Reviews in this issue:
- Peter Hammill & Gary Lucas - Other World
- Distillerie di Malto - Suono!
- Sophya Baccini's Aradìa - Big Red Dragon (William Blake's Visions)
- Leap Day - From The Days Of Deucallion, Chapter 1
- Epysode - Fantasmagoria
- Echoes & Signals - Comma [EP]
- Echoes & Signals - Ouroboros
- Echoes of Giants - At the End of Myself
- Airbag - The Greatest Show on Earth
- William Shatner - Ponder The Mystery
- Simone Fiorletta - Personalities
- Flight 09 - Signs of the Water
Peter Hammill & Gary Lucas - Other World
Peter Hammill, probably because he is such a prolific composer, has never been one for extensive collaboration. Sure, there has been the odd song or two along the way, mostly within the Van Der Graaf Generator canon, as well as lyric writing for other artists. Album-length collaborations have been limited to the more experimental oeuvre, with improvisational albums such as Spur Of The Moment with Guy Evans in 1988, The Appointed Hour with Roger Eno in 1999 and Alt with Van Der Graaf Generator in 2011. Although VdGG split the writing credits evenly on their last contemporary album, I think it is obvious that Hammill is the main instigator of the songs so a genuine song-collaboration is something rather unique. The collaborative artist here is Gary Lucas, guitarist with Captain Beefheart and, more recently, in the public eye (and ears) for his work with the much missed Jeff Buckley. Other World captures both of the musicians contributing fx, soundscapes and 'found' sounds but, in contrast to Hammill's other collaborative efforts, the main instruments are guitars. Of the 14 tracks, only five, taking up about one-third of the running time, are instrumental, the rest of the material being of a song form with Hammill providing the lyrical and vocal input.
It is great to hear Hammill singing simple acoustic songs again, harking back to his earliest solo albums, a form that he has always excelled in and the three songs of this ilk, Spinning Coins, Of Kith And Kin - a very Hammillesque title - and The Kid, easily match the heights he achieved in those days. Lucas' sound effects in the first two of these three numbers are a perfect accompaniment to Hammill's voice and guitar, whilst the latter number is a great cautionary tale of instant fame with both musicians playing complimentary acoustic guitars. Some Kind Of Fracas is a sort of amalgamation of a song from the Skin period back in the mid-1980s and the more out there instrumental explorations of In Camera a decade earlier. The atmospheric instrumental middle section blends in quite well with the song, and title. Cash features a classic angry and menacing vocal with quite chaotic backing leading into the first of two instrumentals. Built From Scratch is all about weird sound effects and the title could be taken quite literally in that these were various individual sounds and improvisations that have been pieced together from scratch building the final composition. Clever and interesting, particularly over headphones, but of a very different nature to what has preceded it. In contrast, Attar Of Roses is, in essence, a guitar duet and although there are plenty of 'extracurricular' intrusions, the piece does have an inherent structure, albeit one that you wouldn't find yourself whistling to (unless you were very good at whistling!).
Back to songs with This is Showbiz, a rather jaunty number which one is tempted to take as somewhat autobiographical, followed by Reboot which, as the title may suggest, is about frozen and locked down systems. Although a lyrical number it can't be compared with the 'true' songs on the album as it is mostly ambient guitar sounds stitched together with improvised sonics, the two musicians obviously being on the same wavelength throughout as the ideas do mesh together well. Black Ice, an engaging number of relative simplicity, puts the focus on the vocals which Hammill seems to have regained a new respect for and utilises to better effect than on more recent solo albums. The last four numbers are heavily focused on the instrumentals with only Two Views featuring vocals. This song is of a more languid nature with the guitars coming closest to sounding like keyboards. Again Hammill digs back into his box of past vocal styles by adding layers of backing vocals to a simple yet effective song. The three instrumentals are quite varied, but each brings something of interest to the proceedings. Glass is quite cinematographic in scope and the album is concluded with the shortest track, Means To An End, immediately preceding the longest track, Slippery Slope. Both are excellent, the former cranking up the electric guitars and the latter building a complete soundscape that brings the album to a smooth and graceful ending.
Other Worlds is easily the most accessible of Hammill's more experimental albums, mostly because there is not so much focus on improvisation and the musicians have found a way to amalgamate sound textures within actual songs. It seems to me that Lucas has encouraged Hammill to look to his own past and has drawn out characteristic elements that have not been so prominent in recent solo releases to create something that is both new and yet recognisable. Some of the songs on this album are, in my opinion, the best that Hammill has come up with in recent years and for that reason alone must rank this collaboration as the most successful one, musically and, hopefully, commercially, that Hammill has engaged in. The one-off concert the duo undertook was apparently a great success which will hopefully encourage other performances and maybe even another collaborative album.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Peter Hammill CD & DVD Reviews:-
|None of the Above|
|"He knows how to touch the soul, which is most important in music, at least to me. The fact that he can touch the mind as well, makes it even better..."|
(Jerry van Kooten, 8.5/10)
|"He once said that he considered a body of work consisting of about 50 albums a worthwhile achievement in the life of a musician. Now that he has reached that target, let's hope that he is not considering retirement!"|
(Mark Hughes, 9/10)
|"...those not so au fait with his oeuvre may be a bit cautious about jumping straight into 41 minutes of continuous Hammill..."|
(Mark Hughes, 7/10)
|"...a distillation of all that Hammill is good at."|
(Mark Hughes, 9/10)
|In The Passionkirche [DVD]|
|"...an essential addition to any Hammill fan's collection giving a rare opportunity to see the man in action and arguably where he is most dangerous and animated - live on stage."|
(Mark Hughes, 8/10)
|"Long may he continue to throw his dark light on the human condition."|
(Roger Trenwith, 7/10)
|Previous Peter Hammill Live Reviews:-|
|2003:-||Tivoli, Utrecht, The Netherlands|
|2010:-||Spirit of '66, Verviers, Belgium|
|Previous Peter Hammill Interviews:-|
|Peter Hammill speaking to DPRP's Dave Baird (2010)|
|Peter Hammill speaking to DPRP's Roger Trenwith (2012)|
Distillerie di Malto - Suono!
