Reviews in this issue:
Nightwish - End of Innocence
End Of Innocence documentary (135 minutes) - In Finnish with optional English subtitles
Music Videos : End Of All Hope, Over The Hills And Far Away
"4th of July in Norway" Live Footage : Sleeping Sun, Wildchild, Beauty And The Beast, She Is My Sin, Slaying The Dreamer)
Summer Breeze 2002 Live Footage (5.1 sound) : End Of All Hope, Dead To The World, 10th Man Down, Slaying The Dreamer, Over The Hills And Far Away, Sleeping Sun)
MTV Brazil Interview - in English with Portuguese subtitles
CD: End Of All Hope, Dead To The World, 10th Man Down, Slaying The Dreamer, Over The Hills And Far Away, Sleeping Sun, The Kinslayer, Come Cover Me
With one concert DVD already behind them Finnish sensations Nightwish chose to produce something slightly different for this, their second DVD. By piecing together recently filmed interview footage, and a mass of material recorded by the band and their crew while recording or touring they have attempted to deliver the story of the group, as told by those who were there at the time. This is supplemented by live footage from two concerts; two videos not present on the initial DVD, a photo gallery and a further short interview, filmed for MTV Brazil.
The video footage certainly achieves its objective in telling quite comprehensively the story of the evolution of the band from one student's acoustic project into one of the biggest female fronted prog-metal bands in the world with a fanatical following in parts of South America and Europe. However, as a band who have reportedly been at the point of splitting for almost two years now, the interview material, particularly that with band leader and composer Tuomas Holpainen, effectively explains how tensions arose within the band, how they were dealt with (with the firing of bassist and long standing friend Sami Vänskä) and how his replacement by Marco Hietala has enabled the band to move forward once more. It covers the story from the point of the band members' emergence from National Service in the Finnish army, their early concerts and attempts to win a recording contract and their subsequent rise to success in Europe and elsewhere around the world. It is not a "warts and all" documentary, but all the characters featured are frank and honest with their answers to the questions posed by two Finnish journalists.
The interviews are mainly with Tuomas and Nightwish drummer Jukka Nevalainen, though there are contributions from other band members, their friend Wilska, as well as technicians and crew and while vocalist Tarja Turunen is often present she rarely speaks. It should also be noted that the interviews are conducted in Finnish, with everything subtitled in English. Tuomas and Jukka are very honest about their experiences recording and touring with the band and about the inevitable pressures and demands that follow with success. Once one sees the tiny town of Kitee from which it all started, it is not surprising that after a couple of months on the road, these small town boys enjoy nothing more than returning to the simple life from where they started and retreating into the peace and quite of the Finnish countryside.
The 'on the road' footage is of variable quality and reveals that the band and their crew behave just as one might expect for persons their age and in their positions. The drinking, nudity and bad language is kept to a minimum though not sufficiently for the package to avoid being marked 'Parental Advisory' in the UK. Away from the mayhem, we see far more of the mundane side of life on the road - the traveling from town to town, show preparation and performance. Then there is the more glamorous side of touring, with international travel to places like Brazil and Korea, where the audience in both cases is frighteningly enthusiastic about the band's music. Closer to home, the perils of life on the road in Russia and Poland are confined to the ease with which good quality vodka is available and its effect on the crew.
In terms of videos of musical performances, the video extras include extracts from two shows on the 'Century Child' tour. The first of these was recorded at Rockefellers in Oslo, Norway and features just 5 tracks while the second, recorded at the Summer Breeze Festival in Germany in the summer of 2002, contains 6 tracks. Both are nice extras but the inclusion of Sleeping Sun and Slaying The Dreamer in both sets is perhaps a little strange, although the presence of a cover of WASP's Wildchild in the Oslo set is a nice bonus. As for the kind of videos that may one day appear on MTV, we get the very professional filmed Over The Hills And Far Away and the less polished End Of All Hope which mixes some rough live footage with some vampire film scenes. The first of these videos has been available elsewhere, though I have to admit to being unaware of the existence of the second.
The DVD comes in two formats, standard and limited edition digipack. My German Limited Edition also comes with a small poster and postcard, but no booklet. There is however a bonus 40 min live CD, also recorded at the Summer Breeze Festival, though as with the video segment, (one can only presume for quality reasons), we do not get the full set. I haven't been able to track down the actual setlist played at the Festival, but the set sounds plain weird to these ears without Bless The Child to open the concert and with Over The Hills in the middle of the set, rather than as an encore. Thus, while it is another "nice to have" it is far from essential. Unless you are a complete fanatic about the band, I'd suggest sticking with the normal edition in the standard DVD case, it is far more durable and easier to store.
