Reviews in this issue:
Ambeon - Fate of A Dreamer
A preview of the Ambeon album in the form of the song Cold Metal was included on Ayreon's 2000 album Ayreonauts Only which was enough to raise high expectations.
Whilst Ambeon is labelled a project of Arjen and Astrid van der Veen two further musicians provide a solid rhythm section for the album. Walter Latupeirassa of Snowy White's White Flames band (also Steve Lukather, Pat Travers) plays bass and fretless bass and Stephen van Haestregt is heard on drums and percussion. John and Pat McManus of Celtus add folky atmosphere on flute and pipes, and fiddle respectively. Erik Norlander is around for some synth work and Lana Lane provides some backing vocals.
With the two Universal Migrator CDs Arjen took a gamble in departing from the usual formula of combining gentler and more aggressive material. With his original plans for Ambeon he again left himself open to debate on how his musical direction is evolving. Fate of a Dreamer turns out not to be the ambient instrumental album at first envisioned, but a rather vocal-orientated collection of symphonic, ambient and gothic styles. The lyrics, which were all written by Astrid reflect this mixture, often embodying dark, at times bordering on depressing, material, which evidently reflects a storyline (for which she is credited). If I may venture a guess, I'd say it focuses on a girl who can't come to grips with her emotions, her mixed feelings for family and an eventual confrontation with a strong incestuous character. Rather bleak material for a 14-year old, but brought with such conviction and skill in writing and vocal execution that's it's highly convincing.
The short, but chilling opener, Estranged, starts with beautiful Uilleann pipes. It's quite clear on which Ayreon song this track is based, but Astrid has provided a vocal countermelody. The absence of guitar and addition of flute works to create the ambient, though dark, feel of this opener, which Arjen probably sought after in his original intent with the album. Astrid's vocals have been given a familiar Ayreon vocal effect. Ashes is another track that betrays its roots, this time from a more recent Ayreon track. In some tracks the original material they're based on clearly shines through, but in a couple your guess is as good as mine. Arjen had to tell me which Ayreon song Cold Metal is based on, before I recognized it (while that's one of the more, though not the most, obvious). While taking some of the original's strong assets, Ashes again has Astrid adding her own touch, this time through clear and powerful vocals. Arjen is on a roll on guitar, while Latuperissa gets in some good melodic basslines. Drums sound pretty static a few times, but I found that's in keeping with the song's structure. Besides, Stephen van Haestregt also gets in some fine (rhythmic) work. Some samples complete the track and lead straight into High, which soon adds keyboards and Latuprissa's dominant bass, through which a familiar Ayreon tune flows on pipes. Astrid demostrates the wide vocal range she commands; impressive, considering her age.
Another instrumental bridge brings to the fore Cold Metal, which was included on Ayreon's Ayreonauts Only album. I have to admit to kind of neglecting this track in rating last year's large selection of great progressive songs, but hearing it again proves why I was so taken by it. Pure magic, this is in my opinion the best song on Fate of a Dreamer. The only difference with last year's preview version seems to be that Walter Latuperissa plays bass on this recording, while bass on the Ayreonauts Only album version was credited to Jolanda Verduijn (of whom no mention is made in the credits of Fate of a Dreamer.) This is one of two tracks in which Astrid approaches the vocals of Tori Amos very closely, but throughout the album she displays a range of vocal performance that makes it difficult or unnecessary to draw to close a comparison. Next, through some further samples comes Fate, the first of the two instrumental tracks. The overflow between the two tracks has a bit of a Welcome to the Machine quality, which shouldn't surprise anyone, seeing as how Lucassen is a fan of Pink Floyd. (Rumour has it he has asked David Gilmour to perform on his next album, but as stated, this is only a rumour. Considering Gilmour's apparent current disinterest in music, I would think it highly unlikely, though the very idea of a collaboration is enough to warrant some excitment.) Fate starts off rather quiet, but as the song progresses any thought of the Ambient style perservering is lost as the song turns drastically towards a sharp, violent edge.
