Monolith - Monolith
The history of Monolith goes back all the way to 1977, when keyboard player
Bill Hamer wrote a prog rock epic called The Apocalypse Concept. After
meeting drummer Ron Mattia and bass player/singer Gordon Winfield the piece
was recorded for a demo tape.
Unfortunately the punk era had arrived and nobody was interested in prog rock. Bill went on writing more commercial music, of which two tracks also ended up on this album (Mister Personality and When Push Comes to Shove).
Years later, in 1995 the band re-recorded The Apocalypse Concept and in 1996 they lanched their web site. Through DPRP the band eventually ended up with Musea records and released their debut album.
The album opens with the 17 minute The Apocalypse Concept which is basically six seperate tracks of 2-3 minutes joined together to tell a story. As with the rest of the music of Monolith, this piece is dominated by keyboards. The vocals are pretty good and the track includes some nice heavy bass work. Defintely the best part of the CD, although something is defintely missing, but more about that later.
Sanctuary (6.30) starts as a flawed christmas song before it goes into a mediocre tune with below average drumming and some uninteresting keyboard solos.
The Sword (3.27) is an instrumental tune where an effort is taken to create a very bombastic sound.
The title of the next track, Warlord (4.27) sums up what the whole track is about. Cliche agressive lyrics about raping, looting, burning and shooting, while awful vocal effects spoil the rest of the song.
After listening to the CD for the first time I had the feeling something was
missing. When I listened more closely and studied the credits I finally put
my finger on it. It was the total lack of guitar which made the music sound
incomplete. This may be a personal preference though.
The last two songs Mister Personality (4.28) and When Push Comes to Shove (4.03) do feature guitar by Steve D'Acutis. Unfortutately the style of these songs is completely different from the rest of the CD; it's basically like any 80s keyboard oriented rock band, like for instance Europe (Final Countdown). These two tracks have no place on the album.
I found it strange that a band which has been around for more than 20 years
could not come with a better debut than just 40 minutes of thrown together
The production is not the best I've heard, but acceptable for a debut album. Sometimes it's like the band is not completely in tune and playing synchronised, especially during Sanctuary.
The style of the music is keyboard dominated 70's prog in the vein of ELP. The vocals are good, as is the bass playing. Most of the keyboard part are enjoyable as well, but the drumming is nothing to write home about.
The CD packaging is very disappointing. Although the front cover is acceptable and atmospheric, the 2-page (!) booklet is not more than a picture and a couple of credits. This, together with the short playing time of less than 40 minutes and the fact that not all of the tracks on the album are of the same quality, brings me to the conclusion that the price the band asks for the CD ($18-$21) is far to high.
Conclusion: The Apocalypse Concept is good, though it could use some guitar and more professional playing and production. Most of the rest of the CD is either completely forgetable or mediocre at most. 6 out of 10.
Man on Fire - Man on Fire
Man on Fire originated in 1986 under the name Section 8, a collaboration between keyboard player/vocalist Jeff Hodges and guitar/bass player Eric Sands. Although the band was quite popular in the Atlanta club circuit and got some airplay on specific stations, the music industry wasn't willing to offer them a contract unless they dropped the neo-progressive elements.
Eventually Eric and Jeff build their own digital recording studios; Caffeine Trax
Productions and Laughing Gas Studios. Soon after the band's name was changed to
Man on Fire and their own record label, October records, was founded.
Eric and Jeff are still looking for additional top musicians to complete the band but in the meantime they released their debut album as a two piece band, backed up by several session players.
Man on Fire contains 13 tracks (one is a hidden track) ranging from just four to seven and a half minutes. Other reviewers have compared the band to a wide range of artists like Saga, Rush and recognised the clear similarities with some music from the eighties like Depech Mode, Nik Kershaw and Peter Gabriel's So (as far as the rhythm section is concerned). I completely agree with them and would like to add that some of the tracks could easily have been part of Duran Duran's Seven and the Ragged Tiger album, especially Like a Star with it's typical rhythms and In Motion. Some of the high and slightly hoarse vocal parts remind me of Scritti Politti (remember them ?).
