John Cale and Terry Riley - Church of Anthrax
Church of Anthrax (9:05), The Hall of Mirrors in the Palace at Versailles (7:59), The Soul of Patrick Lee (2:49), Ides of March (11:03), The Protege (2:52)
CBS Masterworks's director John McClure initiated this confluence of talent, and recordings were made in their 30th Street Studios, where earlier Miles Davies had recorded A Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew . So the molecules for something different were already held within its walls.
Musically, Terry Riley had already been a major influence on rock culture with his A Rainbow in Curved Air, which had not only inspired Pete Townsend, of The Who, to use the sequenced keyboard effects prevalent on Who's Next, but also had Francis Monkman to imbue its spirit by actually naming his band Curved Air.
So brought together at a time that pre-dated Cales's 30-plus album career, this mainly-instrumental, five-track LP exhibits an air of unquiet obstreperousness which must have divided critics back then and scarred listeners like a monochrome episode of early Dr. Who.
John Cale played bass, harpsichord, piano, guitar and signature dish viola, whilst Terry Riley's sequenced 'futuristic' organ and soprano saxophone provided the counter backdrop to proceedings.
The "sound" is also quite dominated by twin drummers and twin Bobbys, Gregg and Colomby. The first from Bob Dylan's band and the latter, a co-founder of brass funk group Blood Sweat and Tears. One "kit" is panned left and the other...well have a guess.
That technique was very 'new jazz' (listen to the aforementioned Bitches Brew) and along with the apparent improvisational feel to this album, a picture doth emerge.
Church Of Anthrax (the track) sounds like the soundtrack to a 60s heist movie with its repetitive funk bass line, organ vibe, and relentless jam-packed jamming from the Robert tubs men.
The Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles mixes strident piano with a rain-strewn sax, imitating a clarinet lost in France.
The Soul of Patrick Lee brings us the only non instrumental and it's a wistful Cale-penned ballad about a folky day out to Wales, sung by future David Cassidy writer Adam Miller.
There is more mallet whacking on the keys, with break-down-the-door drumming in Ideas of March which leads us into final track, The Protégé. Here the ivories are sparring in a smoky night club with laid-back riffage, It all ends with some nasty amp feedback as 'The Mob' takes out its occupants and shoots the piano player.
'An acquired taste' is my conclusion, but ultimately the timescale has to be taken into account. It was 1971 when this was released and it's way ahead of its time. Its legacy must not be forgotten.
Apparently Terry Riley was disillusioned with the mixing of this album, but has since learned to appreciate its sense. The production is dated, but it is a period piece and thanks to Esoteric, we all have a chance to re-live these moments. I'd never heard of it.
So for that very reason, it has to be recommended and included in our library. Church of Anthrax is an eccentric curio from the Big Bang of the electric rock and jazz universe.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
DC Sound Collective - Rotation
Riff Raff (5:05),Trash Can Sam (5:09),Panorama Drive (4:40), City Of Industry (Departure) (3:12), A Jungle Of Apparitions (4:02, No Room To Dream (3:38), Throwing Bones (5:25), Calm Before The Storm/Apophis (25:04)
Several albums in Daniel's canon feature collaborations with members of seminal English rock band Jade Warrior, who along with Quintessence, Osibisa, Mighty Baby, Clark-Hutchinson and others were the first wave of British bands to use influences from further afield than Chicago.
Long before it was fashionable, Jade Warrior dabbled in eastern musical scales and ambience. Rather than the more common Indian traits, perhaps uniquely amongst their peers, they used Japanese and Far Eastern influences, something reflected in the artwork of their album covers.
This time round, one of the Collective is guitarist Colin Henson, a member of a later incarnation of Jade Warrior. Among the supporting cast is David Duhig, the brother of the late Tony Duhig, who was one of Jade Warrior's original members. Although he did not become a full member of the band until 1973, David too was there from the beginning, playing in the band's showcase gig in 1970 that got them their deal with Vertigo Records. His guitars can be heard on the instrumental, Apophis, section of the concluding track.
Unsurprisingly, a Jade Warrior influence is apparent throughout Rotation, which has a similar atmosphere to the music of that ground-breaking band, especially on the lengthy, concluding number. DC Sound Collective is based around the many instruments played by Daniel and his long-time sonic partner Eldon Hardenbrook, who together co-produced the album.
