Reviews in this issue:
- Votum - Harvest Moon
- The Fierce And The Dead - Spooky Action
- I Know You Well Miss Clara - Chapter One
- Fromuz - Sodom and Gomorrah
- Lantinor - Ensign of Fairies, Book 1
- Kevin Kastning & Carl Clements - Nowhere, Now Here
- Vespero - Droga
- Blackmore's Night - Dancer and the Moon
Votum - Harvest Moon
I don't think I'm an unreasonable person in terms of reviewing albums. I'll happily give my time to carefully listen to a band's offering before compiling a few personal thoughts. I simply hope to help signpost a few new fans their way (or otherwise!).
To do this as fairly as I can, I do not think it unreasonable to expect to have the full product before me. That means the best sound quality, the packaging, artwork and, especially important for many progressive bands, the lyrics. After all, the artist/band has put blood, sweat and tears into creating the darn thing. Does having only a download and a photocopy of the album sleeve really do it justice? Does it optimise their chances of getting a fair and favourable review? Is that the best way to maximise profile and sales?
When I started this reviewing lark 15 or so years ago, getting the full CD package was the norm. Now it is the exception. Almost every label merely sends a link to a low quality download - even artwork and band biogs are becoming rare.
Cost is the reason given. In my humble opinion that's a short-sighted business model and one that does a major disservice to the bands.
That is why I review far fewer albums than I used to. As a result many bands that would have featured with a positive DPRP review, have missed out.
All of this is a general comment - not specifically targeted at the label responsible for this particular album. However the refusal of Mystic to provide me with a proper copy on which to base my opinion of this, the third album from Polish quintet Votum, is the reason why Harvest Moon did not benefit from a review on its release.
Having purchased my own copy I had no intention of writing anything. However after spinning this album in the sun again last week, I thought that was a bit dour of me. This is such a superb album that I really should be heard by as many people as possible.
Now, the band said they intended Harvest Moon to sound somewhere between their heavier, ProgMetal inspired debut album, Time Must Have a Stop, and the marvellous mellow melancholy of Metafiction. Well they have certainly achieved what they set out to achieve.
When reviewing an album I first give a disc a few casual spins to get a feel for the music. Then I sit down with a blank piece of paper with a number for each track and listen carefully. I write any thoughts, along with a tick if I like the song, a cross if I don't, and two ticks if it's a real cracker.
Looking at my piece of paper with "Harvest Moon" written on the top, it is full of ticks! Votum's third album is an absolute gem.
Rather than a track-by-track breakdown, I'll just select a few of the highlights.
The opening track, Vicious Circle is one of the most sparkling of the gems. A beautiful guitar opens the song which builds superbly before somehow switching back to mellow in a drum beat. There's the sublime mid-section to Cobwebs with some fabulous drumming with a jazzy edge. Another delicious guitar run follows the first verse of First Felt Pain whilst the piano ballad Numb is a showcase for Maciej Kosinski's emotive vocals.
Ember Night has another clever shift between heavy and light with some spacey keys and another great guitar riff. The voice and piano chorus of Bruises is sublime over some heart-rending lyrics. The guitars are given some space to expand their solos in Steps In the Gloom where drummer Adam Lukaszek again excels with a crisp beat and some jazzy grooves.
Dead Ringer is the heaviest song on the disc whilst Coda also has a darker groove. The slightly different working of Numb ensures that there isn't a weak moment on the entire album.
A lot of comparisons have been made with fellow countrymen Riverside. There are similarities, especially with Riverside's softer first three albums, but the Votum sound in all departments is rather different. A much better comparison would be the Swedish Kings of melancholy Wolverine. The vocal style of Maciej Kosinski is very similar to Stephan Zell, especially with the rich emotion he is able to convey. Whilst musically, listen to First Felt Pain and New Made Man and tell me how they would be out of place on either of Wolverine's last two albums. Likewise Vicious Circle has more than a passing resemblance to His Cold Touch in the way it builds into a heavy, bouncy groove.
Every part of the band plays its part. Kosinski's vocals are the obvious highlight but I'd single out the drumming of Adam Lukaszek as a major ingredient in why Harvest Moon is such a wonderfully rich 70 minutes of progressive music. A masterpiece of restrained power and emotion. A classic that needs to be listened to and enjoyed by as many of you as possible.
