Reviews in this issue:
- Michael Sadler - Clear
- Spock's Beard / Pallas / Roine Stolt - Artwork Collectors Series
- Dead Heroes Club - Dead Heroes Club
- Michael Pinnella - Enter By The Twelfth Gate [Duo Review]
- Coheed & Cambria - The Second Stage Turbine Blade
- Coheed & Cambria - In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth : 3
- Uqbar - Uqbar
Michael Sadler - Clear
Tracklist: Who's Sorry Now (4:48), Who's Foolin' Who (5:00), Too Much Time On My Hands (4:48), I'm Not the Enemy (5:22), Can't Let Go (3:58), Lonely (4:05), One Minute (4:35), In the Name of Love (4:03), Why We Lie (4:38), One Heart (4:11), Surrender Your Heart (6:21), Clear (4:57)
On being offered the chance to review Clear by Saga front man Michael Sadler, I was immediately intrigued as to what choice of style he would pursue. It is always a dilemma for a musician from a long standing band with a particular musical tradition (as are Saga) to be able to present something that manages to sound fresh and at the same time have his particular trademark on it. I am pretty familiar with much of the work of Saga from their earlier years and admittedly have not maintained contact (musically!) with them, though I am aware that they are one of those bands that have managed to progress through the times changing and adapting their sound to the times they find themselves in.
On Clear, one has a more melodic almost AOR styled album with little of the progressive influences I was expecting especially when one sees that Sadler quotes Genesis and Gentle Giant as being his major influences outside of Saga. More importantly though is the fact that Sadler's voice does not seem to have suffered from years of use as has happened to most of the vocalists from his generation and that is indeed heartening. In fact his voice comes across as strong, vibrant and powerful and is complemented by excellent production and a great backing band who are Thomas Schmitt - Zijnen (Keyboards), Chris Frazier (Edgar Winter, Steve Vai) (Drums), Tim Emmons (Bass), Lino (Guitars) and Marcus Deml (Guitars).
One thing that Sadler is definitely capable of is presenting a tune with ear-friendly hooks and a catchy chorus. Add to that the fact that much of the chorus on the album have a choir as backing vocalists and one can see how Sadler has done away with the musical nuances. In fact the instruments never take centre-stage with solos few and far between and instead Sadler concentrates on presenting tracks that have a catchy melody and ear-friendly chorus, enhanced by the presence of the choir as happens on pieces such as One Minute, Who's Foolin' Who and the opening Who's Sorry Now. At times the album takes on an eighties feel with the heavy use of synthesisers and this leads one to think whether this album is an accumulation of material by Sadler over the years. In fact some of the tracks on the album had already been presented in his 1998 release Back Where You Belong, though they have been revamped and re-recorded for this release.
Clear is definitely a personal album, which Sadler seems to have felt inclined to release probably due to personal reasons on his life as can been seen through the album lyrics notwithstanding the fact that the release of Clear "clashed" with the release of a new Saga album (Network). One cannot state that there is much in terms of musical complexity. This is straight forward rock album aimed primarily at those who love the American styled stadium rock. The occasional ballad surfaces (Can't Let Go) as do the stompers (One Minute) and all in all this is a good rocking album that I have really enjoyed
Clear was a delightful to review and listen to, and it will definitely be one album I will be playing often, however, this being a progressive rock website, I must comment on the album from a progressive rock point of view and unfortunately it offers little for those hardcore prog-rock fans. On the other hand if you are looking for something slightly more commercially lightweight then I strongly recommend Clear.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Spock's Beard - The Light
Pallas - The Sentinel
Roine Stolt - The Flower King
Artwork Collectors Series
Tracklist: The Light (15:33), Go The Way You Go (12:03), The Water (23:07), On The Edge (6:11). Bonus track : The Light (Home Demo) (15:18)
Tracklist: Shock Treatment (4.29), Cut and Run (4.59), Arrive Alive (4.05), Rise and Fall Pt 1 (6.05), Eastwest (4.58) March on Atlantis (5.23) Rise and Fall Pt 2 (4.08), Heart Attack (7.59), Atlantis (7.59) Ark of Infinity (7.05)
Tracklist: The Flower King (10.28), Dissonata (9.57), Magic Circus of Zeb (7.02) Close Your Eyes (3.10), The Pilgrims Inn (9.11), The Sounds of Violence (5.38) Humanizzimo (20.55) Scanning The Greenhouse (3.32)
In recent years the InsideOut label has been pretty prolific in finding new ways to take full advantage of their ever-growing back catalogue and trying different methods to present their artists' material.
