ISSUE 2014-54

Reviews in this issue:

Il Cerchio D'oro - Deodalo e icaro
Il Cerchio D'oro - Deodalo e icaro
Country of Origin: Italy
Format: CD
Record Label: Black Widow
Catalogue #: BWRCD 150-2
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 48:47
Info: Il Cerchio D'oro on Italian Prog
Track List:
Il Mio Nome È Dedalo (4:56), Labirinto (7:16), La Promessa (9:07), L'arma Vincente (4:15), Una Nuova Realtà (7:39), Oggi Volerò (4:25), Il Sogno Spezzato (6:02), Ora Che Son Qui (Icaro La Fine) (5:10)
Some readers might well feel inclined to ask what is Deodalo e icaro about ?

Il Cerchio D'oro 's sophomore release tells the story of Daedalus and Icarus. The cover of the CD is impressive and illustrates the melting of Icarus's wings. The booklet which accompanies the CD outlines the main parts of the tale. It is informative and well produced. Lyrics are presented in Italian with English translations.Musically it is difficult to identify any clearly defined repeated phrases that occur throughout the albums individual pieces, but given the nature of the lyrics and the lush packaging some might consider Deodalo e icaro to be a concept album.

When the music contained within a release is so consistently appealing, the question of whether or not it has a clearly defined concept, or is simply a collection of individual tunes becomes arguably, largely irrelevant.

In Deodalo e icaro the story is all about the music.

Deodalo e icaro is infused with glorious motifs and tuneful melodies that recall the halycon days of the Italian progressive genre of the seventies. Il Cerchio D'oro utilise expressive vocals and harmonies. Swathes of rich keyboards and dribbles of mellotron are also used to good effect, to produce a frequently classic RPI sound. Fully charged electrifying riffs and finger twisting guitar parts regularly take centre stage and bring a further touch of quality to the proceedings. As might be expected, some rasping smatterings of cascading flute and handfuls of reedy saxophone are added to good effect. These facets futher enhance the albums credentials as a bona fide RPI release. All of these ingredients are underpinned by a sumptuous bottom end that adds buoyant thrust and smile inducing bounce. The bass arrangements and tones selected by Guiseppe Terribile are a total delight throughout the majority of the release.

Despite being a concept album, and also featuring guest musicians who have represented illustrious groups such as PFM, Delrium and The Trip, Il Cerchio D'oro have suprisingly, not created a totally retro inspired RPI release. There are many aspects within Deodalo e icaro which entrench it firmly and succesfully in the 21st century. Nevertheless, bands such as the New Trolls and Museo Rosenbach were regularly brought to mind, as my tympanic membranes were swaddled and ultimately immersed in a wholly fulfilling auditory experience. The largely symphonic style of the warm melodic compositions of Deodalo e icaro draw upon a number of influences, such as A capella harmonies in La Promessa and most notably Jazz in the way motifs are explored, extended and revisited within Labirinto and Il Sogno Spezzato. There is even the occasional foray into a malleable, but nevertheless, firm rock style in parts of the impressive Una Nuova Realtà.

It is also a very well produced album that makes full use of a range of modern recording techniques. The result is often a sonic feast. The production values ensure that individual instruments are given the space to breathe within the crystal clear sound. Similarly,individual players are given the opportunity within the musical arrangements to excel and showcase their skill and dexterity. The bands musicianship sparkles throughout. The vocals are perhaps the weakest aspect of the release. Although sung with much emotive gusto, they have a hoary range and hue which potentially may lessen enjoyment. However, for some listeners the ripened vocals may even add to the albums charm and nostalgic quality. In this respect,it is the instrumental tracks and frequent instrumental interludes contained within the pieces featuring vocals, that glisten particularly brilliantly in this highly attractive and enjoyable work.

And just in case some DPRP readers are still wondering what Deodalo e icaro is really all about ?

Deodalo e icaro tells the story of story of Daedalus and Icarus. Perhaps even more appealingly though; the story of Deodalo e icaro is all about the music. I am glad that I have been able to recount a part of that story in some small way. I hope that readers will wish to experience this release and find out for themselves what Deodalo e icaro is all about.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Druckfarben - Second Sound
Druckfarben - Second Sound
Country of Origin: Canada
Format: cd
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 56:33
Info: Druckfarben
Track List:
An Answer Dreaming (6:59), In Disbelief (3:29), Dandelion (5:06), Liberated Dream (4:25), Long Walk Down (5:02), Surrounds Me (7:22), Another Day (5:21), Second Sound (18:49)
There are albums that build in momentum, open their secrets up gradually and let you slowly breathe in the atmosphere and there are albums that give you momentum from scratch. Druckfarben's Second Sound, quite the appropriate name for a second release, is an album in the latter approach. If it were vinyl, from the moment you put the needle on the record, you know you are in for something as prog as it gets. Opener An Answer Dreaming demands your attention from scratch. Intricate interplay between keys and guitar alike and Messrs Hare (keys and vocals) and Bernard (guitars, violin, mandolin and vocals) leading the way, with a firm base layed out by Messrs Feener (drums and percussion) and Murray (bass, vocals, mandolin). Phil Naro (vocals and guitar) joins in just after 2 minutes as the song's tempo had just slowed down. A fine riff by Ed Bernard, not unlike 80s Rush is dominant for a while here.

Only a minute later we get Yes-like harmonies as the song goes through another change. A relatively short part before the song ends on more of the instrumental interplay, showing just that these are all qualified instrumentalists who know their chops.

Arabia beckons as In Disbelief's intro sounds, to have the song venture into an uptempo playful mix of keyboard and guitar. They seek adventure among themselves as the song develops further with keys in the vein of Genesis and Spock's Beard. Phil Bernard then plays a delightful guitar part to once again duel with Will Hare's keyboards, not unlike Saga. It took me quite some getting used to the vocal lines in In Disbelief but as the song develops, it gets easier to hear how they do fit in. A compact and driving song.

Dandelion wears several influences on its sleeve: Yes, Kansas and Rush and if anything, Druckfarben show that it is possible to take all these influences and add your own spirit to it. Where Yes and Kansas might sometimes appear to stretch their songs too long or to put just too much into the course of an individual song, Druckfarben have a recipe of their own, you can tell they are all experienced musicians, yet they also know how to wed technicality to having you hooked by vocals, keys or guitar and/or bass. That is what happens in both Liberated Dream and Long Walk Down. These songs, plus Surrounds Me, show the character of the band that is Druckfarben.

Be prepared to dive deep into Another Day as the instrumental parts and the vocals here are true gems. And what a way to end this song! Weaving together complex parts with catchy, punchy hooks and terrific, playing by all, giving the classic prog addict enough to sink their teeth in.

