Reviews in this issue:
- Perfect Beings - Perfect Beings
- Karmakanic - Live In The U.S.
- Aisles - 4:45 a.m.
- Ulrik Arturén - Watch My Show [EP]
- Kosmoratik - Bridges and Boats
- Monster Killed By Laser - Xalzalix [EP]
- Zerothehero - Nowhere
- Bigelf - Into The Maelstrom
- A Cosmic Trail - II: Mistral
- Mike Kershaw - This Long Night
Perfect Beings - Perfect Beings
Perfect Beings is the latest project by songwriter, guitarist Johannes Luley who originally hailed from Frankfurt and is now based in Los Angeles. As founder of the short-lived Californian band Moth Vellum he was largely responsible for their excellent 2008 self-titled album that resonated with the vintage sound of Yes, Genesis and Camel amongst others. More recently in 2013 Luley released his debut solo album Tales From Sheepfather's Grove which focused on Jon Anderson as a source of inspiration.
For Perfect Beings (an inspired name for a band) Luley has recruited the all-new line-up of vocalist Ryan Hurtgen, drummer Dicki Fliszar, keyboardist Jesse Nason and bassist Chris Tristram, who is known to YouTube viewers for his nifty line in Chris Squire covers. This, their self-titled debut album has been picking up mostly glowing reviews across the worldwide web.
A term I rarely use, 'crossover-prog', is usually reserved for bands that are difficult to pigeonhole and as such can be readily applied to Perfect Beings. Sounding at times like a Beatles/Yes hybrid, the emphasis is on strong vocals and equally strong melodies. Hurtgen's engaging singing is supported by some of the most creative harmonies I've heard for some time. There is also a quirky leftfield side to the band, perhaps due to the contrasting musical influences of the individual members and the writing partnership of Hurtgen and Luley.
The opening song, The Canyon Hill, clocks in at a crisp two-and-a-half minutes. It leaves little room for instrumental indulgence with a simple but catchy rhythm and a compressed vocal style that immediately brings The Beatles to mind along with Trevor Horn's singing on Video Killed The Radio Star.
At roughly the same length, Helicopter is based around a strident chorus with cascading keyboards and slide guitar, which contrasts with a dreamy middle-eight worthy of The Beach Boys in their prime. Bees And Wasps appeared on the recent Progstravaganza 17: Progression compilation to generally positive reviews from the DPRP team. It's a punchy and vaguely jazzy affair with a solid bass riff, busy drumming and a jagged guitar style influenced by Topographic Oceans-era Steve Howe. A touch of rustic Mellotron makes way for an unexpected and grandiose vocal finale.
So far so very good but there's even better to come including for me the album highpoints, Walkabout, Remnants Of Shields, Fictions and One Of Your Kind.
Just shy of 10 minutes, the longest track, Walkabout, is divided into three distinct but complementary sections. The wistful opening song, with its mellow acoustic guitar and sampled birdsong, tips its hat to Paul McCartney's performance of Blackbird, whilst the mid-section is dominated by inventive bass work and a lively guitar break. The lengthy and ambient outro is centred upon an hypnotic, five-note piano motif with unexpected drum solo embellishments.
Removal Of The Identity Chip is considerably shorter in length but somehow manages to recreate the soaring finale from Yes' Awaken, complete with celestial organ and slide guitar. Program Kid goes even further back in time with a manic guitar-organ section that recalls Van Der Graaf Generator, before concluding with the mock drama of vintage Genesis circa-Nursery Cryme.
The acoustic Remnants Of Shields has a warm, mellow ambiance with subtle keys and a lilting vocal, which this time brings Steven Wilson to mind. Fictions is perhaps my favourite song with the first half in particular containing some of the most beautiful counterpoint harmonies imaginable (all created by Hurtgen). The second half is also noteworthy thanks to a searing slide guitar break that on this occasion owes more to Trevor Rabin than it does Steve Howe.
On first hearing I was ready to write-off Primary Colors as lightweight album filler but with each successive play it reveals hidden depths, particularly a pop-prog sensibility that harks back to Tears For Fears' The Seeds Of Love album, right down to the airy Curt Smith style vocal.
