Reviews in this issue:
- Brighteye Brison ~ The Magician Chronicles - Part I
- Dec Burke - Paradigms And Storylines
- Jack Bruce – Out Of The Storm
- D’Accord – Helike
- Bravo Johnson - Come Taste The Sun
- Bruce Main – Swimming In The Pixel Sea
- Ian Narcisi - Weight Of The Word
- Ian Narcisi - Feel No Evil [EP]
- Ian Narcisi - Phone Call To Infinity [EP]
- Nick Riff - The Universe Is Mental
- Fernando Refay - The Paradox
- Cynthesis - DeEvolution
Brighteye Brison ~ The Magician Chronicles - Part I
Tracklist: The Rise Of Brighteye Brison (23:05), The Magician's Cave (12:18), Mind Fire Menace (8:24)
Unquestionably one of my favourite albums of 2008 was Believers & Deceivers by Brighteye Brison although in hindsight I neglected to score it as highly as it deserved in my otherwise enthusiastic review. For me it had all the requisite ingredients for a great prog album (memorable tunes, superb arrangements, strong vocals, stellar musicianship) and as a result I was delighted to find the same line-up fully intact for this latest release. For the record they are Linus Kåse (keyboards, saxophone, vocals), Per Hallman (keyboards, vocals), Kristofer Eng (bass, theremin, accordion, vocals), Johan Öijen (guitars) and Erik Hammarström (drums).
The opening section of my review for Believers & Deceivers provides a concise history of the band up to that point and the only addition I would make is that this latest album is their fourth to date. To summarise their style they are in the grand tradition of Swedish bands like The Flower Kings, Ritual, Beardfish and Moon Safari producing contemporary prog with a cutting edge whilst tipping their hats to the classic music of the past. And like Moon Safari, Brighteye Brison add a touch of American gloss courtesy of lush vocal arrangements. Similar to its predecessor the band have kept the number of tracks on The Magician Chronicles to a minimum with a total playing time of less than 45 minutes although content wise the album is wide and varied with plenty for the prog connoisseur to savour.
The album’s main piece The Rise Of Brighteye Brison is not as the title would suggest a history of the band, it is in fact an eleven part suite based on the mythical character that originally appeared on 2006’s Stories album. Written by keyboardist Linus Kåse, this sci-fi fantasy has similarities to Jon Anderson’s Olias Of Sunhillow whilst musically Yes are regularly brought to mind. In fact the opening song is very reminiscent of Yours Is No Disgrace complete with Tony Kaye style organ chords although the rhythmic intro is a dead ringer for UK’s In The Dead Of Night. As the saga develops the full harmonies are evocative of early Yes underpinned by organ and piano with lively sax playing adding a fresh edge. There is also a reoccurring, urgent guitar riff that is practically identical to Then Jerico’s Big Area. A baroque and choppy vocal and organ section sounds very Gentle Giant as does the nimble piano and classical guitar sequence that follows. A gothic element complete with Opeth style growls is an expected twist followed by a fast and tricky synth led instrumental that blends in nicely without sounding like its flash for flash sake despite the impromptu drum solo. A lazy sax led interlude with lilting piano provides a respite before the return of the Yes style massed voices broken only by gentle piano and mellotron before the soaring choral coda to end on a sentimental but uplifting high.
The Magician's Cave composed by bassist Kristofer Eng picks up the story although musically it’s less tightly structured. This is clear from the outset with an intro that this time owes a debt to ELP’s Pictures At An Exhibition with statacco organ and drum volleys. There is some excellent drums and bass work here complemented by the rhythmic organ although I’m less sure about the call and response vocal parts which are not as strong as when the band sings in unison. I could also easily do without the narrated section that follows although fortunately the spoken voices soon give way to a compelling jazz guitar riff and a showy, blues solo. A sensual and jazzy sax solo takes over around the midway point which in turn gives way to a tricky instrumental and vocal section which put me in find of fellow Swedes Ritual. An understated piano motif builds steadily with a majestic synth line and a haunting Morricone style wordless chant which grows to a peak before subsiding to leave a stark organ pulse to play out.
