ISSUE 2015-37

Reviews in this issue:

Air Canda - Air Canda
Air Canda - Air Canda
Country of Origin: Russia
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 53:38
Links:
Track List:
Signature (7:01), Five Worms (6:02), Magnetic Doorway (6:06), Fata Morgana (5:50), Chronoclasm (7:07), Rainy Man (7:54), Ritual (8:55), 222 (4:80)
Russian band Air Canda's self-titled instrumental debut is crammed full of lively rhythms and multi-faceted tunes. Air Canda is an exuberant album, which often surprises and seldom fails to excite.

Air Canda are a four piece ensemble, and on the face of it, their music is in some way influenced by the UK jazz-rock movement of the 70s. Comparison with Ian Carr's Nucleus readily springs to mind. At other times, the rasping saxophone, insistent rhythms and mouth-watering combination of improvisation, jazz, psychedelia and funk, accompanied by plentiful amounts of guitar is redolent of UK band Lapis Lazuli.

The breadth and depth of what is on offer amounts to so much more than jazz or fusion, or indeed jazz-rock. The eight compositions sprawl energetically across a variety of genres and influences. The band describes themselves as 'New wave prog fusion or post jazz rock'.

The excellent opening track Signature certainly has an unhurried, sparse post-rock feel in its initial stages. This is soon forgotten though, as jazz influences emerge and the piece glides into an infectious rhythm that sweeps rock-based musical conventions aside. Signature features heaps of memorable interplay between tenor sax and guitar. The fluid soloing of talented guitarist Zhzhyonov is an impressive feature of this track. His virtuoso skills shine brightly, and are a consistent highlight of the album.

In tracks such as, Rainy Man and Ritual the band's intense compositions also contain many subtle musical references to their Eastern European roots. This is particularly apparent during the magnificent, energised and swirling instrumentation chosen for Ritual. This piece features some outstanding guitar flourishes and effects. The languid opening passage, which vividly evoked feelings of tranquility, was surprisingly not dissimilar in style to The Mahavishnu Orchestra at their most reflective. As Ritual awakens and stirs into life it evolves; it develops in intensity; it becomes chaotic, loud and furious. The piece is imaginatively and appetisingly marinated with Asiatic motifs, which are coupled with an unnerving, dark dynamism, as sax and guitar heavily combine. This complex and outstanding track has so many diverse, musically-progressive moments to admire.

The performance of the band throughout the album is impressive in every respect. The contribution of tenor saxophonist Alexander Belousov is immense. The call-and-response duel between guitar and tenor sax in the discordant climax of Rainy Man was thrilling. The quality, tone and power of Belousov's sax throughout the album brought to mind the wonderfully powerful and assertive performance of Paul Dunmall in Spirit Level's 1982 Mice in the Wallet release.

Air Canda was performed and recorded live in the studio with no overdubs. The skill and energy of the musicians is perfectly portrayed in a release that has an abundance of exhilarating moments. The collective ability of the band and their empathy with each other is totally apparent, and is at the heart of Air Canda's successful sound. The band has perfected the art of creating a hugely expansive band sound that is complemented and cleverly embellished by many outstanding solos. The result is a compelling album that is inundated with unpredictable textures and complex rhythms.

Magnetic Doorway is a particularly exciting track which combines an array of electronic effects. It has some incredibly flamboyant moments within its appealingly complex mix of styles. By way of contrast, Fata Morgana is a more clear-cut tune that rhythmically swirls, ebbs and laps the listener in its fulfilling, warm tones. Nevertheless, it has all of the complexity and accessibility associated with quality jazz rock. I enjoyed the slow Latin passage that emerged unexpectedly in the second half of the tune, which reminded me of the cinematic music of Ennio Morricone. This provided a brief interlude before the rhythm section powered-up once again to drive the piece wildly towards its inevitable, tumultuous climax.

