Mostly Autumn - Dressed in Voices
CD 1: Saturday Night (5:10), Not Yours to Take (5:01), Running (4:33), See You (0:23), Home (4:39), First Day at School (7:28), Down by the River (4:42), Skin on Skin (5:54), The House on the Hill (4:24), The Last Day (6:28), Dressed in Voices (5:49), The Library (4:30), Footsteps (0:29), Box of Tears (3:52)
Bonus disc: Silhouettes of Stolen Ghosts (3:18), Wastelands (2:06), Teardrop of Flame (5:21), Dance Until the Dawn Invades (3:18), Stopping Stones (4:05), Would you? (4:16), One You Mean (2:37), Skin on Skin (3:37), Lady Rainbows (2:37)
Bonus disc: Silhouettes of Stolen Ghosts (3:18), Wastelands (2:06), Teardrop of Flame (5:21), Dance Until the Dawn Invades (3:18), Stopping Stones (4:05), Would you? (4:16), One You Mean (2:37), Skin on Skin (3:37), Lady Rainbows (2:37)
Now we have Dressed in Voices, their 11th studio album in 15 years. It's a concept album telling the story of a person who gets shot as collateral damage and who relives his life during his last moments. This theme just came up while Josh was working on his next solo album and he decided to make it the theme of a new MA album. He wrote 13 of the 14 songs on the album, most of the time helped by his wife and MA vocalist Olivia Sparnenn who also took care of most lyrics. Only The Last Day is credited to Jennings. Therefore it is very remarkable that Iain Jennings keys, especially the piano, is so dominant over Josh's guitar throughout the album.
The artwork is again very dark-coloured, with dominant black, as has been the case in all albums since Sparnenn took over from Findlay. It suits the album theme fine and it is very nicely crafted with intense, sometimes horror-like photos but it also makes the booklet a bit depressing. I found the band photo very as Davison and new drummer Alex Cromarty are pictured so small that they can hardly be recognized while Josh and Sparnenn are very upfront. A signal for the next personnel change? For there were important personnel changes again. Anne-Marie Helder (flute, keyboards) and Gavin Griffiths (drums) felt obliged to take their other band Panic Room to higher grounds and decided they couldn't combine that with their MA work. Griffiths is replaced by Cromarty (their 7th (!) drummer in 15 years), Helder plays on two tracks on the main album and another one on the bonus disc. Another old-time friend Troy Donockley also contributes to two tracks, playing bouzouki and whistle; no uilleann pipes this time. Seeing that line-up makes you hope that the album offers another bunch of folk-rock songs. Well, it doesn't.
Saturday Night opens with haunting footsteps followed by a repetitive piano riff after which the Mellotron takes over in a full outburst of the band. The rather sudden vocals are as repetitive as the opening chords were with Sparnenn singing the verses and she and Josh taking the harmony vocals in the catchy chorus. A short guitar outburst on the sounds of a police alarm is a nice treat, as well as the heartbeat drum at the end. That's a promising opening.
Not Yours to Take is a staccato track sung by Josh, opening as a slow song but after almost 2 minutes it picks up more tempo and it evolves into a driving song based on heavy guitar riffing on a very clear piano and mellotron theme by Jennings. Josh sings quite well here, the vocal lines are well within his rather limited range. He never overstretches his voice as he has done on tracks like Deep in Borrowdale on the Ghost Moon Orchestra album. Josh is a decent vocalist but compared to the vocal talents of Sparnenn he looses on all fronts. Yet their harmonies are surprisingly fitting.
Running opens with another piano led team, soon to be supported by acoustic guitar giving way to a mellow, soft melody sung by Sparnenn. The chorus is cery catchy again, backed by Josh's strong guitar chords. And there is a short, very recognizable solo by Josh, a slow one this time before Sparnenn shows again that she is one of the best female singers of this moment.
See You sounds like a séance type of thing, with distorted vocals. It fits the theme but as a musical addition to the album it is superfluous. What is really annoying is that the words spoken are not printed in the booklet. Home opens with a march-like intro making it a sort of military song. The I-person recognizes his family and feels that he will be united soon with those family members that have already been departed. Unfortunately this beautiful idea gets a rather uninteresting melody, emotional but not exciting. I think that if the band had taken some more time this song would especially have benefitted; the vocal melody, the guitar solo, they all sound as if it has yet to be finished.
First Day at School starts with sparse piano and a very nice, slow harmony vocal by Josh and Sparnenn. Then some strings arrangements during the first 4 minutes, making this easily the most orchestral song of the album. Really, really beautiful. After some 4 minutes the whole band falls in a very good flow, Josh plays a beautiful but far too short solo after which the keys take over again playing the central theme of the song.
As on many of their recent albums there has to be a straightforward rocker on this album too and that is Down by the River. Well, they could have done without it because music and lyrics add nothing special to the album nor the story. I don't see why they stick to these kind of rock songs yet it seems that Josh prefers these heavy metal-like songs, although they sound like the next Iron Maiden or Heart tribute band. The solo at the end is not surprising, we've heard those high notes in many Josh solos before. Quite a lack-lustre song, actually.
Things get a lot better with Skin on Skin that has a folksy acoustic guitar, and bodhran opening, with electric guitar falling in. Totally different atmosphere from the previous song and a next proof that MA has a distinct style of their own. The rhythm is driving all along the song, there's a strong stumping bass by Andy Smith, some nice bouzouki playing by mister Donockley himself and the predictable yet quite nice guitar solo at the end, this time backed by Jennings's keys at the end. It is the most folksy song on the album.
In House on the Hill the same Donockley returns, this time on high whistle, to join in this beautiful ballad-like song with double vocal lines by Sparnenn, lots of acoustic guitar and stunning pedal steel guitar by B.J. Cole that suits the mellow song perfectly. It is just the quiet song you need after the loads of energy in the former songs.
Jennings composed the music of The Last Day with Josh taking care of the lyrics in which some former MA song titles recur (The Last Bright Light, The Spirit of Autumn Past). Yet is has more or less the same built-up as all the Josh songs on the album, a quiet start, the full band taking up and a fierce guitar solo at the end. The latter features former band-member Anne-Marie Helder on flute. The coda sounds very familiar to their Spirits of Autumn Past coda from the album with the same title, also penned by Jennings; with the reference in the lyrics that cannot be a coincidence.
The title song has another quiet, acoustic beginning of the song and a very predictable guitar outburst at the end. We have heard these solos many times before on MA albums and most of them were far better than this one. The Library is a slow, bluesy track with Josh singing in the high regions of his voice, supported halfway by Sparnenn. It has a nice slow guitar solo, quite reminiscent of Eric Clapton in his heyday, to name just another great guitarist that Josh can be compared with.
Footsteps is just a short instrumental in which the footsteps that opened the album return. It is so short that it should have been the intro for the last song. And with Box of Tears we have the best song of the album. The flute introduction leads to a beautiful ballad emotionally sung by Sparnenn, with Jennings's piano and Josh's acoustic guitar on the background. Towards the finale of the song the flute returns. No guitar solo this time and that's good; this end of the song and of the album is great. It proves that the interplay between Sparnenn's vocals, Josh's guitar, Jennings's keys and Helder's flute is an unique asset of the band. That makes it even sadder that Helder left the band and was not replaced.