(Sadly shortly after its release the band announced it had parted ways with its singer and lyricist quoting his reluctance to play live gigs. An announcement is due on his replacement later this month)
Conclusion: 10 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Votum CD:-
|Time Must Have A Stop|
|"There are plenty of memorable melodies, some clever atmospheres and few moments of pure beauty."|
(Andy Read, 8/10)
|"...those who didn't like the heaviness of the debut may lap-up the mellower approach here. Fans of Porcupine Tree would definitely be advised to sample."|
(Andy Read, 9/10)
The Fierce and the Dead - Spooky Action
"Songs about cults, quantum physics and absent friends"
So says guitarist Matt Stevens about this second full length album from The Fierce and the Dead which sees another evolution of their sound after last year's On VHS EP. That release saw the introduction of second guitarist Steve Cleaton, now completely integrated into the band's sound, and a perfect foil for Stevens here. The rhythm section of Kev Feazey (bass) and Stuart Marshall (drums) lay down a solid landscape in which the guitars can frolic; at times they twinkle whilst at others they thrash.
For me, this is the secret of TFATD's appeal in that their sound takes in a good deal of melody and delicacy but they are not afraid to go for wall-of-sound noise making the listener unsure of which they should expect next. There is a punk ethic at work which most prog bands seem to find disagreeable. Here it gives the necessary energy to keep the angular instrumental pieces moving. If you want King Crimson interlocking guitars with a dose of humour and the punk/metal drive of The Stooges or MC5, look no further. This all ties in nicely with the Einstein quote to describe Quantum Entanglement from which the album title is taken.
Instrumental albums can be a tricky business with the band finding their sound and then thrashing it to death over the course of an hour. TFATD avoid this by having a number of strings to their bow and mixing things up. The result is an entertaining and generally thrilling ride that bears repeated plays.
The Krimson-esque guitar lines of Part 4 are subsumed into a raging wall of noise one minute in, the anger dissipating towards a feeling of suspense. The mighty bass intro to Ark reminds me a bit of NoMeansNo; chiming twin guitars coming up with a lovely melody and harmonising over a steady drumbeat. With spits of raging intensity the effect is, bizarrely, of the aforementioned NoMeansNo jamming with The Byrds before the rhythm builds again to a joyous conclusion.
Let's Start A Cult - and a pretty strange cult it would be - opens with pounding drums and odd parping noises, the guitars giving direction into a punk firestorm with emerging overdriven bass. The guitars support each other beautifully until a great ensemble dash to the finish sends a guitar soaring into space.
Pyramid Hat is much funkier, bass taking the lead over a broken drum beat while guitars add downward lines. There's a beautiful section of chiming guitars over a cymbal rhythm before a heavy jazz vibe rolls in and thunders along to an echoey end. Studio chat gives I Like It, I'm Into It a live vibe. The bass is massive - just the way I like it - and the guitars rock out, but this is not the whole story as the bass picks it's way out of the maelstrom and drums build the intensity with guitars taking the rhythm role. There's a palpable energy to this that is direct and for the jugular rather than being overly planned.
And now for the middle of the album. Intermission 3 is exactly that, a moody electronic soundscape to chill everything down. Time to grab that quick choc ice before the second half begins with the pounding punk lead-in to the title track. Spooky Action is well named, storming in with handclaps in an unsettling manner before the magical twin guitars and glockenspiel give it all a lighter feel that floats over the drums, propped up by tasteful bass. The layers of sound give real depth as the band move into a rhythmic mid-section which builds to an intense metallic thrash, the track finishing as quickly as it started.
Feazey's well-paced overdriven bass is the focal point for the start of And The Bandit, Steven's twisted shards of strange guitar melody slicing through. There are a number of sections to this one with the noise level cranked up in some, the chiming guitars holding sway elsewhere - and sometimes everything going on at once in a mesmerising cacophony of sound, the resolution being a languid outro that works a treat and continues on into Entropy. A strange one this, guitars slide in, the rhythm section appear at a faster pace, things get spooky then explode in a cathartic release of noise with buzzed up guitars to close.
Part 5 takes up where Part 4 left off and integrates some of the parping left over from Let's Start A Cult. What King Crimson would have sounded like on Discipline if they'd have retained the sax? Chief brings things to a close with jangly guitars and all the instruments working together in a '60s vibe with a modern twist. The beat picks up as the guitars swirl around the rhythm before slabs of noise, the bass holding it all together, then the release into the lighter feel of the start. There's good work from Marshall and Feazey on this one and intense looped feedback builds to a full band thrash out to close the album exactly as it should.
