Darius - Voices From The Crowd
Darius is a German progressive rock band which was founded in December 1989.
Their early influences were Pink Floyd, Saga and Dream Theater and their early sets
included both own compositions and covers.
At the end of 1994 their debut album A Poet's Soliloquy was recorded, after which the band toured through Western Europe. The band even played as support act for Saga.
August 1997 saw the release of their second album Voices from the Crowd, which received very positive reviews in the press. I was given a copy after the band's impressive performance at this year's Planet Pul festival. Although the album is more than a year old I thought it would be fair to review it anyway. Furthermore, this CD is too good to keep hidden from you.
Voices (6.40) opens the album the album with sounds of playing children and a piano ballad, which quickly changes into a heavier guitar/keyboards oriented piece. The style reminds me a lot of Marillion's Fugazi period; I wouldn't be suprised if this would have been sung by Fish. During the break a sound collage of various voices can be heard. After this intermezzo a Marillion-like atmospheric sequence leads the track back to the heavier bit for the climax. Good track !
The lyrics for the next track, First Contact (8.57), were written by
Zizania Music's Leon Vermissen. The track itself is one of the highlights on the
album. After a long instrumental intro (almost 2 minutes !) with a nice
guitar riff the vocals come in.
Halfway through the song we find a couple of breaks with the theme of Inspector Gadget and a short spinet solo. After the break, the song continues with a different, more dramatic melody and some extra guitar and keyboard solos. This is perhaps the best track on the album.
Searching (6.26) starts rather quiet and laid back. The song speeds up during the second half and the vocals get more drawn out. The second half is once again more up-tempo.
Alone (7.43) is a beautiful spooky ballad with a atmospheric intermezzo with percussion and whispering female voice (Help me ... help me ..) and an evil male voice which makes my flesh creep everytime I hear it. The ending is very emotional. The lyrics continue the story of the previous song and seem like somewhat of a horror story to me. To top it off, there's also a wonderful Floydian guitar solo. Another hightlight !
The next track, Snowflakes (7.15), sets a nice winter season mood by using effective shopping centre sound effects. It's another emotionally charged song which goes from a quiet opening to an uptempo and energetic second half. The song also contains some nice bass slapping effects.
The second half of the album contains four songs which form a story about
an ancient Egyptian spell.
Caught by the Magical Book (1.34) is a short instrumental intermezzo which tries to create a Middle Eastern atmosphere (but doens't fully succeed).
The Pharaoh's Spell (9.18) contains several tempo changes and a more early Marillion-like feel in the second half. The whole song is build up with about 4 or 5 different bits and pieces.
The Seven Signs (5.33) is the most accessible song on the album. The song features more slightly Arabian themes and although the melody is very catchy the flow and rhyme of the lyrics could have been better. One of the special things about this tune are the backing vocals by female vocalist Brigitte Berg, who also reappears in the next song.
And the finally there's One of Them (6.28) with its slightly Iron Maiden-like feel in certain parts (remember the Powerslave album ?).
The second half of the CD probably doesn't have the same impact as the first half but it's damn fine music nevertheless ! Perhaps this four piece epic could have done with a bit less lyrics and a more powerful climax.
When I heard that the band came from Germany I was expecting and fearing thick accents like the ones which completely turned me off when hearing Eloy's music. Fortunately Dirk Bovensiepen's vocals are not only very good, they also lack very obvious accents. My only criticism regarding the vocals is that they are a bit too often drawn out, which is nice every now and then, but not continously. Dirk might think about using other vocal techniques next time.
The compositions on the album are very good although most follow the same structure of starting rather quiet and laid back and working through several solos to a thundering climax in the second half. Nothing wrong with that, though a bit more variation might be good. How, for instance, about a full ballad ?
The production of the album is very good, though keyboards and drums could have used a bit more 'body'. Although the emphasis lies on keyboards and guitar, the bass and drums are definitely very present and play an important role in the music of Darius. All instruments are balanced very well and reinforce each other. The guitar has a slightly Floydian feel here and there.
The booklet is one of those long 14-page fold-out thingies which you can't put back together once you've taken it out of the CD case. It's got nice handwritten lyrics and beautiful pictures in the background which fit the mood and subjects of the songs. Unfortunately some of the lyrics have become illegible because of the small contrast with the background.
Voices from the Crowd is a splendid album which you must have heard. Open your mind and give it a try.
Conclusion: 8+ out of 10.
Spock's Beard - From the Vault
Within a couple of months after hearing my first Spock's Beard album in the beginning of 1998, they became one of my favourite bands. I was completely blown away by their concert in Tivoli and couldn't wait to get the rarities disc I bought at the gig into the CD player next morning. Unfortunately I was in for a disappointment.
Stratus (5.29) might just be one of the most important reasons to buy this CD. It's a very nice instrumental jam full of guitar and keyboard solos, which was recorded during the Kindness of Strangers sessions in April '97. It originally appeared on an album by Billy Cobham. Al and Neil have been jamming to this tune since they were teenagers.
