Backward Runners - Another Day, Another Dream
Rise (5:22), I Could (5:11), Newborn (5:48), Fairy Tale (7:08), Gravity (4:04), 4B (2:25), Put The Line (5:22), Another Day, Another Dream (4:15), Love and Other Disasters (5:21), 5 Feet Underground (7:31)
There is a very modern feel to the album, which has more in common with early Muse (but thankfully lacking the histrionics) than the giants of the 1970s. The more upbeat numbers, such as the title track, I Could and Gravity, have a popish element with crossover potential, featuring prominent melodies and large choruses that stick in the memory. This is countered by the dark and gothic Newborn, a largely spoken tale of an encounter with an axe murderer, that is both unique and surprisingly gripping, the very simplistic music fitting very well with the tone of the piece.
The other songs on the album are of a somewhat sedate pace, relying on the building of mood and atmosphere. There is a surprising confidence in such a young band. Opening and closing the album with single notes played on a piano is a bold statement, but gives the whole album a rather nice completeness. From the off, the band displays its own take on the progressive genre, with Rise melding a more alternative approach, with fine, albeit succinct, instrumental passages and solos. Fairy Tale is more grandiose, although the style and tempo don't bode well for happy endings.
The shortest track on the album, 4B, is also one of the best. It is an instrumental. Dominated by Romanowski's guitar playing, subtly backed by the keyboards of Zemanowicz, its shows the band has plenty of creative talent and good ideas.
The main criticism of the album is that it could have done with a bit more variety and changes in tempo to keep the listener engaged. For example, Put The Line is a very good song but tends to get 'lost' and not really stand out when the album is played as a whole. Indeed, many of the songs are quite magnificent when played in isolation. It is as an album, that things don't really hang together. The similarities in tones and tempos tend to make everything all blend into one, which does no justice to individual numbers, particularly the last two songs, the magnificently titled Love And Other Disasters and the great 5 Feet Underground.
Backward Runners have a lot of potential and promise. They are obviously fine musicians, have plenty of creativity and are on their way to establishing their own sound and, in many ways, Another Day, Another Dream is a very mature album. However, one feels that they need to establish themselves better, otherwise the band will fail to make a major impact. It would be a shame if this album is 'lost', only to be re-evaluated in the future as being a release that showed great promise, but 'where are they now?'.
Mark Hughes: 6 out of 10
Group 1850 - Polyandri [LP]
Side A: Jojo (1:34), Between Eighteen and Fifty Part: 1850 (2:57), Flower Garden (0:32), Thousand Years Before (4:35), Starfighter (2:29), Silver Earring (4:10), Patience (2:48). Side B: USSR Gossip (5:03), Cages (5:23), Avant Les Pericles (6:19), Pumping Up The Rubber Trees (3:11)
Although all the compositions are credited to Peter Sjardin (Organizer, piano, vocals), the album features a host of musicians including no less than four guitarists with only Sjardin and Dolf Geldof (bass guitar) remaining consistent throughout. I'm unfamiliar with the band's earlier output, so cannot make comparisons, but Polyandri can be loosely described as psychedelic, proto-prog (belying the mid-70s release date), with avant-garde jazz tendencies.
The tracks are mostly instrumental and given-over to extended, improvised jamming with occasional 'scat' vocals from Sjardin. The musicianship is first rate with guitar taking the lead, especially on the first side of this vinyl release; The flute and sax are more prominent on the second side. Throughout, Geldof and drummers Martin van Duinhoven and Paul van Wageningen laydown a rock-solid rhythm foundation to hold it all together. At various points I detected elements of early Pink Floyd, The Nice, Hawkwind, Soft Machine, Gong, Focus, Jethro Tull, and even The Doors.
Unfortunately the material, or at least the way it's performed, is patchy. The opening Jojo for example is by far the album's strongest and most structured offering, with a catchy riff, underpinned by spacey keyboard effects. It's a pity it clocks in at less than two minutes. The spacey Between Eighteen and Fifty Part: 1850 suffers a similar fate, being cut short around the three minute mark. Of the longer tracks, the trippy Silver Earring stands out, and is so-called because it features singer Barry Hay from a certain Dutch rock band on flute (geddit?).
