Reviews in this issue:
- Zeroesque - Multipick Technique
- Citriniti - Citriniti
- Aquaplanage – Aquaplanage
- Earthling Society - Beauty And The Beast
- If - Morpho Nestira
- October Equus - Charybdis
- Ragnarök – Path
- Takara - Invitation To Forever
Zeroesque – Multipick Technique
Tracklist: Something Special (4:40), Slippery Slope (6:30), Hat Hair (5:54), The Power Cosmic (4:43), Nasha (4:56), Puddin’ (4:31), Raining Sideways (7:47), La Danza Del Fuego (4:29), Gmaj Funk In F#min (4:49), Divisible By Two (7:42)
Zeroesque’s debut-album by the same name was reviewed by colleague Bob Mulvey and was DPRP recommended. Some 5 years later the two virtuosos come back with their second offering Multipick Technique and it’s a good one! With the addition of Rob DiRocco on drums and Rob Smith on bass (not on all tracks), guitarist/bassist Shawn Christie and keyboardist Tim Lehner have formed a real band, ready to go out on the road and play live. Several guests are taking part of this project but their role is not overwhelmingly important: Vinnie Moore delivers a solo and also Marco Sfogli and Derryl Gabel are doing so. Most important guest is John Friesen who makes a valuable contribution on his saxophone.
The album opens smoothly with a bit of guitar and modest drumming, then the piano joins in giving this track partly a somewhat jazzy feel. Those subtle pieces are alternated by more heavy parts sounding a bit like the Rudess Morgenstein Project. Same treat in track two Slippery Slope, but the big difference with the RMP of course is the guitar. Christie plays riffs when Lehner plays his solo’s and melodies but uses different sounds for his leads and melodies which makes it varied and tasting for more. Guitar-hero Vinnie Moore delivers a superb solo as well. Also rather slow is Hat Hair; mild riffs, a funky beat and delightful electric piano in contrast to the full blast guitar-sounds.
The guitar dominates The Power Cosmic in a mid tempo rock-tune and only a few subtle contributions from Lehner on the piano and the synth. Impressive and multi-finger soloing by Christie, delivering many notes per second by the way. In Nasha a distorted guitar and in a blues-rock rhythm and sound. Lehner uses both synth and organ. Almost soft jazz is Puddin’. No more metal-riffs but a jazzy sounding guitar and the music is comparable to Jan Akkerman’s Puccini's Café. The saxophone emphasizes the fusion/jazz influences in this piece. Totally different is Raining Sideways, hollow sounds by the keyboards and Christie plays some nasty heavy metal riffs. The music comes close to Liquid Tension Experiment but then again there’s a surprise in the middle by way of a little piece of dreamy easy listening music before the harsh guitar-sounds ‘disturbs the piece’.
Some definitive Latin influences as one could expect from a piece called La Danza Del Fuego. Beautiful melodies and fantastic slow soloing by Christie, who plays a mean bit of Spanish guitar as well! Funky, jazzy and full of swing is Gmaj Funk In F#min and the addition of trumpet and sax provide a sort of a horn section making things really funky indeed. Nice duets between Christie’s guitar and Friesen’s saxophone. Lehner playing a modest electric piano again but delivers a dazzling piano solo in the second part.
Final track is called Divisible By Two and is probably the track that has been mostly influenced by Liquid Tension Experiment, although throughout the album I detect some influences from Mastermind as well. The band Karcius from Canada, also an instrumental quartet plays the same genre but the difference is a totally different guitar sound and more jazz influences.
In conclusion an instrumental album consisting of ten tracks full of catchy melodies, daring and dazzling solo’s (predominantly by guitar) and superb musicianship.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Citriniti - Citriniti
Tracklist: Mannequin, Mr. Robbie (4:21), Shock (5:12), Transylvania “Circus Charlie” (5:32), Macabro (4:48), Vicolo Dell Inganno (4:28), Bava (4:48), Maniac (5:24), Lifetime of Penitence (5:47), Damaged Brain (4:30), L’arpa Della Strega (5:01), Into the Convent (6:55)
On March 20, 1974, King Crimson played a show in Brescia, Italy. I don’t know if Brescia residents and brothers Danilo and Domenico Citriniti were old enough to be at that gig or even to remember it, but Crimson plays an influence on their band Citriniti’s self titled and third release.
