Reviews in this issue:
- Steve Hackett - Genesis Revisited: Live At Hammersmith (CD/DVD) (Duo)
- Also Eden - [REDACTED]
- miRthkon - Snack(s)
- TUGS - Europa Minor
- Doracor - La vita che cade
- Three Wise Monkeys - Perihelion
- Tusmørke - Underjordisk Tusmørke
- Circadian Pulse - In The Blink Of An Eye [EP]
- Early Cross - Pathfinder
Steve Hackett - Genesis Revisited: Live At Hammersmith (CD/DVD)
CD 1 - Watcher Of The Skies (9:12), The Chamber of 32 Doors (5:39), Dancing with the Moonlit Knight (7:37), Fly On A Windshield (3:34), Broadway Melody of 1974 (3:19), The Lamia (9:04), The Musical Box (11:30), Shadow of the Hierophant (10:14), Blood on the Rooftops (5:45)
CD 2 - Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers... (2:10), ...In That Quiet Earth (5:03), Afterglow (4:28), I Know What I Like (6:15), Dance On A Volcano (6:14), Entangled (6:44), Eleventh Earl of Mar (7:49), Supper's Ready (27:34)
CD 3 - Firth of Fifth (10:33), Los Endos (6:22)
DVD 1 - Full Show: Watcher Of The Skies, The Chamber Of 32 Doors, Dancing With The Moonlit Knight, Fly On A Windshield, Broadway Melody Of 1974, The Lamia, The Musical Box, Shadow Of The Hierophant, Blood On The Rooftops, Unquiet Slumbers For The Sleepers, In That Quiet Earth, Afterglow, I Know What I Like, Dance On A Volcano, Entangled, Eleventh Earl Of Mar, Supper's Ready, Firth Of Fifth, Los Endos (161:20)
DVD 2 - Behind The Scenes (37:24)
John Wenlock-Smith's Review
Steve Hackett - Vocals, Guitar
Roger King - Keyboards, Vocals
Lee Pomeroy - Vocals, Bass
Gary O'Toole - Drums, Percussion
Nad Sylvan - Vocals
Rob Townsend - Saxophone, Woodwind, Percussion, Keyboards, Vocals
Almost a year to the day after the release of the astoundingly successful Genesis Revisited 2 project from Steve Hackett, this fabulous recording emerges of a magnificent evening at the Hammersmith Apollo celebrating the success of that remarkable album and bringing to life the magic of many of the songs contained within it.
In actuality the show was recorded on the 10th May 2013 and the usual band were augmented by several special guests reprising their roles on certain pieces and this album and DVD set is a fantastic memoir of those events. No less than 14 of these songs appeared on Genesis Revisited 2 whilst the other five appeared on the original Genesis Revisited that first appeared in 1997.
These songs should need little or no introduction as they are already well known to most listeners of progressive rock, yet what comes across most of all is the cohesiveness of and the sheer eloquence that these pieces retain many years after their original inception and recording.
Steve, being a consummate musician, has both arranged the songs wonderfully and also structured the live set in such a manner that the overall effect is of an ongoing upward trajectory with each track building on what has gone before.
The sound balance is astounding and much care has been taken to ensure a pristine and yet somehow joyous and emotive recording and it's all the better for it. It's also a great selection of songs and although crowd pleasers like The Return of the Giant Hogweed, The Fountain of Salmacis and Ripples aren't included the ones that are here shimmer, shine and sparkle like the gems that they are.
Each of those early era Genesis albums that Steve Hackett appeared on are represented fairly as well, so songs from Foxtrot, Nursery Cryme, Selling England by the Pound, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, Trick of the Tail and Wind and Wuthering are performed.
Nad Sylvan reveals himself to be a great re-interpreter of both the Gabriel and the Collins era songs, handling both with ease while the rest of the band are outstanding, bringing a verve, delicacy and, where necessary, muscle to the proceedings. They are a joy to hear.
I've not seen the DVD itself but can only imagine it to be a most worthy addition to the CDs and with the prospect of a 45 minute "Making Of" documentary on the second disc I expect that it will feature on many people's "Wish list".
Highlights for me from the CDs are Dancing With the Moonlit Knight, The Musical Box and Firth of Fifth but, in all honesty, all of these songs sound, well, great in this setting and the album flows gracefully and with purpose.
The band are tremendous and there are many sublime moments, many of course from Steve Hackett himself but also the delicate woodwind on Firth of Fifth by Rob Townsend, Gary O'Toole's great vocal on Broadway Melody of 1974 and the ever effective and evocative keyboards of Roger King. This is a great band of musicians breathing new life into these classics.
It's a long listen and all two hours 49 minutes of it may be best heard in two sittings unless you watch the DVD straight through but what shines through is the sheer joy that these songs evoke in Steve, the band and also in the audience. The listener can now be added to that list.
This is an excellent conclusion to this particular revisitation of these early Genesis songs and Steve Hackett has given a truly masterful and wonderful portrayal of these great pieces. He has achieved this with dignity and reverence and yet brought a very tangible personal touch to each. He should be applauded for such vision and purpose and for giving many thousands of concert goers and listeners the chance of hearing these songs afresh.
This truly is a remarkable album and one which I have no hesitation in recommending it highly. Give it a spin and see if you concur. Certainly this is a must for any fan of early Genesis and/or Steve Hackett as it showcases these pieces in a truly magical manner which is well worth your investigation.
Geoff Feakes' Review
Back in 1996 Steve Hackett released the Genesis Revisited album which was belatedly followed in 2012 by Genesis Revisited 2. The titles speak for themselves containing as they do (with the exception of the occasional solo track) Hackett's take on the songs that he performed in his seven year tenure with Genesis in what is acknowledged to be their classic prog period. Ironically since his departure in 1977 to concentrate on a solo career, he has been the most conspicuous flag bearer for the band, unlike former colleagues Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford who rarely, if ever, perform Genesis songs outside the band.
The shows that followed the release of Genesis Revisited are captured for prosperity on The Tokyo Tapes, recently reissued on double CD and DVD. The more expansive Genesis Revisited II album prompted a dedicated tour that arrived at the Hammersmith Apollo, London on 10th May 2013. The last time I saw Mr. Hackett at this particular venue was in 1976 (then the Hammersmith Odeon) during the A Trick Of The Tail tour with Bill Bruford on drums and Phil Collins stage front perfecting his Jack the lad, boy next door persona. For the current tour self-confessed Genesis fan Nad Sylvan is the principle vocalist who's occasionally flamboyant, if aloof style is closer to Peter Gabriel.
