Reviews in this issue:
- The Rebel Wheel – Diagramma
- Alcest – Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde
- Angel Of Eden - The End Of Never
- Theodore Ziras - Hyperpyrexia
- GDeVA - Bubbles, Bubbles...
- King Crimson - The ConstruKtion Of Light
The Rebel Wheel – Diagramma
Tracklist: Threads (8:00), Three Valley Gap (2:11), Diagramma (21:22), Tempra (4:35), Hiding In Waiting (6:42), Arachnophobia (5:58), Awakened (11:33)
10T Records are fast becoming a name to watch, with a promising roster of (just about) established names (Man On Fire, Little Atlas) and promising new outfits (Bolt, Fluttr Effect). Ottawa’s The Rebel Wheel can be added to the latter category; although they have been around in one form or another since 1991, this is only their second release, and the first to get proper distribution. Seemingly the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist/ vocalist David Campbell, who writes the lion’s share of the material, all five of the band members seem to be able to multi-task, meaning that it is very difficult to work out exactly who is playing what at any one time! Between them these guys (and a girl) certainly have some chops, and would also appear to come from diverse musical backgrounds, as Diagramma is one of those beasts of an album for a reviewer which is very difficult to classify.
The band’s label describes their music as ‘modern, genre-blending progressive rock’, and I guess that’s as good a description as any, as there is both a blend of genres (there are elements of fusion, prog, new wave and funk at play here, to name just a few) and sounds, ranging from some very modern sounding drum loops and electronica to some vintage keyboard sounds that are from the dawn of the original progressive rock era.
Opening track Threads rides in on a fat, loping, vaguely funky bass line, a sound which becomes throughout the album something of a trademark. There’s a distinctly dark tone to this track, helped by the icy swathes of synths which are used sparingly yet effectively – the tone is not dissimilar to that used by Rush on Subdivisions. Campbell’s vocals linger in the background rather than taking the lead, but this works effectively. Parts of the song could almost have come from UK dark pop pioneers The The circa their Infected album, but just when you think you’ve got the band sussed, they throw in some jazz fusion-esque rhythms and a fluid guitar solo in the Joe Satriani vein… its that kind of album.
The short instrumental Three Valley Gap is a chance for a breather; a pastoral number with gently picked acoustic and mellow synths – maybe its just the fact that it comes before a 20-plus minute epic, but I couldn’t help but be reminded of Genesis’ Horizons – at the very least it is something you can imagine adorning a Steve Hackett solo album. It’s a cop-out to say that a lengthy epic forms the centrepiece of an album, but here it really is the case, as the title track of Diagramma is a tour de force that encapsulates the strengths of the band. The busy opening section contains a number of very dextrous and busy rhythm lines, around which one of the main melodic themes - a keyboard line which again brought Subdivisions to mind for some reason – is woven. This eventually subsides, allowing the mellow vocals to dominate a quieter section, which also features some delicate and affecting guitar work, reminiscent of Pat Metheny’s solo acoustic album One Quiet Night – the harmony vocals featured here carry echoes (sorry!) of early seventies Pink Floyd. Unsurprisingly we’re soon dragged away from this reverie into alien territory again, with the re-emergence of the fat bass lines allied to mechanical rhythms and robotically delivered vox. Some quirky loops and jazzy guitar solo’s in an Allan Holdsworth style are interspersed with stabs of electric piano and a thundering backbeat; unsurprising leading to another quieter section where the band catch their breath. Genesis (and Suppers Ready) really can be cited as an influence here, as a melancholic mellotron melody picks out a melody over which you could pretty much sing the lines of Ikhnaton And Itsacon And Their Band Of Merry Men; likewise the bouncy rhythms that follow could probably be inserted behind the vocal melody of Willow Farm without anyone noticing! Before you’ve had a chance to wallow in this fact for too long we’re off again into a quirky, rocky section with nice chord progressions and some particularly strong vocal work from Campbell – nothing fancy, he just has a good turn of phrase and uses his modest abilities well. A spiralling, slightly Ozric Tentacles-esque keyboard solo is probably the last thing of major note, and the song does perhaps fizzle out a bit as it reaches the end, but you can’t blame the band for being as exhausted as the listener must be by now! The description I’ve given may lead you to think this track is just a mishmash of styles and influences, but its to the band’s credit that they can take all these diverse elements and make them into something so vital-sounding and compelling.
