Issue 2018-090: New Year's Eve Special
Reviews in this issue:
Atlas: Empire - The Stratosphere Beneath Our Feet
Atlas: Empire are a Scottish alt-rock band who hail from Glasgow. To date, the band has released three EPs: To The Astronaut... (2012), Somnus (2013), and For the Satellites (2015), with The Stratosphere Beneath Our Feet as their 2018 debut full length album and the one being under review right now. Unfortunately I had to listen to the MP3 version of this release, something I hope the band will understand is not a nice way to promote your album.
To me there are shades of early Bends era Radiohead, a hint of Bonoesque vocals and U2 but on a heavier scale. Also Black Peaks I would say have been an influence. However, from official release info, this is for fans of Thrice, Circa Survive, Glassjaw, At The Drive-In, O’Brother, The Appleseed Cast and Minus the Bear.
For a three-piece they certainly pack a punch. Bordering on a stadium rock sound, they have produced a wonderful sonic tapestry of guitar-based rock that dips its toes into grunge, metal and prog.
Guitarist Steve Gillies gives us a clue about the album's concept: "The Stratosphere Beneath Our Feet is a concept album, based around humanity’s growing reliance on technology and specifically how society falls apart when that fails us. We wrote each song like a chapter in a book, both musically and lyrically, to follow that narrative."
From a prog point of view and with song length in mind, the two middle tracks, Gethesemane and The Entire History Of You (in fact they segue together to form a lengthy piece of music) form the backbone of this album. Gethesemane has a catchy, with Celtic vibes, acoustic guitar intro with wonderful Scottish sounding vocals, eventually giving way to a full band sound, then falls back to an atmospheric, haunting drone accompanied with simple but effective piano motifs. The Entire History Of You then glides into a simple drum beat, jangly atmospheric guitars with distant haunting vocals. Then the full onslaught of big guitar sounds that is joy to listen to, including the supporting guitar solo. In fact the guitar work is clever in terms of how these guys have interwoven various guitar sounds. They have achieved an amazing large, spacious sonic sound. Great stuff.
The other tracks serve up more-or-less similar sounding material. Steve Gillies has a very good voice and given the amount of in-your-face, yelling vocals, his vocals chords must be supported by their national drink: Irn Bru made “from girders” - just listen to Diminishing Returns and you'll catch my drift. None of these tracks disappoint at all.
A very good album, well-crafted songs, hints of pop mixed into their heavy guitar orientated sound, atmospheric guitar solo arpeggios, solid musicianship with great vocals. This band has the potential to go far.
Anneke van Giersbergen - Symphonized
I have never felt that Dutch singer Anneke van Giersbergen has ever really found her niche. Yes she has had success, mainly with the later years of The Gathering, but also in her solo career and numerous collaborations and musical projects, but none of them have ever really hit the mark as far as I am concerned. She is possessed with a fine voice that is frequently enthralling, generally emotive and very resonant but the music that back her singing has never struck me as being essential listening or particularly in tune to my tastes, being too often entrenched in the progressive metal genre. However, when it was announced that she was to perform two concerts with the Residentie Orkest The Hague my interest was piqued.
Having been raised on classical music I have always been somewhat of a sucker for orchestral works and, of course, the heyday of prog saw many a band performing with orchestras or adding classical instruments as enhancements, a trend that continues to this day in those groups that can afford such a venture. The concerts were advertised as career spanning as is evident from the selections chosen for the CD: four tracks from The Gathering, two from VUUR, two from her solo career, one from The Gentle Storm, a track she contributed to the soundtrack to the film Apenstreken and, in keeping with the occasion, a classical aria by Henry Purcell, provides a varied selection from a somewhat eclectic career.
The fact that it all gels together seamlessly is largely down to the arranger who, unfortunately, is not credited on the somewhat limited biography provided by InsideOut (which also contained several errors). In many cases the orchestral backing provides a completely different take on the songs that is radically different to the original versions and, in my humble opinion far, far superior. A prime example is You Will Never Change which is present as a gloriously uplifting and positively reaffirming rendition that deservedly receives raucous approval from the audience and knocks spots off the version on the Drive solo album.
