Reviews in this issue:
- Mystery - The World Is A Game (RTR)
- Keith Emerson, Marc Bonilla, Terje Mikkelsen - Three Fates
- Solution - Solution
- Solution - Divergence
- Profusion - RewoToweR
- Strangers On A Train - The Key Part I: The Prophecy
- Strangers On A Train - The Key Part II: The Labyrinth
- Ben Levin Group - Invisible Paradise
- Osanna - Rosso Rock: Live in Japan
- Die Schwarzen Ladas - Wahrheit
- Moebius Cat - End Of Time
Mystery - The World Is A Game
Tracklist: A Morning Rise (1:18), Pride (11:28), Superstar (6:59), The Unwinding of Time (0:49), The World is a Game (7:57), Dear Someone (6:21), Time Goes By (6:04), Another Day (19:02)
Sue Doyle's Review
Mystery have quite a lengthy prog pedigree, having been knocking around for some 26 years, and albeit with a seemingly revolving door of personnel. However, in that time, they have released a mere six studio albums (plus one compilation), but in the case of Mystery, less is most definitely more. The arrival of Benoit David in the post of lead vocalist in 1999 has, in my humble opinion, served only to strengthen the band's appeal and presentation, David's vocal artistry paying a perfect compliment to the impassioned guitars and keyboards of Michel St-Père.
The World is a Game features a host of guest talent in the shape of Antoine Fafard on bass and acoustic guitars, former Spock's Beard drummer, Nick D'Virgilio, David Myers on keyboards and Marylène Provencher-Leduc on the flute.
From the gentle and short opening instrumental A Morning Rise, this album delivers...and then delivers some more. I thought their last offering, One Among The Living was going to be a tough act to follow but St-Père's song-writing skills have raised the bar to new heights, six of the eight album tracks being written solely by him and two songs, the title track and Dear Someone, having been co-written with Benoit David.
A Morning Rise, gives way to the stunning Pride. With a running time of 11-and-a-half minutes it is, for me, the finest track on the album. No sooner has it ended than I am reaching for the remote to skip back to the beginning again. Benoit David's vocals are faultless and the production is spot on. St-Père's guitar solo at the tail end is spine-tinglingly beautiful and I feel D'Virgilio's drums are the key element linking everything together to create an outstanding beginning to this album.
Track 3, Superstar, provides another top notch track, under-pinned by St-Père's melancholy guitar riffs which are reminiscent of Marillion's Steve Rothery. In fact, this track wouldn't be out of place on a Marillion album (and I mean that in the best possible sense). As with Pride, the lyrics are wistful and a little sad - a theme which runs through the entire album.
A "blink-or-you'll-miss-it" instrumental link, The Unwinding of Time, heralds the arrival of The World Is A Game, elements of which remind me a little of the Genesis track, Duchess (from Duke). Co written by St-Père and David, lyrically, this is a reminder to those in positions of power that their games involve real people and real lives â€“ a fact that appears to be forgotten in the quest for control.
Gentle guitars and lilting flute lead us into the 6th track, Dear Someone. Again, co-written by St-Père and David, and featuring some quality guitar work, the lyrics are in a similar vein to The World is a Game inasmuch as they appear to be a plea to protect ourselves from the unsafe influences of our world and to find a better way.
The melancholy note continues in the beautifully evocative penultimate track, Time Goes By. This track possesses the mellow quality of a lullaby, but gradually builds up to a strong chorus line. This is another well put together and powerful piece of music, this time delivering a more positive lyrical note. One of the album's shorter tracks, it nonetheless packs a punch and is the ideal precursor into the final track, Another Day. Romping in at a gnat's whisker over 19 minutes and constructed in two parts, it has all the elements of an epic track in true Progressive style, with a big production, sweeping guitar solos and definitive story line. Part one is a lament to the passing of time and the longing for "better days" and features some soul-stirring guitar work by St-Père. Part two takes a change of direction, being of a heavier format, bearing more than a passing resemblance to the style of Rush and cleverly echoing elements of the previous track, Time Goes By, linking the two tracks into chapters of the same story.
The production on Another Day is faultless, the lyrics dark and beautiful, the musicianship and vocals inspiring - a fitting finale indeed to a fabulous album.
To the uninitiated, Benoit David's vocals could, at times, quite understandably be mistaken for the dulcet tones of Geddy Lee. This is not to say that it's a Rush rip-off...not by any means. On the contrary, the nods to the styles of Rush, Marillion and the inevitable Yes that I picked up listening to this album serve only to add strength to an already A-Grade piece of music.
In conclusion, The World Is A Game will, I believe, become a classic and a must-have. I absolutely love this album and it's earned its place on my list of Albums of the Year. If you haven't already bought The World Is A Game... why not?
Alison Henderson's Review
2012 has been an excellent year for Canadian prog with both Rush and Saga unleashing absorbing new bodies of work and now we have Mystery completing a notable trilogy. Though not so well known as their Canadian counterparts, the contribution Mystery make to the prog scene is becoming increasingly significant and influential, thanks to their consistency on record with The World Is a Game being their sixth studio album.
Founded in 1986 and since guided by Michel St-Père, the French-Canadians have had their fair share of trauma and tragedy during the ensuing years with comings and goings in the line-up as well as a death. The last two albums, Beneath the Veil of Winter's Face and the harder edged One Among The Living were the ones to establish their credentials and The World Is A Game continues their ascendency.