Additional singers on the night include Nik Kershaw, John Wetton, Amanda Lehman, Jakko Jaksyzk and drummer Gary O'Toole. Guesting on guitar is Steve Rothery, sharing the stage with the man who significantly influenced his technique. The core band comprises Lee Pomeroy (bass), Roger King (keyboards), Rob Townsend (saxophone, flute, keyboard) and O'Toole (drums).
So a strong cast list, what about the music? Unsurprisingly, with the exception of Shadow Of The Hierophant from Hackett's debut solo album, the set-list consists entirely of songs from the six studio albums he co-wrote and recorded with Genesis. A pity the pre-Hackett Trespass album is overlooked, Stagnation or The Knife (or both) would have done nicely and Hackett did perform these songs live, whilst the exclusion of anything post-1977 means that the band's 'greatest hits' are mostly absent. That aside, there is certainly enough bona fide classics to satisfy the Genesis faithful, particularly if (like me) you are at the older end of the age scale. On paper it promises to be an impressive show and by and large (and one or two minor gripes aside) it delivers.
There is hardly a finer way of opening a set than the gothic grandeur of Watcher Of The Skies. Genesis certainly thought so in the '70s when it opened their shows for almost three consecutive years and wisely Hackett doesn't buck tradition. The closing instrumental section is especially powerful and the Scandinavian Sylvan performs without a hint of an accent, faithfully replicating Gabriel's clipped and very English articulation. He certainly has the right tone, occupying a neutral ground somewhere between Gabriel and Collins although just occasionally he sounds like he's singing through clenched teeth.
If it wasn't for the intervention of Dancing With The Moonlit Knight, four of the following five songs (The Chamber Of 32 Doors, Fly On A Windshield, Broadway Melody Of 1974 and The Lamia) could have been combined conveniently into a Lamb... medley. As it is I'm left wondering why Hackett chose these particular tunes to represent Gabriel's swansong to the band he fronted for eight years. With the exception of The Lamia they're hardly the cream of the crop, in my opinion Hairless Heart, The Carpet Crawlers and The Supernatural Anaesthetist for example would have been preferable. Dancing With The Moonlit Knight on the other hand is a creditable (and popular) representation of 1973's Selling England By The Pound although Hackett's much maligned and overlooked instrumental After The Ordeal from the same album would have been equally welcome.
For my DPRP colleagues Alison and Roger, Nik Kershaw's interpretation of The Lamia was the highlight of Genesis Revisited II and here he gives a commendable performance although for me his voice lacks the warmth and poignancy of Gabriel's to give credence to lines like "It is the scent of garlic that lingers on my chocolate fingers" in this thinly veiled tale of eroticism. As for the anticipated call and response guitar duet that closes, for me it highlights the disadvantage of bringing a guest on stage to perform for just one song. Without the opportunity to warm-up Rothery's playing sounds stiff in comparison with Hackett's fluid lines (almost veering off on a bluesy tangent at one point) and as a result they never convincingly gel.
You really can't go wrong with The Musical Box, Genesis never did and neither does Hackett and company. By this point Sylvan is beginning to loosen up, giving the potent "Now, Now, Now" finale the requisite emotional boost.
Ironically Hackett's own Shadow Of The Hierophant proves to be a show highlight and he justifies its inclusion by reminding the audience that it was co-written by Mike Rutherford. Although Amanda Lehman's fragile vocal lacks scale, the instrumental coda really kicks up a storm with O'Toole hammering his kit as if his life depended upon it, so much so the tubular bells from the original don't get a look in. Released just over a year later, Blood On The Rooftops was Hackett's main contribution to his final Genesis album Wind And Wuthering and contains (for Genesis) a rare moment of social commentary. Unfortunately, thanks to Gary O'Toole's erratic lead vocal the words are not always distinguishable; perhaps in hindsight we took Collins' ability to thrash away on the drums one minute and sing sweetly the next too much for granted.
The Wind And Wuthering sequence continues on disc 2 with Unquiet Slumbers For The Sleepers, In That Quiet Earth and finally Afterglow, just as they appeared on the original album. Devised as a single piece, Unquiet Slumbers... is a tranquil prelude to ...In That Quiet Earth, a jazzy free-flowing instrumental demonstrating the band at their best (check out the finale where the music pauses momentarily and restarts, all done with split second timing).
Afterglow is easily one of the best songs ever penned by Tony Banks and although the singing from the enigmatic John Wetton is a little strained in places he still pushes the emotional buttons raising the odd goose bump or two.
Incidentally, Afterglow is one of the few songs in the set not co-credited to the guitarist and even the authorship of the two preceding tracks is open to debate as claimed by Rutherford in an interview shortly after Hackett's exit from Genesis.
But I digress, back to the show and that old crowd pleaser I Know What I Like which for nearly ten years was Genesis' only claim to single fame. Sylvan is back at the microphone playing fast and loose with the lyrics without stepping on either Gabriel's or Collins' toes. Next up is A Trick Of The Tail opener Dance On A Volcano which has rarely seen the light of day since 1977. The Hackett band deliver a sprightly version, so much so you'd be forgiven for thinking they were in a hurry to get to the bar. In keeping with the original album the ethereal Entangled follows with a sensitive vocal from Jakko Jakszyk and the ghostly synth and heavenly choir present and correct (if a little low in the mix) courtesy of King's keyboards. Jump forward one year to Wind And Wuthering and the opening song Eleventh Earl Of Mar which was never a personal favourite relying as it does on several Genesis clichés (e.g. the Mellotron swell from The Fountain Of Salmacis) although that seems to work to its advantage on this occasion.
