Steve Hogarth and Richard Barbieri - Arclight
Arclight (5:01), Intergalactic (6:26), Daddy Does Work (5:06), Oil (5:21), Elaine (6:47)
Although this is an alliance between the two, the voice will obviously draw the listener to the singer's day job, mainly because he does have one of the most distinctive layrnx's in this genre, especially when he sings on the more softer side of Marillion. The Essence disc of Happiness Is the Road comes to mind. Richard Barbieri is credited with the "music" side of the team, but it still sounds like a Steve Hogarth solo project, which is no bad thing.
Arclight starts us off with ambient piano, echo'd voices, pleasing string pads, and plinky plonk sounds, lovely stuff. Itergalactic is ramped up rock very much courtesy of the guest guitarist,that leads into a softly sung and intimate Daddy Does Work with some beautifully subtle guitar playing, catchy percussion, and reverberant violin effects.
Guest tabla whacker, Dalbir Singh, gives Oil the middle Eastern backdrop of its subject matter with what appears to be some good old fashioned e-bow thrown in. I have always been a sucker for a love song, and that's what Elaine is, the last song on this perfectly formed little gem of an EP, the most Marillion of the five ditties, albeit in the slower side of their output. It is my favourite song here, with the instrumentation and lyrics evoking a timeless nostalgia (just like his "longing" for this lady in question).
If you wanted something to "chill with the other half" this would certainly be on the playlist. I saw what would become the Live Spirit: Live Body album tour in a Cardiff venue, and at one point, "H" had to politely ask the audience to stop talking during the quiet parts! This, of course, is the main problem as this could be conceived as background music, but if you stop talking it is actually very rewarding nectar for the ears.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Thoughts Factory - Lost
Awakening (4:29), The Deep Forest (12:20), Desperation (5:25), Light (1:51), Voices From Heaven (13:26), No Way Out (7:08), The Mire (4:51), Death Of A Dream (15:59)
Although a very strong statement from such a young band, one of the greatest drawbacks of this release is that it sounds like a hodgepodge of other progressive metal artists and has difficulty finding an identity of its own. There are certain elements present that remind me of many other albums I have heard in the genre. For example, the album begins with Awakening, which is a typical overture where the band express their skills before getting into the main concept. Although a well-executed section, it seems too similar to so many other openings of other progressive metal albums I've heard. After the heavy instrumental, things slow down and only Marcus Becker's voice can be heard over an atmospheric wash of keyboards and sound effects. He has a beautiful voice, reminiscent at times of Tommy Karevik, lead singer of Seventh Wonder and Kamelot. Just as the instrumental section sets up the music, this vocal section sets up the lyrical content on the album, and does so very well.
The second track is the first of three main epic songs, The Deep Forest. The song gets heavier and heavier as it goes, starting with mainly acoustic guitar and vocals before the whole band kicks in. The music fits the feelings of the protagonist in the lyrics, who is dealing with the confusion and hurt of dealing with a loved ones' suicide, likening it to being stuck in a deep forest. One of the most interesting bits of the song is toward the end where the band employs some growling vocals in a section that sounds like it could come from a classic Opeth album. Usually I'm not a huge fan of growling vocals, but they fit the dark mood of the subject matter here, and they are sparse enough where they don't really overstay their welcome. This is a strong track that showcases what this band is all about. For me, the track is maybe a bit long and can feel like it drags on a bit, but there are definitely many interesting sections that, if condensed, could make for an improved song.
Desperation is a great example of keeping a song compact, only utilizing the strongest parts. This is a heavy song in the vein of Symphony X, with a strong central riff and catchy chorus. The ending instrumental section is one of the highlights of the disc with a strong display from Sven Schornstein on Keyboards. This shows what this band is truly capable of. Light is a short ballad featuring piano and vocals. This is mainly a showcase for Marcus Becker's incredible voice, which has an almost operatic quality here. He is really one of the better singers I've heard recently, able to really fill the words with pure emotion. This leads into what I consider the pure highlight of the entire album, Voices From Heaven. The band almost abandons their typical progressive metal sound they've had up to this point for a more symphonic prog sound in the vein of Transatlantic or Spock's Beard. This makes for a strikingly uplifting song compared to what has come before. It is simply feel good, catchy prog that would make Neal Morse happy.
