Reviews in this issue:
RPWL - God Has Failed
The rather unimaginative name RPWL comes from the initials of the four band members; Phil Paul
Risettion (drums), Chris Postl (bass), Karlheinz Wallner (guitars) and Jurgen 'Yogi' Lung (keybaords
and vocals). RPWL started in 1997 as a Pink Floyd cover band in the northern Munich area, although Karlheinz, Yogi and Chris
had already played together in the band Violet District, which was the reason why I was looking
forward to this CD very much since I was very impressed by Violet District's
Terminal Breath, a well kept secret of the Nineties recently rereleased by Tempus Fugit.
The first thing I noticed is that the sound of RPWL certainly isn't a copy of Violet District. The vocalist is different (as a matter of fact, much better !) and the sound is (as was to be expected) quite Floydian, while Violet District sounded more Marillion-like.
And yes, it's all there: the psychadelic and experimental sounds from Set The Controls for the Heart of the Sun and Saucerful of Secrets, the many sound samples of spoken movie dialogue (The Wall), the eery squeeking noise from Echoes and Is There Anybody Out There, the voice box guitar effect from Pigs and Keep Talking, the swelling drums from the start of Shine On You Crazy Diamonds, the short acoustic track with chords like Pigs on the Wing and the radio effect which merges Have A Cigar with Wish You Were Here. The typical Gilmour guitar sound is also re-created quite well in a lot of the songs.
Some song are definitely influenced by the Floyd, but none of them turn into the long epic songs that Floyd used to make. All songs are rather compact, and with the exception of Crawl to You (a continuation of the music of Fly with experimental effects) and Leaving (an intro to What I Need on acoustic guitar) there are no long instrumental sections. As a matter of fact, the whole album reminds me more of The Division Bell than of any of the classics from the Seventies. It's very accessible and quite straightforward, almost 'poppy' at times.
The drummer is a big Beatles fan and that definitely shows in the way he plays the drums. Especially Who Do You Think We Are has a very Ringo-like drum sound, and the same goes for It's Alright which sounds like a rougher version of the Beatles, or even a bit like Oasis. Still, although the Floyd reference is definitely present, you have to give these guys credit for writing wonderful songs with beautiful and catchy melodies and great arrangements.
Among the best tracks of the album are the three-piece Hole in the Sky with the melodic
and atmospheric first part with harmony vocals, the experimental second part with influences of the psychadelic
period of Pink Floyd and the mysterious reprise of the third part (which strange enough was not
placed at the end of the album).
Another highlight is Who Do You Think We Are with its Beatlesque start and great Floydian guitar work in the 2nd half, and the two parts of What I Need, a semi-acoustic track that reminds me a bit of Silent Lucidity by Queensryche.
In Your Dreams with its Keep Talking-like start is another great piece, as well as the Beatles/Oasis-like It's Alright which, after an interlude with Stawberry Fields Forerver-like flute sounds, evolves into the heaviest bit of the album.
The other songs are nice as well, but not as impressive. Crazy Lane is an acoustic love song
with cliche lyrics like 'don't give up, cause love will find a way'. Wait Five Years is
a rather pastoral tune in the style of Pillow of Winds from 'Meddle'.
Spring of Freedom sounds like an attempt to write a Yes-like track or at least a track with Anderson-like lyrics, which clearly shows in the shameless use of lyrics like 'mountains come out of the sky and they are standing there'. Other copied lyrics you'll come across on the album are 'rivers of green' (Grandchester Meadows), 'I set my controls for the heart of the sun', and 'hole in the sky' (Shine On You Crazy Diamond). Are these just playful (and unnecessary) references or lack of own inspiration ?
Nevertheless, Spring of Freedom does feature a very nice instrumental section with some wonderful bass playing.
Farewell is another nice ballad (one of the best on the album), but sounds too much like What I Need, while God Has Failed sounds an awful lot like Floyd's Pigs on the Wings or Fearless.
God Has Failed is a collection of great tracks. There are no bad songs on the album, only
nice ones and brilliant ones. My only remark would be that the album could have been a bit more
varied, with some more experimental sections and some more uptempo or heavier tracks, since
most of the songs stay in the ballad and mid-tempo range. As a result the second half of the
album is less interesting than the first half (as a matter of fact, the start of Fool sounds
like it could have been a reprise of the previous track Crazy Lane). The album could do
with 'heavy' sections like the end of It's Alright.
Maybe if they would have left some of the slower songs or ballads off the album and made it a 50 minute CD it might have sounded a bit more balanced.
As mentioned the music often is clearly influences by the Floyd, although traces of The Beatles or Klaatu can also be easily detected. Overall the music is very melodic and harmonic. Never innovative or extremely original, but nevertheless highly enjoyable to listen to.
Behind the rather dull cover of the CD lies a 20-page booklet with all lyrics and nice photographic artwork.
