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2013 : VOLUME 5
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:



Arjen Anthony Lucassen - Lost In The New Real
Arjen Anthony Lucassen - Lost In The New Real
Country of Origin:Netherlands
Format:2CD
Record Label:InsideOut
Catalogue #:0505870
Year of Release:2012
Time:CD1 - 47:16
CD2 - 43:20
Info:Arjen Anthony Lucassen
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist:
Disc 1:
The New Real (6:24), Pink Beatles In A Purple Zeppelin (3:36), Parental Procreation Permit (5:03), When I'm A Hundred Sixty-Four (2:30), E-Police (4:07), Don't Switch Me Off (4:06), Dr Slumber's Eternity Home (3:51), Yellowstone Memorial Day (3:31), Where Pigs Fly (3:47), Lost In The New Real (10:19)
Bonus CD Rom section: "Behind The New Real" video (13:45)
Disc 2:
Our Imperfect Race (6:27), Welcome To The Machine (4:45), So Is There No God? (4:41), Veteran Of The Psychic Wars (4:34), The Social Recluse (3:55), Battle Of Evermore (5:28), The Space Hotel (3:49), Some Other Time (3:21), You Have Entered The Reality Zone (3:24), I'm The Slime (2:53)
Bonus CD Rom section: "The Artwork" video (13:35)

A gifted song-writer, musician and producer by any standards, the list of musical strings to Arjen Anthony Lucassen's bow are seemingly endless (click on the 'Info' link above as a reminder of just how many). This is his first solo album since initiating the Ayreon project in 1995 and in addition to providing most of the instrumentation (as he usually does) including guitars, bass and keyboards, he is also responsible for all the lead vocals for the first time since his now deleted 1994 album Pools of Sorrow, Waves of Joy.

Although a solo album, Lost In The New Real is a concept work that stays very close to the sci-fi/fantasy themes found on earlier Lucassen projects, particularly man's sometimes dysfunctional relationship with technology. The story is a simple one - after being cryopreserved (that's suspended animation to you and I) Lucassen's character Mr.L is awoken sometime in the future by a psychiatrist Dr. Voight-Kampff (voiced by Rutger Hauer) who assists in Mr.L's emotional integration into the new world. Whilst possibly being a first for a prog album, the story of human hibernation and awakening into an uncertain future has long been a popular topic of Hollywood sci-fi movies, including Demolition Man (starring Sylvester Stallone), Forever Young (Mel Gibson) and the less well known but very funny Idiocracy. Rutger Hauer is of course best known for his portrayal of the enigmatic replicant Roy Batty in Blade Runner which just happens to be Lucassen's favourite sci-fi movie. No doubt Lucassen had Hauer's iconic speech at the end of the film in mind when he asked the Dutch actor to narrate the album. His character name 'Voight-Kampff' is also an in-joke on Lucassen's part being the name of the machine used in the film by Blade Runners to expose replicants.

The songs on CD 1 trace Mr. L's emotional journey through the futuristic new world (or "New Real") punctuated by Hauer's explanative introduction to each track. CD 2 is made-up of songs related to the concept but due to logistical reasons didn't make the main disc. This includes cover versions of some of Lucassen's favourite tunes that explore (sometimes tenuously) similar themes. The luxury of two discs also allows for the inclusion of bonus CD Rom material which can be explored through a computer, laptop or similar device.

With the exception of the opening and closing title track, all the songs on disc 1 are around the radio friendly 3½ minute mark. I say radio friendly because with melody and harmony very much in evidence it would be very easy to envisage any one of these tunes frequenting the airways. Following Hauer's welcoming but somehow still sinister sounding tones, The New Real builds gradually and methodically into a hard as nails but still polished opener echoing the aforementioned Ayreon with the edgy flute playing of Jeroen Goossens bringing Jethro Tull into the mix. Despite the tantalising title, Pink Beatles In A Purple Zeppelin does not so much combine the sounds of those individual bands; instead it remains very much in psychedelic era Beatles territory. It also paints a pessimistic vision of the future with lines like "Every song's been sung before" and "Every album's been produced". Parental Procreation Permit in contrast features a big, bombastic riff matched by an equally big chorus enhanced by Queen like harmonies and a growling vocal thrown in at the end for good measure.

When I'm A Hundred Sixty-Four continues the contrasting moods this time with double-tracked acoustic guitars and the rustic fiddle of Ben Mathot providing an authentic folk dance vibe. E-Police is blessed with one of the best choral hooks with cleverly constructed overlapping vocals adding to the sense of urgency. Don't Switch Me Off is taken at a more relaxed pace with moody synth and guitar exchanges being for me the songs highlights. Despite the title, Dr Slumber's Eternity Home is a poppy variation on a folky jig with lively fiddle and superb drumming bringing both Dexy's Midnight Runners and current BBC Radio 2 favourites Bellowhead to mind. Yellowstone Memorial Day is a much heavier affair although with another memorable choral hook and those big Queen style harmonies never far away. A heavy guitar burst to play out is a reminder of the space metal of Lucassen's Star One.

Violin and cello provide a classically baroque intro to the penultimate Where Pigs Fly (not unlike Yes' Rhythm Of Love) with flute and whistles adding a medieval flavour. The ten minute plus title piece, Lost In The New Real, begins slowly and mysteriously with an almost Middle-Eastern tone. It develops into a powerful, skillfully crafted exercise in atmosphere and dynamics with Lucassen's excellent production techniques in full flow. And whilst the vocals are all mostly his (assisted by Wilmer Waarbroek), he manages to create the impression of a cast of many with call and response singing to the fore.

If anything, disc 2 is perhaps more proggy in tone, allowing Lucassen more opportunities to flex his instrumental muscle. That's certainly true of the opening Our Imperfect Race where the instrumental work featuring spacey effects, a stately guitar solo, flashy synth break and beautiful slide guitar (evoking Pink Floyd) are more memorable than the tune itself. And speaking of Floyd, Lucassen's take on Welcome To The Machine is like you've never heard it before where the customary acoustic guitar and industrial machinery sounds are accompanied by a loud, metallic riff with strong guitar support demonstrating how not to be intimidated by the original. So Is There No God? moves along at a brisk pace with a busy acoustic guitar rhythm, a spiraling vocal hook and stunning fiddle playing whilst Blue Öyster Cult's Veteran Of The Psychic Wars is one of my favourite interpretations here thanks to the heroic synth line, driving guitar and an infectious hook.

Another powerful song, The Social Recluse is built around a succession of imaginative and compelling choral hooks leading into a wall of acoustic guitars and hammered dulcimer that heralds a variation on Led Zeppelin'' Battle Of Evermore. The way in which the evocative female backing vocals (courtesy of Elvya Dulcimer) dart in and out of the seismic riffs is especially effective. A powerful drum pattern and a Brian May-esque guitar break are the highpoints of The Space Hotel before orchestral keys introduce The Alan Parsons Project cover Some Other Time perfectly conveying the mood of the song. Likewise bustling acoustic guitar and mandolin provide an apt backdrop for the lyrically ecofriendly and catchy You Have Entered The Reality Zone. Bringing up the rear is Frank Zappa's I'm The Slime with fast and tricky instrumental histrionics providing a fitting tribute to the master whilst at the same time evoking Neal Morse in prog-metal mode (not to mention the processed vocals of Steve Hackett).

