ISSUE 2016-035

Reviews in this issue:

Huxley Would Approve - Grave New World - Part One
Huxley Would Approve - Grave New World - Part One
Country of Origin: Germany/Canada
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 41:28
Links:
Track List:
Rewind (1:04), Blue Morpho Part One - Cocoon (3:41), Darkness (7:30), A Grave New World (4:05), Echo (6:34), Flowers (9:19), Blue Morpho Part Two - Throw Me a Line (5:02), Levitation (4:08)
It seems quite obvious that the band Huxley Would Approve and their album Grave New World have been inspired by Aldous Huxley and his Brave New World. They are definitely not the first ones to be inspired (just look at albums by The Strawbs or Iron Maiden), but the music on this album is far from those mentioned bands. On the opposite: What the listener gets, reminds me very very strongly of Pink Floyd.

That is not surprising, as Rainer Schneider, who wrote all the music, played almost all the instruments, and produced the record, is also singer and bass player in a Pink Floyd coverband called The Final Cut.

The influence of the album can be heard throughout the whole disc, beginning with Rewind, a typical album-opener, with the typical sound effects. Blue Morpho Part One - Cocoon includes some Gilmour-like guitar playing and sounds, Darkness is, as the title suggests, dark and includes some complex rhythmic playing, but the vocals and the background choir seem to call out: "We've been inspired by Pink Floyd!" - which, of course, is not a bad thing at all.

The beginning of the title track really seems to be off The Final Cut, but then there are some slight and interesting differences to the original, which makes it more than just some kind of rip-off.

This kind of recipe continues over the eight tracks of the record. We hear soundscapes, progressive arrangements, long epic songs, Roger Waters-like vocals, and a great production, that reminds me of the prog dinosaurs. Track five is even called Echo.

Flowers is written by Schneider and Judtih Mattes-Schneider, who also contributed some vocals. The lyrics, as well as the concept and the artwork, have been created by Joe Bolieiro, who is the Canadian part of the project. The whole art work looks very nice and well-thought-out. Every track has been given a certain painting or photograph, also very Floyd-ish.

Apart from the three people mentioned, the album also features Olaf Arweiler (additional keyboard solo on Flowers) and Werner Melchior (lead guitar on Blue Morpho Part One - Cocoon and additional short guitar solo on Flowers).

Even though there are only a handful of people involved and Schneider plays almost every instrument, one has the impression that there is a whole huge band playing. That is a wonderful effect, hats off! I am excited to hear Part Two.
Conclusion:
Philipp Röttgers: 8 out of 10

The Jelly Jam - Profit
The Jelly Jam - Profit
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 45:13
Links:
Track List:
Care (5:46), Stain on the Sun (3:08), Water (4:57), Stop (3:42), Perfect Lines (flyin) (3:37), Mr Man (3:30), Memphis (2:48), Ghost Town (3:52), Heaven (3:54), Permanent Hold (3:18), Fallen (3:49), Strong Belief (3:32).
Fourth album from the KingsX, Dream Theater and Winger men is a moralistic treatise on the state of the world from a trio not afraid to tackle difficult, "big" subjects, and comment on those same issues that affect us all in some way. As you would expect, there is lots of serious musicianship on offer here. We have everything from the subtle-at-times, and downright-heavy-at-others guitar of Ty Tabor from Kings X, to the liquid fleet-fingered basswork of Dream Theater's John Myung, and the masterful and precise drumming of Rod Morgenstein of Winger. Yet whilst these guys have the chops to deliver, they somehow fail to do so because these songs are not very memorable and they do not manage to wow me very much.

Whilst it's all very well crafted and played, it's without any great emotion or impact. Stain on the Sun is the best track here, as it has a melody that you can hum along with and remember. I found it all a bit disposable, which I found disappointing. I had big expectations from these guys, as individually they all have such great pedigrees, yet somehow when put together, it doesn't seem to gel for me. I expected this to be head and shoulders above lots of other releases but it somehow fails to take flight or soar.

I was expecting that the tracks would be longer in duration and with more displays of their musical dexterity, but there aren't many solos, and the resulting effect is that the songs tend to merge into each other without anything to distinguish them apart. Maybe over time this album will grow on me but despite several listens, it's failed to imprint itself in any significant manner. On the plus side, it is well produced and has good subject matter and a good sleeve design.

