Reviews in this issue:
- Black Bonzo - Sound Of The Apocalypse
- Parhelia - Oceans Apart [EP]
- La Torre Dell’Alchimista – Neo
- Balloon – Motivation
- Jon Anderson – Watching The Flags That Fly
- 21 Eyes Of Ruby – Conquer The World Pt.2 & 3
- Nexus – Perpetuum Karma
- Imogene - Imogene
- Aviva - Rokus Tonalis
- Osiris - Visions From The Past
Black Bonzo – Sound Of The Apocalypse
Tracklist: Thorns Upon A Crown (6:51), Giant Games (5:54), Yesterdays Friends (7:09), The Well (6:16), Intermission - Revelation Song (1:59), Ageless Door (5:23), Iscariot (7:22), Sound Of The Apocalypse (13:02)
Black Bonzo’s latest offering is a refreshing blast from the past. As much as I love modern Progressive Rock, I’ve always felt there was something missing in a lot of it. I don’t believe that going back to the source is devolution.
The first thing that strikes you when you hear this album is the keyboards: Hammond and Mellotron (now where have those been all these years?). On top of that, vintage synthesizer sounds. Remember in the seventies when a synthesizer sounded like a keyboard, not like a guitar or a symphony or a drum set? On top of that, the guitars are played like they used to be played back when guitarists were trying to do something other than play scales at 200 miles an hour: having reviewed albums for years at GuitarNoise, hearing that type of guitarist on every second CD that arrived in my mailbox, it now takes a lot for a guitarist to impress me. And the good old flute is around, also.
Black Bonzo have run the gamut of classic and less-classic prog bands and have developed something quite different. There are definite influences of Emerson, Lake & Palmer (for structure), Genesis (for melody) and Jethro Tull (for bringing in a folk side). But at times there are other things in there also: Focus, Van der Graaf Generator, King Crimson. I don’t know if this was intentional, but many of the songs remind me of the old Styx: I don’t mean Babe, I mean the first four albums, the ones nobody has heard about. I find in this recording what I enjoyed in those four: a complete feel of freedom. My overall sense is that these guys honestly don’t care whether people like their music or not: they do what they want to do.
Thorns Upon A Crown starts right off with a classic synth intro followed by Hammond and guitar making you wonder if you’ve opened a forgotten door. Emerson-influenced chords, Palmer-type almost military-march drumming, but with Magnus Lindgren obviously having fun on vocals. It’s a great song which makes you feel good right from the start. It keeps up the momentum and never lets you down. And they borrowed Genesis’ lawnmower to end the track.
Giant Games starts off quite differently, enough to make you wonder where they’re going. Then it takes on some semblance of normalcy. This is the heaviest song on the album. Borrowing from King Crimson and the heavier, darker, side of ELP, it still manages to have almost the feel of a Genesis song… The vocals at the end are simply wonderful, carrying an intense melody. My one negative point about the album is the ending here: the song just dies slowly. This does bother me as it sounds less complete than the rest of their work.
Yesterdays Friends in another vein also. This should normally not be a progressive song. But it’s handled so well that it does become one. Intense and free. More Genesis-like than any other song on the album, but I won’t complain about that. Kind of a cross between Foxtrot and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. But with a heavy measure of Van der Graaf Generator and something else I can’t quite put my finger on (could it be Cream?).
The Well is the most upbeat song on the album. It illustrates well Lindgren’s vocal abilities. Overall, his voice is a key element of Black Bonzo’s sound. This one is straight off of one of Styx’ first 4 albums. Very early seventies in its mood. These guys are not playing to impress, but because they like it. I like it too! It is the track with the simplest structure; there’s nothing complicated about it, but it holds together remarkably well.
Intermission – Revelation Song certainly brings to mind Jethro Tull with its arrangements of flute and acoustic guitar. It’s quite short, just shy of two minutes. It bears its title well, it is an intermission before a heavier change. Ageless Door is all over the place. I’m hearing Jethro Tull, ELP, Genesis and maybe even Focus. Lots of Mellotron in here. There is a nice moment when Nicklas Ahlund is pounding the Hammond like Keith Emerson, while Joakim Karlsson plays his guitar like Brian May. Very interesting.
