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2012 : VOLUME 11
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


RPWL – Beyond Man And Time
RPWL – Beyond Man And Time
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:Gentle Art
Of Music
Catalogue #:GAOM 009
Year of Release:2012
Time:75:47
Info:RPWL
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Transformed (2:15), We Are What We Are [The Keeper] (9:16), Beyond Man And Time [The Blind] (6:28), Unchain The Earth [The Scientist] (7:06), The Ugliest Man In The World [The Ugly] (7:53), The Road Of Creation [The Creator] (6:27), Somewhere In Between [The Dream Of Saying Yes] (2:03), The Shadow (5:57), The Wise In The Desert [{a} The Wise In The Desert {b} The Silenced Song] (5:39), The Fisherman [{a} High As A Mountain Part I {b} The Abyss {c} High As A Mountain Part II] (16:19), The Noon [The Eternal Moment Of Return] (3:59)

The newest RPWL Beyond Man And Time is a concept album. Many of my favourite progressive rock albums are concept albums, so you can imagine my interest in how this would work out for RPWL. The band had released already several very excellent pieces and the quality seemed to get better every time. Would this one now be their masterpiece?

First of all, the five musicians, under leadership of guitar player Kalle Wallner and singer/keyboardist Yogi Lang, do what their fans would expect them to do. The first thing you notice when listening is that Beyond Man And Time again is a very professional and well produced CD. Its compositions have everything a good prog album should have: a couple of epic songs, nice rhythmic surprises and instrumental expeditions. What I like a lot is the way Lang is able to play his MemoryMoog and modulate his lead sounds, he is highly underrated. Lang’s lead solo’s, soaring Hammonds and waves of mellotrons are tasteful and colourful in the best progressive tradition and a relief in an era in which keyboardists are mainly expected to be fast and virtuoso.

The band firmly remains loyal to their roots dating in their period in the nineties as a Pink Floyd tribute band. Although Yogi Lang’s voice has a different timbre compared to David Gilmour, he sings in a similar fashion and tempo. The influence of Genesis remains clear on this album as well. Especially the title track would not misfit on …And Then There Were Three. We also hear other influences. The up-tempo The Road To Creation for example makes me think of the darker side of Porcupine Tree (the drum breaks on this track are nice to get to know RPWL’s new drummer Marc Tuliaux). The Wise In The Desert reminds me of Coldplay’s opening track Politik on A Rush Of Blood To The Heart.

So, RPWL prolongs its status as a high end band and has delivered a quality CD again, something the prog community should recognize and cherish. Yet, Beyond Man And Time is not the masterpiece I was hoping for. Perhaps it’s the album’s concept which has not convinced me. First I thought I was just missing the unifying element in the compositions that you would expect on a concept album. But there is more. The leaflet accompanying the promo-CD explains that Beyond Man And Time is about the philosopher Plato and his cave as well as about Nietzsche and his characters. DPRP received a leaflet explaining the concept but it was rather incomprehensible. The lyrics also don’t make the story come alive. (An audio book accompanying a limited edition is supposed to connect “the music even more closely to the philosophical approach”. Maybe this could enlighten me, but as we didn’t receive a reviewers copy of this audio book, it’s a bit hard to comment on it.)

I like rock music being about the rough and passionate sides of life: rage, unanswered love, tears, desperation. It really escapes me why a rock band would choose to write a concept album on academic, philosophic debates. We have so much rationalism around us in daily life that I need my music precisely to compensate that. Of course this is a very personal note but it seems this is exactly what I miss on most of the tracks on this CD: the passion, the emotion, the “blues” if you wish.

Yet, I believe the best song RPWL ever made in their career is on this album. It’s this more than 16 minute long epic The Fisherman, which – in spite of its length – keeps me interested from the beginning to the end. It has a Spock's Beard kind of epic quality, with a tension being built up carefully, and it includes a truly inspired and dramatic guitar solo in the best “Rotheryian” tradition. The tragedy is that the quality of The Fisherman highlights the contrast a bit with the lack of similar inspiration on the rest of the album.

There are not as many “volume up” moments as I would have wished and some tracks are even a bit somnolent. Nevertheless, after long hesitation, I think Beyond Man And Time has just about reached the rate necessary for the desired “DPRP Recommended status”. The excellent The Fisherman epic is reason enough to buy this album; this is one track prog fans definitely should have in their collection. I realize this sounds a bit sour and this is not my intention, because there are other good tracks which stand in another league than many mediocre prog bands existing nowadays. I guess I just expected a bit more than that.

For the next album therefore, I do hope Wallner and Lang will try to find the muse more in their hearts than in their brains, resulting in the masterpiece of RPWL which is potentially there.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

ERIK LAAN



The Fierce & The Dead – On VHS [EP]
The Fierce & The Dead – On VHS [EP]
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:MS-02
Year of Release:2012
Time:29:48
Info:The Fierce &
The Dead
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: 6666 (4:44), Hawaii (4:16), On VHS (4:54), Part 3 (7:29), On VHS [Vek Noir Remix] (3:54), On VHS [The Random Remix] (4:29)

Last year I reviewed the debut album from guitarist and loop master Matt Stevens’ band The Fierce & The Dead and now this EP follow-up marks a significant step forward for the band in both style and delivery. Since If It Carries On Like This We Are Moving To Morecambe the band have gained a new member in guitarist Steve Cleaton and the quartet have developed quickly to integrate the addition.

