ISSUE 2016-58

Reviews in this issue:

Derdian - Revolution Era
Derdian - Revolution Era
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 75:48
Links:
Track List:
Overture (1:45), Burn (4:52), Beyond the Gate (5:34), Battleplan (5:01), I Don't Wanna Die (5:26), Screams of Agony (5:09), Lord of War (7:37), Forevermore (6:16), Eternal Light (5:14), The Hunter (5:55), Black Rose (4:22), Incitement (6:21), New Era (5:30), Cage of Light (6:46)
Derdian was formed in 1998 in Milan, and consists of Enrico Pistolese (guitars, vocals), Salvatore Giordano (drums), Marco Garau (keyboards), Dario Radaelli (guitars), and Marco Banfi (bass). Until Revolution Era, the band had released five albums, the first three being called New Era Parts. 1-3 and recorded in 2005, 2007, and 2010 respectively. Whilst these albums lyrically deal with fantasy and surrealistic worlds, the band abandoned this style and moved on to the more real things of human society, evidenced on the two succeeding albums Limbo and Human Reset.

Coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the New Era trilogy, the band decided to put together what they considered to be the best and most dynamic songs of that trilogy in a compilation called Revolution Era. Besides re-recording and re-mixing those songs (with the arrangements basically staying the same), the band gathered 13 guest vocalists from inside and outside of Italy, also owing to the fact that their long-time singer Ivan Giannini had departed the band in the meantime. Amongst those guest singers are Fabio Lione (Rhapsody of Fire, Angra), Terence Holler (Eldritch), Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear), Henning Basse (Firewind) and D. C. Cooper (Royal Hunt). Whilst these and the other names almost are a Who's Who of this musical genre, their voices each sound individual, and thus they do not always match Derdian's music perfectly, as it would be the case with just one well-chosen singer. Looking at (and listening to) this guest list clearly hints at Derdian's musical style: symphonic power metal with a glimpse of prog metal here and there.

With the exception of one song (Forevermore, a nice ballad), all the songs in my ears sound very similar: high-speed guitar riffing (guitars are in the forefront of Derdian's music), double base-drumming, fast, fierce and virtuous guitar solos (best in Battleplan and Black Rose), melodic keyboards, catchy melodies, rhythms consisting of two-four- and four-four-times throughout every song. This is called power metal old school. As such, it was difficult for me to single out any song as a highlight. My favourite, though, is the ballad Forevermore, because of its superb guitar solo.

The first time I listened to this record, I was dabbling at some paperwork. Busy with a couple of things, I realised after some times that my earphones were silent. The music was over, but none of the tracks had stuck in my mind. I said to myself: "Forget about multi-tasking, it's unfair and disrespectful towards the musicians not to concentrate solely on their music when writing a review." So listening repetitively thereafter, I was able to form my opinion. This incident, however, is somewhat symptomatical for the impression Derdian's music left with me. The music is very well played, catchy, melodious and dynamical, but lacking enough twists and turns and variety for me. It just bypassed me without leaving any traces and afterglows.

Is this progressive? As often, it depends on one's attitude and approach. If one considers that progressive (just) consists of playing as many notes and chords as possible in a given short period of time, of excellent musicianship, catchy melodies and dynamic riffing, then please call this prog, as all those ingredients are present. If progressive (in addition) is about complexity, non-conformance, vibes and above all variety, then one may realise that Derdian's music does not belong to what generally is labelled progressive metal.

Don't get me wrong. Fans of symphonic power metal (such as played by the bands mentioned above) can't make any mistake with this release. Also, prog lovers wishing to push forward into new musical territory or to enlarge their existing musical horizons, will find a worthy representative in Revolution Era to start with. Pure progressive rock and progressive metal aficionados (such as myself), will probably not find enough progressive elements in Derdian's music. The rating reflects this fact, and certainly would look different from a purely power metal fan's point of view.
Conclusion:
Thomas Otten: 6 out of 10

Deus Ex Machina - Devoto
Deus Ex Machina - Devoto
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 59:47
Links:
Track List:
Devoto (5:54), Sotterfugio (1:24), Multiverso (5:46), Distratto Da Me (7:28), Eterno Ritorno (3:24), Piu Uguale (10:09), Transizione (7:05), Autore Del Futuro (7:01), Figli (6:59), Quattro Piccole Mani (4:37)
Returning after an eight-year break, Italian prog rockers Deus Ex Machina release its new studio album Devoto. It is a loosely connected set of songs on the theme of humanity's need to reconnect with, and respect, the living cycle of the planet Earth.

