Reviews in this issue:
- Godsticks - The Envisage Conundrum (Duo Review)
- Kingcrow - In Crescendo (Duo Review)
- The Enid - Invicta (Duo Review)
- Mind:Soul - Patterns 1.5 [EP]
- Ashent - Inheritance
- Tír na nÓg - Tír na nÓg
- Tír na nÓg – A Tear And A Smile
- Tír na nÓg – Strong In The Sun
- A Lonely Crowd - User Hostile
- Syndone - The Beauty Is The Beast
- Bill Nelson – Trial By Intimacy (The Book Of Splendours)
- Boxer - Below The Belt
- Boxer - Bloodletting
- Apogee feat. Gerald Heimann – Die Gläserne Wand & Schleifen
Godsticks - The Envisage Conundrum
Tracklist: Convergence [Intro] (1:18), Caught In A Bind (5:04), The Envisage Conundrum (6:44), In A Way That Ended Me (5:00), Benchmark (4:35), Submerged (4:58), A Brief Foray (4:48), Disclosure (3:49), Borderstomp - Part 1 [Death To Tuesday] (5:05), Borderstomp - Part 2 [Blind] (5:54), Borderstomp - Part 3 [Cielo Azul] (6:53), Raised Concerns (5:31)
Jez Rowden's Review
My first exposure to Godsticks came in late 2008 when I received a review copy of their debut EP from bassist Jason Marsh. I was immediately hooked on their unique take on prog; intricate yet accessible with loads of melody and played with precision and panache. They took a number of disparate elements and melded them into something new to my ears and soon became one of my top picks of the year.
It took a while for the full album to appear, 2010's Spiral Vendetta, and by that time Marsh had left to be replaced for the album by the masterful Bryan Beller with Dan Nelson, then just 17, joining full time later in the year. It is this line-up, completed by singer/guitarist/songwriter Darran Charles and drummer/keyboardist Steve Roberts that have produced the second full-length Godsticks release, The Envisage Conundrum, building on their previous recordings, developing their style and, if anything, making them a more interesting proposition than ever.
With their original release having a big foot in the jazz camp thanks to Marsh's bass skills they also added, unusually for albums in the prog field, an almost R'n'B sensibility from Charles soulful vocals. Couple this with a love of Frank Zappa and classic prog plus the inclusion of additional 'heaviness' on the new album and The Envisage Conundrum proves to be a wonderful summation of where the band currently stand. Charles' songs are idiosyncratic and from the heart and the musicianship from all concerned is top rate. Despite the apparent trials and tribulations of the recording process they have managed to produce a wonderful recording that is sure to feature high in my top ten for 2013.
Originality has always been the watchword with Godsticks and that is still the case. This is no replication of past glories as the sound has been pushed forward into new areas whilst losing none of its appeal. The additional heaviness does not swamp the music and is not prevalent throughout but used to good effect to beef up the sound here and there. It is just another facet that this band pull off with considerable aplomb. The writing is efficient and to the point and, as previously, none of the songs outstay their welcome which is a real talent given the intricacy of the pieces; no need for extended pieces when the writing is this good and the band can turn on a sixpence. Godsticks aren't out to dazzle with their talent but they manage it anyway despite the focus being on conveying the songs to the best of their ability.
After a slow start on the live front Godsticks have now honed their skills through considerable amounts of road work and this comes across in the new music. The band feel settled and work well together and there is a sense of quiet confidence in what they do that helps them to deliver the goods convincingly. Where they go from here is anyone's guess but it is likely to be a very enjoyable journey.
Steve Roberts' keyboard intro, Convergence, sets up Caught in a Bind which sweeps in on a typically sinewy guitar line from Charles, the new heaviness apparent and Roberts' drums simply sparkling in a great production by Joe Gibb who worked on Spiral Vendetta. The mood heads for a menacing King Crimson feel and then the vocal arrives, warm and rich, giving the album its character.
There is a pounding urgency to the title track, the odd meter giving way to Charles' shining vocal which keeps things calm while quirkiness rises and falls all around him. This track really is like nothing that has gone before. The guitars crunch one minute and fly the next and the rhythm section shows just how good they are. Where Beller's bass was recorded separately for The Spiral Vendetta, here Dan Nelson sounds fully integrated into the recording process and he plays well beyond his years. As evidenced by recent Godsticks shows plus the rhythm sections work with Magenta and Cyan, he interacts rather wonderfully with Steve Roberts who is one of the most thrilling and skilled drummers around. The contribution of both to this album is just immense.
Darran Charles' lyrics are as unique as the music. The meaning is often embedded and elusive but he has a real way with his words which often come across in a poetic fashion and are a perfect fit to the unusual but inherently effective songs. Vocals are often double-tracked to good effect allowing Darren to harmonise with himself, his twin voices swirling around each other gloriously. The album is particularly well put together and sounds superb and what appears to have been a nightmare period of mixing has clearly paid dividends as the results are wonderful to behold.
In a Way That Ended Me features the trademark piano for the first time, a bouncing bass from Nelson and acoustic guitars driven along by a skipping rhythm from Roberts. With some of the guitar parts doubled and guest backing vocals from Bruce Soord of The Pineapple Thief the sound is full and all-encompassing, Charles' voice holding its soulful edge. The album builds on the past, incorporates new elements and textures and points the band towards a very bright future. The song writing has developed, the players gelling into a very exciting unit and on top of that there is the satisfying uniqueness of the results. It is a difficult job to come up with a whole that doesn't give away its influences but Godsticks manage this with a nuanced approach built on their own idiosyncratic vision of what the band should be about.
Benchmark starts beautifully with acoustic guitar and fretless bass. The songs are all different and the album doesn't sink into the samey rut that befalls many. There is integrity to the chosen path but with so much variety that listeners won't get bored. The textures and focal points slide in and out of view as smoothly as a well oiled machine but with human frailties displayed in the lyrical content.
Submerged sweeps in on a staccato guitar rhythm with almost jazzy piano and rhythms and as near to an epic chorus as Godsticks are ever likely to come up with. This is a beautifully realised work that sounds as fresh as a daisy and, unfettered from an over-reliance on comparisons, Godsticks are free to do what they do. All concerned should be rightly proud. As is often the case in Charles' music contradictory parts come together and work surprisingly well together as here where a wonderfully unusual guitar solo is set at odds with the supporting instrumentation. Charles is a particularly accomplished player with a very individual style which he manages to incorporate into equally individualistic material. In no way is this a stunt guitar album but often the playing just takes your breath away. Not only are the players on top of their game, they are also on the same page and successfully service the material for the benefit of the album as a whole. It is this restrained approach that benefits Godsticks the most.
A Brief Foray continues the piano and fretless jazz feel in a more relaxed fashion, Charles' voice beautifully carrying the lyrics in an off kilter and well constructed piece that remains rooted in melody. Multi-tracking and over layering is used to good effect, a series of fine spidery and Zappa-esque guitar solos topping things off nicely. With regards to the influences, Frank Zappa is a key touchstone for Charles in particular but it seldom becomes overtly obvious and is just another tasty ingredient in a stew of wonderful flavours.
Disclosure is an interesting departure, a solo piano piece from Steve Roberts that more that underlines the important influence that Keith Emerson has had on his musical thinking. This is a well put together piece that shows Roberts' skills on the ivories. If I didn't know better I'd think that Keith himself was behind this and you can't get much higher praise than that. The piece moves from angry and angular to romantic through to a jazziness akin to Lyle Mays' work with Pat Metheny. That's a lot to cram into less than four minutes so well done to Steve for succeeding in producing such a listenable and entertaining piece that finales with an Emersonian flourish.