The brothers, also sons of a musician, emerge into their style of progressive fusion from their roots in progressive metal, and are joined once again for Citriniti by respected Italian guitarist Fabrizio Leo. Guest keyboardist Andrea DePaoli (Simone Fiorletta, previously reviewed in DPRP 2008, Vol. 11), throws down some keyboard solos on a few tracks, including Mannequin, Mr. Robbie, a track evoking modern Rush and featuring some insane drumming from Danilo and sweet solo licks from Leo.
The lightning-speed soloing from Leo and the careening rhythm section of the Citriniti brothers rollick all over this CD, and are especially evident on the aptly titled tunes Shock and Maniac. Leo’s frenetic guitar styling is similar to that of his fellow countryman Fiorletta, mentioned above.
The disc as a whole can be generally compared to the Rush instrumental Where’s My Thing? but more abrasive and charged-up. In addition to Crimson, various tracks on the CD lend parallels to the Crimson side projects Tu and alter ego band ProjeKct X as references.
The CD is self-produced and well at that. The performing and musicianship are top-notch. The dark-looking CD booklet cover and illustrations are by Danilo.
Citriniti will most likely appeal to fans of progressive fusion in general. It will not strike the fancy of anyone who prefers tamer, more conservative music. For improvement on their next CD release, I suggest the band use some spoken word vocals in the avant-garde style of 80’s era Crimson.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Aquaplanage – Aquaplanage
Tracklist: Ode To Grey Mornings: [(i) Innocence, (ii) Pleasure’s Mine, (iii) The Journey, (iv) Rebellion, (v) Wiser (15:27)], The Sands Of Time (5:33), Nature's Sunday (8:13), Solara (5:10), Aquaplanage (6:20), Heaven's Gate (5:56), A Song To Stand Above Them All (5:07), Theme (3:10), One Star (3:52)
You’ve got to admire Aquaplanage for their bravado proclaiming this self titled debut release as "The next classic prog album". But then again they should know their progressive chops being a side project of Yes tribute band Fragile who’ve been active in the UK for the past 10 years. Like Yes, Fragile has undergone several line-up changes themselves as reflected on this disc with input from Fragile members past and present. The present is represented by Robert Illesh (guitars, vocals, keyboards, flute, programming), Steve Carney (lead vocals), Tom Dawe (rhythm guitar) and Max Hunt (additional keyboards). From the past they are joined by Fragile co-founder Jon Bastable (bass) and Mitch Harwood (drums, vocals). By all accounts the songs were written as far back as 2001 but are only just now seeing the light of day.
They open proceedings with the albums obligatory epic length piece Ode To Grey Mornings. Divided into five distinct but harmoniously integrated sections it showcases the bands melodic and readily accessible sound. Innocence is a pastoral excursion into prog-folk territory guided by acoustic guitar, flute and multi part harmonies before Pleasure’s Mine takes a sharp left into King Crimson terrain with jagged Adrian Belew inflected guitar. The mellow The Journey features some wonderful guitar picking and wistful vocals in the style of Strangefish’s Steve Taylor before the jubilant Rebellion with its Hackett flavoured melodious guitar, rumbling bass pattern and fuzzed Hammond solo. The finale Wiser builds from ambient electronic beginnings into a confident guitar and synth melody with Carney adopting an early Marillion era Fish vocal tone. Sadly it runs out of steam before reaching the anticipated grand peak which is a tad disappointing.
Elsewhere the album is an even balance of 3 to 8 minute songs covering a variety of moods and tempos with a trio of instrumentals thrown in for good measure. The Sands Of Time is full of Eastern promise with its ethnic chants and colourful instrumentation in the spirit of Led Zep’s Kashmir. Illesh provides a fine orchestral arrangement making good use of the guest string section comprising Deborah Peake, Ruth McGibbenn and Sophie Hurr. Nature's Sunday is a song of two contrasting halves beginning with a tranquil guitar, piano and vocal lament reminiscent of Genesis circa Nursery Cryme before morphing into a not entirely convincing hard rock section complete with in-your-face guitar histrionics. Carney certainly has an adaptable voice, doubtless through his experiences as a live performer dating back to 1979, but for me he’s vocally less persuasive with the heavier material. It also struck me that despite ten years signing Yes tunes there is little similarity between Anderson’s vocals and his own high tenor delivery.
