Reviews in this issue:
- Opus Symbiosis - Monsters [EP]
- Scale The Summit - The Migration
- Nichelodeon - Bath Salts
- InSonar - L'Enfant et le Ménure
- Blim - Zero / No Frills
- Lalu - Atomic Ark
- The Cosmic Remedy - The Cosmic Remedy
- Key Of The Moment - The Switch
- Silver Key - In the Land of Dreams
Opus Symbiosis - Monsters [EP]
Styling themselves as "modern experimental progressive rock", this young five-some from a small village in Finland has certainly wasted no time in building a healthy fan base.
Since forming in 2009, they've released a self-tilted mini-album and two DPRP recommended follow-ups. Their full album, Natures Choir in 2012 and the 2011 EP Mute, both received warm praise from John O'Boyle who advised "anybody who has more than a passing interest in high quality melodic prog" to grab a copy.
I stumbled across this new EP via the wonderful resource that is the Progstreaming website (you can currently find it Here). Guitarist, songwriter and producer Victor Sägfors kindly stepped in to offer me a copy to review and play on DPRP Radio.
I must say I've been swept away by this band. There is a rare conciseness yet depth to the song writing here, a very difficult dichotomy to achieve.
Christine Sten's voice has a beautiful poppiness to it (if there is such a word?), yet with a passion and slightly off-beat delivery which mesmerises my ears. The sound is crisp and open with a lot of light in the arrangements. Guitar, voice and keys sit up high, the bass and drums below. Musically it is 'clever' as opposed to 'complex'.
Monster is mainstream in so far as all the songs have a bright bounce to them and some hooks and melodies to die for. Actually any one of the songs could be chart material, although the hook in the opener, Icebreaker, makes it my highlight. To keep it varied, the closing song, Frost, I enjoy for its more mysterious mood. But yet again there's a great melody within it too.
In terms of comparisons, latter day Paatos immediately sprang to mind when I heard all four tracks for the first time. Less proggy and less weighty, but Sten's range and delivery has more than a passing resemblance to Petronella Nettermalm. The comparisons with Paatos are extended by the heavy use of samples and electronic beats - something which adds an air of Massive Attack and Portishead too. Meanwhile the more atmospheric sections lend an ear to say Gazpacho or Sigur Rós.
Only the record cover fails to engage or endear me.
Anyway I hope that's enough comparisons and positive adjectives to grab your attention. I'm off to explore the Opus Symbiosis back catalogue.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Opus Symbiosis CD Reviews:-
|"...a band that will more than appeal...to anybody who has more than a passing interest in high quality melodic prog."|
(John O'Boyle, 8/10)
|"Opus Symbiosis have got their creative approach spot on offering up this warm and atmospheric album for people to participate in...The future looks bright for this up and coming band."|
(John O'Boyle, 8/10)
Scale The Summit - The Migration
And so off we ventured. August 2011 and a friend of mine and yours truly went to Haldern Pop, a small alternative rock festival taking place in Haldern, only 50 kilometres from the Dutch-German border. It was there that I first stumbled upon a band that play so-called postrock.
Explosions In The Sky were that band and what they played were lengthy instrumental songs with guitars being the lead instrument, used for textures and solos alike, and the songs being very cinematic. Oh, and yes, the songs include a certain amount of repetitive build-ups. The immediate appeal to these ears was the way the guitars painted a whole picture within the frames of the songs. No lyrics needed as no singer was around.
So, all of a sudden, a new sub-genre was added to my collection. I didn't start looking for all things postrock, yet every now and again enjoyed music by Maybeshewill, Russian Circles or the aforementioned Explosions In The Sky. And upon searching through our own DPRP archives? No such bands could be found.
And then it was 2013. Somewhere, reading a New releases item, the name Scale The Summit appeared, The Migration being their new album. So what did DPRP say about Scale The Summit? Just like the other postrockers they couldn't be found, there was no sign of Scale The Summit despite them being on to their fourth album.
I searched the Internet. There was a sort of "Well, O.K. then" feeling as they had been an opening band for Dream Theater. And the music all instrumental. Postrock then? Well, I do not consider myself to be an expert on the subject, so I'll skip the ultimate discussion on that, as the music is sometimes circumscribed as 'adventure metal'. Yet when listening to the music, I hear instrumental songs, some of which have repetitive parts, sometimes heavy, sometimes jazzy, there are solos around, and, all in all, the music is very cinematic. So, I leave it to the discerning reader to draw their own conclusion. Why then use the tag? To make it easier to have a reference as to the music to expect.
And what can we expect? Odyssey opens the album on a heavy riff, but has quite some changes in time signature before we get to the end. Joe Satriani's solo work comes to mind, as indeed, we are reminded of those aforementioned postrock bands. A nice and clean easy part ends the song after which Atlas Novus picks up in about the same feel. The catchiness the start of Atlas Novus changes to a more jazzy feel and it is easy to notice that the four men - Chris Letchford and Travis Levrier on 7-string guitars, Mark Michell on 6-string bass and Pat Skeffington on drums and percussion - are all very good at what they do. And they know how to write songs!
