Reviews in this issue:
- Jakszyk, Fripp & Collins – A Scarcity Of Miracles
- Wolverine – Communication Lost
- From.uz - Quartus Artifactus
- Devin Townsend Project - Deconstruction
- Devin Townsend Project - Ghost
- Sun Domingo - Songs For End Times
- Amity In Fame – Through
- Lars Boutrup’s Music For Keyboards – The Symphonic Dream
- Searching For Calm – Celestial Greetings
- Novus Rex - Plowshares Into Swords
Jakszyk, Fripp & Collins – A Scarcity Of Miracles
Tracklist: A Scarcity Of Miracles (7:25), The Price We Pay (4:47), Secrets (7:45), This House (8:32), The Other Man (5:56), The Light Of Day (9:02)
This is one of the most highly anticipated releases of the year for me and I am pleased to report that everyone involved delivers big style, the result being an essential listen for anyone who enjoys simply wallowing in wonderfully realised, organic performances from truly inspirational talents.
Other than the oblique King Crimson reference on the sleeve the appearance of Robert Fripp will probably be the main draw but this is a collaborative project in the truest sense. What originally began as friends getting together for fun has evolved into a King Crimson ProjeKct as valid as any that have gone before. Initially I was surprised that Fripp had chosen to pin the KC moniker on this album but having heard it I think it’s a perfect fit, if a very different ProjeKct for what would be a very different KC. Where earlier groupings were used as “research and development for the greater Krim” this one exists outside King Crimson and brings in external influences without expectation. As 40% of the latest (but hopefully not last) KC variant Gavin Harrison and Tony Levin are always going to be a world class rhythm section, their work together on the short run of dates after the introduction of Harrison certainly whet the appetite for future live and studio work which has, so far, failed to materialize. The two’s work here is mesmerizing but in a very different way to KC. There is depth, space, thought, emotion and the results are spellbinding.
Mel Collins should need no introduction having played with King Crimson in the early ‘70s from In The Wake Of Poseidon through to Islands and then sessioning for Red. He was also a member of Camel and Caravan and played on a myriad other albums before later joining another group of KC alumni, 21st Century Schizoid Band who also featured Jakko M. Jakszyk doing a sterling job of filling in for Fripp on guitar and adding vocals. Jakszyk’s solo work and spells with Level 42 (where he replaced Allan Holdsworth no less & coincidentally played some live dates with Gavin Harrison) and The Tangent are also noteworthy. In many ways he is the glue holding this group together.
The title track kicks things off with Fripp’s introverted soloing over a backdrop of Soundscaping, Collins adding some lovely touches. It gels with the introduction of exquisite rhythm from Levin and Harrison, Jakko’s guitar complementing Fripp’s and his voice gliding majestically through the instrumentation. Collins provides some lengthy solo passages of real quality and the result is a captivating thing of beauty. There is no rocking out or ego play here; all contribute to a thoughtful and beautiful album that engages and tantalises, the complexity opening up on successive listens.
From the first note the quality of Jakszyk and Fripp’s production becomes apparent, as good as you would expect from a DGM release. Levin’s bass tone is wonderful and the definition given to all the players is clear and precise.
The Price We Pay opens with Gu Zheng from Jakszyk giving an oriental feel, Levin undulating beneath. There is an element of David Sylvian before a more driving rhythm with Levin’s dancing bass and melancholy soloing from Fripp proving he is on top form. This is certainly rock music but much more subtle than many will be used to.
Another melancholic and beautiful track, Secrets coalesces into a more rhythmic whole, Harrison pounding with more restraint than in his Porcupine Tree day job, after the downbeat opening of Jakko’s stark vocal over Soundscapes with stabs of sax melody. Jakszyk has the voice to carry it off brilliantly, his words conjuring up images that fit the music perfectly. No lyric sheet is included so I haven’t studied them closely and won’t dwell on their content and meaning, suffice to say it all works a treat.
Soundscaping and multi tracked vocals give This House an otherworldly feel, Jakszyk’s bleak vocal filled with emotion. Collins floats in and out with Fripp adding scalpel like guitar lines. Levin’s bass is just so melodic with his trademark metallic edge until Harrison joins him to really flesh out the sound. Precise and gorgeous, this track reminds me of KC’s Islands.
The Other Man is darker and more dissonant, a distinct variation on KC from the past, particularly in Levin’s fine bass lines and Fripp’s echoing of some familiar phrases. Jakko continues to be the focal point, he and Collins adding melody that refuses to be subsumed within an increasingly urgent and frenetic track. There is a pulling and pushing, the two halves of the track ricocheting off each other with an ebb and flow that is captivating. The structure is less clearly defined than on other tracks but in no way is there a sense of unfinished. This piece amalgamates the past with a new, bright and exciting future.
The most free-form piece here, The Light Of Day sees Fripp and Jakszyk trading off-kilter guitar. It is almost a surprise when the vocals appear as the track starts in a distinctly improvised way. Again there is a David Sylvian feel without it stepping towards copy. The harmonising in Jakko’s double tracked vocal is a joy to hear, keeping the ship steered towards open water through treacherous musical rocks and rapids.