Next up is Tempra, a hard edged instrumental jazz fusion work out, again featuring some grooving baselines, suitably stylish guitar licks in a Holdsworth vein and some very old school prog keyboard lines – definitely a slightly spacey vibe to this track, and perhaps suitably The Rebel Wheel’s compatriots Spaced Out come to mind at times, as once again do the Ozrics.
Hiding In Waiting is a relatively mellow yet dark-tinged slow-to-mid paced number, the bass once again driving the song along. There’s a vaguely reggae-ish feel to the guitar work – think again of Rush, this time Lifeson’s work on Digital Man and The Enemy Within. I like the celestial choir effect on the second verse, although the lengthy jazz-inflected guitar solo is rather interminable.
The Rebel Wheel are back in instrumental mode for Arachnophobia, which again shows plenty of dexterity in the arrangements and the playing. Its not surprising that drummer Alain Bergeron had a hand in the writing of this one, as there are plenty of natty drum fills to be heard. Lots of good grooves on this one, and its nice to see sax player Angie MacIvor get a rare moment in the spotlight.
A scuttling drum beat leads us into the closing Awakened, with the languorous vocals providing a counterpoint to the busy percussion. Its another example of the band’s uncanny ability to mix mellow with edgy, and there’s a lengthy instrumental section with plenty of elongated bluesy guitar work and some more sax, as well as a rare chance to hear MacIvor sing some lead – she has a pretty good voice which compliments Campbell’s well, and I’d like to hear more of this combination on future releases. So overall – a very diverse but somehow cohesive album that should provide plenty of enjoyment for prog fans across the spectrum. The band’s influences are easily discernable, certainly, but in the main they’ve managed the not inconsiderable feat of establishing their own sound whilst flirting with a large number of different styles. A recommended release, then, and definitely a band to keep an eye on in the future.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Alcest – Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde
Tracklist: Printemps Emeraude (7:19), Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde (6:08), Les Iris (7:41), Ciel Errant (7:12), Sur L’Autre Rive Je T’attendrai (6:50), Tir Nan Og (6:10)
Another month, another album by an artist principally associated with black metal delving into entirely unrelated waters – seemingly a trend over recent years. In this case, 22 year old Frenchman Neige (presumably not his real name!) has taken a break from producing one-man albums of primitive BM to submerge himself in much more melodic, ethereal waters.
The mood for Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde (‘Memories Of Another World’) is set by the photography adorning the cover and booklet. In addition to the evocation of childhood innocence on the cover photo, there are pictures of a calm ocean, sun dappled forests and tranquil lakes. It’s a perfect accompliament to the melancholic, pastoral musical landscapes that Neige paints here.
This is resolutely a guitar album, but instead of the bluster and power chords of black metal, Neige unleashes wave upon wave of hypnotic guitar noise a’la 90’s ‘shoegazer’ bands such as My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive, adding plenty of jangling and strumming over the top and interspersed with some more delicate pastoral picking. There’s little solo work here – its all about creating an atmosphere. Other instrumentation is very basic – the bass lines (where audible) are unimaginative, as is the percussion (which is presumably from a drum machine) but that hardly matters here. Neige’s ethereal vocals (sung in his native tongue) float effortlessly over the top of this celestial wall of noise, serving in effect as another instrument.
This isn’t really an album of highlights – more a work to enjoy as one entity – but the title track perhaps serves as the ideal introduction to the album – if you like this, there’s more where that came from. Elsewhere, Audrey Sylvain’s guest vocal on Sur L’Autre Rive Je T’attendrai adds an intriguing extra dimension to the sound which Neige might have made more use of; this song also features some bolder and more interesting percussive work. Tir Nan Og, meanwhile, represents the biggest departure from the Alcest ‘signature’ sound, adding (as the song title suggests) a pronounced celtic influence to proceedings (Clannad and Enya being clear influences here).
