Citizen Cain - Serpents in Camouflage
CD 1: Stab in the Back (6:48), Liquid Kings (11:22), Harmless Criminal (10:25), The Gathering (11:02), Dance of the Unicorn (6:21), Serpents in Camouflage (13:20)
CD 2: Stab in the Back (7:02), Liquid Kings (11:10), Nightlights (3:59), The Gathering (9:45)
CD 2: Stab in the Back (7:02), Liquid Kings (11:10), Nightlights (3:59), The Gathering (9:45)
So this time out, Festival Music have taken it upon themselves to remaster the back catalogue of the Scottish prog rock band Citizen Cain, with Serpents in Camouflage being the first of this project.
This release comes as a double disc set, with the second disc being the initial demo tape recorded in 1991. Three of the four tracks that appear on the aptly called Demo Tape went on to appear on this album, and Nightlight is a previously unreleased track. The other four albums that are involved in this set are all single discs; they sound sonically better, a stunning clarity, which allows every note to be heard and appreciated. There are no bonus tracks, however, as Joe Perry once wrote, Let the Music Do the Talking, and music of this quality can truly speak for itself, without issue.
The band took a hiatus between 1988 and 1991 due to Cyrus, (George Scott), being involved in a car crash and breaking his hand, thus being unable to play bass on the album they were about to go into the studio and record and a suitable bassist not being able to be found.
After some time the band regrouped, and Citizen Cain MK2 was born.
To give those who are not familiar with Citizen Cain an inkling of their musical approach, think early Genesis and Marillion. If one closed one's eyes and didn't realise that the Gabriel era Genesis, (think Foxtrot and Selling England by the Pound), and Fish-era Marillion, (Script for a Jester's Tear), no longer existed, you could well be forgiven for thinking that this is what the bands would have gone on to record.
The defining factor of those two references being that Cyrus has the voice of Gabriel and musically the band have bastardised the sound of Marillion to great effect. Be that as it may, do not be quick to judge and walk away as we all know that they are not the only band in the world to have been heavily influenced by these references; take The Watch for example.
I would even stick my neck out and say that Citizen Cain sounds more like Genesis than Genesis. The album is full of complex musical interactions that really fill the room, driving guitar and keyboard passages complemented by thoughtful vocal and lyrical prose that offer entertainment of the highest form as the band tells its dark stories, stories that will plunder the darker recesses of your mind.
The album cover, as do all their covers, graphically demonstrates where they are coming from, or more to the point, the journey they are going to take you on.
From the outset, the album gathers momentum quickly, leaving you under no illusions that the band mean business. The album peaks with the culmination of the atmospheric and laid back Harmless Criminal, The Gathering, which could be seen as a modern-day attempt at Supper's Ready, the mid-paced and synth-laden Dance of the Unicorn, and album closer Serpents in Camouflage, with its pastoral approach that is bookended by some nice vibrant sections.
In saying that, the other pieces on offer have their own rewards and merits, offering themselves up for consumption. The band will have its detractors due to the references, just like Marillion did back in the day, however, the band are not merely clones, they do bring food to the table that is worth imbibing.
John O'Boyle: 7 out of 10
Citizen Cain - Somewhere But Yesterday
Jonny Had Another Face (10:30), Parallel Lines (1:07), Junk And Donuts (9:19), An Afterthought (0:21), To Dance The Enamel-faced Queen (10:24), Beyond The Boundaries (1:03), Somewhere But Yesterday (25:40) - i) Owls (1:47), ii) Obsessions (5:41), iii) The Ballad Of Creepy John (3:52), iv) Echoes-The Labyrinth Penumbra (4:47), i) All The Sin's Men (4:44), vi) Farewell (2:31), vii) A Word In Your Ear (2:18), Strange Barbarians (11:48), The Mother's Shroud (2:24)
It is no hidden secret that Citizen Cain sound very much like Genesis, which may or may not be a sticking point for some people, but if you can get past that, and in all honesty, there should be no reason why you can't, then this is a band you will love, that will fill a void from those heady days of yesteryear.
There are some other points of reference to be found in the form of Camel and VGG particularly on the closing track, Strange Barbarians.
