Album Reviews

Issue 2014-044

Archangelica - Like A Drug

Archangelica - Like A Drug
Country of Origin: Poland
Format: CD
Record Label: Lynx Music
Catalogue #: LM 78 CD
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 48:04
Info: Archangelica on Facebook
Samples: Archangelica on Bandpage
Track List:
Into Unknown (3:18), Like A Drug (4:45), Confession (4:22), Night Passage (6:52), Midnight Train (4:46), Cathedral (6:15), The Journey (5:45), Let Me Stay With The Trees (5:58), When All Is Gone (6:03)
Archangelica was formed in 2004 and after two demos they now release their debut album Like A Drug. Apart from the barely readable titles on the back, the package looks nice and professional with good photos and all the lyrics, not just a cardboard thingy with a disc. The music is symphonic rock with just a little bit more power than usual but certainly not reaching the more metallic levels that Riverside frequently reach.

Into Unknown is an instrumental opener. A very common approach and a tune like this can open a variety of albums. It could take this album any direction. The title track starts a bit like IQ with a pounding rhythm and an overlaying melody. The vocals are okay-ish, fitting within the music but staying well within the safety boundaries. No bad notes, but also no challenges on this part of their music.

I think I can say the same thing for the whole sound of Archangelica. I can find nothing really wrong, but also nothing that really appeals to me or that is remotely stretching a musical boundary.

Confession starts with a nice mellow intro. When the heavier groove kicks in, it should become more powerful but it does not. The same can be said about Night Passage.

Midnight Train is a mellow song, in which the balance is a lot better. With a grand title like Cathedral a lot is to be expected from the next track and for the first time I am becoming a bit more interested in this album. This has far more interesting passages than all the songs on the album previously. We have a good heavy chorus and some nice alternations to some mellow parts. In this song, Archangelica is trying to get out of their comfort zone.

The Journey is slower and darker. The sound reminds me of the latest album from Arena. Let Me Stay With The Trees lacks direction. There are some nice tunes pasted together and crafted into a song, but not really in a comprehensive way.

Overall this album has a nice moment in the centre with Cathedral, (see video link below) but the road towards that song is not really outstanding. The road to the end is the same. When All Is Gone ends the album in the same way it started. Play the album backwards and you hardly notice it at all.

The debut of Archangelica has no bad things I can point out. The sound is acceptable and I cannot find a really bad track on this album, but there is also nothing out of the ordinary. The compositions are a bit too pre-calculated with the band staying safely within its safety zone. The overall level is just sufficient to make it a reasonable listen.

Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10

Contemporary Dead Finnish Music Ensemble - Dark Matters

Contemporary Dead Finnish Music Ensemble - Dark Matters
Country of Origin: Finland
Format: CD
Record Label: Simulacrum Records
Catalogue #: SLACD04
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 52:33
Info: Contemporary Dead Finnish Music Ensemble
Samples: CDFME on Bandcamp
Track List:
Prologue - The Sprite > White Shadow (6:21), Scene I - The Zealot > Black Mist (14:04), Scene II - The Lunatic > Black Monk (13:54), Scene III - The Addict > Dark Passenger (13:34), Epilogue - The Limbo > Transcend Chemistry (4:40)
The plight of the human psyche has been the subject of many an album or song. Peter Gabriel's Digging in the Dirt immediately springs to mind as where musicians explored the inner machinations of a troubled or hedonistic mindset.

Finland's Neo-Prog outfit Contemporary Dead Finnish Music Ensemble (CDFME) set about excavating the Dark Matters of the mind on their latest album, hoping that out of the darkness they will emerge into the light (ex umbris ad lucm). However, do they need to don their Ray-ban shades because of the musical brightness?

Before trying to answer that question, I think the band moniker needs some explanation. The driving force behind CDFME is a very talented musician and composer named Antti Pesonen. He used to listen to a Finnish classical show called Living Finnish Contemporary Music with his parents. Antti and his friends felt that the music was not particularly good and that the show should be re-titled Dead Finnish Contemporary Music.

Now before going any further with this review, it's important to point out that the choice of name doesn't reflect what they think about their own music! We progsters are all too familiar with music critics lambasting progressive rock as over-indulgent, pretentious and irrelevant. The name of the band was consequently modified to CDFME - probably a name that will be hard to forget. I need to get one niggling criticism out of the way quickly. The first track, Prologue, features a male lead vocalist (Mikko Jokinen I believe) whose voice reminded me of Richard Sinclair. That is not a bad thing, as I'm a big fan of his past work with Caravan and Camel. The problem for me is that it's the only track he sings lead vocal on, the lion's share being taken by female lead vocalist Katia Sirkia. Her voice is very good and actually reminded me of White Willow's Sylvia Skjellestad. It is just that it would have been great if Mikko featured more as a singer, to give contrasting vocal deliveries within the music, especially on the longer tracks.

Now to the album. In Antti's own words: "Dark Matters is a concept album about human beings whose personalities have also something extra, something dark. They want from life more than it can deliver. They don't settle for the mediocre, instead they want something from the stars. We all have a dark side don't we? Surely everyone at least has a secret!"

Prologue, The Sprite > White Shadow describes a man experiencing a vivid dream. He finds himself in a dark and misty place, searching for love everywhere, but not within himself. He meets a mysterious female, White Shadow, who represents his own untainted soul. She reveals to him that his internal being needs to be cherished to become a complete human being.