It is very interesting that the most spiritual song on the album follows very closely in the vein of Neal Morse's music, who is well known for his spiritual slant on prog. The words "God", "angels" and "heaven" are all mentioned, without the band ever getting preachy. It is an important reflective song that fits in great with the concept. This is an incredible piece of writing that is a joy to listen to. The strength of this track is that it is so different from the rest of the album, so it is refreshing to listen to amongst the other more heavier and darker material. It was a great choice to place it smack dab in the middle of the album. No Way Out follows in the same vein as Desperation. It is a hard hitting shorter track in the style of more traditional progressive metal such as Symphony X and Dream Theater. The band takes the opportunity to rock out in complex time signatures. All band members shine on this one. They are indeed all impressive players of their respective instruments.
The Mire starts slowly with a melancholy vibe. Starting with keyboards before adding in mournful guitars. There is a strong Opeth vibe present in the dark mood of the song. Once again, Becker is able to showcase his impressive power vocals for an epic finish. But, that is not all. There is one more epic called Death of a Dream. This track is a good summation of the album as a whole, incorporating all the strong elements that have been heard throughout the album. While this whole epic is done very well, with a lot of impressive prog metal playing by the band, I can't help but feel that it goes on a little too long. I feel a little fatigue when I get to this point of the album. That is why it seems this album maybe could benefit from a little trimming here and there.
Overall this is an incredibly strong album, especially from a band so young in the prog scene. I am excited to see what this band comes up with next. The concept is very intriguing and really matches the tone of the music throughout. The track Voices From Heaven provides a great break in the midst of all the heaviness and darkness that permeates this album. The main negatives of the album are that there are parts that sound like other artists, without the band finding their own unique identity. It is important, though, to keep in mind that this is a debut album, and the band is sure to find their identity as they continue further in their career. The album also feels a bit repetitive at points, causing sections to get a little boring and feel like they drag on. I found my attention wandering during certain parts of the album. But, I still recommend this album to fans of the progressive metal genre and feel that with more experience and time, this band could become a strong force in the genre. Therefore I will give them a score that will allow for such growth in the future.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Méséglise - L'assenza
16 Marzo (3:47) L'Assenza (3:13) Il Fiore e la Finestra (3:20) Stelle di Lefkos (4:10) Sole in Citta (3:52) Cosi e Stato (2:28) F.T.M. (3:16) La Risposta (3:55) La Fotografia (3:58) Trasparenze (2:52) Un Ottima Atleta (4:26) Mare di Cartone (2:23)
In between the latest album and its predecessor three members of Sithonia, Marco Giovannini (vocals), Maurizio Lettra (drums), and Paolo Nannetti (keys, accordion), got together to work on a collection of deliberately short songs. In 2013 they reassembled these songs, recorded their final version and released them entitled L'Assenza under the name of Méséglise which refers to Mr. Proust. It is supposed to be an album with songs dealing with, as their website states, "words that were swallowed by silence, incomprehension or habit". As my Italian is far below par I have no idea how they elaborated on that theme but it sounds quite interesting.
That cannot be said of the music, alas. Albeit that these musicians have a long track record firmly rooted in the progressive scene they wanted to record simpler songs without all the complex instrumentation. In that they succeeded well for the 12 songs on L'Assenza' never exceed the 4:30 mark. Instrumental parts are almost absent, as are complex song structures and extended soloing. Yet it is so evident from listening to this album that these guys have many interesting musical ideas that they cannot possibly fit those into such tight timeframes. As a result this is a collection of rather nice pop songs reminiscent of prog but nowhere even near.
