Reviews in this issue:
- Twelfth Night – Smiling At Grief ~ The Definitive Edition
- Sylvan - Force Of Gravity
- Il Cerchio D’Oro – Il Viaggio Di Colombo
- Leafblade – Beyond, Beyond
- Paul Cusick - Focal Point
- Arpia - Racconto D'Inverno
- TCP – The Way
- Ulysses - The Gift Of Tears
- Engineers - Three Fact Fader
- Aeolian Race - Landlocked Nation
- Sideways – Fate
- Quicksilver Messenger Service - Reunion
Twelfth Night – Smiling At Grief ~ The Definitive Edition
CD1 East Of Eden (3:29), This City (3:13), The Honeymoon Is Over (2:35), Creepshow (10:13), Puppets [intro] (1:25), Puppets (2:50), Three Dancers (2:54), Makes No Sense (4:02), Fur Helene Part II (10:48), Kindergarden (3:05), Midnight [poem] (0:51), Keep The Aspidistra Flying (9:40), Convenient Blindness (3:27), Makes No Sense [instrumental] (5:10) Bonus Tracks: Eleanor Rigby [original demo] (3:03), This City [alternative version] (3:19)
CD2: Kindergarden (3:05), The Honeymoon Is Over (2:50), Eleanor Rigby (3:38), Makes No Sense (5:20), East To West (9:39), Three Dancers (3:44), Puppets (3:50), This City (4:16), Creepshow (10:19), East Of Eden (5:24), Sequences (20:15) Bonus Track: Convenient Blindness [live in the studio] (3:27)
There are very few bands whose career is as convoluted as that of Twelfth Night, one of the pioneering neo-prog bands of the 80’s. As such I shall restrict my opening brief to the events surrounding this release. Following the success of their Live At The Target vinyl album in 1981, Rick Battersby (keyboards), Andy Revell (lead guitar), Clive Mitten (6-string bass) and Brian Devoil (drums, percussion) found themselves in search of a vocalist. Enter Geoff Mann, an obvious choice having previously sung on stage with the band as well as being a one time member of their road crew. With several new songs under their belt the quintet encamped to Woodcray Manor Farm Studios, Berkshire in November 1981 for a bout of recording that would result in the Smiling At Grief album. During a break in the sessions, Battersby decided to jump ship leaving Mitten to complete the keyboard parts. Originally released in December 1981 on cassette only, this enhanced CD reissue includes several bonus and previously unreleased tracks plus a second CD of rare material from the band's own archive subtitled ‘Smiling At Grief Live’.
During the writing process, the band decided that to secure a record deal they should balance their customary epics with shorter songs. The end result consisted of seven tracks around the 3 minute mark plus two 10 minute opuses. Originally intended as a series of demos to showcase the bands capabilities, they realised they had enough material far a 40 minute cassette which was subsequently distributed at gigs and through the fan club. Under such circumstances I’m sure it proved to a valuable souvenir, particularly for fans that had witnessed the band live. This CD reissue however exposes the music to the harsh light of the digital age and sadly it doesn’t always stand-up to the scrutiny. From the pulsating synth intro to East Of Eden (bearing more than a passing resemblance to the Chariots Of Fire theme which appeared earlier that same year) to the indulgent guitar ramblings of Fur Helene Part II the material sounds very dated. To my ears the band was as much influenced by the popular post-punk, new romantic sound of the time (all tinny synths, bass heavy rhythms and attitude) as they were early 70’s prog.
Making his recording debut the late Geoff Mann proves to be a charismatic front man as he talks, sings even shrieks his way through the songs with his distinctive raw delivery. At times the lyrics do not seem fully worked out resulting in an over repetition of lines especially during the chorus. There are some good tunes and memorable riffs along the way but they are rarely developed or sustained. Best of the bunch is Creepshow which includes some fine soloing from Revell. This, along with This City would be reworked (and improved upon) a year later for the Fact And Fiction album. The musicianship strays from the competent to the very good and particularly noteworthy is the rhythm partnership of Mitten and Devoil. Following the main event disc one concludes with five demos recorded in September 1981 at Burghfield Mill, Reading (which have already appeared on CD) plus two hitherto unreleased tracks in the shape of Eleanor Rigby and another version of This City recorded in Geoff Mann’s cellar. None of these songs rise above the limitations of their demo origins although the treatment of The Beatles classic does have a certain charm.
I found the second disc the more interesting and entertaining of the two which has the distinction of being the only known live record of the Mann / Revell / Mitten / Devoil partnership. Like their previous release it was recorded at the Target pub in their home town of Reading. The date was 10 December 1981 and the set included two songs from Live At The Target, a substantial amount of Smiling At Grief plus new material written by the band in the interim. Although the sound quality is a million miles from the pristine production of todays live recordings it successfully captures the band in all their formative glory. The balance is just right with Mann’s voice nicely upfront and all instruments clearly audible despite the compression. The most attractive aspect for me is the bands edgy style, even during the slower songs, mainly due to Mann’s impassioned performance. The end result sounds far more contemporary than their peers of the time, avoiding the Genesis whimsicality that bands like Marillion, IQ and Pendragon strived for. Due to the absence of a fulltime player keyboards only get a look in when Mitten isn’t otherwise preoccupied on bass but they deliver a convincing performance of the epic Sequences nonetheless.
