Reviews in this issue:
- Nosound - Lightdark
- Splinter - Dreamers
- Artificial Light Attraction – Fragile Skin
- Beduínos a Gasóleo - Beduínos a Gasóleo
- Black Mountain - In The Future
- Erik Baron & D-Z Akord – De Futura (Hiroshima)
- Little Tragedies – Chinese Songs Part II
- Sgt Sunshine - Black Hole
Nosound - Lightdark
Tracklist: About Butterflies And Children (3:02), Places Remained (4:29), The Misplay (4:32), From Silence To Noise (15:29), Someone Starts To Fade Away (8:55), Kites (8:30), Lightdark (8:45)
In 2005 Nosound released their debut album Sol29, which was in fact a solo album by Giancarlo Erra, and from the praise that he received for the album gave him the opportunity to tour the record. Touring meant the need to gather some people around him and slowly Nosound evolved into a full band. In the interim period since Sol29 some live material has been released in the guise of an EP, Clouds, but now there is album number two Lightdark.
On Sol29 a mixture of electronic, ambient and post-rock could be heard, with the emphasis placed on the ambient side, whereas with this second album there is a much better balance between rock and ambience/atmosphere and thus the title of the album seems very well chosen. I shall not mince matters; Lightdark is an incredibly beautiful piece of work, it’s an emotional album with lots of melodies to die for. Another positive is that Erra made this a band recording and not another solo album, as the band gives the music a very mature sound and a broader sound palette. Consequently the music has more of a ‘bite’ than Sol29. The album features some beautiful artwork by Giancarlo Erra, however as I just have a promotional copy, I’m missing out on the stylish 16 page booklet.
Lightdark starts with three short tracks (compared to the rest of the songs on the album) and first up is the atmospheric About Butterflies And Children which reminded me, along with some other tracks from Lightdark, of Sleeps With The Fishes, an album by Pieter Nooten and Michael Brook from 1987. Places Remained is a delightful pop song that has the first of several great guitar solos and features a chorus of great beauty. It’s also good to hear the real drumming of Gigi Zito instead of a drum computer - this certainly makes the song more powerful.
The Misplay is another atmospheric song, not unlike Sigur Ros, in which Erra repeats the same lyric a couple of times before the first of two guests take centre stage. Marianne de Chastelaine adds some beautiful and emotional cello to the song and her melody evokes a great sense of sorrow that seems to fit well with Erra’s lyrics. Following this From Silence To Noise slowly builds up the tension (great atmospheric keyboard sounds from Erra and Paolo Martellacci) until a big chorus opens everything up. Once over, the building up starts again, accompanied by some sober but great bass playing by Alessandro Luci and again a mighty Pink Floydian guitar solo. A lengthy ambient part slowly brings this song to an end. I have to say this song really blew me away as it contains the perfect balance between ambient music and rock music.
The next guest on the album is No-man vocalist Tim Bowness who lifts this already beautiful ballad (Someone Starts To Fade Away) to an even higher level. The incredible voice of Bowness does however make clear that Nosounds weakness, as such, lie in the vocal department.
One of the best songs on the album IMHO is Kites. Beautiful verses, a great chorus and an end section with a keyboard solo and De Chastelaine’s aching cello. Just perfect! The album closes with the title track - piano along with atmospheric keyboards accompany Erra’s voice. Although there are no drums to be heard in the song it still feels very powerful, with sounds weaving in and out while he is singing and a guitar solo closing up the proceedings.
With Lightdark Giancarlo Erra and his band have released a very impressive album. Sol29 (which incidentally has been reissued and remastered with two extra songs) showed that Erra was an extraordinary talent, who could go on to do great things. And you know what? On Lightdark he did.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Splinter - Dreamers
Tracklist: Goodbye (5:42), Bio Engine (6:51), Reflections [Part 1 - Dreamer, Part 2 - The Dream, Part 3 - REM, Part 4 - Wake Up] (14:37), Anthony's Songs (5:41), Korsakov (6:42), The Devil's Advocate [Part 1 - Dreamworld, The Saint, Part 2 - Realworld, Part 3 - The Devil's Advocate, Distinctness] (11:27)
Splinter is a talented young band from The Netherlands that finally delivers it's debut album. A couple of EP's were released in 2001 and 2003 and along the way to this debut-album, a compilation of demo tracks called Devil's Jigsaw was released in 2004. These factors did not pass by unnoticed and the band was asked to be the opening act for Karmakanic and The Flower Kings. But perhaps the best thing happened when Jonas Reingold suggested he would record their album and this allowed the band to create Dreamers in a professional way that is surely noticeable in the end product.
