Reviews in this issue:
- Utopianisti - II
- The Frank Flight Band - Remains
- Jet Black Sea - The Path Of Least Existence
- Looking-Glass Lantern - A Tapestry of Tales
- Osta Love - Good Morning Dystopia
- Hibernal - The Machine
- Fatal Fusion - The Ancient Tale
- Mindspeak - Pictures
- HellHaven - Beyond The Frontier
- Nektar - Time Machine
Utopianisti - II
Markus Pajakkala / drums, percussion, soprano-, tenor- and baritone saxophones, flute & alto flute, bass clarinet, Mellotron, various ethnic instruments, programming, additional keyboards, vibraphone
- Jaan Wessman / electric bass (tracks 1, 3, 5, 6, 8)
- Ville Rauhala / upright bass (tracks 4, 7, 8-13)
- Mika Tyyskä aka Mr. Fastfinger / guitar (track 1)
- Antero Mentu / guitar, sitar (tracks 3, 5, 6, 8, 13)
- Anssi Salminen / guitar (tracks 7, 8, 13)
- Juha Savela / guitar (track 4)
- Kalle Elkomaa / organ, electric piano (tracks 1, 3, 5)
- Tuomas Marttila / marimba, vibraphone, congas (tracks 3, 4, 6)
- Harri Kuusijärvi / accordion (tracks 4, 7)
- Tero Syväluoma / fiddle (track 7)
- Waltteri Torikka / vocals (tracks 2, 4)
- Suvi Väyrynen / vocals (track 2)
- Pharaoh Pirttikangas / vocals (track 8)
- Tommi Kolunen / trumpet (tracks 1, 3, 6, 8)
- Olli "Trumpetnator" Helin / trumpet (tracks 1, 3, 6, 8)
- Jussi Toivonen / trumpet (tracks 1, 3, 6, 8)
- Antti Hirvonen / trombone (tracks 1, 3, 6, 8)
- Petri Juutilainen / trombone (tracks 1, 3, 6, 8)
- Ulla Ahonen / trombone (tracks 1, 3, 6, 8)
- Aulis Pöyhönen / bass trombone (tracks 1, 3, 6, 8)
- Kasper Haikonen / alto sax (tracks 1, 3, 6, 8)
- Masa Orpana / alto sax (tracks 1, 3, 6, 8)
- Petri Nieminen / tenor sax (tracks 1, 3, 6, 8)
- Maiju Virtanen / tenor sax (tracks 1, 3, 6, 8)
- Sami Sippola / tenor saxophone (tracks 9-13)
- Simo Laihonen / drums (tracks 9-13)
- Jon Ballantyne / electric & grand piano (tracks 9-13)
Utopianisti II is the second album from composer and multi-instrumentalist Markus Pajakkala to be released under the Utopianisti banner. The self-titled debut album received a recommended DPRP review in 2009. The follow-up contains two separate parts, Utopianisti II referring to tracks 1 to 8. Accompanying Pajakkala in the first part of the release are no less than 27 guest musicians. The remainder of the tracks contain collaborations between Pajakkala and Finnish Jazz trio Black Motor and the Jazz pianist Jon Ballantyne. The sessions that emerged were composed and recorded within two days. The release is completed by the addition of a bonus track, ULJC, also taken from the live sessions.
The CD is enjoyably different and refreshing. It is, in parts, soothing, intense, and excitingly innovative. Taken as a whole, it combines seemingly disparate elements ranging from stunning guitar parts, big band swinging horns, Baltic folk melodies, manic vocal parts and operatic warblings. The strength of Pajakkala's compositions throughout enables all of the participants to push the boundaries of performance. In this way, the compositions never fail to interest and the unexpected often occurs. The music goes way beyond usual and normally defined parameters, the result being often exhilarating and challenging in its complexity. Nevertheless, there are moments of sublime and accessible beauty that are warm and welcoming. The album is difficult to categorise, but the listening experience is all the richer because of this. DPRP listeners who wish to explore music outside the box will find much to admire within this release.
For example, the opening track Mekonium Fist has many ingredients that both Jazz and Jazz Rock aficionados might enjoy. The feel and delivery of this piece is reminiscent of something that the United Jazz Rock Ensemble might have created. Although dominated by a big band sound complete with a catchy horn riff, it also contains some bold guitar parts. These come to the fore and eventually take centre stage. The tasteful solo that emerges gives this opener some additional and surprisingly rock-like musical qualities.
The wide range of styles that are contained within the release soon becomes apparent in The Vultures Were Hungry. Much of Pajakkala's music is apparently inspired and influenced by Frank Zappa and within this track the influence is clear. It features operatic voices reminiscent to those used on some of Zappa's eclectic experimentations such as Teenage Prostitute featured on the Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch album. The jazz-tinged arrangements within some tracks brought to mind aspects of Zappa's Waka Jawaka while elsewhere, such as Tango Succubus pt.2, the influence of Zappa is more subtle. In this particular case, the influence is confined to the phrasing and use of the marimba which is prominent within the enjoyable instrumental section.
