Reviews in this issue:
- Thumpermonkey - Sleep Furiously
- Travis & Fripp - Follow
- Nosound - At The Pier [EP]
- Brainstorm - Planetfall
- Kotebel - Concerto for Piano and Electric Ensemble
- Centric Jones - The Antikythera Method
- Dodson And Fogg - Dodson And Fogg
- Status Minor - Ouroboros
- Zyler - Van Verre
- Ines - Hunting The Fox
- Ines - Eastern Dawning
Thumpermonkey - Sleep Furiously
Tracklist: When Scouts Go Bad (3:20), Direct (6:55), Wheezyboy (4:34), Deficit (6:28), The Rhetorician (3:13), Pigheart (3:40), Sleeve (5:26), Own (3:57), Toxcatl (4:40), Blackout (5:25), Quiet Earth (2:02)
Thumpermonkey, previously known as Thumpermonkey Lives!, hail from somewhere in England that has jungles...well, if there was anywhere like that in England that's where they would come from in my book. The bio on their website is somewhat uninformative, but I'm sure I read somewhere that they hail from Sarf Landan. Possibly; anyway, there's four of them on this, their sixth album in around 10 years of existence, and they use nothing more complex than guitars/bass/drums/voice to create a stompin' guitar slab-chord mutha of a record...with complex arrangements.
From those humble musical foundations the band craft a complex blend of punkish prog - think Cardiacs, Crimson and The Pixies playing tag - that bounces out of the speakers like a chimps' tea party and comes right at ya from the off with When Scouts Go Bad, a furiously paced ditty, odd time signatures to the fore and attitude aplenty, but lightened by a rich vein of pop sensibility. As for the lyrics, well, I've not a clue what Michael Woodman, founder and singer/guitarist is banging on about, but Richard Palmer-James or Adrian Belew might understand. There's one great line in this song; "wait for surgeons to fill up my eyes with their stars". I love that and have no desire to know what it means, if it means anything at all. The majority of their lyrics are on the level of stream of consciousness, Direct even contains the line "Thank god I don't have the words for this", and that's fine and dandy with me. Not to say they can't write a proper song, Sleeve, Own and Blackout being fine cases in point, tales of break up, regret and self-loathing. In fact Own is fast becoming my favourite song on the album and strangely enough it's also probably the most straightforward musically, evoking a world-weary melancholia that pervades the last part of the album after the adrenaline-fuelled songs from earlier. Toxcatl comes over like an Anglo-Mars Volta in a reflective mood, and takes us to some rather dark places.
You see this band are prog, but not in a cosy by-rote fashion, oh no. They demand that you pay attention. As the band has been going for a decade they charge through their weird but highly enjoyable repertoire of manic high energy songs like a rocket-fuelled rollercoaster in the sky; hang on, or you'll fall off. The Rhetorician calms things down and even manages to sound like Robert Wyatt, add that to the mix! A lovely song indeed.
Why haven't I heard of this band before? They're the kind of thing that should be delighting punters at UK prog festivals; they would sure inject some new life into that sometimes inward-looking scene, no question. Along with the Diagonal, Guapo, X-TG and a few others Thumpermonkey shows the world that the U.K. progressive scene is not just the preserve of safe AOR, nice as it maybe. Steve Davis, snooker player of some repute and well known avant-prog fan reckons this is one of his favourite albums of last year, and his radio show is where I picked up on this little gem. I have to say I agree with him.
This is a joyous charge through avant-punk-prog songwriting, and for me it ticks all the right boxes. Not only that, but although certainly left-field, there is nothing here that would scare off anyone with a desire for hearing something new. If you possess even a modicum of a spirit of adventure I cannot fail to see why you would not take to Sleep Furiously, if not instantly then certainly after the second and subsequent listens. Sometimes we should try just that little bit harder.
The band's early albums are on Bandcamp for free and are all well worth your time if you like energetic and clever songwriting.
Some of the above may occasionally be grammatically correct but could also be nonsensical, unlike this album, which is also anything but colourless or green, but on the other hand it definitely IS crammed full of ideas. Chomp! Chomp! Chomp!...Nom, Nom, Nom...I'll get me coat...
