Reviews in this issue:
- Izz - Live [DVD]
- Ben Craven – Great & Terrible Potions
- Soul Secret - Closer To Daylight
- John Wetton - Raised In Captivity
- Don Airey - All Out
- Tempus Fugit - Chessboard
- Seven Steps To The Green Door - The?Book
- Nicklas Barker – El Último Fin De Semana (Original Soundtrack)
- La Théorie Des Cordes - Premières Vibrations
- Annie Haslam - Still Life
- Fatal Fusion - Land Of The Sun
- Mark Bradford – High Road
Izz - Live
Chapter 1 - IZZ Live At Nearfest 2007: Intro - Swallow Our Pride, My River Flows, Assurance, Coming Like Light, Late Night Salvation, Where I Belong, Star Evil Gnoma Su, Mists Of Dalriada
Chapter 2 - IZZ Live at ProgWest, 2002: Spinnin' Round I Move, Razor, Star Evil Gnoma Su
Chapter 3 - IZZ Live Webcast, 2003: Beginning Jam, Double Bass, Another Door, Meteor, Lifecycle (Forever's Way), Late Night Salvation/I Get Lost, A Soul In Flight, Assurance
The good thing about getting to review this live DVD from Izz is that I get to revisit The Darkened Room, the first CD I ever reviewed for DPRP. The first CD I reviewed, ever, in point of fact. It got a 10, and looking back I still stand by that rating. To my mind it truly set a benchmark for modern American symphonic prog that has, to date, not been surpassed despite some damned fine recent releases by some damned fine bands.
Izz are another of a small group who have received a DPRP recommended rating for every album (4 or more) we’ve reviewed. Admittedly, neither I Move (2002) nor Ampersand (2004) have been reviewed by us. Now I’m not entirely sure about Ampersand, containing as it does a few live tracks and some more ambient stuff, but I Move is an essential purchase. It is, as is Sliver Of A Sun, and My River Flows represented in the Nearfest set and elsewhere in the other concert filmed (ProgWest in 2002), the 2003 live webcast and the bonus recording session material. The ProgWest footage is from a 3-camera shoot, combined with a ‘bootleg’ audio recording of the show. In 2003 The Dividing Line Broadcast Network asked the band to perform a live, in-studio performance, taking requests from a live online audience. A good portion of the event was captured on camera (there’s only one, mind so some tracks have no video footage). The other ‘extra’ is a selection of guitarist Paul ‘Brems’ Bremner’s video footage of the recording sessions for each of Izz’ albums which does of course include some tunes from TDR.
Centrepiece of the DVD though is the band’s 2007 performance (complete with amazing double drum stool lineup) at Nearfest in 2007 - which has already been released on CD - in a crisp video transfer albeit only with 2.0 audio. We reviewed the 2007 CD here. And it rated an 8.5, Dave Sissons concluding “(T)his disc is easily recommended to a wide prog-loving audience, with maybe to potential to attract a few none prog fans to the genre as well”.
His review is worth reproducing in part here:
IZZ are one of the best modern American symphonic progressive rock bands to emerge in (relatively) recent years, and should be considered alongside Echolyn, Glass Hammer and Spock’s Beard as being at the fore-front of the genre. Often garnering critical acclaim, they have yet to achieve the large fan base they so richly deserve.
This live set, recorded at 2007’s Nearfest, serves therefore as a great introduction to the band, featuring tracks culled from all three of their studio albums, presented with superb live sound and capturing the excitement and eclecticism of the group’s material; from the ELP influenced symphonic grandeur of Coming Like Light, via the updated Yes-styled melodies of Late Night Salvation, to the guitar-lead fusion instrumental Star Evil Gnoma Su and on to the folk jig encore Mists Of Dalriada. With IZZ, a beautiful melody is never far away and Assurance and My River Flows are ample proof of their skills in that department…
…Along the way, we are also treated to (among other things) incendiary solos from guitarist Paul Bremner, an energetic drum duet, swirling synth breaks from Tom Galgano, and gorgeous duel female lead vocals on Where I Belong…
…There’s even a preview of a work in progress in opener Swallow Our Pride (which later appeared on 2009’s The Darkened Room: Brian)…
It’s a great video introduction to a great band, and would of course have rated an extra point at least from me had it contained any post 2009 concert performances of TDR material although the recording session footage does, to some extent, make up for this omission. All in all, the DVD is an essential purchase for Izz fans and is highly recommended to all lovers of modern progressive rock music.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Ben Craven – Great & Terrible Potions
Tracklist: Diabolique (2:27), Nobody Dies Forever Part 1 (2:37), Aquamarine (5:07), Ready To Lose (6:03), The Conjurer (4:13), No Specific Harm (10:58), Solace (2:43), Nobody Dies Forever Part 2 (1:51), Great & Terrible Potions (9:06) Bonus Tracks: Ready To Lose [Single Edit] (3:39), Nobody Dies Forever [Single Edit] (3:00), No Specific Harm [Single Edit] (3:29)
Like many artists Ben Craven’s formative years were spent in and out of mainstream rock bands before he decided to harness his love of progressive rock in 2005 with the release of his debut album Two False Idols under the name Tunisia. Unlike many artists however on this latest album Great & Terrible Potions Craven plays all the instruments himself as well as handling vocals, production and engineering. The results are a superior alternative to the home made products that typically flood the internet with Craven’s lush arrangements, solid musicianship and strong vocals endorsed by artwork from legendary artist Roger Dean.
Dean’s artwork may bear more than a passing resemblance to his cover for Yes’ Union but Craven’s retro sound draws its inspiration from sources elsewhere including film music, Pink Floyd, Marillion, Steve Hackett, a touch of Porcupine Tree, even fellow countrymen Unitopia.
