Reviews in this issue:
- Headspace - I Am Anonymous
- The Reasoning – And Another Thing... [EP]
- Greenslade - Greenslade & Bedside Manners Are Extra
- Greenslade - Spyglass Guest & Time And Tide
- Egonon - Risveglio
- RAK - Lepidoptera II ~ The Book Of Flight
- Puzzle King – Anna's Revolution
- Dimension Act – Manifestation Of Progress
- Vajra – Pleroma
- Obiymy Doschu - Elehia
Headspace - I Am Anonymous
Tracklist: Stalled Armageddon (8:06), Fall Of America (10:28), Soldier (3:44), Die With A Bullet (8:25), In Hell's Name (9:31), Daddy Fucking Loves You (15:00), Invasion (8:28), The Big Day (9:55)
The band Headspace could use an introduction because I Am Anonymous is their debut album, although their I Am... EP was favourably reviewed here at DPRP. If you however, you read the names of some of the band members, then an introduction is hardly necessary. First name is Adam Wakeman, his discography contains albums with his father Rick and his brother Oliver Wakeman and he also plays on the latest Ozzy Osbourne album. Second name is Damian Wilson who besides his solo albums is also famous for his works with Threshold, Rick Wakeman, Landmarq and his many contributions to the albums of Arjen Lucassen. The other members of Headspace are not that well known, but each of them have earned their stripes and have played with some famous musicians. Lee Pomeroy for instance is the bass player on the latest It Bites album The Tall Ships and he has played with Rick Wakeman, Mike Oldfield and Take That. Drummer Richard Brook was discovered when he filled in behind the drums at a Rick Wakeman concert and the band is completed with the, to me unknown, guitar player Pete Rinaldi.
He might be the least well known member to me but Pete Rinaldi's guitar playing is one of the dominant elements on I Am Anonymous. Headspace plays progressive metal and he plays some very fine heavy guitar on this album. Alrighty then here we go again, like any other progressive metal band they will be compared with Dream Theater. The music of Headspace is very difficult, much technical trickery but the main difficulty about their music are the strange compositions. I have had my share of complex albums but this one really topped the bill. At the very first guitar intro I immediately lost it. No fast notes but a simple tune note by note. But is it one note too many or does it need one more, I do not know but I get fooled every time.
For me a big plus are the vocals of Damian Wilson, in the heavy parts he sings like he is singing in he sure brings this album to a higher level. Though I Am Anonymous is a heavy guitar oriented album keyboard player Adam Wakeman has enough moments to do his thing. On the Headspace website Adam Wakeman has a funny remark about guitar player Pete Rinaldi and about the fact that album is guitar oriented.
"I Am Anonymous is a heavily guitar oriented record. That wasn’t the intention, but he’s a killer guitar player, and the album just evolved the way it did. The next one might be more keyboard-heavy, but I doubt it if Pete has anything to say about it (laughs).”
The compositions on I Am Anonymous are complex and diverse, it is one of those albums that needs some time to sink in. The album is one big puzzle at the first spin, the song Daddy Fucking Loves You for instance could easily be split up into different songs. The start is very fragile with the vocals of Damian Wilson as the dominant part, the centre part is very heavy with some heavy keyboard solos and via a power ballad piece guitar player Pete Rinaldi fills the last part with as many notes as possible. Fall Of America is also a song that can easily be split into two separate songs. The first part is very heavy and the sudden twist towards more mellow music suggests a different song but it is not. The lyrics continue in the same story but there is a change in music. At the end of the song the first part is revisited in a small sort of reprise. The song Soldier I think is the only song that sounds the same all over, a mellow song that could easily be on a Damian Wilson solo album. Best song to me on the album is Die With A Bullet with a special mention for the final part where Damian Wilson sounds awesome.
This band of friends/family/colleagues of Rick Wakeman can sure match up with Dream Theater. With I Am Anonymous it sure took some time before the 'click' happened. At first I heard some great heavy music, played very well and a brilliant production, which is to be expected with musicians like this. Then I struggled my way through the compositions and at times I could not make heads nor tails of it, but after many spins I started to recognize more structure. After a lot of spins I still hear some new things and I can still get disoriented at times. If you like progressive metal with complex songs then this is the album to get. It may take some time, so do not give up that easily, but in the end you have an album that will grow on you for a long time.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
The Reasoning – And Another Thing... [EP]
Tracklist: One By One (3:55), Apophenia (5:48), Pale Criminal (4:37), 21 Grams (5:57)
2012 has been a pretty busy year professionally and personally for progressive/melodic rockers The Reasoning. At the turn of the year, they achieved a major step forward in their career, being signed for a contract with Esoteric Records, or more specifically its new Antenna imprint dedicated to the signing of new bands instead of the release of compilations or reissues. At the beginning of February, the band’s new EP And Another Thing... went on pre-order. On February 24th, the dutiful CD manufacturing stork embarked on its delicate delivery flight, with its nurtured bounty of EPs on board, gently laying them at the doorstep of The Reasoning HQ, Comet Towers. It’s... an EP!!! - five years to that earlier day of the delivery of eldest The Reasoning baby Awakening. The shipping did commence, and in the words of KMFDM, the kids just love it. Add to that a celebratory Esoteric Antenna showcase gig in April with a bill shared by new Esoteric Antenna label mates Panic Room, Tin Spirits and Sanguine Hum, and like a three minute demo blossoming to an epic, this band is seeing their CV cred stretch like silly putty (and there’s nothing silly about it).
