Reviews in this issue:
- La Maschera Di Cera – Petali Di Fuoco
- Ark – Wild Untamed Imaginings
- Argos – Circles
- Psi Corps – All Roads Lead To Amber
- The Re-Stoned – Revealed Gravitation
- Colossus Project (VA) - Cani Arrabbiati ~ Opening Themes... A Tribute
- Days Before Tomorrow – The Sky Is Falling
- Lava Engine – In Limbo
- TerraFormer - Terraformer [EP]
La Maschera Di Cera – Petali Di Fuoco
Tracklist: Fino All’aurora (6:45), D-Sigma (4:15), 4.18 (1:37), Discesa (7:32), Tra Due Petali di Fuoco (6:06), L’inganno (7:21), Agli Uomini Che Sanno Già Volare (4:36), Il Declino (5:45), Phoenix (5:08), La Notte Trasparente (7:48)
I haven’t heard La Maschera di Cera’s three previous albums but it is clear from this excellent fourth, Petali di Fuoco that the great tradition of “Rock Progressivo Italiano” is safe in their hands. Not just that of course, it’s the great tradition of Italian melodic music-making that they, and other similar bands, are safeguarding, after it was abandoned by their classical and opera composers in the early 20th century. Long may it continue!
I’m not an expert in the genre – it’s actually not my favourite as, generally, I find the orchestral layering too dense and the production sound lacking definition – but I would say that La Maschera di Cera’s proportion of sung to instrumental passages is greater than the average. The inventiveness of the instrumentation, the melody, the production sound and the Italian lyrics are all characteristic of the genre. The orchestration and sound avoid my personal foibles; I can find nothing to quibble about on the album. There’s no ground-breaking here but, more importantly, plenty of fine music!
The arrangements seemed to be ideal, to my ears: the instrumentation is complex but intelligently used so that it actually becomes a highlight of the album as, right to the very end, the band conjure up sonic surprises to please the listener. The band have a dedicated flautist in Andrea Monetti and his contribution adds great beauty to this music. On keyboards, Agostino Macor’s selection of sounds is masterly and, in a wonderful moment of album dynamics, saves the most powerful moment for the last track, La Notte Trasparente: when the church organ comes in, it hits with great emotional intensity – superb!
Magic musical moments like this pervade the album, such as when the flute first comes into the arrangement in the opener, Fino All’aurora - the flute is a wonderful rock band instrument when used effectively! Other highlights include the beautiful acoustic guitar “oasis” of the instrumental 4.18; the driving bass and piano of Discesa; the guitar, harpsichord (?) and orchestration of Tra Due Petali di Fuoco; the keyboard sounds at the opening to Il Declino; and, of course, the stunning organ in the finale, which is topped with a stonking guitar solo from Matteo Nahum to take out the album. However, the real hit in this music are the sublime melodies that crop up like seams of gold in unmined rock, glittering brightly. This melodic strength is evident from the very first track and its highlights on the album are during L’inganno, La Notte Trasparente and Agli Uomini Che Sanno Già Volare, with the latter, written by drummer Maurizio di Tollo, being particularly sumptuous and worthy of all of the famous Italian greats from Bellini to Puccini.
Throughout, vocalist Alessandro Corvaglia sings in a typically “Rock Progressivo Italiano” husky 40-cigarettes-a-day timbre, but his performance is a strong one and he is well able to carry off the fine melodic phrasing.
Overall, this is a fine album of music, expertly paced; containing some excellent music arranged to best effect. It’s a “must-have” for all lovers of the genre and would be a very suitable starting album for any progressive fans who have yet to delve into Rock Progressivo Italiano’s territory.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Ark – Wild Untamed Imaginings
Tracklist: Boudicca’s Chariot (5.14), Coats Of Red (4.36), Flagday (3.27), New Scientist (5.47), Hagley (4.52), Gaia (4.27), 8th Deadly Sin (5.02), Change Pt2 (5.27), So You Finally Made It (5.16), Kaleidoscope (4.34), Nowhere’s Ark (5.41)
Progressive rock, as you probably know, is a particularly English phenomenon, and Ark wears this Englishness proudly on their metaphorical sleeve. Indeed, as if we needed reminding, the booklet, cover art and even the disc itself are well and truly bedecked in Union Jacks. The music within, and the lyrical content are quintessentially English too: the adventure of a child's mind at the excitement of going on holiday; a chance meeting full of possibilities that can never be anything more; ordinary people caught in an extraordinary conflict; what might lurk behind those suburban net curtains; leaving the earth to escape man made destruction. OK, so that last one isn’t particularly English (although see Watcher…, and Last Human Gateway), but you get my general point.
It’s all very much in the 80s neo-prog tradition, but without keyboards. Ark don’t do keyboards, preferring flute and guitar synth, which does make them pretty unique, you have to admit. And it sounds great, too.
For those of you unfamiliar with the band, we’ll start with a bit of history:
They came into existence in 1986, following previous incarnations as Damascus and Kite. That first line-up consisted of Ant (vocals & flute), Pete Wheatley (lead guitar), Steve Harris (guitar synth), Steve's brother Andy Harris (bass) and Gary Davis (drums). They released a limited edition vinyl single in 1987 and in 1988 the band entered the heats of the "Battle of the Bands" competition, however after the heats, Andy left the band to be replaced by John Jowitt.
