Reviews in this issue:
Finisterre - In Ogni Luogo
In Ogni Luogo is the third studio album by Italian band Finisterre originally released in 1999 on the IrIdea label. The band was formed in 1993 by guitarist and singer Stefano Marelli and bassist Fabio Zuffanti when they decided that they wanted a change in musical direction from the 'psychedelic rhythm and blues' of their old band Calce & Compasso. Recruiting classically trained pianist Boris Valle, drummer Marco Cavani and guitarist/flautist Sergio Grazia they recorded a demo tape which resulted in the band being signed by Mellow Records, a small North Italian label, in the summer of 1994. The eponymous debut album was released at the beginning of 1995 and gained rave reviews in the Italian muic press, being described by the magazine Melodie & Dissonanze as "The best progressive album since 1977." Prior to recording a second album, In Limine, the band underwent some personal changes with Marcello Mazzocchi occupying the drum stool and Francesca Biagini taking over on flute and vocals allowing Stefano Marelli to concentrate on playing the guitar. In Limine, released at the end of 1996, continued the experimentation of the first album combining a mixture of musical styles from classical to jazz. Francesca Biagini left the band after the release of the album missing Finisterre's first American concert at the 1997 ProgDay festival in North Carolina (subsequently released on the Storybook CD.) For this concert, founding member Sergio Grazia returned to perform the flute parts which had featured heavily on the first two albums.
In Ogni Luogo was released in early 1999 on the IrIdea label, and is notable for the pristine production work by former PFM collaborator Roberto Colombo. Back to a four piece, the album is mostly instrumental, although vocalist Francesca Laho guests on In Ogni Luogo and i>ContinuitadiLaraneltempo while Sergio Caputo adds lilting violin to Snaporaz and Le Citta Indicibili and takes a more aggressive lead role in Coro Elettrico. The compositions are mostly quite laid back, refined numbers which are superbly played and arranged. There are reflections of Camel in the more symphonic moments of ContinuitadiLaraneltempo and particularly on Peter's House. Coro Elettrico has a slightly Eastern flavour while elsewhere the music evokes the Mediterranean landscape.
In Ogni Luogo is a truly superb album, high quality music and musicianship packaged in a striking sleeve. I thoroughly recommend this album and am now on the frantic search for copies of their other albums!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Proloud - Rebuilding
Rebuilding comes in a well packaged, cardboard fold-out form, a simple but effective cover and with ten finely illustrated postcard drawings. So what's this got to do with the music, I hear you ask. Nothing really, but it did raise my curiosity level and served as an early indication that Proloud might be an interesting new band. I was somewhat dismayed then to see the words "Prog Metal" attached to their name. Don't get me wrong, I don't dislike this sub-genre of progressive rock, just the many dreadful bands that have jumped upon the bandwagon and have attached their names to it. Proloud, however are one of the better exponents of prog metal, reminding me what a worthy sub category of prog this is. Formed back in 1996, Rebuilding is a full length debut release from this relatively young Italian band, having previously released two "promo" CDs, Fickle and Promo 2000. It was in fact the second of these two releases that secured them a recording deal.
Anyway, into the CD player and let's see what Proloud have to offer. The album opens with half a minute of sound effects and fairly well captures it's title, Self Destruction. Moving on from this we leap into Fickle, which just explodes into the speakers, strong melodic guitar and keyboard themes, under-pinned by the extremely strong rhythm section. What was immeditely striking was the variation within the music, drawing early references to Dream Theater. Along with this I couldn't help noting the striking resemblence between Giancario Mattei's vocals and that of Rush's, Geddy Lee. I don't believe for one minute that this is intentional, just coincidence, but it did add an initial warm familiarity to the tracks. This said Mattei's has an expressive and dynamic vocal delivery and adapted well to the differing music found on the album. If one track can capture the essence of an album then Proloud have chosen well and Fickle certainly made me sit up and listen.
From here on in the album moves from strength to strength, combining the power of prog metal with those, sometimes subtle, but always effective variations in dynamics that set bands like Dream Theater above the rest. This must therefore apply to Proloud, who combine those elements that make good prog metal (for me), such an exciting music. Leave it to Nature is a great example of this with the inclusion of some latinesque patterning from the rhythm section and jazzy touches from both the guitar and keyboards. Rebuilding also contains a well constructed and emotive ballad in Shooting Star, acoustic guitar and light Hammond organ supplying the backing to the delicate vocal sections. Not that it would be simple task to pick any highlights from the CD, but the instrumental Gethsemane did enjoy a few extra spins in the player. But I do tend to go for more instrumental tracks.