On a personal level, band members, other colleagues, family, fans and friends alike continue to pray for the safe return of Owain Roberts, guitarist for The Reasoning in recent years up through the release of the new EP, who mysteriously vanished March 10th after going for a stroll that Saturday morning in his hometown of Cardigan, Ceredigion, located in Mid Wales.
The band has been on duty since the release of Awakening in 2007. Including the new EP, the band now boasts a catalogue of four full-lengths including three of original material along with the reworking effort Acoustically Speaking; a live album, the new EP, a download single (a Duran Duran cover which made a formidable number two showing at one point in the Amazon Download Chart), and a DVD. The latter chronicles The Reasoning’s appearance at the inaugural High Voltage Festival in 2010, and the following year the band hit the stage at noted American progressive music festival RoSfest. Other career highlights early on include guest appearances in the studio and onstage by Marillion guitarist Steve Rothery.
So these recent and early landmarks in The Reasoning’s journey to date, coupled with my cursory listen of the new EP, show me that this band certainly has a surplus of capital they can bank on for their professional future.
In addition to Owain, other devoted proggy paratroopers have helped The Reasoning light up the sonic skies over the years. For the release of And Another Thing..., the troops consist of Owain on guitars, founder Matt Cohen (Erasmus, Magenta) on bass, additional guitars/programming and backing vocals; Rachel Cohen (Karnataka), on vocals and percussion, Tony Turrell (Fish, Bruce Watson, Steven Wilson, and a host of other resume entries) on keyboards, piano and backing vocals; and youthful wunderkind Jake Bradford-Sharp (Echochain) on drums.
The style of music on the EP is pretty much melodic, contemporary progressive rock. There are four tunes; let’s hit them all. One By One starts with cinematic keyboards from Tony and some programming that kicks into a mid-tempo drumming groove from Jake. Rachel’s vocals are soulful, Matt’s bass is urban, and all these elements tend to cast the song as a paradoxical Floydian/R + B hybrid. The song fires up with a fifth-gear abandon yet giving Jake a window to showcase some drumming versatility along the way. Sparkling guitars intersect with some edgy soloing from Owain, which intensifies in a sense of combustion evoking the great Alex Lifeson. It makes the dragon in me want to light up a cigar, a proggie’s food group of which I have never partaken.
We see the programming make its return on the next track, Apophenia, which also offers plaintive piano from Tony, layers of both acoustic and electric guitar, chorally tracked and well-delivered vocals from Rachel, an emotive solo from Owain and brooding bass from Matt.
His bass echoes trepidation on Pale Criminal, and finds its way nestled quietly yet confidently in the rhythm section with Jake, a soft sonic wall. Breezy acoustic guitars are an element as well, and Owain’s electric soloing speaks as a siren, a roar, a mourning.
Things get deeper on closing track 21 Grams, which displays a dense machination recalling Nine Inch Nails, flowery guitars signaling early Marillion, an almost poetic overall soundscape, gritty sandpaper guitar riffs, macabre keyboards from Tony, and an extraterrestrial solo from Owain. Cigar smoked, now for some Reese’s Pieces.
The main musical element that seems to anchor these songs together yet eschew repetition is in the additional guitars, overall melodic and lush. And coming from a band without a contrived name like those late eighties/early nineties shoegaze pioneers. The programming is effective too, not overdone and applied with a sense of judicious restraint.
Another thing, no pun intended, about the music of this band I have heard is that I have always been impressed by the high quality production of the material, courtesy on this EP of the capable hands of producer/engineer Matt. And I think that a strong band nowadays can deploy an equally crystalline sheen without sounding like a mainstream, knob-twiddling-happy sheeple-friendly sellout that Simon Cowell would salivate over.
The EP comes in an economic, environmentally friendly cardboard envelope colorfully designed by Richard Pocock.
This EP will appeal most likely to fans of modern accessible melodic prog. The epic hungry may turn elsewhere as the four songs on the twenty and a quarter minute EP average a little over five minutes in length. Quality, not quantity, is the standard though here, and this relatively brief recording serves as a convenient little starting point for the uninitiated who would like to travel back in time through the band’s discography.
On the flip side, speaking to that, admittedly I’ve always had a bit of that epic hunger lurking in my own stomach. So I am tempted to make a somewhat animated request to The Reasoning with respect to their next album, to be titled Adventures In Neverland, jumping up and down like a kid in a candy store begging, “Epics! Please pretty please with mellotrons on top?” But I examine the modest size of a tasty chunk like Pale Criminal and I find it more to my liking in this setting than a big ol’ hunk of epic bling. And I don’t want to embarrass myself like the drooling clown I took a swipe at earlier in this review.
