ISSUE 2016-004

Reviews in this issue:

Amarok - Hayat Yolunda
Amarok - Hayat Yolunda
Country of Origin: Spain
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 57:32, 52:25
Links:
Track List:
CD 1: Universo (8:06), Revelación (6:02), Gestación (6:00), Despertar (5:04), Incertidumbre (5:22), Rubicón (7:59), Cénit (6:28), Camino De Vida (3:36), Principio (8:55)
CD 2: Imdhalaia (4:47), Trio (2:13), Nannania (5:04), Touts And Frogs (5:26), El Meu Petit Cel (3:24), La Vintoya's Jig (2:00), La Edad Avanzada (7:10), Norwegian Wood (3:08), Semillas (5:03), Goblin's Song (2:40), Stratosfear (11:30)
Amarok is a band that's been around for more than 20 years in the progressive rock/folk rock arena. The founder and main composer is Robert Santamaría who plays keyboards, 12 string guitar and glockenspiel. The other musicians on the album are Marta Segura (vocals), Manel Mayol (flutes), Alán Chehab (bass), Pau Zañartu (drums) and Xavi Saiz (electric guitar).

As you might have noticed, the song titles are in the Spanish language, and that means that all tracks are sung in that language as well. The main thing we need to know is that it's an album that deals with life. Where do we live, how do we live and how different are the people in several parts of the world? How would it be to grow up if I wasn't born in Europe but for example in Ethiopia, Burma or Uganda? You could be a woman in Afghanistan or a child soldier somewhere in Africa and could maybe be exposed to genocide. So heavy topics to deal with on the album lyrically.

Musically it all sounds very retro and takes you back to the days of early Genesis when they recorded Trespass. Furthermore, lots of folk music influences with a big part for Mayol on the flutes.

After getting used to the Spanish vocals of vocalist Mata Segura, I found her voice pleasant but also a bit tedious after a while. It lacks a bit of variety in both lower and higher regions for me.

The second disc is a compilation of tracks recorded through the years entitled Archivos 2009-2015. Again all titles are in Spanish with a few exceptions. The most well-known track is Norwegian Wood a Lennon and McCartney song that The Beatles recorded for their album Rubber Soul. Goblins' Song is a song inspired by the lyrics of J.R.R. Tolkien and the final track, Stratosfear, was written by Tangerine Dream.

For lovers of the Latin-American style of prog this album could probably be an album to give a try.
Conclusion:
Peter Swanson: 6 out of 10

East West Quintet - Anthem
East West Quintet - Anthem
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 46:24
Links:
Track List:
Draft (4:35), Next (4:52), Interstellar (6:09), Collider (5:17), Action Figure (5:34), Experiment No. 3 (8:39), Something (5:28), White Lodge (5:50)
Hailing from Brooklyn, the East West Quintet are an instrumental ensemble that resist any easy pigeon-holing. For instance, this is a quintet with six members, who play a mash up of prog, jazz-rock, hard rock, delicate be-bop and hip-hop that is steadfastly and brilliantly melodic.

The East West Quintet formed in 2003 and Anthem is the follow up to their 2009 release, Vast. Anthem is a smartly produced and arranged work where every track has something new and interesting to say. There are phrases in the melodic lines and arrangements that call to mind other artists, such as Miles Davis, (hey, they have a trumpet player) or Wayne Shorter (hey, they have a sax player) or the dynamism of Pastorius-era Weather Report and so on, but this band are really, on the evidence of this release, one of a kind.

But don't let the jazz elements that I have mentioned so far put you off listening to this recording. There is so much more going on. The opener, Draft, begins with Phillip Glass like ominous piano chords that anchors the piece before the band comes in to mutate the theme in a very prog way. They throw in distorted electric guitar with light syncopated drumming. It has a brilliantly controlled dynamism.