We've had the remastered 'special edition' reissues with bonus tracks in all shapes and sizes; the regular 'special edition' versions of new releases with often quite appealing bonus tracks; the triple live packages with DVD and double CDs and the much-appreciated digibook versions that come in quite splendid packaging. Anyway the latest idea is the 'Artwork Collectors Series' which begins with the release of these three, strangely-shaped packages.
Now some might see this as a simple 'cash in' exercise. It is certainly keeping the band completists dipping into their pockets on a regular basis (not that I have much sympathy with anyone who'd rather go out and buy an album they've already got in a different box than try something new!). However in the case of these three, classic albums, I'd rather prefer to see it as a good way to tempt newcomers to these bands to invest some of their money, instead of 'burning' their own versions.
So what the heck is an 'Artwork Collectors Series'? Well from the outside they are housed in a glossy, triple foldout, 7-inch sleeve. As you unfold it, the CD lies in the middle section, there's a sleeve with an expanded 7-inch booklet on the left hand side and a sleeve with a collection of posters and postcards in the right hand sleeve. That's the 'artwork' side of the title. For the collectors, they're all strictly limited and numbered to just 3,000 copies of each. (N.B. Due to some problems with the printers some have numbers higher than 3,000 but Inside Out has given assurances that only 3,000 exist).
As an added incentive, the Spock's Beard and Pallas versions have bonus material and all three have improved sound in remastered versions. I'm unable to comment on whether these remasters are vastly different. The only original version that I still own, is the vinyl version of The Sentinel - and it certainly sounds better than that!
The version of Spock's Beard's The Light is based I believe around the original US design. The set also contains a poster of the cover, three glossy postcards and a revamped booklet including some interesting new liner notes from Neal Morse plus all the lyrics and some archive photos. The added bonus is the inclusion of a 'home demo' of the title track. To these ears, other than a few changes in pace, it sounds barely different from the album version - proved I guess by an almost identical playing time. It would have been interesting for Morse to have given a few background details to this demo in the notes.
For the Pallas set we have a similar format with a poster of the album cover and three postcards. The sleeve notes and cover have an abundance of archive photos but no liner notes. The bonus material in this case is an additional CDRom feature with a collection of live pictures from The Sentinel period and some rare video footage of the band playing part of the Atlantis Suite at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1982. This is believed to be the only such footage featuring Euan. While fairly poor quality and too short, it is worth a look.
Now there will be no surprises when I say that the Roine Stolt set also features a poster of the album cover plus three glossy postcards. However, other than a remastering, the booklet has no additional notes and as far as I can find out there's no bonus material. So enjoy the postcards on this one!
So folks, that's what you get if you decide to buy the 'Artwork Collectors Series'. A novel idea - maybe lacking a bit in the added value stakes - but I guess if this really does become a series then you'll know that it's a successful idea as well.
Conclusion : Unrated
Dead Heroes Club - Dead Heroes Club
Tracklist: A Day in the Life of the World (6:18), Feel the Dark (6:21), Sunrise on the Trenches (4:34), Falling from Grace (8:03), The Road to Jerusalem (4:23), One Day Too Soon (5:57), Press Any Key (3:51), Third Light (4:20), A Secret Never to be Told (12:45)
Dead Heroes Club claim to be the sole Irish progressive rock band, and indeed apart from the defunct Horslips, nothing else comes to mind. Their self-titled debut album is also self-produced and -promoted, and represents their "mission to reinvent and rejuvenate prog-rock in a contemporary context".
The album kicks off with A Day in the Life of the World, which opens pleasantly enough with clean guitars and piano before introducing Liam Campbell's vocals. Mr Campbell is a dead ringer for Peter Gabriel, and displays a similar range and style to early Genesis, with a definite influence in the lyrics as well. The music here is reminiscent of American neo-proggers Iluvatar. It continues in this fairly inoffensive vein for almost four minutes, before launching into a very early-Genesis passage with Hackett-esque guitars and Hammond. Indeed, this piece would not have been out of place on Foxtrot.
Feel the Dark continues the dichotomy. One can't escape the Gabriel comparison, and we're not just talking vocal quality here. Otherwise, it's a lovely tune with some nice riffs. Sunrise on the Trenches, a delightful lyric, has a long introduction in the booklet about the battle of the Somme. I confess I would have liked to have heard this track - and some of the others - with less of the ever-present rhythm guitars.