An undoubted highlight amongst many compositions in this release is Pohjola, a masterful tribute to the deceased bassist Pekka Pohjola characterised by a delightful melody that is consistently explored and developed in a varied and engaging manner. It contains some exceptional jazz rock moments which are underpinned by some fine keyboard work. This is especially the case in the organ led passage that dominates the middle section of the piece at around the four minute mark. Pohjola ends with some wonderful saxophone that is tightly woven into a lush big band soundscape. Despite the quality of Pohjola, my favourite piece here is The Forest Of The Bald Witch. This begins frantically with a powerful drum and organ flurry, quickly followed by an initial snarling flute workout in which Pajakkala excels making for an accessible Jazz Rock piece that flows and soars as it develops. It contains many shifts of tempo, these changes keeping things unpredictably interesting. The piece is awash with organ parts that are accompanied and later dominated by an extended guitar solo. This excellent track is then bathed in swathes of Mellotron thrown in for good measure. A recurring riff led by keyboards and guitar moves things onwards at a fast pace. The tempo changes as the piece slows and beautifully concludes with some delightfully contemplative organ. Bisphenol A is a blistering high-energy jazz rock fusion piece, although to classify this as 'jazz rock' does not describe it adequately. Bisphenol A has so many different positive components that emphasise its qualities and eclectic musicality.
Kynttilöitäkin Vain Yksi has an overwhelmingly spontaneous ambience. It is a composition that has many traditional melodic ingredients and incorporates aspects of Klesmer music, the violin and accordion flirt furtively within its Eastern European traditional folk styling. The scat-like vocal effects emphasise the joyful atmosphere of the piece.
Spanking Time has some clever jazz arrangements interspersed with impressive solo parts and a heavier rock sound. There are some explosive guitar parts and it also features the vocals of Pharoah Pirttikanas. The vocal parts created are like something Captain Beefheart and Zappa might have concocted, the whole piece is an example of both precision and collective pandemonium.
The tracks featuring Black Motor and Jon Ballantyne have in many ways a much more explicit jazz feel. The second part of this release begins with The Sundays Of Love and Peace, a much more traditional jazz sounding affair. It is a very pretty piece and its majesty is showcased by some sumptuous jazz piano and a rich saxophone arrangement. Mechanoid Makeout Music is a discordant cacophony of avant garde free jazz proportions. The electric piano solo is quite outstanding but the piece as a whole probably would not appeal to the majority of DPRP readers. Certainly, it is not a track that I have felt compelled to play repeatedly. Too Many Eyeholes is a beautiful, mournful and plaintive tune featuring the saxophone and tasteful piano accompaniment. Within this combination, the saxophone floats and flutters in total harmony. Despite lacking cornets or trumpets Derelicts in Space reminded me of aspects of the music of Ian Carr, specifically it drew comparisons to music that was composed for Nucleus and in particular Carr's solo Belladonna album. In Belladonna Carr showed an ability to create music that was accessible but complex and his musical vision was underpinned by the great work of his rhythm section. Black Motor's rhythm section is, similarly, much more than competent and they are able to perform a comparable role for Pajakkala. In Derelicts in Space a great platform is created by bassist Ville Rauhala and drummer Simo Laihonen which enables the rest of the ensemble players to swing, improvise and explore with gleeful abandon and the solo electric piano work of Ballantyne is quite simply outstanding.
Overall, the music of Utopianisti cannot be categorised and within this release musical barriers are neither acknowledged nor recognised. Utiopianisti II is flavoured by both jazz and progressive rock. It is, though, ultimately distinctive and unique. I hope that this diverse album is heard by many and that DPRP readers will check it out. There is much to be discovered, enjoyed and cherished within it. I certainly intend to, listen to it on a regular basis.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Utopianisti CD Reviews:-
|"An excellent first outing by Utopianisti, I hope to hear a lot more from this excellent musician with refreshing musical ideas."|
(Gert Hulshof, 8.5/10)
The Frank Flight Band - Remains
Formed over 18 years ago, and having had many ups and downs in their career, this is the third album by this psychedelic blues-rock band.
Mining the same rich seam as the Edgar Broughton Band, these 7 diverse tracks showcase the musical talents of this 6-piece band, who deserve more recognition than they have at the moment.
The opening heavy blues rocker of The Ballad of Alice Grey is a hard edged, re-telling of the Alice in Wonderland story, with some sublime guitar work from Frank and Alex Kenny, and some wonderfully gruff dark vocals from Andy Wrigley. With its intense driving sound and the great guitar sparring this is a fantastic opener. In fact the whole band, Frank Flight (guitar, backing vocals), Danny Taylor (bass, vocals), Dave Veres, (drums/percussion) Andy Wrigley (vocals), Alex Kenny (lead guitar/vocals) and Michael Woodward (keys/backing vocals) are a taut unit, working as one to draw sonic canvases for Andy to paint his lyrical images on.
The great Dark Waters, with its snarling vocals, keyboard undertones and guitar work which adds an air of menace to the proceedings, reminiscent of The Stranglers, as the extended guitar solo instrumental at the end pushes the song to its epic musical conclusion. In fact the superb guitar duelling throughout this album is one of the highlights for me, as the band pulls together to create a tight rhythm section to allow the guitarists to let rip, and the way they work together is very classic Wishbone Ash to my ears.