There is a maturity to the playing which you would expect from such seasoned professionals, this is a joyous album that is scintillating and absorbing in its subtlety. This may well be, in many ways, the best album that any of the players involved have been a party to and that is certainly quite a claim. The material calls all the shots making for a much more dynamic album than I had anticipated, its organic heart oozing through.
My initial listening to the last King Crimson album, The Power To Believe, had me thinking that Fripp’s Soundscaping had finally found a home but here it has become an integral part of the music, adding much more than I thought possible, fulfilling the role of keyboards but with more menace and purpose. This music is complex yet easy to listen to, emotional, sometimes down-beat but with ominous darkness. There is power but it is restrained rather than being unleashed to pound the audience. In many ways it reminds of the almost “lost” KC period between the peaks of the debut and the Bruford/Wetton version of the band in the mid-‘70s. Modern recording has made the whole come alive, every note resonating and capturing the moment in a way that was not possible 40 years ago. The players themselves have matured and developed over time and their experience drips from every phrase.
Fripp has recently reached pension age but still clearly has plenty to say; this may just be a vehicle within which he feels able to say it. It is great to hear him in something approaching a rock setting again and this is one of his most satisfying outings for many years. Jakko is simply superb in the vocal department and no guitar slouch either; he holds the whole project together and may be the main reason why it exists at all. Collins has played on so many great albums and is always guaranteed to lift proceedings but here he is completely mesmerizing, every single contribution a delight. Lyrical and effortless his flowing lines are the archetype of perfection. Levin and Harrison were included at a later date as the final project took shape and their contributions underline the album and sign it off as the completed article. I have not heard Harrison is such sparse form before but he adds just what the music asks him too and Levin’s superb bass could be an album on its own.
There is so much to listen to here, layers reveal themselves with repeated plays and this is an engaging recording which thrills without having to resort to overplaying its hand. A majestic and marvellous piece of work that is completely satisfying. I doubt many listeners will expect what has been delivered but the vast majority are sure to be enthralled.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Wolverine – Communication Lost
Tracklist: Downfall (3:46), Into The Great Nothing (8:36), Poison Ivy (5:17), Your Favourite War (5:16), Embrace (6:41), Pulse (6:16), What Remains (5:29), In Memory Of Me (8:39), In The Quiet Of Dawn (4:28), Communication Lost (8:52), A Beginning (6.43)
There are certain albums that require a little patience, a bit of experimentation, the investment of some time. Such albums often disappoint on a first listen. They still fall flat and frustrate after half a dozen listens. But there’s a certain something which guides your instinct to know that your forbearance will be fruitful. Such has been the case with the fifth album from the outrageously talented yet criminally under-acclaimed Swedish band Wolverine.
It’s a piece of music that really should have come with listening instructions. I played it in the car, I played it on my PC. I played it on my hi-fi. I listened carefully. I had it on as background music. I played it in small doses. I played it from beginning to end. I played it on ‘random’. Finally I decided to give Communication Lost my undivided attention. I sat down in my favourite chair in my favourite room with lights dimmed, a glass of wine poured, headphones to avoid any distractions, lyric sheet open and volume turned up high. My forbearance flowered and fruited in one listen.
It has been five years in the making. Broken relationships, critically ill children and the departure and return of singer Stefan Zell have in the bands words made it a painful yet fulfilling experience.
Firstly some general points about the album as a whole, before I touch briefly on each song.
The album sounds amazing. It’s been mixed by Jacob Hansen who is better known for the heavier end of the musical spectrum but has done a faultless job here.
The band has kindly taken the time to offer personal thoughts and some background to every song with a superb article on the Wolverine website. It is a fascinating read and has really added an extra layer of depth and appreciation to my listening experience. I wish more bands would do this.
Musically this is the band’s most mellow album. I avoid the words ‘least heavy’ because there is no shortage of weight to the music. It’s just that the band has found new ways to deliver that weight other than guitar chordage. They did it on their last album but have taken things a step further here.
Also, whilst the subject matter is dark, there is a lightness, a sense of space around the music that avoids it becoming anything like a gaze-at-the-floor or slit-your-wrists listening experience.
I said it in my review of Still, and the same applies here: In a strange way there's no individual track that really stands out. It's very much an album that has to be taken as a sum of its parts. The dynamics, the flow, the passion and the rhythm of the piece is spellbinding. In the same way, the joy of each listen is in the small details that jump out from each track. The delicate time changes that grab you for a few beats and them return to normal; the small guitar patterns than run out as quickly as they run in; the fine-tuned harmonies that always come from a different angle, and the varying densities of sound that give the album a life of it's own.
The last thing to say is that vocal performance by Stefan Zell is one of the best I’ve ever had the privilege to listen to. I’ve had several listens where I solely concentrated on his impassioned delivery of every word, every syllable, every note. It’s a humbling pleasure.
