good solid debut for yet another German heavy progressive rock band. They may well be the next big prog band to emerge from Germany. Time will tell.
John O'Boyle's Review
Effloresce are a German Prog metal band that falls into a genre that is well established, a genre that has its fair share of established and rather excellent bands such as Vanden Plas and Sieges Even but to mention two. By all accounts from what I have heard here on Coma Ghosts Effloresce can hold their heads up high alongside these said bands with pride as Coma Ghosts is a rather infectious album that is filled with power and tenacity. It’s fibre of strength lies within its diverse approach, that courts varying approaches that have been well and truly manipulated giving forth rather excellent results.
To boot the vocals have been supplied by one stunning Nicki Weber, a name that you need to become familiar with. Her vocal presentation is confident as they push boundaries that can be lush, powerful and enigmatic. Nicki’s vocal range lies within the soprano range, a sound that does not irritate but rather comforts. Within this melting pot Nicki also exercises the right to include growling vocals, very effectively; they may not be in the same ball park as say Angela Gossow of Arch Enemy but do at times sound like Dani Filth, he of Cradle Of Filth fame, but as I said, they are still very effective adding character and depth to the proceedings. In all honesty it is difficult to comprehend that the female vocal range can emanated such low tones, but be under no illusion, this approach is an integral part of who the band are and it is an approach that is used sparingly as for the most part.
This is all complimented by the rest of the band, musicians that fill in all the empty spaces with their colourful, dynamic and rhythmic precision, a presentation that offers up maturity. The band throw into the pot a 70’s era progressive approach with a little jazz and folk influence; on top of that we also get treated to some serious sonic blows, a recipe that creates something rather memorable that doesn’t take a generic approach as say Queensrÿche or Dream Theater and that is why this band excel plying their craftsmanship.
Tim Ivanic’ guitar interplay is absolutely impeccable throughout the whole affair accompanied by Dave Mola, playing that has direction, that is well metered, one minute pulsating, the next beautiful lead notation, building some rather interesting soundstages whilst Sebastian Orr’ bass lines set the tone especially on Spectre Pt1: Zorya’s Dawn as does the precise drum work of Tobi SuB. Even Crib the dark gothic opener oozes class with its haunting symphonic keyboards courtesy of Dave Mola, illustrating perfectly what the band are able to create in a nutshell.
The piece de resistance though is the album closer Shuteye Wanderer a song that incorporates all the best elements that band has to offer. On the whole the full contribution of the participants does not become insipid, ever, which can only be a win win situation for both the band and the participating listener. Even the shortest piece, the instrumental Undercoat features a rather mesmerising undercurrent that really breaks the whole proceedings down, displaying that they have more strings to their bow. In fact I can’t find any negatives to add here.
It is hard to believe that this is the band’s debut? Debut it maybe, as an album it is definitely killer in approach and style, with style being the operative word, an album that is worth investing time and money in, an experience that will definitely delight those who love this genre and may even appeal to those who want to experiment further. If I was to offer up a comparison for people to understand where I am coming from I would offer Blackwater Park / Watershed era Opeth. Now that’s got to be worth a punt in my book. The important thing here though is that although Opeth may have been influential to the band, Effloresce are by no means Opeth wannabes, they have quite cleverly created their own charismatic character, making them a band to watch.
Delusion Squared – II
Tracklist: Double Vision (6:33), Necrogenesis (7:01), Faith Mission (6:39), Recipe For Disaster (7:55), Veridical Paradox (4:11), Revelation (7:27), Abduction (5:43), Naked Solipsism (6:01), Unexpected Messiah (8:07)
In 2010 the French trio Delusion Squared released their debut album. The reviews were rather positive (including my own one on DPRP), and apparently the ambitious trio felt encouraged enough to re-enter the studio right away. This second CD (simply named II) again is a concept album. It also is 59 minutes long and even the artwork (nice digipack, yippee!) carries very similar photography, the heavy weather clouds reflecting the dark and mystical atmosphere of their artrock.
So, what’s new? First of all, Lorraine Young (lead vocals and acoustic guitars) obviously has had some lessons in English, as her pronunciation has improved a lot. Also, I am happy that the band printed the lyrics in the booklet (a prerequisite I would say for any concept album). While on the former album, Lorraine tried to explore her heavy rocking registers, fortunately now has chosen to use her voice predominantly for what she does best: the melodic, somewhat fragile singer-songwriter kind of melodies. In these cases her voice, which is a soprano variant to Suzanne Vega’s, is really pleasant to listen to.
