Reviews in this issue:
- Man On Fire - Habitat (Duo Review)
- Sigur Rós - Takk...
- Sonic Pulsar - Out Of Place
- Metabolisme – Tempus Fugit
- String Cheese Incident - One Step Closer
- Ring Of Myth - Weeds (Duo Review)
- Cerebus Effect - Acts Of Deception
- Karcius - Sphere
- Mike Portnoy - Prime Cuts
- Procosmian Fannyfiddlers - Father Dog
Man On Fire - Habitat
Tracklist: The Block (4:49), Mr. Lie (5:50), Majestic (4:35), Beast Inside (5:27), Street Game (5:29), What The Canvas Hides (5:16), Might Is Right (4:55), Curtain Call (6:15), Curtain Call (6:15), Shelter (4:09), Never Lost (6:14), Broken (6:27), Habitat (8:15)
Its not often in the scene that we call (often misleadingly) ‘progressive’ rock that something comes along which is both truly original and highly listenable, but American outfit Man On Fire have managed it with their third release, Habitat. There’s no real secret to this albums’ success - put some gifted individual musicians (including a couple of well-known guests) together with well worked, strongly melodic songs and an intriguing lyrical concept that helps bind everything together, and, hey presto. It somehow all seems so simple, yet from the individual ingredients you can imagine many less able bands making a terrible hash of things.
Take the instrumentalists themselves. Probably the main mover behind the band’s music is vocalist and keyboard player Jeff Hodges. He has a strong voice which somehow feels intrinsically American; there are some vague similarities with the likes of Kansas' Steve Walsh, but I wouldn’t go overboard with the comparison. His keyboard playing, however, is far from the prog norm, and some of the edgy sounds and rhythms he creates on the likes of opener The Block and Street Game bring to mind the sort of late 70’s new wave sound then being created by (pre-Midge Ure) Ultravox and Simple Minds. There are instances when lush symphonic keys and more proggy organ sounds are employed, but in general Hodges has a very individual (and instantly recognisable) style of playing. Of equal importance to the band’s sound is bassist Eric Sands, whose fluid, frequently pumped-up fretless bass playing imbues much of the material with a surprisingly funky edge, particularly evident on tracks such as Broken and Curtain Call. Again there’s a new wave feel to some of the playing (the rather chilling bass line on the dark Might Is Right could almost have come from a Gary Numan album) which perhaps surprisingly comes across as neither dated nor naff. Throughout, Sands works well with drummer Rob Sindon to really drive these tracks on.
Finally, the icing on the cake – the guest musicians. First up, and something of a major coup for the band, is the use of King Crimson guitarist Adrian Belew – and not just for a couple of solo spots, but as the main guitarist on the whole of the album. I have to say, he does a fine job here, and plays in a far more accessible style than on recent Crimson material. Yes, there are plenty of solos played in his signature, easily recognisable style, but instead of the rather over-complex, seemingly improvised ones he’s known for, they are well-worked in to the material, and add colour to the songs rather than detracting from them. Finally, former Kansas violinist David Ragsdale adds yet more flavour to proceedings, particularly shining with strong solo spots on What The Canvas Hides and Mr Lie.
What’s particularly impressive about Habitat is both that this, on paper somewhat eclectic, group of musicians are able to gel as well as they do, and the fact that attention is never focussed on their (admittedly very fine) instrumental prowess, but remains on the songs themselves. These in turn are helped by being linked in with a strong lyrical theme by band member (but non-musician) Steve Carroll. Habitat details a variety of different lives within an urban city block. This includes the likes of a washed-up actor (Curtain Call), a single mother with aspirations of getting out of the block (Majestic), a drug addict awaiting his next fix (The Beast Inside) and the local gangs that fight for territory (Street Game). Sometimes told in first, sometimes third person, it’s a measure of the success of the concept, and the quality of the lyrics, that I was often listening to the words as much as the music – not always the case, I have to say, given the often rather insipid lyrics you get with this genre. It also helps that the majority of the songs work as stand-alone tracks, which means that, although the whole thing does work well as a complete entity (with various sound effects and collages linking the pieces together), it also means you can dip in and out of the album when you only want to listen to a couple of tracks.
The songs themselves are often more what I would call intelligent pop than prog per se, and given the right marketing could really get over to a wider audience. There’s the power pop of Mr Lie, which couches its stinging rebuke of a corporate CEO with a big sing-a-long chorus (as a side-note this song is slightly reminiscent of ACT, whose Last Epic album does have a vaguely similar lyrical concept); Majestic is a graceful symphonic ballad; both Street Game and Might Is Right have a rather harsh, cold edge to them befitting of their lyrical content, whilst the nervy build-up followed by the euphoric rush of the chorus on The Beast Inside cleverly illustrates the narrative of a junkie waiting for, and finally getting, his fix. A couple of tracks towards the end of the album are perhaps not quite of the same high standard (the fairly standard AOR balladry of Never Lost, for instance) but even these weaker moments are held together by the imaginative arrangements and strong instrumentation. With a couple of powerful, lyrically prologue-and-conclusion style tracks book-ending the album, the impression you begin and leave with is certainly a favourable one.
