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Reviews in this issue:
- Soft Machine Legacy - Burden Of Proof
- Michal Mierzejewski - Symphonic Theater Of Dreams
- Baron - Columns
- SoulenginE - Mind Colours
- Venturia - Dawn Of A New Era
- Arilyn - Shadows Of The Past
- Flower Flesh - Duck in the Box
- Symphonika - Symphonika
- The Pineapple Thief - Build A World [EP]
Soft Machine Legacy - Burden Of Proof
Tracklist: Burden Of Proof (5:51), Voyage Beyond Seven (4:53), Kitto (1:50), Pie Chart (5:07), JSP (1:03), Kings And Queens (6:46), Fallout (6:59), Going Somewhere Canorous? (1:13), Black And Crimson (5:05), The Brief (2:27), Pump Room (5:19), Green Cubes (5:33), They Landed On A Hill (3:03)
I was lucky enough to obtain last-minute tickets to see Soft Machine Legacy last year, see my review Here, and given that it had then been five years since the last studio album, Steam, I asked the always accommodating Theo Travis after the show if we were ever likely to see another release, and to the delight of my gig-going companion and me, he told us that they were about to jet off to Italy to record what turns out to be this waxing.
Many months later, here is the Burden Of Proof, so let the examination commence, firstly with some case history:
Soft Machine Legacy, currently John Etheridge (guitars), John Marshall (drums), Roy Babbington (bass) and Theo Travis (reeds, electric piano), was formed, as the name suggests, to keep alive the spirit of Soft Machine, both live and in the studio. The original members in 2003 (or thereabouts) included Hugh Hopper and Elton Dean, both sadly no longer with us.
Everyone in the band, bar Theo Travis, was a member of Soft Machine at some point, and included on Burden Of Proof is Hugh Hopper's Kings And Queens which first appeared way back in 1971 on the Soft Machine album Fourth which pre-dates any of today's Legacy members' involvement with that band.
John Marshall would join Soft Machine for the following year's Fifth, and Roy Babbington would not appear with the band until Seven, released in the latter half of 1973. Roy of course went on to replace Hugh Hopper in Soft Machine Legacy in 2008 after the latter was sadly diagnosed with leukaemia.
John Etheridge joined Soft Machine in 1975 and appeared on one album, the next year's Softs, John M and Roy still being with the band. Ironically SML was created from the nucleus of another SM offshoot, Soft Works, around John Marshall, Dean and Hopper, with John E replacing the same guitarist he replaced in Soft Machine all those years earlier, one Allan Holdsworth, and lo, Soft Machine Legacy was born.
Only replacing Elton Dean in SML in 2006, Theo is of course the new kid on the block, but he has made this band his home, and his flute combined with John E's liquid guitar runs on this new version of the timeless Kings And Queens is akin to being immersed into a warm caress of sound, the tune being sympathetically rearranged for electric guitar, an instrument absent from the original version.
And now for the main examination of the evidence:
At the gig I mentioned earlier we witnessed Theo Travis's live debut on electric piano, and it is that new and welcome addition to SML's sound that opens the first and title track of this record, a tune that effortlessly progresses on a walking bass line from Roy Babbington with John Marshall's brushed drums and cymbals skittering over the top. The veteran rhythm section is on top of its game throughout this album, and listening to their interplay is a treat.
Theo has been a very busy man since filling the shoes of the sadly departed Elton Dean back in 2006, no easy task in itself. In that time Theo has become the reedsman of choice for the prog community, most famously for The Steven Wilson Band (can we call it that now?) and a long association with retro-prog band The Tangent continues. However, it is soon apparent from listening to this album that SML is where Theo's soul resides, and it is here he finds full expression, covering all bases and running the gamut of blues belters, jazz ballads, sublime soundscapes and avant wailings.
The relaxed vibe of the opening tune continues briefly into Theo's Voyage Beyond Seven (possibly a reference to the Soft Machine album), but not for long. The piece slowly changes to out-and-out dissonance starring John Etheridge's furious and largely effects-free guitar work. As much as Theo is the heart of this band, John Etheridge is its de facto leader, not always obvious from the studio recordings, but plain to see (and hear) live.