So were there any downsides to Rebuilding, well not enough to detract from the overall presentation. At times I felt the drums were slightly high in the mix and to the detriment of some of the parts, but I feel sure others will probably disagree. This said, all the playing to be found on the album is of the highest calibre and the empathy between the musicians is very apparent. It would be impossible to single out any one of the band for greater praise as Messrs - Pierro, Mattei, Zezza, Donello and Zanni play as a tight and cohesive unit. I particularly liked the the bands ability to combine time signatures into their music whilst keeping an overall flow to the proceedings.
I was pleasantly surprised by this album, which rekindled my flagging interest in prog metal. The main reason behind this is that without losing the power and dynamic that is derived from this style of music, the band have incorporated variation and subtlety, thus making this a very listenable release. It is certainly great to be able to shout the virtues of such a release and I can certainly recommend this album to one and all. Fans of Dream Theater and bands of a similar ilk, should check this out, as I feel sure we are going to hear a lot more about these guys in the future. However if you have any lingering doubts Proloud's website also contains a few audio samples.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Holy Graal - Just A Signal ...
I have to say that it does not happen all that often, but here is once more a CD that I am sure I will play regularly after having written this review as well. Holy Graal's demo Just A Signal... contains some fine tunes which make me look forward to their first full-length album.
The puzzling thing about this French band is that its line-up of Frédéric Guionnet (guitars), Frédéric Isnard (bass, lead vocals), Gil Pinatel (keyboards), Fatima Taamallah (vocals) and Cyrill Tosquellas (drums) has been the same since 1989, but that they have only released some demo tapes and this demo CD (from 1999!) during that time. The chemistry does obviously work, otherwise I do not think people would stay together for such a long time, but why then did they not get their behinds into a studio sooner to record a proper album? This question is all the more pressing since their eclectic music is interesting enough to appeal to a bigger audience. Anyway, the band seem to have signed with Musea Records recently, so let us hope that this situation will change soon!
The four tracks on the album are rather dissimilar in atmosphere. Whereas the main theme of Birds consists of straightforward rock, the music in Now You Understand leans heavily toward The Prodigy's Fat Of The Land album. The final track does even contain some heavy Middle-Eastern influences. But those are not the only influences you can expect to encounter on this CD.
Birds starts off with some mysterious keyboard sounds, not unlike the intro of Genesis' Follow You Follow Me, after which the song jumps into a Peter Gun-like part, which temporarily erupts into bits of Black Sabbath's Paranoid. Next we come to a section where the keyboard/guitar combination brings Marillion (Misplaced Childhood era) to mind, we pass by early 80's U2 guitars and a deliciously huge sounding wall of strings, which leads us back to the Peter Gun/Paranoid mixture.
The third track, Now You Understand, immediately appealed to me. I mentioned that it reminded me of The Prodigy, which some of you may not consider as a positive thing in a prog song. Well, the hauntingly fast pace of the track also gave me some strong spacerock vibes. Hawkwind and especially Omnia Opera (the way they use the flanger effect) came to mind, whereas the guitars in the calmer intermezzos gave me the feeling that IQ's Mike Holmes been in on the project.
Global Awareness is, with its 9:12 minutes, the longest track on the album. The song sounds as if it could have been the soundtrack of a movie; something like The Mummy maybe, considering the Middle-Eastern singing and musical scales used in it. Once more, we encounter some juicy keyboard sections (bringing both Genesis' Trick Of The Tail and Calling All Stations albums to mind), and on top of that a great guitar solo played in a way that can make a snake come a-wiggling out of its basket. The only things I dislike about this song are the slightly too long outtro and the fact that it ends with a fade-out; otherwise a great track!
The funny thing with the vocals is that they sound very American, but that they appear to be quite accented when you listen more closely. This is therefore an area that could do with some improvement, I think. Isnard's voice sounds very much like Axl Rose's (of Guns 'N' Roses fame) in the first two songs, but a bit more like Ozzy Osbourne's in the other two. The combination of Isnard's male vocals with the female ones of Taamallah works rather well and brings the Finnish outfit Five Fifteen to mind.
All in all, Holy Graal's Just A Signal... has achieved the effect a demo is basically made for - to attract people's attention and to get them into a "we want more" kind of mood. I certainly have become interested and do want to hear more from this band! I just hope it is not going to take them as many years as it took them to come to this demo CD until I do. Recommended to people who are into the heavier side of prog and are open-minded enough to like Middle-Eastern influences, spacerock-like bits and Axle Rose/Ozzy Osbourne-kind of vocals.
