Reviews in this issue:
- Pure Reason Revolution - Amor Vincit Omnia
- The Reasoning - Dark Angel (Duo Review)
- Delain - April Rain
- SBB - Iron Curtain
- SBB - Roskilde 1978
- Robert Beriau – Selfishness: Source Of War & Violence
- Bittertown - Scenes From The Box
- Snarling Adjective Convention- Bluewolf Bloodwalk
- Opram - Live
- Multifuse - Journey To The Nesting Place
Pure Reason Revolution - Amor Vincit Omnia
Tracklist: Les Malheurs (5:02), Victorious Cupid (3:38), [I] Keep Me Sane/Insane (0:54), [II] Apogee - [III] Requiem For The Lovers (5:23), Deus Ex Machina (5:44), Bloodless (5:30), Disconnect (5:53), The Gloaming (9:00), AVO (3:00)
After releasing a mini album (Cautionary Tales For The Brave), a full-length CD (The Dark Third) and a series of singles, Pure Reason Revolution closed their adventure with Sony Music at the end of 2006. Once hailed as the 21st Century's Pink Floyd, the band were on their own again. Eventually The Dark Third was re-released by Inside Out and the band released a new single (Victorious Cupid) and a live album (Live At Nearfest 2007) while continuing to work on new material. This new material has now finally been released on their new album Amor Vincit Omnia.
Maybe it was the sudden 'creative freedom' resulting from the Sony break-up, or maybe the band were just in for something completely different. Whatever it was, Amor Vincit Omnia proves to be a drastic change in direction. The Floydian influences of Cautionary Tales For The Brave and the first half of The Dark Third are mostly gone and so is the massive, overproduced sound of the second half of The Dark Third. Personally I'm not very mournful about the latter. I've always found the lack of diversity and 'packed' sound a bit of a challenge when listening to their album and I'll easily admit that I have rarely played the album from beginning to end. This sound is now only present in Victorious Cupid and Requiem For The Lovers. The other tracks present a whole new side of Pure Reason Revolution.
Where the band's previous work dragged The Beach Boys and Pink Floyd into the 21st Century, Amor Vincit Omnia drags the whole 80s electronics scene of Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk, New Order and The Human League straight into this new millennium. Of course, all of this is blended with the trademark harmony vocals and quirkiness we have come to expect of the band. Those who have seen the band live in the past two years will most probably already have heard some of the new material and will have noticed how electronics, keyboards and blips and beeps play a much more important role in the new style. Then again, an excellent track like Deus Ex Machina proves how stunningly impressive a marriage between this style and heavy prog rock can be. As such, this is the absolute highlight of the album. Main composer Jon Courtney described the blend of the music as follows:
"I wanted it to move from the sombre, softer passages, then in a flash switch to the heavier, more ferocious, angsty bits. I wanted to sum up the euphoria of love coupled with the inevitable despair that can happen at the end of a relationship."
I couldn't have described a track like Deus Ex Machina in any better way. The album as a whole is a concept album in a certain way. Not only do most or all of the songs deal with the theme of love, they also share some common lyrics that return throughout the 44 minutes playtime. I personally like this lyrical linking a lot.
A few words about the individual tracks. The fully electronic Les Malheurs sounds like a tribute to Depeche Mode. To be honest, the wonderful multi-layered vocals work much better here with the open sound than with the last album's guitar violence. As a matter of fact, you can almost make out the lyrics on this one. One of my favourites of the album. Victorious Cupid is well placed as a second track, stressing the heavier guitar side of the band. For many this is a familiar track, that has received a slight make-over. I'm not sure if I find the fade-in effects in the intro a real improvement, but it's still a good track that's just short enough to not become too repetitive. The combination of Keep Me Sane/Insane - Apogee - Requiem For The Lovers could easily have been part of The Dark Third since it shares the same massive sound. As such it is a good series of tracks but certainly not one of my favourite tracks on the CD because it sounds like more of the same. It does however help to keep a balance on the album.
As mentioned, Deus Ex Machina is the highlight of the album, a perfect combination of the old and new sound. It oozes frustration and anger and the flow from the electronic intro to the heavy second half when the drums and guitars come in is magical. After the violence of the previous track the gentle Bloodless is a nice diversion. Full of breaks and piano arrangements this is a nice resting point halfway the album. The second, more up-tempo half of the song again focuses more on electronics and vocal harmonies. Disconnect, with it's vocoded effects, sounds like a tribute to Kraftwerk. Again fully electronic, it's a fun track that returns to some of the lyrical concepts of the album. The many 80s-like skips and breaks in the flow of the song make it sound like the good old Latin Rascals have remixed this tune. This is probably the biggest deviation from the band's old sound.
The Gloaming is another track that blends the old and new. It has some very good moments but with it's 9 minutes length it quickly falls into the trap of dragging on for far too long. It's simply too repetitive to stay interesting. It takes about 7 minutes for the song to really make any significant change, after which it drags on for two more minutes with synth effects. A missed opportunity. AVO, an abbreviation of the album title Amor Vincit Omnia (Love Conquers All), starts with a haunting piano melody and develops into something that The Art Of Noise could have produced. Repeating the lyrical concepts of the album the track eventually moves into a second section where the album title is repeated and the full band kicks in, again proving that the best songs are made by combining the band's old and new sound. Another one of my favourites and a worthy album closer.
