Reviews in this issue:
- Majestic - V.O.Z. (Duo Review)
- Clive Nolan - Alchemy
- T - Psychoanorexia
- Comedy of Errors - Fanfare & Fantasy
- Zenit - The Chandrasekhar Limit
- Unreal City - La Crudelta Di Aprile
- TumbleTown - Done With the Coldness
- Poor Genetic Material - A Day in June
- Inner Light Orchestra - Pearl Moon
- Experimental Quintet - Atlantis
CD 1 - In Memory of ... (4:56), V.O.Z. - I. New World (4:23), II. Crossing Meridian (7:49), III. Approaching Storm (6:28), IV. Milestone (2:54), V. Whispers (4:10), VI. Freefall (4:56), VII. Darkened Worlds (5:12), VIII. Rise to the Surface (5:58), IX. Skies Clear (3:01), X. Voyage Ends (8:19)
CD 2 - Zosimos Sleeps (1:05), Becoming (10:13), Spirits Dwell (8:19), Around the Sun (6:40), Hyperbole (8:43), Becoming (Reprise) (6:37), Red Skies (17:11)
Mark Hughes' Review
DPRP has reviewed four of the six previous releases by American multi-instrumentalist Jeff Hamel under the Majestic name, only missing out on String Theory and the 2009 EP Clover Suite. Interestingly, the first two albums, the aforementioned String Theory and 2008's Descension, are not mentioned on the Majestic website. All four albums received high ratings from the reviewers, an average of over 7.6, although only 2009's Arrival attained a recommended rating which I personally think is a travesty as to my mind the 2011 release, Labyrinth is much more worthy of a recommended tag being my favourite of the band's releases and yet only polling 7/10! Still, you can make up your own mind, as the latter album is available for free download from the band's website. As with previous albums, Hamel handles all of the music, with the exception of drums, played by Mike Kosacek, but enhances the songs with the voices of several guest singers, in this case the vocalists include David Cagle, Tara Morgan, Chris Hodges and Celine Derval.
V.O.Z., and I have no idea what the acronym stands for, is Hamel's first double CD with the title track taking up the first CD in its entirety. Yes, it is a concept, which, according to a recent interview, is about "the complexity of human kind and sometimes people don’t understand how dark they can be. Life is constant change. I tried to set it up with a simple backdrop of sailing from the old world to the new one with a lot of up and downs in-between". So nothing trivial then... One of the many strengths of V.O.Z. is how it flows; the use of different vocalists - all but Derval contribute to sections of V.O.Z. - is important in this process, adding variety and enhancing the narrative elements of the piece. The vocalists are used sparingly throughout, as the introductory In Memory Of... as well as sections III, IV, VI, VIII and IX are instrumentals and many of the actual songs, particularly Crossing Meridian (part II) and Voyage Ends (part X) have lengthy instrumental sections. The music itself, whether with or without vocals, is uniformly excellent with a great breadth - from the heavy Approaching Storm (part III) with its almost metallic guitars, to the more languid Whispers (part V) with the wonderful vocals of Tara Morgan (sadly her only appearance) and lovely synth flutes and the acoustic dominated Darkened Worlds (part VII) - the scope is quite breathtaking. Of course, as with many concept numbers, some elements don't work so well in isolation, but make perfect sense in the context of the whole piece. Main example of this is Freefall (part VI) where the dissonant nature owes a lot to Genesis' The Waiting Room, while the percussion heavy introduction to Rise To The Surface (part VIII) is a necessary interlude providing a build to the main instrumental theme. On the whole this first disc is a wonderful achievement and alone would justify a recommended tag from this reviewer. However, we are less than half way through the release....
Initially, I had a harder time getting into the second disc of the set. There could be many reasons for this: the high quality of the first CD; listening to almost two hours of music in one sitting; switching from listening to a single concept piece to a more disparate collection of songs; etc. However, over time one comes to realise that the quality of the music on the second CD is in no way diminished. The brief and tranquil Zosimos Sleeps paves the way for the fast and furious intro to Becoming, an excellent piece of rock music that, with the driving guitars and Hammond fills, invokes the spirit of none other than Deep Purple in full flight. Of course, such intensity cannot be maintained at such levels for 10 minutes and there are less relentless passages, notably the 'breathe' section which is reprised in a musically rearranged and less heavy form towards the end of the disc. Derval has a powerful voice and it is put to most effective use when placed amongst her own harmonies. An interesting closing section to this song leads very neatly into the lengthy instrumental Spirits Dwell which over repeated listenings has become one of my favourite pieces of music on the whole album. Using a variety of guitar sounds and effects in conjunction with different styles of playing has created a diverse piece of music that is completely gripping. Chris Hodges provides the only male vocals on this disc creating a more mellow vibe on Around The Sun which didn't particularly grab me much as other pieces and did become the occasional victim of the skip button on the CD player. One reason could be my eagerness to get to Hyperbole, another outstanding piece of instrumental prog which contains some excellent guitar work from Hamel. I have already briefly mentioned Breathing (reprise) but it is worth emphasising that the rearrangement features a lot of piano and displays a lot of the textures and nuance of the song to great effect. Every progger loves a long song so what better way to finish off the album than with a 17 minute number! Ultimately, given what has gone before, it wouldn't really matter if Red Skies was some third rate honky tonk gibberish! Suffice to say it is not and although I don't think it is the best piece on the album it certainly has its moments. The juxtaposition of Derval's sweet and pure voice works well against the more aggressive guitar sounds and the structure of the song is such that one is held attentive throughout. And the guitar at the end is to die for.
