Issue 2014-053

Timo Tolkki's Avalon - Angels of the Apocalypse

Timo Tolkki's Avalon - Angels of the Apocalypse
Country of Origin: Finland
Format: CD
Record Label: Frontiers Records
Catalogue #: FR CD 645
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 50:23
Info: Timo Tolkki
Track List:
Tracklist: Song for Eden (0:46), Jerusalem is Falling (5:19), Design the Century (4:25), Rise of the 4th Reich (4:43), Stargate Atlantis (3:51), The Paradise Lost (4:16), You'll Bleed Forever (5:45), Neon Sirens (4:42), High Above Me (5:20), Angels of the Apocalypse (9:07), Garden of Eden (2:10)
I thought long and hard on how to approach this review without mentioning Timo Tolkki's best known enterprise, but I just can't. To contrast this album without referencing Stratovarius seems like an aimless effort, because the foundations of Avalon's new record, Angels of the Apocalypse, are clearly rooted in the very unique style he developed over 25 years ago.

Ever since the break of the new millenium, I've been cautious about Tolkki releases, for many reasons which I will not explain in detail here. Gladly, I can say that Avalon's first release was a breath of fresh air, and after it's second release I'd dare say I'm optimistic of what the third album will sound like.

This is not, by any means, the 90s era Stratovarius. If I had to define it, I'd say it's operatic/symphonic power metal, lacking the characteristic speedy riffs and high velocity double-bass drums that defined the style. The arrangements are bombastic, with heavy reliance on the melodies through the vocal lyrics, much less "instrumental" than what the average guitar player/Tolkki fan would go searching for.

Just like the first offering, Angels of the Apocalypse is a record full of guest vocalists. Fabio Lione (Rhapsody of Fire) and Floor Jansen (After Forever, Nightwish), who both have collaborated on Arjen Lucassen projects, take over half the singing on this record. The rest is done by David DeFeis (Virgin Steele), Elize Ryd (Amaranthe) Zachary Stevens (Circle II Circle), Simone Simmons (Epica) and chilean singer Caterina Nix.

While most of the vocal performances here are top notch, some of the tracks sound as if the singer is not comfortable. The chorus in Stargate Atlantis seems a bit forced, and Floor's vocals throughout Design the Century sound a bit dim. A pity, since her powerful voice is brilliant on the song You'll Bleed Forever.

The compositions are interesting and quite distinguishable from each other (as a metal fan even one must admit sometimes power metal albums tend to sound all the same), and Tolkki's guitar seems to have found a new sound, with less shredding and a tad more soul.

The band - with Tuommo Lasila on drums and Antti Ikonen on keyboards - is a well-oiled machine. It's no surprise, since the instrumentalists joining Tolkki this time around were around for the first four Strato albums.

Angels of the Apocalypse is a well crafted album with good moments and symphonic elements, but nothing that manages to break the barrier of its own genre. It's an enjoyable record, and holds a few surprises, especially if you were expecting it to be a mediocre album: it is not.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Keith Emerson - At the Movies

Keith emerson - Keith Emerson at the Movies
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #: ECLEC 32460
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 3:30:16
Info: Keith emerson
Track List:
CD 1: Nighthawks (Main Title Theme) (2:25), Mean Stalkin' (2:21), The Bust (2:08), Nighthawking (6:18), The Chase (6:03), I'm a Man (4:20), The Chopper (3:04), Tramway (3:26), I'm Comin' In (3:04), Face to Face (2:52), Flight of the Hawk (3:09), Best Revenge - Orchestral Suite (15:28), Playing for Keeps (4:21), The Dreamer (Love Theme) (2:40), Wha'dya Mean (5:04), Outgoing Tide (1:49), For Those Who Win (3:35), The Runner (3:26)
CD 2: Inferno (Main Title) (2:55), Rose's Descent into the Cellar (4:56), Taxi Ride (Rome) (2:13), The Library (0:55), Sarah in the Library Vaults (1:15), Bookbinder's Delight (1:09), Rose Leaves the Apartment (3:28), Rose Gets It (2:07), Elisa's Story (1:07), A Cat Attic Attack (3:11), Kazanian's Tarantella (3:31), Mark's Discovery (1:21), Mater Tenebrarum (2:36), Inferno Finale (2:23), Cigarettes, Ices, Etc (2:49), Inferno Extras (10:15), La Chiesa (The Church - Main Theme) (3:56), The Possession (2:28), Prelude 24 (2:21), La Chiesa Revisited (4:23), Murderock (2:46), Not So Innocent (3:32), Prelude to Candice (1:45), Don't Go in the Shower (1:05), Coffee Time (2:32), Candice (3:38), New York Dash (1:32), Tonight Is Not Your Night (1:12), The Spillone (1:50)
CD 3: Harmagedon (Theme of the Floi) (3:35), Jo and Michiko (2:44), Sonny's Skate State (4:14), Zamedy Stomp (2:59), Challenge of the Psionic Fighter (4:12), Children of the Light (3:59), Godzilla vs. Gotengo (1:51), Godzilla Final Wars Titles (2:59), EDF Headquarters Fight (1:37), EDF Museum (1:18), Infant Island (2:00), Rodan Attacks NYC (4:14), Earth Defense Forces Theme (2:45), Motorcycle Battle (2:49), Godzilla Awakens (1:51), Love Theme (1:28), Monster Zero Theme (2:14), Cruising The Cirro Stratus (2:44), Godzilla Theme (1:20), Godzilla Final Wars End Titles (4:41)
An elaborately attired old man walks awkwardly into a pub, everyone looks at him in amazment.
"Oh my God" exclaims the barman "You're a real pirate!"
"Ohhh aghhh" he retorts and asks for three fingers of rum.
The barman just stares in disbeleif but has to ask him something: "How did you lose your leg?"
"Spanish cannon fire, ripped it clean orff... hurt like buggery..." and points to the rum.
"Blimey" replied the barman, "and how did you lose your arm?"
"Same sea battle, Spanish cannon fire, bounced orf the deck and ripped it clean orf", he wheezed through broken teeth.
"Incredible!", replied the barman. "So... how did you lose your eye?"
The Pirate squints the best he can, looks up and says, "bird shat in it".
The whole pub was now listening to this apparition of past times. The barman reels in suprise:
"Must have been a really big one?!" he questioned.
"No, not really. First time I used the hook."

