Folia Saxifraga (4:26), Monodia (6:37), Blue-S (5:43), Shamash (8:06), Idios Cosmos (6:20), E Verde è l'Ignoto su cui Corri (7:14), Marienkirche (3:39), Di Eccezione in Variante (7:22), Usil (6:38), Eros vs Anteros (10:01), Il Violato Intatto (7:08)
Bolognese prog-rockers Accordo Dei Contrari have just released their fourth album Violato Intatto. It follows on from their previous three albums, all of which were given recommended ratings here at DPRP chambers. (The reviews can be found via the site's search function).
Having parted company with their long-term bass player, the four remaining members, Giovanni Parmeggiani (electric organ, Fender Rhodes, Minimoog, Arp Odyssey), Stefano Radaelli (alto and baritone sax, bowed zither), Marco Marzo Maracas (electric and acoustic guitar) and Cristian Franchi (drums), decided to continue as a quartet.
They recorded Violato Intatto live in the studio with minimum overdubs, and they have produced a double album (though released on a single CD) of some purpose and focus. The band's sound has moved from a progressive jazz fusion, in the mould of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, to an organ and sax driven sound that echoes Van der Graaf Generator's mid-70s prime, whilst more than retaining their own identity.
The double album is divided by the ambient soundscape of Marienkirche, which sounds like field recordings of overlapping church bells. It resembles the music of Arvo Part. The album has, in its first section, the more eclectic and avant numbers, whilst the second part displays their individual musical muscle. Accordo Dei Contrari have considerable instrumental chops, across a range of adventurous progressive rock with jazzy embellishments.
The first section highlights the band's instrumental interplay to perfection. Folia Saxifraga opens with an intense, punky punch-in-the prog-face. The organ playing is fabulous and the additional tenor sax of Gabriele di Giulio gives it extra depth. Accordo Dei Contrari do more here in four and a half minutes, than some bands do in fourteen and a half.
Accordo Dei Contrari have an inherent melodicism alongside the powerful arrangements and strident playing. There is a Weather Report vibe to Monodia's alto and organ interplay, before the guitar brings it to a satisfying close. They broaden their range with the Doors-like psyche-blues of Blue-S, and then embrace electronica and distorted guitars for the great Shamash. This also features terrific violin from Deus ex-Machina's Alessandro Bonetti.
The first album closes with the nocturnal ballad (and the album's only song) E Verde è l'Ignoto su cui Corri, which is beautifully sung by guest vocalist Patrizia Urbani. However, there is a mis-step to my ears with the weird, off-kilter Beefheartian funk and space-rock mix that comprises Idios Cosmos. Even with this mis-step, the first album alone would warrant a recommendation, but there is more sonic goodness to come.
So, after the aforementioned Marienkirche, there is a change of emphasis, as the musicians flex their individual, as well as their combined musical muscles. A rolling guitar figure and electric piano, leads you into Di Eccezione in Variante. It's prog-metal-like intensity is topped by Maracas's blinder of a guitar solo. The sax workout Usil is terrific, and is balanced by fine drumming and organ underpinning. It is the most VDGG-sounding of the pieces here.
The longest track, Eros vs Anteros, sees the band joined, again, by tenor sax man Gabriele di Giulio. It is a multifaceted piece, making use of lightly psychedelic, Eastern tones and drones, whilst Parmeggiani's organ solo is a thing of brilliance. The title track rounds off the album in fine style, with its foot-to-the-floor, space-rock groove and excellent synth work.
So, except for one mis-step, Accordo Dei Contrari's Violato Intatto is a cracking collection of tunes featuring polyrhythmic textures and a full spectrum of musical colour. They make great use of focussed improvisation, within superbly structured melodic envelopes, and they do all that, without any fat at all. This is how you make a 73 minute album.
