Kaipa - Kaipa
Musiken är ljuset (Music Is the Light) (7:04), Saker har två sidor (Things Have Two Sides) (4:34), Ankaret (Anchor) (8:40), Skogspromenad (Forest Walk) (3:40), Allting har en början (All Things Have a Beginning) (3:12), Se var morgon gry (See Each Morning Dawn) (8:55), Förlorad i Istanbul (Lost in Istanbul) (2;24), Oceaner föder liv (Oceans Give Birth to Life) (9:28); bonus tracks: Fran det ena till det andra (From One Thing to Another) (2:49), Karavan (Caravan) (2:54)
The band, led by Hans Lundin (keyboards, lead vocals) started as a trio in 1974. Tomas Eriksson (bass, backing vocals) and Ingemar Bergman (drums, percussion, backing vocals) completed the line-up. Later that year, a 17-year-old called Roine Stolt joined them to play as a guitarist and backing vocalist.
These four musicians recorded this debut album in 1975. The vocals were sung in Swedish to better emphasise the poetic content of the lyrics to audiences. As the group had no international ambitions, singing in English seemed pointless.
The style of their music has always been a bit folky with more and more jazzy elements introduced in their music over the years.
No real surprises on the album for the real fans of Kaipa, who probably already own a copy of this album! I'm not one of them I must admit. It is too much in the jazz/fusion genre for me. I did like the tracks Musiken är ljuset and Ankaret, however. If you don't have a copy yet and want to complete your Kaipa collection, this is your chance. Newcomers should probably go for their latest release entitled Sattyg (2014). It's in English!
Peter Swanson: 6.5 out of 10
Kaipa - Inget Nytt Under Solen
Skenet bedrar (It's Not What It Seems) (a. Uppvaknandet (Awakening), b. Bitterheten (Bitterness), c. Hoppfullheten (Hopefulness), d. Överheten (The Authorities), e. Vilseledd (Lead Astray)) (21:41), Ömsom sken (How Might I Say out Clearly) (3:17), Korstäg (Crusade) (5:19), Stengrodornas parad (The Parade of The Stone Frogs) (0:53), Dagens port (The Gate of Day) (2:35), Inget nytt under solen (Nothing New Under the Sun) (6:10); bonus tracks: Awakening/Bitterness (6:08), How Might I Say out Clearly (4:02), The Gate of Day (2:25), Blow Hard All Tradewinds (6:17)
For this release, they changed the sound engineer and he turned out to be a better technician than studio owner Marcus Österdahl who had worked on the band's debut. Leif managed to reproduce exactly the sound the group wanted, which was to get as close as possible to that of their live gigs with less reverb and more punch to the drum parts.
The album starts with a real epic, at almost 22 minutes, entitled Skenet bedrar (It's Not What It Seems), which shows the progress the band made following their first release. Other tracks that are worth mentioning are Korstäg (Crusade) and the title track, mainly because of the use of the Mellotron. Also good news for people who can't get used to the lyrics sung in the Swedish language, there are some bonus tracks sung in English.
This is the second remastered album from the period 1975-1982 and three other albums will be remastered in the autumn of 2015. So, lots to look forward to for the fans of this Swedish prog band.
Peter Swanson: 7 out of 10
Bertrand Loreau - From Past to Past
Past Never Dies (38:04), Journey Remains the Same (11:00), Flying Stones over the Sea (11:24)
The sound here is not greatly dissimilar from that found on Loreau's other recent CDs, although the tone is somewhat less modern. One or more layers of sequenced sounds set a foundation upon which other keyboards dance. Particularly given the sweet tones emphasised, the overall effect is soothing, although the music is not without vigor, and the variety of sounds is both impressive and attention-holding.
The epic tune, Past Never Dies, is mostly slow-tempo. Indeed, the first portion arguably drags. But the activity level soon increases, and, as with most long musical voyages, ups and downs are to be expected. There's a less-thick atmosphere on Journey Remains the Same, but the lead keyboard is always pleasant and peaceful. The final minutes are a bit edgy, though. In the closer, Flying Stones over the Sea, the predicate "beat" almost never shifts and the layers are fewer, and so the piece lacks the interest of the first two. Nevertheless, it's solid electronic music.
Although on the whole there's less intrigue to the music here, relative to that on Loreau's recent releases, his fans, and fans of 1970s electronic music, will likely take well to this CD. Kudos to the artist for perpetuating this fine genre and for doing so consistently well.
