Reviews in this issue:
- Atto IV – Shattered Lines
- Dredg - Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy
- Trigon - 2011
- Pagan’s Mind – Heavenly Ecstasy
- Empty Yard Experiment – Empty Yard Experiment
- The Fierce & The Dead – If It Carries On Like This We Are Moving To Morecambe
- Introvision – 08:36:59
- Phi Yaan-Zek – Dance With The Anima
- MSA Project - Istree
- Ali Ferguson - The Windmills And The Stars
- Michel Lazaro - Vision
- Dimæon – Exit Reality [EP]
Atto IV – Shattered Lines
Tracklist: The Persistence Of Memories (6:31), Bad Dreams (8:00), The Mind's Arabesque – I. A Second (8:12), II. Burning Ashes (3:50), III. Ecce Homo (6:01), In Circle (8:44), The Voyager – I. Dark Earth (4:59), II. Deep Air (7:27), III. Final Truth (2:56)
If you consider a spectrum of styles that runs from Porcupine Tree at one end to Karnivool at the other, then somewhere in between, you’ll find Atto IV. They are a pretty serious and intent looking group of four young Italian men whose look and packaging reeks of ambition. On the strength of Shattered Lines, why the hell not? This band definitely has something going on. There is no end of exciting stuff here to get the blood pumping and the mind engaged. Not an ounce of filler, every track is very well crafted. This is multi-textured, ‘sedimentary’ rock. Each piece moves organically from the sophisticated prog-metal of Redemption through to the more contemporary and difficult to tag stylings of label-mates, Sky Architect, to the melodic and dynamic cartwheeling of Porcupine Tree with fantastic performances sustained throughout. What they are not, as the press release would have us believe, is a contemporary incarnation of PFM or Banco del Mutuo Soccorso in any way, apart from perhaps in the brilliant instrumental trilogy, The Voyager (especially Deep Air). This basks in the long shadows of their countrymen, but Atto IV should be considered as an altogether new proposition.
The production is enormous and highly polished. Valerio Rizzoti seems to be a bit of an Italian Steve Wilson. He plays guitar, sings, wrote most of the music and lyrics and co-produced the album with his band-mates. It doesn’t however come over as some sort of vanity project for Sig. Rizzoti. Just as Steve Wilson has done with Porcupine Tree, Rizzoti has surrounded himself with a group of extremely talented and independently strong musicians. They develop and support the compositional themes with their an impressive array of craft, technique and skill that can shake the rafters, freeze your soul, break your heart, or melt it and have your various limbs twitching and bobbing in time. In a more youthful time, this may have been termed dancing (loosely), but twitching is as close an approximation my sedentary and steadily atrophying physiology can muster these days. Nevertheless, “a day without a twitch is a day wasted”, as the old saying goes. Atto IV provide the necessary means, and then some!
The fact that my air guitar, air bass, air drums and air keyboards were all set up and vigorously employed is testimony to the fact that every facet of the playing is given substance and space in the production. The individual performances are exciting, accessible and dripping with the kind of awe-inducing expertise that often had me shaking my head with incredulity and delighted relish.
So, supporting Rizzoti in Atto IV’s second line-up phase are Nicolo Columbo on bass, whose work is very similar in presence and tone to the brilliant Colin Edwin’s, and this comparison is meant as praise indeed. Perhaps the extremely impressive Dark Earth is where he is most noticeable but that would be to diminish his consistently superb contribution to every track. Christian Moro’s keyboard work is very original and fundamental to the overall sound, sometimes employing a brisk trance pulse, sometimes supporting the riff with industrial-strength lead synths, but he is also understated; ambient and atmospheric rather than Jordan Rudess obtrusive. Nevertheless, he is not averse to ripping a blinding a solo or occasionally heightening the drama of a song with bombastic string and brass orchestrations or a throbbing Hammond. There is subtlety, variety and a host of microdynamics suspended in the keyboard mix and an all-round superb performance. The outstanding Ecce Homo is a bit of a showcase for his versatility and talents as is the involving In Circle. Rounding out the quartet is drummer, Francesco Fabris who is a commendable find. Groove, complexity, solidity, intensity, excellent cymbal work and power are all present in spades but he perhaps falls down a little in the musicality and touch of his playing, he’s about hitting the drums hard and often in interesting ways. However, this is a mere quibble and I’m nit-picking for the sake of it, really.
Lyrically, Rizotti is speaking from a dark and personally tormented space where ash, fog and dulling numbness will provide company for the miserable. He draws us into a context that has no clear explanation, we only know it is a space filled with anguish, regret and a certain amount of self-loathing. This beguiling imprecision is a tad tiresome. I prefer a more open and honest libretto. Somewhere amidst the studied paranoia and neurosis, there’s a utilitarian and convenient language of introspection that doesn’t quite ring true.
