Coldun — Grand Sun Ritual
Doom, meets goth, meets post rock with a heavy slab of melancholic reflection on this, the third album from Germany's Coldun.
Beginning life as a one-man project by Coldun himself, the self-released Necessariis? Dubiis? Caritas? came out in 2007, followed seven years later by Collapsing Polarities.
There seems to be a seven-year-plan going on, as album number three came out at the start of 2021. Now in a full-band format with Coldun on vocals, bass, Hammond and synths and the initially-endowed 'ZK' and 'MR' adding a twin-guitar attack supported by 'NC' behind the drum kit.
The focus of the band's song-writing is on Coldun's rich, low-range voice that flies around a rather one-paced gothic metal guitar-led backing. I'd prefer more of the lovely moments which add a dynamic twist, such as the saxophone (I think) on the opening track and the flashes of Hammond and the folksy, balladic pause of Stories Untold. The melodies are strong, although it does lack the variety that I seek across an album.
However greater depth and a clear spiritual sense is added to the music by thoughtful lyrics centred on the meaning of life and death. "My personal conviction is that in death nothing is absolute - and certainly not an end," explains Coldun.
The influences are somewhat retro, but thanks to the use of some modern metal sounds, it does not sound dated. It is a style that I enjoy to dip into from time to time, with bands such as Katatonia, Thence, Green Carnation, Saviour Machine, Beseech and Fields Of The Nephilim. This album would fit snugly onto a playlist containing such bands and I have enjoyed listening to Grand Sun Ritual. The video (below) of my favourite track, The Forest And The Soul, gives a good idea of what to expect.
Level Pi — Elektronische Philosophie
After a couple of collaborative albums with Thomas Rydell in 2016 and then in 2019 with Andreas Baaden, Uwe Cremer returns with the first album under the Level Pi name since 2015's This Burning Part Of Me EP. Fully embracing the spirit of Krautrock, this hour-long trip (quite literally for Nachtfahrt and its accompanying video), provides dreamy, electronic sequences blending various synthesisers with Mellotron strings. Alongside we have guitars, over-driven with reverb and a variety of trip-hop or chill-out beats bringing the electronic music genre into the 21st century.
Although you may have been tempted to stop reading this review at the word 'beats', consider it as an entirely appropriate approach. Indeed one could even call it "essential" on the epic Die Lange Reise where the repetition of the beat, mirrors that of the fluctuating-yet-repeating synth lines. It gives the idea of a long and monotonous journey inspired by the stomping engines of a flying saucer from those old science fiction films of the 1950s and 1960s.
The clean acoustic guitar of Intermezzo is a complete contrast, but the brief departure from electronica is ended by a slew of abstract synthesiser sounds, before breaking into the hypnotic sequences of the title track that has an almost menacing undercurrent.
Don Quijotes Gehrirn (written as a musical response to the film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote) leans more heavily on electric guitars, although they never truly dominate over the sequenced passages, instead blending to form another, yet different, level to the proceedings. Some parts border on psychedelic rock, although held in check by a sturdy, underlying beat. Transpose the electric guitar solo onto an untreated acoustic and it would almost sound like it hailed from a Spanish guitarist.
The opening electric piano of Zu Hause instantly brings to mind Portishead. It is only the lack of a Beth Gibbons vocal that prevents it from being mistaken as an out-take from one of that Bristol group's albums.
Saving the best for last, Dirch Die Jahrzehnte is the pinnacle of the album's accomplishments where everything comes together in the right proportions; with the right level of emphasis. At the beginning, the synth part is backed by organ, some gentle strums across guitar strings, and soaring guitar soundscapes. Following a fine solo that takes several leaves out of the David Gilmore guitar playbook, the guitar takes over from the synth as the prominent instrument, before subtly once again reversing the roles. There are so many layers in this track that there are bound to be new discoveries as one listens further and deeper.
The quality of the recording is excellent; well one would expect nothing less considering the music was mastered than none other than the German drumming and engineering legend that is Eroc. Perhaps not everyone's cup of tea but for those with an ear for quality music of a Krautrock nature, you can't go wrong with Elektronische Philosophie.
Meadows — Modern Emotions
Meadows is a new Dutch band/project created by Daniël van der Weijde. The name Meadows is the translation of Daniël's last name. Meadows is a band with musicians primarily from fellow Dutch bands Silhouette and Incidense. Modern Emotions is their debut album but all the musicians involved are experienced.
