ISSUE 2017-008

Reviews in this issue:

25 Yard Screamer - Keep Sending Signals
25 Yard Screamer - Keep Sending Signals
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 50:38
Links:
Track List:
Keep Sending Signals Pt1 (3:14), Keep Sending Signals Pt2 (7:04), Pulse (8:37), Pages (5:29), The Pictures Within (6:31), I'm An Explosive (6:59), A Memory (6:30), No Beautiful View (6:14)
25 Yard Screamer is a prog rock band hailing from Wales, who have a fondness for "crochet & needlepoint, snail racing, pasties and herbal remedies" and are influenced by "water, skies, buildings, football, socks, cable ties, the mythology of bricks, damp places, weak lemon drinks & badgers" (among various bands) according to their Facebook profile. So having found out this wonderful information, I dived headlong into their album Keep Sending Signals.

Keep Sending Signals Pt1 is the album's intro, mainly based around sound effects, ghostly "ahhs" and "oohs" and generally building up the atmosphere. Keep Sending Signals Pt2 however, brings in the music and vocals and is a rather nice prog rock piece. Elements of Porcupine Tree are scattered through the track, along with nicely written riffs and licks, followed by some chugging guitars throughout the second half of the song.

From here on, album gets a bit rockier, bringing in some slightly heavier guitars and a focus on the rock side of their prog credentials, to get the foot tapping and head bopping. Through the album there is some nice musicianship, particularly the piano outro on Pulse and the drumming is technical, rhythmic, proggy and well executed. The two tracks of particular note are Pages and A Memory, with these two being very well written, with good choruses and tempos, mixed in with some great drumming and lovely riffing.

Musically, the album is good and pretty solid with some clear influences from Porcupine Tree and Rush and some subtle hints of Dream Theater sprinkled across it. I admit I expected something heavier with a name like 25 Yard Screamer, and while I wasn't necessarily blown away by the album, I did find the band to be a fine collection of musical talents, that has come together to create an album that I will quite happily come back to.
Conclusion:
Calum Gibson: 7.5 out of 10

Arena - XX [DVD]
Arena - XX
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 115:28
Links:
Track List:
The Demon Strikes (5:33), Rapture (4:34), Double Vision (4:34), Crack in the Ice (6:48), Moviedrome (19:22), How Did it Come to This? (4:24), Butterfly Man (3:52), Bedlam Fayre (6:05), Serenity (2:16), The Unquiet Sky (6:09), Traveller Beware (7:04), The City of Lanterns (1:46), Riding the Tide (4:45), Hanging Tree (7:20), The Tinder Box (3:56), Solomon (14:47), Don't Forget to Breathe (5:12), Crying for Help 7 (6:45)
Many years ago it was my former wife who discovered the band Arena and we both instantly loved their sound and music and became real fans. Even joined the fanclub and received the 3-monthly magazine The Cage. We were sceptic first when they changed their singer, but were quickly convinced by Rob Sowden who was even better than Paul Wrightson, at least live and certainly with his ability to put emotion in his vocals and not just sing them like any other average pop or rock singer. With the album The Visitor the golden age of Arena started and we were both very pleased seeing them live, which fortunately happened quite a lot since the Netherlands loved Arena and Arena loved the Netherlands. All in all we saw them live 10 times through the years, from 2000 to 2012. In the latter years we experienced a decline in quality of the band, several band changes and many other projects by especially Clive Nolan and of mainly Rob Sowden leaving, made us drift away from this band that was once one of our favourites. With The 7th Degree Of Separation the band came back after a longer pause and sort of renewed themselves, in a way Pendragon had done before them some years before, with a more heavier sound. That sound also better fitted the new singer Paul Manzi, even though he remarkably had many optical and vocal resemblances with Rob Sowden. From the perspective of creativity and variation the change should be applauded, but the band had clearly moved away from the sound we so much loved. That's all a natural course of things.

So now we've come to 2015, 20 years after Arena was founded by Clive Nolan and Mick Pointer. I'm now divorced from my wife and we're both memorized by totally different bands these days. Our affection for the music of Arena and its band members has become a fond memory and once in a while we revisit those glorious albums from the past. Arena just released their 8th album called The Unquiet Sky and went on tour to promote that, but also celebrate their 20th anniversary. As always De Boerderij in the Netherlands and Rialto in Katowice were included in the tour itinerary. These two stages have proven to be the most popular stages in Europe for prog bands to record a live DVD and, probably also because of their Polish promotional manager Agnieszka Kulpinska, they decided to record the Polish show, on April 9th 2015, for posterity.