Rules of the Desert (11:34), Power And Outcome (7:24), Details (a) Circle Spins (5:45) (b) Start Again (8:42), Through a stained Glass (8:43), Illusions and Tribulations (9:25), The Gathering (8:15), Conquest (3:28), Full Circle (1:55), Dialect For The 21st Century (5:16)
I have an enduring fondness for Mexican band Cast, who in their time have had a greater number of line-ups (24), than albums released (23) but are still going strong in their 39th year. Band founder and principal writer, keyboardist Alfonso Vidales, is the only original member but he has collected around him a young and vibrant group of musicians: Claudio Cordero (guitars), Roberto Izzo (violin), Carlos Humarán (bass), Antonio Bringas (drums), Bobby Vidales (lead vocals) and Lupita Acuña (backing vocals). This line up has been together since 2015, so far releasing one studio album (Vida 2015) and one live album/BluRay (Sands Of Time 2016).
The latest album gets off to a cracking start with the largely instrumental Rules Of The Desert. This really is no-holds-barred stuff with great interplay between the guitar, keys and violin. The middle section has a touch of the ELP about it, offering piano flourishes and orchestral overtones, interspersed with some fast riffing. The band are certainly planting their flag firmly in the prog camp with this one. It is a more dramatic, enthralling and in your face opening musical statement, than anything else I have heard this year. Honestly, this piece alone had me sold on the album, before even hearing the remaining 59 minutes!
Fortunately they don't disappoint, with each of the remaining tracks being as epic and grandiose as the opener in their own way. Vocalist Vidales Jnr sings in english with a pretty much unaccented voice, which hasn't always been the case with singers on Cast albums, and he puts in a strong performance throughout. However, it is the instrumental pieces and sections that take the crown. Start Again is glorious in its pomp and glory, whilst Conquest is more thematic and cinemascopic. Cordero is not adverse to laying down some fast and furious fretwork but knows when to reign himself in, and Izzo's violin playing fits perfectly with the rest of the band, lending grace and flowing melodies in and around the more upfront instrumentation.
If there is one criticism of the album, it is that not enough use is made of Acuña and his choral vocals, which add yet another dimension when they are present, such as on Through A Stained Glass. But overall Power And Outcome is a great addition to an already diverse back catalogue and may just be one of the strongest albums the band has put together in their lengthy history.
Mention must also be made of the artwork by Juan Carlos Lizarraga, a talented young Mexicali artist whose cover and booklet images fully encapsulate the band and the songs. Finally, an interesting fact about the band's albums: only one of them has a running time of less than one hour, 2014's Arsis which clocked in 19 seconds short of 59 minutes. I'm surprised their fans didn't riot!
Departure (5:03), Foreign Landscape (8:51), The Peacefull Village incl. "The Dance Of Joy" (7:50), March Across Endless Plain incl. "The Mirage" (10:10), The Fruitfull Gardens (6:25), Sunset At The Crystal Lake incl. "Reflections" (6:45)
I will admit to a pretty significant lack of familiarity with the work of multi instrumentalist Hans Strobl (Gandalf). My knowledge only extends to his 1992 album with Steve Hackett, Gallery of Dreams. Upon listening to this remastered version of his debut from 1980, it convinced me that I should delve into more of his work. I am a big fan of this type of progressive instrumental music (ie: Mike Oldfield, Anthony Phillips, Jean Michel Jarre, etc) and Journey to an Imaginary Land falls securely into that category. Before getting into an actual review of the album, I have to give kudos to Esoteric for another fantastic reissue. Though I've never heard the original version, I am confident that this is a marked improvement. Sonically, it sounds like it could have been recorded this year. All the more remarkable considering that the source material was self produced by Gandalf in his home studio almost fourty years ago.