Falling from Grace ups the intensity with some more guitars. It seems that ten years of guitar effects have passed guitarist Gerry McGerigal by, which is a shame, for the fizzy clipped sound here detracts from the tasteful playing. The middle section here is something Genesis would have done about thirty years ago; since no-one else seems to be doing it any more, I have no objection to Dead Heroes Club doing just that. It's followed by some shorter tracks; The Road to Jerusalem has a nod to IQ in style but lacks variety, and tends to drag a little. One Day Too Soon cuts back on the ever-present rhythm guitars, allowing the song to groove, and it works very well. I'm not sure which band member provides the backing vocals here, but it fits nicely. Press Any Key, by contrast, is four minutes that really doesn't belong on this album.
Third Light is a nice but throwaway instrumental, leading into the longest piece here, namely the ten-minute A Secret Never To Be Told. Now, I generally like long pieces, provided there's enough variety to sustain the interest, and Dead Heroes Club perform that well by moving through each of the moods found throughout the album. It's good, with the exception of some unusually poor vocals early on. They manage to shake off the Genesis comparisons here for the most part. The hidden section at the end is unnecessary.
Dead Heroes Club have done themselves proud with this debut. The album is consistent and offers a good blend of acoustic stylings with the more progressive influences. I would recommend this highly to any fan of the softer side of progressive rock, as well as early Genesis fans. The recent addition of a full-time keyboardist to the band promises more diversity and power for live performances and the next release too. It could do with some more variety in the songs, a little more dynamics to the music, less rhythm guitars; but ultimately, it's an excellent start.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Michael Pinnella - Enter By The Twelfth Gate
Tracklist: The White Room (5:23), Edge Of Insanity (4:24), Piano Concerto#1 Mvt.1 (5:11), Enter By The 12th Gate (4:30), Falling From The Sky (2:55), Welcome To My Daydream (3;22), Piano Concerto #1 Mvt.2 (2:26), Piano Concerto #1 Mvt.3 (2:19), Live For The Day (3:36), Scriabin Etude OP.42 No5* (1:50), Moracan Lullaby (1:50), Departing For Eternity (1:24), Cross The Bridge (4:55)
Michael Pinnella is the keys man for USA prog-metal act Symphony X, and if you're familiar at all with this fabulously talented band, you've heard Pinnella's playing. Between the lush orchestral synth-scapes and the lightning fast licks traded with guitarist Michael Romeo, his contributions in that band are colourful, stylish, and indispensable for the Symphony X sound.
So now that he's done a solo album, you ask with bated breath, "What's it like?" Well, "Enter By The Twelfth Gate" is definitely a keyboard album. This CD has the feel and the sound of a keyboardist's pet project, something he did because he had a build-up of instrumental themes and ideas that it was time to record and put out there - and if people buy it, so much the better.
The music sounds like a labour of love, and one thing you can tell right off, Pinnella loves classical music. The entire CD has a baroque feel, and some tracks have very pronounced classical structures in the music. And some quite recognizable Pinnella-ish themes arise on this CD, which made me wonder if he got quite enough credit for certain Symphony X tracks - On The Breath Of Poseidon (from V - The New Mythology Suite) - for example. Naturally there is no guitar on this album, so don't expect any shredding. All the melodies are carried either by piano or a rather awful (in my opinion) 70's style synth patch. I suppose there is a desire to pay tribute to Keith Emerson. But to me it sounds overdone, blaring in at almost every crescendo on the CD. I would love to see Pinnella develop an attractive trademark synth solo sound as it's the only thing lacking here.
The production is very good, a nice mix & appealing ambience - on a par with Tomas Bodin's solo work. The composition however is a bit more serious than Bodin's, more like Patrick Moraz's material in style. Most of the tracks have drums, and some have bass guitar. My review copy came with no credit documentation, and I found myself wondering whether the rhythm section is real players or MIDI programming. I concluded that both are real, on at least some tracks: Although both sound somewhat mechanical at times, there are articulation and timing cues that digital technology just can't duplicate. Same goes for the grand piano - however there is nothing mechanical sounding in Pinnella's playing, he is a superb pianist. If the drums, bass and piano on this CD are digital I'll be astonished. [NOTE: After writing this I looked it up... Looks like I lost that bet with myself. But I swear I heard finger noise on the bass guitar strings!!]