As a band, they build very dark scenes, which will haunt your nightmares; I always consider Citizen Cain's songs as being the escapee characters of Nursery Cryme's Musical Box; finding the kingdom beyond the skies, a very dark and disturbing place the band definitely visit.
The album is fully of fantastic musical interactions, which are keyboard heavy; Cyrus' voice builds the picturesque stories that will grab your attention from the get go. This is what the band does best and they ensure that the experience is always rewarding to the listener.
The epic piece on the album is the 25-minute plus Somewhere But Yesterday epic that calls to mind Supper's Ready and The Battle of Epping Forest; not bad reference points to be honest. There are several Marillion references that can be heard throughout this piece too.
The opening song, Jonny Had Another Face, sets the stage with its taut and complex musical precision and its dark lyrical prose, as does album closer Strange Barbarians; in all honesty, this is thematic throughout all their releases.
The band have strangely chosen to put some little vignettes in the form of Parallel Lines, An Afterthought, Beyond The Boundaries and The Mother's Shroud at the end of each song, which really adds a dark and twisted tone.
Somewhere But Yesterday is an album that is full of stunning musical interactions that grows on you the more you play the album. I always find that their albums are growers, except for Darken Skies, which grabbed me immediately.
Somewhere But Yesterday, Playing Dead and Darken Skies are for me the benchmark albums that should be in your collection. That is not to negate their other releases, but it does offer an excellent starting point where you will not be disappointed.
John O'Boyle: 8 out of 10
Citizen Cain - Raising The Stones
(Hells Greedy Children) Last Days Of Cain (13:17), Bad Karma (Monsters And Men) (8:07), First Gate-Open Yet Closed Looking Heaven In The Face (4:06), Corcyra-The Suppliants (6:31), Dreaming Makes The World (11:51), The Last Supper / in Deep Waters (2:29), Ghost's Of Jericho (part 1)(5:24), Black Rain / webs (6:30), Silently Seeking Euridice (13:42)
The album presents a more melancholic, sombre approach but, thankfully, the band retained their pomposity.
It is worth noting that, at this stage, in their career, the band had become a duo, featuring Cyrus and Stewart Bell. Based on this, the context of their creations can be better understood. The loss of the noticeable and intricate melodies that were abundant on their first two releases - as good as this album is - the bold steps taken in the change in sound, I would imagine, have left some feeling isolated and at a loss.
The soundstage is heavier and more aggressive, as are Cyrus's vocal tones, Cyrus uses a more spoken than sung approach. Lyrically, the album is scant and vague compared to the two previous releases. This is not a bad thing mind, as I feel using that winning formula repeatedly can become tedious.
There are plenty of things to find in this album, but you seriously have to work for your supper though; (Hells Greedy Children) Last Days Of Cain, Dreaming Makes The World and Silently Seeking Euridice are the longest and standout tracks here.
The Tony Banks keyboard sound is still present and is what makes the album. The other instrumentation is somewhat mechanical and cold although, at times, it will briefly grab your attention, making you sit up, but these moments are few and far between.
As an album, Raising The Stones is somewhat abstract, where it attempts to achieve its effect using colour and texture, it is full of great ideas, however, this has not translated into great songs; the songs unfortunately do not seem to have fully developed their character.
I can see some people shaking their heads at this release wondering what had happened... As I have already said, their albums are growers and need to be worked, unfortunately, Raising The Stones I feel, maybe a step too much for some, based on previous efforts.
John O'Boyle: 5 out of 10
Different Light - The Burden of Paradise
In the Grand Scheme of Things, Voice of Outside, A St. Martin's Summer, Eternal Return, Transient Dream, Mare Ibrium, In Love and War, All for You
Looking for a point of reference, I would say that the album bears some similarity to the work of the band, A.C.T.. Impeccably produced and performed, my logical guess is that this album will rightfully garner the band some positive notice. I hear a good bit of modern progressive rock that is pleasant and performed capably, yet is missing a certain something. That necessary element could be songwriting prowess, production sheen, interesting arrangements or all of the above. Whatever it is, Different Light has it all covered.
The album, comprised of eight tracks, some of which are divided into shorter sections, flows very effectively from start to finish. There are no lulls to be found and though I wouldn't categorise Different Light's music as edgy, it is definitely intricate, upbeat and melodic. There are some effective instrumental moments, but the band truly shines when their excellent arrangements are accompanied by soaring and, sometimes, multi-layered vocals. This recording has the feel of a band who set out to prove themselves and I can easily confirm that their mission was accomplished. I will avoid calling out particular tracks as highlights, mainly because as referenced above, this is an album that works as a whole.
