ISSUE 2015-04

Reviews in this issue:

Backhand - Through the Turbulence
Backhand - Through the Turbulence
Country of Origin: Venezuela
Format: cd
Record Label: Melodic Revolution Records
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 76:05
Info: Backhand
Samples: Melodic Revolution Records website
Track List:
IntrospeKtion (11:10), Hold the Light (6:20), Spider Riff (6:30), The Big Red Wall (7:24), Hardwood (5:30), A Million People Crying - Part I (4:17) & Part II (5:33), Tears from the Sea (5:52), Crime Story (7:07), Wonderful Piece (6:33), Rollercoaster (3:30), Me, Myself and I (6:07)
Backhand is a project by four professional musicians from Venezuela, founded by Dutch keyboard player Adri‡n van Woerkom, and featuring Pablo Mendoza on guitars, Adolfo Herrera on drums and Oscar Fanega on bass. Vocals are performed by no less that Canadian Phil Naro, who should be well-known from the bands Chain Reaction, Talas and most recently Druckfarben.

The band's intent is to be as eclectic a prog outfit as possible, with no limits set for any member. And it works very well. When listening to Through the Turbulence you are pushed into many different prog and rock styles. It is almost impossible to be "in the right mood" for this album, rather it makes sense to listen to it when you're quite undecided what to listen to.

The opening track, IntrospeKtion, for example starts with some cool metal-riffage with orchestration and choir samples, much in the vein of Vanden Plas, followed by a part that could have been written by the mighty ELP themselves, only to lead into a blues instrumental, but weighing on organ instead of guitars.

The second track Hold the Light is a song in the style of Trevor-Horn-era Yes, with Naro's wonderful melodies as we know them from Druckfarben. But it also includes some breaks that sound like the jazzy Sherinian pieces in Dream Theater at one moment, and some Saga-like unison runs at the next.

Spider Riff on the contrary, comes as a glamour piece as we know it all to well from Led Zeppelin, spiced with an organ solo in Niacin manner and a guitar solo which would dwell perfectly in any song of the Dixie Dregs.

It goes on and on like this. The entire album is like playing the entire prog, rock and fusion library of your iTunes account on shuffle. The difference is that the styles don't change from song to song, but within the song itself. Be it Deep Purple, Rush, Allan Holdsworth, Van Halen or Satch, Genesis or Pink Floyd, no influence seems to be left out on this album.

I hope the band will endure the troubles in their country and will be able to put out some more albums of this quality.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Cartographer - A Sea Of Sunshine
Cartographer - A Sea Of Sunshine
Country of Origin: Holland
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 56.37
Info: Cartographer
Samples: Cartographer on Bandcamp
Track List:
Intro (03:07), Revision (06:43), We've Come a Long Way (07:00), [...] (02:43), ...Here's to You (09:07), Satao's Bane (06:50), A Sea of Sunshine, but None for You (08:40), Built with Blood and Fears and Tears (02:12), 17:04 - Now Yours, Not Ours, Not Mine (09:15)
A Sea of Sunshine is Cartographer's first full-length release. The packaging of the CD is extremely attractive and includes a gatefold case and an eight-page booklet. The band is from Tilburg in The Netherlands and their debut self-titled EP was released in 2012.

Here Cartographer has created an expansive and often impressive soundscape of instrumental post rock. In A Sea of Sunshine a vast, spacious feel is created by a trio of guitarists who are adept at creating and building a formidable and sometimes discordant mesh of sounds. They are equally at ease when delivering sparse, recurring and slowly-unfurling, layered guitar parts and themes. These elements combine to create an ambient, meditative and hypnotic atmosphere that pervades many of the pieces.

Most of the music was written by guitarist Yoop de Light. His compositions fully utilise the impressive talents of drummer Bart den Ouden and bassist Desmond Kujik.

Ouden's work in the standout track, ...Here's to You is particularly formidable. This track begins with a lengthy drum work-out that is punctuated by some fluid and harmonious guitar lines. Ouden's clean and precise drumming underpins everything in a notable way. In many respects, the piece brought to mind some of the best elements of Pierre Van der Linden's work in Focus and in this respect the piece is quite untypical to what is on offer during the rest of the album.