At the other extreme, USSR Gossip is let down by Sjardin's vocal rants, which distract from Hans Dulfer's moody sax playing. The same is true of the concluding Pumping Up The Rubber Trees, which is a pity because when Sjardin sings in a controlled manner, as on Patience, he has an engaging voice (in an Ian Anderson kind of way). He also uses a home-built keyboard called the 'Organizer' to produce some unusual and inventive sounds. The keyboard and sax duet Avant Les Pericles for example, brings Vangelis to mind.
Given that Polyandri is an analogue recording, this re-mastered release, pressed on 180 gram vinyl brings out the best in this album. The guitar and rhythm section sound punchy and revealing, whilst other instruments like the flute, sax and keyboards are given plenty of space to breathe.
It's perhaps not surprising however that Group 1850's days were numbered when this album was released. It may have been a product of the mid—70s, but its heart and soul, as reflected in the cover artwork, lay firmly in the trippy, acid rock haze of the mid to late 60s.
Geoff Feakes: 7 out of 10
In Each Hand A Cutlass - The Kraken
The Deep (3:53), Overture (7:25), Satori 101 (5:48), Combing Through the Waves (1:16), Seagull 1751 (9:00), The Kraken Pt. 1: Manifest (6:47), The Kraken Pt. 2: Melee (6:39), The Kraken: An Intermission (0:54), The Kraken Pt. 3: Monument (5:52), Heracleion (6:27), All or Nothing (1:18), Ouroboros (8:57)
They prove this once more with their latest record The Kraken, released in April 2015. It is a concept album, where they tell the story of the sea monster via their instruments and take the listener on a musical journey through the depths of the ocean.
Feelings and atmospheres change; from melodic to aggressive, from grim to passionate. Still, there is one thing combining all these feelings: beauty.
The album consists of 15 songs, often merging into one another, and it opens with The Deep, a calm, atmospheric intro, whose sound effects remind me of Pink Floyd. The overall atmosphere breathes the spirit of bands like Pink Floyd or Marillion, until the heavy guitars set in. From here on, it becomes progressive and dark and leads right over into the next track, interestingly named Overture.
This song is a great mixture of styles, best described as dark, heavy progressive metal, mingled with a jazzy part in between. It gets really groovy when the percussion sets in. Dream Theater should take this as an example. In Each Hand A Cutlass know how to stick together different passages without abrupt changes. This recipe is taken over on most, if not all, of the following songs and is a trademark of the band.
There is a moment to rest, when Satori 101 starts with a very nice riff. The drums make you clap (they literally do, when there is a clapping sound later on) and it is not surprising that this song was chosen as a single. One could almost call it catchy.
Next is a beautiful little interlude called Combing Through The Waves with an almost church-like organ and some computer-elements, which remind me a little of Tool. It goes directly into Seagull 1751. The drum-computer intro could be a beautiful copy of Duchess by Genesis. Both beginnings share the same, very relaxing atmosphere. The whole song flows along calmly in the first half and the inclusion of the percussions adds its own little touch to it. It gets a little heavier in the second part, until the choir-sounds calm it all down again. The marching drums lead us out of the song (another nod to Duchess?) and into the almost 20-minute-long main track. This is divided into four different parts, and has a very typical progressive rock style.
Pt. 1: Manifest starts off chilly and includes some nice, almost tribal-like drumming elements, until there is a sudden change. A beautiful passage follows. Is this a ship, out in the open sea, under a clear sky, shaken by some small waves that seem to start to grow bigger as the song goes along? Tribal drums again, then the song takes up its tempo, and distorted voices and sirens pop up. A hard part marks the beginning of Pt. 2: Melee. The title speaks for itself. The battle is interrupted by An Intermission, some jazzy seconds of relaxing, before the storm goes on. The intermissions of Monty Python's Holy Grail and Tool's Ænema come to mind. Surely no coincidence. The album continues with Pt. 3: Monument, which has a slow build-up and has a lot of breaks in between.
Leaving this mighty title track behind, the ears of the listener are not ready to rest yet. The diversified Heracleion is followed by All Or Nothing, once again an atmospheric interlude, before closing off the album with Ouroboros, notably for its nice beginning.
The whole concept is completed by the impressive album cover art. A first glance might suggest a heavy/power-metal concept album with Dio-like lyrics or pirate tales. Far from it.
