Reviews in this issue:
Anekdoten - Gravity
Tracklist: Monolith (6:07); Ricochet (5:44); The War Is Over (4:42); What Should But Did Not Die (6:43); SW4 (6:04); Gravity (8:19); The Games We Play (3:24); Seljak (5:16)
Anekdoten were, along with the likes of Landberk and Anglagaard, part of what could be called ‘the new wave of Swedish progressive rock’ which emerged in the early 90’s. Their earlier albums, such as 95’s Nucleus, showcased a sound which, with its use of harsh, discordant guitars and lashings of mellotron, saw the band very much tagged as an updated version of early to mid 70’s King Crimson. With 99’s From Within, however, they produced an album which, whilst still betraying a certain debt to Robert Fripp’s outfit, was a more rounded and mature affair; many of the songs had a very hypnotic, emotional feel, with the band creating a dense wall of sound that derived from using a combination of instruments including, as well as the usual guitar-drums-bass set-up, piano, Rhodes, cello, Wurlitzer, Hammond, vibes – and, yes, lots and lots of mellotron (and with no less than three of the four band members credited with playing this instrument, its safe to say that mellotron fans will be in seventh heaven here).
Although there’s been a four year gap between them, Gravity very much picks up from where From Within left off. Monolith, Ricochet and the title track are the songs which most recall that album, featuring dense, churning guitar, hypnotic grooves and the aforementioned wall of organs and mellotrons (sadly no cello this time!) which give proceedings something of a symphonic feel. Vocals, predominantly handled by bassist Jan Erik Liljestrom, fit the music well, having something of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke about them. I should also mention that, whilst the band tend to go for melody and atmosphere rather than overdosing on solos, there is a wonderful, pretty understated organ solo played on Ricochet which would put most muso’s OTT efforts to shame.
Elsewhere the band explore a variety of styles: both The War Is Over and Games We Play are mellow, predominantly acoustic efforts; the former has a slightly folky, at times almost Floydian flavour and features an effective dreamy lead vocal (it would have been nice for the band to use some vocal harmonies on the chorus though), whilst the latter is the most laidback I’ve heard the band, and has a whimsical feel. SW4 is obviously influenced by a trip to London (the title is a London postcode, whilst the areas of Holloway Road and Clapham are referenced in the lyrics), and has a haunting, rather sparse feel, somewhat reminiscent of The The, as well as showcasing some wonderful backing vocals from multi-instrumentalist Anna Sofi Dahlberg. Meanwhile, the excellently titled What Should But Did Not Die has a brilliantly controlled slow and ominous build up, although surprisingly doesn’t explode into life as I expected it to, with the band keeping a tight reign on things throughout. The album closes out with the instrumental Seljak, which allows the band to stretch out a bit, and once more is something of a mellotron showcase.
Overall, this is a superb album which shows that Anekdoten have grown into one of the top exponents of progressive rock in their homeland – and they have plenty of competition. Had I actually heard this album last year, it would undoubtedly have made it into my top ten releases for ’03, and that’s perhaps the major problem that Anekdoten face - not enough people have actually heard their music, or even know of the band’s existence. Well, now’s the time to put that right. I would say that, if you’re favourite albums of the previous year included releases from the likes of Muse, Opeth, Porcupine Tree, Pineapple Thief, Anathema and Wolverine, this is certainly one to investigate. Even if not, if you like powerful, emotional music with the emphasis on atmosphere, strong melodies and stellar musicianship, I would highly recommend you give this album a go.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Nathan Mahl – Live Nearfest 1999
Tracklist: Intro (0:46) Without Words (11:07) Clever Use Of Shadows (10:26) Something Like That (8:24) Machiavelique (7:51) Orgazmic Outburst II (2:32) Orgazmic Outburst III (5:47) Carpe Diem (15:42) Call To Arms (8:38)
Something of a rarity in the prog world, Nearfest was an immediate (and continuing) success when it staged its first festival in 1999. I don’t know of any other festivals that sell out so quickly and consistently. Certainly the prog-oriented festivals (and they are few and far between) that I have attended here in the UK are generally marred by extremely poor attendance. Since that first outing, the festival has played host to many superb acts, including 70’s Prog giants Camel, Caravan, Nektar, Steve Hackett and Banco, and also some of the newer leading lights such as Porcupine Tree, Anglagard and Spock’s Beard to mention just a few.
