Reviews in this issue:
- Blind Ego - Numb
- Martigan – Vision
- Yugen Plays Leddi – Uova Fatali
- Disen Gâge - ...The Reverse May Be True
- Barr - Skogsbo Is The Place
- Baku Llama - Eris
- The Resonance Association – Northern Coastline Soundtrack
- Balloon - Motivation
- Razor Wire Shrine - The Power Of Negative Thinking
- Fractal - Sequitur
Blind Ego - Numb
Tracklist: Lost (6:09), Guilt (6:15), Numb (6:09), Leave (6:52), Death (9:38), Change (7:19), Seek (5:40), Risk (3:52), Torn (4:45), Vow (7:01), Change Reprise (5:05)
Numb is the second album from RPWL guitarist Kalle Wallner and this time Kalle leaned on ex-Arena frontman Paul Wrightson as his sole lead-vocalist and no doubt, the man delivers a truly great performance. Sometimes I don’t even recognize the vocals from the Arena days, but nevertheless it’s a very pleasant voice for my taste and it matches the music perfectly. The other musicians on board are renowned bass player John Jowitt (IQ) who is sharing the duties with his colleague Sebastian Harnack (Sylvan). On drums we have Michael Schwager (Dreamscape), and as a guest on the last track Iggor Cavalera (Sepultura/Mix Hell) on drums. RPWL band-mate Yogi Lang produced the album and provided background vocals. All the short titles have to do with more or less extreme feelings, that take possession of one’s consciousness for a short time.
The first tracks, Lost and Guilt, begin with mellow sounds from Kalle’s guitars, but shortly thereafter firm riffs set the tone that will last throughout the whole album. They are catchy, yet varied and because of multiple layers of guitar the music still has a somewhat orchestral character. A little bit of keyboards would have been nice, but nevertheless this melodic bombastic rock sounds just great. Several changes in key and tempo prove Kalle’s progressive roots and in Guilt, the vocals by Yogi give the track an RPWL reference.
The title track has a beautiful sing-along chorus and a verse in the vein of the hard rock pioneers. Sounding a bit like Arena, Kalle throws in several superb melodic solo’s. In Leave we hear a more gentle and subtle guitar-sound and stunning vocals by Wrightson, while the chorus is more heavy but still extremely melodic. Haunting are vocals and guitars in the longest track of the album: Death. The chorus on the contrary is very sweet, whilst the middle section reminds of Porcupine Tree. The same kind of atmosphere can be found in Change, opened by a nice bass loop and subsequently the sounds of echoing, sometimes even slightly psychedelic guitar-sounds. At some point the guitars play more heavy riffs and the vocals are distorted. The heavy opening (and some other parts as well) of Seek conceal the more poppy acoustic verses. Towards the end the chorus as well as an ‘AOR’ like piece, with another of Kalle’s delightful solo’s. Entirely acoustic is Risk, with only guitar and vocals - a very nice tune. Almost a tribute to Black Sabbath is Torn, only the melodies played by guitar sound quite different, the riffs don’t and it’s all instrumental. A splendid combination of the Who and Arena can be discovered in Vow. The last track features Sepultura drummer Cavalera, gradually building up the tension and equally smoothly fading away at the end with just guitar and a few effects.
Numb will appeal to most fans of RPWL and Arena and all fans of more heavy yet melodic rock-music should definitely check this out. There’s no keyboards on Numb and therefore less progressive than RPWL or Arena. Due to the craftsmanship of the musicians, the refinement in song writing and production, superb vocals and the clever use of many different guitar-sounds, this is a truly fine rock album
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Martigan – Vision
Tracklist: Boatman’s Vision (23:12), Craze this Town (6:46), Snapshots (2:23), Touch in Time (7:56), A Great Concern (1:03), Much More (6:50), Red & Green (10:56), The Contract (20:11)
The lamb lying down on Broadway has risen, in a sense. No, it’s not that much-rumored Peter Gabriel era Genesis reunion, but, vicariously, the next best thing - German prog band Martigan.
On duty since 1994, the band has released their fourth full-length, the aptly titled Vision, and one listen to opening epic Boatman’s Vision will reassure you that there is still quality music out there in this day of boy bands, rap, “American Idol” and karaoke nights.
