Reviews in this issue:
- Magenta – The Singles
- Motis - L'Homme-Loup
- Conqueror – 74 Giorni
- Aziola Cry – Ghost Conversations
- Uncle Moe's Space Ranch – Moe's Town
- Persephone's Dream - Pyre Of Dreams
- Tigrova Mast - Tigrova Mast
Magenta – The Singles
Tracklist: Speechless (4:04), Anger (5:50), Broken (4:07), Lemminkainen's Lament (4:21), I'm Alive (5:09), Cold (5:14), King Of The Skies (4:42), Call Me (4:54), Night And Day (4:14), Essence Of Love (4:48), Sunshine Saviour (5:53), Bonus tracks: Opus 3 (2:09), Pride [Full Version] (13:43), Sloth [Orchestral Mix] (10:00)
The Singles album was released in May of this year but has only just recently found its way into the hallowed halls of DPRP towers. Although many of the songs date back to 2004, with the exception of the three bonus tracks they have been re-recorded by the current Magenta line-up with Dan Fry replacing onetime bassist Matthew Cohen. For main man Rob Reed’s account of why and how the album came to be and an in-depth analysis of each track click on the ‘Samples’ link above. This release includes all the ‘A’ and ‘B’ sides (if there is such a thing in this digital age) from the band’s back catalogue of singles including Broken, I'm Alive, Night And Day, and the recent Speechless. The new recordings remain reasonably faithful to the originals although with improved sound and tighter arrangements described by Reed as the “definitive versions”. Adding extra weight to the collection are alternate versions of three tracks from the 2004 DPRP recommended Seven album.
It opens with the energetic Speechless, which made it to the outer regions of the UK top 75 earlier this year. Although this is the band’s most blatant attempt at a hit single it’s a classy song that sits comfortably alongside the rest of this collection. Not since Marillion’s chart success has a neo-prog act made such a serious attempt to carve out a singles career alongside their album work. Whilst Magenta has produced songs specifically for the singles market they have done so without compromising their credibility. A thoughtful balance alternates up-tempo songs like Broken and I'm Alive with the slower tracks like Cold and Call Me. Depending upon your mood, programme the CD player to play the odd numbered tracks and you will have a collection of catchy rock songs or if you prefer the even numbered tracks which will result in a set of acoustic ballads. Selecting a song from each grouping my personal favourites are the rocking King Of The Skies with its compelling Jimmy Page like riff and at the other end of the scale the hypnotic Lemminkainen's Lament.
Of significance to fans will be the previously unreleased Sunshine Saviour a stripped down and rearranged variation of Children Of The Sun from the 2001 debut album Revolutions. This re-working has the benefit of probably the albums most infectious melody. Night And Day includes for the first time a complete vocal by Christina Booth having backed Annie Haslam on the original version. Casual observers should not be put off by the album title as there is ample here to satisfy prog connoisseurs. This ranges from the trio of guitar solos that closes Anger to Reed’s two solo instrumentals Essence Of Love and Opus 3. The first of these is a pure slice of Mike Oldfield circa Tubular Bells II whilst the latter is vintage Six Wives and Journey era Rick Wakeman. The extended Pride opens with Dave Stewart flavoured rhythmic piano sounding very close to Bill Bruford’s jazzy Sahara Of Snow before becoming very 90’s Yes, complete with a neat line in Chris Squire sounding harmonies. The sensitive Sloth wraps things up with wordless vocals in the spirit of Enya and even more closely the classical choral work of Karl Jenkins.
