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ISSUE 2014-32
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Reviews in this issue:

Clive Nolan - Alchemy
Clive Nolan - Alchemy Live
Country of Origin: UK
Format: 2DVD/3CD
Record Label: Metal Mind Productions
Catalog #: MMP 5 CDBOX 008
Year of Release: 2013
Time: DVD 1: 185:00
DVD 2: 62:30
CD 1: 62:21
CD 2: 57:45
CD 3: 73:58
Info: Clive Nolan
Samples: Click Here
Tracklist:
DVD 1: Act I: Prologue, Deception, One For The Noose, The Warning, Amelia, King Explains, Desperate Days, Planning A Break In, Quaternary Plan, The Unwelcome Guest, Waiting For News, The Girl I Was, Highgate
Act II: The Labyrinth, Ambush, Tide Of Wealth, Jagman Arrives, The End Justifies The Means, Sanctuary, Street Fight, Amelia Dies, Burial At Sea, Share This Dream, Treachery, The Ritual, Anzeray Speaks, Aftermath (123:08) Bonus Video: The Making Of Alchemy (18:31), Interview With Clive Nolan (13:25), Interview With Agnieszka Świta And David Clifford (13:25), Interview With Scott Higham And Mark Westwood (16:34)
Extras: Photo Gallery, Desktop Images.
DVD 2: Bonus DVD: Alchemy Advert, Amelia Sting, King Sting, Anzeray Sting, Jagman Sting, Farrell Sting, Milosh Sting, Eva Sting, Jessamine Sting, Gardelle Sting, Greaves Sting, Muncey Sting, An Interview with Clive Nolan, The Fundraisers - A Tribute, Zoetermeer Fundraiser - Covenant of Faith , Zoetermeer Fundraiser – Closer, Zoetermeer Fundraiser - Desperate Days, Zoetermeer Fundraiser - The Warning, Guitars for Alchemy with Mark Westwood, Magda's HandyCam Diary, Clive Nolan Discusses the Alchemy Themes (62:30)
CD 1: Alchemy Live Act I: Prologue, Deception, One For The Noose, The Warning, Amelia, King Explains, Desperate Days, Planning A Break In, Quaternary Plan, The Unwelcome Guest, Waiting For News, The Girl I Was, Highgate (62:21)
CD 2: Alchemy Live Act II: The Labyrinth, Ambush, Tide Of Wealth, Jagman Arrives, The End Justifies The Means, Sanctuary, Street Fight, Amelia Dies, Burial At Sea, Share This Dream, Treachery, The Ritual, Anzeray Speaks, Aftermath (57:45)
CD 3: Bonus CD: Overture - Song of the Dark, The Holy Bond, Amelia (First Draft), The Unwelcome Guest (Early Version), Desperate Days (Soheila Mix), Ambush (Original Demo), Tide of Wealth (with Bass Milosh), Invisible (Victoria Mix), The Romans are Coming, Burial at Sea (Original Demo), Sanctuary (Clive and Noel Mix), The Nightmare, Street Fight (Original Demo), Snow Chase, The Graveyard, Final Chords (First Version) (73:58)
In February 2013, Clive Nolan premiered his ambitiously mounted Alchemy musical at the now very familiar Wyspiański Theatre in Katowice, Poland. The 2-hour production plus a raft of extras has been captured for posterity on this lavish 5-disc box set which received its official release in September 2013 coinciding with the debut UK staging at the Playhouse Theatre, Cheltenham. In between these two events the stunning studio recording of Alchemy was released which comfortably topped my favourite albums of 2013.

Nolan is no stranger to the Wyspiański stage (and cameras) having been filmed there in various line-ups including Caamora, Pendragon, Arena and Shadowland. With superb facilities, it's become synonymous as the venue of choice for recording prog videos and it's not difficult to see why with Nolan and company treated to a splendid staging of this follow-up to the equally ambitious She project in 2008.

Almost everyone from the studio album are present and correct including 11 principle singers, 6 musicians (often sounding like 60) and a 21-voice choir. Only ex. IQ vocalist Paul Menel and Uruguayan singer Noel Calcaterra are absent and with Nolan preoccupied front of stage as the pivotal character Professor Samuel King, Claudio Momberg who played piano on the studio album takes care of keyboard duties. Completing the line-up of musicians are Mark Westwood (guitars), Scott Higham (drums), Kylan Amos (bass), Penny Gee (violin) and Ian Scott (horn). With the rest of the cast and crew comfortably filling the Wyspiański stage, the choir have been filmed separately and their parts integrated into the rest of the footage.

For those unfamiliar with Alchemy, the music has a prog meets theatre grandeur that brings to mind stage musicals like Les Misérables and The Phantom Of The Opera as well as Nolan's other musical diversion Arena laced with the gothic film scores of Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer. It not all bombast however, with songs like Amelia, Sanctuary and the show stopping The Girl I Was it boasts more than its fair share of romantic ballads.