Of course, there is no-one more pleased than this reviewer to see Benoit David now back with the band where his voice truly belongs after his adventures with Yes. I saw him twice live with them and though he delivered what was asked of him, it did look as though he had accidentally strayed onto the wrong film set.
For this excursion, St-Père has also added Antoine Fafard on bass and the drummer of the moment, Nick D'Virgilio who has appeared on so many significant prog albums this year.
A Morning Rise with acoustic guitar and flute provided by Marilcne Provencher-Leduc gets the album off to a gentle start before the crashing guitar riffs of Pride take the music into a different sonic sphere. It is a huge huge sound rich in melody and drama topped with David's exquisite high register voice and St-Père's guitar cutting cleanly through as the song rises and falls.
Superstar is more downbeat thoughtful song with choir-like keyboard effects and a stunning extended guitar solo. The lyrics deal with the flip-side of fame and fortune, i.e. the loneliness, the false dawns, the loss of privacy and possibly identity too.
The flute returns with a musical box and children's voices for the brief The Unwinding of Time which leads into the title track, a majestic wall of prog melody with lyrics giving another take on the meaning of life.
Back to the acoustic guitar and flute to start Dear Someone which is a slow burner in content and style, D'Virgilio providing a solid rhythm platform for David's message to the world and St-Père's ever-present guitar.
The sound of a chiming clock tower heralds in Time Goes By, a more wistful composition with a more restrained, almost waltz-like rhythmic pattern and David's voice taking on a bell-like quality in its own right.
The tour de force comes at the end with Another Day, an extended piece in which all four Mystery players step up to the plate, David's voice more mournful and world-weary than anywhere else on the album and then as the song builds, he lets rip while D'Virgilio explodes on some stunning percussive passages and St-Père applies layers of dramatic guitar and recurring keyboard motifs. For a long song, it never loses momentum shifting from hard and heavy to a softer meditative vibe.
Mystery have crafted another superb album, overflowing with melody and imbued with a haunting dreamy quality. They will be heading to Europe next year to play some live dates, including the Celebr8.2 festival in London. Of all the music highlights already in the diary for 2013, this is probably the one to which I am most looking forward especially on the back of this album.
John Wenlock Smith's Review
I have to confess here that until now I'd heard very little of Mystery. OK, I knew who they were and that Benoit David had been recruited to fill in for Jon Anderson and had recorded the Fly From Here album before having "Vocal Issues" of his own and being unceremoniously dumped by Yes, however that was "then" and this new Mystery CD â€“ The World Is A Game is very much "now".
Mystery, being the brainchild of Michel St-Père, have been around in one incarnation or another for a few years now but there is a tremendous "Buzz" around this disc and it's receiving a lot of interest. Now we've all known bands or discs that have been treated like such and on occasions the hype is not justified so is this disc actually any good is the question...
Well I would say forget the hype and the buzz but concentrate on the music and what do we find, we find a really good, intelligent, focused and well-structured album that has depth and colour, and is actually damn fine by any standards. I've had this on repeat for a few weeks and over that time the songs have revealed themselves to be both epic in scope but also beautifully crafted.
This is no "prog by numbers" exercise, the subtle use of melody and harmony and some exemplary playing elevate this to being amongst the years' better releases in what has been a good one for progressive rock.
Michel's guitar is a rare thing of beauty with some great uplifting playing and melody lines set against a lush backdrop of expressive soundscapes, interacting with Benoit's soaring vocals to create something that is certainly magical.
Benoit's voice itself shows no signs of the troubles that have affected him previously and he is on fine form; breathing life into these songs giving them depth and expression.
There is a fabulous balance on this disc between the pastoral and the soaring, and it is this element that makes listening to it a very satisfying and rewarding experience. Some great support from Nick D'Virgilio (drums) and Antoine Fafard (bass) add to the chemistry on display here, Nick of course having played on Big Big Train's English Electric Part 1 (amongst others - Ed) album to such great effect.
On this disc the standout songs are the longer ones, Pride, The World is a Game and Another Day, but to be honest these should all be heard in the context of the rest of the album as it is together that it makes such a cohesive work.
What I also like about the album is the sense of space it encapsulates and that the songs have room to evolve. It's not a cluttered album but sounds very open and clear and is all the better for that.
So overall I can find little to fault with this disc and I commend it highly if you like Yes, Rush or just love great progressive rock you will find much to enjoy.
Keith Emerson, Marc Bonilla, Terje Mikkelsen - Three Fates
John interviewed Keith about the new album which you can read here
For many years now, Keith Emerson has "dabbled" with the world of classical music; from the early days of The Nice where he constantly rearranged well known classical, Jazz and Show tune pieces like America and Rondo, to composing his own Five Bridges Suite and then in Emerson Lake and Palmer taking this to even greater heights of complexity, to even touring with an Orchestra and composing his own Piano Concerto on Works Vol.1.
Which brings us to this, Keith's latest release Three Fates which sees Keith revisiting and reinterpreting several classic ELP tracks like Tarkus, Fanfare for the Common Man and The Endless Enigma. In addition there are three Marc Bonilla tracks and a new song entitled After All Of This which is an orchestrated piece that showcases Keith's gentle and rippling piano that starts gently and rises and falls before segueing into Walking Distance, the next track with more of Keith's Piano, before taking a more strident tone. Together these two tracks showcase a different side of the music being very orchestral in tone.