The bass has a strong role on this album and there's a lot of great fretless bass as well. The album is very vocal-oriented; there's only one instrumental track on the album and there are no long instrumental passages.
Most of the tracks on the album are very good and succeed in mixed progressive rock elements with influences of the aforementioned bands from the 80s. Internal Combustion (5.17) has a powerful, almost industrial feel to it and features Levin-like bass playing. The hidden track on the album is a bass & electric guitar/vocal only version (5.05) of this track, which is very good as well.
Just out of Reach (6.00) is one of my favourites on the album with it's mysterious and dark mood combined with adventurous vocals. The Rain and the Rainbow (5.04) is an accessible tune with Scritti Politti-like vocals. The rhythm section of Like a Star sounds like Duran Duran's Tiger Tiger.
Hanglider (5.50) is the only instrumental track and features some Floydian guitar. Other parts are driven by the fretless bass. It's a very nice track, but a bit too long. I would have preferred to have some longer instrumental passages within other songs instead.
The next two songs, In Motion (7.25) and Time has Frozen (4.18)
are good songs, while High (4.25) is another favourite of mine; poppy but
with a very catchy melody and great (high) vocals.
Unfortunately, the album started to lose a bit of it's power with the last couple of songs, which (as far as I'm concerned) were not as good as some other tracks on the CD; Not Just for America (5.08), which flowes into One to Live, One to Die (4.27), No Suprise (4.54) (which features an over-the-top guitar solo which doesn't fit with the rest of the song) and The One (3.28).
This album will certainly appeal to people who likes the bands from the
80s I mentioned and don't mind their prog being a bit more 'radio friendly'.
When I heard the album for the first time, I didn't really like it, but the
songs have grown on me and now I really like some of them.
The production of this album is very good, most of the compositions are very strong and the booklet contains all of the lyrics, which are quite good as well.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Equinox - Equinox
Equinox is a Progressive/Fushion Rock band from Panama City, founded mid 1997.
Most of the music has been based on work of the two guitarists/vocalists
in the band, who have been together since 1977.
The band made their debut at the Balboa Theater in Panama City, co-headlining the show with Cast. Cast then invited the band to participate in the Baja Progressive Festival which took place in March at Mexicalli, Baja California, Mexico.
Hearts of Illusion (7.13) is a rather straightforward rock song.
The song builds from a quiet keyboard/guitar intro to a uptempo rock song.
The track also features some nice guitar solos and catchy melodies. Hearts
of Illusion clearly proves that this band has many qualities.
Easy to Forget (5.20) starts as a Scorpions-like ballad but fortunately the rest of the band joins in quickly. The music for this track is quite good, especially the break with a guitar solo and prominent bass. The vocals and lyrics don't do much for me though.
Next song: Obsession (8.44). When the chorus of a song is nothing
more than 'Oh Obsession, Oh Obsession, Oh Obsession, Yeah Yeah, Oh
Obsession' the music must be damn good to save the track for me.
Funky bass and guitar open the track. After the (forgetable) lyrics, a long break with some nice solos follows, among which a wonderful (slightly Floydian) guitar solo. Unfortunately the first half of the song is repeated after this. Could have been a killer track ....
Percussion and a (bass ?) solo open Mystery Mountain (10.11), followed
by a solo which sounds like an Spanish guitar. A nice opening, but the vocals
unfortunately spoil the fun again with a lot of 'Wo-oh's, 'Yeah's
and 'nah-nah-nah's. The vocals sound very forced on this track and do
not always fit the rhythm of the music.
A great, energetic instrumental sequence follows half-way through the song, making this one of the proggiest tracks on the disc. Part of this sequence could have been on a Quidam album.
