ISSUE 2015-523

Reviews in this issue:

Astral Son - Gurumaya
Astral Son - Gurumaya
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Format: LP
Record Label: Headspin Records
Catalogue #: MEXS002
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 44:06
Info: Astral Son
Samples: Astral Son on Soundcloud
Track List:
The Sound (6:10), Lust (5:30), Little Move (6:06), String Vibrating (5:55), Inner Voice (5:28), Blue Flower (4:28), Hidden Seed (6:22), You (5:27)
Astral Son is a new one-man psychedelic project by Dutch musician and painter Leonardo Soundweaver. The album is exclusively released on vinyl, using, I reckon, one of his paintings as the artwork. And the artwork is the perfect representation of what the music sounds like. Every single minute of this album draws heavily from Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, Gong, Hawkwind, and to a lesser extent The Beatles and The Doors.

The organs and vocals sound very 60s/70s, while the simple, buzzy guitar riffs owe a little bit more to the stoner rock genre. The drums are played quite gently, making this not a heavy sounding album at all. The generic approach is of a few sung and harmonised lines, followed by a long 'I'm getting launched into outer space' guitar solo. While the lead tones fit nicely in this musical context, I think Leonardo's playing is barely past its formative stages. He rarely deviates from the tried-and-true pentatonic blues scale and he doesn't really do anything inspiring with it. Most of the songs here also feature countless bubbly synth effects to enhance the trippy effect, up to a point where I feel this album is guilty of emphasising style over substance.

Seeing as this album largely follows the same tempo and style throughout, pointing out individual songs feels unnecessary, although Inner Voice sounds a lot like an emulation of Pink Floyd's Astronomy Domine. In the latter part of the record, a bit more effects on the drums and vocals show up, and that's really about it, apart from a slightly increased focus on melody.

The music and production are certainly of merit, especially for a solo debut. Leonardo is responsible for every single sound on this album. Vocally, he doesn't take a lot of risk, but I have to say some of his harmonies are quite beautiful in places. Lastly, I haven't heard a single proper song that sticks in my head, either because of a cool riff or an interesting melody. None of the songs build up to something truly exciting.

In the end, Gurumaya sounds convincingly psychedelic and retro, but the way the record drags on, will not keep progressive rock fans interested for more than a couple of tracks. I think Astral Son can grow and improve within this style, but the guitar playing, riff writing and overall musical variation need some work. For fans of early, drugged-out psychedelic rock, this album may be worth checking out at least once. Others can easily pass on it.
Conclusion:
Karel Witte: 5 out of 10

Mark Bogert - A Story in Parts
Mark Bogert - A Story in Parts
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Format: CD
Record Label: Freia Music
Catalogue #: THOR8CD
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 40:53
Info: Mark Bogert
Samples: Mark Bogert on Soundcloud
Track List:
The Beginning (5:18), Confusion (4:04), Short Feeling of Happiness (3:49), Flying Flowers (3:11), P.A.M. (3:50), High up in the Sky (3:33), Breaking Down (4:14), The Only Truth (3:55), Days Ago (3:13), Forget the Tail (2:54)
Even though Mark may be as fast as the other Boogerd, there are quite some differences between them. First off, Mark uses his speed and technique in his guitar playing, whereas the other Boogerd (Michael) had a racing bike in order to show his speed and technique. Apart from that, there is the fact that the names are spelled quite differently. No relation, I dare say.

In everyday life Mark plays guitar for Knight Area. Not being familiar with Knight Area at all, I was open to any sort of music coming from my speakers. Yet, the fact that Freia Music was the label, already had me thinking there was going to be more than just shredding to this album. This was the label that released both of Sebas Honing's albums as well.

Like Sebas, Mark knows how to set a guitar alight with his playing, yet it is never just to show off his technique or speed. The album does of course give an insight into Mark's capabilities as a guitar player, and it must be said that his playing is full of virtuosity.

What he succeeds in, is writing songs that truly all have a different feel, and he uses his guitar to express the feelings or perhaps even the vocal lines you might be wishing for. In that way this album reminds of the Lone Ranger album, recorded way back in 1992 by Jeff Watson who once was in Night Ranger. It does more so than either of Joe Satriani or Steve Vai. Both absolutely are no slouches, yet they always seem to give more attention for the technicality of the songs, rather than for the flow and the feel of the music.

A Song in Parts has quite the eye for the flow and the feel of the music. P.A.M., dedicated to his parents, shows just how much feel Mark can put in his music. The interplay with the keyboards and flute here is just magnificent, even reminding me of Camel a bit. It also goes to show, just like The Only Truth does, that Mark also gives room to the band that play with him. On drums and bass he has two Knight Area men, Pieter van Hoorn on drums and Peter Vink on rumbling bass. They are doing more than simply holding the sound together.