Many of the pieces such as Chronoclasm smoulder and scorch, to eventually detonate with unrestricted passion and fury. Yet, even when a powerfully infectious groove is established, as in Chronoclasm, the music often ends up tumbling unpredictably, from frenzy into serenity, or from harmony into dissonance.

In this respect, Five Worms also has much to commend it. During its six-minute running time a wide variety of styles are fleetingly visited and explored. These include free jazz moments, heavy, pounding rock riffs and a commendable courage to experiment.

The album has many truly satisfying moments and high points in its 53 minutes. If you enjoy challenging music, flavoured by jazz, that excites and leaps effortlessly across genres, then I thoroughly recommend that you seek out this intoxicating album. I am glad that I did!
Conclusion:
Owen Davies: 8.5 out of 10

Antethic - Origin
Antethic - Origin
Country of Origin: Russia
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 43.27
Links:
Track List:
Time Forward (7:13), Cheliuskin (9:05), Old Maui Girls (7:07), This Game Has No Name (6:11), Morning Glory (3:30), White Whale (10:31)
Russian post rock noiseniks Antethic have been ploughing their heavy instrumental furrow since their formation in St Petersburg in 2012. They weave elements of eerie, atmospheric drone rock (like Explosions in the Sky or Earth) with some truly intense, dark and heavy riffing that pushes them into the outer orbit of the prog sphere. They occupy the same dark corner of the galaxy as King Crimson on a heavy day or The Fierce and the Dead, themselves one of the finest instrumental bunch of noisy buggers out there.

This is their debut album, released last year and is a widescreen re-imagining of rock, taking it out of the four-chords-that-made-a-million territory and pushing it harder, heavier and beyond the darker side of the moon. It is riveting, fascinating and hypnotic, as metronomic riffs and industrial drums collide into a cataclysmic cacophony of chaos. Cheliuskin is a great example of this, yet throughout it all, the way the sounds collage and merge, creates something with a dark, mesmerising beauty.

Some instrumental music has been unfairly described as background music or even wallpaper music. The music here proves the doubters wrong, as this is music that demands attention. Easy listening it isn't. Satisfying it is.

There is some gorgeous, dextrous guitar work that floats through the sound, bringing to mind the more adventurous work of John Martyn, as it provides a wonderful juxtaposition to the more industrial sounds (and by industrial I mean the more electronic and metronomic sound of the music, rather than industrial metal which sounds like someone shouting as someone else dismantles an Austin Allegro). The way the tracks ebb and flow until the different musical strands are tightly knitted together to create an epic finish is also wonderful (Old Maui Girls springs to mind here).

The brevity of Morning Glory, which at just over three minutes is the shortest track, leads straight into the powerful closing beast that is White Whale. It has a sublime, ambient keyboard introduction, with weaving sinuous guitar riffs and musical interplay throughout, which builds and builds again to a satisfying musical climax.

If you like your guitar bands teetering on the edge of chaos, and your instrumental music dark, hypnotic, intense and ultimately uplifting, then you need this band in your life.
Conclusion:
James R Turner: 8 out of 10

End of the Dream - All I Am
End of the Dream - All I Am
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 50:16
Links:
Track List:
Follow The Angels (6:18), Away (5:29), Colder (3:54), Shadow's Embrace (7:43), Collide (4:38), All I Am (4:16), Through the Dark (4:53), Dark Reflection (9:36), Gone (3:23)
End of the Dream for me usually means waking up and wondering "why don't I meet those kind of women in real life?" but I digress. Formed in 's-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, by guitar/keyboard player Armen Shamelian, guitarist Robin van Ekeren, vocalist Micky Huijsmans (whose press photograph might just be part of my next nocturnal fantasy, ahem), bassist Tim van den Hooven, and now "departed after this recording" drummer Pieter Driesen. The last bit is a shame, as his playing is right up there with the best. Good luck to new recruit Pim Geraets, get down to that gym now!

