Reviews in this issue:
Transatlantic - Live in America
Tracklist CD2: Watcher Of The Skies/Firth Of Fifth, My New World, Medley (There Is More To This World / Go The Way You Go / The Great Escape / Finally Free / She's So Heavy)
TransAtlantic reached number one in almost all relevant catagories in the DPRPoll 2000. Quite a way to start the new milennium for the quartet consisting of gifted members of todays hottest prog-bands. As you may have seen in the poll, and also in the review of the TransAtlantic studio album, I am not really impressed by the work. Although the album is agreeable on first hearing, it failed to grow on me and did not show up very high in my personal top of 2000. This live album was a chance to show I was wrong and that TransAtlantic is more than the sum of their parts. Also in this respect it failed.
All Of The Above is a quality track and is tightly played (apart from a few minor glitches). As this was apparently the first time they played this track live together (they only had a couple of rehearsals) this is quite an achievement. On the other hand, they are supposed to be the best musicians around in the current prog scene, so one should expect nothing less. You have to live up to your reputation, especially when you create the hype consciously! One thing to note here already is that the album is "honest", in the good and the bad sense of the word. In the good sense, it means that it is clearly audible the thing is played live, in the bad sense it also means there are, especially on the vocal side, a couple of blunders (not really in this track, but later on the album).
After All Of The Above, it goes downhill. While the vocals on Mystery Train are already shaky (also the vocal harmonics), on the rest of the track it is not up to standards. The bridge between Magical Mystery Tour (only a couple of bars are played) and Strawberry Fields Forever failed miserably and sounds amateuristic. Although this is a problem of few rehearsals, it is not something to be expected to be featured on a live album. Well, like I said, at least it is "honest". Poor Lennon. This rendition of Strawberry Fields is way to chaotic.
CD 1 ends with We All Need Some Light, but not before some silly comments have been made (wanted to get a Explicit Lyrics - Parental Guidance sticker on the album ? ;-). This track is better than the previous one, Morse is more confident with his vocals here, even though not perfect. Then again, the song approaches the Beard quite closely in style, so that's no wonder there.
CD 2 opens with a old-Genesis medley of Watcher Of The Skies/Fifth Of Firth. Watcher Of The Skies is a wonderful track in itself, as soon as it really starts after the rather outdated and too long keyboard opening. This was cool in the early seventies, when keyboard technology was in its infancy and this was a cool way to open a show, with lots of smoke and dimmed light. But nowadays....come on! Why not open a different way and play the interesting part, the part that sets this track apart from all others: the vocal verses... but no. TransAtlantic takes this song up to the part where Gabriels vocals would set in and then perform the over-played vocal part of Fifth Of Firth (instead of the highly interesting intro and solo, where the sequence of different measure types requires a well trained ear). Granted, the Banks keyboard solo is played. So where the title promises a lot, the actual thing is a bit disappointing.
My New World opens nice and atmospheric. The melody, edging towards classical music, is powerful yet melodic and the sharp guitar here underlines that power excellently. This is the level that I expected from the whole album. The vocals are very nice here, making me wondering why this couldn't be the case on the rest of the album.... Anyway, a good track, of the same level as All Of The Above. They seem to be most in their element with this type of bombastic instrumentals.
The album closes with a medley of tracks from the individual member's bands (and I guess also sung by each member): There Is More To This World/Go The Way You Go/The Great Escape/Finally Free/She's So Heavy. A nice idea, and most of the time not half bad, although the vocals either sometimes almost fall away (There Is More To This World) or just sound plain awful (Finally Free, sorry Mike!). The bridge between There Is More To This World and Go The Way You Go is well thought out, as is the one to The Great Escape. I never thought that this part would be one of the highlights of the album, but it actually is. Played with force and sung with emotion, it is a statement of the power of Marillion's music. The brige to Finally Free is of highschool band level. Let's not talk about this part, it is rather sad. Portnoy tries his best, but the rest can't keep up with Dream Theater's music. It is proof of the fact that Dream Theater's music cannot be uncoupled from its members. What a difference compared to the near perfect show I attended in Den Bosch last year!
In conclusion, this album in my opinion is redundant. It does not add any value to the TransAtlantic tracks, and the rest is not really worth mentioning. The shaky vocals, the too obviously not enough rehearsed tracks do not compensate for the better played parts. In general, I think this is an album for die-hard fans only.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
So Transatlantic is cashing in on its success with a live album, after just a handful of
concerts? Well, it turns out they've done a pretty good job with a more than adequate
production by Roine Stolt. Although I wasn't all that impressed with the studio album as a
whole, All of the Above was a clear choice for Best Song of the year 2000, even against
some stiff competition. This first song from the concert sounds excellent in its live
rendition. Not much variation on the original, but well played.