Eleven tracks, all with a different feel and approach musically, show just how diverse Mark as a guitarist is. He can rock out, but also take you in on a great ballad. Even though Mark advises us to Forget the Tail, the tail he has added to this album is a great closing tune. This is one fine debut solo album by this Dutch guitarist.
Conclusion:
Marcel Hartenberg: 8 out of 10

A Cure for Siri - Methods Of Truth
A Cure for Siri - Methods Of Truth
Country of Origin: Holland
Format: CD
Record Label: Doetleukmee Productions
Catalogue #: Doetleukmee Productions 01
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 68:00
Info: A Cure for Siri
Samples: A Cure for Siri on Bandcamp
Track List:
Everything Is Possible Again (3:58), Tragic Hero (5:57), I Won't Let You Go (3:53), Pixel Fame (5:36), Decora Lux (2:13), What You Get Is What You See (6:38), The Butterfly Counts Not Months But Moments And Has Still All The Time In The World (2:22), Science (5:38), In Your Mind (2:02), Dark Place (5:39), Downfall (3:06), Methods Of Truth (1:41), The Magic Of Reality (5:46), The Hayflick Limit (5:39), Anima Mundi (5:37), Coda (1:40)
A Cure for Siri is an electronic, pop-infused Dutch based group who in 2013 set out with a project idea of creating a futuristic type of music. Initially it was a fundraiser for a children's hospital, and as the ideas progressed, it grew into the first CD: Method's of Truth.

Their overall purpose makes reviewing the music an unusual proposition, on the basis that this is all for a great cause, and therefore it should be commended and supported as a piece of work. However this review will look at its music on its merits, setting aside its charitable status.

A Cure for Siri are an ambitious collective with a concept that equals their musical endeavours, mainly philosophical ideas that talk of freeing oneself from ego, and thinking clearly without judging or prejudice. A purity of mind and thought. The Cure... relates to an answer to the coldness that technology has brought mankind in recent years in the form of lack of privacy, surveillance and the form of communication we seem to be increasingly reliant on. They state that the cure for this is awareness, empathy, love and education.

It's a hippy sentiment and message, bundled in a spacey, electronic package marked for the 21st century. Musically they have an impressive palate of ideas and production sounds, that has depth and boldness, ranging from the industrial tech-fused pop in Tragic Hero, a sampled electronic track with more than a nod to the likes of New Order, to the Jean Michel Jarre-like opener, Everything is Possible.

There is atmosphere in spades on this album, sometimes minimal which combines with a growing grandiose depth, seen in the excellent Pixel Frame, a simple piano and electronic track which pulses and flows beautifully into a vocal high point, before it's ambient, multi-layered conclusion.

Some pieces are stripped of the tech, such as the delicate Decora Lux with its lush soundtrack quality and haunting piano.

For a band with a trippy, progressive tone they move into as many areas of sound as they dare to, and nod towards the likes of Tangerine Dream as well as Kraftwerk in tracks such as Science, Dark Place and Downfall. Cleverly some of the coldness of their electronic intentions is matched with an almost organic quality, felt in the piece, In Your Mind, a Gabriel–tinged instrumental that hints at an almost African flavour.

If the album has a problem, it is where the tracks feel continually like a collection of synthetic sounds, over an artificial beat that has a metronomic precision. By the later stages of the album this can feel limiting, and The Magic of Reality and The Hayflick Limit are both a little too similar, creating ten-plus minutes of monotony. The chant-like Anima Mundi is a welcome relief and has a very human, choral grandness to it which stands out boldly as the album draws to a close.

Overall this is a brave and diverse package which should be applauded for its production values and the creativity that went into its development. If you are fond of electronica-based music, there are moments here which you will appreciate. The philosophical theme provides a delightful depth, counteracting the synthetic with a human element. Give it a go.
Conclusion:
Eric Perry: 7 out of 10

Deanmoore - Illusions
Deanmoore - Illusions
Country of Origin: The Netherlands
Format: EP
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #:
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 29:19
Info: Deanmoore
Track List:
The Progressionist (6:31), Waves (4:56), Illusions (8:01), Untouchable (4:55), Superimposter (4:56)
Deanmoore is an ambitious young band from Lichtenvoorde, The Netherlands, a town formerly famous for organising an annual classic rock festival. They are a trio that seems to take their main influence from A Perfect Circle: loud, rocking alt-rock with lightly progressive leanings and a dark atmosphere. True to their classic rock roots, Deanmoore adds some more classic Zeppelin influences to the mix. They also remind me greatly of fellow Dutchmen A Liquid Landscape, or rather, the previous incarnation of that band (when they were still called believeisadoubt). They were a bit louder and busier then. Deanmoore is similarly full of energy and urgency.

For a debut EP, the half-hour Illusions certainly sounds great. The production is top-notch, the guitars sound nice and crisp, the vocals are excellent; raw and emotional. The songs somewhat flow into each other. All songs are fairly straight-forward hard rockers, with little variety between them. The exception to this is the title track, which is also the longest one. This one starts off with piano and really takes its time to evolve into a heavy and emotive track. Great stuff.