This introversion is inverted in the music itself, which is expressive, driven, forthright, hard, and heavy to the point of aggression on occasion, and yet there is something sublime, ecstatic and inspired about it all. Vocally, there is a chink in the armour, but it’s only a chink. Rizotti is not the best singer in the world, but he’s charismatic and the melodies are full of personality which counteracts this weakness. They also seem a little low in the mix to my ears, slightly uncertain as to whether to share themselves fully. Perhaps, but this is a fleeting criticism that does nothing to actually sever one’s connection with the album as a whole. Melodically, you’ll also hear some of Steve Wilson’s phrasing and even some vaguely recognisable PT tunes (most noticeably in A Second which is the single from the album available to download for free from Atto IV’s website). In spite of my own constant comparisons, any accusation of trend-hopping the ever burgeoning popularity of the PT sound would be misleading and unfounded. Atto IV are their own animal, another species along the evolutionary ladder that begins with Porcupine Tree. Shattered Lines will be altogether surprising and unexpected if you listen to it imagining you are going to hear a PT clone.
Shattered Lines is bold, adventurous, and unafraid of taking a few risks. I could go on and on in ever-increasing detail, there is so much to describe and every track is different. However, it would only serve to obscure my point, which is this: if you are a fan of modern Progressive Rock and/or any of the above-mentioned artists, buy this album, you’ll love it. Atto IV are another superb addition to Galileo’s roster and I’m delighted to have had the chance to review their work.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Dredg - Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy
Tracklist: Another Tribe (3:46), Upon Returning (3:50), The Tent (4:46), Somebody Is Laughing (3:31), Down Without A Fight (3:51), The Ornament (4:06), The Thought Of Losing You (3:33), Kalathat (3:22), Sun Goes Down (3:47), Where I'll End Up (3:55), Before It Began (2:58)
Before hearing this album I had never heard of Dredg. DPRP's review of Catch Without Arms tells us that Dredg is "unclassifiable", well, I can certainly agree with that because Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy seems to have a drastic twist in their music. Inbetween Catch Without Arms and Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy they also made the album The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusion on which they made a slight nudge to a different style, but now Dredg make a more drastic turn to more popular/alternative rock rather than progressive. The new music has hints of Muse, BlackField and Coldplay and is much more electronic based music than before and way more poppy. This probably is the result of the producer Dan "The Automator" who also works with The Gorillaz and several hip hop acts.
From the start of the album I immediately liked it, with its very hypnotic keyboard tune. Another Tribe is one of those songs that grabbed me and just wouldn't let go. I've played it countless times and I still like it, especially the hypnotic vocals of Gavin Hayes which really sucked me in. Upon Returning is more up-tempo, with a bit more guitar but still very electronic sounding. After that The Tent is very mellow, again the vocals are really mesmerising and the chorus is something that sticks in your head. Whereas the sound on Somebody Is Laughing contains more guitar but never becomes really heavy.
The only song I really do not like is Down Without A Fight, where the electronic synthesizer sound just irritates me. Although this is immediately put right in the ballad The Ornament which is a very beautiful song. The Thought Of Losing You begins in a very R.E.M. fashion, this is a song with hit potential if you ask me, very poppy, but again I like it. And speaking of hits, I heard a few more on this album, so who knows! Continuing Kalathat is acoustic and sounds very warm and offers a pleasant change to the more electronic orientated tracks from the album.
Sun Goes Down returns to the poppy sound but is a bit more jazzy this time, whereas Where I'll End Up is a bit below the rest in quality, a bit too simple a tune in my opinion and with a dull electronic drum beat that really feels out of place. The album closer Before It Began is very, very, very beautiful with more acoustic instruments and sounding warmer than the electronic stuff. To be honest it would have been nice to have two more of those warmer songs on the album, but I must say that on the whole the balance on this album is pretty good.
As Dredg completely changed their sound on Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy they will probably lose a lot of fans, but then again they will certainly gain a lot - they sure turned me into one. From the starting notes of Another Tribe I was completely hooked and with maybe one slightly less appealing song in Down Without A Fight. The only downside is the total playing time - I just cannot get enough of this music. And and the horrible cover, yikes.
So I suggest you listen to some tracks first because I have read a differing range of reactions to their new sound. You will either like them or hate them, however if you like them then Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy is an album that you will be playing many times for a long time to come.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Trigon - 2011
Tracklist: Peitscht Das Kamel (6:04), Roter Mond (6:02), Spacechick Strikes Back (4:14), Tückischer Tonterror (4:01), Wunder (6:06), Tanzen (5:18), Zensation (4:31), Raff An Dörte (5:06), Herz Der Sonne (5:08), Dekadenz Und Korruption (5:30), Fata Morgana (6:07), Trommeltraum (4:53), Kamasutra Debakel (4:24)
German based power trio Trigon are a band that is seen as Germany’s top jam band and 2011 is their latest release, which from what I can gather is a compilation drawing from their back catalogue. Musically they uniquely classify theirselves as “HeavyZenJazz”, a statement which when broken down into its base form means that this is music which draws on jazz fusion, acid rock, stoner rock, drone and Krautrock.