The limited edition comes with a bonus disc containing remaining material from the recording sessions. MA has released such limited editions before, eg. with the Heart Full of Sky album (eight well elaborated songs) and the Ghost Moon Orchestra album (acoustic versions of both new and old songs). This bonus disc offers 9 songs that really sound as leftovers in terms of musical quality. For instance Wastelands, which is a very simple exercise consisting of a three-tone piano riff, some flute and some guitar notes. Nothing more than a demo or an intro to something great, but most definitely not a song on its own, let alone something you should bother to record. Apart from Teardrop of Flame, that is both haunting and catchy and provides within its 5 minutes some space for interesting melodies and hooks and a nice solo, and One You Mean that has nice flute and acoustic guitar playing, these bonus songs are totally uninteresting, not justifying the significant extra money for this limited edition. This time the single album version of Dressed in Voices is far to be preferred.
The music on Dressed in Voices is in line with the former albums, containing a combination of rock songs and mellower melodies, this time with the rockier side of MA dominating. It therefore has some resemblance to the Heart Full of Sky album, not their best. As already said by colleague Geoff Feakes in his Ghost Moon Orchestra review, the built up of most of the songs is more or less the same, with a quiet intro, an outburst in the middle, a guitar solo at the end. It is all very listenable and enjoyable but hardly surprising. Epic songs like Heroes..., The Gap Is too Wide, Pass the Clock or Glass Shadows are sorely missed making this a rather anonymous album.
Mostly Autumn tends to sound more and more like other rock bands (listen to the Deep Purple pastiche Lady Rainbows on the bonus disc) and therefore too predictable. Maybe eleven albums in 15 years time is a bit too much? There's enough ambition and enough ideas in the band but this album is not a proof of those, in spite of the efforts the band has put into the music and the art work. It makes 'Dressed in voices' a disappointing offering, alas. If the bonus disc had been alright this album I would have given a 7 but this bonus disc is really dreadful.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Brother Firetribe - Diamond in the Firepit
Intro (0:22), Love's not Enough (4:01), Far Away from Love (4:21), For Better or for Worse (4:17), Desperately (4:24), Edge of Forever (4:04), Hanging by a Thread (5:23), Trail of Tears (4:17), Winner Takes it All (4:03), Tired of Dreaming (4:34), Reality Bites (4:02), Close to the Bone (4:18)
Finnish band Brother Firetribe might not be up most prog-rock purists' alley, but the throwback to the symphonic soft-rock and hard rock of the 70s and 80s, reminiscent of bands like Europe, Journey, Asia, Survivor or Van Halen, merits a closer look from the DPRP team.
Diamond in the Firepit kicks off - after a short, soundcheck-like intro track, with the powerful Love is not Enough. Between the fast paced groove, the rocking guitar riffs, and the overuse (in the best possible way) of choruses, synth and keyboards, the tone and direction of the album is defined pretty quickly. The drums and bass set a pretty solid base for most of the record, which is vital to the feel of the Finnish quintet.
Far Away from Love, For Better or for Worse and Edge of Forever continue in this upbeat rock tradition, all dominated by the guitar/synth combination. Guitarist Emppu Vuorinen's evident love for fuller guitar arrangements (probably imported from his main band, Nightwish) underlies the whole release, which makes for a nice change of pace from most soft-rock releases. The fact that he manages so well to step aside from his well known power/symphonic metal guitar player role, speaks well of his versatility, which makes me wish he stepped up a notch and got involved with something farther away from the rock spectrum.
On a quieter note, Hanging by a Thread and Reality Bites, while they maintain the mood of the rest of the songs, are softer in nature, while Desperately is a full blown power ballad, much like Van Halen's Can't Stop Loving You.
The rest of the album feels a little weaker, though the quality never drops below a certain point, which is pretty high. There's nothing particularly new, or progressive for that matter, about this release, yet it's soaked in this nostalgic charm that cannot be disparaged easily. Most songs here would not have been out of place in the soundtrack of any classic 80s movie. In fact, the best analogy of Diamond in the Firepit's soul, lies in the cover of Winner Takes It All, originally done by Sammy Hagar for the 1987 movie Over the Top. It's old school rock delivered with a fresh sound and some new - albeit rather small - twists.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Polska Radio One - Cosmos Inside
The Final Mantra (5:12), The Fractalized Sky (5:16), Time-Eternity (5:40), Morosim (2 C-P Dub) (6:04), To the Delta of Aquarius (7:14), Shangri-La (5:50), Launch #93 (2:58), Cosmos Inside (10:02), Bonus track: Rhymes and Armonies (6:43)
This fascinating four-piece (Dimitri Kutnyakov, guitar, vocals, and keyboards. Alexander Naumov, electric tampura, Andrei Golubev, keyboards, bass and Feodor Sanatin, drums and keyboards) takes all the best elements of krautrock and late British drone rock psychedelia, throw it up in the air, and then mix it into this, their exciting and eclectic debut album.
With The Final Mantra, the drone and reverb-heavy, almost Gregorian chant-like opener, the album then pushes deep into late 1960s Hawkwind territory on the pounding, intense, almost Floydian, The Fractalized Sky. This has some fantastic guitar and backwards effects, creating a lost psychedelic classic.
These four guys are intelligent and classy musicians. Whilst showing their influences on their sleeves, they are no mere tribute act or copyists. They manage to channel the spirit of '69 through a filter, and create something new, something intense, something exciting.
With tracks such as Time-Eternity, with its pounding, ominous, heavy drum sound and the sitar of guest performer Stepan Jee, mixed and trading riffs with Kutnayakov's guitar, the sound is intoxicating, enticing and takes you to a bazaar in Marrakech. As the album gets heavier, the tracks get longer. Pieces like Morosim (2 C-P Dub) takes psychedelic rock and mixes it with the sort of low, heavy dub bass that Jah Wobble specialises in, whilst the sinister chanting and vocals give off echoes of the darker side of Pink Floyd's Piper. The guitar and drums driving the beat come across as a darker, twisted kind of Madchester sound; the riff twisted, the beat insidious, the drive pulsating.
Launch #93 on the other hand, is an acoustic guitar and effects-driven piece, interspersed with dialogue from a space launch. It builds slowly to its climax, as the dialogue and the music fuse together to create a dramatic tension, and a dynamic juxtaposition of the words and the sound.
The pulsating heart at the core of this supernova of an album is the dramatic and epic title track, all 10 minutes plus of it, with its pulsing guitars, its taut percussion, its dramatic and climax building keyboards, and the sound of the Hammond organ underpinning the whole track. The guitar goes out there, and beyond, channeling the greatest psychedelic rock anthems. This is Interstellar Overdrive tightened up. This is Hurry On Sundown turned up to 11, and this is Out Demons, out amplified and exaggerated. This is the sound of contemporary psychedelia, pushing itself out there and beyond. Boldly going where no space rock band has gone before.
Polska Radio One is a dramatically inventive quarter with verve, style and a taut, intense musical sound. If you like your Prog out there, and then some, then this very exciting debut deserves a place in your headspace.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
XNA - When We Changed You
At Childhood's Beginning (2:01), When We Changed You (7:19), Banner of the White Boar (15:04), The Flying Dutchman (9:27), The Vale of Avalon (7:08), Annapurna (8:29), At Childhood's End (16:06)
Its feet are firmly planted in the traditions of the forefathers of progressive rock from the seventies. The most notable comparison would be early Genesis of the Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot era. Another major influence seems to be early Marillion when Fish was the lead vocalist. I can imagine XNA lead singer David Hussey coming out on stage in elaborate costumes and makeup, much as Peter Gabriel and Fish did in the early days of their respective bands.
Not surprisingly, David Hussey comes from an LA-based Genesis tribute band called Gabble Ratchet as well as Yes tribute band Closer to the Edge. His influences are very obvious from the first moment you hear him sing. He is a storyteller, and this album is full of interesting stories set to music. There is an abundance of character to his voice, which makes up for some of the technical vocal flaws. He very much sounds like a mixture of Peter Gabriel and Fish.
