Album Reviews

Issue 2014-045

A.C.T. - Circus Pandemonium

A.C.T. - Circus Pandemonium
Country of Origin: Sweden
Format: CD
Record Label: Marquee Avalon
Catalogue #: MICP 11137
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 51:26
Info: A.C.T. website
Track List:
Intro (1:02), The End (5:57), Everything's Falling (4:55), Manager's Wish (5:54), A Truly Gifted Man (6:45), Presentation (1:03), Look at the Freak (1:13), Argument (1:07), Confrontation (1:13), A Mother's Love (2:37), The Funniest Man Alive (3:45), A Failed Escape Attempt (5:21), Lady in White (4:41), Freak of Nature (6:00)
It has been 8 years since the last A.C.T. album, which was titled Silence. Perhaps that was a prediction of the 8 years to follow until their current release Circus Pandemonium. Rest assured, though, the new album is a welcome return for this Swedish band. I've always found A.C.T. to be quite charming in their eclectic mix of styles. There is an unabashed catchy, almost pop feel to their music, making it seem deceptively simple. But, there are a multitude of styles on display from a Dream Theater sounding progressive metal to a Queen sensibility of art rock and playfulness. At points I even hear reggae and broadway elements to their already eclectic melting pot of music. It makes for a fascinating blend of elements in which the music is both immensely quirky and undeniably catchy. The band seems to shy away from the typical long epics found everywhere in progressive rock and stick mostly to relatively brief, hook-laden songs. This is rather refreshing in the current prog landscape.

Circus Pandemonium is a concept album about- yes you guessed it- the circus. Perhaps this isn't the most original concept ever conceived by a progressive rock band, but it provides a good structure to the album and gives a connecting thread to all the songs, making the album feel like one cohesive package. First track proper, interestingly titled The End is one of the early highlights of the album. Reminiscent of their 2003 masterpiece, Last Epic, this is catchy and fun with a memorable chorus. It is a wonderful introduction to the album and does a good job juxtaposing the pop sensibilities with some twisty instrumental progressive metal passages towards the end with some of the more overt circus sounding music. Things continue in this vein for the following tracks, which includes A Truly Gifted Man, a track that is almost reggae, with a sunny vibe and great harmonies.

Perhaps one of the only negatives for me of the album is the trio of one minute tracks in the middle of the album titled, Presentation, Look At The Freak, and Argument. Things come to a dead halt, and there is a section where it is almost like a play where there are spoken word elements and sound effects that explain a story about an abused circus freak. While an interesting storyline, on repeated listens I feel this section brings down the energy of the album and interrupts the flow. I often tend to skip these tracks on repeat listens of the album. But, this leads to a fantastic ballad, which is a highlight of the album in A Mother's Love. Herman Saming sings beautifully along with a angelic female vocalist in a musical piece that almost feels like it could be part of a broadway musical. The emotion is wonderfully conveyed and it provides a great resting point before the energy ramps back up with The Funniest Man Alive and continues for the remainder of the album.

A.C.T. have crafted a wonderful album that is more than welcome after their 8 year absence. They have a unique blend of styles and manage to craft great pop songs with an abundance of progressive rock twists. This album is insanely catchy and fun to listen to. There is a sense of happiness throughout that is infectious, aside from the more emotional middle section. The songwriting is top-notch, and the instrumentation is wonderful, with highlights from all involved. They are one of the best at the skill of combining catchy pop melodies with time-changing progressive metal workouts. This album is for all who love pop-prog in the style of Queen, Supertramp and XTC but don't mind an added dose of progressive metal. Highly recommended!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Syd Arthur - Sound Mirror

Syd Arthur - Sound Mirror
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Harvest Records
Catalogue #: 253770665
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 34:35
Info: Syd Arthur website
Samples: Syd Arthur website
Track List:
Garden of Time (4:40), Hometown Blues (3:49), Autograph (3:50), Whats Your Secret (3:18), All And Everything (3:00), Forevermore (3:27), Backwardstepping (2:49), Chariots (4:11), Singularity (3:04), Sink Hole (2:39)
Sound Mirror is the latest offering from Canterbury based band Syd Arthur. They have successfully created an album that should appeal to many readers. Although essentially a collection of short pieces,it's strength lies not so much in the individual compositions despite their excellent characteristics and appeal, but in the sonic experience as a whole. This is an album that has great resonance. In this respect,long after the albums conclusion, many recurrent musical nuances and melodic subtleties are able to remain within the consciousness of the listener. Much has been made in the progressive music press and message boards of the bands competence as a live act and also of the excellence of Sound Mirror their second release. Indeed,Syd Arthur have recently acted as a support act to Yes in their North American tour. Sound Mirror has even had a positive review in the Sunday Times. Even greater publicity and emphasis has been given to the bands Canterbury origins and their apparent affiliation to the Canterbury Sound associated with bands such as Caravan and early Soft Machine. Undeniably,the music and lyrical content of what is on offer frequently has a whimsical quality that is similar in some respects to some of Caravan's song based compositions such as Golf Girl. Despite this,within the appealing and well constructed song based pieces of Sound Mirror,the strongest musical point of reference is not always Caravan's shorter song based compositions as might be expected. Within the songs of Sound Mirror,numerous points of reference to the Canterbury Sound can be found in the tapestry of sonic textures chosen. Suprisingly, these references often appear to relate to the rhythmic style and musical palette found within Caravan's longer epics,in particular Nine Feet Underground from the Land of Grey and Pink album. This Canterbury affiliation is particlarly emphasised in the rhythm and instrumentation in the opening parts of the excellent Home Town Blues and similarly in the stunningly radio friendly Autograph.