The three part Borderstomp increases the heaviness in a pounding opening, some tasty guitar sweeping things along. This is complex stuff but not for the sake of it - it all makes perfect sense from the off without the listener having to twist their brain inside out trying to make sense of it all. No atonal meanderings here; focus and melody are key to the well-crafted results. The stomping first part moves into an edgier second part, metal suggestions offset by some nice piano and cello additions. There is more space in the second section which is more complex, the intricacies often whirring away in the background behind the focus of the song itself. This album certainly has lots of layering going on and it doesn't surprise me that it was hard work coming up with the finished product. The final part, Cielo Azul ('Blue Sky' in Spanish), is sprightly and jazz influenced with pounding rhythms where necessary without it teetering into prog metal territory. Roberts' powerhouse drumming on this one is a wonder to behold as the track slides through a number of changes to a very satisfying conclusion.
In the style of the closing piece on Spiral Vendetta, Raised Concerns finishes things off in fine style with a plaintive and low-key number opening with acoustic guitar and Charles' superlative vocal that just oozes emotion. This track is all about the vocals, layered in places, with a gorgeous bit of piano to add to the flavour together with some cello at the end. Lovely.
This third Godsticks release results in a third back-o'-the-net screamer for me, a stunning hat-trick of brilliantly realised, unique music that just drops my jaw to the floor. I so hope that the now stabilised line-up carries on sailing the good ship Godsticks into the uncharted waters of high ambition, complexity and melody. The high score is more than well deserved for this wonderful and varied album.
Bob Mulvey's Review
In the 2008 annual DPRPoll I tipped this band as best newcomer from that year and now with the release of this, their second full length album, I can honestly say that my opinion back then was well founded. My initial introduction and the basis for that recommendation was an impressive, self-titled debut EP. With a line-up change in the bass department they followed this up with the extremely impressive Spiral Vendetta in 2010. Now in 2013 and with the release of The Envisage Conundrum, another movement at the 'bottom end' is noted, but as with the previous album this low end frequency change has not detracted from the quality of music emerging from the Godsticks camp.
The band were kind enough to send us a copy of their new album a little earlier than its release date, so it has been good to be able to absorb the music without the burden of a review deadline hanging over our shoulders, although as already intimated, I'm not entirely sure I needed the extra time. My only early misgivings surrounded the news that the band had 'cranked up the levels' for this release. Now don't get me wrong, I have no issues with the pushing up of the pre-gain, but in recent years it seems to have been adopted more and more in prog and normally to the detriment of the music. I needn't have worried though because half way through the second track I was looking for the volume control myself on the old hi-fi...
So as mentioned above there has been another change in the Godsticks camp, however the good news is that the writing forces and mainstays of the band - Darran Charles (guitar, keyboards & vocals) and Steve Roberts (drums & keyboards) remain unaltered. Coming in this time on bass and following in the footsteps of the redoutable Bryan Beller, is a young guy called Dan Nelson. In fact Godsticks have always been blessed with good bass players, I was mightily impressed with Jason Marsh who performed on their debut and Dan proves to be a worthy successor to both.
Before moving on to the music a quick mention of the guest musicians. TPT's Bruce Soord supplies backing vocals to In A Way That Ended Me, Kaysha Wilson does the b/v honours on A Brief Foray and Hannah Miller plays cello on Borderstomp - Part 2.
So on to the music and braced for the heavier approach I was lulled into a false sense of security with the gentle and soothing keyboard layers of Convergence [Intro]. Written and performed, on keys, by Steve Roberts this ambient piece serves, as the title suggests, as an intro to the album. Caught In A Bind on the other hand leaps from the speakers and demands to be listened to. Despite the added drive to the guitars, it's service as normal and the Godsticks sound I've grown to love is all there. Varying layers of well thought out guitar parts - both cranked and clean. A great rhythm section with Steve Roberts and Dan Nelson freely flowing and/or interlocking with apparent ease. Icing on the cake is once again Darran Charles' fluid vocals.
Sold - when's the next album due out ;?).
Seriously, the magic of Godsticks, for me, is their ability to hold in balance strong song-writing combined with imaginative instrumentation. To be truthful I've struggled to write this review and if my ramblings were written on paper I'd have a bin full of crumpled and discarded notes. See, to these ears, this band pretty much has in abundance what I enjoy most in music. So I could point out the delightful vocal melodies and the befitting harmonies. Track by track I could also point out the great punctuation and odd metering from the drums and the way in which it compliments the music rather than detracts from it. I might mention Dan Nelson's nice little fretless bass touches or Darran Charles' command of the electric and acoustic guitar. The great, but always in context solos... And so on... (errr you did Bob ;0).
All of which means no track by track analysis for The Envisage Conundrum. Although I should perhaps comment on the reference I made earlier about the beefing up of the band's sound. Granted certian tracks have benefitted from added drive, but this applies only to a few tracks on the album. So not forsaken is that rich and intricate sound and a listen to the delightful Benchmark, (to pick just one track), confirms this. It also confirms what a truly great guitar player Darran is... but there again the album is replete with great playing from all concerned. A plug here for Steve Roberts second instrumental contribution to the album and the delightful Emerson-ian Disclosure.
In my review of Spiral Vendetta I asked if there were there any downsides to the release and I commented that it would been nice to have had the lyrics included in a booklet. Done - so absolutely nothing to gripe about at all this time around ;0)... I appreciate it is early in the year, but we're going to need a seriously good album to move this release from pole position. Once again highly recommended...
[We have a competition running until 1st March 2013 to win copies of The Envisage Conundrum and other Godsticks goodies. Click Here to enter.]
Kingcrow - In Crescendo
André De Boer's Review
In the year 2010 I came across the album Phlegeton by a progressive metal band by the name of Kingcrow and I was sold instantly. At first listen. A little bit later the album was reviewed and praised with a DPRP Recommended 9.5 out of 10. I don't know for sure if it was my request that made it possible that we got to see these Italian guys play live at ProgPower Europe the next year but what I am sure about is that it was a great performance which made a huge impression on everyone present. You can see the song Evasion from that gig here and judge for yourself:-
In the meantime the band catapulted themselves over to the ProgPower USA 2012 festival. A DVD of that show is in the making.
Last year I loosely followed the process of the band creating their new album, In Crescendo, and as with many great records I'm always excited as well as worried when the successor is about to be released. Would they have succeeded in maintaining at least the same level of awesomeness or shall we get disappointed a little bit? Let me tell you right away that I again fell in love at first listen of In Crescendo. A masterpiece. It has turned out to be an even more complex and impressive album.
Kingcrow spent the last two years adequately working on the almost impossible task of matching up to Phlegeton, or even transcending it. They have succeeded without any doubt, a fantastic record at first listen, awesome after ten spins and superb after thirty. Quite an achievement.
The album's theme is about growing up or, to be more precise, about the end of youth. Love, hope, loss and death are the elements within. In Crescendo means "growing up" or musically "gradual changes in volume". Thus complex and louder at times.
Anxious to get you in the mood, the album kicks off robustly with Right Before. Energetic. A heavy and dynamic tune (so founder member, guitarist and main composer Diego Cafolla told me). Furious and intense I would say, meant to be heard live! Although it is a fantastic track on its own, it doesn't reflect the album as a whole; it secretly turns out to be the perfect lid to open a magical treasury chest filled with seven further gems.