Van Giersbergen sings wonderfully, and the balance with the orchestra is perfect particularly for a live recording. That she could have been a classical singer is evident from her beautiful rendition of the lament When I Am Laid In Earth from Purcell's Dido and Æneas; perfectly sung it is the highlight of the album. (That must be a first, the highlight of an album reviewed on DPRP being an operatic aria!). From the cleverly arranged opening of Feel Alive that builds as first the orchestra and then the vocalist are (musically) introduced to the rather anthemic Shores Of India with its shades of Dead Can Dance, the album is perfectly paced and a complete revelation.
Ordinarily, after obtaining a live album containing songs that I don't have studio versions of, I am usually sorely tempted to add the original versions to my collection. However, in this case the originals could only disappoint as there is no way they could come close to the versions on this album. Can Symphonized (my only bugbear with the album is I hate the US spelling of the title!) still be considered a progressive rock album? I would gladly argue that these orchestral versions are far more progressive than the originals and 'rock' encompasses such a wide variety of music then a small expansion is neither here nor there. Besides, quote Rhett Butler, Quite frankly my dear, I don't give a damn.
Maidman - Dreamland
Intrigued by the impressive variety of bands and artists British musician Jennifer Maidman was involved in, ranging from Kokomo through Ian Drury and David Sylvain to Chris de Burgh and Penguin Café Orchestra (check out her website!), I was curious how her first solo album would sound. Eclectic is a word that summarizes my expectations quite well, unexpected would also do the job.
On the record, Jennifer herself plays guitar, bass, ukulele, and percussion, and contributes to the vocals. She recorded the album with Jerry Marotta (drums, percussion, vocals), David Torn (electric guitar, loops, vocals) and Annie Whitehead (trombone, horn, vocals), all well-known British musicians that also played with a wide variety of other artists. And there are numerous guest appearances amongst which are Paul Brady, Sam Brown and Robert Wyatt. From the original Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Helen Liebman, Peter Mc Gowan, Geoffrey Richardson, Steve Fletcher and Liam Genockey contributed. So the musical quality should leave little to be desired but how about the songs themselves?
I gave this album a couple of spins and I have to admit that it cost me more and more trouble to listen through it. The music is quite experimental, poppy at moments, funky at others, sometimes a-tonal (which I dislike very much), sometimes avant-garde. But on the whole it is going nowhere. The songs are interspersed with spoken words that are recorded as a kind of hesitatingly performed conversation, taking out all the spirit of the music. It becomes annoying very quickly and therefore dominates over the sparse nice parts. Worst of all is the singing done by all musicians contributing. The the first vocal lines in Outside - simply sung awkwardly, killing that otherwise nice little song. The voices sound like Magna Carta’s Chris Simpson having a severe cold, resulting in a total lack of expression and power.
Things start off quite nicely, though. Conspiracy Of Dreamers is a good funky song and a nice opener of the album, with a pumping bass and nice guitar work. Things deteriorate immediately after that promising start. Hinterland is a spoken word piece that makes no sense at all but readily succeeds in setting the level of annoyance quite high.
Red Heart is a very straight-forward song with repetitive and rather stupid lyrics and a very repetitive melody, over which guitar and trombone unsuccessfully try to bring some musical variety. This Man Is Dangerous, on the contrary, is a very nice piece with rather good lead vocals, very nice harmony vocals, an attractive laid-back pace with snippets of a bluesy mouth organ and guitar, evolving towards a nice guitar-driven coda.
The Letting Go starts off more or less in the same vein with a good pace and a nice melody but it drags on far too long as nothing happens musically in the last three minutes. O Caroline will remind many of the work of Magna Carta because of its fine melody and adequate acoustic guitar playing. And then another spoken word piece is completely spoiling the folky mood that has been built up by the former three songs.
No man’s land sound very much like a Manning song, especially in the vocal part, and has some nice horn and trombone sounds. And once more, a disruptive spoken word piece breaks the spell.
