Reviews in this issue:
Steve Hackett - Somewhere In South America
Tracklist CD1 :The Floating Seventh (1:26), Mechanical Bride (6:48), Medley (5:13), Serpentine Song (6:44), Watcher Of The Skies (5:08), Hairless Heart (2:55), Firth Of Fifth (3:00), Riding The Colossus (4:14), Pollution (2:41), The Steppes (6:12), Gnossienne #1 (3:46), Walking Away From Rainbows (4:04)
Tracklist CD2 :Sierra Quemada (6:23), The Wall of Knives (0:48), Vampyre With A Healthy Appetite (6:41), A Tower Struck Down (3:18), Lucridus (1:50), Darktown (5:25), Camino Royale (8:02), Intros (0:43), In Memoriam (8:45), Horizons (2:05), Los Endos (7:43)
Fans of Steve Hackett have long been waiting for this release, a double live album together with DVD or VHS showing this guitarist in his element with a live electric band. These last few years there have many sides to the musical nature of Steve Hackett ranging from classical to an almost jazz-like approach to music. However, in all his performances and recordings he has never strayed away from his progressive rock style, which all fans of progressive rock have come to love and admire.
The album was recorded in Buenos Aires, Argentina in early 2002 with Roger King (keyboards), Gary O' Toole (drums, vocals), Terry Gregory (bass, vocals) and Rob Townsend (sax, flute) playing alongside Steve Hackett. Musically the whole double album is a trip throughout the whole of Hackett's solo career with references made to his Genesis past. Interesting to note is that he is still the sole member of the Genesis lineup to include their material in his repertoire and though sometimes fans do give him a bit of stick for a relative lack(?) of past material within his repertoire, one surely has to admit that he comes out trumps snipping otherwise lengthy tracks to the bare vocal-less instrumental essentials.
Thus what should one expect from the audio recording? For starters one of the things that struck me from this album was the sheer energy that blares out of the speakers especially on tracks such as The Mechanical Bride or the following Medley which fuses solo, Genesis and GTR material (Myopia, Los Endos, Imagining, Ace Of Wands and Hackett To Bits). On the other hand we have the intense fillers between the more lengthy tracks such as Lucridus, Wall Of Knives and Pollution which see the band playing out at full force in a heavy fusion style. The tightness that is demonstrated is indeed impressive proving to most that this band really gelled together. Furthermore they act as the introduction to tracks rather than having Steve Hackett talking his way into a piece (a stark contrast to his acoustic sets!). This further contributes to the rather dark nature of the album, which comes on the back of the brooding Darktown allowing short musical interludes to pave the way for the longer and well-known pieces.
Something that has occurred to Steve Hackett over the years has been an inability to categorise the artist, as critics and music aficionados so like to do. Pieces like Satie's Gnossienne #1 and Walking Away from Rainbows shows the dexterity with the acoustic guitar that he possesses and his classical leanings which have also become more prominent with his recent spate of acoustic concerts. Dramaticity is another feature of this double album. Serpentine Song with its delicate style, soaring harmonies and delicate flute is simply superb. The vocals are impressively good and it is a wonder why the band do not resort to vocals as often as one might expect them to. Sierra Quemada offers that nostalgic feeling with a taste of South America while In Memoriam stands out as one of the more moving pieces played here.
The album has been released in conjunction with a VHS tape. Fans can also buy a box set version of the album complete with DVD as well as the double audio CDs. The DVD also features bonus footage with interviews from the Italian tour the band made in 2000 as well as footage from the sound checks of that same tour. Though lacking in a variety of camera angles, the concert itself is superbly sounding, especially when heard in Dolby Surround and is a must for Steve Hackett fans.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Karnataka – Delicate Flame Of Desire
Karnataka. I wondered when I first heard of this band what the name meant and where they got it from. With a little web research, I found that Karnataka is a state somewhere in southern India. But after listening to this new album, Delicate Flame of Desire, I can tell you what the name actually means in the context of this band: passionate and beautiful music.
Formed in the late 1990s, Karnataka has released two studio albums, previous to their latest, and also has a live DVD. Their sound is magically driven by the dynamic and evocative voice of Rachel Jones, three-time winner for best female vocal award by the Classic Rock Society (2000, 2001, 2002). Keyboardist Jonathan Edwards does a marvellous job creating the pastoral sonic landscapes through which the rest of the band navigates. Gripping and powerful guitar work is supplied by Paul Davies. Whether providing tasteful and emotionally charged solos or folk-like acoustic guitar textures, Davies’ work on this album is immaculate. Ian Jones plays bass, functioning in perfect sync with the wonderfully solid and precise drums of Gavin John Griffiths. Though the percussion and bass are often understated, they lend a great deal of power to the band at just the right moments. Add to the mix backing vocalist /flautist Anne-Marie Helder and the picture is complete.
