Reviews in this issue:
Pain Of Salvation - One Hour By The Concrete Lake
Tracklist: Spirit Of The Land (0:43), Inside (6:12), The Big Machine (4:12), New Year's Eve (5:37), Handful Of Nothing (5:39), Water (5:05), Home (5:44), Black Hills (6:32), Pilgrim (3:17), Shore Serenity (3:13), Inside Out (6:37).
I had great expectations for this CD. Some acquaintances spoke in superlatives, of a revelation! Hm, I should never have listened to them. I don't like this CD the way they do, and maybe they're to blame! Well, let me be a little more specific.
Spirit Of The Land is a nice instrumental intro that says "hello,
we're a power prog band" and runs into Inside. Here I got to
know more about the band. Keyboards are mainly to support the songs in
providing a strong foundation on which harmony of guitars and vocals dressing
the firm skeleton of bass and drums, which both have suffered from the
mixing. InsideOut have released better productions than this!
The rhythm section (including rhythm guitar) is good. It fits the music, I was about to say, but it's the other way around - the music fits the rhythm section. It's the most important thing of Pain Of Salvation - the base of every composition. Very bombastic, which I like, and the keyboards take it all to a higher level.
Besides the rhythm guitars, there's a fierce lead guitar sound. Nothing special, though. The vocals are metal. At last something else than the high-pitched stereotypical prog voices. Ha, power! A lot of lyrics - many parts contains vocals, which leaves less time for the construction of atmopshere to climax. It's more a hurricane terror at your ears than an emotionally moving musical work. Now many bands suffer from this in this genre, but things can be different, also on the InsideOut label.
The prog within the power lies in the really heavy pieces alternating with slower, but still heavy and dark keyboard-dominated parts. Slick breaks and a (not too) odd time signature now and then, but it is too "thought of". It leaves me a bit cold. The songs are never really long, which is good for a band like this. No epics, but power songs - that's where this band is at. And that's the downside of it as well. The music is very strong, and compositions are very nice, but throughout the disc, it's all more or less the same, and the atmosphere does not change.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10.
Mastermind - Excelsior!
Tracklist: On The Road By Noon (6:15), The Approaching Storm (7:15), Tokyo Rain (6:36), The Red Hour (1:36), Decide For Yourself (5:23), Sudden Impulse (4:59), Sky Dancer (5:53), When The Walls Fell (13:28).
A large part of Mastermind's songs are instrumental. With this album it is even larger, since it is completely instrumental. Small change. Bigger change is the contribution of Jens Johanson's keyboards. Jens has been playing with several rock musicians, most notably Yngwie Malmsteen, and now with Stratovarius. His playing sometimes reminds me of Derek Sherinian (former Dream Theater keyboard player, replaced by technofreak Jordan Rudess who is more of the same in the band he now plays in...) - like he's having fun, jamming, feeling the music and fitting in.
As with all previous Mastermind discs, the music has slightly changed. Where Tragic Symphony probably was the most symphonic (to avoid using the word "progressive"), and Jubilee contains a lot more rock, this one is a blend of all this plus modern prog metal, but still played in a way not only technical musicians can relate to. Where Dream Theater left emotion in their play, Mastermind pick it up, making their music warmer. And better, for that same reason.
The music is not as Brainstormingly intense and slightly less
bombastic than you might expect. Of course, in a song like The
Approaching Storm, the storm is not merely approaching, it really hits
you in the face! Before you know it, you're in the middle of this
overwhelming storm of guitars, while the drums accompany as well as sound
loose, before the keyboards remind you of a way out.
And don't think that in When The Walls Fell those walls do not fall...
On The Road has a driving force that takes you away, away, away...
Room to breathe in the middle section, although the rhythm hardly slows
down. Another great title selection is Tokyo Rain - there's this
oriental atmosphere. Mastermind have been to Japan and are very
successful over there. I guess it's hard not being influenced by that... It
portrays the feeling you get from looking at a picture of a rainy night in
Tokyo, but also the menace of a society that leaves you feeling depressingly
alone in a massive crowd.
One of the places Jens is at his best, is on Decide For Yourself. The guitar and keyboard solos go on simultaneously, woven into a crazy sound that I just love! Hearing this live must really ask a lot from your brains - so much going on. And that accounts for Sudden Impulse even more!