Of course, "dream" can also mean a cherished aspiration, ambition, or ideal and the minor key, Gothic, dark nature of this band's sound might just reflect it's loss and that more cerebral definition. Two of the tracks have the word "dark" in their title but there's no stumbling about trying to see here, they are both enlightened with the prog metal tag.

Follow the Angels starts this journey through the scary moonless forest with a good balance of the usual shredding guitar chords mixed with orchestral keys and high church choir sounds. Ok then, Nightwish does come to mind, but then this is in the same ball park. Micky Huijsmans' vocal style is a combination of a sweet ballad style combined with a longing that sits on top of the musical bravado. It keeps to the main tempo and never attempts to follow any of the many crochets within the bars. I really like that and it imbues a relaxed sensation amongst the cocophony.

Best track Shadow's Embrace is the most technical and enjoyable here. It's Dream Theater without any keyboard solos but that lead guitar plaing more than makes up for that.

By All I Am (the track), I was getting a bit shell shocked by the constant barage and maybe the "sameyness" of this music was getting to me. However, then longest track Dark Reflection, with its lovely classical intro and very convincing full on orchestral strings made me realise just how clever this type of music can be. A real headbanger this one. The instrumental section could be the soundtrack to a space battle, very cinemagraphic and wide screen.

Song number five, Collide could even bother the charts if radio stations would stop being obsessed with only looking in "One Direction" (!). After the grandeur of that penultimate epic, a lovely slow piano and voice song of loss, Gone, is like what the French call "La Petite Mort" or the err, the feeling after... well you know... and indeed finishes this debut album, All I Am.

Not usually being a big fan of prog metal, this is an very enjoyable record and is a very fine first album. May I wish you every success and hope the live shows go well. Summing up, I think this Dutch word will do... "voortreffelijk" which is also how I hope my next dream will be.
Conclusion:
Andrew Halley: 8 out of 10

Factor Burzaco - III
Factor Burzaco - III
Country of Origin: Argentina
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 53:42
Links:
Track List:
Donde Nos Habíamos Quedado (1:57), La Vera Storia di Tristan O (6:08), Evasión Imposible (3:48), Arnoldturro (5:19), Las (4:39), En Tránsito-Asudep Mal (6:45), Inter Dicción (4:49), Soga (2:50), Soga Func (3:12), Silicio (14:08)
I'd come to think that there was no such thing as a prog album that I could not review. Sure, I may not like the style of music, but I thought I could tell 'good' from 'bad'. Sure, I may not be an 'expert' in that particular style of prog, but I know enough to give a reasonable description of the music. Over the past decade or so, I've heard pretty much every niche of this wonderful genre.

Well that carefully-constructed argument has now been jettisoned out of the beer garden, with the arrival of this third album from Argentinean band Factor Burzaco.

Hailing from Buenos Aires, FB is the creative outlet for composer Abel Gilbert. 'Vocalist' Carolina Restuccia has been his sole constant musical companion over the three releases, the remaining cast changing from album to album.

III is released on the Italian label Altrock, which has been developing a growing reputation for delivering the 'accessible' from the more obscure styles of prog. The likes of Accordo dei Contrari, Ut Gret, Empty Days and Not A Good Sign have all presented varying levels of difficulty for my ears, but all have been enjoyable listens.

III is from a whole different cosmos. A more challenging musical landscape you'd be hard to find.

If you like your music challenging and off-the-scale in terms of inaccessibility, then this is probably an album to treasure. This really is on the outer verges of the avant-garde scene, with so many indefinable elements that I'm struggling to say with any certainty that this is 'music'. Certainly if you're after a good tune or even a vague melody, then look elsewhere.

If you want to sit down and listen to almost an hour of music that will make you question whether there really is no boundary left to push, then you'll have a much better idea than me as to whether this album is any good. The oddest album I've ever heard.
Conclusion:
Andy Read: 7 out of 10

Fossil Evolution - World In Motion
Fossil Evolution - World In Motion
Country of Origin: Belgium
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 48:35
Links:
Track List:
Beautiful Colours (9:00), World In Motion (6.00), Next Time (6:14), The Voice Inside (5:41), Oblivion (9:03), Considering (12:37)
Fossil Evolution are descended from the 70s Belgian progressive band Isopoda. Isopoda were dubbed "The Belgian Genesis" and they played a brand of melodic prog rock that would've made the masters proud. Despite their musical skills, Isopoda ground to a halt in 1982, little known outside their home country.

