Reviews in this issue:
Pain Of Salvation - Remedy Lane
Pain Of Salvation have produced an excellent album with their The Perfect Element Part I. In fact, I gave it the highest grade I have given any album so far, and I still do not regret that. So it would be very difficult even
equalling that level, let alone surpassing it. In that respect, it surprised me a bit that this album is not called The Perfect Element Part II. However, I do believe it is wise not to come out with the successor to your breakthrough
album too quickly, we had to wait quite a while for Mike Oldfield to come out with his Tubular Bells II as well....
Still, The Perfect Element has achieved one thing: Daniel Gildenlowe has been touring as the "fifth" TransAtlantic member, and Pain Of Salvation is now serving as the opening act for Dream Theater, widely recognised as the biggest progressive metal act in existence today. So their quality is now recognised! Having said this, the setting of a live atmosphere, with a lot of people around you and too loud PA systems may not be the best environment to get to know this band, as it destroys many of the subtle progressive elements in their music. Talking about progressive, this album is much more progressive then The Perfect Element I, in the sense that there is more variation in moods and a more abundant use of keyboards at places, as well as a better variation in rhythms within the tracks. In other words, the compositions have matured even more. In fact, slowly the "metal" is even lost.....
The first two tracks could have been on The Perfect Element I as well, very good ones indeed, a bit in the style of Ashes. Then we get treated to the weirdest track I have heard Pain Of Salvation make up until now. Fandango is very complicated and it takes a couple of listenings to get the hang of this one, but it is really worthwhile. Melody and rhythm corporate to create a perfect blend of music. A Trace Of Blood is more progressive metal in the vein of the German prog metal bands, or even Evergrey. Not overly interesting and quite long, but with a cool guitar solo.
The album slows down a bit with This Heart Of Mine, quite calm and moody and very much Pain Of Salvation, but it did not do much for me. Contrast that with Undertow, which is in the same vein, but with such a more emotional melody line! The passion drips off this one and therefore is one of the highlights of the album. A hint of Dream Theater can be found in Rope Ends, but it also reflects back to their previous album. It has a very staccato theme and has many, many variations in both melody line and rhythm. I don't believe this track will ever bore you!
Remember the (not coincidentally ?) Swedish band Ritual? Now put their folky tracks in a metal jacket and then you have Chain Sling. Nice track and an upbeat to the very calm and moody Dryad Of The Woods, which has the same atmosphere as the recently discussed Mostly Autumn album (Lord of the Rings)! Quite calm and pastorale, it provides a perfect resting point on the album. Funny is the part where the guitar plays a lick in a different measure than the rest of the band, but slowly they come into sync again, a trick also used by Mike Oldfield on the opening of the second part of Tubular Bells I. The title track is a fully keyboard dominated track (man, it could almost have been on "Synthesiser Greatest IV"), where the main theme of the album is repeated. Not exactly what you would expect from a metal band! We then get treated to a very complex interplay between guitar, keyboard and rhythmic section with Waking Every God. It is a very mature track, where the composition is very balanced and mature. The heavy sections of the track remind me a bit of the latest Devin Townsend album.
Second Love is a rather trivial ballad, but then again, that is what 99% of the planet likes. Fortunately it contains a very good guitar solo, so not all is lost here. The album ends with Beyond The Pale, a long, almost meditative song, which features the complete Pain Of Salvation, from calm and moody, to dark and threatening, to hard and aggressive. Not to forget the blistering guitar work on this track! A great closer to the album, but if I would recompile the album I would put it more to the beginning, as there the listener is still fresher and more able to cope with such mind-challenging tracks.
In conclusion, Remedy Lane is a worthy successor to The Perfect Element Part I. Not as shockingly brilliant, but it contains enough gems to really sit back and enjoy yourself for an hour. As the tracks are more complex and more progressive, Pain Of Salvations have proven that they are one of the leading exponents of today's progressive metal scene. Then again, this album is so well put together that I think that also the "regular" prog rock lovers will enjoy large parts of the album, not just the "metal heads"! So put aside your fear of metal and go for it in your local record store!
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.
Camel - The Paris Collection
The album from the tour that so nearly did not happen, fraught with problems, mishaps and disappointments even before it began and carefully chronicled within the sleeve notes of the CD. All of which humbles me as I felt unable to travel to their concert in Sheffield as I was suffering from a bad cold, the shame - Camel are obviously made of sterner stuff.
The Paris Collection breaks from tradition with the release of a single Official Bootleg CD from the tour and a selection of tracks taken from their performance on 30th October 2000 at the Bataclan. Strangely the album opens with Ice a track I am always wary of, in case I may tire of hearing it. Never, this surely must be one of the finest instrumental tracks ever written, a beautiful tune that so epitomizes the music of Camel and Andy Latimer's uniquely stylized playing. A brave move to open with such a serene track, however the tempo is soon lifted with the second track Chord Change again another instrumental, this time taken from Moonmadness. This piece has lost none of it's chemistry over the years and is a testament to the songwriting of Andy Latimer and the late Pete Bardens, who sadly died in January 2002.
