Reviews in this issue:
- Days Between Stations - In Extremis
- Devin Townsend Project - Epicloud
- Demetra Sine Die - A Quiet Land of Fear
- Logic Mess - Element of the Grid
- Camelias Garden - You Have A Chance
- Pendragon - Out Of Order Comes Chaos
- New Eden Orchestra - Vikings
- Second Culture - Flying Potion
- Hidden Lands - In Our Time
- Colin Edwin & Jon Durant - Burnt Belief
Days Between Stations - In Extremis
Tracklist: No Cause for Alarm (Overture) (3:51), In Utero (5:10), Visionary (10:40), Blackfoot (10:04), The Man Who Died Two Times (4:11), Waltz in E Minor (2:04), Eggshell Man (11:56), In Extremis - Mass, Part II: On The Ground, Part III: A Requiem, Part IV: Writing On Water, Part V: Overland, Part VI: It Never Ends (21:37)
OK. There's been a few records recently with guest players that have had the interwebs chattering and the forums, er, forumming. Terms like 'album of the year', 'I was in tears' and whatnot are bandied about like so much confetti blown to the winds at a town centre registry office wedding. But have you noticed that quite a few of the guest players on these records crop up on just about every album going?
My love of American and Scandinavian prog has been duly noted in these pages, and my thoughts that the bar insofar as U.K. prog is concerned is set so laughingly low that with only a handful of exceptions most current British prog acts (some 1980s second-wavers excepted) are little better, in my opinion at least, than pub bands. Good, in that drunken knees-up, buy a CDR to help 'em with their petrol money kind of way.
Now. You want a truly inspirational line-up of guest musicians, complementing some already stunningly talented players in their own right then check this out. Oscar Fuentes Bills and Sepand Samzadeh are Days Between Stations, and we reviewed their debut a few years ago. I vividly remember buying it on the strength of that review, and loving it. I still do in fact. Mention was made of Gilmour and Waters and Steve Hackett; and (prog trivia factoid coming up) Bruce Soord of The Pineapple Thief used some of the band’s improvised stuff on the tune Saturday from Twelve Stories Down. That self-titled debut album was entirely instrumental. I though it was great, as I've mentioned. This, on the other hand, is something else...
But first, just who are these guest artistes I've been banging on about? Well, how about Peter Banks, to whom the album, and specifically the instrumental Waltz in E Minor (by the Angel City String Quartet) is dedicated? Peter is credited with guitar textures and rhythm guitar on the 12 minute long Eggshell Man which also features Rick Wakeman playing sublime Mellotron flute and a stunning MiniMoog solo. That's right. Mellotron flute and MiniMoog. By Rick bloody Wakeman! I don't actually have the words to describe his Minimoog solo. No, I really don't. All I've been able to do since I first heard it is sit, mouth wide open, fingers jiggling like a loon in air-keyboarding frenzy as it plays. Then when the song has finished I stick it back on again. Peter (who is missed by many and who makes his final recorded appearance here) also makes the same contribution, plus lead guitar, to the staggering In Extremis, but more of that anon.
Colin Moulding of XTC takes on lead vocal duties on The Man Who Died Two Times, which also sees Billy Sherwood on backing vocals and drums. Billy mixed and helped produce the record and does all the 'real' drumming (Oscar does some electronic percussion). He takes on lead vocal duties on Visionary and Eggshell Man too. Tony Levin plays a variety of bass, Stick, 'funk fingers' (now, I don't know what the heck they are but I want some) and upright bass throughout the record. There's also a bunch of other great musicians adding variously trumpet, brass, backing vox and whatnot. Sepand does the guitar stuff, including some truly fabulous lap steel (a definite 'hairs on the back of the neck standing up' moment, this) on Visionary and Oscar is the keyboard guru, whipping out the Mellotron and Rhodes on Eggshell Man, and the Hammond on the 21 minute long title track.
Oh, and an artist by the name of Paul Whitehead, who you may have heard of before is responsible for the stunning artwork. The triple gatefold digi-pack sleeve I've got is a limited edition, in a first pressing run of 2000 only and I would absolutely urge you to get this. It's quite wonderful and the best album cover I've seen in about 10 years. The booklet, photography and inner sleeve artwork, complete with lyrics takes one back to the good old days when an LP was a thing of beauty and we'd pore over it for hours as we played the record.
