Reviews in this issue:
- Uriah Heep – Wake The Sleeper
- Mostly Autumn - Glass Shadows (Duo Review)
- Jan Schelhaas - Dark Ships
- Hands - Strangelet
- Siena Root – Far From The Sun
- The Wrong Object - Stories From The Shed
- 7Ocean – The Mysterious Race Of Strange Entities
Uriah Heep - Wake The Sleeper
Tracklist: Wake The Sleeper (3:33), Overload (5:58), Tears Of The World (4:45), Light Of A Thousand Stars (3:57), Heavens Rain (4:16), Book Of Lies (4:05), What Kind Of God (6:37), Ghost Of The Ocean (3:22), Angels Walk With You (5:24), Shadow (3:35), War Child (5:07)
There’s no doubt that one of the things 2008 will be remembered for is the year that many classic (and not so classic) rock bands from the seventies and eighties got back together and released a new album. With the music scene as saturated as it currently is, with all manner of material vying for the listener’s attention, it ultimately means that many of these albums end up appearing with a whimper, not a bang. On the face of it this was likely to happen with Uriah Heep’s new CD, Wake The Sleeper. Whilst they never actually split up, it has nonetheless been ten long years since the band’s last studio CD (1998’s Sonic Origami), and arguably a lot longer since they last produced anything of real worth. Yet for whatever reason – perhaps the fact that they have had plenty of time to come up with a strong set of songs, or the feeling that after so long away from the limelight they have something to prove – Wake The Sleeper is something of an unexpected gem, and in the end has to be marked down as a very aptly titled ‘comeback’!
Whilst never exactly a ‘prog rock’ band per se, in their early seventies heyday Uriah Heep weaved in elements familiar to the genre – fantastical lyrics, lengthy, multi-part songs and plenty of keyboard and guitar solo’s – into a classic hard rock framework, resulting in well-regarded albums such as Salisbury, Look At Yourself and Demons And Wizards, still fan favourites to this day. Back then the band revolved around keyboardist Ken Hensley, vocalist David Byron and guitarist Mick Box, although the band soon became well-known for their revolving-door line-ups. Nowadays only Box remains, although the current line-up has been relatively in-tact since 1986, with only the enforced retirement through ill-health of drummer Lee Kerslake in early 2007 temporarily disrupting what has become a rock-steady unit.
Kerslake’s replacement Russell Gilbrook kicks off the album’s opening title track, and its immediately apparent that this guy was perhaps the missing piece in the jigsaw, giving the other players a kick up the pants with his propulsive, energetic playing. This mostly instrumental track (the only vocals being the ‘ah-ah’s of the chorus and the title repeated ad finitum) is an ideal way to kick-start the album, a powerful, high tempo rocker powered by Box’s trademark, wah-wah drenched guitar work and Phil Lanzon’s chiming Hammond organ playing.
It’s a credit to the band that the quality – and energy – rarely dips from here to the fittingly anthemic closer, War Child. Overload is a classy, driving rocker with a (rough-edged) AOR feel to it, vocalist Bernie Shaw on fine, commanding form as he bellows out the pertinent lyrics warning of the dangers inherent in our internet-driven, information-packed modern age. Both Tears Of The World and Ghost Of The Ocean are bouncy, vocal harmony-and-Hammond drenched rockers, the sort of thing you feel Deep Purple ought to be producing these days, whilst the slightly mellower Heaven’s Rain and dark, blues-tinged mid-pacer Angels Walk Amongst Us (the latter having a slight early Whitesnake vibe) show a more reflective side.
No doubt about the highlight though – correctly placed in the middle of the album, the slow-burning epic What Kind Of God is the best track Heep have written in ages; starting with a martial beat and majestic, sweeping guitar work, and guided by Shaw’s impassioned vocals, telling of the coming of the ‘new world’ settlers from a native American perspective, the song has a great, Hammond-fuelled chorus and builds to a superb Box solo – ‘wah wah’ heaven to be sure!