The instrumental Diabolique is a textbook overture with a rippling, syncopated piano motif joined by a symphonic keys loop which gives way to a heavyweight bass and organ attack in the mould of Neal Morse. Nobody Dies Forever Part 1 transports the listener into the suspenseful world of John Barry and James Bond (both lyrically and musically) driven by a big fat guitar sound. In contrast Aquamarine is a haunting and atmospheric instrumental with ethereal choral effects underpinning a moody fuzzed guitar break. One of the album’s most effective pieces.
To the casual observer Ready To Lose is a straight forward mid-tempo rocker but the guitar histrionics are offset a warm acoustic driven intro and a triumphant synth and break that harks back to Marillion’s Incommunicado. It also benefits from a strong vocal performance. Another change of mood for The Conjurer with classical flavoured piano complemented by mellow David Gilmour style pedal steel guitar (ala Dark Side Of The Moon). On this occasion the retro twangy guitar conjures up Ennio Morricone in romantic mode.
No Specific Harm is perhaps the album’s main claim to epic fame and it certainly contains its fair share of melodramatic grandeur. With a thick wall of guitars, Craven creates an imposing Middle Eastern ambiance that Steve Hackett I’m sure would be proud to put his name to. Edgy and sinister, it rolls along with rhythmic intensity with the phased voice adding a distinct Stephen Wilson touch and the powerful Floydian guitar recalling Another Brick In The Wall.
The calm follows the storm with Solace, a beautiful acoustic guitar piece with a touch of piano and keys strings. One of the album’s most endearing tracks it builds into a searing Steve Rothery flavoured guitar solo. Nobody Dies Forever Part 2 is a reprise of track two sounding every bit like a Bond theme complete with tinkling percussion and twangy guitar.
The title track Great & Terrible Potions is another mini epic which from the start put me in mind of Unitopia (particularly the sensitive vocal). Sandwiched between the song parts is a dramatic instrumental section with orchestral keys and the occasional sound effect to enforce the albums cinematic claims. A compelling slide guitar coda brings the great Chris Fry (of Magenta fame) to mind.
On first sight the final three tracks could easily be dismissed as album fillers being single versions of Ready To Lose, Nobody Dies Forever and No Specific Harm. Craven has however put more thought than most into the editing process with the result that all three tracks work well in their own right providing an entertaining summary of what’s gone before. If anything the Gilmour/Floyd influences are even more apparent particularly in the case of the concluding No Specific Harm.
There is no doubt that Ben Craven has produced an excellent piece of work of which he can be justly proud. The fact that he has done it single handily is even more of a feat. I can only sympathise with his family and friends, if he doesn’t shut himself away in his Brisbane studio for months on end when he’s in the creative process I would be most surprised. Unreservedly recommended.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Soul Secret - Closer To Daylight
Tracklist: Checkmate (5:51), River's Edge (6:48), If (3:47), The Shelter (7:52),Pillars Of Sand (9:09), October 1917 (3:33), Behind The Curtain (8:46), Aftermath (16:43)
Closer To Daylight is the second album for Soul Secret and just like on the first album the main issue seems to be the vocalist. Michele Serpico used to be the vocalist, but due to illness the vocal parts on the entire first album were done by Mark Basile, who in my opinion, did a great job. Serpico returned for some concerts but appeared not stable enough to be a full time vocalist for Soul Secret, so Arno Menses was contacted and he made a guest appearance but just for one song, the over fifteen minute long Aftermath. After Arno Menses did his vocal parts they found a new vocalist in Fabio Manda, hopefully he is a steady member for the future. Besides the vocalist problem also the bass player Lucio Grilli was replaced by Claudio Casaburi. A lot of changes for Soul Secret.
Of course the major change for the sound is the vocals, a new voice for the band. The voice of Fabio Manda is not as powerful as Mark Basile, who did a great job on the previous album, and not as soulful as Arno Menses on the last song. Manda's voice is higher and maybe a bit like Geddy Lee. Listen for yourself on some samples. Manda does a good job, I really like Mark Basile and Arno Menses but that is purely a matter of taste. The sound of Soul Secret is still progressive metal, leaning towards Dream Theater but not a standard copycat.
Checkmate and River's Edge are both standard powerful progressive metal songs. Many time changes but not so complicated you can get lost. On River's Edge there is a guest appearance by from Marco Sfogli, the guitar player on James LaBrie's latest solo album. If features a guest appearance by Anna Assentato. Great female vocals on a powerful metal ballad. The Shelter starts with nice piano playing but soon increases in power. Great soloing on this song, especially by the keyboards. Pillars Of Sound is more guitar orientated, starting with beautiful acoustic playing this song also gains a lot of power from the start. A lot of eastern influences and many changes and complex structures in this song. October 1917 is an acoustic interlude. A short song, a standard short piece to have a break from the more difficult technical stuff.
Behind The Curtain starts a bit like Anathema. Will Soul Secret also make a drastic turn in style? No way, the progressive metal continues in a familiar trend. Just like on Flowing Portraits the album ends with an epic song over 15 minutes long. To be precise one second longer then Tears Of Kalliroe, coincidence? Aftermath is also the best song on this album as the epic closer Tears Of Kalliroe was on the previous. A bit strange to hear a different voice on this last song. As mentioned before I like the voice of Arno Menses, he brings more soul than Fabio Manda. During the instrumental parts there is no change but when Arno Menses sings it is like a completely different band. Good to hear Arno Menses but it would be nicer if Fabio Manda also did this song, better continuation, but considering the vocalist problems this was probably the only choice.