Of the three pieces here, the concluding Mind Fire Menace (again written by Kåse) is the track that comes closes to a traditional song format. An uplifting guitar and keys theme serves as the introduction to massed voices and a memorable, buoyant vocal hook. The upbeat, mid-tempo arrangement is reminiscent of the opening song to The Rise Of Brighteye Brison and the album. It takes in some lively instrumental parts with ringing guitar and a particularly fine, noodly synth break. The addictive chiming of tubular bells provides a mellow but satisfying conclusion.
The album title suggests that there will be further instalments to the story but for now The Magician Chronicles - Part I is here to savour providing a worthy successor to Believers & Deceivers. That said I didn’t perhaps find it quite as compelling as its predecessor but that may well be a case of familiarity breeding complacency on my part. Either way this is a highly enjoyable album and confirms Brighteye Brison as one of Sweden’s best exports despite there being a plethora of excellent prog acts emanating from that part of the world.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Dec Burke - Paradigms And Storylines
Tracklist: Days Like These (6:39), March Of The Androids (5:15), A Price For Life (7:13), The River (5:56), Yesterday’s Fool (6:40), December Sun (7:23), Paradigms And Storylines (17:10)
Frost*, Darwin’s Radio and now his self named band Dec Burke. Dec is a man of many talents and has gifted his fans old and new with Paradigms And Storylines his second album, a fitting follow up to his fantastic debut Destroy All Monsters.
As an artist he is not one to beat around the bush, quality is his agenda and philosophy, rewarding his listener with varying sonic approaches, musical relationships that wash over you like tidal waves that cleanses the palette and readies you for the next interaction.
Paradigms And Storylines as an album is full of power, whether the presentation is electric, acoustic or electronically inflected. His musical approach pulls at the heart strings throwing rockers, ballads and epic songs into the mix from varying directions. Having originally started out playing keyboards and then moving on to guitar, and what a guitarist he is, something that has stood him in good stead, which for me has allowed him to really understand the mechanics of constructing good songs. To compliment all this as if it weren’t enough is his vocal presentations/arrangements which really does add that final ingredient.
His band of musicians that join him here are Carl Westholm (keyboard and keyboard arrangements), Mikael Wikman (drums and drum loops), Cia Backman (backing vocals) and Stefan Fandien (fretted and fretless bass, fretless e-bow and additional guitars) putting the final dressing on the cake.
Where as Destroy All Monsters had dalliances with the pop end, nay that should be the commercial end of the prog genre, Paradigms And Storylines approach has a darker and heavier framework all though it isn’t a million miles away as a reference point displaying a definite growth and maturity.
The opening Days Like These really delivers a fine entrance into his world, a fascinating and forceful accession that is bettered as each track works it way out of the Hi-Fi reassuring and confirming his commitment to deliver time after time. The melodic soirees are definitely worth waiting for, acceptances that leave a warm and glowing feeling inside your soul and mind.
The guitars poke and prod you as Dec weaves his magic, one minute sedate the next crescendos, pulsating power-chords, tight rhythmic passages that are filled by a musician who knows how to work the fret board with maximum efficiency allaying those perfect results that calm and pacify as well as excite.
Although for the most part the guitars are the predominant choice of approach, the keyboard interactions stamp their authority too as with emotively presented The River, a layered and dextrous masterstroke.
The lyrical semblance may only be transitory during these seven acts, creating scenes, but in all honesty that is the function of their positioning, existing for a short time, the cleverness is more in the memorability of their passing which is more than noticeable on Yesterday’s Fool and the album closer Paradigms And Storylines which are performed to perfection and are musically punctuated accordingly, meter and timbres to die for that demand your full attention.
