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2014 : VOLUME 14
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:



Birds and Buildings - Multipurpose Trap
Birds and Buildings - Multipurpose Trap
Country of Origin:U.S.A.
Format:CD
Record Label:Emkog Records
Catalogue #:EMKOG 005
Year of Release:2013
Time:63:32
Info:Birds and Buildings
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: The Dumb Fish (3:19), Horse-Shaped Cloud (4:33), Miracle Pigeon (2:28), East is Fort Orthodox (5:54), Secret Crevice (5:51), Tragic Penguin (7:09), Catapult (10:10), Aviator Prosco (10:15), Abominable Pelican (14:01)

In one of my more casual discussions with Adam Warne, the lead singer of Synaesthesia, I said to him how lucky he was to have landed a place on the Giant Electric Pea label, something he fully appreciates. I mentioned how there were so many other bands out there that also deserve the exceptional production and promotion that Synaesthesia have received. Of course, this applies to scores of up-and-coming groups, but at the time I was just thinking of one; Birds and Buildings.

Situated on the entirely obscure yet rather fantastic American label Emkog Records, Birds and Buildings, who released their debut album Bantam to Behemoth over five years ago, have merely 406 likes on their Facebook page at the time of writing; by comparison, newcomers Synaesthesia are approaching 10,000. These figures just go to show how important getting a good label can be to the success of a band. Were it simply the quality of the music that corresponded to success, these guys would easily be more popular than Dream Theater.

You see, the way Birds and Buildings play their music is simply unparalleled in today's prog. Imagine the twiddly instrumental bits of Haken's music, crank up the daftness by a factor of ten and forget about conventional things like verses or choruses. Birds and Buildings live to make intricate, dense and thoroughly complex progressive rock. Pigeonholing this band into a genre proves difficult as words like jazz fusion, zeuhl, Canterbury and certainly eclectic could all describe this band. This is prog with everything including the kitchen sink thrown in. Utterly unpredictable yet thoroughly compelling stuff.

And Multipurpose Trap is the band's second album. Just like Bantam to Behemoth, this album presents the listener with a full spectrum of sound, with styles from jazz to disco being tapped into, all darkly twisted into a tasty progressive feast. Unlike the debut however, this album is triple tiered; three groups of three songs layer the album. The first is a set of short pieces, the second, medium length songs, while the last showcases the meatier tracks, each over ten minutes in length.

When played from start to finish, the first set of tracks seem to flash by, but they certainly make their mark. Opener The Dumb Fish seems to inform the listener with all of its intricacies "Hey, in case you weren't listening back in 2008, we're pretty good at this prog thing." However, it's the middle track Horse-Shaped Cloud that shows the band's charm, containing something close to a hummable theme that the band play with, eventually taking to dizzying heights with intensity. Miracle Pigeon is also quite lively, very close in style to Haken's music.

The medium length tracks all take rather different routes: East is Fort Orthodox resembling something close to a song; Secret Crevice demonstrating the more typical Birds and Buildings instrumental pyrotechnics; the slightly longer Tragic Penguin balancing the band's technical side with their ability to create melody. Of these, the middle track once again triumphs as the most entertaining.

Oddly, the first two sets don't even take up half of the album. By the time we reach the scarily technical and experimental Catapult, Multipurpose Trap finally feels like a fully-fledged prog rock album. Aviator Prosco is the track that claims to feature elements of disco towards the end, with a rather suspect drum beat. Nevertheless, I pick up hints of Genesis when wandering through this structured piece. Last, but not least, the epic Abominable Pelican completes the in-album "Adjective Bird Trilogy" in a truly majestic way. Fourteen minutes in length, this is a tour de force of progressive excellence, featuring the whole band on top form in an intense extended instrumental with a fantastic climax.

