ISSUE 2017-064

Reviews in this issue:

Amplifier - Trippin' With Dr Faustus
Amplifier - Trippin' With Dr Faustus
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 59:27
Links:
Track List:
Rainbow Machine (6:27), Freakzone (8:22), Kosmos (Grooves Of Triumph) (6:42), The Commotion (Big Time Party Maker) (6:09), Big Daddy (5:14), Horse (6:40), Anubis (3:45), Supernova (4:34), Silvio (5:20), Old Blue Eyes (6:09)
Trippin' with Dr Faustus is, according to the band, Amplifier's sixth album. Their somewhat extensive discography also includes six extended plays or mini albums, which is a bit of a misnomer as a couple of them run to over 40 minutes! Whatever, the current album's titular character is presumably the same as the German 16th century scholar Johann Georg Faust who has passed into legend as the highly successful yet disillusioned scholar who makes a pact with the Devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures, which seems to me a better deal than that obtained by Robert Johnson whose soul only purchased the ability to play the guitar. But don't despair if you are concerned that the title sees the band heading into a satanic death metal direction. Musically, the Amplifier sound is retained and besides a couple of oblique mortality references in Freakzone and the title of Anubis, the Greek name for the Egyptian god of the afterlife, it doesn't appear to be a call to devil worship. Anubis is actually a very sweet acoustic duet with a lyric that even uses 'sweetpea' as a term of endearment. Hardly something from the Church of Satan hymn book!

Let's start with the negative, and it's a big one. What the heck is it with the cover? Possible one of the worst album sleeves ever to grace a rock album, it certainly, to me anyway, is not that inspiring or alluring. Even as a fan of the band I was put off from purchasing the album, as it just looked cheap and, well, quite frankly rubbish! (And if we are being truthful here, the album title isn't that much cop either...) Fortunately, you should not be put off by the packaging as the content offers an hour's worth of hard rocking delights that blends the twin guitars of Sal Balamir and Steve Durose with the resonant bass of Alex Redhead and the steady beat and interesting fills of drummer Matt Brobin. The three guitarists also sing, although Balamir takes lead vocals, but it does give them scope for harmony and counterpoint vocal lines, such as on Horse and the impressive Freakzone. Plus, with guest singer Beth Bishop taking prominence every now and again, particularly on Big Daddy, there is plenty of variety.

Although the overall sound is of hard rock mixed with a tinge of psychedelia and the odd nod in the progressive direction, overall things are not as intensive as on their last album Mystoria, Faustus being a totally different affair. This is typical for Amplifier, not keeping to a formula but changing things around. This is one of the key strength of the group, but possibly also somewhat of a weakness as it is hard to pinpoint a defining album, everyone will have a different favourite for different reasons.

Although not credited to anyone, again one suspects it is Balamir, there are plenty of keyboards throughout the album although employed for tonal emphasis and atmospherics rather than any lead purposes. Although having said that, Supernova would be pretty barren without them. To get the full effect of the almost fuzz bass on The Commotion (Big Time Party Maker), the song has to be played loud with the bass channel turned right up, although keep your mouth shut whilst listening, as it is likely to cause any loose fillings to fall out! Same goes for closing track Old Blue Eyes which I can confidently say is not a tribute to Sinatra!

Faustus is a worthy addition to the Amplifier catalogue and my initial disappointment (which I admit may have been a hangover from the artwork) has been emphatically eroded as I have become more familiar with the songs and their nuances. An album that improves and reveals itself with every listen.
Conclusion:
Mark Hughes: 7 out of 10

Bodhi - Ineffable
Bodhi - Ineffable
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 27:04
Links:
Track List:
Desire (2:16), Enamor (3:44), The Texture of Motion (4:23), Sensations of Sound (5:17), Essence (4:46), Ineffable (6:37)
Both the artist's assumed name and the album title suggests that Bodhi (a.k.a. American guitarist Justin Seymour) has an interest in Buddhism. That said, the six instrumentals that make up this EP can be interpreted and appreciated most anyway the listener chooses, regardless of spiritual beliefs.

When he is not recording under the name Bodhi (this is his first such album), Seymour is a member of The Room Colored Charlatan, a band I know very little about I'm afraid. One thing is for certain, on the evidence here, he's an extremely accomplished guitarist with a natural flair for composition and dynamics.

Whilst every track has its own qualities, listen to the single Enamor on Bandcamp (see the Samples link above) and you will have a pretty good insight into what the album has to offer. Interestingly, as the album progresses the tracks get longer giving the impression that Seymour is easing the listener gradually into his musical world.

