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Reviews in this issue:
- Frequency Drift - Over
- Fabio Zuffanti - La Quarta Vittima
- The Crimson ProjeKCt - Live In Tokyo
- The Knells - The Knells
- Afenginn - Lux
- Blackfield - IV
- Alberto Palacios - We Are The Opera
- Master Experience - Billions Of Grains
Frequency Drift - Over
German band Frequency Drift, founded in 2007 by Andreas Hack, has released its fifth studio album, Over. Although the new CD is quintessentially progressive, and the confident yet unpretentious voice of lead singer Isa Fallenbacher inspires references to Magenta and, more marginally, Thieves' Kitchen, the music is not at all derivative. Indeed, contributing to the eclectic soundscape are diverse instruments, including several stringed instruments and such rarities as duclar, gemshorn, and marimba. Promotional material for the band touts the band's experimentalism, but here the compositions are calculated and neatly refined.
The CD opens in a big way and continues strongly. On the opener, Run, a classical opening cedes to gorgeous, uplifting vocals and a bouncy rhythm. The sound roughens quickly, though, but it's all for the good as a guitar and drum-driven crescendo, followed by whispering, form the back side of a creative and unpredictable composition. The next tune, Once, is quite melodic and is notable for a few David Gilmour-like guitar lines, soaring vocals, and space-filling keyboard washes. Adrift, another gripping piece, is characterized by more-challenging vocals with aggressive spurts. Them mixes echoed and straightforward vocals with excellent, mostly mellow, guitar leads. The simple vocals and, at times, the beat on Sagittarius A* are somewhat repetitive (the recurrence of the word "invisible" can be grating), but the layered keyboards laced through much of the song are enticing. Suspended, next up, is downright groovy and has ethereal vocals; a brief segment mixing guitar riffs and breathy flute sounds like something from Jethro Tull's Aqualung album. Coming next is Wave, a short tune redolent of a lullaby, featuring melodic, crisp synthesizers.
A trio of weaker, but still solid, songs follows. Wander is a bit of a downer: vibraphone-like tones add flair but, after a few listens, they are unduly repetitive. Likewise, Driven does not find the band at its best as the middle of the tune is plain-Jane new-age electronica, and Release is somewhat draggy, although the Middle-Eastern tinge is a fine diversion.
The band quickly does more than merely redeem itself, however. The next tune, Memory, is an absolute thriller. Here, the vocals seem to float and, later, a frisky flute flutters. The tune transitions to an inspiring instrumental segment in which keyboards and guitar each play memorable leads. The CD closes with Disappeared, a spare ballad featuring calming vocals and an airy background.
It's a cliché to note that, with certain CDs, one can hear something new with each listen, but the adage aptly applies here. The music is layered and rich, the sonorous and ethereal vocals can engender dreaminess, and the complex, sometimes catchy, compositions are, with rare exception, first-rate. And, although the CD lasts for well over an hour, a yearning for even more is likely. Over has deservedly earned a regular spot on my playlist.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Frequency Drift CD Reviews:-
|Personal Effects (Part One)|
|"Frequency Drift have set themselves some challenging targets by starting their career with a concept that is spread over more than one album. Despite some of my critical remarks, I am of the opinion that the band does have potential."|
(Leo Koperdraat, 6.5/10)
|Personal Effects (Part Two)|
|"I enjoyed Personal Effects (Part Two) very much and so far I would say that it will most definitely end up in the higher ranks of my favourite albums of 2010."|
(Gert Hulshof, 8/10)
|"...this album is a great find and I've thoroughly enjoyed getting to know it. My interest was sparked from the start but I have really grown to love it the more I've listened to it."|
(Jez Rowden, 9/10)
|Laid To Rest|
|"...a great place to get lost for just over an hour and drift away in a swirl of melodic delights."|
(Alison Henderson, 7/10)
|Previous Frequency Drift Live Reviews:-|
|Night Of The Prog VI,|
|"They really surprised me, a highlight to start day two. Magnificent show. A stunning performance."|
Fabio Zuffanti - La Quarta Vittima
A brief monologue forms the first moments of the opening track Non Posso Parlare Più Forte. The quietly spoken words assert with conviction "I promise you a great secret and I will not disappoint you". No doubt, this refers in some way to the concept on which this wonderful release is based. Fabio Zuffanti's latest solo work, La Quarta Vittima, does not disappoint in any aspect. There is so much to be savoured in this musical banquet. It has embedded itself in my consciousness and has rarely been far from my ears. La Quarta Vittima both, wittingly and unwittingly, continues to give up its varied and subtle secrets.
