ISSUE 2014-456

Reviews in this issue:

Amberian Dawn - Re-Evolution
Amberian Dawn - Re-Evolution
Country of Origin: Finland
Format: CD
Record Label: KHY Suomen Musiikki
Catalogue #: KHYCD51
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 42.49
Info: Amberian Dawn
Samples: Amberian Dawn website
Track List:
Valkyries (3:28), Incubus (5:03), Kokko-Eagle of Fire (3:18), Lily of the Moon (4:08), Come on Now Follow (3:47), Crimson Flower (4:23), Circus Black (3:48), Lost Soul (3:41), Cold Kiss (3:29), River of Tuoni (2:59), Charnels Ball (4:30)
As a reviewer you get to hear a lot of interesting and alternative musical selections that wouldn't neccesarily be your first choice, and through them you get to discover great new bands, or really exciting albums of depth and emotion. Sadly Re-Evolution is neither. The 5th album from Finnish band Amberian Dawn is neither fish nor fowl, not quite a best of, and not new material. Instead it is a lazy holding exercise of old material with new vocals from their new singer Capri Virkkunen.

Cherry picking tracks from their first four albums, then letting Capri work her magic over them seems a strange exercise to me, as these are merely amendments to the studio recordings rather than new works, and I can't decided why the decision was made to make this album, when a better idea would have been a good quality live album.

This quibble aside Amberian Dawn are a perfectly competant average mediocre symphonic metal band, which means theres lots of power chords and banks of synthesisor sounds sweeping across the tracks like the wind across the serengeti, trying desperatly to hide the fact that there is nothing much original going on here.

The lyrics are cliched guff about castles and princesses, the solo's are signposted from miles off and I ticked off at least a dozen boxes in my I-spy book of prog cliches, whilst the vocals are off the usual hysteria that pervades this culture. When done well, symphonic prog metal works (see Within Tempatation). When done badly, it doesn't work at all. See this album. You know you're in trouble when all the songs blur into one, and as a listener you can't differentiate between the tracks or even suggest a highlight.

As a holding exercise this doesn't work. As a "best of" album, it just isn't. As a piece of cynical lazy marketing, I think it ticks all the boxes. A rather pointless exercise that suggests a lack of inspiration and a paucity of ideas. More like an Amberian Sunset then a dawn. Thank you and goodnight.
Conclusion: 3 out of 10

Amphetamin - At the Dawn of Twilight
Amphetamin - At the Dawn of Twilight
Country of Origin: France
Format: Download
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 45:27
Info: Amphetamin on Bandcamp
Samples: Amphetamin on Bandcamp
Track List:
Lunae Lumen (5:27), E-rased (5:55), Pain(t)ful Memories (6:42), Wish & Fall (4:51), At the Dawn of Twilight (13:36), Autumn III (5:26), A Shadow on Me (3:29)
Amphetamin are a three piece French band, whose songs are sung in English, unlike many of their fellow countrymen's bands. The members of Amphetamin are Sebastian (vocals, guitar, keyboards & piano), Morgan (bass), and J.B (drums).

This release, and what a good release it is, is a follow up to their 2010 EP, Substitute. Amphetamin are a dab hand at mixing post-rock with prog flourishes reminiscent of David Gilmour, Riverside and early Porcupine Tree. They push the post-rock envelope with riffing guitars, strident bass and very fine singing.

The album with starts Lunae Lumen, a slowly evolving slab of instrumental post-rock, which seems to be drifting along, until it suddenly takes off with expressive guitar chords and a short vocal line. So far so good, and as E-rased commences we seem to be firmly in post-rock territory.

E-rased opens in that gloomy, reverb heavy, soundscaping beloved by this genre, but then Amphetamin wrong-foot the listener by turning it into a proper song. A keening, melodic vocal and a repeating guitar figure leads to an excellent riff-heavy middle eight; which keeps the song moving forward. This song is full of interest, so much so, that I can forgive them the use of my pet hate which is that of a spoken word samples, used here to close the song.

Pain(t)ful Memories has a light Pink Floyd influence. Stuttering organ introduces the plaintive, melancholy theme. The organ then underpins the elegant Gilmouresque guitar, which increases in power and emotion, during the song whilst remaining,at the same time strangely, relaxed. A very hummable tune, well executed.

Wish & Fall builds nicely with Sebastian's excellent vocal moving from a deep register to an almost falsetto register (sort of Nick Cave to ), whilst a Floydian soundscape seeps around him. This has good changes of pace and dynamics, and it is here that I realise that Amphetamin are winning me over.

