Reviews in this issue:
- Solstice - Prophecy (Duo Review)
- Mechanical Organic - This Global Hive Part 1
- Empty Days - Empty Days
- De Staat - I_CON
- Atropos Project - Equator
- The Windmill - The Continuation
- Deep Purple - Now What?!
- Arena, Di Tollo, Marras - ADM
- Fuchsia - Fuchsia II: From Psychedelia...To a Distant Place
- Active Heed - Visions From Realities
Solstice - Prophecy
Bonus Tracks - (Remixed by Steven Wilson): Find Yourself (6:16), Return Of The Spring (7:26), Earthsong (6:38)
Owen Davies' Review
In their latest release, Solstice have created a memorable musical expedition to be savoured and reflected upon. Prophecy is an album that has the potential to reward the frequent listener. Some aspects of the music however, may initially appear to be bland, unappealing and predictable. Nevertheless, over time I was able to discover hidden depths and unexpected facets not originally apparent on first listen. Prophecy contains enough contrasts and subtleties to suit a variety of moods, occasions and situations.
The concept behind Prophecy is shown in the impressive illustrated booklet created by Marvel artist and Solstice fan Barry Kitson. The first page of the booklet also features verses from The Prophecy (Eyes of Fire) written by English professor, Oz Hardwick.
The visual and literary stimuli in the booklet provide a varied and thought provoking accompaniment. The five linked, but distinct, tracks on offer are presented as an almost seamless listening experience in which Hardwick's poem and concept are explored.
The journey begins with Eyes of Fire in which the listener is presented with a warm soundscape of vocal chants that creates a calming and hypnotic effect. Emma Brown's solo voice then emerges, enhancing the sparseness of the opening section of this piece. This skilfully created reflective atmosphere continues for some six minutes before being unexpectedly shattered by breath taking electric guitar from Andy Glass. His impressive fret work throughout this release is inspirational, embellishing all of the tunes with consummate skill, ranging from raw and distorted sounds to pure lyrical tones that just ooze class.
Keepers of the Truth includes many ingredients which fans of Solstice will immediately identify as being typical of their style. It encompasses substantial guitar riffs and solos, appealing fiddle playing and a rallying call to environmental action. The melody and hook here are definitely identifiable but somewhat unremarkable. Nevertheless, Prophecy as a whole contains enough other elements and influences to make it appealing for a wider audience who may not yet be familiar with the band. In the final parts of Keepers of the Truth and concluding a particularly impressive passage of instrumental interplay between synthesiser and guitar, backing vocals remerge to produce a harmonious, multi-layered vocal effect reminiscent of Yes. This comparison is echoed later in the band's use of further vocal harmonies to an even greater extent in parts of Warriors. This is the longest track on the album clocking in at over seventeen minutes. It is built around a solid bass and drum riff, although some may find the main vocal melody and riff a slightly repetitive, even unadventurous effort. Nonetheless, the length of the composition enables the band to display a variety of tempos and moods in its assorted sections. The final five minutes is particularly rewarding and complements perfectly all that has preceded it.
West Wind is notable for a number of striking aspects and might be considered to be one of the strongest compositions of the album. Its acoustic opening with an accompanying fragile solo vocal creates a beautiful mystical quality. As the piece develops it features a guitar part that would not have seemed misplaced in Jethro Tull's Roots to Branches. On reflection, this comparison may not be extraordinary as Andy Glass served as Tull's live sound engineer during this period. In the latter stages of this track a wall of guitar sound is created, reminiscent of Steve Hillage, before returning once again to the ambience of the opening moments.
The fifth track, Black Water, builds slowly with repeated arpeggiated chords before becoming an enjoyable extravaganza featuring some of the best folk rock sounds imaginable as Jenny Newman excels on the fiddle. Her spotlight incorporates a fiddle tune called Beth Cohen's that was written by Larry Unger. The mood changes dramatically as this is unexpectedly followed by a spectacular tango section. Steve McDaniel's piano returns the piece and the album as a whole, to a contemplative conclusion as the words "All Alone" are frequently repeated before fading and ending with bird sounds.
The album also features three bonus remixes from Steven Wilson of songs from Solstice's 1984 Silent Dance album. As you would expect the sound on these tunes is exceptional and are an added advantage for anybody considering purchasing Prophecy.
Overall, Prophecy is an album that I will return to and hopefully continue to enjoy. It has many appealing aspects which when taken into consideration outweigh its deficiencies. It certainly builds upon the strengths of Spirit, their previous release and contains far less of the song writing imperfections that were apparent in their disappointing 1996 release, Circles. I hope that Prophecy enables the band to receive greater recognition for their long contribution to progressive music. On the strength of the finest aspects of Prophecy, Solstice certainly deserve much praise.
