Reviews in this issue:
- Secret Green - To Wake The King (Duo Review)
- Final Conflict - Another Moment In Time [DVD]
- Overhead - Live After All [DVD]
- Life On Earth! – A Space Water Loop
- Illumion – Hunting For Significance (Duo Review)
- The Crystal Caravan – The Crystal Caravan
- Argos - Argos
- Jeavestone – Mind The Soup
- Low Budget Orchestra - The Second Best
- 5bridgeS - The Thomas Tracks
- Dyonisos - Aces High
- Rushus – Nine
Secret Green - To Wake The King
Tracklist: Prelude [i. Sunrise, ii. Avalon, iii. Red Hall] (4:53), Ecchoing Green (10:33), On Merlin's Ground (7:28), Tom O'Bedlam (8:28), Guinevere Suite (Five Courtly Dances) i. Pavan - The Track Of The Moon On The Water (5:11), ii. Galliard - On Secret Green (5:38), iii. Louré - Lady Morgana's Orrery [No Real Cause For Tears] (5:04), iv. Allemande - My Lord Beedle's Content Of Desire (1:29), v. Bransle - Poor Mad Tom [Tom's a-Cold] (3:02), Camlann (13:43), Nimuë (9:15)
Mark Hughes' Review
Secret Green heralds the welcome return of the Francis Lickerish, one of the two guitarists that gave The Enid their characteristic sound on their classic early recordings. Lickerish, who as well as writing the majority of the music and lyrics, plays guitars, lute, bass and keyboards is joined by Hilary Palmer (vocals and flute), Jon Beedle (guitars and balalaika), fellow ex-Enid member William Gilmour (keyboards) and Matt Hodge (drums). The associations with Lickerish's old band don't end with Gilmour as the album was recorded at The Enid's Lodge studios, was co-produced by Enid member Max Read, features Enid drummer Dave Storey on one song and the inimitable Robert John Godfrey on another and, more importantly, continues and expands on The Enid tradition of grandiose, orchestral music, albeit with a healthy dose of English folk blended in. Based on the tales of King Arthur and Merlin (think more Malory's Morte D'Arthur than Disney's Sword in the Stone!) the title refers to the legend that King Arthur will awake and rise again when Sacred Avalon is at the time of greatest peril...
The striking thing about Prelude is its incredibly long build time, taken from sub-auditory levels and very gradually building taking well over three minutes until the crescendo. The effect of this extended introduction is anticipatory and I have to admit that when the very characteristic sound of Lickerish's guitar enters a smile crossed my face, just like The Enid in their heyday. Although Godfrey may have been the principal writer, it is obvious that Lickerish was a major component of the sound. Indeed, listen carefully and you may hear a familiar refrain before the trumpet fanfare, played by Raul D'Oliveira, awakens the birds and the church bells that lead into Ecchoing Green. [Not a typographical error, but reference to the poem of the same name by William Blake, which also explains the sound effects: The sky-lark and thrush, The birds of the bush, Sing louder around, To the bells chearful sound, While our sports shall be seen On the Ecchoing Green.] A jolly number and the first we get to hear from vocalist Palmer. Multi-tracked to provide her own harmonies, she sings in a folk style without overstepping the mark. The music incorporates a section of Sanctus from Six Pieces the last album by the Enid to feature the classic line up, including of course both Lickerish and Gilmour, but heads off in a variety of directions, at times almost sounding like it is going to break into the theme tune from BBC TV's The Antiques Roadshow! Very uplifting and nice that Dave Story gets to join in on drums. On Merlin's Ground starts more sedately and lets Palmer strike out hitting the high notes with perfect clarity. Some people may have problems adjusting to the vocal style but I think it is best not to overanalyse such things. Her singing does complement the music, and given the extended running time of album there are plenty of musical passages. Like the middle section of the song which is fantastically orchestrated and, once more, has an Enid tease, this time the slightest hint of In The Region Of The Summer Stars. Tom O'Bedlam takes on a more Celtic air in the first half and is, for me the least memorable bit of the album. However, a brief Baroque-like section leads into a tumultuous ending with Lickerish proving that he has lost none of his flare on the guitar. The Guinevere Suite, comprising the Five Courtly Dances, starts off with the slow processional Pavan with a majestic melody, the guitars and keyboards combining wonderfully. Galliard is a more athletic number with twin guitars kicking off the number, another fine and memorable melody and an ending that is completely over the top in the finest of traditions!
Continuing with Louré is again a slower number but the glorious sound of the keyboards, what used to be racks of analogue synths in the Enid requiring up to three musicians, gives it a real rise. The instrumental Allemande, is, as the subtitle may suggest, a guitar piece played by Jon Beedle. The set of Baroque dances ends with Bransle, which, apparently, is thought to have been more of a dance favoured by the commoner. But no class distinctions here, as the music is sheer quality. Camlann, probably named for the Camlann Medieval Village, a living history type of museum, starts with another Baroque fanfare which is followed by an intense stretch of subdued musicality, setting the scene and not following conventions as such, but being as it is, for what it is. Things ramp up with revisitations of themes from previous pieces, albeit played on different instruments and in a different setting. It is almost 12 minutes before the vocals start, sung in Gaelic (?) and sounding very spiritual in nature, a flavour of mediaeval religious music. The end flows continuously into the last track of the album, Nimuë. For those not converse with Arthurian legend, Nimuë was a lady of the lake, who stole Merlin's heart and was ultimately the cause of his demise - even though he had foretold his own death at the hands of Nimuë, so smitten by her was he that he was unable to defend himself against her charms. With Robert John Godfrey on church organ the instrumental sections of this piece are as grandiose, epic, stimulating, invigorating and exciting as anything The Enid did in their prime. A stunning end to a marvellous album.