Overall then, a highly original and entertaining album that’s actually (as you’re probably now aware!) quite difficult to describe – far easier to have a listen yourself, which I’d certainly recommend any reader of these pages to do.
It’s been a bit of a frustrating year for me so far, in the pick ’n’ mix world of DPRP reviews. While mainly going for the heavier brand of progressive music, I see one of the ‘perks of the job’ as being the opportunity to broaden my horizons and try a few bands and musical styles that I wouldn’t otherwise come across.
Requesting CDs to review, when all you’ve got are a few sample tracks (if you’re lucky) has its risks. But recent years have brought a fair few pleasant surprises such as Poland’s Satellite, RC2 from Venezuela and Australia’s Without End and Divided Sky. I’ve even dipped my hand in to pull out some progressive Death Metal, with Textures and Death Machine.
Perhaps I’m losing my touch, but so far this year my risks have all backfired, leaving me to sit at home listening to some pretty dull albums. But all runs of bad luck have to end eventually (certain football teams apart!) and Man On Fire has brought me back to winning form, in some style. Put simply, this is one of most impressive, modern, progressive rock albums I’ve ever listened to. It really does do the business, on every level. For a start, the concept is used brilliantly. Habitat details a variety of different lives, existing within the confines of a single, urban city block. They include the corporate CEO (Mr Lie), the single mom (Majestic), the addict (Beast Inside), the gang member (Street Game), the artist (What The Canvas Hides), the dirty cop (Might Is Right), the washed-up actor (Curtain Call) and the priest (Broken).
As each of the tracks paints a musical portrait of one of these individuals, it allows the lyrics to create some thought-provoking images. Meanwhile the music, becomes an ever-changing tapestry, reflecting the varied emotions and styles of the selected characters. This is reinforced by a well thought out booklet, which uses a different page and different design for each song/character.
The band itself is superb. Built around the keyboards and voice of producer Jeff Hodges, it also features the fretless bass and seven-string guitar of Eric Sands and the drums and percussion of Rob Sindon. (Interestingly, the lyrics and concept come from one Steve Carrol, who although a band member, does not contribute instrumentally.)
And the band has managed to bring out a few aces from its collective sleeves, in the shape of guest guitarist Adrian Belew (Zappa, Bowie, King Crimson, Talking Heads etc) and former Kansas violinist David Ragsdale. Belew, in particular, brings a whole dimension of his own to the band’s sound and is a real coup. Hodges’ voice is in equally fine form. Subtly changing between each song, it more than meets the demands of the different musical styles. Although Habitat is a concept, the songs more than stand on their own. Several tracks were instant winners for me, while others took a few spins to really set in.
Introducing the concept, The Block is a real belter with a great funky groove that reminds me of the groundbreaking Dan Reed Network. The poppy Mr Lie struts and bounces along, while Majestic is just that – a hint of early Kansas and Styx.
What The Canvas Hides is one of my favourites, as it serves as a real showcase for Hodges’ voice. In contrast, Beast Inside is a weightier proposition with chunky guitars – as is the bruising Might Is Right.
The only fault I can pick, is that in terms of melodies, the second half of the album doesn’t quite reach the same heights as the first – but then again it may just be that I haven’t played it as much yet!
And as the icing on the cake, the whole thing is superbly produced – even when all the instruments are let loose together, there remains a delicate space in the sound, that allows everything to shine through.
This album hit me as something special from the very first play and with repeated listens has unveiled more and more tasty morsels. It can leave me with only one verdict: For anyone who is open to some superbly crafted modern, progressive rock, Habitat is an absolute must.
Sigur Rós - Takk...
Tracklist: Takk... (1:57), Glósóli (6:15), Hoppípolla (4:28), Med Blódnasir (2:17), Sé Lest (8:40), Sæglópur (7:38), Mílanó (10:25), Gong (5:33), Andvari (6:40), Svo Hljótt (7:24), Heysátan (4:09)
If there is one band that has truly taken progressive music into totally new areas over the past seven years or so, it has to be Iceland's Sigur Rós. Their comparatively unremarkable debut album Von barely hinted at what they would achieve on the astounding follow-up, Ágætis Byrjun and fantastic EP Svefn-g-Englar. To capitalise on the success of that album the band embarked on a seemingly endless touring schedule that took the group far away from their homeland. Consequently, it was over three years before the group's third album, the enigmatic () (or as one wag called it, 'two sausages kissing'), appeared. Rather downbeat and dirge-like, the suspicion was that the band had burned themselves out resulting in the rather gloomy ambience on () (although that's not to say it was not a fine album, it was). A further three years on, during which time live work, particularly touring, was kept to a minimum and the group's work with choreographer Merce Cunningham resulted in the unheralded electronica based Ba Ba Ti Ki Di Do EP, Sigur Rós return with their fourth album proper, Takk...
