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2012 : VOLUME 10
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


IO Earth – Moments
IO Earth – Moments
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:IOEARTHMOMENTS1
Year of Release:2012
Time:62:12
Info:IO Earth
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Moments (8:35), Live Your Life Part 1 (4:45), Live Your Life Part 2 (8:16), Drifting (8:32), Cinta Indah (4:49), Brothers (5:07), Come Find Love (4:38), Finest Hour (5:54), Turn Away (11:04)

IO Earth. Where do I start here? 2009 saw the band release their eponymous album which caused quite a stir, an album that should sit in any discerning music lover’s collection. The album was challenging, inventive, powerful, complex and highly entertaining which all in all earned the band a DPRP recommended album scoring 9 out of a possible 10. As a debut album one could say and I will that it was quite a remarkable release due to its diversity in approach and originality I can hand on heart say it was one of the finest and original debuts that I’ve had the pleasure of hearing?

2012 arrives and so does their sophomore album Moments and you know what the past comments for their debut mean even more now; where their self titled release based over three movements covering the elements water, earth and air. This time out the band has resisted travelling that same path. People always comment about that second difficult album that bands record. Well you need not worry my friends as these guys have not disappointed one iota. All their trademarks are stamped firmly throughout.

From the opening phrasings, Mr Cureton and Mr Gough have created another rather special and adept album that is full of sultry melodic tones that will warm the cockles of your heart. The contributions from the rest of the band have also been defining; a perfect complementation that has allowed Moments to exist and be what it is.

With the creators being unafraid of delving into the different genres of rock, classical, world and dance music, these two guys have first and foremost created a complement of nine songs that they wanted to hear, without it would seem, any external pressure, music that has been pleasing to their ears and in all honesty pleasing on their intended audience’s ear too. An album that will be welcomed by fans both old and new which can only be a win win situation.

None of these songs outstay their welcome as they astutely drag you in, leaving you unbelieving of what you have witnessed. Several times as the album played I pressed the repeat button, not when the album finished, but after certain songs. One feels that this will be the same for other listeners as the addictive and infectious soundstages breathe and build.

To write music like this cannot be easy, but there again it would seem that taking the easy route does not seem to be part of their ethos, which is what makes this band and their music so special. It would seem that their ideology is thus, there are only two types of music, good and bad; they definitely err on the side of good. Each musical passage really engages and invigorates the soul as it resonates, evoking a shared feeling that offers clarity and depth, layered interactions of the highest order. The cleverness though is that you are transported through these varying styles as if you were part of the creative process.

The band have not just relied on just Claire Malin’s evocative tones either, which in their own right would have been enough for most; Dave and Adam have contributed too along side the bands ubiquitous Wendy Vissers-Hagenbeck, which has added further character to the whole proceedings.

When you work your way through such highlights as Moments, Cinta Indah, Live Your Life Part 1 and Part 2 and the album closer Turn Away you can’t be but mesmerised by the power and approach which is complimented by a crystal clear production job. That is not to say though the other tracks are any less graceful or important as they aren’t.

This is definitely an album that I would seriously recommend to those who love complex and accessible progressive music. For me IO Earth really does observe and understand the true meaning of the word progressive and in all honesty I wouldn’t want to pigeon hole them as I feel that would be a disservice.

As ever with some albums, you just don’t want them to end and Moments is a prime example of this, make no mistakes of that. There have been some great releases so far this year and at this given moment I am starting to make my list and this will definitely be up there.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

JOHN O'BOYLE



DeeExpus – King Of Number 33
DeeExpus – King Of Number 33
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Racket Records
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2012
Time:53:44
Info:DeeExpus
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Me And My Downfall (7:09), Maybe September (7:39), Marty And The Magic Moose (4:41), The King Of Number 33: i Pauper's Parade, ii Accession, iii The Physician And The Traitor, iv The Hunt, v Never Ending Elysium, vi Rex Mortuus Est (26:47), Memo (7:28)

It was the talented partnership of Andy Ditchfield (guitars, keyboards, vocals) and Tony Wright (lead vocals) who were responsible for 2008’s stunning DeeExpus debut Half Way Home. Both men return for the much anticipated follow-up but otherwise it’s all change in the DeeExpus camp with John Dawson and Henry Rogers replacing the outgoing bassist Ian Raine and drummer Kevin Jager respectively. Also on board this time around is erstwhile Marillion keys man Mark Kelly plus none other than synth-pop icon Nik Kershaw who guests on the final track. Nik’s involvement is ironic considering that I highlighted a similarity between one of DeeExpus’ tunes (Pointless Child) and his hit (The Riddle) in my review of Half Way Home. Although Steve Wright remains as the band’s ‘live’ lead guitarist, all the guitar parts on this release are provided by Ditchfield.

If Half Way Home was one of the best debut releases it’s been my pleasure to review then King Of Number 33 similarly punches above its weight considering it’s only the band’s second album. If for me it doesn’t quite reach the dizzy heights as its predecessor it does at least combine the same ingredients of assured and authoritative instrumental work, commanding vocals, memorable hooks and superb production.

Me And My Downfall is a defining opening statement if ever there was one. Guitars crunch and synths wail with convincing power, bass and drums pound with clipped precision and Wright’s compelling voice soars above it all. The concluding choral hook is the icing on the cake in a song that for me captures the sound of the often overrated (Oops, did I say that?) Porcupine Tree at their best.

Maybe September has been mooted as possibly the bands best song to date and is certainly a contrasting track of two halves. It begins in understated fashion with Wright’s sensitive vocal matched by Kelly’s rhapsodic piano against a sparse string backdrop. At the halfway mark it bursts into strident instrumental tour de force of interweaving guitar and synth. There’s also a rather fine organ sequence to boot.

The whimsically titled instrumental Marty And The Magic Moose is less lightweight than the name would suggest despite the inclusion of a child’s voice and tinkling percussive effects. It’s dominated by a skipping synth line intersected by staccato riffs with the addition of piano and acoustic guitar frequently taking it into Mike Oldfield territory.

It seems that although we’re well into the 21st century the taste for prog epics remains unabated. Weighing in at nearly 27 minutes The King Of Number 33 certainly falls into that category and musically it’s equally grandiose in its construction and delivery. To begin with staccato riffs once again underpin Wright’s smooth but commanding singing whilst power metal grunts are an unexpected addition during Accession. The acerbic tone is sweetened by a fine and proggy synth solo. The Physician And The Traitor is centred around a stirring guitar solo with some excellent rhythmic piano whilst the steam rolling The Hunt features a stunning drum workout. Never Ending Elysium keeps the momentum going with an infections guitar riff leaving Rex Mortuus Est to carry the piece to its natural and heroic conclusion with a stately rendering of the main choral theme.

Rogers is once again in commanding drum form for the concluding Memo which features the unmistakably ear friendly larynx of Nik Kershaw with a catchy tune that perfectly suits his style. Particularly good is the acoustic bridge which builds steadily to a soaring guitar coda where Ditchfield’s histrionic solo sweeps all before it.

