ISSUE 2015-558

Reviews in this issue:

Ahmshere - Mindless Trust
Ahmshere - Mindless Trust
Country of Origin: The Netherlands
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 63:57
Links:
Track List:
Falling Off The Edge (6:29), Momentum (7:05), Counter Attack (8:51), Mindless Trust (7:30), Apollo & Daphne (8:54), A Dark Soul (9:07), Balance (6:19). Stronger Than Before (9:42).
This is another of those rare albums that has completely confounded me, hence the two-year time slippage since Ahmshere put out this self-released album.

The band was formed in 2006 by keyboards player Rien Fierst and guitarist Marco de Neijs. Originally, they operated as a quartet, but without a vocalist. They underwent a couple of personnel changes and four became five with drummer Senne Bergsman, bassist Frans Ellinger and Chris Henny taking care of the vocals and guitar. Mindless Trust was released in January 2013 and Marco left later that year, though the band is still playing as a four piece again. It would indeed be interesting to hear how their sound now compares to what they have delivered here.

Though much of this album is skilfully done, there are certain elements that grate, in particular, Henny's voice, which never seems to vary in its delivery of the eight songs. As a result, it becomes too much of a dominant feature, high as it is in the mix throughout.

The band can certainly groove along. Take A Dark Soul, which has some good instrumental breaks and the fast/slow pace at which it is played adds some interest. Momentum is also a pleasant tune with some pretty acoustic guitar underpinning Henny's voice. However, there are a couple of very discordant notes played on the electric guitar that are a little unsettling. Counter Attack contains some fluent Mellotron set against some metal guitar and the opener Falling Off The Edge has plenty of heavy riffage and a nice guitar break, but Henny sounds a little flat at one or two junctures. Apollo & Daphne also catches the ear through its uptempo beat and a plucked string effect.

It is the positive/negative effects that have been the main sticking points on this album. It is brimming full of good ideas but it is that rather vocally-dominated mix that lets it down. Unfortunately, after two years of regularly revisiting this album, that view is very unlikely to change now.
Conclusion:
Alison Henderson: 6.5 out of 10

Audience - Audience
Audience - Audience
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2015/1969
Time: 46:46
Links:
Track List:
Banquet (3:35), Poet (3:04), Waverley Stage Coach (2:58), Riverboat Queen (2:58), Harlequin (2:36), Heaven Was an Island (4:18), Too Late I'm Gone (2:37), Maidens Cry (4:43), Pleasant Convalescence (2:30), Leave It Unsaid (4:10), Man on Box (3:06), House on the Hill (4:09), Paper Round (3:42), The Going Song (1:42), Troubles (1:25)

Audience - Friend's Friend's Friend
Audience - Friend's Friend's Friend
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2015/1970
Time: 81:58
Links:
Track List:
Nothing You Do (4:39), Belladonna Moonshine (2:44), It Brings a Tear (2:55), The Raid (8:47), Right on Their Side (5:28), Ebony Variations (5:28), Priestess (6:23), The Big Spell (3:05), Nothing You Do (1971 Remix) (4:39), Belladonna Moonshine (1971 Remix) (2:41), It Brings A Tear (1971 Remix) (2:55), The Raid (1971 Remix) (8:44), Ebony Variations (1971 Remix) (5:29), Priestess (1971 Remix) (6:14)
Audience was a cult British art/folk/jazzy-ish band active between 1969 and 1972. The original band consisted of Howard Werth (nylon-strung electric acoustic guitar and vocals), Keith Gemmell (tenor, alto sax, flute and clarinet), bass guitarist/vocalist Trevor Williams, and drummer/vocalist Tony Connor. That's right, a band without a lead guitar or keyboardist but with a woodwind player doing the solo stuff often altered through various effects to give it that rock solo sound, and that's what made them a little different.

These are the first two albums, originally on the Charisma Label but now reissued by Esoteric Recordings who have performed their usual exemplary remastering duties here.

