Reviews in this issue:
Ritual - Think Like A Mountain
It is amazing to me the amount of great and diverse progressive rock music that has been coming out of Sweden lately. I became interested in Sweden’s Ritual last year with Kaipa’s return album, which features the singular vocal styling of Patrik Lundstrom, lead singer and guitarist of Ritual. But since I had never gotten a hold of one of their albums, I jumped when the opportunity arose to review Think Like a Mountain. To be sure, this album was not what I expected it to be, and it was different enough from whatever pre-conceptions I might have had that I wasn’t sold on it after my first listen. Given two or three listens though, and I was convinced, this is a great album.
With this CD, Ritual celebrates their tenth year together. It is their third release and comes on the heels of the highly regarded Superb Birth. Think Like a Mountain is not a concept album as such, but an album whose songs are, for the best part, thematically related by an ecosophical thread. Here, the band has put together a collection of twelve songs. You’ll find groove oriented hard edged rock such as the opening track What Are You Waiting For and Infinite Justice and much less driving acoustic folk tinged songs like Once the Tree Would Bloom and the fantastic and haunting Moomin Took My Head. There are lots of unexpected and interesting sounds and effects as well as very creative engineering throughout the album.
Patrik Lundstrom’s unique and expressive high tenor voice can be as aggressive as it can be soothing, sometimes calling to my mind Freddy Mercury, Robert Plant, or even Dennis DeYoung. His guitar playing is likewise impressive and original, whether creating a soul-stirring slide guitar solo or laying down infectious electric or acoustic grooves. Bassist Fredrik Lindqvist does a grand job establishing the bottom end with his fresh, exciting tones and sense of style. John Gamble’s indispensable keyboard playing is equally unique and though rarely in the forefront, is integral to their trademark sound. Drumming on this CD is tremendous. Johan Nordgren establishes some serious grooves here, and has a monstrous and subtle kick drum style that very much resembles one of the masters of his trade: John Bonham.
So what was I expecting? Well, having heard the last Kaipa album, I guess I expected more traditional symphonic progressive rock, which this is not. What this is, is a collection of songs containing a sound, which is entirely Ritual. They have their own wonderful way of balancing unlikely and dissonant sounds with more harmonious ones, mixing acoustic and electric instruments producing a dynamic, original, and exhilarating CD of fresh progressive hard rock tunes. So if you’re looking four some driving eclectic rock that’ll turn your head around then, as the opening track asks, What Are You Waiting For?
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Root - Resolution
Every so often one comes across something that grabs the imagination, presses all the right buttons and clicks instantly into place. It happened to me on hearing Resolution the latest album by Root (aka David Kendall). With three prior albums to his name, David has pushed the boat out and produced a double album of unfaltering quality. Positioned within the realms of melodic progressive rock, the album is imbued with some very strong melodies which are often accompanied by wonderfully textured harmony vocals. David is both a competent keyboard player and a fine guitarist, taking his influences on such tracks as Equal and the three-part Resolution from Pink Floyd's David Gilmour. Further Floyd influences are heard on Falling which features a keyboard chord taken directly from Echoes. However, this is not to say that the music is in any way derivative, just that many of the songs have a familiar feel to them, a sure testament to the composing and arranging abilities of Mr. Kendall.
With slight rearrangement, Shine would make an excellent single, blessed as it is with a great chorus, while Welcome Glow has a Beatles feel to it. The title track is a well thought-out piece justifying it's 20-minute duration; indeed none of the long tracks on the album felt as if it had outstayed their welcome.
The lyrics are also worthy of mention, being a cut above a lot of the slap-dash rubbish that some bands think they can get away with. They meld seamlessly with the music forming another layer to the textures of the songs. They also follow a common theme, that of understanding, hope and ultimately, resolution.