Trying to pin down this album with one catchphrase, one could say: Pink Floyd meets Iron Maiden; although that would probably do no justice to its diversity. It reminds me of Dream Theater, but not so over-the-top. The songs flow into one another and it is a great concept album.
Apart from that, the musical abilities of the band should be pointed out. There is a nice sharing and intuition between the two guitar players. The keyboard is seldom in the centre, but without it the band would not work at all. The rhythm section is tight and flawless. Hats off!
Philipp Röttgers: 7 out of 10
Pressure Points - False Lights
Wreckage (10:09), Between the Lies (9:37), Electric Shadows (7:56), Sleepwalk (9:19), Dance of Coincidence (9:38), In Desolation (10:01)
It starts with a ten-minute opener Wreckage. This starts with a chilled out, Pink Floyd-esque bass line and lead riff, but don't let the peace fool you. A minute-and-a-half later, the heavy-hitting riffs and growled vocals charge in. Not a death metal track as such, this sounds more like a modern progressive metal album with growled vocals. Almost like Dream Theater if they had Mikeal Akerfeldt (Opeth) doing the vocals. I would say that I feel this track could have been slightly shorter however, not removing any of the song, but maybe speeding some of it up a bit.
Electric Shadows seems to be more along the "prog death" side, with the tone and overall atmosphere being a bit darker and heavier than the previous tracks. The guitars sounds a bit heavier, with the vocals more menacing and suited to the heavier sound. I feel this is where the growled vocals shine properly. The track itself takes on an overall heavier, more menacing and generally darker atmosphere, which undoubtedly makes this my favourite track on album.
The rest of the album seems to twist between these two, with some parts being on the progressive death side, and others being on the more standard progressive metal side. Growled vocals are used often, as well as clean. However I do feel the music's tone is sometimes nearly, but not quite, heavy/dark enough to truly compliment the growls. The clean vocals on the other hand? They fit brilliantly.
Aside from this, the music is perfectly good progressive metal: fast at times, slow at others, technical, atmospheric, melancholic. All the right ingredients to make a solid album. The overall sound I would describe as being influenced by the likes of Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree and Opeth. So if you're a fan of these bands, I'd advise checking these guys out. I expect great things from them.
Calum Gibson: 7.5 out of 10
The Raptor Trail - New World
Four Times (6:50), Whoville (6:30), Going to Dublin (8:45), Stone by Stone (5:58), Let It Go (7:54), The Fall (5:25), New World (6:45), Time Slides Onward (3:47), Blue Highway (5:20), Wheel (8:42), Desolation (7:03), Grace (4:49)
This is their second album and it is played by Matt Mayes on acoustic guitars, guijo, lead vocals, John Meyer on G-strings, electric guitars, bass and background vocals, and on drums we have Gene Bass. They are not (southern fried) spring chickens anymore and their maturity parallels the musical style with a nod to the 70s, but with a fresh, bang-up-to-date production and feel.
The title track gilds the outer space analogy with processed vocals and comet-trail whooshes. Four Times is the most progressive track due to its time signature changes, but every track here is simply great rock music. Whoville (from The Grinch?), The Fall, and the obviously-named Blue Highway are Lynyrd Skynyrd-ish, whilst Stone by Stone and Wheel are clearly veneered with a Floydian pink varnish. Desolation hints at stoner blues, and morphs into cicadas at the campfire "country story song", whilst Grace is a beautiful singer and acoustic guitar outdoor-pairing that smells of dust and T-bone splashed charcoal.
There is much that recommends this trio of amigos. They are surprisingly accessible, with definite commercial flourishes, and just a little push could see them become huge. I really hope that "someone out there" picks up on this unacclaimed bunch and rewards them for the massive talent that they are.
There's a walk called "The Raptor Trail" at Haldon Forest Park here in England. I thought it would be quite fitting to conclude with what the guide book says, which is: "Be prepared for a few steep ascents and descents". That'll do it.
Andrew Halley: 9 out of 10
Hans Spitzen - Fingerprints
Neptunes's Exile (10:49), No Strings Attached (6:06), What I Would Give (9:07), Symphonic Sketches (5:20), The Time of My Life (12:04), Touching the Darkness (10:00).