I really like Pirates, no, not the Somali sort, that gave Tom Hanks a bad day at the office, the long track from ELP's Works Volume one album that was jam packed with orchestral brilliance and very strong imagery. It turns out that this track was to be called Dogs of War, a "soundtrack" based on the novel by Frederick Forsyth. A seed was indeed sown.

After the contractual Love Beach album had done it's worst and the spray tans had worn off, keyboardist Keith Emerson pursued a life-long quest to write music for films. Missing out on Chariots of Fire and The Elephant Man he eventually scored for Italian director Dario Argento's horror movie Inferno in 1979. Six soundtracks so far and Esoteric Recordings have released a compliation box set on three CD's called (zoom out to include titles) Keith Emerson at the Movies.

Rather than a chronological direction, each CD is music from the various territories which works very well as the culture of the countries, where the films originate, make for a more coherent musical listen. So on CD1 we get the US movies, CD2, the Italian, and CD3 the Japanese.

Nighthawks was a Syvester Stallone vehicle and has the most ELP sound of all of these recordings. The sounds or "patches" have echos of Pirates, even a few notes are the same. There's a hint of 70s "blackploitation" with big brassy brass stuff and nifty percussion, occaional wah wah, but with that unmistakeable Emerson keyboard work throughout. I hasten to add that I haven't seen any of these movies which is a much better way of reviewing the music. However, the imagination is admirably rewarded just by listening. Our musical hero even gets to sing on Steve Winwood's I'm a Man which hopefully was being heard on a transistor radio in another building. Nighthawks is worth the price of admission alone.

Best Revenge is a drug smuggling type film, best known for having The Band's Levon Helm as an actor as well as contributing to one of the songs. Archivists will also like to know that Boston's now sadly departed Brad Delp sings on Playing for Keeps and reminds us just what a great singer he was. The music is very 80s' in parts but two small piano pieces The Dreamer (Love Theme) and Outgoing Tide are (and I hope no offense is taken here) very Wakemanesq beautiful piano and string based ditties to make you want to stop chomping the popcorn. Wha'dya Mean is very uplifting with some great drumming. CD1 get's the big thumbs up then.

After the interval and one of those overpriced little tubs of ice cream with the stupid little spoons, it's onto CD2 or The Italian Movies. Inferno was the first film Emerson scored and it's quite strident and scarry which is because this was a supernatural horror flick. Probably the music matches the pictures better than in isolation as with tracks called Rose leaves the Apartment but nonetheless this too is a fine body of work with Cigarettes, Ices, Etc being the best "track" here.

La Chiesa (The church) has only four tracks as it appears that some of the score was by Philip Glass with contributions from from Goblin and Fabio Pignatelli. What we get here is a church organ based feel, some sampled voices, and "will someone please let them in" percussion. It actually provides a nice little interval in it's own right.

Murderock was a murder film that apparently became more of a musical due to the success of "Flashdance". The music again is quite 80s' with syn drums up in the mix and Huey Lewis type production, but actually it all works out pretty well. I must admit to wanting to see the visuals for Don't go in the shower but maybe that's because the film is about leatarded dancers, Coffee time has me thinking of a lumbering stomp along the sidewalk, and New York Dash does what it says on the tin.

An honourable visit to the gents and I'm cracking open a cheeky can of Sapporo I've sneaked past the usherette in order to settle down to CD3, The Japanese Movies. Ah so.. ah so we move onto Harmagedon: The Great Battle, a science fiction anime movie released in 1983. This soundtrack reflects the cartoon nature of the film, but has more early ELP elements to it (besides the production of it's era, of course) especially Zamedy Stomp and Challenge of the Psionic Fighter which harks back to oooh argh Pirates with the disntinctive Emerson timbre. Only six tracks here as Nozomi Aoki also took park in the soundtrack writing.

Godzilla Final Wars is the last film we have here. Released in 2004, this one appears to have had quite a lot of success at the box office. Original film has contributions from Daisuke Yano and Nobuhiko Morino, while the band Sum 41 contributed the song We're All to Blame (only Emerson's music on these discs though).