Next up is the epic title track, which opens moodily with a vaguely martial snare drum beat, and keyboard washes. It reminds me of the work Porcupine Tree produced on their early albums, such as Signify, or . Mellotron type keyboards push the song on, and you just know that you are going to enjoy the ride with Riverside style strident bass lines and another great vocal performance. I could see this on the soundtrack of a Scandinavian set detective drama.

Then as if the title track wasn't enough, Amphetamin roll out Autumn III. This takes the post-rock template, smashes it and re-assembles it into a song of fragile beauty. Its chiming guitars, synth washes and a faultless vocal makes this song a wotk of powerful, emotional radiance.

The album closes on a downbeat, drumless, piano-led ballad that uses drones to accompany the sensitive vocal. It reminds me of the title track from Steven Wilson's Insurgentes.

What Amphetamin have achieved here is a very fine album, that mixes post-rock instrumental nous, with the prog dynamics and atmospherics of Pink Floyd, Riverside and Porcupine Tree. Without resorting to identikit music. These influences are lightly worn and all the better for it. It is an album whose melodies sneak up on you, slowly revealing themselves and they end up getting under your skin.

I hope that Amphetamin, on their next release, aim for the intensity and passion of Autumn III and not have an instrumental opening track, and then they would I feel, produce something extraordinary. As it is they have produced something very interesting, and I have no hesitation in recommending this album.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Faint Signal - Faint Signal
Faint Signal - Faint Signal
Country of Origin: United States
Format: download
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #:
Year of Release: 2014
Time:
Info: Faint Signal on Reverb Nation
Samples: Faint Signal on Reverb Nation
Track List:
The Sun Closed Its Eyes (4:17), Fall and Swallow (7:10), Images (3:59), By the Look in Your Eyes (4:26), The Reveal (5:10), R. F. I. D. (The Final Mark) (4:34), Seems to Me (4:52), Concrete Soldier (5:18), There's Enough Dirt Here (4:20), Faint Signal (3:51), Reality Show (4:12), IGKYA! (3:05)
Isn't the Internet just the best thing ever? Cincinnati-based outfit Faint Signal started life as a Craigslist ad, asking if there were any more prog-loving musicians in the area to record an album with. There were, they did, and now, one Indiegogo campaign later, Faint Signal's loud and proud self-titled debut has seen the light of day. Such are the joys of the modern age!

Faint Signal names King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, Rush, Porcupine Tree and Pink Floyd as its influences. Don't expect any grand gestures or epic pieces on this album though; just a collection of good rock songs with a lot of variation between them.

It takes a while before we get there, though. The first four tracks are quite bleak in terms of atmosphere, and kind of plod along at mid-tempo without much in the way of hooks to draw you in. There's quite a lot of aggressive guitar work going on, but it's mixed so far to the background that it just doesn't quite rock as hard as it should. The Echoes-style psychedelic break in the middle of Fall and Swallow does make a good case for itself, though its coming so early on does no favours to the album's flow.

It has to be said that the band is blessed with an excellent lead singer in Henri Eisenbaum, who reminds me a lot of John Wetton in his best years. His voice adds a lot of character to the music and really is what keeps the album going through those first twenty minutes, which are otherwise pretty monotonous.

The album doesn't show its true colours until track five, appropriately titled The Reveal, which is a warm-blooded, nicely built-up, wholly enjoyable progressive rock song with some tasty Hammond organ in the chorus, an instrument you can't go wrong with.

From then on, the band show the full scope of what they have to offer. They dabble in a bit of Queensrÿche-style theatrics in the otherwise sedate R.F.I.D. (The Final Mark) and some vitriolic social satire in Reality Show, a song dominated by a vicious-sounding synthesizer stab. The Floyd and Crimson influences reveal themselves in the ominously suspenseful Concrete Soldier, which never quite seems to get to the conclusion it's building up to, and the intricate guitar textures of By the Look in Your Eyes and the title track.

The best moments, however, are the hard rocking ones. There's Enough Dirt Here and Seems to Me in particular are seemingly simple but very effective rock songs with enough twists and sonic depth to be interesting to the demanding prog fan. Instrumental album closer IGKYA! is by far the most energetic song on the record and also perhaps the one in which the classic prog rock influences are most apparent. I am reminded of the instrumental escapades of Rush or post-Morse Spock's Beard. At just over three minutes, it's a rollicking ride that brings the album to a high-energy conclusion. I wouldn't have minded this track going on for a while longer.

