Reviews in this issue:
- Magenta – Live At Real World
- Touchstone – Live In The USA
- Widespread Panic - Dirty Side Down
- Therion – Sitra Ahra
- Big Big Train - Far Skies Deep Time [EP]
- Dianoya – Obscurity Divine
- From.uz – Inside Seventh Story
- Various Artists – Progfest '95 (Day One)
- Neograss – Sea Of Tranquillity
- UnSun – Clinic For Dolls
- Object Permanence - Forever
- Klimperei – Octogonale Impérative
Magenta – Live At Real World
Disc 1: Children Of The Sun (11:26), Cold (6:21), Lemminkainen’s Lament (5:10), Hate You [Hanging By A Thread] (3:55), Anger (5:34), Blind Faith (7:13), King Of The Skies (5:23), Speechless (4:35)
Disc 2: This Life (2:38), Moving On (7:34), Demons (3:14), Morning Sunlight (2:57), Journey’s End (8:08), Greed (2:47), The Ballad Of Samuel Lane (2:11), Prekestolen (4:04), Metamorphosis (7:41) Sunday Bonus Tracks Night And Day (4:40), I’m Alive (5:00), All Around The World (4:36)
Described as an “acoustic concert with string quartet and oboe” Magenta’s latest offering does exactly what it says on the packaging, and gives those fans who weren’t fortunate enough to be at the DVD shoot (at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio, near Bath, on 21st November last year) an opportunity to listen to the band’s material in an intimate, ‘unplugged’ environment.
As well as extensive excerpts from both the Home and Metamorphosis albums, there are rare outings for Greed (from Seven) and both Cold and Lemminkainen’s Lament (from The Singles) together with the wonderful Children Of The Sun from Revolutions.
This special package features a 2 CD recording of the concert, with the addition of three additional songs also recorded at Real World the following day. A DVD is also included featuring NTSC format video of the entire 96 minute Saturday concert with audio in stereo and 5.1 mixes. Extras include a 5.1 mix of Joe from Home, the promotional video of Blind Faith and two photo galleries.
Now I’ve waxed lyrical about female–fronted prog bands (FFPBs) in previous reviews. Whatever your views about the female form, however, there can be little doubting, based on their critical and popular success that Magenta are not just the best FFPB out there, they are one of the very best modern prog bands full stop. Their album Seven is rightly lauded as a masterpiece, and has been listed in a great many top 50 / top 100 prog album lists.
Vocalist Christina Booth has won just about every best female vocalist award going, and truly has a voice capable of raising neck hairs. Band founder and keyboard player extraordinaire Rob Reed is without question a genius and in guitarist Chris Fry they have one of the very brightest stars in the progressive rock firmament. And, I bet, the only one who wanders out into the audience during solos.
Towards the end, the core players are joined on stage by some familiar guests – Dan Fry on acoustic bass, Martin Rosser on acoustic guitar and Kieran Bailey on drums - and the sound, up to this point beautifully sparse, and ephemeral in places, becomes much fuller and more expansive as a result. In fact the most recent Metamorphosis material - viewed by some when it was released in 2008 as a tad on the heavier side - really shines in this pared down environment. Metamorphosis itself is amazing, and demonstrates best I think CB's vocal range – there’s even a little Bjork-iness going on at the start.
Sound and picture quality are top notch, and the booklet benefits from sleeve notes by Stephen Lambe. And, not that it should matter, but the whole package is incredibly good value, given what you get.
If I haven’t already convinced you that this is an essential purchase, especially for Magenta fans, then two Youtube clips are available from the performance. A promotional compilation plus the complete video of Anger from Seven.
Excellent stuff – essential if you’re a Magenta fan, and recommended to everyone else.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Touchstone – Live In The USA
Disc 1: Intro (1:18), Wintercoast (10:04), Shadow (6:11), The Mad Hatter's Song (7:33), Joker In The Pack (5:48), Original Sin (6:01), Black Tide (5:53), Line In The Sand (5:34)
Disc 2: Dignity (5:35), Zinomorph (7:20), Voices (8:52), Discordant Dreams / The Beggar's Song (10:49), Solace (4:58), Strange Days (4:59), Mad World (5:55)
After just three studio CD’s it takes a good deal of confidence to unleash a double live album but Touchstone have done just that. My colleague Tom De Val was suitably impressed by both the 2006 EP Mad Hatters and the full length Discordant Dreams from 2007 although Wintercoast from 2009 somehow passed the DPRP by. This particular release was recorded at the 2009 RoSfest and CalProg festivals and features the same line-up as the two most recent studio products. For the record they are Kim Seviour (vocals), Rob Cottingham (vocals, keyboards), Adam Hodgson (guitars), Paul Moorghen (bass) and Al Melville (drums). The two shows have been integrated into one seamless set and not surprisingly all three studio releases are well represented particularly the latest Wintercoast.