Many of you will know Billy Sherwood's work, behind and in front of the mixing desk. It should therefore come as no surprise to you that this is one of the finest sounding albums, production-wise that you'll ever hear. That's right, not just this year, but the sounds that assail you (and the bits in-between, what Brett Kull terms, quoting Francis Dunnery, the insects in the music), be it through headphones, in the car or on the home stereo are truly wonderful. I've played the record a lot through a Denon CD player feeding into a Little Dot Mk3 valve headphone amp through Chord crimson plus cables firing Grado SR80i headphones. The same set up I used to play last year's album of the year (as judged by not only me but by all the DPRP writers combined), echolyn's self-titled 'Window' album. Strange that there's a few still to even hear that record (I know, but then you can lead a horse to water...). On my budget, it's as good a set-up as there is. The valve amp in particular lending a warmth, a presence to even the worst aural atrocities that even 1980s trebly excess can throw at it. I blame Thatcher, personally. The high treble frequencies of many a 1980s album were, I believe, secretly perfected at Boscombe Down to placate rowdy rabble rousers.
But I digress.
Eggshell Man would make many a reviewer's top 10 songs of the year list but then In Extremis itself kicks in. All 21 and a half minutes of it. 'It' being 21 plus minutes of the most uplifting, symphonic, orchestral, reflective, brash, cinematic, breathtaking, ambient, psychedelic music I've heard for many a year. Pass me a thesaurus for heaven's sake. Billy Sherwood's vocals are perfectly Floyd-ian, as is the guitar playing. But it's much more three-dimensional than that, to be fair. Now I love Pink Floyd as much as the next man but sometimes they kind of ploughed the same field for a bit too long in my opinion. The vocal harmonies are to die for too, and come courtesy of the Pat Claypool, Matt Gray, Eric Orr and David Rakita 'Barbershop Quartet'.
Every year there's a song. A perfect song. That has it all and that's up there with the all-time greats. Last year, for me, it was echolyn's Island. The year before it was Discipline's Rogue. Now, this is better than both of those tunes. No, really. Which is not something I say lightly.
And don't think that the lyrics play second fiddle. No sir. Perfectly attuned to the music. And vice versa. Anguished, tortured, heartbreaking and heartbroken, speaking of love, and loves lived and lost.
You get your money's worth too. It's well over an hour long and never ever outstays its welcome. Here's an album that deserves a place in everyone's record collection. The superb artwork and quality of the booklet and packaging makes it a must-buy as opposed to (legal) download, for me at least. Support truly great musicians going out on a limb to bring you truly great, original progressive rock music as good as some of the classics. Buy this record.
Last year I gave echolyn's record a resounding 10/10, in line with DPRP rating policy, deeming it as having set the bar for American symphonic progressive rock music. Just as I thought Izz had done a few years before with The Darkened Room and Crush of Night. There's a record coming out by a certain popular U.K. progressive rock beat combo that I'd also rate as a 10/10 only I'm a tad biased, seeing as I lived on the lead singer's sofa for 2 months. So I won't be reviewing it.
This, though, is one of the finest albums I have ever heard, in any genre, and sets the bar even higher for not just American progressive rock bands but everyone else too. I played around with giving it a 10.5/10 but thought the editors would shout at me.
Conclusion: 10 minus out of 10
[Brian really wanted to give this album a 10/10 review. In fact he did. He even said it was better than echolyn's album last year and Discipline's the year before. And Izz's last two albums, both of which rated 10/10 reviews from Brian.
However, because he spent a goodly percentage (estimated at 75%) of the review talking about famous guest players his 10 out of 10 review caused the band some concern. "It's as though we don't exist" said someone who had asked Rick Wakeman amongst others to appear on their album. Brian didn't "talk about them" enough (Rick Wakeman's MiniMoog solo did in fact take up a few lines of the review).
For submitting a 10/10 review that didn't spend at least 75% of the review talking about the core band 0.2 has been deducted from the score and Brian will be taken out back and shot.
He will be missed.
But we'll just reload and take more time with the second shot. Ed]
Devin Townsend Project - Epicloud
Devin Townsend is the amalgamation of irreverent and intellectual whose spoof albums sound better than the stuff he spoofs and has no qualms in delving into previously untouched territory. This 15th studio album, Epicloud, is a sort of a compendium of his storied history in the music business. It plays to the heavy and brute force of his late '90s era material as well as to the more tempered recent Devin Townsend Project sound.
As always, the sound is large whether it is mellow or rough. Townsend's productions usually have a wide and expansive characteristic leaving no space between regardless of the content. Even the staccato phrases are filled with massive volume of over and undertones. Epicloud dives into this idea with grandiosity in the opener Effervescent! that bleeds into True North where a church choir lights up the senses and Devin fires in with a heady dose of his unique and larger than life voice - all very tasteful and awesome.
The next tune, Lucky Animals, has gotten the most attention. It pounds out a repeating hook line in classic punchy Townsend fashion and its accompanying video is a fan-derived patchwork.