This does not mean the heavy side of Delusion Squared is gone, on the contrary. Especially on the first part of the album we are treated well with dark, rhythmic riffs and some screaming guitar solos, in the style of Porcupine Tree. The latter part of the CD however becomes more modest, acoustic and song oriented. Even though I like heavy guitars at time, I like especially the three last songs most. They have a sort of lyrical quality and although the concept story is about a far away future, Lorraine sings uncomplicated, unpretentious and straight from her heart. Especially the addictive melodies of Abduction (beautiful track) and Unexpected Messiah stick in your mind even overnight. I also really like the (Axel Rose style) guitar solo in Naked Solipsism.
The story of II is about a middle ages like period in the future, dominated by the religion of the so called ”Holy Mother church” (this made me wonder if the Holy Mother in question would be the ”mother of all people”, who was the main character on the first album). A fatal mistake by an apprentice unleashed a wizardry hidden under the temples, leading through a range of events to the unavoidable end of the world. If I am not mistaken, the underlying theme of the story is about the corruption of religious and political leadership today.
I guess there is one big challenge for Delusion Squared to really make the next step on the ladder of fame: to become a live band. I am afraid the production is generally OK, but does not avoid my strong impression as if the songs are created mostly behind a computer and not in a rehearsal studio. This becomes especially clear with the drums, which I suspect are completely electronic. Although it is very well possible to have convincing programmed drums on the basis of samples (the heavy track Betrayal on their debut is an example), in this case I miss the ”balls” that drums should contribute to this kind of progrock. Given the fact that Steven Francis is also a well skilled guitar player, I would guess his first instrument is not the drums: they just are not heavy enough for my taste and miss the groove, the connection to the rest of the music. Interestingly enough though, such a groove seems become more present in the latter three (again, to my opinion best) tracks on the album.
Nevertheless, the good news is that the debut was definitely not a one day fly and that we have another good progrock band in France inspiring enough for other bands to follow their footsteps. In addition, as II proves, Delusion Squared has far too much talent (and by now a nice repertoire of good songs) to remain in the studio. So please, Lorraine, Steven and Emmanuel, find a specialised drummer, go live and stop by in the Netherlands as well.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Leslie Hunt - Wait For It
Tracklist: The Air Left (4:58), In My Shoes (3:34), Wait For It (3:51), Right To My Heart (3:24), Wake Up Call (3:18), To Me, You Are Everything (4:09), Soon Enough (3:34), Let It Be Lovely (3:28), Loud And Clear (4:20)
Well this review is really for those who took a fancy to 2010’s District 97 album Hybrid Child, a rather captivating album that has grown in strength the more I have listened to it; an album that took a rather interesting approach that is regarded with some reverence within some prog circles.
What you may ask has Leslie Hunt’s new album got to do with this? Well for those with a keen eye and for those that do not, Leslie is the vocalist from that said band and Wait For It is her second solo album. It is worth noting that her debut album Your Hair Is On Fire featured such luminaries as Vinnie Colaiuta, and Vail Johnson.
I am not going to try and kid you that this is a prog album, which it is not. So, you may ask, why are you reviewing this album here? Well, let me explain. For some, like myself, I am always interested in what artists are achieving outside their day job, so to speak, especially from bands that I really love and with Ms Hunt being the lead vocalist of District 97, I believe that it is only fair that I share with those who do too. As an album it demonstrates that Leslie has an ability to write, play her instruments to a high level and more importantly, it is an album that really allows her demonstrate her more than capable vocal approach.
Some may also remember that sometime ago I also reviewed Information Superhighway’s This Is Not The Ending, which again in all honesty was not a prog album per se, but again it featured two members of District 97, Rob Clearfield and Patrick Malcahy. I know I am slightly rambling, but no matter as I just felt that I should explain myself.
So ladies and gentlemen, let us get down to business.
Leslie has offered up an album that is multi-dimensional, perfect musical prose that offers warmth and emotion, that has been created with the assistance of Christian Cullen (bass, backing vocals, Wurlitzer on Wait For It and Wake Up Call, piano on Soon Enough, Hammond B3 organ on In My Shoes, Let It Be Lovely and To Me, You’re Everything, stomping on The Air Left), Michael Caskey (drums) and Chris Siebold (guitars). Make no mistake though, Leslie is the brains behind all these songs and has courted Rick Chudacoff again for the production job, which I might add is crisp and clear.
