In The Garden Of Popol Vuh (4:56), Lentus In Umbra (7:04), Il Pianto Di Cristo Su Gerusalemme (8:33), Profumi D'Oriente (4:43), Sicut In Caelo (10:38), Il Sole Muore (7:03), 6:35 Minuten Vor Dem Ende Der Zeit Explodiert Die Erde (6:35)
Anything is possible in the age of post modernism. Now that the line between the so-called high culture and pop culture is thinner than ever, and the cultural object has undergone a progressive deconstruction, all disciplines, concepts and aestethics blend and merge naturally. So, it is accepted to use contemporary pop music in period movies, to sell books along with their own background music, and to compose soundtracks for imaginary films.
Such is the case with Italian band Il Ballo Delle Castagne and their Soundtrack For An Unreleased Herzog Movie. With that title, and coming from the Black Widow label, it is undeniably obscure stuff, but also intriguing and somewhat fascinating.
Werner Herzog has been (still is) one of the most idiosyncratic European film directors of the last 50 years, covering all possible bases a film maker could: countercultural oddities, adventure movies, science documentaries, Hollywood blockbusters etec. Having followed his always unpredictable career, the prospect of listening to music intended to illustrate one of his non-existant works was in a way awkward, but also totally in line with the German director's philosophy of being adventurous and unclassifiable.
Although I'm not sure this album works as a standalone piece of music, I believe it succeeds in recreating the atmosphere of Herzog's films, especially his 70s output and titles, including Aguirre The Wrath Of God (1972), The Enigma Of Kaspar Hauser (1976) or Heart Of Glass (1977). Scored by krautrock band Popol Vuh (who worked on many other Herzog productions), these films feature ethereal, otherwordly soundtracks, relying on unorthodox Eastern instruments to imbue them with a deep, spiritual feel.
These same qualities are on display in this album, right from the opening notes of the spellbinding In The Garden Of Popol Vuh and Lentus In Umbra, with a strong presence of the harpsichord and the sitar in both of them. The same qualities apply to the Michael Nyman-sounding extended piano piece Sicut In Caelo or the more contemporary nuances of the closing bonus track 6:35 Minuten Vor Dem Ende Der Zeit Explodiert Die Erde. My only concern has to do with Vinz Aquarian's vocals, which I find to be rather intrusive on both Il Pianto Di Cristo Su Gerusalemme and Profumi D'Oriente.
So, a very enjoyable album if you're looking for ethereal, dreamy music with an arty twist. If Werner Herzog was aware of the existence of this album, he should seriously consider to make a movie to illustrate it. That's the best compliment I can think of.
Dragonfly (4:48), Mark Maker (6:54), Wild Cry (4:50), Dark Down (3:24), Stry (8:14), Sleepless (7:05), Deeper Align (6:52), Albedo Dei (5:31)
This quartet from the UK takes us back to the early days of prog. Their music can be described as psychedelic alt-rock with a pinch of prog. As I am not very familiar with this kind of early prog, I had some difficulties listening to their music and trying to find comparisons with more well known bands. Because I guess lots of readers might not have heard of Baron, it will be nice to know, that if you're a fan of Wolf People, Soft Machine or Van Der Graaf Generator, you'll be likely to enjoy this album. It's their second, following Columns that was released in 2013.
The opening track Dragonfly sounds like music from the hippy-era in the 60s, with vocals by band leader Alex Crispin that remind me of Jim Morrison (The Doors). There's a nice flow of the distinctive baritone vocals and the warm organ sounds. This track almost hypnothises you, and that's the case with almost all the other tracks.
In the world of British prog there are so many different styles. You can have your prog served with dance elements (Galahad), folk elements (Big Big Train), and metal elements (Arena), but Baron is a representative of bands that embrace the psychedelic elements just like early Pink Floyd did.
Fans of the aforementioned bands who are very much into psychedelic, symphonic rock will have to give this album a try. Besides the opening song, the other strong tracks for me were, Sleepless and Deeper Align.
Templum Creationis (1:00), Harlequin's Grief (5:03), Bail Me Out (6:31), Reveries (5:20), A Perfect Day (4:35), Never Will (6:41), Sacred Soil of Souls (3:07), The Masquerade (6:29), Chtonic Star (5:39), Words of Fortune (7:55), My Land (4:45) (Sonata Arctica cover)
A blindfolded angel, holding her hands above her head, mouth open, apparently in agony, is portrayed on the cover of the Belgian band's sophomore album. Is it because of the music on the album, or is there a deeper thought in that, more related to the album's title probably? We reviewed this Belgian band's first album and the result (http://www.dprp.net/reviews/201458.php#dyscordia) wasn't all too favourable, mainly due to the sense that the debut might have been more metal than expected.