New to me, I am glad that I discovered Different Light. After significant changes over the years, the band seems to have determined a line up that is firing on all cylinders. I can't compare, The Burden of Paradise to other recordings released under the band's moniker, but I will definitely be giving them a try. Ultimately though, this one may be hard to beat.
If you are looking for progressive rock that is melodic, accessible, well written and flawlessly performed, your ship has come in. The Burden of Paradise put Different Light on the map for me. If you have not heard them previously, it is quite possible that it may have the same effect on you.
Patrick McAfee: 9 out of 10
Samuel Hällkvist - Variety of Live
Greyer Melange (5:51), Chord: Horror Vacui (4:59), Mirror Garden (2:28), Between Us (4:24), Klopotec (4:48), Heru Ra-Ha / Road (7:49), Music For The Maraca Triplet (6:44), In Transfer (2:23), Spooky Country (3:36), Cluck Old Hen (5:22)
There is no doubt that this fusion of rock, jazz, electronica and world music took me outside my comfort zone at times but it certainly has its moments. For example, the opening track Greyer Melange, with its compelling bass line, fragmented guitar and hypnotic wordless voices. The following Chord: Horror Vacui with its spontaneous synth stabs and improvised sax put me in mind of Tangerine Dream before culminating with an impressive drum workout.
The restless Klopotec is perhaps the most conventional track, with a driving rock beat underpinning lead guitar and sax. Heru Ra-Ha / Road, on the other hand, is reminiscent of those cool jazz scores Lalo Schifrin composed for 60s movies like 'Bullitt'. For me, it's the album's highpoint, even though the lengthy, ambient outro does outstay its welcome.
Also of note is the concluding Cluck Old Hen, with Hällkvist's spiky guitar lines leading the ensemble to a suitably momentous peak.
I have to confess that the experimental sound of Hällkvist and his cohorts is not really my musical cup of tea but for those who like to step outside the box once in a while then Variety of Live is certainly worth investigating.
Geoff Feakes: 6.5 out of 10
Hollan Holmes - Incandescent
First Light (8:01), The Year's First Rain (7:40), Letting Go (7:37), Valley of the Rocks (7:10), Earth Song (8:07), Interstellar Lullaby (5:37), The Inevitability of Change (8:10), Ancient Atmosphere (7:55), Incandescent (7:25)
This is a spacey and epic work. The music, I feel, reflects Holmes' reaction to Monument Valley on the Arizona/Utah border, as is indicated by the superb cover photograph taken by Holmes.
This is an album full of warm synthesiser and sequencer sounds and it eschews the cold robotics of drum machines. For its rhythmic impetus it relies on sequencers or the swathe of keyboard interactions. Often mid-paced, the music patiently unfolds and wraps around the listener with its harmonically interesting melodies.
The album does not descend into drone territory, though occasionally it does head towards the ambient. If you don't let yourself be distracted by everyday mundanity when listening to it, then it is an album that will transport you away from that very mundanity. This is a perfect headphone listening experience.
The album does divide into two parts musically. The first part is dominated by sequencers and the standout track for me is The Year's First Rain, where Holmes echoes the pattern of dripping water from a recording of a desert rainstorm, picking it out with sequenced notes to give the piece rhythmic structure.
On the second half, the sequencers give way to long washes of keyboards that overlap, creating syncopated structures that move the pieces forward. There is great depth here; from Interstellar Lullaby's orchestral, Mellotron-like, majestic sounds to the microtonal changes of The Inevitability Of Change. There are resonant undercurrents to all the pieces on Incandescent, with deepening layers of sound like the great sandstone deposits that formed Monument Valley. It seems both timeless and modern.
If you like your prog to have more of a dynamic edge then you need to take your ears elsewhere. But if you have an interest, as I do, in electronic music then this is a terrific album and is possibly the best I have heard since Tangerine Dream's Sorcerer soundtrack.