Before I talk about the music (which will already be familiar to Touchstone fans but new to the likes of me) I should acknowledge the superior sound quality. The men responsible for the excellent production are James Billinge and John Mitchell with mastering by Tim Turan. When it comes to live recordings a true test is the sound of the drums and here Melville benefits from a full and weighty presence. A fine example is the energetic Zinomorph on disc two where the snare drums snap in each ear whilst the kick drum pounds on the listener’s chest like a hammer. Melville has recently decided to relinquish the Touchstone drum stool which is a shame given his impressive work here. The artwork by guitarist Hodgson (particularly the montage of Touchstone posters in NY’s Time Square) is also rather cool.
Disc one opens with the taped voice of actor Jeremy Irons before the band introduce the title song from Wintercoast with all guns blazing. From this point on they maintain a firm grip right up to the fading chords of Mad World that closes disc two. This old Tears For Fears tune provides a crowd pleasing finale as well as receiving a convincing metal makeover with guest John Mitchell joining Hodgson for some spectacular shredding. Elsewhere Touchstone perform with power, poise and confidence and I was particularly impressed by the commanding lead voice of Kim Seviour. She’s equally at home with the rockier numbers like Joker In The Pack and Strange Days as well as the ballad style moments of Dignity and Solace.
Hodgson is a guitarist for all seasons with explosive power riffs, fast and flashy prog-metalish lead runs and melodic soling all falling comfortably within his scope. Moorghen provides solid support in the riff department including some inspirational bass work during the aforementioned Zinomorph. Cottingham’s synth flights and piano interludes add a welcome gloss to songs like Line In The Sand and Dignity as well providing occasional lead and backing vocals. When he and Kim sing in unison however as in Discordant Dreams / The Beggar's Song for example the different vocal styles mean that they do not harmonise as well as they might.
The only other observation I have is that some of the material is not as strong as it could be despite the energy instilled by the band. As their back catalogue grows however I’m pretty certain that songs like Black Tide and Voices will make way for newer songs in the setlist. Otherwise the majority of the songs stand-up to repeat playing even though there is nothing groundbreaking in their presentation. Yes fans in particular may find the climatic finale of The Mad Hatter's Song a little too close to Starship Trooper for comfort, a tune that is also referenced at the very end of The Beggar's Song. This however is not typical of the bands style which overall is closer to Arena, Shadowland, Breathing Space and occasionally Pendragon at their heaviest. Certainly in terms of energy, performance and sound, live albums don’t come much better than this.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Widespread Panic - Dirty Side Down
Tracklist: Saint Ex (6:47), North (5:43), Dirty Side Down (3:57), This Cruel Thing (4:30), Visiting Day (5:27), Clinic Cynic (4:35), St. Louis (2:52), Shut Up And Drive (6:44), True To My Nature (4:54), When You Coming Home (5:37), Jaded Tourist (4:28), Cotton Was King (5:52)
After 24 years, 10 previous studio album, numerous live albums and innumerable live performances, American band Widespread Panic have released studio album 11, Dirty Side Down, their first on the ATO label. A sextet of John Bell (guitar, lead vocals), John Hermann (keyboards, vocals), Jimmy Herring (lead guitar), Todd Nance (drums, vocals), Domingo “Sunny” Ortiz (percussion) and Dave Schools (bass, vocals), the Panic sound is based on a blend of textures that at any one time takes elements of rock, jazz, blues and anything else they feel like throwing into the mix. With the years of experience of writing and performing, the band is incredibly tight, particularly on this album where they deliberately set out to write a set of songs all of which could be performed live.
Kicking off with Saint Ex, the band immediately get into a groove, that twists and turns with different instruments coming to the fore, a Hammond followed by an acoustic guitar, then a gloriously refined chorus that has one singing along immediately. Even listeners who tend to avoid the so-called Jam bands will delight in the progressive-like weaving of times signatures and styles on this song. The cover of Jerry Joseph's North features some wonderful guitar duelling between Bell and Herring while the title track has a more rootsy vibe. Bell is in fine voice throughout, although hands over lead vocal duties to drummer Nance for Clinic Cynic, an older song finally given a studio recording and subtly enhanced with lashings of pedal steel guitar. Two other live favourites, Visiting Day and the brief instrumental St. Louis, also make their first appearance on a studio album, although, in typical Panic fashion changes have been made to structures and tempos.
The previously unreleased This Cruel Thing from the pen of frequent collaborator Vic Chesnutt is a tour de force; steeped in pathos and beautifully arranged to compliment the perfectly matched lead vocals of Bell and guest Anne Richmond Boston. Boston also lends her larynx to When You Coming Home, a slower Southern country-ish ballad, that, although not totally to my taste, shows the ability of the band to successfully tackle a variety of styles on each album and in each performance. Shut Up And Drive is fairly sedate but is hypnotising with the ending of the song providing opportunity for some nice guitar effects. The more up-tempo True To My Nature is classic WP and is no doubt a formidable live proposition with plenty of space and opportunity for the group to mess about and improvise to their hearts' content. However, the final two songs really make the album such a positive experience. The bluesy Jaded Tourist has some wonderful piano added to the mix while Cotton Was King is as good a song I have heard so far this year with abundant guitar sparring, killer chorus and a joyous atmosphere that sticks around long after the track is finished.