The band went on to win the final. Following their triumphant win, the band recorded the mini album The Dreams Of Mr Jones. (On which three of the songs here [Gaia, Kaleidoscope, Nowhere's Ark] first appeared).
In early 1989, after more line-up changes, they released the New Scientist EP. Gaining a following outside their native Black Country base, the band launched themselves into dates around the UK, including guest support on IQ's summer 'Are You Sitting Comfortably' tour during June 1989. They then found themselves invited to play a headline date in Paris, and a support to It Bites for a one-off date in Tilburg, Holland.
In October 1990 John decided to leave the band (later going on to join IQ and Jadis).
A new line-up began work on new material and entered the studio again in March 1991 to record the tracks for the Cover Me With Rain EP. In June 1991, they won the opportunity to record a Radio One session, when they scored the highest number of recorded votes in the Friday Rock Show's Rock War.
A cassette album, Archives 1983-1990 was released in 1990, but has since been deleted, and The Dreams Of Mr Jones was released on CD during 1991. Cover Me With Rain EP was finally released in August 1992, promoted by an extensive UK tour. During the autumn and winter months, the band settled into pre-production for their first full-length album. In August 1993 The Black Album was released featuring a harsher side to Ark. A second release Spiritual Physics (The White Album) was planned in early 1994 but not released. In June 1994, Ark split from their management company and nine months later they played their last gig.
The band split on 13th March 1995 at the Flapper & Firkin in Birmingham, Jowitt joining them for one song...
As well as John Jowitt, the band in 2010 features original members Tony Short on vocals and flute, Pete Wheatley on lead guitar, Steve Harris on guitar synth, and new member Tim Churchman (formerly of Darwin’s Radio) on drums.
You couldn’t really get a more English sounding song title to start than Boudicca’s Chariot, and we’re quickly in New Wave of British Heavy Metal territory too, all Maiden-esque riffing and Priest-ian anthemic choruses.
Somewhat disconcertingly, Coats Of Red’s main riff seems to borrow from Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean but other than this mildly worrying fact it’s high quality business as usual in the music stakes, anthemic neo-prog with hints of early It Bites.
Flagday and New Scientist carry on the It Bites theme, this time evoking memories of said band’s latest incarnation with JJ band mate John Mitchell at the helm. It’s a massively catchy tune as, to be fair, they all are. There’s an outing for Anthony Short’s flute, too, on Flagday and Steve Harris’ guitar synth is put to good effect on New Scientist.
Hagley slows the otherwise frenetic pace down a tad, and is a gentler acoustic ballad, with nice flute flourishes.
Gaia gets things back on the rocky road, with a massively infectious riff, and tasty guitar synth breaks. The energy and rhythm, and lyrical content reminds a bit of Marillion in their Market Square Heroes era pomp, although the ‘robbing for the hoods’ line and flute break is straight out of the early Genesis song book.
Eighth Deadly Sin is perhaps my favourite track, with symphonic synth and guitar interplay, and choir (credited in the sleeve notes to ‘The Kid’s Chorus’, including, it appears, the band’s children).
Change Pt2 starts off like a track from Club Ninja by Blue Oyster Cult, with its driving bass line (it’s not for nothing than John Jowitt has won the Classic Rock Society’s bass player of the year award more than anyone else) and vocal harmonies but about four minutes in the classic BOC line-up is evoked in the truly splendid massed guitar orchestra (courtesy no doubt of some studio jiggery pokery).
So You Finally Made It is an arms held aloft power ballad, despite starting off in folky mode, with hurdy gurdy embellishments. The flute towards the end is a nice touch, mind.
Kaleidoscope has us back in Marillion/IQ/Pallas/Galahad/Pendragon territory. It’s a splendidly anthemic, incredibly catchy neo-prog tune, this, with synth choir climax. Fabulous.
Nowhere’s Ark is going to rock the house when played live, as it undoubtedly will be, on the Saturday of October’s - Summer’s End Festival. With lyrics like ‘winter’s upon us, the summer is dead’ it could almost have been written for it. It’s a foot stomping, rousing folk prog tune, and a contender for track of the album.
The art of great song writing, with meaningful lyrics and great tunes, played by really talented people is alive and well. Across eleven songs, none of them over five and three quarter minutes, Ark demonstrate amazing competence across the neo-prog, folk prog and the out and out rock spectrum. This is sing out loud, incredibly tuneful neo-prog. No song ever outstays its welcome, there’s no filler and you’re always left wanting a little bit more, whether that’s on a song-by-song basis or as regards the album as a whole. A welcome, and heartily recommended return, then, for an excellent band.