On the debut album the band seemed to under deliver slightly but with On VHS they have gelled and produce a very interesting release that bodes well for the next album. Those familiar with Stevens from his solo albums will find TF&TD to be a very different proposition, their angular post-rock driven along by a raw rhythm section that may surprise those familiar with the previous releases from the Stevens cottage industry. The original band experiment has moved forward, the all-instrumental pieces now being edgy and powerful where the album seemed somewhat unsure and overawed. The rhythm section, which I previously described as two-dimensional now sound perfectly at home and deliver well and Stevens appears to revel another guitarist to bounce ideas off. The only main failing with this disc is its brevity – four tracks with two exclusive remixes on the initial run only, but these are certainly worth hearing.

There are ambient, electronic, experimental and noise rock elements to the bands’ sound but it is the interlocking guitars that make this a fine release and I wonder where they will take this template on their next full album.

6666 is all loops and ambient to start before the band thunders in. The sound seems cleaner and after the initial assault Stevens and Cleaton get down to the refined art of supporting each other on some fine picking. The new addition also gives the band more depth allowing one guitar to back up and fill out the sound while the other solos. An opening guaranteed to blow the cobwebs away then! This is not just a copycat King Crimson double guitar approach and there is more punk influence than might be expected.

Hawaii isn’t the palm tree fringed beaches idyll one would expect and metal onslaught and galloping distorted bass comes as a surprise but the guitars again produce some immaculate dovetailing amongst the noise frenzy. The rawness of the bass works for me and the material is never allowed to get stuck in a noise cup de sac. More like Bikini Atoll than Hawaii but everything calms down and we wake from the nightmare on the aforesaid beach with lazy, sun drenched guitar and the twittering of birds.

On VHS sees the guitars taking on more of a KC hue; two riffs winding round each other with an epic bass part and solid percussion. The pace is steady and there is no showing off required, the additional guitar textures filling the space. The tempo rises and the guitars come together over a looped backing with more urgency from the rhythm section. The two remixes give the track different spins. The Vek Noir Remix is loops of electronica all the way and an understated ‘80s Bruford drum pattern to create a hypnotic whole. The Random Remix brings the pace down and keeps things sparse for the guitars to shine. Plenty of electronic influences but not as many staccato beats as the previous remix.

Track 4 is in fact Part 3 (a sequel to Part 2 on the album), a brooding tale with bass up front and guitars emerging from the distance to offer a clean and uplifting sound which again brings Radiohead to mind. This is a lyrical piece with mayhem where required and howls of Fripp-like guitar in the extended outro a fitting way to end the main body of the EP.

This is definitely an improvement and step up from the debut album and a very promising pointer to the bands’ future direction. The guitars work together well and the rhythm section have developed a personality of their own. Matt’s independent ethic is working well for him at the moment. Long may it continue and you could do much worse than support this idiosyncratic talent in any of his chosen guises.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

JEZ ROWDEN



Red Orchid - Blood Vessels And Marshmallows
Red Orchid -  Blood Vessels And Marshmallows
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:60:21
Info:Red Orchid
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Blood Vessels & Marshmallows (4:56), Release (6:50), Glass Woven Yarn (2:44), Silent Train (5:32), Astronomicon (7:04), Bitter Hands (4:11), White Mist, Black Widow (6:38), Drown With Me (4:29), Flabbergast, Butterfly (10:52), Let Go: Jenny (7:02)

Last year I had the honour of reviewing the first EP by Sanmeet Sidhu and Tom Dupree III, who record under the name Red Orchid, entitled Sky Is Falling. And now I get a chance to review their second effort and the full length album, Blood Vessels & Marshmallows.

Whereas Sky Is Falling was mostly instrumental, this certainly isn’t the case with BV&M, although the tracks still balance on the edge of post rock with a slight pinch of Porcupine Tree. Once again the music is melodramatic, with soundscapes drenched in long lasting guitarplay, accompanied by an abundance of synths and a steady drumbeat to back it up. Again multi-instrumentalist, producer and writer Sanmeet is responsible for all the material on the album, with Tom Dupree III supplying the drums. The recording for BV&M was done during 2010 & 2011, however for the mastering of his recordings Sanmeet enlisted none other than Ty Tabor of King's X fame.

Blood Vessels & Marshmallows, the title track, kicks of the album and you can hear, what appears to be, blood streaming through blood vessels at an extreme low rate of heartbeats - growing to be quite normal when the guitarwork kicks in. As I already stated, post rock with a pinch of Porcupine Tree, or if you will, a rough edged PT sound. A volatile track driven forward by the post-rocking guitars until the clean guitar sound enters. Entertaining from start to finish and an instrumental track to start the show.