As brilliant as the music is, the album is flawed. How exactly it was flawed puzzled me for some time, as I loved the music to bits but yet could not remember what the album sounded like after playing. Indeed, the album must have passed these ears at least a dozen times and I still have trouble remembering anything about it. And that's exactly the problem: most brilliant albums have some sort of hook (sometimes many) that stick in your brain so that you have no other option than to play the music again just to hear it. The music on Multipurpose Trap however is so convoluted and complex that many attempts to memorise it can prove fruitless. It doesn't help that the vocals are very low in the mix, making the singing nearly inaudible on most tracks. Bizarrely, this exceptional album is also quite forgettable. This isn't entirely to the album's detriment though; since it's impossible to memorise, it's highly likely that one can play this music over and over without ever growing tired of it. Each listen is like the first!

Although perhaps not as even as their debut, Multipurpose Trap is certainly no less adventurous. Birds and Buildings are leagues ahead of their contemporaries, both in technical ability and style. The level of effort that is required to write and perform such music is simply astronomical and for that they must be applauded. More importantly though, this is a band that fully realises what true prog fans want to hear and never skimp on the delivery. Their only weakness is that they can sometimes be too complex for their own good, although this is one of the most forgivable errors a progressive rock band can make. After all, I'd rather a band tried too hard than not hard enough. Let's just hope it isn't five years until the next album!

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

BASIL FRANCIS

From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Birds and Buildings CD Reviews:-
Bantam To Behomoth
(2008)
"...a very impressive effort from Dan Britton and Co - even more so when you consider that only a small part was 'professionally' recorded. Not that you'd really notice, as the album has a fresh, lively and organic feel to it..."
(Tom De Val, 8.5/10)



October Equus - Permafrost
October Equus - Permafrost
Country of Origin:Spain
Format:CD
Record Label:octoberXart
Catalogue #:OC01
Year of Release:2013
Time:40:47
Info:October Equus
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Erosive forces of wind and water (5:14), Lead poisoning (5:14), Boots, nails, watches... (5:25), Thermokarst (5:15), Trapped in the sea ice (3:59), ...books, saws, silk handkerchiefs... (3:52), Graves of the crewmen buried on Beechey Island (6:17), ...Two double-barreled guns and 40lbs of chocolate (5:31)

For this, their fourth album, avant-prog torchbearers October Equus have left behind what would seem to be their natural home, the superb Italian label AltrOck, to go their own way on leader Ángel Ontalva's octoberXart imprint. Permafrost also sees the band stripped back to a quartet from the septet that performed on their last album, 2011’s Saturnal.

Since their forming back in 2003 in the starkly beautiful and historic Spanish city of Toledo, each of the band’s albums to date have been shining examples of modern avant-prog, with the dual influence of Univers Zero and King Crimson, the latter markedly so in Ángel Ontalva’s guitar work, never far away. Definitely a good sign in my book, but because of the pared-back line-up on this album the group now has more room to breathe, and those influences while still there are subsumed by the tightly knit ensemble playing.

Permafrost is a concept album based around the story of Sir John Franklin’s doomed Northwest Passage expedition, and the fine artwork in the CD booklet by Ángel H. Rodriguez Morales helps to tell the story of the last tragic days of the explorers, a story that this entirely instrumental album conveys with subtlety and power.

In addition to Ángel's guitar, we have the keyboards of Victor Rodriguez, and this pair wrote all the music. Knitting it all together in fine contrapuntal style is the rhythm section, comprising the bass of Amanda Pazos Cosse together with Vasco Trilla's drums and percussion. As a unit these four weave a musical web that is unavoidably less layered and therefore easier to access than the labyrinthine Saturnal. The group are aided by the light touch of Udi Koomran, who once more shows his deft skill at the art of mastering.

The sense of isolation and desolation felt by the explorers is conveyed in the dark menace of Boots, nails, watches... as it attempts to find its way through the white-out, and this track is a prime example of the forboding atmosphere that permeates this fine slab of dark prog. A frantic theme is laid down by Rodriguez's organ, underlaid by nervous drumming on Thermokarst, as the striving guitar solo fights against the rising maelstrom.

