Album Reviews

Issue 2007-047

Reviews in this issue:

The Flower Kings - The Sum Of No Evil

The Flower Kings - The Sum Of No Evil
Country of Origin:Sweden
Record Label:InsideOut
Catalogue #:IOMCD 285
Year of Release:2007
Info:The Flower Kings
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: One More Time (13:05), Love Is The Only Answer (24:30), Trading My Soul (6:25), The Sum Of No Reason (13:25), Flight 999 Brimstone Air (5:10), Life In Motion (13:30)

Geoff Feakes' Review

This brand new release from The Flower Kings has been trumpeted as a return to the former glories of earlier albums like Stardust We Are and Retropolis. In Roine Stolt’s own words this is “Flower Kings to the max”, explaining, “We wanted to make a real hardcore symphonic rock and prog album”. He also makes the bold claim that “Any fan of early 70’s prog up until the first UK album should love this album”. There is certainly a feeling of nostalgia that pervades the album with lines like “Play that song just one more time” and “It’s like coming home, coming home again” taken from the opening and closing songs respectively. Musically there is an attempt to sidestep the mainstream rock, jazz and ambient elements that have crept into the band’s sound of late with a return to the symphonic style that characterised their best work. Totally in tune with the concept is Ed Unitsky's surreal artwork, a comment on the hippie culture that embraced prog rock during the early 70’s. It could be argued that Unitsky is fast becoming Roger Dean’s successor for providing prog with a recognisable face with his distinctive album covers for TFK’s, The Tangent and Manning amongst others.

With its striking synth fanfare intro, One More Time is a superb opener. Sounding suitably strident, uplifting and melodious it realises Stolt’s intentions perfectly. Jonas Reingold features prominently in the mix with inventive bass work often doubling the melody in addition to providing rhythm. Hässe Froberg takes care of the vocal chores sounding in fine form whilst Tomas Bodin is given full reign with a tour de force display of keyboard virtuosity. Mellotron, Moog and Hammond all feature strongly to create a sound that’s almost classically baroque at times. A low-key staccato organ shuffle repeated by (louder) guitar makes a brief appearance courtesy of GenesisWatcher Of The Skies. In fact the Stolt and Bodin combination is for me often reminiscent of vintage Hackett and Banks. Not so much in the sound, which is pure Flower Kings, but more the cohesive interplay achieved. At times the fusion of guitar and keys on this release is so complete that it’s difficult to tell which is which.

The albums requisite epic Love Is The Only Answer is next up and for most of its near twenty-five minutes has all the right ingredients. The song’s title and memorable chorus line is lifted from the 1970 Yes track Then. The prog veterans also provide the inspiration for several of the musical parts including a reflective Mellotron and bass section. In a similar vein are the mellow guitar and organ moments, which in turn bring Focus to mind. The piece incorporates an almost endless run of changing themes, tempo and time signatures driven by full on drumming from Zoltan Csörsz, his first work with the band since 2004’s Adam & Eve. It doesn’t all flow seamlessly however, with a low-key instrumental jazz excursion that sounds a tad out of place. This time Stolt handles most of the vocal duties with Froberg providing the obligatory heavy rock moment that he does so well. Sadly it lacks a truly killer ending settling instead for a lengthy and overblown guitar solo. Something of an anticlimax given the strong build up in the proceeding twenty plus minutes.

Trading My Soul has a stately, slightly sombre tone but with a rousing chorus nonetheless. It’s one of the albums most coherent songs with sympathetic keys effects including Rhodes and Mellotron samples. It plays out with an intense guitar solo that packs quite a punch. A distinct departure for the band as is The Sum Of No Reason that follows. Frantic King Crimson and bombastic ELP instrumental flights contrast with an engaging oriental melody that bares more than a passing resemblance to the Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Sylvian 80’s hit Forbidden Colours. Bizarre vocal effects, Emerson like organ punctuations and wah-wah flavoured guitar soloing that strays into blues-rock territory are all part of the incongruous mix. Keeping things on more familiar ground is long serving percussionist Hässe Bruniusson, adding glockenspiel to guitar and keys evoking the trademark FK’s sound of old.