Geoff Feakes' Review
2010 marked a resurgence of activity for Solstice with the release of Spirit, their first studio album in 13 years. Since then they've released 2011's live CD/DVD set Kindred Spirits and now a brand studio album, Prophecy. Common to all three releases is the now fully established line-up of Andy Glass (guitars, vocals), Pete Hemsley (drums), Jenny Newman (fiddle), Steven McDaniel (keyboards, vocals), Robin Phillips (bass) and Emma Brown (vocals).
The band began life in 1980 as a neo-prog collective and perhaps the most conspicuous change in recent times is the prominence of Glass' guitar playing establishing him unmistakably as the bands front-man. And whilst his phrasing still contains elements of the Latimer, Hackett and Howe style of old (particularly when he's playing the melody line) there is now a harder, bluesy edge to his soloing. He is also responsible for writing all the songs that collectively lend a new-age spirituality to the album. The concept is reinforced by the linking of each track and the thematic nature of the evocative cover and booklet artwork (by veteran Marvel Comics artist Barry Kitson). Kitson also supplied the artwork for Kindred Spirits but here the images are richer and as a result more sympathetic to Solstice's lyrical and musical style.
With each track ranging from the 8 to the 17 plus minute mark they are given plenty of time to breathe. Eyes Of Fire opens the album in subdued but atmospheric fashion, taking a generous amount of time to establish its ambient setting. The harmonies here are quite gorgeous complemented by an extended and very David Gilmour-ish guitar solo. With its lilting acoustic guitar and violin theme, Keepers Of The Truth relieves the solemn mood with Emma's uplifting vocal melody recalling the prog-folk Solstice of old. Guitar and synth solos from Glass and McDaniel respectively play fast and loose with the main theme before joyous counterpoint choral harmonies brings the song to a satisfying conclusion.
The album's near 18 minute centrepiece, Warriors is brimming with musical references. The stark piano opening echoes Yes' Awaken followed by a bouncing guitar line reminiscent of Pink Floyd's Run Like Hell. A rapid, reoccurring guitar riff brings Steve Howe's frenzied playing near the start of Heart Of The Sunrise to mind whilst Glass' main guitar theme (taking up a good deal of the songs centre portion) is very Camel-esque including a seven note phrase similar to the one in Yes' The Revealing Science of God. Finally a haunting acoustic melody is resplendent with rich vocal harmonies that are especially evocative of Jon Anderson's solo efforts (not to mention Yes in their sweeter moments).
West Wind is a song of two contrasting halves with a reflective acoustic guitar and haunting vocal intro that breaks out at the 3½ minute mark into an Ayreon flavoured metallic guitar riff in an almost middle-eastern setting. Jenny's strong violin playing and McDaniel's brassy keyboard orchestrations add to the sense of the dramatic, subsiding into meditative electric piano which returns to the opening theme. Beginning with stark electric guitar and violin, the concluding Black Water builds progressively (in the manner of Steve Hackett's Shadow Of The Hierophant) driven by Hemsley's powerhouse rhythm before returning to the strident middle-eastern flavour of the preceding track. Emma's voice doesn't enter the song until around the halfway mark and even then is sparingly used almost like another instrument, knitting effortlessly with McDaniel's memorable piano motif and Phillips' fine bass work.
With the main album clocking up almost 60 minutes, the bonus tracks may perhaps seem a tad superficial but they do at least give added value for money. All three songs are taken from the original master tapes of what would become Solstice's 1984 debut album Silent Dance, remixed here by self-confessed Solstice fan Steven Wilson. The warm melodies and introspective charm of all three is in marked contrast to the edgier mood of Prophecy even though lyrically they share a similar vision. Find Yourself has a smooth jazz ambiance and Sandy Leigh's breezy vocal whilst the infectious instrumental Return Of Spring (for me the strongest of the trio) is dominated by expressive violin playing from Marc Elton. For the acoustic tranquillity of Earthsong, Sandy's evocative singing sounds very Jon Anderson-like complemented by Mark Hawkins' moody bass which (thanks to the remix) is nicely upfront.
The bonus tracks demonstrate just how far Solstice have come since their '80s beginnings. Given the near 30 years that separate the recordings and the fact that, with the exception of Glass, the personnel has changed the album still retains a sense of symmetry which is a testimony to Wilson's sympathetic production. Bonus tracks aside, Prophecy is perhaps the strongest Solstice effort since 1997's Circles and as such bodes well for the bands future.