At the recent Enid re-launch concert in London, Godfrey expressed a desire to put on a full Enid show with multiple guitarists and keyboard players, just like in the old days. With Lickerish performing again and obviously back in touch with Godfrey (he and an acoustic version of Secret Green were support at the gig) one can but hope that he would be a part of such a venture, particularly as he still holds a lot of the musical ideas of his old band close to his heart. Until the new Enid album is released (and the new track on the recent 'rehearsal' CD suggests it could be worth the wait), fans of this type of classical, orchestrated prog will do well to fill the time by listening to Secret Green, and whilst at it take a listen to Lickerish's expert lute performances available on his MySpace page.
Menno von Brucken Fock's Review
This is almost a fairytale. Once there was this great outfit called the Enid who produced absolutely gorgeous music combining classical, folk and progressive, sometimes a bit like Gryphon but much more classically orientated and very, very bombastic. In spite of the loyal fan base (The Stand), eventually the band split up in the late nineties. The year 2008, however, welcomes four members of the Enid back to the musical front: Godfrey and Ducker in the newly reformed Enid - Lickerish (some twenty years out of the music scene!) and Gilmour in Secret Green. Obviously the main influences for both composers (Godfrey and Lickerish) are about the same: classical music and folk. The one name that is missing is the name of Stephen Stewart, who is probably still working as a sound-engineer. Francis Lickerish is an established counsellor and group therapist and he is known to use his music and abilities to play a wide range of instruments, for his work as a therapist.
About the album: the Prelude consists of subtle orchestral sounds; from hardly detectable it goes crescendo and after some 3 minutes the bombastic sounds reach their climax when Lickerish’ and Beedles’ guitars join in and produce the sound we know so well from the band Lickerish (& Willie Gilmour) used to play in: The Enid. Then heraldic trumpet sounds take over, adding a medieval (or even earlier) atmosphere and their outburst is followed by track two, Echoing Green a classically orientated composition with lots of orchestral sounds and flutes. Former Enid-member Dave Storey participates in this track.
The atmosphere of folk music is clearly there when Hilary Palmer starts to sing. A folk tune alternated by somewhat heavier music played by the band, same melodies though and maintaining that orchestral feel, a beautiful combination of classical and (very) early Middle Ages. Classical combined with New Age and here and there a bit of Renaissance in On Merlin’s Ground, beautifully sung by Hilary, especially the parts where she sings triple vocals which are really awesome. The next track is also featuring Hilary’s voice but next to some ‘folky’ passages, the music leans towards Mike Oldfield’s Moonlight Shadow atmosphere, so a bit more ‘prog-pop-rock’.
Pavan (an ancient English dance) is a mixture of pop and folk music, with mainly ‘strings’ and ‘horns’ and just a few a bit more bombastic interludes. Very nice proggy orchestral rock in Galliard with pretty cool guitar solos, alternated by a pure folk tune sung by Hilary. In Louré we hear sounds as from an old musical box and the ‘orchestra’. With the addition of kettledrums and more orchestral power plus guitars, the last part is tastefully majestic! Back to medieval folk in Allemande, a short tune featuring the acoustic guitar and the ‘orchestra’. The beautiful combination of early folk (using percussion, flutes, electric guitars and strings), prog and classical music returns in Bransle.
The song Camlann features the return of another member of the Enid: Jason Ducker on guitar. The first part is folk-music, followed by a piece of haunting dark music by primarily horns and sounds of contrabass; gently the first electric guitars are playing a melody line while more orchestral sounds are added. The atmosphere remains dark except for the parts with contributions by harp-samples, flutes and gongs. In the last part the strings and flutes prevail, thus more relaxing and folk oriented music, also because of Hilary’s singing. The music in the last track Nimuë features the contribution of the godfather of the Enid: Robert John Godfrey on church organ. The characteristic and powerful combination of folk and classical returns once more and partly due to Godfrey’s organ, the sound is much like the Enid. Beautiful melodies, carefully arranged instrumentation and sounds and a good story too.
An informative booklet and a nice digi-pack, so yes, this is a the kind of offering which will appeal to fans of the Enid, Whimwise and all fans of bombastic symphonic music with folk influences.
MARK HUGHES : 9 out of 10
MENNO VON BRUCKEN FOCK : 8.5 out of 10
Final Conflict - Another Moment In Time
Tracklist: Solitude, Stand Up, The Following, Miss Demeanour, Stop, Rebellion, Can't Buy Experience, All Alone The Janus, Waiting For A Chance Bonus Material: Full band interviews, picture gallery, photographs, weblinks
Overhead - Live After All
Tracklist: Metaepitome (19:19), Time Can Stay (8:44), Butterfly's Cry (7:45), A Method... (4:30), ...To The Madness (5:34), A Captain On The Shore (10:22), Entropy (8:02), Dawn (15:07) Bonus Material: Full band interviews, picture gallery, photographs, weblinks Bonus Video: Butterfly's Cry (video clip), Time Can Stay (Live at Prog'Sud), Lost Inside (Live at Semifinal), Wainamoinen And Youkahainen (Live At Semifinal), WARNING: Ending (Without Warning) (Live At Versailles); Point Of View (Live At Versailles), Konevitsan Kirkonkellot (Live At Spirit of 66)
It’s not normal DPRP practice, but once you’ve read this all-in-one review I trust that you’ll be rather pleased that I’ve decided to combine comments on these two live DVD releases. I'm certainly rather pleased that they came to me in one parcel and it’s saved me having to write many of the same things twice. As you’ll see, they’ve rather a lot in common.