First album, named after themselves, had other arrangements by Andrew Pryce Jackman (miss-spelt on the album as "Price") who was in The Syn with the late Chris Squire and did arrangements on the beloved Fish out of Water. I only highlight this trivia to show the kind of quality personal would have been around at the time of this band's inception. As with the first one, second album Friend's Friend's Friend, was self produced but if you are really into this band from way back, then the re-mixed bonus tracks on Friends, by future Elton John producer Gus Dudgeon, are the reason to purchase.

So the music then. Well straight off the bat (first album here), this isn't prog rock or in many ways rock music but after the folksy tinged opening couple of tracks I suppose Heaven Was An Island starts to infiltrate that terriortary but that sax will always either add a quasi jazz feel or the flute and clarinet, a folk flavour.

Poet and Maidens Cry definitely wear the green willow, but if House on the Hill had keyboards, it would hint of the Canterbury scene, mainly down to the Jimmy Hastings style of flutage and the steady back drop provided by the band when the woodwind plays giving the album shades of early Caravan.

Friends starts of in a familiar way, but a certain folk rock vibe seems to be part of its DNA. Raid is over eight minutes long and must have been a bit of a live show stopper with the saxaphone reigning like a guitar god, with the afore mentioned processing causing it to echo and feedback, bouncing off the Afghan coated, patchouli doused stoners in the... err... audience.

Howard Werth does have a distinctive voice in the same camp as say The Strawbs's Dave Cousins although I noticed (oddly) a little Ozzy in the phrasing. Right on Their Side reminds me of that scene in the Anchorman film where Will Ferrell is attempting to impress with his "Jazz Flute", but then we get Ebony Variations that could be the sound track to a children's puppet show. Eclectic to say the least.

The rocky-ist here is Priestess, all snarling story telling and aberrant sax, but still in an unplugged kind of way and Friend's Friend's Friend has a very well played clarinet motif, but the actual song reminds me a little of a Spinal Tap parody?! The Big Spell ends the original long player, and it's left me quite perplexed.

The age of the recording is not an issue here, as it was made properly, but the content are too "esoteric" for my tastes. The press release tells of their fanatical following and to that end I can only recommend this to that group of past faithful retainers. Having said that, this is just an opinion so if you like your rock played in this style, then fill your pixie boots and sup on Lindesfarne mead.
Andrew Halley:
Audience: 6 out of 10
Friend's Friend's Friend: 7 out of 10

Crippled Black Phoenix - White Light Generator
Crippled Black Phoenix - White Light Generator
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 70:53
Links:
Track List:
Sweeter Than You (2:13), No! Pt. 1 (3:51), No! Pt. 2 (9:45), Let's Have an Apocalypse Now! (5:47), Black Light Generator (5:47), Parasites (5:23), _______ (1:46), Northern Comfort (6:05), Wake Me Up When It's Time to Sleep (5:22), Caring Breeds the Horror (4:15), You'll Be Murdered (5:08), We Remember You (8:58), A Brighter Tomorrow (6:33)
Formed in 2004, seven albums in 10 years is not a bad track record from Crippled Black Phoenix, although their most recent, White Light Generator, almost passed the DPRP by. Despite the band's revolving door line-up, multi-instrumentalist Justin Greaves has been the creative mainstay from the start.

The music is often dark and moody where the emphasis on atmosphere combines elements of prog and metal with a post-rock sensibility. The end result is a kind of Steven Wilson meets Opeth meets Pink Floyd meets Sigur Rós hybrid.

Compare for example the two-part No! (clocking in at almost 14 minutes) where the back-to-basics chords and crunching riffs are in stark contrast with the expansive David Gilmour-influenced vocals and guitar of the majestic We Remember You.

Despite the claustrophobic intensity that hangs over the album, the songs are distinctively memorable for the most part as Black Light Generator testifies, with its soaring Tears For Fears-like vocals. In fact, the vocals are superb throughout, especially the infectious choral chants that embellish songs like the appropriately-titled and heavily percussive Let's Have an Apocalypse Now! and the haunting A Brighter Tomorrow (two of the albums strongest offerings).