This album carries the feel and flow resembling something between Terria and Ocean Machine where, albeit metal based, it does not fall back into the Strapping Young Lad dizzying frontal assault. The spectrum of sound indicates a great deal of care with this product above and beyond his usual fare.
Ryan Van Poederooyen on the drums puts on an accurate and vibrant auditory show. This music could not have the same impact without this level of playing on percussion. Especially where restraint is necessary, Ryan makes the flowing nature of this work happen and is really the primary driver for this full-on auditory experience.
Where this disc really hits its stride is Where We Belong about a third of the way through. This, to me is where Devin is truly gifted and unique. He can build an over the top sensory overload while delivering a soft and fluffy bedtime story and have it come out quite infectious and even, dare I say, pretty. The backing vocal delivered by Anneke Van Giersbergen is absolutely angelic especially when contrasted with the backdrop of heavy and deep undertones sprinkled throughout. The result is stunning.
The closer is Angel, a full-bodied gorgeous number that might be the most beautiful song Devin has ever released. The contradictions are the fundamental reason for this album's striking appeal. The final stanza speaks of the Effervescent Quality completing the circle and contained within it are all the elements that made Devin's musical world and more, all to the finely recorded and ethereal church choir. This time it seems that there were no predetermined parameters or boundaries and with this newfound freedom Townsend has unleashed a creative spark that is just getting started.
Hevy Devy has outdone himself, and that says a lot. This is very near absolute perfection with the song quality increasing as the album progresses. If he continues to allow himself to relax and churn out this kind of free form quality, I see a dramatic broadening of his audience in store. Turn this up and soak in the full experience, and Devin, thank you for inviting us to your church!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Demetra Sine Die - A Quiet Land of Fear
There is a particularly mournful tone to this latest album from Italians Demetra Sine Die that is enhanced by the accompanying artwork of French designer Dehn Sora - it's predominantly black for a reason! However there is a great deal of energy behind their particular take on prog metal and they have managed to enrich the experience and take it away from the norm by deploying an atmospheric feel that serves them well. This is most definitely more towards the "prog" end of the prog metal spectrum and for me and hits a good number of the right buttons.
A Quiet Land of Fear is, as far as I can make out, Demetra's second full album and pleasingly it sounds much like you'd expect it to from the title. This is indeed unsettling stuff with a fine sense of oncoming shadow about it. The melodies are effective and downbeat, the playing very good and the vocals, although not the most impressive you'll ever hear, suit the setting and provide the tortured human face amongst the mayhem. Don't get the idea that this is all howling "Bark At The Moon" metal because it isn't. Songs that could have emanated from a quiet land of fear, however, they most certainly are. Only not exactly quiet!
Demetra Sine Die started out in 2003 founded by guitarist/vocalist Marco Paddeu and drummer Marcello Fattore based on their love of the darker end of rock and a desire to explore a complex world of atmospheres, sounds and feelings. It is the effective use of atmospherics that sets Demetra Sine Die apart. With the addition of Adriano Magliocco (bass) a key piece of the puzzle was put in place as his throbbing, Tool influenced low end is an important factor in the music. The addition of keysman Matteo Orlandi has also done much to grow the doomy atmospherics end of the bands music and he does not often play a recognisable melody line but greatly adds to the sound of the band.
The masterstroke is the inclusion of Roby Calcagno's trumpet which appears here and there to make this into something really different.
After a swirling drone of tones and sounds which increase in volume through guest Silvia Sassola's recitation of a section of William Blakes' Songs of Innocence and Experience, an absorbing vortex that resolves in an almost chanted male vocal, the instrumentation emerges gradually from the stew until with pounding rhythm and chugging guitar Red Sky of Sorrow finally reveals itself. The rhythms are tribal supported by eerie wails, this is prog metal indeed but of a rather different colour. The bass is REALLY low and rumbles away effectively, electrostatics flashing around the menacing theme. The vocals are a little buried but this is an impressive and atmospheric opener.
A number of the pieces open with sinuous bass leads. On Black Swan it's throbbing pulse is joined by twinkling percussion and eerie spoken vocals that add to the spookiness, the main theme breaking through now and again. Notes are left hanging at the end as the piece reduces itself to a bare keyboard line with an unsettling sense of foreboding. Nicely done. 0 Kilometers to Nothing also cranks up the Tool influences in the bass intro, the trumpet deployed to good effect creating something different, guitars chugging intermittently in the background. There are elements of old school metal coming through but this is an engaging re-think with a multitude of influences. The power is used sparingly and effectively as are the atmospherics, neither drowning the rest of the music as is often the case.