When reviewing Transatlantic's SMPTe album, I rated Mystery Train a "piece of fluff", which may have been a bit harsh. Which is not to say it's gotten under my skin since. In fact, I still don't particularly like it. The live vocals aren't very good, actually worse than on the studio album. The song is complemented by two The Beatles classics, a small part of Magical Mystery Tour, which is performed without conviction, and Strawberry Fields Forever, which is brought with much more verve and hence one of the more worthwhile features on this release.
We All Need Some Light Now is the only track from the studio album which has grown on
me, and a lot at that. In the live version they've tried (unsuccesfully) to add some varitions
with electric guitar throughout the track. But acoustic guitar is good. Vocals are
disappointing, Morse having obvious trouble with the high notes.
Next up, another marvelous little gem: Genesis's Watcher of the Skies and Firth of Fifth performed in combo. Excepting some weaker vocal parts during Firth this is splendidly executed. Jolly good fun to get a chance to hear these outstanding compositions played live again now that Genesis seems to have kicked the bucket.
Nearly identical to the studio track, My New World is, with All of the Above, one of two best performed of the studio songs on the album. A convincing live rendition. The band wraps things up with a nice Medley, inclusing Marillion's The Great Escape and Dream Theater's Finally Free, but Steve Hogarth, James LaBrie and, very conspicuously, John Petrucci are sorely missed.
You can argue about whether this release is a response to fans requesting a live album or
whether Transatlantic has jumped on the money train, milking their early success. But they
were voted number 1 in the DPRP 2000 Best Album poll, so there's no argueing taste. But
granted, it takes more than four talented musicians to make a good album, it takes a band.
Transatlantic may still grow as a collective, but with the performance captured on Live
in America they've proven that they're on the right track.
One last remark, if I may. For "The Supergroup for the New Millennium" so far these guys seem to rely a lot on music from supergroups from the last millennium (Genesis, The Beatles, Procol Harum).
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
There probably aren't many bands who release their first solo album straight after their debut album. Then again, the all-star line-up of Transatlantic probably makes this a feasible venture where it would be commercial suicide for other new bands, since there is enought interest in the market for this recording. Especially those people who have not been able to see their new pet band live will probably want to get their hands on it as soon as possible. But ... should they ?
As the band honestly admits in the CD booklet (8 pages with liner notes and pages), the first Transatlantic tour was knocked into
shape quite quickly, with no huge amount of rehearsing. Some of the gigs were seemingly
rather dodgy, as people on the internet have said and as the band confirms, again in the CD
booklet. This was the first time that the band would really play the tracks as a four piece,
and all in one go. Quite a difference from the studio takes when bits and pieces were
recorded and merged, without the band ever playing the whole piece together.
The recording of the show on the CD was one of the last performances and according to the band probably the best one. I have to admit that, considering the circumstances, they don't do half bad. Especially the complex My New World sounds quite impressive, although I wonder if some of Stolt's vocals were re-recorded because he sounds very different from elsewhere on the album.
The album features all of the tracks from Transatlantic's debut SMPTe
with the exception - thank Buddah ! - of the Procul Harum cover In Held (Twas) in I, which
has never really appealed to me.
To be perfectly honest, it is nice to hear the Transatlantic tracks played in their live versions, even though they are obviously far from perfect and contain quite some bum notes, bad timings and weak vocals here and there. Still, I really doubt if I would be playing these live versions a lot because first of all, they don't reach the heights of the originals, and second, they don't have any kind of improvisation that would make them permanently interesting. The CD therefore fits in nicely with other live versions of classic albums that don't add anything to the original (e.g. Brave or Subterranea).
So basically, it would have to be the additional tracks in the setlist that would have to make this CD recommendable. Let's have a look. After the band played Mystery Train, they go straight into The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour, in which the lyrics have been changed into 'magical mystery train'. A nice little joke, which probably wears out after having heard it a couple of times. The band continue their trip into Lennon/McCartney land with Strawberry Fields Forever. Fortunately this version is much better than the one that can be found on Two Separate Gorillas : Nick & Neal live in Europe, but still, it's nothing special either. And on top of that the way the two Beatles tracks merge is just plain amateuristic. On the other hand, something which is interesting to hear is the extended jam at the end of the song.
Of all the 'additional material' I probably like the Genesis medley best. After the full
intro of Watchers of the Skies we get a very decent version of Firth of Fifth.
The 'here's a track of our regular bands' Medley on the other hand is a rather embarassing piece if you ask me. I can't judge about There Must Be More to This World (which sounds very messy to me) and Finally Free (how about an instrumental version next time ?) because I don't know the originals. I do know that I'm not impressed at all about Roine Stolts guitar work in Go The Way You Go and The Great Escape. In the latter, it also becomes painfully clear how important Steve Hogarth has become to the Marillion sound. Although this is one of my favourite Marillion tracks, this flat and monotonous en emotionless version sung by Peter Trewavas doesn't do anything for me.