Iscariot begins with the Hammond and you really want it. It conveys an immense sense of freedom. I can easily imagine myself jumping out of a plane and feeling the wind all around me while somehow knowing that the ground will never arrive. Overall, a beautiful balance of power, melody, simplicity and complicatedness…
Sound Of The Apocalypse brings about a mellow end, of the kind that makes you think that if the apocalypse is coming, then let it come, as long as it’s quiet about it… The apocalyptic part is probably the very Starless movement, beautifully executed, which ends in a jazzy bass and piano taking over to bring back the original mood. The ending is incredibly interesting. Various techniques are used at the same time; and the mix of guitar and keyboards here is of an extreme beauty and power. The apocalypse? Let it come…
Overall, I highly recommend this album. Although it might bring you back to the seventies as far as its roots go, at the same time it would never pass for a seventies album. There are lessons learned and discreet modern influences throughout. One can’t help but compare their sound to that of the giants that came before them: that’s only human. But they have a sound that is all their own. I just hope they stay the course for many, many more albums to come. I’ll gladly be here to listen.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Parhelia - Oceans Apart [EP]
Tracklist: Lights In The Distance (6:17), Hindsight (5:30), Oceans Apart (5:52), Summer Fades (6:19), Storm Warning (6:58)
Parhelia, the Irish quartet that gave us last year the wonderful First Light EP (see my review here), is back with another EP, Oceans Apart. To summarize in a few words where they are located in the musical universe, I will say that these guys found an original niche, bridging the gap between post and prog rock. Merging influences coming from both genres, they offer a final product that is as close to Porcupine Tree as to Mogwai, as close to Fates Warning as it is to Sigur Rss. And that they do by combining the genuine warmth and emotion of progressive rock with the desolate feeling of post rock, while cleverly avoiding the wall-of-sound and noise typical to the latter genre.
The most striking feature of this EP, which was also characteristic of their previous release but this time looks amplified, is the distinct acoustic of all instruments. They are all crystal clear, and all guitars, bass and drums are autonomous, but yet serving the higher goal of working together forming a musical piece. Now what do I mean by autonomous? I will answer by describing the bass: Usually the bass player builds up the rhythm section with the drums and very rarely indulges in a solo. Here this is not the case. The bass is actually "singing" and I caught myself isolating it from the rest of the instruments very often while listening. Almost like listening to Rush. Usually bands that follow this kind of approach produce extremely complex music that is typically extremely hard to follow. Parhelia offer us complex arrangements through great technical skills. Nevertheless, I never found the music hard to follow, and this is an achievement maybe due to the fact that the improvisation seems closer to jazz than to prog-metal.
Lights In The Distance sounds very concrete and strong, demonstrating that these guys can play solid and intelligent rock music. Hindsight is the perfect example of the constant duel between guitars and bass, especially towards the end, with the duel adding whole new dimensions to the music. More progressive-friendly songwriting to be found in Oceans Apart, which can be very well described as a lesson on how to expand a simple and nice idea and build a whole story around it. Built on overlapping layers and textures, with themes succeeding one another, it never loses its consistency. Which brings us to one of the best songs I heard up to now in 2007: Summer Fades. To me, melancholy is an element that ALL of my favourite progressive bands managed to capture elegantly and perfectly. The same goes for Parhelia here. Very emotional in a Sieges Even-like way. Also featuring some solos to diversify the atmosphere, it is one of the softest sad tales I heard for years. This tracks paves the way for dissociating complex and technical arrangements with the "can't-listen-to-it/it's-too-much" tag. Leaves me speechless, especially if I compare the amount of emotion it can radiate compared to many "neo-prog" whining bands out there. Wisely the band chooses to close the album with a dark track. The rhythmic drums contribute to the very solemn ambience which indeed brings to mind a dark sky ready to storm. Thematically close to Sigur Ros' masterpiece Untitled 8 from (), but still the result is different. The storm is always about to break but in the end it never does. No eruption...