The title track adds elements of Hawkwind, a pounding rhythm and gliding, swooping guitar cranking up the metallic edge before breaking, Opeth style, into a solitary guitar picking out a repetitive figure. The vocals fit the music, certainly hewn from years of listening to metal but with a smoothness and fragility that stops them becoming grating. The buried nature makes it sound like Marco Paddeu is howling out of a storm, unable to fight the forces around him. Things settle down into a basic drum rhythm with guitars and feedback, an almost mechanical section as a resolution to the preceding mayhem and, again, elements of Tool in the stark guitar.
The Hawkwind influence is again apparent with the electrostatics of the brief Ancestral Silence, a pause for breath that moves into another bass led introduction to Silent Sun which develops into a thumping Tool-esque epic with vocals that could have come from Hawkwind. Strange but effective. The metal falls away for another section of guitar, the more subdued yet hypnotic rhythms straining at the leash to be released again to ravage the imploring vocal.
Another classy bass lead starts Distances on a rising and falling mid-pace line, the aching trumpet returning to add to the sense of bleakness. The pace remains constant, tribal drums beating out a rhythm, world-weary vocal with choral support. The trumpet takes a startling turn towards Miles Davis that is particularly effective and things open up at the end into a more traditional prog metal sound which is refreshing as this is not the norm here.
A brief burst of rhythmic electronica forms a buffer before That Day I Will Disappear into the Sun gallops out of the blocks, moving though a number of sections, the vocals particularly effective here in this resounding resume of the album that has preceded it with a touch of Blue Öyster Cult about the "chorus" (don't forget to sing along).
This really is a compelling album that took several listens to properly get into but was well worth the effort as the results are very impressive. The metal is not overwrought, the atmospherics do not become boring and the underlying cosmic and phsychedelic influences add an unusual flavour. The music is not always melodic but is successfully evocative of a place where fear reigns supreme and fighting the powers of darkness is largely futile. The doomy, cinematic vibe does not become claustrophobic and the journey is an entertaining one, the pace seldom slowing below "brisk trot". The drums are constantly on the move - this is not simply about beating out the time - and the bass is interesting throughout; the Tool influences in both are clear but this is no tribute or parody. The ground covered by the rhythm section allows the guitar to come and go at will as there is no necessity for it to fill out the gaps, keys successfully colouring the background as darkly as required. The emotional intensity seeps through in these pieces and the album becomes a journey through darkness and not just a collection of disparate songs.
I like this album a lot. Highly recommended.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Logic Mess - Element of the Grid
Logic Mess are a progressive metal band from Poland which started off as a band called Crystal Lake in 2009 and released an album called Safe. The line up has since changed giving birth to Logic Mess with Marcin Gawelek (guitar), Lukasz Bienkowski (bass) and Piotr Wypych (Keyboards) being joined by Krzysztof Owsiak (vocals) and Piotr Majka (drums).
Element Of The Grid is a concept album set in the future. The story is about an Element, a beautiful woman known as Arcadia, who is a hologram generated in 3D making her appear to be human, but inside her is a cubic node which is the missing piece of the central system. Arcadia leads the two main characters, twins William and Jonathan who are guards of the system, into conflict. Eventually Arcadia connects with the cluster and the hologram disappears providing the missing element code to the central system which is called Crystal Lake. The central system then starts working fully, ending the oppression of the people and allowing them to see the world as it really is.... The story also features other characters (Gabriel and The Great Teller involving computers, missing chips, implants, codes, visions and emotions etc.), making for an interesting concept album.
The album starts with an Intro with spoken parts that start off the story. One of the characters sounds a bit like Fish, especially the spoken lines "Welcome to the library young boy" and "Too many questions, my friend Gabriel". Intro flows into Welcome To Pandemic States with some nice, gentle keyboards and good vocals slowly building into a great track with excellent guitars and good time changes. Spoken parts carry forward the story leading us into Arcadia with fast guitar playing in a more metal style. Next we have The Guards Of Integration, the heaviest track on the album, which starts with powerful bass and drums joined by muscular guitars leading into good times changes with strong, heavy vocals. At times this track really rocks at lightning speed. I also enjoyed the spoken parts set against the fast pace of the music and found myself being totally immersed in this track. The first four tracks all flow into each other and really keep you interested as to what is going on both musically and lyrically. Next we have Recall Of A Memory which takes you by the throat to start and then mixes in gentler passages with some excellent guitar which is death metal in parts and progressive in others. About ten minutes in the track slows down completely, getting quite simplistic and peaceful before gradually building up with nice keyboards to move straight into Systematic Code, one of my favourite tracks. I love the opening keyboards, full on with a catchy beat, then the pace changes reminding me of Riverside; lovely, atmospheric music topped with nice harmony vocals. Picking things back up and moving full circle into the next track, Over The Giant Wall, another favourite on the album and the longest track coming in at just over 13 minutes. A great start builds up nicely with excellent keyboards and lovely vocals set against good drums leading into the deeply sung chorus of "Over the giant wall" which is one that sticks in your head. This is another track with lots of time signatures that showcases the band's writing skills which underlines the quality in the musicianship and vocals. The last but one track, Surrender again has excellent vocals, harmonies and guitars leading into Outro, a spoken ending with keyboards sounds. To me this is the only weak part of the album as the voices don't quite sound right but as it lasts less than 3 minutes there is not too much to complain about.