Consistently engaging, its widespread musical nuances are showcased in masterful ensemble performances within seven outstanding compositions that invite and demand to be heard again and again.
I have long admired the diverse talents of solo artist, bandleader, arranger and bass player Zuffanti. He has been associated with a number of bands during his long involvement with the world of Progressive Rock. In La Quarta Vittima Zuffanti draws upon the positive trademarks of his involvement with bands such as Finisterre, Höstanaten and his current band La Maschera di Cera whose most recent album Le Porte del Domani was particularly satisfying and in my view was in the top five releases for 2013.
Fabio Zuffanti has assembled a highly accomplished group of musicians to attain his goal on La Quarta Vittima. These include guitarist Laura Marsano who also featured on Le Porte del Domani. Interestingly Zuffanti is not the principal bassist; instead he limits himself to providing bass pedals, keyboards, loops, samples and vocals. Bass duties are more than adequately provided by Ricardo Barbera who simply excels.
In La Quarta Vittima rich keyboard and Mellotron passages abound, these linking effortlessly to searing guitar parts and dramatic shifts of mood and tempo. The bass is an essential component of the whole sensory experience, one moment driving frenzied rhythms, the next providing subtle and melodic waves of low end ecstasy. Added to the concoction are male and female vocal parts which perfectly complement the beauty and majesty of the music. And if that was not enough to totally satisfy, the album also contains abundant soaring flute parts played with passion and consummate skill. These ingredients when mixed together conspire to raise the musical bar of Zuffanti's compositions to a highly elevated level of skill and performance.
The opening track is the longest on the album; it is also one of the strongest. Mournful vocal lines, which are bewitchingly poetic in their half-sung/spoken delivery parts are juxtaposed with vibrant and intense keyboard parts, guitar solos, saxophone breaks and flute melodies. The whole piece has a spontaneous feel with many shifts of pace, mood and instrumentation. Often melodic, but in parts mysteriously abstract, Non Posso Parlare Più Forte is a magnificent example of intricate and complex songwriting that surprisingly is still able to touch the emotions fully. Its opening parts have a heavy and somewhat discordant rhythmic feel. This substantial opening is quickly followed by a glorious flute solo that colourfully explodes onto the musical canvas provided by Zuffanti. Throughout this release, Gian Marco Pantera Pietrasanta's flute creates a jazz rock tinged amalgam similar in some degree to Jeremy Steig or even Harold McNair at his most appealing and flamboyant. During the slower parts of Non Posso Parlare Più Forte there is ample space and opportunity for the musicians to express the beauty of Zuffanti's music. This is particularly the case in the reflective section that is induced by the flute at the 4:25 minute mark. Buttressed by tuneful bass lines, an expressive voice is at the heart of this change of emphasis. All of this is complemented by swathes of Mellotron which simply ooze quality. The segment concludes with an intense guitar solo that effortlessly flows onwards and upwards towards progressive rock bliss. The final minutes of Non Posso Parlare Più Forte has a powerfully contrasting intense jazz rock feel. It features forceful saxophone portions, and also includes interesting rhythmic sections in which the impressive bass of Barbera features strongly. It is a fitting climax to this exciting and unpredictable composition.
The tracks that follow the exquisite Non Posso Parlare Più Forte are equally impressive and all have many specific and unique highlights. Although diverse in style and scope I found all of the tunes to be totally worthy of repeated plays. Amongst these, I especially enjoyed aspects of La Certezza Impossibile, a beautifully poetic tune with a recurring motif. It begins with some emotive atmospheric saxophone playing reminiscent of Jan Garbarek and also contains a warm flute melody that is perfectly embellished by some sumptuous fretless bass. However, its main component is some fine, precise guitar parts that adapt as the piece evolves into a blistering fretboard frenzy.