The 9-minute plus title track is a musical tour de force, highlighting all the strengths of The Frank Flight Band; a driving groove, with some amazing guitar work in the background and some fantastic lyrics from Frank Flight delivered in Andy Wrigley's great vocals, reminiscent again of the Edgar Broughton Band. Then there's a superb drum and bass interlude and some fantastically dark spoken words from Andy.
The Island is a great traditional big blues song, with some superbly reflective lyrics from Dave Veres and wonderfully Beatlesesque harmonies, the band as ever, are as tight as they can be, whilst the guitar work is sublime, and this is such a great track it could be a single.
The epic 12 minutes plus of Razor Glass, opening with some Floydian guitar and indeed an earlier '70s Floydian musical style soon builds and builds into a haunting, moody, atmospheric track featuring languid instrumental guitar solos and some suitably thoughtful lyrics with a vocal tour de force by Andy Wrigley. This is a superb piece of songwriting by Alex Kenny, and the band throw themselves into it, giving all they’ve got. With their musically tight performance, the sympathetic production, the vocal performance and some wonderful driving percussion building to a coda this is the centrepiece of the whole album and is what the album has been building up to.
Sinaloa is another building track, with some fantastic guitar work throughout, and the keyboard work is also amazing; subtle, insistent and uniformly strong throughout. The vocals are again amazing and the almost Western blues of the album, bringing to mind the epic lost blues of Johnny Cash or Roy Orbison, with a touch of the Ennio Morricone about it as well. As the song drives forward and the lyrics get more and more intense there's also a touch of Nick Cave about it. Another fantastic track. They have, however, left the best until last, with the closing 20 minutes of Cat, its church bells introduction again quite Floydian in its execution, whilst the driving guitar work brings to mind the best bits of the '60s when blues turned psychedelic. The vocals call to mind the growling drive of Jim Morrison. Some fantastic keyboard work and different musical moods and movements weave and bob throughout this track as the band flip and turn, dexterously and inventively whilst the soloists move in and out, fading away as soon as they arrived. Vocals again hold the piece together as they come together as a band with some fantastic performances. The closing guitar solos are a sheer joy to listen to as it builds and builds to an epic climax.
Having never heard the Frank Flight band before I am delighted by this album. The performances are superb throughout and there is not a duff song. The vocals, the lyrics and the musicality is amazing, and there is so much versatility here that you can revisit this album time after time and get something new from it. If you like your prog with guitars, your blues with psychedelia and some great vocals then these guys are for you.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Jet Black Sea - The Path Of Least Existence
Jet Black Sea was observed over the horizon by Adrian Jones, of Nine Stones Close, and Michel Simons. Once there, Adrian set sail with his guitar, bass, and guitar synthesiser, steered along his course by Michel's programming and keyboards. Together they create a dark, brooding, ambient soundscape that is shot through with shards of psychedelic guitar work, like early '70s Pink Floyd on brown acid.
Many U.K., and no doubt U.S. and other readers will remember the marvellous '90s comedy sketch show The Fast Show (Brilliant! in the USA). This album puts me in mind of Johnny Nice Painter who would go on countryside painting trips with his long-suffering wife. Everything would be fine until something reminds Johnny of the colour black, whereupon he would start screaming hysterically "Black! Black! You lock me in the cellar and feed me pins!" and suchlike.
In a similar but obviously non-comedic fashion this atramentous slab of an album leads the listener down a spacey, ambient path, albeit with an air of heightened expectation, when out of the black and into the blue come flying knives of monstrously rockin', psychedelic guitar. It does get very black in there at times.
The two-part epic that bookends the album begins in a stately fashion, slowly materialising out of the ether, courtesy of Michel's ambient textures and percussion programming, building layer upon layer of dark menace.
The Path Of Least Existence - Part I ends with a few piano notes over the low rumbling maelstrom, giving little hint of the twists and turns to come. Other than a bass line, Adrian has yet to make his mark. More restrained piano introduces Outnumbered before some subtle Gilmour-like guitar work introduces Adrian. The tune meanders along, when around the five-minute mark it suddenly ups several gears and Adrian briefly lets fly with some post-rock power-chording and a noisy burst of notes. This is going to be an interesting trip.
It takes a while to reach down to a very gloomy and foggy place full of grungy snarling guitar on The Law Of Diminishing Returns, but once there we are in the lair of the monster that is Jet Black Sea. Worst Case Scenario is more cosmic weirdness featuring vibes, dark, metal guitar slabs, and spooky ambience. From deep within the lair, the monster howls. Cocooned in the womb of Cage Of Myself - Parts I & II is Northern Exposure, which after a Bachian piano intro, segues into more anthemic chording from Adrian Jones.
The album ends with The Path Of Least Existence - Part II, introduced by the percussive exotica buried within Michel's hard drive. We are soon in a land where progressive electronica dances the quick step with black metal ambience, giving way to a journey into space reprised from Part I, on the back of echoed guitar chords. Eerie cinematic vistas open out before us and we are off once more on this strange trip. We play out on the returning heartbeat to Michel's melancholic piano sequence and Adrian's most lyrical playing yet. This is music for the head on an epic scale.
