Reviews in this issue:
- Redemption – Snowfall On Judgment Day
- Spirits Of The Dead – Spirits Of The Dead
- The Steve Hillage Band - Live
- Celestial Oeuvre - This Mortal Coil
- Brother Ape - Turbulence
- Antique Seeking Nuns - Careful! It's Tepid [EP]
- Slaves To Fashion – Slaves To Fashion [EP]
- Art Of Infinity – The Flow Of Time (Radio Edit) [Single]
Redemption – Snowfall On Judgment Day
Tracklist: Peel (6:31), Walls (6:57), Leviathan Rising (6:42), Black And White World (8:03), Unformed (6:30), Keep Breathing (7:37), Another Day Dies (5:15), What Will You Say (5:20), Fistful Of Sand (6:35), Love Kills Us All / Life In One Day (11:00)
Before tucking into the review proper, I think it’s only appropriate to acknowledge the amazing battle that has faced the creator of this renowned progressive metal band in the last 12 months.
On Saturday November 14th 2008 Nicolas van Dyk was diagnosed with multiple myeloma - one of the most acute forms of cancer and in many cases an illness that is terminal. I had the pleasure of meeting Nic for a DPRP interview when his band headlined the Headway Festival in Amstelveen a few years back. A true fan of the music, he was one of the most open and genuine musicians I have ever had the pleasure to meet. Nic has undergone some very aggressive therapy and is on the cusp of remission. Having recently passed my own 10-year remission from cancer, I (and I'm sure all DPRP readers) would like to take this opportunity to pass onto Nic wishes for a swift and long-lasting return to normal health. You can read a more about Nic’s journey on his blog. If you read his words, you may not be surprised that the fourth Redemption album is so damn good – you will however certainly be bewildered as to how it ever materialised.
Having reviewed all three of his albums for this website, I have come to two simple conclusions. Redemption are the best progressive metal band to emerge in the past decade. The band’s last two albums will forever be seen as ‘classics' of the genre.
Snowfall... offers nothing that will change that assessment. If anything it makes it even firmer.
Firstly a few general observations and then I’ll pick out a few of the highlights. This is certainly less proggy than the previous albums and may well appeal to those for whom Redemption was a little too intense before. To be clear; by 'less proggy' I don’t think there’s any great reduction in the overall complexity – more a case of the music just sounding less busy. The material is more song-orientated, more melodic, there is less lyrical content and less instrumental work. 'Less is more' would be a good summary of the approach. Some people have viewed previous discs as a little on the cold side. This is certainly a much warmer companion.
Redemption is now a fully stabilized band. In addition to Nic and Fates Warning singer Ray Alder, it features Agent Steel guitarist Bernie Versailles, Prymary sticksman Chris Quirarte, Sean Andrews (bass) and Greg Hosharian (keyboards). The benefit of a long time on the road supporting Dream Theater in 2007 has clearly brought its rewards. This is a very tight unit.
Of the actual songs, here are a few choice comments. The chorus of Peel has one of the sweetest melodies that Ray Alder has ever sung. Nic delivers another monster riff . When they hit top gear there really is no other band around that can deliver intense heaviness in this way. Black And White World has another monster chorus, whilst Walls is very Fates Warning-esque in its melody.
Unformed builds wonderfully around a fantastically inventive riff – one of Nic’s best. My other favourite is Keep Breathing. Possibly the most proggy track on offer. It has great contrasts. Starting very sparse, before exploding half way through with the keyboards taking a leading role. My only qualm is that I’d have preferred a return to the opening theme at the end instead of trying to develop a third idea. Remember: less is more!
Leviathan Rising holds another big riff but lacks a little depth in the song-writing department. The closing epic has its moments but isn’t in the same class as Sapphire or Fall On You.
What Will You Say is about as close as Redemption will probably get to a ballad. In contrast, Fistful Of Sand would put Megadeth to shame in the thrashy riff stakes – probably the rawest heavy song Redemption has written.