This release works superbly on its own merits with a cohesive flow that belies the fragmented origins of the source material. For the band to take the time and trouble to re-record each song rather than lifting them wholesale from the original CD’s is to be applauded. The only thing missing in my opinion is the ProgAID single All Around The World. Ok I know it’s not strictly a Magenta tune but it would have been nice to hear Christina’s interpretation of this excellent song. With 79 minutes of music included already however I guess I’m pushing my luck a little! If you own all the previous CD’s it would be hard to justify adding this to your collection although you would probably want it anyway. If you are a fan but skipped the singles first time round than this is an essential release. If however you’ve yet to immerse yourself in the colourful world of Magenta this would be an excellent place to start.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Motis - L'Homme-Loup
Tracklist: Isengrin (5:07), P’tis Louis (4:26), L’ermite (5:17), La Dame Et Le Dragon (5:42), Les Normands (3:58), La Trahison (7:03), L’enchanteur (4:00), Allons Mes Compagnons (4:05), L’Artaban (4:39), Madrigal (5:25), L’homme-Loup
French band Motis started as a one man band in 2000 with the release of debut album A Chacun Son Graal - a solo album in the true sense of the word - with all voices and instruments performed by Emmanuel Tissot. By the second album, La Fete Des Fous, he is joined by drummer Remy Diaz and by the third album, and the first to be released by Musea Parallele, the line up was completed with the addition of flute player Florent Tissot. The band's website also states that the band has released no less than three live albums!
If you examine the band logo closely you would get a good impression of what the music is going to be like; a jesters hat, a tambourine, a medieval tower and a dragon. Yes; Motis' music is firmly influenced by (French) Medieval music, with the lyrics heavily influenced by the myths and legends of the middle Ages (Merlin, dragons, ermits and wolves). The music on this album is largely acoustic (I believe there is not an electric guitar to be heard) but they mix this with the addition of Hammond, Mellotron and Moog, which works very well.
Album opener Isengrin is a very good example of what you can expect on this album. The song starts with percussion followed by the voice of Motis, who tells the tale of Isengrin the Wolf (from the mock epic poem Ysengrimusdating from about 1153 by poet Nivardus from Ghent which has the first mention of the fox Reynard). He has a very pleasant voice and the song has a folk/medieval feel, but then halfway through the refrain the rock drums set in and Mellotron choir is added, this switch gives the song a sudden very progressive feel. This very good sounding album continues in this very pleasant way.
Motis is a versatile musician who handles the bass, guitars and keys duties very well indeed, with drummer and percussionist Remy Diaz as the star of the album. Listen to his adventurous drumming in the album's longest song La Trahison - from straight forward drumming to percussion breaks and impressive fills. Reggae rhythms in Les Normands and the excellent L’artaban (also with great Hammond and flute break). His medieval drumming in Allons mes Compagnons in contrast with his very modern sound in L’enchanteur. Very good! Florent Tissot adds extra flavour to the songs with his subtle flute parts (especially on L’ermite), and his backing vocals work very well with Motis' voice.
Guests on trumpet (great solos in Madrigal and La Trahison) and violin (notably on Madrigal) give the album even more colour. So all in all a very good album if you like your prog mixed with folk and medieval influences. The only fault I can find with this album is that I sometimes feel that the words are a bit squeezed in the music and it often feels like there a too many words to fit comfortably in the melody.
Highlights of the album are Isengrin, P’tit Louis (Mellotron drenched!), L’ermite (Moog and flute solos), Madrigal and L’Artaban. The best song in my opinion however is the title track and shortest song on the album. A beautiful acoustic arrangement and a melody to die for with the addition of Hammond and Mellotron and a lovely little acoustic guitar solo by Florent Tissot - an excellent song.
L’homme-Loup by Motis is my first acquaintance with the band, but the album is a very pleasant surprise. It sounds great, upbeat and very confident and should appeal to anyone who likes bands like Ange, Jethro Tull, Gryphon and… Terraced Garden (does anyone remember these Canadian Proggers from the early eighties?!).
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Conqueror – 74 Giorni
Tracklist: Maschere Di Uomini (6:01), Il Viaggio (3:08), Orca (5:03), Limbo (3:03), Non Maturi Per L’Adila (5:46), Cormorani (1:15), L’ora Del Palare (5:49), Preghiera (4:24) Miraggi (2:20), Nebbia Ad Occhi Chiusi (9:34), Eleutherios (6:33), Master Stefanos (5:57), Cambio Di Rotta(5:11)
The Italian progressive scene is incredibly fertile; as a result, it is not surprising that even the most ardent of aficionados can fail to keep abreast of all the new bands arising. Even so, when I was sent this CD for review, I was fairly taken aback to realise that Conqueror were on their third CD release and yet remained completely unknown to me. I have usually at least heard mention of any Italian prog band, even if I have not managed to check them all out (not enough hours in the day!).