Open The Door is a up-tempo funky piece with a high level of repetitiveness, using trombone extensively. It simply lacks a nice melody. After another horrific spoken word thing, The Magic Voice introduces a fair in music, complete with a horrible a-tonal trombone. Higher Than Life? ends with some thundering sounds and that awful trombone again. Thankfully the end piece Crow Dance is a rather straight-forward folk thing with a very gay mood and nice trombone playing; a really nice one.
Musically, this album tends towards traditional folk, sometimes funk, sometimes eclectic pop and sometimes a bit avant-garde, all blended together by very mediocre vocals. There are some nice musical moments that are destroyed by the spoken words sections that take away all coherence instead of gluing them together. The album completely fails to sound as an entity. It annoyed me more than it seduced.
I seriously doubt whether any prog fan will like this because the attractive musical pieces are too scarce and too scattered over the record and the vocals are too mediocre to appeal. Too bad. Or did I simply not understand what was going on?
Metalwings - For All Beyond
As an American, the more European metal music that I'm exposed to, the more I realize that Europe leads the way in the genre. There are solid metal bands from America, both mainstream and progressive, but the more experimental and symphonic sides of the genre are much healthier in Europe. Bulgarian band Metalwings is just another example of the strength of that metal scene. I'm not proficient in the more symphonic side of metal, but I do enjoy this album. It is strong both musically and vocally.
The band calls female singer Stela Atanasova's voice "operatic", which it is, but I wouldn't identify Metalwings as an operatic metal band. Her voice certainly would be right at home in an opera, but it doesn't screech or bellow like stereotypical opera singers' voices do. Opera music grates on me (those who dislike opera and operatic metal will likely understand what I mean), but Atanasova's voice doesn't grate on me at all. It is very smooth, but it maintains the strength to stand out in the heaviness of the music. She also plays the electric viola, which is a pleasant addition.
Nikola Ivanov's drums stand out to me as being particularly spectacular as far as instruments go. The drums are complex yet precise. They are perhaps the strongest aspect of this music that tips it over into the arena of progressive metal. He's not just playing beats. He's matching the keyboards, guitars, and symphonic portions note for note. The guitars, bass, and keyboards are all excellent as well. Angel Kitanov plays clean piano throughout the album, which adds a wonderful texture to the heavy music. Guitarist Krastyo Jordanov adds Irish flute and backing vocals along with his shredding. All three bring a lot to the band's overall sound. Grigor Kostadinov on guitars and Milen Mavrov on bass are the other members of the band, and they perform very well. These musicians create a very full sound with their various textures and instruments. It never sounds cluttered.
One aspect of Metalwings' music that I think could use some improvement, from a more progressive aspect, is the lyrics. These lyrics remind me of more mainstream metal than progressive acts such as Vanden Plas or even Ayreon. Musically, they sound a lot like Ayreon, but they are miles apart lyrically. The lyrics talk a lot about dreams, hope, life, love, etc. They don't delve into deeper themes, and they don't tell much of a story. There's nothing wrong with that at all. Many people will find that perfectly appealing. I just find it to be a little shallow. It never gets to be sappy, and the lyrics aren't bad. They just aren't as opaque as lyrics from a band like Haken. Thankfully, the music lifts the whole album up above the very small shortcomings found in the lyrics.
Fans of female-fronted symphonic, operatic, and progressive metal will enjoy Metalwings. The group's name makes them sound less mature than they really are. They have a well-formed sound that should appeal to many. Indeed, one of their music videos on YouTube from 2015 has over 16 million views. They're clearly doing something right. Don't let their relative success scare you away though. There is plenty of technicality and talent here to keep a prog fan happy.
Octavarium - Out Of Time
Octavarium - Dystopia
The way I normally start a review is first reading the info supplied, whether being a press statement, bandcamp info or any other means of transcription. I then put it aside and start listening to the music the first time to get a sense of production (or lack thereof). Does the music make a good impression, does it leave a mark. Is it catchy or is hard labor acquired? Does it stand out and have emotional melancholy? Lots of standards to go through, so you can imagine it doesn’t take just a few spins to fully grasp an album. I always aim for taking the long run and use most of the amount of time given by DPRP.