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Travis & Fripp - Follow
CD: Soaring and Gliding (8:54), Dark Clouds (7:14), When The Rains Fall (10:04), Hear Our Voices (2:49), 1979 (7:35), Open Land (6:28), Return to Saturn (6:50), Rotary Symmetrical (4:18), So There (4:24)
Audio Content: The album in 24 bit high definition stereo and DTS and MLP (lossless) 5.1 surround sound; Bonus tracks: Forgotten Days (3:22), Vivid 17 (7:44) 1979 (alt. edit) (8:52) Video content: Travis & Fripp Live in Cornwall, 29/30 October, 2010 (The Power To Believe/Pastorale, When the Rains Fall, Blue Calm, Rotary Symmetrical)
In the past few years, while King Crimson were put on indefinite hold, Robert Fripp has continued making and releasing music. However, after his announcement of August 2012 concerning his retirement from the music business, Follow may very well be the last album that bears his name. It marks his third recording collaboration with flutist/saxophonist Theo Travis, known to progressive rock fans for his work with, among many others, Gong, The Tangent, Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson (with whom he will be touring again in 2013), as well as his solo output. Recorded between 2010 and 2011, the album comes with a 100-minute DVD that, besides a 5.1 surround sound version, includes three bonus tracks and a video of the two artists performing in two churches located in the beautiful English county of Cornwall - All Saints' Church in Falmouth (29th October, 2010) and St Peter's Church in Newlyn (30th October of the same year).
Not surprisingly for anyone familiar with both musicians' careers, Follow thrives on ambiance and texture, and is subtle rather than direct. Travis and Fripp skilfully deploy their full arsenal of soundscaping effects - Fripp's trademark Frippertronics and Travis' own system, called Ambitronics - as well as their more traditional instruments, to create what feels like a continuum of sound. With the acoustic, the electric and the electronic components admirably balanced, nods to modern classical music can be heard throughout the album, while the rock element clearly takes a back seat. In fact, the only track that clearly spells "rock" - down to the presence of neat, tambourine-like percussion - is closing track So There, a funky workout in which Fripp's sharp-edged riffs spar with Travis' energetic sax bursts. Fripp's rock side also emerges in the heavy, distorted chords of the spacey Rotary Symmetrical, though the bulk of his "lead" guitar parts on Follow are meant as atmosphere-building rather than as injections of energy.
With the exception of the two above-mentioned tracks - strategically placed at the end - the rest of the album shares the same hypnotic, rarefied quality. Interestingly, and quite fittingly for an album of this nature, the first three tracks pay homage to the element of air. In opener Soaring and Gliding, the instruments do what the title suggests, in a slow, measured manner that put me in mind of 20th-century composers such as Debussy (especially as regards the role of the flute), then gradually gains momentum, with sax and guitar interweaving and occasionally clashing. In another perfect sonic rendition of its title, Dark Clouds piles up layers upon layers of sound, with a slightly dissonant quality and a church-like solemnity at the end. When the Rains Fall introduces a more upbeat note, a combination of majestic sound waves and flute bursts evoking the titular rainfall, and Fripp's guitar emerging sparsely before the end. The short, pastoral interlude of Hear Our Voices, with its multitracked flutes, leads into 1979, based on an original Fripp composition dating back from the titular year; characterized at first by a jangly, almost metallic guitar tone and insistent flute, it gradually turns mellower and more sedate, peeling away at the manys sound layers. The low-key Return to Saturn, on the other hand, features a rare appearance of the saxophone, its mournful voice adding to the sober mood of the piece.
Those who set great store by sound quality will appreciate being able to listen to Follow the way it was originally conceived - in pristine 5.1 surround sound, mixed and mastered by Steven Wilson. The three bonus tracks - very much in keeping with the elegantly descriptive, rarefied mood of the main album - include two previously unreleased ones and an alternative edit of 1979. The video section, on the other hand, will prove a real treat to fans of both artists, with its stripped-down rendition of King Crimson's The Power to Believe blending into Pastorale (from the 2007 Thread album), as well as Blue Calm (from 2009's Live at Coventry Cathedral) complemented by the austere yet stately surroundings of the two medieval-inspired churches.
