Art Against Agony - Shiva Appreciation Society
Great changes have taken place within the art collective; besides a change on the bass, performed now by an entity called "The Twin", the band has also acquired a percussionist with "The Maximalist" playing the mridangam as well as the kanjira, two indian drums, as main instruments.
This has inspired the band to explore the world of Indian folk music and integrate some exotic spices to their writing. The album title offers a good indication. We get to hear not only exotic percussions, but also quite interesting explorations in Indian scales throughout the majority of this new album. Also the lead guitarist has decided to include his piano capabilities to provide even more landscape and variety.
All this paints the entire combo in a new shape, and the musical shift they have made is a huge one, moving a good step away from metal stereotypes, into a rather jazzy mood. The shred has been reduced for the sake of rather melodic leads, and the musical picture of the album is more cinematic than their previous efforts. Yet, from a band that has been sitting between two chairs genre-wise, they’ve matured into a style which is best described as "heavy jazz".
Shiva Appreciation Society invites one to join the wonderful rides of explorations through the varied musical fields, and it will not let you down for a second. It is sheer fun to hear these guys dive into a specific theme and find such wonderful routines and arcs of ups and downs, until they finish it up so perfectly, only to step onto the next one almost seamlessly. But it’s also great company when you need to focus on something and keep in good mood, despite a good couple of heavy moments.
Also the audio production has improved a lot, the few minor glitches in their last album, have been addressed and it has been taken to the next level of sonic fidelity, and there is not much more to wish for. Except maybe for a little more vividness in the heavy parts. But besides that, it’s just near perfect.
With Shiva Appreciation Society the AAA have put out a piece so great, that it puts the band’s concept in question. Because somehow it’s only human that, when you listen to music of such great craftsmanship, you begin (in one form or another) to idolise its creators. And that’s exactly what these guys are avoiding by remaining anonymous. So what happens, is that one begins to idolise their avatars. Is that any better?
Kaoll - Ten Years Barbecue
Who can resist something for nothing?
At the time of writing, all four of Kaoll’s studio albums are available for download on the band's website.
If you decide to check out their music and enjoy what you hear, then the next and perhaps obvious step might be to purchase the albums and experience them in a higher quality bitrate, or maybe even on CD. If that sounds like an expensive investment, then don’t worry, as the band have also recently released an extensive compilation to celebrate their tenth anniversary.
Kaoll’s latest and fifth album is a fantastic anthology. Ten Years Barbecue is an excellent starting point for anybody who might be unfamiliar with this Brazilian band's work. The release contains a selection of the band's most persuasive compositions. The majority of the 16 tracks selected, represent the group’s art to good effect, and are a very satisfying experience. The running order chosen for the set gives the album a unified and wholesome feel, rather than a set of disjointed tunes, which lack either direction or cohesion.
In this respect, although the collection spans many years, no discrepancies or unexpected changes of style emerge. Indeed what comes across, is that the band have a distinctive sound. This stylistic unity is the cement that binds the 16 compositions across the album as a whole.
Nevertheless, the three tracks culled from the band's last album Sob Os Olhos De Eva come across as being amongst the standout tracks of the collection. They exude a certain confidence and sophistication, that is not always apparent in a small minority of some the band's earlier pieces. In this respect, the excellent composition Sob Os Olhos De Eva is particularly impressive and sounds as fresh now as when I originally heard it as a part of that album last year.
The earliest piece on the compilation dates from the band’s 2008 self-titled debut Kaoll 04 and is a sparse solo piece featuring the expressive and expansive guitar skills of band founder Bruno Moscatiello. This interlude tune starts gently and possesses a laid-back air. It quickly develops strongly to boil and bubble into a screaming, steaming head of yowling guitar-led effects. This tongue-twisting, fist-shaking interval provides an excellent contrast to some of the more reflective tunes on offer.
The album also contains four recent live recordings. I was particularly glad to see a live rendition one of my favourite tracks, Kopernik from Sob Os Olhos De Eva included in this live selection. Kopernik is warmly decorated with a range of colourful carnival rhythms, which are often associated with Brazil. The live version does not disappoint and is every bit as engaging as the pristine studio recording.
The live section also includes a stonking version of the title track from their Odd album, the band's third released in 2014. It has a much greater rock feel than both Kaoll 04 and Auto-Hipnose. Many of the tracks give a chance for the guitarist to play fluidly, and with jagged rock abandon. Ex-Jimi Hendrix bassist Billy Cox makes an appearance on a number of the tunes. His low-end contribution to Aquiles Barbecue is particularly effective. The album's guitar-led tunes frequently and satisfyingly contain a plethora of fervent flute interjections.
Kaoll are fine exponents of South American flute prog rock. They are never afraid to use rhythms and musical colours associated with their homeland. In this respect, their music shares some similarities with the way in which fellow South American flute prog bands such as Ergo Sum, Flor De Loto and Supay also utilise some of the ethnic styles associated with Chile and Peru respectively.