So all in all, a great effort from The Reasoning. Owain is now an alumnus, never to be forgotten. Guitar duties at the Esoteric gig were handled by Mr. So And So guitarist Dave Foster. New permanent guitarist Keith Hawkins has graciously stepped in to the band’s ranks. To top all that off, a joint tour of the UK, the Netherlands and Germany with fellow female fronted luminaries Touchstone is set for the fall. And 9th September, 2012 will see The Reasoning opening for none other than the mighty Marillion in Cardiff.
And Another Thing... from The Reasoning - hotter than a plate of five-alarm curry!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Greenslade - Greenslade & Bedside Manners Are Extra
CD 1: Feathered Friends (6:47), An English Western (3:27), Drowning Man (5:50), Temple Song (3:34), Mélange (7:30), What Are You Doin' To Me? (4:44), Sundance (8:44)
CD 2: Bedside Manners Are Extra (6:22), Pilgrim's Progress (7:03), Time To Dream (4:49), Drum Folk (8:51), Sunkissed You're Not (6:34), Chalkhill (5:25)
Greenslade - Spyglass Guest & Time And Tide
CD 1: Spirit Of The Dance (5:08), Little Red Fry Up (5:11), Rainbow (4:20), Siam Seasaw (4:43), Joie De Vivre (8:25), Red Light (2:27), Melancholic Race (4:15), Theme For An Imaginary Western (3:52)
CD 2: Animal Farm (3:22), Newsworth (3:10), Time (1:16), Tide (2:44), Catalan (5:03), The Flattery Stakes (3:30), Waltz For A Fallen Idol (3:18), The Ass's Ears (3:19), Doldrums (3:30), Gangsters (2:21)
If you're like me, and you get most of your prog from Amazon, then you may have had these Greenslade reissues continually shoved in your face since they were released last year. If you don't know who Greenslade are, and don't know whether you should be interested in these reissues, read on. I've resisted buying them for absolutely ages, but I eventually caved when I saw that they were dirt cheap and the reviews seemed to suggest that these 2CD reissues were not as shoddy as the price suggested. So I forked out something in the region of ten quid, and a couple of days later I received the four CDs that make up the Greenslade discography (with Large Afternoon consciously ignored). Upon opening these CDs, I was instantly dismayed.
The online reviews had informed me that all the artwork (including inner and outer gatefolds) were included, but I found that this was only true in the very loosest sense. You see, in the first two-disc set, the beautiful Roger Dean artwork of the first two albums was presented in the liner notes with the two halves the wrong way round and disconnected. Essentially, the illusion of a single continuous piece of art had completely disappeared. The same was true of the second set, although Spyglass Guest did not suffer so much, as the artwork from the front does not continue to the three band photos on the reverse. With an obsessive need to restore the artwork to its original glory, I quickly printed out some jpegs of Greenslade album covers, and I felt the anxiety die away. Yes, I am that sad.
The inner gatefolds didn't do much better. Any parts of the inner sleeves that weren't lyrics had been cropped and then placed in a random way about the booklet, rather like a slideshow. Counting, I was able to find all of the inner gatefold pictures, so I didn't have a complete heart attack. A few images are a bit too small to make out clearly.
The horrifying fact is that the treatment of the artwork in these reissues is actually pretty good when compared to many other reissues today. The reverse side of a gatefold is typically forgotten, and inner gatefold stuff is usually laid to waste. This is all a huge issue for me, as I can barely look at my Misplaced Childhood reissue, with its obnoxious and wholly unnecessary blue border separating the front half of the artwork from the back. I simply cannot understand why CD package teams choose to toy with the artwork in instances when they could just as easily leave it. In this case, the cropping and repositioning of the artwork is just ridiculous. Sigh.
After a short period of grieving, I managed to pick up the first disc and insert it into my computer. The blues-jazz infected, keyboard driven notes that reached my ears instantly washed away all the bad feelings I had about buying this set. However, it was only in the third song that a clever lyric formed from a line of the Lord's Prayer made me sit up. I was hooked.
I should introduce this band. Greenslade were a supergroup of sorts who, like many other progressive artists, eschewed guitars from their sound (at least initially), aiming for a more keyboard oriented sound. To this end, there were two keyboardists in the group: Dave Greenslade (of Colosseum fame) and Dave Lawson, who also sang for the group. Accompanying them were Tony Reeves (also of Colosseum) on bass and the fantastic Andy McCulloch on drums, best known for his work on King Crimson's Lizard album.
Greenslade had quite an interesting take on progressive rock, choosing to keep their songs concise, rather than producing towering epics, rather like Camel. Also like Camel, they had many instrumental tracks, all well structured, without too much indulgent noodling. On the other hand, their tracks seemed to have quite an intelligent air about them, reminiscent of Supertramp, although with far more progressive tendencies. On the other hand, the music could sometimes switch between blues rock and jazz rock within the space of a song, and often retained a symphonic edge. The use of the Mellotron, along with other many other keyboard and synthesizer instruments ensured that the band had that vintage prog sound that so many of us love. Tony Reeves, and his successor on the Time And Tide album Martin Briley, both used their bass guitar in a melodic way, similar to Chris Squire, so that their presence is never overlooked, while Andy McCulloch sounds just as crisp and precise as he did on Lizard, and has become a bit of a drumming hero for me. Altogether, these were fantastic musicians, who had a wealth of experience that was all channelled into creating some seriously good music.