I’m sure many prog rock collectors will see this release as an essential purchase, especially in view of the excellent packaging which includes new artwork, comprehensive liner notes and lots of archive photos. Each disc is designed to give the appearance of a vinyl LP which is a nice touch. The re-mastering is also first rate, making the most of the source recordings despite their sonic limitations. There is for me however a disparity between the quality of this package and the material it contains. As a result on this occasion I’m going to sidestep a final rating, something I normally avoid. Strictly for fans and compilelists only in my view and even than I feel that it’s not likely to justify repeat plays.
Sylvan - Force Of Gravity
Tracklist: Force Of Gravity (5:12), Follow Me (4:39), Isle In Me (6:00), Embedded (3:30), Turn Of The Tide (6:53), From The Silence (5:43), Midnight Sun (5:12), King Porn (7:31), Episode 609 (6:00), God Of Rubbish (4:01), Vapour Trail (14:30)
It must have been back in 2002 that I made a decision after much soul searching. At the time I was writing roughly one review a week and combined with being the chief editor of DPRP's review section the site was claiming almost 20 hours a week of my time. This was getting a bit too much, even for a workaholic like me, and I also found myself getting sick and tired of having to review new and often disappointing bands while not having enough time left to listen to the music I actually enjoyed. So I decided to resign, but immediately promised that I would continue to write reviews for albums and DVDs of the bands that truly interested and fascinated me. Sylvan has been one of those bands ever since I reviewed their Encounters album back in 2000.
While Sylvan had already released four previous albums, their major breakthrough came with the absolutely stunning concept album Posthumous Silence, and rightfully so! This album was followed by Presents, a CD that had been recorded simultaneous with Posthumous Silence but contained the more accessible, often shorter songs the band had written in the same period. And let's not forget the excellent epic title track on that album; one of the highlights in the band's work and worth the price of the CD alone. After releasing the highly professional Posthumous Silence : The Show DVD I was anxious to hear what the band would have up their sleeves next.
Listening to Force Of Gravity the first couple of times I was very, very disappointed. There were several reasons for this. First of all there seemed to be a tendency towards a heavier style. Nothing extremely unexpected here since the previous albums (especially Posthumous Silence and X-Rayed) had their heavier moments as well. On this new album however, the balance seemed to tilt more towards heaviness and I actually found myself thinking, 'Oh no! Not another band doing a Porcupine Tree!'. Seven out of eleven songs have heavy riff sections! Second reason of disappointment was that, compared to albums like Artificial Paradise and Presets, I was missing a lot of melodic hooks in the new material. Even up to this day I cannot remember the melodies when seeing some of the song titles and that's really a rarity with Sylvan. The urge for complexity seemed to have drowned out the melody. Finally, I found that some songs were really starting to follow a 'formula approach', a recurring way of composing and arranging songs. This of course goes for Marco Gluhmann's trademark way of singing, but also an epic song like Vapour Trails seemed to echo classic epics like Artificial Paradise and Presents far too much. You can almost predict what would come next ('there's probably going to be a spoken or rap section now' and there actually is!), and that for me is always a sign of lack of inspiration. Even now I find that Vapour Trails has some absolutely excellent moments (including a stunning opening with strings) but never reaches the same level of excellence as the other two mentioned epics, or even the more inferior Given - Used - Forgotten from X-Rayed. Vapour Trails is too repetitive, predictable, formulaic. Once the album ends I often realise that the last 5 minutes of Vapour Trails has past by without being really noticed. And that's really weird since the song has a huge climax. Maybe it's because it's too much like their earlier epics. Maybe it's because the opening and closing sections are too similar. Or maybe it's just the 70 minutes of music asking too much of me. Indeed, as with Presets Sylvan again fall for the trap of making an album with 70 minutes of music. As with Presets, dropping a song or two and shortening the length to an hour would probably have done the album a lot of good and it would have been less of a strain on the listener's attention span. Whatever it is, I think Vapour Trails would have been better as a 7 minute song or broken down into two songs.
Okay, so far for (most of) the complaints, since I have to admit that repeated listening of the new album made me discover all of the little gems it's got hidden behind my initial layer of disappointment. Take for instance the magical piano ballad Midnight Sun (featuring slightly Kate Bush-like vocals by Miriam Schell), which might well be the most soothing, hypnotic and tranquil thing the band ever wrote. Isle In Me is another excellent ballad that appeals to me as much musically and lyrically as classics like Timeless Traces and The Colours Changed. Both songs make use of very imaginative drum production that sets the mood for the tracks. On the more rocking side we get a highly unexpected track like God Of Rubbish. Hated by many, this can only be described as 'Sylvan goes Green Day' and I consider it one of the highlights of the record (probably because I really like Green Day). The uptempo commercial punk rock approach developing from an acoustic intro is definitely something we haven't heard the band try before! Another heavy tune is the financial industry bashing Follow Me. I had much difficulty getting into this, but by now I have grown used to the short version that the band recently released with a horrendous video. The full length track features a really chaotic and atonal experimental middle section that really gets on my tits though ... It represents the 'unexpected ups and downs of the stock market'. Really smart, but it's as pleasant to listen to as looking at the current balance sheet of my own investments is.
