Album Reviews

Issue 1999-009

Reviews in this issue:

Arena - The Visitor Revisited
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Fan club ONLY !
Catalogue #:CAGECD02
Year of Release:1999
Info:The Cage Homepage

The Cage is the official Arena fanclub, based in Delft, The Netherlands. This is their second (members only !) Fan Club CD. A very good reason to join The Cage, especially when you like the band Arena ! More details at the bottom of this review.

Although I was not very impressed by all Arena albums I was very pleased with this one .. this album is divided in two parts: the first 5 tracks are acoustic songs with Arena's splendid new vocalist Rob Sowden, next 5 tracks are live tracks from their concert in Paradiso Amsterdam, November 1998, with former vocalist Paul Wrightson. There is also a very special demo of Enemy Without with Clive Nolan on vocals

Let me first say that I am very impressed by Rob Sowden's voice; it has power, it's rocky and it's very clear. First introduction Medusa shows the great capabilities of Arena's new vocalist immediately and, although only accompied by acoustic guitar, bass and piano, a great way to start a new chapter in Arena's history !

Next tracks are tracks from The Visitor album: Pins And Needles, (Don't Forget To) Breathe and Tears In The Rain. Very good and decent versions but nothing special.

My favourite acoustic track is by far Crying For Help IV, a song from the first Arena album Songs From The Lions Cage. This song is the original recording of the audition Rob Sowden did for Arena. After hearing this who wouldn't have hired him ??

Next are 5 tracks from the concert in Paradiso, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, recorded during The Visitor Tour 1999 in front of more than 900 people. These recordings are directly from the mixing desk to DAT tape: so you will hear pure Arena !! Unfortunately the mixing and dynamics are very bad in these recordings. Double Vision is a well-known song from The Visitor album and almost identical to the album version. Elea is my favourite track with superb guitar play by Tarquin. This track is even better live because of the more rocky approach by Tarquin. The Hanging Tree is a favourite of the fans. The oldies are two songs from Songs From The Lions Cage: Jericho and Solomon. Again very good live versions but not much differences with the originals. One point of critism: the members individually make a lot of mistakes during their performance.

The demo version of Enemy Without is very special one because a) Clive Nolan is singing in this song and b) you can hear him give directions to the rest of the band. Althoug Enemy Without is a superb song I would have preferred an extra live track or an extra acoustic track .. but still a lot of fun on this demo version ! By the way on which album do you hear three different vocalists nowadays ??

Please take notice of the fantastic booklet provided with this CD. Great artwork and lay-out by Mattias Norén and extensive liner notes by Clive Nolan.

A very good album provided by The Cage. Fans by this fan club are lucky persons. Can you name a band (besides Arena) that gives permission to the fan club to release a fan club-only CD with exclusive recording of the new singer ? Arena fans: JOIN THE CAGE. For More information: The Cage, PO BOX 3329, 2601 DH DELFT, The Netherlands. E-mail: The Cage, Website: The Cage Homepage

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.

Dirk van den Hout

Grey Lady Down - The Time Of Our Lives
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Cyclops
Catalogue #:CYCL071
Year of Release:1999
Info:Cyclops Homepage

People who know me know that I love live recordings and live concerts. I have never been a great fan of the band GLD but the recordings of this concert are great ! This live album was recorded during GLD's farewell concert in the Astoria, London on 11 July 1998.
After three studio albums GLD announced to quit due to personal reasons. It is not very difficult to make a 2 and a half our setlist from three albums and GLD chose the right songs for this farewell concert and live recording. The songs they played couldn't be better !!

Especially the second CD from this double album is great: Battlefields Of Counterpain finally live, the trilogy The Crime (Part 1-3) in its entirety (33 minutes !!) and so on. It's a shame that the following tracks Thrill Of It All and The Flyer are combined together in one song, split by the applause of the audience. I think these songs should have been seperated because The Flyer is a superb (neo-)progrock track !! Absolute highlight is the song 12:02, a song that will always be associated with GLD. Great song !!
The bonustrack Annabel, recorded in the USA in 1996, could be ommited because this song is not as good as the other tracks on this CD !

The first CD of this album can't be ignored: the start is a little disappointing for a live CD: the songs And Finally, Final Decree and The Nail are later tracks in the history of GLD. Highlight on this album is the brand new song The Perfect Dream. Over 15 minutes GLD proves to be one of the best bands in neoprog. The Perfect Dream on its own is a reason to buy this CD, this is one of the best GLD songs ever !

The Time Of Our Live is a superb produced "best of" live album of one of the top acts on the neo prog scene. It doesn't matter if you hear drums, keys, vocals, guitars or bass; this album is very good !

Conclusion: 8 out of 10.