Already this new direction has caused quite a bit of controversy on the Internet. Some people have blamed the band for selling out for a larger audience. I personally don't see this. This new direction will both cost them fans and gain them some new ones, but I seriously doubt if Amor Vincit Omnia will appeal to the masses. If so, Sony would not have dropped the band, would they? But certainly, the change is too drastic to be ignored and like me there will be people who love it and others who hate it. And among narrow minded progheads there will certainly be a lot in the latter category. Whatever your personal opinion may be - and I do hope you give this record a fair chance - the band has to be admired for their bold switch in style and sound.
Conclusion: 8+ out of 10
The Reasoning - Dark Angel
Tracklist: Dark Angel (6:56), Sharp Sea (7:33), How Far To Fall (4:22), Serenity (1:42), Call Me God? (6:09), In The Future (5:06), Absolute Zero (4:44), Breaking The 4th Wall (5:50), A Musing Dream (9:13)
Tom De Val's Review
Its not hard to see why The Reasoning’s debut album, Awakening, made something of a splash in the prog world. Whilst the band included amongst their number ex-members of Karnataka (vocalist Rachel Cohen) and Magenta (bassist and band leader Matt Cohen), and readily admitted to taking influences from a number of classic rock and prog bands, they managed to create a sound that felt fresh and vibrant, helped no end by the fact that the band employ three vocalists (two male & one female), each of whom is a strong singer in their own right, but really coming in to their own when playing off each other, creating some exquisite vocal harmonies.
Advance word on Dark Angel, The Reasoning’s sophomore release, was that it would have a darker, heavier feel, and would make more use of Rachel Cohen, who joined the band too late to have that much of an input on Awakening. Well, advance word was right – but only to an extent. Several of the songs are indeed darker in tone, but this isn’t true across the board, and the essential character of the band’s sound established on Awakening remains intact. Equally, there is a heavier edge to some of the material, presumably at least partly on account of new guitarist Owain Roberts, who comes from a metal background, but again its more a toughening up of the sound than a complete makeover. Finally, Rachel Cohen does have more of an input, particularly in terms of penning the lyrics, but its not at the expense of the other two vocalists, and the vocal chemistry between the three singers that made the debut sparkle is still largely intact.
As with Awakening, Dark Angel benefits by being kicked off by a strong title track which sets the tone of what’s to follow. There’s definitely a slight Goth metal feel to the opening guitar work, with some thick metallic riffs offset by piano, before the song settles down to what you could call a more traditional feel, all soaring guitars and Rachel Cohen’s dreamy vocals. The bridge is more urgent, leading to a memorable chorus complete with strong vocal harmonies. There’s also some great interwoven vocal acrobatics later on in the song, which moves smoothly through its varied sections, and is a strong opening gambit. Sharp Sea follows in similar style; once over its slightly mournful opening, the song establishes itself as another varied, mid-tempo rocker, with some great hard rock-style guitar solos at the song’s conclusion.
How Far To Fall? sees the tempo taken down a notch, a tranquil ballad which features keyboardist Gareth Jones on lead vocals in the verse, with Rachel Cohen joining in on the bridge and chorus. The song actually strays quite close to Karnataka territory in places. Following the short, pastoral-sounding instrumental Serenity, Call Me God is an altogether darker piece, indicated immediately by the ominous, synth-dominated intro. The lead riff has a very modern metallic sheen to it, whilst guitarist Dylan Thompson’s lead vocal in the verse bristles with cynicism, echoing the lyrical content. The bridge features Rachel Cohen in atypically detached mode, again in keeping with the lyrical content, before leading to a fine chorus which once again features some excellent, highly effective vocal interplay, with Gareth Jones’ snaky synth lines providing a nice juxtaposition to the more edgy guitar work; Jones also gets to fire off a very vintage-sounding keyboard solo in the more mellow mid-section of the song. You feel the band could actually have extended this song to far longer than its six-odd minutes, and it’s to their credit that they don’t feel the need to do this, instead packing in numerous tempo and style changes in a more concise time frame.
Up next are a couple of ballads. In The Future, principally sung (excellently) by Dylan Thompson, is a mellow and restful track, probably needed after its predecessor. Again, Jones’ subtle, unobtrusive keyboard work is of a noticeably high quality. The song actually reminded me of Jadis in their more laidback moments. The heavier guitar work which suddenly appears towards the end of the track doesn’t really fit with the song however, feeling as if it belongs in a completely different piece. Absolute Zero, a more jaunty track sung by Jones, is less impressive and my least favourite track on the album. It also seems like a ballad too far – a more up-tempo, rockier piece would have fit the bill at this stage of the album.
