Reviews in this issue:
- James LaBrie - Static Impulse (Duo Review)
- Asia – Spirit Of The Night
- Science NV - Pacific Circumstances
- Astronaut Down – Moths To The Flame
- The Engineers – In Praise Of More
- Coral Caves - Mitopoiesi
James LaBrie - Static Impulse
Tracklist: One More Time (4:16), Jekyll Or Hyde (3:46), Mislead (4:18), Euphoric (5:09), Over The Edge (4:20), I Need You (4:11), Who You Think I Am (3:57), I Tried (3:58), Just Watch Me( 4:18), This Is War (4:30), Superstar (3:32), Coming Home (4:29) Bonus Tracks [Limited Edition]: (59:01), Jekyll Or Hyde (3:48), Coming Home (4:23)
John O'Boyle's Review
James LaBrie, vocalist of Dream Theater, has recorded his fourth solo album Static Impulse, 2005’ Elements Of Persuasion (which received a 7 out of 10), being his third. LaBrie has also recorded two albums under the title MulMuzzler, as well as being involved in the Explorer’s Club, Leonardo the Absolute Man, the first Frameshift album, Ayreon’s The Human Equation and several tribute albums too. As with all things Dream Theater related, these guys are always busy during down time of their day jobs, which leads to having to have deep pockets, that is, if you are like me, a collector of all things Dream Theater related.
This album sees James LaBrie (vocals), Matt Guillory (keyboards and backing vocals), Marco Sfogli (guitars), Ray Reindeau (bass) and Peter Wildoer (drums and screams) producing his heaviest and most diverse solo album to date, all who have worked with LaBrie for some time except for new comer Wildoer, which has phased him not one iota, fitting in, complementing the rest of the band. If I was to categorise this album, I would suggest that this is what Dream Theater may have sounded like had LaBrie been in charge, an album where the vocalist doesn’t have to drop into the background, playing second fiddle to the stunning and dexterous musical presentations; not that I am suggesting that this is his role in his day job.
We get a heady mix of dual vocals ranging from LaBrie’ melodic emotional pitched approach whilst Wildoer’ contributes the heavier darker vocals, working all the gruff notes, which to be honest was a surprise, in the fact that LaBrie has headed in this direction, creating songs that are trashy, heavy and extremely catchy. The great thing about this approach is that it works so well, the two unifying the songs.
The backline of the band is solid, and I mean solid, Reindeau and Wildoer creating a strong backbone to the music, whilst Guillory’s keyboard work is stunning beyond belief, which is buried sometimes in the mix, but no less powerful. Sfogli’s passionate presentations really bring something to the show, giving the driving force that makes this album sound mammoth.
From the opening track One More Time the band set out their stalls, quick paced and powerful, they know that they are going to be compared to LaBrie’ cohorts, a scrutiny that they stand up well too, as in their own rights these guys are adept musicians, having pedigree too, which does help. Jekyll Or Hyde moves in the same direction as One More Time having more than an air of familiarity, but yet an original sound. Mislead really highlights the interaction between Reindeau and Wildoer, confirming that they are more than a match made in heaven, making the song a total powerhouse, as LaBrie and Wildoer really stamp their authority. Sfogli and Guillory exchanges are awe inspiring. Euphoric slows the pace down, being slightly more sedate in its approach, before it starts building to melodic heady heights. It’s hard to imagine that tracks like this can be bettered on the album? Make no mistake as Over The Edge does not disappoint, punctuated music, forcefully making its presences felt. The lead breaks just melt the listener’s ears, stunning, melodic and massive.
I Need You is an organic engagement of power chords, chugging and brutal. It is evident that Wildoer’ drum approach is madness, his thunderous double kick bass punctuations, his heavy beats being complemented by the rest of the band, adding character and strength. Who You Think I Am, takes a more aggressive pathway, really working the listener’s ears and imagination, with some stunning lyrics. “You don’t know the first thing about me?” and “Laugh all you want as I don’t give a damn”. To be honest, making music and albums this strong, I certainly do need to rethink my understanding of Labrie’ creativity. I could spend a lot of time just quoting lyrics from this album, which grow and grow in meaning the more you nurture their innate qualities.
