Album Reviews

Issue 2013-001

Reviews in this issue:

Kompendium - Beneath The Waves

Kompendium - Beneath The Waves
Country of Origin:U.K.
Record Label:7Stones / Tigermoth
Catalogue #:TMRCD 1012
Year of Release:2012
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Exordium (8:55), Lost (6:05), Lilly (4:05), Mercy of the Sea (6:11), The Storm (11:03), Beneath the Waves (5:51), Sole Survivor (3:26), Alone (5:07), Il Tempo é Grunto (3:08), Moment of Clarity (4:17), Back to the Sea (3:21), Reunion (5:45)

Alison Henderson's Review

Kompendium is the title of the project initiated by Rob Reed, Magenta's main man, whose recent abiding dream has been to build an album on a scale of War of the Worlds together with the intensity of a prog artist such as Mike Oldfield. Then to fully appreciate the work, you have to sit - as we all did once - in a darkened room with headphones turned up to stun.

Creating Beneath The Waves has been a massive undertaking for Rob who has overseen every aspect of its genesis from writing and performing right through to its delivery to fans - a musical journey which has taken nearly four years. Now the journey reaches a crucial part of its continuum as composer hands over the finished work to listeners for their judgement.

What strikes you most about the whole Kompendium marque is the incredible attention to detail that has gone into every component part of it. First, there is the stunning album cover with its original artwork by Geoff Taylor who also designed the War of the Worlds cover, and the accompanying booklet, which lists and photographs the stellar cast of artistes, drawn from different areas of the musical spectrum, who appear on it.

Prog legends, Steve Hackett, Francis Dunnery, John Mitchell, Nick Barrett, Nick Beggs, Jakko Jakszyk, Gavin Harrison, Mel Collins, Dave Stewart and Troy Donockley are all here performing alongside Steve Balsamo, an acclaimed "Jesus Christ Superstar", pedal steel guitarist B.J. Cole, opera singers Shan Cothi and Rhys Mierion, the English Chamber Choir and choral group Synergy Vocals.

To appreciate its musical content, you need to be aware of the storyline. It is taken from a report from 1902 carried in an Irish newspaper about a man who goes missing following a series of tragedies that claim the lives of both his wife and infant daughter, and for which he blames himself. The story unfolds as he seeks redemption with the sea being the only barrier between him and them.

Such an explicit theme requires many degrees of emotion and expression musically and lyrically. It all comes to life within the 12 tracks of Beneath The Waves, every one of which is a fusion of Celtic, prog, folk and classical, all skilfully woven together in the most tantalising manner.

A Richard Burton-type narration by Guy Harris opens Exordium, the pain in his voice picked up by the plaintive Uilleann pipes of Donockley to start this heartbreakingly lovely overture in which Karla Powell's oboe, B.J. Cole's steel pedal work, Nick Barrett's searing guitar and Shan Cothi's stunning soprano voice all rise in turn above the wash of melody. Scene set, we then have our first encounter with the two lead vocalists, Balsamo and Angharad Brinn, both of whom give extra weight to the belief that Wales is indeed a land blessed with more than its fair share of superlative singers. Add to that the wonderful Celtic chants of Synergy Vocals - who will re-appear throughout - and then channel it through 5.1 if you have it. The effect is startling.

A delicate French horn starts Lost with Balsamo picking up the sung narrative of the story within a lilting melody which sweeps along, gathering momentum and picking up new elements such as beautiful harmonies from the English Chamber Choir and chants from Synergy. The musical tempos keep shapeshifting to incorporate some classic prog and folk motifs along the way.

Almost sounding like a harp, Steve Hackett's nylon guitar and accompanying cello provide an early spine-tingling moment on Lilly - even more so when Brinn's snowflake pure voice is added to the mix. This is the kind of song which could make grown men cry with its stunning combination of prog god and angel!

An a capella choir starts Mercy of the Sea, a spine-tingler of a track bursting into life through Donockley's impeccable playing of the pipes that ignites that gorgeous Celtic vibe along with a driving drum beat from Harrison. Balsamo opens his soul, bending and reshaping notes almost at will before Dunnery breaks through with a sublime, understated guitar before returning to the rhythm of the pipes.

Crashing waves and thunderclaps herald in the album's magnum opus, The Storm, that invokes a huge swirl of Irish melody, Latin chanting, shanty singing, violin and pipes plus layer upon layer of guitars provided by Jakko Jakszyk, John Mitchell, Chris Fry and Hywel Maggs. There are so many twists and turns within reflecting the restless nature of the sea at its most unforgiving.

Acoustic guitar and pipes lead into a chant with heavy drums and choir for Beneath the Waves, punctuated by a Mel Collins sax solo and somewhere in that fluid mix, you can detect Beggs' Chapman stick working its magic at a much deeper level. Balsamo continues to hit notes not yet discovered and Neil Taylor adds a creamy guitar solo.

Seagulls screech and waves lap over Sole Survivor before Reed's Magenta band mate Chris Fry on nylon guitar with accompanying cello provide a mournful backdrop against which Balsamo sings with an aching weariness in his voice. The chanting returns picking up the tempo again before Barrett takes off with a soaring guitar solo.

The hummed choir intro to Alone gives it a sparse feel made more so by Reed accompanying Balsamo on piano - a simple passage which needs no embellishment because of the raw emotion it conveys and all ends with Shan Cothi's uplifting soprano. Rhys Mierion's rich tenor voice adds another texture to the soundscape on Il Tempo é Giunto accompanied by Reed's piano and choir.

Moment of Clarity returns to the rock groove headed by Neil Taylor on guitar before Balsamo, against a string accompaniment, the gospel voice of Tesni Jones and another killer sax solo from Collins, gives it a real ballad-like feel.

Beautiful tinkling piano and restrained guitar from Jakko allows Balsamo to turn Back To The Sea into a sung meditation as the story draws to a close and Reunion's gentle piano and pipes enables Brinn and Balsamo to end with a lovely musical duet, as some of the many themes such as the chant and B.J. Cole's pedal steel guitar make their final curtain call.

Beneath The Waves is a terrific achievement and very much a labour of love for Reed. The beauty of this album is that it has the potential to be heard and enjoyed by those outside the prog community who will love it for its subtle blends of more mainstream elements like Riverdance, rock and classical opera and Adiemus.

Other major pluses include extraordinary performances by Balsamo and Brinn, both singers of the highest calibre, and the cameo parts played by the likes of Dunnery, Collins, Barrett, Jakko and of course, Hackett and Beggs. Above all, Reed's tenacity and industry in overseeing the whole project and making it a reality is inspirational. Through headphones, on the car system or on vinyl, this is an album to cherish and a very high note on which to end the prog year.

Geoff Feakes' Review

When I interviewed Rob Reed in 2008 he made clear his love of classic progressive rock which is evident in his music with Magenta, albeit tempered with a contemporary edge. In a more traditional vein, his ambitions included a major undertaking with a full orchestra with only the limitations of imagination and bank balance to detract him. Two years in the making, the Kompendium project has duly arrived featuring an impressive cast that includes Steve Hackett, Gavin Harrison, Troy Donockley, Nick Barrett, Francis Dunnery and John Mitchell to name but a few. If not musically, then spiritually Kompendium can be traced back to previous Reed projects like the stunning Chimpan A album and the multi-version ProgAID single All Around The World which also boasted a cast of thousands. The versatile Steve Balsamo provided much of the vocals for Chimpan A and likewise has a pivotal role here.