To give a brief history, Conqueror is from Sicily and was formed way back in 1994. Many line-up changes ensued, and this state of flux continued even after the release of their first CD Istinto in 2003. For the sophomore release Storie Fuori Dal Tempo, a more stable line-up appeared, still centred on the duo of Simona Rigano (keyboards & vocals) and Natale Russo (drums), they were joined by Sabrina Rigano (sax & flute), Tino Nastasi (guitar) and Fabio Uochino (bass). For the current outing, Uochino has been replaced by Daniele Bambino. On the strength of this CD, I hope they manage to stay together and produce many more works of this calibre.
For album No. 3, the group have set themselves the almost inevitable challenge of that prog staple – a concept album. Unfortunately, as the vocals are in Italian throughout, I can tell you little about the story, save from what I gathered from the (poorly done) translations on their website; namely that this is based on the true story of two Italian adventurers who were adrift on a small raft for the 74 Days of the title. To tell this story of extreme adversity and endurance, Conqueror conjure up 13 slices of refined and richly melodic prog with a symphonic aura that manages to straddle the classic and neo prog genres in a comfortable, easy-to-like style. By utilising short instrumentals alongside longer vocal numbers (themselves often not averse to including long instrumental passages), the group skilfully create a smoothly flowing work which entrances almost from the start.
The first track, it must be said, is a fairly straight commercial tune; my insightful 9 year old son said “you wouldn’t like this if it wasn’t sung in Italian”. He has a point. I do favour quirky, unusual music, and this is pretty straight – though it is given added interest by some tasteful flute and sax in its later stages; also, the vocal performance is quite enchanting.
The rest of the album, though, is much more interesting, with many tracks featuring plenty of time and tempo shifts, with moods ranging from the plaintive (Cormorani) to the more dynamic and up-tempo (L’ora Del Palare & Master Stefanos).
With instrumental textures including crystal clear piano, strident Hammond and swirling synths, as well as warm sax tones, mellifluous flutes and skilful and mature guitar leads, the stage is set for an affecting and stylish vocal performance from the graceful Simona, which is sure to delight many. Choc full of interesting guitar/keys and sax/synth juxtapositions, and awash with beautiful flute melodies, the album works as a unified whole, but perhaps lacks the killer standout track or two which would lift it from good to great status. Nevertheless, it should appeal to fans of Camel and Pendragon as much as to Italprog aficionados.
Unlike the dreadful journey it recounts, this is a delightful aural excursion, one which you will want to take again and again.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Aziola Cry – Ghost Conversations
Tracklist: Ghost Conversations I (8:38), Ghost Conversations II (5:15), Ghost Conversations III (9:26)
Chicago instrumental trio Aziola Cry produced a quality debut album a couple of years ago with Elipsis; lead by Chapman stick player Jason Blake, the album was a complex, textured and, at times, heavy affair that nodded fairly heavily in the direction of Tool, King Crimson and Gordian Knot. Whilst Ghost Conversations is clearly the work of the same band (and indeed is, according to Blake, the ‘final chapter of the Elipsis story’) it definitely shows the band beginning to carve out their own identity and explore new sonic territories.
The first part of this three-part epic is a moody, ambient affair, with the song shifting along on a drone-style tempo (i.e. veeeeeery slooooooow), with subtle touches such as the brushing of cymbals and a hint of Floyd-ian guitar given plenty of room in the mix – very effective, and the title Ghost Conversations certainly suits this piece down to the ground. The spirits no doubt awaken at the six minute mark, however, as the listener is shaken out of their torpor by a jarring, insistent Tool-like riff which drags the song towards darker sonic territory in part II. Here, the pace is slackened a little, and the band introduce some sludginess to the sound in places. Guitarist Mike Milaniak takes more of a lead role here; when he’s not carving out riffs, he’s producing some foreboding, sinewy and drawn out solo’s which add character to proceedings.
A blasting, insistent one note riff heralds the concluding part of the trilogy, which incorporates a more conventional hard rock groove in places, but inter-sperces these moments with plenty of dark Crimson-esque moments, whilst the Tool influence once again comes into play on some frantic, twisted passages which ensure the listener never gets too comfortable.