Though those who are used to the emphasis on melody and explicit diversity of more mainstream-oriented efforts might find Follow somewhat on the monotonous side, it should be remembered that this is an album that pursues a different mode of expression than "traditional" progressive rock. The rather sombre, yet extremely beautiful cover photography, with its uncanny pictorial quality, fits the music perfectly and rounds out a package that will have an obvious appeal to followers of both artists' work in the field of ambient/experimental music. Fans of King Crimson or Porcupine Tree will also appreciate the subtle reminders of both bands' more atmospheric output. Needless to say, Follow is not the kind of effort that will capture the listener's attention from the get-go, but rather a work of muted light and shade. According to your personal preferences, it may feel like a thing of beauty or a rather frustrating slog; it also needs to be heard in the right circumstances, or else it may fade into the role of "sonic wallpaper". In any case, the album is highly recommended to those who are seeking a respite from the often contrived intricacies of far too much conventional prog.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Nosound - At The Pier [EP]
Tracklist: A New Start (5:22), The Anger Song (4:17), Two Monkeys (5:48)
For all those who have read the DPRP reviews for a quite some time it will be no surprise when I say that I like the music of Nosound very much. I favorably reviewed Lightdark(2008) and A Sense of Loss (2009). What I liked about the music was its highly emotional nature; the longing and the despair paired with excellent musicianship and great songwriting. Both albums got a recommended rating and I said that Nosound's Giancarlo Erra was a big talent in modern progressive rock music. However, after the release of A Sense of Loss things started to get a bit quiet. They did release a live album in 2011 called The Northern Religion of Things and re-release debut album Sol29 but that was it. Now it seems that Giancarlo Erra needed the time to "plan" where to go next with band. I believe he felt that A Sense of Loss felt like the conclusion of a chapter. Two members of Nosound left the band and now right at the end of 2012 the band release a new EP, At the Pier, with a new album to be released around April 2013. Now when a band says that things are going to be different it's always a bit tense waiting to hear what this change will be. After listening to the new EP I can safely say that the changes are there but the Nosound of before is still very much in place.
The most important change that can be heard is the drumming of Chris Maitland. This former Porcupine Tree drummer, who also played with Kino, No man, Guilt Machine and Blackfield, adds a lot of dynamics to the Nosound. Not a drummer who just plays what he's told he really adds new dimensions to the music with his wonderful playing. Although personally I find his cymbal work at the end of opening track A new Start a bit too enthusiastic. It's a beautiful song though with Erra's longing voice and wonderful guitar soloing. Another change that can be heard is that the songs sound like they have been recorded more loosely, nonchalantly if you like, especially The Anger Song. Less constructed with wide washes of guitars at the end. Two Monkeys also has that sound. Piano, an atmospheric minimal string arrangement (another addition to the musical palette) and the beautiful, haunting cello of Marianne de Chastelaine (who is luckily still part of the sound) are all accompanying Erra's voice. It's a mesmerizing track that I believe is a nostalgic tale of things that aren't there anymore. It's a strong closing track that leaves you longing for more.
But as I said the changes are slight adjustments and after hearing these three tracks I am very much looking forward to the new album, Afterthoughts, that will be released in April 2013. This EP is a beautiful little teaser that proves that although a lot has happened in the Nosound camp they've returned stronger than ever!
Conclusion: Not Rated (But Recommended)
Brainstorm - Planetfall
Tracklist: Fortress First World (9:30), Ballad of Mary McKillop (6:47), Green Zone (6:00), Thirty Grand a Second (3:30), Cyren Call (15:56), Just Another Morning (2:55), Intelligent Design (10:25), Nothing to Fear (6:46), Breakin' Out (7:06), Planetfall (4:15), Forest Reason (5:05)
What are you listening to?
What are you listening to?
Oh, erm Brainstorm's Planetfall.
Is it any good?
Is it any good?
Take a listen for yourself....
Australian prog rock band Brainstorm has recorded their fifth album and it's rather thought provoking. It is an amalgamation of music that takes reference from Pink Floyd with large incursions of music that is associated with Jam Bands. The band have cleverly put their own twist on it, coming up with a modern sound that still has a retro feel to it, something that gives the whole album its personality. As an album one would be more than happy to let others indulge with the knowledge that they wouldn't be skipping any tracks and more importantly, as a thinking man's album you would be left with a forum to discuss, maybe not so much musically despite the music being rather compelling and intriguing, but lyrically this is an album that will reach into the depths of your soul, making you question what you hear.
In the opening segment of this review I quoted the lyrics form Thirty Grand a Second, which as one can see has a hard hitting message and will reinforce the previous statement. Green Zone is an instrumental that proceeds Thirty Grand a Second, the perfect sparring partner (watch the hard hitting and powerful video on YouTube); an instrumental that is dedicated to the armchair warrior and violent video gamer, that succinctly states, with its visuals, that there is nothing good about war and that there is no such thing as bad ass fire fights.
Fortress Free World, the opening track, is no less afraid of showing its hand either, a song about refugees who live in perpetual fear with ethnic differences, under no law where death and violence rules. The Ballad of Mary McKillop intelligently questions the integrity of the Catholic Church and its hypocrisy, canonisation and turning a blind eye to the unforgiveable and heinous crimes committed in the name of God. The sound of innocent children's voices that rise to a scream before being brought to an abrupt silence will send shivers down your spine, leaving you feeling cold and lonely inside. This really has to be one if not the darkest song I have ever heard. I could carry on making statements about each song, but not for the want of making this review, or for that matter Brainstorm, a political statement, although I'm sure they wouldn't mind, there is more to the album. These comments just give you a flavouring of what to expect throughout.