It is good news indeed for those of us unable to attend such a fantastic event, that Nearfest Records has been inaugurated to bring us a taste of some of the fine performances that we have been missing out on. Although there has been a collaborative release (as part of his Live Archive series) of Steve Hackett’s set from 2002, this CD of Canadian Prog/Fusioneers Nathan Mahl from the first Nearfest is the first official release and is a fitting start to what promises to be a superb series of releases.
In what was their first appearance in the USA, Nathan Mahl consisted of Guy Leblanc on keyboards, Jose Bergeron on guitar, Claude Prince on bass and Alain Bergeron on drums. This was a tight little combo, fusing the best of seventies style progressive rock in the vein of ELP, Focus and Gentle Giant with oodles of noodles in a Canterbury/Jazz manner, recalling National Health and Hatfield And The North.
As with most live albums, this is mainly going to be of interest to fans of the band and is probably not the best place to start your acquaintance with the group. The recently released Shadows Unbound (a reworking of The Clever Use Of Shadows – most of which is featured here) or the first volume of their sprawling 3 CD series Heretic may be better bets for newcomers.
What existing fans will want to know is that the performances are generally terrific, discounting the brief vocals -which are no better than on the studio albums- and though adequate, are surely not anyone’s reason for buying Mahl CDs. Instrumentally, Guy is in brilliant shape, whether on organ, piano or synth, pumping out furious Emersonesque runs one minute and delicate piano the next. On Orgazmic Outburst III he slips in some Thijs Van Leer like organ for good measure. Jose Bergeron is a very capable guitarist, playing mostly in a Jazz-Fusion mode, recalling National Health’s Phil Miller. The rhythm section hold up their end at all times. The group as a whole do a fine job of delivering the complex and tricky change-ups that occur throughout this challenging but engaging music.
The material, as stated, is mostly from The Clever Use Of Shadows, but also includes a 15 minute version of the unreleased (at the time of recording) Carpe Diem from Heretic Part One, which is apparently the only time this has been performed live. By the time the studio version was recorded, the piece had gained vocals, and Jose Bergeron had been replaced by the returning Mark Spenard whose playing is more on the rock side of Progressive and much less fusiony than Bergeron’s. This means that the live version is very different to the one you may be familiar with.
My favourite tracks are the frenetic instrumental Something Like That, the medieval tinged Machiavelique and the two brief but accurately titled Orgazmic Outbursts which feature some excellent electric piano and sizzling synthesiser workouts. Like their studio counterparts, some of the longer pieces tend to lose focus occasionally but none are without their highly entertaining moments.
The live sound quality is very good, capturing the energy and atmosphere of a very convincing and enthusiastic performance from the group. Anyone with a liking for Mahl’s full on progressive rock approach and Jazz Fusion vibe will enjoy this commendable souvenir of a memorable performance. Anyone who takes my advice and investigates one of the studio albums first will no doubt be adding this to their wants list too before long.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Time Requiem - The Inner Circle Of Reality
Tracklist: Reflections (5:53), The Inner Circle Of Reality (11:43), Dreams Of Tomorrow (7:03), Attar Of Roses (5:37), Definition Of Insanity (5:36), Quest Of A Million Souls (4:54), Hidden Memories (7:27), Bach Prelude Variations (0:44)
In the autumn of 2001 Richard Andersson (keyboards) formed the band Time Requiem. He wanted to play neo-classical progressive metal in a tight, melodic and very powerful way, almost like in his former band called Majestic. Other musicians in his band are vocalist Apollo Papathanasio, Magnus Nord (guitar), new drummer Zoltan Csorsz and Richard’s old friend Jonas Reingold (Flower Kings) on bass guitar. So far Time Requiem have made two albums Time Requiem and Unleashed in Japan, a live CD with also some old Majestic songs. So this guy is rather busy, as this is his third album in just two years!!