Nicely done chaps, the whole album is very well put together and produced with none of the pieces outstaying their welcome. There is certainly enough variety to keep most listeners happy for a long time and these are all pieces that should make a mark in TFATD's excellent live shows, which you shouldn't miss if given the chance. This album isn't going to be for everyone but it is the sort of kick in the arse that prog often needs. Truly progressive in that they are trying new things and even if you don't like it you can't help but appreciate their efforts. A fine album from a band worthy of your attention.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous The Fierce and the Dead CD Reviews:-
|If It Carries On Like This|
We're Moving To Morecambe
|"...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."|
(Jez Rowden, 7.5/10)
|On VHS [EP]|
|"...an improvement and step up from the debut album and a very promising pointer to the bands’ future direction."|
(Jez Rowden, 8.5/10)
|Previous The Fierce and the Dead Live Reviews:-|
|Cardiff, U.K. (2012)||"Like a coiled spring ready to unwind at a moments notice The Fierce & the Dead skipped smartly through a compact set that left the audience wanting more."|
I Know You Well Miss Clara - Chapter One
Another trip to Indonesia and another band is discovered on one of Leonardo Pavkovic's many forays into the vast music scene of that mysterious archipelago. This time round, the band in question is the beguilingly named I Know You Well Miss Clara, starring the mercurial guitar playing of Reza Ryan.
Hailing from the city of Yogyakarta, on the southern shore of Java Island, about 550km east-southeast of Jakarta, this young band are far more than the obvious talent of Reza Ryan; the dexterous rhythm section comprising bass player Enriko Gultom and drummer Alfiah Akbar supporting Reza and the equally prodigious talents of keyboard player Adi Wijaya making a sum total that somehow manages to exceed the not inconsiderable individual parts.
This exciting combo make a modern day noise to equal the visceral excitement of the Mahavishnu Orchestra in its prime. Yes, they are that good. It is unusual for me to get so hot under the collar about modern jazz fusion, as a lot of it leaves me cold, technical proficiency often taking precedence over feeling. Not with this group, far from it; I Know You Well Miss Clara have soul by the bucketload, and never let their undoubtedly stellar individual chops overpower the group dynamic.
Kicking off proceedings is the jointly Wijaya/Ryan composed Open The Door, See The Ground, a song used to highlight the talents of all four individuals and the ensemble as whole. Abstract piano, subtle rhythmic changes and surges of angular guitar, all interact with a panache that belies the fact that this band have only been playing together for three years. A smile is induced by the subtle borrowing of a Mahavishnu melody towards the end of the song. Listening to this marvellous piece of fusion music the listener knows that this is going to be one little gem of an album.
Fusing the feel of a young John Etheridge, with snatches of Phil Miller and a large helping of his musical hero John McLaughlin, Reza uses the greater part of Conversation to showcase the former influence. Playing in tandem with some low-key piano and brushed drums, Reza and friends create an oasis of laid back and languid calm that speaks without the need for raised voices. Incidentally, a related piece called Coversation No.1 was originally titled I Know You Well Miss Clara after a girlfriend of Reza's, until Enriko suggested it would make a good group name.
Apart from the first track, the only other song where Reza is assisted in the composition department is Pop Sick Love Carousel. Adi Wijaya and Enriko Gultom lend a hand on this one, and being a student of the classic prog era, Reza inserts a guitar phrase at the beginning that seems to come from early Jade Warrior. I wonder if Reza is aware of the rather obscure early prog combo that was one of the first Western bands to use Eastern influence in its music? It would be good to think so, the influence coming full circle as it were.
This song is a lull before the wonderfully assertive venture into the territory previously occupied by the Mahavishnu Orchestra at their most poetic that is Reverie #2. Structured more as a suite than a song, an introductory passage of highly melodic and wistful guitar is followed by a spotlight falling on Adi's Chick Corea-like electric piano, backed by some dancing percussion and playful bass from the ever inventive rhythm section.
Then Reza lets fly with blistering flurries of notes right out of the space that McLaughlin used to inhabit; but this is not mere mimicry, no, this is played with an individual style and emotional impact that highlights the skill and empathy of the man holding the plectrum. What is it about Indonesia and stunning guitarists? Must be something in the water, but whatever it is, Moonjune Records keep it coming.
The six note underlying theme is then played and mirrored by the piano and some bubbling wah-bass, the spooky ambience reminding us of the title of the piece. Bass drum and cymbal crashes charge the atmosphere as the song lurches up the scale to its resolution, returning to the becalmed guitar theme. This song is up there with anything on the fabulous Burden Of Proof album from Soft Machine Legacy earlier in the year, which is saying something. As far as I'm concerned Soft Machine Legacy are the current benchmark of jazz-fusion, and this band bear comparison, especially on the final two tracks where they are joined by guest saxophonist Nicholas Combe. Wearing its influences on its sleeve, the final track, A Dancing Girl From Planet Marsavishnu Named After The Love, combines the SML atmosphere with Reza's love of all things McLaughlin to produce a joyously triumphal tribute in the spirit of Mahavishnu's Dance Of The Maya.
