Reviews in this issue:
- Waterclime - Imaginative
- Michael Harris – Ego Decimation Profile
- Simone Fiorletta – My Secret Diary
- MCM - 1900 ~ Hard Times
- House Of Shakira - Retoxed
- Palace Terrace – Flying Through Infinity
Waterclime - Imaginative
Tracklist: Vision Or Void (6:16), Flashes (4:22), The Angel And The Fireball (5:19), Moonstream Portrait (4:55), Starshine Theater (8:03), A Journey To The Center Of The Soul (5:03), Sunset Morning (5:59), Body Migrated (4:10), Twilight (4:44)
Having reviewed and enjoyed Waterclime’s first album a year or so ago, I eagerly requested this one when it was released a few months ago, wanting to hear where Waterclime – or if you prefer, Mr. V, or Vintersörg, or Andreas Hedlund (a man of many personae, each attached to one of his many kinds of musical projects) would go next. I’m not sure I could have guessed the direction that predominates in much of this album, though, which is sort of, bear with me here, slightly folky progressive jazz-fusion. Now, don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a Brand X or Colosseum II record, but Mr. V is certainly exploring his jazzier side on many of these songs. At the same time, the album answers (unintentionally, of course!) one of my criticisms of The Astral Factor, which was that the first album was perhaps too varied, even diffuse. This album hangs together much better as a whole while still exhibiting beguiling variety from track to track.
As on the previous album, Mr. V plays all the instruments and, I guess, programs the drums: no drummer is listed, so I have to assume that the interesting and sometimes excellent percussion is electronic, and, if so, kudos to Mr. V for his inventiveness: these are no click tracks – they’re complex and pleasing, frequently Keith Moon-ish displays of supremely musical drumming. And the same praise goes for the rest of the instrumentation. Mr. V really is a talented and versatile musician, and, because he plays everything himself, he’s able to tailor the instruments to the effect desired in each song (what I’m saying is, there’s no fear of other musicians’ egos getting in the way of his intentions!). The singing is good, too, even better than on the previous album: he’s no virtuoso, but, at his best, Mr. V’s vocals sound like those of a slightly weaker (and Swedish-accented) Michael Sadler. In any case, the voice complements the music well, and the harmonies Mr. V frequently sings with himself (perhaps most notably on Starshine Theater) are quite lovely.
Again in a progression from (and in general an improvement on) The Astral Factor, the songs on Imaginative feature more twists and turns, more changes of tempo and instrumentation. Sunset Morning is an excellent example of such a song, and it’s also one of the songs on this album that, like a few on the first one, most remind me, if distantly, of my beloved Uriah Heep. The song is vaguely mid-late-Seventies-Heep-like in instrumental melodies and vocal harmonies but also in its modestly epic sound and resolutely cheerful drive. But there are more straightforward songs that also succeed on their own terms. My favourite of those is probably Body Migrated, though a cleverly syncopated middle section keeps the song from being too straightforward: Waterclime is, after all, Mr. V’s progressive-rock project, and nothing here approaches straight-ahead rock and roll for long. He switches things up, keeps the songs interesting throughout.
I can confidently say that if, like me, you liked The Astral Factor, you’ll like Imaginative even more. It retains the basic “Waterclime sound” that Mr. V created on that first album but represents a progression in almost every way. Yet the melody is still there, and every composition is enjoyable and successful in its own way. As much as I like black metal (the genre of his main band, Vintersörg), I kind of hope that Mr. V will spend more time on this “side project” in the future, because goodness only knows what he can achieve if the next Waterclime album follows the trajectory he’s established with his first two.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Michael Harris – Ego Decimation Profile
Tracklist: Forewarning (3:31), Vicious Uppercut (5:54), Stratus-Fear (5:51), Julius Seizure (1:34), Pawn To King IV (5:42), Grandscape (5:42), Hair On The E String (6:21), Freudian Trip (4:42), Brainwarp (4:37), Terminus Epic (6:29)
With American guitarist Michael Harris finally gaining some publicity with his Ted Leonard-fronted prog metal project Thought Chamber, he and his label (for solo work) Lion Music have assumedly decided to capitalise by re-releasing this obscure 1996 effort – I can’t imagine somehow that its due to high public demand! Harris also took the time to update the sound, going for (in his words) to get a ‘better drum tone… to get a ‘rounder’ sound overall’. The latter has probably been achieved, as this certainly sounds pretty lively, although to my ears the drums still sound a bit dry. Still, on these sort of albums its’ really all about the guitar sound, and this is certainly up to snuff.