The track features a sinister and dark haunting intro, before giving way to a robotic keyboard arpeggio, accompanied by simple, hypnotic percussion and sparse guitar picking. As I stated earlier the vocals are excellent, delivering a strong melody. It is a great opener for the album.

The idea behind Scene I, The Zealot > Black Mist was inspired by criminal antics in certain religious areas in Northern Finland. An immutable, pernicious event occurs, descending like a black mist and resulting in people living their lives in cells, dictated to by a fanatical zealot.

This is a fine piece of Finnish Neo-Prog. I like the simplistic, yet lifting, guitar solos that bookend the song and the moments of great interplay between Katia's vocals and the short, stabbing organ runs over heavy guitar rifts. There are patches of lush atmospheric keys and strings and lighter, mournful vocal passages accompanied by electric guitar arpeggios. Enough changes are in there to wet most Neo-progsters whistles. This is the best track on the album.

The idea behind Scene II, The Lunatic > Black Monk, was inspired by a short story written by the Russian Anton Chekhov, where a brilliant young scholar is confronted with hallucinations of a black monk with whom he converses.

Scene II, although not bad, fails to capitalise on the very good Scene I. It starts with the now familiar robotic keyboard arpeggios and hypnotic drum patterns. There are some nice wistful electric piano and vocal passages, whilst the guitar work throughout this track is not over-complicated. No soaring guitar solos. The track is memorable thanks to some excellent saxophone work which made me think of Pink Floyd's Dick Parry. Unfortunately, in some places, it is played over a prolonged repetitive guitar, bass and drum pattern that does begin to border on tedium. It is crying out for some variation in the playing, to augment the sax solo. The song also contains some treated vocal narration about the legend of the Black Monk. The song ends with atmospheric keys and an improvised sax solo.

Scene III, The Addict > Dark Passenger is about how all humans carry within them the seeds of addiction towards all things evil.

This song is better and opens with strange noises, drone and a guitar solo that is reminiscent of Dave Gilmour's guitar on Sorrow from Momentary Lapse of Reason. Enter kick drums and synth strings and the track becomes much more musically arousing than Scene II, with an interesting guitar lead intro which takes up nearly 30% of the track. The song dances and skips along with a feel good quality and some nice effects and a Tangerine Dream-like soundscape at the end.

Epilogue, The Limbo> Transcend Chemistry is about an implacable transformation that occurs when two chemical components combine, leaving the final unanswered question "does it end well or bad? Can the Zealot, the Lunatic or the Addict change their ways to lead a better life? The listener has to decide.

This track continues with the Tangerine Dream soundscapes. There is a very good entry of a riff played on the bass which is doubled up with the electric guitar over a simple drum pattern and is repeated throughout the track. The song features a wonderful soaring, haunting guitar solo and some great vocal harmonies. Not bad at all.

Overall this is a very interesting concept album, with an excellent production and sound. Certainly the band emerges into the brightness throughout this piece of work. It would be great to hear more of Mikko Jokinen on lead vocals on any future albums. (Thanks to Antti for the extra background information on the concept.)
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Focus - Golden Oldies

Focus - Golden Oldies
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Format: CD
Record Label: Independent
Catalogue #:
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 50:08
Info: Focus
Samples: Focus on Myspace
Track List:
Hocus Pocus (6:51), Tommy (4:16), House Of The King (3:20), Focus 1 (6:58), Sylvia (5:29), Focus 3 & 2 (7:35), Aya Yippie Hippie Yee (5:30), Neurotica (3:40), Brother (6:29)
For our readers who don't know much about Dutch rock history, it is probably nice to hear about some of the names that belong to the group of legends. Bands like Golden Earring, Shocking Blue, Ekseption, Cuby and the Blizzards, and Brainbox. Some of them are still going strong and still performing in The Netherlands and other stages all over the world. Focus is another one of them. The band had a tour in the UK in 2013 and this year they have a tour in World Cup country Brazil.

This year they also released their 'new' album entitled Golden Oldies which features re-recordings of classic Focus tracks. The big worry for the die-hard fans is whether the recent re-recordings will match the original material. I think the answer to that question is: "Yes, they do"!

You can never beat the original tracks (with Jan Akkerman on guitar) but the new arrangements in the final mix still sound great. Tracks like Hocus Pocus, Sylvia and House Of The King are still rock songs that haven't lost any of their charm, despite dating from the early 70s.

Founding member Thijs van Leer (vocals, flute and keyboards) has lost some of his vocal talents in the higher regions (yodeling) but this grandpa of Dutch Prog Rock is still the driving force of this band. Alongside him is drummer Pierre van der Linden, who joined the group on their second album Moving Waves in 1972. One of the other early group members is of course Jan Akkerman, worldly acclaimed as one of the greatest guitarists and a big influence to a lot of other colleagues in more recent (prog) rock history. He composed two of the tracks on this album: House Of The King and Hocus Pocus (this track together with Thijs van Leer). Sadly he didn't join his old companions after the comeback in the early 2000s.

The other younger members are Bobby Jacobs on bass and Menno Gootjes on guitar. They complete the band's current line-up. Menno Gootjes has a difficult task to replace the legendary Jan Akkerman but he is a great guitarist and he plays the newly arranged tracks outstandingly well. Bobby Jacobs' bass playing has more jazzy influences than his predecessor Bert Ruiter, but that's not a bad thing on this album.

Recently the group's 1972 worldwide hit Hocus Pocus was featured in the major motion picture Robocop (2014) starring Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman and Michael Keaton.