Syd Arthur embellish their music with stylish parts that empathetically complement each other. This aspect significantly adds to the albums overall appeal and charm. In this way, All and Everything is a good example of the bands strengths as an ensemble. It contains some perfectly constructed vocal harmonies,loads of low end muscle and a memorable melody. Individual players are rarely showcased in Sound Mirror. It is not a release bursting with solo virtuosity,but the players as a whole excel in creating a highly enjoyable work. The songs are often embedded with layered guitars, keyboards and violin parts to create a vibrant soundscape. The lack of solos and lengthy instrumental sections in Sound Mirror may for some be perceived as a weakness. However,it is refreshing to see a relatively young band develop a style which incorporates strong melodic songwriting with just enough subtleties and twists to keep things interesting on repeated listens.

The most progressive piece of music on offer is undoubtedly contained within the instrumental Singularity. DPRP readers would probably find a number of things to enjoy within this interesting and varied composition. Many of the other pieces exude a quirky and appealing quality. In this respect,Forevermore has much to commend it. It has a refreshingly simple hook. It is also punctuated by interesting effects. The vocals provide an excellent counterpoint to its strong rhythmic feel. Vocally,the album as a whole,sounds somewhat like an amalgam of The Decemberists and The Villagers. Liam Magill's voice during the acoustic introduction to Backwardstepping has an endearing rawness and frailty.The excellent violin accompaniment provided by Raven Bush is tastefully in keeping with the unplugged nature of the piece. Raven Bush is in charge of keyboards through out and is responsible for many of the more progressive aspects of the pieces.In Chariots the keyboard break is particularly reminiscent of David Sinclair's work and is very effective. Again,it serves as a reminder of the bands Canterbury roots.

The production values in the release were not always to my taste. I found the sound rather muddy at times and would have liked the instruments to be more clearly defined. The album was self-produced by the band and mixed by Tom Elmhirst who has previously worked with Adele and Arcade Fire. The final track Sink hole seems to be markedly affected by an indistinctive and buried mix. Given the esteemed record and achievements of Elmhirst I suspect though, that this is the sound that the band wished to achieve rather than any inherent problems in the production.

Whilst Sound Mirror is perhaps not fully deserving of some of the accolades that have been bestowed upon it by some,it is nonetheless an accomplished and enjoyable work. I am confident that many DPRP readers would enjoy aspects of it and I therefore have no hesitation in recommending it.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Collapse - The Fall

Collapse - The Fall
Country of Origin: France
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 51:59
Info: Collapse on Bandcamp
Track List:
Your Grace Is out of Time (6:55), Jesco's Ghosts (4:58), Bringing out the Dead (10:17), Shiver for Eternity (5:36), Tears (2:00), Inner Chaos (Born, Burn and Fall) (5:17), Last Chance to Live (1:50), The Dream Is Over (4:57), I Hope You're in Peace Now (10:06)

Collapse are Sébastien Pierron (guitars, piano and programming), Alexis Osseni (bass) and Anthony Barruel (drums) who hail from Grenoble, France. There is surprisingly little information about the band out there on the interweb, a couple of pages on Bandcamp and Reverb Nation, but no band specific internet page which is unusual in this day and age. The Fall, released in September of last year, is the group's second album, the self-titled debut having been released in 2011. For whatever reasons, be they cultural, philosophical or even genetic predisposition, France is not a country with a major heritage on the international music scene, particularly in the progressive sphere. The idiosyncratic Magma, or their name at least, are probably known to quite a few but largely remain a cult(ish) band, even Gong, who are considered to be a uniquely French entity, owe most of their recognition to an Australian maverick and an English guitarist. In fact the only other French bands than readily spring to mind are the frankly awful Trust and Shakin' Street who were not that much better, despite a Jimmy Page endorsement. I recall previously reviewing a couple of French prog bands for DPRP who I found so mediocre and unworthy that I can no longer remember their names. But keeping an open mind and not wanting past disappointments to prejudice future objectivity, I volunteered to have another crack at reviewing a French band (even if I was not an immediate volunteer, hence the delay in getting this review posted!). Boy, was I glad I took the plunge!

The band's own description portrays them as "playing instrumental music influenced by rock, metal, film, the universe and bands like Porcupine Tree, Archive or Mogwai" although, personally I would place Collapse more in the post rock camp than anything more progressive, there is a definite epic grandeur to the music. Post rock as a genre is often overlooked and considered a repository of grungy repetition lacking in ideas or the expert musicianship so beloved by prog fans. Although this is undoubtedly true for quite a few post rock bands, as is the spectrum of competence for every musical genre, the best post rock bands shine above the mediocrity and can gain a wider acceptance and audience. Mogwai would fit into this category and, I believe, Collapse have the potential to do the same.

For some reason, reviewing albums of instrumental music always seems a lot harder than song-based albums, probably because a vocal melody line is often lacking. Collapse have got round this on the opener Your Grace Is out of Time by including a few spoken lines, based on the title, intoned by Anäis Leon-Serrano. The music itself features lots of heavy bass, some crushing guitars and intermittent pounding of the drums nicely interwoven with quieter passages of piano and waves of more atmospheric guitar. Jesco's Ghosts, the only other track to feature human voices, also contains some spoken words, by Pierron who, it has to be said, is not as pleasant to listen to as Leon-Serrano, although the rougher narration fits the music better, as well as some suitably spooky choir vocalisations by Julie Barruel and Alexandre Martorano. The end of Jesco's Ghosts flows directly into Bringing out The Dead whose pleasant intro is soon blasted out of the way by a more bombastic (an overused word in many reviews but entirely suitable here) blast. There are slight reflections of some of the better moments of Muse, although more of the style of the guitar rather than any direct musical comparisons. Throughout the ten minutes there is a lot of variety and the piece is very finely crafted with a great flow that displays a considered and mature approach to composition rather than just moving from a loud to a quieter section and back again because that is the supposedly the standard thing to do in certain post rock circles.