Oceans Apart is slightly more mature than Parhelia's first EP. Here, there is more exploitation and less exploration, and in total the band seems to have arrived to a point where they have defined their own sound and are able to produce melodies that stick to your head. The only obvious flaw of this beautiful bouquet of five songs is that it is the swan song of Parhelia. The band is no more. So, the ones among you reading who appreciate a bit of post in their prog drink, or others who are fans of PT or related bands, wait no more. Order Oceans Apart before it disappears.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
La Torre Dell’Alchimista – Neo
Tracklist: Dissimmetrie (6:53), Medusa (8:25), Idra (1:50), Risveglio Procreazione E Dubbio Pt 1 (11:31), L’Amore Diverso (2:28), Cerbero (9:24), Risveglio Procreazione E Dubbio Pt 2 (9:33)
Italy gave forth an incredible wealth of superb progressive rock in the 1970s (From the avant fusion of Area via the heavy symph of Banco and Le Orme to the all-round excellence of PFM.). In the 1980s and 90s the trend continued with a plethora of Genesis-inspired Neo Prog artists (Hopo, H20, Montefeltro, Edith, Notturno Concertante to name just a few). In recent times the flood shows no sign of abating, with many interesting groups still active or just forming: Yugen, Narrow Pass, Imaginaria, Nota Bene, CAP, Il Castello De Atlante. Mangala Valis and on and on…
La Torre Del Alchemista can be grouped alongside La Maschera De Cera, Periferia Del Mondo and CAP as being among the very best of the current crop choosing to play complex symphonic progressive rock in the manner of the 70s legends. Formed in 1997, their debut album caused quite a stir when it was finally released back in 2001. Since then, fans have had to make do with a live CD of their 2002 Nearfest performance (reviewed here) and live clips on the Gouviea Artrock DVD.
So was it worth the wait? Resoundingly, Yes! But still I’m going to hang back from out and out recommending the CD. It was a close run thing, but in the end I decided it just lacked that little extra something special to deserve an unqualified recommendation. Don’t get me wrong, there is much to like on this CD, and it seems to me that it will prove to be a grower, but I am a self confessed addict of Italian progressive rock, a big fan of La Torre’s previous work and also a fan of their most obvious influences (ELP, Trace, and Le Orme), so if it doesn’t quite do it for me, then it is unlikely to be a smash with those of you less familiar with the Italian greats.
All the elements that made their debut CD so compelling are present and correct (if anything, they are refined and magnified here – particularly in terms of the complexity of the compositions). Although the core line up is reduced to vocals, keyboards, drums and bass, guests provide sax, flute, violin and guitar, though each of these play a limited role of adding additional tonal colour to a few of the tracks. Perhaps it is that, compared to CAP for instance, there isn’t quite the variety of instrumental colour on offer or perhaps it’s the lack of a real standout track – the quality here is very even (and even the two short piano based tunes (Idra & L’Amore Diverso) stand up well).
If you are a keyboard nut, you should be in seventh heaven here, as Michele Muti is quite some player, conjuring the essence of Emerson, Wakeman and Van Leer with some striking organ and synth work, and only on one or two occasions can you actually put your finger on the source of a particular motif or riff. (There is a particular motif which crops up on several tracks, which is a paraphrase of a keyboard line from ELP’s Brain Salad Surgery)
Medusa features tortuous melodies which writhe around like snakes and the vocal arrangements are particularly effective. Mellotron and subtle guitar evokes a Crimsonic atmosphere. Violin adds a classical aire. The 20+ minute Risveglio.. split into two sizeable chunks dominates the disc, and shows the group at its instrumental best. Organ fanatics will love this one; it’s bursting its banks with chunky, mellifluous phrases and runs. Melodically, I am reminded of the classical prog of Focus.
The vocals (in Italian) are confident and mature, if not outstanding.
It really is a fine album of retro styled keyboard symphonic rock, with a nice balance between tension building atmosphere and melodic strength, but it’s very good, not great and the lack of truly memorable tunes means, it doesn’t quite earn a recommended from me. Hopefully their next CD (perhaps delivered a bit quicker?) will take them to the next level.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Balloon – Motivation
All Yours (7:13), Foe? (9:02), Nowhere (4:59), Dissolve Unseen (4:54), Beat Me Up (9:28), Everything (6:57), It’s Still Today (17:32)
Motivation is the debut album by a Dutch band, and it shows a lot of promise. I know, I know – saying that a first album “shows a lot of promise” is usually tantamount to damning with the faintest of praise. But let’s recover the full meaning of that phrase in this case. Motivation is the record (in both senses) of a band with a lot of good ideas; it may just be that the band needs more time and experience to embody those ideas in a completely satisfying way.
