Reviews in this issue:
- Änglagård - Viljans Öga (Duo Review)
- Neal Morse - Momentum (Duo Review)
- Paatos - V (Duo Review)
- Alan Holdsworth - Hard Hat Area / None Too Soon
- Quantum Sphere - The Space Adventures of Pyjama Boy
- Nauticus - The Wait
- Bill Nelson - Simplex
Änglagård - Viljans Öga
Tracklist: Ur Vilande (15:47), Sorgmantel (12:06), Snårdom (16:15), Längtans Klocka (13:22)
Roger Trenwith's Review
Following their successful reissue Program over the last three years, the news that seminal Swedish dark-symphonic Prog legends Änglagård had reformed and were writing and recording a new album was greeted with a cheer chéz moi, as this band along with compatriots Anekdoten were the two reasons I got back into Prog rock at the start of the '90s - blimey, was it that long ago? - after leaving the tired old genre way behind in December 1976. I can be that specific because that was when I first heard The Damned in session on the John Peel Show, which instantly made much of what I had been listening to irrelevant, and set me on a course that took me well away from what passed as Prog in the '80s.
Anyway, that's another story for another time. Viljans Öga takes up where Epilog left off way back in 1994, but with an added maturity both in the composition and in the playing; their familiar brooding Scandinavian dark pastoral Prog coupled with a misty folk-tinged vista has been widened by an expanding intricacy and cohesiveness in the writing, and the playing throughout is sublime. While the music on this album cannot be said to flow seamlessly, and is not intended to as the dissonant passages in opener Ur Vilande attest, there is definitely a more cohesive whole on display here than on the last album Epilog, good as it was. The whole thing sounds like a soundtrack to an epic Viking legend, something for Thor to put his feet up with after a hard day smiting minions. Lovely!
The musicians on this record are the same line up that made Epilog minus one, and they play together like they had never been apart, the old chemistry between the players being a wonderful thing to hear again. Although the instrumentation is expanded slightly from that on the previous album, there is nothing here that differs too radically from the sounds on Epilog as I'm sure fans of the band will be relieved to hear.
Finally, Johan Brand must be complimented for the lovely and melancholic artwork and photos both on the fold-out digipak and in the tasteful booklet.
Younger readers who are not familiar with this band should check them out as should anyone with a liking for Ian McDonald era Crimson, early Genesis and modern bands such as Gösta Berlings Saga; you cannot fail to be impressed. Indeed, drummer Mattias Olsson has a close connection with Gösta Berlings Saga, and their keyboard player David Lundberg appears with Änglagård on stage.
Highly recommended, and yet another fine release in what has turned out to be a great year for Progressive music.
Raffaella Berry's Review
Since the release of Hybris in 1992, Änglagård have attained near-legendary status in spite of a career characterised by long breaks between albums and live appearances. After the failed attempt at a reunion in 2002, which raised the hopes of their many fans, the news that the band had a few shows in the pipeline for 2012, and a new album scheduled for release in the summer of the same year, created quite a stir. Many of the attendees of the final edition of NEARfest (myself included) were of the opinion that the Swedish band should have been granted headliner status - seen the import of their appearance after a 9-year hiatus, which also served as a showcase for their long-awaited new material.
A rather low-profile outfit in spite of their cult status, known for not willingly seeking the spotlight, Änglagård had their new album, Viljans Öga (Eye of the Will - Ed: I have it on good authority from a Swedish friend that "The eye of the desire" is the most accurate translation...) printed in a limited number of copies, which sent their many fans scrambling to get their hands on the few available, while others had to wait until the end of August for a reprint. This is not surprising, as their earlier studio albums - Hybris and its follow-up, 1994's Epilog - were out of print for years before their reissue in 2009 and 2010. The 2002 reunion - which resulted in a handful of hugely successful live performances (including one at the 2003 edition of NEARfest), but unfortunately very little else - saw the absence of founding member Tord Lindman, whose return to the fold was announced in the past few weeks. Then, just when their many fans had lost any hope of seeing Änglagård together again, came the announcement of the release of Viljans Öga - the outcome of almost four years of writing and rehearsing.
In spite of the roller-coaster ride to which the band's loyal following has been subjected in the past two decades, the very name of Änglagård commands respect as one of the initiators (together with fellow Swedes Anekdoten, Landberk and a few others) of the "third wave of Prog" of the early Nineties, which flowed almost seamlessly into the 21st century. Though their detractors accuse them of slavishly imitating Seventies modes, their unique brand of technically impeccable, yet surprisingly emotional music, blending symphonic Prog, Scandinavian folk, classical music and avant-garde, is unlikely to leave the listener indifferent. Though I was one of those people who had not yet "seen the light", so to speak, the band's NEARfest performance was easily one of the weekend's finest moments as far as I am concerned. The quintet of Anna Holmgren (flute, saxophone), Johan Brand (bass), Jonas Engdegård (guitar), David Lundberg (keyboardist with Gösta Berlings Saga, who replaced studio-only keyboardist Thomas Johnson on stage) and the irrepressible Mattias Olsson (drums, percussion) delivered almost two hours of stunningly complex, instrumental Progressive rock that left most of the audience speechless, and proved that Änglagård, far from being a nostalgia trip, are still quite relevant. Three out of four of the tracks on Viljans Öga were presented on that occasion, and after the show the crowd patiently lined up at the band's table to purchase the new album.