Of the music itself, we begin as church bells toll across a bleak landscape of whispering wind and cello to which is read a poem. Written by bassist Thomas Jansson Downfall sets the tone of the album well. As he explains:
“Our lives are so centered on becoming something we imagine, rather than something we really are. Our Downfall is our inability to acknowledge this and to break free and oppose it on an individual level.”
Into The Great Nothing is an immediate highlight. An effectively repetitive mid-paced groove develops throughout the song which seeks to condemn the ‘consumerist machine on which society operates’. Some clever compositional song writing allows the melody to unfold towards some superb guitar work towards the end. The song was originally recorded by another singer when Stefan was heading towards leaving the band. It would be interesting to hear that one day.
The next two songs are a clever pairing. Poison Ivy tells of a relationship gone sour from Marcus’ own viewpoint. Your Favourite War examines it from the standpoint of his friend Stefan. The first song opens with cello, acoustic guitar and a disturbing yet beautiful vocal around a catchy chorus melody. The second song is more up-tempo but with an equally addictive hook.
Dealing as it does with his daughter’s fight against a critical heart condition, Embrace is the most personal and important song Stefan claims to have ever written. Built around a lovely drum rhythm and guitar run that develops throughout the song, the vocals are tender, the guitar solo perfectly paced and the chorus is deeply memorable.
The lyrical theme of family unity continues into Pulse. Musically this is very different being inspired by watching a Depeche Mode concert on DVD. You can certainly see where the straight rhythm and the simple keyboard runs came from. Like the song Sleepy Town this builds on its simplicity well. There’s a nice guitar solo from former member Per Broddesson.
What Remains continues the lyrical theme on Thomas’ opening poem, extolling society’s control by the economic interests of the few. Piano and cello feature heavily again with some startling vocal lines about being ‘Lonely in a world where people are dying to live’.
In Memory Of Me re-evaluates Stefan’s (near) departure from the band. The last song written for the album, it has a great melody, more progressive elements to the arrangement than elsewhere, and a swirl of different instrumental rhythms. Another great guitar solo as well.
The listener is re-energised with a burst of guitar before the foot is taken off the pedal with a big, ethnic drum sound, behind some ambient keys and guitar. In The Quiet Of Dawn is one of the oldest songs on the album and Stefan’s favourite. It’s not mine. It just doesn’t hit me like some of the earlier material.
The title track possesses one of the album’s heavier guitar and keyboard motifs before a distinct bass rhythm takes the lead. Lyrically it deals with the communication previously lost within the band and the wider theme of communication lost between the individual and one’s true self and needs. This is the one track that I feel still has some room to grow on me.
We end as we begun. Sampled E-bowed guitars played on a keyboard add an ambient background to another of Thomas’ poems. The play-out of this track is a little overlong but I hope it signals that the band has turned a new page and is ready to begin again.
The dip from ‘outstanding’ to simply ‘good’ in the final part of the album means I can’t quite put this on the ‘10 out of 10’ perfection that was this album’s predecessor, Still. However it isn’t far short.
If you’re a fan of this band and don’t mind a slightly more mellow approach, then buy with confidence. If you’ve previously classed Wolverine as a band only for those who like some metal with their prog then please think again. Communication Lost is a truly honest and personal album where the messages will resonate with many of you. It contains ten beautifully crafted and performed slices of melodic progressive music by a band at the very top of its game.
It's one that demands some time and your undivided attention, but with Communication Lost, Marcus, Stefan, Mikael, Thomas and Per have created another absolute gem of an album. Now please go out and buy your own copy.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
From.uz - Quartus Artifactus
CD 1: Stone Salad (13:26), Familiarization Results (7:45), Harry Heller Theater (12:11), Perfect Place (1:37), Parallels (20:01)
CD 2: Influence Of Time (10:22), Crashmind (9:57), Desert Circle (15:51), Babylon Dreams (9:38)
DVD: Live Concert 23rd June 2009 At The Ilkhom Theater Stone Salad, Familiarization Results, Harry Heller Theater, Perfect Place, Parallels, Influence Of Time, Crashmind, Desert Circle, Babylon Dreams, Behind The Scenes/Rehearsal Footage
Quartus Artifactus by From.uz is a best of From.uz in a progressive chamber style, tracks from three of their previous releases. This is a band who knows how to make epic music, a band that are top of their game and want their fans to be able to visually enjoy the delights of their creations as well as listening to it. As ever the band take that one step further creating a companion DVD which was filmed and recorded on the 23rd June 2009. A DVD that sees’ the band playing the whole album from beginning to end, an interesting and worthwhile experience, which to sit through never displays a dull moment, in fact it’s that engrossing the time just passes, having arrived at its conclusion before you know it. It’s always intriguing to watch artists creations having life breathed into them, something that From.uz are always ready to share with whoever wants to participate. The picture quality is good as is the soundstage, but there again you grow to expect this from bands like From.uz. On top of that as they did with the Inside Seventh Story DVD we are also treated to a forty five minute documentary on the band setting up and sound checking for the show, an interesting piece to watch, but after having watched it once, you probably wouldn’t return for the experience again.
