Album Reviews

Issue 2014-072

Arcade Messiah - Arcade Messiah - Duo Review

Arcade Messiah - Arcade Messiah
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Stereohead
Catalogue #: AMCD01
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 42:25
Info: Arcade Messiah
Samples: Arcade Messiah at Bandcamp
Track List:
Sun Exile (5:35), Your Best Line Of Defence Is Obscurity (6:48), Traumascope (5:23), Aftermath (2:52), Everybody Eating Everyone Else (7:58), The Most Popular Form Of Escape (4:56), Roman Resolution (8:50)
Mark Hughes' Review
It has been a busy 18 months or so for John Bassett who not only released KingBathmat's seventh album, Overcoming The Monster, but also his first solo album, Unearth. Both gained a prestigious DPRP recommendation which is not only testament to Bassett's consistency but doubly-impressive given the disparate nature of the music on the albums.

Whereas Overcoming The Monster continued that group's fine heritage of contemporary prog rock, Unearth was a more laid-back, acoustic release displaying another facet of Bassett's compositional skills. The critical acclaim that greeted the solo release has obviously encouraged Bassett to explore other musical areas that interest him, which brings us onto his latest release; his first under the name Arcade Messiah.

Despite the new name, the album is another solo effort, with Bassett doing everything on the album, including the artwork. However, it is the polar opposite of Unearth being an album of hard-driving, guitar-based instrumentals that flirts between the three rocks named progressive, post and heavy. Undoubtedly this is the reason for the new name. If this album had been released as a new John Bassett solo album, anyone expecting a similar acoustic outing to Unearth would have come in for a bit of a shock!

Arcade Messiah offers-up seven instrumentals. They range from the three-minute Aftermath, a cinematic piece that is not only the shortest track but also the most sedate and almost graceful but with a very ominous undertone, to the nine-minute finale Roman Resolution which takes on a more post rock air, progressing from a gentle introduction, to a barnstorming ending.

Elsewhere we have opener Sun Exile with a degree of riffage that would do many metal bands proud; The Most Popular Form Of Escape which puts Bassett's pedal board to good use; the more straightforward Traumascope that provides layers of guitars' the marvelously titled Your Best Line Of Defence Is Obscurity which might start off somewhat slow but gradually builds, and the alliterative Everybody Eating Everyone Else which is every bit as good (and wholesome?) as the title.

This album is pretty much in-your-face guitar rock. It is the heaviest thing that Bassett has ever released, and totally different from anything else he has put his name to. Although, as with any album of this type, there could be the risk of everything sounding too similar, Bassett has managed to avoid repeating himself by applying various compositional tricks he employs in his other musical outlets, to provide variety and individuality to each piece.

Worthy of mention are the drum parts which are forceful, driving and very impressive given they have been created without the use of a drummer or drum kit! Although the only instruments are guitars and bass, it would take quite a large assembly of musicians to perform this music live, and they would have to be superbly-rehearsed to recreate the interwoven guitar lines which are usually playing at different tempos. Unfortunately, I can't really see it happening, unless a version of King Crimson fancied giving it a go. They'd probably succeed.

Bassett has actually nailed this one and come up with an exciting and interesting instrumental album that should please the prog-metallists without alienating fans of his other releases. If the best line of defence is obscurity, then the best line of attack is diversity, and Bassett is rapidly becoming an all-conquering general.
André de Boer's Review
The real John Bassett and KingBathmat fan must have been waiting anxiously (or at least curiously) for this album, after he announced his new solo project Arcade Messiah. Be sure, I got extremely curious after he told me: "Strangely enough, I am recording right now. I have been locking myself away like a hermit working on this instrumental album, trying to discover some kind of new sound or something".

What sound? What style? What new? John Bassett is always renewing in the first place. How more new, than new, can one get? So, is it metal? Is it alien or what? Billions of question marks are to be answered by the release of this debut Arcade Messiah album.

At a first glance this is an album with guitar, bass and drums. So, that could imply that is will be boring.

Boring? No way! This is John Bassett we are talking about here, so this is a renewing - and primal at the same time - production that binds you from the very first note to the very last second. It will blow away your everyday troubles and, after three breathtaking quarters of an hour, force you to start all over again.

Arcade Messiah starts nicely up-beat with Sun Exile that has a KingBathmat ring to it somewhere in the middle, only before the riffing is replaced by bass for a short period of time. This opening track displays a great mix of firm and artistic looping and riffs, ending in a fountain of true guitaristic joy!

The second track, Your Best Line Of Defence Is Obscurity, sounds like a civilised TFATD song. Bold and strong; the strings of the guitar(s) used are so lucky. As will be your cochleae, when the sound of these strings reaches your inner ear. No escaping at this point, the addiction takes you now.

Traumascope might be the winner of this album, with ample competition though. Great drums brilliantly accompany the guitars and a herd of horses stampeding along the line and a lovely switch in scope halfway.

The more laid back Aftermath separates this album. Do I hear some synth effects? I guess it is Bassettian guitar fiddling. The beautiful, six-panel digipack CD box doesn't even reveal a slice of information about these mysterious things.

The fifth track, Everybody Eating Everyone Else comes up with a massive wall of great looping guitar with a looping melody, while The Most Popular Form Of Escape differs from the other songs with a bit of wha-wha effect on a lower heartbeat.

