Album Reviews

Issue 1999-002

Reviews in this issue:

Porcupine Tree - Stupid Dream
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:K-Scope/Snapper Music
Catalogue #:SMACD813
Year of Release:1999
Info:Snapper Music

Tracklist: Even Less (7.13), Piano Lessons (4.21), Stupid Dream (0.28), Pure Narcotic (5.02), Slave Called Shiver (4.40), Don't Hate Me (8.30), This Is No Rehearsal (3.26), Baby Dream in Cellophane (3.15), Stranger By The Minute (4.30), A Smart Kid (5.22), Tinto Brass (6.17), Stop Swimming (6.53).

Mid 1998, Porcupine Tree did some concerts in Holland. The setlist included three new songs which were planned to go on the new album the band was working on. These three songs, the 15 minute long Even Less, the short but energetic This Is No Rehearsal and the atmospheric 7 minute instrumental Ambulance Chasing all sounded like the album was going to be another brilliant piece of work from Steve Wilson and company.

During the process of making the album, the decision was taken to leave Ambulance Chasing off the CD (it will be released on the Piano Lessons CD-Single), because it wouldn't fit in with the rest of the music. At the same time, Even Less got shortened to 7 minutes. A 20 minute version has been recorded as well, but they decided to save that for possible release on a mini CD later in 1999 and use the short version instead.

When I first heard the Stupid Dream album I was quite shocked. This certainly wasn't what I had expected from 'the new Porcupine Tree'. There's only two instrumental tracks on this album. One of them is an absolute album highlight, Tinto Brass, which also is the only band collaboration as far as composing is concerned. All the other tracks were written by Steve Wilson on his own. Tinto Brass is one of those wonderful Porcupine-ish tracks that takes you through both mysterious and quiet moments to violent and heavy climaxes.
The other instrumental is the title track, Stupid Dream, which actually is no more than a bit of effects and something which sounds like a string orchestra tuning, not unlike the beginning of IQ's Subterranea. As a matter of fact, the same strings also open the album in the intro of Even Less.
Talking about Even Less, they really compressed the best bits of the original version in these seven minutes and it's a real killer. Great switches between the atmospheric couplets and the simple, but heavy and very effective chord progression. One of my favourites ! I can't wait for the full length version ! This is no Rehearsal has the same mood, although it's more uptempo and another favourite of mine.

Besides Stupid Dream and Tinto Brass, all other songs have vocals, which is quite a change from the previous albums. I have to say that I never heard Steve Wilson sing better, and that this is definitely a very vocal orientated album. There's also a lot of vocal overdubs and close-harmonies which add to the psychadelic feel of some tracks.
Whereas most vocal songs on previous albums tended to be quite 'dreamy' and atmospheric, there are a lot of very straightforward songs on this new album, and even some with a catchy melody. This does not mean that the 'dreamy' atmosphere is not present; you'll find it in tracks like A Smart Kid and Stop Swimming.

There's a large role for the piano on the Stupid Dream album, as it pops up in songs like Piano Lessons - the first single from the album and perhaps the song with the most hit potential Steve has ever written - the Eels-like Pure Narcotic, the bass and guitar heavy Don't Hate Me and the album closer Stop Swimming.
Another interesting thing is the excellent use of saxophone on Don't Hate Me. For those who might start to worry: no there's still loads of typical Steve Wilson guitar on this album.

Steve hasn't lost his Floydian influences, but on the new album it's a different era of the Floyd's development that can be recognised. For instance Baby Dream in Cellophane features effects that clearly resemble the middle piece of Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.

As always with Steve, the lyrics are both cynical ('Through all the smashing things and crashing cars, I love the ground you walk with all my heart') and slightly depressed ('Don't hate me, I'm not special like you').

People who love The Tree for their long, experimental and instrumental compositions might be put off by this new album. On the other hand, those who preferred the vocal tracks will probably find a lot of beauties on this new CD. Personally, I'm somewhere in between; it's a nice album and most songs grow on you after repeated listenings, but I would have liked a more mixed album like for instance Signify or Up the Downstair.

Still a brilliant piece of work though ....

Conclusion: 8+ out of 10.

