Reviews in this issue:
- Phideaux - Number Seven
- Renaissance – 'Live' At Carnegie Hall (Deluxe Anniversary Edition)
- Orphan Project - Spooning Out The Sea (Duo Review)
- Anekdoten - Chapters
- Chest Rockwell - Total Victory
- Ageness - Songs From The Liar's Lair
- Progression By Failure – Progression By Failure
- Tinyfish - Curious Things
- Crystal Lake - Safe
- iH8 Camera - iH8 Camera
Phideaux - Number Seven
Tracklist: One - Dormouse Ensnarred: Dormouse - A Theme (1:08), Waiting For The Axe To Fall (6:14), Mindhive (4:00), The Claws Of A Crayfish (5:41), My Sleeping Slave (3:26) Two - Dormouse Escapes: Darkness At Noon (1:50), Prequiem (1:53), Gift Of The Flame (6:08), Interview With A Dormouse (1:17), Thermonuclear Cheese (1:54), The Search For Terrestrial Life (5:33), A Fistful Of Fortitude (2:41) Dormouse Enlightened: Love Theme From "Number Seven" (7:06), Storia Senti (6:42), Infinite Supply (4:57), Dormouse - An End (2:16)
Phideaux can, in my eyes (and ears), currently do no wrong. Two thirds of the way through an impressive trilogy that started with The Great Leap and continued with Doomsday Afternoon, both DPRP recommended albums, we are left hanging for the concluding part. This is because following a period of hectic activity Phideaux did not feel able to devote the time or energy needed to do justice to the two complex 25-minute tracks that comprise the final part. As a further two new songs had already presented themselves, the idea was to assemble these pieces along with some more new material to maintain the record of releasing an album a year. However, Phideaux being Phideaux (a byword for prolific), there was soon more than enough music for a completely new album, particularly as the music seemed to form a natural song cycle. So, here we have it, Number Seven, with the two tracks that were originally intended for this release still not finding a home! These will be released alongside a few other tracks that did not sit well within the 'song cycle, before the end of the year on the 7.5 album leaving 2010 free for the conclusion of the trilogy.
So what of Number Seven? Those of you familiar with Phideaux's releases or have read the reviews of his albums posted on DPRP, will know that he takes a varied approach to music, involving whatever is necessary for the song. For this release, it was decided not to include any musicians external to the band. However, as the band, a 10-piece unit, is exceptionally talented, one still has a very full sound. Each of the band members is essential to the overall sound and therefore warrant individual mention. So we have Molly Ruttan on vocals and percussion, Linda Ruttan-Moldawsky on vocals, Aeriel Farber on violin and vocals, Matthew Kennedy on bass, Gabriel Moffat on guitar and production, Mark Sherkus on keyboards and guitar, Johnny Unicorn on keyboards, saxophone and vocals, Valerie Gracious on vocals and, finally, Phideaux Xavier himself on acoustic and electric guitars, piano and vocals. What is so great about the sound that Phideaux produces is the wonderful vocal blend of Gracious and Xavier. I could listen to Valerie Gracious sing all day and not become bored:, she has wonderful tone and timbre with perfect diction.
Highlights on this album are many and varied. Yes it is a concept, but that is neither here nor there: the songs flow into each other with consummate ease, the range of sounds and styles is mind boggling, the thematic interplay is both clever and teasing but the over-riding quality is the fact that there is not a dull moment in the entire 63 minutes. One could pull out tracks such as Waiting For The Axe To Fall or Love Theme From "Number Seven" as 'highlights' but that would imply the other songs are in some way inferior which is not the case at all. No words I can write would do this CD justice: I find no fault, I find no flaw, I just listen in complete awe...
A good friend and musician wrote when he first heard this album that he was somewhat disappointed in it after Doomsday Afternoon. A few days later he wrote again saying that he had changed his mind after not being able to stop playing it! It does have the effect of grabbing hold of you and drawing you in. It is not often that I can listen to a new album again and again and again (usually only IQ and Van Der Graaf Generator) but with Number Seven I am standing to announce I am addicted! In all seriousness, Number Seven has the potential to be a great cross-over album along the lines of Dark Side Of The Moon or Tubular Bells as all three of these albums have an indescribable quality that grabs the attention. Having been fortunate enough to have seen the band perform at the Three Rivers Progressive Festival recently, I know that as a band they can really cut it live. Their performance was top-notch and, even though they have more than enough new material ready for release, a live album with songs from across recent albums would certainly be most welcome (please!).
Anyway, don't take these unashamedly but justifiably over-the-top words for granted, get hold of this album now so you will be ahead of the crowds when it tops the end of year polls.
Conclusion: 10 out of 10
Renaissance – 'Live' At Carnegie Hall (Deluxe Anniversary Edition)
CD1: Prologue (8:10), Ocean Gypsy (7:13), Can You Understand (10:46), Carpet Of The Sun (3:56), Running Hard (9:57), Mother Russia (10:37)
CD2: Scheherazade (28:39), Ashes Are Burning (23:49)
Renaissance in my perception, is one of the most underestimated bands in the history of (progressive) rock music. This sold out concert series in June 1975, with the full New York Philharmonic Orchestra and choir, should not only be appreciated as one of the highlights in the career of the band, but should also be regarded as a legendary performance by a ground breaking band with a vocalist extraordinaire, namely Annie Haslam. The enhanced sound quality of this re-mastered recording proves even more what a great outfit they were. The masterly played keyboards by John Tout, the truly great bass playing by Jon Camp, the subtle yet unsurpassed drumming by Terry Sullivan and the highly original and brilliant compositions by Michael Dunford. All this contributes to the fact that Renaissance is still a band worth listening to in this present day and age. I would like to refrain from getting into a discussion about the re-issues and re-masters, and just review the album released recently. Except for new liner notes by Annie Haslam, the artwork and booklet are one page less than in the previous release, thus informative but sober.