For fans of Soft Machine and Soft Machine Legacy, not to mention his numerous other projects, John Etheridge should require no introduction, and his natural style compares more than favourably with many other guitarists, proving you do not need 17 effects pedals all on max in order to make a point.
With those two opening tunes we are introduced to two sides of SML's many-faceted musical shape, the aforementioned blues belter being the foot-stompingly good Pie Chart. The album is full of short impressionistic bursts of progressive brouhaha, interspersed between what might be viewed as the "main" songs on the record; John Marshall's innovative percussive interlude JSP being one of many, following which is a revisit to that rare thing, a Soft Machine ballad.
Only two songs from this record were played when we saw them last year, and one was John E's Pump Room. The chugging riff in this song shows that SML can rock too, John E adding a stunning solo that neatly summarises my earlier eulogy to the man.
The only group composition is Green Cables, a spacey jazz-fusion trip riding on a meteor as it plummets to Earth. A fine example of what I assume is an improvised tune, a piece that sounds as complete as it does off-the-cuff, rocking out as it gathers pace. The album ends in the manner it started, with the blissful piano and guitar sign off They Landed On A Hill. Nice!
Having retired to weigh up the evidence, the jury had been out for all of five minutes when it returned the verdict that the burden of proof is conclusively indicative of a resounding guilty; guilty of making probably the finest progressive jazz-fusion record you will hear this year.
In fact, Soft Machine Legacy speak in an all-encompassing musical language that goes well beyond pigeonholing, and with Burden Of Proof they have moved on from Steam to become a fully integrated unit with a near psychic understanding of the collective muse. I can say with some confidence that if you are a lover of progressive music you should definitely buy this now!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Michal Mierzejewski - Symphonic Theater Of Dreams
During the late '60s a number of bands including The Moody Blues, The Nice and Deep Purple experimented beyond the usual guitar/bass/drums/keyboard format by working alongside a full orchestra. It wasn't until the mid '70s however when the trend for rearranging rock and pop tunes for classical orchestra began with a series of highly successful albums recorded by The London Symphony Orchestra. Songs like Life On Mars, Bohemian Rhapsody and Vienna were subjected to the LSO makeover, with varying results. Given that prog has often been accused of borrowing from the classics it's not surprising that several genre bands would be targeted for similar treatment. A prime mover in this area was ex-Jethro Tull member David Palmer who from the mid '80s produced symphonic tributes to JT, Genesis, Pink Floyd and Yes. Sadly they were not always as good as they should have been with 1993's Symphonic Music Of Yes proving to be (for this Yes fan at least) a spectacular disappointment.
Contemporary prog bands have so far been immune to such attention but 23 year-old Polish composer, arranger and conductor Michal Mierzejewski redresses the balance with this self-proclaimed A Symphonic Tribute To Dream Theater. The American prog-metallars were prime candidates given their popularity, musical complexity and the fact that Mierzejewski is a big fan. DT are of course no strangers to working with an orchestra as they did on the Octavarium album and subsequent performance at the Radio City Music Hall, New York in April 2006 which was preserved for prosperity on the Score DVD. No members of the band however are involved with this project although it has been publically endorsed by both Jordan Rudess and Mike Portnoy.
I should stress at this point that Mierzejewski is not, as you might suspect a one-man band simulating the symphonic sounds using a bunch of keyboards. This is the genuine article with Mierzejewski and associate Ariel Ludwiczak conducting the Sinfonietta Consonus Orchestra comprising no less than fifty string, woodwind, brass and percussion musicians joined by classical guitarist Bartosz Kropidlowski, cello soloist Tina Guo and acoustic guitarist Daniel Fries (whose band Affector received a DPRP recommendation just last year).
Mierzejewski apparently compiled the tracklist by polling Dream Theater fans on various forum sites. In 2010 he had already whetted appetites by posting a short snippet of The Count Of Tuscany and The Best Of Times on YouTube. Ironically neither song (nor anything else from Black Clouds & Silver Linings for that matter) appears here. In fact, fans may be a little surprised by the final choice of material and with only five DT pieces in total (the opening track is Mierzejewski's own composition) discussion is more likely to focus on the songs passed over (e.g. Octavarium, The Count Of Tuscany, Metropolis Pt 1, etc.) rather than those included. That aside, I'm certain it will appeal to both DT fans and non-DT fans who have a taste for modern orchestral and film soundtrack music.
