ISSUE 2015-593

Reviews in this issue:

The Aaron Clift Experiment - Outer Light, Inner Darkness
The Aaron Clift Experiment - Outer Light, Inner Darkness
Country of Origin: US
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 63:44
Links:
Track List:
Kissed by the Sun (7:40), Locked (5:23), Fragments of Sleep (4:37), Your Arms Hold Them to the Dark (4:20), Aoide, Goddess of Song (5:58), The Last Oasis (8:36), Moonscape (12:05), Bathed in Moonlight (7:27), Bonus Tracks: Your Arms Hold Them to the Dark (acoustic version) (3:40),
The Aaron Clift Experiment (ACE) hail from Austin/Texas. Outer Light, Inner Darkness is their second release. Whilst the first one Lonely Hills from 2012 was construed to be a solo project from band leader Aaron Clift, the second one is a fully-fledged band project. The line-up consists of Aaron Clift (vocals, keyboards), Eric Gutierrez (guitar, mandolin), Devin North, (bass guitar, double bass), and Joe Resnick (drums, percussion). There is a string quartet present on three songs (Fragments of Sleep, The last Oasis, Bathed in Moonlight) and Oscar Dodier plays the violin in Kissed by the Sun.

According to the explanations given by Aaron Clift, Outer Light, Inner Darkness is a concept album about duality, such as light vs. darkness, hope vs. despair, individuals vs. group. The songs on the first half of the album are about the conflict of those opposing forces, whilst the ones of the second half attempt to reconcile those extremes.

What does the music sound like? I put the CD in my player and listening to the first bars of Kissed by the Sun, I said to myself: oh, they a covering an early Kansas song which I haven't heard yet. The song does not follow up entirely in the Kansas way, but it quickly becomes apparent that with ACE we have a classical representative of American-style retro prog. Crisp guitar playing, dynamic drumming, powerful basses, varied keyboards and everything garnished by Aaron Clift's emotional and melodic singing. Bands that I found similarities with are Realm, Deluge Grander, Little Atlas, Moth Vellum, a bit of Spock's Beard, Big Big Tain and Echolyn. Interestingly, none of the influences mentioned by the band itself (Genesis, Pink Floyd, Rush, to name a few) came to my mind intuitively whilst listening to the music the first time. For a band bearing the name of its keyboarder, there is comparatively little dominance of his instruments. This is not a keyboarder's "experiment" and playground, the whole album being very well balanced in terms of every instruments' contributions.

All of the songs show a strong emphasis on melodies. They are varied without being unduly complex, accessible and emotional. Don't expect twist and turns and rough edges, intensive soloing and amazing musical virtuosity, the music gets by without this. On the other hand, the songs aren't too polished to quickly become bored with. The string quartet adds a touch of particularity to ACE's music, mostly evident in The Last Oasis, which starts as a piece of classical chamber music before developing into a joyful song full of variedness, rhythm changes, beautiful guitar solos and dreamy grand piano lines. Clearly my favourite! But also the three-piece suite Moonscape with its hypnotic middle section and great Fender Rhodes playing (at least it sounds like one) and the spacy Bathed in Moonlight with its hymn-like singing and melody are great examples of progressive rock. And, I must correct myself, Pink Floyd as a reference cannot be totally ruled out.

This album will appeal to fans of the American-style retro prog. It requires a bit of patience to let it grow upon you. Upon first listening, I found it a bit too simplistic, but that impression disappeared upon repetitive listening. Despite being accessible, the album reveals its subtlety only gradually over time. If you are prepared to that, then buying ACE's album is a worthy and rewarding experiment.
Conclusion:
Thomas Otten: 8 out of 10

The Badge - La relazioni pericolose
The Badge - La relazioni pericolose
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 66:39
Links:
Track List:
La relazioni pericolose (17:37), Anni 70 (6:44), Ancora un giorno dopo la fine (10:18), Soto il cielo d'Africa (7:46), Burokrat (6:21), Dichiarazione (7:43), La legenda del laggo (10:10)
Many progressive bands claim that their influences go back to the heyday of prog in the 70s. The Badge, founded in northern Italy by keyboardist Angelo Isaia, originates from that period and still feels deeply influenced by the musical heritage of those times. Yet they waited until this year to present themselves on disc for the first time with their album La relazioni pericolose ('Dangerous liaisons'). It is a rare phenomenon that a band plays for such a long period of time without recording albums at all. Apart from Isaia the band consists of Sergio Isaia (bass, guitar, vocals), Fiore Colombo (guitars, bass, vocals) and Pino Atzori (drums).

The logical question when starting to listen to the music is 'Have all these years been fruitful enough to make a remarkable record?' The first impression is that The Badge have chosen a wide variation of styles and atmospheres. Therefore the cohesion on the album is low. And, unfortunately, that is not the only weakness of this album. Album opener La relazioni pericolose is the first epic. It opens with wide-ranging tapestries of music. In its first seven minutes there's a march-like intro, typical Italian-prog vocals, a short guitar solo, some heavy riffing, a classical piano, a harpsichord-like interlude and a cover of some distant classical tune played on Hammond organ. This great variation makes the song pleasant on the one hand but the lack of consistency also starts to irritate. Where's the leading theme? Where's the musical glue between all these ideas? It is hard to find, although the main vocal melody returns several times, but all in all this song is primarily a long list of musical ideas loosely thrown together, which doesn't make it an impressive epic at all. But it definitely shows that The Badge has a lot of ideas, so that's promising for the rest of the album.