The concert is kicked off by the band, playing the overture from their first album, produced by the line up known best. A modest role for Annie Haslam, yet her contribution sets the band aside from all others in the genre. Jon Camp announces the next song; it’s from the (then) forthcoming album, namely Ocean Gypsy that was to probably be one of the most performed songs in the band’s history, beautifully sung by Haslam with the band in superb form. Next track is Can You Understand, where we can appreciate the valuable contribution by the orchestra and making this track really special. The only comment from my point of view is, that the ovation at the end of this song combined with some words by Camp, suggests that this song originally was the last or one of the last tracks from the concert. So why put it in the middle of the album? Whilst in the next track, Annie Haslam introduces the orchestra we could already hear in the previous song? It doesn't change the outstanding quality of the music fortunately. On the show went with Running Hard from the album Turn Of The Cards. Again an excellent performance by the band, while the orchestra really adds a lot of tasteful and majestic sounds using the horn section, percussion, strings and woodwinds, although when 'live' performances occur, as in this one, occasionally one of the members of the orchestra plays a note out of tune. Striking is the beautiful sound of Camp’s bass. The final track of CD1 is again from Turn Of The Cards and is a very dramatic song about Alexander Solzhenitsyn: Mother Russia where the orchestra takes over part of orchestrations originally performed on Tout’s keyboards and plays along with Annie Haslam’s vocal line. The beautiful harp amongst other instruments in the orchestra helps to build up to a grand and majestic finale.
On CD2 the orchestra is tuning their instruments and Camp announces that they’re about to play what used to be the second side of their forthcoming album Scheherazade and gives the audience a summary of the story. The orchestra has a very prominent role in this part of the show. All arrangements seem to have been worked out in every detail and for me this performance sounds even more convincing and powerful then the original studio recording, also because of the performance of the choir. Camp’s lead vocals are strong and simultaneously he plays the surely not too easy bass lines, quite an accomplishment. Also two perfectly performed solo-pieces by John Tout on the piano and an almost magical melancholic part by Dunford, Camp and a flute, played by one of the members of the orchestra. The last track, performed by the band is the title track of Renaissance's second album: Ashes Are Burning, featuring Tout’s keyboards in the somewhat jazzy middle section, Camp's bass solo (mimicking Chris Squire) and foremost: Haslam’s vocal, giving proof of her impressive range. The over-enthusiastic audience shows it's appreciation by a long and undoubtedly standing ovation.
Conclusion: one of the best and most complete 'live' recordings ever put on record; a truly legendary performance by band as well as the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and choir. The crystal clear voice of Annie Haslam remains one of a kind in the genre of progressive rock and her performance in New York was undoubtedly one of the most perfect in her lifetime. Superb sound quality in my opinion, this is an album that should be in every collection of all fans of (progressive) rock. Of course Renaissance has released many more beautiful songs, but this comes close to one of the best 'live' concerts. Now if this concert would only be available on DVD…
PS: The concert wasn’t filmed unfortunately!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Orphan Project - Spooning Out The Sea
Tracklist: Reach (5:54), Angel's Desire (4:16), Fallen (4:50), To Me (4:12), One Dark Moment [Providence] (5:37), My Goodness (4:23), Head On Your Platter (3:03), Empty Me (5:00), The Battle Rages On (4:37), Spooning Out The Sea (5:22)
Jez Rowden's Review
Orphan Project formed in 2001 in Maryland, USA when singer Shane Lankford formulated a concept around physical and spiritual adoption and finding an identity, the resulting album, Orphan Found, being released in 2003 to positive reviews. After a couple of years during which Lankford concentrated on other projects OP reformed in 2008 to produce the Orphan Project II “comeback” EP and now Spooning Out The Sea, their second full length album. The current line-up is Lankford with Bill Yost (bass), Shane McBride (guitar), Tim Kehrig (drums) and John Neiswinger (keys) and all contribute greatly.
From the start this album certainly grabs the attention with well written songs superbly played. Reach is a great opener laying out their stall nicely with ominous piano introduction and a great chorus. There is a touch of Spock’s Beard about their music, a band that they supported in their early days, but influences also take in the American heartland rock of Kansas, Dream Theater’s metal edge and heaviness and the epic qualities of bands like U2 with the addition of a good dose of melodic AOR. Indeed the emphasis is squarely on melody with the bonus of having the necessary firepower available to back it up and supply the required dynamism, the result being at once heavy and intricate yet smoothly accessible.
Angel’s Desire, Fallen and My Goodness are heavily DT influenced with wild guitar soloing, heavy rhythms and keyboard dexterity raising things out of the metallic maelstrom. There is good use of backing vocals and a feel for dynamics with Shane McBride putting in some immense performances. To Me is cut from more traditional metal cloth with chugging rhythm, flailing guitars and Lankford almost doing a David Coverdale. The melodic angle is still paramount and the result very enjoyable. Lankford has a great hard rock voice, rich, resonant and filled with passion and warmth. When the music soars he soars with it but some of the slower, more introverted moments in lower registers find him slightly less sure-footed, however this can be forgiven as the variety and range of his singing is superb.
