Reviews in this issue:
Ray Wilson - Unplugged
I like acoustic unplugged CDs. As a matter of fact, I like them a lot. Unplugged versions of songs can prove that they are brilliant compositions if they still stand up when stripped to the absolute core. I just love the intimacy and sheer emotion of the best unplugged performances out there. And Ray Wilson's new Unplugged album certainly falls into that category.
Most of you proggers might only know Ray Wilson as the ex-singer of Genesis, who did one album with them, but that would be ignoring Ray's long and diverse musical background. In the early eighties Ray, his brother Steve and several other musicians played in a band called Guaranteed Pure. As a matter of fact, the first ever Ray Wilson song that was released was Swing Your Bag, which appeared on the Outpatient compilation album that Fish released back in 1993. Back then this tune was described as 'a David Lee Roth style tongue in cheek stab at life' and it would eventually become the title of Guaranteed Pure's first (and only) album. The band is represented on this CD by Swing Your Bag - feeling only slightly out of place, but as much fun as I thought it was 9 years ago - and The Airport Song, another cynical bit of songwriting, played as a completely unrehearsed encore.
In 1994, Ray joined a band called Stiltskin and had a big hit with Inside, which was used for the soundtrack of a jeans commercial, which funny enough would later be ridiculed by Genesis with their I Can't Dance song and video ! The band would break up after having released and toured with their album The Mind's Eye, here represented by the hit Inside - working unexpectedly well in it's acoustic version, considering the raw electric power of the original - and the wonderful Rest in Peaces.
In September 1996 Ray joined Genesis and recorded Calling All Stations with them, featuring 3 songs he co-wrote. After the lack of success in the US (and Rick being chewed up and spit out by narrow-minded Genesis fans?) Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford called it a day, focussing on releasing archive items of varying quality instead. Ray's period in the band is represented here by Shipwrecked and Not About Us. Ray also toured with Genesis, and some of the material he played on the road is present here as well: Lover's Leap (the first part of Supper's Ready), Mamma and Carpet Crawlers.
After this prog rock dino adventure Ray went on to record under the name Cut with his brother Steve and two other ex-Guaranteed Pure members, plus Nir Z., drummer on the Calling all Stations tour. Their 1999 album Millionairhead was only released in Germany - where they also did some support tours - and that's a damn shame because the Cut tracks on this unplugged album - Another Day, Gypsy and Sarah - sound absolutely gorgeous and are among the best material on the CD. Especially Another Day, about the suicide of one of Ray's friends, is stunning.
And that brings us up to the year 2000 in which Ray played 13 sold out nights at the Edinburgh International Festival, where this Unplugged album was recorded. Ray, on vocals and acoustic guitar, is once again joined by his brother Steve Wilson (on guitars and backing vocals) and Amanda Lyon on keyboards and soulful vocals on Forever Young (a Dylan cover) and dueting with Ray in Phil Collin's In The Air Tonight, and a brand new Wilson composition called Always in My Heart (not bad, but probably the only song on the album that didn't immediately 'grab me').
Besides all of the material of bands in which Wilson has played during the nineties, he also brings us the mentioned covers of Collins and Dylan, as well as wonderful versions of Peter Gabriel's Biko (rightfully described as 'one of the most moving songs ever written' by Wilson), Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run (the first time I can actually understand the lyrics) and an absolutely breathtaking acapella version of Desparado by The Eagles. It's tracks like these that prove Ray's amazing vocal ability and that his slightly raw but deep and warm voice is one of the best in the business.
Every single song on this album is a little gem, even the last four tunes, which serve as an encore
and as if to state any inferior quality are not indexed seperately (which I find rather annoying and
is probably my only complaint about the CD). The material is quite diverse and besides the
well-known prog classics (sounding very refreshing in these acoustic versions) consists of fine covers
and high quality singer/songwriter tracks.
This album comes highly recommended to anybody who likes acoustic stuff like for instance Nick and Neal's Two Seperate Gorillas album (though Unplugged has a much better recording quality and is more serious), The Eagles or John Wesley's support acts for Marillion.