I enjoyed this album and I'm sure that fans of progressive metal will too. The concept is good with excellent musicianship throughout, parts of the album reminding me of Riverside which may be due to the fact that both bands come from Poland. The vocals are clear and the spoken parts are good, the album having elements of early Fish-era Marillion and Arena but heavier with a metal edge. Also in parts Logic Mess sound like Dream Theater which seems to becoming a common thing with new bands, but I still feel they have their own sound and look forward to hearing the next instalment. The CD booklet is futuristic in design and fits well with the futuristic concept and includes full lyrics with identifications as to which character is singing or speaking each part of the story.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Camelias Garden - You Have A Chance
Camelias Garden (sic) are a young band from Rome, formed around multi-instrumentalist Valerio Smordoni who also wrote all but two of the songs on this, the band's debut album, the other two - The Withered Throne and We All Stand In Our Broken Jars - being group compositions.
Valerio plays MiniMoog, keyboards, piano, harmonium, acoustic guitar, tambourine and Taurus Pedal, as well as contributing lead and backing vocals. The rest of the band are Manolo D'Antonio on acoustic and 12-string guitar, electric guitar, classical guitar, ukulele and backing vocals, and Marco Avallone with his bass, synth bass, Taurus Pedal and percussions. Without a permanent drummer, Francesco Favilli sat in for the album and other guest musicians contribute flute, violin, cello and bassoon.
Camelias Garden produce a sound heavily steeped in a folksy take on classic prog of the Genesis variety, an inevitable comparison given the frequent appearance, particularly in the second half of the album of THAT synth sound!
The songs presented here stir up a delightful and whimsical concoction, the album split into two halves by the dreamy instrumentals We All Stand In Our Broken Jars and A Safe Haven, following which the Genesis influence seems more pronounced.
However they do not let their tendency to occasionally get lost in Tony Banks's synth patches obscure their knack for writing a decent song. The lyrics are all in well written English, but given Valerio's sometimes idiosyncratic pronunciation it is probably just as well that they are reproduced in full in the tastefully designed booklet. Given those well thought out and well written English lyrical themes it is perhaps a shame that they didn't sing them in their native tongue, as Italian lends itself so well to poetry in any idiom.
There are some nice arrangements on this album, nowhere more so than on The Withered Throne, a simple love song about "Ron and Jane" built on a cleverly constructed and highly catchy verse sequence, over acoustic guitars and strings. It is simple but highly effective, and a showcase for Valerio's and Manolo's acoustic interplay.
The instrumental We All Stand... carries on the theme and even has some restrained riffing as it builds to its conclusion, like the ending of a euphoric dream. A Safe Haven meanders downstream on the back of Valerio's classical piano, and then we head off into the land of whimsy.
Some nice harmonising presages the inevitable synth solo in Knight's Vow which actually reminds me more of Barclay James Harvest than Genesis. Another fine acoustic guitar led arrangement backs the short Clumsy Grace which despite its title is not the slightest bit gauche, and then we arrive at Mellow Days, the longest song on the record. At under ten minutes it does not quite qualify as an epic, which is a good thing as this young band are too good at songwriting to waste their talents noodling.
Unfortunately this is the one song on the record that relies a little too much on Valerio and his mates plundering their dads' Genesis record collections for inspiration. The bass pedal sound alone is enough to get you digging out Trick Of The Tail. I cannot deny that it is very well played and it is a must for all trad symphonic prog lovers, for sure; but it is a bit flat after the sublime The Withered Throne from earlier. That's the way I would like to see them go, rather than rely on the same old same old that so many "prog" bands these days are fixated by, unless they are happy to remain in a musical cul-de-sac, which would be a shame.
Thankfully, the Genesis fixation is, if not entirely forgotten, largely dropped on the following song 'Til The Morning Came, which sees a return to the eloquent acoustic-led storytelling of before, segueing straight into a reprise of the opening song, complete with subtle Beatles-esque production touches.