Shiver for Eternity is a slower rack and is more cinemascopic in nature, although unlike a lot of cinema-type music that is, obviously, created to accompany a visual, in this case the music very much stands alone. Tears is a brief, mostly piano, number that also had a soundtrack feel but is a lovely interlude before the more aggressive Inner Chaos which, initially, has a much fuller sound than you'd expect from a three-piece and some definite Mogwai-isms. An offbeat interlude takes things down a bit eventually leading to a long sustained note that bridges into the brief Chance to Live, effectively a linking piece of music that, in isolation, would not be anything to draw attention to but as a connecting piece it has a critical function in maintaining the atmosphere and being an effective conduit between different musical styles as is evident when The Dream Is Over kicks in. Probably more akin to what a lot of people assume post rock is all about this piece follows a repeated guitar line that cycles round and round with the sound of the guitar changing, and different instruments added, with each cycle. Final track I Hope You're in Peace Now is really two separate tracks divided by a couple of minutes' silence. The first part is very atmospheric and cleverly augmented with a cello part played by Fanny Coppey but the second is very mellow with just the piano and keyboards (or Pierron's 'programmations') making an appearance. A classy way to end the album.

The Collapse album is a genuine and unexpected delight, offering something a bit different from my usual progressive listening and into the post rock field but maintaining a superiority aligned with the best exponents of that genre. Such was my enjoyment of this album that I purchased the first album from the band and am very pleased to say that album is just as good with as much going for it as this latest release. My reappraisal of French music and musicians starts here!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Clearlight - Impressionist Symphony

Clearlight - Impressionist Symphony
Country of Origin: France
Format: CD
Record Label: Gonzo Multimedia
Catalogue #: HST214CD
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 64:40
Info: Clearlight website
Track List:
Renoir En Couleur (8:03), Time Is Monet (9:44), Pissarro King (6:27), Degas De La Marine (7:53), Van Gogh 3rd Ear (6:39), Gaughin Dans L'Autre (11:07), Lautrec Too Loose (5:22), Monet Time (Duet) (9:23)
Although Clearlight is the brainchild of French composer and pianist Cyrille Verdeaux, the 1975 debut album Clearlight Symphony was recorded at Virgin's legendary Manor Studio in Oxfordshire, England. Two years earlier Virgin's wonderkid Mike Oldfield recorded the seminal Tubular Bells in the same location and given the similar structure of Verdeaux's work (two untitled side-long instrumentals) clearly label boss Richard Branson and his team were hoping to repeat the same commercial formula.

Supporting Verdeaux in the enterprise were two other French musicians Gilbert Artman (drums, percussion) and Christian Boulé (guitar) along with three members of Gong (another rising star in the Virgin galaxy) Steve Hillage (guitar), Tim Blake (synths) and Didier Malherbe (tenor sax).

To celebrate the (near) 40 year anniversary of Clearlight Symphony, Verdeaux has reassembled the Gong trio for the latest work Impressionist Symphony, the first under the Clearlight banner for over a decade. Although Artman and Boulé are absent this time around, an assortment of English, French and US guest musicians are on hand to realise Verdeaux's concept.

The album title is certainly apt. Not only does it reflect the track titles with their play-on-words reference to French painters (with Van Gogh being the obvious odd man out), it also reflects the lush, sometimes abstract soundscapes conjured up by Verdeaux and his collaborators.

A know it's a Prog Rock cliché, but Impressionist Symphony is an album that requires patience and a little perseverance before its true charms become apparent. On first hearing it seems light on melodies, but give it time and the haunting themes reveal themselves. Take the second track Time Is Monet and the concluding Monet Time for example, both featuring the mesmerising playing of classical violinist Craig Fry. In the former, he is complemented by Malherbe's elegant flute and Paul Sears' cymbals which crash likes waves against a sea shore. The second of these tracks is a beautiful duet, where Fry's impassioned bowing is matched by Verdeaux's rhapsodic ivory tinkling.

Opening proceedings however, is Renoir En Couleur where Verdeaux's swirling keyboard arrangement provides a soft undercurrent to Hillage's stark riffs. It reaches a crescendo around the midway point, allowing the whole band to assemble for some jazzy interplay before Hillage plays out with an inventive coda underpinned by rhythmic piano. Pissarro King has a bright, uplifting appeal, with guest Vincent Thomas-Penny's busy but tuneful Mike Oldfield-toned guitar contrasting with Blake's spacey synth effects. Neil Bettencount provides a martial-like drum pattern, and to emphasise the Oldfield connection, Don Falcone adds a touch of tubular bells.

If thus far Impressionist Symphony is perhaps less jazzier and avant-garde than I had anticipated, then Degas De La Marine goes someway to restoring my expectations. The free-form piano and (sampled) trumpet bring King Crimson's jazz-inflected Lizard to mind. Van Gogh 3rd Ear on the other hand is more proggy, with rhythmic piano and searing guitar propelling the first section like a speeding train. The synth (courtesy of guest Chris Kovax) and guitar sparring that concludes, is an absolute joy.

The 11-minute plus Gaughin Dans L'Autre features another sumptuous melody, with Verdeaux's lush piano and orchestral keys combining effectively with Blake's swirling and twittering synths to evoke the Vangelis albums (and film soundtracks) of the 70s and 80s.

Had it not been for the aforementioned Monet Time, then the penultimate Lautrec Too Loose would have made an effective album closer. Although Verdeaux is supported only by the acoustic and electric guitars of Thomas-Penny, they are a perfect match. The rousing guitar coda is especially reminiscent of Steve Howe's Würm which similarly brought Yes's Starship Trooper to a satisfying conclusion.

Although Verdeaux cites Ravel, Satie, and Debussy as classical inspiration, Prog, jazz, electronic and ambient also have their part to play in bringing this imaginative collection to life. Despite the otherwise evocative title, it is best described as a 'suite' rather than a 'symphony'. Admirers of Tangerine Dream and perhaps The Enid will also find much to enjoy here.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Delusion Squared - The Final Delusion

Delusion Squared - The Final Delusion
Country of Origin: France
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: EANTCD1011
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 72:48
Info: Delusion Squared website
Track List:
Ordeal: The Same River Thrice (2:44), Diaspora (4:16), Patient Zero (5:16), Reason of State (6:51); Awareness: Devil Inside (6:56), Last Day of Sun (5:23), Finally Free (6:41); Deliverance: Prisoner's Dilemma (6:43), Black Waters (5:36), By The Lake [Dying] (4:32); Surrender: Oblivion For My Sin (6:46), Persistence of Vision (5:44), Deus In Machina (5:21)
This is the third album produced and self-released by the French-based Delusion Squared since the trio formed in 2009. All three albums have each had a specific theme all centred on post-apocalyptic worlds and checking the narrative contained on the sleeve notes reveals an almost Philip K. Dick vision where the main character is involved in some kind of psychological experiment.