Even though the songs are never overlong, it is amazing how all of them tell stories just by the way the textures are built up with the often intricate interplay of the instruments. Narrow Salient shows just that with bass, drums and guitars all giving their utmost.
Just when we think we get the picture, Scale The Summit put you on a rollercoaster and take us on another ride. Oracle, how sweet the memory of the Rush song, here starts off in melodic fashion, but before the minute mark is reached we find ourselves rushing to the oracle only to arrive there, calmly again, around the minutes. Perhaps this song shows quite why this should not be labelled as postrock, rather as adventure metal. It gets rather metallic indeed.
Evergreen sounds as green as the title promises. It is delicate, not something that can be said about The Dark Horse with its meaty riffs and, uhm, dark sound. As if we're Hobbits chased by Orcs - that's just the way it feels. Sabrosa quietens things down again. Cinematic, nice and slow and as captivating as an instrumental might be.
The Traveler must be regarded as the piece de resistance on this album, as it joyfully dances its way, reminding of Big Country's Big Country (O.K., in a distorted way of thinking perhaps), the solos are woven beautifully between heavy riffs and other guitar textures. A fine, fine song to end the album.
Whatever you call the music of Scale The Summit, it is very cinematic and all four of the guys are great at their own game. Just picture a modern day collection of adventurous instrumentals like La Villa Strangiato, played by maestros of their trade and turn it into three quarters of an hour. If only movies could always be this entertaining.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Nichelodeon - Bath Salts
CD 1 - Capitolo I. D'Amore e di Vuoto: Prologo (3:13), Un Posto Sicuro (8:53), Ricordo d'Infanzia (6:23), Surabaya Johnny (5:24), Bolle (2:11), Rapporto sulla Fine di una Storia (4:52), (This Side of) The Looking Glass (6:24), Desiderio Nascosto (3:48), AZIONI - Musica per la Carne (6:30), Giulia - Nata in 7 Mesi, Morta al Primo Appuntamento (7:12)
CD 2 - Capitolo II. Di Guerre e Rinascite: Terra (4:48), Alla Statua dei Martiri di Gorla (9:23), Fuoco Amico - Mai N.A.T.O. (2:20), Trittico 50 mg (7:05), Johnny dei Pirati (5:01), Secca in Festa - Lode ad Antonio Primaldo (2:58), L'Urlo Ritrovato (12:45), Un Posto Sicuro #2 (2:32), Finale - Ninna Nanna (3:03), Portami un Fiore (1:39)
One of Italy's most distinctive bands, blending their home country's unique flair for melody and drama with the angular structures of Avant/Chamber prog and a penchant for ambitious multimedia projects, Nichelodeon were born in the late Nineties as an artistic workshop/collective based around the compositions of talented singer/composer Claudio Milano, known for his daring vocal experimentation that follows in the footsteps of the late, lamented Demetrio Stratos. This open format has remained to this day, with Milano the only constant member of the band. Their recording output has also been rather unorthodox, with two very different live albums (2008's Cinemanemico and 2012's NO, the latter released exclusively as a free download), as well as a DVD, Come Sta Annie?, part of which was based on the cult TV series Twin Peaks, released together with their studio debut, 2010'sIl Gioco del Silenzio. In 2012, Milano was involved in two very interesting releases, Aurelia Aurita by The Radiata 5tet and Adython, recorded with Belgian singer Erna Franssens (aka KasjaNoova).
True to their reputation for pushing the envelope, in the summer of 2013 Nichelodeon released their second studio album - a double CD bearing the title of Bath Salts (a reference to a type of contemporary designer drug) - together with Claudio Milano's international project InSonar's L'Enfant et le Ménure (also a double CD set, reviewed below), in a 4-CD boxset, stylishly packaged in a hand-written, textured blue card sleeve decorated with the imprint of a kiss and tied with rustic twine. Though the two albums are also available separately, those who enjoy the challenge of Nichelodeon's music will find a lot to appreciate on the InSonar album, so it is well worth getting the complete boxset. The album was recorded in the first half of 2013 in various studios around Italy and Europe, with an almost "live" approach that emphasizes the immediate synergy between the musicians.
According to Milano himself, Bath Salts is a concept album about "cannibalism and interpersonal relationships" - the juxtaposition of which may make it even more daunting, especially for those listeners who prefer their prog lyrics to be airy-fairy rather than disturbing. Indeed, the album - like all of Claudio Milano's productions - offers a complete package that spans music, visual art and literature, with a lavishly illustrated 48-page booklet in which the lyrics are laid out in the style of concrete poetry and complemented by Effe Luciani's brightly-coloured paintings in a striking, Picassoesque style, as well as some high-quality photography. Each CD corresponds to a chapter in the story, and is titled accordingly - the first D'Amore e di Vuoto ('Of Love and Emptiness'), the second Di Guerre e Rinascite ('Of Wars and Rebirths').