Whilst on album some of the finer points of Nolan's story can easily pass the listener by, seen live it makes a lot more sense. Wisely acting and spoken dialogue are kept to a minimum allowing the power of the songs and the singing to convey the plotline which moves along at a lively pace. With the band all dressed in black taking up the rear, the singers perform centre stage, often four or five in unison, with their costumes and the minimal but effective back projections being the only concession to the 19th-Century period setting. As with all Wyspiański filmed shows the lighting is impressive and with the cameras sometimes sweeping across the front of the stage one wonders how the appreciative audience maintained an unrestricted view. Sound comes courtesy of the usual stereo and 5.1 surround options.

In a cast that is uniformly excellent, Agnieszka Świta as the tragic heroine Amelia Darvas and ex. Twelfth Night frontman Andy Sears as the villainous Lord Henry Jagman are undoubtedly the stars of the show. They go head to head from the very start in Deception whilst individually the macabre waltz Highgate features Agnieszka at her most provocative whilst Sears' scene stealing performance during the sinister The End Justifies The Means is worthy of an Olivier Award. Sears' character also has his own leitmotif in the form of a dramatic, descending riff that punctuates the instrumental sections (notably The Labyrinth that opens act 2).

Of the rest, David Clifford gives a commanding but sensitive performance as the romantic male lead William Gardelle whilst Victoria Bolley who provides strong support throughout in the role of Eva really comes into her own in the second act with her mesmerising solo Share This Dream. Superb cameo performances come from Soheila Clifford in the role Jessamine (replacing Noel Calcaterra) singing the infectious Desperate Days, the always excellent Tracy Hitchings during The Unwelcome Guest and Arena singer Paul Manzi memorable as bad guy Milosh in the strident Ambush and the crowd pleasing Tide Of Wealth. Damian Wilson for his part is almost unrecognisable (visually and vocally) maintaining an imposing presence (reminiscent of Tintin's Captain Haddock but without the humour) in Burial At Sea.

In addition to the full 2-hour show, DVD 1 includes generous extras in the shape of The Making Of Alchemy and several illuminating interviews with the key participants. Over on DVD 2 there is another hours' worth of bonus material that delves into the development of the songs with contributions from the majority of the cast.

If however like me your time is limited when it comes to sitting in front of a DVD player, the three CD's that come with this package are invaluable. Taken from the same Wyspiański recording, the show is spread across two discs which can be easily enjoyed in their own right. In fact without the visual distractions, the excellent performances (instrumentally and vocally) and the exceptional audio quality (albeit in stereo only) become even more apparent. The bonus CD is ironically perhaps my favourite of the whole collection featuring high quality demos, alternate recordings and some superb songs that probably due to time constraints never made the final recording.

There's really little I can say to fault Alchemy. The show is impressively staged, performed (the counterpoint singing is quite breath-taking at times), played, recorded and produced. Throw in some great tunes and this sumptuous package and you have as they say in stage and theatre circles, a triumph!
Conclusion: 10 out of 10

Vintage Cucumber - Yoki Style
Vntage Cucumber - Yoki Style
Country of Origin: Germany
Format: download
Record Label: independent
Catalog #: n/a
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 65:44
Info: Vintage Cucumber
Samples: Click Here
Tracklist:
Mondsucht II (7:29), Geborgenheit (5:18), Im Garten Eden (11:16), Cleopatra & Ich (3:27), Das Mönchsgebrabbel (8:46), Nektar Schlürfen... (7:36), Weltenberg (1:59), Alles in Butter (5:34), Mutter Grün (7:56), Traumland (5:23), Alles in Butter 78 (3:42)


Vintage Cucumber is the band name used by multi-instrumentalist Johannes Schulz, who hails from Templin, in the Brandenburg region of Germany.

Vintage Cucumber describes his music as TranKrautPyschedelic. This is a genre that he seems to have all to himself. Though, on this album, Vintage Cucumber lean more towards the trance and ambient modes of music making, rather than the motorik groves of Can or Neu!. Vintage Cucumbers music is entirely instrumental and where voices are used, they are samples or choral voices. They are used without creating a typical song-lyric based structure of verse and chorus. Vintage Cucumber uses these samples and multi-tracked instrumentation to create, when it works well, a hypnotic style that draws one in. But it can, at times, just seem repetitive and drawn out.

There are a number of tracks that work well. Firstly, Im Garten Eden (In the Garden of Eden) which begins with birdsong, wind chimes and the sound of running water; water sounds turn out to be a recurring motif on the album. These sound effects are slowly subsumed by building rhythms of percussion and keyboards, but never disappear entirely. Synthesizer washes and pulses, and longer sustained keyboard chords, grow and evolve as this hypnotic tune moves forward. It gains momentum until around the seven-minute mark when gongs and vocal chants enter the mix to mark the small climax of the piece. Then, the instrumentation winds back down out of the mix, towards the starting point of water sounds and birdsong. Im Garten Eden provides a rewarding journey.