Given its title you would be forgiven for thinking that Flight 999 Brimstone Air is the son of Circus Brimstone from Stardust We Are. True it is an instrumental and it does share some of the quirkier moments of that track, but there the similarities end. Bodin’s compositional contribution is a slice of avant-garde slapstick that Gong would be proud of complete with wacky Thermin sounding keys, manic laughter and (dare I say it!) a drum solo. This is the band at their most off the wall with only the punchy but melodic guitar adding a sense of normality. The concluding Life In Motion is a song of two halves, so much so that the final part sounds like it was added as an after thought. The opening song section with Froberg and Stolt sharing vocals is not the most memorable from the band but the mellow Jon Anderson like harmonies before the pause are sublime. A drum roll announces a majestic coda reminiscent of Yes’ Ritual with soaring vocals and stirring Steve Howe style slide guitar. This is possibly the albums finest moment providing a suitably uplifting finale.

Whilst for me the band have done enough to earn a DPRP recommendation (I am a devoted fan it has to be said) in the final analysis this is a good, rather than a great Flower Kings album. Following an excellent start, melody wise it seems to lose its way roughly two thirds in and only fully recovers for the closing section. I’m also left with the feeling that in their endeavours to produce a pure prog sound the band have to some extent thrown the baby out with the bathwater. For instance there is none of the band’s gentle ballads or little evidence of the lush piano and acoustic guitar moments that enriched Paradox Hotel. On the plus side the production is quite possibly Stolt’s most dynamic to date. Due to the fast track deadline for this review I listened to the disc mostly in the car and to be fair it sounded OK. However once transferred to my hi-fi system, the sharp rendering of the band’s busy arrangements was a revelation.

With this release following closely on the heels of the last, the band should be applauded for their prolific output of late. This I would suggest is partly a result of Stolt dissolving his involvement with Kaipa and The Tangent to concentrate exclusively on Flower Kings business. As you would expect the musicianship throughout is impeccable and I would happily put this CD on repeat play just to hear Reingold’s monumental bass work. Whilst Froberg’s vocals are an integral part of the band his guitar playing is not so readily discernable. Only when the songs have been transferred to the live stage can his contribution be fully appreciated. Which is a useful reminder that with the CD’s release over two weeks away there will be an opportunity to hear the new songs premiered at this weekend’s SYMFORCE festival.

Dave Baird's Review

Quite a lot has been said by Roine on the recording of this new Flower Kings CD, what were his aims and goals which you can read in depth here but to summarize in a few words he wanted to cut out the jazz and pop elements that have crept into Flower Kings music in recent releases and go right back the solid prog basics. To help achieve this goal they recorded in a studio with vintage analogue equipment and instruments, especially for the all-important keyboards - Moog, Hammond, Fender-Rhodes etc. On top of this the Marcus Lillequist was unavailable to record this CD as he had commitments with his other band so Zoltan Csörsz has returned to fill the drumming duties. Despite Marcus' excellent performance on the Instant Delivery DVD there will be many people delighted to see, or rather hear, the much loved rhythm section of Jonas and Zoltan reunited. It's also fair to say that Roine has been hyping this new CD quite a bit, he's really stoked over it, is the hype to be believed or not...

Flower Kings releases need sufficient time to reveal themselves fully, despite the strong melodies they contain they're quite challenging to break into and The Sum Of All Evil is no different in fact it's even harder than usual given indeed the lack of more accessible pieces on the album. Perseverance is they key and, in this case some careful listening at a decent volume as the CD doesn't lend itself at all to casual listening when you're not familiar with the music. Despite the changes in recording approach there's no doubt from the first moment that this is The Flower Kings, they've such a trademark signature sound that you're feeling a little comfortable just with that alone. Zoltan's presence is really there too, he's got such a distinctive style and gels with Jonas so well, there's a real The Truth Will Set You Free vibe going on here. Interesting too is that rather than singing whole sections (or complete songs) Hässe and Roine share the lead vocals and combine for harmonies regularly. Perhaps, as you would expect the keyboards do sound markedly different from usual - there's clearly a lot of old instruments being used here evidenced by the fat, deep and lush sounds. The Moog leads are particularly vibrant sounding somewhere between Moraz than Wakeman circa 1973/4. There's plenty of Mellotron on offer too although this is perhaps samples rather than the real thing and much more organ than you'd normally hear. One thing for certain is that all these lovely synths need some attention and volume to be appreciated, a session with the headphones in a quiet room is highly recommended. And what more can be said about Jonas' bass playing? Solid, fluid, punchy, inventive all of this and more, he's magnificent and once again affirms his position on the top of the prog bass pile.