To continue, Release, a song literally dripping with emotion kicks in with a nice bass line followed by rippling guitar work, only to return to the same bass line. The guitars increasingly become more melodramatic. This song completely captures the sound of Red Orchid - rough, but yet so subtle, whilst remaining melodramatic. Whereas as we enter track three Glass Woven Yarn things become more delicate - even more subtle. This instrumental ditty at just under three minutes is a fantastic example of the sheer beauty of the music on this album.

Silent Train, with its great melody line is a perfect example of Sanmeet's excellent writing skills along with the great musicianship. The song builds towards a climax and then finishes off with a nice sounding epilogue. Astronomicon starts gradually with narration over some easy going music. Then out of the blue kicks in to an ever building, monstrous post rock song. Firstly played by a fierce some guitars, but half way through the piano takes over the lead role. we return to the narrating as we build towards the full blown ending of the song.

Bitter Hands is an acoustic track that reminds quite a bit of Porcupine Tree, think of songs such as Lazarus and the likes. A melodramatic song, full of emotion and played with emotion. White Mist, Black Widow on the other hand once again is an instrumental post-rock tune of great stature, very well structured and balanced. A simple but effective tune that you will easily remember and with the intonation common to Red Orchid songs, more or less a trademark. Drown With Me has, like the Bitter Hands track, a great deal in common with some of Porcupine Tree’s illustrious tracks. Drawn from a great melody comes a track that emotionally builds up into a great rocking song.

Flabbergast, Butterfly yet another lengthy song, and in fact the longest on this album. With only six lines of lyrics, but lots and lots of long drawn out notes from the guitars. A very relaxing song in which Tom Dupree III provides the right impetus on the drums - driving the song, giving it the steam it needs whilst still making way for Sanmeet on the other instruments. A true example of how much fun music really is. I was flabbergasted the whole way through this song.

Let Go: Jenny. The song has a real, I have written this for Jenny, homage feel to it - may be even some sort of requiem for a love. A very sad song indeed, starting out on piano, but later taken over by guitar in a more orchestrated fashion of chords, rather than single string play. I really hope whoever this song was written for, or about, can feel the emotion at which it is performed and of course composed.

In conclusion and needless to say this is a production of international allure. The mastering by Ty Tabor has worked very well.

Last year I felt that Red Orchid had produced a great debut, well the sophomore release is even better. Where will it end for Sanmeet and Tom. The sky is the limit. Sheer beauty with a wonderful trademark sound.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

GERT HULSHOF



Netherland Dwarf - Moi Moi
Netherland Dwarf - Moi Moi
Country of Origin:Japan
Format:CD
Record Label:Musea Parallele
Catalogue #:MP 3223
Year of Release:2011
Time:50:49
Info:Netherland Dwarf
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Alone In The Blizzard Dawn (10:27), Ruslan And Ludmilla Overture (5:20), Salad Bowl (6:24), Messiah HWV 56 Part II No. 44 - Hallelujah (4:16), Netherland Dwarf (2:34), Moi Moi (1:23), Samson And Delilah Bacchanale (7:23), Alone In The Twilight Orange (6:18), Symphony No. 104 In D Major London - IV. Finale. Spiritoso (6:39)

A one man band from Japan, that's about all I could find on the internet (Musea) and MySpace. Undoubtedly this artist has been inspired by the great classical composers and the prog from the seventies. According to the artist the name has been chosen because the Netherland Dwarf (a particular breed of rabbit) moves restless and unpredictable, just like the music on this album. Moi Moi has been recorded in 2009 and 2010 and has been released in 2011. Listening to the album it all sounds very melodic and not hardly as unpredictable as a rabbit...

After an overture consisting of some distant sounds the 'full band' joins in with drums (synth) bass and a whole lot of keyboards. A crossover between Yellow Magic Orchestra and Rick van der Linden's Ekseption I would say. On this album we can find 9 tracks of which 5 composed by Netherland Dwarf and 4 adapted from classical pieces by Glinka, Händel, Saint Saëns and FJ Haydn. This first track is a solid piece of classically orientated symphonic and keyboard driven rock, melodic, powerful and in my opinion very tasteful with an orchestration by mellotron (samples). Ruslan And Ludmilla is a classical piece adapted from the opera by Mikhail Glinka. Bombastic arrangements, sometimes a bit like a hurdy-gurdy, excellent soloing and a nice rock rhythm comparable to the adaptations from classical pieces by the Nice or Ekseption.

In Salad Bowl, nice up tempo rhythm patterns and again nimble playing on the keyboards with a sound resembling the Mini-Moog. The drums are supported by percussion coming from the computers. The Messiah is the next track, earlier performed by one Rick Wakeman on YesSongs. ND's classically trained way of playing the organ reminds of Rick van der Linden and he surely uses a 'choir sound' a lot as if he would like to let the listener believe he or she is listening to a tenor. A nice quick and frivolous song is Netherland Dwarf in which the artist plays the organ as leading instrument. The title track is the shortest song on the record and a sweet but rather pointless keyboard solo piece.