While most of the songs are original compositions by Milano and other band members or collaborators (such as Area's Paolo Tofani or former PFM drummer Walter Calloni), there are covers of Peter Hammill's (This Side of) The Looking Glass (reinterpreted in dissonant, rather sinister fashion) and two Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill classics, one per album - Surabaya Johnny and Johnny dei Pirati (known in English as The Black Freighter), both ideal vehicles for Milano's impassioned vocals. In spite of the long list of guest artists credited on the album (such as The Wrong Object's Michel Delville and Paolo Carelli of cult Seventies outfit Pholas Dactylus, besides the already mentioned Tofani and Calloni), Bath Salts is a group effort rather than a glorified solo album, and the contributions of the other band members (Raoul Moretti, Vincenzo Zitello and Pierangelo PANdiscia) are essential for the end result. While the avant-garde element of Nichelodeon's sound is clearly in evidence, the approach adopted by Milano as a whole shares a lot with what in Italian is termed as canzone d'autore - that is, singer-songwriter music of a high level of artistic quality.
As can be expected, the instrumentation is somewhat minimalistic to allow the vocals to take centre stage. Providing a fascinating contrast with Milano's theatrical vocal performance and the disquieting eeriness of the many sound effects, Moretti's electro-acoustic harp and Zitello's Celtic harp lend a delicate, folksy touch to the dramatic intensity of the music - particularly noticeable in the mournful Giulia - Nata in 7 Mesi, Morta al Primo Appuntamento and in some of the shorter numbers, such as Bolle and Secca in Festa. The almost 10-minute Alla Statua dei Martiri di Gorla also starts out in subdued, autumnal mode, then gains momentum before the end; while the longest track on the album, L'Urlo Ritrovato, is like a mini-opera with a stately Baroque feel, in which Milano is joined by other singers and reciting voices. Paolo Carelli (one of the first true vocal innovators of the Seventies, recently appeared on Labirinto di Specchi's debut album Hanblecheya, released by Lizard Records in 2011) adds to Milano's stunning performance and the hypnotic sound of electronics and rare African percussion instrumens with his distinctive reading voice in AZIONI - Musica per la Carne.
Not surprisingly, a work such as Bath Salts presents quite a few problems in terms of rating, even when reviewing it for a progressive rock website. Although my first impulse was to give an "unrated" rating, I decided against it because of the possible negative implications. While, if compared with InSonar's album, Bath Salts is in some ways more accessible for more traditional-minded prog fans, its hefty running time and strong experimental element may make listening to the album in one take a rather daunting proposition. The prevalence of vocals and Milano's uncompromising approach to his craft may also be a turn off for those who like instrumentals, or at least a healthy balance between vocal and instrumental tracks. However, Bath Salts is a genuinely compelling effort, and will appeal to all adventurous prog fans, especially those who are keen on exploring the potential of the human voice.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Nichelodeon CD Reviews:-
|"...for those with a penchant for the challenging and bizarre, this strangely beautiful nightmare comes highly recommended."|
(Dave Sissons, 8/10)
|Il Gioco Del Silenzio|
|"What leads people to create such intrinsic wordplay and grandeur music like this is beyond me, but all I can say is thank you for doing so."|
(ohn O'Boyle, 8.5/10)
|"Remember, nothing ventured, nothing gained.I am sure that on listening to this album new fans will be won over. Here's to the next album, I for one can't wait."|
(John O'Boyle, 10/10)
InSonar - L'Enfant et le Ménure
CD 1 - L'Enfant: The Simpsons Sing Gounod (2:43), L'Estasi di Santo Nessuno (5:30), La Stanza a Sonagli (6:24), Thief of Toys (5:49), L'Inventasogni (5:33), Menura Latham (6:18), Gallia #1 (3:22), Venus in Furs (6:38), Dieci Bambini Cacao (12:53), Hamelinvoice (4:20)
CD 2 - Ashima: 1. Liberami - tabernacolo erotico (2:57), Song to the Siren (6:56), Canción del Jinete (3:26), La torre più alta (6:36), Plaisir d'Amour (4:44), Warszawa (6:42), Gallia #2 (3:16), Medina (5:13)
The project named InSonar was born around 2011 out of the mostly Internet-based networking of Nichelodeon singer/composer Claudio Milano with a large number of musicians hailing from the five continents, and then developed with the assistance of electronic artist Marco Tuppo (who had also guested on Nichelodeon's debut studio album, Il Gioco del Silenzio). Conceived as an audiobook about childhood and the power of imagination, allowing the children to express their deepest fears, dreams and aspirations, the project was realized through the interaction of Milano's 7-octave voice with a wide range of instruments, both traditional and cutting-edge, as well as other singers. Among the 62 names involved in the recording of the album, the "mainstream" prog fan will find Trey Gunn and Pat Mastelotto (King Crimson), Francesco Zago (Yugen/Not A Good Sign), Nik Turner (Hawkwind), Walter Calloni (PFM) and Paolo Tofani (Area).
Accompanied by a stylish, 48-page booklet illustrated by contemporary artists Marcello Bellina and Arend Wanderlust, L'Enfant et le Ménure (the latter is the scientific name of the Australian lyrebird, shown in the illustration for the instrumental Menura Latham) is a very challenging work that shares more with contemporary chamber music than rock, even of the progressive variety. Clocking in at almost 100 minutes, the double CD set is divided in two parts - L'Enfant and Ashima (a Hindi word meaning "limitless"). The 18 tracks, ranging from under 3 minutes to almost 13, are largely vocal, and feature lyrics in Italian, English, French and Spanish. While the majority of the compositions were penned by Milano (either alone or in collaboration with other artists), the album also includes idiosyncratic versions of some well-known songs and arias, and also songs containing citations from other famous works.