A lot of people will go straight to Another Day Dies – Alder’s duet with James LaBrie. The arrangement actually sounds rather like Dream Theater. It’s a good song, but not a great one.
So, how to sum this little monster up. Personally the heavy lyrical content and the busy arrangements were big plus points for me on the last two albums. Snowfall… has high’s that are as impressive as those on the previous discs, but it is much more of a ‘flow’ album. One that you listen to as a whole, and enjoy the ride.
As ever with Redemption, this is a record that will endure and reward many repeated plays over many years. It’s early days and currently my view is that this isn’t quite as good as Origins... but easily on a par with Fullness...
Anyway, that makes three classic albums in a row, and there ain’t that many bands that I’ve ever said that about.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Spirits Of The Dead – Spirits Of The Dead
Tracklist: White Lady / Black Rave (8:09), The Waves Of Our Ocean (4:28), My Wild Dream (2:56), Red (4:32), T.I.T. [Travellers In Time] (5:27), Fields Of Gold (3:26), Spirits Of The Dead (8:17)
Whilst the fact that they incorporate the late sixties/early seventies sounds of the early rock music boom might have some labelling Spirits Of The Dead as ‘just another’ retro rock band, they mix these elements with a modern approach that’s more forward looking than most. The Norwegians describe themselves as a ‘psychedelic-stoner-folk-rock band’ which is as good a way of getting a handle on their sound as any I guess, although I’d add the term ‘progressive’ myself.
White Lady / Black Rave gets things off to a rousing start, kicking off with an up-tempo groove, boogie guitar and Hammond organ to the fore in a main riff that’s reminiscent of late sixties Deep Purple, even down to the psychedelic overtones. A couple of minutes down the line the song takes a turn down a more mellow road, with a psyched-out chill-out atmospheric section reminiscent of Led Zeppelin at their most epic and adventurous – such as the eastern-tinged classic Into The Light (off Physical Graffiti). Vocalist Ragnar Vikse even manages some Robert Plant-like over-emoting. The wah-wah drenched guitar gives the song the right sort of trippy feel. This passage segues nicely back into the main riff, with Ole Ǿverstahl reeling off a tasty, hard-edged but still psychedelically-inclined guitar solo.
After this lengthy introduction, the next few tracks are leaner beasts. The Waves Of Our Ocean has an up-tempo verse countered by a more relaxed chorus; the up-front, probing bass playing of the excellently-named Deadly Nightshade stands out here, whilst Ǿverstahl puts in another fantastic, effects-laden solo. The coda has more of a feel of classic, melodramatic progressive rock – Vikse’s emotionally-wrought delivery a mix of Fish in his early Marillion days and Peter Hammill. After this intensity, My Wild Dream is a short retreat to more chilled-out pastoral realms, with acoustic guitar to the fore. Red is not a King Crimson cover, but like that classic is dominated by a guitar riff, in this case a fuzzed-up, almost stoner rock riff that really drives the verses, offset with an almost monotone but focussed vocal delivery from Vikse. The track has a great ending section, with heavily-phased shards of guitar floating out over a fat, roaming bass line.
T.I.T. [Travellers In Time] is initially a chilled-out affair, with the mellow verses almost like The Moody Blues in their early seventies pomp. The chorus is a different beast, with a fuzzed-up riff and modern-sounding vocal. It is to the bands credit that they’re able to fuse these two very different elements in an entirely naturally sounding way. The high energy rocker Fields Of Gold is noticeable for some interesting, intertwining guitar work and some nimble bass work, with drummer Geir Thorstensen also coming up with some imaginative fills.
Spirits Of The Dead finishes as it started, with a lengthy epic. The title track once again sports a big fat fuzzed up riff, in this case halfway between early Soundgarden and classic Black Sabbath. Once again the main verse is more psychedelic, with something of a folky feel, whilst the riff kicks in again for the simple but effective chorus. There are some interesting, almost choral vocal treatments later on, as well as a fine extended guitar solo where Ǿverstahl has his effects pedals working overtime. There is an argument that the song runs on a little too long and gets repetitive, but I think this is one track where repetition is not necessarily a bad thing.