This album, as well as Ray's CDs with Guaranteed Pure and Cut, can be purchased through Ray's Homepage. Ray is planning to record a new CD with solo material sometime this year. If it is anywhere near as good as this Unplugged album, I can't wait to hear it.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.
Mangrove - "Massive Hollowness"
Mangrove is a new Dutch band consisting of Eric Holdtman (vocals), Pieter Drost (bass), Joost Hagemeijer (drums and keyboards) and Roland van der Horst (guitars). The band started as a two-man highschool band of Hagemeijer and Van der Horst, after they discovered their mutual liking for symphonic music. With the addition of Holdtman and Drost they were able to perform their material live. Apart from their own compositions the band also plays covers of bands like Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Genesis, Spock's Beard and Rush.
With "Massive Hollowness" the band has produced a demo-album that is by far the most professional looking, self-produced demo I've ever seen. Interesting artwork, a 10-page booklet with atmospheric pictures, lyrics a mini-bio and pictures of the band members, the CD itself is a picture disc and the artwork on the inlay is double-sided. Nothing of the exterior does suspect that this is not a professionally produced CD.
Musically their debut covers a lot of different styles. This was done on purpose as to "reach an audience as wide as possible, and at the same time show what the band is capable of". No lack of self-confidence here.
Therefore, not all songs fall in the prog category. The opener Freedom for example, is a rather weak attempt to sound like The Golden Earring. And somehow album closer Pain sounds a lot like it.
With the Zone-trilogy, however, they enter a more into the prog, erm, zone. The three tracks show an interesting progress, with a few time-signature changes and a nice keyboard-guitar interlude in Zone II.
Time Bomb is another proggy composition, which makes me think of former Dutch prog band Egdon Heath.
The atmospheric Masque is another interesting composition. It sounds a bit like Led Zeppelin's Stairway To Heaven, but then sung by Ian Gillan, singer of Deep Purple (imagine the vocals of Child In Time). Incidentally, this is the only time where I can easily point out any of the influences they mention in the booklet.
At the time of recording this demo, the band didn't have a keyboardist yet. Drummer Hagemeijer took care of the keyboards, but there aren't any solos, nor even conspicuous keyboard bits present. Recently however, a new keyboardist has been found in Chris Jonker, and with this line-up the band has begun recording their first real album, which should be a lot more prog orientated.
The demo was recorded in their own studio, using three hard disk recorders, and the basic sound track was recorded live in one take. Afterwards the vocals and solos were overdubbed. With this approach they tried to create a live-sound on their album. In this they succeeded, however, by using this approach the overall recording sounds a bit flat and empty. Some of the songs could have done with a few more overdubs, harmony vocals, sound effects and such. Nonetheless, this is only a demo recording and in that respect "Massive Hollowness" is an astounding result. I'd be interested to see what a full album will sound like.
*The CD is for sale for 13 Euro, by e-mailing the band. The band is also working on a website, but at the time of writing this is not finished yet.
*(Update 2009) Massive Hollowness is no longer available. The band now also have tow websites and the links can be found above.
Conclusion: 6+ out of 10.
Karda Estra - Eve
Karda Estra is a project by Richard Wileman, who is also known from his former band, Lives & Times. The band's name, taken from a horror movie, seemed very appropriate for a project that tends to gothic and dark atmospheres. Eve is the band's third album.
This album was inspired by a horror story in which a Frankenstein-like scientist creates a "perfect" female. It focuses on atmosphere, rather than songbased melodies. The music is never really doomy, but dark and melancholic. These strong moods prevent the music from becoming too much "easy listening", "ambient" or "new agey".
The overall sound on the album is very classical. There are orchestral synths, but also real classical instruments (violin, oboe, cor anglais, viola, flute and clarinet). From a prog rock perspective: I can hear quite some Steve Hackett influences (both in moods and guitars). The electric guitars have this "haunting, slow and wailing" sound, and also the acoustic guitars are very tastefully done, and work very well behind the orchestral background. Although the music is fully instrumental, it has some beautiful wordless female vocals (by Ileesha Bailey), that give the album a special mysterious feel.