Anni 70 opens with some nice acoustic guitar and after some two minutes the band comes in. What strikes immediately is that the vocals sound exactly the same as in the opener; a bit flat, very little expression and not that strong. The rest of the song is a pleasant up-tempo listen with a sudden break two thirds into the song. Electric guitar and Mellotron in the style of early King Crimson dominate.

Ancora un giorno dopo la fine starts off as an early Deep Purple-like song, with strong Hammond chord playing. Then some really ugly, outdated synth-sounds spoil the party, after which the song evolves slowly into a strange mix of question-and-answer play between organ and guitar-riffing that goes nowhere. It takes about two-and-a-half minutes for the song to unfold as a sort of Budgie meets ELP pastiche augmented with another classical cover and ending with a Ritchie Blackmore-type guitar solo - it's all quite horrible actually.

Things don't get better with the next couple of songs. Soto il cielo d'Africa has weak, restrained vocals over a Mellotron-based melody, although the harmonies sound much better, while Burokrat is an up-tempo rock song with the band trying to sound like Uriah Heep (organ) or Wishbone Ash (double guitars) but failing to do so in a convincing manner. Fortunately, Dichiarazione is a nice ballad consisting again of many different musical ideas set after each other, but nicely sung and with a great guitar solo in the middle. The last epic, La legenda del laggo, opens with wide key chords (church organ?) in which you can hear some hints of Yes' Awaken. But the song takes on a very different path and becomes up-tempo with nice interplay between keys and guitar in quite a cheerful melody. At the end of the song the band returns to where they started off, making this, to my ears, the most structured song on the album. And although the vocals sound quite restrained again, especially in the high notes, this is the strongest song on the album.

It is great that after so many years making music together The Badge decided to make a their own record. However, for a band with so much musical experience the final result is disappointing. The way they play their music is fine, they know how to play, but the song-writing is weak. Shorter songs built around fewer ideas within one song but with each of these ideas elaborated further would have made a far better album. In spite of the fact that it could have been better I sincerely hope that they are happy with the result; being together for so long deserves a reward.
Conclusion:
Theo Verstrael: 5 out of 10

Elleven - Transfiction
Elleven - Transfiction
Country of Origin: Germany
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 61:13
Links:
Track List:
Try (8:17), Not The One (7:03), Sakura Tree (7:08), Blurry Road (8:10), Anyway (6:12), Reproduction (8:18), Dust And Light (11:11), Losing Tracks (4:54)
Elleven is a German band founded in 2001 when two former members of Chandelier wanted to start a new prog project with Julia Graff (vocals). The result of their collaboration was the album Insight (2007). In 2009, the band split up and nothing was heard of them until October 2015.

Then, the band released their second album, Transfiction. Graff is still one of the band members and she is joined by Carsten Hütter (guitars), Armin Riemer (keyboards), Herry Rubarth (drums) and Roger Weitz (bass) on this new album. The band describe their music as melodic progressive rock combined with art rock and categorise it somewhere between The Gathering, Harvest and All About Eve. I agree that the music sometimes sounds a bit like the aforementioned bands but, after having listened to the entire album, I wouldn't consider them on the same level of quality.

The opening track, Try, starts very promisingly but, after some nice work on guitar and keys, the middle part is less interesting and in the last few minutes the fine guitar and keys parts return. The track Blurry Road is, in my opinion, the best track on the album with great soloing on guitar in Pink Floydian-style, or maybe more like Sylvan*, their German compatriots from Hamburg. The longest track, -Dust And Light_, also contains some good bits on guitar and keys. The album sounds OK musically but it's mainly the vocal department that doesn't really get me excited. It could be a matter of taste, but I do think Anneke van Giersbergen (The Gathering) and Monique van der Kolk (Harvest) are much better vocalists.

This will probably not be among the best albums of 2015 but certainly it's not among the worst. I'm sure they will be an enjoyable listen for many proggers all over the world.
Conclusion:
Peter Swanson: 7 out of 10

Entity - Il Falso Centro
Entity - Il Falso Centro
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 63:47
Links:
Track List:
Davanti allo specchio (4:45), Il Desiderio (16:37), Il Tempo (8:41), Il Trip dell'ego (5:26), "ANT" (9:27), L'armatura (12:42), La Notte oscura dell'anima (5:59)
After an enforced period of abstinence from anything Rock Progressivo Italiano (RPI), I've broken my PRI prog fast by listening to Entity's 2013 album, Il Falso Centro - and a fine album it is.

As with many RPI bands, there are the tell-tale signs of 70s influences, mainly with the use of vintage style keyboards. The opening instrumental track, Davanti Allo Speccio, starts with 'waltzy' piano chords and accompanying drums rolls, which give way to some lovely, simple classical-cum-jazz piano work that slowly builds in intensity, including a simple but effective guitar solo. A fine start.

Il Desiderio, the longest track on the album, features a great hypnotic bass and drum opening that is soon followed by some vintage style synth solo work (think Keith Emerson here and you get the picture). There are enough variations, layers and moods, including vocals (in Italian) and tasty guitar runs, to keep the listener interested. Probably the best track on the album.

Il Tempo opens with a soothing vocal melody with a wistful piano accompaniment, which gives the song an almost mournful quality (I don't know what the singer is singing about, but it sounds good!). Other band members eventually enter. This particular track reminded me of the Italian band Ranestrane. It also features some heartfelt piano and acoustic guitar with sad-sounding strings that give the song further contrasts. Great track.