Room to breathe, you ask? Sky Dancer I say! Very fine drumming that remind me somewhat of Twelfth Night, melodic interplay of guitar and keyboards instead of freal soloing.
A special note must be made of drummer Rich Berends, who I think can be counted among the best in his profession. I have seen this man play live, and his technical as well as musical abilities are not of this earth!
Another special note should be made to those fucking Japanese record label dudes, who want a bonus track for those over-priced discs of theirs. There is a title track on the Japanese version of Excelsior!. Well, I haven't heard it, so I can't say anything about it.
The non-Japanese disc closes off with the long When The Walls Fell. Like I said, the music depicts walls falling, after which the clouds of dust block any sight, until people realize what has been going on. A greater finale is very hard to imagine. Mastermind's CDs often end in a frantic powerplay like this. The only negative thing about it is that after this last track it's over!
Prog, power, metal, fusion, emotional and technical play... It's all here. Far too melodic to be plain metal, far too much power to be plain prog. For the music of a new millennium, stop and don't look any further. Ah well, OK, as the band say themselves with track, Decide For Yourself. So did I:
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10.
Onofonn - Surrender Now
Tracklist: Surrender Now (5.55), Rock Garden (3.45), Your Reality (5.07), Weekend in Montreal (5.35), I Don't Give No ... (4.28), Inside my Soul (5.48), Please Baby Please (4.18), The Gift Must Always Move (7.03), Letter Received (3.44), If a Thief Were I (11.03), Remember Only ... (12.17)
And now for something completely different ....
Because I didn't know anything about this California band, I asked bass player Von Babasin to give me some background information. Here's what he sent me:
"Dave Goode and I had played together in a fusion group called The RH Factor for about ten years when it blew up in our faces. Don Lake had just had a similar experience with a different group of musicians. Dave was playing with a top-40 band for some dough when Don happened to hear him. Upon hearing Dave, he decided to contact him and see if he was interested in working together. Dave immediately called me and we formed ONOFFON. We've been playing now for almost three years, recording and producing our two CDs, building our website and promoting tirelessly over the internet, shooting our own music videos, and even placing music from Surrender Now into three different film productions, one that aired on the Discovery Channel and another in a full length motion picture with such notables as Michael Brecker and Ray Brown. We are promoted from more than 90 websites worldwide and in the AltaVista search engine, "onoffon" shows 211 links and counting."
"As a side note, I am the son of one of the most innovative and creative jazz bassists from the '40's and '50's, Harry Babasin. He's documented as the first bassist to play pizzicato jazz cello in a session with the Dodo Marmarosa Trio in 1947. I have him on CDs with people like Charlie Parker and Benny Goodman. He was obviously a major influence in my life."
Interesting ..... But what about the music ? Well, in the 'classical' sense
of the word Onofonn is not a progressive rock band. In other words, they
cannot be compared to all of the usual bands of the 70-ies and 80-ies. On
the other hand, in the literal sense of the word, Onofonn is as progressive
as music can get. I was highly surprised when I played this CD; the band
mix about every musical style imaginable into their compositions; funk,
fusion, blues, rock, psychadelica, you name it. Some bits and pieces would
not have been out of place on Sting's early solo albums.
Von, Don and Dave form the basis of Onoffon, but they use a couple of guest musicians as well, adding to the diversity of the music.
The mostly instrumental title track Surrender Now has a real funky
feel to it. As a matter of fact, since the lyrics are a bit lame, I would
have preferred it to be fully instrumental.
Rock Garden is a more laid back jazzy piece, with a more rock-oriented direction in the chorus.
Your Reality is a classical blues track, you know, with the repeated lyrics. This would not have been out of place on an old Clapton album ! The music though, is far more complicated and dark than the normal simple blues structures. Fascinating !
Weekend in Montreal is an instrumental track with emphasis on tenor saxophone. It starts out very jazzy, but quickly changes to a relaxed, laid back tune. Candy Dulfer fans, eat your heart out ! Nice !
I Don't Give No ... sounds like a tune that could have come straight of a Jimi Hendrix album, especially because of the way Don is singing.
Inside my Soul is the only track on which Von is singing lead vocals. His voice is higher and more fragile, but fits the atmosphere of this song - imagine a smokey bar, close to closing time - very well.
Ever imagined making music with blue jeans, fanny pack, newspaper and fingersnaps ? Well, that's exactly what the band does on Please Baby Please, with just some guitar and bass added. A wonderful groovy toetapper.