Another overflow, a near repeat of the one leading into this track, now leads us to Sick Ceremony. The guitar-driven, riffed chorus again belies the original intent to focus on a more ambient style, while a more relaxed approach ís taken through the verses. Keyboards take us further as we come to Lost Message and a return to melody and pattern from The Final Experiment. Surreal has the least text, starting with a fine solo by Arjen, first on electric, then on acoustic guitar. (This is very remeniscent of David Gilmour in execution.) Use of keyboards remind me a bit of the use Supertramp made of them on their last studio album. On Sweet Little Brother Astrid again resembles Tori Amos (or, if you prefer, Kate Bush). The song includes some vocal (news) edits focusing on the murder and disappearance of the potential suspect. Backing vocals are apperent for the first time towards the end of this track. The last track, Dreamer, heralds a look back at Ayreon's Actual Fantasy period, while including some melodies that may be new, though I get the feeling I've heard them before. Astrid is far from absent from this, the second of the instrumental tracks, as she dominates the central section with a chilling chant.
Each track is accompanied by some poetic liner notes, which shed some further light on the song content. Instead of the usual grandiose artwork, the booklet is filled with photographs of Astrid (and one of Lucassen, almost as an afterthought). All this suits the tone and atmosphere of the album very well and gives us quite a few shots of this young talent. (The cover picture is a doozy.) The entire album is expertely recorded, produced and mixed by Lucassen. (Damn, I'd almost venture to guess that he didn't cooperate with Oscar Holleman on this venture on purpose, just to deny me the right to pay respect to his usual partner. Hey, I did just get his name in, didn't I!) But seriously, Holleman isn't really missed at all, as Arjen has done a perfect job. There's a constant element as most songs flow into each other through subtle bridges and the standard of sound quality is splendid throughout. Arjen must have really enjoyed working with his new hard disk recording system and throws in a fair smathering of typical Ayreon elements. (He is credited for "weird noises", after all.)
Astrid might have turned 15 earlier this year, she was only 14 years old at the time of recording. Yet she has a more mature vocal sound than many of her female collegeaus in the music business and certainly stands above her contemporaries. If she decides to pursue a career in music, both her vocal skills and writing ability will surely prove huge assets. For more information on Astrid van der Veen, turn to her website. Whilst at present only presented in Dutch, an English version is promised to be in the works.
Personally I liked Fate of a Dreamer from the first time I played it and appreciation hasn't diminished, so endorsement through a recommendation proves easy. It remains to be seen whether the Ambeon project will have the same appeal to others who've grown fond of Arjen's Ayreon-formula. Then again, it might reach an even broader audience. The avid Ayreonaut could at first be caught between accepting the songs on their own value and extrapolating the various patterns and melodies from the Ayreon songs which provide the foundations. While I enjoyed the album for its own merits on first hearing it, I kind of skippered in between these stands between the fourth and eigth listen. But the feeling fades and soon you might find yourself comfortably accepting these songs for their own sake, as I did.
Recommending this album to Ayreon followers seems superfluous; there's more than enough of the usual strong elements Arjen has build on through the years. But it is Astrid van der Veen, or rather the combination of these two talented musicians, which gives Fate of a Dreamer its distinctive merits. I hope it won't end with this one single collaboration.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
"Ambient" plus Ayreon equals Ambeon. Well, that's the easy part. The hard part is to categorize this music. Ambient alright, but since I don't know a lot about that, it's hard for me. I'll just describe the things I hear, and I hope you will understand.
This music fits the mood I imagined when thinking of the word "ambient". Creating an atmosphere is most important here. Nothing too technically challenging to the ear, nothing too loud. That's not necessarily boring or uninteresting. There are mood changes among the songs, and within some of them too, like in Cold Metal, Sweet Little Brother or the instrumental Fate. Without becoming too heavy, there's aggression nonetheless. Here, Lucassen shows what a great melodic guitarist he is, more than once. Songs like this could be part of any Ayreon album.
For the larger part, the atmosphere called upon by the music is relaxed and slightly mysterious. I'd like to introduce the term "dawn", as it's not really dark, and there's some light at the end, a bit of hope.