The final part of the main set is surely the most anticipated, Supper's Ready (second only to Close To The Edge in my opinion as the seminal prog classic). With two official and excellent live versions already available (the Collins' fronted version on 1977's Seconds Out and the Gabriel led version on 1998's Genesis Archive 1967–75) Hackett certainly has a good deal to prove. I can't help thinking that he missed a trick by not introducing the piece with his customary acoustic solo Horizons thereby raising audience anticipation. No matter, they sing along to the acoustic, scene setting Lover's Leap (although with not quite the same enthusiasm as the Rome crowd the previous month), King and O'Toole rock their socks off during the appropriately titled Apocalypse in 9/8 and the epic finale As Sure As Eggs Is Eggs still sends the odd shiver down the spine despite Sylvan taking one or two liberties with the vocal melody and Hackett unleashing a minor outbreak of shredding to close.
For reasons best known to InsideOut, it's necessary to put a third disc into your player to hear the encore pairing of Firth of Fifth and Los Endos even though the complete show would have fitted comfortably onto two CD's without compromising the running order. As it is I'm left with the thought that given the excess space on disc 3 a few bonus tracks would have not gone amiss. It's well known that alternate songs where performed on the tour and assuming that someone had the foresight to push the record button, Horizons, The Return Of The Giant Hogweed and The Fountain Of Salmacis amongst others would have been welcome. That aside, we are left with a superb Firth Of Fifth which remains remarkably faithful to the studio original complete with solo piano introduction (discarded by Genesis) in contrast with a revamped and very loose Los Endos. The heavy metal intro is unrecognisable, Townsend provides a delightful soprano sax variation of the main theme, Hackett's crunching Slogans is briefly referenced and Sylvan surprisingly revives loudly and clearly Collins' impromptu lines from the original "There's an angel standing in the sun" and "Free to get back home".
The DVD replicates the entire Hammersmith show and whilst you'll need a spare 3 hours to sit through the whole thing the 5.1 sound option will certainly make it worth your while. The staging isn't jaw dropping by Pink Floyd standards (or indeed Genesis' 2007 Turn It On Again Tour) but it's impressive in its own way with imaginative lighting and three rear screens displaying a variety of abstract images (live and animated). The highlight for me in this respect comes right at the start during Watcher Of The Skies where a cluster of white spotlights stand out razor sharp against an inky blue backdrop. The camera work is fine if a little static, no cable mounted cameras flying over the audience's heads here. Conspicuously Hackett stands (and occasionally sits as he did in the old days) stage front and centre with Townsend to the left and Pomeroy on the right. To their rear are King and O'Toole on two raised podiums and between them is an elevated platform complete with descending stairs where the guest singers (and occasionally Sylvan) take up their position.
There is a look of intense concentration on Hackett's face throughout the set rarely raising his sights from the familiar Gibson Les Paul Goldtop and only acknowledging his colleagues during the in-between song banter. This is hardly surprising given that the success (or failure) of each performance rests squarely on his shoulders. The permanently seated King adopts a similarly passive demeanour (not unlike a certain Mr. Banks) whilst Sylvan remains coolly aloof with his flowing Robert Plant style locks and Pirates of the Caribbean attire. Treading in the footsteps of Gabriel and Collins, he too has a good deal to live up to. In contrast the ever smiling Pomeroy, the bowler hatted O'Toole and the cloth capped Townsend appear to be having a good deal of fun with the sight of the diminutive bass player wielding an oversized double necked guitar (a la Rutherford and Squire) being an enduring image. In this male dominated environment (and that includes the audience) the beautiful and strikingly dressed Amanda Lehman provides a welcome distraction.
Although I may have been a tad unkind to the singers, overall this is an excellent souvenir of an excellent show.
As a word of caution, the digipak packaging is on the bulky side, which I found necessary to lay on a flat surface in order to unfold and extract each of the 5 discs. The choice of material is impeccable and unashamedly nostalgic, easily the better of anything Genesis themselves have staged since 1977. The 3,000 to 4,000 strong crowd certainly got their money's worth. As for the musicianship, individually and collectively the performances are beyond reproach with Hackett naturally taking top honors. Sound wise, if I was being hypercritical the CD stereo mix is a little muddy at the bottom end with a bass pedal like wall of sound for the most part. That apart and the occasional (if not unexpected) moments of guitar indulgence from Mr. Hackett, the material is treated with considerable reverence which is as it should be.
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Steve Hackett Studio Album Reviews:-
|"To be honest, this Hackett-album is not the one I expected. It is, apart from two or three songs, very atmospheric and although it's a nice atmosphere that Hackett creates, this album lacks the necessary variation."|
(Jan-Jaap de Haan, 7/10)
|To Watch The Storms|
|"It's been a long time coming, but I believe that this album is the true and logical successor to earlier albums like Spectral Mornings and Defector."|
(Chris Meeker, 9/10)
|"For me however, it's back to Spectral Mornings, Genesis Revisited and Darktown."|
(Geoff Feakes, 7.5/10)
|Out Of The Tunnel's Mouth|
|"...the ultimate time travel through Steve Hackett's musical history."|
(Menno von Brucken Fock, 9/10)
|Beyond The Shrouded Horizon|
|"...there are a couple of numbers that fall s bit short of the mark but the rest is of a high enough quality to achieve a recommended tag."|
(Mark Hughes, 8/10)
|Other CD & DVD Reviews:-|
|Genesis Revisited||Live Archive 70, 80, 90s||Somewhere In South America|
|Live Archive NEARfest||Hungarian Horizons - Budapest||Live Archive 04|
|Once Above A Time [DVD]||Genesis Revisited II||The Tokyo Tapes|
Previous Steve Hackett Live Reviews:-
|Tilburg, Netherlands (2003)||Dublin, Ireland (2003)||Newcastle, U.K. (2003)|
|London, U.K. (2004)||Middlesborough, U.K. (2004)||Summer's End Festival, U.K. (2009)|
|Zoetermeer, Netherlands (2009)||Pontardawe & Gateshead, U.K. (2010)||Zoetermeer, Netherlands (2011)|
|Night of the Prog (2012)||Cardiff, U.K. (2013)||Amsterdam, Netherlands (2013)|
|Manchester, U.K. (2013)|
Previous Steve Hackett Interviews:-
|with Jan-Jaap de Haan (2002)||with Menno von|
Brucken Fock (2010)
|With Menno von|
Brucken Fock (2011)
|with Menno von|
Brucken Fock (2012)
|with John Wenlock-Smith (2012)|
Also Eden - [REDACTED]
It is quite a story how Also Eden ever came to make [REDACTED] after a near fatal motorcycle accident in July 2010, involving vocalist/guitarist/lyricist Rich Harding only weeks after he had joined the band, changed the course of their history. Their next album, the highly regarded Think of the Children came out in 2011, while Harding was still recovering from the accident. On it, his voice emoted such pain, its most poignant song being 1949 about his experiences of being caught between two worlds while in an induced coma and totally at the mercy of a bureaucratic system which saw him simply as a stat.