Some fine interplay holds the undulating Trapped in the sea ice together, followed by some bass-led melancholic relief on ...books, saws, silk handkerchiefs... as the crew lie becalmed on their ship of ghostly happenstance.

Graves of the crewmen buried on Beechey Island is a respectful lament for those passed, as you can hear above, and the album concludes in the only way it could; darkly. There is a hint of Van der Graaf Generator in that last tune too, which made me smile. This piece and the others I've attempted to describe hopefully convey some of feeling that comes through so strongly in these finely arranged and superbly played tracks.

Fans of October Equus will know what to expect and will not be disappointed with this subtle change in direction from Saturnal. Newcomers to the band and all lovers of adventurous prog will find that Permafrost will bear repeated plays, always revealing something more.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

ROGER TRENWITH

From the DPRP Archives...
Previous October Equus CD Reviews:-
Charybdis
(2008)
"If you like dark music like Univers Zero combined with the complexity of King Crimson then this album might interest you."
(Edwin Roosjen, 7/10)
Saturnal
(2011)
"...not an album for everyone, and tolerance for some measure of dissonance and chaos (albeit of the controlled variety) are essential for anyone wishing to approach the album."
(Raffaella Berry, 7.5/10)



Dreadnaught - Have a Drink With Dreadnaught [EP]
Dreadnaught - Have a Drink With Dreadnaught [EP]
Country of Origin:U.S.A.
Format:CD
Record Label:Red Fez Records
Catalogue #:713757705110
Year of Release:2013
Time:24:15
Info:Dreadnaught
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Corrupticus 5 (5:17), Surface Raid (4:28), The Bear (3:26), JPF (5:51), Trophy Bride (5:11)

With a 17-year career behind them, New Hampshire trio Dreadnaught are one of the best-kept secrets of the whole U.S. progressive rock scene, and certainly one of the most idiosyncratic bands to bear the "prog" tag. Bob Lord (bass, vocals), Justin Walton (guitar, vocals) and Rick Habib (drums, vocals) first formed the band in 1996, during their days as students at the University of New Hampshire, and have been together since then, releasing 4 studio albums - two of which, 2001's The American Standard and 2004's Musica en Flagrante, have garnered a lot of critical acclaim for their no-holds-barred, über-eclectic approach. Never a very prolific outfit, after Musica en Flagrante Dreadnaught released a live album, Live at Mojo (2005), and the 2-CD compilation High Heat & Chin Music (2006), which includes some unreleased material, as well as a selection of tracks from their previous albums. In May 2013 the long wait for new material was finally interrupted by the release of Have a Drink With Dreadnaught - a 5-track EP presenting some of the music to be featured on Dreadnaught's forthcoming new album, titled Hard Chargin'.

As a friend (also a prog musician) put it when witnessing Dreadnaught's set at the 2012 edition of ProgDay, the band sound very much like Yes would if they played country music - which explains the "symphonic bluegrass" or "progabilly" label often tacked to the band. The Yes comparison is mostly rooted in the upfront role of Bob Lord's thick, twangy Rickenbacker bass, which lends more than just a powerful bottom end to the sound. In spite of the deceptively poppy, upbeat allure of their tunes, Dreadnaught's songs pack more twists and turns in their restrained running time than a lot of pretentious, sprawling epics. On account of their uncanny synergy - honed in years of live performances and studio sessions - the three band members come across as being capable of playing their challenging material with their eyes closed. Justin Walton's scintillating guitar weaves in and out of Lord and Rick Habib's pyrotechnically sparring rhythm section, and the addition of keyboards fleshes out a musical texture that can stand on its own. Add a liberal helping of rather absurdist, Zappa-esque wit (with an occasional penchant for double entendre, though never done with too heavy a hand) to the unbridled eclecticism of the music, and you have a recipe for some interesting, highly unusual stuff.