Ed Sander

Various Artists - Progressive DisDURPance

Country of Origin: Germany
Format: CD
Record Label: Spice Records
Catalogue #: Promo/sampler
Year of (Re-)Release: 1998
Time: 72.06
Info: Homepage

DURP is a German Website (Die Ultimative Review Page) with lots of information and reviews. This sampler is a collection of bands who have just released a demo-cd. The man behind this idea is Markus Weis who also designed the booklet and inlay (Unfortunately I didn't get a booklet but just the CD !)

The album starts with a very powerful instrumental intro called The Approach (3'00) by Esthetic Pale. This song could be stolen from an IQ album !
Next song is Claire (A Ghost Story) (6'08) by Joy Of Colour which actually is one of the best tracks on this CD. Very good vocals and very good compositions from this talented band !
The Planet's Pulse (8'57) by No Inner Limits is a song that I completely dislike: too much (bad) heavy metal and too much German sounding English vocals !
But the worst is yet to come The Path Of Destiny (7'34) by Witchboard: awful ! Everything I dont like in music (bad vocals, bad compositions and very bad musicianship) is in this song ! It's a shame this song is on this sampler !
Sunblaze (14'09) by Sunblaze is the longest track on this sampler and for me it is a great surprise ! Starting with a very classical intro (violin) this is a great sympho song ! After the intro this song turns into a Shadow Gallery/Kansas alike song, if the vocalist can improve his vocals Sunblaze can be one of the surprises in German prog !
Dust (9'12) by re-Vision is a very boring song with boring vocals. This is crap !
Esthetic Pale (11'21) is the second song by Esthetic Pale and again it is a great song; female vocals and good outstanding compositions which don't hide the influences of this band (Marillion/IQ), I especially like the keyboard solo in this song !
Time Of Illusion (6'08) by Asarja is very average song which in my opinion has nothing to do with Progressive Rock. Nice but nothing special ! Final track is Losing (4'23) by Spyhole: just one word: crap ! I don't know why they included this song on this sampler.

I think this sampler CD is a very good effort to put some German (mostly) progressive bands on one CD. Unfortunately the average skills are too bad to make it a good CD. There are some very good bands on this CD (Esthetic Pale and Sunblaze) but the rest is too bad to keep the attention; too much metal and too less progressive rock.

5 out of 10

review by Dirk van den Hout

Yock'o Seffer - Sefira
Country of Origin:France
Record Label:Musea Parallelle
Catalogue #:MP 3025.AR
Year of Release:1998
Info:Musea Records

Tracklist: Korona (5:01), Elet-Fa (5:26), Toudath (5:30), Ergeu (7:00), Hirech (6:05), Szépség (13:09), Kechech (6:49), Lady-Rap (5:05), Dieuztech (5:41), Ichmereth (7:05).

Yochk'o Seffer plays saxophone and makes a sort of Jazz/Fusion rock. That's all I have to say about this album because this has totally nothing to do with Progressive Rock !!

Sefira features 10 tracks of saxophone music. Although I tried to listen to this CD about twenty times I didn't come further than the first two minutes. This CD is far too complex for me and I don't like saxophones !! Maybe if you like saxophone music this will be your cup of tea !

This CD is completely ignorable for most prog lovers. Only if you're into Jazz Rock and Fusion 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. By the way a collegue of mine, who loves Jazz Rock/Fusion, didn't like this CD either.

Conclusion: 2 out of 10.

Dirk van den Hout

Sh'mantra - Cornucopia
Country of Origin:Australia
Record Label:Cranium Music
Catalogue #:CRM003
Year of Release:1998
Info:Cranium Homepage

Tracklist: Recurring Nocturnal Habit (10:45), Shipwreckers (9:00), Guinii (4:14), Spawn Of Tamagotchi (5:10), Reprise Of The Infernal Machine (0:24), Aextent Dawn (10:07), Paraphernalia (5:00), Archimedes Bath (10:38), Epoch (12:17).