Hailing from the central Italian region of Abruzzo, Distillerie di Malto were formed in 1988 by a group of young musicians that included Fabiano Cudazzo (keyboards) and Fabrizio Pellicciaro (vocals, guitar, flute). They released their first album, Il Manuale dei Piccoli Discorsi, in 2001, to a very positive reception that earned them an opening slot for PFM in 2003 - after the legendary band's drummer/frontman Franz Di Cioccio had already signed them to his own label, Fermenti Prog. In spite of that, the band dropped off the radar for over ten years, going through some line-up changes while continuing to write music for their second album. Suono!, originally planned for 2009, was released in December 2013 on French label Musea Records. Three of its eight tracks date back to the early 2000's and were recorded with drummer Maurizio Di Tollo (of La Maschera di Cera, Finisterre, Höstsonaten and others) and flutist Luca Latini. Besides Cudazzo and Pellicciaro, the band's current line-up features Giuliano Torelli (bass), Marco Angelone (guitar) and Alessio Palizzi (drums).
In spite of the constant complaints of many of the artists involved, the Italian progressive rock scene is alive and thriving, its output spanning almost the whole range of the prog spectrum - from traditional to avant-garde - and maintaining a consistently high level of quality. Distillerie di Malto's long-awaited sophomore effort positions itself squarely in the classic RPI tradition, though imbued with a sense of freshness that prevents it from veering too much into retro territory. As is often the case with Italian prog bands, Fabrizio Pellicciaro's expressive, gutsy voice is a key ingredient of the band's sound, at times reminding the listener sharply of the great, recently departed Francesco Di Giacomo, though without the latter's distinct operatic flavour. While impeccably executed, Distillerie di Malto's music never comes across as cold or contrived, and the passion inspiring the band members' individual performances shines through the album with appealing warmth.
After a short, evocative intro of rippling piano and gentle chimes, Il Guardiano unfolds a lush instrumental texture complemented by Pellicciaro's intense vocals, with flute and acoustic guitars injecting an intriguing folksy note reminiscent of early PFM. The first part of Il Suono Seducente del Sogno opens in deceptively low-key fashion, then the music becomes assertive, though catchy and melodic, before subsiding again in an engaging quiet-loud pattern; flute, piano, Moog and guitar mesh elegantly together, occasionally taking on a starring role. A strong Banco influence runs through the second, shorter part of the song, with its plaintive guitar, powerful keyboard sweeps and passionate vocals, and the dramatic Nemesi, in which electronic effects and half-spoken vocals introduce an almost discordant note.
The album's only instrumental, Rovescia l'Immaginazione e Scopri la Realtà, is a true delight for the ears with its beautifully layered keyboards and clear, melodic lead guitar in the style of David Gilmour or Andy Latimer, beefed up by energetic riffs, drum rolls and rugged organ with hints of Deep Purple. At over 12 minutes, Lorca e Dalì features visionary lyrics interpreted by Pellicciaro with suitable intensity, and complemented by a panoply of arresting musical twists and turns - from a jazzy, bass-laden intro to a hypnotic synth-guitar-vocal sequence, interspersed by atmospheric passages. The gentle, soothing ending of The Sun - whose English lyrics and melancholy allure evoke iconic folk-rock outfits such as Fairport Convention or Pentangle - might at first sound anticlimactic after the intensity of the epic, but provides a fitting close to a highly satisfying 47 minutes of music.
Though Suono! (whose rather minimalist cover runs counter to the widespread trend for elaborate, often fantasy-tinged artwork) lays no claims to being a wildly innovative effort, the sheer quality of the musicianship and songwriting set it apart from other similar releases, and reveals the care and effort that the band have put into its production. The music's complexity is never overdone, and melody co-exists with intense, dramatic passages, with a warm, natural flow that makes listening a pleasure. Needless to say, this is a must-listen for fans of classic Italian prog, and a rewarding proposition for everyone else.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Distillerie di Malto CD Reviews:-
|Il Manuale Dei Piccoli Discorsi|
|"...reminded me in many respects of an early 70's prog rock, cleverly combining many elements and styles to create an album that has many of the characteristics from the era."|
(Bob Mulvey, 7/10)
Sophya Baccini's Aradìa - Big Red Dragon (William Blake's Visions)
Neapolitan-born singer/multi-instrumentalist/composer Sophya Baccini first came to the attention of the progressive rock fandom as the voice of Presence, a Gothic-tinged, heavy symphonic prog band that released 6 albums between 1992 and 2008. After Evil Rose, the band's activity was put on hold indefinitely, and the classically-trained Baccini ventured on a solo career, releasing her debut album, Aradìa, in 2009 on Genoa-based label Black Widow Records. She also guested on some of the past decade's finest Italian prog albums, such as Delirium's Il Nome del Vento and Osanna's Prog Family (also released in 2009).