This Ain't Another Love Song is the right name. This is not the usual love song. The slow tempo at the start gets heavier by the minute. Fantastic track with the versatile voice of Diego Marchesi and providing us with various outstanding riffs (even a Spanish one).
Third track, named The Hatch, sets off with the typical Phlegeton sound and style that we know and love. Catching, fierce and of high quality. All elements of true progressive metal melted into one Italian mix. This is an absolutely extraordinary song, heavy yet light-hearted at times.
All of a sudden there is Morning Rain, a rather different song. It starts off on a somewhat monotonous sound but wanders off meandering swiftly through several beautiful styles and switches. Mainly vocal driven until halfway where the guitars take over to be in turn replaced by a symphonic landscape. And that gets blown away by heavy guitars building up to a serious wall of sound. The most elegant and refined track of the album, singer Diego Marchesi says. I agree.
One of my favourite tracks is The Drowning Line. It defines progressive metal. With vocals sounding a bit distorted like Evasion on the previous album. Just listen to the exulting guitars blowing you away at the 4.5 minute mark.
The treacherous song The Glass Fortress seems like a soft and sensitive track. Just lovely. However, the sting is in the tail.
Summer '97 really is a totally different song, yet perfectly and undeniably fitting in the concept. An undefined start with a bit of Beach Boys atmosphere, or Moon Safari if you like, turns into heaviness and back again. Many styles and moods are addressed here within seven minutes; every note being aware of the fact that they should logically sound as one song together. The keyboards of Cristian Della Polla interlude like a drop of glue between the riffing of Ivan Nastasi and Diego Cafolla while Thundra Cafolla's drums and Francesco D'Errico's bass dictate the ever changing pace.
The album ends with the 10 minute title track. Ten minutes of pure joy and Kingcrow greatness. Smart and sadistically constructed to reach deep down into your progmetal soul and urge you to do only one thing: To start listening to the album once again. A virtuoso masterpiece. Highly recommend!
The album will be out on Sensory Records on 12th February, 2013.
Andy Read's Review
Starting life under the moniker of Earth Shaker in 1996, this Italian outfit took ten years to attract my attention with the release of their third album. My review of Timetropia concluded that it would "appeal to anyone who enjoys music that puts heavier and lighter moments into a mix that isn't afraid to go off at odd tangents, whilst being held together by a common style and some great, addictive melodies".
However, it was with their last release, the fascinating Phlegeton, that Kingcrow really began to turn heads across the globe. Rave reviews, including a 9.5 out of 10 from the DPRP's Gert, led to appearances at ProgPowers Europe and USA plus some tasty support slots across Europe with Redemption and Jon Oliva.
Three years later and album number five will decide if the band can continue to build on that momentum. In Crescendo consists of eight tracks and just under an hour of music. It can be seen as a very natural successor to Phlegethon. There's a lot of commonality in the music and mood, yet enough progression to avoid any thoughts of merely copying a successful recipe. It is a very strong album that will easily please those who enjoyed Phlegethon.
Opener Right Before gives a slightly false impression, being a pretty straight forward rock number, albeit with some very technical arrangements sitting behind the melody and grooves.
This Ain't Another Love Song, The Hatch and Morning Rain can all be classified as chameleons. Changing mood, rhythms and intensity in an instant with each song packed with lovely musical detail. In this respect it is certainly an album that requires some patience. Apart from the opening song, nothing here is immediate. But it's one of those discs you know will reward repeat listens. There is a heaviness in the riffing, mixed with frequent quieter acoustic moments. But it is an unusually bright and, dare I say it, happy sounding disc. It is all helped by an exemplary production – as one would expect now that the band is signed to America's Sensory label.
It looses its way a little in the middle. Neither The Drowning Line nor The Glass Fortress leave much of an impression on me. But it regains my interest by closing with possibly its most intriguing compositions, Summer '97 and the 10-minute plus title track.
Comparisons with other bands are rather hard to pin down. I pick up a lot more Pain Of Salvation influences than I recall from either of the last two albums. Two or three times there are passages that could have been lifted from the Remedy Lane sessions. The opening track and parts of The Drowning Line remind me of South American modern ProgMetallers Sacrum and Mindflow whilst the opening passage to Morning Rain brings to mind Gazpacho and Porcupine Tree. There's a healthy nod to melodic hard rock of the '80s and '90s in some of the melodies as well.
Overall I'm not hearing as many hooks or riffs that "Wow" me in the way that Phlegathon did. However, this is an engagingly enjoyable album that should continue to raise the band's profile.
The Enid - Invicta
Alison Henderson's Review
Oh, where to start? The Enid, one of the most quintessentially English prog bands around, has soldiered on through thick and thin, led by the iconoclastic Robert John Godfrey, a great musical maverick and survivor, who continues to tend and guide the flock which makes up the current dramatis personae.
Their symphonic whimsy may not to be to everyone's taste and indeed, Invicta should come with a "Be astonished" label attached to the CD cover as nothing can prepare you for what they have unleashed musically this time.
If ever John Bunyan's "A Pilgrim's Progress" was ever set to music, then it could well end up sounding like Invicta because the overarching theme is a very spiritual one. It draws on a classical, almost biblical story about the relationship between God/The One – however you choose to interpret the Supreme Being - and the Many "on earth" as it were. However, there seem to be so many planes of existence within it, that it is bound to win over a few new converts to their totally eclectic style.
It takes time and patience to peel away the many layers of musical metaphor and mysticism that it embraces, but in the end, it is all totally worth it, even if you are left scratching your head afterwards. For starters, observe the CD cover again upon which each band member is depicted as an almost William Blake-style mythical beings with Godfrey symbolically carrying the shepherd's crook.
Pierce that outer shell and inside, the music is the sum total of the band parts with each member contributing to the writing, stalwart member Max Read doing the mixing, then joining Godfrey for the production. And the lyrics are all written by Joe Payne to whom we shall return very shortly.
Anthropy, the short but extremely powerful opener, gives myriad clues as to what to expect later, a huge orchestral swell encompassing a celestial choir of voices with a huge explosion at the end. It sounds like the beginning of creation.
It goes straight into One & The Many, the album's defining track in my humble opinion that starts with a gentle overture and piano. Then we are given the first soundings of Joe Payne's voice, and what a voice it is. Like a cherubic choirboy, it takes flight in the most extraordinary sequence that sounds like a spiritual rallying call after which he is joined by both piano and trumpets, both created through Godfrey's panoply of keyboards. The churchy-sounding harmonies are just perfect for the piece and Payne's voice noticeably deepens as the prog psalm unfolds.
In answer at this juncture to the possible question "How do you follow that?" they launch into a bit of light operatic piano and drums before Payne is back almost doing a Gilbert and Sullivan monologue with serious religious overtones in Who Created Me that morphs into a rock groove with the immortal line "It's as if I have designed for a cause greater than mine". There is also another recurring theme throughout first heard here inquiring "Or are we all just dust?". Then, it all ends with a huge explosion.
Execution Mob is the biggest enigma on the album beginning with birds' song, the sound of a funfair and then church bells, before it gathers momentum to become a jolly almost sing-along ditty with heavily loaded lyrics about the unfairness of the law and the mob getting the final word in who gets the chop.
