Reviews in this issue:
Subterranea: The Concert (Live Video)
On April 4th 1999 IQ recorded the Subterranea concert at the 013 in Tilburg, The Netherlands for release on
video. The band took the wise decision that their marvellous multi-media show needed to be captured and
immortalized on tape.
For the past one and a half year the band and video production company have been working on finalizing this long-awaited product. Several slight problems, among which faulty sound & vision synchronisation software, caused a long production time for this item. The video and double album were finally released at the Whitchurch festival in the beginning of August this year, together with Martin Orford's solo album.
The package is already a real delight before the video has even entered your VCR because it comes with a nice 12-page video-sized booklet with lots of pictures and a story-line summary by Peter Nicholls. Now, lets have a look at the tape ....
After a silent dark opening the cheers of the audience come in. During the tuning scene the GEP logo appears and when the band kicks in with Overture the footage of that song, which would normally appear on the retractable gauze screen, is shown, followed by the titles and introductions of the band members. The whole Overture footage of Peter escaping from his confinement is shown full screen, without any shots of how it actually looked from the audience. Some nice shots of Martin from bird perspective, right through the screen, and Paul Cook drumming behind the screen make up for this.
The first stage shot appears during Provider when we see Peter through the screen in the spotlight. When Subterranea kicks in the screen goes up and the band is finally fully visible for the viewer, just like during the concerts.
The show is filmed with multiple cameras. Four camera's have fixed positions on Mike, Paul,
stage center (Peter) and a mini-cam attached to Martin's keyboards. Unfortunately the camera
that filmed Mike is rather steady and therefore most of the
shots of the guitarist are taken from low perspective. Another camera provides a perfect
full-stage shot, enabling the viewer to see what the show looked like from the audience.
Finally there's an amazing camera view from an extended arm that could be lowered and moved over
most of the right side of the stage. This camera creates some of the best shots in the video;
sweeping over the stage into the audience (like during Speak My Name when a group in the
audience had lit sparkle fireworks), filming the band from different heights, shooting
up and down across the gauze screen while it's lowered and bomber-diving over Martin's keyboards.
The only person that seemed to be in a bit of a 'dead spot' (camera wise) is John Jowitt. The camera's cannot really get lots of close-ups, so he's not featured very prominently in the video. It actually takes up to the second half of Sleepless Incidental before we see a first real sign of the guy ! Fortunately there are some scenes when Mike and John join each other at the center of the stage to play some riffs (e.g. State of Mine and The Narrow Margin).
I always thought the footage of the show had a bit too much distortion, but it isn't really a
disturbing factor in the video.
Some camera shots seem not to be 100% appropriate, like a long shot of the keyboards during a guitar solo, but again this is never really disturbing.
Something I initially thought to be a mistake proves to be a clever trick; during King of Fools Pete's face is projected on the left side of the gauze screen (indeed, it is projected, not mixed into the video presentation !) to enable the viewer to see Mike and Martin play keys on the right side.
The footage and stills that are used during the shows - and there are lots ! - are unexpectedly clear, even though there
were doubts about the power of the projectors. Together with the elaborate and innovative light
show (which actually came as a full script !), the footage and the stills create some marvellous
atmospheres, like a church scene at the end of Sleepless Incidental and during
Failsafe, the ambient mood in Sense in Sanity or the colour-play in Unsolid Ground.
And of course there's one of the most important highlights; The Narrow Margin with the train footage,
the spinning lights with Pete in the middle, the fire sequence and the end when the story comes
full circle and Peter returns, in white, behind projected bars.
Add to all of this Peter's marvellous theatrics - the baffled and confused protagonist in Subterranea, the priest in Failsafe, the 'puppet on a string' scene and masked murder in Infernal Chorus, the anger in Breathtaker, to name a few - and use of props and costumes and you've got one of the most amazing shows of rock history right there in your living room.
As an extra, saxophone player Tony Wright and actor Michael O'Hara make an appearance in the show as well.
Although the video cannot re-create 100% of the live feeling of being there, it comes pretty close ! And for a lot of people it's the only chance they'll ever get of seeing the show. If you're an IQ fan this is an absolute must-have, whether it's your first opportunity to see the show or a nice souvenir and chance to re-live it in the comfort of your living room. Subterranea is one of the most impressive and innovative shows in (prog) rock history. It proves that you don't need a Pink Floyd sized production to leave a lasting impression ! Go out and get it now !
