Album Reviews

Issue 2003-010

Reviews in this issue:

Marillion - Before First Light
Marillion - Before First Light
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Racket
Catalogue #:Racket 94D
Year of Release:2003
Encoding & SoundRegion Free NTSC
2.0 stereo
Tracklist: Intro (1:07), Gazpacho (7:02), Cannibal Surf Babe (5:54), Beautiful (7:07), Afraid Of Sunrise (5:00), Out Of This World (7:30), Afraid Of Sunlight (7:14), Beyond You (6:12), King (9:34), Faith (4:53), Easter (6:59), Credits (5:00)

The DVD I'm reviewing here is a world-record. Never too shy of publicity through innovative ideas Marillion actually entered the Guinnes Book of Records with the fastest DVD release ever. The concert they played on March 14th of this year was available for sale on DVD less than 41 hours after the concert was finished - an amazing accomplishment in more than one way. And the best thing is, it's worth watching too!

By popular demand from their fan base the opening night of this year's Convention Weekend consisted of an integral performance of their 1995 album Afraid Of Sunlight. The concert, including the first encore, was filmed and edited on the spot by THE boom boom BOYS, who were earlier responsible for the Shot In The Dark and Brave DVDs.

As the album, the gig opened with the boxing match announcement and Marillion surprised its audience by having two gorgeous, scarcely clad ladies onstage, holding up signs saying "Round One". As the song starts Steve Hogarth comes dressed as a boxer, complete with gloves and cloak.
This is the only part where the lyrics are portrayed in Hogarth's performance, though all through the concert images are projected on a backdrop: The album cover during Gazpacho, leopard skin design during Cannibal Surf Babe, some of the album's promo photos during Beautiful, an American landscape during Afraid of Sunrise, water during Out Of This World, the scary sun(light) in Afraid of Sunlight, a prison cell in Beyond You and vague, abstract images of people during King.
Strangely enough not the infamous haunting images of Donald Campbell's last speed record attempt or the images of the people that Gazpacho and King deal with, but perhaps this was due to copyrights for those images. (although I think I saw a brief glimpse of Kurt Cobain during the end section of King)

All songs are played in their original versions, just the way they are on the album, and include all samples (which are often not played during live performances). This makes it the first ever live performance of the 'electric' versions of Afraid Of Sunrise and Beyond You, the latter a track always deemed 'too personal' by Steve Hogarth and previously only played on a handful occasions in a trimmed down acoustic version.

The band play a solid performance all through and it is obvious that just like last year's Brave performance they put a lot of effort in the rehearsals. Highlights are the aforementioned emotional Beyond You and a powerful King.
Steve Hogarth's voice is in good shape, although by the time we get to the encores it is starting to crack. (and to think that on the evening itself they played another hour and a quarter *after* they stopped filming...

The two encores that are included on the DVD include the premiere of a new song, Faith, which will be featured on their upcoming 13th album. It's a beautiful ballad which sees an interesting exchange of instruments, as Pete Trewavas plays acoustic guitar, and Steve Hogarth(!) bass. The Beatles influence is quite clear on this one, and it also bears resemblance to Now She'll Never Know, off the Radiation album. Another track on which Pete Trewavas handled the guitar duties.
Steve Rothery's delightful slide guitar adds a very nice touch.

As a final encore they played long-time favourite Easter. Barely noticeable during the gig itself, but very evident on the DVD is Mark Kelly playing the final chords in the wrong key. THE boom boom BOYS expose him even more for it by zooming in on his face as he winces. Poor fellow.

A very nice touch and Marillion's way of saying "thank you" to their fans, is the inclusion of the names of all the attendees in the end credits, credited as "the audience". While the credits roll an acoustic demo version of the album's title track is played.
Apart from the credits there is no bonus material, which is a bit of a pity. Of course the time-frame wouldn't allow for more material to be recorded, but they could have prepared interviews or something in advance. The type of which they did on the Brave DVD - with a bit more explanation about the songs this would have been the ultimate Afraid Of Sunlight DVD.

