Album Reviews

Issue 2021-072

Artnat — The Mirror Effect

Artnat - The Mirror Effect
Riding The Edge Of Darkness (5:17), Eternal Dance Of Love (5:56), Return To OM (Nirvana, Return To OM, The Warrior) (14:03), From Chaos To Beauty (3:55), A View From Above (4:55), Cosmic Machinery (4:03), The Mirror Effect (4:58), Celebration (3:18), The Dramatic Beauty Of Life (6:24), The Complex Art Of Creation (6:44), Finale (1:26), CD Bonus tracks: Jam Chaos (3:08), Jam Machinery (3:37), Jam Celebration (2:06)
Jan Buddenberg

The Mirror Effect's artwork, thematically reflected in various ways throughout the album's appealing graphics, immediately stimulates recognition upon seeing the conehead sculpture. Not in a funny 1993 Dan Akroyd movie resemblance, but for the unforgettable imaginary link it provides to the 1981 effort Humanoid Flesh by Tantra. A Portuguese symphonic prog band who released two small progressive gems, Holocausto and Mistérios e Maravilhas, prior to this confusing momentary swansong.

Some twenty years later founder Manuel Cardoso (guitars, vocals) continues Tantra's story with a completely new line up and released Terra, followed by Live Ritual (2003) and Delirium in 2005. A 3cd/DVD box-set (Visions Of A Lifetime) featuring additional unreleased Tantra recordings, most of them in inferior mp3 sound quality, was also issued under his own name afterwards.

Roundabout 2018 Cardoso, alongside Terra companion Gui Da Luz (synthesizer), decided to prolong Tantra's sound longevity with a new line up using the talents of Sara Freitas (vocals), Paulo Bretão (bass), João Samora (drums) and André Hencleeday on keyboards. The mirrored band name Artnat signals the continuance of Tantra's formative symphonic eclectic prog style, with a main difference to be found in the befitting presence of female lead vocals.

Apart from the obvious improvised bonus tracks featured on the CD, several songs have been composed during jam sessions, which explains the very loose and spontaneous feel of these songs. From Chaos To Beauty, for instance, does exactly what it says on the tin as it moves from sound-chasing gates of delirium into wondrously swirling ABWH synth spectacles with goofy experimentation and exorcism exercises, while Cosmic Machinery's unusual sound mix bursts with strangely appealing Rick Wakeman sparkles and Genesis like impressions.

Both songs display the individual musician's instrumental strength very effectively, especially Cardoso's guitar playing is exceptional, yet the structures of these compositions feels scattered and all over the place. Like with the initial tribal sense obtained from Celebration as it jumps from danceable worshipping chants into early Yes like atmospheres with expressive female vocals splashing into a fine smooth jazzy finish.

Eternal Dance Of Love, is the exception to this enigmatic rule, gliding smoothly through beautiful atmospheres with high operatic vocals from Freitas which mysteriously yields a delightful Renaissance connection. The musical diversity is engagingly toned down and sees some great synth solos and fine guitar play as it fades into powerful basslines. Surprisingly the vocal contributions by Freitas in The Dramatic Beauty Of Life emphasizes this deliciousness where a jazz swing and impenetrable rhythms and melodies occasionally create the feel of experiencing Tantra's own Prologue.

The overall proficient seventies atmosphere is strongest in opener Riding The Edge Of Darkness. Here guitars and dominant bass hypnotise to an intoxicating Yes-like state mindful of Tales From Topographic Oceans and Relayer, in which the female vocals soar limitless through various octaves and timbres which takes some getting used to. The psychedelic bridge with compelling male vocals and transitions into eclectic seventies inspired prog-rock with many surprise twists and turns, ensuring many revisiting explorations necessary to comprehend the songs nature.

The artfully created moody changes of A View From Above, showcasing lots of tasty synth movements and frivolous Squire-like basslines alongside great guitar and rhythmic interplay, as well as the playful vibrating jazz environments of The Mirror Effect that converges from conjuring melodies into progressive synth weirdness, illustrate the distinct complexities found within Artnat's music splendidly.

The symphonic Finale and the gracefully created, mildly complex, subtleties of The Complex Art Of Creation, incorporating excellent guitar parts and luscious gamy piano, as well as the epic three-pieced Return To OM show a different and more modest approach by Artnat. Stepping off the complexity ladder these compositions take a delightful restful moment and shine brightly with warm mesmerising melodies.

In Return To OM, in all likely-hood connected to OM from Tantra's 1978 effort Holocausto, leads to the band successfully achieving one of the album's finest identifiable moments. The surprising melodic changes and symphonic synth outbursts of Nirvana still reveal Yes/ABWH attractiveness yet it's the refreshing wind of change from swirling keyboards and alluring vocals by Freitas breezing along restrained melodies in Return To OM that brings highly entertaining images of Solstice. A magical highlight of the album, while The Warrior's successive gradual build up towards the composition's coda through dynamic virtuous play and lovely guitar melodies is equally soothing.