If an album is above average it understandably gets more playing-time. In all fairness this can result in less objectivity towards other releases, so I intend to invest a lot of extra time when such an occurrence happens. Being married, raising a child, having a full-time job, hobbies and other everyday life obligations make it quite hectic sometimes, but with meticulously careful robotic planning I somehow manage to squeeze it all in, sometimes in the nick of time.
But not with Octavarium. Personal time restraints led me to listen first and read the bio afterwards. Next to the discography, a handy track by track rundown of information was given, making this almost too easy, saving me lots of time in research. Solely released on Bandcamp it also meant I could work, write and listen at the same time, multitasking my way towards a review. Boy, was I ever more wrong, for during the review-process of Out Of Time, a second, superior, release came along with Dystopia, effectively throwing me into overtime, disturbing my utopian working field, and as a result the two releases drastically managed to get me out of time. You probably have to be an android to succeed, much like Ohlsson, inventor and executor of these dramatic chain of events.
Octavarium is a progressive rock project by Mattias Ohlsson from Malmö, Sweden with the name paying homage to the classic Dream Theater album. Started in 2017 the project had so far released three albums, two of which in 2017: The Road - a double concept album (10 October 2017), and Beyond The Horizon on 20 July 2018. With newly released Out Of Time (21st of August) and now Dystopia (16th November) this is a record-breaking delivery, bordering on near human impossibility. Surely no one could pull this off?
First thing that strikes me on Out of Time is its production, being crystal clear, clean and sounding very well known. The spacious proggy intro with programmed soft guitars on Come Undone instantly takes me back many years ago to the age of Shadow Gallery and it’s label Magna Carta, responsible for many great bands in the early nineties. Downside to some of those releases were the clinical and cold productions, which in a way is what I also receive from Octavarium. With the keyboards upfront in the mix drowning out the little details, it takes some getting used to, but once accustomed it’s an enjoyable trip down memory lane. I’m actually taken back to my once so beloved comforting green leather bench-chair in the attic, primarily used for absorbing superb music.
Filled by huge tapestries of keyboards we immediately pick up the pace with a joyous ride reminiscent of Under The Sun and Magellan, which becomes even more spookier in Mr Smith. Laced with Dream Theater and delicate touches of Riverside the first musical verse is undeniably reminiscent of Trent Gardner, even the vocals come awfully close. Rhythmic guitars and groovy drums guide the substantial amount of keys which are skilfully handled with diversity and playfulness. Enjoyable, but so far I can’t shake the feeling of having heard it all before.
Gold Rush contains a compelling drive supported by hard hitting keys and organs. This far into the album the monotonous polished vocals might become an acquired taste to some, but that’s quickly forgotten about, for musically we get surprisingly adventurous, more complex symphonic progressive structures much like Cairo and Spock’s Beard. The instrumental Time Dilation thereupon directly rewards with a more mellow, semi laid back approach where right in the middle a sudden change hits hard with programmed heavy guitar-riffs interacting with explosive keys thereby creating an unctuous feeling of Porcupine Tree.
High continues to fulfill with progressive rock touching boarders with pomp-rock, AOR and pop. By blending harmonious musical structures equal to Neal Morse and World Trade it creates anticipation for the epic title track Out of Time - The Sign / Waiting for You / Out of Time (originally written in 2016). Prolonged too long, it showcases less imaginary music and feels light and pale in comparison to other tracks on the album. Drums sound thin and especially round the 7 minute mark piano and keys sound almost childishly simple. It’s the overall progressive landscape that still makes this an entertaining experience though.
So far so good with some lovely touches and certainly a good effort. The homogeneous sound is transparent enough leaving room for improvement and musically it shows promise, though some tracks could be more concise. Furthermore some fine highlights and a feeling of safeness but I missed a sense of fire, something beguiling. Little did I know Ohlsson subconsciously read my mind and offers me a warm blanket, for the steps taken on Dystopia are almost beyond believe.