I suppose, if I were to begin with my main adverse criticism of this album, I’d say that the band too often sounds tentative. From the correct but sometimes too-mechanical playing in what should be passionate loud passages to the polite, shallow production (for which I won’t fault the album, which is after all an independent release, too much), the album just never really gels. I keep wishing I could tell the guys just to loosen up a bit – a difficult thing to do, I realize, in the studio, especially one’s first time in the studio. But the tentativeness does lead to a real sterility in the songs, and, since some of those songs aren’t terribly strong or coherent to begin with, there’s a sense of emptiness to the album as a whole.
However, I wasn’t just being nice when I said that the band shows promise. There are some ambitious pieces here. Let me use the fifth track, Beat Me Up, as a microcosm of the virtues and faults of the album as a whole. Beat Me Up is a sort of mid-tempo rock number with a nice vocal melody and some interesting instrumental ideas in its first five or so minutes. But then – unfortunately, to my mind – the track becomes, for almost another five minutes, an extended guitar workout that finally ends, or rather trails away, into a nearly jazzy denouement. The problem is that, while guitarist Jos Commandeur is certainly skilful, the long solo is just not that interesting; and the two halves of the song really don’t work together all that well. The same can be said for several of the other longer songs on the album (and with two exceptions – both of them five minutes long! – the songs on this album are somewhere between quite long and very long indeed): the parts do not add up to a satisfying whole.
I ought to give readers an idea of just what Balloon sounds like. I’ll say, in the band’s favour, that I’ve been unable to find a suitable comparison: I’ve never heard a band that sounds significantly like Balloon. (Their promo letter’s claim that their “music creates a link between Pink Floyd and Rammstein” is pure fantasy, insofar as my ears are still functioning properly!) As a start, I could say that the band plays heavily jazz-tinged, keyboard-reliant progressive rock with some not entirely successful stabs at heavy rock, even metal. Those stabs don’t succeed because of the tentativeness and sterility I mentioned earlier. Even what should be the emphatically heavy bits in, for example, opening track All Yours (which is one of the album’s best songs) are just too thin, too polite. It’s not just the fault of the guitar sound, either; the drums, competently played by Michiel van Horssen, have neither the sound nor the emphasis to drive the songs home the way they really need to be driven to sustain interest.
I’d have to say that the voice and keyboards, both provided by Hans Baaij, come across best on this album. Baaij’s voice, though not particularly powerful (and I suspect that better production would help there, too), is pleasant and versatile, and his outer-space-bound synthesizers whirl all around in all these songs, giving texture to the pieces and adding melody, too. But what the songs (as opposed to the performances) lack, real cohesion from beginning to end, can’t be disguised even by those cool keyboards.
Probably the entire album’s best moment – and the moment lasts twenty seconds! – is an insane high-speed thrash-prog breakdown starting at 8:12 in the album’s final track, It’s Still Today. Like Beat Me Up and most of the other songs, this one is too long and meandering, the band mistaking the cobbling of a lot of parts together for the creation of an “epic” song; but, in that twenty-second segment, which is surrounded by more than seventeen minutes of rather aimless and much slower balladry and keyboard noodling, I think there’s a glimmer of the energy that’s absent from most of the rest of the album. I’d never suggest that the band should throw away its other ambitions and write all its future songs at triple speed; but that little interlude does demonstrate the kind of power and enthusiasm that was badly needed elsewhere.
So yes: there’s a lot of promise here, but I can’t say that this is a successful album on its own terms. The good ideas need paring down and shaping into cogent individual songs, and the band, I believe, needs to try to capture on record more of the enthusiasm, more of the sense of fun that creating good music always should embody.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Jon Anderson – Watching The Flags That Fly
Tracklist: Hold You In My Arms (7:38), Take The Water To The Mountain (4:40), After The Storm (4:07), Watching The Flags That Fly (6:03), Touch My Heaven (3:30), We Make Believe (4:55), To The Stars (3;23), Instrumental 1 (2:32), Is It Love? (5:59), Axis Of Love (4:35), Instrumental 2 (2:39), Santa Barbara (5:43), Tall Buildings (5;34), Looking For The Words (5:38) Try It Again (1:45)
On this album you can hear songs that never got recorded.