Daniel plays flute, synthesisers, keyboard samples, electric dulcimer, psaltery, and rhythm beds, and Eldon busies himself with bass, synthesisers, piano, guitars, and samples. In addition to that, is the aforementioned Colin Henson with his electric guitar and Moog. Daniel also contributes occasional vocals, but it has to be said that his voice is not the most tuneful I've ever heard.
Oddly enough his voice is at its most palatable when multi-tracked, as on Throwing Bones and Trash Can Sam, the latter with lyrics that get more oblique by the verse. Other more easily-spotted lyrical concerns include the environment on City Of Industry, lost hope on No Room To Dream (video link below), and impending doom on Calm Before The Storm. All the lyrics are penned by Crommie. The best are those for Throwing Bones, a cautionary tale which uses a gambling metaphor rather well.
Musically, the album creates an ethereal ambience as it gently glides along. Variation is given by musical devices such as the clever use of counter melody between the voice and guitar on City Of Industry. It serves to create the necessary degree of disturbance, while the tune never moves above its slow-paced start. Eldon contributes a funky bass throughout, which comes to the fore on the light-fingered instrumental A Jungle Of Apparitions; winding, snake-like around the rhythm, as keys and guitar create the wash of sound above.
Calm Before The Storm, the "song" section of the last track, lasts for 5:23 of the track's 25:04 running time. The latter half of Calm... is a spacey instrumental section. After a short gap, which begs the question why was it not split into two, the rest is given over to the instrumental Apophis. It fades in on a similar theme, led by (presumably) David Duhig's low-key psychedelic guitar.
The track showcases the kind of ambience Jade Warrior became known for during their Island years, but within a decidedly more "rock" context. Shades of Bill Nelson's less esoteric work are a possible comparison, as is a similarity in vibe to Popol Vuh, but with the feeling crafted from slow glissando guitar rather than piano and keyboards. At times the guitar sounds like a sitar, at others like a soaring message from the stars. It is all quite lovely.
This part lasts for some 13 minutes, then another fade out and in to a short, almost jaunty, if inconsequential tune built around a simple bass riff, that in turn fades out and back for Apophis to play itself out with some winsome violin and viola. This last part must be the "Cyclic Coda" referred to on the Bandcamp page, but not listed in the track listing.
Apophis is certainly the highlight of Rotation and makes the album a worthwhile purchase for lovers of the kind of airy, electric ambience I have attempted to describe.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Fish on Friday - Godspeed
Godspeed (10:15), Just a Nightmare (5:35), She Colours the Rainbow (3:42), Calling Planet Home (5:23), Ghost Song (6:36), Radio (4:42), Sanctuary (8:17), Stay (6:50), Don't Love Me to Death (4:28), Tick Tock (4:03), My Dog (1:19).
This disc, Godspeed, addresses several issues I'd previously highlighted, one of which was adding Nick Begg's muscular bass playing to all the tracks and making this a band project rather than just Frank Von Bogaert and William Beckers. This time around there is an overall cohesiveness that gives a stronger presence than before.
Musically and sonically it's another highly impressive and well produced, clear and good sounding album. As I've said previously, there is a strong resemblance to the early Alan Parsons Project sound and voicings, but Fish on Friday continues to craft its own signature sound.
Opening with the epic title-track, Godspeed gets off to a cracking start with a gentle acoustic riff being subtly underscored by evocative keyboard soundscapes, before the opening vocal enters ands the song picks up drive and pace. It's a piece about loss and life thereafter. Unafraid of tackling emotive subjects, this is both an outstanding track and also the longest track they have recorded thus far. It has some inventive twist and turns and some stellar performances. Above all the piece has room to stretch out and evolve and there are some great guitar passages from Marty Townsend.
Opening with piano and then a blast of sound, Just a Nightmare continues the promise established by the opening track. Frank's clear and impassioned vocals add greatly. It's also wonderful to hear such solid support in the rhythm section from Nick Beggs and Marcus Weymaere, as this tale of living in a nightmare unfolds.
Calling Planet Home is another great example of how this band has grown and progressed. Settling into a strident groove and giving room for some great playing from Theo Travis, the lyrics are simple and direct and the song has a strong cohesiveness. Marty Townsend seems keen on adding slide guitar parts to this album which adds to the atmospherics of these songs.
Ghost Song is a very powerful and emotive piece and has a melancholy tone to it. The overall theme of loss and being alone continues throughout, and the clarinet of Theo Travis adds to that effect. It's the use of woodwind and brass that gives this album a texturally different sound.