Maybe the most Popular Form of Escape is the most accessible song on this album and a real listening gem and a perfectly chosen song title. We end up,filled with thrills, with a Roman resolution. I don't know if this song reflects thoughts about the International Criminal Court but this longest track compiles all the beauty of its predecessors into a grand final track that brings your heartbeat rate back to reasonable levels. Thus is just avoids an international indictment on health grounds, due to promoting highly-arousing, epic music with possible hypertension issues on the citizens of this globe.

This album is another masterpiece from this über-talented mastermind. How can someone keep surprising us that many times? Highly recommended.
Mark Hughes: 8 out of 10
André de Boer: 9 out of 10

Escape The Cult - All You Need To

Escape The Cult - All You Need To
Country of Origin: US
Format: Download
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 36:03
Info: Escape The Cult
Samples: Escape The Cult at Bandcamp
Track List:
Blackfired (3:54), Clandestine (4:38), I'm Absolute (4:56), Feel The Flight (6:24), Tired Of The Past (4:41), This Time Will Come (4:58), Where No Grown Up Grapes (6:32)
Escape The Cult is a combination of musicians from very different bands. Tim Alexander (drummer, ex-Primus), Mike Wead (guitarist, King Diamond and ex-Mercyful Fate), Peter Shallmin (bassist, Kamlath) and Matthieu Romarin (singer, Uneven Structure).

Primus and King Diamond could or should ring some bells but who would have thought to create a combination of these two music styles? The other two musicians are from two progressive metal bands though, sounding completely different. Kamlath is a dark gothic progressive metal band from Russia and Uneven Structure is a progressive extreme metal band from France.

With the members spread out around the globe like that it probably means the recordings were send via email from separate studios. I am not sure about this fact but my idea comes from the fact that the sound is very incoherent. In other words, it does not sound like it was recorded by people who were present in the same room.

The start of Blackfired speaks for itself. The drums by Tim Alexander sound very recognizable. I can hear the freaky Primus influences. The beautiful melodic metal guitar playing which I really love in King Diamond, I could not hear at all. Mike Wead made me look more than twice, before I could believe he is mentioned as the guitar player from King Diamond. Because the drummer is from Primus, Peter Shallman must have thought he should play the bass a bit more like Les Claypool, which is Mission Impossible. At the first spot were the bass is the front instrument, it is a complete miss. A positive, is the voice of Matthieu Romarin, whon offers great vocals, with no French accent.

Seeing two of my favourite band names must have clouded my view about this album. That is a trap I have fallen into many times with supergroups and sometimes it is better to approach such albums with a clean slate. I did try to empty my head and listen to this album again with a fresh and clear mind, but I'm afraid it did not work. At times I can hear the quality of the musicians but it does not sound as a coherent band. During some songs I even questioned the fact that they were playing the same song. Maybe they mixed the wrong recording tracks?

I believe Escape The Cult is a failed project. I applaud the effort and I hope that these albums do not stop people from trying to create something out-of-the-ordinary, because this kinds of project sometimes brings beautiful stuff. Sadly the album All You Need To is not one of those.
Conclusion: 4.5 out of 10

Mystery - At the Dawn of a New Millennium (remastered) / Unveil the Mystery

Mystery - At the Dawn of a New Millennium (remastered)
Country of Origin: Canada
Format: CD
Record Label: Unicorn
Catalogue #: UNCR5085
Year of Release: 2000 / 2013
Time: 71:33
Info: Mystery
Track List:
Destiny? (4:58), Theatre of the Mind (6:07), Before the Dawn (6:33), In My Dreams (5:28), Black Roses (8:07), The inner Journey Part 11 (4:36), Cinderella (7), The Mourning Man (4:52), Submerged (8:02), Shadow of the Lake (15:14).
Mystery - Unveil the Mystery
Country of Origin: Canada
Format: CD
Record Label: Unicorn
Catalogue #: UNCR 5095
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 66:28
Info: Mystery
Samples: Unicorn Records website
Track List:
As I Am (5:35), Wolf (5:37), Dear Someone (6:21), Beneath the veil of Winter's Face (5:47), Pride (11:27), The Sailor and the Mermaid (5:28), One among the Living (6:27), Time Goes By (6:05), Travel to the Night (8:39), Sailing on a Wing (4:55).
Mystery is one of Canada's finest prog bands. Under the guiding hand of Michel St-Pere they have been crafting fine music since their first EP in 1992, right through to their last album The World is a Game.

These two compilations each cover a different period of the band's career and show their versatility and some fine songs that you may not have been aware of.

The first disc, At the Dawn of a New Millennium, was originally released as a compilation in 2000 (this is remastered version). It recovers the band's earliest years and boasts 10 tracks drawn from three releases; Mystery EP, Theatre of the Mind and Destiny. The tracks are not sequenced chronologically, so you are time traveling across the years whilst listening. That actually works just fine, as the vocals are all by Gary Savilo, so there is continuity to the music.

One thing that comes over well, is just how good this music is. There isn't a duff track and the stand=outs for me are In My Dreams, which is a power ballad to-die-for and the superb Black Roses.

Gary Savilo sounds not unlike Journey's Steve Perry at times. This is grand stuff, with beautiful melodies and some splendid guitar from Michel St-Pere throughout. It all sounds fantastic sonically, as there is a rich balance to these pieces.

