ISSUE 2015-551

Reviews in this issue:

Les Discrets - Live at Roadburn
Les Discrets - Live at Roadburn
Country of Origin: France
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 46:48
Links:
Track List:
Linceul d'hiver (3:02), L'échappée (4:11), Les feuilles de l'Olivier (4:29), Au creux de l'hiver (4:27), Le mouvement perpétuel (6:57), La nuit muette (5:18), Chanson d'automne (9:16), Song for Mountains (9:06)
Tantalisingly, on Les Discrets' website, band leader and multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Fursy Teyssier writes of the live album, recorded at the 2013 Roadburn Festival in Tilburg, Netherlands, "It was a super great show and the end of a period in my music."

Hopefully, it's merely related to personnel. This live recording (one of many called Live at Roadburn out there by a variety of artists) features Teyssier along with three of the four members of the Alcest live band. Indeed, it was announced in 2013 that bassist Neige and drummer Winterhalter were no longer going to work with Les Discrets as they would be concentrating solely on Alcest, another French band that has forged its own path from its early more metal-oriented days. Now - if 2014's glisteningly superb Shelter is anything to go by - the band is loosely in the post-rock or shoegaze genre.

On the basis of this release, it would be a crying shame if Roadburn is the end of the road. Whether there is an evolution in sound, from a new Les Discrets, with Teyssier and other current band member, Audrey Hadorn, only time will tell.

As live albums go, this is extremely well recorded and mixed. It features songs from both of the previous Les Discrets releases. The music shifts from quiet, almost ambient tones, to far heavier guitars, all with quiet vocals and sweet harmonies that occasionally seem at juxtaposition to the driving force of the music. But it works.

Fans of bands such as Falloch, Hypomanie, and Old Silver Key will find this to be in a similar vein, and should enjoy the genre-crossing uniqueness of Les Discrets' sound.

Sometimes categories prevent bands from achieving more widespread appeal. Les Discrets' frequent label of blackgaze - a combination of black metal and shoegaze - might lead people to avoid this, thinking it has growling vocals and chugging, static guitar riffs. This definitely doesn't fit that description, with its shimmering indie guitars, changing moods, and harmonious vocals that almost act as an instrument in the way early Clan of Xymox or Sigur Rós created atmosphere with vocals. Indeed, anyone who enjoys Sigur Rós' heavier moments, should find this appealing. The one knock against it for the newcomer - and that's not counting the occasional live squeal - is that the tracks are all quite similar in style.

As such, there really aren't any stand-out tracks, but there aren't any bad ones either. It's a consistently impressive, and immersive, experience beginning to end. Hopefully those that were present at the event appreciate how lucky they were to have witnessed this.
Conclusion:
Jim Cornall: 8 out of 10

Electric Asturias - Elementals
Electric Asturias - Elementals
Country of Origin: Japan
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 54:50
Links:
Track List:
Deadlock Triangle (6:04), Time Traveler (9:09), Tangram Paradox (5:07), Honeycomb Structure (5:44), Suite of "Elemental": I. Undene (Water Elemental) (8:18), II. Salamander (Fire Elemental) (6:34), III. Sylphide (Wind Elemental) (8:06), IV. Gnome (Earth Elemental) (5:48)
Multi-instrumentalist Yoh Ohyama first started Asturias in 1987, with his work drawing comparisons to Mike Oldfield. After putting the band on hiatus in 1993, Ohyama revived the project, as Acoustic Asterias, in 2004. Then, it was back to Asturias in 2008 to release a further album, the acclaimed In Search of the Soul Trees, which definitely does bear more than a passing resemblance to Oldfield's Tubular Bells. After another Acoustic Asturias album, a new incarnation of the band, Electric Asturias, surfaced in 2011, with the release of the album Fractals.

The electric version returned at the tail end of 2014 with this new album, Elementals. Confused yet? The band consists of Ohyama on bass, Satoshi Hirata providing guitars, Tei Sena on violin, Yoshihiro Kawagoe supplying keyboards, and drummer Kiyotaka Tanabe. Together, they make an instrumental sound that's heavier than the other Asturias incarnations, a mix of electronic, prog, and classical influences with a touch of jazz and celtic thrown in.