Considering the youth of this band, You Have A Chance is a highly mature collection of well written and skilfully executed songs, and worth the time of any modern prog-head. I look forward to the future releases of Camelias Garden, and if they let go of the Genesis-isms then the world could be their cookie jar.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Pendragon - Out Of Order Comes Chaos
Tracklist: Passion (5:35), Back In The Spotlight (7:09), Ghosts (8:09), Not Of This World (16:03), Comatose (17:11), If I Were The Wind (9:26), Empathy (10:29), This Green And Pleasant Land (12:29), Shane (4:35), Feeding Frenzy (5:53), Last Man On Earth (14:57), Indigo (13:32), Prayer (5:16), Paintbox (8:12)
With a European tour starting on 2nd May in Leamington Spa, England, Out of Order Comes Chaos is a timely reminder of what Pendragon are all about. One of the original neo-prog bands with a 35 year track record as distinguished as Steve Ovett's, they have never quite reached the dizzy heights with home crowds in the U.K. as they have in Europe, especially in Poland for which they have recorded material specifically for local fans. Out of Order Comes Chaos is their fourth live album recorded either in Poland or especially for their home market.
Last year, they released the DVD of this concert filmed and recorded at the Teatr Slaski in Katowice, Poland on 20th April 2011, just weeks after their excellent latest album Passion was released. Geoff Feakes wrote a wonderful assessment of the DVD at the time and there is really not much to add to his assessment of the concert.
But nonetheless, the double CD again demonstrates the innate capabilities and talents of the Gloucestershire Four when performing in front of a very partisan crowd. The sound quality in particular is crystal clear, which maybe detracts a little from the usual performance atmosphere when a little bit of hysteria and audience participation can demonstrate the connection between band and their fans.
Having seen the band live, there is also something about their overall stage presence which adds so much to the mix - Nick Barrett's rustic swain vibe, the muscular power play of Scott Higham, Clive Nolan's brooding sideman presence and Pete Gee's solid, no-nonsense stance.
This is a great showcase for their material, old and new, with the numbers from their most recent and acclaimed album Passion really making the most impact.
The songs possess a robust freshness and urgency about them, but perhaps This Green and Pleasant Land, the opener on CD2, provides the real 'wow' factor with its penetratingly honest lyric and huge melodic chorus.
Barrett is a master craftsman and often highly under-rated guitarist, his fluid guitar runs flowing freely throughout the album, though his voice, which adds a gruff character to the sound, does veer into Andy Tillison territory a couple of times. Neither would admit to being the best of singers but somehow, the music would be diminished by having a piercing, overarching rock voice at the helm.
There are some stunning songs, especially Ghosts with its numerous tempo shifts and driving rhythm and the almost cinematic sweep of Last Man On Earth. Rounding off the set is their classic Paintbox from The Masquerade Overture, a beautifully constructed and thoughtful song with gorgeous guitar and keyboard interludes.
Without the visuals as offered in last year's DVD, perhaps it does not quite have the impact because they tick all the right boxes live in terms of performance and energy. However, with over two hours of prog passion and pleasure, this offers a timely reminder of what Pendie Power is all about and why they continue to command such a huge and devoted following across Europe. Miss them live at your peril.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
New Eden Orchestra - Vikings
Scott Schrecengost - Guitars
Dave Marion - Drums, Percussion, Lead and Background Vocals, Additional Keyboards
Bob Marion - Classical and Electric Guitar
Andy Shaw - Lead and Background Vocals
Mark Reynolds - Percussion, Drums
Heidi Engel - Lead and Background Vocals
Bill Hankins - Bass, Classical Guitar, Recorder
Mike Lunn - All Music and Lyrics except Final Peace, Keyboards and Guitars
Vikings is the second release from New Eden Orchestra - the first being Anyman some eight year previously. During that time much has happened in the NEO world, most notably the death of founder member and main man Michael Lunn some two and a half years ago. This album represents the efforts of the New Eden Orchestra to give Lunn's music and lyrics the voice that he was sadly unable to do.
It's certainly an interesting album fusing a diverse blend of styles and approaches into a cohesive whole that does a fine job of bring Mike's music to life.
The opening 9 tracks form a suite of songs entitled Vikings which takes the listener on a mythical voyage of exploration and rampage from Norse myths and legends and finally to Valhalla (the Viking's resting place after death). Taken together these nine songs spin a good narrative and there is lots going on musically including Celtic influences along with some bizarre middle eastern sounding elements on Behind the Veil.