An epic to end the album. The title track's intro sounding not unlike Genesis recording the famous The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. Just short of 20 minutes length, this song features all the instruments the members master and do they master them! In this song everything adds up and it is a more than a fine sample of what Druckfarben are about. The song is like a painting of a varied landscape where mountains, rivers, valleys are all painted into one. Take the time to fully experience this. If you have loved epics from days gone by, then this will suit you. If you love your prog being from 'today', then this will also be to your liking, as Druckfarben make it sound all the way as of today, which, of course, it is.

Are Druckfarben's songs easy come, easy go? No, they are not. Yes, they know how to play complex parts in compact songs while still having you hooked. Yet they also know, just listen to the title track, their way through complex parts and do dare to start off a song with just that. OK, there is the occasional vocal line that might have you figuring out how exactly they were meant. Even though Druckfarben might have their musical roots back in the 70's and 80's, in the music they undoubtedly grew up listening to, they do make an impression with this, their second album and music that is truly today's and truly their own.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Al Garcia - Tampering With Nature
Al Garcia - Tampering With Nature
Country of Origin: USA
Format: CD
Record Label: Wandlar Productions
Catalogue #: WL8025
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 42:36
Info: Al Garcia
Samples: Al Garcia on Lira Productions
Track List:
Tampering with Nature (5:41), Cognitive Dissonance (4:40), The Miraculous Mirage (5:58), Voices (3:41), Irrational Exuberance (7:04), The Uncertainty Principle (4:10), The Digital Maze (5:12), Out into the Empty (6:10)
Tampering with Nature is the fourth CD from multi-instrumentalist and composer Al Garcia, who on this CD plays all of the instruments (except for drums on one tune). His website describes the music on this CD as follows: "Sounds like Allan Holdsworth on the guitar and Jeff Berlin on the bass." Indeed. This is classic jazz-rock fusion that certainly will appeal to fans of both of those musicians (although Garcia's playing would not be mistaken for theirs). There's also real variety here: some of the guitar playing is acoustic, a flamenco-inspired segment erupts, and singing appears on one track.

Garcia's guitar playing -- which leads the tunes here -- is characterized by a mixture of (some) picking and (many) slurred pull-offs, a blend of a large dose of Holdsworth and a smaller dose of Al DiMeola. While Garcia is perhaps not as virtuosic as those legends, he is a very fine and confident instrumentalist. There's less shredding and freneticism than one would expect from the parallels to Holdsworth, but the playing is fast, soaring, and melodious. Throughout, the sonic strengths are found in the solos rather than in the interplay between instruments. The songwriting is competent and generally appealing despite the paucity of hooks.

Notably impressive is the bass playing. Here it sounds bold and brisk, and, although on most tracks the bass takes a back seat to the guitar playing, bursts of bass appear regularly and, occasionally, as on Irrational Exuberance, the bass takes charge.

Garcia should employ a dedicated drummer. The percussive aspect of this specific genre is critical (think of Holdsworth's premier drummers: Gary Husband, Chad Wackerman, and Virgil Donati), and more-powerful, more-varied drumming would have enriched this CD.

Standout tracks include The Miraculous Mirage, characterized early by a funky bass line and, later, an engaging flamenco streak. The lengthy guitar solo on Voices really takes flight. Closer Out into the Empty also shines: the playing is particularly tight and tasty. Yet the sole foray into vocals (by a guest female artist) doesn't work well: on The Digital Maze, the voice contrasts poorly with, rather than complements, the superb, edgy guitar solo, and more generally the vocals detract from the headiness of the fusion atmosphere consistently displayed by the other pieces.

The sound quality is a downside. Although the instruments can be heard distinctly, a lack of crispness creates a somewhat dull sound that fails to showcase the quality of the playing, particularly on the high end of the range.

Previous releases by Al Garcia received DPRP recommendations, but this one falls just short. The playing is excellent, but the CD doesn't adequately distinguish itself from the crowd of other jazz-rock fusion releases.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Duo Review
Iamthemorning - Belighted
Iamthemorning - Belighted
Country of Origin: Russia
Format: download
Record Label: KScope
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 55:29
Info: Iamthemorning
Samples: Iamthemorning on KScope
Track List:
Intermission IX (1:20), The Howler (3:57), To Human Misery (4:18), Intermission X (0:53), Romance (3:01), The Simple Story (3:30), Intermission XI (1:21), 5/4 (3:50), Crowded Corridors (8:44), Gerda (4:52), Os Lunatum (4:31), Intermission XII (2:36), K.O.S. (6:06), Reprise Of Light/No Light (5:16), Intermission XIII (0:58)
Andy Read's Review
'Organic' seems to be the totem word for my current time of life. Having relocated from the UK to the middle of France a year ago, my wife and I have been slowly integrating into a new community and way of life; letting things evolve and grow as we find them; as they will. Next week we launch a new business. Le petit pain Poitevin is a mobile catering enterprise visiting events across our region. Our offer is simple: tasty snacks that use the wonderful ingredients produced by local farmers. Where we can it'll be organic of course.

With a new environment and a new daily life, little surprise that I find my musical environment is also evolving. Those who know me, will recognise the bulk of my musical appetite leaning towards the more aggressive, metallic side of the progressive spectrum. The power of guitars, vocals, strong melodies and strident lyrics is what presses my musical buttons. However I do have a softer, more reflective side. Often I can meet that need through bands such as early Pain of Salvation or Sieges Even, who manage to blend the soft within the heavy. But increasingly I need the space, the reflection, the gentle caress, the lighter emotion that is to be found in music such as that on this album.

Naturally enough, for the two weeks I've lived with it so far, I've found Belighted to also be a very organic entity. Both in the way it sounds but also in the way it has been created. Formed in 2010 in Saint Petersburg, Russian duo iamthemorning first came to my attention when I saw their name in a list of the "Top Prog Albums of 2012" on the ProgArchives website. Curious as to how an album I'd never heard of, from a band I'd never seen mentioned anywhere had generated such interest, I hunted down a copy – and was instantly hooked.

Featuring Conservatory-trained classical pianist Gleb Kolyadin and self-taught vocalist Marjana Semkina, the buzz about iamthemorning has grown almost entirely through the best recommendation of all – word of mouth. Things have grown for the duo slowly as more mouths have spoken more words. Their curve of learning by creating that first album with self-generated funds and favours, has been steep but invaluable. It was hard; recording tracks in the middle of the night because it was cheaper to hire the concert hall. However the foundations created by doing things slowly, organically, are strong.