A guitar like sound is used in Samson And Delilah, adapted from Saint Saëns' opera by the same name. Again the sound of a tenor is sampled as lead and the artist plays solos in the Derek Sherinian mould. In the interludes there are clearly influences recognizable from the famous YMO. Kaipa's Hans Lundin play a synth solo on this track as well. The last composition by the Netherland Dwarf is called Alone In The Twilight Orange, a mid tempo track in the vein of the early works by Toshi Egawa's Gerard. Closing of the album is another adaption from the classical composers: this time it's themes from Symphony 104 by Frans Jozef Haydn. Pounding bass sounds, subtle drumming, lush keyboards, foremost organ and 'choir' and some mellotron in this rock version.

Fans who like instrumental, classically orientated, keyboard driven rock are advised to lend their ears to this album. Nicely done, however not highly original but surely suitable for fans of the Nice, ELP, Gerard, Rick Wakeman, Ekseption, Ars Nova, Trace and YMO.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

MENNO VON BRUCKEN FOCK



Oceans Of Night – Domain
Oceans Of Night – Domain
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:63:00
Info:Oceans Of Night
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Domain (17:39), Don't Look At Me (5:10), So Near Yet So Far (5:38), Dreams In Artificial Sunlight (3:32), Divisions Of Time (5:17), Seven Days Of Rain (6:12), The View To You (8:28), Instruments Of Fear (4:14), The Future Remembered (4:20), Ghosts Of The Past (4:25)

US-based musician Scott Mosher has been releasing his ambient take on progressive metal since 1996. The first four albums came out under his own name, with 2006’s Deep Horizon impressing me enough to receive a warm DPRP recommended. Six years later and with Scott’s partnership with singer Scot Oliva firmly established, Domain is the second album to come out under the Oceans Of Night band moniker.

Throughout the course of his six albums, Scott has cleverly woven a tapestry that mixes the styles of progressive music, melodic heavy rock and ambient sounds to create a style very much of his own. I really enjoy listening to his smooth, melodic and care-free guitar playing. There are some really nice hooks and solos across this album.

With his musical day job as the singer with New York Iron Maiden tribute band Live After Death, Scott brings a powerhouse approach to his vocal duties but is equally able to take things down a notch or even two.

However it is the extensive use of elctronica that sets this band apart. Sometimes utilised to create ambient breaks within and around the songs. Other times the keyboards add extra weight to the sound or some effective interplay with the guitar.

I find this album follows on nice and logically from The Shadowheart Mirror. The epic title track works well with its common musical theme spread between several layers of ambient waves. Some songs (The View To You) have a more instant appeal. There are a couple of instrumentals too.

Although there is a drummer credited as 'Alan Smithee', he gets no photo or thanks column in the booklet or website. The drumming is little more than keeping the beat. Has Scott acquired a birth certificate for a drum machine? Whatever the answer, I do think that a top class/real-life drummer would really be a good investment next time around to bring out some extra groove and intricacy to Scott’s music.

Mixed and master by Joey Vera (Fates Warning/Armoured Saint) and with Scott bringing his design skills to the great looking booklet, this work is yet another all-round quality product from the Mosher domain.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

ANDY READ



The Norman Haines Band - Den Of Iniquity
The Norman Haines Band - Den Of Iniquity
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC2301
Year of Release:1971/2011
Time:63:31
Info:Esoteric Info
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Den Of Iniquity (4:33), Finding My Way Home (3:25), Everything You See [Mr. Armageddon] (4:35), When I Come Down (3:56), Bourgeois (2:59), Rabbits: a. Sonata [For A Singing Pig], b. Joint Effort, c. Skidpatch, d. Miracle (13:05), Life Is So Unkind: a. Moonlight Mazurka, b. Echoes Of The Future (8:21) Bonus tracks: I Really Need A Friend (3:44), Daffodil (3:51), Autumn Mobile (3:32), Elaine (4:36), Give It To You Girl (2:54), Rabbits [single version] (3:53)

Long-term readers of DPRP may recall our review of the excellent and recommended reissue of the sole album by Locomotive originally released in 1970. Largely the work of composer and keyboard player Norman Haines, the album flopped at the time primarily due to a lack of a group to promote the album after Haines decided to leave the band before mixing had even finished. Despite several attempts from the remaining members to lure Haines back into the fold, he had already teamed up with a new bunch of musicians and was enjoying the new creativity that entailed, as well as the introduction into the drug culture. Locomotive folded after a couple more singles but the members soon reappeared as part of the brilliant, but strangely named, The Dog That Bit People. Haines, along with bassist Andy Hughes and drummer Jimmy Skidmore released a three-track single under the name The Norman Haines Band in 1970. The tracks, Daffodil, I Really Need A Friend and Autumn Mobile, included as bonus tracks on this reissue, all featured Haines' Hammond organ prominently but are augmented throughout with horns (added without the knowledge of the band) and the first two numbers were infused with Latin percussion and rhythms which are really not at all sympathetic to the style of music and rather spoil otherwise decent, if not outstanding songs. Following the single release guitarist Neil Clark was added to the line-up and a few months later the quartet entered Abbey Road Studios to commence work on their album.