If Aradìa was an ambitious project, with plenty of references to esoteric doctrine, Baccini's latest effort ups the ante by dealing with one of the most iconic figures in the history of English culture: the great visionary poet and artist William Blake. Recorded with an almost all-female band (guitarist Chicco Accetta being the sole exception) named after the singer's debut album, as well as a number of high-profile guests, Big Red Dragon primarily concentrates on Blake's work as a visual artist rather than on his vast literary output (which had already inspired artists such as Bruce Dickinson, Ulver and Tangerine Dream, to name but three). Each of the songs on the album (whose title refers to one of Blake's best-known Biblical paintings, The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun) is based on a painting, reproduced in a lavish booklet that also includes all the songs' lyrics, as well as Baccini's charming account of the album's genesis. True to her Italian roots, she also finds room for Dante Alighieri - one of the foremost symbols of Italian culture, and of Blake's biggest sources of inspiration - whose work is referenced in some of the songs. Barring the well-known hymn Jerusalem (of ELP fame), Baccini also wrote the bulk of the compositions.
From a musical point of view, Big Red Dragon is a lush, eclectic effort that merges warm Mediterranean lyricism with a strong dramatic flair - its symphonic grandeur infused with melody and the occasional bite of Accetta's excellent guitar, as illustrated by the true statement of intent that is opener William. Baccini's liquid piano and Stella Manfredi's elegant strings vie with eerie spacey effects in Angel of the Revelation, while Satan's doomy, ominous pace and dramatic vocals, though undeniably intriguing, might prove a bit of an acquired taste. In the sinuous Love of Hecate, the delicate, Renaissance-tinged celesta and harpsichord provided by Il Tempio delle Clessidre's keyboardist extraordinaire Elisa Montaldo mesh with flares of intensity.
Though Baccini's soaring soprano may elicit comparisons with other notable female singers - such as Kate Bush or Tori Amos - I found her voice to be at her best when used in a lower register. Indeed, her performance on the album's two relatively minimalist pieces, the gorgeous Beatrice (where, accompanied by Marilena Striano's superb piano, Baccini interprets Dante Alighieri's immortal words) and the already mentioned Jerusalem (which wraps up the album with church-like solemnity), commands the attention in a way that more bombastic numbers cannot achieve. Kate Bush's unique blend of edginess and romanticism is evoked by the riveting 9-minutes of La Porta dell'Inferno, a truly epic feat in which Baccini finds a perfect foil in the intense yet cultivated voices of Osanna's Lino Vairetti and his son Irvin, while the strings add a lovely folksy note. Baccini's voice takes a back seat in the sparse, faintly dissonant Au Premier Matin du Jour, masterfully interpreted by Ange's Christian Decamps in his uniquely expressive fashion, and further enhanced by an outstanding performance by drummer Stella Colaps. The exquisitely understated While He's Sleeping - another undisputed highlight - hinges on the contrast between Baccini and one of the few female icons of the original prog movement, Curved Air's Sonja Kristina - whose husky contralto seems to have improved with age.
Though, as a whole, Big Red Dragon is a high-quality proposition, it does have some weaknesses - mainly rooted in its rather hefty running time of 72 minutes. In fact, the central part of the album comprises two songs (The Number and Just) with a rather mainstream flavour, and a third (Cerberus) that, in spite of some noteworthy quasi-operatic vocals and fiery Hammond organ runs (courtesy of former Presence keyboardist Enrico Iglio), is just too long, and quickly becomes somewhat repetitive. The Number features Steve Sylvester, founder and frontman of cult horror metal band Death SS, but is more in a vintage hard rock vein, while in the romantic power ballad Just Baccini is complemented by the powerful pipes of Roberto Tiranti (currently a member of Ken Hensley's band). On the other hand, the title-track's cinematic sweep is not undermined by the disco-infused beat that provides a dynamic backdrop for Baccini and Aurelio Fierro Jr's gripping duet, culminating in a gritty guitar solo.
As can be expected from such an ambitious undertaking, Big Red Dragon - like Aradìa before it - suffers a bit from an overabundance of material, as often happens when an artist's head is teeming with ideas that beg to be put into music. However, the quality of the songwriting and the performances - as well as its fascinating literary and artistic foundation, so painstakingly emphasised in the booklet - lift the album above the plethora of often half-baked projects that crowd the prog market. Needless to say, Big Red Dragon is highly recommended listening for fans of Italian prog, as well as anyone with a keen interest in art and literature.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Sophya Baccini CD Reviews:-
|"...Sophya Baccini...worked nearly three years on this project to get her message to be heard and understood in all its intensity.
(Hector Gomez, 7/10)
Leap Day - From The Days Of Deucallion, Chapter 1
Tracklist: Ancient Times (2:08), Sign On The 13th (9:40), Changing Directions (7:48), Insects (11:12), Hurricane (5:09), Ambrosia (5:09), Heamus (5:30), Llits Doots Nus - Sun Stood Still (6:57)
Dutch proggers Leap Day are back with their third album, some three years after their last release, Skylge's Lair. The band's line-up remains unchanged, indeed the same group of musicians have appeared on all three albums, with Gert van Engelenburg and Derk Evert Waalkens on keyboards, Eddie Mulder on guitar, Jos Harteveld on vocals and backing guitar, Peter Stel on bass and Koen Roosen on drums. As might be ascertained from the title, From The Days Of Deucalion, Chapter 1 is the first part of a concept, written and composed around themes of the book Worlds In Collision by Immanuel Velikovsky. Although the initial concept and ideas are credited to Mulder, it is the two keyboard players, and in particular van Engelenburg, who contribute the bulk of the writing.