Although this was not an animated film, the music is again very cartoon like and almost disco and dance in places. EDF Headquarters Fight is pure house and probably works a treat with some camp finger nails at dawn tussle. There are sounds that are unrecognisable as part of his usual array, but this does give a freshness to preceedings. However, Godzilla Awakes and Monster Zero theme have more than a nod to the 70s Moogness that he is known for. It all ends with Godzilla Final Wars End Titles which could almost be a lost track from Black Moon.

There's nothing like an afternoon at the movies and I feel exhausted but totally happy by everthing I've just seen/heard. An essential purchase for all Keith Emerson fans and for that matter ELP ones too. Once again Esoteric Recordings have come up trumps with this superb package with great liner notes and remastering. As I tumble out and adjust my eyes to the sunlight, I wonder what will come next, more ELP or more sountracks to movies, either way let's hope it all continues for years to come.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Anton Johansson - The Galahad Suite

Anton Johansson - Galahad Suite
Country of Origin: Sweden
Format: download
Record Label: Lion Music
Catalogue #: LMC340
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 46:00
Info: n/a
Track List:
Galahad – The Hope (5:14), Somewhere – The Quest (4:46), Happy – The Incident (3:30), Hunted – The Decision (5:28), Morning Sun – The Battle (3:31), Loneliness – The Peace (4:15), Never Alone – The Victory (4:20), Coming Home – The Reward (7:14), Vision Divine – The End (5:04), Galahad – The Man (2:00)
A story of the Galahad from the Holy Grail tales takes a new approach with the melodic prog suite from Anton Johansson. This work is largely a vocal-centric suite for story telling and has brought in a large consortium of musicians and guest musicians to make it all happen. There are over 15 musical participants but the short list consists of Linus Abrahamson (guitar and bass), Mats Bergentz (drums), and Sabastian Berglund (keyboards).

Opening the suite in Galahad - The Hope is an orchestral slow build that infuses the coming drama into the picture where it moves through a nice flowing metal groove. This abruptly ends for a piano and vocal combination to set the stage for the story line. As this song continues it remains somewhat slow motion with repeated staccato enunciations of the name Galahad – this got me a bit worried. With Somewhere – The Quest the lead-in for the second song justified my concern. The keyboard interaction with the guitar became a 1980's movie soundtracks style interplay between Limburger and ädelost – yes, a total cheese fest.

Luckily once the band settled into the suite the sounds opened up into something much more respectable. Happy – The Incident picks up the pace and includes more effects with a more solid drum component that helps substantially. Still a fairly laid back rhythm, there is much to appreciate.

The vocals sound much better when just singing the story rather than trying to set up the scene or overtly say what is happening. Using the backing vocals (in Hunted – The Decision is a welcome addition for this style of storytelling as well. Jumping between metal riffs and the delicate singing works better as the suite progresses.

This work does have its moments. Vision Diving – The End leads into a pretty strong finish with the best vocals of the suite (coming from the female backing vocals) and a great guitar riff against an atmospheric keyboard. Then the album ends where it began, with the cheese.

I am certain I would enjoy this as a live play with the band and orchestra in the pit (and it sounds like this was the intention.) The musicianship is very good and places where the strings are in the forefront makes this work shine. It doesn't reach the calibre of Clive Nolan's productions such as She or Alchemy, but if that is your thing this may be worth examining.

As an auditory experience, the sound quality is there but the dynamism one would expect from this kind of production is lacking. In a play I want drama and there just isn't enough here for me.

This is overall mostly gentle and easy to consume as a straightforward story that tends to put the music second – something that won't bring me back too often. Luckily, if I ever need a re-enactment of the Grail story, there is always Monty Python!
Conclusion: 6 out of 10

John Lodge - Natural Avenue

John Lodge - Natural Avenue
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Cherry red/Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #: ECLEC2437
Year of Release: 1977/2014
Time: 53:46
Info: Johjn Lodge
Samples: John Lodge website
Track List:
Intro to Children of Rock 'n Roll (1:04), Natural Avenue (3:56), Summer Breeze, Summer Song (5:21), Carry Me (A Song for Kristian) (5:43), Who Could Change (6:05), Broken Dreams, Hard Road (4:33), Piece of my Heart (3:57), Rainbow (3:53), Say You Love Me (6:26), Children of Rock 'n Roll (4:31), bonus tracks: Street Café (4:02), Threw it All Away (4:15)
In the mid seventies, The Moody Blues were at their peak. A set of seven consecutive high quality and very successful albums like Days of Future Passed, A Question of Balance, and Seventh Sojourn had taken them into the premier league of rock bands and had seen them pave the way for more experimental symphonic bands. Yet the price had been high for their lives had been taken up fully with recording, promoting and touring. The tensions within the band had become high, the spirits quite low and taking a hiatus seemed therefore a wise decision. But instead of using this time off to take a rest and enjoy other things in life several band members started recording a solo album. That resulted in the Hayward/Lodge album Blue Jays that still ranks amongst the best music any Moody ever recorded. As if that superb album wasn't enough to fulfil their anxiety to do things outside the band setting both recorded a real solo album. For John Lodge this Natural Avenue would prove to be his only solo outing to date. And now we can enjoy it again as a re-issue through Esoteric Recordings.