The album kicks off with an overture of sorts, the title track Takk... (Icelandic for 'thank you'), an almost ambient guitar drone that feeds into Glósóli and its characteristic falsetto vocals. A metronomic back beat adds a kind of mechanical vibe, endorsed by some music box tinkerings. The song rises to a crescendo with some crashing guitars before things settle down with the piano-led melody of Hoppípolla. More succinct that (), Sigur Rós seem have to rediscovered pop music as a basis for their material - most top flight bands would gladly sell their grandmothers for such a gloriously melodic piece, with the strings and brass providing an epic backdrop to the piano that carries the main tune. Although this time round the songs are given individual titles, there is a degree of overlap, with the coda of one piece providing the introduction to the next. Such is the case with Med Blódnasir which extrapolates on the main theme of Hoppípolla. Xylophones introduce Sé Lest with vocalisations, including layered harmonies, adding colour. Again, strings are utilised in a major way. Takk... contains more vocals than on previous efforts although they are employed as human instruments rather than to relate a narrative, at least that is what it sounds like. Even though I don't speak Icelandic (or the imaginary language that the band sometimes utilise) one does get the impression that it is the tone and timbre of the voice that the group were after rather than the actual words. In a surprise move, a brass band makes a brief appearance midway through this piece, and although unexpected doesn't seem out of place.
The sprightly Sæglópur starts off as another mellowish piano ballad before erupting in a cavalcade of noise that has the whole band pushing the basic song elements to the limit, particularly the drums which hitherto have been notable only for their lack of a strong presence. Things settle down with soaring strings gradually fading out into silence only to gently reappear as Mílanó hesitantly introduces itself. A long and sprawling soundscape, the instrumentation is fairly minimal but entirely appropriate; the initial sparseness gives the piece room to breath and slowly build into a first one and then a second scorching crescendo only to die away into a long silence. The 40 second or so break heightens the anticipation and when the melancholy string quartet heralds the introduction of Gong one is fully expectant of a sombre turn to proceedings. Although the strings do maintain an air of almost despondency, they are pushed to the background by some urgent drum patterns even though the long fade out does take the mood down once again passing seamlessly into Andvari with its soothing air and gently reassuring melody. The mood is maintained through another brief period of silence until, almost imperceptibly, the faint strains of the opening bars of Svo Hljótt flow from the speakers. Once again the strings provide the drama with the guitar being bowed to create the characteristic drone. The increase in volume and tempo catches the listener off guard as the piece rises to what one thinks will be a dramatic conclusion before once again the tempo is taken down in readiness for the final track Heysátan which brings the album to a peaceful conclusion. This final number could almost be an old Icelandic folk song handed down through the ages, beautiful in its simplicity.
Sigur Rós have shown once again that they are able to create something absolutely unique, music that is utterly impossible to categorise and which exists in a sphere of its own. Is it better than previous albums? The answer to that question can only be provided by each individual listener. What can be said is that it is different from what has come before but manages to maintain the essence of the band. What more could one ask of progressive music?
Conclusion: 8+ out of 10
Sonic Pulsar - Out Of Place
Tracklist: Out of Place (5:39), Burning Inside Me (5:43), Schizophrenic Playground (10:08), Always Knew (3:34), Chain of Actions (5.11), Intro (1:58), I Heard of a Place Called Earth (10:07) Ghosts of the Lost Planes (1:54) Solitary Star (10:07), Instrumental (6:51), Moving Engines (4:05), Time Has Been Broken (7:05)
The second album from this Portuguese band, Out Of Space is a big step forward when compared to their debut album, Playing The Universe which hit the streets three years ago. Back then, Sonic Pulsar, was pretty much a one-man project, in the multi-instrumentalist shape of Hugo Flores. On Playing The Universe the vocals, guitars, bass, synthesizer and piano were all credited to him, while he was also responsible for writing most of the songs, producing, recording, mixing and mastering the album.
The follow-up, sees a full three-piece band credited, with Carlos Mateus handling some of the guitars and synths and Nuno Ferreira contributing all the bass parts. There are also two guest musicians. It has also seen a significant shift in the musical direction. Whereas the debut was largely space rock, in the direction of Eloy, here the band has really stepped into the unknown.
The album lets the listener in gently, with the two most direct tracks. Out Of Place is the song that comes with a radio edit and along with Burning Inside Me, are two strong, guitar-driven tracks, with memorable guitar and vocal lines. In contrast, Always Knew, enters a balladic world, accompanied by some nice piano work from Flores.
For the rest of the album, even the track listing is complex. Track three, Schizophrenic Playground, clocks in at 10.07 but is split into five sections. Lasting exactly the same time, is I Heard a Place Called Earth, which is also split into five separately-titled sections. However, this track also forms part of a much larger piece called a Chain Of Actions, that includes tracks 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11. However, tracks 8 and 9 are also split into subsections - three and five respectively - and together the whole collection lasts for just under 45 minutes. Got it?
So forgive me, if I avoid a track-by-track-by-subsection breakdown. But in very broad brush terms, it is a rather peculiar (and sometimes very peculiar) mix of guitar-based Prog-Metal, Space Rock, Ambient, Jazz, Technical Metal and Symphonic Prog. This is very complex stuff, yet the listener willing to invest the time, will find plenty of rewards, as the instruments take their turn at being under the spotlight, in a seemingly endless chaotic rotation. It's a real roller coaster of a musical adventure, where melodies are as frequent as the innovative ideas and, as with the debut, there is no lack of extensive instrumental arrangements.
On the downside, with so much complexity and clocking-in at more than 70 minutes - this CD just too long. Selfless editing and the loss of a couple of the tracks (i.e. the instrumental, Ghosts Of The Lost Planes) wouldn't have taken much from the album musically, yet made it a lot more digestible.