But overall, for me this is rather a missed opportunity. Profit simply fails to deliver any knockout punches.
Conclusion:
John Wenlock-Smith: 4 out of 10

Katatonia - The Fall of Hearts
Katatonia - The Fall of Hearts
Country of Origin: Sweden
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 67:24
Links:
Track List:
Takeover (7:06), Serein (4:46), Old Heart Falls (4:22), Decima (4:47), Sanction (5:06), Residual (6:54), Serac (7:25), Last Song Before the Fade (5:01), Shifts (4:54), The Night Subscriber (6:10), Pale Flag (4:23), Passer(6:25)
Veteran Swedish metal band Katatonia must really be enjoying their 25th year, after releasing what is likely to be their most critically acclaimed and commercially successful album to date, The Fall of Hearts. It's a pleasant blend of progressive rock and heavy metal, with compositions that are ripe with interesting changes, time signatures, and high caliber musicianship. There's no doubt the progressive banner is on full display here.

Many parallels can be drawn between Katatonia and internationally renowned fellow Swedish rockers Opeth. Eeach started as a harder version of themselves, often experimenting with different styles, and both ended up drifting into the progressive genre further into their careers. Beyond the obvious storyline similarities, there's a sound and style on songs like Residual that would easily confuse a listener of the two bands in a blind test. This doesn't detract from enjoying the songs on their own merit, it just seems like an eerie factoid worthy of mention.

Two new members appear on this album; drummer Daniel Moilanen and lead guitarist Roger Öjersson (on three tracks). It was good timing to join Katatonia when it seems to have polished its new-found sound into a glistening form, and with no sign of missing a beat (pun intended) Moilanen has stepped right in to perform some very complex and suitable percussion.

Jonas Renkse's vocals are very capable and enjoyable. The guitar playing throughout the album is tight and accomplished. They manage to inject a lot of interesting changes between melodic, soaring flashes of rapture. Extended metal moments are few and far between, helping to further define the character of the album as "modern progressive". Keyboard work is ever-present, though rarely the dominant instrument, and always adding tension or support to the composition in the way one would expect on a progressive album.

The energy level is frequently subdued. The Night Subscriber and Passer are the most dynamic on the album. This works to a fault. Katatonia still sounds its best when the musicians are rocking out (they're a metal band after all), or when blending one of their moodier compositions into a metal track (not the other way around). The slower moments, although usually well performed, just don't have the same musical presence and power. Other bands in the progressive genre (including Opeth) do the plodding, darker, mood-rock thing better.

There's a lot to appreciate on this recording. I give it a solid recommendation to any fan of harder music, although I would bet that those who don't enjoy metal will also find plenty here to enjoy. The album is streaming from their site via Spotify, so at the very least you can fill your ears for free (if you haven't already).
Conclusion:
Kevin Heckeler: 8.5 out of 10

King Crimson - Live In Toronto
King Crimson - Live In Toronto
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 62:39, 64:15
Links:
Track List:
CD 1: Threshold Soundscape (4:00), Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part 1 (10:30), Pictures Of A City (8:32), VROOOM (5:19), Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind) (3:21), Meltdown (4:51), The Hell Hounds Of Krim (3:31), The ConstruKction Of Light (6:45), Red (6:47), Epitaph (9:03)
CD 2: Banshee Legs Bell Hassle (1:43), Easy Money (8:33), Level Five (7:04). The Letters (5:38), Sailor's Tale (6:56), Starless (15:18), The Court Of The Crimson King (7:17), 21st Century Schizoid Man (11:41)
In attempts to beat the bootleggers, the first live recording of the latest incarnation of King Crimson has been released as part of the Crimson Collector Club. Unlike the forthcoming official live release Radical Action To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind, Live in Toronto is a "minimally enhanced soundtrack recording" from the band's concert at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on 20 November 2015.

