Album Reviews

Issue 2013-045

Reviews in this issue:


Djam Karet - The Trip
Djam Karet - The Trip
Country of Origin:U.S.A.
Record Label:HC Productions
Catalogue #:HC016
Year of Release:2013
Info:Djam Karet
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: The Trip (47:08)

Raffaella Berry's Review

With almost 30 years of activity and 16 albums behind them, southern Californian quintet Djam Karet (Indonesian for "elastic time") are one of the few progressive rock bands formed in the early Eighties that did not subscribe to the neo-prog aesthetics, and, instead of opting for a revival of the classic symphonic prog modes of the previous decade, went for a completely instrumental (and, at least in the early years of their career, improvisational) format.  This choice earned them a mention in Edward Macan's seminal book on the genre, Rocking the Classics, as one of the most promising instances of "post-classic" prog, embodying the archetype of the cult band that has never compromised its artistic integrity to cater to current trends. After releasing a steady stream of albums for the best part of 20 years, the band's activity seemingly ground to a halt after the release of Recollection Harvest in 2005 - with the sole exception of their "live-in-the-studio" album The Heavy Soul Sessions, released in 2010. In the meantime, the band members kept busy by concentrating on various side projects - such as the launch of their independent label, Firepool Records, which saw the debut one of the decade's finest new bands, Texan outfit Herd of Instinct (whose second album, Conjure, features Gayle Ellett as a full-fledged member).

Often tagged as a "proto-jam band" - a definition that is at the same time accurate and somewhat misleading, suggesting to some a kinship with commercially successful modern jam bands such as Phish or Umphrey's McGee - Djam Karet's recording output has always been the epitome of eclecticism, ranging from angular, intricate King Crimson-inspired pieces to hypnotic forays into the electronic progressive tradition of Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream. The band's interest in ambient and electronic music has also been reflected in the side projects released in recent years, such as Ukab Maerd's The Waiting Room (2010) and Henderson/Oken's Dream Theory in the IE (2011). Though not exactly prolific in terms of live appearances, the five current members of Djam Karet - founders Ellett (keyboards, bouzouki, flute, field recordings and effects), Mike Henderson (electric guitars, e-bow, effects) and Chuck Oken, jr. (drums, percussion, synths, live samples and processing), plus Aaron Kenyon (5-string bass, effects) and Mike Murray (electric guitars, acoustic guitar, e-bow, effects) - have been playing together long enough to have achieved an almost uncanny synergy, in which no instrument prevails on the other, but all strive together to create a sound that is intense and atmospheric at the same time.

As Djam Karet's first album of completely new material in almost 8 years, The Trip - whose title rings as a clear statement of intent - was highly awaited by the band's loyal following and fans of instrumental progressive rock. Cleverly introduced by vintage-flavoured cover artwork referencing the Indonesian origin of the band's name, it combines the electric and the electronic strains of their inspiration, exploring hauntingly sparse soundscapes before launching into a full-tilt psychedelic rock workout. In a dauntingly bold move, the album features one single track, a 47-minute composition which, however, is divided into four clearly recognizable sections. In spite of the heavy reliance on electronics, The Trip comes across as warm and organic rather than mechanical, and in that it works much better than the slightly chilly (though flawlessly executed) output of early Porcupine Tree. While unabashedly retro in inspiration, it also possesses a timeless feel of its own, and its intriguingly cinematic sweep reflects Gayle Ellett's extensive experience as a composer of movie and TV soundtracks.

Like those Seventies albums to which it proudly pays homage, The Trip is a quintessential headphones album - one that deserves the listener's full attention, rather than being left to run in the background. The composition's extended ambient/electronic build-up is made of short, almost self-contained passages in which the electric and the acoustic components complement the electronic one - a sonic patchwork that may at first feel a bit disjointed, but will gain its own internal coherence from repeated listens. After almost 20 minutes, drums finally emerge, together with organ and electric guitar, describing a slow, stately tune that may bring to mind Pink Floyd circa Meddle. Then things revert briefly to the spacey, trippy mood of the first section, with a sparse, improvisational feel - before a veritable eruption of sound led by Chuck Oken's drums signals the beginning of a Hawkwind-meets-Pink Floyd electric cavalcade. Fast-paced and exhilarating, this final section displays all of the seamless synergy between the band members, eliciting all-round stellar performances, then ending almost abruptly. The album then comes full circle, closing with  the same whooshing wind-like sounds and gentle acoustic guitar chords that had introduced the track.