Martigan is comprised of Kai Marckwordt on guitar on one track, lead vocals, and 12-string guitars; Oliver Rebhan on keyboards, Alex Bisch on drums and vocals, his brother Björn Bisch on electric and acoustic guitars, and new guy Oliver Baumann on bass (bass duties on Vision were handled by Peter Kindler, who departed the band shortly after the CD’s recording). Mirko Bäumer is credited with additional lead and backing vocals, although the CD booklet does not specify what tracks he contributes to. Presumably he can be heard on Craze This Town, which also features some moody bass from Kinder.
The eight songs on the CD all track into one another to complete one, long-form piece of music. The Genesis similarities are immediately evident on Boatman’s Vision, with Marckwordt’s vocals sounding like a cross between Gabriel and Phil Collins, with a little bit of Fish thrown in. Rebhan’s keyboards and a tricky tempo definitely raise the prog flag, and some wild guitar soloing from Björn Bisch adds to the masterful flair. Thrown in to the mix is a clever sample of someone walking across a floor to the rhythm of the music, giving way to some toccata like stabs and then an upbeat section evoking the modern work of The Syn. Marillion serves as a reference point as guitar man Bisch slides into a melody evoking Steve Rothery, while Rebhan throws in some keyboarding flavour pointing in Mark Kelly’s direction.
The musical action on the CD is clearly spearheaded by the guitar and keyboard. Rebhan is a skilled keyboardist and has the, er, vision to rely on a variety of sounds - synth, organ, and piano. He can hold his own next to Emerson, Lord, Wakeman, and Moraz. Björn Bisch, on Touch In Time, tosses down some fiery guitar in some heavier sections that recall Emerson, Lake & Powell.
On the slow Chicago blues shuffle of Red & Green, Alex Bisch gets in on the action and works out some drum improvisations over drum programming.
Much More features some cool synth lines from Rebhan over a groovy kick recalling The Tangent.
Well-known prog epics this CD will remind you of include Supper’s Ready, Grendel, and Plague Of Ghosts. Six of the CD’s eight tracks are over six and a half minutes in length, with two tracks over twenty minutes each. And this is not unjustified music - there is enough variety in it to keep it from sounding repetitive or boring, with smooth transition between the different sections of the songs.
The festive CD booklet concept, design, artwork and photos are by Björn Bisch. The booklet also features original paintings courtesy of Gallery Kabul, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Jonas Stoltz designed the “alien script” font used on the front cover.
This CD will appeal to any fan of prog in general. If you don’t have the patience to kick back and relax to a twenty-minute opus, Martigan may not be for you.
I can think of no room for improvement from this awesome band.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Yugen Plays Leddi – Uova Fatali
Tracklist: Escher (3:50), Abisso (2:11), Campo (3:29), Colonia (8:17), Mattarello (2:33), Piani (5:50), Sviluppi (4:47), Uova Fatali [pt 1] Taranta (2:18) [pt 2] Cavata (3;11) [pt 3] Pulaster (1:51) [pt 4] Schiusa (1:04) [pt 5] Sciamatura (2:29), Complicazioni (6:11), Untitled (0:22)
Two years ago, I raved about Yugen’s debut album (read it Here), and neither time nor repeated listens has diminished my love for it. My initial disappointment with Uova Fatali stemmed from my high expectations for a follow-up to Labarinto D’Acqua. In fact, Uova Fatali is not Yugen’s second album proper, but a side project called Yugen Plays Leddi.
Tommaso Leddi was a member of Stormy Six, Italy’s contribution to the original Rock In Opposition movement spearheaded by Henry Cow. Leddi contributed mandolin and lute to Yugen’s first album, and here the group tackle a set of instrumental compositions by Leddi, displaying the variety and depth of his talents as a composer.
Accordingly, this disc takes a sharp move away from the progressive rock/RIO hybrid of Yugen’s first album, into deeper avant-garde territory, abandoning much of the rock influences for chamber music and folk dance structures, albeit in a complex and intricately arranged style.
For my money, the best tracks are those with a stronger rock element; Colonia, Matarello, Sviluppi and Complicazioni. In these tracks, the urgency of a rock beat adds potency to the intricate chamber music compositions, with elements of Gentle Giant and Henry Cow alongside 20th Century composers like Satie and Stravinsky. Matarello and Colonia in particular are superb; chamber prog of a very high order.
Less to my tastes are some of the shorter tracks including Abisso and Campo; The former is a little too abstract and avant-garde, and the latter is way too much in the Italian folk dance idiom to appeal to me, although it is superbly executed and features some incredibly nimble stopping and starting.