Huge piano chords and an orchestral backdrop go swiftly into eerie voices and percussion at the start of Witch Hunt. It builds up momentum with larger voices and pounding timpani from Nic Willes, creating sound patterns which gallop along, picking up Jason Ducker's big frenzied guitar en route along with brass and Dave Storey's regimented drums.
Suddenly the scene changes again and we are transported skywards to Heaven's Gate with a sublime introduction of more than two and a half minutes comprising swirling synths through which you can almost see the clouds which divide heaven and earth go rushing past. From there, a huge classical wind blows right through the piece accompanied by Ducker's searing guitar. Maybe if Gustav Holst was revisiting The Planets in a modern idiom, this would be the sound he would try to achieve to depict the vastness of the heavens.
Leviticus is a deceptively gentle song with a lovely rolling rhythm and a redemptive theme, the chorus led by Read's distinctive voice repeating "You shall not do as they do" – a warning not to follow other's examples in life.
Then it is back to the Grand Guignol and G&S musical drama for Villain of Science, which conjures up visions of Freddie Mercury – such is Payne's phrasing at some points, playing some Chaplin-esque baddie. And it ventures the question again as to whether we are all dust. It's a very cleverly constructed piece with lots of mood shifts including a great little guitar solo from Ducker in counterpoint to Payne's vocal gymnastics.
Finally, the pastoral side of The Enid comes to the fore with the hymn-like The Whispering, a close choral work which brings everything literally back down to earth again.
This is an extraordinary album because probably no other band in the prog firmament would ever dream of putting out music like this because on paper, it would look too ambitious at best and too bonkers at the other extreme. But then again, The Enid never did normal or conventional.
You may not love it every time you hear it because it might sometimes sound a bit too pious or preachy for every occasion. However, you have to take your hat off to Mr. Godfrey and his gang for giving us all something new and off the wall to enjoy and to discuss at great length on various online prog forums too numerous to mention.
Be prepared to be astonished!
Gert Hulshof's Review
To me The Enid has always been a synonym to Robert John Godfrey and a bunch of musicians playing classically composed musical pieces in a more rocking jacket. With Invicta it seems a new era of The Enid has landed upon the world of progressive music. How? Well The Enid now has a new young and utterly talented singer/lyricist in Joe Payne.
Adding a vocalist with Payne's talent has meant a shift in musical style for The Enid from a point where instrumental music was their main course, it now shifts toward music with more vocals than ever on an Enid recording.
Invicta kicks off with an introduction overture in the form of Anthropy flowing straight into the second track, The One and the Many. Due to the addition of Joe Payne's magnificent voice, his range and timbre make The One and the Many sound like an operatic song. I have only heard a voice in rock capable of this kind of singing once before in Freddie Mercury. Mercury had an enormous range. In listening to Joe Payne I believe his range is even wider.
Payne uses his voice excellently and is an extraordinarily capable singer and with the others joining as a choir the song becomes more and more operatic in nature. It is an absolutely stunning effort, with the organ and orchestral sounds in the background to accompany in service of Joe's voice.
The strength of adding the voice of Joe Payne becomes even more apparent as in track 3, Who Created Me?, We are treated to a piece of music that could have come straight out of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Here Joe gives away his background as an actor/musical performer. All the while so far the album is reminiscent of Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe's co-operation, Barcelona, which can also be found along the borders of the classical/rock and musical style with a lot of vocal extravaganza.
The Execution Mob takes it just a little further with more choral singing and also the addition of guitar sounds which remind me of the bombastic guitar playing Brian May used in Queen.
Witch Hunt brings back memories of old Enid, A song much more in the veins of what The Enid used to sound like, although it must be said that the use of guitars like here was not that present before. Nor were there vocals on top.
Heaven's Gate actually takes us back to good old Enid days where the keyboards and Piano were the driving force in the songs.
Continuing with Leviticus the band go on where they left off in Execution Mob. The guitar work in Leviticus bares a lot resemblance to the guitar of Brian May, and apart from it being a more classical sounding song it could have been done by Queen. Certainly by Mercury as a solo performer. Given the fact that I have named Mercury as much as I have, I must add that if there would be one person capable of performing Mercury's legacy it must be Joe Payne.
The Villain of Science is a song like Who Created Me?, again giving away Payne's musical background which of course also comes back to the way he writes his lyrics to the songs. The Whispering as last track on the album continues where we started in a more operatic fashion and musically stylish.
Well quite an album, an extravaganza without a doubt. Robert John, Dave, Max, Jason, Nick and last but not least Joe have given the world an album which reigns amongst the classics from day one.
If and when you like music in optima forma than it hardly comes better than this. The Enid in this line-up can do great things and given the combined talents of all musicians what will be next? I will be ready to expect the unexpected. A masterpiece no doubt.
Mind:Soul - Patterns 1.5 [EP]
Yes, a review on an EP. And even on an updated re-release of an EP. Dutch progressive metallers Mind:Soul released their initial EP entitled Patterns back in 2011. Mind:Soul is the brainchild of Tom de Wit, also known for his great work as a singer and composer for TDW. In 2012, after playing live at the Breaking The Layers festival, the band concluded that they were ready for recording their full length debut album and started working on that. Yet decided to update the EP first! They accurately named it Patterns 1.5.
Mind:Soul are Roland le Fèvre on keyboard, Joey Klerkx on bass and grunts, Jim O.S. Ilden on lead guitar, Raul Tamas on drums, vocals by Tom de Wit and Stefan van Leeuwenstijn on guitar on the live track. The EP simply does what it is supposed to do; show us what the band has to offer. The type of music ranges from aggressive tech metal to melodic, all of these to be scented here.
Opening track Circus Of Fear is a true progressive rock speciality. It shows the lighter section of the spectrum Mind:Soul wants to serve, combined with some metal grunts by Mister Subtleness Joey Klerkx. A fantastic song with a sticky melody line. As in sticking to your brain that is. Followed by the high paced rough starting melodic metal track Patterns. This track displays the ability of the band to combine the mentioned spectrum into one great song flawlessly.
For You starts off the second half of the album mildly and mellow, with strong vocals in a spacious atmosphere. The ballad if you like, simple and beautiful all in one. The fourth track, Selling Lies, already marks the end of the album with the tech metal area. Combined with a melodic approach I think fits Mind:Soul perfectly.
For this 1.5 EP release Mind:Soul added the live track Caught (In The Pressure Cooker) taken from the Breaking The Layers live DVD and serves as a preview on their upcoming debut album The Way It Should Be as well. Mind the grunting of bass player Joey Klerkx on this live symphonic metal track.
This is an EP that gives you a fine insight in what Mind:Soul has to offer. And the update to this 1.5 version makes it even more attractive. Although I personally highly recommend this album, I cannot rank it as such officially due to the fact that this is not a full length album. But, like I mentioned before, they are working on that and somewhere in 2013 the release of the album The Way It Should Be is to be expected. For now: start enjoying Patterns 1.5.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Ashent - Inheritance
Tracklist: Eve (5:37), Magnification of a Daydream (4:50), Shipwrecked Affair (5:22), Fractural (6:33), Spider's Nest (4:10), Renaissance (4:46), The Starving Litany (5:05), Confessions of Reimman (5:21), La Danzatrice Scalza (6:55), The Defiant Boundary (4:48), Labyrinthique (4:01)
Lion Music is a production company founded in 1989 by composer Lars Eric Mattson, and is intended to be considered a leading force within progressive and power metal circles as well as being closely associated with the best instrumental and virtuoso musicians around. Lion Music has also branched out into other genres such AOR/Melodic hard rock, Fusion and classic hard rock.