To resume, one has to say that this is definitely a package for the keen fan. For a start, one has to be keen enough to sit through two hours of interviews reading subtitles and if one is looking for a Nightwish concert performance, one might be better off purchasing their From Wishes To Eternity DVD rather than this one. However for the fan that must have everything issued by the band there is plenty of interest here in the interview footage and the live material is a very representative of the band, as it now stands, post the Century Child album.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Daimonji - Improg
Tracklist: Glimpse (14:29), Mongo lian Bandits (22:03), Night Dust (Monosyllabic Sex) (19:12), Ombre Moned (21:25)
Daimonji are a Japanese trio consisting of Hoppy Kamiyama on keyboards and vocals, Tatsuya Yoshida (of crazy Zeuhl-ish duo Ruins) on drums and vocals, and Mitsuru Natsuno on bass. As the album title implies, they deal in improvised Progressive rock, and here we are treated to four sizable chunks of live exploration (The shortest track alone clocks in at over 14 minutes).
The only sensible comparison I can make is to French legends Magma, and indeed large portions of this album would feel quite at home on any of Magma’s 70’s classics. Those who found Magma unpalatable because of the bizarre vocal style should be warned that Klaus Basquiz’s brand of squawking, warbling and shrieking is aped with uncanny accuracy.
Having said that, there are plenty of moments where Daimonji veer away from slavish zeuhlisms into wild, proggy flights of imagination. There are some superb synth solos - check out the first few minutes of Night Dust for a good example – and some long meandering sections where various moods are created, explored for a while and then ditched in favour of the next crazy impulse that takes the musicians’ fancy. The interaction between the three players is superb throughout, but with the lion’s share of the spotlight being dominated by synths, piano and drums. Yoshida is a great drummer, and seems more restrained here than in Ruins. What little of their music I have heard struck me as too extreme and bizarre for my tastes, and I am happy to report that Daimonji are a much more palatable prospect, although they too are capable of some pretty extreme and excessive moments.
The overall tone of these pieces is somewhat dark, with spooky atmospheres nestling against jagged dissonances. Long spacey sections give way to almost conventional rock jams, only to be overturned by frantic vocalisations and manic percussion. Every track has some excellent moments, but they all also have a tendency to ramble a bit in places. My favourite moments were the parts where Kamiyama lets rip on the synthesiser, and the parts where he gets into a jazzy groove on the electric piano. There are examples of each of these styles sprinkled liberally throughout the disc.
This is another one of those discs that is almost impossible to give a rating to, on the one hand the standard of musicianship is very high and there is some fantastic music here, but on the other hand, the bizarre vocals, radical experimentalism and rambling improvisational style will surely limit its appeal. For rabid fans of Magma, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it, and Ruins fans may be interested to see the direction Yoshida has taken, but others may be advised to proceed with caution. I found it to be much more enjoyable than I might have expected, given it’s nature, so in the end I’ll give it ...
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Guillaume Cazenave -
The Mediation Project 1: Worship Scraped
Tracklist: Interactive (4:34), Internal Talk (7:30), Interpassive Neuro Activity (21:05), Inter (2:49), Interface Disturbances (7:56), I.N.A Remix (3:30)
Worship Scraped is the fourth album by the young French composer Guillaume Cazenave and the first in a series of five CDs, to be released under the name The Mediation Project, that sets out to explore the human condition. This first volume deals with the subject of religious fanaticism and the influence it has on relatively fragile minds, very topical. The lyrics, although fairly disjointed, are pretty blunt, to the point and likely to offend some people of a less tolerant nature (or the religious fanatics). However, the message is not that obvious from purely listening to the album as the vocals are pretty indistinct - even with lyric book in hand I found it almost impossible to determine what was actually being sung.
Despite the album being split into different 'tracks', the album should really be considered as a whole. This is because of the discordant nature of the individual tracks which dance and jump between different styles, tempos, rhythms and other musical structures with effortless abandon. It is fair to say that there are no songs from this album that anyone is likely to find themselves singing to themselves in the shower! The only comparable album that springs to mind, in terms of the rather unique musical presentation, is Scott Walker's Tilt, a much maligned album which was described in one review as either a work or pure genius or the ultimate in musical wankery. I suspect that Worship Scraped will have the same effect in polarising opinions: some will think that it is the ultimate in progressive rock, others that it is overly self-indulgent. The nature of the album makes it almost impossible to provide any kind of structured review - the publicity sheet from Musea Records paints an appropriate picture - "ethereal synthesiser parts, tense sequences...shizoid guitar lines...dissonant style, gothic ambiences, some jazzy interludes and even a few primal screams!" It is all of this and more. One moment atmospheric keyboards will dominant, then trumpets and violins will break through before a metallic guitar solo takes over - all underpinned by a funky beat. The vocals are just as diverse, from a laid-back whisper to a beefy baritone to a guttural drawl (sounding as if Carl McCoy from Fields of The Nephilim popped by the studio one day). Importantly, it is all rather well done, merging such dissonant styles is no easy task and Cazenave has achieved this with aplomb. A work of such complexity could not have evolved in any organic way but put together piecemeal, as evidenced by Cazenave providing most of the lead, and a substantial part of the backing, instrumentation. Although one suspects that it would never happen, I would love to see this work performed live, now that would be a real challenge to test even the most accomplished of musicians. Who knows, once all five parts of The Mediation Project are complete perhaps Cazenave will put on a performance of the complete quintet.