Shadow of the Lake is the epic track here, all 15-plus minutes of it. It is a track that opens with a staccato riff, before an emotive guitar melody leads into the gentle vocals. It is all underpinned by guitar arpeggios. What works well, is that there is a lot of open space in this track, with the rhythm section keeping time unobtrusively, leaving space for the vocals to be pre-eminent. At the four-minute mark the sound toughens up for a verse and chorus, after which the opening riff is repeated and improvised over by the keyboards. This makes a fine section before the re-entry of the vocals. It's a moody piece with a sense of darkness and, yes, even mystery. It's a magnificent track and sums up neatly how majestic and worthwhile this band and this compilation really are

Disc two, Unveil the Mystery, is a new compilation and takes a look at the band's later period, from 2007 to 2012. Again it takes music from three different albums; Beneath the Veil of Winter's Face, One Among the Living, and The World is a Game.

The big difference here is that the vocals are now handled by David Benoit (latterly of Yes' Fly From Here album) and he adds a different vocal style to the songs. What hasn't changed though, is the sheer quality of the music. Benoit's voice is magnificent throughout, swooping and soaring as needed. You can see why Yes chose him to cover for an ailing Jon Anderson.

Again the songs are not in album-by-album order, but all mixed in together, and again this seems to work just fine. What is noticeable here though is the step-up in quality of the material from their most recent album (The World is a Game), a fine example being Pride; all 11 minutes of it.

It's a beautifully written and performed piece, very delicate in parts and very emotive too, but that is what Mystery are so good at; creating stirring music with great lyrics that captivates the listener. On top of which lies the tasteful guitar playing of Michel St-Pere who always plays with taste and style. Only using speed when warranted, it's all about the song, not the guitar solo.

For me the stand-out tracks are Dear Someone, Pride, One Among The Living and Time Goes By, but in reality every track is a good listen.

Once again this is a great collection of music from Mystery with lots of introspective, reflective pieces mixed with some louder ones. These two albums are an impressive introduction to a fine band which really does warrant your consideration.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Nodo Gordiano - Nous

Nodo Gordiano - Nous
Country of Origin: Italy
Format: CD
Record Label: AMS
Catalogue #: AMS 236cd
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 49:34
Info: Nodo Gordiano
Samples: Nodo Giordano website
Track List:
Porto Novo (6:03), Aion (7:24), Apologia del nolano (5:45) Nous (9:50), Officina (5:29), Arturiana (8:50), Stella Maris (6:11)
Nodo Gordiano was formed in Italy in 1994 as a band who specialised in King Crimson and Genesis cover songs. After 20 years, three albums and several line-up changes, the band re-emerged in 2014 with a provocative new CD entitled Nous.

On Nous, Nodo Gordiano features a line-up consisting of Andrea DeLuca (bass, vocals, synthesizer, electric and acoustic guitars), Fabrizio Santoro (guitars, synthesizers, bass and effects) and Carlo Fattorino (drums, Nord drums, glockenspiel, and vibraphone).

The vocals are in Italian and they are kept to a minimum. Nous is a sparse yet innovative mixture of early krautrock, King Crimson-style progressive rock and abstract jazz. The various tracks twist and turn, brimming with ideas. The music can be haunting, trance-like and even down-right strange.

Porto Novo kicks off the album with strumming acoustic guitar and a bit of droning synthesiser. The sound is sparse at first but it gradually builds to a climax of high-powered, psychedelic guitar. Aion reminds me a bit of very early Pink Floyd. A synthesiser drone leads into some rambling, spacey guitar licks. The tempo picks up and the guitar lurches into Robert Fripp territory. The track veers between King Crimson and a sort of hypnotic, interstellar space rock. The guitar playing is wildly inventive, with a kaleidoscope of weird and wonderful sounds carrying the band to distant places that have not been visited for several decades.

Apologia del nolano opens with rapid-fire percussion and a stubbornly-insistent guitar figure. The guitar becomes heavier and fuzzier, driving things along until met by acoustic guitar, vibes, synth and more percussion. Novo Gordiano's music is a shifting pattern of sounds, time signatures, and instruments. It is music that needs your attention to be truly appreciated.

Nous is the album's title track and at 9:50, it gives the band plenty of room to stretch out. It opens with a mournful synthesiser and some tasteful cymbal work. Gradually the music develops a Pink Floyd sort of feel, complete with a recurring guitar riff that brought to mind Interstellar Overdrive.

Officina also has a bit of a Floydian feel to it. Orchestral synthesiser and guitar guide this spacey piece, which benefits from some strong bass work.

Arturiana opens with some melodic synth playing, but some Fripp-style guitar carries it off in a heavier direction. The instrumental interplay is particularly nice on Arturiana. This is an adventurous band whose music is bursting with atmosphere and innovation. Each instrument and every note that is played fits perfectly into the band's sound. Stella Maris closes out the album with the sound of waves lapping up against an echo-y piano figure. A distant guitar steps to the fore, creating a swirling soup with the musicians playing off a repetitive riff. A bit of wordless vocal-play adds to the track's oddly seductive sound.

Nodo Gordiano's music requires serious listening. It is replete with subtleties, which may be missed if your ears are not ready for them. Their music is not classic prog, but it is atmospheric, experimental, and impeccably performed. The vocals, for the most part, add little to the overall sound. To me, this is pretty much an instrumental album.

