Reviews in this issue:
In Nomine - Mutatis Mutandis
Let's begin by saying that I'm not a huge fan of Musea record's releases. I personally think that
the company's focus is too much on quantity instead of quality, resulting in many mediocre releases
that fill the review columns at DPRP. SI Music once made the same mistake, but while it
probably caused SI's downfall, Musea seems to be doing quite okay so far.
Having said this, I have to admit that every now and than Musea does indeed offer a release by a stunning newcomer. In Nomine is definitely one of those !
Rarely have I agreed so much with the statements on Musea's product info sheets, which in this case read as follows: This young Spanish band appears in the international progressive scene with a wonderful album, six songs (from 3 to 16 minutes) absolutely impressive and perfect. In Nomine is one of the first bands to really combine traditional progressive influences (Genesis and Yes above all) and neo-prog’ ones like Marillion and, a lot, IQ ("The wake" era). Concentrated on worked-out melodic lines, the band also provides lyrical and bombastic guitar solis, refined and subtle keyboards, guitar arpeggios, syncopated or dynamic rythms. A lot of ideas, new harmonies, an incredible talent: it must be heard! Heir, heir !
I could stop this review just here and now by saying that they are 100% right, but that would be
taking the easy route. So here's some more comments on the album.
There's a lot of similarities with a wide range of other bands that I find in the music of In Nomine. Here's a few. There's a couple of definite IQ-like sections, although I would compare them more to Seven Stories into Eight and Tales From The Lush Attic and not The Wake as Musea does. Some of the high-pitched vocal sections, like the one at the end of the first track, remind me Geoff Mann in Casino (remember Drunk ?).
Some of the vocal harmonies accompanied by counter melodies, like the ones in No Deal, are very Yes-like, while there are also obvious influences of early Genesis and Marillion.
All of this might create the idea that this band is basically just a mish-mash of other bands, but they are much more than that. The whole is much more than the sum of these parts, and In Nomine definitely seem to have their own sound, although they might have to develop it a bit further to make their influences a bit less obvious. The music is at times uptempo and uplifting and at other times dark and menacing (like during the spoken Latin section in Panem Et Circenses).
I considered writing a track-by-track review, but there is just too much going on within the
long tracks to summarize. There's a constant shift of melodies and rhythms in the tracks.
Guitar plays the main role in the music of In Nomine and we are treated to some outstanding
solos in the Hackett/Holmes-vein. There are also many keyboard parts and guitar/keyboard duets
to be found on the album, like for instance the Grendel-ish interplay in Beetles of
Concrete. The rhythm section is tight and very effective.
Keeping in mind that this is a Spanish band, you probably would expect very obvious accents in the vocals. Surprisingly, this isn't the case. If you listen closely you would probably be able to tell that this is a Southern European band, but the accents are much less present than in many of the other bands from Italy/Spain I've heard. Also, the English lyrics (don't get put off by the non-English song titles !) flow very well and seem to make perfect sense. They are often rather Fish-like as well.
The vocals themselves alternate between low ones (not unlike those of the singer of Dilemma) and high ones, the latter often in vocal harmony sections.
There's just one slightly disappointing thing I could find on this album. Just when you thought that prog rock had shaken off their cliches about gnomes and pixies, we get an in itself quite okay ballad Snowly with harpischord and acoustic guitar, reminding me a lot of the early Genesis ballads. The thing that bugs me a bit is the hilarious lyrics about 'gigling fairies singing their songs' ! And if that wasn't enough, we hear the sound effect of a door opening, followed by the damn critters themselves ! Luckily it is the shortest track on the album and the flying scum doesn't reappear ! ;-)
The CD comes accompanied by 8 page booklet with wonderful photographic artwork and all lyrics (though the contrast against the background could have been a bit better to make them easier to read). What has disappointed me is that there doesn't seem to be a web site for the band; a shame since I would have liked some more background information. Should anyone in the band read this review, please contact me !
Although this is a Y2K release, it counts as the best newcomer for me so far in 2001. Get it, you will not be disappointed !
Conclusion: 9- out of 10.
Curved Air - Alive 1990
Curved Air are one of those classical progressive/art rock bands that managed to fuse rock music with a heavy dose of classical influences. 1990 was the twentieth anniversary since the first release by the group and the concert recorded here was a gig played at the Town & Country Club 2 in London in anticipation of the reunion concert. In fact the band had been disbanded since 1976 amidst a number of line-ups amongst whom passed through the ranks musicians such as Eddie Jobson (Roxy Music) and drummer Stewart Copeland (Police).