Soundwise, this is pretty good in general, especially in the more atmospheric moments; I did find the buzzy, discordant sound of some of the heavier guitar riffs, especially when overlaid over more melodic backing, a little jarring; no doubt, however, this is at least partly intentional.
Overall another good release from Aziola Cry and, as I said earlier, one that sees them stretching themselves and developing their own distinct sound. I certainly look forward to where there next release takes them.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Uncle Moe's Space Ranch – Moe's Town
Tracklist: Valentimes Day (7:51), Moe's Town (10:24), Ella's Hotel (7:22), Audio Rhumba (8:56), Dads Speakers (6:41), Inspired Weak (8:23), Snout! (7:04), Path To Aesthesis (5:07), Nitro Squirrel [Multiple Moe] (6:13)
Uncle Moe's Space Ranch is a fusion super group that evolved out of a long time collaboration between Australian guitarist Brett Garsed (Planet X, John Farnham) and guitarist/engineer TJ Helmerich (Steve Vai). The duo released three, now hard to find, albums throughout the 1990s (Quid Pro Quo, Exempt and Under The Lash Of Gravity) under the name Garsed and Helmerich. In 2001 the duo regrouped, this time with keyboardist Scott Kinsey, bassist Gary Willis (both of Tribal Tech) and drummer Dennis Chambers to form Uncle Moe's Space Ranch. The self titled CD, released in 2001, ranks as one of my favourite fusion releases. While there is a lot of improvising by the musicians involved, it is excellently structured and contains many great hooks. It was not until six years later, in 2007, that they reconvened to release their 2nd CD titled Moe's Town.
On the first listen I got very confused, it seemed like a completely different band had written this. There is a very strong hard rock and electronic feel to a lot of the music which caught me off guard. It was because of this new experimental sound that I did not like it. Nothing really stood out to me. For about two months I played it through a few times a week hoping something would jump out and grab me. My stubborn persistence eventually paid off and I began to appreciate some pieces of this hard to digest material.
Moe's Town begins with Valentimes Day, one of the many highly experimental tracks on this album. Starting with a mechanical drum beat and keyboards carrying a theme that recurs throughout the song. It picks up in intensity with some heavy guitar work and leads into a nice flowing keyboard solo by Scott Kinsey followed by a great solo from Brett Garsed. I have always been a fan of Brett's guitar playing. He is more about taste and picking the right notes at the right time than about playing as many notes as possible in a short period of time. Last up to solo is TJ Helmerich. TJ has a very unique approach to guitar as he uses a technique called 8 finger tapping that gives his style a very intervallic sound and it fits the music great. Like Brett, TJ is also a very tasteful player who knows how to make a guitar solo interesting to people who would otherwise get bored.
Ella's Hotel, Dad's Speakers and Snout! have very similar structure and feel to Valentimes Day. They all have many heavy guitar riffs and Allan Holdsworth inspired dissonant chords scattered throughout with some excellent soloing by both guitarists and Gary Willis. I feel that there is not a lot that differentiates these songs. One reason why I became such a fan of the first CD was the individual identity of each song. It seems to be lacking here because there is no melody that really sticks out in any of them.
Moe's Town, my favourite song on the album, is one of the more memorable tunes. This song has a lot of groove and great transition between solos. The highlight, by far, is Brett Garsed's slide solo. Fans of blues would really appreciate this as at it combines this style with some jazz influenced note choices. Following in the same vein as Moe's Town is Inspired Weak. This very upbeat song is not too far off from older Tribal Tech. This is an easy song to get into because there is a lot less experimenting with other genres, it is just a great fusion song. Also in the category of less experimentation is Audio Rhumba. While it sounds a lot like the two tracks mentioned before, the one thing that immediately stood out was TJ's aggressive solo.
Path To Aesthesis sees a slight change of sound. This song was written by Scott Kinsey and is almost entirely keyboard and drum driven. By all logic this should be the most boring song on the album, but it is far from it. There is great melody throughout provided by Kinsey's spacey synthesiser tone. There is a solo by TJ at the end. In a way I feel this kind of ruins the atmosphere of the song because, for some reason, he does not hesitate to go overboard with it.
The weakest track on this album is Nitro Squirrel [Multiple Moe]. It is merely a heavily distorted guitar playing a metal riff with a drum soloing over it. There is no structure or even anything that is worth repeated listens. This should have been left off of the album as it adds nothing.