This album might throw you for a loop. Faint Signal have much more up their sleeves than you might suspect based on those first few tracks. This album would perhaps have benefited from a different track order, with some of the rockier, edgier numbers kicking the album off.

As it is, we have here a flawed but overall very solid debut album that is well worth a listen if you like your prog snappy, punchy and occasionally psychedelic. Just make sure you see it through to the end.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Landmarq - Origins
Landmarq - Origins
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Synergy Records
Catalogue #: SYN 008
Year of Release: 2014
Time: CD 1: 72:56
CD 2: 73:37
Info: n/a
Track List:
CD 1 - The Tracy Years: Science of Coincidence (5:16), Lighthouse (10:55), Between Sleeping and Dreaming (Live version) (9:31), Tailspin (Let Go the Line) (Live version) (5:17), After I Died Somewhere (Live version) (4:41), Heritage (Live version) (5:55), Turbulence (Paradigm Shift) (12:32), Personal Universe (7:52), Origins (10:58)
CD 2 - The Damian Years: Killing Fields (4:55), Forever Young (8:56), Borders (5:01), Solitary Witness (6:52), Ta Jiang (16:33), Embrace (6:32), Pinewood Avenue (6:24), Narovlya (11:09), Bed of Nails (7:15)
In 2012 I had the pleasure in reviewing my favourite album of that year, Entertaining Angels by Landmarq. It was only the band's fifth studio album since their formation in 1990 so the follow-up is not anticipated any day soon. As a stop-gap for fans and a taster for newbies, the band presents this two disc compilation Origins - A Landmarq Anthology 1992-2014. Disc one features current singer Tracy Hitchings and contains one new song, the 11 minute Origins whilst disc two features her predecessor Damian Wilson. Following three albums Damian left Landmarq to concentrate on a solo career although he continued to record with prog-metallers Threshold en-route to becoming lead singer with Rick Wakeman's English Rock Ensemble.

The songs on each disc appear in chronological order and to fill the 14 year gap that separated Entertaining Angels (2012) and Tracy's debut album Science of Coincidence (1998). Tracks from the live releases Thunderstruck (1999) and Aftershock (2002) have been included on disc one. The only album not represented here is the 2009 live CD Turbulence.

A swirling synth fanfare opens disc one and Science of Coincidence with a compelling (if a tad dated) staccato riff ala Marillion's Garden Party adding an 80s' flavoured neo-prog feel. Sounding mellower and more mature (to begin with at least) Lighthouse showcases Tracy's infectious vocals to perfection although for me the lengthy and showy instrumental break that takes up the mid-section serves no real purpose other than to remind the listener that this is a prog song after all.

The four live songs that follow however hardly put a foot wrong. Impeccably played and recorded (some of the best live sounding tracks I've heard for some time) they show the band at their best. Once again Tracy sings the haunting Between Sleeping and Dreaming to perfection underpinned by Steve Leigh's hypnotic piano motif capped by Uwe D'rose's tasteful guitar solo. Bassist Steve Gee and drummer Dave Wagstaffe are on fine form throughout, both benefitting from the crisp sound particularly during the other live highlight Heritage with its positively euphoric guitar coda.

The two songs from the most recent studio album Entertaining Angels, the mighty steamrolling Turbulence and the ridiculously catchy Personal Universe are both good choices but to be honest you could hardly go wrong with this album. They also feature Mike Varty on keyboards who took over from Leigh in 2005 and is also responsible for the first rate production. The new song Origins which was recorded specifically for this collection features latest drummer Daniel Martin. It's perhaps not as overtly proggy as I would like but there's no denying the song's positive tone with lines like "We're ready to entertain you" bringing to mind Queen and Robbie Williams of all people.

With the exception of Damian Wilson on vocals, the songs from 'The Damian Years' were recorded by the same line-up that appear on disc one up to and including the live tracks. Melodic, neo-prog is the order of the day with a strong line in composition and flawless musicianship. Appropriately there are three tunes each from the first three albums Solitary Witness (1992), Infinity Parade (1993) and The Vision Pit (1995).

From the debut album, the jumpy Killing Fields is (over) dominated by an unrelenting guitar solo whilst the galloping riff and breezy vocal of Forever Young and the memorable vocal hook of Borders demonstrate a pop-rock sensibility in the band's song writing. The two latter songs were co-written by Clive Nolan who along with Karl Groom produced the first three albums.