As a fan of this type of music, my unenlightened status may in some way be indicative of the lack of credit that Galdalf has received for being an innovator in this genre. Though artists like Oldfield had recorded long form instrumental music of this type in the 70s, this is still pretty adventurous stuff for 1980. I think one challenge is that beginning in that era, much of this type of music got lumped into a general 'new age' bracket, which is somewhat unfair. Though it is understandable considering the spacy nature of some of the music contained here, Journey to an Imaginary Land is nonetheless a complex and exciting album. Though the music never quite goes into the heavier direction of some of Oldfield's work (guitar busts & screetching solos), it is never boring either. As great instrumental music of this type can accomplish, Gandalf creates wonderfully atmospheric moments throughout. Much like soundtrack music for a film that doesn't exist and thus allows you to create your own scenes.
Though seperated into six tracks, there is a really nice, consistant flow to this album. Each "song" is unique, but the album never veers far from the initially established musical vibe. Symphonic, floating keyboards mesh with folk like string instruments and percussion to create a mellow yet always compelling mood. There are occasions where electric guitar is utilized, such as on March across an Endless Plain. As mentioned above though, things are kept effectively restrained. From a songwriting perspective, the album is loaded with melodies that resonate with the listener. Ultimately, that is the key to success in this or any other form of music. Though not as original or memorable as an album like Jean Michel Jarre's Oxgene, it is the infectous melodies that make this work noteworthy.
If you are already familiar with Journey to an Imaginary Land, I can easily recommend this reissue based on the wonderful remastering and the interesting liner notes, penned by Malcom Dome. For those who have not yet heard this album, I can recommend this new release as a definite example of quality in the progressive instrumental category. There is something nostalgic about its style, but that said, it certainly doesn't sound dated. Perhaps, like me, the album will send you on a journey to discover additional music from this very talented musician.
Sonic Attack: Sonic Attack (4:49), Rocky Path (3:50), Psychosonia (2:29), Virgin of the World (4:03), Angels of Death (5:54), Living on a Knife Edge (4:41), Coded Languages (4:46), Disintegration (1:02), Streets of Fear (4:05), Lost Chances (5:35)
Church of Hawkwind: Angels Voices (1:19), Nuclear Drive (3:34), Star Cannibal (5:28), The Phenomenon of Luminosity (2:31), Fall of Earth City (3:18), The Church (1:34), The Joker at the Gate (1:47), Some People Never Die (3:27), Light Specific Data (3:59), Experiment with Destiny (2:28), The Last Messiah (1:32), Looking in the Future (3:57)
Choose Your Masks: Choose Your Masks (5:25), Dream Worker (4:55), Arrival in Utopia (5:40), Utopia (2:58), Silver Machine (4:16), Void City (6:43), Solitary Mind Games (3:50), Fahrenheit 451 (4:39), The Scan (1:01), Waiting For Tomorrow (3:37)
Hawkwind formed in 1969 and are a British institution, a genre-defining and influential band, a band that has been around for an eternity, a band who have recorded a slew of albums, a band that has seen a glut of musicians rotate through its doors with only one consistent member throughout (Dave Brock), a band that has had off-shoot projects, and it felt, at one stage, every time you blinked, there was some form of Hawkwind album, compilation or remaster being released. I could go on, but in all honesty there can't be many people out there who have not heard of this band, and don't have a favourite line up / era.
What I find very interesting about Hawkwind, is that the instability in the line-ups have brought albums of varying styles and at times quality, which is not a massive issue, as the band have never strayed too far from their foundations. I am probably guilty of having the proverbial albums as my go-to points; unfortunately, those albums set a very high bar for their other works to be compared against.
So what do we have here? Another collection, this time three Hawkwind albums, albums eleven, twelve and thirteen, Sonic Attack, Church of Hawkwind and Choose Your Masques. They are presented in a nice clamshell box with a mini poster, that covers the RCA Active Years 1981–1982. In this instance, unfortunately there are no bonus tracks on offer, which would have made this release more appealing. So I can only presume that this release is aimed at the completist, or offering newer fans the opportunity to collect the said albums in one go, at a sensible price.