The Gift Must Always Move (what an intruiging title ...) is another laid back, dreamy instrumental. Imagine Andreas Vollenweider music without the harp. Later on the song speeds up a bit and gains more power through an experimental guitar solo.
Letter Received is a very jazzy tune, with drum brushes, vocal scatting and all. Not one of my favourites. The cynical lyrics about a tax letter are quite funny though.
The CD ends with two long tracks, of which the first one is If a Thief Were I. After a wonderful, slightly Howe-ish 4 minute acoustic guitar intro a bit of percussion joins in, only to disappear again. After 6 minutes the vocals start and the percussion returns. The song proceeds as a gentle acoustic ballad.
And then the last and longest track on the CD; Remember Only .... This is defintely the most 'proggy' song on the album. After a cacophony (is that a real orchestra ?) of about 4 minutes (couldn't this have been cut down to one ?), the song continues in a rather experimental and improvised way. It lacks any good structure and doesn't seem to go anywhere for minutes. After 6 minutes the track finally develops into a Floydian/ Ozric-ish jam, with vocals added 8 minutes into the song. It still all sounds very pointless and directionless. The last 3 minutes of the song feature the band playing a more structured piece, but still one of the weakest parts of the album. A shame that such a nice album closes with such a weak track.
Onoffon are clearly a very talented band. The rhythm section is very tight and Don's vocals and guitar are very okay as well. The band uses a lot of harmonica, and what to think of exotic instruments like koto, marimba and conga ? The female backing vocals are very good as well.
If you are a straight progger in the 'classical' sense of the word, you probably won't have to worry about this album. However, if you're not afraid of diversity and would like to broaden your horizons, you might as well try it. Especially if your into jazz/fusion-prog.
The booklet is an 8-page folding one with all lyrics, pictures of the band members (thank God, musicians can still smile !) and credits.
You can hear a couple of samples of songs from Surrender Now on Onoffon's Web Site.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Onoffon - Your Mind
Tracklist: Your Mind (4.00), Shadowglass (4.42), Alley Want (6.20), Mardi Grass (4.01), Ocean's Cry (5.57), Bebe's Song (3.02), For Hell's Sake (6.23), Opus (5.29), You Know I Can't (4.08), Wet Legs (5.09), Credits (4.08).
On Your Mind Onoffon proceed to make very diverse music, although this one is less varied than their first album.
As with their first album Surrender Now, they named their new one
after one of the weakest tracks on the album. The track Your Mind
starts with some silly piano noises and babbling before it develops into
a very jazzy tune in which the words 'your mind' are repeated endlessly.
Sorry, not my cup of tea.
Shadowglass is a nice laid back instrumental build around a flute solo and guitar solo in the second half. It misses the power of the instrumentals on the first CD though and I miss good melodies.
Alley Want is a jazz-bluesy tune with female backing vocals. A nice toe-tapper.
Mardi Grass is another instrumental, this time with a very latin feel to it, thanks to the acoustic guitars. The tune is build around a soprano sax solo (sorry, not one of my favourite saxophones).
Ocean's Cry is another one of those bluesy Hendrix-like tunes, with a rather dark artmosphere created by bass and guitar. One of the more 'rockier' tracks on the album.
Bebe's Song is a swing tune. Only the big brass orchestra is missing. Very laid back, but probably not everybody's cup of tea.
For Hell Sake's is one of those tunes during which you just can't sit still. One of the better tracks on the album, with some more of that great harmonica !.
Opus is described as a prelude to The Gift Must Always Move from the first album, and indeed, it fits very well with the style of that song. Most of the song focusses on gentle strumming of a guitar, without really going into a melody. Later on percussion and electric guitar add to the atmosphere.
You Know I Can't: some great acoustic guitar opens this tune. Another laid back bluesy ballad which I could imagine Eric Clapton singing.
Wet Legs has that same mean sound as Ocean Cry. It turns out to be the heaviest piece of the album, but the melody just fails to grab me. The lyrics are fascinating though (Wrap your wet legs around my face). For some reason they remind me of Monty Python.
Credits ends the album in a quite original way. It combines a laid back instrumental tune with the band reading out loud the long list of thank you's also printed in the booklet. Half way through the song the band finishes the list and an alto saxophone starts a delicious solo.