The album cover art, by Antonio Seijas. Responsible for Gazpacho’s Firebird, Night and Tick Tock, he also provided the artwork for Marillion's double album Happiness Is The Road, including the deluxe edition, with two booklets of almost 100 pages of illustrations. He has also has worked on the Steve Rothery and Hannah Stobart project The Wishing Tree and their album Ostara. Needless to say, it’s excellent. The sound, as befits a ProgRock Records release, is similarly spot-on.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Argos – Circles
Tracklist: Sammel Surium (2:49), Closed Circle (4:36), A Thousand Years (8:12), Lines On The Horizon (5:48), Sun And Moon (3:36), Custody Of The Knave (6:04), The Gatekeeper (7:51), Willow Wind (3:13), Total Mess Retail (3:47), Lost On The Playground (8:17), Progology (5:16)
The Press Release for Circles cites Hatfield And The North, The Beatles, Caravan, Camel, Genesis, and Pink Floyd as reference points for Argos’ sound. No doubt the band’s principal composers, Thomas Klarmann (Bass, Flutes, Keyboards, Guitars and Lead Vocals) and Robert Gozon (Lead Vocals, Keyboards and Guitars) would concede and endorse these mighty denizens of Proghalla as influences on their style. Certainly, Argos share that vintage analogue sound. Perhaps the comparisons also hark back to their 2009 self-titled debut album which explicitly and intentionally sought to capture the Canterbury sound, blending the mellow tonality of Caravan with the jazzier, edgier style of Hatfield And The North (you can read Dave Sissons' review for Argos here)
For all this brace of recordings from Argos have followed quite quickly on each other’s heels, there is an established pedigree underpinning their work. Klarmann in particular has been peddling his progressive wares since the ‘70s and since 2004 he has collaborated with Gozon on their art-rock project, Superdrama. It’s well worth taking the time to investigate these two musicians. Their web presence is interesting. They clearly have both a profound love for what they do and a strong ethos guiding their aesthetic. This is reflected in everything about the self-manufactured and self-produced Circles. From the artwork (designed by Klarmann) to the lyrics and even the titles of the songs themselves, everything has evidently been given a lot of thought. Gozon and Klarmann have even provided notes to accompany the release which is a touch I really appreciate and would like to see more artists doing. It not only helps you feel connected to the band but gives an insight into their processes and thinking behind each track. Added value right there.
For their first release, Argos was a trio, Klarmann and Gozon having been joined by Ulf Jacobs on drums. This time, they have expanded to a quartet for Circles with the addition of Rico Florczak on lead guitar. Together they have their own warm, analogue sound dominated by keyboard arrangements which employ organs, Moogs, mellotrons, harpsichords, and electric pianos to engaging effect. Tonally, there’s a mixture of melancholy and solemnity, bordering on the sinister at times, contrasting with ludic excursions that flirt with jazz fusion, sounding very occasionally like Return To Forever. Every track is liberally spiced with some dazzling work at the keys, work so bright that you can’t actually hear it – or rather, you don’t perceive it – at first.
Early encounters with these songs left me frustrated by their simplicity and apparent ease. But you have to spend time with this music for it to reveal itself. On the surface of things, there’s no showy, virtuoso musicianship. The instrumentation is given over in service to the song, rather than to the player. There are no epics. The two longest tracks are exceptional at eight minutes. Everything is punchy, self-contained and concise. Many of the songs end very suddenly and abruptly, compounding my initial sense of bewilderment. Circles does not work as background music, in fact, I found it almost annoying. This is not an easy album at all. The musicians clearly use some unorthodox scales and modalities that are both slightly alienating and that lend the compositions an opacity – a veil of strangeness. However, once your ears attune to it, there is a world of fascination to indulge in. Its charms are entirely dependent on the quality of your listening. If your attention waivers, then you lose the sense of what’s going on. Like listening to a new language you are trying to learn, its cadences and nuances, inflections and grammatical rules often carry more meaning than the words themselves. Such is the way with Circles. If you afford it your full attention, then it furnishes you with great reward.
Sammel Sarium is instrumental and opens proceedings delightfully with its multiple synth layers chattering away like a troupe of macaque monkeys. Ulf Jacobs drumming exhibits both wonderful touch and dynamic awareness while the melody is carried on a lead synth that I can’t help associating with Jan Hammer. Add in layers of percussive tapping and pinging on what might be glocks or claves or synths and what you have here is something very reminiscent of Pierre Moerlin’s Gong. Closed Circle follows with its sinister-jazz chordal progression aided by lovely, involved contrapuntal bass lines. Vocally, this could be Richard Sinclair (Caravan/Hatfield) and Peter Hammill such is the rough-versus-smooth character of the voices. A brisk soprano saxophone solo trills us into A Thousand Years which begins as an uptempo affair with busy riffing and drumming before descending on a harpsichord motif into one of several loud/soft interludes with delicate flutes accenting the pastoral qualities. There is some amazing work in the instrumental centrepiece here, and again, we hear the slightly jazz fusion accompaniment. Florczak’s understated guitar work is very cleverly employed as a backing instrument throughout until a fragile piano backed with flute/mellotron concludes the song poignantly.
Lines On The Horizon invokes Camel and The Moody Blues in a superbly built retro composition that again features lovely flute work from Klarmann, but to single out only the flute is to deny the richness of the arrangement. Sun And Moon has a modern feel to it with some nice atmospherics and percussion patterns underpinning the piano and glock theme whilst the vocal recalls David Sylvian, giving the whole thing a JBK vibe. It also contains the first guitar solo to speak of and Florczak wrings his guitar’s neck in a surprisingly violent sounding outburst that is actually very effective and, personally, I really like this one.