They must be doing something right, as they wowed the crowds on the 2014 Cruise to the Edge event, and have been invited to a variety of festivals around the world to showcase their prowess and compositions. That first album was certainly a bit more neo-prog leaning, with some movements reminiscent of Yes, although elements of the Mahavishnu Orchestra at its most mainstream, or perhaps Jerry Goodman's solo material, gave a hint at what was to come with the follow up.

Elementals again features some superb playing, with each member being given ample opportunity to highlight their individual abilities. The patterns tend to be quite similar, each instrument getting a few bars to shine as a part of the whole. The first part of the Elemental suite, Undene, all goes a bit easy listening before a keyboard intro to the next, Salamander, takes it up a notch again. It's actually the most "prog" piece on the entire album, with swirling keyboards underpinned by heavy guitars, which take centre stage before it's back to the violin dominating.

Then it's back to a mix of Andre Rieu easy listening on Sylphide, before the final part of the suite, Gnome, rounds things out with still more impeccable musicianship.

There can be no doubt about the quality of the musicians here, and there's a little bit of everything on offer. It should find general appeal, gliding effortlessly as it does from rock to prog, to jazz and then back again. And, of course, it could well open a few doors to people checking out the varied and interesting Asturias back catalogue, and those Oldfield inspired releases that put Asturias firmly on the map.
Conclusion:
Jim Cornall: 7 out of 10

Equinox - Cry of Gaia
Equinox - Cry of Gaia
Country of Origin: France
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 48:57
Links:
Track List:
Moon and Sun (1:40), The Cry of Gaia (3:51), Time of the Chosen (4:52), Wings of Fire (4:46), I Had a Dream (4:43), The Show Must Go On (3:57), Breath of Life (3:54), In the Eye of Prophecy (4:34), A Light in the Chaos (4:02), The Gates of the Universe (4:05), Amber (4:05), The End of Rebirth (4:23)
If you added guitars and drums to much of Wagner, you might end up with Rammstein: the same huge atonal riffs, epic soaring vocal moments, Teutonic mythology and scary pyrotechnics. Indeed great thunderous riffs permeate classical music - from Beethoven's "da da da dum" - his Smoke on the Water moment - to Stravinsky's glorious chuggy percussive bottom end at the start of The Rite of Spring, Prokofiev's Dance of the Knights, hell, even bits of The Four Seasons, Mozart's Marriage of Figaro and Ravel's Bolero to boot have quasi-metal work-out moments. And Rick Wakeman and Deep Purple in the 60s and 70s were among several grandees of prog who tried to forge the two forms more closely together. When it works - perhaps some of Metallica's S&M show, where the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra are jumping up and down as the apocalyptic conclusion to One seizes their guts from the inside - it makes the glorious epic nature of prog or metal seem even grander: cathedrals of sound expand to become Piranesi-esque fantasies of potential immense spaces for the Promethean reach of the music. When it doesn't work - Apocalyptica, Dream Theater's bewildered touring chamber orchestra on their Octavarium tour - it is a disastrous mish-mash of the cheesiest ends of both forms.

Like a classical orchestra taming prog-metal, the ancient Greeks believed that Gaia - Mother Earth - emerged to bring order after the reign of Chaos. She then brought forth the sky (Uranus), the sea and the mountains. 5000 years later Gaia is in big trouble because of fracking, too many cars burning fossil fuels and ecological waste on a huge scale. In the last 250 years, since the Industrial Revolution, we have battered Gaia. French band Equinox, imagine her reaction: son "cri".

Equinox's lead man, the beguilingly mononymous Inophis' mission is clear: to combine a pretty strict late Dream Theater template of songs and arrangements with a more classically symphonic synth/string/brass backing, and add a choir for good measure. Is he creating more chaos to bring home the pain of Gaia? Or is his idea that throwing all this together will somehow balance the chaos, and a new anguished beauty will soar through?

