Reviews in this issue:
Silent Edge - The Eyes Of The Shadow
This is the ninth release from Dutch based DVS Records, who clearly have high hopes for this progressive metal quartet - judged as the best Dutch metal act by Aardschok magazine a year or so ago. Some atmospheric cover artwork gives a good impression and there is no disappointment when the album opens with two truly impressive shards of metal.
Through Different Eyes mixes the symphonics of SymphonyX with the more metallic chops of Vanden Plas to striking effect. One of the band's trademarks is the use of expansive instrumental sections in the middle of tracks. Through Different Eyes is a fine example with some wonderfully intensive interplay between the guitars of Emo Suripatty and the keys of Minggus Gasperez.
The second track Savage Symphony is, if anything, even juicier. Boasting the album's best hook, it shows perfectly how the band can shift seamlessly between different styles of metal. We start with a Malmsteen-esque neoclassical run to the fore, but within an instant, we change to a classic, heavy rock riff (think Dokken) which leads up to the rousing chorus. A great way to open an album.
Founded six years ago, Silent Edge recorded their first two-track demo almost three years ago. Followed by a performance at Progpower Europe 2001, they spent more than a year experimenting, composing and rehearsing before going into the New Road Music Studio to record their debut. The time was well invested, with ten very well crafted songs that show off the band's technical wizardry - but with a mixture that never becomes too overwhelming or complex. In a similar way to Royal Hunt, the song always remains central.
Other highlights include Wasted Lands, which starts off as a power ballad before Suripatty launches into a crunching thud, thud thrash riff followed by a tremendous keyboard solo and some equally tremendous drumming from Marco Kleinnibbelink. The Curse I Hold Within is a ballad with some lovely acoustic guitar from Suripatty, while Crusades is an instrumental taken from the books of Symphony X. For Ancient Times moves off in a more Falconer-meets-Stratovarius direction, while throwing in a cool, oriental vibe and a spoonful of progression, in a 60's sorta way.
My second favourite track is Under A Shaded Moon (along with Savage Symphony, the two offerings from the original demo). Again mixing Symphonic Metal (think SymphonyX) with more riff heavy Prog Metal (think Vanden Plas) and with another great chorus, I really do think this is the mixture that works best for the band and one that will win over many new fans.
Rebellion is probably the most straight ahead, Heavy Metal number on offer, with a brilliantly heavy riff and some more powerful drumming that wouldn't be out of place on a Primal Fear album.
With Willem Verwoert, the band has a quality set of lungs to carry their songs. More mid-ranged than a high-pitched wailer, he can cover a wide variety of styles and is supported by some very good use of harmonies from Gaspersz.
In short, this is a real grower of an album that just gets better and better with each listen.
It does have a few areas where improvements could be made. A couple of the instrumental sections (in particular Rebellion) do go on a bit without saying much, and by following a ballad (albeit a good one) by an instrumental (albeit a good one too) the band does lose a bit of momentum in the middle of the album. There is also one track that I now simply have to avoid. Lost Conscience takes a more doomy/gothic approach that is very predictable, very dull, has some horrible backing vocals in the lead up to the chorus. It's just not the band's style at all. Please don't go there again chaps!
However, as a debut release, this is a stunning achievement that puts many more established bands to shame.
Although I love fellow label mates Chrome Shift and Heavens Cry; with its great crossover potential, The Eyes Of The Shadow is DVS's most marketable release to date. If you've a taste for Progressive Power metal that pushes into a few more traditional boundaries amid an ever-changing musical landscape, then this comes heartily recommended.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Propaganda - Outside World
Do you ever get those nostalgic moods? Those moments when you long back for the days when you could still turn on the radio and actually enjoy the music the music that was being played ? Well, I do. And when I do I normally get out all of my old vinyl records. Back in the mid 80's I used to spend all my money on albums and 12" singles. And those were the days when 12 inches were real adventures. Not just remixes or instrumental extensions but amazing expanded renditions which almost deserved the name 'epic remakes'. Among the best were two bands that were products of the Zang Tumb Tuum (ZTT) label: Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Propaganda. Both bands were produced by Steve Lipson and Trevor Horn, the latter of which was also responsible for the Yes sound of 90125.