From the darker hues of Open The Door... via the wonderfully inventive Reverie #2 to the lyrical playing of Conversation and the heart-tugging emotional impact of Love Letter From Canada, all bases are covered, and a new chapter in jazz fusion is written. This music will take you to higher places, and, if you only buy one truly progressive jazz fusion album this year, don't; buy two, get this to go with Burden Of Proof and you will not be disappointed!
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Fromuz - Sodom and Gomorrah
Two years after the release of the unplugged live album Quartus Artifactus, Uzbekistan's own Fromuz are back with a very ambitious album based on one of The Bible's most iconic episodes. Although the past few years have seen the talented outfit led by guitarist Vitaly Popeloff and multi-instrumentalist Albert Khalmurzaev go through some line-up changes, this album revisits the past history of the band and features its original line-up - including bassist/producer Andrey Mara-Novik, drummer Vladimir Badirov and keyboardist Evgeniy Popelov (hence the use of the original spelling of the band's name, rather than the later one with a dot separating "from" and "Uz").
Sodom and Gomorrah comprises material originally composed by Khalmurzaev as the soundtrack for a theatrical production of the same name, before Fromuz got together in 2004. The music was performed live by the band for over three years, both in their home country and at some prestigious international festivals, then recorded in 2008 (the year following Fromuz's appearance at Baja Prog festival). The recording was then put on ice for a few years, until, in 2012, the band decided to release it for public consumption. While the album does not contain any new music, it does capture the original Fromuz line-up (as featured on Audio Diplomacy and Overlook, their first two studio releases) in all its power and intensity. Fans of the band, however, will be pleased to learn that Fromuz are already working on their fifth album.
Even though to some people Uzbekistan may be no more than a Central Asian backwater ruled by an authoritarian (and reportedly somewhat bloodthirsty) government, the country has a long history and rich cultural heritage, its musical tradition straddling East and West. All of the Fromuz members are as accomplished (possibly even more so) than most Western musicians, and their albums are consistently eclectic and challenging. Sodom and Gomorrah is no exception, touching upon many different styles while keeping a remarkably cohesive approach - and, thankfully, a restrained running time of about 53 minutes. Its 14 tracks, while self-contained, are also clearly part of a whole, and tell the story without having to rely on traditional lyrics. In spite of the presence of a libretto, in which the story is outlined in rather bombastic terms, the only singing involved on the album appears in the shape of choirs and isolated voices used for dramatic effect. The striking gargoyle gracing the CD cover, though quite different from the band's official illustrator and Western representative Ken Westphal's distinctive style, works well as a complement to the musical content.
As can be expected from an album based on a powerful tale of sin and punishment, the music is solemn, even gloomy and somewhat menacing on more than one occasion, and often reveals its theatrical roots. The first half of the album is very strong, introducing some airy, almost upbeat notes amidst the underlying sense of tension to convey the reckless pursuit of pleasure of the two doomed cities' dwellers. The prog-metal influences evidenced by Fromuz's first two studio albums are immediately introduced in the Intro by a majestic wall of riffs. On the other hand, Vitaly Popeloff turns out a series of beautifully melodic solos that might have come out of the David Gilmour songbook - namely in the contiguous City and Lot, but also towards the end of The Escape, complemented by flowing piano. The album's climactic point lies in the central trio of tracks, Black Feast I, The Orgy and Folly of Mob, which showcase the band's omnivorous approach: ominously tolling bells co-exist with a full-blown hard rock solo reminiscent of Blue Öyster Cult's peerless Buck Dharma, dramatic keyboard sweeps, pounding drums aptly conveying the chaos and disorder of the scenes, heavy breathing effects and Gothic choirs, before subdued acoustic guitar and piano briefly describe the aftermath.
While Popeloff's versatile guitar dominates the first half of Sodom and Gomorrah, Khalmurzaev and Evgeniy Popelov's arsenal of keyboards take the driver's seat in the second half, which is not as flamboyantly eclectic, and occasionally a bit one-dimensional in its brooding, tense mood. Church organ and thunderclaps are intensified by the positively sinister voices emerging in the background of The Blindness/Wife's Prayer; then chaos erupts in Black Feast II, punctuated by bursts of harsh, aggressive guitar and atonal piano flurries. Procession of Dead Stars treads in Avant territory with its dissonant patterns and unexpected snippets of vintage jazz songs before turning into a Black Sabbath-like wall of riffs, while To the Flames wraps up the album with an hyper-dramatic flourish, complete with background screams, tolling bells and frantic drums.