As anyone familiar with Milano's work might expect, L'Enfant et le Ménure is a very dense (and intense) opus, not solely conceived as a vehicle for the singer's astonishing vocal feats. The contribution of the many guest artists is, in fact, essential to the work as a whole, and Marco Tuppo's mastery of electronics builds a solid foundation for Milano's vertiginous exertions. Ethnic instruments lend warmth to the rarefied, electronic-infused soundscapes, while traditional rock instruments are used in non-traditional ways, complementing the vocals rather than vying with them for pre-eminence. The conventional song structure is also dilated and deconstructed, bending to the will of a voice that often becomes an instrument in itself.
With so many different artists on board, and a whole panoply of influences, the album's musical content is as diverse as its literary and artistic sources. The three rock covers - Velvet Underground's Venus in Furs, Tim Buckley's Song to the Siren and David Bowie's Warszawa - approach the originals respectfully, though avoiding anything resembling slavish reproduction. Milano's voice is deep and ominous in the first of the three songs, with a strong Gothic feel; while the sea-like Theremin in the Buckley song reinforces Milano's high-pitched but melodic wail, and the Bowie/Eno composition is rendered in suitably atmospheric terms. Not as high-profile, but equally compelling in its sparseness, is Milano's homage to Italian Seventies cult band Pierrot Lunaire, Gallia #1 and Gallia #2. Other compositions include parts of well-known classics, revisited to the point of unrecognizability: it is the case of Charles Gounod's Ave Maria in opener The Simpsons Sing Gounod, with its wacky a cappella choir, or the classical French love song Plaisir d'Amour.
More melodic efforts - such as the Baroque-sounding L'Estasi di Santo Nessuno and the oddly infectious, skewed nursery rhyme of Dieci Bambini Cacao (the longest track on the album at almost 13 minutes, with lyrics inspired by Agatha Christie's classic detective novel And Then There Were None), enhanced by Trey Gunn's echoing Warr guitar - alternate with highly experimental numbers, veritable examples of modern chamber music powered by inventive sound effects and vocal acrobatics, such as Canción del Jinete (based on a poem by Federico García Lorca), and the Eastern-tinged blend of beauty and weirdness of La Torre Più Alta (with Nik Turner on sax). The two instrumentals (one per CD) are quite different from each other: the above-mentioned Menura Latham, co-written by famed avant-garde saxophonist Elliott Sharp and Ondes Martenot wizard Thomas Bloch, blends rarefied atmospheres with industrial noises, while Medina (the only number not written by Milano) wraps up the album with surging synth and Theremin and textural drum loops, suffused with an entrancing melody.
As already pointed out in my review of Nichelodeon's Bath Salts, a work such as L'Enfant et le Ménure is extremely difficult to rate in an objective manner. Indeed, the remarks made for Bath Salts are even more relevant in this case, as this album proudly flies in the face of any concerns of commercial appeal. While the genuinely innovative spirit and painstaking research that inform it cannot by any means be denied, the album should also carry a warning sticker that in some way contrasts with its "recommended" rating. The demanding, occasionally even frustrating musical content is definitely not for everyone, and requires a lot of concentration from the part of the listener - as well as the patience to look through the booklet, as the words and visuals are as important as the music. Milano's experimental approach to singing is also an acquired taste, and it may not be advisable to listen to the album in one take. However, L'Enfant et le Ménure fully deserves that much-debated "progressive" label, and is highly recommended to those who enjoy a truly eclectic, boundary-pushing musical experience that also encompasses literature and the visual arts.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Blim - Zero / No Frills
Derangement (8:48), Prawnwarp (4:22), There's A Hole In My Toe (0:12), F (8:24), Synchromesh (9:53), Echo-Logical (6:03), Hoffman Bike Pump (0:14), Little One (0:17), Big One (5:38), ???? (4:18), Disappearance (11:47)
Bonus Tracks - Country & Eastern (2:48), Spanish Song (4:36), The Disconcerting Riff (6:30)
Approach (0:25), The Noup (7:02), Junk (6:44), Ocean (7:04), Headphones (2:16), Sparsely & Much (8:14), Vector (5:26), Ubusubu (1:41), Plop (8:04), Wet Potato (3:17), Beejayone (12:48), The Fly (0:15)
Bonus Tracks - The Eagle (1:27), Isis Hatstand (3:10), Fumanchumanflu (3:34), The Eagle (Exit) (1:31)
Andy Read - guitars
Tony Child - keyboards
Ben 'BJ' Garniner - bass
Neil Spragg - drums
Phil Cook - sax/vocals
Nigel Pugh - flute/keyboards
Andy Read - guitars
Tony Child - keyboards
Ben 'BJ' Garniner - bass
Neil Spragg - drums
Robert Illesh - bass
During the early nineties the U.K. Midlands based band Blim created and released two independent albums, Zero and No Frills, which were available on cassette tape. These have now been tweaked and reissued as a double CD complete with bonus tracks to celebrate the band's 20th anniversary.