Musically Roine's not misled us, the pop and jazz noodling are mostly gone although anything with Zoltan as he drummer will always have that laconic, jazzy, swing groove which delights so many (including myself). The opening track, One More Time reminds a lot of Yes at their peak starting with a relatively simple, catchy song interspersed with series of complex instrumentals that really smack of Transatlantic at times, I guess to be honest we could just say it sounds like The Flower Kings, yes, that's the band I was thinking of! Love Is The Only Answer is the "epic" on the album again with a lot of Yes and Transatlantic overtones. It's not an easy track to take-in but rewards attention and patience, and is sure to be a big hit with the fans. Sounds to me that they've got that chap Ulf Wallander playing alto sax all over this one too which of course hearkens back to Space Revolver. There's a great guitar solo to lead the track out.

Trading My Soul is the closest we get to Paradox Hotel having some overtones of Under Bavarian Skies but without the weirdness. What is does have is a killer sing-a-long power chorus which on the first few listenings is the one tune that does stick in your head. Great vocal interplay from Roine and Hässe again, the vocals really work well throughout and there's some real wonderful melodic guitar work as well as some melodramatic piano work (both combining to curiously remind me of the fade-out of Lady Grinning Soul from Bowie's Aladdin Sane). The shortest and most accessible piece on the album but lovely, really lovely. The Sum Of No Reason would fit nicely into the Stardust We Are era, it's really quite choppy and shifts around quite a bit and watch out for the Todd Rundgren's Utopia section around the 11 minute mark. Tomas has chosen to revert to some of his more traditional keyboard sounds here without resorting to his whacky patch collection, no this he has reserved for Flight 999 Brimstone Air - what would you expect with a title like that? Here we get the full palette of chickens, screams, spring, growls, weird sci-fi, horses and the like along with the lead sounding like it's being played on a Theremin tube, only Tomas can do this and get away with it! Zoltan's given free reign to go for it too, the drumming is incredible with the middle (strange noise section) even giving Bill Bruford a run for his money, excellent stuff and completely over the top :-)

Which leads us to the final track, Life In Motion which once again could have been from an earlier Flower Kings era. Also one of the easier track to penetrate on the CD it's has pure Flower Kings all over it - that means of course that you'll hear some definite Yes influence, in this case particularly in the Moog and Mellotron work. The track is divided into two with the first eight minutes being concerned with the song (if you could call it that) and the final four and a half devoted to a bombastic section initially with sweeping guitars before launching into a very satisfying vocal section that has end-of-album feel all over it as all good old prog records were wont to have in days gone by. The ending is so uplifting that although if closes the album beautifully it leaves you longing for more but that's it folks.

A whole Flower Kings CD with not an moment of wasted space, perhaps nothing particularly new either but rather a distillation and refinement of what's gone before. This is pure Flower Kings and taken as a whole is their best album to date, sure perhaps some other releases had some magnificent tracks but they also had some less good ones also, this is all good. It's not obvious though needing some effort and attention to appreciate and penetrate its complex but relaxed approach, but once you get there what pleasure!

2007 has been a year of exceptionally high quality prog and The Flower Kings have done us proud by continuing that trend, after a slow start I've realised I love this album very much, existing fans can buy it with confidence, the Flower-King-curious shouldn't be afraid to try it out. I have no option but to award a perfect 10...


GEOFF FEAKES 8+ out of 10
DAVID BAIRD 10 out of 10

Riverside - Rapid Eye Movement

Riverside - Rapid Eye Movement
Country of Origin:Poland
Record Label:InsideOut
Catalogue #:IOMSECD 283
SPV 79612 CD
SPV 79610 DCD
Year of Release:2007
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Part 1 - Fearless: Beyond The Eyelids (7:56), Rainbow Box (3:36), 02 Panic Room (5:29), Schizophrenic Prayer (4:20), Parasomnia (8:10) Part 2 - Fearland: Through The Other Side (4:05), Embryonic (4:10), Cybernetic Pillow (4:45), Ultimate Trip (13:13)

Dries Dokter's Review

Riverside hardly needs an introduction, their star rose to great heights in the prog community so if you have not heard of them before then you have probably ended up on the wrong web site or this is a first time visit. I am not saying that everyone that reads this should like Riverside but I would find it hard to imagine if this is the first time you had heard of their name.

The two best reasons for the fame of this enthusiastic band, hailing from Poland, are of course: Out Of Myself and Second Life Syndrome their two previous albums. But their live performance and down to earth way of approaching their fans will also have added to this fame. And now their third album - an album release that has been awaited with much anticipation - expectations are very high for this one.

