Reviews in this issue:
- Porcupine Tree - Fear Of A Blank Planet (Duo Review)
- Steve Unruh - The Great Divide
- Ferris Mudd – Ferris Mudd
- Vertical Alignment – Signposts
- No Rules - Where We Belong
- Runaway Totem - Esameron
- MegetMeget - MegetMeget
Porcupine Tree – Fear Of A Blank Planet
Tracklist: Fear of a Blank Planet (7:28), My Ashes (5:07), Anesthetize (17:42), Sentimental (5:26), Way Out Of Here (7:37), Sleep Together (7:28)
Ed Sander's Review
In 2006 Porcupine Tree returned to an old habit they used to have in the nineties: trying out new material live in front of an audience. In the past, this method has brought the band some of their best material (e.g. the full-length version of Even Less), but this time they took it to the extreme: they played the full new album as the first half of their gigs. Unfortunately I was travelling through Asia at the time and therefore had to depend on other people's feedback and the descriptions in the fine PT fanzine Carbon Nation. Two thing were clear: it was good and it was heavy. This sounded like a continuation of the approach the band had taken with In Absentia and Deadwing. Fortunately the album has turned out to be much, much more than that.
The band had gone through great efforts to keep people from recording these try-out performances but anxious as I was to hear the new material I managed to track down a recording of a show. Although it was an audience recording it was very obvious that the band were really onto something here. The live try-out were definitely paying off, like they had done for bands like Pink Floyd (who used to play material from Meddle, Dark Side, Wish You Were Here and Animals live for months before actually laying the tracks down). The actual album differs very little from the live performances, with the exception of 'track 5', which was replaced by a different song (Way Out Of Here).
The album mirrors Deadwing in many ways. It starts with an in-you-face opener with a remarkable vocal and lyrical style (this time actually reminding me of some of Wilson's experiments on his debut On The Sunday Of Life, e.g. The Nostalgia Factory or Linton Samuel Dawson), continues with a lovely ballad, has a big mofo epic in the middle followed by some tracks that experiment with various moods. In places the album is indeed the heaviest thing the band has ever done, but as we've come to know the band in tracks like Blackest Eyes, the heaviness is always functional, never too offensive and serves to emphasize the quieter parts that follow or precede it. The whole album has just one moment (a few bars in the middle of Anesthetize) that goes just a tad too far for my own musical taste. The rest of the time the heaviness works splendidly and the aggressive dirty riffs help to stress the point Steve Wilson is trying to make with the concept.
Talking about the concept, it's one of the reasons why this album feels a lot more coherent than Deadwing. Of course on Deadwing some of the songs were based on a film script Steve Wilson had written, but the album still felt like a collection of loose songs. Partly because the actual story was never very clear to the listener. On this new album Steve was inspired by the book 'Lunar Park' by Brett Easton Ellis, specifically the character of a ten year old boy. It's not a story in the sense of The Wall or Brave but all of the songs touch upon a certain theme, like for instance Dark Side Of The Moon does, or some of the songs on In Absentia. The album paints a very bleak picture of the world of teenagers who just play computer games, hang around in malls, play with guns and are kept sedated by prescription drugs. The album opener Fear Of A Blank Planet serves as a sort of wrap-up of this concept and all of the tracks that follow elaborate on it. For me personally this makes the album a lot more interesting, and being the father of a 13 year old some of it is all too shockingly familiar ...
Stylistically the title track and album opener is comparable to the title track of Deadwing and sets the mood for what's to come. It's remarkable how the combination of Steve Wilson's voice with the heavy riffs creates the perfect balance. I can imagine the same song being performed with a 'grunter', which would immediately destroy the piece. Wilson's love for dissonant guitar solo's is again displayed during the instrumental section of the song. This time it is less offensive than on Deadwing though and the song ends in the characteristic dreamy style, setting the right mood for the wonderfully emotional My Ashes which Wilson and Barbieri co-wrote. It starts with the organ sound we know from Revenant, continues with piano and acoustic guitar before massive strings of the London Session Orchestra come in, followed by the rhythm section of drums and bass.