I Tried has an opening interlude which menacingly stalks the listener, cornering them, making them listen; making sure they pay attention to the full musical detail. Its steady structure and approach really confirms that the band have hit their stride, which features a hook to die for. “If there’s one thing you remember, remember I tried”, such an understatement. Just Watch Me really proves that Labrie and co. know a thing or two about great songs, this just oozing class, a song that lots of pretenders would love to call their own. This is War carries on the tradition of what has been displayed, stunning virtuosity, exemplifying the use of the dual vocal approach, making it to me the best example of how this approach works, giving the approach a real sense of belonging in the grand scheme of things. Superstar takes a more generic approach, but is no less powerful for this, with its repeating rhythmic tones, weaving in and out of Labrie’ showmanship making way for the album closer Coming Home. Coming Home is the slow thought provoking lyrical closure, taking a completely different approach to anything else on the album, sounding almost apologetic, an impassioned cry, a heartfelt plea for not being there.
There are two bonus tracks on the Limited Edition version of this album, both demo’s which unfortunately, were not available for this review, which I honestly don’t believe will detract from the sheer brilliance of the performances displayed here.
Once you get past the Dream Theater comparison you will discover a stunning album. The greatness lies in the fact that the balance of quality and length have not been compromised, as you don’t have to wade through long musical passages, to be rewarded, (although there’s nothing wrong with that), which in turn makes the album that’s non taxing to the listener. The whole album is musically thrilling, lyrically fluid and solid, with thematic emotional content throughout. There is not one weak track here, pick a number, any number, between one and twelve, press play, QUALITY, it really is as simple as that. Another must buy album!
Mr LaBrie, you really need to take this show out on the road.
Dave Baird's Review
Static Impulse is James LaBrie's fourth solo album and once again co-written by keyboard player Matt Guillory. For this release Marco Sfogli returns on guitars, but there's a new bass player Ray Riendeau and most importantly a new guy on the drum stool in the shape of Darkane's Peter Wildoer, who also provides some death-metal vocals on some of the tracks.
James and Matt are a fine songwriting partnership and they have delivered once again with a CD of twelve great songs. What is markedly different this time out is the way they're played and the overall intensity which is way above the previous releases. Much of this surely has to be down to Wildoer's incredible contribution both behind the kit, but also with the microphone. I can't recall the last time I was so impressed on hearing a musician for the first time, the energy and virtuosity that Peter brings to the album is simply stunning. It's Peter's voice you hear first too, which is quite unusual considering it's James' album, but it adds an immediacy and intensity to the opening track that never really relents. Make no mistake, this album is as in-your-face as it gets, it grabs you by the testicles and doesn't let go.
Peter may be the star of the CD, but only just as the contribution by Marco is equally stellar. Marco played on the previous release Elements Of Persuasion and although his playing then was very solid it's almost as though he has been given license to cut-loose this time out as he's absolutely phenomenal. Marco's John Petrucci influence is quite evident throughout, but that's not to accuse him of plagiarism, rather a nod to his competence. Overall there's quite some Dream Theater moments, or rather Dream Theater revitalized - they haven't sounded this good for quite some time.
Matt's keyboards take a bit of a back-seat compared with Elements Of Persuasion - he's playing less leads and giving more space to the guitars. Unfortunately Ray's bass is a bit lost in the mix, this is stark contrast to Bryan Beller's deep presence on the previous CD's. Listening to Ray on YouTube he's a very accomplished player, very much a funk-rock player with a trebly sound, well perhaps they decided to keep that tone here, but the downside is that you can't hear him 95% of the time. Finally we should mention Peter's screaming vocals. Don't be put-off by this, they're really superb and used relatively sparingly, think Opeth rather than Meshuggah. I for one absolutely love it and will be seeking out Darkane's CD's.