There are also two Tangerine Dream style pieces (the Tangerine Dream of Phaedra and Sorcerer), which work well. These are Geborgenheit (Security) and Cleopatra & Ich, both of which feature synthesizers and other keyboards. These are tuneful, and cinematic, reminding me of some of Tangerine Dreams soundtrack work.

Also, in an electronic style is Alles in Butter (All in Butter), which is a propulsive, almost early 1980s style of synth-rock. It has similarities with John Foxx's Metamatic album (but without the vocals) or of Foxxs work with early Ultravox. It is good, also, to have a work on the album that rises above the mid-tempo pace of the majority of the rest. This is especially so in the two minute faster version, Alles in Butter 78, at the end of the album.

Finally, and my favourite on the album, is Nektar Schlürfen (Nectar Slurping). This, again, features the water motif of Im Garten Eden along with a quietly chanted vocal line that grows in tempo as percussion gently rises out of the mix; whilst multi-tracked guitars follow each other, weaving in and out of the melody, in a very engaging way.

The problems occur with the other tracks on this album. Two of which are, quite frankly, funeral paced dirges. The first of these, Mondsucht II (Moon Search II), creeps along at a snails pace, as a repetitive, picked guitars meander in an ambient fashion. This continues on until a mix of sampled voices and percussion join in a high point of sorts. It left me bemused and a little bored. The musical idea is stretched way beyond its natural length. Vintage Cucumber show how much better this can be done with the shortest work on the album, Weltenberg (World Mountain). This uses multi-layered wordless vocals to much better effect by being melodic, brief and to the point.

The second dirge is Das Mönchsgebrabbel (Monks Babble), which begins promisingly with monks chanting, these voices are then mixed in with guitar chords and gongs. The problem with this track is again that it is just too slow to sustain interest throughout its length. The problem again is the pace and it needs to be melodically stronger.

A similar problem of a turgid rhythm affects Mutter Grün (Mother Green). This work of guitar ambience is just waiting for something to happen halfway through. Having enticed one in with an affecting melody the repetition of it just goes nowhere. Add in a solo of some kind please, Herr Schulz.

So, overall Vintage Cucumbers Yoki Style is a work, that when it clicks, it does so well. But it does, infuriatingly, have a tendency to move at a glacial pace, for quite long periods, and that ends up testing ones patience. Ambient and trance music requires that the listener gives a great deal in terms of concentration when listening to the music, otherwise it tends to fade into the background and becomes aural wallpaper, sometimes pretty but inessential. However, even with the criticism I have leveled here about some of the tracks on Yoki Style, it never turns into aural wallpaper.

The ambient styles of Brian Eno are usually a lot shorter and more substantial than those found on Yoki Style. And where Enos collaborations with Cluster and Robert Fripp produce longer form pieces, those tend to evolve melodically more than those made by Vintage Cucumber. You would need to be a true aficionado of ambient and trance music, to want this album in its entirety. Though it is not without interest or value for at least half of the album. The more curious general fan of this genre may find some reward here.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10

Magnum - Escape From The Shadow Garden
Magnum - Escape From The Shadow Garden
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Steamhammer
Catalog #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 63:00
Info: Magnum
Samples: Click Here
Tracklist:
Live 'Til You Die (6:29), Unwritten Sacrifice (5:28), Fallen For The big Plan (5:59), Crying In The Rain (5:45), Too Many Clowns (4:36), Midnight Angel (7:18), The Art Of Compromise (5:01), Don't Fall Asleep (5:59), Wisdom's Had It's Day (4:44), Burning River (4:43), The Valley Of Tears (6:39)
This is Magnum's 18th Album, a mere 18 months since their last one, and features the welcome return of Rodney Mathews as the cover artist, reprising his role that was reignited with 13th Album Princess Alice And The Broken Arrow. The cover is fantastic and recaptures such visual elements as "the tree" from the earlier Jeff Glixman produced Chase the Dragon (their first chart entry) and the "story teller" from fan favourite On A Storyteller's Night.
This might imply that Birmingham's finest are "looking backwards" or rekindling "the old stuff" for the content and if that was the case they'd be forgiven as Escape From The Shadow Garden represents the band at their best.

However, laurels have not been rested upon as whilst many of their contemporaries are peddling past glories, Magnum are presenting brand new material to the constantly faithful. This has been the case since their reformation in 2001 and they keep raising the bar with each new release. With the bedrock of Bob Catley, whose voice is ageing like fine whiskey but in reverse, giving every new crack in his delivery an extra degree of heart felt emotion, and guitarist/composer Tony Clarkin whose exceptional writing output puts the pro in prolific. Al Barrow and Harry James provide the solid backing with Mark Stanway's keyboards never sounding better. In fact, it is the quality and sound of his playing that puts this recording right back into the prog arena which makes it even more reassuring that the charts have been severely bothered in Europe with this latest offering reflecting a time when Wings Of Heaven made a number 5 dent in the UK sales list.

