Tracklist:Lighthouse (12:50), Telephone (9:15), Fridge Full of Stars (11:17), At the end of the World (8:23), Carousel (11:46)
Leo Koperdraat's Review
2013 is promising to be a very exciting year for progressive rock. New albums by Steven Wilson, Big Big Train, Thieves Kitchen, Cosmograf and Nosound are just a few of the artists/bands who are going to release or have just released new material in 2013. I am also very much looking forward to the new La Machera di Cera, Jolly and Oblivion Sun. And that's just the first three months of this year! What an incredible wealth for a genre that has been the laughing stock of the music industry for so many years. It is going to be an expensive first couple of months. And then on top of all this there is a new band that have just released their debut album; Lifesigns. This band consists of John Young (vocals, keyboards), Nick Beggs (bass, chapman stick, backing vocals) and Frosty Beedle (drums), all very experienced musicians who have played with a lot of bands in the past. However, the album also features guests like Steve Hackett, Thijs van Leer, Robin Boult and Jakko Jakszyk. The attention of the prog community was certainly heightened after they put an album teaser on the various social media sites:-
Now this star packed ensemble's debut album could have resulted in a "look at how good we can play" record. That is certainly not the case as Lifesigns is packed full of modern yet classic progressive rock that focuses on strong melodies and above all the album focuses on songs. And these songs are nicely enhanced by great complex but still accessible instrumental passages and finales. All songs were written by John Young, who has had a very long history in music so far with his involvement with bands and artists like Uli Jon Roth (Scorpions), Jon Camp (Renaissance), Greenslade, Asia, Fish and Jon Anderson to name just a few. And next to all this he has his own John Young Band. He has a very strong voice and has solid backing in the vocal department from bass player Nick Beggs, who you might know from Kajagoogoo, Ellis, Beggs and Howard, Iona, Steve Hackett and Steven Wilson. A very nice example of this can be heard on Telephone which has some wonderful harmonies. Still, it's the track that I find the weakest of the album, at least the first part sounds a bit too easy, too commercial to my liking. It opens with a very Peter Gabriel sounding stick part from Mr. Beggs and some very tight drumming by Martin "Frosty" Beedle (The Cutting Crew). Maybe my initial disappointment with Telephone might also have had something to do with the mammoth and epic way the album opens with the very impressive Lighthouse. After an atmospheric intro the song immediately kicks into fifth gear with strong melodies, wonderful vocals and some great keyboard solos by Young. The rhythm section make themselves heard with some very strong playing. Listen especially to the massive bass melodies. As the Americans say: AWESOME! The second part of the song focuses on an exquisite vocal part with a great chorus. What a blistering track to start the album, it left me speechless. And so after that opening Telephone might sound disappointing at first but it did grow on me. During Fridge Full of Stars the instrumental opening melody has, what I like to call some BBBB (Big Badass Beggs Bass!!). The chorus and the vocal end section both have a Yes feel to it. There are not a lot of other prog bands that spring to mind while listening to the record. It sounds modern but does have that classic progressive rock feel. During the more "commercial" parts they're sound could be compared to a band like It Bites and during the complex parts Frost* could be an indication, but it's not very obvious as they sound comfortably like themselves. As I said earlier, John Young has a very pleasant but strong voice which reminds me of John Wetton during his U.K. days. And also his piano playing reminds me of that same great band sometimes. While listening to the album it is very clear to me that a lot of effort, time and love was put into the arranging of the tracks as they all flow very naturally. Here Beedle's impressive drum skills play an important part in keeping it all together as does fourth band member Steve Rispin who was responsible for the great sound of the album.
I don't think that this band really needed any guest players but it is still a joy to hear them all delivering some very inspiring contributions to the album. It's lovely to hear the great Thijs van Leer's flute (there's no need for you to laugh now...) during the musical battle he has with Steve Hackett's guitar during Fridge Full of Stars. And he also delivers some stunning flute playing during the album closer Carousel, another massive track that starts like a jam session and contains a lot of exciting, complex instrumental parts and the finale of the track is...well...big. And Robin Boult adds some great lead guitar throughout the entire album but I want to especially point out his solos at the end of Lighthouse. I thought it was him who played the solo at the beginning of Carousel but that one seems to be played by BBBB on chapman stick (show off!!). Now I'm not a very big fan of track by track reviews but the only track I haven't mentioned yet is At The End Of The World so I'll make an exception. It's, like Telephone, a more accessible track. The sequence that starts the track reminded me of Massive Attack. It starts as a ballad with again some beautiful acoustic guitar playing from Boult. Young does a great job with some very atmospheric keyboards like a modern Rick Wakeman (who did the same to great effect to link the different parts of Close to the Edge and The Revealing...). The track ends in very up tempo fashion with an uplifting, almost anthemic chorus. Lovely.
With this album Lifesigns immediately positions itself in the Champions League of Prog with an incredibly impressive debut album that I can whole heartedly recommend to anyone who is interested in modern, accessible yet highly complex classic progressive rock. Listen to the teaser but be warned; it barely scratches the surface! Buy!
Alison Henderson's Review
When Nick Beggs, bass player of choice for both Steven Wilson and Steve Hackett, invites you to come and listen to an early version of a musical project in which he is involved with some friends of his, it is akin to being summoned by prog royalty.
Present also on that occasion, just over a year ago, was John Young, the acclaimed composer, keyboards player and vocalist, who wrote all the music and lyrics for the project, having decided six years ago that he was going to do his own prog album after playing on those of so many other bands and artistes, as well as with his own band.
