Reviews in this issue:
Mosaic - Walk On A Surface
Mosaic is a German band formed in 1998 by Mario Drees (vocals) and Juergen Saalmann (guitars, backing vocals) together with an array of musicians. In fact the current lineup varies completely from that found on the album apart from the above-mentioned duo of musicians. The album itself has two different lineups each playing on each half of the album. 'Walk On A Surface' is their debut album and according to the information that the group gave me they consider it to be a mixture of rock/tango/pop/Arabian and experimental music! I would not put it at such a wide array of styles but there definitely is a diverse range of influences in the music that they play.
Friday's Child opens the album with a funk groove complete with bass slapping, however I must admit funk is not my cup of tea! Admittedly after the first track I was somewhat dejected, not because the track was bad but due to my dislike of this style. Start track 2 and my mood has suddenly changed. World Song has a Rush feel to it, from circa the 'Roll The Bones' era as well as a tinge of Fool's Garden. A string quintet helps create a lush atmosphere on what is one of the standout tracks on the album.
Man Of My Name is slightly heavier sounding than what we have had so far with at times Mario Drees sounding somewhat like fellow Teutonic singer Klaus Meine (Scorpions). Indeed this track does have a lot in common with the later musical direction that the Scorpions have adopted combining both brute force and melody. Tango 1917 does have that tango rhythm to it at least in the initial stages of the track yet as the track progresses it becomes more and more of a delightful rock tune which at times retains that tango rhythm.
Waiting For The Next Stage is more on the relaxed mode and could be termed as a neo-progressive piece of work complete with sing-along chorus. On the other hand in Mystic Arabian we find all the band trying to create that classic Arabian sound. Even the vocals are in an Arabic mode of singing with the characteristic syncopated structure with the vocals creating a drone at times to steadily rise semitone by semitone until reaching full force.
Stahlkühl is the longest track on the album and the one which shows the widest variety of styles. The introduction finds Mario Drees singing without accompaniment until he is joined by various instruments one by one. At one point he seems to be narrating and it seemed similar in fashion to the 'Thank You' album by Michael Schenker. In fact one of the main characteristics of this particular track is the change in strength and delivery that Drees manages to convey from grunts and screams to a gentle soft voice. Weltschmerz is a stark contrast to the previous track as it just features an acoustic guitar and voice. Extremely soothing music and an excellent closer to this debut album.
Listening to this album has been a pleasant surprise. It is makes easy listening and has some interesting musical ideas. It is not what one would call a progressive album in terms of experimentation and musical virtuosos yet they have managed to create a myriad of influences which they manage to convey in a most pleasant manner. With a bit of work and the possible inclusion of a keyboardist (which at time of going to print has already happened) the sound of this band should become richer and allow the other members more space in which to experiment.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Kamelot - The Expedition
One of melodic/power metal's best exponents are back and this time with a live album, the fifth in their nine year history. The tracks were recorded from shows in Greece and Germany in April 2000 during their New Allegiance Tour where they shared the bill with Original power metallers Crimson Glory. As an added bonus for those Kamelot fans the album also includes three rare tracks which were previously hard or impossible to come by.
Production work and mastering was left in the hands of Sascha Paeth (Rhapsody, Angra) who had also worked on the group's previous album 'The Fourth Legacy', whilst the line-up remained unchanged. Founder Thomas Youngblood (guitars) is joined by Khan (ex-Conception vocalist), Glenn Barry (bass) Casey Grillo (drums) and guest keyboardist (on the live tracks) Günter Werno. And now to the album itself.
Until Kingdom Come kicks off this live album. The introduction manages to capture the essence of the world that the group portrays. From an uplifting classical intro the group immediately hit top gear and kick off fast and furious. Khan's vocals sound rich and powerful while the rhythm section of Case Grillo and Glenn Barry provide a tremendous kick. Keyboards are limited to a filler role on this track but intervene every now and again with some interesting licks. The duet between Werno and Youngblood leads into the guitar solo. This track leaves you breathless with its speed and execution. I can only imagine what it was like to see it being performed like.