While I was always told that you can never judge a book by its cover, the album sleeves actually give an accurate representation of how good the music is. So for example, the debut album Greenslade is a fine start indeed, while the second album Bedside Manners Are Extra improves on the first without compromising the quality of the first album. However, at Spyglass Guest something changes, and perhaps not for the best, and by Time And Tide, the band have become almost a parody of themselves. These points may be slightly exaggerated, since Time And Tide isn't all that bad, but you can see the gist of what I'm saying.
After thoroughly enjoying the two-and-a-half hours of music on these reissues, I turned my attention to the booklet essays, both written by Alan Robinson, a man who displays a very interesting writing style. Quite an eloquent writer, he starts off by discussing the introduction of progressive rock at the end of the 1960s to explain how keyboardists like Emerson and Wakeman began receiving the same amount of fame as popular guitarists. This seems like a bizarre move, since anyone buying these reissues will probably know about the origins of progressive rock anyway. Moreover, he clearly guesses at facts, saying 'Bands such as Led Zeppelin and Yes simply did not release singles,'. The first example is famously true, but the bonus tracks on several of my Yes reissues say otherwise about the second.
However, the essay gets better when he begins to discuss the band, and he speaks of them with the air of a fan. With the first three albums, he lists each song, and describes it as if one were describing wine. However, he is not afraid to let his true opinions show, and Time And Tide, the runt of the group as it were, gets harsher treatment, with Robinson even saying that the album showed 'cracks appearing in the veneer of the band's career,'. Later he puts that Greenslade produced 'three excellent albums, and one pretty good 'un,'. The choice to insult one of the albums in this set is risky, but I like the man's honesty.
Audiophiles may like to know that there is a very low level of hiss that occasionally detracts from some of the quieter tracks, but otherwise these reissues sound great, with very clear, and incredibly crisp sound. McCulloch's drums sound brilliant in particular.
While I was initially sceptical about these reissues, I do not regret buying them. In fact, the music is so infectious that I've had quite a few of these songs on repeat ever since I bought it. For about the same price as a single album, I've managed to experience the entire discography of an overlooked gem of the 70s. The reissues may not be perfect, but the reissuing company Edsel has clearly shown more thought and compassion than rival company Cleopatra has with the Nektar reissue I reviewed recently. While there's no doubt that a company like Esoteric could (and maybe someday will) do a better job reissuing these, I highly doubt they could do it at such good value. If I was to recommend just one of these sets, it would have to be the first, for plainly obvious reasons about the quality of the band. However, I would very much miss Joie de Vivre and it's beautiful, Pachelbel-influenced outro. For this reason, I suggest that if you are to buy one, then you might as well buy both, since this is a great band at a great price. An offer worth considering!
Greenslade & Bedside Manners Are Extra: 8.5 out of 10
Spyglass Guest & Time And Tide: 7 out of 10
Egonon - Risveglio
Tracklist: Phosforo (4:15), Lacrime Di Luce (6:49), Risveglio (4:31), Alma Senza Virtue (4:41), L’Uomo Libero (5:27), Voglio Essere Piccolo (4:08), Golgotha (4:58), Khamsin (1:35), Maya (3:57), Rosso Asfalto (5:45), Tra La Notte E L’Alba (4:06), Tutto Ciò Che Avevo Era Un’Anima (3:42), Sul Lato Caldo Della Strada (3:52), L’Abito Bianco (4:35), Coda: 42 Km! (2:35)
This review is especially interesting if you are into something out of the ordinary. If you like your music complex, spicy and of high quality. If you like listening to be a challenge. If you are ready to take the time to set your mind free and let it all merge inside your mind. If you like it eclectic as well as touching. Because if this is the case this album will never leave your heart.
This sounds promising, doesn’t it? For me this effect was there at first listen. Flabbergasted. And then I got to the process of getting to know the songs, separately and as a concept. And Egonon has made its music intimately alternating between all corners of the musical spectrum that I like. From exotic instruments and vocals to metal riffs and from jazz to Italian folk styled. And even the odd moment of meeting Ramazotti? This is the overall setting you have to keep in mind. Mind you, lyrics are in Italian. To me this makes it even more special, but if you don’t like it, just focus on the music. I will dig deeper in some of the best songs of the album later.
Egonon is the brainchild of Fabio Calò. He is supported by a wide array of musicians and singers. The album is wrapped op nicely in a threefold with beautiful artwork on both the cover as well as the booklet/poster. In the middle section one is confronted with the (translated) message “To you the choice whether to be the raven or the Sun Hero: even when all worshipping him, No Ego!!”. Success with that.
The musical adventure that Fabio and his Egonon involves you in, provides you with powerful drums, jazz intermezzo’s, amazing vocals, Italian summer-hit samples, sitar, choruses, darbuka, sax solos, soft clarinets, string quartets, heavy riffs, trembling basses, Arabic style humming and Koran-like reciting to name a few. And more that I haven’t discovered or have been able to pinpoint yet.