Unfortunately, I have not warmed up too much to the centrepiece of the album, the five part title suite Uova Fatali, which, over 10 minutes stays mainly in abstract avant territory and presents a challenging listen. Like much Henry Cow, the melodies are harder to locate, though not entirely absent. The track is not without its merits but definitely one that takes time to appreciate, and one I have to be in the mood for.
Across the whole album, there is some terrific work from violin, clarinet, electric guitar and glockenspiel, and Leddi himself excels on mandolin. From an instrumental viewpoint, the standard of musicianship is excellent. The complex, convoluted compositions veer from the tuneful and sprightly, to the abstract and unusual, and back again. The highly dexterous musicians weave an intricate web of sound, at times enthralling, at other times puzzling and mystifyingly odd.
Having overcome my initial disappointment, I have endeavoured to accept this disc for what it is, and my appreciation of it has therefore increased over successive listens. However, the fact remains that this is music with a very limited appeal and will not interest many of DPRP’s regular readers. I truly believed that Labarinto D’Acqua had the potential to pull in listeners who might not normally favour the RIO genre, but Uova Fatali is only going to appeal to hardcore fans of that style.
I still have very high hopes for Yugen’s second album proper, which I hope will surface soon.
Uova Fatali is unreservedly recommended for fans of RIO and modern chamber music. Others should approach with caution.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Disen Gâge - ...The Reverse May Be True
Tracklist: What`s Up On Planet Plyuk? (3:34), Landing (8:31), Lehaim To N.E.P. (5:09), Exyrinx (7:36), To Kill Kenny (3:12), The Parovoz Hitchhikers To Japan (5:10) God Saw Otherwise (3:26), Laxatives Are Included (5:54), Ikar`s Guide To The Galaxy (8:33), How Much Is Oxygen On Planet Khanud? (5:32)
Disen Gâge are back with their third album, following on from 2004's The Screw Loose Entertainment and 2006's Libertâge. The latest album sees a return to the song writing of the band's debut rather than the "bizarre and misplaced" improvisations of their sophomore release. The line-up of the band has remained constant with Konstantin Mochalov and Sergei Bagin on guitars, Nikolai Syrtsev on bass and Eugeny Kudryashov on drums although clever use of the guitars has produced some very realistic brass and keyboard emulations. The credit notes on the album list several people who are owed 'profound reverences', only one of which is a contemporary musician! Debussy and Ravel, the French classical composers; Georgi Daneliya, the Russian film director; John Wetton; and the English author Douglas Adams, who undoubtedly provided the inspiration for some of the song titles. The inclusion of the classical composers is not as odd as it might sound as there are obvious nods the meisterworks, especially on Landing which, in my opinion, is rather spoiled by the frivolous vocal excursions in an otherwise epic piece of music. The vocal 'errors' are also repeated on Ikar`s Guide To The Galaxy, although full marks must be given for the first time I have heard in a recorded work a guitar made to sound like a glockenspiel!
With a more structured approach to the compositions, a style that will be familiar to fans of King Crimson becomes more apparent, although Disen Gâge are far from mere copyists, in fact one could say they take their Crimson aspirations to an entirely other level. Lehaim To N.E.P. is a good example of this with both guitarists having a major input with angular Frippesque passages, brass simulations and even crisp unadulterated solos. The band hasn't entirely abandoned their improvisational edge as several pieces are clearly derived from moments of inspired jamming in the studio, yet there are also moments of almost melancholic beauty as on To Kill Kenny where the harmonised guitars meld together gloriously. In complete contrast The Parovoz Hitchhikers To Japan starts and ends with a sonic assault which definitely lacks any Japanese influence, leading into God Saw Otherwise which suggests that whatever it was the deity had a difference of opinion over he was not best pleased about it - angry is not the word! At times the group can become, if I can coin an oxymoron, aggressively bucolic and sometimes teeter on the edge of falling over the edge. However, they maintain control and know just when a piece has to be reined in or even ended. This increased control is an indication of a greater confidence and musical maturity, although one has to consider that maybe the confidence has gone too far by including the aforementioned off vocalisations.