The Trip is undoubtedly a fascinating album whose intensely atmospheric, apparently unscripted musical content is also somewhat of an acquired taste, and may therefore put off those who like their prog highly structured and song-based. On the other hand, even if the album's one track may be perceived by some as a lot of pointless noodling, the music is far from being random in compositional terms. Lovers of early Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream and Krautrock - as well as space-rock freaks - will not fail to love The Trip, and hope that Djam Karet will finally come out of hibernation and get back on stage to perform their music before an appreciative audience.

Roger Trenwith's Review

Major Jason cuts a lonely figure walking across the tarmac, the acoustic guitar refrain written by his good friend Mike for the occasion playing in his ear buds. Suited up and carrying his temporary oxygen supply in what looks from a distance to be a padded briefcase, he seems every inch the commuter on his way from the car park to his office. The main difference being that his place of work, although like thousands of others at the end of an upwards elevator ride, is not at a desk, but buried snugly within the cosseting deep-cushioned ejector seat in the nose cone of White Arrow One.

His mission; to keep on going, to keep on going, to keep on going...

Now strapped in, the intravenous feed coursing liquids through his system that shut off all sensory perception, suspending Jason in anima for the quite knows how long. The craft goes through launch and eventually hyperdrive initiation somewhere the other side of the asteroid belt, and reforms at a random point way out there in the vast reaches of interstellar space.

Slowly, slowly, Jason becomes aware of his body as life creeps back round his veins, a new invigorating drug replacing the drip fed soma of aeons before. He is aware of a chink of light entering the field of obsidian nothingness that passes for his consciousness. The three suns are rising in the Seventh System. The light is of a strange hue; golds, greens, yellows and blues cascading around a centre of ochre-red. Meteors occasionally flash across the spacecraft's field of vision, the banks of computers winking away as data is mined and stored, hopefully for another human being to interpret at sometime in the future.

The stark lights and mad shadows eventually coalesce into a stunningly beautiful vista, and Jason can hear the soaring glid guitar solo Mike played him back at the ranch. Something had launched the hi-fidelity sound system Jason had insisted was installed into his cockpit. In fact, Jason realised it had been playing for the last twenty minutes or so, but as it formed such a fittingly marvellous soundtrack for this opening into another dimension that he was privileged to be witnessing, he had not noticed. It just seemed natural.

Smiling to himself, Jason recalled watching his friends in Djam Karet as they recorded their highly polished 47 minutes of unashamedly Floydian but nonetheless modernistic epic space rock back on Earth at White Arrow Studios in California, in what now seemed like a parallel universe, or an implanted memory. Gayle Ellett's stately keyboards and electronica forming the backdrop for the two Mikes' Henderson and Murray's guitar journeys into uncharted territories pinned down by the reassuringly steady and occasionally ominous 5-string bass of Aaron Kenyon, all anchored on Chuck Oken's rock solid rhythms.

Now becalmed in deep space, the soundtrack mirrors the endless stillness and unsettling nature of the unknown places in which Jason finds his ship cast adrift, engines shut down, solar panels recharging batteries. "No-one will believe any of this" thinks Jason as visions of faces remembered flash past, his spirit communing with the basic building blocks of life. There is an underlying current of darkness that Jason embraces, no longer afraid. "I'm alone in this tin can" he says aloud and smiles inwardly, and probably outwardly, for there is no-one here to see.

Suddenly, the craft kicks into life, driving along on an accompanying motorik rhythm from Chuck; it's time to go home. There are routines for Jason to go through, as the guitars and organ cook up a rip-roaring space-boogie.

An unquantifiable amount of time passes, the ship eventually emerging from the hyperdrive portal and back into Earth's orbit; Jason regains consciousness and just in time to catch again the guitar refrain from the start. We have come full circle and a strange but thoroughly enjoyable trip it has been, too.