The title track is totally original in its composition and execution. Nevertheless its sheer quality and breadth of styles brought to mind a diverse and rich variety of artists including Ian Anderson and Frank Zappa. It has a wonderful Jazz feel to it, despite beginning with an alluring synthesiser riff its most memorable aspect is its big band sound reminiscent of Buddy Rich. The piece also contains a twisting and mesmerising flute solo containing just the right amount of breathy flurries more commonly associated with flute rock. I found references to Zappa in the spoken parts complete with vibraphone accompaniments. A special mention should be made of Laura Marsano whose supreme guitar solo of sustained notes was especially memorable.
Sotto Un Cielo Nero is a carefully constructed tune with many magical moments. It has a trance-like quality and includes brief parts more akin to improvisational free jazz. Moreover, its undoubted highlight is an inspirational jazz soaked piano solo that emerges from the shadows at about the five-minute mark. Unexpectedly, the ensemble really cook and boil during this jazz-fest interlude. Mysterious symphonic keyboards allied to a haunting voice with repeated vocals move the piece away from total Jazz territory. The track ends gloriously with solo violin accompanied by swirling Mellotron.
In Il Circo Brucia, a dark and surreal tune, guitar sounds dominate the early proceedings. Different styles are squeezed and formed into its seven plus minutes. At times a jazz-rock master class, at times reminiscent of King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man, at times heavenly and ethereal. The funk section, complete with glockenspiel, that emerges is particularly striking.
I found La Quarta Vittima to be a perfect antidote for the digital musical age. If you suffer from digital affliction, as I do, then this might be the album for you. I was mesmerised from start to finish. Listening to it was like a model lesson in how to fully absorb music. It's quality meant that no iPod flicking was ever contemplated and for that I was grateful. The music demanded total attention and the full immersion of the listener in the whole experience. As such it is a panacea for anybody whose attention to music might be waning as a result of exposure to the instant gratification that an iPod shuffle list might provide.
I strongly recommend DPRP readers to check out this fine album. It has a spellbinding and passionate quality that makes it highly recommended. I would not be surprised if this remains in my top five albums of 2014. At the moment and in my view it is certainly the most enjoyable release of the year so far.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
The Crimson ProjeKCt - Live In Tokyo
About a month ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to speak with King Crimson's lead vocalist for over thirty years, Adrian Belew, who chatted with me candidly about his upcoming tour with The Crimson ProjeKCt amongst other things. Admittedly, I may not have been the best person to do this, as my King Crimson collection is and always has been comprised of the 40th Anniversary releases, leaving my knowledge of post-Discipline Crimson really quite patchy. Nevertheless, Belew's abundant enthusiasm over the phone left me intrigued and the music he described sounded right up my avenue. Conveniently, the band are releasing Live in Tokyo, a mouth-watering taster for their upcoming tour, so I decided to score a copy to see if the music really lived up to expectations.
Anybody who has already seen The Crimson ProjeKCt live will not need me to tell them that this is a blindingly brilliant live album. Featuring Crimson music from 1973 onwards, this is 77 minutes of pure technical brilliance and, if what Belew tells me is true, this is only half the length of a regular set! Hearing many of these tracks for the first time, I'm mesmerised and engrossed in the music in a way that doesn't happen on many debut listens. That said, the music of King Crimson always was just a little special. The opening pair of instrumentals B'Boom and THRAK give the listener goose pimples but it was Industry that really blew me away, with its ominous bass riff underpin.
Naturally, there were some more familiar tracks as well. The band play stunning renditions of the timeless Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part II and the throbbing slab of proto-metal Red. On the latter in particular, the dual drumming by Pat Mastelotto and Tobias Ralph is simply excellent, improving on Bill Bruford's original rhythms by a disturbing degree. However, the band really come into their own when they play tracks from Discipline, Belew's first album with King Crimson. As promised in our interview, their version of Indiscipline "gets pretty intense", with a long tension-building intro section that stretches the song to nearly double its original length.