On the whole, ...The Reverse May Be True is probably the most accomplished of the three albums released by Disen Gâge thus far. Once again, the album is limited to 500 copies so if intelligent, quirky and off-beat instrumental prog hits the right buttons with you, then this album is definitely one to check out before it disappears.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Barr - Skogsbo Is The Place
Tracklist: Summerwind (6:04), Words Would Do (4:31), He Ain't A Friend He's A Brother (6:04), Calling My Name (6:49), Skogsbo Is the Place (3:02), Moonfall (6:53), Sister Lovers Alone (10:28)
The people behind the Record Heaven and Transubstans labels have created a third imprint in Sakuntala Records, providing an outlet for proggy psych/folk releases. The honour of claiming the 001 catalogue number falls to Barr, a Swedish acoustic septet who play "psychedelic lullabies". The group, whose name means pine needle, released an eponymous four-track EP back in 2007 with Skogsbo Is The Place being their first full-length album. The group comprises Patrik Andersson (vocals, 12-string guitar), Andreas Söderström (vocals, bass), Marcus Palm (vocals, guitar), Hanna Fritzson (vocals, harmonium, glockenspiel), Svante Söderqvist (cello), Fredrik Ohlsson (percussion) and Patric Thorman (piano) and create a very mellow, somewhat sparse sound. When I first played the album I was immediately captivated: the mellow sounds emanating from the speakers had an innate fragility that seemed to blend a late sixties vibe with the less extreme experimentation of Sigur Rós. Summerwind is a perfect summer song, He Ain't A Friend He's A Brother counterpoints rhythmic percussion against harmonium, and Calling My Name has the most delicate, harmony vocal backing imaginable. The vocalists have near perfect diction with any quirks in pronunciation only adding to the mystic and grace. This is certainly an album for quiet reflection, relaxing evenings of contemplation. The instrumentation is perfect, the recording crystal clear, as on Sister Lovers Alone when the cello, glockenspiel, acoustic guitar and percussion can each be easily differentiated. Also on this track the male and female vocals blend together very well.
The final track includes snippets of home recordings made by the owner of the cabin in Skogsbo where the band recorded the album over a period of two days and nights. The owner had left after 85 years of solitude, leaving behind a multimedia record of those years. Midway through the song we get an insight into how things were with recordings from old radio shows mixed with the sounds of nature just outside the door. May sound odd through the medium of the written word, but aurally it just fits. Being something of a musical slut, I listen to an awful lot of music of different genres, often for long stretches of time. It is very rare that something will immediately grab my attention and hold me transfixed throughout. Skogsbo Is The Place managed to do that, as has their debut EP which I immediately sought out and bought (thank goodness for the internet!). Tranquil, sparse, beautiful. Shame that I only received it relatively recently as had I become acquainted with this album soon after its release it would certainly have been in my favourite albums of 2008, still, I'm confident that it will be in my top albums of the first decade of the 21st century! I am of the opinion that the majority of progressive rock fans are fairly open minded about music, particularly having seen some of the entries for the DPRP 2008 poll. Fortunately, this is good news as I don't think even I could stretch any definition of prog rock to comfortably fit Barr's music. However, more important than a definition is the passion behind the music and the ability of that music to generate an emotional response. Barr do it for me, and I'm sure they will for a large number of our readers as well.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Baku Llama - Eris
Tracklist: Discord (1:32), Hamatsa (6:47), Betrayed (4:22), Punch It (2:44), Eris (6:40), Six to Midnight (6:44), This Time (4:55), The Rite (5:00), Discord Resolved (1:12), Dream Eater (4:38), Torrential (3:44), Side Two (9:08), Tragic Mask (3:33)
“New music is dead. You must go backwards to hear something new”. That is the intriguing statement under the “influences” section of Baku Llama’s MySpace page. I’m not too sure if I agree with it wholeheartedly but, in one sense, it does apply to their own music as evidenced on Eris. I’ve not heard anything exactly like it before and yet there are references aplenty to old music, for instance the persistent use of space-rock riffing, à la Hawkwind, pervading the album. I’ll come back to genre definition later, as it’s a debatable issue at the best of times, and Eris is not so straightforward to define.
Irrespective of genre definition, I found it a very pleasing album and one that withstands, and indeed repays, repeated listening. The soundscape is both rich and mundane at the same time, and it’s that apparent contradiction that makes Eris so absorbing. Why exactly does it sound so good? I would say that there are two main elements to Eris’ soundscape: firstly, the very “bassey” (even when played on the guitar rather than the bass, it’s the lower register of the scale that is used) and repetitive space-rock riffing that infiltrates its way into the greater part of these 61 minutes; and secondly, the equally persistent timbral exploration, often sounding improvised, undertaken on electric piano and other keyboards/synthesizers. This latter feature is exclusively undertaken in the upper frequency ranges and its juxtaposition with the bass-region riff sound is quite fascinating. It sounds almost like listening to two bands at the same time, neither of which on their own would be particularly appealing but, bring them together and you have something quite special.
