Reviews in this issue:
- Galahad - Beyond The Realms Of Euphoria (Duo Review)
- To-Mera - Exile
- Various Artists - Psychedelic World Music - Discovery
- Kong - Merchants Of Air
- Manning - Akoustik
- Vitruvian Man - The Stranger Within
- Quasar - Live 2011
- Panzerballett - Tank Goodness
- Session 606 - Rebirth
- Picklelegaz - Bedroom Circus
Galahad - Beyond The Realms Of Euphoria
Tracklist: Salvation I - Overture (4:11), Salvation II - Judgement Day (6:08), Guardian Angel (10:31), Secret Kingdoms... (5:31) ...And Secret Worlds (7:26), All In The Name Of Progress (7:14), Guardian Angel - Reprise (6:08) Bonus Track: Richelieu's Prayer 2012 (8:40)
Geoff Feakes' Review
When Galahad released the excellent Battle Scars in April this year they promised that it would be the first of two albums in 2012 and true to their word Beyond The Realms Of Euphoria has duly arrived. In an interview with the DPRP in May, vocalist and lyricist Stuart Nicholson commented that it would be "a much more colourful sounding album". That's certainly true of the romanticised artwork with its vibrant reds, oranges and yellows, a far cry from the stark black and white image of Battle Scars and the war torn Berlin of 2007's Empires Never Last.
Fans will be encouraged by the fact that along with Stuart Nicholson (vocals), Roy Keyworth (guitars), Spencer Luckman (drums) and Dean Baker (keyboards), the incomparable Neil Pepper is credited with bass, recording his parts before sadly passing away in September 2011. Threshold's Karl Groom is once again responsible for production and his contribution cannot be overstated with his sure touch evident throughout.
Salvation I - Overture is a splendid opener with its juxtaposition of operatic sampled voices, swirling synths, crunching riffs and a frantic electronic rhythm. Salvation II - Judgement Day features a typically cool delivery from Nicholson offset by heavyweight guitars that measure 10.0+ on the Richter scale. Guardian Angel is fast and frantic to begin with before easing into textbook Galahad territory. It's a song that would have sat very comfortably on Empires Never Last and although the tone overall is far removed from vintage Prog, the sampled choir and haunting synth section towards the end is especially reminiscent of Genesisi Entangled.
In contrast Secret Kingdoms... is pure power-metal enhanced by rich backing vocals that bring classic Queen to mind before segueing into its companion piece ...And Secret Worlds. Here piano ripples eloquently joined by lush harmonies before the song's centrepiece where the seemingly disparate combination of classical piano and seismic guitar riffs works much better than could be reasonably expected reaching an epic climax.
For All In The Name Of Progress, celestial organ and heavenly voices soon give way to a volley of guitars, bass and drums with Nicholson's forceful performance delivering perhaps the albums most memorable chorus. The blistering guitar work is underscored beautifully by the symphonic keys with Nicholson's voice skating effortlessly above it all. Despite the song's Prog-Metal leanings the growls at the end still catch the listener off-guard.
Rhapsodic piano and sampled choir again provide the opening for Guardian Angel n Reprise which is not so much a rerun of the earlier song of the same name but more a complete song in its own right. The gothic tone is epic in scale with a dramatic choral hook, pipe organ and tubular bells building to satisfying a crescendo.
Like Battle Scars, Galahad round off the album with a new version of one of their Neo-Prog classics. This time it's the Marillion influenced Richelieu's Prayer which originally closed the bands 1991 debut album Nothing Is Written. It's centred around a simple but infectious vocal hook which is first heard over a stark piano backing before given the full blown treatment for the epic finale. It's a deliciously over the top performance of an excellent song with Nicholson giving the best Fish impression you'll likely to hear this side of the big man himself. Cards on the table, this has to be my favourite track on the album.
The inclusion of Richelieu's Prayer is perhaps a tad ironic as it puts into focus the contrast between Galahad's Neo-Prog beginnings and their current music. The bonus track aside, the arrangements here are leaner, sharper and more contemporary although still conveying a sense of grandeur when required. In my review of Battle Scars I cited Muse, Radiohead and Coldplay as comparators which still holds true here, laced with a heady dose of metal and perhaps just a hint of Neo-Prog. I'll leave it to the band themselves to have the final word, as it says on the back of the CD booklet - Play Very Loud!
Alison Henderson's Review
To release two albums of entirely new material within six months of each other could be viewed as either a calculated gamble or just plain foolhardy. Does the Prog-buying community have the appetite or resources to indulge one band twice in such a short space of time?