RAFFAELLA BERRY : 8 out of 10
ROGER TRENWITH : 8 out of 10

The Custodian - Necessary Wasted Time

The Custodian - Necessary Wasted Time
Country of Origin:U.K.
Record Label:Laser's Edge
Catalogue #:LE1068
Year of Release:2013
Info:The Custodian
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: The Man Out of Time (3:28), Stop Talking (5:14), Other People's Lives (6:59), Persona (5:17), Things We Tell Ourselves (8:33), Departure (3:39), The Sun is God (7:16), Necessary Wasted Time (8:51)

Formed in late 2012, The Custodian have wasted no time getting their debut album out onto the streets. The group was formed by vocalist, drummer and keyboardist Richard Thomson, singer with progressive metal band Xerath, who has enlisted the able assistance of bassist Michael Pitman, lead guitarist Owain Williams and electro acoustic guitarist Nariman Poushin who are obviously seasoned musicians but whose history I am unaware of. Not being a fan of prog metal I was unfamiliar with Xerath, but a quick trawl around the interweb shows them to be pretty extreme exponents of the genre with horrid guttural, screamed-not-sung vocals and definitely something I avoid at all costs. Seems that five years and two albums shouting at the front of this band also were not sufficient to satisfy Thomson who wished to find an outlet for his more melodic side where he could actually sing. I know it is all down to personal taste but I am at a loss as to what drives some singers to hide their naturally great voices away from audiences by fronting bands where they do little more than grunt. Just as one would be hard pressed to believe that Mikael Åkerfeldt understood the meaning of the term 'harmony' from the early Opeth releases, hearing Thomson sing gentle melodies is quite a revelation.

Not that Necessary Wasted Time is all gentle and pastoral, it still maintains a bite with Williams certainly giving vent to his prowess throughout the album. The combination with Poushin's acoustic guitar adds diversity, the light and shade, that draws inspiration from classic prog bands of the '70s whilst maintaining a contemporary edge. There is a quite stunning maturity to the album and the performances, such that it is almost unbelievable that this is a debut album that was written and recorded literally within a few months of the band forming. A mixture of instrumentals and vocal pieces, although the lyric book for the album would be a pretty slim affair as vocals are frequently kept to a minimum, such as on Persona where the focus is primarily on instrumental interplay. And rather unusually the album kicks off with an instrumental, The Man Out Of Time, which is also the shortest track of the eight on offer. However, it is not a scene-setting introductory piece but a fully fledged number in its own right displaying an electric sitar to great effect and an intriguing background narrative about ancient peoples and their creation of gods. The relatively sedate opener flows smoothly into Stop Talking whose simplicity is its strong point; layered acoustic guitars, sympathetic synth backing and a simple but effective vocal line all laid down on a decent tune to boot. Some of the processed vocals may sound a bit dated but these are sensibly kept to a minimum and are not really a major distraction.

A similar template is retained for the rest of the album with the melodic electro acoustic guitar taking more prominence than its non-acoustic counterpart, although the two do blend together in a nice manner. Not that the acoustic gets its own way all the time as the lead has some exceptionally good moments in the spotlight, none more so than on the excellent Other People's Lives which can be split in two, with the acoustic initially prevailing and the electric taking over for the concluding couple of minutes unleashing a fine solo. Pitman also excels on this number with a lovely sound to his bass, the legendary Bob Katz doing an exceptionally fine job in mastering the album. Nice enigmatic piano ending as well.

Following on from the aforementioned Persona we have another instrumental in the guise of Things We Tell Ourselves whose arrangement is worthy of a song writing award. Glorious melodies are played out on the electric guitar with plenty of keyboard accents providing interest and depth. I think it is fair to say that on the number the band come closest to the style of classic prog of yore, nice going guys! Departure is the final instrumental, and the only other number falling below the five-minute mark. In many ways it is almost a companion piece to The Man Out Of Time, although this time the recorded narrative overlay is taken from an airport announcer declaring that a scheduled flight is about to, what else but, depart. The final two tracks are the real killers though with both The Sun Is God and the title track being excellent prog songs that, once again, prove that masses of complexity and overindulgence are not always necessary components in prog and that frequently keeping things simple is just, if not more, effective. The first of these two tracks allows all four musicians the space to shine while Necessary Wasted Time takes all that has been displayed over the previous 40 minutes and distils it down into the pure essence of The Custodian, an impressive and, I repeat, mature piece of writing and performance.