Paradigm And Storylines may be a clever metaphor for an illustrative parable or fable referring to a class of elements with similarities, metaphors that are dark, being punctuated with stunning musicality, the way it should be done, but on balance as an album it isn’t so much an album that knocks at the door waiting to be invited in, it’s more of a case of letting oneself in and making itself at home. Stunning stuff indeed!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Jack Bruce – Out Of The Storm
Tracklist: Pieces Of Mind (5:32), Golden Days (5:05), Running Through Our Hands (4:09), Keep On Wondering (3:08), Keep It Down (3:43), Into The Storm (4:40), One (4:57), Timeslip (6:30) Bonus Tracks [alternate mixes of] Keep It Down (3:34), Keep On Wondering (3:15), Into The Storm (4:26), Peaces Of Mind (5:42), One (4:57)
In my mind Jack Bruce’s post Cream career in terms of creativity has eclipsed that of his far more commercially successful former colleague Eric Clapton, and Out Of The Storm is just one example in a long and varied output that contributes to proving the point.
Emerging from the recently folded West Bruce & Laing, Jack reformed his partnership with Pete Brown to write some of the most personal songs of his career as a means of catharsis after the excesses of the West Bruce & Laing years – out of the storm indeed! Lines like “Days spending time, outside the place of laughter” give an indication, but that’s not to say it’s all doom and gloom, for there are songs of affirmation too, Into The Storm being a prime example.
Polyrhythmic, and covering a whole gamut of styles, Jack plays everything on the album bar the guitars and drums, ably contributed by session men Steve Hunter and the two Jims, Keltner and Gordon respectively. According to the liner notes Keltner couldn’t cope with the more difficult jazz based rhythms so Gordon was drafted in to complete some of the drum parts. Hunter largely and perhaps wisely keeps the soloing to a minimum but shows on the superb Timeslip that he is no slouch, blasting out some tremendous runs which fade out way too soon at the end of the song. Jack’s wonderfully distinctive swooping voice is as good as ever, and to my ears seems to fill a space somewhere between Buckley Snr and Jnr and Scott Walker, and is an instrument in its own right.
As well as his usual superb bass playing, Jack contributes a variety of keyboards, and some particularly fine ivory tinkling features on opener Pieces Of Mind, a song with many time changes that exudes a suitably dramatic atmosphere, setting the scene nicely for the rest of the album.
One must rate as one of Jack’s best ballads, reminiscent in places of We’re Going Wrong but with a more upbeat chorus and Jack’s singing on this song and the other ballad Golden Days is of the highest order, the pure emotion expressed tugging at the heartstrings. Following Golden Days is the spooky atmospherics of Running Through Our Hands, another album highlight. Jack gets to blow his mouth harp on the funky Keep On Wondering and the funk groove slows and rocks out on the heavy R&B of Keep It Down where Jack’s fluid bass runs come to the fore at the end of the song.
This multi-course musical feast that we have enjoyed on Out Of The Storm continues Esoteric’s excellent series of remasters, and this album together with Songs For A Tailor and Harmony Row form a trilogy of excellence from Jack Bruce that sounds as fresh today as it did 40 years ago. For anyone unfamiliar with Jack’s solo output, those three are as good a place to start as any, so, you good folk at Esoteric, how about updating the other two then?
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
D’Accord – Helike
Tracklist: Helike Part 1 (20:44), Helike Part 2 (23:30)
D’Accord are a Norwegian prog band who release their second album Helike. The band was formed in early 2008 and consists of Daniel Maage (vocals, flute, etc), Arstein “Yearstone” Tislevoll (keyboards), Martin Sjoen (bass), Bjarte Rossehaug (drums), Stig Are Sund (guitar) and Fredrik Horn (keyboards). Their debut album D’Accord was released in 2009 and received numerous good reviews (although somewhat overlooked by DPRP). The album showed a fondness for the great bands from the seventies like Jethro Tull, Focus and, to a lesser extent Genesis and King Crimson. The album was characterized by flute and Hammond parts combined with the rock voice of Maage. It was a very self assured sounding album. And although the album wasn’t at all bad it had, in my opinion, one problem. The two long tracks that bookended the album showed to me a lack of depth in melody and musical ideas. And that was probably the reason that after an initial enthusiastic reaction on my part the album started to wane pretty quickly. And now for their second album D’Accord have gone even more ambitious writing an album about the city of Atlantis. They chose to do this via two long songs called Helike Parts 1 and 2. A bit like Jethro Tull's Thick As A Brick and A Passion Play or Mike Oldfield. Musically however there is very little Mike Oldfield to be heard on this album.