This is a great album, I highly recommend it, but don't just take my word for it as James has posted two full tracks on his MySpace page. You can hear the album opener One More Time along with track six I Need You. Both are pretty indicative of the whole CD, the only slower-temp song being the closer Coming Home - James deliberately structured the tracks this was to allow you some time to come back down to earth.
You can also discover more about the album by reading the interview I did with James in September.
Conclusion: Must-have for Dream Theater fans and lovers of melodic prog-metal in general...
Asia – Spirit Of The Night
Tracklist: Only Time Will Tell (4:54), Time Again (5:38), An Extraordinary Life (5:17), My Own Time (6:14), Open Your Eyes (7:05), Fanfare For The Common Man (9:08), Here Comes That Feeling (6:03), Never Again (5:07), The Heat Goes On (5:23), Sole Survivor (6:19), Don t Cry (4:28) Heat Of The Moment (6:56), Midnight Sun [Bonus track] (4:47)
Given that after 28 years it remains the backbone of their live set, the self-titled debut Asia album must be considered (by the band at least) something of a minor classic. I certainly remember it selling by the truck load on its initial release, especially in the USA, although my own reaction at the time was a desire to tear it from the turntable and send it spinning over my neighbour’s fence. Its radio friendly AOR approach was to my ears a sell-out by the musicians involved (Steve Howe, Geoff Downes, Carl Palmer and John Wetton) and a betrayal of their musical heritage (Yes, ELP and King Crimson). My initial hostility mellowed in time however and although I never considered it to be a favourite I did at least appreciate it for its shrewd combination of catchy sing-along tunes and slick undemanding prog.
This latest live offering was recorded in Cambridge in the UK during the bands 2009 tour to promote their then current studio effort Phoenix released the previous year. This was the bands reunion album with the original line-up putting their differences aside and recording together for the first time in 25 years. Their last had been 1983’s Alpha which is represented by no less than five songs here as is the aforementioned 1982 Asia album. In comparison there are just two songs from Phoenix resulting in a very retro setlist and a real nostalgia trip for the audience. It’s almost as if the intervening years never happened, which is a pity because along the way they released some memorable songs especially when John Payne entered the scene.
In addition to the selection of songs from Asia, Alpha and Phoenix, the old ELP favourite Fanfare For The Common Man gets an airing. This to my ears is a curious inclusion considering Asia’s own extensive back catalogue and the fact that Time Again played earlier in the set has an almost identical rhythm pattern. It does at least provide Carl Palmer with an opportunity to deliver the obligatory drum solo and also for Howe and Downes to indulge in a rare bout of instrumental sparing. I’ve always felt that Howe was like a caged animal in Asia and when he finally breaks free as he does in Fanfare and Heat Of The Moment the rush of blood unfortunately leads to some very sloppy (by his standards) playing. Downes on the other hand convincingly replicates Emerson’s trumpet-synth sound and also accurately captures the lush keyboard parts from the original Asia tracks. The Palmer and Wetton rhythm partnership perform with their usual finesse and the latter is in heroic vocal form throughout although in his enthusiasm he does have a tendency to shout the occasional word.
Spirit Of The Night will no doubt be warmly welcomed by the Asia faithful, particularly the DVD version. For me however although there are some good tunes here (Only Time Will Tell and An Extraordinary Life being obvious examples) they lack the polish and sparkle of the studio originals. With both performance and sound being noticeably ragged around the edges the finer instrumental subtleties of songs like Here Comes That Feeling are lost. That being said the power and energy from all four musicians still impresses even though the restricted choice of material doesn’t always justify the commitment.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Science NV - Pacific Circumstances
Tracklist: H1NV7 (9:09), Danse Macabre (8:38), Morning Jump (4:27), Conflicted (10:49), Quadrapole (8:44), Devil In Witches' Toes (10:38), Billy Burrough's Brain (3:46), The Ouroborus Variations [I. Wreckage, II. The Soul Beckons, III. Swollen Ego, IV. The Soul Returns, V. Fifteen 'til Midnight, VI. Personality Defect, VII. The Soul Rests] (12:30)
I can't believe that it is over two years since the debut album by Science NV, Really Loud Noises, was reviewed, and recommended, by DPRP. There is the old saying, "If it ain't broke, then don't fix it" and Science NV have taken that advice by keeping the same line up - Jim Henriques (guitar, keyboards), David Graves (keyboards), Larry Davis (bass) and Rich Kallet (drums and percussion) - and not radically altering their rather unique blend of instrumental prog. However, that is not to imply that Pacific Circumstances is simply Really Loud Noises Part 2, the band has definitely developed over the past couple of years, in terms of their compositional skills, recording techniques and their already impressive musical proficiency.