Into Fire (3.42) was the bonus track for the Japanese release of Kindness of Strangers. If you thought Mouth of Madness was heavy, stand back for this one. It's Spock's Beard doing heavy metal, complete with raw screaming vocals and high backing vocals. The band preferred this one instead of Stratus. Let's call it temporary insanity; as far as I'm concerned this is their worst song ever. It must have been some kind of joke ...
Fire/Waste Away (live) (6.01) is a live version of Waste Away (not half as good as the one they played in Utrecht recently). To make it more exiting for the Progfest '97 audience, they put the energetic Hendrix song of Fire around it. Nice if you like Hendrix ....
The Light (Home Demo) (15.26) hardly differs from the album version. The only real difference are the lyrics of One Man which intitially were: '21st century miracle man' instead of 'all of this in one man'.
Excerpt From The Doorway (Live) (2.25) is the live version of the extended acoustic middle piece. People who went to the recent gigs will remember the acoustic duet between Al and Neal in The Doorway. This thingy is just that, although this version (which was recorded at Progfest '95) seems much shorter to me. The additional bit is a piece called Asylum which Al and Neal wrote in their early teens.
The Doorway (Home Demo) (10.20) is almost identical to the album version, although the production is of course far insuperior.
Waste Away (Alternative Mix) (5.23) is a more raw version of the track from Beware of Darkess, no differences as far as the composition is concerned. The album version is definitely better.
Walking of the Wind (Home Demo) (10.40) has quite a few bits which are different from the album version of Beware of Darkness, like different lyrics in the chorus and a jazzy intermezzo. From a development point of view this is probably the most interesting track on the CD.
Go The Way You Go (Home Demo) (12.03) also has a few bits which differ from the album version, like a 'solo exchange part'. This is one of the more interesting demos on this rarities album.
The demos feature a drum machine, which sounds annoying during certain parts. On the other hand, what would you expect of demo versions, 'ey ?
The booklet is just a folded piece of paper with some liner notes about the different tracks. As was to be expected of the band, the cover is once again ugly as hell; just a couple of band pictures.
If you have to choose between this one and the other Radiant Records CD, the Official Live Bootleg, go for the live album. I have the feeling that this album is just an excuse to finance the recent tour, as is often done by prog bands. There must be other unreleased Beardy Bits which they could have put on the album instead of some of the more uninteresting demos and alternative versions.
To conclude: this release certainly isn't a must-have, unless you're a die-hard collector. There's just enough interesting things to make this one a nice-to-have, though it could have been much better.
Conclusion: 6- out of 10.
Progday is an annual festival taking place at the Storybook Farm, Chapel Hill, Noth Carolina, USA. The first of these festivals took place on September 3rd, 1995. Two years after the concert a compilation album was released. DPRP received a copy which is reviewed below.
The first band on the CD is Ozone Quartet (formerly Cloud Nine), from North Carolina, USA. They might be described as instrumental prog (metal) with violin. The two songs by this band Stash (4.12) and World of Difference don't really appeal to me. Although the backing band is quite enjoyable, the solo violin parts miss a real melody and even sound amateuristic and out of tune to me. It seems like the violin is playing something completely unrelated to the rest of the music, which is a shame because the combination of rock and violin can indeed be very effective (just listen to Salem Hill's The Robbery of Murder).
I had already heard two or three songs by Timothy Pure (Atlanta, USA)
before, and I quite liked their music. On this CD the band is represented
with 6 tracks: Channels (3.07) (instrumental), The Aberration (4.08),
Through the Fountain's Eye (4.21), When Vices Collide (4.40),
The Occupants (4.47) and Festival (6.06).
Timothy Pure's music is hard to describe. The songs start rather quietly but build and get heavier towards a climax, without ever turning into real prog metal. The track do have a bit of a 'grungy feel' though, mainly because of the increasing power in the vocals. The keyboards have a very prominent role in building a 'wall of sound' and there are lots of guitar solo's to be found.
The music has it's moments, but probably wouldn't be something I would buy myself.
Discipline from Michigan was one of the bands ending up in the Top 20
of the DPRPoll 1997. Never having heard
album, I was quite interested in their older live material on this Progday
compilation. I had a bit of an uneasy feeling looking at the pictures of the
singer in the booklet. He wore a black cloack, a large black floppy hat, had
a face painted white with black stars around the eyes (not unlike Alice
Cooper or King Diamond) and is wielding some kind of rod. In other words,
looked like he had just escaped from some cheesy fairy tale. (Are there still bands doing this kind of stuff ??!!).
Nevertheless, once the music started I wasn't disappointed at all ! Not unlike another popular US band, Spock's Beard, Discipline are not afraid to mix different styles of music into their work. Although When the Walls Are Down (6.47) did not do much for me, Circuitry (6.22), Canto IV (Limbo) (15.15) and Systems (7.47) were all fine songs. But the real treat for me personally was the blues-influenced Homegrown (11.05).
Musically, there is quite some room for improvement in the band especially in some of the vocal parts and guitar. Judging from the popularity of their latest album, they seem to have come a great way since '95.