The concluding line reads: "NOTE: Preliminary psychological assessment on subject 07 (female) tends towards irreversible dementia (due to multifocal neurodegeneration). Subject to be kept in perpetual sedation to induce soothing delusions." I quote this specific line because that is exactly what this album does – induce soothing delusions - and illusions - in the same way as Anathema and Frequency Drift, both masters of emotional atmospherics, do. The similarities with Anathema and Frequency Drift continue because Delusion Squared is also blessed with a female singer, Lorraine Young, who possesses a very distinct and original voice and also plays acoustic guitar here. With her are multi-instrumentalists Emmanuel de Saint Méen on bass and keyboards and Steven Francis on guitars and drums. However, Young's voice has a certain other-worldly, almost innocent quality which suits the sci-fi theme perfectly.

Kicking off with the upbeat, rocky instrumental The Same River Thrice, in which musical chops are flexed with riffage interplaying with keyboards all driven by a mighty beat. Young makes her entrance with a deep breath at the start of Diaspora, a nicely measured song with interesting chops and changes in pace.

Patient Zoo, the third track, is acoustically led with the most disturbing images conjured up through lyrics such as "Motion around, My arms and legs are bound, The piercing light is a wound, The anguish is rising inside me", but the emotional restraint in Young's voice does not quite match the tenor of the song, which ends with footsteps and the spoken voice of the so-called Agents who are the ones making our heroine's life hell.

However, the next song Reason of State where presumably our heroine has been sedated, is a beautiful, gentle song, in which she sings of up memories of the past when the Agents conducting the experiment had murdered her child. Not many laughs in this album, I can assure you but this song ends with a lovely soothing piano solo.

The opening songs in this Ordeal section set the tone for the rest of the unfolding story which running at over 70 minutes does require focus and attention throughout.

Going into Awareness, it begins with the doomy Devil Inside and slower Last Day of Sun with its narcoleptic dreamy keyboard sequence and vocals. Finally Free ups the pace and the vibe once again, with a strong guitar riff interspersed with acoustic guitars and more tortured lyrics.

This continues with Prisoner's Dilemma, which again alternates between vocals, guitars and keyboards, all very nicely played and presented, but lacking any great variety or change of pace.

From here onwards, the album seems to follow a set pattern where no one track rises above the parapet, but the music keeps its disciplined shape and balance throughout. And the mind does have to stay focused towards the latter stages of the Deliverance and Surrender sections.

It's a lush and likeable collection of songs, but you cannot help but feel that, with such a powerful storyline laced with drug-induced visions and implied brutality, it could have been a much bigger album if they had upped the emotional ante a few more notches.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

I Will Kill Chita - Before We Disappear

I will Kill Chita (IWKC) - Before we Disappear
Country of Origin: Russia
Format: CD/Download
Record Label: RAIG
Catalogue #:
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 55.56
Info: I Will Kill Chita website
Samples: I Will Kill Chita on Bandcamp
Track List:
USSR (6:24), Hard Times (11:09), Streets Going Under Water (Part1) (4:59), Young Heroes (20:10), We Only Had One Day (3:32), Memories (4:50), Streets Going Under Water (part 2) (4:30)
This is an interesting and rather exciting prospect; a Russian instrumental 12-piece band performing epic and atmospheric music. The music stretches out and expands in a similar style to the work of bands like Explosions in the Sky or Espers.

This is a work of beautiful genius by a full-on rock band containing three keyboard players, a drummer, bassist and guitarist plus a string and brass section. The work is utterly enchanting.

From the opening USSR, which gives a big musical clue as to where they're from, we move to the album centerpiece, Young Heroes. Clocking in at a mammoth and absorbing 20 minutes plus, it offers some driving guitar and pounding riffs, mirrored and echoed by the orchestration, which stretches and pulls you in different directions, both emotionally and musically. This is the contemporary equivalent of classical suites.

The counterpoint is the driving and rocking, We Only Had One Day, which barely reaches three minutes, yet crams in more musical dexterity and audio magic than some bands manage in a lifetime. The majestic two-part Streets Going Under Water Part I, which introduces musical themes with some beautiful guitar and an ambient, haunting build, and Part 2, which closes this frankly astonishing album, revisits the same themes, with some more of that beautifully languid guitar, and the superb juxtaposition of a traditional rock band. We also have a classically inclined string and brass section, working far more in harmony than Pink Floyd ever managed on Atom Heart Mother.

This is true progressive rock, crossing disciplines, crossing boundaries, and creating something that is new, beautiful and ultimately timeless. Some instrumental bands disappear into the background. Some like The Fierce and the Dead attack you sonically and pull you into their world.

This Is Chita takes the disciplines of rock music, ambient music and classical music, and combines them into an utterly beguiling, totally absorbing, and astonishingly beautiful widescreen musical canvas. It is one that you can't help but be enchanted by. Absolutely indispensable.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Minor Giant - On the Road

Minor Giant - On The Road
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Format: CD
Record Label: Festival Music(F2)
Catalogue #: 201407
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 53:52
Info: Minor Giant on Bandpage
Samples: Minor Giant on Bandpage
Track List:
On The Road (12:34), Dream With Eyes Wide Open (10:22), Lead Me Home (3:52), Hand In Hand (6:32), We Are Strangers Here (4:46), The Last Road (15:46)
In the history of Symphonic/progressive rock our genre has made us familiar with several great keyboard players: Rick Wakeman, Tony Banks, Keith Emerson, Clive Nolan, Jordan Rudess and many more. Maybe in twenty years time when we look back we will remember Rindert Lammers! Who? This young guy is the driving force behind Dutch new progband Minor Giant that have just released their long awaited debut album titled On the Road. The British record label Festival Music have taken them under their wings where they are joined by artists like Magenta, Also Eden, Credo and Sean Filkins that already have released successful albums at this label. I'm guessing (and hoping) Minor Giant's release will be another bestseller!