Overall, Neige/ Alcest has produced a very listenable and at times highly evocative work which should appeal particularly to fans of latter-day Anathema, as well as those prog fans (and I know there are a few) who, back in the prog desert of the early nineties found solace in the likes of classic ‘shoegazing’ albums such as My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. If Neige produces another Alcest album, it would be good if someone could hand him a bigger budget, as this certainly betrays its origins as being almost completely the work of one person working in isolation, but its still a solid and enjoyable listen.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Angel Of Eden - The End Of Never
Tracklist: The End Of Never (4:18), Dreamchaser (4:08), Angel Of Eden (5:14), Return Of The Pharaoh (Pt. I) (5:42), The Battle Of 1386 (6:50), Into The Black (3:44), Return Of The Pharaoh (Pt. I) (1:46), Keys To Avalon (4:22), Stampede (4:08), Towards The Light (6:18), You Don't Remember, I'll Never Forget (4:31)
Angel Of Eden is the new band project from Artension guitar player Roger Staffelbach. He is joined by vocalist Carsten 'Lizard' Schulz (Evidence One, Ex Domain), drummer Rami Ali (Evidence One) and keyboard player Mistheria (Bruce Dickinson). Artension band mates John West (Ex Royal Hunt) and Steve Di Georgio (Ex Testament) are presented as guests, but the latter plays bass on each song. Other guest performances are performed by Ferdy Doernberg (Axel Rudi Pell) and Dave Shankle (ex Manowar).
The sound of Angel Of Eden doesn't differ very much from Artension, but it's definitely Roger Staffelbach's who is pulling the strings. He decided to play the guitar when he heard Yngwie Malmsteen's album Trilogy and on the first spin, without knowing this, I drew exactly the same conclusion. The style is commonly described as neo-classical progressive metal. Fast guitar playing and power chords supported by a vast amount of double-bass drums. The keyboards create a dark atmosphere and, just like in Artension, every song features a high speed keyboard solo. The guitar and keyboard battle is a contest who can play the most notes in a bar.
Roger Staffelbach has created a solid album that is a big step forward from Artension. All tracks sound very powerful and the musicianship is of high class, the vocals by the Lizard are excellent. This album is not very diverse but each song has it's own characteristic melody or chorus. You Don't Remember, I'll Never Forget is a cover taken from Malmsteen's album Trilogy. A nice try but it also painfully shows that Angel Of Eden is nothing more than a high class Malmsteen-cover-band.
Whether or not you will like this album depends on the fact whether you like Yngwie Malmsteen or not. Copying Malmsteen is a risky adventure because he has already copied himself numerous times. Not taking account for that fact this is a very good album. Neo-classical progressive metal of high quality wrapped in a powerful production.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Theodore Ziras - Hyperpyrexia
Tracklist: Child Of Scotland (4:10), Such And Such (3:33), Rapid Eye Movement (2:52), Solitude (5:21), Seven Courses (4:10), Salvation (3:34), Number One (3:40), Night Of The Dead (5:51), Hyperpyrexia (4:15), Go East (3:27)
For many years now, I have been following the work and side projects of Derek Sherinian. This eventually led me to Greek guitarist Theodore Ziras’ new album Hyperpyrexia. Theodore draws most of his influence from 80s neoclassical metal guitarists such as Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai and Greg Howe. While I have never considered myself someone who despises shred, it has just never had a great impact on me. This led me to have some initial bias but, fortunately there is not much here that really succumbs to the clichés which led me away from the genre in the first place.
Hyperpyrexia begins with Child Of Scotland, a very melodic and catchy song. The opening melody bares a striking resemblance to that of the famous Guns N' Roses song Sweet Child O' Mine. There is an excellent solo trade off section between Derek and Theodore in the end.
Such And Such has very strong leaning towards older Surfing With The Alien era Joe Satriani with a touch of Tony Macalpine inspired improvisation.
Rapid Eye Movement is a full on shred tune a long the lines of something that Yngwie Malmsteen or Jason Becker would have written. This is best described as a three minute barrage of notes.
Taking a break from the fast paced openers, Solitude moves in a triumphant and even sombre direction. There are many great harmonized guitar and keyboard lines that make this one of the few songs that really sticks me with after it is over.
Seven Courses is the first song to really make use of odd meter shifts. This song has a great Middle Eastern feel and more excellent solos.
The next three songs, Salvation, Number One and Night Of The Dead do not stray much from the formula set by the previous songs. If anything it becomes a little monotonous by this point. The patterns of opening riff, guitar solo, keyboard solo and outro start to become obvious. Even after repeated listens I was at a loss to recall what was just played.
Hyperpyrexia pivots around a heavy, syncopated riff not too much unlike Alien Hip Hop by Derek Sherinian and Virgil Donati’s fusion band Planet X. There is a great melody and even some of Derek’s signature spacey chords on here.