Daniël has been the guitar player for Silhouette since Beyond The Seventh Wave. Also joining Silhouette on that album were Rob Van Nieuwenhuijzen on drums and Jurjen Bergsma on bass. This pair are also present on Modern Emotions.
Rob Van Nieuwenhuijzen also drums for Dutch band Incidense and from that band vocalist Peter Meijer steps in here. Meadows is completed by Jeffrey van Driest on guitar. Modern Emotions also features guest appearances by Ruud Jolie (Within Temptation) and Richard Henshall (Haken).
Daniël is a talented guitar player and his influences must be from guitar heroes like Satriani and Vai. Modern Emotions is not completely guitar-orientated, and is certainly not only interesting for guitar lovers. Eights songs are split equally between four instrumentals and four with vocals. The album also has influences from Dream Theater, Haken, and Porcupine Tree.
The instrumentals are much more than guitar rock anthems with a theme and a lot of guitar solos. Each offers more complexity than a standard rock anthem, so it is definitely more interesting for fans of progressive metal. Dance With The Corpse Bride is an eerie song with many changes.
The instrumental Rebecca is probably a song that can be categorized as a guitar rock song. It is heavy stuff with at times fast soloing but also room for some violin. The name of the song Powerture speaks for itself, being a powerful guitar-led instrumental. I have heard of Overture and Underture but this is a new variation. The Void is a short, mellow guitar piece.
The songs with lyrics are more in the style of Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree and Haken, with some Silhouette influences, although Meadows is a small notch up on any measurement of heaviness. The title track is a heavy progressive song, with heavy riffs supported by keyboard. Nostalgia starts as a mellow song with the acoustic guitar halfway through turning to a more heavy and bombastic piece.
Good Times is a slowly heavy-pounding song with many diverse elements, featuring a guitar collaboration between Daniël and Ruud Jolie from Within Temptation. The album is closed by the most progressive song on the album The Brave. It has many Dream Theater influences and features a guest appearance by Richard Henshall from Haken.
Modern Emotions is a very good debut album. Daniël Van Der Weijde is the main person for the project, but the album is not completely guitar-oriented. Progressive metal fans and fans of heavy guitar music should give this album a try. Fans of Silhouette, who can also appreciate their music just a bit heavier, will probably like Modern Emotions too.
Let's hope Meadows is not just a one album side project.
Perfect Storm — No Air
Perfect Storm hail from the beautiful town Groningen, a capitol city so pretty they named a province after it. A town with a rich history and some distinctive landmarks to be found in its city-centre boundaries like the Martini-tower, the Fish-market, a renowned distillery and the creatively-blossoming Groninger Museum. The football team (FC Groningen) plays in one of the most attractive stadiums of our country, especially in regards to its inner architectural beauty. The many students that inhibit the town make it very dynamic and rural, filling it with a vibrant, energetic buzz in the many pubs and cafes, most of them centred around the iconic Grote Markt (Big Market).
A city with lots of culture, which over the last 30 years I have visited at least once a year, be it for friendships, whisky-tastings in the AA-Kerk (a church), fun/entertainment or occasional musical happenings. One particular memory that comes to mind in regard to Perfect Storm's effort is the small-scaled "Platformttheater", host to a "Battle Of The Bands"-competition I visited ages ago.
Why does this particular venue pop up? Well, first, because some of the musicians involved within Perfect Storm most likely know this little venue by heart. Their 'former-band' credentials, including many names from the underground scene, would have been a perfect fit. The second is a more nostalgic reason and involves a band that I supported many years ago on one unforgettable night, although their name only applies as a complimentary term to Perfect Storm (continue reading to find out which band).
The third and foremost reason is Perfect Storm's amazing debut album No Air, which should see them wave goodbye to such a cosy little venue, in search of bigger stages. For the band has exceptional potential, which was has already been spotted by Glassville Records, who will release the album internationally.
Perfect Storm was founded by Gert-Jan Schurer (guitars) in 2017, who together with Ard Offers (keys, vocals) composed the fantastic songs. Completing the line-up are Jesse Bosman (drums), David Klompmakers (bass), Hiske Oosterwijk (lyrics, vocals), and the Syrian refugee Adel Saflou. Together they nourish these well-composed songs to perfection.