Overall I had a tough time reviewing this album and an even tougher time getting into it. Most of the songs on this CD are very formulaic so it makes it difficult to find words to describe each without repeating yourself. Because of this aspect I don't think many people outside the fusion community will enjoy this. There are some great moments on this album, but there is also a lot of experimental aspects that may be too weird for some people (myself included). While I am not overly thrilled with this release, there really is nothing poor about it. There is no reason why fans of Frank Gambale, Tribal Tech and even Planet X shouldn't enjoy this, just be sure to give it time and don't judge it on the first listen.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Persephone's Dream - Pyre Of Dreams
Tracklist: Threnody (7:08), Synesthesia (5:30), Nightfall (4:47), Cryptoendolith (1:34), Temple In Time [I. Mist, II. Nimiane, III. Soliloquy Of A King, IV. Camlann, V. Avalon] (23:01), Android Dreams (5:03), Aphrodite (8:06), Alien Embassy (9:05)
It's a funny thing this reviewing lark. Most of the time, when I get an album I can tell from the first few tracks whether it'll be a Quickie or a Longie. Quickies are where you know immediately whether you are going to like it, loath it or offer due indifference. At the same time you know exactly what you want to say about it and that the words for a review will appear as you hear the closing bars of the closing song. Pyre Of Dreams isn't a Quickie. It's been a rather frustating Longie.
Longies are the albums that you listen to once, listen to a second time, and then give a third spin. Three or four hours later, your only conclusion is that you've only just begun your review process. As such, Longies can thus be broken down into two sub sections. Quick Longies and Long Longies. There are those that you know you are going to enjoy and will have plenty to say about - the Quick Longies. It will just take a good few listens before all of the delights unwrap themselves for you. Only then can you decide exactly how much you like the album. The Long Longies, are those that have a certain appeal but you're not quite sure what to make of it. You know it's going to take a while to come to a fair conclusion. Pyre Of Dreams has been one of my longest ever Long Longies!
An ambitious, semi-concept album, it is the fourth release from this long-running Pittsburgh-based female-fronted progressive rock outfit. Their debut, Evening Mirage, came out in 1997, and both the following albums, Moonspell and Opposition have been reviewed on this site.
The band's unusual line-up includes a dedicated percussion player John Tallent ('bells, whistles and marble trees'!) as well as a drummer Steven Hogue. Vocals are split equally between Colleen Gray and Heidi Engel, whilst the guitars and keys are played by founder member Rowan Poole. Two other drummers are used on certain songs, bass duties are also shared out, and there seems to be a second keyboardist in the shape of James Waugaman, who also adds piano and organ to his credits. Of wider interest will be the involvement of DC Cooper (Silent Force, Amaran's Plight, Royal Hunt) who has produced the album and also sings on several tracks.
The band's sound contains elements of many different styles. The influences range from the 60s and 70s, to the present day. The band could be slotted into the art-rock/prog-rock camp, but that would be an over-simplified approach. Rowen Poole's guitar playing sometimes lends a 'metallic' edge to the band's sound, though never enough to be considered Prog-Metal. The album's centre-piece is five-song concept piece about King Arthur and Avalon that sits firmly in the folk rock/ new age category. Yet Android Dreams, which follows it, sounds like the B52s covering a track from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Aphrodice, which follows, is a slice of theatrical, synth electronica.
And that I guess, is the problem I've had with this album. There are songs that I really like. There are parts of some songs that I really like. There are long sections, which I can take or leave, and there are a few songs that I really dislike. It's not that they are individually bad songs. It's just that Pyre Of Dreams covers so much ground at a seemingly random pace, that after many, many listens, I'm still not really sure what Persephone's Dream want to be.
Where it works best for me is on the opening trio of songs. Threnody is a great slice of female-fronted, progressive, modern rock - with a folky tinge. There's a simply-effective melody to the verse and chorus, a nice crunch to the guitar, a lovely groove to the rhythm and the whole thing benefits from some lovely, open dynamics. Syneschesia has a darker and slightly heavier vibe but again benefits from some clever changes of pace and an organ that gives it a 60s progressive vibe. Crypyoendolich shifts between the rock anthem melodies of Simple Minds and Xinema, with the progressive moods of White Willow and again has a good mix of dynamics and mood. However, I just can't see that listeners who would enjoy those songs, will also go for the new age-ish mood of Alien Embassy, where the lyrics tell how 'Sweet Apollo in emerald bright' was 'wound up in protean flight'. And if there are such listeners, then will they also enjoy the rather twee, folky, new age approach to story of King Arthur?