Breaking The Fourth Wall was one of the first tracks played live by the band prior to the album’s release, and is one that skilfully utilises the vocals of Jones and Cohen and the playing off of their voices against one another to maximum effect. Unfortunately the keyboard work is rather cheesy here, and there is a hint of AOR power ballad about the song – it might perhaps have worked best as an acoustic piece.
Closing out the album, the punningly-titled A Musing Dream is perhaps The Reasoning’s most experimental and adventurous effort to date. Following the slightly eerie, piano dominated opening, the pacey, intertwining guitar work definitely takes us into heavier territory, confirmed by the down-tuned riffing, dark-hued keyboard work and Thompson’s gritty vocals in the verse. The chorus, such as it is, features a more optimistic feel and provides a good counterpoint. The mid-section slows things right down once again, with Rachel Cohen and Thompson again providing some sparkling interwoven vocals, before each of the musicians are given a chance to show their chops – a harmonica is even featured for good measure! The song gradually increases in heaviness again, and makes sure that the album goes out with a bang.
Overall, Dark Angel certainly proves that the debut was no fluke. It’s not as instant an album, and even after many listens it doesn’t quite have the magic of the first – the album does sag a little towards the end prior to the excellent closer, and I feel that overall Awakening has the edge in terms of the more memorable songs. That said, it is a close run thing, and songs such as the title track, Call Me God and A Musing Dream are amongst the best the band have penned. So, no sophomore slump here, and I’m certainly eager to hear what The Reasoning come up with next.
Edwin Roosjen's Review
In 2007 The Reasoning was voted best newcomer in the DPRP poll and late 2008 sees the release of the ever so difficult second album. The heart of the band is Matthew Cohen, former member of Magenta who wanted a creative outlet for himself. The Reasoning is not a solo project but a genuine band, the writing of the music is mainly done by Matthew Cohan and guitar player and singer Dylan Thompson. Singer Rachel Cohen contributes a lot on the lyric part and third singer Gareth Jones also participates in creating this new album. A difference with the first album is Owain Roberts who replaces Lee Wright on the guitar. Also new is Rachel's last name, she married Matthew Cohen so now every credit has to be preceded by an initial to distinguish who does what. The style of The Reasoning has stayed the same however in comparison to the first album, with many influences from symphonic bands like Mostly Autumn, Magenta and Arena.
The opener Dark Angel starts out very symphonic and evolves into a heavier and darker part. The Reasoning is not coming up with surprises here and this song is a nice extension to the first album. Sharp Sea is for me the best song on the album, even one of the best songs of 2008. Too bad the album appeared late in 2008, my vote was missed for the 2009 poll because of a late delivery. The seven and a half minute song does not bore me at any moment - this is symphonic music at it's best. The multi vocal singing during the chorus is great, I love this song.
How Far To Fall is a ballad with an up-tempo guitar solo part. It's a nice song in which The Reasoning is cleverly using the different vocalists. Serenity is a short instrumental interlude, kind of like the Cry For Help bits from Arena. Call Me God? opens dreamily but a Metallica like riff fires it up. The really heaviness is very short, don't worry, but it shows the growth of the sound of the band. This song alternates frequently and at times, shortly though, sounds really heavy. In The Future is another ballad, usually not my favourite part of album but this one is pretty good as it is not annoyingly sad and not a soggy love song - it's a beautiful song.
Absolute Zero is a symphonic song but it takes things a bit more easier than the compositions in the first part of the album. No lengthy bits or very sudden changes in style but a very decent compact composition. Breaking The 4th Wall I thought would be the closer of the album as they played that song at a concert, half a year before the release of this album, and this would have seemed a perfect closing song. Again very symphonic but a much more dramatic song is A Musing Dream which is over nine minutes long and again another good composition, which I think would have been better placed in the middle of this album but that's just a marginal note.
The Reasoning have succeeded in surpassing their debut album Awakening, although staying pretty much in the same style. At first listen you might not hear any difference at all, but after a few spins this album improves more and more and it is clearly the better of the two releases. However those who did not like the first album will not like this one and they should not expect anything completely new on this album, however, if you liked the first album then this is a must-have album. The overall quality in songs is much higher and there is still a killer song on it, namely Sharp Sea. This album comes highly recommended to all fans of progressive/symphonic rock.
Delain - April Rain
Tracklist: April Rain (4:37), Stay Forever (4:27), Invidia (3:49), Control The Storm (4:14), On The Other Side (4:11), Virtue And Vice (3:56), Go Away (3:38), Start Swimming (5:21), Lost (3:24), I’ll Reach You (3:30), Nothing Left (4:39)
Delain, a Dutch female fronted progressive metal outfit with a ‘Gothic’ touch, have their second album out. The band is led by ex-Within Temptation keyboardist Martijn Westerholt (yes, the brother of Robert). Because of his illness a few years ago (Pfeiffer’s disease) he had to be replaced in Within Temptation but after a full recovery he formed his own band, originally started as a project. Singer Charlotte Wessel's evidently learned a lot and is really making her way to the top of the genre. Their debut album Lucidity was well received (Edwin Roosjen scored it an 8-) and this album is a worthy successor.
