Reviews in this issue:
- Alquin - Sailors And Sinners
- Mangrove - Beyond Reality
- Intentions – Place In Time
- Leap Day - Awakening The Muse
- The Aurora Project - Shadow Border
- Knight Area - Realm Of Shadows
- Chris – A Glimpse Inside
- Earth And Fire - Earth And Fire
- Earth And Fire - Song Of The Marching Children
- Earth And Fire - Atlantis
- Alquin - Marks
- Alquin - The Mountain Queen
- Silhouette – Moods
- Astral Travellers – The Truth Beyond
Alquin - Sailors And Sinners
Tracklist: The Mission (8:13), Minnie Minnoux [In The Green Kalabas, Minnie) (8:25), Lillie's Notebook (5:49), Not In A Million years (4:49), Allyson (4:51), Money In The Bank (4:28), Kite Runner (4:58), Behind The Tree (6:29), Holland (2:24), Sailors & Sinners [Ships On The Water, Chet, Sin City, Dust, Home] (14:15), Shineseethe (1:27)
Alquin is a Dutch band which has it's roots in Delft over thirty years ago. In the early Seventies they started as a jazz influenced progressive rock band with the albums Marks and The Mountain Queen, reviews of the re-releases can be found here. After these albums singer Michel van Dijk was attracted towards a more rock sound, however when their breakthrough did not happen Alquin disbanded in 1977. Some 35 years later they got back together in 2003. In 2005 they released the album Blue Planet and besides Michel van Dijk many members from the first Alquin were present. The only new member is bass player Walter Latupeirissa who replaces Hein Mars. Drummer Paul Weststrate was already replaced in the seventies by Job Tarenskeen who on the first albums played saxophone and some percussion. The saxophone is for me the instrument that makes Alquin unique, many progressive rock bands use a saxophone some times but not as much and up front as Alquin. With Job Tarenskeen behind the drums, Ronald Ottenhof is now the only sax-player in Alquin. Also a big part of the sound are the keyboards and organs from Dick Fransen, though these days not as significant as in the early days. Ferdinand Bakker is the main songwriter for Alquin and he plays the guitar, keyboards and violin, without a doubt he is the beating heart of the band.
Their first album after their comeback Blue Planet is a song based album and progressive rock lovers might find it a bit too much pop rock. I saw Alquin live at Symforce II in 2008 and they played many songs from that album. Some drunken teenagers, with Opeth T-shirts, were curious about this old Dutch band that played during a break in their metal dominated personal timetable. When they left Alquin for Opeth they were clearly impressed by the performance of these "old" guys, and drunk people always tell the truth. I was also impressed by their performance and now with this new album I am even more impressed. Sailors And Sinners is a logical next step after Blue Planet, a bit more progressive but they have stayed true to their sound.
The Mission is a song with two faces, starting very mellow and suddenly a heavy guitar creates a transition to a more lively part. Michel van Dijk has a very pleasant voice and when his bandmates kick in during the chorus they do not try to make it sound as smooth as possible, it sounds very soulful. Minnie Minoux is also a song in two parts with a comparable transition as in The Mission. The start of the song has many Pink Floyd influences and contains the voice of poet John Sinclair who reads from his book "We Just Change The Beat". The second part is uptempo with many great saxophone solos and Ronald Ottenhof presents his skills with style. Lillie's Notebook is a beautiful ballad with touching lyrics and many soulful parts from the keys of Dick Fransen.
Not In A Million Years starts like a simple pop song but this one really grew on me as it is just one of those songs you start humming on the bus - when you play it on your MP3-player. For some reason I dislike songs that have a girls name as title, for instance Pamela from Toto and Dutch band Kayak has a lot of those. In other words, Allyson is not my favourite on this album. Just like Not In A Million Years the song Money In The Bank starts as a happy pop song, I also have to restrain myself when I play this one on the bus. Both songs also have a happier tune than the lyrics imply. Kite Runner shows the more progressive side of Alquin and the threatening sound of the saxophone is brilliant. Behind The Trees shows that a bass player can simply take over the show. I do not think he plays a very difficult bass line but it sounds highly addictive and the saxophone melody in contrast with that bass line simply steals the show. It is not a song that will break the boundaries of progressive rock but it is just one of those songs where you cannot explain why you like it.
The album Blue Planet contained songs of an average length but Sailors And Sinners contains an epic. The songs Holland and Sailors & Sinners can be seen as one composition, on the other hand the title track is split up in several parts. That is what we do with progressive rock, we create long songs by glueing songs together and then split them up at a different position. In Holland the line "Sailors And Sinners" is sung repeatedly, during the song Sailors & Sinner however these lyrics are not present. They also could have changed this epic into separate songs but this is fine by me. Shineseethe ends the album but could also be the final part of the epic title track.
Blue Planet was already a good comeback album but they have surpassed that with Sailors And Sinners. This is certainly not a typical progressive release, the use of saxophone and the accessible overall sound of the band are not common in this genre. At first spin it does not reveal all it's beauty and some might classify this as a pop rock album, however, after several spins this album just won't let go of me and I keep coming back to it, finding more and more of interest. For me personally this album is definitely among my top albums for 2009 as it has been a while since I found an album like this that keeps surprising me. A funny side note is that the album comes in a casing I have never seen before, I thought I have seen them all, but the cover is also amongst the worst I have seen before. Thankfully by just flipping the booklet you get an alternative artwork that is much more interesting, if you look at their website it is also what they use as promotion, but I think the striped one is the "official" cover. Check out some sound samples and see if the music of Alquin is within your personal taste and if it is then Sailors And Sinners will be a perfect album for you.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Mangrove - Beyond Reality
Tracklist: Daydreamer's Nightmare (14:19), Time Will Tell (18:30), Love And Beyond (4:16), Reality Fades (6:56), Beyond Reality (9:02), Voyager (14:39)
The Netherlands are one of the many countries with a solid historically established ‘prog-scene’, with many great bands such as Focus, Kayak, Finch, Trace and Alquin. A limited second generation (Egdon Heath, Spectral Display among others) in the eighties but many more bands in the nineties and in the new millennium including those in the progressive metal and progressive gothic metal scene (Lemur Voice, Within Temptation, After Forever, Sun Caged) and also many new bands playing ‘genuine’ prog: PTS, Nice Beaver, Casual Silence, Knight Area, For Absent Friends, Flamborough Head, Odyssice etc.
