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2013 : VOLUME 43
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:



Vitriol - Into the Silence I Sink
Vitriol - Into the Silence I Sink
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Melodic Revolution Records
Catalogue #:MRRCD22014
Year of Release:2012
Time:61:38
Info:Vitriol
Samples:Click here
Tracklist: Behind The Electric Veil (7:09), Slowly She Dies (6:29), Arabesque (6:03), Sinking (2:16), The Frozen Wind (4:45), Endless Spiral (9:42), Despite Your Cries (5:37), Oceans (7:25), The Continuous Struggle (2:47), Three Times (9:21)

Vitriol from Bologna, Italy was formed by Francesco Lombarbo (bass, vocals) and Michele Panepinto (drums, vocals) in 2007 with Gianlucca Pappalardo (lead vocals), Alessandro Sanfilippo (guitars) and Piero Carvello (keyboards, vocals) joining not long afterwards. In 2010 Tommaso Semroy (guitars) joined making the band a sextet.

The word 'vitriol' can mean two things; either a highly corrosive acid with a sour taste that turns litmus paper red or abusive, venomous language used to express blame or bitter deep-seated ill will. This really fits well with the band's music - aggressive and highly charged, expressive, bittersweet and full of substance which eats away at your soul leaving you hanging in a balance between aggression and self blame, making you want to look for your inner self for what is maybe the truth. On the inner case of the disc it states "Vista Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultam Lapidem" ('Enter the bowels of the earth and through your purification you will find the hidden stone') reinforcing the idea that to find the inner truth you need to look inside yourself.

A concept album with a theme of silence and the cause and effect of an absence of communication, Into the Silence I Sink is the band's first full length album having previously released a self-titled EP which got some good reviews including 'Best Demo of the Month' in Metal Manic (one of the most important metal magazines in Italy). This led to the band catching the attention of the American label Melodic Revolution Records who added them to their roster in 2010. The album was recorded, mixed and mastered at Fear Studio in Ravenna and the band’s own studio in Bologna and was released in November 2012.

From the moment the album starts with Behind the Electric Veil I get a feeling this is going to be an album I will like, starting with the repeated line "The silence I can feel is killing me". All goes quiet 24 seconds and 60 seconds into the song, restarting again straight away, perfect for the theme of silence with whispered vocals mixed with full-on and gentle vocals full of emotion. The track has it all; metal, prog, guitar solos, musical bass, fine keyboards and drums with plenty of drama and ends with the line "I can't communicate anymore" which gradually breaks up as we move into Slowly She Dies which starts heavy and moves into slower progressive parts driven by a mixture of whispered, soft and powerful vocals reminding me at times of Pain Of Salvation and Threshold. The track also features a nice guitar solo and pleasant keys.

Arabesque is mainly keyboards and gentle vocals but builds into a really catchy progressive number with a beautiful melody and sing-along chorus reminding me of Gazpacho in parts. Next is Sinking, a short track with sound effects and distant vocals, sounds of a wind storm can be heard ending with a nice sounding bass which flows nicely into the next explosive track The Frozen Wind which is straight forward progressive metal with rip-roaring guitar riffs, pulsatingly powerful bass and a vocal sung with real venom and anger whilst being soulful in parts. Sounds of Metallica and Opeth ring out on this track.

One of my favourite tracks is Endless Spiral, the longest and darkest track on the album, with punchy progressive guitar riffs and interesting, catchy drumming. The pace changes frequently getting quite atmospheric in parts before building back up. This time the vocals really shine, full of pain and looking for an escape with lyrics such as:-

I can't establish a deep relationship anymore.
It's not the solitude that scares me.
I'm really afraid of losing my soul
And of losing the shivers that I feel on my skin.