Isopoda founder member Arnold De Schepper has constructed Fossil Evolution from a line-up featuring himself (bass, bass pedals, acoustic guitar and vocals), his sons Arne (drums, backing vocals) and Maarten (guitar, keyboards, programming, vocals), and Wouter (guitar, electric 12-string guitar, backing vocals). Pieter DeGroeve rounds-out the ensemble on keyboards. They are a tight band whose styles effortlessly mesh with one another.

Sombre keyboards and fuzzy guitars lead us into Beautiful Colours, a track that references Genesis, King Crimson and perhaps Camel as well. The playing is tight and convincing but the lead vocal is perhaps a trifle weak. World In Motion is a pretty, melodic track built on acoustic guitar and vocal. Gradually the tempo picks up and the band masterfully colors in the track with bits of keyboard and guitars, understated yet attractive nonetheless. Next Time and The Voice Inside further showcase the band's ability to arrange acoustic and electric instruments effectively.

The album's final two tracks show the band expanding into longer and more elaborate compositions. Oblivion is up-tempo and jazzy, with Pieter De Groeve's keyboards coming to the fore. The rhythm section is tight and the music goes through subtle changes, remaining melodic yet adventurous. It is a fitting prelude to Considering, a beautifully-crafted updating of an Isopoda track, is nothing less than a 12-minute plus tour de force. A soft, inviting guitar and synth intro leads to a track that is both instrumental and vocal perfection. There is even a surprisingly fitting and tasteful, yet uncredited, trumpet solo. Considering is overflowing with ideas and the band executes them with seemingly effortless, class. Strong vocals and a Steve Hackett-like guitar solo make it a track to be played more than once.

In summation, Fossil Evolution is an adventurous band with strong musicianship and fairly good vocals. If you are a fan of the more melodic side of prog, you will find this to be a delightful new band. Whatever your tastes may be, they are definitely worth a listen.
Conclusion:
Rick Collins: 7 out of 10

Hypnosphere - Timedrift
Hypnosphere - Timedrift
Country of Origin: Germany
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 75:54
Links:
Track List:
Trancenter (18:38), Spherical Movement (6:41), Escape from Dissonance (12:40), Ardent Drive (13:22), Emphasis (11:03), Timedrift (13:26)
Hypnosphere are totally new to me, and when I first listened to this CD I was very well pleased, because in recent years my hunger for the Berlin School has re-grown. The album starts with birds singing, and slowly brings up some synth textures and a Rhodes piano with plenty of effects on it. Sequencers come to the mix and an electric guitar picks you up, to hover over wonderful analog synth soundscapes. Throughout the album we travel through plenty of sound architectures with a good variety in color and tone.

Timedrift sounds like a tribute to Tangerine Dream's blue era. The similarities are so noticeable that I'm tempted to link to Tangerine Dream's original many times. Be it the way the multiple sequencers cross-fade to change patterns slightly, the chord structures, the used Mellotron, Moog and string synthesiser sounds, even noises demonstrate the intent to re-create the sound of Froese and his men. Even the sparse guitar and its effects are kept very close to the original. There are a few nods in the direction of Jean Michel Jarre, but I guess these are unintentional.

While I usually don't care much about copy cats, I happen to like counterfeits when it comes to this sort of electronica. I love the way I can listen to this wonderful, ambient music with all its sonic depth when modern recording technology is used. In that way this album is almost perfect.