It could have been a move destined for a fall. However, we are talking here about Galahad, those loud and proud old Prog warhorses, who have staged a remarkable come-back after the untimely death last September of their bass player Neil Pepper who appears on both Battle Scars, released in March, and Beyond The Realms Of Euphoria. So it is a fitting tribute for this new collection to be unveiled a month after the first anniversary of his passing.
Also, it has to be said that at a recent unforgettable gig at the Peel, the band also showed they had retained their sense of fun, the abiding images including glittery eye-shadow, stage costumes resembling deck-chairs and Edward Scissorhands and the coming together of two toy tambourines.
Returning the music however, what is all the more remarkable is how they have delivered two exceptional albums recorded during the same sessions with producer Karl Groom at the helm for both adventures.
Exceptional is the operative word because nobody else in the Prog sphere has dared to attempt what they have done to hallmark their sound circa 2011/12. That is to mix keyboard techno trance grooves into their traditional full-on hard rocking sound which, on the face of it, does probably sound like a recipe for disaster.
Battle Scars, especially tracks Bitter And Twisted then Seize The Day, demonstrated what a clever, brave move it was as the overall feel of the album was fresh, contemporary, full of melody but with that huge pulsating seam of hard rock still intact at its heart.
If that was clever, then Euphoria has moved the bar up several notches, because there are no holds barred on the techno trickery throughout the album - along with countless nods to other bands and composers.
The dreamy chords of Salvation I - Overture soon give way the first hint of the techno treats in store as Dean Baker hits some sparse loops over a choir before unleashing the full force of the dance groove over Spencer Luckman's big, meaty beats before Roy Keyworth's characteristic scuzzy guitar riffs come crashing in. This is a jaw-droppingly original way to raise the euphoric curtain on the feast ahead.
Seamlessly, it morphs into Salvation II - Judgement Day beginning with huge guitar slabs before Stuart Nicholson begins the vocal journey through countless changes of tempo and instrumental settings. Again, there are lots of keyboards swirling around in there and Pepper's beefy bass can be heard adding more depth to an immense sound.
A big chunky guitar starts Guardian Angel along with the Techo beat returning full throttle. The song settles down into a mid-paced tempo driven by Luckman, Nicholson paring down his vocals to a sensitive glide across a smooth melody with lots of delicious rocky outcrops along the way interspersed with dreamy synths and choppy keyboards.
A jarring start erupts into Keyworth's massive guitar intro and loping riff at the start of Secret Kingdom backed with some more haunting keyboards before it hits its stride at extended canter. The guitars and keyboards fizz away under Nicholson's voice before the chorus line comes with Queen-like high harmonies. It is quite stunningly done. From there, the tempo slows right down with Nicholson's echoing vocals dominating over a drum machine and muted synth.
Oh yes, then Rachmaninov arrives at the start of ...And Secret Worlds as Baker turns to the pianoforte for a wonderful stately solo that is accompanied by a Muse-like chorus line and then suddenly, it all changes yet again. It really does then sound so much like the thunderous guitar line in The Sensational Alex Harvey Band's memorable version of Delilah. The track builds and builds with guitar and piano running parallel lines through the melody - and finally we are back to a Queen groove as it all reaches a heady climax.
All In The Name Of Progress has a synthy, trancey start before the pounding guitar and rhythm section takes over and Nicholson sweeps in on top of another huge melody punctuated by an angry, staccato rap. And Keyworth then can be found riffing in true Brian May tradition before the tempo is upped and returns to a spacey synth so Nicholson can deliver his verdict via the title line. It all then gets angry and frenetic again and Nicholson can be heard growling like a wolf in the woods towards the end.
Baker's flowing piano and angelic choir takes the energy levels down a notch or two at the start of Guardian Angel n Reprise and the whole song has an ethereal quality about it especially with Baker's churchy organ coming in towards the end before Nicholson adds a tender vocal over the piano. It brings the album to a gentle conclusion, his final thank you sounding like Freddie Mercury signing off on These Are The Days Of Our Lives.
Bonus track is a 2012 reworking of old favourite Richelieu's Prayer which features additional keyboards by former band member Mark Andrews. This is a stately and restrained delivery compared to the rest of the tracks but having said that, part of it screams Meatloaf in its style before it diversifies yet again into classical segments with hints of both Bach and Beethoven spread throughout the song.
