Reviews in this issue:
Karmakanic - Entering The Spectra
Man of many projects, and currently occupying the bass chair in The Flower Kings, Jonas Reingold’s latest outing is the concept album Entering The Spectra under the group name Karmakanic. Like Tomas Bodin’s latest album Pinup Guru, the name takes its inspiration from the lyrics to Selling England by the Pound by Genesis, though their actual word is “karmamechanic”, but we get the general idea. Whilst some of his other projects, such as Reingold and Opus Atlantica are more in a metal vein, this one stays fairly close in style to The Flower Kings, which is not surprising as his colleagues Stolt, Bodin, Csorsz and Salazar are all present here. The team is completed by Robert Engstrand on keyboards, Johan Glossner on guitars and, notably, on vocals Goran Edman of Yngvie Malmsteen fame.
The short opening track is a spoken word set up for the concept of the album, which is a futuristic tale of a man who lives out his fantasies in cyberspace.
The seven – part Entering The Spectra is a full–on Flower Kings style epic, complete with Roine Stolt on lead vocals. There are several changes of pace and style within this number, including a long jazzy noodling section, with excellent bass from Jonas. The tension is continually built and released throughout in a most satisfying fashion. A bone crunching riff and soulful vocals opens The Spirit Remains The Same, where not only the title, is redolent of Led Zeppelin at their most exotic. Though there is plenty of progressive development, this is heavier than most of The Flower King's material. This is a superbly constructed song with spiralling keyboards, more great bass and a stylistically varied and compelling vocal performance from Goran Edman, which is a revelation. This is one of my favourite songs on the album.
Cyberdust.. and Space Race are both pitched somewhere between the styles found on Areyon’s Electric Castle and Space Metal releases, being futuristic, melodic, metallic prog rock. The latter track also has a somewhat King’s X like feel, though with mellotron samples and more keyboard flourishes.
The Man In The Moon Cries is an anti pollution tirade, played out within a melodic hard rock structure – a little less adventurous than the other songs, but successful nevertheless. In contrast, One Whole Half is another smoking jazz fusion romp, in which Jonas really excels, recalling The Mahavishnu Orchestra or, more recently, Liquid Tension Experiment. This is another high spot on a consistently good CD.
Is This The End is another long track in three distinct segments. It begins with a piano ballad, sung with feeling by Goran. The second part is an instrumental consisting of orchestral sounds, vocal samples and the fake crackles of a vinyl record (an increasingly common gimmick which I find a bit pointless). The concluding section is a mid tempo rocker with soaring lead guitar and a good keyboard solo. Track 9 is a short bass solo playing a classical melody, nicely done but it seems to break up the conceptual flow of the disc.
Welcome to Paradise is a pleasing conclusion to the album, throwing many disparate elements together in an aural melting pot of epic proportions. Amongst other things, there is a brief burst of keyboards that reminds me of Rick Van Der Linden (Ekseption, Trace) which adds to the enjoyment. The lyrics bring the story to its end with a verbal duel between Goran and Jonas as “the Cybervirus”.
All in all this is a great disc and a must have for all Flower Kings fans.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Tempano - The Agony And The Ecstasy
Few progressive rock bands, if any at all, have managed to cross over into the realms of pop-rock and successfully return to their progressive roots. Even some of the greatest (Genesis) failed at the last hurdle. Tempano, one of Venezuela's better known bands have managed this with success. Their debut album, released in 1979, is considered one of the masterpieces of South American progressive rock, though the eighties and nineties saw various changes within the line-up and a move (with success) to a more pop orientated sound. In 1999 the band returned with Childhood's End which also saw a return to a more progressive nature of composing, a move that has been further cemented by The Agony And The Ecstasy.
Tempano consist of Pedro Castillo (vocals, guitars, synths, mellotron), Giuglio Cesare Della Noce (keyboards), Miguel Angel Echevarreneta (bass, classic guitar), Gerardo Ubieda (drums, percussion) and German Landaeta (keyboards). Together this band have created a concept album that deals with the life of Michelangelo Buonarroti with the album title taken from the biography of this great sculptor and artist by Irving Stone. The interesting booklet accompanying the CD features also features illustrations that refer to works by the great Michelangelo, as do the titles of the tracks themselves.
Most of the tracks presented on this album are instrumentals with just five pieces featuring vocals. The opening Twisted Mind immediately sets the pace with all of the musicians creating a jazz flavoured piece that half way through alludes to a more ethnic rhythm that threatens to break out into a prog-metal romp. All this in just one track! The first track to feature vocals is Bonfire wherein the band seem to move away from the jazzier side of music. In fact the vocals are of the highest quality with the music really embellishing their sound. Just In A Second gives the music a harder hitting slant while Timeless Time has more of a neo-progressive style much in the vein of Marillion around their Season's End period where the band combine a languid touch with some delicate atmospheric keyboard work and deft guitar licks.