It seems that the notion of forming a band with one's mates in order to create music is rapidly becoming a thing of the past as Root is another example of one man taking the solo concept to the extreme and doing absolutely everything - writing, playing, singing, promoting and even designing, illustrating and printing the very impressive CD booklet. Sure, modern technology has made it easier, and cheaper, for individuals to compose in relative isolation, but I have the ominous suspicion that the general state of the music industry and the lack of live venues in the UK has forced the hand of musicians somewhat in that maintaining a band is not economically viable these days. This is a real shame, as had David Kendall been born a couple of decades earlier I have no doubt that he would be packing out stadiums accompanied by a stellar cast of backing musicians while his albums racked up endless weeks in the charts.
For fans of melodic progressive music who have their pop sensibilities intact, you could do a lot worse than get hold of a copy of Resolution. At £9 (under 15 Euros!) for over 90 minutes of high quality music the album is also exceedingly good value for money!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Jack Yello - Thorns of Anger
Jack Yello is a new Progressive rock band from Dusseldorf in Germany. Their Singer is Dirk Bovensiepen, formerly of Darius – whose excellent albums are reviewed elsewhere on DPRP. Their obvious Marillion influences are carried through to this release and amplified almost to the point of plagiarism. This effect is lessened by the presence of definite Dream Theater and Deep Purple influences on some tracks and, occasionally, some more modern sounds creeping in. The band is completed by Lutz Grosser – Guitars, Uwe Ziegler – Keyboards, Dirk Hulpert – Bass and Uwe Poprawa – Drums.
Most of the tracks are in the seven to nine minute range and, as such, the themes and moods are given the time to develop in a satisfyingly unhurried pace. There is sufficient variation in the songs to ensure that ones attention is held throughout. At seventy-eight minutes, this is a long disc, but the quality is maintained from start to finish.
Inspiring Confidence (Part 1) begins with brief a cappella vocals, before the guitars come in with a bright and breezy melody. Immediately, the quality of the players makes itself felt, with impeccable playing from all concerned. The singer’s Fish fixation makes its first appearance during this track, and at times is so accurate that I doubt even Mr Dick himself could tell the difference. The bass playing, though not prominently mixed, is busy and efficient, and well worth listening for. This song begins a conceptual suite that recurs at various points on the disc, but the ordering is mixed up and there appears to be no Part Three. The concept is Arthurian in nature, being peppered with references to Merlin, Avalon and Igraine.
Shadows.. is firmly in the mould of Marillion circa Script For A Jesters Tear, indeed, many of these songs would fit nicely on that record. The keyboards are mostly in the background on this one, with melodic guitar and vocals being the main focus.
Gameshow starts with computerised voices counting down before the first riff powers in, sounding like the Deep Purple of Perfect Strangers, returning to a more Neo–Prog sound for the verses. Lyrically, the concept is abandoned for a more modern tale of TV’s and microchips. A Pallas comparison would be also valid for this track. The mood mellows for The Unknown Soldier with a minimal backing for Dirk’s voice as he sings the Anti-War lyrics with passion and conviction. As the song develops, the keyboards play a greater role, and there is another fluid solo from Lutz. The Fish of Suits era is the strongest pointer here, with Market Square Heroes style keyboards added in.
The Old Warrior is almost Heavy Metal in style, starting with battle noises and gritty riffing, the vocals being harsher than before. There is a gentle acoustic section, with plaintive vocals before the song moves up a gear and goes all proggy, with jerking time signatures and stop-go riffs. This one is much harder to pin down in terms of overall sound.
The Bridge displays Dream Theater influences in the bass and drums, but has quieter sections and lyrically we’re in Brave territory. The vocals are undeniably Fish-like on this one. The moods are nicely varied over the course of the song. Before has slap bass and harmony vocals, and is closer to the Marillion of Misplaced Childhood, but has additional heavier elements. This is a really strong song and is one of my favourites on the disc.
Back to the concept for Igraine, which is a romantic ballad, delivered with emotional intensity, and with a touch of Rush in the drumming. This is another fine song, containing solid piano work and a neat guitar solo. The climax of the album is the two part Take my Heart / Emotional Suicide coupling, clocking in at eighteen minutes. The drummer is in good form here and Dirk continues to deliver his lines with ardour and commitment. There is also some nice jazzy guitar and bass to spice things up a little. There is a skilful build up of tension, making for compelling listening. The second part starts with strong keys and reflective vocals, developing into a richly composed epic, recalling the days of Fugazi. There is a short piano and vocal coda to close the album in superior style.