And its a very immersive world with dazzlingly flights of blistering guitar technique interspersed with more subtle interludes making good use of acoustic guitar and keyboard samples. Even when his playing is at its most intense, Seymour maintains a strong sense of melody, neatly avoiding falling into the metal shredding trap.

True, at 27 minutes this is a fairly short offering as albums go but that's not a bad thing with many artists these days (particularly in the prog genre) prone to excess simply because they have the time and space to do so.

Although this album is not especially proggy in the traditional sense (Seymour's style is uniquely his own but its closer to Vai and Satriani than Howe or Hackett) if you're a fan of guitar instrumentals, it comes highly recommended.
Conclusion:
Geoff Feakes: 7 out of 10

Eurasia - Ilmondoarovescio
Eurasia - Ilmondoarovescio
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 56:14
Links:
Track List:
Un mondo a rovescio (6:36), Fatti i fatti tuoi (6:28), Il buio nero (4:31), L'avvenire di un'illusione (6:10), Il fantasma del tiranno (5:42), Vado contro (5:48), Il segreto nascosto (6:24), La luna in tasca (4:50), Bispensiero (7:42), Sora no tamoto (3:58)
It is not often that the Austrian language philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein gets quoted on a CD's liner notes, but on Ilmondoarovescio by Italian jazz-fusion band Eurasia, he gets a look in. The quote "it is impossible to draw a limit on thought" matches to some extent the music here, as Eurasia test their own limits.

Eurasia are a five piece prog and jazz-rock band, and they have the jazzy leanings of early Canterbury in their sound. This ten track album has lyrics in Italian and (thanks to, possibly inaccurate, on-line translation sites) they reflect concerns over the current political landscape, along with social and cultural turmoil and the place of facts in political discourse.

The music Eurasia make is akin to Soft Machine jamming with Return to Forever whilst adding in a dusting of the fiercer end of PFM's output. All this fine music is topped with the strong vocal presence of Moreno Delsignore. He has a wide range of tones, from a baritone to a falsetto. On the rear of the CD case he even gets a "featuring" credit.

The opening two tracks on Ilmondoarovescio sets out their sound. With Marco Cavalllo's Al Di Meola-like guitar, the keyboards Simone Torriano and the guest piano of Luigi Ranghino, they quickly establish their jazz-fusion credentials. On Fatti i fatti tuoi, the nimble fingered bass playing of Paolo Cagnoni adds a Stanley Clarke resonance to the sound. The propulsive and elastic percussion of Diego Marzi underpins everything beautifully.

So far, so good, but as much as I love the supple jazz-fusion music here, topped by terrific vocal melodies, I find that the vocal is a too high in the mix for my taste. The vocal end up being a distraction from the whole rather than a seamless part of it. The vocal rather overawes the music which shimmers in the instrumental passages. A more subtle mix would have made this album an absolute winner and would have broken any limits in this genre of prog. But even with this problem, with Ilmondoarovescio Eurasia produced a good album of vocal-led jazz-fusion.
Conclusion:
Martin Burns: 6.5 out of 10

Pareidolon - Aporia
Pareidolon - Aporia
Country of Origin: Canada
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 36:42
Links:
Track List:
Abducted (3:28), The Tunnel (5:33), Modern Romance (3:26), Leave (8:55), Good Morning (4:35), Behind The Glass (9:09)
Pareidolon is a collective rather than a band on this release, namely being the brainchild of Lachlan Tocher who drew the team together to showcase his composition for his college graduation recital. Afterwards they decided to take advantage of the school's free-to-use gear and software, to record this set in the space of three days.

They class this as being progressive rock, but in reality it is a mixture of styles and songs that have progressive elements running throughout their musical themes. Whilst it has good playing, it suffers from a rather poor mix (to these ears at least). Much of the vocals are indistinct and unclear, not helped by the collective's myriad of sounds. But let me also say there is promise herein, and talent too that needs a bit of tweaking to emerge fully. This is just a first excursion.

The songs are generally short and have a degree of angst attached, but the playing at times is very very good and offers great prospects. It is also good to see a band with three females in the midst as singer, guitarist and keyboard player. The three guys are also good, especially drummer Aybars Savat, who displays great dexterity and employs unusual drum patterns throughout.

The guitar work from Ashley Pearce and Brandon Greene is strong and sturdy, with some decent solos on both Leave and Behind The Glass especially.

There is a metal influence on several of the songs too, which shows a possible future direction for the band.

I have to say this album could have been longer and if the vocals were more prominent that would have improved matters significantly. However within the three-day window there were always going to be some compromises. But overall this is a valiant effort and has its merits and offers a glimpse of a band that can reconvene and begin to craft something of real style and substance.

