Reviews in this issue:
Rhapsody - Power Of The Dragonflame
When I reviewed their first officially released demo tape, Eternal Glory several years ago, I wrote that the music was not brilliant, but simply great to listen to, a nice change. After a couple of albums, I had to admit that the formula was beginning to erode. Well, at least to my ears. The music has no pretensions of being very progressive - that's no problem. I rather liked the certain level of predictability in the music. It made it perfect to release stress and regain energy - the bombastic symphonic melodies mixed with the high speed of the music was great for that. But Dawn Of Victory was too much like Symphony Of Enchanted Lands to keep my attention.
However, I did look forward to their next release, and bought it without listening. Rain Of A Thousand Flames was a bit different, as it was heavier, more guitar oriented. I began to fear their music was drifting away from my musical preferences. However, Power Of The Dragon flame is almost like a combination of the first album and the aforementioned mini album. It's got the metal riffs, but more interesting melodies than on Dawn Of Victory. More keyboards in most songs, more variation.
Of course, we're talking Rhapsody here. Lots of predictable double bass drums, common fast riffs, not too complex song structures, and predictable vocal melodies. But there are also more different types of singing on this album, and weirder keyboard parts, like on the first album. A song like When Demons Awake has several elements of these. It's heavier, and also has the nice breaks.
Songs like Knightrider Of Doom and Agony Is My Name really remind me of the first and also a bit of the second album. And there's also Lamento Eroico with almost tenor singing by Leone. Quite impressive indeed. Musically, with In Tenebris, it's one of the quieter intermezzos as found on other albums as well. Steelgods Of The Last Apocalypse contains an unexpected odd time signature at the end.
And of course I could not finish a review of this album without mentioning the epic Gargoyles, Angels Of Darkness. A beautiful warm, southern European-style acoustic guitar opens the track. If only I could hear some more of this! It is followed by heavier part but without double bass drum for a change, except in the choruses. The song structure of this part reminds me of Iron Maiden. And then some more acoustic guitar! Duelling with piano this time, which is great. Acoustic bits will alternate with heavier parts several times in this song, making it a very nice story told. This must be the most difficult track the band has written. With the audiences being more metal minded, I don't think this song will be played live this way.
After the twelfth minute the grand finale sets in. It is also the grand finale of the story that was spread all over the discography items until and including this one. But don't worry - I am sure Luca Turilli is writing a new fantasy story to secure the lyrics for the next couple of Rhapsody discs.
This is a more difficult album to review than their other albums. It contains predictable as well as unexpected elements. And I can say that the overall feeling that remains after listening to this album is fed mainly by the unpredictable ones. This is the band's best album because of the surprising bits and highest level of variety when compared to the rest of the discography.
But I do think the band really needs to think about changing some parts of their sound. Now who am I to say such a thing... Well, I am writing this review, and other reviewers are writing down their opinions. Looking at the audiences the band attracts, I think I am part of a minority. But minorities also have a voice.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Artsruni - Cruzaid
Working within the Dutch Progressive Rock Pages has allowed me to come across a wide variety of bands and styles from many diverse nations. Music, especially good music, truly knows no boundary, yet I must still express my amazement at coming across the album Cruzaid from Armenian band Artsruni. Though the name of the band, or project, Artsruni is also the surname of the band leader, composer, guitarist and vocalist Vahan Artsruni. Aiding him on this project are Vahagn Amirkhanyan (guitar), Arman Manukyan (flute), Artur Molitvin (bass), Levon Hakhverdyan (drums) and Lilianna Hakhverdyan (percussion).
Cruzaid is in actual fact the fourth release since the band were formed in the year 2000, and apart from their definite popularity throughout the whole of the South Caucasus, they have slowly but surely built up a reputable following throughout Europe and the United States. Musically the album features a definite classical progressive rock style though this band have managed to infuse a flavour of their own.
First of all one should emphasise the fact that Artsruni lack a keyboard player which allows for a somewhat jazzier touch to their music which though devoid of that filler effect that a keyboard can introduce, also allows room for the various instruments involved to roam around in. Having said that the band manage to really rock and within the context of each track allow space for each instrument to feature as a soloist.
This is immediately apparent from the opener Aditon which blends a much more direct rock approach with a more acoustic and folk touch courtesy of both acoustic guitar as well as Arman Manukyan's flute which plays out the part of the solo instrument as well as an accompaniment to the guitar. Hearing the flute within the lineup would make one consider Jethro Tull to be a reference point, at least in terms of style. However I would not go so far as to categorise Artsruni in the same fields as Tull apart from a few tracks such as Cruzaid (Part One) or Anush Garun where the band draw on what sounds like traditional Armenian tunes that have been given an added rock flavour.
Another feature that has to be mentioned is the virtuosistic bass playing from Artur Molitvin which left me spellbound throughout the whole of the album. His ability to kick up a right rocking rhythm together with some impressive runs helps give Artsruni a cutting edge when it comes to the rhythm section. This is even more important when one considers that the majority of tracks are instrumental (only one track features vocals, Call Of The Wind).
Artsuni have come up with one of my favourite albums this year (so far!) as they have managed balance all their influences into one homogenous style. The rock is present in just the right dosage together with the more traditional folkier influences. This album is a definite for all those who would like to hear a band that sounds like a cross between Jethro Tull and Camel. Do yourselves a favour and get this album!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Fluxury - Lunar Escape Velocity
Hailing from The Netherlands, Lunar Escape Velocity is the debut/demo album from Fluxury which wields an incredible array of diverse styles over the twenty two songs on the album. Nowadays it is difficult and rare to come across a band, especially within the progressive rock realm, that manages to introduce a degree of freshness into the music they play. It is true that Fluxury have their roots and influences in the classical bands from the past, yet on the other hand they do not overtly demonstrate this by blatantly playing out similar pieces to their mentors. Instead the band have taken their music one step further and created a unique style.