There’s perhaps the odd track (Light Of A Thousand Stars, Book Of Lies) that feels a little more run-of-the-mill (though even these boast great hooks), and perhaps the inclusion of a ballad may have been welcome, but that’s nitpicking really – this is a great (and great-sounding) album from Uriah Heep that surely even their most ardent fans didn’t think they still had in them. As the band have a formidable reputation as a live act, the tour for the new album starting in the autumn is surely one no classic rock fan will want to miss.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Mostly Autumn - Glass Shadows
Tracklist: Fireside (5:12), The Second Hand (4:31), Flowers For Guns (4:21), Unoriginal Sin (5:13), Paper Angels (4:22), Tearing At The Faerytale (6:49), Above The Blue (5:53), Glass Shadows (11:18), Until The Story Ends (5:08), A Different Sky (3:03)
Geoff Feakes' Review
I’ve felt for some time now that Mostly Autumn has consciously been tempering their progressive-folk leanings with a more mainstream pop-rock sensibility. Glass Shadows finds the band continuing in that direction possibly in search of a more commercial acceptability. That‘s not meant as a criticism, their last album Heart Full Of Sky proved to be my favourite release of 2007. If you follow the DPRP forum and news pages then you’ll be aware that the band has undergone several changes in personnel recently. These changes have not necessarily swayed the musical direction however as the bands mainstay of Bryan Josh (guitars, keyboards, vocals) and Heather Findlay (vocals, percussion, piano) remains intact. Also still around from the previous album are Andy Smith (bass), Olivia Sparnenn (backing vocals), Anne-Marie Helder (flute, backing vocals) and resident ‘guest’ Troy Donockley (Uilleann pipes, whistles). Making his MA debut is Henry Bourne (drums).
To echo my opening comments Fireside is a no-frills rhythmic opener with combined vocals from Heather and Bryan and a gutsy guitar riff from the latter. The songs relentless, repetitive style is crying out for a good melody however which sadly it lacks. The Second Hand, also penned by Josh, has a lighter but more expansive keys led sound. It’s not the most compelling of songs but it does benefit from a mellow classical guitar solo. And not for the last time on the album Josh’s earthy vocal brings 70’s new waver Tom Robinson to mind. The semi acoustic Flowers For Guns is lighter still with Heather’s catchy chorus owing a debt to Fleetwood Mac’s hit single Looking Out For Love. Engaging flute and vocal embellishments from Anne-Marie and Olivia respectively help elevate the song above the ordinary. The laidback tone continues with Unoriginal Sin, the first of two songs written by Heather. Her sultry vocal delivery makes way for a Gilmouresque solo from Josh as the tempo builds to a rousing conclusion.
Performing with a piano only backing, Heather has rarely sounded sweeter than she does on Paper Angels. The song explodes into life with a searing guitar break exhibiting all the hallmarks of classic MA. The astutely titled Tearing At The Faerytale is for me Josh’s best song on the album (both compositionally and vocally). Following a reflective acoustic guitar driven intro it develops into a compelling piece with an infectious choral refrain and a soaring guitar break. Heather’s second solo contribution Above The Blue is not only the albums strongest it’s also one of the band’s best ever. It’s a beautifully evocative song with solo piano joined by unobtrusive strings and Donockley’s pipes and whistles adding a Celtic vibe. Heather’s stunning vocal performance evokes the crystalline purity of Karen Carpenter especially during the lower notes.
Easily the longest track, Glass Shadows is the albums token epic but unfortunately it lacks the scope and inventiveness we’ve come to expect from the band to justify its length. The low-key piano and synth led intro is the best part and reminiscent of Rare Bird’s classic Sympathy. The tone becomes edgier with crisp drumming but despite the Floydain instrumental atmospherics and Roger Waters style vocal angst it fails to leave any lasting impression. Better is the penultimate Until The Story Ends an uplifting song with a Celtic flavoured backdrop again courtesy of Troy Donockley. Rounded off by Josh’s most lyrical guitar playing on the album this is MA doing what they do best. Purists might be inclined to eject the CD at this point because the final song is an unashamed attempt by the band to crack the singles market. A Different Sky has a bright, bubbly 60’s feel harking back to the sunny California sound of The Mamas And The Papas and even (gulp) The Monkees (a Pleasant Valley Sunday anyone?).