The Vikings suite is very reminiscent of bands like Kansas or Spock's Beard as it features and uses epic soundscapes similar to that employed by those bands. It is certainly worth hearing a few times to get into the spirit and to appreciate it fully as its charm may not be immediately apparent on first listen.
Anytown is a biting critique of modern day living and values with some very interesting lyrics indeed set against a funky backbeat. This is one of the more rocky tracks on the album with some great guitar work throughout and that funky backbeat giving the song a very different feel.
Final Peace follows and is a lovingly considered tribute to Michael Lunn with its Celtic lilt and classical guitar. It is a very emotive piece that was played at Mike's funeral and is a very fitting epitaph to the band's friend and leader. Musically it does a great justice and shows the sheer class of Mike's compositions, the lyrics representing how the band members' felt about Mike and his life. It is a very strong track that shows the diversity and skill these musicians have as well as the love, fondness and respect in which Mike was held; it is a very fitting tribute indeed.
Super Monkey is funky, silly and will make you smile. For a prog track it sure has a groove and a funkiness not normally associated with the genre. OK, it may be a tad throwaway but it will make you smile with its daft lyrics and great guitar playing.
Katherine Ives is a delicate song showing off Heidi Engel's voice to its maximum effect, going from folksy to prog during the course of the song and featuring some very effective classical and acoustic guitar playing, with some fine dual vocals giving it a great effect against it's gracious melody.
Mike's Final Peace closes the album and is an instrumental version of Final Peace but played solely by Michael Lunn himself, with its simple openness and approach it gives the melody a chance to breathe and shine and it is a really beautiful piece of music. Being placed at the close of the album it seems like a dignified way in which to close that particular chapter for the New Eden Orchestra and also acts as an elegant memorial to their very dear friend.
So in conclusion this is really an album for lovers of classic prog with lots of early '70s reference points and some fine music along the way. It's an album that releases its beauty slowly so be prepared to listen several times. Quite where the New Eden Orchestra go next is another question but for now this is a fine album by any standards and well worth investigation so on this basis I’m happy to give this...
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Second Culture – Flying Potion
As Second Culture put it themselves, they are all of "wizard age", meaning "over 40". Does that make me the Grand Vizier I wonder? Anyway, the point is these Californians have been around for a while, and in that time have absorbed every possible nuance of electronic ambient music since...well, since it started in any meaningful way, really. Therefore you will hear the obvious - Schulze, Namlook, Froese, and the not-so-obvious - Ashra, Eroc, Cluster, and more, each and all entwining their influences through the music.
The band has been delivering its musical sermons from the mount, in this case the Om Studio, 6,250 feet up in the San Bernadino Mountains, for quite some time. Their first release was way back in 1992, although I can't ascertain if that came from their Running Springs base.
Unashamedly new age in lifestyle and outlook, the band states that "iridescent sonick concoctions are forged from the whole of music history, to ignite shamanic motivations, inspire lust for beauty, and connect via magick, with the heart, the soul, the planet and the future..." You may get the impression from that quote that this band is rather too earnest, but the playful, and, a rare thing these days, the carefree nature of their work suggests otherwise.
That was an extract from their website manifesto, which goes into a longish treatise on what boils down to the old art vs artifice debate, and these guys are purely and wholly on the side of the former, no question, forging shimmering organic visions of a new world music, a devotional aspect clearly at work on the likes of Heart-Centric At The Azure Teleport. The use of chanted and choral vocals throughout gives a nice twist on what could be a tried and trusted mix of all the influences mentioned above and more, and there is a link to past electronic glories, much as the group might protest to the contrary.
Those harmony vocals are the basis of Arcane Ritual, eight minutes of harmonised cyclical singing on top of some exotic sounding percussion, with barely a synth in sight. The song conveys an air of innocent wonderment, with no trace of the cynicism that is an almost inevitable companion of the wisdom of years. That it melds seamlessly into the more traditional but thoroughly modernistic electronic soundscape of the following Hurricane Eyes leads one to the conclusion that Second Culture are indeed forging their own sound up there in the hills.
Keyth McGrew is in charge of sequencers, and contributes synthesisers, guitars and words, Andy Hutson vocalises, patches and wires some more synths, and contributes percussion, while Mark Florin plays Chapman Stick, guitars, and a no doubt weird and wonderful box of tricks that goes by the name of "stomp-box wonderland", presumably a rack of guitar effects pedals?
All the instrumentation is recorded direct from the hardware, rather than via software, which goes some way to explaining the warm sonic glow this record leaves in its trailing wake. The soft warm glow puts me in mind of FSOL offshoot Amorphous Androgynous but slightly less heavily psychedelicised, especially on tracks like Reishi King, with its oft repeated trippy mantra, and on Sankofa with its blissed-out vibe.