Listening back to the debut and of course listening to the album at hand, it can be argued that there is sometimes but a thin line between prog metal and just metal. Then again, Words in Ruin as an album goes to show that Dyscordia isn't just about metal. The opening instrumental track might easily have featured on a Savatage album, with all its grandeur and bombast. With the natural flow into the second track, Dyscordia brings time signature changes as a central part of their menu and combines it with delicate guitar harmonies.
With its uptempo rhythm driven by tasteful command of the bass drum, Bail Me Out might strike the average prog listener as just another metal track. Yet this song in particular mixes a variety of metal styles and does so with great taste. Starting off in darker territory, where every now and then Symphony X dare to dwell,
it ultimately becomes an utterly melodic track, with fine guitar work throughout by Messrs Commeene, Debonnet and Segers. Mind, the instrumental part in this track also reminds me of Symphony X, yet without the keyboard parts.
The band have managed to bring together a whole array of ideas in a variety of songs, all of which are rather complex. The way in which Piet Overstijn's clean vocals are combined with Stefan Seger's grunts, feels very natural and never as if imposed on the music. Yes, they sure know how to play metal, as A Perfect Day clearly shows, which is quite easily the fastest track on the album. Still, even in this song, there's variety in the time signatures, in the vocal lines and again, great riffing and guitar playing. Quite contrary to this track is Sacred Soil of Souls, which shows that the band need not always head out into heavier waters.
The album again is produced by Jens Bogren and mastered by Tony Lindgren, which means that the sound can only be described as great. Apart from the sound and the variety in songs, the band have paid attention to all details along the way, as the cover and booklet that go with the album are also carefully designed.
It may well be that this is not an album for every prog lover around, yet, if your collection holds Savatage, Symphony X, Iced Earth or Iron Maiden, then this might be just the right balance between prog and metal for you. For those readers, I recommend this album very much. It might just come as another fine surprise from Belgium, just like their soccer team this year (that is until they came across Wales - ed). As for the blindfolded angel, she might just as well be excited to be going to a Dyscordia gig.
Discovery (8:45), The Hope Only of Empty Men (3:10), Pomperipossa (2:12), Come Wander with Me/Deliverance (10:49), En Ensam Vandrare (2:55), An Oath (3:01), Evocation (3:07), The Miraculous (9:59), Stranger (5:28)
Anna von Hausswolff, of Swedish origin, is quite an extraordinary singer-songwriter and musician. She plays piano and organ and has the ability to sing both in a very dark and low voice, and as high as any soprano you could possibly come up with. Her singing does indeed prove to be both doomy and ethereal.
For this, her third full-length album, she chose to travel up to the north of Sweden, to the town of Piteå where the Acusticum Pipe Organ, an organ with 9000 pipes, is situated. Not that the number of pipes in the organ is its main feature (considerable nevertheless), but the fact that this organ also features a vibraphone, Glockenspiel, a celesta and, saving the best for last, a number of pipes that are filled with water, giving them an extra touch not found in other organs.
Not familiar with any of her earlier albums, to me this was quite a discovery. The album opens with a foghorn-like sound from the organ, and as the first song unfolds, one could imagine this to be the soundtrack to a dark movie. There are moments in the song that bring to mind the darker side of Sixteen Horsepower, yet without David Eugene Edwards' voice to top it off. It's in the latter part of the song that we first get to hear Anna's voice, and here she moves between soft, soothing and almost ecstaticly wild. This is not Candice Night near a welcoming fire, this sounds more like an enchantress from days of yore.
The movie Excalibur springs to mind as both this album and that movie share a feel of darkness and mysticism. Anna has managed to give the Acusticum a central spot in the album's sound, in such a way that it warrants the dark and mystic feel throughout. Whether the organ is delivering all its might, as in Pomperipossa, or is just there to provide soundscapes, as in the epic Come Wander with Me/Deliverance, the Acusticum makes Anna's music very special.
Yet it's not just the Acusticum that is heard on The Miraculous. Joining forces with Anna are Filip Leyman on synths, Karl Vento and Joel Fabiansson both on guitar and Ulrik Ording on drums. Her sister, Maria von Hausswolff features on vocals as well.
The way the band play their oft-dronelike music goes very well with the sounds Anna plays on the Acusticum. Together they have created a sound in which gothic and ambient influences merge with industrial and doom metal, all with an adequate measure of repetitiveness added to it. Whether the minimalism, again with a Sixteen Horsepower feel, of En Ensam Vandrare can take you to a dreamlike state, or whether you rather fancy Anna's uncanny and doomy version of an Abba that never was, like in Evocation, this is an album that you don't get on a first listen.