Stelle di Lefkos comes closest; it starts with mellow accordion, keys and piano that all promise the listener a lot but doesn't deliver at all in the end. The several short melodies, glued together by keys, bass and drum within slightly more than 4 minutes never become an entity. The breaks are too sudden and brisk, the rhythms too different for the songs duration. Many good ideas but they deserved to be worked on for 6 or 7 minutes or so to develop into a flowing or otherwise grabbing melody. Now it is just a short song consisting of numerous short sections that foremost proves that all these ideas could have become a really interesting epic. All other songs are far more simple with some nice playing here and there. The occasional use of acoustic instruments like flute, accordion and violin can't help to rescue the album. They add a bit to the variation but as a whole the album is nothing more than a disappointing bunch of short pop songs, far more ABBA than Genesis. The music by 10CC comes to my mind, creative, nice and poppy but no prog.
What doesn't help either is Giovannini's voice which turns out to be rather flat. He doesn't succeed in grabbing the intention during the full album. He also has trouble to reach the high notes. Why the band has chosen to lay the emphasis on his vocals while his voice is so limited remains a mystery to me.
All in all this album completely fails to impress me. The distinct creativity of the band does not result in music that sets into your mind. It is volatile, it passes you by. For die-hard Sithonia fans this may be a must-have, for other prog lovers L'Assenza is an album you should not give attention to.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10
Molly Bloom - All Pressure
Last One Rings Out (3:31), Run if You Want To (3:43), Mistress Winter (3:05), Come Creeping (5:55), Under the Bed (2:46), Blood (4:05), Green Fence (7:44), If (4:42), Lock 'Em Up (3:40), All Pressure (4:42)
Monday morning 8.46 am. Grinning inanely, limbs moving, whip like, in all directions, knocking cups and spilling liquid. Reports set free, floating in free fall. Delicate membranes assaulted, inhibitions lifted. Primal beats thumping, inadvertent head swaying, musical sophistication fleetingly regarded as no longer necessary. I was totally captivated by the behemoth that had been unleashed. All pretensions were shattered that the music of Molly Bloom could be a passive experience.
Monday morning 8.49 am. All Pressure, what pressure? Never mind the reports, there is always tomorrow. Press repeat... begin.
I have been caught in a musical ground hog day since that time, some six weeks ago. All Pressure has seldom been far from my ears. Infused throughout with musical integrity and humour, it has become a firm personal favourite. Within the unashamedly direct foot crunching songs infectious rhythms abound. Molly Bloom's music may not be appealing to all progressive fans, especially those who like complicated, sophisticated, symphonic or jazz fusion styles. Nevertheless, if you encounter their music, its sheer vitality may well win you over. The compositions that make up All Presure are performed with great panache. The energy of the band is relentless. The magnificient production values ensure that the music has a live in your face appeal that makes it difficult not to embrace. The tunes on display, have enough contrasting parts to retain interest, but they are often unpretentiously foot stomping and warmly accessible. The release successfully bridges a number of musical styles and genres and in this sense is totally convincing as a truly progressive work. At times punk, ska and reggae influences can be heard juxtaposed with occasional droplets of shifting rhythms and time signatures. Also added to the recipe are growls, heavy riffs, lashings of drizzled feed back and some truly exquisite flute rock moments.
Molly Bloom hail from Bury, Lancashire in the UK. Their self titled and self released 2002 debut CD was reviewed by DPRP in volume 8 of 2004. All Pressure contains four revised versions of tunes that originally appeared in their debut. Their subsequent Green Fence EP was also reviewed by DPRP in the same volume. An extended and revised version of the title track of Green Fence is a welcome highlight of All Pressure. The revised tracks are particularly satisfying. They form a significant part of this release and are probably the ones most likely to appeal to DPRP readers.
Flute player and vocalist Steve Dundon has an impressive musical pedigree. He was a guest performer on Phideaux's Doomsday Afternoon featuring in the track Formaldehyde. For a number of years, he was also an integral part of Manning's live and recorded output. The flute is an explicit aspect of Molly's music and Dundon's undoubted skill is on display throughout the release. He is equally at ease providing sublime flute melodies, as demonstrated in the powerful ballad Come Creeping, or in providing snarling, spitting, snorting heavy breathing flute flurries exemplified in the wonderful instrumental piece Molly Bloom. It is a piece that begins with a delicately woven flute melody before detonating. What then follows, is totally exhilarating and is a wonderful onslaught that displays the flute as a frenetically heavy instrument with attitude.