The gravelly vocals of Despite The Cries remind me of Metallica again with nice harmonies and whispered parts all in the mix. It also features some lovely female vocals from Alessia Scaringi, lots of guitar with great keyboards and I love the drumming on this which drives things along with style. Oceans is another favourite with lots of twist and turns from the powerful instrumentation. Sounds of Tool can be heard and, as with previous tracks, the vocals and harmonies are just wonderful, perfectly suited to the music. You should be seeing by now that I am really enjoying this album.

The Continuous Struggle is a short instrumental that really gives an impression of struggling with silence, lovely guitars and sounds of static with plenty of atmosphere which flows into the last track on the album, Three Times, which takes the 'Silence' theme to a new level - the silence between you and God. Emotion pours out on this one with top playing that in parts reminds of early Rush and Dream Theater, finishing with the lines:-

Into the Silence
Alone I sink.
It is finished

I picked a couple of favourite tracks but to be honest they are all excellent and I really enjoyed listening to the album from start to finish; this will be an album that I will return to on a regular basis. The booklet is excellent and fits nicely with theme and includes all the lyrics which are very good, all sung with such emotion. Top musicians and great music making for an excellent progressive metal album. I can't fault the sound in any way, it's well recorded and mixed, and I look forward to what follows this album. I hope that it won't be too long before they come to the U.K. as they have become a must see band for me.

The best advice I can give is if you like modern progressive metal, buy it now.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

TONY BIRD


Sanguine Hum - The Weight Of The World
Sanguine Hum - The Weight Of The World
Country of Origin:U.K.
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Antenna
Catalogue #:EANTCD1014
Year of Release:2013
Time:45:55
Info:Sanguine Hum
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: From The Ground Up (5:34), System for Solution (8:02), In Code (4:35), Cognoscenti (3:57), Day Of Release (5:51), Phosphor (3:04), The Weight of the World (14:52)

Sanguine Hum came out of the Joff Winks Band and the catchily named Antique Seeking Nuns, who dabbled in Zappaesque/Canterbury Sound instrumentals, Robert Wyatt being cited as one of their songwriting influences. Their first album, Diving Bell, was originally released in 2011 in limited quantities on the Troopers For Sound website and created something of a stir with its heady mix of instrumentally-led compositions.

The Weight Of the World continues along that same musical trajectory, delivering an album with an understated mesmeric quality which draws you in and dances around your neural circuits. It is almost as though they are playing very intelligent, sophisticated musical mind games with the listener.

Everything about this album is measured and considered in that all seven tracks inhabit a common space without ever running away with themselves. No note within them is wasted and the discipline applied to creating each of them is laudable.

Matt Baber (keyboards), Joff Winks (guitar and vocals) and Brad Waissman (bass) who have been playing together some considerable time, have now been joined by drummer Andrew Booker. Each of them steps up to the plate to deliver technically faultless parts within this well-oiled prog machine.

Winks' voice is a well modulated instrument in itself, putting me in mind of Green Gartside of Scritti Politti with its upper pitched clarity. It never dominates or is over-used so becomes an integral part of the instrumentation rather than a separate feature as can so often happen on prog albums.

It comes into its own on the gentle, piano-led Phosphor, a gentle and beautifully crafted song, full of melody and atmosphere.

The title track is a journey through sonic light and shade, acoustic guitars informing the melody one minute, Baber's xylophone keyboards shining through the next, before it slips into a higher gear with all four of them working together seemingly telepathically, stitching together dozens of tiny musical vignettes of dense texture, jazzy one minute, space-like another and outright proggy the next. It is clever, absorbing and stylishly done.

Opener From The Ground Up again encapsulates their ability to weave sonic tapestries of great intricacy and power, Booker really coming to the fore with some stunning stickwork that provides a solid foundation for the guitar/keyboard intertwining.

This morphs almost seamlessly into the rockier System For Solution through which comes a huge nod to Porcupine Tree and a stunning guitar solo from Winks. The thought of Steven Wilson producing a future album of theirs is an intriguing one as they share many common sensibilities. In fact, I could almost hear shades of The Pin Drop from Wilson's latest masterpiece, The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) in here.