Flores' vocals come with a heavy accent but he holds the melodies well. The fact that the cover is pretty eye-catching and comes with a 16-page booklet and that the band has produced an ambitious video clip for the title-track/single, shows that a lot of care, passion and thought has gone into this work. (Indeed the video is available for download from the band's website and is well worth the effort.)
Having stepped out of the Eloy shadow, Out Of Place is a far more consistent and cohesive album. The band is beginning to find its own identity, yet is still able to experiment with new possibilities.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Metabolisme – Tempus Fugit
Tracklist: Apotres Et Martyrs (15:25), Tempus (3:08), Khoros (6:24), Nadia (6:28), La Danse Des Automates (6:18)
Any dedicated progressive rock fan is sure to have some Musea discs in his collection; for many years now they have been reissuing classics, rescuing lost gems and uncovering new groups who keep the style alive. With over 750 releases, there was bound to be a few that failed to satisfy, and, rather unfairly, I think, the label has been criticised for its inclusive policy with regard to reissues of (often unknown) albums. We should, instead, be thankful that the Musea team are out there, fighting to gain a wider audience for music which struggled to find an appreciative audience at the time.
This release of the only album by French hopefuls Metabolisme, dating from 1977, is excellent proof that their task is worthwhile. Tempus Fugit is a particularly solid album, very much in the symphonic / art rock vein of Ange and Genesis, but with an individual character and quirky sound. Of course, the sound is a little dated now, and the vocal style (often utilising David Byron-esque “AAHH’s” ) has passed from favour, but this release has a lot to offer the discerning prog fan. Thierry Scaduto is no mean keyboard player, and especially excels on the organ – which dominates much of the music here. Jackie Poillot (bass) and Carmine Versace (drums) make for a fiery rhythm section, more than equal to the twisting and turning, demanding music. Versace is a nimble player, contributing many interesting fills and rolls. Robert Durantet is a pretty good vocalist, and a competent guitarist; his electric leads have a psychedelic tone, harking back to the late sixties; he also adds atmosphere and texture with plenty of acoustic guitar, which is more pleasing than his lead playing; as a vocalist, his style definitely owes something to the late Mr Byron, though of course in French, but it suits this dramatic, moody music to a T.
My favourite pieces here include; the multi-part Apotres Et Martyrs which, after a shaky start, develops into an impressive, flowing composition, with plenty of depth and some darker atmospheres; the instrumental Tempus which crams an awful lot into its brief 3 minute duration – it’s quite a heavy, organ led piece – very good too; The disc closer La Danse Des Automates is likeable too, from it’s delicate beginning, through some decidedly creepy organ tones, to a strong vocal performance, and a hummable melody.
Overall, this is an enjoyable slice of symphonic rock, much deserving of a hearing, even after all these years. If you have even a passing interest in the classic French sound of Ange, Atoll, Mona Lisa etc, you should give this one a try.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
String Cheese Incident - One Step Closer
Tracklist: Give Me The Love (3:33), Sometimes A River (5:20), Big Compromise (4:26), Until The Music's Over (4:48), Silence In Your Head (3:40), Farther (4:00), Drive (3:53), Betray The Dark (2:28), 45th Of November (4:26), One Step Closer (3:30), Rainbow Serpent (3:57), Swampy Waters (4:59), Brand New Start (4:12)
The String Cheese Incident have been plying their trade for over a decade, in that time releasing six albums and, as with most of the so-called jam bands, innumerable live recordings.
One Step Closer the first release since 2003's Untying The Not, sees the group taking a more mellow approach to their writing, bringing out a more acoustic side to the band. Roughly synonymous with the shift that saw The Grateful Dead go from extended electric improvisations to the more countrified sound of Workingman's Dead, SCI have put aside the elongated workouts and improvisational flourishes to produce the most cohesive and compelling set of songs in their history.
What is more, One Step Closer is truly a group effort with each of the five members, keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth, guitarists Michael Kang and Billy Nershi, bassist Keith Moseley and drummer Michael Travis, providing vocals and writing contributions to at least two songs each. Additionally, the talents of Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, Nashville songwriter Jim Lauderdale, percussionist Jason Hann and producer Malcolm Burn (whose previous credits include Bob Dylan and Emmylou Harris) are all expertly utilised.
In a throw back to the late sixties, the band purposely avoided the often sterile environment of a high-tech studio opting instead to head out to the hills of Colorado. The results reek of the openness of the countryside, the freshness of the mountain air and the clarity of a meandering stream - the blend of styles displayed is effortless and organic. Opening track Give Me The Love has an almost yearning quality to the vocals complementing the acoustic guitar and percussion backing perfectly. Sometimes A River has overtones of the southern blues of the Allman Brothers Band, which gracefully gives way to the country blues of Big Compromise with Nershi's dobro and Hollingsworth's accordion laying down the tone throughout. Three songs in and already three different lead vocalists. This gives the album a great variety and draws the listener deeper into the album. The tempo is raised slightly for Until The Music's Over which takes the band off on another tack, the electric and acoustic instruments tightly intermeshed; it is only towards the end of the song that that the music starts heading off into areas where jamming could take over but the band keep a tight rein on things. Silence In Your Head is a piano driven ballad that could easily be included in a Coldplay set without raising too many eyebrows.