The concluding One Of Your Kind similarly takes time to grow on the listener with a gentle guitar, piano and vocal intro blossoming into a delightful melody with more Howe-flavoured guitar atmospherics. At the two-and-a-half minute mark it morphs into a pastoral acoustic guitar solo. One minute later we have a robust synth-led proggy instrumental with bass and guitar battling out for second place. It returns to the main song, this time sounding more upbeat before concluding with a gorgeous guitar theme which builds to an emotional peak before a gentle Musical Box-like fade.
Perfect Beings is inspired by the futuristic, dystopian novel TJ & Tosc by writer Suhail Rafidi. Although familiarity with the story may well enhance your appreciation of the lyrics it is not essential for your enjoyment of the songs. In fact listening to the album for the first time is rather like embarking on an unfamiliar journey. The opening song gives no indication of what is to come. To Luley's credit, it also sounds nothing like his previous band Moth Vellum or his solo album, with the possible exception of the Steve Howe influences that is.
Whilst Perfect Beings have forged a unique sound, the heady combination of superb but not overpowering instrumentation, stunning vocals and infectious melodies will appeal not only to admirers of those mentioned above, but also fans of Moon Safari and Big Big Train. I know it's still early days but so far for me this is the album of 2014.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Karmakanic - Live In The U.S.
Disc 1 - When The World Is Caving In (8:42), Where Earth Meets The Sky (14:25), Turn It Up (7:08), Do U Tango? (14:21), 1969 (14:38), Eternally (9:31)
Disc 2 - Send A Message From The Heart (21:51), Undertow / When The World Is Caving In Reprise (9:40)
With just four studio albums in twelve years it's quality not quantity that distinguishes Jonas Reingold's Karmakanic with the last two releases Who's The Boss In The Factory and In A Perfect World matching anything that Reingold's 'day job' The Flower Kings have produced in recent times. A popular live act not least in the U.S.A., Karmakanic headlined the Friday night leg of RoSfest in Gettysburg, P.A. on the 4th May 2012 from which this two disc set was culled.
I'm not entirely sure why it's taken so long for this release to surface but it's certainly been worth the wait. Their previous live outing The Power Of Two ~ Live U.S.A., also recorded in the U.S.A., appeared within a matter of months. On that occasion they shared the stage (and songs) with another TFK offshoot Agents Of Mercy but here the incomparable line-up of Reingold (bass, vocals), Göran Edman (vocals), Lalle Larsson (keyboards, vocals), Nils Erikson (keyboards, vocals), Krister Jonsson (guitars) and Morgan Ågren (drums) concentrate fully on the Karmakanic back catalogue with the obligatory Genesis cover thrown in for good measure. Whilst the debut album Entering The Spectra (2002) goes unrecognised, songs from Wheel Of Life (2004), Who's The Boss In The Factory (2008) and In A Perfect World (2011) are given equal exposure.
For the uninitiated, Karmakanic's music covers a broad spectrum including full on prog showcasing tricky but tightly structured instrumental work, memorable songs with strong hooks and the occasional freeform jazz fusion excursion. All aspects are fully explored here beginning with the compact but multi-layered epic When The World Is Caving In from the most recent In A Perfect World album. Erikson's fragile vocal and piano opens the piece, contrasting with the confident singing of Edman and the razor sharp guitar lines of Jonsson. The guitar and choral theme at the 7 minute mark is an absolute dream and is later reprised to close the set.
Where Earth Meets The Sky was the centrepiece of the Wheel Of Life album and here it proves to be equally memorable opening with a flurry of melodic, cascading piano lines from Larsson undercut by the pin point accuracy of Jonsson's guitar. Edman's masterful vocal really comes into its own for the main song section with a soulful delivery that brings to mind Chris Thompson and Paul Carrack. Larsson cuts lose for a jazzy piano outing ably supported by Reingold and Ågren's nimble and precise rhythm work.
American influenced anthemic rock in the style of Toto, Turn It Up could have been written for the RoSfest stage where Reingold amusingly advises the audience "This is a good opportunity to clap your hands - the moments are few". In contrast Do U Tango? starts out as an impressive and atmospheric fusion instrumental (as it did on Wheel Of Life) but at almost twice the length of the original it loses the plot along the way deteriorating into self-indulgent discord. The only low point of the set for me but happily a semblance of order is resumed with 1969 which combines the rousing elements of Trevor Rabin era Yes, the vocal gymnastics of Gentle Giant and the melodic majesty of The Flower Kings into one harmonious bundle. In my opinion the highlight of disc one which concludes with the melancholic Eternally featuring a sensitive solo performance (rare for electric bass) from the man himself.