Conclusion: 8- out of 10
Romislokus - All Day Home
Russian band Romislokus are back with a new album which this time sees the band targeting a new market. Their previous material, though featuring some great material had a main drawback in that all vocals were sung in Russian, which served as a limiting factor to the band's potential success abroad. With All Day Home the band have resorted to English lyrics (except for a French and Italian track), though this has also had an effect on their musical style. Gone are the lush musical styles with gothic overtones and instead we have seemingly light tunes based along the lines of bands such as early U2 and INXS.
Such a perception was further enhanced when listening to the opening track Cool, with its catchy open guitar riffs and ear-friendly chorus. By no means am I saying that this music is not good, far from it, it's actually extremely well done yet I must admit that I was enamoured by the cold calculated nature of their early albums. Dreg sounds much more familiar to the band's previous material with some great interplay between the warm strings and cold goth-like rock as well as an intriguing chorus structure.
Though not a fan of French lyrics, L'Amour has the band moving in a more spacey direction, a move which continues on If. Here the band really seem to come out and are in their element with some great synthesiser work and effects. The pace is slowed down which allows the dramaticity of certain instruments to be exploited to the full alongside Yuri Smolnikov's deep vocals. Freedom has a more hard rock direction, which though in itself a good track, obscures somewhat the dramatic element of the band, which in my opinion is one of their forte's.
Thus following the rather shaky first half of the album the band seems to find its bearings on the second part of the album and really comes alive. I'm Tired has a funky line running through it with some of the guitar work very reminiscent of David Rhodes' work with Peter Gabriel. Name and Persici have a delightful feel good factor about their style, thought both are rather different tracks. Once again the progressive nature of the band is obscured, though the lush backing strings create a wonderfully full atmosphere.
The final two pieces that also conclude the album are reworkings of tracks that had originally appeared on the excellent Vinyl Spring, Digital Autumn. Both tracks actually highlight what is missing in the tracks that appear previous to them on All Day Home. Both Tree By the Wall and Captain Zero show how Romislokus manage to combine elements of varying time signatures, use of original backing licks mainly in the form of the mournful cello sound as well as synthesisers. Is this the new face of progressive rock?
Having heard All Day Home, over and over again, I must admit that I do not feel that the album is a step forward musically. The new material is somewhat more mainstream, though I must applaud the band's ability to shift from their mother Russian to more universal languages. The final two tracks are also the stand out tracks of the album, and they are a case in point that the band should stick to the formula of moving beyond their musical boundaries and retain that experimental nature rather than move towards a more commercial and mainstream style. Nevertheless, the music is great and will not be a disappointment to the casual listener.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Quikion - Hallelujah!! (Early Recordings)
We continue with our peregrination into the current releases and re-releases from Japan that have found their way into the DPRP CD players. In this edition we encounter the delicate folk-like qualities to be found in Quikion (pronounced kee-kee-on), who offer us a rare and eclectic mixture of instruments and songs. These early offerings from the band combine acoustic and medieval instruments, with perhaps those not immediately associated with music from the Far East (or this maybe just a lack of knowledge on my behalf). Released in 2002, the featured tracks were recorded in the main during 1997 with one exception, Summertime which dates back to 1995. The three musicians on Hallelujah!! are Yukiko Totoki [vocals, concertina], Emi Sasaki [accordion and glockenspiel] and Eiji Oguma [guitar].
It is strange how your perceptions and opinions waiver throughout the reviewing process, as you delve into each of the different CD's that arrive from around the world. Quikion were no exception and my initial impressions were how Parisian the music was (Voyage) - strange really as all of the vocals are sung in Japanese. But perhaps not so surprising, as the principal melodic instrumentation is provided by accordion and concertina. The acoustic guitar is used effectively to form the structure of the songs with the inclusion of several other instruments to embelish the sound. The music is strangely haunting at times and with a tinge of mystery, not to dissimilar to some of Kate Bush's earlier material, who I have to say that Yukiko Totoki has more than a passing resemblance too, albeit without any great dynamic range or idiosyncrassies. The most striking comparison to be found in the opening track Hallelujah!!.
Quikion have remained together, with their early lineup unaltered, and are still producing music in a similar vein to that which can be found on these earlier recordings. Two other albums are also available from this trio, Escargot Bianco from 1999 and Yoru no Harp - Nightharp from 2001 - audio clips are available from the band's website. This was a pleasant, at times relaxing album, although it should be noted that Quikion do not produced music that is intended as easy listening. Not strictly speaking a prog album, but one of those CD's that can quite easily nestle away in a collection, without drawing attention to itself and be brought out for an airing now and then.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10