The first couple of times I played the album I almost rejected it as a pretty poor effort with nothing to really differentiate it, to elevate it from the pile of other new releases vying for my attention. Sure, there were segments that caught my ear but on the whole, largely due to what I initially perceived as the rather expressionless vocals of Harteveld, it seemed somewhat of a disappointment. It was only after being caught in a traffic jam with the CD playing that I realised that I hadn't really been listening that intently to what was on offer and that there was a bounty of fresh musical ideas here. The album kicks off very atmospherically with the instrumental Ancient Times and Signs On The 13th, the first five minutes or so also being instrumental. When the vocals do strike up they are not as disappointing as I had first thought, and it has to be said that, although of limited range the vocal delivery is very smooth with a great melody line. Thus far the proceedings are very restrained and there is a definite air of Camel, which actually permeates large chunks of the album, largely down to Mulder's guitar work, his solo on 13th being particularly nice.
Unfortunately, the strong opening is followed by Changing Directions, the weakest track on the album, the one that brings the vocal limitations to the fore, and probably the main reason for my initial lack of appreciation for what follows. The song just doesn't gel for me, the drums are out of kilter and the interesting keyboard sections left underdeveloped. Moving swiftly on we get to Insects, which would fit neatly into comedian Bill Bailey's unfinished musical about six-legged creatures taking over the world - anyone familiar with Bailey's work will recall the line "Human slaves in an insect nation!", anyone else will think I have lost the plot! However, I digress, the Leap Day song starts acoustically which actually suits Harteveld's delivery very well. The layers of backing vocals, supplied by van Engelenburg, Mulder and Waalkens, help as well. At just over eleven minutes, it is the longest song on the album, but is very well arranged, the transitions from the acoustic to electric sections and back being particularly well delivered with nice use of insect sound effects to boot. The interplay between the guitar and keyboards works brilliantly and although the intro into the final section, a reprise of the opening, is achingly familiar in style to a piece of music the name of which I can't quite recall, the whole song is an absolute joy.
Hurricane features a strong vocal delivery from Herteveld on which he gets the opportunity to open his pipes and belt out a few lines with abandon. Interestingly, this is the only song where the vocalist had any hand in writing the music and providing the lyrics which I guess must have given him the opportunity to write in a key that he felt most comfortable singing in, plus it must be easier singing your own words. Musically the track is strong as well, with some small resemblances to Yes here and there and the best use of the dual keyboard line-up to date. Plus, any song that features a Hammond organ is bound to get my attention. Segueing neatly into Ambrosia, the quality drops a bit, with the song suffering from the same problems as Changing Directions, even the backing vocals don't help this time round. Not to despair, as Haemus lifts things once more, a jaunty, even jolly number with an infectious chorus and performances from the lead musicians that really complement each other. The album ends with another instrumental, Llits Doots Nus - Sun Stood Still, a rather fractured piece but cleverly assembled into a coherent whole.
So an album not without its faults but one whose balance sheet falls squarely on the positive side. If you enjoyed the previous two albums by Leap Day then there is absolutely no reason why you would be disappointed by this one and the stronger tracks should pull in a few new fans as well.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Leap Day CD Reviews:-
|Awakening The Muse|
|"If you have an insatiable appetite for tuneful neo prog where the musicianship is of an unquestionably high calibre then this is undoubtedly for you."|
(Geoff Feakes, 7.5/10)
|"...I have a sneaking feeling that we are yet to hear the best from this fine Dutch sextet."|
(Geoff Feakes, 7/10)
Epysode - Fantasmagoria
Tracklist: File 4180-2 (2:15), The Arch (5:14), Morning Rose (4:35), Venom (4:35), The Black Parade (5:11), T.H.O.R.N.S. (4:00), Garden of Exile (2:48), Raven's Curse (4:48), Living Fortress (4:34), Fantasmagoria (6:49), The Inheritance (1:08), Now and Forever (4:32), Forgotten Symphony (6:47), Unreal (5:15)
This second release from the ProgPower Metal story-telling project put together by Belgian guitarist Samual Arkan, has a similar effect on me as Obsessions, the first chapter from 2011.
Firstly we have a great cast of singers including the incomparable Tom S. Englund from Evergrey, newcomer Matt Marinelli from the excellent Canadian melodic metal band Borealis and ex-Metalium frontman Henning Basse. Two strong female voices come in the shape of Triosphere's Ida Haukland and Tezzi Persson from Between the Silence.
Rather than contribute their parts via email, all of these and the cast of other guest musicians gathered in the same studio to help develop a more coherent band feeling.
There is an interesting storyline involving a cop, a journalist and a priest who possess differing motives to be the first to track down a brother and sister serial killer in middle-of-nowhere America.
The musical accompaniment is dominated by angry riffs, but with frequent softer piano and voice passages. The ignominious sound effects, which now ruin many such concept albums, are thankfully absent here.
However, as with Obsessions, I find the riffage technically degenerate and the melodies rather formulaically forgettable.
The plus points are the vocals of Mr. Englund and Idas Haulkand. Their duet on the title track is wonderful. I find Marinelli's contribution disappointing. He fails to hit me with the same melodies as he did on the last Borealis disc and sounds too similar in tone to Tom Englund.