The longest track, Lonely in my Dreams (14.58), continues the prog influence. It's one of the highlights of the album. Lots of guitar and tempo changes. The only remark about this track is that the keys aren't played as fluent as they should. The song only has a couple of lines of text, which are sung during the last four minutes and aren't as bad as on some other songs.
Angel of Passion (5.20) starts with a rather annoying flute-like
keyboard sound. What shall I say about the rest of the song ? The lyrics
go like this: 'Angel of Passion, Angel of Passion, Angel of Passion, Oh
Angel of Passion'. Next song please.
Kristela (2.35), an instrumental track, is a quiet and rather unexiting keyboard/acoustic guitar duet.
Ruins of Old Panama (7.50), another instrumental, is a track where a bombastic theme and a quite theme with guitar 'answering' the keyboards. Nice, but not as good as the instrumental sections of Lonely in my Dreams and Mystery Mountain. When the 'answering' theme comes in for the third time, it starts to get slightly boring.
The last two tracks on the CD are 'radio edits' of Lonely in my Dreams (4.07) and Obsession (5.23). These might be interesting for DJs and the like, but the average buyer of the album probably couldn't care less about these bonus tracks. However, without these two tracks, the album still clocks in at more than an hour.
The choruses of most songs are very simple; a couple of lines repeated
several times. The lyrics themselves aren't what you would call brilliant
poetry, especially the chorus of Obsession is a bit annoying.
The music has both prog and fushion influences and the shorter songs might be a bit too commercial for some of you.
Musically, this is a very good album with a rather funky feel to it. The keyboards are the instrument that need some extra work, both in quality of playing and soloing. The lyrics and most of the vocals, which sometimes tend more towards the typical harsh hard rock style, are not the best part of the album as far as I'm concerned; something the band might work on.
The CD booklet is a fold-out one with 6 pages in total, including all lyrics some very nice artwork and a collage of pictures of the band.
To order the CD, send $14.- (including postage and packaging) to KUTO VASQUEZ P.O. BOX 527948 MIAMI, FL. 33152-7948. Make check or money order payable to: Avant Garde Music Productions.
The band is currently working on their second CD, which is planned for release in the beginning of 1999.
Conclusion: 7- out of 10.
Genesis - Archive 1967-75
After years of waiting and rumours, this summer finally brought us the
Genesis Boxset, officially called Archives Vol.1. This box deals with
the Gabriel Years, starting from 1967 upto 1975. There will be a part 2,
dealing with the Collins Years.
The four CDs in this box give a nice insight in the history and developement of the band, although the discs are in 'reverse'-order, from '75 back to '67.
After Peter Gabriel has introduced the large piece of music they will play and explained the start of the story, disc one heads of with a full length live version of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (recorded in L.A. on January 25th 1975), which takes up the first two discs of the box set.
After Grand Parade ... Peter explains the part of the story takes up the rest of the first disc. Unfortunately, these explanations are not continued on disc two.
Strange enough Fly on the Windshield and Broadway Melody of 1974 are not indexed as separate tracks. At the same time, the third track on the disc is the intro to Cuckoo Cocoon, while the fourth track continues this song. A bit sloppy if you ask me.
The performance is very good. There are a couple of bum notes (for instance in Back in N.Y.C.), Peter has a bit of trouble with some of the high notes and there's not much improvisation going on and no real extended versions, which I had not expected but had hoped for. This, for me, is the main weakness in the recording; it's almost the same as the studio version.
The third disc is my personal favourite. It's got wonderful live versions of
Dancing with the Moonlit Knight, Firth of Fifth, More Fool Me, I Know
What I Like and last but not least Supper's Ready !! All of these
were recorded at the Rainbow in 73.
The rest of the third disc consists of a 1971 BBC live version of Stagnation, the rarities Twilight Alehouse (wonderful 73 B-side) & Happy the Man (72 single) plus an interesting single remix of Watcher of the Skies. Great stuff.