The album has been described as a 'continuous piece of music' but don't expect the six tracks to flow into each other seamlessly. Such a flow can however be detected in the almost 18 minutes long centrepiece of the album, Anesthetize. Unlike other Porcupine Tree epics this isn't really one piece of music with a start, instrumental middle piece and return to the original melody, like we've seen in songs like Even Less (full length), Russia On Ice or Arriving Somewhere But Not Here. Instead this new epic is actually three songs joined together. Combined it is indeed, like some people have said, one of the best pieces of music the band has ever recorded. It starts with a nice drum pattern while glockenspiel (!) and guitar lay down the chords. Wilson's vocals and lyrics perfectly capture the feel of disillusion of a teenager and the song gets progressively aggressive, until it breaks and goes through a series of guitar solos. After 5 minutes it suddenly changes into an almost industrial chunking guitar riff and the second portion of the epic starts. Driving rhythm section, spooky synth scapes and a wonderfully catchy chorus drive the song towards an explosion of aggression before it suddenly collapses on itself to make way for the last section after some 12 minutes. This closing section is completely different from the other parts and is a heart wrenchingly beautiful ballad most notable for its vocal harmony in canon.
Sentimental is a song that wouldn't have been out of place on Stupid Dream or Lightbulb Sun. The piano instantly reminds me of How's Your Life Today, but the processed drum sound takes the song in a different direction. The song is a typical emotional Porcupine Tree ballad that even contains a Spanish guitar solo that should have been longer than the 12 seconds it lasts. My only point of criticism toward this track is that the chords of the break resemble the chords of Trains a bit too much.
As mentioned, Way Out Of Here replaces the original 5th track played during the try-out gigs. Probably a wise decision because that song wasn't the strongest one in the set. I have to admit however that Way Out Of Here sounds a bit patchy and feels like the band has tried to quickly throw a replacement together. It has good moments but as a whole is a bit incoherent, as if it was composed of some interesting left-overs. Still, it's a good track that explores many different ideas within seven and a half minutes. It's the only full band composition and as such often feels like something that could have come straight of Signify. The chorus that sounds quite a bit like Sleep Of No Dreaming and the end section with soundscapes by Robert Fripp, which reminds me of the Metanoia jam sessions for Signify only enhance the feeling of recognition. The song also features a section with some of the loudest metal riffs on the album. Very tastefully done though.
Sleep Together starts with subdued vocals and synth effects. Initially I feared that this would be a dragging closing peace like Glass Arm Shattering, but I shouldn't have worried. Before long a stomping drum beat comes in and the song eventually builds to a climax with a massive use of orchestral strings. Not the restrained album closer we've come to expect from the band, but you won't hear me complaining.
In many ways this is one of the best Porcupine Tree albums (if not the best). Lyrically it's a lot more understandable and I like the concept used for the lyrics. Musically the album seems like the accumulation of everything the band has done before, thereby creating a total that's greater than sum of the individual parts. It's got the almost rap-like lyrical experimenting of the early albums, the dreaminess of the Sky Moves and Signify era, melodic strength and vocal harmonies of the Stupid Dream to In Absentia period and the functional heaviness stressing the atmospheric parts of In Absentia and Deadwing. All of this accumulates to a masterpiece that should be in every prog rock lover's collection.
Dave Baird's Review
I first heard this new material when I saw Porcupine Tree on their last tour at Hof Ter Lo in Antwerp. It was clear to me at that time, that this would be a special CD and I wasn't wrong, Fear Of A Blank Planet is an incredibly good album, in fact in my opinion, it's the best Porcupine Tree to date. What makes this better than In Absentia, Deadwing, Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun is threefold - firstly there are no weak tracks on this CD, no Glass Arm Shattering, Four Chords That Made A Million or Shallow lurking in the shadows of the better tracks - I hit the skip button every time they show-up. The second aspect I like here, is that the music is altogether less poppy than previous releases. Sure, one of Steve Wilson's (many) musical talents is his ability to write strong and catchy melodies, unfortunately sometimes they sound a bit too radio-friendly and at times, In Absentia, despite its unquestionable brilliance suffered somewhat from this.