Even then, hearing the fledgling Lifesigns about to take flight before most of the guest artists had added their contributions, you could sense something very special was in the offing.
With their impeccable connections, John and Nick along with drummer Frosty Beedle and producer Steve Rispin who complete the Lifesigns' inner quorum, called up a few other friends such as Steve Hackett, Thijs van Leer and Jakko Jakszyk to help out as well as John Young Band guitarist Robin Boult.
Fast forward 11 months and John extends an invitation to hear the finished article with him and Frosty in the studio prior to its release. Life changed that day because of Lifesigns.
Those of us old enough to remember what it was that first drew us all to progressive rock back in our formative years will find through Lifesigns all those early memories come flooding back. Whether it was Yes or Genesis, Focus or Camel who were rocking our worlds then, this album distils all the elements of the classic era and offers us a whole new vista of possibilities.
Granted there are other bands such as Big Big Train who are also currently engaged in creating some exceptional British pastoral and symphonic prog, John Young's musical journey has been longer and probably more diverse than most. And Lifesigns elevates the journeyman to master craftsman.
So let's start with the concept behind it. Well, it is about life and all things appertaining to the meaning of existence, with a fairground and intergalactic travel as reference points along the way as befitting a proper prog album. The delightful accompanying artwork by Brett Wilde, including the exquisite cover photograph of a pastoral English scene complete with church, is an integral part of its concept. But there are no hidden messages or doctrines within it: the onus is on us listeners to find our own compass settings within the music and lyrics.
There are very few clues at the start of opener Lighthouse as to where the compass may begin pointing, as eerie distant sounds reverberate before the prelude to the light and breezy melody line. This comes in with sweet synths, a killer bass line and tight drums before John's mellifluous voice bursts forth, Nick providing some tight harmonies. From there, it slows down, a gentle piano working its magic and then it is off on another sonic flight of fancy, John picking up the "roundabout" theme in his lyrics which will emerge again later with Carousel. Steve Hackett makes an early appearance here too but it is the denouement of this track which provides one of Lifesigns' highlights.
Out of the blue comes an enormous wall of sound, created primarily by bass pedals and keyboards, Boult's guitar soaring ever higher and freer as the "wall" builds to a crescendo, the sound of a storm breaking with ethereal voices, delicate piano and the cry of seagulls.
Telephone follows and completely wrong-foots you with its funky bass and beat pattern intro, but it does constitute the catchiest and poppiest track on the album, with lots of harmonising between John and Nick. Again, it is the strength of the melody and the understated playing especially from Jakko on guitar which make it a joyfully upbeat experience; John's composing allows it to flow and evolve without ever losing its shape or integrity. An edited version of this would make for the ideal single because of its more commercial appeal.
Fridge Full Of Stars is the most compelling of all five compositions because it is most faithful to the great prog traditions and fittingly, two legends appear alongside each other on it.
Nick provides a huge chunky bass riff at the start as Frosty pares right back on the beat, while John conjures up some sonic rainbows on keyboards and Steve Hackett provides some intricate acoustic guitar work in the mix.
From there, we enter into the realms of cosmic Yes as John and Nick sing: "Watching the World go by, A smile upon his face, Seeing the stars collide across the human race".
Think Close to the Edge or Awaken and their unparalleled middle sections which both sound like a musical meditation - Lifesigns has its own high vibration moments. Centre stage are Thijs van Leer and Hackett with a haunting combination of flute and guitar along with John's other worldly keyboards that take the song into a completely new realm.
Returning to "Watching the world go by", the effect of this lovely chorus line is heightened by the musical interlude in between the refrains. Finally, John and Nick go off on another quintessential Yes vocal adventure as you would hear in And You And I's "coins and crosses" section. It is all rather exquisitely done.
At The End of The World gives us time to draw breath again through a simple melody line sung in harmony with Frosty's metronomic drumming and John's organ sound most audible in the mix. Then the melody builds with cascades of piano - all very soothing especially when it goes into another dreamy synthy sequence with layer upon layer of sound featherbedding the overall effect. Changing direction yet again, it builds into a huge finale as we reach "The end of the world" on a high note.
Just when you think you have heard it all, a whirlwind of sound spins out at the start of Carousel. This is not a guitar, but Nick again demonstrating his total mastery of the Chapman stick. Solid keyboard chords and bass provide a platform for John to launch his most affecting vocal performance on the whole album. His voice oozes warmth and sincerity for some of the most poignant lyrics on the album. Joining them again is Thijs on flute blending seamlessly with the bass and guitar before it takes off in another direction with John's gorgeous piano at the fore.
It is his stirring voice with piano and synth on the "I feel the wind rise under these wings" passage which is one of the most moving of all the numerous "Wow" moments on the album. Still the piece carries on ebbing and flowing before there is another Yes frenzy moment and Patrick Moraz inspired jazzy piano, while Frosty's drumming becomes more and more frenetic. A musical idiom sounding like a carousel rushes in before it all dies down with just a sweet synth and background keyboards to bring us to journey's end.
There have been other recent albums such as Transatlantic's The Whirlwind which have elicited the same kind of emotions but Lifesigns in itself is a musical experience on which I thought I would never embark.
Having been there before the end of its conceptual journey offered me some very special insights into the amount of care and dedication which goes into crafting music of such intrinsic beauty and complexity including Steve Rispin's immaculate production.
What is more, this album will also give John Young the long overdue recognition he so deserves. This is a once in a lifetime album for any musician. Having the right people around you to make it happen is also a huge plus, but, at the end of the day, what John and the distinguished Lifesigns cast have achieved here collectively is nothing less than prog perfection.
