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Sonic Debris - Velvet Thorns
Country of Origin:Norway
Format:CD
Record Label:DVS Records
Catalogue #:DVS001
Year of Release:2000
Time:46:13
Info:Sonic Debris
Tracklist: Kiss & Kill (5:07), Snowflake (5:29), Dead Man (5:13), Velvet Thorns (4:48), Virtual Steps (3:16), Bustale (4:12), New Horizon (3:38), New Angel (3:27), New Narrow Needle Groove (3:44), My Aching Pain (7:19)

With Velvet Thorns Sonic Debris releases their first full album through the Dutch label DVS Records. The Norwegian band was founded in 1995 by Paul Morten Bergseth (drums), Knut Bergaust (bass) and Tommy Nilsen (guitars). Singer Rune Sørheim joined them in 1996 and keyboardplayer Jan Peter Ringvold completed the band in 1998. Called Blindfold the band released two demo's Beside Me and Blindfold. Last year the third demo Brave New World yielded them a recorddeal with DVS Records.
As a debut album they decided to go for a save approach, using the four songs of the Brave New World demo and four tracks of the Blindfold demo. All eight tracks are re-arranged and re-recorded, while two new tracks were filled in to complete the album.

Kiss & Kill

Remco: In my previous review of the demo album of Sonic Debris, I was quite enthousiastic about them. Now, I am not so sure my enthousiasm was justified, as I never had the urge to play that album again. However, the current, full length album that lays before me now, reawakens some of that previous enthousiasm. With a good production and mix, good, traditional Norén artwork (although the print is somewhat unsharp), the basis for a good debut album is laid. In general terms: I still like the vocals, the instumentation is also done well, but the compositions, especially the "new" onces, are not always that strong. They are quite repetitive at times.
Opening with an impressionist piano piece, the first track suddenly bangs out of the speakers. Good organ sounds under distorted guitars, prog-metal style. The chorus however, is repeated to often and a bit annoying. No, this is not one of the great tracks, but the intermezzo's are quite entertaining, though.

Joakim: The first track, Kiss & Kill, opens with the sound a scratchy LP and a gentle piano before kicking into a brilliant prog metal mode. Bands like Dream Theater, Queensrÿche and Fates Warning come to mind, and this impression is strengthened by the fact that there is a tint of both Geoff Tate and Ray Alder in Rune Sørheim’s vocals. Another interesting element in the vocals is a small similarity to Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins), especially in the chorus. Kiss & Kill is an excellent choice for an opener on the CD. It has a lot of energy and power as well as good melody and musicianship. Definitely one of my favourite tracks.

Hester: The quiet piano intro (featuring the crackling sounds of an LP) does not really prepare the listener for what is yet to come. After 35 seconds, though, it becomes very obvious that this is definitely not a depressive Richard Clayderman album, but rather one flirting heavily with the (progressive) metal genre. At that point a mixture of a mean hammond organ, pounding drums, distorted guitars and rumbling bass is unleashed upon the unsuspecting eardrums. Subsequently, the wild flow of notes is reined in slightly to a part which reminds me of some tracks by Dream Theater.
When the vocals finally come in, they are only accompanied by bass and drums. The way vocalist Rune Sørheim uses his voice here reminds me very much of Midnight Oil's eighties hit Beds Are Burning. A real surprise appears to be the chorus, though. Contrary to the rest of the track, it sounds less heavy and actually even very catchy. It contains some very nice vocal harmonies which tickle the sing-along nerves.
After another verse and chorus comes a sinister, more quiet part which flows nicely into a guitar solo. A repetition of the chorus leads to the end of the track, which is the same as the heavy "proper" beginning of the song. Nice track, though I really had to get used to the big difference in atmosphere between the verses and the chorus.

Snowflake

Remco: This too goes more in the soft-prog-metal direction, with hints of Rush, this song marches on. Nothing quite spectacular happens here, just regular well played rock. The massive wall of sound that is laid down to build the guitar solo on is quite cool, though.