So, should you buy this greatest hits album? Probably not, if you're a die-hard Focus fan and already possess the original recordings. But if you're a new member of the Focus fan base or just interested in some good, old-fashioned music, you will certainly not be disappointed.

The subtle changes to the well known songs make this compilation album an interesting and worthy purchase. Hearing these classic songs never gets boring - especially the first six tracks on this album.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Gandalf's Fist - A Day in the Life

Gandalf's Fist - A Day In The Life Of A Universal Wanderer
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Independent
Catalogue #:
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 54:42
Info: Gandalf's Fist
Track List:
Another night on the far side of the universe (1:33), The nine billion names of God (7:59), Stowaway to the mushroom planet (4:09), Somewhere beyond the stars (4:25), Orphans of the sky (7:02), Maze of Corridors (4:18), A universal wanderer (4:31), Nexus (4:41), North of the wall (3:07), The battle for Tannhauser Gate (5:11), The wanderer goes south (8:50)
This is a frustrating album to review, due to the lack of information on the disc and cover itself. It doesn't tell me who played what, it doesn't even have a catalogue number so that you can obtain it should you choose to do so, but somehow that doesn't really matter, as the music is very interesting, accomplished and well performed.

For an independent release this has an excellent sound with great separation and distinction between the instruments and great, clear vocals as well.

The album declares itself to be 'Transmitted live from a derelict space station in the far reaches of the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy using instruments salvaged from a cargo bay and corroding electrical terminals'. Well that's as maybe but what Gandalf's Fist has delivered, is an album of great variety and depth with an ever-changing soundscape and instrumentation.

The album sets the scene with an American voice, sounding a little like Morgan Freeman, before The Nine Billion Names of God opens proceedings properly. With some lead flute and distorted vocals set against a steady rhythm, it's a subdued but suitably spacey track. It does have a very catchy chorus and a fine guitar break to enliven matters.

Another noteworthy track is the simple yet elegant ballad Somewhere Beyond The Stars which opens with a simple, plaintive piano motif before an (uncredited) female vocal soars gracefully and emotionally. This is a ballad that you could imagine the likes of Leona Lewis singing, or over-singing as is the trend. However it is a very classy song, with a simple guitar break to spice things up. One can feel the emotion in this piece and it's all the better for it. A great performance as well.

Orphans of the Sky is more traditional rock fare but with some unusual percussion sounds in the background and a simple synth motif as well. One has to commend Gandalf's Fist for delivering a classy album on a limited budget. It is obviously a labour of love and the sound of the album is expansive and diverse.

Maze of Corridors has another voice-over to open proceedings and is narrated over backing music. It tells of how they entered the Maze of Corridors and what they found on their journey. Musically it is a maze of madness indeed, set against a riffing background of guitars plus more narration, before an epic guitar break is added which plays the melody to the vocal refrain "Maze of Madness". It may be a pretty simple song but it's enjoyable all the same.

A Universal Wanderer starts gently with acoustic instruments, before a more rock-orientated song emerges at the two minute mark, with a lot of histrionics it must be said. There is a decent vocal interlude at the 3:40 mark but overall this piece is not the same quality as the rest of the album.

Nexus opens with jangly guitar chords, sounding suitably spacy and some atmospheric keyboards. It continues in that vein with some ethereal vocals and a good use of saxophone.

The Battle for Tannhauser Gate follows and is a song of looking back at what has been experienced thus far. It's an even-paced song sung by Dean, Luke and one of the female voices to good effect and the song features a nice guitar break at the end.

The final track, The Wanderer ... brings matters to a suitable conclusion being the longest track on the disc. It opens with some weird, discordant guitar lines and flute before a more traditional riff emerges at the 1:32 mark. Then it's back to the female voice again before a good instrumental section which builds and leads the song into a more urgent section telling of how the wanderer goes south.

Well, I have to say this is a good disc; not earth-shattering but certainly enjoyable enough. It bodes well for the future but a bit more information wouldn't go amiss next time around.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

Hi-Fiction Science - Curious Yellow

Hi-Fiction Science - Curious Yellow
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD / Download
Record Label: Esoteric Antenna
Catalogue #: EANTCD 1034
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 38:39
Info: Hi-Fiction Science on Facebook
Samples: Youtube
Track List:
Digitalis (4:01), Circles in Halftone (4:34), Magpies (against the sun) (2:45), Vapour (3:59), Curious Yellow (5:46), Komorebi (1:15), 1000 Years (7:15), Fragmenting Sons (4:41), Squaretaker (4:11)
I was at Rise, a record store in Bristol, UK a few weeks ago for an album launch. Performing live, the band was mesmerising, musically they were superb and they made me want to listen to the album and get into their psychedelic sound. The band was Hi-Fiction Science, and the album release was Curious Yellow.

Another fantastic musical find from Esoteric Antenna, the label that is rapidly becoming the go-to place for great new Prog. A look at their roster includes the superb Sanguine Hum, the wonderful Matt Stevens, and the brilliant Lifesigns.

This fantastic five-piece is comprised of Maria Charles on vocals, James McKeown on guitar, Jeff Green on bass, Matt Rich on keyboards and Aidan Searle on drums. They mix quality songwriting with superb musicianship.

A great addition to the Esoteric label, Hi-Fiction Science sounds reminiscent of many great psychedelic rock bands, channeling artists as diverse as Pink Floyd to Can, with a unique sound that is all their own.

We begin with the intense opener Digitalis, where Maria's unique vocals weave their beguiling magic over the band's driving sound and through the Indian drone and almost metronomic beat. The enchanting sound builds and builds to it's climax. Live it is an absolute epic.