Although slightly formulaic, Force Of Gravity is a worthy album opener as only Sylvan can write them. It starts and ends with a thunderous riff but is more peaceful and dreamy in the middle. Embedded and From The Silence are more melodic songs that would not have been out of place on Articifial Paradise or Presets. The riffy King Porn is another track that has it's lovers and haters. It's got a middle section that is too much like one of the heavy sections of In Chains from the Posthumous Silence album, but also has it's moments. The remaining softer Turn Of The Tide and Episode 609 aren't bad tracks but also nothing extremely special and are among the tracks I still cannot remember the melody of.
All in all Force Of Gravity is certainly not a bad album, but it simply does not reach the height of Artificial Paradise, Presets and Posthumous Silence. I do rate it above X-Rayed though, which is an album I have in hindsight overrated and is among my least played Sylvan albums. Still, even a mediocre Sylvan album is still amongst the best in the genre (hence the rating that might seem relatively high, but actually isn't if you compare it to the ratings I've given their other work). Just don't expect instant classics like the aforementioned three albums.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Il Cerchio D’Oro – Il Viaggio Di Colombo
Tracklist: Ouverture (2:40), Sognando La Meta (4:54), Colombo (4:49), I Tre Marinai (7:17), Ieri, Oggi, Ancora Niente (5:54), Il Silenzio Rumoroso Del Mare (7:10), Preghiera Al Vento (2:18), Tre Giorni [L’Ammutinamento], (3:36), Tierra! Tierra! (4:13), Cercando L’Approdo (3:57), Conclusione [Il Ritorno] (2:17) Bonus Tracks: Quattro Mura (3:58), Futuro Prossimo (4:00)
I had a lot of fun listening to this well conceived and executed piece of story-telling music in the grand prog concept tradition.
The group were formed in 1974, but only released a few singles at the tail end of the 1970s before disappearing from the scene. A couple of archive releases have apparently revealed some of their history (I haven’t heard either of these, though), but the group have recently been revived and now weigh in with their first proper album.
Those familiar with the Italian label Black Widow will have a good idea what to expect. Like many of the groups on the Widow roster, Il Cerchio D’Oro proffer a very retro sounding music, with many influences from psychedelic and proto-prog groups of the late sixties and early seventies (I’m thinking early Deep Purple and Uriah Heep), as well as the classic Italian progressives of the 70’s like PFM and New Trolls.
Il Viaggio Di Colombo tells the historical story of the voyage of Christopher Columbus, and, though the vocals are all in Italian, the fine booklet includes lyrics in both Italian and English to enable the rest of us to follow the story with ease.
The music passes through many and varied moods, in keeping with the rollicking good yarn it portrays. The main instruments are acoustic and electric guitars, organ and synthesisers, backed up by a nimble rhythm section who swiftly switches from a jazzy swing at times to solid rock beats without batting an eyelid.
One of the best tracks is Ieri, Oggi, Ancora Niente, which opens with a Gentle Giant style vocal arrangement, before developing into a freewheeling instrumental section with spectacular guitar playing. Preghiera Al Vento, though very short, makes its mark with an acoustic guitar/organ led piece, which could easily have been lifted from Searching For A Land by New Trolls.
Throughout, the keyboard playing in general, and the organ playing in particular, is of a very high standard, recalling the halcyon days of the late sixties.
The album is pretty consistent, with few low points, but not really having any spectacular stand out tracks either. It’s a solid and enjoyable disc, but look elsewhere if you’re after ground-breaking stuff.
You may question the wisdom of tacking two unrelated tracks from a 1977 single on at the end of a concept album, but the tracks find the band in a mellow, melodic progressive mood, very much in the vein of PFM and are well worth hearing.
This would definitely be a nice addition to the collection of any retro prog/psych fan.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Leafblade – Beyond, Beyond
Tracklist: The Whispers Of Cavras Unas (4:07), The Roots And The Stones (4:53), The Farewell Dance (2:29), Rune Song (5:35), Spirit Child (4:44), The Spirit Of Solitude (4:19), A Celtic Brooding In Renaissance Man (4:29), The Winter Waking (7:02), Valle Crucis (4:29), Beyond, Beyond (8:15), Sunset Eagle (4:58)
Leafblade was formed in Liverpool during 2003 by songwriter Sean Jude (vocals/guitar/tin whistle) and Daniel Cavanah (vocals/guitar/keyboards) of Anathema. After a number of years of live performance this is the first album under the Leafblade name and well worth a listen it is too. Almost entirely acoustic, this is a very relaxing listen. I have not seen the lyric sheet but at a guess there is a strong sense of nature and history with words involving Celtic mysticism, dreams and imagination.
The Whispers Of Cavras Unas starts things off with hypnotic guitars and a haunting wordless vocal which also occurs in The Farewell Dance. There is a definite Celtic influence within, the latter bringing Clannad to mind. The Roots And The Stones has a more traditional song structure with the guitars throbbing over a sweeping backdrop of keys. The vocals are good, high pitched and ethereal and the piece ends with a subdued electric guitar solo. The folk edge returns on Rune Song with mellow verses of lyrical guitars and more up-tempo drums and electric guitar for the soaring chorus. Spirit Child is light, bright and sunny with beefy drumming to spice things up before a beautiful ending.