'Tis a simply spiffing collection of tracks this; a disc that does not let up from beginning to end. At the very least, it's an exceptional introduction to many of King Crimson's newer songs, and one that has left me hungry for more. I feel incredibly fortunate that I'll be able to see the band in March, but for those who will not be able to make it, this album ain't a bad substitute!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Crimson ProjeKCt Interviews:-
|Adrian Belew speaking to Basil Francis (2014)|
The Knells - The Knells
Founded by New York-based guitarist and composer Andrew McKenna Lee (whose credits, alongside a distinguished career as a classical guitar virtuoso, include stints with Billy Idol and Sex Pistols' Steve Jones) as a creative outlet to bring together all his musical passions and influences, The Knells are undoubtedly one of the most strikingly original ensembles that have appeared on the overcrowded progressive music scene in the past few years. Besides McKenna Lee and second guitarist Paul Orbell, the band includes three vocalists (Nina Berman, Amanda Gregory and Katya Powder), drummer Michael McCurdy, mallet percussionist Jude Traxler, bassist Joseph Higgins, as well as the widely praised Mivos String Quartet (Olivia De Prato and Joshua Modney, violin; Victor Lowrie, cello; Mariel Roberts, cello) and additional cellist Isabel Castellvi as special guests. Their debut album, released in November 2013, comprises an eponymous, nearly hour-long song cycle that deals with profound existentialist topics such as the meaning of life and time, and the beauty and violence of nature.
The gorgeously baroque, black-and-white cover artwork (designed by renowned street artist Shepard Fairey, known for Barack Obama's iconic 'HOPE' portrait), with its central bell motif adorned with a skull and crossbones, references the band's name and foreshadows the somber nature of the musical and lyrical content. The trio of ethereal, soaring female voices (a soprano, a mezzo soprano and a contralto) describe highly unusual patterns, sometimes perfectly meshing in incantatory vocalizing, sometimes sparring in counterpoint like a skewed Renaissance choir, occasionally one voice emoting briefly on its own before the others join in. In spite of their crystalline tone - or perhaps just because of it - the voices often assume a slightly strident quality that makes them sound almost like peculiar electronic effects. The two guitars provide a shimmering, multifaceted foil for the vocals, reinforced by the stately presence of the strings and the haunting chimes of the mallet percussion, while the rhythm section imparts a solemn, often dirge-like pace, rarely disrupting the steady flow of the music. Comparisons to other bands or artists, which usually abound in these reviews, are hard to pinpoint in this case, though the vocal parts often reminded me of Aranis' 2009 album Songs from Mirage, which also features a trio of female voices with a strong Renaissance flavour.
Not surprisingly for an album that bears, among others, a "post-rock" tag, any variation within the musical structure of the work is handled with subtlety, and on the whole there is an impression of cohesiveness, the ten tracks flowing organically into each other without any noticeable breaks or dramatic changes. The overall effect is hypnotic and deeply atmospheric, though it can induce a sense of detachment or even a hint of boredom in those who are used to the densely packed twists and turns of traditional prog. On the other hand, just like many classic prog albums, The Knells is an ambitious project, meant to convey weighty concepts, albeit in a rather unorthodox fashion - by "dissolving" the lyrics into the music rather than pushing them to the fore as concept albums usually do. In fact, most listeners will be hard put to understand the lyrics without referring to the printed text kindly included in the CD booklet.
The main elements of the album are highlighted right from opener Airlift: the magical yet faintly disquieting mood created by the three vocalists' vertiginous exertions, underpinned by the guitars' seamless interplay and their distinctive tolling sound (which ties in nicely with the band's own name and the mournful tone of much of the music), with sudden flares in volume and intensity that often produce an exhilarating effect, and lulls in which the music subsides almost completely. The two instrumental tracks, Dying in Waves and Spiral Proem, are both guitar-centred: the first is a more traditional, delicate semi-acoustic piece whose high melodic quotient offers a welcome change of pace, while the second's entrancing, Eastern-tinged sparseness prepares the listener for the 10-minute tour-de-force of Spiral Knells, the album's final track, and by far its most experimental number - its apparently random structure introduced by bursts of harsh guitar riffs offset by soothing vocals and very prominent drums, then lapsing into eerie quiet towards the end.