Joakim: Snowflake opens with the sound of didjeridoos (unless I am mistaken) and goes into a very nice bassline. The track is resting on a heavy mat of guitars, bass and organ. It reminds me of Dream Theater á la Awake as well as some of the groove from Queensrÿche’s Q2K. Sørheim’s vocals here remind me even more of Alder. Tommy Nilsen’s guitar solo at the end of the track is really nice.

Hester: The wind comes howling from the speakers. Then a deep, mysterious bass line fades in (reminding me slightly of the beginning of Sunshine And Butterflies by Stiltskin) to set the scene for the second song on "Velvet Thorns". Heavy guitar and Hammond soon join and lead to another one of those rather catchy choruses, which - I noticed while listening to the rest of the album - seem to be the trademark of Sonic Debris.
In Snowflake, Sørheim's voice does at times resemble that of Smashing Pumpkins' lead singer Billy Corgan (especially when he sings "A million years" in the chorus) and at other times that of Faith No More's Mike Patton. It is very interesting to hear how quite a few different singers seem to manifest themselves in his voice.
Snowflake also contains a great, ripping guitar solo and some fine Hammond work. However, I feel the chorus of this track is a bit too smooth compared to the rest of it. I really like the other parts of the song, but the chorus seems a bit out of place. It has the polished sound of Pink Floyd's (usually female) backing vocals and, whereas I think that they sound rather good on Floyd's CDs, they come across as rather alien in this song.

Dead Man

Remco: One of the re-recorded songs of the demo. There doesn't seems to be much difference though, except for the better production. The vocals still sound as if they could have been done by U2's Bono Vox, as do the guitar parts. Actually this sounds like a heavy U2 song, period.

Joakim: Track three, Dead Man, introduces a shift in influences. Knut Bergaust delivers some really nice bass work here and the music is softer. It brings Marillion and U2 to mind, the latter of which I find a great influence in the band’s music. Especially since Sørheim here manages to sound a great deal like Bono (and not for the last time on the album). The softer middle section with marching drums and all is definitely in the vein of U2, and the only bit that breaks that illusion is the harder section, which once more introduces the heavier side of Sonic Debris. No doubt, this song could be a major hit. Nice lyrics and lovely harmonies in the chorus. A favourite.

Hester: The beginning of Dead Man makes me think of grungy bands like The Urbane and Foo Fighters. The vocals on this track, on the other hand, are an interesting mix of U2's Bono and the above mentioned Billy Corgan, although the Bono sound is most apparent here. The middle and end of the song contain quite a few elements that I like a lot in the music of Dutch rock band Kane. Great track!

Velvet Thorns

Remco: a quiet piano-bass duet opens the track, with a very nice moody atmosphere. Then a heavy type of Spock's Beard is played, with lots of Hammond, harmony vocals and sharp snare-drum. The sounds become progressively more distorted towards the end. Quite a nice track actually!

Joakim: The title track, Velvet Thorns, starts off with soft guitars and a gentle piano only to serve us an outburst of heavy guitars and organ. The vocals are more or less used in a fashion that makes me think of a cross between Alder and Billy Corgan. Musically, it sounds a lot like Dream Theater á la Awake with some hints of Queensrÿche in it.

Hester: The title track, Velvet Thorns, begins with a quiet, Pink Floyd-like duet of bass guitar and piano. The other instruments move in like big dark thunderclouds forboding the oncoming storm. The chorus is great and reminds me a lot of Faith No More (the threatening atmosphere of Midlife Crisis springs to mind). This song has the tendency to keep whirling around in my mind for ages after I have heard it. It is definitely one of my favourite tracks on the album!

Virtual Steps

Remco: U2, with heavy intermezzo's. That's it.

Joakim: After four tracks around five minutes each, Sonic Debris opts to move towards the shorter format - three to four minutes. Virtual Steps is the first track of five with this length. Sørheim once more delivers a great Bono impression with an added flavour of Tate in the chorus. The music is in the vein of U2 (and also Manic Street Preachers actually), except the chorus which sounds a lot like Dream Theater. A really nice track which moves into the following one.

Hester: The first part of the fifth track on "Velvet Thorns" is not very heavy. It features some more of those U2/Pumpkins-like vocals and the music would not sound very out of place on a U2 album either. The part leading to the chorus and the chorus itself are much heavier than the verses, but here the chorus does not feel out of place. This pretty nice track flows seamlessly into the next song.