In conclusion, this is a classy album which successfully manages to establish its own identity and sound relatively timeless, despite obvious nods to various scenes and artists. For a modern album, its relatively short, but this works in its favour in my opinion – we’re talking quality over quantity here. Finally, I shouldn’t end the review without mentioning the wonderful, intricately-detailed cover art by Martin Kvamme, which makes this one of those albums you should buy in physical form rather than as a digital download.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
The Steve Hillage Band - Live
Tracklist: Gong Family Unconvention Amsterdam 2006: Hello Dawn (3:45), It's All Too Much (5:56), Aftaglid (8:44), Solar Musick Suite [Part 1] (11:52), The Salmon Song (7:41), These Uncharted Lands (10:57) Amsterdam 1979: Palm Trees (4:50), Unzipping The Zype (8:14), Heeling Feeling (2:03) Gong, London 1974: Solar Musick Suite [early version] (8:31)
The last album Steve Hillage released under his own name was the 1983 double set For To Next accompanied by And Not Or. That album gave an indication of his future direction and so it was not that surprising that his next musical venture was the more electronic and ambient/dance group System 7 which are still a big success. System 7 were a long way from Hillage's early albums such as Fish Rising, L, Motivation Radio and Green, the quartet of albums he released in the four years after leaving anarcho-hippies Gong in 1975. Twenty-seven years after their original disbanding, The Steve Hillage Band surprisingly reformed and played at the Gong Unconventional fan gathering in Holland. Accompanied by Miquette Giraudy (synths, vocals), Mike Howlett (bass), Chris Taylor (drums) and Basil Brooks (additional synths), the unconvention performance forms the bulk of this album.
The somewhat brief set gives the fans mostly what they want, focusing on the epic numbers from the solo debut Fish Rising. Aftaglid, Solar Musick Suite [Part 1] and The Salmon Song are faithfully reproduced and manage to capture the Hillage sound of old. Indeed one wouldn't believe that nearly thirty years had passed since Live Herald as these songs could almost have been taken from the same tour as captured on that live album! Prior to this holy triumvirate, the show had opened with the cheery Hello Dawn (from 1977's Motivation Radio) and the typically psychedelicised version of George Harrison's It's All Too Much (from the previous year's L, both rather incongruous albums to be released at the height of the punk explosion, and by a bearded long-haired hippy to boot!). Final track from the Steve Hillage Band is These Unchartered Lands which had never been performed live and had probably not been listened to much by anyone since the 1983 album For To Next. The version here is somewhat different from the studio version, which was almost half the length, featured electronic drums and minimal guitar. Although not a classic Hillage song, the reworking does it a lot of favours and the ending certainly digs into the Gong vibe that must have been a treat for the pot-headed pixies attending the unconvention.
Rounding off the CD is a smattering of live tracks, the first three of which were recorded by the last incarnation of the seventies band when Hillage and Giraudy were accompanied by Paul Francis on bass, Andy Anderson on drums and Dave Stewart on rhythm guitar. All three tracks are a nice addition to the Live Herald material, albeit having been recorded about a year after the songs on that album. Palm Trees (missing the original parenthesised title of 'Love Guitar') is quite lovely whilst Unzipping The Zype (promoted from out of the brackets from the original New Age Synthesis (Unzipping The Zype) is a lot more powerful than the original on the 1979 alum Open, particularly in terms of the great, almost funky, bass playing of Francis. In the instrumental ending one can clearly hear the dance direction that would in later years dominate Hillage's output. The shortened Healing Feeling, also from Open, is a brief instrumental that was probably used as a linking piece of music in concert and as such is a bit out of place here. May have been better to have left it off and then released the whole concert at some point.