As Xerath are currently recording a new album, I have no idea whether Thomson intends to continue with The Custodian or if it was just a one-off project. Personally speaking I think it would be a real pity if the band did not reconvene at some point to see how they could expand and develop what they have achieved on Necessary Wasted Time although if it does prove to be a one-off then it's one heck of a musical statement and one that deserves to be acknowledged by significant sales. Perhaps that is the only way that Thomson can be persuaded to forego the progressive metal nonsense and concentrate on proper, meaningful music? (Sorry about the prog snobness!)

Conclusion: 9 out of 10


Shineback - Rise Up Forgotten, Return Destroyed

Shineback - Rise  Up Forgotten, Return Destroyed
Country of Origin:U.K.
Record Label:Bad Elephant Music
Catalogue #:BEM001
Year of Release:2013
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Part 1 - Rise Up Forgotten: May You Live In Interesting Times (Blog 1) (1:24), Is This The Dream? (5:15), Under My Feet (Blog 2) (0:50), Bedlam Days (5:39), Faultlines (4:01), Drawn Outside (Blog 3) (1:15), Here Come The Envoys (4:01), Crush Culture (4:32)
Part 2 - Return Destroyed: The Clock of the Long Now (2:05), Fears Aren't Toys (5:45), I Called Him In Vain (Blog 4) (3:26), Passengers (4:47), Xa Va Yu (3:19), The Saint of Doors (1:42), Rise Up Forgotten, Return Destroyed (10:33), As The Rain (Blog 5) (2:40), One Last Perfect Day (3:16), Myowndreamland (Final Blog) (3:47)

It was a huge blow last year when the very popular English eccentric prog rockers Tinyfish called it a day on live performances at last year's Celebr8 Festival due to lead man Simon Godfrey's hearing problems caused by tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

However, you can't keep a good man down: Godfrey was determined to carry on recording and get back to his roots through performing acoustic based sets, as was borne out by his enjoyable performance with sidekick Robert Ramsay at Celebr8.2 in May this year.

Shineback is the title of his first solo musical flight and Rise Up Forgotten, Return Destroyed is the first release on the newly established Bad Elephant Music label run by esteemed prog éminence grise, David Elliott. So in many respects, this project breaks new territory on several fronts.

However, what it is not is a follow-up to Tinyfish's stunning Big Red Spark. No, this is Godfrey unleashing his musical mojo in a completely different sonic arena.

While Godfrey's influences include seminal progressively inclined bands XTC and Japan, Rise Up Forgotten, Return Destroyed is a completely different oeuvre and is delivered with terrific energy and panache. It is a rollercoaster ride, lasting more than an hour, into the recesses of the subconscious and dreamlands.

The storyline centres on a young girl called Dora who goes off on an adventure, recording her dreams, an interesting concept in itself. However, the part of Dora is taken by Bulgarian singer Danny Claire whose vocals are tabled as blogs and comprise some of her samples around which Godfrey built the instrumentation and subsequent story.

The other element you need to know about is that this is very much an adventure in electronic recording, so expect the unexpected throughout.

From the dreamy opening sequence of May You Live In Interesting Times, the tempos and textures slowly build before Is This The Dream? suddenly ignites with a driving ferocity, with Godfrey's distinctive expressive voice multi-tracked over a panoply of electronic trickery, including huge computerised rhythm and synth-pop keyboards.

A gentle interlude comes with Under My Feet, Claire's hauntingly innocent voice sitting beautifully over the dreamy soundscapes before Bedlam Days takes off like a runaway train and hurtles along at breakneck speed. To help him achieve his musical Nirvana, Godfrey has enlisted several of his closest and most valued colleagues, so here Matt Stevens rips it up on guitar, letting loose some mighty riffs to run alongside the speeding Godfrey express. And it all ends with Shirley Temple's voice. You could not make it up.

Nervous childish laughter begins the atmospheric piano-led Faultlines, a deliciously understated song with one of Godfrey's finest vocals and lyrics aching with emotion; "If you were the same as I, you would cry yourself awake each night."