Baku Llama - Ann Bernath (drums, keyboards, vocals); David Bernath (guitars, bass) and Rick Whitehurst (keyboards) - hail from the USA. Eris is their first “proper” album, following a trial run with Devour My Evil Dream, an effort the band were not entirely happy with, to the extent that they lifted the compositions they felt worked onto Eris. The last four tracks are taken from the debut. Eris was released as long ago as 2007 and it is not entirely clear to me why they are now promoting it by sending out copies for review: perhaps they are entering a new phase of activity and wish to increase their public profile. Let’s hope so - I want to hear more from this band!
There are other aural colours mixed in with the main soundscape elements of this intriguing album. The three compositions on which Ann sings - in particular Betrayed and This Time - develop a different character entirely, despite retaining shadows of the main elements described above. This is due to the melodic phrasing written for the vocal line, absent elsewhere. They are simple melodies, probably written that way to suit Ann’s limited vocal range, but are pretty nevertheless and well sung; in fact on This Time delivering some powerful emotion. Eris itself is slightly different in this regard because some of the short vocal part is spoken: however, the piece retains a different aural character to the totally instrumental compositions. There is more structure, more composition.
Punch It also comes in a different flavour, its vocalisations and catchy rhythm, featuring handclaps, sending it headlong into “art-rock” territory. Discord, Discord Resolved and Tragic Mask act as the short album introduction, (pretty) linking piece and coda respectively. Although Discord introduces the two main aural elements, they do not dominate in these short, fairly conventional, compositions.
On the remaining compositions the main aural elements - the riffing and the timbral exploration - dominate. Through the keyboards and synthesizers we hear a range of sounds being explored: nothing unpleasant or extreme - we go from straightforward electric piano, through harpsichords to xylophones, flutes, choral synths and more, jamming away with that riff. The music is almost certainly often improvised, in particular on the keyboards, but it is never rhythmically or stylistically jazzy, this sounds more like a free improvisation “rock” jam. Somehow, the space-rock rhythm knits the whole thing together, allowing the ear to not only tolerate but take enjoyment from the twinkling on the various “ivories”; it’s the root that allows the improvisations to flower.
It’s actually a remarkably pleasant album as a whole: despite the “cobbling together” of the remnants of Devour My Evil Dream onto the end, causing a slight imbalance; the dominant sonic elements are strong enough to hold everything together within the framework of the Eris “album”. The lighter “art-rock” compositions also help to sustain interest in the improvisations that permeate elsewhere, almost as if letting the concentration take a breath and regain its strength.
So what is it’s genre then? Does it matter? It’s definitely “progressive” for its adventure and experimentation and that really should be enough definition. However... whilst there are elements of space and art-rock in this soundscape, there is enough to suggest from the other aspects that this sits more neatly in an “experimental” category. As such, it may not appeal to everyone, but fans of classic progressive bands, and their descendants, that have never been afraid to broaden the palette of their instrumentation and compositional structures - your King Crimsons, Van der Graaf Generators, Gongs, String Driven Things etc - may well enjoy it.
Having heard it many times and thought hard about the ranking, I’ve decided that there is enough of interest here to warrant a ranking worthy of a “recommendation” tag. Had this been a 2009 release, it would have made its way into my list for this year’s best.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
The Resonance Association – Northern Coastline Soundtrack
Tracklist: Forest (12:08), Electrolyte/Cold Black Visions (8:13), Fake Numbers Station [Nitrogen Mix] (9:25), Go [2007 Mix] (8:50), Northern Coastline Soundtrack: (i) Prelude (7:40), (ii) One Moment Please (13:56), (iii) Everything Slows Down (7:09), (iv) Aftermath (8:32)
A favourite modern band I have discovered while writing for DPRP is The Resonance Association, whom I first learned of when the website for Burning Shed was promoting the then-imminent release of their debut full-length Failure Of The Grand Design, also their debut physical release, a few years ago. It came in the wake of four download-only EPs and a limited-edition promotional CD and eventual download entitled Northern Coastline Soundtrack, the physical release being reviewed here now. Better late than never, I guess.
The band is comprised of Dominic Hemy and Daniel Vincent. The credits for Northern Coastline Soundtrack are not instrument specific, but based on my reviews of their other work I’d venture that they each handle guitar, bass, synths and programming.