The influence of Brazil is no more apparent than during the excellent Hipnosis and that heritage is also prominently exhibited during the Latino rhythms of Flutante, in which renowned Brazilian guitarist Lanny Gordin contributes some tasteful embellishments and deft touches.
The album appears to be currently only available in digital format. The digital version used for this review includes an excellent and substantive booklet that gives lots of detailed information about the band and includes some fine artwork and photos. The sound quality of the album is generally excellent and my only minor gripe, is that as listener who enjoys flute rock, I would have preferred it if Yuri Garfunkel’s flute was slightly more prominent in the mix.
The contribution of Bruno Moscatiello is excellent throughout and is undoubtedly one of the collection's high points. However, it is the combination of Moscatiello's guitar with the delicately blown, swirling, soaring and on rare occasions snarling flute of Garfunkel that provides much of Kaoll’s recognisable trademark sound.
This combination is displayed to great effect in pieces such as the enjoyable Gigalopole Drive. There are also some notable flute and guitar interjections during the knuckle-rapping, riff rock of the stirring Even, and in the kaleidoscopic Brazilian-tinged rhythms of Rastero. The enthusiastic and exciting interplay between the flute and guitar provides a compelling energy, which makes much of the album very engaging and many of the pieces irresistible for aficionados of flute prog rock.
Overall, Ten Years Barbecue is an excellent collection of tunes and is a great celebration of what this band has achieved during the last decade.
After reading my ramblings about this album, I hope that some DPRP readers might wish to check out this band’s music.
After all, who can resist something for nothing?
Karmamoi - The Day Is Done
Karmamoi is an Italian band who have released this, their self-released fourth album The Day Is Done. Daniele Giovannoni (drums, keyboards and backing vocals) and Alex Massari (guitars and backing vocals) are the main guys of Karmamoi but have the services of Sara Rinaldi for main vocals and lyricist.
Many millions of people were saddened by the sight of the Grenfell fire disaster in London in 2017 which saw the death of 72 people. Such a disaster moved Karmamoi to produce a concept album that tells the story of two Syrian boys, Omar and Mohammed, who having fled from the Syrian war, found refuge and a new life in Britain. Mohammed died in the fire, while his brother was unable to save him.
On listening to this album for the first time, it reminded me of Norwegian art rock band White Willow. I would describe Karmamoi as confectionery prog where everything has an outer layer of smooth chocolate, but once that melts, you are not sure what type of filling you will experience.
Many songs have a dreamy, expressive, pastoral opening which eventually leads to more evocative, darker undertones when all elements of the band are contributing to a great sound. The two opening tracks are fine examples of this, and very good songs they are. I can also hear their Italian comrades Ranestrane when the songs really rock. Guitar solos similar in style to Dave Gilmour or Camel's Andy Latimer.
Other tracks certainly rock, and have those dark, more crunchy centres, especially Portrait Of A Man and Getaway with some fine drums and great guitar work. Here you certainly get a feel that the band weaves a more psychedelic, space rock sound.
The track to check out, and the link to the video, is definitely Mother's Dirge. This is a powerful piece of prog rock, laden with atmospherics, haunting piano arpeggios, jangly guitars, repeating riffs and tingling guitar solos. Excellent!
This is a great album and very well produced and a fine piece of music in which to remember the victims of Grenfell.
Eddie Mulder - Waves
CD2: Live From Torun: Tales From Torun (3:33), Day In, Day Out (3:45), Old Forrest / June 16th (3:48), Meeting Tommy (1:22), Mysteryland (2:48), Wandering (2:08), Ancient Times (1:35), Humble Origin (1:39), How We Used To Go (2:17), Hurry Up! (2:58), Journey To The West (2:53)
Guitarist Eddie Mulder should be familiar to DPRP readers having performed and recorded with several Dutch prog bands since the turn of the millenium, including Flamborough Head, Trion, Leap Day and two Dutch Floyd tribute acts, Pink Floyd Project and Pink Faces. More recently he has released three solo albums, Dreamcatcher (2015), Horizons (2016) and In A Lifetime (2017).
Although this 2 CD set is promoted as his fourth solo release, the first disc contains just one previously unreleased track, the other five are taken from Eddie’s previous albums. The “bonus” CD, Live From Torun, is a 30-minute solo concert recorded in Poland on 8th July 2017.
Given that Eddie’s solo albums have all been released within the last three years, a retrospective does seem a tad premature. That aside, it's a welcome opportunity to reappraise his work, even though with the main disc clocking in at a little over 50 minutes, several other songs could have been accommodated. Also, the inclusion of just one new song and a bonus CD of less than 30 minutes is scant inducement if you already own his previous albums. That said, its quality, not quantity that really counts and this has quality stamped all over it.