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Solstice CD Reviews:-
|"Appearing as it did in the formative years of neo-prog their debut could be categorized as part of that movement whilst tipping its hat to the classic works of the 70's."|
(Geoff Feakes, 8.5/10)
|New Life (Definitive Edition)|
|"...the return heralded a more confident and polished sound with Glass asserting himself in both the guitar and production department."|
(Geoff Feakes, 8.5/10)
|Circles (Definitive Edition)|
|"...generally regarded to be their finest. In addition to the strong material one reason I guess is the diversity of moods compared with the two previous releases."|
(Geoff Feakes, 9/10)
|The Cropredy Set (Definitive Edition)|
|"...Glass was disappointed to find that the recording didn’t match the quality of the performance. With a commercial release planned the bold decision was made to repeat the set live in the studio the following day."|
(Geoff Feakes, 8/10)
|"First class production, tunes, arrangements and performances it’s all here, so yes a recommendation is assured."|
(Geoff Feakes, 8/10)
|"Gone is the usual mystic symbolism replaced with a comic book style design by veteran Marvel artist Barry Kitson depicting the band members as super heroes."|
(Geoff Feakes, 7/10)
Previous Solstice Live Reviews:-
|Tilburg, Netherlands (2008)||Leamington Spa, U.K. (2010)||Loreley, Germany (2010)|
Mechanical Organic - This Global Hive Part 1
Mechanical Organic is a band like no other. This Global Hive is their fifth outing and third full-blown album, and, as before, it is a conceptual work. Every track takes on a subject that can be regarded as being heavy, dark or difficult.
What we have are works about global awakening, the dark secrets of multiple personality disorders, satanic soldiers and all that kind of thing. Is big brother watching and even controlling us now?
The music in this concept album is of the heavy progressive rock style of the type that made Queensrychë and Dream Theater world famous. The latter has certainly grown to be an influence for many newer bands. Sure, Mechanical Organic are influenced by these bands and listening to the singing of David Bellion he must like the style and early Queensrychë vocals, Geoff Tate at his best.
One could easily say that This Global Hive is in a way an Operation Mindcrime with heavier subject matter. There are similarities in the stylish vocals and lyrically the album is at the same level if you ask this reviewer.
Mechanical Organic are relatively unknown but that does not make them any less good and they are an absolutely amazing group of musicians with great guitar passages and keyboard soundscapes.
Leave out the narration, which comes and goes, and we have an outstanding heavy progressive rock album. As long as narration does not disrupt the singing then that's fine during the softer passages but it would be better if they left it out in my opinion. Telling the story, however, needs the narration as the story will not come across properly without it. if it wouldn’t be there. Musically it is a works of great craftsmanship no doubt.
Even if you are not into heavy progressive rock - like your reviewer - I believe you should at least listen to the album. You can do this on Spotify now. You will be pleasantly surprised, I can tell you. I know I was.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Mechanical Organic CD Reviews:-
|Disrepair Part Two -|
The Pleasure Fled [EP]
|"There is some potential in their dark tunes but as they stand now I cannot find any reason to consider this as something groundbreaking or exceptionally interesting."|
(Christos Ampatzis, 4/10)
|Disrepair Part Three -|
Genesis Of A Germ [EP]
|"I simply have no other artist I can compare this to, experimental, post rock, art I don’t know where to put this. What I do know is, I like it."|
(Gert Hulshof, 7/10)
Empty Days - Empty Days
The latest project from Italy's Francesco Zago goes under the name of Empty Days, and as ever comes under the AltrOck banner, a combination that has never meant less than quality in the past.
Here, Francesco, ably assisted again by Paolo "Ske" Botta's keyboards, concentrates on delicate songcraft that is both ancient and modern at once, interspersed with swirling mists of restrained and sometimes scary ambience. The opening song Two Views On Flight hints at a conversation with Cloudscape, the last and most accessible track from the album by Francesco's alt-rock group Yugen. A similar theme is also touched on with Coming Back Home, its natural wonder melding with a merest hint of melancholy that suits the album title and the sepia tones of the artwork. That is not to say that this album is easy listening, for it has more than a few slightly unsettling moments, but these are for the most part impressionistic, again, just like the CD inner and back cover artwork.
The overall feel is a touch bookish, with lyrical contributions from the works of Seamus Heaney and Vladimir Nabokov illustrating a keen intellect at work behind the musical scores, and one that is not browbeaten into hiding its education in this ever dumber society, where the lowest common denominator is God. Francesco is not boastful about his obviously well read intelligence; it’s just there, without pretence. The listener can take it or leave it.
The vocals are contributed in alluring fashion by Elaine di Falco, occasionally multi-tracking. Her sonorous tones are such that even when on a song as minimal in construct as In Darkness Let Me Dwell, where the music consists of just the occasional piano run or menacing low-end piano chord, that and her voice fill the soundscape with a human warmth that is inescapable.
It's great to see Elaine working with Francesco, uniting two disparate but undoubtedly kindred spirits across thousands of miles of sea and land. The internet has its major headaches, especially where making a living from music is concerned, but it is doubtful that a collaboration of underground musicians as far removed as these would ever have happened pre-Berners-Lee, which would have been much to our loss.