Dirk van den Hout

Starless- Song of Silence/Wish

Country of Origin:Japan
Record Label:Musea
Catalogue #:FGBG 4269.AR
Year of Release:1999
Tracklist: Song of Silence: Song of Silence (Opening) (1:05), Objet De Glace (2:34), Aim Your Heart (3:48), For Epiqurasist (4:33), Another Horizon (7:29), The Loose Ends (6:22), Again (6:52), Caught by the Night (4:56), Tale of the Flying Carpet (3:44), Song of Silence (8:29).
Wish: Change Me Into the Wind (7:53), Waitin' in Vain (3:51), Doreka No Senaka (4:36), Wish Part One (6:39), Wish Part Two (4:13)

Two albums for the price of one! Japanese Starless produced Song of Silence and mini-album Wish in 1992 and now Musea re-releases them on one 77 minute CD. And it is enjoyment 77 minutes long! I played it on my Diskman at work for days in a row....

People who have read my previous reviews on Japanese bands know that I am not too fond of most of the produce from the Land of the Rising Sun, but this album is a gem! It sounds fresh and modern, without the usual Japanese freaky stuff. The album opens with Song of Silence (Opening), a sort of Ouverture to the actual Song of Silence (track 10).
Objet de Glace is a very delicate number with fragile acoustic guitar and vocals, beautiful. Aim your Heart (most songs have English titles but are sung in Japanese) is uptempo, with lots of breaks but maintaining a very clear structure.
For Epiqurasist opens like any Pendragon song from e.g. Window of Life could have done, to enter in a more Yes-like song with strong bass and drum lines. In the middle a Pink Floyd-ish guitar solo (though the bass line is too complex for Floyd ;-). You see how diverse the influences are?
Another Horizon opens with acoustic guitar and keys, later the vocals start. The female Japanese vocalist can compete with Mrs. Tracy H. in terms of vocal expression, but is a bit too nasal at times (perhaps that is inherent to the language though, I don't know). The song develops in the standard ballad way, including a "Baroque" walse-part and a sing-along climax.
The Loose Ends reminds me big time of the ballad on Don Airy's K2 (the one about "darling Julie" ; I don't own a copy of that album any more, so I forgot the title). In other words: emotion! The middle part has a pumping bass and guitars talking to each other. Cool!
Again is uptempo, the more bombastic type of song, nice rock. Caught by the Night has lots of rhythm changes, and is therefore rather difficult to describe. Let's keep it to excellent prog!
Tale of the Flying Carpet revolves around slow mysterious keyboards, and hypnotising vocals. A beautiful calm piece.
Sound of Silence is pure power, with excellently balanced powerguitars and keys. Bombastic and great guitar melodies later, even featuring a saxophone! Then suddenly, silence and a jazz-piano starts, but after a couple of bars, its back to bombastica again! Wow! A calm Hackett-like acoustic guitar tops it off.

Now the second album starts, Wish. This was a mini-album recorded in the same year as Song of Silence (these people are productive !). The Wish album is more powerful than SoS, slowly going to the Dream Theater direction, but not quite getting there, as Change me into the Wind shows.
Waitin' in Vain is very fast, almost like your average Iron Maiden song, but the vocals are a bit too sweet for that ;-). Doreka No Senaka is nothing special, a regular song. But hey, we didn't have one of those on the album yet!
Wish Part One opens with the Wish-theme, a almost classical tune on piano, guitar and fragile vocals. The acoustic guitar could have come from Master Hackett himselve, so delicate. A couple of different breaks come in between but the theme returns all the time. Wish Part Two is a variation on the same theme, this time much more keyboard dominated and darker, a bit like the Camel-keys in Dust and Dreams.

Unfortunately Starless does not exsist any more. Boy, would I have loved to see them live! Apart from these two albums, they did not produce anything with this line-up. A real shame, and actually I think this album is a must-have for prog-lovers around the world. The melodies are so wonderful and keep revolving in your head long after the album has ended.

Distributed by Musea Records

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

Review by Remco Schoenmakers

Serendipity - Reflections of the Mind

Country of Origin:The Netherlands
Record Label:None
Catalogue #:None
Year of Release:1999
Tracklist: Nameless (5:13), Broken (4:52), Reflections of the Mind (8:32).

Dutch prog-metal band Serendipity have released their first mini-CD Reflections of the Mind. The average age of the members is only 20 years old! Musically, they still have a lot to learn. Their melodies are quite OK and the songs contain nice breaks and rhythms, but the overall impression is that despite their efforts to make it sound complex, it is quite simple and the sound is bare (the mixing is really bad).