When Mangrove was founded in 1998 and released their first album, many insiders probably thought these four guys wouldn’t last to put out another album. How wrong they were! Now almost a decade later with the same line up and album after album (Touch Wood (2004), Facing The Sunset (2005), Coming Back To Live (2006))getting better and better, resulting in extremely positive reviews from all over the world. Some months ago the band released their fourth studio-album "Beyond Reality" (including their ‘mini-album’ debut Massive Hollowness), which due to personal circumstances, DPRP are one of the last webzines to publish a review.
Listening to this album as an entity, one can state that the band has once again made progress and the vocals especially have improved. For me personally the vocals of drummer Joost Hagemeijer and guitarist Roland van der Horst were always in the way of rating the band above average, however Beyond Reality is the first album in my opinion where the vocal performances score above mediocre. Although vocally still not my personal preference, this obstacle to enjoy Mangrove’s music to the full, finally is out of the way…
A subtle mellow opening, fully instrumental with acoustic guitar, electric guitar and a somewhat strange ‘organ’ sound. This prelude ends when the full band takes over and, still instrumental music, produces bombastic slow symphonic music in the vein of Galleon. The piano performs the main theme and softly singing, Roland impresses with an emotional performance. Next piece in this long track is some music heavily influenced by Genesis (Lamb Lies Down) with the same organ sounds Tony Banks used in those days. One of the backing vocals seems a bit distorted, although the harmonies are quite okay. Then Chris Jonker comes up with a nice synth solo accompanied by Pieter, Joost and Roland, the latter taking over the soloing in Steve Hackett style and here Chris’ keyboards feature the Mellotron and other orchestral sounds. Nice hooks and melodies. In the last part some instrumental music probably inspired by works of Pink Floyd (guitars) and strangely enough maybe, The Flower Kings (melodies and keys) produces a varied and mature composition indeed.
In the first part of Time Will Tell instrumental music such as in Genesis' (Trick Of The Tail), then Roland sings a fairly up-tempo tune. Both vocally and instrumentally, memories of Kayak (with Max Werner) come into mind. The instrumental part highlighted by Jonker’s electric piano, reminds of even older ‘symphonic music’ from the early seventies. Whereas Genesis meets Arena in the next instrumental passage, followed by a slow somewhat bluesy piece. A howling wind announces the next chapter of this epic track, being nothing less than a tasteful tribute to Pink Floyd's (Meddle), while the last part could easily have been performed by Arena again.
A mellow semi-acoustic piece is Love And Beyond: piano, acoustic guitar and just one vocal. This is the ballad of the album, after an electric climax of the full band it fades away with acoustic instruments and a sole voice again. The best of Arena meets Kayak comes back in Reality Fades, at first a church bell and haunting orchestral sounds and then the band performs a masterpiece of modern instrumental prog. The title track begins with Jonker’s piano solo, playing the main theme, then all the prog ‘dino’s’ seem to come together: elements of Genesis, Arena, Pink Floyd, Pendragon to name a few. I don’t think I’ve heard Roland sing as emotionally and slightly over the top as in this track, but it fits! The grand finale of this song is in the vein of Arena again: majestic, bombastic and pure joy. In Voyager at first the melodies remind of Pendragon, IQ and Arena but the theme Jonker plays on the piano reminds me of Foreigner’s Cold As Ice, so rock meets pop and definitely the less ‘symphonic’ part of the album, but nevertheless it still is quite a “proggy” track with influences of Uriah Heep. Near the end, the cello sounds and the slow majestic music, followed by nice orchestral sounds give Roland the opportunity to excel on his guitar once more. We have the best in progressive music, a feast for the ears.
Yes, Mangrove have delivered their best album yet and I have a gut feeling that the best is yet to come… Beyond Reality is another gem in the extensive Dutch prog history!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Intentions – Place In Time
Tracklist: A Promise (1:24), Aimless (4:23), State Of Mind (5:41), Back (3:08), Eneme (5:50), Drowned (6:16), On The Run (6:11), Thaw Me (5:06), Cu In The Real World (3:39), Crash (7:15), Joy And Misery (4:19), Wasted (6:14)
One of the benefits of reviewing music for a website like DPRP is that, once in a while, you come across little gems that you would otherwise never have picked up on, even in our age of the world wide web. Intentions’s Place In Time is one such gem – an album that is an absolute delight to listen to, time and again, from a new Dutch band, no less.
For all those of you who worry that melody is seeping out of music, then go and listen to this band! They’re not heavy, that’s true, and the pace might be a tad slow for some, so maybe if you’re looking for melody within a heavy rock or metal soundscape then perhaps this is not the band for you; but if you enjoy good guitar and keyboard work within the context of melodic, rock/pop compositions then you’ll be on to a winner! Place In Time reminded me of some of my favourite bands, from the second half of the Seventies, whose basic musical root lay in the late-sixties music of The Beatles, but who drew influences from a number of other areas. The results ended up as what has often been called “art-rock” or “crossover prog” and, given their root origin, the music of these bands never became over-heavy or over-fast. I’m thinking of, broadly, the type of music that Barclay James Harvest, Camel and Caravan were coming up with in their later Seventies periods. A more recent soundscape benchmark might be Sylvan, in their “less progressive” moments. Fans of all of these bands, and more, would surely enjoy Place In Time. Melodically beautiful music with time to savour the many nuances of the individual instruments: a perfect recipe!