Track list:Slav To The Rhythm (7:13), You're The Prototypical (6:04), Friend (1:31), Dusty Traditions (5:23), Replace (4:14), Shiny Happy Gizmos (3:05), Old Stuff Still Does The Trick (4:23), It's Not Always True (5:16), Machines Rule (7:10), And Thus (3:35), Man Is Ancient History (5:15)
Farmers Market; yet another band I was previously unaware of until immersing myself in the Marianas Trench of esoteric prog that is the reviewers pile here at DPRP Towers. This band, whom I am listening to right now at a wife-annoying volume (luckily for me, she's out at the moment) and without the benefit of a press release to hand, appear to be a Mahavishnu influenced world music progressive band with exotic instrumentation aplenty, occasionally topped off with female Indian (?) singers. It shouldn't work, but it does...oh yes sir-ee!
Such a joyous and at the same time complex sound I have not heard in many a moon, and it makes me realise how tame and pale in comparison such a lot of the gubbins that passes for prog these days actually is. And the thing is, this great album should appeal to anyone who isn't tone deaf or obstinately prog-precious to the point of self-harm, such is its marvellously infectious groove. If you are simply a music fan, regardless of genre tribes, you cannot fail to dig this little beauty.
Right, now it is a few days later and I've heard it a few times, located the press release and carried out some research, so I shall attempt a serious review for anyone not already won over by the gushing intro above. And yes, I left the error in there deliberately!
Formed in Oslo in 1991 as a free-jazz combo at the Jazz Department of the Conservatory of Trondheim, where all the members were studying, Farmers Market evolved over the years into the glorious stew of today via Bulgarian folk music, which is where the Eastern sounding scales and time signatures originate. So much for "Indian", eh? Their line up is a mix of Norwegians and Eastern Europeans, probably mostly Bulgarians, and yes, there is one Indian in there, banging away on tablas.
This bunch have a nice sense of humour, as you can see from the album title and past glories like; Anyone Who Remembers Vladiwoodstock Wasn't There and Ladyboy's Night At The Cultural Relativism Saloon from the previous album Surfin' USSR released in 2008. My favourite has to be To Hell And Baku - arf!
Slav To The Rhythm is the band's fourth album, and opens with the title track, showcasing the ensemble's unique style. Mixing jazz, pop, heavy prog touches and the aforementioned Bulgarian folk influence, the song also contains some atypical blistering guitar work, in a distinct McLaughlin vein. Charging along and upturning several market stalls as it careens through the sleepy setting of a slow early morning's market trading, Slav To The Rhythm (the track) will not fail to lift your mood, unless you happen to be soul-less or a very determined miserablist.
I mentioned exotic instrumentation earlier; well, how about this little lot:
- Darinka Tsekova / gadulka
- Filip Simeonov / clarinet
- Finn Guttormsen / bass, percussion
- Jarle Vespestad / drums
- Nils-Olav Johansen / guitars, vocals, organ
- Stian Carstensen / guitars, pedal steel guitar, ocarina, kaval, music box, clavinet, triangle, violins, talkboxmoog, electric piano, vocals, organ, synth, kaval, glockenspiel
- Trifon Trifonov / sax
- Daniela Todorova / violins
- Sidsel Walstad / harp
- Marinette Tonning-Olsen / french horns
- Ola Kvernberg / strings
- Julie Peneva, Nadia Vladimirova, Sonia Iokova, Torbjorn Dyrud / vocals
- Mats Rondin / cello
- Georg Breinschmid / double bass
- Roxana Bustihan / pan flute
- Jai Shankar / tablas
...that should whet your appetite, and the musical mix'n'match continues into the laid back jazz-fusion of You're The Prototypical which calms things down after the ebullient opening track with some languorous fretless bass and lush keyboards, the early lead taken by various flute and flute-like sounds, possibly the ocarina being one. Also some fine restrained choral work in the mid section is an absolute treat.
Even after only two tracks I'm entirely captivated. The album continues with the short Friend, led by another reed instrument, doubtless one of the more exotic ethnic examples listed above, segueing straight into the next journey over the Balkans, conjuring visions of gypsies dancing around a camp fire.
Replace features the female voices I had wrongly initially assumed were Indian, and obviously now, these are from the Bulgarian mini-choir listed in the line-up. Living as I do on the Western edge of Europe, it is easy to forget the mix of cultures that informs far Eastern Europe, and that the traditions of the region are full of Asian influence. Back to the music - this song is a beautiful melancholic paen, and although I have no idea what they are singing about, the air of longing is unmistakable. The lead female voice is even more Asian-sounding on the upbeat Old Stuff Still Does The Trick, which one can imagine being played at a Romano wedding party.
In contrast to that, Shiny Happy Gizmos shows off the band's prog leanings, sounding in places almost Genesis/Brand X-like. As I said before, all these contrasts should not really work, but they do, and that can only be testament to the group's high calibre of musical ability. After the album closes with the multi-ethnic flavours of Man Is Ancient History you will be left wanting more, I assure you.
This album is out on March 4th and all I can say is BUY IT!