For lovers of bands like Symphony-X, Vanden Plas and to some extent even Dream Theater this CD is a must. Almost fifty minutes of neo classical progressive metal can be heard on this album, and I can truly say that there are no bad songs here. Reflections opens this album in a fantastic way, up-tempo power metal with excellent vocals and a fast and howling keyboard solo. Then follows the highlight of this “majestic” album: the title track features a orchestral, classical beginning and could best be described as a mini metal opera with very dominant keyboard parts and a rather interesting guitar – keyboard duel in the middle of the song. Dreams Of Tomorrow is without a doubt Malmsteen-oriented music; it kicks off with an acoustic intro and turns into a semi-power ballad with amazing guitar licks later on. Attar Of Roses starts furiously with guitar and keyboard passages at high speed, and this is a song that could make a lot of people very nervous. However this track is a delight for Symphony X fans. Definition Of Insanity even has a catchy chorus, although it is again a rather fast song.
Quest Of A Million Souls is the second ballad on the album and you really have to admire the heavenly keyboard solo, which sounds like a guitar solo by the way. Hidden Memories sounds very familiar to me. It is just like I have heard this track before, but maybe that is because of the typical power metal riffs and the singing. Bach Prelude Variations is of course a tribute to Andersson’s classical hero and is something that not all rock lovers will appreciate. All in all this is a very melodic and powerful CD, and if you like lots of keyboards then I can really recommend this album to you. Richard Andersson plays his keyboards like Yngwie Malmsteen plays his guitar, so enjoy.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Taylor's Universe - Experimental Health
Tracklist: Man On The Mountain (7:39), Elephant Kiss (4:33), Inner Space (6:06), Base Camp (2:14), Notkai (3:25), Milo's Dakdar (2:42), Kindergarten (4:33), Therapy (5:57), Charly & Juliet (4:24), Experimental Health (9:58)
Robin Taylor - Samplicity
Tracklist: Black Country (5:55), Lavender Mist (5:01), BTI (6:42), Fractalism (6:33), February Pain (4:04), Burnt Forest [including A Visit By Mr. Gillon] (12:37), Ambient Isles (9:17)
Taylor's Free Universe - File Under Extreme
Tracklist: Hermanism (7:11), Stand Apart (0:12), Free-Bop (5:38), More Germanism (4:22), Age Concern (5:40), Less Is More (9:34), Evaluation (5:33), Aspects Of A Myth (11:39), Bonus Tragg (0:05)
Robin Taylor - November
Tracklist: High NRG (4:39), Lowest (4:00), Waiting For Something To Happen (6:18), A Big Sleep (9:47), XR-Cism (4:17), Rotten PNO / Processed NRG (3:40), The Dark Side Of Life (21:50), Relief (1:15)
Robin Taylor, an artist little known outside of his native Denmark and probably classified as extremely obscure even within Danish borders. However, this hasn't prevented him from releasing 14 albums since 1991, seven of them in the past four years! Picking up the guitar at the tail end of the 1960s when he was a tender lad of 12, Taylor progressed through various school bands (often, ironically, as the bass player or drummer) constantly refining his playing technique and compositional abilities through listening to lots of records and watching a multitude of bands. Although he had recorded numerous pieces (in glorious 'lo-fi'), many of which were aired on national radio, Taylor's first experience in a professional recording studio was not until 1988 as part of an art school class he was attending. As a result of that course, which introduced him to fellow student and keyboard player Jan Marsfeldt, studio sessions were commenced culminating in Taylor's fist solo album, Essay, in late 1991.
Essentially, Taylor's albums can be divided into two camps, the solo albums and those recorded with his band Taylor's (Free) Universe. Currently the score is seven solo and six group with the 14th release being by "avant-garde big-band" Communio Musica. DPRP has been sent four CDs, two by Taylor's Universe and two solo, in order to raise awareness of Robin Taylor outside of his home country!
Taylor's Universe, on the evidence of the two CDs under review, fulfil the function of being an outlet for Taylor's jazz leanings. Experimental Health from 1998 effectively combines jazz and rock to form a very interesting, and ultimately very enjoyable, album. Taylor's main accomplice is saxophonist Karsten Vogel although additional sax, trombone and flute are provided by Kim Menzer. This album is as good as anything by Hatfield and the North or National Health with some very effective guitar work on tracks such as Man On The Mountain and Inner Space. Things occasionally get a trifle weird as on Base Camp (very strange lyrics!) and Experimental Health which starts off sounding like someone trying to tune into a radio broadcast of an orchestra tuning up before finally deciding to switch to Hawkwind instead. However, on the whole the album is somewhat of a cross-genre triumph.