The final song is a great treat for both Hillage and Gong fans alike (if the two are in fact separate entities!). A Gong performance from the Hammersmith Palais of an early version of Solar Musick Suite, recorded 32 years before the version in the set played at the Unconvention. On this recording Hillage handles guitar and vocals with Didier Malherbe on sax, Mike Howlett on bass, Lawrie Allen on drums, Tim Blake on synths and, reportedly, Daevid Allen on vocals, although one has to listen very hard to even hear anything that may even remotely be him! This version is rather more chaotic than the Hillage version (of any era!) in that typically Gong manner. Dominated by Malherbe's sax, some inventive drum patterns by Allen and synth sounds that only Tim Blake could generate, this version is certainly a great link between Hillage's band and solo personas. The only gripe is that the song fades out towards the end. Whether this means the tape ran out or that there is a longer, more complete version of Gong performing the Suite is not known. Whatever, if the whole of this 1974 concert exists I'm certain there would be immense interest should it be released in it entirety.
Is this a return to active service for the Steve Hillage Band? Well considering the Unconvention was over three years ago, it doesn't look so, more of a musical 'friends reunited'. Although in itself it is a fine album, it can't really compete with Live Herald as a live album. Saying that, the inclusion of tracks such as Aftaglid, Solar Musick Suite Unzipping The Zype and the Gong rarity certainly makes the album an attractive proposition for the Hillage fan. However, for those less committed one of the remastered studio albums may be a better place to start.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Celestial Oeuvre - This Mortal Coil
Tracklist: The Meadows (6:45), Family Secrets - Prologue (3:07), Family Secrets (4:45), Family Secrets - Epilogue (0:10), Unwind This Mortal Coil (5:26), Melody Maker (4:41), Encore [To The Melody Maker] (2:11), Sold Out (5:39), A False Utopia (4:18), Cool Burn (4:07), In Ivory Dreams (7:16), The Meadows [Reprise A Capella] (0:43)
This is a great little group made up of singer Joe Acaba, multi-instrumentalist Jose Damien, guitarist Joe Nardulli and drummer Hector Lopez. Acaba and Damien wrote the lion's share of the material. Oh and by the way these New York City boys really know how to prog out.
Basic bombastic short-song progressive rock rules on this CD, with lots of synths, organs, bobbing bass, and shredding guitars. It is done fantastically well, with just a touch of 'retro' but not so much as to dull the sharp edge. There is a lot of funky syncopation sprinkled throughout, and, importantly, a really positive energetic vibe that has survived the recording and post-production process. On top of all that, Damien played such a mean bass that I wonder if this band has any trouble finding two touring members who can cover all his parts (because he has unfortunately passed on, and I suppose that means its all up in the air anyway). And you can tell he just loved that classic B-3 sound. Nardulli is in the same bag with six-string slingers like Daryl Steurmer, Matze Wurm and Hamadryad's Denis Jalbert.
The first thing that struck me on first listening to this CD is the quirky character of Acaba's voice - he sounds a lot like Gentle Giant's Derek Shulman. I would even venture to say if you put him in front of Ritual, a band who has already proven they can do the GG thing with consummate authority, the result would be capable of fooling any Gentle Giant fan. A big part of the Celestial Oeuvre sound is the deep layering of vocal parts Acaba has laid down. His range exceeds that of Derek Shulman and sometimes the sound approaches a manic version of early Journey's vocal layering - remember Ross Valory? It's OK with me but some listeners might not be able to take too much.
Oh and Did I mention these spaghetti eaters really know how to prog out? All in all an engaging, high quality offering for every prog nut to enjoy.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Brother Ape - Turbulence
Tracklist: Welcome Future (8:22), Footprints (6:21), No More (3:55), Who Will Be Next (6:38), Early (0:55), Turbulence (7:42), No Return (9:44), Autostrada (6:32), Lifeprints (5:51)
Four albums in four years is a pretty consistent release rate from Brother Ape and with their two most recent Shangri-La (2006) and III (2008) both receiving an encouraging response from the DPRP, I was intrigued to discover how the band had developed. The trio of Stefan Damicolas (guitars, vocals, keyboards), Max Bergman (drums) and Gunnar Maxén (bass, keyboards) have been together since 1981 although only in the last 10 years have they been working under the current name.