Energetically rattling the speakers to worryingly good effect, Kujik's rumbling fuzz bass dominates the opening proceedings of Satao's Bane. Throughout this piece, the imposing low-end tones of Kujik drive the music and offer a commanding foundation for the guitarist's jangly and sometimes cacophonous melodies. I particularly enjoyed the rolling bass solo that unexpectedly emerged at the five-and-a-half-minute mark.

Although the music is firmly entrenched in a post rock style and frequently has a repetitive nature, the relatively young age of the band helps to ensure that much of what is on offer often has a creative vitality and admirable freshness. For example, shorter tracks such as the beautiful piano-based Intro, the Fripp and Eno-like looping of [...] and the thumping thrashings of the discordant Built with Blood and Fears and Tears, are used effectively as musical intermissions. These short interludes provide contrast and are also used to bridge the compositions. Additionally, they establish or revisit stylistic themes that are developed within the longer pieces.

The plaintive and expansive melody of the title track is memorably enjoyable. It is a haunting track and is highly recommended for anybody who wishes to be washed and splashed in stately waves of gentle guitar musings. The piece has a charming beauty that reveals itself quietly and reflectively. Although certainly not containing anything as skilful as Zappa's virtuoso guitar parts, the slow-building, spacious nature of this piece reminded me of Water Melon in Easter Hay from Joe's Garage. Any spurious or tenuous comparison with Water Melon.. is totally dispelled during the final two minutes. In this final segment, the three guitarists combine to create an uncompromising explosion of sound. The tempo quickens, as guitars burst out from the reflective ambience and menacingly threaten to break free. Pulsating rhythms abound, in a climax of metallic shards and dark riffs, as the piece throttles excitingly towards its conclusion.

Overall, I have found A Sea of Sunshine a very satisfying album, particularly to play as background music. Many of the compositions contain similar and recurring elements, which might be considered by some listeners to be a weakness. In this respect, the album as a whole is somewhat lacking in enough distinctive qualities to elevate the music to something that totally demands full attention at all times.

However, as an example of well-crafted and superbly performed instrumental post rock, A Sea of Sunshine often excels and is certainly worth checking out.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Eyesberg - Blue
Eyesberg - Blue
Country of Origin: Germany
Format: CD
Record Label: Progressive Promotion Records
Catalogue #: PPR CD026
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 57:59
Info: Eyesberg
Samples: Eyesberg on CD Baby
Track List:
Child's Play (4:34), Epitaph (5:25), Closed Until The Resurrection (6:35), Winter Gone (5:06), Inquisitive (3:32), Feed Yourself (8:23), 4-2-F (1:25), Faces On My Wall (5:22), Porcelain (3:33), If I Told You The Truth (5:46), S II (3:07), Detachment And Replacement (5:33)
Eyesberg is a German prog band consisting of three members: Georg Alfter (guitar, bass), Norbert Podien (keyboards, additional drum programming, backing vocals) and Manchester-born Malcolm Shuttleworth (vocals). On this album the trio are assisted by guest musician Ulf Jacobs on drums.

This German band sounds very British, due to the fact that there is no German accent to be heard in the vocal department. So it's not like some other German bands that have vocalists sounding like the German characters in the British sitcom Allo Allo! In fact Shuttleworth has a very nice voice, that at times reminded me of Phil Collins, Nad Sylvan (Steve Hackett, Unifaun, Agents of Mercy) and Fish. Musically you can find influences from Wind And Wuthering and A Trick Of The Tail era Genesis, Marillion and more recent bands like Credo and Comedy Of Errors also spring to mind, especially the keyboard sound that is very reminiscent of these bands.

The music of Eyesberg oscillates between retro and neo-prog but mainly it sounds like music from the past. Weirdly enough, it actually is music from 30 years ago! It has been completely revised, updated and further developed by Alfter and Podien, using modern technology. The result is an album with lots of vintage keyboard sounds like the Hammond Organ and Mellotron, whilst the the guitar sounds also have a melodic, retro feel that's combined with a more present-day, heavier sound.