For stills from the video, visit the Subterranea: The Concert Section of the Official IQ Homepage.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10.
IQ - Subterranea: The Concert (Double CD)
Tracklist CD2: Laid Low (1.35), Breathtaker (5.26), Capricorn (5.36), The Other Side (2.32), Unsolid Ground (5.03), Somewhere in Time (6.38), High Waters (2.47), The Narrow Margin (20.00).
IQ had planned to produce a video of their Subterranea show for a long time. Along the way the decision was taken to release a double CD version of the concert as well. There seemed to be enough demand for such an item and the sales would also help the project to break-even and be profitable. Instead of combining both items in a box set, as the band had done with the Forever Live box set, they took the wise decision to make the video and CD available seperately, so people could choose for themselves if they wanted the video, CD or both.
I personally wasn't much in favour of the live album because the live rendition of the concept album is not that much different from the studio version, from a musical point of view that is. Past experience has told me that I always wanted to have live versions from concept albums like Marillion's Brave and when I finally got them, I hardly ever played them. Then again, a quick check on the IQ mailing list It All Posts Here showed that there was definitely interest in such an item among the fans.
And I have to admit that it's become another fine package the band have delivered. The performance is brilliant and energetic; a few tracks, among which Subterranea, are played at a slightly higher tempo, resulting in a total playing time that's lower than the original, even though some bits are slightly extended. Also, some tracks like Sleepless Incidental are more powerful than the studio versions.
Some bits and pieces are different from the album version, like the extended end section of Capricorn with additional piano and sax, the few additional spooky keyboard chords in King of Fools, or the new end section for the live version of Unsolid Ground. Also, Mike Holmes playes some of the guitar(-synth) solos slightly different here and there.
As was to be expected from IQ, the CD comes in a nice package featuring a 12 page booklet with many fine pictures of the show and a story line summary from the perspective of the protagonist, written by Peter Nicholls.
Conclusion: Subterranea is my favourite record of all times, so as far as the material is concerned I would certainly give it a 10. Nevertheless, for those who already own the studio version this live CD is not an essential must-have, because it is not that much different from the original. If you have to choose between the video and the double CD, go for the video ! If you want to be able to re-live the live experience without having to play the video every time, make sure you get the CD as well ! Personally, I will give it 7 out of 10 points.
Ars Nova & Gerard - Keyboards Triangle
Ever since their inception in 1970, Emerson, Lake and Palmer have been a major influence on a lot of bands, especially in Italy and Japan. Two bands from the latter country, power groups Ars Nova and Gerard, have recorded a tribute album to honour some of the bands that have influenced them in their own musical careers, on which ELP figure prominently. Not only is the band represented by two songs (Tarkus, from the eponymous 1971 album, and Toccata, from 1973's Brain Salad Surgery), but the CD artwork layout is strongly reminiscent of the Tarkus album and the front cover shows a woman wearing a sweater with the Tarkus machine on it. The music was recorded between 1997 and 1999 and released by Musea in 1999. It has been very difficult to get hold of, which explains the fact that it only now appears in this review column.
For those not familiar with Gerard and Ars Nova, I give here a short introduction: as said, both bands hail from Japan, but the comparisons don't end there. They are both trios, female in Ars Nova's case and male in Gerard's case, and play keyboard dominated music in the vein of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. The bands' line-ups resemble those of ELP, with the exception that there is no "Greg Lake", i.e. no combined bassist/vocalist: Ars Nova's music is completely instrumental, Gerard occasionally uses a session vocalist. Additionally, Ars Nova doesn't have a bass player at all, instead there are two keyboard players. In the studio they are sometimes assisted by outside bass players. Ars Nova have recorded four studio albums with original material, of which Goddess of Darkness is a good introduction. Gerard have also released several albums, of which I sadly know only one, the 1998 version of Meridian.