Radio opens with snippet of a Radio Caroline broadcast announcement and talks about how radio promised so much and yet ... well, draw your own conclusions. It's a shorter song but with some great sounds.
Sanctuary is the other lengthy track on this album, opening with the female vocals of Chantal Kashara, with Nina Babet singing the chorus and then wordless backing voices, over an acoustic guitar, before Frank's vocal sings: "If I could see beyond this new horizon".
When they get to the chorus again, it's offset against strong guitar and more slide work from Marty, before he plays a dazzling solo that just fits the song so well. This is further evidence of the new-found confidence of this band and its drive to expand and explore new ground.
Stay is a gentler song, similar to earlier songs by Fish On Friday. It's another mid-tempo piece that the band does so very well. It's a plea to stay the night and basically shut the world out, featuring more sterling guitar work from Marty Townsend. His presence here is a revelation, adding such depth and colour to these songs, yet never overplaying for an instant.
This album is a definite step up from Airborne, which was a great album by any standards. I'm hoping it will bring this fine outfit wider acclaim. Godspeed is no throwaway pap, rather it is intelligent and finely-crafted, evocative music; an album I shall return to time and time again.
This is more rock-orientated sound than previous and I think they've struck a good balance. It's also a relief to hear there is no unnecessary swearing on this album; a factor that marred a few songs on their earlier discs for me. Godspeed_ represents a bold new chapter and a bright future. I'm very taken with this album, and with Esoteric getting behind them, everyone should now have a little Fish On Friday.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
The Healing Road - Birdbrain's Travels
Birdbrain's Travels Part 1 (24:31), Birdbrain's Travels Part 2 (21:17)
In Birdbrain's Travels Hess has enlisted the help of a number of highly effective musicians, successfully creating an identifiable group sound. The compositions should appeal to fans of melodic, symphonic instrumental music. Both pieces are skilfully played and arranged. Each composition has satisfying and appealing recurring motifs, which in part, are reminiscent of Mike Oldfield's work.
Although largely pastoral and symphonic, Birdbrain's Travels contains moments of unleashed, tempestuous fury, where guitars crest and break. On these occasions, the music is propelled to excitingly stormy places. The release has abundant atmospheric qualities. Sparse piano parts and flowing synthesisers create an intriguing and occasionally captivating soundscape.
Part 1 is the longer of the pieces and is arguably the more satisfying. It contains an assortment of lush-sounding keyboards. Part 1 also has many interesting contrasts of tempo and texture. These are highlighted by light, pastoral moments and darker, heavier segments.
It is full of satisfying synth flurries and blazing guitar moments. The piece begins with a wailing guitar part, before a crashing rhythm develops, quickly augmented by a marimba. The marimba is prominent throughout the first quarter of the piece. It is used very effectively as a melodically rhythmic counterpoint to the heavier instrumental rock passages. The opening section contains some impressive playing by all the band members. Guitarists Thommy Frank and Axel Zabel add lots of gusto to the piece.
Whilst Part 1 was initially very enjoyable, I suspect some aspects of it could become overly bland and repetitive after sustained listens. Whether the music has enough depth and subtlety to stand up to prolonged and frequent exposure, remains to be seen.
Part 2 reflects upon the shockingly disturbing events of the high school massacre which occurred in Hess' hometown of Winnenden in March 2009. It was written in the months following that tragic event and, as might be expected, it contains many different variations in mood, tone and feel.
Hess' composition strives to invoke reflection and take the listener through a range of moods and emotions. Suitably emotive piano parts frequently occur and lie scattered around the piece. Whilst some of the musical passages are cleverly explored and revisited, I found the composition as a whole a bit too disjointed to appreciate as a single, organic piece.
Perhaps this was Hess' intention, as the individual parts of Part 2 may well have been designed to reflect the uncertainty that must have been present during and after the tragedy. The music contained within Part 2 of Birdbrain's Travels has many thought-provoking twists and turns. I found myself able to appreciate the skill of the players and the creativity of the composer, but was unable to enjoy it, due to its subject matter. The opening section of Part 2 is highly reminiscent of Oldfield's work. The melody is gently established, then later embellished as instruments are thoughtfully layered. Some segments of the piece take on a dreamy muzak feel. This aspect of Part 2, combined with recurring motifs and rock-influenced rhythms, reminded me in some way of Adam Torok's work in A SZEL NOMADJA. A beautiful, jazz-inflected piano occurs at the three-and-a-half minute mark of Part 2. This is one of the highlights. The piano is set against inventive rhythms and the whole part is very skilfully executed. The sombre subject-matter becomes very apparent as it develops. At the six -minute mark the pace slows and the mood of the music shades towards shadow. The use of news extracts add to the sad nature of the compositions. Although I personally found the repetition of the words: "And he wasn't finished yet" puzzling and unnecessary. Occasional ambient sounds also occur within Part 2, gently hinting of darkness. The introduction of acoustic guitar and evocative accordion is particularly effective in creating a reflective and contemplative atmosphere. The piece ends fittingly with the solemn and mournful tolling of a bell.
