Reviews in this issue:
Gazpacho - Bravo
Every now and then a DPRP editor comes across a band which totally blows him away, and from that moment on he sees it as a personal quest to convert as many other people as possible to the fandom of this band. Many of you will have the same experience with your personal favourites, and besides the various obvious ones like Pink Floyd, Marillion and Spock's Beard, I have been known to do this with bands like Light (NL), Porcupine Tree (Sky Moves Sideways era) and more recently RPWL. Last year BJ fell victim to the Gazpacho virus. He had met the band at the Marillion convention 2002 and hasn't stopped raving about them since (including two DPRP reviews of their demo Get It While It's Cold (37°C)). When driving to Fish's Night of the Jester concert last year the two of us tried to convince each other of the quality of Gazpacho and RPWL respectively. I'm not quite sure if we succeeded.
And then it was at this year's Marillion convention when BJ suddenly came stumbling into our apartment with these guys, who had been given the dubious honour of opening 2003's convention to only a partially filled venue. BJ had invited them for an interview and before long Jon, Thomas and Jan had consumed all of our beer (okay, I admit, we sort of helped them a bit). Not long after, BJ handed me a copy of their real debut album Bravo. Considering that these were really nice guys and that this could be considered a pay-back for the beer money, I promised him to give it a real close listen this time. ;-)
And I was really pleasantly surprised. Not that the full album was a masterpiece from start to finish, but there were some really nice gems to be found on the disc. The album opens with a wonderful Spanish atmosphere in Desert, almost Shakira-like. Unfortunately the atmosphere and fine vocal melodies are somewhat destroyed by the heavy electronic drums. Gazpacho did not have a drummer yet for this album and were playing all the drums by hand on electronic pads. It does feel more natural than the computerised drums you hear on some albums, but it does make it sound a bit too artificial and especially in Desert it destroys a fine tune.
The band sometimes falls into the trap of squeezing too much into one track, which make them balance on the verge of cacophonous chaos and certainly don't make them more enjoyable for the listener. Besides Desert the same thing happens in Novgorod, one of the band's personal favourites. It is indeed a stunningly well composed track but there are so many effects, vocal lines and (female) backing vocals and distracting electronic percussion in the song that it becomes too much at times.
The band themselves prove that a much more subtle approach works far better. Sea of Tranquility, Nemo and Ghost are perfect examples. All of these have beautiful melancholic melodies, which by the way, are very much present in Gazpacho's music. Singer Jan even admitted that he wrote his best stuff while in the deepest of depressions. His voice, which is one of those beautiful ones on the verge of completely breaking down, adds very well to the mood of the songs.
The music doesn't have a lot of keyboard or guitar solos. Keyboards do provide nice melody lines for songs as Ghost and effective chord supports as in Sea of Tranquility. Considering that the band's mother tongue isn't English, the lyrics are extraordinarily well written.
California is the only straightforward rock song on the album and the only escape from the dark and depressive mood on the rest of the album. Not a bad song at all, but not really all that special either, and somehow the chorus reminds me a lot of of It's So Hard by Dutch female singer Anouk, although I doubt the Norwegians would have been familiar with this artist and song.
The album then takes a deep plunge downwards with the tracks The Secret, Sun God and Mesmer. Although the album is never really overly 'progressive' (in the classic prog rock sense) it does have a lot of melancholic tunes that will appeal to fans of Steve Hogarth's work with Marillion. These three songs however leave the melodic rock genre far behind and can only be described as 'alternative rock' in the vein of bands like Radiohead, complete with those tedious drawn out vocals ('let's try to fit as few words as possible in as many bars as possible'). Nothing wrong with that but it does not appeal to me personally, and might not appeal to other prog fans either. This might just be one of the things that could endanger a breakthrough for the band in either the alternative or melodic genre; there might be too few people that like both. Therefore I can only advise Gazpacho to do some soul searching and choose one of these two genres instead of trying to please both worlds and failing along the way. Especially Mesmer, which starts quite beautifully, is utterly destroyed by the aggressive distortion in the vocals and the raw guitars, contrasting immensely with the sensitiveness of the rest of the album. Mesmer does however have the only really prominent bass work on the album.
For some reason Ease Your Mind reminds me of some of the more quiet ballads of New Order, probably because of the combination of rhythms and electronics. Nice but not essential, and once again the drums in the second half are too prominent.
Title track Bravo closes the album. At the Marillion convention this song immediately impressed me because of the inclusion of folky influences and violin and flute - which unfortunately are not as prominent as in the live rendition - and the mesmerising vocals.