There is an element of Floydian influence present on the album, but they were never this musically dark. If you liked Djam Karet's spacerock extravaganza The Trip think of this as that album's surly cousin. You'll need to add this to your "to buy" list!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Looking-Glass Lantern - A Tapestry of Tales
Following two highly successful Hollywood films starring Robert Downey Jnr., an American contemporary adaptation starring Johnny Lee Miller, and the jewel in the BBC drama crown starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular hero, all things Sherlock Holmes have never been more popular.
Conan Doyle's well written and cleverly constructed tales continue to delight and amaze audiences today, and Dr. Graham Dunnington has fused the tales of Conan Doyle with Victoriana influenced progressive rock on A Tapestry of Tales, the debut release from his Looking-Glass Lantern project (a second album, again featuring musical adaptations of Holmes tales, will be released later on in the year).
Before I start I'll get 'the elephant in the room' out of the way; it is impossible to discuss musical adaptations of literary classics without mentioning Tales of Mystery and Imagination, the 1976 debut by The Alan Parsons Project, and Parsons and the late great Eric Woolfson set the benchmark, the template by which other projects come to be judged. Suffice to say, A Tapestry of Tales has lots in common with the TAPP, without either being a copyist or slavish homage, and there's a lot within A Tapestry of Tales, that Alan Parsons Project fans will love.
The Blue Carbuncle sets the pace of the album, with some musical themes and interludes that are revisited later on and weave through the album like a motif for Holmes as he works his deductive magic. There's a percussive, driving drumbeat, some excellent guitar work and chiming bells and midwinter musical themes that evokes the Victorian Christmas where the story is set. The lyrics manage to condense the story into the musical setting without losing the plot.
Six Pearls to Mary is a musical trip through John and Mary Watson's 6-year marriage, starting on notes of optimism and joy, as the song weaves its way through the different paths a marriage takes through some imaginative and superb keyboard and guitar work. The optimism turns to darkness as Mary dies, though it ends on an optimistic and positive final note.
The instrumental Two Solitary Men makes a lot of use of counterpoint to musically emphasise the difference between Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty as they musically spar with each other, through technical and complex guitar solos and a harpsichord running through the theme.
Throughout the album Dunnington's classically trained background is obvious through the use of classically Victorian instrumentation and the symphonic undertones with use of major chords and counterpoint. This gives A Tapestry Of Tales an epic feel and makes each track part of a cohesive whole, turning it into an album rather than a collection of tracks.
The longest track on the album, A Scandal in Bohemia, is as worthy as the book from which it was inspired, with its musical overtures of Victoriana, its tautly plotted lyrics following the story without losing the themes through the musical twists and turns that echo the complexity of Conan Doyle's work. It leads then into the shortest piece on the album, the wistful and elegiac Wisteria Lodge, played on classical guitar which gives a moment of pause, a piece of quiet contemplation before the album leads us into the closing title track. Revisiting musical themes and motifs featured throughout the album, it bookends the album nicely as both a reprise and a coda, with some fantastic keyboard and guitar work again, with a nicely symphonic sound which works as the perfect finale.
In short, this is a well made, cleverly adapted selection of classically influenced progressive rock, that mixes the magic of Conan Doyle with the musical dexterity and complexity of Graham Dunnington. Going back to 'the elephant in the room', A Tapestry Of Tales is a worthy successor to the crown of The Alan Parsons Project and is an album that anyone who likes that particular band should embrace with open ears.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Osta Love - Good Morning Dystopia
Tracklist: Prologue (4:51), Fragile Freedom (5:35), Alienation (4:34), Subway (5:13), Red Sky (4:59), Insomnia (6:12), The Guards (9:27), Alaska (4:45), Shine (4:37), Epilogue (3:41)
Good Morning Dystopia is the work of friends Tobias Geberth and Leon Ackermann. This release is the first full-length album by Osta Love. It is set in a Third Millennium urban dystopian world where surveillance is common place. The music ably captures the feelings of fear, hope and despair that might prevail in such a world.
The combination of bright acoustic parts, heavy guitar riffs and complex rhythms that adorn this release will be appealing for many. Good Morning Dystopia successfully combines intricate light acoustic and dark robust guitar elements. It is satisfyingly unconventional, but also accessible and interesting throughout. A Prologue and Epilogue act as bookends for the other compositions. The piece is best experienced as a whole, preferably in one sitting. The musical landscape created is intensely captivating. Individual compositions are linked by recurring conceptual and lyrical themes. Identifiable riffs and melodies are introduced and developed across a number of tracks. Consequently, the overall impact of the album is significantly diminished when individual tracks are heard in isolation.