Stand out tracks are the slower and anthemic Midnight Angel, Don't Fall Asleep, Wisdom's Had It's Day, and closer The Valley Of Tears. If these are all played live, the crowd is going to be in serious danger of running out of lighter fluid. Elsewhere the harder edge is supplied with Falling For The Big Plan, Too Many Clowns, and The Art of Compromise (which they don't). Crying In The Rain provides the clap along and allows them all to show off a bit.

Put the hood down (in American that's the roof), go for a drive, try not to take the opening track with its incontestable advice and film score keyboard intro that we only Live 'Till You Die too literally, and savour what Britain has to offer the world with this top notch rock music.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Incura - Incura
Incura - Incura
Country of Origin: Canada
Format: CD
Record Label: Inside Out Music
Catalog #: 0IO01263
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 43:45
Info: Incura
Samples: Click here
Tracklist:
Get The Gun (05:23), I Breathe This (04:47), I'm Here Waiting (04:09), Who You Are (04:08), Turning Blue (04:31), Decide (05:03), Here To Blame (04:14), The Greatest Con (03:17), I'd Give Anything (03:46), Sweat Runs Cold (04:27)
When you look at the heavier side of prog, a lot of debut albums feel, in retrospect, weaker attempts at what the bands become over the years. This is not the case with Incura's first offering: an album that stands out almost immediately for it's high quality. The compositions are solid, the multi-layered arrangements denote the care and thought put into the songs, but never going over the top or completely overshadowing the main ideas. Incura's self titled release is not about the technical prowess most young prog metal bands like to showcase, but mostly about the atmosphere and raw power it generates through the combination of theatrical aspects with a heavier foundation, which results in a sound that has a very strong personality, without immediately sounding like something that came before. The influences are there, but they're so many and so disguised with the band's own creativity that they're almost unnoticeable.

The opening song, Get The Gun treats us to a one minute intro consisting of a guitar riff that repeats itself, eventually adding a twin guitar, chorus, bass, drums and a string arrangement, finished off by a very movie-like synth blast, after which a more mellow rock section begins. The song intertwines softer, more theatrical passages with heavy riffing, all brilliantly executed and arranged. The chorus is catchy, and I've found myself humming or whistling it in hallways when I'm not even listening to it.

I Breathe This and I'm Here Waiting go deeper into operatic metal land, both opening with powerful riffs. The former is cut in half by a groove that is most definitely proggy, and the exaggeration of Kyle Gruningers vocals create a dramatic effect very much in line with the style of the rest of the album. The latter contains elements reminiscent of power ballads and classical compositions alike.

Who you are is one of the most unique tracks on the album, and the one that reflects Incura's love for Broadway style compositions the most. It's full of all kinds of elements that dig deeper into musical theatre territory. From little guitar harmonics to the amazing piano and keyboard layers of the instrumental section that demonstrate Jim McLaren clearly knows what he's doing, the band's attention to detail is consistent throughout this first release.

Turning Blue is more of an upbeat song with fast paced lyrics and another catchy chorus. From the prog side of things, it's really straightforward, making it the weakest of the album. Not a bad tune, but lacks some of the uniqueness the rest of this release presents.

Decide starts as a beautiful ballad, but just like most of the material on this record, it gradually shifts into something entirely different, in this case getting heavier as it progresses into the solo section, which then leads to a grand finale that reminds me of Dream Theater's In The Name of God.

The Greatest Con is another fast track, but feels very melancholic from start to finish. Even though it fits the rest of the album, the production feels different. more specifically, the guitar seems to be lacking some of the edge that pervades through the rest of Incura.

I'd Give Anything is a sweeter, melodic tune with a very emotional approach and strong lyrics. It builds up in intensity, and the distortion is not absent for long, without fully transforming into a metal song.

Here to Blame and Sweat Runs Cold are the heaviest tracks on the album. They're comprised of all the expectable elements of a prog metal composition: blasting speed, powerful bass lines, djent inspired riffs and even some screaming vocals. These two tracks are good examples of the singer's versatility. While his voice doesn't stray far from the higher spectrum, his interpretation ranges from quiet whispered passages to grunts in the vein of Periphery. He surfs between chest and head voice, adding a little grit here and there effortlesly.

Nothing the band does seems out of place: the solos are never fully overblown prog metal technical displays (even though the instrumental execution is flawless), which seems to be a wise decision. The many twists and turns present during the 40 something minutes with Incura will keep you on your toes. It's not an overly complex record by any means, but there's enough structural changes here to retain people's attention through the duration of the experience.

Even though, sadly, we only got a 192 kbps MP3 file to review the album, the production sounds quite good, which means that the physical copy can only sound better. On rare occasions, some instruments may sound a little low or high in the mix, but nothing major.