The riff driven Run if You Want To, is another tune that features Dundon at his finest vocally and instrumentally. In this track Molly Bloom are able to effortlessly join and hold pole position in the rostrum of heavy sounding progressive bands with flute, as exemplified in the work of groups such as Lucifer Was, or more recently Blood Ceremony. All other band members contribute skillfully to the albums overall flair and success. Andy Hunt on drums and Derek Smith on bass provide a dynamic rhythm section. However, it is the work of guitarist Tyrion Moses that is particularly notable and impressive throughout the release. His playing has just the right balance of aggressive rawness and skillful subtlety required. His exciting guitar parts energetically complement the bands compositions.
The track listing of All Pressure closely resembles the bands current live set. The power, pace and momentum forcibly increases during the concluding parts the album. The final title track is a swaying piece that is hypnotically engaging in its primal punk appeal. The unrefined energy is hard to ignore. It is easy to imagine a sweat covered crowd moving spontaneously, arms punching the sky and mouthing its rudimentary chorus in tribal unison. The piece ends with a breath takingly ferocious feed back saturated guitar flurry.
Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed Molly Bloom's most recent release. I therefore have little hesitation recommending that DPRP readers should try and hear it. Compositionally, some might feel that All Pressure may lack the refinement normally associated with the progressive genre, but this in my view only adds to its distinctive style and charm. I suspect, that some listeners may struggle with the immediate impact of the music because ofAll Pressure's often relentless assault upon the senses. However, the eclectic influences within All Pressure, combined with excellent musicianship, humour and unfettered energy more than compensate for any perceived deficiencies in finesse or intricacy. Molly Bloom's distinctive style and approach is difficult to pigeon hole. All Pressure is adventurous and contagiously enjoyable. The bands skillfull exuberance strikes the listener fully and their latest creation warrants many repeated plays.
Monday morning 9.40 am. Thinking to myself, 'what should I review now?' Grinning inanely! The next review can wait a while. All Pressure. Press repeat. Begin again.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Hans Platz - Timestamps
Birdrange (2:59), Spanish Race on a Devil's Highway (4:04), Pull It Out (3:24), Father (3:31), Red Room Nine (3:30), Axetasy (1:49), Freak Sauna (3:24), Deadman (3:00), Timestamps (3:53), This Is War (2:36), Alive (3:28)
Timestamps contains thirty six minutes of gloriously produced and executed guitar-based instrumental music. The whole album is consistently enjoyable. A variety of styles are utilised within the eleven compositions. Tuneful melodies are frequently embellished with layers of guitar such as in Birdrange. In addition, powerful straight ahead riff and rock moments are evident in tracks such as Deadman. The release also contains passages of intense fusion complete with intricate rhythms and complex time signatures. These facets are much in evidence in the title track and in the excellent Pull It Out. Numerous moments of unrestricted and enjoyably self-indulgent shredding are also exhibited throughout the album as a whole. The best example of savage guitar exploitation and posturing occur in the aptly titled Axetasy.
Listeners may find that the relatively short running time is a help and not a hindrance to the enjoyment of this technically stunning guitar extravaganza. The previously mentioned Axetasy has a duration of 1:49 and is the shortest piece on the album. The longest track lasts for a period of just over four minutes. The short length of the compositions combined with the brief overall running time gives an opportunity for the listener to fully concentrate and immerse themselves in the quality, energy and excitement that the music amply provides.
There are many appealing pieces to enjoy throughout the album. Spanish Race on a Devil's Highway is a particularly impressive track in which Platz displays a staggering virtuosity and deftness in his mastery of the guitar. The title of the song is a reference to Al Dimeola's Race with Devil on Spanish Highway from his Elegant Gypsy album. It is a showcase of Platz's varied technique and considerable talents. The piece begins with a monstrous chest pounding riff that is later reprised. Frequent tempo and mood changes abound. Overall, it has a thoroughly Spanish and at times flamenco feel.
