Reviews in this issue:
Cyrcus Flyght - The Clueless Caravan
I wish I had a time machine to experience certain moments of life again, without all the hassle of parallel universes and time-line constraints. Just one capable of going back and resetting your mind to relive those instants in history. No world-changing apparatus capable of altering certain chain of events thereby creating a totally different world or environment; no, just one for the fun things like experiencing gigs by my favorite bands again, getting married, sharing friendship moments with everyone who’s dear to me and more of those precious happenings in life. My wife on the other hand thinks I need a Tardis for my apparent ever-expanding collection of music, but that’s another story! Right now I’m in need of one desperately because of The Clueless Caravan by Cyrcus Flyght, but to understand why we have to go back in time.
Some 23 odd years ago it’s Uwe Fleischhauer (guitars) along with Kai-Uwe Broek (drums) who formed progressive metal band Vigilance and subsequently released two albums on the WMMS label; Behind The Mask (1996) and Secrecy (1997). Although celebrating commercial success in Japan, USA, Canada and the south of Europe, the band ceased to exist after 5 years. Immediately after Fleischhauer formed Virtual Moon in 2000, fronted by a female singer and amongst whom Olaf Gersch on keyboards.
Changes of personnel reunited Fleischhauer with Broek and further casting of Andreas Bönecke (bass) eventually led up to a stable line-up. Installment of vocalist Isabel “Izzy” D’Ambrosio was the final piece of the puzzle, with the band shortly thereupon changing its name to Cyrcus Flyght. Sometime in 2013 according to their bio, although there’s a slight wrinkle in time considering there’s a Virtual Moon clip on Youtube dated to 2016.
The effective promo CD from Freya Records comes with all the necessary information like history, websites, live dates and so on, but doesn’t include lyrics. Not too big a problem, for Izzy has a very good pronunciation in English and no noticeable accent. It’s just that the two bonus tracks are sung in German and it would have been nice to have those lyrics included, simply because it’s only my third language so it’s a little bit more complicated to follow. Both tracks however turn out to be the two opening songs in different running order, just slightly differing in vocals. They don’t add anything special to the package and I wonder why they are included. Maybe to get some exposure on the German Rock scene as well?
The remaining seven tracks composed by Fleischhauer display a very bright variety of styles, influences and musical diversity, which is to be expected, for since 1992 he had already made the decision to employ his skills on guitar by starting a guitar school. His personal website has lots of different interpretations by the likes of Edward Van Halen, Gary Moore, David Gilmour, Jimmy Page and Ritchie Blackmore just to name a few, and with each spin of the album it not only gradually grows on you, but more and more interpretations of notable players pop up in your head.
Of the two instrumental tracks on the album, Walk The Thin Line is the perfect showcase for his ability to adept in all kind of different styles of playing. Starting off in a typical nineties AOR / hard-rock feel, this Rush-inspired track shifts through Edward Van Halen, Steve Vai and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top. Accompanied by some fine firm up-tempo dynamic drumming, accentuated by playful bass and lovely keyboards the song swings from start to finish in similar vein like Prophet’s _ Hyperactive_.
The other instrumental, Das Erste Geschöpf, is the complete opposite of the spectrum demonstrating a nice mellow guitar-solo reminiscent of David Gilmour. Only accompanied by keyboards it’s an interlude performed in more than some ways resembling Rik Emmett; short, effective, delicate and the perfect setup for a big anthem Triumph-style; which sadly doesn’t happen...
At the End Of All Time starts the album passionately with very catchy riffs and great melody-lines combining straight forward rock steeped firm with an early eighties sound (Deep Purple), and some touches of progressiveness similar to Vanden Plas. This could well be the bands favorite crowd pleaser, for the refrain sticks in your head like “Hubba Bubba” bubble gum, generating the perfect opportunity for some audience participation at gigs (even sung in German).
Keeping the pace, Finger On The Trigger adds a more aggressive approach, still strongly influenced by Vanden Plas now incorporated with some dashes of German based Avalon, particularly the vast catchy rhythms and uplifting grooves. Izzy’s vocals, strong and sound, have an intentional rougher edge to them, to which Fleischhauer adds a big melodic Neal Schon-styled guitar-solo. Lovely stuff so far.