Joel Atlas: 6.5 out of 10
Minutian - Inwards
Hollow Heroics (5:51), On Derelict Sidings (7:18), The Crust Of The Earth (6:20), Void Within (7:04), Onus (1:21), Burning Bright (6:48), Manifest (4:32), Aphelion (10:11), Redeemer (5:57)
Although ostensibly a rock/metal band with strong leanings in the progressive direction, there are plenty of more reflective moments and not a lot of out-and-out riffage that can over dominate many prog metal releases. The stand-out track is Aphelion on which the two guitarists cascade round each other in a lovely, restrained manner, coaxing different sounds from each instrument and never relying on anything that sounds too similar to what has gone before. This is followed by the more acoustic Redeemer which is quite mournful and, like a lot of the lyrics, quite downbeat. Although ending an album with a more reflective song would tend to fly in the face of conventional wisdom, it works quite well and is also rather a poignant moment as the song was written by Jernberg and acts as a fitting tribute to their band mate.
All other music on the album was written by drummer Ruokola, the man whose three-track demo resulted in the band's foundation, and a jolly fine job he does of things, mixing various rhythms and odd time signatures and creating a solid framework for the band to spin their arrangements round. It is nice to hear the two guitars used effectively, with each player having a distinct part. In the heavier sections vocalist Heino sounds very similar to a young Bruce Dickinson, with a very pleasing, and quite mellow voice on the quieter moments, particularly during On Derelict Sidings which also features some marvellously quirky piano playing from guest Elias Patrikainen. His playing can also be heard throughout the album, particularly on Onus, the brief instrumental which is also a solo piece for their guest.
Overall, Inwards is a very pleasing album of considerable variety which lifts the album out of the realms of the rock/metal label the band gives themselves. Certainly the roots of the music lie more towards the heavier style of writing rather than pure progressive rock, but the willingness to explore different avenues and to vary the styles presented, makes it an interesting listen throughout. I suppose the proof of the pudding is that I am decidedly not a metal fan, prog or otherwise, but I really enjoyed listening to this album whose layers revealed themselves over repeated listening. A strong sophomore album, and one that I am sure their departed friend and band mate Jaakko Jernberg would have been proud of.
Mark Hughes: 7 out of 10
Native Construct - Quiet World
Mute (6:22), The Spark of the Archon (8:51), Passage (8:08), Your Familiar Face (4:15), Come Hell or High Water (5:15), Chromatic Lights (2:15), Chromatic Abberation (12:29)
Fast forward to the next generation of students from this illustrious institution and we find a guitarist, a bass player, and a singer who have been designing a piece of music destined to be called Quiet World and to collectively call themselves Native Construct and, believe me, watch this space.
Ostensibly a prog-metal combo, but literally covering every musical genre with classical, theatre, barbershop, jazz, and symphonic flourishes all thrown in to nearly fifty minutes of filled to the brim audio kitchen sink.
Myles Yang has created an album of what can be done if every piece of equipment, software, and human talent is utilised in the form of bassist Max Harchik, singer Robert Edens, and himself on guitar and programming. That last credit also includes the drums but you'd never realise this. Massive metal style tub thumping, all "made" by this this wizard of technology.
Brought to the attention of the head honcho at Metal Blade Records, they have secured a worldwide record deal, not bad going as these chaps self produced this music in between doing their studies.
It also happens to be one of the most original projects I've heard this year, based on a concept of a speech deficient man who experiences unrequited love and social outcast due (he believes) to his condition, so slowly forms a world of his own.
Mute starts the show in the usual bombastic manner but very quickly we're in a vaudeville jazz venue with time signature changes and close harmony singing. There's Queen, Haken, and forties film music in the mix. The Spark of the Archon's synth bass intro develops in a similar vain but with quiet passages of what sound like an auto-harp with choir keys and tuned percussion. How long did those drums take to programme? Unbelievable. Every note and bang just fits, this is a great listen.
This album is impossible not to look at each track, it would be too disrespectful. Passage starts with tuned percussion and "cello" and ends, via a saxophone, with what sounds like a full on orchestral Nightwish assault. It gave me visions of gothic melodrama and shadowy figures. Your Familiar Facecould be A.C.T. booked into a sepia tinted gentleman's club, then as the polite applause fades, Come Hell Or High Water layers its voices like a certain regal band to grins of appreciation although monocles would surely be dropped from open expressions as the two bars of Cookie Monster vocal curdles the shaken cocktails. This really is histrionic metal at it's best.
It's that time again, have to mention the inevitable Gentle Giant influence. I can really imagine Berkley College professors:
"Morning class, yesterday we covered vocal growling but today open your text books, page 15 - advanced Gentle Gentle..."