The Air Left opens up the album proceedings, a rather svelte and passionate approached song that drags you into Leslie’s world. The opening lines, “The air left the room and I fell / Down to my knees and stayed there for well over a year”, really sets the scene, a song that is paced with the perfect meter and timbre, featuring some really subtle and beautiful vocal melodies that are complimented by some rather succinct and fascinating guitar work. Next up is In My Shoes a shorter piece that takes a differing musical approach but never moving too far away from the consistent lyrical content. Once the piece finds its footing the soundscape builds, becoming slightly rockier in construct, powering rhythmic guitar licks that have been partnered perfectly with the sedate, a subtle approach that hits you unsuspectingly, a crescendo that arrives at its destination, harmoniously caressing the listener’s ears.
Michael Caskey’s percussive work set’s the scene for the title track Wait For It, a painful prose that has you guessing what, exactly the individuals have encountered, but leaving you under no illusions of how no one individual is to blame for the resonating outcome. On par with Caskey’s deliver Christian Cullen delivers the Wurlitzer tones with pinpoint accuracy making it one of the standout songs on the album. As Leslie adds her vocals that pull at the right emotional heartstrings, confirming that she is really command of her song writing skills and is more than at home with this approach. Right To My Heart confirms that less is more with its rather barren approach, musically not being too far away from the Cowboy Junkies school of approach whereas the Wake Up Call delves and plays with a more pop oriented approach that has been aligned with a country sensibility with the rather subtle guitar constructs that keep you listening with intent.
To Me, You Are Everything demonstrates that Leslie is just as at home hunched over the piano as she is with the acoustic guitar, an instrument that I personally feel in all honesty, she is more comfortable with. As the Hammond B3 tones emanate, an extra layer and dimension is added to the song. The tonal beauty of that instrument cannot fail but to do so placed in the right hands and added at the right moments, something that To Me, You Are Everything manages to do perfectly as does Soon Enough and penultimate song Let It be Lovely with their own derived keyboard inclusions. Loud And Clear closes the album, an album that is jammed full of powerful emotional lyrical content. The opening statement, “I see you loud and clear / I hear you when you’re grinning ear to ear / This new, uncluttered view / Reveals to me the subtleties I knew”, confirms that statement for me, making it a perfect bookend to the opener The Air Left.
All in all this really is a stunning album that has hit all the right spots repeatedly with is differing approaches. There may not be any dynamic and intricate passages, but what is presented here more than makes up for that, proving that less is more, making it something that is definitely worth participating in. For me, as an album, Wait For It gets a big thumbs up, but as I sated in my opening passages, this isn’t a prog album; one thing that is worth recognising is that this is an album that has depth and class in abundance.
John recently spoke to Leslie Hunt and you can read the full interview HERE.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Lunocode – Celestial Harmonies
Tracklist: Sin Cara (5:30), Heart Of The World (6:08), Indifference (9:32), Misty Visions Of An Ordinary Day (6:26), The Origin Of Matter And Mind (28:51)
Back in 2011 I reviewed Lunocode’s EP The Last Day Of The Earth awarding it 6 out of 10 quoting, “To standout Lunocode really needs to up their game and rise to the challenge, capitalising on their talent, creating music that is consistently good”.
Well now the time has arrived for me to judge whether Daphne Romano (vocals), Paride Mazzoni (guitars), Giordano Boncompagni (guitars) Francesco Rossi (bass) and Perseo Mazzoni (drums) have stepped up to the plate with their debut album Celestial Harmonies.
The first thing that I will offer is that the opening gambit that is Sin Cara is fascinating, the first impression given is that the band have used their time well since the release of their EP, honing and improving their song writing skills. The piece is exacted with military precision, an urgency that is intensive as Paride and Giordano’s guitar work carves it way out of the speakers with assertiveness, confirming that the band means business.