Like its predecessors - perhaps even more so - Viljans Öga is made of angles and curves, built on the skilfully handled contrast between moments of pastoral lyricism and sudden flares of electricity. The band's signature Mellotron softens the edges and adds that highly prized symphonic touch, but it is only one piece of the mosaic of Änglagård's sound. The instrumental web is woven very tightly, deploying a wealth of shimmering contrasts of light and shade in a mind-boggling series of twists and turns that, quite surprisingly, manage to sound natural and not contrived. Guest appearances by Tove Tårnberg (cello), Daniel Borgegård Algå (clarinet, baritone sax) and Ulf åkerstedt (bass tuba, bass and contrabass trumpet) add further depth to an already intricate texture. While some may find the structure of the band's compositions somewhat predictable - as if their writing followed a template of sorts - the end result is undeniably compelling. The four tracks featured on Viljans Öga all hover around the 15-minute mark - reaching that "epic length" that for many Prog fans is the true benchmark of a piece of music's worth, though without descending into pretentiousness. While the distinguishing features of the band's sound are still present, the edgy, angular component often seems to be pushed to the forefront, injecting somewhat dissonant nuances and even a slight metallic edge - more King Crimson than Genesis for sure, and sometimes recalling the likes of Univers Zéro or Miriodor with their solemn, highly structured angularity. For all its complexity, the music possesses its own internal coherence, and never feels cobbled together - as all too often is the case with the output of bands that are much less in control of their creative processes.
Ur Vilande's acoustic, pastoral intro - led by Anna Holmgren's flute and Mattias Olsson's vibraphone, assisted by cello and piano - develops in a stately, measured manner, suggestive of classical music; then the track gradually gains momentum, its dance-like pace masterfully conducted by Olsson's magnificent, textural drumming. Jonas Engdegård's guitar is discreetly present, though occasionally erupting in bouts of razor-sharp Crimson-ian riffs. The sharp, sleek dynamics of bass, guitar and drums in the second half possess, the amazing precision of Yes circa Close to the Edge or Relayer, fading out in a melancholy, understated conclusion that hints at Genesis' more subdued moments. In spite of all this name-dropping, however, the result is anything but derivative, and reinterprets classic Prog influences in a very personal manner, rather than going for all-out imitation. Belying its title (which translates as "mourning cloak"), the 12-minute Sorgmantel (the shortest track on the album) contains a few almost upbeat moments, and is the most consistently melodic number - the music flowing smoothly in spite of the frequent tempo changes. The second half definitely ups the ante in terms of intensity, with powerful organ bursts and dramatic flute parts that suggest Jethro Tull, as well as the striking contrast between mellotron and distorted guitar that - like the rarefied, atmospheric outro - may bring to mind the contemporary flair of Gåsta Berlings Saga.
Flute and Johan Brand's dry, twangy bass take centre stage in the 16-minute Snårdom, which opens in dramatic, energetic fashion, propelled by Olsson's imperious drum rolls and spiced by synth bursts. Some of the quieter moments hint at the austere sparseness of Avant-Prog, while the more fluid, melodic sections feature lovely guitar leads in the style made familiar by David Gilmour or Andy Latimer. Längtans Klocka wraps up the album with a meeting of autumnal tones with an elegant, almost classical lilt, and fiercely sharp guitar riffs twined with jagged bass and drum patterns, signing off with a skewed waltz that veers into Avant territory. Guitar and flute provide occasional solo spots, solidly backed by keyboards, and the track's choppy, stop-start pacing is even more evident than in the previous numbers.
Lavishly packaged with Johan Brand's haunting cover artwork - whose distressed grey hues aptly reflect the music's mood - is a celebration of Progressive rock, with an eye to the past yet firmly grounded in the present. It is also one of those nowadays rare releases that will appeal in equal measure to fans of traditional symphonic Prog and those with a more left-field bent. Since the album's release, the band's lineup has undergone some dramatic changes: Mattias Olsson, Thomas Johnson and Jonas Engdegård have left, while Tord Lindman has rejoined, and two members of fellow Swedish band Brighteye Brison - drummer Erik Hammarstråm (who was also a member of The Flower Kings in 2008) and keyboardist Linus Kåse - have stepped in. This time, it seems that Änglagård have every intention to continue writing and playing live with this lineup - and, judging by the strength of their third studio album, this is very good news for the Prog scene. Highly recommended to all Prog fans - unless they strongly object to instrumental music - Viljans Öga can undoubtedly be counted among 2012's landmark releases.