Those who appreciate jazz fusion would also probably enjoy Pull It Out. It is one of the most elaborate pieces on offer. It is carefully structured and incorporates many different styles. Set for the most part in a 7/8 time signature, Pull It Out alternates between heavy gut wrenching flurries and funky foot tapping parts. As a contrast to the bombastic sections and perhaps of greater appeal to some listeners, there is a slower and thoroughly enchanting middle melodic section in which Platz's guitar sings with expression and pure emotion. This Is War is less satisfying and is marred by an assortment of spoken words. The heavily accented words reminded me of Moon Zappa's contribution to Zappa's Valley Girls,. The metal tinged This Is War however, has no other point of similarity to Zappa's surprisingly commercially successful composition. Rather than adding variety to Platz's album, the utterances were an unwelcome distraction; an unnecessary intrusion which broke the spell the music was able to weave.
Whilst I enjoyed the blistering finger speed that was often a feature of many of the compositions, I personally found the music to be much more emotionally satisfying and engaging during the slower pieces such as Father and Alive. Father is one of the highlights of the album. The piece is dedicated to Platz's deceased father. It has a captivating and beautiful melody that I imagine might evoke a warm emotional response in many listeners
Alive is a tune that also has the skill and ability to uplift the mood and tease an emotional response. Its fluid and tuneful guitar parts were striking in their elegance.I also took delight in the prominently lush tones provided by bass player Griffin. His outstanding feel for his instrument demonstrated in this track evoked memories of Jaco Pastorious. Alive is one of the few tracks on the release where instruments other than the guitar make a distinct impact on the senses. I thoroughly appreciated the pieces subtle combination of purring bass and reverberating guitar.
Whilst not particularly innovative, inventive or ground-breaking, Hans Platz has created an album that should appeal to all lovers of exuberant and technically adept guitar playing. The production is superb. Record producer and bass contributor Fabio Trentini has done a fabulous job. The dynamic range of the music is brought fully to life.The packaging and informative jewel case booklet has the hallmark of quality.The compositions are fresh and not hackneyed. Even on the occasions where metal styling's and arthritis inducing pyrotechnics burst forward to dominate, Platz does not rely too heavily on musical cliches often associated with that particular genre of music.
If you are still undecided whether this release is worth checking out, I should perhaps state that other guests which illuminate the music also include the jazz drummer Wolfgang Haffner and renowned guitarist Mattias IA Eklundh.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Rovo and System 7 - Hinotori
Hinotori (12:05), Love for the Phoenix (9:43), Meeting of the Spirits (7:30), Cisco (Phoenix Rising Version) (13:45), Unbroken (7:39), Sino Dub (Phoenix Rising Version) (13:38), Unseen Onsen (7:22)
The collaboration begins with Hinotori easing into mellow spacey synths which fly away with various aural effects. Percussion joins the soloing guitar and atmospheric synths. After a brief drum lead section the guitar riffs along with synths moving into the spotlight. This is followed by all the musicians jamming together in a fusion of sound. While the jam is solid I couldn't help but think some time editing would make this track more appreciated.
Love for the Phoenix starts out with ambient background combined an airy Rhodes riff. Occasionally, you get a vocal effect with a slight ethnic flavor. Its sound is more EDM lite and would fit nicely in a movie scene. The "four on the floor" beat kicks in and takes us on a ride combining all the elements mentioned. It settles down briefly and picks up pace with percussion joining in with synths making effects sounds. Towards the last few minutes everything is comes together with a rhythmic jam.
On the next track we're treated to their arrangement of Mahavishnu Orchestra's Meeting of the Spirits which takes us in a noticeably different direction with its guitar presence being forefront. Up to this point we've been moving through synth atmosphere and now the guitar takes the sonic stage. The solo fits in well with early prog stylings and joins a whirling rhythm section that brings thoughts of Middle eastern dancing girls with flowing scarves.
Cisco eases us down a bit with a steady rock groove and dare I say bluesy/psychedelic guitar sound which nearly mimics a harmonica. The song seems to add another drum kit playing in a different grove. It's a little distracting from an otherwise interesting track. Minutes later it resolves and syncs better with the guitar soloing toward the outro which jams into a frantic conclusion.
