Album Reviews

Issue 1999-015

Reviews in this issue:

Camel - Rajaz
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:Camel Productions
Catalogue #:
Year of Release:1999
Info:Camel Productions

Tracklist:Three Wishes (6:58), Lost and Found (5:38), The Final Encore (8:07), Rajaz (8:15), Shout (5:15), Straight to my Heart (6:23), Sahara (6:44), Lawrence (10:46)

The new Camel is here. As Camel is one of the most important bands in our field, it is always a pleasure if a new album arrives. As a reference to my taste: Dust and Dreams was OK, but nothing really special, Harbour of Tears is sheer and utter genius. Now to the new album: the central theme is Rajaz, to qoute the sleeve notes:The music of poets once carried caravans across the great deserts. Sung to a simple metre of the animal's footsteps, it transfixed weary travellers on their sole objective...journey's end. This poetry is called 'Rajaz'. It is the rhythm of the camel. This is something one should keep in one's mind's eye when listening and appreciating the album.

Three Wishes opens very Floydian, with grumbling low synth sounds, but the main melodic line laid out by the electric guitar is typically Camel, in the style of Nude. It is fully instrumental.
The second song, Lost and found, could have been a song on Stationary Traveller, it has the same feel (including cello) to it. I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out this song was actually conceived around that time. It features some great keyboard work and nice rhythmic variations.
The final Encore has a pounding mysterious opening and a way of interaction between keyboards and guitar lines that Camel has experimented with on Dust and Dreams where the guitar gives a melody and the keyboard takes over and breaks the melodic line. The rhythm is like sitting on a camel in the the sleeve notes promised. During the song the melodies vary constantly and Latimer lets the guitar talk about different subjects all the time.

Rajaz opens with a simple acoustic guitar and an extremely beautiful vocal melody, in the style of Harbour, followed by melancholic cello. This is the first moment that really sends shivers down my spine. Then four guitar notes are repeated constantly with a melody floating over it (remember part 3 of Shine on you crazy diamond I? This is the same basic idea, but with a very different result due to the bass line that gives it momentum). It becomes almost hypnotical.
Shout is a bit of a let-down. It is a regular pop song, nothing special, an unneccesary intermezzo. Fortunately, it does not break the atmosphere of the album. Straight to my Heart also has an acoustic guitar opening, with lyrics that are hopefully personal in which he describes the love for the sound of his guitar (we all love it, Andrew!). Well, the ending has some free-wheeling on the guitar like in the live version of Lady Fantasy. Stereo on 10 and enjoyment !

Sahara opens with a guitar melody that is almost identical as one featured on The Single Factor (I can't remember exactly which one, I don't own a copy of that album). This guitar melody is extended and a more uptempo part of the song sets in, with an arabic tune.
The album closes with Lawrence, which has a bit boring keyboard intro, the type of keys that made me critical of Dust and Dreams. The rest of the song gives you the impression of a wide desert in which you stand alone (though if I remember the story of Lawrence of Arabia well, he wasn't very alone very often ;-). I have seen the sun go down on the deserts of Tunesia and Jordan, and I must admit the melody of this song captures the melancholic feelings that grab one's soul at such a moment quite well. A beautiful ending to, all in all, a very atmospheric album.

In general, one has to get used to the album, let the melodies sink in. The first time I heard the album, I must admit I was a bit disappointed due to the slowness of the album and wouldn't have rated it higher than a 7.5. After a few listenings you discover that that is actually the strenght of the album. The style is typically Camel, but each song appears to have its roots in a different era of the Camel history. In that, it has become a very interesting album. But interesting is not enough: one needs emotion, something truly present on Harbour of Tears. Not all songs on this album are equally strong in this respect, but that is made up for by the fourth song, Rajaz. This is a song that should silence all critics of this album, otherwise you do not understand music. Straight to my Heart also comes from deep within. Poetry in music. Rajaz.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10.