Interstellar is an introspective ballad with a tune to die for. It builds from an electric piano and bass opening to a magnificent, emotionally charged trumpet solo that takes it out of this world. Interstellar is shaping up to be my favourite track released in 2015. It is exquisite.

Then there is the prog-blues of Collider that uses chiming acoustic guitar and electric piano to evoke a warm autumn evening in the song's first half, before sunny horn phrases give it body and the sax has a solo of quiet beauty.

The East West Quintet push the innovations further with Action Figure. A heavy rock riff spread across distorted electric guitar, and bass produces menacing melodic shards. This is interrupted by, and commented on, by the unison horns. A fierce guitar solo is the icing on this particular cake. Heavy-rock-jazz-prog, anyone? Fabulous!

There is a loping, reverb drenched, hip-hop groove to Experiment No. 3. It has delicate cymbal work and upright bass giving foundation to a bluesy sax solo that is the very definition of soulful. The closing track, White Lodge, is a hypnotic, Radiohead-like wonky-waltz. It manages to have an atmospheric ambience about it whilst still being loud and forceful.

So Anthem, for my money, is a triumph. It contains musicianship of the highest order that is aimed at embellishing the formidable, emotional content of the music. None of the musicians in this ensemble: Dylan Heaney (alto and tenor saxophones), Phil Rodriguez (trumpet), Simon Kafka (electric and acoustic guitars), Mike Cassedy (piano, keyboards), Benjamin Campbell (electric and upright bass) and Jordan Perlson (drums) play in any flashy or showboating way, they let the melodies breathe. All their obvious prowess is used in the service of the music.

I worry that, being innovative, intriguing and unique, that this album may fall between the cracks. Jazz purists may dislike its rock and prog elements. The rock purist may, similarly, dislike the jazzy improvisations. So it may be up to prog fans to embrace this joyous and adventurous release. If you love the off the wall prog in Frank Zappa's Hot Rats, then please give this a go, it's just as brilliant in its own way.
Conclusion:
Martin Burns: 10 out of 10

Impulse Ensemble - Initiation
Impulse Ensemble - Initiation
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2010
Time: 60:47
Links:
Track List:
Senegal-America (10:46), Ragpicker's Rhapsody (12:59), Catch That Wave (5:24), Twelve Log Fire (9:20), Initiation (12:54), Bombay (9:24)
It says on the rear cover of this CD that this is a 'free-flowing fusion of World Music and jazz'' and that is just what you get.

Impulse Ensemble are a trio whose instrumental line up produces music of quite striking colour. Underpinning their sound is Tony Vacca's percussion skills. He uses a West African balafon, which is a marimba-like instrument that consists of tuned, hollow gourds under wooden slats. It has a mellow, rich tone. It gives the percussion lines a melodic presence in the music. The main melodies are shared across Derrik Jordan's electric violin and Jim Matus' laoutar. The laoutar, which Matus co-designed, is an electro-acoustic combination of a mandocello and a Greek laouto (a lute like instrument). It sometimes has a resonant sound that is a distant cousin, sound wise, of the sitar.

They use this unusual sonic pallet across fairly lengthy fusions of jazz violin, ethnic string sounds and World music percussion. The opener, Senegal-America, sets the tone for what follows. The balafon develops a loping groove and a theme that is taken up and improvised on by the violin and the laoutor. These then hold down the rhythm and the melody for Vacca to display his percussion skills further, whilst at the same time never losing focus as an ensemble. The groove becomes quite hypnotic and dynamic changes and the mix of instrumental colours within the piece are subtle.

The following pieces on Initiation have an innovative approach within the limits of the instrumentation chosen, and they repay a close listen, never straying into wallpaper ambient territory. The Impulse Ensemble do break up the instrumentals; with a terrific World music does early 70s West Coast pop song with Catch That Wave. Violinist Jordan steps up to the microphone and he has a strong, broad ranging and engaging tenor voice. It's a lovely soulful song that breaks up the instrumentals well.