The opening track Phosforo displays a mixture of styles that provides you insight into Egonon’s approach. It is an adventurous journey starting off with a powerful drum, accompanied by piano, vocals, and a jazzy trumpet soon. Right when the chorus enters the scene, heavy riffs are taking over and back to the drum drive again. The tone has been set.
Although Phosforo is an outstanding beautiful track, the second song Lacrime Di Luce (Tears Of Light) is the real shock and awe moment. Someone is scanning on his transistor radio and tunes in to the song. An acoustic guitar and the melancholic voice of singer/songwriter/composer/producer Fabio Calò is trying to overwhelm us. After a while the tension in singing and music peaks and guitars alternate between electric and acoustic twice. Every note, every move, every riff, every instrument is special on its own and coherent in the song. Which really are two songs, since it ends, has a 4 second pause, then starting all over again in a different yet according way. Astonishing.
The following song Risveglio (Awakening) defies the previous by its sheer beauty. A fragile sitar entering with an East Indian mood is soon accompanied by deep sturdy drums and soft clarinet. Then hell breaks lose with metal riffs, a second of jazz intermezzo or string quartet, a moment of extreme deep trembling bass and fantastic vocals. Eclectic metal? Could be. This song has a very, very impressive composition and excellent production.
Alma Senza Virtu (Alma Without Virtue) is a track that initially brings some Italian summer hits in mind, especially in the chorus parts. But the violins, the sax and the alternating tender and brute vocals all tell you that this is heavy eclectic stuff you are listening to. A 1930’s jazz part easily transforms into high paced, machine gun like, percussion force and riffs. Ending up with moody violins. Leaving me confused and gasping for air.
L’Uomo Libero (Free Man) drifts on a standard melody until heavy riffs are battling with the quieter moments. Saxophone and trumpet again, thus making this beautiful song completely unique and exceptional. Hearing new details at every next spin.
An up tempo start of Voglio Essere Piccolo (I Want To Be Small). Singing alternates between metal raw and ‘The Carpenters styled’ tenderness. This one is too difficult to describe, you just have to listen. The fact that the songs ends with a children’s musical box confirms my statement.
A trumpet solo with the sound of the blowing wind starts the next track Golgotha. Acoustic and electric guitars take over with brute force. Vocals are supported by oriental sounding female hums and Yiddish sounding string instruments merging into a Slavic folk styled choir. Rather abruptly a full jazz trumpet/sax duet interrupts the song, just as abruptly taken over by the previous melody, rhythm and choir. The beauty of this ingenious song is that it all fits together perfectly. Top notch.
The non instrumental song Khamsin exists of Koran-like reciting by a sheikh, which echoes as being sung inside a mosque. Has nothing to do with prog but extremely beautiful if you are open to it.
Maya starts with an Italian narrator introducing pan flute and eventually razor-sharp trumpets. This repeats itself after vocal parts and Arabic moods, female singing and gently weeping guitars. The female singer ends the song with a profound and modest ‘Salaam’.
Rosso Asfalto (Red Asphalt). An acoustic intro and again the same razor-sharp trumpets from the previous song. An easy pace alternates with nervous vocals. The weird combination of wah-wah guitars and a Russian ‘La-la-la’ choir create a unique atmosphere. Let alone a bouzouki-like Greek intermezzo. All kinds of great folk music from all over the globe fused into one little creative song.
Tra La Notte E L’Alba (Between Night And Dawn). An opening remembering of an Italian summer hit. But soon there are the trumpets again, together with Fabio’s raw voice. A bit of rap in the middle blends into a weeping guitar followed by trumpets.
I know the lyrics are poetic and profound but since it is in Italian it is rather difficult to grasp not being Italian, however, the band’s website offers some clarification in English as well as the lyrics of Lacrime Di Luce.
Maybe this all sounds very exulting to you. Is there no downside? Yes there is, I must conclude that the first three quarters of the album are breathtaking as the final tracks have their perishing moments. Maybe it is because consuming what Egonon has to offer simply is too overwhelming to sustain for way over an hour. Which is meant as an incitement really. Like Egonon states themselves:
“Egonon is an impulse. It's the sound of conscience braking the silence of indifference. It's the noise no more you can ignore.”
Risveglio is an album that is highly DPRP recommended if you are not afraid of listening to a new approach to eclectic music. The only reason that I did not give the maximum rating is the few slightly less interesting closing tracks of the album.
More good news: Egonon is in the process of creating Risveglio's successor right now. In fact the writing and recording is basically finished. But it still needs the right fine tuning and mixing. I am sure this will work out fine so we have another gem to impatiently wait for. The working title of the evolving album is "7 Exusiai", the release will probably be towards the end of the year.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
RAK - Lepidoptera II ~ The Book Of Flight
Tracklist: Volume I - The Ascent (17:44), Volume II - The Breakthrough (11:07), Volume III - The Book Of Flight (12:35), Volume IV - The Deception (10:31), Volume V - The Descent (4:56), Volume VI - The Great Machine (7:27)
Musically this is a very diverse album with passages that range from Pink Floyd like soundscapes to Dream Theater, with more traditional elements blended in - yet within this mix RAK successfully create and forge their own identity.