The album starts with the ominous H1NV7, replete with some very schizophrenic rhythms, amazing how Davis and particularly Kallet, manage to hold things together, without getting totally lost! The craziness is added to by some added laughter and manic applause midway through, following which the band head off into a sublime passage with a repeating ascending bass-line reminiscent of the style Tony Levin perfected with King Crimson. Whereas the debut album took a well known classical piece and presented it in a modern prog manner, this time the band have gone for a rather more obscure classical piece to re-interpret. Saint-Saens' Danse Macabre is the piece in question and even if you are unfamiliar with the title the chances are the music will resonate with you. When it was first composed in the 19th century it was simple a piano and vocal piece which was later treated to a full orchestration. It is this latter version that the band have chosen as their template, although it has to be said they have taken rather more than a few liberties with the arrangement which makes for an entertaining and enjoyable piece where seemingly anything goes, but it does work remarkably well! Another schizoid number, Morning Jump, starts like some theme tune from a TV motoring show, introduces a heavy riff and ends up with a percussive Samba jam that would not sound out of place on an early Santana album! They even manage to sneak in a bit of Bach when you least expect it! Conflicted is the first of three tracks that surpass the 10-minute barrier and is a virtual horror film score all to itself. Lots of strange and eerie sounds emanate from the speakers and at times the band are on the verge of heading right on over the edge but skilfully manage to hold on to the reins and pull things back into some sort of order.
In my review of Really Loud Noises I described the closing song, Violet Sky/Karnival as "a thoroughly engaging number that, to run the risk of being oxymoronic, is best described as heavy ambient... rather like one of the less boring pieces by David Sylvian" and Quadrapole can best be described as a companion piece to that number. A real soundscape of a track, what is really impressive is that the piece is virtually all live and improvised with minimal overdubs added later. Another track that echoes a previous number is Devil In Witches' Toes, unsurprisingly a follow-up to Devil In Witches' Hands. And like that number it has an early Al Di Meola feel, superlative jazz-rock with the emphasis strongly on the second component of that particular musical hybrid. Scorching synth and guitar solos are blended with Latin rhythms and the whole piece is jam packed full of exciting riffs and clever arrangements, cool stuff indeed. I'm not sure who Billy Burroughs is, but if he is as warped and convoluted as the music on Billy Burrough's Brain then his psychiatrist bills must be through the roof! I guess this number is pretty tongue in cheek as despite the craziness one can detect an inherent humour behind the playing. Once more, Science NV end the album with the longest track, The Ouroborus Variations. There are seven variations in total and, if you didn't already know, the ouroborus is an ancient symbol depicting the image of a mythical snake-like creature ingesting its own tail, supposedly representing eternity and, in some beliefs, the soul of the world. Meanwhile, back at the CD...the music is certainly adventurous and there are plenty of repeating themes present that are dissected, deconstructed and reassembled to appear during subsequent variations (ummm, suppose that is exactly what variation means!) One has to admire the musicianship but if there could be any criticism it is that perhaps there is too much separation between each section resulting in, at times, a rather disjointed feel. Nonetheless, it is still an impressive and enjoyable piece of music, sentiments that are easily applied to the album as a whole.