The short Chromatic Lights has a guitar "fugue" before the albums' main course is served: Chromatic Abberation. Twelve and half minutes of guitar led epic orchestral theatrical prog metal. The technical prowess is astounding at times, with the word "subtle" sitting on the naughty step and definitely not allowed out to play.
Themes reoccur from the rest of the album (just like in classical music). Lyrically, the protagonist is falling deeper into dispair and the final vocal growl fits the sentiment but It gets funky in the middle section then, as you're trying to work out the time signature, we're treated to a wide screen film score and then back to the cleverness.
I've listened to this several times and like Shrek's multifaceted onion, it needs to be peeled layer by layer. Without sounding clichéd, Native Construct are the futuristic future of rock, and Quiet World is where it all started.
Andrew Halley: 9 out of 10
Indrek Patte - Thank and Share
Light Ship (7:59), Dance in Livland (9:51), Heaven's Truth (6:41), In Your Arms (3:26), Promises (4:34), The Servant Soul (5:56), In Memories (5:15), Share (12:53)
With its swirling keyboards, epic-like guitar solos and melodic chorus, Light Ship immediately presents the listener with a good idea of what to expect from the album. It is fair to say that you won't hear anything particularly groundbreaking, but that is clearly not the intent here. There are few stones left unturned in the symphonic genre of prog anyway, so it all comes down to the quality of the songwriting, production and performances. That being the gauge, Thank and Share succeeds on many levels. Dance in Livland starts as an enjoyable acoustic track and ultimately becomes an expressive instrumental showcase for Patte's exceptional keyboard skills. He proves throughout the album that he can play with the best of them. Heaven's Truth is more of a traditional rock song with prog leanings. It is also primarily guitar driven, and ultimately a good change of pace when compared to the previous tracks.
In your Arms is essentially a twelve-string-led acoustic ballad, and an artistically successful one at that. The song contains a chorus that you will most likely be humming quite a bit after hearing the album. Promises is very reminiscent of the style of prog/pop from the 80s that bands like Saga and It Bites excelled at. It is a fun and somewhat straightforward rocker that feels appropriately placed in the middle of the album.
Speaking of the 80s, Thank and Share was recorded recently, but The Servant Soul is a track that Patte recorded in 1988 and included here. Quite impressively, the song doesn't sound dated and fits very nicely into the flow of things. In fact, if the liner notes didn't call it out as such, you would never know that the song was recorded more than 25 years ago. The reasons for including it are obvious, as it is absolutely one of the album's strongest tracks.
Interestingly enough, whereas The Servant Soul fits right in, the next track, In Memories doesn't. This instrumental is so slowly paced and sombre, that it ultimately clashes with the upbeat tone of the rest of the album. It is not a bad song by any stretch, and there is a good amount of variety when comparing each of the songs. Regrettably though, In Memories is too drastic of a change and proves to be a distraction. It seems as if it belongs on a different album, or perhaps it would have been better suited as a bonus track. As it stands, it is a small gripe on an otherwise well-structured album. It does, however, speak to the importance of effective track ordering.
The album closer, Share, thankfully re-establishes the lost momentum and it is easily the best track on the album. The diversity of the instrumental sections mix well with an enthusiastic and memorable chorus. Clocking in at over 12 minutes, the song wraps things up in an adventurous way and proves to be the perfect end to what is, overall, an entertaining album. This release should further establish Patte as an artist of note in the progressive rock spectrum and after such a long musical career, that is cause for celebration. His definite talents and obvious affinity for progressive rock are plain to see and are used to good effect on Thank and Share.
Patrick McAfee: 7.5 out of 10
Ramses - Firewall
Welcome to the Show (4:40), Save the World (4:40), Love in Vain (3:56), Into the Moments (3:42), All this Time (5:05), Firewall (3:59), Virgin Zone (3:20), Thirst in my Heart (4:45), The Straw that Broke the Camel's Back (5:47), Look at Your Neighbour - "Live" Version (6:56), X-mas Song (3:59), Back to the Glades (5:16); bonus track: Look at Your Neighbour - "Soft" Version (3:09)
Ramses was formed in Hannover in 1972. During the first years, the band underwent a few changes in the line-up and eventually found a somewhat stable formation in 1974. Ramses' recording career encompasses just five albums, recorded over a time span of nearly 40 years. Between 1976 and 1979, the band released two albums, La Leyla, and Eternity Rise. Their third album Light Fantastic came out in 1981, after another change in the line-up. At the time, the band was quite popular, with La Leyla also selling fairly well in the USA, forming part of a specific category of German Krautrock, along with bands such as Jane, Eloy (those two also hailing from Hannover), Novalis and Streetmark. The distinguishing feature of these bands was their focus on mostly mid-tempo songs and the extensive use of keyboards, whilst abstaining from musical virtuosity and unnecessary complexity.