While, as is the case with most of the band's output, the songs have a short running time, there is definitely no shortage of "food for thought" for the discerning prog fan. The EP's only instrumental track, the highly cinematic Surface Raid, would make a great soundtrack for a sci-fi movie; Walton's guitar is very much the star of the show, alternating jangly, folksy acoustic parts with harder-edged riffs and sharp but melodic solos, bolstered by grandiose orchestral effects. Opener Corrupticus 5 is vintage Dreadnaught, with its catchy, galloping pace and subtle tempo changes; on the other hand, the brisk-paced The Bear has a breezy, classic rock feel (down to a slightly distorted guitar solo). The nearly 6-minute JPF displays a strong early Yes vibe, combining upbeat vocals and complex, jazz-inflected instrumental patterns, while closer Trophy Bride saves the best for last, starting slowly then deploying a dizzying array of tempo changes, with vocals added almost as an afterthought and a touch of growling Hammond organ at the end.

While Dreadnaught may not be to everyone's taste - as the inherent catchiness of a lot of their music may suggest the dreaded "pop" to some of the more conservative set of listeners - their songwriting and musicianship are top-notch, and will definitely appeal to those who appreciate country/bluegrass-influenced bands and artists such as Dixie Dregs, Béla Fleck or Galactic Cowboy Orchestra. Moreover witnessing one of their live shows will put a smile even on the grumpiest prog fan's face. Though their new full-length album may keep the band's following waiting for a while, Have a Drink With Dreadnaught should please all eclectically-minded prog lovers, and offer a good introduction to Dreadnaught's music to those who have not yet discovered them.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

RAFFAELLA BERRY

From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Dreadnaught CD Reviews:-
The American Standard
(2001)
"Traditional prog rock fans may find the album too hectic and technical. It seems the band is not interested in creating "magical bombast" or emotionally haunting songs. As the album is quite "uneasy listening", I think it will be appreciated best by the more 'progressive' prog rock fans."
(Rob Michel, 7/10)
Musica En Flagrante
(2004)
"Its one of those albums that never bores, and despite the shifts in style, tempo and mood it somehow manages to feel like a cohesive work..."
(Tom De Val, 8/10)



X Contract - Territory:Hours
X Contract - Territory:Hours
Country of Origin:Denmark
Format:CD
Record Label:Phillipa Records
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2013
Time:47:35
Info:X Contract
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Frequencies (3:25), In the Mist (4:13), Walk (5:06), A Way Out (4:30), Better Day (4:08), All These Lights (3:56), Silencio (1:29), Bulletproof (4:06), Mood (3:42), Too Far (3:49), Universe (4:14), All the Words We Say (4:57)

A Facebook recommendation led me to discover this excellent young Danish band which seems to be building a very healthy following across Europe. I duly featured this as Album of the Week on the DPRP Radio Show Edition 90. A few words here will I hope share the love further!

X Contract falls into the template of modern-day progressive rock bands that have a very distinct melancholic vibe, something which seems to appeal to younger music lovers. On the surface, the 12 tracks are accessible with the melody and guitars to the fore. Most songs struggle to pass the 4-minute mark.

But listen more closely and there is a healthy depth and variety to the X Contract sound which rewards and warrants repeat listens. Plenty of little details emerged, even on my tenth run through.

The reviews I have read for the band’s first album, Dearest Dream, offered consistent comparisons to bands such as Coldplay, Radiohead, Porcupine Tree and Muse. I'd suggest little has changed here.

However I don't really like any of those bands, but have really enjoyed Territory:Hours.

The vocals of Lars Klit hit the spot for me as does the interplay between the guitars, with the keys adding an extra layer of electronica.