Heaven's Gate is an unashamed ballad which exposes the often inherent sentimental and simplistic nature of the bands lyrics. A romantic vocal, piano and strings intro develops into a syrupy chorus before bowing out with a predictable but welcome Gilmour-esque guitar break. One Star is the bands questionable attempt at a Christmas song complete with the usual clichéd references to ringing bells and children, capped by a formulaic festive keys sound. The disappointing A Song To Stand Above Them All unsurprisingly fails to live up to its audacious title despite the bands best efforts to deliver a strident anthem. Carney relishes his role here ranging from Roger Daltrey style vocal posturing to a playful falsetto with Illesh adding a spirited acoustic guitar break that echoes Trevor Rabin’s Solly's Beard.
I’ve deliberately saved the instrumentals until last because for me they’re the albums highlights, which is not intended as a slight on Carney’s vocal talents. Written by Hunt, (who presumably provides the majority of the instrumentation), Solara is a keyboard delight complete with fast but melodic Emerson style piano flurries, gothic pipe organ and Wakeman rich synth noodlings. It concludes with a dreamy Vangelis influenced synth soundscape straight out of Blade Runner. Appropriately, the albums title track Aquaplanage is also its strongest. Composed by Illesh and former Fragile keys man Gonzalo Carreras it features counterpoint acoustic guitars with delicate violin and flute embellishments. There is an air of Hackett at his most languid here together with shades of Oldfield particularly in the classical guitar work. Shimmering strings provide the icing on the cake. Also from the same writing partnership is the mellow Theme, a less ambitious but no less effective piece with a memorable chiming guitar motif that once again brings the Tubular Bells maestro to mind.
Whilst not every song here works for me, Aquaplanage have certainly gone to a good deal of trouble to produce an album that runs a gamut of styles without once challenging the listener’s involvement. Given their background they should also be applauded for avoiding what would have been the obvious Yes sound alike route. This release comes packaged in some very nice artwork from my favourite album designer at the moment Ed Unitsky plus meticulous production values courtesy of chief protagonist Robert Illesh.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Earthling Society - Beauty And The Beast
Tracklist: Drowned World (8:53), Candlemass (4:35), Tenement Song (5:00), Sundropped (5:37), untitled (3:29), A Modest Flower (5:21), The Boy With The X-Ray Eyes (5:32), The Moonlit Road (6:28), Valerie A Tyden Divu (12:14), A Playground Mystery (9:47)
Lancashire's Earthling Society released their fourth album last year under the title Beauty And The Beast, recorded in their very own hand built and completely analogue studio. The press release accompanying the album suggested that the album was a "farewell to their more obvious space rock leanings", although right from the opening notes of Drowned World, there is no mistaking which genre this music comfortably fits into. With swirling keyboards, Theremin and fluttering bass sounds, we seem to be set for another journey round the cosmos. But hang on, what's this? The intro ends and all of a sudden we are thrown back forty years to the height of Krautrock with a rumbling bottom end, vocals pushed right to the back of the mix and an overtly psychedelic vibe thrown in. Interesting, although for anyone familiar with the earlier albums this is no surprise given the band's previous ventures into Krautrock style music. Candlemass has, somewhat incongruently, a quite alt country side to it with acoustic guitars strumming away while Tenement Song also delivers a twelve-string guitar traipse through pastures untrod since the summer of love. Sundropped, a psychedelic pop song of fine standing, leads into the Untitled instrumental that was perhaps the group's own theme tune to the Beijing Olympics with a clear Chinese undercurrent giving way to a tabla and drum percussion section before an all out spacerock ending. Opening of A Modest Flower is potentially a clarion call to all old Clangers fans before we are treated to another strongly written song that proves it is not just all about strange 'out there' noises. Indeed, there is a surprisingly adept layering to most of the songs on this album; what initially may appear like another small bore canon in the massed ranks of psychedelic artillery, actually subverts, or rather inverts, the metaphor to prove that you don't need the biggest barrel to produce the loudest bang.