For those unaware of the latest incarnation of Robert Fripp's quest to keep the Crimson legacy current and interesting, the latest septet version includes no less than three drummers: Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison and Bill Rieflin, who also doubles on keyboards. Tony Levin is retained on bass and stick, Mel Collins makes a welcome return on sax and flute, while the vocals and second guitar duties are handled by Jakko Jakszyk, who has had one of the most interesting musical careers in recent years.

Crimson were long thought to have been relinquished to the past, when several years ago it was incorrectly publicised that Fripp was retiring from music. In fact he was actually encased a long legal battle with parts of the music industry which he successfully won, freeing him to focus once more on musical endeavours.

Like, I suspect, many others, I wondered what the new line up would be able to offer to the glorious legacy of Crimson's history but I have to say the concert of theirs I witnessed in Salford was simply one of the best and most enjoyable live shows I have witnessed in recent years. With the trio of drummers aligned across the front of the stage, it was clear that each drummer had a very individual part to play in the proceedings, with Mastelotto adding all sorts of percussive effects, Rieflin adding keyboard nuances throughout, and Harrison co-ordinating everything.

Musically the band was a revelation, and although the set list contained many familiar numbers, the presentation was fresh and engaging, with Collins adding new highlights to numbers that did not originally contain sax or flute lines. Of the new material on offer, Radical Action To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind is classic, instrumental Crimson that shows off the brilliant and inventive use of the three drummers. Meltdown is a powerful song that maybe on this recording suffers from a somewhat weary-sounding Jakszyk vocal but is enriched by the familiar Collins sax runs. Meanwhile, The Hell Hounds Of Krim along with Banshee Legs Bell Hassle displays how unaccompanied drums and percussion can provide melodic and exciting music.

The older material is perfectly interpreted/reinterpreted, but with a new vigour and purpose to proceedings. Jakszyk provides assured vocal lines and sounds uncannily like Wetton on the intro to Easy Money. However, it is the overall interaction of all seven musicians that makes this performance stand out so much. Being able to watch the live performance from the comfort of the living room on the official DVD/Blu-Ray release, the interplay and sheer magic of the performance will be even more apparent. However that doesn't necessarily negate the validity of this release, which equals, or even surpasses, previous Crimson live albums.

One could never accuse of Robert Fripp of resting on his laurels. King Crimson are as vital and innovative as they ever were, and perhaps even more so in today's somewhat turgid music scene. Real music, by proper musicians, out there taking chances and delivering something very new. Even perennial songs such as The Court Of The Crimson King and 21st Century Schizoid Man that are rapidly approaching their 50th birthday belie their years, and are well worth their inclusion, with 'Court' sounding more like the original album version and 'Schizoid Man' being astonishingly dramatic in its delivery.

Outstanding band. Outstanding album.
Conclusion:
Mark Hughes: 9.5 out of 10

Nine Stones Close - Leaves
Nine Stones Close - Leaves
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 58:05
Links:
Track List:
Complicated (5:00), Goldfish (12:47), Lie (9:58), Spoils (16:35), Leaves (13:45)
Since the release of 2012's lauded One Eye on the Sunrise, the Anglo-Dutch band Nine Stones Close have undergone some personnel changes. Out have gone Peter Vink (bass) and the Riversea duo of Brendan Eyre (keyboards) and Marc Atkinson (vocals). The latter pair to concentrate on the new Riversea release.

This has meant a change in sound for the band, as founder, songwriter and guitarist Adrian Jones has adjusted his writing style to take full advantage of the incoming new members. They are Christiaan Bruin from Sky Architect on keyboards, Peter Groen on bass and stick, and from Psychic for Radio, Adrian 'Aio' O'Shaughnessy on vocals.

It is the vocals that has made the largest shift in Nine Stones Close's sound. Adrian is a muscular vocalist who has an impressive range, from a dark whisper to full hard rock style. He sounds somewhat like a cross between Chris Cornell and Ronnie James Dio when at full throttle. But he does not overuse this talent, relying just as much on a subtle approach, that reveals itself slowly over the course of Leaves.

This is most evident in the relatively short opener Complicated, which mixes prog and hard rock. It sometimes sounds like a more engaging Soundgarden. It moves from shimmering keyboard opening, building as it grows into a growling guitar riff, before raunchily rocking out. However, it never loses subtlety or control. After this punchy opener, that shouts "hey we've changed a bit", the rest of Leaves then expands its musical pallet. Taking advantage of the longer song lengths it explores adventurous sonic avenues.