The first and possibly most relevant shared attribute is that both come from the growing DVD catalogue of Poland’s Metal Minds. The first Metal Minds live DVD I have is the one from Green Carnation from around 2004. It’s a pretty rudimentary live show seemingly recorded in a TV studio. From then the label really has developed a superb niche in the market. It seems to be built around tempting well-known (headline) and not so well known (support) bands over to perform at top quality Polish theatre-venues. As well as I guess making money from the concerts, the whole lot (support and headliners) are filmed for the future release of a future DVD. From those Green Carnation days (I also have an early version from Delight) the quality has improved in every aspect. The venues look great, the light shows are a treat, the camera work is top-notch and the sound quality faultless. Both of these DVD share that commonality.
Now, you may criticise the slightly formulaic approach to the end product but over the past two years the quality of that product has been consistently flawless. More importantly, how else would those progressive rock bands with little ability to tour outside their home countries, ever get the opportunity to showcase their talents to new fans in such an impressive way? A few years ago, could bands of the status of Final Conflict and Overhead even dream of producing a live DVD, let alone one of such quality?
As there seems to be regular output from this particular business model, I can only guess that it is proving to be good for the bands, good for the label, and good for the fans.
Which nicely moves me onto the second commonality: until recently I’d never heard of Final Conflict or Overhead. The later I came across at the turn of the year after favourably catching a track from their second album Metaepitome. For the former, this DVD was my first ever encounter. So for both bands this live product was a chance to really convert a newbie. I’m pleased to report that I’m now off to my local record retailer to investigate their back catalogues.
Another commonality is that both have the frequently noted Metal Minds DVD problems of a pretty invisible audience, and a fidgety film editor. For the Overhead show the crowd doesn’t get a single shot. For the Final Conflict show you get the odd pan of the seated hall but they do make a bit more noise. Again the Overhead suffers more from the inability of the editor to linger on any single shot for any time. Crisp edits are great, but so too are slow pans, cross-fades and even a slow, lingering, static shot to appreciate a musician in action. Small details, but important ones.
The fourth commonality is that both live sets have the (now) usual Metal Minds bonus material of pre/post gig interviews, live photographs, discography, band history and web-links. The Overhead has the added attraction of some additional live footage from their careers and a cutely animated promo video for their song Butterfly's Cry. Unless you happened to be in the crowd at one of these gigs, then it’s largely of the view-once category, but still worth a peep.
"Criminally overlooked" is a banner which could be spread over many a progressive rock band from the UK. From the evidence on this 10-song live outing, the fact that Final Conflict seem to have a profile unable to reach me less than 100 miles away, makes using such a reference perfectly laudable (even DPRP has only ever reviewed one of their five albums – Hindsight from 2003!)
This set was taken from their support slot at the Wyspianski Theater in Katowice, to Quidam and Pendragon (both shows already released on DVD!)
Musically slotting in and around the Neo-Prog and heavy ProgRock genres, this 75-minute, ten-song set left me astounded that despite 24 years in business Final Conflict aren’t talked about more often. Okay it’s nothing earth shatteringly original but the maturity of the song writing, the quality of the musicianship and most importantly here, the confidence and competence of their live performance deserves much higher recognition.
Based firmly around the twin guitars and vocals of Andy Lawton and Brian Donkin the band's sound brings comparisons to The Plague-era Demon, The Wedge-era Pallas, the more melodically-inclined Enchant, and more recent Polish Progsters Believe. The keys of Steve Lipiec are used more for colour and depth than for outright soloing (although he can deliver those too when needed). I was especially struck by the inventive variety shown behind the drum kit by the young sticksman Henry Rogers.
In a live setting the band’s confidence and sheer joy at playing their music shines through. The vocal and guitar work is spot-on and there’s a well-constructed variety to the pace and mood of the song selection. I could do without the theatrical falsetto which ruins a couple of songs but that’s the only grumble. If you need any further recommendation, just compare the crowd reaction after the opening song to that at the end of their set. I could go on, but hopefully you’ve got the idea. If, like me, you are unfamiliar with the work of Final Conflict, this DVD offers the perfect introduction to their music.
“Criminally overlooked” could equally apply to Overhead. Although at least I’d heard of them before, at least DPRP has reviewed two of their three albums, and at least they’ve only been going for a decade!
Sitting more firmly in the traditional ProgRock pigeonhole, this Finnish quintet still has plenty of original features to carve out its own sound. Fronted by bearded flautist Alex Keskitalo, this set comes from the same Katowice venue, but this time from the band’s appearance at the label’s debut ProgRock Festival held in February. Other band’s on the bill were SBB, Tinyfish, and Shadowland whose DVDs have already appeared, and DeeExpus and RPWL whose DVDs are coming soon!
The set list is a well-selected “Best of ..” weighted towards their last two albums. The songs tend towards the epic in length, with plenty of opportunities for all members to show off their skills. As on record, the exquisite work of guitarist Jaakko Pylkkonen is the highlight throughout. His work on the mid-set pairing of A Method.. and ...to the Madness from the band's most recent album, And We're Not Here Any More, is awesome. There’s a constant variation in mood, groove and intensity and the band delights at all levels.
In terms of the live performance, Keskitalo doesn’t quite hit the ground running, seeming a little dazzled by the grand auditorium and light show during the first couple of songs. He is a little static and uncertain in his pitch and delivery. However, by the time we reach the impressive Dawn he’s in full flow. When the band closes its set with a cover of King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man he is bounding around the stage and packing emotion into every syllable.