Trigon are a trio of musicians that have more than adequately displayed that they are neither short of talent, passion or energy. As a unit Trigon is an unknown quantity to me but certainly based upon what I have heard here they are a trio of musicians that more than impressed me having created a style all of their own.
The devil is in the detail and this is an album that has thirteen instrumental tracks that have no recurring musical themes, thirteen uniquely approached vignettes that are highly interesting and full of detail. As each piece passes the excitement just grows. Obviously dynamics and diversity is the order of the day here, we aren’t talking about massive overextended musical ramblings, but clear crisply produced musical productions. The whole process comes across as an exercise in how to manipulate this genre concisely; creating worthy and listenable instrumentals that one would be more than willing to repeatedly return to.
Rainer Lange (guitar), Stefan Lange (bass) and Rudi Metzler (drums) are more than proficient, interacting like a well oiled machine jamming these tracks out without meandering into excessive, over baring musical dalliances which can be associated with this genre. This is music that is honest and full of integrity. The construct and tight musical interactions stands all these individual creations in good stead, never becoming mundane, always challenging the ear pleasantly. They have quite cleverly steered away from falling into the world of guitar masturbation, although the guitar is the predominant choice of instrument, never does it become self-indulgent. Rainer takes into consideration others around him as does Stefan and Rudi when their turns arrive, something that keeps it all fresh and alive which will delight their audience both old and new.
For me the standout tracks here are Spacechick Strikes Back, Tückischer Tonterror, Fata Morgana, Trommeltraum and Kamasutra Debakel, but in all honesty all thirteen tracks are beautifully presented, tracks that work on different levels. Musically as an album this is a very exhilarating ride, a ride that is worth the admission price.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Pagan’s Mind – Heavenly Ecstasy
Tracklist: Contact (0:48), Eyes Of Fire (5:48), Intermission (5:41), Into The Aftermath (5:18), Walk Away In Silence (5:08), Revelation To The End (8:32), Follow Your Way (5:18), Live Your Life Like A Dream (5:55), The Master’s Voice (5:16), When Angels Unite (2:03), Never Walk Alone (6:09)
With Celestial Entrance and Enigmatic: Calling, their second and third albums respectively, Norwegian band Pagan’s Mind created two of my favourite prog metal albums of the last decade. Showing that you can be technically gifted and write lengthy songs full of twists and turns without sacrificing little things like hooks and melodies, these albums still get a spin on a fairly regular basis. If there was one criticism, it would be that Enigmatic: Calling very much followed in the same vein as its predecessor; there wasn’t much evidence of stylistic progression. Perhaps sensing this, the band mixed it up a bit with next offering God’s Equation, a fairly experimental release that tried its hand at a number of styles, within the basic remit of remaining true to the ‘Pagan’s Mind sound’. In my opinion this yielded decidedly mixed results, and as such is not an album I feel compelled to revisit that often. Now, with the release of their fifth album Heavenly Ecstasy, Nils K. Rue and company have in a way gone back to basics; not in that the album feels similar in content to their earlier material, but in that the songs are generally much more straightforward in both concept and execution.
This is illustrated perfectly on first song proper, Eyes Of Fire. The punchy main riff kicks the song off well, although it’s immediately obvious that keyboards are much more to the fore than on previous efforts. Nils K. Rue’s vocals are as powerful as usual, if a little heavy on the effects. The chorus, when it comes, is very straightforward, and almost AOR-like in its catchiness. Guitarist Jorn Viggo Lofstad reels off some typically impressive, tight yet complex series of solos.
There are several other songs in a similar vein (Intermission, the slightly poppy Follow Your Way and more moody, reflective closer Never Walk Alone). Elsewhere, the stately Walk Away In Silence has strong shades of late 80’s/early 90’s Queensrÿche (think Eyes Of A Stranger and you’re in the right ballpark) whilst the rather cheesy but likeable Live Your Life Like A Dream sounds like its title, a mid paced would-be stadium rocker that would have gone down well in the hair-metal era.
Not all of the album is backward-looking, however; Into The Aftermath has more of a modern, slightly edgy feel, whilst The Master’s Voice is an aggressive number which is certainly heavier than most of their material. Those looking for the lengthy prog metal numbers of yore are best directed towards the eight-minute-plus Revelation To The End, although in truth this is no classic, as it has a disjointed feel, not helped by the insertion of an irrelevant bluesy jam section in the middle.
Overall, I’d say that the decision to go for a more melodic power metal sound, as opposed to the prog metal focus of yore, is a partially successful one; there are certainly some strong songs here, and the band once again prove they know how to construct memorable melodies and choruses. Unfortunately, although more consistent and enjoyable than its predecessor, Heavenly Ecstasy is still too hit-and-miss to strongly recommend to those new to the band. If you’re already a fan, you should enjoy it, though be warned – it takes a few spins to sink in.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Empty Yard Experiment – Empty Yard Experiment
Tracklist: Poet (6:32), U (7:47), Nostalgic (7:29), East (7:34), Panaromia Part I (6:53), Panaromia Part II (3:57)
With its beyond-luxury hotels, the United Arab Emirates has become a popular destination for those seeking some holiday sun. It hasn’t been the sort of place you’d go to expand your CD collection. But things may be about to change, with Dubai appearing to be developing a healthy progressive music scene.