Perhaps most importantly though is the evolution of the music from what has gone before. Deadwing was also a wonderful release but it always sounded a bit like a "best of" to me, essentially gathering together the styles from the four previous albums, without adding too much more. Porcupine Tree have always excelled when they're being ambient, melancholy and, more recently, heavy, even bordering on metal. With Fear Of A Blank Planet, Steve Wilson has focused on these three elements and gone are the pop pretensions, the trademark harmony vocals and any hint of happiness. Instead we're treated to 50 minutes of intense and dark, yet nevertheless very listenable catchy music.
Allegedly a "concept" album, it is built around the daily life of a young teenager who's going through difficult times with his parents, who also don't seem to be capable to reach and understand or help. The young man is detached from society and life around him, desensitised by sensory overload, a poster-child of the attention deficit disorder generation, pumped up full of prescription drugs to make them "normal". We are told about the absolute boredom of life and getting through the day by filling it with meaningless activity - hence the album title of course. As the music continues we learn more about the boy, his perceived parental rejection and the problems he inherited from his mother and father, discomfort with attention of elders and a growing idea to enter into some kind of suicide pact. There's also reference to some kind of relationship that has failed, but whether this is a reference to a girl or perhaps just his parents, it's difficult to say. This is all from the darker side of life even by Wilson's standards but they're very relevant for many kids these days and a lot of people will relate to it I'm sure. This is Steve Wilson at his bleakest and best.
Musically this is a real fusion of heavy and ambient. There's the metal, driving riff style that was introduced on In Absentia and refined somewhat on Deadwing and there's an awful lot of atmospheric, twiddly, swirly synthesizer sounds - Barbieri is much more prevalent than than on recent releases, especially on Sleep Together with its pulsing synth which plays throughout the whole track and sweeping strings during the climax of the song. Guest musician Robert Fripp adds to the atmosphere playing some soundscapes on Way Out Of Here - the opening of this track is one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard, unfortunately this doesn't last as they ramp it up after a minute or so. The most talked-about track will undoubtedly be Anesthetize, and with a running time of nearly 18 minutes it's the longest track they've put out for more than a decade and probably the finest also. A highly diverse track it contains a short but very intense metal section that would not be out of place on an Opeth CD as well as an excellent melodic, haunting solo by another guest, the mighty Alex Lifeson from Rush. Gavin Harrison's drumming again is very loud throughout a lot of the CD and although he's tried to be a little arty in places, I do admit that I preferred Chris Maitland's style more. That being said, if Gavin's inclusion has helped lead them in this direction then he's forgiven!
It's difficult to find any fault in this album, it's strong in every respect and doesn't have a dull moment - sure, quiet moments but not dull. For the sake of finding something, I do find the drum-roll right at the end a little off-putting every time I hear it, but I do wonder if this is not symbolic of a gun being fired? Perhaps pure speculation but after the symphonic ending I can't think why else to put that in there otherwise spoiling what was a great end to the CD.
I really can't find a reason not to give this a perfect 10, this is Porcupine Tree at their very best, miss it and weep!
Steve Unruh - The Great Divide
Tracklist: Attack, Retreat, Then Attack Again Of The AcoustiChromatic Pixies (9:26), The Great Divide [i. A Timeless Sea That Dreamed Of Sand, ii. God-Man-Fugue, iii. Something In Heaven Bleeds, iv. The Meeting, v. Resonate, vi. Our Darkest Hour, vii. A Wish] (36:14) , The River's Bend (3:42), Seven Journeys East (9:40)
When one hears the abundance of crap that is peddled on the airwaves, one tends to lose faith that modern music can provide anything that satisfies. Thank heavens then for artists such as Steve Unruh, the self-styled 'progressive folk rock, etc' musician. Steve, as a musician, possesses talent in abundance, as evidenced by the list of instruments he plays on The Great Divide: steel-string and nylon-string acoustic guitars, violin, drum kit, 4-string and 5-string bass, vocals, silver flute, wood flute, mandolin, frame drum and miscellaneous percussion. Musically and lyrically the album is, in places, an exercise in dichotomy, with opposites trying to bridge the 'great divide' as on the centre-piece of the album, the 36-minute title track, a tour-de-force of modern progressive music. A musical discourse on the purpose of 'god' (in his/her/its various religious/denominational forms) in a world increasingly subject to the logic of science and atheists, the piece is truly epic in scope and nature. The subject matter is one that interests me greatly, being a scientist (and atheist) from a devoutly religious family who is familiar with a personal 'great divide', but also in the wider context of international Western-Eastern relations. Although written from the point of view of religion versus logic, the piece could readily be seen as the great divide between different religions. Still, this is a review of an album of music, not a religious debate so, before falling too deep into pretentiousness I better get on with it!