Unfortunately, Twelve Log Fire, which follows the song, features the mbira (a type of thumb piano), which gives it its rhythmic drive. It has a metallic, twanging sound reminiscent of my least favourite instrument, the mouth-harp. So after a few plays my hand strayed frequently to the skip button, which was a shame.

This is an interesting collection full of instrumental colour and head-nodding grooves. It brings to mind Peter Gabriel's forays into World music with the violinist L. Shankar, especially on Gabriel's album Passion. It may not be for everyone but if you like, as I do, a bit of jazz violin that is removed from the jazz-fusion melting pot, so that it inhabits a unique sound world, then give this a go.
Conclusion:
Martin Burns: 7.5 out of 10

Kinetic Element - Travelog
Kinetic Element - Travelog
Country of Origin: US
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 70:04
Links:
Track List:
War Song (20:29), Travelog (9:48), Into the Lair (10:05), Her (11:16), Vision of a New Dawn (18:26)
Kinetic Element were formed in 2006 in Richmond, Virginia, USA, as a five-piece band, originally to perform the music of keyboarder Mike Visaggio's solo CD called Starship Universe. However, that assignment resulted in a permanent band project, and now, besides Visaggio, who had been involved in music since the early 60s, the band consists of Todd Russell (electric and acoustic guitars), Michael Murray (drums) and Mark Tupko (bass). Kinetic Element released their first CD, Powered by Light, in 2009 (reviewed on DPRP). Travelog is their sophomore album.

All the songs on this one have been written by Visaggio and Russell, starting at the end of 2013, following the departure of two of the other founding members. One was replaced by Tupko, as a result, the band now plays as a quartet. Unable to find a suitable permanent vocalist in their area, the band engaged Dimetrius LaFavors from their musical friends Odin's Court; he does the vocals on tracks 1, 2 and 5. The duties of vocalist on tracks 3 and 4 are assumed by Michelle Schrotz and Mike Florio respectively. The mixing and the mastering of Travelog were done by Fred Schendel and Steve Babb of Glass Hammer. Kinetic Element's music has quite some common ground with them. Consequently, the sound quality is excellent. Visaggio dedicated this album to his cousin, Ed Cagliardi, original bassist of AOR veterans Foreigner from 1976 to 1979, who passed away in 2014.

Kinetic Element mention Yes, early Genesis, ELP and Asia as their main source of inspiration. Well, with these references, what else could one expect but classic retro prog with some symphonic and AOR elements. Kinetic Element definitely adhere to their influences. The album consists of five long tracks, the shortest of which clocks in at close to 10 minutes. They include all the elements of that kind of music: a wide variety of keyboard sounds (with Hammond and grand piano at the forefront), crisp and fluid bass lines, alternation of acoustic and electric, and softer and harder passages. The music overall stays symphonic and, despite some breaks and rhythm changes here and there, does not show (undue) complexity.

Visaggio seems to have been listening to Keith Emerson (most evident in the opening track War Song) and to Tony Banks (especially Firth of Fifth in the intro of Her) quite a lot. Russell, on the other hand, appears to be strongly attracted by the (acoustic) guitar playing of Steve Howe, something that becomes quite apparent in the title track, Travelog, and on various other occasions. Compared to the rather emphasised roles of the guitar and (especially) the keyboards, the drumming is a bit more low-key throughout the album.

The vocals, in my opinion, are the weakest element, in relative terms, of an overall strong release. Having to rely 'just' on guest vocalists, the vocals do not entirely show consistency or the perfect fit. LaFavors' mellow, slightly uniform singing complies more with the melodic hard rock/prog metal style of his other band, whilst Schrotz's and Florio's vocals better fit the song structure of Into the Lair, and Her respectively, but each of them is on one track only. It is difficult (and unnecessary) to single out a specific song on the album. From the Emerson-like opening in War Song, across the elaborate guitar work on Travelog, the involved and extensive instrumental sections of Into the Lair, the delightful intro and musical variety of Her up to the jazzy influences, hymn-like singing and beautiful synthesiser solo in the middle section of Visions of a New Dawn, all equally show their distinguishing features.