Despite the slight criticism above this highly recommended album makes RPWL the newcomer of 2000 for me. Let's just hope that their next album is a bit more varied and drops all of the unecessary cliché Floydian references. They don't need them to make an impression.
In The Netherlands the album is distributed by Distribee.
Conclusion: 8+ out of 10.
Gnidrolog - Gnosis
After an absence of more than a quarter of a century Gnidrolog (i.e. the brothers Goldring) are back with an unpretentious and playful music, mixing all kinds of styles. A nice mix of music results, which keeps the listener focussed from start to end. Completed by a large group of guest musicians, and an excellent production, it is in sharp contrast with modern day heavy pompous prog.
Because it is such a long and varied album, I think it is wise to just take you through it track by track, to get an idea of
what can be found on the album.
Reach for Tomorrow is a Middle-Eastern/Jewish tune, a prayer for peace in the Middle East. A good track to open the album with.
Reverend Katz is a proggy instrumental with some nice breaks, rhythms and a couple of good guitar solos. It reminded
me a bit of the later solo works of Jan Akkerman.
Fall To Ground is a more poppy track, bringing the Eighties hit-parade into mind. Definitely not the best track on the album, but it clearly denotes what kind of status the album has: the brothers just made an album with music they themselves like, and don't care for the fact that hard-core prog lovers will despise these types of tracks.
Woolunga is another instrumental with a big role for the didjeridoo, as it is composed when the brothers were in Australia, in the same style as Reverend Katz.
Wonder, wonder is a nice track, focused very much on melody and the classical guitar of Colin. Then comes a bit of a surprise (title-wise): a track called Deventer (a Dutch town), apparently composed when visiting this town to meet with Dutch prog band Lady Lake (a band named after one of Gnidrolog's albums). A cheerful instrumental track, I consider it to be one of the best tracks on the album. With the whistle (recorder) playing the main melody, it reminds me somewhat of Camel's Rayader Goes To Town . Excellent.
Bells of Prozac is a rhythmically more complicated track, again bringing to mind early Camel, or the more jazz/fusion
oriented prog, especially with regards to the bass guitar (and its solo in the middle section).
Then a surprice track, Kings of Rock. Starting a bit Marillionesque, the chorus is almost Queen-like. Quite
a surprise to find such a track here!
Gnosis is uptempo and with lots of guitars, more powerful than the previous instrumentals and with proggy breaks and rhythms. Crazy, crazy reminded me of Lou Reed, with a bass loop analogue to Walk on the Wild Side and a way the couplets are sung could have been done like that by Reed as well.
Going to France is a ZZ Top track! Basic rock 'n roll in other words. The City Sleeps features a nice melody, rocky but not too much. This is probably what comes closest to some modern day rock.
Two Helens is a classical guitar solo piece, quite complicated classical music. A real resting point. Finally, Repent Harlequin closes this long album, a powerful instrumental piece with a pounding Floydian bass guitar and probably the most extensively orchestrated piece on the album.
Wow, quite a long album ! Very varied with respect to styles and compositions, but is lacks real fire. It is all very laid back, it is obvious that the brothers Goldring don't have to prove who they are and what they can do. Now they do use some keyboards (which they hardly did in the old days) and that adds some power, especially in the last track. All in all a nice album to listen to, but not something that made me overtly enthusiastic as a prog lover.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Russell Hibbs - Nectans Glen
Some CDs are of interest to prog fans not so much for the actual music, but rather because of the identity of the performers and their former or present connections with the genre. This is indeed true of Nectans Glen by Russell Hibbs and Daevid Allen. Allen was a founding member of one of the earliest Canterbury acts Soft Machine and later also part of the original line up of Gong and some of the later (re)incarnations of that group. Hibbs and Allen worked together before in The Invisible Opera Company of Tibet, which combines oriental music and space rock. Of additional interest may be that they are joined on Nectans Glen by keyboard player Mark Robson of Kangeroo Moon.
Russell Hibbs is the central figure in an ensemble of musicians, providing vocals, guitar and percussion. A plethora of supporting instruments is used, such as celtic harp, mandolin, didjeridu and crystal bowls, to name but a few. Most of the songs have their roots more or less firmly in folk music, but there are some partial excursions into diverse other genres, like Hibbs' Scatman impression in Brother, the country-esque Watching or the Bob Seger style song Avalon, which is quite fetching! (Here I must admit to an admiration for mister Seger's songwriting.) While some songs sound Irish traditional, Oriental and Australian aboriginal influences also come and go. Kerridwen is a quite amusing fairy tale about a witch and her servant boy, lyrics half spoken, half sung. Daevid Allen contributes two songs, namely Queen of Hearts and She & I, one of the more interesting and 'proggy' compositions. A song performed with throaty vocals, brooding guitar and haunting keyboards.