Drawn Outside is another gorgeous sample from Claire under which Godfrey has added layers of gentle electronica on which to showcase her voice before the huge swell of sound rises up to greet Here Come The Envoys with more searing guitars, Matt Stevens-style. Godfrey's voice is electronically modulated over a big embedded rolling melody hook line.

A Sgt. Pepper-like sound of the crowd kicks off the rousing Crush Culture with its huge '70s glam rock rhythm and beats from Tamara Tanche, plus another incredibly infectious synth-drenched chorus line. Yes, you can dance to this one too!

So ends Part 1 and Part 2 takes it all in another direction, Dec Burke throwing some exquisite guitar shapes at the start of Fears Aren't Toys before it transforms itself into a Japan-esque coloratura of sound and then hits its stride with seam upon seam of electronic delight, including the return of Burke's flowing guitar lines. Godfrey's gift of pitching glorious melodies is at work again here.

Break your heart next with the extraordinary I Called Him In Vain, Danny Claire's voice evoking such loneliness and pathos. Passengers is a cross between The Twilight Zone and Heaven 17 with its hi-energy, dance-trance vibe which transports you back and takes you forward at the same time. Give it a go and you will see what I mean.

A telephone ring tone starts Xo Va Yu and Godfrey is back in Japan/David Sylvian territory with its gentle Eastern flavour, his vocals intonate the legendary '80s music and style icon before it soars away. Paul Worwood, Tinyfish's bass player, makes a guest appearance as a narrator here.

The Saint of Doors is a brief instrumental interlude with spooky synths that leads onto the title track itself, a frantic, frenzy of sound which introduces some more of Godfrey's musical chums, including Hywel Bennett from the Dec Burke Band providing the first meaty guitar solo followed by DeeExpus's Andy Ditchfield creating some sonic sorcery, along with another huge contribution from Matt Stevens. Driving along this minor magnum opus is drummer of the moment Henry Rogers who delivers a mighty flourish near the end. There is also some skilfully executed vocal multi-tracking in here too to depict several of the album's storyline characters! Anthemic and majestic to its core, this will be in many a prog person's pick as one of the top tracks of the year.

The chiming of an electronic clock leads into As The Rain, Danny Claire's briefest blog and then you can almost hear Eurythmics crossed with Japan at the start of One Last Perfect Day. It is the final flourish, with Godfrey again taking charge of all vocals and instrumentation. Again, it is another multi-tempo song with lots of light and shade.

We hear the voice of a Doctor at the start of Myowndreamland, Danny Claire's final blog as Dora returning from her dreams and attempting to fall asleep. It all ends as gently as it all begins.

Having such as distinguished team around him, with mentions to both Robert Ramsay who co-wrote the lyrics and Tim Lawrie as co-producer, Godfrey could not really go wrong. He set out to make an album which tapped into his love of electronica and the end result is one of the most stylish prog collections of the year.

It dares to be different but, at the same time, it is fresh and full of terrific energy. It also sounds different on each play because of the care and attention that has been put into making it so multi-textural. Miss it at your peril.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10


Cartographer - Cartographer [EP]

Cartographer - Cartographer [EP]
Country of Origin:Netherlands
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2012
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Denial (4:39), Anger (3:13), Bargaining (6:58), Depression (6:28), Acceptance (11:00)

Marvin Roerdink (guitar), Bart Den Ouden (drums), Desmond Kuijk (bass), Milan Roerdink (guitar) and Yoep de Ligt (guitar); together these five men form Cartographer, a progressive post rock band hailing from Tilburg in the Netherlands.

The progressive/post-rock label is for many people something to stay away from, hinting as it does at long instrumental tracks with spun out melody lines mostly driven forward by a pounding beat and rolling or melodic bass.

Does Cartographer sound like this? Well, yes and no. They are an instrumental and belong within the progressive post-rock genre due to the intonations of their music.

Post-rock is a genre with high energy levels and, what's more, the songs are structured in a way that the instrumental story is told in the first minute or so and then opened up and expanded upon. The music then grabs the listener if it is played right and to their liking of course.

The debut self-titled EP is conceptual and inspired by the Kübler-Ross psychological model which describes the five stages that people go through when dealing with grief. The EP contains five tracks, one for each of these stages:-

Step one: Denial. Relaxing and laid-back in mood, this song describes the way in which people are unwilling to accept the grief or period of mourning in their lives. It isn't true, we need to go on, the individual feels the pain increase with time.