Farther, a gentle piece emboldened with more accordion, sets a steady pace, almost acting as a chance for the band to muster resources for the (comparatively) energetic Drive. This song highlights the band working as a unit, most members had some part in writing the piece and they share the vocals out equally, each verse having a different lead singer. Although not my favourite track on the album it is more than just simple filler and displays the greater cooperative efforts that have gone into this album. Betray The Dark is based on a repetitive guitar motif underpinned by percussion that gives the song a slight Latinesque feel.
Lyrically, one of the most interesting songs on the album is 45th of November. Co-written by Robert Hunter, the songs seems to be a warning about the future holds for the planet if we don't sit up and smell the roses (Dead allegory intended!) With some great harmony singing the song is a highlight of an album that contains many delights. One Step Closer is, in my opinion, one of the weaker songs and so it was surprising that it was chosen as the title track.
In complete contrast is Rainbow Serpent. Rather more mysterious, the smooth pseudo-psychedelic vibe has some jazz-like properties, particularly on the closing chords. A gritty guitar sound heralds the intro to Swampy Waters which is altogether dirtier and more chaotic than previous numbers. A great sing-along chorus and an electric guitar finale that proves the band haven't completely forgotten how to rock. Final number Brand New Start perhaps signifies that the album as a whole represents a new beginning for the group. Another slow country blues number the guitar work in the second half of the song is simply perfect, although Moseley's simple 15-note harmonica contributions are a rather unnecessary embellishment but not too great a distraction.
It is far too early to tell is One Step Closer will be a career defining moment for the String Cheese Incident. However, it is certainly an album that should draw in a wider variety of listeners, particularly those to whom the whole idea of jam bands is anathema. By expanding their sound, the group is laying open a whole arena of future possibilities and laying the groundwork that should ensure the long-term survival of the group. This is an album that needs to be listened to time and again to appreciate the care that has gone into crafting these songs. Full credit should be given to producer Burn for coaxing these songs and performances from the group, One Step Closer is definitely one of those cross-over albums that deserves a place in the collection of most music fans. If that is not enough to entice you, then the first 50,000 copies of the album comes complete with a free DVD filmed during the recording sessions.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Ring Of Myth - Weeds
Tracklist: Offering (8:13), Into Phase (9:55), Plight (1:20), Drone (5:02), Blue Stem (11:53), For A Time (2:09), Soft Disguise (8:11), Drowning In Fire (6:03), Bird’s Eye View (3:45), Half Wing (7:37)
We are now well into the era of progressive rock bands who not only perform and write all of their own material, but also record, mix and produce it without so much as stepping into someone else's building. The three members in this band, which is one such stand-alone unit, each have an important role to play in the Ring Of Myth story.
Danny Flores is the lead vocalist, bassist and keyboardist in this band and he's good at it. Taking these three roles has become a stereotype in prog, other examples being Geddy Lee (Rush) and Cameron Hawkins (FM - the one from the 70's). Guitar parts are handled mainly by George Picado, who hooked up with Flores in 1990 and started to write material with him. On drums is Scott Rader, who also handles all the audio production.
So, what about the material? Its quite reminiscent of early Yes, Starcastle, and the aforementioned FM, with avant-rock elements similar to Thinking Plague or Ahvak. "Ho, Hum", I hear you saying, "Right, that's what they say about every prog band I haven't heard yet...let me guess, they have catchy hooks too?" Well as a matter of fact, I WAS going to say that. Flores & Picado have a talent for creating memorable themes, and not all of them are as fully exploited as they could be. For example tracks 4, 6 and especially 9 might have been expanded or merged with other tracks to create interesting epics. This material is not at all droning, nor is it afflicted with the pointless noises and breakdowns that lots of other bands employ to make boring material sound more spicy. This is good music, with just enough dynamic contrasts and effective change-ups to 'bring out the flavour'.
The Ring Of Myth sound strikes me as the band's other major strength, and Flores' voice is the most identifying component. In the tradition of Jon Anderson, Geddy Lee, Roine Stolt and many other singers, his voice has an organic appeal that you either love or hate, but can always identify. His is an untrained voice, and personally I think he needs to work on his pitch control. If he can eliminate the sliding he would be a real monster in this genre! In addition, he is a talented bassist, with a big bag o' sounds ranging from classic Squire to Red era Wetton. Various organ parts round out his sonic contributions. Guitarist Picado's traditional, almost retro, electric tones provide a reference point. His parts are mature and understated, serving to put flesh on the bones of the rhythm section. Steve Howe and Echolyn's Brett Kull are good comparisons. And he knows just when a surprising Fripp-type effect is needed. As for Rader, his drumming is more than up to the high standards set by others in this genre. But, it is his sound work that needs refining. The drum kit has a distant & canny quality - perhaps he didn't want to be accused of overshadowing his band mates in the mix - and also, in some spots the guitar sounds captured don't quite do sonic justice to the way Picado plays. Dull sound production afflicted early IQ and The Flower Kings, too. It's not horrible by any means, I simply mean that if you put on something produced by Steven Wilson or Karl Groom after listening to this, you will notice the difference.