After the decent debut album Flowing Portrait Soul Secret's second album Closer To Daylight is a good successor. Fabio Manda is hopefully a steady vocalist so that the next album they can record without replacements. Too bad for Manda is the fact that Arno Menses sings on the best song on the album. Too bad but just a minor remark. Closer To Daylight is a good progressive metal album. Soul Secret is no Dream Theater but also no wannabee copycat. Soul Secret earns it's place in the progressive metal scene and fans of this genre will certainly like this new album.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
John Wetton - Raised In Captivity
Tracklist: Lost For Words (4:59), Raised In Captivity (6:09), Goodbye Elsinore (4:44), The Last Night Of My Life (5:54), We Stay Together [bonus track] (4:26), The Human Condition (5:22), Steffi's Ring (2:36), The Devil And The Opera House (6:51), New Star Rising (4:33), Don't Misunderstand Me (3:43), Mighty Rivers (5:20)
With a career spanning over 40 years and a slew of prestigious collaborations, John Wetton is one of the most revered figures on the classic and progressive rock scene. After battling with alcoholism and heart problems, in recent years he has made an amazing comeback, both with the original Asia line-up and as a solo artist, displaying a vocal power that - unlike what normally happens to the majority of rock singers - seems to have improved with age.
Besides his tenure with King Crimson and UK, however, Wetton has always been a somewhat controversial artist in the community of prog fans for his very evident leanings towards the more commercial end of the spectrum. The bulk of his solo material, indeed, is very much song-oriented, with a rather tangential relation with prog. When the release of Raised In Captivity was first announced, prog stalwarts immediately pricked up their ears at the very mention of the prestigious cast of guest artists (which includes the likes of Eddie Jobson and Steve Hackett) - only to be profoundly disappointed when they actually listened to the finished product. This is quite surprising, because Wetton has never made a secret of his inclination for more radio-friendly fare, and most of his recent (and even not so recent) output, both as a solo artist and with projects like Asia and Icon, has been song-based, with only occasional nods to "real" prog.
That said, Raised In Captivity is a surprisingly good (though not perfect) album - and I say this as a lifelong non-fan of AOR. A. While I am partial to a good pop song, and love quite a few "crossover" prog-pop acts, Asia have never done anything for me, though not for the usual reasons put forward by hardcore proggers (that is, a supposed "betrayal" of true prog values). Simply put, their particular brand of music does not float my boat - what you would call a lack of chemistry - while a couple of songs from this album stuck in my mind for days, to the point that I found myself humming them first thing in the morning. Wetton surely knows how to write a great hook, and the warmth and confidence of his vocal delivery are nothing short of stunning. When I saw him with Asia two years ago (supporting Yes), I was amazed by how good he sounded - which dispelled memories of his somewhat tentative performance on King Crimson's otherwise seminal Larks' Tongues In Aspic. In fact, Raised In Captivity seems to confirm my opinion that Wetton's voice is tailor-made for the song form, rather than the somewhat rambling formats often preferred by canonical prog.
Most of the songs on Raised In Captivity are performed by Wetton and Billy Sherwood, whose crystal-clear production is one of the undisputed plus points of the album. The impressive list of titled guests, for once, is more than a token gesture meant to entice fans of prog and classic rock. Austrian-born guitarist Alex Machacek (from Eddie Jobson's band UKZ) may not be a household name, but his Allan Holdsworth-inspired modal solo in the otherwise straightforward The Last Night Of My Life, complemented by Wetton's muscular bass lines, is arrestingly lovely; as is Steve Hackett's contribution in the romantic yet remarkably uncheesy ballad Goodbye Elsinore. While the majority of the songs are catchy mid-tempos with all the successful features of vintage AOR (with the romantic ballad Don't Misunderstand Me and the rather nondescript bonus track We Stay Together coming across as typical specimens of the genre), my personal favourites are the three out-and-out rockers. Opener Lost For Words contains splendid guitar work by Deep Purple's Steve Morse, while the title-track is bookended by eerie, atmospheric soundscapes provided by Robert Fripp (who co-wrote the song, but is otherwise uncredited). The Human Condition, the heaviest of the three, is propelled along by Sherwood's riffing and Tony Kaye's Hammond organ bursts: on his website (where a very interesting track-by-track description of the album can be found) Wetton aptly calls it a "Def Leppard/Mutt Lang-ish white-boy blues".
The wistful, folksy flavour of the short, mainly acoustic Steffi's Ring, with excellent keyboards by Wetton's long-time collaborator and close friend Geoff Downes, is offset by the upbeat New Star Rising, featuring Uriah Heep's Mick Box's and his trademark use of the wah-wah pedal, as well as nods to The Beach Boys in the chorus. On the other hand, The Devil And The Opera House was probably the most eagerly anticipated track on the album, with its double-whammy of lyrics by Richard Palmer-James and violin by former UK cohort Eddie Jobson. However, those expecting a tour de force in the Crimson/UK mould will be bitterly disappointed, as the song is very reminiscent of early Asia - though enhanced by Jobson's scintillating violin and its synergy with Wetton's consistently solid, powerful bass. The album is then wrapped up by the only song not written by Wetton and Sherwood, the haunting, almost church-like Mighty Rivers (originally featured on Epicon, the 2006 debut album by eclectic ensemble Globus), in which Wetton's vocals are complemented by the pure yet forceful tones of ex-The Gathering singer Anneke van Giersbergen, in a combination that might have been terminally cheesy, but is instead quite moving.