I think they are 2 key elements to observe when judging a live DVD, the quality of the performance and the quality of the recording and on top of that, bonus features can gain extra points. When recording and releasing a live DVD to celebrate your 20th birthday one would think a band will spare no costs to make it an excellent product. Sadly this seems not to be the case with this DVD. The video quality of this DVD is really disappointing! So bad even, I was checking my TV and cables to see if everything was correctly connected. The video is not unsharp, but close to that, in the same way as my cheap, very basic, photo camera has many difficulties to shoot sharp images in these difficult lighting circumstances. The difference between a picture taken by my camera and a professional one is very clear, even though I always manage to produce a few really neat pictures with my camera. It's the same with this DVD, of course it's all recognizable and not blurred and you can fully enjoy the show, but it's definitely not anything near professional quality or High Definition. On an old TV this might not be very disturbing, but on the modern flat screen, high definition TV's of these days it's just an annoyment when your DVD produces lesser quality images as your digital receiver. What a shame really, how could this happen? Also the recording itself is pretty plain, just an ordinary concert recording with the standard images, filmed by several cameras put up in he hall and also at least one mobile, hand held camera. It seems not much effort and money was put in to improve the video quality or give it a more special feel and display.

On the topic of the quality of the performance I can be more positive. Of course the band knew they were recorded for a DVD release and that shows. The whole band is in a good mood, even Clive, who is notorious for being grumpy or showing his annoyment about some technical problems when performing. But during this performance either everything went well or he managed to get a grip on his mood and was a happy camper along with the rest of the band. Several rotating swings of his keyboard clearly show that. Singer Paul Manzi delivered a really good performance, had clearly no problems with all more difficult sections and gave his own personal touch to it. John Mitchell and Mick Pointer were lean and mean as ever and new bassist Kylan Amos performed as if he's been with the band for ages. The inclusion in the set list of the 2 lengthy audience-favourites Moviedrome and Solomon clearly added to the enjoyment of the listeners, in the hall and at home. It has been a while since they played Moviedrome, but that really didn't show, even though they probably never played it in this band composition. Truly an highlight on this DVD! The DVD provides a plain stereo and 5.1 sound mix, mixed by Karl Groom, which sounds pretty decent.

The only bonus features on the DVD are a photo galley, discography, desktop images and 2 interviews with the founding members Clive and Mick. In the interview, clearly held by a Polish interviewer sitting rather far away from the microphone, both tell a bit about the founding and history of Arena and their latest album. Nice, but again nothing more. The album XX was released as a 2CD as well.

So in short: good performance, great set list, poor video quality and hardly any extras. Maybe Arena wanted to relive the feel and standard of 1995 with this release, in that case they very well succeeded, but for 2016 standards this is a rather lame product. Not really the DVD I would advise to buy for anyone but the hardcore fans, Arena released better ones in the past.
Conclusion:
Joris Donkel: 6.5 out of 10

Millenium - The Cinema Show [DVD]
Millenium - The Cinema Show
Country of Origin: Poland
Year of Release: 2016
Time:
Links:
Track List:
Intro (The Cinema Show), Ego, Over & Over, The Sin, Girl from a Glass Sphere, Prose of Life, Lonely Man, Everything About Her, Born in 67, Plastic World, In the World of Fantasy?, For the Price of Her Sad Days, Time Vehicle, We Try Again, Farewell, Goodbye My Earth, Back to Myself (Pt.1), Our Little Eden. Bonus: Light Your Cigar
This the second live DVD from Polish progressive rock band Millenium. Back After Years, Live In Krakow 2009 was an opportunity to look back on their entire back catalogue. Now seven years later we have The Cinema Show. Captured at the same venue, the Kijów-Centrum in Kraków, the concert took place in November 2015. I believe the hall was formerly a cinema; hence the title.

On The Cinema Show the line-up of the band is almost exactly the same as on their previous live release. Again Łukasz Gall (lead vocals), Piotr Płonka (guitars), Krzysztof Wyrwa (bass) and Ryszard Kramarski (keyboards) are present. Only drummer Tomasz Paśko has been replaced, by Grzegorz Bauer.