Neal Morse - Momentum
Tracklist: Momentum (6:25), Thoughts Part 5 (7:51), Smoke and Mirrors (4:38), Weathering Sky (4:15), Freak (4:29), World Without End: i. Introduction, ii. Never Pass Away, iii. Losing Your Soul, iv. The Mystery, v. Some Kind of Yesterday, vi. World Without End (33:39)
Sue Doyle's Review
In spite of Neal Morse's unquestionable pedigree, many Prog fans have been somewhat deterred from buying his solo work on account of the Christian overtones... not everyone's cup of tea after all. However, Momentum follows a far less religious path with only the occasional obvious nod to The Big Guy. The closest we get to this is on the final track, the reprise of Never Pass Away, however the track is a very beautiful piece of music in its own right.
Momentum is a top quality blend of uplifting and pensive Prog with a healthy dose of some cracking rockier anthems thrown into the mix. The first five tracks are stand-alone songs, each with their own character and message. The sixth and final track, however, is a 33 minute epic split into six pieces and is reminiscent of Transatlantic which, for me, is no bad thing at all.
Neal has gathered together a fine team of musicians to assist in the creation of this album, among them Randy George on bass, Paul Gilbert (Mr Big) and Adson Sodre on guitars, Bill Hubauer (Ten Point Ten / Apologetix) on clarinet flute, guitar and keys, Chris Carmichael on strings with vocal contributions by Eric Gillette, Will Morse, Rick Altizer and Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann). No prizes for guessing who's on drum duty...yep, you got it - the one and only Mike Portnoy. Well it just had to be him, now didn't it? The chemistry between he and Neal is evident and the obvious fun they share in working together comes across as clear as a bell on this album. I haven't had an opportunity to check out any live footage from the recent Momentum tour in the US to date, but I've no doubt that all of the tracks would translate perfectly onto the live stage.
Track 1, and title track, Momentum is an inspired opener, being upbeat & positive with a slight and not at all overpowering nod to Neal's personal beliefs. The track also features a belting guitar solo from Paul Gilbert and Mike Portnoy's signature power-house drumming. Great track.
Next up is Thoughts, Part 5. This Gentle Giant-inspired track is a run-on from the Spock's Beard tracks, Thoughts (Beware of Darkness) and Thoughts Part 2 (V). This track features some fine A Capella vocals by Eric Gillette and Will Morse, the harmonies combining with a heavier beat harking back to earlier Spock's Beard material. Morse's keys supported by Portnoy's signature style hits the spot, presenting a superb instrumental break drawing the track to a close and leading into Track 3, Smoke and Mirrors. This time the tempo slows considerably into a pensive retrospective on (apparently) the events of 9/11 (the illustration in the booklet is a clue here...).
Track four, Weathering Sky, is one of those tracks that sticks in your head all day...very catchy with a slightly heavy beat and featuring vocals by Rick Altizer. This moves into Track 5 and the last of the stand-alone tracks, Freak, with its powerful delivery, heavily laden with strings. There's a definite message in this track but, as with most of the lyrics, it doesn't come across in a preaching fashion.
Finally we arrive at Track 6 and the 33-and-a-half-minute-long epic, World Without End. Without doubt, this is the highlight of the album for me. The instrumental introduction is superb and features a truly fabulous guitar solo by Adson Sodre; the energy is palpable on this track. The introduction blends into Pt ii, Never Pass Away, which puts across a positive attitude to the path of life. This moves into Pt iii, Losing Your Soul which bounces along with a heavier, rockier tempo.
Pt iv, The Mystery, is a short piece beginning with a choppy intro, and leads up to wonderful keys courtesy of Mr. Morse with additional keys by Bill Hubauer. Pt v, Some Kind of Yesterday, slows down proceedings and leads beautifully into Pt vi, the reprise of Never Pass Away. This is a goosebumpingly beautiful, anthemic track and a powerful conclusion for what's quickly emerging as one of my top albums of the year.
I would definitely recommend this album to lovers of melodic & symphonic Prog everywhere It's a must-have.
John Wenlock Smith's Review
How does this guy do this? Possibly one of the hardest working and most prolific musos in Prog, having recorded this album in January and then spent time touring the Flying Colours album before undertaking solo dates in the U.S. to support this album, seriously, does this guy ever sleep?
One could possibly, and rightly, wonder whether Mr. Morse may be over-achieving or diluting the strengths that he so obviously has by the amount of work that he is involved with, produces, and releases in any given period. Naturally one has to consider that being â€œSelf Employedâ€ as a musician that he has to work to live, well I am glad to report that this new release, Momentum, is actually very good if not a radical departure from his earlier works.
What is different, or seems so to me, is that this time around Neal is not quite so preachy as he is on the Testimony releases, rather his faith is certainly still there, certainly not silent but not so upfront and as blatant as on previous albums; and whilst there is no doubting Neal's sincerity for some listeners the overt Christianity that he espouses can be a challenge.
So how does Momentum stand up against Neal's other works? For me it stands up just fine, there is some great music and some fine musicianship on this album. There is even a 33 minute Prog epic but that's the last track, but the others are no slouches either.
The disc opens with the title track - Momentum - and it's off like a rocket straight out of the box with synth leading to a surging guitar riff. One thing you can rely on with Neal is that he certainly knows how to anchor a song on a good melody and Momentum is no exception. It's a decisive opener and a sturdy statement of intent, Neal urging us that "We've got some new momentum" and that "Tomorrow will soon be your yesterday", it's a song that urges us all to make the best of our time and also features a great guitar solo from Paul Gilbert (Mr Big) that adds to the strident tone this song sets. There is a great video for this too on YouTube.