I must say that the album starts of nicely enough with lots of woodwinds (they sound very real and are featured throughout the album) and especially flute. You can hear that D’Accord toured with Focus. But also the vocals throughout the album are good. I don’t think that Maage has a very strong voice but D’Accord use a lot of vocal harmonies (male and female) which sound nice enough. Maage’s voice does sound a bit strained during the louder sections. There are also some slightly bluesy Greenslade influences you don’t hear very often these days. There is also nothing wrong with the musicianship. Lots of nice, fluent and sometimes aggressive guitar soloing from Sund. Especially in Part 2 he has a long solo spot. Lots of piano and Hammond to be heard.
There is a focus on the analog sounds of the seventies. But if you want to hear the difference between a good mellotron and a poorly recorded (sampled?) mellotron just listen to Epitaph by King Crimson first and then play D’Accord's attempt to re-create that same atmosphere nine minutes into Part 2. However; the amounts of time I’ve said the word “nice” also lays bare the albums weakness. It’s nice but hardly ever fantastic or excellent. The album is a pleasant listen and a step up from the debut album but it still fails to leave a lasting impression. There are parts that just drag on for too long and build ups that do not lead anywhere. So although I applaud the bravery of the band to release such an ambitious album and there is nothing at all wrong with the musicianship of the band, I fear that, to me, they did not succeed entirely.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Bravo Johnson - Come Taste The Sun
Tracklist: Spell (6:01), Hopper/Fonda (3:32), Bird (4:31), Magnolia (4:42), Burnt (5:33), Dime (2:58), EZ Chain (3:07), Ship (4:25), Sun Song (2:48), Run (9:42), Something LS (3:23), Sway (3:10)
Come Taste The Sun is the third album from American songwriter, singer, guitarist and keyboard player Bravo Johnson. After two albums of rootsy Americana in the vein of early Wilco Johnson, has branched out on his third album to encompass a more classic rock sound with some dashes of psychedelia. Accompanying Johnson on this release is Hendrik Roever on guitar, dobro, banjo and slide, Oscar Duke on bass and Iñaki Garcia on drums. The press release for the album is full of hyperbole ('the metaphysical furniture of modern life' anyone?) that essentially states the album is a throwback to the classic sounds of the late '60s/early '70s mixed in with the style of modern jam bands, a description that I take issue with. But let's not start off on a negative note because although the categorisation may be off, the music holds a lot of originality.
The overriding impression is a mixture of the Tom Petty, whom Johnson at times does sound remarkably like, with elements of Neil Young. These characteristics are exemplified, respectively, in the first two songs from the album, with the excellent Spell making great use of Hammond organ and an uncredited female backing vocalist, and Hopper/Fonda having the gritty guitar sound of Mr. Young. The Americana roots of the band are evident throughout the album, particularly on such songs as Magnolia and Dime, a languid almost dirge with atmospheric slide guitar and a chorus of a "dancing bear on a dime". Disappointingly, this latter track, as well as others like Bird and Sun Song fade out all too quickly just as the promise of something interesting developing becomes evident. Perhaps in concert these numbers are extended to provide the jam band comparisons but on the album the fadeouts sound rather misjudged.
Things get more upbeat with EZ Chain with a nice guitar line and, once more, well placed feminine backing vocals. Although Ship does feature a more open instrumental section, as it mainly feature congas it is not all that interesting. Something LS (the LS being a horrible and superfluous abbreviation of 'else') effectively combines Wurlitzer and guitar, with the slide guitar once again adding a more mellow vibe to Sway. And that leaves just Run, a totally different kettle of fish to the other 44 minutes of the album. For a start it is by the far the longest track on the album and, more importantly, it is the one that will hold most interest for progressive music fans. The rolling bass line throughout the song is entirely reminiscent of Roger Waters during the early days of Pink Floyd (not the only part of the sound inspired by Floyd either!), the guitar playing is great, the electric piano tinkles away effectively and the whole piece drifts along at a fairly leisurely pace until the guitar solo ramps things up a notch.