The subtitle of the album is Keyboards Trio tribute, which could either signify the Ars Nova and Gerard, or the band whose music is represented here. The former seems more likely, since of the bands represented only two feature this keyboard-bass-drums line-up, those being Emerson, Lake and Palmer and The Netherlands' own Trace. The remaining three bands (which are all Italian), Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Il Balletto di Bronzo and Premiata Forneria Marconi all have more or less traditional prog rock line-ups, including guitar players. Sadly enough, I don't know any of these Italian bands' music, but I suppose it must be at least keyboard oriented. Finally, there's Rick Wakeman, and he's off course a one man band.
Even though neither of the two bands play their own music their styles are still easily
identifiable, and while not very dissimilar from each other on a grand scale, there are some
strong differences. The choice of which tracks to cover by what band was undoubtedly influenced
by the two groups' individual preferences.
Most notable of where Gerard and Ars Nova differ is that Gerard's approach is more aggressive. A good example is Banco's La Conquista Della Posizione Eretta, which is fast and furious, with low piano chords, a sawing synth lead and heavy bass. Arsnova's style is more melodious, as portrayed in the beautiful Bird's Medley (Trace). But, to make things confusing, Gerard is perfectly capable of delivering more laid back and melodious music (last part of La Conquista) while Ars Nova perfectly know how to tear out and be loud (Il Balletto di Bronzo's Epilogo).
To summarize, this record is just some delicious power keyboard twiddling by two technically very proficient bands, and with compositions by artists as reputed as ELP, Trace and Rick Wakeman, one can hardly go wrong, and Gerard and Ars Nova have done them justice.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Galleon - Beyond Dreams
Although the Swedish band Galleon has released their fair share of albums in the last decade, their sixth album, Beyond Dreams, is the first to be reviewed on DPRP. Galleon is the quartet of Göran Fors (vocals, bass and bass pedals), Ulf Petterson (keyboards), Sven Larsson (guitars) and Dan Fors (drums). Founded as a three piece named Aragon back in '85 (with Fors and Fors, and Mike Värn on guitar), they changed the name in 1989 and recorded their first album, producer Ulf Petterson joining the band on keyboards. He would become an important member of the band, taking credit for all lyrics on this latest album. This is the first recording where Sven Larsson replaces Mike Värn on guitar.
Galleon's music can best be described as melodic prog and is best compared to Rush and IQ, which places them in the neo-progressive sub-genre. The comparisons go a long way, not just with these two mentioned bands, but at times with a lot of others as well, as a track by track examination below will show. This is not meant to say that Galleon doesn't have it's own style. Rather they've taken some of the best elements of contemporary and Eighties prog into their compositions.
The first track Before The Sunrise is one of the best on the album. It starts with a very catchy piano melody and initially shows overtures of IQ and Rush, which I mentioned earlier. The song gets more bombastic towards the end, most notabely the keyboards. The fade out at the end is unfortunate and reinforces a feeling this composition could easily have been explored an additional ten minutes.
Let Us Be Amazed features dramatic mood changes, at times capturing the Egyptian atmosphere reflected in the lyrics. This track is very remeniscent of Eloy. A sudden break seems an anti-climax, but we're only halfway through the song by then. A more relaxed section with a bit of funk from guitar becomes more bombastic, before another quieter piece, a bit like Genesis, but also comparable to Arena, ensues and leads to the close. The opening of the next track, The Ballad Of Fortune, especially the keyboards, instead reminds me of Jeff Wayne, before this song becomes more like a Rush track. Nice guitar-keyboard duets.
The instrumental The Dream has a mysterious opening, that would not have been out of place on IQ's Subterranea, using diverse sound fragments to add to the atmospere. In its use of distantly crying guitar, this is comparable to Pink Floyd or Roger Waters solo. Then it's suddenly quite a leap to the cheerful intro of Dreamland. This track again favourably reminds me of eighties Rush. The keyboard solo at the end might have been more imaginative. Piano sounds excellent throughout though.
The title of the next tracks Parasite is telling enough. It packs the venom of this kind of accusatory song, like Tongues by Fish, Dream Theater's You Not Me or Queen's Death on Two Legs. It does sound rather like a DT track at times, most prominently in the instrumental sections, with harsh guitar chords, shrill keyboards and violent drums, but it has its more laid back moments. Sailing On By opens like a Garth Brooks track, with a bit of country rock guitar, but when keys join in, this quickly gains the familiar Galleon melodic approach. Can be described as a joining of Yes and Rush. Ranging from sharp to bombastic, but melodic throughout.