It must be said that not everyone will fall for Anna's vocals, they are quite an acquired taste, but if you're open to voices with character, why not give this album a try? It's the darkest version of Neverland you might ever end up in, but it's very worthwhile taking a trip.
King of the Tyrant Lizards (4:27), A Poem That The Sky Wrote (3:36), Perfect Zero (3:34), The Fog (5:55), Nautilus (5:15), Little Mice (4:02), Shango (2:40), Waxwing (2:43), Funeral Song for the Icarus Worm (0:48), Blooper's Theme (4:01), Sidescroller (0:56), Starcross (4:16), These Hands (6:07)
When I approach a new album for review, I make a few notes just to get my bearings. Now with Mothertongue's release, Unsongs, these bearings were from all over the place, taking in pop-prog, non-traditional prog, ska, ska-punk, punk, jazz, disco, surf-rock, funk, mariachi and the energy levels of a hyperactive schoolkid for whom the Ritalin just isn't working anymore.
Hailing from Manchester, this mad-cap sextet produce very melodic pop-prog that sounds like a mix of The Cardiacs and XTC with elements of Madness, Mansun and Ennio Morricone. Often having two very catchy melodies in the same song, it can take a while for the ear to pick out what is going on, whilst getting caught up in the whirling energy of it all. The musicianship and production are all top notch. There is a dazzling display of instrumentation here. So along with the standard guitars, bass, drums and keys, you also get trumpet, sax, ukulele, mandolin and violin. Plus all six members sing.
As an illustration I'll just look at four tracks at random (thanks to Kath for choosing them) to give you a flavour of what is happening on this bonkers and sometimes bizarrely beautiful record. First up is Shango. This has a brassy, big-band Weather Report-like jazz melody, that they pause, to mix in a chanted vocal section that shows how strong the band are vocally and instrumentally. Then there is Perfect Zero, a Cardiacs or Knifeworld pop-prog gem with extra special trumpet. It has a cracking stop-start melody, that on an instant becomes an intimate croon, and manages to quote Maurice Jarre's theme from Lawrence of Arabia, before upping the energy level for the coda.
There is also the five minutes of nuttiness that comprises Nautilus. Opening in a lounge jazz style, it morphs and twists through a punky chorus to squelchy synths and Gentle Giant-style overlapping vocals, before throwing in power-pop and mad disco pop sung in Japanese, all for good measure. Crazy but in a good way.
Closing the album is These Hands, the closest the album gets to a ballad. Here a martial beat evolves on a bed of vocal harmonies, before the trumpet solo picks up the tempo, and it has an excellent lead vocal.
As you may gather, Mothertongue are the very definition of hyperactive eclecticism and all the better for it. This is a collection of songs that span and reject any settled genre label, and the only thing preventing a recommended rating from me is the disco elements that crop up (I really dislike disco). However, if there is something you don't like on Unsongs_, something else will be along very shortly. For a debut this is a strikingly confident mix of art rock and theatrical pop-prog and I look forward to what Mothertongue do in the future.
CD 1: Confess (6:12), Together We Are (4:50), Cut the Ties (5:11), Time and A Word (5:18), I Could (2:44), Red Light Ahead (4:51), Fireworks (4:25), Your Move (3:11), Owner Of A Lonely Heart (5:29)
CD 2: I Am Waiting (5:08), Tony Kaye Solo (3:50), The Other Side (6:00), Wondrous Stories (4:27), Man Over Bored (4:26), The More We Live (6:38), No Way We Can Lose (6:04), Say Goodbye (5:13), Roundabout (4:53)
DVD: Confess, Together We Are, Cut the Ties, Time and A Word, I Could, Red Light Ahead, Fireworks, Your Move, Owner Of A Lonely Heart, I Am Waiting, Tony Kaye Solo, The Other Side, Wondrous Stories, Man Over Bored, The More We Live, No Way We Can Lose, Say Goodbye, Roundabout
It's been a year since the last official Yes release, Like It Is: Yes at the Mesa Arts Center and as such this 2CD/DVD live set may well satisfy fan cravings until the next band product comes along. As the title suggests, it was recorded during a tour of Japan (in April 2011 one month after the tsunami) by current Yes member Billy Sherwood (vocals and guitar) and ex member Tony Kaye (keyboards).