On Attimo Infinito, the band resort to the Italian tongue for lyrics, though one must admit that the piece is more of an instrumental, with narration by Marcella Mosca with some interesting sound effects such as the mandolin and church bells conveying a sense of Italy amidst the acoustic guitar work.
The instrumental pieces are indeed quite varied. Some like Gigante and Attimo Infinito act as fillers or connecting pieces between the more longer works with the occasional effect and doodle on piano and guitars. Others like Pietá and Intermezzo are so rich in sound that they could have easily fit on a film score. Pieces like La Porta Di Santo Spirito, Giudizio Universale and Il Duomo, all referring to works by Michelangelo, are interesting in themselves, but do tend to become slightly disjointed and tend to create a void in the overall flow of the album as the band seem to move off at a tangent from the stricter regimented music of the initial parts of the album, to move into a freer and at the same time abstract musical style.
A more accessible musical form is attained with Il Duomo where the band really show their ability to create some impressive music. Here one must comment on the rhythm section which really comes to the fore on this piece with a powerful bass run amidst repeated off beats that still manage to flow alongside the more ear-friendly vocals. The last piece on this album to feature vocals is ballad-like Imaginary Sky and once again the band resort to a Marillion-esque style which they carry off in impeccable fashion.
Surprisingly there seems to be a strong folk element that runs through the music of Tempano's latest opus. The historical setting of the concept album surely played a part in this and from the opening Twisted Mind one feels the band hinting at both the Italian roots as well as the Renaissance period. The touches are subtle and are mainly conveyed via the use of particular instruments such as in Intermezzo where the band use a harpsichord or the lusciously heart-warming flute of All Ages Tears. The album comes to a conclusion with the lengthy Conspiración which could be described as a conglomeration of all the influences that are found on the rest of the album, as the band manage to bring together jazz, funk, rock as well as elements of medieval music.
Tempano have managed to create a magnificent album with The Agony And The Ecstasy. It is true at times the band seem to lose their way meandering through short instrumentals, though these are amply contrasted by the lush songs which are of a quality that modern day progressive rock is seriously lacking. This is definitely one of those albums that should appeal to ALL progressive rock lovers, and if you are still thinking of which new progressive rock album you should go out and buy, make sure it is this one!
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Calix - A Roda
Great bands, that create new musical directions, generally find themselves quickly surrounded by too many impressionists. With their huge success over three decades, it's therefore always seemed somewhat strange that more bands haven't taken on the combination of folk/rock and flute/guitar that has served Jethro Tull so well. Anyway, if, like me, your collection has a greater than average number of records filed under 'J' (22 at the last count), then you should take more than a passing interest in this young band from Brazil.
This is the second album from Calix following Cancoes De Beurin released in 2000 and A Roda can be described as a fairly straight mix of later-day Tull and Camel. A bit of blues, a bit of rock and quite a bit of folk, and for starters, it's sung almost entirely in their mother tongue, which can be a plus or minus depending on the listener's taste. The sole track sung in English (I'll let you work out which one) does however show the possibilities of a much wider appeal should Calix decide to go in that direction.
Occasionally the Tull influences do become a little too close for comfort. Homens Pedra has a riff lifted out of Velvet Green, Seu Dom could be the sister of Songs from the Wood and Em Padacos has more than a family resemblance to Tull's initial blues-based recordings. But overall the band does manage to stamp enough of its own identity to create a sound of their own (certainly more than on their debut if the two samples on their website are anything to go by). Banato Savassi (who also plays the flute) has a strong voice backed by some good harmonies and a healthy use of musicians from the Orquestra De Camara Sesiminas. The production meanwhile, provides a clear, open sound throughout with a good balance of the various instruments.
The melodies are fairly simple but catchy and the musical arrangements, while never being complex, manage to have enough variety to keep your attention throughout. Musically I count at least a dozen different instruments including the flute, harmonica, violin, piano and what I presume are some traditional Brazilian folk instruments.
A bit more crunch, through a heavier use of the guitar would be more to my taste and any band that has to resort to 'NaNaNa'-type choruses, should be forced to spend a week watching recordings of the Eurovision Song Contest. But overall, while Calix take more than a passing reference to Ian Anderson and co, I must admit there's a certain freshness and vibrancy to their sound that I find very appealing.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Digitalis - Season Of The Reason
The storyline behind this album is indeed an interesting one having been eight years in the making. In fact Digitalis as a recording entity has been around since the beginning of the nineties having already released two albums as a duo. Dusseldorf based Torsten Gager (guitars) and Rüdiger Deuster (keyboards & drum programming) have been working on Season Of The Reason for the last eight years and decided to enlist the help of Ric Bonnell on vocals and guitar for their latest release. The interesting part is that Bonnell hails from Mendon, Massachussetts and has never even met the other members of the band. All correspondence and music transfer was done digitally via satellite.