The quality of the production is indeed very commendable, considering the time-frame in which they pulled it off. Only at a few moments, especially at the beginning of the show, is the hasty job evident in the editing, but otherwise the footage looks excellent. Maybe not on par with the big budget outings of Roger Waters and the likes, but certainly not all that bad either.
The whole show was shot by seven cameras, two on each side of the stage, two on both Mark Kelly and Ian Mosley, and three in the back of the venue, capable of both wide shots and close ups.
Comparable to the Brave DVD, but this year's venue was also a vast improvement over last year's, with no roadies, children or audience's hands in sight.
The soundtrack, which was mixed on-the-spot as well, by long-time Marillion collaborator Dave Meegan, is also top-notch, once again equal to that of the Brave DVD.

To remain in the mood of breaking records, this review was written within 5 days upon receipt of the DVD. A world record for DPRP! :-)

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Bart Jan van der Vorst (with additional notes by Ed Sander)

Andromeda II=I
Andromeda - II=I
Country of Origin:Sweden
Record Label:New Hawen
Catalogue #:CD 45004-2
Year of Release:2003
Samples:Click here
Tracklist: Encyclopedia (7:35), Mirages (5:42), Reaching Deep Within (4:50), Two Is One (10:09), Morphing Into Nothing (7:34), Castaway (6:16), Parasite (6:54), One In My Head (8:02), This Fragile Surface (8:04)

This is the second review of an Andromeda album to be featured in DPRP CD Reviews Page, and because Hester included a band bio in her review of Extension Of The Wish, I have omitted it here. For their previous album, Andromeda used a session vocalist, but on II=I, a permanent vocalist in David Fremberg, has been added to the band. Although I have not been able to listen to the previous album, the mp3 samples from the Andromeda website give me the impression that this new singer is an improvement (although the session vocalist was also pretty good). I also get the feeling that Andromeda has moved towards Dream Theater-like music even further.

Encyclopedia starts off with a keyboard loop that fades in, right after that the metal guitars kick in. The song is a rich collection of tempo changes, something that can be said of all songs on this album. Andromeda is not a band that likes to drag melodies endlessly with heavier guitars, and more screaming guitars following each other constantly, and at the end comes a slow keyboard tune with a screaming guitar fade out. The beginning of Mirages reminds me of The Gathering's Strange Machines. The refrain has been stuck in my head for days. I find myself yelling "Mirages" (in my mind of course) all the time.

In Reaching Deep Within the keyboard takes the prominent role and has a haunting sound that supports the refrain. This does not mean that other instruments have a lesser role, as on all the other songs on this album, they are nicely balanced. The first half of Two is One is a slow ballad and shows that David Fremberg is an excellent singer. In the second half of the song, the transitory ballad becomes more up-tempo as the metal guitars and then the speedy loops of the guitars emerge. This song is not only the longest on the album but really is the masterpiece as well.

Morphing Into Nothing could have been a song on a Dream Theater album, with a large number of tempo changes, the drums not only determine the rhythm but also are part of the melody. This instrumental song is impressive. Castaway is a slower piece that does stay interesting throughout the complete song, because of the vocals and backing vocals which sound good together. Parasite takes some getting used to, at first it seems a bit incoherent reminding me of the earlier Pain of Salvation songs. David Fremberg proves here that high pitched vocals are also within his reach. The first piano tones of One In My Head could be the start of a subtle horror movie. The uptempo piano and guitar parts further on however, are too straight-forward for that same horror movie. This Fragile Surface closes the album and it leaves you wanting for more. The dramatic keyboards and again the tempo changes of subtle guitars and metal guitars. Drums that are right all the time.

Andromeda is a band of good musicians, and although I am not a Death Metal lover, the fact that Andromeda's guitarist Johan Reinholdz also plays in NonExist makes me curious to explore their music too.

Comparison sometimes is the best way to give an idea of what a band or songs sound like, but Andromeda is in no way a copy of any other. I immediately liked this album and after listening more often, I think I can safely say: this one is a keeper. I am really impressed. I have not written a lot of reviews yet so you cannot know if I would say this easily. I think not, as Andromeda really deserves it. Find out for yourself!

A final point to note is that the excellent cover artwork is by former DPRP team member, Mattias Noren.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

Dries Dokter

Anima - Anima
Anima - Anima
Country of Origin:Argentina
Record Label:Viajero Inmovil
Catalogue #:ANIMOO6VIR
Year of Release:2003
Info:Viajero Inmovil
Tracklist: Septima Novena (5:07), De Aqui A Cien Milanos (4:36), Brillaras (4:12), Cita Clandestina (4:00), Al Reverso Del Tejido (8:16), Tributo A La Eternidad (4:28), Ciudad Sin Tiempo (4:30); Bonus Tracks: Heroes Sin Medalla (3:02), Rigel (6:23), Palabras (4:20)

Anima is an ultra-obscure Argentinean band from the late eighties, unknown even to collectors of South American Progressive rock. This, their sole offering from 1989, was discovered on vinyl by Felipe Abel Surkan and lovingly transferred to CD on his Viajero Inmovil label.