With Dirty Side Down Widespread Panic have delivered their strongest release in many a year. The production is crisp, the arrangements superlative, the playing is considered and forthright. Even the artwork is pretty fantastic, the only major negative point about the album is that there is no booklet. Well worth a punt if you've never heard the band before but essential if you have enjoyed any of the previous 10 Widespread Panic studio albums.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Therion – Sitra Ahra
Tracklist: Introduction/Sitra Ahra (5:24), Kings Of Edom (8:51), Unguentum Sabbati (5:09), Land Of Canaan (10:32), Hellequin (5:18), 2012 (4:16), Cú Chulainn (4:16), Kali Yuga Part 3(3:41), The Shells Are Open (3:44), Din (2:37), Children Of The Stone: After The Inquisition (7:22)
Therion from Sweden was founded by Christopher Johnsson and started out as a sort of death metal band in the late eighties. Along the way the grunts and shout were replaced by classically trained singers and more influences from classical music, folk music and progressive rock started to appear. Quite unexpectedly Christopher decided to part ways with his faithful band members (Karlsson, Niemann and Niemann) and also Mats Leven when he started his latest project Sitra Ahra. He joined forces with ex-Candlemass frontman Thomas Vikström and hired a new guitarist from Argentina, Christian Vidal, a new drummer namely Johan Koleberg and a new bass player named Nalley Pählsson. Three years after the double album Gothic Kabbalah, Johnsson decided to cut off his hair and is leading this new line up of Therion no yet another dimension with more progressive and pop influences than on any other album. The lyrics, as usual, are from Thomas Karlsson and are based on ancient cultures and/or religious characters.
Soprano and tenor, a few classical instruments and kettledrums open the first track, with a melancholic atmosphere. The guitars, bass and drums join in with fairly riff based melodies but also the orchestra is there to provide a very smooth and subtle touch. Nice catchy melody lines, sung by Lori Lewis, the handsome soprano (Aesma Daeva) and Thomas Vikström and the chorus can be heard in the choruses. Another synthesis between rock and classical is Kings Of Edom. Piano and oboe are the prelude, then the riffs but yet again the orchestra and Vikström with his tenor voice. The chorus has a different slower rhythm and reminds of the sixties. In the middle section is a more up tempo piece with heavy guitars in a nice combination with the choir, followed by a slower piece performed by orchestra, choir, oboe, bass, acoustic guitars and drums. Then before returning to the original theme, a rather fast piece with a 'duet' between the male and female choir and a little guitar orientated piece filled with Spanish influences.
In Unguentum Sabbati we have more riff based gothic metal with the voice of Snowy Shaw. In the chorus the orchestra and some of the female singers and of course soprano Lewis. There's also an instrumental part in the style of Phantom Of The Opera by band and orchestra.
The 'epic' of the album, with some oriental influences, is Land Of Canaan. Pählsson's bass is powerful with a very nice riff. A tasteful, more pop orientated piece, with acoustic guitars and Mats Öberg on harmonica. We here the choirs and Shaw, but also Vikström and Lewis in a very mellow slower part, followed by a rather funny poppy piece. The last part is very symphonic with a big role for the orchestra and particularly the string section. Definitely with the sixties in mind, Christofer wrote the last part with melodies that remind of Aphrodite's Child's Rain & Tears mixed with older works by The Bee Gees.
Surely an exquisite live track will be Hellequin, featuring all vocalists and baritone Jupither. A catchy up tempo piece: three layers of woodwinds, guitars and vocals, the choir which is heavy, melodic and majestic. Whereas rock meets classic is the order of the day in 2012, with higher pitched male vocals and contributions by choir and solo violin. Vidal excels on his guitar. The singing, grunting voice of Shaw dominates Cú Chulainn but there's an extremely tasteful choruses by the choir. I like the way Pählsson plays his bass, not only on this track, but on the entire album as well by the way.
In Kali Yuga Part 3, we hear some influences of the Deep Purple & Uriah Heep but also just organ, bass and drums with soprano and choir as contrast to the more fierce vocals by Vikström. This nice pop tune, with a cheerful fiddle, is followed by more bombastic soundscapes in The Shells Are Open with the full choir, the atmosphere comes close to what you would expect at a classically orientated musical.
The only track that reminds of the old Therion is Din with grunts/shouts by Snowy Shaw, also the choir and some distant Deep Purple influences (Flight Of The Rat). Like the best of Eloy's music heralds the beginning of the last track. Nice synthesizer and keyboards while the vocals are provided by the choirs - there's a male, a female and a children's choir! No doubt the most melodic as well as progressive track on the album, symphonic metal at its best!