The piano led opening to One Dark Moment (Providence) is excellent and after a moving and heartfelt verse with some great changes the chorus explodes on a sweeping melody with a marvellous performance from Lankford making this is the stand out track for me. Of the rest, Head On Your Platter starts on busy drums evolving into a thrashing guitar section before a strangely ‘80s sounding drum pattern and multi-layered vocals dominate the chorus to give a good mix of metal attack with laid-back AOR. Empty Me sees piano and guitar setting the scene before a driving chorus. Solid stuff that continues through The Battle Rages On which offers top quality energetic hard rock with interludes of subtle piano to change the mood. Spooning Out The Sea winds things up with a lighters aloft stadium fest that reminds me of REO Speedwagon.
There are strong Christian influences immediately apparent on this record – Fallen has a chorus of Hallelujah’s and The Battle Rages On features children’s choir singing Onward Christian Soldiers – which become obvious when you read the lyrics. I enjoy spirituality but overt religious content, of whatever sort, generally leaves me cold. The words (by Neiswinger, Yost, Lankford and producer Tony Correlli) offer themes of salvation and redemption and are unremittingly Christian, which might be a turn-off for many and that is a shame as there is much excellent music to be had here, most of it with a very secular sound. I really enjoyed this album from the first time I played it. I usually concentrate on the music first and look at the lyrics later and based on that methodology this isn’t far short of being a classic but some of the words left me with a slight uneasiness and I found it difficult to truly enjoy them despite the quality of the writing. That’s just my opinion as on the plus side you get the impression that Lankford genuinely means every word and sings them with great passion.
A most unexpected and excellent album of well written and played heavy prog which has to be an auto-buy for aficionados of Christian rock but also comes highly recommended to non-religious types who are partial to Dream Theater and the harder edge of Spock’s Beard. No matter what you think of the message this is excellent.
Bart Cusveller's Review
Back in 2003, Orphan Project’s debut Orphan Found did well in the progressive music press and earned the band a record deal. It reflected how frontman Shane Lankford and guitarist John Wenger combined experience from several smaller rock bands (Visual Cliff, Fall Of Echoes) with a vision for a progressive concept album about adoption. On a foundation of heavy rock, with influences from Kansas, Peter Gabriel and (a bit of) progressive metal, they proved to have mucho vocal and musical chops.
Things looked bright but then everything changed. The record deal didn’t work out, John Wenger left, and it was difficult to find time to record. Not that there is any shame in that (can anyone say IQ or Pallas?), but it could have ended there and then. After some live shows and personnel changes, Orphan Project rose from the ashes releasing an EP in 2008 with three new songs and a Pink Floyd cover. This was probably a good idea, as it not only proved Orphan Project had survived, signing with a different record label, but also that a full-length cd was in the making for release in 2009. And now that it is here, it definitely doesn’t disappoint.
To be sure, there are changes in musical direction. Some of the typical prog-elements are less prominent (like an overall concept, orchestral production, additional instruments, and vocal arrangements). On the whole, the songs are much edgier and rocking. Judging by the EP, I feared the new CD would slide down to the melodic hard rock regions. But it did not; it’s more progressive than that. There is still a great deal of continuity between the first and the second album in terms of song structures and arrangements, for instance, but also in terms of passion and prowess. “Peter Gabriel going heavy”, about sums it up.
Lankford and his men make clear they have a Christian background and this is reflected in the lyrics. To highlight features of the individual songs, then, is to highlight what Orphan Project is about spiritually. The driving opener, Reach, is a fervent crying out from the unfulfilled and addicted who realize the need for something more. A dramatic piano and keyboard intro launches Lankford’s seasoned and McBride’s guitars. Angels Desire is a heavy up tempo rocker with a very anthemic chorus that speaks of the believer’s relationship with the Creator that even angels do not have. Its contagious riffs, haunting bridges and tremendous guitar solo make it a likely crowd pleaser at live gigs. Song number three, Fallen, is another heavy up-tempo rocker that showcases love for singable choruses. The lyrics tell of the great love of the Father who through all of life's ups and downs. To Me is a hard-grooving tune that will probably also do well live. This song is all about how real a true relationship is with God compared to the shallow psycho-babble that is taught as the truth in many circles. It’s one of those songs that may make some fans of old school prog wonder what’s progressive about Orphan Project, but it has progressive metal elements (and a great Hammond section) that comfortably fit in the large family of progressive rock.
The fifth track, One Dark Moment [Providence], is a slow and moving piece that illustrates God's providence throughout hardships and toils. These lyrics share what Lankford was thinking as he laid on a concrete floor 20 feet below where he fell from a ladder in 2008. His dark and heavy voice (as if from oak wood) goes for high notes, and a climactic guitar solo decorates this dramatic ballad. My Goodness is a song with a up-tempo groove, with a progmetal feel. Lyrically it refers to a word from the apostle St. Paul: our own works are filthy rags, true goodness is inspired by Christ. Songs number seven is Head On Your Platter, referring to the biblical story of how the Hebrew King Herod had St. John the Baptist killed. The idea is that believers offer everything they are to a life with God. Definitely the heaviest thing Orphan Project has ever written, but still with a very melodic chorus that has a very opposite feel to the verses. Empty Me, also from the EP, features keyboard and guitar solo in a heavy mid-tempo worship tune that is basically a prayer for comfort, starting with a piano riff and more keyboard work than the other tracks. It builds up to a beautiful climax where guest guitarist Rob Tahan takes the spot with a soaring guitar solo. The Battle Rages On was originally going to be the last tune on the CD. A heavy rocker, with again another anthem chorus and also a children's choir. This song is all about our inner struggles with sin and how this battle will never end until we are with the Father in eternity. The title track, lastly, builds from a mellow introduction to a forceful ending, signifying the life-long struggle we have in being content that all the answers we need are found in God's Word, the Bible.