The marvellously titled Attack, Retreat, Then Attack Again Of The AcoustiChromatic Pixies is the longest instrumental yet recorded by Steve and is a mix 'between tradition western folk (e.g. pretty melodies and acoustic instrumentation) and modern chromaticism (throwing away traditional chords altogether)'. The piece works superbly well, the blend of violins and flutes being masterful, and despite the acoustic setting one can feel the tension between the opposing musical styles. This is the kind of music that lovers of the acoustic Jethro Tull will have wished that Ian Anderson had explored with his band. The breadth of The Great Divide would require a lot more space to explore fully than I have in this review. However, the seven component parts go through a dazzling array of time changes, different musical scales, chromaticism, melodies playing in a different time signature and key than the rhythm section and, for those who understand such things, chords based on intervals of fourths and fifths. The whole is linked together by recurring themes and musical motifs plus a very philosophical and engaging lyrical narrative. Okay so it is not a piece of music that is immediate accessible, the very nature of its construct would prevent that. But it is very ambitious, pushes compositional boundaries (both in terms of the artists previous work and contemporaneous composers) but is very engaging and ultimately very, very rewarding. The playing, arrangement and production throughout could not be bettered - the menacing Hofner bass contrasting beautiful with the lightest of violin touches on Something In Heaven Bleeds for example - and the acoustic guitar flourishes are some of the best that I've ever heard Steve play. Even if one has no interest in the subject matter, the track is an enjoyment from start to finish.
In complete contrast, The River's Bend is a relatively simple nylon-string guitar, mandolin and violin piece that flows like the river in the song's title. Soothing, almost mediæval in places, this relatively short piece bears resemblance to some of the best stuff recorded by Anthony Phillips. Last up is another instrumental Seven Journeys East (available for download as part of a totally free 2007 sampler album complete with excellent artwork from Steve's website) which is in many ways a companion piece to the album opener. However, there is less of a conflict within the music, it being more harmonious throughout. Again, the flute and violin take important lead parts but it is the overall arrangement that wins out.
So, another stunning album from Mr Unruh. Musicians have formed whole careers based on being able to play a single instrument as well as Steve, yet he can do the lot and write beautiful and compelling music at the same time. I urge everyone to visit Steve's website and listen/download the music that is available from there as you won't fail to be impressed.
Conclusion: 9+ out of 10
Ferris Mudd – Ferris Mudd
Tracklist: Time to Fly (6:51), The Move (4:37), Over Your Head (8:32), Anyway (7:07), Unrapped (4:11), End of Day (4:52), Call It Your Own (6:49), You’re Alone (7:32)
On first listening, I was predisposed to like this album because, improbably to some extent, the lead singer, Steve Richard, often sounds uncannily like Lee Abraham, whose excellent album View From The Bridge I reviewed a year or two ago. Not only that, but halfway through the first song is a multilayered vocal break that sounds near as dammit like the doo-doo-doos from any number of mid-70's Yes songs. Well – a good start. And I have to say that the album as a whole doesn’t disappoint.
What we have here is an extremely listenable album that feels (not sounds but feels) to me more than anything like a second-cousin of early (but post-Barrett) Pink Floyd. What I mean by that is that the album is predominantly pensive rather than energetic, relying in its instrumentation fairly heavily on acoustic guitars and seventies-sounding synthesizers, most of the songs mid-tempo and well-constructed. So, despite a lead-guitar sound that often reminds me of Steve Hackett’s or Steve Rothery’s, and despite of course those Yes-sounding doo-doo vocals, this is progressive rock not in the Yes/Genesis vein but in the typically 4/4 Pink Floyd vein. It’s an album that both sounds good on first listening and improves on repeated listenings.
