"Our songs merge different styles and moods ranging from rock to classical. The music draws from the combination of long instrumental passages and strong vocal hook-lines. It is our goal to take our audience on a roller coaster ride through a myriad of different emotions."
As a matter of fact, one could easily mistake the Alias Eye album for a (prog) metal CD; the splendid dark and menacing artwork by master Noren and relatively (by prog standards) short track timings, ranging from three and a half to nearly 8 minutes max, certainly point in that direction. The band aptly proves that you don't need two 26+ minute track on an album to be diverse and versatile and get your message across to the listener.
Alias Eye was founded in 1998 and released a demo recording called
Beyond the Mirror, which was well received. Their first full-length debut
album Field of Names, released by DVS records, features re-recordings of the three songs on the demo, plus 7
new tracks. And what fine tracks they are !
On their homepage the band mentions a lot of influences, most importantly Spock's Beard, Dream Theater and The Beatles. All of these influences can easily be spotted on the album, especially the Spock's Beard one; some of the songs have the same playful quirkiness, breaks and structure of breaking a song down, followed by bringing the main melody back instrument by instrument (e.g. in River Running). The Beatles influece can be heard in the Strawberry Fields Forever-like sound of the intro of An End in Itself. Other bands that have come to mind when listening to the more uptempo tracks on Field of Names are Darius, Tiles and Platypus.
When I first played the CD, the intro to Field of Names had me wandering if I was listening to a weak attempt at covering Marillion's Assassin, but then the band kicked in and all doubts disappeared. The music is diverse, catchy, inventive (accordion prog in the title track) and features a mixture of lots of styles, including pop, rock, classical music (mainly in the keyboard solos), vocal harmonies and even Latin (in The Readiness is All). It's good to hear that the band doesn't take itself too serious and has a good sense of humour, for instance by including the 'Pop Goes the Weasle' melody in Hybrid or the slapstick-like section in Mystery.
Philip Griffiths has a perfect voice for the enjoyable vocal melodies, very pleasing to listen to and devoid of the often
present German accent. Frank Fisher (bass) and Ludwig Benedek (drums) provide many a catchy
and intrecate tight rhythm pattern, while Frank also riffs along with Matthias Richter, the guitar
player who brings us some great solos as well (including some slightly Floydian influences, like in
An End in Itself, and occassional fast playing, but without
turning into one of those manic ego trips). Last but not least Vytas Lemke treats the
listener to some excellent keyboard work, ranging from accessible and poppy to light classical,
but always blending in perfectly with the rest of the music.
There's quite a high number of ballad or lower tempo songs on the album, but fortunately there's still enough powerful stuff going on in these songs (e.g. heavy guitar chords) to keep the album from getting unbalanced. As a matter of fact, most of the ballads sound like something a good prog metal band could perform. At other times the slow songs take an unexpected turn just before they begin to drag a bit, like The Readiness is All, which suddenly moves into a Latin section with saxophone !
Lyrics are quite good, with the exception of the occassional cheesy cliché line (e.g. 'staring at each other, at our sisters and our brothers' in Premortal Dance or 'take me to the promised land, leave the past behind' in Driven). Production of the album is very good with the only weakness the unnecessary abrupt end of the opening track, where you can actually hear some sloppy editing.
The album comes with a nice 12-page booklet featuring lyrics and a picture for each track. Special compliments go to Mattias Noren, who cleverly incorporated an image of an eye in all of these pictures.
I'm very impressed by Alias Eye's first album and it will definitely find its way to my
CD player many times, especially at those occassions when I need to listen to something
that's catchy and inventive without taking ages to get the idea across. Highly recommended !
Best moments: Field of Names, River Running and Mystery.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.
Field Of Namesstarts very promising with a delicious combination of an unusual rhythm with oriental melodies. These oriental pieces alternate with heavier riffs and even an accordion solo. Although the backing vocals could have been a bit more elaborated, I can't find a dull moment in this track.
A piano/vocal introduction leads into Premortal Dance. It's difficult to compare Philips Griffiths voice to anyone, but the closest description I can come up with is "a lower version of Saga's Michael Sadler". Despite the church-organ interlude with military drums, this track hasn't really jumped on me so far. Maybe the chorus is a bit too AOR (nothing wrong with that!) for my taste.
Wasteland starts off in an almost Crimsonesque way. Built around a continuing rhythm pattern, this track seems to lack melody at first, but this is made up for in a more romantic middle part, which brings both variation and balance into the composition. Well done.
Another romantic setting (acoustic guitars, string quartet) creates the background for Just Another Tragic Song. This tracks develops into a mid-tempo song, with a pounding bass and a combination of both acoustic and electric guitars, played by Mattias Richter. Vytas Lemke gets his chance to shine in a nice, long piano-solo.
The longest track on the album (almost 8 minutes) is called Driven. From the beginning Frank Fischer introduces the main musical theme as a bass-line. Halfway through the song this theme will reappear as a guitar-riff. Driven takes some time to take off, but around half-time it really does with a guitar-solo. This aspect I like about Alias Eye: within their compact songs there's enough room for all musicians to show their skills. A lovely Hammond-solo is the cream on this cake
River Running is another of those well-crafted tracks: original mid-tempo beat, repeated keyboard-leads, and a prominent position for all band-members. In this case a speedy piano part is the pleasant surprise, hidden as an unexpected surprise in the middle of this song. These changes make Field Of Names a diverse album, with enough surprises to keep you interested for almost 55 minutes.