In conclusion, this is not an easy listen, but it rewards the listener who decides to stick with it. Nodo Gordiano's Nous is an aural voyage of discovery through time and space. May the next voyage embark soon.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Not Otherwise Specified - Projective Instruments

Not Otherwise Specified - Projective Instruments
Country of Origin: USA
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: WA002
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 63:00
Info: Not Otherwise Specified
Samples: Not Otherwise Specified at Bandcamp
Track List:
Harvest Soul (9:46), Hold On (4:04), Falling (11:20), Sorbet (2:38), Racing Shadows (23:32), Caveat (3:56), Signal To Noise (8:10)
Here we have another amazing, multi-instrumentalist "bedroom musician" who has nearly single-handedly put together a progressive album that certainly rocks. A cocktail of hard rock and heavy metal that certainly strains the old speaker cones!

The man in question is American Craig Kerley who has followed up his 2011 Judgement album with a new effort entitled Projective Instruments. Inspired by the likes of Dream Theater, Genesis/Hackett and Spock's Beard, Not Otherwise Specified delivers a style of progressive rock that is hard-hitting with a modern, aggressive edge.

If you are into bands like Dream Theater, then this album is for you. Overall the music has a hard, energetic edge with blistering guitar and keyboard solos, thoughtful and delicate passages and melodic vocals. The opening track, Harvest Soul, sets the scene with heavy guitar riffs, thumping drums and driving keyboards. When Craig's voice enters, you would not be wrong in comparing it to Dream Theater's James LaBrie, as he can certainly belt out the lyrics with gusto and confidence. This is a very strong song that shows Craig's capability as a musician.

Another strong track is Falling, with a great, driving bass at the start, followed by heavy guitar riffs over a Hammond organ sound. The vocal delivery can be aggressive in places, adding to the song's overall punch. Things do slow down in places, with great melodic guitar solos that emerge beautifully from all the previous hurly-burly, before a blistering synth solo jumps out at you. Great stuff.

A short and quiet Hackett (both Steve and John)-style piece, Sorbet, gives the listener a chance to catch their breath. There is some lovely, acoustic, arpeggio guitar-playing, accompanied by a beautiful flute sound and ethereal strings. I would have loved more of this on the album.

The longest track, Racing Shadows, is the tour de force on this album. This 24-minute song packs an assorted bag of moods, styles and colours. From the piano and vocal beginning, it moves to a more up-beat tempo with riffs, keyboard and guitar arpeggios that give way to some melodic guitar solos. Further on, we get some great keyboard work, twin guitar solos, synth solos and strong vocals that turn this track into one epic piece. It concludes with a brilliant Spock's Beard anthemic ending.

All the influences cited at the start of this review can be heard in this track and it is definitely worth checking out. Some of the guitar solos are excellent and ten out of ten for effort on such a mammoth scale.

The last two tracks are a bit bewildering. Caveat, to me anyway, isn't really suited to the album, given what has come before. The song is a very clever and enjoyable a-cappella that clearly demonstrates Craig Kerley's talents as a songsmith but it just seems out of place on this album. If there had been hints of this style in the previous songs then it might have worked better for me. I guess that's why it's called Caveat?

The last track is a cover version of Peter Gabriel's Signal to Noise which also seems a strange decision to include on an album that is full of original material. I'm a big fan of Peter Gabriel, and although Craig sticks close to the song structure, his arrangement doesn't work for me and only serves to highlight that Gabriel's version is an excellent song. Maybe Craig should have included this as bonus material along with Caveat or simply left both off.

This is a very good album indeed and definitely worth checking out. I take my hat off to Craig and his efforts to create this music. The production sheen is not quite as good as some other one-man-band efforts I've listened too, but it's not bad and I score this a very respectable 7.5.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

Solaris - Martian Chronicles (Marsbéli Krónikák) II

Solaris - Martian Chronicles (Marsbéli Krónikák) II
Country of Origin: Hungary
Format: CD
Record Label: Periferic
Catalogue #: SPH2014/001
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 45:26
Info: Solaris
Track List:
Martian Chronicles II Suite (22:26), 1st Movement (6:12),2-6th Movement (12:44), 7th Movement (3:30), Voices from the Past 1st Movement ( 2:05) Voices from the Past 2nd movement (5:33), The World Without Us (4:03), The Pride of Human insects (3:04), Impossible, 'We are Impossibility in an impossible Universe' Ray Bradbury (4:12), Alien Song (4:03)
Solaris' return to the red planet, 30 years after their debut Martian Chronicles, is heralded by the bleak, haunting drone of a vintage synthesiser. The synthesiser rumblings are then incorporated into a pulsating low-end beat that is reminiscent of One Of These Days from Pink Floyd's Meddle album.

Martian Chronicles II has begun, and the journey that the band has undertaken has many delightful features to enjoy and ruminate upon. The band's decision to revisit and expand upon their critically-acclaimed and successful debut does not disappoint. It has much to offer for all aficionados of symphonic progressive rock.

Although the music of Solaris might not be considered to be overly complex, there is no doubt that it has an instantly-recognisable and clearly-defined style. Within this style, all of the elements are tightly arranged and composed.

As one might expect, the creative palette for the Martian musical environment is abundantly littered with buoyant rhythms, which are drenched with vibrant flute prog rock bursts and spurts. Solaris' Martian landscape is also drenched in warm analogue synthesisers and highly charged guitar passages. In addition to the usual Solaris array of instruments, are explosive saxophone blasts, excellent wordless female vocals and expressive violin parts. In this respect, the vocals incorporate some of the world music feel that was present on Robert Erdesz' solo album, The Meeting Point. The violin excursions add a taste of the ethnicity that was present in Attila Kollar's Musical Witchcraft albums.