Without trying to sound like any style in particular, the mixture of elements that converge on this release result in a unique sound that could only be defined as Incura. Even though this is their full length debut album, the band has been around for around ten years, and their maturity shows.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

PropheXy - Improvviso
PropheXy - Improvviso
Country of Origin: Italy
Format: CD
Record Label: Musea Parallèle
Catalog #: MP 3270
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 62:12
Info: PropheXy on Musea
Samples: PropheXy on SoundCloud
Tracklist:
Tritone (7:50), Babba (8:26), La Rotonda Della Memoria (4:02), Stralci Di Quotidiano (8:23), Paradigmi Mentali (9:11), Trickster (5:52), C'è Vite Sulla Luna? (5:20), Bonus Tracks, featuring Richard Sinclair: Disassociation (5:25), Golf Girl (7:43)
Formed in 1999, Italian band PropheXy have to date released two full length studio albums, and appeared on the Mellow Records compilation The Letters An Unconventional Italian Guide to King Crimson with their reading of The Great Deceiver. In 2013, they released Improvviso, a live album recorded in 2012 that features Richard Sinclair on two Caravan songs, added here as bonus tracks. The main part of the album is a combination of new songs, and songs taken from their 2009 album Alconauta.

If "Rock Progressivo Italiano" is a purely geographical pigeonhole, then Prog Archives classification is justified. However, PropheXys sound is a long way from what many would define as classic RPI, as it is angular, aggressive and quirky. Not that there is anything wrong with that, of course!

The album opens with Tritone, an odd collision of classic 70s prog moves underlined by the flute, topped off with sharp changes of pace, all wrapped up in an epic arrangement. Babba shows off the bands love of VdGG and Crimson; the singer Luca Fattori is obviously a big Peter Hammill fan, his voice swooping and screaming in full-on Thin Man fashion, occasionally struggling a tad to hit the note, and to escape the seemingly chaotic arrangement. There is also a wilful obscurantism about this band that owes much to Gentle Giant at their best, as you can hear for yourself on La Rotonda Della Memoria (above). Unfortunately, as is often the case with modern bands in thrall to their 70s heroes, the music falls short of the consummate brilliance of its inspiration. However, they give it their best shot and the track is by no means uninteresting. As is implied by the cover picture of an overloaded brain, this is undoubtedly music you can dance to in your head, as it is way beyond the rug cutting capacity of two human feet.

Stralci Di Quotidiano (Newspaper Quotes) is my favourite track on the album, as it turns down the lunacy-ometer, and initially builds in the fashion of an Anekdoten or Gsta Berlings Saga epic. This is not entirely unexpected, as PropheXy have supported Anekdoten in the past. The bass playing in the middle section is really something, and all the musicians seem to be flying around randomly, but it works as a whole. We are then led it into an almost languid piano and guitar section, and this time the arrangement and composition come together seamlessly, showing that PropheXy are more than capable unit when they stop trying too hard to confound. This is what true avant-prog should do, not as is so often the case rely on being pretentious for the sake of it, if I may quote Gentle Giants tongue-in-cheek album title.

Trickster is another synapse-rattler, marching towards the unsuspecting audient on the back of a marching shapeshifter of a beat, an amphetamine-charged army of insects making for your ears. The second part of the song features a contrastingly calm flute section, unsettled by Lucas nightmare declarations and the eventual return of the bug-eyed arachnids. Mad, but it works, just. C'è Vite Sulla Luna? (Is There Life On The Moon?) is the most dislocated tune of the lot, and is something Henry Cow might have come up with.

The bonus tracks see honorary Italian Richard Sinclair make a rare appearance, and PropheXy back him on renditions of Disassociation, part of Nine Feet Underground, and a marvellously extended Golf Girl, both songs from Caravans 1971 classic In The Land Of Grey And Pink as Im sure you know.

Improvviso is not by any stretch of the imagination an easy listen, and at times overcomplicates simply because it can. That said there are seeds sown here, especially on Stralci Di Quotidiano that might blossom into something rather special if PropheXy can exercise some restraint and become slightly less wilfully obscure.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10

Chris Spedding - Backwood Progression
Chris Spedding - Backwood Progression
Country Of OriginUK
FormatCD
Record LabelEsoteric Recordings
Catalogue#ECLEC 2443
Year Of Release1970/2014
Time37:01
InfoCherry Red
SamplesN/A
Track List:
For What We Are About To Hear (2:29), Backwood Progression (3:44), Words Don't Come (1:47), The Hill (3:27), You Can See (5:19), Session Man (1:28), Please Mrs. Henry (2:19), The Soldiers and the Goodtime Girls (3:58), Ought To Be A Law (2:30), She's My Friend (3:10), Should the Occasion Arise (2:15), Never Carry More Than You Can Eat (2:26), Backwood Theme (2:05)
Chris Spedding first came to my attention as a more than capable fusion guitarist on Ian Carr's Nucleus albums on the Vertigo spiral imprint. Already an in demand session musician, Spedding went on to become the man behind the guitar in ex Cream lyricist Pete Brown's band The Battered Ornaments, which became Spedding's band by default when Brown was unceremoniously dumped. After The Battered Ornaments, Spedding was afforded the luxury of recording an album under his own name for the band's label Harvest Records.