Although Raised In Captivity is an outstanding collection of exquisitely-crafted, often infectious songs, I cannot in all conscience give it a "recommended" rating - because, in spite of the presence of some icons of the genre, it is not really a prog album. However, in spite of my limited affinity for AOR, I found the album quite impressive, and a very pleasing listen for those times when excessive complexity or experimentalism just will not do. Pop music may be a taboo word for some, but when it is as good as this, all is forgiven - and John Wetton is undoubtedly a master of his craft. The album is accompanied by a very thorough booklet, which contains an interesting foreword written by Wetton himself, as well as lyrics and detailed information.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Don Airey - All Out
Tracklist: The Way I Feel Inside (4:23), Estancia (5:37), People In Your Head (5:00), B'cos (4:54), Running From The Shadows (3:41), Right Arm Overture (7:12), Fire (5:12), Long Road (4:34), Wrath Of Thor (4:25), Tobruk (10:29)
While current Deep Purple keyboardist Don Airey is surely a household name for fans of classic hard rock, his relationship to progressive rock is not as well-documented. However, quite a few followers of prog's numerous manifestations will remember him as a member of influential jazz-rock outfit Colosseum II - together with the late, great guitarist Gary Moore and drummer extraordinaire Jon Hiseman. Lesser known, though possessed of solid prog credentials, is also his first solo project, the epic K2 - Tales Of Triumph And Tragedy, released in 1989 with the contribution of such high-profile artists as Moore himself, legendary drummer Cozy Powell, Chris Thompson and Colin Blunstone.
All Out (a title taken from cricket terminology, though, according to the artist himself, it can also be interpreted in other ways), follows the template of his second solo album, A Light In The Sky (2008), as regards its general structure and musical direction, reflecting the main features of Airey's career in its blend of vintage hard rock, AOR, fusion and progressive stylings. However, All Out is definitely more streamlined and song-based, putting former Persian Risk vocalist Carl Sentance's powerful, melodic high tenor to good use - though it is the instrumental tracks that will prove to be the most interesting from the point of view of the average prog fan.
Indeed, while All Out is certainly enjoyable, and a fine showcase for Airey's keyboard skills - honed in the almost 40 years of his career - it is a bit uneven from a compositional point of view, as if unable to choose between straightforward, radio-friendly hard rock and more complex pieces that might provide a fitting framework for Airey's accomplished yet unflashy style. This may please those who prize eclecticism (even at the cost of cohesion), but much less so those who find Airey's forays into AOR somewhat frustrating. Although the collective musicianship on the album is outstanding - with Sentance, renowned session bassist Laurence Cottle, guitarist Rob Harris (of Jamiroquai fame) and drummer Darrin Mooney (of Scottish alt-rock band Primal Scream), who also played on A Light In The Sky, as well as some distinguished guests such as Joe Bonamassa, Bernie Marsden and Don's own brother, Keith Airey - the songwriting is not always up to scratch, and in a couple of occasions the songs come across as throwaways from the Eighties.
On the other hand, All Out's quite impressive instrumental tracks prove that Airey can pull out all the stops (as the title implies) and fire his Hammond organ with a flair that belies his mild-mannered, almost self-effacing public image. The barnstorming Estancia, the first movement of Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera's ballet 1941, for obvious reasons bears more than a passing resemblance to ELP's Toccata. Mooney's metronomical drumming lays down an unflagging backbeat for the increasingly raucous, almost improvisational organ bursts, with Airey wringing all sorts of almost tortured sounds out of his instrument. The relaxed pace of guitar-led B'cos is fleshed out by atmospheric polyphonic synths, while in the similarly-conceived Long Road the keyboards take on more of a supporting role, discreetly introducing Keith Airey's wistful, bluesy guitar excursions. The true highlight of the album, however, lies in Right Arm Overture, which merges solemn, church-like moments, rivetingly atmospheric passages - spiced up by asymmetrical drumming and churning bass - and a lively, Spanish-tinged tune infused with scintillating piano and organ that might remind the listener of Airey's work with Colosseum II.
The remaining tracks range from the somewhat uninspiring - such as the run-of-the-mill hard rock cover of Jimi Hendrix's Fire and the late-Rainbow AOR of Running From The Shadows - to more interesting items, like the Deep Purple-inspired opener, The Way I Feel Inside, with fine guitar by former Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden. People In Your Head would be little more than a brisk but not particularly exciting standard rocker, if it were not for Joe Bonamassa's splendid, soulful guitar and its seamless interplay with Airey's rumbling Hammond. Wrath Of Thor (aptly introduced by thunderstorm-like electronic effects) harks back to Airey's tenure with Black Sabbath, with Sentance doing a more than adequate job in the Ronnie James Dio/Tony Martin vein, and plenty of intense organ/guitar riffs; while in the mini-suite Tobruk, suitably epic in tone, the jazzy undertones in Airey's piano passages coexist side by side with suggestions of Dio-era Rainbow and Black Sabbath - mainly channelled by Sentance's commanding performance - and echoes of vintage ELP.
As implied in the previous paragraphs, All Out seems to privilege the song format rather than the instrumental side, though there is ample space for Airey to flex his considerable chops. With an excellent supporting cast of seasoned musicians and great sound quality, the album - in spite of its slightly rambling nature - is a worthwhile listen, especially for fans of classic hard rock and Hammond devotees, and offers enough complexity (especially as regards the instrumentals) not to leave prog fans unsatisfied.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Tempus Fugit – Chessboard
Tracklist: Pontos De Fuga: Part I (1:12) Part II (3:27), Unfair World (7:58), Only To Be With You (10:07), The Princess: A) My Princess (4:23) B) Tears From The Sky (3:20), Chessboard: A) The Game Of Life (11:03) B) The Living (8:27)
If I’m reading the Tempus Fugit MySpace site correctly then Chessboard has been around since 2008 although it has only recently made its way to the DPRP’s doors. The band’s previous album The Dawn After The Storm (their second since their formation in 1992) was reviewed way back in 2000 and reaveled an affinity for the classic, melodic style of Camel and Yes. Chessboard sees the quartet of André Mello (keyboards, vocals), Henrique Simões (electric and acoustic guitars), André Ribeiro (bass) and Ary Moura (drums) continuing along a similar path with Mello’s compositions being very easy on the ear as is his voice. His English singing reveal only a hint of an accent and although he doesn’t have an especially strong voice, wisely it’s the skilful instrumental work that dominates.