Having been less musically active of late, Lost In The New Real is a return to form for the gifted maestro Arjen Anthony Lucassen. Whichever name he decides to go under (Ayreon, Star One, Guilt Machine or his own) he can usually be relied upon to deliver the goods. With strong musicianship, melodies and production all being his forté, there is little doubt in my mind that he is one of the most musically intelligent persons on the planet. Special mention should also go to the beautiful hardback book style packaging with Claudio Bergamin's stunning retro sci-fi artwork perfectly capturing the mood of Lucassen's work. Throw in the very watchable CD Rom material and you have one very formidable package.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES


douBt - Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love
douBt - Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love
Country of Origin:Various
Format:CD
Record Label:MoonJune Records
Catalogue #:MJR049
Year of Release:2012
Time:67:13
Info:MoonJune
Samples:Click here
Tracklist: There Is A War Going On (3:20), Jalal (7:14), No More Quarrel With The Devil (4:38), Rising Upon Clouds (5:30), Purple Haze (4:45), The Invitation (4:00), Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love (12:13), There Is A War Going On (reprise) (1:14), Tears Before Bedtime (2:49), The Human Abstract (6:24), No More Quarrel With The Devil (reprise) (1:09), Mercury (4:14), Goodbye My Fellow Soldier (9:09)

Opener There Is A War Going On is a psychedelically funky keyboard-led thing laid down behind the now famous speech by Congressman Bernie Sanders bemoaning oppressive capitalism and its effects on the 99%, the tune and the Congressman's "rap" channelling the spirit of Gil Scott-Heron; but this revolution will be televised! A fine start to the second album this multi-national trio have put out on MoonJune.

British Keyboard player Alex Maguire introduced himself in fine fashion on that first track, and leads off Jalal too, as Belgian guitarist Michel Delville is the icing on cake whose ingredients come from somewhere between mid-period Soft Machine, Weather Report and Return To Forever. Those of you familiar with Michel's work will know this guy can play a bit, and this lead run is taken with an intuitive ease. Keeping anchored to the one, and never playing unnecessary fills is American Tony Bianco, a fine drummer who can go from subtlety to power without seeming in the least bit flash. The trio between them can draw on experience ranging from Hatfield And The North, Elton Dean, The Wrong Object, Machine Mass Trio and more, and their obviously high-end musicianship shines through from the off.

Turning in some monster power trio playing on No More Quarrel With The Devil, the earlier fusion comparisons take a heavier turn, maybe in the direction of One Shot, but, Hell, all these comparisons are really nonsense, just revel in the crushing cosmic rifferama, and turn it up to 11. A jokey keyboard refrain reappears towards the end of this track and lends it an undeniable progressive edge. The progressive leanings continue on the almost avant Rising Upon Clouds, a chaotic and dark track that lends appropriate menace to an album that has William Blake as its inspiration, the album title coming from the poet's Songs Of Innocence And Experience.

By now I have stopped looking for comparisons and am simply looking forward to the next surprise and their cover of Purple Haze does not disappoint. Michel takes the guitar part relatively straight while underneath Alex is making all kinds of off-kilter noises, Tony keeping time on the button. Well, actually Michel has now left the planet, too. "Look out for that door, don't open that door, don't open that door..." as the man once said. This is one of the best covers of a Hendrix tune I've heard in years as it does not attempt to copy the original and goes off on its own crazy path, occasionally returning to main melody. Marvellous! After all, there's no point in doing a cover unless you're going to put your own stamp on it, is there?

After a nice blues-tinted breather on The Invitation, where Michel goes all Mediterranean jazz on us, and a clear toned organ solo takes it back to the lounge, the 12 minute title track enters with Gothic menace, a faux church organ sound summoning up an air of anticipation, as you just know this is going somewhere very dark indeed. Rolling thunder drums and fuzz organ strike up the storm as clouds gather... and I'm not saying more, you'll have to find out for yourself.

Incredibly, this album was all laid down live in the studio in two days, albeit in sessions eight months apart, on 11th April and December 5th 2011. A mixture of improvised and more structured pieces, the majority of the former being recorded at the April session, the two halves were then mixed and melded seamlessly in post-production by sound engineer David Minjauw at Studio Simonne, Brussels. Believe me, he's done a really good job and deserves the credit he gets, as any joins are invisible. Quite how the band recorded this so quickly and how they managed to recapture the vibe from the first session is beyond me, but it just shows the intuitive communication between these exemplary musicians.

This is also one HEAVY record, but not in a rock/metal sense, the doomy atmosphere laid down here is far more threatening than anything the likes of half a dozen clichéd prog-metal bands playing simultaneously could ever manage. Overdriven keyboards lead a charge through the heavier end of Zappa territory on Tears Before Bedtime and things just get stranger and stranger. This is not background music, oh no, you'd better pay attention or some minor demon will leap over the Styx and eat your soul. Of course, it all fits the apocalyptic Blake concept perfectly, and were the deranged and strung-out Romantic artistic polymath alive in the '60s he would have made Roky Erickson and Syd Barrett look like dilettantes, just in case you need any pointers.

The careening charge through the netherworld that is The Human Abstract manages to merge avant-garde, space rock and jazz fusion into a lysergic kaleidoscope of quite thrilling proportions and by this point the album is so strung out you'd half expect Kawabata Makoto to show up in a stellar ice cream van. Blimey, if strangeitude is your thang you're gonna love this!

Mercury treats us all to some lounge jazz from the other side, in a rather odd time signature, and then we've already arrived at the final track. This album is nearly 70 minutes long, and not one second of it is filler. Goodbye My Fellow Soldier is another dose of Gothic atmospherics, Tony's scatter-rhythms scurrying about beneath what sounds like down-tuned Mellotrons. Sparse shards of guitar cut through the air, and...again, find out for yourself!

Fusing rock with jazz and avant-garde, while lifting phrases from modern classical, Mahler and adding splashes of space rock, douBt have released one of the best albums of 2012, an album that featured in my year's top ten. MoonJune have released a monster of an album here, and Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love is destined to hit my hi-fi more than a few times over the years, as it should yours if you have any sense of adventure. Buy this now!

I think I'll don my brand-new pair of butterfly rolling skates and dance to this little beauty again....

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

ROGER TRENWITH


Nine Stones Close - One Eye On The Sunset
Nine Stones Close - One Eye On The Sunset
Country of Origin:U.K. / The Netherlands
Format:CD
Record Label:Progrock Records
Catalogue #:PRR312
Year of Release:2012
Time:60:44
Info:Nine Stones Close
Samples:Click here
Tracklist: Faceless Angel (2:56), A Secret (5:33), Janus (5:46), ...and dream of sleep (1:53), One Eye On The Sunrise (12:08), Eos (2:39), The Weight (9:52), The Distance (4:55), Frozen Moment (13:35), Sunset (1:28)

Alison Henderson's Review

Anglo-Dutch proggers Nine Stones Close burst onto the scene at the end of 2010 with their brilliant debut, Traces, a collection of songs which left many gasping with pleasure at the way they drew darkly sonic pictures of life, love and loss.

Well, the difficult second album would be proof of whether they could build on this solidly accomplished debut with more songs from the dark side and the good news is they have - spectacularly. However, the bad news is this is the last time we will be hearing their vocalist Marc Atkinson on an album with them but more about that later.