This album will appeal to people with a certain nostalgic attitude towards and affinity with the progressive rock masters of the 70s mentioned above, although Kinetic Element's music also shows contemporary elements of fellow bands such as Glass Hammer, Deluge Grander and even Spock's Beard. But, after all, we are talking about playing traditional retro prog here, not about reinventing the wheel.
Conclusion:
Thomas Otten: 8 out of 10

Esa Kotilainen - Ulappa
Esa Kotilainen - Ulappa
Country of Origin: Finland
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 54:01
Links:
Track List:
Jäänalainen - Under the Ice (15:56), Pinta - Surface (27:13), Ulappa - Offing (10:52)
Esa Kotilainen may be an unfamiliar name, although the bands he has played in are not. Wigwam and Tasavallan Presidentti are just a couple of the bands he's provided keyboards for.

His latest keyboard album is - to say the least - different. If ever an album had to be heard in its entirety, this is it. Individually, the tracks may make little sense. The first two lengthy pieces will almost certainly even come across as odd.

There are plenty of albums out there mixing music with nature sounds. Strauss with the sea. Birdsong and Bach. In general, they are pleasant outings that combine things we enjoy and feel familiar with. Original compositions have, too, been augmented by nature. But one thing they tend to have in common is that the nature sounds are, usually, secondary to the music. They sit under the tunes, bubbling in and out, occasionally absent, sometimes prominent.

Not so here.

On Under the Ice it's almost all nature sounds, and just sounds, with occasional keyboards straining into the mix in a completely ambient and random way. It's eerie, it's somewhat disconcerting, and at times, it's not absolutely certain this is music. Even Stockhausen might have been confused.

The strangeness continues on Surface. This time we've got - among others - ducks. And a bit more music, and a little higher in the mix, at times. It's still ambient. And it's still a tad confusing.

And then - Offing.

Now, music certainly has to be interpreted by the listener. There's no hint of exactly what Kotilainen's intent is, or his reason for making this album. It's refreshing to be able to find virtually no information about it. So it really is down to the individual and his or her interpretation of the piece. And Offing really does create emotion. It turns a curiosity into a work of art unlike almost all music before it. Alone, it's disjointed. But with this last piece, it's as much a piece of art as the visual paintings in a gallery.

There are plenty of albums of whale song out there, too. But this whale song, with the music, is the most beautiful, poignant, and downright distressing sound one could possibly imagine.

Use of the word offing could imply the death of a whale - which is generally only at the hands of humans. It could refer to the needless and frankly pathetic slaughter of whales. It could refer to our collective destruction of the planet, and habitats such as those inhabited by these majestic marine mammals. It could refer to our ignorance of the oceans, which are out of sight, out of mind. Conversely, it could simply be about whaling.

It's a majestic, haunting piece, where the whales take as much attention as the music, now higher up in the mix, participating, engaging the listener. If interpreting the whalesong, and the album, as a desperate cry for help, a reminder that we are perhaps past the point of no return, then it's an absolute tear-jerker of a track. If it's a reminder that we might survive, but if we lose all the other species on the Earth, one by one, then we'll be all the poorer for it, and we will lose our soul to continue our existence.

Others may have different interpretations. Which is what true art is about. This isn't an easy ambient album with heavenly keyboards. It's a challenge. And for 43 minutes, it's a bit confusing and musically it's frankly underwhelming. Until that last 11 minutes, the emotional third movement. Again, it's not a musical triumph, there's no melodic crescendo. It's simply an overarching conclusion that ties it all together, in the best tradition of a fictional tale.

Of course, for someone who really isn't that bothered by environmental concerns or animal welfare, this might be the dullest release ever.

