ISSUE 2017-028

Reviews in this issue:

Gösta Berlings Saga - Sersophane
Gösta Berlings Saga - Sersophane
Country of Origin: Sweden
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 39:03
Links:
Track List:
Konstruktion (2:59), Serophane (8:04), Fort Europa (8:06), Dekonstruktion (3:33), Channeling The Sixth Extinction (15:15), Naturum (1:04)
Sweden's Gösta Berlings Saga seem to be one of the forgotten bands of Scandinavian prog, being an almost well-kept secret. This is a great pity as their four albums, including this latest release Sersophane, contain lots of fantastic instrumental prog that avoids clichés and maintains a unique and vibrant identity. Coming five years after their last release, Glue Works, this latest release sees the band's association with the Cuneiform label at an end, with the new album being released on the band's own Icosahedron label.

The lack of larger support from a more established label is presumably the reason for the lack of promotion of the album, with it primarily being only available from the band's website. This is a great shame, as Sersophane is probably their most accomplished release to date.

The flirtations with post-rock that featured on Glue Work have all but been discarded, instead we get great chunks of full-on cinemascopic delights. At times it is hard to believe that such a kaleidoscopic sound could be created by only a four piece. Alexander Skepp (drums and synths), Einar Baldurrson (guitars and synths), David Lundberg (keyboards) and Gabriel Tapper (bass) is the same line-up as on the last album, but given the extended genesis of this album, it seems that the group have had plenty of time to evolve the pieces. This seems to be confirmed by the fact that the initial recordings were completed in May 2015, with overdubs added between October 2015 and April 2016, and the album finally being released in December of last year.

I pride myself in having quite an extensive knowledge and familiarity with a broad spectrum of music, as well as owning more albums than any sensible person should have access to. That is why I am very impressed that the music on Sersophane defies any meaningful comparison with other groups. Rather, the band has fused an appropriate smörgåsbord entirely of their own making.

Yes, the spelling of Konstruktion and Dekonstruktion may remind one of the way King Crimson have appropriated the use of the letter k in their idiosyncratic track and album spellings, but the music bears little relation; if anything the bass-heavy opening of Konstruktion is more like Meddle-era Pink Floyd, but this only lasts for a few bars.

Despite three members of the band contributing synth parts to the album, the nature of the music is very much focused on guitar, bass and drums. The keyboards are present, but largely in a supporting role. It is a case of them not being dominant or of immediate presence, however their absence would be very much missed. There are exceptions, the lovely Fender Rhodes piano on Fort Europa, the characteristic sounds of the Mellotron that pop up throughout, and the bass sounds that could only be generated from Moog Taurus bass pedals.

The pinnacle of the album has to be Channeling The Sixth Extinction, not for reasons of its length but because it is a master class of how extended instrumental music should sound. Dramatic, flowing, diverse, self referential, unpredictable and a delight from start to finish. The title is truly apt as well. If a soundtrack is needed to herald the next mass extinction on our planet, then Gösta Berlings Saga should have the rights. To follow this piece and end the album with a solo acoustic guitar piece (Naturum) is absolute genius!

Overall this is a highly enjoyable album that is genuinely first in a field of one. Completely recommended.
Conclusions:
Mark Hughes: 9.5 out of 10

Invernalia - Invernalia
Invernalia - Invernalia
Country of Origin: Argentina
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 42:57
Links:
Track List:
La Primer Labradora Especial (1:29), Gabalgando Sobre Hombos (2:25), Pelea en la Cima (3:54), Vajont, 9 Octubre '963, 10:39 PM (6:59), El Reloj de Péndulo (3:09), Otro Amor Caido (2:52), Onomatopeya – Pagina IV (4:32), Mover la Campana (7:54), La Batalla de los Cinco Ejercitos (4:56), El Banco del Parque (4:25)
Inveralia is the brainchild of Argentine musician Aldo Pinelli. After albums with his band Habitat and under his own name, Invernalia is a new project for this multi-instrumentalist. You can read more about Habitat in our review section featuring three albums by this band plus Temporada de Lluvias, a solo album by Pinelli (read the edition here).

Released back in 2015, this album is not a big move forward from his earlier work. Pinelli is backed by Habitat members Roberto Sambrizzi and Mario Pugliese (drums), Paula Dolcera (flute) and Eli Minervini (piano). Sebastian Calise plays violin on the track Pelea en la Cima.