Whilst Eddie’s previous albums include several solo acoustic pieces, all the tracks on disc one feature a full band, although acoustic guitar is prominent throughout. They are all instrumentals, with Eddie playing guitars and bass accompanied by an ensemble of accomplished Dutch musicians, most of whom he has performed with in other bands.
The opening cut, Driven from the last album, features a breezy acoustic guitar melody and inobtrusive electric and synth exchanges that would have sat comfortably on any one of Gordon Giltrap’s classic late 70s albums. Tenderly from the Dreamcatcher album lives up to its name, with a beautiful guitar theme (played on acoustic and then electric) and dreamy synth washes.
Bouquet Of Flowers and Waves (from Horizons and Dreamcatcher respectively) both take their lead from Anthony Phillips. The former, features chiming acoustic guitar, vintage Mellotron and an exquisite flute solo from Flamborough Head’s Margriet Boomsma, whilst the latter benefits from Eddie’s soaring steel guitar playing.
The focal point and most proggy offering on the last album was the 17-plus-minute In A Lifetime. The electric guitar harmonies in particular are a real delight, echoing Andy Latimer. The guitar, flute and synth combination is reminiscent of Camel, whilst the rippling acoustic guitar and flute is evocative of early Genesis.
The previously unreleased track, Joint Venture, features Albert Schoonbeek (Pink Faces) on drums with Gert Van Engelenburg (Leap Day) and Edo Spanninga (Flamborough Head) on keyboards. It has a noticeably harder edge than the previous tracks whilst remaining firmly in melodic prog territory. Mulder’s almost bluesy guitar and bass lines are a delight, as is the understated synth break and percussive effects.
If the first disc neglected Eddie’s solo acoustic work, the bonus disc makes up for it. Performed live at the 11th Rocka Progresywnego festival, the setlist includes stripped-down versions of music written by Eddie for Flamborough Head, Trion and Leap Day, sprinkled with a selection of his own solo pieces. In a short but engaging set, he manages to squeeze in no less than 13 instrumentals.
He opens with Tales From Torun, a track written especially for the occasion, which is a nice touch and one that many bands should adopt. Like all the pieces here, it's tuneful and melodic, where Eddie’s clean and precise, but never flamboyant technique is more in tune with Anthony Phillips and Gordon Giltrap, rather than the classical style of Steve Hackett or the country picking of Steve Howe. He also cites Tommy Emmanuel as an influence, dedicating the mellow jazz-flavoured Meeting Tommy to the Australian fingerstyle maestro.
Old Forrest / June 16th is a delightful combination of two instrumentals from Flamborough Head’s One For The Crow album, whilst the back to back Ancient Times and Humble Origin are lifted from Leap Day’s From The Days Of Deucalion, Chapter 1 and Skylge's Lair albums respectively. Two Trion tunes are given an airing, the breezy Wandering from Funfair Fantasy and the lyrical How We Used To Go from Pilgrim.
Thirty minutes is perhaps the right length for a solo acoustic set and it's a testimony to Mulder’s compositional skills that he can conjure up such evocative melodies with only a six-string acoustic guitar. It's also superbly recorded with only the audience’s discrete applause between each piece giving any indication that this is a live performance. At the risk of labouring the Anthony Phillips comparisons, it's rather like listening to one of Ant’s Private Parts & Pieces collections.
Despite my earlier misgivings regarding the amount of material on this 2 CD set, it does showcase the talents of Eddie Mulder to the full, with a fine balance of his music both solo and arranged for a full band. It's a done deal that this will appeal to lovers of melodic-prog, neo-prog, classic-prog, instrumental music or just plain, honest quality music.
Various artists - A Life In Yes - The Chris Squire Tribute
Geoff Feakes's Review
In the world of rock where there are more lead guitar heroes than you can shake a stick at, Chris Squire is a member of an exclusive club that includes the likes of John Entwistle, Jack Bruce and Stanley Clarke. To owe one's fame to playing the bass guitar is fairly unique, Paul McCartney for instance is renowned as a singer, songwriter and ex Beatle, overshadowing his talents as an innovative bassist. Not so Christopher Squire. His signature Rickenbacker sound and using bass as a lead instrument was not only a cornerstone of Yes but established him as one of progressive rock’s pioneering musicians.
It's appropriate that the opening song on the first Yes album begins with Chris’ monumental bass line which once heard is never forgotten. Chris co-founded Yes with Jon Anderson in 1968 from the remnants of Mabel Greer's Toyshop and until his untimely death on 27th June 2015 he was the only original member to remain with the band, appearing on every album and concert stage. Such was his dedication, his work outside Yes was comparatively minimal, including just one solo album (two if you include Chris Squire's Swiss Choir), occasional collaborations including Conspiracy and Squackett, and a handful of guest appearances.