Having reviewed their last release Inside Seventh Story I was more than excited to review this little ditty, although best of recordings aren’t usually my cup of tea so to speak. The band has chosen to re arrange and record the tracks in a more acoustic manner, (making it gentler in approach, but no less dynamic, intense or impressive), relying less on their previous electric incarnations, which again makes this a more viable prospect for all comers, which stops it falling into that distorted best of moribund market.
For those new to From.uz, you will find that their music is a blend of complex prog, jazz fusion and instrumental rock with doses of European and Asian musical influences. This has all been created by Vitally Popeloff (acoustic guitars and vocals), Igor Elizov (keyboards), Al Khalmurzaev (keyboards, 12 string guitar and flute), Ali Izmailov (drums and percussions) and Sur’at Kasimov (fretless bass).
So lets get down to the nitty gritty of what is here. Stone Salad the opening piece with its stated acoustic punctuations, varying musical signatures that are both intricate and beautiful. The whole semblance of the acoustic work is just pure magic, which when engaged with the rest of the band sends shivers down your spine. Popeloff has a real clean tonal acoustic phrasing which is noticeable throughout the whole album. The ace here though is that when Izmailov and Popeloff sync their results that permeate through your body with its moody and atmospheric tones. The whole instrumental really displays the prowess of the band which includes some absolute stunning bass techniques from Kasimov, whose fingers must have been on fire. Familiarization Results engages a slightly more metered and aggressive approach than Stone Salad very much being a bass and percussive led piece, a mixture of complexity and jazz fusion, humorously and wittingly messing with the listener, never allowing you to second guess where the band are going next.
Harry Heller Theater again displays that bombastic and grandeur acoustic guitar sound that accentuates the rhythm, musically a soundtrack piece in approach, emotionally and syllabically, pronouncing each scene change. The emphasis of command changes part way through allowing From.uz to really stretch their musical muscles, displaying that electric and acoustic can and does work in unity when constructed properly when in the right hands. Even the incomprehensible lyrical interlude really adds to the effect of the whole piece, making it one of the stronger pieces of the album. Perfect Place the shortest track and a bit of a showcase for Vitally Popeloff whilst he strums his acoustic and beautifully engulfs the listener with his mellow vocal tone. Parallels closes disk one and for me is the standout track of the album. Its measure of musicality has the full ingredient, a balance of the whole band finding that little irksome place where everything just falls into place and works, never being able to put a foot wrong.
Influence Of Time from their Seventh Story album balances out the varying approaches, sedate, peaceful and relaxing, against a balance of power and dexterity as the instrumental builds, jazzy interludes being incorporated through elements of world music. It is through this piece that you really get to hear and understand the band, what they are accomplishing, their influences and nuances. A myriad of musical approaches built and assembled perfectly, countless references that work so well grouped like this. Crashmind carries on with the balance of jazz intoned inflections, another atmospheric piece that changes direction, created passages that respond to each other, musical conversational pieces, fantastic harmonies, repeating passages that really compliments the musical framework. Desert Circle slows the pace down, a relaxing and very sedate instrumental. Popeloff’s crystal clear acoustic work is to die for, which really demonstrates his adeptness, whilst a plethora of keyboards nonchalantly underpins the whole mood. Even when the instrumental becomes more dynamic and diverse Popeloff maintains his composure which gives it even more character, making it all a totally beautiful experience on the ear making for another very strong track. Babylon Dreams sadly the album closer sees the dalliances of Izmailov and Kasimov working in perfect harmony again, which in some places can be angular in approach, taking lead whilst everyone else is invited to add and build their rhythmic and complex passages. Even the false endings are subtle, teasing the listener, keeping them guessing as to whether this really is the end.
The album as a whole sees the band taking a no nonsense approach, cleverly adding to the already existing pieces, which in all truth could have fallen flat on its face, but clever raises its head high and proud, which really does make this an outstanding album. On the other hand it also makes for an absolutely fantastic doorway into discovering this highly underrated band for those unfamiliar, (shame on you if you are), a discovery that will seriously entice you back again and again.
As ever the artwork is stunning, the presentation is perfect as is the sound quality; quite frankly there are absolutely no downsides to this album whatsoever. This has just ignited a fire under the list of the great album of 2011. The band has created what I was hoping for, a very entertaining ride.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Devin Townsend Project - Deconstruction
Tracklist: Praise The Lowered (6:02), Stand (9:36), Juular (3:46), Planet Of The Apes (10:59), Sumeria (6:37), The Mighty Masturbator (16:28), Pandemic (3:29), Deconstruction (9:27), Poltergeist (4:25)
Devin Townsend Project - Ghost
Tracklist: Fly (4:15), Heart Baby (5:55), Feather (11:30), Kawaii (2:52), Ghost (6:24), Blackberry (4:53), Monsoon (4:37), Dark Matters (1:57), Texada (9:30), Seams (4:04), Infinite Ocean (8:01), As You Were (8:47)
Having teased his fans about the content of these albums for over a year, the ever prolific Devin Townsend finally unleashes the remaining two parts of the quartet of albums released under the ‘Project’ moniker (the previous being the DPRP-recommended Ki and Addicted). Despite the well publicised extremes between these two records, there are at least some similarities – they are both very long, both capture a particular vibe and sound and stick with it pretty much for the entirety of the running time, and both could only be the work of Devin Townsend. That’s about it, though.