Thoughts Part 5 is an oddly named song that is full of twists and turns opening with an intense riff before entering an acapella section, before charging off again, this has more variety within one song than some bands manage in a career and is a wonderful example of Neal's desire to make music that continues to challenge, inspire and capture the listeners imagination. It's also a lengthy song that gets better every time you play it.
Smoke and Mirrors is as different again being a far more delicate affair, hung on a gentle acoustic motif this Is a song that talks of yearning and longing for a spiritual reality. For Neal this is his faith, but for the casual listener it is simply a well-crafted song with depth and intelligence, which is lifted at the end by a haunting and soaring violin passage that draws the song to very satisfying conclusion. A very definite Kansas sound to this, which is absolutely fine by me of course.
Weathering Sky opens with a burst of instrumental dexterity on a descending riff against which is set a strained vocal (used to great effect). This is a more traditional Neal Morse song which is never a bad thing.
Freaks is another highlight for me as it is both annoyingly catchy and also quirky which is a bit of an odd mixture. Opening with the fantastic line "my tongue is the pen of a ready writer, I've got so much to say, I'm not schizophrenic I just haven't had my meds today", great opening lines in my book, the song talks about those on the outside, the excluded, and the freaks who aren't welcome even in the churches, it's a very emotive song telling us that so many strangers live amongst us now and can be seen as a plea for accepting others as and where they are.
All of these bring us to the very last song, the epic World Without End that runs for over 33 minutes. Now I like a good long song, as I feel that sometimes a piece needs room to flex and grow, to change and evolve from one thing to another, a musical transition as it were. Sometimes that can be a good thing and other times and in the wrong hands, the results can be, well, either less than ideal or disastrous. Neal does not have that problem, this piece World Without End is a fitting end to a great album.
Opening with a very lengthy six minute instrumental piece that introduces his new guitarist, Brazilian Adson Sodre who adds sonic tapestries all over this introduction before the piece enters the second phase, Never Pass Away, where Neal's vocals enter the fray again. This another strident song and once again one can see the Kansas comparisons especially in this section, but Neal stamps his own identity on the piece. The third section, Losing Your Soul, is a more reflective section, but hung on a great synth melody line that gives it gravitas and grace.
I love it when Prog has this balance of grace and gravitas as it gives a depth and value to the music, and makes it worth hearing. However that isn't the case all the way through as it continues with Adson's guitar coming to the fore once more and Neal's strained vocal making another appearance telling us you might be losing your soul before Adson shreds a solo that stands with the best of them before speeding up, ascending and finally settling into a jolly, jaunty beat with a more almost Genesis Selling England By The Pound sound in The Mystery, the keyboards sounding very much like Tony Banks on The Cinema Show. Maybe Neal's appearance on Genesis Revisited 2 has brought this out in him.
Some kind of Yesterday continues in a more restrained manner, Neal urging us to let this other life have control, and to ultimately Rise Again this then enters a symphonic phase before morphing into a great bass solo from Randy George before keyboards come in underpinning the twisting rhythm being laid down.
The final segment of the piece is Never Pass Away (Reprise) which brings us back to an earlier refrain, but acts as a great conclusion to the whole World Without End, it is an epic piece and certainly a captivating one with a whole slew of ideas, colours and textures being used to paint a vivid sonic tapestry.
So there you have it, Momentum by Neal Morse. Personally I thoroughly enjoyed it and I return to it quite often. If Neal's more â€œChristianâ€ albums put you off then this one may be easier to absorb but whatever there is some very fine music on offer here.
I'm more than happy to give this 8.5 out of ten and eagerly await Mr. Morse's next project.
Paatos - V
Tracklist: Feel (4:27), Desire (5:01), Cold War (5:36), Into The Flames (4:47), TÃ©a (Revisited) (4:24), In Time (Revisited) (4:22), Precious (Re-mixed) (4:39), Your Misery (Re-mixed) (4:47)
Roger Trenwith's Review
Paatos evolved from Landberk and made their first album Timeloss back in 2002, and this is their fifth album, now with a line up free of any connection to Landberk, with Ricard Huxflux Nettermalm (Hux) being the only constant member, although Petronella Nettermalm joined shortly after a few early instrumental gigs and Peter Nylander has been there since the second album Kallocain from 2004.
V is actually more of an extended EP than an album as half its short 38 minute length is taken up with reworkings of songs from previous albums, which we'll come to in a moment. Of the new songs a far more direct and rocking theme than on the last album, Breathing, is announced on opener, Feel, complete with some fine wah-fuzz guitar work from Peter. This rock template is carried on into Desire which opens with a riff Tony Iommi would not have chucked into the shredder. No, really! The metal riffing is later placed in a Scandi-Gothic context as you might expect, but it could so easily have been an out-and-out headbanger.