Let's get this out of the way; on Backwood Progression, Chris Spedding is in thrall to The Band in general and Dylan in particular, the latter so much so that he spends the entire album doing a bad karaoke impression of the singular American's distinctive vocal style. The songs on this album are so derivative of The Band's early stamp on what would become known as Americana that if you close your eyes (and your ears to Chris' "singing") you can easily envisage Levon, Robbie, et al in some grainy footage from a studio in the middle of the Catskills.

Unfortunately, or not, if you are of a sensitive aural disposition, the track You Can See with its literal and metaphorical painful similarity to late 60s/early 70s Dylan and The Band, is unavailable on YouTube, as I was hoping to use it as an example. On his first solo album, Spedding as a vocalist is simply woeful, and the music is as slavishly copyist as the worst imaginable new prog Genesis clone.

The sixth track Session Man is the first time on the record where Spedding goes his own way and finally leaves the Zim impersonation at the door. That said, it's a right old dog's dinner of a tune, and fades after only a minute, almost as if he knew it was bollocks! A barroom bonhomie permeates Please Mrs. Henry but I'm afraid to say that even when he uses his own voice, most ironically so this time on an albeit very obscure Dylan tune, standards in the vocal department do not improve much.

You think I'm being harsh on the man re his awful Dylan impersonation? It returns big time on The Soldiers and the Goodtime Girls. Listen to this, and realise just how right I am! The best song on here by a country mile is the rocking She's My Friend, which is a kind of Beatles meets The Band rocker with the faux Dylan (this time more or less in tune) behind the mic.

The album title was an intended poke in the eye for the newly trendy progressive rock scene at the time of this album's original 1970 release, as in "progression" where there is none, etc; an argument we are all no doubt familiar with today and one that that has been raging since the start, so it would seem. Given the complete lack of any originality on this record, the title was obviously an irony lost on its author! Proof that back in those heady days, record labels would throw money at anything, just to see if any of it would stick, Backwood Progression is a title of truth and lie. "Backwood" it certainly is, "Progression" there certainly ain't!

I am convinced that the Esoteric-ubiquitous Malcolm Dome inhabits a surreal Lewis Carroll world when he says in the booklet "It is a fine example of intelligent pop-rock that is... enticingly accessible", but I have to agree with his assertion that it "...also offers a significant challenge...", but probably for utterly different reasons than Mr Dome attests. There is nothing remotely progressive, or even prog about this album. On its own merits I would give it a three (I've been down the pub, I'm feeling generous), but from a DPRP perspective...
Conclusion: unrated

Chris Spedding - The Only Lick I Know
Chris Spedding  The Only Lick I Know
Country Of OriginUK
FormatCD
Record LabelEsoteric Recordings
Catalogue#ECLEC 2444
Year Of Release1972/2014
Time33:11
InfoCherry Red
SamplesN/A
Track List:
White Lady (3:54), A Hard Woman is Good to Find (2:39), London Town (5:13), Don't Leave Me (5:25), Honky Tonk Blues (2:43), Saw You Yesterday (3:26), The Dark End Of The Street (3:24), The Only Lick I Know (3:00), Listen While I Sing My Song (3:22)
Two years on, and The Only Lick I Know shows a remarkable improvement to Spedding's debut solo album, even if the intro to the opening cut is naggingly reminiscent of a sixties hit. Spedding has developed his own voice, and it is surprisingly more than adequate. The music is also less influenced by Dylan and The Band, and covers a fair few bases, opener White Lady going for an accomplished singer-songwriter approach, in the manner of Clifford T Ward.

Discounting an ill-conceived instrumental album Songs Without Words, issued in error in Japan, The Only Lick I Know is the official sophomore effort from Spedding, and on A Hard Woman Is Good to Find he hits upon a sort of proto pub rock, two years early. There are some decent songs on this rather short album, and it is there for all to see just how much Spedding has matured as a writer and arranger since that uninspiring debut.

There remains more than a touch of down home American influence, but you can see how his sound is slowly developing into the leather-clad biker rock most of us know solo Chris Spedding for. Unlike Backwood Progression, which was recorded under pressure in a week, this one had no such restraints and so Spedding had the opportunity to take his time on the arrangements, and it shows. He also had more freedom to choose whom he wanted to play on the record from the high quality pool of session musicians available to Abbey Road studios where the album was recorded.