The Spirit Of Solitude features solo plaintive guitar and a wordless, melancholy vocal with sparing use of keys and electric guitar in the background making for a downbeat and sorrowful piece. A medieval influence takes over the instrumental A Celtic Brooding In Renaissance Man with drone, simple percussion and tin whistle which opens up into a more expansive and driving piece. This reminds me of some of John Renbourn’s work and is one of the folkiest tracks on the album but retaining a real edge. As its title suggests The Winter Waking is cold, bleak and barren. Another sorrowful vocal over stark guitar with a drone background of keys sung in troubadour style this is really excellent stuff that opens up to a beautifully hypnotic conclusion.
Valle Crucis is a more obviously accessible song with a traditional structure and performance and nice backing vocals. The title track is next, by far the longest piece on the album, starting as a plaintive and melancholy folk number about loss it soon becomes a large-scale multi-phase acoustic piece, picking up the pace with some added percussion before slowing down and flowing on to an uplifting finale. Sunset Eagle rounds things off but is a bit too straightforward and the album finishes with water and birdsong underlining the integral part that nature has played in the songs. Personally I could have done without this last piece but it doesn’t damage what is an excellent album.
The instrumentation suggests a folk album and there are certainly elements of that within but so much more. This is ideal for relaxation but New Age it ain’t: the edge is retained throughout and the material very well written and performed. Lovers of Anathema who have stayed with that band throughout their transformation from Gothic metal to atmospheric modern rock should enjoy this further extension into more acoustic territory.
A very enjoyable listen, laid back and mellow but never boring, there is much imagination to be had here. The structure of each piece is thoughtful and rings every last drop of beauty out of the crisp and clear acoustic guitars with other instruments employed sparingly to increase their impact. Highly recommended.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Paul Cusick - Focal Point
Tracklist: Focal Point (2:45), Everblue (6:47), Fade Away (6:50), Soul Words (3:28), Scared to Dream (4:37), Touch (5:38), Senza Tempo (2:41), Big Cars (4:01), Hold On (5:28), Hello (4:15), Touch (Groove Monster Mix) (5:40)
I was playing around on Facebook one day when I noticed an ad for Focal Point, the debut solo release from British-born multi-instrumentalist Paul Cusick, aka “Q”, (previously Riversea, Ripped, Gabriel). The ad heralded Focal Point as being influenced by Porcupine Tree and David Gilmour, and I was instantly intrigued. DPRP has reached out to Mr Cusick, and he has been kind enough to provide a promo copy of Focal Point for review. A cursory listen of the CD (with a much deserved second listen thereafter) showed me the PT influence, with Gilmour commonalities existing to a lesser extent. You won’t get epics like Anesthetize here though, as Cusick prefers to keep his tracks shorter and more song-based.
On the CD, Cusick handles guitars, bass, keyboards and vocals. Alex Cromarty plays drums, with Andy Edwards (Frost*, IQ) guesting on the drum stool on one track. A variety of guests, including Cusick's children, provide back up and sampled voice style vocals on a few tracks. The voices of his kids are featured on the plaintive Fade Away and set a mood of longing sentiment in the song. All of the CD’s music and lyrics were written by Cusick.
The CD’s tracks tend to vary between harder edged rock and more ballad based material. Cusick’s vocal range varies as well, dipping into baritone territory on the dark ballad Hello, which is an OK track but to me personally came across as a demo and not a fleshed-out piece. His voice flutters into the higher end of things on Hold On, which features a melody recalling It Bites.
Edwards showcases his snappy drumming on Touch, which also features the voice of Helena Ferguson portraying a phone operator. The whole “phone call” audio thing has been done before (Pink Floyd, Marillion, etc.) but Cusick manages to pull it off and make it his own technique, via repetition of the spoken word “inconvenience” to the point of insanity. Cusick is creative with snippets and sound effects in this way, like on the track Big Cars where synths replicate the sound of speeding cars. Many of the tracks showcase Cusick’s expert guitar flair. The CD’s music is composed, performed and produced well.
The CD booklet is professionally designed and has lots of interesting and abstract photographs and pictures.
So what we have here is a fine recording evoking Porcupine Tree, but more concise and song based. From my personal taste perspective I prefer the harder edged tunes versus the ballads on the CD, and would suggest that Cusick stick more with the edgier stuff on his next offering. But again this is just my subjective taste speaking.
If you dig Porcupine Tree, you may find yourself hooked on Focal Point. If you are looking for pop, this isn’t it. Which is not to say that this artist will never break into a major listening base, as I think he could - just like Porcupine Tree has.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Arpia - Racconto D'Inverno
Tracklist: Epilogo (2:40), Giù Nella Forra (1:46), Casa Di Blu (0:57), La Guida (1:28), Cosa Dice Quella Porta Chiusa (0:51), Dimmi Chi Sei (2:29), Cosa Dice Quella Porta Schiusa (0:52), Fame Che Ride (1:18), Ladri E Stranieri (4:45), Soldati! (2:00), Un Lupo (3:28), Canto Antico (2:29), Casa Non Mai Vista (2:22), Cristo Guarito (3:09), Ti Ho Scritto-La Lettera (1:52), Gli Scantinati (3:55), Requiem (2:28), Nessuno Muore Mai (1:37), Non Sono Morto (2:19)
Roman outfit Arpia is the project of multi-instrumentalist, singer, writer and almost Renaissance man Leonardo Bonetti, and what a fine project it is.