As overtures go, Mierzejewsk's When Dreams Come True is deceptively calm to begin with but after a spell of tranquil contemplation it erupts into a suitably brassy and heroic theme. The first Dream Theater piece Hell's Kitchen is the oldest here, an instrumental that appeared on their fourth studio album, Falling Into Infinity in 1997. Here again the tone is mournful, almost bittersweet at the start. It builds however into a soaring melody with sweeping strings, concluding on a triumphant note. The arrangement, especially the slow build, is particularly reminiscent of Stephen Warbeck's graceful music for the film Shakespeare In Love.
Given that both versions feature an orchestra, it's interesting to compare Mierzejewsk's interpretation of Sacrificed Sons with the 2005 Octavarium original. Here delicate guitar and clarinet introduce the central theme before a sea of strings ebb and flow into the foreground. The orchestra throws its full weight behind the melody surging back and forth with horns and percussion echoing the warlike intensity of Howard Shore's Lord Of The Rings music. Low, rhythmic strings and brass herald a discordant, jazzy section before concluding on a powerful and dramatic note.
Beneath The Surface is the most recent DT piece here taken from 2011's A Dramatic Turn Of Events album. In contrast with the proceeding track it has a beautiful, pastoral melody with solo French horn and rippling guitar drifting away on a wave of sensuous strings. The bolero effect towards the end shaped by classical guitar and staccato violins is particularly effective. One of my favourite tracks here.
The albums showpiece is undoubtedly The Ministry Of Lost Souls from 2007's Systematic Chaos which is instantly recognisable from the rousing opening bars. Classical guitar, oboe and flute pick out the counter-melody providing an interlude of serenity before the various sections of the orchestra show their individual colours, uniting in a vibrant display. Things take a dramatic turn of events (no pun intended? Ed.) with the full might of the orchestra sounding powerfully menacing bringing Klaus Badelt's and Hans Zimmer's scores for the Pirates Of The Caribbean movies to mind. The soloists each make impromptu contributions before the piece ends as it began with a stirring reinstatement of the main theme.
Just as it did on 2002's Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence, Losing Time / Grand Finale provides a suitably effective closer here with the stately beauty of the first section segueing effortlessly into the epic finale which concludes with a theatrical flourish.
Given the inherent weakness of orchestral tributes, Michal Mierzejewsk is to be congratulated on this truly inspired work. Whilst his interpretation of the music of Dream Theater is fresh and unique it remains instantly accessible and enjoyable, capturing the spirit of the band in all its mellow, heavy and majestic glory. Highly recommended but at less than 45 minutes it's a shame that a few more pieces could not have been included.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Baron - Columns
Is Luke Foster the only musician in Brighton who owns a van? I jest of course, but Baron are the third band from Brighton to fly past my ears recently with Mr. Foster sat behind the drums, and as Diagonal and Autumn Chorus and Baron are as different from one another as can be, one can only assume that the music bursting to get out of Luke's and his colleagues' heads is the result of a quite remarkable reserve of talent.
Columns is the band's second album, three years after the debut, Illegitimate Nephew, and joining Luke is the not quite as ubiquitous Nick Whittaker (also in Diagonal) on clarinet, horn, and backing vocals, and Peter Evans (also in Autumn Chorus) on electric bass and percussion. Alex Crispin is the main man here, contributing lead vocals, electric guitar, synth and percussion, and he also produces the album and contributes the very nice artwork. Blue Firth chipped in with synth, keyboards and backing vocals, and finally we have Ross Hossack (Diagonal) who contributes synth to Prov Nom.
Baron's shimmering Columns sit on moving foundations built on the ever-shifting quick sands of ethnic and synthetic soundscapes, captivating the listener as it swirls around your ears. I would be hard pushed to tell where this band were geographically located if I were listening to it "blind", as it were, such is the ethereal nature of this album. Throughout, Luke has a knack of holding down the rhythm in a less than obvious fashion, in fact his drumming and percussives permeating the album deserve a mention for being really quite innovative around and through the beat.