Martian Chronicles 11 is divided into eight conceptually-linked compositions. The longest piece on the album is the appropriately named Martian Chronicles 11 suite. The suite consists of six parts spread across three tracks. The First Movement is based loosely around the main melody found in the original Martian Chronicles.

It is an outstanding development and interpretation of the original theme and is one of the highlights of the album. In this piece, flute, vocals and saxophone combine to produce music that is both atmospheric and engaging.

In the second to sixth movements, the music builds, ebbs and flows in a natural and organic manner. It is undoubtedly the most appealing piece on offer. The track combines free-flowing, raspy flute parts, chamber music interludes and bombastic-yet-lyrical guitar breaks. The Martian Chronicles musical theme often reappears cloaked and disguised. Cleverly revealed in its different guises, this signature theme is thoroughly enchanting. This track includes imaginative, unearthly vocals that are particularly effective in creating a hypnotic and ethereal atmosphere. The piece also contains some synthesised bell sounds, which on reflection, may have sounded better if the band had utilised real ones. There are many changes of tempo within the lengthy piece. It also includes some delightful contrasts between light and shade. These are occasionally provided by the whistle playing of Kollar Attila. It is a technique that Solaris has used to good effect before; most notably in their 1990 album.

The suite concludes with the somewhat disappointing Seventh Movement. After a beautiful and sublime opening sequence, Solaris largely abandon their more usual style and instead opt for a vocal ambience that has more in common with Floyd's Great Gig In The Sky than anything else. In the context of the suite, it works very well, but as an original composition, its influences are perhaps a little too obvious for it to be fully appreciated and celebrated.

Voices From The Past is divided into two movements. In the First Movement the warm synthesiser sounds of Robert Erdesz dominate. The deep resonance created reminds me of Alan Gowan's work with Hugh Hopper in their atmospheric Two Rainbows Daily album. The tempo changes in the rhythmic Second movement which features some fantastic keyboard and flute interplay. In this excellent track, the Martian Chronicles signature theme once more reappears. The band really gels. They produce music that is on a par with anything from their discography. Although much shorter in length, this piece's overall feel and flow, its subtlety and power recall aspects of their outstanding Los Angeles 2026 composition from their 1990 album. The World Without Us is a track which has much in common with Attilar's Musical Witchcraft projects. It has a gorgeous melody that weaves in and around a military-style march. The combination of flute and guitar works particularly well and conspires to build a propulsive energy and excitement to the piece.

The Pride of Human Insects is equally enjoyable. It has a world music ambience in which the vocals and violin create rich, uplifting, emotive tones. This track would have sat comfortably within Erdesz's The Meeting Point. Impossible is a showcase for all of the positive attributes that the band has to offer. It could have been written at any time in the band's long history. Impossible contains some classic Solaris-style melodies and simply riffs along with fluty abandon. The repetitive organ parts are particularly effective in the tune's more intense moments.

The album concludes with Alien Song which unfortunately is the least convincing of the compositions on offer. It is driven by a funky rhythm, various synthesised vocal effects and contains some degree of musical humour. Nevertheless, the Alien Song rarely satisfies in the context of an otherwise outstanding and often brilliant release.

The album is attractively packaged. The production is excellent and has a pristine live feel that fully enhances the qualities of the music. It is fascinating that a group of musicians who formed the nucleus of the successful 80s Hungarian pop band Napoleon Boulevard should evolve into arguably Hungary's most successful prog band.

Many years later, they are still delivering their own unique brand of symphonic flute progressive rock. More announcements regarding their future releases are expected in April 2015 and I am eagerly anticipating what is in store for this band. Until then, I will content myself with imaginary journeys to the red planet, head-phoned and clutching both Martian Chronicles.

Martian Chronicles 11 is a sequel that has exceeded all expectations and deserves its place on the shelf alongside its illustrious predecessor. I hope others will also encounter this album that will almost certainly be a part of my top ten list of releases for 2014.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

Trace - Trace

Trace - Trace
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Format: CD
Record Label: Pseudonym
Catalogue #: CDP-1134
Year of Release: 1974/2014
Time: CD1: 76:54
CD2: 75:29
Info: n/a
Track List:
CD 1: Gaillarde-Part One (6:23), Gare Le Corbeau (2:05), Gaillarde-Part Two (4:36), The Death Of Ace (5:16), The Escape Of The Piper (3:11), Once (4:13), Progression (12:04), A memory-Part One (3:48), The Lost Past (3:27), A Memory-Part Two (1:43), Final Trace (3:50), Bonus Tracks: Progress (single version, 4:04), Tabu (4:14), Bach-Atel (single version 3:30), Another World (demo, 5:14), Gnome Dance (demo, 5:07), Final Trace (demo, 3:52).
CD 2: Fairy Tale – Overture (4:48), A Swedish Largo (19:46), Gnome Dance (4:29), Nocturne (6:01), Bach-Atel (4:11), Another World (5:10), Escape Of The Piper – Extended Version (5:21), Once - jam (6:00), A Memory (demo, 8:47), A Swedish largo (demo, 5:49), Once (demo, 4:50).
When Ekseption found themselves in an identity crisis around 1973, the band didn't want to pursue their career musically by hanging on to adapting classical pieces as Rick van der Linden wanted to. Although Rick van der Linden eventually won the lawsuit as to who would be entitled to keep the name Ekseption, he found himself fired by the rest of the band and decided to pursue a different goal: his own band Ace.