Never less than exciting and engaging, the adventurous music of Blim consistently delivers. Blim fit broadly within the space rock genre, occupying a musical landscape in territories associated with bands such as Hawkwind, Ozric Tentacles and aspects of Gong. However, placing Blim's music into a narrow genre does not give justice to what is on offer. The pieces within this double CD are much more extensive in their breadth of vision. Superficially at least, Zero appears to be the more space rock oriented of the two releases. As you might expect therefore, much of Zero is enveloped in swathes of swirling synths and effects. The energy on display is often frenetic, the enthusiasm of the players just seeping out of the speakers. Happily, the band's captivating enthusiasm is linked in equal measure to some fine musicianship.
The saxophone is used to good effect on Zero and this led me to draw favourable comparisons with Gong. I particularly enjoyed the fine flute passages that occur during some of the subtle changes of tempo in compositions such as Derangement. This gives aspects of the music a sublime and ethereal quality.
For their second release, No Frills, the flute and saxophone have disappeared but the quality of the compositions more than compensates. There are some impressive progressive moments as the band confidently expands their palette, moving beyond the Space Rock genre. Andy Read displays his considerable talent as a guitarist on both albums, but his playing is particularly enjoyable in the more mature No Frills. The band's sound is positively adorned by an array of guitar solos, techniques and effects. The bass is featured much more heavily in No Frills and is an important aspect of the bands progressive and fusion experimentation. A number of pieces are impressively embellished by some admirable fretless work.
With a total running time of over 2 hours across the two CDs there are many highpoints worthy of description and analysis. Within the Zero CD, Synchromesh is a particularly intriguing and impressive track. It begins with a frantic keyboard and saxophone dual riff before stretching out into a repetitive atmospheric and dreamy keyboard section. The mood is shattered by staccato machine gun bursts of aggressive guitar blasts. The playing is sumptuous and as the tempo slows it is easy to lose oneself in the psychedelic dream-like ambience of the whole thing. The piece also contains some delightful understated saxophone that is placed subtly and distantly within the mix. The pace picks up once again at the seven minute thirty second mark as the opening riff is revisited, this time accompanied by more intensive furious guitar sounds.
Aggressive in its approach and totally invigorating in its complexity, Big One is full of interesting rhythms and great Jazz inspired saxophone lines that envelop and caress during its more reflective parts. Towards the end of the piece, beautiful and sustained guitar tones are delightfully added. These provide an elegant aural tapestry before the aggressive riffs of the opening section are once again reprised.
DPRP readers might find much to enjoy in Disappearance and it is probably my favourite piece in Zero, its introduction beautifully performed and constructed. In complete contrast to the hectic pace of the other pieces, the first part of Disappearance is a melodic outing that features acoustic guitar, keyboards, flute and bass. It simply soars and ends all too soon at the six minute mark when the piece transforms into an altogether different but equally satisfying entity. The tempo changes, discordant guitar and powerful saxophone sounds predominate, chugging ever onwards, propelling the piece to unpredictable and exciting territories. To round things off, Disappearance is given a reassuring tuneful structure, as the opening melody is skilfully reprised in the final section.
The quality of the recording on the re-mastered CDs is good, but is perhaps slightly better on No Frills. These compositions have less emphasis on Space Rock effects and the performance of the ensemble has considerably matured. Consequently, it is marginally the more satisfying of the CDs. The bass of new band member Illich plays a significant part in the standout tracks. This is illustrated in the outstanding The Noup which is built around a rhythm initially provided by Illich's luxuriant sounding bass. As the track expands the bass provides an excellent platform for a virtuoso guitar performance from Reid. Imaginative and exhilarating, the immaculate fret work takes this piece towards celestial places. More like fusion in its execution and structure than progressive Space Rock, this excellent track amply illustrates the quality of composition and musicianship on display.
Another track that has become a repeated listen is Oceans. It is much more ambient and repetitive in nature but nevertheless it is a piece that revels in the space created by its beautiful recurring soundscape. Some may find it in many ways an almost perfect tune to relax to.
Sparsely & Much shows Blim edging tentatively towards a different direction. Rewarding and eclectic, it is an amalgam of jazz, rock and funk. This may be the familiar musical territory epitomised by Herbie Hancock's Head Hunters, but Blim make it strangely unique and enjoyably different.
Vector is a satisfying riff driven guitar and band workout accompanied by various synthesiser effects. Overall, it has an underlying King Crimson mid-seventies feel to it and it aggressively succeeds in its intention to subdue any doubters. Plop is initially characterised by its steady bass, plopping keyboard effects and exquisite jazz guitar frills reminiscent of John Abercrombie before the tune morphs into some wonderful extensive rock guitar shedding. Breathtaking guitar licks to delight in abound.