In this opportunity we'll talk about Ashent, an Italian Progressive Metal act formed in 2001 by brothers Gianpaolo and Onofrio Falanga. Actually this band has two previous releases since then: Flaws of Elation (2006) and Deconstructive (2009) which were well received and gave the band an important status. Inheritance is considered by all the members as their most important work to date, in which the band consistently demonstrates its musical evolution and maturity. Inheritance is the result of a period of changes for the band and the music speaks for itself. The current Ashent line up is: Titta Tani - vocals and Choirs, Onofrio Falanga - guitars & backing vocals, Gianpaolo Falanga - bass guitar, Gilles Boscolo - keyboards & programming, saxophone, Alessandro Cossu - guitars, Davide Buso - drums and percussion.
Eve is a very interesting song with a complex structure, which reminiscent of an influence by bands like Cynic. Also the choruses and riffs remind me of Dream Theater and I liked Tani's voice a lot here, this song demonstrating his wide vocal rage and his switching between softer and raspier voices. In Magnification of a Daydream they have made a mix between a classic prog metal song with a different rhythmical compass, so the band is being very careful in the way they compose their songs. In Shipwrecked Affair we have a powerful riff that reminds me of Pain of Salvation and some Dream Theater stuff, again Tani's voice make the remarkable work. I like the rhythmical changes in this one, because the songs have many passages, and here we have the first sax solo! Very simple but in the right place, it was a surprise because this is the first time for me to hear it in a more powerful song.
Fractural is a much softer song, but it doesn't mean that it is a weak one, because as the seconds pass by it acquires much power and again we have a big influence from PoS, a song with many vocals, harmonies and backing vocals. Spider's Nest is a softer song but with a powerful drumming background, it also shows us a more dramatic vocal by Tani; a song that shows the band Progressive roots, very interesting one. Renaissance is a typical prog metal-esque ballad, vocals in front, backing vocals fading away in the background over a single rhythmical basis and a guitar solo to show Onofrio's abilities on the guitar. The Starving Litany, even in the name appears to be a Pain of Salvation song, even better well crafted and with a sax part! In Confessions of Reimann we have again some remarkable vocal work, very dense, and again I liked the sax fills in the background combined with the guitar solo. La Danzatrice Scalza (Barefoot Dancer) is the first instrumental song of this record. I would have placed it nearer to the beginning, as an instrumental song it doesn't annoy and it is very well balanced. The Defiant Boundary is another interesting song, again with the influences that I mentioned previously in this review, and I like it again. Laberynthique is the final song, an instrumental and a more relaxed song by far, but for me it is the perfect closer to this record. Finally we can hear the keyboards!
Well, this record was a very nice surprise for me. I have to admit that I'm a prog metal lover, I found it very well crafted and a very well balanced album with all the arrangements right. And I have to highlight the work done by Titta Mani on the vocals and by Davide Buso on drums. So, try to give this record a chance and enjoy! Recommended.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Tír na nÓg - Tír na nÓg
Tracklist: Time Is Like A Promise (2:55), Mariner Blues (4:11), Daisy Lady (2:18), Tír Na NÓg (5:20), Gaberdeen Angus (1:48), Looking Up (4:49), Boat Song (3:22), Our Love Will Not Decay (3:01), Hey Friend (3:01), Dance Of Years (3:49), Live A Day (3:03), Piccadilly (5:34), Dante (3:01)
Bonus Tracks: I'm Happy To Be (On This Mountain) (2:19), Let My Love Grow (3:23)
Tír na nÓg – A Tear And A Smile
Tracklist: Come And See The Show (3:19), Down Day (5:50), When I Came Down (4:34), The Same Thing Happening (4:47), Bluebottle Stew (2:21), So Freely (3:35), Hemisphere (2:17), Lady Ocean (4:34), Goodbye My Love (4:21), Two White Horses (2:42)
Bonus Tracks: The Lady I Love (3:19), Heidi (3:23)
Tír na nÓg – Strong In The Sun
Tracklist: Free Ride (3:09), Whitestone Bridge (4:15), Teesside (3:57), Cinema (4:43), Strong In The Sun (3:42), The Wind Was High (3:24), In The Morning (3:25), Love Lost (3:20), Most Magical (3:49), Fall Of Day (2:41)
Bonus Track: The Mountain And I (6:26)
Back in the eclectic music world of the early 70’s when prog, folk, hard-rock, blues-rock, pop-rock and jazz happily rubbed shoulders, Tír na nÓg proved to be a popular live act. With a musical style that bridged folk, prog and melodic rock, they opened for a diversity of bands that included Procol Harum, The Who, Elton John, Hawkwind and Roxy Music. As well as their transcendental style, the basic premise of two men and two acoustic guitars could be comfortably accommodated into most any stage setting.
Combining the talents of singer-songwriters Leo O'Kelly and Sonny Condell, Tír na nÓg formed in Dublin in 1969 before travelling to London to make a name for themselves on the U.K. folk circuit. Securing a contract with Chrysalis Records in 1970, they made their debut in front of a rock audience supporting Jethro Tull. At the time, under the leadership of the incomparable Ian Anderson, JT were making their own transition from blues-rock to progressive-folk. Further support came from legendary D.J. John Peel and over the next four years Tír na nÓg toured internationally releasing three studio albums along the way before their premature break-up in 1974.
The self-titled debut album released in May 1971 featured original songs penned by O'Kelly and Condell in almost equal proportions supplemented by a cover of Hey Friend written by fellow Irish singer-songwriter Ray Dolan. With minimal accompaniment, the duo play a combination of acoustic guitars, dulcimer, electric bass, tin whistle and assorted percussion. Whilst the resulting arrangements are understated and the songs mostly tranquil, they skillfully convey a variety of moods and emotions. This ranges from Condell's delicate, almost medieval Time Is Like A Promise (a live favourite) and his equally exquisite Mariner Blues, O'Kelly's story telling title track (with fiddle from guest Barry Dransfield), the jocular Gaberdeen Angus bringing Gryphon to mind and the heart-warming Dance Of Years.
Whilst O'Kelly and Condell both have very fine voices they sound particularly potent when harmonising during Our Love Will Not Decay and Live A Day, briefly sounding like Ireland's response to Simon and Garfunkel. The latter also benefits from excellent guitar dynamics as does the lively Looking Up. Strings are also sparingly but effectively used as in the moving Boat Song (shades of Anthony Phillips), the melancholic Piccadilly and the pastoral Dante.
Esoteric's reissue includes for the first time on CD two bonus tracks, the calypso flavoured I'm Happy To Be (On This Mountain) and Let My Love Grow, the A and B sides of a single that preceded the debut album. Hastily produced by Make Batt, it came about as a result of Chrysalis' eagerness to have a product on the market soon after signing the band.
Released in April 1972, the second album, A Tear And A Smile, is notably harder sounding than its predecessor partly due to the occasional rhythm section of Barry Steel (bass) and Barry De Souza (drums). This is particularly evident in the upbeat opener Come And See The Show although the poignant Down Day that follows with its exquisite string arrangement is a fine example of their more atypical mellow side. Sounding like a cross between Jake Thackray and Neil Innes, Bluebottle Stew demonstrates that they have not lost their sense of humour whilst in contrast So Freely and Hemisphere (both penned by Condell) are hauntingly beautiful ballads. The orchestration is noticeably fuller during Lady Ocean, bringing Elton John’s Madman Across The Water album (released just a few months before) to mind. O'Kelly's Goodbye My Love is an unexpected psychedelic, Middle Eastern diversion leaving the folky ambiance of Two White Horses to draw the original album to a close.