This is however no mere re-hash of some old ELP numbers with a few other odds and ends thrown in to complete the album. No rather this actually takes Keith's compositions and puts them in the hands of an orchestra, but with The Keith Emerson Band playing in tandem with that orchestra to great effect.
One can almost imagine that for Keith this has given him the opportunity to re-score certain parts to achieve what he originally envisaged all those years ago and can only now achieve on this larger orchestral scale. What does become very apparent is the sheer majestic beauty of these pieces and that underneath all the bombast and showmanship, Keith Emerson's compositions actually can and do hold their own in the classical arena as well as in the rock one.
It may seem odd to hear pieces like The Endless Enigma or Tarkus Concertante without either Greg Lake or even Marc Bonilla's voice, but such is the strength of these that you can concentrate on the music being played with such passion, gusto and verve.
In addition, on this disc Keith plays some wonderful piano parts as well as his Moog and organ parts, and it always a thing of beauty to hear such a great musician playing a grand piano so eloquently. Special mention must also be made of Marc Bonilla's contribution as he adds some very tasteful and soaring guitar work throughout the whole album, again adding new textures to the classic songs.
This is a very classical album with rock interventions, above all it is a serious project and one that showcases the tremendous skill of both The Keith Emerson band but also of the Munich Rundfunkorchester under Terje Mikkelsen's decisive command. Hearing these songs in such a setting gives both a new reading and also great depth and gravitas yet within this is the sheer joy of hearing such great music so lovingly played. This is no mere Hooked on Classics retelling.
Fanfare for the Common Man is different to what you may be used to in that Part One is the Orchestral Fanfare and Part Two is the more well-known ELP variation, albeit with healthy dashes of guitar.
In many respects Three Fates brings Keith Emerson full circle and certainly back into public view. If you enjoyed Jon Lord's Concerto or have a passing interest in classical music or just want to hear these great ELP pieces given full orchestral backing then you will invariably enjoy this album.
Keith has hinted that if this album is a success that there could be a second volume. I very much hope that is the case as there are many pieces in the ELP canon that would work well in this format, but for now Three Fates is an outstanding return to form and one that bears repeated listening. It is an album that is well worthy of investigation so Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends....
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
JOHN WENLOCK SMITH
Solution - Solution
Solution - Divergence
Tracklist: Second Line (8:48), Divergence (6:00), Fever (4:27), Concentration (12:31), Theme (0:43), New Dimension (6:27)
Soon after joining DPRP, I had the pleasure to read a PFM review by fellow reviewer Raffaella Berry, in which she mentioned that rarely in reviewing does business and pleasure converge. With my average review score of about 6 out of 10 at the time of writing, I must say that the lady has a point. However, it's bands like Solution that have allowed me to enjoy the progressive scene in the first place, and so in this case, business and pleasure are indeed converging.
If you couldn't tell from the bricked canal of the band's debut album cover, Solution are indeed a Dutch group, although you might not guess that they specialised in jazz-fusion with a distinctive progressive edge. The line-up on the first album consisted of Tom Barlage (flute, saxophone), Peter van der Sande (bass, vocals), Hans Waterman (drums), and Willem Ennes (piano, organ) who sadly passed away this September.
The eponymous debut album consists of four long tracks and one brief piece. These are mostly instrumentals, although the second half of Phases contains a few lyrics sung by Van der Sande. Koan is first up, and is a fairly straightforward progressive instrumental; the first half is energetic and structured while the latter is repetitive and more freestyle. Barlage's sax is put to good use, and Van der Sande's bass provides a fluid backdrop for the rest of the instruments.
After the brief Ennes solo spot Preview, we are presented with Phases. This track takes a while to get going, but by six minutes has evolved into a fully fledged progressive number. Sande's vocals keep the atmosphere light between the gritty instrumental sections.
Trane Steps is so called because it lifts a theme from John Coltrane's Africa. Naturally, with the organ and other electric instruments, this is a more progressive sounding track. This piece, like Koan and Phases can also be split into two distinct halves, although a theme from the first half is repeated at the end of the track.
Circus Circumstances begins as a breakneck instrumental imitating a circus. Somehow, this section seems very Dutch indeed, I can't really explain why. Afterwards, things get more serious, with a medley of interesting themes thrown in for good measure. In my opinion, the best track on the album.
For the band's second album, Divergence, Peter van der Sande was replaced by Guus Willemse. The new line-up seemed to gel better, and this line-up would stay the same (although with various guests such as Jan Akkerman joining in) until the band's demise in 1983. Divergence was less energetic and more ruggedly powerful than its predecessor, containing more structured pieces than before.
Ironically, the band reveal in the second line of Second Line that English is not their native tongue: 'Well here I am/Look me into my face.' In fact, the first half of Second Line consists of an astonishingly beautiful piano ballad, in the style of Elton John perhaps. Barlage's sax solo is incredibly moving. The production makes everything sound like a dream. This is the sort of song that needs lyrics you can shout at the top of your lungs, and yet whenever Willemse is not mumbling his lines, they don't make any sense, a shame indeed. The second half of the song consists of a Soft Machine-y jazz fusion instrumental, which has nothing to do with the first half, and seems a little out of place.