Earlier this year an EP emerged. Again I was hooked. Miscellany was both a means to maintain interest among fans and generate more words of mouth, but also a showcase for raw, new songs. A record label was seen as the ideal partner to take them to the next stage of growth. A successful crowd funding campaign generated funds to complete the recording. Again favours were cashed-in to do this via the UK, as crowd funding could not be done from Russia. The recording took place in London under the guidance of Marcel van Limbeek, best known for his long-standing sound engineer role with Tori Amos. Again it was an opportunity for further growth of the pair's sound. The harp and strings that had been recorded in St Petersberg by the Nevsky String Quartet, were able to be supplemented by those from another quartet, The Turner, recorded in London.

Interest and support from Anathema's Danny Cavanagh and the Porcupine Tree's Gavin Harrison led to the latter adding drums to expand the duo's sound. A partnership with Canadian guitarist Vlad Avy brought another important ingredient to their sound. For the final piece of the jigsaw, the duo became part of the ever-growing Kscope Records roster. Belighted was ready to go. Having followed the journey, I shall not detail exactly what you will find at the final destination. But here are just a few of the aspects which I am finding the most beguiling.

First of course is the voice. 'Angelic' is I feel an overused adjective for such things but in the case of Marjana it is quite apt. There is a purity and empathy to her tone which is quite outstanding. There is also a depth and variety which shifts with the lyrical theme. Mischievous may be another word. Ethereal certainly. Maybe even a bit loopy. Or if that's going too far, then let's say "delivered with a delicate smile'. Secondly, and again of course, there is the musicianship. Sitting in complimentary contrast to Marjana's voice, is Gleb's classical skill. They say opposites attract. On Belighted they are complimentary. There is a strong classical base, but not one that imposes itself on the overall sound.

Following the pattern on the two previous releases, there are ten full songs and five short, classical-style intermissions. Having initially resisted this unusual format as being rather piecemeal, I've grown to appreciate the way it creates some space between the songs and provides a different timbre to the usual album-listening experience.

Some of the songs here also featured on Miscellany. However they are much fuller and thus more complete in their composition and performance, so as to be entirely different tracks. Of the songs, I currently favour the added bite that the guitar temporarily brings to The Howler, the gentle compositional evolution of Os Lunatum, and the simply captivating refrains which are central to K.O.S. and To Human Misery.

However it is variety that is the front door key to this album's success. Whilst I enjoyed it, in comparison, the debut album relies rather heavily on Marjana's memorable refrains and the originality of the sound. Musically, the arrangements rather walk the same territory.

Here, whilst retaining their signature sound, each song is a different sum of its different parts. The sound has grown and progressed. Belighted is a record which requires, but amply rewards, time spent listening to it as one long piece. The classical comparisons are highly relevant again in this respect. The track-listing could easily be re-structured as a modern-day progressive symphony with an extended collection of movements and short, linking intermissions.

Now you may be thinking that this has been a very personal review. Yes. But Belighted is a very personal album. It is a thing of rare organic beauty, realised by skilled craftsmanship, dedication, belief and passion. Belighted shows a willingness by two musicians to expose their souls, the hopes and aspirations of their lives. It is a naturally honest and pure album. The type of album where those who created it, have done so knowing that there is always the risk of failure, yet that it is always better to fail, having done something to the best of your abilities and in a way that is honest to your heart and true to your soul. Belighted is such an album and like all good relationships, it is something in which you will fall more in love with every time you are with it.
Jez Rowden's Review
Russian duo iamthemorning have come a long way in just a couple of years since their debut album, the bizarrely titled ~, was released in 2012. That album was a delicate and fragile thing of beauty and yearning, a template that continued into the Miscellany EP which arrived right at the start of 2014 and has been one of my favourites of 2014.

With the release of Belighted, iamthemorning have upped the ante as they spread their wings to produce an absolutely spectacular album of uplifting melodies and delicious harmonies. There is added bite this time around from the introduction of a rockier feel here and there, as an extension to their acoustic instrumentation, that is likely to attract more listeners to their gorgeously detailed world. Despite this the bulk of the album is resolutely organic; wood, strings and keys. Rhythms are present, courtesy of Gavin Harrison no less, who adds finesse to some of the quieter tracks as well as offering injections of power where required, but with string quartets, harps and Gleb Kolyadin's exemplary grand piano at the heart of the music there is no way that the traditional rock band sound is going to take over. Used sparingly but to good affect it adds another dimension, a new colour to the palette that iamthemorning have at their disposal.

Accompanying Gleb's mastery of his chosen instrument at the core of the music is the wistful beauty of Marjana Semkina's voice and it is her contribution that really sets Belighted apart, an innocent and naturalistic voice that screams of delicacy and human frailty. The fragile aura that she brings is touching and she successfully delivers the emotional content but she is no one trick pony, her vocals utilising a number of styles and covering a lot of ground as she works the beautiful melody lines to ring out the maximum potential. The vision of iamthemorning comes from the core duo and this is what the music is all about, the pair working sublimely well together.

Marjana provides the focal point as she weaves through the arrangements with plenty of space to add her contribution while not remaining the centre of attention all the time. She drifts into the shadows here and there to let the instrumentation breath, returning exactly when the music calls her to. Her voice does some quite extraordinary things and there is power when necessary offset against a quieter strength in the more delicate moments.

The sound has moved on from the neo-classical beginnings to develop into a style that is purely their own. The deftness of the melodies and the startling originality of the arrangements deliver an album that takes time to fully absorb but will live in the memory from first hearing. It is certainly one of those albums that gets better and better at each hearing and emerges like an opening flower, taking the breath away when it finally reveals itself. The mixing of prog and classical has been done before but seldom, if ever, so successfully.

One of the keys to Belighted's almost indefinable appeal are the Intermissions that iamthemorning have used throughout their recordings. Here we get numbers IX to XIII, continuing on from the previous releases, although Intermission XII also appeared on Miscellany with cello adding a lovely texture and superb piano work against a divine melancholic melody. The individual parts are pretty simple but the way they are put together turns it into a thing of wonder. These brief vignettes succeed in reshaping the album from being focused on the longer set pieces by adding a sense of mystery that can throw the listener off guard yet re-energise the music via atmospheric asides, beautiful melodies that could easily be extended but in their truncated forms leave you wanting more. The moods change like a classical suite, variety enhanced along with listenabilty. The Intermissions are lovely additions that display the delicate and intricate beauty that imbues this project and include a solo piano movement with Intermission XI and the sweeping soundscape of piano and swooning vocal that opens the album with Intermission IX, book ended by the album coda Intermission XIII as strings merge with ethereal vocals.