The lyrics and music of In Darkness... and Flow My Tears were written by John Dowland, a composer and lute player from the English Renaissance, and Francesco and his musical companions have managed to weave their arrangements of Dowland's esoteric tunes into the fabric of a thoroughly modern sounding record. At the other end of the scale, even the only really "industrial" ambient interlude on the record, the appropriately named Waiting For The Crash, while surprising, still fits into the whole.
Let Me Dwell features a guest appearance by Rachel O'Brien, a classical singer whom Francesco met ten years ago. The duo share a love of Dowland, hence this song, and the way in which Francesco has written the contemporary pieces in an "ancient" style using modern instrumentation. Rachel's classical choral tones fit Let Me Dwell perfectly and this song is one highlight amongst many.
The autumnal mist laden eerie soundscapes are created by pianos, percussion, theremin and cello, all used to great effect on Ankoku, as an example. Words Lurking is a lovely evocative poem by Francesco, couched in metaphor, the lingering effect of earlier stinging words, still lurking (great word, that) in the narrator's mind at dawn.
I have touched on the minimalist aspect of this album, and nowhere is it more effective than on the near six-minute Kurai, an instrumental exercise in restraint and use of space. Another example of gossamer music is The Ghosts Of Dawn, and I've a feeling that this may be where Pat Moonchy and his "electric zen garden" comes into play. I was going to ask Francesco what this instrument actually is, but I feel an air of mystery suits this record perfectly so I won't attempt to find out.
The tune that Francesco weaves around Seamus Heaney's Running Water is a delightful piece, reminiscent of very early Trespass-era Genesis, but in a good way, it's not at all obvious, just (that word again) an impression. Elaine's multi-tracked voice works a treat on the dreamy second part to this song, leaving Charterhouse well behind in the process.
The Nabokov lyric is A Dark Vanessa, which I'm sure the more literary of you have probably already surmised. Elaine croons breathily through an echo chamber, the music tinkling away as dewdrops forming on a web. Low piano notes presage a ghostly visage in faded old lace, and quite lovely it is too.
We end with This Night Wounds Time, dust mites caught in setting sunlight, all strangely dark and just out of reach, a fitting end to an odd but charming album. Or so you think...leave it playing and a quiet Eno-esque piano figure from Maurizio Fazoli, whom it has to be said is a bit of a star on this record, floats by on a fog-shrouded barge bound for who knows where.
Although this album has been out for a few weeks now, life and all it throws at me has gotten in the way of me reviewing it sooner, but whether this review is published before the end of the year or not, Empty Days is for me a late contender for Album of the Year. You will not hear anything quite like this in what remains of 2013, or indeed the whole of 2014. Francesco Zago is fast turning into something of a musical polymath, and better than that, he never repeats himself. If you have adventure in your musical soul, buy this beauty as soon as possible.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
De Staat - I_CON
So, ladies and gents, where do our boundaries lie when thinking, talking about, listening to what we call progressive rock? And, who are we to define music by boundaries? Perhaps it is the journey into music that makes it truly progressive. To clarify further on that, please let me guide you through what I have experienced to be a true journey in music. I invite you to the eldest city of the Netherlands, Nijmegen.
Here it all began with a promising debut album called Wait For Evolution back in 2009. Torre Florim, singer and guitarist started a band and made something of an impression, mostly on the alternative circuit, with the songs The Fantastic Journey Of The Underground Man (titles just don't get more prog these days) and Meet The Devil, both still live favourites. After that they recorded a second album, Machinery, which had a more industrial and very tight sound to it; the band even having the machine that's on the cover built and used for live purposes.
So now these young Nijmegen lads present their third release. On this album they again prove to be a very tight unit and still dare to be as experimental as ever. Catchy though the album may be, they haven't lost their way of taking us listeners on a fantastic journey. Jop van Summeren (bass, vocals), Vedran Mircetic (lead guitar), Tim van Delft (drums), Rocco Hueting (percussion, keys, special effects, vocals) and mainman Torre Florim have managed to create a world where junkies, posers, scoundrels, liars and misers rule and still produce a record that sounds positive. As for the title, which might either be read as both 'Icon' or 'I con'; the band stating that both versions are not far from each other in real life. Aren't we all just about maintaining face whilst struggling or, as the title would have it, conning our way through life?
The band set off the album with the aptly named My Bad after which we first get entertained in All Is Dull with its funky basslines. Build That, Buy That is next, Torre appearing to be spurring on a team of horses as the song opens and then suddenly a raving recorder sets in. Not a sight of Ian Anderson nor Andy Latimer, but then again, the use of the instrument is quite otherworldly and not quite what one might expect. When we get to Devil's Blood, one of the first singles, we get moody sounds which might originate from the more familiar territory of prog. Then there is a very Simple Minds-like guitar part.