All in all, the extra material doesn't justify the purchase of this double album for me.
Concluding, I would have to agree with Remco that this is a rather unnecessary release. Personally,
the only reason I can find for the release of this CD is skimming the success of the popularity
of the supergroup. And thereby it fits in perfectly with the Spock's Beard/Neil Morse release craze
on Radiant Records of the past years. The release of a video of the Transatlantic tour which is advertised as 'different
gig than the live CD' only supports this opinion.
In all honesty I have to admit one more thing. I wasn't impressed by the CD at all when I played it at home on the stereo. However, when I played it again on the car stereo, nice and loud and being 'right in the middle' of the sound, I really enjoyed large parts of the album. Therefore it still gets a positive rating from me, although I maintain my point of view that this definitely isn't a must-have.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Acumen - Out Of Balance
Out Of Balance is the second full-length release from Acumen, following their debut Think (1993). The group is led by vocalist/guitarist Dimitrious James and features James Linden (guitars), Greg Poneris (drums), Jim Reynolds (bass) and Kristi Spurlock (vocals, percussion, keys) as well as vast array of guest musicians. A word of note regarding this album and the group. The album is dedicated to Spyder Kokopelli, the first female vocalist with the group who was hit by a drunk driver and remained paralyzed. Notwithstanding this mishap she has still managed to co-write a number of tracks as well as contribute the occasional vocals to the album. The title of the album was taken from the film Koyaanisqatsi which is Hopi Indian for "life out of balance".
Musically the group seem to merge a variety of influences though their basic modus operandi is within the alternative rock sphere, yet the musical variety the group infuse within the tracks on offer alienates them from that musical sphere and seems to attract them more or less towards the progressive side of rock. It is not the diversity that one finds throughout the single track that allows this group to be classified as such, but rather the diversity found within the album when this is looked at as a a whole.
The anger that Dimitrious James and his fellow band members seem to harbor towards society is immediately apparent in the opener Out Of Balance. The track kicks off with a killer bass run added to a crunching guitar giving the group an almost heavy metal stance. Forever has more of a folky-tinge to it with its opening female vocal harmony leading into James' vocals accompanied by acoustic guitar, making the group sound somewhat similar to The Cranberries. All Behind Me takes us back to the style with which the group opened the album though the pace is slowed down yet still retaining that alternative factor.
Released as a single, Hawk could be described as country rock meets Native American music. The song itself features a duet between James and a female vocalist (seeing the number of female vocalists that this band have had, it is difficult to determine who is who!) backed by an acoustic guitar together with Native American percussion and flute. This track was written just after the crash which injured two members of the group especially Spyder Kokopelli who remained paralyzed and who was influenced greatly by Native American lore.
Faces on the other hand has a southern rock touch to it with riffs that evoke groups such as The Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd. This momentum is maintained by World Gone Mad which offers some interesting drumming by Greg Poneris, serving to break the constant guitar rhythm present on this track.
Between Us sees the return of the vocal duetting and harmonies coupled with some great alternative guitar playing while Now could be seen as the most progressive of the tracks on the album with the guitar played in minor chord arpeggios that create a feel of discordance that somehow manages to fit in snugly with the rest of the track. My Gods sees the introduction of synthesizers that form a bed for an introductory melancholic acoustic guitar together with ethereal vocals. This is soon interrupted with the group veering into more familiar alternative territory.
All Of My All has a Steve Hogarth-Marillion touch to it while Gypsy sounds as if it could have been composed at the height of the psychedelic era with James' voice passing off as Roger Waters' own. The use of female vocals evokes some of the San Francisco groups such as Jefferson Airplane, though there is no Grace Slick present here! The official track to close the album is I Wonder and it picks up where most of the acoustic-alternative rockers on this album left off, energetic and aggressive. Also included is a Bonus Track which has the two vocalists engaging in an acoustic duet which once again has psychedelic taints and is a different, this time acoustic, version of the opener Out Of Balance.
As I started off by saying, this group is definitely one that could be classed as the classic progressive group, yet at the same time one would find it hard to even classify this band. They definitely have a lot in common with many of the alternative underground garage bands, yet they manage to infuse too many influences to be classified simply so. What is definite is that they play some good rocking music and that this is one of those albums that grows on you. I liked it and I'm sure you will too!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Captain T - Sinister Ambassador
Occasionally the rock world is regaled with colorful characters and Captain T. just happens to be one of these. A look at his website and the section dedicated to him and his band at The Artificial Records site just about says it all. According to his biography, he is an ex-communicated CIA agent once abducted by aliens and now with a price tag on his head! Fellow band members who are Matt Pichel (bass) and Chris Heaton (drums) also have their own story as well as the Madd Dr. who has a narrative role on the track Joyloader.