This latest release from the band has already been hailed by some as a return to former glories but I’m not entirely convinced. True, there are some absolute gems here but on the flipside several of the key tracks disappoint. As an album it doesn’t convince or fully engage as a whole with Josh’s song writing being conspicuously weak in places. Ironically at just three minutes, A Different Sky is one of his most memorable efforts on the album. The tracks co-written with Heather are stronger and her solo contributions are two of the best songs here. A pity that keyboardist Chris Johnson, whose contribution to the last album was superb, was unable to commit to this release. Diehard MA fans will doubtless be pleased that there are enough instrumental excursions and Celtic-folk elements to satisfy their proggy tastes. Whilst songs like Tearing At The Faerytale and Above The Blue especially deserve a DPRP recommendation my final rating is a reflection of my general ambivalence towards this release.
Jim Corcoran's Review
When the editors of DPRP let us writers know that there would be a duo review of the newest release from Mostly Autumn, I gladly obliged, jumping at the chance to review it. I had never heard anything by them before, but I had read a lot of positive stuff about them on this site and, curious about their sound, was more than happy to lend an unbiased, albeit inexperienced ear of a Mostly Autumn “newbie” to the duo review of Glass Shadows. There are two versions of the CD. There is the standard retail one-disc release, and the super-duper deluxe edition, which contains a bonus disc of extra tracks. The version being reviewed here is the retail release. My initial listening of the recording left me impressed, yet not surprised by the obvious folk/Floydian sound mentioned in DPRP reviews of their earlier work.
The band, formed in the late nineties, currently consists of Bryan Josh on lead and backing vocals, guitars, keyboards, piano, Hammond organ and programming; Heather Findlay on lead and backing vocals, piano, tambourine, bodhran, and percussion; newcomer Anne-Marie Helder on flute and backing vocals, Andy Smith on bass, Henry Bourne, another new face, on drums; and Olivia Sparnenn on backing vocals.
The epic-hungry will gobble up the eleven-minute plus title track, which features some synth patterns evoking seventies-era Floyd, some guitar which could have come from the hands and fingers of David Gilmour, and an overall feel bringing to mind the Rick Wright solo offering Broken China. To contrast, closing track A Different Sky is a tight three minutes and has single potential all over it. Regrettably, like most prog nowadays it will probably be overlooked by mainstream radio, despite the fact that the band is known for packing live venues.
The well-produced CD as a whole is cohesive, tight, and balanced.
Josh and Findlay alternately handle lead vocals on the CD, creating for a nice variety among the tracks. Findlay has such a sultry, smoky soulful voice she could have joined Katie Kissoon, Carol Kenyon, and PP Arnold as a touring backup singer for Roger Waters.
The folk end of the band’s sonic spectrum definitely points to Blackmore’s Night, Loreena McKennitt, and Black Tape For A Blue Girl as influences. Other obvious comparisons are The Sundays, Jethro Tull, and Dead Can Dance.
Glass Shadows will strike the fancy of anyone into folk-based rock and harmony/acoustic music in general. If you are looking for something with a harder edge, this isn’t it. I can’t compare Glass Shadows with their earlier work because I have not heard any. I was, however, motivated to order a used copy of their debut release from Amazon, and can’t wait to hear it! With their next CD, I recommend that the band feature the wonderful flute playing of Anne-Marie Helder more prominently.
GEOFF FEAKES : 7.5 out of 10
JIM CORCORAN : 7 out of 10
Jan Schelhaas - Dark Ships
Tracklist: Dark Ships (8:14), Red Sky At Morning (2:03), Sails In The Sun (5:52), True Blue (3:33), Holy Voices (7:56), Nothing On Earth (3:58), The Voyage Of Doby Mick (7:23), Goin’ To Shanghai (6:41), Silent Solos (4:01), Dolphins And Oceans (4:17), The Coast Of Peru [Away Santiago] (6:50), Soon Be Dreaming (2:00)
Perhaps surprisingly this is the debut solo album from Liverpool-born veteran of the Canterbury scene Jan Schelhaas. His tenures in Caravan and Camel produced some wonderful moments in the late ‘70’s/early ‘80’s, but prior to these he also worked with Gary Moore and National Head Band. Lately he has again been playing with the revitalised Caravan after a period out of music where he seems to have worked as a driving instructor.