At the end of 2010 I enthusiastically reviewed the new album from Absolace. Six months later and DPRP reader André de Boer invites me to check-out another band from Dubai known as Empty Yard Experiment (E.Y.E.) A copy of their new album is promptly forwarded to myself, and I must say it is a darn fine effort.
Founded in 2006, E.Y.E. has apparently created a bit of a reputation for its live shows where the band’s music is expanded with a clever use of conceptual and visual art. Influenced by bands such as Tool, King Crimson, early Pink Floyd and Nine Inch Nails, their music has the body of the western progressive patterns, but the soul comes from the Middle East.
E.Y.E. creates such a diverse and rich soundscape that its music is hard to categorise into a specific sub-genre. Poet, the guitar-driven opening track, moves between acoustic atmospheres and up-tempo Tool-esque guitars. The vocals of Bojan Preradovic are impressive and the bass-line of Kaveh Kashani leads the musical build-up well. The groove reminds me a bit of Abigail's Ghost.
A piano offers a pastoral opening to the next song, U, with the Riverside-esque vocals continuing the mellow dynamic. Gorgin Asadi’s keyboards add some spacey atmosphere whilst the repetitive riff from guitarist Mehdi Gr lays down the central groove.
The Eastern theme is most notable on Nostalgic where some traditional female vocal stylings add depth to an hypnotic rhythm. The guitar takes the lead on East. Here the drums of Sasan Sam add the Middle Eastern vibe.
The band saves its best until last. The two-part Panaromia is my favourite song for the way it evolves so cleverly. The vocals sit perfectly with the music and the use of ambient groove gives it a distinct vibe. A nice, live radio version can be sampled here.
I do find E.Y.E. more effective with this song-based style of music than that of the two songs before which rely a little too much on simple, repetitive riffing for my tastes.
So this is a new discovery that is more than capable of carving out its own unique sound by mixing progressive ideas from the past with a more modern energy and a Middle Eastern twist. If that combination has aroused your interest then this is a very listenable album that is well worth seeking out.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
The Fierce & The Dead – If It Carries On Like This
We Are Moving To Morecambe
Tracklist: Flint (5:29), Part 2 (5:00), The Wait (2:05), H.R. (3:18), Hotel No.6 (2:43), Landcrab (2:00), Daddies Little Helper (4:20), Woodchip (1:56), 10x10 (4:19), Andy Fox (6:09)
Guitarist Matt Stevens has certainly started to make a name for himself in recent months with some high profile solo support slots and festival appearances following on from excellent reviews for his second album, Ghost, which also featured Kev Feazey (bass) and Stuart Marshall (drums) who now join Stevens in The Fierce & The Dead. This is a different entity altogether that formed as a recording experiment intended for Ghost but soon evolved into something else based on improvisations around loose compositions and structures, their debut EP appearing in 2010.
The pieces here, all instrumental, are generally pretty short giving quite a varied listening experience. Most take on the basic structure of solid rhythm around which Stevens’ showers layers of guitar. Flint sees looped guitars building with rhythmic support to form a wall of sound from which the bass emerges followed by an energetic rhythm which is maintained for the remainder of the track. Stevens brings the melody, echoing around with looped backing. Pulsing bass opens Part 2 with Matt’s subtle playing joining to suggest Radiohead. It is repetitive and hypnotic before exploding waves of guitar take it skyward, the rhythm section nail it down allowing Matt to fly. The Wait is a beautiful display of restraint, Stevens’ delicate picking and loops ringing emotion while H.R. is altogether darker, tension building around rising scales until dissonance and noise are unleashed in fine Krimsonesque style.
Hotel No.6 is a brief atmospheric soundscape of colliding guitar textures that restores a feeling of calm that is rudely trampled all over by the rampant Landcrab – Prog with a large dose of Punk, the rhythm pounding and guitar alternating between sheet-metal and probing. Daddies Little Helper gets a ticking, stop/start rhythm with the guitar picking and longer notes spinning around each other. Guest sax from Terry Edwards adds jazziness, Stevens throwing effects around in the background.
Woodchip is another short atmospheric interlude of electronic sounds before probably the stand-out track, 10x10, with urgent bass, steady drums and criss-crossing guitar lines that remind me of Battles. The trio stretch out here and put together a great piece that moves easily through a number of changes. Andy Fox starts small with electronic sounds before sinister slow-burn piano, tension ratcheting up with stabs of guitar. Sax again adds another dimension before the dam finally bursts. This is an excellent finale and more of this would bode well for the next album.