It is a subtle and alluring piece of musical creation which at the moment I consistently select to enjoy from a not inconsiderable stack of CDs. Not a single track disappoints.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

ANDY READ


Antonius Rex - Hystero Demonopathy
Antonius Rex - Hystero Demonopathy
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Black Widow Records
Catalogue #:BWR 153-2
Year of Release:2012
Time:59:24
Info:Antonius Rex
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Hystero Demonopathy (5:55), Suicide Goth (7:26), Are Mine (7:06), Disincantation (7:03), Demonic Hysteria (5:13), The Devil's Nightmare (4:56), Witches (7:25), The Fatal Letter (7:14), Possaction (7:10)

Shivers. An uneasy feeling to say the least. Eeriness. Bringing to mind those memories of first seeing The Exorcist, Omen and other horror movies that once, mind you, were just as scary as they were meant to be. Not knowing what to expect musically, apart from the somewhat strange album and song titles, I looked at the cover and thought "There's a nice picture of the illustrious black knight from the Monty Python movie The Holy Grail". Alas, I was mistaken. At first, we hear a gush of wind not unlike Dio's Holy Diver song, but a drum beat sets in and an organ takes over as a demonic voice mentions, ehm, something. A whispered "Hystero demonopathy" and we are on our way in what could as well have been designed for a horror movie. I like my portion of doom and can get carried away by the likes of Candlemass and Black Sabbath, but, even at their doomiest, never do those bands manage to set up such an unseasy feeling. Antonio Bartocetti on guitar and bass, Rexanthony on all sorts of keys and sounds and medium Monika Tasnad are very good at what they do.

One moment they have you shocked, like in the opening title track, and then Suicide Goth takes you on a stroll through a forest, all with voices, neat piano playing and all. Antonio is a skilled guitar player, having been involved in music since 1969. No matter how dark the music gets his skills show throughout the album. It must have been quite something not only to compose the tracks but to find the accompanying sounds and voices as well. What Antonio did was extensive research on the subject of demonic hysteria. Though there are those who see the said state as a psychiatric event, there are others who regard it as esoteric and perhaps even magic. However you regard it, Antonius Rex have tried to evoke the signs of the state of mind in their music. Having listened to the album - in broad daylight, mind you - several times now I can add, even without evening or night hours to enhance the feeling, they have succeeded in delivering that.

But what about the music? We find equal parts of heavy rock mixed with a variety of keyboards, sometimes in more ambient settings and sometimes we hear the influence of Rexanthony who is also involved in recent dance and techno music. So, all in all it is well balanced, more particularly so because, apart from being scary, there are tracks that just flow beautifully like Disincantation and Witches. I have given a lot of thought as to what might be points of reference but apart from horror movie soundtracks I can't find any reference artists or bands to name as I understand Antonius Rex must be considered 'the most authoritative band of the deeper metal dark sound'. Just forget all you know about goth; forget about doom metal; bear in mind that we have a great keyboard player here and a guitarist who can just as easily shred as play an excellent classical guitar and be prepared to have a cinematic trip where you might just as easily get scared out of your wits in beautiful surroundings, as the feel is like in The Fatal Letter. I am not going to point out the highlights of this album because of its sheer diversity but I invite you all to this scariest of albums I have heard so far. Quite a trip!

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

MARCEL HARTENBERG

From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Antonius Rex CD Reviews:-
Per Viam
(2009)
"In the end, this is one of the few albums you’ll get to listen to that’s got a medium (Monika Tasnad) credited on its sleevenotes!"
(Hector Gomez, 7/10)



Karmamoi - Odd Trip
Karmamoi - Odd Trip
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Crisalde Music
Catalogue #:K01
Year of Release:2013
Time:52:01
Info:Karmamoi
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Oxygen 1 (Interlude) (1:44), If (4:14), Labyrinth (5:42), If I Think of the Sea (6:32), Oxygen 2 (Interlude) (0:56), Samvega (5:24), Yours (5:09), Odd Trip (6:10), Oxygen 3 (Interlude) (0:59), 5+ (4:06), Lost Days (4:26), Aria (6:11)

This is the second album from this Italian band formed in 2008 by drummer Daniele Giovannoni and vocalist Serena Ciacci.

Although their self-titled debut was released in 2011, I only came across Karmamoi late last year when the title track of this disc featured on the Progstravaganza 14 compilation which we reviewed on DPRP.

Their music is melodic, progressive ArtRock with an individual style that many ProgRock fans will enjoy.