Like all of the band's previous albums, Sodom and Gomorrah will definitely benefit from repeated listens. Fans of the heavier end of the progressive rock spectrum will find a lot to appreciate in it, while others might find it a tad overdramatic at times, and notice the relative weakness of the second half if compared to the strong impact of the first. In any case, even if the material is not recent and can be considered more of a solo project than a collective effort, the strengths of the band are already very much in evidence. An intriguing album featuring amazing musicianship, hauntingly Gothic atmospheres and a good balance of melody and heaviness, Sodom and Gomorrah is highly recommended to lovers of instrumental progressive rock.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Fromuz / From.Uz CD & DVD Reviews:-
|Playing the Imitation (Live) [DVD]|
|"...a splendid DVD and one that should appeal to fans of well executed progressive jazz fusion."|
(Bob Mulvey, 8/10)
|Audio Diplomacy [CD/DVD]|
|"the DVD worked better for me as although the precision and energy of the concert still manages to come across well on the audio CD, some of the atmospherics (and sound effects) seem a tad out of place."|
(Bob Mulvey, 8/10)
|"...some of the tracks could have been pruned a little without losing any of their effectiveness."|
(Tom De Val, 6.5/10)
|"a fantastic progressive album, although you can ask questions to the addition of vocals. This is not the strongest point; it actually weakens the album. Nevertheless a good album well worth listening."|
(Gert Hulshof, 7.5/10)
|Inside Seventh Story [DVD]|
|"...a very nice release from From.uz, which allows the novice to step in and sample their latest album, and also rewards the long term fan."|
(John O'Boyle, 7.5/10)
|"...there are absolutely no downsides to this album whatsoever."|
(John O'Boyle, 9/10)
Lantinor - Ensign of Fairies, Book 1
Lantinor is a long-standing Russian band led by guitarist, vocalist, and composer Alexander Kaminsky. On the band's latest CD, Ensign of Fairies, Book 1, Kaminsky is joined by Alina Bulat (vocals), Anton Telkov (string, percussion) and Dmitry Miroshnichenko (bass). The CD is a progressive-folk concept album that, according to the liner notes, "tells the story of the advent of the Fourth Race", which used as a protective symbol of power the "Ensign of Fairies". As explained in writing, the story is decidedly obtuse, and so perhaps it's a blessing that, on the CD, the lyrics are (mostly) sung in Russian.
Points of reference for the music are varied. Most quickly coming to mind, albeit only quite faintly, is Jethro Tull, primarily because of the folk-laced progressive quality of much of the music and because guitarist Kaminsky's correlation in style to that of Tull guitarist Martin Barre. But Kaminsky's guitar playing - uniformly excellent, and serving as the dominant force on the CD - does not follow a singular style. At times, his guitar sounds like Eric Clapton or even conjures up Bad Company. Other portions of the music recall Camel and Gryphon.
Unfortunately, the quality of Kaminsky's singing does not match the quality of his playing. Kaminsky's notably clear diction is impressive, but the same characteristic can make the singing sound stiff (although it loosens as the CD proceeds), particularly in the progressive-rock context. The dry vocal style coupled with the language barrier (for me, at least) render the vocals a bit tough to enjoy. The occasional female vocals are more fluid.
Part 1 of the title piece opens with an instrumental portion that sounds like an early '80s Rush album. The sudden appearance of high-in-the-mix vocals is a bit jarring. Thereafter, the piece follows a progressive, languorous path punctuated by very fine background and solo guitar. Part 2 likewise moves in fits and starts, and, as a result, lacks any real momentum. But the vocals are quite catchy. Part 3 is also laden with transitions: near the outset is some twangy singing, then the tempo becomes frenetic, and, later, there's a mellow, atmospheric segment coupled with nice bursts of wailing guitar. Part 4, arguably the least progressive, begins briefly in the ethereal realm - this could be 1970s Camel - then switches to somewhat repetitive vocals and beat. As on the rest of the CD, the guitar on this part - played in a somewhat muffled, classic-rock style - carries the day. Interrupting the multi-part title piece is a tighter tune, Jerica, which could be likened to early Jethro Tull. It's a creative, well-composed song, although its mid-CD placement in the middle of the "epic" title track is befuddling.
In short, Ensign of Fairies is a strong, although challenging, CD. The style - or, at least, the combination of styles - is largely original, the compositions are complex and pleasant, and the musicianship is excellent. The vocals are a weak link, but, on the whole, this is a consistently creative CD that may well reward the repeat listener.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Kevin Kastning & Carl Clements - Nowhere, Now Here
Kevin Kastning, acoustic guitarist extraordinaire, and Carl Clements, reeds player of repute, team up again on Nowhere, Now Here, their latest foray into sonic landscapes of gently rolling hills, autumnal mists, and big skies.
Without further ado, watch the video below and you can hear Kevin and Carl play the first piece on the album.