Pontos De Fuga opens the album with swirling, spacey synth effects ala Vangelis’ soundtrack for Blade Runner before seguing into a lively but melodic instrumental that combines vintage keys and electric guitar in classic Camel style.
In contrast Unfair World is a laidback song with some very refined piano work (that borders on Supertramp’s Dreamer at one point) enlivened by Simões spirited guitar work. A fairly strong verse and chorus coupled with the smooth musicianship sets it firmly in Alan Parsons Project territory.
The edgy guitar work that drives Only To Be With You put me in mind of Solstice fromtman Andy Glass supported by some excellent but not over showy bass playing from Ribeiro. Vocals are kept to a minimum allowing the instrumental work to shine with a masterful solo from Simões standing out in the latter half.
The Princess is a two-parter beginning with a sweet, lyrical song with Mello dueting with guest Mirna Bertling although her voice is perhaps a little too far back in the mix to have any significant impact. Simões switches to acoustic for some fine picking, leading into Tears From The Sky which is centred around a lengthy guitar solo from another guest José Roberto Crivanno. His shredding style is markedly different to that of Simões although he certainly makes his mark.
The title piece is also in two parts and with a combined playing time of nearly 20 minutes it’s the obvious epic closer. The Game Of Life sets the scene with an heraldic synth fanfare flanked by Simões’ stylish electric guitar. The song boasts two guest singers, Mirna Bertling and Fernando Sierpe, although once again its Mello’s tones that dominates. Better is his fiery synth and organ work as is the rhythm partnership of Ribeiro and Moura that sparkles and crackles convincingly during this up-tempo section. It transforms seamlessly into the atmospheric instrumental The Living which continues at a more measured pace led by stately electric piano, fender style bass and acoustic guitar. Picking up speed, it rolls along in freewheeling, melodic Genesis fashion allowing all four men to demonstrate their individual instrumental prowess. A fine conclusion to the set.
Given my positive appraisal above you may well ask, why no DPRP recommendation? Although it’s a superbly constructed, produced and performed album, for me the material is perhaps not quite as memorable as it could be and I would also like to see (and hear) Tempus Fugit take a few more chances and venture outside their comfort zone. That said, lovers of melodic prog will find Chessboard an absolute joy and the whole thing comes housed in a beautifully presented digipack.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Seven Steps To The Green Door - The?Book
Tracklist: Prologue [A Man And The Book] (4:20), The Empty Room/The Realisation (6:04), The Crying Child [1st Nail] (3:48), The Healing Wonder [2nd Nail] (5:55), The Dividing Water [3rd Nail] (8:21), The Last Supper [4th Nail] (4:27), The Eternal Abstinence [5th Nail] (8:07), The Deadly Crucifixion (6:47), The Green Door (9:52), Epilogue [A Bird And The Book] (5:40)
Seven Steps To The Green Door are a German progressive band comprising of Ulf Reinhardt on drums, Marek Arnold on keyboards and saxophone, Heiko Rehm on bass, Andreas Gemeinhardt on guitars and Lars Köhler and Anne Trautmann on vocals. For the German sixsome, The?Book is the band's third album after 2006's The Puzzle and 2008's Step In 2 My World.
In fact The?Book is a concept album about a religious man named Samuel who is suddenly catapulted into a dark dungeon where he faces his greatest fears whilst having his faith tested. Supporting the concept is a 52 page media-book, although because the label only sent us a paper sleeve copy with 'For Promotion Only' cheekily stamped on the front, I have yet to see this or indeed find out what a media-book actually is! However, the label were kind enough to send us a copy of the story too. Surprisingly enough, the text takes up just 6 sides of A4, so how it's been expanded to fill 52 pages I do not know.
But I digress. The story, written by Thoralf Koss, seems to have been translated more or less directly from German making for some very interesting use of English. In the story, there are six doors, each with some horror behind it. The symbols that are found on the doors are printed on the album cover in order. Religious ideas run rife through the text, and in each chapter Samuel thinks back to a story in the Bible and wonders if the same thing is happening to him there. Also in five chapters, Samuel encounters a nail, and towards the end of the story, they are piercing his hands and feet, just like Jesus on the cross. The religious themes may seem overwhelming at first, but after a while fit with the story. This concept album could be described as a cross between Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and Aphrodite's Child's 666. Whatever moral you take from this story, whether it's to question your faith in God, or to not leave nails lying around, you can surely agree that its a chilling, enjoyable, mysterious tale that the band have put to music.
Fortunately, the music doesn't disappoint either. It's incredible to hear how the band keep their ideas fresh and interesting over the course of an hour. The album flows beautifully, with many of the songs segueing into each other, meaning that the album is enjoyed best as a whole. The band use an eclectic range of sounds on the album, ranging from lounge to metal whilst staying resolutely in the progressive sphere. They also cook up a range of great riffs and musical devices that keep you hooked and prevent the music from ever sounding stale. I must admit, I'm incredibly fond of the anthemic instrumental in The Empty Room as well as the sudden change of tempo near the beginning of The Dividing Water.
