Reviews in this issue:
The Cyberiam - The Cyberiam
It's been a roller-coaster ride through the music business for one Keith Semple. Back in 2002 the Northern Ireland-born vocalist hit the race to fame and fortune with a flying start when he was a winner of the UK TV series Popstars: The Rivals (think The Voice or X-Factor) and consequently became a member of the boy band One True Voice. Two top 10 hits and a year later, they split.
Semple moved to the States where he joined Chicago-based rock band 7th Heaven, followed by his own band Semple. His time States-side also included two further TV talent show appearances, although his appearances on The Voice and American Idol never threatened the Billboard Hot 100.
All of this has meant that for most readers of this website, the name Keith Semple has held about as much interest as a Dolly Parton boxed set. Until now.
For Mr. Semple is the lead vocalist with a new Chicago-based progressive metal band going by the name of The Cyberiam. Their self-titled debut album has become one of my best discoveries of 2018. Hopefully it will become one of yours as well, for in recent years only Canada's Dead Air Radio has come up with such a blend of world class vocals, amazing musicianship, complex-yet-accessibly-memorable song writing, and a polished diamond of a production and mastering job.
This release shares many of that band's and album's attributes and thus warrants very similar comments to those I used for Signal To Noise Ratio.
There is a freshness, energy, self-confidence and excitement that just pours out of every note here. Combine that with superb melodies contained within the likes of Don't Blink and 2020 Visionary, and you have an album that with the right promotion really could reach huge audiences. The crossover potential here is massive. Everyone from fans of classic rock (Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin), mainstream rock (Nickelback), alt rock (Pearl Jam, Soundgarden), progressive metal (Rush, Odd Logic and Eden's Shadow) and progressive rock (Riverside, Sieges Even) should be able to take years of enjoyment from this album.
The only downside of opening this album with five outstanding tracks, is that one has set the bar very high. The second half of the album can not jump that high! At 80 minutes this is a long listen. Nostalgia is a fitting bookend. One could have left the three tracks which proceed it, as downloadable bonus tracks, and ended up with a better listening experience. The first half of this disc would score a 10. The second an 8. I've split the difference.
I write this, sat outside the kitchen that we use for our little Falafel Food Truck. Among the advantages of living in the middle of nowhere in French, is that our nearest neighbour is a binocular-view away. I can play my music loud and late whilst I work. Indeed, I play so much music at work now, that I am thinking of creating a new rating system for my albums. "How many falafels have been made while listening to an album". The Cyberiam is likely to be the clear winner of The Falafel Index of 2018.
If you give this disc a chance, I am sure that it will score very highly on whatever rating system you care to use.
The Cyberiam. Great band. Great Album. Semples!*
(*To adapt the phrase from the meercats of comparethemarket.com...)
Dialeto - Live With David Cross
Have you ever found that live albums can often disappoint?
I have, I remember switching off Ian Anderson’s TAAB Live in Iceland disc half way through, finding myself unable to come to terms with the rasp of the vocals.
Sometimes, this is arguably down to misguided intervention in the studio; the zealous inclusion of inventive audience noise in the recent ARW Live at The Apollo makes a strong case for any band considering releasing a live album, to be wary of the pitfalls of manipulating audience participation in the studio long after the event.
More often or not, when a live album fails to satisfy, I have found that it is a combination of factors. High consumer expectations, inconsistent, or poor sound quality, as in the case of the original release of King Crimson’s Earthbound, are all elements that can contribute to whether a live album is a hit or miss affair.
With these things in mind, I approached Dialeto’s Live With David Cross release with more than a little trepidation. However, I quickly heard numerous things that satisfied and very few things that did not.
Maybe, it is the way that the pugnacious bass lines rock the window frames, which makes this album so enjoyable. Alternatively, maybe it is the inclusion of some memorable King Crimson tunes, or perhaps, it is the expressive screeching and soaring of David Cross's violin.
On the other hand, maybe it is the inclusion and inventive interpretation of tunes from Dialeto’s previous album, the impressive Bartok in Rock; or perhaps more importantly, maybe, it is the excellent sound quality, that is a feature of the release.
Whatever the reasons, this album works on several different levels. In the end, what probably makes it so attractive and engaging, is simply, that all of the players involved give a great performance and that the set list is very appealing.