Deconstruction is Townsend’s ‘everything but the kitchen-sink’ record, one where he has (purposefully) shown little restraint and basically thrown a barrage of ideas against the wall to see what sticks. The promo material describes this as ‘the most deranged, complex and extreme record that Devin has ever made’. Well, aside from the fact there are several albums in his catalogue vying for this accolade, I can concur with the first two points, but this isn’t in all honesty as extreme as some of the material from his now-defunct industrial metal outfit Strapping Young Lad. It is, however, pretty intense; whilst opener Praise The Lowered takes a while to build, with its mellow vocals and trippy keyboard work, once it reaches a crescendo the album takes you by the scruff of the neck and rarely lets go. If you’re looking for a comparison within his oeuvre, I’d say the closest is Ziltoid The Omniscient.
Townsend himself handles the bulk of the instrumentation, aside from the drums (shared between Dirk Verbeuren and DT regular Ryan van Poederooyen), although he also involves the great and the good from the metal world in a guest capacity; the likes of Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth), Ihsahn, Greg Puciato (Dillinger Escape Plan) and Floor Jansen all contribute vocals, whilst Fredrik Thordendal (Meshuggah) plays guitar on a track. Make no mistake, though, this is no Ayreon album – it’s Townsend’s show all the way.
Song-wise, I’d have to say that aside from perhaps Planet Of The Apes (the most successful of the longer songs) and the crazy, metalled-up polka of Juular, there’s nothing here that stands out particularly on an individual basis as being of the calibre of his best work. The likes of The Mighty Masturbator and Deconstruction contain some strong material, but they’re also wildly inconsistent and show Devin at his wackiest, with plenty of his trademark humour (and, on the latter, the prominent use of the sound of, erm, bodily functions). I’m sure Townsend would argue that such excess was the point of the record, but towards the end I must admit my attention was wavering quite a bit and it was a bit of a relief when it finished. Ultimately this album achieves what it set out to do but is a little much to take in one sitting.
Ghost operates at the opposite end of Townsend’s musical spectrum. Mellower and more tranquil than even Ki, this release treads the fine line between new age and light, atmospheric rock, basking in a chilled and ethereal vibe that wraps itself around the album. Joining Townsend this time is keyboardist Dave Young (who played on Ki), drummer Mike St Jean and flautist Kat Epple.
Opener Fly is one of the most successful exponents of this relaxed but slightly melancholy style, the flute and (presumably keyboard generated) pan pipes, gently strummed acoustic and lightly brushed drums forming a lush carpet of sound on to which Townsend’s voice at its most fragile and tender is projected. Elsewhere, there’s some minor experimentation within the basic remit of the album; the title track, with its shuffling rhythms, has a vague country music feel, whilst Blackberry, with its sound of chirping crickets and use of banjo brings a tinge of bluegrass to proceedings. The latter song, with its beautiful close harmonies, is one of the standouts on the CD.
As with Deconstruction, many of these songs are lengthy; the most successful of these is Feather, which has a slightly more epic feel than many of the other songs, with some intricate guitar work and layered vocals. Having said that, like much of the material here not that much actually happens; rather, it’s a song to immerse yourself in. I do feel that some of the other tracks, such as Texada and As You Were, could have been cut down to a more manageable length without really losing anything. Ultimately, Ghost is certainly a beautiful record with some exquisite moments, but as a whole it doesn’t resonate with me the way that Ki did, and lacks the stylistic variety of that record.
In conclusion, whilst both these albums have their flaws, and I’d rate them some way down the pecking order in terms of my favourite releases from Mr Townsend, they are nonetheless worthy additions to the catalogue of one of the most unique talents in modern rock. Devin has already announced plans for a new work, entitled Epicloud, and I’m certainly intrigued to see what he comes up with next.
Deconstruction: 7 out of 10
Ghost: 7.5 out of 10
Sun Domingo - Songs For End Times
Tracklist: The Last Sunrise (2:14), Bound By These Rings (4:42), For Only You [with Adrian Belew] (5:42), Anymore (3:06), It's Happening Now (4:54), Mad Maze [with John Wesley] (5:33), Call (0:59), Till Then We Wait [with Steve Hogarth] (5:26), Find A Way Out (4:28), Meditation (2:57), Love Is All Around You [with Bruce Soord] (3:03), It's Happening Now [acoustic] (4:00)
Sun Domingo are an Atlanta-based power trio, featuring Jason Pomar (lead vocals, bass), Edgel Groves Jr. (guitar, vocals) and Nathan Lathouse (drums, vocals), who were formed way back in 2004. The group members met while at school and have previously released two live albums and an EP. Songs For End Times is their debut studio album and features some pretty heavyweight guest musicians considering their relatively low profile. But I suppose it is simply a matter of contacts: Sun Domingo supported The Pineapple Thief hence the connection with Bruce Soord, who also produced the album, and one of the group's live albums was recorded at the 2009 Montreal Marillion Weekend which explains the Hogarth and Wesley (who also performed at that convention) connections. Indeed, Marillion were so impressed by the group and their performances in Montreal that they released the highlights on their own Racket Records, despite a similar set list to the previous live album released a year before. As for Adrian Belew, well he seems to turn up at quite unexpected places!