Disc two is dominated by the mighty Send A Message From The Heart which also proved to be the main attraction of 2008's Who's The Boss In The Factory album. The opening and uplifting fanfare is an absolute joy with a staccato Yes-like rhythm pattern and stirring synth motif subsiding into a mellow song segment where bluesy Floydian guitar is complemented by lush piano and Mellotron. Ågren's busy drumming during the synth solo brings Phil Collins' workout during the live version of The Cinema Show to mind whilst Edman and Erikson harmonise to delightful effect during the central song section. The finale with its ringing guitar theme and tubular bells is suitably grandiose.
The Genesis song I eluded to earlier is the overlooked gem Undertow which for me was the highpoint of 1978's And Then There Were Three album. Never performed live by Genesis to my knowledge, it's a surprising choice for an encore but Reingold and Co. do it justice with Tony Banks' keyboard parts replicated to perfection although Collins' high notes are a stretch for Edman's vocal range. It segues seamlessly into a majestic reprise of the When The World Is Caving In theme bringing the set full circle to stunning effect. With the final note still hanging in the air the always appreciative RoSfest crowd go bananas, and so they should.
Mixed and edited by Reingold in September 2013, the performances (individually and collectively) and sound quality of this live recording are so good a cynical person might suggest that there has been some sonic tinkering going on. I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt however and combine this with some brilliant tunes (all written or co-written by Jonas) and a smart digipak sleeve and you have one formidable release and one of the best live albums I've heard for sometime.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Karmakanic CD Reviews:-
|Entering The Spectra|
|"All in all this is a great disc and a must have for all Flower Kings fans."|
(Dave Sissons, 9/10)
|Wheel Of Life|
|"...this is a true retro progressive rock album with musical influences from the Seventies."|
(Martien Koolen, 7/10)
|Who's The Boss In The Factory|
|"...enough to satisfy the TFK fans but not so much as to put off those that don't want to hear a clone."|
(Dave Baird, 9/10)
|In A Perfect World|
|"This is a quieter (sometimes) and more mature album than might have been expected but the curve balls sometimes knock it off balance."|
(Jez Rowden, 8/10)
|The Power Of Two - Live USA|
[with Agents Of Mercy]
|"As live albums go this is a prime example which showcases the individual and collective talents of the musicians involved as much as it does the songs."|
(Geoff Feakes, 7.5/10)
|Previous Karmakanic Live Reviews:-|
|2010:-||Summer's End Festival, Lydney, U.K.|
|Previous Karmakanic Interviews:-|
|Jonas Reingold speaks to DPRP's Phil Chelmsford (2011)|
Aisles - 4:45 a.m.
In over 11 years of activity, Chilean outfit Aisles have earned a reputation as purveyors of better-than-average melodic progressive rock - and that in spite of not being the most prolific of bands. Their debut album, The Yearning (2005), was followed four years later by In Sudden Walks - an album that garnered a lot of positive feedback, as well as a prestigious appearance at the 2009 edition of the Crescendo Festival in France. The band's current lineup features brothers Germán and Sebastián Vergara (respectively on guitar/keyboards/vocals and lead vocals/keyboards), Rodrigo Sepúlveda (guitars/vocals), Felipe Candia (drums/percussion), Alejandro Meléndez (keyboards) and Daniel Baird-Kerr (bass guitar); a third Vergara brother, Luís, was involved in the two previous albums, though not on this one.
Though (as my readers will probably know by now) anything labelled as Neo-Prog is not exactly my listening material of choice, Aisles are not your run-of-the-mill Marillion or Pallas clones - and, indeed, the Neo tag is something they are not particularly eager to embrace, being instead keen to emphasize the wide range of influences that can be found in their music. As I had already noticed when listening to In Sudden Walks a few years ago, the band has a remarkable flair for well-structured compositions that avoid the pitfalls of excessive ambition, while retaining most of the features that traditional-minded prog fans will find attractive. The same characteristics can be found in Aisles' third CD, a concept album of sorts by the title of 4:45 a.m. released at the end of October 2013 on the band's own label, Presagio Records, which comes with a lavishly illustrated booklet that reveals a highly professional attitude. In fact, Omar Galindo's sombre-hued artwork is an essential complement to the rather depressing, sometimes even sinister content of the lyrics.