When I first played this album I was entirely unconvinced of any merits it may possess, but Come Taste The Sun has proved to be an album that gently insinuates itself into the brain, a real grower of a recording. Although the album hasn't made me a hard core Johnson fan and made me really desperate to check out his other albums, in itself it possesses a certain charm and will no doubt remain in my collection to be enjoyed numerous times in the future.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Bruce Main – Swimming In The Pixel Sea
Tracklist: The Contest (8:29), Swimming In The Pixel Sea (8:03), Rhythm Of The Beast (1:44), My Connection (7:59), Second Life (6:06), Maelstrom (5:12), Lost & Found (6:40), Drowning In The Pixel Sea (11:57), Home Again (4:59)
When my esteemed colleague Mark Hughes reviewed Layers by Bruce Main back in 2005, he voiced a concern over the quality of Main’s singing voice on the American multi-instrumentalist’s sophomore solo release. And my listening of his fourth and latest album, Swimming In The Pixel Sea, leads me to echo Mark’s criticism of Main’s voice having a somewhat nasal quality.
But to Main’s credit, he is joined on Swimming In The Pixel Sea by Mark Phraner (Mania), who contributes solid vocals to four of the nine-track album’s six vocal tracks. Also along for the ride is Brian Phraner (Medusa, Phreeworld), who provides bass on four tracks. Main (Medusa, The Eddies, Mania) handles all the other instruments and voices. The Phraners also appeared on Main’s previous release Elements (which somehow passed DPRP by).
Main has had an extended and chaptered career which has seen him play piano at age six, build two recording studios, start a large scale sound system design company, and of course record and/or tour with the aforementioned bands.
As Main details in the bio section on his website, Swimming In The Pixel Sea is based on the tale of a farm boy named Josie Brown who is drawn into the cyber world. His life is eaten by a computer. That seems to happen a lot nowadays, doesn’t it?
The style of music played by Main and company on his new album can best be described as traditionally independent prog, with song lengths stretching in many places but with a conservative approach to the delving into prog territory. All music and lyrics are composed and written by Main, with a paradoxical epic simplicity in the music’s composition seeming to be the rule here.
This is evident on Lost & Found, which offers up melancholy acoustic guitar from Main, shared vocals between Main and Mark Phraner, and some drumming sounding somewhat underproduced and evoking American compatriot Matthew Anderson.
One standout track on Swimming In The Pixel Sea is My Connection, of which the smooth, flowing groove more than compensates for Main’s shaky vocals. He lays down some slick bass, bouncy sprinkles of piano elements, and after a darker section evoking Van Der Graaf Generator, a fiery guitar solo.
Another strong track is Drowning In The Pixel Sea, in which Main’s lyrics take a sarcastic jab at social media. A slow-core tempo evokes Circa and then things pick up with some progressively flavoured organ elements from Main. The rhythm, although slow, is fortified along by driving bass from Brian Phraner. Sizzling guitar from Main along with harmony vocals from Main and Mark Phraner complete the icing on this progressive cake.
On The Contest, Brian Phraner throws in some growls of bass and Main unfurls smooth sheets of synth and detonates some explosive guitar. Mark Phraner dutifully sings harmony vocals with Main. The underproduced beast rears its mighty head again, this time with respect to the cymbals. I would suggest that Main approach the production of some of the drumming and in particular the cymbals with an abundance of caution on his next release.
The four page CD booklet shows a swimmer on the cover with a professionally designed interior including track listing and credits, and a photo of a rustic farm scene on the back.
This album will appeal mostly to fans of independent epic prog. If you’re seeking a three minute pop song, this isn’t it.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Ian Narcisi - Weight Of The Words
Tracklist: Twilight's Last (7:02), Veil (3:14), Burning (4:52), Along For The Ride (2:42), Throw It Away (4:55), Unified (2:11), Around To Face You (6:20), Quevlar's Journey (3:02), Cold Rain (5:23), Forever Today (4:41), Trouble Free (6:35), Raid 5 (3:22), Violet And Blue (3:24)
Ian Narcisi - Feel No Evil
Tracklist: Dust Of You (7:05), Little Bit (3:50), Just Because (3:53), Stargazer (6:50), Sparkle And Shine (3:59)
Ian Narcisi - Phone Call To Infinity
Tracklist: Absent Today (3:33), Five Below Nothing (3:55), Behind The Dawn (4:12)
I must admit, I was quite surprised when I requested what I thought was a three-track EP from indie musician Ian Narcisi, and recieved THREE CDs a few days later. It seems the man really wants his back catalogue on DPRP, so what can I do except oblige?