Serving up 70 minutes of instrumental music is not an easy task, particularly if you want to keep the listener engaged for the whole duration of the album. Fortunately Science NV have managed it with aplomb. Definitely one to add to the Christmas lists!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Astronaut Down – Moths To The Flame
Tracklist: Moths [Part 1] (1:50), Starfall (7:26), Dissection (5:48), Back To Zero (5:35), Light (6:35), Colossus (4:21), Running Down (6:54), Interlude (3:26), Our Greatest Mistake (8:27), Moths [Part 2] (3:48)
Astronaut Down’s second album, Moths To The Flame, is a tasty sandwich of progressive metal. The metal is in the “filler”, with the bread of the sandwich coming in the form of the Moths compositions, which are wistful, pretty and melodic tunes featuring acoustic guitar.
This is the New York band’s first appearance on DPRP. They are a twin-guitar quintet without keyboards and, on the album, they are: Keith Bowen (vocals); Jeremy Daigle and Andrew Bortnyk (guitars); Joe Morse (bass) and Phil Lherisson (drums). Bowen has left the band following the recording of the album but they have since recruited a new singer.
Overall, this is a strong album that suffers from the fact that not all of the compositions are up to the high standard of the best ones, which are DPRP recommendation level.
Any lover of music will enjoy the Moths pieces, but the focus of this album has to be the metal. At its best, it is very good, even allowing for the absence of keyboards to add interest to the sonic palette. On Starfall, for instance, the intensity contrasts between the metal riffing and quieter sections work well throughout the piece, and it’s a strong number. Dissection, too, has contrasts in intensity that bring interest and is also very strong rhythmically in the metallic sections. The band also do well where many others fail, delivering a good rock instrumental in Interlude, where the rhythmic element of the metal is inventive and fresh. This closing section of the album is all strong: the previous number, Running Down, had closed out a less interesting phase and the number that follows Interlude, Our Greatest Mistake, follows on neatly from it and delivers some more excellent rhythmic work.
The album does stutter a little during its mid-section, however. Back To Zero lacks melodic zest and the metal in Light and Colossus had insufficient flair to differentiate it from the music that we’d already heard. I suppose that if you are majorly into progressive metal then you may be quite happy to just headbang through these three numbers without caring too much that neither the melody nor the rhythm are up to the standard of the remainder of the album, but it will trouble other progressive music fans.
To conclude: it follows that the album’s main appeal will be to staunch metal fans who don’t occasionally mind something a bit lighter mixed into the soundscape; whilst progressive rock fans will admire much, but not all, of Moths To The Flame.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
The Engineers – In Praise Of More
Tracklist: What’s It Worth (3:51), Subtober (4:27), Out Las Vega (4:11), Press Rewind (4:07), There Will Be Time (2:39), To An Evergreen (5:18), Twenty Paces (6:00), In Praise Of More (3:35), Nach Hause (3:50)
The Engineers are Simon Phipps, Mark Peters, Daniel Land, Ulrich Schnauss and Matthew Linley. In Praise Of More is their third full blown album and the second to be released on KScope label. Three Fact Fader was released in 2009 and their self titled debut was released back in 2005. The band have also released an EP in 2004 as well as a number of singles.
The Engineers play tranquil Shoegazing (dream/pop) music that is very lush. So if you ever reach that state of mind, where too much anxiety is around, then just listen to In Praise Of More and let your worries vanish as if they never existed. The overall sound played by The Engineers is perhaps best described as No-Man goes pop and the complete album has a very lush, mellow and tranquil feeling that can also be found on albums by the aforementioned. If you want to define Shoegaze music as progressive then maybe this is a good and solid album, if not looking at Shoegaze as progressive then we have ultimately nice pop album.
The music on In Praise Of More is well crafted, with good solid structures in the music and the production is very clean and precise. The CD has also been released as a double edition limited package. With the second CD containing all the tracks of the album in instrumental versions. Sadly I have been working from a single promotional copy of the release and found that not all songs on the album are present here - a shame really.