The band have described their brand of music as Symphonic Pop for the twenty first century, yet in reality one could find it very difficult to accurately describe what they have to offer. First of all this is an album that requires a number of spins before getting used to, and even then with each listen the album seems to offer something completely different and original. The tracks flow into each other as particular tracks seem to act as bridges or fillers joining various segments of the album by presenting a series of sound effects or ambient moods together with the occasional melody line.
One of the first things to strike the listener is the odd use of the vocals that Fluxury make use off, most notably in their male vocalist who possesses one of the most unrock-like set of vocals that I have come across. In fact together with the female backing vocals the two present their vocals on a platform that at first sounds completely out of sync with the music, though as time passes everything literally falls into place and with every spin the album becomes that more accessible and dare I say it, commercial!
So who or what can Fluxury be compared to? In truth they are an extremely varied and eclectic bunch of musicians, much like Stackridge for example. Their complexity lies within the variety present on the album. At times the band delve into the folk scene, others have a more upbeat rock touch whilst on other tracks the music almost has a Zappa-like feel to it. Coming to think of it the male vocals very often possess that nasal monotone that Zappa would use when singing his own music! In fact there are two progressive rock legends whose music could be compared to that of Fluxury, and that would be Van Der Graaf Generator and Gentle Giant. Humour is also a positive ingredient that can be found throughout the album, most notably the inclusion of a few notes from Chim-Chiminee from Mary Poppins on Anonymous Insomniac.
On of the main drawbacks the music seems to possess is that the percussion is almost all synthetic and thus lacks the necessary power and vibe that one finds when recordings are made with a proper drummer. This coupled with lack of proper professional production qualities, acts as a detriment to the overall quality of the album. Having said that one should also keep in mind that this album was born out of a series of home recordings and its basis is to serve more as a demo album rather than as a proper studio release. Possibly this particular aspect has also made the band clutter the album with as many tracks as possible, some of which if omitted would have allowed the album to reach greater heights.
One can only admire bands such as Fluxury as they are indeed the future of progressive rock. Together with newcomers such as Panurge and Mark 1, as well as more established bands such as The Beta Band and Radiohead, Fluxury are the way forward in presenting progressive rock music with a somewhat different slant to what we have been accustomed to hearing over the years.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Desdemona - Lady Of The Lore
Desdemona is an Italian prog metal band consisting of Andrea Marchisio on vocals, Christian Rosso on guitars, Foca Torchia on keyboards, Alessandro Mussa on bass and Maurizio "Trap" Anello on drums.
They play music pretty much in the vein of Queensryche (Mindcrime era) albeit with a possibly even harder edge and a weird but nice Baroque influence.
The album falls in the grey area between a DPRP review and rejection. Because of the frequent use of keyboards and its proximity to the music of Queensryche I have opted for the former option.
Most of the album contains of pretty straightforward fast heavy metal riffs, laced with interesting baroque style keyboards (harpsichord, church-organ). The vocals are pretty good, which is often not the case with Southern European bands singing in English. Musically the band is also quite good, that is, the musicians certainly know how to play. How to write a decent song, however, is a completely different subject. The songs sound rather uninspired and dated. Queensryche, Manowar, Arjen Lucassen, Iron Maiden... we've heard it all before. And better too...
There are some pretty good moments on the album though. There are some pretty good riffs to be found on the album and some of the guitar solos are virtuosic, yet the overall mood of the album fails to impress me.
One of the better tracks on the album is Event Horizon, which features a very cool, baroque style church-organ solo. Mind you, most of the more conspicuous keyboard parts are baroque influenced, fitting the somewhat medieval mood of the album.
Othello's Crying is another good track, where the band shifts down a gear, resulting in a pretty nice ballad, quite in the vein of The Scorpions.
Overall it is not a bad album, yet not overly interesting either. If you are into any of the aforementioned bands and don't mind copycats, this album could be interesting for you. Otherwise, skip it.
Conclusion: 6+ out of 10.
Dark Horizon - Son Of Gods
Looking at this package, it seems an exact copy of the album reviewed above. Same type of cover, same lay-out of the booklet, same label (Steelborn is Northwind's sub-label for Italian debut bands) and listening to the music, pretty much the same too... The same heavy riffs, vocals that sound quite like Queensryche Geoff Tate's and many baroque influenced keyboard parts. However, we seem to be dealing with a different band here, apparently. Dark Horizon consists of Luigi Maione on vocals, Mandeli Daniele on guitars, Alessandro Battini on keyboards, Andrea Galli on bass and Marco Polledri on drums, with a whole range of guest musicians, most of which play on the title track.
The music on this album is possibly even less interesting than the previous album (I occasionally liked the keyboard work on that one), with the exception of aforementioned title track. This is a good example the band certainly has potential. The song starts as a mellow acoustic duet between Luigi Maione and his wife (?) Elvira, who has a soprano voice. The mellow first part features a few time signature changes, a nice percussion rhythm and nice flutes and an instrument called Flicorno. The song ends with a great heavy finale, containing fast drums, heavy guitars and a haunting church organ. Great stuff.
It's a pity though that this is about the only track on the album that surpasses that standard heavy-metal-with-keyboards formula (with exceptions of some intros).
The album seems to be a concept album of some sort, with a medieval/fantasy type of theme. The band also plays on a Manowar tribute album, released by the same record label, and from what I know of that band, they could be a clear influence too.
A comparison with the album by Desdemona is inevitable, as the two albums were sent together in one package, and are so similar in many ways. Maybe not fair, but nonetheless I'd say that if you are interested in obtaining either one of the two, take the Desdemona album
Conclusion: 5+ out of 10.