The 4th CD is a collection of demo-versions from the Charterhouse era. This was the time when four boys in college met and formed a band. In fact, this band was a merger of two 'bands', one consisting of Mike Rutherford and Anthony Phillips, the other of Tony Banks and Peter Gabriel. This can be heard in these early songs. Many of them lack a proper drum-part and the songs can be divided into 'piano' and 'guitar'-songs. It's also nice to hear Banks and Phillips sing a line from time to time.
Many of these songs were already available on bootlegs, like the famous 3-CD 'From One Fan To All Others', but these are of better quality, although one must keep in mind that much of this material was recorded on simple 4-track recorders.
Whether you will like this 4th disc will depend highly on your personal taste. If you like the very early Genesis material, you will probably also like this stuff. The disc features some demo version of songs which would later appear on From Genesis to Revelation (In the Wilderness, One Day, Where the Sour Turns to Sweet, In the Beginning, The Serpent, In Hiding) - these versions are without all the sugar-sweet string arrangements - and Trespass (Dusk). Besides these there are also some other demos and BBC recordings of unreleased tracks from the period 67-70.
The 80-page booklet that comes with the set contains several stories about the early days of the band and is illustrated with many, sometimes exclusive, pictures of the band, the costumes etc. The book slips into a sort of pocket in the middle of the long shaped box (very much like the Message in a Box set of the Police or the Total Eclipse Pink Floyd bootleg box).
Genesis have spend the summer of '95 (20 years after the recordings!) to
do some overdubs. One of the problems of Gabriel's extraordinary masks,
was the fact that he couldn't reach the microphone. It was decided that
about 40% of the vocals were redone, as well as some guitar-parts where
the original recordings had 'mistakes' due to equipment problems.
Finally the last song of The Lamb, called It, was just a remix of the original, since the tape ran out during the gig.
One can discuss about these overdubs. Personally I (J.J.) thought this decision was a mistake. Nevertheless, the sound is superb and Gabriel's vocals are very beautiful. It's more difficult to find the 'new' parts, than I thought.
Another point of criticism is about 'what's not on it'. It is a pity that Genesis didn't use the full length of the CDs. There's no Cinema Show, and the version of Firth of Fifth used here is the 'later' live version, without the legendary piano-introduction. It might have been a good idea to include some of the songs of Nursery Crime and Trespass, although many of these were already on the Live CD. This one is of much better quality. The Musical Box comes to mind, especially since it was played as the encore during The Lamb-tour.
It would have been nice to hear Fountain Of Salmacis or Battle Of The Epping Forrest, both played on some of the '72 and '73 concerts and seldomly since. Watcher of the Skies is another song that misses, especially since it was played on the same concert where the other songs were taken from.
A final thing missing is the complete new version Genesis recorded in 1997 of Carpet Crawl. Although the band originally decided to release this song as a single, it never happened. Rumours say that Gabriel wasn't satisfied with the vocal-parts he did.
To conclude: this box-set is a great document of a great band. The sound quality is superb, especially when you consider the age of the recordings. It's a pity there were some overdubs, but anyway this is the closest thing ever to a Genesis reunion.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Abraxas - Centurie
When I heard Abraxas for the first time, I was immediately impressed. Their
first album was theatrical, powerful but melodic. Abraxas showed a lot of
talent on that first album, which was made with relatively little money and
means. Now, after their impressive show on the DPRS-festival, their second album Centurie is out.
With this second album Abraxas shows us a little more of the musical talent that's in this band. The album reaches further than the last one. The songs sound more accessible without being 'poppy'. There is, as on the first album, a lot of diversity within and between the songs of which the shortest is 2 minutes and the longest counts 12 minutes. Musically, the songs are both heavier and softer than on the debut-album. The band 'stretched' their limits, so to say.
The album starts with Spiritus, which has a Caribbean intro and some very theatrical vocals. Singer Adam Lassa is not a great singer, but his theatrical style adds to the music.