Instrumental opener The Last Sunrise is an intriguing way to set the ball rolling being more a collection of guitar-derived effects than any structured composition but it does increase the anticipation for opening song Bound By These Rings. Starting with a prominent drum beat the song develops into a glorious upbeat number with an excellent chorus. For a trio the sound is very full and Pomar has a very smooth and commanding voice. Very impressive opening all round, I'll even forgive the early U2 guitar flourish. Belew's contribution to For Only You seems to be the more angular and ethereal guitar parts that frequent the background of this song which starts of as though it will be a ballad but mutates into a more ominous piece replete with all sorts of different moods and atmospheres. Cleverly assembled, it is an intriguing number. The volume knobs are tweaked to the right for Anymore, a heavier number all round, tethered to the ground by the lush vocals but almost breaking free during the original sounding guitar solo. In contrast, It's Happening Now is based on acoustic guitars and has an air of grandiose splendour. Keyboards (not sure who plays them as the CD was supplied with no artwork) add in faux strings and even a brief penny whistle solo. The song builds with the addition of electric guitars that soar quite majestically. Certainly an epic in the making! On the review copy of the album DPRP received, an acoustic version of the song was included as a bonus track. There is more emphasis on the dual vocals and acoustic guitar, yet the song retains its grandeur and works very well in this stripped down format.
Mad Maze, a song originally included on the 2010 Piece EP, is given a makeover with John Wesley adding extra instrumental clout to an already impressive instrumental that features all of the musicians playing out of their skins. Pomar includes some impressive bass runs and Lathouse adds some interesting fills to keep things moving at an often frantic pace. Marvellous stuff. The very brief Call is more guitar noodling but provides a break before heading into Till Then We Wait with the unmistakable voice of Steve Hogarth adding to the vocal delivery at pertinent points. A rather flatter number with less of the dynamics of previous tracks it still possesses a presence that drives itself into the brain. Find A Way Out is somewhat out of character with the rest of the album, being lighter and less intense. It could be a totally different band as the style of song is very different and not one I found all that enjoyable, particularly compared with the rest of the album. Best that can be said is that it was a bold experiment in trying something new but an experiment, for me at least, that failed. Back on more solid ground, Meditation is a delightful layered acoustic guitar piece with washes of keyboards in the background. Final song Love Is All Around You features producer and chief pineapple stealer Bruce Soord in an unidentified capacity. Strange choice for a closing number, lots happening in the instrumental backing with Pomar delivering his vocal lines in a manner owing a lot to David Sylvian. Another more experimental number but this time the results are all together more successful.
So what conclusions can be drawn from this debut studio album? It is obvious that the live honing of the majority of the songs has worked in favour for the band as they are, for the most part, tight, well arranged and contain some interesting ideas. The instrumental pieces work well with Mad Maze in particular being an accomplished piece of musicianship. With one notable exception the album is well realised with plenty of interesting moments and of a general high quality.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Amity In Fame – Through
Tracklist: Good Night And Shut Up (4:23), When It Comes To The End (5:12), Shine (4:43), Saint (2:03), Cyranoia (5:22), Mirrordrops (3:15), The Kraken (5:12), Through (4:57), Burning The Witch (4:59), The Villian (3:28), World Is In (2:05)
Released in July 2008, Amity In Fame produced their debut album Dinner For within just two months of forming and although it was assembled on a shoe string budget it proved to be hugely popular, particularly with the download crowd. With a gap of three years they’ve taken a bit more time with the follow-up Through with production values in particular marking a huge leap forward for this Austrian quintet. For the record they are Michael Bichler (vocals), Filip Hörschläger (guitar, vocals), Roman Mayrhofer (bass), Alex Zaus (keyboards, vocals) and Willy Wöss (drums).
Whilst under normal circumstances the band could easily be labelled heavy rock or even power metal, they pull the rug from underneath that description with the dominant use of acoustic guitars. The opening song Good Night And Shut Up is a perfect example. The tranquil opening is very atmospheric with double tracked acoustic rhythm guitars underpinning the classical lead, however even when they suddenly crank up the volume acoustic guitars chug away powerfully under Bichler’s passionate vocals. Whilst the combination of hard hitting lines like “Why not just shut the f**k up” and acoustic instrumentation may seem a tad incongruous it gels surprisingly well. Full marks here for the production work of Vlad Avy and guitarist Hörschläger for ensuring a crisp and muscular sound throughout.