The set list is culled from various Sherwood/Kaye connections including Yes, World Trade, Conspiracy (the Sherwood/Chris Squire partnership), Circa and Sherwood's solo albums. The only obvious omission is the 2010 Yoso project, although The Other Side, a song co-written by Sherwood and recorded by Toto in 1992, is included.
Spin CD 1 and it's pretty obvious from the start that this is not going to be the most pristine recording you'll ever likely to here. The sound is a tad thin and harsh, especially the guitar and vocals. As a result Sherwood's singing sounds uncannily like Nad Sylvan, whilst the relentless guitar begins to grate after a while. The characteristically warm and earthy tones of Kaye's organ playing on the other hand are very easy on the ears. But who's playing the bass and drums?
Things improve however (or are my ears adjusting), and as result the final three songs on disc 1, Fireworks (from Sherwood's 2003 album No Comment), an engaging version of Your Move and a convincing Owner Of A Lonely Heart (complete with sound samples) are the most successful. Unsurprisingly, roughly half the songs in the set are from the Yes back catalogue, spanning the 70s, 80s and 90s.
CD 2 opens with a couple of surprises, an instrumental version of I Am Waiting (one of Trevor Rabin and Jon Anderson's best collaborations in my opinion) and a tasteful piano solo, from Kaye which includes elements of Changes, Cinema and Hearts all from the 90125 album. An off-key Wondrous Stories and a ponderous The More We Live (the highlight of the otherwise below par Union album) have little to recommend them, although the Roundabout encore is pretty solid, despite its frantic pace which is faster than any Yes version I can recall.
The DVD begins with news footage of the Japanese tsunami, intercut with a plane coming into land and the titles "Together We Are Tour" and "Japan: April 2011". The set list is identical to the CD's, although the concert footage is interspersed with Sherwood and Kaye taking time-out in several Japanese locations, including the Hard Rock Café and travelling between gigs.
The performance is filmed from several camera angles, often from the audience's viewpoint, but the picture quality is hazy throughout, suggesting that it was mostly recorded by the same cameras and edited together from different shows. In fact the video is so bad, it makes the audio (obviously a soundboard recording) sound positively good. With only Sherwood and Kaye on stage, the question I posed earlier is resolved; the bass and drums were pre-recorded, almost certainly by the multi-instrumentalist Sherwood.
Although the six-sided digipak has a quality look and feel about it, the lack of a booklet and any information regarding venues/dates or song credits is disappointing. For the record, in addition to the Yes tunes and the Toto song, there are three songs from Conspiracy, two each from Circa's 2007 debut and Sherwood's No Comment album, and one from World Trade.
CD 1: Time And Space (6:37), Vas Dis (5:02), Ballad Of The Beacon (5:13),Rock 'N' Roll Widow (5:49), Sorrel (4:52), Everybody Needs A Friend (6:58), Phoenix (11:44), Lost Cause In Paradise (5:15), Errors Of My Way (6:47), Ships In The Sky (3:34), You See Red (6:34)
CD 2: Time Was (10:02), Sometime World (8:07), The King Will Come (7:51), Leaf And Stream (5:29), Warrior (5:50), Throw Down The Sword (6:05), Blowin' Free (7:44), Living Proof (7:03), Jailbait (8:52)
DVD: Time And Space, Vas Dis, Ballad Of The Beacon, Rock 'N' Roll Widow, Sorrel, Everybody Needs A Friend, Phoenix, Lost Cause In Paradise, Errors Of My Way, Ships In The Sky, You See Red, Time Was, Sometime World, The King Will Come, Leaf And Stream, Warrior, Throw Down The Sword, Blowin' Free, Living Proof, Jailbait (136:42) Bonus material: Interview with Martin Turner and his band (29:33), Life Begins: Second leg rehearsal footage (31:43), DVD Trailer (3:27)
As the lead vocalist and bassist with Wishbone Ash, from the band's inception in 1969 through to 1980 (plus a couple of spells in the 80s and 90s), Martin Turner needs little introduction. He was the principle songwriter during their classic period, which included the seminal Argus album, where their pioneering twin lead guitar sound reached its zenith.
This 2CD/DVD set documents the 'Life Begins' tour of 2009/2010, celebrating the 40th anniversary of Wishbone Ash. The DVD first appeared in 2011, followed by a CD which both went under the name 'Martin Turner's Wishbone Ash'. Following a court ruling however in favour of Andy Powell's exclusive rights to the name, this "Deluxe" reissue has been rebranded 'Martin Turner ex Wishbone Ash'. It was recorded live at the Y Theatre in my old home town of Leicester.
When they reached Leicester on 13th March 2010 they were into the second leg of the tour, by which time the line-up of Turner, Ray Hatfield (guitar, vocals), Danny Willson (guitar, vocals) and Dave Wagstaffe (drums) had honed their playing skills to perfection.