As a starting point, 70's concept albums by the likes of Yes, Genesis, Jeff Wayne and Pink Floyd are obvious influences whilst musically Beneath The Waves owes much to Mike Oldfield, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush embracing Celtic tones, prog, melodic rock, classical, even opera. These potentially disparate elements along with a cast list that includes The London Session Orchestra and The English Chamber Choir are skilfully blended by Reed and his contributors utilising modern technology to give the whole venture a glossy, epic quality. Rob is of course responsible for the music, co-ordination and production with his brother and regular Magenta lyricist Steve Reed providing the narrative and lyrics for this tale of love and sorrow with the sea as a central motif.

Anticipating a full blown introduction, I was at first a tad underwhelmed by the low key start to both the album and track 1, Exordium. With the benefit of several plays however the mournful tone of the spoken introduction and Donockley's low whistle provides the calm before the storm as a roll of drums launches a soaring combination of uilleann pipes and orchestra. Pedal steel comes courtesy of the legendary BJ Cole and lead guitar from the imitable Nick Barrett. Gavin Harrison is in superb form with his drums convincingly prominent in the mix whilst the combined talents of opera star Shan Cothi, Balsamo and second lead Angharad Brinn weave their magic vocal spell. Lost picks up the story with Balsamo sounding suitably melancholic although the soaring strings and wordless chants of vocal group Synergy are never far away to provide an uplifting finale. The elegant Lilly provides a change of tempo which you may already be familiar with thanks to the promotional video. It lingers in the memory thanks to Steve Hackett's subtle nylon picking, delicate harp and Brinn's sweet vocals.

The musical journey continues with Mercy Of The Sea featuring the majestic English Chamber Choir and a tastefully fluid guitar solo from Francis Dunnery through to the albums longest offering, the 11 minute The Storm. The lively instrumental sequences are especially reminiscent of Bill Whelan's music for Riverdance with rock guitar and the earthy tones of folk singer Barry Kerr thrown in for good measure. Although Reed does a superb job on bass elsewhere, the title track Beneath The Waves benefits from Nick Beggs' moody Chapman Stick lines plus Mel Collins' smooth soprano sax and a gritty guitar break from Neil Taylor. Following a gentle acoustic guitar and violin intro, Sole Survivor returns to the main theme of track 1 before Alone builds from tentative beginnings to a heartfelt climax with Balsamo and Cothi giving their emotional all.

The very classical sounding Il Tempo È Giunto takes us into operatic (in more senses than one) territory where Reed's restrained piano and opera singer Rhys Meirion's powerful tenor rises like the sea to an orchestral and choral peak. A Moment Of Clarity returns to more familiar rock territory whilst One Small Step builds in a similar manner to Alone although maintaining the basic rock instrumentation of the previous track. The final song, the heartwarmingly titled Reunion is a love duet for Balsamo and Brinn climaxing with an emotionally charged variation of the main theme to bring the album full circle.

Whilst not wanting to distract from the fine performances elsewhere, for me Balsamo and Donockley are undoubtedly the stars of Beneath The Waves. Balsamo leads with a stunning performance throughout whilst Donockley's playing is the most consistent since his last solo album and his work with Iona. And whilst Reed, arranger Dave Stewart and conductor Guy Protheroe handle the orchestra and choir with suitable reverence, there is no doubting that this is essentially a rock album, albeit with elaborate trimmings. The end result is extremely ear friendly and given the eclectic mix, very easy to get into even on first hearing. Appropriately given its throwback to the past that I mentioned at the start of this review, in addition to being released as a limited edition CD/DVD package, it's also available as a double vinyl LP.



GEOFF FEAKES: 8 out of 10

inFictions - Maps of Revenge and Forgiveness

inFictions - Maps of Revenge and Forgiveness
Country of Origin:England
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2012
Tracklist: This Road Leads to a Village of Informers (3:48), Frozen River (4:49), 1st Intersection (5:49), Line Drawings (5:06), Laughter Track (4:02), Orchards (3:35), The Silence of the Sea (6:10), The Cell (4:42), 2nd Intersection (1:34), The Ghost of Some Old Sin (4:57), Figurines (6:42)

Packaging is in an important part of the project. That's what the members of inFiction must have thought because in a time where a reviewer more and more has to review from downloads supplied by bands or record companies the package I received from inFiction is a welcome surprise. Although my girlfriend thought she could throw the carton box away, but what does she know about art, eh? But this carton box not only contains the cd but also a very informative digital press pack, a button (yes, remember those?) and a booklet containing artwork for every song on the album. Excellent guys!

inFictions are a band from Sheffield, UK. The band consists of core members Ed Cartledge (vocals, guitar), Gareth Hughes (bass, double bass, synth and mandolin) and Tom Chaffer (guitar). Four different drummers were used throughout the album and there are string arrangements, flute and brass added to enhance some of the songs. One of the questions that the band are asked in the press pack is "What kind of band are you?" They find it extremely frustrating that they are not really able to categorise themselves but they came up with 'post-progressive rock'. Bands like Sigur Ros, Radiohead, Oceansize, Jeniferever and Porcucpine Tree are all making music they can relate to, but not so much the "70s pre-punk progressive rock nonsense", and I quote the band here. Now this reviewer is actually very fond of all those 70s pre-punk nonsense, so the band is not really scoring any points there. On the musical front, however, inFictions manages to score quite a lot of points. What an excellent debut album this is!

The album opens with the post rock of This Road Leads to a Village of Informers with its wall of guitars. Halfway the song gets quieter - cello, violin and flute are accompanying Cartledge's emotional, somewhat high pitched vocals. Frozen River is just the other way around and starts as a quieter song with beautiful multi-part vocals and then gets louder and louder. The guitar sound at the beginning of the track brought another English band, And Also The Trees, to mind. However from track four, Line Drawing, things really get impressive as that song and the two that follow really blew me away. The depths of the emotions, the beauty of the melodies, the subtle string arrangements and lyrics are extremely gripping. These tracks are of an Elbow like quality:

          I am an architect's son.
          (A stain upon this hallowed name).
          A comedian
          Laughing alone in the dark.

          We are a scientist's child...
          (An accident).
          On a beaten track.
          (Advised to take a beaten track).
          Laughing alone in the dark.

          Just as I start to hallucinate
          Time and again, I hesitate.
          Just as I'm learning to concentrate,
          All that I built disintegrates

                - from Laughter Track

All but one track, The Cell, were written by Ed Cartledge, but all songs were arranged by the band. Cartledge has a great gift of writing grandiose songs full of complexities. Still they are very accessible although the album needs a couple of listens to fully grow. There is not a weak track on this great album. The silence of the sea is another track full of grandeur that explodes after three minutes. The Cell could be released as a single with a chorus that nestles itself into your brain. It also has a great guitar solo. And Figurines is great big track to end the album.