Electronica returns on Unbroken as the synth bass blips through a light Rhodes playing a repetitive loop. The guitar enters and solos through space and time with a Neal Schon-esque phrasing instead of the ethnic style in previous tracks. As with the other songs synth effects are moving throughout although sometimes overshadowing the guitar. Fortunately, the timing of this track is more reasonable and doesn't wear out its welcome.
We return to building atmospheric sounds on Sino Dub. The echo guitar effect in the intro gives way to samba stylings and drifts into more synth touches. Again, the spacey synths sounds return with a guitar-harmonica-like sound flavoring this unique track. Halfway through the tune you get a rhythmic change and later transforming back into the familiar synths heard earlier. With this song finishing at over thirteen minutes I thought maybe it went a little long given the repetivive nature of some of the sounds.
The disc closes with the track Unseen Onsen, which is a mellow encounter taking you to an underwater world near the tropics as we float through the aqua movements. Again, we seeem to go a little long at seven minutes plus using the same sounds. Although, this is a peaceful piece and one could argue seven minutes of quiet and calm is a good thing.
This collection of songs is more fitting in the electronic dance music or jam band scene. With its flowing synths and long interludes that genre is more applicable for this type of sound. Its not heavy beats that would make your teenager turn their head-phoned heads. For those wanting dance-floor hits this may not be your choice. However, if you want to hear music that is off the beat driven path and soothes rather than thumps you've found an option.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Montage - Montage
Tracklist: Other Voices (1:35), Trapeze (4:03), Misty High (3:05), Mammoth (5:39), Reborn Identity (5:00), Shine (3:02), Devil's Whip (1:10), Strawberry Skies (8:12)
This is a short record, barely over half an hour long, and most tracks gravitate around the 3-5 minute mark, which seems strange in the prog scene. The exceptions are Other Voices and Devil's Whip, two shorter acoustic pieces that serve as a break from the fuzz driven guitar of the rest of the album. The first one is reminiscent of Opeth's work, and since Mikael Åkerfeldt's love for 70's prog is well known, it shouldn't be a surprise that some ideas on Montage would sound similar: they both take inspiration from the same musical background.
The third exception is Strawberry Skies - over 8 minutes long - the proggiest on the disc. It truly has a classic feel to it, with ideas coming and going. From peppier beats to calmer arpeggiated sections, piano passages and guitar solo,it keeps up with the "manual for writing prog epics" (if such a thing even exists). Along with this track, Mammoth and Reborn Identity are also good tracks, both combining various prog elements and even some jazzy piano parts, but nothing too unexpected.
There's two things that pull this album down. One is the way the chorus melodies are composed. Most of them end up sounding out of context, and in a few cases even kill the mood set up by the rest of the song. The second problem is that Mikko Heino's vocals are hard to get into. At first I thought it might be one of those acquired taste singers, but it turns out that his voice feels strained throughout most of the release. He sounds like he is singing two tones out of his comfort zone at all times, and even when the mood seems to call for a deeper voice, he uses an unnecessary high pitch.
The syncopation, the hard rock and the dedication are there, but, as stated earlier, Montage puzzles me. I keep wondering why an album with so many interesting ideas seems to try to sabotage itself so often. Then there's the total length to analyze. Of course a prog album doesn't necessarily need to be two hours long to be a masterpiece (there's plenty of two-disc disasters out there), but some people might take this kind of things into account. Even though it feels crippled by some factors that cannot be overlooked, it's not a bad effort by any means, and the band has set a solid ground to build upon.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10
Tides from Nebula - Eternal Movements
Laughter of the Gods (5:20), Only With Presence (5:21), Satori (4:52), Emptiness of Yours and Mine (7:16), Hollow Lights (5:06), Now Run (5:14), Let it Out Let it Flow Let it Fly (5:06), Up from Eden (9:30)
Tides From Nebula describe themselves as post-rock. They are a Polish band, formed in 2008, consisting of four members: Adam Waleszynski, guitar; Maciej Karbowski, guitar, keyboards, piano; Przemek Weglowski, bass; Tomasz Stolowski, drums.