The theme of hope and love is investigated with Heart Of The World, a song that has been rearranged and recorded acoustically, having originally being on the aforementioned EP, albeit the original being electric, a song for me that I personally felt lacked cohesion. Well that has been addressed and acoustically it definitely has more character and in all honesty it is a track that I now love. What I can say is that this time Lunocode have hit the nail on the head, I absolutely love Daphne Romano’ vocal presentation, here and throughout the whole album, that demonstrate her emotive vocal prowess. The whole approach is opulent, extremely pleasing to the senses, having harmony and beauty in abundances, for that I tip my hat to the band for taking this brave stance.
Indifference confirms that the album is in a different division than their initial release, but they still haven’t been promoted to the major leagues just yet. It does have its moments where the band have tried to be more progressive than power metal an approach that works on differing levels; interestingly I could hear some Rush influences in there too. Misty Visions Of An Ordinary Day is another standout moment that meters out its rather clever approach with the band really getting to breathe, creating tension throughout, eventually completing its journey as it comes to a close.
As a pair of songs I believe that the band have been very astute placing these in this running order especially when you look at the subject matter, Indifference, a song about war and the madness of killing and Misty Visions Of An Ordinary Day a song that socially comments about life in the city, how individuals pass each other by without really seeing the things around them. Whilst I was listening to Misty Visions Of An Ordinary Day, Daphne’s vocal phrasing came across as a harder edged Kate Bush, a phrasing that isn’t easy to emulate.
And so to the album closer The Origin Of Matter And Mind a conceptual piece that arrives in at just over twenty nine minutes that is made up of six movements. This is, in all honesty, where Lunocode score the winning goal, making the album the strong proposition that it is. One thing that you the listener will note is that it is a song full of ideas, interesting structures that flow harmoniously, being propped up by top flight musicianship.
The album as a whole is worth investing time in, an album that is full of ideas that work keeping you interested throughout, although I will say that the impact is quite immediate. Lunocode as a proposition have a bright future if they continue to take and develop this creative path.
Just to reiterate my opening statement about Lunocode, “To standout Lunocode really needs to up their game and rise to the challenge, capitalising on their talent, creating music that is consistently good”. This they have done, exceeding my expectations, making Celestial Harmonies an album that is dynamic, natural and full of quality, an album worth shelling out for.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Echosilence - Distorted Horizon [EP]
Tracklist: Views On Views (6:38), Distorted Horizon (9:53), Information Intoxication (6:09), Human Animal (6:43)
Over the years I've avoided reading, or even checking out on the internet, info on an unknown band (to me) prior to listening to the music, however on this occasion it might have be the wiser move as the EP I'm reviewing here has been on general release for seven years. Not that a seven year old EP deserves any less attention mind you. In fairness to DPRP this copy of Echosilence's Distorted Horizon [EP] only recently reached us in April of this year...
A potted history: Echosilence was originally formed in 1996 from the ashes of Estonian "death-thrash" metallers Decease. They released a four track demo in the same year and followed this up a year later with a nine track demo. In 1998 their first EP, Eclectic Collaborations, containing 4 instrumentals, was released. As is the way of bands there have been a number of band line-up changes over the years, the most significant being the introduction of a female vocalist, Kadri Ratt, in 2003. 2005 saw the release of the Distorted Horizon mini-album.
From the information I have gleaned the general descriptors for the band cover experimental, progressive metal and jazz. Experimental, perhaps, in that they have melded two fairly diametrically opposed styles of music together. Progressive metal, yes, but with a greater leaning towards the latter. The jazz I don't hear... Before I offer comment on the music can I just say that I rather enjoyed this EP from Echosilence.
The band seem to have hit on a formula which they have employed across the four tracks on Distorted Horizon. Views On Views opens with a keyboard sounding - echoing guitar motif which gives way to the metallic riffing. Enter the vocals and the backing becomes somewhat lightweight once more - nicely driven along by Risto Mõtus busy but effective drumming. The vocals and harmonies are sweet and infectious, if not more akin to Euro pop band. The gaps in the vocals are punctuated by the more aggressive guitars. This continues in the title track which follows and although there are no clean guitars at the beginning, the formula still applies to the vocal sections - clean lightweight guitars, some keyboard sounds and Mõtus driving beats. Information Intoxication opens with modulated (phasing) guitar effects, vocals, busy drumming and the gradual introduction of the heavier riffs. I'm sure you're getting the picture...