" In the beginning was a barren world. This barren world was a frightfull place to be for the many musical explorers that roamed it's terrain. Then one day came forth a Cornucopia that blew new colour and texture in the form of sound over this once barren land "

A part of the bio of this CD by Sh'mantra, a five piece band from Australia. The various psychedelic textures of this CD range from 4 minutes to 12+ minutes and are created by two guitars, keyboards, bass, drums and some vocals.

I was very impressed by this CD ! It sounds sublime and has a great psychedelic feeling in the vein of Pink Floyd and The Cure meets King Crimson ! Relaxed basses and drums, some screaming guitars, nice keyboard layers and some very functional vocals although most of the CD is instrumental.

The CD booklet looks very nice and is made in the style of the Sh'mantra music: outside very colourful and inside very dark. Great computer animations !

Like I said before; this is a great album !. Especially when you are an admirer of Pink Floyd/King Crimson music ! Cranium Music has released a wonderful CD, I hope it will be released in Europe also otherwise contact them through their website !

Conclusion: 8 out of 10.

Dirk van den Hout

The Gathering - How To Measure A Planet?
Country of Origin Netherlands
Format 2CD
Record Label Century Media
Catalogue # CM 77268-2
Year of Release 1998
Time 103:12
Info Official Home Page

Wow, a double album! For the price of a normal CD, the record company decided to give away a five track bonus CD in a limited edition pressing. However, no one believes there will ever going to be a single disc edition. The title track is on the bonus disc, so it would be very strange to leave that one out.

Talking about the title track - it's 28 minutes. It's like a movie, the last ten minutes being a dusty road with the credits filling the screen and thus the least interesting. The track is instrumental, save a couple of stretched aaah's by Anneke. The song, however, is too long to my taste - too many minutes in which nothing is happening. After 16 minutes, there is a long breeze with some dubbed voices. At 20 minutes, the music swells slowly, but it's too long and too much like a stronger breeze to keep it interesting.
The first track on disc two, South American Ghost Ride (also instrumental, by the way) is not unlike the atmosphere on the title track, but first, the song is much shorter (4:25), and second, there is this atmosphere that makes you really feel like your in what the title tells you. Slow, haunting, dark ... a bit like the atmosphere of Mandylion, but created in a different way.

After Anneke joined, the Mandylion album was released: a very consistent CD, with bombastic and dark, slow metal music, combined with Anneke's melodic and trancematic voice, bringing a new dimension in Dutch metal music, that also got a lot of attention outside of our home country.
The follow-up, Nighttime Birds, was sweeter and more song-oriented. There was a clear line between the heavy songs and the quieter ones. Less metal, and more melodic, although their kind of metal was still present.
It's not that I care about the Dutch metal scene or whether any band would fall into or out of that category; I am just comparing musical styles on different albums.

On this new album, the band has turned in to a new musical direction, or at least took a big step in the direction they were going in. They call it "trip rock" themselves, and it is further away from the metal on Mandylion than ever. Of course, there are heavy songs. For example, Liberty Bell has a great riff and vocal lines, and would sound great live. The title track is alternating, naturally, and although it is mainly a mental sound track, it has some heavier moments as well. Listening to this track especially, I can understand the label "trip rock". Maybe you'd enjoy it more with a nice joint - I didn't try this time.
Illuminating is a bit towards the softer side. A short trip, not too deep, but still a nice one, with a great, heavy chorus. Liberty Bell has the menacing and bombastic power pulses I like so much, as well as strange sounds and distortion.

But also the sweetness of Nighttime Birds has shifted somewhat into a new sound. The first four tracks are dreamy, except for a small part now and then. Sound effects, slow guitar riffs, shallow sweetness drowned in melancholy. They are slow songs, no ballads. A matter of closing your eyes and listen. No, not listen, but feel.
The first four tracks - do not give you the idea you're listening to a band that have made an album like Mandylion (let alone earlier albums). It supports their faith in the path they have taken.

Red Is A Slow Colour and Travel are the tracks that remind me of Nighttime Birds the most. And still, the sound of acoustic guitar is quite new! The latter is more diverse in power and alternation. Unfortunately, The Big Sleep and Marooned are not very interesting, to my taste. They are too slow and not a lot is happening. During these tracks, I miss the aggressiveness as in Third Chance the most!