Eternal Movements is their fourth full-length release, and the first of theirs that I have heard. Tides From Nebula's 2011 album, Earthlight, was given a DPRP recommends review by Gert Hulshof.
Eternal Movements is an instrumental album that is refreshingly free of drones, whispery electronics, or sampled voices (the latter of which, is in danger of becoming a cliché in this genre of music). Tides From Nebula produce guitar-led music, underpinned by keyboards, bass and very fine drumming. The music is full of energy and melody.
The album has a very clear and clever mix that brings forward different instrumental colours, long before the pieces have outstayed their welcome. This drives the music forward giving a sense of adventure and some surprise. Tides From Nebula are, also, not scared of leaving space around and within the music; they do not feel the need to fill up every second with something and have produced, as a consequence, a work of maturity.
The opening track Laughter of the Gods begins with a heavy mix of guitars and keyboards before the rhythm section enters. This separates out the guitars into a swirl of sound, in a Radiohead kind of way. It features a good sense of dynamics, defined not only by loud and quiet passages, but also by the way the instrumentation is highlighted in the mix.
This opener sets out Tides From Nebula's stall to a large extent. Alternating fast picked guitars over crunching bass and drums before pulling back to quieter keyboard led sections (Only With Presence). The use of drum patterns giving shape and extra energy to the finely layered guitars (Satori).
However, this does not mean that all the tracks are alike. Tides From Nebula do change things around, within the limits of the their chosen instrumental style. For instance, Emptiness of Yours and Mine starts off with a clock-like piano figure that is joined by guitar, and it builds Anathema style, from quiet to loud in both musical and emotional terms. Using an open sound with controlled reverb that grows darker as the piece goes on; Tides From Nebula also cleverly introduce a choral effect, with distorted wah-wah guitar, that overcomes the cliché sample problem that I mentioned earlier.
The best track for me is Let it Out Let it Flow Let it Fly which uses an exquisite rolling drum pattern overlain with reverb drenched guitars, producing a sound that is uplifting and joyous. It does exactly what the title promises – it flows and it certainly does fly.
The long closer, Up from Eden, is the most Mogwai sounding of the tracks. Using a slow keyboard led opening motif, it grows with washes of guitar and synth as they rise from the mix until the full band kicks in. Additional organ lifts the sound further, as the guitars grow harmonically before slowly fading out with a return to the keyboard sounds it started with.
The only problem with this album is that it is one track too long. Unfortunately, Hollow Lights just seems to be a retread of what Tides From Nebula have done more successfully on other tracks. It may work better in the single version that the band has produced, but it adds nothing to a good album of guitar led instrumentals. But having said that the album has impressed me and I intend to investigate other work by this band.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Mechanik - Velut Stella Splendida
Wherever You Are Is the Entry Point (7:13), In the Faith that Looks through Death (4:58), Pills (6:57), De Tepenecz (6:27), Zum Traum (6:09), Bliss & Gloss (8:05), Russian Doll (6:10), Inner Temple (7:33), Most People Were Silent (22:47)
The bass is pretty dominant on Mechanik's first full length release, which gives it a heavy sounding quality. The grooves are consistent, and In the Faith that Looks through Death preserves the musical seriousness of the intro track, while exploring different laser, robotic and creaky-like effects.Most tracks on this record intertwine and overlap, even if only for a brief moment. This results in a sense of continuity and cohesion which helps to make the album sound better as a whole.
The third track, Pills, brings a slightly different element, as it starts off with an upbeat guitar loop and it shows off a more dynamic bass. The first sections are more playful than the ideas displayed in previous tracks, but then psychedelia suddenly takes over in a truly abstract way, where the concept becomes almost oppressive, full of drone effects and other digital stunts.
This is space rock at it's best, with the instruments acting as a container for the ambiance sound and effects, and not the other way around. The music is so thick it's almost palpable, and the "songs" go beyond mere compositions, which elevates them to the status of complete audio experiences.