Custody Of The Knave is the fulcrum of the album. Restrained and glum, this is a darkly dramatic and sad piece with ‘cello’ and piano carrying the verses. Crashing, swelling cymbals and doleful strings heighten the drama but it’s the highly affecting vocal performance, again reminiscent of Peter Hammill in tone, which stands out. The marvellous, The Gatekeeper, follows with its heavy prog and strong Genesis imprint, complete with Tony Banks-esque keyboards. This is the musical equivalent of a modernist nightmare and has its literary homologue in the works of Kafka or Bulgakov, though it actually uses a poem called Die 13 Monate by German writer Erich Kastner as its inspiration. Willow Wind is an enchanting ditty that strays into pop territory (think Seasons In The Sun by Terry Jacks) and could just as easily be the theme tune for a children’s TV programme from the ‘70s whilst Total Mess Retail is a jazzy, funky, prog-take on Muzak, or at least, that’s how I hear it: cheesy chords and strutting bass grin benignly in front of clattering drum patterns to serve as a metaphor for the mild torment and masochism of the supermarket experience. Lost On The Playground stands as a kind of signature piece for me, it encapsulates everything that has gone before it in a pleasing 6/8 metre, allowing the band to demonstrate not only their significant prowess as a unit but also the sense of wit that sparkles playfully beneath all of their work. This time Florczak finally gets to let rip with a satisfying guitar solo. Coming, as he did, as a kind of last minute addition to the project, Klarmann and Gozon promise that he will feature more prominently on future recordings and on this evidence, I can only welcome that. The closer, Progology does exactly what it says on the tin and is an instrumental study in prog, then and now. Taking the retro elements of their sound and marrying them with a contemporary ‘Neo’ style we are taken through feature slots for mellotrons, synths, lead guitar, flute – you name it – as they jostle perkily and jovially with a simple theme. A simple theme made intricate and muddled, how’s that for a one-sentence definition of Prog?
And there you have it. All in all this is a very likeable album with excellence embroidered masterfully and delicately into its fabric. One thing I’ll finish off by saying is that I’ve been listening to some quite ‘difficult’ music lately, a lot of which I really don’t actually like but am forcing myself to ‘appreciate’. As I’ve mentioned, Circles is not an ‘easy’ album if you want to get the most out of it, but after some of the stuff I’ve been subjecting myself too this is like a haven or a soothing balm. As I’ve become more familiar with its details, and each time I put it on, there’s a general sense of ‘Ahhhh, that’s better!’ that waves through me. I can’t ignore that kind of pipe and slippers comfort! Given that this is their second album in as many years, Argos may well be turn out to be prolific. They may not, but I shall certainly be awaiting their next venture with anticipation. For those of you who love the Canterbury sound, and for those of you who thrive on the ‘First Wave’ vibe in general, Circles should go straight to the top of your wishlist.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Psi Corps – All Roads Lead To Amber
Tracklist: Part 1 - The Siege Of Amber; Walking The Patter (5:17), Battle Of Kolvir [Part 1] (8:10), Battle Of Kolvir [Part 2] (7:53), In The Dark / Cabra (5:08), Part 2 – Along The Black Road; How Many Miles To Avalon? (6:55), Dark Rituals Of Lorraine (7:48), Across The Black Road (7:29), Valley Of Garnath – The Battle (6:27), Dara [Walking The Pattern] (5:31)
All Roads Lead To Amber is Psi Corps new album; another album that is based upon the theme of a book. This time Alisa Coral has chosen Roger Zelazny as her author of choice, with this album taking in his first two books from The Amber Chronicles. With her last release Tekeli-li, which received a respectable 7 out of 10, was based on an Edgar Allan Poe book, “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket”. Alisa hasn’t moved to far from Poe as Zelazny was a fan of Poe’s style.
Alisa Coral (bass, effects, theremin, synthesizers and drums), has teamed up with Charles Van de Kree (electric and acoustic guitars, guitar synth, synthesizers and detuned glockenspiel), of Jet Jaguar. Some additional bass work has been contributed by Arkady Fedotov of Vespero, which Alisa has then taken the whole product away, assembling it at her KZI studio in Moscow.
The listener is presented with nine well crafted, moody and atmospheric pieces that are really effective, being original in approach and sound. The album has been constructed in such a way that it doesn’t sound like it conforms to any real convention, sonically being unique, a free spirit, with its curious and strange soundscapes, but we aren’t talking avant garde here. The album works on two levels sonically for me. Quietly through headphones where you can hear all the little nuances that Psi Corps have created, dragging you into their music, with its rhythmic, trance like passages, featuring interjections of spacey, psychedelic tones, almost cinematic in approach; every note being positioned in the construction perfectly, which at first sounds odd, but is very effective. Secondly when the album is played loud, the whole dynamics of the piece just seems to change, it becomes intense, powerful, dark and menacing, the room fills with powerful sonic passages, air sculptures that swirl and twist, leaving you under no illusions that Psi Corps mean business.
Alisa’s has put her experience to good use, making music that would appeal to fans of Hawkwind, Space Mirrors, Ozric Tentacles, Ayreon and Tangerine Dream. Throughout, a balance of keyboard and guitar led tracks has been maintained, one underpinning the other, coexisting in a state of unification. On the whole, the experience of hearing the instrumentation coalescing perfectly is an aural pleasure to behold. Van de Kree immense guitar work is stunning, perfectly matching Coral’s musical prowess.
An easy path hasn’t been chosen here, which makes this an even more exciting prospect for the listener, the soundscapes shifting, sounding as if they are altering reality, choosing which elements to keep, and which to switch between, powerful indeed.
