Reviews in this issue:
3RDegree - Ones & Zeros Volume 0
Please follow me on this sinister yet humorous magical story. A story about mankind, power, money, being strong, about love, about the riddles of life and future technology to fear. Food for thought and delicacy to your ears for an endless number of spins. Compositions, atmosphere, vocals, double vocals, harmonies and choirs are ranging from very very good to perfect.
Reviewing 3RDegree's new album Ones & Zeros Volume 0 in 2018 seems a bit strange. DPRP reviewed Ones & Zeros Volume 1 already three years ago! This album we are reviewing here, can be seen as a prequel to the storyline of Volume 1, hence its title suffix Volume 0. Interesting that their 2015 concert review mentions two songs of Volume 0.
The album starts off with Re1nstall_0verture. A fast riff followed by an instrumental series of tunes pointing forward but back in time to its predecessor to open up the gate. What an opening. Layers of piano and guitars are the signature of second track Connecting that does what it says. Connecting the volumes and connecting to a very unfeeling individual, badly in need of some human contact (according to Robert James Pashman). This track is a showcase of the aforementioned qualities and sets the tone for the full album.
On to Olympia then, one of two songs already played at 3RDegree's 2015 tour. The origins of this song apparently date back to as early as 1995. Please listen closely to the sad story about an artificial intelligent robotic partner, told in a keen and witty way. Centre point of the story is the phrase "She would not be my toy, I'd be her human being'. Marvellous song and play.
The lyrics of The Future Doesn't Need You touch me personally. The riddles of life and lies, the words on devolvement of the social order, to pay to live - again, brilliant stuff. As is the song itself, I hasten to add; it has been cultivated for many years by the best horticulturalists called 3RDegree. Classical start, several parts, layers, great synths, choirs, drums, guitars, bass, and the ultimate emotional apotheosis cry-out by George Dobbs. Classified as perfect by my book.
Unintended Consequence, including vocals of Moorea Dickason (MoeTar), quietly leads you to part 2 of the album, that is build on four strong and coherent songs. Perfect Babies seems like a light song but its a heavy warning on messing around with life's building blocks. Starting with the phrase "And so said God..." followed by "brochure babies" wraps up the topic. A baby girl quoting Nietzsche at the end rounds it all up. Perfect track.
Logical Conclusion is the second song the band played on their 2015 tour and with that we've moved into the epic area now. Click Away! is that epic. It's a song on social media and selling one's identity. A song with huge Beatles influences. It could have easily be a real Beatles song if the fab four would still be going on and be as progressive as 3RDegree is today. It comes in three parts, the first part ending with a howling guitar solo and the most heartfelt helpless emotional scream by George Dobbs in the history of mankind: 'don't you love me?'. The second, slick part is called Click Farm and it is full of riffs, choirs and organ. It's about Facebook and bots controlling mankind. Part three, called Only Listen To This Section If You Truly Want Wealth And Security, presents more rough guitar playing and vocals yet some lovely harmonies. At the same time the interactive links in the downloadable lyrics will show you this kind of mind control has started today.
Third and closing epic is the title track. This amazing album closer shoots off a series of questions to make you aware of the situation you're already dragged into. The song even ends in slow, fading nostalgic yesterday's rock (that will never return). Brilliant music made by brilliant minds.
So, an intelligent and musically exalted album with a message. A message brought to you through well thought out meticulous compositions, play and vocals with razor-sharp, clear and witty lyrics. Chapeau! A prog-gem avant la lettre. Recommended in any way I can think of.
Fates Warning - Live Over Europe
CD 2: Still Remains (15:06), Nothing Left to Say (7:13) Acquiescence (4:21), The Eleventh Hour (8:12), Point of View (5:00), Falling (1:49), A Pleasant Shade of Gray, Pt. IX (4:17), Through Different Eyes (4:11), Monument (6:04), Eye to Eye (5:00)
One of the so-called "Big Three" in the progressive metal genre, Fates Warning have never quite reached neither the commercial success Queensrÿche enjoyed with both Operation: Mindcrime (1988) and Empire (1990), nor the enduring popularity of Dream Theater, but surely have managed to make some of the most accomplished and intriguing music this genre they helped create has ever produced, with albums such as A Pleasant Shade Of Gray (1997) and Disconnected (2000) there to prove it.
Unfortunately, Jim Matheos' brainchild didn't capitalize on the (moderate) success of Perfect Symmetry (1989) or Parallels (1991), falling victim to constant line-up changes and an erratic release history (the 9 years between FWX (2004) and Darkness In A Different Light (2013) is a gap only an artist the likes of Peter Gabriel could afford without damaging their career) even though, truth be told, there has been a healthy flow of side projects including OSI, Redemption, Arch/Matheos or Slavior to name but a few.