After those three albums, Ramses produced Control Me in 2000 and now Firewall in 2014. However, the band has kept on playing gigs every now and then during the whole period of their musical life. Three of the five band members from the 1974-79 era are present on this album.
The songs on Firewall deal with the necessity to seal oneself off from various crises and threats in today's world, such as financial crises, the destruction of the environment and acts of war.
What does the music sound like, almost 40 years after La Leyla? I think the songs are at least consistent with the band's style. Ramses never have been the kings of musical virtuosity, their music does not rely on that. The songs represent an adequate adaptation to today's times. Almost all songs are in the three to five minute range, a good mixture of ballads (Love in Vain) and harder songs (Save the World and Virgin Zone). Sometimes there are pop elements (Into the Moments). It is very compact, less biased towards the keyboards, with well-dosed guitar soloing, a focus on singing, and a good balance concerning each instrument's contribution. Some of the songs (Into the Moments and Firewall) are perfectly suitable for radio airplay.
There is a bit of a retro feeling and atmosphere, especially the live version of Look at Your Neighbour. I listened to that one and suddenly found myself put back in time into that city hall again, with red, green and blue lights, a wall of Hammond sound, fierce, but melodic guitar, and wads of smoke (sometimes smelling sweetish). But I came back quickly to discover that overall Ramses' songs now are more "modern" and catchy. There is a little Marillion here and there, some Asia, the simpler things of IQ, and some Uriah Heep. Overall the sound is more like a melodic rock band such as Magnum or Europe.
The album comes in a nice digipack with a booklet containing the lyrics and photos of the band's live performances. The sound quality is excellent. The album cover is not my cup of tea, but that's my personal taste.
Is this progressive rock? Well, if I played this album to my wife, she probably would not dislike it, and that's a clear indication that it can't be prog! All joking aside, that obviously depends on how broad a perception you have of that musical genre. It is an album from the periphery of prog. If you are into the 15 minute plus tracks with lots of complexity, variations between soft and rough passages, a high degree of musical virtuosity, and intensive soloing, this album will not meet your expectations. However, if you are looking for tightly played songs, catchy melodies and the sort of "easy-listening" approach to prog, then you should give this CD a try. It is relaxing and unpretentious, the kind of music to listen to after a hard day's work. It might be a good entrance door to progressive rock, if you want to cautiously approach this genre. Personally, if I were assailed by the wish to listen to some Ramses music, I would go to my record shelf, grab one of my old Ramses LPs and listen to songs like La Leyla, War, or Eternity Rise. But after all, I only represent the opinion of one listener and musically, I am a bit retro anyway.
Thomas Otten: 6.5 out of 10
Solitary Zebra - Thoughts of a Solitary Zebra
Lights (3:06), Dangerfield (4:09), Be Quiet (3:56), Somewhat Divine (3:16), Sensual (3:03), Catch (2:41), All Things Go (3:32), For Times (1:53), Icarus (2:33), Forward (2:55), Dreamin' (2:11), Turn (2:01)
Band members are Felix van Ginkel, Bjorn Bosch, Dick Kroes and Jan Hoogeweg. Who plays what I can't say, as the band's website appears to be unavailable at the time of writing and the minimalist digipak that houses this CD gives nothing away. Either way, they produce a sometimes raw, but often exhilarating sound that for me has its origins in the late 70s/early 80s.
The attention-grabbing opener Lights and blistering closer Turn set the tone with emotionally-charged vocals and a solid wall of guitar sound (as favoured by PiL, early New Order and numerous post-punk bands that followed in their wake). Similarly, Sensual and the U2-ish Forward are distinguished by an up-front trebly bass sound that also harks back to this era.
It's not all angst and sweat, however. The Cocteau Twins-flavoured Be Quiet, and the haunting Icarus provide moments of tranquillity. In the latter, the singer adopts a laid-back American folk drawl that suits the song's atmosphere perfectly. The acoustic For Times, on the other hand, surprisingly dates back to The Beatles in mood and tone.
Despite the lack of genre content, I really enjoyed this album with its vibrant melodies and solid guitar hooks proving to be, for this reviewer at least, quite irresistible.