The stark vision of the future is introduced in the opening Prologue that begins, predictably enough, with distant disembodied voices and a droning effect. The effects soon end and a forceful muscular guitar riff emerges that may remind some of Porcupine Tree. Fluid soaring guitar runs further capture the attention. The piece is also embellished by flute keyboard effects and has much to commend it. The influence of Pink Floyd is quite explicit throughout the release. This is identifiable in terms of the vocal phrasings and chosen guitar tones. Within Prologue this influence becomes apparent when the vocals begin. The excellence of the music and inquisitive lyrics in this opening track invite the listener to explore further. The vocals of Tobias Geberth plaintively ring out: "Good morning Dystopia, I am sorry that I quit". The composition ends with a lush string arrangement and some beautiful piano. Prologue is an excellent beginning and is a good indication of the quality of the performances, writing and arrangements that make up Good Morning Dystopia.
Lyrically though, Good Morning Dystopia is somewhat unsophisticated. For example, in Shine lines such as "Shine until the end of time" or "wouldn't it be better to stay in our cage" do not add much to the whole listening experience. The skilfully constructed and flowing keyboard solo within the piece ensures that lyrical frailties do not detract to any great extent.
Despite these lyrical shortcomings Geberth's vocal performance is an interesting and positive aspect throughout. His voice is not particularly tuneful, emotive or distinctive, but he is able to utilise many different vocal styles and effects that suit the melodies and stories told. These range from numerous Floydian moments, megaphone effects and snarling cynical inflections, as in the catchy Fragile Freedom. This fine tune has an alternative indie rock vibe that incorporates a memorable hook and chorus. In Alienation, Geberth adopts something akin to a theatrical spoken word approach. The accompanying backing vocals within this tune reminded me of something Nursery Cryme-era Genesis might have produced.
Within this very enjoyable release there are a number of stand-out tracks. Red Sky is an atmospheric track driven by an incessant rhythm and megaphone effect vocal. It has a delightful off-beat piano section played by guest Florian Hauss. The chorus is sumptuous and the jazz streaked moments add an unexpected ingredient.
Insomnia has become a personal favourite, its unconventional song structure making it a fully rewarding experience. This piece is liberally sprinkled with waves of rich Mellotron sounds and it has an accessible and tuneful melody. The piece ends with a stunning acoustic part.
Undoubtedly though, The Guards is probably the track that will receive most plaudits. It is the longest track on offer and the duo skilfully create a dark, atmospheric introductory soundscape. Surprisingly, the opening section of The Guards reminded me briefly of Pure Reason Revolution's introduction in Bright Ambassadors Of Morning. Vocal sections within this composition are very reminiscent of Pink Floyd's Us And Them. As the first vocal part ends, the pace quickens as the tempo changes. A monstrous riff bristling with energy is unleashed to rampage and dominate. The whole piece subsequently revolves around this repeated phrase. Heavy and insistent in nature, the riff reminded me of Lucifer Was. The music is never one-dimensional though. Short beautiful acoustic passages are incorporated within the piece and the recurring riff is stretched, manipulated and reassembled to maintain excitement and interest.
Aspects of some tracks are not as immediately appealing or impressive as The Guards. In particular Subway with its main lyrical refrain of "kicking the shit out of you as you wait for the train to arrive" was disappointing. The Gilmour-like guitar reflections and the imaginative changes of tempo helped to redeem things slightly though.
The production in this self-produced and released work is excellent. The music comes alive when played at volume on a good system. The artwork of the CD is also striking. The fully cloaked red figure that is set against a dark subterranean subway landscape captures the mood of the music perfectly.
In Good Morning Dystopia, Osta Love has created enjoyable, interesting and rewarding music but in any future release I would like to see less explicit Pink Floyd influences. The compositional ability and the individual performances shown within this release suggest that Osta Love have the necessary skills to develop a truly individual style. Nevertheless, it is an album that I will certainly enjoy hearing again.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Hibernal - The Machine
Tracklist: This High (2:26), Downward (8:34), An Open Door (4:35), Home (3:04), Losing Touch (7:29), Hard At Work (1:47), No Return (5:49), One Last Glimpse (2:46), Disconnection (10:00), Years (1:53), The Coldness (8:50)
Hibernal is the working name for Mark Healy from Australia. He is a multi-instrumentalist and he creates progressive rock music with a sci-fi story included. The album The Machine is based on a short story written by himself about a person who is being turned into a machine in order to make a promotion in the company he works for. Will he choose between his life at home or success in his working career?
The original short story was called Welcome To The Machine and this title should ring a bell for most prog fans. As expected the music has some influences from Pink Floyd, most of all the relaxed and laid back ambience as the music of Hibernal does not contain lengthy melodic guitar solos. If I may start with a small point of criticism then that latter remark will be it. At some points I was waiting for an enormous high sustaining note to continue in a melodic dreamy solo but that does not happen on this album. What is present is atmospheric music perfectly combined with the story. Narrator Rowan Michaels is present a lot on this album but it did not feel as if I were listening to a book. The album does not have lyrics besides the narration but the balance is perfect in my opinion. There is enough to portray the story but not too much to make it feel as if you were listening to a spoken book.