From the second album, Solitary Witness (during this period each album would include a song named after the previous album) opens with a convincing bagpipes fanfare from Leigh. The keyboardist was also responsible for the epic length, 5-part Ta Jiang where rhythmic piano supports excellent instrumental work from Gee, Leigh and D'Rose whose guitar playing is very Andy Latimer-ish in places. In contrast Embrace is a (surprisingly) romantic ballad distinguished by Wilson's sensitive vocal before reaching a symphonic peak.

Nervously energetic, Pinewood Avenue from the third album is similar in feel to Killing Fields whilst the edgy Narovlya (a town in Belarus that suffered as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster) is, for me, a little too close to Fish era Marillion for comfort with another commanding performance from Wilson. The mood continues into the strident Bed of Nails which brings this collection to a suitably anthemic close.

If like me you missed out on the 90s' incarnation of Landmarq or have yet to catch-up with the current version then this collection is an excellent place to start. All tracks have been meticulously re-mastered by Mike Varty and come packaged with superb artwork from Ed Unitsky and biographical notes from the band themselves. Combining as it does ridiculously tuneful songs like Forever Young, Embrace, and Personal Universe with more ambitions offerings like Ta Jiang, Between Sleeping and Dreaming and Turbulence it really is a wonder that Landmarq have not attracted a wider audience.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Monarch Trail - Skye
Monarch Trail - Skye
Country of Origin: Canada
Format: cd
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 46:02
Info: Monarch Trail
Track List:
Luminescence (11:15), Silent World (8:21), East Of Fifty (6:11), Sky Above The Sun (20:15)
It happens quite often that renowned instrumentalists take steps from the spotlight their bands might be in, just to tread on paths not crossed before and create a musical landscape of their own. Perhaps it happens more often than not, even. Yet, to see a solo artist venture the other way around, is something that is not seen as frequent. Having already released five solo albums, Ken Baird has nevertheless decided to do so. As he states himself, the music has more of a collaborative charachter than anything he had written before. It doesn't then seem as strange that he decided to record this album as a band. For that matter he surrounded himself with musicians who already played with him on earlier releases. Dino Verginella on bass and Chris Lamont on drums form the core of Monarch Trail together with Ken who plays the keyboards and takes care of the vocal duties. Guitar duties are shared by John Mamone, Kelly Kereliuk and Steve Cochrane.

Luminescence with all its great keyboard textures and joyfully dancing and prancing guitar is a meeting of Genesis, somewehere on the verge on And Then There Were Three or Duke and Jadis. The rich keyboard textures remind us of Tony Banks weaving intricate textures, yet Ken seems to have mastered textures further and invites us all off to listen to the luminaries these musicians form together. Grand without getting too grand, the opening track is soothing for the ear and sets the mood for many an enjoyable hour of listening to Ken's compositions. Somewhere midway the opening track, you could wonder if you're not on the travels by some duke or another. Yet, the music is very, ehm, entangling. The guitars come to the fore in the intro part of the song and very much so remind of Gary Chandler's guitar led Jadis. There's also, albeit slightly, resemblance in the way both Ken and Gary sing.

Silent World comes a-roaring after the initial easy going and bit jazzy intro to the song.Keys all over the place as if we were summoned to get into the air to fight those Bandits up in the air. Yet, just as we are about to board our aircrafts the tempo of the song slows right down and, all of a sudden, the song becomes rather bombastic. Still, the variety in the song works. The fact that the siren like wail is played by the keys might even add to its appeal. This is a song where textures and jazzy parts all battle for the fore. Just put on headphones and listen to the great interplay between keyboards, drums, bass and guitar in this song. Camel meet Landmarq, Jadis or Genesis anyone?

The Landmarq, Jadis and Camel references return in East Of Fifty yet, let us be clear, this is not a band to go painting by numbers, neither are they copyists of Genesis. These are merely references and should just be regarded as such. It is the spirit of that particular era Genesis that Ken skilifully masters and for which he has found a fold, as creative as can be. Exactly that is what East Of Fifty goes to show. It is a very inspiring and positive vibe radiating piece of music that always gets the mood up. At least, here it does. Kelly Kereliuk shows his impressive skills next to Ken on this one.

And yes, there is an epic. This time, well, whether or not it is meant to be a play on words on a certain Marillion tracks, the epic is called Sky Above The Sun. A traditionally set out track, or so it seems, that will have you figure out its bends and curves for there is more to it than meets the ears first time around.