Of the rockier moments, The Howler roars in like a metal band, all guitars and drums in a display of heaviness that will surprise some fans. But fear not, Marjana's vocal sees the power fall away to reveal the delicacy at the heart of iamthemorning's music. K.O.S. features another muscular intro, bristling with pent up energy, Marjana's fey vocals coming from a different dimension but as the strings come in the balance of power shifts delightfully in her favour and, ironically, her voice becomes stronger as the confidence seems to grow. A sense of impending peril builds in the way the backing looms over and threatens to swamp her and there's something of Magenta to the final section with great keys and a smouldering vocal that you know can let rip at a moments notice. Along with Intermission XII a couple of other tracks from Miscellany reappear although in alternative versions. To Human Misery just drips with emotion, the string quartet set against Harrison's skittering drums. Where Miscellany held the 'Chamber Version', this is the full McCoy with elements of restrained menace within the gorgeous melody of the vocal, piano and strings. The Simple Story brings the emotional delivery of Steve Hogarth era Marillion to mind in the sweeping and epic sound and the knack of fitting an exquisite hook around interesting instrumentation.

Romance is introduced by Intermission X which could be a long lost fragment of King Crimson at their most pastoral in 1969. There are elements of Tori Amos in a forthright tune carried on the vocal, the wonderful piano playing a key role whilst strings whirl around. It's like descending a sinister staircase with a breeze twinkling through the chandelier. 'Opulent' is probably a good word to use here.

5/4 is bright and skipping with gorgeous violin, a more direct approach appearing in the mid-section which develops a fairground-like energy. Elements of Kate Bush weave through this one, as they do in the folk edged Gerda where a beautiful song for guitar and voice ebbs and flows, builds and fades, Marjana holding it all together. Marjana is a much calmer proposition than classic Bush, generally going for a lighter than air approach rather than punctuating the music with histrionics. There is no guile to her voice, just the purity of someone who doesn't quite realise how breathtaking she can be.

Adding a harp introduction to the album's longest track, Crowded Corridors, may lead to lesser talents being accused of trying too hard but here it is just so achingly right when matched with Marjana's snow white vocals and a distant electric guitar. Gleb adds a heavenly baroque piano fantasia, string bass and a simple rhythm giving a natural feel that I love, and there is almost a hint of Clannad towards the end. The sparkling piano backing of Os Lunatum is another perfect setting for Marjana's voice and the additional dynamics that Gleb brings to the party is just the icing on the cake. The guitar is also nicely done here and unsettling strings change the feel.

There are elements of this record that sound familiar, the style incorporating so many accessible elements and then sprinkling them with fairy dust to make them shimmer. Belighted fits well within the Kscope catalogue, well-crafted and realised with incredible skill by true artists. The sound is open, clear and free flowing with space into which the music can effortlessly drift. It sounds on the whole like something that just evolved rather than having to be forged but no doubt all involved have worked very hard to make it all sound so effortless.

This album is a joy, a complete pleasure from start to finish. It may take you a couple of spins to acclimatise to the expansion of the iamthemorning sound but this is no bad thing and is a sign that the music has legs: I just couldn't get a handle on it first time. Second time was a revelation. Third time I fell in love with it. This is simply a wonderfully composed and executed collection of songs and it doesn't matter what genre you want to slot it into. At the core it is the piano and vocals of Gleb and Marjana that hold the attention, the additional instrumentation just adding to what is already an extraordinarily appealing sound.
Conclusions:
Andy Read: 9 out of 10
Jez Rowden: 9 out of 10

A Lonely Crowd - Transients
A Lonely Crowd - Transients
Country of Origin: Australia
Format: CD
Record Label: Bird's Robe Records
Catalogue #: BRR044
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 44:26
Info: A Lonely Crowd
Samples: A Lonely Crowd on Bandcamp
Track List:
Intro (1:01), Godamnesia (3:35), Inspector (2:36), Blur (2:57), Kamikaze Karma (3:23), The Fall (3:04), Rapture (4:19), Sound Tripper (2:35), Blows and Arrows (4:47), Telephiles (3:16), Seeing Stars (4:12), Voodoo Tube (3:47), The Wanderer (5:00)
A Lonely Crowd are a progressive rock quartet from Melbourne, Australia. Australia is starting to have quite a strong number of progressive music acts such as Karnivool, Dead Letter Circus, and Closure In Moscow. What these bands have in common is a harder, more modern edged prog sound that has a strong background in alternative music. A Lonely Crowd has this as well, but it is infused with a unique element- a more jazz- oriented sound through the guitar playing and soprano female vocals. This makes for a very quirky, eclectic album that owes a lot to King Crimson with plenty of odd time signatures, angular melodies and dissonance. It is a rather interesting collection of elements that blend to create a sound that is unique and special.

The band wisely sticks with shorter tracks, with no song over five minutes in length. This allows for the album to move at a brisk pace, never outstaying its welcome. The music is very guitar centered, alternating between heavy metal licks and a more quirky jazzy style. Guitarist Luke Ancell is really a highlight of this band and keeps the music interesting at every turn. The other star player in this band is vocalist Xen Havales, whose voice bounces all over the place, more than keeping up with the fast-paced quirky music. She sings in a clear jazzy style that fits the music perfectly. She reminds me of Moorea Dickason of Moetar and Leslie Hunt in District 97 who both are excellent prog front women who give a special element to the over-the-top quirky music of their respective bands.

The only real negative I could come up with for this album is that it can sometimes all blend together and it can be hard to distinguish the tracks from one another. This could be viewed as a strength, however, because it allows the album to hang together really well and feel like one continuous piece of music. I just wished at times that there was more variety or a break from the heavy onslaught of the alternative music. Godamnesia starts the album strongly with a heavy beginning that hits the listener over the head with their modern, heavy alternative style, before a more jazzy break with laidback vocals and a proggy section with guitar and keyboard interplay. It is a great juxtaposition of the two styles of the band.

Other highlights throughout the album include Kamikaze Karma, which takes a different turn with some industrial sounding drumbeats, allowing for Xen Havales to have a showcase for her jazzy vocals which bounce all throughout the music, complementing the strange guitar melodies. Sound Tripper is another excellent vocal showcase with one of the prettier melodies of the album. There is even some beautiful keyboard playing towards the end of the track. This album is very much guitar centered, so it is refreshing when the keyboards stand out. Blows & Arrows is a wonderful eclectic track that has a great quirky middle section that even includes some great flute playing. It is a fascinating blend of modern alternative with a more old-fashioned jazz sound. Seeing Stars is another highlight with some more great keyboards, and even a section that sounds like it could be the soundtrack to some twisted circus. The ending of the track sounds like it could have come from some jazz bar with great jazz piano and flute along with Xen's jazzy vocals. The Wanderer is the perfect album ender, alternating between a prettier, more acoustic section focusing on piano, and a heavier middle section that focuses on quirky guitar melodies over ever-changing time signatures. A great summation of what this band is all about.

