Reviews in this issue:
Symphony X - V
Symphony X make great prog-metal, heavily rooted in classical symphonic music. As they show with their latest release V, which by the way has remarkable similar artwork to Spock's Beard's V (see the news page of a few weeks back), they can be considered one of the main forces in the prog metal scene of today.
This high quality CD contains no bad tracks, something worth mentioning in the first place. Not all of them are equally interesting, but the highly symphonic attitude this band displays can please me. The subtitle The New Mythology Suite, descibes the album quite well, as it is a suite in the classical sense of the word, with related tracks.
The Prelude, featuring classical choir and lots of keyboard strings, is quite uptempo, almost like an Ekseption piece, classical
music with drums underneath. Then the first real heavy prog metal track starts, Evolution (The Grand Design). Filled
with excellent vocals, high speed drumming (double bass?) and a classical chorus melody line, it takes the listener into the
Symphony X world of Greek Gods and mythology. The massive use of keyboards give this a very rich sound. Without them,
it would be almost Iron Maiden like, or bare Dream Theater.
Fallen is really heavy, with ripping guitars, complex rhythmic tricks and souring keyboards. It's head-banging time! Still, the symphonic context is contained. The guitar-keyboard duet in the middle is a mix between Mozart and Dream Theater. Cool!
Transcendence is the symphonic keyboard step (almost film music) to Communion and the Oracle. This symphonic instrumental continues a minute into this track, until the slightly Pain Of Salvation-like vocal part sets in. The instrumental skills of the individual band members become clear, especially the keyboard player can open up a complete aresenal of tricks to make this yet another massive, bombastic track. It almost becomes kitch!
The Bird-Serpent War/Cataclysm is heavier again, edging towards Iron Maiden, also in terms of vocals, which start
to growl like Dickinson's at times. The harmony vocals edge towards Queen, a reference that will pop up later in its full glory.
The speedy uptempo solo's of both guitar and keys are well done, but short.
A movie theme-like opening to wonderful On the Breath of Poseidon, with very proggy breaks and very dynamic changes. One minute you bang your head, the next you drift on clouds. Nice!
Egypt, well errr, has this famous Middle Eastern sound to it (surprise eh?). This one edges most to Dream Theater of all the other tracks, in terms of drumming and guitar work. Also some Ayreon comes to mind, not remarkable since they collaborated on the latest Ayreon album as well.
Death of Balance/Lacrymosa is another classical interlude in the style of for instance Ravel (at least the non-metal
parts ;-). The rest is higly melodic but experimental metal, quite complex actually. The second classical part reminded me
somewhat of the Overture of The Masquerade Overure (Pendragon).
The next track, Absence of Light, has that Dream Theater like opening, with some of the same tricks as Evolution,
and a catchy chorus. The guitar solo reminds us that we are still listening to heavy metal, and the Queen reference pops
up in the background vocals once again. A Fool's Paradise is a bit in the same vein, but still a strong prog metal track.
The Mozart variation in the middle is a bit too much, though.
Rediscovery is the calm upplay to the album's epic, Rediscovery II. Prog metal in its finest form, with some references to previous tracks and a complex rhythm section, yet highly melodic, this track sums up the album. The middle section with piano and harmony vocals could have been ripped from Queen's A Night At The Opera. The track is as complex as the finest Dream Theater tracks and as melodic and bombastic as many symphonic rock band. Wonderful end to a wonderful album.
In conclusion: I liked the album, the nice rhythms, the good vocal and instrumental skills, and the classical refenences. They should however take care not to overdue the classical compositions, since then it may start to sound kitsch. But Symphony X has managed to stay within that border on this excellent album, V.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
ReVision - Whore Venus
I have doubted a long time whether or not to review this album at all. The music itself is not bad, but it is really hard rock, and only occassionally do progressive (metal) influences show up. The main reference is (early) Iron Maiden.
Of cource, on the website you'll find the liner note that re-Vision have created something completely new, as all bands always claim, but in fact this is a nice Iron Maiden clone. Why review it on DPRP then? Because at some times, they do go beyond the Maiden direction and try something new, not always with equal success. The fact the Oliver Phillipps of Everon produces the album and in fact does guest vocals, still doesn't make it prog. There is a large CDROM track on the album, apparently in the form of some game or something, but it doesn't work on my pityful P-166 32Mb. Apparently you need a supercomputer nowadays to look at pictures and movies. However, I was able to look at the movie, a seven minute version of reVision, Symmetry and Sore Plexus (what a rediculous name, which goes for the title of this album as well!) performing some version of Hallowed be Thy Name or something like that. Man, was I glad I wasn't present there (in the Lucky in Rijssen, by the way).
Now, maybe I came arcross quite negative. Let me tell you that the music itself is not bad at all if you like Maiden. Sometimes, there are some nice guitar solos (as in Fortune Lying for example, which does have some clear references to prog). The vocals are not bad either, coming close to the rawness of Bruce Dickinson himself. A track like Drowning is also quite worthwhile to listen to, with more variation then the rest of the tracks in terms of rhythm and composition.