“These songs are memories for me, I was in the south of France getting ready to record the 2nd ABWH album, I had found a farmhouse, and created 2 studios in the place…. So, everyday I would write songs for the band, unfortunately, the rest of the guys had decided not to turn up, they all wanted to record in London. Well, I thought, such is the way of things in this crazy world. So I just kept on working on the songs, even recorded with the roadies and got on with Chagall, re-writing and such, When I hear the songs I often wonder just what they would have developed into, but anyway, they are fun to hear again”
All these fifteen songs are 1990 demos and so in fact they may sound a little retro and out-dated to some people, but if you a are a Yes fan – like yours truly – then you certainly will appreciate this album. Jon’s typical vocals have always been a love or hate thing, so you know what you are going to listen to and you know what you are going to get if you already have listened to other Anderson solo albums. Most of the tracks on this CD - like Take The Water To The Mountain, After The Storm or Watching The Flags That Fly - are ballad-like songs which are only suitable for Jon Anderson die hard fans. We Make Believe is the first Yes-like song as it is a rather classic symphonic rock song with keys and even two guitar solos. The three instrumental songs on this album feature trumpet, piano, keys, drums and orchestral passages and kind of remind me of Jon’s Olias Of Sunhillow album.
Axis Of Love, again a ballad filled with strings, piano and orchestral parts brings back memories of Jon working together with Vangelis. Tall Buildings and Looking For The Words are typical Anderson/Bruford/White/Howe songs; up tempo tracks with Yes characteristics and a real treat for the ears. I love this album although it took me several spins to really appreciate all the songs.
A must for Jon Anderson and Yes fans!
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
21 Eyes Of Ruby – Conquer The World Pt.2 & 3
Part 2: Million Seconds (4;18), Make A Mess (5:59), Rebecca’s Plan (4:06), 24 Again (4:37), Perfect Daughter (3:55), Too Wild (3:52), InVain/Carmine (8:43), Off You Go (4:18)
Part 3: Angel From Sri Lanka (4;31), The Mystery Remains (4;33), Unfold Your Mind (10:27), Memories Of Pain (5;26), Pizzi (3;23), How Long (5:07)
21 Eyes Of Ruby is a Dutch band, consisting of Antoine “Tuwann” Putz (vocals and guitar), Martijn Soeterbroek (drums) and Alex Van Damme (bass guitar). This remarkable trio was founded in 2006, just one day after they released their debut EP; featuring three songs. 21 Eyes Of Ruby can be placed in the alternative music scene, as their music is truly inspired by bands like Tool, The Smashing Pumpkins, Motor Psycho and The Mars Volta.
Now they release a double CD called Conquer The World Part 2 & 3, Part 2 featuring eight songs and Part 3 featuring six songs. Their music is complex, not easily accessible and sometimes even a bit chaotic, but after several spins I got truly addicted to these guys, especially the longer tracks InVain/Carmine and Unfold Your Mind are amazing.
Part 2 kicks off with the heavy up tempo rocker Million Seconds, featuring some prog metal riffs and guitar melodies, reminding me of Tool and System Of A Down. Make A Mess is even more experimental, with some great drums and bass parts, a rather “catchy” chorus and a nice guitar picking solo. The absolute highlight of the first CD is called InVain/Carmine, which clocks over eight minutes and is filled with heavenly guitar hooks, riffs and solos. Some melodies and especially the Asian/Eastern musical influences bring back memories of another great Dutch rock band Whistler/Courbois/Whistler. However there are also a couple of songs on Part 2 that are rather mediocre rock songs, like e.g. 24 Again (a bit mellow) or Perfect Daughter. Off You Go is a true disappointment, as it is no more than a dull grunge-like semi-acoustic ballad.
Part 3 opens with Angel From Sri Lanka, a great rock song with a very melodic guitar solo and some great singing by Antoine. Unfold Your Mind is the best 21 Eyes Of Ruby song so far. What a killer track, featuring amazing relaxed guitar solos, addictive melodies, staccato riffs and lots more; this is 21 Eyes Of Ruby at their best. The Tool-like Memories Of Pain is also a musical feast, featuring oriental guitar melodies and a howling guitar solo in the middle. How Long is the last track of this great CD and that one even has Nirvana influences. Sad but true there is also one dull track on this heavenly CD, namely the acoustic ballad The Mystery Remains, which also features a trumpet solo.