Skye is not an album that will send you to worlds unknown, undiscovered as theirs is a style of progressive rock that we used to know, yet which might have left fields unknown, pastures greener than we knew and keyboards and guitars that might give you, oh joy, great feelings of the essence of prog, if there is such a thing and if it can be determined. Prog need not always be pointing the way to a different and unforeseeable future. Just like Umberto Eco's 'The Name Of The Rose' had an inner beauty of itself but spoke of a period in time long gone by and things we must already have come to know of, this is a release that takes its cue from those great masters of keys from the days of yore and then goes to show that this is still very much 2014 music. Ken and his band have recorded an album that may just as well endear those who still miss Genesis of old and those young ones that crave for rich atmospheres and textures in their music. Even if you're not into either of those, this is one album to just love.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

The Prog Collective - Epilogue
The Prog Collective - Epilogue
Country of Origin: USA
Format: CD
Record Label: Cleopatra Records
Catalogue #: CLP 0661
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 64:54
Info: The Prog Collective on Cleopatra Records
Samples: The Prog Collective on Cleopatra Records
Track List:
Are We to Believe? (7:19), What Can Be Done? (7:48), Adding Fuel to the Fire (7:30), Tomorrow Becomes Today (7:35), Shining Diamonds (7:53), In Our Time (7:22), Memory Tracks (7:58), Just Another Day (9:01), Epilogue (2:28)
Billy Sherwood is a name that is familiar to most progressive rocks fans. During the late 1990s and early 2000s he was a member of Yes recording The Ladder, Open Your Eyes, and Live at the House of Blues sets with them. Before that he was a member of Keith Emerson's Three project. These days Billy is a much in demand producer and arranger who was involved with the Mars Hollow albums and the soon to be released Heliopolis CD (which should be pretty awesome).

As a side-line Billy also releases "tribute" albums and these conceptual pieces like The Prog Collective in which he opens his very well connected book of contacts and calls a few members of the Prog Cognoscenti to enlist them to his latest project. As is the way with such sometimes the results are worthy and worthwhile and other times less so. I have to confess I haven't heard the first prog collective album but I did review The Fusion Syndicate CD (reviewed here) and I wasn't overly impressed as I felt the promise of the album was negated by the sheer over playing that was on display there.

Well I am very glad to report that this is a very different situation here. This is an album that has continuity and also have some stellar performances on it too and features most of the keyboard players that have been in Yes during its existence along with a whole host of luminaries.

The album opens strongly with Are We to Believe? and it sounds very Yes like from the Open Your Eyes album (an album in which Billy has a large involvement). It features some great guitar from Steve Hillage and sax from Mel Collins along with more than adequate support from Rick Wakeman and it sets the tone for what is to follow.

What can be done opens with drums roils and John Wesley's guitars set against John Wetton's stately vocals, he is in fine voice on this piece too, as is Derek Sherinian on synth solos. The song is mid tempo with a varying time signature which adds an evocative tone to proceedings. The album concerns itself with the state of mankind as it is now and the challenges we face as a planet of people. There is a great guitar solo on this song at the 3:33 mark from John Wesley, all backed by some atmospheric synth work from the former Dream Theater man.

Adding Fuel to the Fire is a fairly generic track not wildly progressive yet not straight ahead rock either, it is enlivened though by Jordan Rudess' keyboards and by the always exceptional Steve Morse's excellent solo's both of whom add their own particular fuel to this fire. Tomorrow Becomes Today is wistful and melancholy which is rather fitting as it features the last recordings of the late ex Yes guitarist Peter Banks, partnered again with Sonja Kristina (as he was on the Steve Miller tribute CD). To great effect, as this song includes a fine solo from Peter and it is a great testament to this underappreciated player who is sadly no longer with us. Larry Fast adds atmospheric keyboards and synth beeps and whistles too – all in all this is a fabulous track.

Shining Diamonds is a very interesting track and features Patrick Moraz on keyboards, Chris Squire on bass and Steve Stevens on guitar, the vocals are supplied by Alan Parson and it's another stormer of a song with fine performances from all, it is very catchy as well and was the lead single from the CD.

It sounds very Yes-like in places but it's lovely to hear Moraz and Squire together (even though they weren't in the studio together, sadly) and Moraz' solo has all the usually jauntiness that we have come to expect from him, great guitar support from Steve Stevens on this too, on acoustic guitar no less with Moraz's magnificent synths twinkling away in the background make this a great moment of the piece. Without doubt my favourite moments on the whole CD, it's truly wonderful.