Circles in Halftone follows with the slow build as James McKeown's guitar plays an Indian drone sound, as the drums and bass build and build, whilst Matt Rich's keys add layer after layer onto the music. It drives on with a sound reminiscent of early Fairport Convention when they were still an acid rock band and before they hit the folk stream. The intense drumming leads up to an inspired guitar break at the conclusion.

If you like 60s/70s acid folk rock then this album will have pulled you in already. We continue with Magpies (against the sun) with it's fantastic riff and keyboard counterpoint. As Maria's vocals soar majestically over it all, you realise you are in the presence of greatness. Hi-Fiction Science pulls all their musical styles together to create a song of great beauty. This is a timeless piece that would have sounded contemporary in the early 70s, yet sounds fresh now.

Vapour is a driving guitar-driven track, which also worked superbly at the launch, and is as mesmerising on record as it was live. Maria showcases her versatile range, and the band really gives it their all.

The drum and keys intro to the title track highlights the impact they have throughout the album, understated on some songs, but integral and vital to the Hi-Fiction Science sound. The quality continues as the album ebbs and flows into Komorebi and the beautifully haunting 1000 Years. Fragmenting Sons, with its staccato drum beat, flowing keyboards and ethereal vocals creates an exciting and atmospheric soundscape, that allows James to weave aural magic with his guitar at will.

Squaretaker finishes the album off in style with some fantastic guitar, reminiscent of Richard Thompson at his finest. This is the sound of a band working closely together and operating on that instinctive level which only the greatest musicians can do. The wonderful vocals are like the icing on a particularly magnificent cake.

This album is a mere 38 minutes long, yet you lose yourself in it. The aural soundscapes are intense and absorbing, the vocals are ethereal, dreamlike and mesmerising, and overall this is a fantastic debut. If you like your albums to have hints of psych, or early English folk, and to have that indefinable quality, that beautiful otherness that separates the good from the great, then Hi-Fiction Science is the band to listen to. This is only their debut, but I am excited and can't wait to hear where the journey goes from here. I am on their magic bus. Will you join me for the ride?
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Mindslave - Secular Indulgence

Mindslave - Secular Indulgence
Country of Origin: Argentina
Format: CD
Record Label: PRV
Catalogue #: PRV 017
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 47:22
Info: Mindslave on Facebook
Samples: Mindslave on Myspace
Track List:
Walk The Wire (7:05); The Darkest Love (5:05); To Strive For Grace (0:40); The Best I Can (4:48); In The Deepest Regret (7:40); Synergy (12:56); Restless (9:18)
Earlier this year I reviewed the three albums (here) from Argentinian band Fughu. So impressed with the music I also conducted an interview (here) with guitarist Ariel Bellizio in which I asked him to recommend any other similar bands from his country. Mindslave was the name that came forward.

The debut album from this from Buenos Aires band had yet to be released. A few months later, a parcel arrived through my door which promised me some Secular Indulgence. Now DPRP has the honour to be the first website outside of Argentina to review an album that demands a worldwide audience.

Formed in 2006 and consisting of Sebastian Fiore (guitar and vocals), Marcelo Moglie (bass) and Emmanuel Castañeira on drums. This album also features Rodrigo Tavera on keyboards, but he has now sadly left the band to pursue a career as a concert pianist.

Initially a covers band the musicians started to write their own material, leading to a first demo in 2008. It took two years and three different recording studios, to complete the job. Secular Indulgence is a superb heavy Prog album that has the skill and diversity to appeal to a wide cross section of the progressive community. It isn't an album to rush. I have listened to it steadily over a couple of months and it gets better with each spin.

The opening track, Walk the Wire, embodies everything that this album has to offer. The opening verse and riff lies somewhere between Dream Theater and Savatage. The lovely piano-led chorus has a refrain that is repeated throughout. About halfway we break off for a very proggy instrumental section where the guitars and keys interplay upon their interplay. The song builds and builds around its central melody like an artist layering oil upon oil on the canvas. This is the sort of Heavy Prog / Prog Metal-lite that I really enjoy.

We change groove for the second song. The Darkest Love uses a funky riff which reminds me of fellow countrymen Sacrum. However the piano and acoustic guitar take over for the verse. This song is a great showcase for the wonderful drumming of Emmanuel Castañeira. It reminds me a lot of the contribution Mark Zonder always made with Fates Warning, adding textures and groove, far more than simply driving the rhythm. It is also the song where you notice the soul and depth to Fiore's vocals. On this album he sticks to a rich mid range. Where he does stretch to an upper register, he manages to sound comfortable.

To Strive For Grace is a short piano introduction to The Best I Can, which itself is a piano-led ballad. A pause for breath in the vein of Polish NeoProggers Believe.

That breath is needed, because the last three songs need all of one's attention. In The Deepest Regret sees Fiore unleash another great guitar riff along with his melodic upper range. There's another extended section of keyboard and guitar interplay. The band slows it down a bit in the second phase, where the acoustic guitar takes the lead with another NeoProg vibe. Again it's the range of dynamics which really impresses and keeps you hooked to some sublime heavy progressive music in the vein of Queensryche's Empire album.

The traditional Prog influences are even more evident on the album's longest track. Synergy has a great bass opening which offers yet another texture. The band throws in a bit of jazz this time, to another extended instrumental section. This track could have been trimmed by a couple of minutes and not really lost any impact.