All songs are pop-orientated rock with the emphasis on being catchy and ready to get a lot of airplay. Not so much progressive nor original I must add, and all eleven songs are within the 5:21 minutes limit. Listening to the album, my first impression was: this is the album Nightwish should have made instead of Dark Passion Play but the originality, refinement and ground breaking albums of that Finnish outfit places Nightwish in a higher league. The overall feel of April Rain is comparable to Nightwish’s Oceanborn album, but recorded anew and sung by Anette instead of Tarja. The participation of Marko Hietala in tracks 4 and 11 makes the Nightwish influences even more obvious. Guest on the album is cellist Maria Ahn; she is featured in the track On The Other Side (not a cover of the song by Kansas!). The production duties were performed by Oliver Phillips (Everon) and he surely knows how to produce a bombastic album like this. Tracks like April Rain, Go Away and Lost definitely have the Nightwish touch, the other songs are more in the vein of Within Temptation and perhaps a bit similar to the more mellow songs by After Forever.
My personal favourites are the songs with Marko and the highlight for me is Start Swimming, an absolutely fabulous chorus and the most progressive track of all. Though it’s not genuine ‘progressive rock’ as such, this band should be checked out live and although Delain are playing safe again, April Rain is a real solid album and providing three quarters of an hour of high quality melodic female fronted metal. The special edition (RR 78795) features an exclusive bonus track. Maybe some of the riffs and choruses are predictable, but there is lot on this record you should be able to enjoy as much I did and will do for quite some time!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
SBB – Iron Curtain
Tracklist: Iron Curtain (5:07), Defilada (6:08), Camelele (4:51), Rozmowa Z Mistrzem (5:14), Opwiésc (4:34), Blogoslawione Dni (5:00), Sunrise (3:02), Góry Tanczace (4:41), Dopóki Zyje Matka Jestes Dzieckiem (4:18)
SBB need no introduction to any self-respecting proghead. They are THE Polish progressive rock institution par excellence, and very well deserving of that distinction, thanks to a near 40 year history of masterful albums and a very solid output overall.
Like their previous release, The Rock (2007), Iron Curtain shows a veteran band that has nothing to show at this stage of their career. This is one of those albums, made by seasoned musicians who have mastered their instruments and their art, and stand for subtlety and elegance, rather than flashiness and bombast. There are no big epics or concepts to be found on the CD, just concisely crafted pieces, with a strong reliance on melody and tight arrangements. SBB impressed everyone with their 70’s and early 80’s albums (most remarkably Ze Slowem Biegne Do Ciebie (1977) and Memento Z Banalnym Tryptykiem (1980), so now’s the time to simply please the listener and, no doubt about it, themselves.
Iron Curtain is a well balanced mix of more conventional songs and fusion instrumentals. Though keyboard master Józef Skrzek’s voice isn’t the best around, and the lyrics are in Polish, he sings with such passion and feel that it’s quite hard not to enjoy the songs. Also, most of them are quite balladesque and heartfelt, so Skrzek’s dramatic vocal style suits the music perfectly, from opener Iron Curtain, to the beautiful Camelele and the more classically scented Góry Tanczace. If you look for variety, there’s something for everyone: the bluesy tones on Rozmowa Z Mistrzem; the hypnotic, spacey touch of Blogoslawione Dni (also featuring some tasty percussion), and even a nod to Latin-esque flavours on closing track Dopóki Zyje Matka Jestés Dzieckiem.
If you look to slightly more adventurous stuff, there’s also three instrumentals thrown in for good measure, where SBB show their skills and invite you to take a look at their past as prog-rock/jazz-fusion legends. The best and my favourite on the whole album, is Defilada, an excellent dark, moody track where everyone shines, with special mention to “new boy” Gabor Nemeth’s rich and fluid drumming. Opowiésc has a lighter touch, giving more prominence to melody thanks to the playful guitar of Apostolis Anthimos and some nice vocal flourishes. The third instrumental, Sunrise, is a typical guitar based fusion number, and is a straight reference to Anthimos’ latest solo effort, Miniatures (Metal Mind, 2008), where it is also featured with a slightly different, lighter arrangement.
If you like carefully crafted intelligent rock music, with some nice jazzy touches, this might be a good choice for you. There’s no groundbreaking music or highly ambitious concepts, just music made with both heart and brains.
For those interested, there’s also a Digipak Special Edition which features two bonus tracks, Aleatoryka and Niesmiertelnosc.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
SBB – Roskilde 1978
Tracklist: Walkin' Around The Stormy Bay (7:34), Going Away: Going Away / (Żywiec) Mountain Melody / Loneliness Theme (13:56), Deszcz Kroplisty, Deszcz Ulewny [Zawiera Solo Na Perkusji] (9:01), Ze Słowem Biegnę Do Ciebie (20:57), Follow My Dream [Zawiera Wiosenne Chimery] (21:01)
Poland is rapidly emerging as a progressive rock Mecca with bands such as Riverside, Believe, Satellite and Induki to name but a few making a real mark on the genre. However the first Polish band to really establish a notable reputation was SBB formed in the early 1970’s and made up of Józef Skrzek (vocals, keyboards, bass, harmonica), Apostolis Anthimos (guitar), Jerzy Piotrowski (percussion & drums). Describing the bands sound is not a straightforward task as they embrace and merge a whole host of musical styles from symphonic, electronic and jazz to a use of improvised jamming when playing live. In terms of points of reference there are definite similarities to Tangerine Dream, early 70’s Pink Floyd, Camel, Genesis, French band Pulsar and Hungarian band Solaris.