Il Trip Dell'Ego has a slight avant-garde-ish opening that does surprise the listener given what has gone before. There are jarring piano stabs, electric piano loops, synth and guitar runs until eventually the whole band are in on the act. I would say this track is a bit more experimental than others on the album. I suppose there's a bit of King Crimson here.

ANT opens with the familiar jazz-tinged solo piano with background synth strings. The vibe here is one of contemplation or sadness. Then the song explodes into vocals, guitars, bass and drums that add a sense of foreboding. The vocals here are the strongest on the album. Another fine track.

L'Armatura opens with a heavy metal groove. It features all the hallmarks of prog, from great drumming, Hammond runs, synth and guitar riffs, grooving bass, dramatic vocals, which all add up to another good track. La Notte Oscura Dell Anima, the last track on the album, is a vocal and piano song. It features, once again, some beautiful piano work that has more of a classical bent than previous tracks. The vocal has a sense of sadness and longing. It is a nice song, and a good way to finish the album.

A very fine début album and worth checking out. One thing I didn't like was the sound of the snares within the mix - just my personal taste.
Conclusion:
Alan Weston: 7 out of 10

Ice Age - Double Feature
Ice Age - Double Feature
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 74:43, 63:31
Links:
Track List:
CD 1: Perpetual Child (10:29), Sleepwalker (5:25), Join (6:05), Spare Chicken Parts (8:51), Because of You (5:41), The Bottom Line (4:46), Ice Age (11:10), One Look Away (5:42), Miles to Go (5:02), To Say Goodbye - Part I: Worthless Words (3:13), To Say Goodbye - Part II: On Our Way (8:18)
CD 2: The Lhasa Road (No Surrender) (8:40), March of the Red Dragon (1:07), The Blood of Ages (7:16), A Thousand Years (6:21), When You're Ready (9:10), Musical Cages (6:31), Monolith (1:17), The Guardian of Forever (6:49), Howl (1:42), The Wolf (4:42), To Say Goodbye - Part III: Still Here (8:32), Tong-len (1:34)
Another in the Magna Carta Double Feature series takes a look back at the US prog metal band Ice Age's first two albums, The Great Divide, from 1999, and Liberation, which followed two years later. Following an EP, Ice Age ceased to be, morphing into the band Soulfractured, which featured a less metal sound.

The first album was critically acclaimed at the time of its release, but now sounds a tad dated. It's got a sound of its era - influenced by Dream Theater, Styx, Kansas and, to some extent, Rush, although with the latter, only sporadically. While the playing is wonderful, and it's a good representation of prog metal at the turn of the millennium, by today's standards it's really nothing special. Of course, anyone who yearns for the days of early prog metal - and one could easily include Symphony X and Fates Warning among the same group - and who hasn't heard Ice Age - might want to check this out as a more obscure cousin of such well-known bands.

It's got the clever, chunky riffs, inventive, speedy and tight drumming, thunderous bass, impressive keyboards and archetypal prog metal vocals. And the compositions are certainly decent. On its release, there were definitely high hopes for Ice Age. There was massive potential.

Two years isn't a long period of time in the music industry, more so in progressive rock. The sophomore excursion, Liberation, however, went unnoticed in many quarters, and those who did discover it, or bought it based on the debut, were doubtless left somewhat underwhelmed, possibly by its variety.

For the most part, it's similar, and starts out very much like Dream Theater, but then there are more mainstream sections and songs, such as the Kansas-like When You're Ready. Musical Cages, which follows, has a wonderful introduction with a lightning fast riff any Dream Theater fan would drool over. There are, undoubtedly, some moments of absolutely amazing prog on display here. However, they seem to be fleeting, perhaps because of the similarity to other bands and the lack of a cohesive and individual 'voice'. There are also two or three tracks that really contribute little and bring the better moments down.

That said, it's extremely solid, and well-played prog on the more metal side. Fans of early Dream Theater looking for more music in a similar vein to their heroes could do much worse than pick of this double album, given its single album price. While it won't become a faithful friend, there are many moments to savour. The first album is more solid, the second more varied but worth it for the sublime Musical Cages alone.
Conclusion:
Jim Cornall: 7 out of 10

Invocatio Musicalis - Live
Invocatio Musicalis - Live
Country of Origin: Hungary
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 61:13
Links:
Track List:
274. református ének feld. (Ki Istenének átad mindent...) (2:47), Greg Lake nyomdokain (3:05),379. református ének feld. (Emlékezzél, Úr Isten híveidről...) (2:14), Utazás az Andokban (2:04), 137. zsoltár feld. (Hogy a babiloni izeknél ültünk...)(4:52), 265. református ének feld. (Hagyjad az Úristenre te minden dolgodat...) (2:07), Utópia (5:48), 225. református ének feld. (Felséges Isten, nagy nevedet áldom...) (2:16), Kelta parafrázis (2:07), Ma liberté... (2:44), 200. református ének feld. (Ó, maradj kegyelmeddel Mivelünk, Jézusunk...) (2:31), Invocatio Musicalis (2:53), 338. református ének feld. (Lelki próbáimban, Jézus, légy velem...) (2:44), 9. zsoltár feld. (Tebenned, Uram, vigadok...) (2:29), Sűrű erdő mélyén... (2:30), 373. református ének feld. (Jövel, teremtő Szentlélek...) (4:32), 356. református ének feld. (Felvirradt áldott szép napunk...) (5:06), Reggeli tánc... (2:18), Olimpia 2012 (3:14), 302. református ének feld. (Ó népeknek Megváltója...) (2:33)
Invocatio Musicalis were formerly known as Musical Witchcraft. They are led by the Solaris flautist Attila Kollár. Invocatio Musicalis also features guitarist and co composer Gábor Naszádi. Kollár and Naszádi first met at school and have been involved in numerous projects since, including most notably, the three previous Musical Witchcraft releases. The first two Musical Witchcraft releases have a similar style to Solaris, but in 2000 with the release of the bands third album Psalms & Soundtrack the band's sound changed to a more pastoral and predominantly acoustic style.