The real highlights here are the prog inflected Fortress Free World, The Ballad of Mary McKillop, Cyren Call and Intelligent Design. At times the lyrical content does outshine the music, music that is intricate, melodic, challenging and entertaining, but that isn't always a bad thing as it adds another dimension. That isn't to say that there is anything wrong with the rest of the album, far from it, as it seriously is one of the best albums I have heard for a long time, an album that has something to say that is coherent, worth listening too and as I say, intelligent.
This is an album that has managed to capture the emotion of music and lyrical prose perfectly. Pink Floyd's The Final Cut was the last real album that did this for. Brainstorm's Planetfall has just been added to that list.
In reality, the band haven't been afraid to comment on their social observations, I guess very much like Midnight Oil did, although I must admit Brainstorm do it much better, creating varying soundstages that emanate from the speakers and will pull you in, keeping you hanging for the next musical notation and lyrical deliverance.
Just to go back to the other opening statement I made about what I was listening to; four other individuals joined me in listening to the album, silently, which led to us discussing some of the topics covered. Such is the power of this stunning album.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Kotebel - Concerto for Piano and Electric Ensemble
Concerto for Piano and Electric Ensemble; Allegro Meastoso (12:03), Lento Cantabile (7:17), Vivo Scherzando (9:27), Allegro Moderato (14:27), The Flight of the Hippogrif (1) (4:59), Dance of Shiva (7:02), The Flight of the Hippogrif (2) (4:42)
Bonus track: The Infant (7:11)
Concerto for Piano and Electric Ensemble all 4 parts, the making of
Progressive rock from Spain or better still Art rock, this time around Kotebel have gone beyond previous limits to produce an album that is a crossover between rock and classical music, at least that is what the album title suggests. Ever since their previous release, Ourobouros, in 2009 they have established themselves as an instrumental band. Opinions differ as to whether this was a good choice or not. Like always this is just a matter of taste.
It has taken Kotebel three years to come up with this album and it has been worth the wait in my humble opinion.
This album is not like similar projects have not been done, such as the 1969 Concerto for Group and Orchestra album by Jon Lord and Deep Purple which was updated by Jon last year. The difference is that this is not a group and orchestra performing the compositions. No, it's just a classical piano and a group performing. Carlos Plaza as the lead man in Kotebel has taken all the effort in writing a piece of music suitable for solo piano and a group. His daughter Adriana is the lead player in the four pieces of the concerto playing the piano, Carlos himself playing the additional keyboards.
Adriana appears to be very capable of leading through such a long piece of classical meets rock piece of music, interacting with keyboards and guitar played by Cesar. In the meantime the rhythmic section maintains a firm and steady pace whenever needed, sections of nearly acoustic playing alternated with electric parts.
Classical music entwined with rock can sometimes become boring when the parts are spun out too long. Although I must admit that some sections are rather long I never had a dull moment of listening to the album. The additional tracks, Flight of the Hippogrif parts 1 and 2, stick with me more. These tunes are a bit more rocking and jazzy at the same time, with some nice additional keyboard sounds, a thriving bass guitar and the use of saxes to complete the song. Jaime really is an excellent bass player, adequately using his bass to high standards. To complete the musicians picture, the drumming and percussion is played by the ever steady and excellent Carlos.
This brings me to conclude that the changes Kotebel have made in their musical style have turned out to be quite pleasant and enjoyable to listen to. Kotebel always was an exceptionally gifted band musically and vocally. They now are an excellent performing instrumental band.
The Bonus DVD consists of the concerto as a 4 piece concept taken into the studio where the band do a live in the studio performance of the album. There is also a making of the album feature where we see each member recording their part of the music. The DVD is nicely produced although it does not add much to the package. If you are interested in seeing how the music was produced for this album the production and also editing of the scenes is nice making the DVD a nice to have bonus to the album. Note worthy here is that the DVD itself is a flexible ECO DVD.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Centric Jones - The Antikythera Method
Tracklist: Crushed (4:24), Shadow Song (5:58), All For One (7:12), Boomer (6:09), Dream In Threes (6:45), Pyrrhic Victory (2:24), Fading Time (7:10), Morphogenic (6:24), Save Me (6:31), Then (6:04), Pulse (3:22), Antikythera Mechanism (7:03)
When I reviewed Foreign Tea, the debut offering from American project Centric Jones, I assigned it a rating of 4.5. That's halfway in between "below average: some redeeming value, but not much" and "OK: a mediocre album which is interesting in parts but not consistent throughout" on the Dutch Progressive Rock Page rating system.