Running at a reasonable 55 minutes, 4:45 a.m. starts out in a rather unassuming manner - the title-track evoking Rush, Genesis and Marillion's more accessible offerings, then later veering into a "proggier" mood with a rather complex tempo. The sounds are clear and lush, keyboards and guitars smoothly meshing, and Sebastian Vergara's well-modulated tenor tackling the lyrics with remarkable aplomb. The folksy Gallarda Yarura, the first of the album's four instrumental tracks, spotlights some lovely, atmospheric guitar work well complemented by lilting keyboards and martial drum rolls. With Shallow and Daft one of the most distinctive elements of the album - the influence of Eighties synth-driven pop bands such as Duran Duran or Spandau Ballet (not a bad thing at all in my book) - makes its presence felt; the catchy song is enlivened by some radio show inserts (in English and Italian) just prior to an engaging a cappella ending. The melodic ballad Back My Strength (with vocals by Germán Vergara) hovers between grandiosity and a more subdued tone, and is rescued from being little more than a mainstream pop song by a dramatic but not banal guitar solo, backed by almost imperceptible percussion. A sharp change of pace occurs with the sparse guitar chords and plaintive vocals of The Sacrifice, which gradually gain intensity before subsiding again in a haunting quiet-loud pattern, underpinned by folk-tinged acoustic guitars, mournful strings and eerie, church-like vocalizing.
While the first half of the album is definitely geared towards shorter, more accessible songs, things take a more intense turn with the ominous interlude of The Ship and the atmospheric, electronics-infused instrumental Intermission (definitely one of the most interesting items on the album). The album's final three tracks, in fact, are the longest in terms of running time, and the influence of Porcupine Tree emerges quite distinctly. In Sorrow, the edge is tempered by the warm Spanish flavour of the acoustic guitar and passionate vocals by Sebastián Vergara and guest singer Constanza Maulén. The 8-minute instrumental Hero, while reminiscent of Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree with its heady use of electronics, Gothic choral effects and chiming, reverberating guitar - while strings and hand percussion add a more organic note - is probably the album's highlight; while the 10-minute Melancholia (dedicated by the Vergara brothers to their mother) is characterized by an intriguing stop-start pace that culminates in a riff-heavy crescendo, then gently ebbs away.
While 4:45 a.m. may not be the most innovative proposition on the prog market, and it may also seem that the most interesting material is concentrated in the album's last three tracks to the detriment of the first half, it is undoubtedly a finely-crafted effort performed with skill and professionalism by a group of talented musicians. Although my tastes run to more challenging fare, as a whole 4:45 a.m. proved a satisfying listen, with impressive musicianship throughout and enough eclecticism to keep my attention. Personally, I found the instrumental tracks more appealing than the ones with vocals, but those who lean towards melodic, song-based prog with a healthy smattering of atmosphere will surely appreciate the results achieved by Aisles with this album.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Aisles CD Reviews:-
|"...an impressive debut album and only just misses out on a recommended tag."|
(Mark Hughes, 7.5/10)
|In Sudden Walks|
|"Aisles don’t break new grounds, and don’t stray too far from the known and tested formula, but sure they know how to deliver a very solid...and occasionally brilliant product which should appeal to every fan of modern and melodic symphonic rock."|
(Hector Gomez, 7.5/10)
Ulrik Arturén - Watch My Show [EP]
Tracklist: Watch my Show (3:44), Send in Your Hand (6:07), Is It Love You're After (4:21), Welcome my Friend (6:16)
Ulrik Arturén has always had a life filled with music. As one of 5 siblings of a drumming dad and humming mother music was part of his life from birth. Going on 50 Ulrik finally found the time to make his own contribution to the musical world after a life in cabaret, cover bands and playing with a great many Swedish artists.
His own first contribution is a 4 track EP with a mixture of different musical styles; heavy rocking on one side, ballads on the other with traditional sounding hard rock mixed with American rock and AOR mixed slightly with progressive rock. Well produced with great arrangements but there is a very definite "Did I not hear this before?" sound. But would you be expecting anything different from a musician that has been in the music world for most of his life? Maybe but we must not forget that bringing new music to the world is difficult. Making a great debut EP with sounds and music that are reminiscent of Bon Jovi and Journey to name two is not a bad thing.