The album is a little short by modern standards - I expect a CD to have at least 60 minutes of music on it, even if some of it would be called 'filler' by some listeners - and there are no epics here, perhaps a wise decision with an instrumental album. One other thing: Two of the tracks (8 and 11) end somewhat abruptly with artless fades, surprising from a musician of Pinnella's obvious passion and skill, especially with no time crunch. Still, this collection is attractive and well balanced, with a lot of themes that give the impression that they are going to stick in your head after several listens. That is the mark of a great album!
It goes without saying that if you are a Symphony X nut you will want this CD, as it spotlights one of the key people in the band. Interestingly, though most find Symphony X a little on the cheesy side, I don't think any of the cheese comes from Pinnella after hearing this. For keyboard fans - Enter By The Twelfth Gate would look good on the shelf with the Tomas Bodin, ELP, Patrick Moraz and Jordan Rudess albums.
Symphony-X fans of course know that Michael Pinnella is the amazing keyboard player of that well-known prog metal band. However this solo debut has nothing to do with the music of Symphony X, so you are warned! This album makes you sit up and take notice of the talented Michael Pinnella in an uncommon manner. Enter The 12th Gate is an instrumental album that will certainly pleasure lovers of classical piano and keyboard sounds, ranging from Bach, Chopin and Scriabin (as classical musicians) till Jordan Rudess, Wakeman and Keith Emerson (as modern keys players).
This means that you will not hear any metal music on this CD and therefore I would not advise this album to friends of rock and/or metal. I am not a piano man myself, although I love keys (especially ELP, Richard Anderson, Rick Wakeman and Jordan Rudess) and therefore I am not really fond of songs like Falling From The Sky, The Scriabin Etude and the three piano concertos. That is real piano overkill for me.
I prefer songs like The White Room, Enter By The 12th Gate, Welcome To My Daydream and Live For The Day. These tracks are kind of “rockish” and are filled with howling keys and great melodies. These tracks also feature synthesiser fanfares and keys whirls in the best tradition of Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman. Some parts in these songs even remind me of good old Mike Oldfield or Jon Lord. Not a bad album actually, but I rather prefer Symphony X!
Coheed & Cambria -
The Second Stage Turbine Blade
Track Listing: Second Stage Turbine Blade (0:55), Time Consumer (5:53), Devil in Jersey City (4:49), Everything Evil (5:51), Delirium Trigger (4:49), Hearshot Kid Disaster (5:42), 33 (3:31), Junesong Provision (5:22), Neverender (5:24) God Send Conspirator [+ hidden track - I, Robot] (13:45)
When my friend Heather, who not only has superb taste in music herself but also knows exactly what my tastes run to, told me that I should check out Coheed & Cambria, I should have heeded her suggestion immediately. But I was put off by the name, I told her – frankly, my first thoughts were of Seals & Crofts and Simon & Garfunkel. No thanks. Had I known that the first incarnation of Coheed & Cambria had the far worse name “Shabutie,” or that Coheed & Cambria are not band members but the main characters in a graphic novel being written by guitarist/songwriter/singer Claudio Sanchez (and also the characters whose story is being told in both the band’s albums thus far), I’d have been less reluctant to check them out. And if I’d had any inkling of how interesting the band is, well, I’d have headed straight for the record store. But the important thing is that I finally discovered them, and I hope many other fans of modern progressive rock will discover them, too.
Coheed & Cambria have actually been called “emo-core,” an unfortunate label for an even more unfortunate genre; but they’re also often (and more accurately) classed as a “progressive” band. Labels aside, I’d say that – like all good bands (or so I believe) – these guys seem to have absorbed a great deal of music of all styles, but what they do with it, what they create as their own, is more than a pastiche. If I had to come up with a brief summary, I’d say that the essence of Coheed & Cambria’s sound on their debut album, The Second Stage Turbine Blade – and I’m certainly not implying that this description will cover all their songs, on this first album or on their second – is something like this: Rush + The Mars Volta + blink-182. That’s right: blink-182. In fact, those of Coheed & Cambria’s songs that are most reminiscent of The Mars Volta are also those in which we hear the strongest traces of the pop-punk sound that has become so popular in the last half-dozen years (and of course The Mars Volta was, in an earlier incarnation with a rather different line up, the “post-punk” band At The Drive-In.) The energy, I guess I’m saying, of many of the songs is not Yes-like energy but Green-Day-like energy. But don’t let that put you off Coheed & Cambria if you’re not a fan of this recent, often ersatz punk. It’s only one component of their sound, albeit a telling and vigorous one.