The Boy With The X-Ray Eyes is something that one would never have expected to have heard on such an album, a song that is eminently hummable and can be sung along to without too much embarrassment. Much like the great Syd Barret was able to write whimsical pop songs yet still maintain the ultimate psychedelic credentials, all-rounder Fred Laird and drummer Jon Blacow have drafted a song that hold potential appeal to a cross-over audience without prostituting any musical ideals of their fans. Unfortunately, next track The Moonlit Road, despite featuring some nice flute work, is rather rambling and unfocused. Never mind for we are soon heading back to the nursery for the opening of Valerie A Tyden Divu which gradually opens like a sun-kissed flower into an extended piece containing a variety of different sections. Acoustic guitars, Mellotrons, Hillage-esque sliding, gliding electric guitar solos, impassioned vocals and a steady bass keeping everything in check creates a musical assemblage of some satisfaction. Final track A Playground Mystery which a part of me desperately wanted to be a cover of the similarly titled Siouxsie And The Banshees song, is quite a disappointing ending, rather slow and plodding and fading out after about five minutes, strange given the almost 10-minute running time. After a small gap there follows an instrumental collection of seemingly random bits mixed together. Punctuated by what sounds like a doorbell, frantic beats, odd notes and chords, waves lapping against a shore, backwards tapes and goodness knows what else, it is actually far superior to the 'song' element that precedes it.
Beauty And The Beast is another solid album from The Earthling Society. Providing a different angle to their sound has exposed new depths to the performance and, more particularly, the composition. The more popish songs are the revelation here and could expand the audience for the band, if they can get heard, but there is still enough to please the longer standing fans and admirers, and you can't hope for anything fairer than that.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
If - Morpho Nestira
Tracklist: You Need (3:32), Morpho Nestira Part 1 (3:19), 10 Years Old (5:50), Background Noise (3:08), Thirsty (4:16), Learning To Communicate (3:54), Unknown Eyes (5:42), Poison (3:40), Naked (5:40), Morpho Nestira Part 2 (6:41), Empty (7:44), Oceans Of Time (4:13)
The music business, and those corporations around it, is suffering a slow and painful death. As catastrophic as this may sound to some, the truth is, sales have been dwindling exponentially around the world in the last 5-6 years, and the only “artists” with guaranteed distribution and public exposure are those (don’t need to mention them… just fill the gap with your own personal “blacklisted”) who belong to the big Machine.
In If’s own words, “our weaknesses feed the Machine”, and they couldn’t be more right, as this Italian band, along a few thousand more in the musical scene, is another victim of this big, unforgiving device. They have self-produced, and self-released, their latest release, Morpho Nestira (name for a particularly beautiful species of butterfly), apparently a concept album about “human rendition to materialism”. Probably, they chose to do things their own way by not compromising their “art” with a contract, but I’d rather think there wasn’t any contract in sight (correct me if I’m wrong), because there’s not much room left for small independent bands outside mainstream channels.
Sadly, this affects the overall result of the album, as production values are poor by professional standards and, as a result, the sound is thin and lacks depth; anyway, I guess the budget was tight, so guitarist Dario Lastella deserves credit for his good job on the controls. My other main grip with this album is Paolo De Santis’ work on vocals. Having a nice tone, as he does, sometimes his voice sounds strained as he tries to project a more powerful performance; besides, his English diction could certainly be much better. Why doesn’t he sing in Italian?
Performance and composition-wise, Morpho Nestira sounds reasonably pleasant, with a special mention to Claudio Lapenna’s classy keyboards, and Franco Bussoli’s subdued bass lines. If’s music will remind you of Pink Floyd, especially their mid-period, their most successful, between the releases of Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall, and this means elegant music and thought-provoking lyrics. Roger Waters’ influence on the overall concept of the album, and more prominently in some specific songs, like Naked (which could have been on The Wall), is evident, but there’s room for more. Thirsty is another Floyd tinged track, but Yul Fecé’s saxophone provides a certain Supertramp flavour. The other main reference, at least to my ears, is Swedish band Ritual. This is not to say they’re a strongly influential band, but vocals often sound very similar to Patrik Lundström’s. This is evident in the more energetic songs, such as You Need, Background Noise or closing track Oceans Of Time, which also show a slight alternative, harder edged character.