I already mentioned the diversity of rhythms by Ludwig Benedict, but Hybrid is probably the most versatile track of the album, featuring a high amount of twists and turns -rhythmically and musically- within four minutes. Dislike it, or love it.
A jazzy piano, in a combination with a soaring guitar, form the main ingredients to the shortest song of the album Mystery. With some tongue-in-cheek elements included, this song is a very enjoyable up-beat track.
The singer's father Martin Griffiths (of Beggar's Opera) is responsible for additional vocals in The Readiness Is All. The result is an interesting Saga-ish vocal-part with nice harmonies. A fine riff is combined with a bluesy piano-solo, followed by a nice guitar-solo. The end of the song presents us a Caribbean rhythm with a saxophone.
A distant echo of The Beatles' Fool On The Hill can be heard in the first notes of An End in Itself. It's a very gentle song with whispering vocals and subtle piano-playing in the verses. Maybe the sound could have been a bit bigger for such a 'finale-song'. Although the overall production of the album is quite good, I find the low end of the bass sounds a bit 'flat' and the keyboards a bit 'thin'. Apart from that all instruments, including vocals, are right in place.
As could be expected from a DVS-release, Alias Aye's debut comes with atmospheric artwork by Mattias Noren, which makes listening to the album (how weird this may sound) even more enjoyable. This small label managed to find a fine group of musicians, that don't play (neo-)prog in the orthodox manner, but much more with a song-approach, comparable to Saga or even Rush. Still there's enough room within these song-structures for a wider range of moods and styles, in combination with solo-spots for all members. I hope someone's willing to give these guys a support-spot somewhere, since I wouldn't mind seeing them playing this stuff live.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Field of Names, the title track, opens the album. It has a Middle Eastern melodic and rhythmic structure and here the reference to Egdon Heath is at its strongest. The backing vocals are also right in place and mix. This track is strongly bass/guitar dominated and a richer keyboard tapistry under the verses and chorus might have been in order. The funky synth harmonium solo is pretty cool though.
The change to the piano/vocal ballad opening of Premortal Dance is rather abrupt and maybe a different order of the tracks might have been in order. The more powerful middle section reaches its height with a climax Pendragon-like guitar solo (blistering guitar and pumping keys). Great stuff!
Wasteland reminds slightly of ELP in the first seconds of the opening, with
more dissonant chords and a non-conformal rhythmic structure, but it sure
has a more accessable ring to it. Nice drive and good melody. Halfway the
song the drive stops and it slows down 100 percent to the level of a
ballad with only piano, keyboards, drums and a bit acoustic guitar, only
to go back to where the track started and it's full throttle again. Brilliant
Just Another Tragic Song, the title says it all. A depressed melancholic ballad, with acoustic guitar (the classical open ballad chords). When the full band falls in, the power of Alias Eye becomes obvious yet again. Rich sound and emotion-loaded, with enough little instrumental tricks and variations in the chorus and verses to keep the track interesting. The piano solo is fantastic, brilliant playing by Lemke. Showing off whilst maintaining the structure of the melody of the track is an art in itself, and he knows how to do it.
Driven is the longest track on the album with almost 8 minutes. This shows that Alias Eye looks for melody driven progressive rock (so what most people call symphonic rock), rather than large compositions. The structure and melody stay the same for the first couple of minutes, while with the advent of more and more instruments the sound becomes richer. The guitar solo in the middle is not so very effective in my opinion, it doesn't really get off until there are two guitars playing. Then it starts to be cool. A organ (fake-Hammond?) solo at the end is another thing worth mentioning.
Somewhat happier in melody and tempo is River Running. It reminded me the most
of IQ in the rhythmic sense, and the piano of Colourflow for a second, then a
spanish-like melody (like Spock's Beard sometimes put in their songs,
e.g. The Light), and
finally entering a classical Lizst like piece, but with syncopes). The
general song might be called Beardish. Hybrid continues a bit in this
structure. Quite complex, but very convincingly played and containing a
variation on Yankee Doodle during the instrumental break (including a Bachian/Vivaldi
A funky groove is the basis of Mystery, but in melody it somehow reminded me a bit of Pallas (The Sentinel). Good short track. The Readiness is all features an excellent guest vocalist as well as a guest saxophone appearance at the end in a marimba like section. A good, bit jazzy track at times, with a possibility for the instruments to do some short solo work. The album closes with An End In Itself, with a mysterious opening of organ and vocal. The strange melody line of the chorus reminded me of the way Kayak sometimes treats melodic structures. The guitar delivers a splendid solo in this track.
As one can see from the references quoted in the review, Alias Eye makes neo-prog, and quite good one as well, where I especially am impressed by the keyboards (some great piano work). The other instruments (including the vocals) are of very high quality too. The ballad-content is a bit to big, but the quality of the tracks compensates for that. Hear it for yourself, you won't be disappointed!
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.