Centric Jones is bouncing back with their sophomore effort The Antikythera Method, with a well deserved higher rating coming from me at the end of this review. The style of music on their new release is less abrasive, dark and cloudy than the Foreign Tea stuff. A brighter ambience here opens up the sonic skies, pointing to Enya, Mask, and the material on Judy Dyble's Enchanted Garden album. The new songs are also somewhat longer and stretched out, eschewing the tightness of the earlier Foreign Tea material.
Foreign Tea collaborators Chris Fournier and Tobe London form the core of the project once again, with Fournier playing keyboards, bass, guitars and drums. London handles drums, drum programming and keyboards. Rhode Islander Steve Unruh plays violin on one track.
The dozen tracks on the album are comprised of original instrumental and vocal tracks, rounded out by a Yes cover. The vocal tracks are sung courtesy of Laurie Larson and Tessa Anderson. Lyrics are contributed by Mark Horchler, Martyn Bliss, Larson, Anderson, and London.
On the opening song, Crushed, originally written by Fournier in 1999, Unruh's violin disturbs, soars, and stings, underpinning foreboding yet melodic guitar from Fournier. Larson's strong vocals are not unlike that of Sonja Cristina, with mellotron style keyboards from Fournier giving way to some weary, questioning drumming from London sounding like a drum and bugle corps that is unsure where to march. Swirling keyboards from Fournier stretch in echoes of space.
Fournier wields the mellotron influence again on Morphogenic, and on this he also gives London a break from the drum kit. A cursory glance at the songs's lyrics in the CD booklet shows a structured lyric framework courtesy of Bliss and in sharp contrast to the looser lyric structure of Shadow Song. And Morphogenic is delivered to us once again via the vocals of Larson.
Morphogenic tracks into Save Me, a tune somewhat recalling ELO in Fournier's utilization of some bubbly keyboards while his guitar soars across emotive ranges into commanding leads. London's groove goes from jazzy to monstrous to smooth.
The aforementioned Shadow Song offers up confident drumming from London, uplifting choral vocals from Larson and howling guitar from Fournier like that last hyena trying to escape from the zoo. His keyboards go from up and down to choral and some stabs of bass from Fournier get into the picture to once again draw upon Relayer-era Yes as an influence, as was frequently done on Foreign Tea. Fournier's keyboards take on a spacey strength while London nudges things along with his drumming.
And speaking of Yes, fans of that band may dig the cover of Then, with an industrial heaviness underpinning London's snare and Fournier's bouncy organ style keyboards. We get a new take on the tune with the female vocals from Larsen, and her singing sounds quite at home here.
Fournier as always is a skilled multi-instrumentalist, equally comfortable with guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. London has a versatility that covers a lot of ground, and the production of his drumming on this CD is somewhat more crystalline. This Centric Jones release will appeal most likely to fans of keyboard heavy, ambient influenced music. Purveyors of mainstream pop are advised to look elsewhere.
Returning artwork man Theirry Guilleminot's booklet and tray inlay are lush and vivid, with generous hues of green and purple, two of my favorite colors. The booklet has a track listing, credits, lyrics, and various quotes from Fournier and London on each track. Here's what London has to say on Crushed:
So it appears as though Centric Jones have settled into a pretty good groove with The Antikythera Method. Not a masterpiece, but certainly deserving of a recommended rating.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Dodson And Fogg - Dodson And Fogg
I'm sure Dodson And Fogg will be as an unfamiliar name to you as it was to me prior to receiving this album. Although listening to this self-titled release I might easily have been convinced that this was a missing gem originating from the latter part of the 60's or perhaps the dawn of the 70's. But not so as this new recording comes from the pen of singer song-writer, multi-instrumentalist Chris Wade (vocals, guitar, ukulele, bass, keyboards, flute and bongos). For his debut album Chris has enlisted an impressive cast of guest musicians including vocal contributions Celia Humphris (Trees) and Judy Dyble (Fairport Convention). Nik Turner (Hawkwind) supplies some delightful flute, whilst Kzrysztof Juzskiewicz (Skin Alley) plays accordion. Violinist Alice White and cellist Ellie Davies complete the line-up on Dodson And Fogg.
Introductions concluded, time to take a look at the music from the album. Oddly enough a few days prior to hearing Dodson And Fogg, I had been listening to the recent Esoteric Recordings' re-issue of Tír na nÓg's 1971 debut. Similarities were certainly apparent to these ears, although I suspect given Chris Wade's age it's doubtful he would be aware of Messrs O'Kelly and Condell. For me though it strongly reaffirmed the 70's link and we are certainly in the singer song-writer field of that era with the likes of Donovan, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen springing to mind. Even John Lennon's voice raised its head during The Slime, a track which features Skin Alley's Krzysztof Henryk Juszkiewicz on accordion.