One Eye On The Sunrise could have been a late contender for many prog fans' final top ten of 2012 and justifiably so. It contains all the key elements of Traces that have been made more kaleidoscopic and aurally dramatic through the structure and nature of the songs. Also, Traces was probably a little short as albums go but One Eye... comes in at just over the hour mark which again shows a step up in material and indeed confidence.

The first thing you notice about the album is its overall haunting beauty rendered by its attention to detail in the moods it wants to convey. It is all about shadows and dark places, which only the sunrise and arrival of the new day can reveal.

A wash of sound and Brendan Eyre's gentle piano starts Faceless Angel with a female "radio" voice coming in before the dreamy synth and Adrian Jones' chunky guitar create a rich melodic driven sound which gives way again to a tinkling piano. This feels very much like the lull before the storm.

Staccato guitar chords lead into the first vocal foray of Atkinson on A Secret. Not many singers in prog can express pain and sorrow the way he can, his voice dripping with raw emotion against a sweet guitar and Peter Vink's bass. This song puts me in mind of Python Lee Jackson's In A Broken Dream with its downbeat tempo and downward progression of chords.

Shimmering keyboards heralding in the instrumental Janus bring forth some light into the sound before Jones's hypnotic guitar chords come into play over Pieter van Hoorn's solid drumming. The track ebbs and flows with plaintive piano and mellow synth coming together before the tempo picks up again and Jones flies with a sonorous guitar solo that carves a deep winding pathway through the track from which you can savour some spectacular inner views.

Acoustic guitar, a synthy wash and delicate piano make up the short and sweet ...and dream of sleep before the title track finally comes roaring in. Again, building quietly through jangling acoustic guitar, Katy Bell's 'cello and Atkinson's world-weary voice paint the picture before the guitar blazes in with Zeppelin overtones, the vocals stepping up several gears to compete with the new heights being hit.

From there, it is an out and out epic with thunderous riffs and the melody line played out on acoustic guitar. It pares right back in acoustic guitar and 'cello with Atkinson semi-chanting single words before the big guitar rock face comes roaring back with the vocals to match. They certainly know how to stoke the fires of sonic atmosphere and mood and it all ends with a huge climactic explosion.

Eos gives time to draw breath again with jangling acoustic guitar and "radio voice", then Atkinson tugs at heartstrings with an emotionally-drenched vocal accompanied by a downbeat guitar.

Further full-on guitar brings on The Weight as Atkinson looks lyrically to the sunrise aided by some effective harmonies. It yearns and aches with human frailty and feeling, two people waiting for a new dawn. It has shades of Talk Talk at their most earnest best as the track builds to a guitar crescendo, the mix of sounds becoming deeper and darker before easing back to the acoustic guitar and voice passage.

Clean, light acoustic guitars provide a great platform for Atkinson doing more vocal soul-searching on The Distance before they launch into the magnum opus, Frozen Moments, a Metallica-sounding guitar propelling it into life before the unfolding storyline puts paid to any light and warmth from the sunrise. This is a chiller-thriller of a song with Matt Stevens providing his third guitar contribution while Stolen Earth's Heidi Widdop adds backing vocals. And finally, the warmth is restored with a simple piano and 'cello on Sunset.

It is a beautifully constructed album with the heavy epics counterbalanced by shorter less intensive passages. But it is bursting full of the essential elements which underline the best in prog - strong melodies, raw emotion and soundscapes in which to lose yourself albeit only for a transitionary period.

The only quibble is the album sleeve which has some stunning illustrations by Antonio Seijas evoking the half-light of day/night. They would have been greatly enhanced by having all the album's lyrics imprinted across them to further add to the drama and experience.

Apart from that, this is a late contender for a top ten album of 2012.

Sue Doyle's Review

I first discovered Nine Stones Close on a free compilation CD in Prog Mag a couple of years ago. The track Traces absolutely blew me away, as did the album. So it was great news when I learned of a new album release. Two years on from the success of Traces, Adrian Jones has, yet again, produced a masterpiece in One Eye on the Sunrise.

As with Traces, Adrian has enlisted Marc Atkinson to deliver his lyrics with his hauntingly beautiful vocals, and the wonderfully talented Brendan Eyre once again provides keyboards. Pieter van Hoorn (drums) and Peter Vink (bass) are accompanied by the guitars of Adrian and the multi-talented Matt Stevens (The Fierce and the Dead). All in all, what we have here is an array of incredibly talented musicians. With a line-up such as this, it's inevitable that this will be one of the great album releases of 2012.

Recorded in Adrian's own studio in Leiden, Netherlands, Marc's studio in York and Brendan's hometown of Hartlepool, One Eye on the Sunrise is a shining example of how technology and the internet can assist in the creation of new music. There are the purists who insist that music is only credible if created in the traditional way, however Nine Stones Close appears to be able to buck this trend with consummate ease. I for one am very heartened to see technology being used in this way.

Although the style of this album has echoes of Traces, musically and lyrically this is a much deeper and heavier production and is a clear demonstration that there are a hell of a lot of great ideas still to pour forth from Adrian (no pressure, mate!). Reading through the lyrics on the NSC website, the theme appears (to me, anyway) to be of fear, love and loss. I could be wrong but this is my interpretation.

From the instrumental opener, Faceless Angel, to the title track and finally on to the short and atmospheric closing track, Sunset, we are treated to an accomplished body of work which flows beautifully, delivering exquisite guitar riffs matched with transcendent vocals and outstanding keys. This is an album that just works.

I could go into detail about each track individually, however I feel that this album is the sum of its parts and should be reviewed and listened to as a whole.

One of the qualities I admire most in NSC is their collective aim to produce outstanding music, and given that they all have day jobs, they are to be applauded and given the utmost respect for working tirelessly and at their own expense to bring us all such a bloody good album.

Shortly after the release of One Eye on the Sunrise, Marc Atkinson announced that he would be parting company with NSC to pursue his solo career. Fans will miss his vocals which have become synonymous with the band. We wish him well for the future.

John Wenlock-Smith's Review

Line up:
Adrian Jones – Guitars
Marc Atkinson - Vocals
Peter Vink - Bass
Peter Van Hoorn – Drums, Percussion
Brendan Eyre – Keyboards

This is my first introduction to Nine Stones Close; sure I'd heard of them and even knew of both Marc Atkinson and Brendan Eyre's involvement with Adrian Jones because of the majestic Out Of An Ancient World album by Riversea that had majorly impressed me a few months back.

What I wasn't expecting to find was music of a fairly similar yet harder edged nature that is equally as expressive as the Riversea project; a meeting of musical minds that blends elements of epic soundscapes with warm expressive vocals all layered with some searing and soaring guitar work from Adrian Jones.

This is Adrian Jones's third outing as Nine Stones Close the other being the all instrumental ST LO which Adrian has very kindly made available as a free download on the Nine Stones Close website (the link will take you to the page). The second Nine Stones Close album, Traces, was released in 2010 and was the first to feature Marc Atkinson and Brendan Eyre, Adrian of course repaying the favour by being on the Riversea album.

Which brings us very nicely to this new CD from Nine Stones Close. This time there is no Ed Unitsky sleeve, rather a set of arty photographs that reflect various sunrises and shadows very much in keeping with the drift of the album. In its balance of light and shade, gentle and brutal it is very much an album of contrasts that is best enjoyed in one complete listen.