One is never sure in which direction Artnat's musical path will flow within a composition, let alone for the duration of the album. As it turns out this gives The Mirror Effect marvellous appeal and satisfying results. The comprehension of the experimental and improvised jam structures, as well as the occasionally startling musical eruptions and edgy sound properties, do require some serious time and effort though.

But it is an investment that pays off beautifully in the end and those in favour of seventies embraced symphonic prog and willing to sink their teeth into challenging musical complexities might get similarly rewarded. An album worth checking out and available in digital form on Bandcamp or on CD (with bonus jams!) on Cardoso's website.

Stefano Panunzi — Beyond The Illusion

Stefano Panunzi - Beyond The Illusion
When Even Love Cannot (6:56), The Awakening (5:47), The Bitter Taste Of Your Smile (3:46), Acid Love (4:27), I Go Deeper (4:45), Mystical Tree (6:20), The Bench (5:32), Her (8:08), We Are Not Just What We Are (5:07), The Portrait (6:13), The Doubt (6:17), I Am! (3:59)
Edwin Roosjen

The name Stefano Panunzi was new to me when starting with this review. Stefano is a musician from Italy and is mostly known as member of the band FJieri. With a diverse variety of musicians Stefano has produced some solo albums. Beyond The Illusion is his third solo release and the predecessor Rose dates back more than ten years.

Besides writing the music Stefano is responsible for the keyboards and programming. Again he has arranged a wide variation of artists for this new release, most of them only performing on one or two songs. Some a bit more, his bandmate from FJieri, Nicola Lori, plays bass and guitar on a handful of songs. Also present are Tim Bowness from No-Man and Gavin Harrison from Porcupine Tree.

The music of Stefano Panunzi is a mixture of progressive rock with ambient jazzy world music. Bands that come to mind are mostly the bands some of the musicians play for or do guest appearances. Of course Stefano's own band FJieri but also No-Man, Isildurs Bane and Richard Barbieri can be named. What mainly sets this album apart from most progressive rock releases is the violin, trumpet and saxophone.

Opener When Even Love Cannot has an atmospheric eastern sound, a lot of dreamy violin on this song. Just like in the music of FJieri and earlier solo work by Stefano Panunzi the bass lines are very melodic and is at times upfront in the mix. On The Awakening the bass is played by Nicola Lori and on The Bitter Taste of Your Smile some nice melodic bass by Lorenzo Feliciati. Different bass players with their own style but still nicely fitted in the music.

This album has many different musicians but still a very coherent sounding album. According to the information I found The Bitter Taste Of Your Smile is the first song with a drummer, I think Stefano uses programming for the drum sound for the other songs. On Acid Love this is noticeable, this song sounds a bit more industrial because of that. These technical industrial sounds do not make the music less warm, it is combined perfectly with the violin.

I Go Deeper is sung by Tim Bowness. A bit more up-tempo but still very ambient and mellow sounding. The song Mystical Tree is all over the place. More industrial sounding and a faster pace, a bit like some Nine Inch Nails but with trumpet. The more industrial sound is not disturbing but not the best element on this album. The use of industrial sounds is more prominent on only two songs, so if this is not to your taste then there is still enough to enjoy.

The next song The Bench and Her have that more warmer sound that I really like about this album. We Are Not Just What We Are has Gavin Harrison on the drums. Nice jazzy songs with the biggest roles for trumpet and keyboards.

The Portrait is a very nice and mellow song and is the third song with vocals by Grice (solo band from Jim Peters). Though Beyond The Illusion is mostly an instrumental album the songs with vocals fit in very nicely. The Doubt is a bit more heavy than the rest. At times heavy on the guitar but also some room for ambient keyboard parts, a very diverse song.

Closing song I Am! is just like Mystical Tree a bit more industrial sounding. This time a bit slower, again the industrial sound is not disturbing but it is not my favourite sound on the album.

Beyond The Illusion is the first time I heard music by Stefano Panunzi. There is a wide variety of musicians and influences from many other bands and artists. A lot more music to discover, for example from Stefano's band FJieri, and other works from participating musicians.

There is a risk of forgetting the album selected for reviewing because discovering the other related works/projects/bands is very interesting and time consuming. For Beyond The Illusion this is not the case, it introduced me to some nice bands and artist but in the end I still return to this album. A huge variety of musicians but in the end Beyond The Illusion is a very coherent album with over an hour of very beautiful music.

Todd Rundgren — A Wizard, A True Star... Live!