One thing that struck me here was Kadri Ratt's vocals, reminding me of Angelzoom's Claudia Uhlean whose self-titled album I favourably reviewed back in 2010. Last track on this mini-album is Human Animal, which alters the mould slightly by introducing the riffing first, although we do return to the tried and trusted fairly swiftly. This said Human Animal was for me was the most effective track on the CD and certainly worth a listen (samples link above will take you to the band's MySpace audio section).
As I said earlier I rather enjoyed this EP from Echosilence. Kadri Ratt has a pretty voice and a keen ear for melody and harmony. The guitar duo of Marek Kivi and Mart Karu work well together supplying the music with both subtlety and power. Bass man Kert Kirsimäe and the aforementioned Risto Mõtus form a strong rhythm section.
Having checked out some earlier material from Echosilence it sort of confirmed my thoughts on this EP, in that the vocals seemed to have been tacked onto pre-existing pieces rather new tracks written. Could be wrong of course and only time will tell - well assuming the band continue to release more material. Certainly on the evidence here it would be interesting to see what they come up with next.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Phavian – Meridian I
Tracklist: Slate (5:28), Cobalt And Crimson (8:14), Still De Grain (5:12), Tyrian (10:01), Feldgrau (5:36), Obsidian (2:58)
Phavian – Foreword [EP]
Tracklist: Feldgrau (5:36), Watersong (12:00), Green Iris (5:47), Acolyte (10:47)
So let me introduce Phavian an American prog metal band that consists of Elizabeth Matson (vocals & keys), Puyan Hassani (guitars), Jason Lobell (bass) and Patrick Hassani (drums & keys). This is a band that has chosen a bold game plan that consists of releasing four conceptual albums with Meridian I being the first of the quartet. On top of this I have been given the four-track Foreword [EP] that can be downloaded free from their website which offers up a sneak preview of what is to come. The EP consists of one track off this current release and one off each of the forth coming albums, but more about that later.
The concept is quite intriguing, which in all honesty could be interpreted in several ways, so I’ll let you decide which path to choose with this musical allegory, an extended metaphor that communicates its symbolic representation.
So, having stated that, I shall tell you about what is presented here. Phavian do in all honesty have a very earthy and somewhat generic / derivative sound. This is something that the opening track Slate confirms, with its rapid tempo, a tight musical interlude that has both guts and balls that will whet your appetite and hold your inquisitive interest, leaving you hanging, wanting more; an approach that is dynamic, a rollercoaster ride of power that is rewarding. Cobalt And Crimson is a sombre lament, a mournful composition that expresses, that seems to lack real character or direction on initial listening, something that is confirmed at times by the somewhat one dimension vocal approach. In the grand scale of things, the approach taken by the band and vocal interaction mirrors the sentiment of the set piece with precision as does the questioning lyrics, a prophetic stance that is captivating and strangely intriguing, that can at times be confusing and frustrating.
Still De Grain evolves rather than nurtures, featuring some rather nice keyboard passages that are supported by a strong backline and some nice evocative guitar work both in the rhythm and lead department, making it one of the standout features of the album that sets the stage for the standout track Tyrian. Ms Matson’s vocals take on a more operatic approach although we aren’t talking Tarja Turunen, which is a pity really as these types of bands are in abundance, as is this type of conceptual approach, which does need that wow factor to make it standout in the grand scheme of things. With Tyrian the band really breathes, offering up a new found freedom, adding emotion and atmospherics, being the longest track presented here, the band utilise their time well creating something memorable.
Feldgrau the penultimate track courts a more basic approach, with its plodding musical interaction and muted stance, although it does contain some nice hooks, but alas not enough to get and keep the juices flowing. Eloquent beauty is offered up in the form of the closing instrumental Obsidian, its icy cold glassy keyboard tones exude, being brittle, a frailty that is endearing to the ear. Its structure is offered out in an orderly manner, slow repeating patterns that offer dimension.
In all honesty the one thing that really lets this album down for me is the production quality which is rather muted, a low mix that doesn’t seem to have real definition, a crystal clear coherent soundstage. There are a whole plethora of bands of this ilk in the genre, to stand out something special needs to be created which unfortunately Phavian haven’t just quite managed, mores the pity.
The Foreword [EP] does offer a slight glimmer of hope with the two outstanding tracks Green Iris and Acolyte that ups the ante slightly. Whether this is enough to entice the listener to travel the path with this conceptual approach remains to be seen. For me the jury is out.
Meridian I: 4 out of 10
Foreword [EP]: 4 out of 10