The album opens as lots of albums seem to with a haunting and eerie keyboard soundscape before Adrian's searing guitar comes to the fore playing above and against the underlying keyboard wash to great sonic effect. I played the opening salvo to a friend and all she could say was "Wow, that guitar is brilliant", but this is part of the nature of One Eye On The Sunrise in that throughout there are moments of sheer tranquillity and beauty and other moments that will blow your face off and it's a winning combination in my book.

A Secret swiftly follows and here Marc's voice enters and it is a thing of beauty in itself, warm and expressive, soulful and melancholy at the same time, honestly this guy could sing the phone book and it would sound better than 99% of the dross that passes for popular music nowadays but as is the way most people will never hear such beauty and majestic singing.

It is satisfying to hear music such as this that is so expressive and emotive and evokes such pleasure, I've lived with the CD for a few weeks and it's one that very much needs repeated listens as there is a lot going on here and a lot to take in. Janus is another fabulous track sounding not unlike a mix of Andy Latimer, Steve Hackett and Dave Gilmour, again Adrian Jones is playing some simply astounding guitar here, highly melodic with a fabulous tone and surrounded by a very atmospheric backing track. There is some classical guitar in the mix here that adds a different dimension to a subtle and dynamic instrumental before another delicate interlude and the first of two epic tracks on the CD.

One Eye On The Sunrise is certainly epic, starting off very gently for the first 3 minutes before Marc sings "Sunrise" and Adrian crashes in with a riff that Jimmy Page would be proud to call his own, this is a song that uses the contrast between gentler passages with a heavy riff interspersed throughout to a great effect too. Underneath it all you have the dynamic rhythm section and Brendan's keyboards providing a solid base for all this to launch from. The song then enters a gentler phase with some long sustained guitar notes in the background and builds in intensity until that Zep-like riff enters again, Pete's drums doing an astounding John Bonham type syncopation, and then Adrian lets fly with a great solo whilst all this is crashing around. It's a brilliant few moments and shows the imagination and creativity of these guys, definitely one of my favourite moments on the disc.

Let me talk about Frozen Moment too, this being the other epic track at some 13 minutes and 34 seconds. This track also features the brilliance of Matt Stevens on several guitar breaks throughout, starting with some ferocious riffing offset against Brendan's keyboards and Marc's expressive voice, the song passes through various stages before at the nine minute mark entering a series of guitar breaks played alternately by Adrian and Matt. It certainly makes for an interesting few minutes as the two play off and against each other with Brendans keyboards providing a background to anchor them, it's a thrilling ride and one I'd recommend you hear if you can.

This is what makes One Eye On The Sunrise such an interesting release, the use of dynamics to emphasize and accentuate the sonic tapestry that Nine Stone Close weave throughout the whole 60 odd minutes of the album. At times it's ethereal and then in turns brutal. This is definitely one of the better releases that I've come across this year for its use of subtlety and brutal riffery to such very great effect, the whole album is a very rewarding listen indeed.

Sadly it would seem that Marc Atkinson will not be working with Nine Stones Close for the foreseeable future as he is choosing to concentrate on his own solo album instead but even if this is the last time he will appear he has certainly left a spectactular album for us to revisit on a regular basis.

So in conclusion this is a great album by any standards and it's one that I would seriously recommend hearing. As such I'm more than happy to give 9 out of 10 as it is for me one of the best things that I have heard all year and that in a year that has seen some fabulous releases.

Conclusions:

ALISON HENDERSON: 8.5 out of 10
SUE DOYLE: 8 out of 10
JOHN WENLOCK-SMITH: 9 out of 10


Cryptic Vision - Of Infinite Possibilities
Cryptic Vision - Of Infinite Possibilities
Country of Origin:U.S.A.
Format:CD
Record Label:ProgRock Records
Catalogue #:PRR133
Year of Release:2012
Time:66:20
Info:Cryptic Vision
Samples:Click here
Tracklist: Singularity (4:00), Starting Gun (6:22), The secret (5:25), Affecting Time (4:01), Obsolete (5:23), M Theory (4:08), Real Magic (5:00), Lucid Dream (2;40), Flash of Life (Part Two) (4:53), Other Side (4:42), Infinite Possibilities (20:42)

Line up:-
Todd Plant - Lead Vocals
Rob Duncan - Drums, Keyboards, Guitars and Vocals
Sam Conable - Bass and Vocals
Tim Keese - Guitar and Vocals
Howard Helm - Keyboards and Vocals

It's more than possible that you've never heard of Cryptic Vision which to be frank is a real shame as this is a very interesting outfit. Originally formed in Florida by Rob Duncan and Todd Plant in 2003, Of Infinite Possibilities is their fourth album and also the third part in a trilogy - Moments of Clarity, In A World, Of Endless Possibilities - plus a Live at Rosfest CD in 2006.

Cryptic Vision are a very melodic prog rock band that occupy the space somewhere between Kansas and Spock's Beard amongst others, fans of Mystery and Glass Hammer will probably find much to enjoy here and as with most great albums its depths and beauty become more apparent with repeated plays.

Whilst this is the final part of a trilogy, it also has the ability to stand alone as an album and it is a well-structured disc with lots of great harmonies and above all some great songs and choruses. It is in part the strength of the song writing that makes this such an appealing disc.

The band state that "This CD is taking the listener on a progressive journey of the world we live in, from the scientific to the spiritual, from our inner soul to the outer universe, the CD explores the meaning of our existence with each song representing a different perspective of how we try and make sense of our world and what lies beyond".

It may be a lofty concept but it's certainly an interesting one and a great journey to be undertaken especially with music as good as this. Whilst it may not especially break any new ground what it does have is a sense of urgency and integrity, this is a crafted work and much care and attention has been utilized to make this disc sound as good as it does.

What also adds to this is the addition of special guest musicians such as David Ragsdale (Kansas) adding his soaring violin work which emphasizes the Kansas connection.

For me the standout tracks include The Secret, M Theory and the oddly named instrumental track Flash of Life (Part Two), there is no Part one for some strange reason.

The lengthy title track opens with a fantastic melody that sounds vaguely familiar before a bass solo briefly comes into play briefly, then enters a groove as keyboard swathes come in. It's a great opening to a great track, full of great ideas and a lot of changes throughout its 20:42 running time. David Ragsdale adds his violin magic to this track, OK, it does sound like Kansas, but for me that's no bad thing. The melody from the opening comes back into play, this time supporting a vocal and the song continues to twist and turn as it explores a world of endless possibilities and realities.

This being the epic song that draws the disc and indeed whole trilogy to a close it's a worthy conclusion. As a bonus there is some great guitar work on this song too and throughout the whole disc the bass playing of Sam Conable is exemplary, the whole band are great but Sam's bass is a solid anchor for everyone else to work off and this song really shows that.

This is certainly no copycat sounding band who take bits from various popular progressive rock bands, cobbling it together to make their own usually inferior version, so this is no Yes, Kansas or even Spock's Beard lite, not at all, rather this is a band who take those very same influences and meld them into something that has noticeable reference points but ultimately has its own indelible stamp and identity.

The disc has a great clear sound with good separation between the instrumentation and there is some fine musicianship on here too, so all in all a very worthy release and a great finale to what is a very interesting and musically adventurous trilogy of discs.