Transients is a massively fun album. Australia is clearly becoming a current hotbed for progressive rock music. There is a strong alternative rock sound in this album that makes it feel very current. But, there are plenty of twists and turns that make it clearly progressive. There is a jazz element from the singing and guitar playing that adds to the quirkiness of the musical mixture. This is a very strong album, and I hope that A Lonely Crowd can continue making music of this caliber. This album comes highly recommended to those that like a more modern sound and enjoy female-fronted prog bands.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

Slyde - New World Sympathy
Slyde - New World Sympathy
Country of Origin: Canada
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2012
Time: 44:17
Info: Slyde
Samples: Slyde website
Track List:
New World Sympathy (3:32), Take Us Away (4:04), The Downward Spiral: Saves Us from Ourselves (4:44), Lies (5:11), Lament (1:16), Feed the Machine (3:41), Stand and Fight (3:53), Meditate (1:39), Pull the Trigger (4:01), Global Empires Fall (4:26), Cries of the Earth (1:42), Without the Machine / Lament Reprise (4:46)
2013... Slyde strut into town releasing their 2011 Feed the Machine and 2012 New World Sympathy releases on a single disk. The band formed in 2009 and comprises of Nathan da Silva (guitar and vocals), Sarah Westbrook (keyboards, samples, voices), Nicholas Favretto (bass) and Brendan Soares (drums).

From the word "go", the band had me hooked with the rapidity of the opening salvo, its clear and powerful approach matched by some fine vocal presentation. What more could one ask for in an album? Well, unfortunately the album doesn't quite live up to expectation of its opening track; although there are some fine moments throughout the whole album; the favour of balance is tipped more on the side of the mundane and at times becomes slightly formulaic and repetitive. Slyde unfortunately haven't brought anything new to the table and I feel others may find New World Sympathy a bit formulaic in its approach too. The band won't call to mind the classic prog rock sounds of yesteryear; they do however tend to sit out on the peripherals of prog metal, as their music switches between electric and acoustic, which will broaden their appeal, as will the vocal approach, one minute anthemic, the next lamenting and soothing. There is no doubt that Nathan da Silva can sing and in honesty, the band can play.

The album offers a smorgasbord of approaches, a pop rock sensibility Lies, acoustic dalliances The Downward Spiral: Save Us from Ourselves, the solid and powerful opening song New World Sympathy and Global Empires Fall, acoustic ballad in the form of Lament and electronic soundscapes that has been married by an atmospheric guitar solo in the shape of Cries of the Earth. It is, for me, in these softer acoustic moments the band really shines and display that they may have something here.

The band has definitely got potential, which can be heard throughout the album. There are some very nice little things going on throughout the whole album which are very subtle, which is highlighted by the crystal clear production work. There are also some very interesting things going on within their lyrics which tackle the topics of environmentalism, politics, spiritual awakening and social consciousness.

If you are looking for reference their approach and sound has a modern rock vibe that leans towards Karnivool and also features elements of Coheed and Cambria, The Mars Volta as well as A.C.T.; taking stock from those comparisons won't leave you too far off the mark.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10

Vienna Circle - Silhouette Moon
Vienna Circle - Silhouette Moon
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD/DVD
Record Label: Audiotreehouse
Catalogue #: No 2-2013
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 49:21
Info: Vienna Circle
Samples: Vienna Circle on AudioTreeHouse
Track List:
Strangers (1:42), Envy (2:22), Dreams Presage (13:21), Scarlet Dance (3:14), Woven Wings 6:27), Ballad of Night (6:33), Sea 3:36), Eternity (2:43), Together (5:47), Departure (3:34).
Last year, Vienna Circle released the follow-up to their critically acclaimed debut album White Clouds. The two brothers Paul (guitars, piano, keyboards, lead vocals, and artwork) and Jack Davis (bass, piano, backing vocals) live in the UK and have been influenced by the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Neal Morse. Together with drummer Alex Micklewright, Paul and Jack recorded this album with a little help from Jess Shute (flute), Patch Morrison (saxophone), Dave Waller (clarinet & saxophone) and Gemma Davis (vocals). As the previous album, Paul and Jack released the album independently through Audiotreehouse.

Opening track on the album is a lovely quiet Beatlesque ballad in the vein of Fool on the Hill. Mostly piano, some electric guitar. Envy is a catchy pop tune a sort of cross over between Beatles and Neal Morse and features a nice melodic electric guitar solo by Paul. The waltz tempo sounds great and is not encountered in this genre of music very frequently.

The epic on the album is called Dreams Presage. The song opens with just flutes playing a sweet melody. The same melody subsequently is performed by several layers of keyboards (strings), guitar, bass and drums and the lead instrument is a synth followed by a saxophone. The nicely orchestrated parts remind me a bit of A Day in the Life by the Fab Four. The following section is a gentle piece, melodic and partly acoustic, softly sung by Paul and both music and voice sound a bit like Neal Morse. Then a partly instrumental, more up tempo piece featuring the electric guitar, sometimes reminding of German band Eloy. The closing section consists of a piece that could have been done by a joint effort from Dire Straits and Camel, while the beautiful main theme returns.

In that same vein the music flows right through into the next track Scarlet Dance, enriched with some gorgeous sounds of synthesizers. Woven Wings is a mixture between Blackbird (Beatles) and semi-acoustic early works by Spock's Beard. Towards the middle of the song the sound changes into more electric and the addition of the flute reminds of Jethro Tull. The last part is a relaxed symphonic piece, closed off by solo piano. A nice shuffle with accompaniment of piano, percussion and bass is alternated by a bit heavier sound when electric guitar and synth join in and the tempo changes into more of a rock-rhythm. Towards the closing section there's a stunning piece featuring synthesizer in the vein of Welcome to the Machine by Pink Floyd. Same applies to the second half of Sea, in which a clear tribute to Pink Floyd can be appreciated: both the guitar and the way the orchestrations sound, are proof of this.

Eternity is a mid-tempo song that could have been written in the mid eighties when synths and disco-like beats were very popular. The guitar makes a huge difference and the beat is not nearly as over the top as in the eighties. Orchestrations are tasteful and delicate. The ballad Together starts off and ends with piano, vocal and strings. Subsequently there's an occasional guitar and some orchestral sounds. When drums, bass and more keyboards are added, the sound shifts towards melodic rock: think of Wasted Time by the Eagles. Departure is a clear statement of what kind of capabilities the two brothers Davis have. A wonderful mixture of atmospheric rock, movie soundtrack, symphonic music and some influences of folk-music.