Is V.O.Z. the pinnacle of Hamel's releases under the Majestic name? Well, can't really say anything other than Heck Yes!
John Wenlock-Smith's Review
V.O.Z. is the sixth release from Jeff Hamel under the Majestic banner and it's actually the first I've had the pleasure of hearing and I'm rather glad I did as it's a double CD packed full of some really great music. As far as I can deduce it tells the tale of a journey across the sea but as to whether this is an astral sea or a more water based one is not entirely clear but it hardly matters when the music is as good as this is. On reflection it's invariably an astral sea as the cover shows an alienish type presence.
It is at turns, tender and graceful, subtle and gentle, epic and surreal and then it just rocks and shreds and can be quite brutal and hard at other times, it's a balance that works well giving extra depth to the proceedings.
Disc one is predominately shorter tracks with the whole of disc two (apart from the brief opener) being longer tracks closing with the magnificent Red Skies. In reality there isn't a duff track on here anywhere and the album can be listening to in parts without losing or subtracting from the storyline either.
Jeff Hamel has this to say about the concept behind V.O.Z.:
Jeff Hamel is no slouch on either keyboards or guitar and plays some suitably epic keyboard parts along with some very good guitar solos, sounds and textures and overall the sound is expansive and uncluttered with the vocals being very clear too. It does sound good, especially loud where the subtle nuances can be heard in all their glory.
Each of the vocalists brings a different approach and that seems to add rather than subtract from the music on offer, Celine Derval especially shines on her tracks, but all are equally adept.
At just under two hours it's a lengthy listen but seldom does the attention wander such is the consistently high standard of material here and the versatility with which it is delivered is impressive to say the least. This is at the heavier end of prog even with its lighter moments, not quite Dream Theater territory but certainly not that far away.
The opener, In Memory Of..., and New World set the scene very well opening gently and then getting heavier halfway through New World before Crossing Meridian. It's a great journey that Majestic are taking the listener on full of twists and turns into unexpected and uncharted waters (to carry on the maritime metaphors) and Voyage Ends, Becoming and Becoming (Reprise) are all epic tracks.
There is also a good blend and balance of Instrumental and vocal tracks which adds to the substance of the album greatly but it is the consistent strength of the material that makes this such a good listen throughout.
Disc two has some of the heavier tracks on too so it's an album of two parts either of which is fine but together make a great listening experience; nothing outstays it's welcome either and it does sound good on headphones or with the volume up a little.
The artwork is by famed Russian artist Vlaidimir Moldavsky and is suitably cryptic in its depictions and display again adding to an already interesting and intriguing album.
I have to say I'm impressed by this album and by Jeff Hamel's efforts on this release enough to want to go backwards and hear more of his material and I have no hesitation in recommending this to all who like their prog a tad heavier but not wildly so, albeit with good keyboards and guitar work plus good songs to boot. You can listen to clips on the Majestic website and make your own mind up but I think you may be impressed. I certainly was.
So for me a very interesting and worthy album whilst not truly essential, I'm glad to have heard it though and I would urge you to do the same.
Clive Nolan - Alchemy
CD 1 - Act I: Prologue/Overture (3:21), Deception (5:36), One For The Noose (5:42), The Warning (4:06), Amelia (4:10), King Explains (5:35), Desperate Days (2:43), Planning A Break-In (1:21), Quaternary Plan (5:18), The Unwelcome Guest (4:55), Waiting For News (4:32), The Girl I Was (6:06), Highgate (8:17)
CD 2 - Act II: The Labyrinth (4:43), Ambush (3:09), Time Of Wealth (5:57), Jagman Arrives (1:46), The End Justifies The Means (3:33), Sanctuary (5:44), Street Fight (3:26), Amelia Dies (3:21), Burial At Sea (6:22), Share This Dream (3:37), Treachery (4:22), The Ritual (2:13), Anzeray Speaks (5:04), Aftermath (3:53)
Since I began scribing for the DPRP back in 2005 on only one occasion have I felt compelled to award a new release a maximum 10 and that was for the 2008 Caamora musical She. It's still my favourite prog-related album from the last decade and the man responsible is of course the inimitable and very talented Clive Nolan. Although Arena, Shadowland and Pendragon have kept him pretty busy in recent years, She has never been far from his musical agenda including the occasional stage production. Five years on and the official successor to She has arrived (this time under Nolan's own name) in the shape of the equally ambitious Alchemy.
This time, rather than turning to classic literature for inspiration as he did with H. Rider Haggard's adventure novel She, Nolan has opted for an original story. That said, this tale of murder, mystery and mayhem in a mid-19th century setting recalls Victorian melodramas by the likes of Haggard, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mary Shelly and Robert Louis Stephenson. Despite the concept, She was 'sung-through' and as such worked as a standalone collection of songs but with Alchemy there is no doubt that you are listening to the soundtrack to a piece of musical theatre. The songs are punctuated by exchanges of spoken dialogue and the plot driven, recitative singing from an array of guest performers is often melodramatic in tone. Whilst the She album revolved around four principle singers - Nolan, Caamora partner Agnieszka Swita, Christina Booth and Alan Reed - for Alchemy he has no less than ten soloists and a choir at his disposal. Shades of Arjen Lucassen's Ayreon project you might say.