An interesting choice was made to begin the CD with the instrumental Karnataka, a piece which calls to my mind pictures of open spaces or wind blown country side. It has a decidedly Celtic undertone to it (as does much of this music), and acts as a prelude to the rest of the album. Songs are generally kept to between 5 and 8 minutes (with the notable exception of Heart of Stone) and on the whole feature a dramatic symphonic style. The overall sound of the CD is crisp and contemporary (no mellotron or analog lead synths here). At times the band calls to my mind comparisons to Clannad or even Enya, due to Rachel Jones’ voice, the lush but gorgeously transparent vocal harmonies and spacious keyboards. Occasionally, the keyboards remind me slightly of Mark Kelly’s work with Marillion, such as on certain sections of Time Stands Still or After the Rain, but are almost always used as support for the rest of the band. One of the few times Edward's keys come to the front is during my favorite piece Heart of Stone, the 10 minute climax to the album which features the most dynamic and dramatic arrangement on the CD.
Everything about this CD is tremendously well done, including the cover art. I would have enjoyed hearing more melodic interplay between the instrumentalists, particularly Davies and Edwards, but aside from that I have no other criticisms. I enjoy this CD very much. It is mellow enough to put on, close your eyes and get lost in at the end of a long day, but stirring enough to evoke deep emotions, inspire, and spark the imagination. Delicate Flame of Desire is a collection of truly wonderful and well-crafted songs. Karnataka is a very original sounding symphonic rock band and Delicate Flame’ is something they can be extremely proud of. Highly recommended.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Luca Turilli – Prophet Of The Last Eclipse
Luca Turilli, the mastermind behind Italian Symphonic Power Metal champions Rhapsody, is back with the follow-up to his first solo album, King of the Nordic Twilight. Fans of Rhapsody will know largely what to expect here, but their successful formula of high class metallic riffing, married with neo-classical orchestral arrangements, and topped off with gloriously pompous vocals (often complete with choral backing), is varied here with the addition of some folk and new-age touches, and more importantly, spacey synth sounds, to arrive at a variant style which Luca calls “Symphonic Cosmic Metal”.
In addition to Luca’s impressive guitar playing, the band consists of Sascha Paeth (famed producer of Angra, Kamelot & Heaven’s Gate) on bass guitar, Olaf Hayer on lead vocals, Miro on keyboards and Robert Hunecke-Rizzo on drums. Also present are no less than four choirs and a string quintet. The limited edition digibook comes in a slipcase, and features apocalyptic sci-fi artwork, story synopsis, lyrics, notes to the songs and a short biography of Turilli. The story (Part one of The Dark Comet Saga) is a futuristic tale of world-saving heroics and tragic love, perfectly suited to the majestic, bombastic music served here.
The brief opening track consists of eerie synthesisers and stunning choral vocals, perfectly setting the scene before smoothly segueing into War of the Universe, a fast metallic romp which strongly reminds of Brazilian's Angra. The next three songs highlight the level of inventiveness at work here. Rider of the Astral Fire and The Age of Mystic Ice both feature excellent keyboard work, rousing choruses (Rider.. has a section for children's choir whose “la la la’s” have a cheesy sixties feel), and prove that the drummer is not afraid to break away from the ultra fast drumming that is the genres norm. Together they sandwich Zaepher Skies’ Theme which starts with Celtic harp and ethereal vocals, lending a distinctly new-age vibe and also reveals Turilli’s love of movie soundtrack music. Speaking of which, the only ballad here, Timeless Oceans is an obvious homage to the kind of song that graces many a Hollywood blockbuster and as such, sounds a touch syrupy and bland to my ears. Although a change of pace is needed on the album, this style of song leaves me cold. Demonheart picks up the pace once more and is here in two versions, the latter bonus track being sung by Andre Matos (Angra), but its inclusion seems a bit unnecessary given the similarity of the two vocalists. New Century’s Tarantella takes an Italian folk dance as its starting point and utilises Peruvian flutes and accordions in an audacious brew that makes me smile every time I hear it.
The concluding epic Prophet of the Last Eclipse begins with monastic chanting, developing into an up tempo operatic section and featuring a keyboard break that sounds almost Wakemanesque. Although many of these songs are firmly rooted within the conventions of the Power Metal genre, and occasionally the double bass drum pounding can seem a bit relentless, there are enough changes of pace (often several within a given song) and surprising embellishments poping up throughout, to ensure that progressive rock fans seeking something heavier, or probing the borders of the genre, should find much to enjoy.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Lacuna Coil - Comalies
If you could only listen to the first few notes of Comalies you might think Lacuna Coil's music is like Rammstein, but after 45 seconds it becomes clear that Lacuna Coil is quite different: their music is Gothic Metal oriented.
Although Lacuna Coil has played 'Dynamo Open Air' and in the past has toured together with The Gathering (same record company), none of their albums have been reviewed DPRP up until now, and that is a pity. Lacuna Coil started out as Ethereal in 1996 and upon releasing their first album the name Ethereal appeared to be taken, so their name was changed to Lacuna Coil. An equally named album was also released in (1997). After that In A Reverie (1999), HALFLife (2000), and Unleashed Memories (2001) followed.