Remco Schoenmakers

Dirtbox - Uneasy Listening
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Aubitt
Catalogue #:78201
Year of Release:1999
Info:Aubitt Homepage

Tracklist: Panda Rosa (7.44), Story (5.23), Bella (2.29), Bottle (3.52), Telegraph Hill (4.31), Clean (6.53), Two-Step (6.07), Endgame (3.21).

'Dirt-who ?', you might think. Dirtbox is a collaboration between John Jowitt (IQ, ex-Arena, Jadis session player) and Mark Westwood (best known as roadie for IQ and Arena). Those of you who have followed John's activities for a longer times will know that Mark and John also played in a tongue-in-cheek band called King Duck, playing all kinds of covers with anybody bold enough to climb on stage with them.

After the soundcheck for an IQ performance in Amsterdam in April 1998 I found myself in a pizzaria with John, Mark and Kate (John's girlfriend). It was then and there that Mark and John decided they should record an album together. What initially was meant to become a King Duck concept album about a big conspiracy turned into an album with non-connected songs by Dirtbox.

The album consists of 8 songs, ranging from two and a half to almost 8 minutes. It will certainly not go down very easily on most prog fans, especially the more narrow-minded ones. The album is a mixture of prog, heavy metal, ska, techno, pop ballads, jazz, piano music and much more. The most remarkable thing is that this also goes for the individual songs, which often consist of very 'contradictive' styles. The most extreme one would be Two-Step, which starts with a saxophone solo (and nothing else), goes into a grunge-like drum/bass intro, moves into a ska (!) section with more sax, switches to a more Cure/Cult-like part followed by a low key tune like some of the early less-known Police tracks and eventually ends in a heavy guitar final. Pretty hard to digest the first couple of times you hear it. One of John's favourite bands, Mr. Bungle, was a major influence on this mixture of styles, although it's (fortunately ?) not as extreme as in that band.

The album opens with the most 'proggy' song (in the classic sense of the word); Panda Rosa. This tune about a fridge magnet possessed by the devil (!) is build up out of numerous little guitar and bass riffs and features various vocal melodies. It certainly doesn't follow the standard pop song structure. It's probably one of the songs that prog fans will like upon the first spin of the disc, although it's rather heavy.

Two songs on the album are sung by Matt 'Dr. Love' Goodluck, whom you might know as the former Arena merchandise salesman who is now employed by Inside Out. The first one, Story is a mixture between an acoustic pop song and a hard rock tune. Good vocals and slightly silly lyrics ('It's forbidden to dream again, and when you do there'll be little fat men'). Especially the chorus is very accessible.
The other Goodluck track is Bottle which could be described as 'Madness goes metal'. Ska-like verses and rocking chorusses. Matt also does a bit of a James Hetfield impression in this one.

Bella is a very weird tune. Imagine a fairground or circus with very sinister music. This very short instrumental could easily be the soundtrack to Stephen King's It or a teenage splatter horror movie. Very atmospheric but a bit of a lost one on the album. It would have been less of a 'filler' if it had been incorporated in another, longer track.

Telegraph Hill is probably my favourite on the album. It's an absolutely beautiful and spine-tingling rock ballad sung by Tracey Hitchings. Also the most accessible track on the album.
When you have just calmed down a bit with the previous tune, you're hit by another extremity. Rock meets techno in Clean. It opens with a techno beat, moves into a slightly Depeche Mode-like section and has a bit of a KLF feel as well. I constantly have the urge to shout out 'drop that ghetto blaster !' in this one.
The lyrics - which remind me an awful lot of Nick Kershaw's Wouldn't it be Good - are sung in a very venemous way by Ian 'Moon' Gould, whom some of you will know of the Martin Darvill project The Greatest Show on Earth. I found it extremely difficult to get into this track, but after about 5 times I really started liking it.

The album ends with the beautiful short piano ballad, Endgame, with Martin Orford (IQ) on keys. Mark Westwood plays a delicious bit of guitar reminding me of David Gilmour's style on The Division Bell. Personally I think a lot more could have been done with this one, since it does not really have a climax. I can't help thinking of a big philharmonic orchestra .....