So far the progressive elements would appear to be a little thin on the ground, so let's now include the flute. Aha - Jethro Tull? Well not overtly, more like a subtle spice as can be detected in the Roots To Branches flavours of Just You And Me for instance. Whereas the inclusion of hand percussion (bongos) and the light airiness of Nik Turner's flute during, Endless Sky and album closer Crinkle Drive, more inclined me towards Jade Warrior. Turner also appears on Nothing At All along with our two female string players.
Chris Wade has an engaging voice and one that sits comfortably within the predominantly acoustic nature of the tracks. The guest contributions are in the main subtle additions to the music as evidenced by Celia Humphris and Judy Dyble's vocals. Sitting in as harmonies and or textures, rather than taking on the lead role. Celia Humphris is stunning during Say Goodbye, delightful in Meet Our May as are her 'answer' sections during All Day Long. Judy Dyble also offers 'answering' voices in the Charlie (Thirteen) sounding Weather Changes.
In many respects I get the impression that this is a well conceived and thought-out debut album. From the hand sketched album cover design, to the brief track lengths and overall album timing. The mix of hand percussion, acoustic guitar, somewhat dated electric guitar sound and the airy flute. Through the, again dated, analogue(y) reverbs, delays, doubled tracked vocals and production values used. All of which give a vintage psychedelic/acid folk rock vibe throughout and in turn add continuity and that touch of authenticity.
So I would suggest this fine album from Chris Wade would appeal to those readers who enjoy music that originates initially from an acoustic guitar strum and a vocal melody line, with a diverse range of elements added in as the music develops. There's a nostalgic notion throughout with, along side the mentioned comparisons, shades of early Barrett era Floyd. Chris wade cites The Kinks as an influence and certainly Ray Davies I hear.
Had this album arrived through the Esoteric Recordings label I doubt I would have questioned its origins.
Chris is already working on a follow up release Derring Do which will appear during 2013...
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Status Minor - Ouroboros
Status Minor are a progressive metal band from Finland formed by Sami Saarinen (composer & guitarist) in 2002. The other band members are Jukka Karinen (keyboards), Rolf Pilve (drums), Eero Pakkanen (bass) and Markku Kuikka (vocals), many of whom also appear with other bands. Sami started writing in the summer of 2009 and was finished by December with the album being recorded between February 2010 and January 2011. The guest vocals were added after the initial recording, followed by mixing and mastering at the end of 2011.
Ouroboros is Status Minor's second album and has a concept based around a never ending circle of love and relationships. First you meet, then you fall in love. Everything seems just great to start with, and then you start to fall out until a time comes when you don't love each other any more, the result being that you finally leave to look for another relationship and the circle then begins again.
The album opens with The Wind which introduces the main character of the circle. The Wind is a full on power progressive metal track with complex guitars mixed with keyboard interplay, fast drumming and powerful vocals. This really wakes you up and leads you into Hollow which is even heavier and has a dark edge similar to Dream Theater. Markku has a great voice and could give James LaBrie a run for his money and deserves more credit for such a fine, powerful voice. Next we have Glass Wall with its heavy riff and progressive metal guitar playing throughout. The first three tracks are heavy, impressive metal and will blow you away leaving you shattered and wondering if you are going to land back on earth.
Then along comes the beautiful power ballad Like A Dream which gives you a breather and puts you firmly back on earth with its beautiful piano intro as the love story peaks and introduces guest Anna Murphy (Eluveitie) on vocals. Markku and Anna sing of their love which seems short lived and a dream. This in fact is true as the relationship starts to go wrong from the fifth track, Confidence and Trust, a gentle ballad again starting with a nice piano intro and featuring Anna on vocals. Next we have Stain, the calm has passed and we are back into progressive metal with Rick Altzi joining as a guest giving support on backing vocals. This is followed by Smile, a full on power progressive metal with great drumming and fast guitars. One of my favourite tracks follows and in Flowers Die the final decision is made about their relationship. Flowers Die sounds like Riverside, a great song with excellent harmonies and a very good guitar solo. The final track is over 10 minutes of impressive progressive metal, the epic Sail Away being another favourite for me on the album forming a second part of Flowers Die with repeated themes in music and lyrics. The vocals from both singers are excellent, showing passion and good musicianship.