The kind of music the band plays is mostly instrumental stuff drawing on Krautrock, drone, electronica, industrial and some rock as influences. Not “prog” in the conventional sense, but certainly experimental.
Northern Coastline Soundtrack is compiled of four individual tracks followed by the four-part epic-style title piece. The sequence of tracks demands that it would be prudent to touch upon each.
Opening track Forest is a twelve-minute exercise in field recordings of thunderstorms, some low droning bass synth and minimal guitar. The thunderstorm field recordings are tastefully mixed into the song without being overdone. They almost serve as a foreshadowing of the epic soundtrack to come. A shorter version of this track appeared as The Darkening Storm on Failure Of The Grand Design.
Live fan favourite Electrolyte appears here as Electrolyte/Cold Black Visions in collaboration with industrial/punk/avant-garde/Goth act The History Of Guns. Processed voices, droning sounds, Floydian synths, and some seemingly endless guitar all whirlpool in the mix.
Fake Numbers Station [Nitrogen Mix] is a remix of the song proper originally from the debut download-only EP. Female voices, some synth passages evoking the soundscapes of Robert Fripp, and moments of blip-pop abound.
Go [2007 Mix] is another remix from the first download-only EP. The main standout points on this track are some drum programming evoking early Peter Gabriel, some psychedelic guitar, and some noisy guitar which leans to the material Dirk Serries (aka Vidna Obmana, Fear Falls Burning) laid down for the Steven Wilson release Insurgentes.
Now on to the title epic Northern Coastline Soundtrack. It starts in Prelude with an audio sample, presumably from a British Civil Defence film, and overlaying guitar, some of it noisy again. It tracks into One Moment Please, which lasts much more than a moment, with some “sitar” effects and some ambient layers that recall 1980’s era Steve Roach. Electronics wiggle and loop here and there. This section then tracks into Everything Slows Down, with more Roach pointers and an eerie, siren like sound. The closing of Northern Coastline Soundtrack is appropriately entitled Aftermath with more siren effects and noisy drone.
On a whole, the CD is good. I was expecting the soundtrack portion to be more dance-oriented, but the softer, moody pieces are more suitable to the theme, one I can recall when driving about the reaches of Nova Scotia while on vacation with my family as a child.
The promotional CD I received for review came in a plastic envelope with a simple black and white card insert. No frills, something this band has never been about.
You will most likely appreciate this CD if you are into drone, industrial or ambient music. If you want a copy, you’ll have to download it at HERE, as physical release of it back in 2007 was limited. If you seek a tighter, leaner collection of traditional “songs”, Northern Coastline Soundtrack may not be for you.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Balloon - Motivation
Tracklist: All Yours (7:13), Foe? (9:02), Nowhere (4:59), Dissolve Unseen (4:54), Beat Me Up (9:28), Everything (6:57), It's Still Today (17:32)
Balloon is a four piece progressive rock band from the vicinity of Alkmaar in The Netherlands. Their debut album Motivation is a dream created by means of psychedelic, heavy, delicate and epical rock. This album was first self-produced by the band, but after being praised by both critics and audiences, the band is now signed to the French Musea label. The sound of Balloon has many well known influences also listed by many other progressive rock band, namely Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd and Riverside. Among these also many other progressive influences which are melded in different parts of this album.
All Yours opens with a steady drum beat with the keyboards providing a psychedelic soundscape, the guitar provides a powerful steady riff and the vocals sound dreamy. This song packs it all and distributed all in the right amount and sequence, keyboard and guitar solos alternate fluently. This song fascinates from start to finish, a very good composition. Foe? starts mellow, a bit like Gazpacho, but carries a heavier chorus. During the chorus however the vocals do not sound completely convincing. There are many influences from Porcupine Tree and Riverside but with a length of over nine minutes is a bit too long. Nowhere sounds even more like Porcupine Tree with nice lyrics, also reminding me a lot of Steve Thorne.
To show the diversity of Balloon the next song, Dissolve Unseen, takes another different style, with very powerful rock music with a fast pace. A fiery guitar solo in the middle to be followed by a swinging and rocking guitar riff. Beat Me Up starts very mellow and ambient, the chorus provides more rock, a bit like For Absent Friends. The vocals are not great on this song, especially during the chorus and the second part of the song is very messy, with no clear drum patterns and sounding too much like a jam session. Everything has the diversity of the opener and also succeeds in finding the right amounts for all different styles, with more ambient passages but those passages are more interesting than on Beat Me Up. It's Still Today is over seventeen minutes long, which is too long for this song, with again many different styles but where they succeeded previously they sort of failed during this epic song. For me the strength of Balloon is the balance between parts as was achieved in the first song. The sequence is good but all is stretched a bit too far to my liking.
