Reviews in this issue:
- Clannad - Nádúr
- simakDialog - The 6th Story
- Chris - Days Of Summer Gone
- In The Silence - A Fair Dream Gone Mad
- Fabrice Bony - Inner Lands
- Mavara - Forgotten Inside
- Mavara - Season of Salvation
- Rhys Marsh - Suspended In A Weightless Wind [EP]
Clannad - Nádúr
These are exciting times. Classic bands deciding to reunite leading to memorable concerts, like Led Zeppelin at the O2, or quite decent new albums such as Black Sabbath’s 13. Other equally classic bands like Barclay James Harvest or Renaissance never ceased to exist but took a long hiatus before recording any new material, which was then released to high acclaim. Whether these new releases were amongst their inspiration I don’t know but Clannad, the Irish national pride, follow in their footsteps and release their first new album since Landmarks 16 (!) years ago. In the meantime, lead vocalist Moya (formerly Maíre) Brennan built up a solo career consisting of several albums during which Christian-inspired lyrics slowly started to dominate. The Duggan brothers recorded an album of traditional Irish folk songs back in 2004 entitled Rubicon. None of these efforts have attracted anywhere near the audience that Clannad did.
Nádúr, the all new Clannad album, was recorded by all of the original members; the Brennan family (Moya, Ciarán and Pól) with their uncles Noel and Pádraig Duggan. They all contribute their own songs, Ciarán and Pól being the principal song writers, and all these new songs are so classically Clannad that you start to wonder why it has taken them so long to record this new album. Nádúr proves, if it were necessary, that their unique song writing ability has not deteriorated at all after all these years and that Clannad is still a unique band, blending folk and prog music.
From the first notes of Vellum you immediately recognize that you are listening to Clannad. The deep sounding double bass, the sparse percussion, the subtle guitar chords in the background, some acoustic guitar picking and the atmospheric keyboard lines supporting a haunting vocal melody sung in harmony all attribute to this recognition. Halfway through there is a keyboard eruption with backing vocals and then the song returns to the central theme ending in a keyboard outro. A convincing opener that sounds very familiar, giving way to an album that has indeed all these typical Clannad characteristics. The instrumentation is sometimes minimal, like in the a-capella sung Turas Dhómhsa chon na Galldachd, a traditional Irish ballad with a bagpipe coda. In other songs, especially in the more up-tempo ones like Rhapsody na gCrann, Brave Enough and Tobar an tSaoil, the instrumentation is more upfront but is always in support of the vocal melodies. Moya Brennan proves to be the outstanding vocalist she has always been, with a crystal clear voice fitting perfectly in with the music. The lads in the band all take their share in the background vocals while guest musician Duke Special also sings lead vocals in Brave Enough. There are no extensive solos but most of all simply beautiful musical moods.
Some songs really stand out, the first being The Fishing Blues. It is bluesy but also sounds like a country song, recorded in Nashville, with harmonica, percussion, driving acoustic guitars and banjo. It is almost joyful, an emotion quite unfamiliar within Clannad's moody and melancholic music. Although country or blues are not my cup of tea, this little song works perfectly well in all its simplicity. It took me into this totally different, joyful mood effortlessly and that's quite an achievement.
Another outstanding track is totally opposite from being joyful. Lámh ar Lámh is a stunning instrumental piece, with harp, double bass, Irish whistle, flute, piano and some sparse percussion. It sounds simple yet is so effective in creating images of rain swept marshes, wild coasts or desolate moors. And it works so well after that beautiful little blues track, it sets you back on earth again.
Song From Your Heart opens with a very nice harp intro introducing Moya's vocal lines. After a minute full scale strings come in as if a full orchestra is accompanying the band. The harp, doublebass, drums and harmony vocals remain in the foreground floating on the strings. Very tasteful!
The album closes with the Gaelic-sung Cití na gCumann, a very mellow, guitar driven ballad. It offers a resting place, a change to contemplate on what you have just heard. It is these kind of songs that make Clannad so unique. It all sounds so familiar and is so easy to digest yet there are many layers that you want to hear it over and over again. A great achievement.
The artwork is nice and appropriate, with greenish and greyish colours dominating as can be expected from a band that take their inspiration from the Irish countryside. Ireland is, after all, a friendly, spacious, clean but wet and foggy country... The liner notes by Colum McCann are complimentary as can be expected, but also very to the point. No exaggeration at all, simply stating why this band is great.