The shorter songs like Inquisitive and Porcelain are lighter and rockier than the longer tracks on the album. Feed Yourself is the longest track and has everything that proggers like; a variety of keyboard sounds, nice solos on guitar and keys and the pleasant voice of Shuttleworth. Other tracks that are worth mentioning include Epitaph, with a nice flute intro (that is probably produced by the keyboard, as there are no musicians mentioned playing this instrument) and some beautiful Mellotron sounds.

The very atmospheric track Winter Gone is the moment to get your lighter out of your pocket and wave it through the air.

Some of the arrangements could probably do with some improvement but the main thing that disturbs me are the drums. They could do with a lot more dynamics, sounding a bit flat and unimaginative.

Despite this mild criticism, I think Eyesberg have produced a nice debut after 30 years and I hope the next album will be just as enjoyable to listen to and hopefully released a bit sooner.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

Steve Hackett - Genesis Revisited: Live at the Royal Albert Hall
Steve Hackett - Genesis Revisited: Live at the Royal Albert Hall
Country of Origin: UK
Format: DVD
Record Label: InsideOut
Catalogue #:
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 135:00
Info: Steve Hackett
Track List:
Dance On A Volcano (6:40), Dancing with the Moonlit Knight (7:53), Fly on a Windshield (3:40),Broadway Melody of 1974 (2:55), Carpet Crawlers (6:10), The Return of the Giant Hogweed (8:39), The Musical Box (11:26), Horizons (2:02), Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers (2:13), In that Quiet Earth (5:00), Afterglow (4:12), I Know What I Like (6:37), Firth of Fifth (10:16), Ripples (5:29), The Fountain of Salmacis (8:01), Supper's Ready (26:16), Watcher of the Skies (9:08), Los Endos (8:56)
Firstly my colleague Andrew Halley has already written a wonderful review of the audio side of this release on a recent edition of DPRP. Read it here.

My role is to inform you about the visual side, so that you can make an informed choice on whether to invest your hard-earned, and hopefully not ill-gotten, cash on this release.

I've had this DVD for some times and it has been through the player countless times. I have to confess, the first time I played it, I wasn't impressed with it as much as I was with the earlier release Live at Hammersmith that came out last year (2013).

I did put that down to my being tired and thus not giving it a fair opportunity to impress. Having watched this several times since, that is a view that I have reconsidered considerably.

So let's deal with the Elephant in the room first shall we .... namely is there really any justification for releasing another live CD/DVD or Blu Ray-set of a very similar show of old Genesis material?

Personally I say: 'Yes there is', and herein lies my justifications:

1. It has a different running order and five songs differ from the original release
2. It has different guests featured on different songs
3. It was a landmark show, in an iconic venue and the opportunity to both capture and preserve this "event" was, to this mind, justifiable.
4. The band had evolved even more by this show and was even more cohesive. Don't get me wrong, they were top-notch before, but here their familiarity with the material and confidence in delivering is, is more marked.

Now whether or not you concur with my reasoning is up to you, but let me tell you about those five tracks that are different. They are as follows: Dance on a Volcano, Carpet Crawlers (with Ray Wilson), Return of the Giant Hogweed (with Roine Stolt), Horizons (a brief acoustic interlude), Fountain of Salmacis, and Ripples (with Amanda Lehmann).

These different songs subtly change the dynamics of the show and create a different, yet equally as satisfying, experience as the Hammersmith show. It was a slightly shorter one by about 16 minutes, which was due to the Royal Albert Hall's curfew policy. One can't have loud music blasting out late at night and upsetting the residents of SW7 can we now?

In addition, this most iconic of London venues adds a degree of gravitas to the proceedings. Rather than the cold echo chambers of Earls Court or the anonymous, soul-less O2 in Greenwich, the Royal Albert Hall adds a warmth and intimacy to proceedings. Its ornate fixtures and fittings and its rich musical heritage, makes a perfect setting for the re-visitation of these classic, yet still relevant, pieces.