He asked highly regarded session musician Jaap van Eik (Cuby + The Blizzards) to join and he also persuaded Pierre van der Linden (Focus, Brainbox) to be part of his super-group. Pierre happened to quit Focus at the same time, so when Rick's offer came, fortunately for us prog-fans he stepped in.

Rick found there was another existing band called Ace, so he changed the name to Trace because he didn't want to find himself troubled by more lawsuits. Many rehearsals and recording sessions followed, mostly in Rick's home studio in Den Dolder (NL) and the trio finalised their debut album at the Soundpush Studio in Blaricum (NL) with producer Richard de Bois.

Rick stated that Ekseption was like going to college and now, after graduation, it was time to continue the study. Trace was the next step. Some 40 years after the release of the works by Trace, all three albums have been remastered (24 bit) and are presented here with extensive sleeve notes, a superb sound quality and a lot of interesting and previously unreleased material, doing justice of the accomplishments of Pierre van der linden, Jaap van Eik and foremost the talents of the late Rick van der Linden

Trace opens with Gaillarde, in the vein of Ekseption, based on themes from Bach's Italian Concerto and a Polish traditional. But it immediately it becomes clear that Trace is not solely playing adaptations from classical pieces. While Rick van der Linden was eager to experiment with newly-designed keyboards (among others a synthesiser and mellotron), alongside a grand piano and organ, he mixed the classical influences with his own compositions.

The element of jazz is much stronger than in Ekseption and one can also appreciate that jamming and experimenting were the fundamentals of many parts on this first album. Between the two parts of Gaillarde, there is a two-minute piece by Jaap van Eik; basically a bass solo accompanied by the subtle drumming of legendary drummer Pierre van der Linden.

Peer Gynt by Grieg was the source of inspiration for this beautiful track, The Death Of Ace, full of lush keyboards and an important role for the mellotron. Halfway through the track, there's an interlude in which the style changes from melancholic, bombastic and classically-oriented, to a bit more up-tempo and rocking, before returning to Grieg's melodies again.

The Escape of The Piper is a cheerful piece by Rick van der Linden combining progressive rock with some classical as well as jazz influences. With Once there's a very jazzy interlude with an important role for van Eik's bass guitar. The lead instrument in this interlude is the organ.

The piano and a synth playing a bass part opens the epic Progression but when Jaap and Pierre join in, its Rick's organ taking the lead. Again a lot of jazz influences and my impression is that a large part of this composition was composed while jamming. Between the jazzy soloing, there are a few beautiful other themes, undoubtedly by some of the great classical composers. Jaap van Eik demonstrates his ability to play alongside Rick's fast left hand, thus rendering a very powerful but classically-oriented approach. The track is divided into different parts and one of them features Rick playing the harpsichord and the ARP synth.

A Memory was based on a tune played by the guitarist from Nova, but the classical themes are probably adapted from works by Wagner and/or Brahms. The piece is divided into two parts, separated by an impressive drum solo by Pierre van der Linden (The Lost Past). Recorded in the 'big church' in Maassluis (NL), the final track (Final Trace) on the original album features Rick playing this majestic instrument. He later added synth solos, some piano and organ.

The first bonus track is the single version of Progression, followed by a song from the Ekseption days, originally penned by Dizzy Gillespie and released as a single in 1974. Bach-Atel was supposed to be the next single and this fantastic gem, based on J.S. Bach's Largo, reminds me of Ekseption. The only difference being that there's a mellotron instead of the brass section.

Then Another World, rewritten by Rick for the Wild Connection album with Jack Lancaster (1979), is another great rock tune based on some classical themes. Here's another fine example of bass and organ playing the same melody.

Gnome Dance is one of the songs recorded during the Trace sessions, but the piece ended up in a different version on Trace's last album The White Ladies. Closing off this first disc, is a demo version of Final Trace. This basic recording consists of piano, bass and drums.

CD2 opens with Fairy Tale, a bombastic, classically-oriented track in which we recognise several themes used on the original album. Rick plays foremost the majestic church organ: no bass or drums! Then an almost 20-minute version of A Swedish Largo, consisting of classical themes beautifully adapted from the works by G.F. Händel.

A very precious gem is Nocturne, based on Cantata BWV 140 by J.S. Bach. This is great symphonic music with a similar jazz-rock interlude as found in Once and a short drum solo by Pierre. Then follows a longer version of Bach-Atel, on which Rick plays organ, piano, harpsichord, synth and mellotron.

Heavily influenced by the Nice, Rick plays his keyboards (mellotron, synths and foremost organ) masterfully in the next track. Another World combines some classical themes with contemporary rock influences from the seventies. In the longer version of The Escape Of The Piper there's a gorgeous interlude, left out in the version that ended up on the album. Fortunately preserved to be presented on this re-release, the part originally left out appears to be a really nice section with a slower, classically-oriented theme followed by a jazzy piece featuring Rick's synth.

On Once – jam, the band does really sound like Emerson, Lake & Palmer, perhaps a bit more jazzy but at least as good. A similar version of A Memory, including Pierre's drum solo, is the next gem on this bonus album and a nice demonstration of bird-sounds produced by a synth. The stunning, edited version of A Swedish Largo includes van Eik's electric guitar playing in melodies, as well as rhythmic parts. This delightful bonus CD is rounded-off by a demo-version of Once, demonstrating the craftsmanship of Jaap van Eik, Pierre van der Linden and Rick van der Linden.