Their style is hard to classify as during this album as I could hear influences from many renowned prog bands. The complex structures of Spock's Beard and sometimes even Dream Theater combined with a fresh sound like A.C.T. Also influences from The Flower Kings and Karmakanic can be heard - they obviously learned a lot while touring with them. Splinter plays a contemporary form of progressive rock, fresh and modern and to some extent Splinter can be compared with Apple Pie. Not the delicacy but the Russian band that is also heavily influenced by Spock's Beard and whose debut album Crossroad was of surprising good quality. Another similarity because Dreamers is also of very high quality.
The opener ironically is called Goodbye and "Dreamers" is repeatedly sung in the chorus, so it might as well be the title track. The song starts like a common funky rock song and then the keyboard melody slightly unfolds a progressive layer. The first thing of complexity is found in the piano solo, a funny contradicting rhythm challenges the listener to keep track of the flow. Next up is Jonas Reingold for his guest appearance on this album and in a gentle part of the song he makes his bass sing like only he can.
Bio Engine is a very powerful song with a complex rhythm and vocal lines. Lots of changes in this song, from pounding rock to jazz and the band shows they are technically skilled and capable of writing complex and interesting songs.
Reflections is the first epic piece, divided in four parts. It had already been released on two earlier CDs but now fully developed and professionally recorded. Dreamer starts with some piano chords that seem very similar to some passages from Marillion's Brave, the dark chords however suddenly change into an uplifting melody. The vocal part is very joyful and cleverly sung over a complex rhythm. The instrumental guitar part sounds a lot like music from Knight Area and the acoustic guitar section is very good. Some parts contain a few too many notes but on the whole good developed melodies that nicely build up. The Dream is completely instrumental with lots of keyboard sounds and the numerous organ parts are interrupted by heavy guitars - lot's of Dream Theater influences in this part. REM has some frantic vocals, but is again mainly dominated by instrumental parts. Wake Up begins easy and the uplifting melody of the first part is revisited. It sums up the first part of the epic.
Anthony's Song begins in a typical Spock's Beard style but after that the song is very jazzy with a powerful chorus. Note that before recording this album the singer was replaced by Ewout Ongering and whilst his singing is very open and enthusiastic, during the high parts of the chorus his voice becomes a little thin.
Korsakov is a happy up-tempo song which is comparable with Temptation from Apple Pie, it's a happy note which is very rare on a progressive rock album. Although Splinter doesn't have a brass section the songs breathes the same atmosphere - this song also features a guest appearance from Zoltan Csörsz on the drums.
The Devil's Advocate is the second re-recorded epic which was already present on the demo album Devil's Jigsaw, the comparison with Apple Pie continuing on this song. The instrumental first part could have easily been present on their album Crossroad - a powerful part with lot's of keyboard melodies and ingenious rhythms. Realworld is a small mellow part where the vocals of Ewout Ongering kind of lack depth, although he recuperates in the third part The Devil's Advocate, Distinctness. The track is over eleven minutes however the second half consists of ambient noises that to me are unnecessary, the first half however is very interesting. The acoustic guitar is again brilliant and whilst the ending of this part is a bit unfocused it in some strange way all fits.