Martin Burns: 9 out of 10
Master Men - Through the Window
Rattlesnake (6:27), Red (3:53), Through the Window (4:34), Loser's Day (4:51), Trap (5:25), Next Time (3:22), Flower Children (4:44), Grey (4:20), Mammon (4:28), Yellow (4:07), Semi World (5:05)
Loosely speaking, the music falls into the prog-metal category, although the edge is rarely harsh and there's plenty of neo-prog and even straightforward rock on display. Vocalist Artur Machura, featured throughout, has a rich and passionate tone that carries enough force to fit with the strong instrumentation but without the dark aura that can be present in music of this genre.
The omnipresent guitar fills the landscape with riffs but also adds sharp, terse solos, while keyboards play an important but more-subtle role. At some points, particularly when the occasionally pensive vocals are underpinned by somewhat eerie keyboard washes, shades of Arena can be heard.
The CD starts out with a bang. Rattlesnake, the opener and longest tune, exhibits fine songwriting and teamwork. Also a star is Red, a catchy tune with an appealing mix of free energy and a repeating melody. The title track, Through the Window, continues, successfully, in the same vein. It, too, has hooks that call back the listener, although the fuzziness of the guitar riffs detract.
Not quite as successful, due to its repetitive lyrics and gruff vocals, is Loser's Day. Even this tune, though, features punchy spurts of guitar. Keyboards and guitar mesh nicely near the end of Trap, a solid but not a stand-out tune. The bold vocals-only introduction to Next Time offers a creative shake-up of sounds. The song is among the more raucous of the bunch overall, but it works. And, no surprise, the brief guitar solo shines.
The slower-tempo Flower Children allows the bassist be heard while he accompanies the lengthy, soaring guitar solo. More metallic sounds reign on Gray, but the song provides little to remember. Perhaps the best singing can be heard on Mammon: the challenging vocal lines are pulled off credibly without a hint of strain.
By this time, though, the heavy guitar riffs heard on this and most of the other tunes begins to wear a bit thin. Relief arrives quickly, however, with the lighter introduction to Yellow, a fairly mainstream rock-and-roll song. The closer, Semi World, starts out with and mostly maintains a big, progressive sound. Here, too, the vocals and guitar serve as the highlights.
A long time in the making, Through the Window is a success. Even though little new ground is covered here, the CD traces a time-tested path and is consistently solid. Most notably, the songwriting is thoughtful, and in implementing the songs the band has allocated roles smartly to create a highly listenable team effort.
Joel Atlas: 7 out of 10
Ossicles - Music for Wastelands
Halfway Homes (5:38), Darkroom (5:21), Tectonic (5:05), Will It Last (4:07), Family Tree (3:54), Exit Wound (2:56), Pale Summer Nails (2:31), The Red Heart (5:27), Goodnight Ghosts (2:05), In The Stereo (2:12), Girl With The Glass Eye (7:56), Pandemonium (12:40), Porcelain Doll (4:34), Music For Wastelands (3:16)
The follow up, Music for Wastelands, has no drop off in quality or inventiveness. The cousins who comprise Ossicles, Sondre Veland (drums, percussion, vocals and keyboards) and Bastian Veland (guitars, vocals, bass, upright bass and keyboards) say that these 14 tracks are composed to form a single musical work and that they 'have few limitations when it comes to genres'. The concept of Music for Wastelands is not immediately obvious and even after numerous plays I have yet to tease it out from the lyrical content. It helps make repeat plays even easier and it has become this listener's current work in progress!
The music on this album is fabulous with hummable melodies and a mix of styles. The songs progress across the album in adventurous ways; sometimes simple, other times complex and dramatic. Every song seems to be the perfect length. There is a maturity here and there is the sense that this still-young duo, know exactly what they are doing.
The album moves from the forceful, angular guitars of Halfway Homes, through the skittering drums and the judicious use of sax from guest Erlend Furuset Jenssen (who pops up throughout the album in seemingly just the right places) on Darkroom. There is a Gentle Giant inflected ballad Will It Last?
Joining these are, variously, guitar-led heavy prog workouts, orchestral keyboard ballads and, being from Norway, a folk element, especially on the delightful Pale Summer Nails, featuring guest vocalist Karin Mäkiranta. There are a couple of short and punchy Knifeworld-ish numbers in Goodnight Ghosts and In The Stereo, whilst not forgetting the King Crimson twisting crunch of the excellent Pandemonium.