Not wishing to simply repeat a set list, this time we are treated to a selection of songs mostly taken from the band's last three studio albums: Puzzles (2011), Ego (2013) and In Search Of The Perfect Melody (2014, see our review here). Of the two older tracks, Plastic World is a chance for the members to swap instruments and have a bit of fun. The other oldie is saved for the encore; Back To Myself Part 1 from their debut Vocanda. The classic Millenium tune Light Your Cigar is left for the rather limited DVD extras, along with an interview and photo gallery.

I really enjoy the regular addition of the sax (Darek Rybka) which brings an added dimension and a burst of energy to tracks such as Over And Over, Lonely Man and my personal favourite song, The Girl From A Glass Sphere. The twin female backing vocalists aren't the greatest, but add some nice bursts of soul.

Visually this is excellent for the budget the band had to work with. Good lighting allows for sharp images, and the squadron of cameras ensure a good mix of close-ups and wide shots, thus avoiding too much repetition. The 5.1 surround sound is crisp and clear.

These five Polish purveyors of accessible neo-progressive rock formed in 1999. Led by keyboardist Ryszard Kramarski (who introduces all the songs in the live set), the band has had a pretty steady line-up, with singer Łukasz Gall also seemingly with the band from the start. Accessibility and great melodies are the key words here. Think of the traditional Polish style of melancholic neo prog perfected by the likes of Collage, Satellite, and Believe and then add the more edgy UK stylings of early Pendragon, Marillion and IQ. Other than being terribly out of tune on Lonely Man, Łukasz Gall has a superb mid-range voice and varied delivery, whilst the guitar work throughout is excellent. Throw in a bit of Saga-style rock and some clear art rock influences, and the only mystery is why Millenium has not won wider recognition overseas.

I've seen a lot of performances at progressive rock festivals across Europe in the past decade, and on this evidence Millenium could easily hold their own on any stage. Festival organisers take note!

Anyway, you have the choice of just the DVD, a double CD version next to a DVD release (with the same set list), and also a Blu-ray version. For existing fans it's a bit of a no-brainer. For newcomers, it's a great introduction to the band's current output.
Conclusion:
Andy Read: 7.5 out of 10

Kalle Ylitalo - Expansion
Kalle Ylitalo - Expansion
Country of Origin: Finland
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 46:42
Links:
Track List:
Room For Thought (6:25), Getaway (3:53), Afrobeat (4:02), Porto For Breakfast (4:21), Sacred Song (3:11), Waiting For The Bus (5:51), Secret Place (3:53), Expansion II (2:42), Expansion (7:34), First Light (4:49)
Kalle Ylitalo is a Finnish composer and bass player. He has composed the music on a number of computer games such as Oceanhorn and Momoka and is also a member of the Stringpurée Band. For his second solo release, Ylitalo has assembled a supporting cast of Jukka Kääriäinen on guitar and Janne Mathlin on drums. The album also features contributions from Otto Eskelinen (saxophone, keyboards) and Jozsef Hars on horns. Collectively the ensemble is known as the Mystics.

Kalle Ylitalo's Expansion is characterised by compositions that are underpinned by boldly beautiful and boisterous bass lines. It successfully incorporates a range of styles, and often has an enjoyable cutting edge. The album is complimented by an assortment of quilted melodies that are layered with soft and hard textures. These can be as smooth as stocking silk, or as coarse as chipped china.

Expansion is an instrumental album and the cinematic nature of the music is made up of light and dark shades and an array of delightful hues. It contains both contemplative and energised moments to meditate or enthuse upon. These include dub, Afro beat and progressive rock, but the release as a whole incorporates more than a significant nod to fusion. Expansion is both mysterious and accessible. Although much of the album is outwardly straightforward, it contains enough variation to hold a listener's interest.

The album is particularly enjoyable in pieces such as Getaway, Afrobeat, Waiting for the Bus and the enigmatic title track, where expansive bass parts interlock with tenacious guitars or throbbing keyboards,

Afrobeat is an exciting piece that includes the clever use of harmonics in its arrangement. It sits astride both psychedelic and jam-based rock, and also has lashings of fusion included for good measure. Afrobeat is one of the album's most satisfying pieces.