With a wide range of influences and ideas, Seven Steps To The Green Door really show their worth on this album and I can fully believe their press release when they say this is their 'most uncompromising piece of music to date'. For those who want to see Germany try their hand at something close to 'classic' prog - or if you just want to know what a media-book is - you should definitely check this album out.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Nicklas Barker – El Último Fin De Semana (Original Soundtrack)
Tracklist: Leo (1:23), Celestial Ghost (5:21), Night Ambiance (1:59), Sisters (2:30), Phantasm (0:50), Rendezvous (2:24), Entering The Lost Village (1:41), Confrontation (1:44), Doom (2:23), Going Home (1:23), Ouija (1:57), By The Shore (2:21), Chase (2:09), Purgatory (1:05), Grand Finale (3:31), Home (1:05), Beach Girls (1:50)
Do I really need to tell anybody, who is a frequent reader of the DPRP pages, about Nicklas Barker? I didn’t think so either. The man, who besides being a member of Anekdoten, My Brother The Wind and Morte Macabre, now released the music he has made for a Spanish film called “El Último Fin De Semana” (Our last weekend). The film is about of group of friends and colleagues. One of them gets a promotion at work and invites the other three to celebrate at her grandmother’s house. The village, the house is situated in, looks deserted and hides a big secret. Next to partying and drinking the weekend is also perfect for revealing every kind of feelings, resentments, attractions and tensions. They also appear not to be as alone as they thought and for some of them this could be their last weekend. I haven’t seen the movie but after reading the above mentioned synopsis I gather there is sex, horror and a lot of tension in there somewhere.
With the Morte Macabre project, Barker already investigated this area of music making by re-interpreting the music of horror films like Cannibal Holocaust, City Of The Living Dead and Rosemary’s Baby. If you liked that album you are certainly also going to like this one. Although I must stress that this is the entire soundtrack to one film and on Morte Macabre’s Symphonic Holocaust they covered the theme songs from different films. That means that we also get some soundscapes and conversational snippets from the movie. In that regard it is better to compare this album with Air’s movie soundtrack to Sofia’s Coppola’s film “The Virgin Suicides”. The albums have something else in common too. The use of the mellotron. It’s a well known fact that the eerie sounds the mellotron produces works very well when sentiments such as tension, fear and horror are to be portrayed. On the Morte Macabre album all four members played the instrument, Air uses it as a main instrument on “The Virgin Suicides” and also on this album it is used heavily. The soundtrack was not recorded by Nicklas Barker alone. He is joined by his colleague from Anekdoten en Morte Macabre, drummer Peter Nordins, Martha Barker on cello and Karolina Bergstrom on violin. Barker himself plays mellotron, synth, gong, bass and theremin. So no guitars were used for this record.
The record opens with conversations from the film. Now I don’t speak Spanish but by the intonations I can understand that this is probably a very intense and emotional horror movie. But then track two Celestial Ghost! This track is worth the price of the CD alone. Theremin starts off the piece, then drums and a almost relaxed bass enter - but it’s the melody that makes this such a wonderful track. It’s not complicated but the way Barker has arranged it is marvellous. The way the melody shifts slightly again and again is mesmerizing. You can listen to the track here. Barker succeeds in bringing the tension of the film into his music. But the album does not only sound eerie as in (Entering The Lost Village, Ouija), but threatening and tense (Confrontation, Doom) and also quite romantic and hopeful (Going Home). Other highlights that also fall into that last category are By The Shore and Grand Finale. The Chase sounds like its title and is up tempo with drums by Peter Nordins. At first listen Nordins' contributions to the album seem limited but on closer listening he adds a lot of percussion sounds to the music.
I have difficulty spotting the real cello and violin within the enormous amounts of mellotron that is used (are they in the beautiful Sisters). The album ends quiet oddly with the almost cheery Beach Girls. Dominated by mellotron rhythm sounds it almost seems like it’s put at the end in order for the listener to release all the tension that has been building up during the previous 34 minutes (and I can imagine the end titles going over the screen while this song is playing).
Of course this is film music and so this album is probably not for everyone. There are a lot of very short tracks that just express and add to what’s happening on the screen, but there is enough melody and beauty to enjoy in just the music. It’s a short but beautiful album that those who are familiar with the work of Barker probably already own, (you should!), this album, but in my opinion it has enough strength to appeal to a wider progressive rock audience (for instance if you liked Mathijs Herder’s contributions to the Dante’s The Divine Comedy CD’s from Musea and Colossus, or the music by Goblin). Just listen to Celestial Ghost and you will be convinced.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
La Théorie Des Cordes - Premières Vibrations
Tracklist: Supernova (8:28), Rêves Prémonitoires (6:46), D'Hêtre À Être (9:47), Singes (8:31), Le Bas Art De L'Épouvante (8:11), Berceuse Moderne (7:06), Renaissances (9:51)
This French jazz rock outfit have been going since January 2010 and this is their first album. Adopting the name of a well known physics theory and, as their name suggests their intent is to “through our compositions… to tell stories that take different paths – always trying to see the bigger picture as well as the tiniest detail.” From the vast to the quantum microscopic, they declare that their music will “…translate that through its various colours and atmospheres, like a moving picture.” Or, to put it another way “a concept-album about the so-called string theory, and its meaning regarding the place of Man in the Universe.” Wow!
Is their lofty theoretical ambition matched by the music they have produced? Well if it was we’d have something utterly magical on our hands, but almost inevitably it falls short of such rarefied targets. However, if one ignores the somewhat pretentious nature of the mission statement, the music we are left with still stands on its own merits.