If Deanmoore is ever going to release a full-length album, and I certainly hope they will do, they should introduce some more dynamics and variety to the music (much like A Liquid Landscape did). Be a bit more laid-back in some places, take a bit more time to let the music flow. More stuff like the title track, in short. If they succeed at that, this is gonna be a band to look out for.
Conclusion:
Niels Hazeborg: 8 out of 10

Delain - Interlude
Delain - Interlude
Country of Origin: Holland
Format: CD
Record Label: Napalm Records
Catalogue #: NPR483LTD
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 54.04
Info: Delain
Samples: Delain website
Track List:
Breathe on Me (3:35), Collars and Suits (4:48), Are You Done With Me (New Single Mix) (3:43), Such a Shame (Talk Talk cover) (3:25), Cordell (The Cranberries cover) (4:02), Smalltown Boy (Bronski Beat cover) (4:23), We Are the Others (New Ballad Version) (3:48), Mother Machine (Live) (5:59), Get the Devil Out of Me (Live) (3:09), Milk and Honey (Live) (4:48), Invidia (Live) (5:02), Electricity (Live) (4:33), Not Enough (Live) (4:38)
Delain's Interlude has the perfect title and is, in essence, a stop gap between albums. Yes those dreaded works, 'a compilation album'. The band has been savvy, (well probably the label more than likely), where old and new and covers are included, being sold under the guise of an album that blends new songs with special versions and mixes of popular Delain songs, some covers and the single Are You Done With Me, ensuring that a completist will put their hands in their pockets.

Interlude can be seen as an entrance into the Delain world, and I am going to say that this is a perfect gateway without doubt.

So let's analyse what we have here. Delain is a Symphonic Metal band with a commercial edge, very much in the vain of Within Temptation of The Unforgiving era. However, I think Charlotte Wessels has a more dynamic and sultry vocal range, and as a band, Delain are, for me, slightly more adventurous.

To start with there are three covers; Talk Talk's Such a Shame, The Cranberries' Cordell, and Bronski Beat's Smalltown Boy. It is a somewhat strange set of choices, however Delain have chosen well and made the songs their own, bringing power and class to the music, offering a new dimension and more importantly, making the songs their own. To me that is important, as recording straight renditions of the songs is a pointless task.

Just listen to Smalltown Boy and hear the testosterone levels being cranked up. Stunning. We get the inimitable ballad in the form of We Are The Others, a song about Sophie Lancaster, who was murdered because she dared to dress in a manner that displayed her own individuality and differed from the perceived norm. She was a young lady who came from a town not too far from where I was born. It was a shameful and abhorrent act. The song is a very emotive and touching ode that will keep the memory of the young lady alive in people's minds.

The album closes with several live tracks, which really demonstrates the power of the band as a live force and had me instantly thinking of how I want to see Delain live (recommended – Ed). The production of the live tracks is stunning, crystal clear and precise, capturing every note perfectly. The power and meter of the music will have you rocking from the opening notes, right through to their end.

The other great aspect of the selected songs is that they show the band has diversity of approach. Listening to these songs leaves me under no illusions as to why Delain are growing in strength and are highly regarded throughout the metal world.

Before I am finished with this review, I need to mention that the two new songs presented here, Breathe on Me and Collars and Suits are stunning representations of where the band is going. They have such power and magnitude. Big things are on the horizon. I think it is time for me to dip my hand in my pocket and go in search of their releases to add to my collection. If like me, you love this approach, I would advise you do the same if you have not already done so.
Conclusion:
John O'Boyle: 8 out of 10

Fractal Mirror - Garden Of Ghosts
Fractal Mirror - Garden Of Ghosts
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Format: CD
Record Label: third contact records
Catalogue #: 3cr-1054
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 61:32
Info: Fractal Mirror
Samples: Fractal Mirror website
Track List:
House of Wishes (4:19), The Phoenix (7:31), Lost In Clouds (5:08), Solar Flare (3:12), The Hive (5:33), Solar Flare Reprise (2:07), The Garden (5:39), Orbital View (8:16), Event Horizon (5:30), Legacy (5:53), Stars (8:29)
Garden of Ghosts is the second album by Dutch proggers Fractal Mirror. The band consists of Leo Koperdraat on vocals, keyboards and guitar, Ed van Haagen on bass, keyboards and programming, and third member Frank Urbaniak who contributes drums and percussion. In making this second album the band has had some help from Larry and Don Fast and Brett Kull among others.

Larry Fast also took care of mastering the album, while the assistance of Brett Kull was focused around the production. The production by someone like Brett can definitely be heard. The album is very consistent and high quality.

Musically a lot can be heard, as the music goes from balladry to a more rocking sound. Fractal Mirror's development of a sound of their own is clearly still in the making, although one can say that they do a good job at it.

Fractal Mirror is a band of prog rock enthusiasts, of lovers of the genre itself. Now they are a part of it, in a band of their own. Keyboards, more specifically Mellotron, play a prominent role in the music, as does the voice of singer Leo. His voice is of a distinct nature that cannot easily be missed. It is somewhat monotonous but not dull. His vocal lines remind me a lot of the earlier RPWL.