One final suggestion for the band: Consider adding a fourth member. This music is rich and strong, and yet sounds incomplete. This is not the kind of material that needs stripped-down minimalism. Lots of areas on this CD cry out for creative embellishment by another personality. If a keyboardist or violinist could be found that shares Flores' and Picado's vision, and enlarges the sonic palette, Ring Of Myth would be an awesome force, and live performances could benefit, too. (NOTE: I have never seen Ring Of Myth but its hard for me to imagine 3 guys doing 6 parts.)
Even though these Californians have been working together for some fifteen years, "Weeds" is only the second Ring Of Myth release. But with quality prog-promulgators like Inside Out, Laser's Edge and Unicorn steadily gaining traction, we can only look forward to more frequent releases from good bands like this one. Here is my advice:
- Keep up the high level of creativity, a lot of more polished outfits would kill for your material.
- Danny, tap the full potential of your wonderful voice with more training.
- Get state-of-the-art production and make your stuff shine.
- If the opportunity arises, get another instrumentalist to add to your arsenal.
Follow this recipe and I guarantee that your next release will rate a 9 or 10 on this page. I for one look forward to it!
Ring Of Myth is an American trio that according to their bio make music related to Yes, Genesis and Rush, but after listening to this CD several times I hardly hear those musical influences, only the beginning of Blue Stem sounds like the guitar riff/melody of the Rush song By Tor and the Snow Dog! In fact I hear completely other musical influences, for instance from bands like Primus, Spastic Ink, or sometimes even Proto-Kaw. Especially in tracks like Plight or Bird’s Eye View I hear those typical Spastic Ink. resemblances, which means that those songs are really complex, musically diverse, funky, jazz rock like and they tend to sound rather chaotic.
This CD is really difficult to listen to as this music tends to make you nervous. Right from the start this trio kicks off with complex musical structures, tempo changes, jazz like passages and lots of other experimental musical stuff. Offering, the opening track even reminds me of early work of the notorious Galactic Cowboys. Something that annoyed me right from the start was the screeching voice of singer Danny Flores. His rather high irritating singing during the second song Into Phase makes me want to skip that song every time I listen to it… The first short instrumental Plight is more to my liking, but in the rest of the material the vocals tend to get on my bl**** nerves again… The epic Blue Stem is highly complex as it starts with a heavy overture before it evolves into a cacophony of rhythms and musical passages, making this song so complex that it is very hard to listen to; this one is really food for ADHD patients!!
I truly think that this album is too experimental and too complex, as I fail to hear the musical structures in the song. It is all too much of everything; it is musically overdone; only meant for super prog lovers, however too complex for me. But one word of advice, please find another vocalist for the next album!!!
Cerebus Effect - Acts Of Deception
Tracklist: Y (7:19), Identity Crisis (5:09), Dart At The End Of The Tunnel (1:25), Illusions (3:34), Of Mortal Constraints (2:58), Operation Midnight Climax (11:22), Nine Against Ten (6:38), Neutrino Flux (2:50), Fine Lines Between Science And Art (3:02), Unconsoled (3:04), W (6:10)
Cerebus Effect hail from Baltimore and have been around in one form another for about five years. Having released two EPs, Acts Of Deception is the band's first full-length album. Originally formed by drummer Patrick Gaffney and guitarist Joseph Walker, the group was completed following the recruitment of bassist Mike Galway and keyboard player Dan Britton (who also provides the vocals, such as they are).
Unafraid to draw on a vast spectrum of influences, Acts Of Deception contains a diverse range of styles meshed together throughout the fifty-three minutes of the CD. The variety means there is a lot of music to get to grips with and it takes several play throughs before one can start to get a handle on this album. Opening and closing instrumentals Y and W contain reflections of some of the more obscure fusion-orientated bands such as National Health and Kultivator with some great guitar work by Walker. As a pair, the instrumentals are great bookends to the album that ensure the CD starts and ends with a bang. A similar style is taken on Illusions and Nine Against Ten although both tracks are heavier in places with Dream Theater-like displays of fast and furious playing.
The two tracks that have vocals, Identity Crisis and Operation Midnight Crisis, are the least appealing primarily because of the vocals. Britton's vocal approach is one akin to a thrash or speed metal band, guttural grunts that only briefly lapse into melody. Arguably this is what the band wanted and admittedly they are broadly suited to Identity Crisis although the group's own comparison of this track with Van Der Graaf Generator is way off the mark. Likewise, I don't see how the band's claim that Operation Midnight Crisis would appeal to fans of Genesis can be justified. However, the song itself is quite interesting with the overall heaviness tempered by some acoustic guitar and electric piano sections, although the vocal sections do spoil it for me.
Added to the sonic mayhem are a couple of improvisation pieces. Dark At The End Of The Tunnel and Neutrino Flux are very quirky and are more jammed without intent rather than improvisation with a purpose. Neither are really that interesting outside of filler between tracks. Rather better is Fine Lines Between Science And Art, heavy on the percussion, the track gives the impression of structured improvisation, almost sounding at times like a Grateful Dead Drums out take. The two remaining tracks are in complete contrast to the rest of the album and are my personal favourites (which is probably largely a reflection of my own musical tastes). Unconsoled is a gentle, almost graceful, number with classical guitar and electric piano displaying a different side to the band and their talents. Of Mortal Constraints is infused with atmosphere: acoustic guitar and electric piano are again to the fore but Galway provides a great bass sound and the whole track has a wonderful conciseness that makes it the best three minutes of the album for me.