What we have here is a solid, almost easy listening, album which is suitable to play in a setting where not everybody is into progressive music.
Not outstanding, but then again there are no particularly bad tracks on the album, although In Praise Of More, the title track is not present on my version. No doubt it will fit in perfectly with the rest.
So the overall conclusion for me is a solid 7.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Coral Caves - Mitopoiesi
Tracklist: Mitopoiesi (5:32), Sorridi (6:57), Cliff Of Moher (5:02), Senza Di Me (6:22), Ricordi (7:40), Torno A Casa (3:07), Tenochtitlan (7:43), Eterno Ritornon (6:36), Il Dolce Canto Della Terra (13:06)
You’ll have to do with the band’s MySpace page for further information – I’m afraid it’s in Italian for all you non-Italian speakers - and their website at "coralcaves.net" couldn’t be found. I did find out via the world wide internet that Coral Caves were born in winter 2001 initially as a tribute band dedicated to Pink Floyd. Their main influences are not just progressive and include Genesis, Deep Purple, ELP, King Crimson, Camel, Queen, Yes, Credence Clearwater Revival, The Doors, Quatermass, along with Italian musicians such as PFM, Lucio Battisti, Le Orme and Il Balletto di Bronzo.
Whilst it’s a 2008 album we’ve only recently got this through for review from the band’s record label, Mellow Records, who describes itself as “the real Italian progressive label”. Coral Caves is a 5-piece band from Palermo and, as the record company suggests “the music allows you to lay on your back and stare at the sky uninhibited again”. Now, there’s nothing I like better than staring at the sky, uninhibited (I do, after all, have a glass-roofed bedroom) so who better than me to review this?
Now, I’ve just invested in a very nice Denon RCDM38DAB CD spinner, Q Acoustic 2010 speakers, and QED silver anniversary XT cables, so what with the Brennan CD jukebox onto which I rip everything I get, Grado SR 60i headphones and a bespoke headphone amp, Alienware laptop, and my trusty Kenwood car USB CD I like to think I’ve got all the techy bases covered for reviewing on a variety of platforms. Coral Caves themselves go into the same amount of detail when listing their instruments. Not for them plain old ‘guitar, drums, keyboards and bass’. So I can tell you, for example, that Luciano Gallotta plays a Stratocaster dg 20. I do not know what one of these is. I tend to find that serious musicians do this a lot. Rush always used it seems to have a page of their booklet set aside for such technical jiggery-pokery.
I apologise to readers expecting a humorous anecdote about badgers or what not but I’m serious about this reviewing lark now and am not going to be funny anymore, or denigrate anybody, implicitly or explicitly.
I am a changed man. I have, for example, bought some male grooming products. And may well get a Brazilian. I’m definitely cutting my ear hair, so I can listen to all this hi-fi gear I’ve had to get a second mortgage for. And me with a baby to feed. There is, though, a serious point to be made here. One of the oft-neglected aspects of an album we DPRP reviewers are supposed to comment on is sound quality. So I try to audition albums for review on the very best tech I can afford.
Sound-wise this is top-notch symphonic Italian/neo-prog, sung in Italian, which will put some off but which is well worth checking out for fans of said genres. It’s very well produced, and packaged stuff.
I particularly liked the atmospheric slow builder Senza Di Me, replete with Gilmouresque guitar work. The musicianship throughout the record is phenomenally good, but there’s a lack of memorable tunes and melodies, and hence not much foot-tapping. It’s the type of record I’d have played in the background when my dear old mum and dad would come over to the house for dinner. Turned down extremely low of course. Their favourite, believe it or not, was Happy Songs For Happy People by Mogwai. It’s seriously good music, though, played by seriously good musicians. Don’t know how much longevity it’ll have, but Italian prog fans (i.e. fans of Italian prog) will like it I’m sure and the rest of our readers should definitely listen to some samples. If you like it, you buy it is my own personal mantra.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10