Harding's credo that we citizens are mere pawns in a system of misinformation and constant vigilance continues throughout [REDACTED], the name of the album having a double meaning, to edit or revise - and to heal.
The band has also undergone some significant personnel changes which held up recording - first the departure of bassist Steve Dunn, who was replaced by Graham Lane, followed by keyboard player Ian Hodson earlier this year, whose berth has been filled by Howard Sinclair.
The changing line-up has given the band a chance to experiment with their overall sound and for anyone thinking they will be hearing Think of the Children Pt.2, forget it! Eschewing the term "prog", their music throughout [REDACTED] does show the most enormous progression of the core writing team of Harding and guitarist Si Rogers, along with the powerhouse drumming of Lee Nicholas.
Having seen them perform the new songs over the past 15 months at various live gigs, the continuing evolvement of each was fascinating to observe. The result is an album of great power and creativity which sounds different on every subsequent hearing. Much of this is due to the attention to detail which has gone into the eight songs, which spell out the album's name with both the first and last letters of the song titles. That's Harding's logistical mind working overtime yet again.
[REDACTED] is the album they were always destined to make. In particular, it shows the strength of their close collaboration in the songs' arrangements with the instrumentation fitting in beautifully under the complex, often dark lyrics.
In fact, everything on this album seems to fit seamlessly together, from the skilful production (and additional keyboard) of Andy Davies to the thought-provoking artwork of Neil McChrystal who produced five interlocking modern pieces to illustrate the meanings of the songs.
So let's take you through each of the songs to give you a flavour of what to expect. Red River is a song very much of two halves, the first being full of haunting synths and lapping water to wrong foot you before Rogers comes crashing in with a huge guitar sound, which owes much to Alex Lifeson with its heavy duty riffing.
Harding, once the frontman for four Marillion tribute bands, has one of the most naturally powerful voices around. It soars and it burns here, due in no small part to his brooding lyrics. Suddenly the full-on rock stance ebbs away and is replaced with a delicate guitar-led passage that takes the river analogy into new and slightly sinister territory.
Seamlessly, it moves to Endless Silence, one of the gems of the collection, a ghost story by any other name, with Harding half-speaking, half-whispering the words as he describes a scene "down by the waterside", and the way it draws you in makes you feel as though you are there with him. It builds slowly with Nicholas beating out some hypnotic drum patterns in the background and Harding creating even more spookiness with the repetition of the words "lights go dim". Rogers then unleashes the most beautiful guitar sound incorporating an e-bow.
And then back to high energy rock through The Distortion Field, Crimson Sky's chanteuse Jane Setter making a guest appearance to welcome you to and from the zone. Again, you can hear a strong Rush influence through the guitars, keyboards and melody phrasing, including the chorus line. There are also some great tight harmonies and a creamy guitar solo leading into a slightly reggae-fied beat before returning to some darker riffage. Lane's bass also comes leaping out of the beautifully measured mix. This is the song on which each of the five shine brightly without the slightest hint of distortion.
A Lonely Idea has Rogers creating beautiful patterns with his guitar, his Dunnery and Hackett influences coming over loud and clear, before it moves into a shifting beat and then into full-on rock mode again. Harding ratchets up the intensity of his voice a few degrees and modulates it between angry and mellow. There's a fleeting synthy passage before Harding goes ballistic, the instrumentals ebbing and flowing accordingly to meet his voice. Right at the end, there is the most delightful semi-chanted passage from Harding which fits in beautifully with the song's rhythm.
And so to Chronologic, which gallops along at breakneck speed, led by guitar and vocals, before Rogers unleashes one of the best guitar motifs of the year, channelling a cascading effect up and down his fret board. How this song has grown and flourished since they first played it live at the end of last year. Rogers is on fire throughout with his fluent playing reaching new heights of virtuosity as the sound gets bigger and bigger as it reaches its climax. This is another highlight of the album.
The Test is the album's shortest piece, with Sinclair featuring heavily on lap steel, which gives it a distinct sound, before piping keyboards take over, followed by Rogers on another solid guitar work-out. This track really shows how well the band is working together as a tight unit. There is not a note out of place here, even down to the reprise at the end.
Extend & Embrace is the album's dark destroyer, with its lacerating lyrics and doom-laden, moody melody. Half way through, Jane Setter returns to give us a spoken explanation on what 'redacted' means and this, perhaps, could be slightly higher up in the mix to make it more audible.
Finally, we arrive at Decoded with its beautiful lilting repeated acoustic guitar passage from Rogers. Harding, having now shaken off the anger and bile, presents his softer voice which is multi-faceted and glorious, especially when he hits a particular key note towards the end. The gentle synths and additional acoustic guitar gives this song a wonderful rounded feel. It comes to a conclusion with Rogers' soaring guitar meeting Harding's voice note for note.
This is an extraordinary album because it is the one which will announce the re-emergence of Also Eden as a band of great substance and style. It sounds crafted and has a touch of real originality in the way they deliver their songs that never compromises the messages they are conveying. Perhaps a little on the short side at under 50 minutes, it is a masterful piece of work that captures your full attention and imagination throughout.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Also Eden CD Reviews:-
|"...a promising debut album...If you remember the so-called prog-rock revival of the 1980s with fondness, then Also Eden have done a decent job of updating that sound..."|
(Mark Hughes, 6.5/10)
|Differences As Light [EP]|
|"Although all the classic Also Eden sounds are in place, the new energy and heavier sound give them an added dimension."|
(Ken Trueman, 8/10)
|Think Of The Children|
|"If the band can build on these strengths I can see a great future ahead of them and I look forward to their next release with keen anticipation."|
(Geoff Feakes, 7/10)
Previous Also Eden Live Reviews:-
|Summer's End Festival, U.K.|
|Summer's End Festival, U.K.|
|Electric Garden Festival, U.K.|
|Cambridge Rock Festival, U.K.|
|Zaandam, The Netherlands|
miRthkon - Snack(s)
Crazy cartoon punk meets The Mothers in an elevator and steals their shopping, falls down the stairs, proceeds to gather up and cook all the shopping in the wrong order to the wrong recipe, for good measure chucking in the cleaning products as well. The end result is a quite mad trolley dash through jazz-punk-fusion, played at great speed and with tremendous proficiency and joie de vivre. It is also a whole barrow load of fun. And that was just the opening track QXP-13 Space Modulator.
miRthkon also happen to have produced the first album I ever bought on AltrOck, in the days before I was sent review copies, so this strange band have a place in my affections before I even heard a note of this. I suppose the misplaced capital letter in their name meant the Italian stable for the left-field musician with the similarly eye-catching name was always going to be the American band's natural home.