A lot of Pink Floyd feelings, to be honest. But like the Ayreon albums, although the music is moving in and around the cliche type of prog, Lucassen is a musician and, more importantly, a composer good enough to do something with his songs to make it something special. What he is doing, he is doing great, and this Ambeon project is no exception. It's got a lot of influences, and still has something original. An original mix of well-known ingredients.
A Lost Message is a bit weird, as it contains acoustic guitar and flutes, giving it a bit of a folk touch. Almost happy, trying to be, but not yet melancholy.
Singer Astrid van der Veen is young. During the first tracks, you can't tell, but a couple of tracks later, you begin to notice. It's not the sound of her voice maybe, but more the lack of experience that comes with her age. I am not saying she's not good. She is good, and she will become someone we will hear a lot more of, I am sure. Her voice is sweet, but she's still a bit limited in the way of expressing her emotions. She is right between Anneke Giersbergen of The Gathering and Sharon den Adel of Within Temptation. Innocent. This is, as is the case with these two other bands, a mild but nice contrast with the music, giving it the extra melodics in the not very complicated musical parts.
Yet, she sings of darker moods and melancholy. She even wrote all the lyrics herself. In this department I also notice a lack of experience. Still, for a fourteen-year old she's ahead of a lot of lyricists a lot older than she is. The lyrics are more like a story than song lyrics. At times, the structure of the lyrics seems forcefed to the music, but it appears not to be any problem at all with this kind of music. I think her feeling for music is great.
Personally, I find this album is not too interesting. I am not a Floyd fan. I like more diversity, and more emotion. The atmosphere is built up roughly the same way, and the heavier pieces I mentioned before seem to be heavy in the same way. My conclusional rating is more what I think of it than what it could mean to a lot of people. No reviewer has the same taste as any of the readers, and I can only do my best to describe albums the best way I can. I hope I am doing justice to the album.
This mix of dark yet melodic music with high voices is getting more popular. I have just heard some items on the Dark Symphonies label. If you like their music, you should definitely try this one. Ayreon fans will like or even love it. Also recommended for Gathering and Within Temptation fans.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
Derek Sherinian - Inertia
About a year and a half ago, I was simply blown away by Sherinian's first solo outing Planet X, which turned out to be more of a group project than a solo-album. After a second album with Planet X (now as a band) he teamed up with acclaimed drummer Simon Phillips (no stranger to the progressive rock scene, as he played with about a zillion people in the past) for his second 'solo' album.
More so than on Planet X, Sherinian surrounded himself with a string of great musicians. Guitarists Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osborne, BLS) and Steve Lukather (Toto and tons of other sessions), violinist Jerry Goodman (The Flock, Dixy Dreggs) and bassists Tony Franklin (Planet X), Tom Kennedy and Jimmy Johnson, each adding a bit of their own to the unmistakable Sherinian sound.
The first track of the album, title track Inertia, opens with some strange noises until Simon Phillips' hard-hitting drums come in and Inertia seemingly continues where Planet X ended. (I'll leave Planet X' second album Universe out of consideration, as I don't know the album). For the next three quarters of an hour we are shown every possible aspect of progressive fusion rock. From the powerful Edgar Winter cover Frankenstein , to the fast-paced rhapsody Rhapsody in Black (penned by Planet X drummer Virgil Donati) the music provoces exactly the same thought in my mind as Planet X did: Damned, this is good!
The muscial styles range from hard rock in Evel Knievel, jazzy rhythms in La Pera
Loca ("the mad pear"), blues (!!) in the Charles Mingus/Jeff Beck cover Goodbye Porkpie Hat
to modern sounding electronic drums in Mata Hari, which, with its atmosphere, sounds
not unlike some of the mellower tracks off the Liquid Tension Experiments.
The other tracks are more "standard" Sherinian. Fast paced and hart-hitting.