In terms of ratings; the quality of the DVD product is excellent in both cases; I slightly prefer the music of Overhead for its added complexity and originality; I enjoyed the Final Conflict performance a little more due to band’s infectious energy and pleasure in being on stage. The final commonality is that both products are easily deserving of a recommended tag, both for those who already know the bands, and for newcomers like me.
Both of these are available in 3 different formats. There is a standard DVD, limited DVD+CD edition (including bonus audio CD with songs recorded during the gig at the theatre) and a CD digipak (limited to 1000 copies).
Final Conflict : 8 out of 10
Overhead : 8 out of 10
Life On Earth! – A Space Water Loop
Tracklist: Listen (5:52), Come Closer (3:33), The Gospel Of The Sun (7:12), There And Then (5:18), The Tide Of Fate (3:36), We Know (4:27), Watching The Shadows (4:14), The Forest Pond Song (4:33), Apart (5:09), In The Valley Of Sacrifices (2:25)
Sweden is a rich source of beautiful music: like many other people I’ve found plenty of artists to enjoy from that country and I’ve now added the Life On Earth! band to that list. I say band, but Life On Earth! is not exactly a band, more of a co-operative - or perhaps I should say commune? – of like-minded musicians. Led by Dungen bassist Mattias Gustavsson, who plays acoustic guitar and sings – and strips away the heaviness from Dungen’s psychedelia – it features “core” members Martin Fogelström (from The Works on guitars), Erik Lundin (flute), Alexis Benson (The Works, bass) and Johan Holmegard (also from The Works, on drums). In addition to these core musicians, Life On Earth! also feature very significant contributions from many more musicians and I won’t attempt to name them all here; but to give you an idea, the photo included in the CD booklet shows 10 smiling men and women sharing a cup of tea (or is it mulled wine, or something stronger?) around a garden table, in the sunshine.
And sunshine is what this music is all about. This is smiley music, happy music; rooted in late ‘sixties psychedelia and sprinkled with liberal doses of US West Coast melodic and harmonic sensibilities, as well as a few spoonfuls of folky influence, and a few splashes of other things. Quite a few ingredients there you might think, and you’d be right: this is also reflected in the music which shifts in shape and mood during the course of the album, but without ever becoming heavy or insensitive to the intent declared by the opener Listen - folky flutes and piped instruments on the intro before moving into that late 60s psychedelia with the distorted electric guitar as the focus, and a layer of acoustic strumming as a the backdrop, together with sweet vocals singing English lyrics that recall days of “flower power” and the “summer of love”.
The band’s MySpace site identifies their influences as “Nature; people/animals, plants, mountains, the sea, clouds etc. // The civilization; politics, cultures, technology, science, religion etc.” before ever mentioning anything musical at all! A bewildering array of musical influences are then listed but amongst the most significant inclusions I would say is Syd Barrett, noting that the Pink Floyd similarities on A Space Water Loop are from their earliest period. There is no mention of any “Canterbury Sound” influences but one of the most enjoyable passages on the album for me comes with the sequence of There And Then and The Tide Of Fate: the pastoral flutes and wind instruments recall some glorious moments from Caravan in particular. We Know, which follows, is also folk-inspired and its pretty female vocal cements this run of three songs as my favourite “moment” of this fine album.
Elsewhere, other elements worth highlighting are some Hawkwind-ish space-rock rhythm on Watching The Shadows, but the song’s element of psychedelia keeps it grounded in the album’s common-root; and Apart, with its interesting slow organ notes (or is it Leo Svensson’s saw that is talked about in Mattias’s blog? – very effective, whatever it is!) and enjoyable piano.
Overall, it’s a beautiful album that travels through different musical landscapes but retains at its fusion centre a psychedelic-folk feel that serves to unite the whole into one very enjoyable experience. I will certainly be seeking out the band’s previous album, Look!! There Is..., on the strength of this one: it might be “retro”, but it’s very well conceived and played; it’s beautiful music. You want more than that?
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
The Crystal Caravan – The Crystal Caravan
Tracklist: Between The Mountain And The Spoon (3:31), Tombstone Eyes (3:13), Down Under (4:27), Wicked Mind (4:25), Dead Inside (4:16), A New Time Is Coming (3:25), Train Song (3:15), Flying High [Or So It Seems] (3:07), Monkey (3:54), Desert King (8:58)
The Crystal Caravan are a new band playing a very retro style of music, probably best described as seventies style hard rock with tinges of blues and psychedelia. Older readers may be surprised that such a band hails not from the UK or the US but Sweden; however, those more in tune with the scene will know that the country has been a hotbed for this sort of music for a while; The Hellacopters, The Spiritual Beggars and Witchcraft are three names that come to mind but there are many others plugging away as if the last three decades never happened.
Between The Mountain And The Spoon kicks this debut effort off in style and immediately establishes The Crystal Caravan’s modus operandi – a good solid bluesy hard rock song with an organic feel (aided by the judicious use of plenty of Hammond organ), driven by interesting percussion (plenty of tabla), with stirring guitar solos and an exuberant vocal performance by Niklas Gustafsson.
The album pretty much continues in this vein; on the positive side, it makes for a consistent listening experience, and there’s no real dip in quality; in the minus column, it does lose its lustre after the first two or three songs and the attention starts to wander. Occasionally there’s something to prick the interest a little more – Dead Inside is more up-tempo and has a similar feel in its build up stages to Iron Maiden’s The Phantom Of The Opera, and also a rollicking chorus, whilst Train Song is a slower, more thoughtful piece, heavy on the organ, which has echoes of The Doors – but generally its more of the same.