That is packing an awful lot into one album, but overall, the balance between the contributions of all the band members is very even-handed. Baker though has to be singled out for being the one who ventured the idea that introducing techno into the sound of a band who are fast notching up 30 years of playing and performing might be an interesting way forward.
The psychedelic cover illustration of red, orange, yellow and pink by Emma Grzonkowski is also a masterstroke especially in contrast to the tranquillity of the inside photograph over the sun setting over a poppy field. For above all, it is an album which encompasses those two very different dynamics.
Bands half their age should marvel at the energy and sheer exuberance of Euphoria: for the rest of us, it is one of this year's essential pieces of Prog along with its stable mate, Battle Scars.
To-Mera - Exile
Tracklist: Inviting The Storm (3:02), The Illusionist (7:22), The Descent (7:54), Deep Inside (6:47), Broken (10:05), End Game (6:13), Surrender (11:05), All I Am (12:46)
Go home Threshold, this is how progressive metal should sound! To-Mera impressed Andy Read in 2006 with Transcendental, Tom de Val in 2008 with Delusions, and it is my pleasure to say that they have scored a hat trick with this year's Exile.
In their press release, To-Mera seem too good to be true. The very first sentence speaks of the bands goal: 'to push the art form of contemporary progressive metal forwards.' As I mentioned in my Threshold review, too many prog metal bands nowadays seem to be content to ape Dream Theater or Symphony X without really adding anything we haven't heard before. As a result, the genre has become incredibly stale, rather like the neo-prog realm, where originality is woefully lacking. It's all very well to say you want to push the boundaries, but have To-Mera got the vision to do so? Surprisingly enough, they have.
You see, in 65 minutes, there's not a single moment on this album that reminds me of Dream Theater, or indeed any other major prog metal band, and I quite like it this way. What I hear instead is 65 minutes of highly original, densely crafted music that perfectly straddles the border between prog and metal without compromising either quality. Even by prog metal standards, the band are extraordinarily talented, and they aren't afraid to show it. Just play the beginning of End Game to see how speedily they can handle their instruments, or skip to The Descent to see how the band make mincemeat of the various time signatures flung their way. Singer Julie Kiss is as talented as she is beautiful, and while I wouldn't usually find gothic singers appealing, her ability to handle odd time signatures and difficult melodic patterns is quite mesmerising.
Probably my favourite thing about the record is how unrelentingly badass it is. The songs on the album appear to form a suite, and with barely a second between tracks, you're unlikely to be able to turn this record off. There's no 'breather' track, so right from the start, To-Mera take you on a rollercoaster of dark, technical progressive metal, on a trip you won't forget.
However, it isn't all chugging riffs and blasting double bass pedals. To-Mera are very keen to be seen as an arty group, and I applaud them for their efforts. For example, Surrender is a particularly interesting track that contains, among many other things, something of a tango instrumental section, showing the band's eclectic side. This not only reminds me of Haken - a band that unsurprisingly shares two members with To-Mera - but also of Van der Graaf Generator, who use a similar waltz pattern in their track The Sleepwalkers.
Simply put, this is a brilliant album that will appeal to both progressive fans and metal fans. If you like progressive rock, there are zappy keyboards, odd time signatures, long songs and unusual instrumentation among other things to keep you satisfied. If, on the other hand, you're a metal fan, the album contains many breakneck metal riffs, as well as death vocals and explosive instrumentals to make you drool. On top of it all, this album is incredibly dense and complex, which leads me to the sound bite conclusion: if Hatfield and the North were a prog metal outfit, this is what they'd sound like. I can't wait to hear more.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Various Artists - Psychedelic World Music - Discovery
Tracklist: Cosmic Vibration (Germany) - Aurora (6:54), Triptych (UK) - Origins Of Life (6:19), The Misteriosos (USA) - The Sun (9:09), Mouches A L'Orange (Belarus) - Sixty Nine (6:50), Deti Picasso (Armenia) - Kele Lao (6:45), Grey Mouse (Russia) - Snow (Spiral Walk) (7:24), Plootoh (Italy) - Caronte (6:06), The Narcotic Daffodils (Belgium) - The Crazy Dwarf (9:19), Zhaoze (China) - Fishing For The Stars (6:25)
The internet has shrunk the world; not as it may sound, a new cheesy B-movie title, but an oft repeated truism leant credence by the origins of the nine bands on this rather good sampler of worldwide psychedelia from New York-s Trail Records. Just looking at the geographic scope of this collection makes one realise that we do indeed live in a global village. Pre-internet there was very little chance that one would have tripped out to a Belarusian band grooving on a nice laid-back late 60s spacey post-Syd Floydy vibe; in fact back then the Mouches A L'Orange would have been from the USSR and probably in prison for being a threat to the State.