Don't expect keyboards on all tracks; some are just guitar, drums, bass and vocals (but kick ass nevertheless). This is not background music. You should play it loud and get grabbed by it. Jump, dance, sing along, grab that air guitar ! It works especially well while driving the card on the highway.
Like me, you'll probably be put off by most of the songs the first time you play the album ('What the fuck is this ?'). Chances are that the album will really grow on you after a couple of times. Don't expect an IQ or Arena-like sound. Open you're mind. Expect the unexpected.

Only recommended for the open-minded prog fans who know prog is more than 15 minute songs with lots of Mellotrons or Moogs. Even if you won't like it, Mark and John compel respect for their daring project.
My only real critisism about the album would be the short total playing time.

The album will be released on November 29th by John and Rob Aubrey's Aubitt label. For more information about how to order the album and to read John's background information about Dirtbox, check out the interview in DPRP's Specials section.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10.

Ed Sander

Mind Odyssey - Signs
Country of Origin:Germany
Record Label:B.Mind
Catalogue #:27004
Year of Release:1999

Tracklist: Fountain of Music (1:32), Men of No Return (5:25), Golden Age (5:55), In the Picture (7:31), Slaves of the Desert (6:56), Born Bastards (4:56), Welcome Demon (6:54), Signs (6:59), The Liar (5:25).

Yesss! I had the pleasure to review two new releases by B.MIND records. In the past, I was pleasantly surprised at the level of their releases and the two CD's I review now turned out to be no exception: well produced, agreeable prog-metal. CD-booklets that show a high standard of professionalism. In all words: yet again a couple of must-haves for the heavier prog-lover.

Mind Odyssey is not a newcomer. In fact, this album is their fourth official release. I must admit I don't know their previous work, but the current album sounds quite mature. The album opens with a father taking his son to a classical concert, saying that he must learn the classics since that is the Fountain of Music, but the son only wants to "rock hard". A classical piece follows (OK, obviously a keyboard thing), but enters in a brilliant prog-metal piece (Men of no Return), the dream of the son. Uptempo and varied, with a clear "classical" melodic structure, reminding me a bit of Threshold at times. But it also has elements of more mainstream rock acts as Bon Jovi and even Europe or the Scorpions in it (this holds for the entire album).

Golden Age has more resemblance to Dream Theatre with guitar and drum working together. In the Picture starts almost Floydian, with guitar and piano (e.g. Marooned), but quickly becomes heavier and faster. Sometimes, parts remind me a bit of Saga, other parts are mainstream. A very varied song in other words. The piece ends with a nice guitar solo in the vein of the intro.
Slaves of the Desert is heavy and complex and due to the "middle-east" keyboardparts, Threshold's album 'Wounded Land' comes to mind. The next song, Born Bastards is a shout-along (that's what I call the AC/DC type of hardrock). I guess you know what I mean. Not very interesting from a prog viewpoint, but it fits well on the album. Welcome Demon is a nice rock song, nothing really special. Signs has a melody line that could have come from a Lloyd-Webber musical. This always invokes mixed feelings in me. These types of melodic lines are very strong in emotional contents, but can come across very cheap. Here, they at least avoid the choir singing the chorus. And the middle section is more interesting: it is a kind of death-metal shout! So it is really varied! Therefore: cool. The Liar opens with a DX-7 tune, which always brings van Halen's Jump into mind, even if the song itself is not even near! Nice rock song to end the album.

All in all an pleasant album, unfortunately it is now confiscated by my girlfriend, who also happens to like this album (which is rare, trust me... ;-). I really enjoyed listening to this album, but it lacks the true genius moments to be a real boomer. Therefore:

Conclusion: 8 out of 10.