This album does not have a concept flowing through it but the songs are thematically linked by seafaring and travel references in the titles and lyrics giving it a nice complete feel. Jan is helped out by fellow Caravaners Doug Boyle (lead and atmospheric guitar on 6 tracks) and Jimmy Hastings (sax and reeds on 3 tracks) but aside from this does everything himself: - writing, playing, singing, recording, engineering, mixing and producing. My guess is he also made the tea and swept up around the studio. Andy Latimer was apparently also due to contribute but his ongoing illness obviously forced him to pull out.
The result is a very polished and well put together album of laid back and relaxing melodic prog that fans of his Camel-era albums (Breathless, I Can See Your House From Here and Nude) will enjoy. The commercial direction means that the songs are direct in their approach with very few fiddly bits, but the lush instrumentation makes for an enjoyable listen. Jan’s voice is quite deep in the mix and echoed giving it a faraway vibe but despite not being the strongest voice I’ve ever heard the overall effect is an enjoyable one. With the exception of the title track, which I liked immediately, it took a couple of spins to really start to enjoy the songs. The first time I played the disc I was in the car at the coast looking out over the sea on a calm yet cloudy day and this vision seems to sum up the feel of the disc – not bright and sunny nor cold and wintry but with a sort of autumnal feel. The lyrics aren’t bad on the whole but some of the lines do make you scratch your heard a bit so I think the best way to approach it is to ditch the lyric book and let the music just wash over you.
The album starts with its strongest track, Dark Ships, which is reminiscent of early ‘80’s Camel with a strong melody and nice lead guitar from Boyle. This lengthy and enjoyable track is followed by the short atmospheric instrumental piece Red Sky At Morning with some evocative flute from Hastings and the sounds of gulls and the sea. Next is Sails In The Sun with good use of a stomping Camel rhythm and a nice keyboard solo. True Blue is a slow and lilting piece, the vocal line offering a hint to me of The Beach Boys' God Only Knows in the phrasing – but don’t be fooled, it doesn’t sound at all like them!
The other standout track is next, Holy Voices, a strong piece with sparse piano and sax before a good chorus kicks in. Doug’s lead is excellent here and takes the track on into another Camel stomp with nice keys and a harsher vocal at the end offering a bit of variety. Nothing On Earth is a quiet ballad and The Voyage Of Doby Mick has the feel of a weary and road worn traveller. Pleasant if a little inconsequential until a very nice piano solo opens the track up and some excellent lead guitar takes the track somewhere else. Goin’ To Shanghai has a haunting feel and again a nice chorus, Hastings adding a gorgeous sax solo that oozes class. Silent Solos is slightly more up-tempo than the other tracks here and the soaring chorus and multi-tracked vocal is a highlight, Jan putting in another lovely solo. Dolphins And Oceans starts quietly before building into a stately piece. The vocals are still a little hidden so don’t make the impact that would be necessary to raise this track above the rest, which is a shame. The Coast Of Peru [Away Santiago] is another light and airy piece that keeps sailing ships and the high seas in mind. If a lilting and laid back sea shanty were possible then this could almost be such a thing. Another short instrumental, Soon Be Dreaming, brings things to a conclusion with no fuss, an orchestral opening leading into the sound of the sea with some gorgeous solo piano.
The playing throughout is not flashy or over the top but totally in keeping with the overall feel of the album. Drums and bass are fairly rudimentary but the keys are great and just right for the material, too much soloing and flourishes would spoil it. This is a mature and considered work that isn’t out to impress technically but delivers a good batch of songs and give a rounded listening experience across the album as a whole. It won’t be an album that I will play often as there isn’t a massive amount of variety present, but it is certainly a good album to put on when the right sort of laid-back mood occurs.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Hands - Strangelet
Tracklist: Strangelet (0:41), Dark Matter (15:12), Tambourin (5:42), Running Room (7:12), Entry Of The Shiny Beasts (3:53), Miracle In The Mind (9:49), Rotten (6:40)
I think – no, I’m certain – that if my band ever actually puts out an album, I’m going to insist that, in promo materials, on the CD booklet (if CDs still exist by then!), and on our website, we will devoutly refrain from listing artists who have “influenced” us. Now, I ought to mention in all fairness that Hands admits that its first incarnation came into being “around the time Nixon vacated the White House”; that nineteen different musicians have in the intervening years been through the band; and that the listed influences are attributed to the musicians belonging to the original incarnation. But honestly – when you read that a band has been influenced by (and I’ll choose only a few from the list of a dozen we’re given) Neil Young, Gentle Giant, Frank Zappa, 10CC, and, umm, Beethoven – does such a list really help you understand the musicians or get a handle on their sound?