The opening track Moon and Sun is wonderful - a straight choral piece, like an off-cut from Mozart's Requiem: complex melodies, harmonies and chord progressions, yet all cohering into a stricken palatable whole. Choir and orchestral strings reappear throughout the album (best at the start of A Light in the Chaos) adding interesting texture to the Dream Theater-sounding songs. These break down into 4 types: catchy and proggy, almost poppy numbers like the title track and Time of the Chosen; more full on complex speedy workouts (like The Gates of the Universe), a couple of nice but unadventurous power ballads (I Had a Dream and Amber), and finally a puzzling cover of Queen's The Show Must Go On, which seems to belong on another collection.

There is so much to admire on this record, but also some problems. Inophis's playing is astonishing, and as a showcase for his talents this album does the job very nicely. Drummer Aurelien Ouzoulias is similarly virtuosic, though his drums have been produced with a late 80s kind of sound - way over-compressed and synthetic-sounding (a bit Operation Mindcrime). A drummer this good deserves a more lush sound, where we can hear his brilliant playing to the full. Bassist Pascal Mulot is also an exceptional player, but he has been positioned low in the mix, which is a shame. Vocalist Emmanuel Creis complete the band. At his best - the higher shoutier moments - he comes through as a (much) more in tune James LaBrie. Sometimes though, it all feels a bit monotonous as he struggles manfully to compete with the band and "orchestra". Also he has not yet mastered LaBrie's quieter, more tender vocals, where he can make a mediocre ballard quite powerful (Beneath the Surface, Through Her Eyes).

Inophis clearly seems to want to make "perfect" music. And yet if you tightly quantize every piano, synth and kick drum, and then compress the whole sound to the max, you are in danger of draining the life out of it. Jordan Rudess and John Petrucci are virtuosos, it's true, with never a note out of place, and yet there is real feeling behind even their most complex of show-off pieces (say, Dance of Eternity). Equinox left this listener slightly cold, and yet full of wonder for their astounding musicianship and arrangements.

I don't drive. But I do recycle and try not to harm Gaia too much. The social Darwinian in me suspects that we've set ourselves on a course where the total depletion of Gaia's resources is inevitable, and relatively soon. Perhaps this is the ultimate act of recycling, and we'll end up as a Gaia-colony on another planet. Perhaps there's a concept album in this? Equinox are brilliant players, and I look forward to their next album building on the considerable positives (not least the gorgeous artwork) of Cry of Gaia.
Conclusion:
Grant Gordon: 6.5 out of 10

Metallic Taste of Blood - Doctoring the Dead
Metallic Taste of Blood - Doctoring the Dead
Country of Origin: various
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 49:51
Links:
Track List:
Ipsissimus (4:54), Pashupati (5:54), Synthetic Tongue (6:17), Doctoring the Dead (7:18), Blind Voyeaur (6:31), Day of Bones (6:24), Murder Burger (6:03), The Death of Pan (6:28)
Instrumental music is a tough sell. There's been a number of rock based instrumental albums over the years, but few have garnered much attention or commercial success.

Riding the heels of inevitable obscurity, Metallic Taste of Blood intentionally stick their necks out into the unconventional with their latest instrumental math rock album Doctoring the Dead. This collection of songs by guitarist Eraldo Bernocchi, bassist Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree), keyboardist Roy Powell, and drummer Ted Parsons (Prong, Buckethead, Killing Joe) dares the listener to find beauty in the darker crevices of progressive and industrial rock.

Let me start off by saying it took me a while to get into this album. It's been a long time since I've casually enjoyed instrumental music. This has nothing to do with the genres that typify that musical approach, it's just not where my personal interests have been of late. I'm a long time fan of modal jazz, electronica, and classical.

Before even looking into the bio for all the band members, Doctoring the Dead brought back a lot of (mostly good) memories from my Buckethead listening days. When I read the drummer had collaborated with him, it brought some of those influences I was hearing into better focus. The style Colin brings is very familiar to me as a Porcupine Tree fan, and here he finds himself in a very similar role as the glue and groove. Eraldo's soaring and often bizarre guitar work is a unique addition riding over the top of the thunderous rhythm section.

This album has served me best as driving music this week. The compositions have a general upbeat pace which lends it to this duty. I could imagine using it as plodding workout music. To sit quietly and only listen to this, trying to find nuance that isn't there, was my initial mistake.