Go East is not very different from any of the previous songs in terms of composition, style and delivery.
I have made heavy references to many other guitar players whose influence can be readily heard here, so by now you should know whether or not this will appeal to you. If you enjoy fast, harmonized guitar and keyboard oriented metal than this would be perfect to look into. I would place this album higher above many other similar albums in genre because there is an emphasis on some forms of structure as opposed to just creating lightning fast riffs. The drawback however is that all of the songs are very formulaic and don’t really fit in their own niche. I found myself loosing interest in this, even after many spins. For fans of shred and instrumental rock only.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
GDeVA - Bubbles, Bubbles...
Tracklist: Mechanism - 32 (13:15), Impr. In Studio (9:40), Autobahn (4:21), Wintersong (18:50), Zakolduj [Put A Spell] (13:39)
From the very outset I'm going to put my cards on the table and say that I didn't really enjoy this album. So I'm going to keep my comments short and hopefully to the point.
Over the years and as a musician rooted in the rhythm section I have spent many an hour jamming along with fellow musicians, with the vague hope that something positive will emerge from those sessions. My memories of such events are that they went on infinitum, with some enjoyable moments, but mainly providing the solo instrumentallists an avenue to experiment and improvise over. Seldom did they produce anything that I would wish to keep and least of all, produce something I would wish to record and release as an album. GDeVA obviously don't share my opinions and Bubbles, Bubbles... is the fruits of five such jam sessions "recorded live-in-the-studio with no overdubs in two days". The resultant music is raw and with little in the way of studio production.
The three piece line-up of Andrei Petrov (guitars), Valery Berestov (bass) and Alexander Kravtsov (drums) deliver up rather sparse, spontaneous and experimental psychedelic rock instrumentals. At best they have a gentle, soothing texture and at their worst they are tedious to the point of annoyance. The accompanying literature suggests that "the concept behind the band is never to make the same composition twice..." I feel sure that these improvised noodlings will mark a point in the band's history and hopefully will never be re-worked.
I have read other reviews of Bubbles, Bubbles... which suggest this music might appeal to followers of the jam-band scene, early 60s psychedelic progressive rock and space/Kraut rock enthusiasts. And well it may - however I would urge any and all to approach with caution.
Conclusion: 2 out of 10
King Crimson - The ConstruKtion Of Light
Tracklist: ProzaKc Blues (5:29), The ConstruKction Of Light (8:39), Into the Frying Pan (6:54), FraKctured (9:06), The World’s My Oyster Soup Kitchen Floor Wax Museum (6:22), Larks’ Tongues in Aspic – Pt. IV (9:07), Coda: I Have a Dream (3:56), ProjeKct X: Heaven And Earth (7:46)
King Crimson’s first album of the new millennia saw a radical change in personnel, but also a distinct shift in the gears in moving forward their sound. This album had been a long time coming. Thrak (from 1995) was a raucous return to long playing active service with a “Double Trio”, six man line up, but since that album stalwarts Bill Bruford and Tony Levin had left without being replaced leaving a quartet set up of Robert Fripp with Adrian Belew (in the band since Discipline in 1980) and ‘90’s recruits Trey Gunn on Warr guitar and Pat Mastelotto on percussion. Bruford’s departure was greeted with horror by the faithful but, to my mind, Mastelotto finally comes into his own on Construkction. Out of Bruford’s shadow he becomes a monster, adding new dimensions to the sound and giving the percussion an electronic backup of effects that augment the traditional drums rather than detracting from it. He understands how to use rhythms more commonly found in dance environments in this fields and the effect can be mesmerising.
When Construkction was released I snapped it up eagerly on release day and raced home to give it a spin only to be somewhat disappointed. On first listening it hit me as being messy and abstract, missing the focus of previous work. The performances, though without a doubt top notch, left me a little cold and I couldn’t put my finger on why. Not an album I hated, just not as good as anticipated – I’m sure that’s a common problem for a lot of people! I played the CD occasionally over the next couple of months but it was only put into context for me upon seeing the band play live at the Shepherd's Bush Empire in London in July of 2000. That show still stays with me as one of the best I’ve ever seen by anyone, the only time I managed to see Crimson after several near misses. The band shredded the place that night, a jaw dropping display of technique, energy, tension and bombast and the Construkction material shimmered in the live context. I listened to the album anew after that and finally got it. Another step up for this album came earlier this year when a friend played it to me on his new Arcam CD player – my God, it turned into a brand new album with so many hidden details and more depth than I ever imagined it had. My friend still rates this as the most dramatic reappraisal of an album he has had since his (well worthwhile!) hardware purchase. Hats off indeed to all involved in the recording (production is credited to King Crimson) and particularly to the late and sadly lamented Ken Latchney who, with Bill Munyon, did the recording and mixing.