Although he plays the pivotal (and honourable) role of Professor Samuel King, a larger cast allows Nolan to concentrate more on the keyboards and orchestration, ably supported by Caamora regulars Mark Westwood (guitars) and Scott Higham (drums, percussion). More recent additions to the Caamora band are Kylan Amos (bass), Claudio Momberg (piano), Ian Stott (horn) and Penny Gee (violin). Whilst the ensemble playing under Nolan's leadership is as good as you would expect, for me the vocally dense Alchemy lacks some of the expansive orchestrations that gave pieces like Overture and Fire Dance (that respectively opened Acts 1 and 2 of She) their epic sweep. That said there is no denying the excellence of the impressive vocal arrangements here whilst the melodies are some of the best penned by Nolan.
Playing the part of the dastardly villain Lord Henry Jagman, Twelfth Night frontman Andy Sears opens proceedings with the macabre Prologue which, coupled with the melodramatic instrumental Overture, establishes the mood and tone of Alchemy. An inspired piece of casting, Sears plays his part to the hilt sounding suitably sinister resulting in one of the shows best performances. For Deception he is joined by the unmistakable voice of Agnieszka Swita as the troubled heroine, Amelia Darvas. In the title role of She, Agnieszka really impressed and here, for me, she is the star of the show. Performed by a massed chorus alongside Agnieszka, the march-like One For The Noose could have easily been lifted from Les Misérables whilst the dramatic The Warning features a stunning duet between Agnieszka and Victoria Bolley as Eva (Victoria was Agnieszka’s understudy in last year's stage version of She).
Amelia is a memorable ballad performed not by Nolan as you might expect but David Clifford (Red Jasper) who, sounding not unlike Nolan, gives an emotive performance as the romantic lead, William Gardelle. It's no surprise that in the stage production of She Clifford appeared as Leo, the part originally played by Nolan. King Explains is Nolan's first significant vocal part in what is a strong scene setting number followed by the catchy, acoustic guitar driven Desperate Days with a show stealing performance from Uruguayan singer/actress Noel Calcaterra in the role of Jessamine. The brief Planning A Break-In sets the scene for the jaunty Quaternary Plan which is unmistakably a show tune in the old fashioned sense (echoes of Gilbert and Sullivan). Nolan clearly enjoys singing this song and whilst it does sound a tad out of place on first hearing (with its Monty Python-esque tone) it is a grower. The Unwelcome Guest is on firmer ground with powerful and intricate vocal interplay between the wonderful and underrated Tracy Hitchings (Landmarq) and Paul Menel (ex-IQ).
The pensive Waiting For News with beautifully lush violin from Penny Gee gives way to the main love theme from Alchemy, the majestic The Girl I Was. It's one of the show's strongest tunes featuring a bittersweet duet between Agnieszka and David Clifford underscored by the poignant sound of the French horn courtesy of Ian Stott, climaxing with Nolan's soaring orchestral keys. Although The Girl I Was would have made a fitting closer, Andy Sears returns to introduce the final song on disc one, the multi-faceted Highgate. It combines a lyrical folk ambiance courtesy of Penny's expressive fiddle playing, a lilting waltz-like melody for the chorus and dazzling instrumental work powered by Higham's explosive drumming to close Act 1 with a swirling flourish.
The Labyrinth raises the curtain on Act 2 in fine style, reprising the show's principle themes with Mark Westwood's melodic (and surprisingly uplifting) guitar punctuated by the now familiar cascading riff which acts as a reoccurring musical signature rather like Andrew Lloyd Webber's infamous gothic organ line from The Phantom Of The Opera. For the strident Ambush Paul Manzi (Arena) makes an impression as Milosh, a minor but (thanks to a strong performance) memorable baddy. Nolan returns to the microphone for the vocally tricky Time Of Wealth, another rousing show tune which sounds to my ears like a Russian folk dance influenced by the timeless musical Fiddler On The Roof (a semi-permanent fixture on my parents record-player in my youth). The pairing of Jagman Arrives and the spooky The End Justifies The Means puts Andy Sears through his vocal paces with a histrionic tour de force that brings to mind the late, great Alex Harvey.
Underscored by celestial organ, piano and lush keys, Sanctuary is another love duet featuring Agnieszka and Clifford, contrasting with the edgy Street Fight where Paul Menel in true villainous style adopts a cockney accent (for the spoken intro at least). The melody has been heard before but this time it's driven by the pounding piano rhythm from Queen's Flash. Reprising the main love theme, Amelia Dies should have come with a spoiler alert but the title says it all, repeating the plot device from She by bumping-off the heroine halfway through the second act. No stranger to musical theatre, the ever excellent Damian Wilson makes his appearance for Burial At Sea, adopting a deep but instantly recognisable baritone for the cameo role of Captain Joseph Farrell before being joined by the principle cast for an epic ensemble coda.
Featuring the delicious solo soprano of a returning Victoria Bolley, the heart rendering Share This Dream is worthy of Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice whilst the plot and tone leaps into hyper-drive for Treachery, combining several themes including the acoustic / violin melody from Desperate Days. Benefitting from celestial organ and massed chorus, The Ritual would have not sounded out of place on She, leaving the bombastic tones of Chris Lewis as Thomas Anzeray to provide a worthy sparring partner for Andy Sears in the appropriately titled Anzeray Speaks. The delicate harpsichord and violin during the intro is a particular delight. As the villain Jagman finally gets his comeuppance the scene is set for Agnieszka to return to join Clifford, Lewis and Nolan for the finale, Aftermath, a stirring variation of the love theme with an emotional, orchestral climax.