The grand production and high level of musicality make this EP worth a listen, but don't expect complexity as you will not find it.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Kosmoratik - Bridges and Boats
Tracklist: Bridges and Boats (4:37), Metadata (2:47), Waiting For You (1:40), Be Here Now (5:08), Be (3:29), If I Follow You (3:44), Anchor and Compass (Classic Rock) (5:51), Body of the Song (3:29), Strangest Dream (4:53), Father's Day (4:07)
Norway, Land of Fjords, islands and the Northern Lights, Somehow, this album reflects those waters, seas and oceans, their movements and those of the people working in and around them. Whilst not a concept album as such it consists of thematically linked pieces that together make for a gentle listening experience. This is not heavy nor is it wildly guitar driven, rather instead it has a symphonic, almost cinematic, soundscape where all the instrumentation blends together and forms a cohesive musical portrait.
This is Kosmoratik's second CD - their first being Gravity from 2011 which was very well received in progressive rock circles - and this disc continues that trend by presenting more well written, intelligently structured music that warrants repeated listening. It exists at the more gentle end of the spectrum with the use of lots of acoustic guitars, strings and acoustic instrumentation. The vocals are beautifully clear with some gorgeous harmonies between Lisse Lotte and Evind that are simply divine and make the songs come alive with vibrancy.
Bridges and Boats opens with a gently plucked acoustic guitar and a plaintive vocal before some very subtle keyboard elements and Lise's harmony vocal are briefly added to the mix until a sole electric guitar adds lines. The feeling here is one of desolation and space and then there is a louder mid-section with a harsher and fuller sound before some ad lib vocals and a saxophone solo. This is one of the "busier" tracks on the album.
Metadata follows and this time Evind is singing against the backing of a piano before a subtle violin is added, a very melancholy sound but with subtle harmony and a sublime melody line. The use of a string section playing a solo passage makes for an unusual element drawing the song to a close before Waiting for You where the acoustic guitar is back. It's a very short song indeed and Be Here Now follows with rippling keyboards opening the piece before Evind's vocals enter Lise's harmonies adding colour and texture to a slow moving yet elegant song. The song's chorus of "Hold onto love" surges forward. This song features another fine sax solo and a short burst of electric guitar leading into that chorus again before taking its own flight in what is, by Kosmoratik's standards, wildly rocking, the song concluding with more sax lines.
Be is up next and features Lise on vocals. Quite simply a beautifully written and delivered song, it is emotive and majestic at the same time. If I Follow You talks of finding compassion and feels very Celtic with its instrumentation and is none the worse for it and there are some great lyrics on here too. Anchor and Compass is next and again it's a gentle song but with a twist. It's about Abbey Road and mentions John Lennon in its lyrics and how music forms an anchor and a compass in life - unusual but it works. Again there is a very good melodic guitar break sounding a bit like Dire Straits.
Body of the Song follows and again it's gentle making good use of both Lise's fine harmonies and also of the string section to add their mournful voice. Strangest Dreams starts with electric guitar and drums and is probably the most "rock" song on offer here. Again it's mid-tempo and Lise sings admirably and with clarity. It's a fabulous song and shows Kosmoratiks strengths very well, their intelligence and craft in song writing and in portraying atmosphere in their music, this is my favourite song on the album. It even has another great guitar break, this time with urgency to it, before that divine Lise voice comes back in; this girl can really sing and with Evind they really craft a great sound. The albums closes with Father's Day and it's back to the acoustic guitar for this one, Evind's vocals telling us that these are changing times, different times. It's sung with passion from the view of an older man looking back and offering his thoughts on life. The solo section features acoustic guitar underpinned by strings.
So what to make of this? Well it's very acoustic with only occasional electric moments. It's not wildly progressive as in long drawn out songs, rather these are concise snapshots or vignettes but they have an eloquence and quiet dignity and beauty that makes them very appealing indeed. This is a CD to kick back and listen to with a glass of something heart-warming and to just let the quiet waves immerse you in their call. It isn't going to change your life but it will, if you let it, give you some gracious moments of reflection and for that I heartily recommend it. Fans of Fairport Convention, Kate Bush and gentler prog may well find much to admire here and I feel this album is best enjoyed in one sitting as it is very subtle, almost underplayed, with good use of space and separation in the mix.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Monster Killed By Laser - Xalzalix [EP]
The band name alone was enough to tempt me to take a punt on this EP. A short but sweet blast of mostly instrumental power-prog, Monster Killed By Laser rock along with a drive and determination that lives up to their name.