Inevitably though, with a generous 71 minutes playing time, the album does pall in places. Parasites, for example, is a tad ponderous whilst I'm not sure if a cover of the Ricky Nelson pop ballad Sweeter Than You is a convincing album opener, which, despite the acoustic arrangement, is clearly a product of the late 1950s.

I'm unsure if there is a concept behind White Light Generator but the prevailing mood and inspired song titles suggests a voyage of despair and redemption. Either way, it's an album I wholeheartedly recommended with its combination of grunge and grandeur making for a compelling listen.
Conclusion:
Geoff Feakes: 8 out of 10

Hawkwind - The Flicknife Years 1981 - 1988
Hawkwind - The Flicknife Years 1981 - 1988
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 59:20, 50:26, 42:15, 46:23, 54:33
Links:
Track List:
CD 1: Whos Gonna Win The War - Hawklords (5:55), Golden Void - Sonic Assassins (4:46), Robot - Hawkwind (5:59), Raj Neesh - Inner City Unit (2:21), Good Girl, Bad Girl - Michael Moorcock & Deep Fix (3:47), Valium 10 - Hawkwind (7:52), Human Beings - Inner City Unit (2:57), Time Centre - Michael Moorcock & Deep Fix (4:35), bonus tracks: Dodgem Dude - Michael Moorcock & Deep Fix (2:47), Starcruiser - Michael Moorcock & Deep Fix (3:17), Hurry On Sundown - Hawkwind Zoo (5:04), Sweet Mistress Of Pain - Hawkwind Zoo (5:28), Kings Of Speed - Hawkwind (4:32)
CD 2: Zones (0:46), Dangerous Vision (5:05), Running Through The Back Brain (6:18), The Island (3:18), Motorway City (4:54), Utopia 84 (2:07), Social Alliance (4:40), Sonic Attack (5:47), Dream Worker (5:28), Brainstorm (8:34), bonus track: Master Of The Universe (Live) (3:29)
CD 3: Earth Calling - Hawkwind (3:00), We Do It - Hawkwind (10:31), Spirit Of The Age - Hawkwind (5:58), The Changing - Harvey Bainbridge (3:27), Phone Home Elliot - Uncle Nik & The E.T.'s (2:38), Work - Martin Griffin (3:42), Man With The Golden Arm - Nik Turner (3:57), Motherless Children - Dave Brock (5:18), bonus track: The Brothel In Rosenstrasse - Michael Moorcock & Deep Fix (3:44)
CD 4: Psychedlia Lives - Hawkwind (4:28), Drug Cabinet Key - Hawklords (6:07), Wired Up For Sound - Dave Brock (4:26), The Widow Song - Robert Calvert (2:42), Toad In The Road - The Alman Mulo Band (3:59), When The Going Gets Tough - Dave Brock (3:08), Vampire - Stravinsky's Shoe (4:39), Canes Venataci - Underground Zero (4:53), bonus tracks: Watching The Grass Grow - Hawkwind (3:41), Stonehenge Decoded - Hawkwind (8:20)
CD 5: Turner Point (2:21), Waiting For Tomorrow (4:43), Cajun Kinx (4:58), Solitary Mind Games (5:08), Starflight (1:50), Ejection (2:14), Assassins of Allah (3:54), Flight to Maputo (5:16), Confrontation (3:03), 5/4 (2:12), Ghost Dance (3:54), Coded Languages (4:23), Warrior on the Edge of Time (3:38), bonus tracks: Brainstorm (5:27), Blue Dreamer (1:32)
Back in 1997 the King Crimson live compilation release Epitaph was a turning point for me. When that most-telling-of-days came for me to receive the box set in the mail, I was delighted to see that the packaging was small, handy and portable. Smooth to the touch and great for die-hard Crimheads on the go. The colorful, visally appealing panchettes that graciously housed the respective CDs were accessed by a simple opening of the cover. It was in this tiny little box that the powerful CDs and CD booklet appeared, and I never looked back, as I fell in love with this compilation's packaging.

More clamshell boxes have graced my collection since, the most recent being my review copy of the new Hawkwind box set, The Flicknife Years 1981 - 1988. It brings together for the first time, the three Hawkwind Friends and Relations compilations originally released as stand-alone albums by the Flicknife label in the 1980s. The box set is rounded out with the inclusion of the the Flicknife compilations Out And Intake and Zones, a collection of bits and bobs-style recordings that focus on various live and studio efforts.