Formed by Californian multi-instrumentalist Wally Scharold, Snack(s) is the second miRthkon studio album, after 2009's Vehicle, my aforementioned entry point into the weird and wonderful world of AltrOck. Prior to 2009 various CD-Rs were released bearing the miRthkon name by Scharold, but these are probably impossible to get hold of, and the band as we know it now has really only existed from 2006's Illusion of Joy EP.
Describing themselves as "an amplified chamber ensemble masquerading as a rock band" on their website gives an inkling of both their fierce intelligence and impish humour, writ large in their occasional lyrics. On Hapax Legomena oblique and strange words are wound into the framework of a song that, according to the detailed breakdown we find of each song in the booklet, each with an illustrated tasty nibble, switches its way through no less than ten different time signatures.
The varied instrumentation includes the usual rock formation plus many reed instruments that wind in and out and play off one another as a complex musical Gordian Knot, seemingly at odds and at one all at once. No more so than on The Cascades which spins in a musical helix, separating and coming together over a complicated backdrop led by distorted wailing guitar and sax. The last section changes tack again and leads the song out over a quiet guitar figure in complete contrast to the previously controlled chaos.
You know what I was saying about time signatures earlier? Well, Snack(s)- The Song, an amazingly intricate piece, goes through an eye-watering 18. A fine example of the lyrics appears on this one: "To swallow your own libido, you must first learn to chew with your mouth closed". There is more than a touch of Zappa's scatological humour at work on this song, which is no bad thing at all.
The solos, time signatures, b.p.m. ratings and tunings of each song are each listed as one of the "Nutrition Facts" in a grid pattern as you would find on the side of a chocolate bar wrapper. The design and layout of the cover booklet with each song given its own picture of its snack bar, and its list of ingredients is a smart and clever piece of work.
You may have gathered by now that this record is not for those of short attention spans, and needs a bit of thought. On the other hand, something like the title track, complicated as it is, could well have you dancing, if not on your feet then at least in your head, as it smashes XTC and Zappa together in a five-dimensional musical blender.
How many bands could write songs about parasitic tubeworms living off the carcasses of dead whales? And make the much-repeated urgent refrain "There are men living inside of me" rather funny? This is Osedax and the answer to my questions is not many I'd imagine, but you don't put anything past this gloriously chaotic troupe. This particular illustrated candy bar pack invites you to nibble on a bar of "Osedax Zombie Worms", and boasts "Marrow - All natural ingredients". Barf! The song itself is the most "chamber rock" on the album, alto sax, clarinet and bassoon backed by quietly insistent guitar stabbings, making for a strange, almost laconic setting for the juxtaposition of the angst-ridden refrain. All rather clever, and quite good. This particular song is the work of bassist Matt Lebofsky, who also contributes keyboards, vocals, guitar and junk drums. He must have a strange mind, in the nicest possible way, of course!
The six members combine for a "group skronk" on the avant-prog charge through Mymaridae, and here's a complete rundown of the players who contribute to this fine work: Wally Scharold - electric & acoustic guitars, vocals, programming, clapping, keyboards, synths; Carolyn Walter - clarinet, bass clarinet, baritone sax, bassoon; Jamison Smeltz - alto sax, baritone sax, clapping; Matthew Guggemos - drums; Matt Lebofsky - bass, vocals, keyboards, guitars, junk drums; Travis Andrews - electric & acoustic guitars, baritone guitar, vocals. You may correctly deduce that there is always something happening to divert your attention on this crazy album.
I can't let you go without mentioning the last track, now, can I? Yes it is THAT song, as no doubt you know by now if you've watched the video above. It's groovy, I love it, after all what is the point of covering something as well known as Fairies Wear Boots if you're not going to re-invent it as a jazz-prog blast from the other side of the snack-based galaxy we live in, the Milky Way.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
TUGS - Europa Minor
After listening to Europa Minor I hastily checked to see that it was 2013 and that I had not been an unwitting victim of a time shift experiment. If you like music with references to PFM and Jethro Tull then Tugs' debut release may well interest you. Whilst there is something reassuringly familiar about this release, on closer attention it is not as derivative as it might at first appear. What is on offer is 75 minutes of sophisticated and melodic Italian symphonic progressive rock interspersed with a smattering of folk and medieval melodies that exude warmth and joy. Each cleverly developed composition in Europa Minor contains engaging and harmonious moments.
The majority of the tunes have an acoustic introduction and in this respect piano and/or acoustic guitars are often used as a canvas on which other instruments are placed. The compositions have an ensemble feel but often follow an accepted verse/chorus form. The use of piano and other pastoral instruments gives the album distinctive warmth throughout. Within this structure however, individual players are given the space and opportunity to excel and impress in lengthy instrumental passages.
Tugs is made up of Bruno Rotolo (bass), Fabio Giannitrapani (drums), Pietro Contorno (vocals, acoustic guitar), Nicola Melani (electric guitar), Marco Susini (keyboards), Martina Benifei (cello), Claudio Fabiani (flute), Antonio Ghezzani (mandolin), Francesco Carmignani (violin) and Matteo Scarpettini (percussion). The majority of the music on Europa Minor apparently dates from the band's first inception in the '70s. Now, after having reconvened recently, the band has decided to actually record these compositions. It is fortunate that they have, as there are many standout pieces in this gratifying album.