Four years further on and we get to File Under Extreme. The title, and the addition of 'Free' to the band name should be a warning as this album is very much a jazz release, pretty much free-form and somewhat avant-garde. I don't profess to be a jazz fan and I found a lot of this album very hard going. The opening track, Germanism, is quite atmospheric and successfully builds a mood such that I can envisage this music being used in a film (although nothing mainstream of course!). However, the bulk of the rest of the album left me cold. With a lot of heavy jazz sax (played by Vogel, the only member, aside from Taylor himself, that appeared on Experimental Health) and processed violin (courtesy of Pierre Tassone). I think the album would only really appeal to serious lovers of jazz. Still it was voted the fifth best Danish jazz release in 2002 (and surprisingly there were 136 such releases in that year) so that must say something.
As a solo artist, Taylor verges towards experimental progressive rock. On Samplicity (2001) Taylor takes an almost minimalist approach. The repetitive rhythm of Black Country provides a hypnotic back beat while layers of organ and percussion (all played by Taylor) are laid over the top to provide a rather discordant result that somehow is quite enthralling. Elsewhere BTI is an atmospheric keyboard composition similar to some of the library music produced by Ant Phillips and Ambient Isles is very minimalistic and, as one would expect from the title, very ambient. Stand out track is Burnt Forest Island with its almost orchestral introduction being pushed aside by some extreme guitar effects and more sax honking (yes, it's Karsten Vogel again!), before settling down to a more plaintive ending. An album for reflection and late nights/early mornings, the music is original, full of detail and, it has to be said, pretty interesting.
Finally we have the newest CD of the bunch, a 2003 release called November. Again, the album ranks high in the originality stakes but at times is rather mundane (Lowest, for example, is in my view the musical equivalent of a lot of modern art - pointless and shallow) or simply tedious (the very long The Dark Side Of Life which drags on forever without anything noticeable happening - definitely meditation music). However, Waiting For Something To Happen is infused with an air of expectancy and A Big Sleep is an excellent piece of music which reminds one of King Crimson around the time of Starless And Bible Black.
Robin Taylor is one of those musicians whose musical hat is full to the brim of diversant ideas that cross many boundaries. His work is original and pushes back the limits of progressive music into totally new territories. I am reluctant to provide ratings for these albums, partly because three of them are older releases and partly because it would be unjust of me to rate an album of music that I have no real understanding of or affinity for. Needless to say, Experimental Health came closest to my own particular tastes and is certainly up there with other albums of it's kind. As for the others, well it's all down to personal taste, why not check out the links and make up your own mind?
Chrysalis - Breaking Illusions
Tracklist: Breaking Illusions (7:37), Behind The Mask (9:45), Torn Part I: Half A Man (5:48), Torn Part II: Sweet Confusion (6:03), Hidden (9:55)
Starting off in 1999 as Heresy, the band changed their name to Chrysalis in 2002 , after undergoing some personnel changes. The current line-up is: Pat Marinacci (vocals), Ghislain Wielfaert (guitars), Erwan Rande (bass), Philippe Tezza (keyboards), Maxim Lehmann (drums). Although some of them played in other bands previous to Chrysalis none of this brought them any fame.
Chrysalis is a good band, let me put some emphasis on that. Despite of that this EP did not really impress me. The band goes through the correct motions, uses the right ingredients but forgot to put in a small slice of originality. Thirteen in a dozen is a phrase that comes to mind if I want to describe the tracks on this album. Although I must say, there is nothing really wrong with this album. It is not the way these guys master their instruments or the voice of Pat Marinacci that puts me off. Then what is it you might ask, it is simply the fact that none of the tracks really moved me. Technical correct but not sparkling, not copied of another band but not too original either, nice but not super.
The artwork looks intriguing and is also used on the bands web site which gives a nice and consistent view. There's a multimedia section to this album with the same look and feel. You can see and hear that the band have put in their best effort and I can imagine they have spent a fair amount of their time on this album. I therefore find it a bit awkward that I am not over enthusiastic about their first product but then again: if it's not there it is not there.
Based on the fact that this is their first album, knowing their musical capability I do not want to write off Chrysalis just now. Their next album might be a large surprise. There is a lot of well meant garbage out there, Chrysalis is certainly not in that category, this is a good album but the sparks are just missing.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10