Issue 2008-019

Reviews in this issue:

The Mars Volta – The Bedlam In Goliath

The Mars Volta – The Bedlam In Goliath
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:Universal Records
Catalogue #:1758443
Year of Release:2008
Info:The Mars Volta
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Aberinkula (5:44), Metatron (8:11), Ilyena (5:35), Wax Simulacra (2:38), Goliath (7:15), Tourniquet Man (2:37), Cavalettas (9:32), Agadez (6:43), Askepios (5:10), Ouroborous (6:35), Soothsayer (9:07), Conjugal Burns (6:39), Candy And A Currant Bun (2:24)

The internet has been a positive force in music in many ways, not least in giving many struggling bands in the progressive rock genre a lifeline, but it has some fairly obvious drawbacks. One, keenly felt by labels and bands, is that albums often appear on-line far before their official release date; another is that no sooner has said music become ‘available’ than there’s a rash of user ‘reviews’ appearing online, often after no more than a cursory listen through, and many from even less than that. So it was with The Bedlam In Goliath, the fourth full-length studio release from ‘new prog’s brightest stars. The common judgements on this album seem to be ’78 minutes at the same high tempo – its just too much’, ‘not enough variety’ and ‘the sound is too compressed and there’s too much going on’. Yes, I imagine you can see the contradictions in these statements, which is a hint that a single listen is certainly not enough to judge this typically ambitious work – even after running through the album many times (well into double figures) it’s still something of a struggle to write a coherent and balanced review, but it has allowed me the time to appreciate the fact that, whilst the album may well appear more ‘in your face’ and less nuanced than predecessors on first listen, there are plenty of hidden depths which only reveal themselves gradually.

The band have returned to a concept idea for The Bedlam In Goliath – this time centring around a ouiji board known as ‘the soothsayer’ that was sold to guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez in Jerusalem; apparently the board was found to have various mind-bending powers and put the band in touch with a variety of characters, including the titular Goliath and a female victim of an honour killing. Whilst ‘the soothsayer’ provided inspiration for the albums lyrics, it took payment in kind by visiting all kinds of chaos upon the recording session, leading the guitarist to bury it deep in the desert. It almost goes without saying that you would glean little of this story from the lyric sheet, which is full of the usual nonsensical but colourful and oddly appropriate jumble of words (a random sample: "I slipped on crooked sores in conclaves that you bothered"), but that hardly seems to matter anymore – this is the sort of thing fans have mow come to expect from The Mars Volta.

Musically, we’re certainly straight in at the deep-end with the one-two punch of Aberinkula and Metatron – listed as two separate tracks but to all intents and purposes one long song, and what a song it is too! Dispensing with any sort of introductory mood pieces, this sets the standard of the album immediately, all driving, punchy rhythms, psychedelic Hendrix-meets-Zappa guitar squalls topped off with Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s shrill Robert Plant-on-helium vocals, here fed through all sorts of weird and wonderful electronic devices. The dexterity and energy of new drummer Thomas Pridgen impresses immediately; his predecessor John Theodore was certainly no slouch, but the new guy really seems to have added an extra ‘zing’ to the band’s sound. As you’d expect, there’s more time changes and swathes of progressive colour throughout than you can shake a stick at; Aberinkula features sections which sound like Funkadelic jamming with a group of African nomads, plus spacey walls of keyboards that could have come from the Magma back-catalogue; the more hard rock inclined Metatron has a pronounced Led Zeppelin feel, due not only to Bixler-Zavala’s vocals but also Pridgen’s tup-thumping performance which recalls John Bonham at his most hyperactive. The icing on the cake is bassist Juan Alderete’s slinky, funked-up bass-lines which move the songs through their various stages effortlessly. These two tracks really succeed in setting a high standard, that to their credit the band do manage to meet at least a majority of the time during the rest of this marathon set.

There’s a very short, blink-and-you-miss-it spacey breather before Ilyena gets going, a chunky, funky track full of fat bass and wah-wah guitar, although as usual there’s a million and one things going on beneath the surface. Bixler-Zavala’s voice is a little more soulful and controlled, at least in the early sections; there’s plenty of reverb involved later on as the song goes spacewards. The short and to-the-point Wax Simulacra was an obvious choice for first single, underpinned as it is with some sharp, crunchy riffs and topped off with as near as The Mars Volta get to a hummable chorus.

Goliath opens with a wonderful squalling, gritty guitar riff; with its psyched-up guitar work, skittering percussion and another punchy chorus, the main comparison that comes to mind is late-eighties Red Hot Chili Peppers. Rodriguez-Lopez really gets to go off on one on this track, with some wildly over-the-top soloing, whilst Bixler-Zavala sounds like he’s been inhaling helium shortly before taking the microphone at points! Whilst there are occasions that you think things are going to fall apart, the band always manage to pull themselves back together just in time. It’s also worth noting the warm Hammond organ work which litters the song, which counters some of the more technical excesses of Rodriguez-Lopez’s guitar histrionics. Following this, Tourniquet Man is the first real chance for the listener to take a breather, although whether a slightly creepy, distortion-filled track really offers much respite is a moot point.