Billy himself sings lead on In Our Time. It sounds like Open Your Eyes era Yes, however both Nik Turner and Geoff Downes add flourishes that raise this song, with a lovely organ motif from Downes and some inspired sax from Turner. With a long instrumental section in the middle this is another good piece.

Memory Tracks feature Roye Albrighton from Nektar on vocals and Billy on pretty much everything else, it's a mainly gentle track with a great vocal from Roye and some nice guitar work from Billy mid-way through and again it's a wistful number about days gone by.

Just Another Day is the last and longest real song on the CD. This time around, Gary Green (Gentle Giant / Three Friends) is adding guitar magic and Tony Kaye from Yes is on hand with some hefty keyboard parts. After an initial flurry of sound the song has a gentle acoustic guitar playing against keyboards, before Billy's vocals come in, singing of how today is just another day in time. The mid-section of this piece is very reminiscent of Yes in their 70s' heydays, with a good use of light and shade, very nice bass work on this song too from Billy. As a closer it is a really good song.

However, the album closes with a spoken outro from Star Trek's Captain Kirk (William Shatner) in which he voices the title of each piece that has boldly gone before, as it were. It's a very simple but effective ending to what is really a very good album and appropriately it's called Epilogue.

I was impressed and the more I listened the more I liked it for me the standout tracks are Shining Diamonds, Tomorrow Becomes Today, and Just Another Day. If you like later era Yes, then this could very well be up your street and I recommend it on that basis. No hesitation in awarding it 7.5 out of 10. Give it a spin and see if you agree
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

Yossi Sassi - Desert Butterflies
Yossi Sassi - Desert Butterflies
Country of Origin: Israel
Format: cd
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 40:21
Info: Yossi Sassi
Track List:
Orient Sun (4:22), Fata Morgana (4:34), Neo Quest (4:26), Azadi (3:10), Believe (3:29), Desert Butterfly (4:42), Inner Oasis (4:44), Shedding Soul (2:00), Jason's Butterflies (1:24), Azul (3:25), Cocoon (3:57)
The guitarist that was one of the founding fathers of Israeli progressive metal band Orphaned Land that succeeded in combining Jewish, Arabic and other West Asian influences. In their music there has always been a mix of progressive, doom and death metal as well as Middle-Eastern folk and other Arabic traditions and thus produced their own self assured version of "oriental metal". In early 2014 he announced leaving Orphaned Land. The release of his second solo album came not too long after he left.

Yossi states that Iron Maiden, Jason Becker, Frank Gambale just as much as Dead Can Dance and Turkish multi-instrumentalist Omar Faruk Takbilek have released albums that are amongst the ones he rates the highest. Having grown up on music from Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Italy and more, it is not hard to see where and how he learnt to take ingredients and spices from all over the world to create an album as diverse as Desert Butterflies is, without ever being overwrought on diversity. The album just flows quite naturally!

From the opening that is Orient Sun with its clear and distinct, well, oriental feel to the calm closing Pink Floydlike Cocoon, in which Yossi proves to be quite a good singer himself, Yossi takes us by the hand through soundscapes that just as much evoke landscapes before the mind's eye as they appeal to the ears. The way he succeeds in visualizing his music, just by playing it, says a lot about his craftmanship and the way he knwos how to turn his visions, his dreams, perhaps, into music.

Even though he has Marty Friedman guest on lead guitar in Orient Sun and Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal guest on Fata Morgana it is not their profile that sets the music apart from other instrumental albums. It is the way Yossi has us join in the journey; the closing part of Fata Morgana shows that very much. You can just close your eyes and see the end of a show of bellydancers before your eyes.

Neo Quest could well have been Jeff Beck or Pat Metheny influenced with its jazzy laidback opening whereas Azadi lures us to the nearest oasis full of Middle East spell binding beauty and great piano by Roy Zu-arets. Believe has a theme not unlike Orphaned Land's music featured, "We are all the same, different just by name" is what Mariangela Demurtas (Tristania, Moonspell) sings in this song that might well have been an entry into the Eurovision song contest. That is not meant as derogatory, moreover it would mean the Eurovision song contest would receive a song with a positive vibe by a great composer, yet the song has more to it, instrumentally, than you might think at first listen.