The only musicians featured here are those that actually appeared on the first recordings of the band with the result that all tracks are taken from the band's first three albums 'Airconditioning' (It Happened Today, Stretch, Hide And Seek, Situations, Propositions, Vivaldi), 'Second Album' (Young Mother, You Know, Everdance, Back Street Luv) and 'Phantasmagoria' (Marie Antoinette, Melinda). Thus playing on the album are vocalist Sonja Kristina, Francis Monkman (guitar, keyboards, bass) who would find fame and fortune as a session musician as well as member of legendary group Sky, Florian Pilkington-Miksa (drums), Darryl Way (violin, keyboards, vocals) and also an appearance from original bassist Rob Martin on the track Vivaldi.
The first track is what actually makes this album a must for all Curved Air fans as it is the only new track present on this album, Twenty Years On. A composition by the duo Way/Monkman, it was specifically recorded for the occasion yet as fate would have it, the original recording was damaged and the only available version is a very poor mono home tape-recorder recording, done by a fan present in the crowd! Basically the album gets off to a very shaky start but this should not put off any prospective listeners and to be fair to the record company, the jewel case has a large sticker plastered on to it stating that the first track is of an inferior quality recording.
It Happened Today was the band's first single, released in 1970, and is very indicative of the music of the day. There is a hard rock edge to the track though it lacks the sophistication that the group possess and show on other tracks. Nevertheless one can immediately see how the group managed to incorporate certain classical elements within their repertoire especially with the inclusion of the violin, courtesy of Darryl Way, something none too common in a rock band. The second part of the track, slow and dreamlike, is a feature of the group as the violin soars leading the group, who are backing in the distance, into progressive bliss.
Come Stretch, the band have slightly changed their approach to one that is blues based and once again it this only Way's violin that saves the track from one of mediocrity. Hide And Seek, described by Sonja Kristina as "very moody" gives us the first glimpse of the art-rock, classically influenced music that the group are more famed for. A nice rich sound coupled with Kristina's deep full voice. This is the music that Curved Air created that would serve as a template for many future groups such as Solstice.
Marie Antoinette is much more upbeat than the previous number and is one of the show highlights and a perfect showcase for Kristina to show off her vocal chords as well as for Monkman to plug away riff after riff. Melinda (More Or Less) is a sharp contrast to Marie Antoinette with its acoustic approach. There is a mediaeval touch to this track, one that could almost have been played by groups such as Gryphon or Amazing Blondel. A great haunting track which acts as the perfect break and a stepping stone to Situations which starts off in a rather similar mode. All instruments (and voice) move in unison until the chorus which allows the group to let loose until they once again return to a unified theme. With regards to the tracks presented so far this is the track which features the greatest variety of fluctuation in both time signature as well as melody. Furthermore the violin solo in this track is simply impressive and visually this track must have been great to watch.
Young Mother starts of with a delightful lively duet between Monkman's keyboard and Way's violin. The liveliness is maintained though the momentum is slowed down considerably with the entry of the vocals. Way's soaring violin is simply the highlight of the track. You Know features much of what we have had so far and have come to expect from the group though this track has somewhat more of a cutting rocky edge to it as does Propositions which on the other hand has a great instrumental closing segment with all members blasting away with all guns blazing.
What better way for a violin player in a rock band to do a solo, than by transposing one of the most famous classical tunes. This time Darryl Way takes The Four Seasons by Vivaldi and the effect is tremendous, something Monkman would later continue to do over a course of four album with Sky. This is the track where the group were joined on stage by their first bassist Rob Martin and though the longest track on the album, it remains one of the most captivating.
Everdance has a somewhat Middle Eastern tinge to it, mainly due to Kristina's vocal manipulations while Back Street Luv, the group's first hit single, features more of a blues based approach with some delicate jazz interjections.
This album should prove of great interest to all those fans of the group, yet I cannot see it winning over any new ones. Not that the group perform badly, far from it. However the sound of the album is a bit of a let down (especially that of the drums) and the track that should have made any of the older fans rush out to buy the album has a horrendous sound. It seems we'll have to wait for the thirtieth anniversary tour and hopefully this time the mixing will be top notch.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Dyslesia - My Own Revolution
Seemingly any band that plays speed/melodic metal with a slight amount of variety is a candidate for being labeled as a progressive metal band. This as I have said over and over again irks me. True this French band have a few progressive tendencies but they basically are a melodic speed metal band in the vein of groups such as Helloween and Angra coupled with a few influences from bands as Iron Maiden and Queensryche.
Formed in 1986, this is the group's first release and reflects the musical age in which they were brought up when speed metal was at the zenith of its popularity. Even Thierry Lebourg's vocals are firmly set in that era boasting of a high-pitched wide ranged voice that sounds like a cross between Michael Kiske (Helloween) and Geoff Tate (Queensryche).
The album opens with an introductory musical segment that is rich in keyboards, something which unfortunately is not followed up during the rest of the album. Curiously, there are also vocals included in this introduction which immediately lets the listener know what to expect from the vocal section. The Intro merges into My Last Wish which picks up in rhythm and seemingly leaves any form of keyboard prowess by the wayside. This is the Helloween of 'Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part I'. A regular pounding beat accompanied by relatively fast guitar playing coupled with some very ear-friendly choruses and bridges.