Deus Ex Machina is a 70s-style, hard-rocking prog band with a good helping of jazz-fusion on the side. Mixing elements of The Mahavishnu Orchestra, PFM, Le Orme and Gentle Giant, they produce a driven, sometimes raucous prog, that is both challenging and melodic. The outstanding feature of this band is the extremely strong, characterful vocals of Alberto Piras. Singing in his native Italian (he has been known to sing in Latin), he can move from a deep whisper, to the almost operatic in the space of one song (see Figli). But this is not just a one-man band, he has to fight his corner for space amongst the mix of symphonic prog, jazz fusion and classic hard rock, all blazing away around him.

Musically, Deus Ex Machina has a funky, swinging element to its sound. The band mixes the lead instruments on the songs throughout this artfully-arranged recording. From the opening title track, all the elements are there: tuneful funky prog, the band firing on all cylinders and a terrific violin solo from Alessandro Bonetti. Anyone missing Jean-Luc Ponty's more proggy outings, should look here.

There are many highlights on this album, my favourite being Distratto Da Me, with its violin-led opening and the use of a blasting horn section. It manages to turn on a dime, from a song, into a Weather Report-style instrumental (circa 1980s Night Passage). Here Alessandro Porreca's bass really gets a groove going, ably supported by organ riffs and a closing, dirty-sounding synth solo from Luigi Riccoardiello. Fabulous stuff.

The tracks often go to unexpeted places, especially on a first listen. For example, Piu Uguale moves from a hard rocking opening section, to a jazz fusion one, through to swirling synths. The drummer, Claudio Trotta, shines here, as he does through the whole album. However, it's not all full-on on this album; there are a couple of acoustic songs, Eterno Ritorno and Quattro Piccole Mani, which show that the band can do quiet subtlety as well, with Mauro Collina's delicate Dobro-playing outstanding.

There are full texts and English translations in the CD booklet, and a sense of humour is evident on their engaging liner notes. So, with Devoto, Deus Ex Machina has produced a searing album that is the very definition of eclectic prog. Well worth investigating.
Conclusion:
Martin Burns: 8.5 out of 10

Red Bazar - Tales from the Bookcase
Red Bazar - Tales from the Bookcase
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 72:45
Links:
Track List:
In the Beginning (2:59), Queen of the Night Part 1 (6:50), Calling Her On (11:06), City and the Stars (8:36), The Lights of Home (8:36), Sunset for a New World (7:31), Almost Over (11:00), Queen of the Night Part 2 (12:20)
Nottingham's Red Bazar has been around for nine years, but the recent addition of vocalist Peter Jones has taken the band to the next level. Tales From the Bookcase finds the band telling a series of stories based upon Jones' favorite books. Very proggy indeed. In addition to Jones, the band features Andy Wilson on guitar, Mick Wilson on bass, Paul Comerie on drums, and Gary Marsh on keyboards.

Red Bazar combines some of the best aspects of 1970s prog, with a more contemporary sound. Musically, they remind me of Genesis in many ways, including Jones' vocals. At times, he really sounds like Peter Gabriel, particularly at the beginning of Calling on Her. The band often sounds like a fusion of progressive-era Genesis (i.e. through Wind and Wuthering), with Peter Gabriel's solo career. However, these are mere overtones. Red Bazar certainly creates its own sound, and Jones' voice is all its own, not a match of Gabriel's.

While the lyrics and vocals take center stage on Tales From the Bookcase, instrumentation is equally important. Wilson's guitar work is especially nice, ranging at times from a calmer, Floydian tone to a metallic one. There are several moments throughout where the heaviness of the guitars makes their music approach metal, but the band never fully embraces that sound. What results is truly unique, and it works really well.