Elsewhere, there’s a couple of nice instrumentals, the Latin perfumed Morpho Nestira Part 1, and the more reflective and keyboard-oriented Morpho Nestira Part 2, as well as loads of sound effects and voices, perhaps to give the CD more depth and a cohesive, conceptual feel, but I’m not sure it works. In particular, spoken word fragments (in Italian, English, and Spanish) don’t add too much and may be a distraction for some listeners.
In closing, this is an acceptable piece of music, marred by its slightly “amateurish” personality, which shows interesting ideas and loads of enthusiasm.
If only they had the time, and the means…
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
October Equus - Charybdis
Tracklist: Architeuthis Dux (3:40), Frozen Sea (7:21), Trylobites (3:20), Fata Morgana (4:58), Unknown Pilot (3:20), Forgotten Sirens (2:48), Abyssal (3:32), Thera (3:34), Niarsek (4:25), Charybdis (5:57), Helgoland (3:42)
The band's name October Equus (October Horse) is derived from a festival way back in the times of the Roman Empire, where the right horse of a winning team was sacrificed to Mars, the Roman God of war. Mythical and historical interests inspire this four piece band from Spain as we see from the title of their second album is Charybdis, the daughter of Poseidon and Gaia.
October Equus creates instrumental music in a style that is best described as RIO and avant-garde. A combination of Univers Zero and King Crimson, no easy listening for sure.
If you don't like the start of Architeuthis Dux then their is no need to continue listening. Very jazzy start of the album and a very loose style of composing songs, many time changes and keyboard sounds. The contribution of Francisco Mangas on saxophone really gives October Equus a unique sound.
Frozen Sea starts with an organ in a Focus like style, however the centre part of the song is more free-style jazz and the end features gentle saxophone melodies. Throughout Trylobites a pleasant bass line is accompanied by a loose jazzy drum sound, giving plenty of freedom for a clean guitar to improvise. Fata Morgana changes many times from messy jazz to a stately manner of playing. It sounds like improvisation at times but the band members never lose themselves or one another. Unknown Pilot is a song that does not appeal to me, what does not happen on Fata Morgana happens here, a very incoherent song.
October Equus play experimental music and the compositions are at times borderline chaotic. Forgotten Sirens also does not bring back the tightness of the first couple of songs. Many organs and guitar, not so clean this time, but both appear to be playing for themselves. Although Abyssal is more structured and reminds me of King Crimson. Thera is very slow and sad sounding with a dirty guitar sound. A free jazz sound that is more cohesive than some parts on the middle section of this album. Niarsek is even slower and sadder, more structure but also a bit boring. The title track Charybdis is a big step forward and in league with the first part of the album. Cleverly built composition with many points of freedom for jazzy parts that do not lose direction. The saxophone again is the cream on the cake sound wise. Sadly Helgaland does not continue in this style and is an incoherent end to this album.
This instrumental album is not very accessible and will certainly scare some listeners after only a couple of seconds. October Equus, to my personal liking, does not come up with a perfect mix between structure and improvisation. Some songs appear to be going nowhere and after many spins, I can tell you that there's not much melody that got stuck in my mind.
I do not wish to end this review all in negativity, this album will certainly appeal to part of the DPRP readership. If you like dark music like Univers Zero combined with the complexity of King Crimson then this album might interest you. The quality of sound is very good and the musicians certainly show their craftsmanship. The participation of saxophone really creates a sound that puts them aside from other bands.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Ragnarök – Path
Tracklist: Mirrors And Windows (4:30), Lakansvind (5:04), Chinese River (5:52), Waterlevels (6:33), Dog 1 (7:04), September (4:32), Angel (5:30), Dog 2 (10:10)
Ragnarok formed in Sweden in the 1970’s. Their self-titled first album is well worth searching out for fans of folky instrumental prog. Although several more albums were released over the years, a gradual shift in personnel saw the last surviving original member Peter Bryngelsson jump ship before their last album Well appeared in 1991. Remarkably, for Path, the drummer from the last album Thomas Wiegart, is joined by all the 1976 line-up (minus the drummer, obviously) so a direct line to their 1977 debut can be drawn. In fact, the new material is very similar in feel to the debut album, except there is no flute on the new album, so guitars play a much more prominent role on Path.