Getting back to their instrumental roots, In Code loops and flows along with such seeming ease, full huge keyboards-led jazzy overtones and a big sometimes staccato bassline from Waissman. Cognoscenti has a distinct xylophone vibe to it offset with a fuzzy guitar and understated melody which suddenly bursts into life, Baber's dominant keyboards fanning the flames further.

A metronomic beat and insistent electro motif power Day Of Release before it opens up and takes flight before paring back near the end with a softer backbeat and tinkling keyboards.

Sanguine Hum have certainly staked their claim as one of prog's emergent new talents with this stunning album which, on consecutive plays, will continue to surprise and delight with its many layers of shimmering texture and mannered moods.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

ALISON HENDERSON


Blacklands - A New Dawn
Blacklands - A New Dawn
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:Blacklands Music
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2013
Time:78:04
Info:Blacklands
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Cold Embrace (7:04), Dance of The Witches (4:49), A New Dawn (6:11), Ocean Of Tears (5:02), Remember Your Time (6:12), I Can Hear Your Heart (7:59), Floating Pictures (4:24), Love Will Never Die (5:15), Take (4:59), Memories (6:57), Power Play (15:18), The Meaning (3:52)

A New Dawn is the excellent debut CD from German band Blacklands, consisting of a female lead vocalist backed by guitar, keyboards, bass, and drums with guests appearing on a few tunes. The music best fits into the progressive-metal category and the influence of Dream Theater is clear, although there's a healthy dose of straight-forward rock and several softer ballads. Prominent throughout are the rich vocals of Moja Nardelli, though the aggressive, satisfying guitar playing of Michael Stockschlager also propels many of the tunes. Several of the lyricists to whom song-writing credit is given seem to be members of the proverbial lonely heart's club: love, tears, and memories make appearances throughout.

The vocals are front and centre on most tunes. Nardelli's vocal style - dramatic and bold - may be an acquired taste for some listeners, but her broad range and confidence are immediately impressive and are well demonstrated on the superb song Take. Moreover, there's arguably too much of her: throughout the CD, she sings and sings and sings, and, beyond that, the vocals are sometimes a bit dominant in the mix although, overall, the production values are high.

I quickly came to appreciate her vocals, though, so her omnipresence was not off-putting to me. But a weak vocal link is found on the closing tune, The Meaning, a mellow ballad on which the singing (by Stockschlager rather than Nardelli), although perfectly credible, does not seem quite up to the difficult demands of the tune.

The strength of the songwriting is evident: the songs are focused and well crafted. Although some of the music is dark (for example, the screechy male vocals tone on the title track), sweet and even catchy melodies are laced throughout. Indeed, the recurring theme in Floating Pictures, a tune that is almost poppy in parts, has become an earworm. The melodies of the ballads - I Can Hear Your Heart, Love Will Never Die and The Meaning - grip and maintain the listener's attention, and Nardelli's vocal inflections on these tunes can be haunting. Remember Your Time combines both worlds, although not fully successfully: it's often sunny, but the devious interludes are jarring. Although, like any good progressive-rock enthusiast, I relish a good "epic", the longest piece here - the fifteen-minute Power Play - is not among my favourites: the tone of the vocals (which can be a tad off key) and the rapid-fire drumming are too metallic for my taste, and the ending is somewhat abrupt. But the David Gilmour-like guitar solo and the later conversation between the guitar and electric keyboards on this song are among the CD's highlights.

Notably, the band maintains an excellent web site. The detailed band-member biographies include a list of each member's musical influences and favorite musicians, which provides insight into and context for the music on the CD.