Unsurprisingly, the man responsible for this tribute is his friend, former Conspiracy partner and replacement in Yes, Billy Sherwood. No stranger to tribute albums, Billy has assembled an impressive cast including Steve Hogarth, Annie Haslam, Steve Porcaro, Steve Hackett and Todd Rundgren along with Yes members past and present Tony Kaye, Patrick Moraz and Jon Davison. With the exception of the two bonus tracks, Billy plays bass on all songs as well as occasional guitar, keyboards and vocals, whilst Jay Schellen, who has toured with Yes since 2016, plays drums.
Appropriately, it's an all Yes line-up of Davison, Moraz, Sherwood and Schellen who open the album with their take on On The Silent Wings Of Freedom, co-written by Squire and Anderson and one of the better songs on Yes’ otherwise patchy 1978 album Tormato. It's an appropriate opener with thundering bass dominating from the start and Sherwood slipping comfortably into Squire’s shoes (if not his 1970s thigh length boots). It's an almost note perfect recreation with Sherwood also playing Steve Howe’s cascading guitar lines, although Moraz’s frantic synth solo at the end owes little to Rick Wakeman.
Chris released his one and only album of original songs, Fish Out Of Water, in 1975 which remains one of the best solo offerings in the Yes back catalogue. All the then current Yes members released their debut solo albums around this time, and given that neither Anderson or Moraz have bettered theirs, despite a prestigious output, it's perhaps not surprising that Chris never attempted a follow-up. Performing the opening song, Hold Out Your Hand, Steve Hogarth’s clipped delivery evokes Chris’ singing, whilst Larry Fast’s stylish keyboard embellishments are a perfect foil for the rhythmic dexterity of Sherwood and Schellen.
Annie Haslam, one of the first ladies of prog rock, is no stranger to Yes songs with a superb cover of Turn Of The Century (with Steve Howe) back in 1995. Here, her voice is a natural choice for the romanticism of Onward, the best song on Tormato and one of Chris’ own personal favourites. A fine version, with exquisite steel guitar, electric sitar and lush keys from Sherwood, although I did miss the rippling pizzicato strings that made the original so special. Although Onward is credited solely to Squire, one of the notable aspects of Tormato was the resumption of his writing partnership with Anderson after the singer had collaborated almost exclusively with Howe over the previous four albums.
Finding it difficult to pull-off live, Yes ignored the 1971 classic South Side Of The Sky for many years, revisiting it in 2003 for their 35th anniversary concerts. It’s been covered by both Spock’s Beard and Glass Hammer and here it receives the attention of David Sancious (piano) and Steve Stevens (guitar). Billy Idol sideman and Michael Jackson colaborator, Stevens is not a name usually associated with prog but he equips himself well, as does Sancious who puts his own stamp on the piano solo, wisely avoiding a note-for-note recreation of Wakeman's. Sherwood however is out of his vocal comfort zone, struggling to reach the high notes at the end of each verse.
The Fish is another song from the 1971 Fragile album. Readily recognised as Chris’ regular stage solo (which seemed to get longer with each passing year) it's easy to forget that the studio version contained a choral finale. As Chris did on the original, Sherwood overdubs multiple bass parts, although the length of this version is more in keeping with Chris’ marathon live performance. Providing the “Schindleria Praematurus” pay-off line is the resonant tone of Sonja Kristina, who like Annie Haslam was a pioneering female prog singer in the 1970s.
Squire and Sherwood’s The More We Live – Let Go is generally regarded by Yes fans as the best song on the much maligned 1991 Union album. Produced by Yes’ former engineer Eddy Offord, it’s a sonic marvel that sounded like it was from a different album altogether. This version however fails to capture the magic of the original despite the presence of Toto keyboardist Steve Porcaro and Steve Hackett, whose exquisite solo introduces the song.
Parallels was originally intended for Chris’ Fish Out Of Water album but ended up on Yes’ 1977 Going for The One instead. This version however is strictly Yes-by-numbers. Jon Davison goes through his usual Anderson vocal motions but his performance here lacks the necessary bite. Tony Kaye’s organ playing is as lively as ever but unsurprisingly he fails to capture the majesty of Wakeman’s church organ on the original. As a point of trivia, Parallels is the first of two songs featuring Kaye on this tribute, that were originally recorded by Yes after he left the band. Conversely, Jon Davison sings on two songs originally recorded by Yes before he joined.
One of the positive aspects of this collection is that it's mostly a "best of" Chris Squire rather than a best of Yes. A concession to the latter is the inclusion of two crowd pleasers: Trevor Rabin’s Owner Of A Lonely Heart and Anderson and Howe’s Roundabout. That said, Chris’ contributions to both songs shouldn't be overlooked. His former spouse and Esquire member Nikki Squire is an inspired choice of singer for Owner Of A Lonely Heart (sounding like a cross between Anderson and Rabin) whilst Dweezil Zappa provides an impromptu guitar solo at the halfway mark. Sherwood repeats many of Trevor Horn’s production tricks which helped make the original such a massive Stateside hit in 1983/1984.