The album has shades of Metallica mixed with Dream Theater. I like both styles on the album, the heavy progressive metal and the slower ballads. The latter might be too slow and out of place for the full on metal fans but I found the ballads to be a welcome break and also fitting well into the circle concept. I found Ouroboros a good progressive metal album with top musicians and good vocals. This is a great concept album with good lyrics, be prepared to give it several plays for it to click into place but once it had I found it a really enjoyable album. Fans of power progressive metal will find lots to enjoy. I can’t comment on the CD booklet as I am reviewing a promo CD which does not come with the booklet etc.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Zylver - Van Verre
Tracklist: Utopia (4:24), Gekaapt (3:14), Stoet (2:55), Als (5:17), Foto (4:00), Controle (3:52), Rivier (5:43), Lente (5:20), Wonderman (3:40), Vrijheid (5:29), Dromen (3:57), Iets (6:05), Kaptafel (2:47), Gitaar (6:07), Zwaard (3:42), Kraag (3:29), Jij (5:54)
Back in 2008 it was my pleasure to review the excellent Scenes From The Box by Bittertown, not so much a band but the pseudonym of the very talented Dutch songwriter and musician Tom Janssen. It followed his debut album The Element Of Surprise from 2004 so it's appropriate given the same four year time span that his latest project, Zylver, should appear in 2012. The multi-instrumentalist Janssen provides guitar, keys, bass, drums and backing vocals joined on this occasion by songwriter Jan van Geerenstein, vocalist Auke Busman and guitarist Timo Somers. They are complemented by several guest musicians including guitarist Cor Mutsers and drummer Collin Leijenaar from Neal Morse's touring band.
Like its predecessor this is a concept work based logically enough on a character named Zylver but as the lyrics are in Dutch I cannot expand further (yes I know I write for the DPRP but shamefully my mastery of the language is limited to "hallo", "goedenacht" and "een bier gelieve"). This did not however distract from my overall appreciation of the music thanks to the expressive voice of singer Auke Busman who would sound good in any language and not unlike Klaus Meine of Scorpions fame. And whilst the line-up and the name may have changed, musically this album does have a similar feel to Tom Janssen's previous albums. Using melodic guitar driven mainstream rock as a foundation, it takes in several moods and tempos whilst remaining instantly accessible.
The only minor issue I have is with a total of 17 tracks clocking up a lengthy 76 minutes it can feel a tad long, potentially diluting the overall impact. As a result several track end rather abruptly, perhaps mindful of the need to cram so many songs onto the disc. This is most noticeable on the otherwise excellent Als where the soaring guitar break is cut short in mid-flight. That said there isn't one poor track on the entire album and staying the distance rewards with the final (and my favourite) track, the instrumental Jij, a stunning guitar shred fest with a ridiculously memorable hook. I'm getting ahead of myself however because this album has so much more to recommend it.
Following a deceptively gentle intro, Utopia explodes with a powerful riff driving a catchy mid-tempo song and Janssen and co are up and running. Gekaapt features heavy but incisive guitar breaks in the mould of Jimmy Page whilst the infectious Stoet augments a tuneful melody with a little touch of Middle-Eastern promise. Being one of the more proggier offerings, Als is another favourite with searing guitar work very reminiscent of Solstice's Andy Glass, superb fretless style bass from Janssen and busy but articulate drumming courtesy of the always excellent Collin Leijenaar. Foto is the first of several ballads and works well thanks to a catchy choral hook where Busman gives his emotional all. In a more restrained vein are the melancholic Lente and the lovely Kaptafel, both featuring piano with the former having a touch of Elton John about it.
Other standout songs are Rivier with its memorable ringing guitar motif and dual lead playing (ala Wishbone Ash), the impassioned Vrijheid proving there is an acceptable face to power ballads and Dromen with its lively acoustic guitar picking. Following a tranquil intro, the appropriately titled Gitaar is another strong contender for best track with guitar histrionics aplenty whilst stylish saxophone from guest Ewout Dereksen gives a Steely Dan-style polish to the penultimate Kraag. That leaves the aforementioned Jij to bring up the rear with furious guitar volleys playing fast and loose around the memorable main theme.