In actual fact, what we have here is Narcisi's first and only full length album, followed by two shorter EPs. It seems that Narcisi hasn't varied his sound greatly over time, making all three CDs quite homogeneous in terms of songwriting and quality.
What an unusual sound the man has though. There's a very thin line between art rock and prog rock, but I feel that Narcisi is more on the art rock side. Indeed, the man uses odd composition techniques as well as eccentric instrumentation at times, but apart from this, there's not much that could be described as prog.
Things get off to a good start with Twilight's Last on Weight Of The Words. After an ambient, experimental introduction, the song sets off at a quick pace. What follows is quite a Yes-like song, with great themes and a catchy chorus. I really enjoy the layered vocals in the chorus, that give the song more texture. Even though this song is 7 minutes in length, it all seems over quite quickly. Unfortunately, this is the only song out of thirteen on the album that seems to have made any impression on me.
Don't get me wrong, it's not as if I dislike his work. While the album is on, I'll be happily listening or drumming my fingers on the desk in time with the music, but after the album has finished, I'll have completely forgotten all the music I've just heard! In general the longer songs are better, with more time for Narcisi to fully present the listener with something fulfilling. The tracklisting reveals a sort of pattern: usually long songs are followed by short songs and vice-versa. The shorter tracks are quite often mini-instrumentals; some, like Along For The Ride, don't lead anywhere and consist of the same riff over and over, with subtly changing themes. Overall, this album is quite bitty, making for incohesive listening.
The two EPs aren't any better, and between them there is no killer song like Twilight's Last. This is a real shame, because Narcisi sounds like he's trying very hard. The more recent EP Phone Call To Infinity is wholly forgettable, but there is some redemption for Feel No Evil. Little Bit manages to get my attention with the slightly comical backing vocals, and I especially like the solo on Stargazer played on a Maui Xaphoon (some kind of bamboo instrument).
Overall, I admire this man's spirit and his passion for music, but lament the fact that only one song on three CDs can move me. I think his music is interesting in one respect, but sadly not interesting enough for me to come back for more. There's some nice tunes in this collection, but nothing that I'd especially recommend to you, DPRP audience.
Weight Of The Words : 5 out of 10
Feel No Evil : 4.5 out of 10
Phone Call To Infinity : 4 out of 10
Nick Riff - The Universe Is Mental
Tracklist: Cast Into The Firmament (6:32), Paleo Vision (6:54), Where Are We Now (7:26), The Limits Of Perception (7:02), Forever (3:55), Sumerian Spaceport (5:23), Snake Charmers Ritual (5:28), Implant Procedure Explained (10:29), Heaven (5:06)
The Universe Is Mental is the fourth disk in a series that Nick Riff has recorded, a psychedelic acid folk, space rock extravaganza that does contain some quirkiness. The consolidation of the music presented here is highly mesmerizing at times, perplexing at others, but there again that is usually the idea behind this approach, as one needs to opens ones mind up fully to enjoy the experience. Nick Riff has engaged the huge sequences of Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze, The Orb adding in the spacey soundscapes of Tim Blake, the fluid bass sounds of mid period Gong to name but a few.
With the album opener Cast Into The Firmament with its tribal but primitive percussive approach that is layered with synth sequences and atmospheric guitars that leaves its listener under no illusions of the musical offering throughout. Paleo Vision emanates a pleasant sound structure of spacey interludes that have been aligned with the mandatory Gregorian styled chants that are synomonous with the New Age approach. The quirkiness of the keyboard sequences does just stop it from becoming mundane, but the repeating rhythmic pattern doesn’t help the situation. Where Are We Now pretty much journeys the same path, never really attaining its creative plan, although some of the guitar work is very effective.