On this song Kevin plays one of his inventions, the acoustic monster that is the 30-string contra-soprano guitar, the instrument featured in the video montage. Accompanied by Carl's soprano saxophone, the duo weaves a tapestry of delicate yet strong sound that sets the scene for the record.
Occupying a space where melodious free jazz, acoustic improvisation, chamber music and ambient music meet for a nice civilised cuppa, these songs are all highly intricate affairs, the two players complementing each other's highly developed sense of space and musicality perfectly. All the compositions are credited to the two of them, and it is not indicated anywhere on the CD or in the press release if this is an improvised or scored work. It certainly sounds like it was scored, but conversely, and given the high skill levels of these two musicians, it could easily have been improvised.
Leaving that aside, it is the case that the combination of instruments here lends the music a more organic and slightly less cerebral feel than some of Kevin's other works, solo, or in tandem with another guitarist.
The other inventions of Kevin's to feature on this set are the 17-string and 16-string contraguitars, and Carl also plays tenor sax and alto flute, the latter given a first showcase on the sublime Somewhen. The modal melodies and spaces left are superbly highlighted on the feather-light and suitably titled Incomparably Light And Repose, and, like all the other compositions here, will reveal so much more when listened to on a good set of headphones. Greydisc Records are known for their high quality audio, and this CD is no exception. Thankfully, you will not find any of that modern malaise here; the loudness and compression that is prevalent nowadays in all genres of music as a sop to the cloth-eared mp3 generation.
Deceptive Corridors Passing features more of Carl's breathy alto flute and some dexterous picking from Kevin, again on the 30-string guitar. There is a lot going on here, background becomes foreground and vice versa as we float off on a blissful reverie.
This album is near on capacity length for a CD, but such is the nature of this deeply involving music that one does not really notice the passage of time. I would recommend however that you do not use this as background music as a lot of it will pass overhead un-noticed, a fate that it does not deserve.
The spatial exploration continues on Rust In Form, an extremely unhurried oxidisation of song structure, by the sound of it, and quite a challenge. When the pace picks up on the following Overmorrow II, another combo of the 30-string and the alto flute, Carl gets quite animated and some fast contrapuntal fretwork from Kevin presents us with a neat examination of the duo's intuitive interplay. I would like to hear these two in a band format, possibly playing a take on jazz fusion that I've no doubt would be breathtaking.
When these songs take on form, Carl is the lead player, as on the following Woven Sunlight And Leaving, wherein his soprano sax calls out through the mists, a beautiful keening but not strained sound, which Kevin follows with nimble-fingered ease, this time on the 17-string contraguitar.
The 30-string really comes into its own on First Hovering; First Vanishing. This instrument has an astonishing range, and the nearest equivalent I can think of in the rock world is the touch guitar as wielded by Trey Gunn and the now countless followers in his wake.
The wonderfully titled Delirium Membrane Circuit should be a heavy beast of a thing, and in my mind's ear I can hear the abrupt intro being belted out by the new three drummer line up of the mighty Crim! Of course, it's nothing of the sort, but it is definitely angular and experimental, and something the League Of Crafty Guitarists could have fun with I'm sure.
We end the album with the restful and contemplative Both Ends Of Two Rainbows, and once again the favoured combo of 30-string contra-soprano guitar and alto flute play the soundtrack to your daydreams, and lovely stuff it is too.
Kevin Kastning and Carl Clements have fashioned a truly inventive and natural sounding album, but it is as far removed from "rock" music as can be. It is however, most definitely "progressive", and that's what it's all about, as far as I'm concerned.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Kevin Kastning & Carl Clements CD Reviews:-
|Dreaming As I Knew|
|"Evocative and emitting waves of calm through filtered sunsets as a sublime peacefulness descends on the listener..."|
(Roger Trenwith, 7/10)
Vespero - Droga
Hailing from Southern Russia, Vespero continue from where last year's Subkraut - U-Boats Wilkommen Here left off, and with Droga the progression in their sonic travels is laid bare for all to see. This band has improved, both from a compositional and arrangement aspect, and here they present us with a neat distillation of their take on modern Krautrock and Scandi-prog influenced instrumental music.
The multi-hued instrumentation is as before, with the usual rock instruments, augmented by Mellotron, synths, melodica, percussion and electronica, as well as a cello, sax, and flute.
The introduction to Steppe has an ethnic feel and conjures visions of vast wide open spaces where the quiet is all-encompassing. The meditation is interrupted by the charge of drums and guitar, suddenly appearing from a cloud of dust, and we're off on a ride across the rolling plains. Simple but evocative, this is instrumental progressive rock at its most lyrical. The rapid pace is continued into Maul, drummer Ivan Fedotov maintaining a frantic pace over which a weaving synth melody slowly ascends the scales. The structure puts me in mind of post-punk band Magazine, who were actually prog in ambition and scope, much as they would deny it. If you hated punk, try the album Secondhand Daylight by them and you'll see what I mean!