The band have actually been around since 2003 when Erik Kuipers (bass), Sanne te Meerman (guitar) and André de Vries (keyboards) formed Intentions, but it wasn’t until late 2006, when they found the singer they wanted, Roelof Beeftink, that the band’s spark was truly lit. Roelef also brought along Petrick Glasbergen, the drummer of his former band, to join Intentions and the five-piece line-up was complete. It is this quintet that has completed the recording of Place In Time, which had begun prior to the new pair’s arrival with drummer Theo van der Zee also contributing.
I can easily understand that Roelef was the inspiration that allowed the band to complete the recording of the album: his vocal performance is first-class and suits these songs to perfection. The other sonic elements to highlight are the wonderful selection of keyboard sounds (as well as André’s playing!) and the guitar work. The keyboards range from symphonic textures, to lead melody, to rhythm accompaniment, but on every occasion the choice of particular keyboard or synth just seems perfect. The guitar also carries various moods, lyrical or menacing, depending on the circumstances: this is a great, understated performance from Sanne. The guitar does, however, give rise to my only – but very minor – criticism of the album, which is that it is occasionally too low in the mix, particularly when a little harder edge would have enhanced the contrast with the more subdued songs: State Of Mind is an example.
A Promise acts as an introduction with (mellotronic?) synth and wistful acoustic guitar and the remainder of the album delivers with aplomb. Amongst the melodic highlights are Aimless, Back and the sublime Thaw Me. The rockier numbers are no less impressive: special mention go to the aforementioned State Of Mind, which impresses despite the guitar mix, Eneme, which has oodles of menace and Crash, which is a contender for “best track of the year” in my book! This even develops a rap phase towards the end – no, don’t be scared, it’s perfectly integrated!; it manages to meld all the best elements of Intentions’s music in one powerhouse track – excellent! The other songs on the album are also high quality; there are no weak moments whatsoever – really very impressive for a debut album!
Place In Time comes close to being perfect. It’s not going to wow pure metal-heads or symphonic-prog addicts but, frankly, good music is what matters, irrespective of genre labels, and Place In Time has it in abundance. This is the sort of music I want to hear! Melodic, but not frightened to yield some rock power; simply arranged with beautiful keyboard sounds. Do yourself a big favour and give the band’s music a listen!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Leap Day – Awaking The Muse
Tracklist: When Leaves Fall (8:42), What Would You Do (7:09), Secret Gardener (7:01), Shop Window Dummies (8:02), Eyes Wide Open (8:38), Sandgrains (6:35), Little Green Men (9:31)
When an acquaintance asked recently what I did in my spare time I explained that one of my pleasures was to review for the Dutch Progressive Rock Page which prompted the response “Do you get many Dutch prog bands then?” I resisted the temptation to comment on his ignorance and instead reeled off a long list of names including a new band Leap Day whose debut album had just arrived in the post. I could have gone onto explain that the band includes members from Nice Beaver, Flamborough Head, Trion, King Elder and Pink Floyd Project but with the possible exception of the latter I would have been wasting my time. It’s his loss of course because as regular visitors to this site will know The Netherlands is a veritable goldmine of progressive rock talent as pioneered in the early 70’s by the likes of Focus, Kayak, Alquin and Trace.
I’m going to avoid using the term supergroup in reference to Leap Day although unsurprisingly given their obvious pedigree they prove to be a very tight unit. Eddie Mulder’s guitar work is more muscular than it was with Flamborough Head being closer to his playing in Trion whilst still maintaining that Andy Latimer-esque melodious flair. Keys feature prominently although two keyboardists (Gert Van Engelenburg and Derk Evert Waalkens from King Eider) would seem to be an indulgence. I can only presume extensive live work is planned (something that cannot be taken for granted these days). The rhythm partnership of drummer Koen Roozen (Flamborough Head) and bassist Peter Stel (Nice Beaver) is a strong if not over flamboyant one with the only weak link in the chain to my ears being vocalist Jos Harteveld (Pink Floyd Project). He has a flat delivery often straining to reach the high notes and given that he performs in a Floyd tribute band his singing never once brings either Gilmour or Waters to mind.
For those familiar with any of the aforementioned bands then the music produced by Leap Day should come as no surprise. Polished neo prog with the accent on melody is the order of the day with a sparkling synth and guitar sound leading the way. If a debut album demands a strong opener then here When Leaves Fall certainly fulfils that function nicely. A strident, semi orchestrated intro with rippling piano, throbbing bass and crashing chords sounding not unlike the Alan Parsons Project sets the scene for the haunting main theme. Weighty guitar and keys mesh seamlessly into a coherent wall of sound with organ chords providing a solid rhythmic undercurrent as they do during much of the album.
If I implied earlier that two keyboardists within the band was a tad unnecessary that I should redress the situation by adding that Engelenburg and Waalkens wrote particularly all the music between them. Mulder, a principle contributor to the songs of Flamborough Head, was a late addition to the line-up replacing original guitarist Hans Gerritse which probably explains his minimal compositional input here. There’s no doubting his sterling guitar contributions however especially during What Would You Do where he performs the stirring main theme in a tone reminiscent of BJH’s John Lees. The electric piano accompaniment sounds very Tony Banks before a clever transition into Secret Gardener with its memorable acoustic guitar led chorus bringing Wind And Wuthering era Genesis to mind.
Following a searing guitar intro in the vein of early Steve Rothery, the driving Shop Window Dummies features some tricky Spock’s Beard styled instrumental interplay and a fiery synth break that Andy Tillison would be proud of. Eyes Wide Open takes things at a slower pace with a stately guitar solo at the midway point taking it into more grandiose territory with if I’m not mistaken Mellotron voices providing the superb choral backdrop. The mesmerising guitar and synth exchanges that follow would sit very comfortably on any 70’s era Yes album. And speaking of which, Sandgrains includes some vintage Rick Wakeman sounding noodly synth flights plus a pulsating riff that comes courtesy of Led Zep’s Kashmir.