The dvd consists mostly of footage from the recording sessions and gives a nice insight in how the works progress and how things go in a studio.

Listening to the music of Vienna Circle, on the one hand I have this feeling of joy, admiration and enthusiasm of the music lover listening to music he really likes, on the other hand I'm convinced there's still much more Paul and Jack could achieve with a real band, a top notch producer, more facilities and proper guidance. All the talents are there and it's amazing what these two have accomplished so far. A step forward compared to White Clouds and a truly nice symphonic and melodic album.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Robert Webb - Liquorish Allsorts
Robert Webb - Liquorish Allsorts
Country of Origin: UK
Format:
Record Label: Sea Crest
Catalogue #: SCR - 1008
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 63:02
Info: n/a
Track List:
The Ladies Valley Prelude (0:37), Why Oh Why (3:10), Moog Fugue (4:11), Grand Canyon (of My Dreams) (3:43), The Journey by Camel (2:30), Limoncello (8:00), Bach Flute Sonata Allegro (3:05), The Cuckoo (3:51), Destiny (6:27), Carmina Burana (O Fortuna) (3:59), Takin' Part (4:32), Quaterfoil (1:18), Liquorish Torpedo (3:32), Oceans Away (2:42), Runnin' In Runnin' Out (3:42), The Ladies Valley (7:43)
1977 was not a good year for progressive rock music. The force that was punk was crushing all in it's path and prog rock was being relegated to yesterday's news. It was in this less than welcoming environment, that England released its debut album Garden Shed. Garden Shed was classic prog, a masterpiece, that very few people heard at the time. Sales were few, record company support dried up, and the band went home to lick their wounds. Guitarist Frank Holland eventually joined the Pretty Things while keyboardist/composer Robert Webb looked for his next opportunity.

Liquorish Allsorts chronicles something of what Robert Webb has been up to between 1977 and now. It is a sketchbook, which shows Webb dabbling in styles ranging from pop to theatrical and from prog to jazz. As the album title implies, it is a sampler of his wares and you may find some of the confections to be more tasty than others.

Prelude To A Ladies Valley is a pretty but brief, synthesizer interlude that leads into Why Oh Why a track that reminds me of Barclay James Harvest complete with a comfortable acoustic guitar and layered, harmony vocals. Moog Fugue composed by Kerry Minnear of Gentle Giant is something else entirely. It is a jaunty, upbeat piece of synth music that wouldn't be out of place in a car commercial. It's not awful but it's not exactly my cup of tea.

Grand Canyon from 1979 is a lovely orchestrated, pop tune gifted with a fine vocal by Jenny Darren. The Journey by Camel is another brief synthesizer track that Robert describes as having "a progressive character." This may be true but to my ears, it was just pleasant, filler. Limoncello dates to 2013 and features backing from members of the Samurai Of Prog. The vocals and time changes bring to mind Gentle Giant, and the guitar, keyboards, and violin are top notch!

Bach Flute Sonata BMV 1035 in e-major is classics served up with a jaunty, syncopated rhythm. The Cuckoo is another updating of a classical piece. It is updated as a jazzy studio construction, featuring Webb on a variety of keyboards and Rachel Hamilton on baroque flute. It has a "light prog " feel to it similar to Sky or perhaps, Gordon Giltrap. Destiny finds Webb reunited with former England drummer, Jode Leigh. The song reminded me of the first two Argent lps. A nice mellotron intro and some tasty playing and singing.

Carmina Burana (O Fortuna) grew out of of Robert's chance encounter with Ray Manzarek's updating of Orff's well known composition. The recording was carried out over a 10 year period and features contributions from former England members Jode Leigh and Frank Holland.

Takin' Part was recorded in 1974 with the band Merlin. It is a pleasant mid tempo rocker, that fits in with the mid 70s style. Quaterfoil is an uptempo, piano composition which dates back to Robert's student days while Liquorish Torpedo has the un memorable feel of a keyboard demo.

Oceans Away welcomes back Jenny Darren on vocal. It is a big ballad that is almost too pretty, featuring a strong lead vocal and a sympathetic "faux string" arrangement. Runnin' In Runnin' Out seems to be a bit of a throw away with its odd spoken word parts. The Ladies Valley brings the album to a beautiful and fitting close. Jenny Darren provides a vocal that reminds me of Annie Haslam. The Renaissance feel permeates the track, beautiful, touching.and a bit mysterious. Webb accompanies Ms Darren to perfection and when the band kicks in, the song really begins to take flight. The Ladies Valley is a perfect confection, that shows Robert Webb at his best!

In summation, this is an interesting if inconsistent, album. Webb is at his best on the tracks that veer the closest to progressive rock. Unfortunately, too many of the instrumental tracks come off as filler that is just along for the ride.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10

John Wetton and Richard Palmer-James - Jack-Knife / Monkey Business
John Wetton and Richard Palmer-James - Jack-Knife / Monkey Business 1972-1997
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Primary Purpose
Catalogue #: PP001CD
Year of Release: 1978 / 1997 / 2014
Time: Jack-Knife: 37:30
Monkey Business: 61:01
Info: n/a
Track List:
Jack-Knife: Wish You Would (4:48), Too Much Monkey Business (2:26), You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover (3:29), Confessions (4:54), Eyesight to the Blind (3:39), Walk on Heaven's Ground (5:52), Dimples (2:53), Mustang Momma (3:14), Adoration (6:11)
Monkey Business: (Flourish) (0:12), Too Much Monkey Business (2:29), Confessions (2:12), Easy Money (1:08), The Night Watch (live) (4:06), Woman (1:40), (False Start) (0:19), Untitled (0:43), Rich Men Lie (5:33), Cologne 1977 (4:39), The Laughing Lake 1 (2:19), The Good Ship Enterprise (4:06), Book Of Saturday (Demo) (1:44), Book Of Saturday (Live) (3:05), The Glory Of Winning (4:28), Starless 1 (0:29), The Laughing Lake 2 (0:37), The Laughing Lake 3 (0:13), The Laughing Lake 1977 (2:26), Magazines (3:04), Starless 2 (0:27), Cologne 1997 (2) (4:23), Doctor Diamond 1997 (4:49), Starless 1977 (5:37)
There is no doubt that the second half of the 1970s was a bad time for prog: punk and the new wave were totally dismissive of the excessive indulgences of the genre and once established artists were at somewhat of a creative nadir. 1978 was typical - ELP committed virtual suicide with the Love Beach album and even Paul McCartney drew the career of his post Beatles band Wings to a close with the disappointing London Town, despite Mull of Kintyre seemingly staying at number one in the UK for weeks on end. Although progressive bands may have had tried to keep in with their labels and attract a modern audience by attempting to update their sound, live they could still attract audiences of the faithful who were always eager to experience the heights of past glories. Perhaps it is not surprising that 1978 saw, to name a few, Van der Graaf Generator, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull, Barclay James Harvest, Thin Lizzy and UFO all release double live albums. However, not everyone was relying on past glories, and 1978 saw the release of the debut album by UK, featuring the ubiquitous John Wetton on bass, which, although not a huge seller at the time, caused a few rumblings and proved that not all new music was of the post-punk or disco variety.