Don't Leave Me is a fine piece of countrified funk backing a plaintive lyric, and you can almost feel the relaxed vibe as Spedding launches into a fine little fuzzy guitar excursion taking up the second half of the song. This is the first time on either album that Spedding actually lets rip on his instrument, and thereby reminds us what a fine player he is. Hank Williams' Honky Tonk Blues points to Spedding's future biker rocker persona as it chugs along. The title track and Listen While I Sing My Song are two more that those familiar with Motorbikin' and the Hurt album will recognise as they hog the middle lane at 50 mph on the back of a BSA Thunderbolt.

The regrettable Dylan impersonation makes a short reappearance on Saw You Yesterday, but thankfully it is an exception to an otherwise decent performance in the vocal booth from Spedding. Add to that some fine guitar work on slide and conventional guitar throughout the album, and I can safely vouch that for once I agree with Mr Dome's hyperbole when he says "It certainly showcases Spedding's reputation as a brilliant guitarist who had learnt through his varied session experience to maximise his diversity". That's not to say this album is a hodge-podge, its various styles all hang together rather well.

This album went entirely against the grain of UK musical fashion in 1972, being about as far removed from Close To The Edge and its like as it is possible for a rock record to be, and in vast contrast to the previous album, from a purely musical perspective, this is a seven. Putting my Close To The Edge prog hat on, once again from a DPRP perspective it has to be...
Conclusion: unrated

October Equus Quartet - Isla Purgatorio
October Equus Quartet - Isla Purgatorio
Country of Origin: Spain
Format: CD
Record Label: Clamshell Records
Catalog #: CR15
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 37:15
Info: October Equus Quartet
Samples: October Equus Quartet on Bandcamp
Tracklist:
Neutoma (5:39), Totems (4:07), Isla Purgatorio (1:12), Sin Permiso (4:55), Nocturno (3:52), Medusa (3:43), Arena Negra (5:20), Euryale (4:56), La Ofrenda (5:31)
As their name suggests, October Equus Quartet is a spin-off of Spanish RIO/Avant-garde outfit October Equus (whose two most recent albums, Saturnal and Permafrost, have been positively reviewed here on DPRP), and one of the many projects in which guitarist/composer/graphic artist Ángel Ontalva is involved. Even if the band's name and configuration differ only very slightly from Ontalva's main gig, the music presented on Isla Purgatorio does have a different flavour, leaning as it does towards jazz-rock - one of Ontalva's primary musical interests and sources of inspiration, as proved by the guitarist's 2012 solo album, Mundo Flotante. The album was released at the end of October 2013 on Clamshell Records, an independent Spanish label that specializes in contemporary jazz in all its forms.

With Ontalva's wife and regular collaborator, bassist Amanda Pazos Cosse, on board, as well as drummer Vasco Trilla and saxophonist Alfonso Muñoz (both also members of Catalan jazz-rock outfit Planeta Imaginario), October Equus Quartet deliver a compact 37 minutes (almost the average length of a vinyl LP) of classy, exciting music that keeps some of the "chamber" aspect of the mother band, though with a more improvisational edge, and that deceptively loose, free-form texture characteristic of Soft Machine's heyday. Though keyboards are conspicuously missing from the equation, the void is more than adequately filled by Ontalva's consistently creative guitar forays and their exhilarating interplay with Muñoz's sax. Even in its very restrained running time, Isla Purgatorio packs a lot of twists and turns, ranging from laid-back, Canterburyish moments to occasional but unmistakable nods to the band's Avant-garde background.

The ominous, effects-laden opening of the album - reminiscent of a horror-movie soundtrack - is quite deceptive, as Neutoma soon develops into an understated, mid-paced jazzy romp in which sax and guitar take turns in the spotlight with the discreet yet invaluable support of bass and drums. Totems introduces an upbeat, dynamic tone that contrasts with October Equus' generally somber mien, with all the instruments engaging in short solo spots and an interesting use of contrasting tempos. The title-track brings the album into Avant-garde territory for a brief time, then Sin Permiso resumes an engagingly upbeat allure with elegant Canterbury nuances, the sleek guitar/sax interplay intensifying in a climactic finale.