Ultimately it is an interesting album that will sit in the collection to be a welcome distraction when I am really in the mood to listen to something that is totally different. One for the adventurous, the curious or those that are fans of original music.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10 (for sheer originality)
Ausia - Kasa Kasa
Tracklist: Vision That You Give (8:38), Night Dance (2:45), When That I Was A Little Tiny Boy (2:25), Indian Rain (7:05), Housewarming In Alaska (7:12), Mother Goose (3:29), Short Summer In Valhalla (6:53), Lost On The Way Home (4:43), Kasa Kasa (12:01)
Akihisa Tsuboy turned up twice during 2003 in my CD player. Firstly with excellent Era album and later with the equally impressive KBB album Four Corners Sky. Two contrasting releases, but both featuring Tsuboy's wonderfully melodic violin playing. So when this third album appeared out of the blue, I was eager to pop it into the CD player. I also noted that Source K. Adachi, was responsible for the guitar work and as I had enjoyed his contibution to the (Adachi Kyodai) album, reviewed by Mark Hughes, I was quite excited.
Therefore the only new musician, to me, was Yukihiro Isso (recorder, shinobue and dengakubue). The recorder may seem a strange instrument, and if like me, you believe that outside of classical music that the recorder is an instrument given only to small children in order to inflict pain and discomfort to its listener, then Yukihiro Isso could well change your perception of this instrument. The sheer expertise of Isso is a wonder to behold and I was taken aback by the way his fingers were able to so accurately fly around this instrument. Therefore Isso's presence within Ausia is not that of a secondary role, but as one of the principal instrumentalists.
Of the music contained on on Kasa Kasa we have a unique blend of improvised soloing held in balance by Source K. Adachi's rhythmically strong guitar. This allows both the violin and wind instruments to take centre stage as can be found in the title track Kasa Kasa - the question/answer soloing is truly captivating. It is somewhat to difficult to offer any comparisons, but those familiar with John McLaughlin's work with Paco de Lucia and Al Di Meola on Passion, Grace and Fire may be in the right territory - merely substitute two of the guitars for violin and recorder!
The music appears to have been recorded in one or possibly two sessions and therefore what you hear is the three musicians intergrating together. The fact that the odd shout of enjoyment and inherent instrument 'noise' have not been edited out, all add to this. To this end the music is much warmer and you can sense the camaraderie between the players. But (there is always a but) for all this wonderful playing two areas did cause some concern to this reviewer. Firstly, and this is not intended as a criticism of Yukihiro Isso's playing, but more the nature of the instrument, that I did find the high pitched sound of the recorder somewhat tiring on the ears. The second area of reference was the intensity of the musical passages, brilliant - but just over insistant. Breathtaking at times, as in the the title track and Indian Rain, but I would have prefered more pieces like Lost On The Way Home.
And so a special note must be made one of the most beautiful and lamenting tracks it has been my pleasure to listen to in 2003. Source K. Adachi supplies a gently picked guitar laying the foundation for the mournful and haunting melody carried by both the recorder and violin respectively. As Lost On The Way Home gradually unfolds you are able to drift wherever you wish to go. A truly evocative track where the gentle melodies combine with the improvised flourishes - tingly stuff indeed.
So finally to sum up Kasa Kasa. We have principally an instrumental album, although Source K. Adachi does offer two vocal interludes, firstly with When That I Was A Little Tiny Boy (an adaptation from W. Shakespeare's Twelfth Night) and a credible version of Tull's Mother Goose (Aqualung). Both of which act as resting points within the album and strengthen the folkier/Elizabethan influences within the other tracks.