After some 40 years it is sheer pleasure to hear this album. Apart from the enhanced sound quality, the extra material presented on this double album is truly a great and valuable addition.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

Trace - Birds

Trace - Birds
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Format: CD
Record Label: Pseudonym
Catalogue #: CDP-1125
Year of Release: 1975/2014
Time: CD 1: 42:49
CD 2: 50:14
Info: n/a
Track List:
CD 1: Bourrée (2:27), Snuff (2:25), Janny (In The Mist) (1:13), Opus 1065 (7:45), Penny (2:42), Trixie-Dixie(0:26), Birds-suite (21:59), Birds (single version, 3:39).
CD 2: Birds (5:16), Tabu (11:47), Gaillarde (11:06), King-Bird (2:15), Gaillarde(6:26), Snuff (2:32), Gaillarde-Reprise (3:29), Birds (3:15), Peace Planet (4:02).
While Trace gained critical acclaim for their first album, sales were rather disappointing and while plans to record the second album were well on their way, Pierre van der Linden bowed out to join his previous band Focus again. A decision he regretted afterwards.

So in the middle of the preparations, Rick van der Linden and Jaap van Eik had to look for another drummer. He had to be exceptionally good because Pierre was and still is a world class drummer. Eventually a young talent Ian Mosley (currently still drumming in Marillion) was chosen. The trio recorded this album, just like their debut, in the Soundpush studio in Blaricum (NL). The lengthy suite, Birds, emphasises Rick's attempt but also ability to write a conceptual work. As with the debut-album, the sound quality has been enhanced and the quality of the live album is way better than any bootleg.

The trademark of Trace, the adaptation of classical pieces into a symphonic rock tunes, is best demonstrated in the first track Bourrée, taken from J.S. Bach's English Suite No 2 in A minor. In the middle there's a fusion-like interlude with roadie Coen Hoedeman's monkey cries.

An up-tempo track called Snuff features Rick on the organ. The music sounds more like contemporary artists such as Solution. The third track is a jazzy piano-solo by Rick, which in my opinion doesn't fit very well among all other pieces on the album.

Penny is a very nice piece of 'late nite' jazz-music by piano, bass and drums written by Beiderbecke and Challis, and the ultra-short piece of Dixieland music called Trixie-Dixie.

Opus 1065 on the contrary is another fine example of how well rock and classical music go together. Rick's adaptation of a part from the Concert for Harpsichord and Strings by J.S. Bach features the talents of Curved Air's Darryl Way on the violin, who, just like Rick, is a classically trained musician.

As stated by the band themselves, the Birds suite is a bunch of short pieces 'glued together'. The suite opens with King-Bird, a church-organ then organ, bass, drums and Jaap van Eik's electric guitar playing a melody in the vein of Focus. Between the classical themes there are several up-tempo pieces. The use of the electric guitar, flute samples and even van Eik's vocals, makes the band sound more like an 'ordinary' rock group. The urge to create music without boundaries makes this track a true statement of the band's diversity and ability to mix different styles without comparison. It also gives insight in Rick's explorations of all the newly developed keyboards.

As a bonus-track there's a single version of Birds, featuring the part in which van Eik plays guitar (as well as bass) and Trace sounds more like Solution or Focus rather than the Nice.

On CD2 there are nine previously unreleased live tracks. The first four are from a performance for Swedish Radio in 1975 with Pierre van der Linden on drums. The other five tracks were recorded in Langelsheim, Germany.

The first track is an excerpt from the Birds-suite with van Eik playing lead-guitar. There are some bluesy interludes not recorded for the definitive version of Birds. The second track is a lengthy version of Tabu, a (jazz) rock piece with a large portion of improvisation on organ and subsequently the synth by Rick van der Linden as well as a bass solo by Jaap van Eik, accompanied by Pierre van der Linden. The ability of Pierre to 'feel' the other two musicians is extraordinary.

In the next track, Gaillarde from the debut album, the superb craftsmanship of Rick van der Linden is demonstrated and, as I stated before, in my opinion his name should be listed along with the other keyboard wizards from that era: Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman.

Not all the keyboards are equally perfectly in tune, as happened a lot in the early seventies. Just as on the studio record there's a bass solo by van Eik, although a different one than recorded as The Lost Past. In King-Bird we hear the return of the first majestic theme featuring van Eik on the lead guitar. Another version of Gaillarde with Mosley on the drums, sounds markedly different from the first live version. Slightly different sound of the organ, obviously a different drummer and the interlude sounds more like Deep Purple without Ritchie Blackmore.

The music flows right into the next track, Snuff. In the more up-tempo part there's some tuning of the keyboards by Rick. Then, before the themes of Gaillarde return, there are some solos by Rick. In Birds the lead melody played by electric guitar is now firstly played by Rick on the synth, before van Eik plays this on his guitar. After a classical prelude on the organ there's an old Ekseption classic, Peace Planet, which closes off this terrific live performance.