A more familiar sound for the band is revisited on Cold War, the longest song on the record, and to be honest it comes across as a bit flat after what has gone before. Driven along by a pulsing bass line, I'm sure I've heard Abba tackle a very similar melody, albeit here livened up by the guitar figure in the turnaround. Pleasant enough, but nothing to write home about I'm afraid. The new songs end with Into The Flames, which is much more like it; a jolly little ditty that comes over as The Sundays meets U2, and there's now't wrong with that as it sure makes a change from bands aping Genesis or Yes.
Petronella is on fine form throughout and her clear tones contrast nicely with the unusually heavy backing of the first two songs.
Now we come to the awkward bit. For a band who only had four albums to their name prior to this, it's a brave move indeed to revisit that small back catalogue and come up with reworkings of earlier tunes, especially given that one of them, Precious, originally appeared as recently as last year on the Breathing album. The covers, and that is essentially what they are, make a marked contrast to the first half of the record, and the songs in this latter half of the album are stronger, more atmospheric, and more... well, Paatos!
The "revisits" all work well in their own right, but frankly I don't get it. The previously mentioned Precious goes for a rootsier and sparser feel from the original with added electronics and is interesting enough, but did it really need redoing so soon after the original?
If you are a fan of this band it's highly probable that you will feel somewhat short-changed by this album and I use the term loosely, but I suppose if you're new to the band it would be a great place to start. Even given that I can't really understand the thinking behind this record.
Ironically the final page of the CD booklet shows a couple of old style analogue car dials running on empty, and one hopes that wasn't an intentional parallel to the creative state of the band when they made this "half an album". I'm sorry, but this has just left me disappointed.
Dave Baird's Review
After five years of silence prior to the release of Breathing, Paatos return after just 18 months with their latest offering, V. On top of this they had planned to undertake a headlining European tour along with A Liquid Landscape and The Sixxis, but the week before it kicked-off the tour was postponed due to a serious illness with Petronella's sister. Hopefully will take place early in 2013 and the thoughts and best wishes of all the staff at DPRP are with Petronella during these tough times. I'd also conducted an interview with Petronella at the beginning of November that I've now adapted to remove the tour discussion - you can read it here.
To be honest, my initial reaction to V was quite disappointing. Despite the bands' internal struggles prior to the release of Breathing it was a really fine album, it showed a new direction - more energetic, but with still with elements from Paatos' past. With only four new tracks, two re-recordings and two re-mixes, V looked on paper to fall a bit short both on content, at 38 minutes, and creativity. At first I found myself struggling to get into the new material, I must have been listening it for a good two weeks before it began to open up. The first two tracks, Feel and Desire present a face of Paatos we haven't seen before. Gone is the ambient melancholy of the past and we're presented instead with something more immediate - at first I had the impression that it wasn't perhaps a million miles away from some of the more up-tempo material on Breathing, but on revisiting that album I could spot anything similar, I went back further still to Silence of Another Kind and nope, nothing there either. These new tracks are much heavier than we've heard in the past, gunny perhaps, riff-laden, especially Desire, which in particular gave me similar vibes to Pain of Salvation's Roadsalt One period.
Cold War is perhaps a bit closer to what we've heard before with typical gritty Paatos lyrics, beautifully picked guitar and lovely symphonic keyboards bubbling under the surface, this track could sit comfortably amongst the tracks from Breathing and not be out of place, it's also got that lovely hint of menace running throughout, dressed-up nicely, but there nevertheless. Into the Flames is another up-beat piece where Petronella's voice shines, the impressive rhythm-section getting a great grove in the middle of the track.
Téa (Revisited) is the first of the two re-recorded tracks and it's just stunning. I have to point out that I don't have the original of this, so although I've heard it it's like a new piece for me. This new recording is quite pared-down with simple acoustic guitar and voice - it really works. In comparison with the original recording I would say they've de-Landberked it, I guess this is part of the transition with Stefan Dimle no longer being in the band. I love this reinterpretation. In Time (Revisited) has undergone very similar treatment - it's a little less unplugged than Téa with some ambient keyboards adding to the voice and acoustic guitar. Petronella's singing this with a more regretful tone than the original, less breathy and the sparse arrangement allows her to sing the song more in a more assured manner.
Precious (Remixed) was only released for the first time on Breathing, so it's a little weird perhaps to have it rehashed so soon. That being said it really is quite different; the original piece always made me think of a sound-track from a 60's film - one set in Italy perhaps with lots of women with white head-scarves going round the Coliseum on Vespas. Paatos have again removed most the instrumentation, especially in the beginning, with the focus on Petronella, but as the song Progresses they introduce a warm, pulsating, droning sequence that just sounds fabulous. I have to say that I prefer it a lot to the original. With the final track, Your Misery (Remixed), Paatos have done the reverse. Where are the original was a very typical mid-Paatos, brooding, ambient with heavy reverb and low, low bass, this has now been transformed with a techno beat and heavy guitars. Once again I would say it's had all the Landberk elements removed, but In this case I have to say I prefer the original.