Taking their cues, as they put it, from "...brooding soundtracks, pompous prog rock, and audacious big riffs" this Leeds four-piece claim to be influenced by Goblin, which I can see, and Genesis, which, thankfully, I can't. Just about the last thing we need is yet another band influenced by that lot!
A standard guitars/keyboards/bass/drums line-up produces a motoring rocker on Xalzalix, and a slightly less effective space rocker on A Velvet Grip. The best is saved until last with the strangely titled The Calusari & The Chauntress Stone, which after a pleasant enough melodic riff-based opening changes tack to become another high energy space rocker, fat riffs and keyboard chords flinging the thing out of gravity's pull. While out there in orbit, indistinct echoed and uncredited vocals make their only appearance on the EP, before Hawkwind at 200mph takes the tune beyond reach, ending suddenly.
The band have been going for a decade and do not seem to have much recorded work to show for it, but on this fun outing alone I'd recommend a label taking a risk.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Zerothehero - Nowhere
Zerothehero is an Italian rock/Krautrock throwback to the early '70s. The 2012 release Nowhere is adventurous and quite listenable to anyone partial to that era of Mellotron laced, jam oriented psychedelia.
Starting with March On Mars, obvious early Pink Floyd material is introduced to set the stage and there is no mistaking the point of this album - to relive an earlier era where a repeated short stanza backs some raspy guitar meandering that worked best with an inebriated crowd whose attention span wasn't a factor. I won't suggest that there is anything wrong with that, just that the lucid listener may tire with this much repetition. Even when the band deviates, the return to the same stanza comes much too quickly. I have some of the same complaints with old Allman Brothers Band as well.
The next song, Lotus, slows down but continues with the meanderings but I really appreciate the forward sound of the bass setting the melody. The woodblocks and cymbals provide a delicate atmosphere while the guitar swoons.
To keep mixing up the variety, Flood comes next with a more basic song-oriented approach but delves back into psychedelic land shortly after. Here the raw mix of this album is really on display. Many instruments, all with full presence make the textures much more appealing than other offerings of this genre. My earlier complaint of repetitive stanzas still applies however. If I had any constructive criticism it would be to repeat with something added every now and again to keep the modern listener interested. I really love the flute addition in this tune at the end.
I won't review all 9 songs but the variety from one song to the next is admirable for a style that doesn't normally approach this kind of separation. Every song has a very creative bent to it and moving to each one is a refresher.
Mostly instrumental, vocals can be found here and sound very nice when introduced. I would welcome more since the quality is there and it adds another dimension. The strength of this album is the song variety and use of instruments creatively and appropriately and the way the audio was engineered to highlight all these elements.
Early Floyd is definitely the strongest influence for Nowhere. This work is raw and interesting. While the major drawback is the overdone droning repetition at times, it wouldn't be too noticeable when mixed with a randomized playlist that includes other similar work like previously reviewed Psychedelic Shag.
Zerothehero certainly has much to offer the nostalgic crowd and I can be drawn in without too much resistance when the old psychedelia itch needs to be scratched.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Bigelf - Into The Maelstrom
Five albums in almost twenty years isn't exactly pushing productivity to excessive levels although the six-year gap between the deeply lauded Cheat The Gallows and Into The Maelstrom was not exactly intentional. The increased exposure brought about by the relative success of CtG as well as the band's most extensive touring schedule supporting big name prog acts, including Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree, seemed to suggest that the band were in the ascendency and Damon Fox, band leader, chief composer, singer, keyboard player and occasional guitarist, had planned to return to the studio and release a new album shortly after touring commitments were over. However, plans went somewhat astray when the band imploded and seemed to be dead forever. With time, the support of ubiquitous drummer Mike Portnoy (no surprise that he also plays on the album!) and the rekindling of the friendship with bassist Dusty Snowhill, Bigelf were back in business. Fox handles more of the guitars on the new album, laying down all the rhythm tracks and even a few solos, while new member Luis Carlos Maldonado (from Into The Presence) adds solos and extra six-string weight to proceedings. Interesting to note that the publicity photographs of the band don't include Portnoy so one can safely assume he has not joined the group full time, although I believe he may well play some live dates with them.