Yes’ other signature song Roundabout follows, capturing the spirit of Yes’ rousing live version rather than the 1971 studio bound original. John Wesley (guitar) and Tony Kaye (keyboards) give gutsy performances and Kaye’s spin on the legendary Hammond solo is ironic, given that he was replaced by Wakeman shortly before the recording of the Fragile album. Only Todd Rundgren’s off-key singing lets the side down (perhaps he and Wesley should have swapped roles). It's Schellen and Sherwood who really shine however, clearly benefiting from numerous live performances of Roundabout in recent years. The melodic bass part (replacing Howe’s acoustic guitar) around the 5 minute mark is sublime.
Don’t Kill The Whale is the final song specifically recorded for this tribute and the third from Tormato. A minor UK hit single in 1978, I must confess it was never one of my favourite Yes songs, even though I respect Anderson and Squire’s sentiment. Keyboard veteran Brian Auger’s jazz tinged organ solo is a million miles from Wakeman’s wailing polymoog, and whilst I really admire Candice Night’s sensitive singing with Blackmore’s Night, here her gutsy performance sounds a little too close to Canadian pop diva Celine Dion for comfort.
This tribute concludes with two ‘bonus tracks’ which to be honest are little more than album fillers given that they have both been previously released. Although Chris plays bass on both and shares leads vocals on one, they are as much a testimony to Sherwood’s musicianship and production skills as they are Squire’s bass talents.
The Technical Divide is taken from the 2012 album The Prog Collective which boasts a host of well known names, several of whom appear on this album. Despite the impressive line-up of Squire, Sherwood, Alan Parsons, David Sancious and Gary Green it's a very average song, especially the repetitive chorus.
Comfortably Numb as you might have guessed is lifted from a Pink Floyd tribute album Back Against The Wall from 2005, another star-studded extravaganza masterminded by Sherwood. This song features Alan White on drums and Chris’ distinctive vocals, but like the original, it's the lengthy guitar solo that commands the attention.
Although Yes have had more than their fair share of tribute albums (some good, some mediocre), this to my knowledge is the first time a band member has been the focus of attention. Tribute albums are not to everyone's taste, but in this case, honoring the memory of an artist like Chris Squire is a valid one. The fact that the versions here remain mostly faithful to the originals without actually bettering any of them, will also divide opinions but that isn’t the point. Just as he did on the recent Yes tours, Sherwood has done a sterling job ensuring the songs remain true to the spirit of the originals, with Chris’ bass sound at the heart of each one.
The flipside is that despite the list of famous guests, there are no bass players amongst them. We can only speculate on how the songs may have sounded had prestigious players like Geddy Lee, John Myung or Jonas Reingold been involved. That and the bonus tracks aside, this remains a fitting testimony to the talents and accomplishments of one of rock’s finest.
Patrick McAfee's Review
Chris Squire is certainly worthy of a tribute album and it seems fitting that his friend and musical partner, Billy Sherwood would oversee such a project. It is also a positive that Sherwood has included other friends, ex-bandmates and admirers of Squire in this endeavor. The credits read like a prog and rock who's who. Patrick Moraz, Steve Hogarth, Larry Fast, Annie Haslam, Tony Kaye, Steve Porcaro, Todd Rundgrun and Steve Hackett are all involved, just to name a few.
The tracklisting focuses mostly on YES songs that contain some of Squire's most iconic bass playing and vocal work. As a result, much of this plays like a tribute to the band, rather than solely on Squire. That is logical though, considering that no one is more identified with YES than Chris. All of the bass duties are handled by Sherwood and he flawlessly replicates Squire's work. That said, involving a few other bass players who Chris inspired would have added an additional fascinating element.
A Life in Yes faces the same challenge as other tribute albums. With the exception of The Fish, featuring Sonja Kristina, these covers are extremely similar to the source material. I understand being respectful, but the appeal for repeated listens dwindles when the new versions are so homogeneous. Also, the lack of any liner notes is disappointing. As a celebration of Chris' life and the wonderful music he created, it would have been a benefit to include some words about the man and his influence on other musicians.
Ultimately though, it is tough to criticise a collection like this too harshly. The intentions are good and the performances are impressive. Considering the involvement of musicians who knew and loved Squire, there is a touching and authentic sincerity to the album. Highlights such as Steve Hogarth's take on Hold Out Your Hand and Annie Haslam's beautiful rendition of Onward are extremely well done. I can't say that all of A Life in Yes bowled me over, but I think I was looking for covers that were a bit more distinctive. Regardless, any album that honors the musical genius of Chris Squire is certainly to be respected.
Various artists - Yesterday And Today - A 50th Anniversary Tribute to YES
These types of collections are generally a mixed bag for me. Though it can be interesting to hear another artist's take on a classic song, the problems generally lie in two distinct areas. The first is that the original material is often of such high quality and held in such esteem, that a remake can only pale in comparison. The other issue is when the new version is a carbon copy of the original, rather than an inspired attempt to bring something new to the song.