One could assume correctly that the band and album name imagery are implying a dark undertone to the music. From the opening Frippy Ipsissimus, to Pashupati which starts with a very airy alt rock feel only to crash into full menacing grooves, to bizarro soundscapes of the title track and the kick ass doom of The Death of Pan, there's no shortage to the amount of disturbing to be found.

It's not all fire and brimstone though. Blind Voyeaur is a solid rock song punctuated by tastefully raucous guitars and an other-worldly interlude before being brought back to Earth by some planetary sized metal. If taken at face value, Murder Burger is a clever progressive track with copious amounts of distortion and effects.

Overall I feel the album would best serve as a video game soundtrack or playback during horror movie credits. I'm not entirely sold on its inherent musical value, especially for us prog snobs. This will be a love/hate album for listeners, and with several of the tracks available for preview online I would recommend checking them out before deciding to purchase the whole album. For me only the final track proved to have any repeat playback potential, although I can find moments in each song to enjoy. It's a lot of music to wade through to get to those parts. Coincidentally (or not) it's along these same lines that has left my Buckethead albums in the dust bin the past couple years. Maybe I've just overdosed on too much slunk.
Conclusion:
Kevin Heckeler: 6 out of 10

Mr Averell - Gridlock
Mr Averell - Gridlock
Country of Origin: Holland
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 49:06
Links:
Track List:
Lock (0:44), Break the Mirror(3:41), Kiss the Girl! (4:57), Deliberately (4:20), Boxes (8:20), The Fear of Dreaming (6:11), 100 Presents (0:14), Babel (2:31), Gridlock (4:13), Sightseeings (7:04), Unlock (1:31), Rideehoo!! (4:07)
You've been tunnelling for weeks and eventually break out into what you hope is freedom from some institution where you've been wrongly incarcerated only to hear the 41 seconds of electronic noises that is opening track Lock and the realisation that your underground path has surfaced into a lunatic asylum, and this is it's music room for the inmates. A concert has begun, and you're the straitjacketed guest... Aghhhhhhhhh!

Mr Averell is the song based project of visual audio artist René van Commenée and is an eclectic "Brechtian" vision of utter madness. First song Break the mirror reminds me of Scottish humorist Ivor Cutler. If he were still with us and not amusing the more avant-garde angels, he would certainly have been invited to this foray. As it is, there are three past and current members of Van der Graaf Generator, David Bowie's pianist Mike Garson, and ex horror film scream artist Lene Lovich - her of 1979 hit Lucky Number.

She duets with the main man on Kiss the girl!, which is all cacophonous drum programming and Bombay traffic jam horns, and Gridlock which has a rhythm organ sound reminiscent of I Wanna Rule the World by 10cc and is probably the easiest track (on the ears, that is) here. It's impossible to categorise this record, Deliberately is a pathos imbued number with a beautiful piano outro which has a similar feel to Sightseeings but that one ends with a superb echoy sax solo from David Jackson.

Boxes and especially The Fear of Dreaming (for Marijke) are both meetings with the staff psychiatrist, the former has a theatrical churchy organ courtesy of one Hugh Banton. My fictitious escapee would now be dribbling and slightly swaying as the insanity pervades his brain...

However, nothing compares to Babel. 2:32 of industrial noise and angry voices all set to "breaking down a wall" using "some kind of chain driven machine" (I kid you not) back beat. Unlock (the noise of your head exploding) leads into Rideehoo!! where our Mr Averell has finally and absolutely lost the plot dancing in circles and bouncing off the cell walls to a country snare and psychotic penny whistle inspired high note organ motif...

I've dissected this like a dead alien, but the press release advises that to "get it", this CD should be listened to in one go. Quoting from the same paper work it states "The wonderfully produced album may take a bit of time to sink in but once it does, it becomes timeless and unique".

In many ways I can't argue with that except maybe the part about it sinking in or maybe becoming timeless, but definitely unique. The best advice I can give, is to try it out for yourself. I can't give comparisons to anything else I've heard but if you keep taking the pills, it might get better... or not. Yet another disc from 2013, but at least you might have had some visitors in that time.
Conclusion:
Andrew Halley: 5 out of 10

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Published Sunday 12 July 2015

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