But, David Hussey's vocal performance is not the only example of how this album fits the stereotypes of progressive rock. The album also features the production and performance of Billy Sherwood, who himself is a well-known name in prog circles with his work in Yes and more recently Circa. The inclusion of a progressive rock veteran sets the expectations high and is another way this band draws elements from progressive rock's past.
Another stereotype is that this is a big concept album including aliens, medieval knights, British explorers, and sherpas. This creates for quite a varied listen. This is one of the album's strengths as it takes the listener to several different places. We travel from outer space with a group of sympathetic UFOs, to a medieval battlefield involving knights, to out on the high seas in the exploration period, even to the icy mountains of the Himalayas.
The stories are great and well told, and the band does well to create a musical soundscape to match these different environments. Sometimes the vocals can be a little bit grating, for example in Annapurna. Here David Hussey adopts a style where he almost talks the lyrics rather than singing. It is a technique used to portray the different characters (in this case, Rudyard Kipling), but it can sometimes be a distraction.
But, the lyrics are fascinating and I enjoy the idea of aliens "creating" us into who we are today and looking at us now and being disappointed by the current state of the world. It is a sci-fi twist on a very spiritual idea. Sandwiched between the aliens' story are what seem like unrelated stories throughout history. The clever part about this, though, is that each story provides an example of humans throughout history and how they have a certain darkness, which is what the aliens are currently perceiving. It is a fascinating look into the world and the darkness within it.
Continuing with the theme of Prog stereotypes, this album contains a hard hitting instrumental overture that introduces the listener to the album.
As expected, this album also has a few epic pieces that are over 15 minutes. The first is Banner of the Whyte Boar which is a strong statement from the band in a more medieval style. The keyboards of Adam Malin are the centerpiece of the band and create so much mood and atmosphere underneath David Hussey's impassioned vocals. Not to be forgotten, Danny Bryle contributes significantly with some emotional guitar solos that cry out some of the strongest melodies on the record. David Hussey also contributes classical guitar and flute, which really gives this particular track its medieval sound.
The other epic is album closer At Childhood's End which is a lot darker with some fantastic sci-fi sounding keyboards from Adam Malin that gives the perfect soundscape as this track deals with the aliens. The musicians that play on this album are clearly great at their instruments and are able to give the stories life. I can imagine The Flying Dutchman sailing on the stormy seas. In some ways, this record feels almost as much like a storybook as a musical album.
The biggest weakness of the album, though, is that it rests too heavily on the progressive rock stereotypes. The big sci-fi/fantasy concept, epic songs clocking in at over 15 minutes, a very charismatic frontman with a quirky vocal style, big bombastic keyboard and guitar solos, and various instrumental sections in differing time signatures. XNA seems to be relying heavily on the style of their predecessors, almost to the point of being more of a tribute band than having their own unique identity.
There needs to be some element that sets them apart from the countless other bands that play music in a Genesis sounding style. That being said, their emotional connection to the stories being told and their musicianship is great. Fans of retro progressive rock will find bounteous rewards through listening to this album. I just wish the music had a more modern edge, or introduced some element that made it more unique and special.
Although a pleasant listen, I can't help but feel that the music is too bland and old-fashioned for my tastes. I hope on their next record, they can insert something that can set them apart in the current Prog music landscape.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Hot Head Show - Perfect
Kansas (3:56), Bethany (4:35), Bang Now (3:46), Hello Doctor (4:12), Bodie Doesn't Take It Sitting Down (3:50), Some Money (3:21), Little Kitty (1:01), Fingers (4:07), Bangfish (3:37), Unbearable Lightness of Bang (2:40)
Primus knows how to make an album sound adventurous and they have found a niche with their avant garde, jazz and funk influenced rock. Even though the title of this album might be Perfect, this album is not quite that. Yes, Hot Head Show knows how to write tunes. Yes, the album does contain Primus-like, avant garde 'bang' as the band themselves name their music and yes, the variety of music they play ranges from jazz, to ska, to blues, to bossa nova and much more.
Yes, you might call them progressive for the way they don't fit into just one style and if your definition of "perfect' matches true eclecticism, then in that way, Hot Head Show might have delivered. On the other hand, even now I have listened to the album several times, I don't find myself longing for one of the songs, nor hooked by the lyrics, nor the intricate or not so intricate parts by whatever instrument, nor simply the melodies of the songs. I'm not saying there is nothing in this album to be enjoyed. Surely, 'Bang Now' shows that Hot Head Show knows how to play their instruments and aren't slouches at that either.
Jordan Copeland (son of former Curved Air members Stewart Copeland (of The Police fame as well) and Sonja Kristina) has a good voice and knows how to play the guitar, Maxwell Betamax, the drummer knows his chops and the bass, in its Primus-like fashion, finds its master in Oz Browne. Jonah Brody adds organ and piano to the fold.
Yet the songs all seem fairly anonymous and just don't grab this reviewer's ears for attention. And that to me, makes this album not quite perfect. It is enjoyable for an incidental listening perhaps and there are no bad performances to be noticed. However I do not think the music will be found in many a DPRP's reader's home, unless they are very much into Zappa, Primus or Captain Beefheart. Listen without prejudice, as always, yet be aware this does not contain what you'd normally expect on these here pages.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Chris Thompson - Toys & Dishes
Million Dollar Wonder Hit (4:00), Millie Christine (4:34), Eddie Wants to Rock (4:17), Dark Side Interlude (0:57), Dark Side (4:22), Hey You! (3:54), Dream Away Little Girl (3:31), You're the One I Love (2:35), Sad Song Wishes (One Moment) (4:04), Talk to Me (4:12), We Run (4:19), Woe Is Me (2:43)
In addition to his on-off relationship with Manfred Mann, which continued from the mid 70's into the current millennium, Thompson has released several solo albums as well as collaborating with a host of international artists too numerous to mention although his contribution to Jeff Wayne 's The War Of The Worlds will standout for many. For me however virtually any song featuring his vocal talents is worth hearing, as Chris does possess one of the most soulful voices in English rock (a distinction he shares with Paul Carrack).
For the new studio album Toys & Dishes (his first in ten years) Thompson, in collaboration with guitarist/bassist Arno Krabman, keyboardist Gunnar Bjelland and drummer Maarten Molema, has produced 12 diverse tunes which demonstrate that it's possible to be all things to all men.
It certainly covers a good deal of ground, including wry observation with a Queen inspired vocal hook (Million Dollar Wonder Hit), rock 'n' roll pastiche (Eddie Wants To Rock), American bluegrass (You're The One I Love), laidback Eagles style country-rock (Sad Song Wishes) and bar room blues worthy of Tom Waits (Woe Is Me).
If none of those float your boat, then elsewhere you will find the album's best songs in the shape of the ridiculously catchy Millie Christine, the atmospheric and appropriately titled Dark Side (my personal favourite), aggressive post-punk reminiscent of Green Day (Hey You!) and a refined ballad not unlike Bruce Springsteen in his mellower moments (Dream Away Little Girl).