With Cavelletas we’re back on the up-tempo roller-coaster ride, a track that features clear links to Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez’s hardcore roots (in the nineties outfit At The Drive In) but infused with the usual prog-psych craziness. To be honest this is a bit stop-start and patchy, with new sections seemingly faded in and out at will, but when the band hit their stride the effect is certainly impressive – particularly when they employ a horn section on what sounds like a semi-improvised jam, the effect being akin to Miles Davis jamming with avant-garde man John Zorn! Agadez is relatively languid in comparison, combining a fat, roaming bass line with a heavy thumping chorus. The weird warped electronica that is allowed to run riot at the songs conclusion could easily have come from Frances The Mute. The warped feel is still there on Askepos – here its like a 45RPM record played at 33, complete with scratches! A typically disorientating piece, it builds to a fanfare of sorts, before going off on a madly upbeat cul-de-sac, all pounding bass, funked up guitar and scat-like Sly Stone-esque vocals.

There’s a return to full on powered up rock on Ouroborous, with lightning-fast staccato riffing, plenty of forward momentum in the rhythm and a powerful chorus complete with (dis)harmony vocals. Pridgen works overtime on this one, with some elaborate drum fills, whilst a wheezing harmonium appears sporadically in the short gaps between the full-on rocking. With the middle eastern sounds of a call to prayer mingling with that of a Romany gypsy-style violin, Soothsayer offers another feel – the violin players often seems to be battling against blasts of noise, almost as if they are the string quartet from hell! Bixler-Zavala’s vocals often morph from distorted and atonal to sweet and soulful in the blink of an eye. Whilst sometimes seeming like two bands playing at once, there is a strange otherworldly charm to the track.

The final song on the main part of the album, Conjugal Burns, staggers out of the traps like a drunken, tripped out hippy trying to get last orders in at the bar, before developing into an anthemic finale, full of power chords and with an almost sing-a-long chorus. The latter part of the song features an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to both playing and songwriting, topped off with an utterly chaotic sonic montage – well you’d expect nothing less, really. My (UK) copy has a bonus track, a cover of the Pink Floyd B-Side to Arnold Layne, Candy And A Currant Bun. It has a distinctly more simplistic, whimsical feel than much of the rest of the material here, despite having been ‘Mars Volta-ised’, and ends the album on a relatively calm note.

Well, if this has been rather exhausting to read, believe me it’s been more exhausting to write! This is where I tend to agree with some of the internet naysayers – at 78 minutes, and pretty full on for much of that length, the album could probably have done with some trimming, and a few of the songs (notably Cavalettas) might have benefited from a bit more work at tying all the various parts together. This should only go so far of course – after all, part of the appeal of The Mars Volta is their free-wheeling, one-step-away-from-chaos style, and to tame it too much would be to rob the band of much of what makes them special.

In conclusion, this is a strong set of songs which I would probably rate as stronger than its predecessor, Amputechture, but a little below my personal favourite, Frances The Mute. Its hardly likely to sway those who disliked the band before, but for those who are inclined to like the band but found this album initially a little ‘too much’, my advice would be to stick with it, as it does – eventually - yield plenty of rewards for the open minded listener.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10


Panic Room - Visionary Position

Panic Room - Visionary Position
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:FMCD01
Year of Release:2008
Info:Panic Room
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Elektra City (8:30), Endgame [Speed Of Life] (10:11), Firefly (5:16), Reborn (4:57), Moon On The Water (2:59), Apocalypstick (6:07), I Wonder What's Keeping My True Love Tonight (8:11), The Dreaming [a. Waking Dream, b. Arrival, c. Anticipation, d. Realisation, e. The Dream Goes On Forever] (14:17)

In the fast moving world of the 21st century music industry where yesterday's heroes are today's non-entities, there are probably a large number of people, particularly outside those who follow progressive rock, who will have no or limited recall of Karnataka, the Welsh band that for many years looked as if they could be the band to cross-over into the mainstream. Following that bands implosion, the race was on for who would possibly claim the title of successor. Bassist and erstwhile leader Ian Jones initially formed Chasing The Monsoon and then resurrected the Karnataka name with the CTM vocalist and is currently recording albums with both bands; lead singer Rachael Jones joined The Reasoning who released a somewhat mediocre debut album and are set to release their sophomore effort fairly soon. The remainder of the band, keyboardist Jonathan Edwards, guitarist Paul Davies, drummer Gavin John Griffiths and second singer/flautist Anne-Marie Helder established Panic Room, completing the line-up with the recruitment of bassist Alun Vaughan.

What Panic Room have come up with is, an hour long, eight-track CD under the title of Visionary Position, should go a long way to leave any disappointment about the demise of the members' previous band behind them. With Jonathan Edwards taking over all the responsibility of writing all the music on the album, he has the unfettered chance to unleash the breadth of his musical vision. And pretty diverse it is too. Opening track Elektra City gives an almost intentional notice that the band are intent to take the music where they want. The song starts off in a rock fashion with Helder's main vocals treated to sound like a mechanical being in this Sci-Fi tale of technological nightmare. Only on the chorus and backing vocals does Helder's purity of voice shine through. Just when one is expecting a tumultuous ending of man versus machine we get a totally unexpected turn into an instrumental blues-jazz section lead by Edwards' piano. Endgame [Speed Of Life] takes as its template the Led Zep classic Kashmir. With the ethnic drumming at the start, the folksy violin of Liz Pendergast and some interesting electric guitar from Davies (whose only writing credit is on this song) we have the dawning of a classic. Helder sings wonderfully, as she does throughout the whole album, and Peter Charlton, who was responsible for recording the album and adding acoustic guitars to several numbers, adds some light to the shade. The big ballad that is Firefly dominates the next five minutes, a very soothing number that for some inexplicable reason always reminds me of the Uriah Heep track of the same name - bet that is not a comparison that will be drawn too often! There is even a brief keyboard derived Uillean pipe sounding interlude, possibly a humorous nod to the appearance of Troy Donockley on so many melodic progressive albums of late?