On this album Lodge was assisted by a range of good friends from the music industry, as he writes himself in the liner notes that open the nicely crafted booklet. Chris Spedding on guitar, Kenney Jones on drums, and Mick Weaver are the principal musicians while Lodge himself plays bass and acoustic guitar. The Brian Jones orchestra is featured on the majority of the tracks with exuberant arrangements that emphasize that Lodge is focusing more on the soft, symphonic side than on his rockier side.

In that respect, the first expectations are nicely met. But after the simple and mellow acoustic guitar with accompanying vocal line in Intro to Children of Rock 'n Roll, a short track that opens this album and makes you expect to hear an album full of recognisable Moody Blues-style songs. But Lodge has more to offer and suddenly changes to an unexpected boogie woogie theme that marks the title track. A completely different atmosphere, with a mouth harp solo in the middle and really dated, yet very funny horn-like keys. Never anticipated a Moody could write or perform such a steaming, up-tempo, boogie song! After the initial shock this track initially brought about I have to admit that it has something to it that makes it enjoyable. But it takes a couple of listens!

Summer Breeze, Summer Song is a extremely mellow, heavily orchestrated track. It could well have been part of the Blue Jays album. The sax solo towards the end is very appropriate to emphasize the overall laid-back atmosphere of summer laziness the lyrics tell us about. The laziness continues in Carry Me, another slow, extremely mellow and heavily orchestrated track, this time with cheesy 'Aaahhhh' singing by Lodge, Gary Osborne, John Richardson and Alan Williams. It is a bit too much for my taste, but as the song is a tribute to his son Kristian who was born a couple of years before, it shows convincibly how dear his son is to him. That's maybe the only good reason to record such a cheesy song...

Who Could Change is a track that has all the things that made Octave such a successful return to the fold of the Moodies. An attractive melody, a instrumental back-up starting with a simple band but growing into a full orchestra with strings, piano, brass and, in the end, some solo guitar playing along with the orchestra (or the other way around). Beautiful track and the most reminiscent of his Moodies' work.

From here on the album gains strength, the melodies improve and the arrangements get tastier. Broken Dreams, Hard Road is a little symphony, with an up-tempo intro and outtro and inbetween a ballad-like intersection. Many sax, a full orchestra, a rocky piano, all very nicely done. Piece of My Heart features some nice guitar playing, a solo done by Spedding. It sounds as a forerunner of the type of tracks Lodge would contribute on later Moody Blues albums like Talkin' out of Turn on Long Distance Voyager.

Rainbow is another slow orchestral song, backed by piano and keys and many, many tasteful strings. Cheesy, yes, but after a couple of spins it starts to grow on you. Say You Love Me is the longest song on the album and rightly so. Beautiful rich instrumentation with full orchestra, harmony singing, strong singing by Lodge himself, nice guitar playing and a grand finale. This song would have made a perfect album closer because of its grandeur yet Lodge choose to select Children of Rock 'n Roll. I think that this was not the best choice since the song has no connection at all with the Intro that opens the album. Together they would have been quite a strong duo, now neither profits from each other.

This rerelease features two bonustracks. Street Café was a 1980 single, a straight forward pop song based upon acoustic guitar and keys that sound very out-of-date now. The short solo is played on guitar and whistled by Lodge. The other bonus track is the B-side of the same single. It's a very slow pop song with a "vintage" choir on the background together with a brass section. The sound is as "hollow" as if Phil Spector himself has sitten behind the buttons but it was Pip Williams (Moody Blues, Barclay James Harvest) who took care of the production. It is great that Esoteric has decided to get these two songs out of the vaults and to give them a new life again. For historical the inclusion of both songs is extremely nice but they are far from essential.

Would this have been a new album in 2014 my conclusion would have been more negative. But this album saw the light of day back in 1977 and should therefore be considered as being a product of that era. And as such it is very enjoyable, with many symphonic moments in very tasteful orchestrations with a wide variety of instruments used and an impeccable production. For Moody Blues fans this album is an absolute must. As Pinder's and Thomas' solo albums have also been re-issued recently this rerelease offers a not-to-miss opportunity to complete the list of solo albums by Moody Blues members. That alone is reason enough to welcome this re-issue but the music in itself justifies the purchase also. As said, enjoyable, not necessary but another nice example of the quality of the prog music during the late seventies.
Conclusion: 6,5 out of 10

Pineapple Thief - 137

The Pineapple Thief - One Three Seven (2013 Remaster)
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Kscope
Catalogue #: KSCOPE246
Year of Release: 2001/2013
Time: 1:11:00
Info: The Pineapple Thief
Samples: KScope store website
Track List:
Lay On the Tracks (4:46), Perpetual Night Shift (5:28), Kid Chameleon (7:02), Incubate (3:25), Doppler (7:33), Ster (4:00), Release the Tether (5:04), How Did We Find Our Way? (3:57), 137 (5:02), Preserve (5:20), Warm Me (3:26), PVS (11:42), MD One (3:57).
Remastered and remixed after 12 years (and after some undue delay in reviewing it), the 2001 release One Three Seven has been updated and is starkly different now. Rarely is a remastered album this dramatically superior in sound and clarity from the original. The song listing error in the original has been corrected as well.