This album is sure to please anyone who wants more of the classic Marillion/Pallas sound, and who doesn’t think imitation is a cardinal sin. My only criticisms are that Jack Yello have yet to develop their own identity, and are perhaps guilty of using overworked lyrical clichés (I cite Unknown Soldiers, Lonesome Poets and Emotional Suicides as evidence of this). If you want a more modern reference point , I would suggest that Plackband are working in the same area, to similar effect, if not quite as blatant in their influences.
A debut album of almost 80 minutes long ... a progressive orgasm or a progfreak's worst nightmare? As so often, the answer will depend on the listener's taste and, in this case probably also, endurance. A short description of the people behind Thorns Of Anger could be "a highly Marillion-influenced band with sharp edges, featuring the former frontman of German progband Darius, who has quite a few Fishy tricks up his sleeve", but that would not say everything there is to say. Time to get your anoraks from the attic, people!
The fact that Darius left the stage for good in 1998, meant a significant loss for the German progressive rock scene. Now, five years later, five-piece Jack Yello seems determined to take their place. The band was born in 1995 out of mainstream band Jagiello, when the majority decided to change course into a more proggy direction. As so often, this swing meant the departure of some band members, in this case the singer and the guitarist. The three remaining members, Uwe Poprawa (drums), Uwe Ziegler (keyboards) and Dirk Hülpert (bass), decided to go on, first recruiting ex-Darius singer Dirk Bovensiepen in 1999 and finally completing the band in 2001 by the addition of guitarist Lutz Grosser (ex-Avalanche).
The first track on Thorns Of Anger, Inspiring Confidence (part I), starts with a short a cappella bit, telling us to "read between the lines". To be honest, I have always found it rather unsettling to be confronted with a voice or several voices within the first few seconds of a CD. Even when it is done by one of my all time favourites, like Genesis on Trespass, I tend to clench my teeth until the instruments have joined the voice(s). Not a very good start in my view, in other words, but I have reviewed enough albums to know that the first few seconds do not determine how the rest of the CD will be.
As mentioned in the introduction, Jack Yello is heavily influenced by Fish-era Marillion. There are quite a few melodies, sounds, rhythms and lyrics which are clearly inspired by this great band's albums of that time. Contrary to what you might think, the guys are not merely copying the Marillos; no, they use Marillion's "vocabulary" to present their own ideas. It is, for instance, interesting to hear a Lavender / Sugar Mice-kind of atmosphere in The Unknown Soldier, while the melody of the verses reminds one of Guns 'N' Roses' Sweet Child Of Mine. Still, the early-Marillion feeling is strengthened by the fact that singer Bovensiepen sounds like Fish at times, but more about that later. Some other influences or references I noticed were a nice Jadis-like guitar sound in Inspiring Confidence (part I), mid-seventies' Genesis in the same track, but also in Take My Heart, which features a bit of a Ricocher-atmosphere as well, by the way.
Most of the tracks are up-tempo, but contain often a slower centre section, beginning or end. The structures of the songs tend to be somewhat complex. Many rhythm and key changes occur within every track, which, together with the harder sections, give them a bit of a Dream Theater-feeling. However, these changes do not always happen at logical locations and give the impression that the band had a whole bunch of good ideas in stock which they all wanted to use on this album, ending up cramming them into its eleven songs, or 78:09 minutes. This basically means that you hardly get the time to get "into" the songs. When you have just got used to the first bit, it changes into something completely different, which jumps into a different direction again after a few measures. And well, too few of those different themes are repeated often enough or stick out far enough above the rest to keep swirling around in your head after you've played the record. This is a shame really, because some of the ideas sound very good and could have carried an entire song, in my opinion!