Overall, this is a fairly enjoyable CD – the performances from all six musicians is strong, and the production is suitably raw and a little rough round the edges, which suits this sort of thing – but the music lacks the ‘X’ factor and ultimately there are plenty of bands out there who do this sort of thing with more style and panache. File under ‘pleasant enough while its playing, but a little difficult to remember that much when it’s stopped’!
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Illumion – Hunting For Significance
Tracklist: Encomium (5:09), Scarlet Sin (5:25), Chrysantemum (4:46), Into The Labyrinth (5:18), Metamorphosis (5:25), The Prophecy (5:43), Under The Harrow (4:06), Died For Beauty (5:27), Infinity (6:09), Whirlwind (5:34), The Bliss (5:45)
Menno von Brucken Fock's Review
Illumion, a new Dutch outfit, started out as a band founded by conservatory laureate Eveline van Kampen on guitar, playing both original compositions as well as covers of Pain Of Salvation and Fates Warning. She worked with two members of the Dutch progressive fusion band S.O.T.E.: Peter H. Boer, on bass and keyboards and Emile Boellaard on drums and percussion. Boer also took care of the production of Illumion’s debut album. As keyboardist at first John de Bruijn got enlisted, but later his duties were taken over by Eveline Simons. In the current line up however, Annemieke de Boer is the keyboardist. Inspired by artists like Pain of Salvation but also Gong, Kate Bush, Loreena McKennitt, Marillion (with Fish), Rush and Nightwish, Eveline came up with eleven original compositions, bringing together influences of gothic rock, prog, classical and jazz with superb musicianship.
All tracks have a lot more to offer than the simple verse – chorus – verse format. Many, many changes in style, atmosphere, rhythm patterns and arrangements provide the listener with a constant tension, a curious feeling of what on earth will be coming next and this makes this album extremely interesting. The vocalist on Hunting For Significance is another laureate of the same conservatory (Alkmaar, Netherlands) Eveline graduated: Esther Ladiges, who lent her voice to artists like Ayreon, Entropy and Ixion. She’s a graduate in jazz vocals and brings her own style in to Eveline’s music. Esther is not the usual gothic powerhouse kind of singer but she uses her technique and emotion in her versatile voice surprisingly well, although I must admit I would have loved to hear this music with a singer like Floor Jansen. Esther often puts in several ‘layers’ of her vocal, adding to the bombastic character of this kind of music. Eveline plays a few solo’s but allows both keyboards as well as bass and drums to excel as well. The rhythm section of S.O.T.E. does an outstanding job and the variation in sound of both keyboards and guitars is simply amazing. If one listens carefully, one can hear all influences mentioned on Illumion’s website. The overall style could perhaps be best described as a jazzy version of Stream Of Passion, a slightly more heavy version of Magenta with touches of both the Flower Kings and Pain Of Salvation.
The lyrics are written by Eveline inspired by authors like Edgar Allen Poe, Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens. Although I had a hard time finding the instrument, Eveline plays the ‘erhu’ too, a two string instrument from China with a sound like a kind of violin. The contrasts between jazzy and heavy, complex and melodic, slightly aggressive and more mellow are blended just fine on this album. Illumion is a listening sensation for lovers of more complex but still accessible music, yet references to bands like Aesma Daeva and Stream Of Passion are never that far away. The title of this album has a meaning too: this illuminated group of musicians is indeed hunting to be significant for as many fans as possible and I think with a bit of luck and good promotion they could succeed achieving their goals. A welcome addition to the genre of ‘female fronted metal’ but a truly original one. Well done, Eveline!
Edwin Roosjen's Review
Illumion is the band of Eveline van Kampen. A graduate of the conservatory in 2002 and for the quality of the vocal parts this is highly noticeable, not a note off and technically very skilful. She took a study trip to China which explains the symbols on the cover and the use of the erhu, a Chinese two-stringed violin. Eveline is joined here by two members from S.O.T.E., Peter H. Boer (basses, sticks, keyboard) and Emile Boellaard (drums). The keyboard players are Eveline Simons, who during the process was replaced by Annemiek de Boer. Finally the guitar is played by Eveline van Kampen herself.
The music is described as The Gathering vs Magenta with dashes of Ayreon, I would like to add Ambeon to that list. The two members of S.O.T.E. are both in the rhythm section, which means that the rhythms are a bit more complex than usual and as I really like the latest S.O.T.E. album, I do not mind this at all. The vocals of Eveline are very beautiful and the vocal lines are very enchanting like, not your normal straightforward singing. This is the reason I added the Ambeon project to the list above, as the vocals on that album come closest to that of Eveline van Kampen. For the guitars, however Eveline should have asked the third member of S.O.T.E. as the music needs lots of melodic structure and at times this is forgotten and a simple chord is played. Sometimes the rhythm guitar is distorted while the music yearns for a sweeter approach. Though the use of the Chinese instruments is terrific, especially on Into The Labyrinth they come out very well.
Hunting For Significance is a very beautiful album. If you like beautiful music with enchanting female vocals then this is the album for you. The album has no remarkable highlights and seems to flow by, a bit dangerous because listeners might lose attention. If you however are not distracted, then this is a wonderful journey. At times I would have liked if a different mood was chosen, not so dark all the time, but on the whole it is a solid debut. If you like prog with female vocals then this album is recommended.