Garden of Ghosts is a collection of 11 songs, each will create for you its own spiritual world with its own images. None of the songs are outstanding or exceptionally good. Still the songs are good and the album is a great listen over and over again. Already progressing from their debut album, Strange Attractors, I hope they will continue their progress and make an even better album with their next effort. After all good things come in threes.
Conclusion:
Gert Hulshof: 7.5 out of 10

Duo Review
The Gentle Storm - The Diary
The Gentle Storm - The Diary
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Format: 2CD
Record Label: Inside Out
Catalogue #:
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 110:00
Info: The Gentle Storm
Track List:
CD1 – Gentle: Endless Sea (gentle version) (5:59), Heart of Amsterdam (gentle version) (6:36), The Greatest Love (gentle version) (4:08), Shores of India (gentle version) (6:40), Cape of Storms (gentle version) (5:28), The Moment (gentle version) (6:08), The Storm (gentle version) (5:56), Eyes of Michiel (gentle version) (3:56), Brightest Light (gentle version) (4:46), New Horizons (gentle version) (5:24), Epilogue: The Final Entry (gentle version) (2:02)
CD2 – Storm: Endless Sea (storm version) (5:53), Heart of Amsterdam (storm version) (6:37), The Greatest Love (storm version) (3:57), Shores of India (storm version) (6:24), Cape of Storms (storm version) (5:32), The Moment (storm version) (6:10), The Storm (storm version) (5:58), Eyes of Michiel (storm version) (4:00), Brightest Light (storm version) (4:54), New Horizons (storm version) (5:25), Epilogue: The Final Entry (storm version) (2:03)
Peter Funke's Review
I was really looking forward to this new collaboration. Arjen Lucassen and Anneke van Giesbergen are well known in the modern music scene and have provided us with much nice and proggy music. Both stand for high quality recordings and perfect arrangements in everything from the music to the Facebook page and fan articles.

The album concept is a tale of love, loss, and separation told through the story of two fictional 17th-century lovers. A Dutch sailor embarks on a two-year voyage, leaving his wife at home in Holland. The only way for the couple to communicate and keep their love alive during the long separation is through letters. These letters form the basis for the songs on the album.

(For the younger readers among you: letters are pieces of paper containing handwritten (yes!) messages. They were used years ago before Facebook, email, Skype and so on. Like vinyl, they might come back.)

The second dimension of this project is the recording the same songs in two flavours: a semi acoustic/folky version and as Arjen Lucassen described it, "a full-on metal assault". When writing these tracks, Arjen focused strictly on the ability of Anneke's voice. As he also states, it is an amazing instrument, and so his target were songs full of harmony and melody. The complete production took nearly a year, and the result is far above average.

What you get in these two hours is fine and entertaining music. They are really charming tunes, and the singing of Anneke is dominating most of the tracks. Her voice is somehow thrilling and relaxing at the same time, especially on the gentle versions.

The gentle CD shows a very broad variety of instrumentation, and as a result you are reminded several times of Mike Oldfield. Smooth rhythms and honey-dripping melodies make these tracks very easy to listen to. Perfect music alongside your fireplace, with a glass of wine. This is one criticism: these recordings seem to be a little lifeless, definitely in a progressive or metal sense. To be honest we even cannot really talk about "rock" as this is music in the singer/songwriter style, upgraded with some unusual instrumentation.

On the other hand these wouldn't be Arjen tracks, if you couldn't find lovely details. Just one example: the quite folky Heart of Amsterdam shows off with a really fascinating "call and response" part in the middle, sounding like Jethro Tull and early Kansas. Of course these arrangements help to feature Anneke's brilliant voice. The opposite of growling, is the voice of an angel.

The storm CD pushes the songs into another dimension. Electric guitars, real drums and a higher tempo is coming out of the speakers. But these tracks are not really different interpretations. If you have a look at the timings, you will see the near identical length of each track. So we hear a different instrumentation, with more power and dynamics, but the same music. The songs do not really speed up and their main character stays the same.

For me this is a bit disappointing, as I would have expected more courage. This 'storm' does not really blows you out of your seats. I am sure, if Arjen would have reworked the gentle tracks after a year's break, the results would differ and be more pleasing.

After listening to both CDs in a row (multiple times), you will finally have enjoyed a big dose of great-sounding harmonic music. The main harmonies and main themes will settle in your ears, as will Anneke's voice. It is not necessary to highlight some tracks, as indeed none of them fail.

All in all this is a high level recording, recommended to everybody who likes harmonic, melodic, album-orientated music.
Marcel Hartenberg's Review
Ages of music have come and gone. If you try to think about new riffs and ideas, your mind may wonder whether all furrows have already been ploughed. What new soil is there left to conquer?

Hence Arjen Lucassen may have had his mind wandering in a similar direction. What to do after all his venturing into the future, with album concepts about the philosophies mankind might have set out for itself. For sure, he has set foot on territory not previously explored by other prog musicians, so he didn't really have to make a claim to fame anymore. Yet he has gone and done it again.

This time he did not seek his home beyond-tomorrow, instead he traveled back in time to when the Dutch ruled the waves, sailed up to Medway and took the Royal Charles. Yet this album is not meant as a history lesson, apart perhaps from the instruments used, mostly on the first, 'gentle' part of this album. In this part, the instruments hark back to those days of old, and are predominantly acoustic. More than 40 instruments are featured in this album and it would be quite a feat if you could pick all those instruments and name them.