Sumerian Spaceport and Snake Charmers Ritual both limber on, both being easily manipulated but adding nothing to the mystique of the approach taken, being full of Eastern sounding inflections and tribal repetitive percussive beats and layered synth work.
Implant Procedure Explained the longest album track, one which calls to mind The Orb reference, is for me the highlight of the album, although intrinsically cacophonous, sounding harsh and discordant, musically cruising the twilight zone, featuring some inaudible synthesized vocal phrasings that really add to the effect. The approach won’t appeal too many I guess, but it does see Nick really experimenting, creating a ten minute plus structure of strangeness that is definitely an audio listening experience.
Nick Riff may supply all the instrumentation/vocals on the album except for the saxophone on Forever the shortest track that left me somewhat cold and the woodwinds on the album closer Heaven with its silky piano lead that is propped by flurries of musical mayhem which have been supplied courtesy of Jhaz Sigeret, probably being one of the coolest names ever in the musical world.
How this all fits in to the previous releases I’m not too sure, one would guess that the approach will be pretty much the same? It is a musical journey for the brave or lovers of this genre. The album is one that will deliver different things to different people with no two experiences ever being the same. Whether you would repeatedly return to the album is the million dollar question and one I will leave you to answer.
Apparently there is a fifth instalment of the RIFFDISC series which by all accounts will be a live in the studio affair, so watch this space.... literally.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Fernando Refay - The Paradox
Tracklist: The Paradox (2:16), The Hour Of Justice (6:25), The Wicked (10:40), El Paraíso A Sus Pies (3:43), My Oh My (0:44), Welcome To The Show (5:34), Reflection (6:40), She's Like A Green Meadow [Because She Makes Me Happy] (2:16), Trespassing (2:52), A Frozen Nightmare (10:13), Walking On Air (6:38)
Hailing from Buenos Aires, Argentina, Fernando Refay is a classically-trained keyboardist who started his career as a composer of academic and popular piano pieces. Some years later, Refay formed a jazz-rock trio called S.O.S., who recorded a demo in 2007. The following year, Refay put together a full-fledged prog band, Silion Zelf, as a vehicle for the material he had been writing under the influence of classic progressive rock. The Paradox, released independently in the spring of 2011, is Refay's first solo album, recorded with the collaboration of a number of guest musicians, including some current or former members of Silion Zelf and fellow Argentinean multi-instrumentalist and composer Rodrigo San Martin (whose debut album, There's No Way Out, was reviewed here on DPRP); most of the instruments, however, are handled by Refay himself.
On the press release accompanying the album, The Paradox - with remarkable honesty - is described as featuring not only conventional prog pieces, but also some more pop-oriented songs that would otherwise not fit in the repertoire of Refay's main band. Indeed, almost half of the album consists of catchy, rather straightforward numbers that reflect Refay's wide-ranging sources of inspiration. In the liner notes, the artist also states that some of the instruments he plays are "not so real" - and the presence of programmed drums (whose chilly, mechanical tone is very hard to miss) is undoubtedly one of the biggest drawbacks of the album, as is the case of many "solo-pilot" projects that dispense with a flesh-and-blood drummer. It is not, however, the only issue.
While Refay is an extremely accomplished musician, and his handling of the keyboard parts is often rivetingly good - as witnessed by the often splendid piano sections, The Paradox suffers from a problem it shares with many modern prog releases, especially other solo projects - a sort of misinterpreted eclecticism, which results in a lack of cohesiveness in compositional terms. Though the average listener would expect him to be tapping into the rich South American tradition of emotional, lushly arranged symphonic prog, Refay does that only marginally, giving instead the impression of aiming at an unspecified form of "modernity" - mainly embodied by the prog-metal leanings of the album's longest track the almost 11-minute, anti-war epic The Wicked, as well as the punk-tinged Reflection, which tries to mix wildly clashing styles without much success.