The longest track, Beejayone, finds the band sailing into similar territory as Ocean. Sometimes ambient almost pastoral and Celtic in feel, I found an almost obligatory need to close my eyes. It's cinematic and somewhat soundtrack approach provides ample opportunities for the listener to be transported and create their own visual imagery. The long running time of Beejayone enables the band to explore different moods within the whole. These range from blistering guitar parts to more subtle but equally satisfying dreamy soundscapes.
I was not familiar with Blim before undertaking this review. I found much to enjoy in this very good release and will certainly return to their music in the future. My only reservation, albeit a minor one, relates to the number of short sound effect tracks that occur across both releases. Tracks such as Headphones and The Fly might have been considered cutting edge in the early nineties. Youthful festival listeners may well have enjoyed them at the time. Sadly, for potential listeners in 2014, they may prove to be an unwelcome distraction from the quality compositions and impressive musicianship on offer.
Zero: 7 out of 10
No Frills: 8 out of 10
Lalu - Atomic Ark
Lalu are back! Having delivered their debut album, Oniric Metal in 2005, French keyboard player Vivien Lalu has once again put pen to paper and delivered the sophomore release. To start off, Vivien not only knows his chops when it comes to playing the keys but he is also adept at writing songs. What we have here is an album that is as varied as they get in the realms where prog, rock and, yes, metal meet.
Starting off matters with a very mellow drum and keyboard part, we get kicked in the face only seconds later as a heavy riff sets in and Martin Le Mar (Mekong Delta, Tomorrow's Eve) welcomes us, "Here we are, the summit of creation" in Greed. The riffs are more than chunky and could well have fit on a Symphony X release. The same goes for this song's keyboard and guitar solos: Vivien invited some of the finest prog metal musicians around and on this song Marco Sfogli (guitar, known for his work with Jordan Rudess, James LaBrie and Virgil Donati) and Jens Johansson (keyboards, really needs no introduction, you might have heard him on albums by Yngwie Malmsteen, Avantasia, Stratovarius, Mastermind, Snakecharmer and many more) really shine.
Which brings us to what Vivien Lalu has succeeded in doing here: having a so-called supergroup, who are likely to have only submitted their respective parts to Vivien, sound very tight and it is as if they recorded the whole album together. The core of the musicians at Vivien's service are no beginners either. There's the already mentioned Martin Le Mar, Mike Lepond (Symphony X) on bass, Simone Mularoni (DGM, Empyrios) on guitar, Virgil Donati (Ring Of Fire, Planet X) on drums. Not too bad, you may, rightly, think.
Yet we have only laid eyes on part of the guest list. There's Joop Wolters (Arabesque, Shadrane, solo) guesting on guitar, Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater) on keys, Peter Wildoer (James LaBrie) on death vocals and Mike Andersson (Cloudscape, Fullforce) sharing vocals with Martin on War On Animals.
Although the method of operation may be not unlike the way Arjen Lucassen goes about recording his fine albums, Lalu's delivery is more in your face. Ayreon has never sounded as heavy as this. That is not to say that this album is only about sheer shredding of sorts. C'est pas comme ca. On the other hand, where Ayreon tends to sound very '70s like, Atomic Ark is very much a 2013 record.
Greed and War On Animals give away the underlying theme of the album: this world and what we have made of it. A gloomy picture, yet the music is not all dark, it carries too much passion in all the songs Vivien has written. We get a ballad in Mirror Prison and in that song and in Deep Blue Lalu evoke what Queensrÿche might have come to sound like had Chris De Garmo never left and had the band not split itself up in two different entities.
Bast yet again reminds us of Symphony X, more specific the Odyssey period but Lalu really bring their own flavour to it. The song to end this album and the one that presents itself to be the epic, at nearly 20 minutes running time, is Revelations. No, we don't have an extended version of the great Iron Maiden song of the same name, but a multiple part song penned by Vivien Lalu and at least in part by Jordan Rudess. Opening with a keyboard and piano piece, not unlike Rachmaninov or Chopin, the song suits, quite cinematically, the story of at least two opponents fighting each other to a background of...greed. There's a lot happening in this last song and I'm not giving it all away here, you will just have to sit back and give Lalu a chance.
So what's the summary then? Atomic Ark has a lot going for itself. Nine short songs, which are all very different from each other, yet, all in all, give the album a natural flow. And to top it off there is Revelations. In case you are waiting for a band that combines a bit of Threshold, Symphony X, Conception and Ring Of Fire, seek no further. Lalu may just be what you are looking for.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Lalu CD Reviews:-
|"Clearly Lalu has put a great deal of passion into the making of this album but it's just spread across too many moods for my tastes. As a result it all just leaves me rather cold. "|
(Andy Read, 5.5/10)
The Cosmic Remedy - The Cosmic Remedy
Tracklist: Childhood Suite: Overture (2:19), Blue Skies (7:01), What You Are (5:06), A Suite-case Of Memories: Postcard From Prague (2:06), Susie And Me (4:04), I'll Be Your Friend (3:35), I Don't Have To Run (3:56), Lost Marbles Suite: Daylight Dreaming (3:37), Story Of A Prince (4:16), Blue Sea (3:10), Song Without A Home (4:19), Farewell Suite: Welcome To The Pepperland Lounge (1:22), Train To Nowhere (4:22), Hiding From The Sun (5:24)
The multi-talented Bogáti-Bokor Ákos is better known as guitarist with Romanian band Yesterdays who have two albums, Holdfénykert (2008) and Colours Caffè (2011), to their credit along with several appearances on the Colossus Project recordings. The Cosmic Remedy was established in 2012 by Ákos as an outlet for his rapidly growing collection of songs that did not necessarily meet the normal band criteria. In addition to Ákos (guitars, keyboards, bass, backing vocals) the core line-up here includes drummer par excellence Kimmo Pörsti (The Samurai Of Prog, Paidarion, Mist Season), Francesco Faiulo (bass) and Tico De Moraes (lead vocals) augmented by several friends and guests. The end result is an eclectic mix that's divided into four 'Suites' which in turn are split into individual songs that begin (perhaps deceptively) in familiar prog territory.