Mentioned by The New York Times as one of the best albums of 2013 (a very rare occurrence for anything associated with the progressive rock scene), The Knells is certainly not an easy listening proposition, and to some its very distinctiveness might appear contrived or "difficult" for its own sake. However, in spite of the arduous nature of some of its parts, there are enough moments of sheer beauty on the album to capture the attention of demanding listeners. It is also one of those albums that need the right setting to be truly enjoyed and appreciated, and repeated, careful listens are in order to avoid being overwhelmed or overlooking the subtlety of the textures. Highly recommended to adventurous prog fans and anyone interested in the crossover between modern classical/chamber music and rock, The Knells offers a unique listening experience with its heady blend of ethereal melody and eerie, angular dissonance.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Afenginn - Lux
Tracklist: Lux (3:28), Hostbar (5:16), Höstvisa I (2:41), Septem Turbido (Höstvisa II) (5:50), Obscare (4:34), Waldhotel Solitaire (6:10), Paxima (5:00), Comma (2:38), Autumnus Clegia (3:10), Missa Tripus (7:00), Lumir (9:09)
Afenginn formed in 2002 and so far have released six albums fusing Balkan folk music, Klezmer (Jewish Eastern European celebratory music), classical chamber music, and the occasional nod to rock music. Oh, and most of the musicians are Danish. If ever there was a place where that all-encompassing genre mop up "world music" applies, it's here.
Their five albums prior to last year's Lux have all received acclaim from reviewers, and included everything from over the top symphonic productions including a male voice choir, to the invention of a new language, coined "street Latin". Their music draws on the melancholia of Scandinavian folk music and fuses this with the previously mentioned influences, and the end result is an effortlessly joyous yet reflective sonic adventure.
Lux, as you may guess from that title is a meditation on the properties of light, from an artistic rather than scientific standpoint; this is not math-rock, after all! Composed by band leader Kim Rafael Nyberg while leading an isolated life in the Swedish woods after years of fast living, the stillness and meditative quality of his chosen location seeps through and is reflected by the thoughtful and meditative qualities in the music. Judge this for yourself from the Bandcamp streaming link. A particularly fine example is Missa Tripus where the listener can easily imagine the shifting quality of late afternoon light filtering through the trees.
A large range of instrumentation is on hand to present this poetic adventure, combining in various trios, quartets and other assemblies within the group. These instruments include clarinets, violin, mandolin, contrabass, drums, percussion, marimba, vibraphone, waterphone, trombone and grand piano.
Describing individual tracks is superfluous as this is a suite of tunes that unfolds like a screenplay, tunes that require your attention, needing to be listened to in one sitting. In this too frantic world we live in, the restful nature of this album is a delight, an aural massage of the temples. The music transports you to a calmer place where intrusive and disruptive thoughts are banished, and for just under an hour you will be able to forget the stresses and strains of humdrum existence.
The CD is presented in a tastefully designed box that opens to reveal a card insert, that unfolded can be re-assembled into a container in the shape of a truncated pyramid. The instructions state that you may "Store your CD here or put a small electric light in the box before you close it. Enjoy the light and the atmosphere!" A wry example of very subtle Scandinavian humour, but that last sentence also applies to the music, which is quite lovely.
"Afenginn" means intoxicating and strength in Old Norse, and the music this band makes is certainly addictive, in a powerful but subtle way. It is probably obvious from the instruments listed that Lux is not in the slightest "prog", but it is utterly delightful, and anyone who appreciates adventurous, but at the same time accessible and soothing music cannot fail to be impressed.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Blackfield - IV
As a Steven Wilson offshoot, Blackfield received a great deal of attention within the prog community when the self-titled debut album arrived on the scene in 2004. So much so that when the follow-up Blackfield II was released in 2007 the DPRP team were queuing up to review it. By the time the third studio album Welcome To My DNA arrived in 2011 it was apparent that due to interests elsewhere (especially his solo career) Mr Wilson's involvement had cooled leaving his co-conspirator Aviv Geffen to take control. Even the album title was an invitation from Geffen to acknowledge his (almost) singular vision.
Although the latest offering Blackfield IV returns to the numerical titles of the first two albums, Wilson's contributions have reduced even further, appearing more as a guest rather than one half of an equal partnership. All the songs are Geffen's as is the production whilst Wilson is credited with additional guitar and vocal parts, lead vocals on the song Jupiter and final mixing (in stereo and 5.1 surround). Also guesting on vocals are Vincent Cavanagh (Anathema), Brett Anderson (Suede) and Jonathan Donahue (Mercury Rev) who sing one song apiece.