Electric guitars are not completely absent from the proceedings as in the delightful When It Comes To The End which adds more variety to the mix with female vocals and lyrics from guest Judith Scheweder joining Bichler for a bittersweet duet. There is also a very fine and moody electric solo to liven up the finale of Shine.
For me however the band is perhaps at their best when they slow things down a little and display a lighter touch. The haunting The Villian and appropriately the catchy title song Through both stand out in this category. In the latter guitars ring loud and proud against a backdrop of keys strings with Bichler providing his most thoughtful vocal thus far.
To hear the band at their most fast and furious however look no further than the aptly titled The Kraken where the staccato arrangement adds just the right level of urgency to the melodramatic vocal melody. Whilst the band sound deadly earnest throughout, they still manage to introduction a hint of humour with the sound of a microwave being turned on at the start of the otherwise acidic Burning The Witch.
With this release Amity In Fame redefine the term ‘unplugged’. Think of a power metal band temporarily trading in their electric instruments for acoustic and you have a vague idea of what to expect. I say vague because for the most part this is a unique listening experience (notice the absence of comparisons with other bands in this review). It also comes housed in a stylish digi-pack sleeve making this a very classy (musically and presentation wise) package indeed.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Lars Boutrup’s Music For Keyboards – The Symphonic Dream
Tracklist: June (8:08), Secrets Behind The Curtain (7:50), The Symphonic Dream (8:56), Space Peace (4:06), Thanks For Everything (5:19), A Song For John (3:55), Eddy Will Not Be Ready (6:55), The Black Event (8:02)
A project with a name like Lars Boutrup’s Music For Keyboards has a name that is self-explanatory with respect to the predominant musical instrument. But the music of the Danish keyboard whiz’s outfit incorporates much more, namely bass and drums. Good things come in threes, and this trio (bass duties are handled on various tracks by two different bassists) serves up a sugary, symphonic concoction of instrumental prog across the CD’s eight tracks on the group’s sophomore effort, appropriately entitled The Symphonic Dream.
Boutrup, on keyboards, organ and synthesizers, is joined by returning drummer and percussionist Fredrik Sunesen and newcomers on bass Niels W. Knudsen (Xcentrik) and Andreas S. Jensen (Funktuary). Boutrup himself has recorded and toured with no less than a dozen bands since his time as a teenager in the late seventies, and has interestingly also done music composition and performance to over 200 silent films screened in Sweden and Denmark. His experience shines on The Symphonic Dream, and it’s not just symphonic we’re dealing with as an influence here. Whether by accident or design, Eddie Jobson’s “industrial prog” template laid out in the UKZ track Radiation makes appearances on a few tracks of The Symphonic Dream with respect to the dark orchestral style keyboards and the often machine-like drumming elements.
This is evident to a point on the unique title track, which showcases recurring tsunamis of drumming from Sunesen, choral synthesizer elements from Boutrup evoking Tangerine Dream, and stabs of bass from Knudsen.
A few other tracks on the CD evoke German prog project Mind Movie, such as Thanks For Everything which spotlights pendulum swings of bass from Jensen, some synthesizer runs from Boutrup evoking The Alan Parsons Project and freewheeling drumming from Sunesen.
Eddy Will Not Be Ready is another Mind Movie-like tune starting with a Prokofiev-esque feel and digital string keyboards from Boutrup, all giving way to a techno-rock dance beat flavoured by shimmering ribbons of synthesizer and fortified by the drumming of Sunesen, the whole shebang pointing to the Vozero trilogy era of Phil Manzanera as a commonality.
Overall the CD is not unlike the solo work of Erik Norlander, but without Norlander’s often used minor key arrangements.
You can check out samples of music from the CD, as well as some samples of Boutrup’s other work, by hitting up the link above.
The four-way foldout CD booklet is colourful and professionally done, featuring a panoramic ocean photograph in the foldout as well as track listing on the back face and credits.
This CD will appeal mostly to fans of keyboard driven instrumental prog. Those lyrically oriented purveyors will have to choose something else for their next karaoke night.
I would say that the main area of improvement or opportunity for Boutrup with his next release is to compose his tracks with stronger endings, as many of the tunes on The Symphonic Dream end in drumless almost ambient sections and come across as weaker than their respective intros. So my rating comes in half a point under recommended.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Searching For Calm – Celestial Greetings
Tracklist: Screens (4:36), The Fall (4:56), Hollow (2:28), Transformation (5:54), The Eyes (4:51), Once In A Lifetime (3:26), Airs And Graces (3:53), Celestial (6:59), Splendid View (4:38), Sorcerer (4:23), Consensus (6:21)
This is Polish quintet Searching For Calm’s second album, the line-up being: Piotr Gruenpeter – bass, Bartosz Lichotap – drums, Michal Augustyn – guitar, Michal Maslak – vocals & guitar and Jakub Basek - bass. Their self-titled debut was released in 2007 and what we’ve got here is an album that will appeal to those who like the noisier end of the progressive rock spectrum. Bands such as Dillinger Escape Plan and Mars Volta are name-checked on the internet, and in other reviews.