Some of you - among whom what we at DPRP call the 'Phil from Brasil' types - might now say, "Hold on, that's not prog, that's regular pop music!" I beg to differ. Not only was the music of Propaganda and FGTH quite revolutionary for its time, but people who would claim that they have nothing to do with prog music will need to listen to tracks like Frankie's full length Welcome to the Pleasure Dome (featuring Steve Howe !) or the Pink Floyd pastiche Ballad of 32. Or check out Propaganda's Dream Within a Dream or the full-length Dr. Mabuse. Also, one of FGTH's 12" singles for Rage Hard was basically an 80's version of Mike Oldfield's finale for Tubular Bells (part 1). Okay, these two bands might not be prog rock in the 70s sense of the word, but they were at least progressive pop, and in the case of Propaganda electronic prog pop.
Enough of the justifications to write this piece, on with the music. After one of my nostalgic moods I surfed the Internet to find out what had become of these two bands and soon came across the website of the ZTT label and found out that they had released albums by FGTH and Propaganda with some of their hard to find remixes of the eighties. In case of Propaganda this was Outside World, named after a line in the song Frozen Faces.
Propaganda had three hits in the eighties which people might not remember by their names but will certainly ring a bell when they hear the choruses: Dr. Mabuse (sell him your soul, never look back), Duel (the first cut won't hurt at all, the second only makes you wonder) and p.Machinery (another hope feeds another dream, another truth installed by the machine). These three songs came from their debut album Secret Wish, which featured guest musicians like Steve Howe, David Sylvian, Ian Mosley and Stuart Copeland. The CD was later followed by a fine album of remixes and remakes, Wishful Thinking. Both these albums have been released on CD but there was still a wealth of remixes, rarities and B-sides that had been released on 7", 12", EP's and promo's. Some of these have been collected on Outside World.
As you can imagine, the three mentioned hits are present prominently in different versions. The first version of Dr. Mabuse is it's 12" version (Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse - 13th Life Mix) which has been part of my collection for so many years. The most remarkable things about this version are the long instrumental introduction and the crazy drum break in the second half. When Secret Wish was first released on CD by the Island label the vinyl album version of Dr. Mabuse had been extended with this same drum break which eventually went into a piece that had originally been called Strength to Dream, resulting in fascinating 10+ epic. Das Testament Des Dr. Mabuse (DJ Promo Version) is basically this same extended version and as far as I'm concerned the 'ultimate Mabuse'.
The third version of Dr. Mabuse, called The Lesson, is a much more calm instrumental rendition with sampled vocal effects. It originally appeared on a rare double 7" version of the Duel single. Unfortunately this rarity is not all that interesting, even though it features a spooky church organ solo.
The second single, Duel, is present in the 12" version (Duel - Bittersweet) which was one of my favourite remixes of the eighties. It's just wonderful how the song slowly builds up, starting with just the drums and synths. The back side of the Duel 12" was the amazing Jewel (Cut Rough), which was a crazy industrial-sounding remix of the oh-so-gentle Duel. I used to love the looks on the faces of people when they heard the song (an even better mix of the two appeared on Wishful Thinking). This version of Jewel also appeared on the Island CD version of Secret Wish.
Whereas the previous two singles had both appeared in a 12" version (referred to as 'side 3 and 4') the next single, p.Machinery, had two official 12" versions, in true ZTT tradition. The first one, the Polish Mix is unfortunately missing from this collection. A and B-sides of the second 12" are both present on Outside World though. The A-side of the 12" featured the rather rough p.Machinery (Beta Mix), which was the most interesting of the two remixes since it had some of the lead keyboard melodies replaced by guitar play by John McGeogh of Siouxsie and the Banshees. The back-side of the 12" was called Complete Machinery and basically was a new track called Frozen Faces sandwiched between an instrumental version and a reprise of p.Machinery. It's nice to have both sides of this 12" available on this CD, but since the 12" version of Frozen Faces elsewhere on the compilation is identical to the one in Complete Machinery there is some unnecessary duplication.
I had never heard the third version of Frozen Faces on this CD, Echo of Frozen Faces, before and it is quite interesting; a rather drastic remix with lots of saxophone thrown in.
Two tracks on the CD remain to be discussed. Femme Fatale is a cover of a Lou Reed song and previously released as the B-side of Dr. Mabuse. Nice song, but not all that special. The other track, Lied, is just a short remix of part of The Chase from Secret Wish. It was previously released on the aforementioned double 7" of Duel.