I had never heard the music of Hawkwind before I chose to review this box set, and generally the only thing I knew about them was that they were some sort of psychedelic space punk type of band. So what's this whole Hawkwind thing about? Their debut album came out 45 years ago, and since that time Hawkwind has released a voluminous amount of studio albums, live albums and compilations, with many line-up changes taking place along the way, and vocalist/guitarist/keyboard player Dave Brock always dutifully keeping the perpetual torch.

So if you are unfamiliar with Hawkwind, this box set will serve as a formidable baptism of solar storms, as it did for me. The addition of bonus tracks on each of the five CDs is an added bonus for old and new fans alike.

Hawkwind Friends and Relations rounds up tunes from Hawkwind and associated acts including Hawklords, Michael Moorcock and Deep Fix, Inner City Unit and Sonic Assassins. The a- and b- sides of the Michael Moorcock and Deep Fix single Dodgem Dude, originally released by Flicknife in 1980, take the form of bonus tracks here. The gritty, glammy a-side, showcases Moorcock's autonomic, hypertense vocal warblings, supported by cushions of his psychdelic guitar, with disciplined drumming from Simon King and flavorful backing vocals from Shirley Roden and Debi Doss. The b-side, Starcruiser, is a Bowie-like ditty with whimsical lyrics, carefree guitar and some poppy seeds of sax from sax man Nik Turner, creating an apothecary cocktail of laudanum liveliness, but devoid of the effects of absninthe.

The other bonus tracks here include a couple of Hawkwind Zoo demos and a Hawkwind mastered recording, originally released by Flicknife on an EP in 1980. On the early Traffic-influenced demo tune Hurry On Sundown, Brock's 12-string guitar goes from smooth to jumpy, percolating along with Terry Ollis' drumming, and rhythm section counterpart John Harrison's bass. Mick Slattery slips in lots of covert-yet-daring guitar leads. On the other Hawkwind Zoo demo, Sweet Mistress Of Pain, Turner's sax sounds a little more aligned than usual. Slattery's lead guitar rides shotgun with Ollis' drumming, charting the course along the way.

The other song from the EP included here is an instrumental version of Kings Of Speed, a scorcher of a track commandeered by powerful guitar shards juxtaposed with ironically dutiful leads from Brock. Unassuming bass from Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister of Motorhead fame and driving drumming from Simon King and Alan Powell chase the action along, with some fiery sax from Turner and delightfully reckless keyboard playing from Simon House. Hawkwind first released this song in vocal form on their Warrior On The Edge Of Time album in 1975.

Hawkwind, Friends and Relations (Twice Upon a Time) is a further delving into the band's family tree, showing off work from the solo discographies of Turner, Brock, drummer Martin Griffin, bassist/keyboard player Harvey Bainbridge and Hawkwind themselves. Another Michael Moorcock & Deep Fix tune shows up as a bonus track here, namely the a-side of The Brothel in Rosenstrasse, a limited edition single that was first released by Flicknife in 1982. It's an infectious number offering much in the way of thick, groovy Tubeway Army-style ribbons of bass, mid-tempo drumming elements foreshadowing that of Steve Hackett's solo work, little leading bits of Frippian guitar, and quirky Eno and Roxy-based lyricisms.

Hawkwind, Friends and Relations (Volume Three) collects together tracks from Hawkwind along with associated acts like Hawklords, Robert Calvert, The Alman Mulo Band, Stravinsky's Shoe, and Underground Zero. Included as a bonus are the two tracks that originally made up the 12" EP that came with the live album Stonehenge: This is Hawkwind Do Not Panic, released by Flicknife in 1984. The recordings come from Hawkwind's appearance at the Stonehenge Free Festival in June of that year. Watching The Grass Grow is a tight little blast of punk combustion, showing relentless drumming from otherwise-noted double bassist Danny Thompson, and parallel arterial guitar speed races from Brock and Huw Lloyd-Langton. Stonehenge Decoded offers up disturbing synth sequencing elements and guitar deployments, going from bluesy to rough. Turner's sax is loony if not lunatic, as if he is on his own little natural satellite somewhere off in space. This jam sounds like The Stooges' L.A. Blues, but ending up in a distant quasar far away from Detroit.