The first fruits were the single Finding My Way Home released in March 1971 under the short-lived name of Avalanche. A relatively simple and undistinguished number it was backed by a heavily edited version of the Neil Clark song Rabbits, also included amongst the bonus cuts. The 7" edit only hints at what the full version has to offer and the rather unsympathetic splicing does not really provide a coherent stand-alone piece of music. The album followed soon after the credits again returning to The Norman Haines Band. Starting in great style with the title track Den Of Iniquity, we are provided with trademark Hammond sound with interwoven guitar lines from Clark and the odd dash of Moroccan-style patterns. There is a loose feel to the song that generates an atmosphere of adventure and scope for the band to take off on extended jams, if they had so desired. Everything You See [Mr. Armageddon], as the title suggests, is a remake of the Locomotive song Mr. Armageddon. Heavier than the original, the song was initially recorded with lots of heavy percussion (as on the Daffodil single) to try and generate a Santana-type sound. However, fortunately the band thought the new version worked better without the Latin rhythms and they were ultimately dropped. The remodelling of the song is only partially successful for me, the first half doesn't really offer any improvement although the instrumental break and ending do ramp things up. When I Come Down suffers the most from the way the vocals have been recorded throughout: they sound at a distance and isolated from the instruments. Quite honestly, vocals were not the strong point of this band who are far more proficient on the instrumental sections. Bourgeois is a solo effort from Andy Hughes who picks up the acoustic guitar for the number. Lyrically and vocally there is a real Leonard Cohen feel although the tempo of the song is rather more upbeat; musically there is definite a Slavic influence, balalaika's and all!

We enter full on prog mode for the complete thirteen minute version of Rabbits particularly on Joint Effort during which Clark lets loose on his six string. The organ and guitar interplay is reminiscent of Santana and large chunks are the whole number are essentially some inspired jamming. The tempo is decreased on Skidpatch to provide a more reflective interlude but is gradually increases as we head into Miracle which also reprises a verse from Sonata [For A Singing Pig]. Final track on the original album, Life Is So Unkind, is just Haines on a heavily compressed Hammond organ and electric piano. These instruments were recorded on two track tape at Abbey Road and were supposed to provide the backing onto which vocals, guitar, bass and drums would be added. However, Haines thought that the keyboard tracks said everything he wanted to say with the lament and so submitted the track as it was. As bass and guitar parts had already been composed and, presumably, rehearsed, the keyboard only version does sound somewhat sparse in places with sections and spaces that would have been intended to be filled with other instruments and melodies. As such Life Is So Unkind is rather self-indulgent and would have been immensely improved by some judicial editing to increase the succinctness of the piece and improve the lack lustre ending.

As with the Locomotive album, there were no live dates to support the Den Of Iniquity release, by which time Haines seems to have succumbed to financial pressures and taken up a full time job. But that is not the final end of the story. Haines' publishers had paid off the repayments on his Hammond organ to prevent it from being repossessed and he was still under contract to deliver more material. One single, under Haines' own name, resulted, the lovely melancholic Elaine written for his wife and my favourite song on this expanded reissue, and the more poppy Give It To You Girl which itself is a very decent song and well worthy of inclusion. (Incidentally, the track listing on the CD has these two titles reversed, an uncharacteristic slip in quality control by Esoteric.)

All-in-all a rather mixed bag but decent enough as an album for the period. However, it is not surprising that the album did not take off as, crucially, not having gained a following on the live circuit, neither with Locomotive or as The Norman Haines Band, there was no real fan base to initially kick start sales. More importantly perhaps was the atrocious album sleeve, a poor line drawing of two demonic characters fighting and using human corpses as missiles. Unfortunately it looks as if one of them is defecating over a pile of bodies, the perspective is 'unrealistic' and it appears like they needed a cover quickly and just took any old doodling and bunged it on the sleeve. The type set of the album title is also rather incongruous. The front sleeve would not have inspired me to pay good money for the album, even if I was familiar with the name of Norman Haines! Copies of the album are highly sought after in the collector's market but one suspects that is more for rarity value than any reputation as an outstanding 'lost'album. Den Of Iniquity is a nice album to have and I am glad to own an official version to replace my previous less than official recording(!), particularly with the extra tracks and detailed sleevenotes. However, it fails to meet the quality of Locomotive or The Dog That Bit People albums, both of which are essential listening for fans of early seventies music.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Hollow Branches – Okanagana Waves
Hollow Branches – Okanagana Waves
Country of Origin:USA/Norway
Format:CD
Record Label:Strix Records
Catalogue #:SR001
Year of Release:2012
Time:39:29
Info:Hollow Branches
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Rumor The Past (5:31), Habitual (4:36), Pareidolia (4:26), Weave The Architect (5:19), Travelers (5:14), Okanagana Waves (7:27), Afterward (6:56)

This is a strange one. Hollow Branches have made an album that sometimes you think you’ve got a handle on, but at other times it defies description, it simply “is”. Listing influences as divergent as Sigur Ros, David Sylvian (which I can see) and Van Der Graaf Generator (which I can’t) you might conclude that this is a difficult album to define for the uninitiated, and you’d be right. If pushed I suppose it comes under that handy catch-all “post-rock”.