Bustale

Remco: See Virtual Steps. This is plain rock, but well done.

Joakim: Bustale is another clear favourite of mine. Sonic Debris continue to follow the U2-influences in a very melodic fashion. Another potential hit with a beautiful pop-rock chorus. This track gets a grade 10, in my book!

Hester: The musical box-like keyboards that ended the previous track are still audible at the beginning of Bustale. They are soon taken over by a heavy combination of electric guitar, bass and drums. Again, the vocals are very Bono-ish, telling the story of someone drifting off to the realm of fantasy. The first-person narrator takes us past some psychedelic images until the same little keyboard sound that started the tale ends it.

New Horizon

Remco: A heavy type of Saga, especially in the chorus the Saga reference is quite obvious.

Joakim: New Horizon allows the band to show their prog metal teeth again. A really heavy track with some very nicely distorted vocals in it. The guitars are creating really heavy mats of sound. Great vocals in the vein of Alder and Tate. Once more a track flowing into the next one.

Hester: A growling guitar opens the seventh track of "Velvet Thorns", New Horizon. After a few drum breaks, which are doubled by guitar and bass, a more "flowing" part follows, which reminds me slightly of Kane's Taurus (Hanging On). The next bit - where the vocals come in - is even heavier and has some hints of Faith No More. The chorus, on the other hand, sounds remarkably much like Simple Minds, both in the sound of the vocals and that of the guitar.
A nice guitar solo starts in the somewhat quieter part in the middle and continues while the music gains in heaviness again. After some more musical violence, the intro is repeated, only now accompanied by some weird keyboard noises which are part of the beginning of the next song. Very good track!

New Angel

Remco: A pounding rock piece, with a nice role for the keyboards and heavily distorted vocals. The vocal melody is related to Radiohead, the instruments are not.

Joakim: Track eight, New Angel, is another one of the heavier tracks. Some nice Fates Warning tendencies and more use of distorted vocals, which works brilliantly especially when held up next to the harmonies in the chorus. A really nice song which once more shows that Sonic Debris is a musical force to be reckoned with. This band could become big.

Hester: The combination of a rather weird keyboard sound, a ripping guitar, a grinding bass and a strong drive makes me think strongly of Omnia Opera. The main keyboard riff, or rather "mean keyboard riff", of this part of New Angel returns several times during the track (yummy!). Again the chorus, is very catchy, but not at all in a misplaced way. It contains some very tight harmonies and actually had me singing along the second time I heard the song. The end is rather Dream Theater-like and even heavier than the part leading into the verses. This track is without a doubt my favourite on the album!

New Narrow Needle Groove

Remco: Well this is not the best track on the album. Hmmm, not played very tight this Rush-like track somehow misses its point. Especially the throbbing guitars are annoying.

Joakim: New Narrow Needle Groove returns with some more Dream Theater á la Awake. Heavy guitars and vocals slightly in the vein of James LaBrie. The chorus is based on a clear rock riff. Not that special on the whole, even though the softer instrumental bits are pretty interesting.

Hester: More Dream Theater (I am thinking of Caught In A Web of the "Awake" album here) characterises the beginning of New Narrow Needle Groove. A great, heavily distorted "chopping" guitar sound accompanies the verses. However, since the chorus sounds just a little too light compared to the guitar sound before it, I do not like it very much. It just seems to belong to a different song, in my opinion. The breaks before the chorus do not do very much for me either, to be honest.
In the end of a much quieter intermezzo, played with a clean guitar sound, a nice guitar solo doubled by the keyboards is played. It flows into a great, wild mini-moog solo. A repetition of chorus and intro end the track. Although some of the separate bits are really great, the entirety does not really appeal to me very much.

My Aching Pain

Remco: Also from the demo (although a minute longer now), this again U2-ish track is quite nice and calm. After four minutes, it all comes to a halt and again a nice Satie-goes-jazz piano piece follows.