Another component is Claudio Sanchez’s voice. He’s often compared to Geddy Lee, and that comparison is accurate, if you think of Lee around the time of Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures especially. But – and here’s another similarity to this recent excellent band – Sanchez’s voice also calls to mind that of Cedric Bixler Zavala of The Mars Volta. All three singers’ voices are high and expressive, and not the least of their virtues is that they cut through their bands’ complex arrangements and serve (as all good lead singers’ voices do, of course) as another instrument. They don’t just deliver the lyrics; they deliver melody and counterpoint, too.
But what about those lyrics? After all, Coheed & Cambria haven’t just made a concept album; they’ve made two albums (the second (reviewed below), In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3, came out only last year) based on the same concept, and apparently the band has no immediate plans to write about other subjects. Not many progressive bands have been ambitious in this way; even Rush and Saga, who have stretched concepts over a number of albums (the former with their extended “Fear” story, the latter with their “saga”), usually do so with only one or two songs on each album. If a band wants to tell a story over several albums, or even over one or two, that story had better be worth telling. Now, I know from what I’ve read that the songs are each meant to describe an uneasy, sometimes violent comic-book/fantasy world, but I’m afraid that even a careful listening to the lyrics while attending to the way they’re complemented by the music doesn’t get me much further than that. “So they pulled your confidence down with those verbal discrepancies / Now and then you'll gain what they've lost through a challenge of unpronounced / Pain is only a pulse if you just stop feeling it / You might be able to use the very things that make us up.” Indeed? Well, although I’d much rather hear lyrics like that than pretty well anything offered on top-40 radio, I’m still happiest when lyricists go out of their way to communicate with some clarity their ideas, to tell their stories in simpler rather than more complex, perhaps unnecessarily complex, language. That said, I’ll return to my earlier claim: fine singers use their instruments just as fine pianists use theirs, and I can listen to Robert Plant sing all day about squeezing lemons without really caring that the words are vacuous. And Sanchez, though no Plant, has an impressive, dramatic voice that works well with the band’s other instruments.
And what about those other instruments? Well, there’s no impugning the skill of bassist Mike Todd, guitarists Sanchez and Travis Stever, or drummer Josh Eppard. Able to accommodate wacky time-signature changes with ease (listen to the Yes-like shifts in Everything Evil) and also to rock out in 4/4 (the infectious 33) while maintaining the melody in the first instance and keeping the music interesting in the second, the musicians are clearly having a blast creating this tricky yet peppy progressive melange. I like the album’s sound, too, compressed and powerful, punchy and clear: I especially like the early-Lifeson sound in the guitar fills on such songs as Devil In Jersey City and the growly but clean bass sound throughout. Finally, drummer Eppard is the best kind of progressive drummer: he knows that, when the music is complex, his main job to hold it together, and he doesn’t need to show off further: just preserving the songs’ integrity while adding the occasional appropriate personal touch is the best way to show off. The musicians work together well; the band is tight, and the overall sound is, too.
Despite all I’ve said in its favour, the album’s certainly not perfect, and its imperfections don’t reside only in its obscure lyrics. The overriding fault (and one that’s partly corrected on the band’s second album, I believe) is a sameness to many of the songs. Yes, it’s a good sound that these young men have hit on; but they need to change it up a bit more. That’s not to say that the album is completely homogeneous but only that, unlike the linked but clearly differentiated songs on the best concept albums (I’ll choose Floyd’s The Final Cut as an obvious example), those on The Second Stage Turbine Blade too often blend together. That’s an understandable fault on a debut album such as this, and, as I say, the problem is addressed on the next album, but it does mean that this one doesn’t hold up to repeated playings as well as it might. It’s fortunate, then, that the band is so flexible and talented. In fact, if the trend predicted by their first two albums continues, this is a band that might pull off that difficult feat: they might gain a large audience while, not tempering, but further developing the progressive elements in their sound. They’re a fine band, and I’m glad I discovered them even as late as I did and not later. Thanks, Heather.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Coheed & Cambria -
In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth : 3
Tracklist: The Ring in Return (2:09); In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 (8:15); Cuts Marked in the March of Men (5:02); Three Evils (Embodied in Love and Shadow) (5:11); The Crowing (6:37); Blood Red Summer (4:05); The Velorium Camper I: Faint of Hearts (5:23); The Velorium Camper II: Backend of Forever (5:25); The Velorium Camper III: Al the Killer (4:17); A Favor House Atlantic (3:58); The Light and the Glass [+ hidden track 21:13] (9:23)
In my review above of Coheed & Cambria’s 2002 debut album The Second Stage Turbine Blade, I said that, fine record though it was, its overriding fault was too little variety in the songs. I also said that on their second album, In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3, the band had clearly recognized and worked to avoid that fault. Really, the new album is better in every way: the lyrics are a little less obscure, the playing is more challenging, and the songs are not only more interesting and more complex but also more varied. On Silent Earth: 3, Coheed & Cambria manage that feat too seldom seen in any band’s work: they come up with a second album superior to their first.