I must admit that spotting the far-flung origins of some of these bands made me head for the more exotically located in the first instance, starting, obviously enough, with China's Zhaoze, who end the album with some languid space-jazz that hints at their mystical Eastern heritage, before launching off into a Mogwai theme from deep within the Forbidden City. Nice!
Most of the tracks on here are previously unreleased with only The Misteriosos, Deti Picasso, and Plootoh (best name on the album!) contributing works from issued albums. This compilation album is nicely sequenced and doesn't fall into the trap of becoming one-paced as can be the case with some space rock samplers.
Cosmic Vibration open things with some bass-driven space groove of the classic Ozrics/Here & Now variety, and the album runs through a gamut of styles including the Indian flavoured early Porcupine Tree of Triptych to the grungy low synth-led slow garage psych of The Misteriosos, who have a rather nicely smoky sonorous female singer to add more light and shade. We've mentioned Mouches' already, Deti Picasso shimmer and sway in a post-rock meets Prog fashion, and another female voice, this time more keening, warbling just the right side of righteous incantation, and jolly nice it is too.
Grey Mouse go for a hard rock approach with what sounds like a sitar in the background, and a really fine guitar break takes it to the bridge where we meet some more otherworldly girl-warbling. The wonderfully named Plootoh go for a long, slow, comfortable... cosmic blues... stop snickering at the back. Belgian space rockers The Narcotic Daffodils missed a trick by not having "Thee" as the indefinite article methinks, as a heavily reverb-ed guitar-led Øresund Space Collective vibe takes us on 9-minute trip across the universe and all the way back to Brussels.
After Zhaoze have brought proceedings to a close it simply remains for me to say that if you are in any way partial to a bit of modern psychedelia then this little beauty comes highly recommended.
Conclusion 8 out of 10
Kong - Merchants Of Air
Tracklist: El Pilar (3:58), Astral Calls (5:15), Steamtrucking (3:50), The Gates Of Exception (4:55), Same Meaning Different Worlds (6:49), Wahnsinn, Baby (3:53), Stug (6:25), Vapour Lock (4:00), No Strings Attached (5:37), Blue Couch (5:24), Back Into The Trees (7:35)
Amsterdam-based Kong have been around since the late 1980s and Merchants Of Air appears to be their seventh release. Based on the evidence of this entertaining mix of experimental metallic guitar and beats I wish that I had come across them years ago. As instrumental metal-based prog incorporating additional influences goes this is a particularly enjoyable melding of styles that keeps up a frantic pace and goes to some very interesting places.
The band was originally formed by Mark Drillich (bass/programming), Dirk de Vries (guitar/synth), Aldo Sprenger (guitar) and Rob Smits (drums), the music soon moving away from straighter metal to include elements of noise, electronica and industrial with the emphasis still on the heavier end of the spectrum. The band have apparently gained notoriety for their quadrophonic live shows where the band play through individual sound systems, often not sharing the same stage. Kong released albums throughout the '90s but could not forge sufficient commercial success and embarked on a hiatus in 2000 which lasted until 2007 when Drillich revived the band with Tijs Keverkamp (guitar), Mandy Hopman (drums) and David Kox (guitar/samples) resulting in 2009's What It Seems Is What You Get, De Fries taking the role of producer and engineer.
Merchants Of Air is the second reformation release and sees the electronica elements immediately integrated into the whole on the pounding El Pilar. There is a freewheeling abandon to the heavy riffing pieces that are packed with energy and a brooding presence which manages to leave room to try different things as in Astral Calls where stabbing string effects give the music a different spin that reminds me a little of Bal Sagoth. Elsewhere we get spaciness on Same Meaning Different Worlds that hints at Ozric Tentacles with huge slabs of guitar leading things in a Hawkwind direction but the music remains resolutely Kong. At other times the sound is very much in the frenetic vein of Ministry with industrial influences coming through on tracks like No Strings Attached and Steamtrucking which sounds exactly as the name suggests! Techno and house form a large part of The Gates Of Exception, Blue Couch and Vapour Lock where the dance influences of the likes of Leftfield are never far away within the thrashing layers of sledgehammer guitars and is that a hint of Voivod within Wahnsinn, Baby? This really is an intriguing band and there is also plenty of catalogue material for the newbie to get their teeth into.