From the very first notes to the very end, this album has been a severe test to my ears. To write a review based solely on my own taste would be unfair. However, being an objective reviewer, I should tell you why I can't be impressed by this release. The production is very bleak and the songs lack depth and the skill to lift the album to an acceptable level.

The marketers involved with the release, describe this as a melancholic and even epic album with sweet melodies. Now you can't blame a musician for trying, but in this case the result is far from epic.

Pinelli has tried to create an album with Steve Hackett and Genesis in mind. But lacking the skills of his idols in electrical guitar and song writing, he has produced an album that is far from worthy of his classic progressive rock predecessors.

The songs are instrumental for a large part of the album, with Spanish-sung lyrics in some of the songs. The voice of Pinelli is not his strongest point and the guitar solos on this work fail to impress me. Whilst you have to give credit to Pinelli for his resilience and hard work, is it enough to please progressive rock listeners? I don't believe it is. But please do give this album a chance if you are into progressive rock influenced by the greater bands of the 70s, with a Latin American flavour added.
Conclusions:
Arno Agterberg: 3 out of 10

Bertrand Loreau featuring Lambert - In Search of Silence
Bertrand Loreau featuring Lambert - In Search of Silence
Country of Origin: France/Germany
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 71:28
Links:
Track List:
In Search of Silence Part 1: Engines of Search (6.25), Rain of Stars (5:55), Orbital Journey (10:34), Space Flight (4:14), Arise in the Desert (5:57), A World Apart (7:58), In Search of Silence Part 2: Walking on Dunes of Time (13:30), In Search of Silence Part 3: Meeting One Self (4:22), Introspection (5:52), To the Center of the Earth (6:41)
Bertrand Loreau is a musician based in Nantes, who has been active in electronic music for the last 25 years, with a special emphasis on, and deeply influenced by, a particular style of that music called Berlin School. For those readers not too familiar with (or not too fond of) electronic music, not only would I encourage you not to move to the next review right away, but also I'd like to give a little background.

The Berlin School, named after the centre of activity of its main protagonists, evolved into its own musical style in the mid-seventies. The most prominent bands and musicians from that period, quite a few of whom are still active today, are Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel (subsequently abbreviated to Ashra), Agitation Free, Klaus Schulze, and Manuel Göttsching. The musical characteristics of the Berlin School are long instrumental improvisations with repetitive, but continuously modified sequences and extensive soloing. Musical structures programmed on the sequencer form the first layer, basically the backbone of the music, overlaid by improvised solos and atmospheric sounds.

Bertrand Loreau discovered his passion for that kind of music after having witnessed a Tangerine Dream concert in Nantes in the mid-seventies, and started making records himself in the early nineties. So far, he has released about 20 albums, since 2012 under the Spheric Music Label. Its owner Lambert Ringlage is a producer and musician of electronic music based in Essen, Germany, sharing the same passion for the Berlin School as Loreau. The origin of their co-operation is explained in the inner sleeves of the album. Bertrand Loreau improvised some pieces of music for a friend as a thank-you gift for having let him try his instruments. The material was subsequently sent to Lambert Ringlage, who felt it could be the basis for a new album. He then added his own sounds, pads, effects and solos to make this a fully-fledged co-operation, as the two had done in one of Bertrand Loreau's previous albums, From Past to Past.

On In Search of Silence, Bertrand Loreau only plays the Korg analogue synthesiser MS20 and a Mos-Lab modular synthesiser, whilst Lambert uses a Teisco S60F, and various analogue and digital keyboards. The tracks are divided into three suites, In Search of Silence Part I and Part III, each consisting of seamlessly merging pieces of music.

This CD is the first one I have come across which indicates its style on the cover: Berlin School Electronics, and this says it all. Whilst some people may be put off by a certain feeling of monotony inherent in the repetitive characteristic of electronic music's basic sound structures, this album has surprised me with its variedness. Crisp sequencer runs alternate with melodic synthesiser layers, spacy Mellotron-like sounds with buzzy synthesiser melodies, everything dosed with lots of electronic effects. Each of the three parts seems to constantly develop over time, with the (alleged) repetitions being modified so consistently, that one gets the impression of a continuously evolving piece of music. The subtle changes provide for the diversification. The soloing is quite melodic, making this album very accessible overall.

The predominant influences certainly are the masterminds of Berlin School mentioned above. The sequencer line kicking in around the three-minute mark and lasting through Orbital Journey almost is a clone of my favourite Tangerine Dream track Ricochet Part 2), but I also hear some Jean-Michel Jarre and Larry Fast on this release.