Reborn is a pretty straight forward song, not exactly what one would call filler material but definitely what used to be known as an album track, one that wouldn't be considered as a single. As I say, a reasonable song that has its moments, particularly the ending where the electric guitar is allowed off the leash and some Sympathy For The Devil 'Whoo Whoos' creep into the background - much preferable to the spoken lyrics earlier in the song. Pendergast, Edwards and Charlton really shine on the acoustic Moon On The Water providing perfect accompaniment to Helder's vocals in a remarkably lovely song. In contrast to the acoustic nature of Moon On The Water, Apocalypstick opens with an Arabian/Eastern vocal melody that is drowned out by some growling electric guitar. The Eastern flavour returns with violin and keyboard rhythms eventually building until keyboards and guitar frantically exchange solos based around the basic melody. An unusual and exciting song that knocks the spot off the demo that was originally posted on the band's MySpace site a year or so ago.

The folk side of the band materialises with the extended cover of the traditional song I Wonder What's Keeping My True Love Tonight. Considering this song has been covered by some of the greatest folk singers, such as Maddy Prior, June Tabor and, more recently, Kate Rusby, it may be seen somewhat brave to attempt a version of such an established song. However, it proves to be Helder's finest moment. The arrangement, by Edwards and Prendergast, is entirely sympathetic to the standing of the song within the folk music cannon, although the final two minutes add to the originality of the interpretation with the addition of a more progressive ending. Final track, The Dreaming is the seemingly obligatory epic. Like all decent long-form songs there are definite sections to the piece that invoke a variety of moods. At various times we are treated to the only appearance of Helder on flute (as a gifted instrumentalist it would be hoped that more use of her impressive skills is made on subsequent albums), some resplendent acoustic and restrained electric guitar work, a variety of keyboards and a rousing ending to the fourth part, Realisation. It seems like the end of the song when suddenly The Dream Goes On Forever, a tender replay of the song's opening some 14 minutes earlier plays the album out. Well almost, there is a bit more music in the form of a rhythmic piece with prominent drums and spacey keyboards added to the end of the album. Not so much a hidden track more of a bit of fun in the studio that was not in keeping with anything on the album. A bit of light relief I suppose but it can spoil the atmosphere created following the end of The Dreaming.

So there you have it, a solid debut album that in my opinion, knocks spots off the much lauded debut by The Reasoning and surpasses a lot of what was released by Karnataka. Helder's voice is a vital component of this superiority and when added to the compositional skills of Edwards and the musical prowess of the rest of the band the result is very, very impressive. However, much as it is inevitable, it is rather unjust to draw comparisons with the earlier band, for, as the band themselves quote L.P. Hartley on the inner cover of the album "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there". Indeed they do.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10


Barock Project - Misteriosevoci

Barock Project - Misteriosevoci
Country of Origin:Italy
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:FGBG 4728
Year of Release:2007
Info:Barock Project
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: La Danza Senza Fine (6:03), Senza Regole (4:55), Eclissi (9:41), Anima (4:52), Odio (5:17), Quello Che Resta (4:23), Premonizioni (5:57), Volo (4:27), Gentile Direttore (3:41), Luce (4:01), Un Altro Mondo (7:07)

If you were sufficiently encouraged by the DPRP review to purchase Barock Project’s 2006 DVD Live In Auditorium then the tracklist for this CD will look familiar. Misteriosevoci features the same sequence of songs as the live set, minus the solo excursions and ELP/Genesis covers. Also missing is guitarist Vincenzo Pastano, although as Bob’s review acknowledged he featured as a guest musician. Otherwise the line-up remains intact for this debut CD, namely Luca Zabbini (keyboards and backing vocals), Giambattista Giorgi (bass), Giacomo Calabria (drums) and Luca Pancaldi (vocals). As with the live recording the bands playing abilities are beyond reproach, whilst the material may well have benefited from a little studio polish. The Keith Emerson influences are still very much in evidence, most notably in the elaborate arrangements and Zabbini’s intricate piano playing and expansive Hammond sound. This is offset however by a more melodious and less bombastic approach than that associated with ELP.

A visit to the bands website will reveal that they are a very youthful looking foursome. That said given that this is their first album the level of musical maturity is exceptional. The groups name is a play on words as in addition to their prog-rock leanings they have a passion for baroque style classical music. Keys man Zabbini is undoubtedly the bandleader, responsible for all the music and the majority of the words. Surprisingly singer Pancaldi is the only member that didn’t contribute to the lyrics suggesting that he arrived late in the writing and recording process. There’s no doubting his contribution performance wise however with vocals maintaining a consistent presence. Fortunately he has a tuneful and engaging voice that avoids the theatrics to which many Italian singers are prone. Calabria’s meticulous drumming has a touch of the Alan White’s about it whilst Giorgi’s rich fretless bass sound provides a warm undercurrent to the proceedings.