This latest YES tribute album has been produced by the talented Dave Kerzner of Sound of Contact fame and includes many prog/rock luminaries. It is tough to go very wrong when involving artists like Steve Hackett, Francis Dunnery, Robert Berry, Tom Brislin, Pat Sansone, Nick D'Virgilio, Dave Bainbridge and others. Also joining in are Yes alumni Tony Kaye, Geoff Downes, Billy Sherwood and Jon Davison.
I definitely enjoyed this collection more than most such albums. Though respectful to the originals, many of these covers add enough of a unique spin to be interesting, and most importantly, entertaining. Another plus is the decision to include slightly more obscure song choices. While many of the standard YES classics are represented, it is nice to see some lesser known songs get some love. Also, over-saturated songs like Roundabout and Owner of a Lonely Heart are thankfully avoided.
Highlights include Pat Sisone's (Wilco) blissful take on Sweetness, which is a textbook example of how to make a cover your own. The same can be said for Yesterday and Today featuring Danny Ayala (The Lemon Twigs). One key element that catapults many of these covers over that of most tribute albums, is the consistantly excellent vocal work. This is especially true of the performances by Marisol Koss (Yours is no Disgrace), Sally Minnear (Turn of the Century), Robert Berry (Changes), Leslie Hunt (Long Distance Runaround) and Francis Dunnery (Starship Trooper).
The interpretations of the Rabin-era material proves to be the most problematic. The attempts are all honorable and successful to some degree, but the main problem may be the production when compared to Trevor Horn's pristine original work. Regardless, I respect the decision to include several songs from that vital chapter of the band's career.
Nothing on Yesterday and Today will have you packing your YES albums away, but it is nonetheless enjoyable. It contains some pretty fantastic interpretations and the respect that Kerzner and the involved musicians have for the original material is apparant. I would definitely place this collection in the higher echelon of YES cover albums. There is also a bonus version that includes some interesting YES-inspired material, including a sampled Neil Peart on drums!
Vikings - Far Beyond My Dream
Having a new product you want the costumer to experience and listen to, you might want to achieve media-exposure through advertising. You basically want people and audiences to know that you have released an album, and that it is available on different sources like Bandcamp or Spotify. Likewise you may wish to create a unique selling point, one that can be quickly found on the internet through searchers like Google. This could prove easy when your name is something like “Hagar’s Disciples” but in the case of Vikings (founded in 1995), you are left with an astonishing 161 million hits when googling on the name alone, and probably none of them in the first million hit the mark.
A secondary idea would be an official press statement mentioning you’re on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram with a brand name such as Vikingsmusic. Curiously enough a lot of viking-related accounts pop up, none of which seem remotely related to this band.
Another idea would be to release the new album in a huge quantity (200 copies!) to get full exposure and let the music do the talking. It’s as if Vikings doesn’t like to be known. Strange really, for on their voyage they include some nice touches of melodic prog-metal and hardrock, surrounded by sirens of predictable surprises.
Far Beyond My Dream is the third album by Vikings, following Broken Wings from 2015, which still featured original vocalist Andreas Ilgmeijer. His untimely demise on the 29th of December 2017 resulted in a replacement of Georg Fröhlich stepping in on vocals. Shortly afterwards, Thor struck hard once again with the departure of all of the remaining band members, leaving it up to Fröhlich to single-handedly keep the torch lit. With new recruit Pete Eisen (guitar, bass, keys, drums), his newfound all-encompassing congenial soul mate, a new CD was quickly forged under the Vikings banner.
The conquest forcefully starts off with _ A Glow In Your Hand_ instantly reminiscent of early Queensryche. The production is bold and fierce, and with accompanying accentuating, demanding keys we rush through proper and adequate prog metal. In the lower regions, Fröhlich’s voice is acceptable, on higher grounds it sounds a bit forced and occasionally falls a tad short. Bass and drums plough through, a feature often encountered in mediocre metal, but nice guitar work lifts the track above average.
With the well-known “raise your fists” attitude, Down The Street follows, etched deep into 80s hard rock, embedded with a nice Rage For Order feel. The drum techniques by Peter Hornung depict to me that he’s more a Motley Crue hair-metal type drummer, contrary to the personally desired Scott Rockenfield approach. Bass and guitars are exemplary once again, with keyboards supportively carrying this track out of standard metal borders.
And to hit the nail on the head, this overall feel of something "standard" is where the problem lies. Vikings fall too often into the traps laid down before them, making them highly predictable. What we end up with is hard-rock and metal heavily inspired by the likes of the aforementioned Queensryche, Iron Maiden, Kiss and Fates Warning. Lyrics mentioning Viking themes like Avalon are regrettably inevitable, but of no real disturbance. Originality is however scarce, with Vikings treading into paths long before explored by bigger gods.