Geoff Feakes: 7 out of 10
Tarek Shehabi’s Wasaya - Garden Of Doubts
Garden of Doubts (7:11), Faith and Beyond (a. The Dream, b. The Illusion, c. The Awakening) (8:07), Paradox (4:38), Two Souls Dancing (4:36), Into the Mist (a. An Endless Journey, b. A Desperate Outcry, c. Delusive Tranquillity) (8:02)
This five-track album is a collection of progressive metal instrumentals. There is, however, one short sung verse and two spoken word sections, one featuring the words of scientist Carl Sagan and the other being a sample of a 1931 speech by Mahatma Gandhi. Admirably diverse sources.
This diversity is reflected in Tarek Shehabi's music. Fully present are the prog-metal guitar riffs and some superb electric guitar solos, along with some terrific synth work. Taking inspiration from Ayreon and Pain of Salvation, then filtering it through his particular oriental sensibility, provides these instrumentals with a very strong identity of their own. Mixing, as they do, Middle-Eastern tonalities and colours, with prog-metal and hard rock structures.
A clever use of instrumentation adds a sense of adventure to these pieces. Especially worth mentioning is Omar Habib's fretless bass work that adds a slinky charm throughout. Also Nezar Omran's trumpet is a joy on the slow, waltz opening section of Into the Mist.
As a whole the album is not reliant on bludgeoning power or pure technique. Instead, Tarek Shehabi uses intensely wrought and subtle solos on both guitar and keys, in an intelligent, heartfelt but non-showboating way.
A beautifully balanced, recorded and played debut. There is only one problem – it's too short! More tracks next time, please Tarek.
Martin Burns: 9 out of 10
We Are Kin - Pandora
Home Sweet Home (3:28), Let Me In (6:09), Soul (4.54), The Speech (3:17), The Hard Decision (7:15), Without Them (4:39), Tides of Midnight (4:54), Faith (2:43), The Algorhythm (7:06), Weight of the World (6:43), The End (5:41), The Door (7:44), Breathe Out (8:22)
Opener Home Sweet Home sets the time and place (anytime, anywhere). It's upbeat but not something you would dance to. It's an ironic way to start what will be a thematically-dark album. Let Me In and Soul are well executed and necessary character development tracks. The former has a very brooding Pink Floyd feel that gets briefly interrupted by a well-placed hard rock section. It's one of my personal favourites on the album. Hannah Cotterill's guest vocal performance on Soul is equally noteworthy, embodying an honest and ominous quality.
The Speech set the primary storyline. It introduces some piano-based musical themes used later. It's well written and delivered perfectly by guest Alex Dunedin. As a listener, it's here you start to feel like you're falling into the rabbit hole. The Hard Decision opens with some (by 21st century standards) cheesy-sounding synthesisers that serve the 70s rock opera feel. With the advent of virtual instrumentation and the quality of those solutions, it surprises me such capable musicians would still choose to use these dated synthesiser patches. Without Them is a disturbing song (with more cheesy synth work) that succeeds very well at revealing the character's inner turmoil.
With Tides of Midnight we get to one of the most progressive tracks, and possibly the most beautiful on the album, but I'm unsure of its exact place in the story. Perhaps it's a metaphor with no obvious connection back to the central theme, or was so good they felt compelled to find a place for it on the album. Faith is an interesting instrumental, but once again it doesn't seem to reinforce the themes musically in any way, so I'm not sure if it's just another well-written piece they couldn't leave off.
The Algorhythm could have been from any early Peter Gabriel Genesis album. It's another very strong progressive track. It confirms prior clues to what is happening in the story and we're beginning to see clearly that the Pandora Project is likely some type of terraforming gone wrong. Weight of the World is another song reminiscent of 1970s Genesis, but fused with more melancholy Moody Blues elements. It's a formidable song, somehow managing to simultaneously hug and punch you in the gut.
Musically, The End is an acoustic continuation of the previous track. It tells, well, the general societal end state of things. The Door, however, is the real surprise ending, revealing [spoiler alert] the role artificial intelligence played in the story (which wasn't obvious during the other tracks). The songwriters were shooting for, and mostly succeeding at, an epic musical finale.
Pandora is an ambitious, accomplished, and meaningful concept album. It evokes a lot feeling through musical irony and juxtaposition. It works on nearly all levels one would expect on a pure prog recording. As with a lot of prog music, the lyrical content/meaning is often given priority over the choice of words or execution of their delivery. It's a small price to pay in exchange for a robust story.
I'm still not sure that I've properly understood and pieced together all the lyrical themes, but building in some ambiguity in order to leave some questions unanswered is certainly one indicator of compelling art. It might be a stretch to call this a masterpiece, but it certainly holds its own against any of the greatest concept albums. Were this more polished (overall production, performance) I could easily see giving it a 10.
Kevin Heckeler: 9 out of 10