Unlike many of those musicians that utilize such an image, the music presented on this album is actually very good involving a heavy dose of grunge guitar work, classic rock and various other musical infusions. The opener Joyloader has that sixties sound to it with guitar work reminiscent of instrumentals such as Telstar by The Tornados. The lengthy Interplanetary Disgrace follows a grunge outline with Captain belting out some great guitar riffs and powerful vocals. Though over twenty one minutes long (possibly making it the longest grunge song!) there are occasional musical diversions with the group veering off into more of the classical rock style as well as at times an almost punk style. Space is also given for some Gregorian-like chants, bass solo and narration midst a textured landscape making one think that the psychedelic era is back amongst us bringing visions of very early Rush and Pink Floyd.
Ozzy has the group returning to a harder edge, as well as a more commercial mode of conveying their message. The change in vocals from deep narration to powerful screams reminded me of Faith No More. Moongate on the other hand sounded distinctively seventies rock with a nice crunchy guitar sound while Manifest Destiny has characteristics that lean towards the stoner rock promoted by bands such as Queens Of The Stone Age.
Saloon Society sees the group returning to a more grungy style with some great bass lines running throughout the track while the instrumental Girls Inc. has the group reaching out with a cleaner funkier sound. Heaven Jam closes this interesting album and as the name indicates, the sound has a very spacey feel to it with the tempo considerably slowed down in comparison to the rest of the album as the guitar is played in echoing harmonics.
A weird album as much as this is a weird group. Apart from the final two tracks and the psychadelic Interplanetary Disgrace, there is little that can be attribute to Captain T as being progressive. Nonetheless this album makes an interesting and great listen. Hence the low score is a reflection of the album's progressiveness, and not the overall rocking nature that the group convey.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10.
The SymphOnyx - Utopia
Following their 1997 debut Psico Fantasia, Portuguese band The SymphOnyx (no relation to Symphony X) have just released this Promotional CD in anticipation of their second full length album. The group is essentially a quartet with band leader Carlos Barros on vocals, Carlos Torres (drums), Martinho Torres (guitars) and Mota on bass guitar. Featured on the album are various guest musicians amongst which one finds a string section, used to full effect over the length of this EP.
Stylistically speaking this group tend to play in a Goth metal style similar to Paradise Lost and Type O Negative infusing a sense of melancholy both via their lyrics and music. Opener The Rise And Fall immediately sets the record straight as to which musical direction the band move in. Accompanied by the string section the sound of the band is rich and fills all the space while Barros' vocals are rich and dramatic. Furthermore they lack that strong accentuation that many Latin bands seem to suffer (a case in mind would be fellow Portuguese band Moonspell).
Sophia II, a track oft used by the band in live performances sees the introduction of keyboards though the sound still retains that Goth feel amidst some great guitar playing. The Master of Illusions has a heavier touch to it with hints of early Queensryche and though pretty straight forward initially, the track possess a delicate intermezzo in which the string section takes over to eventually blend in with the band and create a most intricate sounding track.
The EP comes to a close with The Flood Of Passion which is dark and full of eerie atmospheric music, which is what Goth music is about anyway! The rhythm here is great as is the incorporation of the string section.
Once again I question what nowadays causes a band to be defined as progressive. There is nothing in my opinion that allows The SymphOnyx to be classified as such. They are a very good Goth-metal band and the possible Progressive undertone is the fact that they introduce, with good effect, a string section in their music. Apart from that, not much else. From a neutral point of view though, their music augers well for the future, but not within the progressive sphere.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Poegs - The Frogressive Rock Sampler
Poegs is none other than German multi-instrumentalist Christian Zumdick, and the albums released under the pseudonym of Poegs are a collection of tracks that he writes and records presumably at his own place. The list of influences is long and impressive, but quite frankly this is a poor collection of home demos which fail to capture any figment of imagination. The sound itself is terrible with really fake sounding drums and percussive sounds. The tracks themselves feature repetitive riffs accompanied by the occasional discordant guitar lick. I'm sorry but maybe I need to hear this 100 times over to be able to really dig this one, but every time I hear it, it beats me how anyone can get down to buying such stuff. Anyway, calling your style of music Frogressive Rock and producing a Frogressive Rock Sampler leaves me without any doubt that this is a wasted CD.
Once again, I'm sorry but this really fails to get close to anything, though there are attempts to create forms of new Age and Electronic rock. A four for trying!
Conclusion: 4 out of 10.