Never More, the longest track on the album at just over eight minutes, features a nice introductory piece to move into what is a rather similarly musically structured track. At times there are traces of King Diamond, though the there is a real pronunciation problem on this track especially when singing the word "voices". The final section seems to be taken out of an Iron Maiden cue, and quite frankly seems terribly out of place.
The title track is possibly the closest that the group get to playing what I would classify as being progressive metal though still a far cry from anything similar to groups such as Dream Theater. Lights And Dreams, seems to show that the group are able to incorporate a number of styles within one track. Finally we have a track that does not have the same rhythm from beginning to end but one which fluctuates with varying degrees of time changes. Definitely one of the more interesting tracks on the album.
Lights And Dreams features the sound of keyboards, missing from the album since the Intro, though only utilized to create an ambient backbone. In actual fact this is the least commercial track on the album so far with some uncharacteristic chord progressions. Fallen Angels has the group picking up that rhythm that they lost over the last two tracks and here they seem to be doing what they know best, melodic speed metal. The chorus is typically eighties sounding as the whole band seem to join in the grunt while Lebourg wails his head off.
Something that is almost de rigueur on a metal album is the classic ballad. Bad Memories is exactly that as for the first time on the album, the keyboards take a prominent role within the band setup and Lebourg finally sounds comfortable as he does not have to strain his voice. As they say, the best ballads come from the loudest bands, and this is no exception. Expecting another relaxed, laid-back track would be asking for a bit too much, and true to their cause Dyslesia romp into the last two tracks with anger and zest. Both feature some catchy choruses with the closing number Lost Illusions sharing a lot in common with something Queensryche would have done.
Overall this album is an interesting one which when one considers that is is Dyslesia's debut, then it auger's well for the future. Notwithstanding all this this album is of appeal only to those who like listening to melodic speed metal. If that is your taste then this album should do, if on the other hand you are looking for something adventurous in a true progressive sense, sorry you'll have to skip this one.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
Pendragon - The History 1984-2000
It's been some time since Pendragon has featured on our pages, beside the News departement. In 1999 DPRP published reviews of the band's Back Catalogue and a Pendragon Special. Their last studio album The Masquerade Overture dates five years back, so it's no wonder there's been gathering excitement concerning the release of the new studio album Not Of This World, which will be reviewed in roundtable format on DPRP very soon.
While this roundtable review is still in the works, this is an opportune moment to take a
closer look at Pendragon's 2000 release The History: 1984-2000. This over 76 minutes
long album is a collection of some of the band's most popular tracks. There have been earlier
compilations: Overture (1998) for the U.S. market and The Round Table (1999) for
the South American market.
In the booklet it is stated that this CD was released exclusively for the Polish market. It's no wonder then that the long accompanying text, by Artur Chachlowski, focuses on the relationship between Pendragon and their fans in Poland. But its exclusively Polish distribution didn't prevent it from popping up at my local record store in Holland.
People seem to either love or hate Pendragon, there's little evidence for a middle way. The band's distinctiveness is often questioned through extensive comparison with (most often) Marillion and Rush. But Pendragon has maintained a more intimate relation with with neo progressive music than Marillion and produces more symphonic pieces than Rush. Their roots clearly stem in the symphonic genre and Pendragon was clearly influenced by Pink Floyd and Genesis and their like. Over the years they have developed a personal, though I wouldn't say unique, sound. A comparison with present-day Arena is quickly made and more understandable with Clive Nolan playing in both bands, but the writing process is still concentrated in the hands of vocalist/guitarist Nick Barrett. Again, people either seem to highly enjoy Nick's vocal talents or don't consider it talent at all.
This Limited Edition Digipack CD covers a wide range of Pendragon's repertoire, from the
symphonic (The Walls of Babylon) to the deceivingly simple (Paintbox), from
the uplifting song (The Last Waltz) to the melancholy opus (The Shadow) and
emotional ballad (Am I really Losing You). As special feautures it includes two
acoustic versions of Pendragon favourites and an excerpt from the '97 video release
Live....At Last. Krakow, Poland 1996.
The acoustic versions of The King of the Castle and Paintbox (both originally from The Masquerade Overture) were recorded specifically for this collection, with Peter Gee joining Nick Barrett on acoustic guitar and with the standard high quality production by Karl Groom and Barrett. The mpeg-video section with The Last Waltz from the '96 Krakow concert also has excellent sound and good, fluent picture quality.
In closing, the gorgeous artwork should not go unmentioned, so I'll just refer you to the above sleeve picture. The booklet contains a history of Pendragon, with special attention for the band's appearances in Poland, and pictures of the sleeves of all their releases, with a picture of the band printed on a side of the digipack.