To use another quote from the band's website, I cannot describe better what Second Culture are attempting to do than make an "uplifting psychedelic sonick soundscape post rock electronic stew that we want to call our own", and on Flying Potions they have largely achieved that aim. While this is never going to be the kind of thing you would play more than once in a while, if you need to unwind, this album and glass or two of decent red should do the trick.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Hidden Lands - In Our Time
Bruno Edling - Vocals
Hannes Ljunghall - Keyboards, Guitars
Bjorn Westen - Keyboards
Phillip Basten - Bass
Gustav Nyberg - Drums
Hidden Lands are a new Swedish Neo-Prog band formed from the ashes of Violent Silence (four of the five members were in that band also) and In Our Nature is the first release under the Hidden Lands banner.
It's not a long album but it gives a good introduction to the band, showing off their skills to good effect. It is very keyboard based with only occasional guitar work coming through There are very strong shades of early Genesis in the keyboard sounds, textures and tones used and it sounds to these ears a tad like early Greenslade at times too.
The album consists of three longer tracks; In My Nature, Incurable and The Night Garden. With the shorter but no less interesting tracks in-between, five songs with vocals and one instrumental piece (Stiletto Runner) complete the album.
In My Nature opens with synths before an offbeat bass pattern emerges awash with keyboards over the top giving the song an urgency and drive, Bruno's vocals are solid if not spectacular but the music doesn't call for a virtuoso to fit as he sings about wrestling with his nature and who he is. There are a lot of keyboards at work on this with sequencers running in the background and the intricate drum work of Gustav Nyberg adding to the overall sound. In this song I do see a lot of those early prog band influences which is no bad thing I hasten to add. The keyboard solo is especially fine, melodic and well executed.
Third track The Road To Halych opens with Gustav's solid drumbeats before a rippling keyboard comes in with Phillip's bass underpinning everything and holding it all together before a simple yet elegant melody appears, one that is taken up by both sets of keyboards. It sounds very good indeed and Bruno then joins the fray singing against a backdrop of keyboards. This is one of my favourite songs on the album.
Incurable is the longest track at 10:52 but never at any stage does it lose its interest opening with gentle piano emerging into another synth led melodious section. Like most of the songs on this album the lyrics are sombre yet not depressing as Bruno sings of lost chances and times, it's an engrossing piece and moves through several phases. This is a very piano based track and that adds to the wistful nature of the song giving it depth and colour, there is another splendid and lengthy keyboard solo at the 9:20 mark leading the song out to its conclusion with elegance.
Stiletto Runner is the instrumental and showcases Gustav's drumming set against some very electro sounding keyboards. Again this piece has a real urgency and verve to it.
The last track on the album, The Night Garden, is a graceful song about the joy of coming home again after a long time away. You can even hear an acoustic guitar in there too. It's a very languid piece but elegantly delivered and sounds very effective, also including a guitar break.
Overall this is a very good album but it will take quite a few listens to get what is going on with the music. Well it did for me anyway! So if you are a fan of heavily keyboard laden prog then this could very well be up your street as it were, fans of early Genesis, Greenslade or possibly Porcupine Tree will find much to enjoy in here. It doesn’t really rock as such but offers a different listening experience for those that take the time to enjoy its intricacies and on that basis I'm happy to give this...
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Colin Edwin & Jon Durant - Burnt Belief
Burnt Belief is the first collaboration between Porcupine Tree's bassist Colin Edwin and composer/'cloud' guitarist Jon Durant. However, it is not the first time they have recorded together as Edwin played bass on Durant's 2011 album Dance Of The Shadow Planets. Although the duo perform most of the music themselves, with Edwin also contributing electronics and rhythm programming and Durant adding synths and pianos, percussionist Jerry Leake hits various instruments on all but the first and last tracks and flautist Geoff Leigh contributes to one track.
The instrumental album is described as a 'post rock concept album', although it bears no resemblance to the bands I would normally associate with the post rock genre. More accurate is the statement that the music draws from 'ethnic, ambient and electronic elements'. The music resembles some of the earlier ambient work of David Sylvian, particularly on the longer tracks such as Uncoiled, which is a tad too ambient for my tastes, and Balthasar's Key, the latter of which is buoyed by Leigh's excellent flute contributions.
And, in a nutshell, that is it! Dreamy, atmospheric, non threatening music that would be suitable as background dinner party music or late night relaxation. Neither is meant as condemnation; some will love it, others be bored to tears. Personally I found listening to the album more enjoyable when I was driving in my car than when I was at home. Needless to say, the musicianship is faultless.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10