Only the structuring of the tracks seems somehow erratic to me. Froese always knew how to provide a nice little melody that leads the listener through a song, or how to create some harmonic tension to thrill us, or he used a dynamic arc. The original has always had an arc to lead us through the tune's dynamics, and that is what I find missing on Timedrift. Because of this I find it boring to sit down and just listen to the album. It is perfect as an ambient, but nothing one would concentrate on.
Conclusion:
Raimond Fischbach: 7 out of 10

Sistra - Communication Deferred
Sistra - Communication Deferred
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 71:20
Links:
Track List:
Falene (3:48), Lupi (5:38), Shard of Winter (4:58), Una Voce (4:58), Antilopi (7:15), Eon (6:05), Radar Pulse (6:37), Ziqqurath II (4:38), Homing Missile (5:06), Fantasmi (6:30), Stormi (6:25), Blue Overdose (9:22)
Sistra is a four-piece psychedelic-prog band, led by multi-instrumentalist Fabrizio di Vicino, and could not be further away from the traditional (or expected) sound of Italian prog.

The band mixes keyboards, strident bass, distorted guitar and dual male, female vocals. Using some ugly textures and unfriendly rhythms, they produce music akin to Captain Beefheart or Pere Ubu, but without either of those acts' strong vocal identity or power.

Communication Deferred is an album of twisted psychedelia, where songs change completely mid-stride, whilst throwing-in random noises and disconcerting backward affects which clash with the frenetic bass lines. It teeters on the brink of nearly falling apart.

There are a few pieces that work. The ambient electronica-meets-fusion bass of Blue Overdose is nicely spacey. The slow blues psychedelia of Lupi and the laconic boogie shuffle of Stormi are engaging. However as a whole, this is a difficult, uncomfortable listen with little pay-off in terms of melody, power or psychedelic quirkiness.
Conclusion:
Martin Burns: 4.5 out of 10

Taylor's Universe - From Scratch
Taylor's Universe - From Scratch
Country of Origin: Denmark
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 44:35
Links:
Track List:
Other Meetings (5:17), Beta X (7:32), Balcony People (7:25), Interrail (9:17), Laura's Lullaby (2:56), Fur Louise (5:09), Autumn River (6:57)
I have reviewed several releases now by Taylor's Universe, and in all honesty I have yet to be let down by the quality and thought that has gone into their creations. Their latest release, From Scratch, continues to offer entertainment of the highest order. Although as a band they have taken a somewhat differing musical approach with this release that offers freshness, presenting some unusual rhythmic approaches that work on so many different levels, as they delve into the world of RIO / Avant Garde.

As ever with Taylor's Universe albums, the more you play them, the more you are offered, allowing you as a listener to become part of their world. It is also worth noting that the band is not afraid of stepping outside the box and challenging the listener, yet maintaining a strong sense of direction and structure. It's also nice to note that the musicians involved have not been too clever for their own good, killing the moment. As we are all aware, sometimes we have to work for our supper, which offers a reward in its own right, allowing you to enjoy all the morsels you feed on, satisfying your hunger.

The album has a strange and atmospheric undercurrent throughout, although there are some beautiful glimmers of light offered towards the latter end of the album. Taylor's Universe have orchestrated and created an album that is layered with experimental approaches, dark and playful, which at times, displays a sense of urgency.

Beta X and Interrail make the best effect of that rule. Both instrumentals are challenging and left-field compared to the rest of album, where the instrumentation is at its darkest and slightly off kilter. This however does not detract from the personality or cleverness of the approach. The organ work in Beta X really adds to the moment, re-affirming that the musicians have not lost their minds. However at times the piece does leave you wondering what is going on, which can also be said about Interrail. Balcony People more than makes up for this though, but as a piece, it still presents the same approach in a more subtle manner.

The band's melodic approach is second-to-none and can be heard more on the three closing pieces, Laura's Lullaby, Fur Louise and Autumn River. These three rather outstanding pieces are worth the admission alone. Symbiotically they create a perfect soundstage that caresses the ear and heart, a theme that in all reality runs throughout the whole album.