Not even chance for a breather and the group rushes into Expedition, one of two 'Siege Perilous' tracks present on the album. The pace has slowed down slightly and instead we can appreciate the group dynamics with the change in tempos accentuated by Casey Grillo's double bass drum. In fact at times I felt as if I was listening to a Dream Theater track with the rich keyboard sound creating the atmosphere until the track ends with the whole group veering off in to a fast finish.
The Shadow Of Uther is pure unadulterated melodic power metal. Admittedly I have been cut off from this music scene for a number of years but hearing these tracks brought back rushes of nostalgia and I had to rush back to dust off my record collection and give records from groups such as Crimson Glory, Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force, Virgin Steele and Stratovarius a spin. Millennium is probably one of the album highlights as was the case with the studio version on 'Siege Perilous'. Verging on the speed metal category, the edge is softened by Khan's smooth and rich approach together with the simplistic but so ear-friendly keyboard licks provided by Werno.
A Sailorman's Hymn gives us a chance to recollect on the past four tracks. Slow and melodious this track proves why Metal bands are so well known for their ballads. Next up is the title track from 'The Fourth Legacy' album. This is what Kamelot fans want to hear. Pounding double bass drum and bass guitar leading the way while guitars and keyboards create a swirling harmony together with Khan's teutonic-like vocals. The highlight of this track is the sudden break about halfway through where there is a complete break in the music with a Carmina Burana-like Choir creates a mystical sound to the whole song. Just as the choir builds up the tension this is broken with the band entering the fray to rush us towards Call of The Sea. Taken from the group's first album 'Eternity', it is the only track which Khan sings that originally featured Mark Vanderbilt on vocals. There is a sense that this track is not quite synonymous with the current musical direction that the group is actively pursuing. Slower and dragging there is a lack of kick in it, even Khan's voice seems to be strained here not quite living up to on Vanderbilt's Crimson Glory-ish vocals.
Desert Reign/Nights Of Arabia takes us back to 'Fourth Legacy' territory and is the closing number for the live portion of the album. It is the Kamelot that we have come to expect, a staccato-like rhythm which is broken at various intervals to introduce the keyboard-laden chorus.
The final three tracks on the album grouped as the rare section are all studio recordings. We Three Kings is an instrumental track based on the Christmas Carol. Cute but a bit pretentious as it seems out of place on an album which has absolutely no yuletide connection. One Day was originally included as a bonus track on the Japanese release of 'Siege Perilous' and was the first ballad that Thomas Youngblood and Roy Khan had written together. We Are Not Separate was a Vanderbilt sung track from the 'Dominion' album. According to liner notes it has been totally revamped, however, I have not heard the original and thus cannot draw comparisons.
Looking at this album from a progressive rock slant apart from the occasional change in tempo there is very little in terms of improvisation and experimentation. On the other hand it seems that as time goes by the melodic power metal bands are being shifted towards the progressive rock scene by many listeners and critics while the metal scene shifts to less ear-friendly tripe! As live albums go I think that this makes great listening especially as regards the quality of the sound and production. To the first time listener I must admit that one comes away with the impression that apart from 'The Fourth Legacy' the group have very little to offer in terms of studio albums since five of eight tracks are taken from it. Possibly a longer live album with tracks taken from their past discography might have been helpful. On a positive note this group really know how to combine power and melody which few groups nowadays are capable of doing unfortunately and I look forward with great anticipation to 'The Fifth Legacy'.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Ricocher - Quest For The Heartland
The Dutch prog rock band Ricocher started out in 1993 by playing prog covers and one or two songs created by themselves. Soon, however, they had written enough tracks to drop the covers from their repertoire, which led them to record a demo tape, A Scream For Help, in 1994. Earlier this year, they managed to realise an old dream by finally recording their debut EP, Quest For The Heartland.