The largely pastoral feel of the album is crafted by multi-instrumentalists Robert Osgood (Oregon, USA) and Marius Sjoli (Norway), here joined by Phideaux’s Mathew Kennedy on bass. A recurrent theme is the relentless passing of time using metaphors from nature on this mostly gentle album that, unless it is the quality of the mp3 download, sounds under-produced and fashionably distorted in a lo-fi style, a modern production technique that does nothing for this writer.

Robert’s singing voice is not the most dynamic, but his almost world-weary tones fit the theme well and Weave The Architect has a brief pre-post rock (!) understated guitar break that shines through the modernistic ambient electronica in a most welcome fashion, while following track Travelers offers a simple but eerily effective soundscape to a tale of being adrift in the city. The title track is the longest on the album, and Okanagana Waves uses a field recording of chirping cicadas interspersed with synth buzzings to commence a song of ambiguity implying the crushing weight of circumstance... possibly. Like everything else here it sounds slightly over-recorded, a trait that by now has become a bit wearing. The album closer Afterward signs off with a lyric of cynicism gained through experience… “We are all ghosts before our time, wearing our masks of indifference” sings Robert wearily after a delightful piano sequence and as a chorus of distorted guitars build the song to a climatic sigh bookended with a counterpoint to the earlier piano run, this time on acoustic guitar.

But for the production, or lack of it, I would have given this a 7 or even an 8, but it has to be...

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

ROGER TRENWITH



Ozone Player & Matt Howarth – Long Range Influence
Ozone Player & Matt Howarth – Long Range Influence
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Visual Power
Catalogue #:VP008
Year of Release:2011
Time:60:01
Info:Ozone Player
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Sapphire 12 (5:30), The Jolly Rolly (2:40), Sentient Slimemolds (5:25), Scaling The Sky Root (4:27), Getting Past The Jelly Globules (5:12), The Enemy Nest (4:51), Robot Probe (2:58), Attack Of The Sentry Mites (4:41), Diabolical Ohkar (5:00), Plans To Catalyze The Atmosphere (5:11), Attacked By Grooming Slugs (5:18), Accidental Terrestrial Intervention (4:47), A Great Anthem (4:16), Long Range Influence – The Story (PDF)

“A retro – futuristic instrumental soundtrack for a science fiction graphic story”.

Long Range Influence is an album that is jam packed with musical soundscapes that incorporates the mixing of space music, prog, synth pop and classical, world music and movie soundtracks that just seems to work. I suppose it could be best compared to an electro Tangerine Dream or a musical creation that could have been created in the genius mind of Danny Elfman. The session ideas culminated in thirty or so songs which were filtered down to thirteen, seeing the album having a running time of 01:01:01, now how clever is that?

To enable the listener to understand what is going on within this Space Rock opera, (we aren’t talking about a literary masterpiece by the likes of say Wells, Asimov, Dick or Aldiss), a set of PDF files accompany the music on this enhanced CD, offering a pictorial presentation that is colourful, as is the music, enabling you to understanding what is happening, adding that extra layer of depth to the concept.

There are several superior stand out moments that include Sapphire 12, Scaling The Sky Root, Robot Probe, Plans To Catalyze The Atmosphere and Attacked By Grooming Slugs, don’t you just love those titles, that really capture the essence of the 60’s TV soundtrack approach that is moody and atmospheric. At times the music far out does the storyline. Otso Pakarinen and his musical collective have really worked their magic from beginning to end, something that keeps the music amusing, intriguing, interesting and challenging in a very positive manner, even when it moves through the more chaotic pieces like Diabolical Ohkar.

Sonically the album may not be immediate or to everyone’s taste and it does take time for the listener to come to terms with the style, which at times feels familiar yet maintains uniqueness, which at times meanders in a world of obtuseness, but eventually it does reward. This is definitely one for the more adventurous out there.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

JOHN O'BOYLE



Zen Rock And Roll - Undone
Zen Rock And Roll - Undone
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:ProgRock Records
Catalogue #:PRR 252
Year of Release:2011
Time:39:18
Info:Zen Rock
And Roll
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: All In The Dark (4:16), At The First Glance (6:03), Undone (3:30), Antiquated Love Song (4:19), Strange (4:15), Concerto For The Original Sinners (14:41), Lament (2:14)

Zen Rock and Roll is in fact ‘just’ Jonathan Saunders, a hugely talented multi-instrumentalist based in Tennessee.

It’s ten years since he released his first album, End Of The Age, also on Progrock Records. 2004 saw The Birthright Circle, which received a DPRP recommended rating and this, his third release, came out last year.

I haven’t come across his work before, but from what I’ve been able to glean from the web, the previous two albums were a tad more symphonic, whereas this current offering is best filed under the pop/prog category, veering off into AOR territory more than his earlier work.