A New Dawn, packed with well over an hour of high-quality music, shows no sign of leaving my playlist anytime soon. With their debut, this band has not merely displayed its potential - it has produced a CD highly worthy of the here and now.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

JOEL ATLAS


Tangerine Dream & Brian May - Starmus: Sonic Universe
Tangerine Dream & Brian May - Starmus: Sonic Universe
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:Eastgate
Catalogue #:Eastgate 016CD
Year of Release:2013
Time:144:18
Info:Tangerine Dream
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist:
CD 1 - Supernova (10:39), Last Horizon (5:58), Marmontel Riding on a Clef (8:12), Trauma (9:31), Nothing and All (2:12), Nutshell Awakening (7:18), Shining Ray (5:34), Beauty of Magic Antagonism (6:25), Novice (5:06), One Night in Space (7:32)
CD 2 - Calymba Caly (3:42), Omniscience (5:31), Janus Parade (8:03), Loved by the Sun (3:28), Fire on the Mountain (7:32), Darkness Veiling the Night (8:54), Living in Eternity (4:04), Bells of Accra (9:59), Sally's Garden (4:39), We Will Rock You (12:47), Tenderness (Russian song – Iris Camaa) (3:53), Spoken Outro / Speech (2:54)

Line-up:-

Edgar Froese - Keyboards
Linda Spa - Sax, Flute and Keyboards
Iris Camaa - V Drums and Percussion
Thorsten Quaeschning - Keyboards
Bernhard Biebl - Electric Guitar
Hoshiko Yamane - Electric and Acoustic Violin
Brian May - Guitar and Vocals

Tangerine Dream have been around for nearly 47 years in one incarnation or another yet a few things have remained consistent throughout; firstly there is the presence of Edgar Froese the foundering father of TD and the only original member remaining through TD's myriad of ever changing line-ups, the other constant factor being their unwillingness to simply stand still musically. Instead TD continue to actively seek and embrace change and to respond musically to such stimuli.

All of which makes for a colourful heritage they possess from the classic "Pink Years" of the Atem and Alpha Centuri albums through their most commercially successful years with Virgin and the ground-breaking albums Phaedra, Rubycon and Stratosphear (to name but three) and their latter years at Jive Electro (the "Blue Years"), Private Music and ultimately to their own Eastgate label.

They have released countless albums and many compilations of varying quality over the years yet no one can dispute the tremendous influence they have wielded on electronic and progressive rock music during this time and still they continue to produce new music and innovate along the way.

At each stage of their history there has been something new and this latest instalment is certainly different consisting as it does of a recording of a special concert that was held at the Starmus festival in Tenerife in June 2011 that commemorated the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's first spaceflight. This momentous and significant event was attended by spacemen Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Alexei Leonow and Jim lovell amongst others. All in all a very special event indeed.

Tangerine Dream certainly rose to the occasion for this show bringing in legendary Queen guitarist Brian May to play on 4 songs, and with Brian being an astronomer himself a further dignity is added to the proceeding captured herein. All of which is fine but essentially the sole question is simply this: is the music any good?

Well the answer is a resounding 'YES' and there is rather a lot of it too. Some of it is old having appeared on the last few TD releases (four tracks from Gates of Saturn and three from Zeitgeist and one from the Froese/Schmoelling and Franke era) but the rest is new to this release.

Disc one opens very powerfully with a piece called Supernova which features the real sound of acoustic pressure waves captured from stars in the galaxy to which Tangerine Dream and Brian May have set a soaring melody. It's a piece that accentuates and articulates very succinctly what the modern day incarnation of Tangerine Dream sound like and yet it still retains much of their trademark sound and charm, the added fire and timbre of Brian May's guitar adding significantly to the piece as well.

With their music being almost totally instrumental it is the textures and tones that give their pieces gravitas and weight. Supernova is a highly fitting opening statement of intent and is quickly followed by Brian May's Last Horizon from his own Back to the Light album released in 1992 which seems to gel very well with Supernova creating an almost 17 minute piece of sonic pleasure. It is a joy to hear these songs performed by such a great band firing on all cylinders.