Ricocher consists of Erwin Boerenkamps (lead vocals, guitar), Bart van Helmond (guitars, backing vocals), John van Heugten (keyboards, backing vocals), Maikel van der Meer (drums, percussion), and Niels Nijssen (bass, backing vocals). Van Heugten wrote all the lyrics, the contents of which are reflected in the artwork of the booklet. It must be said that the artwork is remarkably good, considering that we are talking about a debut EP. A connoisseur, however, would agree that the fact that Mattias Norén is responsible for it says enough (the full artwork can be viewed at the Progart site).
The first track, The Code, is divided into two parts: Doorway and
Memories. The first part starts with some mysterious keyboard sounds. Then a
nice carpet of strings is rolled out, over which the essence of the EP is introduced
by a posh sounding, slightly distorted voice. A very catchy guitar lick opens the way
for the rest of the band to join in. Boerenkamps's vocals are a pleasant mixture between
those of Saga's Michael Sadler and - to a lesser extent - Rush's
Geddy Lee. The vocals have hardly any accent and manage to get across different
emotions more than adequately. The lyrics of this track and, in fact, the other songs
as well, do sometimes feel a bit strained. It seems as if the writer had a pretty good idea
of what he wanted to get across, but could not always find the right words. Still, they are
way better than some of the stuff I have encountered. The music is pretty good too; it
combines the lighter moments of Marillion and PTS with a pretty raw guitar
sound, which is never too much on the foreground unless where it should be.
At approximately 3:35 minutes, the second part, Memories, begins. This is a more "happy" sounding section which reminds me slightly of some kiddie song at times (I cannot put my finger on which one, though). The end of the track sounds a bit too "easy" to me; it is too much like the pre-programmed ends one can find in most keyboards and which are used very frequently by those one-man bands that can be found at weddings and other parties. Despite these few remarks, I do like this track.
Track 2, Life In Your Mind, starts on a positive note, lyrically seen, but soon the tale darkens considerably. A very nice, PTS-like guitar solo underlines this downish mood. Then a more up-tempo rhythm is adopted, though the lyrics are definitely not positive; in fact, they are about someone considering suicide. The fact that lyrics and music seem to be each other's opposite has a rather alienating effect. This might have been what Ricocher wanted to achieve, but I do have mixed feelings about it. The track ends rather unexpectedly and again, in my opinion, a bit too simple. Still, not a bad song at all.
Your Pride is the up-tempo-song of the EP. It has the same feel as Marillion's Incommunicado or Arena's Welcome To The Cage and had me tapping along the first time I heard it; very catchy! However, once again there is a large difference between the rather dark contents of the lyrics and the cheerful atmosphere created by the instruments. I must say that I am really curious what reason Ricocher may have had to opt for this approach... Nevertheless, I do not mean to say by this that I do not like this song; on the contrary. There is some really nice keyboard and especially guitar playing on this one which, of course, would be nowhere without the solid foundation of bass and drums the track is built upon. This is definitely my favourite song on the album!
Quest For The Heartland is the longest and final track on the EP (8:03 minutes). It starts with some rather moody acoustic piano playing, soon backed up by a mixture of strings and choir sounds. After both the first and the second verse, a couple of great guitar solos are played, which brilliantly underline the desperation expressed by the vocals. The oppressive atmosphere reminds me strongly of Marillion's Berlin and several tracks by PTS (for instance Out Of The Haze and the second part of Welcome To The Real World from their first CD 'Nightlines'). In the final verse the tempo is raised, in a way indicating that there will be light at the end of the tunnel. Again it all ends rather abruptly and yes, sadly this track too has one of those too easy endings.
In my opinion, Ricocher did a very good job on their debut EP. Their approach to
music is not revolutionary - they seem to have been inspired strongly by Marillion
and PTS - but certainly not some cheap copy of existing tracks. Especially the guitar
solos and the vocals are very worthwhile. The lyrics, on the other hand, come across
a bit strained at times and do not always seem to match the atmosphere created by
the instruments. Also, I was not very thrilled by the endings of three out of four
tracks. Despite this criticism, I have found that I really like Quest For The
Heartland and play it regularly.