Even though it brings some alternative rock on top of all the psych, Zum Traum doesn't deviate from the bands main sound. This heavier tendency, while not as prominent in other tracks, serves as another ingredient to the music rather than taking over at any given point.
Mood-wise, the remaining tracks on the album go up and down, and there's even some hollow guitars that result in a break from the electronic symmetry of the rest of the record. On the acoustic oriented Russian Doll, Mechanik shows us a different side, and, instead of sounding out of place, delivers one of the highlights of the record. As with most offerings here, it grows bigger and bigger, mutating gradually.
>The album has a strong instrumental component, with most vocal parts sprinkled around large abstract segments, never taking predominance over the instruments. Somewhere in between Marilyn Manson's deep clean voice and Bruce Soord (The Pineapple Thief)'s mellower tone; they sound alright in context, but nothing special. Not that anyone listening to this album would be purposely looking for an ultra technical singer.
The final track is over twenty minutes, and is a very melancholic tune, split in two parts. The first section begins with bass and guitar open string harmonics doing a six note pattern. After a while, the guitar joins the other instruments and effects and they all seem to dance around that same hypnotic pattern, but this time around executed only by the bass.
The constant 3/4 beat starts to fade out around the ninth minute, while at the same time we hear a quotation from Robert Oppenheimer: "We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remember the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says: 'Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.'"
After this, the remainder of the song sounds like a really long outro revolving mainly around analog synth effects. Now this is where the track lost me completely, as it involves around twelve minutes of looped effects with little variation whatsoever.
Besides the high quality production, the best compliment I can give Velut Stella Splendida, despite the fact that it might sound repetitive for people outside the krautrock circle, is that it managed to keep someone who isn't usually interested in this type of experiences hooked in for the majority of the journey.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Need - Orvam: A Song for Home
Lifeknot (6:31), Entheogen (10:43), Symmetrape (6:39), Mother Madness (7:28), Construct (6:14), Hotel Oniro (3:27), Orvam (18:00)
This disc is getting a lot of love amongst the power metal and prog metal communities with the band having accepted a swift invitation to fill a vacancy at this year's sold out ProgPower USA festival in Atlanta.
The band's two previous albums, Burning Star (2006) and Venerate Industries (2009), completely passed me by. Thus I am unable to offer any comparisons. Suffice it to say that this album offers dark, aggressive, progressive power metal of the highest quality. There is plenty of technicality in the guitars, and atmosphere in the keyboards to satisfy those who demand a challenging flow of musical twists and turns. There are plenty of hooks and melodies for those who like their music to be accessible and memorable. A tight rhythm section and balanced mix from the renowned Neil Kernon means, that despite an often dense sound, there is a clarity for the ears to enjoy.
Comparisons? The most common similarity is with latter-day Fates Warning or singer Ray Alder's excellent side-project Engine. The Need singer has more than a passing resemblance to Alder's groove, phrasing and use of harmonies, albeit it with less soul and more gravel in his throat. The opening track, Lifeknot, is a pretty good example of this. Need does takes its collective foot off the pedal occasionally with several passages bringing to mind Pain of Salvation and fellow countrymen Wastefall.
The first five songs on Orvam are faultlessly enjoyable. This is not a concept album as such, but there appears to be a lyrical theme in common. The songs take a very dark and pessimistic look at what it is that makes our existence worthwhile. I've only got a promo CD with no cover or booklet, so I can't add much to that aspect or comment about the artwork.
Where the album looses me, is in its final third. Hotel Oniro is a spoken word piece. It is well written and performed, but coming after five normal songs, it appears out of place and interrupts the flow. At 18 minutes, the title yrack has plenty of ambition and some good moments, but is too disjointed and lacks a focus. The spoken word section (in Greek) as a footnote to this song/album is beautifully done but again sits rather out of place. If Hotel Oniro had been placed as an opening track to introduce this album's theme, then this spoken footnote would have made a bit more sense and allowed the music to be enjoyed as the sandwich-filling in between.
That aside, Orvam: A Song for Home will be a strong contender for a place in my end of year Top10 and thus comes highly recommended.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10