All in all there is a lot to enjoy on this album, especially if you like the bands I mentioned in this review. 21 Eyes Of Ruby definitely have their own musical style, relying on great guitar work/riffs/melodies and a very strong rhythm component. I think that this band has a great future ahead of them. Listen and enjoy!! Listening tip Unfold Your Mind at maximum volume!
Conquer The World Part 2: 7 out of 10
Conquer The World Part 3: 9 out of 10
Nexus – Perpetuum Karma
Tracklist: Mirar Hacia El Centro (17:30), Perpetuum Karma (14:58), Del Abismo Al Sol (9:52), Travesía (9:14), Cruces y Sombras (14:02), En Ese Viento (6:44)
A few years ago, a friend of mine introduced me to this amazing NeoProgressive band from Argentina with its first release entitled Detrás Del Umbral, in which many influences are combined and the result is a powerful and beautiful music. The keyboards take the main role in almost all the compositions performed by this band, with the ELP, Genesis, early Marillion and IQ influences being very strong. The gallery of custom sounds created by Lalo Huber are incredible. Nexus have the ability to create a mixture between the old school of symphonic rock and the innovative influence that this new wave of prog rock from the 90’s brought to us - the result is outstanding.
After three releases (two studio albums and one live record) their first lead singer Mariela Gonzales decided to leave the band, after which many people asked about what was going to happen to find a replacement good enough to replace Gonzales, who has one of the more powerful female voices in the rock prog genre. Well in 2005 Nexus returned with a big surprise for many of their fans, they hadn’t a new female singer! However they recorded a 27-minute track for the Colossus conceptual compilation (The Odyssey – A Wonderful Tale) and the job done by new singer Lito Marcello was very good, with a clear and soft voice that matched perfectly with the band musical style.
A year later Nexus returned with their first studio release with this brand new line-up: Luis Nakamura (drums & percussion), Carlos Lucena (electric & acoustic guitars, vocals), Daniel Ianniruberto (bass guitars), Lalo Huber (Hammond organ, church organ, mellotron, pianos and synthesizers, backing vocals) and Lito Marcello (vocals), called Perpetuum Karma a conceptual album that talks about the continuous ascension of mankind towards enlightenment.
This album opens with a beautiful píece called Mirar Hacia El Centro with a powerful keyboard-based intro, in which Hubber demonstrates all his skills behind the keys, a perfect song to open this album. Perpetuum Karma starts with a mysterious halo that introduces us into a Hammond-based song, probably this song is the most Emersonized of the whole album, too much Hammond for my taste, but not boring. After this long intro we can enjoy for a beautiful jazzy guitar solo that reminds me Jeff Beck or probably Clapton combined with some PFM Moog solos - a very intense song. Del Abismo Al Sol has many Space Rock elements, combined with Canterbury based guitar solos, a very nice song. Travesia starts with a powerful Hammond organ arrangement, that brings us back to this search for the light, a song with many features, from Hammond to Moog, from Space Rock to jazz, very intense. Cruces Y Sombras brings us back to the ELP influence, a bombastic song with all the elements from the 70’s symphonic rock songs. The Genesis and IQ influences of Nexus are hugely notorious in this song, the guitar riffs and arrangements makes me think of Steve Hackett, Roine Stolt, and the keyboards are modern again!
I have to say that the only thing that I dislike from this album is the over use of the Hammond in the arrangements, but despite this Perpetuum Karma proves to be an excellent comeback for this Argentinian band. Highly recommended for all the people who have curiosity about what is going on with prog rock in South America.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Aviva - Rokus Tonalis
Tracklist: Prelude (1:27), Prima (Blessed Paul's Phantoms) (7:27), Secunda (Sliding On The Surface) (5:09), Tertia (The Destruction Of Faena) (9:07), Pastoral (5:56), Underwater Sermon (16:13), The Waltz At The End Of Times (11:56), Molto Largo (Calm Light) (4:17), Walking Down The Burning Scores (2:06), Hymn (3:39), Postlude (2:27)
Aviva is the musical pseudonym of Russian piano virtuoso and multi-instrumentalist Dmitri A. Loukanienko. Indeed, with the exception of Andrew Pruden who adds guitar to The Waltz At The End Of Times and several 'narrators', everything is performed by Loukanienko. The instrumentation is primarily grand piano and keyboards with bass adding a bit of weight to the proceedings and drums and percussion being from programmable machines. A musical concept based on the Gospel of St. John, the album also attempts to translate the polyphonic piano cycle of Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) into a rock setting.