In 2010, at the age of 16, Rindert Lammers starts to compose and record a number of symphonic/progressive rock songs. One year later he posts the first instrumental demo on Soundcloud, which is later completed with vocals by Christiaan Bruin (Sky Architect, Chris). Rindert also posts an appeal to musicians interested to join him to record these tracks for an album. Drummer Roy Post is the first person to reply and he offers to be co-owner of the project. While Rindert focuses on composing, Roy deals with organisation and communication. Soon bass player Harry den Hartog (ex PBII), guitar player/vocalist Jordi Remkes and keyboard player Jos Heijmans complete the line-up. They called their project: Minor Giant.

In 2012 I first heard the music performed live on stage during the Progmotion Festival on the 1st of September in Uden at De Pul. It was their first ever live performance but for me and many other people this was a real eye-opener. The opening tune On The Road was really fantastic (it's also the first track on the album). After that performance it increased a hunger for the release of a debut album. Finally, in 2014, Minor Giant gave birth to a beautiful child called On The Road! The album is engineered by Ruud Rijnbeek and Gerben Klazinga (Knight Area) and they did a good job! After finishing recording the album Harry den Hartog left the band and was replaced by Rik van Dommelen on bass. The lyrics on the album are about the hope and strength everybody needs in our travels through life. The final track The Last Road concludes this spiritual voyage, and after revisiting some themes from the previous tracks, the album concludes with an optimistic end full of hope for the future.

The title track contains a lot of soloing on keyboard by Rindert but also his companion on the keys Jos Heijmans shows his talent with nice Mellotron choirs. The rhythm section sound impressive throughout the complete song. Guitarist Jordi Remkes plays a great solo towards the end of the track and fades out with acoustic guitar. Influences to hear are Genesis(middle section), Frost, Neal Morse. The way Rindert plays his keyboards reminded me a lot of Jem Godfrey (Frost). Also great work by the excellent drummer Roy Post.

Follow-up Dream with Eyes Wide Open starts in the vein of Porcupine Tree / Steven Wilson. There is a jazzy part where bass player Harry den Hartog shows his excellent skills on the instrument. After the jazzy bit, there is a part that reminded me of Marillion mainly because of the keyboard sounds. Again the song is ended with impressive soloing on guitar. Lead Me Home is the shortest song of the album and gives singer Jordi Remkes a chance in the spotlights. He proves to be a very good singer and not only an excellent guitarist! It starts of with piano accompanied by Jordi's vocals and the song also has a catchy chorus. Hand in Hand delivers us another Jem Godfrey-like solo on keyboards and an awesome guitar solo by Jordi. There's a kind of duel between guitar and keyboards going on supported by excellent drumming. Another catchy tune with great vocals follows in We Are Strangers Here. A nice string session at the end of the song makes this track another gem. Again we can hear some Porcupine Tree/Steven Wilson influences.

Closer The Last Road is almost 16 minutes to enjoy everything you like about prog! You will hear organ sounds, pounding drums, fantastic soloing on guitar and keys. All this supported by fabulous drumming and bass playing leads to a fantastic climax in bombastic IQ-style with lots of Mellotron choirs. A worthy end to a brilliant debut album.

Well, you will have noticed my enthusiasm by now. Probably one of the best Dutch prog albums in years, has been released by this newcomers. They've won my support and now the rest of the world! Next year on stage at Night of the Prog at the Loreley in Germany? I think they deserve it and are certainly ready for it! Highly recommended!
Conclusion: 9,5 out of 10

Neil - Neil's Heavy Concept Album

Neil - Neil's Heavy Concept Album
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Cherry Red Records / Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #: ECLEC 2444
Year of Release: 2014 / 1984
Time: 50:00
Info: Neil on Cherry Red website
Track List:
Hello Vegetables (0:27), Hole In My Shoe (3:40), Heavy Potato Encounter (0:43), My White Bicycle (3:10), Neil the Barbarian (narrated by Roger Planer) (1:13), Lentil Nightmare (5:48), Computer Alarm (0:36), Wayne (1:37), The Gnome (2:30), Cosmic Jam (2:25), Cassette Jam (1:37), Brown Sugar (0:58), Golf Girl (4:40), Bad Karma In The UK (2:17), Our Tune (1:13), Our Tune (1:13), Ken (0:41), The End of the World Cabaret (1:10), No Future (God Save the Queen) (2:13) Floating (1:38), Hurdy Gurdy Man (3:46), Paranoid Remix [a.k.a Paranoia Remix] (1:59), The Amoeba Song (from "A Very Cellular Song") (1:22), Go Away (0:36), Hurdy Gurdy Mushroom Man (3:35)
The comedy or novelty record doesn't seem to grace the charts nowadays but once we had Benny Hill's Fastest Milkman in the West, The Goodies' Funky Gibbon and then in the 1980's the reign of so called "alternative comedy" brought us Alexia Sayle's Hello John, Gotta New Motor? and a "number 2" with a version of Traffic's Hole in my Shoe by Neil. Neil was one of four fictitious students that formed the extremely popular UK sit com The Young Ones (he was the 60's style hippy). Kept off the number one slot by Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Two Tribes", in 1984, the commercial and sell out hating Neil would have loved the "number two" description of his record.