First step forward is the assistance of Eric Gilette of the Neal Morse Band on mastering, a masterstroke. Whereas Out Of Time sometimes is buckled under an abundant overload of keyboard carpets tipping the scale, we are now welcome by a much better balanced laminate. Lots of details and refinement effectively push me slowly back into new soft pillows now miraculously appearing on my worn out attic chair. Authentic drums and programmed bass gracefully sparkle surrounded by warmth and depth. Ohlssons’ voice appears to have gained in strength and power, aided by the use of effects in certain passages, giving the tracks more variation and profundity.
Secondary quantum leap is Gilette contributing on keyboards and guitars. Who plays which part on keyboards remains a mystery, but the evidence of guitars is very apparent and breathtaking. This might be the biggest step ever achieved in prog-mankind in the shortest amount of time available, considering it was done in under three months. Gilette not only lifts the tracks with his supportive style and acoustical sounds; he elevates them to phenomenal heights with heavenly graceful moving solos.
The 10 tracks of the epic progressive concept album Dystopia have intertwining recurring themes and energetic melodies and right from the beginning it’s a gripping tale. Still symphonic-focused, a mild gentle shift has occurred altering the overall sound and feel towards the progressive metal, wonderfully executed in the instrumental Futuristic Overture. Playful with intricate piano parts it slowly leads up to an eruption of symphonic prog metal (Trans Siberian Orchestra) interlaced with superb guitar solos.
Breakout depicts the growth and transformation further with technical sublime aggressive riffs reminiscent of Dream Theater and Symphony X. On full force the track gives off bursts of divine symphonic metal with multiple layers and sound effects, flying straight into Running Free. Resourceful orchestral arrangements flow and confident vocals by Ohlsson lead up to title-track Dystopia. Streams of ambient Riverside transform into aggressive Dream Theater, surrounded by a great drive and a chilling keyboard solo.
So far each track surpassed its predecessor, and it’s feels good to know Ohlsson is human too. Coming Home is indeed like a recurring festive familiar homecoming in style of Out Of Time, harmoniously tweaked and set in a completely refurbished environment, apart from my favorite chair. Right in time, for while embraced by Riverside and Porcupine Tree the bluesy Pink Floyd-inspired Whispers On The Wind makes you want to lock the door. Pleasantly halfway down the track Gilette buckles up and whips out a fantastic solo reminiscent of David Gilmour leaving me Comfortably Numb in my chair.
Soothingly I rest in Utopia, another fine example of symphonic prog, succumbing to the fact that the Transatlantic inspired This Is The End brings me back to the world. The epic closer World Reborn retrospectively wakes me up throwing me back one last time with all the themes reoccurring and rounding off this symphonic journey.
Amazingly I have to admit Ohlsson manages to pull it off. Five consecutive solid albums in under 13 months and setting himself a high standard on those makes it almost unbelievable and honestly I’m speechless. Lots of work to be done before he’s at the top of his game, but if he continues to grow at this rate, preferably aided by Gilette on guitars, we should be able to end up with a masterpiece of silky smooth, luscious, fresh, vibrant, comfy, and completely fulfilling prog-metal in the future. I certainly hope to live and see that day for it might take some 4 to 5 albums still. But I suppose that means sometime around Christmas next year by his standards! While subconsciously missing my adorable beautiful old chair, that will suit me just fine. I think I already got my Christmas-list worked out for 2019...
Trigon - 30 Jahre Traumzeit
There are many exciting passages to be experienced during the lengthy duration of Trigon's latest album 30 Jahre Traumzeit. This jazz-rock instrumental power trio with the emphasis firmly on the rockier side of any jazz-rock moniker come from the city of Karlsruhe, Germany. Their previous album was released in 2011 and was aptly called 2011.
30 Jahre Traumzeit celebrates the bands thirtieth anniversary with a collection of live tunes such as, the excellent slow flickering Mysterious Masterplan and previously unreleased live jam studio pieces, which frequently possess an organic feel and exhibit a spontaneous air. The freshness of the band's performance makes much of what is on offer very appealing.