Prior to the recording of Sonic Attack, their eleventh album, the band saw the departure of Ginger Baker and Keith Hale and Martin Griffin re-joining the group. This album took a heavy metal approach, being a more guitar-driven album, something that worked really well for the band, and was probably a reflection of the musical times (not that they were ever a band to follow trends). If you want to investigate this approach more, seek out Live 79, an album that I highly recommend, perfectly capturing this sound. Michael Moorcock continued his journey with the band, providing lyrics and some vocals, with the album being thematically based around social control through the use of language. The standout tracks can be found in the way of Rocky Paths, Virgin of the World, Angels of Death, Coded Languages and Streets of Fears.
Moving forwards, album twelve, saw the release of Church of Hawkwind, (under the name of Church of Hawkwind), where the band took a more experimental, electronic approach and is an album that I would personally consider as being more of a Dave Brock solo album (maybe the name change could have been an indicator). As ever, the band saw yet more changes, this time featuring Huw Lloyd-Langton and Harvey Bainbridge alongside Dave Brock and Martin Griffin, and was a line-up that continued on Choose Your Masques.
Although Hawkwind are not your average band and their ethos was to push boundaries, sometimes these boundaries were stretched just a bit too far, and for me it is this reason that Church of Hawkwind suffers. The album does have its moments, but not enough to really capture your attention or to demonstrate the creative prowess that the band are known for. That makes it the weakest of the three albums on offer here. There again, I guess, no one wants to see a band churn out that metaphorical, same album repeatedly.
Choose Your Masques, album thirteen, saw the band lean more towards the use of drum machines and drum loops, and also saw Michael Moorcock being involved lyrically, albeit, only on two tracks, Choose Your Masques and Arrival in Utopia. The album features a re-working of Silver Machine, which will come as no surprise to anyone, as being the standout track, closely followed by Fahrenheit 451. It is apt song for the group, based on the Ray Bradbury novel of the same name, which houses some very nice guitar passages, as does the Blue Oyster Cult-tinged Waiting For The Unforeseen. Unfortunately, this isn't enough to lift the album from being just average.
Out of the three albums here, Sonic Attack is the stronger and is an album that I would return to, but is nowhere near a classic Hawkwind album. Church of Hawkwind and Choose Your Masques have their moments, but for me, offer less consistency in their approach. In saying this, they do feature some interesting material between them that is worth hearing, but in all honesty, that is not a big enough draw for these ears.
If you are new to this band and are wondering where to start, it is probably worth investing your monies in This is Your Captain Speaking...Your Captain is Dead or The Charisma Years 1976 – 1979. The RCA Active Years 1981 – 1982 is definitely one for completists.
The Xenon Codex: The War I Survived (5:24), Wastelands of Sleep (4:16), Neon Skyline (2:19), Lost Chronicles (5:21), Tides (2:59), Heads (5:00), Mutation Zone (3:55), E.M.C (4:53), Sword of the East (5:25), Good Evening (4:38)
Space Bandits: Images (9:34), Black Elk Speaks (5:14), Wings (5:22), Out of the Shadows (4:58), Realms (3:23), Ship of Dreams (5:16), T.V. Suicide (5:21)
Palace Springs: Back in the Box (6:21), Treadmill (8:09), Lives of Great Men (6:51), Void of Golden Light (3:26), Time We Left (2:40), Heads (4:39), Acid Test (6:01), Damnation Alley (7:10)
Cherry Red, through the Atomhenge label, keeps restoring the legacy of the mighty Hawkwind, focusing on the most obscure official recordings of the band. This is the third in a (hopefully) ongoing series of box sets, this time it's the turn of the three albums released between 1988 and 1991. Certainly, these may not be the most popular or well respected pieces of art under the band's moniker, but surely include enough attractive moments to deserve an attentive listen (or two).