Zones is a mostly live/partially studio Hawkwind album first released by Flicknife in 1983. It mostly contains live material from tours in 1980 and 1982, rounded out with a pair of demos from 1981. The bonus track included here is a live version of Master Of The Universe that was issued previously in 1983 by Flicknife as a single b-side. Brock's hauntingly soulful vox and abrasive guitar, with mad, crazy soloing from Lloyd-Langton powers this track seemingly past all points of oblivion, despite its under-four-minute brevity. Concentrated primal machinations from behind the drum kit come courtesy of none other than Ginger Baker.

Out and Intake is a collection of studio out-takes from 1987 including re-recordings of older tunes, along with out-takes from 1982 and some live material from that year's Choose Your Masques tour. The disc has been appended with two bonus tracks recorded live at the Bristol Custom Bike Show, and originally featured on the compilation Traveller's Aid Trust. Brainstorm displays some scorching punk sonics, crashing drumming from Martin Griffin, Brock's darkly ominous synths and trademark voice and crazy whaling wails of guitar soloing from Lloyd-Langton. The pure energy of this live tune is evident simply by listening to the CD, and was undoubtedly a treat for the fans who were there that day. Following is Blue Dreamer, a fitting sort of spacey coda-type piece credited to Bainbridge.

Cherry Red's Hawkwind imprint Atomhenge has put together a fine, quality CD package here. From the convenient, easy-to-store glossy clamshell box, the five individual CDs with the respective cover art work replicated in all its splashy glory, and the detailed booklet and informative liner notes. All these things come together to offer the new fan a more than acceptable starting point, and of course to satisify the demands of the hardcore Hawkwind devotee.

This package is pretty niche-oriented and is perhaps questionably sequenced here and there. It also contains a couple of patchy, spotty warts on the live recordings. So I am going to bring my rating here a full point under "recommended". Nontheless this is a fine Hawkwind box set, and I definitely look forward to more of these professionally presented releases from AtomHenge.
Conclusion:
Jim Corcoran: 7 out of 10

Karnataka - Secrets Of Angels
Karnataka - Secrets Of Angels
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 58:50
Links:
Track List:
Road To Cairo (5:27), Because Of You (4:53), Poison Ivy (4:15), Forbidden Dreams (5:49), Borderline (6:20), Fairy-Tale Lies (4:59), Feels Like Home (7:06), Secrets Of Angels (20:01)
I'm in love! Starting a review on a prog rock website with these words might seem a bit weird. Isn't there an other medium to express my feelings? In this case: No! The reason for all this, is Hayley Griffiths! Her voice has really enchanted me. For me it's quite a new experience as I am not always very crazy about female vocalists in our beloved genre. One or two tracks of female-fronted bands are normally enough for me but the combination of Griffiths' voice and this music really grabs me by the throat! She is a classically-trained soprano and in the past she's been touring worldwide with Riverdance and Michael Flatley's Lord Of The Dance. Her favourite bands are Evanescence and Within Temptation and influences of both of these bands are widely found on this album. The album can be called a perfect mixture of gothic, prog (metal) and Celtic rock. Other bands worth mentioning that you might hear influences of on this album are Clannad, Renaissance and even Marillion.

Karnataka has had a lot of changes in the line-up during the years but on this album it all seems to fit together better than ever. As mentioned, Hayley Griffiths takes care of the lead vocals, the other members are: Ian Jones (bass, keyboards, bass pedals, programming, vocals), Enrico Pinna (lead, rhythm and acoustic guitars, vocals), Cagri Tozluoglu (keyboards, programming) and Jimmy Pallagrosi (drums, percussion).