Overall this is a very promising album that reveals itself over a number of spins. For me the rhythm section are a bit 2-dimensional but it works for the music so no real complaints there. Steven’s is the ace in the pack, his ability and invention lifting the material. Well worth a listen for anyone already familiar with Stevens’ work and also for those who like experimental guitar textures with a Post-rock vibe.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Introvision – 08:36:59
Tracklist: Momentum (10:13), Endo (10:47), La Tiera De Nadie (6:51), Desenfreno (7:27), Reencarnaciones (10:24), Nivulocartro (5:10), 08:36:59/El Umbral De La Liberacion Interior (16:56), La Hoguera (9:43)
Costa Rica is not renowned as a hotbed of musical experimentation but if they have any other bands over there like Introvision I’d like to hear about it! This debut album from Marcos Solano (guitar), Andrés Corrales (keys), Michael Muñoz (bass), Mauricio Delgado (drums) and Will Acuña (voice & guitar) shows a whole multitude of influences wrapped up in this very entertaining package. Classic prog and metal, jazz, electronica and folk/traditional feature but it is the way that it is all put together that makes for a striking and refreshing listen.
Introvision are not ones for brevity and all of the tracks flow to a natural and sometimes lengthy conclusion, taking in many interesting detours on the way but this is certainly no jam band. There is discipline, attention to detail and maturity and the last thing that you could call this album is “samey”. Mostly instrumental with Spanish vocals on several tracks, no translation is given so I won’t dwell on the lyrics other than to say that Acuña delivers them well, his voice at times fragile but capable of power. The playing is very good with particular mention to Solano soaring out in front and Delgado who drives everything along nicely and keeps it interesting. Throughout fragments sound like other artists but put together there is a distinctly unique sound with power, melody and a tendency to use the trusty Hammond in places where it doesn’t often travel.
Out of the traps there is a distinct Hawkwind spaciness, chugging guitars with metal attack and the Hammond is a surprise. There is a modern sound to this with hints of old school prog. The track explodes with convoluted keys and excellent guitar and rhythm work, there are smooth changes through numerous sections and feels. As a scene setter this certainly gets the listener sitting up and taking notice; Momentum? They ain’t kidding!
Endo opens acoustically with a delicate vocal and distant suggestion of Hotel California. Keys build and the vocal becomes more sinister, the track moving on to incorporate driving melodic passages before slowing and changing with sweeps of synth and acoustic guitar with hints of Pink Floyd, the conclusion being a long drawn out instrumental piece in its own right.
La Tiera De Nadie at first appears disjointed, bookended by garbled spoken and electronic sounds but the track itself combines South (Central?) American rhythm and threatening guitar building to a metallic onslaught with a more direct vocal. Porcupine Tree influences are added to the pot and this track really flies when it gets going. The melodic piano and uplifting vocal intro of Desenfreno moves into a sweeping synth led section before a step-change into prog madness with fiddly keys, variegated rhythms and spiky guitar. This track showcases how eclectic Introvision can be at their most audacious.
Reencarnaciones is an articulate and fiery display of musical firepower reminiscent of Spock’s Beard in places, hammering drums driving the tempos all over the place with jazz and ethnic rhythms playing their part. Pulsing bass introduces a haunted vocal near the end which builds on soaring guitar to a swirling Hammond crescendo. Nivulocartro sees some Alex Lifeson in the guitar with time changes, busy bass and keys hinting of Marillion. There’s some lovely organ and driving metal with flourishing keys in this massively varied instrumental that manages to be both intricate and majestic.
Another lengthy instrumental, 08:36:59/El Umbral De La Liberacion Interior, comes in on a wave of energy with pounding drums and urgent keys. After a quieter piano section the pace increases, quality Hammond and guitar suggesting Santana. Chunky guitar and mayhem ensues with super drums and there’s some Zappa influence in the interplay culminating in a powerful melody with piano to an uplifting conclusion. La Hoguera keeps it low-key in the acoustic intro with jazz piano, brushed snare and a lovely vocal from Acuña. Additional flute gives a lighter feel than much of what has gone before, quite Camel like with a Latin edge. There’s a wordless guest female vocal which builds to an epic finale before falling away with a looped guitar outro.
From the liner notes it appears that the kitchen sink was not included in the making of this album. I have my doubts. The sound quality is very good and Introvision should be destined for great things if there’s any justice. More power to them and I hope they get a decent hearing. They have the chops, the attitude and the sounds added to a very unusual amalgamation of material that is imaginative, diverse and listenable. 08:36:59 has so much going on that it takes several good long listens to get your head round it. Energy crackles out of the speakers in often breathtaking fashion. There is something here for fans of the old and the new from a young band with a great deal of maturity.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Phi Yaan-Zek – Dance With The Anima
Tracklist: Adventures In Myth (3:36), Midnight Tryst (2:12), Ecstasies Of The Starlight Self (1:51), Lallejee’s Animatronics (1:18), Inamorata In Peril Part 1 (4:04), Dirt Under The Fingernails (1:10), Twisted To The 7th Degree Off Starboard (1:57), Four Daughters Of Phrygia (5:38), Inner Constellations Of Feeling (1:48), Melodies Of Me (2:45), Mariana’s Guide To The Deep (2:46), Signposts (0:44), Dance With The Anima (3:44), The Tactile Ones (1:08), Syncro-Gnostic Mirrorball Gyrations (0:39), Melodies Of Me Too (1:55), Jade Fluid (1:20), Maid With Spanish Fly (2:29), Precipices (2:25), Inamorata In Peril Part 2 (2:39), Flying With Intensity (3:02), A Healing Of Shattered Hearts (1:30)
Dance With The Anima from composer/guitarist Phi Yaan-Zek is an album of a special kind, a sort of film sound track played over a 51 minute long drum solo by none other than Marco Minnemann. This album forms part of a series of albums from various composers/musicians like Phi Yaan-Zek. Marco Minnemann challenged them to compose music over the "drum solo" he had played and as you can imagine every musician/composer came up with different ideas, themes and songs to record on top of such a solo. Recently fellow DPRPer Geoff Feakes reviewed Trey Gunn's take on this prject and here you read his review of Modulator.