Although DeeExpus could never be accused of being lightweights, King Of Number 33 is perhaps a tad heavier than its predecessor mainly thanks to Ditchfield’s power metal riffs which are ever prominent. Thankfully his equally punchy production allows every aspect of the band’s sound to shine through, particularly Wright’s voice which has to be one of the best currently active in prog. In fact the spectre of Bath’s finest Tears For Fears is never far away as his singing often brings both Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith to mind. This is another excellent effort from DeeExpus that should find particular favour with fans of the aforementioned Porcupine Tree, along with Marillion, Riverside and Gazpacho.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



The Psychedelic Ensemble – The Dream Of The Magic Jongleur
The Psychedelic Ensemble – The Dream Of The Magic Jongleur
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Glowing Sky
Catalogue #:GSR-DMJ-07
Year of Release:2011
Time:63:40
Info:The Psychedelic
Ensemble
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Overture – Into The Night (7:54), The Quest (4:54), The Secrets Of Your Mind (5:46), The Benefaction Of The Noble Wizard (5:06), Listen To Me (6:10), Stones To Flowers (1:30), Magicking (2:30), The Riddle (7:56), Dream And Premonition (4:22), Strange Days (6:38), End Of Days – Epilogue (10:54)

Alex Torres' Review

If you are one of those DPRP readers who trusts our recommendations and ratings then you may well be very familiar with The Psychedelic Ensemble's previous two albums, 2009's The Art Of Madness and 2010's The Myth Of Dying, which received lofty scores of 9.5 and 10 from my colleague, Gert Hulshof. High scores indeed! So, a new album and a change of reviewer – can The Psychedelic Ensemble do it again?

The answer is as positive a "yes" as you're likely to get. Frankly, music doesn't get much better than this. The Dream Of The Magic Jongleur is possibly the best of what is fast becoming an extraordinary sequence of high quality albums.

As the artist's name suggests, The Psychedelic Ensemble produces music that harks back to what many regard as the golden era of rock: the dawn of progressive music and its first few years. From within that era, each of The Psychedelic Ensemble's albums has been internally sonically consistent, but slightly different from the last. So, for instance, the main reference calls for The Dream Of The Magic Jongleur would be bands such as the progressive music of The Beatles, classic Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, whereas memories of Pink Floyd were evoked during The Art Of Madness. In the way that the fusion of these various influences work through to the compositions, we experience something totally new that, at the same time, reminds us of those great bands.

It therefore follows that a criticism that might be levelled at The Dream Of The Magic Jongleur might be that the musical composition is not innovative, but is a variation on well established techniques. This may be true, but innovation per se is over-rated. There are not many people who listen to classical music of the twentieth century: composers valued innovation over musicality but the paying public have a much greater preference for musicality! So, is this the dreaded commercialism? Well, you try and write a pretty melody or a catchy riff; it's not easy, or we'd all be heroes! Let me also say this: had The Dream Of The Magic Jongleur been the 2011 Yes album, rather than Fly From Here, then my guess is that Yes's album reviews would have been unanimously praiseworthy!

The care taken with the choice and variety of sonic textures throughout the album really enhances the listening pleasure and, together with the classical-leaning nature of compositions such as The Benefaction Of The Noble Wizard and Magicking, puts the music overall in the European, rather than American, progressive music stream.

The Dream Of The Magic Jongleur follows on from its predecessors in that it is – in all respects – a concept album. There's no messing about: the concept is not just in the story but in the artwork, the musical themes and in the way that the story is told. Seven of the eleven compositions are sung but the accompanying CD booklet tells the story through quatrains – rhyming poems of four line stanzas – even for the instrumental compositions. Together with Sam del Russi's evocative artwork, commissioned especially for the album, this means that The Dream Of The Magic Jongleur isn't just an album of music, but a magical, interactive experience. Sure, you can just listen to the music – even to single compositions out of sequence or context if you want, and still get enjoyment – but the primary experience is to enjoy the whole package; to let yourself enter into this fantasy world. Great music, great art, great story – as I said, classic progressive rock!

The music is deceptively catchy, addictive, whether the focus is on melody or rhythm: I found myself waking with it playing in my mind even before I had become sufficiently familiar to be able to identify the particular compositions.

Let me give you some thoughts on the individual compositions. The album kicks off in fine style with Overture - Into The Night, which is sung and whose melodic development reminds us of George Harrison's Indian-influenced writing for The Beatles; we also get some instrumental variations on the theme. The principal "instrument" of The Psychedelic Ensemble are electronic keyboards: his selection of sounds is first class and the musical textures throughout the album are gorgeously varied, as we begin to appreciate in earnest on The Secrets Of Your Mind, a deliciously rhythmic piece with tubular bells, vibe sounds and much more (tasty whiffs of piano and electric guitar, Spanish guitar). The depth of composition on the arrangements is significant, and always well allied to the story concept. A prime example is the instrumental The Benefaction Of The Noble Wizard, which is an unaccompanied church organ composition, beautifully played. Listen To Me takes us closer to Yes, which also has very slight whiffs of folk via a flute and lute (?) section; this suggestion links into the folkier Stones To Flowers, which then has the response of the beautiful, acoustic, mediaeval-feeling Magicking: in the story, this is played on the lyre, but I can't quite tell what the instrument used here is; it's a very beautiful sounding guitar, with a crisp, clean sound, if it is that. Gorgeous, whatever it is. The Riddle picks up the pace and has some attractive rhythmic work and some super and varied sound textures throughout; the vocal harmonies are also attractive in the singing section. Dream And Premonition starts ethereally before going into a sonically exciting plucked bass section, then oscillating between the two. The finale consists of Strange Days, which might be categorised as psychedelic folk-rock, given the vocal style and flutey influence; and the heavier, brooding End Of Days – Epilogue has some mean electric guitar work and good rhythmic elements; lots of sonic textures again.

As you may know, the identity of The Psychedelic Ensemble has not been revealed. It is a solo project. All of the instruments and all of the singing, including the harmonies – with the exception of the fiddle part in The Riddle and the falsetto harmony in Strange Days - are performed by the anonymous artist. The purpose behind this irregular approach is an attempt to allow the music to speak for itself, rather than rely on the brand of celebrity to sell it. If you don't understand what I'm alluding to then may I remind you again of Fly From Here, an album, incidentally, that I personally enjoyed. Had that not been issued under the Yes brand it may well have "bombed". Brand sells, anonymity does not but excellent music should.

On that basis, it's time that you really checked out The Psychedelic Ensemble, if you haven't already done so. Can you really afford to ignore an average rating in excess of 9.5 per album?

Gert Hulshof's Review

The Dream Of The Magic Jongleur marks the release of the third long play album for TPE, short for The Psychedelic Ensemble, a one man band who really stirred up things in the progressive rock world with his first release in 2009. As were its predecessors the Magic Jongleur is a full blown concept album, telling the tale of a young musician, "The Magic Jongleur", in his quest to find magical music.