Bon Lozaga played a solo performance at Progday '95. This guitarist who played in bands like Gong, some Eddie Jobson follow-up project to UK, Bon (with Hansford Rowe) and Gongzilla. On the Progday album you'll hear him play the track Sonic Abandon (6.30), which is basically just a bunch of guitar riffs and solo's thrown together against a background of ambient sounds and percussion. Not really exciting stuff ... as a matter of fact, it gets rather annoying after a couple of minutes.
The last 47 minutes of the album are taken up by Echolyn from Pennsylvania with six tracks: A Suite For Everyman (11.29), Uncle (8.19), My Dear Wormwood/21 (9.34), The Cheese Stands Alone (5.44), Suffocating the Bloom (3.39) and Memoirs From Between (8.07).
I can be quite short about this music: it's not my cup of tea at all. It's too jumpy for me and the jazz influenced prog mixed with vocals which sometimes tend towards death metal style every now and then is just not my taste at all. But that's all a matter of taste, really. Echolyn fans will probably love it.
Trivial detail: this was Echolyn's last performance. Just 6 days after the gig, the bass player left the band, followed by the keyboard player 2 months later. The various band members formed new bands; Finneus Gauge and Still (later changed to Always Almost).
Progday '95 comes with a nice 8-page booklet with nice artwork, liner
notes and no less than 23 pictures of the performing bands (judging from the
one which was taken from behind the bass player of Echolyn, there wasn't
much of an audience).
The sound quality of the recordings is very good and has got a real 'live feel' to it, something which official live albums sometimes lack.
The CD can be purchased for $ 29 (including international shipment) from Peter Renfro, 207 South Elliot Road, Chapel Hill, NC 27514, USA. Fax: 919-968-2557. Peter also accepts Credit Cards.
Conclusion: I can't really give a rating to this album. Personal appreciation of this album will depend highly on your own tastes. This album is definitely recommended for fans of Timothy Pure, Discipline and Echolyn. It's also a good way to get to learn the (less recent) music of these bands. So I'll have you make up your own minds. Personally, I'd only be interested in playing Discipline again.
Bertrand Loreau - Jericoacoara
"Bertrand Loreau is a keyboard player from Nantes (France) follower of Klaus Shulze and Vangelis."
That's all the information you'll get at the Web Site of Musea, who's Dreaming sub-label released this CD. The album seems to be Bertrand's fourth CD.
Jericoacoara features 12 tracks of electronic music (an 'all-keyboards-album' folks !). Most of the tracks fall in the New Age style and there's only one track with (electronic) percussion which tends more towards the style of Jan Hammer or Harold Faltermeyer. Unfortunately the concerned track (Another Prophetic Step) has a melody which just goes on for ever (9 minutes, to be precise).
Bertrand seems to be fascinated by the sea. Not only was his first album inspired by the sea, this new one also has sounds of waters hitting the shore between most tracks.
The booklet is a square fold-out piece with pictures of Bertrand and some other people (who are they ? Captions below the pictures might have been nice). The booklet also features a list of equipment Bertrand used and an (incorrect) track listing.
This CD is completely ignorable for most prog lovers. Only if you're into New Age and electronic music and if you're looking for a CD for relaxation or as background music, this might be interesting. Don't pay too much for it though, stuff like this can be picked up from the bargains bin at any record store.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10.
Superior - YOUnique
Superior is a German progressive metal band formed in Kaiserslautern in 1988. In the time following they recorded 2 demotapes, Moral Alliance (1989) and 'Bright As Night' (1990) which brought the band opportunity to play with acts such as Bon Jovi, Lita Ford and Heaven's Gate. The band performed live in southwestern Germany up until the middle of 1994. At that time, plans for a self-produced CD became concrete. Therefore, the six musicians dedicated the following year to composition, arrangement and conception of the album 'Behind'.
This debut CD was received very well by the magazines and by the prog metal fans all over the world. The band got a lot of respect with this debut album, so we've all waited for the new album with much interest I think. For me the waiting was worth it! With this new CD Superior have taken a big risk, because they've recorded music that is not in the same vein as on their debut CD. They could have made it much easier for themselves by writing music like on 'Behind'. But they didn't! And that's just the reason why this new album is so interesting!
Where a lot of bands will choose for safety, Superior tries something new. The 10 tracks on this new CD contain a lot of variation, from heavy metal to quiet instrumental piano parts. Heavy guitar riffs, funky bass playing, quiet keyboard parts, oriental influences, it's all there. One moment you think they are a very heavy band, the other moment you are listening to brilliant quiet instrumental parts. Besides the great music, you'll hear lead singer Michael Tangermann with his very original voice. It's hard for me to compare Michael with another singer in this genre, but that's what I like about him. Together with the guitar playing, Michael's voice gives Superior their own recognizable sound.
In general I can only say that I like Superior's new CD very much. The new influences they use gives the CD a special feeling. Superior are not to scared to try something out and therefore they deserve a lot of respect. I'll give 8.5 points out of 10. Not everything on this CD is perfect, but I think we cannot already expect this from a second CD. I hope Superior will not change their way of writing music and hopefully their next CD will be as interesting as this one. For those of you who like progressive metal with several different influences, give it a try. Most of you will like it! I hope to see them live soon, probably on Dutch Progressive Metal Night at the end of next year?? I think I've said too much now!!