Based on Bonetti’s own novel, Racconto d’Inverno is a tale of romantic and Gothic (the figure, the concept of Death always present) nuances, a book turned concept album and, indeed, beautiful music. This album not only is a display of talent and beauty; it also proves that you can create great art with omly a few elements, given that you know what to do with these.
Arpia obviously know, and make the most of a very sparse instrumentation. There are NO electric guitars, no great solos… and (remember, this is a symphonic/prog CD) nearly no keyboards. What you can find here are lively acoustic guitars and wonderful vocals, sung by Bonetti and Paola Ferraiorni, who provides some truly beautiful lines; all the warmth and emotions conveyed in Racconto d’Inverno come mostly from the lyrics and their delivery.
All other performers show remarkable restraint; Aldo Orazi’s drumming clearly shows this, as it sounds clean, crisp and serviceable, always working for the song with humble intelligence; the same goes for Fabio Brait’s acoustic guitars.
The tale is divided in 19 chapters which flow naturally and effortlessly, so the 42 minutes fly by. However, after a few listens you feel the music isn’t a constant, seamless flow of sounds, and can also be organized in three “books”.
The first book comprises from first theme Epilogo (here, it works nicely to start where it ends) to Cosa Dice Quella Porta Schiusa. This segment is about 10 minutes long, and probably is the most solid section on the album. From the opening ominous, hypnotic notes, Giù Nella Forra builds up and elaborates on the almost fairytale quality of the music. Casa Di Blu resolves with a minute of bouncy, catchy grooves, and then Cosa Dice Quella Porta Chiusa brings some Genesis (Rutherford & Hackett… even echoes of Ant Phillips) acoustic guitar aesthetics, which are further developed in the beautiful themes found on Dimmi Chi Sei.
Fame Che Ride opens book two with a bang, being one of the rockiest segments on the album. Then Ladri E Stranieri introduces some stunning Eastern-sounding vocals and grooves; Soldati! evokes a sinister march, and then briefly reprises Ladri E Stranieri. These dark overtones and the (very) subtle keyboards found on Un Lupo are a prelude of what can be found on the third act. Elsewhere on the second act, which is the longest (around 20 minutes), but also the least intense, one finds again the Genesis dreamy, pastoral guitars on Casa Non Mai Vista.
Third book feels slightly disjointed when compared to the engaging narrative found on the rest of the concept, but its 11 minutes are also the most intense. This is where, with Gli Scantinati, Bonetti finally uses keyboards to full effect, creating a sinister, menacing atmosphere; the aptly titled Requiem elaborates on this, and further approaches the music to Dark/ Goth territory. Dead Can Dance comes to mind.
With Nessuno Muore Mai and Non Sono Morto, Racconto d’Inverno comes full circle reprising the opening notes of Epilogo, bringing the tale to a fitting and emotional end.
If you like classic Italian (minus the flutes…) symphonic bands, or Crimson-inflected Scandinavian prog; even if you listen to Gothic bands, or just acoustic singer-songwriter music, this album is a delight.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
TCP – The Way
Tracklist: You Can Never Know (8:09), I’m Me (8:08), Mankind (6:48), Heavy Billy (4:18), Sheep (6:38), He’s Like You (5:06), Road To 2012 (5:29), Hypatia (7:25), She (10:30), The Way (6:55), Liberate Me (4:35)
TCP (Temporal Chaos Project) is a project by three guys from the States: Initiator was Blake Tobias (keys, programming, bass), together with Jack Wright (guitars, drums) and Henry Tarrnecky (vocals, lyrics). A number of guests participate on mellotron, guitar, bass and drums to make the sound even more powerful and varied. The production duties were done by Blake Tobias, who did a real good job.
Tarrnecky’s voice is quite characteristic, somewhere in between the voices of Peter Gabriel, Fish and Red Jasper’s... The music is not ordinary nor simple either, but it’s definitely prog! As in the first track where elements of Yes, UK and the ‘old’ Genesis can be found. Some interesting changes in key, tempo etcetera and quite nice guitar solo’s and bass playing. The old Genesis (Nursery Cryme) can be heard throughout I’m Me when Tarrnecky’s deeper voice is combined with mellotron sounds and acoustic guitars. Later drums, bass and organ continue to sound like that famous band. The composition and the sound of the lead guitar however are original, so you can appreciate the nostalgic, melancholic sound combined with a superb modern approach.
Mankind is somewhat more ‘pop’ oriented and shows some influences of Yes (with Trevor Rabin!) as well as of the Alan Parsons Project (Old And Wise). Heavy Billy sees a somewhat more heavy musical approach adopted where good duels between organ and guitar are alternated with beautiful symphonic pieces. Sounds of real sheep are used at the beginning of Sheep, followed by a classically oriented keyboards piece featuring amongst others, a real mellotron! Laid back symphonic vocal sections are alternated by more powerful instrumental parts featuring guitar and organ.