There are a couple of other standout tracks in the shape of the up-tempo The Arch and Now and Forever but as a whole this album rarely rises above the average for me.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Epysode CD Reviews:-
|"If it could have maintained the quality of the opening five songs, then this would have been a Top 10 contender. As it is, Obsessions is still one of the year’s most appealing melodic ProgPower Metal releases."|
(Andy Read, 7.5/10)
Echoes & Signals - Comma [EP]
Echoes & Signals - Ouroboros
Tracklist: Circulation (2:15), Ouroboros (6:12), Moons Seas and Constellations (7:29), Equinox Part One (5:06), Equinox Part Two (6:30)
Comma is the debut EP from the instrumental group Echoes & Signals. Hailing from Tula, Russia this three piece band essentially play an experimental kind of instrumental Post-rock that revolves around texture, movement and atmosphere through a fusion of elements such as jazz and hard rock, sometimes referred to as Math-Rock. They look to mix a variety of influences and genres into their 'post-everything' sound - progressive rock included. It's a loose, indie style of music that is hard to characterise but has a place amongst contemporaries such as Matt Stevens and The Fierce and the Dead.
There is nothing new in the world of Prog for having either complete tracks of instrumental passages or indeed whole albums. Yet for all its innovation and clear influences from some classic first era Progressive rock groups there is less popularity today in these types of groups and despite this excellent start by Echoes & Signals it's hard to imagine that it is capable of converting the Prog scene to their way of thinking. That may seem a little dismissive but unlike King Crimson's Larks' Tongues in Aspic or Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, there isn't enough variety in the sound here to alter that reality. However, there is much to be enjoyed here.
The four tracks on this 2012 release revolve mainly around the creative output of guitarist Fedor Kivkourtsev. His style of guitar is responsible for carrying the main focus of the band's sound and is what is most interesting about their music. Through a range of tones via a clean, delay driven guitar to a hard edged sound that fits the Porcupine Tree mould (yes, that one), the guitar weaves in and out very effectively. The rhythm section of drummer Vladymir Pozdyshev and bassist Alexey Zaytsev is typically Math, tightly formed giving the tracks the punch they need through its relentless precision and time changing.
Where the music really stands out is in the folk-tinged rapid picking from Kivkourtsev. Memories features some lovely plucking in 16ths and 32nds over a delay and echoed sound which succeeds in giving a flavour of the sound of the Russian Balalaika. This is layered in with the clean guitar very well and at times it shines with some real flair and originality.
The highlight songs on this debut are the two parts of title piece Comma, which builds with a well-crafted structure, hitting hard in Part Two with a kind of rigid hard rock that kicks you like Rage Against the Machine can. Thankfully, it's in a measured dose and the intensity doesn't overpower the mixture.
The style of Echoes and Signals has plenty of scope for development and could form into a much larger work at a later date. Hopefully they will maintain the balance of hard and soft as well as some of the improvisational feeling. As tight as it can get, there is room for looseness in the music as well. The Floyd influence and the Frippian jazz is there and this could be allowed to expand to offset some of the rigidity further. I would also like to see some sampling to add a touch more atmosphere and strengthen the themes all the more.
Following on from 2012's Comma, Echoes & Signals second release is the newly arrived Ouroboros (an ancient Greek word for a circular, self devouring serpent). The band describe this release as their first album but in actual fact the five tracks on offer here weigh in at only a little over 27 minutes and could easily be described as their second EP. As with their first effort they have shared everything on the Soundcloud and Bandcamp websites to increase their profile.
As with their debut they have produced a number of instrumental only, medium length tracks which are minimally stripped back to a combination of guitars and drums only.
Opening with Circulation, a delicate, floating guitar passage driven heavily on the delay, Ouroboros starts with a lot of promise in its atmospheric mood but this changes quickly with the start of the title track, giving way to a typical full on, somewhat sterile, math-rock sound and perhaps this is where the presence of progressive rock could be shoe-horned in.
In reality the unusual, mathematical time signatures combined with a big slice of raw guitar may owe more to post-punk and some other areas of indie rock such as stoner and grunge than to the progressive genre. The cycling of complex rhythms that are a key factor in the sound, do not really qualify the music as Prog in any great way and overall the EP does rely almost completely on this approach.
After a number of listens the main impression is that despite its cleverness it does feel a little repetitive and one dimensional in pace, a factor that is evident in the fast-slow-fast style throughout the majority of the tracks. Sometimes the intensive percussion from new drummer, Yaroslav Egorov likes to follow the guitar rhythm beat for beat and this does feel a little workman-like and uninspiring.
Continuing with the style the band set out with on their first release, the more interesting elements of the music can be found in the guitar parts that intersperse the harder moments, guitarist Fedor Kivkourtsev employing a style of rapid alternate picking with a sound familiar to the balalaika, albeit the tone is one of clean guitar through a delay pedal. The picking is at times furiously intense and yet with the effects used it manages to give the listener a little respite from the relentless beat. Perhaps at its best this is found on the track Moons, Seas and Constellations which for the most part is one of the highlights to be found. The track does end in an uncomfortable distorted climax, an effect that comes from pushing the gain to the max.
Ouroboros shows the band are progressing towards a harder, more intensive sound from their first EP. Along the way it loses some of the finer, more subtle characteristics that Comma displayed and it is a harder release to digest than the debut. The connection to progressive rock is quite tenuous and could only perhaps be derived from the themes and complex time signatures. However, this isn't convincing enough and in reality the sound is much more alternative and indie.
There are some moments of interest to be found on this release but they aren't sustained throughout the EP to make this something of a significant find, however since their music is offered for free, there is no obstacle to checking them out for yourself.
Comma: 7 out of 10
Ouroboros: 5 out of 10
Echoes of Giants - At the End of Myself
Echoes of Giants is an American band comprised of Wes Bolton (guitars and programming), Tracy Thomas (keyboards, malletkat, drums, percussion, and programming) and Rick Kaufmann (bass). On the band's debut, At the End of Myself, Joey Myers is added as guest vocalist. The CD is a thematic work centered around lyrics addressing self-assessment and relationships. Only moderately progressive, the band sounds quite a bit like Radiohead.