The album consists of the majority of the tunes, which appeared in Bartok In Rock, which revised and reinterpreted the work of acclaimed Hungarian composer Béla Bartok. The band's adaptation of some of Bartok's compositions to suit Dialeto’s style was highly successful.
The only tunes omitted from that excellent album are Roumanian Folk Dances 1, 5, and 6. However, to offset any disappointment that these tunes were left out, the live performance includes a Bartok tune Mikrokosmos 78 that did not appear on Bartok In Rock.
The Bartok tunes are even more evocative in a live setting. They have a real organic ebb and flow that provides each piece with muscular tones and plentiful amounts of emotive power. The band adds an extra layer of collective energy into the tunes. This provides an aggressive rawness that wonderfully complements the swarthy earthiness of the timeless folk inspired melodies, which lie at their heart.
The concert begins with the third of the Roumanian Folk Dances. It is an excellent choice for an opener, as it begins with atmospheric effects .Later it develops and morphs into something that unleashes a chest thumping range of howling guitar parts full of unfettered power.
Folk Dances 2 follows it. This piece retains its all action twisted dance rhythms. However, the passion of the live setting dominates any gentle hints of subtlety apparent in the studio version, to transform it into something even more potent and satisfying, whilst preserving its enviable ability to quicken the heart and wiggle the toes.
The folk melodies, bulbous bass parts, discordant guitar forays and overall foot tapping nature of The Young Bride are particularly attractive. It is probably my favourite piece on the album. Its insistent nature and village dance overtones are very compelling and is indicative of how captivating the Bartok In Rock section of this release can be.
The renditions of the Bartok compositions come across as novel and fresh. The band displays great skill as they negotiate these tunes. The guitar work of Nelson Coelho dominates the first four tracks and the trio of musicians who appear in the early part of the concert are a powerhouse trio in every sense of the word. Coelho’s choice of tones and measured aggression is just right for these pieces. Under his guidance and skilfull exposition of guitar techniques, they spring to life in a way that is not apparent, in the studio versions.
David Cross joins the trio for the final four tracks of the Bartok In Rock section of the gig. Dialeto’s performance as a trio is excellent; with the addition of David cross their interpretation of Bartok’s tunes becomes even more impressive.
Immediately, the bands overall approach takes on a broader dimension and a richer sound. Cross interacts with the other band members in an impressive manner. His flamboyant jousting with Coelho’s expressive guitar parts is a feature of the remaining Bartok tracks.
Many listeners, who seek out this album, will no doubt be particularly eager to hear the King Crimson and David Cross tunes. Overall, however, I felt that the Bartok section of the concert was more satisfying.
Nevertheless, Cross’s performance throughout is a revelation and the range of sounds and effects that he is able to emit from his violin are quite staggering in their dynamic range and tonality. In the second half of the disc, his trademark contribution to the King Crimson tunes help to provide them with an air of authenticity.
Whilst King Crimson tunes such as Exiles and Starless are played with consummate skill, they arguably lack some of the freshness and unrestrained energy that is so readily apparent in the Bartok section of the concert.
Perhaps I was overly familiar with the material and felt that these two well-known Crimson tunes had lost their once mysterious sparkle. Although these versions were largely faithful to the originals and full of great approach play, I felt that they hit the post rather than the net.
Talking Drum and Larks Tongues In Aspic, Part Two appear to have aged better. The versions offered, managed to reproduce and retain some of the surprising and fresh, inventive qualities that made them so compelling when they first appeared over forty years ago.
Drummer Fred Barclay makes a good job of the vocals when needed. He manages to reproduce a similar range to John Wetton, but I felt that he was not fully able to pull off the manic style of Peter Hammill in David Cross’s Tonk.
Despite these minor misgivings about some aspects of the King Crimson, section of the concert this live album is altogether an excellent experience. It exceeded my expectations and I thoroughly enjoyed most of what it had to offer.
Oh and just in case you were wondering, the audience noise is minimal and does not detract in any way from the high quality of the music that is on offer.
Have you ever heard a live album that has great sound quality and can capture the excitement of the event?
Dialeto’s Live With David Cross ticks all of the right boxes.
Karcius - The Fold
Karcius originate from Montreal, Quebec and have released their fifth album The Fold. From what I can gleam from the internet they started out as an instrumental band and incorporated elements of jazz fusion and progressive rock within their music. They have now thrown off the instrumental tag and have a very good vocalist.