Now the bands I have mentioned in this review are really just signposts on the marvellous journey that is Ossicles' second album. Music for Wastelands is an album to persist with and you will find it rewards you with a sophisticated listen, full of twists and turns from one subtle song to another. This is the very definition of an eclectic adventurousness. By the way, I'm saving the 10 rating for the 'difficult' third album. Bring it on!
Martin Burns: 9 out of 10
Outre Mesure - La Ligne Perdue
Les Mingas (7:21), Goulash Electrique (10:19), La Promenade de Cleobule (4:27), La Bascule (4:14), Le Mal de Caderas (13:26), Les Soeurs Duvel (1:37), La Ligne Perdue (5:19), Faux Whammy (4:53)
This instrumental French five piece has produced its second Album La Ligue Perdue and I am at the mercy of Google translate, but it says it means 'lost online'' which is also soundtrack to the scary, film-like track seven.
The trumpet, flugelhorn, tenor saxophone, and flute (Marc Dosière and Jérôme Roselé respectively) are used as the lead instrumentation for the CD's entirety, whilst being augmented by a very loosely mic'd up small snared drum kit and night club bass sound. The main composer, Jean-Louis Morais, is the guitarist of these merry troubadours, but besides occasional jazzy picking, rhythm, and a little distortion, it's the brass and woodwind that dominate.
The humorous titles to the songs perfectly match the music, with Les Mingas (what we'd call the ugly girls!) starting off the CD and it's the utter dryness of the mix that gives a first impression.
Goulash Electrique (mad drumming by Charles Duytschaever) and La Promenade De Cléobule have enough discordant noises to have Frank Zappa smiling from above and I'd say there was obviously inspiration from his Grand Wazoo period, plus, with its ostinato musical phrases, I'd say fans of Henry Cow's 1973 LP Legend would be impressed.
Longest track Le Mal de Caderas, which either means sore hips or in Spanish a disease horses get, works with both definitions as this would be the soundtrack to them both. This is perhaps the most jazz rock of the pieces in a kind of later Miles Davis way.
The reverb-less saxophone meanders around the band like a noxious limbless reptile that imbues the music with its danger, then the guitar goes all electric for the last three minutes as it battles with the aberrant trumpet that's been taken over by the asylum. Olivier Vergaeghe's bass is allowed to struggle with the straightjacket here as well.
Les Soeurs Duvel is a rather lovely 1:37 of mellow guitar respite then eventually the syncopated Faux Whammy finishes the performance in a manner that reminds me a little of Gentle Giant's jazzier parts from their Acquiring the Taste album.
This is music for fans of bands that play around with the notes, but not necessarily in the right order, it's stoner music for jazz heads, and it's become a bit of a grower.
In the UK, we had a TV sketch show called The Fast Show and one recurring item was called 'Jazz Club'' where a polo neck and velvet jacket wearing host would turn to the camera after witnessing some cacophonous noise from the opening act and say' "nice!"
This band would have been top of the bill. If you have to have one psychopathic and certainly certifiable jazz album in your collection, this could be it.
Andrew Halley: 7.5 out of 10
Zone Six - Love Monster
Love Monster (14:53), The Insight (8:21), Acidic (7:29), Cosmogyral (15:17)
These four lengthy tracks grind along and, not unlike ambient music, the change occurs very gradually. If you were listening to this on vinyl, and it skipped, it could be days before you realised.
There are measures of Krautrock and even space-rock with those bubbling, swelling synths, and of course the distorted guitars take it into a different zone entirely. The bass and drums simply pound out the groove upon which the improvisations hang.
Acidic, is the shortest track, not that it's substantially different from what precedes it.
The final track, Cosmogyral, has some spaced-out synths with that fuzzed-out guitar improvising all over it. It's probably the most different of all the tracks, with the electronics providing a real bedrock for the piece, although it's too often drowned by the guitar.
The last five minutes are much quieter, as the album slowly winds down from phrenetic to comatose.
If you love instrumental psych/acid/space-rock that grooves along its chosen, straight path, and features tons of improvised guitar noodling, this will be heaven. For those who crave variety in their prog, it's certainly one to give a wide berth to.
Jim Cornall: 5 out of 10