[The link to Division Records above is for the earlier Norwegian release - keep checking for the UK release from 4th March onwards]
Tracklist:Overture (8:09), Daddy's Gone (5:56), Whosit, Whatsit And Which (6:33), Tesseract (5:20), Make Way For The Big Show (8:41), Camazotz (6:22), Ixchel (4:39), The Battle For Charles Wallace (6:59)
Edwin Roosjen's Review
Shadow Circus deliver their third progressive rock album. I love a band that sticks true to the progressive rock sound and the sound of Shadow Circus reveals a love for the seventies but they also keep it very contemporary. Influences range from Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes and Rush and what of course is a progressive rock band without a concept album? On their previous album, Whispers And Screams, the first half was influenced by the book The Stand by Stephen King. On A Dark And Stormy Night is completely based on the book A Wrinkle In Time written by Madeleine L'Engle. Main man for Shadow Circus is guitar player John Fontana who also contributed keyboards to Whispers And Screams but they now have a new keyboard player in David Silver. Shadow Circus already had a lot of keyboards but I feel it is even more dominant on On A Dark And Stormy Night. Vocalist David Bobick is still in there with his theatrical voice, Matt Masek is back on bass and cello and behind the drums is new guy Jason Brower.
Overture starts like a score from a horror movie with raining sounds, scary keyboards and violins. The instrumental start of the album features key melodies that are reprised during the course of the album. There are many changes and a lot of things happening in this song that is over eight minutes long. During some parts I hear a lot more influence from Rush than on the previous album. The first real song is Daddy's Gone, a mellow and dramatic song dominated by piano and keyboard. For the rock sound of Shadow Circus we have to wait a bit on this album but do not worry, John Fontana would not allow a Shadow Circus album without some heavy rocking. The vocals of Bobick on this song sound very dramatic so listeners who hear him for the first time might need to get used to his vocals. I for one sure like his theatrical voice. Next song is about three characters in the story and they are named Whosit, Whatsit And Which. I will not go into detail about the story because for me that usually starts to come alive after many, many spins and why spoil everything in a review, you should find out for yourself. The song is very accessible with some funny tunes in them. If you listen to On A Dark And Stormy Night then this will be the tune that sticks in your head.
Make Way For The Big Show has a long intro with again many keyboard sounds. The song has a nice pace, a guitar line to give it a solid melody and many times there are fast keyboard scales going up and down and back and forth. The keyboard solo halfway through is very good. Just when you really feel the keyboard dominance Tesseract is an instrumental song with very much guitar. A heavy rock pace with dragging chords, a lot of guitar solos both melodic and fast. Tesseract also shows the increased influence from Rush on this new album. Uriel is in the same league as Daddy's Gone, a mellow start with piano and gradually increasing in intensity. The solo starts from the keyboard and smoothly passes on to a guitar solo. It is not the best song on the album but I like the flow, it has the potential to be a filler but it is a song I do not want to skip.
Camatotz is a song with many strange melodies, sounds and transitions. During this song I hear more of the old Shadow Circus sound from the first two albums. I like the background vocals done by Roo Brower. Roo does the backup vocals on the last three songs of the album and I must say that it is a nice addition that really gives it another interesting layer. The second part of the song is heavier and more dramatic. Ixchell is a ballad on which the only vocals are the angelic chanting of Roo Brower. Besides that the song contains beautiful acoustic guitar and dark atmospheric keyboards. Very scary song above all very beautiful. The last song, The Battle For Charles Wallace, starts with a long intro with a lot of heavy stuff, guitar but also cello in an almost Apocalyptica style. Where I started saying it is a more keyboard orientated album on this song I hear a guitar part (ok, a small part) that could have been from Anthrax or Metallica. All elements of the Shadow Circus sound appear in this final song, a perfect ending to the album.
Shadow Circus continues with yet another solid album. Not many things have changed since Whispers And Screams, guitar player John Fontana handed the keyboard tunes to keyboard player David Silver and this results in a more prominent part for the keys. Still the overall sound remains very recognisably Shadow Circus, progressive rock with a nod to the seventies era. Compared to the previous album On A Dark And Stormy Night is more balanced, overall better and there are still some parts that stick out. The concept of the album is not really working for me yet but that could come in time, the Stephen King story on Whispers And Screams appealed to me more. Secretly I was hoping for a bigger step forward in contrast to their previous album and I cannot completely make up my mind on which one is better, so the rating stays the same. For sure worthy of a DPRP recommendation.
John Wenlock-Smith's Review
I came across Shadow Circus a few years ago whilst prattling around on Facebook, maybe I had a friend request or something but I certainly liked what I heard on the second CD Whispers and Screams, of which Project Blue was based on Stephen King's book "The Stand".
This was progressive certainly but also it rocked like hell with demented Hammond and surging guitars giving a very driving yet melodic and engrossing sound. It was one of my favourite albums of 2010, way before I became a reviewer for DPRP.
It's now early 2013 and I've had the pleasure of living with this new Shadow Circus cd for the past few weeks and any fears I had of how they would progress on from Whispers and Screams are certainly and unequivocally answered with a resounding 'whoa!' as they have done it again.
On a dark and stormy night is another corker rocking just as hard as it predecessor did but adding more colours, contrasts, moods and atmosphere.
This time around they have chosen to base the entire disc around the concept of the book "A wrinkle in Time" written by Madeline L'Engle in 1963 for which she won the Newberry prize. This release even has the full approval of the L'Engle estate and it's not hard to see why either as they have taken the storyline of the book (children time travel in search of their professor father guided by three witches against an evil that is engulfing the universe planet by planet).
The cd opens with Overture which pretty much sets out the stall for the entire album, running at over eight minutes the instrumental features some great interplay between John Fontana's incendiary guitar and David Silver's towering keyboards.