Sitra Ahra may not be their most impressive album as far as instrumental virtuosity is concerned, but it's surely the most accessible and melodic album so far, with superb arrangements and tasteful contributions by (parts of) the orchestra and the choirs. Definitely one of my favourites and the perfect crossover between gothic metal, rock, pop and classical music. Johnsson proves yet again it takes only one mastermind to create this unique blend of all those different influences and styles. Touching how he salutes Lori Linstruth and Floor Jansen in the booklet. A must for Therion fans, highly recommended for fans of gothic metal and all those prog-heads seeking new (heavy) adventures.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Big Big Train - Far Skies Deep Time [EP]
Tracklist: Master Of Time (7:44), Fat Billy Shouts Mine (6:33), British Racing Green (3:58), Brambling (4:59), The Wide Open Sea (17:43)
2009’s The Underfall Yard was album of the year for a great many people and received some quite outstanding reviews, including a 10 out of 10 DPRP one. And rightly so, for it’s a quite outstanding record. It followed on a couple of years from (also DPRP recommended) The Difference Machine.
It was Gathering Speed that I first bought, in 2004, after reading the DPRP review, and I did what I’ve been known to do a few times before – I ordered a band’s entire recorded output right there and then. Add to cart indeed.
So 2002’s Bard and Goodbye To The Age Of Steam from 1997 both plopped onto the doormat as well.
The line-up on The Underfall Yard and this, BBT’s new EP is somewhat different to the other albums mentioned. David Longdon (now credited as being a core band member, together with founders Greg Spawton and Andy Poole) is now on vocal duties, and he plays a host of other esoteric instruments that flesh out the band’s sound, most noticeably the flute, but also accordion, mandolin, banjo, glockenspiel and theremin to name a few.
It’s his vocals that are particularly worthy of comment though. He has the most wonderfully emotive voice – totally unique but with hints of Peter Gabriel, Steve Hogarth and Mark Hollis from Talk Talk. You might recognise the drummer, too, credited as a 'permanent guest' on the band’s google knol page, who slums it with Spock’s Beard from time to time. And a certain Martin Orford plays keyboards. Dave Gregory, ex of XTC plays the guitar. The page also has an extensive band history, and commentary on every album up to The Underfall Yard.
2010 is the band’s 20th anniversary, believe it or not, and they mark it with a recording of supreme quality, awesome musicianship and quite brilliant song writing. Big Big Train write songs first and foremost, that tell stories and recall lives (and loves) lost and lived. Songs that are written to satisfy the muse, not to make money.
As if to prove me wrong in that assessment, though (with regards to the song writing bit, not the money bit), first track up is Master Of Time, a cover of an Anthony Phillips song, a demo of which appeared on the recent re-issue of The Geese And The Ghost album. It’s given a gorgeous pastoral, symphonic prog treatment. That Phillips has given his stamp of approval to.
Fat Billy Shouts Mine was originally part of a suite of music for The Underfall Yard album. An inspired piece of song writing – all it takes is an accordion run and a couple of lines ‘the girls are not the same here’ and ‘the lanes are not so wide here’ and you instantly know you’re in France, where footballer Billy fell. Billy died on a beach… I dare you not to cry.
Since I wrote this, the band have kindly posted the following on their website, together with other track by track comments, which goes to show how one can misinterpret lyrics (and, according to my long-suffering better-half, lots of other things too):
Legend has it that William 'Fatty' Foulke, the Sheffield United and England goalkeeper from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, died on Blackpool beach whilst earning pin money in a 'beat the goalie' booth. In this song BBT imagine larger-than-life Billy finding the afterlife a rather dull place to be. Originally written as part of a suite intended for The Underfall Yard album, the band did not get a chance to finish recording it in time for inclusion. BBT are proud to be able to present it in completed form on the Far Skies Deep Time EP. Fat Billy features possibly the final recorded performances of Martin Orford (ex-IQ) who turns in two spectacular keyboard solos.
I still cried, though...
British Racing Green sees us in melancholic Prefab Sprout territory – we tore each other’s hearts out, we ripped each other apart, we tore each other’s hopes up, we just gave up, we gave up. The sigh at the end had me crying. Again. Or maybe a mote of dust floated into the room. And caught in my eye.
Brambling, also about the final stages of a relationship is an entirely different beast – this time it’s about first love and hence far more upbeat and it has the best guitar playing you’ll hear this year. It ends, precisely as it begins and so the cycle goes on. Brilliant.
The EP concludes with the 17 minute The Wide Open Sea<. It tells the story of singer-songwriter Jacques Brel and, well, it’s wonderful. If you like Ocean Cloud then you’ll like this. But this is better. The lyrics are exceptional - The sea is my blood, the rain and the sky are my eyes – and the music…
It’s uniquely Big Big Train but with nods to Genesis, Marillion and Yes.
The sound quality is as good as you’re going to hear all year and the artwork, packaging and booklet are sublime.