Like the debut album, A Tear And A Smile was also preceded by the release of a single which again provides the two bonus tracks here. There is an uncharacteristic urgency to The Lady I Love (echoes of Jethro Tull) whereas Heidi finds them in typically sublime mood.
Released in October 1973, the third album, Strong In The Sun was something of a departure for the duo as the rocky openers Free Ride (a Nick Drake cover) and Whitestone Bridge testify. As well as a number of session musicians, O'Kelly and Condell also played electric guitars in addition to their accustomed acoustic instruments. The lyrical Teesside is as moving a song as anything that had gone before whilst O'Kelly's catchy title song (also released as a single) is their most conventional pop-rock offering ever. In contrast The Wind Was High and In The Morning are perfect elegies to their acoustic folk roots. The concluding bonus track on this Esoteric re-master is the lengthy The Mountain And I, the B side of the aforementioned single.
Despite having three artistically well received albums behind them and a never ending cycle of live appearances, Leo O'Kelly and Sonny Condell felt their efforts were mostly in vain and dissolving their relationship with Chrysalis Records they returned to Ireland. Following a final concert in Dublin in July 1974 which included new songs they disbanded only to reappear 11 years later. Since 1985, several further albums have appeared under the Tír na nÓg moniker and as their website testifies, they are still going strong.
Tír na nÓg: 8 out of 10
A Tear And A Smile: 7 out of 10
Strong In The Sun: 6.5 out of 10
A Lonely Crowd - User Hostile
A Lonely Crowd are a very interesting proposition. The Australian experimental, math prog rock band offers an album, User Hostile, that is full of diversity that draws reference from such bands as The Dillinger Escape Band, Mr. Bungle, King Crimson, District 97, Pain of Salvation and even Frank Zappa.
From the outset one never really knows what is really going on as their acrobatic and powerful soundstages hit the airwaves; innovative, complex and convoluted tunes that are really interesting and intriguing.
From the opening track Blessing in Disguise one is left to feel that the journey is going to be colourful and sedate, a statement that couldn't be further from the truth. Well, the sedate comment that is. What we have here is a dynamic and cultural exchange of music that has more twists and turns than your average band, a masterclass of diversity, strong driven instrumentation that will have your head spinning as you try to work out what is actually happening. The album and approach isn't immediate by any stretch of the imagination, no sir. What I can say though is that the effort you give to understanding this album will reward you no end.
This is a band that isn't lacking in ideas and a band that aren't afraid to experiment. The highlights are memorable such as the polka driven Mustard Brush Tango which redefines how differing genres can effectively work together - a polka, as one can gather from the title, entwined with a metal attitude, forceful guitars and percussive work that all fits together in perfect harmony. The fun doesn't stop there as Bipolar Bear again takes the heavenly and the hell, working them in opposition to each other, creating something rather unbelievable. Interestingly these presentations can be found throughout the whole album and is something that makes it what it is. Even when you listen to the enchanting End Without End you get to experience another dimension the band has to offer with its jazzy tones and the beautiful epic Glass Eyes with its urgent flute and fuzz toned guitars that really hit the mark.
A Lonely Crowd are a quartet consisting of Luke Ancell (guitar), Scott Ancell (drums / percussions) Xen 'Pow' Havales (vocals / flute / percussions) and Dave Morkunas (bass / keyboards). There are two female vocalists present on this album, Leah, the original vocalist who has a more jazz oriented approach and the exotic sounding Havales who is now a permanent member of the band and one can see why, or should that be hear why?
As one can guess there are no repeating themes, musically, throughout the album. Unless you count the clever and intelligent approaches as being a repeating theme, diversity is definitely the operative word. One minute you can hear bright and breezy melodies the next aggressive tones, as if this wasn't enough the band throw in the downright quirky for good measure. This is an album that has style, edge and personality, one that you should participate in.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Syndone - The Beauty Is the Beast
Nik Comoglio: acoustic piano, rhodes piano, hammond, minimoog, distortion kbd, pipe organ, celesta, all keyboards, orchestration
Francesco Pinetti: vibraphone, marimba, timpani, glockenspiel, tubular bells
Riccardo Ruggeri: vocal & lyrics, interpreting all characters
Special Guest - Ray Thomas (co-founder of The Moody Blues): flute
This is Syndone's fourth CD in some 19 years, there was a long gap of 16 years between albums 2 and 3, and this is the first of theirs that I've heard.
Italian Prog is probably best known for their great 70's outfits like PFM and Banco, but Italy has always been adept at producing home gown progressive rock and like Poland has been a centre of interest for many progressive rock bands over the years.
Syndone are Italian and they sing this album entirely in Italian, however fear not, you don't need to be a fluent Italian speaker to appreciate this disc as they have very helpfully translated the lyrics into English as well. This means that one can understand the thread that runs through this album, that thread being a re-write of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast that looks at the actions and characters from a different point of view, through the eyes of contemporary man with his guilt, his envy, and the sneaky games played on the couple and the consequent vendettas.
So how does this sound? Well firstly Riccardo Ruggeri's voice is unusual and intriguing in that he uses vibrato in his phrasing to make the words sound more lyrical, whether that's because he is singing in his native tongue or because that's how he sings is open to debate, but it makes for a good listen. When he lets loose he sounds like Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden.
In addition much of the music is played on "Vintage" instruments which gives a warm feel to proceedings and the use of more Jazz related instruments such as vibraphone, marimba and glockenspiel adds a certain jazziness to the overall sound as does the addition of the Gomalan Brass Section and reeds that give the music a swing and jazz feel at times which makes for a different style and approach which actually seems to enhance the music being played here.
As this is a concept album it is difficult to pull songs out for individual comment as the album is best listened to in one sitting for maximum effect, however there is much here that will make the average prog fan smile. The use of keyboards, the jazzy interludes, the unusual instrumentation and vocals all add to what is a fine album, even if the concept may be hard to define at times as it's being sung in Italian. Mind you many folks like opera and that's sung in Italian without detracting from the proceedings so this album will fit into that realm nicely.
Also, despite trying and studying the credits very carefully, I cannot find any guitar parts on here, and what sounds like guitars are actually keyboards. What I do find is an intriguing album that may well be of interest to fans of PFM, Banco or more Jazz inclined progressive rock.
I have to say I have enjoyed this album but you will need to play it a few times before you "get" it but it is a rewarding listen and I would recommend it. It's not earth shattering but it is accomplished and different so on that basis I'm more than happy to offer 7 out of 10.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Bill Nelson – Trial By Intimacy (The Book Of Splendours)
Tracklist: CD1 – The Summer Of God's Piano (49:54), CD2 – Chamber Of Dreams (Music from the Invisibility Exhibition) (44:36), CD3 - Pavilions Of The Heart And Soul (42:11), CD4 - A Catalogue Of Obsessions (44:58)
Bill Nelson's transformation from esoteric prog guitar legend with Be-Bop Deluxe, via a swift dalliance with his own take on New Wave with Red Noise, and then on to cerebral solo artist was swift indeed. Red Noise's one and only album, Sound On Sound came out in 1979, but by 1981 with Quit Dreaming And Get On The Beam the traditional song structures were already showing signs of being left behind. And with that same year's Sounding The Ritual Echo all resemblance to the guitar god from planet Bowie of yore was well buried.