Daddy's Home introduces the storyline of the disc and is a beautifully crafted piece with David Bobick's impassioned voice on fine form before the quirky Whosit, Whatsit And Which plays with it's odd and shifting time signatures to great effect.
There is a real cinematic quality to this release as it is epic in both its scope and execution, an album that deserves to be heard loud to get the full impact of the versatility of these musicians and the dexterity of these songs ranging from very gentle to almost early Uriah Heep, sounding like they could have come from either ...Very 'Eavy, ...Very 'Umble or Salisbury, and that's a measure of how classic these songs sound.
There really are some beautiful moments on here; the gently rippling piano at the beginning of Make Way For The Big Show to the rather Roger Water's style vocal at the end of Camazozt, it's all here. I mean what's not to like, it's got a great concept performed extremely well with all round excellent ensemble performances and some great instrumental work from both keyboards and guitar added to the mix.
Add to that that every time I hear this album I hear some new nuance or theme that I'd overlooked before, it really is an excellent and worthy release. I think what I really like is the care and enthusiasm that Shadow Circus have for the material. To take a classic book and condense its themes enough to make a CD that makes sense is rather a challenge to say the least and yet they have succeeded in a very impressive manner indeed.
After the savage and intense instrumental Tesseract comes the rather more gentle Uriel with its galloping melody before the epic Camazozt plays out sounding like something Pink Floyd would produce around the time of The Wall. But don't be led into thinking this is merely a copycat of the classic bands, no, Shadow Circus have crafted their influences and made something very much their own. It is a CD that deserves a wide audience as it is a very worthy release indeed.
The balance between gentle and heavier surging moments, the use of the woman's voice in the background, the melody and harmony that are prevalent throughout all show a quality and depth that rewards the listener. Yes there is much to admire, enjoy and appreciate on this release.
Then, to cap it all, there is the stunning The Battle For Charles Wallace that encompasses everything that is good about Shadow Circus; the inventively heavy yet eminently melodic material, the unrestrained Hammond, the sweeping and epic soundscapes, the fabulous vocals, there is so much going on yet at no time does it sound cluttered or over busy, rather it all sounds sonically fabulous.
So I've waxed lyrical about this album and I can heartily recommend it to anyone. It's a disc that you will listen to again and again and still hear something new every time. It's only January but this has set a pretty high bar for upcoming releases this year, if they are as strong, vibrant and enjoyable as this then 2013 will be a vintage year.
Really, really impressive and really, really enjoyable so no hesitation in giving this 9 out of 10. Give it a spin and see if you concur.
Tracklist:Fallin' (6:09), Letter From A Dead Man (5:48), Follow Your Desires (4:39), Shadow Games (3:30), Just A Dream? (6:11), Searching for... (6:26), When everything Comes To an End (0:58), Renaissance (5:39), Lifend (9:00), ...Light (3:02)
The members of Metaphysics are Davide Gabriele (vocals), Davide Perruzza (guitars), Matteo Raggi (Bass), Marco Aiello (drums), Gabriels (keyboards). The album features Andrea De Paoli (Ladyrinth) as a special guest playing keyboard solos on Fallin', Searching For... and Renaissance.
Metaphysics are an Italian band formed in October 2005 and straight away began to compose original music. In February 2007 they released a self produced demo called Evolution, the song Evolution, Part 1 was included in a compilation disc that came with a well known Italian magazine, Rock Hard, which sold 15,000 copies. In the summer of 2011 recording of Beyond the Nightfall, their first full length album, began with the album produced, recorded, mixed and mastered at the SF Studio. The album was released in July 2012.
Metaphysics are a progressive metal band and on first listen to Beyond The Nightfall I found it to be very good with catchy hooks, melodies and time signature changes. This worried me as I sometimes get bored quickly with albums that I like straight away, due to not being challenging enough, but this worry soon passed as the album just got better and better on each play.
The album starts with Fallin' immediately showing from the start what to expect, great guitars and keyboards sharing an equal amount of importance with good bass and excellent drumming with top vocals and great harmonies throughout. Fallin' is the first of three tracks featuring guest keyboard player Andrea De Paoli, a full on prog track that really rocks, finishing with a nice short keyboard solo that leads into Letter From A Dead Man with powerful guitars and some nice bass work which, strangely, finishes with a short quiet and quirky drum and guitar piece which should sound out of place but for some reason doesn't. Next we have Follow Your Desire which really showcases Gabriele's powerful voice matching the power of the guitars at the start and throughout the track. Shadow Games is another rocking track featuring excellent drumming and wild guitars. Just A Dream? is next starting with gentle acoustic guitars and classical sounding keyboards, a lovely ballad with beautiful harmonies building into a soft rock number. Very catchy and should appeal to all audiences. Next we have one of the highlights of the album, Searching For..., excellent playing and singing by all and really showing the talents of guest keyboard player Andrea De Paoli. After which comes When Everything Comes To An End, a lovely keyboard instrumental of just under one minute which flows into another highlight of the album, the piano driven Renaissance again featuring Andrea on keyboards and some great flashy guitars. Next we have in my opinion the best track on the album, Lifend, coming in at 9 minutes of sheer joy, a track I will never get tired of hearing, not unlike Dream Theater which can't be a bad thing. We finish the album off with another instrumental, ...Light, a really enjoyable and uplifting track giving you the feel good factor and a fitting ending to an excellent album.