This is absolutely an excellent debut album that I can whole-heartedly recommend to those who are into the bands mentioned in this review, and if you're not... listen to them anyway! This band could go on doing even greater things in the future. Put them on your radar now!

Conclusion: 9 out of 10


The Pitts Minnemann Project - 2 L 8 2 B Normal

artist - album
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2012
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Welcome Mat of My Mind (3:37), Sneaking Suspicions (3:24), Envy Becomes a Motherfunker (1:27), Haters, Please (1:44), In Danger of Deceit (4:02), Heavy Thoughts Here My Friend (3:07), An Unhealthy Aversion to Tribe Mentality (1:10), Clique Clash or Friends As Foes (0:42), Gaining Steam As a Cordial Misanthrope (3:45), Regarding Jazz & White Women (1:20), March of the Dissidents (0:28), We're Not in Kansas Anymore (0:41), You Humor Me, Truly (0:37), Pretentious I (1:09), Nothin' Funny 'bout That (1:19), Depressed Russians in Space (2:36), Can't Take the Metal Outta Me (3:03), Falling Off the Evil Wagon (1:35), Conspirators Diatribe (2:42), Angry Robots (1:17), Down, But Hopeful (2:26), A Little Time Alone (0:53), Violent Wankery (1:20), Aggressive Repeat Offender (2:55), Reflecting Indecision (2:36), I Over U (0:23), Farewells Are Saddish (1:40)

Make no mistake, it's all about Marco Minnemann. The music may have been written by keyboards (and, more significantly for the esotericists, Theremin) player Jimmy Pitts, and the band called The Pitts/Minnemann Project, but the first thing that strikes you as a listener when you put on this album is the genius of Marco Minnemann. This is the execution of a novel concept of Minnemann's- to write and record a 51 minute drum solo (which, in his own words was kept 'as musical as possible') and then invite people from around the world to write music on top of this existing skeleton. The project is titled Normalizer 2, and Minnemann invites contributions from anyone. The drum solo is available for download on iTunes. So this review is necessarily incomplete - Jimmy Pitts' contribution to it is just one out of nine (at the time of writing), on a list which includes Trey Gunn and Mike Keneally. I am positively salivating at the prospect of laying my hands on all of the recordings that comprise the Normalizer 2 concept.

A bit about the drum solo first. Minnemann's limb independence amazingly, rather than making him sound machine-like and mechanical, makes him sound doubly or triply human. The dynamic range and subtlety on display here is quite staggering. But before the panegyric tone of this review gets out of hand, a look at some concrete aspects of the album would be useful. The album, titled 2 L 8 2 B Normal (Too late to be Normal, to be more alpha and less numeric) consists of 27 instrumental pieces firmly rooted in the tradition of jazz-fusion, but with a heavier sound than The Aristocrats (with which any of Minnemann's jazz fusion projects will inevitably be compared).

The structure of the album brings to mind Ron Jarzombek's solo album Solitarily Speaking of Theoretical Confinement, with whom Jimmy Pitts collaborated as part of Jarzombek's Spastic Ink project. Pitts' work on the album is stellar. If it weren't for the prior knowledge about the nature of this project, there would be virtually no way of knowing that the music was created to sit atop an existing drum solo. Minnemann's own contribution to the project, simply entitled Normalizer 2, is covered heavily in electronic drums and samples and seems to offer less than Pitts' interpretation. In the liner notes, Pitts says that the album 'represents an instrumental journal of sorts, conveying the myriad mood swings and emotions of the past several months of my life'. The opening track The Welcome Mat of My Mind has a distinctly Planet-X sound, complete with a bass solo from Eddie Kohen, the first of a long list of guest instrumentalists on the album. The 'mood swings' are abundantly clear through the course of the album, incorporating what could only be described as tribal minimalist in An Unhealthy Aversion to Tribe Mentality, jazz piano in Regarding Jazz and White Women, violent wankery in Violent Wankery and even a bonafide Iced Earth-style gallop in Conspirator's Diatribe. Along the way are truly sparkling contributions, most notably from fretless guitarist Fountainhead, with whom Pitts, Minnemann and bassist Jerry Twyford form yet another fusion quartet.

To do a track-by-track dissection of the album would be a disservice (and would render this review unnecessarily long and pointless). Suffice it to say this is music of the very highest order, both in concept as well as in execution and further proof (as if we needed it) of the overwhelming fecundity of Marco Minnemann's mind. More reviews of the Normalizer 2 project are in order, and it is in placing this album in the context of its exact peers that its essence will become apparent. But, as with any art, it needs to be able to justify its existence on its own merit. And 2 L 8 2 B Normal does so with consummate ease. An absolute treasure.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10


Aranis - Made In Belgium

Aranis - Made In Belgium
Country of Origin:Belgium
Record Label:Home Records
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2012
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Nonchalance (4:33), Le Feu (7:30), Inara (5:18), Gentlemen of leisure (4:16), Where is Grommit? (5:03), Le Mar t'Eau (6:26), Short Story (1:57), L1 (5:21), Salernes (5:09), Bulgarian Flying Spirit Dances 2 (5:43), Viaggo fra due fini (4:54), Ersatz (6:18)

What do we know about Belgium? Well, it is home to the headquarters of the EU, its beer is so strong you cannot drink it like beer, and its football team is better than ours (whose isn't?). It is also home to a small but thriving non-commercial music scene, the core of which are three bands central to the modern RIO movement: Univers Zero, Present, and Aranis.

Aranis' fifth album is appropriately titled Made In Belgium, as all the songs here are written by Belgians, but only two of them are contributed by members of the band, the others coming from the likes of Daniel Denis (Univers Zero), Roger Trigaux (Present), Geert Waegeman (Cro Magnon), Jan Kuijken (Louise Avenue, Fukkeduk), and various other luminaries of the more esoteric end of the Belgian music scene. The common characteristic of all the composers is their links to the Belgian chamber-rock movement of which Aranis for the ten years of their existence has been an important part.

The band leader is Joris Vanvinckenroye on double bass and his band mates contribute piano, violin, viola, accordion, guitar, flute, and on Roger Trigaux's Ersatz a lone voice. As well as being for the most part acoustic, the guitar of Stijn Denys and Trey Gunn's touch guitar on Gentlemen of Leisure being the exceptions, you will also notice that there is no percussion on this album, true to the chamber music tradition.

A song like the aforementioned Ersatz still manages to be highly percussive with the chopping violin and the stabbing piano chords and the occasional operatic female shouts lending it a suitably militaristic zeuhl atmosphere and it is a fittingly dynamic conclusion to an album that is full of dramatic light and shade.

The opener Nonchalance canters along with some tight ensemble playing and some eerie treated stringed instrumentation, topped off by Jana Arns' dancing flute. This song tells us that these people know a bit about arrangements and effective economy of contribution, and damned good it is too.

Pulsing intensity delivered by the percussive violin tapping is evident on Le Feu which also contains some tasty piano work from Ward de Vleeschhouwer, who contributes one of the two in-house songs, the filmic and passionate Inara.