Psalms & Soundtrack contained some studio parts composed by Kollár and Naszádi, but also showcased the bands desire to create new instrumental interpretations of the Hungarian Reformed Church songbook of psalms and hymns. Given the bands intention, it is perhaps not surprising that, the electric elements of Musical Witchcraft's earlier releases should be replaced in Psalms & Soundtrack by a more reflective, accessible and less overtly strident style.

This change of emphasis continues in the band's first release under the Invocatio Musicalis moniker. The album highlights some previously unreleased compositions and some previously unreleased revisions of the Reformed Church songbook. It also includes a selection of pieces that originally appeared on Musical Witchcraft's second and third releases

If I had not read the albums sleeve notes, I would not necessarily have associated the tunes with an ecumenical content or message. In this respect, the gloriously crafted tunes performed in Live transcend any intended or specific religious overtones. Instead, the whole release is adorned with an impressive beauty that irrespective of belief is quite simply uplifting.

Live is an album where the emphasis is on melody rather than power. The compositions have a definite and identifiable structure. This makes the release highly accessible and as a result, it is the sort of album you could confidently play to friends who have little or no interest in prog. The sound quality of the album is generally good and as the music is captured from live performances, a spirit of spontaneity adorns much of the disc.

The flute takes a full role in providing the albums most powerful voice and the whole release is a fitting vehicle for Kollár's attributes as a flautist and arranger. The tunes are garlanded by some impressive and colourful flute work that has an organic earthiness that is hard to ignore and easy to appreciate. Kollár's rich fluently soaring flute style is perfectly suited to the flowing, finely crafted tunes. He has the pureness of tone associated with players such as Herbie Mann, but there are numerous occasions where Kollár performs powerfully and with a raw breathy edge associated with flautists more normally connected with a rock style.

The compositions are enhanced by some attractive ensemble embellishments. These are centred on the skilful interplay between flute, bass, percussion and the light touch of guitarist Naszádi. From a prog fans perspective, Utazás AZ Andokban Utopia, 373 and 356 are probably the most appealing of the tracks on offer.

In Utopia, Kollár again highlights his varied and expansive flute style. He is ably supported by his fellow band members and each player contributes skilfully to add to Utopia's evocative nature. The structure of the piece gives all of the players an opportunity to express themselves and there are some well executed percussion parts which create an interesting interlude between the shimmering guitar and flute parts. Within the bands performance repertoire Ma Liberte works particularly well. It has a humorous tongue in cheek vibe that makes me smile each time and is a perfect contrast with the sparse reflective lyrical beauty of 200 which follows. 373 features the talents of Edina Szirtes on violin, whilst 356 features Margrit Szvetnyik on violin. The addition of violin on these two tracks provides an opportunity for some fluid interplay and adds a different dimension to the music. These tracks have more of an ethnic feel and appear to draw upon traditional folk and regional influences. These combined elements work well and add to the albums emotive charm and appeal.

Whilst, Live may not appeal to those prog fans who value complexity over melody it is nonetheless, a welcome addition to Kollar's discography and should appeal to those who appreciate the flautists more reflective and lyrical side. Its overall quality ensures that it fully deserves attention, whatever genre it is perceived to belong to. It is not too demanding, but yet still has enough subtleties and points of interest to maintain its satisfying appeal. In the final analysis, Live is thoroughly enchanting because it contains some memorably wonderful foot tapping tunes. I thoroughly enjoyed this album and would recommend it to anybody who likes the music of Thys Van Leer's Etudes Sans Gene, or Ian Anderson's Divinities.
Conclusion:
Owen Davies: 7.5 out of 10

Mimes on Rollercoasters - 3
Mimes on Rollercoasters - 3
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 41:59
Links:
Track List:
Labor to Life (3:02), Sunshine (3:07), One Way Ticket Ride (5:58), Chained to a Life (2:32), Painting on Sad Ryes (4:39), Fly away (7:57), I Walk Alone (3:56), So Far Away My Love (5:03), Fanfare for Maxine (2:55), Sleep Gently Sweet Angel (2;50)
So to the third album in an ongoing series for Mark Ruester, his daughters Chessie and Adeline, and his old college friend Greg Teresi, whose guitar sound colours this release again and again. It is a concept album, being the third installment of a saga based around the life of Marcel and Mini Mime. This one introduces their new dauhter Maxine. Whilst the characters may be dysfunctional, this one celebrates life and new beginnings.

Musically this is a very diverse sounding album moving from synth based pieces to flute and saxophone led songs and with a fair smattering off Greg's distored electric guitar in the mix. There is a recurring motif that is picked up in several tracks along with an electro pop type beat and sensbilities. Mark's vocals are clear and distinct. Whilst light in tone, the album has a strong cohesiveness and identity throughout.

Mark has a professed love for early prog bands like Jethro Tull, Yes and Pink Floyd and whilst elements and traces of these acts can be noted overall, this studio based project retains its own unique identity. It really sound little like anything else or anything I can compare it too, apart from obscue 80s synth bands like Naked Eyes.