Metaphysics clearly have plenty of influences from 90's progressive metal plus 70's and 80's progressive rock which they have used wisely. Beyond The Nightfall is an excellent album sounding like quite a few other progressive metal bands, who play complicated music with changing time signatures, the difference being this is very accessible and should reach more people, especially if you like the music more structured with good melodies and catchy riffs, great lyrics and musicianship. The music is not completely original but this small downfall is made up by top musicianship. I feel that Beyond The Nightfall has set a high bench mark for the band which will be hard to follow, but I for one hope the wait won't be too long. If you like Dream Theater then you should welcome this album with open ears. The band has great talent using electric and acoustic instruments with exciting song writing skills which they show very well on this recording.
I am unable to comment on the booklet, etc. as I have a promo copy but if the booklet is of the same standard as the music it should be very good.
Disc 1: She Said (18:42), This (2:12), Transformation (16:53)
Disc 2: Breath (12:05), Slowdown (3:57), Stand In... (8:27), Rite (5:46), Grace (10:58)
Hailing from Munich, Colour Haze are veterans of the German psychedelic/stoner rock scene. Formed in the mid-Nineties by guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, flanked since 1998 by Manfred Meerwald (drums) and Philip Rasthofer (bass), they released their first full-length CD, Chopping Machine, in 1995, followed by another 9 studio albums, 2 split EPs, a live album and three appearances on compilation albums. Like many bands in this very popular genre, they enjoy a loyal following and have participated in a number of domestic and international festivals (including the 2006 edition of Emissions from the Monolith in Chicago). They are, however, still a relatively unknown quantity to progressive rock fans (even if DPRP has already reviewed their eighth and ninth studio albums, Tempel (2006) and All (2008). Like most of their recent albums, She Said was released on Koglek's own label, Elektrohasch Records.
As on both of the above-mentioned albums, on She Said (a double CD set that, however, runs at a mere 67 minutes - shorter than many modern single-CD releases) the trio is augmented by a number of guest musicians who supplement the basic rock trinity of bass, guitar and drums with a wide range of acoustic and electric instruments, as well as electronic effects. Largely instrumental, the album is an eclectic mix of tracks exceeding the 10-minute mark and shorter ones that, while firmly rooted in over 40 years of psychedelic/space rock tradition, offer enough diversity to keep the listener's attention going. Although the genre itself can be a love-hate affair, with the danger of repetitiveness always lurking - especially when running times get out of hand - Koglek and his bandmates are quite experienced in the game, and know how to balance the almost obligatory lengthy, jam-like pieces with shorter, more approachable offerings. The addition of other instruments also introduces an element of complexity into the fabric of the compositions, lending them a well-rounded quality that goes beyond the often unscripted nature of the genre.
In a rather brave move, She Said opens with the almost 19-minute title-track, the longest on the album, and a clear nod to guitar-based Krautrock bands such as Agitation Free. Starting out slowly, almost tentatively, the song surges gradually, with piano weaving a subdued yet entrancing melody over an almost military drum beat, and gaining momentum with the entrance of guitar and Eastern-flavoured vocals; the solemn, martial pace speeds up towards the end, with guitar reminiscent of early Santana, then the song goes into slo-mo at the very end, with a brief reprise of vocals. The bluesy This, an upbeat piano-guitar interlude with a funny take on the classic Singing In The Rain tacked at the end, introduces the second "epic" of the album, the almost 17-minute Transformation. While in some ways similar to the title-track, the song injects harsher, stoner-like elements in the exhilarating guitar jam of the first half; then mellows out halfway through, and culminates with a near-crescendo to which the horns contribute an almost orchestral quality.
The second CD includes three longer tracks - all around or above the 10-minute mark - and two shorter, vocal-based ones. Breath hinges on the contrast between the melodic, low-pitched voice-guitar interplay of its first part, complemented by discreet piano flurries and chant-like vocals, interspersed by grittier guitar sections that relieve its slightly plodding pace. The Hendrix-ian extravaganza of Slowdown, with its aggressive, almost shouted vocals and rough guitar tone, feels a bit like filler material; on the other hand, Rite, the other shorter song on the CD, is definitely more intriguing in its retro appeal made of catchy Sixties-style harmony vocals blended with hypnotic, Eastern-tinged vibes and supercharged drumming and riffing. Stand In... opens in a deceptively subdued manner, then develops in a stoner-like, guitar-led workout, while in closing track Grace the raw energy and aggression of the electric guitar is contrasted with the gentleness of the acoustic guitar, and enhanced by majestic string arrangements and exotic-sounding hand percussion.
Like most currently active psychedelic/stoner/space rock outfits, Colour Haze are unabashedly retro, and pay homage to the founding fathers of German progressive rock of the late Sixties and early Seventies, as well as to icons such as Jimi Hendrix and early Black Sabbath. However, unlike a lot of equally retro symphonic prog, their music has a timeless quality that lifts it above the status of a mere nostalgia-fest. They are also a very accomplished band with a keen ear for compositional balance, which helps them to avoid that sense of sprawling aimlessness that can often plague this particular musical direction. However, though She Said will undoubtedly be a very appealing proposition for fans of Krautrock, psychedelic/space rock and related subgenres, it falls short of recommended status, as I cannot help feeling that it might have been even better as a single CD package after some judicious editing.
Tracklist:First Difference (3:18), Edge of the Earth (3:40), Ode to the Summer (4:10) Dorothy (4:25) Truth Seeker (3:06) Night Shaped Light (3:38) Promise Me (2:40), Black Wave (2:40), Moving World (4:08), 10. Paradise Lost (8:22)
With a name like Syd Arthur it is perhaps expected that their debut album would hark back to more innocent times when a young person only had to display a vague and often second or third-hand knowledge of anything from the Asian sub-continent to pass muster amongst his or her peers. The wistful and sometimes naive hippy era is recalled not only in the name of this band, but also in the joyously infectious music on this debut album.