My top five is full. The way things are going, I’m going to have a top 10 of fantastic albums, and they are only the ones I’ve reviewed. Although we might not have that long to wait for a full-length release. As the booklet states, James Bond style, Big Big Train will return with English Electric. I can’t wait...
"If we only have love
It’s more than enough"
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Dianoya – Obscurity Divine
Tracklist:: Brainwave (7:50), Heartfelt Souvenir (2:23), Dreamlack (9:44), Severance (10:46), Unsound Counterpart/Delusion Stigma (6:16), Turbid Mind And Season Madness (4:34), Darkroom (2:23), Sepia (10:33)
Dianoya are Filip Zielinski - vocals & keyboards, Jan Niedzielski & Maciek Papalski – guitars, Adam Pierzchala – bass, Lukasz Chmielinski – drums. They are joined on this CD by guest musicians the Esmus Quartet – strings, Frazier Stanley – samples and Lee-Leet – vocals.
When this CD landed on my doormat, I was very curious about what may lay inside as I had heard a lot about Dianoya and this album already. I was thrilled to get an opportunity to review their debut album. Now I know that every new band from Poland will be, in one way or another, compared to Riverside. In itself there is nothing wrong with that, it may even boost the career of the new band. Still, to me after listening to so called Italian prog, German prog, Dutch prog and British prog, just to name a few, now along comes Polish prog. And you could easily call it that.
Listening to Polish progressive rock there is a certain vibe or sound going on in all these progressive songs by this new stream. At the time the iron curtain was still in place we did not here many bands from these countries, although once in a while a band would rise above it and become known to us Westerners. Nowadays there seems to be an endless stream of bands. Not so surprising I would say, as the population is high in Eastern Europe.
All this leads to reviewing the debut album of a new fresh progressive rock band from Poland by the name of Dianoya and their debut album Obscurity Divine. Carefully reading the notes on the cover I found that the CD I am reviewing is the special concert edition of Obscurity Divine, which only differs in artwork. I must say I really like both covers, they are a bit obscure - which reflects the music on the CD.
Now I don’t know how many of you have ever thought of the way a brainwave might sound and I for one have never ever even once thought about it, up till now and whilst listening to the opener of the CD. Brainwave starts with a rumbling sound almost as if you were listening to boiling lava or some sort of radiowave. Further down the track Dianoya immediately give their business card, and they mean business. We are treated with heavy guitar riffing, pounding drums, clean vocals and a mellow emotional sound which continues into the song only to interact with the heavy riffs and vocals. Half way through the song we hear the "brain pattern" by the keyboards and resounding guitars. A very well played intersection in the song giving the idea that we have now actually entered into a brain. A very well done and good composition.
Second track on the album is the short instrumental Heartfelt Souvenir where the keyboards and incidental guitars seems to lead us further down the body into the heart and where we hear the bass and drums take over, leading the way into the next title on the album, Dreamlack. Strings are added to the song which is very down tempo, with dark lyrics dealing with a lot of suffering. Lots of emotion is dripping from the background track as well as vocals. At times absolutely wailing and even wining guitar play can be heard and combined with the string picking on violin I found this amazing. Almost seven minutes into the song the tenure changes as the tempo is cranked up a little by some excellent drumming, accompanied by very deep and dark vocals and a rocking guitar to finish it. Brilliantly done if I may say so.
I have only arrived at the fourth song on this album and yet I feel this will be one of my favourite albums, in the heavy progressive genre, this year. Severance as this next piece is called, starts with some spoken word, after which the music really kicks off. Bearing in mind none of the songs are in very high tempo, but again the sound is awesome and a lot of tempo changes carry this song forward. Echo is used often to fill the air, to give real "I am present" feel to the music. Four songs so far and I can tell you these lads know how to make interesting entertaining progressive rock music. Somehow, and I have said this in other reviews, but Polish progressive rock bands have a sound that gives them their own spot in the progressive music world.
Unsound Counterpart/Delusion Stigma, kicks off with something that sounds militaristic, even the way Lopez sings at the start gives me that feeling. The lyrics again are very obscure with dark, doomy messages and supporting this is the high emotional musical sounds. Even when there is a fast rocking section, sudden stops of heavy sounds, changing rhythm patterns which send shivers down my spine every now and again.
Turbid Mind and Season Madness could be defined as the title track to the album as one of the meanings of turbid is obscured. Now this track is instrumental and I can hardly describe what I am listening to. The musical tempo is the highest on the album, the song playful, mind blurring, strangely weird but somehow intriguing. Obscurely divine.
Darkroom is very spacey with a keyboard soundscape and a guitar sound reminding me of music that can be found in science fiction movies. A nice piece of music to ease your mind before going into the last song of the album.
Sepia, balladry in Polish style. Additional female vocals give some extras to this song. The vocals are sung by both Lee-Leet and Lopez - combined they are very good and give the song the extra strength it needs. Take note also of the subtle keyboards and soothing guitar playing. The song has a very good melody line.