Having said this, I must say that for a "high school band" the quality is not bad at all. The title track Reflections of the Mind has a nice opening, but as soon as the really heavy guitar part set in, they rely too much on their influences, like Dream Theatre. But the middle part is very agreeable again. Although they do not mention it, parts of the CD remind me of the first Threshold album. The vocals remind me somewhat of the vocalist of Galahad. So, these guys should definitely practise their songwriting skills, since some parts of songs are absolutely of professional standards, and other parts sound really amateuristic. Don't be satisfied too soon! But, they are still very young and maybe in the future we will have a new Dutch star on the Prog-heaven. Compliments for the design of the cover!

Distributed by Serendipity

Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10

Review by Remco Schoenmakers

The Flower Kings - Edition Limitée Québec 1998
Country of Origin:Sweden
Record Label:Ipso Facto
Catalogue #:IF-9802
Year of Release:1998
Tracklist: Kite (7.33), Piece Of Nizzimo (6.30), The Flower King (11.45), Duke Of Nuke (5.40), Garden Of Dreams Part 1 (7.35), Buffalo Man (5.50)

Edition limitée Québec 1998 was released as a 700 pieces limited edition with 6 never before released tracks by The Flower Kings. Due to huge requests by the fans this CD is now available in your local record store !

The album opens with Kite, a track composed in 1985 but not recorded before 1996 (I assume this track is a left-over from the Retropolis CD because this track sounds very much in the retropolis style). It is a very relaxed song with great guitar pieces !
Piece Of Nizzimo (live recording April 5th 1996 Uppsala, Sweden) is a song based on the Humanizzimo track from the first Flower Kings album (The Flower King). It is a very jazzy song with Hasse Bruniusson on the drums. Hear how well The Flower Kings are live !!

The 1998 re-recording of The Flower King (also on their the Flower King album) is the best track on this album and also available on their compilation album Scanning The Greenhouse. Very good composition and probably one of the best Flower Kings tracks ever !
Next song on the album is an improvisation called Duke Of Nuke, recorded live in Uppsala, Sweden on April 5th 1996. This is a very different Flower Kings song with a lot of sound effects. Not the most progressive Flower Kings song but very special !

The 1998 pre-production of Garden Of Dreams is a demo piece of the new album, read more about in the FlowerPower review. This album ends with again a left-over from the Retropolis sessions called Buffalo Man. It is a sort of funky song with very a typical rhythm. Not the best Flower King song !

If you have never The Flower Kings before I recommend you to start with this album or with the American compilation album Scanning The Greenhouse. It gives you a great idea how The Flower Kings sound. Especially the 1998 re-recording of The Flower King is great !

Conclusion: 8- out of 10.

Dirk van den Hout

Roine Stolt - Hydrophonia
Country of Origin:Sweden
Record Label:Foxtrot
Catalogue #:FOX CD-019
Year of Release:1998
Tracklist: Cosmic Lodge (7.13), Shipbuilding (5,51), Little Cottage By The Sea (4.55), Wreck Of HMS Nemesis (11.55), Bizarre Seahorse Sex Attack (6.00), Oceanna Baby Dolphin (3.26), Nuclear Nemo (6.27), Hydrophonia (6.11), Lobsterland Groove (6.19), Seafood Kitchen Thing (9.25)

First time I saw this album was during the 1998 Planet Pul Festival where The Flower Kings played as headliner. Roine tried personally to sell his solo album ... At that time I did not buy this record because I didn't know enough about the Roine Stolt/Flower Kings style of music. After the concert I ran to the stand to buy this record but it was sold out .. I am very happy that almost a year later I got this record from Roine personally because it is a great album !

You only need a few seconds to hear who is involved on this record. Roine Stolt has created his own style of composing and playing guitar without repeating himself. Roine himself told that Hydrophonia would be more experimental than his Flower Kings albums but afterwards Hydrophonia turns out to be a total instrumental album with a lot of feeling and melodie. Although you don't have to expect an instrumental Flower Kings album. People involved on this album are besides Roine (keys/bassguitar/guitars) Jaime Salazar (drums) and Ulf Wallander (soprano saxophone).

Bombastic, nice melodies, folk music but also relaxed pieces are to be found on this record. But most of the music has a very nice, jazzy feeling. There are also some very jazz-orientated pieces of music on this album. A lot of passages could be on the next Flower Kings album while some pieces has totally nothing to do with Flower Kings music. The compositions on this album are more free, more improvisated and absolutely more jazz-rock orientated.

In the booklet Roine dedicates this album to people like Frank Zappa, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Jon Anderson and The Artist Formerly Known As Prince (TAFKAP) and I have to agree you can hear parts of them on this album.

Absolute highlights on this album are the tracks Wreck Of HMS Nemesis and the title track. But overall it is a very good and consistent album.

Although this is not the most recommendable album to start with Flower Kings/Roine Stolt music I have to admit the result is great... Roine Stolt made an album that can beat the high level of Flower Kings albums. Highly recommended to all people who love music !!

Conclusion: 9- out of 10.

Dirk van den Hout

Album Reviews