Syd Arthur are actually from the legendary Kent city of Canterbury and are not merely influenced by the wonderful prog sub-genre it spawned, but seem to have inherited the same easy vibe that runs through Kevin Ayres, to name but one famous son of the city in question.
Unusually, in 2010 the band got a mention in UK liberal newspaper The Guardian as a 'Band Of The Day', which shows their appeal beyond prog circles, as normally that paper would not knowingly go near a band even loosely associated with the dreaded "prog" scene. I can only assume they picked up on them because the violin player is the nephew of Kate Bush, so, hey, they must be cool, eh?
Displaying a knack for a hummable tune that will also probably be in an obscure time signature recalls inevitable comparisons with bands of yesteryear who hailed from the same neck of the woods; the violin, mandolin and flute lending a nice folksy touch to a sound that particularly recalls Geoffrey Richardson-era Caravan, especially on a track like the instrumental Night Shaped Light.
Effortlessly moving from the funky Ode To Summer to the lazy jazz vibe of Moving World (available for free from the band's website) via the lightly psychedelic love song Dorothy, the Syds show a panache for catchy song-writing that bodes well for the future.
The album closes with mini-epic Paradise Lost, which given its title fittingly enough harks back to the previously mentioned ensemble playing of For Girls... era Caravan cross-fertilised with some Crimson angularity before the song proper kicks in. By far the heaviest and most complex song on the album, it may be a pointer to where this highly promising band is headed.
The sound is very "live", so much so that sometimes the rhythm guitar seems to these ears to be a little too high in the mix. A minor quibble, but it sometimes obscures the other instrumentation that would otherwise lend some more variety to the sound. This seems most apparent with the over-driven guitar on Moving World. However, production grumbles aside this is a highly accomplished debut from a band that I will follow with interest.
Tracklist:The Great Escape (15:37), Hearts On Fire (7:27), Shake The Dust (7:25), Land Of Love (7:15), The Good Shepherd (8:53), Storm Trooper (9:42), For Chosen Ones (15:26)
Jeremy Morris must be one the most prolific composers since Mozart having released over 100 albums and still looking like he has yet to reach a half century in age! Indeed, since the release of the album of this review, From The Dust To The Stars, he has released two further CDs. Not all of his releases fall into the prog sphere; he writes a lot of powerpop material, instrumental albums, religious music, collaborative efforts with Guillermo Cazenave, who also released a few albums with Ant Phillips several years ago, and like Phillip's own Private Parts And Pieces issues, albums focusing on solo piano and guitar. However, this release falls within the realms of progressive rock and although Morris handles most of the instruments (guitars, bass, Mellotron, synths, piano, dulcimer, drums etc.) and all of the vocals he does have some assistance, mainly in the drum department with Dave Dietrich hitting the skins on six of the tracks and brother Peter Morris taking charge of the kit on the remaining number. The aforementioned Cazenave adds additional keyboards to Shake The Dust. In order to prevent confusion with his powerpop releases each of the songs are somewhat lengthier, the shortest being seven and one quarter minutes, the longest, which top and tail the CD, both extending to fifteen and a half minutes. Of course, length is no marker of quality, so what is the music actually like?
Well the long and the short of it is, rather good. But that doesn't make an informative review, particularly of an artist that despite his productivity remains almost totally unknown outside of the U.S.. One can recognise several influences coming to the fore in The Great Escape although Morris combines them all to create a sound that is quite his own, tasteful echoing guitars over layers of synths and a relatively uncomplicated but prominent bass line providing an interesting back drop. The drumming is rather rudimentary but provides a driving beat that keeps the song going. Morris is not as skilled a vocalist as he is multi-instrumentalist although that is not a criticism per se, the singing is in tune and it has to be said suits the number. There is a slight Hawkwind prominence in places, particularly in the first instrumental break, ended by a nice transition in tempo and introduction of acoustic guitar, with the bass coming to the fore and a rather fine heavily textured electric guitar solo. A very promising start with a long-form composition detailing that Morris is very adept at structuring a song and doesn't just pad out pieces to fill out the playing time.
Throughout the album there are some very good instrumental passages and plenty of musical ideas but it is in the lyric department that Morris has limitations. Over reliance on repetition of simple lines leaves one thinking that less time has been spent on coming up with a decent narrative to tell an engaging tale than on exploring the musical accompaniment. I suppose this simplistic style is appropriate for the largely simplistic religious themes, although these are not as overt and in your face as one would find on a Neal Morse album for instance; a statement of faith as opposed to a full-on sermon. Musically, there is a quite a variety within a common stylistic avenue. Morris is an accomplished guitarist and bass player and also knows his way around his collection of synthesisers; his soloing is never indulgent but always considered and to the point. Land Of Love is the only instrumental number and perhaps relies too heavily on synths but the overall result is quite contemporary, although this is one of the few songs where the running time could have been cut by shortening the synthesiser created sitar-style drone section. Nice Beatles-influenced close though. Good Shepherd is a rather slower and more acoustic number which focuses the attention on the rather mundane drumming and, quite frankly, lines that would embarrass even the most mediocre sixth form poet: "Your love is bigger than everything, your love is stronger than hate, your love is totally everything, your love is truly great". Heartfelt I'm sure but Wordsworth it ain't.