Maybe Hans Spitzen had these examples in mind when he started working on this project entitled Fingerprints, that would take more than 20 years to record and produce. Educated in the conservatorium, he knows how music works and he has also learnt to play many different instruments well. Inspired by many prog bands, he searched for musicians to play his music, but somehow he never met the right ones. And that brought him to the decision to do it all by himself. Which was a good decision - almost. The album opens with the tranquil sounds of the tide rushing in on the beach, after which a soft piano starts twinkling, introducing an electric bass, playing long, low notes. The flute plays a nice melody, the drums fall in, and the electric guitar riffs towards a synth theme opening up for the vocals. It all lasts for about two minutes, and just when you start wondering that it all sounds quite new-yet-familiar-and-attractive, the vocals start and it all falls apart. Because Hans Spitzen simply can't sing well. He has to put many efforts in keeping the right tone. He succeeds now and then, but many times it is just a bit false, just not right on tone. Things get worse when he has to reach high notes, for his voice is far too thin for that. It turns out to be a severe let-down for this sympathetic musical journey.
The opening track Neptune's Exile evolves further as a varied epic, with several quiet, atmospheric parts, followed by outbursts of keys and guitar. The simple but very recognisable keyboard theme returns several times, introducing a fierce guitar solo at 6:30 in which the influences of Camel and Pendragon can easily be heard. The song ends with the same tidal sounds as heard in the intro.
No String Attached is a rather wild, keyboard driven instrumental which offers exactly what the title suggests: no guitar to be heard at all. Instead you get vintage synth sounds, nice up-tempo electric piano and a very nice Mellotron, that together build an attractive musical landscape. It is not hard to imagine that Tony Banks and Keith Emerson served as an inspiration here.
What I would give is a mellow ballad with loads of acoustic guitar, very nice flute, more Mellotron and a nice vocal melody. As the vocals are primarily in the lower registers they don't sound too bad. The jazzy acoustic guitar solo in the middle is great, as well as the very nice piano and bass themes in the background. Somewhere halfway a very long Choir Anglais chord introduces the wild, end section with fierce guitar playing lasting for about four minutes, in which Spitzen plays his heart out. Too often such soloing is faded out, but thankfully he takes his time and lets it flow to a keys-dominated end of the song. And that's a really good choice.
Symphonic Sketches is the shortest track and the most symphonic. Spitzen uses all registers of his keyboards to produce a fine orchestral sound with a nice, floating melody, which gives the track a film-score grandeur. Yet he also manages to keep the bombastic music small and tender towards the end, when the music floats towards a soft ending which is, fortunately, not a fade out. It is another proof of his skills as a composer.
The following track The time of my life starts almost immediately with a vocal melody and therefore loses its attractiveness for me. The up-tempo guitar solo in the second half of the song is worth listening to, especially with the interplay with piano and Hammond, leading to soft-sung vocals. The soft piano with organ and prominent bass are tasteful and, thankfully, there's a real and sudden end.
The album closer Touching the Darkness has a similar build-up to the former track. The opening section is quiet, with soft keys and bass, and with the acoustic guitar leading the vocal melody with electric guitar in the background. You feel that an outburst is about to come and it seems to come around the 3:30 mark, introduced by the electric guitar and piano, but the song continues in the quiet mood. But at the 6:30 mark the inevitable outburst follows, again a great guitar solo that leads to the last choruses and a full-blown symphonic (and therefore appropriate) end section of the song and this album.
The overall feeling of the music on this album reminds of Like Wendy and Silhouette with hints of Jadis and, in the quiet parts, Gandalf. Hans Spitzen is unmistakably a talent as a musician and a composer and he is obviously heavily inspired by some of the great names in prog. Yet he is no copycat and gives his own distinctive mark to the music.
Many parts of the songs are a pleasant-to-very-enjoyable listen, with the two instrumental tracks being convincing examples. But he shouldn't have produced the album himself; someone should have told him to select a decent singer, as he hasn't been critical enough about his own singing skills. Too bad, for this album deserves a better vocalist which would have made this a far better debut and one that would earn Spitzen much more appreciation. His courage to record and produce this album himself, earn a higher score, but unfortunately he hasn't made it as strong as it could have been.
It would be great if he wouldn't wait another 20 years to record a new album; but one with a competent singer.