Old school metal riffing a la Judas Priest finds a home within the lengthy Stug with the synths and modern polish taking it somewhere new. The guitars are still huge and the rhythm section pounding but the extraneous noises and moodiness add to the interest in a way that is reminiscent of Parallel Or 90 Degrees. While most of the material is punchy and to the point Back Into The Trees closes the album with spoken words that break into singing towards the end in an extended, more overtly dub influenced track with massive bass that just sets you up to play the album again.
De Fries' production provides a great platform for the band to sound their best and the result is a fine album from a band that makes a glorious noise which deserves to be heard. The album is available to sample at Bandcamp and I hope that more people get to give Kong a go as they are a very rewarding proposition for those of us who like it loud.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Tracklist: In Swingtime (4:31), Antares (5:32), Clocks (4:17), Castaways (4:08), Silent Man (4:32), Margaret Montgomery (4:52), A Place To Hide (4:32), View From My Window (4:50), Phase (The Opening & The Widening Sky) (4:56), Tears In The Rain (6:06), The Night And The Devil (4:54), In My Life (6:27)
In theory the premise of Akoustik is a simple one - from a recording career spanning 12 years and 12 albums, select 12 songs deemed most appropriate for the all-acoustic treatment. Given the wealth of material to choose from however, the task for Guy Manning could have been a daunting one. Democratically the selection spans the entire Manning back catalogue with each song re-arranged to accommodate the current band in unplugged mode. It also gives both Guy and the listener the opportunity to revisit some favourite songs although several have already featured in the band's acoustic shows.
On disc Manning is of course no stranger to acoustic instrumentation, over the years his arrangements have been enriched with acoustic guitars, mandolin, piano, flute, violin, cello and clarinet in a variety of combinations. A talented multi-instrumentalist, this time around Guy restricts himself to guitar and lead vocals (as he often does on stage) with partner Julie King providing backing vocals and regular collaborator Steve Dundon responsible for some impressive flute playing. Given that in addition to Guy there are three guitarist credited (Chris Catling, Kev Currie and David Million) more information in the sleeve notes as to who actually played what would have been advantageous I feel. Completing the line-up is Rick Henry (drums, percussion), Kris Hudson-Lee (bass) and Martin Thiselton (keyboards, violin).
To open, they revisit the heart (or at least the middle) of the Manning recording career with In Swingtime which similarly opened the 2005 One Small Step album. Whilst this version of In Swingtime perhaps lacks some of the spring of the original it does find Guy in fine vocal form with instrumentation sounding suitably crisp. From here they spread out in both directions taking in the 1999 debut Tall Stories For Small Children album (Castaways) and the more recent 2010 Charlestown album (Clocks). Even though in their stripped down form the melodies are laid bare they stand-up extremely well to the exposure.
Antares is most welcome here with its familiar and memorable piano/guitar theme and a touch of flute for the chorus. The same goes for the moody Clocks and the delicate Castaways which sit comfortably side by side despite the 11 year gap that separates the original versions. The strident Silent Man with its staccato rhythm and flute motif draws comparisons with Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull, but Guy won't mind, he's become very used to the association over the years. My two favourite tracks follow, the lilting Margaret Montgomery with its lyrical flute melody and the poetic A Place To Hide. Following a deceptively hesitant start the latter blossoms into one of Guy's most beautiful choral hooks which exhibits his more romantic side.
Two songs from the 2003 album The View From My Window are next up including the familiar title song and the less familiar Phase which benefits from haunting wordless harmonies. The chugging rhythm of Tears In The Rain is reminiscent of Peter Gabriel's Solsbury Hill which nestles comfortably alongside the brooding The Night And The Devil. Bringing this collection to a fitting close is In My Life which is very atmospheric in a Stairway To Heaven kind of way with a particularly nifty guitar break around the midway point.
Akoustik is not an album for the casual listener, requiring a degree of commitment and concentration to be fully appreciated. Your patience is well rewarded however with beautifully crafted music that's lovingly played and superbly recorded. Whilst numerous artists over the years have gone down the unplugged route, in Manning's case you feel that this is not so much a departure from his normal approach rather it's an affirmation of the musical style he's been championing for the past 13 years.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Vitruvian Man - The Stranger Within
Tracklist: The Most Dangerous Game (6:02), Nightmare In Her Hand (7:50), As It Falls (5:38), Leave This All Behind (1:42), Every Dog Will Have His Day (12:03), Your Lucky Day (5:52), The Implements Of Hell (9:08)
Describing themselves as a crossbreed of The Mars Volta and Iron Maiden, The Stranger Within is the debut release from this new band from Melbourne, Australia.