Virtually every track here benefits from a strong melodic hook that maintains a tight grip on the song around which the band weaves their instrumental tapestry. This is certainly true of La Danza Senza Fine, a bold and brash opening statement with a fast and tricky guitar line later picked up by synth. Organ provides a rhythmic backdrop to a very lively and catchy song that’s in the grand tradition of Italian prog. The piano led Senza Regole is in a lighter vein but it swings with a breezy jazz groove supported by animated bass, lead guitar and electric piano embellishments. Eclissi is definitely my favourite track and not because it’s the longest. At close to ten minutes it does however afford the band space to incorporate several moods and themes. With piano and synth taking the lead the main theme is another strong one. So much so that it sounds familiar, but I can’t place it so I’ll have to give them the benefit of the doubt as to its originality. It has a ring of The Tangent in Canterbury mode about it before embarking on a poppy mid-period Genesis style tune around the midway point.

Anima is the first of several mellow tunes, here featuring a melodious combination of sunny acoustic guitar and piano. The memorable chorus benefits from a very fine (and refined) vocal performance. The stirring synth solo that plays out sounds like an optimistic variation on ELP’s Lucky Man. Odio is also reminiscent of early ELP but in contrast it has a gritty Hammond sound with gutsy staccato riffs. It balances bluesy guitar with Baroque flavoured keys and its complex time signature and brooding heavy rock sound wouldn’t sound out of place on Tarkus. The band continue to demonstrate a deft touch with Quello Che Resta, a melodic piano led piece with a crisp drum sound and mellow fretless bass musings. Premonizioni is another standout track, from its bombastic organ driven intro to fluid guitar playing taking in classical style piano on the way. The monumental bass and drum soloing in the latter part is a real joy.

The eloquent Volo will strike a chord with all those that have fond memories of Greg Lake’s memorable chiming acoustic guitar ballads. The reflective vocal is later joined by romantic piano and keys with harpsichord providing a lyrical Baroque style close. The mood changes once more for Gentile Direttore, dominated by a cutting guitar and bass line that bears more than a passing resemblance to Floyd’s riff from Money. The smooth Luce, with its piano and synth strings backdrop sounds suitably relaxed for the most part. Unfortunately the chorus is just a tad too close to MOR for my tastes despite the soaring guitar insertions. Better is Un Altro Mondo, which proves to be a worthy closer. Majestic guitar and Moog exchanges bring to mind the glorious Andy Latimer and Peter Bardens partnership of old. Strident piano, with notes cascading in all directions builds to a peak before subsiding slowly into silence.

With a second album well on its way, this is a stunning debut from Barock Project. A winning formula of catchy material and outstanding musicianship makes for a strong and compelling combination. In addition to his virtuoso keyboard playing Luca Zabbini is also responsible for the lead guitar, which came as a surprise given that it receives scarcely a mention in the album credits. The only fly in the ointment to my ears is the lightweight production. Although voice and instruments are all clearly defined in the mix I found I had to crank up the volume on several occasions to provide the desired presence. But that’s my only quibble, and certainly not enough to distract form a well deserved DPRP recommendation.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10


Guapo - Elixirs

Guapo - Elixirs
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:Neurot Recordings
Catalogue #:NR052
Year of Release:2008
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Jeweled Turtle (13:09), Arthur, Elsie And Francis (10:53), Twisted Stems: The Heliotrope (7:32), Twisted Stems: The Selenotrope (7:45), The Planks (3:11), King Lindorm (15:40)

UK avant-garde instrumentalists Guapo are usually lumped in the ‘Zeuhl’ sub-category, largely due to the fairly obvious influence of Magma in their work. However, their last two efforts, Five Suns and Black Oni, have seen them very much forge a unique sound; both albums are dominated by (and in Black Oni’s case, consist solely of) a 45-odd minute, five part title track which saw the band combining elements of the Zeuhl sound with an unsettling, psychedelic feel (think late 60’s post-Barrett Pink Floyd for a vague reference point) and applying a distinctly post-rockish sense of build-and-release dynamics to create some wonderfully atmospheric results.

Fast-forward three years from the release of Black Oni, and things have changed somewhat in the Guapo camp. Bassist Matt Thompson, a founder member, has left (seemingly to travel down even more experimental roads, if his recent Rashomon project is any indication), leaving (for the purposes of this record) a core duo of Dave Smith on drums and Daniel O’Sullivan on pretty much everything else. Musically there have been some changes too, as whilst Elixirs certainly has plenty of links to the Five Suns / Black Oni ‘sound’, there are more experimental pieces included too.

Opener Jeweled Turtle kicks off in time-honoured Guapo style: with the bashing of a huge gong! The track then builds slowly, almost languorously, with great emphasis placed on every note. The slow deliberate bass drumming, tinkling keys and sonorous organ create a sound that’s very atmospheric although perhaps without the sense of danger or unease present on Black Oni. The mid-section is dominated by violin, played by guest Sara Hubrich in a freewheeling style which concentrates more on atmosphere than melody and reminded me of the cult Australian trio The Dirty Three. The final section of the song features busy percussion (Smith brushing the hi hat as if his life depended on it), glockenspiel and electric piano, working together with some more conventional style violin and viola playing to produce a suitable climax, and one that intriguingly ends with some traditional Indian-style melodies, giving the piece both a mystical and a mournful feel.

Arthur, Elsie And Frances is a more up-tempo track, featuring melodies and rhythms familiar from the previous two albums. The subtleties to some of the playing here is best listened to on headphones, particularly Smith’s percussive work – he seems to have a workout session on each piece of his drum kit during the length of this piece. The conclusion of the track features some trippy, spacey electronica – I would have been interested to see what would have happened had the band extended this and ran with it.