At this point in the proceedings Brian exits stage left, as it were, to return later for Sally's Garden and We Will Rock You (the old Queen favourite) but during the next 110 minutes or so it is solely Tangerine Dream providing the musical focus and this doesn't disappoint either. Seldom have I heard Tangerine Dream so focused, energized and engaged in a performance and with a full band the sound covers a much wider spread of sounds as saxes, flute, violin and electric guitar weave their own particular magic on this stirring set of pieces.

Strewn with a balance of older and new material and a selection of longer and more concise pieces this is a very different Tangerine Dream to that which made their U.K. debut all those years ago in the semi-darkness of Coventry Cathedral surrounded by huge banks of modular analogue keyboards and synthesisers. Today's Tangerine Dream are visual as well as sonic and there is a sense of celebration on display here. Obviously delighted to be a part of such a unique event they rise to the occasion with some stunning passages. Edgar's English may be broken and slow but the music that flows is at turns ethereal, tranquil, urgent, pulsating and melodious often within the same piece.

Quite frankly this stands head and shoulders above some of the recent TD output which can be unfocused and mundane yet here this set seems enlivened by the spirit of the event which it is honouring, inspired even and it shows in the energy level coming from the musicians on stage and the passion and fire with which the music is played.

Comment on each of the tracks would be superfluous and the album is best consumed disc by disc otherwise you're in for a long night, not always a bad thing though.

So to the last two tracks. Sally's Garden is an Irish jig with a very Celtic air again graced by Brian May's delicate yet unique guitar playing which adds a real beauty to the song and We Will Rock You which needs little introduction. On this version Brian and TD have extended the opening and middle sections and kept the rest reasonably true to the original News of the World album Queen version rather than the faster version from Brian May at Brixton. To these ears the drums sound a tad too pedestrian but there is no issue with the guitar work and the extended new coda section that has been worked into the piece. It's not a definitive version but it is a whole lot of fun and that's what it's all about anyway and it is a fitting finale to the proceedings.

So there you have it, another Tangerine Dream live CD albeit with a sense of occasion behind it, a legendary guest guitarist on four tracks (about 35 minutes of the 141 minutes run time) and some very energized and spirited performances which, for me, will do very nicely indeed thank you very much.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

JOHN WENLOCK-SMITH


Mastercastle - On Fire
Mastercastle - On Fire
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Lion Music
Catalogue #:LMC337
Year of Release:2013
Time:39:03
Info:Mastercastle
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Silver Eyes (4:10), Chains (4:55), Platinum (4:20), Quicksilver (3:30), Gold Violet (4:46), The Final Battle (4:17), Leaden Roads (4:40), Titanium Wings (4:13), Almost A Fantasy (3:59)

On Fire, album number four, sees Mastercastle brimming with confidence and continuing where Dangerous Diamonds left off, although in my eyes Dangerous Diamonds is a stronger album. The main difference for me is whereas Dangerous Diamonds was more power metal orientated On Fire's foundation lies more squarely in the realms of melodic heavy metal although in places it does offer some neo-classical approaches. As an album, it is full of melodic and anthemic tones which are synonymous with Mastercastle's previous work.

This time out we see one change in the band's line-up, John Macaluso (Ark, TNT, Yngwie J. Malmsteen to name but a few) being drafted in to replace Alesandro Bissa on drums. Mainstays Giorgia Gueglio (vocals), Pier Gonella (guitar) and Steve Vawamas (bass) complete the line-up.

There are two covers presented in the shape of German composer Chris Hülsbeck's The Final Battle and Ludwig Van Beethoven's famous piano piece Moonlight Sonata re-interpreted as Almost A Fantasy, both tracks being instrumentals. The Final Battle sees Pier Gonella showcasing his guitar dexterity, surely a star in the making, propped up by a very solid backline, not that he needs to be as the album is full of some very inventive and exciting guitar work. Almost A Fantasy is another shred fest displaying Pier's guitar prowess that oozes class.