There is, of course, significant continuity between the two albums. First and most obviously, this new album continues the story of the characters "Coheed & Cambria" (who are just that – characters in a story, and not band members) that was begun on Turbine Blade. Second and more importantly, anybody who’s heard the first album even once will need no more than a moment to identify any song on the new album as having been performed by the same band. In an age of faceless, homogenized pop music (quick! was that Britney, Christina, or Jessica?), we’re indeed lucky to find a band that has so quickly created a unique sound for itself, and that’s what I want to talk about first.
The band’s essential sound seems to derive from those of some pretty widely varied bands. Claudio Sanchez, Coheed & Cambria’s singer, guitarist, and main songwriter, is a big fan of Iron Maiden and has said that his band’s twin-guitar attack was inspired by Maiden’s, but little else of that venerable metal group can be heard in Coheed & Cambria. More obvious (although not acknowledged in any interview I’ve read) is the influence of early Rush, to my ear even more evident on this second album than on Turbine Blade. (Besides, how could the band deny that the hidden track on this album, 21:13, is anything but a sly allusion to Rush’s great early concept album 2112?) And of course many songs are reminiscent of the pop-punk groups that Coheed & Cambria has toured with. My son Sam says that Coheed & Cambria remind him strongly of one recent such group called Cauterize, and I hear that similarity, as also to blink-182; and Blood Red Summer is almost an homage to the sound of one of the greatest of eighties new-wave groups, The Cars, the song’s tick-tock rhythm guitar a near-exact copy of Ric Ocasek’s. But as I’ve argued before and still maintain, if Coheed & Cambria must be labelled, their proper label is “progressive rock.” Not only their lyrics but also the best part of their sound simply can’t fit into the fairly restrictive category created for and by today’s pop-punk groups. To my mind, “progressive” means above all “ambitious, unwilling to settle for the usual or ordinary,” and Coheed & Cambria fit that definition. Sure, their rhythm guitars and their punchy sound owe a lot to those currently popular bands, but a good band will assimilate its influences and make of them something new, as does Coheed & Cambria.
I thought I might spend the balance of this review talking about a few of the songs on Silent Earth: 3, not only because I’ve gone on long enough, in this review and in my previous, about the band’s sound in general, but because – and here I’m returning to the point with which I ended my other review and began this one – the songs on this album are varied enough that several of them really stand out and deserve close attention. I’ll begin with The Velorium Camper I: Faint of Hearts, which itself begins just like the mighty Scorpions’ song Rock You Like a Hurricane (oh, don’t deny it – you remember it!). Faint of Hearts is the first of three songs with the overriding title The Velorium Camper, and it’s also one of the most Coheed-&-Cambria-ish sounding songs on the album. After beginning with that jumpy, power-chorded intro (which is, okay, not exactly like that of the Scorpions song), the band treats us to repeated distant falsetto backing vocals that surely constitute a more conscious allusion: “Goo-goo-ga-joob.” I’m not sure what that Beatles allusion is doing in this song, with its typically obscure lyrics, although I suppose the band might be invoking the obscurity of the original song, I Am The Walrus. Lyrics aside, though, Faint of Heart is a typically energetic, intricately arranged yet powerful Coheed & Cambria song.