Released in April 1988, The Xenon Codex is an interesting blend of the classic Hawkwind sound and some typical 80s qualities, namely dated keyboard sounds and synth guitars. The last to feature Huw Lloyd Langton on guitars, it is a somewhat uneven record, as it's torn between some good (Lost Chronicles, Sword Of The East) to great (opener The War I Survived) tunes, and other indeed forgettable ones (Neon Skyline and Tides). A fun, entertaining listen nevertheless.
Come September 1990, and the band are ready to release their first female-fronted album, Space Bandits which, even though still suffering from some of the same weaknesses found on the previous release, is most certainly a more solid album. Bridget Wishart's vocals, as much as an acquired taste they might sound to some, give it a more distinctive flavour, and Simon House's powerful violin runs, add both texture and urgency. Opening track Images is brilliant, nine minutes of pure Hawkwind light and shade, intensity and weirdness. Being the best track of the entire box set, the remainder might appear to be lacking, but still there's plenty to enjoy here. From the atmosphere of Black Elk Speaks, to the mechanical creepiness of Ship Of Dreams, it all sounds a bit too much of its time, but in a good, engaging way.
June 1991 saw the release of Palace Springs, a curious studio album/live album hybrid which was also Bridget Wishart's second and last recording with the band. Unlike the two previous albums, the most powerful piece is not to be found on the opening (the passable, despite the reggae-ish sections, Back In The Box), but in second place, as Treadmill offers another eight minutes of engaging space rock, complete with propulsive drumming and catchy choruses. The rest of the album are live tracks from the Palace Theatre gig in Los Angeles on 10 October 1989 but, by the time one gets to Void Of Golden Light it all starts to sound a bit repetitive and uninspiring, not least because of the thin sound. And yes, the reggae on Damnation Alley is again an ill-advised creative choice.
So a no frills, no fancy-stuff compilation, with cds contained in cardboard sleeves and no bonus tracks, perfect for completionists and for all those curious about the lesser known works of a truly legendary band. It's good, nice and cheap.
A Boy On A Farm (6:19), The Lord Of Amber And Grey (6:12), Solstice I Named Her (7:31), The Buffer Zone (5:53), Mystery Plays (16:32), Coal Iron Crops & Tea (8:10)
This is the third release from this studio-based duo from Bournemouth, Dorset. Their previous effort, Among The Family Tree, was reviewed here. The artwork is very appealing and quite clearly sets the mood for the music.
The music has a pastoral nod to it and that does bring to mind another Bournemouth-founded progressive rock band, Big Big Train. Of course, Big Big Train consists of eight people and can really work up something together, but how does this duo fare in bringing forth their music?
The way Steve Newland, being multi-instrumentalist, composer and lyricist has written, arranged and played the music on this album is ashtonishing. Given the fact that the album was built from scratch with keys and guitar, it also certainly shows his production qualities. The album features six tracks and there are lovely string and orchestral arrangements. Yes, a resemblance to the Bournemouth octet just mentioned does exist, but Steve has taken care of the music on his own, without the way that Big Big Train can rely on musicians to fill in all these parts. Still, to write parts like these and to have them sound the way they do, really deserves praise. As for Steve's guitar playing, it has the same timeless quality that you find in 1970s progressive rock and, which Dave Gregory knows how to weave into Big Big Train's music. Nice ebbing and flowing parts and solo's that have you dream away.
The tempo of the album though is something that draws negative attention, in that it is all a bit in the same vein from start to finish. Yes, it makes for an album with a natural flow, yet every now and then there is a need for something of a change in tempo, to bring forth a contrast with what has come before. That is also an observation as to the singing. Annette Appleton does remind me of Renaissance's Annie Haslam, except for the fact that her voice seems more monotonous than Annie's. It's not that Annette's voice doesn't have appeal, one would just wish for more variety in the singing style. Then again, if you love your progressive rock to be of the more pastoral variety, with roots firmly in the 1970s, then this is one fine album. The track's epic, Mystery Plays, does deserve a special mention, as it brings all the band's best features together in one great track.