Whilst She may have taken some prog enthusiasts out of their comfort zone, its pomp-rock and sweeping cinematic tendencies suited this particular reviewer down to the ground. Alchemy on the other hand is full blown musical theatre in the traditional sense with its tale of love, treachery and death against a dark, period backdrop in the same spirit as shows like the aforementioned Les Misérables, The Phantom Of The Opera, Sweeney Todd and Oliver!. Whilst I have no complaints with musicals per se (West Side Story and Jesus Christ Superstar are personal favourites) I did find that Clive Nolan's latest work took a little longer to digest than its predecessor. This is mainly due to the sometimes mannered dialogue which for me only goes to prove that rock vocalists make better singers than they do actors. That said, given the vocal complexity, this is a work of immense potency brimming with strong melodies that will reward with repeat plays for some time to come.
Although Clive Nolan is perhaps best known as a highly respected keyboard player in a progressive rock band, I suspect that he has a sneaking ambition to one day see his name appear alongside the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Sondheim, Richard Rodgers and Jerome Kern.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
T - Psychoanorexia
With an album title like Psychoanorexia what can one expect? An album of mind-blowing Psychedelic rock? Or should we expect an album with more or less trance ambient music for the soul?
Psychoanorexia is the fourth album from German multi instrumentalist sound engineer Thomas Thielen, alias T. As such Psycho Anorexia is the follow up to Anti-Matter Poetry.
Musically speaking T is often put into the Neo-prog area, the reason why goes completely beyond me as in my humble opinion categorizing the music as Neo-prog does an injustice to both the man and the music.
In his own words T is a perfectionist when it comes to the sound of his music; he will work for ages on a short piece to get the mood and the intonation exactly as he wants it to be at that point in the song. To make music the way we hear it on Psychoanorexia as well as its predecessors it takes a perfectionist to create just that.
Psychoanorexia is an album consisting of four pieces of music yet the total length is still more than an hours worth. And believe me if I state that in the 66 minutes of music on this album you will be surprised over and over again. Creative mastermind T is influenced by a lot of different musicians and artists, he likes to combine all these influences in the music he makes.
For this review I would like to take you, the reader, on a journey with me listening to Psychoanorexia and explaining how this album comes across to me as a person. I want to do this simply because I can then tell you what the intensity of the music can do, and in the meantime tell you about the music.
The Aftermath of Silence starts the journey in what appears to be a railway station, lush keyboard sounds with people talking in the background until the song really kicks in with a comfortable Floyd-ish sound and a nicely played melody line almost as if it were the vocal. Meantime the song creates a soothing feeling, peaceful easing.... The first vocal lines start together with melody and the other instrumentation creating a psychedelic atmosphere at which point I get completely sucked into the music. Entering the next stage of The Aftermath, the song turns into a ballad-like song which would have suited nicely on any David Bowie album and there is completeness between vocals, music and lyrics, of which we get a lot. Try singing along, it is all just unbelievably well matched - stunning. The last section of The Aftermath takes us back to the more psychedelic levels, easy but also fast and rocking, with a scorching guitar. Some neat effects can be heard, listen to the choruses in this part. The song ends as it began, softly fading out to enter the second song with a blast.
Kryptonite Monologues takes us to the heavier side of T with a classic rocking song with huge soundscapes of blazing guitar and keys, nicely entwined with all sorts of effects and changes in the music. In this second song the Bowie/Eno/Visconti era influence is very prominently present. Not only that, the song is just one long example of how to create stunning music using each and every single influence in your life. We get to listen to magnificent guitar play, stunning bass lines, soothing piano with violin and other instruments added until a full orchestration comes to life, almost classical, only to return to a more psychedelic atmosphere in the second half of the song. More voices can be heard, but keep in mind it's only one man creating all this. Again, like the first song, this needs some extensive listening to really capture all the effects and craftsmanship that has gone into the creation of the song to give it the emotion and feel it possesses. A great effort is also put into creating all the lyrics to fit and these Kryptonite Monologues really have a kryptonite feel, one to send you drifting away with into a far off dreamland.
I would suggest filing this into the eclectic corner because of its complexity and use of instrumentation to such a high level.
The next song we experience is entitled The Irrelevant Love Song. As the title implies a song of irrelevance, but not quite. As with the previous two songs T succeeds in creating an atmospheric love song so full of emotion you can almost feel the presence of its main character right next to you. Straight rocking parts are interchanged with lush atmospheric, thoughtful parts. The Irrelevant Love Song is not a straight forward rock ballad as we know them but it is a rocking ballad in the truest sense.
This brings us to part four of the journey in four parts. The last track on the album is the title track, Psychoanorexia. I may not have stated it explicitly but when you listen to Psychoanorexia, and I am positive that you should decide to do so, both the track and the album, you need to do either one of these two simple things: turn the stereo up very loud or use headphones. If you do not a lot of the beauty of this album will be lost as there are very soft parts indeed, but ever so beautiful and integral parts of the album to make it complete. This is especially true of this last track with all the effects, both instrumentally as well as vocally, needing the headphones treatment to capture the tiniest of sounds in the song. Psycho Anorexia is one long song with twist turns, changes and swing turnarounds and yet very coherent; it all fits like a glove. An excerpt from the lyrics may give you a rough idea:-
My unrehearsed aggression rips your facebook daydreams
Rejecting cookies with feuilleton firewalls
Breakfast role-play ego shooting
My Laptop altar twittered in gold
A scream on a muted line like echoes of 2nd life crimes
Cheats and Walkthroughs (BRB)
Hearded Lifepoints, download junkie
All-button mode hero, resident child"
Just think about things like that, humorous as well as true as can be, living in a digital age as we are. Is this Psycho Anorexia? I don't know, it could well be.
The end of the journey is here and I am exhausted but fulfilled after a grand listening to a magnificent album of magnificent music.