Roskilde 1978 is a live album recorded at a major music festival in Denmark and is an interesting if rather lengthy listen. Although containing five individual tracks only the opening track stands alone with the rest segued into an hour or so continuous music. Much of the music on offer has a very improvised jam feel but does so within an evident structure so melodies are always present and the music never disappears into self-indulgence give or take the odd extended drum solo.
Much of the music is built around Józef Skrzek’s, often extraordinary, analogue synth work. His control of filters and oscillators often results in some extraordinary sonic textures that is all the more impressive considering the album is a live recording. Jerzy Piotrowski’s busy jazz drumming is evident through out and Apostolis Anthimos’ guitar work is varied and accomplished.
Opening track Walkin’ Around The Stormy Bay is perhaps the most accessible containing a very catchy bass-lead and some excellent spacey analogue synth lines. The song reminds of Tangerine Dream at their most energetic and some dark Crimson-esque riffing keeps things interesting.
Going Away: Going Away / (Żywiec) Mountain Melody / Loneliness Theme takes the listener on a lush laid back atmospheric journey. The song slowly evolves from gentle bubbling synths to a number of interesting symphonic themes often reminding of both Pulsar and Solaris. Some nice jazz interplay then leads to some lovely guitar work. A change of emphasis sees the band explore some Pink Floyd and Camel like melodies before finishing with an excellent guitar solo.
Up-tempo Deszcz Kroplisty, Deszcz Ulewny [Zawiera Solo Na Perkusji] starts as a busy mish-mash of menacing Red-era King Crimson with edgy guitar, big drums and more space-rock synth textures before evolving into an extended jazz drum solo. The song continues nd concludes with more pulsing synth textures and flourishes of symphonic guitar.
Up next is the lengthy Ze Słowem Biegnę Do Ciebie that at times as a strong neo-progressive feel and show cases some rather weak vocals. The song is a sprawling melting pot of languid keys, guitar and heavy drumming with further extended jazz sections and more dark jagged Crimson-esque melodies.
Equally epic in length is final track Follow My Dream [Zawiera Wiosenne Chimery] that although showcasing some lovely extended Yes-like passages (think Topographic Oceans at its most laidback and cohesive) the track rather melds into the previous song with its laid back jazz and ambient themes. However things do finish strongly with a very catchy driving melody that evolves into a refrain of the bass-lead melody of Walkin’ Around The Stormy Bay.
There is much to admire with this album. The live performances by each band member (and as a collective unit) are excellent and for fans of the band and for those who like a jazzier improvised take on progressive music this would be a release worth exploring. However for me there are flaws. The music tends to sprawl at times and the last forty minutes do rather drag and run out of ideas.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Robert Beriau – Selfishness: Source Of War & Violence
Tracklist: Agoraphobia (5:46), Terrorism: A Two Actors Play (4:53), Blind Heart (9:48), Last Call For A Change (6:31), The Rats Leave The Sinking Ship (4:06), Self-Contempt Behaviour Or Social Poverty (7:48), Time Fracture (5:50), Thoughts Are Not Enough (4:01), Homeless… [If Only] (6:12), Hoping On The Next Generation (10:26)
Putting many lesser mortals to shame, Canadian Robert Beriau is an accomplished multi–instrumentalist; he’s proficient on piano, keyboards, synths, guitars, bass, percussion, flute and vocals. He also wrote all the music and lyrics. The album is entirely self-produced, recorded, mixed and engineered, and he also did the (none-too shabby) artwork. It’s quite an achievement for one man!
He manages to avoid the biggest pitfall of home recording, by drafting in real drummers for half of the tracks – ensuring that overuse of drum programming fails to mar the album. Catherine Gagnon adds backing vocals to one track. Although utilising relatively simple instrumental lines, adept overdubbing and layering produces a surprisingly full sound, which could easily be mistaken for a full band. The bass work and piano are impressive, creating very firm musical foundations to support the main melodies.
The tone of the album is sombre and serious (as a glance at the track titles will affirm), and by track two, it’s obvious that Beriau draws heavily on his admiration of Peter Hammill and VDGG. Whilst not merely a slavish imitator, the resemblance of Beriau’s vocal delivery to that of Hammill’s is little short of uncanny. The Rats Leave The Sinking Ship and Time Fracture in particular, could be outtakes from Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night or The Silent Corner And The Empty Stage and, as such, are better than most of Hammill’s recent output. Hammill fans will surely lap this up.