Although the artwork is rather dull (especially compared to the artwork they used to have in the 80s) the booklet does contain extensive liner notes.
Unfortunately some of the tracks of this album already appeared in almost identical versions on the original Island label version of Secret Wish, and are therefore a bit redundant. They are probably present on this CD because the ZTT version of Secret Wish does not include these longer versions. Also, the duplication of Frozen Faces also wastes some of the precious CD space which could have been filled with some other rarities which have not been included, like the weird The Ninth Life of Dr. Mabuse (a track from the 12"), Dr. Mabuse Der Spieler (B-side of the single), Bejewelled and the 'Polish' version of p.Machinery, most of which I have never even heard.
Thanks to these ZTT compilation albums I can now permanently store away some of my old 12" singles and have my nostalgic moods whenever and wherever I want. I am glad to have purchased this CD, but I do have to admit that I would not recommend this as a first Propaganda CD to buy. Make sure you get Secret Wish first, then buy Wishful Thinking if you'd like to hear some fine alternative versions of some of the songs and if you still can't get enough get Outside World as well. For those who have already been admirers of the band for a long time and have already had these two albums for years: make sure you get this one as well.
Note: besides the ZTT version of the CD I bought there is also another version which includes a DVD with video clips.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Adachi Kyodai - Adachi Kyodai
It is not often that something takes your breath away when you first hear it, but I was left gasping when I first played the new CD from Adachi Kyodai. The album contains some incendiary acoustic guitar playing by a couple of Japanese brothers, Ryusuke and Source 'K' Adachi, the like of which has not been heard since the last time John McLaughlin, Al Di Meola and Paco De Lucia sat down in a recording studio and decided to see who had the most nimble fingers and could fly around the frets fastest.
The majority of the album is instrumental, rather unevenly broken up with cover versions of two Jethro Tull songs, an early King Crimson number and a piece that sets Shakespearian prose to music. Source 'K', who sings on these tracks (as well as writing most of the original material), does a passing impression of Ian Anderson on the Tull covers, although is rather more successful on Mother Goose than on Cheap Day Return. The vocals on I Talk To The Wind are more obviously sung by a non-native English speaker, but with some subtle double-tracking this is not a distraction from the song. All three pieces, all originally acoustic numbers, lend themselves well to the arrangement for two guitars and Mother Goose in particular works very well with the relatively slow tempo vocal melody backed by intricate and fast playing by Ryusuke.
When That I Was A Little Tiny Boy, the final vocal number, is also quite a delight. With a more classical, baroque setting, the piece is a showcase for the more subtle aspects of the duo's playing. However, the thought of the two Japanese gentlemen sitting around an Elizabethan court singing "Hey Noney Noney" was most amusing!
The instrumental tracks are exhibitions of guitar technique and mastery that somehow transcend genres, it's not folk music, is too structured for jazz and too minimalist (no keyboards!) for consideration as traditional progressive rock. But hey, compartmentalising music has always been a no-no in my house anyway! Ranging from the very fluid and lightening quick Back Track, the piece that most resembles the holy trinity of McLaughlin, Di Meola and De Lucia, to the more languid and tranquil Spring Silky Shower Landscape, the album is a joy for all fans of the acoustic guitar. With plenty of stylistic variations (All Shades Of Blue has definite overtones of Adrian Legg), Adachi Kyodai have come up with a fine album that is at one and the same time, agressive, melodic, heavy and down-right enjoyable.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Rusty Cooley - Rusty Cooley
It only took me a quick scan to form an opinion on this album. Rusty Cooley suffers from what I call HNDDS (High Note Density Syndrome). He is the kind of guitar player that uses any silence to fill it up with 243 different notes. Something e.g. Joe Satriani suffers from also. Rusty Cooley gets compared to names like: Jason Becker and Marty Friedmand names that do ring a bell (Megadeth) but that are not in my collection. I must say that I know there are people that are very fond of this kind of music, but I have never been one of them. It is like someone is giving an example of what he is able to do with a guitar instead of making music using a guitar. Rusty Cooley really is a gifted guitar player who can do speedy loops that are absolutely amazing, but admiring the guitar play does not mean I like this music. After about 5 minutes of listening I get so worked up by this showing off that I toss away my headphones and need about 15 minutes of utter silence to be able to listen to music again.