For some reason Cheat The Gallows failed to totally resonate with me and it remains my least favourite of the albums released by the band. To be truthful, each release has been welcomed into this household with a trifle less enthusiasm than its predecessor. This may be a reflection on me being a massive fan of their debut album Closer To Doom ever since its release way back in 1995 (I was fortunate to have a good American friend who regularly provided me with interesting new releases, indeed, if memory serves the same package brought forth the debut albums from both Bigelf and Counting Crows, now there's a contrast in career trajectories!). It is probably no coincidence that there is an inverse relationship with my appreciation of each album and the increasing dominance of more metallic aspects in the writing. Although Into The Maelstrom doesn't deviate too far from the last album and the overall Bigelf sound, new elements have been incorporated, particularly a swing into more psychedelic space rock, most notable on the two opening numbers, the catchy Incredible Time Machine and the rather over the top Hypersleep, which chugs along at a somewhat frantic pace, after the spoken introduction. As one would expect, Portnoy firmly makes his mark and despite his work on this album generating a greater personal appreciation of his talents as a drummer I feel that sometimes he does too much and is frequently positioned too high in the mix so that it becomes too overpowering and smothering the bass.
Already Gone continues the spacey theme, more so lyrically than musically, as the song, at least initially, is at a slower place with a greater melodic component than the two previous numbers. A scorching solo sets things off ramming the song into the brain. Alien Frequency stands as an album favourite possessing a killer chorus, plenty of strange keyboard noises, a well-balanced mix and some fine drumming to boot. Unfortunately, the next track, The Professor & The Madman is not in the same league and doesn't really seem to go anywhere. A Mellotron and electric piano opens the heavy ballad Mr. Harry McQuhae, a poignant and personal song about the death of original Bigelf guitarist Andrew Harry McQuhae Butler-Jones on the last day of 2009, which is sung passionately and without any effects being added to the vocals, something that the band can be accused of overdoing on occasions. A fitting tribute to a lost friend. Layers of vocals are the order of the day for Vertigod, another song that, despite containing plenty of ideas fails to really hit the mark, particularly the vocal arrangement at the end. Shortest track, and first single, Control Freak continues the rather lacklustre parade as it seems to lack any real structure or purpose.
However, the mid-album lull is pushed aside with High which, along with the title track, display Bigelf doing what they do best. High itself has a much more defined structure and brings forth reminiscences of the classic heavy rock that I grew up with in the '70s. Yes there are shades of Sabbath (although not as overt as many people seem to think) but ultimately the sound is one that Bigelf have created themselves. Edge Of Oblivion is also an interestingly arranged song, that reminds me, in an obscure way, of Led Zeppelin in places, although the vocals are anything but the golden throated warblings of Mr. Plant. Maybe more in the balance between keyboards and guitar, of which there is plenty, including another scorching solo towards the back end of the song. Theater Of Dreams provides something of a lull before the final onslaught and is more in the powerpop style of Jellyfish with a very Beatles-esque vibe, particularly the guitar solo and closing minutes, including backwards section. Not original but nice to hear a modern take on the style of the ultimate recording band. The title track is an interesting piece of three unequal sections - Destination Unknown is over four minutes with Harbinger of Death and Memories both clocking in at around the two minute mark - with the final section being more '70s influenced rock. Not a classic and lacking in dynamic range, it is, however a suitably strong track to close the album.
I suspect that the return of Bigelf will be lauded by many which is to be expected and applauded. Praises must be given to Fox for keeping the band going and delivering an album that will sit comfortably alongside their previous efforts.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Bigelf CD Reviews:-
|Cheat The Gallows|
|"...their best and most ambitious album so far...although I'm not quite sure how they are going to top this one."|
(Leo Koperdraat, 9/10)
|Previous Bigelf Live Reviews:-|
|2009:-||Progressive Nation Tour, Rotterdam, The Netherlands|
A Cosmic Trail - II: Mistral
Second album from the German instrumental band that jumps across musical boundaries but can broadly fit into the atmospheric post rock bucket but with some heavier, more metal, elements. The quartet features Markus "Ulle" Ullrich (electric, acoustic & synth guitars, ebow), Richie Seibel (keyboards), Alexander Palma (bass) and newest member Klaus Engl (drums). Right off the bat, let me state that this is quite a difficult album to review. As with a lot of post rock bands the aim is to develop atmospheric music with plenty of twists and turns that combines a melodic intensity with more in-your-face brashness, something the band are very adept at doing. Although the line-up features a keyboardist the sound is largely focuses around the guitar and bass of Ullrich and Palma, with the former occasionally letting rip with some down and dirty riffs, as on both parts of the title track, which could be considered as edging into prog metal territory. Despite being a musical genre that I have no particular affinity for, A Cosmic Trail's delve into the heavier side is more than adequate, with Mistral II having the edge due to its greater variety and more interesting use of keyboards.