Unfortunately the album takes a while to get going. Oxygen 1 is one of three interludes which add nothing to the music. If, which follows, is one of the album's weaker tracks. Labyrinth leaves a better impact, taking a hard rock melodic approach.

Much better is the balladic If I Could Think Of The Sea, which offers an excellent showcase for the voice of Serena Ciacci.

After another filler, Yours, is a nice slice of new wave pop rock with a good melody. This is my favourite song along with the excellent title track. Odd Trip really benefits from Serena's strong, female vocals amid some crisp arrangements. Think Illumion meets Mostly Autumn.

A couple more filers and a nice fusion-esque instrumental leads us to the album closer, Aria, which is another favourite track.

This Italian quintet seems to be benefiting from a stable line-up completed by Alessandro Cefali on bass plus the twin guitars of Fabio Tempesta and Alex Massari.

Odd Trip is not Prog in the sense of complex arrangements and extended solos - in fact I didn't really notice any solos! It is more about creating interesting moods and textures as a backdrop of Serana's strong vocal melodies.

When it is good, I really enjoy Karmamoi's sound. However, more consistency is required in the songwriting to make this a full recommendation.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

ANDY READ


The Krypton Monkeys - Crush
The Krypton Monkeys - Crush
Country of Origin:U.S.A.
Format:CD
Record Label:Red Fields Entertainment
Catalogue #:RFE-0001
Year of Release:2013
Time:46:09
Info:The Krypton Monkeys
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Selfish Love (4:47), Shame (3:26), Save Me (4:11), Last Refrain (5:07), Breakin All The Rules (5:30), Defenders Bain (5:30), Empty Eyes (6:38), Temporary Life (4:50), Garden Of The Moon (2:23), Astrology Prelude (4:19)

Lead guitarist and vocalist Ron Redfield, keyboardist and vocalist John McLaughlin, drummer Jim Dudash and lead vocalist Bobby Huszar together form The Krypton Monkeys. One look at the cover of their debut and you are led to believe that you're about to listen to a record that will but be very hard hitting and heavy. We see a lot of monkeys all in combat dress and certainly ready for battle. Yet how to balance that with the tag 'progressive rock' and the "I've always been a Foreigner type of guy" statement that Ron Redfield uses in the press release?

To boldly go where no man has gone before and so Crush took its spins in the CD-player. All fantasies of conflicts between monkeys or monkeys battling with men are soon put to rest as the opening riff to Selfish Love introduces itself with background keyboards fitting in, not unlike the '80s Gary Moore sound. Bobby's voice initially reminds of a younger David Coverdale as we head out to the refrain. Radio friendly, it must be said, yet the production might have added a little more 'oomph' as we get to the keyboard solo a bit further into the song. Not too bad an introduction, that first song.

Shame is a little reminiscent of Black Symphony yet that is mostly due to the vocals in the song. Also a bit of Michael Schenker Group's Gary Barden can be heard. Ron Redfield gives us a nice solo and before we know it the song is over, just as we are getting the hang of it. Save Me brings us in full time warp mode as Pendragon's KowTow comes to mind, as does a general Asia vibe. The musicians all know their chops and the balance between keyboards and guitars is more than accurate. The songs so far are quite enjoyable. With Last Refrain you could think that this is actually Asia playing, a song that would not have sounded out of place on that band's debut and, on closing our eyes, we might just as well have been listening to John Wetton. A fine track, that one.

So, what can we say? Erik Norlander of Lana Lane and Asia fame set the right wheels in motion when he asked Ron Redfield to play on a couple of tracks for his album. Moreover, he even agreed on Redfield using tracks for this album. Ron shows throughout the album that he plays the guitar well and that he knows how to write songs with hooks. What we get with Crush is a real band setting. It takes all four to make The Krypton Monkeys sound.