One Three Seven deserved this new coat of paint and fresh detailing. To me this album's value comes from the minutia of effects and fluff in-between the chorale portions and main structure. A great example of this is Kid Chameleon with the electric and non-electric effects alike creating the emotional flurry through the song's progression. Part of my reasoning is that I am not a huge fan of the style of singing from Bruce Soord but it won't keep me from enjoying this kind of talent in creativity and production.

I don't have much to add to the original review found here that was most ably described by Remco Schoenmakers but with the new clarity in the recording I would be a bit more reluctant to find fault with the bass and drumming, which to me is appropriate to the styling of this work and now not subdued. Still, the primary difference is a welcome to the modern age of proficient sound recording for this gem.

Since 2001 when One Three Seven was originally released on the Cyclops label, The Pineapple Thief have moved to Kscope and their catalog has continued at a healthy pace. Looking back I still see this release as not only a seminal work in setting the stage for their current renown but One Three Seven holds up to any subsequent release in it's own way. Not to diminish any of Pineapple Thief's more current work, but this one, with it's over-the-top subtlety, has some serious heart and soul. Furthermore, after glancing over the past decade of releases, the band tends to resort to scratchy and jarring distorted guitar to contrast otherwise pleasant melodies much more than they did here. Although the creative streak never ceased, I'm partial to the songs that don't delve into grating guitar whose role is contrast rather than substantial - likely an artifact of my age, but I'm still saying it!

Many bands have taken the creative road of finding a way to set a heavy contrast between minimalist acoustic phrasing and immediate shifts to high activity and back. The combined efforts of Bruce Soord, Adrian Soord, Nick Lang, and Mark Harris caught a muse with this one and the new version is an extremely appropriate way to honor this great work. If you are a newer fan of The Pineapple Thief and you haven't delved this deeply in the catalogue, I emphatically suggest One Three Seven is a critical addition - especially now.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10

Schizofrantik - The Knight On The Shark

Schizofrantik - The Knight on the Shark
Country of Origin: Germany
Format: CD
Record Label: Gentle Art Of Music
Catalogue #: GAOM 20
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 48:57
Info: Schizofrantik
Samples: Schizofrantik website
Track List:
The Knight on the Shark beside the Ship Which Is Not Sunken Yet (10:19), Marching Through the Meadow (6:57), The Human Slaughter Tango (6:59), Nazis On LSD (6:38), Psychic Scars (5:37), Liquid Light (5:42), Thanx Dog (6:45)
Please let me introduce to you the gents that are the mind, heart, body and soul of Schizofrantik: Martin Mayrhofer on guitars, vocals, keyboards, and programming, Peter Braun on bass, and Andy Lind on drums. Schizofrantik have been around since 1998, which is quite some time yet and have, since then, had six releases, of which two studio-albums, an EP and a live album. The two most recent ones, 2011's Oddities and last year's The Knight on the Shark were released by Gentle Art Of Music.

The band have all that matches their name, music against the stream and the chops to make even that flow. It must be said that the first couple of times I listened to the album, I had to keep my attention to the music for I was sometimes overwhelmed with all the bends, curves and what have you, that the band seek to explore in their music. Now, returning to the album with quite some time in between, I no longer feel distracted by what happens in the songs and I can relate to what is going on in the music by this German trio.

Sure, the title track might give Primus a run for money when it comes to strange titles, yet the avant garde approach rock in the music is not there as much to impress but it is there to take you on journeys through the experiences Martin Mayrhofer who has a great sense of putting dreams or either experiences to music. The title track was inspired by a drawing Martin's nephew had made and Martin only got to fill in the story that could be the background of the drawing. The song opens neatly in a bit jazzy way yet it slowly builds its way through Zappa-esque and Primus-like territory. Heavy riffing, keyboards, unexpected vocal lines, seemingly random drumming, yet all in the same build and feel of the song. Just as the song gets beyond the 3:30 mark, the song gets slightly more jazzy as Martin plays a nice solo that gives the song a whole different feel. Yet not for all too long, diversity remains at the fore. A nice enough introduction to the band.

Marching Through the Meadows is not all about a natural stroll through the meadows. As Martin explains in the booklet,the song describes the experiences of being under the fantasy inspiring influence of chemical substances. The song is seductive in its riffing that sets out to steady bass and an almost neoprog keyboard fest. No pun intended, yet heavily addictive.

The Human Slaughter Tango is as weird as its title suggests. Acoustic intro, heavy riffing go hand in hand with an almost ska-like rhythm and a genuine tango part later in the song, deliciously dished out with accordion to make it even more tango than you could possibly imagine. Not one for the lighter part of life, or so it seems, this song is based on a nightmare Martin had. I hope nightmares like these don't scare him too much, as reliving them in writing their songs, gives us a chance to experience some weird yet interesting music.