In He’s Like Me we can hear a strange combination of the more ‘intellectual’ melodies by King Crimson and parts sounding a bit like the old Marillion. A very nice symphonic keyboard driven intro in Road To 2012 leads the listener to a mid tempo instrumental song with superb guitar playing by Wright, whilst the bombastic keyboards remind of Royal Hunt. The slower song Hypatia has two faces: a dreamy side and a more Marillionesque side however the changes in key and guitar soloing are different from that band. The track She opens rather slowly and symphonic but the first interlude reminds of the South-American influences as in the track The Light by Spock’s Beard. But in this case the leading instruments are not acoustic guitars but deep sounding synths, organ and the electric guitar. The music build up to an orchestral climax and ends in a Genesis style.
The title track by Wright, starts off with echoing guitars and some parts of the song with flute and mellotron samples remind of the early seventies Genesis once more, but in a way you shouldn’t have the impression that guys are copying, just the sound is similar but yet again all changes in style and the more complex melodies are quite original. The final track Liberate Me is all instrumental. A gorgeous up tempo piece by bass, drums, piano and organ and heavenly guitar playing by mister Wright. Some orchestral interludes emphasize the classical background of (at least) Blake Tobias.
In conclusion I can only say this album combines the best characteristics of the legends in prog music with astonishing original compositions and superb craftsmanship from all musicians involved. A really nice offering and I would like to invite anyone to check this album out more than once!
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Ulysses - The Gift Of Tears
Tracklist: Family Portrait (8:57), Guardian Angel (9:11), Lost (6:35), How Much More (12:15), Silence Of The Night (2:47), The Gift Of Tears (7:09), Anat (14:52)
Ulysses first showed up in 2001 with their mini CD Eclectic which they recorded in one day. This was followed up in 2003 when they released there first real album, Symbioses. Their music is progressive rock leaning slightly towards metal on The Gift Of Tears, with the focus more on the progressive side. On their previous album their vocalist received some critisism, however this new album features new vocalist Michael Hos. Also a new bass player, Casper Kroon, whilst the rest has remained the same - Ron Mozer on keyboards, Sylvester Vogelenzang de Jong on guitar and René van Haaren on drums. As you can see from the album details above Ulysses is from the Netherlands.
So the music is progressive rock with a small aspect of metal hidden inside, complex compositions with many changes and as you can tell from the length of the songs typical progressive rock songs. On this album Ulysses tried to get a perfect balance between the music, the lyrics and emotion. Family Portrait is telling us how we can feel more sympathy for each other by listening to one another. The opening of the album gave me a bit of a shock, the keyboards are mixed badly and after that the double bass drum did not predict anything good. Thankfully it was only the first part and the music rapidly turned to the better, so do not judge this album by it's start. Family Portrait rocks from start to finish.
Guardian Angel has more transitions to mellow parts and has many fine keyboard solos. Numerous time changes and very melodic, this is exactly what I like, true progressive rock. Lost is a more dramatic song with a leading role for the piano. At times the vocals float in the bad mixed sound, too bad. How Much More is the first of the two epics on this album and it really rocks. Just like Guardian Angel this song is true progressive rock. Again many keyboard solos but on this song there is more place for heavy guitar riffs which make Ulysses a bit more powerful than standard progressive rock. Silence Of The Night is a mellow piano intro to The Gift Of Tears. In the title song the vocals are dramatic and have been given a distorted effect. This is good for improving the sound, it is more cohesive. The final piece is the second epic song on this album and it tells the story about a girl called Anat who died forom a brain tumor. Given the topic of the lyrics it is not surprising that this song sounds dramatic. Anat is a great song with many mood changes and beautiful melodic music.
Ulysses has created a good album in the true spirit of progressive rock. The compositions are very good and the music in combination with the real-life story lyrics make this a very interesting album. The negative part about this album is the quality of the production. The vocals are not mixed in very well and the overall sound is just acceptable. I would rather have this than to have a perfectly sounding album that is completely soulless, but this is definitely a missed opportunity. Remixing this album would give it a much higher rating, I dare to say it would have been amongst the best of 2008.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Engineers – Three Fact Fader
Tracklist: Clean Coloured Wire (5:12), Sometimes I Realise (3:43), International Dirge (5:12), Helped by Science (4:22), Brighter As We Fall (6:06), Hang Your Head (4:39), Crawl From the Wreckage (4:53), Three Fact Fader (4:03), Song for Andy (3:41), Emergency Room (4:53), The Fear Has Gone (3:49), Be What You Are (2:45), What Pushed Us Together (3:23)
The style of music that Engineers compose and play, it seems to me, has always found a sizeable audience. Whenever I hear this slow tempo with the introspective, brooding vocal sung in an almost unemotional, whispered timbre and the highly distorted, bass-rich soundscape that chugs out something between an ambience and a mantric rhythm, I always go back to a band like Joy Division, although there may be others that preceded with soundscapes of similar intent. The intent to create a broody, cocooning atmosphere that engulfs the listener in its embrace. Of course, one would now use terms such as “shoegazing” and “drone” to describe this music. Whatever terms one uses, it has its own niche amongst music lovers.