Harris in guitar instrumental mode can be likened to the likes of Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai, although I’ve found with previous work that there is more of an emphasis on melody and groove than is the norm for the genre. Having said that, Ego Decimation Profile probably sees him at his most shred-tastic, and is certainly a harder-edged, more metallic affair than his more recent efforts. The prog influence, particularly that of Dream Theater and seventies Rush, is here in places, but not as prevalent as usual.
Opener Forewarning is perhaps slightly misleading, as it is one of the few tracks here to emphasise the symphonic and pomp elements of Harris’ music; there’s also room for some keyboard motifs reminiscent of those on the film Halloween, clearly there to help the track live up to its title. The likes of the more up-tempo and aggressive Vicious Uppercut, and the hard rock grooves of Julius Seizure (which, aside from the awful punning title, is notable for adding some funk and jazz-fusion elements to the mix) and Freudian Trip are more typical of the material to be found on the album.
Prog fans who are prepared to persevere should, however, find some tracks which are more to their liking amongst the hard rock riffage and constant flurry of notes. The short Pawn To King IV sounds very like the intro section to Rush’s Xanadu, and it would have been interesting to see where Harris could have taken this idea. Grandscape showcases some anthemic, melodic rock stylings – some of the soaring guitar work wouldn’t be out of place on a Boston album. The concluding Terminus Epic is also probably the album’s strongest track, a slower and more considered piece with some highly impressive guitar work reminiscent in places of Steve Howe.
All in all, this isn’t the best album I’ve heard from Harris, but as always I find his work more palatable than many working within the guitar instrumental genre due to his ear for a good melody. Hopefully Lion Music will re-release Harris’ 2001 release Sketches From The Thought Chamber, as this is a stronger release, and focuses more on the progressive side of things, which should make it more appealing to readers of this site.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Simone Fiorletta – My Secret Diary
Tracklist: A Day In California (5:21), I Came Back (5:53), To Fly Over The Rainbow (5:02), Welcome, Anita! (6:30), Only Three Minutes To Dream (3:40), Borderline (4:45), You Are My Past, Present, Future (3:44), Brawl In A Saloon (5:10), The Beginning Of A New Era (5:03), Goodbye (5:27)
Admit it- you’ve played air guitar at some point in your life, maybe at the age of sixteen with Judas Priest blaring in your bedroom, your parents oblivious to your interpretive shred-fest. If you’re like me, you’ve played air bass or air drums. The Eddie Van Halen that lurks deep within the dark recesses of your heavy metal psyche will be turned on by My Secret Diary, the third and latest release by phenomenal guitarist Simone Fiorletta. And there is nothing secret about his sound.
Fiorletta is the guitarist for Italian prog-metal band Moonlight Comedy. He has been a musician for most of his life, studying piano at the age of seven and guitar since the age of twelve. He appeared onstage with fellow Italian musician Neil Zaza at the age of nineteen, and to this day still takes the occasional lesson to keep his playing sharp.
Fiorletta is joined on his new CD by Labyrinth keyboard player Andrea De Paoli, the simply named Pasco from Cans on bass, and Tony Liotta (Sting, Tina Turner, and a host of others) on drums and percussion.