At the End of Myself appears to have been a complex undertaking. The title track exceeds 20 minutes and is subdivided into seven sections; another tune, the multi-part My First Breath, is almost as long. Lengthy lyrics play a large role, and, throughout, there's a carefully concocted mix of mellowness and boldness.
The highlight of the CD is its most progressive aspect: the electric keyboards, which take the lead on many tracks. The guitar licks, while pleasant and sharp, are too in-the-box: the direction, route, or final destination are never a surprise. The drumming is competent, at times excellent, but can be clunky.
Although, as noted, the CD is lyric-heavy, the instrumental tunes fare best. One of these, Alone, is melodious and heady; parts of the tune evoke Camel. Another instrumental, Shadows (a brief sub-part of the title track), although less creative, has some nice, gritty synthesizer. Also a strength is part three of My First Breath, the last half of which has a grandiose tenor and features an ear-catching, but all-too-brief, Rick Wakeman-like keyboard run and some frisky drumming.
Criticism can be lodged at the vocals and lyrics, however. The singing, characterized by somewhat emphatic diction, sounds strained and is overall bland. And the lyrics, however personal and perhaps cathartic, often fall flat because the listener does not know enough background to identify with the sentiments expressed (e.g., "I've told you I loved you a thousand times," "I don't know why I keep on doing the same things I've always done," "I can't believe you'd love me after all that I have done.").
On the whole, the band deserves credit for an ambitious effort, and there are certainly bright spots to be found here. At the End of Myself may well have considerable appeal to rock/prog-rock crossover fans, but prog-rock fans will probably perceive this as too tame to keep their attention.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Airbag - The Greatest Show on Earth
Last time on DPRP, Airbag were reviewed by Roger Trenwith, who was not entirely satisfied with what he heard. Thus, the buck has been passed to me to review these Norwegian neo-proggers, despite the warnings I was given by my colleagues. However, Airbag have acquired a huge cult following of their own, and seem to have done so on their own terms, so I was certainly intrigued by this divide in opinion.
Sadly, The Greatest Show on Earth is not a tribute to my favourite eight-piece cult prog band of the '70s. Nevertheless, you wouldn't be blamed for believing it was a tribute to one of progressive rock's more famous acts; the timeless Pink Floyd. The music of Airbag is often very atmospheric in an acutely Floydian fashion, with humming synthesizers providing the backdrop to gentle Gilmourian glissandos. I don't think the band would mind this appraisal of them as, on their Facebook page, they quote a Classic Rock Magazine article that says they are "reminiscent of a late-nite [sic], laid-back Pink Floyd". Unfortunately, when it comes to imitating the legendary band, nobody really ever comes close in terms of style and beauty. It's fortunate then that the band have a few other tricks up their sleeve. Should they desire, they can turn from being spacey and atmospheric to having a cool metal edge that grounds the music somewhat. This aspect does wonders for them, giving a bit of diversity to the album.
Now, I hear you saying "Space and neo-prog? Sounds like something you've reviewed before, Baz!" Indeed, you have to go back a way, but you will eventually find the stunning Australian outfit Anubis who, I should mention, are well overdue for another album now! There are a lot of similarities between the two A-bands, particularly in the way of atmosphere and soaring guitar solos, but for some reason, Anubis just seem to pull ahead in this game. I think it's down to song structure.
Don't get me wrong, Airbag are certainly impressive. The opening gambit of the pounding instrumental teaser Surveillance (Part 1) followed by the intense, driving Redemption really give a great introduction to the album. I was particularly pleased to find that Airbag are happy to cut the lyrics halfway through a song, leaving the rest open for instrumental bliss, just as they do in the highly Floydian Call Me Back. However, Airbag's main drawback is their lack of momentum or, more precisely, their inability to do anything with it.
Paradoxically, this is demonstrated on the album's best track, the epic Surveillance (Part 2-3) that dominates the end of the album at nearly 17 minutes. Surprisingly, it demonstrates both the best and the worst in Airbag. On the plus side, they reintroduce the driving theme contained at the beginning of the album and go somewhere with it, bringing a dark aggressive metal theme to the mix. This track also includes some absolutely beautiful passages that will have every rock fan reaching for their air guitar. But where Airbag fall down is the link between these parts. Just when it seems that Airbag are about to reach a really good bit, or when they are on a roll, they suddenly launch back into the spacey atmospherics, as if they feel they can't keep it up for too long. We are subjected to one or two minutes of pleasant, if dull, musical ephemera before the next section is reached. Would Airbag trim the fat on some of their songs, I think they'd be in a much better place.
Another grievance about the music of Airbag is that they rarely push my 'prog' buttons, despite the inclusion of eleven and seventeen minute songs. There is nary an odd time signature to be seen, with extended guitar solos appearing to be the only thing that the band knows. After a while it does seem to get a bit tedious and repetitive, and the listener longs for something a little bit more juicy. This is exactly why that metal theme in Surveillance (Part 2-3) is so well-received.