Giorgia Gueglio vocals continue to be outstanding; powerful with a hint of aggression, her vocal gymnastics are perfect for the songs allowing them to display suffering, emotion and depth. It is important to remember though that even with this being the case there still needs to be quality in the songwriting process and that has not been lost here. All the songs have catchy hooks and are anthemic in approach. Very good examples of this are the opening duo of Silver Eyes and Chains, the latter having a great video (see above) that will give you a flavour of what this band is about. These are songs full of great musical interactions, hard and chugging tones linked by some rather excellent lead breaks and solid bass lines, a theme that is prevalent throughout. This wouldn't be a Mastercastle album without a power ballad, this time in the shape of Gold Violet but without the pomp of say Lovin' Me from their previous release.

Quicksilver offers rapidity allowing John Macaluso an opportunity to demonstrate his stickmanship as he duels with Pier. It is songs like this - Leaden Roads, Silver Eyes, Platinum (another power ballad) and the aforementioned Golden Violet - where the band hit their stride, making this album what it is.

As I've said before, nobody does this style as well as the Italians and if you are familiar with the Lion Music Label then you know what to expect; if you enjoy bands like LoreWeaveR and Lunocode, bands that are female fronted and rock, then Mastercastle are going to be right up your street.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

JOHN O'BOYLE


Kharmina Buranna - Seres Humanos
Kharmina Buranna - Seres Humanos
Country of Origin:Peru
Format:CD
Record Label:Azafrán Media
Catalogue #:AP-1210
Year of Release:2012
Time:52:52
Info:Kharmina Buranna
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Pasta Mental (6:51), Seres Humanos (10:19), Sublime Muerte (4:38), 10:27 (5:55), Odisea (8:18), Lenguas de Trapo (16:55)

Kharmina Buranna - a Peruvian band that has me scratching my head. For starters, what does their name mean? It looks suspiciously close to Carmina Burana, the classical piece by Carl Orff. Maybe they are classically inspired? Yet the band's biography suggests that they began as a blues-rock band in 1996. Semantics aside, the music is incredibly peculiar, so allow me to put on my horn-rimmed glasses as I investigate.

The title of the opener, Pasta Mental, would suggest a frantic, chaotic and possibly jazz-inflected opener, would it not? Untrue to its name, this piece begins with a plodding fanfare, a formal introduction to the album. Things begin to get good in the third minute, with the band cosily and unashamedly categorising themselves in the sympho-prog realm.

The title track has a similar slow beginning, but in the fourth minute, we are introduced to the band's female singer, Luciana Dertreano. Singing in her native Spanish, she has a beautiful voice but is tragically underused on this mainly instrumental album, only appearing here and in the final track. The band wait until halfway through the track to add any sort of pace to the piece, and things only get interesting towards the end. Listening to this track is like eating a cake which has sunk in the middle.

The next two tracks follow the same pattern as the first two; a slow start only to get 'epic' at the end. The band neglect to bring any Peruvian influences to the table, shooting themselves in the foot a bit, as this is perhaps their unique selling point (you can tell I've been watching too much of The Apprentice). Nevertheless, 10:27 shows the band having a bit of fun around a very joyous theme.

However, the eight-minute Odisea brings the mood right back down. No slow start, this time we are launched into a melancholy and rather foreboding opening. However, bang on the two minute mark, things take a change for the worse. The attention shifts to Daniel López Gutiérrez on the keys as he plays the same slowly repeated notes over and over. I assume this was meant to be dramatic, but it comes across as incredibly amateurish; I could play better keys than that! After a while, the rest of the band join in, going just as slowly as Gutiérrez. The track doesn't seem to go anywhere and stays in this monotonous loop. This isn't plodding, it's crawling! Why won't it end? It's all too slow! During the onslaught of painful sloth, I begin to realise that the boys in the band aren't actually that good at their instruments. I've never criticised this aspect of a band before, but they simply don't seem to have the virtuosity that progressive rock requires. If you asked this band to play a bit of Yes or King Crimson, I imagine they'd have a hard time.