So what does it sound like? Awesome! It still fits into the Krimson cannon as a transitional release, however, and a step on the road that seemed to come to full fruition with 2003’s Power To Believe album. What we have here is a band trying, for the umpteenth time, to reinvent itself and remain relevant while being true to themselves. We all knew they could play but without the clutter of the six man line up the contribution of each member falls into place.
The CD kicks off with the skewed ProzaKc Blues – the Blues but not as we know it – with “Blind Lemon” Belew leading the band in a new and unexpected direction with his treated vocals moved to a lower than normal register. They certainly hit the ground running and the Mastelotto contribution becomes immediately apparent. It’s the guitars that make it a KC track with Fripp’s clean and precise picking and Belew’s distorted soloing. The amount going on here is amazing. Next up is the title track opening with skittering drums and effects and a bubbling Warr bass part from Gunn. The guitars strike in with an interlocking style that reappears throughout the album. Fripp and Belew complimenting each other beautifully and to spectacular effect with tempo changes abundant. The guitars weave around each other over effects laden drumming, all nailed down by the always worthy Trey Gunn, and a vocal part towards the end from Belew. Into The Frying Pan is next, the nearest track to the sounds of Thrak. Belew’s guitar plays a rising scale counter-pointing Fripp’s falling part over a heavy rhythm. AB’s vocals are twangy and double tracked giving a disturbing feel. Gunn does Tony Levin to a tee, elastic and full of movement, and Pat holds the beat while still putting down some really busy parts. At the end Belew solos like a loon while Fripp remains tight and aloof. Soundscaping makes and appearance but it still generally feels like an add-on on this album. With Power To Believe it seems to have found it’s home and appears more integral to the sound.
Frakctured is a Naughties take on Fracture from 1974’s Starless And Bible Black album. Ominous sounds from Trey and the percussion adds to the disturbing mood as guitars battle for a place before more interlocking parts, dirtier than on previous tracks. This piece is a marvel for lovers of the Fripp sound and he pulls out all the stops. After a slow tempo to start the fingers start flying in all directions. Clean picking and electric percussion towards the end, fascinating shifts of rhythm and focus. This nine minute centrepiece of the album is certainly its high point. After the previous madness we get more in the shape of Belew’s The World’s My Oyster Soup Floor Wax Museum. Crazy lyrics, coughs and more distorted vocals, Belew’s solo is noisy, tuneless and perfectly in keeping with the rest of the track – quite reminiscent of Vroom. Add to this Fripp playing Keith Tippett style piano on guitar synth and you get a very bizarre mix indeed! Larks’ Tongues Pt IV is a worthy follow up to previous incarnations. Stabbing rhythm and more interlocking guitar parts with a leaning towards the sound to be heard on Power To Believe. Fast runs from Fripp and soundscaping behind Belew while Gunn’s Warr wanders and stalks around. The coda to the track is based on an acoustic poem from Belew, but this version is swamped in percussion and guitar with the bleak lyrics relegated to a supporting role.
A minute to pause after the intense experience of the main body of the album before a somewhat unexpected tag on track from Projekct X: Pat and Bill Munyon’s cut and paste job adding various extracts from the playing of Pat, Trey and Robert, treated and added to electronic sounds and samples. It works. A very different feel to the rest of the album but well worth its place and nice to hear. Would the album have held up better without it? Probably, but it isn’t bad by any standard.
Overall this album is not an easy listen but it is a very rewarding one for those willing to put the effort in. Heavy and rhythmic and the thorough use of electronic sounds may not be to everyone’s taste but to my mind it’s what makes Crimson so interesting. They don’t rest on their laurels and there is very little here that isn’t a new development in what they do. Modern and restless progressive rock as far from their early days as you can imagine, the influence on bands such as Tool and Nine Inch Nails is clear. Transitional and certainly not perfect it may be, but as a stop on the crazy journey of this wonderful band, it’s well worth a visit.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10