There is a lot going for Airbag, and I believe that if they put their mind to it they could really deliver something special. However, I feel that the presumptuously titled The Greatest Show on Earth sadly shows the flaws of a band who are still not fully sure of their direction or how best to execute their music. In brief, this band is good in short bursts but overall they seem to drag. I'm confident that they can do better on the next album.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Airbag CD Reviews:-
|"...it's all about atmosphere and melancholy. For my taste the music sounds a bit 'too much like' and there's not enough challenge or tension, just a little too laid back."|
(Menno von Brucken Fock, 7/10)
|All Rights Removed|
|"...sonic predictability to me is the album’s only failing."|
(Roger Trenwith, 6/10)
|Previous Airbag Live Reviews:-|
|Night of the Prog, Loreley,|
William Shatner - Ponder the Mystery
Reading the press release for Ponder the Mystery, it's hard to take seriously the document I'm holding in my hands. The idea and main selling point of the album is "William Shatner does prog", and yet the only cause for justification the writers can find is "Shatner is after all an enormously popular and celebrated icon of science fiction fantasy, and no musical genre is as invested in, devoted to or driven by fantasy and the imaginative as progressive rock." Whoever wrote that sentence, I wonder if they can live with themselves.
You see, while both parts of the sentence may quite well be true, to say that "progressive rock is driven by fantasy" is a downright lie. It's driven by music. It's driven by the idea of pushing boundaries and going where no man has gone before (oh yes, I went there!) in music. Perhaps if the writers of the press release had jovially written that, I would have still had the impression that everybody is on the same page. I don't.
Worse still, the star himself seems to have been briefed with this nonsense to the point where I can't even tell if he knows what progressive rock is. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he claims "progressive rock is the science fiction of music", suggesting once again that the main drive is fantasy, before going completely off the rails by saying "I am teaching my granddaughter to ride horses in a progressive rock way". Run that by me again Bill? To his credit, however, he does get something right: "Progressive rock has the same concept [as science fiction] of exploration into the parts of the music world that hasn't [sic] been explored." Maybe he does know something after all. What ultimately gives me pause for doubt is the fact that he can't even recall the names of the progressive rock bands he supposedly listened to in the '70s.
Already, the prospect of Captain Kirk going where no middle-class-musician-with-a-penchant-for-odd-time-signatures has gone before is not a jolly one. One thing is certain though, he can't possibly do it by himself. To this end, Billy Sherwood - yep, the bloke who was on Yes' Open Your Eyes - has a big hand in this album, composing all the music and performing most of it himself. Peppered around the album almost as an afterthought are celebrity guests, one for each track except the opening instrumental Red Shift. Some of these guests - e.g. Steve Vai, Al Di Meola, Rick Wakeman and Edgar Froese - seem wasted here as the thrifty production limits the richness of the sound. Meanwhile, the two Bills prove themselves to be a rather unusual duo.
Once you get into the album however, the guest musicians and all of the frills seem to fall away beneath the sound of Shatner's truly buttery voice. For those who have not heard his oeuvre before, Shatner does not sing. He prefers to speak his lyrics, and with good reason. On episodes of Star Trek, his speech was always disjointed to place heavy emphasis on parts of sentences, and here it's much the same. His performance of Bob Dylan's Mr. Tambourine Man was utterly comical for this very reason. Who can forget that yell? "Mr. Tambourine MAAAAAAANNNNN!"
But Ponder the Mystery is something of a departure for Shatner. Not content to create funny parodies of popular tunes, he has set about penning his own lyrics for this very release, making it his first very personal album. And though stories of dying dogs, being afraid of one's shadow and imagining things that aren't there can all seem pretty daft, it's his wonderfully gravelly voice, timing and intonation that brings the words to life and gives them meaning. Sometimes, it's not about what you say, but how you say it.
The first few steps aren't easy. The ballad Where It's Gone...I Don't Know gives the listener the first taste of what's to come. It's a very uneasy mix of Shatner simply saying his lines and Sherwood then singing them directly after in a rather clumsy fashion. Already the listener is apprehensive, very unsure what to expect from the rest of the album.
As it turns out though, things get better. As the album winds on, Sherwood gives our star the space to say what he needs to, at times just singing the chorus. Incredibly, Sherwood's subpar singing makes Shatner's sublime monologues even more enjoyable. The quality of the music is also quite a mixed bag. Some of the tracks seem to repeat ad nauseum, while others actually have shreds of what might be deemed 'prog' thrown in. Odd time signatures feature on this album; I didn't expect it either!
I have to devote one paragraph to what is by far the best section on this rather curious album. Towards the centre of the album, the triptych of Sunset, Twilight and Rhythm of the Night form a kind of mini-suite, one that would tickle the fancy of any progressively minded fan. It's here that I feel Shatner hits his lyrical stride. No longer are these eccentric words for a kooky old guy to say; this is actual poetry, describing the amazing sights and sounds of the latter part of the day. Imagery is rich and playful. From the booklet, the lyrics to Sunset:
"We have maroon but not too soon
Start at violet but don't get wild yet
Cause soon you'll see cornflour [sic] blue
Remember cerulean you can get a million of those
Which begets vermillion..."
I'll admit, Rhythm of the Night sounds like some sort of terrible love song, but fortunately it's quite the opposite. Once again focusing on assonance, Shatner still has his good writing cap on:
"A wren sends a wrong message
A parrot can be offered a carrot but a stick will do
The margay sashays into the foyer of the woods
A crow is a blow for someone who thinks wrong
The katydids have done their deeds for the day
The clatter of matter is a lot of chatter that disturbs the peace"
As Spock might say, "It's prog Jim, but not as we know it." Shatner has an incredible power over the English language, mainly through his voice but also increasingly in his writing. Once you get over the novelty of William Shatner doing a prog album - I know, it's difficult - you may find yourself becoming moved by his words, or at the very least, the way he says them. However, in finding a musical partner, I feel like he could have done better than Billy Sherwood, who gives the album a very half-baked feel. The album cover doesn't exactly scream "quality" either. Still, given the ear-grating I had been expecting, this album certainly ain't half bad.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Simone Fiorletta - Personalities
It's a wankfest...but I mean that without much rancor.