For me Alisa has created another labour of love, which has been well worth the wait, and to be honest, I have yet to be disappointed by any of her creations. Compared to the last Psi Corps album Tekeli – Li, this is certainly a more powerful album in scale / approach, displaying her ability to be well versed in her subject matter, which does make a difference.
Poe, Zelazny have so far been chosen literary references, challenging, dark, gothic and brooding writers, which Psi Corps has complimented well, with their interpretational vision of their respected works. I seriously can’t wait to see where Alisa and co. go from here.
At this moment in time Russia is really turning out some high quality prog, becoming a force to be reckoned with, and an avenue that should be explored further by you good folks.
As I say don’t expect a happy go lucky ride, but do expect to be challenged and rewarded. I do believe that I have found another contender for a position on my top five list for 2010.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
The Re-Stoned – Revealed Gravitation
Tracklist: Gravitation (5:15), The Mountain Giant (4:17), Space (7:14), Bells (6:51), Fra Fuf (5:40), Green Triangles (3:52), Orient Of Doom (8:09), Moriarty’s Blues (4:59), Eternal Search (5:02), Electric Storm (4:10), Sleeping World (5:21)
Make no mistake when you play this music, play it loud, end of, no questions asked, that’s just the way it is. This is the second album from RAIG Records that I have review this month, and what a little gem it is; the other album being Psi Corps' All Roads Lead To Amber. There is another commonality between these albums. In two words, Alisa Coral, (Psi Corps being her band), who mixed and mastered this album, managing to really give the band a good production sound, having a signature dirty rock vibe.
The Re-Stoned are an instrumental power trio consisting of Ilya Lipkin (guitars, effects and voices), Vladimir Nikulin (bass) and Andrey Pankratov (drums), having already released a 4 track EP called The Return Of The Reptiles in 2009. Accomplished composer and musician Ilya Lipkin’s discography includes recordings from his other projects, Rushus and A Foggy Realm, which are worth checking out, they are different musical entities to what has been created here, more atmospheric, ambient and challenging, in my eyes worth seeking out.
The first thing that struck me about Revealed Gravitation was the artwork, consisting of some very nice spacey images, which leaves you under no illusion as to what this album is all about; eleven psychedelic, experimental, stoner, bluesy, cosmic rock instrumentals.
The band have used to great effect, copious amounts of flanged guitar work, phase pedals, tribal, solid, rhythmic drumming, dexterous, groovy bass work, all thrown into the melting pot and jammed out in their own inimitable laid back approach.
Gravitation sets the scene for the journey ahead, featuring The Re-Stoned signature power chords, which doesn’t break any speed records, but hey, it’s not supposed to. This is music you feel. The Mountain Giant is a piece that is somewhat more energetic in approach having some really nice guitar work; Lipkin really working the effects, presenting the audience of listeners with some very powerful lead breaks. Nikulin and Pankratov following in total belief of the greatness they are creating. Space sees the band taking a more humble approach, the band having found their mojo, totally relaxed, jamming, routing through the minds of their listener. Nikulin’s bass work gives the whole proceeding depth and meaning. Lipkin’s guitar tones which vary throughout, add character, oozing class, making it a very strong instrumental piece. Bells, again shows that the band aren’t afraid to experiment with differing soundscapes. The approach is eastern sounding; Pankratov’s drumming really comes into its own, complementing the instrumental journey that is being taken in the background by Nikulin and Lipkin, who are at one with their tools of choice, symbiotic, building the power of the track.
Fra Fuf has an American Deep South feel to it, ambling along with interjections of stoner riffage, being basic in approach but effective. Green Triangles powers it way through, with a nice, bouncy, excited musical work out. The bass really is in overdrive, moving through at 100 mph, with guitar and drum in tow, whilst Orient Of Doom as the title suggests has an eastern feel, drum, bass and guitar reinforcing that vibe, hypnotic and interesting, slowing down the whole affair. Moriarty’s Blues see’s a change in personnel, Pavel Panfilov playing some really interesting and stunning Hammond and Sergey Hodnev on drums. Ilya footprints his guitar sound throughout the piece, but the whole dynamic is different to the rest of the album, being one of the stronger tracks. Eternal Search’s ethereal feel and sound see’s the band moving back to the original line-up. With its smooth intro, the track builds, as more power is introduced to the whole affair, making it another stunning harmonic instrumental. Electric Storm travels back to a powerhouse of indulgence, quick paced, thunderous, driving soundtrack; guitar breaks weaved though the whole event, catchy hooks, music with attitude. Sleeping World sees the band bowing out closing the album in a relax manner seeming somewhat out of place, but beautiful in tone and approach.
As a band The Re-Stoned have really recorded a gutsy instrumental album with varying tones and differing approach’s, making each track individual. There’s no mistake where their heart lies on this album, which has allowed them to exercise their vision, creating an album that would appeal to fans of Karma To Burn, Black Sabbath, Electric Wizzard, Phased or any stoner band really. This is an album of quality and class, that doesn’t reinvent the genre, but does participate and contribute well. RAIG Records seem to have a knack of being able to deliver quality goods time after time as does the Russian music scene and for this we must tip our hats.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Colossus Project (VA) - Cani Arrabbiati ~ Opening Themes...