Overall, Birdbrain's Travels contains some fine melodic instrumental music that is thoroughly well played and produced. The recurring themes present in much of the music, and particularly in Part 1, gives the album an immediately accessible feel. The rock influences that emerge in some segments of the album would appeal to those who enjoy hard-edged guitar passages within symphonic music.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
JP and The Life - My Money
My Money (4:10); Walk Away (4:17); Believe Me (2:53); In This World (2:57); One Step (3:19); Like Helium (3:26); Hold Your Breath (3:21); Broadcast (3:42)
Apeyga is an instrumental fusion trio. Those like me, who favour the extra dimension that a singer brings to a band, may be more interested in Justin's new project which has been preparing this debut release for five years.
The songs were apparently written in 2009 at the time of the big financial crash in the United States. Lyrically they speak of people's struggles to get through these tough economic times. Five years later, for those who take 'economic growth' as a good measure of economic health, then with most of Europe still at economic stagnation, the lyrical theme is still relevant.
The new singer, Jon Williams, comes from an R&B background, which is clearly the groove he sets out with his rich vocals on the opening title track .... and which he pretty much maintains thereafter.
The album is produced by Justin, whilst his brother John plays bass, as he did in Apeyga. The quartet is completed by drummer Lamar Little.
Now I'm rather partial to an occasional bit of funk rock and this album is high on energy, melody and some interesting compositions. The guitar work of JP is much more than just setting the groove. There's a fusion style and aggressive, metallic element to his playing which sets the music apart from the usual funk rock – as best demonstrated on the track Hold Your Breath. I'm reminded a bit of bands from the 80s who dabbled in funky heavy rock such as the Sea Hags and Living Colour. Jon Williams is a really excellent singer who suits these songs perfectly.
I enjoyed this. This is a band that could really develop a great profile on the Californian live circuit. However I'm struggling to see how this will appeal to most progressive rock fans. Much closer to Red Hot Chili Peppers than Genesis!
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Knight Area - Hyperdrive
Afraid Of The Dark (5:47), The Lost World (5:18), Bubble (4:59), This Day (4:44), Crimson Skies (4:09), Avenue Of Broken Dreams (4:32), Living in Confusion (5:32), Stepping Out (3:21), Running Away (2:56), Songs from the Past (3:35), Hypnotised (7:39)
Peter Swanson's ReviewIn 2004 this Dutch progressive rock band was formed by brothers Joop and Gerben Klazinga. Joop left the band after the release of its second album, Under A New Sign, together with guitarist Rinie Huigen. This reduced the line-up from seven to five members who recorded another two albums. In 2012 the band announced that Mark Vermeule (guitar) and Gijs Koopman (bass) were leaving the band. Thankfully replacements have been found in the form of Mark Bogert (guitar) and Peter Vink (bass).
The recruitment of the latter musician is quite remarkable as he is part of Dutch rock history having played in bands such as Q65 and Finch. With Gerben Klazinga (keyboards, backing vocals), Pieter van Hoorn (drums, backing vocals) and Mark Smit (lead vocals, keyboards) they form the current line-up.
With the two newcomers the band received a heavier, but still very melodic, sound which can clearly be heard on its 2013 EP Between Two Steps. On the fifth Knight Area album Hyperdrive this new, heavier sound has been perfected.
The vocals by Mark Smit sound better than ever and this new style really seems to suit him. Guitarist Mark Bogert has no problem switching from playing metal riffs to more melodic riffs and shows his skills throughout the entire album with some brilliant soloing. Despite the heavier style, the keyboards are still very prominent on this album and add to the melodic sound, characteristic of this Dutch band.
The first track Afraid of the Dark is a fine example of how the "new" Knight Area sounds. Heavy guitar and drums dominate this opening song but the keyboards and the recognisable voice of Mark Smit are also clearly audible.