The renewed energy of the band is already crystal clear in the opening track Road To Cairo, which starts with sublime strings in oriental style and slightly reminded me of Led Zeppelin's Kashmir. It's a powerful track and sounds very catchy. All orchestral arrangements on this album sound great, so I assume they must have spent a lot of time and attention in making them sound so excellent.

The next two tracks are fine examples of gothic rock with nice catchy melodies, mainly composed by Ian Jones, the main songwriter of the band.

There are no bad tracks on this album, but the final track Secrets Of Angels is probably one of their best tracks ever. So strap yourselves in, because those 20 minutes could be the best thing you have heard in a very long time! The song has a Celtic opening with uilleann pipes and low whistles. And who should you call whenever in need for a great musician on these instruments? Exactly, Troy Donockley! As usual, he showcases his exceptional skills on this track and adds some extra class to it as a guest musician. At the grand finale of this track Pinna delivers one of his most devastating solos; Donockley serves up an uilleann pipe solo to die for, and the rhythm section, keyboards and the assembled string section provide an eruption of dizzying beauty.

Secrets Of Angels is among my best albums of 2015. The only reason for me it's not a perfect 10 is that I find the lyrics of Feels Like Home a little cheesy. But I'm being picky, I guess I'm afraid to give this album the perfect score!
Conclusion:
Peter Swanson: 9.5 out of 10

Masterplan - Novum Initium
Masterplan - Novum Initium
Country of Origin: Germany
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 57:35
Links:
Track List:
Per Asperd Ad Astra (1:02), The Game (5:28), Keep Your Dream Alive (3:48), Black Night Of Magic (3:42), Betrayal (4:41), No Escape (4:23), Pray On My Soul (4:35), Earth Is Going Down (3;41), Return From Avalon (4:26), Through Your Eyes (4:56), Novum Initium (10:19), 1492 (3:47), Fear The Silence (3:47)
Masterplan was born in 2001, when drummer Uli Kusch and guitarist Roland Grapow parted ways with the German metal band Helloweeen. Kusch and Grapow were seeking a new, more progressive, direction and Masterplan became their vehicle for change . Novum Initium is Masterplan's fifth album and features a line-up consisting of Roman Grapow (guitar, vocals), Axel Mackenrott (keyboards), Martin Skaroupka (drums), and newcomers Jari Kainulain (bass) and Rick Altzi (vocals).

Altzi is the latest of several vocalists who have passed through the band over the years. He is an impressive presence, with a good feel for the band's hard and heavy style. Grapow and Mackenrott are responsible for most of the band's original material. Grapow is a powerhouse guitarist, who can play fast or fancy, while Mackenrott's keyboards provide balance and prog rock colorings.

Per Aspera Ad Astera is a keyboard-heavy intro that leads us into The Game, a tough, guitar-driven rocker. Grapow is the star here, but the rhythm section is potent, and Mackenrott's keyboards hold things together nicely. Keep Your Dream Alive showcases Altzi's gritty vocals. He is an impressive singer, who can sing or scream as the music dictates. Combined with Grapow and Mackenrott, he provides Masterplan with a very solid frontline.

Black Night of Magic is another three-minute-plus blast of energy. In some ways, Masterplan reminds me of Uriah Heep with their powerful arrangements, big guitars and even bigger vocals. Grapow and Altzi lead the charge while Mackenrott provides the necessary backdrop. This is heavy rock with intelligence. Betrayal is another gem with an eerie, sitar-like intro, while Earth Is Going Down is appropriately heavy. Return from Avalon features some potent keyboards and perhaps a bit of a Magnum feel to it. Through Your Eyes is a power ballad, deftly played, while the album's title track is an ambitious, 10-minute epic, which features strong contributions from everybody. Novum Initium is intricate, yet hard-hitting with plenty of fine soloing. The cd's bonus tracks, 1492 and Fear the Silence, are hard-hitting rockers that won't disappoint the metal crowd.