The new album already earned Orphan Project appearances at a number of summer rock festival in the United States. For fans of hard rocking contemporary prog, this crisply mixed new album is enough reason to hold out the hope for fans to see Orphan Project live more often, preferably not only in the U.S.
Anekdoten - Chapters
CD1: Ricochet (5:45), The Great Unknown (6:22), From Within (7:25), In For A Ride (6:47), The War Is Over (4:39), Monolith (6:08), A Sky About To Rain (6:30), Every Step I Take (3:07), Groundbound (5:23), Gravity (8:23), When I Turn (3:43)
CD2: Sad Rain (Alt Mix) (10:17), Wheel (7:54), The Old Man & The Sea (7:51), Nucleus (Demo) (5:46), Book Of Hours (Demo) (9:36), This Far From The Sky (Demo) (9:17), 30 Pieces (Demo) (6:58), Prince Of The Ocean (Demo) (5:41)
The term progressive rock is an all encompassing one and is often used as a convenient label for acts whose musical style is otherwise difficult to categorise. One such band for me is Anekdoten who surfaced in August 1991 as part of the so called new wave of Swedish prog-rock. 15 months earlier long time friends and working partners Nicklas Barker (vocals, guitar, Mellotron, Moog) and Peter Nordins (drums, percussion) united with Jan Erik Liljeström (vocals, bass) with the intention of covering King Crimson songs. Their appreciation of KC would prove to be a major influence on the earlier albums, but more about that later. It wasn’t until they convened in a small house in the village of Djurås with Anna Sofi Dahlberg (Mellotron, organ, Moog, Rhodes, cello, piano, vocals) to rehearse original material that they became the fully fledged four piece unit that exists to this day.
The premise of two Mellotron players within the band is a tantalising one and would prove to be fundamental in shaping their sound as this double CD anthology aptly testifies. Suggested to the band by the Kscope record label, this release provides a handy retrospective of their career thus far encompassing 5 studio albums in addition to rare and previously unreleased tracks. Although they do not appear in chronological order the bands favourite songs from the three most recent albums A Time Of Day, Gravity and From Within occupy the first CD whilst the second contains material from their early years including several demos.
Ricochet, taken from 2003’s Gravity album is an obvious opener being probably their most accessible and commercial sounding song to date. It also sums up the bands style very nicely. Often intense and dark, but always engagingly tuneful, with Jan Erik’s engaging lead vocal and throbbing, upfront bass lines bringing New Order to mind. The ever present Mellotron reminds me more of OMD than it does King Crimson providing an eerie symphonic gloss that cuts through the dense cacophony of sound. Nicklas’ guitar playing mostly eschews flamboyant soling in favour of a more rhythmic style. Clearly they are as much influenced by late 70’s/early 80’s post punk as they are early 70’s classic prog. From the same album is the trippy, acoustic The War Is Over which in turn echoes late 60’s mellow psychedelia, especially The Moody Blues’ Tuesday Afternoon. Likewise the glorious Monolith sounds like Syd Barrett led Floyd at their psychedelic best. The slow burning title track Gravity makes good use of its extended run time building from humble beginnings into a sonic barrage reminiscent of early Porcupine Tree.
A selection of songs from 2007’s A Time Of Day, the bands most recent and accomplished album includes the excellent In For A Ride featuring imaginative Hammond playing from Anna Sofi and a neat but unobtrusive guitar solo from Nicklas. Elsewhere as on the sinister sounding The Great Unknown his stark, angular playing is a throwback to Peter Banks’ work on the first Yes album. Cream of the crop however is the inspired coupling of A Sky About To Rain and the instrumental Every Step I Take. In the former Nicklas’ thoughtful vocal and jangly rhythm guitar sets the tone bolstered by cinematic Mellotron strings and Moog before easing gently into the latter with its hypnotic melody that builds slow burn like into a blistering coda which is absolute sonic dynamite.
There are just two songs included from 1999’s From Within, the title track and Groundbound. Both are dominated by electric guitar which is played at an impressively breathless pace on Groundbound but sounds like pure paranoia on From Within making it probably my least favourite track here. To close disc one is the poetic When I Turn, written back in 1997 but only just recently recorded in December 2008, receiving its debut release here. With the exception of Opeth’s Per Wiberg on piano this hauntingly beautiful piece features mostly Nicklas on Mellotron and pump organ and is perfectly suited to his fragile lead vocal.