The first thing I should point out is the near complete absence of prog to the extent that if it wasn't for Wilson's involvement I believe this album would hardly qualify for a DPRP review. A cursory glance at the track listing will also reveal that the average playing time of each song is less than 3 minutes. But let's not write this album off too soon because Geffen has penned an excellent collection of tunes and whilst they follow the traditional verse-chorus format with short instrumental hooks and the odd middle-eight, they are at the very least the equal of the material on Blackfield's second and third albums.
Although written and performed by Geffen, the opening Pills with its cryptic choral hook "It's Like driving with no lights tonight" could easily be one of Wilson's particularly given their similar vocal style. The same could be said of Springtime (where Wilson's voice doubles Geffen's) with its combination of rich vocal and string textures being a reoccurring device throughout the album. There is also more than a hint of the likes of Radiohead and Stereophonics here. Elsewhere Vincent Cavanagh's vocal on X-Ray evokes the wistful melancholia of Oasis' Don't Look Back In Anger whilst Sense Of Insanity captures the chugging acoustic riff and uplifting spirit of Peter Gabriel's parting shot to Genesis, Solsbury Hill. Brett Anderson's singing gives Firefly a vaguely theatrical air whilst the surging orchestral finale is a rare proggy moment.
Jonathan Donahue's singing on the fragile (and much too short) The Only Fool Is Me is surprisingly delicate with sympathetic use of harp and strings whilst like so many of the songs here, Wilson's vocal outing Jupiter is ridiculously catchy. The Beatles-ish Kissed By The Devil contains in its verses the barbed cynicism of John Lennon and in its chorus the wide-eyed romanticism of Paul McCartney. In contrast, the simple but infectious and jangly guitar chords that provide the backbone of both Lost Souls and Faking hark back to '80s bands like New Order and The Cure (and more recently M83). Only the final tune After The Rain with its synthetic dance rhythm and unfinished feel lets the side down for me.
Wilson has recently announced that the February 2014 tour will be his last with Blackfield. Whether Geffen can legitimately continue the name without Wilson remains to be seen. One thing's for sure, since the partnership began in 2001 the Israeli artist has raised his profile in the U.K. and the U.S. whilst his songwriting remains confidently assured.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Blackfield CD & DVD Reviews:-
|"From basic guitar-vocal tracks to full on rock songs and huge string arrangements, all can be found on the album."|
(Bart Jan ver der Vorst, 8/10)
|"I would say that Steve and Aviv have put the very best from the first CD into the second and have both expanded and improved it at the same time. It's a mighty impressive release that will surely delight the existing Blackfield audience."|
(Dave Baird, 9/10)
|"...don't expect any big stage show, projections or Lasse Hoile effects treatment of the footage."|
(Ed Sander & Bart Jan van der Vorst, 7.5/10)
|Welcome To My DNA|
|"A melancholic but beautiful and thought provoking collection, produced with meticulous attention to detail and an acute awareness of melody and structure that sometimes challenges, but always entertains the listener."|
(Geoff Feakes, 8/10)
|Previous Blackfield Live Reviews:-|
|"Altogether an excellent evening's musical entertainment, if a little on the short side, but I for one, look forward to Blackfield's return, in the not too distant future."|
|Hollywood, California, U.S.A.|
|"They played this one already! Maybe they finally ran out of stuff to play."|
Alberto Palacios - We Are The Opera
Tracklist: The Overture (4:00), Part 1: We Are the Opera (5:24), Part 2: I Want to Know (3:35), Part 3: We Are the Opera – Reprise (5:38), Part 4: No One Can See (6:13), Part 5: The Kidnapping (7:38), Part 6: The Tragic Denouement (4:07), The Finale (4:42)
Alberto Palacios is an American musician and We Are the Opera is, I believe, his debut release. Mr. Palacios plays all of the instruments on the recording (guitar/bass guitar/keyboards/drum programming) and provides all of the vocals. If nothing else, We Are the Opera is a formidable display of chops. The tempos are mostly blitzkrieg, requiring some serious technique and versatility.