The next two pieces, both going under the banner title ‘Twisted Stems’, represent the first major departure from the sound moulded on the previous two releases. The gong that opens The Heliotrope may be familiar, but elsewhere it’s cut from a different cloth; gliding by on a fat bassline, with seemingly random piano added by O’Sullivan on top, it features an almost mantra-like vocal from guest Alexander Tucker. Whilst it could be said that the track has a vaguely hypnotic feel to it, it gets rather repetitive after a while. Unfortunately, The Selenotrope is even less appealing; with the random elements turned up further, and with cult female ‘vocalist’ Jarboe (not a singer I find appealing) wailing away in the background, I found myself pushing the ‘skip’ button whenever this came on.

The relatively short blast of The Planks is also a departure in sound, but a more welcome one; it almost sounds like the work of an Eastern European folk troupe with its quickly strummed guitars and rollicking drumbeats – one for dancing round a campfire at dusk to, perhaps? Whilst this is an entertaining diversion, it’s the final epic track King Lindorm which easily steals the title of best on the album. With its ominous chimes and descending electric piano notes, it quickly builds via tingling keys and careful bass notes into a suspenseful piece which echoes the work of Italian horror-soundtrackers Goblin. The track travels neatly through different tempos and melodies, keeping the suspense up throughout. Latterly O’Sullivan adds some thick, distorted guitar work to the mix, adding a new dynamic to proceedings. Some racing basslines and pulsating synths bring a new spin to the track in its final stages.

So, overall another pretty strong Guapo release, albeit with reservations. These chiefly revolve around the Twisted Stems tracks, which simply don’t seem to fit with the rest of the material; I note that a slightly different version of these tracks was released as an EP back in 2006, and it might have been better to leave them there as a separate entity. That being said, there are some great tracks on Elixirs, particularly Jeweled Turtle and King Lindorm, and the experimentation on these tracks – keeping the basic formula so successful on Five Suns and Black Oni yet adding new elements to it – do succeed in adding something to the band’s style, and hopefully its this angle they’ll be pursuing on future releases under the Guapo name.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10


Jeremy - Mystery And Illusion

Jeremy - Mystery And Illusion
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:MALS
Catalogue #:MALS 264
Year of Release:2008
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Mystery Train (9:37), Sky Song (7:47), Moon Turning Red (4:00), Dark Hole (6:53), High Rider (10:07), Float Upstream (7:00), Teardrop Explosion (6:26), Save Me (7:57), What Do We Know (3:33), Mystery And Illusion (7:37)

When you look up Jeremy Morris (vocals, guitar, bass, drums, mellotron, piano, synthesizers) on the internet you will find an impressive catalogue of musical output, with more than 20 releases between 1990 and now. Psychedelic Beatles-esk power pop songs are his trademark but he also releases albums with piano music, cover songs, acoustic guitar albums, Christian music and progressive rock albums. There is even a Jeremy tribute album with the title Jam With Jeremy. In 2008 alone Jeremy has released a DVD (Pop Rules: The DVD with videos from his 2001 power pop album of the same name), this album and another progressive rock album entitled Glow In The Dark and with this year just four months old!

Before receiving this album I listened to the songs on his MySpace site. There are some wonderful power pop songs with a big Beatles influence to be heard there, so I was very curious about this album.

Jeremy is, as you can see, capable of handling a lot of instruments. On this album he is assisted by Dave Dietrich on drums and percussion. According to the record company Mystery And Illusion is Jeremy at his most psychedelic. Jeremy has a pleasant voice that certainly reminded me of the Beatles and John Lennon in particular and the vocal parts show that Jeremy has a good ear for melody especially when he adds some background/harmony vocals. Musically however this album is a bit of a disappointment. First of all there is not much diversity within the songs making most of the material seem far too long and the number of heavy and psychedelic guitar solos determine the songs lengths. I also have a problem with the overall sound of the album - it sounds very thin and one dimensional.

As I said before; the vocal melodies are quite nice but musically they are not. For example High Rider’s vocal parts are interesting enough but the entire song is directionless, with not enough good ideas for the ten minute duration, and there are more songs that suffer from that same fate. Float Upstream is dominated by backward sounds, some guitar soloing and Jeremy’s vocals - it sounds nice but after four minutes all falls quiet, so you expect something else, however for the remainder of the song we get the same backward sounds with a guitar solo now added via keyboards. The song eventually ending with some keyboard sequences and the Tron - a bit boring I’m afraid.

However it’s not all bad because on the last four songs things do improve, especially What Do We Know, which is a lovely little song. Teardrop Explosion has an electronic feel to it and the music fits the psychedelic vocals which reminded me of the eighties band The Teargarden (with Edward Ka-Spell from the Legendary Pink Dots). Also the up-tempo Save Me is a good song. After an atmospheric opening there are some nice verses and choruses and a very focussed guitar solo, and for the first time on the album I hear some nice bass guitar. The song has a Barclay James Harvest feel to it and it’s the best song on the album. Another good song is the title track - again the acoustic guitars, the vocals and electric lead guitar between the verses are Barclay James Harvest and in the middle of the song there is a beautiful part with piano, strings and an electric guitar. Really nice!