One can clearly see the sheer joy these guys are having playing there to a sold-out crowd, who want to hear these songs performed live once again.

The camera work is subtle. It doesn't encroach and shows the consummate skill of each band member in great definition. The lighting adds drama and emphasis as needed, and the backdrops are ever-changing, adding to, rather than detracting from proceedings. The sound is rich and full, with a good definition in both upper and lower registers and it just sounds fabulous.

This isn't a DVD you will only watch once. This is one that bears, warrants and even demands repeated viewing, as it encapsulates so richly what Steve Hackett has done with this Genesis material. He has taken it out of storage, given it a good dusting down and ever-so-subtly, where needed, tweaked a few parts, but without sacrificing any of the original beauty, dignity and elegance of these songs. For that alone and the fact that he has bought these to a world deprived of hearing these performed by the original band, I salute him. This has been a project of reverence and love and dedication, not one man's personal folly. It is a vision, and in the words of the old advert for Crime of the Century (Supertramp): "A promise achieved, a massive delivery."

This DVD is a testament to the greatness of this music and I strongly urge you to check it out for yourself. I personally find this and the companion volume, Live at Hammersmith, captures the essence of Genesis, and recreates and revisions it for our modern times, without rewriting or overshadowing the majesty of the originals.

Fantastic sound, fantastic visuals and a great time being had by all, this is how rock DVDs should be.
Conclusion:

Kayak - Cleopatra - The Crown Of Isis
Kayak - Cleopatra - The Crown Of Isis
Country of Origin: The Netherlands
Format: 2CD
Record Label: Write On Productions B.V.
Catalogue #: WOP 602769
Year of Release: 2014
Time: CD 1 : 51:32
CD 2 : 56:48
Info: Kayak
Samples: Kayak on Grooveshark
Track List:
CD 1 (Rise): The Living Isis (4:08), A Family Devided (2:59), Alexandria (8:28), She Rules My World (3:04), Goodbye Pharos (4:18), Stranger In Rome (4:36), Hail (2:49), She Came She Saw She Conquered (5:10), The Ides Of March (6:00), Matters Of The Heart (3:48), The Curse Of Isis (6:05)
CD 2 (Fall): Tarsus (4:45), Whatever It Takes (3:07), The Crown Of Isis (5:02), Philae (3:22), The Inimitable Livers (3:29), The Queen Of Kings (7:40), Actium (7:49), Setting Things Straight (3:44), The Message (2:33), Larger Than Life (4:26), The Arms Of Isis (2:26), Alexandria -reprise (3:01), That Sacred Kiss (4:49)
Imagine a chef in a restaurant, who's afraid of changing the menu because he might lose customers who are very fond of certain dishes. That's what Kayak reminds me of with their previous albums. They really never score a bad album, but it's not always very exciting or surprising.

This time however, main composer and keyboard player Ton Scherpenzeel has really outdone himself. On this new album there's more emotion, passion and even aggression to be found in both the lyrical and the musical department. Scherpenzeel also treats us with some nice solos on some tracks, to show us that he hasn't lost his touch and proves why Andy Latimer wanted him on keyboards in Camel many years ago.

The veteran of Dutch prog takes us back to ancient Egypt in this rock opera. It were the days that Egypt ruled the world. As always, Irene Linders also played a major part in the making of this double album, taking care of writing the lyrics. There are several guest musicians and vocalists present and they all play their role excellently. The album tells the story of the rise and fall of Cleopatra Every song teels a part of the story. The tracks sung by Rob Vunderink (Octavian) are the more rock-orientated songs, and although I'm not a great fan of his vocals, I think they sound good this time. Guitarist Joost Vergoossen lets his guitar rock, and spices up several tracks with some great solos and riffs. In tracks like The Queen Of Kings, The Ides Of March and The Crown Of Isis, he's really excelling.

The only female member in the line-up is Cindy Oudshoorn, who is the main attraction on this album in her role as Cleopatra. Her vocal performance is brilliant and with her powerful and clear voice, she really lifts this album to a higher level. Sadly there was a recent announcement that she and male vocalist Edward Reekers (The Sicilian) will be leaving the band. So the future in the vocal department looks quite uncertain and I'm sure Kayak will have some trouble finding a vocalist just as talented as Cindy. She has always impressed me with her voice in the previous years with the band and she also sounds great live on stage.