Storm Trooper (or 'Storm Trouper' as it is spelt throughout the lyrics) features Peter Morris on drums who provides a more inventive back beat and rhythm. Additionally the music is some of the most engaging on the album with a variety of different sounds (including Mellotron!) and tempos. I like this one quite a bit, sort of like several different eras and line-ups of Hawkwind playing simultaneously! Ending as we began with the other 15-minute number, For Chosen Ones, initially has a more Pink Floyd vibe to it, but this is relatively short lasting and just provides the atmosphere and structural introduction to the song. The number is well thought out and constructed with hints of Ant Phillips, particularly in the acoustic guitar, and I would have been happy if this had been instrumental throughout as the vocals don't really add anything, in fact detracting from some rather excellent playing (plus the lyrics are again quite poor with religion again being the main topic, which may not sit so comfortably with more European tastes).
In summary, Morris has managed to maintain a pretty high standard in his compositions with the songs generally providing a mature and thoughtful level of musicality with some strong playing throughout. My main quibbles were with the drumming, which is of a much lower technical standard to the rest of the instrumentation, and the awful lyrics, even taking into account that I have no interest in religion, the words were still somewhat childish. Shame as Morris is otherwise a very talented chap. Although I can't claim to have heard even a fraction of his considerable output, I do have a dozen or so of his other albums, mostly of the powerpop variety but a few prog-based releases. From Dust To The Stars holds up to the standard of those and, notwithstanding the limitations mentioned above, is a decent enough release.
Track list:City Of Dreams (1:05), Piledriver (1:32), King Of The Mountains (2:56), Coral Island (2:38), Astral Bath (3:55), City Of Dreams II (1:53), Air & Grace (1:46), Tuscan Wedding (3:14), Mystery Train I (1:38), Sunset Pools (1:35), Sea & Sardinia (1:18), Watching While You Sleep (2:32), Night Owl (1:10), The Deep (2:11), City Of Dreams III (0:57), Mystery Train II (1:13), Star's End (1:20), Doom Flower (3:08), Night Train To Novrogod (1:24), Sea Of Tranquility (1:25), 39 Steps (0:57), Lake Of Fire (0:44), Realms Of Gold (2:11), City Of Dreams IV (0:58), Days Of Yore (1:01), Across The Steppes (2:16), Act Of Faith (1:05), Grand Master (1:25), Mystery Train III (0:38), Anthem For Doomed Youth (3:32), The Homecoming (3:07)
A founding member since the bands formation at Charterhouse school in 1967, Anthony Phillips left Genesis in 1970 following the release of their second album, Trespass. His departure was prompted by a combination of stage nerves, disillusionment with the band collective and personality clashes. He took up musical theory and composing at the Guildford School of Music where he received a teaching degree and the self-confidence to expand his guitar playing abilities to encompass keyboards, bass, drums, even vocals. Six years had elapsed since he parted company with Genesis and Ant set about making up for lost time with the release of his debut album, The Geese And The Ghost, in 1977. The 'official' releases that followed were supplemented by a series of budget priced and mostly solo instrumental albums headed by 1978's appropriately titled Private Parts & Pieces.
This didn't appear in the U.K. until April the following year when it was issued free with the first 5,000 copies of Ant's third album Sides. Both these and all of Ant's early albums still sit proudly in my vinyl collection. Now in its 35th year (easily the longest running collection in prog history), City Of Dreams is the eleventh release in the Private Parts & Pieces series. It pulls together a total of 31 tracks of new music written, performed and produced by Ant. The minimalist CD booklet gives no information on the instruments used but there is a noticeable absence of the acoustic and 12-string guitars for which Ant is renowned. This is for the most part dreamy, ambient keyboard soundscapes where titles like Sunset Pools and Sea & Sardinia give a fair indication of what to expect. The reoccurring title track City Of Dreams and the similarly sounding (and also reoccurring) Mystery Train do perhaps vary this formula with an incessant, swirling keyboard pattern.
Also something of an anomaly when compared with the other tracks is Piledriver, driven by a pounding keyboard rhythm. It's followed by the lush expanse of King Of The Mountains which features a memorable lead guitar solo (a rarity here). This is one of the albums most fully realised tracks and it's a pity when it fades. At three minutes 55 seconds, the hypnotic Astral Bath is the album's longest track and it's a beautiful piece, as is the piano lament Air & Grace. Tuscan Wedding has a haunting simplicity whilst the evocatively titled Watching While You Sleep delights with its appealing melody.
The ethereal Realms Of Gold would not sound out of place on the soundtrack of a fantasy/sci-fi movie whilst the lovely and all too short piano solo Act Of Faith has a more introspective atmosphere. Also sounding cinematic is the heavenly female voices and stark piano of the emotively titled Anthem For Doomed Youth bringing Hollywood composer Thomas Newman to mind. Ant has saved one of the best tracks till last with the exquisite The Homecoming which is all tinkling percussion and symphonic keys. The title track has the final word however making one final, unscheduled appearance to play out.
City Of Dreams could all too easily be dismissed as chill-out background music, but like all of Ant's work it does have its merits. Many tracks have their own individuality whilst others come and go all too quickly without leaving any lasting impression. If you are new to the music of Anthony Phillips and melodic, old school, symphonic prog floats your boat, personally I would start at the beginning with The Geese And The Ghost and go from there, I guarantee you won't be disappointed. Whilst the early albums invite comparisons with his former band, with the arrival of Wise After The Event in 1978 he was surpassing anything that the (post-Steve Hackett) Genesis were putting out during the same period.