I have to say that although there may be elements of jazz fusion hidden within the music on this album, I would not use that tag for this record. Definitely in the neo, symphonic prog arena with elements of hard rock thrown in.
The album has all the pretensions of prog rock (good thing!), being a concept album that tells "the loss of landmarks in reality, a form of dementia through our perceptions", where the main protagonist, private investigator Ian (not a very prog name lads!), has to deal with the consequences of a very bizarre incident occurring inside a desolated house (hence the album cover).
The opening track, Absence Of Light, is all things to symphonic/neo-prog devotees: ambient opening, heart pulses, lovely piano and guitar work, and a building of music tension. Touches of Floyd, Marillion, Fish and Mystery here and there. Fine opener. The following two tracks continue with interesting and compelling music. Good melodies, confident guitar work, solid drumming and bass providing strong foundations for the rest of the band to work around.
The best track on the album is the excellent Goodbye and ticks all things progressive rock on the old prog wall-chart. Well-crafted song, beautiful vocals and harmonies, touching melody, sympathetic instrumentation. It has elements of light to dark, rough to smooth, Floydian synth and keyboard work, and slowly grows into an intense piece of music. Simply 10 out of 10 for this track.
Burning My Dreams, continues with some very fine music indeed. Touches of world music, clever string arrangements, metal riffs, nice guitar solos and strong underlying rhythmic foundation all contribute to a wonderful track.
The final, and title track, The Fold is two short of an all-out death metal six-pack in places with its dark satanic riffs and, in parts, near growling vocals. This track is in sharp contrast to what has gone before and has clear nods towards Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree and it works. Why? Well, I think it's very clever to have this as the last track because you are not expecting this and gives a nice variation in the music dynamics and takes you out of your comfort zone. Simply put, nothing too predictable and also shows how important track ordering can be.
It's a great album and definitely an album to check out. Thoroughly enjoyed it. A worthy 8.5 out of 10.
Last Of Us - Swarm
Last Of Us are a four piece instrumental band from Flanders. Using the standard line-up of two guitars, drums and bass to produce a fierce mix of post-rock and prog-metal on their new album Swarm. The lack of a vocalist can sometimes means a lack of hook for the ear to hold onto, but on the instrumental blast of Swarm, Last Of Us avoids that particular pitfall by using the full possibilities of their chosen mash-up of prog sub-genres.
The instrumentals on Swarm are heavy slices of dual guitar driven prog-rock and prog-metal put through a post-rock blender. The post-rock template of the slowly evolving melodic and dynamic structure before reaching a release is only used on the opening track Omen. And a fine example of post-rock it is too, using the Mogwai mould of deliberate building intensity, aligned with a surprisingly hummable melody.
However, things get more sonically interesting as they turn up the gain with swaggering prog-metal riffs on Anomalie. A track that starts with the intensity that the opening track finished with. Last Of Us push this track to almost bludgeoning levels. The interplay between all the players (enigmatically known only by their first names and with no reference to who plays which instruments) give a terrific kick up the post-rock template’s backside.
Last Of Us continue to give a superbly crafted prog-metal emphasis to their brand of instrumental prog-rock. On Breed/Hybrid there is a hard-edged sharpness to the music, and there is a Black Sabbath-like doom to the thrashing guitars on Epiphany. Here the rhythm section give the guitarists a bit of a going over as well.
There is a brilliantly chosen sample from Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator on ...And The Swarm Came To Harvest. It provides a background and political edge to the dual guitar riffing, and it also features one of Swarm’s few out and out guitar solos. The closing track Hope(less) is a thirteen minutes of squalling guitars and melodic spirals that lives up to the near epic length with never a dull moment.
There is an odd track on Swarm that seems at first to be out of place. Strangely, Verlossing channels the instrumental side of Rush, and so it has a different feel to the rest of the music here, but it works equally well. And the addition of violin opens out the sound.
This album is a worthy companion to Australian post-rockers Dumbsaint’s Panorama – In Ten Pieces or Mogwai’s Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will and any of the albums of Poland’s Tides From Nebula. Last Of Us with Swarm are taking post-rock down some fascinating metal edged by-ways. Let’s hope it becomes a major highway.
Petäjä - 40950
Finnish multi-instrumentalist Jussi Petäjä has been playing and writing music since 1988 and this is his first solo album. Since 1992 he has written and performed music with numerous acts including Positiivinen Tyhmyys, Prusikoukku, Ailie, Ville Kangas & Puuma, Aili & Folks, Blackbird, Captain Cougar (previously reviewed by the DPRP) and White Jackets. With a Master's degree in Music Education, when he’s not writing, recording or performing he teaches music in Finnish schools.
