Reviews in this issue:
Marillion - Between You And Me / Map Of The World
For the first time in nearly three Marillion has released a single, despite not having had a hit single for over a decade and many, many failed attempts since. Always striving for revolutionary ways to promote themselves, they have come with a very original idea this time. Following the pre-order concept of their latest album Anoraknophobia they announced this single a few months ago, and after many positive responses from their fans, they went through with the production.
But they went a step further this time, as this single is only available through their website, thus enabling them to sell the single for a (this time really) lower price. And, most important, you get two for the price of one. What? Yes, I said, you get two for the price of one. The second single is meant to be used for promotion and anyone ordering the single is requested to send their second copy to a radio station, to a Marillion-phobic friend or, in my case, to some dodgy website...
Now, whatever one might think about Marillion's current attitude, failed attempts to recapture fame and fan rip-offs, I have to admit that this is one of their best (if not most generous) ideas yet. If it worked yet remains to be seen, but never mind that.
A pity though, that once again they fail to deliver satisfaction after such a good idea. The announcement stated new, acoustic recordings of Map of The World and Between You and Me as well as an instrumental version of 21st Century as B-sides for the album. None of these appear.
Instead we are treated with a shorter version of the Mark Kelly Mix of Between You And Me, a Radio Edit of Map Of The World (easily imitated by pressing the stop-button on your cd-player after 4.5 minutes), a live version of Quartz (which doesn't equal the studio version) and a Pete Trewavas edit of If My Heart Were A Ball It Would Roll Uphill (a cut 'n' paste job of my least favourite track off Anorak).
So, a generous offer it may be, an interesting item it is not. A collector's item then. Speaking of which, if you order the single, you get the option to order another Marillion collector's item, the University Crash Course sampler, as well for just £1 extra!
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
Cast - Castalia
Cast is one of Mexico's finest and definitely best known prog-bands. To my shame I must admit that until now I only knew the band by name, but I must say that my first acquaintance with the band's music is a very pleasant one.
Cast are Antonio Bringas (drums), Dino Brassea (vocals, flute), Rodolfo González (bass), Franscisco Hernández (guitar, vocals) and Alfonso Vidales (keyboards). So far the band has released 11 albums, and their latest, Castalia, is a live registration of their gig in Milan, on July 1st 2000. I think for fans of the band the two medleys are probably the most interesting tracks on this album, yet for people who are unfamiliar with Cast's music (like yours truly) the album serves as a worthy introduction.
This quintet brings excellent classic prog in which the flute plays a very dominant role, thus immediately evoking comparisons with Camel or Jethro Tull. Not entirely unjust as the band is clearly influenced by these bands, yet does not limit itself to just these influences. References to bands like IQ or Arena are also plentiful, thus making at least one or more albums of this band almost compulsory in the collection of any self respecting fan of second-wave (a.k.a. "neo") prog.
At one point, during the Legacy Medley, Brassea's vocals sound so much like Peter Nicholls' and the accompanying keyboards are so much like Martin Orford's, that at first I thought they had incorporated a bit of IQ's Leap Of Faith in it. However, I wouldn't want to call this brief moment plagiarism - good influence is more the word here, as the band has certainly managed to create their own sound from the many easily recognisable influences.
Like so often with non-English language bands, they sound best when they sing in their native language. I don't know why, but I just feel that singers manage to put more heart and soul in the performance when they sing in their mother tongue. For that reason I'm glad the ballad Simple Things (or Cosas Simples as it is announced) is sung in Spanish. An excellent performance and a great moment of tranquility in between all the long epics.
As the song turns into Revealing Signs of Love it takes a moment to get used to the somewhat unnatural and slightly accented English again. However, this is an excellent track too, with some amazing ensemble vocals by both Brassea and Hernández. After a long, mellow intro the song turns into a classic, bombastic prog piece.
The climax of course is the 17-minute Reality of Misantrophy (sic) medley, again sung in Spanish. As I don't know the original songs that are incorporated in the medley, I can't say anything about them, however, I must say that I like what I hear!
The final track of the album is the instrumental Moving Universe. This starts with a first quiet, then chaotic, very much Jethro Tull-style intro, which at times also reminds me of the live version of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells. Then changes into a heavy, bombastic middlepiece, with alternating guitar- and keyboard-solos, before returning again to a calm flute outtro. Excellent!
As I said before, my first encounter with Cast is a very positive one, which I recommend to any lover of good ol' fashioned prog.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Scott Mosher - Virtuality
Scott Mosher is an independent American artist. His new album, Virtuality, seems to be a labour of love in many ways. The album was self-financed, Mosher played most of the instruments himself, and also did the beautiful artwork.
I have always been a lover of science fiction stories and futuristic concept albums. So when I got Virtuality, I was very pleasantly surprised. The album has a very convincing futuristic concept album feel!
The vocals, melodies and overall atmosphere reminded me strongly of my three favourite Rush songs (Subdivisions, The Camera Eye, Red Sector A).
This album has exactly the same "high tech sound": electronic, heavy and overwhelmingly progressive. The sound is quite "digital", with all these electronic drums and many sequenced synthesizers. But this cool and sterile sound works very well with the warm bass work, the heavy guitars and the powerful vocals.