What these lads do, is incorporating all kinds of different music into a sound that is very much their own. They just as easily add trap music to their sound, which originates from a mix of hip-hop and dub, as they add crunchy guitars. That is what happens in Refugee. Make Way For The Passenger brings back fond memories of Deep Purple's Made In Japan as the instrumental part has a slight resemblance to the instrumental break in Space Truckin'.
Queens Of The Stone Age and the Belgian band Deus are names often used as references for what De Staat sound like but you might just as easily add a bit of Talking Heads and Nick Cave to that plus the sounds of the young Simple Minds and mix that all together. A bold, melodic and experiment driven sound is what you get and still, you wouldn't have a tag that would do the band justice. If you're in for something new and the names mentioned are among what you like, just give them a listen. Granted, the album most likely wasn't made to be considered on this side of prog, yet its sheer diversity and boldly go where no man has gone before approach make it one fine release which holds its very own in proggy areas. An iconic release.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Atropos Project - Equator
John Quarles is the man behind Atropos Project. He writes, plays and produces all the material himself. I hear people thinking "yeah yeah, here's another solo band project, he's number 1000 in the row...".
Atropos Project is not one of many, it is a solid work of creative musicianship, sound engineering and production capabilities.
One man bands want - and need - to be in control themselves, they feel an urge to do so whilst in many "normal" bands there may be one person who feels the need to do just what John Quarles does on his own here; control the complete setting of the band. When you are doing everything yourself, you need not worry about various opinions and strategies, you can just go at it and do your own thing.
As far as Equator is concerned this is an all instrumental album, full blown with a vast variety of styles as well. Track 1, entitled Inception's Promise, is a slowly progressing guitar oriented track that would be suitable as an opener for any No-man album and the writing may well have been influenced by No-man. Very easy going but nevertheless intense. Continuing with track two, the introduction immediately reminds me of a Steven Wilson song. But then it stop to progress in completely its own style with great guitar work, Hammond organ and other keys alongside it. The track is entitled F.A.C. - I don't know the meaning but someone probably will and I would be curious to learn it.
With the third track, Deadfall, the album musically progresses more and more towards music we might hear from Joe Satriani; guitar dominated but with nice touches of piano and keys to liven up the music, making it just a tad more interesting to listen to. Spiraling goes on where F.A.C. left off; highly melodic rock, at times progressive and at others just good old fashioned 'Rock'. The compositions are not all that special really but it is the musicality and energy levels that ooze out, taking the songs to another level.
The introduction of A Curious Trip features softly played piano encountering a simple but nonetheless effective bass-line, progressing further as a piano and guitar duet. Gentle playing, just wonderful music. And...Lift, Suspiria, Drudgery and the last track New Leaf simply continue the musical journey of Atropos Project completing a truly remarkable instrumental one man band album.
Not a single dull or uninteresting track. Sure, compositionally the music could have been better, but, hey, we need room for improvement otherwise the second album would be boring! And that, my friends, we do not want to happen.
Equator is an album with a good and solid name as in the end the music evens out and balances like the equator does around the earth. A good solid instrumental guitar dominated album, I am expecting to hear a lot more from Atropos Project, if the financial status will let us.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
The Windmill - The Continuation
About three years ago the debut album from The Windmill appeared, quite nicely called To Be Continued.... In my CD player now is the follow up to the illustrious debut called, yes, The Continuation. How appropriate.
The line-up of the band has only slightly changed in these three years, but the main contributors are all present to date.
The album starts with a nice little instrumental as an introduction, somehow it also feels as if this tune continues from where the first album ended. Next up is the first of the three epics on this 5 track album, a tune called The Masque. The piano intro creates an atmospheric soundscape for a '70s oriented prog song, composed and arranged with great care, it must be said. Still, the song reminds of old '70s records, more so than might have been the intention I guess. The song is worth a listen as it is played with emotion and craftsmanship, clearly showing the joy that The Windmill have in creating these lengthy songs.
Third song Not Alone also has a '70s feel, more or less like Steve Hackett in the way that the song is built as it reminds me a lot of the ballads that Hackett and also Andy Latimer of Camel fame are masters in creating. Not Alone resembles that feel, without being a copy of the influences. A wonderful song with beautifully played guitars and flute to complete the feeling and creation of a nice ballad. Classic old school prog.
If and when flute is used in a song the link is quite often made to Jethro Tull. Well sometimes we can really link the flute play to the way That Ian Anderson uses it, like in Giant Prize where I can say that I hear a resemblance, but not all of the time. Giant Prize is more of an AOR type rock song, more poppy if you will but still nice to hear a song of this kind on an album of otherwise lengthy songs.