I can only say go out and buy it, this recording needs to be in every music collection.
The whole album comes as a digipak with the artwork of Thomas' wife Katia Tangian, and you can call this art. It also suits the music very well. On the inside you'll find a booklet with all the lyrics and a list of people Thomas wishes to specially thank for making everything possible.
Just listen to this, enjoy and get blown off your feet.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Comedy of Errors - Fanfare & Fantasy
Comedy of Errors is a Scottish band based in the Glasgow area, which formed in the wake of the neo-prog revival. Since then there have been numerous line-up changes and they even, in their own words "fizzled out" due to the indifference of audiences.
However, it was not until May 2011 that they finally released Disobey, their debut album, and what a corker it was too. Check out The Student Prince Pt 1 for a sample of its delicious style and sound. So, expectation here was justifiably high for the always difficult second album.
Clever chaps that they are, what do they do? They seek out the services of Rob Aubrey, sound engineer extraordinaire to the likes of Spock's Beard, IQ and Big Big Train, to mix and master the album. This has proved to be their masterstroke because Fanfare & Fantasy is a class act if you like your prog signed, sealed and delivered as a series of, in their own words again, "mini epic rock symphonies".
All nine songs here are written by keyboard player Jim Johnston and each one of them has a distinct feel interspersed with myriad twists and turns, and none of them ever outstay their welcome.
It is no co-incidence that the other bands to which comparisons immediately spring to mind are Mystery and Marillion, and it helps that Joe Cairney's voice pitches itself midway between Benoît David and Steve Hogarth, its clarity stunningly beautiful in places and one of the hallmarks of the overall sound. You actually care about the lyrics he is singing and his clever phrasing on certain tracks, notably the cleverly constructed Glass Hammer-esque Something She Said, is compelling. Credit should go to Hew Montgomery for recording Joe's vocals so skilfully.
The other unique selling point is the dual role of Mark Spalding as both bass player and lead guitarist. Some of his solos on this album are quite breathtaking in both their quality and their fluid execution. Add to that the solid drumming of Bruce Levick and John Fitzgerald's backing vocals.
Everything on Fanfare & Fantasy sounds measured and meticulous, starting with The Fanfare For The Broken Hearted with its different changes of tempo, brass section-sounding keyboards and Spalding's rich guitar all coming to the fore at certain junctures.
In A Lifetime has a more upbeat feel and gorgeous guitar solo from Spalding while Going For A Song breaks out into a Genesis-like time signature, Johnston recalling Tony Banks, but to which they add their own special COE flourishes, including some huge swelling symphonic keys.
Leaping straight out of the blocks, the vocal lines of Merry Dance are rather similar to those of Transatlantic's Is It Really Happening? and behind these Johnston's clever melody lines ebb and flow. The Cause rocks along, gathering momentum as Levick's galloping rhythm kicks in before paring back, Spalding's guitar taking off yet again over synthy keys.
If you are looking for something a little bit different in this collection, then listen no further than Time's Motet and Galliard, a delightfully mannered two part Tudoresque composition, first with the keyboards conjuring up the heavenly choir and then an almost Shakespearean sounding "gather ye rosebuds" section with close vocal harmonies. Co-incidentally, I first heard this on the car system driving into the grounds of a typically English stately home. It worked so well in that context.
Remembrance is another great vocal work-out for Cairney in a wistful, gentler, shorter piece before The Answer, the longest "mini epic", recalls Camel before finding its own groove which distils all the elements of the entire album, including a Tudoresque vocal section, another killer guitar solo and a huge sweep of melodic backdrop.
It is a real thrill to hear Comedy of Errors growing in stature in such a stunning way. This is a joyful album which ticks all the right boxes here, and hopefully will see them going on to bigger and better things after the many false dawns of the past.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Zenit - The Chandrasekhar Limit
Switzerland isn't the first place you think of when it comes to progressive rock - words that Zenit must be collectively getting fed up of as they enter their fifteenth year together as a band. In fact, I'm quite fond of the small but amicable Swiss prog scene; I was introduced to it rather formally by Scandy, the bassist of the fine Swiss neo-prog band Shakary, who sadly passed away in December 2012. Scandy sent me a treasure trove of albums from his band as well as a number of other contemporary Swiss groups. Since then I have gone on to discover such wonderful historic acts as Circus, Island and Brainticket. It may be a relatively tiny subset of the progressive sphere, but what a jolly one it is too.
Of the seven or so albums that I received in my 'starter pack', two of them happened to be by Zenit. It was this possession of the first two albums that made me decide to review the third, as I would be able to get more familiar with the band. However, the first signs were troubling. Pravritti from 2001 was downright awful, a mixture of English and Italian language neo-prog, and not the good sort. Let's just say I could barely sit through each song. Five years later, Surrender showed an improvement, but not by much. The ideas were better, and they'd chosen to stick to just one language, but the incessant cheesiness took away from the experience. I must admit I wasn't hopeful.
So I was really surprised when Zenit actually managed to pull something out the bag for this release. It's still neo-prog, but it's in a very different league to where they were before. The opening 12-minute gambit Awaken - nothing to do with the Yes piece from 1977 - starts off in the same region as their previous releases; already I can feel the oncoming tedium. However, at the four minute mark, the band launch into a spacey Floyd-esque instrumental, which feels semi-improvised, and is certainly devoid of cheese. At one point, the eerie keys remind me of Robert Wyatt's legendary Rock Bottom, certainly a comparison I wasn't expecting to make. I think Zenit have finally realised that it is not necessary to 'over-compose' and that tension can be just as good, if not better, than instant gratification.