The last track, a ballad is quite nice, bombastic and sensitive. Too bad that this style is not applied on the rest of the album.
So there you have it: You like Iron Maiden, you buy this album. You don't like Maiden, you don't buy it. Iesse siemple (as a famous Dutch pizza-commercial goes). The final mark is based on the interest that the average prog lover would have in this album and the fact that it didn't really grasp me.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10.
Krom Lek - Psychadelic Dot Krom
Krom Lek are one of the latest additions to the Stone Promotions family and as the name of the album implies they are psychedelic to the core. This is the latest release from the group with their first release Inspirational Flotation Compilation last year having been a collection of recordings that the group made between 1993 and 1995. How best to describe such a group. Probably the closest well-known relatives musically are Ozric Tentacles, however there is strong evidence of space rock influences from diverse groups such as Gong, Kraan and Hawkwind. Furthermore accompanying the "traditional" rock sound we have flutes, didgeridoos and tablas all of which embellish the sound that this group has created.
Long Meg kicks off the album with a riff reminiscent of the Bowie/Tin Machine era though this time we also have Michael Tonks' flute creating that particular atmosphere. Dave Musgrove's vocals do give that Hawkwind influence a bit more credibility especially as they strain with the higher notes (hints of Lemmy at times!). Indian Rubber Man as the name suggests brings with it those Eastern influences which are evident on the sax playing while the bass line differs little from the first track. From the first two tracks one gets the impression that the group are building on a similar sound that they had shown on their first outing last year.
Face Pulla brings to mind the Ozrics with the quick changes in rhythm that occur throughout the track. On the other hand Gaia Mother re-evokes the Eastern Influences both in terms of percussive work and also from the way the vocals are sung in typical raga fashion. How best to describe this?...Raga-Rock! Evolution takes us to another corner of the planet, Jamaica, bringing ska influences into the Krom Lek musical repertoire with a rhythm section taken out of a Madness album. Outer Aura has a sixties-tinge to it with that happy-go-lucky feel to it as vocals and keyboards are continuously duetting between themselves.
Pandora's Pots brings in an influence from another continent, the didgeridoo, however this track might have had more expanding done to it especially as regards interplay between didge and the rest of the band. Corruptaplod gives us that ska influence once again yet never quite descents into ska territory as the group always manages to maintain a sense of spaciness to their sound. At times they verge on the jazz-rock with hints of groups like Nucleus and Isotope.
Strange Girl comes on as a relaxer after the hype of Corruptaplod, yet serves as a breather for Top O' The Tor. This ranks as my favorite track on the album starting off with the haunting flute sound that Michael Tonks creates and which is reminiscent of Ian Anderson in the way he breathes while playing the flute. After that relaxed intro the track veers off into a rocker of a song which has its roots firmly implanted into seventies rock. The vocals this time bring back memories of the Canterbury scene of music with that high-pitched yet strained voice which sounds so relaxing even when the group is rocking away. Summer Sun brings the album to a close and once again we have hints of jazz within the space-rock framework of this group with possibly the catchiest tune on the album so far and hints of Super Furry Animals at times.
Admittedly I was not sure what to expect from this second outing of Krom Lek. I was pleasantly surprised as the group have managed to fuse a whole diversity of musical influences yet still hold onto the airy spaced-out feeling. This is one for those Ozric Tentacles fans, a must for psychedelic fans and mixed with the right ingredients this will surely send you to seventh heaven!
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
The Rabbit's Hat - The Magician
Before I start this review it would be worthwhile knowing something of the background of this group. The group consists of Tim Jones (vocals, guitars, narration, keyboards), Terri-B (vocals, programming), Steve Ellis (keyboards), Rabbit (bass) and Norm Emerson (drums, programming) as well as various guest musicians. The company responsible for this release is Stone Promotions and one can safely say that Stone Promotions exists because of Rabbit's Hat! The company is basically an independent company designed to promote and produce space rock bands and hearing this album one immediately sees the influence of the classic space rock groups such as Hawkwind and Gong, and of more recent groups such as Ozric Tentacles.
The album itself is a fusion of these influences with tracks as varied as the rocking opener Ignorance Is Bliss to the narrated Soon to the acoustic Come With Me. Ignorance Is Bliss immediately sets the scene for the album with Tim Jones' swirling guitar accompanied by Terri-B's shouting until we are led into what is almost a retro-sounding rocker of a tune. At times it is almost as if we are hearing Mott The Hoople or the early solo material of Mick Ronson. In fact Tim Jones' vocals sound uncannily similar to Ian Hunter and at times also to David Bowie though the group still manages to keep that spacey kind of feeling to it all. After an eleven minute plus tune we have a series of short blasts ranging from the narrated Soon, the more up tempo The Strangling Conversation and the truly insane The Sanity Of Mad Ideas which could have easily been taken out of Twin Peaks!