This EP is definitely recommended to people who are into bands like Marillion and PTS. If you want to get an idea of how they sound, check out their (really good looking!) website where one can find sound fragments of all tracks on the EP.
Conclusion: 8- out of 10.
Tim Blake - The Tide Of The Century
One of the synthesizer greats is back and he is back with a vengeance. Probably the name Tim Blake rings very few bells with the younger audience and less realize that he is up there with Jean Michael Jarre, Tangerine Dream, Cyrille Vedeaux, Brian Eno and Jean Philippe Rykiel to mention a few. His resume involves stints with groups like Gong (1973-1977), Hawkwind, Steve Hillage and Cyrille Verdeaux. 'The Tide Of The Century' is the fourth solo album of his career and the first in nine years. His music has been an inspiration to a lot of the modern dance and trance music as has been most of the Electronic Progressive Rock Music. Furthermore Blake was one of the first musicians to experiment with lasers and fuse them together with his music to provide a music/light show when he formed Crystal Machine in the seventies.
This album is the fruit of an investment that Tim Blake has made and that is Le Studio Virtuel which involves a direct-to-desk recording system set up in his windmill home in Brittany (his house can be viewed in the booklet accompanying the CD). Much of this material was premiered at the Alpha Centauri Concert in Holland in 1999 yet for some inexplicable reason a whole year has elapsed for this album to see the light of day. However, it has been well worth the wait.
Nature 'L' opens the album and one is immediately greeted by the vocodered voice of Tim Blake together with his synthesizers. At least from the opening track there is a feel that this will not just be another of those electronica albums. The Tide Of The Century could easily be an Alan Parsons Project track. Mellow and softly flowing with a shuffle of a drumbeat while Blake's piano accompanies his relaxing voice the scene is set for a laid back album. St Dolay continues in the same vein with just piano and voice, at times reminding me of Chris de Burgh especially in the sad and pleading tone that Blake's voice has.
Crystal Island again is a soulful track with at times hints of Fish thanks to his vocal variations from high pitched to graveled narration. The first collaborator on the album Christiane Vitard appears as backing vocalist though her name has already been invoked in the previous track St Dolay. Byzantium Dancing is the first instrumental track on the album and has additional help from Stof Kovaks and Min Tse Chou. This is the stuff of vintage Tim Blake, pure unadulterated electronic music. Hints of Jarre, Verdeaux and Hillage abound in this track. The speed is still slow and the punch is still soft and mellow. Changes from one theme to another are slow and progressive and hardly felt yet clearly audible. Pleasant and unobtrusive as is most of Tim Blake's work.
Sarajevo with its synth-drum beat is possibly the highlight of the album. The synth sound seems to be straight out of the seventies. In fact that is possibly the drawback that there is here, as with a big band treatment this song could have been a classic. Once again at times I feel as if it could have been a Fish song verging on the Gabrielesque. Tribulations brings the album to a close with a reggae feel to it. Totally out of place; I'm not sure if it is an attempt in bringing a sense of modernity to the album or if it is the French Colonial Influence that has affected Blake's songwriting. There is an African feel to the whole of the track with similarities being Johnny Clegg & Savuka and early Youssou 'N' Dour.
On the whole this album leaves the listener with a feel-good feeling. There is little in terms of complexity and the music crosses over as very easy relaxed listening. On the other hand those who have come to view Tim Blake within the Gong approach to music would be very disappointed. There is little in terms of experimentation and the whole layout is pretty basic yet it makes a good listen almost verging on the New Age.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Gordon Giltrap - On A Summer's Night
Every now and again one comes across an album that allows you to sit back, relax with the lights off and dream while the music is playing. A rare thing of late. I could count on one hand the albums in the last few years that have had that effect on me but this album just did it for me. Having such an album to review is a bit strange for a progressive rock website because the genre I would associate Gordon Giltrap with would be more in the folk-rock scene with similar artists being John Renbourn, Bert Jansch (for whom he dedicated an album earlier this year, 'Janschology'), Michael Hedges, Mike Hurst and many others with folk-roots as the basis of their musical output.