The theme song has had me racing for the Batmobile several times now as the song seems loosely based on '60's tv series themes, yet the intersections express far more than just that. They demonstrate just how skilfull Yossi is without ever getting too shredding, always keeping his solo in the veins of the music they belong to. Never too heavy, always adding to the flow of the musical scenery he paints, that is what this album is about.

Desert Butterflies, even though the combination might seem less than ordinary or even a paradox, is not quite that. Butterflies do appear in deserts, as Yossi found out while trying to answer that question. For him, it is also a means of expressing that dreams can come true, whatever the surroundings may be. Live life to the fullest and fulfill your dreams. Releasing this album was one of Yossi's dreams. If you can permit yourself to be openminded and soar away on another man's dream, then try listening to this album that is colourful and enchanting and attracts like a butterfly in a desert.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

The Spiral - Our Final Days on Bellicus Prime
The Spiral - Our Final Days on Bellicus Prime
Country of Origin: USA
Format:
Record Label: No one will have us
Catalogue #: 8.87936.849456
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 42:15
Info: The Spiral on Bandcamp
Track List:
The Ballad of Bellicus Prime (4:53), Photographs (5:34), Our Final Days on Bellicus Prime (14:14), Time Beast (3:12), One Way Trip to Solasoma (14:22)
The Spiral are an American band from Albuquerque New Mexico. With a lineup consisting of Aaron Frale (lead and rhythm guitar and vocals), Chris Boat (vocals, bass, keyboard, and rhythm guitar), Chris Walker (lead and rhythm guitar), and Bill Hatfield (lead and rhythm guitar), the band the band oozes lead guitarists and sonic possibilities.

Our Final Days on Bellicus Prime appears to be a sort of science fiction concept album although it is hard to tie the story together. The opening track, The Ballad of Bellicus Prime, conjures up images of Porcupine Tree or More era Pink Floyd. A delicately picked guitar mates with ethereal keyboards to set the stage for distant, breathy vocals. It reminds me a bit of Pink Floyd's Cirrus Minor and that's not a bad place to start.

An entirely different kettle of fish is Photographs. Dreamland gives way to a rather low-fi heavy metal riffing, complete with fuzzy guitars, and strangulating vocals. It's a change to be sure but not an especially pleasant one. Felicia Karas provides some tasteful violin but the lead vocal is more irritating than it is effective.

The title track reverts to Pink Floyd territory. The instruments and vocals are sparse and dreamy until challenged by guitars and uptempo drumming. Gradually, a repetitive keyboard riff steps forward, to spar with the guitars. There are some nice moments here and there but it lost me somewhere before it's 14:14 timing ran out.

Time Beast returns is to the grungy metal territory of Photographs but with no noticeable improvement. Once again the lead vocal is unpleasant and off putting to my ears. One Way Trip to Solasoma brings the album to an interesting close. At 14:22 in length, it reminds me of Pink Floyd's A Saucerful of Secrets in structure. The track features atmospheric vocals by Senda Shallow and an extended bit of guitar soloing that hints at better things to come for Spiral. This closing track is my favourite one on the album and in my opinion, it is the band's most fully realized, composition.

In summation, Spiral hinted at possibilities that they never quite achieved. Fans of Pink Floyd may find some interesting moments on Bellicus Prime but I didn't find nearly enough here to give Spiral a passing grade.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10

Vanishing Point - Distant Is the Sun
Vanishing Point - Distant Is the Sun
Country of Origin: Australia
Format: CD
Record Label: AFM Records
Catalogue #: AF 486-2
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 63:01
Info: Vanishing Point
Track List:
Beyond Redemption (Intro) (1:01), King of Empty Promises (4:48), Distant Is the Sun (4:47), When Truth Lies (5:18), Circle of Fire (4:48), Let the River Run (5:56), Denied Deliverance (4:30), Story of Misery (4:44), Era Zero (3:30), Pillars of Sand (5:51), As December Fades (4:31), Handful of Hope (4:20), Walls of Silence (4:35), April (Instrumental) (4:28)
Back in 2008 a friend of mine introduced me to Vanishing Point from Melbourne, Australia. The first record I've heard was The Fourth Season, and I liked their style and many of its songs a lot. Vanishing Point play an interesting kind of power melodic metal but with a little bit influence from progressive metal bands in their rhythm and structure such as Spheric Universe Experience or Darkwater and even some Dream Theater look alike arrangements.