My only criticism is the absence of a lyric sheet which is a bloody shame for a band as renowned as Clannad. Their pronunciation is often not as clear as you would want to so also the English lyrics are sometimes quite hard to follow. And on top of that, most songs are in Gaelic; I think that most listeners outside Ireland will not have a clue what these lyrics are dealing with. So it would have been nice to include these, preferably with an English translation of the Gaelic words.
In terms of expectations, this is not really symphonic or prog in the 'true' sense of the word but it is most certainly symphonic in its variety of instruments, moods, images, traditions, melody as you want it to be. It's just Clannad as we have come to know them, although it is 16 years later. We've become older, the music business has changed enormously, Ireland has become quite wealthy but not anymore alas, and the sound of the Clannad voices and instruments have not changed at all. Some may find that a problem, I think it's a big relief. Good things need not to change at all. This album is everything you expect it to be and that is probably the biggest compliment you can grant it.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Clannad Live Reviews:-
|"It was magical how everybody was absolutely silent during the a-capella songs or when enjoying Moya's haunting Irish harp."|
simakDialog - The 6th Story
Formed 20 years ago in Jakarta, Indonesia by keyboard player Riza Arshad, later joined by guitarist Tohpati, simakDialog's The 6th Story is their fifth studio album, and for some reason, only the second of their releases to be reviewed on these pages, the first being their live outing from 2005, the rather splendid Patahan.
Tohpati is also involved in various other projects, most recently the noisy and febrile power trio Tohpati Bertiga, whose fabulous wave of noise Riot received my colleague Raff's endorsement on these very pages. That was a very different prospect from his main band simakDialog, who are a far more measured and considered affair. However, simakDialog are not afraid of making a spiky noise now and again, as shown by the occasional appearances of dissonant and angular passages on this record.
Eschewing the use of a traditional drum kit, the band is led on its merry groove by two Sundanese Kendang percussionists, one for each channel; Endang Ramdan (left) and Erlan Suwardana (right). This lends the jazz fusion moves an altogether different atmosphere than the usual fare from this neck of the musical woods. The Sundanese are an ethnic group native to the western part of the main Indonesian island, Java, and the Kendang is a talking drum originating from those parts. A percussion instrument of some versatility, it offers a range of sounds that express anything from hand held bongos to a drum kit's snare drum, and all points in between. Adding some colour and finishing touches to these two long-serving percussionists is newest member Cucu Kurnia on "assorted metal percussion".
Holding all this down is bass player Adhita Pratama, whose nailed-on timing is a delight to hear. Changing from a purveyor of sonorous low frequency warm sound to a growling beast, sometimes in the space of a few bars, Adhita keeps the simak ship on course with an easy panache.
The above live version of album opener Stepping In from September's Progday festival in the States shows that the interplay between the musicians is of a very high level and practically telepathic in its completeness. Although I may have implied that Tohpati is the star of this show, you can see that is not the case, as Riza's electric piano is equally forceful, and this is the case throughout the album.
The 6th Story is most definitely a team effort, and one where the whole exceeds the sum of individual parts, skilled as they are. This is at least partly down to Riza Arshad's use of gamelan composition technique, where each part is mastered separately by each player before knitting together as a whole. Each gamelan is unique in its structure and tuning, and this gives the album a sense of completeness, interlocking like a musical jigsaw puzzle.
The band have certainly developed, nay, progressed from the last album, 2009's Demi Masa, which while technically superb was sometimes a little arid. On The 6th Story there is human warmth and real emotion on display as well as more technique than most bands achieve in a lifetime.
You can spot all sorts of jazz and fusion influences in here, from Mingus and Miles, to Return To Forever, Weather Report and Tribal Tech, but this is a thoroughly up to date progressive jazz record, and simakDialog have been going long enough to have forged their own readily identifiable sound, steeped in the Indonesian ethnicity that gives it a character all its own.
The 6th Story is an album full of surprises and intricate passages, such as the way the piano and percussion speak to each other in Lain Parantina, only to be answered by a lyrically expressive guitar break, the tune ending with some hard chording in unison. On Harmologic we hear the guitar and piano, and later the bass climb a musical staircase hand in hand, quickly becoming asymmetrical and flying apart before eventually returning to the groove. These are just two examples early in the album of musical magic writ large.