If you are a fan of Kansas or Spock's Beard then Cryptic Vision could be right in your ballpark.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

JOHN WENLOCK SMITH


String Driven Thing - The Machine That Cried
String Driven Thing - The Machine That Cried
Country of Origin:U.K.
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC2346
Year of Release:1973 / 2012
Time:63:05
Info:String Driven Thing
Samples:Click here
Tracklist: Heartfeeder (6:38), To See You (3:58), Night Club (5:09), Sold Down The River (4:35), Two Timin' Mama (3:13), Travelling (2:54), People On The Street (6:11), The House (2:35), The Machine That Cried (5:21), River Of Sleep (The Sowee - Search In Time - Going Down)(11:02). Bonus Tracks It's A Game (3:33), Are You A Rock N' Roller? (3:19), I'll Sing This One For You (3:19)

String Driven Thing, fronted by husband and wife Chris and Pauline Adams with bassist Colin Wilson and virtuoso violinist Grahame Smith, were signed to the famous Charisma Label even supporting Genesis on their Foxtrot tours in the U.S. and U.K.. However, the band never achieved large scale recognition and are now most widely remembered for Smith, joining ranks with Peter Hammill in the last incarnation of Van der Graaf Generator and the fact that the cover of their first album reportedly cost more than the actual recording sessions. The Machine That Cried was the band's second album for Charisma, their third overall, and their first to feature a drummer, Bill Fairley, who had to be sneaked into the sessions as Charisma were not happy with the Adams' request to find them a drummer - the label tried to foist keyboardist Robert John Godfrey on them instead; he lasted for just one gig. The album had a difficult birth with singer and guitarist Chris Adams incurring a severe cut to his thumb after an altercation with a glass window that put him out of action for a couple of weeks during which he suffered a collapsed lung. Having undergone a painful lung drainage procedure, two weeks later Adams was on stage at the Rainbow where his band were once again supporting Genesis and then almost immediately went into the studio to commence recording.

Given the recent injury and surgical emphysema, Adams' vocal delivery on the energetic opener Heartfeeder is remarkable. Driven along by a wonderfully melodic violin line, the songs sets the tone for the album; striking progressive rock of a kind that was, and is, unique to the band. Never quite knowing where the song is heading, the tempo is reduced right down to an almost halt allowing the energy to be built gradually to a crescendo with Pauline Adams adding a high soprano voice to vie with the violin. The ballad To See You provides a contrast to the aggression and vigour of Heartfeeder in a lovely song sung by Chris A who despite not having a classic voice comes over superbly on this number. Night Club is different again, and takes its inspiration from the aforementioned expensive artwork adorning the band's debut. From its psychy distorted violin intro (any bets that Nigel Kennedy has drawn inspiration from Grahame Smith?) to the Dylanish vocal delivery and prominent bass this song-story is indeed an original proposition.

One of my favourites from the album is Sold Down The River, the lyrics reflecting the disagreements that Chris A, the band's leader and principal songwriter, was having with Charisma. Once again the powerful vocal delivery is quite amazing given the recent medical history with Pauline A providing acid sweet backing on the chorus. Pauline provides lead vocals on the rocker Two Timin' Mama which is fairly ordinary really, but then things head into another bitter-sweet ballad Travelling, whose gentle melody adds a fine sheen to the rather bitter lyrics. What is unusual about the album, given that Smith is so prominent throughout, is that the violin enhances the songs, adding just the right amount of pathos and melancholy, People On The Street being an excellent example. A very dark and even dismal song, it is no wonder that Charisma dismissed the first version of the album presented by the band as being too doom-laden and uncommercial and causing Gail Colson, then Tony Stratton-Smith's secretary but subsequently manager of the likes of Peter Gabriel and Peter Hammill (whom she still represents), to exclaim "Why does every band we sign turn into Van der Graaf Generator?"! As a consequence Adams was sent away to write some new material as it was decided the final 11-minute River Of Sleep would be dropped from the release. I strongly suspect that The House was one of the replacement tracks as the acoustic ballad, again sung by Pauline, is rather out of keeping with the rest of the album backed by just an acoustic guitar and soaring violin.

The title track is an absolute joy combining elements of folk, prog, rock and even some classical. One of three tracks featuring Bill Hatje who joined the band towards the end of the recording sessions, it is likely that this and the other two tracks he plays on (The House and Travelling) were the ones laid down after Charisma's initial rejection, although none are particularly lighter in mood than the other songs on the album! Anyway, if this was the case, Charisma benefitted by gaining at least one great new track, and one that gave the album its final name as it was originally going to be released under the title Heartfeeder. But what of River Of Sleep? Well it is a fantastic song, in three sections that are all at once gloomy, mysterious and thoroughly engaging. Middle section Search In Time is Smith at his inventive best while Going Down, the only part of the song to be released on the original vinyl album, brings the album to a sedate and questioning end. Great to have the complete track reinstated on this release.

Bonus tracks include both sides of the 1973 single It's A Game / Are You A Rock 'N' Roller? and the 1974 A side I'll Sing This One For You. Neither single charted although It's A Game was a massive hit a few years later for none other than the Bay City Rollers!! An infectious and jolly song that, along with its flip side, were not really characteristic of the album or the band in general. The 1974 single was really the last straw for Adams, and seems more of an attempt to catch the glam rock zeitgeist of the time than stick to the more experimental prog they displayed on The Machine That Cried. Both C & P Adams bowed out of the band in late 1974 when Charisma demanded veto of new album demos before releasing studio recording finances. Smith was left to carry the flame and a new band was formed around him who stuck with Charisma for two more albums before Peter Hammill came knocking. The Machine That Cried is the finest hour of this band hidden in prog's footnotes and an album that over recent years has been critically re-evaluated and now looked upon in a more favourable light that was ever awarded it when it was first released. Oh, and in case you are wondering, the front cover image is a photomicrograph of a very small insect, reportedly a bed bug!

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

MARK HUGHES


Breaking The Layers 2012 DVD
Breaking The Layers 2012 DVD
Country of Origin:The Netherlands
Format:2DVD
Record Label:Layered Reality
Catalogue #:DVDLRP001A
Year of Release:2012
Time:-
Info:Layered Reality
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: DVD 1: Insolitvs, Mind:Soul, DVD 2: Insidiae, Dimaeon

The DVD Breaking The Layers 2012 is a registration of a nice little festival that I was at in April that year and did a DPRP concert review of. The concert review ended with the remark that a DVD was to be expected too. And see, I'm doing a second review, about the registration this time. So the questions are: does the DVD reflect the atmosphere of the night and does it reflect the atmosphere of music of the bands on stage?.

For your information: the festival displayed five young bands reflecting the heavier side of the spectrum. Insolitvs played their first gig in the Netherlands, Mind:Soul did their second gig whilst Insidiae had to perform with a stand-in bass-player and Dimaeon easily threw in a lot of new songs.

This double DL-DVD set offers you Insolitvs and Mind:Soul with their complete shows and interviews on disc 1 and Insidiae and Dimaeon on the second disc. Croatian metallists Sagan are not included and not even mentioned.

All songs are neatly separately accessible as chapters which makes it easy to skip back and forth. The audio quality of course is most important and of good multi-track quality. The footage, though very well aligned and edited using multiple cameras, is not hi-res and seems to suffer from poor recording equipment and poor lighting. However, having been on site myself, I may judge that this even adds something in recreating the atmosphere of the venue at the time. The interviews are lacking from image quality as well but are fun to watch and listen to, Dimaeon being the only one answering in Dutch, with English subtitles.