What started out as difficult album to review turned out to be quite a pleasure in the end. Although I do think the album's a bit too short and although perhaps I don't personally like the new direction so much, I have to give credit to Paatos for finding that new direction. I do prefer the more ambient approach, but for that there's a lot to satisfy me with three of re-made pieces, which all sound sufficiently different from the originals to qualify as new tracks. I daresay also that there's a lot of Paatos fans that don't have the older material, so these new-old pieces will be really welcome and open up a glimpse of the past, hopefully will encourage people to buy the older CD's. My conclusion, a fine, but slightly too short release. Essential for Paatos fans and not a bad starting point for newcomers.
Allan Holdsworth - Hard Hat Area
Tracklist: Prelude (1:35), Ruhkukah (5:32), Low Levels, High Stakes (9:03), Hard Hat Area (6:03), Tullio (5:59), House of Mirrors (7:44), Postlude (5:28)
Allan Holdsworth - None Too Soon
Tracklist: Countdown (3:09), Nuages (5:40), How Deep Is the Ocean (5:29), Isotope (5:41), None Too Soon Pt. 1 / Interlude / None Too Soon Pt. 2 (7:42), Norwegian Wood (5:55), Very Early (7:40), San Marcos (3:22), Inner Urge (6:15)
Allan Holdsworth is a name that will be familiar to any fan of jazz-fusion, and indeed to any guitar freak, as the quiet Yorkshireman is rightly revered as the guitarist's guitarist. Perhaps best known by Prog fans for his brief tenure with UK, Allan has also had equally fleeting appearances in the line ups of Soft Machine and Tempest, but his singular talent often sat uncomfortably within the strictures of a group format and by far the largest proportion of his long and varied career has been as a solo artist. These two remastered albums are 2012 reissues of Allan's eighth and ninth solo releases from 1993 and 1996 respectively.
Unusually the band used on Hard Hat Area; Steve Hunt - keyboards, Skuli Sverrisson - bass, and Gary Husband - drums; road tested the material before it was recorded, and rather than Allan recording most of it himself with drums and bass added afterwards, Hard Hat Area was recorded with the band. A change of approach that gives the record a more complete and organic feel.
Another change is Allan's lesser use of the SynthAxe, an instrument that had become synonymous with his name, resulting in more "normal" guitar than for some time, although tempered by an arsenal of effects pedals.
The album is topped and tailed by Prelude and Postlude, giving the whole the appearance of a mini-jazz-fusion-symphony. His sound is instantly recognisable, and he plays what to these ears sounds like an impossible amount of notes in places, but never shredding for the sake of it as each note has its place. Even towards the end of Postlude where the SynthAxe gets a rare excursion, laying tangential guitar-as-saxophone on us in a flurry of crotchets, quavers, minims and probably many other black squiggles, the overall feel remains laid-back.
Keeping a foot in the jazz camp with crazy time signatures on Ruhkukah the rock side of things is expressed through an innate sense of melody. Whereas sometimes I can find Allan a little dry, this is avoided on this album as the group dynamic shines through thus avoiding any threat of sterility. There is emotional warmth on display here that leaves a contented glow, Ruhkukah containing as it does an almost funky yet impossibly complex and jaw-dropping display of fretboard hammering.
Steve Hunt's piano gets to shine on the lounge-jazz intro to Low Levels, High Stakes as does Skuli Sverrisson with a bass solo that Jaco would have been proud of, and followed by Allan's languid offerings this is a smooth beast indeed. The title track goes in for more odd time signatures and some SynthAxe dissonance creating strange ambience in tandem with Steve's keys, and topped with a trademark blistering solo from Allan this piece is definitely an album highlight for me.
At one and the same time mellifluous and complex, Hard Hat Area is an Allan Holdsworth album that I had not previously heard, but one that I'm glad I now have.
None Too Soon is one for the jazz fans. Reunited with his now sadly departed long-time friend and musical collaborator, pianist Gordon Beck, plus the rhythm section from U.S. fusion band Tribal Tech (Kirk Covington and Gary Willis on drums and bass), Allan makes an album of jazz standards, adds Lennon & McCartney's Norwegian Wood, and tops it off with two of Gordon's songs; the title track and San Marcos.
The jazz standards were chosen by Gordon, and he plays his parts fairly straight, as far as I can tell, as I'm not that familiar with most of the tunes covered here, Norwegian Wood apart, obviously. Allan surprisingly admits that he too was not that familiar with Gordon's choices, and so his solos are like a fresh injection into the original framework. I would imagine that the result is like hearing something entirely different to what the original composers had in mind. In my view that's the only way to do a cover; after all, why repeat what has been done countless times already? There are a fair few bands out there that could learn a thing or two from Allan's approach, I can say!
Being the consummate professional that he is, interpreting a solo by the improvisational genius that was John Coltrane is made to sound almost easy, not that it was, of course. The only problem with this wonderful piece of fretboard extravaganza on opener Countdown is that it is faded out all (not none!) too soon.
Let's zoom in on what for most of us may well be the only known tune on the record. Well, it's good, is this wood, but almost unrecognisable. Methinks the authors would appreciate the interpretation, as Allan nonchalantly flicks off the melody over a piano backing that bears little resemblance to the original chord structure. The piano can't wait to fly away from the constraints of the simple tune, which it does in no time at all, Gordon showing his keyboard dexterity to great effect. Allan then responds in kind with a solo that is typically convoluted, and also made to sound so easy when again it is anything but. The melody returns near the end, almost as an afterthought, and Norway has been left well behind.