The diversity in styles is maybe the slightly weaker point of the studio-album. The suite itself however is magnificent and the live album is an absolute must for any fan of Trace, Nice, ELP or Le Orme.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Rick van der Linden & Trace - The White Ladies

Rick van der Linden & Trace - The White Ladies
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Format: CD
Record Label: Pseudonym
Catalogue #: CDP-1126
Year of Release: 1976/2014
Time: 73:00
Info: n/a
Track List:
Legend-Part One (3:29), Interlude (0:20), Confrontation (2:37), Interlude-Part Two (0:48), Dance Of The White Ladies(1:34), Doubts(3:28), Trace-Part One (0:16), Witches'Dance (2:37), Surrender (2:12), Interlude-Part Three (0:36), Pathétique (2:26), Legend-Part Two (2:19), Interlude-Part Four (0:10), The Rescue(3:47), Trace-Part Two (0:26), Back Home (3:18), Meditation (For René) (3:58), Flashback(0:33), Conclusion (3:34). Bonus Tracks: Matthäus Passion-demo (2:02), Interlude-Part Two (0:44), Dance Of The White Ladies-demo (1:40), Doubts-demo (3:50), Witches'Dance-demo (2:53), Pathétique-demo (2:56), Legend-demo (2:42), Interlude-Part Four (0:14), Back Home-demo (2:17), Meditation (For René)-demo (4:16), Flashback-demo (0:32), Conclusion-demo (4:45), Back Home-demo 2 (2:50), Fugue-live (2:28).
The third Trace album called The White Ladies was the swansong for the band, based on a myth originating from the eastern part of The Netherlands (De Witte Wieven).

Ian Mosley and Jaap van Eik had kind of lost their interest in the band at the end of 1976, because their income depended on playing rather than composing. Rick wanted to continue his musical career focusing on his composing skills rather than being a member of a band. He released his solo-album, Rick van der Linden plays Albinoni, Bach and Händel (1976) with the help of the National Philarmonic Orchestra conducted by Job Maarse.

He decided to ask his former members of Ekseption (Cor Dekker on the bass, Dick Remelinck on saxes and flute and Peter De Leeuwe on drums and guitars) to play on the next Trace album and asked Job Maarse to arrange and produce it. He also invited the Benny Behr Strings, a studio ensemble for this occasion conducted by Maarse. Finally he secured the aid of Harry Schäfer (narration) and vocalist Hetty Smit. This collaboration resulted in an album with 19 pieces composed by Rick, partly adapted from works by Beethoven. To emphasise his role in the project and the status of Trace, the subtle change in the band name tells it all: Rick van der Linden & Trace.

This enhanced and carefully re-mastered version contains one live piece and thirteen demo-recordings as bonus tracks.

The big difference between The White Ladies and the albums Trace and Birds, is that the music here is much more classically-orientated, more symphonic, less jazzy and certainly there is hardly any room for extravaganzas and improvisations.

Legend (part one) is a very gentle tune in the vein of a slower piece by Ekseption, interrupted by Schäfers's voice. In a nutshell, he tells the tale of the White Ladies and a farmer's wife who decides to leave her child and husband to dance with the White Ladies and be free of all human sorrows.

A dark and bombastic keyboard interlude leads to the rather cheerful Confrontation, featuring Rick's harpsichord, organ and flute-samples. After another keyboard and drum interlude, accelerating in tempo, there's one of the finest tracks of the album Dance Of The White Ladies. Lush keyboards (mostly synth) and Remelinck's saxophone render a slightly jazzy touch to the music.

Without interruption follows a slower more symphonic piece called Doubts, focused on piano, flute-samples and strings. A medieval trumpet 'ensemble' is the prelude for another highlight, Witches' Dance, a track based on a composition dating back a few years. Dekker demonstrates his skills on the bass guitar, de Leeuwe on the drums and Rick does a lot of overdubs on several keyboards. The arrangement, with contributions by Remelinck, really reminds me of Ekseption.

As does Surrender. where as in Legends, the music is symphonic and majestic and the melody is played by the sax. The third interlude is equally dark and scary and leads onto Pathétique, a composition based on Beethoven's sonatas.

In Legend-Part Two, Schäfer explains how the farmer plans to rescue his wife (Rescue, an uplifting faster track with a more bluesy interlude and closed off by a classical piano piece) from the White Ladies but also how she eventually chooses to join the Ladies again for a carefree life of dance and joy.

Back Home is a tune that might as well have been on an album by Ekseption, whilst Meditation is a very melancholic piece featuring mellotron-flutes (like on Strawberry Fields) and the acoustic guitar. Flashback is a half-minute interlude, played by piano, bass and drums, whilst on Conclusion, the same theme as used in Meditation returns, but this time with the string ensemble.

Bonus tracks: As could be expected, the first piece is purely classical, featuring a whole range of keyboards without any other instruments. The Interlude is less dark or scary, since Rick uses the mellotron, sounding like the famous intro to Genesis' Watcher Of The Skies. The version of Dance Of The White Ladies is almost solely a piano solo, only mellotron/strings have been added. In Doubts is an all-keyboard demo, sounding very friendly and symphonic. The demo of Witches' Dance is the basic version, with only Rick's piano.

Pathétique, Legend and Meditation are all lovely tunes, the first of course by Beethoven. All performed with drums, bass and piano. The next Interlude, as well as Flashback are also performed by piano, bass and drums, just as both demos of Back Home which in these versions sounds really cheerful yet mellow and with a somewhat jazzy interlude in the first demo. Conclusion is a very sweet, lean version performed by organ, bass and drums. The grand finale is a live version of Fugue (J.S. Bach) played on the church organ in Arnhem (NL). Yet another convincing statement of the talents and versatility of Rick van der Linden.

With the talents of Jaap van Eik, Pierre van der Linden, Ian Mosley and Rick's former band mates in Ekseption, this trilogy of Trace albums has finally arrived in decent quality releases. The superb sound quality and a lot of interesting bonus material makes this a worthy homage to one of the greatest keyboard players from The Netherlands.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
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