For me CD 2 proves to be less rewarding than CD 1 but it has its moments and with demos included in some cases in preference to the album versions it should find favour with Anekdoten devotees. The highlight is the lengthy and bittersweet lament Sad Rain that opens. It’s an absolute gem and a remixed version of a song that appeared as a bonus track on the Japanese edition of 1993’s Vemod album. Two more tracks from the same album follow, Wheel and The Old Man & The Sea, both of which demonstrate the distinct King Crimson influences. The first includes a trumpet solo from Par Ekstöm evoking KC’s Lizard period offset by a brittle Adrian Belew style riff. The second song is a real slice of Larks Tongues In Aspic era Crimson with a monumental chord sequence tempered by lyrical Robert Fripp flavoured guitar noodlings. In both songs, for once the Mellotron is consigned mostly to the back row.
Three demos from 1995 follow which would all eventually appear on the Nucleus album that same year and include the title track, Book Of Hours and This Far From The Sky. I can’t say how the final versions sound but here it’s free form chaos typified by discordant guitar and wailing Mellotron and only the occasional hint of a melody. Although it’s not exactly my cup of tea it is undeniably well played especially the powerful rhythm partnership of Peter and Jan Erik holding it altogether.
The set concludes with two more songs destined for 2007’s A Time Of Day. Originally recorded in May 2006 they were both remixed in February of this year specifically for this compilation, complete with the occasional overdub. 30 Pieces has a nervous energy not unlike Joy Division whilst Prince Of The Ocean is all moody and melancholic to begin with but ends on a note of stately optimism.
All in all this is a well rounded compilation with enough new and rare material to make it a must for existing fans and an excellent starting point for those who like me were otherwise unfamiliar with the bands output. It comes housed in a stylish foldout sleeve with an extensive booklet that includes masses of band pics and track details. It’s only let down by the cover artwork which is a tad on the ugly side for my tastes. If you are a newcomer and are keen to check out the original albums then tread with caution, this compilation displays a marked development in style between each release. I would personally start with the most recent A Time Of Day, but be aware that it may then prove to be a case of diminishing returns.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Chest Rockwell – Total Victory
Tracklist: Being An Able Man. There Are Always. (5:30), 2 Pumps Away (4:26), Within 10 Paces I Cannot Fail (3:15), Body Prop (4:55), Body Prop II (3:54), Body Prop III (5:24), 11 Is The New 7 (6:44), Colossus (5:05), Mortal Universe (7:35)
I’ve found Chest Rockwell’s latest release (their third album), Total Victory, one of the most difficult to review and rate for DPRP. I like it, in fact I like it a great deal, but I have been unsure until recently whether it was sufficiently good to deserve the accolade of a “DPRP Recommendation” rating. I’ve decided that it is: this music deserves to be heard by a wide audience and would be enjoyed by a cross-spectrum of progressive fans, including those of bands such as Riverside, Dream Theater, Little King, Rush and probably many others. I have some reservations, that I will come on to describe, but this band is a small widget away from producing something really extra-special: Total Victory is nearly, nearly there and I think it is the frustration of it being so close that made me uncertain to start with about how to deal with its review.
Total Victory is an excellent album that creeps up on you the more you listen. There are some things that I really love about the band’s soundscape. First, the guitar work and the guitar sound itself are an absolute joy: unusually for a “progressive rock” band Chest Rockwell are very much a twin-guitar band and, have no doubt, this is guitar dominated music. Second, compositionally, the band show great flair for rhythms and rhythmic and tempo/time-signature changes. Third – and admittedly a bit personal this one – I really enjoy the vocal performance. Fourth, when it matters, they throw in a great melody. Fifth, I love the style of the lyrics, which are written as prose (or “prose-poetry”, not quite one nor the other) but their sung delivery is perfectly meshed within the musical phrasing. Sixth, these factors apply whether the band is playing soft or heavy (ok, ok, the third and fifth don’t apply on Within 10 Paces I Cannot Fail - a “voice-over” to soft acoustic guitar – and to 11 is the New 7, which is an instrumental) and they are the musical glue that holds these compositions, through their differing moods, together as a coherent album. Seventh, the duration is near-perfect for an album.
That’s a lot of pluses! On the downside, I count two, and the first of those is perhaps trifling: the band clearly has societal concerns, most of which I share and I always like lyrics that have meaning but, certainly on the strength of Total Victory, they appear to see no goodness anywhere, and that is an extreme where they leave me a little behind. For instance, on Mortal Universe we hear the following lyric: “I can’t remember the last time I saw someone do something not for selfish goals.” Frankly, I’m surprised.
The second concern is musical and is more significant. Chest Rockwell do not have a dedicated keyboards player within the band – Josh Hines and Nick Stewart play keyboard as secondary duties to guitars and bass respectively and Nick Rouse plays piano as secondary to drums – and compositionally I sense that the keyboards are a bit of an afterthought. Don’t get me wrong, their incorporation into Total Victory is pleasant enough, but it could be so much more: in fact, in my opinion, the keyboards are the “difference that makes the difference” (or lack of it!) in so far as this music is concerned. Had the keyboard arrangements composition and their penetration in the mix been superior, then we would be looking at Total Victory being one of the albums of the year, no less. To give you a specific example: Mortal Universe, the final track, is suitably excellent as the album’s finale; it is reminiscent of the best parts of Riverside’s superb Anno Domini High Definition album – so much so in fact that if the two albums hadn’t been released concurrently then one would have said that whichever came first influenced the other – but the key difference is that whereas Anno Domini... featured Riverside’s strongest keyboards writing and mix-incorporation to date, the keyboard part that takes out Mortal Universe is a whisper, when it should have been a shout! That is the difference between a 9.3-scoring album (on the recent tri-partite round-table review for Riverside) and one that scores 8, justifiably, but after some deliberation.