Just Can't Stand It takes us back to rocklandia and once again gives me the impression that apart from their space rock influences there is a certain amount of influence from the traditional seventies British rock bands. On the other hand Come With Me features a vocal duet between Terri-B and Tim Jones with an acoustic backdrop. Terri-B has a distinctive nasal voice similar to David Thomas of Pere Ubu fame, strikingly different from the falsetto voice Tim Jones uses, yet the two complement each other perfectly.
The Biggest Dupe is plain narration while Dying Without The Music stands out as one of the best tracks on the album with a balance between spoken word segments and Gabrielesque vocals together with King Crimson-like guitars. The Magician has narration and sounds like the introduction to some sci-fi movie or a concept album! A very spacey kind of song which though totally uncommercial makes very good listening.
Both Sandalphon and Atlantis are very short tracks with the former being instrumental while Atlantis is purely narrative, and both act as a bridge between The Magician and Emotivator. Upbeat, Emotivator acts as a showcase for Tim Jones and his Hendrix-like antics. The remainder of the album does not feature any single track which is structured in a typical song-like fashion. Gaia (any relation to Gaia Mother from the Krom Lek album?) features narration, Trepanning consists of soundscapes while Bo-De-Ban features a myriad of sound effects most conspicuously the baby's cry with narration from Bob & Dean Fall closing off the album.
All in all this album makes an interesting listen. The narration may be a bit tedious at times yet the few tracks which feature music are good. Unfortunately the album is a bit disjointed, and possibly if the group had worked a bit harder and concentrated on the musical aspect of their repertoire they could have come up with space rock album of the caliber of groups such as the much mentioned Ozric Tentacles.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
Census Of Hallucinations - Census Of Hallucinations
Another Stone Promotions release and therefore another space rock album. Census Of Hallucination feature the core of The Rabbit's Hat in Terri-B (vocals, programming), Tim Jones (vocals, guitars), Steve Ellis (keyboards) and Rabbit (bass) together with guest musicians Kingsley Burn (bass), Norm Emerson (drums), Dave Pipkin (drums), Michael Steadman (sax, flute) and Hardy with his bomber.
Spiritual Sensitivity immediately lets you know that this is no "normal" album with it's Monty Python-esque opener followed by the narration that has characterized most of The Rabbit's Hat releases while New Age Travellers is repetitive and narrated with a tape-loop going on in the background, hints of composers such as Terry Riley. However, where the latest Rabbit Hat release was replete with tracks featuring narrated words as the main structure, we only have one more track in this vein towards the end of the album, Planetary Alignment.
As should be expected there is of course the space rock influence where the groove though rock in nature has enough of that cosmic effect to give the whole track that airy feeling. These tracks are Integration, Flying Humanoids and Holographic Theory.
On the other hand there are certain tracks that stand out from the rest of the above-mentioned in terms of their cosmic space-rock feel and they are Lizard Man and The Big Pink Jam Sandwich. Whatever their dedication is there is no remote musical connection to Jim Morrison (Lizard Man) and The Band (The Big Pink). Both tracks feature lengthy guitar solos coupled with synthesizer effects giving that sensation of floating in space. This is more evident in The Big Pink Jam Sandwich which lasts over nine minutes and is a pure cosmic ride. A track to hear with headphones on in the dark! Window Of Opportunity is also instrumental but rather than space rock it has more of a jazz influence with floating saxophone, dueting guitar and soaring backing vocals.
Vocals are not a premium on this album but when they occur the tracks they are found in tend to be rockers. The Moon showcases Tim Jones' guitar and vocals with the lyrics based on Neil Armstrong's words when he landed on the moon. At times there are hints of early Genesis. Charlatan Express is a unique song with an acoustic track interrupted at intervals with cosmic effects making interesting especially due to the fact that the breaks occur at unexpected times breaking the rhythm of the track.
In the three Stone Promotion CD's I have reviewed so far, each album brings up Gaia! The track Gaia Hypothesis is in a similar vein to The Moon and is entirely acoustic with soft mellow vocals accompanied by various effects giving that broader sound to the whole track. Orion also is similar in style. Only after hearing these tracks can I see the influence of the British folk-scene on this group and how Tim Jones and Steve Ellis recorded a tribute album to the late Nick Drake. They should consider an acoustic album as side-project!
As a final note the album also features two cover versions and these are the spaced-out Dear Prudence, originally by The Beatles and the rocking Devil's Answer by Atomic Rooster. Once again these guys from Stone Promotions have provided an album which though essentially under the guise of a space rock album is littered with a variety of influences some of which are subtle while others more glaring. Probably of what I have heard from their offerings so far this is the least cosmic when looked at in its entirety, yet on the other hand should appeal to a larger public.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.