I’ll answer my own question with a loud “no.” But I can also begin by saying that I always listen to an album several times before reading anything about it, so I’m only mildly annoyed by that list, not at all put off – because, really, this is a fine album, and the band is clearly more than the sum of its influences. I’ll go out on a limb, actually, and offer one more analogue not mentioned in the band’s list: much of the more straightforward music here reminds me of that of the wonderful Missouri band King’s X – especially the occasionally soaring harmony vocals. And yet, despite its history, Hands has moulded a sound all its own on this album, and although I think they still have some work to do, this is an enjoyable, melodic progressive-rock album.
What I like best about the album is the consistency of sound among the seven quite different tracks, and a lot of the credit there goes to singer (also founding member and vocalist) Ernie Myers. He has a pleasant, authoritative voice, distantly reminiscent (okay, I’ll refer to the band’s own list of early influences) of that of 10CC’s Graham Gouldman. But the music as well as the singing helps create the album’s coherence. Although all six musicians are very fine, I might single out keyboardist Michael Clay and bassist Steve Powell. Clay (the other remaining founding member of the band) is especially good on plain old piano, and I have to say that his style – especially on Entry Of The Shiny Beasts and Tambourin, but not a little on most of the other tracks – reminds me of that of Tony Banks, especially in his band’s great early days. Meanwhile, Powell lays down deep groove after deep groove, making sure that the band’s experiments are always grounded on a solid foundation. I sometimes think that the bass guitar is the forgotten hero of great progressive rock, a genre that thrives on flights of keyboard and guitar fancy, with only great practitioners like Chris Squire and Geddy Lee accorded the spotlight. But Powell here shows us – but unshowily! – just how important that groove is to any kind of rock, whatever its prefix. He can even be sort of funky at times: check out the Red Hot Chili Peppers-like groove that introduces Dark Matter. (That’s the song, incidentally, on which you can best hear the King’s X-reminiscent vocal harmonies, too.)
But the other players are no slouches, and the compositions themselves are good – heavy on keyboards, strong in their melodies, compelling in their changes. I guess if I had to choose a single band from their long list to give you the best idea of Hands’ sound, it’d be Gentle Giant, but again, that’s only a very distant comparison. This is cool, melodic, enjoyable progressive rock, nicely played and well produced; I’ll look forward to the band’s next album and am happy to recommend this one.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Siena Root – Far From The Sun
Tracklist: Dreams Of Tomorrow (3:08), Waiting For The Sun (5:57), Time Will Tell (5:50), Almost There (7:45), Two Steps Backwards (3:27), Wishing For More (3:42), The Summer Is Old (7:56), The Break Of Dawn (4:35), Long Way From Home (10:00)
This CD has already gone into the pile I reserve for discs I’ve reviewed and (but?) still want to listen to further. That statement right there is a recommendation, of course, and in fact I like the album a lot; but I’ll have to qualify my recommendation a bit, because DPRP is not a classic-rock website but a progressive-rock website. I like this album because it pretty much sounds as though it were recorded in, oh, late April of 1973 (and yes, delightfully, we’re told on the CD booklet and on the band’s website that there is a vinyl version available, too!), and if you think of Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, early Sabbath, even in places Grand Funk Railroad and Foghat, you’ll have a good idea of the general sound of this band. (The band’s promo letter specifies Led Zeppelin, but aside from the general early-seventies vibe, I don’t really hear that influence.) And in fact, if you’re a fan of 70s-rock revivalists Wolfmother, this is the CD you should get while waiting for that Australian trio to get around to releasing their second album.