There are very few albums out there as hugely different as this. There are few albums out there that are simply works of art. it might not be everyone's cup of tea, but listening to the whole thing is a massively moving and thought provoking experience. It may never get listened to more than once, but it's a rare work that leaves the listener changed at the end of it.

A rarity. A piece of art. Musically, it's neither spectacular nor technically amazing. But it really doesn't matter - it's about the experience. In terms of marking, it's tough, because musically, it's a five - or generously six - out of ten, but as a statement and unique work, it deserves to be heard.
Conclusion:
Jim Cornall: 9 out of 10

Leap Day - From the Days of Deucalion, Chapter 2
Leap Day - From the Days of Deucalion, Chapter 2
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 63:35
Links:
Track List:
Pseudo Science (3:00), Amathia (Homo Ignoramus) (4:50), Taurus Appearance (7:28), Phaeton (7:29), Ya-Who (8:45), God of Wars (7:06), Deucalion (10:53), In the Shadow of Death (9:19), Ancient Times (Reprise) (5:05)
In terms of technical ability, it is hard to fault a band like Leap Day. This Dutch six piece can play with the best of them and From the days of Deucalion Chapter 2 offers up some old school symphonic prog delights. This second release of what was originally envisioned as a double concept album, reminded me quite a bit of bands like IQ, Camel and Genesis. In other words, this isn't the most original album you will ever hear, but obviously that is not what the band is going for. Regardless, there are some very exciting musical moments to be found here. Much like the previously mentioned bands of reference, there is a majestic and epic quality to much of Leap Day's material.

Jos Harteveld's vocals are effective and, at times, reminiscent of Mark Trueack from Unitopia. Though the instrumental moments are the highlights of the album, with the exception of a curious reference to flatulence on Amathia (Homo Ignoramus), the lyrics are also well done. The musical performances to be found throughout are stellar. Though it is tough to single out any member of the band, special mention must be made of the guitar work of Eddie Mulder. Though he touches on the style of many of the masters of the genre, his playing is much more than mimicry. Gert van Engelburg and Derk Evert Waalkens also deserve credit with their contributions on keyboards. It is impossible though to criticise any of the performances, as each member of Leap Day shines on this recording.

With only three tracks under the seven minute mark, there is no shortage of classic style prog here. From the heavy keyboard-driven melody of Taurus Appearance, and the blues influenced Phaeton, to the ethereal Deucalion, the band covers a lot of musical ground. There is a consistent quality that runs throughout the entire album with not a sub-par track to be found. Ultimately, though, From the Days of Deucalion Chapter 2 needs to be judged accordingly. Its overt retro style keeps it from top level creative greatness, but the merits of the material can't be disregarded. This is a very entertaining album.
Conclusion:
Patrick McAfee: 7.5 out of 10

Melted Space - The Great Lie
Melted Space - The Great Lie
Country of Origin: France
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 47:07
Links:
Track List:
Listen to the Song of Despair (2:59), Called by the Queen (4:53), No Need to Fear (8:08), Terrible Fight (4:14), A God is Dead (4:48), Trust and Betrayal (5:03), Glass Castle's Beast (4:15), Hopeless Crime (4:45), The One Who Lost the Faith (5:30), Titania (4:20), Lost Souls From the Other Side (6:52)
The first word that comes to mind when describing symphonic prog metal group Melted Space's recent album, The Great Lie, is epic. This album is broad in sound and theme, reminding me instantly of Arjen Lucassen's Ayreon project. Not surprisingly, since Arjen contributes musically on this album.

Melted Space is the creation of French composer and pianist Pierre le Pape. His background in music is solid, including a masters degree in classical music and movie scores. Those influences feature prominently on The Great Lie, a metal rock opera of high quality. The album contains contributions from 14 vocalists, seven guest musicians, including Lucassen, and the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Like I said, epic.