At nearly ten minutes the concluding Little Green Men may be the album's longest song but in my view contains all the necessary ingredients to have been developed even further. That’s especially true of the rousing vocal melody that appears around the midway point. Given more weight it would have also a made a cracking finale. Elsewhere the beautifully structured instrumental arrangements are capped by majestic guitar work occasionally doubled by synth. The end result is a gloriously uplifting surge of sound which never loses its firm grip on the infectious melody. Following a (not very original but effective) false piano ending, a neat drum fill launches an expansive instrumental coda to end as it began. Apart from my earlier comments there is hardly anything to fault this impressive debut album from Leap Day. True, it doesn’t break new ground and despite the consistently high standard (there isn’t one bad track) I would find it difficult to single out anyone song above the others. That being said if I could only listen to two tracks then I would happily settle for the opening and closing tunes. If you have an insatiable appetite for tuneful neo prog where the musicianship is of an unquestionably high calibre then this is undoubtedly for you. Oh and by the way guys many thanks for the name check given to the DPRP in the liner notes.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
The Aurora Project - Shadow Border
Tracklist: Human Gateway (7:37), The Trial (6:31), Photonic Reunion (4:34), The Confession (5:37), Another Dream (5:30), Within The Realms (7:47), Shadow Border (16:26)
The Aurora Project is a band that with their debut album Unspoken Words placed themselves on the Dutch scene as an ambitious rock band. This album put them in the spotlight but they did not join the major league of progressive rock. The time I saw them play, they performed very early in the evening as the first band of three or four. This year is the tenth anniversary of the band that writes their music by having hours of jam sessions. The music of The Aurora Project is situated on the heavy side of progressive rock in the style of Dream Theater, Riverside and Anathema. Shadow Border, in contrast to the debut album, does not have a narrative voice or choir. These are usually elements that are added later on in the career of a band but The Aurora Project already passed that point. Joost van den Broek (After Forever, Ayreon) is credited for the recording and the mixing.
Human Gateway starts a bit like a music theme for a science show on television. It rapidly and very suddenly bursts into a heavy metal part and just as suddenly turns into a mellow part when the vocals start. Compared to the first album the vocals are mixed better, one can say that the whole sound of The Aurora Project has improved a lot. The transitions are played very tightly and seamlessly - this song transfers from slow to fast and from mellow to heavy. The Trial is a bit more straightforward with a heavy guitar riff with a thick layer of keyboard chords. Though very short Photonic Reunion has many changes and this song clearly shows that they do not get scared of difficult passages, that line continues during The Confession. During the first part of this album I felt that the band put the focus on playing as technically perfect as possible, however, I found the second part of the album had much more spirit in that the technical stuff stays but they leave more room for soul. Another Dream shows a very pleasant side of The Aurora Project with a bit more accessible tunes and a nice chorus. The style of music is the same as on the first part of the album but somehow I have the feeling they left more room for the song to develop. Within The Realms also has that quality, not compact and built more as an epic song with dramatic passages. The true epic on the album is the title track Shadow Border and it is a shame that we have to wait such a long time to find the absolute best part of this album. This last song has all the ingredients of a perfect epic and all are placed in the right order and played correctly. During this song the guys from The Aurora Project I believe have found their balance.
Shadow Border is a big step up from their debut album. The approach for this album is not as ambitious with no narrator or choir, but they will definitely not qualify as a standard rock/metal band. Many time changes and difficult rhythms are all played flawlessly and you can hear these guys spend lots of time together playing their music. During the first part of the album the focus is more on the technical side of the music and on the second part of the album they allow more room for the songs and for the tunes to grow. From Another Dream the songs become more appealing without losing the technical part of the music. The album has a great climax at the end with the epic title track Shadow border, this song shows for me that The Aurora Project still has a lot to offer. If you like heavy progressive rock you can easily buy this album without getting disappointed.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Knight Area - Realm Of Shadows
Tracklist: Ethereal (6:51), Antagony (7:52), Two Of A Kind (5:11), Momentum (2:50), Awakening (2:21), Dark Souls (5:29), Realm Of Shadows (5:51), A Million Lives (6:52), Occlusion (11:15)
In 2004 Knight Area stepped into the world of progressive rock and their debut, The Sun Also Rises is an album from which I still get some magical feelings when I listen to it. The music of Knight Area is in the neo progressive style of Pendragon, IQ, old-Marillion and Arena. Not the easiest type of music in which to distinguish oneself but Knight Area did that. The second album Under A New Sign showed a huge improvement in production and though the feeling was not completely lost I felt a slight loss in magic. The dynamics of the first album were not as clearly present. For this third album Realm Of Shadows I was afraid Knight Area would take the conservative path and become one of the faceless bands in the neo prog scene, the knowledge of the departure of flute player Joop Klazinga also warned me for that.
Ethereal starts very predictable with many keyboards. The sound of the bass is awesome and the overall sound is also very clear. Mark Smit will never be my favourite singer, on Under A New Sign he reached a note and kept that note without any dynamics at all, however that has improved on this album. Ethereal immediately shows much more dynamics than their previous album. Antagony sounds very like a song from IQ and for almost eight minutes Knight Area really rocks on this song. On Two Of A kind a different side of the band is shown, a beautiful ballad with very good lyrics. The background singing perfectly fits the music and Mark Smit sounds very convincing.