Michel de Notredame, the second song, starts very beautiful with an
organ and an acoustic guitar part. This song brings the typical Abraxas
sound, changing from very fragile to very bombastic. Rhythm patterns change
very often and the listener is confronted with both a very comfortable,
warm sound and an interesting musical complexity. The middle part with
rhythm breaks and heavy guitars is very beautiful.
Velvet also starts as a ballad, but is completely unlike the former
song. It has a very deep, jazzy bass sound and some bongos that give a sort of 'those were the days of our lives'-feel to it. The sound of oboes and acoustic guitars makes this song a very melancholic one.
Excalibur has been a live favourite of the band for some time and
indeed is a classic. Starting with a piano and some other classical
instruments the atmosphere of medieval ages is presented. The storytelling
way of singing captivates me, although I don't understand a word. The
closing section of the song is very bombastic with a great keyboard solo.
Kuznia is a strange short song. It starts with a computer beat, heavy guitars and a distorted voice. Before it really starts, it has ended already. A nice experiment.
The sixth song on the album is one of the two epics (although
Excalibur also is an 'adventure'). Regrettably the titles on this
album are completely unpronounceable for non-Polish speakers.
Czakramy, as the song is called, starts with slow intro with again
that deep, almost fusion-like bass. The rhythm changes are very nice. Great to hear some 7/8 in a slow part of a song. In the middle of the composition there's a break, where music is silent, but a soundscape of classical instruments and glockenspiel creates the right atmosphere for the following heavier part. Guitars, aggressive vocals and sweeping keyboard-sounds lead to a wonderful climax.
After this musical violence the quiet introduction of Pokuszenie with 'metallic' sounds are a revelation. This album is really well-produced. The typical Abraxas combination of heavy guitars and (digital) sounds of flutes is also present in this song. Like Czakramy, the other epic, this composition has a middle part with sounds and whispering voices, after which a very bombastic part follows. This time it ends in a surprisingly melancholic piano-part, which is very beautiful. When the guitar comes in you 'feel' this epic is going to have a great, classical and beautiful end. Szymon Brzezinski shows that he's not only a great composer (he wrote seven songs for the album), but also a great guitar-player. Piano and oboe conclude the song.
Nantalomba is a sort of an encore of this record. The combination of guitars, strings, oboe and kettledrums make the song a very orchestral composition, that is the right 'closing song' of the album.
With Centurie, Abraxas has made that always difficult second album. The music is intense and complex, but at the same time melodic and it has an accessible, warm sound. The music is more diverse than the first album. The band has grown since their debut. I am sure this album will be in my top-5 of 1998 !
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Review by: Jan-Jaap de Haan.
Various Artists - Progfest '97
At the end of May 1997, several progressive rock-bands paid a visit to Los
Angeles, in order to play at the famous Progfest-festival. Of this festival
a registration has now been released, on which every band is represented by
some 20 minutes of live-music from this concert. The CD has been out for
half a year now, but wasn't really available (at least not here in Holland).
Besides Los Angeles-based Spock's Beard you will find other big names like John Wetton (Starless, Rendez-Vous 6:02 and In the Dead of Night), Arena (with Medusa and Sirens) and The Flower Kings (Retropolis and Humanizzimo). Also less well-known groups like Big Elf, the Italian group Le Orme and Scandinavian band Sinkadus are on these CDs.
The John Wetton Band is the opener of the CD. Personally, I think it was the right decision to choose some 'older' tracks of John Wetton, since this is the best material. Although I think the raw guitar of Billy Liesegang doesn't always the best for the jazzy material of UK, I like the version of In The Dead Of Night a lot. Rendez-Vous 6:02 has always been one of my favourites and to hear a full version of Starless is incredible. Wetton himself is in great shape.
Le Orme is an Italian based band and they also sing in Italian. The first of the four songs is called Madre Mia/Prima Aqua is a jazzy, piano-based song, starting with the sound of water (hence the title). The Italian vocals and the romantic second part of the song, combine in a great way.