As you can see from the track listing Petäjä isn’t one for extravagant song titles and I’m unsure of the significance of the 5 digit numbers used for several titles (I’m assuming 1991 however refers to the year). Petäjä describes the music as “A sort of melodic progressive/folk/post/kraut/electronic/experimental rock” which isn’t too far off the mark.
Although the opening track 43900 features some tasteful guitar work, the first half of the album is mostly ambient, electronic instrumental music with occasional percussive effects, distorted guitar, random piano and Petäjä’s muted half sung, half spoken vocal. It does have a haunting quality at times but for the most part the music is monotonous and unengaging. The 11 minute 1991 in particular is an overlong, cacophonic dirge that I would have happily skipped had I not been reviewing the album.
The turning point comes halfway through Fading with what sounds like a full band arrangement suddenly kicks the track into life for an upbeat coda. If only the album had more of these moments. The title track 40950 also stands out with its strummed acoustic and ringing electric guitars and a melodious, multi-tracked chanting female vocal. Very effective with a vaguely Mike Oldfield-feel about it.
69600 is another ambient keyboard and guitar instrumental but more engaging than most of what's gone before with a memorable theme and some impressive lead guitar runs to close. In contrast, the closing track Grace is a melancholic indie-folk song with a simple acoustic guitar backing. Petäjä’s fragile vocal has been reminiscent of Anthony Phillips for most of the songs but here his phrasing brings Lou Reed to mind.
Petäjä proves himself to be a more than capable musician and he creates some unusual and interesting textures, but for me the music is often as obscure and uninvolving as the track titles. There are however several redeeming tracks with compelling melodies and if this album is a less than successful combination of the experimental and the accessible, I for one hope that for future releases Petäjä takes the latter direction.
Toska - Fire By The Silos
Tsk tsk tsk, Toska. Sending 192 kbps MP3 files is not a good way of trying to get your music heard. Well, it got heard but it doesn't give the impression that your hearts are into promoting it. That could reflect on the reviewer, his heart not being into it. But here we go.
Opening track The Herd is an intro. Or something from the drone genre. It takes too long to make a point and my attention drifts, until the end sounds like it is building towards a climax. Which doesn't come. Not a good start.
The next quarter of an hour (two tracks) is very riff-based, heavy rock. The melodies are sparse, a lot of focus is on the riffing, making it heavy, intricate, at times close to math-rock. A few sections are more like post-rock. The themes are changing constantly, so progressive it definitely is, but my prog-minded ears prefer more melody. The guitar sound (tone or effect) is still somewhat limited.
Inventive drumming makes some of the quieter parts more interesting and it took a while before I noticed the excellent bass playing. Many times it is buried in the mix. Or is that the low quality MP3 talking? When the bass does come out more clearly, it really adds to the overall sound.
And then something changes for the better. Congress, When Genghis Wakes and Prayermonger are a little different to the previously mentioned tracks, in that there is indeed more melody and variety to the riffing and guitar sounds. After a quieter part, Congress ends with a typical, good and heavy post-rock section. The keyboards are an excellent addition to their sound, not just for the melody, but they add another layer that fills the air more. Now that's how I really like it.
These tracks hold the same characteristics as the first couple of heavy songs but it is like there is just more - an extra guitar or keyboards, or the arrangements. Were these songs written or arranged in a different period? There is more high, offering more contrast between the low and high. But it's more than that. There's more melancholy, less math-rock, more post-rock.
Atraxy is a short piano piece, offering some room to breathe, you might think, but the wonderful sadness is palpable. Excellent.
Then there are two tracks I haven't mentioned. Closer The Heard is an extension of the opening track but more than twice its length. Together with the mid-album title track, which is a different kind of ambient and with spoken words, it still is a very long intermezzo. That's about a third of the album being some sort of ambient music, or drone, if you like. I fail to see the point in this. I like diversity, but to me these extremes don't make a lot of sense, as I'd never play the whole album in whatever mood I am likely to be in.
During the heavy sections, Toska are in the same field as And So I Watch You From Afar. Skipping the three ambient tracks, there's 45 minutes of good progressive post-rock, the last half hour of which I really like.