The quality of the footage is not top notch but that is not an issue at all. The thing is you can have a good view of what these young bands have to offer, a fair impression of the festival and some thoughts behind it as well. Questions answered positively. Use this DVD set to relive the night or to get to know the bands right in your living room. Onwards to Breaking the Layers 2013!

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

ANDRÉ DE BOER


Amarok - Gouevia 2005
Amarok - Gouevia 2005
Country of Origin:Spain
Format:CD
Record Label:Azafran Media
Catalogue #:AP 1209
Year of Release:2012
Time:66:59
Info:Amarok
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: M'Goun (7:39), El Mestre de la Caverna (7:16), Quenhadharkhen (14:54), Hsieh (7:23), Mujer Luna (3:44), The Last of the Lasts (5:30), La Espiral (5:56), la Ultima Expedicion (6:39), Laberintos De Piedra (7:54)

Amarok is certainly not a band known to a large audience. Hailing from Spain they make a kind of progressive rock one could call prog/folk with all the elements and ingredients found within the more popular acts from around the Mediterranean.

Most of the music is mellow and laid back, calmly progressing at the relaxed tempo that their culture is known for. This live recording is from 2005 at the festival in Gouveia, the name is misspelled in the title, and was originally intended to be a DVD but, as I learned during my quest for information, the film footage has somehow been lost leaving the band with only the audiotapes. This is probably also why it has taken them until now to release this as an album.

Listening to the album during the songs you could easily forget you were listening to a live recording as it sounds like it could well have been recorded in a studio environment rather than at a festival. Even the crowd cannot be heard loudly between songs, it's only the comments and announcements made between a few of the songs that remind you that it's live.

For those not all that familiar with Amarok, the band uses a lot of different instruments like: flute, tabla, didgeridoo, oud, saz and many more, all this resulting in a special blend of music with folk, jazz, rock and classical influences. This live recording is a masterpiece in itself, a grand record of Amarok's music from throughout their career, so it could well be used as a starting point for Amarok's music if you don't already know them. Be aware that everything is sung in their native Spanish language, which suits very well, but the music is not the easiest to get into. It may take some time to get to you, but when it does you will definitely be hooked, no doubt.

Art-Rock at its best.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

GERT HULSHOF


Procosmian Fannyfiddlers - Interference Number 9
Procosmian Fannyfiddlers - Interference Number 9
Country of Origin:Norway
Format:CD
Record Label:Langt Lem Records
Catalogue #:LLR666-171
Year of Release:2012
Time:47:12
Info:Procosmian Fannyfiddlers
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Captain Mystique (7:26), Lingerie (5:24), Vinegar Woman (5:04), Cult Of Coal (6:42), Abstinence And Happiness (3:30), Tautology Of Love (5:24), The Sudden Urge To Glow (4:40), Crying At The Cr@p Shop (6:08), Procession For A Floating Body (3:06)

Blending Norwegian folk and brass band music with punk rock and metal, mixed with a large streak of humour and an innate prog sensibility, Procosmian Fannyfiddlers come across to me like a Scandinavian version of The Tubes, throwing everything into a large Viking melting pot and coming up with a veritable koldtbord of styles.

This is their 9th album, not unsurprisingly, and is billed as a full-on concept album about "a town you don't want to live in" revolving around three characters, "a dead girl, a betrayed astronaut and a sociopath", not that I'm taken in for a minute. Such are the sometimes barking mad lyrics that the theme is largely lost on me, but maybe that is the point. The mythological significance of the number nine is bound up in the story too, apparently, and of course there are nine tracks on the album.

However, I wouldn't advise taking anything this lot throw at you seriously, whatever you do, that way you might actually find that this album is quite fun in a bonkers kind of way.

We are introduced to The Dead Girl from the off with her Latin quote "Liber scriptus proferetur", a line from the Requiem Mass that loosely translates as "Lo! The book exactly worded", and from here on in it just gets silly. I think they may well be taking the rise out of the much-derided concept album, or at least I hope so! The astronaut character is obviously a lift from Major Tom, as he bemoans "I am running out of air! Body is weak, shutting down".

The next two songs are a laugh, as Lingerie relates the graphic tale of a woman who scares off her men by insisting on only changing her panties once a month, and Vinegar Woman recounts the story of another woman who was burned at the stake because her love of "win-e-gar", as female singer Mette Frosting pronounces it, lends her a pungent aroma with the consequence that "...the streetwalkers started to faint, Our City Hall was drenched in vomit". You don't get lyrics like that on X-Factor!

By the time characters like the sociopathic Mother, who murders her children, moves on to the next man-father, has more kids and murders them too (and so on) and "Merlin The Berliner" who may or may not be the re-appearance of Edmond The Astronaut from the first song have appeared; and "Captain Mystique" is laid to rest by the Dead Girl in Crying At The Crap Shop, the whole thing has morphed into a mock-opera, and I have to admit it is rather enjoyable if somewhat hard to follow. A bit like that sentence! The whole is shot through with black humour and the music rollicks along like a marauding Viking on the pillage.

With a surprising lack of info out there apart from the Bandcamp link at the top of this review and a myspace site that doesn't appear to have been updated since 2009, how the band expects to spread the word is beyond me. Searching for "Langt Lem Records" draws a blank too. This reinforces my belief that Procosmian Fannyfiddlers appear to be doing this primarily for their own benefit and for a small clique of fans' enjoyment. Fair enough!

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

ROGER TRENWITH


Transbohêm - Déserts
Transbohêm - Déserts
Country of Origin:France
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:JMG001/1
Year of Release:2012
Time:34:26
Info:Transbohêm
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Caravan (10:33), Circles (7:06), Écoute Petit Serbe (4:57), Hun's Parade (4:50), Flam (7:00)

Having formed over a period of about 5 years, stabilising in 2010, Déserts is the debut album from France's Transbohêm. This more than talented quintet have played in a number of varied musical environments and each brings something different to the table. Keyboardist Jean-Marc Gobat is a multi-instrumentalist who recorded a brace of albums in the late '90s. Yves Corvez plays in a number of styles from flamenco to metal and has ample room on Déserts to show what he can do. Bassist Christian Bocande has toured internationally and shared a stage with legendary Weather Report keyboard maestro Joe Zawinul so he clearly has the jazz chops. Emmanuel Blattes is a classical clarinettist who moved to drums and has worked with jazz-rock bands.

They are clearly an ambitious bunch and Transbohêm's aim is to create a hybrid style that takes elements of World Music, prog metal and jazz to forge a new way of doing things. The accompanying booklet, entitled "Elelments of Analysis and Biography", certainly goes over the top in trying to explain the intentions and motivations and is somewhat pretentious but it does show how serious they are about this.

The emphasis is on the metal a lot of the time, the guitar taking the lead while the rhythm section nail it down with jazz inflected beats. The global influences come from a number of places but North African and the Middle Eastern are the most recognisible to me and in a little over half an hour the band manage to cover a lot of ground. The unusual vocals of Claire Lafage take the music somewhere new. Clearly a fine singer with a very cultured, almost classical style that evokes the exotic landscapes conjured up in the music. The vocals are not used to convey message but are featured for timbre in the same was as, say, Magma or Yes. The music does not appear to be greatly influenced by these bands however you can hear Magma acolytes Zao in the mix.