The general mood of the album is somewhat laid back and the following song encapsulates this with the beautiful acoustic version of Fingertips, a definite hi-light taken from the Stationary Traveller album. We then travel right back to Camel's debut album for the first of the two versions of Slow Yourself Down, track four follows with the more traditional arrangement of the piece, taken from the concert and features some excellent organ from Guy LeBlanc. The second noted as the "late night version" which concludes the album, is a delicate arrangement and is the only time we hear Latimer's vocals on this recording. By the time the band had reached Paris, Andy's voice had give up the ghost and the vocals were shared between Colin Bass and Guy LeBlanc. This superb version of the track, recorded by Andy and Guy during rehearsals, and in keeping with the relaxed nature of The Paris Collection nicely rounds off the CD.
Perhaps because of Latimer's throat problems on the evening, the album is slightly more instrumental than previous "Bootlegs" but the lack of vocals is more than compensated by the obvious chemistry between both old and new members. Sahara, the only track taken from Rajaz best demonstrates this and all the musicians gel wonderfully together.
The CD moves into a rockier mode for the first of three tracks from Dust and Dreams, starting with Mother Road segued into the atmospheric Little Rivers and Little Rose and finishing up with the anthemic Hopeless Anger. And finally the last track from the concert is a Camel firm favourite Lady Fantasy, this sees Guy LeBlanc stamp his authority on the proceedings with some inspirational soloing. Denis Clement is solid and innovative throughout and the track builds to a fitting climax.
By the band's own admission they were not firing on all cylinders by this point and granted there are a few "grey" areas within the instrumentation but surely this is what live music is all about - warts and all. You may already have gathered by now that Camel are one of my most esteemed bands so I have no problem in recommending this CD. There is enough variation within the structure and arrangements of Camel's material to justify the release of another live album, to the avid fan probably a must and to those who have possibly only studio versions of Camel's material this is a good insight to one of Progressive Rock's most endeering bands.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Flowing Tears - Serpentine
Flowing Tears is a Gothic Rock band from Germany, with some mild progressive influences, but it was on the border of what DPRP is willing to review. Not that the music itself is not any good, not at all, I quite enjoyed the album. But then, we are a prog rock page and not a Goth page. But as we do count Therion, The Gathering, After Forever and Within Temptation etc to our "territory", and Flowing Tears have performed with the first two of these, I have decided to review this release nevertheless.
As stated above, this is Goth rock pur sang. They used to be a sextet, but have decided to go forth as a quartet. This necessarily means a less rich instrumental sound, but also that the (female) vocalist gets more room to express herself. Stefanie Duchêne has quite a deep dark voice and she is able to use that voice well on this album (it is the fourth one they have produced so far and the first that I hear). The album contains some very catchy tracks, which once they have nested themselves in your brain, keep on popping up. They have some very powerful pounding tracks like the somewhat spooky Merlin or the New Wave/metal-like combination of the Intro - Starfish Ride. The track Children Of The Sun is where they deviate most of the rock line, with a more calm and moody atmosphere and a more dominant role for the keyboards. Breach comes quite close to progressive metal with its twinkling keyboards and firm guitar riff. The last track For Tonight is also a quite agreeable track, but none of the tracks is a really long complex composition. These are all nice to listen to, but not very many exciting things on the composition level happen here.
In conclusion: a nice album with some fine, not over-pretentious music. For those who can appreciate a nice piece of Goth rock certainly a good album, but the average prog rock lover can do without it. Still, nothing really wrong with it!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Local 7 - Substrat
What can I tell you about the people behind Local 7, well not a lot really. At the time of the recording of Substrat they consisted of Patrick Andrieu on guitar, bass and synthesizer and Jean Francois Graviloff on drums and percussion, although I have it on good authority that a bass player and keyboardist have now been added to the line-up. They are based around the Grenoble region of France and this is their debut album. I did contact Patrick to gleen more information about the band, but sadly my French and his English did not add much to the information I already had.
Fortunately their music speaks volumes for them, and this album turned out to be one of 2001's gems. An instrumental album, possibly best headed as Progressive Jazz Rock, with perhaps an obvious leaning towards the principal instruments of Local 7 - guitars and drums. All eight tracks are fairly intense overall, but with many subtleties with highs and lows within each of the pieces. Refreshingly all the parts are played and several listenings were necessary as both instrumentalists were competing for attention throughout. Don't get me wrong this worked really well and the parts meshed nicely together.
A track by track precis may prove difficult as the pieces follow similar compositional formats with strong, complex rhythmic drumming from Graviloff interspersed with sparse keyboards and melodic guitar themes provided by Patrick Andrieu. So although there is variation within the individual tracks, a detailed breakdown is unbeneficial. There are however many highlights from Substrat; Un lapin sur le bateau which opens with an atmospheric keyboard section, played by Patrick Andrieu and La chapelle, the longest tune from the album has an early Al Di Meola quality to it. Not an overly long CD at just under three quarters of an hour and might appeal to those interested in Brand X, Minimum Vital and perhaps King Crimson albeit with a rockier edge and their own individual sound.