The wackily-titled Where is Grommit? provides a brief respite from the marching but drumless timbres and is quite minimalistic at first before taking up the musical theme of the album, but in a quieter and less strident fashion. Some almost jazzy piano saunters up and down the scales in the bridge and the complex nature of the key and time signature changes keeps the listener riveted to the end. The themes on this album, while certainly repetitive are never boring, testament to the fine compositional skills on display.

The other composition by a band member is L1 contributed by band leader Joris. A mini-symphony with recurring themes winding in and out of ebbing and flowing layers of great ensemble playing, it is a highlight. Wim Mertens' Salernes has a Philip Glass feel to it and would not have sounded out of place on Koyaanisqatsi. Bulgarian Flying Spirit Dances 2, written by Univers Zero's fantastic drummer Daniel Denis is interesting, as again there are no drums on this rendition. The rhythm is contributed by the viola which gives it a curiously Eastern feel in places.

Chamber rock is not for everyone and some may find it difficult, but I've quite grown into it in recent times. Unravelling the intricate complexities of the compositions and being drawn along by the addictive rhythmic insistence of the pieces I've come to dig this obscure backwater of progressive music. This is not easy listening, but neither is it difficult for the sake of it. Anyone with adventurous tastes will be rewarded in kind if they invest their time in listening to it properly, not as wallpaper.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10


Mahogany Frog - Senna

Mahogany Frog - Senna
Country of Origin:Canada
Record Label:MoonJune Records
Catalogue #:MJR048
Year of Release:2012
Info:Mahogany Frog
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Houndstooth Part 1 (4:04), Houndstooth Part2 (5:29), Expo 67 (5:04), Flossing With Buddha (4:35), Message From Uncle Stan: Grey Shirt (8:29), Message From Uncle Stan: Green House (3:49), Saffron Myst (4:02), Aqua Love Ice Cream Delivery Service (7:46)

You may think that the picture of a high-spec car engine on the cover would mean that the "Senna" in question is much missed Brazilian F1 racing legend Ayrton, and you'd be right. And how we F1 fans miss the days of Ayrton, Alain and Nigel playing tag at 190 mph; back then F1 was actually exciting for sure, unlike today.

Anyway this is meant to be a CD review not a motor sport nostalgia fest, isn't it? The Canadian band Mahogany Frog, now up to their sixth album, have been around since 2001, and I wonder if their name is at all influenced by fellow Canadian rockers of years gone by, Mahogany Rush, or maybe they just have a liking for brightly coloured Asian reptiles?

Like many bands scratching around for a break, they have been through many line up changes over the years, mainly involving drummers, but founding pair Graham Epp and Jesse Warkentin (electric guitars, MicroMoog, Farfisa Organ, Farf Muff, ARP String Ensemble, Korg MS2000, electric & acoustic pianos) have kept the faith, and are here joined by Scott Ellenberger, with the band since 2003, who as well as delivering driving (oh no, not another racing pun) bass contributes yet more organ, and last but not least the powerful drumming of recent recruit Andy Rudolph who adds his electronic rhythms into the mix for good measure.

Entirely instrumental, Senna keeps one's attention with a heady mix of nostalgia and modernism in evidence right from the start as Houndstooth Part 1 slowly powers into view like an approaching melee of racing cars coming at ya down the Hangar Straight, in the style of Pink Floyd circa 1969, all flanged and phased organs and guitars combined with modern electronic beats, quickly morphing into Part 2, built around a simple, but effective riff that could rival The Chain should the BBC ever tire of the iconic F1 anthem.

With the preponderance of keyboards you could be forgiven for thinking that symphonic prog is on the menu, but for once that is not the case here, oh no. Mahogany Frog steer well clear of that over-used genre and instead plump for a highly psychedelic sound, swirling around over pulsing sequencers, with added occasional outright experimentalism. That's not to say they can't write a decent tune, for this little gem of a CD is stacked with great melody lines that shine through the kaleidoscopic cacophony like the writing in a stick of rock (candy).

Message From Uncle Stan: Grey Shirt exemplifies the method in their glorious madness as ever-so-slowly the guitar riff emerges dripping from the pool of lysergically altered keyboard electronica, leading into the prog-space-rock groove of ...Green House. At times this lot sound like a superior 60s U.S. psych garage band, and there is nothing wrong with that in the slightest. A Doors-go-prog feel pervades Saffron Myst that acts as a calming influence before becoming the climatic wig-out that is Aqua Love Ice Cream Delivery Service, a tune that climbs and climbs, higher and higher, leaving Felix Baumgartner and his balloon trailing in its wake; the final three minutes see the song leaving Earth's gravitational pull and disappearing out of view in a maelstrom of feedback-ridden guitar, before meeting the stellar ice cream wagon which appears to be piloted by grinning aliens. Make mine a double 99 with raspberry sauce, puurrlleeaase....

This album is a blindingly good follow up to DO5, reviewed more than favourably on these very pages. Do yourself a favour and get acquainted with the joyous and uplifting modern psychedelic sound of Mahogany Frog, it sure makes a change from the dreary and predictable symphonic prog that seems so prevalent these days.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10


Wolfspring - Who's Gonna Save the World?

Wolfspring - Who's Gonna Save the World?
Country of Origin:France
Record Label:Quadrifonic
Catalogue #:Quad-21-13
Year of Release:2013
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Ninety Nine( 7.24), Rats (5.00), In the shade (7.22), Race against the clock (Instrumental) (5.09), The end of the line (10.59), My religion (5.15), The piper of Hamelin (Instrumental) (5.37), Different colors of life (10.13), Wheels of confusion (Bonus - Black Sabbath cover) (7.07)

It's nice to be able to review one of the very first releases of progressive 2013. The subject is a French band by the name of Wolfspring that delivers their second album entitled Who's Gonna Save the World?. The band is one of Jean Pierre Louveton's side projects as a composer as well as playing lead guitar. You may know his name from his main band, the progressive eclectic Nemo, or another one of his side projects JPL. Being Holland's biggest Nemo fan I hope this will not be a partisan report...

Wolfspring's sound, to be short, is progressive metal born in France, quite instrumental and is littered with English vocals by a German singer, Julian Clemens. This sounds like an autonomous progressive European idea and it is; I determine this album is completely on its own. On the other hand it is fun to discover many small hints and references to Nemo's music while Wolfspring follows their far more metal direction.

After listening to the album for the first time, two remarkable thoughts kept hovering. "Très joyeuse" or "very enjoyable". And a feeling of happiness. Now, this happiness is easily explainable. The album just gives you a positive feeling and I was very relieved that, used to a very high standard being a Nemo addict, I was not disappointed.

To clarify the other feeling, let me tell you something about the album and some of the songs. The opening track Ninety Nine has a nice raw edge to it. JP's heavy guitars kick off, get supported by Guillaume Fontaine's keyboards and flow into the tender vocals of Julian Clemens. And back again to a pounding bass by Max Moro-Sibilot, drums by Ludo Moro-Sibilot and completed with great distorted guitars. The second song Rats is based on a simple but catchy melody. A very nice song with time signatures by Louveton like we are used to and even with a wee bit of Latin woven in.