Gordon Giltrap started recording in the late sixties and released a steady stream of albums throughout the seventies and eighties, but as happened to most of the musicians from that era the nineties was an extremely lean period. The new millennium might be different with a spate of reissues as well as new material from Gordon Giltrap. This album was in fact originally recorded at the Warwick Folk Festival in 1991 and features the artist and his guitar with no backing whatsoever from anyone else. In fact it is just guitar that we hear as the whole album is purely instrumental. For that reason it is rather difficult to give a critical overview of each individual track unless a historical context is also given. On the other hand what better way to hear Gordon Giltrap who has influenced numerous guitarists and musicians with his style and innovative techniques citing amongst others Ritchie Blackmore and Steve Howe, who even went on to write the liner notes for this album. In fact listening to Blackmore's Night one immediately can feel the Giltrap influence on this great guitarist.
As I have mentioned Gordon Giltrap's repertoire dates from 1968 when he recorded on the folk-based label, Transatlantic, and released a total of two albums with the said label. From this period we only have one song on this live album and it comes towards the end, Lucifers Cage. Originally recorded on the Portrait album (1969) it was re-recorded in 1976 for the 'Visionary' album and is one of the faster of the tracks on the album with Giltrap playing away on his twelve-stringer.
This is not the first song that Gordon Giltrap has recorded under different
guises. A Christmas Carol was recorded in 1987 on the 'Elegy' album and two years
later this track was rerecorded in another version together with Ric Sanders of Fairport
Convention for the album 'One To One'. The 'Elegy' album also has a track taken
from it and used in part. The Poacher is used together with Roots which
dates from the 'Fear Of The Dark' album. The final album in a trilogy of releases,
these albums marked a dramatic change in Gordon Giltrap's repertoire as from a
singer/songwriter he progressed to becoming an instrumental composer. Under the
moniker of the Gordon Giltrap Band he set out to record 'Visionary', the
first of the trilogy, in 1976.Inspired by 18th century music and the works of
William Blake this album was purely instrumental and featured amongst other
tracks Echoing Green, London and the afore-mentioned Lucifer's
Cage all of which can be heard live on this featured album.
'Perilous Journey' followed in 1977 and from that album we have Heartsong. This song was re-recorded in 1995 with all proceeds going to charity for the album 'Music For The Small Screen' and featured amongst others, Brian May (Queen), Midge Ure (Ultravox), Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman (Yes), and Neil Murray (Gilgamesh, Black Sabbath).
The ability of Giltrap as a composer was immediately recognized by radio and television stations. The Lords Seat is one of his later songs and dates from the 1991 album 'A Matter Of Time'. This track was used by the BBC for the series 'Working Aristocracy' and was used for the aerial shots of the stately homes. The introduction reminds me of Al Stewart who must have played together with Giltrap at 'Le Cousins' in London where they both played regular spots.
Gordon Giltrap continued to release solo albums throughout the eighties and this album features tracks from such albums as 'The Peacock Party' (Country Bluff), 'Elegy' (Sallie's Song), as well as tracks from his 1991 album 'A Matter Of Time' (Down The River, which was originally recorded with jazz guitarist Martin Taylor).
What is definitely evident from this live recording is the dexterity and technique that Gordon Giltrap possesses which few have managed to imitate. This album consists of thirteen numbers or soundscapes which are a good introduction to the instrumental Giltrap. Extremely peaceful and relaxing, this is a recommendation for those who require some background music while working or doing something else. Tell me all about as I have it on heavy rotation at my dental clinic!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.