The rest of the instrumentation on this album is solid, as many of us spoiled prog fans have come to expect from our favorite genre. I have found the bass to be particularly important for Red Bazar. Of course, the rhythm section in a band is always responsible for holding things together, but the bass plays a central role throughout this album. Mick Wilson does a fantastic job throughout, and he often mixes up his bass tone, which isn't all that common in most bands.

One cannot do a proper review of this album without discussing the lyrcis, for I believe they are central to the success of this record. In a way, Tales From the Bookcase is a concept album. The songs are not necessarily connected thematically, but they are all stories. Think of this album as a small bookcase of short stories; merely connected by the fact that they are next to each other on the shelf.

I'll leave the bulk of the lyrical exploration to you, but I do want to highlight City and the Stars. This song has some of the most thoughtful lyrics I've heard all year, mainly because it addresses many of the political and social issues the Western world has been dealing with in recent times. There is a lot going on in this song, and I pick up new things each time I hear it. The second verse is particularly brilliant:

"People get lost inside their virtual lives / In 5.1 high definition screens / While others give their all just to survive / Your avatar forgot what living means / Invaders cross our shores by our own leave / Our name, our culture slipping from our grasp..."

The band finishes the verse, "Somewhere our Jerusalem got blown away / Somewhere yesterday."

This song has continued to hit me in new ways each time I listen to it. Each verse is packed with incredible truth about the way we live. Red Bazar touch on what it means to be human, and they question the decisions our societies keeps making. They question the role of technology in our lives, both in our personal devices and in our weapons. It is remarkably thought-provoking for people of all political persuasions. I think one of the best parts of this song is the fact that they don't impress their own political agenda. Rather, they ask: "How did it ever get this far?" An excellent question.

The more I listen to Tales From the Bookcase, the better it gets. This is an album that deserves repeated listens. Musically, Red Bazar ranks with some of the top prog bands of today, and, lyrically, the band matches lyricists such as Neal Morse and Steven Wilson. In my view, this is a criminally underrated band and album worthy of your attention.
Conclusion:
Bryan Morey: 10 out of 10

Signal to Noise Ratio - Work in Progress
Signal to Noise Ratio - Work in Progress
Country of Origin: Poland
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 47:58
Links:
Track List:
Zanim (3:37), Droga za widnokres (7:12), Körkarlen (5:58), Entropia (15:26), Duchy elektrycznścl (4:11), Ludzie-muchomory (11:35), Odwonienie, omdlenie, zaćmienie (7:14)
Eight years after their debut album, this Polish trio has now released their sophomore recording. The band describes the process of making this album as an effort of three years, but when listening to it, that is hardly believable. Almost everything on it appears rather spontaneous and unplanned, as if they had got together for the first time to check each other out with a couple of jam sessions that were meant to be psychedelic.

Analog synths and a guitar, form the main body of these tracks, assisted by drums that lie in constant denial of rhythms. There is an occasional saxophone, and sometimes vocals, that are in search of a melody whenever they appear.

The usual method of experimental music is to just let things happen and see it turns into. Usually the artists find schemes and forms where they can develop their work and find soundshapes, melodies and rhythms that grab one's interests. They then incorporate these into a given tune, as a base for further improvisations. That way, even experimental tracks become something joyful to listen to. That is not the case here. These musicians have had great fun in uninspired noodling, with no interest in forming something worthwhile. The only exception, is the track Körkarlen which has been written as a film score and thus has structure and chord progression, melodies and even a little arc to itself.

But the rest is unplanned playing of something in different variations and sounds. Even though the playing is solid, it is not music one would want to sit down to and listen to. Neither is it something that you'd like as a background music when working. It is hard for me to consider that this will serve any audience.
Conclusion:
Raimond Fischbach: 3 out of 10

Snarky Puppy & Metropole Orkest - Sylva [CD+DVD]
Snarky Puppy & Metropole Orkest - Sylva
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2015
Time: CD: 54:28, DVD: 54:28
Links:
Track List:
Sintra (3:32), Flight (6:03), Atchafalaya (6:04), The Curtain (15:09), Gretel (4:18), The Clearing (19:23)
As the autumn colours fade, the winter solstice beckons! Fungus-bearing, weak-limbed trees brace themselves. They crackle wind-borne warnings of the approach of an earphoned dancer. The man sways, unmindful of their plight; swiftly-skipping, slowly-smiling, stricken and smitten by Sylva's sweet-sounding rhythmic embrace.