Remco Schoenmakers

Valley's Eve - The Athmosphere of Silence
Country of Origin:Germany
Record Label:B.MIND records
Catalogue #:27003
Year of Release:1999
Info:Valley's Eve

Tracklist:Religion-War (5:48), Room of Awnsers (4:02), My Last Breath (4:08), When Sun and Stars Refuse to Shine (5:57), A Raven Beside Me (6:11), Humans Load (6:03), Place of Nightmares (6:48), Close Your Eyes (2:59), Nostalgia (3:40), Power of the Soul (4:34), My Inner Vision (bonus) (5:49)

This is Valley's Eve second album, and I immediately have to say I don't know their debut album. Heavy prog metal is the keyword here. Unfortunately, they were a bit to afraid to experiment with keys, because each time something interesting happens, they immediately threw a pounding guitar riff over it to cover it up.

The first three songs are hardly interesting: regular quasi-prog metal songs. Then, as the album progresses, the songs become more interesting. When Sun and Stars Refuse to Shine opens with a cool cello-key intro, threatening and dark. The song then goes into a nice dark rhythm. The vocals on the album are generally good, nothing really daring, but at least the vocalist knows his boundaries (so no squeeking on this one!).
A Raven Beside Me experiments with some sequences and stuff in the intro (why are intro's almost always the most interesting part of songs ?!). The slap-bass lines in this song are well composed. Humans Load is very fast, with double-bass drum lines and enough variation to make it an interesting song. Place of Nightmares is the first song where they really make some interesting stuff, with an almost Queensryche-like (Mindcrime-type) intro. They continue this reference troughout the song. Good!
Close your Eyes is a quicky in all respects. Nostalgia is an attempt to a ballad, with a good build-up, but maybe a bit crowded sound. Not bad, though. Power of Souls touches on Dream Theater.

Professionally produced, but it lacks variation. A pity since I am convinced they are able to do more interesting stuff if they just leave the obligatory metal-strains behind them.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.

Remco Schoenmakers

Ozone Quartet - Nocturne
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:Flat Five Records
Catalogue #:FFR 2002
Year of Release:1999
Info:Ozone Quartet

Tracklist: The Watcher (4:31), Mutoid Man (5:03), Flood (4:59), Backbone Of Night (5:26), Mazeppa (5:22), Diamond Eye (4:42), The Real Thing (2:13), The Getaway (3:50), Moss (6:12), Circus After Hours (4:17), Dusk Creatures (2:02), Broquen (4:35)

The four musicians in Ozone Quartet make use of a rather unusual cabinet of instruments. Kenny Thompson is the most traditional in this respect, playing "just" acoustic and electric guitars. But percussionist Francis Dyer produces sounds with a multitude of devices including but not limited to wind chimes, vibraphone, water, glockenspiel and several more obscure items like tabla, dumbek and guiro. Wayne Leechford plays the chapman stick, made famous by Tony Levin and last but not least Hollis Brown completes the quartet on electric violin.

Not many bands count a violin among their equipment, much less an electric one. As far as my (arguably limited) knowledge extends, there's only one other musician who made extensive use of an electric violin on a rock record and that's Eddie Jobson on UK's second and, sadly, last album Danger Money.

So is Nocturne anything like UK? Not at all! I'm more inclined to compare them to one of the Big Five of the seventies, King Crimson. The 1973-1974 incarnation of that "presence somewhere above and to the left of Robert Fripp's head" counted among its members one David Cross, who was probably one of the first to introduce a violin in rock music.

But there's more to Ozone Quartet. For one thing, Brown's role in Ozone Quartet is much more important than Cross' in King Crimson ever was. The violin carries most of the melodies, based on the solid foundation of the other three. Kenny Thompson can be heard soloing only occasionally throughout the album. Also, the sound is jazzier, and has an improvisational feel to it now and then, a feeling, which is strengthened by the fact that all twelve songs on the album are instrumentals. There's hardly any use of keyboards, except for some samples, as in the intro to the second track, Mutoid Man (Schizoid Man?!).

So for whom is this album intended? For those who like a jazzier version of a more compact Red-era King Crimson with a greater role for violin.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Derk van Mourik

Album Reviews