The title-track (one of three short instrumentals) opens the album in promising fashion, its whooshing, wind-like electronics introducing the full-throttle roar of a Hammond organ in true Keith Emerson style. However, things take a more accessible turn in the following song, The Hour Of Justice (which, like the aforementioned Reflection, features the vocals of fellow Silion Zelf member David Minian), sounding like an attempt at prog-metal with a more radio-friendly bent, though enhanced by some beautiful, classical-styled piano work. More prog-metal influences surface in the second longest track on the album, the 10-minute A Frozen Nightmare, where gentle piano passages alternate with unbridled, Moog-driven sections that sound like a cross between ELP and Dream Theater.
The poppy side of The Paradox is perhaps best represented by the only Spanish-language number, El Paraiso A Sus Pies, dedicated to the artist's mother, and - in spite of the some lovely piano parts - quite cheesy, sounding very much to these ears like Italian melodic pop (not surprising, seen as a good half of the population of Argentina has Italian roots). Conversely, Welcome To The Show sounds like a much heavier version of Electric Light Orchestra, marred by too-loud guitar and Refay's rather tentative vocals; while closer Walking On Air is a standard AOR song partly rescued by the brisk, Elton John-like piano. As a whole, the instrumental sections (especially Refay's versatile keyboards) are the main saving grace of the album: indeed, even when guest singers come into the equation, the results are not what I would call outstanding, though both The Hour Of Justice and The Wicked feature decent singing.
Though my assessment of The Paradox may indeed sound harsh, Fernando Refay is evidently a talented musician. The album, however, suffers from the all too common "solo pilot" syndrome, which sees artists overextend themselves with ambitious, less than ideally cohesive productions packing too many disparate ideas and influences. There are some good ideas on The Paradox that would deserve to be pursued, while Refay might think about ditching the second-rate pop stuff that does the album no favours, and give his outstanding keyboard skills a more fitting framework. In any case, even if not exactly memorable, the album may appeal to devotees of melodic prog, as well as keyboard enthusiasts.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Cynthesis - DeEvolution
Tracklist: The Man Without Skin (4:08), Incision (7:31), Divided Day (7:45), Shallow World (4:44), Profits Of Disaster (6:00), The Edifice Grin (5:03), Twilight (3:40), A Song Of Unrest (6:48)
Whilst Cynthesis is a new name on the prog metal scene, the nucleus of the band is in fact the highly regarded Zero Hour. That band’s leading lights, the Tipton brothers (Jasun - guitars & keys and Troy bass) are in control of this band too. Cynthesis is a vehicle which sees them re-united with Erik Rosvold, the highly regarded vocalist who left Zero Hour back in 2003. Completing the line-up is drummer Sean Flanagan, last seen bashing the skins for the long-dormant San Francisco prog band Enchant.
DeEvolution is a concept album based around the story of an elite group of leaders from the industrialised world who brainwash and exploit an indigenous tribe’s shaman, using him as a puppet leader in order to gain and keep control over the mass population. Such a dark, dystopian tale hardly lends itself to up-beat musical accompaniment, and indeed DeEvolution has a very bleak and downbeat air about it, majoring on sombre piano, clanking industrial background noise and grinding, mid paced rhythms.
Zero Hour are a band known for their technicality, but aside from some blistering arpeggio flurries at the start of a few songs, this sort of approach very much takes a back seat here. Indeed, over half of the album proceeds at a slow to mid pace, centred around moody keyboard work, melodic guitar lines and chunky grooves. Rosvold’s voice is commanding and emotive, although I have to say I found his earnest delivery a little over-dramatic, epitomised by his insistence on carefully enunciating every single word. Likewise, the album maintains a strong unifying feel by use of similar instrumentation and melodies throughout the album, but this begins to drag as the album stretches on throughout its second half; the lack of any real stand-out material becomes glaring at this point. Once the album stops spinning, it’s very difficult to pinpoint a single memorable riff or vocal hook. The whole thing just comes across as rather samey and one-dimensional.
Ultimately, whilst it will no doubt be warmly welcomed by Zero Hour fans, and is competently (if unexcitingly) performed and produced, I found this debut by Cynthesis to be a rather underwhelming listening experience. There appears to be plans to produce more recorded work under this band name, so I hope that there is less attention focused on concepts and more on creating strongly written, memorable songs in the future.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10