As I have often made clear, the lack of a proper drum sound is always a detriment to my ears and in this case the hollow drums as well as thin cymbal sound really does not do justice to the music. The band try to incorporate a number of influences into their music though it all seems a bit bland to me. The sound is very synthetic with even the guitars having that distinct synthesised eighties sound. Ric Bonnell possess a high-pitched voice, though lacks range and it really does get strained on various tracks. Some critics have gone as far as to compare him to Jon Anderson, though I do not think that he comes anywhere close to this. True there are times when he does carry it off well (such as on the initial section of In A Little While) but, as with much of the music, his voice seems to lack soul.
Another factor which seemed to irk me when hearing the album was that the tracks rarely seem to have a definite ending but just simply fade out, possibly because of the long distance collaborations between the various musicians. So after all this criticism where does this leave Digitalis? Well, I felt that they really came out of their shell when I hear the track Thirteen which has a strong electronic influence much in the Kraut-rock based style of bands such as Kraftwerk (who also hailed from Dusseldorf!0 and Tangerine Dream. It might also be a coincidence that the track which I liked mostly on this album happened to be an instrumental piece with guitar work provided by a guest musician, J. Kellermann. Once again though, what seemed to be evolving into an intriguing piece just fades out!
Tracks like Season Of The Reason see the band bringing in a certain degree of extra power with the use of Hammond-sounding keyboards, though there is always that something missing from the overall sound. I must admit that this album has definitely not left any form of a lasting impression on me and I doubt whether I would be inclined to give it more than a couple of spins on my CD player!
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Palace Of Black - Palace Of Black
Let me start by saying that this CD balances on the somewhat unclear border between progressive metal and ordinary metal. However, there are quite a few people who would argue that Iron Maiden most certainly is prog and since I do hear some echoes of early Maiden in this album, I will discuss it briefly.
Yngwie Malmsteen fans will probably recognise the name Mike Vescera, lead singer on Yngwie's albums The Seventh Sign and Magnum Opus. Apart from that, Vescera has been the main man in bands like Loudness, Obsession, Reign Of Terror, MVP and the Roland Grapow band. Palace Of Black is the new band Vescera founded together with guitarist Paul Marko (November 67, Bad Circus). They are joined by David Stone on drums and percussion and M.P. on bass guitar.
Even though Vescera has sung with Yngwie Malmsteen, and Marko the co-founder of Palace Of Black is a guitarist, the album does not revolve around guitar pyrotechnics. In other words, do not expect a CD in the vein of Malmsteen, Satriani or Vai. No, we are talking about some solid heavy metal that harks back at bands like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and R.J. Dio here. Expect power chords, heavy riffing, walls of distortion and an atmosphere that is dominated by minor chords. Of course, there are also a couple of nice guitar solos to be found on Palace Of Black, like the Stevie Ray Vaughan meets Slash ones in Seasons and Burnt Offerings, and the acoustic one in the instrumental Under A Midnight Sun.
The tempo is low throughout the entire album, which makes it a bit too monotone for me, to be honest. Only track 3, Burnt Offerings, is somewhat uptempo. The use of an acoustic guitar in tracks like This Side Of Summer, Farewell To All The Kings, You Walk Alone and Under A Midnight Sun does not help to lift the feeling of sadness and impending doom radiating from the speakers, but maybe that is exactly the effect that the Palace Of Black guys were aiming for.
The vocals are strong, typical heavy metal vocals, even though I cannot shake off the likeness of Vescera's voice to that of Jon Bon Jovi. This mainly has to do with the way he sings the words and the kind of vibrato he uses. I do not know whether this similarity causes some of the songs to sound quite a bit like the stuff that hardrockers-gone-commercial Bon Jovi used to create in their early years too, but I was certainly reminded of them in more than one instance.
Palace Of Black's self-titled album is definitely not an album for the easily depressed. Most of the tracks are slow, heavy and written in minor keys. Fans of the kind of metal that hovers around the border between progressive metal and "old school" heavy metal on the other hand, should probably give the album a spin. For my part, I can certainly admire the kind of musicianship displayed by the band, but I would have preferred a few breaks in this massive sheet of dark, musical clouds.
Conclusion: 7- out of 10