The album opener The Ascent begins with a gentle piano before an middle eastern sounding synthesizer riff is played and before the first DT like passage enters the fore. Some soaring guitar work ensues setting the scene for the entire album with its blend of softer gentler and more reflective sections set against more urgent and intense passages. The Ascent is a lengthy opener and works well as it sets the scene for what follows.
Breakthrough features a wonderful guitar break reminiscent of Dave Gilmour in its use of delay to give both warmth and depth. Played over a recurring piano motif this is simply a beautiful moment - the song starts gently but after 5 minutes the song gathers momentum and pace.
The Book Of Flight begins with a bubbling synth line against a heavy riff and with a gentler middle section the song features some great lyrics about being free to fly and earning your wings. There is a great guitar break at the 10 minute mark that has great keyboard work supporting it. One of the standout tracks on the disc...
The Deception is a more sinister sounding affair altogether with a menacing almost death metal type vocal. A sense of anger, anguish and regret permeates this song as the hurt of being deceived about flying high is revealed – some great keyboard work throughout the whole song. This piece goes through several changes but the sense of deception remains constant.
The Descent talks about descending from flying and is the shortest song on the disc, featuring a treated piano part that recurs throughout the song. This is a quieter atmospheric track that talks about claiming to be Gods, but the bloated behemoth is coming down again and how we come back to the place we started. Again some deft keyboard parts run throughout.
The Great Machine concludes the album in great form as it wraps up the themes of flying and attainment, failure and the determination to try again. This being a more energetic track to end with - again some great keyboard playing and a nice succinct guitar break at the 3:30 minute point which keeps going as the vocals continue to great effect. The album concludes by asking “are you listening?”.
So in summary this is an album that warrants your attention, being not merely a collection of songs, but rather a concept carried across that needs to be heard as one whole piece. Much like The Whirlwind by Transatlantic does. When heard in one sitting the album makes sense as the concept flows well. There are however a lot of lyrics to this piece of work, these are however ably supported by some fine musicianship.
Yet the real strength of the album lies within its concept, execution, delivery and cohesiveness as a whole piece of music rather than in its instrumental dexterity. This is an example of where the overall emphasis is on ensuring the songs are portrayed as songs rather than an excuse to display musical chops.
An album that you will probably need to hear several times to appreciate fully, but repeated listening will reward the diligent, as this is an intelligent and challenging album that works across many levels. As such I would not hesitate to recommend it.
If like me you are of a certain age, in my case “Old”, then you will remember an era when the cover art on any given album often lifted it from being something I’d like to hear into something that I’ve got to hear now. Within progressive rock there is an integral and definite link between the artwork being displayed and the music which it enfolds. Just think about the classic Roger Dean “Yes”, or the iconic “Hipgnosis” Pink Floyd sleeves - or the works of other masters such as Patrick Woodroffe and Ed Unitsky amongst others and about how these both complement and enhance the music contained within.
Another one of those classic artists is Mark Wilkinson who was responsible for many of Marillion’s earliest sleeve artworks from Script For A Jesters Tear through to Clutching At Straws and beyond into Fish’s solo works. Well I am glad to report that RAK have secured the services of Mr Wilkinson for this their second CD – Lepidoptera 11 – The Book Of Flight and very striking it is indeed. Featuring a spacecraft hovering above an unspecified planet with other heavenly bodies in the background – this is a cover that lends itself very well to the themes being explored by RAK.
This is actually RAK’s second album the first being Lepidoptera. This second album also called Lepidoptera II ~ The Book Of Flight follows a similar path to their debut in that it explores both “flight” and the whole issue of attaining and achieving success and failure and the cost of doing so. The two albums are linked by this theme of Flight.
Certainly well worth investigating...
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Puzzle King – Anna's Revolution
Tracklist: My Name Is Anatoli (6:23), Along The River (8:05), The Soviet (5:51), Anna, Me And The War (5:53), Live Together (6:45), Blind And Deaf (5:06), At The Front (6:04), A Beautiful Morning (7:00), The Mad Warrior (6:05), In Petrograd (2:47), The Assault (6:54), The Drenched Pavings (5:41), The Great Evening (4:58)
In an age where prog is still considered to be unfashionable it’s encouraging to come across an album that proudly proclaims itself as “Rock Progressif”. Hailing from the French town of Roanne, Puzzle King is the pseudonym of composer, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist François Puzenat. The concept of Anna's Revolution (of course there has to be a concept) is the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the plight of two lovers Anna and Anatoli struggling to preserve their relationship in the midst of war and revolution (shades of Doctor Zhivago?). Told in three acts bookended by a prologue and an epilogue, it’s an ambitious undertaking and with one or two minor reservations I reckon Puzenat and his collaborators have just about pulled it off.