The music is expressively aggressive, creating undulating ripples and tempestuous shockwaves in its wake. It robustly explodes in fiery bursts that will have fans of instrumental guitar-led bands like Sweden’s Plankton quivering with delight.
The trio’s performance is genuinely thrilling. The compositions exhibit an evolving unforced nature, where the relationship between what is arranged and what is improvised, is successfully bridged. In this respect, much of the music has a wonderful edge of the seat intensity that is able to carry the listener away on the rock-crested pinnacles of its surging jam-based compositions.
Guitarist Rainer Lange‘s extraordinary deft and muscular fret work is at the forefront of the band’s sound. However, the other two members of the trio provide a robust framework for him to excel. The drumming of Tihomir Lozanovski is busy and powerful. The bass offers a perfect foil to the rhythmic beat of Lozanovski and offers a bustling and boisterous foundation for Rainer Lange's inspiring solos. On the rare occasions when the bass takes a more prominent role as in Der Tanga it provides a buttock shaking bottom end tone that threatens to rhythmically rattle anything in its path.
Rainer Lange is a wonderfully expressive guitarist and the loosely coiled compositions on offer manage to maintain interest throughout despite the somewhat limited instrumentation used. There were many times that I sat open mouthed whilst he imperiously made his guitar sing.
Stylistically, the album flings out a conveyor belt of, wave upon wave, of loosely formed, yet expressive guitar instrumentals. This makes things rather hard to bear and on more than one occasion, might leave you crossing your fingers, in the vain hope that a keyboard might enter the fray to mix things up a bit.
Nevertheless, some tunes like Pulsar have such an accessible form and melody that its head rolling motif stays in the memory long after its last notes have receded. Its memorable, easily assimilated nature, full of psychedelic verve stands out and offers some degree of contrast to the other tracks.
That is not to say that all of the tunes sound similar; they do not! They all have identifiable characteristics and exhibit memorable parts, but the use of the same limited instrumentation can have an effect of bludgeoning the senses, so that tunes if you are not listening carefully appear to segue into each other creating a powerful never-ending multi-layered, but nonetheless satisfying course of guitar, drums and guitar music.
In this respect, the album is a little too long for my tastes. After about forty minutes, brain, ears, knocking knees and tapping toes begin to complain from the relentless assault on the senses that the wailing, howling and screeching of Rainer Lange's delivers. Until the point when tolerance is tested, those forty minutes are blissfully exhilarating. Needless to say this album is best experienced in high volume and in short bursts.
Rücklicht is one of the best pieces on the album. It begins with a bass and drum interlude. The rhythm of the piece stands out and offers a little more variation than is apparent on some of the other pieces. The guitar introduces itself delicately and then distortedly frizzles into action to dominate proceedings.
There is much to admire about the performances captured on 30 Jahre Traumzeit. Whilst some might find, that the loosely structured arrangements and guitar heavy compositions lack subtlety, what is undeniable, is the skillful and impressive performance that resides at their core.
Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed this collection of tunes and I will undoubtedly dip into this high-energy album frequently in the future.
Dean Watson - Track Of Days
Dean Watson has done it again!
In his latest release, Track of Days the Canadian multi-instrumentalist has once more created an album that is intricate, proficiently composed, and beautifully arranged. Track of Days is broad in its scope depth and execution. Listening to Track of Days is a fulfilling journey, that offers an amalgam of fusion, jazz, classical idioms and symphonic prog, in its heady melding of styles.
The album consists of an introductory piece Updown waltz, and an excellent suite entitled Track Of Days, which lasts for over fifty minutes.
Track of Days is designed to be heard as one continuous piece of music and although it is divided into six subsections, or Acts, it really comes into its own when experienced uninterrupted, in gapless form. A succession of recurring themes darts in and out of this ambitious composition, to give it purpose, direction and a recognisable identity. A raft of accessible musical ideas and complex tints display tempting sonic colours. These segue effortlessly into one another to make the whole album an unforgettable and enchanting experience.