If the combination of a classically trained pianist working in the rock idiom but performing works based on classical composers doesn't immediately bring to mind Keith Emerson and the works of ELP then you are in need of a refresher course in prog history! And, of course, the parallels are there, particularly in the opening quartet of Prelude, Prima, Secunda and Tertia. These pieces are every bit as flamboyant, grandiose and over the top as anything committed to tape by the famous English supergroup. If it wasn't for the obviously programmed drums then one could almost be excused in thinking one was listening to a lost recording by the famous triumvirate. The comparisons get even closer on Underwater Sermon where the mixture of grand piano and synthesisers in the opening section is every bit the equal of Emerson in his prime (yes it is good!)
Primarily instrumental, the narrated bits are somewhat annoying, particularly as they seem to have been recorded, or treated, to give them a sort of bad comedic effect. Fortunately these insertions are brief and somewhat low in the mix so don't intrude too much (apart from in Underwater Sermon where I could happily remove the narrated bits and reduce the playing time by several minutes and sod the concept!). Still, with some of it written in Latin I suppose one could always use it as a primer to learning a new language (albeit a dead one!). However, ELP comparisons do not ring true throughout the whole album. Other pieces take things further afield as, for example, in The Waltz At The End Of Times which mutates from an ominous organ section, through some almost spacey vibes to a faux choral interlude to an engaging section where Pruden's guitar adds a bit of bite and variety to the proceedings. A reprise of the opening organ section heralds the closing of the piece, possibly the strangest waltz you will ever hear (although for some reason the rear cover of the CD and the press release refer to the number as the 'Valse' at the end of times).
Whereas the opening four numbers were a symphonic rock quartet, the closing four numbers are mostly along the opposite end of the musical spectrum. Molto Largo is quite minimalistic (so much so that parts are almost inaudible) and reminds me of The Enid, Walking Down The Burning Scores is more upbeat with a jolly air, Hymn has a church organ sound with some frantic percussion in the background (and some very realistic timpani sounds) and final number Postlude is a mirror image of the opening Prelude thus completing the cycle.
There is no doubt that Loukanienko is a superb pianist and accomplished composer and there are some very exciting moments on this album that display his talents to the full. Well worth seeking out if you are a fan of the ELP but otherwise approach cautiously!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Imogene - Imogene
Tracklist: Happy Communing (2:46), Paper Dolls (3:40), Sunny Day Child (3:54), Wormwood Raindrops (3:55), Not To Be (4:10), Wasteoids (4:12), Daath (3:43), Seraphim (4:27), Tongue and Groove (3:52), Dark Room (4:30), Slow Dive (4:48), Quoth I (4:44)
The booklet and biographical press release accompanying the eponymous debut CD by Los Angeles based Imogene doesn't give a lot away about the band, nor indeed does their own website or the inevitable MySpace page. However, with diligent research I have discovered that the four-piece band have a somewhat unique musical line-up of an eight-string bass player in the guise of David Melbye (heavy on the distortion with a few bit of guitar thrown in as well), a second bass player called CJ Cervaillos, a drummer and percussionist named Andy Campanella and an electric piano/organ player who is known to his family and friends as Gabe Cohen. The rather novel set of instrumentation produces, as one would expect, a somewhat novel sound described by the band themselves as "a groove-orientated rhythm section that supports a darker sort of melodic realm with complex harmonic layering". Any the wiser? Thought not.