Another, more mellow and atmospheric, style is to be heard in the beautiful In the Shade. This mood is strengthened by an Ian McKellen-like narrating voice. A great interlude followed by the high paced and fully instrumental Race against the Clock. This fits nicely into the centre of the album as a showcase of Louveton's superb craftsmanship.

The longest, eleven minute, track The End of the Line offers many tiny Nemo riffs on display, especially around the 2 minute mark. Fantastic. It has the best melody of the album and it is the one song that keeps coming back to mind all the time. The song partially is a ballad, beautifully embedded in between metal riffs and other guitar extravagance and Fontaine's keyboards. I particularly like the more raw voice of Clemens near the end of the song. Closing song Different Colors of Life musically brings you back to the opening track. A fine coherent combination. Many lovely guitar parts make this a closing track that leaves you in the exact right positive mood.

This recommended album should mark a very enjoyable start of your progressive metal year. It certainly does to me. The album excels in combining true love for complex guitar driven compositions with a mostly mild style of progressive metal. Best tracks are the 11 minute The End of the Line and the combination of the first track Ninety Nine and the closing track Different Colors of Life.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10


Mars Hollow - Live

Mars Hollow - Live
Country of Origin:U.S.A.
Record Label:FPM
Catalogue #:FW 2012-001
Year of Release:2012
Info:Mars Hollow
Samples:Click here
Tracklist: Wait For Me (9:57), Midnight (7:12), The World In Front Of Me (11:30), Eureka (9:28), Weapon (6:54), Voices (6:30), Dawn of Creation (13:34), So Far Away (new studio track) (4:57)

Line up:
John Baker - Guitar and Vocals
Kerry Chicoine - Bass and Vocals
Jerry Beller - Drums, Percussion and Vocals
Steve Mauk - Keyboards and Vocals

Live albums, are often a bone of contention amongst music fans; how "Live" are they? How necessary are they? In years past a live album was an important document in a bands career and was often released to satisfy the "bootleg" traders, however nowadays with the era of instant live recordings, live albums are rather more frequent, with some bands releasing endless live shows to their more rabid followers from every tour and in some cases from every show within a tour which can in truth be a tad excessive.

One thing is certain, a "Live" album is a bold statement by any band to make as it shows their true colours as it were and also exhibits whether or not their material can cut it in a live environment.

So this CD by Mars Hollow is a snapshot or document of their show at the coveted Church of Prog slot on the early Sunday morning at Rosfest 2011 showcasing songs from both their debut and the then recently released second album, The World In Front Of Me. Produced by Billy Sherwood (of Yes fame post Rabin but preFly From Here).

The set is pretty evenly divided between their two albums to date and features the epic tracks from each of those releases, Dawn of Creation and World In Front Of Me.

So is it any good is the question and it's a very good and fair question indeeed...

I think the answer lies partly in whether or not you like live albums, which tend to strip out a lot of the production values of any given song instead replacing that sheen with a rawness and energy that can be missing from the original version, or they can be used as a springboard to take a piece off in totally new directions often by the use of extended improvisations.

These recordings however prefer to remain true to the original versions. What this does do is to highlight the musicality and musicianship that this band possess. Mars Hollow have been described as a cross between Yes and Rush, however for me they bear a resemblance to a little know band called Badger who released a superb live album (One Live Badger) in 1971 when they supported Yes at the Rainbow theatre in London. They had a similar 4-piece line up and there was a similar interplay between the guitar and keyboards as Mars Hollow employ, at other times they remind me of Starcastle.

The opening song, Wait For Me is a fine example of this and of how the interplay between the band members is so well defined, in addition the fluid and agile bass of Kerry Chicoine is well to the fore almost acting as a counterpoint harmony to the six string wizardry of John Baker's guitar. In truth all the members of the band shine on this recording and the keyboards of Steve Mauk are weighty and nimble.

However don't be fooled into thinking this band are a bunch of Yes clones as they are so much more than that; Mars Hollow's music has the same degree of complexity and intricacy but it's no clone.

I would say that for me the longer tracks work best as it gives the band an opportunity to stretch out and get that interplay showing through but in honesty there isn't a duff track on here for me, the weaker tracks being Weapon and Voices but that's my personal taste.

Closing track Dawn of Creation, which was one of the standout tracks from their debut, and World In Front Of Me are both superbly replicated from their studio versions, these aren't simple pieces by any stretch and it is to the bands credit that they sound as weighty and robust as they do.

It is a well-produced album and sounds great with a good separation between the instruments, which just leaves the last track, So Far Away which is a new studio recording but featuring only half the line up as both Kerry and Jerry had left the band by this stage being replaced by Joe August (bass) and Bob Craft (drums) for this song. It's a shorter song at 4:59 minutes but blends pop sensibilities with more progressive elements and it shows the direction in which Mars Hollow could head next.

So overall is this a worthwhile release? Yes, if you liked the first two albums then it's good to have as a document of how the original band sounded on a landmark occasion and if you are new to Mars Hollow then it's a good place to start out and then explore the earlier albums.

There is also a DVD available of this show so that could well be worth checking out, there is a trailer for that on the bands website.

In conclusion, it's a fine live document of a great and interesting band. It is not essential, more of a good to have so on that basis I'm happy to give 7.5 out of ten and eagerly await their next project whenever that may be.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10


The Intersphere - Hold On, Liberty!

The Intersphere - Hold On, Liberty!
Country of Origin:Germany
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2012
Info:The Intersphere
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Masquerade (4:37), We Are (3:35), Sleeping God (3:45), Hold On, Liberty! (3:32), Opaline (5:12), Capital (3:18), Open End (2:55), Parallel Lines (7:41), Over (4:44), Aurora (3:48), Destination (4:03)

Hold on, Liberty! is The Intersphere's third album. Ever since their debut album The Intersphere have been emerging as a studio/live act, their fan base growing stronger after every show, not in the least due to the song quality on their albums.

You can discuss if The Intersphere belong in the progressive rock scene or more or less in the independent alternative scene. There are enough hooks and twists in the music to label The Intersphere as progressive, yet the total atmosphere of Hold on, Liberty! breaths Alternative, maybe even AOR. Pointers for the album can and be found in the area of Muse, Incubus, Train, Snowpatrol and maybe Coldplay. It is balancing on the edges of progressive music in my opinion. Still the completeness of the album is surprisingly good, constant and well played.

Christoph, Thomas, Sebastian and Moritz create a sound familiar yet all of their own. All of the songs on Hold on, Liberty! have a sturdy, firm and prominently present bass line. Without this massive bass line the songs would become a whole lot less interesting than they are now.

All the songs are heavy with a groove that will either instantly grab you by the ears or leave you cold. Most of the tracks are even danceable if you wanted to; most of the choruses are suited to singing along, making The Intersphere a festival band.

The more I listen to this album, the more I get the feeling they have potential and could become bigger with the right promotion and marketing tools. They have a very mature sound, joyful full of energy. Worthy of checking them out if you haven't done so already. I myself will be on the look out for a concert possibility in a place nearby.