Cyrcus Flyght change style slightly with Devil’s Daughter, which grips from start to finish with some excellent eclectic prog. Haunting bass and playful piano result in an instant “The Addams Family”-feel which is strongly enhanced by further tingling keyboards and church organ. Izzy’s theatrical vocals sound possessed of which even Nina Hagen would be jealous, and a haunting solo by Fleischhauer successfully creates a dark mysterious atmosphere. Fans of A.C.T. could be in for a trick or treat.
The phrase "The Clueless Caravan" seems to fit the overall theme of the album, leaving me indeed uninformed on what direction Cyrcus Flyght are heading to, till Twilight Of Sin gives me a huge clue; we’re traveling towards the Holy Land, once so uniquely portrayed by Angra! Oriental sounds, Brazilian samba drums, guitar riffs/solo’s, pumping bass, supportive keyboards and a sprinkle of Delain; it all fits and leaves almost nothing to be desired. I say almost, for there’s one more pinnacle track which takes me directly to the promised land.
Endless Fall transports me right down memory lane, which is an excellent delight. It’s the longest track on the album and from the opening sounds it’s neo-progressive, with Izzy’s voice having a spooky resemblance to Tracy Hitchings. The melody slowly gets into full swing again, splashed with progressive metal and a light Gothic atmosphere (Within Temptation), suddenly changing to Renaissance, eventually evolving into melodies similar to Landmarq’s Science Of Coïncidence. It’s finishes with heavenly vocals by Izzy leaving me in an everlasting free-fall.
So mixed feelings all the way. There’s good music to be relished on the whole, with some brilliant outstanding tracks which I think anyone with a diverse taste in progressive rock should at least hear once. One or two extra album tracks should have been added though, as the length of the album falls towards the short side, not counting the bonus tracks. Musical direction might be a bit cloudy too, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and can recommend it to anyone with a love for retro-styled progressive rock bordering on the heavier side of AOR and hard-rock.
But then all off a sudden it all hits rock bottom and this is where I need my time machine. The past has unfortunately caught up with the present and situations have changed considerably, leaving not only me clueless I’m afraid. As it turns out Izzy is struck by illness and just recently (2nd of August, right in the middle of this review) the band announced that they have come to a friendly mutual agreement to part ways, which leaves me rather unsettled, for I think they could have evolved into something beautiful together. I sincerely hope it will turn out for the better for both Cyrcus Flyght and Isabel D’Ambrosio (wishing her a good health) and I’ll certainly keep track of any developments on both camps. For now I’m off again in my DeLorean cherishing my first encounter to Endless Fall, imagining what might have been accomplished in years to come by this incarnation of Cyrcus Flyght, after which I’ll come back to the future, I promise...
Dead End Space - The Resistance
Sometimes a review of a great little album can be short, sharp and to the point; leaving the reader to easily decide if it is something for them or not. This is such a review.
Chicago-born, Swedish-living guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Johnny Engstrom has been working as a musician and playing in bands for over 20 years. Having (re)formed a trio with bassist Niklas Högberg and drummer Galle Johansson in 2008, they released a trio of albums as the Johnny Engstrom Band, before changing their moniker to the more inspiring Dead End Space. It was the first album under that name in which I first discovered their music. My very positive critique of Distortion Of Senses for DPRP back in 2013 can be read here.
The Resistance is the follow-up and is based on a short story by Canadian sci-fi author Allan Weiss. For those that enjoy a story with their music, this one deals with a dystopian world in a not too far away future, where the dark society is collaborating with an evil alien race. Their plan is to empty the planet's resources and escape, leaving the human slaves behind. The only thing that can save them, is the enduring resistance team and the star people from the seven stars.
As with their last album, the music can best be described as heavy progressive melodic rock with hints of metal and splashes of more mainstream rock. Fans of Power Windows-era Rush will naturally find much to cherish on this disc. Desert Lights mirrors Manhattan Project wonderfully. The Watchers is another favourite. The opening riff reflects latter-day Fates Warning, but with the keyboards adding colour and depth. The Silencers, with its lively beat, reminds me of Simple Minds, especially in the vocal patterns.
Again as with their last release, every song is easily accessible, with strong hooks and melodies, yet there is enough depth to the compositions to deserve repeat plays. The bass and drums add a compelling dynamic throughout, and the guitar work is detailed and varied. As with Distortion Of Senses, this will easily be among my Top 10 albums of the year. If you enjoy the track on the Bandcamp link (samples) above, then this should be an instant purchase.