Momentum and Awakening are two instrumental tracks. The first one is more guitar orientated and the second is more piano orientated. Very small remark is that the timing is printed wrong on the cover and on the CD, I hope they fix this and my first "miss"-print will become a collectors item. Dark Souls is one of my favourite songs on this album. Very aggressive start, many changes and lots of bombastic stuff. A very dark song and again thumbs up for Mark Smit, his voice is at times a bit too thin but he sure sounds convincing enough.
After that Realm Of Shadows sounds like a friendly song. The piece is dominated by keyboard melodies and the guitar takes a supporting role, reminding me of some old Marillion. A Million Lives is the only song where I can find not much interest. Would be nice as a B-side but all I can say is that Knight Area has so much more to offer, this song is too easy and too instant likeable. They turn things around on Occlusion, many turns and twists, a very interesting epic song.
Realm Of Shadows shows another step up for Knight Area and they have demonstrated they are still happening. I was afraid that Knight Area would lose some character after the departure of flutist Joop Klazinga and the twist towards the mainstream neo prog on their second album Under A New Sign. I feel that Realm Of Shadows has more soul than it's predecessor and Knight Area still has some of that magical feeling left. With songs like Two Of A Kind, Dark Souls and Occlusion they sure deliver for me. With Antagony they stepped into the shape of IQ too much and the song A Million Live does not do anything for me at all. If they can skip songs like these then they will remain the unique Knight Area I have come to like so much. This album will find it's way to my CD-player many times, not perhaps as much as The Sun Also Rises but certainly a lot more than Under A New Sign. Certainly recommended to fans of neo progressive rock.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Chris – A Glimpse Inside
Tracklist: Somewhere On Someday (7:37), A Glimpse Inside (4:36), From Time To Time (5:36), Under Your Spell (3:05), A New Life (4:16), For All Who Care (3:47), The Fainting Game (4:13), Out In The Dark (6:22), Another Day (4:00), Masquerade (4:36)
Chris is in fact Christiaan Bruin, a young Dutchman releasing his debut album A Glimpse Inside. Chris is only 20 years old and he still studies Music Production at the conservatorium in Rotterdam. A Glimpse Inside is a solo album in the true sense of the word as Bruin not only plays all the instruments but also produced and mastered the album. He also did the artwork, which shows a resemblance with the artwork of fellow Dutchmen ‘Knight Area”. And that is not the only comparison with that band as Chris has been a member of the Knight Area live-crew for quiet a while now.
Chris has a wide range of influences from IQ to Queen and The Beach Boys. IQ are musically the biggest influence but also influences from Knight Area and Mangrove can be heard while Queen and The Beach Boys are apparent in the vocal department.
Somewhere On Someday opens the album pleasantly when after a short a cappella intro the music kicks in with a very good melody. It’s a very versatile neo-prog track and is very representative of the album. It’s an amazing thing to realise that this guy plays all the instruments himself and the quality of playing is excellent during the entire album. There are various great guitar solo’s with the one on the title track as a good example. Also at the end of the short ballad Under Your Spell Chris plays a beautiful jazzy solo.
Most of the tracks however are up tempo with a wall of keyboards, where Chris proves that he has no problem in this department with a lot of good piano work (Under Your Spell) and samples of the great analogue keyboards from the seventies. From Time To Time is another great track with lots of interesting twists and turns, which again applies for the impressive album closer Masquerade.
There is however one thing I do not like about the album and that is Christiaan Bruin’s vocals. The harmonies are nice (but nowhere near the quality of the earlier mentioned Queen and Beach Boys) but as they are used in nearly every track I soon grew tired of them. But my main complaint is the quality of his voice when he sings alone, without all the other Chris’ joining in. He has a limited vocal reach and lots of times he sounds like he’s singing at the top of his register. It’s not that it is out of tune but it sounds, especially when it’s just the voice of one Chris, a bit forced.
However that’s really the only fault I could find, because musically there are more than enough things to enjoy. The bombast of The Fainting Game and Out In The Dark for example or the other ballad on the album Another Day which is graced by another emotional guitar solo.
So all in all this is a very nice debut album that shows that Christiaan Bruin has an enormous amount of talent. Only his vocal abilities are a bit of a let down for me. But if he keeps writing great tunes and maybe searches for a good vocalist he has the ability to enter the top of the Dutch prog bands.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Earth And Fire - Earth And Fire
Tracklist: Wild And Exciting (4:06), Twilight Dreamer (4:17), Ruby Is The One (3:28), You Know The Way (3:48), Vivid Shady Land (4:13), 21st Century Show (4:16), Seasons (4:09), Love Quiver (7:37), What's Your Name (3:40) Bonus Tracks: Hazy Paradise (3:47), Mechanical Lover (2:18)
Earth And Fire - Song Of The Marching Children
Tracklist: Carnival Of The Animals (2:43), Ebb Tide (3:07), Storm And Thunder (6:25), In The Mountains (3:03), Song Of The Marching Children ~ i. Theme Of The Marching Children, ii. Opening Of The Seal, iii. Childhood, iv. Affliction, v. Damnation, vi. Purification, vii. The March (18:28) Bonus Tracks: Invitation (3:51), Song Of The Marching Children (4:10), Storm And Thunder (4:51), Lost Forever (2:49), Memories (3:22), From The End 'Til The Beginning (4:56)
Earth And Fire - Atlantis
Tracklist: Atlantis ~ a. Prelude, b. Prologue [Don't Know], c. Rise And Fall [Under A Cloudy Sky], d. Theme Of Atlantis, e. The Threat [Suddenly], f. Destruction [Rumbling From Inside The Earth], g. Epilogue [Don't Know] (16:23), Maybe Tomorrow, Maybe Tonight (3:12), Interlude (1:57), Fanfare (6:03), Theme From Atlantis (1:50), Love, Please Close The Door (4:12)
The roots of Earth And Fire extend back to 1967 in the Dutch city of Den Hague and the group Opus Gainfull which featured brothers Gerard and Chris Koerts on keyboards and guitar, respectively. They were accompanied by bassist Hans Ziech and drummer Cees Kalis but decided to change their name to Earth And Fire when they recruited singer Manuela Berloth. Influenced by the likes of Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape, live they combined original rock songs with cover versions of popular tunes of the day by bands such as The Who and Jimi Hendrix. Signing to Polydor Records in 1969, they set out on a major tour supporting Golden Earring the outcome of which was two-fold - the replacement of Berloth with Jerney Kaagman and Earring guitarist George Kooymans writing the song Seasons for them which was subsequently released as their first single in December 1969.