This album is most famous for its title track that was covered by Focus in their epic suite Eruption from the Moving Waves album. Oddly enough, Moving Waves had come out the previous year, which lead to many people believing Solution had just stolen a track from Focus. This track is really a chance for Barlage to show just how he can hold a saxophone. He gets to repeat the same monumental sax solo a total of three times throughout the track's six minute length. On the other hand, the rest of the instrumental is very straightforward, and I found that I pretty much worked out how it pieced together after three listens. Interestingly, a drum pattern from Koan reappears, and is very similar to another pattern heard on the title track from Supersister's Pudding en Gisteren.
One throwaway piece later, and we get to Concentration, probably the finest track of the lot. Once again, we can split this song into two halves, the first a smooth laid-back blues piece with lyrics, the second a speedy 7/8 instrumental in the style of Soft Machine's Esther's Nose Job. The instrumental in the first half of the song contains a subtle hint of the proggy goodness that's in store. The lyrical section is a perfect blend of jazz and blues. Willemse's lyrics aren't always audible, but he delivers them with gusto. Afterwards, the brisk 7/8 instrumental section leads us on a roller-coaster of themes and riffs, keeping the listener hooked throughout. A masterpiece track if I ever heard one.
Yet another throwaway track later and we finish on New Dimension. The use of organ on this track is simply mesmerising, and the riff and chord sequences used are subtle but also darkly powerful, playing with the mind on a subconscious level. Before I knew it, I was coming back for repeated listens of this bizarre piece.
Esoteric have done a wonderful job with these albums. Both booklets contain similar well-written essays by Wouter Bessels. I did spot a minor mistake however, because it appears that the track Theme from Divergence was sampled in Erykah Badu's track Soldier, not in Victory as the notes suggested. Nevertheless, these notes tell you all you need to know about the band. The artwork reproduction (back and front) is spot on, no less than what the paying customer deserves. The remastering is also brilliant, with everything sounding crystal clear, and the bass coming through especially nicely. Sadly, there are no bonus tracks appended to the albums, but this is not necessarily Esoteric's fault.
Solution may not have all the skill and songwriting ability as some of their contemporaries *cough* Supersister *cough*, but they certainly have enough to keep this prog fan satisfied. With only a few minor weaknesses, the band's first two albums are gems of the jazz-prog genre, and have yet again convinced me of the quality of Dutch progressive rock. Even if you aren't so keen on jazz, you may be pleasantly surprised by what you hear.
Solution: 8.5 out of 10
Divergence: 9.5 out of 10
Profusion - RewoToweR
Tracklist: Ghost House (4:13), Taste Of Colours, Part 1 (3:48), Taste Of Colours, Part 2 (3:05), Treasure Island (5:04), So Close but Alone (4:46), Tkeshi (2:00), Chuta Chani (6:13), The Tower, Part 1 (4:39), The Tower, Part 2 (5:30), Turned To Gold (4:22), Dedalus Falling (11:29)
The palindrome titled second album RewoToweR by Italian prog metal band Profusion may not revolutionise or be genre defining, but they have produced something of quality that you should invest some time in. As an album, RewoToweR is better than your average prog metal release, something that seems to be synonymous with bands from this geographical location.
Musically as a band they move in the same circles as Dream Theater, Spock's Beard, Symphony X, Rush and Premiata Forneria Marconi. The album is just filled with wonderful tones, rhythmic interactions and differing musical directions that range from rock, metal, fusion, pop and acoustic tango. A fusion of styles that really complement each other creating different layers and dimensions as you listen.
As a concept the story is well metered, musical interactions that are punctuated with precision, highlighting the musical journey to the top of the tower. There is a whole gamut of fantastic guitar and keyboard wizardry that compliments the whole soundstage that has all been mixed to perfection. The band has not been afraid to offer up Latin rhythms which can be heard on the atmospheric Tkeshi, as well Japanese styled koto plucking and African styled chants that segue into the rather fitting Chuta Chani which amazingly explodes into a heavy Sabbath riff, making it one, if not the standout moments on the album; it's discovering songs like this that make reviewing so exciting. If you jump onto the fashionable YouTube, check out the accompanying video, you won't be disappointed and it will give you a good flavour of what this band is about.
Throughout, vocalist Luca Latini hits the proverbial mark, having soul, displaying a stunning range and phrasing that adds dimension and depth, even when playing with the pirate themed song Treasure Island. Further evidence of this can be heard on the ballad-esque piano led So Close but Alone and the rather catchy album closer Dedalus Falling. In this genre having such a dynamic singer makes all the difference allowing you to stand out in the crowd.
The two-part suite The Tower plays with all the varying sonics and musical styles: funky guitar passages, string inclusions, climbing keyboard sounds, powerful riffs and a solid back-line that has many twists and turns; not forgetting some rather impressive time changes too. This is where it is all at for the band especially on the second part of the song that plays more with the dynamics of the instrumentation, allowing each individual the opportunity to shine without being arrogant.