Nazis On LSD finds kids that grew up on a diet of Zappa and Rush playing a modern rendition of La Villa Strangiato. Well, not really of course, yet this instrumental is an astounding trip with captain Mayrhofer once again steering the good ship Schizofrantik through a whirlwind of musical change. Here is where avant garde meets metal meets jazz meets, dare I say so, prog and blend it all together. And a stompin' we will go!

If diversity be your pleasure, if you find joy in all things Zappa and Primus as well, yet put together with luscious keyboard parts throughout and if heavy riffing is only vitamins for you, then you should just check out this disc of riffridden, free funkin' and a jazzin' pieces of music.
Conclusion: 7,5 out of 10

Secret Tales - L'Antico Regno

Secret Tales - L'Antico Regno
Country of Origin: Italy
Format: CD
Record Label: Black Widow
Catalogue #: BWRCD 169-2
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 49:00
Info: Secret Tales
Track List:
Stargate (2:58), Il Menestrello (1:12), L'Antico Regno (3:28), Il Giullare (4:19), In-Faust-O Goblin (3:29), Il Canto Delle Sirene (5:34), Rex Introduxit Puellam (L'incontro sublime) (2:27), PrincElfa (3:40), L'Unicorno Lucente (4:00), Tornano Le Fate (6:15), Le Tre (Streghe Fate Aliene) (3:52), An Ancient History (5:34), Saluto Del Cantore (2:11)
If you enjoy female vocals with an operatic and dramatic tinge, then you may well appreciate L'Antico Regno. It is an album that contains many mellow passages overflowing with the rich vocal performance of the intriguingly named Tziana 'Princess' Radis. The elegant vocals are interspersed with often intense guitar parts. Secret Tales debut contains thirteen compositions. A plethora of instruments are used, including bodhran, flute and lute. The music has some interesting facets and incorporates a variety of styles that might appeal to a wide audience of potential listeners. These range from an early renaissance ambience where lutes are featured, as in the charming Il Menestrello, to a darker and more conventional chugging mixture of metal and classic rock highlighted in tracks such as L'Antico Regno and In-Faust-O Goblin. Keyboards are used effectively throughout and are utilised to carefully craft a contemplative atmosphere at the beginning of many tracks. It is an album that, does not bristle with long glitzy instrumental passages. L'Antico Regno may therefore, not totally satisfy, or appeal to readers who want to hear music crammed with flamboyant, individual, or collective virtuosity. It would nevertheless, interest those that enjoy relatively straightforward, but melodic progressive rock. Powerfully muscular guitar parts and pumped riffs help to alleviate a lasting impression that many of compositions follow a generic and safe formula. In a similar way, laughter, screams, crying effects and various other emotive vocal traits, including some spoken male and female parts, add variety in the hope of sustaining listener interest. Despite these artistic and musical ploys, much of what was on offer sadly, did not sustain my interest, or appeal fully.

There is however, much within L'Antico Regno that some might find enjoyable and charming. The group members' performances within the constraints of the arrangements are more than adequate. Many of the tunes have tempting refrains and melodies. The album begins in a fine manner with pensive wordless vocals in the impressively gothic opener Stargate. This is followed by the dulcet tones of Il Menestrello. This beautiful track is one of the highlights of the album. The renaissance inspired acoustic tracks such as this and Saluto Del Cantore shine brightly in an otherwise largely disappointing landscape.

Il Canto Delle Sirene begins with some serene wordless vocals. It also features some attractive acoustic guitar work in its spacious and expansive introduction. Il Canto Delle Sirene has an etheral quality and is probably the most appealing piece on offer in the collection. It is one of the few tracks that I have found satisfying on repeated listens. Rex Introduxit Puellam (L'incontro sublime) is quite melancholy. It has many textures and is a sonically noteworthy piece. It contains an unusual mix of spoken words, a military style rhythm and layers of attractively lush symphonic keyboards that many might find interesting. PrincElfa contains soaring vocals and has a broad orchestral character. Unfortunately, the decision to repeat the words ding dong in the style of a bell ringing, detracted from an otherwise attractive track. L'Unicorno Lucente is characterised by operatic vocals and a mournfully plaintive, but tuneful melody. It also features some skilful guitar frolicks in the featured solo during its latter stages.

Although the album contains a number of contrasting styles, much of L'Antico Regno has the potential to safely pass the listener by. I found the overall impact of L'Antico Regno regretably uninspiring and surprisingly forgetable. This feeling was exempilfied by the quirky and opulently mellow tones of An Ancient History and by the delightful Tornano Le Fate. Tornano Le Fate contains many impressive ingredients which should, on the face of it, remain etched in the memory. It features an outstanding melody, an alluring voice, an edgy guitar solo and lashings of gorgeous sounding acoustic guitar. It was certainly enjoyable at the first time of listening. However, Tornano Le Fate was unable to ignite any sparks of elation, or excitement within me, when recalled, or heard again.