Although not progressive as most of us like to think of progressive rock, the pointers I used before give you a clue how close to progressive this is, maybe we should just call it alternative progressive rock. It sure does cover the broadness of their musical style.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10


Circus Maximus - Nine

Circus Maximus - Nine
Country of Origin:Norway
Record Label:Frontiers
Catalogue #:FRCD557
Year of Release:2012
Info:Circus Maximus
Samples:Click here
Tracklist: Forging (1:16), Architect Of Fortune (10:12), Namaste (4:02), Game Of Life (5:01), Reach Within (4:59), I Am (4:20), Used (4:52), The One (4:00), Burn After Reading (8:48), Last Goodbye (10:00)

When a band starts off as strongly as Circus Maximus did with The 1st Chapter the expectations may just be too high for the general populace to give subsequent material a fair shake. The 1st Chapter came in with energy and creativity that freshened up the prog metal retinue for a time, and Isolate drifted in with promise but wasn't as well received. Another listen to Isolate did me some good - it is a potent display of the incredible talent this gang possess. Nine holds true for established fans of the Circus Maximus sound, but comes with less energy.

Delving into round 3, a slightly different narrative begins. The sound is a little more relaxed as if to set the stage other similar acts have taken when dipping their toes into the AOR or even mainstream rock arena. The tenor of the music still stays within the prog metal sound, not too far removed from some of the usual suspects: Pagan's Mind, Kamelot, etc. with AOR ballads and emotive leanings that hearken back to the '80's and '90's power rock sprinkled in-between. Much of this "less than prog" stuff is found in the 10-minute Last Goodbye to finish out the album.

This is a refined work with a clean, mature mix containing smooth and flowing guitar riffs, changes galore and with a strong emphasis in song development. The band is as tight as ever, but I can't help but get the impression that Nine is their grand manifesto to finally shake comparisons to Dream Theater.

This album isn't a rehash or another of the same. It is a different angle of the same direction they have been on, but one that resembles more Knight Area or even newer Arena where, at times, melody and the storytelling is allowed to trump shredding guitars and haymakers on the drums. Continuity remains with the remarkable vocals of Mike Erikson, which has become the backbone of their signature sound.

The progressive metal roots are found interspersed throughout the album and even when the song lead-ins are rather mundane, you can be assured that something interesting will follow. The album definitely lulls in the middle, mainly with Game of Life, Reach Within, and I Am, but these are not fatal to overall enjoyment of the album.

Circus Maximus have released another good album, and although I prefer Isolate the band continues to impress. No major missteps, but no major breakthroughs either.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10


Steve Cochrane - La La La: Variations on a Happy Song

Steve Cochrane - La La La: Variations on a Happy Song
Country of Origin:U.S.A.
Record Label:Spirit Compass Music
Catalogue #:SPCD105
Year of Release:2012
Info:Steve Cochrane
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Alarm Clock Overture (7:50), Makes Me Want To Sing (3:58), Red Sky (2:17), Towards Ideal (7:31), A Song (3:07), Just Clouds (10:53), Beauty & Defiance (7:48), Birthright (6:35), The Day I Found My Wings (6:50)

The fifth album from Canadian Steve Cochrane over a period of 20 years builds on his previous releases but pushes into new directions, the album being a suite of nine thematically connected parts starting with an overture and building through various feels and emotions to a finale.

As suggested from the title, La La La: Variations On a Happy Song has uplifting basic themes that are reused in different ways throughout but it is not all lightweight sweetness with no substance and there are numerous twists and turns along the way.

With a long history in bands Cochrane developed an interest in MIDI during the '80s and this set him along the road of realising his musical ambitions alone. From pure MIDI with classical influences for 1991's Heroes Awaken he added vocals and guitars on 1995's To See It Made Real building on this foundation for 1998's The Purest of Designs. 2007's With Or Without began as a more acoustic, song-based album but developed an art rock feel during recording.

La La La... sees Cochrane (vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards) working with Arman Faguay (percussion, vocals), drummers Kevin Richard and Richard Rizzo (drums) and vocalists Murray James-Bosch, Leslea Kervourst and Aimee Matuszczak to produce the most polished work of his career so far.

There's a strong acoustic streak that runs through the album, folk-inspired but with electric guitars, symphonic keys and grand crescendos interspersed with pastoral guitars and darker moods. Influences from the likes of Steve Hackett, Gordon Giltrap and Guy Manning are noticeable with the pieces being apparently more complex and layered than his previous work.

Alarm Clock Overture is exactly that, a wake up call that starts as a folky singalong, multi-tracked "la la" vocals building into a prog guitar and keys scene-setter. Cochrane's picked guitar is good and a nice theme develops that is heard throughout the album. This is a very good opener, Cochrane's predominantly acoustic guitar having echoes of flamenco and Steve Howe. The bass seems a little off here and there but this is an upbeat and uplifting intro that moves through a number of phases with good use of female vocal in a feature spot for Kervourst.

The folk influences of Alarm Clock Overture build to a steady peak and move into Makes Me Want To Sing. This is the first lyrical vocal from Faguay who certainly has a good voice but some may find him a bit of an acquired taste as he has some strange inflections. The backing vocals are also good but the melody and lyrics are a bit sappy for my tastes, a little too happy-clappy and folk but there's nothing necessarily wrong with that. The bass has a great twangy sound and the guitar solo is good.

Red Sky is a laid back acoustic number, a bit Lifeson-esque with vocal atmospherics that acts as a brief change of pace before the edgier Towards Ideal. Here the electric guitar comes to the fore with acoustic support. The vocal refrain from the opener reappears and there are flashes of Rush at their most pastoral in the vocal delivery and structure. The folky elements still hold sway, lyrics dealing with philosophical and spiritual matters, with guitar interjections echoing the vocal line. Cochrane produces an uplifting solo and the album generally picks up from this track.

A Song is a simple but very well presented acoustic number, nicely developed and played with familiar themes returning once again.

The longest and probably key track of the album is next, Just Clouds, starting with distant sustained guitar that slowly builds with hints of Rush and Genesis. There is a sense of foreboding that bursts open with old school keys, the return of the twangy bass driving the piece along. This is good, the previous lyrical positivity taking a knock as hope appears to fade but things appear resolved and all is well with the world again culminating in a kind of folk hoedown vocal fugue that is quite Gentle Giant. The instrumental section is strong with unorthodox guitar choices and spoken word chanting lead to a change of feel by the end of the track as the lyric seems to convey doubt.

Beauty & Defiance is a fine follow-up to Just Clouds, an extended acoustic guitar intro with hints of Steve Hackett leads into slowly building keys that fade into an insistent acoustic pattern with variations. Sparse drums accompany the returning female vocal refrain and the second half of the track is very good, rhythms building against the vocal, dieing away to flow perfectly into Birthright. This almost comes across like a hymn with ethereal female backing over a song of redemption and rediscovery. Aimee Matuszczak is featured here, her contribution resolved in a guitar and keys crescendo. A prayer-like spoken section culminates in another fine vocal from Matuszczak and a choral section to finish - "there is no greater song to sing than the one inside your heart".

The Day I Found My Wings bookends nicely with the opener, similar themes and sections with variations giving flashes of Manning. A percussion section sees various themes recapitulated before a final guitar solo (ever so slightly wobbly) and another vocal fugue as a nice way to finish.