This brings us to the last song, the epic called The Gamer. The intro starts with fervour, slowing down into a nice song reminding a lot of a Dutch band called Sandy Coast, especially the intonation and use of the vocals. I feel The Windmill are truly masters in balancing between regular AOR and Progressive music. All the songs are instantly likeable and quite easy to grasp yet the songs and music are of such complexity on the other hand that one does not really hear all after just one or two spins. The Gamer has as many twists and turns as a Playstation, WII or Xbox game! You never know what will be next, The Windmill have succeeded in composing, arranging and playing this epic without losing a continuing theme throughout the song. The spilt into three sections was a wise decision as in that way it leaves more freedom to change to another key or sound thus making The Gamer a great epic.
In conclusion, The Continuation is a great album, worth a listen and more but it is not a classic in a way that everybody should have it in his or her CD collection. However it sure is easy going and surely a good buy.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous The Windmill CD Reviews:-
|To Be Continued...|
|"...a terrific band and their debut album To Be Continued... definitely needs continuing. I for one cannot wait for more music from these guys."|
(Gert Hulshof, 8.5/10)
Deep Purple - Now What?!
Tracklist: A Simple Song (4:39), Weirdistan (4:14), Out of Hand (6:10), Hell to Pay (5:11), Body Line (4:26), Above and Beyond (5:30), Blood from a Stone (5:18), Uncommon Man (7:00), Après Vous (5:26), All the Time in the World (4:21), Vincent Price (4:46)
Deep Purple go back quite some time. Having come from unleashing the world’s most famous opening riff ever upon us with Smoke On The Water, feasting our ears with Child In Time, being the ones who presented Glenn Hughes and David Coverdale to the world on a greater scale than in their previous outfits and, after being dissolved for years, returning with Perfect Strangers, we now find them in a wholly different guise. Sure, the Purple we see nowadays has been around for some years. Long gone are the days of Ritchie Blackmore and, not only did Jon Lord, the master of the Hammond organ, leave the band more than a decade ago, he sadly passed away last year. So now we're here in 2013 and Purple bring us their latest offering, Now What?!.
With Now What?! appearing on vinyl and in special issues, it seems appropriate to lend an ear to Purple's most progressive album to date. A Simple Song starts things off, quite like a ballad with Ian Gillan pensive on the matter of time. "Time it does not matter", he reflects. By then, Steve Morse (guitar) has already provided a neat solo. As Ian tells us of a simple song, the band kick off an out-and-out Purple rock song. Ian Paice (drums) and Roger Glover (bass) are as tight as ever with Morse and Don Airey (Hammond and other keys) really jamming along. Is it me or do we hear Steve Morse give a bit of Stargazer (from Rainbow's Rising album) fashion? The band rock on and the song ends quite like it started.
Weirdistan pulls you in with its very Perfect Strangers-like sound. Where the young Purple were very much a hard rocking outfit, from the MK II reunion with Perfect Strangers onwards, the keyboards were used even more expressively to add to the mood of the songs, so it comes as no surprise that Don Airey leads the way here. And particularly in the moments where he and Steve Morse join forces, Purple show that they still know how to rock...and then some. Morse's solo here has a very laidback feel and he plays it magnificently.
After that we get Out Of Hand where Don gets another chance to shine during the opening segments of the song. Here we get to hear very Lord-like Hammond parts which Don Airey plays them very well. Ian Gillan does his utmost with the vocals and the pulsating beat we catch in the background really brings the song to life.
Then Purple sets sail for their Highway Star 2013 song, however, it is called Hell To Pay now. We don't get a Blackmore on speed but a very decent rock song with Morse playing his solo, building it up slowly only to end fast, just like that renowned minstrel used to do. Still, Morse does it his way. This song also features Don Airey going all out in his Lord dedication and even the feeling of a Purple concert in the '70s springs to mind. Improvisation was something that Purple did all the time, just listen to various live recordings of those days and you'll find that you need not be a prog band per se to, ahem, prog out. Just have a listen to Above And Beyond, Blood From A Stone or Uncommon Man and you'll find there is much more to Deep Purple now than you might ever have thought.
Sure, not all the songs are equally good, yet Deep Purple have given us a very inspired and inspiring album. Rock mixed with prog and Messers Gillan, Glover, Hughes, Morse, Paice overseeing the process. You loved Perfect Strangers? You loved Made in Japan? You got over Blackmore being out of the band for years and years now? And you are looking for what might be a fitting tribute to Jon Lord? Then here it is. Now What?! shows that, indeed, "Time does not matter".