The opener, Waterloo, is indicative of Tugs virtuosity and skill. It begins with voices and sirens before a medieval sounding folk dance emerges through the chaos. This traditionally influenced introduction is very atmospheric, possessing an ability to induce numerous auditory images for the listener to enjoy. At about the two minute mark electric guitar enters the mix and an excellent guitar led riff develops that enables the band to display some skilful interplay with flute keyboards and guitar. The vocals in this track and throughout the album are sung in Italian. Contorno's approach is impressive and has just the right mix of drama in his expression. However, Cantorno's manner of singing is never as dramatic as the vocals often associated with Italian progressive rock in bands such as Quella Vecchia Locanda. Predictably, yet enjoyably Waterloo concludes with a reprise of the opening mediaeval folk dance melody.
Waterloo is followed by another impressive track. Il Re E Il Poeta: La Corte is characterised by its different instrumental sections that are based upon a delightful synthesiser and violin led melody. It ends all too soon with a dramatic flute and guitar passage.
In many ways Il Re E Il Poeta: Le Gloria is one of the most straight forward pieces on the album, but is none the less a rewarding listen. It features on the face of it, an unattractive and repetitive chorus, in which 'le Gloria' is sung numerous times. Nevertheless, this obvious hook works very effectively in the context of the whole piece. The song is reluctantly, dragged from mediocrity by the excellent uplifting instrumental passages and the numerous Jethro Tull influences within it. Even though Claudio Fabiani's flute is utilised extensively throughout Europa Minor, it is heard as an integral part of the ensemble and as such, is often buried deep within the mix. Therefore, for anyone hoping for, or expecting, explicit flute-led passages favoured by Italian progressive bands of the '70s, such as Capitolo 6, Europa Minor may disappoint. La Gloria is one of the few tracks which contains an identifiable solo flute section and its part within the structure of the song works exceedingly well.
Europa Minor contains many other notable tracks that offer an elegant palette of sounds that enthusiasts of symphonic rock might appreciate. There is, for example, much to admire in the mournful but hauntingly beautiful Pietroburgo 1824.
The initial mandolin and strings preamble is followed by a beautiful piano arrangement before Contorno's vocal adds even more emotion. Contorno's voice excels here and manages to convey a real sense of angst. The piece builds and increases in tempo and drama before the mandolin and strings-led introduction is revisited. The folk motif and subsequent traditional dance tune is outstanding in its execution and development. Susini's work on keyboards and piano provides a near perfect jump off point for a reprise of the folk melody before the piece concludes with an exciting exchange between flute and guitar.
Within a running time of 75 minutes some of the tracks on Europa Minor might be expected to be not as consistently impressive as others. Indeed, that understandably is the case. However, even within these lesser tracks there are moving instrumental sections to take pleasure in. One such track is I Bambini D'Inverno which some may find over repetitive in its chorus. Nevertheless, it includes a charming stringed melody that is almost oriental in feel.
The use of effects such as trains and spoken words prior to the commencement of the music on some tracks might also be considered an unwelcome distraction. Overall though, Tugs have produced an accomplished release which I certainly have no hesitation in recommending to others to listen to. I certainly intend to revisit Europa Minor on the occasions whenever I feel the need to listen to some quality Italian Progressive rock.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Doracor - La vita che cade
Has anyone ever noticed how good the Italians are on their pianos and keyboards? Even those bands that exist on the fringes of the Italian scene with barely any recognition; they too have world-class keyboard players. It goes without saying that band leader Corrado Sardella is one of these amazing musicians, and his skills come to the fore under the anagrammatic title Doracor. La vita che cade is the 8th studio album under the Doracor title - not including the Wanderlust album of early demos - with the first, The Long Pathway, appearing as early as 1997. However, La vita che cade is the first to appear on this website, and Doracor make for an impressive DPRP debut.
Doracor's music lies heavily in the soft-neo-symphonic-prog realm, with emphasis on the 'symphonic' part. Often the band is loud and cinematic but, more importantly, they always retain a great sense of melody. These tunes are not only hummable; they get inside your head so that there's no other option than to play that song again!
There is no better place to find examples of this than on the stunning 13-minute opening track Settimo cielo. Essentially a symphonic-style overture for the album, it's an epic prelude for what's to come. After a heart-wrenching guitar solo, the listener is taken on a roller coaster ride of themes and emotions. Importantly, two less common instruments are featured here, and on the rest of the album. Sardella occasionally steps out of the limelight to make way for Riccardo Mastantuono on violin and Vincenzo Antonicelli on saxes, giving a more varied flavour to what could have otherwise been a rather samey album. The track ends on an eerie yet somehow comforting and familiar chord progression played on the Mellotron. Straight after, it's into the titular track and it's still mostly instrumental. The melodies flow beautifully into one another and are climaxed by wonderful singing in Italian from Milton Damia to the melody of the guitar solo heard at the beginning of the album. Very uplifting indeed!
This repetition of themes suggests that this is a concept album, although without my Italian handbook I am none the wiser as to what this album is about. I'm OK with that, because the music is incredible enough to keep me entertained. Most of the songs are very strong indeed, although the album itself suffers from sinking under its own weight at 68 minutes in length. The one odd track out is Planet X. Very noisy and synth driven, it sticks out like a sore thumb on this mostly mature album. Persevere and you will be rewarded, as cockle-warming tracks such as Dentro il tuo mondo dazzle you with their stunning guitar solos. Lastly, the appropriately titled Lentamente is the final standout track on this album, with its second half reprising the chord progression heard at the end of Settimo cielo, although this time with drums and a truly sensational guitar solo before the outro track Attimo.
I have not heard the band's previous output but I'd be very interested to as it's not often that a band is this good by album #8. Though not wholly consistent, the album does not outstay its welcome, and features more than its fair share of impressive moments. It just goes to show that Italian prog scene is still thriving as it was back in the old days. This album comes recommended for fans of Doracor's former stablemates La Coscienza di Zeno as the two have an almost identical style. Certainly a band to keep an eye on.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Three Wise Monkeys - Perihelion
Bonus track - F#ck Kingsmill (2:16)
Unpredictable, exciting and innovative are three words that came to mind as I listened to the debut release of Three Wise Monkeys. A number of the tracks which make up Perihelion had previously been available as singles but have now been compiled to create 28 minutes of impressive experimental fusion. The ‘Three Wise Monkeys’ are a trio consisting of Brad Kypo on guitars, Alex King on bass and Liam Chandler on drums. Kypo's work is excellent throughout and here I found similarities to the style of Chris Poland's work with Ohm. Kypos and the other monkeys have been receiving positive attention for their live performances in and around Sydney, Australia, on the strength of this debut I can see why and would certainly be inclined to see them perform given the chance.