After quietly buzzing around in the background on 5,6, Tohpati grabs the spotlight with a guitar break that witnesses the alien sounds made by his instrument spin off into space, leaving behind a trail of incandescent sonic sparks. Marvellous stuff! This is followed by Riza's cool piano chops on the much more laid back Ari, and over the last hour we have been treated to some stellar individual playing and a lot of tight ensemble interplay, and it seems that here is yet another must-buy jazz fusion album in what is turning out to be a rather good year for this sometimes cruelly ignored musical byway.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous simakDialog CD Reviews:-
|"...one of the most engaging and beautiful fusion albums you are ever likely to hear. Definitely an album for fans of fusion and instrumental music."|
(Andy Read, 8/10)
Chris - Days Of Summer Gone
To start with, Chris is the name that Dutch multi-instrumentalist and composer Christiaan Bruin uses for his solo projects, of which Days Of Summer Gone is the fifth album. Beside that Christiaan is co-founder and drummer of Sky Architect (3 albums), keyboard player of Nine Stones Close, producer of Mayra Orchestra and drummer of Adeia. Busy guy. Talented and distinct, maybe even idiosyncratic.
Christiaan Bruin's former albums under the name of 'Chris' all had different soundscapes, influences and directions and this is also the case with Days Of Summer Gone which is very different again. You may even ask yourself if this album has anything to do with progressive rock. A valid question as a lot of classical influences are to be found in the six compositions. The deliberate use of only real acoustic instruments like oboe, flute, cello and more only enhances that perception.
The opening track Out Of The Night for instance starts with violin and piano that keep recurring throughout assisted by the use of choirs and wind instruments. Sometimes, as in the shortest song Heliophobia, some progressive references come to mind. This specific song refers to the quieter works of Opeth. In other songs you might pick up some vibes of early days progressive bands like Focus or Jethro Tull, obviously connected to the use of flute. However, that might be a very personal take and is in no way prevailing. The title track, Days Of Summer Gone, is the song that can be classified most as prog.
All in all this is a calm and serene album to ease the mind, rather opposite to the Nine Stones Close material. Days Of Summer Gone is a gentle pearl in this age of stress and arousal. Chris succeeds in what he is aiming for; to forget about your surroundings and dream away in his tranquil and sensitive compositions and vocals. This is a beautiful, soothing album.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Chris CD Reviews:-
|A Glimpse Inside|
|"...a very nice debut album that shows that Christiaan Bruin has an enormous amount of talent. Only his vocal abilities are a bit of a let down for me."|
(Leo Koperdraat, 7/10)
|"This is enjoyable stuff but, frustratingly, could have been so much better..."|
(Jez Rowden, 8/10)
In The Silence - A Fair Dream Gone Mad
In The Silence sees Josh Burke (guitars & vocals), Nate Higgins (guitars), Dennis Davis (bass) and Niko Panagopouos (drums) join forces to form a dark progressive metal band with atmospheric elements. Josh and Niko came together in California in 2007 to work on some song ideas, later joined by Dennis. They recorded two demos in late 2008 and started playing live. In 2009 Nate was added giving the band two guitarists and a more complete sound. Skipping forward to 2011, the band started to record their self-financed debut album, A Fair Dream Gone Mad, which was released in 2012, produced and engineered by Jack Trammell at Fat Cat Studios. With the release of the album the band started to build a fan base and get some recognition in the underground world of progressive metal. With a deal made with Sensory Records (part of Laser's Edge Group), A Fair Dream Gone Mad was re-released with better promotion in 2013.
Their bio states that the name In The Silence was inspired by the concept of looking inward in silence and darkness, allowing a spiritual reality and other worlds to come into focus, where all creativity and true knowledge are found.
The opening track Ever Closer shows what the band are all about, a track with plenty of atmosphere starting as slow and acoustic before moving into crushing guitar riffs displaying the power of this band. Josh's vocals are full of heartfelt emotion, catchy with nice harmonies, singing well within his range but still sounding strong. The drumming is also full-on, powerful and impressive whilst the bass is not overly flashy but played well giving the music exactly what is required.
The next two tracks, Seventeen Shades and Serenity, follow the same pattern as Ever Closer, acoustic and electric atmosphere with power. Beneath These Falling Waves is one of the highlights with nice acoustic and electric guitars with a sweet sounding guitar viol (a guitar formatted bowed string instrument) played by Jarek Tatarek, the track building in power before a sweet ending that leads into the excellent instrumental Close To Me, more sweet guitars and lovely clear and catchy drums making you want to play along. Both tracks have Riverside all over them while still retaining their own sound.
Endless Sea and All The Pieces follow the same format as the first three tracks, well played with impressive drums, powerful guitars and good vocal harmonies. More excellent drums, screaming guitars with a mixture of soft and powerful vocals make the last track, Your Reward, another highlight.