The album continues with Goldfish, a song about diminishing attention spans. It has long, keening guitar lines and moody keyboards, producing a melodic heavy prog workout. It holds and releases musical tension beautifully. Goldfish would have been a shoe-in track for Porcupine Tree's Deadwing.

Nine Stones Close continue with a mash-up of Rainbow and prog metal on the track Lie, adding acoustic colour with guests Ruben van Kruistrum (cello) and Annelise Rijk (violin). Lie also features one of Adrian Jones' inventive guitar workouts, making this extra special. He creates a guitar solo out of chunky chords, underpinned with keyboards, before letting fly with a full-on flowing solo. It's great stuff.

Lightly-strummed guitar and quiet vocals introduce the epic Spoils. It builds slowly, with the disconcerting lyric of "I'm living the dream" on repeat, until 'Aio' O'Shaughnessy gives full vent to the realisation that it's not the protagonists' own dream. With "I'm living your dream" comes a riff reminiscent of Kashmir that pushes the song into overdrive. Full of atmosphere and explosive drumming from Pieter van Hoorn, this builds to a hard rocking ending with a fantastic, circular guitar motif. This is heavy prog par excellence.

The album ends with the title track. Leaves (the song) is a precise, delicate, heart-felt and powerfully elegiac ballad with subtle percussion and heavenly slide guitar work. A wonderful way to close the album, with possibly its best melody.

So with a change as big as Leaves is for Nine Stones Close, it would not be surprising if they lost a few old-time fans with this. But with music this terrific they should gain even more. I hope there are live dates to go with this at some point. Leaves is my favourite album released this year so far.
Conclusion:
Martin Burns: 9 out of 10

Red Jasper - 777
Red Jasper - 777
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 55:01
Links:
Track List:
7 (6:58), Nothing to Believe (4:28), She Waits (4:47), Forth of Fife (6:12), The Gathering (8:26), Reaching Out (5.09), Blessed with Gold (4:57), Dragonfly (6:16), Paradise Folly (4:32), October and April (Unplugged)(Bonus track)(3:28)
Back in the nineties, the then famous Dutch SI Music label released a wealth of interesting prog albums. Sadly this courageous initiative didn't work out financially and the label went broke, leaving behind tens of splendid albums that mostly disappeared into obscurity. Two of these releases regularly frequent my CD player and both are Red Jasper albums: A Midsummer Night's Dream from 1993 and A Winter Tale from 1994. These albums were based on Shakespeare's novels and presented a remarkable mix of folk, ballads and solid rock in the vein of Jethro Tull and Strawbs but with a harder edge. Their 1997 album Anagramary, released on the Cymbelline label, seemed to become their swan song, as we then didn't hear from this band for more than 17 years. During all these years, it proved really hard to lay your hands on one of their albums.

Last year suddenly saw the release of the The Great and Secret Show (TGASS), a full new studio album that proved Red Jasper hadn't lost anything of their talent. That was a relief, as founding member and principal songwriter Davey Dodds left the band after Anagramary. Original drummer Dave Clifford took on the vocal duties and did a good job, together with the rest of the band. Florin Werner became the new drummer, while the old members Robin Harrison (guitars), Jim Thornton (bass) and Lloyd George (keys) stayed on. Geoff Feakes granted the album a favourable review on DPRP.net.

Apparently the artistic and commercial success of that album, inspired the band to record a successor quickly which was released last April under the somewhat mystical title 777. I haven't heard the TGASS album, so this was my first RJ album in 18 years.

The outlook of hearing them again, with new song material made me quite curious. And to be fully honest, it was harder than I had imagined to get into the new sound and the new singer. Dave Clifford is a fine singer with a pleasant, slightly hoarse voice, but higher in tone and with less power than Dodds. The distinctive pronunciation that was also a trademark of Dodds, is also gone, which gives the band less character than in the old days. But you get used to that.