Though not completely satisfying, Balloon has come up with a decent debut album. The start of the album is very promising, the best songs are All Yours and Everything. Both songs contain a diversity in styles and reaching about seven minutes, this seems to be the limit for Balloon to maintain interest. The song Beat Me Up and the epic It's Still Today failed to do so. The shorter songs are OK but do not give the satisfaction the songs All Yours and Everything provide. Still a good album from a promising band.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Razor Wire Shrine - The Power Of Negative Thinking
Tracklist: Maniac Freak Machine (5:12), (Crushed By) The Jaws Of Progress (4:46), The Power Of Negative Thinking (6:49), Klusterphunk (7:15), South Of Heavy (6:20), Skull Shatter Stomp (6:13), Sinburn (4:23)
Hailing from Erie, Pennsylvania, Razor Wire Shrine is brothers’ Chris and Brett Rodler pet project. Their music was described as “Rush on steroids” when their previous effort, the aptly titled Going Deaf For A Living, was released. I think that analogy no longer applies to the band’s music, as The Power Of Negative Thinking presents an almost relentless assault of extremely technical instrumental and, as technical or metallic as the Canadian trio might be (or have been), there’s no sign of the melodies and the powerful organic feel which also characterize Lee, Lifeson & Peart.
Instead, R.W.S. belong to the Planet X, Gordian Knot, Djam Karet or even Liquid Tension Experiment scheme of things, but adding an extra cold atonality and machine-like feel to their proceedings, which brings to mind bands like Meshuggah (Brett Rodler sports a Meshuggah t-shirt on the back cover, so this is obviously no coincidence) or even the more futuristic-industrial side of King Crimson [think of the instrumentals on both The Construkction Of Light (2000) and The Power To Believe (2003)].
Almost every track on the CD presents a barrage of tempo and mood shifts, some of them natural and justified and some not, which are (at least to my ears) a mere display of the Rodlers’ chops. Sure, there’s plenty of technical prowess to be found here, and both brothers conform an exhaustive rhythm section, but it’s not enough (or I might not be in the mood for this kind of music anymore). There’s some fine soloing (and plenty of shredding) courtesy of guitarist Mike Ohm, but for the most part this is a bass and, more importantly, drums album.
Undoubtedly, Brett Rodler is a talented percussionist, and I’d say his most obvious influences are Mike Portnoy, Terry Bozzio and Tomas Haake. The problem is, these influences are obvious to the point of making his busy and intricate drumming extremely derivative, and this determines the style of the band, as the drums are here the lead instrument.
So, here you have intensely elaborated instrumental music which is sadly derivative from other well established names. My main gripe with this CD is, as I’ve felt with other similar albums (Rama 1 (2002) by Andy West comes to mind), I’m afraid this is complex for the sake of complexity. The three first tracks, Maniac Freak Machine, (Crushed By) The Jaws Of Progress and The Power Of Negative Thinking sound practically the same to me; the metallic assault is just too chaotic and I’d say almost random, with a million changes that are impossible to remember even after a few listens. The Rodlers would probably say they don’t make music to be hummed along, and they’d be right, but even Frank Zappa took care to have at least some heart on his most complex compositions.
It’s when they try radically different approaches to their brand of instrumental, as on the weird, groovy Klusterphunk or the mildly ironical South Of Heavy, when R.W.S. find the seam of what could make for groundbreaking, genre-defying music. Anyway, they play it safe for the rest of the album returning to their usual insanity with both Skull Shatter Stomp and Sinburn.
If you’re a fan of technical extreme metal, and dig bands and artists such as Death, Devin Townsend or Between The Buried And Me, to name but a few, you’ll probably enjoy this. The problem is R.W.S. still have to find their own voice, and there’s only hints to be found on The Power Of Negative Thinking.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Fractal - Sequitur
Tracklist: Ellipsis (4:25), Aftermath (9:14), Mantra: Eternal Spring of Life (7:24), Giving Tree (5:01), Coriolis (4:18), A Fraction of One (3:45), ‘Pataphysics (1:04), Mauves (3:03), The Great Pain (4:39), The Monkey’s Paw (2:32), Coda: Pentacle (1:15), Churn - Overture (1:28), Churn - Part i (2:32), Churn - Part ii (6:50), Churn - Part iii (2:45), Bellerophon (6:18)
The notes that Fractal provide with the promotional copies of their second album, Sequitur, go some way to explaining the fragmentary - or should I say eclectic? - nature of the music, a feature that ultimately spoils the enjoyment of Sequitur’s better moments. The band’s stated objective is as follows: “we are looking to push our music as far as possible: music for film, radioplay, distribution, and opportunities to play live in concerts and festivals. We are unsigned and open to business opportunities.”