Cerebus Effect have certainly packed a lot into their debut album and it should appeal to a broad cross section of music fans, particularly those who favour the heavier end of the progressive spectrum. Personally I found, as with a lot of music of this style, too much emphasis was placed on musicianship over melody, again a personal thing. However, the band have shown that they are adept at writing and playing music of a gentler nature and possess talent in abundance, talents that should hold the band in good stead for the future.
Conclusion: 6+ out of 10
Karcius - Sphere
Tracklist: Kunide (7:31), Liquid Meat (5:55), Evolution (3:14), Lunatik [Highway To The Moon – Synapse – Back To Earth] (18:33), 1111 (8:24), Labyrinthe (9:03), Bois Ta Musique (4:24), Absolute Decadence (10:21)
Karcius are an instrumental outfit from Montreal, Canada, who formed in 2001 and appear to have recorded this debut offering back in 2003, although it has only been received by DPRP this year. The band describe their music as a mixture of progressive rock and jazz fusion, and this seems a reasonable description, with the emphasis on the fusion side – if you think along the lines of ‘classic’ prog fusion bands such as Brand X, you won’t be in the wrong ballpark. No horn section is employed, but there’s plenty of elastic bass, electric piano and Fender Rhodes, whilst Simon L’Esperance’s smooth and fluid guitar work is of a good quality.
As with almost all music labelled ‘jazz fusion’ there are times when it glides perilously close both to supermarket ‘muzak’ and Spinal Tap ‘jazz odyssey’ style noodling, but in general the band have written much tighter compositions than is often the norm for this style, and their playing exudes plenty of energy and creativity, meaning that even some of the less well-realised compositions manage to keep within the realms of the listenable. Karcius vary their music by introducing some funk grooves reminiscent of Headhunters-era Herbie Hancock (such as on Highway To the Moon) and incorporating some heavier, more dramatic and symphonic elements which sometimes moves the band into the sort of territory occupied by Planet X.
Its actually these heavier elements that cause me the most problems with this release – for one, the harder riffs do not have the weight you would expect, and in fact come across as rather weedy; another is that the incorporation of heavy guitar work into a fusion framework seems to be executed somewhat clumsily, and in some cases this means that the musical flow is disrupted and appears rather chaotic – this is in contrast with much of the playing, which as I’ve stated is of a good quality. Its good that the band are trying to incorporate some different and more original sounds into this style of music, but more work is required in the execution.
Overall though, this is a promising debut offering from Karcius that fans of prog fusion should enjoy.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Mike Portnoy - Prime Cuts
Tracklist: Rama - Mad Marchx (4.15), Liquid Tension Experiment - Freedom Of Speech (9.19), Acid Rain (6.36), Encores, Legends and Paradox [tribute to ELP] - Endless Enigma (10.16), Liquid Tension Experiment - Chris & Kevin's Excellent Adventure (2.21), Working Man [tribute to Rush] - Working Man (3.52), By-Tor And The Snow Dog (4.12), Liquid Tension Experiment - Another Dimension [Vapourspace Remix] (7.21), Three Minute Warning  (9.33)
When an artist leaves a record company, the record company usually retains the right to release a compilation. Not all artists agree with such rules, as becomes evident from Mike Portnoy's Internet statement:
"Just for the record:
Magna Carta are releasing this without my consent, approval, permission or any financial compensation... I heard about it for the first time a few days ago when somebody pointed out the link to me from their website...
Their actions are not only disrespectful and distasteful, but downright criminal.
I am absolutely speechless...
Makes you think twice before buying such album, right?
Portnoy's feelings aside, let's look at the tracks on this album. The prospect of a compilation album containing Portnoy's work is definitely
mouth-watering, however, for obvious reasons only material from his stint with Magna Carta is present. So nothing from his work with Neal Morse, John Arch, TransAtlantic, Yellow Matter Custard or O.S.I. for that matter.
Instead, 5 out of the 9 tracks are taken from his Liquid Tension Experiment project with John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess and Tony Levin. The other tracks are taken from Andy West with Rama, the ELP tribute album Encores, Legends & Paradox and the Rush tribute album Working Man.
To start with the latter, a band consisting of Jake E. Lee on lead guitar, Brendt Allman on rhythm guitar, Billy Sheehan on bass and naturally Portnoy on drums plays a medley of two Rush songs. Working Man is sung by Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach, while Dream Theater's James LaBrie sings the closing section of By-Tor And The Snow Dog.
I have never really liked Geddy Lee's vocals with Rush, but hearing both Bach and LaBrie croak through the lyrics make me long for the originals right away. Musically all is more than well, with the musicians adding enough of their own to make these covers interesting, but the vocals... ugh!
The other tribute is quite a bit better. Trent Gardner (vocals and keyboards), Wayne Gardner (bass) and Geoff Downes (lead synth solo) accompany Portnoy on the ELP track Endless Enigma. The long instrumental section gives all band members to shine, and Portnoy certainly excels.