Perhaps to sidestep accusations of plagiarism, Beriau splits the album 50/50 between vocal numbers and instrumentals and the Hammill influence is much less obvious on the instrumentals. On the lengthy Blind Heart, Beriau skilfully blends acoustic guitars with electronic keyboards and synths to create a moody piece, which reminds me of Tangerine Dream’s Stratosfear album, topping it off with a guitar solo that Edgar Froese would be proud of. As Stratosfear is still one of my favourite albums after all these years, that is high praise indeed.
The album mixes mellow passages with raucous sections, staying mostly in the melodic camp with just a touch of discordance here and there. The rich sound is mainly focussed around guitars and keys but some nice flute is added for a symphonic touch. I particularly like the balance between acoustic and electric guitars, and though the album is not without a modern edge (especially in the lyrics department), I get a nice warm nostalgic glow when listening to it.
Robert’s heart is obviously in the right place, because, in addition to the socially aware lyrics proffered, he has pledged to make a $2 donation to charity for each album purchased.
The album’s generally downbeat vibe may not be to everybody’s taste, (and the vocals are perhaps an acquired taste too) but if you fancy some expertly produced prog rock, which matches the high drama of Peter Hammill with the atmospherics of Tangerine Dream and a touch of the gothic, than this comes heartily recommended.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Bittertown - Scenes From The Box
Tracklist: The Box (5:36), The Shadow Of The Wind (3:32), The Train To Nowhere (8:02), The Story Begins (4:53), Project Mayhem (4:34), The Chase (4:29), The Keeper (1:42), Miss You (2:52), Under The Bridge, Near The River (7:17), You're Not Alone (8:18), The Box (Reprise) (2:45), Kick The Habit (4:22), The Sound Of August (7:13), The Better Year (7:03)
Despite being promoted as a band effort this ‘debut’ album from Bittertown is essentially the work of Dutch songwriter and musician Tom Janssen and very good it is too. By all accounts he only really got into prog in 2000 when he heard a friend’s Spock’s Beard CD, before releasing his first solo album The Element Of Surprise in 2004, which received a very positive review from our own Bob Mulvey. Scenes From The Box follows in the same vein being a collection of intelligent and tuneful rock songs with proggy overtones. Handling production, programming, backing vocals, bass, guitar, and keyboard duties himself he is supported by Vincent Bodt (drums) and Ewout Dercksen (saxophone). One of the albums strengths lies in the vocal department boasting no less than three very capable singers, Floor Kraaijvanger, Elles Jansen and Erik van Oijen. They each play a different protagonist within the albums concept, namely the ‘Guardian Angel’, the ‘Woman’ and the ‘Man’ respectively.
The concept is a simple one based on the consequences of opening a box that contains ones worst fears and nightmares. The aptly titled opener The Box eases the listener gently into the story with a reflective vocal, guitar and piano prologue. Introductions over, it develops into a breezy mid-tempo song with a stately guitar melody and some colourful keys work. The female vocals (Floor Kraaijvanger I think) are deep and resonant, and on the evidence of this song, with shades of Tina Turner. Later on in The Keeper the female vocal is reminiscent of Boy George. Van Oijen’s voice is effective if unremarkable giving a relaxed performance with just the occasional hint of a rasp in his delivery. Opening appropriately with the sound of a steam engine pulling out of a station, The Train To Nowhere is another catchy affair with a pumping bass line and atmospheric guitar and synth soloing. A jaunty piano section brings Randy Newman to mind and Bodt justifies his position on the drum stool with some explosive playing. Like several of the albums songs it ends with a mellow, acoustic variation of the main theme and a soulful female vocal.
The album includes three instrumentals, the best of which is The Story Begins featuring an impressive fretless bass intro. In an album chock full a superb, upfront bass work (Janssen’s first instrument) the warm and mellow fretless sound makes its mark on several tracks. The sampled rhythm sound’s a tad dated but it fails to distract from the soaring guitar and symphonic keys playing which will conjure up memories of Steve Hackett’s Twice Around The Sun for those familiar with his Darktown album. Fuzz guitar and organ exchanges standout in the next instrumental The Chase whilst Kick The Habit is a rather rambling affair with Larry Fast flavoured synth dynamics and distinctly Middle Eastern sounding sax. Likewise the second half of the penultimate song The Sound Of August is dominated by a jazzy sax solo but it’s a compelling Gilmour-esque guitar break (probably the albums best) that really hits the spot for me.
The most memorable songs generally appear in the latter half of the album including the romantic Miss You and the evocative ballad The Better Year, bringing Styx and Reo Speedwagon respectively to mind. The Better Year in particular makes a fine closer with a gloriously sunny, full bodied guitar sound and an engaging vocal duet. The albums highpoint however is the infectious You're Not Alone featuring a powerful ringing guitar and bass intro. If you log onto the band’s website you’ll be greeted by the same instrumental fanfare and I guarantee you’ll be hooked. When it segues into the song proper it reveals itself to be the album’s catchiest offering in a Fleetwood Mac and Jefferson Starship mould capped by some flamboyant and proggy synth embellishments.