Joakim: My Aching Pain is the longest track on the CD, but could be separated into two bits, in my opinion. After four and a half minutes of soft U2 rock with swaying guitars and floating atmosphere (which is EXTREMELY GOOD), the track ends with almost three minutes of gentle meddling with piano, that, in all honesty, could have been shorter or turned into a separate song. It brings the full impression of the track down a bit, whereas the first half is, as stated, really good. The first half of the song also has something in it that reminds me slightly of Porcupine Tree.

Hester: The last track, My Aching Pain, features another bit of Bono-like vocals, initially sung over a calm, clean guitar with a very wobbly chorus effect. The chorus is slightly heavier, but not nearly as heavy as some of the other tracks, and fits in beautifully with the rest of the song. The relative calmness of this track does, therefore, make a very nice cooling-down song after the more adrenaline-stirring ones before it.
The album ends as it began: with minutes of crackling, quiet piano playing. This time, however, it continues much longer than the part in the beginning. I really wonder why Sonic Debris did not opt for turning these two sections into separate tracks, since they are so different from the rest of the CD that some people might want to skip them because of that.

Conclusion

Remco: Hmmm, the new tracks are not really what I had in mind. It has all become heavier, less clear and more distorted. The freshness of the demo is gone, and the album is, although more professional, in the end not really the success I hoped for. Still, there are some good tunes on it and the general impression is positive.

Joakim: All in all, Sonic Debris has definitely convinced me that great music also comes from Norway. I am very much looking forward to seeing them live at the pre-party to Prog Power 2000 and hope their next CD will not be too long in the making. The fact that this album comes with a Mattias Norén cover and sleeve does not make it any worse. In fact, I think it shows Norén’s best so far; combining the brilliance of the exterior of the Wolverine cover with the greatness of the Triangle sleeve leaving the lucky band with a perfect whole. An awesome cover for a superb CD. Most likely this one will be in my top five of this year. Highly recommended!

Hester: Sonic Debris's sound is a mixture of a lot of different bands, many of which are not really associated with progressive rock or metal. This causes their music to be on the very edge of prog - as far as that edge can actually be defined clearly. In my opinion, however, this is not at all a bad thing; I find it rather refreshing and would not mind hearing more "non-prog" influences in today's progressive rock and metal. I think that compositions of this kind may actually be able to bridge the gap between prog and mainstream rock.
The band has this tendency to combine heavy rock/metal with ultimately catchy choruses. For me, that combination does not always work; I think it sounds great in some tracks, but in others it sounds completely out of place. Apart from a few exceptions, the music does really appeal to me. It is heavy, but always keeps a strong melody (which probably makes it sound less heavy than it is). I am therefore really looking forward to Sonic Debris's next release.
Some of the lyrics do not seem to be that "deep" and quite repetitive, but that is compensated completely by the high quality of the music. There were, however, quite a few typos or language mistakes in the booklet; bit sloppy. The artwork, on the other hand, is almost flawless. Mattias Norén definitely did a marvellous job on it (the full artwork can be viewed at the Progart site) and seems to be on his way to become a big name in the world of CD cover art!
I would definitely recommend "Velvet Thorns" to anyone who is into (heavy) rock or metal in the vein of bands like Faith No More, U2, Dream Theater, Foo Fighters, The Urbane and Simple Minds. Yes, you read that correctly, not necessarily to fans of progressive rock or metal, because I think that this CD can definitely appeal to both fans of progressive and those of "ordinary" rock or metal.