And one of the most impressive things here is the range of sounds produced by a three-piece band. All three are multi-instrumentalists, and expert ones. Steve Richard not only sings but also plays lead and acoustic guitars, and bassist Danny Dicus plays acoustic guitar and keyboards as well, as does drummer Lester Meredith. What the band produces is a nice layered sound, but not too layered – that is, this is not one of those albums that seems to have every space crammed full of notes just for the sake of it. Often enough, the acoustic guitars form the base of a song, and there will be keyboards in there somewhere, but the melody is always paramount.
I might single out a few particularly good songs and moments (taking as read that Time To Fly, which I mentioned at the start, is one of them, for reasons besides those vocals, too). There’s a nice Porcupine Tree vibe surrounding the second song, The Move, if you think of that great band’s quieter songs. And as is the case in many of these songs, the tune is enhanced by a melodic but passionate guitar solo towards the end. Unrapped features an pleasing Gilmourian rhythm guitar throughout, underscored through much of the song by a snare-drum shuffle that gives the song an edgy, uncomfortable feel (in a good way, I mean, suiting the lyrics – “I know your plan / You take all you can / Got a fight / If you steal from me”). And perhaps my favourite song is the album-ending You’re Alone, which builds slowly to an expressive, nicely distorted guitar solo before resolving into a quiet but satisfying ending.
This is a fine album that’s difficult to describe but easy to enjoy. It’s the debut of a band that really could make a name for itself (although – and this is my only criticism – I could wish that that name wasn’t the odd “Ferris Mudd”!), and I recommend it without hesitation, backing up that recommendation with the certainty that it’ll be in frequent rotation on my CD player for some time to come.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Vertical Alignment – Signposts
Tracklist: Signposts (3:07), Dress Rehearsal (8:03), Ballad Of The Titanic (6:30), Freedom’s Call (16:13), Children In The Son (10:51), The Towers (9:11), Rented Houses (12:09), Kingdom Of Summer (7:54), Rented Houses Epilogue/Signposts [reprise] (5:24)
Vertical Alignment will be a new to many including myself with this their debut project. Released in CD format earlier this year it has been available to download from the ThunderSongs website for almost a year now. The bands Christian beliefs are very much in evidence in the liner notes, the lyrics and the albums concept all of which come from the pen of main man Pete Jorgensen. And I’ve got to be honest and say that as far as concepts go this is about as pretentious and nonsensical as they come. It suggests that major historical and contemporary tragedies are somehow God’s way of directing mankind to a better and higher place. The songs tackle several themes including World War II, the sinking of the Titanic, the Crucifixion and Resurrection, the plight of the Romanian orphans, New York 9/11 and the war in Iraq. The main flaw in this concept as I see it is that if mankind was meant to learn from these tragic events then how come we are still making the same mistakes made two thousand years ago? It seems to me that these “Signposts” are not working which undermines the albums optimistic conclusion. Now that I’ve got that little rant off my chest how about the music? Well thankfully it’s a whole lot better than the concept.
The aforementioned Pete Jorgensen who provides guitar, keyboards and vocals is joined by spouse Terri Jorgensen on bass, Jim Braunreuther vocals and keyboards, Monty Pierce guitar and bass, and drummer Mike Adams. This is very much a collaborative effort however with the band members sometimes trading places with a host of more familiar guest musicians. They include Fred Schendel, Steve Babb, Eric Parker and David Wallimann of Glass Hammer, Randy George and Wil Henderson of Ajalon and Carl Groves of Salem Hill. Together they produce a lush symphonic prog sound steeped in the best tradition of Yes, ELP, Genesis, Kansas, Happy The Man, Spock’s Beard and unsurprisingly Glass Hammer. The music is tuneful and ear friendly and given the sombre subject matter of each song the tone remains surprisingly upbeat throughout. The CD artwork is very fitting with a kind of early Genesis/Anthony Phillips atmosphere combining several of the songs themes in an implausible single scene. I like the irony of the Titanic pictured in New York harbour its intended destination before sinking.