The music sounds very good with nice interactions between music and story and some noises to emphasize the story. I must say that the lack of lyrics and lengthy solos also makes it feel as if not a lot is going on. If you listen back to front with attention for the story then this is a very interesting album. However, if you are looking for renewing music or catchy tunes then you will not be satisfied after listening to this. It is a fine experience if you get interested in the album as a whole piece, both music and story, otherwise it will feel like a movie score without a movie.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Fatal Fusion - The Ancient Tale
Tracklist: The City of Zerych [Welcome, The Dark Lord, Falling into Darkness, The Shaman, Confrontation, Fall to Rise] (18:08), Halls of Amenti (8:59), The Divine Comedy [Dante's Descend, Inferno, Purgatory, Paradise] (14:14), Tears I've Cried (8:48), The Ancient Tale [Eos, Helios, Astraeos, Selene] (17:37)
Described in their press blurb as being inspired by the greats of the '70s like Camel, Deep Purple, Rainbow and Led Zeppelin, this Norwegian five piece are the type who wear their influences very much on their sleeves.
This is their second album and the band of Knut Eric Grontvedt (vocals), Erlend Engebretson (keyboards), Stig Seines (guitars), Lassie Lie (Bass) and Audun Engebretson (drums & percussion) belie their musical influences from the get go of the epic opening track The City of Zerych with its booming Hammond organ and ripping guitar you could be listening to anything Deep Purple jammed in the early '70. Once Grontvedts soulful vocals come in, the lyrics, sadly, are clichéd prog fare about ancient cities and the coming of The Evil One; sub Tolkein fantasy that I hoped had been left in the 1970s. The musical passages are superb, with some fantastic guitar work, and the power behind the drums and bass is phenomenal. It's clear that these guys can really play and there is some great musical interplay between them. However those musical clichés still sneak up on us, with some badly treated vocal effects to simulate The Dark Lord, sounding more like he's got a sore throat and needs some Strepsils (n.b., other throat medications are available...). Yet the atmospheric keyboard and drums passage is surprisingly effective and works really well, especially with the treated guitar effects in the background (reminiscent, it has to be said, of the middle section of Zep's Whole Lotta Love), before it turns into Iron Maiden and I realise that Grontvedt is channelling both Bruce Dickinson and Blaze Bayley; an impressive feat, and an impressive vocal range. Some of Uriah Heep's sillier '70s epics are brought to mind as, just when you think it's over, up pops another piece, and whilst they play so well sometimes they need to understand that less is more.
Halls of Amenti, with its synth driven opening and driving guitar riffs, gets us back onto an even keel and is for my money one of the stronger tracks on the album, being very prog metal in its drive and energy with some great riffing and guitar and keyboard parts, great big booming drums, sub-Indian influenced keyboard work and harmonics plus contemplative lyrics. This shows that when Fatal Fusion get it right, they get it very, very right, with some complex Wakemanesque keys and a great musical tapestry for Grontvedt to weave his vocal magic over. This is stoner rock with heavy Monster Magnet-like riffs and is a fantastic 8-minute track that doesn't overstay its welcome.
The Divine Comedy is a 14-minute plus retelling of Dante's Inferno with more of that Hammond organ and treated synths '70s sound that, when it works, works very well; when it doesn't it just drifts into parody and cliché. Again the treatment is very Uriah Heep - very 'eavy but not so 'umble - and throws everything into the mix to see what works and what doesn't. Having reined in the prog by numbers on Halls of Amenti, it's back with a vengeance here with treated choirs and driving Sabbath riffs. Musically and performance wise the band again are superb at what they do, however the main problem is that someone has already done it before - and better.
Then Tears I've Cried, with its rather beautiful harpsichord opening and a riff rather reminiscent of the closing coda to I want You/She's So Heavy by The Beatles pushes through into another great song, with the juxtaposition between the softer, almost folk rock verses and the heavier darker chorus showcasing the best of Fatal Fusion, their musicality and deft touch between flipping from soft to hard and the mix of styles they bring to the table. Grontvedt is passionate and soulful all the way through, with his vocals working well on this track, whilst the acoustic performance by Stig Seines shows how good a guitarist he is. When they pare back all the bombast the result is spectacular and haunting.
Finally the title track, all 17-minutes plus of it, starts off promisingly with some lovely piano work and great vocals again. The vocals and musical performances are consistent throughout the album, however it again drifts into prog by numbers with some clichéd chord changes and almost traditional prog production, whilst the subject matter of Gods and men is as old as the day is long. With the riffing and the interplay between the band, the musical performance is excellent but it's nothing new and nothing I haven't heard before.
Whilst Fatal Fusion are a fantastic band - their musical interplay, their skill, their deft mix of dark and light and the way they flit, butterfly like, from one theme and genre to another and back again is superb - the problem I have with The Ancient Tale is that it veers from greatness (Halls of Amenti, Tears I've Cried) to clichéd (City of Zerych, The Ancient Tale) too easily. The vocal strength and great range of Knut Eric Grontvedt is consistent throughout the album but whilst some of the tracks are good, there's nothing new or exciting about them to hold the interest.