Largely written by keyboard player Octavio Stampalia (now of Jinetes Negros), Anima presents seven slices of accomplished Symphonic Progressive rock, four of which are instrumental, and here bolstered by three bonus tracks, including two further instrumentals. The vocals are in Spanish but this did not mar my enjoyment of the disc. Two guests, Sebastian Rivas and Charlie Moreno, handle the guitars.

Septima Novena starts things off and is an up tempo keyboard lead instrumental, with fine melodic guitar. Towards the end it goes all Floydian with parping sax and a wailing female voice. De Aqui… is very reminiscent of 80's Tangerine Dream, with its stately synth theme, but becomes more rocky with plenty of guitar amidst the ever-present layers of keyboards.

Brillaras is the first song of the album, featuring vibrant vocals from Alejandra Hamelink, with suitably operatic backing vocals. The song is pleasantly melodic throughout, with nice piano work and an uplifting theme played on the guitar. Cita Clandestina would make a great film theme, with slabs of brassy keyboards powering the tune along, again reminding of Tangerine Dream and also ELP at times.

Al Reverso del Tejido is the album’s mini epic, clocking in at eight minutes long. Beginning with pensive keys and a brooding guitar solo, the tempo picks up for a rocking section, underpinned by solid bass lines. This is followed by the vocal section, powerfully delivered and once more backed by operatic soprano voices. After another, more conventional but enjoyable song, the album concludes with Ciudad Sin Tiempo, which has a haunting melody that is nicely developed and varied, presenting a fitting end to an enjoyable album.

Of the bonus material, Heroes.. is a short song that, despite its brevity, is as strong as any of the preceding ones, and the remaining two instrumentals are quirkier and more adventurous, with an experimental edge absent from the original album. Rigel in particular has an opening section that sounds very like Banco’s R.I.P and then twists and turns in the best 70’s progressive rock fashion.

The production and overall feel place this recording very much in its 80's timeslot, but the material proves to be much stronger than a lot of other offerings from the same period. It would be nice to think that, with the advent of a virtual Web Based Prog Community, this recording may at last reach a larger audience than when it was first released. I shall be visiting the Label’s website to see if there are any more undiscovered gems waiting to be found.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

Dave Sissons

Tantra - Terra
Tantra - Terra
Country of Origin:Portugal
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:-
Year of Release:2003
Samples:Click here
Tracklist: Kali (8:30), The Sensible Road (3:40), Edge Of Oblivion (12:13), Solitude (5:30), Terra (9:50), Return (4:40), Drowning Dawn (3:30), Scorpio (3:50), Vertigo (5:40), Burlesque Theatre (5:50), Zephyrus (2:30)

A band put together by two Lisbon musicians, Manuel Cardoso and Armando Gama, Tantra released its debut album Mistérios e Maravilhas way back in 1978. It was followed two years later by Holocausto which established the band as the only Portuguese Symphonic Prog Rock group able to put out records and back them up with live concerts.

Having built up a strong following across the country, the band next decided to move in a slightly different direction with an album sung in English with a more New Wave feeling. Humanoid Flesh however brought a backlash against the band for singing in English - they had until then strongly defended the use of the Portuguese language - and for moving away from their original sound. As a result the band called it a day in 1981.

More than two decades later it appears that Tantra has climbed out of the history books to begin a new chapter that appears to be very much a return to their roots.

The idea for the new beginning came several years ago, when Manuel Cardoso decided to re-master the band's first ever concert from 1977, that he had taped on an old two-track recorder. Through this re-mastering process, the passion for Tantra's music returned and he decided to continue the project that had been suspended in such a sudden way. Finding that none of his previous colleagues shared his desire to do it all over again, Manuel decided to look for new musicians that would fit the spiritual and technical needs of Tantra.