Splinter have really made a mark with this album. The Spock's Beard component has been mentioned a lot in this review but also a lot of influences from many other renowned prog bands can clearly be noticed. Dreamers is a contemporary prog album with a fresh and modern sound. The two epic songs were present on earlier releases but have been re-recorded in a professional way and naturally sound a lot better - producer Jonas Reingold has done a pretty good job on that. The new songs fit perfectly and are of very high quality. However, and as mentioned earlier, on some parts the vocals tend to be a bit thin and lack depth - a marginal note on this superb album. Only time will tell if Splinter will really become a part of the major league in prog music but this surely is a giant step. A very stunning debut album, recommended to all progressive rock fans.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Artificial Light Attraction – Fragile Skin
Tracklist: Experience (5:29), Down Again (6:14), Indifferent Behaviour (5:53), Truth (4:51), Inside (5:35), Fragile Skin (4:36), Consuming Me (6:34), Deceived (5:23)
A significant plus of reviewing for the DPRP is having access to a steady stream of new acts that continue to bring something fresh to the prog rock table. A band that falls into this category is the Swiss trio Artificial Light Attraction. Although they formed in 2002 this is their first ever release and the result of recording sessions that began almost three years ago. Yves P Schaub (vocals, guitars and bass) wrote and developed the songs with producer Jan Stucki (samples, loops and engineering) but has no plans to perform live describing the band as a “studio project”. A pity because the memorable songs have a cutting minimalism (in prog terms), that would transform perfectly to the stage. ‘Guest musician’ Tobias Roth provides the drums to add that all important rhythm factor to the compositions.
With eight songs each weighing in at around the five minute mark, the first thing that strikes you in the opening Experience is the weighty but razor sharp sound. The bass remains animated throughout whilst the guitar lays down thick slabs of sound that border on, and just occasionally stray into metal territory. Schaub possess a clear and powerful voice with a confident almost arrogant delivery, which despite his nationality is reminiscent of several German and US prog-metal vocalists. He also has an ear for a good melody as revealed in Indifferent Behaviour, Truth and Fragile Skin which all boast a strong chorus. The brooding Down Again begins with heavyweight power chords before developing into a moody Porcupine Tree groove. Throughout they make good use of studio technology to provide rich harmonies and enhance songs like Indifferent Behaviour, Inside and Consuming Me courtesy of a multi-tracked Schaub. The most accomplished example is the a cappella intro to the title song.
In addition to the dynamic and clean production, Stucki supplies the bubbling electronic effects most noticeably during the opening and closing songs to lend the proceedings a modern edge. He comes into his own during Deceived where in addition to the sampled drums and piano he contributes an almost rap like vocal section. Schaub for his part provides his most emotive singing here followed by a strident guitar coda to close the song and the album. It’s the title song where he really cuts loose however with a lengthy solo providing probably his best performance. His ringing guitar motif that dominates Consuming Me has David Gilmour’s line from The Wall’s Run Like Hell written all over it. Elsewhere his powerhouse riffs are grounded in a heavy metal tradition that has its roots dating back to the early 70’s.
For their debut release Artificial Light Attraction have certainly come up with a punchy album that oozes confidence. If I had to voice a criticism then it would be that the constant tempo does make it sound a tad samey although there are some very fine tunes. Also, despite the reassuring snare crack I can’t say I’m overexcited by the drumming which is just a little too unadventurous for my tastes. In spite of my initial comments on reflection I’m not entirely sure if this album does entirely fall into the prog category. If it does then this is prog in its lean, stripped-down state. Excess and self indulgence is not an issue here. That aside it should appeal to those that like their music with a harder edge and possibly fans of Germanic prog-metal albeit taken at a slightly less frantic pace.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Beduínos a Gasóleo - Beduínos a Gasóleo
Track list: Canto IV (26:18), Biodiesel (11:01), Desculpa Lá [incluindo Planicie] (18:38), Convergir [2006 version] (3:50), Canto IV parts 15 & 16 [radio edit] (5:03), Canto IV parts 5 & 6 [radio edit] (3:32)
Beduínos a Gasóleo were originally formed in late 1997 but the current line up of Luís Manuel Oliveira (guitars), José Carlos Fialho (keyboards and backing vocals), Ricardo Leite (bass) and Flávio Pena (drums) convened in 2005 and by the summer of 2006 were ready to start recording their debut album. Bereft of a vocalist they invited a friend, Petra, from the Portuguese blues band Nobody's Bizness, to sing on two tracks on the album, Canto IV and Desculpa Lá. On the first of these tracks Petra is joined by alternative roots singer Janita Salomé. Two other guests are featured throughout the album, Paulo Chagas (sax/flute) and Fernando Simões (trombone), both of whom have feature heavily throughout the album. The band take their name, which translates as "diesel-powered Bedouins", from the novel of the same name by the late Portuguese science fiction writer João Botelho da Silva.