Childhood Suite opens with the rousing instrumental Overture featuring lively guitar, organ and piano with bass nicely upfront in the mix. Although more vocally orientated, two songs, Blue Skies and What You Are, continue in a similar proggy vein with memorable choral hooks (sung by guest Ulf Yacobs), Ákos' Howe-esque guitar and the striking flute of Kecskeméti Gábor who plays in a freeform jazz style, dancing around the melody rather than approaching it head on. Overall a very promising start, with Ákos' open and spacious production ensuring all instruments and voices are clearly defined.
A Suite-case Of Memories starts with another short instrumental, Postcard From Prague, a studio jam and warm-up for the jaunty Susie And Me which brings to mind The Beatles in their Sergeant Pepper phase and the late great Irish band Fruupp. I'll Be Your Friend and I Don't Have To Run are both lighter in feel suiting De Moraes' light, airy voice with the latter tune benefiting from a tasteful flute and guitar solo section and first rate rhythm work. Only the abrupt ending to I'll Be Your Friend lets the side down.
The mellow mood continues with the Lost Marbles Suite only this time with female lead vocals. All four songs - Daylight Dreaming, Story Of A Prince, Blue Sea and Song Without A Home are beautifully arranged with sparse instrumentation (mostly rhythmic acoustic guitar and a hint of Mellotron), a catchy, summery chorus and exquisite singing and harmonies courtesy of Vera Klima, Iulia Paradau and Ercsey Andrea Emese. Faiulo's Rickenbacker bass lines are subtle but beautifully judged especially during Song Without A Home. Throughout this sequence Tasmin Archer's wonderful Sleeping Satellite hit from 20 something years ago constantly came to mind.
The aptly titled Farewell Suite opens with the romantic Welcome To The Pepperland Lounge featuring Ákos' inspired acoustic guitar picking and De Moraes' most sublime vocal on the album, crooning with a purity of tone reminiscent of the great Brian Wilson in his youthful prime. The album concludes with two tuneful, mid-tempo pop-rock songs, the basic but catchy Train To Nowhere and the more adventurous Hiding From The Sun, the highpoint of which is a short but sweet slide guitar break in the style of Magenta's Chris Fry.
Putting aside the tenuous premise of four 'Suites', this is in reality 14 individual tracks clocking in at an average of less than 4 minutes each and best appreciated as such. The Cosmic Remedy is therefore more song based than the average prog release and whilst it eschews the lengthy instrumental work and bombast usually associated with the genre, the engaging melodies, subtle instrumentation and superb vocals should find favour with anyone who has an ear for a well crafted tune.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Key Of The Moment - The Switch
Key of the Moment is a self-described "super-group" formed by Israeli keyboardist Eden Rabin (the chief composer) and featuring singer Iris Sternberg, guitarist Alon Tamir, bassist Jonathan Maimon, and drummer Yinon Tal. The band's full-length debut, The Switch is a fairly varied but mostly progressive-metal offering loaded with heavy guitar riffs and in-your-face female vocals. It works, at least much of the time.
The CD begins with a short piece by a string quartet and then dramatically shifts to a frenetic, pounding song, aptly entitled Rage, that could induce cardiac arrest in the elderly. The title track, which follows, has high energy and a catchy lyrical theme, but the song is often too poppy for progressive tastes. The drumming shines on Angel, one of the more progressive songs. The tune's unpredictable time and mood shifts show the band at its best. On Pills, another well-composed tune, the vocals strain singer Sternberg's range and, as a result, end up sounding amateurish. A mellow phase of the CD then appears, first in the form of an acoustic piano piece, Spring, and then as the ballad That's You, which features soaring guitar lines. The next tune, Thanks, is straightforward power-rock - like Rush but with a female singer. Next up is, oddly enough, a cover of jazz guitarist Pat Metheny's tune Heat of the Day (from the 1997 CD Imaginary Day). The band has changed the song title slightly and done a credible job morphing the fast-paced but still jazz-centered original into a metallic version. After this comes Meaningless, which has an interlude that reeks of flamenco jazz and provides a nice, and needed, change of pace. Another interlude, called Winter, follows, this time in the form of spacey electric guitar. Progressive metal returns with The Tale of K & L, which is marred by a repetitive riff and seemingly disengaged background vocals. The challenging, wavering vocals on the next tune, My Song, may be an acquired taste, but, in the end, they're impressive, and tasty guitar leads backed by crafty drumming make this tune among the strongest. The CD waves goodbye with an acoustic guitar piece.