There are no bad tracks on this album and I think The Lost World, Bubble, Avenue Of Broken Dreams and Living In Confusion deserve to be mentioned. With Hypnotised, the longest track, they end the album in good fashion. With an impressive riff by Mark Bogert on guitar and some sublime keyboards by Gerben Klazinga, everything that makes Knight Area so special, comes together in this final track.
We also have a special guest appearance on this album from Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon) who plays a great solo on the instrumental track Stepping Out. Still, I think that Mark Bogert also could easily have produced that solo as he proves to be a very talented guitar player on several of the other tracks.
My conclusion is that Knight Area has again succeeded in making a great sounding album featuring its typical melodic style, but with a heavier bite. They still prove to be one of the leading bands in the Premier League of the Dutch prog scene which can be proud of the albums released in 2014 by bands such as Minor Giant, Silhouette and Knight Area. Highly recommended!
Peter Funke's ReviewThe Dutch rockers Knight Area are setting signals right from the beginning of their seventh release within ten years.
Hyperdrive opens up with Afraid of the Dark and shows a heavy guitar riff accompanied by metal bass and drumming and synthie chords. A short, uprising guitar solo marks the end of the intro. The following melodic verse and chorus gives this opening track the perfect Dream Theatre feeling circa Images.. or Awake. A brilliant track with energy and harmony, that rocks fine. This introduction promises, and we are excited to hear more.
But the follow up, The Lost World, brings you back to earth again. On first listening you wouldn't believe what you hear - a flush rock ballad without any depth. Only the little synthie solo, which brings a little speed for 30 seconds in the second half can rescue this singalong; but not really. There ought to be dynamics and pathos I think, but it is just mush.
Luckily track three, Bubble, starts with an agile intro, a nice guitar line leads into a slow vocal melody. But this time, we've got a very pleasant harmony which is more an interlude to the second half of this track. Right in the middle the keys repeat the hookline, before guitar and vocals increase and a very fine keyboard solo speeds up for the last minute until the sudden end.
This Day is taking your breath again - in the negative way. It is another slow ballad in an 80s manner. This one is definitely without any highlight. No melody, nor any musical idea is pulling you out of your sofa. You are waiting and waiting. The obligatory guitar solo after the second verse could find its place in any "How to play a hard rock ballad" guide.
I got cautious by hearing the guitar driven intro of the fifth track, Crimson Skies, which quickly leads into a fine melody and shows more of the power of track one. After the very classical break after about two minutes, we see more fine guitar work and the track speeds up again. This is a fine rocking tune which brings Knight Area into the lead again.
Track six, Avenue of Broken Dreams, is a mid-tempo rock song in the style of Europe, a band you will think several times of while listening to this record. This track has a simple structure and a well-sounding, but not exciting melody. The second half shows a nice little keyboard solo but it ends with the greatest catastrophe in music history - it fades out. Yes, you read it right - it FADES OUT. I actually don't remember when I last heard this kind of tricky ending, but that really sucks. I believe, if you don't know how to end a track, you shouldn't start it. Grrrrr!
The piano intro of Living in Confusion which leads into some fine, heavy keyboard chords, gives hope again. IQ is calling, you might say, and the shifting between piano, guitar and keys has much charm. This track is indeed another ballad and leads into a very fine guitar solo at the end, showing emotion and harmony changes. And this track has a proper end. I am reassured.
Stepping Out comes up with a very nice guitar opening, a lovely melodic tune which is worked out in the next three minutes. Arjen Lucassen is credited for the guitar solo work on this one and is ennobling this prime composition. A fine instrumental interlude, followed by Running Away, another short, rocking tune with a catchy riff at the beginning. The shortest track on this record shows a quite relaxed feeling and ends by repeating that high quality intro.
The next three and a half minutes you may slow down again. The reader will believe by now that I don't like (rock)-ballads. That is untrue. There a many fantastic and lovely ballads in the music cosmos. Big bands and "small" artists have had beautiful ideas in the last century. But here we have the third track of flat, standard songwriting. A piano / vocal duo, and even the little guitar solo towards the end doesn't turn me on.
The concept of the CD-tracking with its "fast - slow - fast" track running order disables a continuous mood. This is not a metal-CD, this is no soft-rock record. It is definitely no prog rock tape. This is a collection of songs by a band which is really highly talented, experienced and plays ambitiously. But they probably didn't know what kind of record to release and are serving now a pastiche of "yes we can" songs.