The complete story behind the album and various tracks can be found in the accompanying booklet, which also contains the artwork of Sam del Russi, who has done a terrific job in depicting the story/poetry of TPE into pictures. The Dream Of The Magic Jongleur, however is not only available as a CD and or Download, but is available through a designated website - like with his first two albums. The story can be found there as well as the drawings by Sam del Russi. True artwork. We are not reviewing the artwork although great artwork is a blessing for our eyes. It is about the music here. It all looks as if it is supposed to be this way. The Art Of Madness, The Myth Of Dying and now The Dream Of The Magic Jongleur. All captivating stories dealing with what most of us appear to banish from our day to day lives.

Starting all the magic is Overture - Into The Night, with bells chiming laying foundation to what can be expected. As before TPE makes use of the sounds and interpretations of progressive music of the 70’s, which I might add he does this very well. When you listen to the songs all influences become apparent. It is a blessing rather than a curse how this music is composed and performed. Beautifully crafted melodies draw us into the night our quest begins. And The Quest is fully instrumental, with complex rhythmic changes along with keyboard and guitar battles. The next track has been released for a while as an excerpt preview of this album. So this one may already be familiar to some. The Secrets Of Your Mind is a song of balladry with great lyrics and melodies. Outstanding craftsmanship.

Next up is the instrumental The Benefaction Of The Noble Wizard, a track performed only on keyboards. Think Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, Don Airey, Patrick Moraz, need I say more. The Benefaction Of The Noble Wizard is has a great melody and even better performance - an exceptional piece of music. Listen To Me is the next title and rocks as if it was The Tangent playing it. Stones To Flowers is a very short track, marking a sort of transition or crossover song - with beautiful harmony vocal section, followed by an instrumental ditty going by the name of Magicking. This track is a solo on acoustic Spanish guitar, approaching classic music.

Next up we have The Riddle and as the title implies we are in for a complex treatment. The song is full of changes in tempo to aid the riddle. In Dream And Premonition the bass playing is fabulous, not only keeping the rhythm alive but performing a splendid solo. The premonition was perhaps one of "strange days" - a prelude to the stranger themes of the epic on the album. The highlight, no climax, of the album End Of Days – Epilogue. Everything we heard is passing by again, a magnificent closing to an outstanding album. I like to think so.

The Dream Of The Magic Jongleur is the most accessible album of the three albums created by TPE. Probably suited for a wider audience than its predecessors. Nevertheless a fine example of what you can be achieved in modern day music business. The accessibility also proves itself in more or less tracks you can listen to without damaging the concept per se. Highlights to me are The Benefaction Of The Noble Wizard, Magicking and End Of Days - Epilogue.

Will we see another album with again a concept and of sheer beauty, I hope so? Only TPE can tell us, may be an album about birth and rebirth?

Conclusions:

ALEX TORRES 10 out of 10
GERT HULSHOF 9.5 out of 10



Mad Crayon - Preda
Mad Crayon - Preda
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:AMS Records
Catalogue #:AMSCD183
Year of Release:2010
Time:65:16
Info:Mad Crayon
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Re Schiavo - Part 1 (6:20), Preda - Part 1 (6:49), Preda - Part 2 (6:07), Gabriel (7:09), Xoanon (8:30), L’Isola Di Sara (8:19), Sovrano Dell'illusione - Part 1 (6:26), Sovrano Dell'illusione - Part 2 (10:45), Re Schiavo - Part 2 (4:51)

Italy’s Mad Crayon have been around since 1986 having started out with a decidedly Marillion sound which has evolved over time into a polished melding of prog and fusion. Preda is their third album (their first since 1999’s Diamanti) and an impressive release it is too. Choosing to sing in their native tongue will no doubt put some listeners off, which is a shame as there is much to enjoy here.

The tracks average around the 6 or 7 minute mark and 6 of them are paired as two-parters. Re Schiavo starts slowly and with sophistication before opening out on some wonderful playing. The guitar runs of Federico Tetti are smooth and flowing, keys vary between piano, organ and synth and the rhythm section is busy and interesting. There are injections of heaviness where required but Mad Crayon certainly don’t rely on it preferring to move into fusion territory with the instrumental sections, solos for piano and bass fitted neatly within the framework of the track.

The fusion edged prog continues with the bass opening of the title track which features choral vocals. All of the band members sing and I’m not sure who the lead vocalist is but despite the vocals being a little thin at times the overall effect works well. The guitar is again impressive and the varying keyboard textures from Alessandro Di Benedetti and Daniele Agostinelli work nicely together. The second part of the track is a heavier affair with distorted guitar taking up a theme from the first part supported by organ and spacey sounds from the synths; a jazzy Hawkwind perhaps? Elsewhere The Tangent comes to mind and Daniele Vitalone’s bass does some lovely things amongst straight jazz piano soloing.

Gabriel starts with Rhodes piano and a lovely section of guitar and keys giving a floaty feel, the delicate verses giving way to a soaring and more strident chorus. Vitalone gets another solo spot with Rhodes support and Tetti’s guitar injects energy and aggression. The track concludes on another ensemble instrumental section of picked guitar, layered keys and bubbling bass. Gorgeous.

Xoanon, the only instrumental, again moves through a number of sections using jazzy soloing, space rock and metal to make for an entertaining 8 minutes. The playing is superb and the band all work together well with fast and furious drumming and great fills from guest Stefano Crudele.

L’Isola Di Sara is stately with tasteful jazz and blues licks from Tetti before moving into a chorus which owes a small debt to Hogarth era Marillion. The choral vocals again work well and I particularly like the way the jazz piano of Di Benedetti complements Agostinelli’s more prog orientated flavours. Tetti adds some acoustic guitar to the mix and a soaring electric solo makes this track a standout.

Sovrano Dell’illusione is a magical affair bringing Steve Hackett and Genesis to mind at times. The vocal again doesn’t quite do the material justice but the beautiful piano makes up for that. Orchestral themes and acoustic guitar make for a laid back, pastoral sound while the lengthy second part is a very different thing; much more sinister and with a sense of foreboding that works well after the lighter first section. Guitars are edgier and the pulsing bass drives things along with plenty of intent, keys again straying into Tangent territory. The second part of Re Schiavo brings proceedings to a fitting close with variations on familiar themes heard at the start of the album.

The use of jazzier sounds to create a backdrop to their music which in itself is very much in the prog zone makes Mad Crayon an interesting prospect and Preda a very enjoyable listen. Production values are high and although some of the vocals could be more impressive the instrumental work is of a very high standard. There are many bands that employ jazz techniques but this is very much an album that successfully brings the prog and jazz elements of the band’s music together. Hopefully it won’t take them so long to produce a follow-up to Preda. It would be wrong to want the band to sing in English but I feel that I would personally get more out of this album and Mad Crayon would also get the wider listening that they deserve.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

JEZ ROWDEN



Musica Ficta – A Child & A Well
Musica Ficta – A Child & A Well
Country of Origin:Israel
Format:CD
Record Label:Fading Records
Catalogue #:FAD006
Year of Release:2012
Time:45:10
Info:AltrOck Info
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: A Child & A Well (4:46), The Fall (5:26), Man & Angel (5:29), Little Town (5:30), Run Free You Idiot (4:12), Empty Promises (4:41), The Postman (6:21), A Fantasy (8:41)

Musica Ficta are a band from Israel who take their name from the musical term which translates literally from the Latin as “false” or “contrived” music, but actually means the insertion of notes outside the parameters of the composed music either by an editor or in live performance by the musicians themselves. With that in mind I approach their debut waxing with an ear for the unusual or unexpected.