Helpfully describing themselves on their Bandcamp page as "Neo-Monastic Byzantine Psych Art-Rock" hints at the fleeting Zen-like nature of this record, one moment alt-pop resulting from a collision of The Blue Nile (yes, them again) and Japan, one moment world music put through an Ashra blender, all topped off with Alex's voice which caresses the listener in a manner that is completely free of affectation or the slightest hint of testosterone straining, a prevalent problem in the world of prog.
Not that this is prog, in any traditional sense, but yes it is definitely progressive, taking a left-field pop ambience to somewhere just a little bit different. Fans of no-man should love this.
Gload commences the affair with a gigantic chanting meditation, the synths chiming like a thousand atonal gongs, almost drowning out an emergent post-rock construction, giving the piece a devotional atmosphere.
The lyrics on this album are as ambiguous and impressionistic as the music, and religious metaphor is often used to convey thoughts of devotion, infidelity, lust and love. Phrases come and go: "Into the mouth of the demon messiah, into the trance from which I never tire", "I see it, I feel it, I need it all", "...the hand just won't stop even when you've had enough", "In these sins I'm born".
New Follower could be a ballad to an infidelity real or imagined, being an example of said religious metaphor, all crooned in Alex's rich tones over a simple but hypnotic tune. Prov Nom is the most mysterious song on the record, a distant voice way down in the mix calling through layers of synth washes, leaving more questions than answers, fading away on looped false endings.
Miracle concludes the album with an enigmatic tale that could be interpreted in any number of ways. Possibly about redemption, hypocrisy, I really couldn't say, but nothing is easily defined in Baronland. Built on a repeated sequencer pattern overlaid with a threatening ambience, this closing song leaves the listener hanging in the air, wanting more.
A thoroughly enjoyable album and another product of the cultural hive that is Britain's most liberal city. Very nice indeed!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
SoulenginE - Mind Colours
In 2007, Ettore Salati and Fabio Mancini, former members of the Italian prog band The Watch, enlisted musicians Nando de Luca, a bassist, and Giacomo Pacini, a drummer, to join them in a new endeavour called SoulenginE (the capitalization of the final “E” is unexplained). The new band then spent the better part of 2008 and 2009 arranging pieces for their debut release, Mind Colours, which was recorded in 2010 and, finally, mixed and mastered the following year. The band's multi-year efforts have created some fine music.
Mind Colours finds its primary influences in early '70s symphonic prog and electric jazz fusion, but, occasionally, a quick tempo switch or bubbly guitar lick pays apparent homage to the Canterbury scene. Most of the songs on this CD - the better ones - are exclusively instrumental.
The keyboards are mostly in charge here, while the guitar - usually electric - plays a closely supporting role. The regular and intricate dialogue between the two instruments is consistently interesting. Particularly impressive is the diversity of keyboard sounds: played on the CD are acoustic piano, Hammond, Mellotron, Wurlitzer, Rhodes, and Moog. And, in an instant, a new keyboard will chime in and morph the tone of the song from soothing to raucous. Notable keyboard influences appear to be Jurgen Fritz, of Triumvirat, or Keith Emerson. Similarly, the guitar may at one moment be soaring and mellifluous and, at the next moment, rambunctious and feverish. The influence of Steve Hackett abounds.
Unfortunately, the supporting cast is either hardly heard or heard too much. Although the keyboards and guitar remain distinct and free-flowing, the bass - unless soloing - is overpowered by the other instruments. The drumming, which at times somehow seems to have been added as an afterthought, can be clunky and even jarring.
The quality of the songwriting does not quite match the generally high quality of the musicianship. The compositions - all by Salati and Mancini - are not particularly remarkable (but for the time changes), and the progression of the repeating guitar or keyboard lines can be predictable. Many spins of the CD have still not etched a particular tune in my mind.