But there is one more thing: Hypnotised starts with straight drumming and synthies, the mid-tempo rhythm guitar evolves into a little solo sequence, with the song's second part starting the verse. Again you might be reminded of IQ. You won't believe how interesting this three-minute start is, if you heard some of those tracks before.
In the middle we have a surprising break featuring the piano, which leads to the spot with the guitar again. The keyboard is substantiating with strong harmonies the evolution of the ending of this track. Though this quite a long song, it consists only of two main ideas; the rocking first part and the coda-esque second half. A nice track which could be a show stopper in their live-repertoire.
Conclusion: Knight Area delivers a fine sound, based on the 80s rock music. They are all professionals on their instruments, and we see a perfect production and ambitious songwriting. This is a rock album which contains some gems. But it doesn't start a fire. Three tracks are the real highlights of this album; the opening song, Bubble and the closing track. That is not enough to build a record that will stay for a long time. For fans it will be a bit more, and it is surely an above average release nowadays.
Guillermo Palladino's ReviewThe first time I listened to Knight Area was a couple of years ago with its debut album The Sun Also Rises, and honestly they didn't impress me too much. Perhaps it was the classic neo progressive rock proposal that was too similar to bands like No Name with influences from Marillion. So they didn't catch me in that moment.
But with the band's 2011 release, Nine Paths, my perception about them changed a lot. With several line-up changes and a more heavy, focused approach, Knight Area had become an awesome band.
In 2012 guitarist Mark Bogert and bassist Peter Vink joined and they helped their team mates to redefine the sound of Knight Area. The 2012 EP, Between Two Steps, was the proof of it. I feel influences from important neo prog bands such Jadis, Marillion, early IQ, Enchant and Tempus Fugit amalgamated with more powerful riffs and arrangements. It is like a balance between neo prog and heavy progressive rock, or AOR.
Afraid of the Dark is a tremendous opening theme. Heavy and powerful, this is a song that surprised me a lot. It starts too similar to Scar Symmetry's Timewave Zero but obviously after that goes into a musical direction far from melodic death metal. Heavy riffs and keyboard arrangements have the major role, combined with huge drumming, and influences from Enchant's recent work. Wonderful!
The Lost World takes us to a more classic and symphonic area of progressive rock, in which the guitar marks the beautiful melody at the beginning. This is a kind of prog ballad I've heard previously from bands like Brazil's Tempus Fugit, a lovely one.
Bubble is more of an AOR song, with a very simple structure but with some very nice work done in the choruses that reminds me 80s Yes. This Day is a classic ballad in a Marillion mood; not a remarkable song. Crimson Skies is one of my favourite songs from this album, a very AOR one, which has a huge influence from Asia but with the band's own musical style and with an interesting structure. There is a very nice job done by Bogert in the guitars.
Avenue of Broken Dreams continues with this classic rock-influenced arrangement. It is a very easy-listening song, combined with very good keyboard part that leads us to a fade out. Living in Confusion appears to be more like a Styx song but refreshed and with a very nice guitar solo. Stepping Out is basically a guitar song in which Arjen Anthony Lucassen plays the guitar as a guest, contributing a very nice solo sounding like Joe Satriani. With Running Away we are still in this kind of AOR section of the album, with more very nice riffs combined with piano arrangements in the background. Songs from the Past is the closing track, and is a piano ballad beautifully sang by Smit with a guitar solo closing the song and the album. A very nice one.
Hyperdrive is the result of a mixture between classic rock, neo prog and AOR, but for me Knight Area has gone too far from their neo progressive roots. There are less melodic elements than earlier albums and the risk they are taking in exploring more commercial musical influences, may not be so good for them. But at last our kindly readers will have the last word. If you like AOR then this is an opportunity to listen to Knight Area with another musical approach.
Moon Safari - Live In Mexico
CD1: Too Young To Say Goodbye (7:37), Heartland (6:13), Barfly (5:05), Mega Moon (8:43), A Kid Called Panic (15:55) CD2: Crossed The Rubicon (10:45), Lover's End Pt.III: Skellefteå Serenade (24:54)
Mark Hughes' ReviewComing just two years after Moon Safari's first double live album, The Gettysburg Address, Sweden's prog harmonists deliver two more hours of top-class musical entertainment, this time recorded at Mexico's Baja Prog festival.