During opener Time And Space, Hatfield's fluid Mark Knofler technique is perfectly complimented by Willson's harder rock style. The wordless scat vocals of Vas Dis is followed by the folk-friendly Ballad Of The Beacon, with echoes of Lindisfarne. This is the first in a four-song sequence from Wishbone Four (1973) bookended by the sprawling Phoenix from the 1970 debut album, which gets a fresh makeover thanks to some quite stunning solos.
The sound balance is near perfect, with Hatfield and Willson positioned far left and right respectively, Wagstaffe occupying the rear and Turner placed front and center. The guitar interplay and vocal harmonies are spot-on, perfectly capturing the Wishbone sound of old.
CD 2 is devoted almost entirely to Argus, a landmark album in a landmark year. In fact 1972 just happens to be my favourite year for prog releases, which also included Close To The Edge, Foxtrot, Trilogy, Thick As A Brick, Per un amico, Focus 3 and Octopus amongst so many others. Unlike these albums however, Ash shunned keyboards in favour of their trademark twin lead guitar sound.
The reputation of Argus as a concept album is based on the four-song cycle that took up side 2 of the original vinyl record. In a note-perfect performance, the infectious riff of The King Will Come, and the harmonised guitar finale of Throw Down The Sword, standout. Blowin' Free provides a rocking conclusion to the main set, leaving a rousing Jailbait from the 1971 Pilgrimage album to bring the show to a close and send the Leicester faithful home happy.
Switch to the DVD and the good news continues. Both picture and sound quality are excellent, and although there is no fancy light show to speak of, the crystal clear close-ups of fingers on frets will keep musos satisfied. Turner's melodious solo at the end of Sorrel for example, demonstrates what an excellent bassist he is.
The band's easy going humour and Turner's natural audience rapport also comes across well, as does the intimate atmosphere of the Y Theatre. They even manage a quick change of clothes between Phoenix and the Big Country-ish Lost Cause In Paradise from 1989's Here to Hear album.
Of the extras, the rehearsal footage is well worth a look, as Turner puts his band through their instrumental and vocal paces. During the interviews he also talks in detail about Argus_ and the story behind each song he wrote for the album. All in all, this is an excellent package.
The Trickster (6:10), Corpus Caeleste (7:01), I Want to Know (7:16), Your Mirror (5:35), I'll Be a Fool (5:17), Fight (6:25), Black Drop (6:20), Dust (4:25), I Will Try (7:56), Mood Changes (6:45)
Utopia, from Italy, are a self-confessed progressive/fusion band; Mood Changes is their second album and my initial reaction was that it was good, but not great. Musically, the band is obscenely-talented, and one of the tightest I have heard. With stunning technical wizardry from all members of the band, and vocals that sound at times like a cross between Greg Lake (of Emerson, Lake and Palmer and King Crimson fame) and Russell Allen from Symphony X. Musically there is plenty on offer here for those who enjoy Dream Theater, Seventh Wonder and Symphony X.
The album offers a masterful display of musicianship, and an incredible vocal range, with intense drumming keeping a fast, hard hitting pace. The band makes good use of the keyboards to create some lovely sounds and solos, but without ever being too over-bearing. The keys gell well with the guitars and the blistering solos that are prevalent throughout the album. Odd time signatures are a definite factor as well, adding to the modern progressive metal sound, but with clear influences from the heydays of prog rock back in the 1970s and 80s.
So, you may be wondering why my conclusion is that this is a good, but not great album? Well, the main downfall is that I feel the band is trying too hard.
The use of the odd time signatures and changes, and the start/stop riffs are difficult to pull off, especially at the speed the band is playing them. However, I find that this style is better if spread out, if used sometimes on an album, not in most songs. It results in areas of supreme technical ability, which draw you in, but you are unable to fully appreciate it, before it has changed again. It is like having the one bite of a fantastic dish, before you're onto the next course.
The problem is heightened by some songs trying to cram too much into too short a time, while others cram too little and feel over-long.
A large number of riffs sound like they have been taken from the Dream Theater handbook of prog, and then crammed into the one song, rather than using the riffs to emphasis various points. It feels to me like the band plays fast because they can, rather than because they should. So it unfortunately ends up sounding quite repetitive and uninspired.
The band has a lot of potential, and there is no denying their technical ability, but perhaps a bit more time taken for the song writing, rather than the playing, may be advisable for the next album, which I will look forward to hearing, to see how their sound progresses. It isn't called "progressive" metal for nothing!