Step two: Anger. This stage is a massive rocking track, mad howling, very raw, sounding as a person in distress would be angry with everyone including themselves. The heavy riffs and counter playing guitar work as if internally discussing the situation.

Step three: Bargaining. Step two flows straight into the bargaining phase, discussing all the possible outcomes; deny, accept, conclude, throw everything overboard. All of this is beautifully captured in tight playing, creative bass lines and melody.

Step four: Depression. This track is more psychedelic than Denial yet almost in the same tenure, darker and more self-occupied, the structure of the song nicely adapts the mood swing with the sound.

Step five: Acceptance. Then finally we accept and everything seems to start going in the right direction. A nice melody is lengthily spun out with lots of riffing and tremendous energy.

We all have had these experiences in our lives and Cartographer have given us the music to go with it or at least tried to give the various steps a face and sound. They have achieved this very well indeed and this is a band to keep an eye on, especially if you are into instrumental music and more specifically post-rock.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10


Bertrand Loreau - Nostalgic Steps

Bertrand Loreau - Nostalgic Steps
Country of Origin:France
Record Label:Spheric Music
Catalogue #:6301
Year of Release:2013
Info:Bertrand Loreau
Tracklist: Modulator (2:26), Nostalgic Walk (7:10), Noises and Voices (2:09), Semblance of a Mysterious Dream (11:34), Mind Floating (6:14), Mini Mood (8:02), A Light of Encore (9:27), Birds of Nowhere (5:12), Sense of Heart (11:15)

French keyboardist Bertrand Loreau clearly loves what he does. He began playing the piano - mostly in the realm of classical music - at age six. He later developed a taste for progressive sounds: according to the liner notes for his latest CD, Nostalgic Steps, as a "dreamy schoolboy" his "best friends" were the music of Jethro Tull, Genesis, King Crimson, and Pink Floyd. Later still, he discovered German electronic music (as well as sequencers); he acknowledges in the notes that his "fascination for the Moogs, ARPs, and Mellotrons became a true obsession". Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schultze are, unsurprisingly, cited as among his influences within this musical style. Nostalgic Steps is, in Loreau's words, a tribute to the musicians whom he admires.

With this CD, Loreau has created music not dissimilar in style to that of the previous CDs from him reviewed on DPRP (Jericoacoara (1998); D'Une Rive A L'Autre (2006); and Reminescences (2009)). The music on Nostalgic Steps, which focuses on the sounds of the 1970s, is electronic, ambient, and even, dare I say, new agey. Beyond any German influences, Jean Michel Jarre and Vangelis also come to mind. Most of the tunes - all written and performed by Loreau alone - consist of multi-layered, subtly shifting keyboard sounds. Often a sequence of repeating sounds creates a rhythm on top of which is placed a soothing melody. A few songs, such as Modulator and Noises and Voices, break this mold and are simply spacey; the-aliens-are-here type of pieces. A real strength of the CD is that the tones are consistently pleasing, with nary a hint of harshness. Indeed, Mini Mood has an almost joyous tone that is likely to induce a smile. And the bird-call-like sounds on Birds of Nowhere are particularly creative.

Moreover, there's enough complexity, fullness of sound, and activity within each tune to retain the listener's interest - one could even play detective and try to discern the myriad working parts. The production values are excellent, too. On the downside, there are very few surprises, and there's minimal metamorphosis within each track.

In the end, there's much to like here, particularly, of course, for fans of the German school of electronic keyboard music. Although some progressive-rock fans might deem this to be mere background music, the CD would be a worthy choice should your mood fancy a calm, escapist journey.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10


Apple Pie - The Gates Of Never

Apple Pie - The Gates Of Never
Country of Origin:Russia
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2013
Info:Apple Pie
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: The Gates Of Never (9:33), Letters Of A Deadman: Part I Demons' Waltz (4:13), Part II Don't Look Back (10:03), Part III Memories (4:12), Part IV Question (5:15), No Reason For This War (6:33), Strange Feeling Called Love 15:29

Album number two for Russian band Apple Pie, some six years after debut release Crossroad. The band has slimmed down somewhat with only Vartan Mkhitaryan (vocals, guitars, keyboards) and Andrey Golodukhinon (drums) remaining from the debut and Max Zhdanov (bass and backing vocals) joining the ranks. The group have drafted in a couple of special guests: filling out the keyboards is none other than Derek Sherinian, and well regarded bassist Ric Fierabracci adds a solo to one number.