Mark Hughes’ 2004 review helps with the background to the project:

"Zen Rock And Roll is the stage name of Jonathan Saunders, a multi-instrumentalist whose musical pedigree includes the classic rock cover band No Drag Revelation and the tribute act Dazed And Confused (no prizes for guessing which band they were paying tribute to!). Not confined to just rock music, Saunders, who studied composition at German and American universities, also composes art music for electronic instruments, traditional orchestral instruments, and choirs. In 2001 he contributed keyboards to former NDR guitarist Rob Higginbotham's solo album Words and Music, an experience that spurred him out with his own solo project. The debut album, End Of The Age was released in 2002 and was "composed and recorded in the spirit of the British symphonic rock movement of the early 1970s".

The main vocal and musical influences I kept getting, after quite a few plays now on a range of kit were Styx and Journey and it’s definitely an ‘easy listening’ album, especially given its sub 40 minute length. Nearly 15 minutes of that length is taken up by the album’s ‘epic’ piece, Concerto For The Original Sinners which will, I suggest, be the only piece on offer here that will float the boat of most hardened prog fans, but as this is a Progrock Records release it can be obtained from a vast range of retailers, with the option of course to download individual tracks if one so wishes. This tune is definitely worth a punt, starting off as it does delicately, with plaintive piano, before building around acoustic guitar and flute. It gradually builds, around drum and synth swirls, and understated, Hackett-esque guitar fills. There’s some multi-tracking too, reminiscent of Queen in their pomp, with organ swells and some ethereal soundscaping too. Like landscaping but with, er, sound. It kind of peters out, however, before the last track, Lament, is upon you. As the title suggests it’s quite a thoughtful piece, which some might term a soaring ballad. Lighters in the air, and all that. Just don’t do it under a smoke detector.

As befits a Progrock Records release the booklet and packaging is high quality, and the overall production quality is very good. I’ve had quite a few ‘one man bands’ to listen to recently, and this is as good as any of them.

In conclusion, then, it’s an enjoyable album: not all brilliant but with good moments.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

BRIAN WATSON



Daymoon - All Tomorrows
Daymoon - All Tomorrows
Country of Origin:Portugal
Format:CD
Record Label:MALS
Catalogue #:MALS 383
Year of Release:2011
Time:65:18
Info:Daymoon
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: All Tomorrows (4:47), TranscendenZ (2:28), Human Again (7:34), Marrakech (2:36), Sorry (10:58), Bell Jar (6:03), First Rain (5:24), Arklow (6:56), News From The Outside (4:43), The Sum (13:49)

A Portuguese outfit on a Russian label? Surprisingly enough, this isn't even the strangest thing about the album. Daymoon is the brainchild of Fred Lessing, who wrote this album primarily for his wife Inês, who sadly died of cancer recently. This isn't the sort of detail I'd usually like to include in a review, but owing to the amount of times she is mentioned in the album booklet, as well as in the online notes, it seems necessary to mention her. The core of the band is formed by Lessing (on many instruments and vocals), Bruno Capelas (drums), Fernando Guiomar (guitar), Paulo Catroga (keyboards, vocals), Luís Estorninho (bass) and Adriano Pereira (clarinet, vocals).

Interestingly enough, Andy Tillison of The Tangent was also involved in the recording and producing of this album, and his influence has certainly rubbed off. Whether it's the retro keyboards played by the man himself in the opening track, or the overall proggy eclecticism of the album, you know that the prog master has been at work.

Unlike Edison's Children, whom I reviewed last week, the direction of this artist is crystal clear, but unfortunately hasn't been realised quite as well as Lessing might have expected. What should have been an interesting collection of wacky prog tracks has become a confusing mishmash of random ideas. Only one or two of the songs (for example the jazzy TranscendenZ) have any kind of consistency. While Tillison's supervision has been helpful in developing these confusing tracks into something more wholesome, they are still a little too crude to be enjoyed fully.

My case in point will be the centrepiece of the album, the eleven-minute Sorry. Amongst all the strange tracks on All Tomorrows, this has to be the strangest. Subtitled 'A Theatre Play' to heighten the pretentiousness, we are treated to a torrent of unrelated, and often cringeworthy musical themes. My head fell into my hands at the ignominious utterance of 'Sorry, I didn't mean it,' halfway through the track. In a sepulchral way, I can almost see what Lessing was trying to achieve, as there are parts of this track that aspire to be like And You And I, although the attempt was utterly futile. I was horrified to find that this was actually the first song composed for the album, and has been knocking around since 2004!

It doesn't help that Lessing's singing isn't all that great either. In the online notes, Lessing is refreshingly modest, noting that the listener will 'have to cope with my crappy vocals and incoherent writing style.' Unfortunately, this self-deprecation doesn't absolve him of the fact that his vocals are actually crappy, and that his writing style is indeed incoherent.

When listening to this album, I imagine a schoolchild bringing in a homemade science project which has been made with help from daddy Tillison, and has had a lot of care and dedication poured into it. Sadly, the child has been so excited to build this project, that he only pays attention to the tiny details, without taking in the bigger picture. The project is consequently faulty, and no prize is given.