I’ve only listened to this CD once since I’ve received it from DPRP, and overall I consider it a harder-edged shred-fest with some lighter pieces tossed in for variety. It’s not exactly my cup of tea at the moment; perhaps it could grow on me with future listens. It will probably most appeal to guitarists and fans of harder, metal type guitar in general.
Possibly the most interesting track on the CD is Brawl In A Saloon, which starts off with the background sounds of people drinking in a busy saloon and some ragtime piano (an un-credited Scott Joplin piece). It launches into some guitar reminiscent of Billy Idol guitarist Steve Stevens and Deep Purple guitarist Steve Morse (comparisons which are evident all over this CD), and some barrelhouse piano evocative of Keith Emerson. Think of the ELP novelty tracks Jeremy Bender, Benny The Bouncer and The Sheriff.
I think I like De Paoli even better than Fiorletta on this CD, and that it would be an incomplete effort without him. Check out his piano on You Are My Past, Present, Future; a new age type piece featuring some acoustic guitar from Fiorletta.
One of the other tracks worthy of mention is Only Three Minutes To Dream, with acoustic guitar, piano, and keyboard-driven “flute” sounds recalling Jethro Tull.
I respect Fiorletta’s virtuosity as a guitar player; the guy is awesome, but the rest of the stuff on this CD is basically somewhat bland guitar-based metal and could have been composed with more originality. The clearly-produced CD is saved from being a total disappointment by the inclusion of the lighter work, which are sequenced across the CD in a way that keeps it from getting too boring.
The CD’s cover art depicts a dazzling view of a hand holding what appears to be some type of jewel against a radiant backdrop of sunlight.
Fiorletta could improve with future solo efforts by perhaps adding a vocalist to his band, and experimenting with tracks longer than what they average out to on My Secret Diary, which are about five minutes in length.
In the meantime, check out his latest CD, and maybe someday I will see an air guitar of you on Youtube.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
MCM - 1900 ~ Hard Times
Tracklist: (1900) Hard Times (4:29), Raw Extremities (4:32), River Offering (5:17), Emergency Poncho (4:34), Mutual Assured Distraction (5:05), The Ground Above (5:52), Them Ain't Us (4:17), 30 Seconds Over Your Land (4:23), Esse'N'Emme (3:58), Unmatched Fragment (4:27), House Of Deviants (4:37), For Every Color You Know (5:26)
MCM is the abbreviated title for its' constituent members, namely Alex Masi (guitars), Randy Coven (bass) and John Macaluso (drums). And 1900 ~ Hard Times is a live registration of the trio recorded at various rather intimate venues during the last couple of years and throughout the US and Central America. As musicians Messrs MCM probably need little in the way of introduction - certainly to those from the metal end of the progressive spectrum. Collectively the trio make a tight and formidable unit.
Musically the material is spontaneous and in the main improvised, which unfortunately contributes both to the uniqueness of this recording and also its downfall. As a display of musical mastery then I would be so bold as to compare it with some of the early fusioneers of the early 70s, albeit with the slant more aimed toward the metal genre than perhaps the jazz field. But the downside is that the improvised nature of tracks makes the material very taxing, and with little in the way of recurring themes or hook points, difficult to digest. So much so is the spontaneity of 1900 ~ Hard Times that MCM appear to have wholly overlooked their debut 2004 studio album Ritual Factory - with none of the tracks from that release making it to the live stage.
I've enjoyed and struggled with this album for some time now, both from a listening and reviewing stance. From a listening view point - yes, these three guys are impressive, but nearly an hour of improvised, rather intense, fusion/metal has made this a tough ask. The expression "you had to be there" often crossed my mind.
From a reviewing point - what might I say to convince you to buy, or just ignore this release of course. I suppose depending upon your answers to the following two questions might serve as the simplest of solutions. Do you enjoy listening to fusion and metal? Are you one who enjoys free flowing improvised jams? If yes then try the Samples link above...