Next up is the pitifully short Cub Lady, with rather peculiar lyrics: "Cub lady / Separate and bound." An acoustic piece, this seems to be halfway between the opening to Supper's Ready and Rush's underrated Tears. This piece turns out to be the only breather Zenit have allowed themselves. PiGreco, on the other hand, is a groovy piece, with an infectious rhythm in its opening segment. At two minutes there is a slow section, though not without texture, very soothing. Between the slow chords, there are short bursts of notes that keep the song and the listener from going to sleep. The track finishes with a triumphant and satisfying fanfare. Very well done!
Matrimandir may just be the band's magnum opus, and is certainly a victory for neo-prog in general. The band incorporate Indian themes (hence the song title) along with more classic prog influences in this 17-minute tour de force. In the opening segment, Lorenzo Sonognini sings in Indian over a pulsing rhythm. At four minutes in, the opening theme is discarded, and the band travel on a remarkable open-ended instrumental in a style not dissimilar to Hatfield and the North, although I should say with not as much technical wizardry. Nevertheless, the progression seems totally natural, and when the band arrives at the Close to the Edge style "Aaaah"s, it feels entirely spontaneous. At nine minutes, there are more vocals and lyrics, this time in English, but this soon gives way to another stunning instrumental, with a heart-wrenching guitar solo from Luigi Biamino. The song finishes as it started, with the opening theme returning triumphantly. What impresses me the most about this track is how Zenit have found the maturity to not clog it up with too many zany ideas and just keep things simple and natural, whilst making it interesting and, most importantly, progressive. This could just be a masterpiece!
At six minutes, the instrumental Pulsar seems rather meagre when compared to the tracks either side. Nevertheless, the track packs quite a punch, with several brilliant interwoven themes to rock out to. Some cheese does manage to pervade this complex track, but the band manage to get away with it by making those sections tastefully complex.
With this album, I've seen Zenit go from strength to strength in terms of composition, so it's with regret that I say that the 24 minute closing track The Daydream Suite is a bit of a letdown. The lesson that I felt they had learned whilst writing Awaken and Matrimandir has simply not been paid attention to here; while undoubtedly a remarkable piece of music, The Daydream Suite feels too over-composed. While there are many good themes flying around, I simply feel there is too much loaded into this track for the listener to be able to keep a grip on it. Despite the ongoing lyrical theme of dreams, the piece doesn't feel cohesive musically speaking. It's listenable for sure, but I'd rather be listening to Matrimandir which feels like one solid track than lots of loose parts.
Despite the sour aftertaste, there's no denying that The Chandrasekhar Limit is a triumph for Zenit, proving that if you keep on trying, then you may eventually succeed. This could also serve as a lesson to other established neo-prog acts: there are more '70s prog bands to ape than just Yes and Genesis, y'know! With such long gaps between consecutive albums, it's difficult to know when we might see Zenit again, but let's hope that it's not too long, and that they will draw on the success of this album for influence.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Unreal City - La Crudelta Di Aprile
Unreal City came to life in Parma in 2008 when keyboard player, singer and composer Emanuelle Tarasconi and guitarist Francesca Zanetta formed the band. In 2010 they met Francesco Orefice, a bass player, who teamed up. Now they were only missing a drummer and come 2012 they found Frederico Bedostri and Unreal City was a fact. Also in 2012 they recorded a demo which bought them the attention of none other than Fabio Zuffanti.
Fabio and Unreal City sat together and the decision was made that Fabio would produce La Crudelta di Aprile. The first draft had English lyrics, but luckily this was changed into the Italian language. Unreal City's music has a lot of influences from Gothic and symphonic music, the addition of Italian as language for vocals makes it Rock Progressivo Italiano (RPI).
And it is true RPI, full of bombastic symphonic themes sometimes drenched with gothic influences.... But never mind that, it is still RPI.
Emanuelle Tarasconi plays an important role in the band taking care of all compositions and lyrics. His keyboard wizardry is the driving force of the band and to effect this he uses all kinds of different keys like Moog, Mellotron, Clavecimbles and others.
For the third track of the album, Catabasi, they brought in special guest Fabio Biale playing the violin.
For a young band this debut album sounds amazingly mature, the production by one of Italy's leading men for RPI surely has something to do with this but if we only take a look at the compositions they are, each and every one of them, of a high quality. This promises a lot for the future if Emanuelle Tarasconi is able to keep the standards as high as this.
This is especially true of the suite Horror Vacui with its 17 minutes being a stunning piece of work for a young band like Unreal city.
I already pointed out that Emanuelle Tarasconi's keys play an important role; of course the album of a four piece band is not the work of just one person. In traditional RPI we have a lot of keys, but that does not take the music anywhere without a steady backline. Unreal City makes no exception and the rhythm section is outstanding, Frederico and Francesco do a magnificent job creating a steady backbeat to all the songs that really accommodates the keyboard play of Emanuelle as well as the guitar work by Francesca.
La Crudelta Di Aprile is a fantastic album but I still found something missing in the sound that may have improved my listening experience. A little more reverb would have done the job I think, just enough to widen the sound a little bit more.
These young musicians did not by accident grab the attention of Fabio Zuffanti, they are very good at what they do. After all the oldest member of the band is just a mere 23 years of age.
To grab the attention of a wider audience the band has produced the above video for the track Dove La Luce E Piu Intensa, shot in the woods with an appearance from Fabio "Hitchcock" Zuffanti being a nice touch.