Kayak really have stepped up a level with this double album and spoils us with one of their best albums in this 21st century. The artwork of the album is in Egyptian style and looks very nice. So listen to this album and enjoy it's quality.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

Sólstafir - Ótta
Sólstafir - Ótta
Country of Origin: Iceland
Format: CD
Record Label: Season of Mist
Catalogue #: SOM 331
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 57:24
Info: Sólstafir
Track List:
Lágnætti (8:44), Ótta (9:38), Rismál (4:24), Dagmál (5:39), Miðdegi (4:18), Nón (7:47) , Miðaftann (5:39), Náttmál (11:15)
Sólstafir is Icelandic and means 'twilight rays of sunlight'. These rays of light may appear around dusk and dawn. What makes them special, is the way they all seem to converge at one point, whereas in fact, they do not. On the other hand, with the music being dark and sombre, the name of the band might just as well be chosen as a satiric expression. Well what does that mean as for this review? Perhaps it might tell you that the band have a tendency to deal with things dark and light. Perhaps it tells you that Sólstafir are interested in all things nature. Perhaps it might tell you Sólstafir are not what they appear to be, when looking at the titles in their discography. Anyway, you are right in assuming the band are in fact an Icelandic four-piece that create music that appears strongly attached to the beautiful, yet sometimes plain desolate, landscapes of their native land. Whereas they once originated as a black metal band, they are now miles and miles away from that. So, in that way, they are not quite what they may seem to be.

Ótta, their fifth studio album, carries in it the beauty of the desolate landscapes of Iceland. If you listen to this album, you might picture yourself wandering through the Eldgjá, the Fire Canyon as it is known, near Laki or close to the geysir in Haukadalur. Sólstafir's music has strong power to either invoke or enhance any thoughts on the landscapes of Iceland. And if that doesn't work, just find your way to the Youtube clip. That should complete the trip.

The metal roots haven't all vanished from their sound, but instead of putting them to the fore, Sólstafir blend these roots together with a great feel for atmosphere that is brought that to the centre of their music.

Singer Aðalbjörn Tryggvason has a voice that is rich in emotion. It comes with a certain rawness, yet in it's essence, the emotion put forward might be compared to what Anathema's Vincent Cavanagh adds to that band's music.

What makes Sólstafir even more special, is that all songs are sung in Icelandic. It's proof of Aðalbjörn's capabilities, that he knows to bring to life the emotion held in the lyrics.

Despite the fact that the band only name the core line-up in the booklet (that being the aforementionted Aðalbjörn Tryggvason on guitar and vocals, Guðmundur Óli Pálmason on drums, Svavar Austmann on bass and Sæþór Maríus Sæþórsson also on guitar), piano, organ and strings can clearly be heard on the album. From the Youtube clip, it appears that Aðalbjörn takes charge of the piano keys. Whether or not that goes for the whole of the keys used, cannot be told from the information available. More important, is that they do add to the sound, making it all the richer from the opening chords of first track Lágnætti, the forceful Ótta, to the thrilling finish that is Náttmál.

The album is based on an ancient system of time keeping used in Iceland. The 24 hours of a day were divided into 8 parts of 3 hours; each were called 'Eykts'. Days start at midnight meaning that Lágnætti are the first three hours after midnight. With a time system that does not so much emphasise the hours, minutes and seconds, the Icelandic system was more open than what we encounter nowadays, where time is all about money and we all have to make seconds count.

If you dare embrace Icelandic time for this trip and just let Sólstafir be your guide, then you may be rewarded with a journey that makes the contemporary perspective of time rather futile, for it is only the sheer beauty of the album that you will encounter. Only when the album has been fully played, will you find that you are in fact not on Iceland (except for those readers and listeners that actually are there of course), but in your comfy chair listening to the silence. For silence is the great companion to be with, once the record has finished.