Although the music on Onoffon's second album shows their talent as much
as their first disc and is produced just as well, it probably will appeal
less to the readers of DPRP. The band seems to focus more on the mellow
side of their music, resulting in a more jazz-fusion feel. Still a great
album, but probably slightly less interesting for prog fans than their
My advise, try Surrender Now and if you really like that one, go ahead and buy Your Mind.
The booklet of the album is very nice. It folds open to reveal 'La Galerie d'Onoffon' on one side and the lyrics, lots of small pictures and credits on the other side. 'La Galerie d'Onoffon' shows a piece of photographic manipulation art for each of the songs, and describes the feel of the song. Each of these pictures revolves around the different angles of women's bodies. One of the highlights is the picture of the woman who's got a highway running up her spine. Well done !
Conclusion: 7- out of 10.
IZZ - Sliver of a Sun
Tracklist: Endless Calling (5.07), I Get Lost (4.41), Lornadoone (4.13), She Walked Out the Door (2.59), Assurance (9.02), Take it Higher (3.13), Double Bass (2.23), Just a Girl (4.16), Meteor (5.20), Razor (7.00), Where I Belong (10.19).
What is IZZ ? Well, according to the biography on the web site of this New York band, they are one inexperienced bass player (who is a more experienced bass player and singer now and also plays guitar on the album) (John Galgano), one accomplished bass player (Philip Gaita), one easily excited drummer (Greg DiMiceli), one extremely creative jazz cat drummer (Brian Coralian) - yes, you read it correctly; they've got two drummers ! - and one determined keyboardist/vocalist (Tom Galgano). Added to this are some session musicians like two female backing vocalists (Danielle Altieri and Michele Salustri) and one funny Scotsman with a guitar (Paul "Brems" Bremner).
On their web site the band members tell you what kind of music they play a lot in their own CD players. The diverse mixture of styles probably gives you a good indication of what IZZ sounds like: Sergei Prokofiev, King Crimson, Thelonius Monk, Marillion, Fish, Stevie Wonder, Everything But the Girl, Steely Dan, Dave Matthews, Yes, Paul McCartney, The Police, Jon Anderson.
The debut album of IZZ contains 11 songs with a wide variation of styles.
There's a nice balance between acoustic and electric tracks. Examples
of acoustic ones are the wonderful uplifting Lornadoone with it's multiple
acoustic guitars, great female backing vocals and flute, and She Walked out
the Door, a multi-vocal semi-ballad.
Take it Higher is one of the more 'commercial' tracks on the album, but just as good as the rest. It features both acoustic and electric guitars, lots of female vocals (it's almost a duet) and some nice percussion.
Just a Girl is a groovy acoustic track with an electric guitar solo by session player Paul Bremner.
'Electronic' tunes includes the quirky Endless Calling, which takes
the jumpiness of Spock's Beard one step further, combined with the Hackett
guitar sound of early Genesis. I Get Lost is a brilliant tune where
the music switches between the agressive chorus and quieter couplets. Some
great keyboard playing as well in this one !
Assurance starts as a wonderful tortured ballad with acoustic guitar but gets heavier (and 'proggier') as the song progresses. The track also features female backing vocals, freaky synth sounds, grungy guitar and some wonderful keyboard solo's. After a long heavy instrumental middle part the song ends with the ballad sequence of the opening. Other people have compared this track to King Crimson. Great track !
Double Bass is a slightly jazzy instrumental with an emphasis on bass and guitar. People who like IQ's Capital Letters will probably like this as well (though it's a lot heavier).
Meteor sounds a bit like Genesis' The Knife. It also features a spacey middle bit, before returning to it's uptempo melody again and ending with an extremely freaky synth solo.
Razor is a longer track with a slightly agressive and depressed mood in the opening and closing sections. After a while the tune goes into a latin-american style with lots of persussion, but it features fushion influences as well. This song is probably the most inaccessible one on the album and might take a couple of spins to get used to.
Where I Belong, the closing track of the album is the longest one on the CD. It's also one of the highlights. The whole track is sung by Danielle, with Michele on backing vocals, accompanied by floating synth chords and a slightly Yes-like guitar. Later in the song the Yes influeces become stronger, with a Wakeman-ish keyboard solo. Don't get fooled by the playing time of this song though; the second half consists of ambient New Age sounds. Perhaps just what you need to chill out again after an hour of IZZ.