Vitruvian Man consists of a seasoned collection of musicians; Glenn Kirkwood (guitars), bassist Johnny Glovasa, vocalist Dan Swan and Greg Stone on drums. They've been around for four years but took the first two years to test and tease out their own sound through live gigs. That's been time well spent as the seven tracks on offer certainly show a band that has created its own take on classic rock.
Having spent several weeks on and off with this album, I'm yet to find more than a few riffs of either The Mars Volta or Iron Maiden or to be honest an awful lot of Prog. Neither is there more than a few bars of the fusion that the band's biog alludes to.
A better description would be modern, crossover alt rock/metal mixed with classic rock and metal.
Several songs take the deep heavy riffage of Sabbath with the metallic energy of Guns'n'Roses before shifting to an alt Prog vibe of fellow countrymen Karnivool. The frequent alternations between heavy and light, plus some of the vocal patterns remind me a lot of mid-period Savatage.
Opener The Most Dangerous Game has a killer hook but doesn't really step out of its Y&T and UFO mimicry. The Implements Of Hell takes a psychedelic vibe of The Doors around the repetitive bluesy riffing of the Blue Oyster Cult. Your Lucky Day meanwhile has the riff from Born To Be Wild with more Savatage heaviness and melody.
Glenn Kirkwood delivers some lovely guitar solos, especially on the first three tracks. Dan Swan has a very versatile and melodic voice covering a huge variety of style and emotions. It has limitations though. His higher pitch can be a bit thin and nasally and when he tries to force the power in the upper registers, the tuning suffers.
Neither am I totally won over by the chosen mix of styles. The mix of classic and modern alt rock works well on the opening three songs - all of which I enjoy. However when they try to extend that into the more experimental moments of Every Dog Will Have Its Day, the sound becomes convoluted.
A self-produced concept album, the band claims to have been seeking a sound as close to their live experience as possible. Such as phrase can also be a shorthand for "we didn't have a lot of time in the studio, so this is pretty raw". Under-produced is another way of putting it.
Overall an enjoyable album with three standout tracks, two fillers and one that misses its intended target. I feel the band needs to focus on its clear strengths next time around and go more for the classic rock stylings.
Conclusion:7 out of 10
Quasar - Live 2011
Tracklist: Seeing Stars (1 & 2) (9:28), Power In Your Hands (7:20),The Loreli (5:10), As You Fall Asleep (10:35), In The Grand Scheme Of Thing (5:17),Mission 14 (14:28)
I received Quasar's Live 2011 album direct from Keith Turner one of the founder members of the band and bass player. On playing the album for the first time I was blown away. I do have a love for live albums as it showcases, usually, what a band is all about. I also have a real love for good quality Neo-Prog, so for me this was really a win-win situation. From what I heard here Quasar are a band that have definitely made my list of bands to see.
As a band they have been in existence since 1979 having worked with their contemporaries like Marillion, IQ, Pallas and Twelfth Night, culminating in headlining the world famous Marquee Club. The previous aforementioned bands will give you a reference point as to where they are coming from, although they do not stray into emulation or imitation. As a point of reference some of the band members left Quasar to form Landmarq which included Tracy Hitchings.
The album opens with Seeing Stars from their 1981 debut Fire in the Sky where vocal duties are shared with Keren Gaiser and Robert Robinson, but as themed for the most part throughout the album Keren takes the lead role. As a vocalist Keren is dynamic having inflections that sound similar to Jewel Kilcher at times, a phrasing that at times is reminiscent of Kate Bush, but more importantly an approach that really pinpoints the emotion of the music that serves well some of the poetic lyrics that are presented. This is most noticeable on the stand out questioning and intelligently approached Power in Your Hands from their second album The Loreli, a song that in truth I have played the most, being a firm favourite and could quite be the song of the year for me. The song is just underpinned by some stunning musical interaction; all the notes presented really heighten the emotion of the song, the keyboard phrasings and passionate guitar work just set the scene perfectly. The whole ambiance and musical styling creates a perfect trip down memory lane to the heady days of the 80's. The Loreli carries no less power with its scaling keyboards that drive the song whilst that important back line works its magic, a theme that is consistent throughout; I am a strong believer that the bassist and drummer are the most important members of a band that hold everything together, the solid foundations of a band, something that Quasar have seriously understood and nailed. It is during The Loreli that those Kate Bush approaches are most noticeable as the meter and timbre is played out with precision, which again is another highlight. It is these shorter pieces that present a succinct beauty, which can be heard on In the Grand Scheme of Things that features some rather beautiful harmonies as they travel their musical journey.