CD 1: The Samurai Of Prog Cani Arrabbiati (5:02), Anima Morte Chi - Part Two (3:41), Il Grande Silenzio (3:11), Suspicious Death Of A Minor (6:57), Gin (2:57), Kate Death Die (4:07), La Polizia Ha Le Mani Legate (3:55), Posizione Raggiunta (2:52), Apoteosi Del Mistero (4:09), Senogul Magari Ancora - Medley (6:45), Aurora Lunare Connexion (5:24), Gamma (4:08), Marco Lo Muscio Sixty Seconds To What ? (4:40), La Vittima Designata (5:34), Mose (4:42), Profondo Gotico (7:42)
CD 2: Ozone Player Nucleo Antirapina (4:31), The Conspirators Of The Occult Yell (3:47), Liza Sweet Liza (4:05), La Lucertola (6:20), I Remember (1:21), John La Forges L'Ossessione (5:33), Drug's Theme (5:34), Indagine Su Un Cittadino Al Di Sopra Di Ogni Sospetto (5:18), Lo Chiamavano Trinita (6:37), Jaime Rosas Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo (3:08), Un Dollaro Bucato (3:04), Il Grande Duello (3:56), Tantacoli (3:49), Mist Season Puppet On A Chain (4:35), Blow Out (5:40), Chaser (6:18), Manaos (5:02)
For my money, Colossus has been responsible for some of the most inspired progressive rock of the 21st century, especially their Italian Western trilogy The Spaghetti Epic, The Spaghetti Epic 2 and The Spaghetti Epic 3 ~ The Great Silence. Here, several bands provided new music based on the films ‘Once Upon A Time in the West’, ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ and ‘The Big Silence’ respectively. This latest two disc offering is more in the style of a soundtrack compilation whereby the original themes from a variety of Italian movies of the 60’s and 70’s have been re-recorded. In that respect it is closer in spirit to Tuonen Tytär II (a tribute to Finnish Prog bands of the 1970’s) and Rőkstenen: A Tribute To Swedish Prog Rock Of The 70’s.
The Italian film industry during this period was very genre driven with Spaghetti westerns, spy thrillers, crime dramas and horror movies proving hugely popular. These went in cycles where for example the Spaghetti western boom of the mid to late 60’s was all but extinct by the mid 70’s, replaced by the demand for horror flicks. Critics often (unfairly) labelled these movies as exploitive and inferior to their Hollywood counterparts with an over reliance on gratuitous sex and violence. To overcome this prejudice, producers often hired American, British and French actors to star in their movies and it was not uncommon for the Italian actors and crew to adopt Anglophile names. Several genuine classics appeared during this era however although sadly they have been mostly all but forgotten.
Many of the composers involved have proven to be more durable with names like Ennio Morricone, Luis Enrique Bacalov, Nino Rota and Pino Donaggio achieving international success outside the Italian home market. That said, unless (like me) you’re a movie soundtrack geek, all but the occasional Morricone tune (e.g. the obligatory The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) will be totally unfamiliar. That being the case it’s practically impossible to rate this album based on the accuracy of the individual interpretations and instead I’ve concentrated on its merits as a collection of progressive rock instrumentals. As such the success of each piece is largely dependant on the choice of material and the quality of the arrangements and performances.
Rather than engaging a different band to perform each track as is the Colossus norm, this time there are just ten acts involved each covering an average of four tracks apiece. This in theory should negate a lack of uniformity, the source of criticism levelled at previous Colossus projects. Several names involved will already be familiar to Colossus collectors (The Samurai Of Prog, Anima Morte, Ozone Player, Kate, Mist Season) although the other acts are completely new to me. As before, the brief to each was to utilise vintage instrumentation including analogue keyboards. Saxophone (often at the expense of guitar) is conspicuously featured on disc two, more so than on any previous Colossus release.
The Samurai Of Prog (which includes Colossus visionary Marco Bernard on bass) get things underway with a crisp version of Stelvio Cipriani’s lively Cani Arrabbiati (Mad Dogs). Anima Morte are blessed with some of the albums more memorable themes and that’s especially true of Il Grande Silenzio (The Big Silence) composed by the ineviatable Ennio Morricone. Thankfully they don’t let the master down with a faithful rendition of this haunting piece and overall there’s some mighty fine guitar and synth work from this Swedish band. Likewise Finland’s Kate give a superb performance particularly during Stelvio Cipriani‘s surprisingly melodious music for the 1975 crime terror La Polizia Ha Le Mani Legate (The Police Can’t Move).
Spanish band Senogul make good use of their sole offering by combining four films and the work of three composers (Morricone, Nino Rota and Armando Trovajoli) into a single melody. Style wise it’s an incongruous mix but thanks to a wealth of different instruments (not to mention wordless voices) it all hangs together rather well. Italy’s Aurora Lunare have two tracks to their credit which also features wordless (and a tad eccentric) vocals. This is best displayed during Goblin’s Connexion taken from the 1980 sc-fi horror ‘Contamination’. Goblin were themselves labeled a prog band that worked extensively in the Italian movie industry with horror films being their forte.
Disc one concludes with four tracks from pipe organist Marco Lo Muscio. His rendition of Morricone’s Sixty Seconds To What? (the influential showdown music from For A Few Dollars More) is masterful although by the time he gets to Paolo Lazzeri’s Profondo Gotico it begins to sound like one long organ recital. Despite what I said earlier about uniformity, there is a good argument here for splitting up the performances from each band across the two discs particularly as the second disc also sounds very samey at times.