Theo Verstrael: 6 out of 10
Marcus Taylor - Kasgar
The Jackal (4:52), Khan Garuda (5:57), Do ya me oh la too? (5:35), Laharo tikka house (4:30), Two for pujara (5:11), Morning meditation (1:47), Graveyard of empire (5:15), Samba del sastre (4:39), Salu shift (5:43), Hand in the chilli jar (4:59), Bell's jalfrezi (4:39)
It's not all ripped arpeggio's though, indeedas there is a great balance of instruments on this album, with some fine and fiery keyboard-guitar interplay on hand too. However what really elevates this album, is the strength, quality and variety of the songs on offer, and the use of percussion to drive the songs along.
There is not a bad track on this album and repeated plays unveil new depths and subtle nuances that make this an enjoyable 53 minutes spent in the company of a fine and tasteful guitar player and his talented collaborators. It's an unusual mix and also an intriguing one. Also the cover is very nice and bright and colourful, and has a hint of the album's essence about it too.
This is an album that shows the skills of Marcus Taylor in a very positive and sensitive way, and for his restraint at times, I applaud him. He has a real fire in his playing, which is a delight to hear. Married to his masterful musical pieces, it is a great result and a very enjopyable listen indeed.
Fans of Mahavishnu Orchestra, Santana (jazzy era), Shakti and Return to Forever will find much to their liking, and on that basis I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending this highly. I look forward to what Marcus Taylor does next.
Just like a good, spicy Indian curry, this album is hot, hot, hot and very tasty.
John Wenlock-Smith: 8 out of 10
Trettioåriga Kriget - Seaside Air
The Photograph (8:23), Seaside Air (6:43), Forgotten Garden (6:06), Snow (4:35), Billy (5:14), Dreaming of Vermeer (4:01), Behold the Pilot (8:05)
Known for their love of the classic prog of the 1970s, here Trettioåriga Kriget seem to move back to the very late 60s for this album's sound. They have Beatles-style melodies mixed with Mellotrons, organ, pulsing bass lines and some striking guitar workouts. They mix-up tempos, often mid-song, and have excellent arrangements and production.
The album opener makes use of the vocal talents of bassist Stefan Fredin as well as the band's main singer and acoustic guitarist Robert Zima. The choice to sing in English moves them from an Änglagård-plays-heavy-prog territory, towards more of a Flower Kings or Anekdoten area. The dual vocal works really well, and the song has a joyous melody. They introduce a late 60s psychedelic feel, with Mats Lindberg's Mellotron on a flute setting, and a cracking wah-wah guitar solo from Christer Åkerberg, that ices this particular prog cake. The title track continues the off-kilter Beatles-ish prog-pop, with tempo changes and wonderfully sunny vocal harmonies, as the lyric explores the 'seaside air of childhood days'.
Stefan Fredin fronts the loping, acoustic groove of Forgotten Garden, where the keyboard-driven melody gets interrupted by some Kinks-style guitar riffage. Then in complete contrast, you get a lost Bond theme with Snow, characterised by Dag Lundquist's rolling drums and dramatic grand piano. It closes nicely the first section of the album's exploration of childhood nostalgia.
The next couple of songs enter a weirder territory lyrically. Now, this being prog, what would you expect? Songs about wizards, demons or other prog stereotypes? No, what you get is a jangly pop-prog song about, as the song has it, the 'English Elvis' Billy Fury and a visit to Fury's hometown of Liverpool. No come back, it's really good. They follow this with an acoustic paean to the painter Vermeer and to Amsterdam. Two strange and lovely songs, exploring some of the reasons for being a tourist.
The closer, Behold The Pilot, pulls the album together with a fast-paced tribute to music itself. With jangly guitars, that are underpinned by electric piano, the band steams full ahead: climaxing with a guitar solo that rocks out in satisfying way. The song has a vocal-led coda that rounds the album off with gentle harmonies pleading 'May this song help you on your journey without end'.
All in all this is a great listen in that late 60s, early 70s, slightly psychedelic, retro-prog way. It is a celebration of music, and what it is to love music, along with the nostalgia for the one's youth, when music becomes everything. This focused collection of solid, but multi-layered and melodically warm songs, provide an absorbing listen. Seaside Air is a fascinating move by Trettioåriga Kriget.
Martin Burns: 8 out of 10