I would very much like to hear their next chapter. The sleeve and booklet are both excellent, with good images too.
Conclusion:
John Wenlock-Smith: 5.5 out of 10

RPWL - A New Dawn [DVD]
RPWL - A New Dawn
Country of Origin: Germany
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 81:02
Links:
Track List:
Prologue, Revelation, Introduction, Oh Hapless Man, Swords And Guns, This Ancient Formula, A Clear Cut Line, Wanted, Like To Like, The Fisherman, Sound Of Loneliness, Hide And Seek, From Paul To Saul, Disbelief, Misguided Thought, Still Asleep, Home Shopping, Perfect Day, Terror, The Attack, The Eternal Recurrence, A New Dawn, Revelation Reprise
A New Dawn should not be seen as the usual concert DVD. Rather than that, it is a theatrical extended version of RPWL's 2014 album Wanted. Although the band has been touring with this stage concept before in a rather tiny setting, they've been putting a lot more effort into this one-off show for the recording of this DVD. (Also read the review of the CD version of this release.)

It is almost like a musical we get to see on this disk, with plenty of actors and a couple of acting parts and even a narrator in Shakespeare manner leading through the story. A couple of extra songs have been added and some guest musicians join the party.

I'm using the word party for a reason there, as the play is not meant to be too serious. There's a good portion of German humor to it (if such a thing exists). The show opens with a set of TV news breaks that inform of the police search for Kalle Wallner and Jogi Lang who are on the run and have gone underground. The two heroes of the story have found out that the catholic church has developed a new drug, called "veritas forte", designed to keep mankind under control. Their quest to sabotage this endeavor and the church's effort to hunt them is the story being told here. The theatric part is quite creative, with the church's forces appearing in the costumes of the inquisition, sword-fighting with demonstrating farmers, and a lot more situations one could think of when reflecting about the cons of a religious congregation.

Musically, as mentioned already, it is an extension of Wanted with a few more songs and a lot of solo sections. In my opinion, those are the real reasons to watch this DVD. Where the band usually produce rather compact art rock songs, they come up with a great show-off of their instrumental skills here, which really demonstrates how good they all are.

It is a pleasure to see the guys unveil their influences and bring them back to life with their own hands and their own styles incorporated. In fact, the solos in here are so much more than the usual noodling that many neo prog or art rock bands tend to go for. RPWL sure have a good idea how to compose their solos with great melodies and arcs and play them absolutely genius with lots of passion for every single note. No matter if you prefer the guitar style of David Gilmour, the keyboards of Genesis or the unique Moog style of Manfred Mann, you will simply love all of it on this disk, because the band play it all and at ultimate master level.
Conclusion:
Raimond Fischbach: 8 out of 10

Syncage - Unlike Here
Syncage - Unlike Here
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 69:02
Links:
Track List:
School (4:38), Uniform (4:14), Still Unaware (6:20), Skyline Shift (5:49), Stones Can't Handle Gravity (5:48), Redirect (7:56), Bearing The Colour (5:05), Edelweiss (14:31), Hunger Atones (5:12), Unlike There (9:29)
On their website, Syncage state that they are a musical project aiming to sting listeners' resonance through various psychoemotional devices. Well that about sums it up. These four young guys from Italy create an experimental fusion of jazz, metal, ambience and classic Italian prog. At the first spin, I thought it was a combination of A.C.T (frantic sound and the vocals) and PFM (prog sound with violin).

Unlike Here is their first full album. Opener School is clearly the teaser to grab the attention. This one could easily have been on an A.C.T album. It sounds like Syncage tried to put everything into this one song, like an overture. They put a lot of things to grab the attention right from the start and then take more time for their ideas on the rest of the album. Sounds like a strategy.

The next song, Uniform, immediately shows a very different side of Syncage; acoustic with violin and really taking their time to create a melody. The longer songs Edelweiss and Unlike Here show that Syncage is really about exploring music.

Syncage sounds fresh and certainly not standard. Whether it is a violin solo or an acoustic guitar lick or a technical part, all blend nicely into a song. All elements flow nicely into each other so your never too surprised. The English lyrics at times sound a bit too static, the music would have been better off with Italian lyrics and more variation. It feels like they had a struggle with putting the English words to the melodies.

Unlike Here is over an hour of experimental fusion and that does make it a tough nut to crack. But when you give it a go you will know that Syncage have produced a very interesting album. Syncage is certainly a band I will be keeping on my radar and I hope Syncage continue exploring the boundaries of progressive music.
Conclusion:
Edwin Roosjen: 7.5 out of 10

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Published Sunday 3 September 2017

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