Mark: With Velvet Thorns Sonic Debris delivers a solo album that is certainly enjoyable to a certain degree, but proves most striking for adding absolutely nothing new to the music scene, whilst borrowing heavily from diverse styles and artists. The most prominent of the musical influences that can be discerned is the continuous likeness to early Smashing Pumpkins.
After a short piano solo (that returns at the very end of the album, which is a nice touch), the first track, Kiss & Kill, turns into a sort of combination between Aussie rockers Midnight Oil and Smashing Pumpkins. Vocalist Rune Sorheim seems to try his best to emulate Billy Corgan, most notably in the refrain. The same goes for Dead Man, which starts off all right, but from the first time refrain is played Sonic Debris turns to copying the Pumpkins again. A short guitar bridge, repeated at several points, seems lifted right out of the works of Marillion. And with My Aching Pain the band again seems to cling to the Pumpkins example, both in melody and arrangment.
Snowflake sounds very much like an Eye Of The Storm track, not bad at all. American band Eye Of The Storm doesn't really play progressive rock, at least not exclusively, but some of their songs will register favouribly with the prog rock fan. The same is true of Sonic Debris. A lot of the material on this album could have chartlist potential, but that's because it is accessible and mostly uncomplicated. It might help that Sorheim's vocals can sometimes be likened to U2's Bono, though, as I said, there's more than a bit of Billy Corgan in them. Sorheim fares better at times when the Bono comparison can be made.
Virtual Steps proved quite amusing, as it sounds like a Robbie Williams track (No Regrets) at first! The melodic guitar in this track comes off well. Add the by now familiar touches of the Pumpkins and American rock (like the aforementioned Eye of the Storm) and this track could have written itself. Nothing new here, though it comfortably slips into the next track, Bustale, which leans on the same atmosphere. Arrangement and melody may be different, but essentially Bustale is a continuation of the mood set in Virtual Steps. If a bit more effort had gone into maintaining this continuity, these two tracks might have done better as a a single piece. This trick is repeated in the overflow from New Horizon to New Angel and then to New Narrow Needle Groove.
I was not really impressed by the individual performers, though as a collective they fare well enough. The often screeching guitar doesn't help, though. Good solid bass, a bit repetetive, but keyboards mostly drift helplessly in a weak supportive role. Attempts to remedy this result in some keyboard solos, ridicuously short. Overall keys just add background support, adding little to most songs. The album features some good instrumental sections, more truly prog rock, but these might have been stretched somewhat to add a little touch of symphony.
Those who know and like Eye of the Storm should certainly give this band an honest chance, though Sonic Debris lacks the wit the Americans displayed on their latest album F2. If you enjoy Smashing Pumpkins, Siamese Dream era, and especially Pumpkins' songs like Spaceboy or Mayonaise you might also like Velvet Thorns. But Sonic Debris seems a second rate Pumpkins to me. It's like Billy Corgan unloaded some left-over material, which was picked up by a band that can deliver the goods to a certain degree, but sounds like it is still searching for its own style.

Wilco: After a short piano intro, we will find the same arrangement as at the end of closing track My Aching Pain, the album takes off with the Dream Theater aliked tracks Kiss & Kill and Snowflake. Kiss & Kill is one of the two new tracks with crunchy metal guitar strings and commercial edged chorusses. Snowflake is build around the pumping bass of Knut Bergaust with a nice guitar solo by Tommy Nilsen.
Overall the songs sound very much in the direction of Dream Theater. New Horizon and New Angel are fine examples of this sound as well, although the approach of Sonic Debris is much more lighthearted.
Not all of the music presented on this first album has that Dream Theater approach. The first part of My Aching Pain, nearly four minutes, is a nice example into the direction of U2 with Bono alike vocals, after that the second part is a nice piano part that ends the album beautifully. With a track like Velvet Thorns they deliver a nice relaxing point after three very powerful songs. But it's just a deception. After a minute the crunchy guitars, the pumping bass and the strong drum patterns of Paul Morten Bergseth return, and Sonic Debris delivers a very eighties Black Sabbath sound.
Other referals are bands like King Crimson, Rush to mention some in the progressive vein, but also bands like Lit or 3 Doors Down, which the band shows by delivering a track like Dead Man, which probably is the most commercial track on the album, along with the very eighties suited new wave track Virtual Steps, which shows comparisments with U2, Simple Minds and the Canadian band Glass Tiger.
This first album turns out to be a fine one with a mixture of mainstream rock and progressive metal. The sound isn't new, more bands have come up with a similar sound in the past. The difference lies in the fact that Sonic Debris is capable of bringing those songs with an energetic spirit full of enthusiasm.

Ratings:

Remco: 7 out of 10.
Mark: 6.5 out of 10.
Hester: 8 out of 10.
Joakim: 9+ out of 10.
Wilco: 7 out of 10.

Sonic Debris can be seen performing live at the Prog Power pre-evening party.

You can also find a more graphic review of the CD at DPRP's CDelight.