In short, Fatal Fusion are a fantastic band who need to stop listening to their record collections and continue down the road that created Halls of Amenti and Tears I've Cried, then they'll have produced the great album that their talent suggests they are capable of.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Fatal Fusion CD Reviews:-
|Land Of The Sun|
|"Had they been around in the '80s, they would have been part of a new wave. For example, Love In The Sky starts off like early '80s Eloy, but ends up sounding exactly like Survivor's Eye Of The Tiger in its verses and it's as clear an incidence I can offer of the way in which Land Of The Sun struggles to really find its footing."|
(Jon Bradshaw, 4/10)
Mindspeak - Pictures
Mindspeak, an Austrian band, has released its debut, Pictures, after two years' work. The configuration of keyboards, guitar, bass and drums is joined by a female vocalist (Viktoria Simon). The youthful musicians are all between 19 and 23 years' old (and, based on the photo included in the CD insert, appear to be closer to 17!). According to the band's promotional material, Pictures is a "melting pot of various inspirations and playing techniques"; the lyrics describe a woman's conflict with herself and with society.
Reviewing this CD has been tough. The instrumental aspect of the CD shows a musical maturity that belies the youth of the cast. Indeed, this is well-rounded and creative symphonic prog-rock in the vein of The Flower Kings and, to a lesser extent, Moon Safari. The music is energetic and complex, with a big, confident aura. In particular, the powerful guitar chords and the drumming are excellent. Only a brief listen engenders interest.
So what's the downside?
The immaturity of the vocal tone is, perhaps, not a surprise - but what's the excuse for singing that often sounds off-key? Real value can of course be added by offbeat or avant-garde singing, but the singing here does not fall into either of those categories and, instead, simply muffles the virtues of the instrumental music.
On the bright side, real pleasure is provided by two fully instrumental pieces, Overture and Kaleidoscope (both are part of the CD's "epic" song, The Big Sleep, but could stand as independent tunes). And, within most of the tunes, segments of very fine instrumental music appear: one notable example is the extended, Floyd-ian guitar solo on Empty Faces. Nevertheless, the sporadic strengths cannot carry the CD as a whole.
These musicians should surely go forward in some form: they are indeed talented, and their potential roars. Their current effort, though, does not merit a recommendation even to fans of their sub-genre.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10
HellHaven - Beyond the Frontier
Beyond the Frontier is HellHaven's sophomore release, following up the 2010 debut Art for Art's Sake. The Polish band was formed in 2008 and currently consists of founders Jacob Wegrzyn (lead guitar, synthesizer, backing vocals) and Marcin Jaskowiec (bass) and is rounded out by members Sebastian Najder (lead vocals), Maciej Dunin-Borkowski (guitar) and Konrad Wojtowicz (drums).
In their press release, HellHaven sites the following bands as influences: King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Queen, System of a Down, Mike Oldfield and Iron Maiden. I didn't hear the King Crimson or Queen adoption on Beyond the Frontier but the band is certainly borrowing from their other influences here, most prominently in the use of Floydian atmospherics, as well as old-school metal and nu-metal musical tropes.
In general, I'd say this is a moderately accomplished release. I definitely appreciated the use of sound effects, sound bytes and voice-overs. Beyond the Frontier, Part I, which seems to have the moon as its central motif (perhaps as a symbol for human endeavour to transcend its terran limitations), makes use of President John F. Kennedy's speech to propose moon landings as an American challenge - I felt this worked well. The remainder of the songs utilize a clever importation of non-musical accents that lend differentiation to the tracks, so that the listener isn't subject to a continuum of sameness.
The standout tracks for me are the opener, Beyond the Frontier, Part I which, with its tension, buzzing guitar, nod to JFK's ballsiness and overarching hauntedness, is excellent. Hesitation incorporates some driving percussive accents and swings nicely (although I could live without the spoken-word lyrics). And, although I have no idea what the two parts of Traum of Mr. Twain are hinting at, the music has extraordinary and cohesive variance: creepy, driving, suggestive of madness, with even a hint of Comus (!), intended or not.
The rest of the tracks suffer from a lack of catchiness, lyrical clarity and hooks to pull the listener into the musical cosmos the band has created. Portions of every song are impressive and well wrought but there's often nothing to encourage a repeat exposure - not exactly blandness but maybe lack of a uniform direction and decisive arrangement: things feel scattered at times. The songs often contain too many disconnected sections, so that there's a patchwork feel to the presentation.
I'd say the strong points of the album are the compositional complexity, when it gels; the absence of showy playing at the expense of ensemble tightness; the smart use of effects; and Mt. Wegrzyn's guitar work, which is largely understated and restrained but decidedly clever, forceful and evocative as necessary.
I didn't find Beyond the Frontier to be especially "progressive", in either the sense of adhering to the conventions of progressive rock or being especially explorative. The album is a fairly predictable blend of nu-metal, Priest/Maiden-style metal, doom and death metal, with '90s grunge. The tracks are mostly too drawn out, ruining the visceral impact. And, to be honest, the vocals are questionable: off-key, inauthentic and overly dramatic—sometimes, HellHaven strives a little too hard to be hellish. Subtlety can be a godsend in music. And...it's probably time for all bands (following Opeth's lead) to dispense with the growling delivery.