The gaps between the songs are so small that if you blink you'll miss them, a trick that has the effect of creating an almost symphonic feel to the record. A Quark... era Hawkwind influence is brought to bear on some of the compositions, and by now one cannot fail to notice that the energy supplied by the drummer is what motors this band along. Alexander Kuzovtev supplies Europe-endless space rock guitar, soaring away into the firmament. A less than obvious time signature is picked out by Arkady Fedotov's bass on Thýmus, a piece of musical spiral architecture that is in service to the cosmic symphony.
Frozen Lilies (Melt in Heaven) is a lovely piece of melodic space rock with a nice layer of mellifluous guitar from Alexander, which leads into the concluding and title track. Droga the track is a stately and serene landing for the good ship Vespero, much e-bowing and synth washes over a simple anchoring beat, the song moving up a notch in volume halfway in, not that it will be hurried. It may be purely coincidental, but Droga is Spanish for drug, but this particular many-hued pill has no unpleasant side effects at all.
Finally, mention must be made of the usual high standard of artwork from RAIG Records. Not for them a bog-standard jewel case, but a rather tasteful fold-out cardboard box. If you check out their website you will see that many of their releases feature unusual artwork, in this particular instance courtesy of ZonderZoyd.
A confident progression from this by now experienced Russian band, and well worth your time, Droga is an album that while not shaking any musical foundations, uses its obvious influences to good advantage, and is a thoroughly enjoyable listen.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Vespero CD Reviews:-
|"5:00 a.m. Still can’t sleep? Hop in the car, pop Rito in the CD player, and go for a drive. Great music for watching the sun rise."|
(Jim Corcoran, 8/10)
|"...there is not much variety between the drone-style, improv-based tracks."|
(Jim Corcoran, 7/10)
|Surpassing All Kings|
|"I prefer the more glossy sheen of Rito to the roughly-hewn edges of Surpassing All Kings. With that minor quibble aside, I feel that the latest release from Vespero could grow on me with a few more listens."|
(Jim Corcoran, 7/10)
|Subkraut - U-Boats Willkommen Hier|
|"My only criticism of this album is that some of the tracks may be a bit over-long, and some judicious editing would not have gone amiss."|
(Roger Trenwith, 7/10)
Blackmore's Night - Dancer and the Moon
Since 1997 Richie Blackmore has been totally into folk rock. In that year he and his then girlfriend, now wife, Candice Night released Shadow of the Moon, their first album under the aptly chosen name Blackmore's Night. That was a nice album full of ballads, acoustic instrumentals, re-workings of traditional tunes and a cover of Renaissance's Ocean Gypsy. Since then they have continued to release albums every two or three years, using the same formula over and over again to satisfy their ever-growing audience. Sometimes an album is a bit more progressive in style, such as the 2003 Ghost of a Rose; sometimes it's more folky like 2001's Fires at Midnight but they're always medieval in atmosphere. On each album Blackmore shows his virtuosity on several tracks, be it on electric or acoustic guitar or on more traditional instruments, but he's also clearly a member of the band so he seldom shows off. Most of the albums are a very nice listen, although some, like Ghost of a Rose again, sound far more inspired than others. Not one of them, however, can be regarded as a classic.
So, the expectations were quite clear when I started to listen to their new album, Dancer and the Moon, and the opening track is a very convincing one being a cover of Randy Newman's I Think It's Going To Rain Today with Candice delivering good, strong vocals. There's also a fast and melodic guitar solo with some Mellotron backing and a very nice chorus. So the spirits are up for the next song, Troika, which opens with a nice acoustic guitar intro. But then a truly awful song unfolds with a horrendous chorus, full of 'Ohhs' and 'Ahhs', hand-clapping (it's Russian, folks!!!) and absolutely stupid lyrics ("La, la, la, run, my troika, run"). Maybe it will work as a lullaby but most certainly not on a rock album. For me this is one of the worst songs Blackmore has ever written or played. Unfortunately the worst song he ever made is also on this same album...
The level of quality recovers with The Last Leaf, the sort of song that Blackmore's Night are rightfully famous for. A beautiful ballad backed by a simple acoustic guitar and recorder. Candice Night sings beautifully, filled with emotion, and later on a cello is added while Richie solos on the acoustic guitar. This goes on for several minutes with nice lyrics dealing with a lost love at the turn of the seasons proving that Blackmore's Night is fully capable of writing good songs.