More beautiful piano and a plucked guitar announces the start of the final song. Female vocal harmonies from Liz Domecq brings more variety as does the use of a flute. There is an edge to this song which I like. Again though, the acoustic passage is over-long and the 'na na na' vocals and the faded ending leaves a rather unfulfilled impression.

In the past couple of years, thanks to the music-sharing ease of the internet and to websites such as DPRP being eager to seek out new artists, there has been a growing number progressive bands emerging from South and Central America to win a worldwide audience.

With its debut album, Mindslave has the potential to appeal to a wide range of the progressive community. Secular Indulgence has a great mix of modern guitars with retro keys, a very listenable, smooth vocalist, lots of extended symphonic interplay and dynamics from the acoustic to the metallic. This is top quality Heavy Prog with all the bells and whistles. Easily recommended and you read on DPRP first!

(Distribution of this album isn't widespread yet. You can listen to the full album from the YouTube link provided. It is available in CD and digital format from the band's label which does ship internationally.)
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

Robert Reed - Sanctuary

Robert Reed - Sanctuary
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Tigermoth Records
Catalogue #: TMR0714
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 39:17
Info: Robert Reed
Samples: Robert Reed on Bandcamp
Track List:
Sanctuary Part One (21:08), Sanctuary Part Two (18:09)
In 2006 Magenta mainman Robert Reed produced the Annie Haslam CD single Night And Day which included a beautiful instrumental entitled Essence Of Love. Reed played all the instruments on this particular track which was littered with Mike Oldfield references throughout its five minute length.

Anyone who is familiar with Oldfield's latest album Man On The Rocks will know that with the exception of the distinctive guitar tone, he no longer sounds like the artist responsible for Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge, Ommadawn and Incantations, without question his most creative period. Reed is about to redress the balance with the release of his debut solo album Sanctuary.

Whilst we lesser mortals can only admire Oldfield's achievements from a respectful distance, the multi-talented Reed decided to take Essence Of Love one step further and create an album in the style of Tubular Bells by composing, arranging and recording all the music himself. Other artists have been inspired by Oldfield, some successful (e.g. The Healing Road's Tales From The Dam) some not so, but no one has captured the spirit of his 70s albums in quite the same way that Reed has here. In fact so perfect is Sanctuary, that when heard for the first time it's hard to believe that it's not Oldfield himself.

Part One opens with glockenspiel and recorders, suspended in an ambient keyboard haze. They build slowly, adding acoustic guitar and piano before peaking with a soaring guitar theme. Several elegant melodies and hooks follow, assisted by the hypnotic tones of the Synergy choral group who also impressed on Reed's Kompendium project Beneath The Waves. Around the 13-minute mark a familiar bouncing bass riff begins (sounding closer to Tubular Bells II than the original) but Reed avoids the spoken introduction for each instrument to close part one. Instead he opts for a rousing hornpipe in the style of Blue Peter segueing into a rhythmic, wordless vocal sequence that instantly brings Incantations to mind.

A trance-like acoustic guitar riff sets the scene for Part Two, joined by percussion, recorders and mandolin before leading to another majestic guitar melody. The central section has a world music feel where the Synergy singers sound almost tribal and where the electric guitar is noticeably edgier followed by a folky interlude by way of Ommadawn. Reed casts his net even further with a lyrical vocal sequence in the style of Karl Jenkins (who like Reed heralds from South Wales) and a sweet guitar refrain that has its roots in Oldfield's Amarok album. The tunefully rhythmic finale takes in tubular bells (what else), mandolin, several guitars and the full might of Synergy for a triumphant finale.

Even though Rob Reed is a talented producer in his own right, when it came to adding the final touch of authenticity to Sanctuary he sought out the assistance of the co-producers of the original Tubular Bells, Simon Heyworth and Tom Newman. More importantly, whilst Reed undoubtedly captures the arrangements and instrumental textures of Mike Oldfield's best works using similar layering techniques, it's his flair for fashioning infectious melodies, a gift he shares with Oldfield, that makes Sanctuary such a triumph. Once you get past the "doesn't it sound like Mike Oldfield" factor, it becomes apparent that this is an album that stands up in its own right with a timeless quality that will endure for many years to come.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10

Schnauser - Where Business Meets Fashion

Schnauser - Where Business Meets Fashion
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Bitter Buttons
Catalogue #: USR01
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 41:06
Info: Schnauser
Samples: Schnauser on Bandcamp
Track List:
Side A: Showers of Blood (3:18), Walking Stick & Cat (3:14), Good Looking Boy (2:57), Vaguely Disturbed (3:44), Dinner Party (4:05), Large Groups of Men (4:24)
Side B: Pigeons (3:54), Hangdog (3:27), Waterloo Teeth (3:44), I Would (4:04), Westward Ho! (4:59)
It seems to be all about Bristol at the moment. With the city having a vibrant and diverse cultural mix, there's no surprise that some of the most interesting and eclectic bands of the past 30 years have come from this unique corner of south west England, where the rolling hills of Cheddar collide with the urban centre, and where Brunel's magnificent Clifton Suspension Bridge watches over the city.

Schnauser is an exciting four-piece band hailing from this city. Its unique blend of psychedelia, mixes elements of the Zombies circa Oddessy and Oracle. The three-part vocal harmonies are a treat to listen to.

This album came out last year, and in excellent news the band has been signed to the Esoteric label for its next release. Alan Strawbridge (guitar/vocals), Duncan Gannon (keyboards/vocals), Holly McIntosh (bass/vocals) and John Fowle on drums are the core of the band. Their musical interplay is a joy throughout, creating some mighty sounds.