The opening composition and title track is an example of their often unpredictable and uninhibited approach. It is a short piece and more like a spontaneous jam than a carefully constructed reflection of what might be on offer later on. In many ways Perihelion could be considered the weakest track by some. Its structure appears to defy a number of usual compositional conventions, comprising of distorted guitars and a strong pulsing rhythm before concluding unexpectedly and oddly with a drum finale.
The next track, Sol Invictus, is one of the best compositions of the album. It has a memorable melody and features lots of impressive guitar work ending with Kypo producing an exuberant and thoroughly exciting solo.
Acid 15 is a track that exudes excitement and unpredictability. Its liberal use of unusual time signatures, tapping rhythms and malleable guitar tones ensure that the listener is never placed in a state of complacency. It also features a wonderful guitar outro drenched with well-chosen effects.
Zeitgeist is another skilfully played arrangement. The piece is rich in delay effects and has a recurring theme that is explored, developed and improvised throughout. It also includes a heavy and complicated rhythmic middle section that creates a great groove. It is an impressive track and a good example of how exciting this type of music can be. Zeitgeist also has some interesting use of harmonics in an extended psychedelic section. The appearance of the recurring theme once more ends the piece. The format and structure of the tune is particularly strong.
Contrastingly, other tunes such as Evolutions and Spider Fest appear to be much less structured and, as such, have more in common with the title track. Whilst these tracks are played with much skill and aplomb (for example, the fine bass solo in Spider Fest), they feel as if they may have been conceived primarily as band jams.
Zeitgeist, however, showed that this band are more than capable of creating structured and memorable tunes within this genre.
The most immediately accessible tune on offer is undoubtedly Choke which begins with a much more straight forward rock sound; so much so that comparisons with the Swedish guitar band Plankton could be made. However, this illusion is soon dispelled as the tempo increases and a bass solo emerges to create a driving groove with a definite fusion feel.
Pwnagetool is innovative in its scope and vision. Indeed, what emerges could be classed as perhaps an example of fusion reggae. The tune has a good vibe and is surprisingly catchy before a more experimental section takes over a minute and a half in. This section and the bonus track F#ck Kingsmill which follows features a modulating and droning bass effect similar to the sounds associated with and perfected by Radek BOND Bednarz. Pwnagetool concludes with some heavy guitar riffs and soloing before ending with more effects. The combination of these seemingly diverse approaches makes this track very interesting and never predictable.
Overall, I would recommend Three Wise Monkeys' Perihelion to anybody who likes to hear music played with the intensity of bands such as Naikaku or Ohm. However, as an album, it tends to lack an overall cohesion at times and some tracks definitely appear to be much more fully formed than others. The releases shorter running length than some prog fans might be accustomed to may dissuade some from investigating further. However, I understand that Three Wise Monkeys have in the past concentrated on distributing their music on newer media such as phone apps and downloads rather than CDs. Therefore, in this context a release of 28 minutes might be deemed appropriate.
I intend to follow this band's progress carefully and I look forward to future releases that hopefully will feature tracks as exciting, unpredictable and innovative as Acid 15, Zeitgeist and Sol Invictus.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Tusmørke - Underjordisk Tusmørke
Tracklist: Fimbul (6:28), Watching the Moon Sail Out of the East (7:52), The Quintessence of Elements (5:58), Young Man and His Woman (4:59), A Nightmare's Just A Dream (7:38), Hostjevndogn (7:49)
Bonus Tracks - Salomonsens Hage (5:03), Singers and swallows (4:15); Les Fleurs De Mal - Ode on Dawn (17:28)
Benediktator - Bass, Vocals
Deadly Nightshade - Keyboards
Krizla - Flute, Vocals
Hlewgastir - Drums
Lars Fredik Froislie - Mellotron, Cghamberlin spinet, Hammond Organ and others
Right, well I have to say this one confused the hell out of me. I first heard one track (The Quintessence of Elements) on a sampler CD and enjoyed what I heard however it didn't prepare me for the remainder of the CD which is unusual to say the least.
But before I explain, a short history of Tusmørke.
The band first emerged in the early '90s when the Momrak twins called their band Les Fleurs De Mal, this band included future Wobbler vocalist Andreas Prestmo (who can be heard on the final track - Ode On Dawn) and eventually evolved into Tusmørke.
This is their first CD apart from a single (the bonus tracks on the cd) and it is an intriguing and interesting listen, but you will need to hear it several times to get what they are all about. Well I did anyway.
This is not symphonic prog, rather this is a more folky, organic type prog; imagine a Norwegian Jethro Tull and you won't be a million miles off the mark as the flute work is very reminiscent of early Tull. The vocals bear a comparison to Ian Anderson too, although there is a darker, more pagan viewpoint being portrayed here. Fairport Convention would be another good reference point too.
The album is mainly sung in English apart from one track and is a very organic sounding using analogue instruments to create an early '70s vibe, which they do very successfully indeed it has to be said.
Best taken as a whole, the album sets rather a magical mood overall, The Quintessence of Elements being especially fine with its staccato keyboard motif underpinning the song's chorus of "Purify, intensify the quintessence of elements".
Overall it's a fairly laid back affair although it is surprisingly heavy in parts, the keyboards giving a lot of depth in the mix.
What really makes this album interesting are the bonus tracks from the previously issued limited edition single and the unreleased Les Fleur Del Mal - which is the most openly progressive piece on offer here. These tracks give an insight into what was and where Tusmørke have come from and they are fine representations of this intriguing band.
OK, let's look at the albums key tracks and highlights.
Fimbul is a strong opener with a flute driven intro nicely underpinned by a busy yet surging bass line. The song makes good use of contrasting light and shade which adds to the "otherworldliness" of the CD.
Watching in the Moon follows a similar course but with a really strong melody line, again a great use of the flute, Mellotrons and synths to create this lush yet loose sound. The CD is mixed in such a way that it sounds very early 1970s influenced and there is good use of harmonies on this song too.