The album proper is comprised of three long songs, the first of which, Canto IV, was originally based on an idea by the Portuguese Progressive Society: to create a musical version of Os Lusiadas, an epic 16th century poem by Luís Vaz de Camões, narrating the history of Portugal in 10 cantos. Inevitably the bold idea didn't come to fruition but Beduínos a Gasóle persevered with their chosen piece (the fourth canto, detailing events from 1383 to 1497) creating a suite that is as epic in scope as the original poem. Subdivided into 17 parts (although sequenced as one long track on the CD), the piece flows seamlessly between parts. Petra's voice is strong and clear and even though I am totally unfamiliar with the Portuguese language, she is very soft on the ear. Her duets with Salomé work remarkably well given the different musical backgrounds of the two singers. Generally quite laid back over the opening third of the piece, the atmosphere changes to a bit more menacing in the sixth part, which relates the capture of Tangiers from the Moors. However, this doesn't last long and is followed by a lovely section of trombone and flute that is very subtle in delivery. A small gripe is in some of the synthesiser sounds employed in places throughout the track, they seem a bit too modern sounding for ostensibly a historical piece. It would have made sense to me to have more 'neutral' keyboard tone throughout. Ultimately the song is rather too flat, although containing some sublime moments, it could have benefited from raising the tempo a bit more in a few places. Even towards the end in Part 16 (The Fortunate) and Part 17 (Departure) where the sax is let loose and is underpinned by over-tracked trombones the drums plod along at a sedate pace keeping things on a very level playing field.
Biodiesel is an instrumental number with a slight leaning towards the jazzier side of the spectrum. Chagas' flute solo is particularly memorable along with a spacier section vaguely reminiscent of part of Floyd's Echoes and ending in a great keyboard and guitar riff. Last of the epics is Desculpa Lá (incluindo Planicie) which from the off proves to be the most interesting piece on the album. Here the variety in tempo, combination of female and male (provided by keyboard player Fialho) voices and the whole general atmosphere of the song stands out. Again, the flute plays an integral part in the composition and guitarist Oliveira has a more prominent role, providing some interesting solos and several heavier riffs which are taken up and developed by the rest of the band. There is an almost filmic quality to areas of the song and it wouldn't be too farfetched to imagine the group providing a score to a movie.
'Bonus' track Convergir is a reworking of an older piece originally released in 2005 on the Gentle Giant tribute album Giant For An Hour which successfully manages to incorporate a GG-type slant to the group's own work without being too derivative. Finally there are two radio edits of sections of Canto IV which stand up remarkably well outside the context of the larger whole work. Both edits are of predominantly vocal sections with Parts 15 and 16 being a particularly nice extraction highlighting the fine voices of both the singers.
The debut album by Beduínos a Gasóleo is quite a mood piece, which I found to be more suited to late night listening as opposed to playing as just general background music. The subtleties inherent in the long pieces only really become evident with prolonged and repeated listening, requiring attentive concentration. This is no criticism of the album at all, although does reduce its immediate impact and appeal. For a debut release the band show a lot of promise and adventure, if they can consolidate their sound and take their music along the lines of Desculpa Lá then they will be on to a winner.
Conclusion: 6+ out of 10
Black Mountain - In The Future
Tracklist: Stormy High (4:33), Angels (3:07), Tyrants (8:02), Wucan (6:03), Stay Free (4:29), Queens Will Play (5:16), Evil Ways (3:26), Wild Wind (1:42), Bright Lights (16:41), Night Walks (3:56)
Their record label Jagjaguwar calls them the psych-and-prog-spiritual pioneers and these pioneers release their second album In The Future. We are talking here about Canadian indieband Black Mountain. The band was formed in 2004 out of the ashes of a band called ‘Jerk With A Bomb’ and they released their self-titled debut album in 2005. The band consists of Stephen McBean (guitars and vocals), Amber Webber (percussion and vocals), Jeremy Schmidt (organ, synthesizer and mellotron), Matt Camirand (bass) and Joshua Wells (percussion, drums, piano and mellotron). Their debut album was based on seventies rock with some folk and psych influences but with this new album they broaden their musical horizon with the addition of some progressive influences.