Bovensiepen's voice is truly a multifaceted one. On some moments he sounds like Everon's Oliver Philipps, on others like Marcel Kapteijn, the singer of Ten Sharp (you know, of that big pop ballad hit You), and at times like Aragon's Les Dougan during his calmer moments. Still, the way in which Bovensiepen can burst out into Fish's typical way of singing is just uncanny. This sounds interesting, yes, but I am somewhat puzzled by it as well. I mean, why would you want to deliberately sound like Fish, if you are singing your own material? If you happen to sound like the big Scotsman, okay, that is something one cannot help, but why then use Fish's trademark exclamations like "cha!" and "how how how"?
Another thing is that Bovensiepen often turns to hollering instead of singing. His voice loses a lot of "body" at those moments and gets a bit whiny. This, combined with the fact that he has this way of elongating the last syllable of most sentences, make the songs sound the same a lot. Apart from that, Bovensiepen is balancing on the thin line between in and out of tune every now and then and am not a very big fan of that. I must say though, that a lot of people consider me somewhat oversensitive when it comes to vocals, so it is very well possible that you do like Bovensiepen's voice; I mean, Darius did have quite a few followers...
I am not sure if Jack Yello intend to "do a Saga" - release different parts (in Saga's case: chapters) of a longer suite on separate albums - or that the "V" in The Old Warrior (part V) should have been a "III", but in case of the former it will be interesting to see where they will take this idea and how many albums it will span.
During the last few years it has become rather popular to release albums that either use as much of the space available on a single CD as possible, or even continue on a second CD. There have been several cases in which this extreme length worked out rather well, like with IQ's Subterranea, but more often than not it feels as if a lot of less good material was included just to reach that very length.
The latter feeling dominates in case of Thorns Of Anger. The guys from Jack Yello seem to want to prove that they can play - which they most certainly can - but use a few too many rhythm changes and mood swings to make the end result digestible for the listener. It is just like eating a too lavish dinner; even if it contains all of your favourite dishes, too much of it does not make you feel any better afterwards. I would not be surprised if the album would have appealed to me more, if it had been about 50 minutes in length. I mean, I would rather get disappointed about it being too short and then playing the album another time, than that I end up thinking "I will play it again tomorrow ... if I'm not too tired".
It is not that hard to guess that Jack Yello's debut album is not exactly my cup of brownish water. Yes, there are some great moments to be found on this album (even if I keep having problems with the vocals), but you have to have a long breath to listen to it in its entirety, especially the first few times. Thorns Of Anger is just too complex and too intense for me to be this long. Fans of the early-Marillion sound, as well as people who liked Darius, who do not mind a bit of length and complexity should certainly give this album a chance, though!
Zeroesque - Zeroesque
This album has been lurking around my CD player for several weeks now and having popped into the machine again today, I cannot understand why it has taken me so long to write this review. Zeroesque landed on my doorstep at a similar time to Derek Sherinian's excellent Black Utopia release. I mention this, as there are some strong points of reference between the music on both albums. No star studded cast here, however, there are a couple of familiar names on the guest list.
The writing and performing partnership of Zeroesque revolves around keyboard man Tim Lehner and Shawn Christie on guitar and bass. The material they serve up is totally instrumental, combining strong guitar riffs, dynamic soloing, jazz fusion, melody, prog, good grooves... but no singing. The two musicians have worked together for about ten years and this is can be detected throughout the album. The drumming is provided by three guys Josh Gasior, Tim Lloyd and Brian Farr all of whom add greatly to the music (pity there's not much mention of them on the website), and form what is a tight and cohesive structural basis for the tracks. All the musicians interact well and the music benefits much from this.
The album has a good balance, and by this I mean that each track offers enough change so that you do not tire from the same formula throughout. The opening track Space Race, as it's title might suggest, moves along at a fair speed of knots and sets the stage for the trading of lead sections between Lehner and Christie. I was reminded of some of the material that appeared on Jeff Beck's There and Back album. Contrast is immediate as I Say takes the proceedings down with a gentle piano interlude from Tim, and before the strongly riffing You Say wades in. This particular piece highlighted one the things that I liked most about this album. The refraining of melodic themes, which prevailed throughout and so you never left with just an avenue for soloing pyrotechnics.