The band has quite cleverly offered the right balance on the album, sedate beauty and power, something that keeps you, the listener, hooked. As an album it is highly entertaining, a flawlessly melodic creation that I can? recommend highly enough. What can I say ladies and gentlemen, here lies another fantastic Italian prog metal band and an album that you need to check out.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Strangers On A Train - The Key Part I: The Prophecy
Tracklist: Arrival (3:37), Sacrifice (7:10), New World (3:04), Silent Companion (2:23), Crossing the Wasteland (3:51), Perchance to Dream (4:27), Lightshow (3:34), Occam's Tears (8:04), Losing a Hold on Life (3:57), From the Outside In (5:25), Duel (4:30), From the Inside Out (6:40), Healing the Rift (3:58), The Key (2:43)
Strangers On A Train - The Key Part II: The Labyrinth
Tracklist: Part 1: Darkworld (20:37) - I. A New Beginning, II. Edge of Darkness, III. Deliverance, IV. A Moment of Sanity, V. Beyond the Rubicon, Part 2: Hijrah (6:40), Part 3: The Labyrinth (14:07) - I. The First Veil - Sensing a Presence, II. The Second Veil - Contamination, III. The Third Veil - Trick of the Light, Part 4: The Vision Clears (6:57), Part 5: Endzone (23:32) - I. Occam's Flame, II. Purification, III. Recovery, IV. A New Perspective, V. Denouement
Clive Nolan will need little introduction as the driving force behind Arena, Shadowland and Caamora, plus his role as keyboardist with Pendragon. Less well known is the Strangers On A Train project which he formed in 1990 together with Karl Groom (Threshold) and Tracy Hitchings (Landmarq). Although they never officially disbanded they released just two albums and played a handful of gigs with a third album in the planned trilogy never seeing the light of day due to commitments elsewhere. Having missed out on the band first time around and as an admirer of the work of those involved I had high hopes for these reissues and I'm gratified to report that I wasn't disappointed.
Nolan is responsible for all the music and lyrics whilst he and Groom are co-credited with production. Their individual roles should need no explanation but for the record Clive handles the keyboards, Karl guitars and basses and Tracy lead vocals. The absence of drums is noticeable but by no means a detriment. The music for the most part is very lush, often building from a simple piano and vocal introduction. Groom for his part provides some powerful guitar dynamics and many of the songs, particularly on The Key Part I: The Prophecy are exclusively structured around either guitar or keyboards.
Although the majority of the songs that make up The Key Part I are on the relatively short side, they often segue into one another providing one coherent whole. The appropriately titled Arrival opens proceedings in memorable style with a rhapsodic main theme for solo piano, joined by Tracy's emotive vocal. This catchy theme bookends the album, appearing as The Key at the end with Tracy's soaring vocal coda bringing events to a warmly sentimental close. In between, the songs and instrumentals provide a variety of contrasting moods and tempos making good use of the individual talents involved. Piano and vocal are the focal point for the strident Sacrifice and it's quite remarkably how much atmosphere and emotion is conveyed by this potentially basic premise.
With its cascading piano motif, the beautiful New World is followed by three consecutive instrumentals. Silent Companion has a folky vibe that brings Nik Kershaw's The Riddle to mind whilst Crossing The Wasteland is embellished with some rather fine Rick Wakeman style synth soloing. Remaining in the same territory, Tracy's heavenly wordless chant during Perchance to Dream echoes the caped crusader's own Catherine of Aragon. The Key theme returns briefly during the albums longest track, Occam's Tears, whilst the melancholic Losing a Hold on Life is especially reminiscent of the stark, but still beautiful piano work of Patrick Moraz. With its blatantly commercial choral hook, the ballad From the Outside In is the only song that dates the album, much better is the majestic From the Inside Out where Nolan's cinematic orchestral keys are complemented by Groom's Mike Oldfield flavoured sustained guitar. When Tracy's voice enters I was reminded of Elton John's Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word.
When it came to the second album The Key Part II: The Labyrinth, they upped the ante with Alan Reed (then fronting Pallas) joining Tracy on lead vocals. The sound is also generally grander with stronger instrumentation best exemplified on the opening 20 minute Darkworld, as good a long form piece as you are likely to hear anywhere. In five parts, it opens with A New Beginning with its magnificent church organ sound, taking in the brooding Edge of Darkness with a stunning delivery from Tracy, the tranquil early Genesis-like Deliverance, then A Moment of Sanity with a Mark Kelly style rippling piano hook before Beyond the Rubicon provides a wonderfully uplifting finale with Tracy and Alan giving their all over a strident backdrop.
Whilst the rest of the album doesn't quite reach the same dizzy heights there are some superb moments. The instrumental Hijrah is nicely over the top and melodramatic in a Keith Emerson mock classical, Rimsky-Korsakov kind of way whilst the three part The Labyrinth features a baroque Gryphon-like section with lilting classical guitar. The Vision Clears is an engagingly laid-back song which is pulled from the brink of MOR thanks to some particularly superb synth and guitar exchanges courtesy of Nolan and Groom. Again in five parts, the lengthy Endzone takes in John Carpenter horror style ambient keyboards (Occam's Flame), lyrical electric piano (Purification), lush keyboard strings (Recovery), resonate acoustic guitar and piano recalling the recent Gordon Giltrap and Oliver Wakeman collaboration, A New Perspective, and the heavy rock, guitar driven finale, Denouement. The latter includes a poignant reprise of the main theme from The Key Part I.