Second guitarist Jelmer Wiersma has left the band prior to the recording of this album, to pursue a career as a sound technician. Losing half of your guitarists would make a difference to the sound anyway, I presume, but in this case, it is hard to say, since the sounds has already changed quite a bit. It will show on stage, when the band perform songs from the previous two albums, I guess.

For the first time (with Anneke in the line-up, that is), this album contains individual song credits. I don't know why this is done, but a great example that marked a less interesting era in the band's existance are The Doors: when they did that after the first two, marvellous albums, the albums that contained individual songwriting credits were less interesting, after which their superb last album was made. Whether this accounts for The Gathering as well is completely up to you. This album definitely is a step forward for the band, however, not caring about any listener's expectations.

A lot of changes for one band between two albums. The audience will change with the music accordingly and I wonder what the band's live set list looks (sounds!) like. My guess is they are going to lose some fans and gain some others. Like every band should, they don't care. I bought this album, and I like it. It's got enough interesting stuff, which is too much to comprehend after only a couple of spins.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10.

Jerry van Kooten

Sinister Street - Trust No. 1
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Format: Demo CD
Record Label: n/a
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 1998
Time: 16:46

CDs are cheaper than tapes, nowadays, so people send demo CDs. I have always liked the idea of demo tapes, for bands that are looking for a record deal, or bands that are just not ready for a CD release. It's a great way to get to know a new band.

Sinister Street aren't that new, but it has been a bit quiet around them. I got Trust No. 1, a demo CD containing three new songs. I don't know their earlier work, so no comparisons to their past. A comparison I can make, however, is the kind of music they play now. It reminds me of fellow Dutch band For Absent Friends. Now decide for yourself whether you will like Sinister Street or not...

To be more specific about this band, I could describe their music as melodic pop / rock. It's not very progressive (to label the type of the compositions) nor symphonic (to label the kind of music itself). No complexity, although not your average pop song. Verses and catchy choruses (especially Go The Distance) but more melodic. As with many other bands, I think the verses are too thin - they could use some more power.

Singer Olaf Blauw has a nice and warm voice. Not as high as Alex Toonen's (former FAF), but it is as clear as his. It fits the music: a bit polished. The keyboards provide most melodies, but maybe they are too high in the mix to let the guitar have a go. Or maybe the guitar is too laid-back.
The third song is instrumental, and maybe it shouldn't be. The guitar has a bigger role in this one, but it does not stand out. The composition itself, however, is very interesting. It's not brilliant, but it does have some nice changes, and if the guitar would have been a bit more aggressive (that's my idea), it would make a great live track.
As with a lot of bands, I miss emotion. It leaves me a bit cold.

There is nothing wrong with what I wrote in this review. People like(d) FAF, and people will like Sinister Street. To my taste, Sinister Street are better and more interesting, but it's just not my favourite kind of music.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10.

Jerry van Kooten

Pierre-Yves Bessuand - Odyssee

Country of Origin: France
Format: CD
Record Label: Musea (Dreaming)
Catalogue #: DR 8408.AR
Year of (Re-)Release: 1998
Time: 50:34
Info: Musea Records

Pierre-Yves Bessuand is obviously a great admirer of Vangelis, as he also states in the French booklet (well , two pages). This fully instrumental CD is something most people can do without. Although the CD is well produced, the compositions are nothing special.