I'd like to conclude by saying that this is indeed a band with enormous potential. They are not there yet though. A real drummer, better arrangements, a more clear choice for a musical direction (the melodic one if possible) and maybe the occasional solo will certainly help the band towards a breakthrough. In the meantime, check out the samples on their homepage and form your own opinion about these guys. They certainly deserve your attention.
Ed is right, Gazpacho blew me away when I first heard their four-track demo, and since then I've been bugging everyone I know with their music - to various degrees of success. Since I have already reviewed some of the songs that can be found on Bravo before, plus the fact that I needed to retain some sort of credibility with my raving reviews of the band so far, I invited Ed for a duo-review. Since our musical tastes are pretty similar, yet we rarely ever agree on each other's reviews, he seemed the perfect guy for the job. :-)
Opener Desert is a completely new track, which the band had not put on the web for download prior to the album's release. Starting out with a nice acoustic guitar it reminds me a bit of Mr Big while the choruses are a bit in the style of The Talking Heads. I actually quite like the synth effects and the overdubs of Jan Henrik Ohme's voice, but I do see where Ed's criticism towards the drums comes from, as there is one prominently used "open hi-hat" sample which sounds just a bit too fake.
The song cross-fades into the effects-laden opening of the melancholic Sea Of Tranquility, which I still rate as one of their best tracks, followed by the more commercial sounding Nemo and Ghost. All three of these songs were also on Get It While It's Cold (37°C)
The next 'new' track is another commercial rocker, California which the band wrote and recorded last summer and has been previewed on their website. This is probably their most commercial sounding song, which I personally rate as their weakest. Guitarist Jon Vilbo nicely alters between acoustic and electric guitars and keyboardist Thomas Andersen pulls a few tricks from his keyboard, but the whole thing just sounds a bit too straightforward.
The next two are once again songs that were also present on Get It While It's Cold (37°C): The Secret and Sun God. All the 'old' songs have been remastered for this album, and The Secret has actually been remixed as well, putting more emphasis on the guitar and giving it a less hollow sound. Unlike Ed I actually quite like both songs, which are more in the vein of Radiohead actually (with a brilliant 10CC-like middle eight in The Secret)
Next up is the song that most people will either love or hate (and I feel it's more hate than love). When the band first sent me a CDR with their track Mesmer back in October last year, they warned me about the sound of the song, which they described as "having to get some aggression out of their system". It's a bit like a Radiohead meets Smashing Pumpkins while listening to U2 (Achtung Babe era), with heavy guitars, a strong bass line and Ohme's voice completely distorted. It took me a while to get into it, in fact, longer than you normally have to for a CD review, but I have really learned to love it now. Even though I still feel they could have done with a little less distortion on O's voice, and this is the song that suffers most from the lack of a live drummer (it's a bit difficult to drum "aggressively" when using samples on drum pads). Therefore I'm particularly looking forward to hearing a live recording of this song. The lyrics of the song were inspired by painting "Dance of life" by Edvard Munch, and are, according to the band, "about extreme rage".
Tranquility returns with a stunningly beautiful track Novgorod which is actually a duet with American singer-songwriter Esther Valentine, a collaboration that was established entirely through the Internet. Gazpacho would send her musical backing tracks, to which Valentine would record her vocals. Then she'd send them back for Ohme to record his vocals. They sent the tracks back and forward across the Atlantic until both camps were satisfied and the result is remarkable to say the least. I think it is a world first that a track is composed and recorded almost simultaneously in two studios on two sides of the world, with no other communication tool than the Internet.
The track is based on the opera Sadko by Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov and deals with a siren (Valentine) trying to lure Ohme into the water. The interaction between Valentine (who sings a bit of Russian in there as well!) and Ohme's own voice works really well - All in all a beautiful track.
Ease Your Mind is another transworld collaboration. This time with New Zealand producer Peter Kearns, who co-wrote and co-produced it. Kearns is a reviewer/producer who approached the band after he had reviewed the Get It While It's Cold demo. He liked the style so much that he offered to help the band with the production of some tracks (in the end he worked on Ease Your Mind and Novgorod, as well as some of the new stuff the band is working on now). Ease Your Mind starts as a simple ballad, reminiscent of A-ha's Hunting High And Low, yet it builds up more and more tension along the way.
A drawn out instrumental second half (an idea courtesy of Kearns) gives the song a bit more prog-feel.
Closer of the album is the stunning title track, which I still mark as their pinnacle. The beautiful vocal melody, the imaginative lyrics, the chorus doesn't come in until after three minutes in the song, the beautiful violin/flute solo towards the end. This un-conventional song is a perfect example of what song-writing capabilities these guys have.