Last but, after the previous track, certainly not least, comes the band's showcase tune Lenguas de Trapo. Beginning with a bizarre bass piece, the track eventually builds up to a magnificent triumphant intro, with some of the feel of Peter Banks' Flash. Unfortunately, this build up leads nowhere, as the band run out of steam after the theme has ended. The rest of the track is not very cohesive; we have patches of singing intertwined with awkward proggy bits, and a desperate lack of recurring themes. That triumphant intro never resurfaces. Some good ideas, just not executed very well.

That last sentence can be extended to describe the whole album really. Despite showing a lot of enthusiasm, Kharmina Buranna simply seem to lack the chops or the songwriting ability to make it big and impress me. The only unique aspect of the band is their nationality, but they don't make good on this whatsoever. Kharmina Buranna, you're fired!

Conclusion: 4.5 out of 10

BASIL FRANCIS


IfSounds - Red Apple
IfSounds - Red Apple
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Melodic Revolution Records
Catalogue #:MRRCD22010
Year of Release:2012
Time:61:45
Info:IfSounds
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Another Dawn (2:22), Red Apple (5:55), Web Tube Stars (3:50), Messages from the Stars (4:53), After (7:16), They are Almost Here (6:26), New World Order (5:24), Red Sun Tonight (6:51), Space Refugees (5:52), The Crossing (5:10), Christmas 2012 (7:39)

Italian band Ifsounds has followed its 2010 CD, Apeirophobia, with this concept album, Red Apple, inspired by a book of the same name ("Mela Rossa") written by band member Dario Lastella. Pre-2010 releases by the group, then known as "If", received moderately positive reviews on DPRP. On Red Apple the CD, Lastella, the lead guitarist for the group, wrote the lyrics and much of the music. The story, recounted in the CD's liner notes, relates among other things a series of odd, mostly weather-related events throughout the world that were originally announced to be caused by invading aliens, as well as indications that a "New World Order" has resulted in myriad deaths at the hands of government forces. The actual song lyrics are similarly difficult to comprehend. Indeed, the bizarre, cryptic nature of the tale makes the trippy story underlying Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway seem like something from a children's book.

Unfortunately, the music is almost equally impenetrable. It would be fair to characterize the music - loosely - as symphonic progressive, but the CD lacks a clearly discernible structure. The tempos and tones shift abruptly and seemingly without cause (perhaps in an effort to track the underlying story), and regularly undermining the endeavour is a narrator, seemingly a radio host, who unpredictably interjects spoken comments and, in so doing, mutes any musical momentum.

As with the typical concept album, the tunes largely flow into each other, but a breakdown of the tunes is still possible. Another Dawn, the introduction, is in parts fairly auspicious: the musical portion is bold and grand, along the lines of classic 1970's prog-rock. But the listener's hope fades quickly with the title track, Red Apple: despite some tasty guitar licks and smooth synthesizer runs, the female vocals lack depth of tone and are grating, the drumming is wooden, and the song seems to lack direction. Web Tube Stars shifts gear to present a pounding, repetitive rhythm and interplaying male and female vocals that become too rough-edged. Despite a decent, aggressive organ solo, the song mostly sounds like 1980's pop. Much of the subsequent tune, Message from the Stars, sounds like a tuning session. Perhaps it's intended as an interlude, but it doesn't seem to fulfil any obvious function. The next piece, After, sounds like a cross between Pink Floyd and Phideaux. It's a respectable tune, but, near its conclusion, it's dragged down by a jazzy saxophone solo that doesn't fit well with the progressive tone of the tune.