In addition to UK, Wetton was also involved in writing and recording the sole album by the relatively obscure Jack-Knife. Accompanying Wetton (lead vocals, bass, keyboards), was Richard Palmer-James (guitars), John Hutcheson (Hammond organ, piano, backing vocals) and Curt Cress (drums and percussion). Readers will be familiar with Palmer-James as the lyricist for the trio of King Crimson albums recorded between 1973 and 1974 (Larks' Tongues In Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, Red), although perhaps not so many know he was also the guitarist and singer on the first Supertramp album. The ex-Crimson colleagues first met at school in 1962 and had been played with Hutcheson in the 1960s band Tetred while German drummer Cress was associated with Palmer-James who was living in Munich at the time.

Sadly, their sole album is far from a lost prog classic, being quite a mainstream, and somewhat mediocre, rock record which is pretty low on highlights. It all starts with great promise, Wish You Would is quite the little gem, catching the new wave vibe with an acerbically biting guitar and Wetton laying down a fluid and lively bass line. Hutcheson's keyboard stabs follow the rhythm and he ends the song with a nice flourish. It's a million miles away from the original blues version by Billy Boy Arnold. Given that there are a total of five cover versions on the album, one suspects that the album may have been an attempt to re-live the past and the days of Tetred. A live cover of Chuck Berry's Too Much Monkey Business is nothing special, particularly as it sounds as if the vocals were recorded in a different room. The version of Willie Dixon's You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover is more in keeping with the original unlike Eyesight To The Blind, which is radically different to the song written and recorded by Sonny Boy Williamson being reconstructed as a synthesised, electronic dirge that sounds frightfully dated. No album that containing covers of blues songs would be complete without a piece by John Lee Hooker and in this case it is a cover of Dimples, co-written by Hooker and James Bracken. After Wish You Would it is the best of the cover versions, its simplicity being the basis of its charm, although the percussion and whistles interlude is totally naff.

Of the four original compositions, two were co-written by Wetton and Palmer-James and two by Palmer-James alone. None of these songs stand up to scrutiny with the two solo compositions being particularly disappointing. Confessions has a monotonous drum pattern that is too loud and the song drags on too long without really getting anywhere, although the guitar solo at the end does it best to lift things. I am not sure what is worse about Mustang Momma, the actual song or its title! Wetton's writing input adds a bit more style with Walk On Heaven's Ground being a jaunty, popish song which is again marred by a pointless percussion break which even sounded bloody awful in the seventies. Adoration ends the album on a higher note with a decent blues-based number that is enhanced by some subtle saxophone by Michael Lohmann whose appearance on this album appears to be his only every recording.

Skip forward a couple of decades and Wetton and Palmer-James put their name to another album, a collection of unreleased recordings, demos and alternative versions. Naturally, it is the King Crimson numbers that will spark the most interest, but before we get into those, there are a couple of connections with the Jack-Knife album. Firstly, the live version of Too Much Monkey Business is repeated but thankfully the vocals are somewhat more clearer and upfront. Secondly, there is a demo of Confessions which, again, is much better than the version on the previous album, largely due to the brilliant Bill Bruford providing drums. Okay, Wetton, the only other musician on the recording, does not provide as good a guitar solo but overall the track is more impassioned and lively.

The Crimson material includes four demos, two live tracks and two new recordings, although it must be pointed out that none of these tracks are actually performed by King Crimson. The live version of The Night Watch was recorded in 1991 in Brazil and features Wetton and Ramon Vega on guitar and Thomas Radl on keyboards (although he is credited with playing drums!) A quite lovely acoustic version whose simple presentation brings out the beauty of the song. Book Of Saturday, from Japan in 1994, is presented in a similar manner but this time it is with the ex-It Bites members John Beck on keyboards and Bob Dalton on cymbals. The poor attention to detail is again shown by Wetton being credited with playing piano when he is obviously performing on acoustic guitar, but none the less it is another fine rendition.

The demos were recorded by Wetton for Palmer-James to use as a basis for lyric writing. With perfect sequencing the demos of Easy Money and Book of Saturday are placed immediately before the live versions, providing a nice juxtaposition. Both demos were recorded at Bill Bruford's house in 1972, with Wetton playing the piano and humming the vocal melody line. The familiarity of the tunes is such that I could still hear the lyrics in my head even though Wetton was only singing the melody! There are three versions of Starless, although the two demos are only brief 30-second snippets, the first on piano and the second on acoustic guitar, both recorded in 1974. Interesting insights into the development of this classic song. The final version is a re-recording stemming from 1997 with Palmer-James playing all the instruments (keyboards) and Wetton singing. The new version is somewhat slower and more sedate but does work very well, a very nice version. The 1997 sessions also produced a version of Doctor Diamond, a 1974 song by Crimson written but left off the Starless and Bible Black album, although a live version was released on the Great Deceiver set. The lyrics are very un-Crimson live (relating to the driver of an underground train) but the music certainly has plenty of characteristic elements giving a hint at what a studio version by the band at their peak could have sounded like.

Cologne, a solo composition by Palmer-James, is represented twice in versions recorded 20 years apart. The earlier version, with Wetton playing all instruments is by far superior to the 1997 recording, with all instruments are played by Palmer-James, which is pretty bland. The Laughing Lake stems from 1976, the first version is a rough demo recorded onto cassette and captures the first attempt to run through a complete version. Wetton plays acoustic and sings with Palmer-James adding some harmonies and correcting Wetton's mistakes in the lyrics. Despite the low fidelity of the recording the rather plaintive rendition certainly shows some promise. The second and third versions are brief attempts obviously recorded prior to the first successful run-through. A complete studio version, recorded three months later, gives a better quality version of the song although I have to say I do prefer the rougher demo which possesses a certain charm to it and is devoid of the distracting and unwarranted later keyboard flourishes added to the 1977 studio recording a couple of months after Wetton had finished his recording.