The guitar work throughout this album has a jangly expressiveness that is used to good effect, and is reminiscent of a raft of other Scandinavian bands including Fläsket Brinner and Grovjobb. The tones chosen, perfectly compliment the impressive arrangements and great bass work of Ylitalo. In the end, I was totally won over by the tasteful contribution of guitarist Jukka Kääriäinen, where each carefully chosen note seemed to have its own tale to tell, within the unfolding of the album's varied compositions.

The symbiotic relationship between the bass and guitar is very apparent in Porto for Breakfast. It is one of the most accessible and engaging pieces, elegantly possessing an attractive simplicity that no doubt belies its hidden complexity. Rich guitar tones and languid bass lines combine to create a piece that is quite breathtaking in its tonal beauty, with hints of the influence of Nordic folk music contained within.

A number of the pieces such as Sacred Song and First Light are arranged as solo bass pieces. They enable Ylitalo to showcase his subtle repertoire of bass techniques. If you enjoy the bass work of artists such as Avishai Cohen, then Ylitalo's solo bass pieces should appeal.

Sacred Song is a slow-building, contemplative piece built upon a folk-inspired melody. First Light has a similar atmosphere, but the bass is given more space and freedom to express itself fully as a solo lead instrument. As a contrast to these melodic pieces, the rock-strewn landscape and repetitive rhythms of Secret Place had the low frequency energy, thump and disturbing vitality to aggressively vibrate the pens and pencils from my desk onto the floor.

Perhaps the most interesting and progressive piece on the album is the title track. Expansion is the longest tune of the album, and manages to successfully negotiate a path that explores both discordance and harmony. It contains numerous unexpected twists and turns. There are aspects of the piece that point towards avant jazz. Harmonious bass parts underpin much of the track. This melodic element is contrasted with the structured mayhem of squeaks, yowls and layered guitars that provide the piece with a discordant air. It is a tune that would most certainly have failed Tin Pan Alley's Old Grey Whistle Test, whilst conversely, Porto for Breakfast would have passed.

After having listened to this album on many occasions, I have begun to fully appreciate its qualities. It is very well played and within the relatively simple compositions, there is a lot of space for the musicians to express themselves. Expansion has many different moods and is a perfect accompaniment to measured contemplation, or frenetic finger-flicking. The album has been a rewarding discovery, and its accessible nature far outweighs its occasional unfathomable moments.
Conclusion:
Owen Davies: 8 out of 10

Øresund Space Collective - Visions Of...
Øresund Space Collective - Visions Of...
Country of Origin: Various
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 78:06
Links:
Track List:
Visions Of... (41:43), Above The Corner (16:17), Piece Of Seven (11:02), Around The Corner (8:35)
The Øresund Space Collective is a supergroup from Scandinavia that has been around for quite some time now. Its members come from a huge range of different bands such as Carpet Knights, Mantric Muse, Bland Bladen, Gas Giant, Hooffoot, First band from Outer Space, Siena Root, My Brother The Wind, The Univerzals. Tangle Edge, Agusa, Camper Van Beethoven and Gösta Berlings Saga. They play instrumental, improvised psychedelic rock.

The band is very productive. They have played on several festivals all over the world, and have released 23 records so far. Their music works best when played live and seems perfect for festivals, where you can dance through the night in whatever state of mind you like. Their newest album, Visions Of..., fulfils everything that is expected from the group. Anyone who has seen them or knows previous records like Black Tomato will be delighted. Once again we are drawn into the depths of improvised space rock. The band understands how to capture the listener and to create a live atmosphere.

The musicians from Sweden and Norway (and Dr Space from Denmark) gathered at the Black Tornado Studios in Copenhagen. This was recorded in 2014 and is the third album made from this session.

The result is an almost 80-minute long journey over four tracks. The title track runs for about 42 minutes and opens the record. Around The Corner and the last song Above The Corner (great guitar playing by Jonathan here) are from the same session, a Miles Davis-inspired funk-rock jam, whereas Piece Of Seven, the song that is placed between the two, is a more experimental track.

The band's 23rd album continues everything that we love about Øresund Space Collective. This is an absolute must-have for fans of instrumental space rock.
Conclusion:
Philipp Röttgers: 8 out of 10

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Published Sunday 29 January 2017

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