According to Schurer, he draws from personal experiences thereby incorporating influences from Steve Wilson, Porcupine Tree, and Pat Metheny into his music, as well as alternative electro-acts. I'd like to add Saga, Rush, It Bites, Dilemma and Ambrosia to this list.
And the result is outstanding.
The aptly-titled Strength opens the set with a very high and powerful standard. Schurer's gorgeous guitar-sound comprises melodic warmth and playful riffs with a smooth, jazzy intonation, while the song's dynamic build up displays a catchy, irresistible groove with an abundant Saga-feel. Immediately the splendid interplay of the musicians stands out. The lighter touches of Bosman on drums reflect those of Steve Negus (Saga). Together with Klompmakers' upfront, sensitive and emotive bass lines, it forms a vividly beating musical heart, coloured magnificently by the appealing vocals of Saflou.
Over the course of the album he showcases a unique vocal spectrum, which through Oosterwijk's divine dual vocal exceeds the sum of its parts. Surrounded by little arrangements, detailed instrumentation and great musical diversity, this is an adventurous track. The highly contagious rock passage, incorporating tasty organ play and Schurer's magnificent calling-card solo, brings delicious visions of It Bites. Another delightful aspect is the intricate piano parts, ever so delicately mindful to Ambrosia, which become even stronger in later phases of the album.
In The Search Perfect Storm's dynamic pop sense is shown through sprinkling key-accentuations that at first bring elements of Morgendust, while the wonderful, catchy melodies and sublime musical executions yield images of Dilemma and It Bites. The warm jazzy touches, most likely derived from Pat Metheny influences, are equally attractive. I am not familiar with Metheny's efforts, so for me it actually reflects the efforts of Ambrosia and more specifically their jazz-orientated Life Beyond LA album. A musical bridge reveals a peaceful serenity in which Oosterwijk enchants through her clear and pristine vocals, readying for dreamy surroundings in which tantalising guitars leave a soaring Porcupine Tree impression.
These rich Steve Wilson influences shine through in the excellent Sun For Life as well. Here the upfront mix of sensitive and emotionally charged bass, incorporating fresh synth elements, shifts their sound somewhat to that of Rush. The musical variety and interaction showcased within the song is once again delightful, thriving on Saflou's expressive vocals, harmoniously met with strength by Oosterwijk.
Incorporating lovely organ melodies it harvests a gorgeous Saga-appeal courtesy of the strong synth solo, while the subtleties expressed by the restrained rhythm-section stand in marvellous contrast to Schurer's goosebump-inspiring solo. The instrumental intermission that follows is just as splendid, gliding through a blinding sunset of great riffs, overwhelming keys, excellent Rush flashes and complementary, ethereal vocals.
The successive and uplifting Hope, with lyrics addressing one's insecurities and how to challenge them, flows on a natural stream of delightful, sensitive pop.
Via No Air we reach calmness, where the serene, dreamy and intimate atmosphere is alluringly met by heavenly vocals from Oosterwijk. A breathtaking composition where dreamy melodies float on piano and Yes-like quietness, while synth-accents and careful whispers of the bass embrace. Powerfully captured by Oosterwijk, sounding hopelessly fragile and abandoned, the only option is to join in its stream of overpowering beauty and let the dynamic passage, featuring dynamic rhythms and sparkling synths, drown you. Touching, moving, emotive and exceedingly astonishing all in one.
The infectious jazz groove of Mind's Eye shows elements of Uriah Heep and Deep Purple through its tasty organ parts. Its the most rocking and infectiously catchy song on the album, gliding through differing atmospheres with sophisticated ease. The wondrous dynamic bridge, containing a lovely jazz vibe that had me hooked on this album from the first go, never loosens, and after Oosterwijk's powerful vocal testimony and Schurer's awesome solo it ends in a vibrantly rocking coda with some exemplary bass strokes.
How It Ends ends the album on a perfect note as it wades through great melodies that alternate light-hearted and stronger melodies, while the warm and transparent production brings out the finer arrangements that surround them. Here for me the Ambrosia-feel is strongest, especially in light of Saflou's tuneful voice in combination with marvellous keys. Although it has to be said that the bridging sequence that follows speaks a completely different language. For after gliding into ambient atmospheres, dreamy synth elements, intricate rhythmic details, perfect guitar chords and heavenly vocals, it slowly builds towards an unparalleled Porcupine Tree-styled epic climax, after which the song's recurring chorus and addictive playfulness blows me off my feet one final time.