This is the last album of the "Reality Dream Trilogy": a story of a man looking to find himself, digging into his feeling, trying to find out who he is.. I could be blunt and say that this album does not live up to that anticipation but that would be selling this album short and even more, it would not be true. What is true however, if one is expecting an album along the lines of Second Life Syndrome those expectations will not be met. This album is very recognizable as a Riverside album but the "normal" ingredients are not as noticeable as on the first two but if you keep comparing this album to it's predecessors you will not come to like it. If, however, you judge this album on it's own merits you might learn that it is very enjoyable and in fact a great album. It must be hard for Riverside to win this one: an album more similar to the first two would have been described as just that: too much of the same thing. A different album like this, will very often be described as: missing the winning ingredients of the first two. It must be admitted that it will take a couple of spins before the complete structure of the tracks unfolds itself and the appreciation can begin.

The album is divided into two chapters. The first chapter is named Fearless: The first track of the album Beyond The Eyelids makes clear that this album is still guitar oriented but keyboards have been given a larger role. The same can be said for the voice of Mariusz Duda - and what a fine voice that is. The flow of this track sounds like Dance With The Shadow from Second Life Syndrome. (Alternating guitars and keyboards, rocky and mellow). Rainbow Box has an even rockier guitar with a funny keyboard bell like sound. Like always the bass guitar is very melodic in nature. 02 Panic Room has been released as a single and has been available on the band's MySpace page for some time. It is a track with a Björk like bass guitar driven rhythm and luckily the weeping guitar of Piotr Grudziński is also present. There is a strange break near the end of the song: all of a sudden it becomes a mellow, vocals, guitars and piano. A mood that is continued in Schizophrenic Prayer a track with very good vocal melody line. The music is modest, just supporting the vocals, small guitar riff and a simple rhythm. Parasomnia starts of with vocals only that after a few lines get supported by keys, that soon take over with atmospheric tones and a haunting bass run after which it goes into typical Riverside music. Clear bass runs, atmospheric keyboards, spot on but complicated drums a weeping guitar and all that in a track lasting over eight minutes.

The second chapter of this album is called Fearland: Through The Other Side is a mellow track again a leading role for the vocals accompanied with an acoustic guitar. Embryonic goes along the same lines but has more powerful vocals (a bit like OK from Out Of Myself). Cybernetic Pillow starts off with a quiet guitar loop again after which slowly the rest of the band joins in and the track swells to a greater power and again great Piotr G. guitars. It was this track that finally won me over. This track was the key for me to decide that this is indeed a splendid album (again)! And then the longest piece of the album to top it all of: Ultimate Trip - one of the best tracks of the album.

A lot of people will probably decide that this album is not nearly as good at the previous one, and that is not too harsh a statement because Second Life Syndrome is a great album. And I must admit I too liked the previous album more than this one - but it is a very close call. This is a splendid album that needs some getting used to. Once you get it, you will again have gained a friend for your CD player. Riverside is indeed becoming a prog legend!

Martien Koolen's Review

Their second album Second Life Syndrome was one of the best prog metal albums of the year 2005. I think that, that was due to the fact that Piotr Grudzinski dominated that album with his staggering guitar hooks, solos and melodies. In my review then I concluded that it would be very hard for these guys to top that remarkable CD and after a lot of listening sessions of Rapid Eye Movement I can say that it is not as nearly as good as Second Life Syndrome.

The nine new songs can be categorised as follows – of course this is only my humble opinion – four majestic songs, three good tracks and two rather dull mediocre disappointments. Let’s start with the weak songs; Through The Other Side is an acoustic song with weird soundscapes lasting more than four minutes, which are almost the dullest four minutes of my life... This sheer “misser” is followed by another almost unworthy Riverside song called Embryonic. This is again a boring acoustic track, ending with a melodic guitar solo, although that really does not “save” this extremely mediocre song.

The three good songs are: Rainbow Box, 02 Panic Room and Schizophrenic Prayer. Especially 02 is a typical Riverside song filled with mysterious, emotional vocals and some gooseflesh melodies, although the semi-acoustic guitar solo and the piano part in the middle are a bit too soft for me. Rainbow Box is a straightforward rock song with a catchy chorus and some head banging riffs, reminding me of the Porcies. Schizophrenic Prayer is a ballad like track with a nice melody and some oriental guitar melodies, although the rhythm is too much of the same, and actually too long.

Finally, the great songs! The CD opens with the amazing Beyond The Eyelids which is prog metal at its best. Some great guitar riffs dominate this track and the vocals are melodic, dreamy and sometimes even rather dark and melancholic. The guitar solo at the end is heavenly. The second highlight is called Parasomnia, a song that also could have been on their previous album. This one is so typical Riverside, featuring: amazing melodies, characteristic hooks and riffs and some breathtaking guitar solos in the middle and the end of the song.