Todd Rundgren - A Wizard, A True Star... Live!
International Feel (3:03), Never Never Land (1:32), Tic Tic Tic It Wears Off (1:13), You Need Your Head (1:05), Rock And Roll Pussy (1:13), Dogfight Giggle (1:03), You Don't Have To Camp Around (2:30), Flamingo (2:39), Zen Archer (8:12), Just Another Onionhead/Da Da Dali (2:22), Sometimes I Don't Know What To Feel (4:28), Does Anybody Love You? (1:32), Medley: I'm So Proud/Ooo Baby Baby/La La Means I Love You/Cool Jerk (13:05), Hungry For Love (2:28), I Don't Want to Tie You Down (2:34), Is It My Name? (4:00), When the Shit Hits the Fan/Sunset Blvd (4:03), Le Feel Internacionale (2:09), Just One Victory (7:09)
Mark Hughes

A dozen years ago back in 2009 Todd Rundgren performed a special concert in Akron, Ohio where he and his band played the entire 1973 album A Wizard, A True Star. Although not a massive hit when it was first released, the album being a mish mash of different genres largely inspired by his recently begun experimentation with psychedelic drugs that took him away from the singer-songwriter style of his previous solo releases. Over the years it has become a benchmark recording and is regarded as a classic and highly influential album. Backing Rundgren on the recording are Jesse Gress (guitar), Prairie Prince (drums), Kasim Sulton (bass), and no less than three keyboard players in Roger Powell, Greg Hawkes and Bobby Strickland who also plays woodwinds. With the exception of Prairie Prince, all band members provide backing vocal support. For some reason the concert doesn't quite follow the original order of the album with When The Shit Hits The Fan/Sunset Blvd and Le Feel Internacionale moved from the middle of the running order to towards the end.

The quality of the recording is first rate with the band on fine form, although Rundgren's lead vocals can come over as a bit thin at times. The most annoying thing is that the original continuous flow is totally ruined by the fading in and out of each track. Consequently the opening eight songs come across as an unconnected series of diverse songs that lose their coherence particularly as each is fairly short. It is not until the first of the longer songs, the excellent Zen Archer, that the listener can actually settle into a period of un-disconnected listening. Dynamically, things can sound a bit flat at times and although the vocal arrangements are deftly handled they lack the stellar impact of the studio recording.

As for the music, Just Another Onionhead/Da Da Dali is a 10cc prototype, Zen Archer is a foretaste of the direction that Rundgren would take with his Utopia project, Is It My Name? evokes the kind of guitar playing and energy that Rundgren provided on Meatloaf's Bat Out Of Hell album four years later, and closer Just One Victory doesn't quite replicate the classic nature that other renditions of the song provide. Of the numerous shorter tracks, isolating them by the constant fading in and out highlights their limitations, Hungry For Love is just a downright poor song, so much so that the extended soul medley provides one of the highlights of the album, even more so on the original release than on this live recording.

I suppose for ardent Rundgren fans this live rendition may be a treasured artifact but for the more casual listener it is unable to compete at all with the studio recording which should be the first, and probably only, point of call for this material. The concert DVD might make this a more attractive proposition but as a stand alone soundtrack it rather misses the mark.

Tubular World — Tubular Bells

50:46, 50:22
Tubular World - Tubular Bells
Part I (27:08), Part II (23:38), Part I (artist mix) (26:48), Part II (artist mix) (23:34)
Theo Verstrael

Tubular Bells shouldn't need any introduction for readers. For me it is one of the most iconic albums that formed my musical taste and for that reason alone I keep coming back to it regularly. Musically I prefer both Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn over Tubular Bells but the big impression the latter made when released and the mysticism surrounding the artist by that time, made it a defining album for me.

But what's the use of re-doing such a classic album? That's a question I've been asking myself since the first time I heard Tubular Bells II by the same Mike Oldfield and didn't like it at all. It sounded about the same as the original with only tiny differences that hardly justified its release. The third version wasn't much better and therefore both albums rank amongst my least preferred Oldfield albums.

So why have I picked on this album entitled Tubular Bells by Tubular World to review? It definitely was an impulse brought about by the expectation that it would be something to honour Oldfield's classic album. I was not prepared at all to hear that familiar album itself and was therefore very puzzled at first. For on first hearing these versions also sounded quite common, only some moments are different from the fabulous original. And hadn't the artist himself already released two re-arranged new versions which turned out to be far inferior to his first version? So why bother to release another one?

The answer came when I delved deeper into the background of this 2 cd set. Released under the Tubular World moniker behind which the omnipresent Rob Reed (Magenta, Chimpan A, amongst many others) goes. This music turns out to be the musical score of a new four hour documentary entitled From The Manor Born which focuses on the original album. Numerous people who were involved in the recording and the release were interviewed for the film. It also tells the story of the people that started the Virgin record company by releasing this very unusual one-track instrumental album only to become a global empire thereafter. Apparently the makers thought it would be a good idea to have the album re-played and re-interpreted by a bunch of competent artists, most of whom having worked with the master himself. Unfortunately the information sent with the files doesn't mention Oldfield's involvement in this new recording.