For prog diehards (and followers of Manfred Mann's Earth Band) Toys & Dishes may well disappoint. Whilst it encapsulates several genres, progressive rock is not amongst them. If however mature rock performed by seasoned musicians is your thing, then this is worthy of your attention. Thompson has rarely sounded in better voice.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Janus - Gravedigger
CD 1 (original album and contemporaneous single): Red Sun (8:58), Bubbles (3:54), Watcha Trying to Do? (3:53), I Wanna Scream (2:46), Gravedigger (20:53), Bonus tracks: I'm Moving On (single A-side) (3:14), I Don't Believe You (single B-side) (3:16)
CD 2 (remixed album and rarities): Red Sun (8:56), Bubbles (3:53), Watcha Trying to Do? (3:52), I Wanna Scream (2:51), Suma Manatilly (3:40), Sinful Sally (2:54), Gravedigger (20:52)
CD 2 (remixed album and rarities): Red Sun (8:56), Bubbles (3:53), Watcha Trying to Do? (3:52), I Wanna Scream (2:51), Suma Manatilly (3:40), Sinful Sally (2:54), Gravedigger (20:52)
Skip forward 15 years or so and an article of the band and the Gravedigger album in Record Collector magazine sparked a resurgence of interest and original copies of the album started changing hands for large sums of money. The original band reunited in early 1990 and recorded a new album, Out of Time, which, once again, was a source of disappointment to the group as, according to principle songwriter Colin Orr, sounded "too old. I didn't want to be one of those people with a 1970's hair style (although hair of any kind would have been nice...), clothes, and music stuck in a time warp". Simultaneous with the release of the new album, the Gravedigger album was granted a digital release supplemented with some extra tracks, one of which, Yesterday Has Turned to Shapeless Life, was originally scheduled for inclusion on the album but lack of time prevented its recording. The original CD release was somewhat limited and with the album having gained a near 'classic' reputation, EMI approached Orr with the idea of re-releasing the album once more and knowing the band's disappointment with the LP's sound offered him the chance to completely remix the whole album from the master tapes.
The juxtaposition of the remixed album alongside the original version highlights the disappointment the band must have felt when they first heard how the fruits of their first proper recording sessions. The new mix certainly brings life to the music and anyone who is a fan of the original album is encouraged to check out the remix and experience the difference. However, I expect most reading this will be unfamiliar with the band or their music so what is exactly on offer? Basically, it is an album of two halves. In its original format the first four tracks were heavier numbers, largely composed by Orr, with a definite psychedelic edge. In truth only a couple of the songs have really stood the test of time with the best of the bunch being the lengthy opener Red Sun. The song features lots of effect laden guitar and is a driving song that promises lots and just about delivers. Parts of Bubbles remind me somewhat of something The Who might have come up with and is a pretty decent number except for an annoying middle section. Whatcha Trying to Do? has a really annoying intro and chorus but the use of strings give an indication of what the band were trying to achieve, even if the execution was lacking. The version of I Wanna Scream included on the remix CD was actually recorded afresh by the original band members as the master tapes were no longer available in the vaults, which is not surprising really as the version used on the original album was actually an earlier demo recording - the band were apparently unable to play the song by the time it came to lay it down in the studio. Naturally the new version does have a somewhat more modern sound than the original, but it is keeps pretty true to the original, to the extent that Orr even used the same guitar that he played in the seventies. The first of the two bonus tracks, Suma Manatilly is also a new recording as the multitracks could not be found and is also 'updated', primarily by the addition of female backing vocals. On the whole it is not a great surprise that it was left off the album. Sinful Sally is a contemporaneous unreleased master and, from the sound of it predates the album's material having more of a rock 'n' roll feel to it and featuring a fair amount of piano played by Hans Jürgen Fritz from the German band Triumvirate whose Mediterranean Tales album was released on the Harvest label at the same time as Gravedigger.
Before embarking on the second half of the album, let us take a quick detour to the two bonus tracks included on the first CD, both sides of the only single released by the band in the seventies, probably simultaneously with the album as the tracks share the same producer and the single had a picture sleeve that was also taken in the sand dunes on which the album's skeletal star is lying. Both songs are quite different from the album tracks: the A side, I'm Moving On has a more commercial feel and is an understandable choice for a single with en evident hook line and simple but repetitive beat. The B side I Don't Believe You is actually quite a little gem in a bizare and quirky way; the only reason I mourn the loss of the 7" single is because I am a huge fan of the oddities that bands used to pull together for inclusion as b-side tracks as the frequently displayed an entirely different side to a band. Such is the case here and it is great to have the song resurrected from the depth of obscurity.
And so on to the epic title track, the only group composition and an outstanding piece of classic progressive rock displaying all of the elements that we associate, and love, with the genre. We have strings, we have a classical guitar break (playing excerpts of classical music to boot), we have depth, we have vision, we have consummate musicianship, it is all here. One can hardly believe that it is the same band that recorded the rest of the album. From the sedate acoustic opening backed by a delicate rhythmic beat the song builds gradually introducing a rather mournful choir which leads into some lovely melodic airs with graceful organ underpinning some of the changes. Bold and ambitious but not flash and extravagant, just an absolutely delightful and neigh on perfect piece of music.
Life is full of "what ifs" and "if onlys" but it is tempting to wonder what Janus could have achieved if Gravedigger had proved more successful and they had completed writing and recording a second album which would have been based around another long-form composition, Under the Shadow of the Moon, the subject of the following review. But alas, idle speculation leads nowhere and the truth of the matter is that as the album was released, the two sides of Gravedigger were too different to give a consistent grasp of the group. The first song, as well as the bonus songs, are largely the work of a middle ranking psych rock band that largely defines the musical styles of the late sixties and early seventies and, to be honest, with the exception of Red Sun is quite forgettable. However, Gravedigger the song, is an almost essential piece of music that defines the scope and vision of the early days of prog rock. Of course, that leaves me with a dilemma as to how to rate the album. As a whole, the album is not worthy of a DPRP recommendation but everyone should hear the title track and, accordingly, we have provided a YouTube link to a audio version of the song above.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10 (but with the caveat that the song Gravedigger is recommended for one and all!)
Janus - Under the Shadow of the Moon
Under the Shadow of the Moon (21:07), Dark Dark (4:41), How Many Times (3:12), Promised Land (4:35), Save America (2:02), Feeling (3:48), Maybe I Was the Fool (5:14), I'm Not Made of Plastic (4:09), If I'd Listened (4:22)
The focal point of the album is the 21-minute title track which kicks off proceedings and, truth be told, it is quite an engaging composition. Although it would false to say that it is immediately obvious that the song is by the same band who wrote Gravedigger, which of course it isn't, there are certain points that allude back across the 40 years. Although time has not been particularly kind to Orr's voice, age has certainly not withered his guitar playing which has taken on somewhat of a more soulful air. There are elements that are particularly good, the piano/guitar/sax/clarinet section is particularly graceful and moving and some of the double-tracked guitars lend a Wishbone Ash vibe to proceedings. Although the piece is comprised of distinct sections with some very obvious gaps between sections, this does not detract from the overall enjoyment of the song. Some nice female vocals are provided by Orr's daughter Rikki, who also plays clarinet and additional keyboards throughout the album, while another daughter, Thea, plays tenor sax throughout.
The remainder of the album is made up of eight shorter tracks which, thankfully, steer clear of the psychedelic outpourings that were so detrimental to the first album. There is a variety of styles on display, for instance Dark Dark is a rather, er, dark, song with an industrial backing rhythm and Save America is a piano ballad with lead vocals by Ben Stafford. Best of the bunch are also ballads: Feeling, has some lovely guitar playing over the piano and a sprightly chorus while the acoustic guitar driven Maybe I Was the Fool has a nice arrangement of keyboard strings and the slower tempo is more suited to Orr's voice which has matured to be more suited to slower tempo songs rather than rockier numbers like I'm Not Made of Plastic, a song which I couldn't get into at all. Closer If I'd Listened is an earnest confessional type of number which, although not the best number on the album, draws things to a suitable close.