The last two tracks are also very worthwhile. Cybernetic Pillow is a guitar orgasm from the beginning till the end and the epic Ultimate Trip is really the ultimate Riverside trip, featuring dreamy melancholic parts and again the out of this world guitar solos/melodies by Piotr Grudzinski.

This album, again a mix of bands like Porcupine Tree, Tool, Anathema and Dream Theater, but also the Riverside trademark - being the fabulous guitar sound of Piotr – is one of the musical highlights of this year, but I still consider their previous one a lot better.

Let’s wait however and hear how the new songs will sound like live stage on Saturday in Tilburg at the Symforce Festival ...

Guillermo Palladino's Review

After two years the wait is finally over! A brand new album from one of the most outstanding prog rock acts I’ve ever heard from Poland - Riverside. What you’re about to read will make all of you feel that I’m overreacting about this release, and… you know? You will be right!

I discovered this band in late 2004 with their incredible debut Out Of Myself. The mixture between ProgMetal, Gothic, Industrial elements and Space Rock has smashed my brain ever since I first heard their music. After all this time, three releases and an EP, you can identify many elements from their musical influences through the years: Tool, Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree, Anathema, Pain Of Salvation… Finally I think that they have discovered their own musical style and I can say that with this release, Riverside place themselves as one of the most important bands in the progressive scene during the last four years.

Once again the musical arrangements give the guitars and keyboards space - fulfilling the main role on this album as always with Lapaj and Grudzinski playing cohesively and establishing their singular style of play and sound. Combined with the work done by the bass and drums this results in a totally balanced work of art. Mariusz Duda’s voice comes back more powerful than ever, but at the same time more intense and delicate - his ability in the bass playing department also maturing. Kizoeradski’s skills on drumming are amazing, he dominates entirely the constant changes and also gives a balance between power and feeling.

This album is presented as the last part of what the band has defined as "The Reality Dream Trilogy" in which they explore "the realms of the different states of mind as a result of the balance between failure and success and the effort made to surpass the depression and taking strength from a failure".

Part One: Fearless:  Beyond The Eyelids is a very intense opening for this album and one which you can anticipate from the crescendo intro, that it will leap into a very powerful track. Incredible arrangements in guitar (with a mix effects: distortion, wah-wah & flanger), bass notes in the most pure Riverside way, combined with the work done in vocal choruses by Duda to make this one of the best songs from this album. Rainbow Box is another powerful song, with elements that immediately reminded me of Porcupine Tree with some arrangements in the guitar and piano suggesting King Crimson. After that we have a more industrial experiment that results in another incredible track: 02 Panic Room, and for a few seconds I thought that a Björk song was starting - but this was only temporary. The bass and guitar sounds are clean, but dirty at the same time - the keyboards provide a perfect ambience in the background, with some orchestral arrangements thrown in - and along with the drums gives this song all the power it needs.

Schizophrenic Prayer is an interesting song in which the guitar and bass again dominates the melody, but this time interacting with all the choruses sung by Duda. The mixing between voices, whispers and his particular style of singing gives to this song some kind of mystical and mysterious halo. Parasomnia is a typical Riverside song, powerful, with huge arrangements and changes in the rhythmic structures - all the instrument interventions are balanced, with no absence of sound and there is no wasted time in this track.

Part Two: Fearland: Through The Other Side is the opening for the second section of this masterpiece - a softer track on this album, with a beautiful guitar arrangement, which again has some Pain Of Salvation elements combined with Space Rock taking place in this ballad. With Embryonic we have a more Porcupine Tree influenced song, that reminds me of In Two Minds from the Out of Myself album.  These two songs are a very soft introduction that prepares you for the ultimate and outstanding finale for this album. Cybernetic Pillow is another Riverside-stylish song, in which the changes in the drum rhythms and the ambient keyboards match very well with the guitar and bass riffs and solos played by Grudzinski and Lapaj. Ultimate Trip is the last song for this album which musically seems to be the most similar to the previous "Reality Dream" releases.  In this song we have a full display of all the band members, again all the spaces are filled with incredible arrangements, notes and solos. These guys really know how to place every single note in the right place across the song. As a closing song for this album perhaps this was a little bit softer than the other songs. I particularly thought that a heavier song would be more appropriate for a finale, but this is a tiny thing compared with the whole work.

In conclusion - do you still consider “buy it” as an option? For me is one of the best releases of this year, and without doubt I’ll give to them a proud 9.5 out of 10!