MENNO VON BRUCKEN FOCK : 8 out of 10
EDWIN ROOSJEN : 7 out of 10
Argos - Argos
Tracklist: Part 1 - Nursed By Giants: Killer (4:40)The King Of Ghosts (5:11) Black Cat (3:38) A Name In The Sand(4:23) Core Images (5:11) Part 2 - Canterbury Souls : The Hat Goes North (2:46) Young Persons Guide To Argos (3:57) Ten Fingers Overboard (3:12) Norwegian Stone Shortage (3:06 ) Part 3 From Liverpool To Outer Space: Further Apart (2:23) Time For Love (2:28) Meet The Humans (2:28) Electro-Wagner (2:47) Passing Through (5:26)
This smashing debut disc from German three-piece Argos surprised me with its high quality and also with its sound. There is no resemblance to 70’s Krautrock here, but neither is there much evidence of the modern heavy prog sound of Sylvan or Everon.
The three-piece Argos takes its cues from (amongst others) Genesis, Camel, The Flower Kings and Bo Hansson, Indeed, the opening suite of songs (The CD consists of three such suites) has a very Swedish sound. The upbeat, positive atmospheres of The Flower Kings come directly to mind, but the music stays mainly on the wistful and delicate side of things, eschewing the lengthy epics and more intense fusion sound that the Kings are wont to indulge in. With gentle flute, warm synth tones, harpsichord, mellotron and melodic guitar, Argos delivers beautiful, wistful melodies with a tender touch.
My favourite section of the opening suite is A Name In The Sand, which could easily be a lost Caravan classic, with fragile vocals, acoustic guitars and a very English sounding whimsical air.
Caravan also features as a strong influence on the second suite, as the title indicates, along with Hatfield And The North and Soft Machine. The typical Canterbury sound is replicated with affection and warmth. Aside from a short vocal section (The witty Young Persons Guide To Argos), this suite is instrumental. From the relaxed Hatfield And The North tribute The Hat Goes North to the more up-tempo and jazzy Ten Fingers Overboard (with a terrific organ solo), Argos cover all the Canterbury basses and should easily please all those who enjoyed the similar Canterbury Sequence on the first Tangent album.
The final suite is more of a mixed bag; from the piano ballad Further Apart, we arrive at The Beatles via Klaatu pop-prog of Time For Love. The next couple of tunes introduce some more modern beats and, in Electro-Wagner, there are orchestral textures and electronic drums. The closing Passing Through seems to be a looking back and summing up of all that has gone before; it’s a strong number to finish with, making one want to flip back to the first track, press play and experience it all again!
Redolent of lazy summer days and the golden age of gentle psych/prog, this outstanding CD offers a real treat to fans of melodic prog. With some Canterbury jazz and Beatles pop textures in the brew, the result is a delightful, dreamy, escapist hour that seems to pass much more quickly than that.
I guess that, after recently reviewing a string of spiky, avant-garde CDs, I was ready for something more accessible and melodic. Argos really scratches that itch for me
Highly Recommended for Flower Kings / Canterbury fans and all lovers of a good tune.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Jeavestone – Mind The Soup
Tracklist: Knights Of The Bottomline (3:50), Beauty Contest (3:15), Crazy Madness (2:55), Extended Massive Orgasm (4:15), The Secret Playhouse (5:38), Snowfall (4:57), Showpiece (4:17), Stumbling Gigolos (2:02), A Prophet’s Daydream (6:36)
You know those movies that are “based on a true story”? I have about a dozen objections to the words “based on.” Foremost is this one: dramatically, a big problem with such movies, of course, is that there can be no genuine suspense. Did anyone doubt that the Titanic would sink? Did we really expect Tom Cruise’s character to kill Hitler in the recent Valkyrie? Any suspense in such movies comes from the characters and incidents, not from the plot.
So okay, I’m ruining the suspense of reading this review by telling you straight off that I love this album and recommend it. Thus you know that any adverse criticisms along the way won’t ameliorate my recommendation. (I’ll add that I really don’t have any.) In fact, just stop reading now and order the album.
No? All right, I’ll have to persuade you.
Jeavestone has released a more recent album than the wonderfully named Mind The Soup, 2008's Spices, Species And Poetry Petrol (don’t you love it when a band goes to a lot of trouble to name albums?), but I haven’t heard it. Mind The Soup was their full-length debut, first released in 2005 and rereleased in 2009, and I’m glad that it was. It’s a delight from beginning to end. The band (on its wacky, colourful website) describes its music as “prog ‘n’ roll.” Well, okay, that description suits me. The songs really do roll, but the compositions and performances are informed by the great first-wave bands of the seventies. I should also say at the outset: don’t let the flute fool you (as it did me). Reading the CD booklet and noticing that one of the musicians is credited with playing only flute, I of course went on a Tull-finding mission the first time I heard the CD. I failed. The flute is a delightful embellishment, and I’m glad it’s there, but it’s not in any sense a lead instrument as is Ian Anderson’s.
The album’s greatest virtue is its energy and sense of fun. I don’t care what genre of music we’re talking about, death metal or classical, if the performers aren’t fully engaged in their playing, the music will just lie flat on the disc, however skilful the performances; but when, say, Cannibal Corpse or The Brodsky Quartet is really swinging, the listener is simply swept up in the joy of the music. That’s the sense I get with Jeavestone. They’re putting their whole personalities into the songs. And fortunately, those personalities are also cracking musicians. Check out, as one of many examples, the way the rhythm section swings on Showpiece – bassist Tommy Glorioso and drummer and drummer Kingo have that tight-but-loose groove that characterizes the best work of, say, Iron Maiden and Led Zeppelin. Above that rhythm section, guitarists Jim Goldworth and Mickey Maniac (and I’m sure these are all their real names) lay down plentiful riffs and solos, never letting the energy subside. Yes, there are some interesting changes in tempo, but they always serve the song, never standing out as the “look-at-me-Ma!” moments too common in younger progressive bands.