Are there any outstanding tracks on the album? Well, yes, there are. While the album as a whole shows no moments the listener might feel let down, both the title track Ótta and closer Náttmál stand out from the rest. If you could picture yourself a mix of postrock, the sound of Sigur Rós, Anathema and just a little drop of Sixteen Horsepower (Rismál), the soundscapes that Baroness sometimes paint and you consider yourself open-minded, then this album may be right up your alley. Should this album be of your liking, then you might also want to tip your toes in their Köld and Svartir Sandar albums.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

Stars In Battledress - In Droplet Form
Stars In Battledress - In Droplet Form
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Believers Roast
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 44:56
Info: Stars In Battledress
Samples: Stars In Battledress on Youtube
Track List:
A Winning Decree (5:54), Buy One Now (2:41), Hunt The Button (5:42), Fluent English (3:37), No Glory No Gain (1:15), Hollywood Says So (4:27), TKS2 (4:37), The Defenders In The Mill (2:29), Unmatchable Bride (4:38), The Woman From The Ministry (9:33)
Stars In Battledress is a British duo, of brothers Richard and James Larcombe. They began their musical explorations in childhood, making cassette collages combining different styles of music, by editing together various snippets, manipulating the segments by altering the speeds, and even reversing some sections. They then meticulously learnt to reproduce the collages on instruments, in the process, adding vocals, re-editing and further disguising/rewriting sections that remained too close to the source material.

The results, stored on old cassettes, were never intended for release and were just made out of curiosity; as a way to indulge their creativity. A rediscovery of these recordings prompted the brothers to see if they could write original material in the style of their early experiments. This resulted in the 2003 album Secrets And Signals.

I first heard of the duo from their contribution to the Tim Smith tribute album, Leader Of The Starry Skies (review here), the duo having Cardiacs connections through performing and recording with William D Drake and the North Sea Radio Orchestra.

Their version of Founding was sparse, gentle and quite moving, and that is predominantly the style throughout In Droplet Form; mostly just a piano and electric guitar, with occasional vocal harmonies. Not prog in the traditional sense, the music is too minimal and overly delicate for such a term, but definitely progressive. In places you could almost consider the music to be akin to The Cardiacs Unplugged and there is a definite dissonant style that owes a nod to that much missed band. TKS2 for example, is something that one could imagine Tim Smith having come up with.

There is quite a considerable variety to the album, which includes quirky pop songs like Hollywood Says So, the Erik Satieesque A Winning Decree, the Syd Barrett-like simplicity of The Defenders In The Mill, and it all culminates in the lengthy, The Woman From The Ministry, which is essentially a simple piano piece.

It is hard to know what the audience for this album would be. There are certainly some interesting moments, as well as one or two moments of sublimity, but overall I think it would be an album that would get scant attention in my house, as it would fail to keep my attention throughout.

Nevertheless, it's an interesting album that might draw in The Cardiacs crowd, looking for something less intense but with similar musical ideals.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10

Twombley Burwash - Grak
Twombley Burwash - Grak
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD / Download
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: TBE CD 001
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 59:00
Info: Twombley Burwash
Samples: Twombley Burwash on Soundcloud
Track List:
Buzzard Of Us (9:09), 100 Species (12:42), Cabaret Night (6:25), Zzzvv (9:23), A Sense Of Time (22:08)
Twombley Burwash is a father and son collaboration, where dad, Kevin McDade, has enlisted talented offspring, Bruce, to add his obvious technical and musical prowess to this wonderful debut album. The vast array of instruments are handled by these two main protagonists, including mandolins and Psy-Trancery(!), whilst Pete Laffan plays bass on the first two tracks.

Another family member (Stephen) provides violin, but it's the inclusion of West End show drummer Gareth Roberts that turns this home-made, five-course feast into a proper album. The press release states that his services were bought for a pint of London ale and a curry. It must have been a pretty good one, because it was money well spent.