The most interesting track in terms of (un)familiarity is probably Andy West's RAMA. The Dixie Dregs bassist made a solo album in 2002, which had Portnoy drum on a couple of tracks. Interestingly enough this instrumental reminds of the work of Derek Sherinian: powerful keyboard leads excelling over heavy guitar riffs and solid drumming.
That leaves us with the songs from the two Liquid Tension Experiment albums. These are easily the best tracks on this compilation, but at the same time, also the tracks most Dream Theater fans will already own, as the LTE albums are highly popular amongst the fans of Dream Theater. I don't quite agree with the selection of the songs presented here, as Paradigm Shift and When The Water Breaks would have been much better examples of the band, and more representative than the ballad style Freedom Of Speech and the quirky Chris & Kevin's Excellent Adventure.
In terms of 'exclusivity' a remix of the track Another Dimension is presented. I don't see the point of this remix at all, as the electronic sounds completely destroy the metal that was the original. And there's not much left of Portnoy's drumming either, and I thought that was the point of this compilation in the first place.
Even if this album had the full support of Mike Portnoy, I would not have given it a higher rating than I do now. It is just a poorly compiled selection of songs. Taken from albums most of which contain better songs than the ones presented here.
If you really like to hear the best of Portnoy, outside of Dream Theater, grab yourself a copy of Neal Morse's Testimony Live DVD, Transatlantic's Bridge Across Forever, the OSI album and the second Liquid Tension Experiment. Obviously those four discs will cost you more than this one compilation album, but greater satisfaction will be guaranteed. Prime Cuts? This is more like a spare rib if you ask me...
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Procosmian Fannyfiddlers - Father Dog
Tracklist: Father Dog (5:01), Cucumber Time (4:25), Woodridden Wanker (3:33), Ethiopian Mountain (6:11), Comb Your Face (4:27), Snapping Queen (6:44), Rub (1:40), Cry Me A Liver (3:06), Maiden Lickerson (2:05), Thinking Stuff (10:01)
Surely these have to one of the most frustrating bands in prog. Why? Because you get the impression that they have the ability to make great music, and there are moments of brilliance here on Father Dog, sadly it is all mixed with a plethora of crap. Now to qualify that last remark I had made several notes on this release detailing the albums pros and cons, but in the end I just chucked them in the re-cycle bin, deciding that an overall summation would best serve this latest release from the Procosmians.
Album number six for the band - album number two for me - their previous release Return Of The Sweaty Owl being my introduction to the somewhat bizarre folky, progressive acid rock, produced by the band. And as mentioned above sometimes excellent, but more often than not destroyed by the desire to be "different". Initially I had greater expectations from Father Dog as the intricate a cappella opening track certainly captured the imagination. The song then nicely moves to a gentle guitar backing and flute interlude - even Hebbe Santos' vocals (which often struggle with intonation problems) are melodic and catchy here. In fact this a pretty impressive opening track, bar a few minor criticisms.
So to Cucumber Time and Woodridden Wanker and once again the lyrics become preoccupied with pornography in its many guises, which may be mildly humorous once or twice, but to use it as a running theme throughout their numerous releases is just tiresome and lacking imagination. Now if I was to be kind, I suppose I could class the lyrical content as bawdy humour, and one that sits well within some of the early Elizabethan style music, however it does more than stretch this beyond the realms of acceptable taste. The track titles say it all.
Then we have the production, which at times is good, sometimes acceptable in raw fashion, but in the main akin to a poor demo. Why? I cannot believe that a band with six albums behind them could not have crafted a studio sound. Again you just get the impression that this is deliberate, which in turn makes it even more irritating.
And finally we look at the bands marketing and publicity which are pretty much non existent - no website (certainly that I could find) and very little in pointers as to where to purchase this album. Perhaps they are looking to achieve some sort of cult status, however if they go much further underground they will bury themselves. However for the benefit of our readers the albums are available to be purchased through the Norwegian Prog Rock Records label, whose website can be found linked in the "info" category above.
Despite all the negative remarks I've made, it is still difficult to deny that underneath this poor effort of an album, is a talented group of musicians. Perhaps if they sharpened their wit, honed their writing, polished up the recording and production values, then perhaps the Procosmian Fannyfiddlers could be a force to reckoned with. But as it stands and while they continue to laugh at their own jokes, so as to speak, then I only see a life of obscurity ahead. A shame really.
Now I have deliberately avoided referencing any other bands as comparators, not because they don't exist, but given that they do exist, it wouldn't necessarily follow that this should lead you to this music.
Highlights and there are some - the title track of the album as previously mentioned. And then there is Thinking Stuff, which opens with two minutes or so of splendid piano work, before the band jump with a bustling and busy rhythm. This song has many elements that go to making good prog - light and shade, worked out arrangements, a theme, delicate touches from the flute and violin etc. Only the vocals are a little over the top, but even they have their charm. With some work on the production this could be a great track. So as I stated at the beginning of this review - surely these have to one of the most frustrating bands in prog!
So to round matters off - avoid if easily offended - actually you don't need to be that easily offended. Time I feel to stop making an exception of this band and see them for what they are - therefore purchase only if you enjoy poorly produced, inane folk tinged prog.
Conclusion: 3.5 out of 10