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Deep Purple Live Reviews:-
|Arrow Rock, Lichtenvoorde, The Netherlands|
|Heineken Music Hall, Amsterdam, The Netherlands|
|Grugahalle, Essen, Germany|
|Gelredome, Arnham, The Netherlands|
Previous Deep Purple Interviews:-
|Ian Gillan interviewed by Menno von Brucken Fock (2010)|
Arena, Di Tollo, Marras - ADM
Link together three outstanding musicians from various backgrounds of the Italian music scene, make them curious about each other and excited to work closely together on a musical project. What do you get?
In my CD player I have such an album right now by three Italian musicians, Adriano Arena, Maurizio Di Tollo and Christian Marras. An instrumental album 7 tracks long varying from heavy rock to new Jazz, from progressive rock to intense ballads. A wide span of musical colouration throughout bringing to you the combined strength of these three outstanding musicians.
Although the music is of high quality and the playing very good I cannot say that I find the compositions all that remarkable, maybe they are even mediocre. Now I know it is difficult to come up with new themes and riffs to make your music stand out from everything else on the market, especially when you are trying to do so with an all instrumental album. Further to that I do not believe this to be a progressive rock album, nor do I think that the three had such a thing in mind when they made this album.
I believe that the album is more a statement of the various styles that these three are capable of playing and that in itself is the strength of this album. The various styles are played with panaché showing the capability of these three players.
In my previous statement I noted that the compositions are not at all brilliant, however the quality of playing and musicality is. The album will therefore not be a miss if you happen to buy it nor is it a must have. It is an album which has to compete with dozens of others on the market.
Good quality music with "standard" compositions.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Fuchsia - Fuchsia II: From Psychedelia...To a Distant Place
Way back in 1970 Tony Duant, a student at Exeter University who played guitar, decided to form a band in order to perform his songs. Recruiting a bass player and drummer the trio set out, acquiring a trio of female string players along the way, taking the name Fuchsia derived, not from the flower but a character from Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast novels. In the spirit of the time the largely folk rock repertoire took on a more progressive edge and the band secured a deal with the small Pegasus label releasing an eponymous album in 1971 produced by a young David Hitchcock. However, with no publicity (a single advert in Melody Maker appears to be the extent of the promotion), and with the supporting tour promised by the management failing to materialise the album sank without trace and the band disbanded.
Skip forward 35 years and the highly regarded Mojo magazine featured the Fuchsia album in their Buried Treasures section, re-igniting interest in the band and in the collector's market which had already seen original copies of the album demanding high prices. Inevitably a less than legal CD reissue was released which prompted Durant to reclaim control of his work and issue his own, remastered version. Sorting through the vaults resulted in a release of odds and ends largely from the post-Fuchsia years but now after 42 years a second album finally sees a release!
What is most surprising is how little has changed in the sound of the band which I suppose comes down to the instrumental line-up being consistent with the first album: guitar and bass, both played by Durant, with Lloyd Gyi on drums, Emily Duffill and Jo Bara (cello), Tracy Wan and Lidia Bara (violin) and accompanied by Suzy Toomey (accordion) and Isobel Durant (backing vocals). Musically we are still in the realms of progressive folk rock with dashes of light psychedelia added to the mix. Having been in gestation for some five years the album has an unhurried feel with the string parts in particular being carefully arranged to compliment the songs. Even without a radical change in style Durant has managed to maintain a freshness and contemporary feel to the music that is undoubtedly in line with the times, particularly with the success of the like of Mumford & sons.
The songs themselves are very pleasant all sung with Durant's somewhat fey voice, perfectly complimented by (presumably) his daughter Isobel. Melancholy Road manages to pull off a very clever trick of being simultaneously melancholy and fairly upbeat, largely achieved by the superb string arrangement. A lot of the lyrics are delivered in more of a spoken-sung hybrid manner as it would be fair to say that Durant doesn't have the strongest voice with the greatest range, although he can hold a tune very well! However, rather than being detrimental to the songs it is rather apt as it leaves plenty of room for the marvellous string arrangements to shine through. No matter how good synthesisers become, this album clearly demonstrates that real strings are impossible to replace electronically: the pizzicato and runs on Lost Generations for example are ample evidence of this. A lot of credit needs to be given to the production and mastering of the album which is top notch and crystal clear. I'll Remember Her Face, I'll Remember Her name with its accordion and acoustic guitar backing is a modern torch song which I can just imagine somewhat like Mark Almond transforming into a big production number. Rainbow Song is actually a reworking of Shoes And Ships from the debut album and to emphasise Durant's consistency does not sound out of place, either stylistically or lyrically, in its revised setting. The Waves is another track that features a fine blend of accordion and acoustic guitar and is an excellent number with a rare electric guitar solo to boot. Final song, Piper At The Gates Of Time, despite the similarity of the name, is not a homage to Syd Barrett but a rousing climax to the album with somewhat intriguing lyrics.