The extended opener, Caravan, starts with Saharan rhythms coupled with metal guitar; a nice combination. A driving section with real momentum brings a heavier Hawkwind to mind before washes of synths and burbling bass come and go, all interspersed with vocal sections but unfortunately these seem a little at odds with the rest of the music. These guys can certainly play and the last section of the track is great. They are to be applauded for trying something different but I'm not completely convinced by the overall results.

Circles opens with stun guitar well supported by the rhythm section. There is a greater metal orientation than on Caravan with lots of space for Corvez to do his Opeth thing but the mid-section slows things down and suggests Indian themes with jazzy guitar additions before the vocal returns. In this laid back interlude the vocals are a good fit, mystical Arabian images formed in the rolling rhythms of the Lafage's voice before more metal brings things to an abrupt conclusion.

We get an elegant keys and bass intro to Écoute Petit Serbe which is apparently influenced by the singing of a Serbian child during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. This is a hymn for peace with some nice keys from Gobat and a lovely solo from Corvez. The piece has an epic qualiity reminiscent of High Hopes from Pink Floyd's The Division Bell mixed with some of early Marillion's best work. Claire's vocals again almost work.

The instrumental Hun's Parade starts gently with nice bass and keys then builds on slightly eratic keys into a wacky section with a reggae rhythm. This one may need a little more work although I can see where they're going with it. The chosen keyboard sounds feel a little cheap and could no doubt be improved upon but the enthusiam and energy wins through over all and the playing is very good. Slightly offline Eastern interjections give a woozy feel and the pace picks up before again ending rather sharply.

Flam is a flamenco based piece with guitar to the fore picking out a nice melody. Claire seems a little off here, her formal style struggling to fit within the easy groove. And then we get a prog metal part with a Dream Theater influence that builds very well into one of the most entertaining parts of the album. The keys still sound like they need a few more Euros spent on them but that is a minor gripe. Oddly there is a brief pause and then the theme returns with a '50s beat group twist to finish.

The vocals are striking throughout but not always effective. Sometimes they work very well within the music but on occassion they take on a wailing cadence that isn't exactly harmonious. Their unusual style is certainly one of the main draws but the vocals are sure to cause problems for many listeners. I tend to prefer the instrumental passages although, as said, on occassion the vocal is very effective. At some points it is integral while at others it comes across as an almost unnecessary addition.

So, a fairly successful debut album.

Recorded as near as dammit live, for both aesthetic and economic reasons, in a short space of time there is much to admire here. The energy is palpable and I like the immediacy of the recording but maybe next time a little more care and precision would be beneficial as this would no doubt reap rewards with Claire's vocals. She really is a good singer and it is difficult not to admire her talent but a little more time spent in the studio setting would no doubt make her sound fantastic.

Déserts is brief and to the point but certainly none the worse for that. I would certainly be interested to hear what Transbohêm can produce with their next release, hopefully with a little more time at their disposal to realise their ambition.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

JEZ ROWDEN


Amber Spyglass - Breathing in Essence [EP]
Amber Spyglass - Breathing in Essence
Country of Origin:U.S.A.
Format:CD
Record Label:Decorative Records
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2012
Time:24:05
Info:Amber Spyglass
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Harmonic Tide (4:53), Unfortunate One (4:25), On The Wire (7:09), Violent Silence (2:50), Like Lost Lovers (4:38)

This EP is the third release by Boston, USA band Amber Spyglass, after a self-titled EP in 2001 and a full-length album in 2004, and according to the press release it is the first of a planned series of 4 EPs in the coming months; which rather begs the question, why not a full album instead?

Gothic-tinged alt-rock is their bag, coming across on opener Harmonic Tide like a slightly more grounded Cocteau Twins, and like that band Amber Spyglass are a girl/boy duo, Kelly Godshall contributing the vocals, lyrics, and rhythm guitars, and John DeGregorio hiding behind computer consoles and effects-laden guitar.

Unlike the Cocteau Twins however they choose not to hide the melodies behind impenetrable waves of flanged guitar or gobbledegook vocals, and what they've come up with is highly enjoyable. Kelly's voice has a fragility about it that allows you to forgive the occasional strived-for but not-quite-attained note.

The long song On The Wire is unfortunately the weakest and would have sounded better with a bit of judicious editing. While starting off quite well with a nice theme, it unfortunately meanders along in a somewhat unfocussed fashion, the last two-and-a-half minutes being unnecessary. This is followed by the best song and vocal performance by Kelly, and Violent Silence is a rather nice plaintive Goth-ballad led by uncredited piano, and the air of doomed romance continues with Like Lost Lovers, where the addition of cello makes for a good ending, the previous Cocteau comparison becoming entirely redundant in the process.

It's a shame this is only an EP for just as you start getting into it, it's all over. Is it prog? Well, not really, but it's a good piece of alt-pop that won't offend anyone, unless they happen to see the press release where our two troupers are made up like extras from the Rocky Horror Show! Keep that picture off your next cover and you'll do just fine.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

ROGER TRENWITH


Absinthe Junk - Living Ghosts
Absinthe Junk - Living Ghosts
Country of Origin:U.S.A.
Format:CD
Record Label:Scorch & Burn / Severe Records
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2011
Time:45:18
Info:Absinthe Junk
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Commercialized Waste (4:50), Road To Damnation (3:45), Dragonflies In Hurricanes (4:50), Sweet Vaccine (5:08), Living Ghosts (2:40), Swear To Me (5:33), Rust (4:48), Precious Delirium (4:55), Assassin (Someday) (3:57), Road To Damnation Pt. 2 (4:51)

Absinthe Junk is a quartet hailing from Nashville (Tennessee) and Dayton (Ohio), USA. The band plays an alternative kind of metal meets (progressive) rock and is fronted by singer Blair Smart, a lady who also plays violin, viola, cello, keyboards and guitar. Other band members are Patrick Himes on keyboards, lead guitar and background vocals and currently Matt Arseneau on bass and Ben Bruno on drums, samplers and beats. On this record, for the most part, we hear other musicians playing drums & bass. Singer Blair seems to have said her band was called "a female fronted Rush". Although her voice reminds of Geddy Lee's a bit I can hardly find any real resemblance between this music and the works of these formidable Canadian rockers.

The opening tune sounds like an up tempo power trio tune: the drumming comes with a lot of fills, the bass plays an important role too and the guitars are heavy and with quite a bit of distortion. The piano gives a more poppy edge to the song and the interlude is slower and more melodic. The way Blair sings is hard to describe: there's a lot of power and emotion, but technically in my opinion her voice would require a bit more training. There's no natural vibrato there and my feeling is that most of the time it's hard labor for her, especially when reaching for the higher notes. The addition of the violin in the instrumental track Road To Damnation reminds of Kansas yet AJ's music is more metal orientated. Rock meets pop in Dragonflies In Hurricanes, a more melodic song in which Blair sings with a more gentle voice, partly as a duet with herself. In Sweet Vaccine the two styles combine: pop-music in the verses, more powerful metal in the choruses. Blair sings, or rather shouts, somewhat over the top here.