No less than 35 artists contributed, some of which are well-known in prog (Steve Hillage, Les Penning and Rick Fenn, to name a few), others less so. The set comes in two different versions, the first being the slightly longer and somewhat more exuberant, and the artist mix drier, barer and more restrained. Both versions have sections that are almost indistinguishable from the original (to my ears), such as the well-known opening section and romantic section just before the cheerful end. That alone is an achievement with so many people contributing but as said, playing just like on the original doesn't make this new version attractive.

What makes these version appealing though, even for purists (what I am in this case) is that on with concentated listening there appear to be many moments in which the new interpretations are overtly different without compromising the mood of the original. For example, the spoken introduction of the instruments at the end of Part I is very different from the original and far better than that on Oldfield's second and third versions. It is also deliberately quite over the top (with a hilarious exaggeration when announcing the 'slightly distorted guitars'), illustrating foremost that these musicians had a ball while recording this. The wolf section in Part II is also quite different and attractive in its own right. Inbetween the differences lie in the use of alternative instruments, such as more acoustic guitar, in adding some tasteful wordless vocals, in a slightly different mix or the like. It becomes fun to distinguish those differences and makes you listen to this piece of music differently. And isn't that probably the best reason to release this music?

The second reason for releasing this is, I guess the simple fact that Rob Reed is a huge fan of Oldfield's work (listen to his Sanctuary albums) and apparently found it time to take the chance to do this classic work himself. And when Rob Reed takes on a job, he does it very well (see the many good reviews of albums he is involved in). This set is no exception.

Of course Tubular Bells is a real classic piece of art. In the classical world those compositions are played over and over again by different artists, often with slightly different visions on how the composer would have meant when composing. It is one of many reasons I don't like classical music. But in this case I have to admit that I'm completely taken in by this fine set because the different interpretations really add something valuable to a piece of music I cherish. I sincerely hope to see that documentary soon and meanwhile I recommend this album wholeheartedly!

Various Artists — Still Wish You Were Here - A Tribute to Pink Floyd

Various Artists - Still Wish You Were Here - A Tribute to Pink Floyd
Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts 1-5) (13:16), Welcome To The Machine (6:57), Have A Cigar (5:07), Wish You Were Here (5:33), Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts 6-9) (12:38)
Mark Hughes

No, No, No! What is the point of this? A brilliant album torn apart by established musicians who should know better who, one gets the feeling, are only doing it for the money. The only track with any shred of credibility is Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts 6-9) which at least tries to do something a bit different by taking the laid back approach of the original and adding a bit of bounce to things, at least in the opening part. Sensibly Steve Hillage doesn't try to replicate any of Gilmour's stylings but adds his own psychedelicised sheen to proceedings. Bootsy Collins adds some funky bass while Rod Argent's jazzy noodlings work well with the guitar in the closing section. The vocals, presumably by Hillage, leave a lot to be desired.

As for the other pieces, well things start off okay with Mel Collins' contributions to Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts 1-5) being something novel. Steve Hackett's solo guitar sounds like what it is, Steve Hackett playing a solo which, in and of itself, is no bad thing but looses the force and impact of the original Floyd piece. Bassist Billy Sheehan, drummer Ian Paice and keyboardist Geoff Downes admittedly don't have a lot to do in this piece but there is a distinct lack of cohesion and passion in their performances. And don't get me started on vocalist Geoff Tate, just bloody awful.

Todd Rundgren, Rick Wakeman and Tony Levin are, on paper, an interesting combination. That is unless they are covering Welcome To The Machine. Levin adds a few different bass runs and Wakeman provides some typically dramatic over-the-top keyboards but Rundgren's voice is long past its best and his pronunciation of 'jaguar' is unforgivable. I did actually quite like the combination of Steve Stevens and Patrick Moraz on Have A Cigar, but why James LaBrie sings 'sincere' instead of 'sincerely' makes no sense and is just annoying, like a lot of his vocals. Rat Scabies and Jah Wobble are pretty anonymous on this recording really.

Now Wish You were Here is one of my favourite songs, partly because of its inherent simplicity and beauty. The fragility of the piece is easily ruined by Joe Satriani overplaying everywhere and Carmine Appice adding too many drum fills. David Ellefson (from Megadeth, I had to look that one up) thankfully, provides probably the quietest performance of his life, ditto Edgar Froese, but at least Rik Emmett's singing is okay.

It should be illegal to buy this album if you don't own the original Pink Floyd version, and if you do own the original and still buy this then you either have too much money or the Covid lockdown has seriously impaired your judgement.

Pointless and horrible.

Album Reviews