Seasons was a fairly poppy number that was suitable for the era and was a sizeable hit for the group. Anyone who heard the b-side, Hazy Paradise, a light acoustic number with a slight nod to psychedelia, and thought that was the direction the band's own musical contributions would take them, must have been surprised by the bands next single, the much rockier Ruby Is The One with its crunching guitars. The b-side, Mechanical Lover, followed the a-side's rockier direction and the single was another hit for the band. Buoyed by the chart success the band started recording an album, although before they entered the studio Kalis was replaced on the drums by Ton van der Kleij. The majority of the material on the first album was written in the studio which gives it a rather fresh feel but does show that the group were not yet set on their own musical path. The improvisational aspects were somewhat evident on the third single Wild And Exciting c/w Vivid Shady Land, released a few weeks prior to the album. Whilst Wild And Exciting lives up to its title, Vivid Shady Land doesn't really seem to know where it is going, although the gentle instrumental section in the middle is rather lovely. The second track on the album, Twilight Dreamer, is based on an organ riff which is quite catchy, particularly with the flute backing, although again the arrangement is quite clumsy. Kaagman's vocals are somewhat hesitant as if she was afraid to let loose, although given the inexperience of the band I suppose that is understandable. You Know The Way has a chant-like opening which is repeated a couple of times throughout the song. A mixture of acoustic guitar and organ, it has its charm but sounds like it was an experiment in an attempt to develop an original sound.
Much better is 21st Stationary Show with some great drumming and a lovely melodic harmony. Another nice flute break (flautist unaccredited but presumably Gerard Koerts as he plays this instrument on later albums) provides the interlude. The lengthy Love Quiver is the first indication of the future direction of the band and is particularly notable for the organ work of Gerard Koerts. Overall the song is a great hybrid of the West Coast sounds that were such an early influence and the blossoming progressive rock scene that was then in its infancy. Final track What's Your Name is, in complete contrast, a gentle acoustic guitar and flute song sung by one of the male members of the band that at times comes very close to breaking into Erik Satie's Gymnopédie No.1. Nice enough in its own way but a very odd way to end an album!
By the time the band's debut had been released, writing was well underway for the follow-up album, Song Of The Marching Children. A taster for the album came with the single Invitation which was backed with an early version of Song Of The Marching Children (including parts of what were to become Childhood and Purification). Invitation is a great song, with a powerful chorus on which Kaagman shows none of the hesitancy of the first album. The newly acquired Hammond organ is also prominent as is the Mellotron on the flipside which is a baroque rock hybrid. The first song from the actual album to be heard was the next single, an edited version of Storm And Thunder. An unusually down-beat piece of music that was quite a change from the previous single. Non-album b-side Lost Forever was a guitar dominated riff monster that displayed a heavier side to the group. The arrival of the album a month later in October 1971 showcased a somewhat more coherent effort than the debut. The rather strange Carnival Of The Animals starts things off, replete with strange noises and a fine performance from Kaagman. Ebb Tide, largely written by drummer van der Kleij, is a nice relaxing piece and is most like the material on Earth And Fire mainly due to the fine flute playing by Gerard Koerts. The album version of Storm And Thunder has a lengthy Hammond organ introduction with extra Mellotron added. With the intro and in the context of the album, the song stands out much better than as a single cut. The instrumental In The Mountains sounds very like Focus, which is no bad thing!
However, it is the side long title track that stands out and has made Song Of The Marching Children the firm favourite of fans. A conceptual tale of the circle of life, the piece is split into seven sections and is a delight from start to finish. Theme Of The Marching Children and Opening Of The Seal are the instrumental scene-setters with good use of various keyboards. Childhood is the first vocal piece with a somewhat plaintive melody that, following an organ break leads into the more optimistic sounding Affliction, although lyrically it is not so pleasant: "Into the underworld the others tumbling down, tortured by terrestrial vexations"! A rather quirky, almost fairground, interlude leads into Damnation which reprises some of the melodic elements from Childhood. A lovely break on acoustic guitars (similar in style to what Genesis employed in some of their early albums), leads into Purification with its string backing and, again, a lovely vocal performance from Kaagman. Finally, the piece ends with the instrumental March which strides off into the end grooves.
A final two bonus tracks are the only material that the band released in 1972. Memories hit the top of the Dutch charts and is quite a haunting number, although not one that I personally think is up with their best material. The b-side of From The End 'Til The Beginning is far more enjoyable from a progressive point of view with lots of Mellotron, organ, and a real atmospheric vibe. Apparently in concert this piece would be stretched out to over the 10 minute mark. Hopefully, somewhere there is a decent live recording of the band during this era as I am sure it would make very interesting listening.
Most of 1972 was taken up with touring and when it came to writing the next album the band, retrospectively, considered that they were a bit rushed and didn't have enough time to work on the major piece, the tale of the mythical city of Atlantis. Yes, years before Scottish band Pallas constructed a progressive suite based around the same concept, Earth And Fire had already been there! It would be interesting to know if the members of Pallas were aware of the Dutch version, not that there are any musical similarities between the two works, apart from the song title Rise And Fall that is! Anyway, Earth And Fire's piece is a rather disjointed sixteen minute piece in that it explores quite a few different musical directions and has no central theme connecting things. There are some very good moments but also some pieces like The Threat [Suddenly] that do sound as if they are incomplete. Also, the drumming is rather rudimentary, particularly on Destruction [Rumbling From Inside The Earth] which, although containing some interesting effects, is lacking, as is the whole piece, in any power and forcefulness.