With sounds of Riverside, Opeth, Katatonia and Anathema clearly an influence, fans of these bands should like A Fair Dream Gone Mad. You get plenty of guitars, drums, vocals and rich harmonies with nice atmospherics, the instruments complimenting each other throughout. In The Silence may be influenced by the work of others but still strive to deliver a sound of their own with well fitting lyrics. I am reviewing the digi-pack which is well presented, my only small qualm is that the song lyrics in the CD booklet are not in order so you have to flick to different pages for different songs if you want to follow the lyrics.
This is a good first album and it should be interesting to hear what they will follow it with.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
[This album was reviewed on its original release in 2012 by André de Boer, his review can be found Here]
Fabrice Bony - Inner Lands
Following up on his 2008 debut release, Between Day, which received a mostly favorable review from DPRP, French multi-instrumentalist Fabrice Bony has now released Inner Lands. Bony began his musical life playing drums in 1977 and has had stints with bands playing music of all sorts: pop, folk, zydeco and blues. On Inner Lands Bony wrote, arranged, and performed all of the music, although vocalists aid him on a few of the tracks.
The music falls loosely into the symphonic subclass of progressive rock, but there is considerable jazz-fusion influence. The ambient/soundscape style occasionally appears as well. The first song, Weird, is not all that weird but is surely diverse. The introduction consists of soft, slow-building keyboard tinklings, followed by a mixture of fusion-like guitar and repetitive vocalizations. The drumming is noticeable for its creativity but, unfortunately, also for its stiffness. Much of the following tune, Isle of Shadows, could be from a Jean-Luc Ponty CD. The quality of the tune disintegrates, though, as frenetic drum beats and more of those repetitive vocalizations make unwelcome appearances. The brief Premonition is a spacey soundscape that serves merely as an interlude. 1980s jazz fusion is again brought to life in From Heart to Sky, which features some catchy guitar licks but this tune, too, is marred by the wooden drum sound. Native Land, up next, suffers from an identity crisis: bizarre, somewhat jarring, vocals appear intermittently throughout the first half of the song, which then transitions into a guitar-and-keyboard-focused section that seems inspired by John McLaughlin. It's back to a soundscape with Obsession; again, the track is more of a catch-your-breath opportunity than a notable composition in itself. Hook-like guitar licks dominate Passenger of Life, the best tune on the CD. Here, Bony plays boldly and confidently. He at some points sounds like Jamie Glaser, whose guitar graced some of Jean-Luc Ponty's older music, and at other points like Steve Howe playing lap-steel guitar. The crispy playing sometimes creates tension that is nicely broken by memorable, soaring guitar leads. Less action occurs during Sensual Waves, a pleasant but mostly uneventful piece; a tepid introduction and closing sandwich the mellow interplay between guitar and keyboard, anchored by an unduly repetitive beat. Parade is guitar-driven and mostly fusion, but, again, homogenous drumming undermines the song's appeal, and an odd ending - consisting of what appears to be street noise - does not help. The final tune, L.O.V.E. Hello Vie, is dedicated to a late friend of Bony. The focus is on the vocals, which are chorus-like and initially pleasing but they overstay their welcome, and the song does not fit well into the progressive context of the CD. Coming to mind here is the not-particularly-successful attempt by the Tony Williams' Lifetime to integrate soft vocals into jazz fusion.
So, on the whole Inner Lands is a mixed bag. Some of the individual tracks - such as Passenger of Life - are not merely worthy of a listen but will likely call the listener back. Yet other tunes seem to be internally conflicted or are filler. Bony is clearly a strong musician, but the compositions are less interesting than the playing, and the stilted sound of the drums mars the production quality overall. With Inner Lands, fans of symphonic prog and jazz fusion will find some, but not all that much, to their liking.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Fabrice Bony CD Reviews:-
|"If you are into a mixture of progressive tracks with more ambient tracks then you should definitely check out this album."|
(Leo Koperdraat, 7/10)
Mavara - Forgotten Inside
Tracklist: Something Is Lost (6:10), No One We Miss (5:44), Try To Understand (4:44), Remote Place (6:12), Become Faithless (5:55), Forgotten Inside (5:41), Heaven and Hell (5:46), Awake (4:35), What Will Happen (5:29), Old Pain (6:50)
Mavara - Season of Salvation
Tracklist: Period of Innocence (4:57), Atomic Unity (5:45), Better Dream (6:11), Mystery of the Universe (7:01), Endless illusion (4:51), Season of Salvation (7:12), Leaden Sky (5:59), You Can’t Hide (6:56), Way Without Destination (6:32), It Could Happen (1:58)
I picked these up from our review pipeline purely because Mavara bill themselves as "Iran's first premier progressive rock band". An intriguing prospect indeed, and any band that has the courage to play Western music in that culturally oppressive country has already got past "Go" in my book.
