Reviews in this issue:
Apeshifter - Apeshifter
Uhluhtc (3:34), Revolution Summer (3:12), Desert Rock (3:29), Dopamatic (4:29), Hot Rod (2:36), Verdammt (3:56), Dead Tone Boogie (3:00), Ratchet Attack (5:11), Sakrotani (3:15), Brain-O-Mat (3:50), Superhero Helden (2:31)
Can I describe ths album in fewer words? I doubt it. Apeshifter is a band based around guitar player Jeff Aug. Aug is an American guitar player who has lived in Germany some 18 years. To complete this trio we have Florian Walter on bass guitar and Kurty Münch on drums.
This debut album by Apeshifter is styled around the guitar playing of Aug, and the words I started this review with basically say what this album is about from start to finish. Jeff Aug can play a mean guitar, something he has proven so many times in the past with his performances. For example he played concerts with the late Allan Holdsworth. Apeshifter is the complete opposite of what Aug has become famous for: his fingerpicking on acoustic guitar.
Ape shifter is an instrumental album for lovers of guitar shredding. If you are looking for more than this: sorry it's simply not here. I had a real hard time getting past track 5 in one session, as guitar shredding is not my favorite style. After a number of spins, mostly only hearing the opening tracks, I decided to restrict myself to two tracks per session.
What I liked most about this album is that it was recorded live without any overdubbing whatsoever. It lead me to thinking that listening to this as a real live performance in front of an audience would give the music the real power it needs. In a concert hall this will be pure joy, fun for all.
If you enjoy guitar shredding check this out. For me i would revisit this music in a live show. Returning to it on the CD; I doubt it.
Gert Hulshof: 6 out of 10
My Soliloquy - Engines of Gravity
In Bed With The Enemy (6:43), Fire In The Blood (4:19), EXPOSITION SUITE: A Modern Lexicon (8:36), Lamentation (2:08), The Progenitor (8:53), A Kind Of Fury (6:19), Darkness Is Gathering (6:25), Confluence (4:01), The Emptying Of Meaning (8:44)
Again, apart from the help of drummer Damon Roots, Pete contributes all of the instrumentation as well as the vocals and song writing. Being a graphic artist by trade, he's also done the album cover (some guys just get all the talent!).
Whereas on the debut, I felt that a few of the tracks suffered from a lack of consistency in Pete's vocals, here he has ironed out such problems. It is an unusual rhythmic style but one that is delivered with power and precision across all nine tracks.
In terms of memorable melodies, the better songs open the album. Both In Bed With The Enemy and the supremely-catchy Fire In The Blood give a good indication of what the rest of this album has to offer. The guitar work is aggressive and somewhat down-tuned, there are extended instrumental sections. There is a big nod to the likes of Watchtower, Zero Hour, early Queensrÿche and Australian bands such as Fracture and Mechanical Organic.
The guitar work on the opening of A Modern Lexicon is exemplary, before we move into a very Jon Arch vocal and a high-tempo tech-metal chorus. The balladic Lamentation shows clever contrast, as does the effective electronica used in the opening for the powerful The Progenitor. This is certainly a varied listen.
The two mid-album tracks, A Kind Of Fury and Darkness Is Gathering don't work for me at all. The tranquil mood of Confluence seems to have been created as an epilogue piece, but instead we close with the upbeat and melodic The Emptying Of Meaning, which ensures the album bids farewell on one of its strongest notes.
I only have a Soundcloud stream to base this review on, so any comments on the production quality are not possible. The same for any packaging or the benefits of being able to listen to this from anything other than my laptop.
However, as with the debut, Pete should take a lot of praise for creating another collection of complex yet listenable prog-metal songs than should hold interest for fans who loves their prog-metal to have strong melodies along with technical prowess.
Andy Read: 8 out of 10
Naryan - Naryan
Ungettable (4:50), Neverending Rest (4:37), Sorrow, My Friend (5:00), Falling Asleep (3:33), Never Give Up (8:15), Truth Inside (3:36), Tears Have No Name (6:09), The Place In My Fears (10:36),
Naryan - Black Letters
Black Letters (4:25), My End Leaf (4:32), Frost (4:54), I Promise You (5:30), In Silence (4:03), Together In This (5:37), Misery (4:43), Sleeping Beauty (4:29), Hey Girl (5:43), 764 (7:20)
It is rare that she offers a positive comment on my listening past time. Thus you should all sit up and take firm notice.
These are the first two offerings from an until-now little known band out of Tampere in the frozen interior of Finland. My wife and I spent a few nights there once. A very expensive and frustratingly-moreish local beer and the Moomin Museum. Those were my two lasting memories.
Previously hard-to-find outside of their home country, these two albums have been given a wider European release by The Progressive Gears label, who are slowly building an impressive and varied roster.
The label is due to release the third Naryan album in 2018, with the debut single Until We Meet Again already previewed (video here).
But I am jumping ahead of myself.