The simply structured title song serves as an introduction with Jim Braunreuther’s plaintive vocal questioning “Where are the signposts making my path?” Kevin Jarvis’ lyrical mandolin accompaniment has all the hallmarks of an earlier Yes with Steve Howe but sadly Braunreuther is no Jon Anderson. His nasal delivery is laid bare by the sparse arrangement distracting from an otherwise promising opener. In contrast the busy Dress Rehearsal provides an excellent showcase for the band and finds them firmly in Genesis Wind And Wuthering territory. It features the VA line up without additional support clearly demonstrating that the guest musicians are a luxury rather than a necessity. Braunreuther once again provides lead vocals this time joined by Jorgensen. He fairs better in this denser setting with the vocal urgency owing a debt to Yes’ Gates Of Delirium. It’s the excellent synth work, impressive drumming and commanding bass line that provides the real drama however in this tale of World War II. Ballad Of The Titanic is possibly more Glass Hammer than VA with Eric Parker providing lead vocals, Fred Schendel keyboards and David Wallimann guitars. There’s hardly anyone I’m sure who is not familiar with the fate of the Titanic. As such the over descriptive lyrics are unnecessary with lines like “The wireless man was asleep in his bed the Captain was equally tired” sounding contrived. The storytelling style does at least lend the song a lyrical folk feel helped by acoustic guitar and flute sounding keys.
The epic length Freedom’s Call is the albums centrepiece with VA augmented by brothers Mike and Shaun FitzPatrick sharing vocal duties and Fred Schendel on keyboards. Biblical references are everywhere in this song taking in stories from both the Old and New Testament with a devotion that would put Neal Morse to shame! Keyboards dominate with shimmering Tony Banks flavoured synths supported by melodic Steve Hackett inflected guitar runs. Both Mike Adams and Terri Jorgensen provide excellent support although the drum sound is a little soft and the bass is reduced to a Greg Lake style clicking noise. I not convinced that it has enough ideas or variety to justify its sixteen-minute plus length but the song passes quickly which means it must be doing something right. Children In The Son is not a misspelling but the name of an organisation dedicated to providing support to the children of Romania. This is one of the albums better songs with immaculate Steve Rothery style guitar and majestic Keith Emerson influenced organ and synth fanfares. Randy George’s warm bass lines are probably the best the album has to offer and apart from the off-key harmonies Wil Henderson does an otherwise creditable job on vocals.
Given the subject I was expecting The Towers to be gloomy affair but it has a welcome tone that’s both strident and defiant led by Jessica Cole’s high register lead vocal. Some flashy Rick Wakeman style synth noodlings come courtesy of Eddie Jerlin of Everlasting Arms. The backing vocals from Branreuther and Jorgensen are some of their best and I really can’t believe that the tracks 9:11 length is just a coincidence! The ambient effects and Lenna Pauley’s spoken intro to Rented Houses could have come from Mike Oldfield’s The Songs Of Distance Earth. Carl Groves’ lackluster lead vocal lacks conviction sounding uneasy with the wall to wall lyrics. Jorgensen’s lengthy guitar and keys break, a rare indulgence for this album is the real highlight as is Steve Babb’s and Mike Adams’ skilful bass and drums interplay. Kingdom Of Summer has a relaxed tempo and is easily one of the albums best with an excellent vocal from Mike FitzPatrick, a memorable chorus and triumphant synth blasts. Rented Houses Epilogue/Signposts [reprise] ensures the album ends on a sunny hopeful note (this is prog after all!) with two songs reprised. There is a twist in the lyrics with Braunreuther this time proclaiming “I see the signposts making my path”. Jorgensen’s grandiose but short lived guitar coda is possibly the albums crowning moment.