It's rather short but as always, repeated listening shows its colours, and they are rather vibrant too. I would say this is a very "up" album with good use of instrumentation. Although it is predominately mid-paced, it has it charms and it is a well produced and obviously loving crafted release.

I am not sure though of who exactly this is meant to appeal to as it's a bit too lightweight for most, but I guess if you like the last Fish on Friday album Godspeed, this may tick a few boxes for you. Is it prog though? Well, it certainly has elements, but it's more prog-lite, really. But if you like 80s synth pop or lighter prog, then this could be right up your alley.

Their website is comprehensive and lets you hear a lot of the album. All the background source material is there waiting for you to visit. Let's go ride the rollercoaster, shall we?
Conclusion:
John Wenlock-Smith: 6 out of 10

Øresund Space Collective - Out Into Space
Øresund Space Collective - Out Into Space
Country of Origin: International
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 78:14, 69:14, 71:47
Links:
Track List:
CD 1: Open The Skies (15:40), Flyby Guitar Hero (12:00), Has Anyone Seen Nick? (15:11), ØSC History Lesson (1:48), The Man Who Ate Planets (19:33), The Last Glide (13:58)
CD 2: Jamming For Your Mind (14:35), Stargate 7431 (12:41), Circular Perimeter (13:13), Chocolate Orange Candle (13:35), Band Introductions (0:23), One More Space Out (14:44)
CD3 : A Long Night Amongst Friends (34:02), Band Introductions (1:08), Let It Groove (12:59), Find The Way Out Of Here (23:37)
Øresund Space Collective are an international collective of musicians who are dedicated to keeping space rock jamming alive. Although they have released about seven studio albums this output is dwarfed by the amount of live and rehearsal jams that the band have made available, largely for free download. Out Into Space is a record of a live concert held to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the group's first concert. The concert consisted of three sets of music with three completely different line-ups! The first set featured the original band line-up which made the bands first four albums and took part in the majority of the jam sessions, the second set featured musicians who played mostly in the period from 2007 to 2011 and the final set features the current players in the collective. Each line-up has a bassist and drummer as well as two synth players and two (sets 1 and 3) or three (set 2) guitarists. The only consistent performer across all three sets is Dr. Synth (no prizes for guessing what he plays!) who also acts as compare and stage announcer - it is quite sweet the constant delight he shows at the number of people in the audience and who stay until the very end of the gig, a long one as the final set didn't start until about 1 am.

Let's face it, a concert of over four hours of instrumental space jams may not be everyone's cup of tea and, inevitably, there is a certain sameness to the material across the three CDs. However, having said that, the concept of featuring three different line-ups is quite unique and once can distinguish the different approaches taken by each part of the collective. Maybe inevitably the most engaging set is from the current line-up who are, presumably, more practiced in their collective jamming, as evidenced by the longer pieces. The music works best when there is less over reliance on the characteristic space synths which can become rather overbearing at times. However, when the guitarists play against each other and there is more of a natural flow then things can kick off rather well. There are times across all three CDs when the musicians are finding their way, or, as Steve Hillage used to say, 'searching for the spark'. This can make actually listening to the CDs rather hard work. But if one doesn't try and concentrate too hard and just let the music flow then once can become somewhat absorbed and caught up in the jamming.

A well thought out and presented package that I am sure will delight fans of the genre, of which there are undoubtedly many.
Conclusion:
Mark Hughes: 6 out of 10

Pandora Snail - War and Peace
Pandora Snail - War and Peace
Country of Origin: Russia
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 62:01
Links:
Track List:
Dilemma (5:52), By The Mountain River (3:48), To Catch The Wind (3:53), Submarine (5:21), James Pont (16:36), Mother's Tears (4:22), Red Rivers (2:08), Stones' Names (3:57), Dance Under The Bullets (3:08), After The War (4:51), Satori (8:05)
Russian quintet Pandora Snail's debut, War and Peace (no apparent connection to the novel), was recorded in 2010 but has only recently been released. The CD is almost entirely instrumental (a few vocalizations appear) and mostly electric journey into diverse realms of jazz fusion and progressive rock. The eclectic sound is difficult to define: rhythm changes and activity abound, and the lead instrument shifts from guitar to keyboards (often an organ) to violin. The bass, sometimes funky, can be prominent as well. Particularly given the prevalence of the violin, band references might include Curved Air, the more-structured aspects of The Mahavishnu Orchestra, and, less so, Jean-Luc Ponty, and the Dixie Dregs. Beyond this, the expansive, one-hour journey also at times evokes the darker side of early King Crimson (largely due to some edgy guitar parts).

From the outset, attention is drawn to the musicianship and ensemble playing. The band members show mastery of their instruments but properly subjugate flash to substance; teamwork, rather than spotlight-seeking, is on display here.

But there's more on offer than just great playing. The songs, although stylistically broad, work both individually and collectively.

Indeed, a clunker is not to be found among the songs here. The blend of styles is best exemplified in the lengthiest piece, James Pont. First, there's a beat, but then there's really not much of one -- but, with the shifting sounds, the pace of the piece is mostly quick. The organ grinds out licks while forceful and gloomy guitar riffs fill out the sound. Hints of instrumental Canterbury music can be heard, too. A slow piano interlude quiets the atmosphere for a time. All of this is quite unpredictable, but what comes your way is always pleasant. The sweet violin that follows on the slow-tempo Mother's Tears is emotive and striking. Dance Under the Bullets stands out, also, but this time for its catchiness.