The vast array of vocalists are each used as characters in an overarching story, much like in Ayreon's rock operas. The characters include recognisable names such as Loki, Dante, and Apollo, amongst several others. The back and forth of the vocalists make for a much more interesting listen than the story itself. The story is not on the same level as Ayreon's The Human Equation or Dream Theater's Scenes From a Memory, but the vocalists do a wonderful job, particularly the female singers. Male vocalist Guillaume Bideau stands out as well.

There is a fair amount of growling from other vocalists, drawing upon doom and death metal influences. The growling works much better overall in a character based rock opera than it does in a doom metal band, where the only vocals are screaming. My only complaint with these screamers is that they are not as good as they could be. Maybe Devin Townsend has spoiled me, but they just are not up to that level.

The symphonic overtones to the music really make this album stand out, along with Michael Saccoman's heavy drums. Musically, Melted Space is remarkably talented. On the production side, this band sounds very professional. With this being their second album, it is clear that Pierre le Pape has the experience necessary to write and produce epic albums. I see Lucassen's limited involvement in The Great Lie as a stamp of approval. After all, few in the world are better at making metal rock operas than Arjen. His guitar solo on The One Who Lost the Faith is smooth and flowing. He also adds a dulcimer solo and a synth solo to the song for good measure. The contrast in the music between the orchestra and the band creates a wonderful soundscape, with the orchestra sounding much like a movie score while the band charges the album forward with a heavy impatience.

Melted Space is one of the more intriguing newer symphonic metal bands of the last few years. For those worried about the growled vocals, do not worry. They are not overpowering, and they actually serve a purpose here to bring life to the characters. Think of it like actors in a play or a movie. The production sets Melted Space apart from other newer prog metal bands. The music has a very mature sound, without the off-key vocals and instrumentals that often plague other young metal bands. Pierre le Pape's extensive classical training serve Melted Space well, and I'm sure we have not heard the last from this group.
Conclusion:
Bryan Morey: 8.5 out of 10

Steve Merlin - Crash Course for Earth
Steve Merlin - Crash Course for Earth
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 71:11
Links:
Track List:
Endangered Species Man (15:58), Feedback Conditions ((6:52), Buy and Bye (5:03), Sunrise or Sunset? (3:45), Fair Trade (5:32), The Long Way Home, part I: Velvet Hands (3:59), part II: No End to this Road (5:54), part III: Radio Silence (4:24), Come on, Let's Drive (5:00), Stuck in Reverse (4:02), Wear and Tear (1:42), Scarless (5:39), Moon Revisited (3:19) (bonus track)
Steve Merlin, for those among our readership who are unfamiliar with the name, is a young and enthusiastic singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (bass, keyboards, percussion, melodica, dobro, guitar) from Nijmegen, in the Netherlands. He is assisted by Tom van Veldhoven on drums and percussion, Sjef Poels on guitars, Freek Helsper on keyboards and organ and Rick Weren on bass. And yes, Steve Merlin has quite the feel for progressive music. This is already his third album. Well, by his surname you might wonder, is he a distant relative of that great wise magician? Well, even though I guess I can't really be sure at all, ladies and gents, I fear that he is not really kin to Merlin the wise, for it is not his real surname, yet it so happens that the legend of the sage Merlin is based on the bard Myrddin Wyllt. The bard element, for sure, is what exquisitely links the contemporary Steve Merlin to the days of yore. Sadly though, Myrddin Wyllt went mad after having witnessed the horrors of war and fled civilisation to live and become a "wild man of the wood" way, way back in the 6th Century.