Fur Louise, is more assertive but no less perfect. The guitar lines are to die for, note perfect and full of character, as are the keyboard elements that layer this piece. Autumn River again sees some absolutely stunning, spacey, soaring guitar passages, building a powerful and atmospheric soundstage.

On the whole From Scratch does not outstay its welcome. It is not an over-indulgent or over-long album where one clock watches. The band absolutely knows and understands the fundamental elements of creating an album of the perfect time frame, ending the moment on a high. The production value is, as ever, fantastic and leaves the listener fully satisfied, making it another great addition to their already stunning back catalogue. One day I will get to see this band and From Scratch is definitely an album one needs to add to a collection.
Conclusion:
John O'Boyle: 8 out of 10

Three Wise Monkeys - False Flag
Three Wise Monkeys - False Flag
Country of Origin: Australia
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 28:05
Links:
Track List:
Ruse De Guerre (3:02), False Flag (2:31), Conundrum (4:33), Snowden (4:21), Reichstag Fire (3:02), Cyb3r T3rroris$t (3:05), Mimicry (3:03), Fukushima (4:30)
Sydney-based band Three Wise Monkeys proudly proclaim that their aim is 'to bring fusion out of the dark ages'. If by that, they mean they are striving to reach out to a larger audience by presenting accessible, finger-tapping compositions, partnered with outstanding virtuoso playing, then on their latest album, False Flag 3WM have succeeded. This could mark the dawn of a more enlightened age for fusion.

The opening three pieces are arguably the strongest, and effortlessly achieve this by the strident use of tuneful melodies that are beautifully-garnished with inspired embellishments.

Although the album is relatively short, clocking in at just over 28 minutes, the eight compositions take-in a variety of styles. These range in approach from the metal-rumbling, heavy riffing of Reichstag Fire, to passages of inspired shredding, as in False Flag and Fukuhisma . This varied approach to composition also includes the laudable conviction to experiment, in the unconventional and effect-laden Cyb3r T3Rroi$t. As a consequence, 3WM's latest offering is never predictable and is often exhilarating.

The individual performers have consummate mastery over their respective instruments. Drummer Brendon Waterman excels in every track, and is a more than adequate replacement for Liam Chandler who featured in the band's previous album Perihelion. Guitarist Brad Kypo has just that right amount of distortion in his fluid lines to excite, and performs even more impressively on this release.

The mix particularly favours the inventive playing of bassist Alex King. His impressive technique provides space and subtlety, such as in the smoldering atmosphere created by the complex, pulsating time signatures of Ruse De Guerre. King's proficiency and ability to produce gracious bass parts, is even more evident within the more restrained tracks such as Snowden and Mimicry.

In the rhythmic frenzy of Conundrum complex, tapping bass lines provide added percussive energy. King's impressive use of slap creates a solid platform for Kypo's vocal guitar to sing, shred, and howl.

The majority of the band's compositions began life as group jams. These are then later extended, improvised and given a coherent structure. This helps to ensure that by the time the tunes are laid down for recording, they combine both the benefits of inspiration and structure. This compositional structure is very much in evidence in the majority of the tunes here, and marks an overall improvement in compositional quality to Perihelion.

The most immediately accessible tune on offer is undoubtedly Snowden. It features a gorgeous melody, and alongside Sol – Invictus from their previous album, acts as an example of the high quality compositions that this band is more than capable of producing.

False Flag is a technically faultless album. On occasions it is both spacious and sparse, and alternatively is brash and loud. At other times, False Flag simmers, bubbles and bursts with energy, as the performers' respective instruments take it in turns to compete and unite. This tension and harmony, inherent in both performance and composition, creates an appealingly energetic concoction of sounds. Above all, False Flag is melodically rich, and engagingly composed. Even when inventive moments of dissonance occur, such as in Conundrum, the band always strive to resolve it interestingly and in an unexpected manner.