The first new member came forward through a chance meeting in the street. Guilherme da Luz was a Tantra fan who introduced himself to Manuel and told him how much he liked the music. Gui, was an analog synthesist who normally played his deep, spiritual and cosmic music in small venues and fitted the bill perfectly. With the addition of a second guitarist, Bruno Silva, and a drummer, bassist and keyboardist - the line-up was re-made and the second generation of Tantra was ready to record album number four.

Terra is very much a return to the band's original beginnings - an ever-changing wall of sound formed by an endless array of musical tiles, bricks, colours and textures. Besides the numerous melodies that come and go throughout the album, you will find very complex, sometimes even chaotic musical themes mixed with some oddly dissonant guitar soloing.

The title song, an opus clocking in at just under 10 minutes, is a good place to demonstrate the wideness of Tantra's music. Divided into four parts, The Vision starts with a church organ and spacey vocals but soon evolves into a typical 70's sound with keyboards and a leftfield guitar solo. The Cavern is all peace and quiet with an angelic chorus that ends with the outbreak of War. Here the band pierces the listener with chaotic aggression that soon evolves into a celebration of Victory and Celebration that has some striking female vocals.

Manuel's vocals are the weakest link on the album - although, to be fair, being sung entirely in Portuguese, I'm almost certainly missing something in being able to interpret its place in the overall concept. There is an English translation on the album sleeve which helps. However, those listeners who understand Portuguese will probably be able to appreciate the dark, crushing lyrical themes in a totally different context. The fact that whole album was self-produced and recorded in Manuel's personal studio, will probably explain the technical restrictions that restrict the overall sound quality too.

I'm sure this album has a natural target audience amongst Portuguese/Brazilian progsters in that a better understanding of the lyrical concept would help paint the full picture. For the rest of us, Terra is certainly an album that needs lot of patience and understanding.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

Andy Read

One Locus Which Consists Of Three Fragments
F.H.C. - One Locus Which Consists Of Three Fragments
Country of Origin:Japan
Vital Records
Catalogue #:VR-001
Year of Release:2002
Samples:Click here
Tracklist: No Talking (1:43), Bon-No (1:01), Build On Sand (1:27), Punk Dragon (1:36), Amputated Man (1:34), Dacoit (0:56), Hoppy (2:20), Right Foot (2:30), Copper Nose (0:50), Elephant Walk (1:49), Ocean & Strains Part V (3:23), 7 by 5 is 35 No.3 (1:46), Make An Acute (1:43), 1cm Per 1Day (1:03), Tar Macadam (0:33), Agave (1:05), Jugular (1:23), Crayfish (1:08), Round Off (1:40)

FHC, or in its full version Fox Hole Commune, revolves around a nucleus of two musicians, and to this are added a number of guest instrumentalists and occasional vocals. The information on the band is somewhat sketchy, add to this my total lack of comprehension of the Japanese language and the only the background I can find is in their native tongue, I can offer only the briefest of insight. The mainstay of FHC centres around Kasai (Chapman Stick & bass) and Ichi (drums). Other contributors are in the form of Aso (violin & banjo), Moriken (guitar), Koiso (voice and noiz) and Rumi (keyboards). The album is produced by Vital Records, an off shoot of Poseidon Records, which has been set up to allow newer bands to record and release material, without the obvious expenses associated with producing an album. Consequently this recording lacks any real production values and serves more as a live recording in a studio environment.

Musically what we have on offer is a collection of brief snippets of material, which would appear to have no connecting theme or overall concept. With Kasai's Chapman Stick featuring heavily throughout, and supported by the complementary drumming of Ichi, there are very strong links to King Crimson. Track ten, Elephant Walk will probably help tie down the particular era of KC's career. Rhythmically the music works quite well and much of the playing is of a high standard, but my main problem with the material, as a whole, stems around its frantic nature and the overall dissonant sound. Perhaps it may be suggested that I am being unfairly critical here, and that I am overlooking the cultural differences inherant with the music. Well this may be so, however, if FHC's material is to have greater appeal then surely this is a fair comment.

Potentially FHC have much to offer, however, One Locus Which Consists Of Three Fragments, merely hints at this, and only time will tell the full story. I would be interested to hear full length tracks from the band, with more structured arrangements and depth to the material. Certainly the musicianship displayed on this CD suggests that they are capable of producing a worthy album, so let us hope FHC return to the studio soon (and with a keener ear towards the production). As for this CD, I cannot see any great reason to purchase it, other than for curiosity's sake.

Conclusion: 4 out of 10

Bob Mulvey

Album Reviews