Pandora Snail's debut CD exhibits real and rare gumption: the band seems to answer to no one but itself. But, somehow, the result is nevertheless a crowd pleaser.
Conclusion:
Joel Atlas: 8.5 out of 10

Quantum Fantay - Dancing in Limbo
Quantum Fantay - Dancing in Limbo
Country of Origin: Belgium
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 44:50
Links:
Track List:
Nimbo (11:11), Rimbo (11:12), Cacimbo (11:13), Limbo (11:14)
On album number six the Belgian Ozrics changed their way of writing music to very good effect. With no concept behind the album and songs, the space proggers gave up the narrative element and let the music flow free of any restriction and boundaries. The music on Dancing in Limbo appears like a giant jam where all their influences and world music directions happen all at the same time and are free of a tight framework.

The four jams on the album are precisely managed and no sonic space is wasted on silence. It appears that every melody and theme that came in was just left where it initially appeared on the timelines of the jams, without any re-use or song-editing. They have simply all been brought together to form an ultimate perfection in a very firmly-woven tapestry of psychedelic patterns, where every instrument shines with perfect tone and rhythm. Often melodies have been split up note-wise and are performed by two or three instruments that work hand-in-hand to create a perfectly twisted shape as a whole.

Based on a super groovy rhythm section, the album is like a constantly-changing animated psychedelic pattern that takes you on a trip through outer and inner space at the same time, and whenever you listen to it, it takes you away, no matter how hard you try to stay on the ground.

With this release, which is the result of the simple intention of creating music that is not "poisoned" by the idea of conveying any message, the Fantay creates the unthinkable: they outdid their gods and in my opinion created music of a quality that even Ozric Tentacles don't reach. It's the ultimate album for every lover of psychedelic music.
Conclusion:
Raimond Fischbach: 9.5 out of 10

Seconds Before Landing - The Great Deception
Seconds Before Landing - The Great Deception
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 67:39
Links:
Track List:
What Could it Be (2:24), Welcome, to the Future (5:53), Solitary Man (6:18), Instructions (4:18), Alice Springs (4:14), Innocent (6:02), They're All Around You (5:23), I'm All Alone (4:59), Elmendorf (6:15), Down On Me (6:14), Right Before Your Eyes (4:50), My Time to Go (5:17), Mikey Get Your Accordion (5:32), Message in a Field (0:44)
I have really struggled with this one for some reason; on paper it should have blown my socks off as it features some top class musicians like Trey Gunn from King Crimson and John Palumbo from Crack the Sky, however, it didn't and, many plays later, it still doesn't.

The concept is good, strong even, dealing with the Roswell Incident in 1947, and its implications for us as a race. It is set in the future in a post-apocalyptic world, dealing with one man's struggle to survive. Each song delivers a new message, the album also uses excerpts from radio broadcasts and adverts from a bygone era to add an air of authenticity to proceedings, but adverts for cigarettes and spot cream seem out of place in a science-fiction-related album that is based in the future.

By and large, the music is bass driven, which is somewhat unusual and effective, with passages of soaring guitar and burbling synths offsetting the dense gloomy sound. I have to say that sonically it does sound very good indeed, especially on headphones. Even so, somehow it fails to grip me as it is a bit 'samey' throughout. Sure, there are great songs on here like Welcome, to the Future and Instructions, which chugs along nicely, but somehow it's not enough. I wanted more from this release, expected more and ultimately, I feel disappointed by it, sadly.

Don't get me wrong, it is not bad or unlistenable. A lot of time and effort has been carefully and lovingly invested in this release, and so I am loathe to rip it to shreds but I for me, something is off centre and i can't grasp why it doesn't grab me. If you like Roger Waters or Pink Floyd, then this could be right up your street. It is a rather ambient album in parts too, and this I do like, but listening to the entire album straight through is a struggle and not something I can see myself doing on a regular basis.
Conclusion:
John Wenlock-Smith: 5 out of 10

Seconds Before Landing - II
Seconds Before Landing - II
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 59:11
Links:
Track List:
Big Train (5:03), Hey Dad (5:39), Al Shaitan (6:07), My Perfect Girl (5:16), Etiene (6:07), The Great Deceiver (5:35), Don't Want to Feel This Way (5:49), Just Breathe (4:59), Silent Bird (5:33), Enoch (5:51), What Chu Do (3:32).
This is the second album from John Crispino's Seconds Before Landing project, simply entitled II, and it is a massive step up from their first concept album, The Great Deception, released in 2013.

So, why do i feel this to be so much better? Firstly, the songs have far more emotional impact, being very dark in nature but at the same time both delicate towards their sometimes difficult and uneasy subject matter. Yet they are still musically intelligent and arresting; opener Big Train is gloriously sax-led and sounds brilliant. Jazzy and beat-driven, it sure did make me smile.

This is somehow a hybrid album of genres, very electronic with a strong bass and beats throughout, and with melodies that permeate and remain rather than being ethereal and hard to grasp. This is both heavier and denser, with lighter sections containing an almost pop sensibility for good measure. When top class musicians and production are thrown into the mix, it gives this a sheen that as you listen deeply shows its real face and intentions.

I think it would be fair to say that where the first album left me confused, disappointed and unengaged musically, this album has far more immediacy. The songs have more depth and power coupled with a variation of stylings that certainly kept this listener engaged.