I was struck by just how good the music is on both these albums including some of the most memorable melodies ever written by Nolan. They provide a perfect vehicle for his versatile keyboard exhibitions with a welcome use of vintage instruments. Groom for his part adds some excellent guitar and (more surprising) bass work. With some good old fashioned melodrama and thoughtful, well developed arrangements, there are indications of the mighty She project that would appear the following decade. Sounding very youthful and gutsy, Tracy enters the spirit of the occasion and without taking anything from Agnieszka Swita it's not hard to imagine Tracy in the lead role of She. Her vocal exchanges with Alan Reed are also quite touching, even downright romantic at times.
It's a big pity that the planned third Strangers On A Train album never got off the starting blocks. Given the ascending quality of these two releases we can only speculate on just how good The Key Part III would have been.
The Key Part I: The Prophecy: 7 out of 10
The Key Part II: The Labyrinth: 8 out of 10
Ben Levin Group - Invisible Paradise
Tracklist: : (5:32), :- (4:03), :-| (5:19), (:-| (1:36), (:-|) (5:35), (:-\) (6:36), (\-:) (8:50)
Have you ever driven in Boston? I have, and whilst one can hit a lot of straightaway thoroughfares like Massachusetts Avenue, in other parts of the city the streets have some twists and turns to them. How appropriate then, epic prog outfit Ben Levin Group is from none other than Boston, and with enough abrupt turns in their latest CD, Invisible Paradise, to make a case of vertigo seem like a hangnail or a bit of the sniffles.
As I had reviewed their previous release Pulse Of A Nation for DPRP, I was more than excited to hit a show by them that they threw at a space in my neighbourhood a while back. An excellent show, and Mr. Levin kindly provided me a copy of Invisible Paradise for review.
For Invisible Paradise, the band is made up of Ben Levin on guitar, Chris Baum on violin, Courtney Swain on vocals, Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth on percussion, Jed Lingat on bass, Josh Friedman on piano and Tyler LeVander on drums.
The seven tracks on Invisible Paradise are sequenced together to form its title song cycle. In the CD booklet it says, "This album is a piece of music about change and the temporary nature of paradise." Be warned, Jimmy Buffet.
On (:-|), a slowly hyperventilating macabre section leads to some confident bravado-filled drumming from Levander, with wordless vocals from Swain and guitar from Levin both wailing along. Levin's guitar then gets heavy and gruff with Swain's vocals taking on some choral processing and casting an ominous storm cloud over everything. Baum's violin becomes all bipolar on us, hitting lows and highs like, fittingly, the weather in New England.
On (\-:), there is a lot of careening craziness moving into a bit of Yes Relayer-era territory. Baum's violin screams madly like a Speedo-wearing surfer banshee boy hanging ten on a California wave. Psychedelic surf. Oh, crap, I just came up with another music sub-genre... the flow on (\-:) crashes up into a dark, spacey/waltzy feel, almost evoking an image of E.T. cutting up the rug with a tango in the hope for some Reese's Pieces (peanut butter Smarties/M&M's - Ed). LeVander's drums sound a bit muted here, and in other places on the album, but nonetheless determined. After dramatic forays into gypsy land, Friedman's piano takes on an almost Korg-like sheen, recalling Peter Gabriel, Genesis, Simple Minds and U2 before the track fades away, like the Andrea Gail sinking into the Atlantic.
: serves up plaintive and esoteric piano from Friedman, searing violin from Baum, and a denser section with lots of tricky, swerving grooves. A faster part of the track showcases Levin on guitar with more physics-defying twists and turns. Baum's violin leads the charge through a musical obstacle course, with minimal yet precise percussion from Wallace-Ailsworth.
On :-|, a mellow feel gives way to dark, unpredictable sound elements taking one through a sonic house of mirrors. Unwavering bass from Lingat, SOS messages of piano from Friedman and mysterious vocals from Swain intertwine with Baum's violin to be knitted into a Kevlar vest.
Bringing in Ms. Swain on vocals for the band's latest album is quite the feather in their cap, as her vocals lend a sense of forlorn questioning to the music. And the mostly wordless nature of her vocals does not come off as pretentious or contrived at all. DIY ethic in relation to possible budgetary constraints notwithstanding, the production of Levander's drums could use just a tad of polishing up with future releases.
The proficiency of each member's playing is top-notch. More crackerjacks here than at a Red Sox game.
The CD booklet is colourfully and professionally designed, with four pages including a track listing, acknowledgements, and credits. Regrettably, the artist and title are printed upside down on the CD packaging's spine, kitty corner to the tray inlay.
This album will appeal to fans of dark, epic avant-garde rock. If you're looking for One Direction, you are reading the wrong music website. I say victory for Invisible Paradise. I can't wait to check out more albums by this kick-ass band.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Osanna - Rosso Rock: Live in Japan
Tracklist: Preludio (4:10), Tema (4:56), Dianalogo (2:24), Spunti Dallo Spartito N. 14728 Del Prof. Imolo Meninge (2:17), To Plinius (2:11), My Mind Flies (4:50), Tempo - 13° Cortile (1:52), Posizione Raggiunta (1:30), There Will Be Time (5:00), Preludio Reprise (1:26), Fiume (4:26), O' Culore 'E Napule (3:38), Rosso Rock (4:30)
Though Neapolitan outfit Osanna did not achieve the same level of international fame as the "big three" Italian prog bands of the Seventies - PFM, Banco and Le Orme - they did nevertheless gain a sizable following in Japan, a country where Italian progressive rock, both vintage and modern, enjoys somewhat of a cult status. The band, led by charismatic vocalist Lino Vairetti (one of the best voices in prog, though - pardon the pun - very much an unsung hero if compared to Peter Gabriel, Peter Hammill or Greg Lake), has been around since 1970, though with multiple line-up changes and some lengthy breaks between albums. In its current incarnation, which has been together since 2011, only Vairetti remains of the historic lineup that in 1973 recorded the splendid Palepoli (one of the milestones of Italian progressive rock), flanked by a group of talented young musicians: his son Irvin Vairetti (synth, mellotron, backing vocals), Sas Priore (piano, organ, keyboards), Pasquale Capobianco (electric guitar), Nello D'Anna (bass) and Gennaro Barba (drums).