A more consistent effort than Gravedigger, Under the Shadow of the Moon has some nice moments with the 20+ minute title track providing the most enjoyable listening experience. It is a marginally better overall effort than the first album, although nothing really comes close to matching the excellent Gravedigger title track.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Kerrs Pink - Mystic Spirit
Final Curtains (6:41), Mysterious Wood (6:53), Until I Know (2:35), The Storm (6:42), Choose Your Path (5:33), In Immortality (5:25), Creepy You Crawl (5:22), Unwanted (2:03), Secluded (5:56), Slaves of the West (8:02), Earth to Earth (10:59), The Last Journey (Ode to Jostein) (2:04)
Now to what this writing is for: getting to tell you about the music at hand. A keyboard sound not unlike the introductory sounds of Saga's Careful Where You Step pulls your leg for but a brief moment until a bit of a musical vocal sets in. What can it be? Then there's Harald's majestic guitar, great textures by Glenn Fosser on Hammond C3 and Mellotron, which he plays just as much as piano and accordion on this track. By then, Eirikur Hauksson, the Icelandic voice of rock (his name might ring a bell, he has joined the ranks of another Scandinavian prog band, Magic Pie), has already shone and we soon get the feel of the song. The accordion reveals the folk heart of the song, whereas the keyboard layers and the guitar point out the more rocky background, the guitar sound a mix between Andy Latimer and Ritchie Blackmore when playing instrumental songs, strangely enough. Folk and prog and a fine dose of rock to top it off. Eirikur's voice, stemming from a predominantly heavier history, here adds wonderfully to the music and never gets over the top. Is it a song about a dream, is it a song about passing into another dimension, this Final Curtain? It might just as well be. Maybe the band want us to give our own meaning to the song. Mind you, this is one of those songs that might keep ringing in your head.
If the first song is a mere introduction to the band's style and musical meanderings, then Mysterious Wood gives you a broader perspective on the palette Kerrs Pink are using. The folk parts being even more at the forefront of the song, here you might even find the song points in Jethro Tull's direction. The bass did not go unnoticed in the previous song, but here Per Langsholt shows his skills on the bass more explicitly. Again, lovely accordion! Until I Know is short ballad with great guitar playing by Harald. Here his playing is very much like Andy Latimer, yet him being a guitarist with quite a history of his own, it is hard to maintain the referral as such. He is a great guitar player in his own right.
Then The Storm sets in. A raving and raging instrumental with only some vocal harmonies ("Ah ha ha") that enhance the Savatage feel of the song. Not only is that due to the song title, but, good grief, the guitar playing here also, also reminds a bit of that Florida band. It's one of that instrumentals that put feel at the front. If you like your prog with more than a diet portion of intense guitar playing, then this is for you. It is great to hear the band must have enjoyed themselves a lot while recording this album as Choose Your Path with its Deep Purple / Rainbow feel truly shows. In Immortality gives us Eirikur's voice in great shape, indeed, in quite a bombastic ballad. Yet the combination of voice, warm keys and the guitar soaring above it all with the bass steady at the back, makes it a fine one, especially since the ending is quite the contrast with the song's main bombastic approach. You will find that approach in more songs, yet in my humble opinion it is never over the top on this album. It is the way Kerrs Pink weave their music, with grand keyboard textures being the background for Harald's majestic guitar. What sums up the album, is that it is a mix of folk, prog and rock, with, not to be forgotten, diverse jazzinfluenced parts (Try Secluded for that matter} which can totally draw you in, if you're in for guitar playing with a feel, keyboards rich and warm in texture and a bass that keeps pumping all through the album. While perhaps not being revolutionary in sound, this is one album to thoroughly enjoy. I am now off to continue my journey and find Kerrs Pink's back catalogue.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Hibernal - Replacements
Replacements Part I (4:00); The City Ebbs Away (7:22); The Restless Man (6:38); Evasion (6:33); The Streets in Darkness (5:17); The Place Where You Hide (7:21); Machinations (3:03); Time Runs Out (4:14); Truth (4:35); Fragments of the Past (6:50); Fallout (5:39); Replacements Part II (4:21)
Hibernal brings a whole new meaning to "Cinematic Prog".
In Mark's own words his second story centres around a man "who carries out an empty existence in a near-future dystopian city. He becomes infatuated with a synthetic female and soon learns that she is on the run from the law. Replacements opens a window into the future of mankind's technology where our mastery of robotics creates endless possibilities, both great and terrible. It asks the question - is everything replaceable?"
The voice actors are different from the first production and sound convincingly professional. As everything depends on the ability of the voices to convince the listener, Hibernal must invest in top quality voice actors. Mark has done just that. Both the voices of Scott Gentle, the voice of the main character Artimus and Faleena Hopkins, as Sabel the synthetic, are utterly convincing.
With the added layer of music to absorb, my ears would have liked them to go at a slightly slower pace at times. But that is a minor quibble.
Musically, Mark plays all the instruments apart from bass which is performed by Rowan Salt. It's very futuristically sci-fi with a lots of keyboards, some lovely yet precise solos and an emphasis on groove and atmosphere. I like it. It adds to the story. The story adds to the music. Win. Win.
The strength of the concept is in allowing the listener to absorb the mood of the music, whilst the story slowly unfolds. There is a great pacing to both the music and story. This cleverly builds the suspense in the listener as to which way the tale will go.
First and foremost, Hibernal is an experience.
The downside of this format is that, in a similar way to a book or a film, I'm not sure I'd want to experience it more than a couple of times. Once you know the outcome of the tale, the suspense or curiosity is gone. On a repeat listen, I found the voices interrupted the music.
There is an instrumental-only version of replacements. However I think that "offer" really has to come as part of the package, not an additional purchase. However in a similar way to an audio book, I'd be more than happy to pay for a series of these – more in the way of a podcast than an album.
I do not intend to demean the quality of this in any way by those comments. I really enjoyed the way Replacements worked on a multiple level. If Mark can maintain the major plus points of his production – quality actors, good story and music which fits the groove, then there is an ongoing market for this. If it's to become a viable product, the trick will be finding the right way to market and sell it.
Like a film, one has to immerse oneself in Replacements from start to finish in one sitting. I'd heartily recommend you to set aside an hour of your life for the Hibernal experience.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Ozma - New Tales
Awakening (3:00),The Launch (5:09), Wide and Open (4:40), Belouga (5:38), The Drive (1:28), The Walk (2:53), Supertanker (3:16), Dark City (5:15), Monsters (4:36), Rest and Rebirth (3:53), The Dance (3:37), Tales of Jim (4:25),
A eureka moment followed a week later and I was set free of my indifference and listening incompetence. With some degree of familiarity, came a capability to appreciate the many varied pleasures of Ozma's New Tales. It is an album that I am now enjoying greatly and its appeal continues to grow. Despite following my mum's advice, some aspects of the music though still remain frustratingly off limits.
Ozma is a quartet from Strasbourg. New Tales is their fifth album. The music is an intriguingly eclectic amalgam of Jazz and Rock. New Tales is embodied with an admirable sense of freedom which shines through its twelve wide-ranging compositions. At times reflective, but alternatively often exploding with rhythm and energy, Ozma has created an accomplished album. The saxophone is the principle voice of the quartet, although all of the players contribute excellently throughout the release.
David Florsch is a richly talented saxophonist who appears to be equally at ease playing within a swinging jazz groove or offering effect sprinkled solo parts. His playing most reminded me of Bill Evans whose debut release Living in the Crest Of A Wave is probably my all time favourite saxophone-led Jazz Rock album.