Refreshingly original, the music on the album is rather diverse, although by the very nature of the instrumentation all of a type. Even the keyboards are used to deliver a particular style and sound that contributes to the harmonious nature of the songs. At the risk of being heretical, a few of the tracks could almost be modern pop songs, that is if modern pop music was at all concerned with actual musicians rather than people who can sell more magazine and tabloid newspapers than actual records (excuse me, of course I mean downloads!) The three prime contenders on the immediately accessible side of things are Paper Dolls with its splendidly infectious hook line, Wasteoids which is a pop song that I would purchase and Sunny Day Child which manages to mix a very upbeat vocal with a slightly distorted electric piano and a lot of heavy, fuzz bass. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Wormwood Raindrops with its languid vocals is pretty laid-back in a mildly psychedelic kind of manner and Seraphim is not in the slightest bit angelic actually being rather creepy, despite Melbey sounding a bit like David Sylvian in places. Dark Room has a similar vocal quality and, along with Not To Be, add to the psychedelic qualities of the album.
Changing tack somewhat, Tongue And Groove is a down and dirty love song and not, as some might thing, a paean to woodworking. With lyrics of the like of "my tongue in your groove" it is not hard to eliminate the carpentry angle, unless you want to contravene some serious health and safety laws! Despite being a relatively 'flat' song - the rhythm does not change a great deal throughout the song - it is a strangely compelling number. Slow Dive is one of my favourites on the album with a strange funky reggae rhythm, a neat descending note sequence in the chorus and vocals that are left relatively untreated and thus avoiding the 'breathy' qualities of several of the other tracks. That just leaves the opening and closing numbers which exemplify the two extremes of the album. Happy Communing has layers of distorted bass with heavy chords thrown in at appropriate intervals and even an electric guitar for good measure, Radiohead on a mean day if you like. Quoth I ends proceedings on a lighter note with taking in influences from the far East and doing a splendid job of summing up the album.
Altogether an interesting and rather compelling release. Imogene have managed to fuse experimental and progressive music together in a manner that still includes melody as a focal point. The band do have a unique sound and approach although I wonder just how far they can take this without repeating themselves. Still, that is what experimentation is all about.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Osiris - Visions From The Past
Tracklist: As We Begin (2:25), A New Day (2:19), Verse 1 – Days Gone By (1:27), I Remember (1:37), Is It Time (5:45), Verse 2 – Winds Of Change(1:35), The Memory Will Still Remain (6:21), Verse 3 – Hope (1:12), We Will Stop For No-One (6:38), Verse 4 – Leave Me With My Memories (1:23), Life’s An Endless Dream (7:01), Finally (a) Mayhem, (b) Visions From The Past (11:55)
Even in the globetrotting genre that is modern day progressive rock, it is still pretty unusual to find a band hailing from Bahrain. It’s perhaps even more of a surprise to learn that Osiris actually brought out their debut album in 1981, when the scene was far more geographically constrained. From what I could gather from the internet (the band having very little presence on there) their last studio release was back in 1989, but it appears that Visions From The Past is in fact a new recording. However Osisris did resurface briefly in 2002 with a live album Beyond Control Live.
Whilst the title may give the indication that this is some sort of retrospective, instead it speaks of the story behind the album, focused on the reminiscences of an old man who remembers the simpler, rural ways of life in Bahrain before the increasing commercialism of the last thirty years. In order to bring this story to life the band incorporate traditional Gulf poetry (spoken in Arabic, but translated to English in the CD booklet) and Arabian rhythms, and even incorporate traditional instruments such as the Qanoon (a flat, zither-type instrument).
At its heart, however, for all its embellishments this is an ‘old school’ progressive rock record, with the band playing in a style that bridges the seventies-style mellow prog bands, such as early Genesis and in particular Camel (the latter of course having made their own stab at an Arabic-influenced prog record with Rajaz), and early 80’s ‘neo-prog’ upstarts such as IQ. At their best, the proggy passages are smooth and mellow, and manage to convey the innate sadness of the narrative. There is also some fine solo work from guitarist Mohammed Alsadeqi. Sadly however the band are rather let down by a lumbering rhythm section, bland vocals and a muddy production that seems stuck back in the early 80’s. Whilst the poetry helps drive the story, it does interrupt the flow of the album, and the juxtaposition of Arabic-flavoured segments and more western-flavoured rock does not always sit well together.
Having said all that, there’s probably enough here to make Visions From The Past worthy of investigation, particularly for Camel fans, or those simply interested in seeking out progressive rock from more unusual locations.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10