In the opener, Polheim, the guitar initially floats over brisk keyboard runs accompanied by hard-knocking drums. The keyboards and drums steadily propel the tune forward and, at times, in unexpected and unsettling directions. Next comes Third in Line, which offers up some compelling, Steve Hackett-like guitar passages. Rain Flower, in which an early guitar solo tips a hat to the signature guitar sounds of Canterbury's Phil Miller, is a complex, delightful piece full of surprises. On the Other Side, a jazzy, relaxed piece, then provides a refreshing reprieve from the fast-paced stimulation. Two later, excellent tunes - No Rewarding and No Way Out - at times harken back to the instrumental portions of Emerson Lake and Palmer's Tarkus. The low points are Down the Street and Asleep: on the first, the harshness of the vocals simply do not jive with the fluidity of the music; on the second, the singing is more tolerable but is slurred and seemingly strained. The closer, Challenge to an End, which both begins and ends peacefully, displays a real grandness that epitomizes strong symphonic prog.
In the end, Mind Colours is a worthy debut. With a more-coherent theme, deeper hooks, more-nuanced drumming, and the deletion of vocal pieces this CD could have been significantly better. Nevertheless, the excellent lead instruments, the sum of which is greater than its parts, will undoubtedly lure me back for further listens.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Venturia - Dawn Of A New Era
Venturia are a female-fronted melodic metal band from France and Dawn of a New Era is their third album. The band members are Lydie Lazulli (vocals), Thomas James Potrel (bass), Frederic Marchal (drums) and Charly Sahona (guitars, vocals, keys).
Formed in the mid 2000s and signing a record deal with Lion Music in 2005, Ventura's first album, The New Kingdom appeared in 2006 and was well received by the media.
In 2008 the band released Hybrid to more positive reviews, the band following up with some gigs and festivals around Europe in 2009 before male singer Marc Ferreira left, Charly Sahona taking over his vocal duties. 2010 saw original drummer Diego Rapacchietti depart for personal reasons to be replaced by Frederic Marchal, a long time friend of the band.
In 2011 the band started to record Dawn Of A New Era, the finished album being mixed and mastered in 2012.
The album kicks off with Devil In Disguise starting on a heavy guitar riff and strong groovy melody that really rocks. The vocals are clear and strong. Next is Secret Dream which has a gentle start into a catchy melodic metal track with a chorus you want to sing along to featuring some nice guitar work from Sahona. A New Dawn Rising starts with fast shredding guitars and features both Charly and Lydie on vocals which works really well. The track flows into What We're Here For which continues in the same style with fast guitars and drums, the lovely vocals really showcasing how good a singer Lydie is. The vocals also are a highlight on the next track, What If I, with some of the finest harmonies around showing what a good choice it was to make a video (well worth checking out above). Next we have Phoenix, a bass driven track that rocks and reminds me of The Reasoning mixed with Nightwish. The pace changes slightly for the modern beautiful power ballad Spiritual Path, leading us into the longest track on the album, A Land Of Dreams, which is more of a progressive metal number with fine drumming and guitar playing, a track that really shows how talented the musicians are.
Venturia are a metal band with this album leaning slightly towards a more popular style that makes some of the tracks more commercial and radio friendly. The album is melodic with catchy rocking riffs, lots of harmonies with beautiful vocals that add to the accessibility of the music. The album has lots to offer to the metal fan - fast drums, heavy guitars and solos, swirling keyboards and driving bass - and clocks in at just under forty minutes of high quality songwriting. The vocals of Charly and Lydie are impressive and work well together to become one of the highlights of the album. Fans of Evanescence, NightWish, Within Temptation or Lucid Fly should find quite a lot to enjoy and the only drawback I found was that the tracks are quite similar so the album lacks a bit in variety. Putting that aside I found it to be highly enjoyable and well produced with good sound, nice clear vocals and fine playing.