The second side of the album starts with the album's hit single Maybe Tomorrow, Maybe Tonight which, although being a joyous number with a bit hook for a chorus, pales somewhat in comparison with Invitation. Better is the brief instrumental Interlude, which is a great guitar piece over a Mellotron backing, leading into Fanfare, a real slow burner of a song that benefits from concentrated listening in a darkened room free of distractions. Theme From Atlantis has a bit more power to it than most of the elements of the first side's suite, although again, the drumming is a major let down lacking any invention and just pounding out the uniform rhythm. Final track, Love, Please Close The Door is a requiem for a lost love and, like on the debut album, is a strange choice to end the album, and is quite a strange song overall.
Following Atlantis the group carried on until the early 1980s changing direction into more of a pop act and gradually replacing members as the years went by. A final album in 1989, without either of the Koerts brothers and only Kaagman from the first album's line-up, was not very well received and failed to spark a resurgence in the band's fortunes. Still, these first three albums contain enough for the progressive fan and are a complete round-up of everything released during the classic era of the band.
Earth And Fire: 7 out of 10
Song Of The Marching Children: 8 out of 10
Atlantis: 6 out of 10
Alquin - Marks
Tracklist: Oriental Journey (4:22), The Least You Could Do Is Send Me Some Flowers (2:25), Soft Royce (6:57), Mr. Barnum's Junior's Magnificent And Fabulous City (5:35) I Wish I Could (11:27), You Always Can Change (3:04), Marc's Occasional Showers (3:21), Catherine's Wig (2:31) Bonus Track: Hard Royce (2:39)
Alquin - The Mountain Queen
Tracklist: The Dance (13:03), Soft-Eyed Woman (2:38), Convicts Of The Air (3:52), Mountain Queen (14:48), Don And Dewey (1:27), Mr Barnum Junior's Magnificent And Fabulous City [Part One] (8:16)
In the early seventies Alquin was one of the Dutch bands that, together with Focus and Kayak, received international recognition in the progressive rock scene. Alquin produced jazz influenced progressive rock with many keyboards/organ mainly provided by Dick Franssen. Significant for Alquin, I always found, is the use of the saxophone, in the early days played by both Ronald Ottenhof and Job Tarenskeen. Paul Weststrate does the drums on the first three albums but after that is replaced by above mentioned Job Tarenskeen, which of course cannot be combined with the saxophone. Hein Mars is playing the bass and Ferdinand Bakker plays guitar/electric, violin and piano.
Marks and The Mountain Queen are the two first albums that show the jazzy progressive rock side of Alquin. After the Mountain Queen singer Michel van Dijk joined, the songs got shorter and Alquin produced a more rock sound. When an international breakthrough did not happen they split up in 1977. More then a quarter of a decade later they reformed in 2003 which ended up with the release of Blue Planet in 2005. Now in 2009 Alquin releases a new album Sailors And Sinners - the review can be found here, and at the same time these two first albums are re-released.
The debut album Marks dates back from 1972 and for this re-release it is mentioned that it is the first time the entire album is released on CD, on a previous release Mr. Barnum's Junior's Magnificent And Fabulous City were not present. I find it a bit strange that the live version of Mr. Barnum's Junior's Magnificent And Fabulous City (what a title!) is not placed at the end with the bonus track Hard Royce because the volume is not the same as the rest of the album. Though many songs are of normal length the sound of Alquin is characterized by the instrumental stretched parts with keyboard layers, and as mentioned before, the large contribution of saxophone and flute. The opener Oriental Journey is a clear example of that. I Wish I Could is the only song that is longer than ten minutes, but if I had my way with it I would cut it in two and think of an extra title. The vocal parts are good but you can clearly tell it was not their first priority - when counting the time vocals are heard this album is almost instrumental.
The album The Mountain Queen is already more of a rock album than Marks, the guitar solos are more prominent and sound a lot heavier. Flute and saxophone are still present but not as widely used as on Marks. Again most of the album is instrumental and is dominated by two large mostly instrumental songs, The Dance and Mountain Queen. Great large instrumental pieces with many different sub parts and long solos. The Seventies were of course the times for those kind of stretched instrumental jam sessions. This is again shown on the closer Mr, Barnum Junior's Magnificent And Fabulous City [Part One], with many transitions and an abundance of saxophone.
Both Marks and The Mountain Queen have been re-mastered from original tapes and and fully restored artwork.
Their comeback album Blue Planet and even more recently the new album Sailors And Sinners appeal to me a lot. When liking music from a band I tend to dig into their back catalogue. Now some of those recordings from Seventies bands are still plenty of fun and interesting but somehow these two albums did not satisfy me completely. Maybe for Alquin the ticking of time went faster than for other bands. Maybe it is because I had different expectations, I cannot build a distinctive bridge between these two albums and their two latest releases. I cannot say Marks and The Mountain Queen are not good because they are good albums, just not completely my cup of tea. Nice albums if you like Seventies instrumental jazz influenced music.
Marks : 6 out of 10
The Mountain Queen : 6.5 out of 10
Silhouette – Moods
Tracklist: Concert Hangover (8:48), Don’t Threaten My Peace Of Mind (6:06), Searching For Her (6:41), Second Time Down (4:23), Don’t Mess With Me (5:45), Feeling God (5:15), Unreal Meeting (10:48), Cinema Backseat (5:16), Far Away (6:04), Moods (5:43), Another Bed Time Story (7:52), The Answers (5:57)
Whilst giving their 2007 debut album A-maze a modest rating my colleague Mark acknowledged that Silhouette displayed enough promise to anticipate greater things with their next release. And that’s certainly the case with the follow-up Moods where they’ve raised their game a couple of notches producing an engaging and easily digestible collection of neo-prog tunes. The quartet responsible all live in and around the Utrecht district and have been together since 2005. They are Brian de Graeve (guitars, vocals), Erik Laan (keyboards, vocals), Jos Uffing (drums, vocals) and Gerrit-Jan Bloemink (bass guitar). Although the music is spread over 12 individual tracks the album is a concept of sorts based on a semi autobiographical story by guitarist Graeve who is also responsible for the majority of the lyrics. The music is credited to all four band members and assistance in the production department is provided by Knight Area’s Gerben Klazinga.