Less typical is Blood Red Summer. It’s the out-and-out prettiest song of the twenty-three songs on their two albums (I’m counting the “hidden tracks,” of course) and in many ways the simplest. It’s the one that I’ve suggested will remind the fan of eighties pop of The Cars in its lilting melody and especially in its rhythm-guitar sound, although Sanchez’s voice and the lyrics – “In a pain that buckles out your knees / Could you stop this if I plead” – couldn’t be further from typical pop music. I take that to be a good thing, and it’s one of my reasons for insisting that Coheed & Cambria are a progressive band. In any case, the intimate, half-whispered lead and background vocals of the verses and the anthemic breakout of the chorus – “And when the answer that you want / Is in the question that you state / Come what may” – demonstrate this band’s superb pop sensibilities, the sensibilities that keep even their more difficult songs melodic.
I’ll end by looking at the album’s eight-minute title song, In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3. Beginning with clear plucked and strummed partial arpeggios, eventually joined by a martial-sounding snare drum and a delicately distorted intro solo, the song then builds nicely. By the time we arrive at the chorus, which directs the imagined audience, among other things, to “Man your battle stations / We’ll have you dead pretty soon,” Sanchez’s voice is – I don’t know: processed? Doubled? We hear his tenor riding atop a much deeper, growling voice that perfectly complements it, the voices delivering those and other grim lyrics over emphatic, punctuating power chords. The song breaks in the middle, returning to the quiet beginning and re-building, the band telling its odd story; and again, three-quarters of the way through the song, that stillness returns for a moment before the chording and war-like singing/chanting echoes in the background, with Sanchez’s doubled voice again promising to “have you dead pretty soon.” It’s a great, dramatic, multi-part song, the perfect title track for such an album.
While I don’t feel the need to defend any further the band’s right to be called “progressive,” I want to return to that point now. Who cares if they’re usually lumped in with the pop-punk or “emo-core” crowd? The band’s sound is so expansive that it can remind us of both The Cars and Rush, of blink-182 and The Mars Volta. While I still have reservations about the lyrics of both the group’s albums so far, and while I couldn’t in conscience recommend The Second Stage Turbine Blade unreservedly to progressive-rock fans, this album I will so recommend. I’ll even say this album is the sound of a band on the move and on the rise. I will expect great things from Coheed & Cambria in years to come – and I even hope that Claudio Sanchez will begin telling his no doubt interesting story in lyrics that even I can understand.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Uqbar - Uqbar
Tracklist: Pylonisa (6:18) Cesare (5:37) Rojo De Espana (8:08) Fauno Con Trompetas (7:24) Arkangel (6:07) Bonus Tracks: Seireme (5:00) Lucila Caesar (6:43) Tigre Mimbre (5:49)
This self-titled offering from Argentina’s Uqbar is yet another lost recording brought to life by Viajero Inmovil Records, whose work in this area is invaluable to the prog collector.
Tracks one to five are what would have been their first album, and date from 1995. The (unusual) line-up features: Dario Diaz: (Classical Guitar); Nora Lopez: (Clarinet); Leandro Szelagowsky: (Flute); Andreas Kozel: (Violoncello); and Maria Gomez: (Classical Guitar). Track 6 dates from 2000 and replaces Gomez with Nicolas Pardo, and the violoncello is replaced by Rosana Flores on Trombone. The final two tracks are from 2001 and feature the slimmed down line-up of Diaz and Alejandro Cancelos on Clarinet, however, all of the tracks have a similar feel regardless of age or instrumentation.
Entirely acoustic, the feel is very much that of a small chamber group, with heavy emphasis on classical guitars. There are little or no real Rock elements to be found. Whilst mainly operating in a melodic context (there are odd moments of dissonance) the overall mood is solemn and serious. Perhaps for this reason, and to my surprise, I couldn’t really warm to this disc. The playing is undoubtedly excellent, the style unusual and explorative, but ultimately I found it to be too dry and academic. Whilst I admire the obvious artful ambition and the technical skills employed, I found the whole thing a touch too austere, mournful and inhospitable to encourage repeated listens.
Not wanting to be unfair, I did persevere with the CD, and to be truthful, I did warm to it a little, and I am sure there will be a (small) number of prog fans who would really like this. The nearest comparison I could make would be to Jazz/World improv merchants Oregon (but without the improv) and Obscure French outfit Noetra, who employed a similar chamber approach, but to much greater success, at least in my opinion.
My favourite tracks are the relatively tuneful opener Pylonisa and the almost rocky Arkangel. Some of this would make an ideal soundtrack to an art house movie. It’s gentle and understated, there’s nothing really wrong with it; it’s just that it never really grabbed my attention like I thought it would.
If you are a nut for modern chamber music, or a classical guitar fan you may find this CD rewarding, but if tempted, I would say try before you buy.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10