Yes, The Krypton Monkeys rock. We might start a debate as to how progressive the band are, yet knowing that the keyboards have an important role in the sound alongside the guitar (feast your ears on Garden Of The Moon and the ELP-ish Astrology Prelude) and that the band does a fine job at evoking the sound of what used to be regarded as giants - Asia, Foreigner, Styx and the like - we will just grant them a justified place in these columns. A thoroughly enjoyable album (Check out Defenders Bain and Empty Eyes) and a band that might just have that 'Oomph' and 'Crush' when playing live.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

MARCEL HARTENBERG


Hiidensointi - Ovia ja Aikoja
Hiidensointi - Ovia ja Aikoja
Country of Origin:Finland
Format:CD
Record Label:Hiisi Vieköön Records
Catalogue #:HVRCD-02
Year of Release:2013
Time:39:49
Info:Hiidensointi
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Ovia ja Aikoja (6:04), Kosmos (3:55), Lemminkäisen Äiti (5:02), Pihlainen (3:37), Kuurankeiju (5:12), Tuulenpesä (4:10), Outoja Teitä (4:52), Häälaulu (3:17), Oodi (3:33)

Hailing from Tampere, the second-largest city in Finland, Hiidensointi ("voice of Hiisi", a mythological, troll-like entity in Finnish folklore) were formed in 2007 by guitarist Petri Koivistoinen and drummer Mika Hiironniemi. The 2010 release of their eponymous debut album was followed by a line-up change, as keyboardist Janne Haka-Risku left the band to be replaced by violinist Petri Ahonen. Their second album - whose title, Ovia ja Aikoja, translates as "Doors and Times" - was released in the summer of 2013. Now a quartet, the band features Koivistoinen (who is the main composer, and also handles keyboards, balalaika and glockenspiel), Hironniemi, his wife, Nina, on lead vocals and melodica (she is also in charge of the lyrics), and bassist Pate Laitinen. Both Petri Ahonen and Janne Haka-Risku appear as guests.

Though Hiidensointi have a loyal following in their native country, and are reasonably active on the live front, they are almost completely unknown outside of Finland - which is a pity, because their brand of folk-influenced, song-based pop-prog would find favour with those prog fans who prize well-crafted melodies rather than mind-boggling complexity, and enjoy the likes of Mostly Autumn or Karnataka (rather than edgier female-fronted outfits such as Half Past Four or MoeTar). Indeed, Niina Hironniemi's clear, harmonious voice (thankfully devoid of the cloying sweetness that mars so many potentially excellent female voices), well served by the accomplished musicianship of her bandmates, is one of the biggest assets of the band, and lends interest value to compositions that generally come across as glorified pop-rock songs rather than truly progressive efforts.

Ovia ja Aikoja follows in the footsteps of the band's debut, presenting nine songs between 3 and 6 minutes. The gently swaying pace of most numbers hints at the popularity of ballroom dancing in Finnish culture, and the lyrics (as well as the beautiful artwork and photos) celebrate nature, especially the short-lived Scandinavian summer. The presence of the violin and some traditional instruments such as the balalaika add an appealing folksy, romantic touch to the music; some of the songs might remind the listener of The Decemberists' more accessible numbers. Moreover, the very nature of the Finnish language - rich in vowel sounds like Italian or Spanish - makes it an ideal vehicle for being put to music, and makes listening to unfamiliar lyrics not as frustrating as languages perceived as harsher or less musical.

The songs that bookend the album are definitely the ones that stand out from a "progressive" point of view. The title-track (also the album's longest at 6 minutes) blends the keen edge of the guitar work bolstered by lush keyboards with the romantic touch of the violin, while tempo changes keep things interesting. Closing track Oodi, on the other hand, is slow and atmospheric, enhanced by a particularly intense vocal performance and excellent guitar solo towards the end. The remaining numbers, while very pleasing to the ear and characterized by that peculiarly Finnish combination of upbeat melody and veiled melancholy, are basically mainstream songs with some charming folksy overtones (such as the balalaika in the Russian-influenced Kosmos, and the almost country-styled violin in the brisk-paced Häälaulu), and after a while tend to sound a little too alike for comfort. Even Lemminkäisen Äiti (with lyrics by iconic poet Eino Leino, based on one of the best-loved episodes of the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic), though suitably wistful, is not as solemn or epic as the lyrics would lead one to expect.