This release sees a successful return of Durant to composing and recording and will certainly re-ignite interest in the debut album. Although I suspect it will find limited appeal amongst our readers who favour more rock in their prog, From Psychedelia...To a Distant Place is hard to dismiss: it is a quality album with songs that have been expertly crafted, arranged and produced and is perfectly suited for those quieter moments of reflection.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Active Heed - Visions From Realities
Active Heed's Visions From Realities is an album that contains fifteen separate songs. This review is based upon a download, therefore, in the absence of a booklet or associated artwork, I was not able to identify whether any lyrical concept pervades the pieces. Musically, the album does not appear to have any identifiable or coherent concept. However, the melody which begins proceedings in the pleasantly agreeable Flying Like a Fly is later revisited as the outro for the final track of the album, Our Vast Emptiness.
The compositions contained in this release were created by Umberto Pagnini. His musical vision is realised by the impressive talents of Lorenzo Poli who provides bass, guitar and keyboards. Giovanni Giorgi provides drums and Pellek delivers the majority of the vocals.
Three of the songs on offer have a running length of less than two minutes. Looking through the timings of the tunes I was intrigued to hear how these would sit within the body of the music presented. The songwriter's aspiration to create a sub-two minute tune that is able to satisfy and hold the listener's attention can be notoriously difficult to achieve. Sadly, I found these shorter tunes in Visions From Realities to be mediocre in almost every respect.
The short tune format is arguably one that is not commonly associated with progressive rock music and its various genres. When these tunes are encountered in progressive rock, they often have a distinct role to play within the whole structure or concept of the music. Typically, it seems, such tunes may act as a bridge between pieces of conceptually linked music such as in Phideaux's Number 7. Alternatively, shorter tunes might be deployed as a distinct interlude piece offering a change of mood or emphasis, as was the case in Black Bonzo's Intermission Revelation within Sounds of the Apocalypse.
The shorter songs within Visions From Realities appear not to conform to either of these conventions. They are simply brief tracks within the fifty minutes of music. As such, these pieces are disappointingly unremarkable and somewhat underdeveloped. Awake (1:53) starts off promisingly enough and has a pleasing acoustic guitar introduction. This is followed by a bass driven riff that moves things along agreeably. In terms of its overall feel, Awake is one of the more progressive tracks on offer. However, the main weakness of the track lies in is its uninspiring and indistinctive melody. Some might find the unconvincing hook which consists almost entirely of the repetition of the title tedious. Now What (1:34) begins attractively with an organ-led riff which unexpectedly made me think of Focus. The vocals in this piece are dramatic and full of expression. Nevertheless, the unrelenting and recurring melody may not contain enough variety to sustain repeated listens. In its concluding moments, the piece manages to combine unobtrusively with the next track, Every Ten Seconds Before. The third of the shorter tunes, Without Joy (1:44), contains a jangly guitar introduction that quickly morphs into a repetitive spoken and sung melody. Some curiosity is created by a mishmash of interesting effects in the background of the mix. Overall though, some listeners might come to the conclusion that Without Joy is not a particularly well-crafted tune.
The longest track on this release, Every Ten Seconds Before, has a running time of 5:49 and is probably the track that would most appeal to readers of DPRP. The longer running length enables the players to develop ideas sufficiently to show their proficiency. It has interesting changes of tempo and style that some might find appealing. For example, vocalist PelleK is able to adapt his delivery to complement the varied parts of the tune. One moment mellow and understated, the next full throated and glass shattering. Similarly, the piece has a delightful piano/organ introduction and also features pleasing acoustic parts. These more subtle aspects effectively contrast with the solo guitar moments and fuller band feel that is displayed for large parts of the song.
Interestingly, Every Ten Seconds Before begins a six track sequence of songs that have longer running lengths than the initial nine tracks of this release. As such, the last twenty seven minutes on offer encompass some of the more progressive and most interesting moments of the album. F F F Flashing Fast Forward contains noteworthy instrumental parts. Its pop sensibilities and accessible refrain ensure that it has the ability to infiltrate the mind days later. However, I am yet to break spontaneously into a rousing chorus of "Flashing Fast Forward" when stuck in traffic. The quirky and unpredictable Me, One Second Before Johan Robeck was able to sustain my attention throughout. In this track, the vocals of Pellek excel, and during the repeated phrasing of the words "I want you to disappear" he manages to sound surprisingly like Phideaux Xavier. The song is structured into seemingly disparate and unrelated sections. The shouted words "Give me a Break" are delivered in an angst ridden way to end one particular section. The music then evolves into a psychedelic symphony complete with synthesised strings before reprising the initial melody.
Overall, Visions From Realities fails to satisfy and deliver on so many different levels. The songwriting within the album is not consistently strong enough for it to be regarded as a convincing song-orientated release. It has some progressive moments within it, but these are for the most part lost within the general mediocrity of the whole listening experience.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10