I would be hard pushed to try and select any particular track for worthy note above any other. Progressively speaking, however, Feels Like Falling would be the track that has the most time to develop its themes and ideas and therefore notable. Touches of Keith Emerson can be found within the middle solo section. On the subject of comparisons, or perhaps a better word might be influences to be found, would be Jan Hammer and as previously mentioned Derek Sherinian. Guitar wise I would have picked on perhaps John Petrucci, Joe Satriani, Tony MacAlpine and Alan Holdsworth. The latter most notably during the Scott McGill collaboration, Maxilla Gorilla and perhaps the tongue in cheek titled All's Swell that Ends Swell - I'll let you work out this one.
The album includes several guest musicians (excluding the drummers) and the cast, in order of appearance, is as follows. Pete Johnson offers up a smoky laid back solo on the silky smooth, jazzy and radio friendly Ten Fifteen, a track that shows yet another facet of Zerosque's writing prowess. We step deeper into the jazz fusion field when Scott McGill trades guitar passages with Shawn on excellent Maxilla Gorilla. Last but by no means least is Vinnie Moore who takes a brief solo section on the final track New Math. On this note it may be worthwhile airing one of my few regrets with the album, in that it did not include a bass player (or guest players). Not that Shawn doesn't do a fine job, but I did feel the inclusion of a bass player would have offered a further dimension to the music.
This is a splendid album, full of energy and spontinaity, strong riffs accompanied by skilful soloing. Along with this Messrs Lehner and Christie have not forgotten to included content, quite common with clever and gifted musicians. In these days of long albums, forty three minutes may seem a little mean, however I didn't feel robbed and the album said all it needed to. Zeroesque bears a sticker saying "Instrumental Progressive Rock and Fusion juggernaut", which I can go along with, but would also add that there is much to enjoy here, and the variation within the parameters above makes this a recommended purchase. I mentioned Derek Sherinian's Black Utopia album in the opening paragraph - and I would say, if you enjoyed that album - then you really should check this out.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Cinnamonia - The Scarlet Sea
Cinnamonia is a musical project from Germany, and consists of Sandra Werner (vocals) and Thomas Koehler (all instruments). Both had minor successes with their previous bands, Madrigal and Operating Strategies respectively, before founding Cinnamonia in 1999. The Scarlet Sea is their first album release, which was recorded throughout most of 2002 at Koehler's own studio. The material however had been written over the course of four years. On many of the tracks they are helped by guest musicians Gerd Weyhing (guitars and soundscapes, and he also co-wrote Seaweed Days), Walter Parks (e-bow and electric guitars) and Robert Alan Frost (guitars).
Let me start my review by saying this: They don't sound German. Not that I want to generalise, but when looking at all the great prog bands that have come from Germany, like RPWL, Chandelier or Darius, all these bands have something in common. Yet Cinnamonia's music is completely different, with a celtic approach, which at times sounds rather like the musical numbers of XII Alfonso, a band from France... (is anyone still following this?? :-)
Most tracks fall in the folky, celtic kind of category which is helped by the presence of two traditional Irish folk songs: The Parting Glass and She Moved Thru The Fair (a song which is best known for its cover by Mike Oldfield and the inspiration for the Simple Mind's Belfast Child)
Sandra Werner's beautiful voice carries is very much the forefront of all the songs, with the instrumentation ranging from traditional folk guitar and percussion, to sophisticated samples. This is not the freaky solo self-indulgent spectrum of prog here. Opener Splendour has some really bombastic arrangements towards the end, but the rest of the songs are very mellow and relaxed, yet with catchy melodies.
One of my favourites is The Brightest Day, which features some great e-bow (by Walter Parks). Also worth mentioning are Seaweed Days of which the catchy lyrics are almost identical to those of Pendragon's The Last Waltz, (a coincidence, I'm sure) and the beautiful Sunstream which features some great percussion work.
According to their bio their music has been compared to David Sylvain. Unfortunately I'm not familiar with Sylvain's music, but I would like to point aforementioned XII Alfonso, Mike Oldfield as well, but it has also similarities to Propaganda, Melbourne and Kate Bush.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10