The album is packaged as a digipak and also downloadable from numerous sources. A nice booklet is also present containing all lyrics.
Follow this band; they are worth it. If you like the works of Fabio Zuffanti then don't hesitate. We will be hearing a lot more from Unreal City, I am very positive about that.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
TumbleTown - Done With the Coldness
Way back in 2008 at the Progfarm festival I met these two guys that, while having a nice chat, seemed to have an impressive musical history and at the time were busy completing the debut album of Seven Day Hunt. Before that Aldo Adema played Egdon Heath and Han Uil did Antares. It turned out that Seven Day Hunt only had a one album lifecycle. Han continued doing solo projects and releases while Aldo started to be a producer, for Silhouette for example; a true Dutch progressive background you might say. So now they are back! Together they started their new band TumbleTown, assisted by Marcel Copini on bass, Erik Laan on keys and additional vocals by Carola Magerman.
This debut album, Done With the Coldness, turns out to be a fine piece of Dutch progressive art. This is true for the good looking digipack and booklet as well as - above all - for the songs that the album provides. Eleven tracks take us on a musical journey. I'd like to take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of TumbleTown.
At the edge of town we start off with The End of Hyde. Synths and guitar introduce us here while clear vocals, recognizable from Seven Day Hunt and sometimes reminding of David Bowie, tell the story of Jekyll and Hyde while at the undertaker's porch. Waves of guitar turn into waves of mesmerizing synths and back again. On the next song guitars and synths join together in the more uptempo Won't Look Back. This one makes seven wonders knock on doors, the lyrics says. Straight into your heart in a beautiful somewhat Ayreon-like style. An impressive track.
Third stop in town is One Goal, this track has been available as a video clip on the world wide web for some time now. The horrifying story of today's Syria is told here, in a quiet paced song. The mellotron and guitar solos aim for a perfect world of sheer joy, the opposite of war.
Free Men is a beautiful mellow song that has been in the repeat mode of my gear many times. I haven't figured out why yet, but this song sticks to me. An address to remember. Maybe it is the enchanted vocals, together with time changes, guitar solos, strange electronic sounds and female backing vocals towards the end. It just fits perfectly. And suddenly, just around the corner, you bump into a short prog Beatles song I Can Feel You. Like praising the Lord at a nice and sunny pic-nic in the town's park.
A kind of folk setting is to be found at the start of the next song. Until guitars are ending that and a certain beat tries Finding A Way Out of this neighbourhood and into the forest, sometimes using a shivering Oldfield way of playing the guitar.
Back in town we arrive at an easier tune now. A love song? A game? Or a hymn? All in the Game speaks riddles and keeps us enthralled all the way with again some traces of Oldfield-ish guitar soloing to show the strength of the musicians that solemnly live here. In the afternoon we leave the town's harbor and enter Sailing With the Breeze looking at magic rocks and listening to magic rock. This very complex song perhaps reflects the many thoughts that float in our heads. Stirred by the waves in our dreams.
When disembarking we are awakened from our dreams by the heavy One-liners. This witty song is strange yet very attractive. Rigid riffs with bass in-betweens and ending in coughing because of the coldness.
Loyal Tears leads us to the last but one place in town to visit, the house of a deserted heart. The album's atmosphere has been restored for this keyboard driven track strengthened by the voice of Carola Magerman. This would have been a fine closer but we cannot leave TumbleTown without a brief but impressive instrumental visit to Haduwig, someone that needs support to fight her awful disease.
TumbleTown succeeds in creating a beautiful and diverse yet coherent progressive rock album that listens as a one track musical journey. Extending the Dutch progressive tradition to an even higher level. A quality production that will easily will be appreciated by a broad audience.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Poor Genetic Material - A Day in June
Poor Genetic Material deliver their 8th full length studio album with the release of A Day in June, all of the previous releases have also been reviewed on DPRP.
It took the band some time to come up with the follow-up to Island Noises, the release dates being almost three years apart.
Have these three years resulted in the release of an album worth the wait? Read on and find out.
In the liner notes Poor Genetic Material state that the music and lyrics have been inspired by James Joyce's novel Ulysses. Personally, I do not know the book so I cannot spot how and where the inspiration lies, I can only go with my own hearing and feeling with the music.
A Day in June is not a CD crammed as full as possible with material, it is more an album where quality comes first rather than simply using the whole 80 minutes of available CD time. 8 tracks, 52 minutes and just 2 tracks reaching 9 minutes in length, A Day in June is a pleasure to listen to.
I have come to know Poor Genetic Material as a band that delivers high quality music every time they release new works and it is no different this time.
If you are not familiar with Poor Genetic Material, I would say their music is in the same vein as Steve Hackett or Andy Latimer, or better phrased, more sophisticated melodic song oriented prog, influenced by the progressive scene of the '70s but also singer/songwriters of the same era. PGM will take you on the highway with all of the songs on A Day in June.
The songs are all very well arranged making good use of the right instrumentation in all the right places. This is colourful music with intrinsic beauty, listening material with a sense of reality, intense and full of emotion. Music played as it is supposed to be. Still, at times it seems to head towards cliché, as if it has all been done before. Which I suppose is true to some extent.
Up tempo songs and ballads, though all reminiscent to earlier works, sounding fresh and bright, sparkling. The packaging is of good quality with a booklet containing additional items like all the lyrics to the songs.
A Day in June is a great album, one that I will return to frequently, however I feel it is not an album that every progger should own. You really need to decide on this for yourself of course but a very good album nonetheless.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Inner Light Orchestra - Pearl Moon
By their very nature, the myriad subgenres under the umbrella of "prog" lend themselves to obscurity, and with the proliferation of home produced music in recent years, some bands have such low profiles that they make Stealth Bombers look like the Eiffel Tower on the Paris skyline.