There are very few acoustic instruments on the album. A few twiddles of acoustic guitar here and there (most notably a short solo in What a Shame, the only track to feature both Steve Lukather and Zakk Wylde), and you can spot the occasional piano bit. But this is not easy listening, for those who hadn't noticed yet. However, it's not exactly a hardrock-fest either. There are plenty mellow parts to relax a bit in between the heavy solos and on a whole it is a very versatile album. I do miss fun-tracks like Space Martini or Day in the Sun off the first album though, Inertia has a rather 'serious' feel over it.
The only drawback of the album are (again) its short playing time; even a minute less than the already short Planet X. And there's also the over-used one minute silence, followed by another minute of atmospherical sounds at the end. But these are just minor complaints about a near-perfect album.
In conclusion I'd say. If you don't own Planet X yet, then this is maybe an even better bet. Yet, for those who already own Planet X and like it, then Inertia won't disappoint you, yet don't expect too many groundbreaking differences either. It's more of the same, albeit very good more of the already good same.Conclusion: 8,5 out of 10.
Nash The Slash - Thrash
To some people, Nash The Slash is best known for being the electric violin / mandolin player in Canadian prog band FM. However, he's produced a lot more music on his own than with them. "On his own" is almost completely true, as he writes, produces and plays almost everything by himself.
The music is electronic alright. Nash plays violins, mandolins, keyboards, and a drum machine, and sings. The resulting songs have a diversity of styles, but still fit very well with each other on one CD. In general, the sound is heavy, distorted, driving. And weird, too! Most of it can easily be used on the soundtracks of thrillers or horror movies, as the sound is menacing, building up the tension.
The instrumental title track, End Of The Millennium, or Underground - multi-layered songs with a lot of power. Not for a quiet night on the couch, but lights off (laser effects on if you have them) and take the musical trip.
Some tracks are slow and heavy, and I sometimes wonder how those sounds are created without an electric guitar (as there are no guitars on Nash's albums). Like the opening track or Give Me The Creeps. Here Nash shows he's not taking himself too serious. But it's not just fun. Theory Of The Black Hole is mysterious; I'll Wait For You is a slow and quiet song about love beyond death. The music is able to bring you in different moods, and the words and music fit very well here.
Other songs are short stories on themselves, miniature soundtracks. A song like Vincent's Crows is a beautiful track in the FM vein. This song also reminds me a bit of Nash's countrymen Saga, whose song Careful Where You Step is creating a similar atmosphere.
Nash The Slash has a great voice for this kind of music. He can sing in many different ways, and not only in that respect but also in the way he sounds, he makes me think of Mr. Doctor of Devil Doll. Or the other way around, of course... Aggressive at times, and sometimes clear and still very powerful.
Any FM fan will love this. People who know Nash's music will probably already have this album, and if not: do it now! I'd also recommend his music to gothic metal lovers. As people from that scene seem to listen to a wider range of music, this might fit in there very well. Some laughs and some great dark atmosphere tension builders. To me, it's just that: it does things to you, changes the mood you're in - great to listen to.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Nash The Slash - Children Of The Night
Bonus tracks (27:23): Wolf (live) (5:51), Danger Zone (live) (4:44), Reactor No. 2 (4:19), Swing-Shift (original 45 RPM version) (4:22), Swing-Shift (flexi-disc version) (3:22), Children Of The Night (live) (4:45)
After the Blind Windows CD that contained his first two EPs, here is the next album of older recordings, Children Of The Night. It contains the album of the same name from 1981, plus six bonus tracks. I'd say this was long overdue, since his older albums are since long unavailable.
But here it is, in marvellous sound quality, and with bonus tracks. And those include, for example, two previously released versions of Swing-Shift. This is going great - it seems all he recorded will be released... Note that Nash will be releasing a series of three CDs in the future, containing his other LPs and EPs like Decomposing and American Bandages!
You'll be reading about those releases in this section of DPRP when they're released - no doubt about that. But this is about Children Of The Night. It is as uniquely Nash The Slash as his other music. However, there are more popular influences on this album more than others. At least, as far as I know his older stuff. Dead Man's Curve contains verses and chorus, and is almost danceable. I notice a wink towards Beach Boys in the vocal lines, by the way...