Puzenat claims a long list of prog influences both retro and modern although for me at its heart the music draws heavily on early 70’s prog and hard rock. It does have its pastoral moments as in the acoustic section of Along The River and the conclusion of The Great Evening (bringing Genesis and Anthony Phillips respectively to mind) but mostly the tone and tempo is of the strident ELP and Gentle Giant variety. Puzenat’s expressive singing is perfectly suited to this style often displaying a raw emotion in a similar vein to Daniel Gildenlöw. The only drawback is that the songs are often very wordy as in The Soviet and The Drenched Pavings which (for me at least) has a tendency to lend a claustrophobic feel.
Wisely Puzenat opens the album with one of its best songs, the uplifting My Name Is Anatoli which features stylish instrumental touches including sparkling synths and an infectious guitar hook. Elsewhere the ‘flute’ and guitar exchanges during The Mad Warrior have a Jethro Tullish appeal whilst the contrasting heavy riffs and fast but melodic guitar lines of The Assault are very Wishbone Ash.
Throughout the album Puzenat sings in his native tongue and likewise the album sleeve and booklet is in French although for the song titles I’ve provided the English translations. He uses sampled sound effects to link several tracks although thankfully these are sparingly and discreetly integrated. On the instrumental front his numerous guitar breaks are often of the heavy, shredding variety although they are more in the vein of 70’s hard rock than contemporary prog-metal. The drums and bass work sound solid and there is some fine, symphonic keyboards and piano to add a sweep to songs like At The Front and A Beautiful Morning.
Puzenat is supported on the album by Yannick Thinon (trombone), Pierre Fournier (clarinet) and Nathalie Prost (bass) and the latter in particular provides some excellent upfront playing. On the production front, I can’t help thinking that the album should sound more powerful than it actually does, but that and the wall to wall vocals aside, I found Anna's Revolution to be an extremely entertaining and consistently rewarding listening experience. It’s certainly the stuff that vintage progressive rock is made of.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Dimension Act – Manifestation Of Progress
Tracklist: Cosmic Chaos (5:07), Industrial Evilution (9:49), Uncharted Waters (8:17), Drawing The Lines Of Mortal Existence (31:39)
If you like your progressive metal to veer on the side of dramatic, self-indulgent, bombastic and complex then this debut from Norwegian band Dimension Act will have all of the ingredients you require.
The quintet certainly takes some heavy influences from the ProgPower Metal movement, walking the line back and forth between more progressive bands such as Evergrey and Pagans Mind and more power metal acts like Helloween.
The double bass drumming and the constant riffage rather dominates the approach but there are some different dynamics to be enjoyed with restrained piano and some jazz-inspired sections. The use of female vocals here and there is very effective.
This is ambitious and pretty intense stuff with just four songs, one of which clocks in at over half and hour. I think most listeners will think this sticks to a pretty tried and tested formula. There are some big-quality, big-power vocal melodies, lots of interplay between guitar and keys, lots of solos and more time changes than a railway station in a snow storm.
It is all very well done and performed suggesting this is a band with a promising future. The second track Industrial Evilution is my standout number. Very classy, very powerful and offering far and away the best hooks.
The 31-minute epic certainly has its moments but suffers from a lack of a common compositional thread to tie everything together.
I am certain that die-hard fans of this sub-genre will find much to cherish. Others may find Manifestation Of Progress is a little too derivative.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Vajra – Pleroma
Tracklist: Inside The Flame (6:14), Almost One (5:11), India (2:18), Blind (4:48), Intuition (4:33), Erode The Will (4:46), 3.14 (5:29), See Through You (5:15), Akkord Pleromy (3:58), The Apple (8:20)
Formed by multi-instrumentalist, composer and singer Annamaria Pinna, Vajra also include Blake Fleming, ex of The Mars Volta on drums, guitarist Will Dahl, Doug Wright on bass, and Tabla Jon on tablas. Twiddling knobs on Pleroma are Sylvia Massey and Tom Baker (no, not that one!) whose production credentials between them include Foo Fighters, NIN, Tool, Prince and many others.
Together they have crafted a very professional sounding album of likeable alt-pop; Inside The Flame recalls the world music feel of some of Peter Gabriel’s early works. One has to wait until the short instrumental India for anything that might make the “prog” cut, having as it does an eerie ambience.
As the hyperbole of the website biog would have it, Annamaria’s stint in India was a “self-imposed exile”, the album was “released on this year’s summer solstice”, and “Pleroma is an exploration in paradox”. With press like that one might expect something mystical and quite exceptional but I’m sorry to say that is just not the case, for me at least. Comparisons have been made with a more alt-rock Dead Can Dance and I can see how that might work, but I find this album a bit hard to get into as although it has some nice light and shade contrasts it all gets to sound somewhat similar by the end; whether or not that is down to the production or the songwriting I really can’t say. The main instruments informing the atmosphere of the album are Annamaria’s keyboards and synths, and perhaps a wider variety of ethnic instrumentation may have helped in creating a more varied dynamic?