I do especially like Big Train, although the rest of the album is much darker at times, reminding me of a more electronic Roger Waters, and lyrically it is very interesting too.

Overall, I am far more impressed here than I was previously, and I do feel that this album has much to offer - it is intelligent and musically articulate and stimulating. I would suggest that you check out their website and see if this is your particular bag; whilst not indispensable it has moments of great beauty, raw, brutal emotions and is all the better for this. It is one i will return to on occasions as well.
Conclusion:
John Wenlock-Smith: 7 out of 10

Sequentia Legenda - Blue Dream
Sequentia Legenda - Blue Dream
Country of Origin: France
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 70:07
Links:
Track List:
Fly Over Me (33:23), The Approach (21:44), Vibrations (15:00)
With just three tracks of electronic music, and tributes all over the website and the CD to both the Berlin School and, more specifically, to Klaus Schulze, it's little surprise that this is definitely a throwback to the amazing days when electronic music was in its heyday.

As such, Blue Dream does sound like Klaus Schulze. And it also sounds very 1970s. Both of which are, it has to be said, far from complaints. And while this is a genre that has more than its fair share of wonderful electronic albums that grow, build and bubble along, another one of this standard adds to the quality, rather than adding to the stockpile.

There are shades of other electronic space artists, of course. Clearly, Tangerine Dream can also be mentioned, and there's even a bit of Jean Michel Jarre at his most contemplative, such as on parts of Oxygene or the lengthy En attendant Cousteau.

It's odd how in mainstream prog, sounding like a clone of a 1970s band tends to lead to complaints of blatant copying, whereas in the electronic realm, imitation is generally considered the greatest form of flattery. Of course, this is clearly an original work, and while it is massively influenced by Schulze, it's easily an essential album to place alongside such works as Mirage. While it has that space-feel to it, the overall impression is one of warmth and comfortable familiarity.

The packaging is a bit misleading in that it is rather plain and somewhat uninspiring, and the text overly long and, frankly given the music, unnecessary. It's proof that one should never judge a CD by its cover. This music does not need to be sold by comparisons, promotion or endorsements. It just needs to be heard.

There's really nothing to choose between the three lengthy tracks. If you love late 1970s Klaus Schulze, this is essential listening. Simply beautiful.
Conclusion:
Jim Cornall: 9 out of 10

Shady Lane - 37
Shady Lane - 37
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 23:00
Links:
Track List:
The Bardo (7:40), Hello John (4:09), Chamomile (3:41), 37 (7:51)
Shady Lane are a four-man alternate rock band from Holland who have, in the past, released five pieces of work, the last being the album Between Two, back in 2009. This year, we have an EP, 37, by the band.

It is very much guitar-based music - keyboards don't feature. We have Remy Tjassing on guitar and vocals, Piet Tjassing on bass, Roland Bosma on drums and Hans Elmers on guitar and backing vocals. I hear all sort of influences in there: Radiohead, Wishbone Ash, Amplifier, Led Zeppelin, Riverside and Neil Young & Crazy Horse. That should give an idea of how this EP sounds.

The Bardo opens with some guitar arpeggios, over which the other guitar plays a riff. Then the song slowly builds up, with the drums increasing in intensity before the song nestles into a groove. About half way through, the song changes mood with solo percussion before a jangly guitar enters along with the vocals. This eventually gives way to some dramatic stuff including guitar riffs, quickly followed by a soaring guitar solo. Very good track.

Hello John reminded me of Radiohead's The Bends album (certainly at the three-minute mark the voice sounded like Thom Yorke). It opens with a catchy guitar arpeggio with a great groove on the drums throughout, and some fine soaring guitar solos and riffs. Another cracking track.

Chamomile, the shortest track on the EP, is probably the most 'poppy', but it is a very good song nevertheless. There are jangle guitars, confident drumming, a great vibe and strong vocals to boot.

On 37, there is some guitar work that reminded me of Wishbone Ash's Argus (it was the guitar riffs that accompanied the vocals that did it). It features an exciting start with brash chords before entering into now familiar jangly guitar arpeggios. The song has a lot of energy, power chords, great vocals, and captivating guitar riffs, then, half way through, we get just vocal and guitar, which breaks up the song nicely. The track enters a simple but effective repeating guitar riff while the rest of the band enter into the vibe. The guitar solo at the end certainly puts the icing on the cake (it reminded me of Neil Young's work with Crazy Horse, but better!).

I thoroughly enjoyed this EP. It made a refreshing change from listening to my staple diet of symphonic prog! A very confident-sounding alternative rock band.
Conclusion:
Alan Weston: 8 out of 10

Solar Project - EMP (A Tribute To Pink Floyd) & The Final Solution (Limited 25th Anniversary Edition)
Solar Project - EMP (A Tribute To Pink Floyd) & The Final Solution (Limited 25th Anniversary Edition)
Country of Origin: Germany
Year of Release: 2015/1990
Time: 41:13, 70:45
Links:
Track List:
CD 1: Echoes (23;29), Money (7;34), Pigs (Feat. Dogs 'n Sheep) (10;10)
CD 2: Overture (5:18), The Electrocution (4:20), Power Song 1 (4:29), Lethargy (2:26), The Flowers Must Die (2:22), Power Song 2 (3:21), Beginning 1 (2:06), Beginning 2 (2:28), The Teddy Bear Song (4:32), Machines Of Darkness (4:27), Interlude (1:38), Military (4:26), Where 1 & 2 (2:45), Where 3 (4:50), The Cry 1-4 (11:46), The Apocalypse (5:29), Conclusion (4:02)
This double album consists of a rereleased album from 1990 entitled The Final Solution and a bonus disc containing three Pink Floyd songs. It's not surprising that Solar Project pays tribute to them because their music is filled with Floyd-influences. The three songs Echoes, Money and Pigs sound OK but didn't send shivers down my spine. It has been done before and better, in my opinion, by for instance their German compatriots RPWL. For really good covers of Floyd songs I rather listen to coverbands like The Australian Pink Floyd or Pink Project (NL). Having said that, it's still a nice gesture by the band to give attention to the musicians to whom they are indebted.