Although this release is very much a team effort Pete Jorgensen’s individual contribution cannot be underestimated. Responsible for the song writing, concept, production, and a significant amount of vocals, guitar and keyboards he is also the only band member to appear on every track. At times however I feel he may have shouldered too much of the work load. This is certainly a very accomplished and ambitious debut with strong melodies, superb arrangements and first class musicianship. Without the heavy handed concept, more disciplined lyrics and a bit more weight in the sound department it could have been so much more.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
No Rules - Where We Belong
Tracklist: Locked In A Soulcage (5:13), Walking With Me (5:00), After The War (4:42), Where We Belong (4:30), Lost (3:21), Dreams (4:27), Just Like A Stranger (4:05), Cradle In The Sand (3:29), Papers Bang (3:29), Who's Crying (5:06), Starmoon (4:43), The Light (4:41)
No Rules is a symphonic rock band consisting of Tommy Magnusson, Martin Nilsson and Olof Gustafsson. Basically these three guys live in Sweden, close together (in fact Tommy and Olof are neighbours) and wanted an outlet for their musical creativity. As many good bands from within the prog rock/metal scene stem from Sweden, a band from Sweden influenced by Dream Theater, Marillion, Yes, etc. could be interesting.
Before commenting on the music one thing needs to be dealt with: that's the cover to this album, it is probably the most uninviting cover ever. Not that it is a bad drawing but it looks associated to a reggae band not a prog rock band. It might be used to illustrate why the band chose their name. Their are No Rules in their music but this cover is taking that a bit too far. Having said that: this is very good music, remarks can be made about the sound quality and the production but just judging the music, the compositions were a very big surprise. A sound with it's roots in 80's prog rock (like IQ/Marillion) but very dynamic and energetic and also very catchy. There is a component of metal, but this music should not be called prog metal.
Another big surprise is the voice of Olof Gustafsson: it is a very pleasant calm voice with a lot of reach, but also a little fragile (which in fact adds to it's appeal). The starting notes of Locked In A Soulcage are the best introduction of this voice. A tune with a catchy refrain, and easy to follow rhythm. Parts of the song have spoken words and sound strange (as can be heard in a number of Pink Floyd tracks). All in all a track that will get stuck in your mind for days. Walking With Me is the best illustration of the eighties-Marillion influence. The guitars give it away immediately. After The War can be played through MySpace (link above). It is one of the mellow tracks but with an excellent combination of keyboard and guitar - the refrain picks up the speed a little. Where We Belong shows the influence of the other band the members of No Rules are involved in: Cornucopia, who name Black Sabbath as it's largest influence. Lost again has that old style Marillion guitar and a driving rhythm combined with original keyboard sounds. Dreams starts of with some nature sounds and an acoustic guitar, again the voice of Olof proves to be invaluable to the band. Then again the excellent guitars, keyboards and drums play a just as important role in this band. Just Like A Stranger reminds of a Duran Duran track and it is a bit too easy compared to the rest of the album. While Cradle In The Sand has that Marillion guitar again.
The members of No Rules must have been on a tight budget when recording Were We Belong and that is a pity. These original and dynamic tracks deserve more than they have received here. If not for the sound quality of the recording this could well have been an instant hit in the prog rock community. The production could also benefit from a bit of polishing, but maybe leaving it like this did not flaw the energy and dynamics.
Hopefully the band will have a break with the sales of this album so the next album will be on a bigger budget. That would be something noteworthy and it might be the start of something very good. Of course there is only one thing we can do to make sure that happens: go and buy this album. It's not quite DPRP recommended yet, but very close!
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Runaway Totem - Esameron
Tracklist: De Cause Prime (21:12), Ombra Alata (8:14), Lux (L'Albero Del Sole) (16:28), 0 Infinito 1 (23:46)
It has been three years since the last Runaway Totem album Pleroma, and in that time the Italian duo of Cahal De Betel (vocals, guitars, bass, piano, keyboards, samplers and sequencers) and Tipheret (keyboards and drums) have left Musea and formed their own, self-titled label. Esameron is the first movement of 4 Elementi 5, a concept based on the arcane system of numerology. Ignoring the rather dubious nature of the law of cosmic harmony (just because it is an old system doesn't mean it is valid or holds any empirical value!), this first instalment deals with the days of creation. The album is largely instrumental and is largely dominated by keyboards, although guitars do get a work out, particularly on Lux. The most interesting bits for me where the electronic was dismissed in favour of the piano, as I must state that I am not particularly fond of albums dominated by keyboards, particularly where they are used to simply set a mood.