Heirs of one of the richest and most influential musical traditions in the Western world, Osanna in their heyday hovered between a warm, distinctly Mediterranean flair for melody and harder-edged rock suggestions. This fusion of these two apparently irreconcilable strains resulted in a sound that was quite different from the elegant, tasteful style of PFM, the jazz/symphonic crossover of Banco, and the ELP-meets-pop approach of Le Orme, and was instead closer to the rougher-edged intensity of "heavy prog" bands such as their fellow Neapolitans Balletto di Bronzo (whose mainman Gianni Leone is a frequent guest in Osanna's current stage shows), Biglietto Per l'Inferno or Jumbo. Aggressive, often distorted guitar lines, complemented by flute, characterised the early sound of the band, which - in the intervening years - mellowed out and moved closer to the mainstream, especially in the use of the traditional song form, though rendered with remarkable sophistication. Interestingly, Osanna made use of both English and Italian in their lyrics, occasionally resorting to their native, and eminently musical, Neapolitan dialect. Allegedly, Osanna's use of costumes and theatrical make-up - influenced by Arthur Brown, with whom the band toured in 1971 - made a strong impression on Peter Gabriel when Genesis and Osanna shared a stage in the summer of 1972.
As its title implies, Rosso Rock: Live in Japan captures Osanna on stage in the course of two dates at the Club Città Auditorium in Kawasaki in November 2011. It is, however, not the usual live album that showcases a cross-section of a band or artist's output over the years, but is rather intended to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the release of the band's second album, Milano Calibro 9 (also known as Preludio Tema Variazioni Canzona). The album, recorded in 1972 as the soundtrack to the movie of the same title, saw Osanna follow in the footsteps of New Trolls in collaborating with Argentinian composer Luis Enriquez Bacalov (Academy Award winner in 1996 for his score to Il Postino). New Trolls' Concerto Grosso, released in 1971 and entirely composed by Bacalov, was the first instance of contamination between rock and classical music on the Italian prog scene. Unlike the New Trolls album, however, most of the Milano Calibro 9 soundtrack was written by Osanna, and only three tracks (Preludio, Tema and There Will Be Time) by Bacalov. On their Japanese performances, the band performed the album in its entirety, accompanied by a local string esemble, though the order of the "Variazioni" is not exactly the same as on the original. The album is wrapped up by three studio recordings, Fiume (originally included in the band's 1976 album Landscape of Life), and two previously unreleased tracks, 'O Culore 'E Napule and Rosso Rock, recorded in the studio in the spring of 2012 with the accompaniment of a Neapolitan string ensemble led by Gianluca Falasca (who is also responsible for the new transcription of the original Bacalov arrangements for Milano Calibro 9).
Listening to the two albums back-to-back, it becomes evident that - while the version of the Milano Calibro 9 soundtrack presented on Rosso Rock is certainly more polished - it lacks the punch and gritty energy of the original. The contrast between the elegant solemnity provided by the orchestral accompaniment and the keen edge of the rock instrumentation is maintained - as demonstrated by Preludio, which sums up the development of the whole album, alternating the whistle of the synth, the wail of the electric guitar and the smoothness of the strings with suitably cinematic grandeur. The hard rock influence that defines so much of Osanna's early sound emerges even more clearly in Spunti..., introduced by a brisk, Paganini-like violin solo that is then replaced by the dynamic interplay of drums, guitar and organ - very much in a Deep Purple/Uriah Heep vein; the shorter Tempo - 13° Cortile is even harder-edged, while a jazzy influence lurks in Posizione Raggiunta, mostly channeled by electric piano and discreet guitar. On the other hand, My Mind Flies and There Will Be Time put the emphasis on Vairetti's vocals, and are therefore somewhat catchier and mainstream-oriented, though the latter reveals Bacalov's touch in its melancholy, strings-drenched nature.
The melodic Fiume - featuring some excellent singing by Vairetti - and the two unreleased studio tracks pursue the direction of Osanna's 1978 Suddance album, a sophisticated song form influenced by the Neapolitan tradition, though with evident progressive touches. The album's title track, the slow, atmospheric Rosso Rock, is the one that hardcore prog fans will find most interesting, especially on account of the citation from Peter Hammill's The Light Continent; while O' Culore 'E Napule is a lively romp that marries traditional Neapolitan stylings with the energy of rock, and whose lyrics touch on some of the city's thorny social issues, such as the pervasive presence of organised crime.