Even though that story may appear to be one sad trail of tears, again, there is something that ties this very Crash Course for Earth to that wild man. Here, the album opens with a story of a space voyager whose people have watched Earth and its inhabitants and who is sent on a mission to finally rid the universe of this dreaded planet. Yet the spaceman starts to think, as he sits in his tin can, that destruction of the planet is not a solution. And the story continues as we flash to the Earth, where the spaceman sees a man watching the skies, pointing towards what seems to be a comet or falling star of sorts. We of course know that this merely is the spaceman seeking to determine what the future of the Earth will be. The man on the face of planet Earth, as seen by the spaceman, is portrayed on the album cover. Thinking about Earth and what mankind means to do with it, with each other, trying to get people to open up to their feelings, that is what takes centre stage on this album. A bit in the way of Myrddin Wylllt, except that the young Nijmegen artist fortunately so hasn't turned mad.

The care with which the first song is written and performed, the exquisite artwork, the whole of the album has been meticulously composed, written and brought together. It was a couple of years in the making and, rightfully so, if you listen to the end result. I mean, not for the time spent on it, but the whole album breathes devotion and craftsmanship. This is not some "Wait, I'll get my Pro Tools ready and we'll put something down" kind of album. This is an album that not only deals with love for life, for people, but also, also it is an album that very much shows the love for (making) music.

The album has been spinning round and round for weeks now. And I must say it meant a lot that Steve doesn't try to mirror any of the well known prog bands, he writes and plays the music he feels comfortable in playing. What adds to that is that the tracks all vary from one another, and they all have a story of their own. You don't get just one strict direction when you play this album.

That is not to say that prog lovers shouldn't feel at ease with this album, chances are they certainly will, yet don't expect either a keyboard fest nor prog metal, for that matter. What we do get is music with roots in prog rock, then sometimes we get rock, sometimes the music has tinges of West Coast rock, or either the more or less poppy reggae feel of 10cc. Every now and then, it almost seems that Steve tries to evoke JJ Cale in the feel and vocal lines of the songs, quite notably in Buy and Bye and yes, sometimes there are jazzy parts; sometimes it is singer-songwriter stuff. You get all that and then there are epics as well. There is the aforementioned opening track and then there is the three-part Long Way Home suite. Just don't try to pin the music down.

What must be mentioned, very clearly, is the ease with which Merlin and Sjef Poels weave beautifully-played instrumentals featuring acoustic guitars that just appear to meander and add to the colour and feel of the album. Even though Merlin may be critical of what we humans tend to make of this planet, the album doesn't stare itself blind in negativity or cynicism. There is criticism in the lyrics, for sure, but I can't help but be touched by the lovely Sunrise or Sunset?, which has a very positive vibe to it. Mind, as for the guitar playing, even though the album stays in lower gears, there are several parts where the electric guitar really shines, as much in riffing as in soloing. That goes for the organ parts by Freek Helsper, too, who releases his inner Jon Lord in No End to this Road. That song has a great guitar solo too.

I could go on and on about each and every song, yet I won't. I will mention the Long Way Home suite, though, because I think this is a good example of what Steve Merlin has up his sleeve. With the recent passing of David Bowie it almost seems as if this suite is a tribute to David Jones as, in the second part, Merlin sounds a bit like the Thin White Duke and the music has a bit of a Bowie vibe. But the suite is about more than that. Again, it has enough variation and sounds very sprightly. When you regard how the album was self made and self produced, it makes the warm sound of the album even more special. Of course, it might well be that an outside producer would add to the sound, but this album holds its own. If you feel drawn towards music that dares on one hand to find its own way in modern day prog and, on the other hand, dares to show its roots, without the idea of just copying a sound, and that dares to cross borders with the music styles already mentioned, then this might be an album for you. Even though the thought of a real crash course for Earth might be frightening, I most gladly leaned back and let Steve Merlin be the captain for more than an hour. Heck, the album might not be groundbreaking in odd time signatures or trying the strangest experiments, but, just like Franck Carducci's Torn Apart last year, this album is one very, very enjoyable ride. Yes, I dare say, it is recommended to all.
Conclusion:
Marcel Hartenberg: 8 out of 10

Carlo Peluso - EarthShape
Carlo Peluso - EarthShape
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 18:36
Links:
Track List:
EarthShape (5:26), Cluster Nine (6:39), The Argonaut (6:31)
Short and sweet.