And what an embrace it is!

Snarky Puppy's Sylva has many facets and is imbued with an elegant flamboyance that never fails to impress or bewitch. Sylva is stylish and sophisticated, playful and pernicious. Each of the six gilt-edged tunes on offer is played with collective skill, enthusiasm and panache, and possesses a number of easily accessible elements. This ensures that the album succeeds on a number of different levels and has the potential to be attractive to a large audience with musical tastes ranging from classical, jazz, rock and funk. This endearing characteristic belies the complex arrangements, superb ensemble playing and virtuoso, individual solo performances that are at the heart of each of the tunes.

Sylva is an instrumental live album and was released in 2015. It features the Netherland's Metropole Orkest as well as the members of Snarky Puppy. The quality of the recording is excellent, and crowd noise is minimal. The release also contains an excellent DVD of the performance.

Snarky Puppy is a collective of musicians led by the bassist and principal composer Michael League. Their unique brand of accessible, funk-tinged jazz has received critical acclaim and more-than-a-measure of commercial success, since the band's inception in 2004.

All of the members of Snarky Puppy are outstanding musicians in their own right, who apart from their involvement in Snarky Puppy are also regularly involved in their own solo projects, or have contributed to other artist's recordings.

The contributions of acclaimed keyboard player Cory Henry and virtuoso piano player Bill Laurance are outstanding throughout Sylva. Henry's work is particularly impressive. His captivating organ and synthesiser tones create arresting moments which compel the listener to accompany him on numerous flights of fancy. These hover, flutter, swoop and dive to complement the collective power and energy of the ensemble.

The collective's sound is difficult to precisely categorise, but ranges from funk-inspired phases reminiscent of Herbie Hancock's Head Hunter's to richly arranged ensemble passages that brought to mind the style of Chick Corea's Return To Forever in their Music Magic era.

At times Snarky Puppy has a big band sound, but its versatile approach is not restricted by the norms of that style, epitomised and established by the work of artists such as Duke Ellington or Charles Mingus. Warm, unusual textures abound and the exciting sonorous sound of the collective, when combined with the numerous opportunities for individual players to impress, is at times redolent of the innovative approach of bands such as Loose Tubes in the 80s.

What cannot be denied is the sheer quality of the compositions on offer. Each piece is a showcase for meticulous arrangements and superb musicianship. These elements are consistently and brightly on display, to create an album that is special in almost every aspect.

The addition of the opulent string resonance of the Metropole Orkest to the band's usual sound gives the album an evocative atmospheric quality. The arrangements that highlight the orchestra's talents create a spacious atmosphere. This is particularly the case in Gretel, which despite its short duration is predominantly a showpiece for the orchestra to demonstrate its proficiency.

The standout track of the album is undoubtedly The Curtain, which contains all of the elements that makes Snarky Puppy's music so compelling. It has many different phases which highlight the differing attributes of the collective. It features cinematic sections, exciting ensemble playing and a series of unforgettable solos. Laurance's delicately played, yet sparse piano interlude which follows Henry's blistering solo, is particularly soothing, and majestically transports the piece towards its conclusion.

The only minor misgivings that I have about the album, relate to the tones and effects chosen by the guitarist and the bassist in their solo slots. The effect-driven bass solo in The Curtain, whilst no doubt technically adept, contains little to enthral me. Similarly, Chris McQueen's guitar solo in Atchafalaya just did not have enough raw power to excite, and consequently was unable to alter an overall impression that the piece was too smooth for its own good. This was in contrast to the biting guitar solo of Mark Lettieri that bursts with power and energy in The Clearing.

Overall, I was frequently captivated by Sylva's wholesome embrace and would thoroughly recommend this release to anybody who enjoys easily-accessible and wonderfully performed instrumental music.
Conclusion:
Owen Davies: 9 out of 10

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Published Sunday 13 November 2016

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