In summation, Masterplan does a fine job of bridging the gap between metal and prog. The emphasis is still on heavy riffing but the musicianship is spirited and Altzi is more than your standard, heavy metal screamer. Masterplan is a good band and Novum Initium is a very good album. It's a solid 7 in my book.
Conclusion:
Rick Collins: 7 out of 10

Procol Harum - Procol Harum
Procol Harum - Shine on Brightly
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2015/1967
Time: 47:18
Links:
Track List:
Conquistador (2:41), She Wandered Through the Gaden Fence (3:25), Something Following Me (3:38), Mabel (1:54), Cerdes (Outside the Gates Of) (5:04), A Christmas Carol (4:50), Kaleioscope (2:55), Salad Days (Are Here Again) (3:40), Good Captain Clack (1:31), Repent Walpurgis (5:06), A Whiter Shade of Pale (4:08), Lime Street Blues (2:52), Homburg (3:57), Good Captain Clack (1:30)

Procol Harum - Shine on Brightly
Procol Harum - Shine on Brightly
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2015/1968
Time: 51:06
Links:
Track List:
Quite Rightly So (3:40), Shine on Brightly (3:32), Skip Softly (My Moonbeams) (3:47), Wish Me Well (3:18), Rambling On (4:31), Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone) (2:50), In Held 'Twas In I (17:31), Il Tuo Diamante (3:29), Quite Rightly So (3:43), In the Wee Small Hours of Sixpence (3:00)
The late sixties were an exciting time for music of all genres but especially British groups who were experimenting with sounds that would one day be called progressive rock. The Beatles had Sergeant Pepper's which was in many ways a response to The Beach Boys Pet Sounds which probably in turn led to King Crimson, ELP and with hints of American Blues, Deep Purple. The electric guitar was the weapon of choice along with the Hammond organ. No band, however, brought this churchy sound to the public's eager ears more than Procol Harum. A "one off" single had been a surprise hit in 1968 with poetic lyrics by Keith Reed and music by piano playing singer Gary Brooker. The Bach inspired organ motif was by Mathew Fisher and was (years) later involved in a court case over its significance to the song.

A Whiter Shade of Pale reached no. 1 in the UK and no. 5 in the USA. This eventually led to the record company releasing an album on the basis of that success. David Knights (bass), the underrated drummer B.J. Wilson, and the Hendrix-esque Robin Trower completed the pentagon of personnel. This line up completed three albums but it is the first two we're going to look at here. Originally released with the decision not to include that single (!), we have here both albums with the singles and 'B' sides restored. For completists, there are other versions with more tracks (all reissued and remastered by Esoteric Recordings), but it's the basic single CD's that are in my possession.

The first eponymous album is in mono, at the insistence of original producer Denny Cordell, but the separation of instruments is all the more remarkable considering that fact. It ranges from a blues based Stax type of vibe (Something Following Me), through three tracks obviously inspired by the more whimsical side of The Beatles (She Wandered Through the Garden Fence, Mabel, and Good Captain Clack), to I guess what can be called early prog.

Cerdes (Outside the Gates Of) has a Cream feel to it with it's bass guitar intro and psychedelic guitar whilst Kaleidoscope is 2:55 of Traffic inspired pop. But it's the all-instrumental grandeur of Repent Walpurgis that ups the ante on their debut long player. Organ led, a blistering guitar solo, all interspersed with a few bars of Bach's Prelude in C. A positive template of what similar offerings would become part of the next generation of this genre. Throughout, the stars are the drummer and that guitarist. It's a no brainer that Robin Trower would eventually make one the best electric blues albums ever with his Bridge of Sighs record in 1974.

Shine on Brightly was their second album, which was originally released in September 1968. Its influence on progressive rock music cannot be underestimated due to the inclusion of the 17:31 of In Held Twas In I. The title of this epic is an acrostic, taking the first words from the non-instrumental movements as well as the first word from a verse later in the first movement:

In - "In the darkness of the night" (start of Glimpses of Nirvana)
Held "Held close by that which some despise" (sixth verse from Glimpses of Nirvana)
'Twas - 'Twas Teatime at the Circus
In - In the Autumn of My Madness
I - "I know if I'd been wiser" (start of Look to Your Soul)

Such lofty explanations within these long form songs became commonplace throughout the 70s and this is where "it" all started! Many years later, the super group beat combo Transatlantic actually covered this meaning of life exposition (it's a beanstalk, according to the Dalai Lama as stated in the first stanza) on their first album, SMPTe. There's the heritage in a nutshell.