Between Sounding... and this set a mere 3 years pass, but in that time Bill, always ultra prolific in his solo outpourings, had put out 7 albums. Trial By Intimacy (The Book Of Splendours) originally came out as a 4-LP box in 1984, replete with a set of postcards and a book (The Arcane Eye) of Bill's abstract photographs documenting a dream sequence in suitably subtle fashion. These are all lovingly reproduced in Esoteric's 4-CD box, and if marks were given for packaging alone this would get a 9 (I rarely if ever give 10s for anything, grumbling curmudgeon that I am).
You will see that I have not provided a track listing, as there are over 80 short instrumental pieces here, and I doubt anyone would desire to wade their way through that little lot before reading the review. Bill has always had a way with a snappy title though, so here are a few to tickle your grey matter; The Celestial Bridegroom, The Difficulty Of Being, The Blazing Memory Of Innuendo, My Sublime Perversion, The Glance Of A Glittering Stranger, Happily Addicted To You, The Last Summer For Dancing, and my favourite; Her Laughing Torso.
The music here continues the low-tech home recording of Sounding... based around ambient keyboard pieces, and although there is guitar present it is used texturally rather than in a "rock" context. One has to remember that this was all done way before the advent of computer technology and involved little more than a tape recorder and a pair of scissors. I slightly exaggerate, but you get my point. That considered this set is a highly accomplished technological feat in itself.
About the only other British artist of any commercial clout who was doing anything similar at the time was Brian Eno, and I'm sure both were inspired by the German synth scene of a few years previously which similarly existed outside of any commercial considerations. Bill slowly built up a small but loyal following with his take on ambient sound painting, some fans remaining from the Be-Bop days but most arriving via the more extreme end of New Wave; Cabaret Voltaire and Thomas Dolby being two whose music took an influence from Bill and led their fans back to the source.
For me, back then a big Be-Bop fan, it was like discovering a completely new artist; for once I had dropped my preconceived ideas of what kind of noises Bill Nelson "should" be making I discovered an entire new world, a world which this fine set explores in detail.
The Summer Of God's Piano - love that title by the way! - was the only one of the 4 albums I knew beforehand, and it introduces itself unobtrusively with 43 seconds of sequencer patterns, then we're off on a journey into Bill's singular world. Spoken word samples repeat over strange electronica backgrounds evoking a slightly unsettling intellectual edginess. Naming the label he put his records out on "Cocteau" after French art-house director Jean Cocteau, and name checking photographers Man Ray, Arthur Tress, Maya Deren and others on the back of the aforementioned photograph booklet shows that Bill was a well-read guy and not afraid to show it, both in his music and in his other art. In a world that even back then was beginning to sneer at anyone who showed evidence of an education, be it by State or by self, Bill's approach was a refreshing change for this Grammar School boy!
Evoking moods ranging from the nocturnally slightly sinister to calming to faux-oriental, the album is cinematic in its approach, and a wonderful chill-out experience, years before the phrase was ever thought of. Although this music is definitely of its time, pinpointed by the tell-tale sounds of the keyboard technology used, it does not sound dated, such was Bill's highly individual approach.
Chamber Of Dreams (Music from the Invisibility Exhibition) is the most "difficult" of the albums presented here. In 1981 & 1983 Bill toured Britain with his multi-media Invisibility Exhibition, and the first 9 pieces on the album are just the backing tapes, over which Bill would improvise guitar at the events, and the remaining 9 pieces are selections of the interval music played between performances at the Exhibition itself. The whole thing is highly cerebral and a little dry, although as Bill says, musos might enjoy playing their own improvs over the backing tracks.
Pavilions Of The Heart And Soul with its subtext "Dedicated to the charms of sacred and profane love" is a thing of beauty and wraps the listener in its caresses, the marimba (real, or not?) of Loving Tongues adding a playful layer to the aural collage. In The Realm Of Bells cleverly evokes Sunday morning calls to worship, all on a synthesiser, and Your Nebulous Smile sounds exalted and exactly as it should. Bill's love of the female form is evident in the track titles on this album as well as in the low-level and tasteful erotica of some of the photos in The Arcane Eye booklet, and if I had to guess, I'd say he was probably in love when he made this one!
A Catalogue Of Obsessions occasionally reprises the love theme but in a darker context, as the title of the Kraftwerk-ian Sex Party Six indicates, although Happily Addicted To You and Love's First Kiss tell us that the honeymoon is not yet over. A rare outing for guitar as lead instrument appears on A Promise Of Perfume but, in keeping with the low-key atmosphere it's an acoustic, not the Gibson electric of old. There's a warmth at work here too, exemplified by the slow and sensuous 80s bass-funk of Time In Tokyo, and indeed in the overall feel of the album which belies its angsty title as it is a largely slow and contemplative work.
It must be something in the water of Yorkshire but whatever it is that vast county seems to produce highly wilful individuals from all walks of life who plough their own path regardless of consequences. Bill Nelson is one of those characters and he is lucky in that he has spent his solo career doing exactly as he pleases and has managed to survive in the process. As Bill puts it in the liner notes "At the time, it seemed as if the set existed, both musically and visually, in its own universe, in a place where the constraints of the music industry no longer applied. It's a place I continue to think of as 'home'". And I would not have it any other way.
If you're looking for an entry point into Bill Nelson's early ambient world, this is a great place to start.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Boxer - Below The Belt
Track list: Shooting Star (3:59), All The Time In The World (4:27), California Calling (4:45), Hip Kiss (2:57), More Than Meets The Eye (5:25), Waiting For A Miracle (5:05), Loony Ali (3:58), Save Me (3:35), Gonna Work Out Fine (5:56), Town Drunk (5:17) Bonus Track: Don't Wait (3:13)
Boxer - Bloodletting
Track list: Hey Bulldog (3:49), The Blizzard (3:19), Rich Man's Daughter (4:20), Big City Fever (2:57), The Loner (4:49), Why Pick On Me? (4:14), Love Has Got Me (3:04), Dinah-Low (3:07), Teachers (6:05)
Boxer, not a name that is likely to ring many bells in the musical world, not even amongst fans of seventies rock, and probably not amongst the select audience of prog fans that are our readership. So why are we reviewing these albums here? Well, despite not being very progressive in nature, Boxer, on these two albums at least, featured two exemplary musicians who have long-term connections with the prog world - Mike Patto and Ollie Halsall. The pair had previously teamed up in Timebox and Patto while Halsall had an illustrious career as long-time guitarist for Kevin Ayers, performing on the original album and film from The Rutles, having a solo album produced by Robert Fripp (although that particular album has yet to see the light of day) and was an integral member of Tempest. Lovers of excellent dual guitars should check out the Tempest anthology Under The Blossom which features the only recordings, a BBC session, when both Halsall and Alan Holdsworth performed together in that band. The two other members of Boxer had similarly impressive musical pedigrees: bassist Keith Ellis had been in The Koobas, one of the earliest incarnations of Van Der Graaf Generator, and Spooky Tooth while drummer Tony Newman cut his teeth with Sounds Incorporated, Juicy Lucy and Mighty Baby before becoming a respected session musician accompanying the likes of Donovan, Jeff Beck and David Bowie. It was not just Patto and Halsall who had previously worked together either as Patto and Ellis had been in Spooky Tooth together and Newman had crossed paths with Halsall in the Kevin Ayers band.