DRIES DOKTER - 8.5 out of 10
MARTIEN KOOLEN - 8 out of 10

Focus - Focus 9 ~ A New Skin

Focus - Focus 9 ~ A New Skin
Country of Origin:The Netherlands
Record Label:Red Bullet
Catalogue #:RB 66.253
Year of Release:2006
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Black Beauty (4:13), Focus 7 (5:22), Hurkey Turky 2 (4:03), Sylvia’s Stepson – Ubutuba (4:48), Niels’ Skin (6:03), Just Like Eddy (5:08), Aya-Yuppie-Hippie-Yee (5:20), Focus 9 (7:57), Curtain Call (4:32), Ode To Venus (4:26), European Rap[sody] (10:22), Pim (3:00), It Takes 2 2 Tango (8:01)

In the early 70’s Focus conquered the world with a unique sound, using whistling, nonsensical vocals, falsetto singing and yodelling - Focus created a genre of it’s own. Thijs van Leer on organ and flute and Jan Akkerman’s distinctive guitar style representing the core of the band, which after many international successes Focus split up in 1978 only to reunite for a television show in 1990. In contrary to Kayak this didn’t result in a reunion. In 2002, Thijs van Leer reformed Focus, without Jan Akkerman, and the album Focus 8 was recorded.

Just like in the old days Focus underwent some personal changes before recording their next album. Veteran Pierre van der Linden returns to the band and takes the seat behind the drums. The return of van der Linden's distinctive jazz-influenced drumming style strongly moves the band closer to the original 70’s Focus sound. Guitar player Jan Dumée is replaced by unknown and young (27 years of age) talent Niels van der Steenhoven. At the age of 22 he was awarded 2nd place in the competition for best guitar player of the Netherlands. Thijs van Leer and bass player Bobby Jacobs complete the band.

Black Beauty immediately takes off in the familiar Focus style like their hit single Sylvia. The familiarity in the Focus sound is highly noticeable but it’s surprisingly fresh and sounds inspiring. Focus 7 is a slow song which features some sensitive guitar melodies. This song shows that Niels as a replacement for Jan Akkerman is as good as one can find.

Hurkey Turkey 2 is a more complex song with lot’s of time changes. It starts as a pounding rock song and evolves into a song in which flute and guitar melodies entwine. Only to be interrupted with an intermezzo of Mozart with some funny vocals. Sylvia’s stepson Ubatuba is not a sequel to Sylvia but more a sequel to Focus 7. As the title shows Niels’ skin is written by Niels van der Steenhoven. He plays some very funky riffs alternated with a soulful guitar melody. Just Like Eddy is the only song containing vocals sung by Jo De Roeck. After a slow start with some bird noises Aya-Yuppie-Hippie-Yee songs starts rocking. With some crazy vocals by Thijs van Leer this is one of the most pleasant songs on the album.

Focus 9 is a typical slow Focus that, like Focus 7, is in the style of music played in a restaurant while dining. Curtain call is a rock song with aggressive flute playing and lot’s of time changes. Ode To Venus is, again, a slow song that could be played in a restaurant. European Rap[sody] is an explosion of sounds and tunes. The song starts slow but comes alive when a fiery Trojka is played. The songs results in a cacophony of sounds and the shouting of old Focus song titles. Highlight of the album. After that it’s a big change to the uplifting, easy digestible and commercial like tunes of Pim. It’s a tribute to Pim Jacobs, a well known Dutch musician and uncle of bass player Bobby Jacobs. It Takes 2 2 Tango is another restaurant song that could be referred to as desert.

Focus did not break any boundaries but certainly came up with a surprisingly fresh album. The return of Pierre van der Linden gives a more jazzy sound, returning to the early Focus. The compositions are very diverse but maybe one too many easy listening restaurant song. Niels van der Steenhoven has proven to be a very good replacement for Jan Akkerman. Fans of Focus should not hesitate and embrace this album.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10


Lazuli - En Avant Doute

Lazuli - En Avant Doute
Country of Origin:France
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:FGBG 4660.AR
Year of Release:2007
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: En Avant Doute (3:02), Laisse Courir (5:11), Le Repas de l'Orge (5:07), Capitaine Coeur de Miel [part II] (5:03), La Valse à Cent Ans (4.20), Film d'Aurore (4:26), Ouest Terne (3:32), L'Arbre (4:18), Cassiopee (6:36)

Bonus DVD: Live At The Odeon Theater [total time 25:33]: {Límpasse (3:55), L'Arbre (5:27), Le Repas de L'Ogre (5:17), Laisse Courir (4:45), Mal De Chien (4:13)}, Little History of "La Léode (4.50), Le Repas De L'Ogre [video] (5:11), Amnésie (live at Bergerac) (5:27), Behind the scenes (39:12), Photo Gallery

French prog bands a somewhat of a rarity. Or rather, there quite a few of them, but they all seem to operate in a little niche, and the outside world rarely gets a glimpse of them. The best-known French prog band is likely to be Ange, and subsequently every French band gets compared to them. This is especially the case with Lazuli, which are not only compared to Ange, they also cover one of their songs on this album. Now I don't know much about Ange, but I do know what I like. And Lazuli, I like a lot! I first saw this band last year at the Progpassion festival, where their unusual performance completely blew me away. Now this album (their third) has the same effect - it went straight to the top of my best album of the year list!