To exceed expectations they do try to incorporate elements to lift their music, as demonstrated in Before The Rain, the obligatory ballad. Here the strong female vocals by Stefanie Maschke interact with Frölich, giving variety and welcoming relief, resulting in a solid Serenity/Avantasia styled track. They even have their satisfying “Wicky”-moment with Sand Of The Lore, where they explore Angra-orchestral, speedy prog-metal. This is very much to my liking.
On the whole it’s relatively enjoyable to listen to, and I think my rating would have been higher if it had not been for the drums. These almost butcher all the fun, for sounding so out of place, with Hornung hammering the music tightly shut all the way to Walhalla and back. Forget subtlety, it’s animalistic, straight forward bluntness destroying some, if not all, of the lovely prog metal touches the band conveys. The songs deserve better, for the music written by Eisen and Fröhlich sounds promising and Eisen certainly knows how to handle the guitar, which is a big bonus.
Considering Vikings basically started all over again in 2018, I hope they take the time to carefully plan their next raid. Settle down first to find their own ground and sound, change their drummer and subsequently think of a strategic marketing solution. Maybe a simple catchphrase might do the trick such as "Vikings know how to play. Newly forged and here to stay!" Who knows? It might trigger some well-deserved exposure after 23 years.
Volvox - Universo Expandido
Do you ever create menus or eat foods that do not usually complement each other?
The results can be interesting. On occasions, some of the unusual combinations are truly mouth-watering. At other times, as expected, they might be unpalatable.
I recently tried a dish of cod on a bed of blackberries. It had a distinctive zest and once I became accustomed to its two-toned, tangy, sweet mix it was very enjoyable, even though its unusual blend of sea and earth proved to be something of an acquired taste.
In their latest release, Universo Expandido, Volvox have mixed a number of stylistic traits, to create music, that even within the nine compositions on offer, contains great diversity. Thankfully, the music that results from a mix of styles and approaches that are seldom merged, is neither unpalatable, nor unappealing. The album's unusual mix of styles should fully satiate anybody who wishes to hear robust music that contains unexpected changes of direction, and gentle melodic interludes that emphasise the band's skilful use of volume, mood and dynamics.
Universo Expandido, is an album that is consistently vibrant and fresh, and it should appeal to listeners who enjoy riff-based rock with hints of metal, offset by flowing embellishments and spacious interludes where the piano or other keyboard instruments have a prominent role to play. These offer a sonically soothing balm to counter the jagged effect of the rock-edged riffing that lies at the heart of many of the tunes.
Volvox is a four-piece band consisting of keyboards, guitar, bass and drums. Universo Expandido, is the Argentinian band's second album and marks an expansion and development of a style hinted at in their self-titled debut album released in 2014.
The album is both expressive and bold. During the more upbeat band parts, its powerful energy is relentless. On these occasions, the music exhibits enough muscle and vitality to carve sound ripples that energetically vibrate in an attempt to quiver the face and make curtains tremble.
The heaviest and most brash passages in the album are furiously driven by the familiar, chug, chug, chug, of metal-influenced guitars, gurning riffs and a plethora of pulsating guitar solos, which squeal and shudder in a delightfully evocative manner. The sound quality of the recording is fantastic. Somehow, despite often being strident and busy, the music has great depth. The album manages to sound spacious, where the identity of each instrument is distinct and discerned with ease. In slower sections, each subtle nuance can be heard. This is largely due to the album's excellent production and the band's clever use of dynamics in their far-reaching arrangements. This makes the contrast between light and shade, which is a key ingredient of the band's style, very appealing.
The opening piece, Tiempo De Cambios introduces the listener to many of the band's hallmark traits. It is crammed with an array of riffs, and offers high energy provided by bass guitar and drums. The heavy foundation of this track is developed further by the inclusion of soaring organ frills and delicate piano parts. The piece offers some genuinely fine interplay between keyboard player Pijachi and his fellow bandmates. The change of pace which occurs after four minutes is quite exquisite, and instances such as this make it clear that the standard of musicianship is high and that the members of Volvox are very skilled and competent players.
Unfortunately, the piece also includes some spoken word sections, which sound as if sourced from a movie soundtrack. These include such insightful spoken lines as, "Tell me about it tomorrow" and "Thank You". The band also use this technique later in the album during Escapen, which is the release's concluding composition.
Personally, I wish that bands would not include this technique. It rarely adds anything to a piece and often detracts, soon becoming a source of irritation for the listener. I have reviewed a number of albums this year when specific tracks, that have otherwise been quite outstanding or enjoyable, have been marred by this unsatisfying trend.
Escapen is an unfortunate example of how this approach can taint things. Despite some wonderful stop-start riffing, a flowing guitar solo and a memorably sparse piano section, there are possibly only so many times that you can listen to caustic lines such as "Put your trust in the lord, your ass belongs to me", before either hostility, or at the very least apathy, sets in.