The rest of the album doesn't really throw many new innovations over the debut, but is a fine body of work considering this is still only one year before 1970. Quite Rightly So starts with organ chords that reminded me of Manfred Mann's Davy's on the Road Again and Shine on Brightly continues the "Procol" classic sound. The main change is the early stereo mix, which often panned entire drum kits to one of the speakers, which can be a little distracting, but all is forgiven thanks to the fine playing.

Skip Soflty (My Moonbeams) must have been an influence on early Steve Harley with its Mr. Soft approach, but the piano interludes and Russian Cossack dance ending bring it right back into prog territory. Again Robin Trower excels on the Family-like Wish Me Well and the blues continue with the hymnal Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone).

I've known and grown up with these albums and was always impressed with the production, so these "remastered" takes imbue a small buffing up, but nothing new. However, these should be for the youngsters who might not be aware of what was around when they were a twinkle in daddy's eye or indeed a mistake thanks to the summer of love. I will be recommending both these albums and look forward to the next reissue, the mighty A Salty Dog.
Andrew Halley:
Procol Harum: 8 out of 10
SHine On Birghtly: 8 out of 10

Vermillion Skye - Security Theater
Vermillion Skye - Security Theater
Country of Origin: Canada
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 53:46
Links:
Track List:
Stone Cold Love (4:04), Biding My Time (4:07), Now and Again (6:15), They Get To you (4:30), Endless Dream (4:00), Panic Attack (3:28), The Silence (4:47), You Can't Be Yourself (4:35), Do What You Gotta Do (4:36), Don't Wait Up (3:51), Nobody's Home (4:17), Security Theater (5:17)
Vermillion Skye is a band based out of Toronto, Canada, and considering that Security Theater is their fifth album since 1997, it is surprising how much they have flown under the radar in that time. Information on the band is somewhat limited and I have seen very little chatter about them on some of the progressive rock forums. The band quite appropriately compares themselves to groups like Styx, Saga, Queen and 80s era Yes and Genesis. Their AOR style of prog is accessible, compact and structured in a more traditional classic rock approach. That said, they do pack a fair amount of musical depth into their average three- to five-minute song structures. You won't hear anything surprisingly new in their sound as the band would have fit quite comfortably on the commercial rock radio of the mid to late 80s. That is not meant as a slight, as they perform their somewhat nostalgic brand of art rock very well.

Security Theater is the first Vermillion Skye release to feature founding member and keyboardist Jeff Johnston on lead vocals. Jeff is the composer of all of the songs on the album and his comfort with the material is apparent. It also helps that his vocal range fits this type of music perfectly. Coming somewhere in between Dennis DeYoung and Michael Sadler in terms of style, Jeff is a natural fit in the role. There is a real professionalism displayed in both the musical performances and the excellent production quality of the album. Best described as theatrical in presentation, don't expect to find any prog epics on Security Theater. There are plenty of twists and turns throughout the course of the album though. The band doesn't employ a completely straightforward rock approach, but that sensibility is always there. Think of a prog rock band that writes and performs what could be hit singles and you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Vermillion Skye. They can be somewhat adventurous, but also have quite the knack for catchy melodies and earworm choruses.

At times, one may wish that the band would expand a bit on the concise nature of their songs. They certainly have the musical abilities to produce more complex material and I personally would love to hear them add a few more instrumental passages into their music. Ultimately, that's not what they are going for, but songs like Biding My Time, Now and Again, The Silence and the title track still contain some effective quirky twists. There are progressive vibes running throughout the album, including the conceptual theme that concerns human security and insecurities. Overall though, the tone of the music is more rock oriented than prog. Regardless, this is a well constructed and entertaining work by a band that deserves more attention. If you are interested in finding an album filled with catchy and accessible tunes that also contain a slightly progressive edge, than look no further. Chances are good that Security Theater is exactly what you are looking for.
Conclusion:
Patrick McAfee: 7.5 out of 10

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Published Sunday 9 August 2015

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