Grak is the album's title and for the next hour, the listener is fed an aural delicacy of capricious tempo changes, more instruments than you can shake a stick at, well written lyrics, and a good, folk-style lead vocal from the patriarchal leader. There's a hint of Dave Cousins in his voice and the early Strawbs material is perhaps one way of attempting to make a comparison, however they were never this adventurous. With only five pieces, I think this CD deserves a mini review of each track.

Buzzard Of Us is nine minutes of whimsical folk, Spinal Tap dwarf dancing, heavy rock, beautifully played violin, virtuoso fretless bass and drumming .... phew! Now there are a few bars of punk, followed by acoustic plucking and heavy rain. Another listen, I think, because there's a lot on that plate for a starter.

100 Species removes the green willow from its hat and slips on the "I love the 70s" t-shirt. Nearly 13 minutes of stompy rock, with Terry Rileyish organ and trumpet monophonic noises, with Gentle Giant-type vocal harmonies. Never resting on its laurels, there's a small techno part, followed by a lovely proggy section that reminded me of the coda of Nobody's Home by Kansas (probably the violin). Now listening again, the orchestrations are amazing for a "bedroom" album and I've just become aware of the piano, that is the rhythmical backbone here, along with some fine acoustic guitar soloing. A corker of a track.

Caberet Night is not only the shortest but the most 'normal' track, as it's imbued with a catchy chorus and stadium rock guitar. Again, on repeat plays, the keyboards suddenly stick out and there's tons going on in the left speaker. The organ-type solo towards the end is great.

Zzzvv is psychedelic rock with a Hawkwind edge. It's got a minor key apprehension, but is softened by more of that great piano playing (nothing is credited, so if this is part of the "programming" then it works well) and more "string quartet" keys. It is this kind of layering that makes even the more straightforward no more predictable than the rest of the album. If this track was wine, I'd say there were hints of later Pendragon with notes of The Royal Philharmonic coming through at the end.

A Sense Of Texture is the longest track and is the one that contains the most bits of electronic dance music. I know about this from the information sent with the CD which blames son Bruce for bringing "his own musical tastes to the table". Ah, that's why I've been making subliminal food analogies, the lyric to this opus (as do all of them) also works as a stand-alone poem. For example:

"I see where they go and I believe in forever
All that remains is the reflection of an echo"

At just over 22 minutes, this track is full to the brim with texture and sound, with piles of synthesised woodwind and strings. With a Pye Hastings-style lead guitar, there is a certain mid-period Caravan vibe about it, up to and beyond the techno bit that is...

There are of course multiple tempo changes, but what grounds the track, is that whenever the chorus is repeated, it stays the same. It's a very clever device. Piano, Mellotron(ish) xylophone, flutes, kitchen sink etc. lead up to a sustained string synth which morphs into German House, with leather chaps, bass and twiddles but with a mandolin solo and lead synth lines over it, which defies the two poles of genre. It reminds me of Guiltyby Mike Oldfield and it all works remarkably well. Just as heavy metal fans would be kicking the door in, the beat continues, but the instrumentation is replaced by rock guitar, bass guitar, and real drums. Then out comes the Spanish guitar, to put the cherry on the cake. The brakes are slammed on by a couple of piano runs, and then it's back to the song and that chorus.

I've never listened to an album as much as this, before putting metaphoric pen to paper, because an awful lot of work has gone into this. It's like an iceberg; there's much more below the surface. It's ambitious, courageous, and very well produced too.

The album is quite serious, but from the cartoon cover, through calling themselves "The Culprits", to finally crediting their track mixer as Roni 'This is flipping bonkers' Szpakowski, the pair show that they certainly know how to laugh. The physical CD has 'PLAY LOUDLY, LISTEN QUIETLY' printed on it. I can't argue with that.
Conclusion: 10 out of 10

Rick Wakeman - Fields of Green
Rick Wakeman - Fields of Green
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #: ECLEC 2461
Year of Release: 2014/1996
Time: 63:36
Info: Rick Wakeman
Track List:
Election 97 / Arthur (3:06), Starship Trooper (12:21), The Promise of Love (6:15), The Spanish Wizard (6:33), The Never-ending Road (8:56), The Fighter (5:29), Tell me why (5:12), The Rope Trick (3:39), The nice man (8:24), Fields of Green (3:41)
This Rick Wakeman album was originally issued by the Griffin label in 1996 and Music Fusion label in 1997, and this continues Esoteric's re-issue of some of Rick's 1990s output.