The only thing missing in the highly attractive digi-pack that features beautiful illustrative artwork from "Vlerk" (Edmond Spierts), illustrator for the "Vera Pop" venue in Groningen, are some lyrics. They can be found on their Bandcamp site. Solely written by Oosterwijk, they address a general theme about relationships in its broadest sense, reflecting on topics such as love, fear, insecurities, acceptance, relationships and hope.
I find that singling out any favourite track turns out to be rather difficult, for each of the songs has its own distinctive appeal. On repeated listens this starts to become even harder, admiring every single song more and more in the process, with the end result that I simply can't choose. For with each spin, new facets, subtleties and exciting musicalities present themselves, even after this being a constant daily companion for the past few months.
Overall, No Air has turned out to be a highly recommendable album and a serious top-10 contender for 2021. Meanwhile it has reached the natural barriers of my desert island, which fully welcomes the album's warm embrace and force 12 (Beaufort Scale) measured brilliance. And the name of the band from that nostalgic night long ago? Well, it's associated with the Dutch term "retegoed", which roughly translates into: Kick Ass.
Stick Men (with Gary Husband) — Owari
In the late winter of 2019 and into the new year of 2020, Stick Men had arranged to tour the Far East, with four gigs in China, one in Hong Kong and some in Japan. With one thing and another causing the cancellation of the tour, it ended up being just a one-night stand at the Blue Note in Nagoya, Japan (one night before all public venues were closed by the government).
Stick Men comprise of King Crimson's Tony Levin on Chapman Stick and vocals and Pat Mastelotto on acoustic and electronic drums, percussion, with Markus Reuter (the Crimson Projekct) on touch guitars and soundscapes. Also joining them was Gary Husband (Alan Holdsworth, John Mclaughlin etc) on keyboards. This line-up only played this one night and Owari (Japanese for The End) is a recording of that gig. Due to the emerging pandemic the small crowd is very quiet and the crisp recording and a clear, balanced mix makes it feel like a live-in-the-studio recording.
It is a tribute to the chops of these players that after minimal rehearsal and a soundcheck, they pulled off a mainly successful performance. There are a few pieces that don't quite work for me, but I'll come to that.
Unsurprisingly, given the connections, there are two Crimson covers in the set list. The first is a faithful Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part II and it has a practised intensity. The other is Level 5, not a song I was familiar with, but it matches the other well and it has a cool Nine Inch Nails industrial vibe to it.
Of the rest, Hide the Trees' is a case of fusion meets post-rock, as Reuters' guitar flows like water and Levin's Chapman develops the melody. Punchy drums and keyboards pull together in a terrific piece. Another great instrumental is Schattenhaft. Its fusion bass and the floating-but-powerful touch guitar are nearly upstaged by electric piano interjections, on a track that side-steps the expectations that it sets up.
Husband's electric piano returns on Cusp; a track that nearly tips over into messy guitar-noise but pulls itself back.
There are two songs here that feature Tony Levin's half-spoken, deep-voiced singing. Crack In The Sky has a gentle ambience that grows slowly to Stick Men's trademark intensity. And Prog Noir has a smoked jazz blues, bar room feel.
Now, for me, with Owari there are three tracks that smack of underdeveloped improvisations. These may well have been better if the tour had run its full course. These improvisations seem to be in search of a melody or even a rhythm. I would rather it was the other way around, improvising on something already established, rather than searching for the spark.
The culprits are the meandering title track that never settles to anything. Better is the opener Hajime (Peace). Its tinkling percussion, glistening electronics and piano work well for a short while but even at five minutes its over-long and suffers from ambient noodling. The bonus track for the CD release, The End Of The Tour, has layers of keys, little guitar figures and hand percussion that add moments of interest. But it dawdles along to an increasingly patience-testing length. It's as if the musicians are so respectful of each other's talents that no one wants to take a grip and put some drive into these pieces, either melodically or rhythmically.
Overall, Stick Men's Owari just about pulls-off a set of Crimson-like tunes that outweighs the more tedious offerings. As my first listen to Stick Men, it does not incline me to investigate further. I was looking forward to this album, as I like all the players involved, but I found it only 50 percent successful.