This review is from a promo copy which only contained the disc so I am unable to comment on the cover or booklet.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Arilyn - Shadows Of The Past
Tracklist: Shadows Of The Past (4:32), Everything Comes Back Again (4:23), Move On (4:58), All Of You (5:19), Hide Away My Tears (3:36), King Without A Crown (5:43), So Extreme (4:18), Redemption (4:46), The Masters Chamber (5:25), Wasted (6:11), A Man With A Mission (7:17)
One of my very first reviews for the DPRP was 2005's Virtual Reality, the second album from German space-rockers Arilyn. I was clearly impressed because the review resulted in a DPRP recommendation. Rising out of the ashes of the band Desperation, Arilyn have been around since the turn of the millennium with their debut release Tomorrow Never Comes appearing in 2002. Somehow their third album, Alter Ego released in 2007, passed the DPRP by although I did see them play live around this time supporting Spock's Beard. It was a strange gig as I recall with only three out of the four band members making it onto the stage that night.
In my review I summed up Virtual Reality as ‘melodic progressive metal’ whereas here the songs are perhaps more rounded, bordering on mainstream rock with elements of metal, prog and psychedelic. The title song Shadows Of The Past falls very much into the metal category with a retro Iron Maiden sound to compliment the song's title and lyrics. It thunders along at an energetic pace with bassist Christian Külbs' phased vocals solidly supported by keyboardist Jürgen Moßgraber's piercing synth and guitarist Jürgen Kaletta's crunching riffs.
What follows is an engaging collection of songs that vary in mood and tempo whilst remaining mostly on the heavy side. The production (by the band themselves) is crisp and clean and the musicianship first rate. Külbs' singing is naturally warm and confident, delivering the English lyrics with barely a hint of an accent, sounding not unlike Oliver Philipps of fellow German band Everon (where have they been of late?).
The razor sharp Everything Comes Back Again continues the momentum with the persistent rhythm of bassist Külbs and drummer Christof Doll to the fore. Move On is a more laidback affair with guitar creating a relaxed groove whilst All Of You displays the bands spacey side featuring a fairly strong chorus and memorable organ playing.
In their publicity, Arilyn liken themselves to both Porcupine Tree and Pink Floyd and whilst there are definite shades of the former I detected only fleeting glimpses of the latter. In particular the spacey synth effects in Hide Away My Tears echoes Floyd's On The Run and similarly the stark drum pattern in King Without A Crown recalls the roto-tom intro to Floyd's Time. King Without A Crown is also one of the most distinctive songs here with its atmosphere of barely restrained power. Another enjoyable track is So Extreme with its relentless guitar barrage reminiscent of the uncompromising late '60s sound of The Dammed and Generation X.
Appropriately the band has saved the more ambitious songs until the end. The Masters Chamber features looped guitars and chugging power chords underpinning a propulsive synth motif and insistent choral hook. During Wasted the commanding guitar and synth breaks are perhaps more memorable than the song sections, particularly the oft repeated chorus. The concluding A Man With A Mission opens with celestial organ and melodic guitar and takes in a soaring synth break and staccato riffs before playing out with a powerful, multi-layered wall of sound.
This is another assured album from Arilyn, the passing of time certainly hasn't dulled their abilities. My only real reservation is that for me the songs themselves don't linger in the memory as they did on Virtual Reality. That said, in what some would say is over populated genre, Arilyn manage to add their own fresh prospective to the world of space-metal.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Flower Flesh - Duck in the Box
This Italian band started life in 2005 when bass player Ivan Giribone and keyboard player Alberto Sgarlato, and I quote now from the bands bio:
When drummer Andrea Fazio joined it still took until 2008 before the band became a stable outfit with the introduction of guitar player Marco Oliviere and vocalist Daniel Elvstrom. And now, another five years later, the band are able to present their first release with the strange title Duck in the Box.
Now there is of course always a danger in the above kind of name dropping. And also wanting to incorporate the whole history of progressive rock in your musical style might be a bit over ambitious. There has been a wide variety of progressive rock in the last, say, 40 years. You set the bar quite high and expectations have to live up to the things said in the bio. However I didn't expect them to pull it of, really...