Half of the album are vocal tracks, with several movements, and mostly linked together with instrumental parts. The compositions are all very strong and well balanced. Most of the vocal tracks sound very Rush-like, like The Promise of Truth, Re-define and Virtuality. These are all sung by Tod Corso (nicknamed "Shreddy Gee"). Sometimes, the music of Ayreon comes to mind, like in The Human Machine, with Scott's own processed vocals.
Most of the instruments are played by Scott Mosher, but there is a very convincing "band sound". I particularly liked the way all kinds of sequencers and synthesizers are used in the foreground of the mix, as a full fledged part of the "band" sound. But no "romantic" or "dreamy" pieces here: it's all energetic and full of power. Every track is written and played in a complex and colourful prog rock style, with a heavy approach, but never hard rock or metal.
Virtuality is a great album. I can highly recommend it to everyone who likes Rush, Ayreon, or the melodic side of Queensryche or Dream Theater. It might be hard to find in the shops, as it is mainly distributed by the internet. For ordering info (and sound bites) check out the links above.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10.
Miriodor - Mekano
Miriodor's fifth album, Mekano, firmly establishes this Canadian band as one of progressive rock's best exponents of the R(ock) I(n) O(pposition) style which passed through an extremely affluent phase in the seventies with bands such as Henry Cow and Univers Zero. Miriodor have been around since 1980, a lifetime by today's musical standards, and the current lineup consists of avant-garde guitarists Bernard Falaise, keyboardist Pascal Globinsky, drummer Remí Leclerc and bassist Nicolas Masino. The sound is further augmented by saxophonist Marie-Chantal, violinist Marie-Soleil Bélanger and trumpeter Némo Venba (Fanfare Pourpour, Rouge Ciel).
The album is in itself is a concept album, the story of which is depicted in an 8-page colour booklet accompanying the CD. It involves a graphic collage about a creature which preys on master tapes when the band is away from the studio.
The musical essence of this brilliant album consist of the fact that Miriodor manage to create a palate of sounds that at first glance sound extremely abstract and discordant. However after repeated listening the various sounds seem to merge together with tunes leached out at every hearing to the effect that some tracks are almost hummable after a time! Take their second track, La Règne Des Termites (Bugs), the first two minutes of this track have much in common with the Weather Report track
One of the main pitfalls that affects bands that fall into this musical genre is the fact that they tend to get carried away on a wave of musical schizophrenia merging too many ideas at one go and thus not allowing the listener to fully comprehend and absorb all that the band is presenting. Thankfully Miriodor manage to break away from this mould and have come up with an album that is both complex and not taxing to the ears of the listener.
The influences are varied on the album with many references made to bands such as Happy The Man who would use the Woodwind orientated sound in their music while Miriodor make use of a fuller brass sound. This shows up on tracks like the opener La Célèbre Boucle (The Famous Loop), while that definite heavier King Crimson sound also creeps up at times on tracks such as Mangeur De Masters (A Master Tape Snack) while the use of the saxophone as a solo instrument does conjure up images of bands such as Van Der Graaf Generator.
Of course there is a strong jazz element that pervades the whole of the band's music which is enticing and exciting throughout the whole of the album. I must admit to not being too much a fan of the RIO genre, but this album has won me over with its 'in your face' stance. Anybody wishing to sample a creative album from this genre would do well to get this CD.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Equiseti - Il Rito
Fabrizio Bonanno, the guitarist of Wounded Knee, has produced an album that he describes as "ethno prog metal". Quite a funny term, but it suggests more then the album actually is. The music can best be described as primarily prog rock, sometimes hard enough to be called metal, and only occasionally the "ethno" is audible.
The songs are tamer then the ones on the Wounded
Knee album, and they do in general not benefit from it. Tracks like Nerore
are really not interesting, and even though Wind Of Freedom has its moments,
here too the general impression is that of music lacking much dynamics. It is
quite hard to exactly pinpoint what is "wrong" with this album. I believe
indeed that it is the lack of spirit, "fire" so to speak. It all sounds
very dull. Even a track like When A Dog Finds A Home, a track about
vivisection written from the perspective of a laboratory dog, cannot find the
strength needed to portrait such a grueling theme.
Winter Lake is one of the tracks where this restrained approach does work, as it has quite a calm mood over it, even though the melodic structure is prog metal based. Sometimes we approach even the mood of acoustic Steve Hackett in Le Valli Perdute.
The highlight of the album is the last track, with both male and female vocals. But the best part is: it contains a video clip! And no fancy stuff, simply an mpeg movie so that even I can play the thing without problems on my antique machine. In the clip we see insects and flowers, all very quiet and springlike, but as the music slowly reaches a climax were are treated to ants attacking and killing a caterpillar and a beetle. I am personally not too font of nature films in which insects are involved, but it does work quite well and makes the track much more interesting than with the music alone.
In conclusion: there is not enough dynamics on the album. The compositions are all right, but hardly contain any "special" moments. Most tracks are fairly obviously written around the guitar, but that is no wonder of course with the main composer being primarily a guitar player.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10.