The CD comes with a full-colour 16-page booklet, which includes lyrics, band photos and new custom made artwork for each song. Quite remarkable considering these guys are not signed by any label and this is a fully independent release (the label "Happy Thoughts" was just created to release this album). By far the most professional looking and sounding independent release I have ever had the pleasure of reviewing.
As for comparisons to other bands? That remains difficult, as the band pride themselves (justfully) for their diversity. I would say they are more accessible than Radiohead, more diverse than Marillion and more "prog" than Coldplay. And with that I have named the three bands that you could point out as possible reference in a "if you like those, try this" sort of way.
Other identifiable influences would be Kate Bush, Mr Bungle and A-ha. Perhaps the best way to describe their music is just "Gazpacho".
Nil – Quarante Jours Sur Le Sinai
This hugely ambitious concept album from French symphonic proggers Nil is their third album and is on their own label. I sincerely hope this does not hinder its distribution and promotion, as this is surely a work that deserves a large audience.
The packaging is suitably lavish with an elaborate foldout booklet and extensive notes in both French and English, detailing the weighty concept, which utilises the Fall of Atlantis as the jumping off point for an in-depth rumination on Egyptian Magic, Legend and Religion.
The core band here are: David Maurin – guitars, flute, gong and clarinet; Samuel Maurin – Bass, Stick and Voice; Benjamin Croizy – Keyboards; and Frank Niebel – Drums and Percussion. All the players are adept on their chosen instruments with David Maurin particularly shining with Frippian intensity on the tortuously twisting guitar lines that run throughout the work.
There is a dark and mysterious feel to the piece as a whole, which blends elements of Symphonic Rock, RIO, Fusion and even Heavy Rock to create a mixture that, whilst reminiscent of Crimson and French legends Shylock, is uniquely their own. Though billed as two suites, and accessible as 29 distinct tracks, this really demands that you listen to the whole piece and give it your full attention. This might limit its appeal but will richly reward those willing and able to devote the necessary time to its full enjoyment.
There are various guests on Cello, Harp, Sax and vocals but special mention should go to Roselyne Berthet, whose vocals near the beginning of the work are enchanting to say the least. Indeed my main (only?) gripe with this album is that her vocals are criminally underused. I appreciate that the album is elaborately structured and more vocals may not have been appropriate for the concept, but I long to hear more of her heavenly tones. This may not appeal to those who only enjoy more song-based melodic fare, but is sure to please those who appreciate the darker, more adventurous (if not to say slightly Avant) sounds. Quarante Jours ... is a substantial and commendable work.
In 2006 Nil joined Canadian label Unicorn Digital. To coincide with this Quarante Jours Sur Le Sinai has been re-mastered and re-issued.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Octohpera - Bons Amigos
With a history that spans ten years, Octohpera have existed with a variety of line-ups and at least two names. Centred around founder members Pablo Marques, a classically trained guitarist, and Julian Quilodran, a bass playing recording technician, this Brazilian band have, after seven years of recording demos, released their debut album. The band is completed by vocalist Robson Bertolossi, drummer Marcio Baltar and keyboarist Paulo Elizardo, all of whom have a long history of playing or studying music. The album, Bons Amigos, is an interesting mixture of consumately played musical pieces - stylish, but never flash, the album contains a good combination of laid-back atmospheric pieces with enough musical bite to hold the listener's attention.
The band, like Gentle Giant before them, manage to successfully intertwine classical and contemporary music and have the ability to deliver complex musical passages in a seemingly effortless manner. The opening two tracks, As Piores Cosisas and Ômega and fine examples of this, with multi-part vocal pieces, baroque references and several passages where the instrumentation interweaves to great effect. The acoustic guitar of Pablo Marques is ably demonstrated on the solo pieces Inspiração and Ibéria and also on the intro and coda to Viagem ao Jardim da Aurora sem Fim, certainly the equal of some of Steve Hackett's classical pieces. Meanwhile, Paulo Elizardo shines on the closing piano and vocal piece Calarei-me sem ti.
The Continuous Rebirth of Life in the Infinity of the Horizon, the only song sung in English (the rest are sung in Portuguese), is a rather more sedate piece that has a lovely vocal melody, and, for me, is the highlight of the album. The 'epic' Marco is split into four sections, two vocal and two instrumental, although they could be four separate pieces as there is not much of a common musical thread across the sections. Not being able to understand Portuguese I was unable to determine if there was a lyrical thread!