As I stated above, this album is probably of interest mainly in light of the other projects these folks have been or are still involved in. Fans of Gong or Soft Machine will most likely be disappointed as Daevid Allen's contribution remains limited. In itself this is an enjoyable album of more or less subtle folksy songs. Attractive and accessible, at times this non-confrontational music attains almost meditative heights, but it also has some comical overtones, as in Kerridwen or Bees. Very good use is made of the more out of the ordinary instruments, especially the crystal bowls, which adds to the CDs value. I'm sure Nectans Glen will find its way into my CD-player again, but rather as an alternative to prog than as part of it.
Nectans Glen can be obtained through at the Voiceprint website.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10.
Gravity Tree - Life or Dessert?
This duo from the USA produces a kind of guitar dominated hard rock / prog metal, but more in the vein of the Seventies rock bands like Led Zeppelin, maybe Deep Purple. This album lacks the musicianship of those bands, and the fire. It is a nice home production, but there is not a single track to get really enthousiastic about.
In my opinion, the album in general is too thought over, and all potential fury or power it slowly worked out. Quite a
meager album results. The opening is not too bad, with a nice bass loop, but the lack of keyboards is immediately apparent.
Using synths can give it so much more power and body guys!
The references stated in the intro show clearly in the second track, People Don't Know . Here, the voice of the vocalist is still OK, but on some of the other tracks it lacks all expression and clarity. Also something to work on: try to expand your band with, apart from a keyboard player (m/f) with a powerful vocalist (preferably m). Forget You continues in exactly the same fashion, the two tracks are almost interchangable.
Almost... is a short interlude, just trying and tuning the guitar for Everything. It has some nice dynamic effects and may qualify for the track that comes closest to prog on the album, but the vocals are not too impressive here. There is some nice slide guitar work to be found on the track though. Minnie's Tree again continues this style with lots of dissonant guitar chords and a desparate attempt to put some anger in the chorus. Didn't work though.
Falling in 3's features some nice acoustic guitar work, nothing spectacular but it was nice to hear some chello and non-dissonant chords for a change. Harmonic Indulgence is a Zappa-esque tonal experiment. Not too bad, I must admit. If they can lift this to a higher level in the future, they may become a quite interesting band, although parts of the middle section are a bit too much for my untrained ears. Where You Are is back to prog metal/Zeppelin again. Nothing worth mentioning here.
A much "fatter" guitar sound, keyboards and a Rush-like rhythm section on No Rest....my dear they can actually play prog! For 1 minute. Bummer!! That, my friends is exactly the style we nowadays like. Why not persue that line further? Life Or Dessert? sounds a bit like Duran Duran or some other Eighties British electro-pop band (admittedly even Pallas could edge in that direction in that time). However, the guitar solo in the middle section sounds quite good, and in comparison with the rest this sounds quite refreshing. Then a nice intrumental, again including keyboards, finishes the album.
As a whole I don't like the album. The production is bare, the vocals are not always what they should be, it lacks emotions, and the compositions are not everywhere of the quality that one would like. On the other hand, it is only a two-man band and the closing section of the album, from Harmonic Indulgence onwards, where there is more use of keyboards, and the compositions become more interesting, is worth a listen. Therefore, I have the hope that the next album will be an album with a bigger band and much more like the last part then like the opening part. I'm quite curious how such an album would turn out.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10.
Accomplice - Accomplice
Accomplice is a southern Californian based prog metal quartet. This is their debut album, and it is already quite nice. Melodic yet powerful metal, with hints of Fates Warning, Queensrÿche, Rush and Dream Theater.
The strongest part of the album are its melodies and the clear production. The actual performance is at times a bit weak and the vocals are, although fine in principle, not really tantalizing. Sometimes the compositions are not that strong as well, featuring nice ideas but lingering to long on them.
The opening track is a nice example of the type of mixed
composition, harbouring elements of all the examples quoted above in a nice uptempo power-rock track. The guitar lines
are quite good, but also the well-balanced use of the keyboards deserves mentioning on this track.
Reactor is a bit spookier, with a haunting melody. It is in these more ballad-like tracks that I sometimes find the vocals a bit mate. The almost IQ like middle section features some nice keyboard work again, but the track goes on a bit too long in my opinion.
Fallin' is a ballad featuring good piano work but is a really 13-in-a-dozen track. For All The World opens as a bit of a Van Halen track (for which they also acted as an opening act, as well as for Judas Priest, Rush, King's X, Savatage and some others. Already a truely impressive number of good bands!), but gradually becomes more complex.
Then a series of more general hard rock tracks starts with State Of The Nation. Welcome is a ballad/lullaby that comes in between and again the vocals seem the weaker point. Let The Show Begin is again Van Halen reference, even almost featuring the Jump DX7 and chorus.