Full Nothing - Somewhere And Nowhere
Full Nothing is an international dark rock/metal project founded in 2012 by Nicolas Marcos together with Guillermo De Medio and Augusto Amicon. Nicolas and Juha Kylmänen are the centre of the project, which is complemented by varying musicians during recording sessions and live performances, making it a true international affair, with recordings done all over the world. Three years after their debut we now have their second album titled Somewhere And Nowhere.
Their dark rock/metal reminds me a lot like the Finnish band HIM, but with a little more metal. It is has a mix of Nightwish, Therion and Within Temptation. Nicely woven into their music are string instruments, giving their sound just that bit more orchestral feel than with common metal bands.
Somewhere And Nowhere starts with the catchy metal song Fallen Hero with a sing-a-long chorus. Retaliation and Sacrifice are more power ballads, slow pounding pace with heavy guitar riffs and piano melodies. After a short intro Message For The Future the power ballads continue. This is rather unusual. The division of ballads and powerful songs is the other way around, with one ballad usually nice in the middle of the heavier songs. Somewhere And Nowhere starts with a 'normal' song and from that point it is mainly power ballads. Kind of makes it feel like a best-of power-ballad album, some heavier than the other but apart from the opener no catch 'standard' metal songs.
Full Nothing use some progressive elements but are not pushing any boundaries, and they certainly do not provide standard metal music either. They use proven progressive elements to keep the music more interesting. Compared to their eponymous debut album, the new album is more orchestral, but the debut has more variation compositions. If the next album would combine best elements of both albums I think that would make a great improvement.
The music is of good quality, Full Nothing is a very interesting project with a good and coherent sound. It would have been nice to have some more faster and/or technical tracks but if you like the powerful pounding orchestral sound then Somewhere And Nowhere is a very pleasant listen.
Lukas Tower Band - Age Of Gold
Lukas Tower Band appears to be a band with an eventful history whilst having remained fairly unnoticed by the musical media throughout their existence. The band’s website explains this history in detail. Although “officially” founded “only” in 1984, the roots of Lukas Tower Band go back as far as 1979. The Band went through multiple line-up changes and re-directions of its musical style during the first 15 years of its existence, before a more stable formation developed after the year 2000.
Age Of Gold is only their third release, following (Albedo from 2010)[http://www.dprp.net/reviews/2011-051#lukas] (released on the occasion of the band’s 25th anniversary) and (After Long Years from 2004)[http://www.dprp.net/reviews/2005-006#lukastower] (unsurprisingly hinting at the band’s long musical history), both reviewed by the DPRP. According to the inner sleeve notes, recording and mixing took place between 2013 and 2017 - quite a timespan.
Lukas Tower Band’s current line-up consists of Wolfgang Fastenmeier (guitar, percussion), Fredy Orendt (Keyboards, flute, accordion), both the only founding members (although it seems that a new or additional keyboarder currently is being looked for), Timm Bahner (bass), Thomas Willecke (drums), Angela Maier (vocals), Luluk Purwanto, (violin, percussion), plus guest musicians Jochen Scheffter (keyboards) and Ulla Wilpert (low and high whistles, flute; according to the website now a permanent band member). The band named itself after its rehearsal place domiciled in/around the St. Lukas Church (Lukaskirche) in Munich.
Listening to Lukas Tower Band’s music in my opinion requires a considerable degree of open-mindedness and willingness not to pigeonhole music into distinct genres. The band blends a variety of musical styles including (but not limited to), jazz, folk, world music, prog and straight rock. Folk- and especially jazz rock influences are predominant, though, plus one finds psychedelic moments reminiscent of The Flock and Canterbury-style jamming à la early Caravan as well. Additional musical similarities include Fairport Convention, and Curved Air.
Angela Mayer’s fairly dynamic, and decently melodic singing reminds me of wonderful bands such as Iamthemorning and Ciccada. The keyboards play the role of efficient accompanist without pushing themselves to the fore. Distinct also are both Wolfgang Fastenmeiers’s groovy guitar playing and Timm Bahner’s crispy bass lines. Trackwise, my preferences are for In The Light Of Thought because of its cool grooving rhythm not unlike Santana and for the beautiful folky ballad April.
Positively speaking one may call all this variety, while on the other hand, the band faces the risk of being caught between several labels. In comparison to its predecessor, which I only heard extracts of, the folky elements have made room for jazz-rock influences and the music is more tailored towards the violin, which clearly has become the lead instrument. Interesting enough, while being a German band, most of the lyrics are based on poems by English writers George Byron and William Blake.