Despite the fact that the band has only released one new album and a single-track EP since the previous live recording, this new release only duplicates two tracks. Both are from the Lover's End album, Heartland and A Kid Called Panic, meaning a cool 80 minutes of un-replicated live material. This is great value for fans who have not had the opportunity to witness this remarkable band in the live environment.
And Moon Safari is truly a remarkable band. As well as having plenty of prog credentials, they write bittersweet songs that are laden with melody and harmonies that should give them great crossover appeal. It appears that drummer Tobias Lundgren was unavailable to make the long trek to Mexico, so Mikael Israelsson proves an able deputy, joining Petter Sandström (acoustic guitar & lead vocals), Johan Westerlund (bass & vocals), Pontus Åkesson (guitars & vocals), Sebastian Åkesson (organ, Mellotron, percussion & vocals) and Simon Åkesson (synthesisers, grand piano, organ & vocals).
The album kicks off with the end of the taped intro of Kids which, as on the parent album Himlabacken Vol.1, jumps straight into Too Young to Say Goodbye. This is great opening number that immediately showcases the brilliant vocal arrangements and delivery that the band has become infamous for.
Having seen the band on several occasions I can vouch for the fact that the spot-on harmonies are perfectly delivered live and are not the result of extensive studio repair after the event. Heartland sounds somewhat more aggressive and forceful than on previous releases, with some great guitar and keyboard harmony lines between brothers Pontus and Simon. Israelsson makes his presence felt with some powerful backbeats and the instrumental section of the song easily dismisses any speculation that band are prog lightweights.
Only two other songs are featured from Himlabacken Vol.1, the more aggressive Barfly contrasting well with the, initially at least, sweeter, more innocent, reflections of Mega Moon. The live setting does transform this latter track, with its multitude of different tempos and styles providing an ever-changing soundtrack. It is simply a sublime reflection of the art of composition.
Although it would have been great to hear live renditions of other songs from Himlabacken Vol.1, particularly Diamonds and Sugar band, there can be no complaints over the rest of the selections on offer. Both A Kid Called Panic and Crossed The Rubicon are stand-out tracks from Lover's End and heavy on the prog credentials, while the conclusion of the Lover's End trilogy, Skellefteå Serenade is essential for anyone who didn't get hold of the limited edition release of this most perfect of Moon Safari songs.
The band has written several numbers that pass the 20-minute mark and they are somewhat masters of the art of delivering extended pieces that flow seamlessly, never seeming forced or containing extraneous material. But their skill and ability reaches a peak on this number, which although perhaps not being as smooth as the studio version, is still an absolute delight to hear and a rousing end to a superlative couple of hours of live entertainment.
Moon Safari deserves to be international superstars and pave the way to more people listening to and appreciating the wonders of progressive music. They have the skill, and perhaps more importantly, the tunes to do so. It should be our responsibility to help them achieve this. Spread the word.
Alison Henderson's ReviewWith yours truly currently traversing the UK with Moon Safari on their five-date mini-tour with Lazuli, there could not have been a better time for them to issue a live album in order to showcase the strength and depth of their material in front of an audience, in this case at Baja Prog in Mexico.
The material the band performs here is drawn from their two most popular and recent albums, Lover's End and Himlabacken Volume 1 and quite frankly the content is almost faultless.
Nobody else in the current prog universe can touch them for their exquisite use of melodies and tight harmonies to tell their colourful stories of love and loss, mostly inspired by their homeland in northern Sweden.
Choir-like harmonies start the proceedings as they launch straight into the ravishing Too Young To Say Goodbye which sets out their stall – lots of harmonising and a killer melodic hook line. But it is Heartland which is the constant earworm with the terrific vocal interplay, the hookiest of choruses and some wonderful keyboards.
Barfly has a heavier vibe with shades of ELO while Mega Moon is a prime example of where the band scores on originality and charm, some of the vocal harmonies are almost operatic in their style and delivery.
Their classic A Kid Called Panic shows their strengths in delivering often complex arrangements to tell their story of growing up in a neighbourhood where nobody understands you. Swedish growing pains never sounded sweeter.
Crossed the Rubicon is simply breathtaking, with those gorgeous voices swooping and soaring over a delicious melody. What is more, they make it all appear so effortless.
They leave the best to the end with Lover's End Pt 3, Skellefteå Serenade, a very long and sweeping track in several movements with lilting keyboard motifs, beautifully modulated piano and some crunchy guitar, really giving it width and breadth. It is an epic piece, given fresh, vibrant energy when performed before an audience.