So yeah, this album features the heavy organ; the deep bass-and-guitar riffs and grooves; the emphatic but tasty drumming; the soulful vocals (think, say, Lou Gramm or Paul Rogers) – and yes, some sitar. Really. If you’re so inclined, you can play “spot the influences” – noting that this Hammond organ riff reminds you of Jon Lord, or that guitar solo is a bit Mick Box-ian; but the musicians mostly transcend their influences and make the retro sound their own. Occasionally, I’ll admit, the band gets perhaps a little too close to its great predecessors for my liking; track 7, The Summer Is Old, begins with what sounds very like a slowed-down version of Geezer Butler’s bass solo, Bassically, that introduces N.I.B. on the first Sabbath album. Then it segues into a slow song that will, in its quieter parts, remind any Sabbath fan of Solitude from Master Of Reality – so close are the resemblances that I find myself wondering if this song is actually meant as a tribute to Sabbath. Whatever the case may be, that similarity is telling: this band has situated its sound three decades back.
I ought to talk about the progressive elements in the songs. Briefly, there aren’t many, at least not if we’re thinking about what we normally consider progressive. Sure, there are changes in tempo and some weird and funky time signatures; and the band isn’t afraid to use less-traditional rock instruments, though at this point neither flute nor sitar is a particularly surprising instrument to hear on a rock album. What qualifies this band for review on a progressive-rock site is its endearing and self-confident embracing of a thirty-year-old sound and its ability (with an exception or two like the one I’ve noted) to make that sound its own. And there are bits and even whole tracks that correspond nicely to the range of what we now consider “progressive” in seventies music: the instrumental The Break Of Dawn twists and turns through various time signatures and flute solos and heavy riffing, evoking momentarily early King Crimson and (inevitably, because of the flute) Jethro Tull but finally reminding the listener of nothing but Siena Root, so well does the band make this sound its own.
I’m going to recommend this album to anyone who’s even a passing fan of the many seventies bands (and Wolfmother!) I’ve mentioned in this review. In the end, it’s just a very fine heavy-rock album: really good music played by really good musicians who (crucially) sound to me as though they’re throwing themselves into their music and enjoying every minute. As my wife wittily said when I described to her the band’s sound, they’re not so much progressive as “regressive” – but Siena Root turns regression into a fine art on this album.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
The Wrong Object - Stories From The Shed
Tracklist: Sonic Riot At The Holy Palate (2:51), 15/05 (5:37), Sheepwrecked (5:41), Acquiring The Taste (2:00), Lifting Belly (3:13), Malign Siesta (5:36), Theresa's Dress (1:22), Rippling Stones (2:47), Theresa's Dress [Reprise] (1:07), Strangler Fig (3:23), Waves And Radiations (3:23), Saturn (6:50), The Unbelievable Truth - Part I (5:44), The Unbelievable Truth - Part II (4:37)
Belgium has a tradition in the avant-garde scene, and for many the name Univers Zero will ring a bell. The Wrong Object shares (or rather inherits) a lot from them but blends many many different elements in order to create a distinctive style that is quite hard to categorize. Is it jazz? Is it pure avant-garde? Is it Canterbury influenced art-rock? Well - it's an amalgam of all of the above. Anyhow, to give a bit of a historical background, this band is around from 2002 and has participated in many Zappa-cover festivals - they also recently released a work completed with Soft Machine's Elton Dean. This data should suffice to convince you to read on...
The amount of directions, styles, influences is really large. In many instances the avant-garde nature of the brass brings immediately to mind Univers Zero. In others, more modern experimental jazz in the likes of John Zorn's works is an evident point of reference, especially when guitar and guitar synth go harsh and wild. Frank Zappa, let's say around Sleep Dirt, cannot escape being mentioned after one listens to the quirky guitar in The Unbelievable Truth - Part II. As with most experimental music, King Crimson seems not to have eluded their musical education. Fripp flavoured guitars here and there and irregular timings in certain compositions constitute good examples. Well, we even get a bit of a Balkan flavour (think Kusturica's movies with Bregovic's music) in a couple of instances (should you fancy some ethnic touch), but that of course is not characteristic of the whole approach. Soft Machine influences also abound, think Facelift (out of 1970's Third), especially as the album comes to a close (The Unbelievable Truth gave its name to and was included in the CD the band released with Elton Dean).
The album does have some highlights that stand out, even if this doesn't signify unequal material distribution. Sheepwrecked with its ominous ambiance is definitely one, managing to blend many of the aforementioned styles around a particularly estranged saxophone monologue. Acquiring The Taste is another, with more persistent glances at fusion mainly when it comes to bass and guitar and background noise that brings Soft Machine very much to mind; and so the way is paved for Lifting Belly, a real Canterbury track presented in a Zorn-like technical manner. I also love the bluesy side of Saturn where the instruments (mainly the drums) explore as the saxophone plays a very comfortable melody reminding me a bit of Miles Davis' Nefertiti era; the frantic Strangler Fig also qualifies as a favourite: amazing what you can fit into 3 minutes of music - only for the brave!