Arjen plays several of those himself (guitars, both electric and acoustic and bass, hammered dulcimer, banjo, mandolin and percussion), yet it is not so very strange that he doesn't play all of them. After all, even being the great multi instrumentalist he is, he is only human. It does of course also mean that he acknowledges others skills as well. On drums we welcome back Ed Warby, a longtime Arjen companion, as well as Marcela Bovio, with whom he worked in his Stream of Passion days, in the vocal section, albeit in the background section. Those two might be the more well-known names but others have their fair share of working with Arjen as well.

Anneke van Giersbergen, with her experience in The Gathering, with Devin Townsend, and as a solo artist, does not only feature as the vocal and focal point of The Gentle Storm. She also wrote the lyrics. The story is set in the 17th century, and tells the tale of Joseph and Susanne, him being a sailor and Susanne, his wife, staying at home. It is a nice concept for an album, and what makes it even more special is that one album features the eleven songs in a very authentic, acoustic setting. Listening to the music, you can just picture yourself hanging around the port of Amsterdam ready to sail out, or aboard a ship waiting for the next port to be sighted. The second album has the same songs, yet in a wholly different heavier arrangement.

It is kind of wonderful. Having two creative minds, each with a distinct approach and a sound of their own working together in a story of old, using both instruments of old and instruments that are more common in heavy rock. It seems that a lot of fun was had in recording the album, as the music sounds really playful. Apart from the playfulness, the album really has a 17th century spirit in both the music and artwork. It really gets you in a mood of days of yore, without ever sounding old or stale.

The way Arjen has succeeded in writing two different arrangements for all the songs is a feat in itself, but it's not just that, the individual songs are all special in their own right.

What to say of the music then? The songs are not all-out prog. Where Ayreon albums might have a firm foot behind prog's door, the songs have more in common with something Ian Anderson or Ritchie Blackmore might pen. In fact, there is an almost Gates of Babylon (a track that featured on Rainbow's album Long Live Rock'n'Roll) feel to Shores of India, which is combined with an uncanny resemblance in the vocal lines to Irene Cara's Flashdance.

Still, The Gentle Storm does not copy anyone. This is no Jethro Tull or Blackmore's Night. Folk influences are there, but the use of the diverse instruments gives the music something deeper. There is a sense of authenticity that does not call for audiences to be clad in renaissance garb.

The other side of the coin (album) is a whole different beast. There is a rocking perspective to each track, not in an easy way, like some sauce poured over the songs, but in fitting arrangements with an appeal of their own. Perhaps that is also because of the expression that Anneke's voice has. To these ears at least, she has a depth and variation that is rarely heard in female voices, ebbing and flowing just as the music does. Her voice shines throughout the album.

So, what is my conclusion? We have two discs comprising of eleven songs each. Two different arrangements, where there is a very authentic appeal in the gentle disc, with a more metalised version of the songs on the second disc. Just immerse yourself in either version. Arjen has succeeded in writing songs that just grab you in both fashions, colours and tones. That is one thing that makes this album special. Then there is Anneke, who more than just sings the songs. She rules them, like once the Dutch ruled the waves.

Again, this album is not prog per se. Not in disguise, not in any garb actually. And yes, it is more than likely to be a mere coincidence that there is a movie out now that is all about Michiel de Ruyter, the famous Dutch admiral responsible for the taking of the Royal Charles. But then again, this review is not meant to be chauvinist at all. Yet, without any doubt, this is one Dutch album that is set to make history.
Conclusion:
Peter Funke: 8 out of 10
Marcel Hartenberg: 8 out of 10

Kingfisher Sky - Arms of Morpheus
Kingfisher Sky - Arms of Morpheus
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Format: cd
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #:
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 47:27
Info: Kingfisher Sky
Samples: Kingfisher Sky website
Track List:
Hypnos (5:41), At Least You Tried (4:04), King of Thieves (3:29), Open Eyes (3:57), Insomnia (4:58), I'm not alone (3:58), Strength of the Endless (3:42), Heather (3:45), The Morrigan (4:02), Mercy on this Wounded Heart (4:36), Maddy (5:15)
'Lay down your head and let the conscience take over'. Who can resist such an invitation to go to sleep, especially when it is sung to you by a beautiful voice? Well, don't do it, because these are the first lines Judith Rijnveld sings on the latest Kingfisher Sky album Arms of Morpheus and this is most certainly not an album you should sleep through. Unless you don't like beautiful, well-crafted and emotional music ...

In the still-extending brand of Dutch, female-fronted rock bands, Kingfisher Sky saw the light of day some seven years ago when they debuted with Hallway of Dreams. Ivar de Graaf (drums and percussion) had just left Within Temptation to start his own band with his partner Judith, playing their own music. Their debut received many positive reviews, among which was a raving one by my colleague Andy Read (here on dprp.net). Its successor was Skin of the Earth and we fortunately now have Arms of Morpheus, their self-produced third album, released in the autumn of 2014 thanks to a successful crowd funding campaign. When I write 'fortunately' I mean it in its most literal sense, because this is a really good, beautiful and stunning album.