Live album production has come a long, long way since the halcyon days of the seventies, with the often tinniness of Yessongs coming to mind. Mixing and mastering is left to the great Jonas Reingold. The only thing letting down this album is the relatively muted reaction from the audience. Petter Sandström really works his socks off getting a reaction between songs. Perhaps a few more microphones intermingled among the festival-goers would have really ratcheted-up the excitement of the performance and provided that extra connection between the two parties.
Long may Moon Safari continue to shine brightly as being one of the most uplifting and accessible bands in prog. This album will further this reputation no end. Roll on Himlabacken Pt 2.
Overdrive - Overdrive
The Cave (5:22), Midnight Sunlight (7:09), Love Tricks (4:49), Overdrive (5:14), Traitor Troop (5:57), Circe (6:27), 41 Miles (6:47)
Midnight Sunlight features some aggressive riffing by Follman and a wailing vocal from Hay. The track is over seven minutes in length but it never loses direction or energy. Overdrive is a tight band that never wastes a note. Love Tricks adopts a slightly funkier stance than its predecessors. Hay's voice twists and turns sinuously with the music and the chorus lends a pop feel to the overall sound.
Overdrive, the album's title track, kicks things back into an aggressive, hard rock territory. The band plays hard but they consistently produce songs with real hooks. Hay kicks them up to another level. She's special.
Traitor Troop begins with a slightly middle-eastern feel but it quickly evolves into another scorching rocker. The vocals and harmonies are pleasing and the song's near six-minute length allows plenty of room for Follman and Porres to step out a bit and show their wares. Circe features a fruity guitar intro and yet another strong vocal. The arrangement is fairly complex but the band never descends into bombast or overkill. The album is self-produced but the sound is clean, powerful and uncluttered.
41 Miles closes out the album on a slightly more restrained note. The arrangement is slightly more progressive with Hay singing prettily over some tasteful guitar. It is a change of pace ballad and the band executes it well.
In summation, Overdrive is a "little band" that does a lot of things right. The songwriting is fairly strong, the arrangements are tight and the musicians can definitely pack a punch. Overdrive is hard rock with a bit of a commercial feel to it. When you add Fernanda Hay to the mix, a very good hard rock CD can become something special.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Kalle Vilpuu - Silver Lining
Anomalies (6:27), Unforgiven (3:47), Interno (3:43), Industrial N° 4 (4:17), In the Back of my Head (5:23), The Aliens (Have Landed) (3:34), Trappings (5:44), The Touch of Angel (4:41), Rosie (2:34), Forgiven (3:06), Silver Lining (4:12)
I must say, when I heard the words "guitar", "instrumental" and "prog", I was expecting this album to be yet another display of overblown technical proficiency in the style of John Petrucci. Thankfully that is far from the truth.
Silver Lining is a very interesting experience that borrows from many different styles. The compositions feel fresh, especially since it doesn't focus all of its attention on the guitar melodies, but rather on the sound as a whole. In that respect, it's a very cohesive album.
The album starts with an intro that could very well be from a space rock album, but that is also misleading. Soon we are treated to double bass drumming that works particularly well under Vilppu's guitar experimentation. From the get-go, this sounds like an album that is not shy about trying different approaches.
The third track, Interno is a heartbreaking piece that opens with strings and follows up with a lyric-less female vocal melody. Both segments, with all the arrangements around them, create a mellow mood that is broken around the mid-section by a guitar solo that sounds full of hope. The track is under four minutes, and it expresses a lot more emotion than many artists portray in longer compositions.
Silver Lining is full of little moments. The songs are short and to the point, but none of them seem out of place and they are all riddled with different flavors. The rhythm section is, for the most part, on the heavier side. Nonetheless, I would not categorise this album as "heavy", even though it has some edgier tracks such as the aforementioned intro track Anomalies and The Aliens (Have Landed).
But there's also some softer moments, such as the relaxing The Touch of Angel, with its almost soundtrack-like quality, whilst Rosie plays around with delay and other effects. Both tracks work wonders, as a calmer spot on the record.
There are a lot of digitally-generated sounds, and the combination of rock and spacier elements give this offering a really unique feel. Silver Lining is a wonderfully-crafted piece because it breaks the mold of what a prog guitar album "should" sound like. While it might not be for everyone, those seeking a band that does not suffer from "sounds like" syndrome (a condition I've just made up), might find some respite here.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10