Sequitur possibly achieves the aim of furthering their objective by providing music of widely varying styles, showcasing the musicianship and ability of the band to adapt to a number of business scenarios they might be propositioned with. To the humble music fan, however, the eclecticism on offer is not tempered with any unifying thread of that musical “glue” that can turn such an adventure into a cohesive album, and one is left with some very enjoyable snippets, but an overall feeling of dissatisfaction.
Fractal are from the USA and comprise Paul Strong (drums), Jim Mallonee (bass, vocals and keyboards), Josh Friedman (guitars, vocals) and Nic Roozeboom (lead guitars, keyboards and loops). Sequitur is the follow-up to their totally instrumental first album Continuum (2003) and it de-emphasizes improvisation in favour of a more compositional approach.
The album starts well enough and up until ’Pataphysics retains a certain level of cohesion and is enjoyable. ’Pataphysics, which sounds like a small “sound-bite” of drums, loses momentum, which is never regained. Truly, a CD of “two halves”. The latter part of the CD sounds to me like the band showcasing various moods; fishing for those “business opportunities”. I could be wrong: whatever, whilst there is nothing seriously wrong with any of the individual pieces, they don’t mesh together well.
The instrumental Ellipsis opens with a repetitive groove that’s not altogether unpleasant. Aftermath appeared first as a single in 2007 and is re-mastered here: it’s an enjoyable progressive piece with a sweetly sung melody and good use of instrumentation through its different phases. The mood is maintained through Mantra: Eternal Spring Of Life; opening with (as you might expect from the title) repetitive phrasing before opening up into another sweetly sung melody, in a mildly Caravan-ish way, before returning to the mantric phrasing. The melodic phrasing for the singing unites Giving Tree with these earlier pieces and the album is, at this stage, sounding extremely good indeed. Coriolis is an improvised piece with, once more, mantric rhythms and some good keyboard sounds that keep it tagged to the album’s flow. And here the album begins to diverge: A Fraction Of One, with some insistent “doom” guitar riffing and a deep vocal, works because it comes at the end of a run of cohesiveness and, had the album taken another course, its different nature would be subsumed into the whole. However, what it does do is herald a second part to the CD that fails to work in the same way as the opening.
’Pataphysics opens the “Pandora’s box”; it is a sound-bit that, really, does nothing. The next two pieces, Mauves and The Great Pain, are meant to work together - the band call them a “bluesy mini-suite”. The opener sounds like languid guitar phrasing over captured quotations from George Bush and others and The Great Pain contains a spoken vocal over a blues riff. The tempo is slow. These really didn’t work effectively, either separately or together. Similarly, The Monkey’s Paw and Coda: Pentacle are meant to be companion pieces. The Monkey’s Paw does at least raise the tempo slightly and is better for this, although the vocal style (somewhere between shouting and sing-speak) is not effective or pleasant, and Coda has some harpsichord doodling against a synthesizer backdrop before some thrash guitar comes in for the ending. Why? These just appear as disconnected sound adventures, there is no thread that I can hear. The same criticism applies to the Churn pieces: there is instrumental film music, rock, jazzy rhythms, Jon & Vangelis-like soundscapes, pretty acoustic guitar and more, all in there somewhere but....? Musical curios. In any case, nothing prepares the listener for Bellerophon, which Fractal themselves describe as a “non-sequitur”. That it most certainly is, with the sounds of a storm - why is it that virtually every album I listen to these days has sampled rain and thunder sounds? - and Philip Glass-like motifs giving way to pure club-land dance music for about six minutes! The only rationale for such a piece at such a position on the album is that it IS more about unearthing business opportunities than delivering total enjoyment to the listener.
One shouldn’t forget that there are about 35 minutes of an “album” on Sequitur, and there was a time when that duration was considered more than sufficient for a LP. Had it ended there, this review would have been more positive. And whilst the remaining tracks, taken individually and in isolation, are not unpleasant or unworthy, they do not constitute an enjoyable listening experience within the context of Sequitur the album. The rating reflects that fact.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10