All in all, an adequate release, with some fine musical dexterity in the mix but without enough uniqueness and stark impressiveness to merit much praise. The band members play well and there's some more-than-competent musicianship through Beyond the Frontier. I'd like to see the band condense a bit and offer songs with better grip and without a sense of meander. I can recommend this album for a once through, to fans of metal, but I suspect it wouldn't end up high on anyone's list of must-repeat listens.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Nektar - Time Machine
I'm going to be blunt with you, dear reader. This isn't actually the album I wanted to review at all. When I ordered this album, I was actually more interested in hearing Nektar's 2012 tribute album A Spoonful of Time, unaware that they were set to release a studio album with the name Time Machine. Hopefully you can forgive me for making this foolish error. I'd been interested to see just how Nektar covered songs like The Doors' Riders on the Storm and Toto's Africa, after hearing their pitiful version of Rush's The Spirit of Radio.
Robbed of that chance, I am lumbered with Time Machine, an album from a group you'd probably forgotten were still going. I hadn't. In fact, I reviewed one of their latter day albums - 2004's Evolution - just a couple of years ago, albeit in one of the worst reissues I've ever seen. I seem to recall that the music on Evolution wasn't terrible - in fact it was better than the accompanying album Man in the Moon from 1980 - so there was a slim chance that Time Machine may have been alright too.
Unfortunately, as with most albums released by a group so late in their career, Time Machine is anything but a flashback to the band's glory days, making the title sadly ironic rather than cleverly indicative. Inducted to engineer, mix and play bass on this album is the ubiquitous Billy Sherwood, who also had his hand in devaluing William Shatner's latest album, my review of which was published on DPRP last week. The man is not making a very good impression on me, as you can see, so I will make an effort to avoid his work in future.
So what's so bad about Time Machine? From the first couple of minutes, you certainly wouldn't guess. The opening number A Better Way begins with a telephone conversation between a man and...himself?! I was hooting with laughter as the large proggy chords began to play. With its interesting rhythms, the intro is certainly a promising kick-start to the album, but eventually gives way to the tedium that constitutes the bulk of this album.
It's clear that the band have been trying to package their tasteless brand of AOR as prog for many years now, using all the cheap tricks in the book. The most apparent of these tricks are the band pretending that their short tracks are actually long ones. Four of the album's ten songs stretch to over eight minutes, but each of these tracks has simply been padded out with noodling instrumentals that only serve to increase the play time. Look at that artwork too! The circular platforms on the cover have clearly been poached from Roger Dean's Yessongs artwork.
Besides those songs, you'd be hard-pressed to find a scrap of prog anywhere on this album. Following the opening track, we are instantly force-fed a load of what one ProgArchives writer deems "cantina pop nadir", in Set Me Free, Amigo. Beginning with the line "Ran into trouble in Mexico", this cringeworthy tale of stereotypical duplicity seems to have no place in the 21st Century, let alone a prog album! Some choice lines from the song:
"I got drunk and she looked pretty
Instead of spending my dough
I spent some time in jail."
"Now in that dark and dirty hole
I lay beside a mean bandito."
Weirdly, this is probably the most risk-taking the album gets; as with all risks there is the opportunity for failure. For the rest of the album, the band play it safe by playing it boring. Songs such as Destiny and Mocking the Moon have been done countless times before. Nektar seem hopelessly unable to change their dynamic. It doesn't help that the singing is pretty dreadful; one listen to the chorus of the title track will put you off your supper altogether.
However, there is one unexpected surprise on Time Machine. Just before the (inevitably dull) long closing track Diamond Eyes, there is a fairly quaint instrumental by the name of Juggernaut. Predominantly in 3/4 time, this unforeseen instrumental has some infectiously jazzy vibes to it and the feel of a semi-improvised jam. This is a refreshing break in the album and shows that Nektar do have some propensity for stepping outside their comfort zone. This track is hardly worth the price of admission though.
Put bluntly, Time Machine is stale beyond belief, with insipid, uninspired tracks and padded out pseudo-prog song structures. While the band do manage to challenge expectations towards the end, this barely detracts from the fact that this is one heck of a dull album. The band are no longer progressive and their attempts to cover this up are laughable. Still, it's better than Fly From Here.
Conclusion: 3.5 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Nektar CD & DVD Reviews:-
|Sunday Night At The London|
|"...get this Sunday Night album right away!"|
(Jerry van Kooten, 8.5/10)
|Unidentified Flying Abstract|
|"...amazing for fans, but there are other albums to hear first if you want to get to know the band."|
(Jerry van Kooten, 7/10)
|Pure: Live In Germany 2005|
|"This is a great package for every fan and is heartily recommended for anyone who has ever taken the slightest bit of interest in the group."|
(Mark Hughes, 8/10)
|Man In The Moon | Evolution|
|"...this is a rather lame reissue of two nonconsecutive albums, one mainly drivel, the other not so bad."|
(Basil Francis, 3/10)
|Remember The Future: 40th|
Anniversay Edition (1973/2013)
|"...judged on its own, undemanding terms it's a fine album with an accessible, ear-friendly musicality that was understandably so popular on its initial release."|
(Geoff Feakes, 8/10)
|Previous Nektar Interviews:-|