With a suitably sinister cover, showing the band pulling teeth from dead soldiers on the fields of Waterloo, you know you're going to be in for something different, and Schnauser never fails to surprise. This album flows beautifully from song to song, with not a riff wasted, not a spare note, and not a bad song on it.

Dinner Party for instance has that wonderfully off-kilter Zombies sound, with some fantastically observed sharp lyrics, delivered with the three-part harmonies reminiscent of the early Yes albums. In fact this album brings to mind those early days of Prog where anything was possible, and where everything was mixed in to see how it sounds.

Good Looking Boy is a paean to playing computer games as a teenager (which I can empathise with) and again has some fantastic lyrics. Pigeons is a wonderfully funky piece of psych rock, with some great vocals. The track is reminiscent of Ray Davies at points, and with some wonderful guitar interludes and keyboard riffs, it also sounds like it could have dropped off any of The Beta Band's albums.

Make no mistake, Schnauser is no pale imitation of other bands, it is its own creature. Who else would cover with such style and aplomb, topics as diverse as kidnapping cats and stealing walking sticks (on the wonderfully surreal and absurd Walking Stick & Cat), or the black market of false teeth in the Napoleonic wars (the musically dexterous and lyrically magnificent Waterloo Teeth)?

Finishing with a flourish, the piano-led Westward Ho! with its great riff, and atmospheric musical undertones, takes the Schnauser style and turns it up to 11, with some wonderfully jangly guitar and more of those sublime vocals. Sounding nothing like anyone else out there at the moment, and with a style and joie de vivre that imprints itself on the album, and which as a consequence imprints itself in your head, so you find your humming riffs and singing lyrics.

This album rewards with repeated listens and if you love your vocal harmonies, your music with a touch of the Bonzo Dog Band, and your songs cleverly written and beautifully performed, then this is for you. Where Business Meets Fashion is a real treat from start to finish.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Superdrama - The Promise

Superdrama - The Promise
Country of Origin: Germany
Format: CD
Record Label: Progressive Promotion Records
Catalogue #: PPRCD019
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 56:25
Info: Superdrama
Samples: Superdrama on Soundcloud
Track List:
Chance Of A Lifetime (5:19),Evening The Odds (06:45), Turn The Stone (10:51), In Love For A Day (06:41), Beyond The Edge (09:15),Healing Earth (05:58),The Promise (11:44)
Superdrama has created an album that many followers of progressive music would probably enjoy. The band's debut release calls to mind a number of the classic progressive bands of the 1970s. The music appears to be particularly influenced by bands such as Gentle Giant, Yes and Genesis. With this strength, or possibly limitation in mind, the majority of Superdrama's compositions work very well.

As part of the review process, I have experienced a number of reactions to The Promise. I initially struggled to make any connection to the music, despite it being undemanding, accessible and well played. My reaction became more favourable after repeated plays, as some memorable, melodic subtleties began to emerge. On the whole though, I found the whole experience too derivative, lacking in the spark of the unexpected.

The album begins in an alluring and upbeat fashion with Chance of a Lifetime.This is a finely composed and arranged track which has many attractive elements. Its strong chorus, backing harmonies and pleasing shifts of tempo however could not disguise the tune's imitative classic progressive influences.

Surprisingly, after a break of a week or so, I found myself appreciating the album more. I played it frequently and thoroughly enjoyed what I heard. I felt that the release had much more depth than was initially apparent. Since then, my reaction to the release has diminished somewhat. Only four of the seven tracks have held any enduring appeal for me.

These tracks begin with Evening the Odds and conclude with Beyond The Edge. They amount to almost 33 minutes of music and make up the majority of the album. These compositions all have appealing features and are to some extent satisfying.

Evening the Odds contains many different moods. Robert Gozon's introductory vocal is particularly appealing. In this opening sequence his warm vocal phrasings brought to mind Mont Campbell during Egg's Wring Out The Ground (Loosely Now) from their Civil Surface album. The remainder of the piece is quite fast-paced and has a variety of vocal and instrumental stylings. These are set against delightful organ parts, excellent harmony vocals, a slide guitar solo and a range of crunchy guitar sounds.

Turn the Stone is one of the most enjoyable tracks of the release. It is instrumentally lush and has many interesting and diverse parts. The bass playing which drives the quicker sections is impressive. Turn the Stone is reminiscent of Gentle Giant in its chorus vocal and expressive harmony parts. Love For a Day contains some delightful acoustic parts and a plush bass sound. The chorus, complete with backing vocal, could have come from a Tormato-era Yes album and works well within the piece.

After a futuristic, chanted vocal Beyond the Edge is driven by lavish keyboards and an opulent bass sound. Its harmonious middle vocal section was partly reminiscent of the 'round' type vocals that Gentle Giant utilised in tracks such as in On Reflection. The piece also contains a pleasing and atmospheric flute section which successfully contrasts to the keyboard-driven parts.

The final two tracks of the release are disappointing. Unfortunately, I found Healing Earth to be totally unappealing. Overflowing and laden with musical and lyrical clichés, I listened to it repeatedly in the hope that I might find something to enjoy. Similarly, I was not able to connect with the longest and concluding title track. Despite having a number of instrumentally-appealing progressive moments, I found the plodding balladic nature of the tune to be too repetitive.