On the whole, the music is solid and, occasionally, quite engaging but there's a jumpy, nervous quality to much of it and, on the heavier tunes, Sternberg's voice - which plays a major role throughout - lacks the gravitas to match the power and occasional darkness of the instrumentation.
Beyond the music, the band's promotional strategy does not tightly jive with the progressive-rock genre and, frankly, is a bit off-putting. On the band's website, images of skin-showing band members abound, and the live-performance videos display the band members gyrating and pulsing like teen pop stars. Similarly, the CD cover art features - or should I say consists exclusively of - a photo of a woman, her face partially cut off, wearing a low-cut outfit. I'm not impressed, and I doubt that you will be, either.
Nevertheless, it is always wise to focus on a band's music rather than any marketing sideshow and with The Switch doing so can be rewarding, particularly for prog-metal fans who have a penchant for female vocals and the patience for repeated listening.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Silver Key - In the Land of Dreams
There are many prog bands from the eighties that became inspired by Marillion because of their simple denial of such developments as punk or a very negative music press. They started to play music in the same vein as their inspiration or, often worse but sometimes far better, they covered their heroes. In Italy Silver Key started in this way back in 1982 and continued to play Marillion music for almost 20 years. They did quite well in their home country but outside Italy almost no one had heard of them. And since there are few things worse for an artist than being ignored, Silver Key apparently called it a day and decided to play their own music. Which was a very wise decision as this debut from 2012, In the Land of Dreams, strongly illustrates.
It starts with the artwork of the CD which is simply stunning. The front cover is a beautiful and colourful drawing full of mystery. Unfortunately I did not have the booklet but I expect that to be in the same style; awesome!
The album consists of six tracks, most of them of medium length but dominated by the epic The Silver Key that lasts more than 26 minutes, divided in 8 parts. The title song In the Land of Dreams starts off with a somewhat outdated keyboard intro that is very reminiscent of Mark Kelly during his first Marillion years; think of Chelsea Monday and the like. But Silver Key soon prove that they don't want to sound like their inspirations as the song flows into a really good melody and very catchy chorus, with nice guitar playing that sometime follows the vocal melody and sometimes plays against Yuri Abietta's singing. In the middle of the song the melody develops a much quieter speed on which Carlo Monti plays his first solo, later on accompanied by Davide Manara's keys. The interplay and the melody make this a very convincing opener.
The second song opens up very quietly with guitar and soft sounding piano and keys before the piano gives the lead to the vocals, which are very quiet indeed. After a minute the drums and bass come in after which things get louder. Good strong vocals backed by good guitar playing on a distinctive bass loop.
Learn to Let Go is a bit too repetitive for my taste and therefore the least convincing track of the album. It's a rather high-paced song in which the chorus is supported by Grassi's driving bass and good steady drumming by Viviano Crimella.
Millenium starts with radio sounds of frantic people shouting about the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, followed by a nice, fluid bass-driven theme which forms a great contrast with the disturbing opening of the song. The double lead vocals give way to some strong riffing by Carlo Monti while Alberto Grassi's bass loops are quite prominent in the background. The chorus is simple and effective for it kept sounding in my head for days. Halfway the keyboards come in, again with that distinctive '80s sound that is quite appropriate here. It introduces a very nice guitar solo that picks up the central theme after almost two minutes of soloing before fading into the same bass loop and the chorus again. A very nice song indeed although I found the radio clips of September 11th a bit out of place.
Very quiet vocals open The Silver Key with some atmospheric piano and guitar playing, slowly evolving into a loud outburst of guitar, bass and drums, thus effectively introducing the main melody of this epic. Abietta's singing here reminds me strongly of Citizen Cain's Cyrus or Aragon's Les Dougan while the keys and guitar sound like early Marillion; not bad at all! And the song flows on and on, first through a fluid guitar solo in The Gaunt Man, then into the more keyboard oriented The Running Kid flowing into the rocky The Guardian of the Seventh Seal. Through the Gates of the Silver Key is a spoken story backed by bass, keys and guitar but does not work very well because it stands more or less on its own, hampering the fluent flow of the music. When the band takes off again it is not totally convincing and the song as a whole does not reach the high level of the first parts. Furthermore, the melodies of the parts are quite different so it doesn't sound like an overall song. A bit more editing would have been good. Yet it's a very nice piece of music, varying from a slow pace to steady rocking on the basis of sturdy guitar riffing.
The album closes with a piano ballad with a strange title (Welcome, at the end of the album!). It's a nice, soft and simple song, leaving the listener satisfied.
All in all I like this album pretty much. It sounds a bit outdated here and there but has many strong moments, good melodies and nice solos. Their song writing can improve as the epic does not convince for the full 26 minutes and a song like Learn to Let Go could have done with half its length. Above all Silver Key prove that they have potential; let's hope we hear from them again!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10