Actor Nigel Planer had taken his dispirited alter ego on the road supporting Marillion as an opening act and the idea was first suggested during this period to record some sort of single, which nearly had said neo-progsters as the backing band! However, fellow actor and future King Crimson guitarist Jakko Jakszyk suggested the methodical Dave Stewart, multi-intrumentalist from the Canterbury scene lineage to organise this event. Dave Mason's quirky, and disliked by the rest of Traffic, song also didn't take it's self too seriously, so was perfect fodder to parody the psychedelic era that Neil's character came from. Success meant that maybe the record company could further expand sales with a full LP.

The result was to be Neil's Heavy Concept Album, a self-referential humour-laden parody of the progressive and psychedelic music that would probably be in Neil's battered and dog eared record collection. The music is played with utter perfection under the capable batton of Dave Stewart along with prog royalty Gavin Harrison, Jakko Jakszyk, Bryson Graham (Spooky Tooth), Pip Pyle, and Jimmy Hastings, whilst comedian Stephen Fry and Nigel's Brother Roger help out with the comdedy side.

Being unavailable for several years, the redoubtable Cherry Red Records have remastered this CD from the original tapes and have added bonus material from a cassette version and the B side of the single that had started the ball rolling. The packaging is excellent with lots of info and a Sergeant Pepper style "cut out and keep" bit with parts of the "Their Satanic Majesties Request" inspired cover artwork sectioned off.

Track wise the mainly cover songs are interspersed with spoken word and the occasional new peice like Floating and Paranoia Remix. A short cabaret version of The Sex Pistols God Save the Queen, called here No Future, changes the mood slightly, as does a rap piss-take with Barbara Gaskin playing Neil's mother. You also get poetry with Wayne, an affectionate ode to his talking rubber plant: "Your roots are in the ground - my roots are in Twickenham" co-written by British comedian Nick Revell, who would revive the idea of anthropmorphised botany (Geraniums Vince and Alvin) years later in his act.

Stand out tracks are Caravan's Golf Girl ("It started raining Policemen!") with a guest appearance by comediene Dawn French playing a bad fairy god mother and a bar of I am the Walrus thrown in for good measure. A Steve Hillage style Hurdy Gurdy Man (also reprised as Hurdy Gurdy Mushroom Man to finish the CD, which was the aforementioned B side) and Spinal Tap-esq Lentil Nightmare which has Neil singing a heavy metal falsetto with quotes from "In The Court of the Crimson King". My White Bicycle, Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd's The Gnome and The Incredible String Band's The Amoeba Song carry on the laughs.

All the songs are sung in a comedic manner and you should really watch a couple of episodes of The Young Ones in order "to get" Neil's approach to life. I love the way the aaaaaaah backing vocals on Hole in my Shoe become aghhhhhhhs of pain and "an albatross" translates to "an achovy". Neil's false confidence in trying to play along with a busker version of Brown Sugar where he is all over the place, is also very funny.

Whether a comedy concept record is something you would return to time again is debatable, but the music is played so well that personally I will, and actively look forward to hearing it. I know Monty Python's Parrot sketch backwards, but still love seeing it performed. This won't appeal to everyone (as Monty Python doesn't) but as an LP (now in pristine polished CD form) it will be in my record box for many years to come. A lovely slice of British Whimsy featuring the downtrodden and subjugated stereotypical British man - "Hello Shoes, I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to stand on you again". Recommended, and not just for vegetables.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Robert Schroeder - Paradise Edition 2014

Robert Schroeder - Paradise Edition 2014
Country of Origin: Germany
Format: CD
Record Label: Spheric Music
Catalogue #: SMCD2030
Year of Release: 2014/1983
Time: 62.00
Info: Robert Schroeder
Samples: Robert Schroeder on MySpace
Track List:
In memory of Paradise (8:05), Moments (5:04), Deep Dream (5:01), Balance (0.58), Future Memories (3.33), Skywalker (single version) (4.47), Timemachine (8:49), Timeless (7:16): bonus tracks: Skywalker 90 (1990 version) (10:48), Paradise (epilogue) (7:17)
This was German synth performer Schroeder's fifth album, originally released in 1983 and long out of print. Here it is remastered and reissued.

The early 80s were a strange place for traditional Krautrock bands. Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream had fully embraced samplers and advanced synthesisers and moved away from the longer, more ambient analogue sounds with which they had made their name in the 1970s. Other English acts like John Foxx, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Cabaret Voltaire had taken their pioneering electronic attitude and applied it to the art of the pop song.

Schroeder seems to be the lost hero of Krautrock, plying his trade at the end of its classic period when the genre was in transition. His work is reminiscent of some of the earlier, spacier Tangerine Dream pieces, where they were given room to breathe.

Here on Paradise he takes that ethos, but applies early 80s synthesiser music to it, with the first five tracks blending seamlessly together, their ebbing and flowing, and stark synthesised elements providing a contrast, as it makes up an ambient epic. To my ears, whilst sounding good, it would have sounded even better rendered in Moogs and mellotrons.

Future Memories, with its heavily-gated synthesised drums and stabbing keyboard riffs sounds like a bad 1980s TV theme tune, and is best forgotten. Schroeder picks the pace back up with the last three tracks, particularly Skywalker, which is accompanied on this version with a bonus track of the same song recorded in 1990. This takes the themes and stretches them out to a cracking ten minutes.