So all in all a bit of a mixed bag. Maybe it has something to do with his enormous number of releases per year, but I strongly feel that some of the songs on this album could have done with a bit more attention. The same applies for the sound and production. However the last couple of songs show that Jeremy is capable of writing a good and interesting tune. If you are into psychedelic rocking songs with lots of screaming guitar solos then you need to check this album out. Personally I think I’ll stick to his wonderful power pop albums.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10


Kramer - Life Cycle

Kramer - Life Cycle
Country of Origin:The Netherlands
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2007
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Homecoming (7:11), Remember Me (7:16), Identity (8:08), Escape Into A Dream (8:35), A Farewell (7:28), We Mortals (11:23), I Believe (4:57), The Final Chord (9:22), Life Cycle (6:37)

Kramer is a neo progressive rock band from The Netherlands originating in 2001 and their music is heavily influenced by bands like IQ, Marillion, Pendragon and Pink Floyd. The band has a very professional attitude and they have not gone unnoticed, having already played live as openers for bands like Galahad, Pallas, Blind Ego and also toured with Manfred Mann's Earth Band.  Life Cycle is their long awaited debut which is a concept album about a brother and a sister who are looking for their father. 

The main man of Kramer is singer and keyboard player Marc Besselink, who has written the music for all the songs, and his piano playing and vocals are a very distinctive part of the sound of Kramer. His voice is a reminiscent of Peter Nicholls from IQ - more hypnotizing but with less reach and diversity.

The first part of the album is very mellow with numerous piano parts, as can be found on Homecoming, where they fill the major part of the song, alternated by Pendragon like guitar solos. Remember Me on the other hand opens like Learning To Talk from Pink Floyd. After the speaking part more heavy guitars and IQ like keyboards dominate the sound, and just like the music from IQ this song suddenly changes rhythm and then back again. Identity again starts off in a mellow fashion, just like Homecoming, with the chorus taking it up a step or two but after the chorus the song returns to the distinctive piano sound. Escape Into A Dream opens with a piano tune similar to Fugazi from Marillion, with some heavy parts building up but never really firing off.

Up until this point all has been very dreamy, however A Farewell puts some more energy into the music with a nice beat, a bass melody and a chorus filled with keyboards. Halfway through the song turns into a more Pendragon kind of style and the end is again softer. We Mortals opens with even more energy than the previous song, which transfers into an ambient slow centrepiece reminding me of ambient parts from Riverside. Guitar solos build up to the final part of the song which swells up to a cacophony of sounds and vocals. At the start of I Believe drums build up with guitar notes similar to Empty Spaces from Pink Floyd's The Wall. This song really rocks and it's compactness makes this songs one of the best from the album. The Final Chord is a beautiful composition which has all the elements of Kramer's music. The first half holds the piano and hypnotic vocals with the second part, long and ongoing guitar solos in the style of Nick Barret from Pendragon - best song on the album.

The song Life Cycle can be compared with the title track on Arena's concept album The Visitor, both are positioned at the end of the album and a bit of a summary of sounds, moods and feelings which were created throughout the album. A piece of music to gently step out of the album and return to the real world.

Life Cycle is a very good debut and a very ambitious album. The elements that are distinctive to Kramer's sound are the piano parts in combination with the hypnotizing voice of Marc Besselink. These dominate this album and could become a bit too much. His voice does not have the reach or soul to remain interesting for a very long time and the piano parts are not diverse enough to really stand out. I Believe is the only compact song on the album and immediately more interesting, whereas some songs are a bit overstretched. If you have the patience this album is an interesting musical trip, but when not in the mood this album can become a bit boring.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10


Space Ritual – Otherworld

Space Ritual – Otherworld
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC2011
Year of Release:2007
Info:Space Ritual
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Return (1:44), Otherworld (6:11), Black Corridor (2:32), Bubbles (7:35), Communique II (1:37), Ritual Of The Ravaged Earth (3:22), ASDF (1:09), Sonic Savages (6:23), Droid Love (3:43), Time Crime (4:22), Arrival In Utopia (2:20), Atomik (5:01), The Riddle (6:47), Notes From A Cold Planet (4:25), Walking Backwards (5:02)

I’ll do Space Ritual a service by referring as little as possible in this review to Hawkwind. Yes, the band was formed by Nik Turner, and five former members of Hawkwind play on the album; furthermore, Turner himself says in the promotional material that this band means to “take on the original spirit of Hawkwind.” But I’d prefer to consider the album out of that context (and thus avoid the nearly forty years of baggage it would bring), because although this album sits firmly in the “space rock” genre, it is, to my ears, a modern and vibrant example of the genre, not one simply surfing a nostalgia wave.

You know, if this band had existed, and this album had been released, in the mid-seventies, when I was buying my first Rush albums, I can almost imagine that Space Ritual rather than Rush might have become my lifetime-favourite band. No, the two bands don’t sound anything the same; my comparison is between the concepts and the scope of the two bands’ albums (I’m referring of course to Rush’s seventies albums). Lyrically, this is fun stuff, and if Space Ritual doesn’t have Neil Peart, it does, on several songs here, have former Hawkwind collaborator Michael Moorcock doing the lyrical honours. Turner himself writes the words for several of my other favourite songs here. As one example, you’ve got to love a verse like...

“Rotting eagles in the noonday sun
Sliver hand on a silver gun
The king is dead stoned, long live the king
Ravens cackling, cackling”

(...from The Riddle) – especially the way it’s intoned rather than sung in Turner’s rather deadpan vocal delivery.