Formed by keyboard player Farhood Ghadiri, the band has had a stable line up since 2007. Hounded out of their native country, or perhaps leaving for their own peace of mind, the band decamped to the States where they now live and ply their trade, and they now have an American drummer in James Welch. Being an Iranian in the U.S.A. can't be much fun either methinks.
The other reason for picking up this band was that I was hoping for at least some ethnic influence in their music, as in today's over-saturated market a band needs whatever it can get its hands on in order to stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately, there is no use of Persian musical traits that I can hear, and you would be hard pressed to guess where they hail from given the somewhat generic nature of their music.
The 2009 album, Forgotten Inside, is a solid if unadventurous take on FM friendly rock and rock balladry that has plenty of crossover appeal, but there is little if anything here that could be termed "prog", let alone progressive in its literal sense. If you like fairly safe rock music that sounds like it could have been produced any time and anywhere in the last 25 years, then you'll like this.
Marginally more interesting is the 2012 album, Season of Salvation, which draws heavily on a Rush/Floyd/Porcupine Tree influence. The music is far more adventurous, particularly on the epic Way Without Destination, which manages to rock along quite nicely, and features an Buck Dharma-like guitar break, and some spacey atmospherics break up the rock assault. This is much more like it, and while not particularly innovative it at least points in a promising direction.
The other improvement over the earlier album is singer Ashkan Hamedi. On Season of Salvation he sounds much more assured and less forced, and closer to the note than on his somewhat wavering delivery of Forgotten Inside, the first track of which is particularly painful. He still wobbles occasionally, but on Period of Innocence he reminds me of Stevie Winwood; praise indeed!
The band has been gigging solidly in the States, and appeared at September's Progday festival, so they are carving out a place for themselves over there, and good luck to them. I'll admit that they are too mainstream for me and not really my thing, but Season of Salvation is not a bad effort and should appeal to fans of the bands I listed as influences. It's just a shame that Mavara have not drawn on the musical heritage of their homeland, which would have given them that much needed extra "something".
Forgotten Inside: 4 out of 10
Season of Salvation: 6 out of 10
Rhys Marsh - Suspended In A Weightless Wind [EP]
A difficult task. Reviewing an album which is both an under 20 minutes, five track EP and a set of covers. So why bother? Well, first of all of the songs represent a great value in the history of progressive rock. And secondly I appreciate the attempt made by Rhys Marsh to dare doing it. What would it do to people out there to hear songs they have loved and admired for many years, now adjusted by an English guy from Norway and combined into one little EP? That takes courage to listen to and even more to create.
Rhys Marsh is a multi-instrumentalist, originally from the U.K. now living in Norway, who is renowned for his work with a band by the name of The Autumn Ghost. The band consists of different musicians on all four albums. This album, Suspended In A Weightless Wind, is his first solo release thus he is playing all instruments himself.
In order of tracks, Rhys covers one song each by Nick Drake, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Scott Walker, King Crimson and Family. All of these are covered in an honest, recognizable way and all a tad smoothened, polished and garnished with love, sweetness straight from the heart, in vocals and instruments. No trace of any damaging, which is fantastic. Fans of the original bands can rest assured.
The EP bears the subtle subtitle Covers, volume 1. That should suggest a successor, maybe even a series. This first one is a limited edition of only one hundred copies.
I like the courage and personal touch that Rhys Marsh has added to the five fabulous originals. He manages to make all of the songs on this EP connected, like it was meant to be. Quite an achievement and a real joy to listen to. I've given you some warm insight into the album; however being an EP with cover tracks I cannot rate it. If you love the originals and, like Rhys Marsh, have the balls to try them being played differently you will be very pleased.
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Rhys Marsh CD Reviews:-
|The Fragile State Of Inbetween|
|"All in all I think there is plenty to enjoy for the progressive rock fan. Especially if you like No Man, Gazpacho and No Sound."|
(Leo Koperdraat, 7/10)
|"...Rhys Marsh's songwriting is every bit as good as on his debut album, however it is darker, a bit heavier and much much more progressively arranged."|
(Leo Koperdraat, 8.5/10)
|The Blue Hour|
|"The quality of the songs, the delicate arrangements, the great but restrained musicianship and Rhys Marsh beautiful voice - all contribute to this."|
(Leo Koperdraat, 8.5/10)
|"...these guys sound very powerful despite the limited use of instruments and the songs all get a total make-over which makes it sound like you are listening to a entirely new album."|
(Leo Koperdraat, 8/10)
|Previous Rhys Marsh Interviews:-|
|Interview with Leo Koperdraat (2012)|