As such, I found Engineers slightly odd label mates with other artists that perform for Kscope. Whilst I am not familiar with all of their “stable”, I am a fan of the music of, for instance, Steven Wilson, No-Man, The Pineapple Thief, Nosound, Richard Barbieri and Lunatic Soul. There are arguments for saying that Engineers are not that far from some of these artists but I felt that, on the strength of Three Fact Fader, their soundscape is sufficiently far removed from that of these other artists to be on its own. Comparing it with, say, The Pineapple Thief, there is less melodic and rhythmic development, less compositional variety and less crispness of sound. It is consistently more mantric and morose, even if, on songs such as International Dirge and Hang Your Head, where the tempo is raised slightly, there is an approach with The Pineapple Thief’s soundscape. Possibly, there may also be times when the ambience created is near to some of No-Man’s ambiences, but by and large Engineers’s sound is more constrained – intentionally - so that the ambience “painted” is consistently the same: broody, introspective, depressive even. Even so, it has a certain hypnotic quality, which I suppose is what attracts many people.
Engineers are a UK band comprising Dan MacBean (guitars), Simon Phipps (vocals), Mark Peters (bass) and Andrew Sweeney (drums). They have previously released the mini-album Folly (2004) and Engineers (2005), neither of which I’ve heard. Three Fact Fader has been such a long time coming because the band found themselves victims of their previous label’s “restructuring” and so had to wait for Kscope’s overtures. The band themselves claim that Three Fact Fader represents a development, particularly in the use of rhythm, claiming that Sometimes I Realise, Hang Your Head and the opener, Clean Coloured Wire have a “dancefloor-friendly quality”. Not to these bones, they don’t! The word “krautrock” is also used – certainly Clean Coloured Wire is based around a sample from Harmonia’s Watussi - but the music doesn’t remind me of any krautrock that I know (but I am only a novice when it comes to that genre!).
A word for the CD packaging, which is impressive, being presented as a mini hard-back book: inside are the lyrics and various colour photographs of import to the band and the music. It looks good and it feels good; so full marks to Kscope for supporting the band in this way.
As for the music itself, I would say that whilst there will be many who do enjoy it, it is probable that the majority of fans of this progressive music site will not – I can’t really think of a reason for labelling this “progressive” in any sense that I’ve ever heard the word used in relation to music – and so my advice would be to definitely listen to some samples first if you are tempted to buy.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Aeolian Race – Landlocked Nation
Tracklist: The Hidden Queen Of The Drone Throne (4:46), Hawks (4:36), Dead Soldier’s Brain (4:04), Insanity (3:22), Tethys Ocean (1:29), The Great Spacecoaster (4:09), Lady Blue (8:13), Alligator (2:48), Stillborn (5:48), Untitled (1:53)
Straddling the boundaries of psychedelic, space, progressive and hard rock, Boston trio Aeolian Race’s debut outing Landlocked Nation certainly covers a lot of ground. Obvious influences are the grand-daddies of space rock Hawkwind, Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd and Larks Tongues-period King Crimson, but the band manage to put their own slant on things and avoid being too much a product of their influences (bar a few moments of over-zealous worship at the throne of the ‘crazy diamond’).
The songs are fluid and cover a lot of ground, moving (very swiftly indeed at times) between frantic jams and chilled out, mellow whimsy; a case in point is the excellently named opener The Hidden Queen Of The Drone Throne - at one time it is indeed very drone-ish, to the extent that you think the band are about to fall asleep at their instruments, before we suddenly some tight, powerful hard rock riffing – its almost as if one band, too doped up to know what they were doing, are suddenly replaced by a younger, livelier one wired up on caffeine!
Whilst never straying too far from the psychedelic end of the prog rock spectrum, the various songs give a tip of the hat to a number of other, less likely genres. Insanity has an acoustic, folky vibe, at least in its early stages; Tethys Ocean is a krautrock-esque, atmospheric instrumental; The Great Spacecoaster adds a touch of ska-like rhythm to the verses and has a modern power pop chorus, whilst guitarist Mike Elliott overdoses on the wah-wah pedal on Lady Blue.
Occasionally the quirkiness seems at times a little forced, and the changes in tempo and musical style rather jar – Dead Soldier’s Brain, with its ending which seems unrelated to what has gone before and simply tacked on so a bit lying around in the studio could be used, is a case in point. Also the song-writing on the second half of the album is rather patchy when compared with the first – both Alligator and the ‘hidden’ last track (why do bands still do this?) are throwaways that could easily have been left off, whilst the aforementioned Lady Blue could have done with a bit of editing.
That said, this remains a decent first effort that puts a fresh and original spin on a genre that often seems content to wallow in its own past glories. Those looking for music that is a little ‘out there’ but doesn’t sacrifice song structure or melody for whackiness would be well advised to investigate further.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Sideways – Fate
Tracklist: Fate (8:37), Springflower (5:48), Of Hope And Glory (8:27), Phoenix (5:25), Drought (7:36), Waste Of Strain (9:39)
Sideways is a progressive rock band out of Holland whose latest album is Fate. DPRP reviewed their debut album ...And There Is Light in 2006. Their unassuming sound and standoffish mix makes for an easy listen for the more casual musical tastes.