Reviewing this release was quite a challenge and brought some drops of sweat on my brow. Wearing my prog reviewer hat, I realised the prog elements I consider as “typical” (e.g. multi-layered song structures, strong melodies, extensive use of keyboards, longer tracks) as not being distinctive enough in their music (some “odd” musical 9/8 and 11/8-beats are present, though). A bit too jazzy and folky, but not enough of that to satisfy the minds of true jazz rock or folk aficionados.
I therefore recommend this release to anyone being prepared to adapt to various musical styles without strictly looking for pure progressive rock as the clearly dominant musical element. For me, this album has some strong moments, but overall, it is something that I will revert to just occasionally in the future. I would rather see them play live. I respect the band’s attitude of never having followed any kind of musical Zeitgeist throughout its existence (according to their own information, that is one of the reasons for having stayed fairly low-key mediawise) and for its consistency in still doing that. For someone like me rather inclined towards musical pigeonholing, I prefer more clearly recognisable progressive rock elements.
Tone Masseve - Amp L’étude
Tone Masseve is probably the best guitarist of whom you have never heard. Taking up the guitar at age 6, and by 18 a respected session musician in New York City, he began the recordings for Amp L’étude in 1995. Taking two years to layer his guitar parts into a ‘guitorchestra’ that takes full advantage of the sounds that can be achieved by multi-tracking and, crucially, talent. Tragically, in 1997, before completing these recordings Tone Masseve died of pneumonia.
The album Amp L’étude was recently completed with the help of other musicians, including on six tracks Jethro Tull drummer Doane Perry, on four tracks the classical percussionist Gary Kvistad and the vocal group Prana on two tracks. The album reworks various classical pieces as a tribute to Tone’s love of Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Debussy. All of these covered in the unique blend of sounds that he gets from his guitars.
Starting in what might be seen as over familiar territory with Aire On A G String (A Whiter Shade). Both Bach and Procul Harum’s versions are so familiar that this version has very little to make it stand out, other than the ‘guitorchestra’, so it doesn’t grab the ear. However, the same cannot be said for The Moonlight Sonata (On The Hill Of The Skull). A work just as iconic but it works altogether better than the opener. Layers of guitar take the left hand rhythmic melody whilst layers of sliky, sustained guitars weave the familiar tune into new shapes without betraying its Beethoven-ness. So much so that the drums here feel intrusive.
On Pre-Lude-Num-Ber-One-Num-Ber-One Tone Masseve takes Bach’s prelude and masterfully turns it into a canon with over lapping, looping guitar sections. No other instruments are added and you get a taste of the full majesty of Tone’s intricate playing.
Tone channels Brian May’s distinctive guitar sound for the top-line melodies of both Serenade For Strings (For Her Majesty) and (The Swan (In Wind On Water).The addition of voices and supple bass and drums give a Beatles/Hollies air to Maria, (She's So) Ave. Choral voices appear again on the closing version of Carl Orff’s O Fortuna but it feels a misstep when compared with the often flamboyant, pagan abandon, found of some classical recordings of this work.
There are a set of preludes in the middle of Amp L’étude that generally work well. Prelude #6 (It Tolls For Thee) exploits the ‘guitorchetra’ to the max subtly balanced with electronics, percussion and voices. The drums fit seamlessly on Prelude #20 (The Last March) and there is a nod to Strawberry Fields Forever in the back ward tape of 7# Edulerp (see what he did with the track name there).
By Far and away the best track here is Tone Masseve’s version of Debussy’s impressionist piano piece The Sunken Cathedral (Turns The Tide Gently, Gently Away). Here, precisely controlled glissando guitar and feedback couple with Gary Kvistad percussion to build a cathedral of sound. Richly atmospheric, Tone Masseve moves this piano study into an epic tone poem for guitars. This is terrific stuff that points to where he might have gone had he been able to continue recording.
Tone Masseve’s Amp L’étude is though a bit of a mixed bag. A couple of tracks are so familiar that they head toward carbon copy blandness and you just wish he would have let rip with a full-on solo to inject some emotion into them. But others are work tremendously well and point the way to the bright future that was never to be. The album overall brings to mind the synth meets classical works of Wendy Carlos such as Switched-On Bach and Isao Tomita’s Snowflakes Are Dancing. Here, with his ‘guitorchestra’, Tone Masseve may have been on the point of opening up a guitar and classical music symbiosis in the same way.