Centurion is the strongest track on the album, in my opinion. Dark guitar work, beating drums, it comes closest to Fates Warning. It features an excellent guitar solo. In these tracks, the vocals work quite good, reminding slightly of Geoff Tate. Power to the max!
Then it's ballad-time again with Nightingale. This time however, it is an almost classical Middle-Eastern or Flamengo melody. Very nice composition this time, with great chord sequences in sharp contrast with the previous ballads, which I considered to be quite weak. This classical style is extended even further in the Middle Age troubadour style of the opening of Fight On, to continue in an Iron Maiden style full of power and fury. So they can do that too! The album ends with the hard rock bonus song Crusader Soul.
In conclusion: too bad about the overkill of redundant ballads, and the lack of a longer, powerful prog metal "opus magnus". I think they are definitely capable of writing such a masterpiece, that can become the centerpoint of their work. The album as it is now contains some really nice compositions, but also some quite lame ones. Therefore, I will forgo the recommended tag, but they are definitely worth checking out and keep an eye on them in the (near) future. Almost there, guys!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Laren d'Or - War of Angels
Laren d'Or is the chosen artist name of Hungarian composer Attila Héger. His album War of Angels is listed as a 1997 released, but was only recentely recieved at the DPRP. So it's not surprising that a second Laren d'Or album, Books, will already be released in short time after publication of this review.
Héger's music is a subtle combination of symphonic and electronic strands. War of Angels features 4 long tracks, three of which are over ten minutes in lenght. Besides, there are 6 shorter tracks, all about three minute long. Most tracks exhume a medieval atmosphere. This ranges from dark and brooding, as in the magnificent Fifth Dream to the lighter melodies of, for instance, 4.12 (April Ride), and the techno indubed Sidestep Walking. That's three different impressions from just the first three tracks on the album, which underlines the variation in composition and arrangement. It is exactely this variation in tracks that is one of the albums strong points. But also, some of the best themes linger to return at later stages, usually in successive tracks.
Overall compositions are comparable to the more symphonic works of Vangelis or Bjorn Lynn, with the same addition of clear electronic melodies. While the music itself at times achieves a slight bombastic quality and has some complex structures, instrumentation is often minimalistic. That is to say keyboards are used to optimal effect, but without evoling the sensation of overcrowding some artists produce in this genre. War of Angels has also been compared to Tangerine Dream, and I have to agree when thinking of the soundtrack of Legend. A further comparison in the field of movie soundtracks is the work of Leonard Rosenman. The short track Tetsuo, which flows into the longer Arcadia, reminds me instead of the dark sounds of soundtrack composer Brad Fiedel, as on his score for Terminator 2:Judgement Day. This atmosphere returns at the close of the album in the title track.
Héger studied classical music at the conservatory for eight years, which is highly evident in his compositions. The same can be said for his work as composer for soundtracks of computer games. Comparison can be made to Robyn Miller's soundtrack for the classic PC game Myst, although the album release of Myst features only (very) short pieces, compared to Laren d'Ors work on War Of Angels. From another perspective some classic Pink Floyd effects can be discerned. Synth effects halfway through Fifth Dream conjure up visions of Echoes as do the opening sounds of The Heart of the Dragon. A later part of this composition instead uses the rhythm of Ennio Morricone's The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly face off scene. Then Héger livens things up in the dark atmospheric piece Gothic I-V,with sounds of knights in battle, before returning to the Myst like instrumentalisation of Robyn Miller.
Considering all the possible comparisons and noted influences, you might expect War of Angels to be a mishmash of compositions that could (devided into parts) be easily credited to other composers and artist. I don't mean to give that impression. The compositions are original, though obviously classically inspired. The result of blending of symphonic and electronic music is a wonderful integration of a very personal style. Comparisons with some of the above mentioned artists relate more often than not to some distinct elements in the tracks, never to a complete piece.
Neither the CD booklet (with beatiful cover artwork by Kathi Zsolt) nor Laren d'Or's website list contributions from additional musicians, which I found quite astonishing. The strings in particular sounds marvellously realistic at times. Actual cello and violin MUST have been used, for I've never heard them synthesised to such a high standard. Prime examples can be found in Gothic I-V. I don't think even the use of the Korg Trinity keyboard, which recieved rave reviews on websites focused on synths and keyboards, could lead to such results. The Krog Trinity is known for it's excellent portrayal of the most diverse spectrum of instruments, but I can't imagine it's this good!
In conclusion, I rate War of Angels a wonderful symphonic-electronic album of diverse sensations and sentiments. The music may not be all that innovative, but execution is brilliant and comes with a high production quality. Considering that, if my information is correct, this is a one man performance all the way, I'd consider Laren D'Or among the best in his profession. Without reservations.
Excerpts from songs and some full lenght tracks from both War of Angels and the forthcoming album Books can be found at BeSonic.com or MP3.com.
Conclusion: 8+ out of 10.