Whilst this isn't a bad album by any stretch of the imagination, ultimately though it is over-synthesised and loses a lot of its humanity. The warmth that the earliest synths of the 1970s would have provided would have made this a great album, rather than just an average one which snuck out just as Krautrock's first wave was fading.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10

Storm - Lost in Time

Storm - Lost In Time
Country of Origin: Spain
Format: CD
Record Label: Arabiand
Catalogue #: ARC01
Year of Release: 1974/1979/2013
Time: The Storm: 33:46
El Día De La Tormenta: 37:24
Track List:
The Storm (1974): I've Gotta Tell You Mama (3:06), I Am Busy (3:10), Un Señor Llamado Fernández de Córdoba (5:42), Woman Mine (4:44), It's All Right (2:45), I Don't Know (3:33), Crazy Machine (6:58), Experiencia Sin Órgano (3:45)
El Día de la Tormenta (1979): Este Mundo (5:02), La Luz De Tu Voz (5:07), Saeta Ensayo: Part 1 (6:53), Saeta Ensayo: Part 2 (5:43), Lejos de la Civilización (4:31), Desde el Mar y las Estrellas (4:40), El Día de la Tormenta (5:26)
The Spanish group Storm were originally formed in Seville back in 1969 under their original moniker of Los Tormentos who gigged playing covers of songs by the likes of The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Cream. The group originally comprised brothers Ángel Ruiz (guitar and vocals) and Diego Ruiz (drums and vocals) along with their cousin Luis Genil on organ, José Torres on bass and the enigmatically named Blume on vocals, although his tenure with the band seems to have been limited to a few gigs around Madrid. The decision to change their name to Storm, and presumably to sing mostly in English, came from their managers when the group, influenced heavily by Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, changed their focus in a heavier direction.

A recording contract with BASF led to the debut eponymous album, released in 1974, which is more of a heavy rock effort than anything more proggy. The single I've Gotta Tell You Mama c/w It's All Right was a fairly large European hit and, according to some sources, even made number 1 in Spain. The songs generally feature heavy guitar work, a big drum sound (apparently, the band's live set featured a lengthy drum solo) and plenty of Hammond organ. Vocally, there are some limitations, the lyrics are relatively simple, the English pronunciations are quite unique and there is a fair bit of shouting going on in places. And whichever of the brothers, I suspect it is drummer Diego, sings on Woman Mine deserves a credit for sounding like Lemmy years before Motorhead were ever a figment of that iconic musician's imagination.

Highlights of the album, incidentally all instrumentals, include the rather fine Un Señor Llamado Fernández De Córdoba, named for their manager, on which each member of the group shines, the slightly more progressive, in an early Uriah Heep manner, Crazy Machine which features some scorching guitar, a drum solo and the Hammond organ being put through its paces, particularly on the jazzy interlude, and finally Experiencia Sin Organo which, as the title suggests, abandons the organ to leave a straight forward hard rock number. Following the album's release the band supported Queen at a concert on Barcelona and suitably impressed Freddie Mercury who invited the band to support them for the whole of their next tour which would undoubtedly cemented the bands reputation to a wider audience. However, the group's manager made a fatal mistake of making too many demands which would have made the tour unviable for the headlining band. I bet the group regretted naming one of their best tracks after the manager after letting that opportunity slip by!

In 1976 the band took an enforced hiatus as they had to fulfil National Service duties but once their military service was complete they reunited with the exception of as Torres who was replaced by Pedro Garcia. A second album, El Día De La Tormenta (The Day Of The Storm) was released in 1978. Although there were elements of the original sound in place, the overall harder rock was replaced by a softer version, most notable by the Hammond mostly replaced by various synthesisers. Opener Este Mundo is a decent opener with Ángel Ruiz showing he has lost none of his chops and also demonstrating that his singing has become noticeably smoother and more melodic. Incidentally, the singing is entirely in Spanish on this album. The instrumental Saeta Ensayo, split into two parts as on the original vinyl album it closed side 1 and opened side 2, has a nice keyboard melody line but doesn't really develop much throughout the combined 12+ minute playing time. Nice guitar solo on part 1 and the ending of part 2 is interesting and the main appearance of the Hammond on the album. The inclusion of a couple of ballads is another change with La Luz De Tu Voz being more successful than the rather lamer Desde El Mar Y Las Estrellas. Lejos De La Civilizacion and El Dia De La Tormenta are largely forgettable attempts at pop rock songs that leave a lot to be desired.

The band struggled on for a few more years but with no new recordings and the downturn in the Spanish economy the group called it a day in 1981 taking up teaching positions at the Seville Music Conservatory. And that would have been that if not for the sad death of Luis Genil in 2004 which prompted the reunion of the remaining band members to perform a tribute concert which was so well received it prompted several more performances throughout Spain. However, as with so many reunions, no new recordings were made, or even promised, and the band was finally laid to rest shortly after.

Despite both albums having their moments, they don't really contain a great deal for the ardent progressive fan. Some nice moments but taken as a whole rather lacking in a coherent identity and the fact that the two albums could have been recorded by totally different bands doesn't help. The group are largely a case of potential that could have been but ultimately remain a footnote on the global music scene, with marginally more relevance if one has a particular interest in Spanish rock.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10

Voyager - V

Voyager - V
Country of Origin: Australia
Format: Download
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 54:44
Info: Voyager website
Samples: Voyager on Bandcamp
Track List:
Hyperventilating (04:41), Breaking Down (04:35), A Beautiful Mistake (05:02), Fortune Favours the Blind (01:02), You the Shallow (04:33), Embrace the Limitless (03:06), Orpheus (04:19), The Domination Game (04:30), Peacekeeper (04:47), It's a Wonder (05:11), The Morning Light (05:57), Summers Always Come Again (02:21), Seasons of Age (04:40).
This is the crowd-funded, fifth album by the Australian quintet Voyager. They play a strange and interesting hybrid of rock and metal with a large dose of melodic pop, all put through a progressive blender. Out of which comes an almost unique sound of quality staccato guitar riffs, electronic pulses of keyboards, short and punchy guitar solos, held down by melodic bass lines and drumming of a non-showy, but very high order. All of this is topped with Daniel Estrin's broad ranged, pop-metal vocals.

Every song on V has a catchy, sometimes, ear-worm inducing, melody. These melodies, however, manage to avoid becoming overly familiar on repeat plays, due to the power and dynamism that Voyager bring to them. So, each song has a characteristic sound and they never outstay their welcome. The longest song here is just shy of six minutes, but even the shortest has an awful lot packed into it.

This is not just an exercise of throwing something at the prog-metal wall and seeing what sticks, rather it has been worked through properly and none of the elements seem out of place: elements, such as, the piano/vocal combination in the beautiful Marillion-ish ballad Summers Always Come Again to the guitars in the riff driven The Morning Light. This opens with a metallic thump that is similar to the title music of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, before developing with nice tempo changes, quiet/loud dynamics and a crisp guitar solo.