With Beyond Dreams Galleon delivers some splendid melodic prog, suffering only from a
lack of originality, but catching and accessible. Good long tracks and emphasis in diversity
of instruments, though keyboards are in the spotlights most. Good performances all around, with
the vocal performance by Göran Fors and Petterson's handling of keyboards most notable.
Fans of Eloy and Rush should be among the first to give this album serious consideration. Recommended to those who appreciate later day Genesis as well. Imagine a track like Driving the Last Spike with Rush style keyboards and you'll know what I mean.
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10.
Forgotten Suns - Fiction Edge I (Ascent)
Forgotten Suns produce a fine debut album, with good, classic prog. However, the production is not quite well and the vocals are sometimes quite annoying. The compositions are really good in the first half of the album, but die in the second half. The album tells the story of the universe and mankind from creation to present.
The opening track is a very atmospheric keyboard piece with spoken French vocals. The track is almost ambient, but with lots of church organ effects. An excellent and tasteful way to open the album. The next track, Creation Point (of which Rising until The Warning are sub-tracks, though indexed seperately) is a powerful IQ-like track, but with heavier guitar, reminding of those wonderful days of The Wake. This is one of the examples of the good, even great compositions that can be found on the album. If they had been able to maintain this level throughout the album, the final rating would have been one point higher, even though I don't like the vocals (a matter of taste perhaps) and the sometimes poor production. The musical highlight for me is Rising, a short instrumental but with an absolutely splendid melody. Gorgeous. Again, an old school Marillion, early IQ track. Nature is a Vangelis-like keyboard track, also quite nicely done, flowing into the quiet Child, a lonely, simple, melancholic piano-piece, accompanied by a crying baby and rain/thunder sounds. The Warning closes this collection of little tracks that for one whole track. The vocals, too loud in the mix, are particulary annoying here. But again, that is a personal opinion, the vocals are not out-of-tune or anything.
Wartime opens a bit in the vein of (really) early Pendragon. The chorus has that driving, pounding rhythm that I so dearly love in sympho (e.g. Egdon Heath knew how to do this, of which the rest of this track reminds me).
A Journey is the longest track, but the composition is not that strong to keep the attention. It opens AWBH-like (Brother of Mine), but soon becomes a more powerful variety of itself. A section edging towards Dream Theater follows, but the double guitars after that are not too well, almost out-of-tune. By now (seven minutes into the track) the lack of rhythmic changes becomes apparent, it just goes on, without any true coherence. The theme featured now and then is a bit weird melody, as early The Cure could produce as well (although they would present it really bare, and here its larded with different instruments and short rhythmic tricks). The difference between Forgotten Suns and early Dream Theater is that the last mentioned can get away with producing such a long instrumental due to sheer playing and performing power and energy, whereas here it drags on. It just shows how hard it is to write a long composition, since the short tracks on the first part are excellent! The bass guitar accents (glitches ?) that sometimes pop up are really nice though, they enhance the feeling that you are listening to a live recording. Arrival, a subtrack, is a more melodic ending to this too long epic.
Routine goes on where Arrival ended. Funny enough, the vocals sound much finer here, much less screamy. The first part has a ballad-like feel. The middle section is very Marillionesque, where the instruments do have that tangy Marillion feel, but the vocals lack the anger of Fish. Fortunatley, they absolutely do not copy Marillion, as a was afraid of when I saw the band's name. Instead, they produce there own version of it. The CD ends with Betrayed part II (probably we will get 'part I' on the next release), a piece in the same vein as the previous track and adds no extra value to the album.
Like I mentioned before, I believe they overestimated themselves or their audience with the second half of the album, from A Journey (which has its moments but takes way too long) onward. The first half is really excellent and I can share my colleague's Henri's enthousiasm he expressed in his CDelight column in that respect. The second part is not worked out enough and too much a collection of ideas. For people in love with early IQ and Marillion who are not put of by a far from perfect production (and a less nice voice), this is a recommended album. For the rest, I would give it... well see the conclusion. Finally a note about the artwork and booklet. Both look very nice and professional, also the print itself it on nice paper with a good resolution. A relief after some other booklets...
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.