The album is drenched in trippy neo-psych folk and rock and the music’s base is firmly influenced by the big rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Jefferson Airplane (Amber Webber resembles a young Grace Slick) and even very early Rush. But there are also some Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd influences as well as some Neil Young (the beautiful acoustic Stay Free). Clearly all artists from the seventies. So calling your album In The Future is quite funny. Despite all these influences from the past the album sounds very fresh and exciting.
Vocal duties on the album are shared by McBean and Webber. Their psychedelic almost druggy performance is an acquired taste but I quite like it. Especially the harmony singing between the two of them sounds unusual in places. McBean does most of the lead vocals but Webber really shines on Queens Will Play and Night Walks (with its distinctive This Mortal Coil feel). Very important to the sound of the album is the work of keyboard player Schmidt. He brings a lot of subtlety to the music with his inventive playing and forms a beautifully balanced counterweight to McBean riffing. Lots of excellent Hammond, Moog and Mellotron (yes... the usual suspects) work can be heard throughout the album. A good example is the brilliant Wucan. The organ riff and the guitar melody give the song a hallucinating basis on which McBean and Webber can weave their psychedelic vocals. After a heavier part in the song Schmidt takes centre stage with a drone like organ part joined by a slow Moog solo that builds up until Mellotron strings join in. Brilliant! But also on heavier songs like opener Stormy High (with fuzz bass and heavy drumming) and Evil Ways (could be a Big Elf song) he gets his parts in.
On the sixteen and half minutes that is Bright Lights the band explores a lot of musical roads. The song opens quietly with McBean and Webber singing about bright lights like a couple of Gremlins but then the song gets heavier until after seven minutes there’s an extended almost EM part that reminds me of Tangerine Dream. It’s an excellent song that’s exciting from start to finish. Another tour the force is Tyrants. After a storming start the song moves through several key and tempo changes. From heavy rock to gentle acoustic folk and back again. All in all there is a lot going on on this album. Lots of instruments fighting for attention, but it all sounds crystal clear. The band produced the album themselves and they deserve a big compliment.
This kind of seventies inspired rock music is quite popular again with bands like Wolfmother and Danko Jones but also Black Bonzo and Big Elf (but they’ve been around for a while releasing their debut in 1997). Black Mountain positions itself with In The Future in the middle of those bands. It’s not all progressive rock that’s on offer here, but it certainly has enough on offer to interest people who like progressive rock and especially bands like the aforementioned Black Bonzo and Big Elf.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Erik Baron & D-Z Akord – De Futura (Hiroshima)
Tracklist: Pandora (3:01), La Musique Des Spheres (9:28), De Futura Pt 1 (12:55), Le Drone Du Milieu (4:21), De Futura Pt 2 (15:27), De Profundis (2:32)
As a certain Monty Python was wont to say ... And now for something completely different! Well, that is, different unless you’ve been listening to a lot of Magma and/or Ambient Industrial music lately.
This is the third offering from D-Z Akord, a French group lead by bassist Erik Baron, and their previous outing was a version of minimalist Legend Terry Riley’s In C.
This time around, the spotlight falls on Magma’s Udu Wudu album, lifting Jannick Top’s epic De Futura and stretching it way beyond the original’s seventeen minutes to a whopping twenty eight minute marathon. This is split into two parts, forming tracks 3 and 5 on the CD.
Featuring an unusual line-up of six electric guitars, six electric basses, and one drummer, their take on Magma’s unique vision simultaneously strips away elements (notably the vocals and keyboards) and piles on the power and intensity of the piece with the onslaught of the massed guitars and basses, utilising minimalist repetetition techniques in the manner of avant-garde composer Glen Branca. (His Symphony No.6 Devil Choirs At The Gates Of Heaven featured 10 guitarists!).
The throbbing, repetitive nature of the music, supplemented with banshee howls and wailing sirens, makes this something you’ve really got to be in the mood for. This could easily induce a migraine if you’re not careful.