Released more than four years ago now, their self titled debut introduces the basic Naryan template. The septet takes the seemingly obligatory Nordic melancholy and a lyrical nose for the sad and desolate, yet wraps it all up in a blanket of warm, bright vocals and lush orchestrations (violinist Nona Onnela is listed as a full band member plus a guest chellist).
The listing of two guitarists may give the impression that this will be a heavy affair. But their contributions are as much acoustic as electric, and in terms of heaviness, this is closer to Clannad than Children of Bodum. Whilst there is an element of the gothic in both albums, it is very much gothic with a small g. The songwriting is carefully constructed, with the search for great melodies and hooks being the ultimate ambition.
The debut has its moments but is very much a work in progress. The band had worked out its melodic melancholic stylings but had not yet worked out if it wanted to be a rock band or not. A lot of the sections plod with pretty standard rock guitar riffage and drum patterns. The vocals veer between a somewhat-stuttering melancholy and rock star ambitions. Truth Inside is a slightly punked-up version of Amorphis, whilst The Tears Have No Name, which follows, is a standard piano ballad. Hard to get too excited about either. The Place In My Fears is the most ambitious track and ends the album on a promising note.
Whatever the band did in between the first and second albums, the time was very well spent. Black Letters is pure class. The rich vocals of Ville Korhonen sit firmly in the low range. On the debut he often struggled with consistent tone and tuning. The improvement here is amazing. He is able to ooze passion and feeling, and delivers one memorable hook after another.
The musical arrangements also hit the mark. There is an impressive consistently in the band's ability to keep things interesting, while rarely straying from a steadily-paced melancholy. The clever use of orchestration (piano, strings and occasional flute) adds the distinctive touch. As do the supporting vocals from Eveliina Sydänlähde, whose voice melds perfectly with Ville's. The guitars deliver occasional bursts of rock/metal but manage to avoid swamping everything else.
It's a cliché, but it would be unfair to single out one track for specific praise. All are of of a very high and consistent standard.
Black Letters is a really classy affair and a must for those who enjoy more mellow rock music with strong vocals, that keeps things simple yet memorable.
Conclusions Andy Read:
Naryan: 6 out of 10
Black Letters: 8.5 out of 10
Whitewater - Universal Medium
Light Of Day (7:47), The Soldier And The Poet (4:57), Seconds Fade Away Pt. 1 (2:49), Seconds Fade Away Pt. 2 (5:58), Filtered Haze (9:10), Easier To Breathe (4:19), Fallen (5:28), Lost (7:53), Moon Pull Pts. 1-4 (13:09)
Whitewater consists of Stuart Stephens, who handles the vocals and all the instruments with the exception of drums and percussion which is the realm of Paul Powell. For the first time the duo have enlisted some help from others, with Mike Kershaw handling vocals on Fallen and Moon Pull and Clare Stephens allegedly singing backing vocals on Easier To Breathe, although for the life of me I can't discern a female voice on that song! Stephens' own vocals have a trace of the Liam Gallagher about them, which is unfortunate as I loathe Mr Gallagher junior with a passion. Kershaw's voice is more appealing and it does fit well with the achingly-slow Fallen, which is enlivened by a very upfront guitar solo.
Actually the whole album possesses an almost ambient quality to it. This is not an album for the party-minded, more of the atmospheric-like approach undertaken by the likes of No-Man for instance. The songs each have a very similar sound, and as a consequence the album tends to drag a bit, something not aided by the over-extension of elements that do offer something a bit different, such as the bass solo on Soldier And The Poet. It is not that the album lacks any moments of inspiration, there are certainly fragments that, within the right context, would be exemplary. The instrumental first part of Seconds Fade Away being a prime example, sadly being something that the second part fails to live up to.
Universal Medium is an okay album but there are other examples of this type of music that would take precedence above it on my playlist.
Mark Hughes: 4 out of 10
The Wood Demons - The Lost Domain
The Other Side (5:46), Caught In The Drift Of An Idle Day (5:51), All Alone In Istanbul (6:31), Poor Traumatised You (4:58), Indian Summer (6:41)
The psychedelic rock provided by the band is not that impressive but sounds fairly good. There are no over-indulgent segments but in a way the instrumental parts have been inspired by the great bands from the late sixties and early seventies like The Beatles, Genesis and Pink Floyd. However, the production and song writing are not in the same league as the aforementioned bands.
What I like most about this mini album is the electric violin provided by Naomi Belshaw. She gives the songs an extra layer that in my opinion lifts tracks like Caught In The Drift Of An Idle Day, Poor Traumatised You and Indian Summer just a nudge in comparison to the others.
The vocals by Simon Carbery and Rick Startin are a bit bleak and never seem too convincing. But what makes this album a nice listen are the guitar parts by Carbery and Startin and the laid back sound the band has created for these tracks. I bet the band had a wonderful time in the studio and that can be heard on most of the album, especially on the closer Indian Summer. I sincerely hope the band can find a way to hold on to that spark and produce some inspired work just for the fun of it!
Arno Agterberg: 6 out of 10