I need to go on to my rating now. Without a doubt Dianoya have made the best debut album of the year in the progressive heavy metal genre, so far. It is an absolute must have in your collection.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
From.uz – Inside Seventh Story
Tracklist: Perfect Place, Parallels, Desert Circles, Bell of the Earth, Taken, Influence of Time, Perfect Love
What a strange little curio this is. In 2009 From.uz released an album called Seventh Story, which the review for the album can be found here, so there is no point of me giving a break down track by track.
Now this is where I become something of a sleuth trying to unravel the mystery of the band. Founding member Vitaly Popeloff, is the catalyst for the band whether they were known as Fromuz or From.uz; anyway furthering my investigations, it would appear that the band have released three albums and this their second stand alone DVD, since their inception in 2004 in Tashkent Uzbekistan, which is not a bad track record.
Now from the above statement let me clear things up slightly, Fromuz’ 2005 - Playing The Imitation live DVD (which I believe was a promo being officially released in the Audio Diplomacy set), DPRP recommended; 2007 – Audio Diplomacy (CD/DVD), DPRP recommended; 2009 - Seventh Story, DPRP recommended; with only 2008 - Overlook just missing out, which would confirm to me, that this is a band that has impressed the DPRP team. In offering visual products like this, it can only reinforce the complex, emotional and lush music that is presented here, displaying further to the world that From.uz are a band to be discovered.
So where do we go with this their latest release, Inside Seventh Story Live, which is housed in a beautifully illustrated case, but unfortunately doesn’t offer the listener any real information, but that’s a small price to pay, as these sorts of releases are mainly aimed at fans. This really is a good place to step in with the band if you are not familiar with them, as it represents what the band is all about.
The DVD was shot over two nights by multi cameras in front of the hometown crowd at the Youth Theater of Uzbekistan in Tashkent, and the boys in the band are on fire. The music is presented with passion, you can see the band feeling every note played. The show incorporates all the songs from their Seventh Story album, including some improvisational stage acting during the show, which adds to the atmospherics without distracting from the overall effect. The producer has tried to be arty with his production, which he has achieved, again adding to the whole package. The visual and audio quality is outstanding, with the whole show coming in at just under one and a half hours; the show musically is absolutely captivating.
The usual extra suspects are included in this package, track selection, the gallery (pictures of the band), working episode, (the band rehearsing), backstage (the band setting up and sound-checking) and an interview, that is subtitled in English, which details the members of the band, allowing each other to pat their peers on the back. As to whether you would watch the extras more than once is probably debatable, and if the truth be known, the real answer would be no.
So all in all, this is a very nice release from From.uz, which allows the novice to step in and sample their latest album, and also rewards the long term fan, an opportunity to watch the album being played live in its entirety which can’t be a bad thing?
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Various Artists – Progfest '95 (Day One)
Tracklist: Ars Nova: Morgan (10:53), Transi (9:01), Danse Macabre (9:19), Jihad (5:56) White Willow: Cryptomenysis (10:16), Snowfall (3:28), John Dee's Lament (9:15), Lord Of Night (6:49) Solaris: Apocalypse (4:22), Oz (8:11), Hungarian Danse (3:42), Solaris (5:30)
Strange one this. According to the label’s press blurb this has been a ‘long-awaited’ DVD by both those who were able to be there and those who missed out. I’d suggest that ‘long awaited’ is somewhat of an under-statement. Fifteen years is quite a long time to wait and that is especially relevant when you consider how far the live DVD product has progressed in that time.
In the pre-internet days, the Los Angeles International Progressive Music Festival (Progfest, for short) offered an invaluable introduction to the wider world of 1990s prog rock. I believe it started in 1993 and ran until the turn of the century. Latterly it was held in San Francisco. Musea was a partner in the event from the early days.
Now I’ve tried to make out what is happening here in terms of the various products that have come out from this festival. There was a double live CD of Progfest 95 released in 1996 featuring 17 tracks spread across six of the bands that appeared; Ars Nova, Spocks Beard, Solaris, White Willow, Landberk and Deus Ex-Machina. It appears that that double CD has just been re-released by Musea. I can find similar versions of the Progfest ‘94 and 2000.
As far as I am aware no DVD of the '95 festival has ever been released - although DPRP has covered both Progfest '97 and Progfest 2000 DVD releases). Progfest 1995 features all of the first-day songs found on the double-CD with three additional tracks; Transi by Ars Nova, Snowfall and John Dee’s Lament by White Willow. The festival footage will be split over two DVDs. Day Two is available at the same price. This does bring value for money into question. This DVD hasn’t got an overtly long playing time. With absolutely no ‘extras’ and zero booklet, I’m sure both days could have easily have been put into one package with some decent artwork, posters, reviews, photos, whatever. That would have made it a far more worthwhile all-in-one purchase.