It is a very powerful piece, great at loud volumes, and quite mesmerising in its ritualistic style. It’s not one for the timid or unadventurous, but should blow the socks off Magma fans and Avant Rock disciples alike.
The rest of the disc comprises of several shorter pieces very much in an Ambient Industrial vein, chiefly employing minimalist drones to create disquieting atmospheres which serve to act as introduction, interludes and coda to the main feature.
I found these mostly quite dull, but fans of the genre will probably appreciate them more. I will return to De Futura though, especially if I want to clear a room in a hurry!
The “love it or hate it” nature of this disc means it would be unfair to try and score it under the normal rating system. Hopefully, my descriptions should give you a clue as to whether it might be of interest to you. If so, try the samples on their (French language) site, especially the De Futura samples.
Little Tragedies – Chinese Songs Part II
Tracklist: Letter To My Wife (6:50), In The Moonlight (3:33), My Heart Is Sad, Thoughts In Dismay… (6:05), Vernal Wind, Road Dust… (3:17), My Century’s Events Are Worthless… (9:23), The Boat By The Lake Is Only For Three… (11:31)
Little Tragedies started life in 1994 as a four piece based in the city of Kursk, Russia. By the following year they had dwindled to a trio led by keyboardist Gennady Ilyin. Aided by drummer Yuri Skripkin and bassist Oleg Babynin the all instrumental output combined ELP influences and a flair for improvisation. Two albums were recorded before their numbers were swelled once more in 2000 with the addition of guitarist Alexander Malakhovsky and saxophonist Aleksey Bildin. Chinese Songs Part II is the fifth album from the current line-up following in the footsteps of Return (2005), New Faust, Sixth Sense (both 2006) and Chinese Songs Part I (2007). Given the titles and the fact that they were released within two months of each other I wouldn’t be surprised if this and its predecessor had originally been intended as a double album. As with the last album Ilyin’s compositions are based on ancient Chinese poems and are a diversion from his usual inspiration which is the work of Russian poet Nikolai Gumilev.
Letter To My Wife is a buoyant and tuneful opener with a good sax led melody underscored by piano. There are shades of Camel from the busy but melodious delivery especially when the electric guitar enters. Ilyin’s half spoken vocal style is dispensable in my opinion and although he sings in his native tongue he reminds me of several French MOR crooners. The vocals don’t hang around for too long however before synth takes over which in turn merges seamlessly into a memorable sax solo. In The Moonlight is a pleasant, if not earth shattering instrumental based around a mellow Moog theme. I was expecting it to cut loose at any moment but disappointingly it never does. For some reason best known to Ilyin it ends like several of the tracks here with synthetic wind noises.
My Heart Is Sad, Thoughts In Dismay begins with a classical inflected piano motif and a poignant synth line. It develops into a frothy sax driven melody not unlike the opening track only at a slightly more leisurely pace. As before the vocals are sparingly used making way for extended use of lyrical piano, synth and guitar. It rises to a dramatic finale which proves to be the albums best part so far. Vernal Wind, Road Dust is led by a jaunty pipe organ theme and features more vocals than the song can comfortably fit in. It’s all too bland for my tastes and has the makings of a Eurovision Song Contest contender if ever I heard one!
In contrast with the previous track My Century’s Events Are Worthless... takes on epic proportions sound wise. Strident guitar, piano and a pulsating rhythm build to a bombastic synth and pounding piano led instrumental excursion. The band is at its most ELP here with dramatic orchestral embellishments charged with monumental drumming and articulate bass playing. The fluid synth soloing and piano articulations combine prog and classical in equal measures and only loses momentum to incorporate the vocals. For some curious reason it returns to the main theme of track three before the overblown finale. It’s easily the albums best offering and such a pity that the rest of the album doesn’t sound like this.
The Boat By The Lake Is Only For Three... feels more like a solo work than it does a band effort. It’s a lengthy track consisting of tranquil ambient synth washes modelled on Tangerine Dream and Vangelis especially. Not only does Ilyin evoke his earlier work and parts of the "Blade Runner" score he also recreates Vangelis’ renowned Yamaha synth sound. Unfortunately it doesn’t have the same melodic and rhythmic flair and ultimately sounds like so much wallpaper music. It does develop into a pleasing symphonic soundscape to close however but it seems a long time coming.