I have thought long and hard on the best way to summarise the Substrat album and the music enclosed within it, and the best I can suggest is to imagine listening to the clever and nifty instrumental breaks within track - the bit that jumps out and says "listen" - put them all together and there you have it, perhaps. This is a good instrumental album full of dynamics and excitement, heartily recommended.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Us - A Sorrow In Our Hearts
This year has started very well for me. For an issue of our Forgotten Sons section, I planned to write about a Dutch band that released an LP called To Whom It Concerns in 1979 under the name of Saga (they didn't know about their Canadian namesakes by then). (That Forgotten Sons issue has to wait for now, but will definitely be included on DPRP one day!) I was able to trace down most of the original members, so that was very encouraging - stories from first hand are the best. But the news was getting better, as the three founding members of that band, had, after 20 years, just started to work together again. The name of that new collaboration is called Us. The result, entitled A Sorrow In Our Hearts, is in my CD player at the moment.
It has resided in there for a long time, actually. It is exactly that, why this year has started so well for me. The last time I was so pleasantly surprised by a debut CD was about a year ago, with, coincidentally, another Dutch group: Salmon. And that's not the only comparison between the two bands. Their CDs bring up the same kind of feelings when I listen to them. Different moods, but sincere and intense. Lyrics deal with human issues, personal views on life. The lyrics are very well written, mostly by Jos Wernars. Most importantly, the music sounds honest, from the heart. Interesting contrasts between quiet and heavier parts, never a dull moment.
Interesting is that both bands have bass players that think along the same lines when it comes to the place of their instruments within the framework of the band's sound. Melodic bass playing - I love that.
Differences as well, of course. The bands' sounds are different. It's also not fair comparing just two bands with each other, and it might be not too clear if you are unfortunate enough not to know either of these two bands... We're talking about musicians who have been listening to progressive rock since the early Seventies. Not a bunch of musically naive players, but well-formed collections of influences and homegrown ideas. A mature sound - I don't expect their sound to change drastically over the years.
The band originally consisted of brothers Ernest (keyboards, vocals) and Jos (guitars, bass, lead vocals) Wernars, and drummer / singer Paul van Velzen. They were the core and founding members of Saga in the late 1970s.
During the recording of this album, the band became aware they needed an extra guitar player. Peter de Frankrijker played addition lead guitar on all tracks. After the completion of the album the collaboration worked so well that Peter was asked to stay, which he did. With Blackmore as his big example, he learned to play both melodic and heavy parts.
Jos' voice is not of a typical 1990s progressive rock sound. A bit thin, but personal sound. He doesn't have a very clear or flat (as in 'unpersonal') prog metal voice, and this is a big advantage to me. You hear and feel he's telling personal things. Also the vocal lines are interesting, as they're quite clever but fitting the music they are sung to very well.
The music tells the same story as the lyrics do. It's obvious the band paid a lot of attention to that - you can't sing cute lyrics on a melancholic melody. In fact, when drummer Paul van Velzen wrote the lyrics to Forever Yours, which by that was turned into a love song, the originally very long composition was stripped down from a few complex and intense parts. The last part of The Acid Dream is a kind of coda, telling you what becomes of the characters in the story (in this case, an drug addicted prostitute and clients of hers catching her disease because they don't like the protection). Drama in music as on film where they would use certain types of lighting. The music is almost like shooting a movie here. Not a fantasy or sci-fi Hollywood production, but like an interesting European drama.
One of the most important elements of this music, at least to me, is that it tells a story and portrays the emotions that come with it. The music is not a display of instrumentalists' talents or a technical showcase. It's the song that counts, not a detailed description of the molecules that form the composition. Melody is the most important ingredient of the music. Whether it is with just acoustic guitars and sensitive singing, or multi-layered keyboard parts and distorted guitar, it's all about the big picture - no extensive soloing to direct all attention onto one instrument.
And the contrast between the different moods I mentioned is present within all songs, not just among the songs. There's progress of alternating pieces within the songs, yet not a patchwork of musical bits and pieces. And the overall feel of the album is a unit of well-crafted compositions. There's not one song that doesn't fit - these guys know their stuff, know what they want - this is Us.
The way the keyboards (Ernest Wernars is a big Tony Banks fan) and guitar are used remind me of early Genesis, but in a modern version. The bass is as creative and present as with Chris Squire, although less demanding. Creative drumming contributes more than a basic track, and offers interesting rhythms that demand their own part of the attention. Rollercoaster and Passport To Magonia were well chosen as first and last track, because of their opening and closing sections respectively, grabbing your attention, and, at least in the case of yours truly, not letting go till the end.
If you like Salmon, you are bound to like Us as well. It's the melodies that count, the songs. Very tasteful progressive rock that you don't hear a lot these days, well played, well produced, good songs. In short: everything a good album needs. There's no other name I can think of to give you any references. I hope this review has made you at least curious to listen to the samples on the band's website, or simply buy the album. This album deserves to be heard by a many.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.