Musically, this band actually reminds me a great deal of Skyclad – a great deal indeed, especially as heard on my favourite of that odd thrash/folk band’s albums, Oui Avant Garde á Chance. Like Skyclad, Space Ritual makes great use of acoustic guitars and half-sung, half-spoken vocals (but beware what comes very, very close to rap in the verses on title track Otherworld); but they add the occasional bizarre but effective saxophone solo and of course cool seventies-sounding synthesizers, perhaps most amusingly in the blips and bleeps of the excellent Ritual Of The Ravaged Earth (which also features Moorcock’s best lyrics here). Oh, and there are actual strings, too, used to greatest effect on the atmospheric intro to Sonic Savages. In fact, that song is itself almost a microcosm of the album as a whole. It’s subtle but powerful, lyrically intense, musically diverse and yet relentless with its neo-Kashmir repeated riff. The band’s really cooking here, and this fine song is the album’s centerpiece, perhaps even manifesto.

Other highlights in a uniformly strong track list even include some of the briefer interludes that punctuate the longer songs. My favourite of those is probably Droid Love, essentially a four-minute saxophone solo over mournful keyboards – and that’s high praise from me, because I am not a fan of the saxophone in general. That piece, though, actually succeeds in embodying musically the oxymoron of its title. The Black Corridor provides a lovely, ominous segue from Otherworld to Bubbles, with ethereal electric guitar and spoken (I might almost say “stated”) lyrics riding atop spacey-sounding synthesizers. And synthesist Del Dettmar’s pensive ASDF works superbly as a prelude to the excellent Sonic Savages. My point is that on this album, unlike on too many concept albums, even the minor pieces are wholly successful compositions, not just fitting but necessary in the conception of the album as a whole.

An excellent album, this. I suppose that listeners who genuinely don’t like space rock or concept albums in general mightn’t care for it, but I love it and recommend it highly. I hope this isn’t a one-off project and that public response to Otherworld is sufficient to encourage this group to start work soon on another album.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10


7for4 - Diffusion

7for4 - Diffusion
Country of Origin:Germany
Record Label:MGI Records
Catalogue #:MGR 1023
Year of Release:2008
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Diffusion (5:54), Indigo Dunes (5:55), Emoctify (4:50), The Winding Path (6:45), Silent Flow (7:44), Cyclotron (4:24), Spiral Dance (6:24), Hidden Depths (5:32), Mystic Mouse (5:11)

Many of you may be familiar with Wolfgang Zenk’s work with the progressive metal band Sieges Even. While drawing a few similarities, 7for4 can best be described as fusion that borrows heavily from many other genres. As the booklet best describes it:

"Whether Rock, Funk, Jazz or even Country and Latin 7for4 pack the best elements from different styles into extraordinary and progressive compositions."

With a majority of the influences coming from the metal, jazz and even shred.

The first thing that becomes apparent is that almost this entire album is driven solely by the Wolfgang’s guitar work. A few songs such as Emoctify and Cyclotron sound a lot like Premonition era Tony Macalpine with many harmonized guitar parts and even similar melodies.

The amount of influences on this album was what really kept me coming back for more. Silent Flow is a slower, blues based song with excellent melody and very tasteful guitar playing. Spiral Dance has an initial flamenco vibe to it which then progresses nicely into a heavier section that retains the same feel. My favourite track by far is Mystic Mouse. There is a slow, syncopated, ominous feeling at first which then leads into a few Liquid Tension Experiment inspired riffs that wouldn’t really be out of place on Biaxident or When The Water Breaks.

A good thing to keep in mind about Diffusion is that, as opposed to a lot of other fusion type bands that have many bass and keyboard based sections as well as guitar, this is almost all based around Wolfgang Zenk. Even as a guitarist I have some reservations about music strictly based around guitar because I enjoy what the other musicians can bring to the table when given adequate room to play. This is one of the few cases where an album such as this made a huge impression on me. Not only does the style of music shift from song to song, it does so seamlessly within songs while remaining largely coherent. As with all music such as this, it does require some time to begin to hear to subtleties in compositions as opposed to a jumbled mess that it first sounded like to me.

Highly recommended for fans of fusion, world and metal based instrumental music.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10


Osada Vida – Three Seats Behind A Triangle

Osada Vida – Three Seats Behind A Triangle
Country of Origin:Poland
Record Label:Metal Mind
Catalogue #:MMP 0568
Year of Release:2006/2008
Info:Osada Vida
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Passion (1:42), 1st Seat - Driving Desires To Become The Aim [17:23] ~ Pictures From Inside (Part I) - Colours & Notes (6:14), Pictures From Inside (Part II) - Unlimited Mind (6:20), The Decision (4:49); 2nd Seat - And Desires Are The Most Delicious Thing Of Routine [17:45] ~ Devotion (Part I) - After Hours (6:43), Devotion (Part II) - Flying Time (5:53), Tension Blossoms (5:09); 3rd Seat - Constant Rhythm Of The Routine Makes All Dreams Unaware [18:24] ~ Everyday Ltd. (6:48), Boiling Point (5:51), Bitterly Disappointed (5:45), The Rebirth Of Passion (8:10) Bonus Tracks: In(s) Thru Mental (4:55), ... And Don't Shut The Door (10:00)

Originally released in 2006, this, the third studio album from Polish band Osada Vida, has been re-released by Metal Mind Productions in expanded form. A quick glance at the track listing and sleeve notes will whet the appetite of any fan of the long song format. The album is made up of three lengthy suites (or as the band could call them, ‘seats’), bolstered by an intro and outro.