The next song, They are Almost Here, also starts off well - the brief introduction is spacey and heady - but the female vocalist soon makes an unwelcome return and, ultimately, her shrill voice, coupled with pounding drums, makes the fast-forward button quite tempting. On New World Order, a male voiceover shares the space with what again sounds like instruments tuning; later, a grinding keyboard offers some musical relief. Red Sun Tonight is a solid, mostly peaceful tune with a pleasant melody and even an arguable hook. Space Refugees is also one of the better pieces: it begins with two and half minutes of progressive music punctuated by impressive, soaring guitar lines, but it too deteriorates suddenly when the instruments are again interrupted by the off-putting female vocals (this time accompanied by what sounds like a male choir). The next song, The Crossing, is a well-presented solo keyboard piece - a mellow song, a la the Windham Hill label - but near the finish it's slightly marred by the surprise sounds of a rain storm. The final piece, Christmas 2012, includes some crafty harmonies that, thankfully, detract attention from the lead female vocals.

To be sure, creating any progressive-rock concept album is an ambitious project. The successful ones attract listeners with a compelling story, appealing melodies, identifiable and appealing themes, and notably strong musicianship. Regrettably, despite some good moments, this CD mostly lacks those elements. Perhaps the book is better.

Conclusion: 4 out of 10

JOEL ATLAS


Big (drum&bass) - Apokálupsis
Big (drum&bass) - Apokálupsis
Country of Origin:France
Format:CD
Record Label:Musea/Gazul
Catalogue #:GA 8861
Year of Release:2013
Time:50:31
Info:n/a
Samples:n/a
Tracklist: Old Ocean (10:52), Häxa (4:48), Liwjatan (7:07), Lukanthropia (3:31), Erzulie (4:46), Ki-Sikill Lil-Là (7:50), Sjöfn (3:47), Riding A Dead Horse (7:50)

Firstly, don't let the words "drum&bass" put you off! No, this is drum and bass in its most literal meaning. Frenchmen Frederick Galiay - artist, poet, photographer and an improvisational bass player of note - and drummer Edward Perraud of RIO noiseniks Shub-Niggurath combine on Apokálupsis to create a deeply disturbing avant cacophony that pushes the boundaries of soundscape creation so far, that some might call it merely "noise".

To be honest this is not the sort of thing I would play with any regularity, but it is certainly interesting from an academic point of view. Using just the two instruments, and rarely in a combination where a melody might be detected, makes this hard work for even the most dedicated lover of the odd.

However, the temptation to descend down into aural chaos is sometimes avoided, and a track like Lukanthropia uses space rather than noise to create an atmosphere of foreboding. This restrained interlude is countered by the angry over-driven and effects-laden bass of the following track Erzulie, which could be the soundtrack to HAL's nightmare, Edward's drums clattering away, sometimes in the background, sometimes in the foreground. Suddenly the bass explodes in an angry buzzing fury that takes no prisoners. It will rattle your fillings.

I was drawn to this by the opening track, Old Ocean, which had some structure, but with its slow menacing cymbal beat and building dark psychedelic atmospherics that develop into an insistent pounding and downbeat Zeuhl-like march, it proved to be the most accessible thing here.

Ki-Sikill Lil-Là also has some structure and at one point almost gets into toe-tapping territory. Of course, it does not last and we are soon off on a trip accompanied by a symphony of petrol strimmers on Sjöfn. Watch those toes! Ending with Riding A Dead Horse which is built around a looped series of distorted notes and Frederick's grungy bass figure, pinned down by Edward's heavy drumming, the album closes in a more regular although still way-out-there fashion.

A perusal of Frederick's website takes one to a very dark place indeed, and I confess I do not understand his inspiration in the slightest, although some of his scary sonics on this CD are worthy of attention.

Edward, coming from the wonderfully obsidian world of Shub-Niggurath, brings his own rhythmic slabs to the table, although I somehow doubt he could play any of these tracks in the same fashion twice. Apparently "Apokálupsis" is a Greek word meaning "revealing" or "unveiling". I am not at all sure what has been revealed here; suffice to say it is not aesthetically pleasing.

There are times when it is only the drums that stop this from descending into avant garde navel gazing, and to prove to all you Tangent lovers that I am capable of objectivity where my own perverse musical afflictions are concerned, I can only give this album...

Conclusion: 4 out of 10

ROGER TRENWITH

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Published 22nd June 2013

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