Of course, I’m sure that Riverside have more resources at their disposal than Chest Rockwell. Total Victory was completely recorded in only three days and, amazingly (come on you record exec guys, wake up!), are unsigned. However, I’m equally sure that it’s partly to do with compositional and mix-decision making: after all, the keyboard part is there on the album’s outro, it’s just that it’s not sufficiently pronounced in the mix.
Summarising: the negatives are far outweighed by the positives to the extent that this remains an excellent album of guitar-driven progressive-inspired rock.
Moving on to some specifics: the four-piece band comprise Josh Hines (vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, electric sitar, Wurli, keyboards), Nick Rouse (drums, percussion, piano), Nick Stewart (bass, keyboards, baritone guitar) and Seth Wilson (electric guitar). The band are assisted by Jon Craig (omnichord and keyboards); Jon also produced, mixed and mastered the album, having also done the same for the band’s two previous releases – 2005’s Back To Square One and 2007’s Vs. The World (which received a score of 7.5/10 on DPRP from Christos Ampatzis – see Vs The World Review). Jon Craig’s production is very good.
According to the band, the album’s structure is intentionally divided into three distinct sections: the beginning (first couple of songs) being more pop structured, the middle being softer and quirkier, and the final section (last three songs) being heavier and more “epic”. Their real success has been in making the whole run well together as a coherent listening experience.
Being An Able Man. There Are Always. develops into an enjoyable song with catchy guitar based riffs and good rhythms. There’s a seamless segue into 2 Pumps Away, which features some more catchy guitar work. The quirkier phase begins with Within 10 Paces I Cannot Fail, featuring a number of taped speeches from world leaders of the past to a simple but pretty acoustic guitar backdrop: the historical excerpts begin with parts of Great Britain’s King Edward VIII abdication speech and lead on to various American presidents, Kennedy and others, dealing with its role in the world. The band’s intention is left to interpretation; but in the context of the rest of the album mine is that the clue is in the opening King Edward excerpt, so that it is to highlight how world leaders too easily abdicate from the weight of responsibility that they carry, often disguising the fact with clever rhetoric. The three Body Prop pieces fit sonically together nicely and contain some subtle and beautiful compositional nuances. My favourite is Body Prop III, in which sweetly written music accompanies a spoken introduction before the lyrics flower out into song: excellent. The pace definitely then hots up for the closing trio of songs, without ever losing the thread of the band’s sonic characteristics. 11 Is The New 7 is an instrumental; the title perhaps referring to the theory that 11 minutes is the “new” standard for the duration of a love-making session, in contrast to the older judgement that it was 7! However, I would advise against putting the theory to the test to the varying rhythms of the composition, which you could easily do, because you would end up with the wrong answer as it’s about 7 minutes long! Colossus and Mortal Universe end the album in fine style with controlled displays of heaviness; varying dynamics, rhythm, tempo and topped with a strong sense of melody.
To conclude, Total Victory is an excellent album of guitar-driven rock composed by progressive-minded musicians. They may be unsigned, but this is nevertheless a very classy performance that bears scrutiny against the work of far more exalted peers such as Rush, Riverside and Dream Theater. Fans of these bands and many others of similar ilk would surely enjoy Chest Rockwell’s Total Victory. A great album and definitely a band to watch: if they can stay together and improve then they will be some force!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Ageness - Songs From The Liar's Lair
Tracklist: Entering (1:11), Martial Arts (9:54), The Lie And The Liar (7:13), Why Don't You Go Away (6:38), Sons Of Madness (5:04), The Lament Of Ghosts (9:26), Liar's Lair (6:19), BONUS TRACK (2:51)
When looking at the back catalogue of this band I noticed a strange thing, there are two gaps of about ten years. The first album dates from 1983 and then there is a gap of nine years. In the nineties they made three albums and now, after more than 10 years, we have a new record. A lot of reviewers say about Ageness that they are heavily influenced by Genesis, if you speak the name out loud you might find the first hint, however, I personally think that the music is more a combination of IQ and Presto Ballet leaning a bit more to the progressive metal style. The latter band to me has the most similarities with the sound of Ageness, a slick production almost cleaned to perfection. I like Tommy Eriksson's singing but for some people his high voice takes some getting used to. It is a bit comparable to that of Nils K Rue from Pagan's Mind, though that band is a lot more metal sounding. A new name is Speedy Saarinen on the guitar - I hope his name is not linked to his playing.
Entering is a keyboard intro, nothing fancy. Martial Arts is where the fun starts. The name of the new guitar player is Speedy but he is no shredder. The timing on this song is very strange, many time changes but not really pushing it, for once a prog-metal band that is not a Dream Theater clone. The music is very melodic with no speedy guitar riffs and is very diverse with many passages of melodic rock. The Lie And The Liar is a bit in the style of Queensrÿche with atmospheric music in a steady pace, beautiful clear guitar and keyboard solos with the last part of the song being a great big bombastic instrumental piece. Why Don't You Go Away is a ballad with a chorus that is slow and pounding, but despite the fact that it does not alter much, and keeps the same steady pace all the way, is interesting from start to finish. The guitar solo by Speedy is again very good, again more melodic than his name predicts. Sons Of Madness is from a different category, it is highly accessible and provides instant happiness. Normally these songs do not appeal to me but I really like this one.