Now, I’ve played this in the car quite a bit, as I decided whether there was anything for readers of this site to groove on down to. I’ve tried it on all my ‘listening platforms’ and think I’ve got to the bottom of this. Get beyond the first track, and you’ll discover a good album, that quite a few of you will like.
It kicks off with some shouting, and a post-punk riff, which I must admit put me off somewhat. It then passes through punky/funky territory. And has some outstanding bass guitar playing.
A Tool and A Perfect Circle (Tool-lite) vibe is present throughout the rest of the record, with altogether more tuneful singing, and emo-vocal harmonising. Again, the bass playing is splendid. There’s a bit of Dirt Jake Replicas (RIP) kicking around too.
It’s very much reminiscent of a lot of those ‘punk played by people who can play their instruments’ bands, and is highly tuneful and melodic in places, driven by the angst of youth, as these talented musicians give vent to their muse. Fans of (very) early U2, The Stranglers, XTC and At The Drive In (Mars Volta’s earlier, punkier incarnation). It’s not, though, complex enough, layered enough, or good enough to be compared to Mars Volta.
The Eyes is perhaps my favourite track, as it combines all the above influences, of which I am enamoured, into a lovely quiet/loud anthem that I bet sounds absolutely stupendous live.
Speaking of punk played by good musicians, there’s a very, very good cover of Once In A Lifetime by Talking Heads.
Unfortunately Airs And Graces sees us returning to shouting, of which I am not enamoured. I get enough of that at home. The musicianship is so good, it seems a shame to spoil it with all the shouty stuff. And yes, I realise I have just become my dad.
Once, listening to Some Enchanted Evening by Blue Oyster Cult, admittedly at quite a loud volume my dad expressed some displeasure, and mum shouted upstairs ‘I’ve heard better at the Pile Bar’. Which, for the uninitiated, was a Working Men’s Club in Bradford (now an Asian food supermarket), that used to have ‘turns’ of a weekend, sad, lonely people with too much make-up, socks down their pants/bras and little to no talent, singing along to backing tracks, X-Factor wannabes a long, long time, before Simon Cowell and his ilk.
I guess my point is that music is generational, and we like stuff our parents hate. Not that I hate this, far from it. It’s just a bit, too, angry for me.
So, there we have it. Fans of certain bands will like this. I like it. It’s good, an enjoyable album that whilst not consistently brilliant it sure does have some good moments.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Novus Rex - Plowshares Into Swords
Tracklist: Look! It's Coming (7:45), Old World News (8:22), Truth Seeker (9:48), Beltheshazzar's Dream (8:10), Plowshares Into Swords (10:15), Locust Swarm (4:31)
Novus Rex is the brain child of J.R. Fernandez who plays the keyboards, guitars, bass and vocals. Joining him on this album is drummer Scott Rockenfield and the late Anthony Davis who provides the vocals on some of the tracks. The music on Plowshares Into Swords is old fashion jazz fusion with a main spot for the keyboards, which Fernandez himself calls it a cross between Derek Sherinian and Pink Floyd.
The opening tunes clearly tell us that Novus Rex is keyboard orientated and very Vangelis like. Look! It's Coming has a very long intro and the first half of the song is, to my mind, an intro. The sound is then completely dominated by thick dark keyboards, in which the vocals of Anthony Davis do not really come out that good. A bit too thin and not in line with the heavy keyboard sounds. Old World News starts with a bit more guitar, which after a while the pace goes up and the heavy keyboards dominate again. The sound is not bad, but every time I listen I get the feeling it could have been so much more if he had stuck to keyboards and to instrumental tracks, because the vocals are not good enough. The vocal lines are way too easy and soulless. Truth Seeker opens with piano and stays strong until the guitar steps in immediately followed by those darn vocals again. The second part of the track is back with the piano and organ sounds and that is clearly what is best about Novus Rex.
Beltheshazzar's Dream is an instrumental track with a galloping rhythm and this is were Fernandez is doing the right thing, hammering on the keys from one tune to another one and not giving a second of easy listening, full attention needed. On Plowshares Into Swords the balance between guitar and keyboard is a bit better. I know I really do not need to say this again but the vocal lines are the downside to this song. Fernandez can play beautiful music but his song writing is of too diverse a quality. And just as I want to press stop, I hear Locust Swarm, a very nice atmospheric piece of music that sounds better. Not a spectacular piece but a nice little piece of music, more balance and more soul.
J.R. Fernandez is a good musician who can certainly come up with some great keyboard tunes, but as an album Plowshares Into Swords has too many downsides. Major downside are the vocal lines that are too easy and just do not fit in. Plowshares Into Swords is mostly instrumental and on that part he scores. Novus Rex is a nice project but the whole thing is not very cohesive, the overall verdict therefore is not good enough.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10