Musica Ficta were formed in Jerusalem in 2003 by guitarist and composer Udi Horev and they originally recorded this album in 2005, which was mixed by Udi Koomran, a name well known in avant-prog circles, waiting until now for an international release via the highly regarded Italian AltrOck label, through its Fading Records imprint. As with a lot of AltrOck releases the striking yet subtle cover art is created by the highly talented Paolo Botta, who should need no introduction to any avant-prog fan, nor indeed should fellow Yugen member Francesco Zago who contributes a concise and informative description of the album in the liner notes.

Although this release lists the song titles in English, they were written and are sung in Hebrew. It is to the band’s credit that badly enunciated English vocals do not rear their ugly head in the hope of selling a few more copies of the CD, but it is a shame that no translations of the lyrics are offered as there is probably an engaging narrative going on here, of which we will never know. The songs are sung with real style by Russian born Julia Feldman, who has a background in jazz singing and has studied voice technique with an opera singer. Her strong but thankfully not operatic voice complements the muscular and complex instrumentation and the resulting sound in places puts me in mind of a heavier Renaissance. More than capable musicianship is provided by Udi and Dvir Katz – flute, Yury Tulchinsky – keyboards, Avi Cohen Hillel – bass guitar, and Michael Gorodinsky - drums.

On first listen the album seems a bit disjointed, as it seems several classic prog styles vie for influence, but I’ve soon come to realise that this is not the case at all, as Musica Ficta have moulded their own sound from the many arrows dispensed by the small army of muses that surround them, a sound crafted by clever use of contrasting elements. Little Room for example is a lovely ballad accompanied by gorgeous flute work reminiscent of In The Court Of The Crimson King era Ian McDonald, whereas the following instrumental Run Free You Idiot has an almost Canterbury feel to its complex interplay, with a cacophonous guitar section near the end that an angry Martin Barre might have thrashed out. Although the two songs are entirely different in style they complement rather than clash with one another.

The chopping chords of Udi’s electric guitar style sometimes lends the songs a Jethro Tull feel which is amplified when the dextrous flute playing of Dvir joins in, especially so on the latter stages of The Postman. Udi is also a highly accomplished acoustic guitar player, his folk-classical style dominating the gorgeous Empty Promises, again in tandem with Dvir’s flute, and it is also to the fore on A Fantasy which manages to sound both medieval and modern at the same time. All the compositions are mature pieces of writing, and the arrangements display good use of harmonics and dynamics and the resulting album is a refreshing take on that dreaded description “retro-prog”.

If (if?!) you love the classic prog bands and don’t mind hearing their influence, but not to an extent that borders on plagiarism, and you enjoy fine ensemble playing fronted by a capable but not clichéd singer, then this is definitely for you.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

ROGER TRENWITH



Jelly Fiche – Symbiose
Jelly Fiche – Symbiose
Country of Origin:Canada
Format:CD
Record Label:Unicorn Records
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:57:37
Info:Jelly Fiche
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Le Vide (4:24), Expansion (1:54), Genèse (4:46), Ève (4:50), Trahison (4:20), Au Nom D'Apo Calypso (6:35), Les Amants De La Guerre (5:16), Le Marchand d'Hommes (7:51), Dualité (7:57), L'Autre Monde (9:44)

The second album from French-Canadian modern-retro progrockers hasn’t been quite so easy for me to enjoy as 2008’s impressive debut offering Tout Ce Que J'Ai Reve.

It was in September 2005 when Syd, a rock and poetry lover, Eric Plante, a jazz and sound ambiances junky and Jean-François Arsenault, a dedicated 60s and 70s prog fan merged their musical influences to create this Jelly Fiche.

Now altered and expanded to a quintet, this young Montreal-based outfit retains its firm foundations in the progressive rock of Genesis, Yes and King Crimson. However this time the interesting sideline in jazz, fusion and the avant-garde has been somewhat displaced by a whole new wave of modern ideas and musical dramatics.

Quirky is the word. We begin slowly with a pretty simple song that gives a progressive twist to the classic French Chanteur. Expansion is a short piece of Floydy ambience with some softly spoken vocals. A slow start.

Genèse raises the tempo with a funky groove but as a song it doesn’t really develop the original idea. We return to strolling pace for a piano-led chanteur ballad. Eve has a few proggy twists, great vocals and a wonderful guitar solo. Nice is the word.

A hideous alt-rock meets The Prodigy opening to Trahison gets me racing for the skip button. A shame as the second part of the song brings back memories of the jazzy overtures of the debut with a catchy little melodic hook.

Eccentric is the word to describe Au Nom D'Apo Calypso. The Arabian opening theme recalls the Eastern mysticism enjoyed by numerous bands from the 60s. The rhythm slowly evolves into a calypso inspired rock song. It sounds better than it sounds.

My favourite melody is up next. The delicious hook to Les Amants De La Guerre is slotted around a welcome burst of avant-garde prog idiosyncrasies. Follow the YouTube link above for a live version. Another sudden change of musical direction for Le Marchand d'Hommes which is based on a riff that wouldn’t be out of place on a Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin album.

Sharp musical u-turn again for the spacey, acoustic opening of Dualité. A standard prog rock ballad, but throw in a muted trumpet, and a bluesy guitar solo and it’s been given the Jelly Fiche treatment.

The band saves its most ambitious and longest mélange for the final dish. L'Autre Monde commences with a progressive Beech Boys sound from the 60s. The slow verse contrasts with an up tempo, Hammond-driven chorus. The mid-section is lifted from Floyd’s Comfortably Numb and a riff from somewhere lost in Deep Purple time. They haven’t forgotten the jazz, and we end the album as we started alongside a French chanteur. In effect, for 10 minutes the band just takes all the ideas (apart from The Prodigy) from the rest of the album and throws it in to a blender. As a word, ‘quirky’ doesn’t really do it justice.

Everything is sung in French. Syd has a fantastic voice and the band is tight and inventive around it. There are so many layers to the music this seems like the work of significantly more than five musicians. As before, I’m sure these songs lend themselves perfectly to a live performance.

With their second album, Jelly Fiche is offering a collection of songs with one foot clearly rooted in the past and the other stamping across a wide range of future possibilities. As an album it has more than enough treats and challenges to appeal to anyone who enjoys a contemporary take on classic Prog.