The album is very well produced. All instruments and vocals are clearly defined and the music sounds warm and inviting. The release is also superbly packaged. The CD version consists of an extensive 60-page, coloured booklet complete with lyrics and images of space taken from the Hubble space telescope. The quality of the booklet certainly enriches the whole listening experience

Overall, The Promise is a worthwhile debut. I am confident that some DPRP readers would find aspects of it enjoyable and appealing. There is much within it to commend and admire. I would therefore suggest that readers should try and check this release out. I imagine that it will attract many more admirers than detractors. Nonetheless, despite its lavish packaging and frequent majestic musical passages, the release as a whole, left me feeling underwhelmed.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

Unkh - Traveller

Unkh - Traveller
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Format: CD
Record Label: Myousic Productions
Catalogue #:
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 67:46
Info: Unkh on Facebook
Samples: Unkh on Bandcamp
Track List:
Barfly's Last Cigarette (04:37); Fast Food for thr Common Man (04:03); Borderlines.CA (12:51); Crimson Oceans (05:15); Breathe (03:48); Borderlines 1.4 (02:03); Sur Place (06:34); Theme of the Mighty Mushroom (05:45); The Water Carrier (04:58); Borderlines.FR (13:32); Your Own Graceland (04:15)
Unkh is a band from Holland, which in my opinion deserves an instant prize for "best band name". Once you see it, you can't forget it. It is short and distinctive, and perfectly reflected by the band's logo and the album art. So let's see if these positive elements depict the Unkh music.

Although Traveller is not 'true Prog', whatever 'true Prog' might be, it certainly does have some of its elements in certain songs. The first track Barfly's Last Cigarette, after a buzzing fly, deploys a guitar loop creating a bright and cheerful rock tune that rocks the boat until a load of keyboards kick in and grab you by the throat. This song won't leave your head for days.

Next is an impressive post punk rock song by the name of Fast Food for the Common Man. Now a long guitar solo turns into a more progging track. The way it is sung and the way the synths end it, this is a track you must hear.

After the two opening tracks it's time for something more serious. A powerful, voice-driven composition named Borderline.CA is sung with a bit of a lisp and is astonishing and addictive. It clocks in at over 12 minutes but maintains my interest all the way. Two thirds of the way through this song, some awesome keys take over the show, fighting against a lead guitar that wants to have all the attention for itself.

Tracks four to seven are not in line with the previous three. Luckily the next four are.

Theme of the Mighty Mushrooms has this groovy title and an atmosphere that is literally kicked in by a grin and keys. The Water Carrier is a lovely track with soothing vocals, a bit Tim Bowness-like, which is a big compliment. Borderline.FR continues where its namesake ended and adds a gentle push to your brain to never forget it. This is a beautiful song, mesmerising at first until the bass hands the song over to the keys. At the end there is dominance by guitar and ... more keys! Borderline.FR is clearly the most progressive song of the album. So it is my favourite. The final track, although not bad at all, is a bit ruffling as a closer.

After years and years of preparation in which Unkh has been travelling through time and various styles, the band has released a debut album that will bring you a lot of joy. The only negative remark I can think of is that the styles used may differ too much, lacking coherence. But if you take out the middle part you will find some raw, rocking compositions, with most of the songs being great by being simple.

The same applies to the use of instruments. The bass is great but it is the use of keyboards that knocks you off your feet. They are louder in the mix than the other instruments. You will be overwhelmed. Although not 'true Prog', I think it would be a crime not to rate the Traveller album. A fine job for a debut.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

Virtuel - Conception of Perception

Virtuel - Conception of Perception
Country of Origin: Bulgaria/Japan
Format: CD
Record Label: Orphic Tone
Catalogue #: ORPH-0001
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 70:45
Info: Virtuel
Track List:
The Beginning -- Intro (2:15), Arguing With Shadows (9:19), All Night (3:10), Farewell to a Golden Heart (6:20), Rearranged (3:13), I'm Back (4:40), Indecision (5:31), The River of Destiny (5:52), Off They Go (5:05), My Portal to Heaven (7:06), Faraway (5:43), What an Old Man (6:28), Conception of Perception (4:35), Delight -- Outro (1:35)
Virtuel is a band, begun in 1992, led by Bulgarian multi-instrumentalist Konstantin Jambazov and featuring Nick Markov and Rosen Angelov. As a follow-up to 2011's I, the band has released Conception of Perception.

This is a bit hard to place in a progressive-rock sub-genre. It has the musical elements of 70s arena rock, neo-progressive rock, and to a lesser degree, Progressive Metal. References to Pendragon and Asia would certainly be reasonable. At times the vocalist sounds much like John Wetton, although with a slightly sunnier tone. Keyboards, mostly electric, play a major role, and the occasional nod to Rick Wakeman can be heard. The music is lively, and there's a lot going on at the same time.

The playing is quite good, with bursts of impressive chops. Although the songs are pleasant enough, the compositional structures and the rhythms are sometimes mundane. In the end, the writing doesn't rival the musicianship.

The lyrics are all over the place. Indeed, they range from the prosaic ("I can't live without you. You light up my life."), to the baffling ("A snake is waiting at the door. It doesn't feel like home. Birds are dying on the floor. Something is out of tune.")

The production quality is a downside. Overall, the sound is tinny and too light on the low end, although the vocals, a strong suit of this album, are prominent.

A few tunes are worth mention. Arguing with Shadows, the longest tune at almost ten minutes, has a grand sound including power drumming and crafty, demanding vocals. Sadly the segments lack coherence and thus the whole is not greater than the sum of the parts.