The guitar and keyboard parts are particularly striking and it is a mystery, how Watson manages to achieve such an organic band sound. Unlike, some fusion albums Watsons work usually exudes plenty of feeling and Track Of Days is no exception to this gratifying element of his art.
As might be expected, the album contains many contrasting moods where shifts of tempo and subtle changes in dynamics occur with enviable aplomb. For example, the rich organ sounds of Act II contrast sharply with some of the most strident riffing found on the album and the result is warmly clasping.
That particular act is one of my favourites and the varieties of instruments that have a role to play are impressive. To name but a few of the elements contained in Act II: there are screeching wailing guitars, fluid guitar runs, flute-like effects, spiralling synths and chunky metallic rhythms. They all combine to create a section of the suite that is absolutely enthralling in every way.
Track Of Days is an inspiring release and I am sure that anybody who enjoys carefully crafted fusion music will find much to admire and enjoy. The album contains some sumptuous piano parts, which on occasions act as a bridge to link themes, or to cement parts of the suite together. The sparse piano part that is prominent in the concluding moments of Act III is both atmospheric and memorable. Similarly, the soaring synth work that rides unfettered and roughshod to interlock with Act IV intricate rhythms is equally exhilarating.
The rest of the suite is similarly notable and surely marks a pinnacle in the creative output of Watson so far. His previous albums have been impressive, but in general terms, have arguably lacked the cohesiveness and consistency and above all, the emotive power that is very apparent in the epic and excellent Track Of Days composition.
Due to the organic and complex nature of this album's lengthy title track, it would perhaps be foolish to describe the music in detail. Commenting on every subtle nuance or boisterous instrumental passage would do the albums skillful and gloriously accessible arrangements little justice. Similarly, any attempt to unpick the recurring motifs and complex conglomeration of notes that make up some sections of the suite would only give a hint of the treasures contained within.
Suffice to say, that anybody who enjoys the work of artists as diverse as, Chick Corea, Al Di Meola, Pat Metheny and Keith Emerson should hear this album.
The concluding Act ties everything together exquisitely and its pastoral hints, which are set against whirling organ frills and aggressive fretwork, sets just the right tone and mood to satisfy both the head and the heart.
The title track's recurring motifs really do become memorable over time and these ensure that the album has a long shelf life where each new exposure to it, becomes even more satisfying and often reveals many hidden, undiscovered elements to appreciate.
To say that I have enjoyed Watson’s latest release even more than any of his previous offerings is an understatement. I hope that Watson continues to explore the possibilities that a lengthy suite of music offers in his next album.
If he does, I will no doubt state in bold letters:
Dean Watson has done it yet again!
Andrew Wild - Queen On Track - Every Album, Every Song [Book]
Queen - Every Album, Every Song is the first in a new series of books that basically does what it says on the tin (or more precisely, on the cover). Every studio album and individual song recorded by Queen is included and comprehensively appraised, or at least that’s the theory. Further books in the 'On Track’ series from Sonicbond Publishing will feature Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer amongst others.
The author Andrew Wild is responsible for two similar books, Pink Floyd: Song By Song (published 2017) and The Beatles: An A-Z Guide To Every Song (due in January 2019). He also wrote the official Twelfth Night biography Play On (2009) and the authorised Galahad biography One For The Record (2012) so it would be reasonable to expect that he has a knowledgeable and sympathetic grasp of his subject matter.
For the record, I was a die-hard Queen fan from their 1973 debut single Keep Yourself Alive (first aired on The Old Grey Whistle Test as I recall) up to the 1976 A Day At The Races album. They were for me Led Zeppelin, Yes, The Beatles and The Beach Boys all rolled into one and if Queen had a prog-rock phase, this was it. Although I followed their later career, in my opinion they hit their artistic peak in 1975 with A Night At The Opera (although the 1991 song Innuendo was a late return to form). I mention all of this because it no doubt had some bearing on my opinion of this book and the views of the author.