You could of course say this is just Dries complaining about a style of music that he does not particularily like, or maybe I just suffer from HNDI (high note density intolerance). But to be sure it was not just me, I have had other people listen to Rusty Cooley and to them the music had the same effect. (Mind you none of them is a Joe Satriani lover).
I have taken a look at the (very nice) Rusty Cooley website and under reviews a number of quotes of other reviews are listed that (I think) Rusty Cooley is proud of. I do not disagree with any of them, they all praise his superb super fast quitar technique. There is only one quote that I have to disagree with: "Cool songs..". As I have said, this guy is doing stuff to a guitar at a speed that I cannot cope with. I would have liked it though if he had paid a bit more attention to the composition of the tracks. Turning the guitar tempo down on some tracks while keeping the other instruments at the same pace could in some case have made beatiful music.
There are some tracks that I can almost appreciate: Under The Influence because it has nice supporting keyboards, and although the guitar is speedy it is melodical. Towards the end of this track I just get enough of it and that's why I do not really appreciate it. Jazzmine's Song is also not too bad, because it sticks to the same melody long enough without all the loops running out of control. But again it is taken just over the top so I never reach the end of this song. And there is even one song on this album that I like: Dark Matter the guitar naturally also has a leading role but it there is a better balance between long stretched notes and speedy loops, the other instruments give it an almost mellow ballad-like sphere.
I did not really enjoy this album but still I know there are people (maybe even amongst our readers) that will really like this music. Have a look at the Rusty Cooley website, compare my opinion to those on the website and decide for yourself if you understand better the speed-guitar freaks on that site or the things I have stated above.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Val'Paraiso - Footprints Of Angels
Edited Versions : The Lonely Views Of Condors (4:30), Where Our Shadows Sleep (4:04)
Full Versions: The Lonely Views Of Condors (5:50), Where Our Shadows Sleep (5:26)
Val'Paraiso are a Dutch and German band currently based in Munich and among their ranks are freelance drummer Alex Holzwarth, currently with Italian Symphonic Power Metallers Rhapsody and also a founder member, along with brother Oliver, of Seiges Even. Oliver, also freelance, provides the bass with German heavyweights Blind Guardian, among others. The guitar role is taken by Markus Steffen, coincidently having played with Seiges Even and along with his own solo CD, he has written a book on the guitar, contributed to workshops for a guitar magazine and has produced several artists from differing musical directions. Finally, making up this quartet, is vocalist Arno Menses who has undertaken a number of early projects and is, at this moment in time, involved with "Turd" (I only hope that this has a slightly better interpretation in German).
So there we have it, a little background surrounding the men of Val'Paraiso and I have to say that on the surface this seems an unlikely concoction. But, never judge a book by its cover, is the old adage goes, so into the CD player. The first thing that struck me about the music was that it was certain lighterweight than its instigators might have led me to believe. In fact the songs have a refreshing and open nature, provided in the main by the relatively undistorted guitar structures. The rhythm section adds a cohesive backbone to the music and also its progressiveness - more discernable during Where Our Shadows Sleep. I am wary to make comparisons that may detract, but the drums and bass interaction moved in the areas of Rush at times, whilst the guitars might suggest Andy Summers or perhaps Billy Sherwood. Remaining briefly with the Markus' guitar, which proved to be one of the gems from this offering, it is possible to detect other influeneces within the chordal structures. Steve Morse and also Eric Johnson popping up in my mind.
A further bonus are the vocal melodies and harmonies, which are well arranged, adding a more upbeat feel to the well written, but somewhat melancholic lyrics. This combination works well, giving depth to the songs, without necessarily leaving you dispirited. As mentioned earlier the material has an open and airy quality, something that I hope will not be lost when these promo versions undergo more stringent studio production and mastering. All in all, a nice taster for what we might receive.
And finally, we don't review demo's, so why make an exception here. Purely and simply the music grabbed my attention and based upon these two tracks, I felt it was worth me bringing it to the attention of our DPRP readers. The CD is not available to purchase, however, the tracks are downloadable from the bands website - so check them out for yourselves. If the material from the full length album (?) follows on in the "footprints" shown in these two tracks then it would certainly be an album to look out for.
Back to you guys!
Conclusion: Non offered on just these two tracks.