Other highlights, in an album of almost no low-lights, include the catchy as nits (head-lice to non-British readers) opener Hyperventilating, where a circular drum pattern and synth-bass give way to a fierce and controlled guitar solo. Also outstanding, is the pop-prog song Embrace the Limitless, which takes a leaf from the ABBA song book, by beginning with the chorus: it however, never lets up in its tempo, whilst making excellent use of dynamics. Then the closing song, Seasons of Age, brings to mind some of the intricacies of Muse but without the histrionic vocals.

Some of the rest of the songs have slightly less going on in them, but still bring to mind a more metallic XTC, or even It Bites, in their drive and melodic invention.

As a whole, Voyager: Daniel Estrin (vocals, keyboards), Simone Dow (guitars), Alex Canion (bass, backing vocals), Scott Kay (guitars) and Ashley Doodkorte (drums), are to be commended on their direct and unique take on the riff driven tropes of prog-metal. They mix a pop sensibility with those tropes, for those who prize melody: melodies that are played and sung with seemingly effortless technical ability from everyone in the band. Voyager have set themselves a high bar to get over with their next release, and an adventurous path for others to follow.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10

Yuka & Chronoship - Dino Rocket Oxygen

Yuka Chronoship - Dino Rocket Oxygen
Country of Origin: Japan
Format: CD
Record Label: Musea Records
Catalogue #: MP 3271
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 57:35
Info: Yuka Chronoship website
Track List:
Dinosaurs Suite (13:57): Which Came First, The Dinosaur or the Egg? (2:13), Dance With Dinosaurs (7:32), Ruler of the Earth (4:16),
R is for Rocket Suite (24:34): 04. Cutting Gravity (7:04), Skygazer (6:17), An Arrow of Glittering Music (1:48), Blue Astronaut Helicopter (3:49), Beyond the Fence (5:33),
Oxygen Suite (18:53): O1 (5:03), O2 (6:23), O3 (7:30)
Japan is something of a cultural dark horse when it comes to progressive rock boasting more acts than many European countries could lay claim to. A recent addition is Yuka & Chronoship, a band with more gifted musicians within its ranks than you could reasonably expect in one line-up. Formed in 2009, they are led by the talented young singer-songwriter-keyboardist Yuka Funakoshi whose current musical activities are a far cry from her pop career launched in 1998 (compare her videos with those of Yuka & Chronoship on YouTube and the difference is quiet startling). Equally young but seasoned session men, the rest of the band are Takashi Miyazawa (guitar), Shun Taguchi (bass) and Ikko Tanaka (drums). The 2011 debut album Water Reincarnation passed the DPRP by and although the 2013 follow-up Dino Rocket Oxygen almost did the same its arrival is better late than never.

Forget the neo-prog tag you may have read on other genre related sites, Yuka & Chronoship are old school prog with a contemporary twist combining tuneful melodies with darker bombast. With the exception of a short acoustic guitar interlude, Yuka is responsible for all compositions and despite her angelic singing voice they are mostly instrumental. The cryptic album title is shorthand for the three suites that make up the album: Dinosaurs, R Is for Rocket and Oxygen.

Dinosaurs Suite opens with the amusingly titled Which Came First, The Dinosaur Or The Egg?, a gloriously grimy Mellotron fanfare inspired by Genesis' Watcher Of The Skies. The edgy Dance With Dinosaurs appears loose and freeform at first but on closer inspection it's very tightly structured even though guitarist Takashi is clearly a shredder at heart. Yuka for her part extracts some epic sounds from the keyboard rig with the occasional nod to the likes of Keith Emerson. The final section Ruler Of The Earth gives Yuka plenty of scope to demonstrate her flowery piano technique whilst Takashi takes a bluesy route in the direction of Clapton and Gilmour but the articulate rhythm partnership of Shun and Ikko keep a firm grip on proceedings, dismissing any hint of self-indulgence.

R Is for Rocket Suite takes its name from a collection of short stories by sci-fi author Ray Bradbury and is dedicated to the man himself. It opens with the restless Cutting Gravity which leaps about like a cat on hot bricks with Yuka's rhythmic piano and mellotron providing a springboard for Takashi's fiery lead lines driven by Ikko's relentless drumming. In contrast Skygazer is a ridiculously catchy and uplifting synth and piano theme with wordless choral harmonies adding to its charm. Shades of Jean Michel Jarre at his most tuneful and Yuka even manages to sneak in a snatch of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star at the end. From the sublime to the very sublime with An Arrow Of Glittering Music, a delicate piece for solo acoustic guitar which segues into the sprightly Blue Astronaut Helicopter which features another memorable synth melody. The final song Beyond The Fence features Yuka's haunting vocal chords over rhythmic piano and a military drum pattern, a strange combination on paper but it works beautifully reaching a satisfyingly majestic crescendo.

The 3-part Oxygen Suite opens with rhythmic synth and percussion providing a world-music meets jazz vibe with echoes of Bill Bruford's solo work. Ikko's drumming throughout this piece is superlative as is the tightly knit guitar, bass and synth interplay. At first glance O2 is a delicate piano waltz with spacey guitar and celestial organ effects until the mood is broken by grandiose guitar and choral volleys, prog at its finest and probably my favourite track on the album. O3 is another rhythmic affair (to begin with a least) overlaid by a ghostly mellotron choir and Yuka's heavenly vocal (sounding very like Kate Bush here). Takashi lays down a powerful guitar barrage underpinned by gothic mellotron resulting in a monumental wall of sound that Steve Hackett would be proud to put his name to.

If by the way the artwork typography of Dino Rocket Oxygen has an uncanny resemblance to the latest Yes album Heaven & Earth (thankfully, that's the only similarity) don't accuse the band of plagiarism, the artist responsible was none other than Roger Dean himself.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
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