Little Tragedies’ main problem I feel is that when they do it well they do it very well but unfortunately they don’t do it often enough. There is some very tightly structured and dynamic music for around half the albums playing time but all too often the rest sounds dull and lifeless. In some respects the band can be compared to The Tangent. The line-up comprises first class musicians contributing sax, guitar, bass and drums with Ilyin assuming the Andy Tillison role responsible for the song writing, keyboards and vocals. That’s where the similarities end because sadly Ilyin lacks Tillison’s consistency and inventive flair for composition, arrangement and production. There’s no disputing his keyboard abilities however and the use of classical styles, which is so typical of Russian bands, is something that does appeal to me.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Sgt Sunshine - Black Hole
Tracklist: Music Sweet Master (5:06), Old Man (4:06), Dreams Of Wonder (3:13), Overload (5:50), Sun Tree (6:22), Monte Azul (5:13), Go Out Fishing (3:42), Mar Borrascosa (3:52), Tell Me (5:39), Hidden Propaganda (7:55)
It's really tough when you deal with stoner rock bands to go beyond the production and the sound quality. It honestly takes effort to sit down and go deeper inside the songs when the approach is so different to what we are used to in the prog side. No shiny crystal clear production here, no glitter - of course not all that glitters is gold, but then again taking the opposite approach and making something that sounds muddy or stuffed is not the way to do it either. Anyhow, to cut a long story short, these guys here are into the realm of psychedelic stoner rock. This is the second album from Sgt Sunshine, and I have to mention that their first was extremely well received by the stoner rock community. However, only vocalist and guitarist Eduardo Fernandez is still there, since he had the rest of the gang replaced. Not surprisingly, most of the material will not appeal to prog fans for many and various reasons I'll try to lay down in the following. Again not surprisingly, there are good ideas scattered here and there - but you have to dig into the mud to find them.
So let me start with things I did not like, as the annoying noisy jamming sessions at the end of a couple of tracks, Monte Azul and Overload being the most representative examples. They really sound too garage-like for my personal taste, and I guess if you like this free-form playing then you might fancy them, if not, then skip them. Then, there is the standard stoner rock material, with solid bass lines and quite rough distorted guitars giving us hard-cut riffs, as for example in Music Sweet Master. Concerning the vocals, in some tracks things are not very pleasant since they are not really taken care of. Tell me for instance features some interesting moments but the vocals-sounding more bored than Alice in Chains' late Layne Staley's in a bad day-really spoil the fun.
Lets get to something slightly more interesting now: some pure Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin influences here and there, as in the acoustic Gone Out Fishing. Interesting use of congas here and decent singing as well. Old Man features a rather clean sound compared to the rest of the story and many interesting theme changes, wrapped up in a quite hippie psychedelic feel. If you want more in this direction, then maybe Dreams Of Wonder is a good idea and one of the album highlights. Cream's sometime bluesy feel comes to mind immediately, as well as something as diverse as Soundgarden when it's refrain time. Much heavier riffs and obvious Sabbath pointers can be found in Hidden Propaganda (think of Killing Yourself To Live or A National Acrobat's frantic endings to get an idea). But apart from the early 70's quite interesting references, there is also another layer in the music, that is very loosely connected to the rest of the material. A layer that is darker, and to me more interesting. Mesmerizing and heavy, Sun Tree cleverly fades away with a blues guitar in the background. Mar Borrascosa I leave for last. Even if it's haunted by a hypnotic guitar, it unfortunately fails to take things to the end: the drums are too dirty-sounding and too much in the foreground and the guitar is not polished enough. For some reason I can't help imagining the same tunes picked up by Steven Wilson and converted into something of quite some interest.
Maybe indeed these guys are of much more interest to a stoner rock audience. But I strongly doubt any prog fan will enjoy much of the material in here. Still, I cannot deny that there is a lot of variety here, both within the songs and among the songs. This diversity can also be seen as potential. The problem is that the chance that these guys go "the prog way" is rather small... Concerning the after effect of their music, I really feel like giving Sabbath's Vol 4 a spin.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10