On The Final Solution we can hear their own compositions. This first album of Solar Project pictures the fears, dreams and desires of a single person living with the threat of the nuclear apocalypse. Completely in the tradition of lots of concept albums the album starts with Overture and ends with Conclusion. The music moves from Pink Floyd to Deep Purple. The latter mainly due to some beautiful Hammond organ sounds in Jon Lord style. Responsible for those sounds is Robert Valet, the keyboard player of the band and one of the founder members. The other two guys are: Peter Terhoeven (guitars) and Volker Janacek (drums). It's also worth mentioning lead vocalist Stefan Mageney who does a great job on this album with his powerful voice that fits perfectly to the music. Guitarist Terhoeven can play some metal riffs but is also very capable of playing some great melodic solos and this all adds to the quality and beauty of their debut album. It's good that after 25 years this album has been brought back to our attention because I think that many of us might have missed this release back in 1990. It may sound a bit dated but I guess it will be enjoyable enough for most of the DPRP readers.
Conclusion:
Peter Swanson: 7.5 out of 10

Solar Project - Here I Am
Solar Project - Here I Am
Country of Origin: Germany
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 50:57
Links:
Track List:
At The Turning Point: Someone Like Me, The Slightest Comprehension, Be Kind!, Open The Circle (10:26),
Compared to their debut album The Final Solution, there has been been quite a change in the line-up of this band from Moers, Germany. The three founder members Robert Valet (keyboards, acoustic guitar), Peter Terhoeven (guitars) and Volker Janacek (drums) are still present 25 years later, but the other members are all different.

Unfortunately this also applies to the lead singer. Holger vom Bruch doesn't impress me as much as their vocalist on their debut album.

I can also say the same about the album. To me it all seems a bit safe and with less variety than on their debut. It's very much Floyd-orientated and it seems as if they are playing on auto pilot. Together with the vocals that at times started to annoy me a bit it was quite a task to listen to the album from start to finish.

Thanks to some nice soloing by guitarist Terhoeven throughout the album it stayed interesting enough and I liked the chorus in Here I'm Standing very much. Another one of the better ones is Whisperings from Aquarmada with some beautiful eruptions on guitar and organ. After having listened to their older album, this all sounded a bit disappointing to me but I would suggest to have a listen anyway because I might be wrong! My conclusion is that Solar Project doesn't get better with age like wine.
Conclusion:
Peter Swanson: 6.5 out of 10

Stephen W Tayler - Ostinato
Stephen W Tayler - Ostinato
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 52:52
Links:
Track List:
Euro Star (5:10), At the Edge of Light (5:20), Peripherique (5:25), Terminus (6:08), On the Beach (5:26), Glass in Rain 5:21, Sacre-Couer (6:31), Metro (6:10), The Boy Who Said Yes (8:24)
Checking out Steven W. Tayler's musical CV takes longer than it does to listen to this album. He's worked with the top tier of musicians as a sound engineer, from Rush to Peter Gabriel to Kate Bush. And hundreds of others. Clearly, the man is in demand. Having said that, being prolific and important in one field doesn't guarantee success, but it does allow for some creative independence is releasing a solo work.

The stark, minimalist and yet modern cover has hints of some of Brian Eno's earlier ambient work (in particular, Discreet Music), and the music, in some ways, inhabits a similar realm, however, with some subtle differences. It's a more electronic journey and soundscape than Eno, with hints of Berlin School electronics in the Tangerine Dream vein at times. However, there is also quiet ambience, smooth piano, and urban soundscape to echo shades of artists like Terry Riley. There are also similarities to a couple of the greats of the electronic ambient/new age scene in Steve Roach and Robert Rich.

While it does inhabit a minimalist genre in part, it has more dimensions to it to extend it into a stark, eerie and urban modern film score. That's not to say that, as can be the case with some actual movie soundtracks, that it is written specifically for a purpose. This is music for the listener to interpret, and create their own imagery. And it achieves that in spades.

It's a beautifully crafted work. No pieces stand out, and yet each unique composition forms a part of the whole that resonates as an entire body of work, something that isn't as easy as it seems.

As is the case with much of the music in this minimalist/electronic genre, it requires attention. It's not something to put on while doing something else, or it becomes lost, and all of a sudden it's over. Similarly, it requires concentration. Once achieved - again easier said than done in an era of over-stimulation - the attention reaps rich rewards. There is an awful lot of music here, for something that seems, on the surface, to be so beautifully sparse.

There's a stark, melancholic and nostalgic beauty to this album that provokes stirring emotion. Mentioning other artists as a comparison only slots this work into a general area, as it is a rare album of music with emotion embedded in every note. This is an album to immerse in, to become a part of the process, and to allow emotions to be revealed. Beyond a genre, it's simply a classic, timeless, and hauntingly beautiful album.
Conclusion:
Jim Cornall: 9 out of 10

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Published Thursday 24 December 2015

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