Comalies was released in 2002. The tracks Swamped, Heaven's A Lie, Self Deception and The Prophet Said, all of which have a pretty pumping heavy metal guitar but what makes these tracks more than the standard gothic metal, is the interaction of the two vocalists, Andrea Ferro and Cristina Scabbia. The band certainly knows how to maintain a good mix between these two. Although I do like those tracks, Daylight Dancer appeals to me much more because of the tempo changes, and again the nice mix between the two vocalists give this song a pleasant extra.
Humane is one of my favourite tracks of this album. It is a 'moody' song that does not have the straight-forward guitars of the first two songs. Aeon is a bit strange, the acoustic guitar sound is cut as if the CD player is malfunctioning. The entire song is a prelude to Tight Rope, a more straight-forward guitar-based song. On The Ghost Woman And The Hunter Cristina is singing with herself in duet (oh those modern techniques). The sorrow of desolation described in the lyrics are amplified by the mood of the music. Unspoken is up-tempo, but certainly not cheery, the subject of the lyrics is not either. Entwined is a mellow track (but not soft or ballad-like).
Angel's Punishment is the odd one out of this album. Only the chorus makes it recognisable as a Lacuna Coil track, the rest of the lyrics are not sung, but spoken out loud. The music certainly is intriguing because the English pronouncation of the vocalists is flawless. Comalies is the only track in which Lacuna Coil's Italian background can be recognised as it has mixed Italian-English lyrics.
After someone pointed out their previous album to me, I certainly got interested in Lacuna Coil's music. I think I like Unleashed Memories just a tiny bit more, but still this album finds its way to my CD player often. I think people that like The Gathering, After Forever or Within Temptation will most probably be interested in this Italian band.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Head Pop Up - Tokusen Burari Tabi
Head Pop Up have a long history in the progressive/jazz rock field and centered around Yokohama (Japan), where one assumes the band enjoy a richly deserved following. The album is recorded in three separate segments, two different studios being used and the final track is a live offering. One of a number of recent releases we have covered from the Poseidon Label, who are actively promoting and issuing albums by relatively unknown artists - certainly in Europe, anyway.
Musically Head Pop Up offer progressive rock with distinct leanings towards jazz rock. The material is predominantely instrumental, with occasional and somewhat strange vocal interludes, however as these only equate to a small percentage of the the album's material, I will skip over them in the main. The band incorporate two keyboard players, Hiro Wada and Michi Mayanagi, and these two men pretty much preponderate the overall sound. Both are extremely competent players and the combination of Hammond organ, piano and synths did offer comparisons to Greenslade. Coupled with the tight and often innovative rhythm section of Teruro Mikami (bass) and Hasashi Abe (drums), this also added credence to this notion. So only the inclusion of guitarist Atsushi Iwasawa might prompt us to look for other analogies, which it did (in conjuction with some of the keyboard parts), bringing Manfred Mann's Earth Band to mind.
The combination of progressive rock ideas, combined with jazzy overtones and odd metres, is where the band come from and this allows each of the indivdual musicians to display his abilities to the full. The opening track contained all of these elements, although it was possibly one of the weaker pieces from the CD. My imagination was captured more by the excellent band riff which opened, and featured throughout, Metempsychosis. Although slightly dischordant, the intensity and power was electrifying. In fact this was a great track albeit for the clever, if not my tastes, vocals. A mixture of Frank Zappa's quirkiness and Gentle Giant's arrangements - although I am not sure it is wholly intentional. Summer 90 is again another good offering and probably the most progressive from the album, from the somewhat gentler outset, the keyboard sounds are good and blend well with the guitar sections. What makes this track is the combination of the aforementioned with the varied arrangement and more dynamic instrumentation.
The final track Toscana - Tsuchiyu - Finger Eurhythmics - KUMA NO OYAKO, which remains faithful to the rest of the material to be found on Tuusen Burari Tabi, for me was the strongest overall piece. The track was recorded live at the Silver Elephant in January 2002, and the concert arena would appear to be where these musicians most excel. As a live piece the long instrumental sections work much better, having a more organic, spontaneous feel and it is possible to derive the sense of the atmosphere from the evening. Atsushi Iwasawa features well in this track, adding greater variation to the overall sound, as does the accordion soloing from Michi Mayanagi. Last but not least, were the highs and lows within the music which were used to greater effect here.
The band work really well together and the tracks were rhythmically more complex and challenging than it might first appear. My main criticisms of the pieces were that melodically and structurally they sometimes did not capitalize on the strong ideas that opened each of the tracks. Also that more variation within the arrangements might have held the attention longer, as I did find myself waning on some of the longer numbers. This said, Head Pop Up are more than capable of performing these long instrumental tracks, so if this is your brand of prog, it might well be worth giving this band a listen.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10