For those new to Ragnarok, what you have in store is a strong set of moody instrumentals, oozing a particularly Scandinavian ambience, and rich in Swedish folk melodies; there is also a slight jazz sensibility here – particularly noticeable in the fine work of the rhythm section.
On a couple of tracks (Dog 1 & September), the sparse, minimal approach suggests a rock version of the impressionistic world-jazz hybrid purveyed by the ECM label. The understated guitars and gently brushed drums support this impression. I prefer the tracks where the beat is slightly stronger and the folk influences come to the fore, like on Lakansvind, Waterlevels and Angel. On these tracks, and others, I am reminded of the magical music of fellow Swedes Bo Hansson and Kebnekaisse, albeit in a sparser setting.
The whole album is inundated with tastefully restrained guitar, building in elaborate layers including lots of Lap Steel guitar and Dobro. The melodies are sometimes melancholic or wistful, but often increase in intensity (especially on the harder-edged Waterlevels) and are likely to stick in your mind for a good while after hearing.
Though perhaps slow to grab your attention, the music on this disc is thoughtfully constructed; its prevalently languid, gentle moods make it a great listen for long winter evenings and the subtly layered instruments ensure that repeated listens will continue to pay dividends. With excellent production form original producer Anders Lind, this unexpected reunion disc manages to live up to the high standard of the original album whilst sounding entirely contemporary.
Important Note - The above track titles are taken from the band’s website (see the above link) which states that the information printed on the CD cover is incorrect.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Takara - Invitation To Forever
Tracklist: Angel Of Lies (3:31), Final Warning (4:52), 555 (4:09), Spotlight (3:31), Riders On The Road (4:13), The Story Has To Be Told (4:30), Place Under The Sun (3:43), Still A Mystery (3:52), Looking For Salvation (5:04), This Photograph (3:42), I Can’t Hold On (4:06), Nowhere To Run (3:56)
After who knows how many line-up changes since their debut in 1993, Takara are back with their fifth studio album. Guitarist Neil Grusky succeeded in putting together a new line-up consisting of Björn Englen (bass) and Patrick Johansson (drums), both of Yngwie Malmsteen fame. As for a vocalist he enlisted ex-Adagio front man Gustavo Monsanto from Brazil and completing the current line up is keyboardist Brook Hansen. Back after ten years with the band, but to my regret only doing some harmony vocals, is Jeff Scott Soto.
Grusky wrote twelve hard edge, straight forward AOR tunes with stunning guitars and impeccable drumming and bass playing, but only a minor role for the keys unfortunately. The music is heavily influenced by bands like Rainbow and Van Halen. Catchy melodies, nice sing along choruses but nothing really special to my taste. Good music but if you have been around as long as I have, we’ve all heard it dozens of times before. Bands like Eternal Flame, Freedom Call, Joe Lynn Turner, Drive She Said, the Japanese “Rainbow clones”, they all sound similar to some extent. And I must say, I do miss JSS.
Monsanto tries hard to walk his trail but the refinement and power is just not there on the record and it feels like he’s had a hard time in the studio performing. In fact I really doubt if Monsanto could deliver these songs properly live, but this might be open for discussion. However that’s not the issue here. "This Invitation" could be a very pleasant album for those not familiar with the ‘older’ groups performing in this genre. Because there are and have been so many acts making music similar to what Takara does here, you need to have at least a spectacular vocalist and preferably extremely good compositions and although the songs are not bad at all, in my opinion they are mediocre. Even in the studio to my ears Monsanto does not get the higher tones really right and his performance doesn’t quite convince me. There’s no doubt Grusky is a good guitar player but why does it always have to be “look how many notes I can play per second”? That finesse and those extra special moments are just not there. Therefore my hunch is that this album will not be a chart breaking one nor will it become a ‘classic’.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10