Finland's Inner Light Orchestra is one such example. In fact until doing the research for this review I couldn't recall how the CD came to be sitting in my "to do" pile. It must be because one of the band also plays with esteemed space rockers Hidria Spacefolk, a band who themselves are not exactly high profile but who are certainly wider known than this offshoot. It would be hard not to be!
Suffice to say that ILO do not have a website, or even a Facebook page, and their "label" (I use the term advisedly) is similarly elusive. One can only assume that ILO do this music for their own enjoyment, which is a shame for the rest of us as there is enough of interest here to keep any student of rock with a '70s vibe and the Finnish prog of that era going for the 50 minutes of its duration. At least we have this video evidence:
One will be put in mind of Wigwam, Tasavallan Presidenti, as well as sundry other '70s acts of the jamming variety. The Hidria man on show here is bass player Kimmo Dammert, whose fluid lines meld with Ville Väätäinen's light-touch drumming to drive along the simple but pleasant theme of Winds Of Oyá while the two guitarists trade solos in the manner of Deke Leonard and Mickey Jones. A nicely reminiscent slice of interstellar rug cutting.
Opener Boogie Night has nothing to do with discos, unless it's Andy Dunkley at the helm - you'd have to be over 50 to understand that one. As if to throw you off the scent (patchouli probably), it starts with a (very) white boy reggae motif which thankfully is shown the door about a third of the way in, as each band member takes solos on an excursion into the hinterland to stock up on JD, rolling papers, and probably some spare guitar strings. For me this is the weakest track on the record as it does not really grab the listener in the way an opening track should, and white guys rocking over a reggae beat never works too well in my 'umble opinion. Still, once it gets going it displays the laid back yet still rockin' vibe that is indelibly stamped through this record.
All the songs are composed by guitarist Samuel Leminen, whose instrument is listed as "Left el. & ac. guitars", the "Right" channel taken by Heikki Puska. We also have saxes, flute and Hammond organ, and, on Winds..., a saw.
A summery jazzy vibe permeates Lamentation..., the later period Man influence to the fore, some nice Hammond lines weaving their merry way through the song, joined by bubbling guitar. It's in the left channel, so it must be Samuel! You can well imagine this blasting out of a jerry-rigged speaker set-up on the back of a flatbed truck at a free festival in 1975.
Summer Days, Summer Nights is, as the title suggests, a well "up" song, Heikki's wah guitar joined by the sax and flute in a lazy dance in a sun-drenched field. At over 12 minutes, the song gets the chance to go through time signature and tempo changes, led by the dual guitars, with the early theme as the backdrop. Things blast off into near space towards the end before returning home on the theme, a riotous knees-up in the never-ending sun of Finnish midsummer.
A vibe similar to Castles Made Of Sand filters through the start of closer Domestic Spirits (can't get the image of a ghost with a mop out of my head!), and Inner Light Orchestra have made an album that will not be winning awards for envelope pushing, but it is a fine example of '70s retro, and nary a Genesis reference in sight!
If you like Wigwam, Man, even the Allman Brothers, and all points in between you'll like this.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Experimental Quintet - Atlantis
This late in the year I would not normally be reviewing an album released as far back as November 2012, but as I only stumbled across this on Progstreaming a few weeks ago (it's still there as I write but I don't know for how long, so check it out), and liking what I heard I consider an exception should be made.
Getting in touch with the label was not the most straightforward of processes, and it is almost as if the secretive history of the original band is still being maintained today. Even compatriot Florin-Silviu Ursulescu, who I'm told was a Romanian John Peel, and who wrote the liner notes, refers to them as a "mysterious band".
Experimental Quintet originally played in the '70s in Cluj, Romania, which in comparison to other Communist bloc countries of the time would appear to have been slightly less restrictive where rock music was concerned; that is if the liner notes are anything to go by, as there is no mention of censorship imposed from above.
It is not altogether clear from the English translation in the liner notes whether this album is live or studio, although other sources have this listed as being recorded at the Big Mamou Club, Bucharest in August 2010. Suffice to say the end result is a surprising mix of styles, ranging from the avant-prog of opener Quintet No.2 (see YouTube clip) via the boogie-rock Starship to the symphonic space rock and classical mix of the suitably named Intergalactic Dream, and on to the ethnic flavoured ballad Flowers, one of only three tunes with vocals on the album, The Monster Of Waters and closer Giordano Bruno (that can't mean 'Gordon Brown', surely?!) being the others. The vocals are contributed by guitarist Valentin Farcas, and let's just say it is a good thing that there are few examples of his "singing" on this record!
Valentin currently lives in Germany where he is a music professor, and he is joined here by Eugen Tunaru on keyboards, and Nicolae Bucaciuc on bass, all three of whom were members of the mid-'70s line up of the band. When they reformed the band the original drummer was untraceable (a bit worrying considering the locale), so his place was taken by Dominic Csergö.
The album is a mix of old and new songs, but I cannot find out which are which, indicating that the reformed line-up have maintained their intriguing style with panache. The grandiose claim in the liner notes that the band "easily met" the standards of ELP, Yes, Crimson, "and even surpassed them" is somewhat over the top, but the mix of classical, jazz, ethnic and rock musics on this record is certainly well executed.
Although the stylistically diverse approach is sometimes a little distracting, overall this is a very well played and produced example of prog rock from an unlikely source. One for students of the prog!
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10