The album begins strongly with the excellent Awakening. Although lasting a mere three minutes, it contains many of the things that some listeners might enjoy about Jazz Rock. Technically excellent playing is combined within a structure that enables interesting developments and embellishments to take place.
Awakening is an accessible Jazz Rock tune that features some strong bass parts and many alluring changes of rhythm. The opening track is an indication of the quality of arrangement and performance that Ozma can create.
The equally impressive The Launch follows. It features an incessant underlying rhythm led by the guitar that is quite mesmerising. Despite some extremely tasteful soloing by Florisch the piece as a whole has that type of studious, laid back ambience that was so beloved of many ECM releases of the 1980s.
Wide and Open is a more eclectic and experimental piece. The listener is presented with a rhythmic barrier of penetrating sounds. Adrien Dennefield's electric guitar, various effects and Guilllaume's bass soloing combine to create a much heavier fusion-based sound. As a contrast,Belouga is a much slower and organically developing piece. It is a track that I have struggled to fully appreciate. Its more ambient style, delivery and overall feel appear somewhat out of place amongst the album's more rhythmic elements.
One of the few tracks that was immediately appealing was Rest and Rebirth. Its appeal has not diminished in subsequent listens. The wonderfully evocative saxophone of Florisch subtly dominates the slow pace of the tune. It is a piece that is blessed with much beauty and the relaxing effects of the melody linger long after it has ended.
The Drive is by contrast a track that it is not nearly as appealing. Thankfully, it is mercifully brief and is the shortest piece on the album. The Drive is no doubt cleverly performed and innovative in some way. Nevertheless, it appears to be predominantly an effect-laden rhythmic soundscape. It appeared to have neither a well-defined beginning nor end. As such, it is not representative of the album and is different from the other pieces. Other than the excellent work of drummer Stephane Scharle and bassist Edouard Sero – Guillaume, The Drive has little else to commend it.
As the title might suggest The Dance is an infectious, hip swinging tune where the listener can feel the sense of fun that the performers had in the studio. A sense of fun, creativity and adventure also pervades the excellent closing composition Tales of Jim which is probably the strongest track of this album.
I am glad that I persevered with this release. Listening to it now, it is difficult to remember, yet alone identify all of the aspects of the music that I found so impenetrable during my initial listens. It remains an intensely stimulating but challenging listen. However it now all seems to fall into place quite naturally and is a thoroughly rewarding experience.
What then would my musical world have been like without my mother? I dread to think. Thanks mum, this review is dedicated to you.
And as she used to say: "If at first you don't succeed, then try and try again". If you care to follow that advice in relation to Ozma's New Tales, them I am sure that your perseverance will be more than amply rewarded.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Bruce Soord with Jonas Renske - Wisdom of Crowds
Pleasure (6:11), Wisdom of Crowds (5:03), Radio Star (4:35), Frozen North (6:31), The Light (7:12), Stacked Naked (4:53), Pretend (5:23), The Centre of Gravity (5:36), Flows Through You (11:38)
Adding the word "dynamic" to the CVs of these guys would not be a cliche, but rather a justified appearance on the resume pages. As a duo they take dastardly to delight, via the bold, sharp, post-progressive sound they carve out on their debut release, Wisdom of Crowds. It leaves their own industrial embellishment and enough sonic smoke to intoxicate, rather than choke the listener. If Nine Inch Nails is a blueprint here, the nails have more in measurement.
The Reznor feel works its way into Renske's vocal phrasings on Flows Through You, which also features a lone drum programming burlesque and a thick groove firing off a lot of dark synth elements and screaming guitar from Soord.
That industrial blueprint, or rather blackprint, also appears as the setting on Frozen North. Busy structuring, sorrowful vocals from Renske and forlorn strings and dense cement walls of blistering guitar from Soord. They layer a bold defense to be rivalled by any of the five sides of the Pentagon.
On opening track Pleasure, Soord's guitar goes from a lush hue of melancholy, to abrasive, to wailing. His bold drumming, along with a soulful vocal from Renske powers the song along with some plaintive piano elements and a trip-hop groove section, which add accents to the action.
The Bristol grooviness wiggles its way into The Center Of Gravity, with a vocal lilt from Renske and dark string ingredients, minimal piano stylings, nary-a-care mid-tempo drum programming and thin, rainy sheets of Mellotron from Soord.
Radio Star showcases some more NIN-style vocals from Renske and Soord's busy drumming, delicate piano, smooth ribbons of synth and squiggly electronics to cast yet another black light of NIN reference.
Not a bad thing, as the music on this album is composed with such compositional originality that it gives these two gentlemen a unique sound in their own right. Renske hits the songs' words with an emotive flair not a hairbreadth off, and Soord brings a variety of instrumentation from the palette, with attention given to consistency and space, and not to any showboating.
So with Wisdom of Crowds Renske and Soord have a great partnership here and a great career ahead of them. I'm sure their sound will grow and evolve.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Matt Stevens - Lucid
Oxymoron (2:45), Flow (2:09), Unsettled (2:45), The Other Side (3:30), The Ascent (2:31), Coulrophobia (3:24), Lucid (2:46), KEA (2:24), Street and Circus (4:56), The Bridge (11:49), A Boy (2:50)
No. Over-analytical, Thesaurus-powered hyperbole usually gets us nowhere. What we are here for is the music. Delivered in ten short bursts, eight of which are under three minutes, and one near twelve minute exploration, Lucid is a big stride forward for the arrangement skills of Matt Stevens, and a fine musical statement to boot.
Employing the services of Stewart Marshall, the drummer from his band The Fierce and the Dead, on six of the twelve tracks, and bassist Kev Feazey on one, retains a connection to that band. Feazey is also in the production stool and gives us a loud but thankfully not over-compressed sound. Inevitably some of the songs here could easily be included in TF&TD's repertoire, the title track in particular, which unsurprisingly is the one occasion on the record where the three of them play together.
However, this album is not a mere collection of band cast-offs, and I did not mean to give that impression. Matt is well known for his solo spots, looping an acoustic guitar to great effect, and there are plenty of examples of that here too. On the delightful Kea, Matt plays lone acoustic and as far as I can tell leaves out all effects, highlighting his not inconsiderable chops on the instrument in the process. I am put in mind of Steve Howe's solo work.
The album kicks off with Oxymoron, a high energy, punky lurch through Crimson's backyard, knocking over a few plant pots on the way and scaring the cat. The Frippian guitar continues, but in a much more subdued and introspective fashion on Flow. These two outings perfectly show the two stylistic poles in Stevens' music.
The Ascent is two-and-a-half minutes of blazing guitar, a glorious display of fiery, modern prog. With his well known love of the mighty Crim, Matt must have been well pleased to have acquired the services of none other than Pat Mastelotto on the drums, and this seems to inspire our larger-than-life guitar-wrangling hero on to dizzying heights. Spurred on by Pat and Italian bass player of some repute Lorenzo Feliciati, Matt melts several strings in an act of righteous fret-sacrifice.
Other guests include Knifeworld's Charley Cawood on bass on various tracks. On The Other Side he contributes some Chinese pipa, a plucked, lute-like instrument. Charley is joined on this track by the understated keyboards of Frost*'s Jem Godfrey and the result is a fragile, multi-hued thing of quiet beauty.