Ultimately I see that this album must have limited appeal (but there again doesn't that apply to prog in general) and be purchased by those who lean towards melodic but heavily improvised material that touches into area's of fusion - albeit that this is accomplished here with three acoustic instruments.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Various Artists [Blackmore's Castle] -
A Tribute to Deep Purple & Rainbow
Personally, I can’t really see the point of these tribute albums, that certain labels seem to roll off the production line on a worryingly regular basis. However, labels don’t produce albums if no-one is buying them, so I guess there are enough of you who enjoy this sort of thing to make it worthwhile. A bit like tribute bands that make a living playing the back catalogue of top bands in clubs around the world, as long as it is done well, it will always provide a pleasant listen.
Equally important for the labels, these albums allow them to build the profile of some of their newer bands while providing a platform to keep their more established names in the spotlight between releases. And to be fair, this release from Lion Records is one of the better releases of its kind – certainly with more of the ‘good’ than the ‘bad and ugly’. Showcasing mainly acts from it’s own roster – it reflects the growing priority Lion Music is giving to progressive bands. Sadly, as with most of these sort of albums, few of the bands really give a totally new interpretation of the songs – happy instead to stay as close to the originals as their musical abilities allow.
Of the good - American ProgMetallers Transcendence say hello to Perfect Strangers, with vocalist Greg Drew showing he has a great voice. The female vocals of Dutch progressive rockers Arabesque add another dimension to Stargazer and Sweden’s Mister Kite and Reign of Terror do themselves justice by adding their own touches to Bloodsucker and Sixteenth Century Greensleeves. Meanwhile Condition Red’s interpretation of Black Night, complete with fiddle and flute, is perhaps the most adventurous.
For the guitar aficionados Lars Eric Mattson does a version of Self Portrait, he appears again on Condition Red’s instrumental look at Still I’m Sad and Jason Richardson adds a lively fretboard whiz through Lazy.
Of the bad - Iron Mask and Headline deliver fairly standard karaoke renditions of Gates of Babylon and Battle Rages On and Winterlong’s version of Highway Star leaves the guitar so low in the mix you can hardly hear it – somewhat missing the point really on a Ritchie Blackmore tribute album! Indeed you do get the impression that few of the bands had much of a studio budget for their songs.
Of the ugly – I’ve never heard of Torben Enevolden and don’t wish to again after enduring him Space Truckin' and Eric Zimmerman manages to totally crucify the Man on the Silver Mountain with some horrible programming – at least it’s different!
As I said at the start, this is far from essential but a pleasant enough listen.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Various Artists -
Moments Of Suspension (It's Twilight Time)
Tracklist: Knitting By Twilight: Song One 2 (4:18), Blueshift Signal: Float (4:46), Overflower: Cafe Without Words (2:37), Incandescent Sky: Light House (6:19), Knitting By Twilight: Sad Top (3:28), Swallowed [parts 2 & 3] (3:38), Knitting By Twilight (2:57), Oba (7:12)
Moments Of Suspension is a collection of electronic instrumentals from the It's Twilight Time label featuring four different bands, Knitting By Twilight, Blueshift Signals, Overflower and Incandescent Sky. Stylistically it is definitely not one of those albums that will have a broad crossover appeal as the music is stepped in electronic ambience.
Much of the album deals with tracks by Knitting by Twilight who have contributed no less than five of the eight tracks on the album. Knitting By Twilight seems to be essentially a duo of keyboards (Michael Watson) and percussion (John Orsi) with various other musicians joining in according to the theme of the particular track. Many of the tracks present on this compilation are pieces that have for some reason or another never made it to their studio releases with two pieces being radio broadcasts (Swallowed and Knitting By Twilight). Knitting By Twilight seem to rely on the use of various effects to conjure up the virtual images of their themes along the line of legendary band Tangerine Dream with the musical progression on thier tracks as minimalist as possible.
Blueshift Signal on the other hand seem to have a delicate keyboard line shifting throughout the whole of their piece and concentrate on a a melancholic touch that is modified very slowly throughout the whole of the track.
Overflower and Incandescent Sky feature some great effects with guitars, something which reminded me of the production techniques utilised by Daniel Lanois, both on his solo albums as well as on those by the likes of U2, Emmylou Harris and Bob Dylan. However, they seem to flounder in their own ideas and I felt that they could have expanded their pieces somewhat more if they wanted to be more adventurous.
This is definitely not an album for the faint of heart and is not one of those albums that can just be placed in the CD player and played at all times. Can one really call this progressive rock? Musical history, especially catalogists have lumped both electronic and progressive rock under the same umbrella. It is true the two very often merge together but I cannot safely say that the two have too much in common on this album. If your musical appetite has the urge for electronic ambience with the occasional splurge of effects, then this album would do for you. If instead you want something that can either kick off your day in a good mood, or leave you with something you could possibly sing a long to, then this might be best left untouched.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10