At best this album sounds pleasant and nice. At its worst it sounds strained and a bit tired and I really can't hear any of the bands mentioned in the bio. The strongest assets of Flower Flesh are guitar player Oliviere and vocalist Elvstrom who has a strong and pleasant voice and although Oliviere's chord playing does sound very predictable and a bit uninspired his soloing is good as on My Gladness After the Sadness. This is the longest track on the album and it's a good example for the reason why I wasn't that taken by Duck in the Box. It all sounds strained like a couple of ideas have been thrown together to make up a song. The quieter, Italian sung, middle section of the song does work well with some nice back up vocals. The same applies for the five part The Race of My Life. During its five and a half minutes you get the idea that you are listening to five separate ideas that still have to worked on although it's always nice to hear a well used Theremin in a song. The Doors say hello in God is Evil (Like the Devil) but please do not let Neal Morse hear this. The organ is 100% Doors but again this song sadly backs up my reason for not giving the album a high rating. A not very well executed break followed by a uninteresting keyboard solo that can't match the quality of the guitar solo that follows. The opening track, Falling Into Another Dimension, is a good fast and short rock track with a nice chorus and also album closer Scream and Die (sick) is quite a good track with a nice finale and again a strong guitar solo.
On Duck in the Box Flower Flesh show that it is an art to turn a couple of ideas into a collection of quality songs. And I must conclude that the band haven't mastered this art quite yet.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10
Symphonika - Symphonika
This is the debut album from Symphonika, a Welsh-based band, which was formed in 2011 by singer songwriter Robin Myles to perform original music and cover versions. All four band members have performed in both original and covers bands but this self-produced album has given them the opportunity to pen and perform 14 new songs to showcase their respective musical talents.
The result is a sonic scrapbook of short songs - the longest, Controversy, coming in at 5:03 which probably only just fits under the banner of progressive rock because of the arrangements and sometimes complex instrumentation.
But the overriding thought is how much Myles sounds like a Freddie Mercury impersonator with some of the harmonies faithfully developed in time-honoured Queen fashion. So it was no surprise to see on the band's website that they will be working with Queen's fabled producer Reinhold Mack in the future.
There is no disputing that Myles writes a pleasant enough song but the majority here appear to have been mixed in exactly the same way with bass, guitar, keyboards and drums all kept in close check while the vocal arrangements are the key element throughout.
Tear Us Apart is more piano-led, but like the opening track Where Did The Music Go, their chorus lines almost have Eurovision Song Contest-like hooks to them. However, this one does contain a fluid guitar section from Daniel Whitting (since replaced by Mike Després). The ballad-like Believe is sheer Queen down to Myles's breathy phrasing at the end of each lyric line, ditto (Calling Out) Tonight.
In Dreams is one of the most interesting songs on the album with a great little hook and an extraordinary accompanying video which won animator Emily Currie first prize in the Worcestershire Film Festival.
Perhaps Controversy is the only song which crosses the boundary into prog with its sassy synthesiser, driving beat, unusual vocal harmonising and quirky ending.
While not detracting from their descriptions as being symphonic and progressive, this is an album whose target audience is probably more the Queen appreciation society rather than the prog rock community.
However, with their collective experiences of working in covers bands, there is no reason why they cannot take that knowledge and play it forward, if only to get away from the Queen influence that completely subsumes their current sound. Speaking of which, they also need to take a long hard look at their production because it has a certain tinny quality, which does not do them full justice.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10
The Pineapple Thief - Build A World [EP]
The Pineapple Thief may indeed be a progressive band, as the glowering 27-minute title track on What We Have Sown attests to, but their latest EP distances itself from the genre. I'd even expect a few of these tracks to appear on MTV, between the rancid materialism of Pimp My Ride or the informative historical documentary about the mentally challenged, yet surprisingly horny cavemen from up North, Geordie Shore.
On this EP, the band come across as an amalgamation of Kaiser Chiefs, Keane and the radio-friendly side of Muse. The title track itself is drawn from the band's latest album, All The Wars and is followed by three non-album tracks as well as a 'Dirty Hifi Remix' of Build A World. Whatever a 'Dirty Hifi Remix' is, I know that I don't like it. For a start, why is it dirty? The pop music jargon fails to impress me. Elsewhere, the band's pseudo-spiritual verse-chorus lyrics played over regular beats and chords does nothing but feed my ambivalence. This is a commercial EP only, I see no reason why it should interest our readers.
Conclusion: 3 out of 10