For my tastes it is all just a little too chaotic and meandering a listen to be an entirely enjoyable one. However I know that for many readers that will be the attraction. So feel free to add a couple of points to my personal rating. The whole album is currently streaming from the band's website, so you can see if it is to your tastes before you buy.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

ANDY READ



Edison's Children - In The Last Waking Moments...
Edison's Children - In The Last Waking Moments...
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Racket Records
Catalogue #:RDR-EC01
Year of Release:2011
Time:70:39
Info:Edison's Children
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Dusk (6:42), Fracture [Fallout Of The 1st Kind / The Last Refrain] (5:50), In The First Waking Moments... (0:44), A Million Miles Away [I Wish I Had A Time Machine] (5:01), Fallout [Of The 2nd Kind] (4:55), Outerspaced (3:14), Spiraling (5:01), The "Other" Other Dimension (4:45), Across The Plains (2:26), In The Last Waking Moments... (7:25), Lifeline (3:17), Fallout [Of The 3rd Kind] (4:00), The Awakening (15:33), Fallout [Of The 4th Kind] (1:46)

I may as well start by admitting that I am not a Marillion fan. I've got a vinyl copy of Misplaced Childhood and a soft spot for 1982's Grendel, but other than that my knowledge of the band is limited. This may make me less qualified to give a review of In The Last Waking Moments... - which is a duo project between Marillion/Translantic bassist Pete Trewavas and lesser known Eric Blackwood - but nevertheless I shall endeavour to give my honest opinion.

After all, this project is definitely not all too distant from Marillion themselves, as all of Rothery, Kelly, Hogarth and Mosley appear on the album. Not having a clue what Marillion sound like nowadays, I couldn't possibly comment on whether current fans would enjoy this side project.

This is the sort of album that requires listening to as a whole, rather than in little chunks, in order to feel its overall effect. A rather spacey album, most of the tracks are rather slow and repetitive, meaning that a lot of patience is also required. At times heavy, and at other times soft, the music plods through different moods with various themes recurring, especially in the four parts of Fallout which are spread across the album. I am wholly unsure of what Trewavas and Blackwood were aiming for with this music, but at the very least it is consistent.

Only occasionally does the music outstay its welcome, generally when the 'wrong' riffs are incessantly repeated. In particular, the closing two minutes of A Million Miles Away seem to drag forever with that cringeworthy guitar melody repeated over and over and over and over...

At other times, the duo show more creativity, especially with the jazzy The "Other" Other Dimension. Although still repetitive, this track has an obtuse yet mesmerising time signature and features a sample of the previous track unceremoniously pasted in the middle. Interesting stuff! Of course, in any prog review, it's worth mentioning the longest track. Similar in name and length (though not in nature) to a well known Yes song, The Awakening is more of the same really, only slightly longer and with more power. With its second half being subtitled Slow Burn, I feel the name is very apt, as the trancy effect really shines through as one reaches the closing minutes of this gargantuan track. It's a very cohesive quarter of an hour if you ask me.

While this album isn't really my cup of tea, I can certainly see its appeal. An album serving as a cohesive musical journey is getting harder to come by these days. To reiterate, this album is definitely not a spoonful of classic or symphonic prog, but more of an exercise in space music between two veterans of the genre. Die-hard Marillion fans would do well to keep this in mind when purchasing this album.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10 (out of personal taste)

BASIL FRANCIS



Quicksand - Home Is Where I Belong
Quicksand - Home Is Where I Belong
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC2293
Year of Release:1974/2011
Time:40:36
Info:Esoteric Info
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Hideaway My Song (3:14), Sunlight Brings Shadows (4:20), Empty Street, Empty Heart (3:41), Overcome The Pattern (3:55), Flying (4:20), Time To Live (3:29), Home Is Where I Belong (4:59), Seasons (4:40), Alpha Omega (3:42), Hiding It All (4:12)

Quicksand were formed in early 1969 in Neath, South Wales lasting for six years before calling it a day due to the lack of commercial and financial success. In that time they only managed to release one single in late 1970 and the album Home Is Where I Belong in February 1974. Inevitably, as with seemingly all Welsh bands from the '70s, Quicksand have links with the Manband not least of which being that Will Youatt, Man's bass player during arguably their most successful period, was one of the original members of Quicksand, writing both sides of the 1970 single. After Youatt's departure, shortly after the single's release, the two other members, Jimmy Davies (guitar and vocals) and Anthony Stone (drums and vocals) were joined by Phil Davies (bass, vocals and no relation to Jimmy) and Robert Collins (organ, mellotron, Moog synthesiser and vocals).

The new line-up proved to be a formidable live act and were regularly booked as support act to big name bands of the era including a successful tour with Thin Lizzy, during which Phil Lynott became a big fan, a more acrimonious series of dates with Wishbone Ash and a "Taff Rock" extravaganza with Man. The feuding with Wishbone Ash may have something to do with just how well Quicksand came over on stage, as Melody Maker's Roy Hollingworth wrote in one review: "they are tender to the point of brilliance, and when they rock they're savage as lions." Despite the very positive reactions the band seems to have had problems attracting record company attention but eventually signed a deal with Pye records who had failed to keep up with the musical trends of the time losing the pre-eminent position they had occupied in the 1960s. Released on the label's Dawn imprint, Pye had no real idea how to market the band whose harmony laden progressive rock seemed to have missed the boat somewhat. Add to that the label decided to spend its entire promotional budget pushing the album by Prelude who had recently had a surprise hit with an a cappella cover of Neil Young's After The Goldrush.

With four strong vocalists in the band there is plenty of scope to lay on the harmonies, lushly displayed on the slower, acoustic closing number Hiding It All. A lovely melancholic number, a sad paean to times back 'home' and given its position on the album, it is rather a fitting coda to the band. But let's not get ahead of ourselves, some 40 minutes earlier the album has a rockier beginning with Hideaway My Song. A strident opening with florid guitar, upbeat vocals (and harmonies!) and lovely backing by Collins on electric piano and Hammond organ. Sunlight Brings Shadows is one of the standout tracks on the album for me, a fast flowing intricate number with the rhythm section providing an energetic backdrop. With several changes in tempo and instrumentation it is a great prog song. However, it seems that the band were disappointed with the outcome claiming that their studio inexperience prevented them from capturing the full force of the song when performed live. Empty Street, Empty Heart is principle composer Jimmy Davies' favourite track, and although it is nice enough in its own way is a bit too simple compared with some of the other tracks the album has to offer.

Overcome The Pattern was the band's attempt to try and emulate Yes with their vocal arrangement and the spirit of The Beatles by experimenting with different ways of generating sounds by, for instance, playing the guitars through a rotating Leslie amplifier and picking the strings of the piano rather than using the keys. Interestingly enough, the opening music sounds more like Man but they do nail the vocals and have certainly generated quite a few unique sounds throughout. The only criticism is that it just seems to end rather abruptly. Collins has fun during the opening of Flying producing a variety of noises before the actual song begins. And when it does start it is quite a psychedelic affair, with phased and treated vocals, distorted guitars and a big ending. Like this one a lot although it does rather stick out as being totally different from the rest of the album. Time To Live is the most poppy/commercial number on the album, so it was no surprise that it was released as a single (backed with Empty Street, Empty Heart) four months before the album hit the shelves. Needless to say it wasn't a hit! Personally I think that the single contained the two weakest tracks on the album, but obviously that is looking at things from a distance of 28 years and with a bias favouring heavier numbers.

The title track, Home Is Where I Belong is anything but heavy but is none-the-less an excellent number. With keys and guitar echoing each other on the catchy and melodious refrain, a Latin beat, wonderful bass line throughout, alternating lead vocals and a couple of succinct solos this song kills. Seasons is another song that is well worthy of hearing being right up there amongst the albums highlights while Alpha Omega shows that the group were accomplished musicians that could perform interesting and attention grabbing instrumental music.