For a 15-year old live video this has obvious limitations of the time. Limited, distant and repetitive camera angles, variable focusing, poor lighting and basic editing, (see the YouTube link above). The sound quality is okay for its time. Performance-wise it does display the fact that back then, even more so than today, progressive rock bands often had few opportunities to perform live. Ars Nova are not renowned for their daring stage explorations today. 15 years ago they were positively statuesque. White Willow were a little more shuffley but some awfully out of tune vocals suggested either stage fright or a lack of rehearsal. Progfest was one of the few festivals where bands could play on a real mellotron and the Norwegians make full use of it with some superb instrumental work-outs.
Having been around for over a decade by the time of their appearance here, Hungary’s Solaris are a far more exiting and accomplished live act. The septet puts in a very memorable show that has prompted me to explore further. However the band has already released the whole show as the Live In Los Angeles double album. It’s hard to find, but it offers the whole show.
So should you buy this? I guess if you were there or are a completist for any of the bands in question, then the answer has to be yes. If you were not there then the quality of the video and the performances of the first two bands is such that I’d suggest that the CD may be the better option.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Neograss – Sea Of Tranquillity
Tracklist: Sea Of Tranquillity (29:36)
Neograss are a Norwegian band making "Neograss", a music which has taken a bundle of influences from bluegrass but yet is performed in a very progressive nature. To let the world know what kind of music they make they have recently released a EP consisting of one song entitled Sea Of Tranquillity. Described as "an epic in sonata form", this 29 minute long track is a statement of what they do.
Neograss are Emil Bekkevold (vocals, banjo), TMA (mellotron, guitars), Åsmund Wilter Eriksson (double bass) and Aleksander Kostopoulos (drums)
So what do we get when listening to Neograss? Well considering the instrumentation, (there is no guitar present), the banjo takes its place. An eclectic music heading out into the great world of prog with a banjo at the helm, but when the music starts something happens. You are overwhelmed with the sheer sound of it. Then as soon as the singing starts I see Guy Manning sitting on the stage playing the acoustic banjo (guitar), creating the most beautiful music with equally good vocals. The band start brilliantly and there is nothing wrong in describing the Sea Of Tranquillity as a sonata, more or less, it is.
The song has different sections, identifiable in a very simple way, as with each new section there is a slight alteration in the music. At times it is the intonation, then again the instrumentation, however never in all these changes do you lose track of the fact that this is one song and one song only. There is not a dull moment in the entire 30 minutes and I have given this quite a few plays over the last week or so.
My conclusion to this beautiful work of craftsmanship is that it is art in itself, different, yet so familiar at the same time.
Fans of Blackmore’s Night and Iona in particular should really check this out - it sounds awesome.
I must also make my compliments to the lyricist of the song. He has done a terrific job. Good work, nice debut, I am expecting more to come, hopefully I will not be disappointed.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
UnSun – Clinic For Dolls
Tracklist: The Lost Way (5:39), Clinic For Dolls (4:19), Time (4:27), Mockers (4:07), Not Enough (4:15), The Last Tear (4:20), Home (4:26), I Ceased (4:36), A Single Touch (4:36), Why (3:31)
Initially known as Unseen, this is the second album from the band formed by Polish guitarist Maurycy Stefanowicz (Vader, Dies Irae, Christ Agony). As UnSun come with a female vocalist in the breezy shape of Aya, they are often slotted into the generic ‘gothic metal’ category. Having lived in their dolls’ clinic for a few weeks now, I’d say the diagnosis was more of an atmospheric, poppy metal band. Think fellow Poles Delight, modern-day Nightwish, a slightly less symphonic Within Temptation or a slightly more simplistic Tristania.
I saw the band at last year’s Metal Female Voices Fest in Belgium and was impressed by a lively stage show which managed to overcome the somewhat repetitive and simplistic nature of the songs. The same opinion forms after listening to the 10 tracks on offer here.
Clinic For Dolls is heavy on rhythm and melody, whilst lacking in the technicality and variety of many such bands. Opener The Lost Way and the lead video track Home are the most memorable songs. There are some good and persistent keyboard lines and every song displays a flowing guitar solo. The riffing is grungy and repetitive. Aya’s rather nasally voice has one of those ‘love it’ or ‘get annoyed by it’ tones. I find her style quite engaging - if taken a few songs at a time. It’s all very bright and accessible. The heavier moments, as on Time and Why, work well but they are rather infrequent. The title track is bland. The ballad, The Last Tear, is dire.
UnSun bring nothing new to the table but what they do bring is well packaged and hard to really dislike. For PopMetal heads this may be worth exploring. For ProgMetal heads I can see little of interest here.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Object Permanence - Forever
Tracklist: Angels And Demons (6:52), Pride (5:06), Forever (7:46), Xi (2:36), Redemption (3:40), Rise (8:18), Transcendance (6:52), Aware (6:54), Return (7:57)
Object Permanence is the solo project of Michael DeMichele: the album is composed, played and recorded by him in his home studio, with assistance only from Simon Janis on drums. Music is DeMichele’s hobby; he works as a physician. Forever is the third album of his to be reviewed by DPRP; links to the other two reviews (by Mark Hughes and Bob Mulvey) can be found at the end of this review.