Tripping the light fantastic all over Irving Berlin's How Deep Is The Ocean, Allan's largely untreated guitar shows a splendid lightness of touch while playing flurries of notes that fly off the fretboard in a fashion that not many plank spankers could ever hope to equal, and Gordon follows that up with a similar skipping piano solo, his right hand whizzing up and down the ivories while his left keeps the whole thing anchored. Quite mesmerising!
None Too Soon is another top notch display of musical skill, although completely different in style to the previous album. And for me it is another previously unheard Holdsworth outing that will be filed in my collection for future spins rather than gathering dust in the "promos box".
Hard Hat Area - 7 out of 10
None Too Soon - 7 out of 10
Quantum Sphere - The Space Adventures of Pyjama Boy
Tracklist: The Space Adventures of Pyjama Boy (4:42), The Fornax Void (6:44), Fractal Dimensions (4:26), Perplexia (4:58), Interplanetary Probe (5:00), Error (4:57), Tachyon Pulse Induction Protocol (4:44), Amastia (4:12), Attack Ships on Fire off the Shoulder of Orion (4:40)
If the name of your instrumental Progressive metal band contains the word â€˜quantum' in it, there is no escaping comparisons with Planet X. And that is dangerous. With a title as intriguing as The Space Adventures of Pyjama Boy, one might expect a certain lyrical, narrative quality to the compositions, relating a story over the course of an album. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and what we get instead is a collection of guitar-heavy fusion metal instrumentals which follow a quite predictable pattern, and have titles of randomly juxtaposed physics and astronomy jargon - Tachyon Pulse Induction Protocol, Attack Ships on Fire off the Shoulder of Orion, Supersymmetric Vortex Collapse, Fractal Dimensions. I made one of those up. Try to guess which one.
Within twenty seconds of the title track, the Planet X influence is abundantly clear. But, with all due respect to the musicians in the band, they are not quite as technically accomplished as Sherinian, Donati, Garsed and MacAlpine. Whereas Virgil Donati plays with the rhythmic structure of riffs with infuriating facility, Quantum Sphere drummer Mark Smith tends to follow the rhythm of the guitars and bass more naturally, making for a less perplexing and cerebral listening experience. The challenging material is performed admirably, with guitarist Joe Pearson offering some 'fusion 101' solos which, unfortunately often get lost amidst a barrage of Morse-code riffs. I enjoy a good one-note double-bass backed guitar chug as much as the next Prog-metal fan in his mid-twenties, but when the entire album is defined by riffs like these, one cannot help but view it as an exercise in listing out all possible permutations of the dot-and-dash riff. There are some gems, however. Fractal Dimensions has a great riff early on, but that creative spark is extinguished soon enough by predictable machine-gunning. The Fornax Void (again, what does that mean? Fornax is a constellation) continues the trend that begins with the opening title track. A few appealing guitar and keyboard flourishes snuffed out by 'stock riffs A-G'.
Perplexia starts off with a tantalizing piano motif, with a swung, ragtime feel before abruptly shifting back to Meshuggah-mode (which reminds me of a wise Canadian who once said â€˜while we all have bands who influence, still we all rip off Meshuggah'). The song does boast the best guitar solo on the album, and a great keyboard solo and a wonderful embellished reprise of the opening piano motif this time backed by the rest of the band. Interplanetary Probe follows, very much in the style of Planet X, again, complete with keyboard-and-snare syncopation. Another interesting keyboard intro begins Error. Unique on this album as having a comprehensible title, the music actually does create tension toward the middle with a reprise of the ostinato from the beginning of the song, albeit enhanced by a fuller orchestration.
Tachyon Pulse Induction Protocol continues the album, beginning with a typical Derek Sherinian keyboard riff atop a Chaosphere-era Meshuggah riff. At this point, even my descriptions of the album are getting repetitive. Amastia is another song that begins well but this time, continues with an interesting groove before arriving at a middle section defined by an excellent xylophone (or keyboard on a xylophone patch) solo followed by some tasteful guitar work from Pearson.
Adventures... concludes with Attack Ships on Fire off the Shoulder of Orion. That title sounds like something of an album by Behold...The Arctopus or Giraffes? Giraffes! It ends extremely well with a ferocious keyboard solo leaving the listener with a sense of disappointment at what might have been.
The Space Adventures of Pyjama Boy is an album which one could dive into, at virtually any point, and not be sure which song is playing. An unsatisfying, if well performed album, it is hardly original and not particularly memorable. I would be happy to sit through a forty minute set of this material if, say, Quantum Sphere were an opening band, and enjoy the experience of being ensconced in the low frequencies. It's not bad music, by any stretch of the imagination. But the problem is that the album itself is hardly a stretch of the imagination. It is more craft than art, more ivory box than Salvador Dali.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Nauticus - The Wait
Tracklist: Constructing the Liquid Plains (8.28), Ascend (6.56), A Delayed End (7.59), The Route (7.42), Their Whereabouts (2.47), Bone Dams (9.05), As Barriers Fall (5.44), Kalmisto (11.18)
Almost three years since the release of their debut album (A Wave To Carry Us Out) and maintaining the same line-up, this quintet from Finland return with a seven-song (plus one track of sound effects!) concept album which professes to â€œpaint an experimental musical image with genre boundaries brokenâ€.