As far as composing is concerned the band is doing extremely well and
most of the performances are pretty good as well. The only thing which
could use some improvement is the production and mixing of the songs. At
times the sound is very good and at times it sounds a bit unbalanced.
Fortunately this is never really annoying and keeping in mind that this
is a debut album, I don't mind that much.
It takes a while to get used to the sound of the band, but the album really grows on you after playing it a couple of times.
IZZ sounds like a very promising band and might be the best thing to come from the USA since Spock's Beard and Salem Hill.
The booklet is a 6-page fold out with lyrics and credits. Strange enough the lyrics for She Walked Out the Door are missing.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Elegant Simplicity - Moments of Clarity
Tracklist: Moments of Clarity (3.36), A life Alone (8.15), A Cradle of Stars (4.48), Afraid to Wake (5.52), Out of Reach (10.46), Love, Loss & Desire (13.06), Nature and Man (6.23).
This is far to quiet for my taste, said one of the other DPRP team members. Well, this coming from someone who prefers prog metal it didn't mean that much to me. However, looking at the cover of Elegant Simplicity's latest album I got a pretty good idea of what he was talking about.
Although you might have never heard of them (like myself), this band has
been releasing music for 10 years ! Although the first releases were
only put out on cassette, the band has been releasing their music on CD
since 1996. Moments of Clarity is their 4th real CD.
After being disillussioned by being part of various different bands, guitarist/keyboard player Steven McCabe started recording on his own. Seemingly, he made the wrong decision to sing on his first couple of cassette-only releases. When his first CD was released Steve was smart enough to get a session vocalist (Ken Senior) to do the singing.
The first two CDs (The Nature of Change and Reversal of Time) were partially vocal, partially instrumental. The third album (Purity and Despair) was fully instrumental and now Steve returns with vocalist Ken Senior, who sings on five of the seven tracks on Moments of Clarity.
On the web site of Elegant Simplicity it said: If you like the music of Barclay James Harvest, Camel, Caravan, Fruupp, Gentle Giant, I.Q., Jethro Tull, Pendragon, PFM, Pink Floyd, Spock's Beard, Spring etc, you'll love Elegant Simplicity! Assuming that all of DPRP's readers like one or more of these bands, it looks like we've got ourselves a winner here ! Or should we take a closer look and reconsider ?
Okay, although I have referred to 'the band' above, Elegant Simplicity is basically just multi-instrumentalist Steve McCabe accompanied by session vocalist Ken Senior and a drum computer. Frequent readers of the DPRP reviews will probably know that I'm not a big fan of drum computers. Although some people have learned to use them in a very clever way (for instance Bjorn Lynne), 9 out of 10 times they sound very flat and artificial. Worst thing is when people start programming them to do drum fills and rolls. I could give you lots of examples, but you could just browse through the CD Review Archive's non-recommended albums to find some yourselves.
Okay, so what does it sound like ? Imagine the quieter parts of Camel, Mike
Oldfield or the ballads on Mickey Simmonds' The Shape of Rain solo album.
Ken Senior also sounds a bit like the vocalist on that album; he can sing
but he's not an extremely good vocalist. The rather boring vocal melodies
don't help either.
All of the songs are rather quiet pieces with lots of keyboard and (distorted) guitar solos. All of the vocal bits are to be considered ballads. Even though parts of the songs have the tendency to get a bit more heavy, the lack of real drums ensures that the music never sounds powerful. As a result, the album kind of drags on for almost an hour. Compared to this, the sudden endings of some tracks sound downright stupid.
Don't get me wrong, the music isn't really bad, it just fails to get me excited. There are some bits and pieces worth while on the album, but as a whole it just falls flat. I've got this 'Come on ! Let's get on with it !' feeling for almost the whole duration of the CD. It would probably be good to make me fall asleep quickly after a long day of hard work.
Strange enough the press release mentions the heavy rock of the title track. Hmmm ..... I must have missed that one.
While listening to the CD you will get the feeling like you've heard parts of it before, from the Klaatu-ish sounds in Moments of Clarity to the bass line of IQ's Subterranea which is used as a guitar riff in Love, Loss and Desire !!
The booklet of the album is very well done with atmospheric pictures of the sea and other images which fit the music very well. It also contains all the lyrics of the album.
This album is only recommended to people who are not put off by drum computers and like long quiet songs with depressing vocals.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.