The concept is refreshing and inventive. It examines the gulf between the dream and the reality; of being an achiever and a failure in a chosen field. Some dreamers fail to fulfill their ambitions. Metaphorically they occupy the unwanted seat in the orchestra, three seats behind the triangle. Despite this, they retain their passion. The lyrics are in English throughout. T's an idea that really works for me. Each of the pieces is segmented into three parts (making each ‘seat’ even more hidden). However the music is cohesive and contiguous.

While the band seems to classify itself as ProgMetal, to the ears of a long-standing listener of that genre, I’d say the music to be found here is better described as ‘heavy prog’. The guitar of Bartek Bereska does regularly display that trademark metallic riffs but that is merely one element of the band’s sound. They spend far more time indulging in the symphonic end of the ProgRock spectrum. Apparent influences include bands such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer, fellow countrymen Satellite, and more recently Arena. There are occasional Marillion and Dream Theater moments too.

Rafal Paluszek possesses an admirable collection of keys. His expanse of synthesisers, mellotron and Hammond, creates some expansive soundscapes as the setting for each suite. When combined with the heavy riffing of the guitars, it creates a retro' yet thoroughly up-to-date atmosphere. There are frequent sections with acoustic guitar or piano. These add a lovely equilibrium.

Musically this is a very solid, varied, challenging and adventurous piece of progressive music. The melodies aren’t obvious and will take a fair few listens to sink in, so this is only really for the Prog fans with a bit of patience.

The one big problem I have with this disc is the vocal performance of Lukasz Lisiak. Those who’ve read my reviews before, will know that I can be fussy about my singers. Good singers, male or female, can make me really enjoy an average album in their own right. An average singer can ruin an otherwise good album for me. A bad singer makes it hard to give any album repeat listens. Lisiak is neither a good nor an average singer. His vocals jar with the work of the instruments, and fail to convey any emotion, or any of the drama being told in the lyrics. Most of the time he is badly out of tune. It appears that some sort of rescue job has been attempted on the mixing desk. It puts some sort of echo on his voice, but just makes it sound as if he’s singing at the other end of a tunnel. At times he is so far back in the tunnel, that you can barely hear what he’s trying to say. As I say, I am fussy with singers. Some may like this ‘indie’ sort of approach. But if like me, you're particular with your singers, then approach with caution.

Osada Vida is a band name that has until now not made it far out of their home country. However the reliable distribution of Metal Minds should change that. If you can get past the vocals, the music on offer should be of interest to anyone who likes their Prog on the more expansive and heavier end of the spectrum.

My mark below is weighted by my personal dislike for the singer. If you can ignore the voice more easily than I, then you may want to add a couple more points.

This re-release includes two additional tracks recorded especially for this version. The first of these, In(s) Thru Mental is indeed an instrumental, which shows off the improvisational side of the band. ... And Don't Shut The Door, meanwhile emphasises Osada Vida’s melodic side.

It will be quickly followed by their new album, The Body Parts Party to be released by Metal Minds on 16th June in Europe, and 8th July in the USA (via MVD).

Conclusion: 5 out of 10


Here And Now – Coaxed Out From Oxford

Here And Now – Coaxed Out From Oxford
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Clearspot
4 Zero Records
Catalogue #:FZ004
Year of Release:1983/2007
Info:Here And Now
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: 23 Skidoo (4:28), Heart Of The City (3:43), The Mega Number (5:50), Salvador (3:21), Ways To Be Free (5:43), Theatre (4:28), Heartbeat (5:25), Fantasy Shift (4:16), Secrets (9:45), Opium For The People (5:17), Glad You’re Here (4:45) Bonus Tracks: Last Chance (6:39), Stoned Innocent Frankenstein (2:44), Jimmy Mac (7:14)

From the brittle, fossilized bones of Gong ascended Here And Now, who started purely as an improve band and who in the eighties had morphed into a traditional “song” outfit. Coaxed Out From Oxford is a recording of a live show from 1983, and the reissue features three bonus tracks from a 1984 show. The line-up at the time was Deano Ferrari on guitar and vocals, Gavin Da Blitz on keyboards and vocals, Keith Th’ Bass on bass (duh) and vocals, and Paul “Baby Face” Rose on drums.

This particular outing sees the band serving up a cheesy sound, today sounding so dated as if to defy the band’s name. The eighties sound is similar to that of Carl Palmer’s PM band from the same era. Arena rock of Journey and Kansas is referenced as well, and at other times the time period of the recording allows for some punk style rave-ups, notable on Salvador and bonus track Stoned Innocent Frankenstein. In another period era comparison, Da Blitz’s militant synths evoke Devo on Heart Of The City and The Magic Number, the latter of which ends in a Keith Emerson - style flourish. Many tracks mix the synths with Keith Th’ Bass’s up-tempo bass to create a reggae or dub sound evoking The Police and The Specials.

The composition of the songs is okay; they are certainly catchy here and there, but not prog. The totally cheesy keyboards could be surpassed today by any nutjob with a Casio, and the quality of the remastered recording is still marginal at best.

The CD’s packaging is very well done, in a colourful glossy gatefold and booklet with liner notes.

Coaxed Out From Oxford will most likely appeal to any fan of reggae style music or anyone who waxes nostalgic for eighties arena rock. If you are looking for prog, this isn’t it.

Conclusion: 4 out of 10