One may argue whether this type of music belongs to progressive rock or not. For me, electronic music is its own music style, not a sub-genre of prog. But after all, this discussion is basically academic. What holds true is that this music is something for special circumstances, moods and atmospheres. On a mild summer evening sitting on your terrace or balcony with a sea view (lucky if you have that off-vacation), with your earphones on, a good glass of wine in your hand, and listening to Orbital Journey, Space Flight or Walking on Dunes of Time would be mind-boggling!

I admit, though: I don't listen to electronic music that often anymore (and I don't have sea view in everyday life), so for me this album was kind of a musical journey back in time. Fans of Berlin School can't go wrong with In Search of Silence. But also sporadic listeners to this type of music, believing that an occasional electronic music album should be part of any well-diversified CD collection, should get a copy of this fine representative.
Conclusions:
Thomas Otten: 7 out of 10

Mike Oldfield - Return to Ommadawn
Mike Oldfield - Return to Ommadawn
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 42:08
Links:
Track List:
Return to Ommadawn Part 1 (21:11), Return to Ommadawn Part 2 (20:57)
Generally speaking, many prog fans seem to prefer Mike Oldfield's first three albums (Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn) to anything that he has released since. Though I certainly concur with the quality of those albums, I think Mike has recorded many fine albums throughout his career. I especially appreciate the fact that he has consistently tried to shake things up in terms of musical styles. Considering the number of Tubular Bells related projects in the last 25 years, I understand that some may disagree with that assessment. In my estimation though, even TB 1, 2 & 3 were quite different from one another and certainly modern for their time.

On the other hand, Return to Ommadawn, takes on a much more reflective tone to his past. That is not a criticism, as it is wholly intentional. As with any sequel to an earlier, well respected work, comparisons are inevitable. It is also extremely rare for a follow-up to be recieved with an equal amount of love. The passage of time can be helpful though and ultimately, the fact that Mike seems so musically motivated recently is alone a cause for celebration. He is a true original and regardless of one's opinion on him revisiting a classic album, it is impossible to deny the obvious passion to be found throughout this recording.

Reminiscing is pleasant, but for Return to Ommadawn to be qualified as an artistic success, it needs to stand on its own, and I am happy to say that it does. Like the original, it consists of two LP-side lengths of music and is performed on acoustic instruments. There are certainly moments that provide intentional nods to the first Ommadawn, but not as many as you may think. Even the end-of-album homage to On Horseback, which includes vocal passages from the original, is quite different. The main comparisons between the two, would be in terms of the overall musical sweep, as well as the use of wind and acoustic instruments. Ultimately though, this is a fresh take on Mike's classic style, and it is all the more enjoyable for that.

As with any of his more complex works, this recording takes a few listens to truly appreciate. Much like a puzzle, the various pieces of music really start to come together as you become more familiar with them. Of key importance is how well Return to Ommadawn works as a complete piece of music. Obviously, there are segments that I enjoy more than others, but there is not a moment of this album that I would skip.

A somewhat mellow musical tone is utilised throughout, and even Oldfield's traditional electric guitar blasts are less frequently used. Don't let that comment fool you though. Mike expertly handles all of the instruments on the album, but his guitar work is always the star of the show. It's what drives the music forward here, and results in some of the most effectively performed and beautifully intricate melodies of his career.

As a fan of progressive music, it is easy to appreciate a truly unique and original talent like Mike Oldfield. Fan opinion of this new album appears to be high and some are calling it is his best since the 70s. As it relates to this style of Mike's music, I personally would give slightly higher marks to Amarok (1990), yet Return to Ommadawn certainly had me grinning from ear to ear. It is truly wonderful to hear an album by a veteran performer that can stand proudly next to some of their finest work.
Conclusions:
Patrick McAfee: 9.5 out of 10

Sista Maj - Series of Nested Universes
Sista Maj - Series of Nested Universes
Country of Origin: Sweden
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 57:02, 56:10
Links:
Track List:
Disc 1: Peony Spies (6:26), Secret Cave, Secret Rat (10:51), Which, In Turn, Falls (14:04), A Very Heavy Feather (25:40)
Disc 2: Series of Nested Universes (10:58), Like a Diamond in This Guy (11:40), It Never Ends (17:19), Bones of Steel (16:13)
Sista Maj, meaning in colloquial Swedish "the last day of May", have released their rather fine double CD Series of Nested Universes on the label Space Rock Productions. Never has a label so aptly described the music on a release. Sista Maj are a trio consisting of musicians from other well-known Swedish bands. From Øresund Space Collective comes American ex-pat Jonathan Segel on electric guitar, violin, organ, synthesisers and bass, along with Kungens Män's Mikael Tuominen on various basses, baritone guitar and electric sitar. And on the drummer's stool is Andreas Axelsson, noted for his jazz and jazz-improvisation work.