The Wait offers almost an hour-long landscape of dark rock, metal and alternative formed by a standard twin guitar, bass and drums around clean/screamo vocalist Jani Ramo.
The highlight is actually the opening of the opening track with its overlapping guitars and drums and some nice, downplayed, clean vocals. The first half of this track reminds me a lot of fellow countrymen Thence. Equally the quiet piano which opens Ascend with its hypnotically repetitive riff, creates a charmingly dark atmosphere.
It's not the sort of album where the tracks stand out in their own right. Here you need to spend some time to listen to the album as an entire piece of work. There is no real showmanship although the drumming is at times very experimental.
There is plenty of room for improvement. The production is not as clear as I like. The lower end, and that means most of the guitars and bass, is little more than a constant fuzz in the background. The songwriting on the majority of tracks tends towards the one dimensional; starting off with one instrument before adding the others as the density of sound builds slowly. The more direct, up-tempo approach taken on As Barriers Fall is a refreshing change.
A couple of the songs just lack real development. Kalmisto offers little anticipation of change until the drums arrive after almost 10 minutes before quickly fading. I'm also not a fan of the rough, screamo style vocals which Ramo utilises around half of the time. If you are, then this disc may hold more appeal.
I do love the fold-out cover art by Matador Gigante. Apparently there is an apocalyptic lyrical theme. However it is almost impossible to tell you any more as I'm unable to read the mish-mash of type faces.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Bill Nelson - Simplex
Tracklist: Awakening (1:51), Almost Unchanging (1:46), Bittersweet (1:14), Ringing True (1:36), Celestial East (1:46), Some Distant Time (1:48), The Profaned Sanctuary Of The Human Heart (1:30), Forms In Open Spaces (1:59), Raindrum (1:20), Female Form (1:36), Archetypes (1:58), Solid Spaces (1:23), Abstracted (2:06), Heptarchia (2:12), Climbing (2:23), Waiting For Rain (2:29), Aqua Magica (1:50), Summer Shower (2:49), Hammertheme (1:20), The Cloud Of Unknowing (2:10), Bending A Knee At The Altar Of Sacrifice (1:35), A Parting Of The Ways (1:09), Bronze (1:56), To Jan From The Shining Stars (1:24), Arrangement Of Roses (2:44), Likewise Is Said Elsewhere (1:19), Child Of The Dream (2:21), The Enclosed Garden (0:52), The Christmas Gift (1:16), Héros De Lumière (5:51), Your Morning Blessing (3:08)
Ah, I see you've found the beginning of the review under the mountain of tracks. One of Esoteric's new campaigns is reissuing Bill Nelson's back catalogue, which they do so under the guise of 'Cocteau Discs'. This catalogue includes Simplex, an album of music written to act as the soundtrack to Murray Grigor's Henry Moore and Landscape, as well as containing a few leftover cuts. The music was written between 1987 and '88, released unofficially in the early '90s by a dastardly ex-business manager, before being officially released in 2000. Read Nelson's description:
Of course, this all points towards one thing: mind-numbing, relentless, new age music. New age, new age, new age! Am I making myself clear? Not even Tangerine Dream were this new age-y! This is exactly the sort of music you'd expect to listen to if you were watching a film about sculptures in Yorkshire, which - surprise, surprise - is precisely what Henry Moore and Landscape is. You know, that kind of music that you don't really think about because it makes virtually zero impact on the listener. This is the sort of album that you'd find in a museum, right next to the horribly overpriced CD of whale noises.
Some people like to do a track-by-track analysis when reviewing an album, but for your sanity and mine, I think it's best we don't. There are a whopping thirty-one tracks on this album, certainly more tracks than any album (single or double) I've ever listened to before. With the running length lasting just over an hour, the tracks are understandably short, although The Enclosed Garden, with its creepy synthesised choir, is the only track to last under a minute! In fact, this is a very good thing, because the album would get boring and repetitive very quickly if all of the tracks were 5 minutes long (even if there were less of them). With the short track lengths, you can be sure to hear a new sonic idea every two minutes or so.
Esoteric have done a nice job reissuing this, using all the artwork from the original edition (including the inner booklet stuff), although they've changed the colours to greyscale, to make it stand out from its predecessors. Furthermore, they use Nelson's liner notes from the 2000 edition, as well as updated notes for this edition to make for a pleasant read. Maths isn't Nelson's strong point though, as he says he feels 'very pleased to see it re-issued, 28 years after its first release.'
While I would never pay for an album like this myself, I can definitely see the appeal. The tracks are not offensive to the ear, and listening to the music is incredibly relaxing - one could even use it to fall asleep to. At the end of a long day, you might not want to listen to frantic, zappy, noisy Prog, but just chill out instead, and here you'd be spoilt for choice of tracks to do just that.