Guitarist Jim Goldworth is also the band’s lead singer, and I like his voice a lot. Imagine what Ozzy Osbourne would sound like if he could really sing (and I say that as a true fan of Ozzy for going on four decades now). That’s what Goldworth sounds like in the heavier pieces here. In the quieter songs and and quieter bits of louder songs, his voice is clear and lovely. It always suits the songs, let’s say that. And Angelina Galactique’s occasional flute solos simply add another element to the mix. Her tone is classically clear (again, unlike Anderson’s), and the solos are integral rather than show-offy.
So, no suspense: I highly recommend this album and hope to get my hands on last year’s release by this energetic, talented, fun band.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Low Budget Orchestra - The Second Best
Tracklist: Take On The World (5:49), Settle For The Second (3:52), Emperor’s New Clothes (4:36), Nothing Will Be The Same (5:45), Stalemate (4:50), Rather Than Words (4:45), Juliet’s Waiting (5:03), Dream Another (5:36)
When I was a kid, my family and I used to go visit our cousin “Stretch” in the interior deep woods of Maine. Stretch was a gun collector and prided himself on his vast collection of firearms. I couldn’t have been older than twelve at the time, and recall Stretch taking us out to a shooting area by his house and allowing us to fire off a few shots. My gun of choice was the M-16. The M-60 was off limits, as at the time it was a gun that was bigger than I was. Stretch would place an aspirin tablet in the side of a cliff and the idea was to fire the gun and hit the tablet. Of course, I couldn’t. But Finnish multi-instrumentalist Mikko Muranen, under the moniker Low Budget Orchestra, has accurately hit a sonic target of sorts with the machine gun riffs found on his sophomore release The Second Best. The style of music on the CD is instrumental progressive rock, slightly aligned toward prog metal via those heavy guitar riffs.
The Thompson submachine gun rapid riffs are evident on the track Stalemate, which features some industrial synths, a rock groove, and an overall wall of sound reminding me of that rock outcropping I fired at all those years ago. Don’t let the name fool you; there is nothing low budget about the CD’s sound. The moniker rather seems to serve as a symbol of the indie, D.I.Y. multi-instrumental nature of the music. The CD’s eight instrumental tracks are composed, performed and produced well, and are smoothly linked together by spoken word snippets with each track.
The guitars and synths on the CD are balanced nicely, with a crystal clear programmed backbeat. Muranen is a fine guitarist, synth man, and drum programmer. Some of the drum programming heard on Rather Than Words is evident of the electronic drum work Neil Peart did in the mid-eighties day of Rush.
The CD comes in gatefold packaging designed in an outer space motif.
This CD will appeal mostly to fans of riff-based, synth-flavoured instrumental rock. Not advised for wimps.
I can think of no room for improvement from this fine project.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
5bridgeS - The Thomas Tracks
Tracklist: Didymus (7:20), Babylonian Curse Reversed (6:34), On Calpe’s Rock (6:17), The Spell Of Eternity (10:11), Martialis’ Reveries (1:35), Trick & Treason (8:51), Lovernius’ Song (4:02), Batavian Revolt (11:54), Amazons & Haven (11:13), Sign On The Wall (6:25)
The band 5bridgeS originating from The Netherlands have been working together with their current line-up for about three years. The band name refers to the extensive catalogue of Keith Emerson and the five-piece outfit tries to ‘cross a bridge’, reaching out for the sounds of the Seventies, wherein truly crafty musicians were still allowed to sound genuinely, passionately warm and a bit rough on the edges. 5bridgeS uses keyboards including MiniMoog, Hammond organ and Taurus pedals. All lyrics are based on the novel “De Handelingen van Thomas” by drummer Rob van der Linden (brother of the late Rick, famous keyboardist for Ekseption and Trace, as well as a renowned solo-artist). In my booklet not all lyrics were available by the way, some verses seemed to be missing.
Most of the music was composed by keyboardist Luke d’Arceno and guitarist Enzo Gallo. Overall the music is heavily symphonic but on rare occasions there’s more of a ‘disco’ rhythm pattern reminding me of Enigma. In the first tracks, elements of Enigma, IQ, Neuschwanstein and most definitely the old Genesis prevail. As good as the instrumental passages may be, in my humble opinion the vocals are not matching the quality of the music nor the compositions. Roelofsen doesn’t have a very distinctive voice, nor a wide range and sings with this typical ‘Dutch’ accent, therefore the final touch to turn this album into a lot more than a mere Genesis-clone is missing. A track like On Calpe’s Rock for instance illustrates what I mean: the music sounds very much like the Genesis from the Seventies, even a little too much for my part and Roelofsen must try really hard to hit the higher notes right. Fortunately there are a lot of interesting duels between Gallo’s guitar and d’Arcena’s synthesizers and organ as well as plenty of bombastic, symphonic instrumental pieces to enjoy - like the synth solo in that same track in the style of Rick Wakeman.
In Tricks & Treason next to the Genesis influences, also some traces of Yes. The all instrumental Lovernius’ Song is a very nice tune, in the same style as the rest of the album. Batavian Revolt is the longest track on the album with again this pleasant mix of Genesis and Yes (both early/mid-Seventies), especially Gallo’s guitar technique reminds of Peter Banks. An atmosphere like in Yes’ Awaken or And You And I in some parts of Amazons & Haven is followed by a piece in Genesis Supper’s Ready style. The final track is a more popular tune, but the in the end influences of Yes return once more.