Special mention should go to the classy CD packaging which is in the style of a hardback book and includes a forward by writer Jan van Geerenstein together with all the lyrics (and there are lots of them). Whilst admittedly this album is a tad prog-light for the most part, with such an excellent collection of songs and superbly entertaining musicianship (especially for guitar aficionados) you really can't go far wrong.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Ines - Hunting The Fox
Tracklist: Overture (6:04), In The Distance (5:08), Water (4:04), Mother Moon (5:07), Union (Part One) (3:02), Union (Part Two) (4:06), In The Dark Of Night (10:03), The Inner Fight (5:09), Earth, Sun And Moon (4:41), Hold The Dreams (4:18), Meet Me On The Mountain (6:58), Innocent Girl (3:39), Wasteland (4:37), Hunting The Fox (5:10)
Ines - Eastern Dawning
Tracklist: Friends (5:30), Tramontl (5:51), Healing Waters (6:03), Winter (6:00), Cover Me (3:57), Lonely Child (2:27), New Age Dawn prelude (2:41), New Age Dawn (5:03), You And I (5:09), Castles On The Sand (5:08), Welcome (4:21), Eastern Dawning (3:49), Eve Of That Night (7:59)
A while ago, quite a while ago if I am to be perfectly honest, DPRP received a couple of CDs originally released in the '90s by German band Ines. We received pre-re-release promo CDs that came with no artwork or information of any kind. Although there is scant information readily available on the internet, after some diligent searching I have managed to discover a bit of information about the group. Ines was based around the talents of wife and husband Ines and Hansi Fuchs (keyboards and guitars, respectively) who were joined, at least on these two albums, by a group of respected sessions musicians (with suitable prog credentials) including vocalists Chicco Grosso, Baggi Buchmann and Harald Bareth, guitarists Chris Bianchi d'Espinosa, Klaus Meyer and Massimo Michieletto, bassist Ulbi Ulbricht and drummer Thomas Schaufler.
Drawing more on eighties prog sounds than the classic seventies template, Ines produced an array of melodic and enjoyable, if not overly complex, tunes which are not too derivative but also not outstandingly original either. The opening and keyboard lines of In The Distance are direct palimpsests of IQ it being quite clear throughout the debut album at least that Ines the keyboardist has studied the work of Martin Orford with a degree of intensity. Although keyboards are quite dominant, the band do get a chance to shine, particularly on the strong instrumental opener Overture, and there are plenty of guitar solos scattered across the songs. Of particular note is Union whose first part is an accomplished solo acoustic guitar leading into the melodic and laid back second part, marred only slightly by the somewhat unsympathetic vocal lines and rather weak ending. Generally the vocals are very good with Harald Bareth, in his first recordings since his time with Anyone's Daughter, showing his quality. The longer running time of In The Dark Of Night should give an opportunity to extol their progressive virtues although they don't utilise the opportunity to best effect, with the transition from a rather good pop/rock song to a more Genesis-inspired instrumental ending being rather undramatic and really a showing that the two halves are completely different tracks.
Compliments must be given to Schaufler as he shines throughout, with imaginative fills and a steady hand that drives when needed and supports when not. There is a bit of a mid-album lull with The Inner Fight somewhat lacking in imagination and Meet Me On The Mountain being a plain ballad, although Hold The Dreams does have its moments. The album concludes with two stronger tracks, Wasteland, which has a more Pendragon feel to it, and the moody and atmospheric title track which shows off the keyboard skills of Ines to great effect and it is quite a shame when the tracks fades out.
Two years later, the same group of musicians reunited to produce the sophomore release Eastern Dawning. Not tinkering too much with the overall sound, the album to all intents and purposes continues along the same lines as Hunting The Fox but with an overall reduction in progressive elements. Friends, after a rather undistinguished opening vocal section, has a rather nice instrumental ending and the faux strings on Tramontl sound somewhat dated but don't distract from a well arranged song with multiple layered vocal lines. Ines Fuchs' keyboards naturally still take prominence and are shown to good effect on the very good Healing Waters with Winter adding a more folky element to the band's repertoire. As on the first album there is an excellent acoustic guitar solo number, Lonely Child, which draws a degree of inspiration from the much missed Michael Hedges and, thankfully, the pair of New Age Dawn tracks don't delve into New Age music. The Prelude is mood music, atmospheric and almost cinematic in quality, with the main component being a rousing song with lots of piano, more yeuky faux strings and an anthemic chorus.
Ballad You And I is pleasant enough with the acoustic guitar and swooping keyboards, scoring extra points for the excellent playing of Schaufler which are nullified by the vocals, which for a reason I can't fathom out grates somewhat, a problem that also affects my enjoyment of Welcome. Castles In The Sand is best ignored, the album would have been better without its inclusion (less is more!), although the album does end on a positive note with the instrumental title track and finally the most progressive track Eve Of The Night.
Despite the prog credentials of some of the band members and the promising, and enjoyable, debut album, the further career of Ines was somewhat of a law of diminishing returns with the two subsequent albums, The Flow (1999) and Slipping Into The Unknown (2002), incorporating more folk and minimising progressive elements. Despite her obvious keyboard skills Ines Fuchs seems to concentrate on photography these days.
Hunting The Fox - 6 out of 10
Eastern Dawning - 4.5 out of 10