The music on Series of Nested Universes is an expansive collection of space-rock instrumentals that mix in psychedelia, krautrock and prog. Like most space-rock, these instrumentals use a slow build of intensity as they progress, and their tunes evolve, rather than having any sudden turns and changes.

The first disc starts off with Peony Spies. Its otherworldly violin and double bass, add a jazz tinge to its reverberant psyche meets post-rock ambience. This sets the scene for Secret Cave, Secret Rat and its introduction of the electric sitar, as it builds into a beast of some psychedelic power. Then Which, In Turn, Falls uses long, sinewy guitar lines as it moves from a hypnotic, drone based sound, moving towards a heavier conclusion.

This brings us to this disc's epic, A Very Heavy Feather. This is space-rock with heft and weight. It has a full-on guitar work out from Segel, more-than-ably supported by the rhythm section's motorik beat. It is magnificently relentless. Afterwards you need time to decompress, and swapping over to the second disc is just the job.

There is a change of emphasis on the title track that opens disc two. It is more spacey and ambient. It brings back the Eastern tonalities and adds light, psychedelic touches. Then with a sliding guitar intro you get this disc's best track, Like a Diamond in This Guy. It has a rolling groove and, again, Segel's guitar makes for a fabulous listen.

Sista Maj follow this with the motorik space-rock of It Never Ends, which is brilliantly bass-driven by Mikael Tuominen, and it never lets-up over its 17 minutes. For the final track, Segel returns to the violin, creating a sparser, spacey soundscape as it moves from avant-garde noise to jazzy beauty.

Sista Maj on Series of Nested Universes may not have produced hummable melodies, but there are no weak tunes here. They may have used improvisatory jamming to establish the music, however their fine musical instincts have removed the fat, and produced long, focused and rather special space-rock.
Conclusions:
Martin Burns: 8 out of 10

Sun Dial - Made In The Machine
Sun Dial - Made In The Machine
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 71:48
Links:
Track List:
Meltdown (3:43), Contact (3:51), Ascension (4:38), Sea of Rain (3:30), Spacedust (3:55), Aurora (4:13), Sun Gate (4:11), Regenerator (6:38), Eclipse (4:14), Autopilot (14:26), In the Machine (3:50), Dark Planet (6:09), Slipstream (2:59), The Gates of Eden (5:31)
Formed by Gary Ramon (vocals, guitar and keyboards) in 1990 Sun Dial have evolved through various line-ups and many, many releases to this new album Made in the Machine. Along with Scorpio (bass, Moog Taurus), Joolie Wood (keyboards) Ramon's Sun Dial have produced an album of synthesiser-based space-rock, with elements of krautrock and psychedelia.

There some engaging tracks on Made in the Machine, but with 14 mainly instrumental tracks, and over 70 minutes of music, some are more successful than others. The more successful tracks are those that weld Berlin school, sequenced synths to a space rock groove (Meltdown, Contact) and The Orb-like Dark Planet. A few tracks sound like Violator-era Depeche Mode doing space-rock, whilst the super Aurora could have come from Public Service Broadcasting's The Race for Space CD.

Other tracks mix the space-rock with psychedelia. The ones that work for me include the closing track, and one of the few songs, The Gates of Eden. Its rolling drums, string effects and song structure give it focus. Another is Ascension. This mixes in a Happy Mondays' baggy groove with the Eastern drones, and Regenerator has a winning, early Steve Hillage aura about it.

The least successful for me are the sitar-meets-mouth harp drones of Sun Gate (though the dub mix is an area that Sun Dial should explore more), and the long Autopilot, which aims for the hypnotic, but hits the seemingly interminable. All in all, Sun Dial's Made In The Machine is a good album of space-rock miniatures that one can dip in and out of with confidence.
Conclusions:
Martin Burns: 6 out of 10

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Published Thursday 6 April 2017

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