Whilst I applaud Esoteric's decision to make such material easily available again, in some respects they could have chosen a better album than this, For a while, in the 80s and 90s, Rick involved himself in some fairly lustre and dicey musical propositions and whilst his talent is never in question, some of this musical output was a tad Wakeman-lite as it were, and certainly not of the calibre of his A&M years, with The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Journey to the Center of the Earth..

In part, one can understand that the lack of major label support meant working within a limited budget, but this release is just wooden in parts. It is split between instrumental pieces (tracks 1,4 and 7) and vocal songs (the rest) and the results are a somewhat mixed bag.

The version of Starship Trooper has vocals by Chrissie Hammond, which lends a different take on a very familiar classic, but in reality adds or changes very little, apart from adding an extended instrumental segment. Having said that, Chrissie's vocal is excellent on this version of the song.

The instrumental, The Spanish Wizard, has some decent Spanish guitar playing and some great sounding keyboard parts, and is also the longest and the strongest of the three instrumentals.

The Never Ending Road is for me the standout track, being both a decent length and also a great song, with interesting lyrics

The Nice Man is, it seems, a scathing swipe at the music industry and its broken promises of success, wealth and fame. Again this is another longer track and I feel the longer tracks are the better ones on offer here. After repeated listens, this CD does reveal itself to have some merits but I wouldn't suggest for a second that it is comparable to Rick's "classic" period. This is more the "treading water" years, which pains me, as I am a huge fan of Rick Wakeman's work and I expect a lot more adventurous fare from him.

Now, how about a long-overdue collaboration with a certain Mr Emerson? That would certainly set the pulses racing and produce something of worth to add to the legacy.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10

Walfad - An Unsung Hero, Salty Rains & Him
Walfad - An Unsung Hero, Salty Rains & Him
Country of Origin: Poland
Format: CD
Record Label: Lynx Music
Catalogue #: LM 96 CD
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 40:07
Info: Walfad
Samples: Walfad on Lynx Music website
Track List:
Sullen Lady (4:30), Leaves (18:45) Part One: And His Name Is Leaf, Part Two: It's For Us That Chestnut Trees Blossomed, Part Three: A Hundred Lightnings, Part Four: To Stop The Whirl Of Leaves, Four Fingers (4:12), The Dance Of A Straw-Man (5:00), Satan's Tears (7:33)
Walfad are a young band from Poland, where the ground seems to be so fertile that Prog seeds grow like weeds! Collage, Satellite, Quidam, Osada Vida, Votum and last but not least Riverside are fine examples of Polish bands that have been spreading their Prog all over the world. Is Walfad capable of achieving the same amount of success? Well, this album is a promising step in becoming another Polish band to be proud of! The band certainly has taken into account the fact that perhaps not all of their Polish fans master the English language very well, as all songtitles and lyrics are printed in both languages.

The current line-up of the band consists of four members: Woiciech Ciuraj (vocals, guitar), Daniel Rodzon (keyboards), Kacper Kucharski (drums) and Maciej Kucharski (bass). The good thing is that Walfad don't try to be a Riverside clone. There are some moments where the keyboard sounds quite similar to the style of Michal Lapaj (Riverside), in particular, the organ sounds which Rodzon seems to love as much as Lapaj. It's an album with a playing time just over 40 minutes. That isn't very long, but the quality of the music covers up for the shortage of quantity. Ciuraj has a convincing voice and the compositions are filled with enough variety. The track Leaves is an epic of more than 18 minutes, but my personal favourite is The Dance Of A Straw-Man.

I surely hope this band will release more albums in the future because this one has made me look forward with anticipation to new music from these guys. It is certainly worth giving these new lads a chance and listening to their music. With a slightly better production and mixing, the future releases will probably sound even better. To Walfad I would say: Powodzenia (Good luck)!

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

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Published Thursday 22 January 2015

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