This album is well thought out and presented and certainly has a great deal of depth but it just doesn't grab me all the way through. The first couple of tracks are very pleasant without becoming any more than that but the album does grow in interest later on and thematically it does seem to follow a journey, good overcoming evil by the end.

The playing is pretty good throughout and Cochrane is a fine musician, predominantly on his acoustic guitar. The writing is solid with some excellent moments and overall, despite my initial reservations regarding the lyrical content, it is a very enjoyable listen. I'd say that in addition to the above reference points it is probably worth investigating if you are a fan of Jethro Tull or Renaissance too.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10


Cargo - Cargo

Cargo - Cargo
Country of Origin:Netherlands
Record Label:Pseudonym Records
Catalogue #:VP99.030
Year of Release:1971/2012
Time:LP 1: 40:14
LP 2: 39:17
Samples:Click here

Side One: Daybreak (10:52), Cross Talking (8:33)
Side Two: Finding Out (5:14), Summerfair (15:35)
Side Three: Strings On Fire (demo) (7:55), Sail Inside (demo) (10:56)
Side Four: Summerfair (demo) (15:48), Last Time I Saw Dennis (demo) (4:38)

Straddling the incredibly thin line between progressive and psychedelic, the obscure Dutch outfit Cargo have been selected for reissuing on LP. Essentially, this was a record by the band September, but their manager at the time suggested releasing this album under a pseudonym. With this fact in mind, it seems quite a coincidence that Pseudonym Records were the ones to reissue this album.

The line-up consists of Dennis Whitbread on drums, Willem de Vries on bass and vocals, and the guitar duties are shared by brothers Ad and Jan de Hont. The album was recorded in a mere two days, but after a listen, it is not hard to see why.

Simply put, this album is 10% songwriting and 90% jamming, perhaps the simplest way of creating long form music. However, in Cargo's case, it's particularly effective. With the album's opener Sail Inside, the rocky verses and choruses blow by quickly, and are followed by roughly seven minutes of gratuitous improvising over the glorious chords of the last chorus. If you don't object too much to repetition, this could be the thing for you.

The second track, Cross Talking is far more simple, and is 100% jamming. The band chooses a simple bass riff, and the de Hont brothers perform multiple angular guitar solos. While the band do seem to be in a nice groove, I find this track seems to drag, and is a little directionless.

Over to Side Two, the five minute Finding Out constitutes the shortest track on the album. This track is quite speedy, and consists of just two short verses, one at the beginning, and one near the end. The rest is simply noodling, and although it makes for good running music, there's nothing too cerebral here.

Prog fans such as myself are mindlessly drawn to longer tracks on albums, and Cargo have decided to capitalise this by including the track times on the front cover. The longest track time given is 15'40", and is awarded to Summerfair. However, despite relying heavily on improvisation, this track is more interesting than its siblings, as it contains more variation, as well as a more substantial lyrical section. The performances throughout are of a higher standard than heard elsewhere on the album, and there seems to be at least some direction to the noodling.

The Pseudonym Records edition has a bonus LP appended to it, containing some high quality demos, including two songs not used on the album: Strings on Fire and Last Time I Saw Dennis. The latter in particular has a very nice blues theme going on, and is incredibly funky. Also included are demos of the original album's best tracks, Sail Inside and Summerfair. The former track has alternate vocals, and the latter is purely an instrumental. Certainly interesting stuff for anyone who's been listening to this album for forty years.

To me, Cargo only just qualify as prog, for the lengthy nature of their songs, and a few proggy riffs heard at the beginning of the tracks. While the music is quite fun to listen to, it's not quite as satisfying as some of the more 'scripted' prog. Having been in a band myself, I know that jamming with friends is great fun, but my audiences have told me that listening to a band go on this way at length isn't so enjoyable. This album isn't completely without worth; the wonderful chord progression of Sail Inside and the diversity of Summerfair makes for interesting listening. If excessive jamming is your game, then this could be the album for you.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10


Low ID - Discoverock

artist - album
Country of Origin:France
Record Label:Independent - Low ID
Catalogue #:34726-83-7625
Year of Release:2011
Info:Low ID
Samples:Click here
Tracklist: Discoverock (entrance) (1:06), Discoverock part 1 (Discovering you) (6:18), All Lies Behind (4:52), The Living World (4:37), Alone (5:03), The Last Day Before The Rest Of My Life (3:53), New Horizon (5:25), A Strange Place We Call Home (6:12), Care Enough (4:42), The Letter (4:05), Discoverock part 2 (Discovering me) (9:16)

Dicoverock is the first album by Low ID from France; the album is self produced by the band. The four members of the band on the recording were: Vincent Loisy on lead vocals, Yann Gilquin on guitar and vocals, Jeremy Dubanchet on bass guitar and vocals, and Glanz Andreas on drums, Jeremy and Glanz have since left the band to be replaced by Berlioz Manu on bass guitar and Phillippi Bollard on drums. The band was formed in 2007 and over a period of time the members have written and recorded the album. This is a concept albums, the main title Discoverock is in three parts consisting of a short entrance piece with parts one & two at the beginning and end of the album respectively. The bands' website states that the bands that most influenced them during the writing phase were Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree, Incubus and Chris Cornell - all of which I personally like, especially the first two. Looking at the track listing and the concept of parts one and two at the beginning and end it had the makings of the sort of album I was going to enjoy, also this being my first review of a band I never have heard before I decided to listen to the album at least six times to give me some chance of getting to know the music and band, and a opportunity to study the lyrics, which are in the CD booklet that comes with the CD and can also be found on their website.

The album starts with a short instrumental which features guitar with cymbals building at the end Discoverock (entrance), which flows into Discoverock part 1 (Discovering you), this opens with guitars then into drums and bass - the pace is set. It reminds me in parts of The Police, but slightly heavier with more driving bass and a catchy beat, also influences of U2 can be heard in the guitars. The lyrics tell a tale of a shy person who just can't express his feelings for a woman who finally gets his chance, but when he tries to explain it doesn't come out right, but the woman puts her hands on his lips, they will discover the night, (to be continued on part 2), the vocals are clear and strong with a twang you get when someone from another country sings in English, also the guitars are crystal clear with plenty of atmosphere and ambience.

The next two tracks All Lies Behind and The Living world, are more gentle and mellow with melody with clear good vocals and a softer approach is used being more popular in structure and would come under soft rock one could imagine either of these being a single and also becoming a concert favourite especially if they was to become singles.

Alone a song, funnily enough, about being abandoned and lonely, the music is dark and has power with lyrics such as "your first glance, was like a snakebite, I felt your venom, running in my veins", great vocals and a great chorus too. The guitar licks are excellent more heavier than the two previous tracks, but not over powering, followed by the beautiful The Last Day before the Rest Of My Life - an instrumental with a lovely rich melody taking the listener on a short journey to paradise and back, some highly enjoyable guitar playing.