Ultimately I fear that 1900 ~ Hard Times will have a limited appeal with the prog fraternity and in all reality, to all but a rather select band of listeners.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
House Of Shakira - Retoxed
Tracklist: Retox (1:12), Small Town (4:16), No Faith (4:09), Crazy But No Fool (3:47), Life And Death (5:16), Gabon Viper (4:30), High Above (3:51), Red Alert (4:23), Bloodline (5:01), Angel Dancer (4:35), Turkish Nights (6:50)
This is one of those rare (nowadays) releases when one can hear some soundclips and make up his/her own mind without much hustle or effort. So instead of reading this review maybe you'd better go hear the samples on their website or some whole songs on MySpace. And why is that? Because these guys offer a rather predictable (but also rather well-played) melodic hard rock. AOR elements, few cheesy moments (how can you have melodic hard rock without?) and classic rock references in the riffs and melodies. Notice also that House Of Shakira is around for more than 10 years with four studio albums behind.
So straight to the point: the band consists of a good singer, a rather low profile guitarist (for this genre where showing off is the rule) who can't make me drool though when the solo moment comes and pretty good musicians to perform the music. The music is mainly influenced by Van Halen, with Life And Death and Small Town being a bit "too" influenced. Usually we have nice memorable refrains and the songs never diverge from this old and tried recipe. Other influences include all bands that one could come up as leaders of the genre: Def Leppard (Red Alert), Europe of the latest period (No Faith reminds me quite a lot of the track Start From The Dark from the 2003's album, featuring a more industrial feel) and Bon Jovi of the first albums or White Lion. It also looks like the guitarist listens to some harder stuff too, since I identified some riffs referring directly to Black Sabbath or Accept. Interestingly, the voice fits perfectly to this stuff but it is NOT a pure high pitch voice aiming to make you nostalgic of the 80's. Funny, but what it reminds me the most is Geoff Tate's voice around the Empire era or maybe even around the Tribe album. That adds a lot to the quality of the vocals and it's one of the positive surprises in here.
What is the problem then? The problem here lies in originality. I have always considered looking too much for influences and prying into all riffs and guitar themes a sort of a witch hunt. But this time I can't help but pointing out that almost all tracks do bring something to mind. However, to be fair I have to say that for people that enjoy this kind of stuff, this is a more than decent release. And hats off to the last track, Turkish Nights, a great Journey-like track which has stuck to my mind and haunts my playlist lately and of course the album highlight. Overall, all I can say is that it was quite enjoyable to listen to, especially because it was rather long since I had my last dip into the poser honey pot with Europe's last album. I think I'll keep my eyes open in case these guys tour around here.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Palace Terrace – Flying Through Infinity
Tracklist: The Tenth Dimension (9:16), Chaos Theory (4:44), Time Will Tell (5:24), I Know Your Home (3:42), Who Am I? (4:50), Declaration (7:43), Lights Fall Down (4:19), From This Day Forward (5:25), End Of time (6:51), Mesmerized (7:09)
Palace Terrace is a neo-classical project featuring guitar player George Bellas and tenor vocalist Jonathan Marshall. The latter really dominates – better terrorizes – almost the entire album with his melo-dramatic, emotional singing and this guy really gets on my b... nerves. Just listen how he destroys a song like Time Will Tell with his over the top opera-like vocal parts. Furthermore this album is so complex that it already takes lots of spins to truly absorb all that is taking place.
This is not an easy album to listen to as it is filled with percussion, orchestration, keyboards, lots of guitar and last but not least extreme vocal passages. A couple of vocal lines are even done as fugues, making it very difficult to appreciate the rest of the music.
Guitar wise this album is also disappointing to me as the guitar solos are rather scarce as Bellas stresses the compositions and storytelling on this album instead of focusing on his guitar playing.
To me this album is too complex and the vocal parts are too tiresome, but you have to check it out for yourself. If you are a listener who is not afraid of lots of diversity then this album might be of interest to you ...
Conclusion: 4.5 out of 10