On the longer tracks, As You Fall Asleep and the album closer Mission 14, the real eloquence of the band comes to the front highlighting the dexterity and proficiency of the bands musical skills, as the songs are allowed time to build creating their own personalities and atmospherics. For me it's As You Fall Asleep with it fascinating presentation that steals the show with its quirkiness that is sedate one minute and offers rapidity the next; stunning stuff indeed. The combination of these songs is a perfect proclamation of what this band is all about.
The band has served up six tracks here recorded at the Empire Theatre. As with the music, the production job has all been about quality, finding that perfect balance where the soundstage is in essences almost perfect, each instrument, musical passage and vocal nuance being crystal clear.
This album really does prick the subconscious and it's hard to believe that Neo-Prog comes much better than this. Over their existence the band haven't been what you would call prolific, but you certainly feel that it has definitely been a case of quality over quantity and I for one will not complain about that approach. I certainly need to go on the hunt for their back catalogue, something I feel that others will do upon hearing this album.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Panzerballett - Tank Goodness
Tracklist: Some Skunk Funk (5:57), Mustafari Likes di Carnival (7:12), Giant Steps (5:05), Zehrfunk (6:37), (I've Had) The Time of My Life (6:07), Vulgar Display of Sauerkraut (5:24), The IKEA Trauma (4:12), Take Five (7:07)
Fusing metal and jazz, "phatting" as it is apparently known is Panzerballett's stock in trade and they cook up a fearsome stew that is fast, furious, dense, and at times wildly unpredictable. This is their 4th album, and their kudos has risen to the extent that they can entice a guest of the calibre of Randy Brecker, who blows trumpet on his own Some Skunk Funk, which opens the album in typically blistering fashion.
Altogether there are four covers on this album, three of which fit the groove perfectly; the aforementioned Some Skunk Funk, a storming take of Coltrane's Giant Steps, which highlights the ultra-complex nature of the man's compositions and the dexterity of guitarist Jan Zehrfeld; a version of jazz staple Take Five to end the album, and, standing out like a side of bacon at a bar mitzvah the truly bizarre choice of (I've Had) The Time Of My Life. Yes, the same one as warbled by Jennifer Warnes in Dirty Dancing, this time sung straight by long-time PB collaborator Conny Kreitmeir. Mind you if you're at all familiar with their previous releases you'll know that the band have a history of odd covers in a jazz-metal stylee; Abba's Gimme Gimme Gimme and the Pink Panther theme being two of many. These crazy Germans obviously DO have a sense of humour, although it's somewhat lost on me I'm afraid!
If I were to pick a track on this album that sums up the band's style in a good way it has to be Zehrfunk which through its six and a half minutes morphs from furious fusion to metal shredding to exemplary bass-funk from bass-wrangler Heiko Jung to polished jazz-rock ensemble playing, and ends with some fine fret-mangling from band leader Zehrfeld. Of course following that is (I've Had) The Time Of My Life which starts off straight with Conny and Ron van Lankeren doing the Jennifer Warnes/Bill Medley trade off. Slowly the backing changes tack into syncopated metal riffing, while the singers warble away over the top. Very odd indeed, and I'm not at all sure it works, and like I said earlier, it does rather stand out.
The metal-jazz hybrid comes to the fore on the next track, Vulgar Display of Sauerkraut, replete with doom-laden downer riffs, speed sections, and jazz guitar solos. I find this hard work to be honest, and although this album is less than 50 minutes long, in places, as on this track, it seems much longer. This song in particular is a dry, arid affair with a wearing lack of light and shade. It is simply not organic enough for me, sensitive soul that I am.
The IKEA Trauma is almost a straight hard rock song with Zappa-esque lyrics that attempt to be blackly humorous but are just annoying. There's a decent squalling geetar break if that's your thang...ho-hum. This track too stands out from the rest and although you could never accuse this band of being stuck in a stylistic straitjacket, the way this record flits about has started to become a tad wearing.
However, they have saved the best 'til last. Their version of Take Five is a rollicking affair and for once the band sound relaxed and like they're actually having fun. I suppose it would be difficult to make an awful cover of such a classic tune, but the band have done this one proud. It redeems my mark from a 5 to...