It’s claimed that this is “The first book to analyse every Queen song - giving equal weight to album tracks alongside the hits.” There are similar books out there including Queen: Album By Album, Queen: Complete Works and The Queen Chronology from 2018 alone. In fact if you’re a Queen fan, you really are spoilt for choice. The advantage with this book is that each song has its own heading which (as I found with Black Sabbath Song By Song - review here) is useful when thumbing through the pages to find a particular song.
Measuring 21cm x 15cm with 160 pages, this paperback won't strain your bookcase (or your wallet). As such, it would be unrealistic to expect an exhaustive analysis of every single song given that Queen released 15 studio albums over a 23 year period. For convenience, live albums, DVDs, promos, bootlegs and solo albums are excluded. Wild does however devout a chapter to the post Freddie years including the 2008 The Cosmos Rocks album by Queen + Paul Rodgers. There are 16 pages of mostly coloured illustrations which include the artwork for every album cover.
Following a short Introduction, the book is divided into chapters titled 1970-1974: As It Began, 1975-1978: We Are The Champions and so on which is handy if you wish to focus on a particular era. Each chapter begins with a brief summary of the band’s career at that point followed by a section devoted to each album. Songs recorded at the time but not included on the album, e.g. single ‘B’ sides, are also covered which completists will appreciate. There is also a concise, but very good account of Queen’s legendary performance at Live Aid in 1985.
Wild’s commentary for each song is populated with observations from band members cribbed from interviews plus comments from music critics and the like. He is clearly musically literate, in describing the structure of a song he often outlines key changes, time signatures and chord progressions. It's worth noting that such was the complexity of Queen’s recordings in the 1970s and the choir-like harmonies in particular, for live performances it was necessary to chop and change songs and occasionally resort to backing tapes, Bohemian Rhapsody being a prime example_.
Wild’s enthusiasm for the earlier albums is evident, correctly identifying The March Of The Black Queen from Queen II as a precursor to Bohemian Rhapsody and rightly describing the third album Shear Heart Attack (1974) as Queen’s first masterpiece. He also claims to have had access to the original master tapes for a number of songs which he uses as a basis to evaluate several in detail, most notably Killer Queen. During the A Night At The Opera section he astutely describes The Prophet's Song as a “progressive rock epic” and Love of My Life as “Queen’s best love song”. Interestingly, the format he adopts to analysis Bohemian Rhapsody which breaks the song down into separate timed sections is very similar to Wikipedia’s. He uses the same method for several other songs including Bicycle Race, although it's debatable that this 3 minute novelty warrants the same scrutiny.
It's during Queen’s mid to late period where Wild’s views will divide opinions. He dismisses We Will Rock You as “a dumb song” whilst rating We Are The Champions as “a rock anthem” even though they are basically cut from the same cloth. He acknowledges that the 1980 albums were patchy but claims that the cod funk and synth pop of Hot Space “has a greater diversity of new styles than any other Queen album”. Drummer Roger Taylor was more succinct stating that “It was absolute shit”. Wild also rates Under Pressure as “one of their greatest songs”, devoting a full three pages, more than any other song in the book (although Bohemian Rhapsody comes a close second). Personally I thought Queen and David Bowie were an unconvincing pairing and the song suffered as a result.
Clearly, a great deal of research has gone into compiling this book, perhaps almost too much at times. In many cases, Wild goes on to reference the live performances of each song (it seems that almost the entire Queen repertoire has been performed by Queen + Adam Lambert) as well as listing the various remixes, reissues and alternate versions. The chief culprit in this respect being the overrated 1980 disco pastiche Another One Bites The Dust which occupies almost two pages. For the most part however, it's a fairly even balance with every album, including the marginal Flash Gordon soundtrack given due coverage.
Despite my carping over some of Wild’s preferences, and the occasional typo, this is a first rate book that's very well written and meticulously researched. Given the detailed musical content, I would suggest that it’s book for the avid, rather than the casual Queen fan. Whilst the internet may appear to make reference books like this redundant, I can guarantee that you won’t find anything as comprehensive as this online.