Participants on this album are of course Marco Minnemann on drums, Lalle Larson on keyboards and Phi Yaan-Zek on guitar, bass, percussion, some of the less challenging keyboards as well as voices and primal screams. Also present a few special collaborators: Ola Olsson on flugelhorn & trumpets, Gary Compton on harmonica and primal screams, Amandine Ferrari choral vocals and "The Elves of Richmond Park" additional vocals.
As I already wrote the idea or concept behind all this beautiful music lays with Marco Minnemann, who had an idea which he called the Normalizer 2 Project. Almost from the beginning he was surrounded by a breed of fantastic musicians all wanting to be a part of the project. However one criteria was that no one was to listen to each other’s effort, therefore keeping this as original as possible.
This here is Phi Yaan-Zek’s approach to the "drum solo", creating music to the sound of the drums and an exciting journey it has become. Unbelievable musicality is displayed by all involved and listening to the music it is hard to imagine that the drum track that Minnemann laid down is the basis for the compositional idea’s of Phi Yaan-Zek. Obviously you need a huge imagination as a musician to be able to compose music to just a drum track. Everyone will hear different things and will go different ways with their music.
Yaan-Zek came up with 22 pieces of music for the 51 minute duration of the piece making the average length just 2.5 minutes. The album needs to grow on you as it covers a full blown spectrum of music, from being jazzy it goes to more bluesier pieces and ventures into more metal areas. All beautifully orchestrated and with magnificent guitar work.
Some unexpected twists make the album even more exciting to listen to. The harmonica playing in Dirt Under Your Fingernails is fabulous. The additional horn section in Signpost just gives that extra touch. The almost classical sounding piano in Lallejee’s Animatronics is just awesome. I have listened to the album several times now and I hear new things every time I listen to it. There are hints and pointers towards lots of films and TV series to be noticed along the way to.
Dance With The Anima is a great effort and a pleasure to listen to. It is not your every day music and certainly a little hard to digest on first play, but once it wins you over, your hooked. Excellent freestyle music.
Having listened to this part of the Normalizer 2 Project I am now very eager to listen to the other already finished projects as well. It will simply be amazing to see what the other musicians have come up with.
The Phi Yaan-Zek's effort is a must have album for those among us that love the more jazzier, freestyle music. Believe me it is absolutely awesome music.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
MSA Project - Istree
Tracklist: Beginnings And Endings (2:12), Masquerade (4:36), Chant Of The Lost Mariner (5:16), Rebellion On Planet V (3:57), Space Mountain (5:08), Eternal Istree (4:44), Evenodds (5:14), Birth Of A New Myth (5:38), Shadows In The Storm (5:30), In This City Tonight (4:04), Like The Wind (5:24), The Wanderer (5:04), The Leak In Space And Time (5:01), Two Thrones (4:24), Endings And Beginnings (3:11)
Rock, Prog, Sci Fi and Concept albums are all items that float in perfect harmony when done right. MSA Project has released this album Istree, an album which houses these ideas. The concept though is neither linear nor thematic; it is like listening to a musical Sci Fi TV show, each song representing a different episode so to speak, each song telling a different story, but being a piece of the jigsaw puzzle. The beauty of this idea is that the songs stand on their own two feet, which allows you to jump in and around the album without you wondering what is going on.
What is also notable about this album is its quality, its melodic approach which stunningly makes the music standout. Some of the influences that you can hear within the musical structure includes the likes of Rush, Van Halen and Iron Maiden. For the purists out there, don’t be put off by this, be under no illusions this is high quality music.
The band were born out of a chance meeting of two musicians, multi-instrumentalist Serge Barbaro, Michel Fontes and a lyricist Alex S. Garcia who is the gentleman who brought the SF approach to the table.
It could be easy to dismiss or overlook this album, but it does offer a bubbling, bewitching cauldron of musical entertainment, with each individual participant revelling in their own respective instruments. This is certainly a group that has a deep love and belief in what they have created.
From the story opener the narration sets the scene as each individual song builds its own identity in an episodic approach. From there on in the style and class that is MSA Project is there for all to hear, the band have built melodic and memorable tunes that bounce around your head. An album that is full of sublime guitar interludes, strong and rhythmic passages that the lead is allowed to straddle and build up on, that has the music sounding like it could skirt the genre of AOR/Melodic rock at times. Vocally the album is strong too, which for me displays that these guys have a very good understanding of song structure.