A piano intro for The Lament Of Ghosts which is another epic song and is sculptured very nicely. It sounds more dramatic and this time I can hear the Genesis influences. The solos are more chaotic but it fits the song, it turns out Ageness is a band that is not repeating themselves song to song, each one is different. The final part of the song is bombastic and even more dramatic - I love the way the song is built. Liar's Lair is the final track and it reminds me of the final tracks Arena used to play off The Visitor and Immortal?. The song strolls on and on - I love these kinds of endings, which after some bombastic and progressive music is nice to end on a gentle mood.
After the last song, there is quiet some time before an encore starts. I personally do not like these kinds of tricks so these parts are usually cut off for me, however, for the sake of the review I listened on and found a couple of minutes of instrumental progressive rock. I could hear some tunes revisited but it is not really something worth waiting for. A bit more powerful than the rest of the album but I do not think many people will wait five minutes for this - please do not do this again.
So after a gap of over ten years Ageness is back with a strong album which is progressive rock that sometimes touches prog metal and is very melodic, even with a guitar player called Speedy. As said, the name Presto Ballet popped in my head whilst listening to this. The sound of Ageness is very clear and perfect, perhaps sometimes it sounds a bit too smooth, however, the main thing about Songs From The Liar's Lair is that it took many spins in my CD-player and it just would not leave. I really enjoy listening to this album. Let's hope we do not have to wait another ten years.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Progression By Failure – Progression By Failure
Tracklist: Intro (0:27), Dialog With A Selfish (7:27), Memories From The Future (10:17), The Solitude Of A Winter (7:56), Desperate Anger (12:24), Talion (6:59), Progression By Failure [a. The Way, b. The Fall, c. The Hope] (22:44)
The phrase “progression by failure” seems to imply that one cannot progress to the level of accomplishment without failing along the way. Young French keyboardist Nicolas “Nicordan” Piveteau, under the moniker Progression By Failure, defies his moniker with his accomplished eponymous debut release. There is no sign of failure anywhere in its sixty-eight minutes. To quote Marillion, “failure isn’t about falling down, failure is staying down”. Which Piveteau doesn’t.
The style of music on the CD is basically instrumental fusion-based progressive rock. Piveteau handles all the instruments, with keyboards being the predominant instrument. There’s a little bit of guitar as well, along with played and programmed drums.
The accurately titled Desperate Anger features some dark stabbing beats and organ fills evoking Van Der Graaf Generator, with the organ firing up in intensity to gesture towards Keith Emerson as a reference. A little dark piano evoking Rick Wakeman introduces itself near the end of the track. The VDGG influence is evident as well on Dialog With A Selfish, which veers and careens into some edgy territory leaning to Nine Inch Nails and early Genesis. Piveteau’s keyboarding wizardry also is reminiscent of Tony Banks and Mark Kelly on other parts of the CD.
Piveteau has finely composed and performed the music on the clearly produced and mixed CD. He does not rely on clichés or repetition and there is a lot of variety between the tracks.
Piveteau, under his moniker, also designed the CD’s colorful artwork with help from Vanessa Biguet.
This CD will appeal mainly to fans of keyboard-driven, fusion based instrumental progressive rock. Fans of more concise and conservative music should approach with caution.
I can think of no room for improvement for this fine project. Can’t wait for a sophomore release.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Tinyfish – Curious Things
Tracklist: The June Jar (3:20), Ack Ack (0:25), She's All I Want (3:03), Driving All Night (4:12), Why VHF? (8:18), Wrecking Ball (3:28), Cinnamon (6:03)
This is not, as you would be forgiven for believing, the latest release of new material from the band fronted by Simon Godfrey (brother of Frost* mainman Jem) but a collection of hitherto unreleased songs recorded prior to their 2007 debut album Tinyfish. Along with the recent DVD and live CD One Night On Fire, it provides a stop gap before the second studio album proper The Big Red Spark due in November of this year. The man responsible for recording the tracks was Jem Godfrey himself and mostly written by Simon with assistance from band lyricist Robert Ramsay. Simon also provides the lead vocals, rhythm guitars, guitar synths and drums joined by Jim Sanders (lead guitar, rhythm guitars, backing vocals) and Paul Worwood (bass, bass pedals).
The songs are more main-stream than I expected and despite the often weighty, up-tempo delivery they reveal they’re acoustic beginnings harking back to a time when the band members trod the boards playing acoustic venues in and around London. Following the gritty opener The June Jar and the disposable Ack Ack (which despite the absence of music is curiously credited to S Godfrey/J Godfrey/J Sanders), She's All I Want displays a penchant for The Beatles circa their later and heavier psychedelic period. This is in part due to Simon’s processed vocals which gives the impression he’s singing through a megaphone. The song is also interspersed with bubbling electronic effects (presumably to compensate for the absence of keyboards) which does add a certain atmosphere although I found the electronic percussion a tad on the thin side.
Driving All Night breaks the mood, introducing a mellower tone with dual acoustic guitars and Godfrey’s vocals this time free from tampering revealing an engaging voice not unlike Declan Burke of Frost*/Darwin’s Radio fame. Given its length, Why VHF? is appropriately the album's strongest track with a catchy chorus which really hits its mid-tempo stride at the 2 plus minute mark. It pauses for a couple of electronic, ambient interludes which at one point features what sounds like a harmonica playing far off in the distance. Despite the lack of authentic drums it kicks up a convincing storm towards the end.