Swing-Shift - hard to imagine this was recorded in 1980, and written even years before that. This shows what Nash's part in FM's music was. Heavier alright, but electronic, full, and weird.
It's electronic. Nash does not use guitars. With his electric mandolin and keyboards he can produce the weirdest of sounds. Listen to Deep Forest or Metropolis, for example.
His songs sound very heavy sometimes, like the title track, or Danger Zone, or Reactor No. 2. The latter is my favourite on the album. Less heavy are Wolf, the opening track, or Glass Eye. And still there is power and aggression in his voice. His voice - a very remarkable voice he has. He can sound sweet, mysterious, and also aggressive.
19th Nervous Breakdown is a title that sounds familiar. And yes it is a cover of the Rolling Stones tune. But nowhere near the original of course. Hey, this is Nash The Slash! The song is played faster than the original, more powerful. The choruses contain his characteristic, heavily distorted, electric mandolin. A song without drums sounding so heavy, so full. Great adaption.
Another cover tune is Dopes On The Water, a pun towards Deep Purple. Great solo (no guitar, of course)!
It's amazing that one man on his own can write and play and produce this kind of music for so many years, and keep it interesting of course. Weird, melodic, scary, rocking. For so long, and still original. Can't wait for the other albums to be re-issued on CD!
It's music you listen to at nightly gatherings in the woods. Like I mentioned in the Thrash review, some of it seems to come out right of a horror movie soundtrack. Great scary stuff. Again something for a gothic party? :-) Fans of Devil Doll should pay attention. Less orchestration, but the atmosphere is there alright. Nash and FM fans: go! buy! now! Nah, you already have it, don't you?
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Nash The Slash - Nosferatu
No re-issue this time. New music, but still a very old theme. As a lover of silent and horror movies, Nash got the idea to write a soundtrack for the Dracula movie Nosferatu (directed by F.W. Murnau), from the 1920s. He did not only write it, he also performed the music live in a theatre accompanying a screening of the original movie. This must have been a marvellous experience!
Nash has written music to other silent movies as well: Un Chien Andalou by Luis Bunuel, and The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari by Robert Wiene. I hope those will be released one day, too. He hopes his music will generate more interest in those kind of movies.
It's a movie score. Don't expect a rock album. It's a horror movie, don't expect complex prog or happy songs. This CD is made to create an atmosphere to let the movie be more of an experience. The music on itself, I can tell you, is an experience on itself as well. I think it's quite hard to write music to a movie. You have to interpret and then capture the magic of the movie's moments in the music. Not a lot of freedom to do whatever you want.
As I haven't seen the movie, it's impossible for me to tell you how the music relates to what's on the screen. Instead, I have listened to this CD with the lights off and my eyes closed, and let the music do the talking. At many times it's like you're listening to a small orchestra. Well, it makes no sense to listen to modern techno when watching a movie like this. It's great to hear someone is able to make you feel haunted, scared, happy, or melancholic, just by playing music. I rarely have that with electronic music, but Nash is capable of doing just that. And not with an odd album like this, a movie score, but with most of his music.
On itself, the music is not suited to be played in the background, or just have something to listen to. You really have to see the whole picture. A lot of it is orchestrated, not demanding too much attention, because you're watching a movie, right? However, tracks like The Land Of Phantoms and Dracula Packs , for example, are classic Nash The Slash. Slower maybe, but his own style.
Although I haven't seen the movie itself, I am sure this music would improve the experience of watching it. This album has made me very curious to see it. I am going to get it somewhere, and watch it with this CD playing. (Jeez, this should be released as a DVD!) In that respect, Nash has succeeded in his attempt to generate more interest in silent movies. I find it hard to rate this album, as it's such a different thing from what we usually do in the review columns. It's such a different form of art than regular CDs. So I'll won't rate this CD at all.
If you are interested in regular rock or prog only, leave it. You probably wouldn't have read this entire review anyway. If you know Nash The Slash's music, this is a must. If you are interested in silent movies, you're in for a very nice surprise. Some gothic fans listening to a lot of dark and slow music might also give it a try, by the way.