Kingfisher Sky is a seven-piece band that, apart from De Graaf and Rijnveld, features Edo van der Kolk and Chris Henny on guitar, David Gutierrez Rojas on keys, Maaike Peterse on cello and Nick Verschoor on bass. On this album there is further help from Kristoffer Gildenlow (ex-Pain of Salvation) and Ludo de Goeje on violin. They play a very varied form of 'gothic' rock, which resembles the music of Evanescence, Within Temptation and Nightwish but with a slightly softer edge. The latter is mainly due to the full, yet mellow voice of Rijnveld who makes me think of Anneke van Giersbergen (but with more expression), Annette Olzon (but stronger), Amy Lee (but with more soul) or Sharon den Adel (but with even more emotion). To put it shortly, she is a great singer.

The uniqueness of their music also comes from the inclusion of several acoustic instruments, of which Peterse's cello is one of the most remarkable. Cello, tin whistle, bouzouki and mandolin give the songs a mystic, sometimes romantic flavour. But at times Kingfisher Sky can also play it quite muscular. Songs like Open Eyes and The Morrigan are straight-forward rockers with some odd time signatures and wide keys arrangements, that could have easily fitted in a Nightwish set list.

In between there are ballad-like songs such as King of Thieves, with an excellent piano and keys background, and the closer Maddy, dedicated to a devoted German fan who suddenly died at a far too young an age. It's difficult to keep the tears away with this song, when hearing the emotional lyrics sung warmly in multi-layers by Rijnveld ("In every chord, in every note we sing, you are there. When we were down, you gave us wings").

All songs have strong vocal melodies and an instrumentation in which the band shows how to keep the songs tight, simply because the song itself is strong enough. There is the occasional guitar solo on At Least you Tried, an Uillean pipe-like guitar solo in Insomnia and an orchestral arrangement in Open eyes. All are done with much taste and never too much.

There are no weak songs on this album, let alone fillers, but one song really stands out for me. Heather is a piano, acoustic guitar and cello-driven ballad which is a bit folky with an awesome string arrangement, tin whistle and harmony vocals by Valerio Recenti (My Propane). The music is absolutely beautiful and emotional, making it one of the best songs I've heard in years. Think of Somewhere by Within Temptation or My Immortal by Evanescence, and then try to imagine something better, something even more beautiful and haunting, and maybe you'll get a first glimpse of what Heather offers.

Variation is the main characteristic of Arms of Morpheus. It is also reflected in the clever lyrics that deal with insomnia, hope and fate, Irish and Greek myths, obsession and last chances. These are not the most optimistic subjects to deal with, but they fit the music very well.

There's only one good fate for this album; it should open up the entire world to this great band. They deserve to feel that they have delivered another truly great album for which they are highly appreciated. Hats off to Kingfisher Sky!
Conclusion:
Theo Verstrael: 9 out of 10

Monomyth - Monomyth
Monomyth - Monomyth
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Format: CD
Record Label: Suburban Records
Catalogue #: BURBCD 127
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 57:25
Info: Monomyth
Samples: Monomyth website
Track List:
Vanderwaalskrachten (11:26), Vile Vortices (8:28), The Groom Lake Engine (10:06), Loch Ness (10:24), Huygens (17:04)
It was the 12th of November 2014. Not only was this a day that featured a great live gig by Anathema, it also had me diving into outer space for the first time to the sound of Monomyth. And they weren't even there!

No, it was not that my mind was playing tricks on me, but somewhere before Anathema got on stage, there were very varied tracks played and one stood out amidst all of them. It was the pulse of the music, based around an ongoing bass attack, yet with keys and guitars drawing you definitely into a universe that was way out there. I just had to know what was playing. I am not what you would call a smart phone expert, but the likes of Shazam and Soundhound are sometimes quite adequate tools, especially if there is no one to ask what the 'Now playing' track could be. You may have found by now, the band that got me so in awe was Monomyth.

Absolutely stunned by the single track in a crowded environment, I just had to listen to the album in a somewhat more suitable surrounding. It was sad to notice that the debut album was sold out at the time that I heard the track. So I could only buy their second album Further, which, you will find reviewed in this same issue. Months later, I noticed that the other album must have been re-released, as I found a copy at one of the local record stores.

Now if you consider that a monomyth stands for the stages, a journey even, a human goes through in becoming a hero, and if you let that thought join together with the beautifully designed cover, you might get a little into the realms of what Monomyth's music is about. Well, did I already fully get it? That is hard to say, for there is a lot to be discovered in the instrumental universe that these boys from Den Haag have created. Perhaps it is easiest to think of entering their world near The Restaurant at the End of the Universe or if you just close your eyes on approaching the black hole of Cygnus X1. Somewhere there must be a bus stop there. And that, ladies and gents, must be where these guys practice.

They have space running in their veins and they transfer it into the synths, drums, bass and guitars alike. There is no need to think of Pink Floyd, Hawkwind or any other band, for once Vanderwaalskrachten (or 'Van der Waals forces' in English) have you in their might, you can only feel the pulse that Monomyth have bestowed on you. There is no time, no thing, no one else around, there is just Monomyth, and you can only wish that your capsule will hold. The forces grow and grow and this track truly encapsulates, as does the whole album.