In my review of the debut I name checked Spock's Beard and Dream Theater as appropriate comparisons, something which remains true for The Gates Of Never although the focus has shifted firmly towards the latter group which perhaps influenced the choice of guest keyboardist. The increase in prog metal quotient is obvious from the kick off with the title track, replete with fiery solos and heavy riffs. Mkhitaryan's vocals are as smooth as ever although, personally speaking, the songs does delve too far into the heavy extremes with some superfluous (and horrid) death metal-type grunting that makes me immediately want to hit the skip button. The keyboard solo is a bit "widdly-widdly" as well. After having so enjoyed the debut, this came as a somewhat disappointing shift in direction as prog metal has never been a genre that I have particularly taken to. Still, perseverance!

Fortunately, things improve immeasurably with the four-part, 24-minute Letters Of A Deadman. Yes, it still has the heavier elements throughout but avoids self-indulgent tendencies and focuses on the musical passages that support the overall song structure. First part, the instrumental Demon's Waltz, uses the keyboards to provide an orchestral, symphonic backing and moves along at a cracking pace. The abrupt transition into Don't Look Back has a fine instrumental opening which leads, after a couple of minutes, to the introduction of vocals. This naturally involves a somewhat slowing of tempo and the introduction of new melodies and counter-melodies. Zhdanov's backing vocals are kept to a minimum but when they are employed they really enhance the piece. Golodukhinon is exceptionally good at introducing dynamic and interesting rhythms that frequently seem to be in opposition to the main guitar and/or keyboard line but at the same time don't seem at all out of place. The various solos, particularly those of the guitar, are tastefully executed. The part is completed by the aforementioned bass solo and a very fine solo it is too. The band's nod to Spock's is evident on the third part, Memories, which as one might guess from the title, is a more reflective number with acoustic guitars, although Sherinian draws things away from the overt balladness of the song by adding a solo which, no matter how many times I hear it, leaves me unconvinced if it is totally right for the song. A very clumsy shift to the final part, Question, sees an initial continuance of the softer tone that is soon superseded by heavy riffing and a more aggressive posture, but the mistakes of the opening number are avoided and a very satisfactory epic number is concluded.

Sherinian, who thus far has not really convinced (but then I am no Dream Theater fan) comes into his own on the first half of No Reason For The War, a lovely piano ballad that creates a great atmosphere that is completely ruined by a keyboard solo that is so out of place the atmosphere of the song is destroyed. Really chaps, the inclusion of this solo is pointless and indulgent as the song perfectly ramps up from the introductory lightness into a more intense vibe that maintains the essence of the song without the ridiculous solo.

Strange Feeling Called Love is back in Beard territory, particularly with the vocal arrangements and, overall, is another strong track that is a showcase for the abilities of the band. Whereas one gets the impression that Letters Of A Deadman is four individual pieces clumped together, sometimes rather awkwardly so, to form an 'epic', this final piece has a more natural flow and is a convincing single piece of music that just happens to last for 15+ minutes. Undoubtedly the highlight of the album.

So rather a mixed bag with some highs and some disastrous lows, but overall I am left with a favourable impression as when things are good, there really are good. If this had been a debut album I would have been screaming that the band shows a lot of promise and with a bit more development of their own style would be in a position to produce something really special. However, I think that The Gates Of Never is a step back from Crossroads and although I will keep this album in my collection I know that I will instinctively reach from the first Apple Pie album when searching amongst the artists beginning with the letter A.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10


Zayn - Medeia [EP]

Zayn - Medeia [EP]
Country of Origin:Croatia
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2012
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: In Love, In Anger, In Vain (2:56), Speaking Backwards (7:36), Aegeus (5:16), Megastructured Delusion (6:23), Motherismus (3:44)