With Scenes From The Box Janssen has produced a worthy successor to 2004’s The Element Of Surprise. If I had to add a minor note of criticism than it would be with 14 songs spread over 73 minutes the standard does dip in places making it feel a tad overlong. There’s no denying however that for the most part he combines a flair for writing quality songs with excellent musicianship, mostly from his own fingers. His bass playing in particular remains inventive throughout and his expressive guitar style ranges from melodic to harder edge without falling into the trap of mimicking the likes of Hackett or Fripp. Add solid drum work, rich keyboard and sax textures and the combined vocal talents of the three leads and you have a winning formula resulting in a very listenable album indeed.
Conclusion: 8+ out of 10
Snarling Adjective Convention - Bluewolf Bloodwalk
Tracklist: Provocation (2:33), Lunatic Engine (10:59), Immaculate Risen Descents (5:56), Nightwater (3:10), Necklace of Forever (8:39), Bluewolf Bloodwalk (9:54), Masks (6:20)
Once, I had a dream, if not a nightmare, of a dark coloured snake eating its own tail. Your blissful slumber may venture into a realm as dark as this if you listen to Bluewolf Bloodwalk by Snarling Adjective Convention.
“What kind of a name for a band is that?” you may ask. Indeed, “snarling” is the best adjective to describe them. Other adjectives flowing from my pen as I furiously jotted notes while listening to this CD include “crashing”, “angry”, “relentless”, “frenetic”, “howling”, “growling”, and “dark”. And the latter is no cliché.
The band is comprised of Roger Ebner (Yeti Rain) on saxophone and wind synths, Joe Kopecky (Kopecky, Secret Society of Starfish, Kopecky/Blake) on guitars, William Kopecky (Par Lindh Project, Kopecky, Far Corner, Michael Angelo Batio, Parallel Mind, Yeti Rain, and many others) on bass, Dr. Dan Maske (Far Corner) on keyboards, and Craig Walkner (Far Corner, Yeti Rain, Two Loons for Tea) on drums. Sophie Kopecky provides some French spoken word vocals, credited as “poetry recital” on a pair of tracks. The poetry itself was written by William Kopecky and translated from English into French by Sophie. It resounds and bounces like the internal dialogue of a disturbed mind on Masks, and throughout the overdubbed babble are lazy, straying melodies from the band creating a dim, brooding ambience. Sophie’s recital takes on a whispery feel on Immaculate Risen Descents, which starts off as one of the rare lighter experiments here before some intensity fuelled by Ebner’s sax jacks the piece up and before it is poked and prodded at with some guitar interplay from Joe Kopecky. Masks concludes the piece with some synth at the end.
His organ accents recall Keith Emerson on the aptly-titled Lunatic Engine, which offers some baritone synth effects, angry guitar from Joe Kopecky and some thundering drums from Walkner, who breaks into a rolling groove towards the end of the track. Walkner is a formidable drummer whose funky yet honest drumming provides a fortified backbeat throughout the rhythmic sections of the CD. William Kopecky gets in on the groove as well, laying down some funky bass on the acid jazz of the title track, which intensifies as a looming barrier of sound before his bass turns into a weapon, deploying some relentless stabs into the piece.
It would not be appropriate to say that this CD’s music is composed well, as much of it sounds improvised. Improvised well it is, as these talented musicians show no fear of venturing into the blackness and mania that is their sound.
The CD booklet is professionally and colourfully designed, and features the French text of Sophie Kopecky’s two poetry recital contributions.
Any fan of improvised mayhem ventured into by the likes of King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator will take a shining to this band. If you are into tamer and more conventional music, Snarling Adjective Convention may not be for you.
I can think of no room for improvement from this awesome band.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Opram - Opram Live
Tracklist: Le Siège De Verre (4:20), Nouveau Jour (4:32), L'Armée De La Paresse (8:02), Le Singe Malin (7:08), L'Homme Sans Fin (6:49), L'Armée De La Paresse (Video) (8:19), Mon Temps Et Mon Espace [Video] (6:08)
Opram are a young French band which, at the time of this recording, consisted of four musicians: Dèvy Diadéma (guitar and vocals), Antoine Cola (synthesisers and Rhodes electric piano), Jérémy Houbert (bass) and Claude Montagnier (drums) - the current line-up features new bassist Christine Villiard. Live is their second release, originally recorded in November 2006 and unleashed to the world in 2007 although now getting a re-release following the group signing with the Musea label. Their debut album, Mon Temps, Mon Espace dates from 2005 although the history of the group dates back to September 2000 with their first recorded appearance being on the 'Class Rock 2001' compilation album. One questions the rationale behind the format of this release with five new songs and two videos, one of which, the title track from the first album, is four years old and previously released on the Class Rock 2005 DVD and the other being one of the live album tracks and taken from the DVD of the concert. What is more, both of these videos are available on the band's website! Surely, for the re-release it would have made more sense to include a couple of bonus live tracks or even have made the album the soundtrack of the DVD as presumably the DVD is more than half an hour long! Still, I'm not a marketeer.