If you are already familiar with 3WM and enjoyed Perhileon then I think that you will find the compositions which make up False Flag even more satisfying. 3WM's latest offering is certainly worth checking out if you like bands such as Ohm.
Conclusion:
Owen Davies: 8 out of 10

XII Alfonso - Charles Darwin
XII Alfonso - Charles Darwin
Country of Origin: France
Year of Release: 2012
Time: 60:14, 60:05, 60:15
Links:
Track List:
CD1: Collection One (1:41), Earliest Recollections (4:58), Stolen Fruit (3:14), Physics And Hunting (3:51), Silent Battle (4:38), Collection Two And Three (1:47), The Bump Of Reverence (5:32), Leaving England [Part 1] (1:31), Leaving England [Part 2] (3:05), The Letter From Henslow (3:19), HMS Beagle (3:52), Collection Four (0:30), Captain Fitz-Roy (2:50), Straits Of Magellan (5:12), Tierra Del Fuego (7:46), Darwin's Finches (3:54), Homeward Bound (3:08)
CD2: Collection Five (1:52), So Many Years (3:42), Strange Fossil (2:55), Emma And Charles (5:55), The Coral Of Life (5:07), Collection Six (1:11), Down House (4:32), The Island Of Devil's Riding School (4:00), Annie [Part 1] (2:56), Annie [Part 2] (2:02), Collection Seven (2:33), Beloved Cirripedia (3:56), An Ordinary Day (3:55), Salting The Seeds (6:24), Lenny (2:36), It's Time To Write (2:30), Collection Eight (0:56), Missing Links (3:06)
CD3: Collection Nine (0:53), Bound Together (4:49), Descent With Modification (2:36), On The Origin Of Species (6:38), Controverse In Oxford (1:27), Collection Ten (0:56), Slave Makers (4:01), Last Human Common Ancestor (4:03), Sombre Thoughts (5:27), Collection Eleven (0:57), Mysterious Illness (7:01), The Copley Medal (2:46), Vision Of The Indian Mound (6:23), The Descent Of Man (4:53), Collection Twelve (0:56), Struggle For Existence (1:36), Darwin's Burial (4:40)
I now might hold the dubious record within DPRP for the longest delayed review, since I received this triple CD already several years ago. Since then it have been very turbulent years for me, in which much happened in my life (which is the main reason for the delay). So I must start here with some sincere apologies to the band XII Alfonso, our readers and all other people involved for this delay! You might wonder why I still bother to finish and publish this review of an album already released almost 3 years ago? Well for two reasons: first since I feel guilty and think I should give the good example and honor my obligations and secondly because this album truly deserves a review on our website. So over to the review now:

If we had a prize for best packaging and presentation it surely would have gone to XII Alfonso in 2012, since what they sent us very much impressed me. Beautiful, high quality, information sheets about the many used instruments and the whole background story how this special project came about. Because this is not just a regular album; it's almost a complete study about the life of Charles Darwin. The booklet of the triple CD is filled with pictures related to Charles Darwin and his work; in a really beautifully design. Lots of illustrations, drawings and photo's decorate the song texts and the story of Darwin's life that is expressed in the instrumental songs. Pictures of all the used instruments are included which is not so strange since a lot of very extraordinary, classical, ethnic and traditional instruments have been used to give this album its rich and varied sound. No less than 70 different instruments, including many ethnic instruments collected all over the world (some I've never seen or heard off) illustrate the time-line of Darwin's life and some aspects of his personality. Even a type writer, crocodile tooth, warthog tooth, dolphin bones, nails of goats and a pithecophone monkey skull were used as an instrument! And the booklet also holds pictures of all the artists involved and the credits for all songs; this 74-pages booklet offers a lot of information!

The 3 CD's with the same amount of hours music contain 22 songs and 30 instrumental tracks and 50 musicians including John Hackett, Mickey Simmonds, Ton Scherpenzeel, Francis Dunnery, John A. Helliwell (of Supertramp), Maggie Reilly, and Elliot Murphy, to name just the ones prog fans might know. But also the famous French singer Gérard Lenorman and Vietnamese singer Huong Thanh can be heard on the album.