Here we have five talented instrumentalists that can work well both individually and as part of a team - so the result is a good and concrete team effort that does not overshadow the individual contributions which at certain points stand out. Clearly, this album has much more chances to appeal to a wider (prog) audience than compatriots Univers Zero ever did, or John Zorn's experiments managed to. Still, it remains an open question if it can transcend very open minds with a clear taste for experimentation. As such, I cannot recommend it to all, even if it feels like being slightly unfair. But if you are among those that are keen on the avant-garde jazz scene with a distinctive Canterbury touch, then this will more than do the job for you.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
7Ocean – The Mysterious Race Of Strange Entities
Tracklist: The Visit: I. The Arrival Of The First (Misanthrope), II. The Entities, Part 1, III. The Meeting, IV. The Arrival Of The Second, V. The Entities, Part 2 (9:51), The Beginning: I. The Return, II. The Opening Address Of The Second, III. The Opening Address Of The First (7:30),. I Heard The Sound (6:18), About A Woman And Love (5:18), On The Threshold (8:40), Short Stories (4:25), If Anybody Else Would Ask (3:16), People - Leaves (8:41), Controversy Between The Second And The Misanthrope + Rough Road (10:49), Conclusions (14:46)
This review won’t be as thorough as it ought to be, and the fault is mine, because I don’t speak or read Russian. Thus I can’t really comment on the lyrics on 7Ocean’s debut album The Mysterious Race of Strange Entities – and that omission is all the more serious because it’s touted on the label’s website as a concept album (as the song titles themselves also clearly show). Moreover, the site tells us that the music is “predominantly vocals-based (which is certainly not the same as being song-based)” – and, while I’m not quite sure that odd claim is true of this album, it does indicate that the singer and what he’s singing are of great importance, so I have to begin by saying I wish I could say something, anything, about the lyrics. But they’re sung in Russian and printed in Russian in the booklet.
Thus I can speak only of the music and the quality of the singing. Fortunately, the former is very enjoyable. The only comparison given on the site is Van Der Graff Generator, and, not being very familiar with that band, I can’t say whether the comparison is apt or not; but I can say that 7Ocean (while only a trio) certainly has steeped itself in seventies progressive rock and comes across with a sound more than a bit reminiscent of all our favourites from that decade. I can’t even give proper credit to the three musicians, Alexandr Eletsky, Alexandr Sofiks, and Sergey Starosotsky, since nowhere are we told what each plays, but I will say that they’re more than competent musicians, and whoever’s the keyboardist deserves to be singled out, because he’s largely responsible for the overall sound of the band. The drumming is perky and inventive, too, but the album’s slightly dicey production doesn’t serve it well – as too often happens on lower-budget productions, the snare drum comes across as “tunky” and obtrusive. However, this fault does little damage to the songs.
I should say a word about the vocals upon which apparently the album is “based,” as we’re told. They are, unfortunately, a weak point. Whichever of the guys is the singer, his voice isn’t terribly strong, nor does it have a lot of character. He hits the notes, he sings with expression, but the voice itself isn’t all that pleasant to listen to – not unpleasant, just not pleasant. I mean, who knows – maybe if I knew what he was singing, I’d be able to say (as is sometimes the case with less-than-great singers) that the vocal delivery really suits the words. As it is, though, I must instead say that the vocals are the truly weak feature of the album.
I wish I could say more. The CD is genuinely enjoyable to listen to, with the provisos I’ve mentioned; the songs are varied, the playing is good (and, again, the keyboards especially are fun to listen to for any fan of seventies progressive rock), and the production is generally competent. The faults (that drum sound, the vocals) certainly don’t totally sink the project, either. However, without knowing what the lyrics are, I can’t really say whether, other than musically, the album is a success – it certainly is long and ambitious! – and, as I’ve acknowledged, that’s a problem with the reviewer and not the band or album. Based on the flaws I’ve pointed out, though, I can recommend this one only with reservations.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10