Moreover the band has almost completely abandoned the real folky elements in their music; no tin whistles, no mandolin, no traditional folk melodies. Instead you get catchy synth themes and poppy vocal melodies as on the opener 7, a real waltz on She Waits, and metal riffing in The Gathering. They produce very poppy choruses (Nothing to Believe) and re-work the leading theme of Forth of Fife in the next song (The Gathering) without gluing the songs together.

There the strength of the vocal lines becomes very apparent. Clifford manages to sing the long lyric lines without any obvious strain, and makes these songs fluid and melodious. Yet he can't help that the albums slowly fades out with two rather non-descript songs towards the end ( Blessed with Gold and Dragonfly). Fortunately the band regains momentum with Paradise Folly in which the band takes on an old song, Sonnet from A Midsummer Night's Dream, and re-records it with new lyrics and new instrumentation. Although Clifford's voice isn't as strong in the low registers as Davey Dodds' voice, this new version is well worth listening to, also because the guitar is more prominent here than in the orchestral original.

Bonus track October and April is a cover of The Rasmus featuring Annette Olzon song, jointly sung by Clifford and his stunning musical, dancing and acting daughter Soheila. It is a rather cheesy and folky ballad, with acoustic guitar and spinet-like keys sounds that reminded me of the Dan Fogelberg/Emmylou Harris duet Only The Heart May Know on the Innocent Age album. Their voices blend together very well and the sober-but-effective arrangement makes this potential lamentable song a really nice one to listen to. I highly prefer it over the original.

The album features artwork by a guy named Jules. What struck me most was the fact that the album title is hardly readable on the cover of the booklet, while the name of the band is set apart in a totally different artistic style. It doesn't work for me and frankly I don't see how it can work for someone else. Yet the inside of the booklet is nicely done, with some comments by Dave Clifford ("Next album in 2017!") and photographs of the band.

All in all this album grows on you. It may not sound special on first spins but it creeps under the skin, sets into the brain and comes back to you on moments you don't expect it. That shows that the music is strong, nice and attractive. The motivation to play the album again and again inevitable grows until you realise: "Yes, they've done it again!".
Conclusion:
Theo Verstrael: 8 out of 10

Southern Empire - Southern Empire
Southern Empire - Southern Empire
Country of Origin: Australia
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 64:59
Links:
Track List:
Show Me the Way (0:48), Forest Fire (7:32), Hold (11:42), How Long (11:27), The Bridge that Binds (28:21), The End of My Days (5:09)
Southern Empire is the follow-up outfit of the band Unitopia, which disbanded in 2014. To perform the music he had written over the years besides his Unitopia activities, keyboardist Sean Timms formed this new band that also consists of lead vocalist and guitarist Danny Lopresto, Cam Blokland on guitars and vocals, Brody Green on drums and vocals, and Jez Martin on bass and vocals.

The compositions on this disk are much like Unitopia in style and structure, but the arrangements have a more lively momentum than they did in Timms' old band. The vintage-style prog rock has pretty much a Transatlantic vibe to it, as well as a couple of Spock's Beard resemblances, albeit with a more emotional expression to it. It sounds heavier in the heavy parts, whilst the mellow ones are more mellow.

What's really new here, are the great solo sections in each song, which showcase each member's musicianship. All solos are very well written and of a virtuoso level that hadn't been heard in the old band. They are an aural pleasure, ranging from general rock style, over fusion and jazz, to a delicate poppy attitude à la Saga. The solo work of these guys is indeed impressive. Vocal-wise the album leaves me with mixed feelings. On one hand the band took the opportunity of having many vocalists to create some really good harmonic layers. But on the other hand the melodies in general are nothing new to the listener. Even though they are all strong and have ear-worm quality, they are all predictable from the first to last note. But this should only bother the pickier part of the prog community, whereas the general fan of vintage prog will just love them as they are.

This debut album is rock solid and will please all Unitopia fans, as well as fans of Transatlantic, Spock's Beard and all other portrayors of old school prog. It's a perfect mood lifter, and at it's end, it leaves the listener craving for more. The only downside is that it has nothing in it that is new or unexpected and thus misses some uniqueness; something even the inevitable long track of 28 minutes can't help.
Conclusion:
Raimond Fischbach: 7 out of 10

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Published Sunday 24 July 2016

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