In summary The Thomas Tracks is an enjoyable album in the vein of the mid-Seventies Genesis with some Yes influences and fans of those bands should definitely check this album out. In spite of the lack of originality, musically there’s much to enjoy and with a different vocalist I might have rated the album slightly higher.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Dyonisos - Aces High
Tracklist: Aces High (4:42), Charity (5:39), Winds Of Change (3:53), Windward Bound (4:15), Portal To Evermore (5:14), The Source (5:18), Peggy Plant (4:00), Doctor Madman (3:52), Black Crosses (4:22), Got Memories To Meet (2:28), Prog Coalition (3:16), The Little Voice Inside My Head (3:19), We Are The People (5:14), Play My Song List Again (5:36), Gee Dubya Bush (2:31), Cryptograms (13:06)
Aces High is the latest album from Dyonisos, aka Dan Cowan. His last album was An Incidental Collection, a compilation taken from his first four albums, the last of which, the self-titled Dyonisos, is reviewed here. Reading this review (which I have not heard), it is hard to reconcile what is written about that album with what is presented on Aces High, although it is a album dominated by guitar, I wouldn't suggest that it is in the style of Floyd, Camel or Alan Parsons! Far from it, these new songs are more rockier, although there are still some spacey, pseudo psychedelic moments like on The Little Voice Inside My Head which at a push could be compared to latter day Hawkwind, although I am pretty sure none of the latter's albums feature a sheep! There are a few deviations, like the more acoustic Got Memories To Meet and the mildly amusing (at least on the first couple of hearings) ode to an ex-President, Gee Dubya Bush. The faster and catchy title track Aces High is marred slightly by an incongruous middle section but the heavier Portal To Evermore delivers the goods.
The guitar playing is of a good standard throughout and adequately displays Cowen's range from the slow and melodic on Charity, the more sustained on Winds Of Change (which, admittedly does have echoes [excuse the pun!] of Gilmour), the Wishbone Ash-like double lead intro on Black Crosses and the proggy Prog Coalition (mmm, maybe the title gives it away?!). Vocals are mostly okay except where effects have been added, Peggy Plant being the worst culprit and the worst track on the album. And what of the 13 minute Cryptograms? Well bizarre sums it up. Tubular bells and freaky vocals start things off and it just starts getting interesting when a spoken section over some very distorted speech and bluesy guitar and then a conversation with a mad Japanese woman followed by backwards talking takes things in a very strange direction. And so it continues until about the nine-minute mark after which it is time for the guitar solos. Very strange indeed. I suppose there are some good moments on the instrumental sections and it is no more weird that say, Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast, but then how many people cite that track as a highlight of Floyd's career?
Aces High doesn't break any new ground but does contain a collection or pretty strong songs. If you favour the guitar then there is a lot here that will grab your attention, although personally I would have edited the album to an easier to digest length.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Rushus - Nine
Tracklist: Pulse (12:08), Sky Horse (9:25), Sounds Of Calmness (8:49), View From Within (7:38), Rain Day (10:10), Factor "R" (3:43), Experiment (1:33), Jhonnie (10:05), Peaceful And Quiet (4:13)
For several years now Russian label R.A.I.G. have been responsible for a fair number of fine releases reviewed in these pages from their fellow countrymen. Along with the MALS label they have shown us the wealth of diverse styles whilst bringing to our attention many talented musicians and bands. Under the spotlight this time around are Moscow based trio Rushus comprising of Ilya Lipkin (guitars, effects, samples), Evgeniy Tkachev (percussion) and Vladimir Nikulin (bass). Originally founded in 2006 by Lipkin and Tkache, the music they wished to pursue was of an ambient and improvisational nature. Later, and with the introduction of Nikulin, a more progressive fusion style was to be the order of the day. Nine is their debut release which has now quickly been followed up by a 5 track downloadable EP entitled Stories.
I'm presuming I have caught Rushus just prior to this change mentioned above as much of the material on Nine follows a somewhat meandering, avant-garde and experimental path. I initially checked out the band's MySpace which contained a couple of concise and interesting pieces, (the excellent Crimson Turtles and the jazzier Magic Of Fog), along with the more experimental material to be found on Nine. So I was keen to hear what the album had in store.
First of all let me try and set the scene, instrumentally speaking. Lipkin employs a number of loops over which he adds layers of effected spacey guitar sounds. Keyboards are used sparingly and again more as a textural tool. The pulse of the tracks is provided by Tkachev who employs hand percussion to drive, the majority, of the pieces along. The role of Nikulin seems a little less obvious and for a portion of the album is either not included or adds subtle low end to the proceedings. Occasionally though he adds some jazzy flourishes from his fretless bass. With this instrumentation prevalent throughout, the music takes on a number of guises, albeit without any hooks or discernible melodies.
At nearly 70 minutes long however the album is difficult to digest, certainly in one sitting and ultimately most of the material just washed over me. There are a couple of pieces that work OK - Rain Day has a steady beat underpinning the droning guitar and sound effects - Lipkin also adds piano and ebow to the modulated sounds. Still I'm not sure that it holds the attention for the whole ten minutes. Lipkin's brief Experiment is pleasant enough. And in short bursts there is much from this trio that could and in fact does work well. I suppose the biggest problem for me is that I found it difficult to let my mind drift along with the music and ultimately that is what it requires.
The artwork (which coincidentally is available in several colours - mine is green and black) is basic. The production is generally good...
I can't really see Nine appealing greatly across the board, but as mentioned the band's MySpace has a couple of strong and more concise tracks, so perhaps we've not heard the "best of" Rushus.
Conclusion: 4.5 out of 10