Once the four had joined together, in the process dragging Patto out of semi-retirement, they quickly amassed sufficient material to record for a debut album and entered the recently refurbished Virgin Manor Studios in 1975 without ever having graced a stage. The ability and experience of the musicians was such that the album was recorded virtually live with the minimum of overdubs. The majority of the album was written by Patto and Halsall together (four tracks) or individually (two tracks each), with one number (Hip Kiss) being a group composition everything rounded of with a cover of Town Drunk, a slow blues number that had originally appeared on Terry Stamp's Fatsticks album which both Halsall and Newman had contributed to. The Boxer version is very nice with Patto providing one of his strongest recorded vocal deliveries. Virgin's signing of Boxer was a conscious effort to take the label away from the more esoteric acts they had previously been associated with into a more mainstream rock direction. But that doesn't mean the songwriting was compromised; if anything Halsall and Patto underplayed the four members musical abilities in order that the listener was more able to focus on the songs. Halsall shines through on several tracks, notably Shooting Star, which does have a real early AC/DC sound, California Calling with its wonderful slide guitar, a delightful graceful touch on the bluesy More Than Meets The Eye and the excellent reworking of Waiting For A Miracle which had previously appeared on Tempest's Living In Fear album.
Elsewhere, Gonna Work Out Fine injects some energy and a dash of proto-funk with some wonderful piano and Hammond work (played by Halsall and Patto), the latter instrument also making an appearance on the disappointing Hip Kiss, a rather uninspiring jam. Loony Ali is the only other track that lets the album down being a rather mediocre number barely saved by the slide guitar contributions. Better is Save Me where Halsall puts in a fine performance, both vocally and with his trusty white Gibson six-string and the single All The Time In The World a somewhat amusing and enjoyable number. As a bonus, the rather good b-side, Don't Wait completes the collection.
Following completion of the album the band finally took to the road and proved to be a formidable live act with their debut at London's infamous Marquee Club provoking the reaction from the in-house DJ that they audience wouldn't see them in such modest venues for much longer. Following the release of Below The Belt, several higher profile gigs were arranged supporting such groups as Babe Ruth and Ace, a rather incongruous match if there ever was one. The management decision to portray the band as the new Led Zeppelin was a big mistake as although they had the talent they didn't have the audience. To make matters worse the group was haemorrhaging money on lavish stage shows, again at the behest of the management. To try and recoup some money the group went back into Manor Studios in early 1976 to record a follow-up album despite not having had any time to write new material. As a consequence, the album is a rather short at under 36 minutes with 4 of the 9 tracks being cover versions and the original material all written by Patto. The increasingly severe booze and drug lifestyle adopted by the band was of no help either, although their indulgences had no effect on the quality of the musicianship displayed on the album.
It is at this point that things get pretty murky in the Boxer story as although the album was completed in mid 1976, financial problems with the management company resulted in contractual issues with Virgin who withdrew the album from the release schedules. The group played a few more gigs but without an album to provide any income first Newman and then Halsall and Ellis quit. Ironically, although Patto had all but retired from active writing and performance prior to Boxer, he decided to carry on, recruiting a new band, which signed to Epic Records and released the slightly more adventutous Absolutely album in 1979. Inevitably it was the release of this album that prompted Virgin to finally issue Bloodletting. Sadly the new line-up of Boxer failed to do any better commercially than the original version and was Patto's last throw of the dice as he succumbed to cancer later that year, only a year after Ellis had committed suicide. Halsall stumbled on reuniting with Kevin Ayers to release increasingly infrequent albums but a serious drug addiction contributed to his own death in 1992.
Given all of the above, Bloodletting is actually a very fine album, featuring some stellar playing from the quartet. The cover versions are all accomplished renditions that add to the original, particularly the opening version of Hey Bulldog: Halsall's love of The Fab Four driving him to new heights of succinct and tasteful playing. Neil Young's The Loner is perhaps a rather unusual choice but the group make it their own, extending it by adding an instrumental section featuring piano and Hammond, Patto and Halsall's own contributions on these instruments abetted by Chris Stainton (who remained with Patto becoming a central part of the group who recorded Absolutely) and to a lesser extent Tim Hinckley. Another Terrence Stamp song, Dinah-Low, also from Fatsticks, aids continuity with the debut album and although the song is not as strong as Town Drunk Boxer pull it off with aplomb, particularly some nice guitar effects from Halsall. The true nature of the band is summed up on the live version of Leonard Cohen's Teachers which takes the original and stomps all over it. Halsall's brief guitar improvisations at the end of the song are a worthy reminder of the man's talent.
The five original Patto contributions are also worthy additions and show that the singer was not the only member of Boxer with an enduring love of The Beatles, none more so than on The Blizzard. The songs are generally shorter, simpler compositions with an emphasis on melody and memorable tunes. Big City Fever is a rolling barrelhouse of a number, Why Pick On Me contains an excellent piano/organ dual while Love Has Got Me is the obligatory ballad that is a step up from twee sentimentality that can often mar such numbers, raised even higher by Halsall's playing. However, it is Rich Man's Daughter that really stands out, obviously Patto thought so too as it was the only one of his five songs that he chose to re-record for Absolutely.
Two more fine releases for the Esoteric catalogue who live up to their name and always provide interesting, quality, excellently remastered and packaged rarities. Boxer may not be paramount in the prog/rock world but I am certainly delighted to have both albums in my collection.
Below The Belt - 6 out of 10
Bloodletting - 7 out of 10
Apogee feat. Gerald Heimann – Die Gläserne Wand & Schleifen
CD 1: Die Gläserne Wand - First Movement (18:02), Second Movement (15:39), Third Movement (19:21), Fourth Movement (20:14)
CD 2: Fifth Movement (21:02). Schleifen - First Part (24:17), Second Part (19:54)
This double album has been sitting around in the "to do" pile for months as I was instantly put off by the 10 minutes or so that I listened to on first receiving it. However, just for you dear reader, I will now grit my teeth and sit through the entire thing hoping to come up with some inspiration.
To quote from the CD back cover:
Firstly, I'll freely admit I've no idea who Versus X are but having briefly investigated on YouTube and PA, it seems they have released some 4 albums of theatrical-sounding symphonic retro-prog, not the sort of thing that floats my boat, for sure. The quote above should tell you that Die Gläserne Wand & Schleifen (The Wall of Glass & Loops) is very much a low-key production. Originally recorded in 1988/89 and now released on CD for the first time, one hates to use the words "bedroom" and "production" together but essentially that is what this is; Arne Schäfer's one-man band with the added portentously sung German lyrics of Gerald Hiemann.
The music is keyboard led with the addition of guitar punctuations, and includes brass and reeds and orchestral arrangements, some or possibly all synthetic although it is hard to tell, and while not threatening to push any envelopes anywhere, it is actually inoffensive to the ear. Van der Graaf Generator is obviously an influence, but this tends more to the symphonic end of the scale. Unfortunately where VdGG enthral, this just sounds tame in comparison.
The English interpretations of the German lyrics in the booklet read like sixth-form fantasy poetry and one hopes that they are not quite so prosaic in their original language.
The main trouble with this is that at well over 3 hours, this double CD is way too long and a couple of thin ideas are often stretched to breaking point. I suppose if you understand German it might be a tad more bearable, but don't get your hopes up. However, as Arne says, this is for fans and I doubt he intends to win any new ones with this thin sounding long-winded and pretentious tale, which is just as well.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10