Another tune, Rearranged, is too poppy and repetitive to summon back a progressive listener. Better is Farewell to a Golden Heart, a memorable, mostly ballad-like tune. River of Destiny has passionately sung vocals coupled with nice harmonies, evoking the big sound of Queen.

The hard-edged Off They Go features brief but very fine guitar shredding. A bit out of place but still worthy, is the 1980s sounding Faraway, which is only marginally progressive and finishes with an unwelcome fade.

Perhaps the stand-out piece is the closer, What An Old Man, notable for its solidly progressive playing, including excellent keyboard and guitar runs.

So, on the whole, this CD is a mixed bag. Strong musicianship is certainly on display, and despite the slim supply of hooks, I'll return to this one from time to time.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Darryl Way - Children of the Cosmos

Darryl Way - Children of the Cosmos
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Cherry Red
Catalogue #: RHRC001CD
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 56:42
Info: Darryl Way
Samples: Youtube
Track List:
Children of the Cosmos (5:18), Spooks (4:02), The Best of Times (5:00), Nature's Way (3:52), Summer of Love (4:46), Don't Look Back (Feat. Pachelbel's Canon) (3:38), Fire with Fire (Feat. Rosie) (4:04), Lagan Love (4:38), A Winter's Tale (4:35), A Modern Tale (5:25), An American Tale (6:35), Sergey (4:49)
I have always liked solo strings used by bands to add texture and colour to their work, be it viola, violin or cello. I'm thinking here of the likes of Jean-Luc Ponty on Zappa's Hot Rats, the string driven Van Der Graaf on The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome, and David Cross in the classic King Crimson line-up from Larks Tongue in Aspic to USA.

In this illustrious company you can add Darryl Way, both with Curved Air and also in a solo capacity. Hence it was with some expectation that I put on his CD, Children of the Cosmos. Expectation however was a double-edged sword, turning into bafflement, as out from the speakers came an early 1980s sounding, synth-pop album. Having dismissed it initially, it has taken many more listens to appreciate some of what is going on here. The title track launches this set of mainly good pop-prog songs. Opening with swirling Tangerine Dream synths, quickly joined by the violin and Darryl Way's strong voice, it moves into synth-pop ballad territory. This works well as an opener to the album, being both atmospheric and melodic.

Spooks has an early Gary Numam/Tubeway Army pop sound of synth-bass and full-on electronics. The violin sits nicely on top with a fine lyric about spying and betrayal, that is subtle enough to be read as being about interpersonal relationships as well. A good song.

The up-tempo The Best of Times is where things start to go slightly wrong to my ears. A synth-pop song that is slightly dull, with synthesised percussion sounds resembling a disappointed teacher expressing quiet disapproval of a pupil's behaviour through clenched teeth, "tsk...tsk...tsk...tsk...". An interesting song spoiled by its production. The same can be said of Nature's Way, a conventionally structured, good pop-tune that just sounds a bit weak.

There is improvement with Way's tribute to the late 1960s in Summer of Love. This is a George Harrison-esque melange of eastern influences and sitar sounds, that finishes with a terrific violin solo.

Unfortunately, things take a proper nose-dive with Don't Look Back which uses, under its semi-reggae electronic back beat, Pachelbel's beautiful Canon. The Canon tune comes to the fore in the song's long coda and would have worked well if it had not been for the continuing weedy "tsk...tsk" percussion underlying it. Multiple listens have not made me warm to this one at all.

There is improvement with the next two tracks. Fire With Fire features the exquisite vocal textures of Rosie (no surname given). This delightful, up-tempo ballad, where the electronics are kept to a minimum, would fit well and easily on to a Panic Room CD. Following on from this, is an instrumental reworking of the traditional Irish lament Lagan Love. It has an underlying synth-bass pulse which the violin slides gracefully over, and is joined by Tangerine Dream-style synthesizer oscillations. It works in a way that Don't Look Back doesn't.

(Incidentally, if anyone has the extended version of Kate Bush's Hounds of Love, an acapella version of Lagan Love is the final bonus track).

The album heads back into 1980s synth-pop for the next three tracks, which are all various tales of the human condition. The best of these is A Winter's Tale, which features Darryl Way's best singing. He sounds like a less stentorian Jackie Leven in a song wishing for winter's end.

A Modern Tale has an approximation of terrible disco strings when it opens, but improves with nice piano and a catchy chorus. But An American Tale, with its amusing lyrical vignettes on the shallowness and futility of chasing the American dream is poor 80s synth-pop. I really dislike the synthesised hi-hat that features high in the mix, and the way it leads to an annoying chorus.

The CD finishes with the classically influenced Sergey. It is a tribute, I assume, to either or both of the composers, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev, but I am unfamiliar with either's work. However, it is a stately tune that closes the CD well. In conclusion, I think Darryl Way has produced a set of lyrically interesting songs. As he states in the CD booklet, he worked hard to bring his "observations of our current environment and the world we live in" and in this he succeeds. He has wedded the lyrics to a set of melodic pop tunes that are eminently hummable.

Darryl Way also states on the CD booklet he has "tried to use all the latest musical technologies available to me, to create soundscapes that are hopefully both exciting and innovative.". In this he is only partially successful, but full marks for trying something new.

Where things go wrong, for me, is in the technological choices that half of these tunes feature. These sound as if they have fallen through a wormhole from the very early 80s synth-pop boom; the sound of weedy synth percussion that has not dated well. Darryl Way, in using this kind of sound, has produced only a half-successful album to these ears. As much as I wanted to like this album, I found the soundscapes used were a barrier to that enjoyment.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
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