The title track is a bit spacey, lots of echoes, no real lyrics in a style getting close to new age, with a second part in which the violin plays with accompaniment of the guitar and the chords sounding a bit like Zeppelin's Stairway To Heaven. The next track Swear To Me is an up tempo tune in the same vein as the first track. Again Blair seems to have trouble finding all the right tones but the music is driving and her voice tends to put a spell on the listener. The catchy chorus in Rust seems to be in contrast with the more turbulent verses and again there is a more melodic interlude, being a sort of a prelude to an instrumental part with a nice synth solo. Although I love hard rock and metal I tend to favor the ballads more than the other stuff, especially if a band is playing loud and with a lot of distortion. The sliding guitar and the lyrics softly sung by Blair seem to be more in balance with each other. Assassin is a melodic rock tune, but in contrast the choruses are a bit monotone and Blair gives all she's got again, but this kind of singing means nearly shouting and is not particularly my cup of tea. The last track, Road To Damnation Pt. 2 is a classic 'headbanger' hard rock style. Blair proves she knows how to play the violin quite well.

I must apologise for this review because I sent it in much too late. The successor to this album is already available. My only excuse is I thought I liked the music but in fact I didn't so that gave me a hard time to write something sensible about the album. Blair being a multi-instrumentalist and Patrick evidently being a capable songwriter, there must be a lot of potential there and from what I've heard, the new album Death In The Afternoon is living proof. When the band calls their music alternatively progressive I can go with the 'alternatively' but I wouldn't call it progressive music, rather (hard)rock with a number of more mellow spots.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

MENNO VON BRUCKEN FOCK


Stormy Atmosphere - Colorblind
Stormy Atmosphere - Colorblind
Country of Origin:Israel
Format:CD
Record Label:MALS
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2009
Time:53:13
Info:Stormy Atmosphere
Samples:Click here
Tracklist: Awaken (7:00), The Earth Worker (0:58), Circle (5:57), Bridge (5:57), Fifth Season (9:06), Conspiracy I - Unexpected (2:07), Conspiracy II - Unexpected Still (8:11), Hand Colored (4:20), Last... (2:19), ...Chance (7:15)

Always looking for something a new and a little different, I'm not adverse to dipping into the pile of CDs yet to be reviewed on the DPRP editor's (virtual) desk. In recent years this approach has uncovered some real gems. My success rate has far outweighed my failures. Sadly this year has been a 100% failure with this Israeli outfit did nothing to end my bad run of form this year.

Before jumping in with both feet, I did dip my toe into the water with an advance listen to the opening track. Awaken fascinated me with its mix of male and female (operatic) vocals, Middle Eastern instrumentation and arrangements, folk, symphonics, power metal, gothic, piano, strings, guitar and lots of prog. Sadly the rest of the album fails to live up to my expectation of something new and interesting.

As shown by the song lengths, there is plenty of complexity to the arrangements. However amid the abundant use of different time signatures, the bulk of the songwriting is standard symphonic ProgPower metal with male/female vocals. There is nothing wrong in the performances which are actually very good, especially the guitar work. However there is just nothing in the song writing that strikes a memorable chord with me. I must though give a positive word for the very clever and thought-provoking cover and booklet imagery.

The album was originally released in 2009 but has just been picked up by the Russian MALS label, as it seems to do with quite a few Israeli bands. Those whose tastes veer towards female singers and gothic metal may find more to enjoy but for me this is my final failed musical adventure for 2012.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10

ANDY READ


Rayburn - Your Mind
Rayburn - Your Mind
Country of Origin:U.S.A.
Format:CD
Record Label:Excited States Entertainment
Catalogue #:ESE101
Year of Release:2012
Time:68:20
Info:Rayburn
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Your Mind (3:16), Working My Way Upstream (5:26), Hey Friend (4:01), Gotta Be Ready To Die (6:25), Sunset (2:13), Farmer (4:57), The Trail Is Gone (2:13), Summer Showers (3:41), Saltless Tears (5:00), See My Eyes (4:29), Said I Love Only You (7:41), America (2:30), Stand (5:42), Righteous Man (5:22), Steam Shuffle (3:20), It's Time Again (2:12)

What's that? Déja vu, you say? That would be understandable given that this Arkansas-based band released an eponymous demos album with a similar tracklist back in 2010. As to what this album is, I'll let the band's website do the talking:

"The group is called Rayburn and the album is 'Your Mind'. Together with Grammy award winning producer Ben Fowler, they have gone into the studio forty years after their major label signing to record their "lost" album. The results are a rousing blend of progressive rock with jazz influences that has a nostalgic feel but that is grounded in the present. Previous material that was only released in demo form has now been completely re-recorded and includes new vocals and added orchestral arrangements. It is provocative, hand-made music that would have likely changed music history had it gotten the chance. Some reviewers have called Rayburn the greatest 70's [sic] band you never heard of."

Do you see what they did there? They lost all sense of humility, and tried to bite off more than they could chew. Changed music history? You're really going to go that far, Rayburn? Also, where can I find these reviewers? Scouring the internet for them sure isn't working.

After reading the blurb, I started to question my cynicism. Perhaps I was wrong to judge them so harshly. Maybe Rayburn are the best thing since sliced bread, and if their music had been released back in the '70s, the punk era could have been avoided. However, after one listen to the album, I found that my fears were justified.

In particular, I found that the statement about nostalgic prog with jazz influences - my reason for picking up the album in the first place - was actually true, albeit for the title track only. I will admit that the opener, Your Mind, is actually a very decent brief progressive song, with rich textures, cool musical interplay and bass guitar to make you drool. In addition, Rayburn make good use of the organ sound, lending a distinctly retro feel to their music. As luck would have it, the second track on this album is also quite good. Working My Way Upstream contains many aspects of what it is to be a fun progressive rock song, although the 'jazz influences' that the band speak of simply aren't there.

Unfortunately, the band have chosen quantity over quality, and a total of sixteen tracks make up this 70 minute opus. Things immediately take a turn for the worse with Hey Friend, a boringly slow track with a gratuitous choir section. At over six minutes in length, Gotta Be Ready To Die contains too many disjoint sections and depressing lyrics. Sunset is a complete departure of what's come before, and is mainly strings-based with a female vocalist. Suddenly, the album appears rather directionless and unsure of what it's trying to achieve.

Dear reader, I won't bore you with a track-by-track analysis of the rest of the album. All I'll say is that the album continues in the pattern of forgettable track after forgettable track until the penultimate song. Steam Shuffle is actually a pretty decent progressive instrumental, and the organ is finally put to good use. With solos from a few members of the group, I almost feel like this is my reward for listening to the rest of the album. After the instrumental finishes, the album closes proper with the quiet, unremarkable track It's Time Again.

As bad as the music is, the CD is presented rather tastefully, in a black digipak with a spiral shell depicted on the front. Inside, a booklet with the album lyrics is attached to the gatefold interior, and a piece of card with the Spiral logo embossed can be found. While the design is pretty, it is sadly flawed: the first time I picked up the album, the CD came flying out of the sleeve and went straight on the floor, as it is not held secure by the packaging.

What I really don't understand about this album is what the band's goal is. If they were trying to be a jazz-influenced prog group like they write in their press statement, I would have understood. In actuality, however, the band seem to try and explore new territory with each song, without much success whatsoever. Three solid tracks out of sixteen is not a good ratio. Certainly not good enough to change the history of music.

Conclusion: 3.5 out of 10

BASIL FRANCIS
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