The line-up of Lazuli is a bit strange: two percussionists, Yohan Simeon playing a stand-up drumkit and percussion, and Frederik Juan on assorted percussion as well as marimba and vibraphone. Then there's Gederic Byar on electric guitar, Sylvan Bayol on Warr guitar and Chapman stick, Dominic Leonetti on vocals and acoustic guitar and lastly Claude Leonetti on "La Léode". As if the (keyboard-less) set-up of the band isn't strange enough, the Léode is definitely the strangest of all, and largely (though not solely) responsible for the band's unique sound. The Léode is a unique instrument, and there is only one in existence. It was invented by its player Claude Leonetti, who lost the use of his left arm in a motorcycle accident and thus lost the ability to play guitar. Determined to continue in the music he created an electronic device which is played by sliding the fingers over a neoprene pad. The instrument works pretty much in the same way as the Haaken Continuum fingerboard, which Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater uses, and not entirely surprisingly it the sound is quite the same. However, where the Continuum is played like a keyboard, the Léode is held upright like a Chapman stick. The device is hooked to a midi controller and basically any sound can be played with it, but Leonetti mainly chooses to play distorted guitar-like sounds, with the exception of Laisse Courir which features the only real guitarsolo on the album, and where the Léode is used for synth strings.

But it is not just the Léode show. Bayol creates great, deep bass sounds with his Warr guitar (which is like a Chapman stick with 15 strings, played by tapping the fingers on the strings) yet he resists the temptation to start showing off.. Frederik Juan's marimbas add an unexpected organic touch to the music, and for the most part these make up for the lack of keyboards. And Simeon's odd drum set-up results in very unusual, yet powerful and driving rhythms.

Describing the sound of the music is somewhat of a difficult feat, as it is practically impossible to describe the music based on other bands. It is unlike anything I have ever heard before. Prog, folk, world music mixed with a heavy and intense instrumentation. It has an intensity like early King Crimson, yet because of the lack of keyboards takes a very organic feel, much in the vein of early Peter Gabriel. The Léode takes care of the keyboard parts, sounding sometimes like a samples string orchestra, and other times reproducing those tortured guitar sounds made famous by Adrian Belew or Mike Oldfield. The music sometimes echoes early Porcupine Tree, and at other times there is a hint or Muse in there. Singer Dominic Leonetti often sounds like Geddy Lee with a wider range, yet his melody lines more in the vein of someone like Steve Hogarth. The result: a completely unique sound!

While the song structure is pretty similar throughout (couple of sung verses, then Léode solo) the album never gets boring; the first reaction I usually have at the end of the album is press 'play' again. Stand-out tracks for me are the Ange cover Capitaine Coeur de Miel (part II) and the longest track on the album Cassiopee. Capitaine Coeur de Miel (part II) starts with Leonetti singing quietly, backed with a high pitched guitar strumming, and each verse the vocals become louder and more intense, with Dominic Leonetti screaming the last part on the top of his lungs. Meanwhile the music grows louder and heavier, building towards a climax which comes in the form of a spine shivering three-minute Léode solo, which is just so utterly intends and beautiful it makes my eyes water each time I hear it (warning: don't play this album while driving!). The Léode sounds just like an electric guitar, but the device is able play pitches and scales that are impossible to achieve with a regular guitar, which makes the solo just absolutely stunning. Cassiopee is my other favourite on the album. Starting with some spooky effects, the vocal section of this song contains the best melody lines of the entire album. The very quiet and atmospheric mid-section reminds of Porcupine Tree, but that comparison is soon shattered once another chilling Léode solo brings the song and album to an end.

Other highlights are the Eastern flavoured L'Arbre, with a very folky second half, the dark and spooky Le Repas de L'Ogre and the terrific heartfelt vocal performance in Laisse Courir.