Standing out, not just by its length, but also by the change in emphasis it brings, is the near-twelve minute The Bridge. The piece commences in trademark-Stevens heavy fashion with another of those lumbering, remorseless riffs. This time it is overlaid with some searing violin from Chrissie Caulfield, of whom Matt once remarked "...the first person ever to play on one of my albums who is not from Rushden". Coming from near that neck of the woods myself, this is not that surprising as there can only be about three musos in Rushden!
The track then ventures off into an unsettling ambience, and soon a variant on the opening theme is taken up by Matt's trusty acoustic, extrapolating in a classical fashion. Becalmed and lulled by the hypnotic acoustic theme, we are rudely awakened by the return of that beast of a riff and Chrissie's achingly-pleading violin. More looping increases the tempo amid swirling dust devils which presage the triumphal conclusion, Matt wrings tortured flurries of notes from his electric guitar. Nice!
We end with a needed massaging of the sonic temples, as A Boy charms with more acoustic looping. So skilled is Matt in their use, that unless you knew of his penchant for such things, you would never guess there are loops on this track, or indeed, elsewhere. This argument may well apply to Kea too, so my pronouncement earlier that Kea is effect-free may well be wide of the mark.
With Lucid, Matt has shown he has 20/20 vision where his personal musical journey is concerned. In a world where the majority of bands and performers are far too easily inclined to take the safe route, it is refreshing to know that there are true artists around like Matt Stevens who will, one hopes, never be satisfied with what they have achieved and who will always be striving to explore the boundless worlds of musical possibility.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Quantum Fantay - Terragaia
Journey to Earth (6:20), Azu kéné déké lepé (5:20), Desert Rush (7:23), Aargh (4:42), Instant Karma (10:56), Chopsticks and Gongs (6:07), Indigofera (5:22), Yah Roste Fooroap (8:04), Cowdians (10:04), Journey from Earth (5:47)
Some people may have been turned away by them being classified primarily as a space rock band, which can be associated with long spacey jams with (seemingly) nothing going on. But hang on, these guys amazingly blend space rock, technically perfect progressive / symphonic rock and dub, then go one step further by mixing in folk, middle eastern and even some Afro Jamaican Caribbean styles. It all sounds a little too much, but it isn't.
What it does do is make every listen rewarding. It also makes it difficult to assess this album because of the different styles mixed into many of the tracks. Here are a few highlights.
Journey To Earth begins our epic journey with spacey sounds, analogue bubbles, keyboard and guitar riffing. It's a real mix of Riverside keyboard prog riffing and the Ozric Tentacles. Mix in some nice dub bass lines and prog time signatures, and only then can the space ship leave (somewhere) to arrive at Earth. (A kind of 'departing somewhere but not here'...) Azu Kene Deke Lepe should just about change your perception of the styles of music that can be in a song. Mix Budgie's In For The Kill -esque rock riff with symphonic prog and Jamaican beats, fronted by technical solo lead guitar. It's all happening here, my head is spinning! Bring me some mushroom tea please!
Desert Rush is a bit more light-footed and trippy. It starts beautifully with Jethro Tull Roots to Branches era ethnic sounds before transcending into a Gong/Ozric Tentalces Myriapod lightfooted nimble-type shuffle.
Aargh is an amazing and intricate mix of folk and progressive rock. Samples of Ulilean pipes with prog-associated time signatures. Think Anima Mundi meets Horslips meets Jethro Tull. Throughout the album there is a 'softer symphonic' side in some of the music and after re-reading the press release, I realise that Quantum Fantay is comprised of members from other bands like Gracerooms, Neo Prophet, Storgrass and Anima Mundi. Anima Mundi was amazing at Lorely in 2013. Now I know why. There's this smooth undertone of class and quality amongst some of the madness.
The first five tracks are real seducers, but onwards from Chopsticks and Gongs through to Indigofera and Yah Roste Foorap it's just absolutely out of this world. Chopsticks and Gongs is a little more linear space rock but perhaps all the better for it. It's my stand-out track on the album and makes me want to get in the car and drive through the night with no one on the road. A time for myself. Perhaps that says more about me?
Indigofera has dark gurgling and burbling voice synths with didgeridoo. Driven by a slow drum beat, dub bass and bubbles it reminds me more of a Spatialize solid groove. Sit back, let the groove float you away and wait for the lead guitar.
Done with a little more urgency, Yah Roste Foorap has a Leftfield / Dreadzone / Ozrics bouncy, festival, trance feel to it which halfway through also uses that classic Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here - Shine On keyboard sound. Eventually, the song transforms into a 4am festival trance tent vibe. The variety is all there.
If you thought that mix of genres of music wasn't enough, then Cowdians will make you smile. Journey From Earth is about as classic and textbook as symphonic progressive rock can get. No holds barred, no excuses. Anima Mundi meets Riverside and it uses the same riff as the first track in the first few bars. Interchanging screaming lead guitar and keyboard solos makes the hairs on my arms stand up.
The last track leaves me very positive about this album. Even with my purely progressive spectacles on, it's a joy. With my space rock spectacles on and a cup of White Rhino Tea next to me, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.
I enjoyed this album over a longer period and every time I listened to it, I discovered something new. That is credit to the amazing talent here. To balance my views, perhaps it's not totally original enough and perhaps it's too diverse for some, but there's something here for everyone. It's not as 'consistent' and polished as Transatlantic and many great bands, but in a way it shouldn't be. The recording quality could have been a bit more 'snappy', with more impact/thwack/kang in the drums and bass department to give it that real edge.
I do realise that the album is my progressive 'musical trifle', drawing musical influences from some of my favourite bands of all time, many of the ones mentioned above. Space Rock is back, courtesy of Quantum Fantay.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Alek Darson - Panopticon
Sprockets (5:35), Flight Impressions (4:38), Waltz of Titans (5:06), Spiral of Sanity (7:31), The Rind (5:56), Fingers Painted Purple (6:01)
Flight Impressions follows a similar path with Darson's guitar slicing its way through a slightly softer background, featuring hints of acoustic guitar and synthesizer. Waltz of Titans opens with a crash of electronics and percussion but it soon wanders down a familiar path. A powerfully charging rhythm section, drives the guitarist relentlessly onward, only to be silenced by an unexpected and rather delicate flute solo. Obviously, Alek Darson has a few tricks up his sleeve.
Spiral of Sanity is heavy but once again with a definite hint of fusion to it. The track stretches out to over 7 minutes and it features a nice, somewhat restrained, solo from Darson. The piece is complex and more atmospheric than those preceding it. It suggests a young guitarist who is trying to come to grips with his potential. The Rind is an even more radical departure from its predecessors. It features Vladimir Lalic on lead vocal and he is far from your ordinary rock vocalist. Lalic's voice rumbles and shrieks,reminding me of Arthur Brown in his glory days. Darson's power chording and some clever time changes call to mind some of the more esoteric Kraut rock bands. Frank Zappa might even approve of it.
Fingers Painted Purple brings the CD to a close on a strong note. Oddly, it is not part of the MP3 release but can only be obtained from Alek Darson's website. You have to solve a riddle to gain access to it. It is a classic, guitar instrumental with a subtle, jazzy feel to it. For once, Darson sacrifices power for feeling and the results are impressive. Jan Akkerman and Focus come to mind here. It is a lovely, melodic track that is beautifully arranged and played.