Sadly, despite being a big draw on the continent, especially in Holland, the costs of touring, particularly overseas even though they were a headline act were too great. With no money, a failing record label and a cancelled 36-date tour supporting Dr. Hook the band folded. After Quicksand Jimmy Davies formed Alkatraz, whose sole album Doing A Moonlight will hopefully be re-issued one day, had a brief solo career and provided the support act for Tina Turner's 1984 tour (in the duo Double Vision with Will Youatt); Robert Collins spent 20 years working with Eric Clapton; Anthony Stone briefly drummed with Manband guitarist Deke Leonard and his band Iceberg; and Phil Davies, after suffering a near-fatal traffic accident, retired from music - a great shame as his wonderful bass playing is clearly evident on this album. The four musicians did reunite for a one-off reunion gig in May 2000 - what a shame recordings of that event, or of the 1970 single, were not available to supplement this reissue. Still, notwithstanding the unavailability of any bonus material, Home Is Where I Belong is well worth the effort that Esoteric have put into remastering and reissuing this obscure album. The strength of the album is that, although progressive in nature, the music is very much song-based and doesn't rely on improvisational interplay or needless extended soloing that plague so many prog releases. Quicksand definitely deserve a wider audience.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Xanadu - The Last Sunrise
Netherland Dwarf - Moi Moi
Country of Origin:Poland
Format:CD
Record Label:ProgRock Records
Catalogue #:PRR 608
Year of Release:2011
Time:45:37
Info:Xanadu
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Piece Of Mind (3:58), Dark Shadows (5:28), Miles Away (5:01), Violent Dream - Part 1 (10:08), One Moment (6:55), Vicious Circle (3:52), The Last Sunrise (10:15)

Xanadu are a new band from Poland, however their origins date back to the nineties as drummer Hubert Murawski was a member of "the old Xanadu". Together with two guitarists, Przemek Betanski and Janusz Glon, bassist Adam Biskup and vocalist Michal Jarski this album has been recorded. Atmospheric rock seems to be an appropriate circumscription and bands like Porcupine Tree, Riverside and Anathema come to mind as references. Thanks to the contributions of keyboardists Pawel Balcer and Marcin Grzella the album sounds quite mature and more symphonic.

The first tracks sound a lot like Riverside, the riffs, the more melodic verses, the bass playing and even the vocals resemble this great band from that same country. In Dark Shadows there are some influences of the German progressive rock by bands like Eloy and we can appreciate this rather recognizable accent of vocalist Jarski. In the third track, like in the previous songs, it becomes obvious the band likes semitones. The more atmospheric music, the lush orchestrations and the slower tempo remind of Anathema although the vocals sound quite different.

In Violent Dream there a beautiful symphonic overture with some guitar effects, then a sequence sounding like percussion and more guitars join in. This ten minute lasting track is purely instrumental and quite tasteful, where the slow melody by the lead guitar is echoed by a synth. In the middle section there are delightful melodic solos by keyboards as well as guitar. Some excellent drumming by Murawski too with a subtle use of the double bass drums pedals. The music flows right through in the ballad One Moment. Jarski whispers at first and subsequently sings with a mellow voice. In spite of all electric instruments there are some influences from folk music from the East European countries.

A bit more heavy are the riffs in Vicious Circle and again the melodies and the style sound a lot like Riverside. The title track is the second long track of over ten minutes length. Basically it's a long ballad with the verses played with the traditional G, C and F chords. An almost electronic interlude takes you away into this strange world of Xanadu's in which rock, ambient, folk and progressive are blended in a most sophisticated way.

Although there's an English flag on their website, I could only open the Polish version and that wasn't really helpful. Nevertheless The Last Sunrise is a very tasteful album which will appeal to fans of the more melodic Riverside for sure.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

MENNO VON BRUCKEN FOCK



King Of Agogik – From A To A
King Of Agogik – From A To A
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:77:32
Info:King Of Agogik
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: 12 B.C (5:00), From A (21:36), Moonboys (0:55), Bongen (4:39), Capricorn (1:31), Early Bird And The Edible Dormouse (4:44), Personal Jungle (6:40), Free Water (6:05), A Theme (1:08), Tanks On High Street (4:18), Blue Tears (2:50), To A (11:24), NOW (6:36)

“King is a wit, who thinks he is in control. Agogik is the art of conscious changes in tempo”.

Drummer Hans Jörg Schmitz has released his fourth solo album which is called From A To A that features some rather interesting musical approaches. His band of participating courtiers are Dirk "Dago" Wilms (guitars), Tom Anderson (Gibson Les Paul, SG, Fender Tele/Stratocaster & Takamine), Michael Elzer (12 string Chapman Stick), Michael "Cross" Kreutz (bass), Peter Simon (flutes & oboe), Erik Vaxjö (Mellotron M400), Enno Nilson (keyboards), Philipp Schmitz (Spanish guitar), Ralp Chambers (saxophone), Gary Farmer (bass), Wendy Hirst, Alanda Scapes, Gernot Jonas (voices). Hans is no slouch himself as he also provides drums, keyboards, a bit of guitar and a little less bass.

As a drummer Hans just can’t be faulted, displaying his versatility and style for all to hear and thankfully the album isn’t awash with ego filled drum solos, not that there is anything wrong with that mind. If you are looking for reference then think, Cozy Powell, Zappa, Dream Theater, King Crimson and even vague hints of Jean Michel Jarre all mixed with a big twist of originality.

The real stars of the album though are the paired twenty one minute plus From A and the eleven minute plus To A, instrumentals that really deliver. Transitionally the passages are technically proficient with each instrumental varying in style featuring some stunning time changes and tempo’s, although first time out they can sound somewhat confusing, overawing the listener. One minute it’s melodic, then dissonant, lushly symphonic, the next detuned and metallic, dark and light interactions that power to climatic conclusions. I was really taken aback hearing how an unsuspecting snippet of Popcorn was cleverly placed in From A which brought a wry smile to my face and that is the beauty of this album as it hits the mark repeatedly.

All the instrumentals here are like plays, musical dalliances telling stories, frivolous pronunciations that are dignified and serious. When this isn’t the case the approach is cinematic, statements of grandeur. Some may find this approach endearing others a bit too bombastic. Importantly though Schmitz and co never strays to far from keeping this all light hearted offering humour, not comedic, which finely counterbalances the extravagant musical approach.

Even on the passionate and more sedate Spanish guitar inflected shorter track Moonboy, the retro sounding Early Bird And The Edible Dormouse, what a fantastic title that is, that musically builds visions of peaceful imagery, the arrogant Bongen or the sparse Free Water a trick is never missed as the musical notes exude, flowing gradually, being pinpointed and punctuated perfectly.