The CD comes with a bonus DVD which features half an hour worth of great live music, filmed at the L'Odéon on Nîmes. As good as the album is, the best way to appreciate this band is in a live setting, where it sounds much rawer. The DVD also contains a very well-shot and edited short history of La Léode. Very well (and funnily) done, and even more funny is the English language option, where it becomes clear that Leonetti doesn't peek a word of English! Furthermore there is a 40-minute 'behind the scenes' documentary about the band's visit to Baja Prog in Mexico, as well as a few other festivals. Though definitely of the 'home movie' variety, it is fun seeing the French make fun of interviewers that speak languages they don't understand. Interspersed with this footage is more live footage of some songs not included in the Nîmes set.

For me Lazuli is the greatest new discovery of this year and En Avant Doute is a strong contender for best album of 2007. The band will kick off proceedings at the the small room at Symforce, and make sure you catch a glimpse of them, as they're definitely worth it. Visit the band's Myspace for two complete songs (including the stellar Cassiopee and many live videos.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10


The Flower Kings - The Road Back Home

The Flower Kings - The Road Back Home
Country of Origin:Sweden
Record Label:InsideOut
Catalogue #:IOMCD 276
SPV 79532 DCD
Year of Release:2007
Info:The Flower Kings
Samples:Click here


Disc 1 [77.43]: Cosmic Lover (6.14), A Kings Prayer (5.34), Stupid Girl (4.41), Cosmic Circus (3.12), Babylon (2.00), Paradox Hotel (5.40), World Without A Heart (3.50), Church Of Your Heart (6.11), Vox Humana (4.21), What If God Is Alone (6.42), Starlight Man (3.28), Grand Old World (5.02), The Road Back Home (8.52), Cinema Show (11.56)

Disc 2 [75.48]: Ghost Of The Red Cloud (4.41), Painter (6.48), I Am The Sun (Part 2) (4.22), Different People (5.14), Little Deceiver (3.56), Chickenfarmer Song (5.06), The Rhythm Of The Sea (4.40), Touch My Heaven (5.45), Life Will Kill You (6.36), Monkey Business (4.21), Compassion (4.44), The Flower King (10.54), Stardust We Are (Part 3) (8.41)

I have often claimed that the best Flower Kings albums are compilation albums. In 12 years time Roine Stolt & co have released a staggering 17 hours of original studio material (not counting solo material and side projects) which makes it for the casual fan nigh on impossible to properly get acquainted with their backcatalogue. Therefore my favourite two Flower Kings albums are Scanning The Greenhouse and Meet The Flower Kings.

The former compilation album was released in several versions, and the one I have was released on the Musea label back in 1998, providing a good overview of the first few years of what the "Floki's" are all about: Seven songs, seventy minutes, with the best songs of their first four albums. Meet The Flower Kings was unfortunately overshadowed by the mediocre DVD release of the same name, yet the CD is in fact the best possible collection of Flower Kings epics one can wish for, played to perfection in a semi-live setting. However, both these albums focused on The Flower Kings' epic scale of songwriting. After all, this is prog, right?

Inside Out now brings a new compilation, which focuses on the shorter, more song-orientated side of The Flower Kings, 27 tracks, of which most have been remixed, remastered or in some cases even reworked in order to keep the core fanbase interested as well. The compilation also includes one previously unreleased song in the form of Little Deceiver a left-over track from The Rainmaker sessions.

The other rarity of Roine Stolt's take on Genesis' Cinema Show, which was previously released on the Musea version of Scanning The Greenhouse and a Genesis tribute album. It is a very decent cover version, relatively close to the original, yet with enough added 'Swedeness'.

The remainder of the album is a well-balanced selection from all Flower Kings albums, as well as Roine Stolt's debut The Flower King (the full band re-recording of the title track). Despite a slight emphasis on the last couple of albums (as is often the case with compilation albums) The Road Back Home contains all the minor classics like early live favourite Church Of You Heart, a shortened Compassion, an extract of I Am The Sun pt 2 and the stunning finale of Stardust We Are. In the extensive liner notes Roine Stolt tells about the origins of each track and explains what has been done to the track in terms of remixing or reworking for this compilation, which makes for an interesting read.

The album is a good introduction to the world of The Flower Kings, especially for those unsure whether they want to buy the extensive back catalogue or not. That said, the best tracks of this band are of epic nature, and for that the other two mentioned compilations fit the bill better.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10


Main Stage

16.00 - Focus
17.40 - Riverside
19.40 - Pendragon
21.50 - Flower Kings

Kleine Zaal

16.30 - Lazuli
18.30 - Pineapple Thief
20.30 - The Aurora Project

Bat Cave

17.00 - Lady Lake
19.00 - Isopoda
20.50 - Beardfish
23.00 - Bootcut

Album Reviews