Annamaria’s presumably multi-tracked voice does the job professionally enough and she sure can belt it out when the mood requires it, always keeping the bearable side of strident. Her lyrics are well considered musings on the human condition, Inside The Flame delving into spiritual cleansing, Blind muses on unhealthy insularity, and Erode The Will takes on the much aired subject of the current grim global situation as reflected in the protagonist in a direct and unfussy manner, sometimes bordering on the prosaic, much like the music. There are no quirky time changes in that last song; it just marches on using the same three chords, a device which actually works quite well.
I do not want to judge too harshly for I should remember that this is a debut album, and I can well imagine Vajra’s brand of alt-pop going down a storm at festivals, lighters aloft… do they still allow that these days? There is nothing here that would have prog fans rushing to buy, but it is an enjoyable album nonetheless, if not really my cup of tea.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Obiymy Doschu - Elehia
Tracklist: Pid Hmaramy [Under Clouds] (5:23), Mertve Dervo I Viter [The Dead Tree And The Wind] (7:05), Zorenko Moya [My Little Star] (4:18), Yiyi Dushi Zivyali Kvity [The Withered Flowers Of Her Soul] (7:36), Zghasayucha Osin [Fading Autumn] (8:23), Zymova Elehia [Winter Elegy] (10:04), Samotni Nochi [Lonely Nights] (5:42), Dorohoyu Vichnosti [On The Way Of Eternity] (7:06) Bonus Track: Svitanok [Sunrise] (7:06)
It's taken a considerable time for Obiymy Doschu's debut release to hit the reviews section of DPRP. I remember the album arriving in late autumn last year and as I briefly listened to the album for the purpose of adding comment on the pipeline of CDs available for review. I also remember noting "I quite like this", but for some unknown reason the album disappeared, only surfacing a few weeks ago when a tidy up of the office discovered it lurking at the back of a cabinet. Enough said! So somewhat belatedly...
Obiymy Doschu [Rain's Embrace] originate from from Kiev, Ukraine and Elehia is the end result of the work they have put in since their formation in 2004. The lion's share of the music has been written by Volodymyr Agafonkin with Mykola Kryvonos penning the bonus track along with the lyrics for Dorohoyu Vichnosti. The album was originally released in 2009 and later picked up by the astute MALS label in 2011.
It was quite fitting that Elehia arrived in the autumn as the bleak, snow covered and misty image cover artwork not only served as a reminder that winter was imminent, but also gave an indication of material enclosed. The six page booklet also features images depicting a late autumnal scene. The booklet also contains English translations for the lyrics, which on the album are sung in their native tongue.
So far I've said nothing about the music, so, onto the opening track Pid Hmaramy. Opening with wind, rain and thunder, rolling tom fills and lightly picked acoustic guitar. Enter the strings, closely followed by Agafonkin's warm vocal tones. The intensity builds with the addition of the driving guitars and increasingly lavish string arrangement. The music is allowed to rise and fall during this impressive opening piece. Mertve Dervo I Viter also opens with acoustic guitar and again builds in intensity with a dense mix of electric guitars and strings. The rise and fall formula is engaged once more followed by a melodic twin lead section before the vocals conclude.
Zorenko Moya is a gentle ballad beautifully accompanied by Olena Nesterovska (viola), Olexandra Vydrya (violin) collectively adding to the strong background of faux strings. I suppose as this is a ballad as good a time as any to touch on Volodymyr Agafonkin's voice/vocals. I can well imagine his voice may not sit comfortably with some, but for me it resonated and captured the music superbly. Also possibly a downside for some maybe that Agafonkin sings in his native tongue, but once again this added depth and a sense of mystery to the music. A superb track with the only downside being the "beefed up" middle section.
And this brings me to the main drawback with Elehia and the band's necessity to make each and every track so musically dense. Zorenko Moya is a fitting example as, for me at least, it would have served the album better and been so much more dramatic if it was allowed to stay as just an acoustic number. Zghasayucha Osin is another prime example - starting with acoustic guitar and recorder this is a delightful song. Agafonkin is joined vocally by Hanna Kryvonos and the blend between the voices is lovely, with the strings being the icing on the cake, but once again we have the heavy sections - although in fairness it works really well here and strengths the song.
Elswhere Zymova Elehia showcases the importance played by keyboard player Maria Kurbatova. Here she incorporates piano into the mix but it is the string arrangements throughout that are so impressive. In fact I cannot fault the playing from all concerned with each and every musician turning in laudable performances.
Despite all its dark and brooding landscapes, I found Elehia an enjoyable album and one that didn't weigh me down as much as the material might suggest. It did take sometime to get into, but going back to my initial thoughts and having listened in depth to the music, I'd go as far as to say I like every song on this album. To this though I'd need to add the caveat that as an album it wasn't quite as strong as its constituent parts. Still if you have an inkling for the darker, melancholic side of prog then Elehia is well worth a listen. The whole album is available as a free download (see samples link above). Highlights would be the aforementioned Zorenko Moya, Zghasayucha Osin and the album opener. Samotni Nochi which features a fine guitar solo from Oleksiy Katruk and the bonus track Svitanok which is taken from the band's two track single from 2010.
Looking forward - I will certainly be keeping an ear open for this band...
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10