I see this EP as being a little flawed, yet interesting first step, in an artist's career. The first 3 tracks give us an idea of where Alek Darson is coming from and, although interesting, these tracks sound a bit "samey". The last 3 tracks give a glimpse of which arrows may be in his quiver and where he may be going. I for one, am very interested in where his path may lead him.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
SBB - Jazz nad Odra 1975
Pamięć w kamień wrasta (16:37), Fos (3:21), Szalony Grześ (4:18), Bass (3:46), Ku pamięci (0:56), Drums (2:50), Wolność z nami (I) (6:20), Z których krwi krew moja (11:10), Piano (5:29), Toczy się koło historii (5:16), Wolność z nami (II) (12:38)
However, SBB should be a name familiar to anyone with a liking for 1970s heavy prog, although at the time they were little known outside their homeland where they were capable of filling venues for many nights running. This intriguing live document was recorded at the Jazz nad Odrą festival in Wroclaw in 1975, a year that, according to the PR sheet, also saw them blow "second-rate British act" Jack the Lad off various stages on a tour of Sweden.
The man writing the PR sheet is in truth only reflecting the obvious confidence of the band, who open their set with the 16 minute Pamięć w kamień wrasta (Memory Grows into Stone), a track that owes as much to modern classical music as it does to jazz influences. The song includes some rare vocals from Jozef Skrzek, who sings in a style akin to a Polish Jack Bruce. Meanwhile, the cyclical guitar arpeggios over which the keyboard summons glacial soundscapes recalls McLaughlin in the early incarnation of Mahavishnu. The guitarist shows his true chops in the latter section of the song with a soaring solo that mixes McLaughlin with Gong-era Hillage to coruscating effect. You can see why this band sold out halls for days on end on their home turf, for this is stellar music of the grandest scale.
SBB initially built their sound around extended jazz influenced guitar and bass improvs, but with the addition of keyboards the sound was fleshed out to become the heavy prog we hear on this record. That a band like SBB, who revelled in their artistic freedom of expression, was granted the licence to tour by the then Communist Polish authorities indicates that the State in that particular Iron Curtain country was maybe not so oppressive as others of the time.
The keyboards, along with synths, bass, and the aforementioned Bruceian vocals are down to main man Jozef Skrzek, who along with the probably Grecian Apostolis Anthimos on guitar and Jerzy Piotrowski on drums produce highly complex arrangements that seem beyond the ken of a mere trio, especially when you consider that this is a no-overdubs live recording.
The whole set is played as one suite without a break, although it actually consists of separate tracks, most of which were new and unreleased at the time of recording, only to appear on subsequent albums, some in rearranged form.
Fos charges along powered by the muscular drumming of Jerzy, and the Mahavishnu vibe is still there, as this man is obviously a fan of Billy Cobham. Two solo excursions, Bass and Drums sit in the middle of the set, but hey, this was the 70s after all. The four string noodle leads into the brief testosterone charge of Ku pamięci (In Memoriam), and then into that most prevalent of pointless rock music interludes, the drum solo. Don't worry, for the band more than make up for it on the last 40 or so minutes of the record with some more dazzling displays of their heavy eclectic prog. The other two epics of the set, Z których krwi krew moja (From Whose Blood, My Blood) and the two part Wolność z nami (Freedom With Us, a title that must have guaranteed attention from the Thought Police!) are featured in this latter section, with Wolność z nami (II) cut slightly short on this recording.
Wolność z nami (I) begins with low synth rumbles, almost musique concrète, before morphing into the kind of overwrought drama that fans of Niemen would be familiar with, before classical piano makes an appearance to send the tune down an Emerson-esque highway. Make no mistake, this is classic prog of the era, and had this band been British they would have been internationally huge.
The sound has been remastered and although rough round the edges, for the tapes are nearly 40 years old after all, it is perfectly acceptable. The recording level is quite low, but turning up the volume does not render it unlistenable due to tape hiss, a common problem with recordings of the time, thankfully not the case here.
Jozef gets to exercise his tonsils to greatest effect on Z których krwi krew moja, and his strident tones being well up in the mix are initially somewhat jarring, but thankfully the vocal sections are kept short. Of the longer tracks this one doesn't quite work for me, mainly because of the vocals, which return later in the song. I'm afraid that Jozef seems to be trying to reach the heights of his former bandleader Niemen, but falls short of the summit. Musically the track builds in tension just fine, in the manner of Larks era Crimson.
Jozef gets to display his full range of Emerson classical bombast on Piano, the last of the solo spots, and we segue into the concluding Wolność z nami (II) another fine example of heavy prog moves, knowingly borrowing from Holst at the start.
Any prog fan into all the obvious bands of the first generation should love this dusty relic of an album.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Coshish - Firdous
Firdous (6:32), Raastey (4:46), Coshish (5:04), Behti Boondein (5:42), Who Kho Gaye (6:15), Hum Hai Yahin (5:19), Maya (6:18), Rehne Do (4:59), Bhula Do Unhey (4:45), Mukti (7:57)
Well Universal has done just that with Firdous; and the music displayed here should be enough to disperse the often in-built reservations of most Prog fans, that any "prog" band signed to a major label must have sold its soul.
Formed in 2006, Coshish means "attempt" in Hindi. The band took four years to create their debut attempt at rock stardom. The craftsmanship is evident throughout the package.
Firdous is a concept album which documents a young man's journey towards attaining Mukti (salvation). The first half was written as individual songs. Only when these were completed, did the ideas merge and the second half of the process, saw each song written to complete the storyline.
Now, I know that Coshish obviously has major backing from Universal, but the amount of work that has been put into this album is considerable. The album cover is a collaboration between four artists from France, Canada and India and is layered with symbolism.
To further aid the story-telling, the packaging inside contains cards bearing the handwritten lyrics and a photograph for each song bearing a date. We can watch and listen to the journey unfolding. The band has also been releasing videos to explain the story even further.
As for the music; it is both complex and layered, yet instantly accessible. Again no expense has been spared. It was recorded, produced and mixed by Zorran Mendonsa from New Zealand and mastered by Jens Bogren in Sweden. Every instrument is clear and distinct, yet the sound varies between heavy and light.
The band lists its collective influences as Tool, Porcupine Tree, A Perfect Circle, Opeth, Isis, Karnivool and Meshuggah to AR Rehman, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and Lucky Ali. I don't see the heavier, Meshuggah reference points at all. Apart from an occasional riff, this is not a ProgMetal album in any way.
The Porcupine Tree, Isis and Karnivool influences are more in occasional tone and pace, than style. Really, Coshish is one of those bands where comparisons are simply misleading.
What we have, are ten songs absolutely packed with sublime vocal and guitar textures from Mangesh Gandhi (lead vocals and guitars) and Shrikant Sreenivasan (guitar).
The progressive elements are added by the ever-changing time signatures and rhythmic changes created by Anish Nair on bass and drummer Hamza Kazi. For a great example of how Coshish has constructed its songs, watch this informative video on the creation of polyrhythms in the title track. Mangesh Gandhi has a great voice. It is clear, yet with subtle variations. Mangesh does speak fluent English but has explained that singing in Hindi just happened naturally and so he went along with the flow. It brings in both western and Indian influences, adding I feel, the most distinctive element to the Coshish sound.
This is a highly consistent album. I would have liked a little more variety in the dynamics, and for the band to break out of their 4-6 minute song strategy on at least one occasion. There are elements that some will say are more commercial than a Prog band should be. However such a view could only be based on a cursory listen.
Firdous is an album which reveals its depth and charm slowly, as you peal back the many layers. Musically this is accessible on first play, yet the more I listen to it the deeper my enjoyment becomes. Firdous is commercially accessible album, but there is no denying the depth to the compositions and to the story-telling.
I always try to base my ratings on the quality of the performances and song writing, on the packaging and production, on the level of innovation and creativity, and on how often I will return to an album in the months and years ahead. Thus I can only conclude that the debut album from Coshish is a highly impressive and highly recommended listen.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10