Damicolas is responsible for writing all the songs here and it has to be said that the results are to my ears a tad repetitive. Welcome Future sets the pattern where following a reticent electric sitar beginning it quickly develops into a dense wall of guitar led sound with a rapid rhythm and Damicolas’ light, airy and very agreeable vocal skating over the top. It’s a convincingly confident sound although for me not enough variation to justify its length despite the tuneful vibe. Footprints continues in a virtually identical and relentless fashion with an abrasive riff that morphs into a compelling guitar hook to close. Thus far the cacophonic and sometimes claustrophobic sound put me in mind of Frost* although with less emphasis on keyboards.
The tranquil No More provides a welcome change of pace with its sparse piano and spacey effects but disappointingly fails to go anywhere before succumbing to an abrupt fade. Damicolas’ voice is beginning to sound very familiar although I can’t quite put my finger on it, possibly a little like A Flock Of Seagulls’ Mike Score with a hint of Steve Hogarth. Who Will Be Next returns to the tone of the previous tracks with a grungy guitar riff lifted from Gazpacho’s Desert Flight. This is more mainstream than prog with a contemporary and un-compromising hard rock sound and a histrionic guitar solo that did little for me. In contrast Early is a pleasant acoustic guitar instrumental that disappears almost before it’s began.
The title song Turbulence sees keys play a more prominent role with a pulsating synth line before a surge of power chords reminds us that we’re once again in heavy guitar driven rock territory. Out of the mayhem a strong vocal melody surfaces giving the song a sense of purpose although disappointingly another metal guitar solo elbows its way in. No Return is more relaxed with a hint of echo on the voice to add to the spacey atmosphere. The track’s not inconsiderable length is due in no small part to a high octane guitar solo which despite some flashy moments of technique exudes self indulgence. Better is the compelling guitar hook which emerges towards the close joined by wordless vocals to underline the strong melody.
The penultimate Autostrada is a sprightly, uplifting instrumental with an engaging ringing guitar tone which unfortunately fails to develop beyond a repeated phrase. Lifeprints returns to the same blueprint of what’s gone before with a mellow guitar and vocal intro being swept aside by a driving, repetitive riff. A catchy wordless chant comes to the rescue doubled by some inspiring guitar work although this runs out of steam before the song does, subsiding into a laidback psychedelic dirge to play out on a less than satisfying note.
Looking back on the two previous Brother Ape reviews there is little in the musical references that compares with Turbulence so I can only assume that there has been a change in direction for this latest release. They have certainly produced a bold and exuberant work although for me the arrangements lack a little colour and tonal variety. That being said songs like Welcome Future, No Return and Lifeprints contain some excellent moments and convincing melodies, it’s just a pity that the same level isn’t sustained throughout the album.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Antique Seeking Nuns - Careful! It's Tepid [EP]
Tracklist: Leave Us A Message (3:29), The Foulness! The Stench! (1:51), Dead Cheese (3:17), The Bearded Bag Lady (3:08), Ointment For Flies (6:25), Untitled (0:39)
Careful! It's Tepid is the final chapter in this trilogy of EP releases from UK alternative progsters Antique Seeking Nuns. The Nuns are collectively Joff Winks (guitars/vocals), Matt Baber (assorted keyboards), Paul Mallyon (drums) and Brad Waissman (bass). The band formed in Oxford circa 2001 "based around the composing/performing duo" of Joff and Matt, releasing their first EP Mild Profundities in 2003 followed in 2006 by Double Egg With Chips And Beans.
With the potted history over we move quickly to this new release. Now even before the CD entered my player the band's name, the curious album title and the rather bizarre cover artwork had Mr Zappa spring to mind (although not a bad thing in my book). Not that this band were entirely new to me as I had checked out their second EP around the time of its release and at the suggestion of one of our readers. To be honest I can't say that Double Egg... left a lasting impression as when this latest offering from the band arrived it was merely the name that rang any bells. Looking back it was a shame (which I shall rectify) as the new EP is rather intriguing.