Atmospherically each song has been dynamically built differently, no repeating musical prose. Listening to songs like Chant Of The Lost Mariner, Rebellion On Planet V, Evenodds, and Birth Of A New Myth only confirms all this.
There are some generic rock approaches interwoven throughout, but on balance when placed side by side with the complete and finished package, they only heighten the listening experience.
The smart move too is that the whole concept could be huge allowing MSA Project and avenue to develop if those so desired, but one feels that this may detract from their initial thoughts and possibly cheapen the whole experience.
The artwork and production of the album is outstanding; the right balance has been found and manipulated; the musical punctuations comes to the front as and when required, adding dramatic effect, then nonchalantly falls back into line without any fuss, working in unison without being overwhelming, giving it that added depth.
I’m not saying that Istree is a life changing album, but what I will say is that it is an album full of creative, convincing, melodic music for you as the listener to enjoy. An experience you will enjoy if you love this genre.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Ali Ferguson - The Windmills And The Stars
Tracklist: Hidden Instruments (6:14), Coincidence Is No Accident (5:31), A Child's Song (6:37), Flickering Golden (4:55), Awakening [The Stars] (5:34), In Morning Sky (6:52), Bending Bullets, Breaking Falls (5:52), The Windmills (7:15)
Last month we received an email from Scotsman Ali Ferguson asking if we would kindly mention the release of his debut solo album in the DPRP News Blog. Always one to oblige, the article was duly posted and while I was at Ali's Bandcamp site I pressed the play button on the opening track Hidden Instruments - I was pleased with what I heard, so I listened on...
However before I move on to the music perhaps the briefest of intros to Ali Ferguson, a name I am sure will be unfamiliar to many. Although a familiar name to those who have seen Ray Wilson's band as Ali is the guitarist for said band. On The Windmills And The Stars Ali undertakes the vocal duties along with the guitars, keys, bass and programming. He is joined by Chris Agnew (bass), Liam Saunders (keys), Lawrie Macmillan (bass) and Kim Shepherd (backing vocals).
So what did I hear on track one of The Windmills And The Stars that prompted me to keep listening. Well the slow and gradual build-up of Hidden Instruments "echoes" one of Ali's primary influences and that of Dave Gilmour and Pink Floyd. At just over six minutes the track develops nicely, adding in delicate and subtle changes, always building in intensity, but never reaching anything remotely aggressive. With spoken words acting as a backdrop to the music, the overlaying some Gilmour-esque phrasings and those six minutes pass by very quickly. Listen on...
Coincidence Is No Accident has a catchy chorus over a strong rhythm. Perhaps as good a time to mention that there are no "real" drums to be found on The Windmills And The Stars, however as the programmed versions don't attempt particularly try to sound like real drummer, but more like loops, so the overall effect is good one. The laid-back vibe continues with A Child's Song which in turn boasts a memorable vocal hook. A lush bed of keys act as the backdrop for the wispish synths and a subtle guitar break that take the song to its conclusion. Oh and some Strawberry Fields-like mellotron conclude.
Flickering Golden brings a more Peter Gabriel-esque world music vibe to the proceedings with a solid backbeat, a driving bass section and again another one of those catchy, but not in your face, choruses. Subtle natural sounds along with ambient, delayed and reverb drenched guitar creates the mood for Awakening [The Stars]. A female narration lies subtly underneath this floating carpet of sound and once again some Gilmour-esque licks to add the finishing touches.
Neatly picked guitar and catchy, warm vocals are the order of the day for In Morning Sky and with the blend between Ali Ferguson and Kim Shepherd's voices working really well. Again a track that builds and builds slowly revealing all of its subtle layers, finally around the four minute mark bursting out into a great melodic solo. Bending Bullets, Breaking Falls although a different song displays many of those traits found in the preceding track. Again light synth sounds pre-empt another befitting solo. Closing track The Windmills is a haunting piece. Again we have a delicate foundation of strings, windsound and narration. Circa two minutes in and for all Floyd fans - you will wish you were here, listening to these familiar bluesy licks. Sitar and jungle sounds take us to the final notes...
Below is the descriptor from Ali Ferguson's website:
“Featuring ambient ‘found sounds’, birdsong, samples, distorted drumloops, Floyd-esque guitar and vocals, Ali hopes the album will act as an atmospheric soundtrack to the films in your head…”
Having sat with this album now through several detailed listening sessions I feel the above statement is quite appropriate, although initially it didn't quite entice me in. Whilst ambient in nature the music is always engaging and is never really allowed to drift aimlessly. There is also good variation between the tracks and as mentioned the vocal melodies are good and the guitar playing a joy. Fans of the aforementioned Mr Gilmour will find much here, but also guys like Hackett, Blug, Cyrka, Rotherey and Latimer also enter the fray. The samples and/or ‘found sounds’ are tastefully mixed in and therefore not a distraction. I'd probably go as far as to say there isn't a bad track on Windmills. As a starting point try In Morning Sky, Hidden Instruments and/or A Child's Song.