There are two more tracks from 1974, both written as potential material for King Crimson. Woman is no more than an acoustic sketch but Magazines is more complete with an established vocal melody line. Neither were used by Crimson although Magazines was resurrected and recorded for Wetton's 1998 Arkangel album. Of the remaining three songs, one stems from 1976 and two from 1997/1998. The earlier track, The Good Ship Enterprise is a very good number that I could imagine Crimson doing a lot with, Bill Bruford once again adds rather basic drums which is quite strange given that the rest of the music, all performed by Wetton, is well established and arranged. Bit of a missed opportunity this one as it could have been further developed into something a bit special. The first of the 1997/1998 songs, Rich Men Lie is another Palmer-James number and has some nice elements but is ruined by a programmed drum pattern; some nice Wetton vocals though, would be good to hear a rearrangement of this song without the awful drums. Finally, there is The Glory Of Winning which was released several years later on the second Icon album by Wetton and Geoff Downes. Essentially the same as the Icon version, it is in a very AOR style and not something that really appeals to me.

So a very mixed bag. I really can't see that many, if any, prog fans would be enamoured with the Jack-Knife album but there is potentially sufficient material on Monkey Business to whet the appetite, particularly of the hardened Crimson fan. Ultimately it will depend on just how fascinated one is but demos, off cuts and writing/rehearsal recordings. Far from essential but at the right price it might find a welcome home in some collections.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10

Xandria - Sacrificum
Xandria - Sacrificum
Country of Origin: Germany
Format: CD
Record Label: Napalm Records
Catalogue #:
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 66:38
Info: Xandria
Samples: Xandria on Soundcloud
Track List:
Sacrificium (10:05), Nightfall (3:54), Dreamkeeper (4:36), Stardust (5:32), The Undiscovered Land (7:21), Betrayer (6:04), Until the End (5:37), Come With Me (4:55), Little Red Relish (4:32), Our Neverworld (3:43), Temple of Hate (5:49), Sweet Atonement (4:13)
This one rocks! Xandria is symphonic metal and there is no doubt about that. It is both: symphonic and metal. So this is more appealing the fans of Dream Theater than IQ, and maybe some of you dear readers wonder why we here on DPRP are writing about Xandria. The answer is quite simple: Xandria delights us with great music and they are a wellknown trademark of the genre all over the world.

Xandria's roots are back in the mid-nineties, although their first release Kill the Sun came in 2002 to life. Born in Bielefeld, Germany, they really took the long way, played many live-shows and distributed some MP3s over the web, before signing their first contract with Drakkar. Today they have a good web presence and you'll find any information you desire.

For this record they had to look for a new singer - as usual you might say - the fourth for the fourth recording. Finally, Dianne van Giersbergen made it. Although I am quite sure she won't be the last one in the row, this is the perfect cast for this release.

Xandria consists of a classic rock lineup: Gerit Lamm on drums, Steve Wussow on bass, Philip Restemeier on guitar, Marco heumbaum on guitar and keyboards and the aforementioned Dianne van Giersbergen on vocals. But this is only half the truth, because real string instruments, whistles, pipes and even a full classical choir – the renowned Dutch "Pa'dam" choir - are providing that huge symphonic sound.

This foundation seems to be the perfect playground for Dianne van Giersbergen, who had singing lessons since her forth birthday. She studied classical music and plays as well classical concerts. Her clear soprano is naturally a good contrast to dark and heavy guitar riffs and basslines. The frontwoman is always in the spotlight, so at this point I have to mention the excellent work of the whole band on all instruments, definitely fine musicians.

Sacrificium brings us more than an hour of this combination and contains 12 tracks on nearly constant niveau. If you are not so familiar with this genre I believe, you will be surprised how good this works and makes you smile.

Sacrificium starts with the titletrack and longest work, just over 10 minutes. The opening shows already music in perfection: strings, sounds and spoken male vocals starting slow and suddenly the choir joins in and speeds up together with guitars and band. There is no real break and we are right in the middle of the track with a very harmonic hookline and refrain. Half way through we have a string part, developing together with the choir back to the main theme and showing nice guitar work. The final is suprisingly a slowing down vocal solo part which ends similar to a fade out. A great piece of music.

Nightfall is a straight rocking midtempo piece with some more fine harmonies, as the whole album shows lots of melodies to please. Again the choir sets a bright symphonic mood. Next track Dreamkeeper seems to be very simple, starting directly with the main theme and a laid back rhythm. The charming refrain makes this sound a little bit poppy, a really catchy tune. But Stardust brings us back to the symphonic rockin' sound and shows an interesting staccato vocal part.

Many metal and hard rock bands are providing us with ballads on all albums, and Xandria are no expection. The Undiscovered Land is an longer track, but shows gentle and harmonic mood from the first notes. This track shows as well how good the combination of rock, classical instrumentaion and singing can work. Beautiful.

The next two tracks, Betrayer and Until the End, are uptempo rockers which feature more of the fine bandwork. Come with Me starts a bit slower and develops a sweet vocal line and is the second "poppy" tune, well done easy listening. In the end you will notice the popular "third" ending... surely a little hidden joke?

Little Red Relish features the contrast of heavy guitar riffs, uptempo bass and drumming und a crystal clear vocal line. One wish of Dianne is an alto voice for one day. Maybe growling on this tune? This song has another catchy refrain and shows us in the middle part, that it is far away from a simple three chord rocker. Another song that is close a ballad is Our Neverworld. This one is a little bit weak - you would not miss it if you skip it.

The last but one track takes up the speed again, The Temple of Hate is a fine rocker with a classical construction. A beautiful break follow by the main refrain, together with uptempo guitarwork and heavy bass and drumlines. Surely one of the highlights in their live set.

And how does a symphonic metal album with lots of classical instrumentation and structures end? Yes, with a very slow and semic acoustic piece - some kind of an epilogue. Strings, piano and voice are dominating the Sweet Atonement.

Sacrificium is a very fine record. It is not as heavy as some might expect when reading "symphonic metal". It shows lots of fine work on the instruments, well arranged compositions, nice harmonies and charming melodies. It does not have really edges or extreme surprises throughout the songs. It is produced on a very high level, as the whole band shows in the meantime perfection all around. You get beautiful artwork and a well made booklet.

Sometimes indeed you'll have the feeling, this is more a project work of a rockband with a singer. Sometimes you believe to see / hear the distance of the recorded vocal tracks. Sure it fits perfectly, but if you look at the musical vitae of the band members you might see another change in the future. I hope I am wrong and I wish Xandria to achieve a stabile cast.

Progheads are supposed to be musical open minded, so if you don't really know about symphonic metal, try this, you will be surprised and satisfied. If you are in it already I can recommend this one without any hesitation.
Conclusion: 8,5 out of 10

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Published Wednesday 1 October 2014

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