Italian Carlo Peluso has published a taster - or perhaps a teaser - of his work on this 18-minute CD. It's light, airy, interesting keyboard-oriented prog rock with jazz overtones that occasionally veers into the mainstream prog/neo-prog genre.

Peluso is, without a doubt, a solid drummer and supremely talented keyboard player, and while he may have many influences, his is most certainly a distinct voice. It's all instrumental, and it's a pacy affair, upbeat and full of ideas. At times, it's a bit like Frost only without the bombastic melodies and John Mitchell's peerless guitar, most notably on the third track, The Argonaut.

It's also considerably more jazzy that Frost, however, and much more pastoral at times, acting more like pleasant interludes. It called also be deemed, at times, easy listening. Other comparisons could certainly be made with Camel in their lighter, jazzier moments, even the more mainstream Focus pieces. The Flower Kings* also springs to mind at times.

The keyboards flit between tasteful piano, lightning fast keyboards and interesting and melodic sounds that show virtuosity without coming close to pompous, showy overplaying.

EarthShape is definitely proof that Peluso has a very promising future. There is certainly scope for improvement - tighter compositions with better transitions - but if it's the shape of things to come, creating a full length album with greater variation is means that an extremely good album is certainly a distinct possibility.

Sadly, it's too short to show whether that required versatility and variety in composition is there. But, for what it is, it's more than decent.
Conclusion:
Jim Cornall: 7 out of 10

Preacher - Signals
Preacher - Signals
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 57:07
Links:
Track List:
Time (3:52), Jupiter To Mars (5:29), The Sea (5:18), Fat Cats (4:26), Cry For Help (3:36), Signals (5:52), Arrival (6:56), First Contact (4:11), The Factor (4:55), Friends Of My Dreams (3:58), Destiny (4:00), I Will Be There (4:34)
I'm really feeling very privileged at the start of 2016 being able to having reviewed one great album and a nice EP already.

Now the debut album, Signals, by the Scottish band Preacher is playing, and I'm loving it! If you're a fan of Pink Floyd, you will most probably love this album too. The music is very melodic, and lead guitarist Greg Murphy produces some magnificent solos throughout the entire album. The solos on the title track and on the track The Sea are fine examples. The vocals by Martin Murphy sound a bit like a rawer version of David Gilmour but also remind me of David Bowie at times.

It's quite an impressive line-up on stage because besides Martin and Greg Murphy, we have Arnold (Arny) Burgoyne (keyboards), Gordon Munro (bass), Iain Duncan (drums), Ron Rodger (acoustic guitar) and backing vocalists Angela Bell and Kerry McWhinnie. Actually, we're just in time to review this album that was produced in 2014 but was rereleased on IME Records in 2015. A new album entitled Aftermath is already in the making and will be released on the 2nd of April 2016 at The O2, Glasgow.

Unlike many other prog bands, you will find no epics on this album and the longest track, Arrival, clocks in at less than seven minutes. But every track is full of beautiful melodies and catchy choruses. Murphy has a pleasant and powerful voice that fits perfectly with the band's music. The track Friends Of My Dreams reminds me a bit of 70s Deep Purple.

A new star is shining in the Scottish Prog Heaven among with already better-known bands such as Pallas and Comedy Of Errors. It makes me curious about what to expect from their yet-to-be-released new album in 2016. Their debut is a real stunner and I advise everyone to listen to the full album on Bandcamp and buy it! I think this is another band to look out for and if their new album is just as good or even better I hope they soon will take the ferry across the North Sea to play some gigs in Europe this year. A very pleasant surprise this album, and one that I will be playing often in the next few weeks without a doubt.
Conclusion:
Peter Swanson: 9 out of 10

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Published Sunday 31 January 2016

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