On the whole I found this album rather hard going, when they get it right it is very good, but when it goes off track or meanders on for too long then it can become a bit wearing. A shorter running time would possibly have benefited and the over use of keyboard choirs (which don't sound in the least bit celestial!) tends to grate a bit. Having said that, they do work very well at the beginning of 0 Infinito 1 which also has some very nice melodies (and some very bizarre singing!)
Rather a mixed album, and one whose merits would possibly reveal themselves under different listening conditions. Esameron is more an album of incidental music, the soundtrack to an imaginary film, rather than one that grips the listener's attention and makes an hour disappear if in an instant. But if you are fond of more electronic music that deals in heavy atmospheres with gothic undertones then this just might hit the right buttons. Pop along to the band's website and download it for yourself (their first two albums are also available for free download) and then write your own review, it may be more to your liking!
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
MegetMeget - MegetMeget
Tracklist: Night Vision (3:56), Ingrid Kukemelk (3:54), Without Her Mask (5:39), Bardommens Demens (4:54), The Weather Forecast (4:01), The Perfectionist Who Missed (4:55), Kraniet (4:12), Megetmeget (4:22), Goddag (3:45)
MegetMeget is principally a side project of Danish drummer Kalle Mathiesen (drums, bass, keys, percussion & vocals) and Norwegian tuba player Lars Andreas Haug (tuba, trumpet, trombone, keys & vocals). With guest appearances from Marie Ingerslev (vocals), Camilla Susann Haug (vocals) and Flemming Mathiesen (keyboards & programming) on various tracks. I can shed little light on the members of MegetMeget barring perhaps multi-instrumentalist Kalle Mathiesen who produced the unusual but highly enjoyable Start album in 2005, and which coincidentally featured vocalist Marie Ingerslev. However little of the material from that previous album could have prepared me for this CD.
Still evident is Kalle's imaginative drumming however as for the music, well let me use this phrase from the band's blurb... "Rockin'-polkafunk with tuba, drums and vocals" ... to shed some light on the proceedings. Unusual it certainly is. Now the tuba is not an instrument that we come across often (if ever) in contemporary music and perhaps more synonymous with orchestral or brass band music, and it was the latter of these two that I turned to when trying to put a perspective on this album. Musically we are looking at cleverly written and performed material, mainly instrumental, (although several tracks feature vocals), in a crazy mix covering several genres.
Is it jazz? Is it prog? Is it funk? Is it polka? Well the answer to those four questions is yes, but not in a way we might necessarily perceive them. If we look at the jazz aspect then we must span several decades, searching back to late 20's. The female vocal harmonies reminiscent of the late 30's or 40's. However the arrangements have a much more contemporary slant with certain Zappaesque qualities. These traits are also reflected in the somewhat tongue in cheek lyrics. The prog elements are less evident and here we might look towards the Canterbury scene or the more experimental extremities of this music. The title track best demonstrates this - nicely punctuated rhythms with the lead synth and brass weaving in, out and across the busy drumming. Certainly the influences of Robin Taylor seem evident. Funk - well only in the fact that several of the tracks groove, albeit with a psychedelic twist. Polka - absolutely.
Even after several listenings I still find this album to be an acquired taste. Mainly down to the tuba and the trombone being the principal melodic choice... such a unique sounding instruments and perhaps my preconceptions stood in the way. To put this in perspective I tried to imagine those parts parts being played on a different instrument. What would I have made of MegetMeget musically if we substituted the tuba and trombone for a keyboard, guitar and or fretless bass? Certainly Lars Andreas Haug playing is not in question, so my qualms surrounding the overall sound boiled down to my acceptance on the use of brass as the main instrument. We shall never know but as it stands this a unique album, and one that sounds like our core duo have had great fun recording.
In my time with DPRP I have reviewed many albums, but this surely must be the most bizarre one to date. This offering from Messrs Mathiesen and Haug certainly won't appeal to everyone, that's for certain, however if you are looking for something challenging, fun and completely off the wall then look no further than MegetMeget.
Conclusion: Not rated