After the instrumental we have New Horizon which sounds in parts like Opeth, Riverside or even Porcupine Tree, the singer has a deeper voice, starting with acoustic guitars into a catchy beat and a blend of electric and acoustic guitars with a short guitar solo in the middle, the track also has a good chorus which after hearing a couple of times you want to sing along, followed by We Have A Strange Place We Call Home which starts and ends with simple recurring notes on the guitar, leading into heavy, funky rock with has a good groove.

Care Enough is the heaviest track on the album, with a strong driving bass reminiscent of early Rush and with some Dream Theater influences with its metal rock sound and strong vocals. The Letter follows, which I find to be weakest track on the album, mostly to it sounding a bit bland - a soft rock with some Iron Maiden-ish vocals.

The album finishes with Discoverock part 2 (discovering me), which is over 9 minutes long. Starting with guitars, again sounding like The Police mixed with U2, the lyrics tell us "after discovering you and thinking it was going to last that he must leave and discover himself", the vocals are part Dream Theater and Iron Maiden, the realisation that it's not going to work out in the lyrics comes across in the music with metallic rock in parts and sounding heavy with driving bass and guitars.

This is Low ID's first album and one thing I found is that at times it has a raw sound which comes sometimes with a first album when the band are trying to identify themselves. Yes they have some influences and also have a sound of their own, the lyrics I found to be good, the music often being very driven and with lots of catchy beats plus big vocals and choruses. I would class the music as alternative rock with a touch of metal and some pop mixed together with a little progressive rock. I do wonder if a keyboard player were added to the band if this would improve their overall sound as at times I felt it was lacking a little something.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10


Dylan Seeger - Readers & Reporters

Country of Origin:US
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2012
Info:Dylan Seeger
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: 1 [a. Hypocrate/Headlines (4:41), b. Little Ole Max (1:46), c. Readers (3.00)], 2 [a. Iodine Punch (A punch of Iodine) (2:18)], 3 [a. Pen & Paper (2:23), b. Colour (6:38)], 4 [a. Stuttering (1:34), b. The Morning Paper (2:17), c. Reporters (4:51), d. Welcome Home (1:29)], 5 [a. Lonely World (4:08), b. Readers & Reporters (3:55)]

Dylan Seeger will not ring many bells and after googling his name there are still many unanswered questions. He describes himself as a "17-year-old Musician, Graphic Designer, Artist". All music on Readers & Reporters is written and performed by Dylan Seeger. The package is what is to be expected from an independent release (not really flashy) but that does not bother me at all. I would rather have good music in a dull package than a lousy album that looks stunning.

The first track is a very long track divided into 3 parts. It starts with some noises and stuff and after a minute or so it transforms into some piano. Some effects make the piano go back and forth, it all sounds a lot like Pink Floyd chords moving around and around. Little Ole Max is some strange sounding funny piano ditty. A grabbing little tune bit I must say it becomes pretty annoying after some time. The third part of the first song starts with some strange clicking and some piano exercises, or something like that, interrupted by strange sound bytes. Some nice things in this song but it does not appear to be a cohesive whole.

Iodine and punch is a small separate song that starts with organ tunes. A sudden transition to piano with vocals and changing to other stuff, cannot really make heads or tails from this composition. After some noises Pen & Paper evolves into the same Pink Floyd piano chords as Hypocrites/headlines. After that Dylan Seeger seems to be playing some piano exercises again. Some nice as a transition but this seems to be the main feature to the song. The whole Reporters part is piano that is nice but not really interesting. Stuttering evolves into slightly different Pink Floyd like chords, very bluesy and some interesting vocals. And then? The same parts over again, cannot find direction whatsoever. It sounds like a ten minute Floyd filler. The last song also sounds very Floydish and some chords return but it has more structure than the whole part before this song. Some nice vocal lines and a better sense of direction.

For a seventeen year old this is a good recording, but if it was not from a seventeen year old this album would be rather dull. For Dylan Seeger and family this is a nice disc but for the 'normal' listener this is not. So a good effort but for the common listener not a really interesting album.

Conclusion: 4.5 out of 10


Trevor Layton - The Endless Dream

Trevor Layton - The Endless Dream
Country of Origin:Canada
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2012
Info:Trevor Layton
Samples:Click here
Tracklist: Tune Into My Mind (4:41), Break Away (4:22), Do It For You (4:00), Can't Help Myself (3:15), Shadowrunner (4:50), One I Want (4:06), A Triptych (4:46), Visions (3:39), Chance Encounter (4:02), Ice Dancer (5:13), Stop (5:16)

Trevor Layton is a musician from Vancouver, British Columbia. He took up the guitar at the age of 13 and became a guitar player and vocalist. Early in 2008 he released his first album entitled Out of the Light, in which he plays in a more acoustic way with a Dave Matthews Band style. In February 2012 he released his most recent record, The Endless Dream, defined in his own words as "full-band, cranked-volume, sweaty concert hall rock!". Well, I'm still figuring out what this means. Also, Layton undertook the writing, playing, production, mixing and mastering by himself. So, I'll try to be the more assertive in this review...

The first thing I've noticed in this album is the wide range of rhythms and musical styles involved on it. We all know that most musicians like to reveal their influences and define their musical style, and that is the big failure I see on this record. Here we have a lot of musical styles involved so you can't put it into a particular genre and it comes across like a compilation or a tribute instead of being a solo record; unfortunately inconsistent.

Layton's voice reminds me singers like Robert Berry or Chris Cornell, but softer and not as powerful, his mid-vocal range makes it a bit interesting, nothing more. Tune Into my Mind is by far the most interesting song of this record, a mixture between a grunge song and some rhythmical elements from Rush, a song that needs to be more powerful. I particularly think that the opening song is probably one of the most important tracks on a record, and here we can see it halfway. Break Away is a rock'n'roll-esque song combined with some punk elements, probably here I can see the explanation of what Layton calls Concert Hall Rock. Do it for You is like a Moby song but with a melancholic voice and without the overdubs, resulting in a boring song. With Can't Help Myself now we have a Southern Rock song, reminding me of bands like The Black Crowes or something like that, the drumming is weak, and there is a problem with the rhythm. Shadowrunner is a harder song, and I like it a bit more because here we have the first break and change in the rhythm and the first guitar solo (remember, Layton is a guitar player). One I Want brings us back to the Southern Rock influence, but with some voice effects on the verses. Now we have an Intro that I suppose will lead us into a some kind of space travel and turns into a song that reminds me of Rob Zombie but, weakly, is a dark song. Here we have another change in the rhythm and a keyboard solo with an ambient section that lead the song to fade out. Visions is a funky song, bass slapping leading the rhythm and the influences from Red Hot Chili Peppers are obvious, again the drums are not helping, and finally another guitar solo. Chance Encounter is another melancholic song and due to the acoustic guitars Generation 13 from Saga immediately came to my mind, liked it. Ice Dancer is another rock song similar to the previous ones. Stop, the final song is basically a ballad, a rock ballad, has a good guitar solo at the finale but lacks enthusiasm...

It was very hard for me listening to this album, as I said at the beginning of this review, there is a lot of influences mixed here, and after hearing it I feel that there is no wonder that I didn't feel surprised or connected to the music. There is a lot of work to be done for future releases, the most important thing is to define which genre the music fits into. Better luck next time...

Conclusion: 3.5 out of 10


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