The delightful Wrecking Ball is an appealing acoustic ballad which despite the sunny sound includes sharply pointed lyrics about failed relationships, superbly written and performed by Godfrey. Given sufficient air play on mainstream radio it has the potential ingredients to make it as a hit single. In contrast, the closing Cinnamon is all attitude with a rapid-tempo and an edgy delivery that conceals any instrumental participation under a haze of processed vocals, electronic percussion and effects. It does have is a certain hypnotic appeal however that borders on the spacey side before building into a cacophonic dirge to play out.
Granted there is very little here for the prog-rock purists to get excited about but the songs do a certain charm and Jem Godfrey’s lively production gives it an attention grabbing edge not unlike his work with Frost*. And although it clocks in at less than 30 minutes it’s very sensibly priced from the F2 website. Its appeal however is likely to be restricted to existing Tinyfish and Frost* fans rather then making any new converts.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Crystal Lake - Safe
Tracklist: Way Of Dream (5:23), We’ll Be Safe (7:08), Rose (7:54), Flame Of Soul (7:50), Crystal Lake (10:17), I’m Free (8:03)
Crystal Lake was founded in 2003 and after several changes in the line up, the band at present consists of Adam Plotnicki (vocals), Marcin Gawalek (guitar), Piotr Wypych (keyboards), Lukasz Biénkowski (bass) and Krysztof Grzelak (drums). This means the standard line up for a progressive rock band and indeed this band is playing a kind of ‘neo-prog’ in the vein of bands like Pendragon, Arena or Shadowland.
Surprisingly the first track is an instrumental one - Way Of Dream - with multiple changes in key, style as well as in tempo and next to piano and a wide range of keyboards, the leading instrument is the guitar. Sometimes the music drifts towards the jazz-rock but the main themes remain in the progressive genre. Next track is We’ll Be Safe, an up-tempo mix of progressive & pop in which Adam’s clear vocals sometimes come close to Bono’s. A pity he feels he has to force his voice into almost screaming, because his clean voice sounds much better in my judgement. Again the multiple changes in tempo and the accompaniment by synths are characteristic for ‘prog’ and the solo’s by Gawalek are impressively fast but I could imagine some fans would rather like to have heard more melodic solo’s in the vein of Barrett or Rothery.
In Rose, there’s a mix between ‘progressive’ and ‘prog-metal’ but still plenty of instrumental melodic passages giving guitarist Gawalek once more the opportunity to excel. The Flame Of Soul opens with a piano and next to more prog-metal passages, there are more of those subtle gentle pieces. Plotnicki’s voice doesn’t seem to go that well with more melancholic music, but in the more up-tempo parts in this song, he sings clean and very well. In the track named after the band, it’s the same quite original mix between pop, ‘prog’ and ‘prog-metal’. Most of the time, the sweeping sound of the guitar is accompanied by piano, the more heavy sounding guitars by synthesizers. Lots of changes in atmosphere in this track, maybe even too much. The same comment can be said about the final track I’m Free.
Lots of good ideas and strong craftsmanship from the musicians on this album, but it seems Crystal Lake isn’t able to choose between genuine ‘prog’ and metal, leaving the fans with a difficult choice: too much metal for prog-fans, too many ‘proggy’ and poppy passages for true metal fans. So together with the vocals I find I’m not very impressed by this CD and unfortunately I also don’t like it very much. Altogether this is an album worth checking out for people with a preference for fairly heavy and constantly changing prog music.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
iH8 Camera - iH8 Camera
Tracklist: Breitenbach Am Herzberg (10:03), Grebenau (10:12), Schlitz (6:35), Niederaula (4:35), Unter Schwarz (7:25), Haunetal (4:35), Ottrau (7:23)
Antwerp based iH8 Camera, whose name is apparently derived from a misquote (originally I Hate Camera) formed around 2004 and comprises of a shifting line-up of musicians. For their debut release the band consisted of Rudy Trouvé (voice, guitar, synthesizer), Elko Blijweert (synthesizer, guitar, voice), Craig Ward (guitar, soprano saxophone, drums, voice), Teuk Henri (guitar), Bert Lenaerts (bass) and Jeroen Stevens (drums). iH8 Camera is a live registration taken from their performance at the Burg Herzberg Festival (2006).
Now I'm going to keep this review brief, following the maxim that: "if you can't say anthing nice, don't say anything at all". This said there are some positives, but not too many for my ears.
Musically the band perform a guitar driven, mainly improvised, experimental psychedelic rock. We might look to the late sixties, early seventies for some comparators - Pink Floyd perhaps being the most immediate example of the genre at that time. From the literature I gather Rudy Trouvé assembled "a bunch of friends and collaborators to perform a totally improvised set with no planning, leadership or prior discussion" - and this is pretty much what it sounds like. There is no doubting that these guys can play and there are moments when the music comes together, however the majority is a rather disjointed and cacophonous affair. Haunetal is one of the better tracks with Fripp/Belew/Levin/Bruford era King Crimson coming to mind. Certainly Jeroen Stevens drumming here points in this direction and the expressive spoken vocals incline to Mr Belew. Elsewhere there are fleeting moments... but not enough to salvage the wreckage around it.
The recording is satisfactory, if not great and certainly the vocals suffer from poor live mixing. The album is now available as a CD-Digipack...
That's all I have to say really.
Conclusion: 3 out of 10