There is an extensive French text in the accompanying CD booklet, comprising an introduction and stories to accompany each song. Largely due to my limited French combined with a fear that if the intro is anything to go by we are likely to be faced with more esoteric philosophising, I’ve left the text well alone!
Primarily based around the fluid guitar lines of Mathieu Torres (who is also responsible for the poetic wordsmithery) and the jazz infused piano of Stéphanie Artaud, with drums provided by Tadzio Gotteberg, these three are the nucleus. They are joined by Maxime Jaslier on occasional bass and saxophone. Whereas Stephanie and Tadzio are definitely jazz based, Mathieu’s guitar is often coming from a more rock inclined place, lending the group dynamic a muscular undercurrent. There are also plenty of subtle moments, resulting in a warmly atmospheric and emotional sound.
Numerous styles collide with satisfying effect, particularly on Supernova which serves as a fine introduction to Mathieu’s lyrical playing which is reflected by some delightful piano tinkling, along with a pronounced Gallic feel in the chorus, the song also draws on European folk influences and ends where it began with guitar akin to a bubbling brook. Signes (Monkeys) whose slower guitar parts put me in mind of Zappa on The Torture Never Stops is interspersed with rock stylings, a trend that is present on a lot of the songs, all done quite tastefully. A distinctly Gothic feel pervades Le Bas Art De L'Épouvante (The Low Art Of Terror) evoking film noir. By the end of this song the jazz feel has been replaced by dramatic, almost symphonic music, the piano especially coming to the fore. The high drama of this song is followed by the calming Berceuse Moderne (Modern Lullaby) where Mathieu sounds like Jeff Beck in one of his more reflective jazzier moments. Renaissance rocks out and the riffs are back with a vengeance but never too dominant and always with that jazz undertow. The piano and guitar trade off each other to good effect. An example of “heaviness” being achieved without recourse to generic detuned metal riffing while still being a powerful piece of music.
Fans of the aforementioned Jeff Beck and Pat Metheny and jazz rock in general will find this album an enjoyable if not overly challenging listen, although it is difficult to see how the group can further develop this sound without producing more of the same.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Annie Haslam - Still Life
CD 1 Forever Bound [Adagio Canatbill From Tchaikovsky Symphony No.5] (3:54), Still Life [Air From D Major Suite, J.S.Bach] (3:00), One Day [Berceuse From Dollty, Faure] (2:58), Ave Verum [Mozart] (2:43), Shine [Gymnopedie No.2 Satie] (3:22), Careless Love [Etude Op. 10 No. 3, Chopin] (3:30), Glitter And Dust [Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky] (3:17), The Day You Strayed [Pavane, Faure] (3:47), Save Us All [Albioni, Adagio Giazotto] (3:48), Skaila [La Calinda, Delius] (2:36), Bitter Sweet [The Swan From Carnival Of The Animals, Saint Saens] (2:29), Chains And Threads [Tannhauser, Wagner] (3:37)
CD 2 Forever Bound [Adagio Canatbill From Tchaikovsky Symphony No.5] (3:54), Still Life [Air From D Major Suite, J.S.Bach] (3:00), One Day [Berceuse From Dollty, Faure] (2:58), Ave Verum [Mozart] (2:43), Shine [Gymnopedie No.2 Satie] (3:22), Careless Love [Etude Op. 10 No. 3, Chopin] (3:30), Glitter And Dust [Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky] (3:17), The Day You Strayed [Pavane, Faure] (3:47), Save Us All [Albioni, Adagio Giazotto] (3:48), Skaila [La Calinda, Delius] (2:36), Bitter Sweet [The Swan From Carnival Of The Animals, Saint Saens] (2:29), Chains And Threads [Tannhauser, Wagner] (3:37)
Annie Haslam Still Life her second solo album. Hmmm you might say! What has this got to do with prog? Well, firstly for all intent and purpose classical music is the Godfather of progressive rock. Secondly it is an album that features none other than Annie Haslam the five octave vocalist from Renaissance. Thirdly the lyrics were written by none other than Betty Thatcher, the lady who wrote most of the lyrics for Renaissance who recently passed away this year at the age of 67. Fourthly the music presented here is by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Louis Clark who played keyboards for ELO in 1986.
I must admit that it is a bit of a strange release, I remember purchasing a copy of this the first time round, funnily enough in Bolton her home town along with Renaissance’s Timeline, when it was a single disk release as opposed to this Limited Edition double CD version. The extra disk included here has just been stripped of its vocal presentation allowing the listener the choice of with or without vocals. Now whether that is a strong enough selling point for anyone to go out and buy it again I’m not too sure, but one wouldn’t think so. I’m not too sure as to who this is really aimed at to be honest, but do tread carefully if you choose to participate.
The album is full of light classical pieces that have been excellently executed and recorded as one would expect and then those illusive lyrics and vocals have been added. Some may find this approach hard to get to grips with, some will scratch their heads wondering what’s going on, but those who know Live At Carnegie Hall for instance,(a stunning live album might I add), may be able to get their minds around what’s going on here at bit easier. In reality their is beauty to be found within these passages and is not a million miles away from the approach that Renaissance have used before but you do have to work with it. The lyrical passages work well in-conjunction with the music, with some of the classical pieces being more familiar than others which does cause a bit of confusion as some of the results are unexpected and slightly twee at times. It is definitely not the best Annie Haslam solo album, for me that award would goes to 1977’s Annie In Wonderland.