Finish duo Ozone Player’s single but powerful contribution Nucleo Antirapina kick starts disc two with an incessant riff that closely resembles ELP’s version of the Peter Gunn Theme. Interestingly, a version of Keith Emerson’s theme from Inferno performed by Italian keyboardist Luca Bernardini was slated to appear on this collection but unfortunately it was dropped due to space constraints. The pretentiously named The Conspirators Of The Occult from the USA weighs in with four melodramatic tracks with piano and synths to the fore, the best of which is Fabio Frizzi’s Liza Sweet Liza. Italian quartet John La Forges’ playing is in a decidedly jazzier vein and although the musicianship is undeniably superb there is far too much sax for my personal tastes. It is at least a pointed reminder that contemporary jazz scores were all the rage during the 60’s and early 70’s. That said it does have its tuneful moments particularly during Lo Chiamavano Trinitá (They Call Me Trinity) a top grossing Spaghetti western comedy from 1970 with music by Franco Micalizzi.
Jaime Rosas has selected some particularly memorable tracks as a vehicle for his melodic keyboards performed in the style of Rick Wakeman’s The Sixth Wives Of Henry The VIII. Luis Bacalov’s catchy Il Grande Duello (as featured in Tarantino’s Kill Bill) stands out especially and whilst Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) is convincingly handled, it’s a tad too refined in my opinion where a little guitar shredding would have not gone amiss. We are back in tenor sax dominated territory for the closing quartet of tracks from Finland’s Mist Season but this is tempered with the addition of rich Hammond and guitar. Giving by far the albums slickest performance with excellent drum work, they put me very much in mind of The Tangent. Their interpretation of Pino Donaggio’s Blow Out - Sally & Jack in particular is just sublime with lyrical classical guitar and sax.
Those dedicated people at Colossus are to be applauded for once again delivering another ambitious project. As I said earlier most will be unfamiliar with the origins of the music contained here although it can be appreciated as a fine collection of prog and jazz-fusion related instrumentals. I’ve always believed that there’s been a thin line between film music and prog with only the use of the orchestra for the former and mainly rock instrumentation for the latter separating them. At their best they both attain moments of beauty and grandeur which probably explains why I share a passion for both. Colossus clearly agree and once again they compliment the set with an extensive booklet that provides full details of the bands involved and the filmic origins of the music.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Days Before Tomorrow – The Sky Is Falling
Tracklist: Lighters (5:22), Wrong (4:56), Last Song (4:54), Can’t Go Back (4:06), Wasted Years I: Confrontation (3:42), Wasted Years II: Sleepwalking (6:38), In The Air (1:03), The Sky Is Falling (5:13), Can’t Do Anything (6:00), Survival (4:42), Your Kate (4:46), You’re Not The One (5:35), Wasted Years III: The Silence Is Deafening (4:05), Lighters (reprise) (0:54)
Two months ago I think it must have been - I was sitting at my desk surfing the net looking for some new bands or music I had never heard before and I came across the site of the band whose CD I now have here for review. The band in question is Days Before Tomorrow and their debut release The Sky Is Falling.
Days Before Tomorrow at present consist of Eric Klein (lead vocals), Scott Kahn (guitar & vocals), Derek Davodowich (guitar & vocals), Damon Fibraio (keyboards & vocals), Jason Gianni (drums & vocals) and Paul O’Keeffe (bass & vocals), although at the time of the recording the bass was played by Robert 'Zeek' Maziekien and Jason Buchwald took care of a great deal of the keyboards together with Scott Kahn. Also present on the album Kelli McCloud for some additional vocals (1,4) and Huub Douma, piano on track 5. Another interesting fact for this debut album is that none other than Ron Nevison took care of the production. Nevison of course came to fame for his work with Tommy Shaw and Styx among others.
Days Before Tomorrow are an American band and they are described as the new American rock band, with big arena rocks and harmonies. It continues after this but I like to leave it at that and concentrate more on the music that is played. The Sky Is Falling is more or less a concept album. The concept of the story comes from singer Eric Klein and deals with the Earth and aliens. It starts surprisingly enough at the end where peace has been established.
Not going in to much detail for the story I believe the concept is a good concept and the music is:
- Lighters deals with the newly gained freedom between Earth and the aliens who attacked it. The song is anthem like, as the title describes, put up your lighters, (or cellphone these days), in the air at a concert hall and sing along. A classic progressive rock piece reminding me of Styx at the beginning of the eighties.
- Wrong - Our main character tells his wife that she has been wrong about a lot of things going on. Musically you could place the song in the beginning of the eighties - the way the song has been built up with chorus lines and keyboards as well as the guitar riffs. It has a certain retro eighties feel but with the technical ability of today. Well crafted...
- Last Song is the next track continuing the story. The guitar riffs this time are a little more distorted and heavy which make this heavier song all together without really becoming heavy. Eric Klein´s singing reminds me a lot of a certain Dennis Deyoung.
- Can´t Go Back starts with a superb bass line and distorted vocals, again lots of choruses, heavy riffing, strong thumping bass underneath - going straight into the beautiful piano and keyboards for Wasted Years. Good orchestration in this song, with good vocals.
- The song Wasted Years is actually divided into three musical pieces of which parts 1 and 2 are interlinked and called Confrontation and Sleepwalking. In the second part our main character seems to be in a state of confusion, wandering about not knowing what to do, or think. The music really links to this, with long stretched notes and slower tempo - apart from the chorus where some temperament comes in. Again like the start in Confrontation strong keyboards and piano are utilised.