Listening to the album “blind”, not having heard his music before or read any reviews, I initially thought that this might be his first solo venture effort, as unfortunately the album does play very much like a solo musician’s first attempt. There are worthy ideas, there is promise but it sounds overall like “work in progress”, a creation as yet not fully fulfilled. The fact that this is at least his third album, therefore, now affects one’s attitude to the music, as it would appear that it is set to remain a part-time hobby, unlikely to progress from its current stasis.
The dominant aspect of the soundscape is “metal guitar”, played at almost doom-metal tempo, slowly, although the metal itself is not doom. Keyboards are used but generally kept low in the mix, they do not dominate and act as background only. Vocals rarely depart from sing-speak: Xi and Aware are instrumentals. Overall impressions is that this soundscape is too threadbare to capture the imagination of progressive music fans; as a minimum it needs a higher tempo and better vocals to raise it to a higher dimension.
Despite these criticisms, there are some enjoyable aspects to this music: this is what would have been the “promise” that I referred to earlier. The metal riffs are quite catchy; for instance on Pride; give them a bit more tempo and they would be very catchy! The title track, Forever, is a highlight due to its changing moods, starting whimsically and showing some rare melodic invention, the metal then picks up and you get some good riffing and lead playing; the song’s mood variety gives it some interest. Both instrumentals are effective, with the keys on Aware playing a significant role. The singing on Redemption benefits from being less sing-speak and the composition seems lifted by the fact. The rhythmic playing throughout is good, often very good; it would benefit to speed some of it up.
Overall, we have an album that has strong points and is often enjoyable to listen to but which is let down by a lack of invention in the arrangements, too low a tempo and a disappointing vocal.
Looking back over Mark’s and Bob’s reviews of The Ripple Effect (2003) and The Perfect Plan (2006), it is clear that nothing has changed; our three reviews are virtually interchangeable.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10
Klimperei – Octogonale Impérative
Tracklist: Algébre Stellaire (3:51), Base De Hilbert (3:56), Construction GNS (3:08), Différentielle D'ordre 1 (1:57), Espace Hyperbolique (3:05), Fermions Dégénérés (2:00), Groupe Topologique (2:50), Estscheidungsproblem (4:46), Isométrie Directe (3:18), Le Journal De Liouville (2:30), K-symplectique (1:40), Les Formes Linéaire s (3:59), Mesures Secondaires (3:20), Orthogonaux Classiques (3:22), Non Réductibles (4:06), Postulat De Paralléles (1:58)
Klimperei is the brainchild and solo project of French composer Christophe Petchanatz. The label (Musea) lists this band under the sub-heading of New Musics and Avant-Garde so despite the inclusion of this review on DPRP this isn’t prog. It is unusual and experimental and at times, we do accommodate the unusual. If I were to describe what parts of this disc reminds me of, I would have to dig down deep into the fairly obscure culture reference of the movie Eric the Viking where the people of the island of Hy-Brasil would sing the Tee-Ta song. The likeness is limited but that is the image that this music elicits in my mind.
The instruments employed here are diverse but tilt toward Indian styling. The media release remarks that this band makes use of such things as toys to create the music much like Pascal Comelade. Klimperei seem to have taken to the task of focusing on primitive methods of making sounds and using overly simplified and improvised beats or highly complex multi-rhythmic schemes with open plucking poly-melodies to create a contrived cacophony. The result is an extremely experimental product that sounds a bit ridiculous to me. Added to all that are some Baroque melody lines interspersed on a few tracks to pile it on even deeper. I can almost smell the combination of Patchouli and Tandoori where this would seem appropriate in a Neo-Indian-Hippy restaurant and lounge as background music.
I will grant that I am a bit biased toward melody and structure where traditional musical architecture, tunings, and instruments can still produce new music to delight the senses without falling into the trappings of the nonsensical. Different for the sake of being different has its place and its audience, and judging from the prolific output of this act there seems to be enough incentive to continue in this vein.
After listening to other Klimperei material, this particular album seems to be unusual among the unusual repertoire. Perhaps the back cover of the CD sums it up best wherein it states:
"Octogonale Impérative cannot be considered at all like the bringing out of studio trimmings or barrel scraping. On the contrary, these recordings that remained in the shade and eventually remixed in 2009, are in the end more audacious than those of the original album."
The original album referred to was Mécanologie Portative from 1998. I was unable to find samples for comparison but I can imagine it was “audacious” as well.
Obviously, this album is not for me. The ability to make a niche with this stuff is admirable and I wish well to anyone who ventures into the dark unknown. If you are tired of every other genre of music out there, you may find yourself right at home with Klimperei.
Conclusion: 2 out of 10