Persephone's Dream is an innovative band, who when everything fits together, perform some enjoyable, progressive music where the atmosphere and lyrical themes have a greater influence than ambitious musicianship. Even the songs that I don't really like, have some good moments. To be honest, I'm still not sure what I really think of this album. I may come back to it in a few months and everything will click into place. Equally, future plays may have the opposite effect. The only thing I am certain of, is that Pyre Of Dreams is a very long longie!
NB: There are two versions of this album. I'd recommend the 'special' edition which features the vocals of DC Cooper on two of the tracks in the King Arthur Story. The 'normal' version (with the Queen and Knight on the cover) has female vocals on these two songs, which don't quite offer the same power and variety that the story requires. However, whichever one you get, the alternative versions are lobbed onto the end as bonus tracks. Also congratulations are due to the band, which has just signed to the ever-growing ProgRock Records.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Tigrova Mast - Tigrova Mast
Tracklist: Srcolomka (1:43), Pustinjski Crvi Jasu Po Tebe (2:42), Intermezzo Q (0:27), Dobrojutro Konjska Glavo (1:36), Dervis Pogo (2:21), Sakal Ga Nije Volio (1:57), Intermezzo QQ (0:50), Svinjska Alka (1:35), Di Sam Bio Jucer, Danas Je Lose (1:34), Intermezzo QQQ (0:56), Zlatni Kalasnjikov (3:11), Intermezzo QV (0:44), Mjesec Ko Sablja (3:58), Tehnika Narodu (2:12), Otvorilo Mi Se Celo (0:55), Osveta Shaolina (3:02), Intermezzo V (2:35), Sreca Na Skarabeju (0:18)
OK, this was a tough review, because the band Tigrova Mast is by far the most edgy band to review for a prog site like DPRP. And believe me, I like to do edgy bands... So what we have here is a trio, playing drums, bass and Microkorg. And that is all, no guitars, no keyboards, no vocals, nothing else. Take a look also at the way these guys describe themselves: "Experimental / Thrash / Punk". And I guess they are not too far from the truth. I would also add pseudo-ethnik in the music description.
The music falls into two categories: one which is close to avant-garde and math rock and one which is inspired by Balkan or oriental music. Concerning the former, it can get interesting some times, especially when the listener is used to arrhythmic dementia. So my guess is that if I stretch the similarity way too much, some fans of Watchtower's or Spastic Ink's edgy moments might find it interesting - at most interesting because there is not as much musical genius here as in the bands I mentioned. Actually, something that does come to mind when I listen to this music, is the Moonchild album by jazz composer John Zorn, with the participation of Mike Patton (ex Faith No More). Similarly, we have mad or even spastic rhythm changes, but overall I think that our Croatian trio only vaguely captures the inspiration and variability present in Zorn's works. Tigrova Mast also shares elements with Mr. Bungle, sounds like math-rock or post-punk bands, but in essence has nothing to do with the progressive scene, even in the wide sense of the word. Concerning the Balkan-oriental elements, I do not find them any good, mainly because they do not seem to fit with the rest of the repertoire of the band. Plus, they really give me the feeling that these guys make 99% fun and 1% music. To be fair, I should say that there are good ideas here and there and a fair amount of surprise, not being sure what you will find just around the corner. And these are clues that the band could rely on to build something more convincing.
I should mention that the CD includes a fine quality video of 37 minutes of a live performance of the band, which would make me curious to catch them live sometime. Maybe this kind of music and attitude pay off better when performed live. Overall, in the absence of any pointers for prog fans, I cannot do otherwise than to leave this unrated. Might be something for fans of avant-garde or the post-punk scene to check out, but I find it improbable that progressive music fans will benefit anyhow from giving this release a try. If anyway you are interested in avant-garde and such genres, I guess you would prefer to invest your money in something less pretentious and more artistic.