Indeed, repeated exposure to L'Antico Regno for the purpose of this review has done little to endear me to its musical charms. Rather than dispelling any indifferent, or adverse initial reactions to the release as a whole, the journey towards familiarity has been a test of endurance. I hope that some DPRP readers feel inclined to check this album out and are able to appreciate its many qualities. Similarly, I hope that some listeners are able to locate the spirit of adventure within L'Antico Regno that I regretably have been unable to find.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10

Shamall - Turn Off

Shamall - Turn Off
Country of Origin: Germany
Format: 2CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: 2L-2021
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 150:00
Info: Shamall
Samples: Shamall website
Track List:
CD 1: Shine a light (5:02), It's Been a Long Time (2:51), Shout it Out (5:44), The Devil Never Sleeps (3:30), Never Before (16:56), Playing for the Ashes (8:44), Voices Part I (9:50), Voices Part II (9:05), Too Many People Part I (4:05), Too Many People Part II (6:42), So Much Is on the Line (7:06).
CD 2: Diversion (2:17), The Creeping Dead (9:25), Reflective (4:31), Clouds Obscure the Sun (4:45), Horrible Nightmare (8:02), At the End of Time (8:00), The Hidden Enemy (8:11), Companion of Fortune (8:44), Wounded World (2:34), Turn Off Part I (7:42), Turn Off part II (4:49), In These Days (2:38).
Take 12 grams of Eloy, 4 grams of Tangerine Dream, 1 gram Marillion, and 3 grams Steve Wilson / Porcupine Tree, whisk rigorously, place in oven for 30 minutes garnish with a hearty sprinkling of Ayreon add a touch of Pink Floyd and you will have served up something approaching Shamall's 2013 double CD offering Turn Off. This is German elongated space prog with a capital S!

Shamall (wikipedia informs me that this loosely translates as "hot desert wind") is the moniker for a successful DJ called Norbert Krueler (NK), a gifted German composer and talented musician.

The biggest difficulty for me in reviewing this album is its length ("too much of a good thing" springs to mind) – we are talking 150 minutes of music here. Now as hard as I tried, I could not sit for two and half hours listening to the whole album (had to do it in three chunks!). To be honest, I started to get bored at the 50 minute mark. Don't get me wrong, this is good neo space-prog and I'm sure others can completely immerse themselves for such a length a time. For me the length, and sorry about the pun here, was the biggest turn-off about the album. For such a long album this will seem a short review as will be explained shortly.

Turn Off is a concept album about the potential dystopia with anything remotely associated or connected with nuclear power or weapons. This is no-holds barred, and NK is fairly clear & succinct about his views on this subject.

So we have 23 tracks spread over two CDs. What is there that would turn a progster on? Plenty sonic delights served up on this album. There is a uniformity and homogeneous production that will be ear candy for many neo-progsters but unfortunately not for me. Listen to the first 40 or 50 minutes you will have heard the whole album. That sounds hard, but the themes, motifs, chord sequences, etc. are repeated so many times, that I found it tiresome. NK has managed to squeeze what he can out of the underlying ideas that things do run dry after the hour mark.

If you like keyboard dominated ethereal & atmospheric soundscapes with a high dosage of endless synth solos then this is the album is for you. If you like a balance or a complement of soaring guitar solos then this album is not for you. There's simply a paucity of guitar solos for my tastes. On CD 1, tracks 8 and 11, CD 2 track 5, 7 and 8 feature some very good solo work from Matthias Mehrtens that simply raises the question – why not more guitar and less synth work?

Since there is an abundance of synth solos, it's impossible to pick out any outstanding one. NK certainly plays some great melodic synth lines and clearly he was brimming full of ideas in that department when making this album.

The album is also full of intriguing sonic noises and NK certainly get his money's worth out of all the virtual synths and libraries (the list on the sleeve notes is as long as one's arm) that are employed on this album. The sax solo on Too Many People Part II is so convincing that you'd be unaware that it was sample based.

They are a few other things that don't do it for me with this album. The drumming sounds programmed (no drummer acknowledged on this album) and therefore lacks spontaneity, flair, and creativity. I suspect they are based on modified MIDI files utilising drum sample libraries.

Another thing that doesn't do it for me is NK's vocals and the pronunciation of some of the lyrics ('voices' just sounds like 'woices' and that irked somewhat). Thankfully his vocals are used sparingly. The female vocals from Anke Ulrich are very good and maybe should have featured more.

The album needed some independent judicious editing to reduce it to its main musical constituents. I could easily envisage a 50 minute album that would have been an absolutely cracker and score very high on the old progometer. However, with all the issues I have with this album this is a 6.5 out of 10 on the DPRP progometer for me.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

Strattman - The Lie of the Beholder

Strattman - The Lie of the Beholder
Country of Origin: USA
Format: CD
Record Label: 10T Records
Catalogue #: 10T10075
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 56:09
Info: Strattman
Samples: Strattman on 10T Records
Track List:
A Better World (6:00), Caught inside the Rain (6:09), A Candle in the Sun (7:40), Jaded (2:32), The Scene of the Crime (3:35), Detonation (5:10), Solace (5:35), The Lie of the Beholder (6:03), Connection Lost (3:49), No Way Home (5:48), The Fire Dies (3:51)
Roy Strattman is the guitarist and joint composer in Little Atlas, a fantastic lesser known progressive band from Miami that have released four great albums in the last twelve years. The Lie of the Beholder is the guitarist's first solo album, and the influence from his flagship band is readily apparent. The album is a great combination between catchy psychedelic pop and more eclectic progressive rock. There are also other twists and turns throughout the eleven tracks on display that keep the listener guessing and make the album interesting from start to finish. Perhaps one of the most important take-aways from this album is that Roy Strattman is a tasteful player. Sometimes progressive rock musicians tend to show off their chops just to impress the listener, especially on a solo album. Strattman's playing, however, always serves the music and the songwriting is the most important feature on display. That doesn't mean that Strattman doesn't have plenty of opportunities to showcase his impressive abilities- there are several great solos and sections that definitely impress. But, it never feels over the top and always is in service to the songs.