This is a disc that must be experienced, instead of being written about. If atmospheric does the trick for you, if you can mellow away on music, zone out or whatever you would like to call it, on songs that just develop as they go along, then this might just be for you. Plenty of authentic synths are used and there is great guitar playing without ever willing to be the flashy-fingered guys who spin circles round your head for sheer speed. Every instrument is there to enhance the songs, never to focus on the virtuosity of the players, who, while doing that, still show their capabilities.

This is a wholly different experience, an album that just has you take off, fly off into Monomyth territory without ever wanting to come back. And that dear readers, is just what I invite you all to experience. Far out, man.
Conclusion:
Marcel Hartenberg: 8.5 out of 10

Monomyth - Further
Monomyth - Further
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Format: CD
Record Label: Suburban Records
Catalogue #: BURBCD 134
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 47:04
Info: Monomyth
Samples: Monomyth on Bandcamp
Track List:
Ark-M (10:11), Spheres (12:28), Collission (5:37), 6EQUJ5 (Undocking, 123AU Corridor, Emergence) (17:06)
My finding the deep infinity that is space and spending hour on hour in there, was only because I found a loophole through time and space that was handcrafted by the five lads that make up Monomyth. Whereas I didn't find the passage straight away on their eponymous debut, I did get to travel through time and space by their second album, simply entitled Further.

Little did I know then, that these men must have found the secret that lies beyond the stairs to the stars and way, way further. Being the novice that I was to their music, they took me aboard the Ark-M, and before I knew it, I could see beyond the sun, and onwards through black holes we went. Was I to return? Did I want to return?

On thinking that I had regained my consciousness, an immense bass sound grabbed me. What was I thinking? Could I ever think of wanting anything else other than just being in the universe that Monomyth has created? Around me, I found Spheres and I became fully submerged. As I tried to look around me and focus on what I saw and heard, there were all sorts of synth sounds in my ears and gentle guitars as I tried to focus. Where was I? I realised I still was in space, when suddenly Geddy Lee's nephew, or so it seemed, had me in a bass wake-up call, just around the 3:00 minute mark.

Monomyth have a lot going for them. To me, this album was discovering them and I found the discovery a most pleasant one. Trippy parts go hand in hand with all-out space and kraut rock. They have a penchant for getting you aboard their tunes. I think I might as well call it mesmerising. Whether they guide you in a shorter song or whether the songs are longer, it doesn't really matter. Such is the diversity in their songwriting, such is the groove in their music, that has a great and constant pulse in the drums played by Sander Evers and Selwyn Slop's bass. Tjerk Stoop sees to all the programming, whereas the keys are played by Peter van der Meer. Thomas van den Reydt plays guitar.

Never ones to focus overtly in solo-ridden parts, it is the beat of the machine, the pulse of the song, the journey that the music takes you on, that does the trick here. Yes, they can rock out. Yes, they can groove, but it's just as great to hear the boys add various little key or guitar runs that might sooner be based in jazz, than strictly in rock.

Comparing this second album to the debut, you can sense that the production has become even more crystal clear and the songs appear to be more cinematographic, perhaps having more grandeur. I think you could say this is more panoramic. If you take into account, that a monomyth is all about journeying through different stages in becoming a hero, then Monomyth have certainly stepped up in their journey. All aboard now as Ark-M is sailing again.
Conclusion:
Marcel Hartenberg: 9 out of 10

Schizoid Lloyd - The Last Note In God's Magnum Opus
Schizoid Lloyd - The Last Note In God's Magnum Opus
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Format: CD
Record Label: Bloodmusic
Catalogue #: Blood 076
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 57:17
Info: Schizoid Lloyd
Samples: Schizoid Lloyd website
Track List:
Suicide Penguin (5:29), Christmas Devil (2:59), Avalanche Riders (4:35), Misanthrope Puppet (7:39), Film Noir Hero (4:19), Amphibian Seer (5:11), Cave Painter (3:48), Chicken Wing Swans (7:44), Citizen Herd (9:59), Prodigal Son (5:44)
If ever a band had an appropriate name it is Dutch band Schizoid Lloyd. A couple of years ago I first heard the band's self released EP Virus. I even wrote a review back then, mistakenly calling their EP a sophomore release. It was most definitely their debut.

The Last Note in God's Magnum Opus is a weird, difficult-to-grasp musical extravaganza, and I will try to explain where the music of Schizoid Lloyd should be catalogued. If you can remember back to the '70s and a band called Sparks, with their high-pitched, somewhat extravagant music. Throw-in a fair amount of Queen music and get The Mothers of Invention involved, with some humour as well. Throw in some The Enid, some Mars Volta perhaps, or Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin.

Anyway, you'll probably have got my drift by now. 'Uncategorise-able' but at the same time a really awesome, fantastic musical journey, once you have put in the time and effort to really listen to the music.

If the album title and band name do not give you clues enough just take a look at the song titles, reading those will bring you even closer to what Schizoid Lloyd is all about.