All in all, I would say Eve is a very unique piece of music. It might not be real "progressive rock", but "progressive/classical crossover" would be a good description. I'd say you might give this a try, if you like Steve Hackett's Sketches of Satie, gothic/horror soundtracks in general, or classical inspired music (like The Enid). If my rating seems a bit low, it's only because I'm rarely in the mood for listening to this kind of dark instrumental stuff.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Kriegsmarine - Kriegsmarine
Marketed as a jazz fusion band, Kriegsmarine are a delightful break from the monotonous routine of regular music. The quartet actually include three brothers and they are Mark Schmidt (Hohner 6 string bass), Roger Schmidt (tenor sax) and Paul Schmidt (tenor sax) together with Marshall Grant on drums. As can be deduced from the surname of the brothers, their ancestry lies in Germany and possibly this is why they are so fascinated with the German navy of World War II. In fact the album itself is dedicated to Joachim Schepke (1912-1941) and the crew of U-100.
This album was previously released with just the first six tracks and only lately has it been reissued with the additional tracks included. This is definitely not music for the faint of heart or for anyone unable to dig jazz fusion. The fulcrum of the music is based on the interplay between bass and drums with Mark Schmidt's bass guitar being the main solo instrument on the album. The runs are exquisite and are a mainstay of the album, dominating whole tracks as on Nebula and Morning And Evening.
The musical diversion from a drum and bass sound that the band offers is in the form of a tenor sax and a trumpet. These pieces show the band in a very different light. Whereas the bass laden pieces would appeal to almost any rock lover, and even those into heavier stuff like metal, those tracks that feature trumpet and sax, such as Rudiger's Tune and Opus have a definitive jazz flavour. There are hints of a free form of jazz with traces of musicians as Ornette Coleman and for those who love progressive rock, one can also draw parallels with bands from the Canterbury scene. Tracks like Up From The Ashes and U-100 are such examples reminding me of the works of early Soft Machine and also Matching Mole.
As I already mentioned, the last tracks on this album have been recently added and show the band moving towards a stronger cohesive playing with more interaction between the various instruments taking place. This augers well for the future as it seems that the band will be moving in an experimental direction that allows the full range of the four involved instruments to be utilised, and not just concentrate on the drums and bass.
Kriegsmarine are not strictly speaking a progressive rock band. However, the openness of progressive rock fans and their ability to comprehend the intricacies of jazz music, a genre which has had a direct influence on prog-rock, should make this album of interest to many of you.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
Natural Science - The Lies Along The Way
Lies Along The Way is the first set of recordings for Dutch progressive metal band, Natural Science. The band consists of Rou Wassink (vocals), Geert At Hell (guitar), Vincent Wassink (bass), Ralph Ebbers (drums) and Patrick Groot Neuland (synthesizers).
Musically the band lie within the melodic and progressive metal genres as they cite bands such as Dream Theater, Savatage, Marillion and Rush as their main influences. There is a certain bombasticity that would evoke influences from classical bands such as Deep Purple, especially in the use of organ-sounding keyboards on tracks as the lengthy opener Some Say the River. Having said that the band do go one step further in their musical diversity with some delightful interchanges between guitars and keyboards as well as some intriguing shifts in time signature.
With God's Asleep, the band resort to creating the hard hitting rhythm that progressive metal bands often resort to, though they do not fall into the trap that oft happens with such bands, in that they delve into overdrawn and unduly elongated solos. Instead the band manage to keep everything within check and integrate melodic with progressive metal. Dance The Reel starts off with a riff that reminded me of Megadeth's Peace Sells though it never reaches those levels of speed metal. Whatever the track lacks in melody, when compared to the other Natural Science tracks, it makes up for in power.
The final track on this mini album is the title track The Lies Along The Way which could also be considered as the album's ballad track. Roy Wassink's voice comes across as being extremely strong yet at the same time delicate, while Geert At Hell's guitar work complements to the full the delicate nature of the music with some delightful solos and licks.
All in all this mini album is an impressive debut for the band and I look forward to hearing their debut album. There are some drawbacks, derived from the fact that this is a demo-album with certain recording restrictions, yet it is a welcome breath of fresh air in the ever popular progressive metal scene. For those interested in purchasing this mini album, one can do so from the Natural Science Website at a price of 8 Euros.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.