Nevertheless, the productivity issue seems to have been addressed in recent years, with a (seemingly) permanent line-up featuring Matheos, longtime vocalist Ray Alder, the always reliable Joey Vera on bass duties and the impressive drumming talents of Bobby Jarzombek, who have managed to complete two critically acclaimed albums within three years.
Both are well represented on their latest release, an old fashioned (meaning: no DVD or Bluray) double live album which spans the band's career from No Exit (1988) onwards. (Last year's Awaken The Guardian Live featured the John Arch years exclusively.) Now, it may not include a "classic" line-up as on the Arch release or feature a complete live rendition of an "iconic" album as Still Life (1998) did, but it surely is their best concert presentation both in terms of setlist and performance, as its generous 23 cuts, selected from up to 9 albums are played with power and precision. Special mention goes to Jarzombek's flawless drumming and Alder's vocals, maybe not as powerful as 25 years ago, but still impressive after all these years.
Here you'll find sprawling epics (And Yet It Moves, Still Remains), intense prog-metal workouts (From The Rooftops, The Light And Shade Of Things), as well as some inescapable classics (The Eleventh Hour, Point Of View, Monument) thrown in for good measure. Also, the sound is clear, clean and full, benefiting from Jens Bogren's expert hand s at the mixing desk.
All in all, these 138 minutes of music are an excellent gateway to the underrated delights of this veteran band. Enjoy!
The Pineapple Thief - Dissolution
The Pineapple Thief have over the last 19 years or so developed themselves a strong identity within which, like many bands, they innovate and play around with that signature sound. With the release of their new album Dissolution such innovations seem to grow from drum supremo Gavin Harrison’s involvement in the writing process. Where he has been involved from the early demo stage, and it has wrought terrific dividends.
Though Harrison featured on their last album, 2016’s Your Wilderness, it was at a later stage in the writing process. The subsequent touring of that album with Harrison has welded The Pineapple Thief into a band that is up for a challenge, and on Dissolution it is the listener reaps the rewards. Harrison’s subtle, lithe and when needed fierce drumming pushes Bruce Soord’s song writing forward, and the rest of the band rise to meet the musical challenge.
The lyrical concerns of Dissolution has Soord mixing his songs of disrupted relationships and distanced feelings with a subtle political edge, without ever descending into polemical tub-thumping. This is plain from the opener Not Naming Any Names. Here, Soord sings in his melodic tenor over ominous, dark piano chords about how terrorism and drone warfare are two sides of the same coin. This sets the scene for at least half of the album's lyrical direction. The full band come in with Try As I Might, a song that switches dynamic registers and has a delicious slide guitar in its second half. Both tracks have intense melodic cores and you realise, even as a fan predisposed to liking Dissolution, that The Pineapple Thief are producing something special here.
The spectre of Trump-like political rhetoric, or the kind of things divorcing couples shout at each other, hovers over Threatening War. The music builds in complexity with Jon Sykes’ supple and muscular bass line and Soord’s layered guitars to the forefront. A restrained heavier style is being exploited throughout Dissolution by the band.
The political reading takes a back seat for the swelling keyboards and piano of Uncovering Your Tracks, and Steve Kitch’s short, punchy synth solo leaves you wanting more. The synth returns in squalling mode on All That You've Got and it is balanced by almost malevolent layers of guitars. The heavier sound and loud/quiet keyboard and guitar dynamics of Far Below, is melded with a near earworm melody to great effect.
The centrepiece of Dissolution is the eleven minute White Mist. It features some splendid guitar from guest David Torn, as the song moves through three linked but different instrumental musical sections overlaid with Soord’s vocal melody. Keyboards and bass dominate the opening before Harrison's stick work lifts it towards the sky. Electronica and distorted guitar underpin the third section. This is possibly the best track of The Pineapple Thief’s studio recording career. It’s an absolute blinder.
The album then winds down on a hopeful note and blocky guitar chords on the melting Shed A Light. The Pineapple Thief have produced a cracker of an album with Dissolution and it hints at further paths to be taken in the future. Dissolution is an album that resolutely looks forward.
J. Peter Schwalm - How We Fall
I wonder what readers consider are the most challenging albums that they own? Do you remember the first time you listened to them?
I do, when I was younger, it was undoubtedly Jethro Tull’s, A Passion Play, Fripp and Eno’s, No Pussyfooting and Tonto’s Expanding Head Band’s, Zero Time. Strangely, nowadays I look upon them as all being quite accessible. Thinking about this, creates a coy smile; grey memories take on today’s colours, as I vividly recall how I used to wipe the platter, and brush, and cloth the disc.
The scene set; a circle of friends formed, a pungent room, heads rolling in an effort to accentuate a concentrated bout of 20 minutes appreciation. I remember the silence as the vinyl disc was rotated and flipped; the still, poignant pause, broken by the drawled exchange of a string of well-worn platitudes such as ‘This is the real shit man’, or ‘Wow that was deep’.