Presented in a lavish package with striking artwork and photography - emphasising Vairetti's lifelong involvement in theatre, and hinting at Naples' traditional character of Pulcinella - Rosso Rock: Live in Japan will mainly appeal to staunch fans of classic Italian prog, but may be somewhat of a disappointment for those who are familiar with the 1972 album. Those who are not yet acquainted with the band and are interested in checking out their more recent production would do better to start from 2008's Prog Family (recorded with former Van Der Graaf Generator's saxophonist David Jackson). Rosso Rock, in spite of the excellent quality of the performances, sounds a bit dated, and therefore comes across as little more than a collector's item.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Die Schwarzen Ladas - Wahrheit
Die Schwarzen Ladas (The Black Ladas) are a Finnish trio (by way of Germany?) who describe their music as 'Black Sabbath meets Mike Oldfield', an interesting proposition if there ever was one. The line up is pretty simple with Volker handling the vocals, Karsten banging the drums and Udo adding everything else. The music is 60% improvised with none of the songs rehearsed and recorded stepwise (Udo creating the bulk of the backing track to which Karsten added the drums before finally Volker added the vocal lines) in as few takes as possible (maximum of three!). Unfettered by genre restrictions, the band freely admit to playing what they want without any constraints or musical preconceptions. The result is a somewhat unique and original album that surpassed my initial reservations.
Fehler ('Error') kicks things off in impressive style with an extended piece that bounces all over the place. Volker is vaguely reminiscent of Eddie Vedder in his vocal tone and inflections, although, musically, things are far from Pearl Jam territory, being rather more upbeat and less angry. Although the pieces may contain a large amount of improvisation, they do have an inherent structure, something that is obvious when one considers that the bulk of the instrumentation is provided by just one member. At 16 minutes there is plenty of scope to move through different tempos, the transitions between which are mostly carried out with aplomb, although a spoken word section (in German; the sung vocals are in English) is a bit of a drag, exacerbated by not having any clue what is being talked about (which is a reflection of my lack of linguistic abilities than any criticism of the band!). Still it is followed up by rather good guitar and keyboard solos, all accompanied by a gloriously full, well rounded and heavy bass. Riesige ('Giant') has a bass sound that played loudly through decent speakers has the power to shake loose fillings right out of the mouth! This song has more of an improvised feel, right down to the lyrics which seem to be about sheet metal! At a duration of four minutes it is short enough to have made its mark but not too long to become annoying. Spoken words introduce Ungaublich ('Infinite'), a slow burner of a song that rather over-eggs the vocal echo in the initial section but once it calms down and gets going is a quite formidable and engaging song.
Unglaublich comes close to living up to its name ('Incredible') being the most immediately accessible song on the album and one that would at one time have no doubt been considered as a suitable single. However, the grandiose nature of Gott Hat Gegeben ('God Has Given') steals the day for me. A classy opening with steady riffs, not trying to be too clever but building the piece in a fluid and natural way. The middle keyboard runs sounds vaguely familiar, more in the respect of the sound rather than the notes per se, and the final vocal section is enjoyably upbeat and brings the album to a solid end.
Rather a difficult one to assess this. Die Schwarzen Ladas certainly have a sound of their own and I admit to be drawn to Volker's singing which perfectly suits the accompanying music. However, although an album that will remain in my collection I can't see it fighting for immediate attention against the plethora of other discs vying for listening time and only being drawn upon when I want to remind myself just what struck me by the album on first hearings.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10.
Moebius Cat - End Of Time
Tracklist: I've been Losing (4:04), End of Time (5:57), Better Days Than This (4:54), Time Enough for This (4:47), Cold Rain (4:46), Farewell Guru (4:34), It's Over (4:54), River (3:56), Learning to Fly (4:48), Dance Goes On (5:10), Parallel Dimensions (4:32), Waltz with a Vampire (4:33)
Moebius Cat is Roman Barshadsky: keyboards, vocals, djembe, drums, bass, percussion, programming - Jodi Krangle: vocals - Karl Mohr: vocals - Adriano Spina: vocals - Terry Skirko: drums, tablas - Derek Wylie: guitar - Andrei Stebakov: acoustic guitar - Jeremy Wheaton: bass - Michael Gutman: bass - Ashot Ovanessian: violin - Roman M.: violin, flute, guitar. The cover credits also state David Graham as lyricist for tracks 1 and 3, the remainder of all the tracks are accounted for by multi-talented Bershadsky.
Moebius Cat's music can best be described as melodic, intrinsic, well arranged and not too complex. Mostly all of the tracks if not all are so called singer/songwriter material, easy to get into and equally easily forgotten I am afraid.
The use of a variety of instruments surely keeps you wondering what instrument will be used in the next song. Will this be the djembe, tablas or violins? Keyboards and the use of female and male vocals in the various songs help you to really listen to the album.
Like I said easy going music, at times it reminds me of Guy Manning, this was in one song in particular, Cold Rain, where the male voice sang in a way often heard from Mr. Manning.
Since all songs are built in almost exactly the same way it is easy to get bored and I must say half way through the CD I did get bored with listening to the album. The excitement flows away, concentration lacking, still it is important to say that the songs aren't bad being well constructed and arranged. They just sound a bit too much of the same. I am absolutely sure Barshadsky and company are capable of more excitement in their music I hope with their next effort this is true.
The album End of Time has been available as a download from 2010 and has been released on CD just now in 2012. If you like the music it now is possible to buy a physical copy.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10