Though impeccably performed by a talented group of musicians, and also nicely packaged in a gatefold digipack that includes most of the song lyrics, Ovia ja Aikoja is an album that is unlikely to attract the interest of those who are always on the lookout for challenging, innovative music. On the other hand, those prog fans who appreciate pleasing, catchy melodies may be interested in checking out this album - unless they have a problem with lyrics that are not in English.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

RAFFAELLA BERRY


The Sandpaper Eyebrows - Clockwork Utopia
The Sandpaper Eyebrows - Clockwork Utopia
Country of Origin:U.K.
Format:CD/Download
Record Label:Tuppence A Bag Records
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2013
Time:38:27
Info:The Sandpaper Eyebrows
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Opening (2:20), Electric Eye (5:52), Follow (3:56), Interval (1:22), Ringmaster (2:30), Ozone (8:10), Clockwork Utopia (7:53), Ending (0:52), To Nowhere (bonus demo) (5:40)

The Sandpaper Eyebrows is a solo project started in the middle of 2012 with this album released in March 2013. Multi-instrumentalist David Georgiou played and wrote the material for the album, getting some help from, amongst others, a couple of members of KingBathmat in the shape of John Bassett (vocals on Electric Eye and Ozone) and Rob Watt (vocals & guitar solos on Clockwork Utopia and Ringmaster). KingBathmat have received good reviews on DPRP but are a band that I am yet to hear. On listening to Clockwork Utopia I will have to check them out. Ishan Ladak also appears to provide vocals on the bonus track demo To Nowhere.

The album is about time and there is a big clue in the title of the album, nine tracks starting with Opening and finishing with Ending to make what could be called a prog rock suite. To get the full benefit it needs to be listened to in one sitting as each track flows into the next.

Opening is a short instrumental, clock ticking to start, an assortment of sounds hitting you as the dial is turned back and forth as we are tuned in, leading on to a nice, catchy tune which becomes a theme used later on Interval, Ending and the title track, reminding me of a mixture of The Strangers, The Doors, Porcupine Tree and Pink Floyd. Building up very gradually into Electric Eye, a mixture of electric and acoustic guitars with, in parts, driving drums and bass starts and ends with the ticking of the clock, this is the first song to feature Bassett's vocals. His voice has feeling and character and is a great addition to the album.

Next we have Follow, nearly instrumental with just a small chorus, it has drums, cymbals, pumping bass and guitars on a track that rocks. Interval brings us back the opening theme tune with the slight twist of a touch of tubular bells, leading us into Ringmaster, so Doors sounding that I'm waiting to hear Jim Morrison say "everybody in let the show begin". The track fades and we are instantly into Ozone, a real highlight and the best track on the album with attacking guitar and bass, quite funky in parts with good use of keys. Again the excellent voice of John Bassett is featured, his vocal given some electronic effects which work well.

The next two tracks again feature the opening theme tune, the title track, Clockwork Utopia, starts with piano and really gives that chill feel building with drums and bass and good use of keyboards, this time featuring the voice and guitar of Rob Watt, flowing into Ending, complete with sirens. The nine tracks have gone full circle just like the hands on a clock.

I liked the album a lot on first listen, which is not always a good sign as I like to grow into an album. on repeated listens it didn't hold my attention enough and I think it may have benefited if John Bassett had done all the vocals. I would class it as an enjoyable album with good musicianship and a clever idea, a little bit raw in parts and maybe a little short. The demo track To Nowhere is very raw (but it is a demo) but without it the album would only be just over 30 minutes long which could be reflected in the price as the album is available on CD for just Ł3 from The Sandpaper Eyebrows Bandcamp site. So taking that into consideration it's a bargain and worth checking out. As I am reviewing from the download I cannot comment on the CD booklet and design.

I look forward to what follows this album as from what I have heard here the future is bright for The Sandpaper Eyebrows.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

TONY BIRD

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Published 11th March 2014

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