- In The Air brings us an interlude on acoustic guitar, a resting point before the title track of the album starts.
- The Sky Is Falling, the heaviest track on the album races in, if you will, with strong riffing and is a real driving song. Starting as a heavy metal type song, changing into a ballad and finally returning to a heavy rock song again. There is some cool acoustic guitar, but also a well played solo. Days Before Tomorrow have listened to bands like Queen a lot considering the many choir type vocal bits in the music.
- The album continues with another heavy track in the veins of Styx, Kansas, Reo Speedwagon. Can´t Do Anything is well crafted with excellent playing.
- With Survival, Your Kate and You´re Not The One it becomes very clear that The Sky Is Falling is a conceptual piece - again each of these songs is well crafted, good compositionally and with excellent playing.
- The last real track on the album is the last part of Wasted Years III: The Silence Is Deafening. There is a reason I want to discuss this song as I find this the best track on the album and the most progressive rock song as well. More heavy riffing, changing tempos and intonation - it is the best ending the album could get. The song has acoustics, piano, good keyboards, good bass and vocals. What more could you want?
- Well what I don´t like and almost a shame to have been put on the disc is the Lighters Reprise bit. This is something I recall was popular in the seventies, doing a reprise of a song. Shame, shame, shame...
In conclusion I would say that the influence of Ron Nevison on this project is very clear, he has given the band a sound, probably the sound they had wanted to create, I hope. I also hope in future to hear more work from these guys, continuing the music where they have left off with the last track. I think the band's I named in the review sum up where we find Days Before Tomorrow musically. I can understand why they have been nominated for a grammy, they are excellent musicians.
I must not forget to mention is the artwork, this is very well done and a real addition to the music...
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Lava Engine – In Limbo
Tracklist: Drain Your Soul (6:23), In Limbo (6:07), Common Ground (4:56), Ctrl Z (6:35), Window Closer (6:18)
In Limbo follows up the band’s 2008 eponymous EP – 27 minutes long with 4 tracks which we reviewed here. That record prompted the DPRP’s very own Jim Corcoran to opine “Lava Engine is a band with a great career ahead of them”. Well, this record’s two and a half minutes longer than the last one.
Hailing from Sweden, after a few line-up changes, Lava Engine comprises of Magnus Florin (vocals and guitars), Ronnie Jaldemark (guitar and keyboards), Simon Dahlstrom (bass), Mick Nordstrom (drums).
They cite their influences as: Marillion, Opeth, Yes, Porcupine Tree, Anekdoten, Muse, Genesis, Ray Wilson, Kansas, Rufus Wainwright, Tool, Depeche Mode, King Crimson, The Beatles and The Who. I’d add Pain of Salvation to that list. They are receiving good reviews for this EP, although I damned near spilt my refreshing alcoholic beverage when I read a quote attributed to Sea of Tranquility in the press blurb: “Lava Engine is to progressive music what Beethoven is to classical music”. This, quite clearly, is nonsense. Elsewhere “a dreamband is born” (Lords of Metal) is similarly ludicrous.
It’s all very Porcupine Tree-y, with some token Opeth growling thrown in for good measure (Ctrl Z) and opener Drain Your Soul does have some Frost*-y moments (as does Window Closer). However, they add nothing to what these already fine bands are doing. If you want to listen to what I think is some truly original new progressive rock music released in the last month or so check out Road Salt One by Pain of Salvation, the new Oceansize album, or Legend by Sleepy Hollow to name but three.
They are clearly very good musicians, the production is top notch and Magnus Florin has a truly excellent rock voice. It’s a good enough record. Not brilliant but with some good moments. But in less than thirty minutes it’s all over, and when it is I bet you’ll be rummaging around your CD collection trying to find Lightbulb Sun or Blackwater Park.
Lava Engine: They are not the Messiah; they’re a very naughty boy…
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
TerraFormer - Terraformer [EP]
Tracklist: Zephyr (3:51), Crusade (3:48), Leave The Ship (3:44), Eva (4:53), Bot (3:56), Higway Rabbit Versus Darwin (4:42)
Having your first EP on the market is always exciting time and you can hear that excitement here from the Terraformer band. Their music is, at least on this first EP, fully instrumental and could be best described as Psychedelic Post Rock. The six tracks vary in length and with a total length of just under twenty five minutes, you can imagine that none of pieces are long or of a stretched out nature.
Stretching out music of this type could be nerve wrecking as it is intense and the sort of sound you must like or you will obviously dislike. There is no in between here. On the day I picked this CD up I was very much in the mood for it, I felt like I had to hit something hard. Terraformer helped me not to get physical allowing me unload my frustrations by listening to their music.
All tracks are extremely heavy, with several fast moving guitar parts, heavy riffs, lots of distortion and heavy pounding drums. The overall structure of the songs is more or less the same throughout, although a weird exception to this complete score is the last of the tracks. Here we have a monologue completely spoken in French - now this is a language I do not speak, so have no clue as to what it is about, but this give a nice twist to the end of the song.
At this point I think that Terraformer can be a good addition to your catalogue if you happen to like the post rock genre and in particular the heavier side. Terraformer have made an acceptable first EP, my guess we will be hearing more of this band in the future.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10