Conclusion 6.5 out of 10
Session 606 - Rebirth
Tracklist: Infidel Musk (You Are) (2:45), Long Live King Re-Animator (4:13), Deadpan (4:41), Repo Assassins (4:27), Cutting Your Gains (4:59)
Quietly, and with very little web presence, Anthony Masington has released recent EPs under the moniker Session 606. The artist chose to use the variable pricing download site Bandcamp.com to distribute their work. (I've used it for obtaining obscure electronic music, and I am a fan.)
Rebirth is the Session 606 release (May 2012) that is sandwiched between Anorexica, (March 2012) and No Zeros (slated for December 2012 release) - all EPs.
The directional change between Anorexica and Rebirth was subtle on its face but closer to a sea change in its effect. Changing to an "Electro-Prog" personality in Rebirth came with a leap in creativity and focus that is heavily built on rhythmically oriented Prog. Not to the extent of the techno laced Pure Reason Revolution, but enough to add drama and flair to, in my opinion, an underrepresented sub-genre.
The grooves developed within the rhythm section are stellar and the song development is well mixed. This isn't a complaint, but this music sounds a LOT like Joey Eppard's work as the band 3, style and vocals alike. I hear some influence from The Pixies and Frank Black's solo work as well where the songs come off as hard-hitting punk influenced without being overly heavy or abrasive.
Overall, the sound quality isn't perfect but very listenable and definitely superior to that of the Anorexica release, thus showing improvement over time thus far.
The album cover is weak. I really like it when the artwork is instructive to the content and adds to the overall experience. A blank green slate may be a statement of sorts, but the tenor or this album deserves better.
There is a lot of room for experimentation in this arena and I am eager to see this side develop. Hopefully the forthcoming EP, No Zeros, will further project this band into the electronic side where Session 606 can move into something truly unique. I will be listening.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Picklelegaz - Bedroom Circus
Tracklist: Intro (0:46), Bedroom Circus (6:33), Believe (4:52), Last Child (8:53), Amaze (6:56), Perfect Lie (10:53), Corniche Road (6:30), Monster By Surprise (5:28), Anger & Fear (15:27)
Pick-lele-gaz? Pickle-le-gaz? Pick-leleg-az? Just what the band's name means, or how one is to pronounce it is utterly beyond me. It seems the last time that DPRP heard from this band was way back in 1999, with their debut release In Progress. Writing after the turn of the millennium, it appears Jerry van Kooten was none the wiser on how to pronounce this band's name. With a humble score of 5/10, the album didn't do very well, and it's taken 13 years for Picklelegaz to pick themselves up and try again.
Despite this being an independent release, I have to say that the package is quite professional. While the album artwork has clearly been put together with Photoshop or some other picture editing program, it is not sloppy, and the booklet has a high quality feel to it.
The music, on the other hand, is rather lamentable. The band are clearly heavily influenced by 80s Neo-Prog bands, Marillion certainly included. The whole sound of the record is drenched in 80s nostalgia, and not the good kind. Marc Brobbel's synthesizer sounds like a cheap Casio machine, and Harry Steen's guitar solos do a poor job of mimicking Mike Holmes of IQ. Jan-Willem's drums are not exciting, and sometimes fall out of time with the other instruments, a fundamental flaw for any drummer. Ernst Brobbel is clearly putting on his best Fish impression, but his Dutch accent gets in the way of making this enjoyable or even worthwhile. The sound of the album is utterly monotonous, and the chords from the keyboard seem to drone for the entire album. There is no sense of dynamic variation or excitement, just stabs at creating something catchy.
Sometimes they succeed. Despite the cheesy 80s sound, I'll admit that the chorus of the title track is well executed, although Ernst misses the notes a couple of times. I'll also admit that the final track, at over a quarter of an hour, has a decent amount of diversity, and is not too boring a track to finish the album. The songs in between, however, simply lose me. By copying a band who were themselves copying Genesis, Picklelegaz are simply recycling old ideas, and adding nothing in return. The most cringeworthy point on the record is the inclusion of a young Jens Meyer who yells rather ungracefully "Daddy says I'm a big boy, I won't cry". This particular part leaves me feeling dirty for having listened to it.
Picklelegaz are just another of the throng of bands that leave me underwhelmed and unimpressed. There is a distinct lack of originality on this record coupled with unexciting musicianship and all drowned in foul sounding 80s production. Unfortunately, this leaves Picklelegaz in a bit of a pickle.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10