Zayn are a young Croatian quartet featuring Miran Kapelac (bass), Bojan Gatalica (guitar), Marko Dragicevic (guitar) and Alen Rožman (drums); Medeia, which is based upon ancient Greek tragedy by Euripides, is their first release. It is also somewhat of a soundtrack as some of the music it contains is used in a theatrical production of the same name directed by guitarist Dragicevic. The band prominently state that they try to write pieces that incorporates aspects of many different musical genres and go so far as to expound on their musical philosophy, ergo:-

  • Avoid classical song structures
  • Focus on distinctive atmosphere
  • Create sound images of chaos

Instrumental, chiming guitars, avoidance of common song structures? Yes folks, Zayn have a sound that neatly fits into the post-rock category. Although this is a genre that is rapidly becoming filled by some rather mediocre and unoriginal bands, Zayn manage to present a degree of originality that a lot of their contemporaries don't possess. Although not in the same league as Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Explosions In The Sky or ..Insert Name Of Favourite Post-Rock Band Here.., they do show promise and, to be honest the band, have basically written their own review as their philosophy encapsulates the sound of the band. Speaking Backwards is the standout track for me, if only because, and this is not based on the ridiculous prog notion that the longer it is the better it is, the duration of the track enables the group to make more dramatic changes and curveballs than on the other numbers. Melody hasn't been totally abandoned and, for example, the intro to Aegeus is a jolly nice tune while Megastructured Delusion successfully incorporates and subverts a very Arabic sounding musical line.

Enjoyment, and rating, of this album will ultimately depend on one's opinion of post-rock which does tend to divide people's opinions somewhat. Personally speaking, despite the dramatic elements of the music, when it is done well I find listening to this genre of music to be very relaxing and some quite sublime musical moments can be found within the genre. As I say, Zayn are not there yet but they show promise and I look forward to hearing how they will develop the ideas they possess over a full album. In the meantime, if you are unsure or just curious then download this, for want of a better phrase, extended EP for free and give the band a listen. There are definitely worse ways of spending 25 minutes of your time.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10


Soniq Theater - Stardust Memories

Soniq Theater - Stardust Memories
Country of Origin:Germany
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2013
Info:Soniq Theater
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Alien Ambassador (4:52), Lunar Sea (4:50), Elysian Fields (5:10), Vens Transit (4:25), Globular Cluster (4:45), Hyperion (3:37), Break The Frame (guitar version) (4:21), Alien Civilisation (5:18), Some Things Never Change (4:12), Stardust Memories (4:55), Metropolis On Mars (4:51), Toccatina (2:50), Infinity (1:50)

The work of Alfred Mueller under the guise of Soniq Theater has been extensively reviewed on DPRP, albeit the last being the eighth album Lifeseeker. The subsequent four albums seem to have passed us by which brings us to album #13, Stardust Memories. Being completely unfamiliar with the previous output, I read through the previous reviews to try and get an idea of what has gone before; the greatest impression I came away with is that Mr. Mueller is very consistent! Indeed, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to state that the essence of each of the previous reviews could equally apply to Stardust Memories meaning that I can say pretty confidently that if you liked any of the previous albums then this one will also gain favour.

The totally keyboard derived music is not particularly to my liking, sounding too clinical, too sterile and all rather similar to really spark my interest. This takes nothing away from the obvious talents of Mueller who is very adept at finding his way around the various sounds offered by modern synths, although his vocals are, at best, an acquired taste. (Fortunately, he restricts the singing to one track, Break The Frame (guitar version), which despite breaking the mould and featuring another instrument other than just keyboards is probably the weakest song on the album, not helped by the very basic programmed drum pattern). This number dates from 1997 and is one of three tracks pulled out of the vault, the others being Globular Cluster M55 (1986) and Infinity (1987). That these latter tracks are the two that most immediately caught my attention as the standout tracks speaks volumes. There is also an issue with consistency, where a decent track, such as the title track itself, is followed with the completely dire Metropolis On Mars.

Ultimately, Stardust Memories doesn't contain enough excitement to keep me interested throughout and much of the music was just relegated to the background, becoming somewhat inconsequential no matter how much I tried to maintain focus and attention. However, for people who like keyboard music then this has a lot going for it, although perhaps it is somewhat ironic that the track that maintained my interest most was Some Things Never Change...

Conclusion: 5 out of 10


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Published 30th June 2013
Album Reviews