Having three lead vocalists within the band is an obvious bonus, a distinction they share with fellow Dutch proggers Casual Silence. This adds a certain individualism to each track that would otherwise be absent. Uffing takes the first vocal for Concert Hangover following a compelling instrumental introduction with melodic guitar, synths and mellotron to the fore. Actually I should say second vocal because Nick Barrett can be briefly heard at the start setting the scene for the songs protagonist to reflect on the Pendragon gig attended the night before. Of the three, Uffing’s voice is the most distinctive with his resonant tones being comparable to Unitopia’s Mark Trueack especially during the driving Searching For Her. Graeve for his part sounds not unlike Steve Babbs of Glass Hammer fame. The Pendragon reference is also very apt as Graeve’s ringing guitar style readily brings the aforementioned Barrett to mind whilst Laan’s rich synth sound has more than a touch of the Clive Nolan’s about it.
The spirit of the opening song is echoed throughout the album with ear friendly melodies supported by lively and skilful but not over complex musicianship. There is occasionally a familiar ring to the themes as in the plaintive Second Time Down which sounds like a slower version of the opening instrumental from Concert Hangover. Don’t Mess With Me on the other hand proves to be the albums most poppy offering and could be best described as a tuneful ballad. The albums centrepiece Unreal Meeting features appropriately bombastic moments particularly during the stately coda whilst the title track Moods kicks up its heels for some energetic guitar and synth exchanges. Along with the usual suspects including Marillion the band cite Genesis as an influence and certainly the presence of the early Hackett and Banks partnership hangs heavy in the air. Don’t Threaten My Peace Of Mind for instance includes a showy synth solo in the vein of Genesis’ Riding The Scree from The Lamb whilst Feeling God is an acoustic sing-along affair in the mould of Your Own Special Way from Wind And Wuthering.
The album closes with two of the bands best songs thus far. Alternating lead voices embellish the wistful Another Bed Time Story with supporting harmonies from the same mould (although not the same class) as Barclay James Harvest. The strident solo by guest guitarist Aldo Adema for its part could easily pass for BJH’s John Lees. The rousing Answers concludes things on a suitably triumphant note where in addition to vocals Uffing distinguishes himself with some expressive drum fills (ala Phil Collins) ably supported by Bloemink’s pumping bass lines.
Listening to Silhouette continuously over the past couple weeks as I have done I can find little to fault their sound. In addition to the above their readily accessible brand of prog is recognisably from the same school as Credo, Abel Ganz and occasionally, during their mellower moments, Flamborough Head. I would add however whilst there is little here to fault neither do any of the songs stick their heads above the rest. For that reason 12 tracks spread over 78 minutes its perhaps 3 tracks and 18 minutes too many and a little judicial pruning would have not gone amiss. There is certainly more than enough twists and turns along the way however to keep prog aficionados suitably entertained.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Astral Travellers – The Truth Beyond
Tracklist: Gather Around (9:18), Higher (7:05), Whole Damnation (7:57), As She Goes Down (10:42), Dance Of Death (12:11)
Astral Travellers are a new name to the Dutch progressive rock scene, but not a new band, the same line-up recording a couple of albums earlier in the decade under the Oker moniker. The new name reflects the band’s steering towards darker, more progressive waters, and whilst they take influences from some of the ‘usual suspects’ of modern heavy prog – Tool, Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree – there’s definitely something in the song-writing that shows a more mature, original side – you can tell this isn’t their first recording.
Opening track Gather Around shows Astral Travellers at their best. The opening, ballad-like section showcases Gerben Van Oosterhout’s vocals, which are definitely an acquired taste – rather over-wrought yet strangely emotionless, at first I thought these were a definite weak spot yet they do suit the material and give it some originality, plus he shows at times he is able to vary his delivery quite effectively. After a couple of minutes a great riff comes in – part Tool-esque efficiency, part Threshold-style crunch, underpinned by a keyboard melody that could have come from the first Dream Theater album, this really drives the song on. Whilst it almost gets bogged down in unnecessary complexity in its middle stages, the song recovers, with a stately symphonic section redolent of Pallas and a fine synth solo from Jochem Brok leading back to that unstoppable riff.
The final track Dance Of Death is the other high point, demonstrating a good sense of dynamics, successfully weaving a vaguely Celtic feel into the band’s sound and having a rousing, epic feel throughout. There are definitely shades of modern day Anathema in some of the song’s more restrained and emotive sections, which is no bad thing in my book. The length of the song could however have been trimmed a fair bit without any loss in its impact.
Unfortunately the three songs that make up the middle of the album are not so strong – there’s good moments in each of them, but too often the band tie themselves in knots on un-interesting instrumental sections or beat the seeds of an interesting idea into the ground until they disappear into nothing. Whole Damnation is a particular low point, boasting as it does a rather cheesy chorus and some ‘whacky’ shouted vocals from Van Oosterhout that don’t exactly work to the song’s advantage.
The musicianship is of a good quality throughout, but I found the production a bit thin and sterile in places; this sort of music really benefits from a full, organic sound. Overall, this is a decent first effort under their new name and style by Astral Travellers but there is plenty to work on if they want to make an impact in the scene – hopefully however there is more and better to come from the band.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10