At points the relentless riffing can be a distraction particularly as in general there is no counterpoint, just the solo guitar. But when they do get it right there are some moments of sublimity. Cromlech for example has a very average and, to me, uninspiring, beginning but after 90 seconds of onslaught develops into an interesting soundscape that is on a par with some of the best Mogwai material. Similarly, the quieter moments of In Ertia provide some of the better musical moments on the album, where the band are able to translate their varied musical influences into something original. On the flip side, Thwart Progress doesn't do a lot for me and seems bereft of any cohesive ideas. Much better is A Ghostly Whisper, again largely due to more prominent use of Seibel's keyboards and Ullrich focusing on providing sustainable guitar lines rather than just constant riffing.
So a rather mixed bag and an album that struggles hard to keep one's rigid attention. But in general the positives outweigh the negatives and when the band hit the sweet spot they are capable of delivering some lasting moments of glory.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Mike Kershaw - This Long Night
This is the second Mike Kershaw disc that we here at DPRP have reviewed, his earlier album Reason To Believe was reviewed in 2012. However, I come to this disc unaware of Mike's previous efforts and as always with an open mind to listen afresh and make my own mind up on the music therein. Mike is, for the record, located in West Yorkshire now, a fact that becomes apparent on the spoken element of the first track Miracles which opens, as many of these pieces do, with atmospheric washes of keyboard sound before Mike's softly spoken voice tells of the memory of the moon being a daily miracle.
The opening song introduces a motif that is repeated frequently in these linked pieces as tracks 1, 2, 4, 8 and 9 share a theme, a story about the death of the earth and of those chosen to escape from it, though the actual themes of the songs focus on one man remembering his lost child (back on earth) and companions (in space), one in particular who he had with him, who are now all lost. Into the Sun continues the tale, this time the atmospheric keyboards are joined by what seems like sampled drums, along with guitar and bass that push the song along with a distinct rhythm. I have to say Mike's voice isn't the greatest but for the material and pace on offer it fits fine. He is a good bassist though with good use of harmony and melody. A Kind of Hell is different from what has gone before and is the longest track on the disc running at 12:37 with an opening that sounds very much like an '80s Ultravox song before an acoustic guitar takes the song elsewhere and mixes gentle sections against harsher, more electronic sounding parts to good effect. The song is about a man on the verge of a breakdown and the effect it has on his relationships.
Causes (track 5) is about the Facebook "Like" culture and how people think they are engaging in something. It's a mid-tempo guitar driven piece, relatively short too. Track 6, Words of Love is about a man's bewilderment about a change in his relationship with his wife and how he'd prefer to look back than deal with the reality. This is another very atmospheric song with an almost looped rhythm that works well in this context and it's a good song. Track 7, Spectres, is about reflecting on mistakes and how things could have been if different choices had been made or taken. Opening with a muted guitar against washes of keyboards and a simple repeated piano motif supporting the vocal. It's a simple track but still effective. Tracks 8 and 9, The Fire and Our Journey's Done, complete the cycle of songs about the death of the earth. Opening with bass and keyboards The Fire is a darker sounding track with its sombre lyrics and tone and good use of keyboards before a guitar picks up the melody and the second verse enters - as I said it's a darker and yet good track. Our Journey's End concludes the disc gently bringing things to a conclusion with its sparse rhythm and muted sounds, fully instrumental it winds down and concludes.
So overall not the best album ever but not a complete waste of time either. There are some great ideas on here and some good instrumental passages but it could do with a less dense sound and a few more ideas to make the grade but there is promise here too and I'm sure it's more of a grower given time and I'd recommend listening to it in one sitting though for best effect. I will return to this again I'm sure, not that often but even so I will give this 5 out of 10 and look forward to Mike's next offering Ice Age later this year. I do detect a BJH styling in here so it could well appeal to fans of orchestral prog.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Mike Kershaw CD Reviews:-
|Reason To Believe|
|"...Mike Kershaw still has a long way to go."|
(Edwin Roosjen, 4/10)