The Quintessence of Elements is my favourite song on display here. It has a swinging staccato rhythm to it with a great, almost funky organ which makes the chorus memorable and when you see the lyrics in the chorus that's no mean feat - it's a great song with some lovely organ work throughout.
A Young Man and his Woman opens again with flute and morphs into almost a brass sound with some pretty urgent drums pushing the song forward and an interesting vocal. A fast-paced song all told.
A Nightmare is Just a Dream is another fine track similar in style to what has gone before with the singer sounding a little like a cross between Ian Anderson and Greg Lake in his early Crimson days. There is a great E.L.O. middle section to this song too which works better than it sounds.
The next song is sung in Norwegian and is more of the same with the exception that I haven't got a clue what they are on about but musically it's a solid sounding piece.
Salomonsens Hage is brilliant and has some great vocals to it showing where Tusmørke are heading with fine keyboards, flute and vocals merging to form a cohesive and ethereal sound.
Singers and Swallows is the closest thing to a standard or normal song on the CD, fairly gentle throughout with an underplayed melody and a great vocal performance. Oh, there's a wilder part at the end just to confuse.
Finally, the Les Fleur Del Mar track Ode On Dawn. This is a brooding slow burner of a track and the quality of the recording isn't up to the same level as the rest of the album being more demo Quality but overall it gives an interesting insight as to how one band evolved into the other, how their sound has changed over the years and how they managed to finally realize their vision of how their music should sound - it's a lengthy piece and well worth the time spent listening to it.
So there you have it, Tusmørke's debut Album - it's really a grower and I've gone from confusion to delight in the treasures it yields upon careful listening so I'm going to give it seven out of ten and would recommend it to Tull, Incredible String Band or White Willow or Wobbler fans.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Circadian Pulse - In The Blink Of An Eye [EP]
Circadian Pulse consist of Adrian Sofia (vocals), Bzen Byanjankar (guitar), Stephen Stegiadis (guitar), Simon D'Alfonso (bass) and Dave Holley (keyboards). On this album additional guest musicians Dom Scarpino and Luciano Alvaro play the drums.
A progressive metal band from Melbourne, Australia Circadian Pulse was formed in early 2008 by Simon D'Alfonos, later joined by Byanjankar and Stergiades. In 2009 they started writing material and also began looking for a vocalist, which took some time as in mid-2010 Sofia auditioned and was picked to join the band. With the help of guest drummers they started to play live gigs throughout 2010 and 2011 before realising that a keyboard player would be a benefit to the band, helping to give a more progressive richness to their sound, so Dave Holley joined early in 2012.
The EP In The Blink Of An Eye was recorded and produced by Stephen Stergiades, a qualified sound engineer, in 2012 at his own studio, and was released at the end of the year.
Starting with the epic No Return, the longest track clocking in at over 10 minutes long opens with sound effects of running water, birds, etc., building up until piano arrives in grand style, shaping the music which builds on keyboards, guitars and drums. Once the peak is reached the music settles and the vocals are upon us, the cycle begins building again to a heavy guitar. At just after 5 minutes there's a lovely quiet passage with some sweet guitar playing, drums and bass return driving the music along while the guitars still please the ear, as we move back to heavy rock, finishing with catching keyboards. The track has the sounds of Dream Theater, Spock's Beard, even a touch of King Crimson in the mix yet still with their own sound making it an enjoyable track.
Next up is Hourglass, drums kick the track off straight into guitars and bass with keyboards in the background. Threshold springs to mind as an influence on this number, complete with powerful vocals, while the two guitarists battle it out and cut some good guitar riffs.
The pace changes for the semi-acoustic Without Love, a ballad sung with a big heart showcasing Adrian's vocals. Just less than two minutes long, the beautiful keyboard feature Sea Of Sand puts you on a beach in a far off land.
Finally, Failed By A System is a full-on old-style metal track with pounding drums and big guitars reminding me of early Iron Maiden, some slightly distorted vocals with backing vocals sounding a bit dated make this a weaker track on the EP.
All in all an enjoyable EP and what follows should be interesting. The band have been slightly held back by not having a permanent drummer, but this has now been resolved with Tommy O, a young drummer extraordinaire from New Zealand, joining the band. Now complete Circadian Pulse can extend their touring and work on a full album which will hopefully follow in due course.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Early Cross - Pathfinder
Before the release of Pathfinder, Early Cross were an unknown phenomenon for me, always open to the new I volunteered to review the latest album by these Japanese rockers.
I did not know what to expect, so I was in for a real surprise here, but was it as surprising as I had hoped for? No, most certainly not.
Early Cross are Yugo Maeda (bass, backing vocals), Yushi Soutome (drums), Natasha Vaichuk (lead vocals, keyboards), Hiroaki Kato (guitars, keyboards, backing vocals) plus touring member Tatsuo Inoue (guitars, backing vocals).
Early cross have been around quite some time now. Founded in 2002, in 2006 singer Natasha joined adding her female vocals. Finally in 2010 the band recorded an EP for IHATOV productions as a digitally available release only. Highly sought after however, it was later also released as a CD.
2013 sees the release of Pathfinder, their first full-blown album. The first couple of spins did not really impress me much; a general rock sound with lots of riffs, now and then great guitar and keyboards play. What mostly got my attention was the typical voice of lead singer Natasha. Her voice is very distinct and will certainly be an asset to the band in paving their way across stages world wide.
Early Cross are a bunch of hardworking, creative and certainly good musicians, but I really doubt that their musical style will bring them what they really want to have. The music on Pathfinder is, as the title suggests, seeking a path to try and find the style that suits the band best. Balancing on the edge of doomy metal, prog metal, heavy metal and postrock they will have to make a choice as they are not all that consistent right now. The album did grow on me, especially The Pilgrimage which is by far my most favourite song here. The reason is that this one song embodies what I feel is Early Cross. Outspoken, yet introverted. Tough one moment but tender the next. Atmospheric and rocking.
If and when continuing to record and release material in the vein of The Pilgrimage then Early Cross will have a place amongst progressive fans and surely stand a chance in the progressive world. Any other choice is fine, and will probably earn them their spot in the gigantic hall of fame.
We'll keep an eye out for Album 2, if only to find out what their choice has been. Continuing with these mixed styles does not do justice to their craftsmanship.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10