Strattman is joined on this release by Nick D'Virgilio, the amazing former Spock's Beard drummer and frontman, Ricardo Bigai on Bass, and Steve Katsikas, his bandmate from Little Atlas, on piano for a couple tracks. All the guitars, vocals and keyboards are done by Roy Stattman himself- a very impressive feat as the playing throughout the album is excellent. Strattman's voice has a great unique quality about it. It reminds me a little bit of Arjen Lucassen- what he lacks in power, he makes up for in character. The music runs the gamut from psychedelic pop, like late Beatles, to full on progressive metal on the level of Pain of Salvation or Dream Theater. The way that Strattman so effortlessly travels through these different styles is really the best part about this release. A moment is never wasted, and the listener is never bored. The album moves along seamlessly as if all the tracks were connected as part of one giant suite.

The album opens with one of the more progressive metal sounding tracks A Better World. The guitar playing is aggressive in sections, but dreamy and psychedelic like Pink Floyd in other sections. It is a great introduction into Roy Strattman's world. Caught Inside the Rain slows things down considerably with a track that might be at home on either a Porcupine Tree or Blackfield album, with beautiful harmonies and acoustic guitar. Jaded is one of the shortest tracks on the album, but there is a lot going on in this instrumental jam. There is even a hint of King Crimson on display as Strattman gets a chance to express his musical chops. Detonation also has an opportunity to showcase the heaviness and instrumental virtuosity that Strattman has.

Things slow down considerably with Solace, a dreamy piece of psychedelia with a fantastic spanish guitar sound. It is a very catchy song that is a breath of fresh air after some of the heaviest tracks on the album. The title track is a another fantastic instrumental more in a progressive metal style that builds in intensity as it goes. The album saves one of the most pop-friendly, light songs for the end- the fantastic Beatles-esque Connection Lost. This is one of my favorite tracks on the album. It has a catchy medley and the musicianship is completely in service of the music- no unnecessary blistering guitar solos here. Steve Katsika's piano playing on this track is a joy and the perfect complement to Strattman. No Way Home is a fantastic progressive piece that has some wonderful guitar and keyboard interplay towards the end, all done by Strattman himself. After this progressive craziness, Strattman wisely ends the album with a soft ballad that is mostly just him and his beautiful guitar playing. It is a beautiful melody and a great way to end the album.

The Lie of the Beholder is truly a grower of an album. Strattman has managed to really showcase all sides of himself, from his progressive chops, to his sensitive ballads, to his propensity for poppy, catchy hooks. The variety of musical styles and moods is what really makes this album an enjoyable listen. I can find something to love and grab hold of in every track. Fans of Little Atlas will really find much to enjoy here as would all progressive music fans.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Chris Timms - The Second Chapter

Chris Timms - The Second Chapter
Country of Origin: Australia
Format: 2CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #:
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 58:19
Info: Chris Timms
Samples: Chris Timms website
Track List:
It's My Life (8:04), The Disconnected (4:41), Walking With You (Abandoned Footsteps) (9:36), Misguided Friend (11:02), No Longer Welcome Part 1 (5:11), No Longer Welcome Part 2 (5:44), No Longer Welcome Part 3 (14:01)
Chris Timms (CT) is an Australian guitarist who describes himself as a progressive rock artist from Brisbane. He has worked in several bands in the Australian music scene including Spinning Silver, MindsAlike, and Neverworld. His first solo album entitled The Journey Home was released in May 2011 and this year the follow-up album The Second Chapter is available for purchase. CT has written and performed all songs and has produced, mixed and mastered the entire album. Must be quite a control freak, I guess!

Having recently written some reviews of Australian artists that were quite interesting, I was curious to hear if CT would be just as entertaining. Looking at the tracklist there are two songs with a playing time of more than 10 minutes and two other tracks between 8-10 minutes. So far that's what you could expect from most of the artists in "our" prog rock scene!

That's where the comparison ends as far as I'm concerned! CT is a great guitarist and he doesn't disappoint us on this album where his skills on this instrument are fully showcased. His singing voice however doesn't appeal to me, it sounds a bit flat with little variation.

The music is very much guitar-orientated (maybe to be expected from a guitarist?) and lacks for me the diversity of sounds and change of tempo that's commonplace to prog rock related music of other artists. The Second Chapter is a guitar rock album spiced with metal influences, very well played by a talented guitarist but not my cup of tea I'm afraid!

However if you do like guitar rock and decide to add this album to your collection, you will be pleased to hear that it's a double-album! There is a bonus DVD included that contains the whole album as MP4 audio and some video material of songs featuring on both of his albums played live in the Tall Poppy Studios
Conclusion: 6 out of 10