The ballad Il Vecchio also has this romantic combination and features two nice guitar solos. Il Fiume is a fast, instrumental song with a great introduction with piano and organ. This Genesis-like organ also starts the 15-minute-long epic Felona and Serona, which is about two imaginary planets. This is a very complex song, consisting of four parts. Keyboards, drums and guitars, all have their own part. There's even a special bass-section. The Deep Purple-like keyboard sound (remember Child in Time) is very special. The differences between the good and the bad planet are well illustrated in the music. I like this one a lot. It's a pity the vocals are partly in (broken) English. I found the Italian stuff pretty special.
Medusa and Sirens are the two songs that show the talents of Arena. Of course, these songs are also on their live-CD Welcome To The Stage, but there are some differences. The most remarkable difference is the production. This was also the main reason that the boys themselves were not that happy with the release of the CD. Production is a bit 'bare' and indeed sounds less professional than the mix that was done by John Mitchell. Still this recording has its own charm. As a result of the 'bareness' of the production, the power of the music is much more raw and much direct and bass-interlude in the middle of this song sounds very direct. In short: Arena's really '(a)live and kicking'.
The Flowers Kings from Sweden are featured on the second CD with Retropolis and Humannizzimo. The former starts of with a fusion-like part that reminds me of some of the early Camel-albums. But this part develops into a heavier part, after which a break follows, with funny computer experiments. The middle part brings atmosperic sounds of strings and guitar. Towards the end the initial bass-line comes in and a medieval flute is prominent in a nice interlude. A great instrumental song.
Humanizzimo is also over 10 minutes and shows more of the special atmopsheric changes that were present in Retropolis. After an introduction of guitar and flute, a great guitar part follows. Roine Stolt doesn't have a bad voice, but he sort of lacks an own style. The rock 'n roll-intermission disturbs this song in a rude manner. Although this song has some fine parts, I don't think it is as strong (as a whole) as Retropolis.
Spock's Beard present themselves with Thoughts and Go The Way You Go. It's great to hear that this band has 'grown together' since their first live-CD. If you ever wondered how the band would be able to do the 'acapella' parts in Thoughts, the proof is here! The guitar of Alan Morse is also a bit heavier than on the studio version. The power of the music sounds very direct.
Go The Way You Go is presented in a great version here. I might even prefer it to the studio version, that sounded a bit mechanical. The changes between the heavier and the more romantic parts are very nice. Nick d'Virgilio is great on backing vocals, I'd say: give the guy some leads on the next album! Steve Meros' bass is very jazzy from time to time. The band is very tight.
Big Elf are not really my 'cup of tea'. Mindbender features heavy guitars and vocals that remind me of Alice Cooper. Sell Out has a bit more melody, but it's still a very raw song. The end has some nice parts. I recognise a Bowie/Lennon influence here. Neuropsychopatic Eye features a middle part that is just stolen from King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man. In a bad way.
Sinkadus is the final band on the CD. Their Attestupan has a nice introduction with a prominent place for a flute. The arrangements are also very enjoyable. Regrettably this band shows that a bad vocalist really can spoil everything. The vocals are really out of key. Sorry, I turned it off here and put CD1 on again.
Overall there's much to enjoy on these CDs. Many of the bands are prestented with some of their finest compositions. Especially when you're a fan of one of the groups, or if you just want to get to know some them, this album is an absolute recommendation. There's nothing that stops you, except maybe the price. In some countries this nice CD is only available through import, ask your record-shop for details.
It's difficult to draw a conclusion, with so many different bands on two CDs. Some bands (Wetton, Spock's Beard and Arena) are great, others did not convince me (Big Elf and Sinkadus). The Flowers Kings and Le Orme both had their moments. So I'd say: 7 out of 10.
review by: Jan-Jaap de Haan.