Conclusion: Not Rated
Fatal Fusion - Land Of The Sun
Tracklist: Land Of The Sun (9:16), Cry No More (3:50), Promises (6:26), Love In The Sky (6:55), Shot To The Ground (5:40), Remember (5:10), Broken Man: a) Accusations, b) The Hangman, c) Death, d) The Ghost (12:34), Out To The Fields: a) To The Fileds, b) The Journey, c) The Battle, d) The Homecoming
Fatal Fusion is the union of five Oslo-based Norwegians who have been kicking around in different, unknown, blues/classic rock cover bands since the ‘80s. Knut E Grøntwedt (Vocals), Stig Selnes (Guitars, Backing Vocals), Erlend Engebretson (Keyboards (backing Vocals), Lasse Lie (Bass Guitar) and Audun Engebretson (Drums, Percussion and Backing Vocals) got together in 2008 and independently released Land Of The Sun as their debut in late 2010 as an expression of their own creative and compositional energies. So I’m very late in getting this together, very much after the event, but no press is bad press right? Nevertheless, apologies to the Fatal Fusion Crew for being sooo slow.
Largely it’s the sibling partnership of Erlund and Auden who are credited with having written the music and lyrics here and they wear their stylistic influences fairly openly on their sleeves. In their own estimation, they are:
“aiming to create their own unique sound, blending in elements form different musical genres as rock, metal, blues, jazz, and latin, trying to get a broad musical landscape.....”
Land Of The Sun has a very classic rock feel to it. The songs could have been penned in the early ‘70s by a host of bands, but to give you a general pointer, think Uriah Heep, Mountain, Atomic Rooster, and Captain Beyond - that sort of heavy-blues, Hammond-driven, groove-rock. There’s very little prog here to speak of apart from in the last track, Out To The Fields, which is a decent instrumental in four parts very reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Welcome To The Machine, easily my favourite track on the album.
As wholesome and exciting as this may sound, they don’t actually pull it off particularly successfully, for me. Sure, there’s great musicianship from Stig Selnes who puts together some mighty, tuneful guitar solos and Erlund’s keyboard work on Hammond and Mellotron is excellent, but I find it all a bit of a hotch-potch and a bit ramshackle to really captivate me. Additionally, and I know that this is a self-funded, privately released effort, which I will always, always stand up and applaud loudly, but the production is very weak indeed, not so much in clarity as in direction and energy. The songs here tend to plod in a rather pedestrian, mid-tempo way. The guitar sound is thin and wan in places and everything has a clunky and overly simplistic feel to it, lacking drive and punch and energy. The songs, especially the shorter, all-out rockier ones or passages within the longer pieces, fail to really groove and swing but instead have a metronomic hesitancy about them.
Lyrically, Fatal Fusion can tell a story, whether it’s a Wild West ballad in Broken Man or going to Louisiana to start a new life in Shot To The Ground, which is a straightforward Southern-boogie type number in the vein of Stevie Ray Vaughan, but I really do find them facile. It’s a bit like the soundtrack to a teenage fantasy series, including the gloopy and frankly awful heartstring-puller, Remember. I’m genuinely not sure of the relevance of what Knut is singing about. When you consider the lyrical Americanisms of some of the stories here, it’s even more puzzling. In the never-ending battle to stay, or be relevant, (love it or hate it, it’s an imposing and grim fact of life for aspiring musicians in a saturated market), Fatal Fusion are the equivalent of the too old or the too young making up a Home Guard while the rest of country’s men go off to fight.
Had they been around in the ‘80s, they would have been part of a new wave. For example, Love In The Sky starts off like early ‘80s Eloy, but ends up sounding exactly like Survivor’s Eye Of The Tiger in its verses and it’s as clear an incidence I can offer of the way in which Land Of The Sun struggles to really find its footing.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10
Mark Bradford – High Road
Tracklist: High Road (10:15), No Exception (6:39), The Song (6:19), Hallelujah (2:54), Sin No More (8:01), In The Heat Of The Battle (4:28), The Light (7:42), Numinous One (10:56), High Road – Bob Drake Alternate Mix (9:56)
To begin, this is a Christian rock release. This designation has a certain automatic response to many of us so I had to get that out of the way initially.
Mark Bradford out of Denver, Colorado is a pop/rock artist who has had intermittent prog-like elements thrown in along the way and has decided to release those for our (prog) community as a compilation called High Road. I can’t be sure if this decision was due to the success of Neal Morse or if this is a directional change for Bradford as a songwriter and musician.
I don’t have to reiterate why the term “Christian Rock” evokes a certain derisive sneer but such a response has been well earned over time and this album makes the case in spades.
In this instance, High Road has all the caricatured elements that Christian Rock has come to embody. Even Neal Morse hasn’t been immune to the pitfalls that come from a gushing emotive response to the subject matter. The colloquial term for this is known as “cheese factor”.
Specific cheese elements are the early ‘80s Casio keyboard that sounds like it comes from a children’s toy, and the repetitive self-castigating lyrics found in such songs as Sin No More. I have always found it strangely contradictory that people can claim to be made in God’s image are also overly deprecating when it comes to their humanity.
On the musicality of this album, the drumming sounds flat: no dynamics or tempo inflections. This must be a drum machine, and a bad one at that. The keyboards as mentioned before sound cheap and dated displaying a thin and overly trebled sound. The overall production is flat and sounds like no work was put into it. It is thin and actually detracts from what the artist is attempting to do here.
The song The Light had the only interesting interludes of the album but it was not redeeming enough to lift this album up. The intermittent moments that resemble prog really aren’t pulled together enough to make a prog package. This more closely resembles a Christian High School Musical.
Once again, this genre does itself a terrible disservice. I stand by my earlier statement that the message, no matter how well intentioned, has to be only part of the picture to pique my interest; some effort has to be applied to the rest of the package. I have no problem with Christianity but why does it have to produce substandard music?
Conclusion: 3 out of 10