After a seven year hiatus and several line-up changes, these Aussies are back with their most recent release called Distant Is the Sun. Unfortunately, at the moment of writing this review, I've noticed in their website that their drummer Christian Nativo left the band more than a week ago, so the remaining lineup consists of: Silvio Massaro – vocals, Chris Porcianko – guitars, James Maier – guitars and Simon Best – bass.

Their style remained the same during their last releases, with a huge synthesized effect in their guitars and their wonderful riffs, orchestral sounds on the keyboards and songs with a very complex rhythmic structure and drumming. This time I've felt the piano parts useless and dissonant. Silvio Massaro's voice is in good shape but it doesn't give nothing more than the previous albums, he have a powerful voice with an unique style that gives the band one of their most important trademarks.

One aspect I like from this band is the way they combined their power metal influences with classical music arrangements in the same way Yngwye Malmsteen did with his own music but more heavier and faster and how they used this as melodic arrangements into their songs.

The only difference between this album and the previous ones is the fact that they added more powerful arrangements to their songs and often more speed. I felt that I was listening to a Helloween or Dragonforce album. The other elements that have characterized this band are the same with the difference that they are performed by other musicians. It is a fact that this kind of genre requires a huge effort and technique to the people who play the music and Vanishing Point take advantage of it: they are wonderful players and musicians and the band is extremely precise in making the complex structure of their songs. But I feel that there is nothing new. When they feel the need to take a break from all this power metal, they insert some kind of power ballad that turns into a faster cadence again and there they go again with the speed changes in a song. Unfortunately they didn´t take advantage from the progressive metal influences to try and make things a bit more different or surprising.

Pay attention to what I consider the highlights: King of Empty Promises, Distant Is the Sun, Let the River Run, Handful of Hope (with a proper piano part), Walls of Silence, which is a perfect closing theme, and April (an instrumental bonus song on the Japanese edition).

Conclusion: this is a good album, with an excellent performance and songs which every power metal fan will love, but the thing is that I haven't feel connected with it in the same way I liked the previous albums such The Fourth Season and Embrace the Silence. This time I felt a little disappointed.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

Vital Science - Imaginations on the Subject of Infinity
Vital Science - Imaginations on the Subject of Infinity
Country of Origin: Estonia / Lativa
Format: CD
Record Label: Power Prog Records
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 53:33
Info: Vital Science on Power Prog Records
Samples: Vital Science on Power Prog Records
Track List:
Overture (1:32), Bridge of Sorrow (5:12), The Last Trial (5:13), Endless Sky (5:51), Truth Be Told (5:12), Fallen from Grace (6:30), Black Judgement Day (6:50), Dream Survives (6:21), Prayer to Survive (5:21), The Curtains Fall (5:31)
Power prog metal or prog metal are realatively new terms for someone whose been treading life's muddy path for over 50 years. Heavy rock, blues rock, symphonic rock? All good attempts at naming a type of music but what's the difference? Ah, now you're asking... I spent a good hour researching a band called Vital Signs before realising I'd misread the name. So Vital Science are not one of Pakistan's rock success stories then. No, they are a six piece hailing from Estonia and Lativa and I think I can now distinguish the genre difference after hearing this album.

It has a lot of heavy guitar riffing and very fast and intricate playing. The prog side of this is definitely supplied by the keyboards (Sergey Boykov) which bask over the entire preceedings like a hovering deity providing an authoritive leadership that puts this band right up there with Dream Theater and Symphony X. Now add some powerful rock vocals courtesy of Alexey Boykov and we have a total package that really shows the hifi who's boss.

Imaginations on the Subject of Infinity is their debut album and they have signed with Power Prog Records. Congratulations on that!

Featuring ten songs that range from five to nearly severn minutes in length, each song has great keyboard playing, twin guitaring, and a very deft rhythm section. I thought I'd single out some stand out tracks like the epic Truth Be Told or the equally big Fallen from Grace, but then Black Judgement Day scares the pants off you with a particulary quirky sampled harp section that feels like the soundtrack to a darkened dank corridor. Great stuff!

To be honest, the next three tracks are also standout tracks. Again with some very enjoyable keyboard and guitar solos, especiallly on The Curtains Fall. The guitar riffy bits do start to sound a tad similar, and the album's pace never slows up (the occassional slow track wouldn't hurt) but the well mixed and produced sound with a keyboard player who never sounds samey more that makes up for these minor quibbles.

One of the prog metal stars of 2014, a superb debut with a great cast of players. Here's to infinity, oh! and beyond!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

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Published Wednesday 8 October 2014

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