On this album, it feels like each song has been composed microscopically, so that when you stand back, it becomes a warped mess of inconsistent and - as our friend Lessing pointed out - incoherent ideas. While Fred Lessing sounds like the sort of bloke I'd like to sit down and have a drink with, I wouldn't want to have his music in the background. What Daymoon really need to do is start writing songs with structural integrity and a clear direction. Until then, we are left with the mish and the mash of mediocrity.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10

BASIL FRANCIS



Lars Eric Mattsson – Aurora Borealis
Lars Eric Mattsson – Aurora Borealis
Country of Origin:Sweden
Format:CD
Record Label:Lion Music
Catalogue #:LMC 300
Year of Release:2011
Time:56:32
Info:Lars Eric
Mattsson
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Rising (5:16), Bounce (4:16), Cold Water Spirit (5:56), Forward Thinking (6:17), Revolutionary Star (4:40), The Heart (3:55), Eternal Cycles (4:19), Clear Skies (4:06), Planetary Strength (3:17), Parisienne Etude (0:53), Midnight Sun (7:43), Starfall (5:26)

Lars Eric Mattsson has been around since the mid eighties and this Swedish guitar player has been involved in different projects, bands and solo efforts. Three of these solo efforts have been reviewed on this website, the last time was with the release of Tango, an album released with his band Mattsson.

This new album is released under his own name again and is, unlike Tango, a fully instrumental record. The music celebrates the wonders of the Northern Lights and is supposed to be a collaboration between classical orchestra and electric guitar. This, of course has been done before but Mattsson feels that this album is different. Firstly there is the fact that that as much time was spent on the orchestral arrangements as on the guitar parts. Another difference is that only one guitar at a time can be heard and the guitar sounds where kept as clean as possible.

“Concerto for Orchestra and Electric Guitar” does sound quite ambitious and I was expecting a lot from this album but I’m afraid I was very disappointed. If a real orchestra was used then it sounds incredibly plastic! So I’m afraid that The Astral strings and woodwinds are really just keyboards or plug ins. And Eddy Sledgehammer on drums and percussion?? He does have a MySpace page with a photo but it all sounds very programmed to me. And even if I’m totally wrong here, then I’m still left with my main problem; it does not move me. The high level of technicality for me stands in the way of the emotion and music has to move me! Don’t get me wrong, here Mattsson is an excellent player and a lot of time and attention was indeed spent on both the guitar and the orchestral parts, it just failed to grab me.

So all my high marks and admiration for this album are based on a technical level and although Cold Water Spirit and Forward Thinking had a couple of moments where Mattsson did move me with his guitar playing, these are few and far between. Planetary Strength is a great neo classical metal track in which Mattsson shows his impressive playing and the acoustic, very short, Parisienne Etude is very beautiful. I would have loved to hear more of this! But that is not the case. The album is mainly full of very fast guitar parts and ditto orchestral parts - but I miss the deeper layers that are so important in classical music. For the most part it sounds one dimensional and clinical. On his website Mattsson says it would not be fair to label this an instrumental guitar album, but as a “Concerto for Orchestra and Electric Guitar” it falls short.

I’m afraid that I can’t be more positive about this release. The quality of Mattsson, as a guitar player, is not a subject for debate, however his skills stand in the way of the emotion with the result that after repeated listens over a lengthy period of time The Aurora Borealis still fails to give me any warm feelings.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10

LEO KOPERDRAAT



Alhena – Alhena [EP]
Alhena – Alhena [EP]
Country of Origin:Poland
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:25:05
Info:Alhena
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Trial (5:32), Better (5:02), You Lost Me (3:46), Breath (5:20), Nemesis (5:18)

A new female-fronted progressive-tinged rock band with some gothic undertones from Poland. That just about says it all. We don’t normally review promos on DPRP but we’ll make a small exception as this is a) rather good and b) available to purchase from the band’s website.

Formed just over two years ago, Alhena wasted no time in composing five quality songs and over three months laying them down in a studio for what is a well above average sounding disc.

Of the four songs, a lot of comparisons could be made to the early material of The Gathering with bits and pieces that remind me of the rockier moments of Kingfisher Sky, the more ambiently progressive moments of Autumn and the more melodic moments of fellow Poles Delight. Amaran would be another reference point for the more gothic influences.

The final track is an instrumental slotted firmly in the Riverside mould. Singer Katarzyna Dziemianowick has a strong voice with something of the Amy Lee and Christina Scabbia about her. The band is solid and inventive with the guitar playing especially noticeable - a certain Steve Rothery tone to his playing. Alhena may need to develop the instrumental arrangements a little further if they wish to hold an interest to those who like their rock a little more progressively challenging. Nothing here goes much beyond five minutes.

A debut album is already in the making, of which I’d have thought any of these songs with a little re-working deserve a wider audience. I’ll save any rating until the final product. Until then I’ll happily file under ‘ones to keep en eye out for’.

Conclusion: Unrated

ANDY READ


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