To be honest, I'm not much of an opera fan, so I don't know whether the recording employs any traditional motifs from that genre. We Are the Opera is a concept album and features a dialogue between two personae: The Composer and The Maestro. The exchanges between the two characters remind me of Attic drama, with an emphasis upon strophe/antistrophe. However, let me admit that, even after reading the lyrics, I'm unable to understand the story. It seems to center upon the Maestro's feeling of abandonment and discontent and the Composer's efforts to help the Maestro transcend both. That's the best interpretation I can offer.
Now, the trouble for me is that I dislike this sort of music. The analogy I'm forced to make is: if you crossed Robin Zander (Cheap Trick) and Rik Emmett (Triumph), and gave them very high pitch; had them join Europe; added Yngwie Malmsteen to the band and made a recording, you might get We Are the Opera. The music is intense and often played at a blistering speed. The compositions are sensible and show some occasional nuance and finesse. But there's very little subtlety. Mr. Palacios sings in key but the vocals are at the extreme high alto end of the scale and are quite fey. Also, there's a massive tendency on We Are the Opera to repeat riffs, without variation, which becomes tiresome. I kept anticipating some sort of change-up that would increase the tension in the return to the main hook.
But is the repetition an operatic trope? I'm not sure. There are spots where the music returns to a signature, recurring accent and it works well. Mostly, though, I felt bombarded by a flow of sameness. I wonder if this is the disadvantage of a solo recording. Would Mr. Palacios thrive in a band context, wherein the influence of other musicians helps move the music away from a too stringent, too constricted compositional emphasis? Perhaps.
In the end, trying to exercise some measure of objectivity in assessing this release, I'd say We Are the Opera is a better-than-decent effort as a debut but it's not truly successful as a concept presentation. While the musicality is extremely advanced, there's some showiness and overplaying that grates. (I'm struggling not to use the word "wankery".) I'd likely be interested in hearing a follow-up, to see if there's been any adventurous progression. I can't imagine returning to this release, though - it's competent and reveals promise but it's too uniform and too strongly reminiscent of what passed for metal in the '80s to win me over.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Master Experience - Billions of Grains
Billions of Grains is the debut release from Italy's Master Experience. My understanding is that the band has existed since the '90s but has only now (well, in 2012) recorded any of its material. In the one or two band photos I've located, there are five featured members. However, after searching the Internet, I can only find credits for four musicians: Matteo Beneventi, vocals; Luca Margini, guitar; Matteo Catellani, bass guitar; and Alessandro Casolero, drums. The album features a very pronounced use of keyboards, so there's potentially another band member in there somewhere.
Stylistically, Billions of Grains shows great variation. I hear elements of Rush, nu-metal, Italian symphonic prog-rock, Enslaved, grunge and even a lick or two reminiscent of The Alan Parsons Project. Often, bands struggle to mold their influences into a unique, proprietary sound but Master Experience managed well to hint at its influences while offering its own distinctive presentation. The band never comes over as derivative—a very positive sign!
The performances are solid and tight. I was impressed by Mr. Beneventi's singing - excellent control, excellent timbre and the requisite emotional force to show he's invested in the lyrics. Mr. Casolero's drumming is equally noteworthy: intricate but without glitz.
The recording is allegedly a concept album. I confess I was unable to put the lyrics together well enough to find the "concept". It's likely there and I simply misunderstood the lyrical context.
Billions of Grains finishes at approximately thirty-three minutes. Personally, I prefer the old-school album lengths of thirty-five minutes or so, so this album sat well with me: it was just long enough to hold my full attention without seeming repetitive or labored. It helps that the band never locks into one style but instead tries to give each song a distinctive ambience.
Overall, I consider this to be a very well conceived and well-made release. None of the tracks blew me away or astounded me; nonetheless, the band never embarrasses itself or missteps. (A few of the keyboard accents were irregular and jarring but I suspect that was intended.) Mass Destruction had perhaps the best inventiveness and a very impressive use of atmospheric guitar work. Again, I appreciated the band's dexterity moving through styles without anything seeming forced.
All-in-all, a nice listen. I can't recommend Billions of Grains glowingly, as it's not offering anything too novel or trend-setting. But I can endorse it. If you enjoy any of the influences listed above, you might like to give the album a try.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10