With its sparse, almost ambient texture, enlivened by Ontalva's guitar surging among a host of eerie effects, the aptly-titled Nocturno enjoys a strategic central position within the album, which then returns to a more upbeat form with the spacious, drum-driven Medusa. Arena Negra starts out in slow, subdued fashion before things turn more buoyant, with an appealing waltzy pace and the guitar pushed well into the foreground; similarly, Euryale (the name of another of the mythical Gorgons) starts out in a pensive mood, unfolding as a dialogue between guitar and sax, then gaining momentum with dramatic drums and forceful sax. The album's wrap-up comes with the airy, textbook-perfect jazz-rock of La Ofrenda, in which the starring role of the sax is supported by a solid bass line, showcasing the band's tight ensemble playing as well as the musicians' individual strengths. Complemented by Ontalva's outstanding, visionary artwork and Lutz Diehl's photography, Isla Purgatorio is a sophisticated, yet never overwrought effort that confirms the sheer quality of this group of Spanish musicians. Lovers of jazz-rock and chamber rock will find a lot to enjoy in this album, both from a compositional point of view and from the performance angle, but those who are interested in exploring instrumental progressive music could do much worse than check out this high-quality release, which makes for very rewarding listening without being as challenging to non-Avant-garde fans as October Equus's main output.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Van Gelder - The Vow
Van Gelder - The Vow
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalog #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 47 mins
Info and samples: Van Gelder
Tracklist:
Keep the faith (6.09), Passion (8.03), The Vow (6.10), The Prophecy (6.47), A Thousand Years (1.37), Avalanche (6.34), Illusion (7.02), Lost (4.07)
Gradus Van Gelder is a musician and sound engineer based in the Netherlands. His debut release The Vow sits firmly within the rock and progressive metal genres. Apparently inspired by bands such as Vanden Plas, Dream Theatre and Circus Maximus, Van Gelder has composed and arranged an eight track foray into instrumental guitar laden rock. In this self produced home studio release Van Gelder is also responsible for all other instruments. The music is impeccably performed - Van Gelder is undoubtedly a highly accomplished musician. Given the limitations of a home studio recording, the production values are remarkable. The excellent production gives the music energy, explosive sound and drive. Unfortunately, despite numerous plays, much of The Vow did not form any lasting impression and just passed me by. Illusion and the title track are tunes that have interesting variations and time signatures. They are are probably the most satisfying in the release. The effect-laden guitar sounds prevalent in the introduction of Illusion creates an atmospheric tension that works well. The guitar tones and effects employed in this track and throughout the release are suitably imposing. Within the context of this style of music, Van Gelder's fretted skills are consistently impressive. I also enjoyed the short A Thousand Tears, which gave a melodic and much needed change in approach, style and tempo. Nevertheless, on the whole, this release is predictably chugging, finger in ear fatiguing and some may argue even horribly derivative. Occasional keyboard inserts throughout the album could not relieve an overwhelming impression that this is disappointingly imitative instrumental music. What is on offer, is for the most part about as subtle as a slab of cheesecake overlaid with ice cream brimming with melted chocolate. The cliched compositions often devoid of any structured tuneful moments lack much needed variety in pace, instrumentation or approach. The majority of the tracks are exhibited with frenzy and unsurprisingly, the pieces often accelerate to become an indulgent showcase of maximum finger blurring speed.

The music arguably works best when listened to in a quickly moving vehicle. On my motorway travels, the impersonal relentless rhythms and solos presented, seemed to unite in harmony with the endless expanse of concrete laid in front of me. There was no lasting euphoria though, as just like the music the car growled to a halt. There was only sadness that the predictable, often stale and prolific nature of these types of releases have blighted the metal genre, arguably, just as an over abundance of vehicles has wrecked the UK's motorway network.

Some readers will no doubt enjoy the powerful music and guitar riffs that adorn this release. I sincerely hope that they are able to find aspects of The Vow appealing and praiseworthy. Certainly Van Gelder should be commended on the quality of the instrumentation and production. But in the final analysis and whether perceived as a compliment or a criticism, there is little else for me to add other than (will DPRP readers believe me if I say): heard it all before!
Conclusion: 5 out of 10

Tungsten - The Reservoir
Tungsten - The Reservoir
Country of Origin: USA
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 49:32
Info: Tungsten
Samples: Click Here
Track List:
Water Over Stone (6:01); Contamination (6:14); Atmos Stoma (7:17); Night Wanders By (8:25); Coda (1:26), El Dolor (5:54); The Opera House (5:58); The Reservoir (7:53)


Tungsten is from the Old Skool. A band which has honed and crafted its music through two years of tireless live performances around Philadelphia and New York City.

The band finally took to the studio last summer to record its debut album. The result is The Reservoir; a disc which takes a somewhat different and refreshing approach to the Progressive Metal genre.

A wide-array of songwriting ideas comes across in the eight extended tracks, drawing on ideas from the full gamut of prog and metal influences. For a change this is a band not desperate to be "modern". Neither are they simply showcasing their technical prowess.

Tungsten is a band with both feet firmly in the past. The metal is heavy, bluesy and riff-based clearly taken from the back catalogues of Iron Maiden, Metallica and a host of NWOBHM albums. The prog is atmospheric (Pink Floyd) with sudden bursts of jazz, Hammond, psychedelia, rock opera and funk.

On top of all that we have the female vocals of Titi Musick. Not your usual soulful or operatic leading prog lady. Titi has a full palette of styles to match the song but most frequently theres a powerful, coarse metal siren.

Too often the band does trip over itself trying to fill too much unrelated musical styling into every song. The riffage can be a bit too old skool for my tastes and the ever changing musical landscape has a habit of losing its focus on the central melody or theme. However there are plenty of plus points and enjoyable moments that would make The Reservoir a worthwhile place to take a dip for those who prefer their prog metal bands not to totally abandon the past.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

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Published Saturday 24 May 2014

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