Overall, the album was, for a debut disc, very competent. I felt a couple of pieces, like Pan, didn't really work and Marco could perhaps have hung together a bit better with maybe more obvious repetition of musical themes. I would have also liked to have heard what the band were capable of if they really let their hair down and decided to take on the more bombastic side of Gentle Giant! However, a fine and considered release which holds promise of better things to come!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
A Day's Work - Above and Within
Above And Within is the debut album of A Day's Work. I have never before seen an independent CD release that looked as good as this one. The cover and especially the label artwork are great. Furthermore this CD also has a multimedia section containing all songs (and then some) in mp3 format - and that is is not bad especially if you consider the price of this album - just 8 euro.
The most important feature of this album should of course be the music, and it is. This is not 'clean' progrock. The band describe it as "heavy emotional melodic rock" and this description does fit the music. Does this mean a progrock fan would not like this music? I do not know, it depends. I can only speak for myself - I liked it. It did not catch me right away but after listening a couple of times I became more interested with each listen - the songs are certainly original and good.
A Day's Work is a band of young enthusiasts that have been storming Dutch band contests and made it to the semi finals of "De Grote Prijs van Nederland (The great prize of the Netherlands). This, I think, is the result of the way this band masters their instruments and on top of that have a singer with a distinct and good voice.
Roses Mean Remember is one of the better songs, it is a good start to this album that will stick in your head for some days. Quieter parts are followed by the heavier guitar sound of the chorus. This song is probably the most "progressive". Some sound experiments open Fading Emotion but after that the heavier guitars take over. This strong composition then becomes more mellow while some samples and strange noises are being used. In some parts of this song the vocals sound like Alan Reed of Pallas. Free On A Melody is a up-tempo 'garage band' song with a contagious beat. Silence Due basis is a more electronic sound but it is not as good as the previous songs. You In White is an excellent ballad. Sandra van der Meer's good vocals are added to the band for this duet and they are especially good in the higher pitched parts. The heavier End Below reminds me of Tool but this song is a bit more structured than a Tool song. Realm Of The Moon is not the best song of this album, some parts of the music are OK but the spoken 'lyrics' did not really charm me. Charly is a more mellow song in which the vocals are not particulary great, which is strange, as they are very good throughout the rest of the album. Drop Me Or Love Me and Escape are MP3 tracks that have been added to the multimedia section only. These two also are good songs.
This is a good debut album. Alternative rock meets progressive rock meets heavy emo-rock. At first listen my reaction was to stop listening and shove it aside. But the music sneaked up on me with each next spin and now I have come to like it. The progrock label does not seem to fit A Day's Work so at first I was thinking not to give it a DPRP recommended: but it is good music so who cares for the correct label?
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Peter Frohmader - Eismeer
Eismeer, which in English means something like Ice Sea, is a title descriptive of the evocative music and sonic atmospheres found within the new release by Peter Frohmader. Frohmader, who is referred to by some as one of the fathers of the “gothic” movement, released his first album Nekropolis in 1978. Aside from his other numerous musical projects, he is also a visual artist accomplished in expressing himself in many mediums (he even designed and created the cover of this CD). His latest release is a challenging collection of three compositions written and almost entirely executed by Frohmader himself. This CD contains two large-scale pieces, the title track Eismeer that runs 37’10” and Funebre running at 24’14”. A shorter piece, entitled Orchestral Crossover, is placed between them and runs 3’41”.
Listeners should be advised that the material on this CD is more akin to contemporary orchestral music than standard prog fare. The first piece on the CD, Eismeer, is a vast sonic odyssey which (as with all pieces on this release) must be totally surrendered to if one is to truly even approach appreciation of. Synthesis and electronica are woven together amidst simulated acoustic instruments to establish the constantly evolving atmospheres. There is even spoken text during Eismeer borrowed from some excerpts and poems of Edgar Alan Poe, adding to the piece’s netherworldly flavour. Acting as a kind of interlude, the comparatively brief Orchestral Crossover follows characterized by a dense harmonic backdrop with shimmering echo piano. This piece cleanses the listeners aural palette for the next mammoth work on the bill, Funebre. While following in the dark mood and style of the rest of the album, Funebre also incorporates techno rhythm, which is pitted against simulated jazz and classical instruments.
This is not an easy album to listen to, and it is not progressive rock. This is a very surreal sonic outing, which will more likely appeal to afficionados of darker Tangerine Dream type spacey stuff or as stated above, avant-garde contemporary orchestral music. It is apparent that Frohmader is undoubtedly an accomplished artist, but something I find difficult to accept aesthetically while listening to this album is the unfortunate presence of the synthesized/sampled acoustic instruments. I am intrigued by Frohmader’s electronic and synthesizer work in these compositions, but wish it were woven together with true acoustic instruments.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10