An album that stands up to repeated listens, close scrutiny and also a nice backdrop to the end of the day.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Michel Lazaro - Vision
Tracklist: Demòri (2:12), Vision (6:38), Quest For The Glory (4:45), Sun (3:43), Destiny (5:51), Heaven In Hell Part I (0:56), Heaven In Hell Part II (4:26), Epilogue (1:33), 1118 (5:44), Stone Temple (3:10), Morpheus Son (6:54), Colour Of Spring (3:54), Outro (1:46)
Michel Lazaro is an accomplished pianist who is credited as the main artist here but besides him a significant part of the work on Vision is done by Stéphane Deriau-Reine. The two met back in 1994 and the songs from the album were written during a period between 1999 and 2010 and in thosee scarce moments of spare time left due to their own musical careers. The style of music is presented on this CD is melodic rock and AOR with Lazaro doing various keys whilst the keyboard programming is done by Stéphane Deriau-Reine. They are ably assisted by well known artists like keyboard player Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), drummer Mel Gaynor (Simple Minds) and bass player Uriah Duffy (Whitesnake).
Demòri is a nice piano instrumental opener, which takes us into the title track - a very straight forward progressive rock song in the vein of of Wetton/Downes. The lead vocals of Yan Fab, who sings on each non instrumental track, are easy to digest, not really intense and a voice that suits the music. Vision is not a real grabber, but it has more interesting parts than just your standard rock song. Quest For The Glory has a more catchy chorus, and here I must say that the balance turns a bit more to the standard rock song. Sun sounds a bit strange at the beginning, more up-tempo, up-beat but turns out to be a very nice song. Like Vision it has just that little bit more than the standard stuff, although the piano sound of Lazaro himself has been put a bit aside.
Destiny is a ballad that opens with Lazaro's piano and with Yan Lab singing soulfully, but he kind of twists his voice at times. The heavy guitar is not soulfully though and should have been put more to the background, or even replaced by an acoustic guitar! The end of the song is more convincing but I still think a better choice of instruments, and a better mix, could have made it so much stronger. Heaven In Hell Part I is the piano intro to Part II. Now we have some music, with the keyboard solo performed by guest musician Jordan Rudess but he alone does not lift the level and overall this song is just better than the rest, but not great!
From Epilogue to Outro - the last part of the album is in the form of an epic: 1118 is full of drama but here is where Fab's voice is not really powerful enough - although the piece features a nice guitar solo. Stone Temple on the other hand is a great instrumental track with lots of twists and turns. Morpheus Son sounds again like Wetton/Downes, with a slight oriental flavour to the parts. Concluding is Colour Of Spring and again a fairly standard rock song and a bit out of place. All in all a nice track but put together as an epic - it does not really unfold very well.
Though written over a lengthy period of time the album still sounds cohesive and in general Vision is a decent album with nice songs and good musicianship. Although the best track on the album, Heaven In Hell, features the most well know guest in Jordan Rudess. A few songs are a bit below average and, apart from Heaven In Hell, the rest is pretty descent - therefore this album is not a flawed effort but it is not a real gem either. I will return to this album in the future but I will not remember this one as being a real killer. If you like melodic rock and AOR then you may well like this album, but it will unlikely blow you away.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Dimæon – Exit Reality [EP]
Tracklist: Blood Of Millions (4:37), Terra (10:12), Aeon (8:45)
Dimæon are a five piece outfit hailing from the Netherlands. They describe this EP as something of a stepping-stone, showcasing the band’s style up to now on the two lengthier tracks, and the more direct style they say they will be employing on their forthcoming full length album on the opener.
Said opener, Blood Of Millions, combines the technical, complex metal guitar work reminiscent of the likes of Meshuggah and Textures (and currently enjoying some degree of popularity under the term ‘djent’) with a more basic melodic death metal approach. Although the song isn’t particularly memorable, it has a good pulsing forward momentum about it, and switches seamlessly between its different sections.
Terra is altogether more epic in scope, drifting from gentle acoustic strumming to symphonic overtures to full-on technical death metal. Vocalist Ferdinand switches between clean and growled vocals; he certainly seems more comfortable in the latter mode. The mid-section of the song reminded me very much of Opeth’s Deliverance. All told, this has some impressive moments, although the song itself seems rather disjointed with no real centre to hold it together.
The final track Aeon is a similarly lengthy piece, with perhaps a darker edge than Terra. Although it is less eventful than the previous track, it feels more of a complete entity. Showing their willingness to experiment, Dimæon even chuck in a passable impression of Scandinavian folk metal towards the end of the song.
Overall, this EP shows Dimæon to be a promising band who haven’t quite settled on their sound, or truly honed their songwriting chops, just yet. But there’s certainly enough here to suggest that they are band worth looking out for in the future if heavy, technical progressive metal is your bag.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10