The Lady in Black is the second cover, this time from a Uriah Heep original, and it is actually very good. The melody is maintained but the instrumentation is totally different with whistles taking over the main theme in the middle of the song. This track also shows that lyrics can contain ‘Ohhs’ and ‘Ahhs’ as long as they are used intelligently.... At the end of the song Richie starts to solo on electric guitar but he sounds quite different from Mick Box on the original. It's simply another example that covers need not be inferior in quality to the original!
Minstrels in the Hall is a beautiful medieval instrumental on acoustic guitar, with flutes and percussion. It is as if minstrel Blackmore himself is standing in the middle of your room. Absolutely stunning.
Then another cover, the third on this album, taking Blackmore's own song, Temple of the King, from the first Rainbow album. That's quite risky for how on earth can Candice fill in for the irreplaceable Ronnie James Dio? Well, she does! Candice doesn't come close to Dio's power but the good thing is that she doesn't even try. She knows where her assets lie and makes use of that; singing a slow, mellow ballad from her heart and that convinces fully. The song is also played somewhat slower than the original, which suits her well. Richie's electric guitar dominates this haunting song while he plays a totally new solo which all goes to make this a completely different song.
So the feeling on this album is quite good when the title track starts. It should be a good track just because it was chosen as the title for the album. Well, it isn't good at all. It starts nicely with woodwind and guitar, quite a nice verse but then the chorus begins which is absolutely - absolutely - awful. After a few beats on the bass drum the clapping begins and Candice sings: "He, he, he, till the break of the day, ... La, la, la, la ... dance the whole night through, la, la, la, ... the dancer and the moon". It's so stupid, so childish, so horribly simple that I find it an offence for all the fans and listeners of this music. A total failure! After this nightmare The Galliard, a medieval minstrel-like piece slightly less dominated by acoustic guitar and more by spinet, horns and percussion, is reminiscent of Jan Akkerman on his Tabernakel album. A very nice listen! It has a good melody and a good sphere, yet it sounds as if Blackmore has dozens of these tunes lying around to record them effortlessly when necessary. Therefore it seems as if the true inspiration is lacking.
The Ashgrove is a beautiful ballad, again medieval in tone and melody, with very strong vocals by Candice and beautiful acoustic guitar. It's far too short, though.
With Somewhere Over the Sea the ballad-like atmosphere is continued, with some mumming of a gents choir in the background, accompanied by different layers of keyboards. Again the melody is extremely attractive and mellow and serves Candice's voice very well. The loops on the acoustic guitar are very nice and serve as an intro to the electric guitar solo which is, alas, a bit short. This is by far the most 'progressive' of all the tracks on this album.
And then things go wrong again. The Moon is Shining has a totally different sound, with very ugly electronic drums and a dance-like synth intro that leads towards a similar melody as the former song but now played by the full band, with drums, bass and backing vocals. Once the band starts playing the song recovers somewhat but the intro is awkward, cheap and not fitting into the rest of the album at all. In the middle Richie plays a nice but quite simple solo on electric guitar which is continued in a strong and fast outro. Then some echo sound effects have been added to the vocal lines and the guitar at the end of the song which, again, does not benefit the song. So skip the first minute and turn down the volume some 30 seconds before the end and a nice song in the vein of Fires At Midnight remains. So why on earth that extremely ugly intro and technical outro? It really doesn’t make any sense.
The Spinners Tale is a return to the mellow medieval ballads, now with acoustic guitar and recorder. The strong interplay between Candice's vocals and the recorder make this a beauty, they both gently flow during the three-and-a-half minutes. It would have been a nice closing song but there is one more to come, a genuine instrumental nod from Richie to his old Deep Purple bandmate Jon Lord who sadly passed away last year. Nice electric guitar, percussion and organ at a quiet pace. It's all in the vein of the quiet side of Deep Purple with emphasis on the organ of course. Hats off for Jon, and it works.
All in all, this album is quite a disappointment. It has a couple of nice songs but their strength and attractiveness is completely disturbed by a few really bad songs, the title track and Troika being the most obvious examples. And it certainly isn't prog at all, but that was quite clear from the beginning.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Blackmore's Night CD Reviews:-
|Fires At Midnight|
|"Although this is not a true progressive rock band, I am quite sure the moods and arrangements will appeal to most prog listeners."|
(Rob Michel, 8/10)
|"Of course this kind of music belongs to the specific time of the year so I won’t fret on rating the album. I would just say: gather around your loved ones under the Christmas tree and enjoy the melodies of the season!"|
(Louis Koot, Unrated)
|"...a typical Blackmore's Night album and certainly fans of this band can blindly buy this album....some interesting moments, but on the whole it doesn't do it for me."|
(Edwin Roosjen, 7/10)