The band consists of Alex Visser (vocals), Gerwin Gabry (guitar), Berry Hoogeveen (drums), Corné Gietman (bass), and Jurrian Visser (keyboards) to combine for a sound that hails primarily from the seventies classic rock recordings.
Much of this music having that classic sound that resembles and goes as far back as Traffic and treads mainly on an unhurried rock sound that incorporates changes throughout the lengthy tracks that range between 5 and 10 minutes.
The production for this disc is second rate. The general sound quality is dull (much like a seventies mix) and that doesn’t help the vocals at all, which are not forward sounding in the first place – almost a nasal Zappa sound but way toned down. When I say “way toned down” please consider that this music isn’t very far from a Country band that tells stories with serenades.
Any modern references to this relatively unknown band would come from perhaps Marillion in-between their better moments. Although that doesn’t come across as much of a compliment, there isn’t much bad to say about this group outside of their general uneventfulness.
My favourite element to this disc is the guitar work which is varied and has some good character. The album finishes with the guitar and synth combining to make a nice spacey psychedelic sound. As it ends my summary is that this is mildly pleasant release but not much more.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Quicksilver Messenger Service - Reunion
CD One: Vera Cruz (1:47), Edward (4:20), Mona (8:52), Pride Of Man (5:26), Steve McQueen (7:14), Gold & Silver (7:34), I Don't Want To Live In Fear (5:24), Bubba Jeans (6:34), Dino's Song (4:42)
CD Two: [Edward The Mad Shirt Grinder] (5:05), What About Me (5:05), Vera Cruz (6:22), Gypsy Lights (6:59), Holiday (6:23), Who Do You Love (8:32), Harp Tree Lament (5:36), Killing Floor (8:03), Close Enough For Jazz (6:24), Smokestack Lightning (9:33)
Reunion was recorded on the 40th Anniversary Quicksilver Celebration in Mill Valley California on 7 June 2006. Reunion is a bit of a misnomer as only two of the original band appear, Gary Duncan (lead guitar and vocals) and David Freiberg (rhythm guitar and vocals, although originally he was the bass player with John Cippolina being the primary guitarist). The other musicians are Prairie Prince (drums), Chris Smith (keyboards), Bobby Vega (bass) and Linda Imperial (vocals), Also present, particularly during Pride Of Man and I Don't Want To Live In Fear although uncredited is Diana Mangano, who along with Prince and Freiberg, is also a member of the latest incarnation of Jefferson Starship. The lack of credit for Mangano is one of several errors that one doesn't normally associate with material released by Voiceprint. For a start the discs are labelled incorrectly, the disc numbers having been transposed, there is a missing 'h' in rhythm in the main credits plus a missing 'n' in Lightning (Smokestack lighting anyone?) More seriously, Edward The Mad Shirt Grinder is missing completely from the start of the second disc with What About Me appearing twice.
These faults aside, what of the music? Well, in my opinion Quicksilver Messenger Service were a poor third in the list of late sixties Bay Area bands, following in the wake of The Grateful Dead and The Jefferson Airplane. However, that is not to imply that they didn't come up with a couple of classic songs of their own. Unfortunately, based on this recording, by 2006 Duncan and Freiberg were trading on past glories as there is nothing on this live album that even comes close to matching the band at their height, particularly when Cippolina was in full flow. The recording suffers from a poor mix with the guitar levels in particular being all over the place. I've never been a fan of the song Mona and the version included here only reinforces my opinion of the somewhat turgid nature of this number. Back in the day, QMS may have been a great Jam band, but there is little evidence of it here, particularly in the uninspired and sometimes tortuous guitar solos. There are a couple of high spots in the first set, both Steve McQueen and Gold And Silver being reasonable, if only in the latter case for some great drum and piano interplay by Prince and Smith, respectively. Indeed, it is these two musicians that really held the most interest for me. I also found Imperial's vocals rather annoying, particularly on I Don't Want To Live In Fear.
The second set starts of in a rather ragged way and again I had issues with Imperial's vocals on Vera Cruz although at least they were in tune, unlike Duncan's lead on Gypsy Lights and Holiday which, frankly are almost too painful to listen to. Smith's piano break during Holiday, and the subsequent guitar solo is a rare moment when things do come together. QMS are largely associated with the song Who Do You Love, as anyone who has heard their signature album Happy Trails will know. Naturally, it is included here and is one of the better numbers on the album, present in a succinct and well-played form. First encore is a rendition of Harp Tree Lament, co-written by Freiberg and The Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. Freiberg's voice has aged better than Duncan's and this acoustic guitar, drum and piano version stand out for that reason. Last three tracks offer some scope for a bit more exploration, particularly by Smith on his piano, although Smokestack Lightning has some really awful wolf howling vocals and once more my dislike of Imperial's vocals makes Close Enough For Jazz a bit of a non starter.
If you are a completist or happened to attend this concert, or one of the others on this tour, then you may consider this album a worthwhile purchase. However, if you are a casual explorer of music and are interested in hearing what Quicksilver Messenger Service are all about then you would be much better served buying Happy Trails or even one of the sixties concerts released by Voiceprint last year (reviewed here).
Conclusion: 3 out of 10 (Rating reduced for poor quality control)