Mercifully, the rest of the album avoids the pitfalls of including spoken word recordings and offers some genuinely inventive and enthralling music. The short piano-based interlude tune, La conquista de lo incierto is particularly mesmerising, containing a gentle piano melody and a beautifully crafted, jangly, tongue-twisting guitar solo.
One of the most interesting pieces on the album is Otro día en el infierno, which manages to combine discordance and melody in an inventive musical package that has a distinctive and unusual flavour. In this case, the guitar is discordant and the piano is melodious. The insistent rhythms that underpin the ensemble parts, give some of this tune a King Crimson-like air. Later there is an interesting bass and drum passage before the band combines to unite in a spectacularly muscular climax, where guitarist Christian Violante uses a range of similar, high frequency tones frequently associated with Robert Fripp.
Another highlight is Momentum, which combines elements of metal, rock and fusion in a high octave mixture. The bass playing of Alejandro Derene gives the piece a substantial, low-end menace that hurries things along. The impressively busy kit work of Pablo Pucheta is another standout feature of the piece. There is some outstanding interplay between all the players, and the flowing synth ruins that dominate, before a change of tempo and a more gentile mood develops at the piece's mid-point, is particularly evocative.
The piece is probably the most progressive on offer, as it contains many mini segments, which offer a range of different styles, moods and approaches. For example, in addition to its already unusual mix of styles in the faster-paced sections of the tune, it offers a dreamy avant section, which segues into a pastoral interlude. This is gift-wrapped with some spacious piano and high-toned guitar parts. These elements combine to create a mysterious atmosphere. The piece moves towards its conclusion with a soaring guitar solo that is impressive in every respect. It continues in fine, symphonic style with rich orchestral keys that richly joust with the other ensemble parts. Momentum memorably ends with a beautifully sparse piano coda.
Some of the most thrilling and most fluid guitar work occurs during the opening section of the excellent Degeneración en generación - Parte II. The tune is a jaunty affair and features lots of enjoyable parts, where the power and subtlety of guitar and piano are utilised to good effect, as individual voices and in unison.
There is something quite compelling about the idiosyncratic mix of styles that feature in Universo Expandido. The results are seldom uninteresting and on occasions some of the unusual stylistic combinations are truly mouth-watering.
This album is very tasty, and at its best it is a truly satiating experience. I suggest that DPRP readers should try to check it out.
If you do, I am sure it will whet your appetite. Who knows, just like an unusual combination of food, you might find it an unusually satisfying encounter and you may even wish to experience more
Does anybody want a second helping of Cod and Blackberries?
Better not forget the dried apricots and soggy chips!
Watershape - Perceptions
Watershape are an Italian progressive metal band, influenced by such luminaries as Dream Theater, Opeth, Gentle Giant, Tool and to some extent Porcupine Tree.
Like many listeners, I find the vocals are important to the aural experience and pleasure of listening to music. The singer Nicolò Cantele definitely has a quirky delivery and reminds me of Van der Graaf Generator's Peter Hammill in a few places (not a bad thing by the way). However, for me the vocals of Cantele lack that special gravitas that is often hard to find for bands these days when playing this type of progressive metal material. But in saying that, I also find James LaBrie of Dream Theater hard to take sometimes, so I guess it's all down to personal tastes.
Many of the songs are strewn with power chords and metal riffs, often with keyboard accompaniment, as in the first two tracks. Cyber Life has a cringe-worthy intro but does improve and I liked the percussion section but was spoiled by some annoying keyboard accompaniment (just the wrong sounds for me).
Alienation Deal has a poppy edge with acoustic guitars and a catchy tune, with a very fine supporting guitar solo. Stairs has an interesting piano/guitar into and outro with just a whiff of jazz. The Puppets Gathering has hints of Steve Hackett, both in the vocal department and style of song, with female accompaniment in places, before heavy riffs come in with some good keys and sound. This has a poppy edge in many places.
Inner Tide sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb compared to the earlier tracks. A short ballad with electric piano, alto sax solo for accompaniment, and some of the best vocals on the album. It's a lovely, metal-riff-free song, but just seems out of place on this album.
The last three tracks serve up more variations on a theme. Fanciful Wonder has the ubiquitous metal power chords, some fine percussive moments, but overall the song can be a bit tedious. Seasons fairs much better with jangly guitars supported by good drumming and percussion, not a bad vocal delivery, and an attempt at an acoustic passage that could have been more inspirational. Cosmic Box #9 is replete with heavy riffs, (some fine drumming again), but lacks that something special to draw you in. The keyboard sounds just don't do it for me and detract from the song.
If you consider Dream Theatre as a Premier League band, then Watershape are worthy Championship material at least. Promotion is possible but they'll need to up their game considerably. The keyboards ain't like Jordan Rudess (hard act to follow anyway). They are a good, competent band, offering strong musicianship and a penchant for clever song construction but lack that something special.