Personalities is the fourth solo release from Italian guitarist Simone Fiorletta. Mr. Fiorletta plays all guitars and keyboards and is assisted by a host of additional musicians: drummers Mario Riso, John Macaluso, Marco Aiello and Alessandro Spaziani plus bassist Dino Fiorenza. [Nota bene: this is a guitar fan boy's album; all instrumental, nary a vocal to be found]
Let it be said: Mr. Fiorletta has mastered his instrument. Somewhere in Italia, there is a woodshed reduced to smoldering cinders, the end result no doubt of some incendiary dedication to the craft. His aesthetic seems genuine and he often plays with high melodicism and even swing, which is rare in the musical legacy of progressive metal.
Throughout Personalities, I hear shades from a variety of accomplished guitarists: Neal Schon, Steve Vai, Gary Moore, Larry Carlton and even an occasional small but catchy lick in the George Harrison vein. Mr. Fiorletta isn't a copyist though, and he's well able to turn these influences into a signature delivery.
That said...there are some issues to address.
Wankery. There is just too much showy flash on Personalities. If I never hear a 'Speed Racer' arpeggio again in my life, that will be fine as we've gotten the cornucopia on Personalities. Too much of a not-so-good thing. The compositions are often histrionic but, more adversely, redundant to the point of ho-hum. I had trouble differentiating tracks.
Now, there are highlights on the album. Waiting to See You Again features an excellent central riff and a fairly menacing Tull-like passage, wrapped within a near-bouncing prettiness. April 4th 2010 has nice spots of eased confidence, especially in the milder, pseudo-smooth jazz moments. Bottom Line features an infectious refrain that sounds like an outtake from Steely Dan's The Royal Scam. You and I is a lovely acoustic offering, at times Page, at times Howe, with a slightly odd picking pattern and a sad lilt that still suggests optimism.
But there's a whole lot of overplaying on Personalities. I mean a true abundance. 'Romba jasti', as they say in Tamil Nadu: too much. It's impossible to say the musicianship is in any way embarrassing or weak. But the overblown tendency to showcase chops grows wearisome and boring. Like a stripper clothed in stifling layers: please get down to the skin and simple beauty.
I should remark that I found many of the choruses and bridges impressive throughout the recording. Mr. Fiorletta shines brightly, a bit removed from the prog-metal tropes. He has a brilliant ear for the well-presented, unique hook. His music is fun and appealing in those too-few sections. John Coltrane had masterful skill at the frenzied tempo but I've always found his best album to be Ballads, wherein he proves that gentleness and restraint are as powerful, in context, as intense blowing. There's a lesson there for all musicians.
So, I'll give Personalities a 5. It's not awful and there are segments that made me smile in their persuasiveness. I can live without the wankish flailing though. I'd have preferred a greater dose of Gary Moore and a modicum of Yngwie. Devotees of the genre might rank the album higher than I can.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Simone Fiorletta CD Reviews:-
|My Secret Diary|
|"I respect Fiorletta’s virtuosity as a guitar player; the guy is awesome, but the rest of the stuff on this CD is basically somewhat bland guitar-based metal and could have been composed with more originality."|
(Jim Corcoran, 7/10)
Flight 09 - Signs of the Water
It's no secret that these days with a reasonable PC or Mac and one of the software giants in the field of music production installed such as Cubase, Pro Tools or Reason it's possible for just about anyone with some patience and practice to produce something as good as a studio produced demo or music that matches the quality of any professional recording. The benefits for struggling artists with limited resources has been enormous, and despite varying degrees of success from artists in the Prog genre, there is generally a good standard on offer.
It comes then as some surprise to hear the production of Flight 09's newest release, Signs of the Water. Hailing from Uzbekistan, this hard rock trio have released four albums to date and with their newest effort they have stuck to their hard rock sound again which in itself is a limited and unappealing form of Metal that feels a bit tired and dated.
Compounding any liberating qualities that may be found within the seven tracks on the album is a production which literally makes it impossible to keep listening. Quite honestly, this is a mastering horror with much of the music lost to a muddy mess that rivals the sound experienced through the toilet wall at a gig.
Tonally the mix is limited right across the dynamic range. The drums are somehow lost in the distance with none of the high end sounds from the cymbals present. Vocals are unclear with way too much echo - enough to rival the likes of Gene Pitney. Worst of all the bass thumps loudly throughout with absolutely no clarity at all. There is a modest amount of synth on the album which is only really of substance when the music takes a brief respite from the overbearing rhythm section, a technique that happens in a very formulaic fashion at the start of handful of songs.
Musically only a smattering of passages across the whole record and perhaps the last track, The Cloud offer anything different from the bulk of the album however by the time the song starts much of the listener's patience is already lost.
It would be hard to qualify this as Progressive Metal as the album has very little on it that sounds like others in that sub-genre. Metal with synths is just what it is - metal style song construction with some colouring from the keyboards. In the briefest of moments there is a hint of something a little like Prog which is quickly lost in a Euro-metal noise that only has life in areas where it retains some popularity.
Ultimately there's too much wrong with this album to really recommend it which is a shame as the Prog scene needs more representation from countries such as Uzbekistan.
Conclusion: 3 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Flight 09 CD Reviews:-
|"...rather a mixed bag. The album has potential appeal over quite a cross-section of progressive music fans and I think the album would certainly reward perseverance in the listening stakes."|
(Mark Hughes, 6/10)