As I said, the album is musically intense and powerful, possessing a humorous side as well as a serious approach. The artist’s adeptness is prevalent throughout the whole proceedings as note after note of energetic augmentations are repeatedly presented that can only lend me to recommending this album.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

JOHN O'BOYLE



Arkaidence - A Timeless Mechanical Clockwork Animal [EP]
Arkaidence - A Timeless Mechanical Clockwork Animal [EP]
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2012
Time:26:02
Info:Arkaidence
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Creation (2:13), Majesty (4:53), Erosion (7:37), Descent (6:06), Terminus (5:11)

Arkaidence hail from Liverpool and list their influences as Dream Theater, Symphony X, Queensrÿche, Dominici, Metallica, Iron Maiden and Racer X. Rush fans will find plenty to like here too, methinks. They are a young band, trying to make it in the progressive rock world and offer up this five track EP to whet the appetites of the listening masses.

The band comprises: Al Nolan (lead vocals), Peter Roper (drums), Michael Threlfall (lead guitar/backing vocals), Jordan Dunbar (keyboards), Richard Jones (bass). They formed about three years ago, going down the ‘prog’ route a year later, Al joining in February 2011 and Jordan in September.

Creation starts things off slowly and acoustically, with some nice keyboard textures and packs a lot in to its 2-ish minute running time. Next up is Majesty an altogether rockier and proggier (courtesy of lots of nice time and tempo changes, and creative use of string synths) proposition, and it’s a fantastic instrumental workout.

The longest track Erosion has more of an indie, alt/prog thing going early doors, before getting Dream Theatery. Which readers of this site (who from the poll results seem to quite like DT) should get down to. The vocals are strong, the riffage is clean and powerful and there’s some pretty excellent drumming going on too. Descent follows; a spiky, slow burning metal workout, again with nice use of keyboards for texture.

Last track Terminus sees a return to the acoustic style that opened the EP, with some haunting harmonies and keyboard washes. The vocals have a North American timbre, and put this writer in mind of Tiles. Which is no bad thing. There’s some great soloing and the rhythm section yet again lays down an incredibly powerful bottom end.

All in all it’s a bravura debut from a young, inexperienced but undeniably talented and passionate band. The production is good for an indie release and I bet they sound great in a live environment. The EP costs three quid, direct from the band (check them out on Facebook) and it’s very good, hinting at how good they can become if the right opportunities present themselves, so dig deep and give ‘em a chance.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

BRIAN WATSON



Fourteen Twentysix – In Halflight Our Soul Glows
Fourteen Twentysix – In Halflight Our Soul Glows
Country of Origin:Netherlands
Format:CD
Record Label:Mine All
Mine Records
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2012
Time:48:08
Info:Fourteen Twentysix
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Echo (1:45), Summer Snow (3:34), Sleepwalker (4:06), For A Second (3:24), Decelerate (3:37), Noon (1:08), Hollow (4:48), Fall From Gravity (3:55), Every Line (5:14), Rush_Run (1:49), Little Diamonds (4:53), Halflight (1:44), The Crossing (5:48), 23|59 (1:31), Funeral Fire (1:34)

The second album from Chris van der Linden’s experimental post-everything funsters Fourteen Twentysix is a dark and delicate work that only begins to reveal its true nature after many listens. An ever evolving story of the cycle of life from birth to death to decay to rebirth and man’s age-old grapple with the constrictions of mortality, In Halflight Our Soul Grows is in fact a concept album after a fashion, although the story is not linear by any means.

This time around Chris is joined by a full band so the album is not as bleakly sparse as the first album Lightown Closure, which was essentially a one man production. However, it still relies on the dynamics of space rather than aural assault for its effectiveness, and could certainly be termed minimalist without fear of contradiction. In an interesting twist, the other four group members Jelle Goossens (guitars), Tom van Nuenen (guitars, vocals), Martijn Jorissen (bass), and Jeroen Dirrix (drums) all contribute keyboards and indeed even their defined roles are fluid, Chris stating that “We don't have rigid roles within the band, we don't think in terms of "oh he's the bass player" at all.” The writing process too was unstructured in nature, the gear set up in an old farmhouse and everyone contributed with a lyric here, a keyboard fill there, moving between instruments at will. This fluid process is evident in the finished product where one song will run into another, and it seems to me that the shorter songs form bridges between the longer and sometimes slightly more conventional pieces.

Dominated by the lower frequency rumblings of either bass guitar or synth overlaid with electronica and keyboard tinklings and the odd guitar scratching, the sound develops into a post-rock soundscape at places reminiscent of Elbow and in others of The Blue Nile, the end section of Sleepwalker even has an Eno–like feel, and the production throughout is low key. An almost subsonic bassline that has to be heard through a proper hi-fi rather than via the usual lo-fi soundcard of a computer pulses underneath For A Second, another song attempting to scratch at the surface of the meaning of life, the protagonist wondering if he is “nothing at all”. A bedsit dreamers’ anthem if ever there was one.

Actually if you make the mistake of listening to this while sat at the computer, you may wrongly believe that the band recorded the album through blown speakers. When listened to on a proper set up the album reveals a full sonic range that most soundcards are simply not capable of reproducing. Yep, call me an old fuddy-duddy, I don’t care!

Back in twilight land, Decelerate is a creepy paen to death, and the melancholy is leant an extra piquancy by the fragile singing of Chris and Tom, a constant feature of the album. Hollow is a very strange fish, low end synth pulses and off kilter guitar and piano seemingly playing different melodies at the same time backing a lyric that is as highly ambitious as it is ambiguous. It reads like a man uncomfortable within the confines of his own skin, but you really need to make your own mind up on this one.

Every Line, with a vocal contributed by Mick Moss of Manchester doomy-prog-poppers Antimatter, is not an obvious choice for a single but once you get into the song it gets under your skin and is almost catchy in parts. Another one to fit into the loose concept of the album, our hero struggles to come to terms with his mortality, claiming on the one hand “I will let go” and on the other “I’m not ready” while an Eno guitar figure writhes about underneath. Nice!

The other guest vocalist is Vera Dirkx from Eindhoven electro rockers Digital Orchestra on Rush_Run which starts with a strange ambience speeding up before morphing into a lone piano and Vera’s voice for a mini-ballad ending, and all in ten seconds under two minutes, which is a shame as I would like to have heard more. This is strange pop for those introspective moments, and does not work as background music. The band’s unassuming character is projected via the intricate but understated music, and they tell us in Little Diamonds that “we did the best we could”. In fact this song almost threatens to rock and is the obvious single on the album.

The Crossing is a dark focal point of the album and is almost hidden in plain sight, but containing as it does the album title in its lyric, maybe that was the point. Our hero has reached a river that “…flows in nine winding circles” but is not quite ready to sell his soul. A Styxian nightmare that gives the impression that this band wants you to contribute a bit of thought to their work, and there is nothing wrong with that all.