You may not listen to this album and instantly like what you hear. In my case, the album has grown on me and still does. This may not be a band for the common people. You sure will have to have a great musical ear and patience. But then you'll have an album that everyone who loves the extravagant side of progressive music, needs to own. Be prepared for loud and rough. It is not easy-going stuff. But play over and over, and go on liking it. I do.
Conclusion:
Gert Hulshof: 8.5 out of 10

Peter Swart - The Couch
Peter Swart - The Couch
Country of Origin: The Netherlands
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #:
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 41:54
Info: Peter Swart
Samples: Peter Swart on Bandcamp
Track List:
What Do You Make of These Dreams (3:00), Dust (3:11), Hedwig (9:16), Buddha (3:48), On The Couch (1:41), Werther (20:58)
The Couch is the sixth album by Peter Swart, a classically trained pianist and guitarist who has been inspired by the progressive rock greats of the seventies. This is reflected in the instruments used (vintage guitars and slight touches of Mellotron) as well as the album's structure. Like an LP, the album is divided into two 20-minute halves, which I always like. "Side one" consists of several shorter pieces, while "side two" is a continuous six-part suite. In the proud tradition of progressive rock, this is an instrumental piece based on a bit of classic literature.

I have to say, I don't think I have ever heard such a mild-mannered, well-behaved, unassuming album before. Entire swaths of this album go by, when there is barely any percussion to be heard, just simple melodies on keyboard and guitar. There's a timpani on some tracks, which is a very strange choice. It's odd to use such a bombastic instrument on music that is so decidedly un-bombastic. There's a drummer called Ron Brevé who does a good job with what little work he is given. The passages on which he plays are somewhat Camel-like, with the added notion that this music is so mellow that it practically makes Camel sound like death metal. During the instrumental sections, the music also has some similarity to Karda Estra in its dark romanticism.

Swart has shades of Orford on the keyboards, and shades of Hackett on the guitar. He's a fine player with a good sense of melody and emotion. He's not a great singer by any standards, but he's not really trying to be; the words are just there to get the feeling across. He sings so softly and gently that it's almost like he's trying not to be heard.

And that really goes for the album as a whole. It's mellow, soft, like it's deliberately trying not to offend. It's extremely plainly packaged, not making any kind of statement. There's nothing about this album that betrays any urgency, any eagerness to please. Swart definitely has the "progressive" part of "progressive rock" down, but there is barely anything in the way of "rock" here. One might as well review this on a new-age site.

So, while Swart has succeeded in bringing his own musical vision to life and creating a piece of music that is well-executed, pleasant listen, many of you will find this album very dull. If you want something inoffensive to contemplate or meditate to, Peter Swart is your man. If you like your prog rockin', give this a pass.
Conclusion:
Niels Hazeborg: 6 out of 10

Swung - Swung Volume 1 and Volume 2
Swung - Swung Volume 1 and Volume 2
Country of Origin:
Format: CD
Record Label: In and Out Of Focus Records
Catalogue #: OFO02CD
Year of Release: 2014
Time: Disc 1: 51:41
Disc 2: 45:37
Info: Swung
Track List:
Disc One: Adventure 1 (4:43), Adventure 2 (7:08), Adventure 3 (6:40), Adventure 4 (4:35), Adventure 5 (6:24), Adventure 6 (3:39), Adventure 7 (4:45), Adventure 8 (6:17), Adventure 9 (7:50)
Disc Two: Raga Romance 1 (5:22), Raga Romance 2 (4:37), Raga Romance 3 (3:26), Raga Romance 4 (8:31), Ragaa Romance 5 (3:47), Raga Romance 6 (11:21), Raga Romance 7 (2:14) Raga Romance 8 (6:19).
In its simplest form and terms, this is a 2-CD set of Focus without Thijs van Leer's flutes, organ and yodeling, and no he has hasn't been replaced or quit, these are soundboard rehearsal recordings that have been tidied up for general release.

Completely instrumental, Swung Volume One includes Neils Van Der Steenhoven on guitar, and Swung Volume 2 features Menno Gootjes. These are basically jams. Interesting, developing ones, but loose jams all the same. Whilst that may not be everyone's cup of tea, these pieces do show just how effectively these guys gel.

You would only need to add Thijs van Leer and you would have a rough and ready Focus album. Of the two volumes, I personally prefer disc one as it feels a little lighter and jazzier in tone, like the Jan Akkerman-period Focus, whereas volume two is more rock guitar based. That is no bad thing, but I prefer the lighter touch of volume one.

But either way, these are great ways to spend a couple of hours and offer the chance to admire the verve and groove that these guys establish, develop and maintain throughout. The tracks on the album nod backwards to Focus classics like Ship of Fools and Eruption.

Details in the booklet are very scant but when the music is this good that doesn't matter too much. This will definitely appeal to long-time Focus or Jan Akkerman fans or indeed to anyone who enjoys extended guitar soloing and jamming. It is also interesting to note, enjoy and appreciate the differing styles and playing of Neils and Menno as they are very different indeed. I find Neils more of a jazz and Menno more rock stylist. Indeed those very differences add worthiness to these discs.

This is truly a labour of love, as it will not be a huge seller, but I for one am glad I've got to hear the sheer dexterity and improvisation that these two discs encase. The commitment to making these available is commendable. An interesting and intriguing listen.
Conclusion:
John Wenlock-Smith: 8 out of 10

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Published Sunday 29 March 2015

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