The album itself improves as it progresses through the five tracks, which is not to say the earlier tracks are of suspect quality, they are not. The music is quite angular with Diadéma switching between fluid and crisp guitar runs, heavier riffs and staccato patterns. Surprisingly the pieces are largely free from solos, something that is more evident when watching the videos and coming across one on Mon Temps Et Mon Espace. Diadéma has a very good voice, although as I have opinioned before, French is not a natural language for rock music. Cola, to my mind, is the star of the show, providing lovely flourishes, plenty of tone, texture and colour and all without being overtly flash. His fluid style is perfect for the type of music played, which is largely free from any egotistical demonstrations. Along similar lines, Houbert and Montagnier provide a solid rhythm section that unifies the music and doesn't try to dominate.
It is the two longer tracks that impressed me most because they are carefully written and arranged to make the most of the strengths of the group. L'Armée De La Paresse contains a slower middle section that is the perfect contrast to the more metallic introductory section and permeates the proceedings with atmosphere, it is easy to become entranced as the song builds and fades, the Fender Rhodes electric piano being particularly effective. Le Singe Malin contains plenty of Crimsonesque moments, particularly from around the Discipline/Beat era, although has an introduction that suggests we could be heading into Kashmir territory and a middle section that takes on the best of the riff merchants. Astonishingly good song that is easily the highlight of an album that contains quite a few surprises and is overall pretty impressive.
The videos are what they are, although I generally prefer to keep audio and visual music separate and, as stated earlier, would have thought some extra music would have been preferable. Both videos are well filmed with multiple cameras, although the technical quality of the earlier video is somewhat greater than the group's own effort, presumably because it was a larger event and not self-financed. Still, there is nothing objectionable about either, apart perhaps from the over the top posturing and posing of bassist Houbert which I found very distracting! Visit the bands website and see them for yourself.
I'd certainly be interested in hearing what the band come up with on their next visit to the recording studio as on this glimpse of them live they certainly have a lot of ideas, have a degree of originality, are fine players and can create a rather wonderful noise. Worth keeping an eye on.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Multifuse - Journey To The Nesting Place
Tracklist: Hypnotise (6:58), Day To Day / Your World (8:41), Answer You (6:42), Yours Again [a. To Be Yours Again, b. Someone Near Here, c. Life Becomes A Picture, d. Now Is Never, e. Moonlight, f. Final Beginning] (24:53)
Multifuse is the debut work of composer and multi instrumentalist Peter Fallowell who is joined on Journey To The Nesting Place by vocalist Cherie Emmitt and bassist Tom Allen. Some sixteen years in the making, the suite of four songs is a musical "exploration of dreams and nightmares and admission of fears and the need to be loved and also how experiences like hypnosis can help bring back memories long forgotten". Fortunately, the music is not as convoluted, nor as grammatically incorrect, as that promotional sentence! Very much a vocal album, Emmitt is the dominant presence throughout with the music generally adding tone and background. To this end, there are no long stretches of frantic instrumental interplay, the overall feel of the album being more of a gentle stream than a rushing cascade.
Hypnotise starts proceedings with expansive keyboards that brings to mind a mixture of Mike Oldfield and Alan Parsons. In the chorus sections Emmitt's backing vocals are like an auditory strobe, pulsing and repetitive, that matches the staccato of the keyboards. The keyboard sound is continued into Day To Day and does get a bit tiring, although the introduction of drums and sparsely administered guitar add a bit of variety. Your World is slower still with electric piano backing the vocals which have a more yearning quality. Answer You features a rather more jazzy keyboard style, although I have to say by this point I was starting to get rather bored by the constant use of repeated keyboard phrases. There is a bit more energy in the middle section and one hopes that there would be an extended break from the mould but before long we are back to the familiar.
The six-part Yours Again clocks in at 25 minutes and the first two parts are really a continuation of what has gone before, although more expansive and layered vocals in Somewhere Near Here adds a bit of colour. The tempo is increased slightly for Life Becomes A Picture which builds into a decent little song with a rousing chorus and a few neat twists. We are a third of the way through the piece by the time we arrive at Now Is Never which is the first time I became conscious of any bass parts! Rather more strident with a hint of aggression, there are a couple of places where the song erupts above the more languid affair, although never for too long. A nice instrumental passage using a range of keyboard sounds and a rather tame guitar riff (pushed too far into the background), leads into Moonlight, a 'choral' number that I feel doesn't quite achieve what it sets out to; I think it needed to be much more over the top and really hit between the ears. Ending on a high, Final Beginning successfully combines a multitude of vocals layered upon each other to give a bright and complex arrangement of up to 50 voices. Although there have been drum and percussive parts in the other songs, they are much more to the fore in this part of the album and add a bit more momentum and kick.
Overall, Fallowell has come up with an album that falls very much in the more laid back spectrum. It is hard to know how best to describe it other than good background music. Pleasant enough to listen to but not something I would tend to get all that excited about. The music is well played and produced and Emmitt, although on this evidence not in the top tier of female vocalists, is a fine singer. One for those who like more subdued, keyboard dominated music.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10