Not your usual prog fare I’ll admit, but an interesting listen nonetheless.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

ROGER TRENWITH



Sleepwalker Sun – Sleepwalker Sun
Sleepwalker Sun – Sleepwalker Sun
Country of Origin:Brazil
Format:CD
Record Label:Masque Records
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2005
Time:60:20
Info:Sleepwalker Sun
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Blindfold (14:24), Bring’em (7:12), Sleepwalker Sun (7:51), Dead Flowers (8:12), Russian Roulette (8:02), Jalen’s Eyes (4:40), Nocturnal (9:57)

Sleepwalker Sun – Stranger In The Mirror
Country of Origin:Brazil
Format:CD
Record Label:Masque Records
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2010
Time:65:30
Info:Sleepwalker Sun
Samples:Click here
Sleepwalker Sun – Stranger In The Mirror

Tracklist: Stranger In The Mirror (20:29), Revealing Web (7:41), Play Of Light (4:03), The Waste Land (7:45), An Obvious Guest (8:37), A Lonely Land [Without A Trace] (12:17), Into The Twilight (4:27)

I must admit I’ve been sitting on these two albums for some time. It’s not that I have not got around to listening to them. I have played them many times. I have just been unable to decide what I think of them … and why. These are the two albums released so far by an interesting Brazilian band known as Sleepwalker Sun.

Following the break-up of his previous band called Revealing Web, keyboardist and singer Luiz Gustavo Alvim was putting together an ELP-like power trio where each member shared the vocals. A change of plan saw the recruitment of his former singing colleague Giana Araújo.

The self-titled debut album from 2005 is the result of new songs, and the rearranging of old ones from Revealing Web and mixing them with new passages. As suggested by the long list of musicians credited in the sleeve notes, at this stage Sleepwalker Sun was very much a band project led and directed by Alvim.

Among the 15 people listed are Andre Mello, from Brazilian prog band Tempus Fugit, and Ricardo Aguiar from Terra Molhada and well-known violinist Marcus Viana (Sagrado Coracao Da Terra).

Five years later and a proper band line-up had been settled upon. In addition to Alvim and Araújo the quintet was completed by three musicians who participated five years earlier: Francisco Falcon (bass); Rodrigo Martinho (drums) and Ricardo Marins on guitar.

The first problem I have faced is in trying to pin down how to describe the band’s intended approach. They’ve been labelled in many quarters as a progressive metal band. Certainly there is some heavy guitar riffage and some ProgMetal style arrangements throughout each album. However I think it is the traditional, symphonic heavy prog style which dominates. The biggest influences on show are from the heavier prog rock bands of the 70s and 80s.

However the arrangements also throw in frequent lighter, folky, ambient passages led by piano or acoustic guitar. Add to that Araújo’s vocal style that doesn’t really fit into either the ProgMetal or symphonic prog category. At times she brings more to mind Indie bands such as The Cranberries. Alvim’s keyboard work and mellotron is a key feature throughout.

At times it all gels together well. But there are many times when passages sit next to each other like reluctant metro passengers waiting desperately to get off at the next stop.

Of the songs, both releases possess fantastic opening tracks. Blindfold is a superbly constructed slice of epic prog. Probably my favourite song overall. The violin is very effective. The heavy guitars have a metallic edge and the keys add a very symphonic prog styling to the band's sound. The balance between heavy and light is perfectly placed and Araújo's voice is given space to shine.

Stranger In The Mirror takes a similar approach, starting off with an acoustic styling before adapting the melody into a heavier sphere. I love the melodic hook from 12 minutes. A Lonely Land is another excellent, longer song with a great change of groove halfway through.

Bring’em, Dead Flowers and Russian Roulette all have their good moments, especially the nice guitar and keyboard opening to Dead Flowers. Nocturnal has some fantastic keyboard work. Nothing else really leaves a distinctive and lasting impression.

The debut album suffers from the fact that it was more of a project, reworking old material than a real band. The production is not great, with the drums in particular suffering as a result. Stranger In The Mirror has a more cohesive feel and a much better sound.

Alvim features as a vocalist a lot on the debut but just one track on the follow up, Waste Land. His voice isn’t that strong and really just adds yet another image to an already over-crowded gallery.

As for Araújo? I’m not wholly convinced. She sounds much better on the gentler passages. When she tries to force the power a bit more, as on the eponymous track from the debut album, there are some noticeable tuning issues. She sounds much better on the second album. It may just be a case of writing songs to her strengths next time.

Anyway, I guess that is a rather convoluted way of saying Sleepwalker Sun is very much a hit and miss affair. If the three hits (the three longest tracks) were combined with three of the moderate ones then you’d have a pretty good album. However with two albums and a lot of misses to plough through, I can’t really recommend either album in its own right.

Conclusions:

Sleepwalker Sun: 6 out of 10
Stranger In The Mirror: 7 out of 10

ANDY READ



Different Light – Il Suono Della Luce
Different Light – Il Suono Della Luce
Country of Origin:Various
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:74:25
Info:Different Light
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: This Is Only The Beginning (8:06), Burning Memories (12:11), In The Grey (5:43), Victim’s Eye View (7:30), The Eyelid Movie Show (5:32), Educating Jesus (5:11), Takeshi’s Castle (3:07), Angel Incarnate (6:20), A Creature Of Habit (8:58), Solitary Heart (4:38), A life in A Day (4:30), The Few of Us (2:35)

Lots of bands have a long history to be told and this is true for Different Light as well. Founded back in 1994 on the Isle of Malta, the band played simply like mad back in those days, performing one gig after another, resulting in a compilation album in 1996 entitled All About Yourself. Caused by various reasons Different Light split up early 2000. After a lengthy break, new life was given to the band in 2008, now based in the Czech Republic and where a new album was recorded - entitled Icons That Weep. In 2011 the band are still touring in the Czech Republic and have released this album - Il Suono Della Luca - another compilation album.

Trevor Tabone appears to be the main man behind the band, as he already was way back in the ‘90s. Il Suono Della Luce tells the story musically speaking of Different Light. The album is a compilation of the band's work divided into three different sections - (1) Inception, (2) Transition and (3) Conciliation.

The "Inception" phase (1992-1996) covers four tracks from the earlier period of the band. Musically speaking Different Light walk along the edges of neo progressive and pop music. At times it all is just a tiny bit too smooth for my liking - a bit to sweet. The music is also very keyboard oriented, compositional and conceptually not of the stronger sort, but not bad. You could say Different Light is the southern European version of Renaissance, only with male vocals all the time. In this section I find one of my two favourites from the album Burning Memories - this is a song of epic length and it never bores me not even for a second.

The "Transition" phase (1997-2002) in every day life is the most difficult part and you can say Different Light is no exception. This phase ends with the break up. Song wise this section is only three songs long but the guitar has found a more dominant place in the music. The songs are all also a bit more rockin' in nature and this might be due to a more prominent role of the guitar.

The "Conciliation" phase (2003-2009) covers the last part of the band's career taking us to Different Light in more recent years, which is without a doubt, the best sounding of their career. In this Conciliation phase - will the band exist in the future? That is a question. Looking at the enormous amount of personnel changes they have been through it seems very hard to keep the band in existence, but they do try.

Il Suono Della Luce is a nice showing of the career of one of Malta’s progressive rock bands - there’s not too many of them. Will Trevor continue with the band? For the future of prog rock in Malta - hopefully he will. There could be a lot coming from this band as throughout their career the music has definitely grown stronger. For getting better and presenting a career spanning works it is absolutely worth listening to.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

GERT HULSHOF


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