The album start with Prologue (2'.50) and Trilogy (5.48), two tracks that sound so much like Vangelis/JM Jarre that you get the impression that this may be a very nice album indeed. But the next song Cybermix (5.08) is plain dumb, as is the next track Infarctus (2'.42). I don't like to brag, but I've written better songs myself.
The next song La Valse (5'.02), dedicated to Brigitte, reminded me a bit of La Valse of Eric Satie (until the point where the keyboard orchestra sets in, that is). This song is actually quite nice, musically, with some variations and movements, despite the fact that it is dedicated to my ex ;-).
Arcanes (3'59) is again a song one can do without. Electronic bass & drum and some experimenting with different synth settings over it.
Spectral part 1 (3'.22) is one big chord with fiddling sounds over it. You know the thing. Spectral part 2 is based on the "female voice II" setting on most synthesizers. For those of you who know Laurens van Rooyen: its like that on a synth but then worse.
Victoria part 1 (2'29) is the same melody as Spectral part 2, with a different synth setting. So either this is a joke and it should be called Spectral part 3, or something's fishy with the tracks. Victoria part 2 (3'08) is a bit more uptempo and sometimes gives the impression that some thought has been given to the song. Synthetique III (4'.45) is an experiment with slap bass and pan flute. No comment. The title track Odyssee (4'.11) actually features (synth) guitar, oh joy! A happy guitar melody, to be precise. Since today seems to be the first day of spring (15-3-1999), with sunny weather, this song touched my mood a bit. Liked it. And finally, the Epilogue (3'.47). This thingy is dedicated to Vangalis, and indeed, it is remniscent of the Greek master. Bombastic and piano, a bit like Conquest of Paradise. Not a bad closing at all.

Some songs are quite nice (La Valse and Epilogue in particular). But there is some really boring stuff on it as well. If you're into Vangelis, give it a try. If not, leave it.

Distributed by Musea Records

5 out of 10

review by Remco Schoenmakers

Christian Richet - Percutone

Country of Origin: France
Format: CD
Record Label: Musea (Dreaming)
Catalogue #: DR 8405.AR
Year of Release: 1998
Time: 47:56
Info: Musea Records

Are you into excersing your body and need music for your work-out? Buy this thing. It is the second synthesiser CD I had to review and, boy, Pierre-Yves Besuand is a synth-wizard compared to this. It keeps repeating the same three notes over and over until you are in a trance.

To Be Continued (6'.41) does exactly that. And oh horror, Umaoi (for Lully) (15'.03) just continues on and on (well after 7 minutes or so you get a one minute break). Who is this Lully anyway? I hope for him that he is not Dutch ;-). The other tracks Before Day (8'.30), And the Face Said... (12.25) and Percutone (5'.04) are not much more interesting either, although this The Face song has some 'A Saucerfull of Secrets'-like sound effects in it.

In conclusion, I didn't like it. Its boring. Sorry Christian.

Distributed by Musea Records

Conclusion: 3 out of 10.

Remco Schoenmakers

Spheroe - Primadonna

Country of Origin: France
Format: CD
Record Label: Musea Records
Catalogue #: FGBG 4249.AR
Year of Release: 1998
Time: 38:37
Info: Musea Records

Jazz rock, Fusion, and sometimes a hint of prog. That's what Spheroe's Primadonna is all about. It is a re-release of their 1978 album. Primadonna features bass, guitar, drum and keys, to make a fusion sound that vaguely resembles Brand X, but Primadonna is more mainstream than that. The booklet is really nice, with the band's history spelled out. You will find all the background info on this band you will ever need in it.

The first two songs, Hep deliler bisi bulur (4'.17) and Janata Express (3'.26) are typical fusion songs. I am not much of a fusion lover, but you can hear the skill of the musicians clearly. The next song Primadonna (5'.15) is more melodic and interesting. It reminds me of Caravan and early Camel at times, due to the cristal clear melody that is spelled out by the electric guitar. Corocido (3'.30) goes fusion again. The best song on the album from a prog point of view is the delicate Karin Song (2'.36), a song in the tradition of bands like Focus, who made similar little paintings like Silvia (although no doubt Silvia is much better than this...).
The next two songs, Arlecchhino (7'.57) and Chiaroscuro (2'.16) are again fusion/jazz rock. Jeff (4'.50) is the second highlight. Again, for a couple of seconds you think you are listening to Jan Akkerman and friends (note that a lot of great Focus songs also have people's names...!). Matin Rouge (3'.10) is indistinguisable from the first two songs on the album to me. The album ends with Violet, a kind of lullaby.

The musicians are skilful and I know there are people out there that really like fusion and jazz rock. I don't. But some of the songs are quite OK, as they remind me of Caravan, Focus and Camel. So, difficult to judge! But, I have been asked to give my personal opinion, and that is that I don't like most of the songs.

Distributed by Musea Records

Conclusion: 6 out of 10.

Remco Schoenmakers

Album Reviews