Usually I don't go for these kinds of compilation albums when I own the complete set of studio albums, but as a first piece in my and any Pendragon collection, The History: 1984-2000 has a lot going for it. It's easily the longest of the compilation albums and its inclusion of the two acoustic tracks and its video section make it an even more interesting release. The avid fan might want it for these bonuses, the collector will want to add it to his collection anyway, but The History: 1984-2000 is above all an exceptionally good introductory album to the long career of Pendragon. It's therefore highly recommended to all who are yet to purchase a release by this great neo progressive band.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Amon Düül II - Best Of 1969-1999
Amon Düül II are one of the founding bands of what would be termed as kraut rock and the musical legacy they have left behind is both impressive as well as influential on many of today's bands. This collection features a run through of a number of tracks that the group released in its thirty year recording span. Originally there was one Amon Düül yet this incorporated both a political faction as well as a musical faction. This commune would split in two becoming Amon Düül (the political wing), which would go on to record one album under this name and Amon Düül II, whom we are dealing with in this compilation. To further confuse matters, members from both groups would gather on different albums at various stages of the band's career.
Though this compilation is said to span a thirty year period, the group's main era was in during the years 1969 till 1973, when the offices of the record company, United Artists were closed in Germany. In fact the tracks present here mainly relate to that glorious period, when Amon Düül II ruled the space rock scene.
Phallus Dei, the title track from the groups' 1969 debut album kicks off this compilation. Originally the track took up the whole of the second side of the LP, yet on this album it only runs for just under ten minutes (less than half the duration of the original!). Following the narrative introduction, we are greeted by a cacophony of sound effects and drones following which the group seems to indulge in a fuzzed jam session. Though close to psychadelia in style, one can almost state categorically that this was the very beginning of stoner rock.
This is further highlighted by the track Soap Shop Rock, which together with the following track Archangel Thunderbird, is found on the album 'Yeti' (1972). Once again the psychadelic influence reigns supreme especially in those areas where the group seems simply to be moving along on its generated momentum when one or more of the musicians just digresses into a self-indulgent solo. The power that this group generates is impressive as the tracks rumble on combining spaced out guitar work and effects together with some haunting vocals. No wonder the critics who listened to this band compared them to Pink Floyd, and indeed the group were being hailed as the new Pink Floyd.
1971 saw the group release what could be considered as their commercial peak, the double album 'Tanz der Lemminge' (Dance Of The Lemmings). Syntelman's March Of The Roaring 70th is a perfect example of the group's ability to experiment with song and sound structuring to create a unique sound which had the group indulging in improvisational pieces coupled with could be considered as straight forward rock. The sound on this album was reduced to a more gentle almost acoustic approach which also allowed the musical nature of the band to be further and more easily appreciated.
C.I.D. In Uruk and All The Years Round originally appeared on the 1972 album 'Carnival In Babylon', one characterized from the band's less experimental approach and a move towards a more commercial structuring to their music. Not that the tracks are plain straight forward! Anything but that as the group still retained that cosmic sound with sense of unexpectedness in the air throughout their music. Gone is that brash abrasiveness that they possessed on their earlier albums and this time as was also apparent in 'Dance Of The Lemmings', the group seemed to be drawing from an almost folky source of music and not just stoner psychadelia.
The group's fifth recording was also to be their most commercial release possibly due to unexpected interest being shown overseas especially in England where the group would tour and also record the live album 'Live In London'. However, 'Wolf City' failed to attract the public interest as did earlier albums. Surrounded By Stars was the longest track on the album, short at seven minutes and a half when compared to other albums and was possibly the most experimental track of the whole album. The percussive work on this track as well as Knaup's vocals are great with a sound that would be recreated in later years by many groups from the alternative metal scene such as Nine Inch Nails, Tool and Ministry. The title track, Wolf City opens with a strange sounding loop to slowly progress into a heavy echoed guitar riff bringing back the ghosts of the late sixties. This track shows that the group had not lost their touch with their psychadelic influences.
Cereberus dates back to the 'Yeti' era and once again showcases the group's ability in introducing various influences within their music as in this case where the group sound more like a folk band along the lines of The Incredible String Band that somehow merges with a hard rock band as a distorted guitar enters the fray midway through the song. Nada Moonshine # is one of the latter day numbers taken from the re-united group's output. This is immediately apparent from the sound quality as well as the synthetic effects and loops utilised. Being somewhat of a nostalgic, I much prefer the earlier releases from the group especially as the group seem to be drawing on ethnic influences and sound too commercial for my liking. Yet that is a matter of taste.
On the whole this collection should prove interesting to those willing to sample the works of this legendary band, yet on the other hand this is by no means the only "Best Of" that the group have released over the years. This is one for those who like the more psychedelic tinged regions of progressive rock.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.