Nowadays, the most inaccessible, or challenging album in my collection is undoubtedly Rainy Season’s 1992 Return release. Try as I might, I just cannot get past its cacophonous chaotic ways and revel in its discordant allure.
However, 2018 sees a new set of notes take over; a new kid on the block has emerged; move over Rainy Season, your podium position, has now been firmly taken over, by the unnerving electronic rumblings, discordant jangling, synthesised drones and grey industrial space formed soundscapes of J. Peter Schwalm’s How We Fall.
That is not to say, that every minute of this release presents a challenge. The lilting piano and various hissing and clicking effects that feature in the impressive Stormbruch emerge and combine and intertwine interestingly, to create a track that exudes a delicate blemished beauty all of its own.
J. Peter Schwalm is the principal instrumentalist and composer of How We Fall. In this album, Schwalm demonstrates an ability to create rippling tones and bulging, sound sculptures that drone expressively with just a mere hint of direction. Layers of subtle, and not so subtle imagery are secreted, whilst the album wends its way along a thickly layered musical path.
Tunes such as, Strofort and Clingon tantalise the sonic passageways to evolve with purpose. Both are full of mesmerising pulses and rhythmic phrasing that create a purposeful air. Their unusual allure might appeal to anybody who wishes to hear music that sits on the periphery of the usual parameters associated with prog.
How We Fall is adept at being able to portray a variety of moods, ideas and sound-pictures. The album has an electronic synthesised feel and even though it is largely contemplative, and is often an impenetrable experience, it manages to portray a degree of the tension and drama often associated with a soundtrack of atmospheric, cinematic music.
Schwalm is perhaps, best known for his collaborative work with Brian Eno They released the album Drawn From Life and wrote the soundtrack to the feature film Fear X. The enjoyable Musles briefly hints at the influence of Eno and even though it is only over four minutes long has a structure and style that is reminiscent of the inventive uncoiling that was an important feature of Brian Eno’s collaborations with Robert Fripp.
However, the majority of How We Fall is a challenging listen. It is not without merit and indeed if played as back ground music, or as the backdrop to a period of dappled light meditation, then its menagerie of mood shaping effects may well come into their own.
If it had been released in the 70s no doubt, the stunned silence, or stupefied snores marking its conclusion, would have been broken by a circle of unified howls of joy, or relief, and shouts in hushed whispers saying, "Wow that was far out!".
Devin Townsend Project - Ocean Machine: Live at the Ancient Roman Theater Plovdiv
CD 2: By Request: Canada (7:13), Bad Devil (5:50), Higher (10:19), A Simple Lullaby (8:19), Deep Peace (11:05)
CD 3: Ocean Machine: Seventh Wave (7:00), Life (4:37), Night (4:51), Hide Nowhere (5:31), Sister (2:42), 3 A.M. (1:29), Voices In The Fan (4:36), Greetings (2:56), Regulator (5:22), Funeral (7:58), Bastard (9:58), The Death of Music (10:49), Things Beyond Things (5:06)
Devin Townsend is one of those musicians who seems to have been around forever. As one of the most prolific writers within the metal community (with 22 albums at the time of writing), having fronted numerous incarnations of his band, as well as being involved in various others (including a collaboration with Gojira on their sadly lost Sea Sheppard EP). This has resulted in a massive undertaking to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Ocean Machine album, complete with the Orchestra and Choir of Plovdiv State Opera, and original bassist John 'Squid' Harder.
The album is split into two distinct parts, the first being the first set from the live show (a set of twelve songs that were chosen by fans), and the second being Ocean Machine in full.
From the start, it is clear that this is going to be a crisp album. The sound quality is amazing and the orchestra really compliments 'Heavy Devy's' work. His vocals sound incredible and really suit the setting that this album presents.
Devin Townsend's music balances on the fine line between heavy, progressive and melodic. His vocals as well range from soft, clean passages to soaring roars and screams, yet it all sounds accessible in the best way. A strong supporter of the 'wall of sound' style of music, and the bizarre opentunings for his guitars, it creates a fairly unique sound when coupled with his writing style. It is catchy, punchy, and all round 'good fun' music. This is reflected as well in the likes of By Your Command from the Ziltoid album (an album about an imaginary space-going puppet who is in search of the greatest cup of coffee).
My only criticism would be that Devin has a very distinct style of writing, and unfortunately, with nearly 3 hours of music on this album, it does start to sound a bit 'samey' after a while. His music is wonderful to listen to as single albums, or when your chosen music player (iPod, phone, etc.) is on shuffle, but an entire live album in one go may be a bit much. I would, however, fully suspect being at a Devin Townsend concert would completely remove that issue due to the atmosphere, and his general onstage personality.
If you are a Townsend fan, then I would recommend this album as it showcases exactly why he is regarded as one of the best live acts today (and one of the few I have sadly yet to check of my bucket list). The music is brilliant, Townsend is performing excellently and the sounds quality is fantastic.