The EP opens with the instantly catchy Leave Us A Message, with the essence of late sixties acoustic pop/rock, but with a distinctly modern slant. Joff Winks vocals are certainly in the upper registers here, but it is neither strained or jarring. The melody hangs nicely and certainly sticks in the head well after the CD has finished. Heavier guitar beefs out the acoustic whilst the band drives the tempo along nicely. The mid section features percussive keyboards (a feature throughout) followed by a very Steely Dan-like guitar solo. The vocals return once more re-emphasizing the catchiness of the song.
The Foulness! The Stench! couldn't be further away from what the title might imply. Similar in many respects to the opener - this instrumental is gentle (with just a hint of pushing out the envelope). Mellotron strings are added fleshing out the piece that is gone a little too quickly. Dead Cheese on the other hand is a different beast. Here the Zappa comparisons flood in. Complex, quirky and a little straining in parts on the ears. Rhythmically strong and again percussive keyboards are employed to the full, bringing comparisons to Pierre Morlens and Gong as well as Frank Zappa. The Bearded Bag Lady is another instrumental, but with slightly more in common with the two opening tracks.
The vocals return for Ointment For Flies and again strong melodies ring out along with a nice hook line in the chorus sections. The signature ASN sound has now clicked with me and here the rhythm section of Mallyon and Waissman also come to the forefront. This is the strongest piece (and fortunately the longest) from EP and one that bodes well for ASN to go on and produce a full length album.
Difficult to offer a numerical rating for an EP. It certainly demonstrates what the band are about, but there just isn't quite enough to get a handle on it. ASN manage to incorporate catchy Canterbury infused music that can be complex, certainly is complex in parts, whilst never losing the plot and with more than hint of mischief. "Am I right"! As it stands this is very engaging twenty minutes of music and certainly I'll be looking out for these guys in the future - albeit as Sanguine Hum?
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Slaves To Fashion – Slaves To Fashion [EP]
Tracklist: Mrs. Hero (3:00), Left Out In The Cold (3:38), The Garden [remix] (4:06), Out Of Here (4:22)
Hopefully a few of you will have taken the very strong recommendation from my colleague Gerald and tracked down the debut album from Norwegian melodic, progressive-tinged rockers P.O.B. (Pedestrians Of Blue) a couple of years back. I did and Crossing Over still gets regular spins, with its clever blend of catchy, mainstream melodic hard rock blended with some delicate, progressive currents and a fabulous lead singer. Two years down the line and after some solid gigging and lots of other positive reviews, the band has moved forward with a name change and a new four track EP.
Not too sure about the name change but thankfully the music is of an equal class as before. The first two new tracks have a more uptempo, metallic edge to them and are a little more straightforward but the addictive melodies and thoughtful arrangements still shine through. The final track is an atmospheric, proggy ballad. Johannes Støle has to be one of the best singers from a yet-to-be-discovered band I know.
I do feel all three songs could be stretched out a little bit more to make the most of some of the clever ideas contained within.
Mrs. Hero was mixed by Mike Harting (A-ha, Enslaved) while the rest of the tracks were done by Torfinn Sirnes in FishFarm Studios. As with the debut album the sound is crystal clear.
The EP is a taster for the band’s first album under the Slaves To Fashion name, for which the final few songs are now being completed. For fans of Enchant, Toto and Journey this is a great little teaser of things to come. All three new tracks are available from the band’s MySpace page or you can download it all from itunes or CDbaby.
Art Of Infinity – The Flow Of Time [Single]
Tracklist: Art Of Infinity – Musik Zwischen Zeit Und Raum (0:38), The Flow Of Time (3:14), Albumpräsentation Endless Future (6:32)
German ambient band Art Of Infinity go for a promotional push of their album Endless Future by releasing a download single radio edit of The Flow Of Time, a track off the album. Also, if you send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the band’s website (click on the “samples” link above) they will send you the accompanying promo CD for free.
I really can’t add anything to Andy Read’s review of Endless Future, other than to say that I am persuaded to buy the album on the strength of listening to the CD sampler.
Conclusion: Not Rated