Although the album is credited as an album by the French band XII Alfonso it's clear that it's actually been more of a group effort in this project. Some songs are even written by one or more of the collaborators (all songs are credited to "XII Alfonso & friends") and there's no song on the album that is played just by the band XII Alfonso themselves. In fact I strangely enough can hardly find a song on which all 4 members of the band play on together. The 3 CD's present a chronological story of the live of Charles Darwin; CD1 covers the years 1809 to 1835, CD2 the years 1836 to 1858 and CD3 the years 1859 to 1882. From birth to death every important moment or thought in the life of Darwin is featured.

The second reason for my endless delay of this review is because the music on this triple album isn't that easy to describe, since it's so varied and has so much to offer. I've listened to the album many times, each time in an attempt to fully grasp it and get a description of the music to paper. And every time I was left in doubt after the last notes of the album what to make of my review. Personally I think a lot of variation is an important aspect of good quality music, especially in the prog genre we're mainly active. So the many styles of music that can be found on this album are actually a plus factor, even though it decreased my attempts to get my review into writing.

It becomes very clear soon that this album was truly a major labor of love, the whole packaging already proved that, but the music even more. With some so many people involved, so many instruments and the whole rich life story of a man like Charles Darwin to tell it's not remarkable that a whole area of music emerged. The album offers melodic ballads, ambient music, classical music, ethnic music, folk and neo-prog. The many instrumental songs are mainly mellower, melodic and sometimes almost ambient, classic or sound like a movie soundtrack. Sometimes the album features several instrumental songs after each other, leaving room for the listener to tell his own story in his head, although it would be wise to read along in the booklet to see what the music actually is trying to display. The many instrumental tracks also tell their story about the life of Darwin, so it's certainly not a fully lyrical album that tells a long story, like in a rock opera.

The huge variation of music and the many artists involved of course comes with the risk that the whole (3 hours long) album becomes rather inconsistent and incoherent. At some, rarer, moments this indeed happens, but in general XII Alfonso have truly managed to compile a long album that really tells a story, both lyrically and musically, without giving the impression to the listener he's dealing with a compilation album with various artists; respect! The rather mellow, laid back, musical character of the album, sometimes even minimalistic, makes this an album to listen to with much attention and concentration; this is no music to play whilst doing house-hold chores! There are some more powerful, bit up-tempo songs on the album which will be more to the liking of the prog fans, but these songs are the minority. Mysterious Illness is my favourite song from the album because of its long and lush synth solo; certainly not a coincidence that Ton Scherpenzeel plays on this track.

The lyrical songs are either sung (or spoken) in English or French and one even in Vietnamese and are mainly narrative telling the story of Darwin's life, either from his own perspective or from an observant position. The several songs with the title "Collection.." are sort of short instrumental intermezzos announcing the next life phase of Darwin and the album. Several songs have an Eastern feel to it and Controverse in Oxford is actually Deus Israel hymn, sung by Trio Voce, a vocal group that performed here a mid-Eastern chanting singing style. The second CD has the most mellow character and the third CD contains some more poppy and rocky tunes.

Without a certain liking for light classical, instrumental and rather ambient music one could not really appreciate this album. But anyone who likes a musical adventure with ethnic sounds, lots of variation, and the aforementioned genres and especially a special project with such an enormous display of special, ethnic instruments can fully enjoy this album. As a true prog fan I might not grade this album too high because it hardly offer any of the proggy elements I like to cherish, it's more a melodic pop/rock album with a classical/ethnic touch than prog. But I can also very well appreciate the more mellow and classical approach to this album and especially the variety and massive input that went into this album which is truly a treasure trove. For that, the fantastic packaging and promotion and maybe also as an excuse the long delay I will give this album the recommendation tag.
Conclusion:
Joris Donkel: 8 out of 10

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Published Thursday 14 May 2015

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